John and Nicholas plus the other two Masters arrived at the Exhibition Hall late in the day on Thursday. They took a look at their presentation space and met with the Machine Manufacturers. There was a nice restaurant open at the exhibit for the paying visitors, but they had opened it early for all of the participants. John, Nicholas, two other Masters and three Machine men went for a late dinner and discussed final details. It was determined that John and Nicholas would take the first shift of the day on Friday and Saturday. Since Sunday was only a half day exhibition, all of the volunteers would be there and do a final summation afterward. John had planned to see Mr. Haddon on Friday evening unannounced. He had told Nicholas of his unsettled feelings towards Amber as they rode in on the train and what he planned to do about it.
Nicholas knew never to meddle in affairs of the heart when John seemed this determined. Nicholas could tell John was full of mixed emotions.
They were all driven to their hotels and expected to meet in the dining room for breakfast by eight. They wanted to be at the Exhibition Hall by nine.
Their first shift went easily enough. There were no questions that John or Nicholas could not answer and made sure the enthusiastic men were given further information to take home. The two men enjoyed their four hours watching the people. When it seemed slow, either one would walk down some of the corridors and look at other exhibits. The Machine Manufactures were there to help answer questions, but the Milton Masters were the ones who really knew the machines and what they could do, how often the needed repair, how fast they could run.
As their afternoon replacements arrived, John told Nicholas he was headed to Mr. Haddon’s. He had gotten the address over the years somehow. He would occasionally write to see when Amber would be arriving back in London. He did get replies from her mother, but now with her being deceased, he knew why the later notes went unanswered.
He told Nicholas he would not be too long and would meet him back at the hotel lounge in an hour or so. John hailed a hackney cab and left for the Haddon’s.
John’s knock on the door was answered by Mr. Haddon himself. “Please excuse me for answering my own door. It seems the damned exhibition has borrowed my help for the day. And you are?”
“Sir, I am John Thornton. I happen to be an exhibitor,” he laughed. I have come from Milton and would like to talk with you about Amber if I possibly could. We used to be friends before she left for school. She is back in Milton, and there seem to be questions she will not answer and I should like to know what you can tell me. I am sorry this sounds impertinent, but it could make or break my life. Could you please spare me a few moments of your time?” John asked, still standing on the steps whirling his hat in his hands.
“Yes, I shall give you little time. I have little I can tell you as I have disowned her. Come in, come in.” Mr. Haddon led the way to his comfortable parlor with only large overstuffed big chairs everywhere. It was a gentleman’s room.”
“You have disowned her, you said?” John asked, sitting, leaving the question hanging in the air without seeming to pry.
“Sir, I do not know what your interest is in her, but if she owes you money or is carrying your child, I can tell you, you shall get neither. I threw her out of my life several years ago after her mother died. Her mother only knew the half of Amber’s atrocious behavior and begged me to let her finish school, which I did. I have since learned more about her. Before I proceed, can I ask your involvement with her?”
John did not know how to begin, but all he could do was tell the truth. “Mr. Haddon, Amber has returned to Milton. She found me first as she tells me because she wanted to see if we could rekindle an infatuation we once had before she left the continent. I must admit I have tried to entertain the idea of her being a part of my life, but constantly feel unsettled around her. I know she would like me to fall in love with her, but I think I am unable to do so. There is another woman in my life, now. I thought maybe you could tell me why I feel so unsettled. I cannot tell if I am misreading her or myself. I have caught her crossing herself up, telling me one thing and then something different the next day. With a man, such as yourself, if you have disowned her than there must be some merit to my apprehension.” John relaxed after getting that all out. Mr. Haddon remained expressionless.
“Mr. Thornton, since you seem to be an honorable gentleman in coming straight to me, I shall tell you all I know.”
John left knowing about her stealing the family jewels and leaving another with the blame, the baby selling, the multitude of men, the marriage that never happened and many other unsavory stories about her. He felt sad for her and himself. She was paying for a high-class apartment in order to look like she had her original wealth and reputation, but it had all been a pretense to lure him in. She was counting on John’s early feelings for her to pull her through this bad time in her life. That was not going to happen.
How could she do that to me?
As John sat alone in the coach being carried back to the hotel, he felt a great weight had been lifted. If she had only been down on her luck financially, he would try to help her. Knowing the truth now, he would not offer any help or introduce her to anyone he knew. She had turned wicked and deceitful. The prostitutes at Miss Leeds had more respect than she did. Maybe he should acquire a position for her there. No, he would not do that to Miss Leeds.
Arriving at the hotel, he did not see Nicholas in the lounge yet, so he went to his room, bathed and laid down on the bed. He stared at the ceiling and thought about Margaret and their fabulous times together. Now, he could spend some quality time wooing her. Wooing her? When had he ever done that? Never, he admitted to himself. A big smile appeared on his face almost aching his cheeks. She’s the one, I am sure of it.
John made a promise to himself to get to the bottom of her feelings of being unworthy, her financial fall, the bookstore purchase, the noble, and why the red book . . . Margaret Hale with the red book.
Saturday was busy. All of England must be here, John thought. As if he and Nicholas were not busy enough, Amber came strolling up to the roped exhibit. John felt his stomach roil but kept his composure. He had to.
“How are you today, Miss Haddon? I did not expect to see you here.”
Nicholas had talked with John late last night and knew what John must be going through with her standing there. He tried to help the visitors and listen to John’s conversation with Amber at the same time.
“You must have found a hotel room. I would not have thought there would be one available for several towns over judging by the crowd today,” John said smiling politely not giving anything away.
“Oh, I knew you would be right about that so I went to Father’s. He was happy to see me.”
John wanted to do something, like slamming his fist on the table and telling her about her lies, but he excused himself for a moment and waited on another visitor. He prayed the crowd stayed two deep at the ropes surrounding the machinery, so Amber would see how busy he was and move on. He knew he was close to having a scene right there. Nicholas could tell he was brewing and interceded.
Nicholas stepped away from his customer to talk with Miss Haddon for a minute. “Miss, as you can see we are knee deep in interested visitors. I know John wants to speak with you but now isn’t a good time. The machine people are here watching. Can he meet you later somewhere, at your Father’s, perhaps?”
“No, I am afraid that won’t do. Where is the hotel you are staying at? Possibly, I could come by this evening to talk with him,” Amber replied.
Nicholas told her the hotel name. “I am sure we won’t get back there until after four this afternoon.”
“Oh, are you two sharing a room?” she asked.
“No, we share dinner and breakfast. Sometimes we meet in the lounge. If you come by, ask for his name. Someone shall be dispatched to let him know you are at the desk.”
“Thank you, Mr. . . .?”
“Just call me Nicholas. I am John’s partner in the mills.”
“Oh, I did not know he shared all those mills with a partner. It has been nice meeting you, Nicholas. We might be seeing each other more often in the future. At least I hope so. Would you tell John I am leaving and might visit him this evening? Thank you.” Amber left.
Nicholas could see that John was seething, having overheard everything.
John turned quickly watching her leave and said, “Thank you,” to Nicholas.
“And good luck to you,” Nicholas replied.
The coach ride to the hotel could not come soon enough for John. He was about to explode. For the last few hours, he was smoldering with a smile. Nicholas had to get him out of the building so John could boil over in private.
“John, your instincts, as in business, are true to you. That unsettling feeling has probably saved you a lot of potential grief or guilt.”
“Guilt!” John said in a questioning tone.
“Yes. Guilt. Guilt that you had passed over Margaret Hale; I think breaking her heart which you would have found out later, all because of Miss Haddon’s manipulations of your emotions. How are you going to handle this? I think I should be near in case you start losing control.”
“You know that will never happen. I feel such a fool for investing so much of myself into her feminine charms and airs. Women are strange creatures. I guess that’s why we love them. We, men, are dull and much less devious. We are the first to do battle and protect our own and prove our male superiority. Women are relegated to outsmarting us. And they do a good job of it. They hold other weapons over us other than sex. They have had century upon century to mold their instincts to make it in this world. I think of those prostitutes. What they do is not respectable for them but it is all right for us. Why are we exempt? They have found a way to eat, and keep sheltered and clothed at the expense of the rest of their life. We men would probably end our own lives, not wanting to face such a low way of life. Oh, I am just babbling, Nicholas. Pay no attention to me.”
“No, John. You make some very valid points. Since having a wife as smart as Peggy is, I see the unfairness of their lives. For all they do and learn and know and their hard work, they still raise our children. I do not know how they do it all. I can talk to Peggy about my work, not just my day, but our work issues. She always seems to see all the sides and has some very decent suggestions.”
“Yes. I have had such dealings with Miss Hale recently. I am quite impressed with her knowledge; it goes beyond education.”
“Explain that,” Nicholas urged.
“I cannot. Not yet. I have promised her anonymity but it shall be known very shortly, I am sure.”
“So you have managed to solve some of her mystery?”
“Actually, this only adds more. This week I intend to find out her story. She’s different than all the others. Much different. I think I am falling in love for the first time in my life, Nicholas.” John said staring out the coach window.”
“And you are probably the last one to know it,” Nicholas laughed.
“Explain that?” John said mimicking Nicholas’ previous statement.
“I think Branson and I have seen it growing. It is not so much the new interest, it is the significant change in you. We feel you are becoming happier. It took us a bit to figure if it was Amber or Margaret, but Branson saw a lot more in your face than I did, especially the worry when you carried Miss Hale to the hospital after her fainting at the bank. I bet if you ask Miss Leeds or her driver, they’d tell you the same thing. Does Miss Hale know yet?” Nicholas grinned.
“There have been no such words, but she may suspect an interest. And I hope it is reciprocated. We have enjoyed each other’s company several times, but when I have been about to say something serious, she finds a way to wiggle out of it or continues on her ‘I am not of your world’ talk. What world is she talking about? I have told her we are not like London where she attended finishing school, I do know that much.”
“You certainly have a busy week coming up. How to untangle yourself from Miss Haddon and ingratiate yourself to Miss Hale. Shall you bid for her at the auction?”
“I have been in a quandary over that, wondering if Miss Haddon may enter. That shall be solved very shortly. I shall have to give this some thought since Margaret seemed happy to share her picnic with you and Peggy.” John smiled, “You know it would do a man good to know what the woman who he thinks he loves wants to know about him and what she is willing to ask another. It is rather intriguing. We have had out best times together playing games with each other. I have made her laugh when she’s been about to drink or sup and her reaction made her spit her food in my face.” John heard Nicholas laugh as he smiled. “I might tell her, I shall not bid for her as I have no more clean clothes. However, I may bid you up to show an interest in her.”