John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 24

Chapter 24

     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.

“John?”

“Yes, Margaret?”

“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.

“Margaret?”

“Yes, John?”

“You are an exquisite sight tonight.”

“Thank you.  And you are quite dazzling, yourself.”

“Thank you, Margaret.”  He paused briefly.

“Margaret?”

“Yes, John?”

“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.”

“Yes, Miss.”

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.

“John?”

“Margaret?  . . .  It is you?”