John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 23

      The Plan and the Spring Ball

 “Please, John, I need to be sure.  Please repeat what you said a moment ago.”

John slowly went down the list, not leaving anything out, while watching every suspicion pass across her face.  “Yes,” Margaret said, “I think I know who it is.”

“Would you care to tell me, or should I guess?”  John asked, speaking firmly to her for the first time.  He was starting to lose patience.

“But what if I am wrong?”

“Before we arrest whoever it is, there will be many others who will find the proof of your assumption that you are not telling me about,” he said in a rising voice.

“It all sounds like Mr. Cavanaugh next door,” Margaret said in a light half-hearted tone.

John, stunned, promptly flopped back against the couch.  Now he was running down the list himself, almost too disturbed to think it could be him.  He pulled the crinkled paper impression from his vest pocket.  Barrister would fit.  COURT MONDAY BARRISTER . . . KANE?  That could easily have been written on a tablet in the office.  John ran to the back door and called to see if the officer was still on the property.  He was.

“Don’t leave, officer.  I want you to carry a note to your Chief immediately and wait for a reply.”  John quickly scribbled something down on a paper and folded it in quarters, handing it to the officer.  “Take this to Mason, now.  Thank you.”

“Margaret, you may be right.  It does fit, with the exception that he’s never given me any impression of being dysfunctional, but all the rest works.  I hope you are right.  I can leave now, feeling much better that he is being watched while I am away.  It should not be long before he tries something new and plays into the Chief’s hands, especially if he knows I am going to be absent for a few days.

There was silence for a long time, and each of them proceeded through all the scenarios.  Even if Adrian recognized Cavanaugh as being the person he thought he saw, it was not proof enough.  However, it was a start.

Shortly, a message was returned by the officer, via the back door, and handed to John.

 

Mr. Thornton. 

We will heed Mrs. Reed’s intuition.  A lot fits there.  I will continue with all coverage of Mrs. Reed and add an additional detail to watch Cavanaugh at all times.  He will make a mistake, and we will catch him, but we will still not lose focus on others whose names are now on a list being formed by Wilson.  Travel with peace of mind that it may all be over when you return, or perhaps he’ll be waiting for your own justice.

 

Margaret huddled closer to John, sensing relief might be in their future, and this nightmare would soon end.  She could see that John was still far away in his mind.  She hated what all this was doing to him more than she feared for herself.  Observing his internal grief, she saw  his love for her pour out these past few days.

“What are you thinking about, John . . . Cavanaugh?”

“Well . . . yes, that and the thought of anyone harming you.  It isn’t over until he’s put away if it is him.  I’ll worry until it is proved.  And to think he’ll be right next door to you while I’m gone.  I can barely stand the thought.”

“John, it sounds as though I will have many people watching me, and him as well.  Nothing can possibly go wrong.  Don’t leave worrying about me.”

“Speaking of leaving . . .” John pulled out his watch to check the time.  “I thought I’d have more time with you, but it has slipped away.  I must go.”

“John, may I ride with you to the station?”

“It’s either that or I carry you there . . . Of course, I want you to ride with me.  Where is your shawl?  It’s a bit cool this evening.”

John whistled out the back door to alert Branson he was ready to leave and for him to assume his post.

“Adrian!” called John.  “Would you guard the house until Miss Margaret returns?  The other officer should be here by then.  She’s just going for a brief ride with me to the train station.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll wait right here.”  He indicated the back step.

“No, it’s better if you wait in the house so you can hear if anyone comes to the front door.”

“Very good, sir.”

John accompanied Margaret through the front door, watching her as she locked it.

Handing her in, he slid in beside her and once again took her hand as he sat thinking, his mind churning.  Nausea was going to claim him before this night was over.

Sensing his worry, Margaret asked, “So exactly what are you doing on this trip?

“I’m sorry.  What did you say?”

Margaret repeated her question; John gave her a brief outline of his schedule, and all the meetings entailed.  She added a few other questions to the conversation to prevent John from relapsing into worry.

John continued to stare out the window.  “Margaret,” he said, “I know what you are trying to do, but it won’t work.  I will not ever stop worrying about you when you are out of my sight, not for the rest of my life.  You must know that whatever happens to you happens to me.  Please take care of me, while I’m away.”

John heard her sigh.  The station was coming into sight, and he had turned within himself, knowing the moment to depart was drawing near.  He was consumed with regret for leaving her behind, in possible danger.  All approaches were well covered, and he would have to rely on Mason, and everyone else involved, watching over his beloved.  The coach came to a stop.  John turned to Margaret.  He hugged her tightly and kissed her a very long time as if it could be his last.  He fought to release her and hesitated to take the initial steps to leave her side.

“I will be back as soon as I can possibly get away.  Take care, my love.  God, how I love you,” John said, in a harsh agonized whisper, as he kissed her neck.

He grabbed his travel bag and satchel and stepped out of the coach.  Looking back over his shoulder at Margaret, one last time, he disappeared into the station depot.

 

John was almost sick with anxiety.  He had held Cavanaugh in high esteem, but who knows what dwells deep within someone’s mind.  Well, he must focus on something else.  It may not even be him.  But telling himself not to think about it was like trying to stop a wave from crashing on the shore.  He was alone in the train coach and decided to try to settle in and doze if he could.  It was going to be an eight-hour journey from almost one end of the country to the other.  Several hours later, forced into total mental exhaustion, he drifted off into a nightmare.

 

It took three days for proof to finally present itself.  Adrian had already confirmed that Cavanaugh looked very much like the man he had seen watching the house, but could not be entirely positive.  Per her normal schedule, Margaret left her home to walk to the Professors for her daily work.  Several hours later, Dixon left the house with her market basket.

Cavanaugh, watching from his office window that faced Margaret’s home, thought the house to be empty, so he decided to deliver his next note.  He had to be careful not to be seen by that man she had working for her, who was usually always around the back of the house.  He easily slipped outside and walked a few feet to Margaret’s front door.  He delivered the note through the mail slot and began walking back to his office, in a casual manner.  The officer inside heard the brass hinge banging closed, and immediately went to the window and saw Cavanaugh walking away.  If what he had slipped through the door was another note, they had him.

The officer was a little unsure if he was permitted to open the note to confirm it, so he got Adrian’s attention to come inside.  The officer gave Adrian both his note and the delivered note; he asked him to take it the long way around to the precinct and see Chief Mason, only.  Adrian put the notes in his pocket and hurried around the back block, so as not to be seen from any of the law office windows.

 

Margaret and the Professor were discussing some of his recent interviews, but Margaret eventually asked him about coming to the Ball.  The Professor beamed with delight

“I am most excited, Margaret.  To see the original Mill Masters and the future generation of machinery masters, in one place, is a thrill for me.  I hope I learn a few names and can talk with them about having a more in-depth interview at another time.  There will be some, should they attend, whom I have already met.  I am very sorry that John cannot be with us tonight.”

“As am I; I’m attending with Mr. Steen, you know.”

“Is your table full?” the Professor asked.

“Oh . . . I have no idea.  Nothing has been explained to me, but I want you to sit with us.  I need you there for support.”

“Does John know of this Mr. Steen?”

“Yes, John knows.  He is familiar with Mr. Steen.  He put on a very brave face, but I knew he was bothered.  I think jealous is the word, but he’s certain this is a step I should be taking.  I am very hesitant, but knowing that you and Nicholas will be there has eased my mind considerably.”

Just then Chief Mason came through Pritchard’s office door, looking very excited.  “Mrs. Reed, I think we may have the proof we need to verify Cavanaugh is our man, but we need your help.”

“Yes, of course.  Professor, will you excuse me?”

“Margaret, take the rest of the day.  I will see you this evening at the Ball.”

“Thank you.  All right, Chief Mason, shall we go?”

“I’ll tell you what has happened on the way to your house,” Mason said.

 

“Oh Dixon, please stop fussing with my hair.  It must be quite lovely by now.  Mr. Steen will be arriving soon, and I still have my gown to put on.”

“Miss Margaret, that sure is a lovely dress, with all that lace and ribbon.  If it weren’t so low on the shoulders, I think it would look like a wedding dress, even if it is a peach color.”

Margaret and Dixon slipped the gown carefully over the ribbons and flowers in Margaret’s braided hair.  Dixon fastened all the fittings to her dress and steered her toward the floor mirror.

“It is lovely, is it not, Dixon?  I think it will go well here in Milton even though it was last year’s fashion in London.  Would you get my matching shoes and bag from the wardrobe?”

Margaret sat at her vanity and applied the few light paints that she rarely used: a bit of color for her cheeks and lips and a small dab of perfume.  Finishing that, she popped the paints and a comb into her bag and took one last look in the mirror.  She picked up her lace shawl and headed downstairs with Dixon.

As she waited in the parlor, she began to pace, thinking about the man next door, and wondering why they were going to wait for John to return home tomorrow.  The proof was definitely there.

The officer came from the kitchen and almost dropped his tea cup when he saw Margaret.  “Ma’am, you look very lovely this evening.  You will turn heads tonight.”

Oh dear, Margaret thought, she didn’t want that much attention.  She remembered John saying a lot of men would ask her to dance.  Now, she wished she hadn’t accepted, but the Professor was proud of her, and that was enough to see her through this.  It was nearing 7:00 p.m. when Margaret heard Mr. Steen’s carriage arrive.

Watching him exit, she thought he looked most handsome, in his forest green velvet coat, cream color embroidered vest, and matching forest green breeches with white stockings and a nice pair of black dance slippers, made especially for men in formal wear.  His top hat matched his vest, and he carried a gold-headed cane in one hand and a nosegay for the wrist, in the other.  She’d wage anything that it would match his boutonniere.  She realized she was excited to be going.  John had been right.  He was always right.  Why did she ever feel distressed over his suggestions?  This was good for her, and down deep she knew it, herself.

Dixon answered the door.  She greeted and led Mr. Steen into the parlor.  Looking at Margaret, and stunned by the sight of her, his face radiated approval.  He knew her to be beautiful, but her gown added another glow; one that wasn’t ever apparent at her workplace.

“Mrs. Reed, you are the loveliest vision I have ever seen.  I will have to fight the men off with my cane this evening,” he smiled.

He had Margaret laughing.  “Thank you.”

“Here is a small bouquet for your arm, but it now pales against your own bloom.”

Dixon took the flowers from Mr. Steen and began to slide them over Margaret’s hand.  No way, was she going to let that man touch Margaret.  Dixon liked him well enough, but not where his interest in Miss Margaret was concerned.

“Thank you, Dixon, and thank you, Mr. Steen, for the pretty nosegay and nice compliment.”

“If you are ready, milady . . . shall we?”  Mr. Steen asked, extending his arm.  “Would you mind calling me, Craig?  I’m not sure I could stand Mr. Steen all night as we dance.”

Laughing, Margaret replied, “Craig it is, if you will call me Margaret.”

“Margaret, we have an accord.  Would you mind inflating my self-confidence by allowing me to know how many other suitors asked you to the Ball this evening?”

Margaret saw his smiling, laughing face and could not deny him.  “That would be three others, apart from you.”

“Oh, I am the most fortunate of men.  I have even impressed myself.  Thank you, Margaret, for allowing me to escort you to a grand evening of dining and dancing.  I’m looking forward to dancing.  It has been a while.”

They walked across the street and arrived at the courthouse’s entrance where Margaret surrendered her wrap.  They proceeded up the wide staircase to the top floor, a climb which nearly exhausted everyone that evening.  As they approached the main entrance into the ballroom where many were gathered, Margaret could see people standing in the wide door frame, talking to each other.  She could see it was lovely inside the main ballroom.  There were many round tables with white linen (or was it cotton?) tablecloths, shimmering with fine china, crystal, and sterling flatware.  Once their tickets were taken, they were permitted to seat themselves wherever they chose.

Craig heard Margaret gasp.  He quickly turned to look at her, barely seeing the huge smile on her face as she took off across the room.

“Margaret?”  Craig muttered, quickly following her.

“Nicholas, Peggy!  What a joy to see you here.  John was hoping you would come.  You both look marvelous.  Although somehow, Nicholas, you look uncomfortable in that formal attire, you do look most handsome.”  Nicholas’ face reddened.

Craig caught up with Margaret as she excitedly introduced Nicholas and Peggy.

“Oh, are you the Higgins from Marlborough Mills?”

“Yes,” Margaret responded before Higgins could.  “This is Nicholas Higgins and his wife to be, Peggy.  John has recently made Nicholas a partner in Marlborough Mills, so he is no longer the respected overseer that you, perhaps, have heard about.  He is an owner now,” Margaret remarked with pride.

Nicholas was already standing and reached across the table to shake the man’s hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

“I am Craig Steen, and please call me Craig.”

Margaret looked around the table, resolving the seating arrangements so that the Professor could sit on one side of her.  Craig Steen waited until she decided and then seated her.  Dr. Pritchard entered a few minutes later, and Margaret glided across the floor, to the main entrance, so she could accompany him to their table.

Mr. Steen wasn’t sure if he could keep up with Margaret if she kept running away from him all evening.

“Oh, Professor, thank you for coming.”

A few minutes later Fanny and Watson appeared.  Margaret introduced Mr. Steen around again, but Watson seemed to know him, and a conversation ensued.  Margaret was smiling and looking around the room at the gowns and faces and all the men in their finery.  Their table was full with only one empty chair.  She looked at Nicholas and knew he felt the significance of the empty chair.

Margaret soon launched into a discussion about Dr. Pritchard, who he was, and what his project was in Milton.  While dinner was being served, there was much talk around the table about the Professor, Nicholas’ partnership, and his upcoming marriage.  Everyone was getting along splendidly.  A nice dinner was served, and eventually, the dishes were cleared of the dessert plates.  While the wait staff circulated the brandy and wine decanters to each table, a podium was pulled up to the center room in front of the wide entrance.

Watson stood.  “Excuse me,” he said, “if John were here tonight, he would be doing this.”  As he proceeded to the podium, he pulled a note from his pocket.  He never cared for talking to crowds, but this would be short; he was thankful for that.

He welcomed everyone, adding a few words, but nothing of much importance, except to say “enjoy the evening.”  Then it was time to introduce the Professor; Watson waited for silence in the room before he continued.

“I am very privileged, tonight, to introduce to you someone who most of you will get to know very soon if you have not already met him by now.  As our mills and industries have grown here in Milton, I think most of us know the impact that we have made over the years, not only nationwide but worldwide.  Tonight, I would like to introduce the man who is going to literally put us in the history books.  He has made his home here, living among us, and is writing about the growth of Milton and the beginnings of the Industrial Age.  Please welcome, Professor, Dr. Trevor Pritchard.

A very great round of applause was heard as the surprised Professor walked to the podium.  Margaret was so happy for him; she looked around at all the people acknowledging him with their applause.  Suddenly, she caught sight of Mr. Cavanaugh looking at her.  He nodded his head as if to say “hello” and she demurely nodded back.  She knew not to give anything away.

All through the Professor’s speech, she could feel his eyes burning into her.  She did not mention it to anyone, for fear they may look his way and alert him to something.  As the Professor concluded his short talk on his plans for the future, there was a very large round of applause and people began standing as they clapped.

Watson’s final words were, “Let’s dance, everyone,” as the applause began to die down.  He walked the Professor back to the table.

Upon being seated, the professor turned to Margaret, “Margaret, did you know about this?”

With a chagrined look on her face, she nodded yes.

Many congratulations were offered from around the table, and several factory owners came over to introduce themselves to him; one was Mr. McGregor, the tartan mill owner.

After speaking with the Professor, Mr. Albert asked across the table, “I hope you save a dance for me, Mrs. Reed.”

A liquor bar was set up at one end of the banquet hall, with the orchestra at the other.  The musicians started to tune their instruments, and the crowd grew loud in anticipation of the entertainment ahead.  The orchestra leader conducted his musicians into the first dance of the evening.

Craig asked Margaret to dance and then escorted her to the floor.  Margaret trembled a little but soon fell into the rhythm of the steps.  He turned out to be an exceptionally smooth dance partner.  They danced several more before the other gentlemen found their way to Margaret’s table.  She danced with Mr. McNeil, Mr. Albert, Watson, and other unknowns; even Mr. Cavanaugh asked to dance.  She hesitatingly accepted, afraid of what he might want to talk about, but he was a gentleman the entire dance.  She invited the Professor to dance, and he finally gave in.  Craig claimed dances whenever he could before the orchestra rested around 10:00 p.m.

Finally, whenever she would look up, she would be aware of heads that turned her way as she walked to and from the dance floor, and she couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.  Many times she had to turn down dances from unknowns, strictly out of politeness to Craig.  The evening was turning out to be very pleasant, and Margaret finally began to feel comfortable with other gentlemen, but she missed John being there . . .
or so she thought.