Margaret set down her pencil and paper and leaned over to hug Kat. “You are a very brave young woman to have been through what you have and still maintain that sweet disposition of yours. The way I have come to know you over the past several months never indicated to me the horrors that you faced early on. I sincerely hope your singing aspirations take flight much earlier than waiting for your older years.”
“Thank you, Margaret. I have to admit to being nervous. I am a bit more fortunate to have learned to read in my young years. That does give me an advantage, but I haven’t found a skill to make my own way in life except this. You are lucky to have Miss Leeds’ to help you get on your feet without having to work on the second floor.” Kat remarked.
“Yes, I do know that and I am very grateful to her. I am sure she shall keep her promise in helping your with your singing. Thank you, Kat, for sharing your life.”
“You are welcome, Margaret.” Kat rose from Margaret’s little cot and left the room with a smile.
“John, I am a bit tired today. I found an apartment that I shall be moving into within a couple days. I really do not want to cut our evening short either. Could we go back to your house for an hour and talk?”
“I would prefer that myself, although I am sorry for your exhausted state. Are you sure you would not rather I take you home, now?” John asked.
“Oh, no. We have had too little time to reacquaint ourselves; I do not want that to end just yet,” she smiled demurely.
They walked to the coat room and John retrieved her wrap and placed it around her shoulders. He placed his hat on his head and took her arm in his as they strolled toward the front doors. It was not long before Branson had noticed his master waiting and reined his horses forward.
“Home, Branson,” John said as he helped Amber inside once again.
“Yes, Guv,” said Branson.
Before John got into the coach himself, he said, “Branson, I believe Mrs. Haddon shall only care to stay about an hour. Please wait up.”
“Yes, sir.” Branson responded.
John slid in placing his hat opposite him but this time he reached for her hand first. He still felt vaguely odd about things. Never had he tried to rekindle old feelings long lost. It was altogether a new starting point. Or was it? Somewhere in the back of his mind he could not shake the feeling of all of this being a plan in the works. It had to be his imagination; he was sure. He turned to her and tipped her chin up to kiss her lightly. She politely accepted his advance and showed no signs of aggressive passion which had been his experience of late.
No words were said the entire ride. “What is she thinking?” he asked himself.
Branson opened the coach door and John escorted her up the steps to his parlor. He took her wrap and watched as she silently walked to the window which overlooked the mill area.
“You have done well, John,” she remarked, turning back to face him.
John walked towards his bar, replying, “It is been a good living. I have struggled but have enjoyed all the days here. It is in my life’s blood.” John paused. “Brandy?”
“Yes, thank you. Whatever you are having,” she said, once more turning to the window. “Why haven’t you ever married,” she asked, accepting the glass that John was handing to her.
John paused as if wondering how far he should go with his personal feelings. “I cannot answer that. I have had more than my share of opportunities and I just haven’t found what I feel down deep should be there,” he said.”
“Do you wonder if we have any of our former feelings left? Do you ever think if we could have what we once had?” Amber asked, as she walked across the room to the sofa.
John sat down on the sofa but not next to her. Looking into his glass, he said, “I’d be lying if I said no. I think of our ages and wonder if our expectations and hopes of such youthful dreams could have withstood the test of time. What are you looking for? How do you see us?” John earnestly wanted to know . . . if she would tell him the truth.
Amber rose from the sofa and started walking the room. “I think I feel as you do. I hated the way we parted and have wondered at what could have been.” She walked around the back of the sofa leaving her drink on the table. John was not following her with his eyes, but looking down thoughtfully and measuring her words for sincerity. She paced behind him forming her words with care. “I remember as a child I had a birthday. My mother was very excited about a gift that she had ready to give me. My father came into the room and they had a row about something. My father took the present she was about to give me and flung it out the window. I heard it break. I ran outside; crying all the way to the broken package. In it was a china doll that I had wanted for so long. It was smashed. Eventually, my father told me how sorry he was for taking out his anger on me. He said he would replace it, but I knew it had been hand made for me and there was not another one like it. Somehow, I have felt like I had to come back and see if you were that package waiting for me. I knew you would not, could not, wait for me all this time. It may not come to pass that we are meant to reunite but it was inevitable that I find out.” Amber walked up to the back of John’s head and started running her fingers through his hair as she had done years before.
John closed his eyes and allowed Amber to administer to him. Without looking at her, he asked, “Shall you make love to me?” He hoped there might be more insight into her stay here through the answer she would give.
There was quiet in the room for a few moments as she walked around and sat down beside him. He turned to kiss her lightly and see what was going through her mind. “John, it could happen but not tonight. I need a little time. And even though it shall happen between us, do not think that is an answer to anything permanent in our lives. Like you, I do not know what I am looking for, but I knew I had to start here.”
Pulling her close to him, John murmured, “I’d like to start here.” John raised his hands and held her face in his palms, and pulled her lips to his which she easily parted. John swept her mouth slowly and tasted her. It felt forced but again he tossed that aside as irrelevant. The kiss was pleasing with Amber participating like an experienced woman. This was more than they once had together. Even with his heart not totally committed, it still was as pleasant as all the other women he had been with. He was not disappointed but at the same time, he was encouraged that she did not seek anything further of his attention. That had been a small relief to him.
Amber broke off the kiss, stood and announced, “I think, perhaps, I shall leave now. John, please just let your driver take me back. Do not accompany me. I have a lot to think about. Being alone at this moment, I feel, is best for me. I have had a truly delightful evening.”
John went down the back stairs and called to Branson to ready the carriage.
When he returned, he faced Amber to him and gave her a final light kiss. He turned to collect her wrap and placed it on her shoulders. “Amber, I have enjoyed the evening as well. I hope to have many more with you. If I can be of any assistance to help you settle into your new apartment, please do not hesitate to ask. I have many men to call upon should you need things lifted.”
“Thank you, John. I look forward to our next evening. Please give me a couple days before calling. I shall send you a note when I have the exact address. Tomorrow, I shall seek domestic help and then finish off the week with odds and ends of necessities.”
John walked her down to the coach and handed her in. “Please keep in touch. I shall be waiting to hear from you,” he said as he kissed her hand that was resting on the window frame. He stood and watched as Branson reined the horses toward the rolling gates. He saw her wave and he raised his hand in acknowledgement, wondering what life had in store for the two of them. Was she the answer to his prayers?
As the coach rolled its way toward the Milton Grand Hotel, Amber started to feel a small pang of guilt. Her plan had been to be aloof and not chase John as she had heard those stories. She needed to be tough through this, but John was still such a lovely man in all the ways one could be. If he ever knew that she had lied to him and the sole reason she was there was to snare a wealthy husband since her father had disowned her, he would have nothing to do with her. Even her father did not know her whole history of theft, selling her infant child, and loose morals. She would never forget the day that her father showed up at her apartment unannounced, while in her first year in Paris. Finding a half naked man in her room, he fumed and blustered while walking around the small space waiting for the lad to dress and leave. He was holding a letter he had received and Amber could see it was her mother’s handwriting. Holding the door open for the man, he slammed it forcefully shut as the lad left and bellowed, “How could you do this to your Mother?” He stormed around the room as if waiting for her answer, but he was already forming his next salvo. “I blame myself for not being home most of the time and keeping an eye on you. I wanted you to have the best so I worked hard in London while you and your mother stayed in Milton.”
Amber could see his face reddening.
“Stealing her jewels and blaming it on one of the staff members was the last straw. I imagine that before we saw you off at the dock you had taken most of her finer family pieces which she kept safely away and rarely looked at.”
Amber remembered being happy with the fact that she was not showing her pregnant state. The child was not John’s, but the man she knew before him. It did not matter anyway. Her father could not show any more ire than he was already.
“Amber, you have dishonored this family in the worst way. You have blamed an innocent person for your own thievery. After talking with your mother and against my better judgment, you shall have your education. You shall have a small living allowance to get through your school years. You shall have to find work after that. You shall not wed with a dowry and you shall not receive any financial support from us. You have caused a rift between your mother and me and I have seen to it that she cannot help you any further than an education. For all intents and purposes, you are cast out of this family. I hope the money that you gained from the sale of your mother’s precious family gems shall keep you until a man shall marry you.” Amber’s father paused for a moment. “Have you anything to say before I leave?” her father asked.
She remembered being so stunned that she never had time to collect her thoughts – and what could she say. It was all true and there was more he did not know about.
“I did not think so. Please, do not write to me. I do not want to hear of you. You may write to your mother or she shall die of a broken heart but she cannot aid you. Stealing from your own family, who most likely would have given you what you needed, but to leave the country allowing a poor innocent young woman to take your blame is intolerable and unforgiveable. I wish you well with the rest of our life, because it solely belongs to you now and no longer are you a part of a family. Good day to you.” Her father turned from her in disgust and walked swiftly to the door, slamming it again as he left.
The next thing she knew Branson was assisting her out of the carriage and up the hotel steps. The porters opened the doors and he left her there. She wondered if he noticed the tears in her eyes. John would never forgive her for what she had done. Why did she come back and involve him in a marriage she thought he would accept gladly? To involve John was as bad as leaving the blame with the young parlor maid. She had a lot of thinking to do. What other options did she have if John did not come through? She may have to continue with her planned marriage to him, hoping he never found out about her past. Another thought struck her – there were probably many wealthy men in Milton. If she could maintain her appearance of wealth, she might find someone else if John was not interested.