John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 16

Chapter 16

     A Sensual Moment

 

Margaret woke with a start, suddenly conscious of the fact that she didn’t have a holiday gift for John.  She didn’t have anything for anyone.  She was sure it wasn’t expected of her this year, but she must talk to John to ensure he wasn’t going to purchase a gift for her.

Finding him dressed for the day, already reading his paper, Margaret said, “John, I want to talk about gift exchanging.  I know there is a Thornton Proclamation, in effect, but I would have liked to have gotten you a small gift, but I haven’t had time.  Please tell me you are not going to purchase anything for me.”

“I cannot promise that because the first thing we will do this morning is to procure a pair of snow boots for you, unless you have some at your home.”

“Why, yes, John.  I do.  We’ll visit my home first and talk with Adrian.  And I’ve realized another person we forgot to invite, Mr. Granger, Dixon’s gentleman.  Maybe she should be given this evening to visit him.  Could Branson take her over to see him tonight?”

“Yes, if she’d like that, it is fine with me for the carriage use.  How many would that make below stairs if everyone attends?  We may have to find a second goose today.

Margaret started prattling off the names, flipping her fingers in the counting.  “Let’s see, two Cooks, two Housekeepers, two Drivers/Chore men, Mr. Granger, and Branson’s lady friend.  That’s eight below stairs.  That huge work table should sit everyone.  Upstairs, we’ll have . . . let me think . . . six.  Dear me, that is 14 people for dinner, and your cook was probably only expecting 3 or 4.  I’ll go talk with her, now, and ask what she might need in the way of food.”  Margaret disappeared down the stairs before John could tell her where he was about to go.

John waited, putting the day together in his mind.  They would be at Margaret’s home, and the Professors; they needed to purchase the liquors, along with the tree and trimmings.  He went to the back stairs and hollered to Margaret that he was going to get Branson started and talk to Nicholas about the invitation.  “I shall return shortly.”

The day progressed easily even in the deep snow.  Jane was the only one to decline her invitation, as she was expected at her family’s this year.  Nicholas was excited to have Margaret and Peggy together.  He knew they would fit well as good friends.  The Professor tried to beg off, but when he realized that his own Cook would not be cooking for him that day, he acquiesced.  A second goose was located, and a box of assorted liquors and a box of champagne was purchased; that left only the tree, cranberries, holly, and mistletoe.  John told Branson to drive around until he found some street merchants selling the holiday greenery.  He wasn’t about to go tree chopping.  John reached for Margaret’s gloved hand.  He massaged her fingers and then pulled her hand to his face and kissed the underside of her wrist, forgetting himself.  Startled at what he was doing, he said, “I’m just getting a head start on the other gentlemen.  We’ll have an early dinner when we get home.  I’ll have Branson mount the tree and bring it inside with the other greenery and the liquor.  I guess we can leave the goose in the stable overnight.  While he’s doing that, we can walk to the mill and get the cotton snow.”

“John, I’m so excited.  It all feels contented and homey.  It feels so right.  I’ve had a wonderful day today and am looking forward to decorating the tree with you tonight.  Do you keep any old lamp parts around?”

Puzzled, John said, “I think there might be a box of assorted pieces in the back cellar.  What are we looking for now?”

“It’s possible you have saved some of the crystal prisms that hang from chandeliers.  They would catch the light from the fireplace and almost twinkle.”

“I do remember seeing some of those.  I don’t know how many, but we’ll use all we find.  They’ll need washing, I suspect.”  John was carried away by the day, being able to share this holiday with his beloved.  They would be married by this time next year, he hoped.

 

She said the words – “It all feels contented and homey.  It feels so right.”  That is the best gift I can receive.  

 

John and Margaret arrived home and walked over to the mill, instead of taking dinner, while they were still dressed against the cold.  As she walked into the mill office, Margaret couldn’t help but reminisce about her only other time there.  Seeing the white cotton waste hang and drift through the air had been beautiful, almost as inspiring as her first impression of John, standing tall in his black coat as he oversaw the workers.  He was truly a vision at first glimpse that day.  However, the image faded  quickly when she saw John administer his own form of discipline to a worker who lit  a flame in a combustible area.  That was the beginning of her misgivings towards him; a day she came to regret.  It took time for her to be convinced that he had been right in his actions.

“Alright, we are here.  Just stay by me.  I am going to take you up on ‘the cat walk,’ so you can see the whole operation from a high, safe area.  Everyone will look at you and me, but I know you are not shy.”  John laughed.  He paused, wondering if he should take her hand.  Rolling the wide door open, he hadn’t made a decision.

“John, it’s positively beautiful,” she whispered.  John handed her his handkerchief to cover her mouth and nose as they stepped through the door.  “I’m sure you don’t see it that way anymore.  If it wasn’t for the noise, I would think I was in a fairytale.”

John had to lean down to hear what she was saying.  For no other reason than safety, he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her through the narrow aisle and up the six steps to the cat walk.  He released her hand.  Immediately, he turned his attention to Margaret, wanting the time to study her initial reactions.  She was fascinated.  He knew they would need another time when he could give her a good deal of information about everything.  He leaned into  her ear.  “This has been my life and livelihood for many years.  My wife will be part of this, too.”  John could barely be heard over the noise.

Turning to him, Margaret smiled with her eyes, and still holding the cloth to her face, she said, “I think I shall love being part of this.”

He didn’t expect that.  John felt his knees buckle beneath him as he had to catch his own weight on the hand railing.  The room was as noisy as it always had been, but he was sure he heard what she had said.  He couldn’t dare ask her to repeat it, but he smiled broadly, as her attention was elsewhere.  “How can she say something like that and then go on as if nothing had been said?”  John wondered.  He started to doubt that he heard what he thought he did.

 

She would love being part of this.  Could she really have said that?

 

They spent a few minutes as Margaret pointed and asked John questions, all the while the whole workforce was watching.  John felt so proud inside, showing off his lady to them.  He had never brought another female acquaintance into this first room, or any of the mill rooms.  John left her on the cat walk, while he paced the main aisle to retrieve a hemp bag of the cotton waste.  Margaret thought him almost majestic, as she watched the sight of her tall John striding down through the floating cotton.  The workers nodded as he passed, offering their greetings.  John was like a God to them.  They all smiled when he neared.  He stopped to talk with someone in charge and then proceeded down to the end of the room.  To think that he provided all these people with safe work, enabling them to live, eat, and raise families, was a hard thing for Margaret to take in.  Returning to the cat walk, John motioned her towards the steps and handed her down to the floor.  Still clutching her hand and the bag, he led her out, leaving the noise behind them.

“They are in awe of you John, as am I.”  Margaret said, returning his handkerchief.

“You?  After my confession, followed by my proclamation, you can still say that?”  John smiled.

With a serious face, Margaret continued, “Don’t laugh at me.  I mean what I say.  I looked over the . . . what . . . fifty people in there and thought about how you provide sustenance for these people and their families.  How many people work for you?”

“Close to 800, I believe.”

“What?  800?  Really, 800 people work for you?  I am most astonished.  How many other mill owners have that many people working for them?”

“No other; I am the only one.  I am in the planning stages of buying a third mill, possibly, which would add another 350.”

Margaret was beyond stunned, never having had any idea of the amount of his responsibility.  Suddenly,  she felt so very small and inconsequential.  For the first time, she had self-doubts,  about whether or not she was good enough for him.  She was perplexed as to how her attitude had radically shifted in an instant.  She was once so sure of the reverse of that emotion.

“Let us go eat and decorate our tree,”  John said, embarrassed that he was sensing some unmerited esteem emanating from her.

Our tree.  Margaret liked the sound of that.

 

Dixon was in the kitchen helping Cook wash the dinner dishes, waiting for Branson to take her to see Mr. Granger when Branson came through the back door with a tall Christmas tree.  “Oh goody,” she said, like a school girl.  “Look, Cook, a tree to decorate.  I guess Miss Margaret, and the Master are going to do that this evening.  I think it’s wonderful that they are getting along well, so quickly.”

John was down the backstairs next, heading into a back room.  Returning, he handed Dixon a box of prisms and asked her to wash them and bring them upstairs when she was done.  Taking two steps at a time, he was back standing next to Margaret.  The other furniture had been moved about the room, and they stood and gazed at the naked tree, sitting in a corner by the fireplace.

“Where do we start?”  John asked as he looked over the shape of the tree.  He turned it several times and stepped back, trying to get the straightest and fullest look possible.

“I guess we don’t have anything for the top, but that’s alright,” Margaret replied.  “We will not put any candles on it, either, like some families do.  With the cotton, it would not work, and I like the cotton better anyway.  So, we start stringing the cranberries first.  Next will be the cotton snow, followed by the prisms.  Is there a sewing basket in the house?”

John thought he remembered one over in the buffet in the dining room.  “Yes, it’s still here,” he said, walking over to retrieve it.

Handing it to Margaret, she removed what she needed and proceeded to show John how the strings were made, and then attached.  During the cranberry garland construction hour, Branson had brought up the other greenery, and Dixon brought the prisms.  The pair left, saying goodnight as they disappeared down the back steps to the kitchen.

With garland strewn in swags about the boughs, they pulled out the cotton snow next.  Margaret taught John how to make nice little tufts on the branches to make it look like piled snow, then she tried to see how much fluff she could pile on his head before he felt it.  John decorated the top branches, and Margaret decorated John until he discovered what she was up to.  He grabbed her around her waist playfully, pinning her arms down, and then stepped back.  They both encountered an uneasy moment as the merriment had stalled.

Margaret brought over the clean crystal prisms handing them to John.  “Since you are the tall one, you hang them, and I’ll tell you where.  We want it to have a balanced look.”

The prisms were spectacular, a menagerie of long, and short, pointed or tear dropped shapes of cut or faceted glass that refracted the firelight around the room.  Looking like moving stars across the sky, Margaret watched the room evolve into the heavens as John placed them.  After a half-hour of ‘little more to the left and right,’ the tree was done.  They turned to each other and smiled, proud of their creation.  John held her around her waist and pulled her back to get a full view of their handiwork.  The white snow really enhanced the tree in its dark corner, while the constellation exhibition overhead on the dark ceiling walls danced and held them breathless.

John was on the verge of losing himself until he looked over at Margaret and saw her glassy eyes, too.  Turning her to look at their tree, he stood behind her, wrapping his strong arms around her and resting his chin lightly upon her head.  No words needed to be said as they both got caught up in this uninhibited moment of contentment.  Their mirrored emotions took root, and Margaret turned in his arms to face him.  John looked down into her fire-lit face as she lifted her hands against his shoulders, encouraging him forward.

“Unless you say no, I am going to kiss you, Margaret.”

John pulled back slightly to look into her eyes for his answer.  He took her head in his hands and instinctively brushed his lips lightly over hers, letting her respond in her own measure.  Margaret reacted softly in a return kiss, allowing his lips to find more firmness.  The taste of his lips and breath stirred within her, and she was intoxicated by his tenderness and warm body, now moving against hers.  She parted her lips to taste more of him, and that was all the encouragement that John needed.  Holding her fast, he let his tongue glide across her lips, savoring her flavor.  He deepened his kiss by slipping his tongue into her parted lips.  It prowled hungrily, sweetly, wantonly, until he was certain that she felt he had a right to be there.  Stealing her naiveté, he could feel when she was momentarily startled and then relented, accepting him, yielding her innocence.

Margaret shivered with delight, surprised at the sensation she felt as his tongue searched her mouth lightly, and then he began probing her depths.  She moaned quietly.  The sensual kisses continued with Margaret participating more until she slipped her tongue through his lips.  He took her tongue and suckled it lightly, not wanting to let her have it back, which elicited a moan from each of them.  Margaret knew that Booker’s bland kisses were like soft rain compared to John’s delicious storm.  Booker kissed lightly with his lips; John kissed with his entire body.  This was love.

John knew he was dangerously close to the most intimate of acts, and he eased back, exacting every bit of his control.  Margaret was well aware of this new experience, feeling this . . . this . . . runaway passion, and welcomed the forbearance that he showed.

“John?”

“Yes, Margaret,” John whispered.

“I have never been kissed like that.  I feel dizzy from the sweet pleasure of it.  I can even feel . . .” but she paused realizing where she was headed.

 

Where were these words coming from that suddenly wanted to spring from her mouth when she was with John?

 

“Margaret, I know how and where you can feel it, it’s the same for us, both.  I’ve wanted that for us.  You can’t know how I have been turned inside out, thinking of someone else giving you these pleasures.  I am overcome, as a man, knowing I, most likely, will be the one to dispatch you to another place, another sphere of existence.  I want to kiss you like that all over, every inch of you.  I want to kiss you forever, but I think we should return to our tree, or I will carry this too far.  I think I’m doing a fine job of backing away, don’t you?”  John said laughing sarcastically.

John went to his chair by the fire to study their tree.  Margaret walked over to him and sat on his lap, putting her arms around his neck and snuggling her head on his shoulder.  Not looking at him, she said, “Thank you, John.”

As he held her and kissed her softly at the top of her forehead, he asked, “You’re thanking me again; what for?  Margaret, you never need to thank me.”

“I am just having a weak moment.  I am finding a new depth of my ability for love.  It is for you John, and I was thinking how different it is from my past.  I need your closeness.  I have been so adrift.  Regardless of your edict, I know that you are by my side; your sheltering arms are there to pull me in, should I need it; I will dare to be free of the ghosts that have haunted me these past years.  I’ll no longer feel that I cannot come to you for fear of you expecting more from me, right now.  I recognize your passion is being held at bay, because you are a gentleman and want me to be sure of myself.  I thank you for that.  I’m sure it’s costing you all your reserve, but still I thank you.”

John continued to hold her tightly, rubbing her back and kissing her temple.  “Margaret, all will be right someday, and to me every minute with you is perfect, no matter the cost.  Have you forgotten I am your guardian angel, that you once thought me?  Please, just let me always comfort you at your difficult times . . . reach out to me.  And I do know that you will be the woman, and have the life that you want someday, which will include loving me.  I know this in my heart.  You are my woman, Margaret.  And I know this from a higher authority, too.”  John smiled.

“Margaret shifted on his lap, looking more into his face.  I think you have been in my heart a lot longer than I knew.  Having been briefly married, that day on the veranda, when you stood to leave, I thought, ‘I could never be closer to him than I am right now’.  I could not accept that.  That frightened me, not knowing where that emotion was coming from, and what I would do with it when you left.  I needed to spend it, or carry it forever.  Already, I thought myself a failure in my marriage when I thought of you.”

John held her tightly and kissed her from her ear lobes, lightly down her neck to the top of her breasts.  Margaret pulled him closer to her, enjoying this most intimate sensation.  Margaret became quite aware of John’s own intimate sensation.  Before she could rise from his lap, he lifted his head and covered her mouth again with his probing tongue, causing deep moans from both.   He pulled his tongue from her mouth and let it slide down to the hollow of her neck, kissing and licking there.  Margaret put her hands in his hair and pulled his head lower, allowing him to taste the swell of her breasts.  She could feel the sweat in his damp hair, and knew his control was straining him.  She knew John wanted to remain there, stroking the deep curves of her cleavage with his tongue, as she herself wanted . . . but she must find the strength to put a stop to it now.  These sensations were all so new.  She was lost in his love; she didn’t know what she should be doing.  She pulled his hair back until he raised his face to her, and she kissed him lightly, signaling it was over.  She rose to her feet, and swept her hand under his chin, forcing him to look higher, into her eyes.  She bent and kissed his eyes closed and then walked to her room, shaking.

Margaret sat on the edge of her bed, feeling the heat settle in her tender areas.  “Oh, dear God, how naive I really am.  How can I be this age, previously married, educated, and not know that such deep sensations even existed, forgetting experienced?”  She realized it for what it was.  The passion of loving someone . . .  no, not someone…

. . . the passion of loving John.  When John said he loved her beyond all reason, she felt she could now understand what that meant.  She readied for bed, thinking of all the years that John had carried this same love for her with no hope.  Margaret cried herself to sleep, plagued by John’s misery, which both John and the Professor had told her not to dwell on.

John continued to sit in his chair looking down, replaying the moment.  She had come to him.  He raised his hands to see how badly he was shaking, never having felt like this before.  His pulse was racing and his heart felt like a wild bird, trapped, banging itself on the sides of its cage, trying to escape.  He had never needed control with other women.  He knew loving every exquisite moment with Margaret was going to be an agonizing pleasure.  These passionate encounters would eventually take a toll on him if he had many more like this one.  However, he would take them all and damn the toll.

He banked the fire, turned out the lights, and sat in the dark for another hour.  His body finally subsided, and he wondered how he would get through the next couple of days with Margaret being so close.