John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 21

Chapter 21

     John’s Alarm

 

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.