A John Thornton / Margaret Hale Fantasy Novel
As John climbed into Nicholas’ coach, Nicholas said, “I bet we are going Lord hunting. Was not that some headline today? Have you ever heard of Miss something Hale?”
“I think her name is Margaret. This whole mystery is intriguing. I have reserved a table because I think they shall be crowded tonight.”
Nicholas laughed. He was anxious for the evening to unfold. “This feels as if we are going to the theater to watch a play. What could a noble want with anyone who lives here?”
“With our growth, it is hard to know everyone as we once did. Still . . . I think we should know if we had people of that caliber here. What do you say, Nicholas, shall he be old or young?”
“I am going to say old. If he is looking for a single woman, he’s probably reaching out to a runaway daughter.”
“I do not know about a daughter, but I am going to say old, too. A Lord doesn’t really tell you his nobility rank. Is he a Baron, an Earl? I wonder how many are in his party. Yes, I must say that I am more than a little intrigued. I am just hoping we get a chance to see him dining tonight. We might have to eat there all week,” John laughed. “I can always ask Benson to give us some details.”
“Good evening your Lordship,” Benson bowed. I have both your tables ready as requested. Please follow me.” Benson walked with his head high as the crowded dining room looked on as London’s parade of the latest fashions passed them by. “Your Lordship, can I bring you the wine menu?”
“No, thank you. Just bring us several iced bottles of your very finest champagne.” The Lord’s group consisted of three other men, assuredly guards dressed as gentlemen slid into the half circle booth. Lord Robert knew he was causing a bit of a stir in this mill town.
Benson returned, escorting three waiters with champagne in iced holders. “Can I get you anything else at this time, your Lordship?” Benson asked.
“No, we’ll eat later. I am expecting someone, I know not who, to meet me here this evening. If anyone asks for me I want you to ask them this one question. If they answer correctly, escort them to my table. My men shall then move to the adjoining table. The question you are to ask is this, ‘What was the name of the building?’ If they answer, ‘Hanover House’ bring them to my table. Thank you, Benson. That shall be all for now.”
Benson bowed his way away from the table and hurried toward the dining room entrance, wanting only himself to greet the incoming customers.
“Looks like we were both wrong, John. He’s a young one; probably as cocky as they come.”
“Have you noticed the room is full, yet there is a table beside them that is empty? It would seem to me as if they are expecting someone or wanted as much privacy as they could get in here. They have no one on the other side. Benson often offers me that table when I bring a lady here.”
“Well, do you not smell good,” Nicholas laughed and so did John.
John looked across the room, raising his eyebrows as it seemed Benson was leading Miss Leeds to the Lordship’s table. “Well, there’s something you shall not see often,” said John.
“What is it? What are you looking at? Who is that woman being introduced to the Lord?” Nicholas could hardly stutter out his questions as the curtain rose.
“That, Mr. Higgins, is Miss Leeds. This is most mysterious.”
“John, I know you must be having one over on me. Who is she really?”
“I am telling you. She is Miss Leeds. I told you have I have been there only a couple weeks ago. That is her. I wonder what she has to do with this, Miss Hale.”
It seemed the entire room had their eyes fixed on the company of his Lordship. Not many people would know who she was, but the rumor would circle the room in a hurry by someone who did. John watched passively not nearly as intent as Nicholas seemed to be. He knew his Lordship was not meeting Miss Hale and wondered why.
“Your Lordship. I am Katherine Leeds, representing Miss Margaret Hale. I am sorry to say that she was in a traumatized state when I left her today. Psychologically, and physically, she is damaged goods. You have ruined her life, I believe, your Lordship.” Katie paused, waiting for some denial or outburst, but none came.
“Miss Leeds,” Lord Robert began as he filled her glass with champagne, “I have searched a whole year to find Miss Hale. I eventually was told that she went to live with her governess that she had as a child. Is that you?”
“Yes, it is.”
You were the most difficult to track down but finally you were located in this town, although I did not know your name; only the town name. That is why I placed the ad in the newspaper, hoping to catch your or Miss Hale’s eye. I have made this search and this journey completely voluntary in order to apologize to Miss Hale. Miss Hale’s life is not the only one that I have damaged. We shall both have to live with my totally unpardonable action a year ago. With my title, it shall soon be forgotten or of little consequence by others but it shall never be forgotten by Miss Hale or by myself and never be felt of little consequence, quite the contrary. I have found it hard to live with myself knowing what I have caused. I know that Nobles get away with a lot and I shall be no exception, but it was brought home to me that very night how rude and callous a lot we are. I have vowed since that night, not to be one of the sheep. I want to rise above our hideous reputations and do right. All of that cannot start without my apology to Miss Hale.
“He sure is talking a lot to Miss Leeds,” Nicholas noted. For a while the whole room was watching them, now it is down to polite glancing. The Lord is probably used to people staring at him but Miss Leeds seems to be holding her own. She is sitting up straight and never wavers at looking straight into his eyes. It looks as if she is giving him no purchase.”
“You are right, Nicholas. She is standing firm and I must admit; I was a little intimidated when she interviewed me. If this Miss Hale asked her to intercede, she sure picked a good person. It appears the Lord is handing her a note, obviously for the missing Miss Hale. I do not know the names of all the girls that work there, but I do not remember hearing a Margaret mentioned at either time I was there.”
“Miss Leeds, I shall be here another two days. Should Miss Hale read this note,” he said, handing it over to Katie, “and feels I am sincere and could find it in her heart to meet with me, just once, I would be eternally grateful. Any word from her would be welcome.”
“Your Lordship, I personally feel that the words you have spoken to me tonight are sincere and I shall tell that to Miss Hale and give her your note. Either she or I shall contact you sometime tomorrow with whatever words that shall be said. I must admit I came her ready to do battle no matter who you were but have found a rather pathetic man looking for redemption. I hope you can be forgiven, but I do not know what is in Miss Hale’s heart and mind. If there is nothing else, I shall leave you to your dinner.”
“Yes, I believe I have explained myself, more than I had planned and there is nothing to add. Thank Miss Hale for at least allowing you to hear me out.”
His Lordship rose as Miss Leeds did and bowed to her, taking her hand and lightly kissing the top of it, in true nobility style. “Good evening, Miss Leeds.”
“Good evening, Your Lordship,” said Katie as she turned and walked away to a room full of eyes on her.
John could see that Benson was being hailed all over the room, undoubtedly being asked questions. John knew him well enough to know of his confidential nature and he would not be telling any tales. “It looks like the best part of the show is over, Nicholas. Shall we order?”
“I hope one day to find this Miss Hale and unravel this mystery that somehow weaves the madam of a sophisticated brothel into the quandary.”
As Katie was handed into her carriage by Tawl, she told him to drive around a bit until he was sure they were not being followed. Her ten minute ride turned into over an hour. She assumed it must be the newspaper people wanting something to write tomorrow. She expected her business to go up in the next week.
Lord Robert’s men returned to his table telling him that the woman he met with was a madam of a very sophisticated brothel. Somehow he felt worse hearing that. Had his actions reduced this young vibrant finishing school woman to that and impacted her life to such depths from which she could never recover, he wondered. If it had, he would restore her to a more modest and independent living state. She would want for nothing. What else could he do?
Waiting nervously for Katie to return, Margaret kept herself busy beginning her book. She felt the first chapter should be a biography of her life from birth until her arrival in a brothel. Since she was living a hardship as were many of the girls through no fault of their own, she wanted her reader to know her credentials for writing a book such as this.
Margaret heard Katie finally arrive home. Her nerves were frayed into knots. If she felt this was something sincere, really sincere, maybe she could put a lot of this behind her. She would forever have the stigma of not being innocent but the harsh violent painful memories may hopefully subside. She wanted to feel comfortable around men, but Lord Robert and her uncle did exactly the opposite. She thought she had met her first nice gentlemen in Trevor but he now seemed swept away and would never return to a damaged woman. It seemed all young men wanted to be the first in a girl’s life but hardly gave it thought when they moved on to the next challenge. Again, Margaret chastised herself for lumping all men into one.
Katie entered Margaret’s little room along with a couple girls behind her, who were not engaged at this hour. Margaret looked up at Katie trying to judge the expression on her face. There was none.
“Margaret, do you want to know of our conversation before or after you read his note to you?” Katie turned to the door to see who was clinging to the entrance and then looked back at Margaret, asking with her eyes how she felt about them listening.
“Let them stay. Tell me about his Lordship.” Margaret said with some disgust in her tone.
“Margaret, I have come to know and read people better than most. I was impressed and sorry for Lord Robert. I started out telling him how he had ruined your life and he did not deny anything. He knows full well what he’s done to your life and his. Although, his behavior shall be excused eventually, he shall never excuse himself. He wants to be a better man and a better Noble and he says that can only began with you. He has searched for you for over a year. He knows his action is unpardonable and reprehensible and he doesn’t expect forgiveness, but he would very much like to apologize to you in person. He shall be leaving the day after tomorrow. To be quite honest, and I told him so, he looks to be a pitiful man looking for redemption. I think he is quite sincere and ashamed of himself. Now . . . you read the letter and let me know what you decide.
Katie and the girls left the room, closing the door behind them. Margaret sat thinking about Katie’s words while she fiddled with the seal on the note. All her life, she had always trusted her governess and she should have no doubts now. Maybe this was her chance to get past the tragedy in her life and feel good again. She was sure this would be the only opportunity if it was sincere as Katie thought. Margaret finally snapped the impressive waxed seal and began to read.
It is hard to begin a note to apologize for the enormous impact that I have made on your life with my indefensible and unforgivable behavior that night at Hanover House. No words can be enough to tell you how sorry I am. Even though I was ‘in my cups’ and knew not what I was doing, I can take no excuse. My actions have damaged your life, and I shall have to live with that all my life as difficult as it is. That shall forever be my penance for my behavior.
I have sought you out for a year to tell you of my great sorrow for what I did to you. When I was sober enough to know all, I immediately wanted to come to you, but Trevor would not allow me near you. He was right. The timing would not have seemed sincere enough. That night, I also ruined two good friendships, lost the respect of my class mates and embarrassed my family to a high decree.
I have not been encouraged by anyone other than myself to seek you out. I shall be in Milton tomorrow and shall hope you can reconsider giving me a few private moments to speak to you personally.
Forever in your debt, L. Robert H.