Margaret was sitting at her desk in Katie’s office reading the book shortly after dinner. A gentleman was escorted into Katie’s office. John Thornton stopped in mid walk to Katie’s desk when he saw Margaret sitting at her little desk.
Being aware it was not Katie who had just entered she slammed the book shut. Standing, she walked around from her desk and recognized the very handsome client from her first days there. She started to stutter her own introduction but said instead, “Hello, Sir. I shall go and find Miss Leeds for you.”
“Could you wait just a moment, Miss?” John wanted to take her in, thoroughly. He had never seen her in town before. She was very pretty if not close to exquisite. He wondered if she was one of the girls from the house.”
Margaret had stopped at his request. “I am sorry, sir. I do not work with the scheduling or interviewing.” Margaret felt like butter, especially after reading her current material. For a moment she thought she understood the term lust. She knew she had to rush out of there quickly.
“I just wanted to ask . . .,” John started to say as he watched her fly by him before he could finish his question. “Dainty little thing,” he said to himself. “Shy? That just doesn’t fit in a place like this. I wonder who she really is,” he asked himself. He casually took a step near her desk and recognized the red book she had been reading. He did not know French but the book had circulated among the Masters like a Bible. He almost blushed to himself remembering that book from a very long time ago. He had to admit the knowledge gained from it had made a big difference in his life. But why would that young lady be reading it?
Margaret found Katie out back reprimanding Joy for something she said to a client.
“But Miss Leeds, he degraded me,” said Joy.
“Yes, Margaret, what is it?” Katie asked, looking up at her standing on the top porch step.
“I believe his name is Mr. Thornton. He’s in your office. I am afraid I rushed out of there.”
“Is that why your face is so red or is it another reason,” Katie laughed. She lifted her gown hem from the dewing grass and headed back inside.
“I am sorry, Katie. I hope I have not caused any harm by rushing out. I was reading that red book and just felt overcome seeing him standing there watching me read it. I could not be more embarrassed. Maybe he did not even notice it or has no knowledge of it.”
“I am sure he will ask about you, then. If I call you in, I shall introduce you as just Margaret, a friend staying to help me. I shall not say your last name until I am sure it has been long enough for everyone to have forgotten the news headlines.”
“If you can avoid calling me, I would appreciate it. I shall come, though, if called,” said a hesitant blushing Margaret.
Katie knew there was something with Margaret and her feelings toward Mr. Thornton. She was like any other woman in this town that ever saw the man. Katie knowing them both, thought they would do well together but never under the roof of Miss Leeds Ladies. John Thornton had a reputation of being a very compassionate man. He would be just the type of man to understand and easily accept her history, but there was still the mystery of what type of woman he would favor as a wife.
John was seated in front of her desk when Katie came through the door. He stood immediately halfway expecting the other young lady to follow her. He was a little disappointed when she did not.
“Nice to see you again, Mr. Thornton. I hope your business trip was successful a couple months ago,” Katie said in a questioning tone.
“The Annual Mill Master’s Convention is hardly ever successful. It is more of a bargaining meeting bringing Mill Masters, Cotton Growers and Shippers to the same table to work out pricing for the next year. The cotton people are more affected by the weather and the ability to find people to work in the hot fields, at least in the United States, it seems. They are our biggest supplier, but I know you are not interested in hearing that.”
“How can we help you, Mr. Thornton?”
“I would like an appointment for next week if that is convenient.”
“Would you like to see Lucia again?”
“Well, I saw a young lady sitting at that desk over there when I came in. Is she a new lady that you have added to your employees?”
“No, Mr. Thornton. She is a dear friend. Believe it or not, I was once her governess.”
John was taken aback. Miss Leeds, a governess? The young woman must be a Lady. What could have brought her here with her governess running a brothel? This was as mysterious as the noble coming. He wondered if the two were connected.
“I must confess I find that confusing. Is she living here with you or maybe visiting? I see she has a desk.”
“Very astute of you, Mr. Thornton.” She has fallen on hard times and only had me to turn to. I am helping her get back on her feet. She shall leave me someday and I shall miss her, but I think she plans on remaining in Milton.”
“But, if I understand you correctly, she does not help you on the second floor?”
“That is correct. She is running the house and has no connection with the business except for teaching several of the girls and our driver how to read and write.”
“I see she’s been reading the red book. I think every man I know has passed that around in our younger lives even though we could not read it,” John smiled. By the time I got it, the important pages were nicely dog-eared, saving me time.” They both laughed.
“It is nice to hear you have read it. It teaches men a lot about the female along with the erotic story.”
“Oh,” John said chuckling, “there’s a story? No one could read it.”
“Yes, and Margaret is actually reading it,” Katie said off-handedly realizing she had said Margaret’s first name.
“Would you care to meet Margaret? Katie asked, wondering if she could initiate some interest between the two.
“Yes, if she would not mind.”
Katie left her desk and John stood waiting for her return with this Margaret woman.
When Katie found Margaret outside, she called to her. Margaret walked up to her side. “Margaret, Mr. Thornton would like to meet you. Now, keep your head held high and look like the Lady you were trained to be.”
“But I shall play the fool. I cannot appear to be anymore than I am at this moment.”
“Now, you hush that mouth right now. You are still a Lady through and through. Just because you have suffered downfalls in your life that were beyond your control does not make you any less of a Lady.” Katie grabbed her by the hand and pulled her inside.
Margaret tried to keep her head from at least lowering as she came into the room behind Katie.
John turned towards them as Katie said, “Margaret, this is Mr. John Thornton.”
John reached out his hand, surprised that Katie had not given him her surname.
Margaret took his hand, shook it lightly and felt his resistance in giving it back to her. Her heart was pounding. She was sure it could be seen through the top of her bodice, beating heavily. “Good evening, Mr. Thornton. Please call me, Margaret.”
“If that’s what you prefer, I shall.” He did not offer her entitlement to call him John. Not yet, anyway. “I understand Miss Leeds was once your governess?”
Margaret snapped a look at Katie, almost a frown. She was stunned that Mr. Thornton had been told such a thing. It had immediately given rise to her earlier life and she did not want to go there with a stranger. “Yes, she was. I can say she taught me everything and still is.” Margaret knew that sounded like piffle but she was speechless. She did not think she could look up into those eyes much longer without swooning.”
John sensing the embarrassment of her hard times changed the subject. “Do you read French, Margaret?” He asked smiling. He thought it would change the heavy atmosphere in the room, but he was not sure if he had not made it worse.
Margaret quickly glanced at her desk and saw the red book. Apparently, Mr. Thornton knew she was reading it. Could this introduction get any more embarrassing? She did not think so. She realized she had lowered her head. Margaret stiffened her back and looked up at Mr. Thornton and said, “Yes, I read French.” Do you?”
“No, I am afraid not. In my business I have never found a need for it. But if I ever need a translator, I shall know where to find one.” He thought that would settle the waves in the room. He could not help but find a flutter of interest in this little woman. And he was quite intrigued that she should be reading that book. He could not actually remember the title of the book as everyone had referred to it as ‘The Red Book’ as that was its color . . . the color of passion.
“I won’t detain you any longer, Margaret. It has been nice meeting you and knowing of such a nice young lady that Miss Leeds brought forth to Milton.” He could tell she was uncomfortable.
“Thank you, Mr. Thornton. It is been nice meeting you, also. Have a pleasant stay here,” Margaret finished and hurried out of the room.
John turned to Miss Leeds and sat down in the chair again. “She seems rather a shy young woman,” he stated.
“Actually, she is not. You are probably the first gentleman that she has spoken to her in a year and half. And the last one . . . well, I won’t go into that. That shall be for her to discuss. Anyway, due to her current circumstances, she doesn’t feel worthy of meeting a gentleman.”
“So, you are saying, she was raised as a Lady?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I won’t pry but it must have been a great misfortune, indeed, to have happened to her.”
“Misfortunes,” Katie said, emphasizing the plural.”
“Not just because I raised and taught her, but she’s experienced the worst cases of misfortune I have ever known to befall someone. It is quite tragic.” Katie paused. “Now back to your appointment.
She was interrupted from her train of thought.
“Do you think I could be of any financial assistance to the Lady? John asked.
“I do not believe so, Mr. Thornton. She is too proud.”
“I realize that you did not give me her surname. Was that intentional?”
“Yes. I shall leave it at that.”
“I believe I have figured out who she is. I was at the Milton Grand the evening you visited the noble at his table. I shall not ask any further questions.
“Thank you, Mr. Thornton.”
“I was well pleased with Lucia, but you said there was another lady that was similar. What is her name?”
“That would be Kat. Of all my girls, she is the most quiet.”
“That’s what I am looking for. Please make an appointment with her.”
“Would next Tuesday evening suit you at 8:00 p.m.?”
“That shall be most agreeable. Thank you. I shall leave you now. Good evening, Miss Leeds.” John turned for the door, hearing Miss Leeds reply her parting words. As John stepped out of the office door, he looked around to see if Margaret was anywhere in sight. She was not. John felt he had traded one mystery for another.
As John was walking towards the front door, he caught the eye of Master Steen waiting in the parlor. He would much rather have gotten away unseen but since that was not to be, John stopped and walked into the room.
“How are you, Craig?” John asked, shaking his hand and allowing him to continue to pace the carpet.
“My girl is a little late, so I am enjoying the fine wine they’ve recently been offering. Damn fine stuff compared to that old vinegar that used to be available to us. I have never seen you here, John. Do you visit often? I cannot imagine you needing to be here.”
“No, I haven’t been here but two times. And I do not have to be here. This is a bit embarrassing but it is been nice to get away from all the ladies once in a while.”
“Oh, so you like them wild, too?”
“Quite the opposite, really. Not being married as you are, the ladies I escort out seem to feel they want to prove something to me. They appear to think an intimate relationship is what I must be looking for and I tire of that. An intimate relationship, yes, but trying to overpower me and wear me out is not what I want in my life right now. It is complex and I rather just leave it there. I am still searching for the woman to be my mate in life. This shall not become a habit with me. The last time I was here was over two months ago.”
“I have been married to my loving wife for fifteen years and it sure sounds like there have been some great advances in wooing a woman now,” Craig laughed. “I know you are highly sought but I never thought it would become complex that you needed to find solitude here.”
John wondered why Master Steen was there, himself. He felt sure they had a good marriage. He did not feel he would ask the why. “I was just on my way out, so I shall leave you to your evening.”
“Before you go John, do you have a favorite girl here?” Craig asked.
“Only being her twice, I have only known one girl. Her name is Lucia.”
“Oh yes, Lucia. I usually ask for the wild one, Adrienne. If you ever want to really let loose and try things you would not dare ask your wife, you may want to request her. I only come here about every three months just to see what’s new with Adrienne. It has become a game more or less. I try to find something she won’t do but have had no purchase as yet.”
“That’s exactly what I am trying to avoid,” John laughed. I must go. I shall see you at the next board meeting. Good evening, Craig.”
“Goodnight John. I am sure I shall have a good evening.”
As John was leaving the parlor a woman with auburn hair and big beautiful eyes came into the room and put her arms around Craig, while clearly wearing very little. John thought she looked like a slave in torn clothing.
“You like, Master Craig? I am a slave and you are my Master. Come and make me behave.”
Upon John hearing that, he stepped outside. He did not want to hear anymore private words like that. It was a side of Craig that he had never seen. Maybe he wanted to play the overbearing Master, as John had once been accused of many years ago at his first mill.