“I am sorry, sir, I do not think we have been introduced,” bantered Lord Robert to John like he was a pesky fly.
John looked at Margaret. “This is the man that attacked you?”
Margaret slightly nodded her head. “John, please let me handle this. I am all right.”
John was blind with rage and took a swing at his Lordship, knocking him to the ground, bloodying his lip. “How could you have done something so malevolent for a man of your stature or is that just the peerage way. Just take what you want and damn the consequences.”
Before John could throw another punch as Lord Robert was rising, the bodyguards had John thoroughly immobile.
“John!” Margaret yelled. “Please let me talk to his Lordship. Lord Robert could you ask your bodyguards to take Mr. Thornton into the room over there,” she said, pointing at the room that so recently had been a blissful precipice to her.
“Nicholas, would go with John, too. I shall find out what all this is about and take care of it.”
Nicholas hesitated and then did as he was asked. He wanted to be sure that John was not being roughed up, only detained.
“Miss Hale, I never expected a greeting such as this. Please, explain to me that man’s animosity towards me.”
“Lord Robert, that is John Thornton a magistrate and a very well respected member of the cotton industry in this city. He is my betrothed. He is one of the very few that knows my story. Your appearance here and several months ago, had many speculated rumors floating around the city but none of them were known to connect to me, which they shall now. Quite honestly, I had known John a very short time and he had figured it all out himself. He was at the restaurant the evening that Miss Leeds visited you in my stead. I have been quite shy, never going out, feeling quite bereft of spirit and somehow with my timing of arrival followed closely by yours, he figured it out on his own. We have become close and plan to marry within a few weeks.”
“I am quite surprised to hear that. Miss Haddon had led me to believe that you had changed your feelings towards me and you were yearning for my company. I believe I told you last time how I had wished we had met under more chivalrous circumstances. I think of you often.”
Loud voices and chairs being knocked about were coming from the other room.
“Miss Hale, you are a pretty and intelligent woman. Are you sure he is not seeking your fortune?’
“It was not until two weeks ago that I finally went to the bank. I found a little bookshop that was going to go on the market and thought it would be a living for me and one that I would enjoy. Before that, I had pledged myself not to use any of your monies. I am afraid I succumbed to the ability to earn my own wage in my own little store so I went and talked with the bank manager. When I was told the amount I was rushed to the hospital. It so overtook me that I swooned and went into shock.”
“I am sorry you have had further injury due to me, but continue.”
“That is more money than I can spend in ten wealthy lifetimes, so I am going to make some of my dreams come true. I am going to help the women of this city crawl out of the streets. Since I was put there, I know their hardships. They shall be trained for honest skilled labor. The woman and her ladies that sheltered and befriended me in my darkest hours shall be gifted enough to change their lives and they shall know that you are the real benefactor.. That shall still leave an enormous amount left. You gave me a king’s ransom.”
“Not quite, Miss Hale. A king is more valuable than that. I do admit the amount was sizeable but I have never had any second thoughts. But again, I ask you. Are you sure of this man and his intentions?”
“Lord Robert, only Miss Leeds and the Bank Manager know that there was any money given to me; no one knows the amount except the Banker. Mr. Thornton knows nothing of it. He himself is quite wealthy in comparison to this city’s fortune holders.”
“Why would Miss Haddon make up such a story, do you think?”
“Mr. Thornton could tell you better but I shall just say it was jealousy that Mr. Thornton turned to me rather than her. Actually, I should clarify that. He discovered many unsavory acts and illegal situations about her and faced her with them. He learned these atrocities from her father’s very mouth. She was jealous, exposed and mad. She would have liked nothing better than to cause John the grief that she is now doing.”
His Lordship nodded to the third guard to let all the others out of the room.
John came storming out first and the third bodyguard leapt in front of his Lordship and pulled out his pistol.
“Margaret, are you all right?”
“Yes, John, I am fine. I believe you both owe each other an understanding.”
His Lordship looked over at Nicholas.
“He can hear anything I can,” said John. “He is my brother.”
“I believe Miss Hale and I came to a conclusion on my reprehensible behavior of almost two years ago. She knows what I have gone through in order to make things right. At the time, I lost all my friends and almost my family. I was disgraced and deserved every punishment that was meted out. Far above the families embarrassment was my own. I hated myself for what I had done to Miss Hale’s life and searched a year for her in hope to apologize. I think she came to believe me and offered forgiveness. Although a gentleman should be responsible for any of his actions, I was very drunk that night and jealous of my friends interest in her. I think you understand jealousy.”
John kept checking Margaret for any reactions to his words. She seem placated so John listened on. “She may be able to forgive him, but I never shall,” he told himself.
“I deserved your reaction to me. I would have done the same thing not knowing what you shall now. For this, I forgive you. I did not know that Miss Hale was betrothed or I should never have come. But you will understand this. A certain Miss Haddon told me lies about Margaret’s affection for me and how she missed me but never felt she could approach me. I believed her because I wanted to believe her. I have told Margaret that I wished we had met under other circumstances. My life would have been richer with her in it. From what she tells me, she is marrying a fine upstanding pillar of the community and if I could help it, it would be no other way. I admire you, Mr. Thornton, to be the man to win her heart. God knows, many of us wanted to do just that. Would you mind if I kept the basket of food that I am paying for? My guards and driver shall feast with me on our return home.”
John saw Margaret smile and then turned to look at him for his response.
John would never bow to this man as others were doing. “Sir, I have never cared for the aristocracy and their blatant disregard for the common man. I include you in that. I find only disgust with what you did to Miss Hale and you would never have seen the light of day had you come to my courtroom.” He looked at Margaret and she was frowning. You have stolen from me what rightfully should have been my honor. I shall never forgive you for that. “However, if Margaret can find something in your behavior of late to forgive you then I stand behind her decision. Your words do sound repentant and I hope you mean them and shall live by them. That is all I have to say.”
“Mr. Thornton, I admire a man like you that speaks the truth of his convictions. It is missed in our level of society. I do not ask for your forgiveness as I do not deserve it. I must say it is a strange feeling to meet the man that shall love the Miss Hale I once knew. I am sorry to have intruded on your fine day and shall take this up with Miss Haddon on my return.”
“Good luck with that but I doubt you shall find her. If she visited you in your home it might do you well to count your sterling and object d’art. She is most likely comfortably situated on another continent,” John advised.
“As Miss Hale has just told me. I take my leave and wish you two all the happiness that Miss Hale deserves. I am so very grateful that she has found a man that loves her as he found her. Again excuse my interruption of your day. I think I shall never come to this place again. Good day.”
John, Margaret and Nicholas watched as his Lordship and three guards walked through the front doors of the building.
Without mentioning a word about that encounter, Margaret pulled John by the hand and headed out front. “Hurry, the girls are coming up for auction.”
Nicholas patted John on his back on the way out to the front. He was proud of his friend for standing up against the noble. He was not surprised as that was the John he always knew.
John folded Margaret’s arm around his as he escorted her down the front court steps and back into the crowd. People were starring at Margaret and John Thornton for his unknown involvement with the woman.
“Margaret . . . ,” John began.
“Shush. Yes, I know we have to talk but let me watch the girls on stage.”
John was a little taken aback that she was not seeing his grief that she should be assuaging. “I shall give you thirty minutes after the last bid and then you and I are gone from this place. Talk and eat is what we shall do.”
He paced behind Margaret as he heard her cheer and clap for whatever was transpiring. “How can she avoid me right now?” He needed her so badly. While he was being forcefully held in the jury room he felt he could be losing Margaret at that very moment. He was shaking.
After the current bid closed out and relieved Margaret of her strict attention, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her smartly. He cared not for propriety for her or him at that moment. Let a hundred of his friends look. He was proud that she was his and wanted everyone to know it.
Many in their near circle looked on as the kiss continued. John was pulling her tighter to his rigid body and Margaret had encircled her arms about his neck as she stood on tip toes. People laughed when they saw Nicholas Higgins trying to get John’s attention.
John was finally persuaded to set Margaret away from him so she could watch the next Leeds girl. John could feel all eyes on him. He could only wonder what everyone thought about the events of today. He walked back to Margaret, clasped her arm in his again and proudly lifted his head to the audience he seemed to have gathered. “At least everyone is smiling,” he thought. And he only thought that for Margaret’s sake.
The bidding finally came to an end. Margaret hurried over to Katie. John started to follow her but Nicholas found him first.
“John, the Leeds girls brought in as much as all the other ladies did, except for Miss Margaret, that is. That was a stroke of genius to leave them hidden until the end. With Margaret’s bidder, the orphanage is going to be a show place, almost. We did an exceptionally find job today, sir. I am sorry that some of that fine work was at your expense. I not as much of a sentimentalist as you seem to be, but my heart broke for you while we were waiting in that room. I could see you felt your life was going to slip away.”
“I did . . . that,” John replied. It did not seem to bother Margaret at all.”
“John, cannot you see that she knew the outcome. She knew that the noble could not come between the two of you. He was nothing more than an annoyance to her. Try not to berate her too much for not being as concerned for you as you think she should have been. She has no doubts about her love for you but you apparently have doubts in her. Do not show her that.”
“What do you mean that I have doubts?”
“John, sometimes one is too close to see things. If she thinks you were upset as you really were, she would think that you haven’t believed what she has told you or shown you since you two became a matched set. Do you doubt that she loves you?”
“No, of course, I do not. But that’s how I behaved, did I not? I showed her I had no confidence in her. God, how could I be so foolish?”
“It is because you are in love and we all act strange when that is happening to us. Now, go find her, take her away from here and let her talk about the day.”
“Thank you, Nicholas,” John said, heading off to find his woman.
To make up for his ill humor, John was quiet in the coach as Branson drove them to The Dove and an early dinner. When they were shown to a table John asked if he could also reserve the table next to theirs.
“Who’s joining us, John?” Asked a surprised Margaret.
“Why the second table, then?” She saw John smile. She knew instantly that he was joking with her. He wanted to be out of range of her bursts of laughter. She could not help but laugh loudly.
They both sat down at the one table smiling to each other. “I think I am going to call you Camille,” John remarked, looking down at this lap and his dinner napkin.
“I think the name sounds like camel and I believe they spit a lot, do they not? I want you to know that I have my dinner linen at the ready should I perceive even the slightest hint of laughter from you. I shall do my utmost to not be part of the problem.” John sat there chuckling to himself quietly.
“John . . . John, hear me. Stop this right now or you might as well go get an umbrella.”
Now it was John’s turn to laugh out loud. He stopped when the waiter approached them for their drinks orders.
“I shall have a scotch and water for the lady.”
“Wait! Margaret called to the departing waiter. I am afraid this gentleman misunderstood me. I think I might try a gin and tonic this evening.”
The waiter nodded and walked off.
“I really I had no idea that was going to marry a coward,” Margaret laughed. “You can stand up against a noble with a historical lineage that goes back centuries, but you are afraid of little old me. I am not sure what to do about that.”
“Margaret, I have thought about that incident all day and I shall tell you that I would do it again. I hope I did not embarrass you or make things any worse.”
“John, I could not have been more proud of your chivalrous posturing if you were a Knight. You were there to protect my honor and reputation. I think I loved you more than ever at that moment and that moment shall never leave me. I saw your foundation as a man. A truly honorable and loving man. You are definitely my Knight in shining armor. I am so sorry that you were treated the way you were. I felt a little selfish enjoying you being uncomfortable. You did know that there was never a chance that I would leave you, did you not?”
If I am to be honest, I do not know what I actually thought at the time, I could only react. My possession was being handled out of my site. He could have hauled you off out the back door of the courthouse. The little I knew of him at that point was not good. I trusted you, but not him.”
“And I shall be honest with you that there is more to this story that you do not know and he asked me if you knew and I told him you did not. But I think it shall be something I will tell you on our wedding day. What do you think of two weeks from today?”
“I would like it better if it were two hours from now, but I do think we both have much to do. What is your thinking on America for a honeymoon, the south in particular?”
“Are we going to have a working honeymoon?” She smiled.
“No. No work to be done or planned. It shall be more of an expedition into what is going to control our livelihood in the future. I shall keep you in bed from dinner through breakfast. Then a few hours for short trips and the home again for bed or maybe a nice pasture. How does that sound?”
“Like everything I have ever dreamed of. But do you really think you shall run into financial difficulties in the future.”
“Yes, I really do. I see our biggest supplier, the southern states of American, not being able to ship the goods as previously. Egypt and some of the islands are trying to gear up for the shortage from the slaves being freed in the US. This is probably a decade away, yet. The slave labor may continue but they shall become wage earners then, exacting a much higher price for the raw cotton. Either way, it looks like rough times ahead. You and I shall be all right but I am afraid some of the workers shall suffer when I have to let some go or reduce everyone’s hours. Let us change the subject for now. We have plenty of time for those conversations. Do you . . . think that you would like to be part of the overall all business?”
“Try and stop me.”
“But what about your bookstore and when are you going to tell me how that is being paid for?”
“That shall be settled his week and you shall know on our wedding day.”
“Margaret, can I give you any money for clothes for the wedding or the honeymoon. I know you must make a small salary at Miss Leeds.”
“John, don’ worry about me. I have friends.”
“Are I not your friend, too.”
“You are my best friend John, but you shall have your own expenses with this wedding and honeymoon. Do not worry about me. I am resourceful.”
“I think the noble has been in love with you in the past,” came out of nowhere from John.
“I think I am coming to know that now. I never did then. I did not associate with his levels of society at school, so we only met at chaperoned school functions. I had no wish to know him. Let us also put that behind of us for a while.
The waiter brought the drinks and the dinner menu.
After he left, Margaret approached John with an important question that she wanted to include in her book. “John, do not answer immediately. Give it some thought, but I would like to know what you think of women in general and I do not mean romantically but more of the lives they lead. Think about it through dinner and then we shall discuss it. Your opinion, your true opinion means a lot to me.
“For you, love I shall give it a lot of thought.
Chapter Nineteen – Male Concerns
Mr Woodhouse was not in a happy frame of mind. He had some very serious concerns about his daughter, because she seemed to have turned into a completely different woman, of lately.
Instead of rushing headlong from one scheme into another, Emma seemed calm and serene, which was not in her habit. What could cause such a change, Mr Woodhouse asked himself. He pondered over several reasons, or events, or even mood swings, which could probably be the source of Emma’s serenity.
Was she unwell? Although it was the end of July, the afternoons sometimes turned frisky, and young persons were not inclined to notice such temperature drops, until it was too late.
Was she perhaps unhappy? Mr Woodhouse remembered his own marriage to Emma’s mother, and how they had fared during those first months. Although they had done tolerably well, and been more than tolerably happy, they had to endure various changes in their status and consequence. Emotions ran high when two people were so intimately involved with each other.
Ah, emotions … Mr Woodhouse did fervently disapprove of the cursed things, and more to point, of expressing them in public. And to be precise, Mr Woodhouse considered the marriage bed the only place where those dangerous emotions were to be let loose. Never, ever should they be allowed to pass the threshold of the conjugal bedchamber.
In short, Mr Woodhouse was so thoroughly uneasy that he decided – albeit reluctantly – to take action. He went in search of Mr Knightley.
George Knightley sat behind his desk in Mr Woodhouse’s study, which was now his study. Emma’s father happily left the estate matters to his son-in-law, so he gladly made use of the spacious, loftily furnished room.
Yet George was not doing anything useful, and had not been doing it for the last two hours. He was brooding over Emma, and there was nothing new in that. After they had returned to the house, that morning, Emma had excused herself to her husband, claiming she had important and urgent matters to see to. She had left the house, carrying two wicker baskets, which contained – or so George surmised – the acclaimed Donwell Abbey strawberries. Since then, she had not returned.
George’s brooding was disturbed when his father-in-law entered, and the old man was wearing the same brooding expression that was visible on George’s own face.
“Good afternoon, sir,” George greeted his visitor. “How can I help you?”
“Ah, Mr Knightley, I apologize for disturbing you, but there is a matter of great concern that asks for your insight and remediation.”
“Please, have a seat. I think I know what worries you so, sir. It worries me just the same. Forgive my boldness, but is it Emma you are concerned of?”
“Yes!” Mr Woodhouse exclaimed. “How did you guess?”
“Ah, my dear sir, it is very obvious, is it not? She has been behaving strangely for the past days, has she not? I tried to wriggle it out of her, but failed. I presumed you have made the same effort?”
“Well, erm, I have but … I fear I am not very skilled in prodding for Emma’s thoughts. She always manages to escape as soon as I start prodding, wretched girl that she is! But, Mr Knightley, we are digressing. So you do not know what ails her, either?”
“It is, in my opinion, not an ailment we have to reckon with. It is a frame of mind which I have never seen on her before. She is … and here I find myself searching for the right word – being surreptitious, Mr Woodhouse. She is avoiding us, and that we cannot have. We must try and entrap her, and then force her to make a full confession. Not an easy task, if you ask me.”
Mr Woodhouse sighed. “No, Mr Knightley, it certainly is not.”
And so it happened to be that Emma was waylaid the minute she entered Hartley’s hall. The two men in her life that were most important to her were waiting, Papa seated in a high-backed chair, and George standing near the banister, arm crossed and a mocking smile on his handsome face.
As always, Emma’s defence was ready.