Margaret with the Red Book
A John Thornton / Margaret Hale Fantasy Novel
The bell clanged over the opening door as John entered the book store. He walked to the counter instead of his normal browsing habit. He heard Mr. Davies coming down the steps. John, now knew, that he had an ill wife upstairs. John was suddenly struck with the fact that life is not always fair. He could find the one of his dreams and she could be swept from him quickly through an accident, or illness or even misadventure. He looked at Mr. Davies as he came from the back and calculated quickly how much older he was than himself. That brought him up short thinking he might only have twenty good years with his health and a healthy wife. Child bearing took so many women, too. He had to bring his mind to bear on his reason for being there.
“Good morning, Mr. Thornton. You are a bit early today. You do not need another one of those red books sent out, do you?” Mr. Davies smiled.
Ignoring that remark, “I am here at the behest of Miss Margaret Hale. She has told me of her interest in purchasing your store. She only told me this morning. She took a bad fall down a full set of stairs and is in the hospital.”
“I am real sorry to hear that. She will recover?”
“Yes, Mr. Davies. She is terribly bruised and scratched everywhere, plus she has a strained wrist. She should be out of the hospital by tomorrow at the earliest or the following day at the latest. She wanted me to tell you that she has not been able to do her own calculations because of her fall, but asked if I could stand in for her – if that is agreeable. Since I have purchased two mills, she feels confident in my negotiations. She shall most certainly have the last say, though. I understand that the two of you were supposed to meet today to begin your talks.”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“These are the instructions that I have from her. You and I can talk, at least begin with a number, or you can wait until she is available and that now looks like three days at least. She will still want to do some of her own investigating. Above all else, she wants it to be fair to you. I understand that she has offered to let you remain here with your disabled wife.”
“She’s been quite amiable with her trying to accommodate my wife and I. I am still going to sell the book store but I may sell it and take my wife back to where her family is. I know she misses them and that may be our best choice. I do not know if that would change Miss Hale’s mind as I think she was hoping I would stay on. I do have an assistant that could stay on and run this place as well as I do. You have probably met Liam, haven’t you?”
“Yes, several times. He seems like a bright young man. It is conceivable that Miss Hale doesn’t know about him. I can vouch for him if that is an issue.”
“I think Miss Hale may have had some worries about a down payment, but now it looks like I shall need the whole sum. I cannot afford to hold the paper for her. I am afraid that shall kill the sale for her.”
“Mr. Davies, you know me well. I can tell you it shall be paid for in total. I shall back her shortcomings,” John thought she would have it at any price.
“How do you want to work this? Do you want to wait for her or start with me now?” John asked.
“Mr. Thornton, if I know anything about you, it is that you are a fair man. I do not mind talking with you. I have a paper here with my own calculations. I have separated the building from the merchandise, as that shall change come settlement time.” Mr. Davies handed over the paper to John.
John took the wrinkled, tea stained piece of paper and ran down the short list. “Do you mind if I walk the outside of the building and the bottom floor?”
“Help, yourself. I am willing to open my books to you, too.”
“That would be very generous, indeed. I shall be back,” John said, laying the paper on the counter and leaving through the front door.
John walked the perimeter of the building. It was old and in need of repair. He assumed any extra monies went into his wife’s care. The three story building was brick and looked to need re-pointing, but it seemed structurally sound – worth the expense to renovate. Like all buildings on the main street it had a small road or alley that ran behind it. It would only be used to bring an empty coach around to its small back yard and stable. John could not overlook the value of the land, even as an empty lot, which it appeared that Mr. Davies had not considered. John liked the idea of the book store himself. If Miss Hale could not afford it, he would buy it. She could run it if she wanted to.
“Oh damn, who am I kidding,” he said to himself. “Margaret would never go for that. I shall have to make sure she gets it, but in the unlikely event that she bows out, I shall buy it anyway.” He headed for the front door again. John smiled to himself when he heard the familiar bell sound again. This little building was part of Milton’s history and an original building on main street that still stood. He almost felt he owed it to the store to maintain is originality. He realized he was getting soft in his still young years.
“Could I see this floor, Mr. Davies? Oh, and another question, is the basement dry?”
“Yes, the basement has always been dry. We are on a small incline and the water never pools around the house. Please go through and look. When this customer has left, I shall join you. I have the books open on the table.
John walked through the curtained door. The place felt hot and stuffy, probably another sign of illness in the house. The kitchen was old, too. It did not appear that much did not need paint, repair, or replacement. It was a direct contrast to the store front, which was always kept neat and painted. John glanced at the ledger on the table. The tabulations were quite simple compared to what he dealt with daily. It appeared he had a third employee: perhaps, someone that did the ordering and receiving, and possibly the bookkeeping, too. John knew that the land it was situated on was worth more than the building. He did not know if Margaret had any idea of what she wanted to do with the building. If she wanted to keep it as a bookstore, which seemed her goal, she faced a hefty repair expense. John sat at the table, thumbing the ledger without really reading it, as he thought some numbers through his head.
“As you can see, Mr. Thornton, the profit is modest; enough for one or two people to live on. You have perhaps realized that my profit has gone into care for my wife and not into the building itself. I am sorry to sell something is such disrepair.”
“Mr. Davies . . . it is entirely understandable what you have done. Any good man would take care of his loved ones before all else. Well, Mr. Davies, do you have a starting figure in mind?” John asked, assured it would be low.
Mr. Davies hesitated. He went back to the front counter for the piece of paper where he had written notes down. Coming through the curtains, he said, “Mr. Thornton, I know you are a fair man and if you tell me it is too high, I shall believe you. But let us start, at least.”
“Agreed,” John said.
“What would you say if I started at two hundred pounds?” Mr. Davies spoke shyly. He looked as though he expected Mr. Thornton to call him an idiot.
“Mr. Davies, if you shall take four hundred pounds, you shall have a deal.” John said smiling.
“I am sorry. You did not say four hundred pounds, did you?” Mr. Davies asked completely bewildered. “I do not understand that at all. You are offering twice what I asked.”
“Yes, I am. Whether Miss Hale agrees or not, I would buy it at that if she won’t. Mr. Davies your thoughts on this paper are quite accurate but you have undervalued the land. It has increased substantially with the growth of the city. Can you live with that amount,” John asked still smiling and wondering if Mr. Davies was having a heart attack. “Are you well, Mr. Davies?” Now, John had a more concerned tone.
“How can I thank you for your honesty and I feel there is some benevolence thrown in for good measure.”
“I shall take that as a yes. How long could you stay here after the sale? I do not know Miss Hales plans for this building yet.”
“I am not in any great hurry. Frankly, I thought it might take months to sell this old place. I am sure we could stay on another half year if it was needed.”
“Then we have an accord, Mr. Davies?”
“Yes, sir. We do have that. And thank you and Miss Hale for the very generous offer.” Mr. Davies reached for John’s extended hand to shake it.”
“I must return to the hospital and talk with Miss Hale.”
“Are you sure, she shall agree to that price, Mr. Thornton.”
“Mr. Davies, either she or I shall. The offer stands as quoted. Good day.”
As John left the building, he was surprised to see Amber headed towards him. “Miss Haddon, wait a nice surprise.”
Amber smiled being startled to see him there, too.
“Were you going into the bookstore?” John asked.
“Yes, I have so little to occupy myself yet, that I thought a couple of good books would tie me over until some interest takes my fancy. Are you just coming from there?”
“Yes, but I was there for a friend on business. Would you care for some tea after your browsing?”
“I would love that. I did not have my morning tea yet. Yes, thank you. Give me a few minutes.”
“Amber, take all the time you need. I am in no hurry,” he said but he knew he was anxious to discuss his arrangements with Margaret, but found it difficult to walk away from Amber. They had shared a nice close evening recently. John opened the door and walked back inside.
“Mr. Davies, this is Miss Haddon. She was once a Milton resident about a decade ago and is here for the season. I do not think I’d be speaking out of turn if I told you she shall probably be a good customer.”
“That’s good to hear. It is nice to meet you, Miss Haddon. Please help yourself to the store and call if I can be of any assistance.
John decided to browse as she was so she did not feel in any hurry.
“Oh, thank heavens, here’s one,” she called out.
John found her two aisles away. “Here’s one what?” He was curious to know what she was looking for.
“It is woman’s novel. This store does not seem to have many women’s books. That is sad. I knew it could not compare to London anything, but I did expect a better representation for women’s reading.”
“I can tell you, Miss Amber, that is most definitely in the air as a new area of consideration, “John said as he thought of expanding the bottom floor to all store. “This is an old well established book store and it has not grown with the times to accommodate the influx of Lady’s that read. Change is coming to this place.”
“You sound pretty sure of yourself, Mr. Thornton.”
“I shall tell you that my business here for this friend has that in mind.”
“Oh, is it up for sale?”
“I do not think so. I believe he has accepted an offer.”
“Are you buying it, John,” she asked directly.
“I believe I am acting more as a negotiator for someone else.”
“Oh. I see. Well, let me buy this one book and we’ll be on our way for a nice pot of tea and scones.”
John was glad to have the questioning barrage over with. Why was she so interested?
It was nearing the noon hour and the Leeds household could hold themselves back no longer. They all seemed to cram into the coach with Adrienne riding atop with Tawl and Isabelle decided she could squeeze up there, too.
“Tawl, are there any female coach drivers?” Adrienne sounded infinitely interested.
“I know of two, in London, but they never drive alone. They shall ride as a coachman on the back or a secondary driver in the front, but never alone. The one that I have actually met is posing as a man. Her stories are quite unique. I really think she would have rather been born male. The other girl, I believe, was raised as a real horse fancier and she cannot seem to live without them. Being she is not of wealth, she was able to find employment with a large estate that had four stable hands and they allowed her to try out for the position. I would not be surprised if the Master had interest in her. She was a success as she made it to driver.”
People stood around and gawked when the coach exploded with people getting out, once they reached their destination. Someone remarked that it looked like a circus act.
As they neared Margaret’s room, they were stopped by a nurse advising them that only four could visit her at one time. They would have to take turns. “She is still exhausted and this much visitation shall tire her out. Please be brief with your visits. If she continues to improve today, she shall go home tomorrow. I hope you do not overtax her.
Katie divided the groups, leaving Tawl, Adrienne, Isabelle and Kat for the second visit.
Margaret was greeted by all her friends. Katie wanted to hug her but did not. She could not have been more embarrassed about her appearance and the girls did not let her off the hook.
“Do any of us girls have men into purple? She would be a prize, said Lucia.
“That’s a real shiner you have there,” said Joy.
Lucia took on a very sympathetic attitude. “I am sorry, Margaret. I heard you scream and ran but I could not help to stop your hall.”
“Lucia do not ever give that a thought. There was nothing you or anyone could do. It was my own stupidity. I was not all that familiar upstairs and I let my mind wander and was not watching that little sill on the top step. I did have momentary fear as the fall started and that’s when I screamed. After that, I felt nothing nor heard anything, but I can sure feel it today,” she smiled.
The waiting four were listening from outside the door and would not have to have Margaret repeat herself.
“Katie, I shall have to add that to my list of house repairs next inspection.” Margaret felt in good spirits today: seeing her friends and knowing what John was doing.
“Margaret,” said Lucia, “I have my story all ready for you when you get home. Do you have many more to do?”
“Yours and one other, Lucia. Then I hope to start organizing the book format, fill in a lot of blanks, a final talk with Katie and then add my own thoughts. Everyone here shall have a chance to read or listen to it read before I look for a publisher. You shall all have to approve your own alias’s words.”
Katie started to shoo out the round of visitors and signaled the others to come inside. “Margaret, I shall be back when this bunch has had their time. You look awful,” Katie said leaving.
“Well, thank you very much, Madam,” Margaret hollered while stifling her laugh.
First through the door with a small bouquet of garden flowers was Tawl. Margaret heard him gasp when he came closer. He frowned and stared, then his eyes wandered all over her causing Margaret to pull the sheet up around her neck in a jesting motion. Tawl smiled. “I am sorry, Miss. I just never thought anyone could get that bruised. I bet it hurts.”
“Yes, it does. The medication helps a lot but I am trying to do without it as much as possible.” Margaret looked at the other sad looking faces staring at all parts of her. “Buck up, please. Do not look so sad at me. I shall be fine.
“We know you’ll be fine but you do not have to look at yourself like we do,” joked Adrienne.
“Have you seen yourself, Margaret?” asked Kat.
“No one shall give me a mirror but I can see all but my face. Do I have a black eye?”
“You have about one and half black eyes,” said Isabelle. Why you did not break your nose is a wonder.
“Are those for me?” asked Margaret of Tawl, referring to the flowers.”
Still staring, Tawl responded, “Uh huh, I mean, yes. I shall put them in that vase over there.
“How much longer shall you be here, Margaret?” asked the still sad face of Kat?
“ Perhaps as early as tomorrow, Sunday, but no later than Monday. It is not the pain that’s keeping me here, It is the worry of internal bleeding. They keep probing my abdomen and examine everything that leaves my body,” Margaret said embarrassed.
Isabelle, standing the closest to her said, “Do not worry. We shall all take care of you. You have only been gone one day and we miss you.”
“That’s sweet of you to say, thank you.”
“And that goes for me, too,” came from a returning Tawl with flowers in a vase.
“Times up ladies and gentleman,” came Katie’s voice.
Everyone wished Margaret the best and how they would be glad when she was home. Margaret could not help but notice that Tawl seemed to be taking it worse than the others. She was going to have to talk with Katie and try understand his attitude towards her.
Katie quietly closed the door behind them as they left and came to Margaret’s bedside. “Are you really all right? You do not have to put on a brave face for me. For a couple of days you seem brighter like a heavy load has been lifted. Whatever is causing this is your business but if it is going to distract you enough so you go falling down stairs, I think I’d like to know.”
“Katie, you shall know what has changed my attitude, but not yet. It is good news and I am happy about it.”
“Has a man come into your life, Margaret?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that, although I have bumped into Mr. Thornton several times while I was out the past couple of days. I am expecting him soon, but I shall tell you all about that when I get home. Just do not worry about me.”
“Have you been to the bank recently?”
“That’s part of it, but that’s all you are to know.”
“I see. Well, I hope it was an amount that he promised . . . enough to take care of you for your life in a modest life style.”
“Indeed, it is.” Margaret was trying not give anything away on her face. She said too much already but Katie was . . . family.
“If you say so, I shall believe you. But your values may not be very high since you did not want anything to begin with. Someday you shall tell me. All right, if Mr. Handsome is on his way, we’d better get lost. Take care. We want you home.” Katie leaned down and gave her a light kiss on her cheek. “I shall see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mum,” Margaret could not help but say.
“John, you invited me here for tea and you seem far off in your thoughts,” said Amber.
“I am terribly sorry. I was just here at this cafe recently, but I had coffee. I was wondering how is their tea?” he lied. John was carried away with the two different women sitting at the same place drinking the same beverages. He wondered if he was trying to force some interest in Amber that he thought should be there. Their initial lovemaking, albeit long ago, did warrant some special consideration. But he was starting to feel the proverbial phrase that it was now water under the bridge. He planned on seeing her father in a few days when he went to London.
“Their tea is delightful. When shall we see each other again?” she bluntly asked.
“Amber, it may be a week or more as I must prepare myself and the committee for the exhibition coming at the end of the coming week. If I have time I shall see if you are available. Would you be going to the Great Exhibition, yourself. I would enjoy you coming by and saying, hello.”
“I have thought about it but I would think the hotels are booked by now,” she said.
There it was again – another strange remark. Why would she not stay in her father’s home?
“Maybe you would not mind having dinner at my home sometime this week. I could have Cook make up something a bit more than cold meats and she leaves after cooking.” John laughed, still forcing his slow waning interest in her. But was it her or Miss Hale that was causing his reactions and doubts?
“Can I drop you somewhere, Amber? I should be getting back to the person I have run the errand for.”
“This must be a woman that you help. You are struggling to not say the word man or gentleman, have you noticed that?”
“This person wants to remain anonymous until such negotiations are concluded, so, yes, I am trying to avoid either mention.” John patted himself for escaping that rather astute observation by Amber. “Shall we say Monday evening for dinner?”
“That would be perfect. Shall you send your coach?” Amber asked.
“Yes, and I shall be there to greet you,” John said with all the grace and charm that he did not feel.
“Thank you for your offer to drop me somewhere, but I have some other errands and they are very close. So, I shall expect you at what time on Monday evening?”
“I know it is getting on the late side, but I shall have a meeting that afternoon. Would eight be agreeable?”
“Most agreeable,” she smiled.