John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 9

Chapter 9

     John and Margaret’s Reunion

 

Maxwell and Edith Lennox took Margaret to the train station to meet the Professor for their visit to Milton.

“You know, Margaret,” Edith teased her, “it is quite scandalous of you to take off to Milton so early in your bereavement, but I must say that I envy your courage.  We’re very happy to see you settle into something that you really will enjoy.  You’ve been unhappy for so long.  I think you have found a very agreeable place working alongside the Professor.  I’ll miss you so when you move to Milton permanently; look for a house with guestrooms.”

“Thank you, Edith.”  Margaret smiled at her cousin affectionately.  “I agree. I think I have found a good purpose in my life, one that will bring me joy and takes me away from London.  Sometimes, I envied you for your willingness to live within such strict guidelines and proper societal etiquette demands.  That has never been tolerable for me as a way of life.  Oh . . . there’s the Professor, now.  I will say good-bye to you and will see you on my return Sunday.  Take care,”

“Good-bye, Margaret.  Enjoy yourself,” Maxwell said, as he handed over her overnight bag and he and Edith gave her a quick hug.

Dr. Pritchard and Margaret strolled towards each other, carrying their small bags, which would see them through the next two days.

“Excited, Margaret?”  The Professor asked, without even saying hello.

“YES!  I am full of questions and ideas, and I am already decorating my home in my head.  I find myself laughing over the silliest things; you have changed my life, Doctor.  I feel reborn into someone new.  Do you think that a bad thing?”

“Contrary to what your family probably thinks,” said the Professor.  “I think it the best medicine for you.  If anyone needed a life change, it was you.  I think of you as a rosebud, once wilting on the vine from lack of care, but now you’re like a bloom ready to open itself to the sun, beckoning the bee to taste its nectar,” he finished, laughingly lecherously, raising his eyebrows up and down.

Feeling her face redden, Margaret couldn’t help but burst out laughing.  “I do like you too much, I think,” she said, lavishing him with attention.  They both roared, almost doubling over with laughter.

“Ah . . . here’s our train.  Ready, Mrs. Reed?” the Professor asked as he extended his arm for her to take.

“Ready!  Dr. Pritchard.”

They stepped into the crowded coach and discovered they had to sit separately for several more London stops.  When it finally cleared out, they sat side by side leaving only one other person traveling north to Milton.  Darkness was creeping into the coach, and the third rider lit the gas lights, not waiting for the porter to come by.  The man seemed to prefer his own company and newspaper, so the Professor and Margaret settled into quite a long and involved discussion about how to proceed with his reference work and getting settled into Milton.  He told Margaret to expect only two or three days work a week, at the most.

“Margaret,” he said finally, “the one thing that I am not looking forward to is hiring my housekeeping staff.  Do you have any experience with that?”

“Professor, I’ve very little, but I do know someone who can help us, so don’t worry yourself.  We can start that task while we’re there this weekend,” she assured him.  The Professor could have talked hours longer because he taught classes all day, but he could hear Margaret’s voice starting to get hoarse.  “Margaret, I think I shall let you rest before you lose your voice entirely.”

Margaret smiled and let her head rest on the back of the seat, knowing Milton was only another hour away.

 

John had just settled down to write a letter to Margaret when he heard his big mill gate rolling open.  He set his pen down and walked over to the window to see who could be visiting him, unannounced at this time of night – and in a carriage, no less.  “Dixon,” John called out, uncertain as to where she was that the moment, “someone is coming to the front door. I will see who it is, don’t bother yourself.”  He hurriedly threw on his waistcoat, leaving his top coat and cravat lay where they were.  Descending the steps, he opened the door and saw the most unbelievable vision of his entire life.  A coachman was handing Margaret out of a carriage.  His breath left him, although he was sure any minute now, he would remember how to breathe.  The driver grabbed her carpet bag and handed it to John.  He was so overwhelmed at the sight of her; he couldn’t get a single word out.

 

I know I am dreaming this.

 

“John, please close your mouth.  Yes, it’s me,” Margaret laughed as her breath plumed in the frigid air.  “Surprise!”

 

She jests!  I am definitely asleep.

 

John, picking up on Margaret’s playful mood, replied, “Who are you?  You look incredibly like someone I used to know, but I’ve never heard her jest, so obviously you cannot be her.”

“How are you, John?”  Margaret asked in all seriousness.

“Do you mean generally or at this very moment?”  John laughed, not believing what was transpiring.  It felt surreal.  He knew he was trembling inside.  “I was just sitting down to write you a letter.  How kind of you to spare me the ink.”

 

Could this really be happening? 

 

As John and Margaret entered the sitting room, he called for Dixon to come to the parlor.  John set down Margaret’s bag as he waited for Dixon to arrive.  He was very interested in knowing why she was carrying it tonight, to his home, at this hour.  As he removed her coat and hung it in the hall, his heart was pounding hard in his chest.  Just then Dixon came into the room and, seeing Margaret, ran straight over to her with her arms outstretched, almost hysterical with glee to see her lifelong charge.  They hugged briefly and exchanged a few pleasant words.  Dixon asked Margaret if she would like a cup of tea, tea being Dixon’s answer for everything.

“Not tonight, Dixon, thank you.”  Margaret said, as she cast her glance toward John, who was already on his way to the bar.  “I think I prefer something a little stronger, for this is a celebration indeed.”

“Margaret seated herself on the cushioned settee, feeling relief from hours of sitting on hard train benches.

“Brandy, whiskey or port, Milady?”  John asked, bowing to her, mockingly.  “What would you desire?”

To anyone who knew them well, John and Margaret’s performance would have seemed unbelievable.  They were so giddy with delight, beyond happy, both throwing themselves headlong into some joyous abyss.  Margaret knew why she was acting this way, but she was shocked to see that John . . . John Thornton . . . THE John Thornton had such a sense of humor and was joining into the farce with her.  She had never seen this side of him before and doubted that anyone ever had.  His capacity for high spirits enthralled her.

Continuing on with their performance, Margaret stood and curtsied saying, “Port, sir.  If you will.”

Dixon was baffled by the amusement taking place before her.  Eventually, they all laughed and settled into chairs with their refreshments:  John, in his usual chair by the fireplace, with Margaret on the couch at his right, and Dixon sat nearby on a small chair opposite John.

John smiled and shook his head from side to side, still unable to comprehend the playfulness that had overtaken him.  “Margaret,” he said, “thank you for that.  I haven’t laughed this much since . . . well, I don’t know since when.  I can’t believe you are sitting here in this room without our having known of your impending visit.  Please tell us what it is you’re celebrating.”  John seemed to be holding his breath; judging from the mood she was in, he was expecting some good news.  He wanted to pinch himself to verify he wasn’t dreaming.

Margaret burst out giggling again, “John, are you pinching yourself?”  She asked.  “It looks like you just pinched your thigh.  I do think you are awake and yes, I am really sitting here, and . . . I will be spending tonight and tomorrow night here before returning to London.”

John, now totally embarrassed, normally an almost impossible accomplishment, said, “So you will spend two days with us.  I’m happy to hear that.”  He was still stunned and could only offer courteous, stilted words for this unexpected miracle.  He wanted to lift her off the floor and whirl her around in a circle.  Finding a ray of sense, he asked, “Who accompanied you here?  Surely you were not alone?”

“Miss Margaret,” Dixon interrupted, “could you please tell us what is going on?  I can’t wait any longer,” she insisted stubbornly.

“Well,” Margaret said, looking at them both and smiling, “I’ve made a very important decision in my life.  I know where my future lies, now, and it’s right here, in Milton.  I’ll be moving here almost as soon as I can.”

An audible gasp came from John’s direction.  He became silent, inwardly reeling from Margaret’s declaration, which seemed to breathe life into his abandoned soul.  It was all he could do to listen to whatever followed.  Four years, he had wanted to hear those very precious words.

“John,” Margaret continued, “you may remember the Professor that gave Booker’s eulogy?”  John nodded yes, just barely.  “He has asked if I would partner with him in writing his research book about the Industrial Age, and its beginning, which is here in Milton.  He’s been a great friend to me.  He is helping me overcome some rather serious matters in my life, but I have a long way to go, yet.  I had already decided to move back here where I knew I had friends, but two days ago, the Professor visited me, told me of his plans, and asked if I would like to help him.  I couldn’t agree fast enough.”

“Oh, Miss Margaret,” Dixon clapped her hands together, enthusiastically, “we’re so pleased.  I’ve hoped for this day, and now it has come.  How long before you move here?”

“Well, that will depend on John, I think.”

“I?  Tell me how I can help.”  John inquired, trying to form his words and allow them to flow out, above a whisper.

 

I can’t believe what I am hearing.  Is it really happening?

 

“I’ve come here this weekend with the Professor,” Margaret explained, “so he could finalize the purchase of a home that he’s already selected.  Instead of writing to you, John, to ask for help in finding a residence, I thought I would accompany the Professor and ask you personally, so it would be easier to discuss what I would need.  The Professor will move here permanently within a couple of weeks, and I hope to be here before Christmas, which is only a month away.  I don’t need the time myself, but John you might, looking for a place, that is.”  Margaret finished.  She was watching John while she spoke.  He looked as though he had been hit by a runaway coach.  He seemed to be growing paler by the minute.

 

Only a month away?  I am soon delivered from my hell!

 

“Margaret, count on me to do whatever it takes to get you here.  Like Dixon said, we have all waited for this day.  I was only a few weeks away from visiting you, myself.  This news is beyond belief.  Please excuse me for a moment.”  John walked down the hall to his room and quietly closed the door.  He sat on the edge of his bed literally trying to breathe.  He was caught in a deluge of happiness that just kept pouring over him and over him, not allowing him to catch a breath before the next blissful torrent assailed him.  This must be what pure bliss feels like, he told himself.  He cursed the tears that had sprung to his eyes.

 

I can’t face her like this..

 

Sensing John was overcome with happiness similar to hers, (it felt as if she had been walking on clouds for two days), Margaret told Dixon to go on to bed, and they would talk more in the morning.

A few moments later, John heard a light tap on his door, and before he could answer it, Margaret entered his room.  He quickly turned his face from her with deep embarrassment.  Catching sight of his tear-filled eyes, she walked over to him, and sat by his feet, allowing him to hide his manly sensitivity.

“John,” Margaret whispered.  She heard no answer.

“John, happiness is overwhelming, isn’t it?  I know what you’re feeling right now.  I cried, too, when I was finally alone.”

John swiftly pulled her up to a sitting position on his bed beside him, holding both of her hands in his.  He looked into her face and saw tears matching his own looking back at him.

 

God, let me find the strength to do what is right at this moment.

 

He bent towards her and slowly brushed his lips against hers.  Feeling no denial from Margaret, he wanted to crush her to him; but then, calling on all his reserve as a gentleman, he quickly pulled away and stood up.  “I think its best that we return to the parlor, don’t you?”

“Yes, John.  Maybe someday, though.”  She whispered enticingly, as she walked away.

Her statement staggered him to a halt; he couldn’t believe what he had just heard.

 

She’s remembered those words that I left for her, well over a year ago.

 

They talked well into the night about her move: the type of home she would like to own and what she could afford.  She had the address of the Professor’s new home, and was hoping that she could find a home within walking distance to him.  Purposely, there was no mention of any ardent feelings between John and Margaret.  Much later, Margaret admitted she was tired and wished to go to bed, but was unsure as to where she was expected to sleep.  John showed her the way to Fanny’s old room, which was always kept fresh by Dixon.  He escorted her to the door, and he stopped outside.  She looked up into his steel blue eyes, and he embraced her tightly, stealing her heat and her scent.  He held her as she put her arms around his waist.  A kiss was hanging in the air, but did not rush itself.  There were no inhibitions on either part, leaving each with a suspended expectation of things to come.  They no longer had to hide their feelings from each other, or, from others.

Margaret’s reaction shocked  him.  It was pure.  No emotional burden being the cause.  It was true, and it was right.  John returned to the parlor, turned down the lights and sat back his chair by the fire.  Staring at the embers fading to a soft glow, John drifted through all the past years:  the initial meeting at the mill, the misunderstandings, his rejected proposal, the man at the station, the separation, the absence of communication, her marriage, the veranda, the funeral, and now . . . she was sleeping in a bed in the next room.  After four years, Margaret was returning home, to his love, a love which he had never given up.  John told himself long ago, that he would wait forever.  Forever was now here and he had no earthly idea where to start, but he wept with happiness for it had finally come, setting him free from the loneliness.

When he finally retired to his room, he was afraid to sleep, fearing he would wake to find it all had been a dream.

 

Dawn broke the next morning, signaling the beginning of a new outlook on life for John and Margaret.  Slipping over to the office, he invited Higgins over for a talk, but kept the surprise a secret.  “I’ll be right behind you, Master” Higgins told him, “let me just finish giving directions to our foreman.”

John returned to the house and saw Dixon busy setting the table.  Margaret’s door was still closed, but he could hear her moving around and knew she’d be out momentarily.  “Dixon please set the table for four this morning and tell Cook.  I want you to join us this time.”

Moments later, Higgins hollered up the steps and John told him to come ahead.  Not having any hint as to what this talk was about, Higgins was surprised at the four place settings on the dining room table.

“You wanted to talk to me, Master?”  Higgins asked.

“Yes, Higgins, I want you to join me for breakfast.  I have something to show you.”

“I see there are four settings?  You have my curiosity well and truly peeked.”  Higgins said as he placed his hat in the hall and removed his coat, wishing he’d washed his hands before coming over.

Dixon entered the room, and told John that Cook would bring the food in a few moments.  She began to pour the tea for four.  John invited Higgins to the table, and they both sat.  Seeing Dixon sit down to the table with them really unsettled Nicholas, and as he looked at the fourth place, he began to wonder.  Before he could get very far in his thinking, he heard a voice.

“Nicholas!”  Emerging from her room, Margaret shouted with glee upon finding her old friend seated around the table.  Higgins had hardly stood before Margaret had her arms round his neck, kissing him on the cheek.  “Oh, I am so happy to see you this trip.  How is Mary?”

While Margaret was hugging him, Higgins looked up at John for his reaction and saw a beaming smile; he then felt comfortable in hugging her back.  “Miss Margaret,” he said, “I can hardly believe this.  The Master didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“Actually, John didn’t know himself until I showed up on his doorstep late last night, begging lodging,” she laughed.

As they all sat down to the table and the food was passed food around, Margaret briefly related her story to Nicholas about her return to Milton.  Higgins occasionally watched John’s face as she spoke, noticing his eyes never left Margaret; Higgins was really happy for the two of them.

It was past 9:30 and the breakfast party was just starting to break when there was a knock on the door.  Walking over to the window, John saw a carriage waiting outside.  Dixon had gone to greet the visitor, and returned, shortly escorting Dr. Pritchard into the parlor.  Margaret hugged him and happily introduced him to everyone, suddenly realizing she was surrounded by her loving and only friends, in the whole world.  This is what she wanted, she felt it immensely at that moment and knew she’d found her home.  To everyone’s bafflement, she was suddenly overcome by the warmth and relief that surrounded her and she started to cry.  In an effort to regain her control, she turned and headed for her room.

Everyone looked at each other in bewilderment.  Dixon was on her way in to see Margaret, when Margaret returned with her hanky.

“I’m sorry for being so silly,” she told them, still slightly teary-eyed, “I just became aware that all my favorite people in the world are with me right now, a moment that I have dreamt about for so long.  I was overcome with the comfort of it all.

As he watched her run away, John’s knees had weakened at her happiness.  He recognized, even with his great passion for her, he could never have brought such a significant moment to her life.  He wondered how often that ever happened to anyone.

Rather than standing around speechless, Higgins decided he had to get back to work.  “Master, I couldn’t be happier for the two of you and for us,” he said, and turning to the Professor, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, sir.  Miss Margaret,” he added with a twinkle in his eye, “I couldn’t be more pleased to know that you will be living here soon.  If I can be of any help in any way, please call on me.  You know where I work,” he finished laughingly as he grabbed his coat and cap and left with Margaret escorting him to the door, leaving John and the Professor alone.

“Won’t you sit down, Professor,” John asked, pointing to a chair near the fireplace.

The Professor sat, crossed his legs, and pulled out a pipe from his vest pocket.  “Do you mind?”  He asked, indicating the pipe to John.

“Please,” John replied with a slight wave with his hand.

There was a moment of silence while he struck the wooden match and puffed life into his pipe.  “So. You’re the one.”  The Professor said, more as a statement than a question.

“I’m sorry.  I’m what?”  John asked in total surprise.

“You’re the man in Margaret’s life,” the Professor said.  “Someday, I will explain why I know that, and why I know that Margaret is coming to know, too.  Furthermore, you’re the man who’s making the history around here.  You will be very prominent in my book, with all that you have done in Milton.  I won’t go into that now either, for I will be moving here in two weeks, and it will be several months before I come to you asking for your whole story.”

John shifted in his seat.  “I will be glad to work with you when the time comes,” he said.  “Do you and Margaret have appointments today?”

“Well, yes and no.”

Just then Margaret returned to the room still looking a bit embarrassed, but she sat down on the couch to listen to their conversation.

The Professor, puffing on his pipe as smoke swirled overhead, said, “Glad to have you back Margaret,” he said.  “Your heart rendering proclamation warmed us all.  Do not feel embarrassed.  It is something you’ve needed probably your entire life.  It must have been the equivalent of a person totally blind from birth, having his sight restored.  It was an epiphany for you, and I am envious.”

John was watching Margaret intently, stunned by the personal way in which the Professor was talking to her . . . and speaking that way in front of him.  However, he saw a smile break out on her face that took his breath away.

 

There is closeness there, far beyond mere friendship.

 

“As I was about to tell Mr. Thornton, here,” Professor Pritchard continued, “I have come by to see if the two of you would like to see where I will live, so plans can begin for your own residence, Margaret.”

“Yes, surely.  I would like that, “Margaret said as she looked questioningly at John.

“I’d be most interested myself, Dr. Pritchard,” John said standing.  “By the way, would you care to have dinner with us this evening?”

“Yes, thank you.  I’d like that very much.”

Margaret jumped up and said she would find Dixon and tell her, as she also wanted to ask Dixon about a housekeeping staff for the Professor.

While Margaret was gone, John and Dr. Pritchard discussed where he would be locating, and the possibility of finding something suitable nearby for Margaret.  John remembered a quaint little house that was being refurbished weeks ago, close by and told the Professor about it.

“Excellent,” the Professor was saying as Margaret re-entered the room.  “If there is nothing left to do, I have a hired coach outside.  Should we take our leave?”  That remark was a small joke between Margaret and the Professor, as a sort of nose-thumbing to the vanities of Londoners.

“Oh yes, let’s do.”  Margaret said, as John retrieved her coat, and placed it around her shoulders.

John slipped into his own great coat, grabbed his top hat and they all set off for 840 Queens Lane.  As they were being driven there, on what was formerly known as Main Street, John noted the distance from the gingerbread cottage that sat across from the courthouse to the Professor’s residence.  Upon arriving at the residence, John saw the same realtor sign in the window of the cottage.  Providence was still holding sway, he thought.

As they entered the dwelling, Margaret began looking around the old refurbished store front home, remarking that it had downstairs quarters for a housekeeper.  “By the way, Professor,” Margaret told him, “I’ve spoken with Dixon, and she is sure that she can accommodate you with a suitable staff, just as I thought she could.”

The realtor arrived shortly after, with the necessary paperwork prepared for Dr. Pritchard.  “Hello, Dr. Pritchard,” he said, “nice to see you again.  Oh, and hello Mr. Thornton, I’m surprised to see you here.”

John introduced Mrs. Reed to the realtor and asked him if he happened to have with him, the key to the cottage across from the courthouse.  He replied that he did and handed it to Mr. Thornton, without a care.

“We shall let you two do your paperwork, while I escort Mrs. Reed to the cottage.  We will return shortly.”  John said with a smile.

Surprising Margaret and catching her totally off guard, John wrapped her arm around his and whisked her out the door saying, “Come, I want to show you something.”