Dreams, Hopes, Passion
By early spring, almost nine months had passed since that summer afternoon when John had met Margaret in London, a day forever burned into his mind like a glorious epiphany. Coveting that time with her had become his sanctuary, his escape, where he would go to draw from the well of precious moments, to sustain him in his own life.
Determined not to draw attention to himself, John invited the company of other ladies, mostly to keep up appearances in his working sphere and to not be perceived as a “loner” or someone to be pitied. He found little solace in their company and couldn’t help but compare them all to Margaret. Even with his occasional carnal trysts, primarily outside of Milton, nothing much beyond cordiality inspired him to repeat associations with the ladies of his acquaintance. Women flocked to John, but none could turn his head . . . save one. He was wealthy, important, handsome and a gentleman, all of which attracted women to him. Because of his steadfast love for Margaret, however, he found that to be more of a hindrance than a blessing.
One day Higgins was sitting in the office, feet propped up on a nearby chair, arms crossed, observing John as he leaned over his ledgers, talking to himself. “So,” he began, somewhat mischievously, “according to my daughter, Mary, it seems you’re known as The Catch in Milton.
John, his head buried in business journals, suddenly realized what Higgins had said. “I’m what?” He asked, laughing, as he sat upright in his chair. Clasping his hands on top of his head, smiling at the joke, he stared at a half-smirking Higgins.
Higgins couldn’t help but laugh. “Mary has a friend who works as a lady’s maid, she won’t tell me who it is, but the maid overheard her mistress talking to another woman about you. It seems you have an air of mystery about you, according to the single ladies around town. Much more than you did years ago, I dare say. You’re the big fish, apparently; the best catch for a husband. I know you’ve been seeing more women lately, but what are you doing with them to be so talked about?” Higgins was still laughing and kidding with him.
“Well, you must be in a good mood today because you rarely jest with me,” John said, relaxing back in his chair, ready to dismiss Higgins’ ramblings.
“Well, Master, I thought you’d think that when I told you, but I’m not jesting. It’s all true.” Higgins was trying to control his humor, but was having a hard time of it. He thought John might find it complimentary, or at least cheerful, but when he realized Nicholas wasn’t kidding. John didn’t seem to find it quite as amusing.
“Heaven help me. That’s certainly something to which I do not aspire. I have been implicitly careful as to leave no feelings of further expectations with anyone I’ve seen.”
“Maybe that’s why you are still “The Catch,” Higgins suggested, “no one has hooked you. They must be wondering what bait to use next.”
“There is still only one lure to pull me in and she sits in London.”
In his heart, where Margaret lived vividly, John would still have preferred to remain a very private, obscure man. Being with other women was a way to pass the lonely times and appease his male needs, whenever the offer presented itself to him. As a gentleman, he never initiated such closeness, but it had often found its way into his path. Never knowing if their amorous attentions were casual or serious, the male part of him participated, but his heart never engaged. There had not once been any words of love, or future intentions, or disrespect . . . just the opportunity of the moment, nothing more.
By fall, John built his second mill, spending much of his time modeling it in the Thornton tradition. Prompted by the strength of consistently strong orders, he created an addtional shift on both sites. Higgins ran both mills, while John trained Higgins’ replacements, one for each factory. John had future plans for Higgins. Like it or not, Nicholas was destined for more responsibility as John, and his accountant taught him the overall basics of the financial picture. John knew Higgins had arrived at his own mirrored managerial style, when Higgins suggested a small relief staff to give workers regular breaks. This would allow them to leave their looms for a short rest period, while not taking any machinery offline. John embraced this suggestion and was proud of his overseer, whose idea was now being implemented by other owners.
Once or twice monthly, John fulfilled his magistrate responsibilities at the City Courthouse, presiding over small cases that didn’t have to go before a judge and jury. These consisted mainly of infractions where the punishments were clearly set. City growth was now threatening to increase John’s bench time in the court system.
One morning as John mounted the steps to the courthouse, he heard the excited sounds of raised voices and a woman crying, so he followed the voices down the inside stairs to the Chief’s office. Arriving on the lower level of the police station, John inquired, “Chief Mason, what seems to be the problem?”
“Sir,” Chief Mason said, looking perplexed, “we have a kidnapping. Our first, I think.”
“Can I be of any help?” John asked
“Yes, sir.” Mason replied, perhaps a little too quickly, “I would appreciate your insights. Thank you, sir.”
“Let me have a moment, and I’ll clear my cases. I’ll return directly.” John said, as he left the room and headed back up to the entrance level floor toward his magistrate court. Finding his clerk, he inquired about the cases scheduled for a hearing that day, and then instructed that they be rescheduled. “We have a kidnapping case developing,” he said, “and I feel I can be of help there. I’ll be in Chief Mason’s office, if you need me.” Turning, he pushed through the swinging doors and headed back to the Chief’s office to lend what assistance he could.
When John returned, he noticed a familiar man and woman talking to Inspector Mason. They were discussing a note that their daughter had received earlier in the week. John realized these were the parents of the missing girl, and he, a new manufacturer to Milton. The note said, I WANT TO KNOW YOU. It was dismissed as someone who had taken a fancy to their twenty-year-old daughter, just home from finishing school. After listening to their entire story, along with Mason’s thoughts, John suggested that Mason send for someone at the Metropolitan in London, who was familiar with kidnapping cases, and have him at the station by tomorrow. John stayed several hours talking with the parents. He arranged for a ransom, should it be required, as the father, a liquor baron owner was new in town and may not have had all his finances transferred into Milton’s banks. John assisted in every detail, including the examination of the note itself, which seemed to bear an impression made by something written on the page before it.
“Mason, I think that’s all we can do for today,” he said. There will probably be a ransom note coming. Make sure the house is guarded. I’ll leave it in your hands and check with you tomorrow, or find me if anything new comes up and I can be of help.” John pulled on his great coat, collected his hat, and said good-bye to Mason and to the parents of the girl, expressing his sympathy for their current situation. Suddenly, a thought struck John: They may be looking at a rapist, or worse, and not really a kidnapper. Waiting until the family had left, he returned to discussing with Mason, the possibility of the second scenario. The investigation into the case, no matter what was intended, would begin the same with what they knew thus far.
Arriving home in the early afternoon, John found Dixon, distressed and crying, at the top of the kitchen steps. He walked over to her and asked what was wrong. Guiding her to the couch in the sitting room, he sat beside her, waiting for her to speak.
“Master, I just got this short note from Miss Margaret’s cousin, Miss Edith.” Wiping her tears on her apron, Dixon continued, “Miss Margaret . . . she just lost her husband through a terrible fall from a balcony at his college. She don’t say much more except that Miss Margaret is alright. I think one of us should go to the funeral. The problem is that it is tomorrow…”
Surprised, but with no hesitation in his voice, John said, “I will go. I’ll leave almost at once and arrive there this evening. Does the note say where the funeral or service will be held?”
“I don’t know about the funeral” Dixon said, still obviously distraught, “but the service is being held at the college chapel at 11:00 o’clock tomorrow morning. You’ll go then?” She seemed immensely relieved. “Please tell her how sorry I am. She’s had so much misery.”
“There is some quick business that I need to attend to, before I leave,” he said to Dixon. There was a kidnapping in Milton, early this morning. I’ll have to write a note to the Chief, telling him where I’ve gone, as he was expecting me to be at hand. Will you please see that he gets it right away? Get Branson to take it to the Chief. I will leave for the station immediately after speaking with Higgins.”
“Yes, Master. I will see to it, “said Dixon, wiping more tears away. Once again her thoughts turned to Margaret. “I wonder what she’ll do now. She can’t stay at the college no more. I guess she’ll move back in with her aunt or cousin. Oh, how I know she will not like that! I wonder if she’ll be wanting me again.”
All the time Dixon was talking, John was writing a brief note to Mason. “Thank you, Dixon,” he said, grabbing his coat from the back of his chair and handing her the note. “I’m leaving right away.”
John hurried to his room and packed shaving accessories, a fresh shirt, and a cravat.
Dixon had hardly turned around when she heard John close the front door downstairs.
Briskly opening the door to his office, John hollered, “Higgins! Where is he…? Oh, there you are.” Higgins stepped out from a back room. “Higgins, I have urgent news that requires my attention in London. I’ve just heard about a funeral tomorrow that I wish to attend, so I’m leaving on the next train.”
“Calm down, Master. You’re all nervous. Whose funeral is it?” Higgins asked.
“I believe his name is Booker Reed.”
“Booker Reed?” Higgins questioned, frowning. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you mention that name.”
“Booker Reed was Margaret’s husband.” John said, watching Higgins’ expression as he put two and two together. “It seems he had an accidental fall from a balcony. That’s all I know, except that the funeral is tomorrow morning at the college campus. I don’t know where I will be staying, but it will be at a hotel someplace close to there. I’ll travel back home tomorrow.”
Being the polite man whom he was, Nicholas didn’t mention the obvious: This could mean John may eventually find what he’s always sought. “Miss Margaret’s husband?” he asked. “How can this poor woman handle yet another death of someone close to her? I feel for her,” he finished, sadly.
“She’s always been a strong woman,” John said, “but even I cannot tell how she will do after all this. I want to go and give her our support.”
“Please, give her my condolences.” Nicholas added, sincerely. “Good luck, Master.”
With a final good-bye, John walked out the door and arrived at the station at ten minutes before the next train. Milton had grown so large, there were now many trains coming and going through the city. While standing on the platform, he suddenly saw a vision of Margaret in the arms of that other man. Out of nowhere, a three year old memory surfaced…
I hope someday to know who that was.
A Constable arrived on the platform and walked over to speak with John. “Good day, Mr. Thornton. I’m Constable Wilson. It’s a privilege to finally meet you, sir.”
“And a good day to you, Constable Wilson.” John replied, “I assume you are the man whom the Chief is sending to London?” He asked.
“I am, sir. I volunteered for this assignment, hoping to gain more insight into criminology, and this seemed a good chance to learn. I fear Milton is becoming a large enough city to be attracting every kind of crime as it continues to grow.”
John wanted to speak to that remark, but the train was pulling in. “I see you have a book that you undoubtedly want to read, but if you would care to talk a little more, please join me in the same coach.”
“I would be honored, sir,” the constable replied.
The train came to a stop, and both men removed their tall hats and stepped into a comfortable coach fitted with upholstered bench seats, oak paneled walls and an overhead shelf for storage. No one else entered the coach, so both men settled into their opposite seats, speaking very little until the hissing of steam and other loud metallic sounds decreased.
“Mr. Thornton, I’m glad that we are alone because I’d like to talk with you about this case. I’ve only been on the force for two years and have never seen a kidnapping. What has been your experience, and what likely outcome should we expect?”
“I have always lived in Milton, Constable Wilson, and I have never seen a case such as this in my adult life. I’m sorry to say that I can’t give you any firsthand knowledge. However, I have read many judgments handed down on these types of cases, which explain all that has happened.” John proceeded to speak about some of the cases that he remembered more clearly. They talked for hours about the current case, including the possibility that it wasn’t a kidnapping at all, but something conceivably more dire.
“Thank you Mr. Thornton,” Constable Wilson said when they were finished. “This gives me some knowledge of what the Chief is up against.” He paused briefly, as he picked up his book. “What they say about you is true,” he said.
John was looking out the window, and the statement quickly brought his head around.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” he asked, with interest.
The Constable explained, “You’re said to be a kind and intellectually just man. Few would have taken the time, like you’ve done, to talk with me and acquaint me with your experience in law and justice.”
“Thank you,” Constable Wilson, “that is very kind of you to say. I’m not certain those words make up my character, but thank you anyway.” As he didn’t care for compliments, John let the subject drop right there. To be respected was enough for him. He never wanted to draw attention because of his actions; these came naturally to him. He felt he was no better or worse than the next man, and he never ceased to be amazed as to why honors should be heaped upon him. Nothing, except for the advances he made in worker relations, set him apart from the others; at least, this was the way he saw himself.
They both fell silent, the Constable picking up his book, while John watched the scenery drift by as he thought about the ‘morrow. Unintentionally, he drifted off to sleep… Margaret in his arms . . . standing on a veranda in London…
He was startled into wakefulness by the pitch of the trains whistle announcing its arrival. John opened his eyes to steam spewing past his window and felt the engineer braking the train. Yawning, he pulled out his pocket watch; it was close to their arrival time. “I apologize for dozing off. That was rude company on my part. Are we here?”
“Yes,” Wilson said, “we are in London, but we have several more stops before ours.”
Seeking to fill some time, and because the Constable was an interesting young man, John continued their conversation about the law. “With your interest in criminology and your eagerness to learn more, I think you’ll go far in your career. Do you have aspirations of becoming a Chief some day?” he inquired.
“Right now, now my aim is to become a detective. They are a new and growing specialty within law enforcement. I am sure we will see a detective division in the Metropolitan and in Milton someday. Milton is poised on the brink of becoming a very large city. I want to be prepared to grow with the force and be part of its anticipated expansion.”
John was consistently impressed with this young man’s vision. He felt he was looking at himself ten years ago. “Wilson,” he said, “I hope all that comes your way, as you are certainly preparing to take a leadership role in your career. If you don’t mind, I’d like to look in on you from time to time to see how your plans are proceeding. I wish you the best. I’d also like to go with you to the Met and meet the detective.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thornton.” He replied, more pleased than ever that he had had the good fortune to meet him. “I think this is our stop. Yes, it is.”
An hour later, John left the Metropolitan feeling that both the kidnapping situation, and Constable Wilson, were in capable hands. He had wished the detective and Constable Wilson luck before leaving, and told them he would see them late tomorrow evening.
John hailed a hansom cab, and asked the driver to take him to a nice hotel with a dining hall near the college.
Twenty minutes later, he arrived at a very elegant, ivy-covered stone hotel. He proceeded to the dining room which; he noted, still held the style of a hundred years previous. As he sat waiting for his meal, he gazed around the room, with its wealth of Chippendale furnishings (the royalty of antique furniture). An hour later, having finished his superbly cooked dinner, he left the ornately accented banquet hall and headed to the registration desk. He requested the registrar to awaken him by 9:00 a.m. and have a bath ready by 9:30. He then handed his bag to the porter and followed him up the wide winding staircase.
John entered his handsomely appointed guestroom, disrobed to his undergarment, brushed the dust from his clothes, and hung them in the wardrobe. Checking the view from his window, he discovered a nice scene of all the lit gas lamps across London. He opened the window for some cool air. It was past 10:00 in the evening, but sleep did not come for many hours.
Instead, his . . . hopes, dreams, and passion . . . long buried themselves, were seeking to rebuild their home that once was John’s heart.
The dream that Margaret would re-enter his life was interrupted by a knocking at the door, rousting John out of his heavy sleep. “Yes?”
The porter exclaimed, “9:00 a.m., sir.”
“Thank you,” John replied, throwing off the covers. Rubbing his hands over his face, trying to wipe away the cobwebs, he sat on the edge of his bed and thought nervously about the day ahead. He knew he had to find a way to speak with her. There was so much in his heart that he would want to say, but knew this was not the day to express any of his love that awaited her. Somehow, he would need to convey only words of support and let her lead the conversation where she was comfortable. John wondered how he could prevent his mannerisms from drifting, unintentionally, into a happy environment, while around her.
There had been a few times in John’s life when he felt like he was standing on a cliff, and realized that what he did in the next few minutes or hours could determine all that came after in his life. This was just such a day.
Feeling like his stallion, Plato, rearing up in his stall, shaking off his restraints, pawing at his gate that confined him, John knew he had to keep his own eagerness harnessed. He cursed himself for his lack of consideration for the deceased. He knew since the day she had backed away from him, almost a year ago, that this funeral was going to take all the control he could muster. Although he didn’t anticipate any emotion from Margaret regarding himself, he felt this was the first day of the rest of his life. There was no doubt in his mind: She would be his one day, sharing his dreams, his hopes, and his passion.
John took his time shaving, bathing, dressing, and dreaming. He closed out his account and left his bag with the registration desk until after the funeral. By 10:00 o’clock, he returned to the stately dining hall for a breakfast of poached egg, toast, and tea. He thought about the coming hours and wondered how Margaret would suffer the day. Wishing he could protect her from the harsh reality of her loss, he steeled himself to see her saddened, knowing how much it would upset him.
Finally, the time arrived and John walked down to the chapel.