“Margaret, how are you this evening?” He felt silly asking in the next breath.
“I think that depends. I have either been ravished by a gorilla or this coach is twirling because it has been swept up into a tornado. My eyes were closed enjoying the emotional ride so I am left without clues. How are you now?” Margaret asked seeing John shaking his head and laughing quietly.
“My eyes were closed, as well, but my experience was quite different than yours, I am afraid and had nary a clue for me either. I think I shall check to see if Branson is still in his box.”
Margaret giggled. “John, all day I have thought about last night, which we promised not to repeat tonight, I believe was the consensus of opinion?” Margaret left the question open-ended to be answered if he felt inclined.
“I am a gentleman and a man of great honor and in the end shall keep to my commitment, but please do not disallow me a few challenges. Not knowing you well, you could be one of those women that say no when they mean yes,” he smiled kiddingly.
“John Thornton, learn this right now,” Margaret said light-heartedly. “I am not and never have been a person who means one thing and says something else, most likely expected to be heard from me or a lady. I do not offer false compliments. I shall be polite to people that bore me, but I shall depart as soon as is acceptable. I have sometimes been chastised in my life for being too honest and straight forward. I am afraid that may be one quality you might find disapproval in me.”
“Margaret, you cannot know how much I have wanted a woman exactly with that . . . well, I call it a virtue. One of the main reasons I have never been serious about any woman are the games they feel they must play. I have come to totally detest that. In fact, I stopped going out with women for a while because of that.”
“Tonight, can you tell me about Lucia?”
“I promise. Now or later?”
“Let us have our meal first and you can tell the beginnings of the history of milling.”
“That I will be most honored to do. You see, my wife will play a great part in our career so I think I am going to hire you with a wedding ring next week. That shall be your salary.”
“That is another subject that I have thoughts on to which you shall find disappointment in me.”
That statement rattled John. “What could have happened between this morning and this evening for her to think I might be disappointed,” he wondered.
“I shall be quite at the end of my rope unless you clarify that statement immediately. He took her by the shoulders and turned her towards him, looking into her eyes for some answer.
“I would like to delay the wedding for one or two weeks, only. I cannot fit in everything I want and need to do. I hope you can understand that without asking me all kinds of questions as to why.” Margaret lowered her eyes, “It is also a good time for me in my month. Surely, you can understand that.”
“Margaret that time for you will never ever bother me. Ever. I will want to still make love to you all night even if it is your week to bleed or conceive. We shall talk about our thoughts on families tonight, too.”
John felt the coach slowing and pulled Margaret once again into his arms, pressing his lips gently to hers and parting them with this tongue. He searched her mouth, over her teeth, engaged her own tongue and made light passionate love to her through her lips. Still cradling her, he lifted his head and again found her eyes slow to open as if she still waited for him to continue. That almost made his heart stop – seeing the contented expectant look on her face, waiting for more from him.
The waiter seated them at a table John had reserved earlier in the day. “Is this table agreeable,” he asked Margaret.
“It seems very nicely situated. Never having been here, I cannot say that I favor one over another.”
John asked the waiter for his best champagne.
“Champagne? I cannot remember the last time . . . ,” she stopped, remembering the last time was the night of her attack.
“Does this bring back bad memories?” John asked placing his hand over hers on the tabletop.
“I am sorry. If I had not started, that statement all would have been well. But let us start a new memory with champagne.”
“I insist we do that. We shall call it ‘The First Dinner Out.’ I think I’d rather call it ‘The Night After the First.’” John squeezed her hand when he saw her smile.
“John, I love looking around this room. Would you please order for me? I am not a delicate eater.”
“Another fine trait to add to my mounting list of attributes I have been searching for in a woman to spend my life with.”
“ John, stop that. You are embarrassing me. How will I feel when you cannot check off one of your list items? Certainly, you do not have such a list?”
“Do you doubt me?” he asked looking into her eyes with a straight face. “What was it that your brought with you tonight? Dare I ask if it was a list?”, he tried not to smile.
Margaret took the opportunity to really study his eyes and expression for future referencing. “Go ahead, smile. I know you are dying to.” She waited. He never changed his glare.
“You are making me feel funny looking at me like a bug under glass. All right, yes, I do doubt you.”
“When we leave here to go to my home and talk, I will show you what I have written down,” John told her. “When I am with you, it is only you I can think about. It is when I am away from you and still thinking of you, that some things pass through begging to be known. I am far past knowing that you are right for me. It is other small things that have come to mind.
“I do not believe you. Now, if there is a list, I shall have learned something valuable about you.”
“And that is . . . ?”
“Just never you mind.”
“It sounds to me that if I do have a list, we are of the same mold.”
The waiter brought the champagne and poured the glasses. He waited for John’s approval. John nodded to the waiter and lifted his glass. He looked into Margaret’s bright face. “ toast!”
“ toast. Yes, what shall we toast to,” smiled Margaret?
John reached over and caressed Margaret’s cheek with his other hand, saying,” To Love. Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies. That is the path we follow for the rest of our days.”
They both sipped their glasses. “That was beautiful, John. Was that rehearsed or is that a repeat of some other meaningful night?”
“I have never done that before in my life. I have to admit it has been working its way around in my head since I ordered our drinks.”
“I must add that you are a romantic to my list of attributes that must be in the man I marry.”
“Oh! Your list, is it?” John laughed. “Somehow I did not doubt that you have a list.” John looked away for the food menu’s that had been lain on the table.
“I can prove it to you but not for a while yet.”
“I see. And I shall know that you wrote this list before tonight, how?”
“It shall be proven, but I am not at liberty to tell you now,” Margaret said, wearing a vague almost scheming smile on her face.
“Now, I am curious. Yet, another Miss Hale riddle. My life these past few months has been riddled with your riddles. We have resolved the two biggest one, I do believe. But there are more.”
“More? Now, I am curious. What can you mean?” she said, now taking on a serious look.
“All in due time. When one makes butter, one waits for the cream to rise to the top.”
John felt Margaret’s champagne, that she just sipped, being propelled into his face. “Another salvo. John with all the classiness he could muster did not react. He reached down and wiped his face with his dinner napkin. He laughed himself silly when Margaret immediately rose and left the table. While he finished blotting the drops off of his evening frock coat, he wondered if he should go retrieve her. Certainly she headed into the ladies area, though.
“Is everything all right here, sir? asked the waiter, seeing the commotion. “Shall the lady be returning? He saw John laughing and felt a bit easier.
“Yes, I am sure she shall return when she recovers herself. I am ready to order if you are ready to take it.” John ordered their meal hoping Margaret would like it.
After ordering John walked to the foyer area. He should never have left Margaret unescorted, even when she took off like a rabbit.
A few moments later, Margaret peeped her head out and saw John waiting. She started giggling and closed the door without exiting. John stood there laughing to himself. He decided to move out of her sight but stay nearby. Another moment later, she peeped out again.
“Hmm…,” she was talking out loud to herself. “I guess he’s returned to the table. Good.”
John covered his mouth so his unsuccessful attempts to stifle his laughter were covered. He watched her head for the dining room and slipped behind her just like he was escorting her. She noticed John was not in his seat and immediately turned to go back to the foyer, certain he was there. She walked straight into him. Her head bumped into his chest and her hand grazed his loins.
“Margaret. We agreed. None of that tonight but if you have changed your mind . . .”
“No, I haven’t changed my mind, but it feels like you have,” she said with a straight face.
Surprised by her statement, John tried to look dignified while he laughed in earnest. “I think you are coming to know me too well,” he smiled.
“I am asking the waiter for another table,” Margaret said, never referring to the champagne exhibition.
“Is there something wrong with this one?”
“Yes. You are at it. Maybe I could sit a bit further away. I am afraid one more of those episodes shall nullify all the fine attributes on your list.”
“Would it surprise you to know that your action this evening is on my good list?”
“Good list?” Margaret asked as John seated her. “Does that mean there’s a bad list?”
“Not yet,” John smiled. But I am coming to some conclusions about that little habit you have.”
“Do I want to hear them?”
“I think so. I think we could be proud that you can spit out fires when the town church goes up in flames or that you can blind the enemy in battle with some spirits in your mouth. Then there’s always watering the garden.” John could hardly contain his own amusement as he went on. He was so happy this very minute watching Margaret laugh at herself. “I must think on what else can go into that pretty little mouth of yours.”
Picking up an innuendo that John had not been thinking, Margaret stated, “Always thinking about yourself, I see.”
John put down his glass and gave that some thought. A smile appeared on his face that became broader and broader. “You little nymph. What am I going to do with you when you talk like that?”
“Oh, John, you are putting your foot further and further into your own mouth. I thought you were more advanced in the ways of love since you have read the red book.”
“Now, stop talking like that right now. I have thought no such thing.”
Again Margaret looked into his eyes to see if she could read him. She could not yet.
Dinner was brought to the table. “How about telling me about the business of running a cotton mill while we eat. This room has some very interesting pieces decorating it and I recognize none of them.
Riding home to John’s house Margaret told him that Tawl would appreciate being their driver some evening.
“That would be fine. Branson would probably like to spend some time with his lady friend. That reminds me. What are you making for my picnic lunch at the weekend’s auction?”
“I have recently decided against the champagne and shall try either lemonade or apple cider. Do you have a preference? No, wait. I want it to be a surprise. Anyway, I thought I was making enough for three. Isn’t Nicholas and his wife going to bid on me.”
“That was before last night,” he smiled. No, of course, I was always going to bid on you. Nicholas and I felt I might have a difficulty with Miss Haddon but I believe someone said she left town this morning carrying a carpet bag. I am going to assume that she is leaving for good.”
“Should we include Nicholas and Peggy anyway? I’d like to get to know her. I want to find out how it is to be a Mill Master’s wife.” Margaret inquired.
“I think you need to know the Mill Master first, do you not?”
“Well . . . yes, him too,” she laughed. “I am going to pack for four anyway, in case you change your mind. The girls are really excited. I think it is a good strategy having them come near the end so men do not hold their monies waiting on one of them. I wonder what could come of such a liaison? What happens when Mr. Joe from Marlborough Mills takes his savings to the auction and wins the lunch of one of those girls. It is exciting to think of that for them. You know, everyone is going to know who I am and where I work after that.”
“And . . . ?” John added.
“Well, I was thinking it could be your greatest moment of embarrassment.”
“I think that deserves a paddling. That’s one of the reasons I love you. You do not think of yourself. You are always thinking of others . . . ways to make them happy, ways that could bring them sorry and you do your best to right things. Margaret, I shall never ever be embarrassed by who you are now, what you have done in your past, or your associations. You are my world. If the whole town looks down on me, I care not. I would, could and shall give up everything to be with you and make you happy. If the town gives you trouble, we shall leave and I will never look back and not be sorry to go. I just want to be lost with you anywhere you feel comfortable. But the town shall accept you with open arms. Of this I am sure.”
Margaret’s eyes welled over as the coach pulled up to the steps at John’s home.