On Top of the World
With all the things John had going on in his life, Nicholas and Peggy still had not had their wedding, but it seemed to now be planned for two weeks before Christmas. Nicholas had adapted to his gentleman’s clothes and let his hair grow longer, which allowed for a more distinguished appearance that seemed to suit him rather well. He and John had all three mills running at top performance, and life was good to both of them and their prospective brides.
On a beautiful, crisp autumn day, the town of Milton found itself poised to celebrate the marriage of the decade for their city. John Thornton was to wed Margaret Hale Reed in Milton’s largest church.
Nicholas, in his own coach, drove over to John’s house to find what preparations he could help with, before setting off for his wedding riders. John was dressed to perfection, as usual, and he handed the ring to Nicholas for safe keeping.
“Are you nervous, John?”
“Actually, no; not severely, anyway. I am struggling to comprehend that my dream will come true today. After all these years, how do I switch it over in my mind to reality? Nicholas, I am sure you know how it must be for me, as you, too, are waiting to marry your lady. Today, all of the lonely tormented years will be vanquished for all time. I gave you a ring, did I not?” John asked as he patted all of his pockets.
“Yes, John, you just handed it to me.” Nicholas laughed. “All is ready for you then? I should be picking up Peggy, Margaret, and the Professor any minute now. You need to get to the church, sir. I have traveled beside you, for the most part, on your journey to this day, and my heart is filled with happiness for you and for Margaret. My very best wishes to you, both.”
John put out his hand to shake Nicholas’s and then pulled him in for a brotherly hug. “I must be on my way,” John said.
Branson, having spit polished the carriage and himself, held the door open for his master. He had bathed the horses and braided their tails, polished the brasses, oiled the leathers and straps, and painted the wheels. He was proud to drive his boss to church on his wedding day. He wanted to show his respect for his fairy tale coach, which would sit near the entrance, gleaming in the sun.
“Branson, your carriage is impeccable. Thank you for the compliment to our wedding.”
“Right you are, guv, and good luck today.”
“Has your other duty been taken care of?”
“Yes, sir. All done.”
With great pride, and looking his finest, Branson climbed into his box and reined the four shiny horses and the groom toward the large bell-tower church. Later, he would ferry the married couple back to the mill house to change and collect their luggage for the train.
When he arrived, John saw a horde of people milling around outside, talking and waiting for the festivities to begin. As soon as Branson brought the carriage to a stop, he jumped down, opened the door, and lowered the steps. John exited the coach looking breathtakingly splendid in tails and top hat.
John stood outside the church, talking and shaking hands with the invited guests until the time drew near. His joy knew no bounds today; he wore it proudly across his face. True to the devotion to his workers, many of his mill workers and managers were in attendance, as well as all Chamber members and other business acquaintances from across the motherland.
With nerves beginning to twitch, as the time was drawing close, John pulled out his pocket watch. His stomach did a flip when the organ started playing, inviting the guests to come and be seated. John saw Higgins’ coach approaching, and he became weak in the knees. He had waited long for this day than any other day in his life. And the time was now at hand. He turned toward the entrance, feeling like he was about to enter the pearly gates on earth. As he stepped inside the nave of the church, he bowed his head and said a silent prayer:
“Thank you, Mother. I love you. Your work is done.”
He turned to speak with someone who was just inside the door and then proceeded toward the altar, holding his hat in his hand. Shaking hands, walking the aisle, oblivious to the faces in front of him, he found his way to the minister and placed his hat on the front pew; he waited for Nicholas, his best man, to come down the aisle, followed by the miracle that had come into his life. John could not help but smile; it was permanently affixed to his face today. His beloved would be by his side very soon and remain there for the rest of their lives. In a few moments, Margaret would be his to possess and protect, sharing his dream, fulfilling his life.
John saw, through the sea of heads, Nicholas helping Margaret out of the carriage with Peggy right behind her. Margaret was stunning in her understated ivory cotton gown, embroidered with ivory flowers and ribbons at the waist and neckline. He was totally mesmerized; he watched as Peggy lifted the veil over Margaret’s face and placed the bouquet of roses in her hands.
The organ had stopped playing, and the gathering quieted, too, rising to their feet. Nicholas placed the Professor and Margaret in their positions, with Peggy and himself ahead of them, to lead the small procession to the altar. The organist started playing the traditional wedding march, as everyone turned their gaze toward the best man and maid of honor making their way.
Margaret found John with her eyes. She was overcome with his masculinity, dressed in resplendent elegance. Her man, the one waiting for her at the altar, was tall and proud and exquisitely handsome. He wore his black, long tails, an ivory shirt, and an ivory waistcoat, but this time he had a red cravat and a single red rose that matched her bouquet, on his lapel.
Margaret was staring at John, who was sending his love back to her, as Peggy and Nicholas began their walk. She knew to count to ten before she and the Professor started their steps. By the time she got to five, the Professor had stepped back from her, and her brother Fredrick stepped out from the shadows and into his place by her side.
As he put his arm around her, he looked into her eyes and said, “Hello Sis. Did you think I would let you walk down the aisle without me? I love you, dear sister. This is your big day, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything.” Fredrick urged her to take the first step.
“Shall we?” he said/asked.
“How?” Margaret whispered as they started their march.
“John arranged everything. I think he pulled in a lot of favors, and I am grateful to him to be here with you at this moment.”
Margaret could feel the moisture forming in her eyes. She would be a sight when John lifted her veil if she didn’t pull herself together right now. “Fred . . . ?”
“Shhh,” said Fredrick. “Behold, your man, standing at the altar waiting for you. He is dispatching his love for you from where he stands. He is glowing, and you are a glorious sight to all of us today.” Margaret looked up to see John, in his regal splendor, staring at her with devotion and pride unfolding across his masculine face. His chest was full; he stood impressively erect. She never took her eyes off of him, or he, off hers until she and her brother reached the altar.
Politely shaking John’s hand, Frederick gently placed Margaret’s hand in John’s. John dared to believe the moment was here.
The look in her eyes . . . The English language is inadequate of words to describe her loveliness, what this woman is today...
The minister began the service. Keeping his eyes on her, John knew he would carry this vision into the world beyond.
Their responses were uttered to each other, and the ceremony continued until John turned to Nicholas and asked for the ring that he was holding safe.
John placed the ring on Margaret’s finger and looked into her eyes, as he repeated the words . . . with this ring I thee wed. They concluded the remainder of their vows and pledges to each other without taking their eyes away from one another. John could hardly believe that he had overcome almost five years, with all its obstacles, and it had led to this moment.
“And what God has joined together, let no man put asunder,” said the minister.
It was done.
John lifted the veil to release the goddess beneath. He inhaled deeply when he realized Margaret was wearing his mother’s ruby heart. Tears welled in his eyes, knowing the happiness of this day could never be repeated in his lifetime. As he took Margaret in his arms, he quietly said to her, “You are the completion of me. I will love you beyond our next life.”
Before he kissed her, Margaret said, “John, your lips have kissed my soul. Love was just a word to me until you showed me its real meaning. John… thank you for Fredrick.”
They smiled at each other, and to the cheers of the crowd, they kissed passionately
As they walked down the aisle to John’s waiting carriage, the/some folks/guests gathered, tossing flower petals at them, and the church bells pealed to announce that John Thornton and Margaret Hale Thornton were now wed. Margaret tossed her bouquet; it sailed through the air, right into the hands of a blushing Mary Higgins. Hopping back up into this/?his box, Branson reined the four-in-hand set of horses toward the courthouse, while/as John settled Margaret into his arms.
“Are you happy, Mrs. Thornton?” John asked, endearingly, while looking into her watery/tear-filled eyes, gently rubbing the back of his hand down her cheeks to the base of her throat. “Those were beautiful words you said to me at the end. Thank you for that.”
“Mrs. Thornton. That has a wonderful sound. This is the happiest day of my life, dear husband. Knowing that I will always have you to myself, to love you, to be loved by you, to be protected by you, to bear your children… I could not ask for any more out of life. I am blessed with happiness beyond words.”
Feathering her face with light kisses, they drove in silence to their reception.
Now that the ceremony was concluded, everyone made their way to the courthouse, fourth floor. John, Margaret, Peggy, and Nicholas formed a reception line to welcome their guests.
Margaret whispered to John, “Where’s Fred?”
He’s back at our home. He will travel with us on the train. You will get to speak with him for several hours before we part from him.”
“Thank you, John. This is unmatched by any gift you could have given me.”
“You are welcome, my love. Oh, how nice that sounds to say out loud, now, not worrying who’s around the corner.”
“Would you like your present from me tonight?” She asked.
“Not in front of all these people, surely,” he laughed. “I’m sorry, I am too happy right now. Yes, what is it?”
“I am going to tell you when I knew I was in love with you,” said Margaret.
“You don’t know how long I have wondered when it happened. To find out now, and the fact that you chose to wear Mother’s ruby heart pendant on our wedding day, could not please me more. Thank you, my love.”
“I wanted your Mother to be with us today.”
“I know she is with us, as this is the culmination of the signs she has been sending me for two years.
John reached over and kissed her, unconcerned of the people waiting to shake their hands.
All of the traditional amenities being observed, the orchestra tuned their instruments and waited to begin their music.
John and Margaret took the floor. The conductor began the first song, a waltz, requested by John, called Brahms Waltz in A-Flat Major, Opus 39 No15, for violin.
The music began. John bowed to Margaret. “This is my dance, I believe?”
“I believe it is, sir.” She curtsied to him.
He put out his left hand for her to take. She took his hand with her right. John slid his right hand behind her to the small of her back, but this time he allowed very little proper space between them. She placed her other hand on his shoulder, reaching as far as she could.
The beautiful couple unfolded their mirrored dance of swirls of ribbon and tails, moving about the room as one. John had tremendous grace about him; he glided, rather than stepped, as he moved. His right hand splayed against the small of her back as he conducted her with assured commands into intricate little twirls and wider whirls. The audience was transfixed by their stunning performance and was amazed at how John never took his eyes from Margaret but sensed his position on the floor at all times. The mill workers were astounded by this man who was their boss, and who displayed such elegant form.
“Yes, my love?”
“Do you remember the last time we danced like this?”
“I will always cherish my memory of our first waltz together, as I will this waltz, on our wedding day. This is my favorite classical piece, and I have yearned to dance it with you.”
“I loved our first waltz because it brought into my mind when I first fell in love with you, even though I wasn’t totally aware it was love that I felt. I am going to tell you now, but I would like to hear your thoughts on when that was, first.”
As John whirled Margaret around the floor, his eyes never leaving her, he said, “I didn’t think I would be asked, but I have thought about it. You remember while I lay in the hospital, how I figured out something from your words? You somehow wiggled out of a definite answer. You said I was there, but you wouldn’t answer if I was there with YOU; I believe that’s how it went. I am going to say it was the day of your husband’s funeral when I walked away. I remember so vividly, looking back, and you were still watching me, even though your family was closing in on you. Am I close?” “No.”
“Hmm . . . Now, you really have my curiosity peaked. Earlier?
Margaret smiled at John’s sudden bewilderment. “I’ll give you a big hint. It was before I was taken away from Milton.”
John almost came to a halt in the middle of the floor. “What? BEFORE you left Milton? I loved you then as I do now. I don’t understand. I thought you knew my feelings for you. What happened and when was it?
“John, to be honest, I didn’t recognize it then, but I felt sick to my stomach all of a sudden. I had never experienced the pangs of jealousy and didn’t realize that moment for what it was. But I know, now, that was the moment I knew I had feelings of love for you.”
“Please, love, don’t keep me in suspense any longer. I cannot, at all, remember a time when I would ever have made anyone jealous.”
“Oh, you didn’t do it; it was someone else. And you were quite unaware of it, I think.”
“Please, Margaret . . .”
“It was the day of your sister’s wedding. You had just exited the church and were shaking hands and talking with people as they filed out. I stood there, watching your serene countenance, thinking how handsome you looked. You extended your arm to shake someone’s hand, and Ann Latimer entwined her arms around yours. You hadn’t offered it, but she took it upon herself to show those gathered that you belonged to her. I became ill just then, and had to look away; I didn’t understand why at that moment. You had, by then, and rightly I might add, dismissed me from your life. Of course, after that, I thought you two were interested in each other. Father died shortly thereafter, and you know the rest. I left Milton that day, thinking you were going to find happiness with Ann. I think our letters would have saved us years of misery.”
“Oh God, Margaret, you thought I had feelings for her and I thought you had feelings for the man at the station. Let’s not spoil our day with any more talk like this. I love you, Margaret, my lovely wife. We shall be happy for the rest of our days and beyond. I can’t wait for the rest of my life to begin.”
John bent down and kissed her while they turned and twirled about the room.
With Margaret’s lace hem and ribbons swaying away from her, and John’s tails floating aside his body, he slipped his hand up her back, pressing her closer to him, and she followed, moving her hand from John’s shoulder to the back of his neck. Pulling her right hand to his heart, he cupped her fingers and palm against him. He leaned towards her and pressed his lips to hers again; closing his eyes, he held her close for a final whirl around the dance floor.
Margaret and John: Finally. Their hopes, dreams, passion, and hearts, once existing as two entities, now beat as one.
The Game is Afoot
John gently rested Margaret on the couch in his sitting room. He went to the buffet and poured them each a port. He sensed she needed something to strengthen her consciousness.
“Margaret. What am I going to do with you? You will have to warn me when you are about to faint because you startle me before I know it’s happening. I’m thankful that all three times you were in my arms when it happened.” He smiled as he handed her the wine glass.
John settled next to her on the couch and turned towards her. He put his arm across the backrest and caressed her cheeks with the back of his hand, moving it from her temple and then down her shoulders. He kept stroking her while she began to focus on the recent event.
“John, it’s because I am in your arms that causes me to faint. You overwhelm me.” Margaret paused. “John . . . I think you proposed to me in front of everyone tonight?”
“That, I did. And you graciously accepted me and then fainted. I have hundreds of witnesses. There is no turning back now.” John was glowing, watching her bewildered face as if she was trying to sort things out.
Margaret slipped into an unexpected state of serious reflection. “Tonight, John, I watched as you were honored as The Man of the Decade for the Industrial Age. That is ten years worth of sweat, toil, and determination for your caring about the human condition that was Milton. They extolled you as being the hero who sacrificed his life to save the lives of three strangers. I was so passionately proud of you and humbled, my tears came from very deep within, bordering on reverence, I think. To me, you stood there looking like a saint. I felt that you were finally . . . finally, accepting the praise that you have so ruthlessly shunned. Your posture was gracious, majestic, even. I almost fainted when the audience came to their feet to bestow their admiration and appreciation for all that you have accomplished.
“Margaret . . .”
“Shhh . . . I need to say these words….”
“I watched as you looked out over the audience, finally receiving the distinction that you justly deserve, and found it hard to believe that you love me . . . me! John Thornton, Man of the Decade, loves plain, little Margaret Hale from Helston. I felt so incredibly small and vastly unworthy in the whole scheme of your life.
“Scheme of my life?” John questioned loudly, with incredulity. “Margaret, you ARE my life!”
She continued. “To save your family’s name and respect, you spent your teenage years supporting your mother and sister and repaid your father’s creditors for his mistakes. With shame, I recalled my initial impression of you. My naivety overwhelms me: From that first day when I met you in your mill, and thought you uncaring and harsh, to your moment of fame that I witnessed, just a short time ago, when people recognized you for the caring man that you are. Along with everything else you affect, you are a Magistrate for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria’s courts. You are responsible for the livelihoods of over, now, well over a thousand people.
“And yet . . . you are still the same man I met five years ago. All your courage, caring and honor has lived within you all of your life. Why could I not see it five years ago . . . this total person who stood on that dais tonight? As dreadful as I was to you, you loved me even back then; you suffered for me all those years since; you hoped and waited for me. . . living a lonely life with a broken heart. On my suggestion, you took a man in and gave him work, and it almost bankrupted your business. You interceded on my behalf when you saw me that night at the train station, saying goodbye to my, unknown to you, brother, and I had to lie to the police about being there and witnessing an accident. Because of the late hour and my being alone, you protected my reputation, again, with your discreet reserve, not to mention your first marriage proposal when you attempted to rescue me from totally embarrassing myself. You championed my honor at the Ball. Dispite you being normally reticent to stand out in a crowd, you whirled me around the dance floor, gazing lovingly at me with every step, and remained unruffled by the fact that we were the only two being watched by many. And tonight, you knelt down on one knee and proposed to me in front of hundreds of your peers. How am I so honored to have your love?”
John’s heart lept into his throat. “Margaret, I have loved you from the beginning of our acquaintance. I loved everything about you, loved you to your core for who you are inside. You are right; I am still the same man as I was back then, except that I love you beyond all reason, now. If you are proud of me and consider that I am intelligent and caring, what do you think that says about the one I chose to love for the rest of my life? I treasure you, Margaret. I love and lust for you, Margaret. I would give my life for you. God forbid you leave this earth before me; I will follow, for I cannot live in a world where you do not exist. You are so deeply embedded in my spirit and my soul; I just want to be lost in you. I love you Margaret, soon-to-be-Thornton. You are my life, now and forever more; you are my reason for living.”
John pulled her to him, and they sat in silence as Margaret shed her tears of devotion for the man who loved her.
Wrapped in each other’s arms, silence prevailed for many moments, while they absorbed the words spoken by the other.
“I have something that I want to show you,” John said softly.
He left the room and came back from the library with a letter in his hand.
“I took some liberty, hoping eventually that you would agree to marry me. You might like to know what’s in this letter.”
“Before I read this,” she took John’s hands in hers and pointed to her ring, “Thank you for loving me and thank you for this strikingly beautiful ring which proves our love by you offering, and my accepting it. I want everyone to see that I belong to you, and if you must know the truth, if you did not propose to me soon, I was going to do it myself.” She smiled into John’s eyes.
John perceived the deep love and desire in her face. His own body flooded with passion, magnifying what was already within him; he drew her tightly to him and kissed her hard. He whispered in her ear, “You can read the letter tomorrow. Just give me a moment,” he said, as he laid the note down on the table and stood.
John went to his room and returned with a feather blanket that had been in storage. He spread it in front of the roaring fire and turned off all the gas lights. After adding another log and stoking the fire, he took Margaret’s hand and guided her to the downy quilt.
“Oh, stay here, I forgot something,” he said, as he disappeared into the dark. Returning, he held his hands behind him.
Margaret waited for the unveiling of what he had retrieved and was now hiding.
“Care to guess?” John asked.
“Oh, John, you’re not going to make me guess, are you? We’ll be here all night, standing like this,” she said, putting on her pouty face, which she sensed John loved.
“All right, I doubt you would have guessed, anyway. Now, close your eyes.”
Margaret closed her eyes.
“Hold out your hand, palm up, so I can place something in it.”
Margaret held out her palm, face up.
John placed something small and soft in her palm.
“Now, don’t open your eyes yet, and tell me what it is.”
“Can I use my other hand to feel it?”
Margaret started to feel the soft little ball in her hands. She handled the item for a few seconds, and then she burst out laughing. “It’s YARN!” She opened her eyes. “You cheated last time, as I recall.”
“I don’t quite remember it that way, myself. I remember outsmarting you, so I am going to give you a chance to redeem yourself. Only this time, I select what you remove, and you select what I remove,” John said grinning. Ready for the rules?”
“Rules?” Margaret asked, laughingly.
“Yes. Rules. There aren’t many. You may not select an item of clothing that has something lying over it that has to be removed to get to it. Say . . . you could not ask me to remove my woolen socks before my boots. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? And there, Milady, are the rules.”
John had been working on this game for several weeks, in his mind. He was sure he had counted all the garments, and even jewelry, that she could wear, and he had so equipped his pockets with bits of odds and ends to even the score.
“John, this isn’t a good week for me to undress,” she said with a straight face.
Shaking his finger in her face, John said, “Mrs. Thornton-to-be, that is the first fib you have ever told me, and we will have none of that. If you don’t think I had that figured out and plotted for the next year, you have seriously underestimated me. “They both fell into roars of laughter. John laid the yarn down between them. “Ready?”
“Who goes first?” Margaret asked.
Withdrawing a coin from his pocket, John said, “Notice that I have a coin in my pocket; you will want to remember that. I will flip it, and you will call it.” John flipped it, and Margaret called tails. “Tails it is. You may choose first whether to TAKE or GIVE.”
“I will take first and ask for your boots.” John handed Margaret his boots.
John said, “My turn. I will take your shoes.” Margaret handed over her shoes.
She stood there starting to work out his clothing, coin and watch, versus her garments. He had tricked her last time, and she wanted to avoid that or beat him to it. “I will take your watch.” It was handed over.
John said, “I will take your undergarment.”
Margaret’s eyes got really big, and she began to protest until she realized her undergarment had nothing restricting it. She looked wide-eyed at John and saw his shoulders shaking with laughter, but he wasn’t making a sound. He put on an air of smug intellect. Margaret turned her back and pulled off her undergarment pitching it to the chair behind John.
John said, “That’s a foul, but I forgot to tell you that. You must hand your garment to your opponent.” John retrieved her undergarment and slung it over his shoulder.
Margaret was mortified. I guess I can be grateful that he didn’t wear them like a hat, she thought. “I will take your stick pin.”
“And Margaret, I will take your dress. Do you need help with that?”
“No, I can do it, but somehow I don’t think you’re playing fair.”
John looked at her as she stood before him in her corset and half slip. She looked like a short ballerina. She was so adorable, standing there, looking like that; he smiled broadly as he watched her.
Margaret looked down at her predicament and noticed John had hardly removed anything fun. She knew she was in trouble as she realized he’d have her on the floor in three turns. He wouldn’t worry about her stockings, garters, hair barrette or jewelry. Yes, this was a different twist, alright. Margaret gave it a lot of thought. An idea came to her; she studied it for a moment and then said, “I will take the contents of your trouser pockets.”
“Wait, that shouldn’t be fair. You cannot ask for more than one thing,” John said with some alacrity.
“Well, you didn’t ask me for one shoe, you asked for my shoes. I think that constitutes more than one, don’t you?”
“Why . . . you little smart aleck. I didn’t count on that; you outsmarted me. If you don’t marry me, I will hire you.” John handed her his bits and pieces. They both were laughing at each other. John stepped over the yarn and kissed her; that move of hers deserved a reward.
“I will take your half slip thing, whatever that is called.”
“It’s called a crinoline. Here!” Margaret handed it over. “I will take your trousers, please.”
John knew he was beat, but he had one last trick up his sleeve. As he unbuttoned his trousers, he watched her face. He tucked his thumbs in both his trousers and undergarment and slowly started to slide both down, watching Margaret every second. The look of realization on Margaret’s face was priceless. She inhaled loudly and slapped her hands to her eyes. John was laughing so hard that he almost tripped trying to step out of his pants.
She was still hiding her face. “John, you cheated AGAIN! Don’t you have underwear on?” Margaret asked in her little girl pouty voice.
John stepped across the yarn and pulled her hands from her face. He buried her mouth and stroked her lips and tongue with his. He pulled her closer so she could feel his desire against her. He stepped back and started to disrobe her and she did the same with the remainder of his garments.
John laid her down on the blanket, sitting on his knees, and nestled between her thighs. The firelight was throwing its golden light on her body; he was intoxicated. Looking down at her naked body, awaiting him, he could not touch her enough. He knew that at any minute he would remember, again, how to breathe. He lifted her womanhood to his mouth, robbing her of her senses, almost immediately. With all embarrassment and hesitancy gone, she climaxed quickly, as he knew she would. Before her last spasms could subside, he guided himself into her and thrust into her sweet depths, sustaining her climax while he met his. There was no greater joy to him, including his own orgasm, than giving and hearing Margaret have hers. To him, that was the culmination of being a man. She would always come first in his life before himself.
“Margaret, I have fallen in love many times . . . always with you.” After several more hours of lovemaking, Margaret fell asleep cradled in John arms in front of the fire. As the fire began turning to ash, John picked Margaret up and carried her to his bed, returning for all their clothes before he closed the door behind them.
The workers coming in through the mill yard woke Margaret. She became a little flustered with the full light coming into the room, but she laid on the bed and admired John as he dressed, his body hard and muscular, but slim, without all that thickness of clothes.
“I love you, John Thornton.”
“And I love you Margaret, soon-to-be-Thornton. I love every soft centimeter of you. You are so beautiful to watch while you sleep, especially naked. But I think you should dress unless you want more of the same. I am quite prepared, you know? If you’re still in bed by the time I’m shaved, I’ll be back on top of you before you can protest.
“Protest? Let me think about that for a moment.” Margaret giggled. “Last night you said something about a letter?”
John was beaming at her little joke. “Oh yes, let me get it.”
“Here, read it. It is to both of us.”
Margaret lifted up on her pillow pulling the sheet above her bare breasts and began to read. “It’s from my brother, Fredrick! He is giving his approval for me to marry you. John, how did you . . .?”
“I got his address from Dixon and wrote to him. Although you are your own woman, you are still a lady and a gentleman’s daughter, so I thought you would appreciate that I have kept to one of the gentry’s honorable traditions by asking for your hand.
“Oh John, that was so thoughtful of you.” She jumped out of bed, naked, and came over to throw her arms around him and give him a big kiss.
Even though he had lather on his face, he returned her kiss, picked her up, walked to the bed, and sat her on his lap. He wanted his fingertips to roam her silky skin before she covered it.
Margaret insisted that John get to work and allow Branson to drive her home. She didn’t care about the propriety of leaving his home early in the morning. These were her people, now.
John called for Branson to bring the carriage to the front. After a final long, hard kiss goodbye at the door, John escorted Margaret outside to the coach, where he claimed a long, erotic kiss, disregarding Branson, before he handed her inside.
A Fainting Finale
John and Margaret entered the top floor of the courthouse. They were attending Slickson’s retirement party that was being held in the grand ballroom. John was delighted to have Margaret on his arm, and as they milled around speaking to many of the attendees, he introduced her to his business acquaintances. John swelled with pride as he watched all the men taking an interest in her, and knowing she was his. He escorted Margaret to sit with the Professor, along with Nicholas and Peggy, near the front, while he joined the original mill owners on the raised dais.
Everyone eventually found their seats and dinner was served. Slickson finished his meal ahead of most and came down off the stage to walk among the guests, thanking them for coming and briefly discussing his future traveling plans. He approached Margaret’s table.
“Good evening Professor Pritchard, and good evening to you Miss Hale… please excuse me . . . Mrs. Reed. I’m not sure I will ever get that right. I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening,” he said, as he winked at Margaret. Then he moved on, heading back to the stage.
“Professor, did you see that? Mr. Slickson winked at me. That was rather impertinent, don’t you think?” She asked, turning to look at the Professor.
The Professor just beamed a big smile.
“Professor? What is the grin for?”
“Shhh . . . John is getting ready to speak,” said the professor, as he skillfully brushed off her question.
Margaret brought her attention back to the front of the room where her elegant John stood, tall and beautiful, preparing to address the audience. As she began to listen to him speak about Mr. Slickson, she was impressed by his illustrious public speaking presence and voice, no doubt honed by all of his Chamber travels. He had so many talents; she was in a constant state of awe. He looked at her several times, and she thought she would burst with admiration.
“From a single spinning wheel to an industry . . . ,” John began in earnest, following a few opening remarks. He spoke for about five minutes, ending with an introduction and applause for Mr. Slickson. He sat down in his seat next to Watson, as Slickson took the front stage position.
Slickson spoke for a short time about his past decade in the cotton business. He brought to the audience’s attention that competitors can become friends, and although he was going to miss being in his mill every day, thanks to the generosity of his former competitor, John Thornton had promised him he could return, at any time, to visit. He concluded by expressing his appreciation to everyone for coming to wish him and his wife a fond retirement. When he was finished, the audience applauded enthusiastically and gave him a standing ovation.
Once everyone had seated themselves again, Slickson continued.
“Since we are all gathered here this evening, the Members of the Chamber thought we would like to take this opportunity to present two new awards. We have created an award to honor someone who is with us tonight. Because of his pursuit of excellence and his determination to set a higher standard for all of us here, this man has been a pillar of the commerce industry for the past decade. He pioneered the inroads in the early days of wage disputes, despite knowing there was very little profit on cotton. He championed his workers and in so doing, almost bankrupted himself.”
John was starting to feel like jelly. He had never heard of this award before this moment, and his stomach was churning. He felt his worst nightmare was about to claim him, here and now, in front of all these people.
Slickson continued, “He is single-handedly responsible for turning Milton into the city it is today due to his advancements in employee relationships, from which we all profited and grew. Looking out over this audience, I see members who represent the many new products that have now moved to Milton because of the reputation this town has built, all on the backs of our hard working laborers in the early years, and still, today. The original Mill Masters worked tirelessly, trying to resolve the conflicts, the strife and the poverty that was being inflicted upon our workers who lived in abysmal conditions. One man threw everything he had to the wind, spending long nights, month after month for almost a full year, succeed or fail, he was determined to achieve what the rest of us could not do. This man is appreciated and respected by all of his peers. There have been articles written about him in trade publications; many other burgeoning commerce areas across our kingdom have sought him out for his advice. Most of you probably don’t know that, along with all his other achievements, he is a Magistrate for our city. Now as if that isn’t enough, several months ago he put his own life in great peril when he rescued three people from a burning cotton mill. As we all know, there is nothing more dangerous than a fire in a cotton mill. He very nearly lost his life that night. I believe he has a guardian angel watching over him. I know that by now he has figured out that we are talking about him, and he is very uneasy. As much as he shuns the limelight, we are not going to allow that tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to proudly introduce our ‘Man of the Century in Commerce’ . . . John Thornton of Marlborough Mills.”
Hearing the announcement and witnessing the standing applause that followed, Margaret burst into tears as John’s peers cheered him to the front of the stage. She knew this was a wonderfully historical moment for John: Finally, he was receiving the tribute for which he never sought, yet so richly deserved.
As Margaret watched, John slowly approached the accolades of his audience. There, standing before her being honored for his achievements, was the man who knew her every intimacy, the man she would marry. John was like a Greek God being paid homage. As the audience came to its feet, he stood looking out over them like a conquering warrior, proud and fearless. He was stately, and he was transcendent. Nicholas beamed from ear to ear, clapping as loud as he could. He, too, had not expected this award.
Slickson adorned John with a large gold medallion hanging from a blue ribbon; the Chamber’s insignia and the words, “1st Industrial Man of the Century Award, John Thornton” was embossed on it. He also received a bronze, engraved plaque with a cast of his first mill, which showed the back of him looking towards it, and the inscription, “John Thornton, 1st ‘Man of the Century’ for the Industrial Age.” After several minutes of more applause, the audience quieted.
Laughingly, Slickson told him, “John, you are expected to say a few words here, you know.”
Silence. John was struggling to compose himself. He was engulfed with emotions, the result of the unexpected recognition that they were showing him tonight. He gazed at the floor for a few, brief moments then finally raised his head to the audience, displaying the strength of character for which he was known.
“I thank all of you for this gracious honor. I do not feel that I am more worthy of this praise than any man up on the stage tonight. Since I was not prepared for this, let me share with you what I believe is the reason that I am up here, holding this outstanding award.”
“Aristotle once wrote: ‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work’. Respect for your workforce must ultimately be that first step to perfection. The day there were striking rioters from all the mills in Milton, standing at my front door at Marlborough Mills, I learned that adversity introduces a man to himself. I want to tell you how that day changed my life, the town of Milton, and perhaps even the Cotton Industry itself.”
John walked off the dais, took Margaret by the hand, and motioned for Nicholas to join him. Margaret was still shedding tears of pride as John gently pulled her onto the stage. Nicholas followed, looking bewildered.
“I think most of you know my new partner in Marlborough Mills, Nicholas Higgins.” John waited while the applause died down. “You might wonder why I hired the man who instigated that strike in the first place.”
A smattering of laughter was heard.
“Nicholas Higgins was against the rioting that took place, but his interest in driving the strike was for the betterment of his fellow workers.”
“In the middle is Margaret Reed, some of you will remember her as Miss Margaret Hale. She and her family came to Milton over four years ago. Miss Hale happened to be visiting my mother the day of the riot. She stood with me by the window, watching the workers clamoring for me to come out. For years I have tried to remember her exact words, but in essence, she made me look at them as people, as humans who were starving, and she beseeched me to put myself in their place. Her words on that day haunted me. Miss Hale left Milton shortly after that, due to the death of her parents, but her words from that day remained.”
John looked over at Margaret; her eyes were looking at the floor. He could see her tears dropping like rain. Nicholas, seeing her discomfort, took her hand and handed her his handkerchief. As he stood beside, he realized for the first time that it was Margaret who would have been the woman that was hit by the rock that day. She took the handkerchief and dabbed her eyes, but she would not look up into the eyes of the audience.
“Weeks after the strike was over and the mill workers had returned to their machines, I had a visit from Nicholas; he was looking for work. His master had rightly refused to reinstate him.”
John looked at Nicholas, and they both almost laughed.
“I basically told him I wasn’t going to hire him either. But once again Miss Hale entreated me to listen, telling me what a good man he was; this made me give him a second thought. Miss Hale knew him as a friend; I knew him as a smart man. Although I have never told him of my thinking back then, I saw in him a man with intelligence, a man who had conceived and driven a large strike, a man who showed managerial and organizational skills. The riot that ended the strike was never his idea. So, I took the chance and eventually hired him. As you can see, now he is a partner at Marlborough Mills; it was a good fit for both of us. He’s been a tremendous paragon for all workers who wish to succeed. Hard work, respect, and honesty know no bounds within him. And, once again, Miss Hale had shown her insight into the depths of human souls.
I give most of the credit for this award to these two people up here with me tonight. Margaret opened my eyes and forced me to see problems with the laborers, in a different light; I made plans, took the financial risk and had faith in her judgment; and Nicholas, here, brought labor and owner together. Nicholas took the plans that I created from Margaret’s insight and made it happen. I want to thank Margaret Reed, and Nicholas Higgins, who I feel should share this award with me.” With that final statement, John stepped back and applauded them.
The audience joined him and rose to their feet. Margaret finally lifted her head; rosy cheeked from embarrassment. She looked over at John and saw him beaming at her. She couldn’t seem to turn off her tears.
Still applauding, Slickson appeared next to John holding a second plaque. The audience sensed he was about to speak and slowly sat down.
“John, I doubt many here knew your story back then, but I think most of us original Mill Masters figured that’s what happened, and we had our thinking authenticated by Mr. Higgins here. That’s why we have a second award to present tonight. It is my privilege to present our first Key to Commerce Award to Margaret Reed . . .”
John and Nicholas now backed away, clapping, as they left Margaret in the spotlight by herself. Once again the audience came to its feet, bestowing their honor for her part in the making of Milton. John smiled broadly, so proud of his woman, standing before his fellow peers; he knew every part of her belonged to him, and the people loved her.
Margaret, mouthed, “Thank you.”
Slickson handed the award to John to present to Margaret.
The room quieted down, and Nicholas took Margaret’s hand and began to leave the stage.
John quickly said, “Margaret, could you wait just a minute? I have one last thing to say.”
Nicholas continued down to his seat as John turned to Slickson and handed him back the award.
“I see there is a mistake on the plaque and it will have to be corrected.”
Slickson looked at the plaque, puzzled. “Where is there an error?” he asked.
“It’s the name,” John said.
“It is Reed, is it not?”
“Not for long, I hope,” John said.
The audience gasped, holding their breath, and a hush fell.
John turned back to Margaret who still seemed in a state of confusion. He took her by her shoulders and turned her around to face him, like a child. He quietly asked if she was ok.
“I . . . I . . . think so. Can I go sit down, now?” she stammered, a little too loudly.
The audience laughed. They had figured out what was going to happen, but could see that Margaret was completely unaware of John’s intentions.
John shook her hands a little to get her attention. She finally focused on his eyes. He sensed the audience knew what was coming, even though Margaret didn’t. He looked out into the faces of all his friends and said, “You cannot know how much I love this woman.”
Someone hollered, “Yes, we can!” Laughter and light applause followed.
John reached into his pocket for the ring that he had carried there for such a long time; he knelt down on one knee. The audience buzzed with anticipation.
“Margaret, I’ve carried this ring in my pocket for over two years.”
Again, he took both of Margaret’s hands in his and looked up into her face. The buzzing stopped, and the room fell silent like the night.
“Margaret Hale Reed, will you do me the great honor of accepting my hand in marriage?”
Margaret was stunned beyond words. Did he just propose? She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure of anything.
A small laugh from the crowd rippled around the room.
“Margaret Hale Reed, I have loved you since I’ve known you; will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
He did ask.
“Yes . . . Oh yes, I will, John!”
As the audience broke out into loud applause and congratulatory greetings, John rose to a standing position, taking the ring and holding Margaret’s hand as he slid it onto her finger. Margaret looked at the ring and then looked at John; tears began to stream once again.
John took her into his arms and kissed her passionately, not caring about his audience. For the third time in his life, he found Margaret sliding down, out of his grasp. He caught her tightly and swung her up to his chest, carrying her off the dais and out into the foyer. The banquet hall went wild. Everyone was glad to honor John with their appreciation, but what a spectacular, unexpected ending for everyone to witness. Nicholas caught Peggy by the arm and hurried to the outer hall with the Professor behind them.
The attendees began to filter out of the room to see what was happening with the happy couple. Peggy was fanning Margaret with her fan as she slowly awakened. She was still lying in John’s arms while he sat on a bench with her; her vision began to clear. She looked up at John and his beautiful smile. Becoming aware of the crowd which gathered around her, she swooned once again.
John stood with her in his arms, realizing he had to remove her from the smothering onlookers. To the shouts of “congratulations” from the attendees, he thanked everyone and told Higgins and the Professor, “I’m going to get her home.” He carried her down two flights of stairs and across the street to her own home.
John struggled to open the door as he continued holding Margaret firmly in his arms. Dixon, hearing the sound of the door opening, came running.
“Oh Mister John, what has happened to Miss Margaret? She is fainted.”
“Dixon, I proposed marriage to her tonight, and she accepted; and now you see her,” he said with a worried laugh. “I brought her home, but now I think I will take her to my home. We will have a lot to discuss. She will be home when she is home. Do not worry about her.”
“No, sir. I know she’s alright with you, Mr. John,” Dixon said, as she held the door open for John to carry Margaret out to his coach.
Even though Margaret’s eyes drifted open, John still held her to his chest as they traveled to his home. He wanted her with him tonight. All night.
“Where am I?” Margaret whispered.
“You’re coming home with me.”
I Will Kill You
The orchestra came back for their final set and had just finished their tuning up when a commotion seemed to ripple through the crowd, interrupting conversations and redirecting gazes. It seemed to Margaret as though something was happening, and it was catching everyone’s attention. Hearing whispers and gasps, she started to look around to see what everyone was looking at, when she noticed heads were turned toward the wide entrance.
She saw him: He took her breath away. John Thornton was standing in the doorway, radiating the pure masculine beauty that she had once studied as he slept. Margaret thought he was so handsome, it almost hurt. Her knees weakened as he filled the entrance with his considerable air and poise. The man’s very presence seemed to suck all the air out of the room, as if he not only commanded his space, but everyone else’s too. She didn’t know if he was looking for her, but he hesitated, modestly. Unknowingly, he was being admired by every woman in the room and a lot of the men, too. Their admiration of him, between the men and the women, was for entirely different reasons.
Higgins said, “Well, there’s our John and doesn’t he look . . .”
“. . . resplendent. . . I think, is the word you are looking for,” Margaret whispered, overwhelmed with the beauty of the man.
There he stood: tall, dark haired, austere, and stately in a rich heavy black linen coat with long tails. He wore a white crisp shirt, ivory waistcoat and an ivory cravat adorned with a gold stickpin. On his lapel, was a single red rose. John was so exquisitely male, that other gentlemen could easily feel jealous. Margaret noticed that he had on dancing slippers, too. His elegance was in his narrow cut, classically understated attire. No frilly cuffs or frilly shirt, no gloves, little jewelry, even his watch and chain were not showing. His cravat was neat, nicely knotted and not billowy and frilly like most gentlemen were wearing that evening. He needed no fine accoutrements to enhance his splendor. He was impeccable. She felt warm all over and blood rushed to her cheeks. She was going to have to look away soon, or run to claim him as her own. He looked magnificent. He drew everyone’s attention as he passed through the rows of tables, talking with people. Many wanted to come to him and shake his hand. To the younger men, he looked as if he was a god. Margaret was dumbstruck with the amount of respect that he was being shown. All the women had their heads turned his way, unable to keep from staring and smiling. Suddenly, there was that feeling in her stomach again as jealousy welled. She caught the Professor looking at her; he knew exactly what she was going through. John eventually sat down with Slickson at his table. Margaret wondered why he wasn’t looking for her.
Craig took Margaret to the dance floor, and while twirling her around, she saw John looking her way. He gave her a beautiful smile that filled her with his love. She suspected that he was showing respect for the fact that Mr. Steen had brought her there tonight.
Eventually, John walked down to the bar end of the room to fetch himself a drink. On his way back, the handshakes began again, so he stood and spoke to many people, never looking in Margaret’s direction. When the second song began, Mr. Latimer, who she hadn’t seen since her last time living in Milton, asked her to dance. She obliged him and he escorted her to the dance floor. Margaret thought him an extremely fine dancer.
She took the opportunity to inquire about his daughter. “How is Miss Anne?” she asked.
“Oh . . . She’s fine. She eventually grew tired of waiting for John to propose, and she married an architect who was here in Milton, designing the early stages of the city. They live in London now. . You look wonderful tonight. I understand that you are working for Dr. Pritchard?”
“Yes, I am. He’s an intelligent man and we have been close friends for about three years now. I’m sure he will do Milton proud with his book. He has written many books and was very well respected at the college. ”
They danced in silence for the last minute of the music, and Mr. Latimer walked her back to the table, thanked, and seated her. She looked around for John and could not see him, but Cavanaugh was still looking at her. Craig had just asked her for the next dance, when John appeared. He said hello and shook hands with Craig.
“Higgins, I’m glad you found the courage,” John laughed. “Would you mind if I ask Peggy to dance?”
Peggy had not been on the dance floor yet, and Margaret had felt sorry for her. She was glad he asked Peggy to dance, and she hoped he would stay at their table when the dance was over.
After a rather lively dance, John brought a smiling Peggy back to the table, and immediately turned and walked over to the orchestra. He spoke briefly to the conductor. The orchestra started up and John returned to the table and asked Margaret, “Could I have this waltz, Mrs. Reed?”
On their way to the floor, the music began and Margaret could hear some groans from the audience. Apparently, the waltz, previously thought scandalous but now coming into fashion, had not been entirely introduced to Milton as yet. Only a handful took to the floor.
John, standing tall, held out his left hand for Margaret. She could feel his body heat radiating on her face from his chest. She drew in his manly scent and wanted to melt right there. Her bosoms were heaving from the excitement, which did not escape John’s notice. He then slipped his right hand around the back of Margaret’s waist, placing it properly, square in the center, leaving a small amount of polite airspace between them. Margaret put her left hand on his shoulder. John took in her breathtaking scent, as he always did, and enjoyed the presence of her in his arms. Her breasts surging up and down where making his loins ache. He looked directly at her with his steel blue eyes. They both smiled at each other.
“Do you know the waltz, Mrs. Reed?”
“Yes, I do, Mr. Thornton,” she said with an air of amused sophistication.
“Then let us dazzle everyone here and regale them with a waltz.”
John and Margaret slipped easily into the 1 – 2 – 3 rhythm of the the waltz. John whirled her all around the dance floor with such grace as one would think it was one person dancing. All eyes were on them, but their eyes were only for each other.
Margaret realized the moment for what it was. She was oblivious to the watching eyes, the two other swirling couples, the glow of the candles, even the music. This was the moment she knew, beyond every doubt, that she forever wanted to be with him. John noticed a new gleam in her eye, and the thumping of her heart had hastened. He thought she might be having ‘a moment’ on one of her islands.
“Are my feet still touching the floor?” she asked, with all the love, she could give him showing on her face.
“I hope they never touch the ground when you are in my arms,” John whispered to her.
John’s tails flared gracefully away from his body as he twirled Margaret, and her gown swept out to the movement of the dance with a light whisper of ribbons and linens and lace. The two other couples left the dance floor to watch the spectacular show that now appeared in the center of the huge room. John and Margaret were an exquisitely mirrored couple, dancing close together in perfect harmony. Not once did John look away from Margaret’s eyes; he always had a sense of their position on the floor. There should have been no doubt, by anyone watching, that those two were deeply in love. The orchestra, recognizing the display as almost a performance, played longer than was usual.
“You are an exquisite sight tonight.”
“Thank you. And you are quite dazzling, yourself.”
“Thank you, Margaret.” He paused briefly.
“You are going to marry me someday.”
“I think I will, too,” Margaret said.
“You will tell me when that is. And I fully understand your reasons for being free from me and finding yourself. When you are sure, you will come to me and tell me that you love me. You have not spoken the words yet, you know, but I will wait forever.”
Margaret’s eyes were misting over, and John felt it was time to refrain from his words of love. He had just heard Margaret utter the very words he had wanted to hear, ever since he’d met her. If only he could kiss her right now. He remembered the diamond ring that he always carried with him. Someday, he thought. Someday soon, he hoped.
One last turn around the dance floor and the music ended. Even though John was only aware of Margaret on the floor, and she only aware of him, everyone else was aware they were a pair, and gave them a huge round of applause. They broke from their entranced state to realize they had been a single couple dancing the exotic waltz.
John escorted a red-faced Margaret back to her seat, next to Craig.
As they approached the table, Margaret asked John, “Where did you learn to waltz, Mr. Thornton?”
“I found it of benefit to learn due to all the banquets I had to attend on my trips. Thank you, Mrs. Reed,” John said, and continued among the room meeting people.
Everyone at the table remarked upon the magnificent display of dancing that she, and John had performed. The two of them appeared to dance as one person, every move meticulously reflected by the other. The Professor had a very broad smile on his face. Margaret noticed and lowered her eyes, wanting to elude the compliments. Mr. Steen commented that he must learn this new waltz soon.
Nearing midnight, the evening began to draw to a close with the announcement of the final dance. Craig escorted Margaret to the dance floor. There were butterflies in her stomach, as she watched John take another woman in his arms and smile at her. Margaret felt the curse of jealousy, but realized that John had been through the same ordeal since arriving tonight. With the final bow and curtsey, Margaret thanked Mr. Steen for a truly enjoyable evening, and remarked on his exceptional mastery of the dance.
With the evening concluded, people were gathering their things and filing out the wide door.
Suddenly, everyone stopped. A disturbance broke out at the door entrance. People murmured among themselves and tried to step backwards from the frightening scene. Margaret could hear John’s raised voice. She ran around people to the front of the line and there was John, enraged, holding Cavanaugh by the lapels, shouting at him. John swung at Cavanaugh with his fist; it landed on Cavanaugh’s chin, knocking him to the floor. The crowd stood watching and wondering what could have incited such anger in John Thornton.
Cavanaugh tried to kick and claw, but John pulled him up by his shoulders and punched him again. Cavanaugh put up little defense after that, and people began to pull John off of him.
Higgins grabbed John from behind, whispering loudly to him, “John! John! He’s done. Don’t do anything to ruin your future.”
John shook Higgins off and turned to Cavanaugh, shouting for all to hear, “If you EVER do that to her again, I will KILL you.”
Mason’s men came charging through door and hauled Cavanaugh to his feet. They pulled his arms behind him and handcuffed him, leading him down stairs to the bottom floor precinct.
John stood there as people began asking, “What did Cavanaugh do to whom?” He was sucking big gulps of air as he ran his fingers through his hair and straightened his waistcoat and cravat. He did not talk, or look at anyone in the face. He was trying to get his rage under control. Margaret approached him, but he turned, looked at her, then walked away and rapidly descended the stairs. Margaret saw him pass through the outer doors and leave the building.
Craig caught up with Margaret and took her arm to guide her down the stairs. She was visibly shaking. “Margaret, it’s over.”
“I have seen John’s temper only once, but it didn’t compare to what I saw tonight. He was obsessed.”
“Margaret, that is because of his love for you; even I can see that. What did this fellow Cavanaugh do to you?”
Higgins hurried to her side. “Margaret, you know he’s been worried sick about this man hurting you. He had every right to do what he did. That man has very badly brutalized another woman, something they had not suspected of him until this recent incident. Don’t hold John responsible for his temper this evening. He knew a lot more about this man then you were ever led to know.”
“I’d like to go home, if you don’t mind. I need to be alone.”
“Of course, Margaret, whatever you want,” Craig said.
Margaret paused at his statement, thinking . . .
“Do you really mean that?”
“Mean what?” Craig asked.
“Whatever I want?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Could you drive me to Marlborough Mills? I want to talk to John.”
“All right, I will be glad to, and I understand your need to see him right now.”
Margaret asked Higgins to tell Dixon that she would be at John’s tonight.
“Thank you, Craig. You are a fine gentleman and friend. I did enjoy the evening with you much more than I anticipated. By that, I mean that I am quite shy around men. I was rather intimidated at first, but had no reason to be. Thank you for bringing me.”
Ten minutes later, Steen’s coach pulled up to the Mill’s gate. Craig handed Margaret out of the coach and waited while she spoke to the gate man.
“Is Mr. Thornton at home?”
“Why yes, Miss.”
“I would like to see him.”
He started to roll back the gate and Margaret reached up and gave Craig a kiss on the cheek.
“I’ll find a way home. Thank you again for everything.”
Craig doffed his hat and entered the coach. Margaret stood there waving until he was out of sight.
John was sitting in his chair watching his hands shake as the liquid sloshed in his brandy glass. He had removed his tails, waistcoat and cravat, and opened the front of his shirt for more air. He was looking at the floor, still trying to calm down from his earlier confrontation. John had been overcome, thinking of what might have happened to Margaret at the hands of that man, and he had let control slip away. He was livid and sick to his stomach. He could now understand “insanity pleas.” He was certain he was close to going insane tonight, blinded by sheer hatred and having lost all sense of self. Where would he and Margaret be, if he had killed the man like he had wanted to do? As he held his brandy in one hand, and ran the other through his hair and across his brow, he worried about how it could have ended. He recalled how Higgins, once again, had come through for him. Suddenly, he heard a small voice call up the stairs.
“Margaret? . . . It is you?”
Constable Wilson and the Threatening Notes
It was two days before John left for Brighton. He kept in touch with Mason daily, but nothing new had surfaced except the note had an impression from the page written before it. The labs had determined the letters to be _ _ U _ T MON_ _ _ BAR _ _ _ _ _ R (something scratched over) _ _ N E. Mason had everyone looking at it from the labs to the bobbies, and even John tried to decipher what had been written. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the MON was for MONDAY, but nothing else would come together, and Monday got them nowhere.
Knocking on Margaret’s door felt good to John. He hadn’t seen her for two days.
“John, you’ve arrived just in time, look!”
He was handed a second note. I AM WATCHING YOU, was all that it said. “Where was this one found?” John was upset and not hiding it. He was going to explode on whoever was doing this to her.
“I just opened this envelope, and it was inside. It came through the post today.”
“Let’s walk it across to Mason. Bring the envelope, and we’ll give it to the lab. At least this one was not inside the house. That is some small relief.”
Margaret took John’s arm, and they walked over to the courthouse.
They found Mason down stairs, and all the questions began. Mason took the paper to the lab immediately and wanted to know if there were any impressions on the paper. A quick appraisal seemed to reveal the letter H. The lab kept the note to go over it further.
Mason said that he still had the same men watching the house and her place of work. Having come through the post, there wasn’t anything further that they could deduce. Very discomfited, John walked Margaret to her home.
“Let’s go out back, so we can talk.” John urged.
When they had walked past the carriage house, John asked her, “Margaret, how are you doing with all of this? For some unexplainable reason, you seem to be doing better than myself. I cannot even think anymore.”
“I’m really alright, John. I’m tiring a little of the police being around all the time. I do think it must be an admirer and more of a nuisance than anything. This second note gives me the shivers though. I don’t feel in danger, but, now, he says he’s watching me.”
“That could be true, or just words of annoyance as the first note could have also been. I’ve tried to postpone my Brighton trip, but there are too many irons in the fire down there, so I must go, but I hate leaving you. I will worry. I will be thinking of you instead of why I am there. The two other Masters that are available to do this sort of work are either laid up sick or out of town. I would . . . though . . . absolutely refuse to go if I thought you were in any danger. I wish I could take you with me, but I know you have the ball, now.
“John, do not worry. I’ll be fine. I’m spending a little more time with the professor rather than coming home. Dixon hasn’t left my side, and Mr. Granger has come here to visit, which is lovely of him to do. You have two keys, and I have the other one which I keep in my bodice all the time. My handbag may be out of my sight at work, but my clothes aren’t.” She laughed. “Adrian has offered to sleep in the house, but I said no to that, knowing there are officers watching the house.
“How is Higgins doing with his promotion, by the way?”
“Well . . . he hasn’t made the big jump to new clothes, but he’s probably waiting for my big announcement after I get the deeds back. He and Peggy should be at the Ball, too. I hope he doesn’t relent. I am going to tell him of my worry for you and insist he does go, just in case. I should be going, but I will come by tomorrow before I leave.”
John and Margaret walked back to the house holding hands, saying nothing. Touching her anywhere felt so intimate that John did not want it interrupted with talk. He waved to the officer stationed out back, as he walked Margaret to her door and said goodbye.
John returned home and sat down to open his own mail. He was sent a note, too. YOU DON’T DESERVE HER. John immediately hollered to Branson not to stable the horses and bounded down the back steps to go see Mason again. The note went to the lab, while John and Mason talked about this new twist. Someone was watching her, but John was not going to tell her about his note.
“Mason, in case you find anything under the microscopes, send for me. Otherwise, I am going home to pack.”
“Do you want us to put some men on your house?”
“No, I’ve got security around the mill. I’m not worried. See you tomorrow before I leave.”
John went home to his dinner, his favorite chair, and the brandy he needed help settle his nerves. He pulled out a tattered piece of paper with the impressions from the first note and looked at it once more. Nothing. He paced the floor worrying about Margaret; he wanted to hit something. John couldn’t stomach this feeling that he was not in control.
What if something happens to her?
Still seething with frustration, he thought about the worst that could happen. Should it happen, he knew he would follow her to the grave. He wasn’t going to live without her; there was no doubt in his mind that he’d go with her immediately. Putting the worst case scenario aside, he tried to think about what type of fixation this man had for her. They were not dealing with a normal person. This person had mental problems, which made him unpredictable, and that’s what John feared. This man knew that he had feelings for Margaret so he might know that he was going to be away. It must be someone that he knows. He decided to take the late train tomorrow evening and sleep the eight hours of the trip arriving in the morning. He could cut off almost a half day that way. Every protective, primitive instinct that John possessed was brought to bear on Margaret’s safety.
John went to the office the next morning and took a few hours to review all the documented Brighton studies he would carry. Later he talked with Higgins about what had been transpiring for the past few days.
“Nicholas, if you don’t mind, could you stay on the mill property while I’m gone. I will leave the house to you. I just don’t know who we’re dealing with and since I’ve had a note, I don’t want someone sneaking in here and burning the house down while it’s empty. Were you planning on going to the Ball? If so, would you mind sitting with Margaret and Mr. Steen and the Professor?
“Of course, John. I’ll be glad to stay there and go to the Ball.”
“I saw Cavanaugh yesterday, and he’ll have the deed ready when I get back, so prepare for our Marlborough Mills celebrations, and I mean that literally. I want both Mills to have refreshments and small cakes. Let’s plan it for next Monday, a week.”
“All right, John.” Higgins smiled. “And thank you once more from Peggy and I. You’ve made a tremendous change in our lives.”
“I can’t imagine how my life would have been without you around this place, my friend.”
John had a bit of lunch at home before heading off. Gathering his travel bag and satchel, he called for Branson to take him to the courthouse. He spent most of the afternoon with Mason and Constable Wilson, who was most anxious to help.
“So, Constable Wilson, do you have any thoughts on this case.”
“Yes, sir. I do,” the young Constable replied.
John continued, “Have you discussed them with the Chief, here?”
“Actually, not yet, sir. I’ve been formulating the ideas like a detective would and, although, I see a lot of signs, I haven’t put them altogether to form any specific concept, as of yet.”
“Would you mind sharing them with the Chief and me?” John said as he looked over to Mason, anticipating a very basic outline of things, here-to-for known.
“You really want to hear what I have come up with?” Wilson asked in surprise.
“Have you discussed much of this with Mason?”
“Not much. I know about the notes. I know that there are impressions on the notes. I know what her chore man thought he saw. I know we have officers watching Mrs. Reed around the clock. I think that is about it, isn’t Chief?”
“That’s probably pretty close.”
Wilson has had the notes and studied them once again, while John smiled at Mason, eager to hear the youngster’s report.
After a minute or two, Wilson looked up and said, “I’m ready, sir.”
“Go ahead then,” said John.
“We are certainly working with a mentally disturbed man with a fixation on Mrs. Reed. He is aware that there is something between, you sir, and Mrs. Reed or knows that you are interested in her in more than a simple, friendly relationship. He writes clearly and decisively, with little words. He knows not to write too much because he could be giving something away and that shows either intelligence or a higher education. He’s wealthy. He is definitely watching her, and I think he is going to be someone known to all of us. His time is probably his own if he can often watch, meaning he’s most likely not a laborer, merchant or shop owner, constricted by time schedules. You are going to know him, Mr. Thornton. He has most likely spoken with Mrs. Reed, either passing on the street as she walks to and from work or in her place of work itself because he’s been close enough to know he wants to have her. You are probably looking for a man between the ages of 25 and 40. He feels sexually powerful and wants to fulfill his desire with her, which may push him into brutality if she resists. Mr. Thornton, he doesn’t like you butting in his way, but he is afraid of you, due to either your size or your importance. He is probably a man who most women would not look at more than once, therefore the fierce, sexual desire. He’s single. I think the impressed words start with Court Monday. How’s that?”
John and Mason were looking at him with their mouths gaping.
John said, “I am exceedingly amazed at your insight or whatever it is that drives your thinking. You have a real gift there, Constable. And you have apparently been studying detective material. I think I can speak for Mason and myself when I say, we are quite taken aback. Mason, bring this lad along quickly; let’s not waste his mind while it’s able to absorb so much.
“Very well, sir.”
“I would like to ask you how you arrived at some of your conclusions because you have gone far beyond our thoughts. Why do you say he’s wealthy?”
“That was one of the easier ones. There are two clues. He is educated or intelligent, and I feel he is educated, meaning money, because of his clear printing. The other is a little less obvious. Having a note that made an impression on another paper above it indicates that he may have a tablet of paper. There are few, if any, impoverished people that have tablets of paper.”
“Excellent theory,” John said. The age?”
“That’s just statistical. If he is feeling sexually powerful, he’ll be within those ages.
“How about the theory that he is watching her and he’ll be known to us?”
“He’s not standing out as a stranger to anyone, while he watches her.”
“Why is he afraid of me?”
“I’m not sure if afraid is the correct word in this case. He sees you standing between himself and Mrs. Reed. He doesn’t know how to attack you physically or professionally, so he’s taken to words to torment you. He would like to tear you down in Mrs. Reed’s eyes. He thinks that would smooth the way for her affection for him. He is delusional and mentally unstable. It worries me that we have an educated mentally unstable man out there seeking sexual favors with Mrs. Reed.”
“I cannot argue with that or any of your logic. You are astounding. How do you come up with COURT as the first word?”
There aren’t too many words that will fit those letters. There is COUNT, BLUNT and maybe a few others, but COURT MONDAY sounds like something someone may write down. If I can add a little more?
“First I would find out anything having to do with any court session on a Monday, who were the participants, judges, witnesses, etc. Furthermore, I think this man is going to be caught by Mrs. Reed’s chore man. Not literally, but he’ll spot that man again that was watching that day and tell someone. I think her chore man needs to be inside the front of the house watching the courtyard all day until he’s caught. COURTYARD also fits in with the word COURT. And as for using a house key the first time, which we are not sure of, yet . . . but Mrs. Reed could have mistakenly left her key in the door when coming home. If he’s been watching her, he could have spotted that and retrieved it without her knowledge of it even being lost. And finally, and this is a real long shot, but I think he might be our kidnapper, although he has a new twist to his method. We know what happened to last young lady with a note and I see nothing here with which to indicate the same won’t happen. Sending you a note, sir, is the twist which indicates an escalation since he feels successful from the other time. He’s almost playing a game, daring you to catch him. With an attitude like that, nothing will stand in his way.”
Reeling from Constable Wilson’s words, John tried to compose himself. He just shook his head wondering what they had with this perceptive young man. “Mason, if what Wilson says turns out to be true, I want him sent to London for further training as a detective. He thinks we’re going to need a detective agency in the future and I’m inclined to agree. I would like him to head it up and work closely with you. Once he’s trained, I’d like you to go for the same training.”
“Yes, Mr. Thornton. Thank you, most kindly. I will do exactly as you say. We’ve been wondering how to work that training into the budget.”
“If the city does not have the money, I will go to the Merchant’s Chamber for it. Worst case, I will pay for the two of you to train myself, if what he says is true. I will see Margaret shortly and have Adrian brought into the house to watch the courtyard. Wilson, I want you to work on how many professional jobs and or gentlemen out there who can fit into your analogy.”
“Yes, guv! Thank you, sir.”
“Wilson, you are dismissed,” Mason said. Wilson left the room.
“Mason, you have some wizard on your hands. What do you think?”
“I’ve known he had great potential and I have given him a little more responsibility, like allowing him to go to London that day. But what I just witnessed was beyond anything I have seen, ever. It almost makes me feel small.”
“Mason, you are not alone. He’s out shown us all. I know you are a better man than this, but some bosses would feel threatened by such a brilliant worker. Just drive him, challenge him, be his mentor, and certainly acknowledge him to the others. Be proud to have him.”
“Have no worries there, Mr. Thornton. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have someone like yourself to bring me along and have confidence in me, driving me to do better. I know what that means. Someday, I may work for this young man, nothing is ever forever.”
“I knew you would see it like that, Mason. I’m proud of you.”
John and the Chief sat down and began scrutinizing all that Wilson had said. Plans were made.
“I am going over to Mrs. Reed’s home for a while and then I will leave on the train for Brighton. I shall be gone . . . four days instead of five, I hope. I don’t know exactly when I will return on Friday night, but it will be very late. Mason, she means a lot to me. Take care of her for me. One last thought and this may not be possible, so don’t hesitate if you need to take action, but if you find out who it is and can watch him until I return, I would like to be there when we catch him.”
“Yes, Mr. Thornton, I know she means a lot to you. I think everyone knows that, and so does our bad guy. We will do everything possible to watch her. No shortcuts, nothing taken for granted, ever, and if we can wait, we will. Have a good trip.”
“See you when I return, Mason.” John shook Mason’s hand with both of his and said, “Good luck. My future is in your hands now.”
Branson carried John around the block to park on Margaret’s side of the street. John told him what time to return for his trip to the train station.
“Would you mind if I went around back and talked with Adrian?”
“Yes, that would be fine. I will want to talk with Adrian, too. Tether the horses and coach out front. I want the coach easily seen here.”
John was welcomed into Margaret’s house, and he greeted the police officer. “Officer, how long have you on duty in here this evening?”
“I only have but half an hour before the night shift comes to the back of the house.”
“I wish you to go out back and send Adrian in here, and then you’re excused for your last half hour because I will be here.”
“Right you are, sir.”
John asked if Dixon was here. Margaret said not this evening. “She’s been so wound up and sticking solidly by me that I insisted she gets out for several hours. She left only moments ago.”
“I think we’re perfectly safe, even if our culprit saw Dixon leave. We have Adrian and Branson in the back yard talking. I need to speak with Adrian. Peggy’s clever brother has offered us some insight into this madman, and we’re going to catch him soon.”
“Hello Adrian, how are you doing?”
“Fine, sir. What can I do for you?”
“For the next week, I want you to sit in this front parlor and just watch the courtyard across the street for any signs of the same man you thought you might have seen that one day. If you see him, you will point him out to the officer that is here. He will leave through the back and go around the block, and contact the Chief. He will point out to Mason, who you pointed out to him. Are there any questions?”
“No, sir. Clear as a bell.”
“Thank you, Adrian. That’s all.”
John sat down heavily, rubbing his forehead, mentally exhausted. His nerves were taut with fear. John slid down, so his head rested on the back of the couch and propped his feet on a nearby chair. “Margaret, will you come sit next to me?”
Margaret, worried by the look on his face, eagerly went to John. As she sat, John took her hand and held it to his chest, without even turning to look at her. Staring at nothing across the room, he said, “We’re going to get through this. There are a lot of new plans in place, now. I will worry about you, most certainly unnecessarily, but I can’t help it. I will tell you now since we have a lot more in place to keep you surrounded, but I got a note yesterday too, in my post. It said YOU DON’T DESERVE HER.”
“Oh John, are you worried at that?”
“I’m only worried about you. Since my home will be empty, Higgins is going to stay there to keep an eye on it. Let me tell you what young Wilson has come up with, you will be amazed.”
John told Margaret all that Wilson had said and his reasons for it. Margaret could feel something forming in her mind. Wheels were turning and clicking into place. John noticed she was staring off into space, her mouth slightly agape. He sat up to watch her. He could tell what he said had meant something to her. She was appraising all his words. He didn’t disturb her.
Margaret, still staring said in a calm, low voice. “I know who it is. It all fits.”
“Who? . . . Who, Margaret?”
The rest of the week, John and Higgins went over some serious planning for the probability of purchasing Slickson’s mill. John needed to make some people moves for the strategic positions, and Higgins needed a replacement, as overseer. It was determined that three overseers would be instituted, one for each mill. The organizational format was going to have to change with having three mills and Higgins in a whole new capacity. John wanted all the training started immediately because he was sure Slickson’s mill would be his. He understood very well that he could handle the added work with the top people he had. John was very confident in the men that Slickson had in place and knew the top overseer there and several other top men. He was impressed to find what he did at Slickson’s Mill. The building was in good condition. The machinery was kept in top shape, serviced, and inspected often. Speaking with several of the lay people, John found they had a wonderfully satisfied attitude. As hard as he tried to get them to confess to problems there, it seemed no one had any. Most of the workers knew of John Thornton and his mill workings and were hopeful that he would be their new master some day.
Finished winding her braids, Margaret found the white rose that was almost past its bloom and pinned it in her hair. Her gown was appropriate for a small home gathering dinner, Margaret thought. She had acquired many such dresses from all the functions that she and Booker had to attend at the college.
Dixon called up the steps that Mr. Thornton and the Professor were arriving. Margaret took a final look in the mirror and then hurried down the stairs as Dixon was opening the door to John.
“Good evening Margaret, you look splendid. Are you ready to leave? I see you have a lovely rose in your hair tonight.” John remarked.
“Yes, I am ready,” Margaret replied. “You are quite the man with flowers,” she said showing a small gleam in her eye and handing John her wrap for him to place on her shoulders.
What could she mean by that? . . . Quite the man with flowers. I have never brought her flowers. And, why haven’t I?
The three enjoyed a nice meal at Marlborough Mills that evening. John and the Professor talked mostly about Milton, and the Chamber Ball invitation and John promised to set a date to talk with him when he returned from Brighton, about his beginnings in the milling industry. To Margaret’s chagrin, the Professor told John of all the interest Margaret was garnering from his visitors. “Thank you for the invitation to the Ball. I will love to attend. I hope I can sit with Margaret and her gentleman,” said the Professor.
Her gentleman . . .
John was trying to cast aside his green demon that had so recently made itself known. His stomach roiled every time he thought of another man approaching Margaret for any reason. “I’m sorry I will be unable to be there, myself. I am sure you will enjoy it, Professor, and Margaret tells me she likes to dance. Maybe you can accommodate her,” John smirked.
John escorted Margaret and the Professor to his traveling coach with his fine four horses, carrying them to their homes in fashion.
Branson dropped off the Professor first, and then reined the carriage for Margaret’s house.
Margaret asked, “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea or a brandy?” John replied that he would indeed, a little too hastily.
He spoke into the speak box, inside the carriage, and told Branson to pull around back where they would exit the coach. With smothered excitement in his voice, John asked if Dixon was home, for if she was not, he might have to give Branson some different instructions. Unfortunately, Dixon was home, and Branson was encouraged to visit Adrian if he was home.
Dixon brought tea as John reclined in his chair that Margaret had purchased for him, telling her that the size of it made a very comfortable seat. They were discussing the Professor and the ball when she mentioned, “He has a pretty thick folder on you, already, John. I read it today.” Margaret said with a twinkle in her eye.
“He does, does he? I am sure it is full of fanciful exaggerations.”
“It is a large folder on you, and he hasn’t even started yet on your documentation. I am most seriously impressed with what you have accomplished while I’ve been away. You have been far too modest to let me know about the status you hold in this new age. I’m so proud for you, John. Why didn’t you speak to me of this?”
John shifted in his big chair. “Margaret, first of all, I care for none of that heraldry. I wish I could change my name some days. Nothing came difficult to me. And secondly, none of it would have happened when it did if it were not for you. I want you to fully realize that my success came from your ideas, your passion.”
“That is as may be, John, but YOU took my ideas, which were only a few words, YOU took risks, and YOU almost lost everything. YOU depleted nearly all you owned to make it work. YOU saw it through to a successfully smooth transition. YOU need to accept the fact that YOU are a man for the history books, like it or not.”
John watched her face as she spoke with such earnestness. Although he did not care to hear about his successes, he was more amazed at Margaret’s insight and perspicacity. She was driving her point. Her vitality was stunning. He was hugely pleased to see what working with the Professor was doing to her confidence. Or could it be, all the interest that gentlemen found in her was giving her this assurance? Although he didn’t want to think of that as the reason, it was what she needed, and he knew that.
“Can we not talk about that for now?” John asked. “Have you accepted an invitation to the ball, yet?” It didn’t matter who she said, he was not going to like it.
“Yes, I have accepted Mr. Steen’s offer. I believe he is fond of dancing.”
“Well, at least you will be safe with him, I think he always has a gun on his person,” John said.
“Since you’re putting me through this at least I would enjoy dancing.”
John laughed to himself, “Margaret, you will have many offers to dance. Men will flock to you. If I were taking you, I could shield you from that, if it made you uncomfortable.”
“How do you know this?” Margaret asked.
“One day you will find your complete inner self again. And you will like what you see. I think you are too naive, still, to believe in your own beauty, even with all these potential suitors that come to your office. Margaret . . . divorced, widowed or single; you are a very alluring woman. Many men there that night will want to be close and to hold you in their arms . . . I don’t think I can talk about this any longer. You will dance all night. I’m glad that I’ll not be there to see it, honestly. If I took you, I wouldn’t share you.”
“I think you are a bit biased, Mr. Thornton.”
“Say what you will. Yes, I am very biased, but I know the attraction that you will unintentionally cause. I have watched other men turn to look at you. I wish you could have seen the heads turning your way as you stepped off the train that day.”
Now Margaret wanted to change the subject. “That was quite a trick. How did you do it?” Margaret said to John.
“What is this trick you speak about, Margaret?”
Margaret pointed to the rose in her hair. “Oh John, don’t play coy. I know you know,”
John sensing trouble, but not wanting to alarm Margaret played along with it to find out what she was talking about. “So, tell me, what did you think?”
“Coming home from our dinner out the other night and seeing that note and rose on my pillow had me alarmed at first until I remembered you had a key. You must have put Branson up to it, didn’t you?”
In his most happy face, he said, “Well, I don’t know if it was mine or not. What did the note say?”
“John! Stop being funny.”
“Actually, I went through several versions, which one did I actually send?”
“Oh, you know . . . the one that said – I WILL HAVE YOU ONE DAY AND I KNOW YOU WANT ME, or something like that.”
“John immediately was reminded of the kidnapping note. Yes, I remember now. Well . . . you’ve known that haven’t you?”
“I wasn’t sure it was from you immediately because I’ve never seen you print before, but then I remembered the key. It might not be a good idea for the neighbors seeing a strange young man, like Branson, entering my dark house,” Margaret laughed.
“Margaret, how long is it before Adrian will be able to move here?”
“Ahhhh . . . yes . . . wondering how long you have to do this, are you?”
“I’m not saying a word, just wondering when he’ll be on premises.”
“Actually, he moved in a month ago. I am glad he’ll be here when you are so far away in Brighton.”
Brighton! John remembered how he would be away next week. He would have to put some plans into action without Margaret’s notice. It could be an admirer, or something disastrous. He was taking no chances. And whoever it was had found a way into her home.
“It is getting late, I must let you have your rest,” John said rising, immediately wanting to see Mason.
Margaret followed him to the door, disappointed in his abrupt departure, wondering why the sudden change in his attitude.
Having his hand on the doorknob, “I will see you before I leave for Brighton.” Goodnight, Margaret.” John said as he opened the door and then turned back to kiss her, almost as an afterthought. His mind preoccupied, he climbed into the carriage, telling Branson to take him to the back of the courthouse.
Filling with fear for Margaret, John hurried through the rear doors and proceeded to the police station on the first floor, looking for Mason; he hoped he was on duty. Chief Mason was in his office. He knocked on his door and entered.
“Mason, I am glad to see you working late tonight. I think I may have a problem and will need your help,” John blurted out with an anxious tone in his voice.
“Anything, Mr. Thornton. It just happens to be my shift this week to be here now. What’s the problem, sir?”
John told Mason all about the note and rose that had appeared on Margaret’s pillow. He, also, told him that he left Margaret thinking it was his idea, so she wouldn’t be upset.
“How long ago did this a happen, Mr. Thornton?”
“This is Tuesday, and we had dinner at The Dove last Friday between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00. I have a spare key, she has one for herself and a third, which she may have given to her housekeeper, but I don’t know that for sure.”
Mason looking at his notes, said, “Are you sure you want to keep it from her? We should ask her questions about the keys, and has she noticed any other strange things?”
“You’re right, Mason. I’m afraid I am likely to over react on this. I just know that I’m terribly worried and might not be the best judge of the situation.”
“I understand Mr. Thornton. With your seniority as a Magistrate, I am relieved to know you understand that.”
“Could you put someone on the house for now, until we can talk with her in the morning? If it’s an admirer that will be bad enough, but I’m concerned it could be more than that. Remember the kidnapping note?
Mason replied, “Yes, I remember very well.” He told John to go on home, and he would assign two officers and watch the back and front of the house, without raising suspicion.
Dixon ambled to the front door muttering, “Who could be calling this early in the morning?” Opening the door, she was shocked to see Chief Mason along with Mr. Thornton. “Won’t you come in sirs? I’ll get Miss Margaret. If you would like to sit at the dining room table, I will bring tea for all of you.”
Dixon went upstairs, where Margaret was just finishing her hair for the day. “Who was it, Dixon?”
“Miss, it is Mr. Thornton, but he has Chief Mason with him.”
“Oh dear, that sounds a bit ominous. I’ll be right there.”
Margaret entered the dining room, and both men stood. John spoke first, “Margaret, we are sorry to bother you so early, but we think we may have a situation that we need to speak to you about.”
John looked at Mason, who encouraged John to go on with the story.
“Please go on,” Margaret said, while she took a seat at the table. Both men sat.
“You do remember last night telling me about the rose and the note left on your pillow last week after our dinner?”
“Yes, of course. I thought it quite clever of you. What’s wrong?”
“Margaret, I did not send that note and rose.
“But you said last night . . .”
John interrupted, “I didn’t want to worry you until I had some things sorted. Your house has been watched all night, and now Mason is here to ask some questions so we can get to the bottom of this. It could be an admirer, or . . . we don’t know what else.”
Dixon brought in the tea.
“Miss Dixon,” Mason asked, “Do you have a key to this house?”
“No, sir, I don’t.”
Margaret interjected saying, “I lend Dixon the second key when she needs it. I should have two keys and Mr. Thornton, one key.”
“Would you mind finding both keys, Mrs. Reed,” asked Mason.
Margaret said, “Certainly” and headed for her small handbag. “I should have both of them in here.” Digging in her purse, she could only find one, so she dumped the contents on the table. “Well . . . where is it, the second key? Dixon, have you seen a key around the house that was set down?”
“No Miss Margaret.
“Mr. Thornton, do you have your key?” Mason asked.
John produced it from his big key ring. “These keys are to my home, my mills, and this house. They are always on my person, except for sleep.
Mason asked if someone would summon Adrian into the room.
Margaret, looking worried said, “I kept both keys in my purse. With having two and only using one, I cannot tell you how long it’s been gone. It could be at Dr. Pritchard’s or lost somewhere in the house. I doubt if it would be in John’s coach.”
John said that he had already thought of that. With the little sleep, he had last night, he had gone through a lot in his mind.
“I will check my bedroom once again and bring down the note.”
Adrian appeared in the room. “Someone wanted to see me?”
Mason said, “Yes. We have an issue of unlawful entry into this house and are asking everyone here what they may have seen or know. Where were you last Thursday evening between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.?”
“I was visiting my old friend and his family.”
“And they were at home with you the whole time?”
“Have you seen anyone suspicious around this house or watching this house since coming here? Someone who might be paying a little more attention to the house that would seem normal to you?”
“No, I don’t think so . . . wait . . . I remember working out front sometime last week and there was a man, a gentleman that was sitting over there – under that tree on the bench, in the court yard.” Adrian said as he pointed to the courthouse lawn. “He was looking this way, but I just thought he was watching me while he was waiting for someone. I didn’t pay him any mind, so I don’t know what happened to him.”
“About what time of day was this?”
“I believe it was around 4:30 p.m. because Miss Margaret came home from work about then and she stopped and talked to me.”
“Would you recognize him, if you saw him again?”
“I don’t think so. Like I said I didn’t pay him no mind.”
“How do you know he was looking this way?”
“Well, you see how that bench is angled, you would have to turn your head to look this way, and it is not dead on. The couple times I looked over there, his head was turned this way.”
“Was there anything remarkable about him that you can remember?”
“Just that he was a gentleman. He had a top hat on. I think he was wearing something gray. He looked average size, maybe twenty-five to thirty-five years old. I didn’t see the color of his hair, though.”
“Thank you, Adrian, you’ve been a big help.”
John stopped Adrian before he left, giving him some money out of his pocket. “I want you to get two new door locks for this house today and have three keys made. Give me the three keys when you return. I will be in and out of here today.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Thornton, right away sir.” He left the room.
Margaret had returned with the note as Adrian walked away. “Why give you the three keys, John?”
John waited until he was sure Adrian was out of the house. “I want to go back to where he bought the locks today and talk with the lock maker to be sure he didn’t make four of them. I think Adrian is a good man and telling the truth, but I am leaving nothing to chance.”
“Here is the note and no sign of the third key,” Margaret said.
Mason and John looked at it. It was very nicely printed, but they couldn’t tell if it was from an admirer or some type of impending sexual warning, which turned out to be the case with the last kidnappers, who were never caught. John was beside himself. “You’ll keep someone watching her, right Mason?”
“Sir, I am going to have an officer in the house during the day and two at night, out of sight. I don’t want it to appear she’s being protected. It appears whoever entered did use a key and that you are resolving today. And . . . we will also have someone watching her go to and from work and another inside her work place.”
“Thank you, Mason. I cannot think of anything else except to move her out, and that will never catch this guy. I just wish I didn’t have to go to Brighton in a few days. I am very worried.
A Dinner and a Rose
“John, I admit that I’ve been giving it some thought and somehow a rumor has spread that I’m getting ready to sell. That part is not exactly true because I’ve not made a firm decision. However, my wife is in a state of health that will not allow us to travel for many more years.
“I’m very sorry to hear that.” John said.
“Thank you, I know that you mean that, John. Over the years we’ve been fierce competitors and good friends. You are to be commended for all the advancements you’ve brought, not only to the mill owners, but this new industry, itself. If I only learned one thing about you after all this time, it’s that you are a compassionate and honest man.”
“Thank you, Slickson,” John said as he reached out to firmly grasp Slickson’s extended hand, surprised at his sincerity.
Slickson recommended a chair to him and then sat himself. “Brandy, John?”
John waved it off.
“So, I take it John that you are considering adding another mill to that spread you have going over there.”
“Well . . . my thoughts are not completely formed on this idea yet. New interests are rising that may take up my time.”
Slickson interrupted. “Yes, I see Miss Hale is back living in Milton.” He smiled at John while he lit his cigar. Oh, Thornton, don’t look so surprised. I think all the Masters were aware of your feelings back then. I must say, we were pulling for you, but you are such a private man, that none of us wanted to bring it up. We were sorry when she left so suddenly and have since been aware of your masked self-imposed loneliness. You dated the ladies, and who wouldn’t, but you always seemed to return to the solitary confinement in your mind. It became apparent what was happening to you, but only from those of us that new you best. It’s none of my business now, but I wish you good luck this time.
John lowered his head, as if in embarrassment, but remained silent, while twirling the brim of his top hat. He finally looked back into Slickson’s face, giving no indication whether Slickson’s words were true or not, but his lack of rebuttal said volumes, he feared.
Slickson, looking for some comment or gesture from John was cheated of it once again, which was no surprise, but he chuckled. “John, I admire that you’ve come straight to me to ask about this mill. That shows me some respect and respect for my workers. I’m going to let you have total access to the buildings and I’ll have my overseer show you around. Talk to the workers, look at the machinery, check the repair logs, and inspect the building. Take what you find home with you and give it thought. Of all the Masters in Milton, if I decide to sell, I’ll hope that you’ll be able to make a decent offer. I feel like my workers would be well taken care of and that has become important to me over the years, as it has you. I admire the other Masters and I think most of them run their mills just fine, but I envy your way of doing business the most. When I set a date and make an announcement, I will open my books to all prospective buyers. I hope maybe we can shake hands over a sale in the future, if both you and I see eye-to-eye and your other interests are also agreeable.” He smiled at John.
John thanked Slickson for his time and the opportunity to see everything first hand. John left with a handshake and followed Slickson’s overseer to the mill.
Margaret was quite busy the following two months, after getting her new home set up properly, and then spending all her days at the Professor’s office.
Working with the Professor proved to be very interesting but it had become some form of literary torture, she was sure. Margaret was certain he knew where he put everything but there was no organization that she could see. He was either going to have to learn her way or he was going to teach her his way. She started making piles of similarities until the Professor could find those books that he wanted her to see. She would use that system as a guideline for storage of research, waiting to be penned.
The Professor would have one or two visitors a day, who he would spend a long time discussing their connection to Milton. The Professor, while scribbling his notes, wanted to know what role they played in the science of the industry and machinery. Several manufacturers were interested in only knowing Margaret more thoroughly, to her dismay. Everyone was charming, she thought, but she wasn’t prepared for their advances. One particular gentleman, named Mr. Albert, who was mature, but most particularly in his mannerisms and distinguished in dress, preferred to overtly observe Margaret while he was there. She was becoming somewhat uncomfortable about his and other’s attentions. The first week Margaret worked there, Mr. Albert seemed to find reasons to return to the Professor another two times, and he didn’t run a mill, but was part of the Milton growth. She felt like a bug under glass. He was a very polite gentleman, tall, fine body and a handsome face, but was possibly forty years her senior.
“Professor, I do not know how to ask you for advice on this but I am becoming aware of . . . the . . .”
“. . . the interest that these fine gentlemen have in you?” asked the Professor, raising his eyebrows and smiling broadly.
“Well . . . yes. I don’t know how to react. I’ve never encountered this very often and it seems almost daily here.”
The Professor laughed, “That does not surprise me. Before, you were among very young men and the older men knew that you were married to a friend of theirs. That is another fault that Booker had; he never let you know of your beauty and attraction to men; he never gave you that confidence in yourself.”
“Professor, you are trying to embarrass me.”
“Margaret, I am only stating fact.” He laughed.
“What am I to do about it?” Margaret asked.
“What do you feel like doing about it? I mean really feel?”
Margaret blushed again, “As embarrassing as it is, I like the feeling of being complimented in that way. It makes me feel very feminine, a little sanguine, and courageous, too. But I don’t know how to react to it.”
“Margaret, your thoughts are valid and healthy and I am glad to see them rising from the ash. I cannot tell you how to react. That must come from your heart. You will do what is right for you. Measure each approach for what it is. It would probably do you good to be in the company of other men occasionally, to absorb that confidence that you seem to need.”
The following week, John invited Margaret out for diner in the city. He had picked out an elegant restaurant called The Dove, one of Milton’s finest. They had seen very little of each other since that exotic Christmas night. She had been busy with home and work, while John was reacting to the potential movement of managerial workers, should he successfully win the Slickson mill bid. After the preliminary conversation on how things were going in their lives, John launched into some unpleasant news. “Next month is the Chamber’s semi-annual ball and I am afraid I have an unavoidable commitment. I wanted so much to dance with you all night at the ball, but I have an engagement with the Bristol Commerce Association. I will be gone four to five days as the travel is quite long from here.
“John, please, do not worry yourself. I won’t miss attending it.”
“Margaret, I would like you to go with whoever asks you. Even though we no longer have the proclamation in effect, I would like you to experience something like that. I have enough confidence in our relationship to want you to go. Nicholas and Peggy will be there as well as Fanny and Watson. Most especially for me wanting you to go is that the Chamber is inviting the Professor and will introduce him at the podium, which he knows nothing about. I know he’s been trying very hard to speak to the Members briefly and I want to give him his chance. I want to expose him to many more than he would see at a normal meeting. If, and I seriously doubt this will happen, if no one invites you because you are not yet known to them, then you can be the guest of the Professor. Also, I would like to have you and the Professor over for dinner next week and I will extend the invitation to him, myself.
“Actually, John, I’ve had three invitations. I’ll be so pleased for the Professor, but not so pleased about the other, but I will do it. How formal is the ball?” Margaret asked, already wondering what she had in her wardrobe.
“Four! Four? May I ask who they are?” John said, feeling the bottom fall out of his confidence about which he had just boldly boasted.
“Yes, let’s see. There is Mr. Cavanaugh from next door, the lawyer that you know. Mr. Albert, a man that comes to the Professor’s often; he’s the one who likes to stare at me a lot, and a Mr. Cribb, and a Mr. Steen. The latter having something to do with guns, I believe. Mr. McGregor seems like he’s trying to find the courage to ask, too.
Do you know any of these gentlemen besides Mr. Cavanaugh?”
“I know all of them. Gentleman, all. Mr. Steen, Mr. Cribb, and Mr. Albert are quite familiar to the Chamber. Mr. Albert owns the ‘The Sterling Theater’ in the city. He’s a very fine distinguished mature gentleman, much older than you, but I understand he is bringing nice cultural entertainment to the city. We must go sometime, at least it isn’t opera. Mr. Cribb is a recently retired mill overseer and holds a financial office in the Chamber. Mr. Steen. He’s probably been in Milton less than two years. He manufactures gun barrels for small hand guns. Most gun making is done in pieces mainly in Birmingham, but they ship here, Steen tools the barrels and assembles them for export to the latest war around the globe. I guess he’s a nice enough chap. I feel he’ll be a gentleman with you. Mr. McGregor is relatively new to the area. He has a small looming mill that weaves the different tartans for the Scots. He only came here to learn the machinery, but has stayed, I think, longer than he anticipated. You know, this is hard for me to watch you go to a ball with another man, but I think you could choose any of them.”
“Well, not knowing I might have to choose someone, other than yourself, I have given it very little thought. I’ll talk with the Professor about who he thinks, since he’s interviewed them all. Tell me about this ball,” Margaret asked.
“Please do not think Milton as having a gala as you may have seen in London. Formal wear is required, but not the latest fashions or dances, except maybe the waltz.”
“I shall like to dance, but I will miss being with you.” Margaret said.
Their evening came to an eventual end and John was relieved that Margaret would approach it as he had hoped. He placed Margaret’s wrap around her shoulders and escorted her out of the, still busy, restaurant. Branson waited with the coach and John handed her in. All the way to her house, John kissed her and hugged her tightly, and whispered endearments into her ear. It had been too long since he could touch her. He escorted her to her door and opened it with her key.
“I would invite you in for a cup of tea, but it is getting late, and I don’t think Dixon is home yet.”
“Would that be so bad?” John asked with a smile.
“Thank you for such a lovely evening.” Margaret said, ignoring his blatant smile.
“I will see you next week for dinner with the Professor.”
John waited while Margaret entered her home and then said goodnight, kissing her inside the doorstep.
Margaret closed the door and rested herself against it. She was in a dreamy mood thinking about John, how wonderful he was, and how she had missed him.
Leaving a light on for Dixon, she climbed the stairs to her room feeling the sleepiness starting to take her. Turning on the gaslight, she noticed something on her pillow. She walked over to see that it was a white rose with a note attached. How did this get here? She opened the note but did not recognize the handwriting, as it was printed and not written. The note said,
I WILL HAVE YOU SOON AND I KNOW YOU WANT ME.
No signature. She sighed and smiled wondering what type of tricks John was up to. She knew he had a key and must have had Branson do this while they were at dinner. If the rose was still nice by John’s dinner, she would wear in her hair.