The Neighbor on the Train
The Professor and Margaret’s return trip into London was earlier in the day. The train had mostly full coaches; the Professor scouted out the least full cabin and beckoned Margaret over. Handing her inside, Margaret counted three other riders, and surprisingly, noticed the man that had ridden with them two days previous. He sat smartly dressed in his grey coat with a tidy black cravat, arms crossed, unable to stretch out with his newspaper, but he did nod his head to acknowledge that he remembered them. The Professor and Margaret were able to sit together allowing for plenty of conversation to wile away the time of the four hour trip. The Professor told her how he admired Mr. Thornton just from their brief meeting and dinner together, and could well understand why Milton had grown into such a dedicated mill city with someone, such as he, leading much of the way.
About an hour into the trip, the train stopped at one of its two stops between Milton and London, allowing two passengers to disembark and leaving only the “unknown rider,” as Margaret had begun calling him in her mind. The train pulled out of the station making its usual chugging noises until it finally reached maximum speed and settled into a more tolerable noise level.
“Excuse me,” said the unknown rider. “I couldn’t help overhearing the two of you speaking today, so I thought I would introduce myself. My name is Blake Cavanaugh. Mrs . . . . ?” he asked looking at Margaret.
“Reed.” she said.
“Mrs. Reed, I just wanted to tell you that we will be neighbors. You apparently are going to rent, or buy, the little refurbished cottage across from the courthouse and I work in the law office next to your new home. Quite by chance, we find ourselves on this train, again.”
Margaret felt some relief, having unconsciously attached some macabre darkness to the man. “Yes, this is quite a coincidence and a fortunate one for us, since you can probably answer some questions we might have. I never noticed what was next door when I visited the cottage on Saturday. What is it that you do at your law office?”
“I work for a London based firm called Bailer and Banks Law Firm. I’m a lawyer specializing in deeds, titles, and property. I’m not an illustrious crime fighter in the courts, but my job does have its mysteries, occasionally. I happened to be at work on Saturday, my window overlooks your side of our building, and I noticed you. I thought to myself – ‘I think that’s woman on the train.’ Did I see Mr. Thornton with you?”
“Yes, he is an old friend of the family from when I came to live in Milton four years ago. He was a student of literature, who studied with my father, and came to our home weekly for private lessons.”
“I know John well. I have done work for him when he bought land to build his second mill. He and I, with his magistrate duties and my deed recordings, pass each other in the courthouse often.” He glanced towards the Professor, who was sitting quietly, listening, and observing. “I am sorry to interrupt your conversation, I only wanted to introduce myself to my new neighbor” he said smiling.
“Mr. Cavanaugh, I am happy to know you. This is my dear friend Dr. Pritchard, a former history professor, who is now coming to Milton, to write about its Industrial growth. I am fortunate that he has extended a courtesy to me, in helping him.”
The two men leaned across the coach and shook hands. “Yes, I did hear a lot of that conversation on our previous trip. I had been trying to read my paper but the research into Milton’s burgeoning city, had quite taken my interest. Our firm has located to Milton for much the same reason. The expansion of the city is enormous and it is not nearly completed.”
“I remember it as a town, a rather large town, but the face has disappeared quickly even in so short a time as four years,” Margaret continued with cordiality.
The conversation flowed on for quite some time; they talked about many subjects including the mills and the labor force. Eventually, Margaret realized that he had been talking strictly to her the entire time, always mannerly and pleasant. She sensed his attentions were going from neighborly to something more. She was surprised at her own inner reaction to such attention being lavished upon her.
As Margaret and the Professor were disembarking before Mr. Cavanaugh, they promised to meet when in Milton, and the three eventually said their goodbyes. The Professor hailed a coach at the front of the station to take them home.
“Margaret,” asked the Professor, as they settled into the coach, “tell me what you thought of Mr. Cavanaugh. What were your emotions?”
“I think I know what you’re getting at since I am becoming more familiar with your ways,” Margaret laughed. “Is it the fact that it appears that he may be interested in me, more than he might be interested in just being neighborly?”
“Yes, exactly. It was obvious to me, but I could see you didn’t realize it for a long time. You kept drawing him into conversation, lots of smiling back and forth, and then suddenly you seemed to pull on the reins. You had some type of realization there, didn’t you?” the Professor asked.
“Dear me, how you know me so well. You read me like a book!” Margaret said, as the Professor laughed. “Yes, that is quite how it happened. Before I met Booker, I had three proposals, aside from other times when I had to turn a gentleman down for some other less innocuous reason. I never thought I handled any of them well. I find it very difficult to disappoint someone. While talking with Mr. Cavanaugh, those old remembrances came back to me. I haven’t thought about a situation like that for many years. It was very disconcerting and I don’t know how I will get on if that occurs again. I’ve never spoken of this to you, but Booker has left me with emotional scars. Most likely unintended, he caused me to feel undesirable, unfeminine and well . . . and more. I know I must find that confidence before I can feel whole again. Can I find, within myself, a love to give, or passion to express? Can I commit to another man, again? To me, I am a defective woman. I’m sure you have deduced that John has an interest in me. I had turned down his proposal almost four years ago, and you are right, he may be my destiny, left behind. Now, we might have another chance, but I cannot feel right about myself just yet. I don’t want him to find himself in a marriage with a woman fighting self doubts and other problems.”
“And Cavanaugh?” the Professor asked.
“When I became aware that he appeared to look . . . fascinated, I experienced a very strange reaction. His interest lessened my doubts in being a desirable female but the problem of rejecting him came back to me. First I was slightly elated, then I became worried that his interest could possibly grow more serious, which is something for which I would have no intention.
“Margaret,” said the Professor, always the fatherly figure, as he placed his hand on her knee, “Child, you will always have the problem of rejection. Men will forever be drawn to you, and rightly so, until age steals most of your youth and beauty. You must resign yourself to that fact, even when you marry John Thornton, which I know will happen, that you will still be desired, perhaps, just not by John’s close friends. Rejection, rebuff, dismiss, they are all facts of life and unpleasant as they may seem, we each must work out our own way to deal with it. No one has committed suicide on your behalf, have they?”
“No,” Margaret laughed, relieved.
“Well then, you must be handling it as well as you can then. And as for the other, the larger problem of your own sense of self and confidence in your natural womanly nature, I don’t see that being a problem for long. I will never know your intimate side, nor do I care to even speak of it, but I do know you. You are a warm and caring person with love and passion bursting to take that first breath. You have an intelligent and solid outlook on the world, so I promise you that you will not be a cold or undesirable woman. What you have missed in your marriage to Booker, was a man to make you feel your womanly side, your worth as a wife and a lover. Personally, with what I am beginning to see of John Thornton’s love for you, he will certainly not allow you to ever feel that way.”
Margaret leaned into the Professor’s shoulder and cried. “Thank you. Even though I knew that you could probably soothe my thoughts in that regard, I still found it too difficult to bring up, but I’m glad I did. I spoke to John about it Saturday night. We had quite a heart to heart talk about a lot of things. Of course, he told me almost what you have, but I knew he was tremendously biased.” She stifled a small laugh.
“Believe him, Margaret. He doesn’t say much but what he does is spoken from deep within. He doesn’t speak to hear himself or to impress others, he speaks from his heart. He may be curt sometimes, but he’ll always be honest. If you two have had such a conversation as that, you are turning a corner in your life and are well on your way back to your destiny.”
“Yes, I think so, too. It was the most unusual two days I ever experienced. I’m not ashamed to admit to you that when I left Milton years ago, John and I were not on the best of terms. This weekend has been almost as if our relationship grew closer while we were apart.”
“I’m sure it has for Mr. Thornton, that is quite obvious,” reflected the Professor. “You, my child, are just finding your way back to the love of a real man, one who you deserve.”
“The only thing he has really insisted upon is that I not speak to him about my feelings for him until I’m positive that I love him. He said he will wait forever. Why don’t you have any monumental personal problems we can talk about? I feel cheated,” Margaret laughed, righting herself on the carriage seat.
“That’s a good question, one that we may ponder some day, but not now, as you are home. I do not look for anything to deter me in my coming plans, but if it should, I will contact you. So, I will say adieu and see you when you arrive in Milton.”
“Thank you Professor, for everything; saving my life being only one for which I’m grateful.” Margaret exited the coach at the hand of the driver. He followed, carrying her bag to the door.
A fortnight later, Margaret had her few pieces of furniture, books, personal belongings, and all but some of her clothes, shipped to the Mill’s address. John had written that all was going as planned, with the exception of some of her pre-ordered, custom made furniture pieces, which were going a little slowly. It was probable that they would be arriving later than she, but she could stay at his home until hers was completely outfitted. He had hired a middle-aged single man named Adrian Thompson to tend to the outside and other chores. John had gone back several years checking his references, even though he’d been recommended by his own driver, Branson. John also suggested that in the future, Margaret might consider letting him live on property in the rooms over the carriage house.
Dixon posted a note to Margaret, telling her that the kitchen was stocked with all they would need to get started. The linens were purchased and Dixon’s own room was now habitable. Their cook was already working with Mr. Thornton’s cook and all her responsibilities were coming together. She also wrote that Margaret was going to love the house and being able to watch the courthouse comings and goings would be interesting. The home next door had some very nice people living there, and Dixon was sure Margaret would easily become friends with them. She was a teacher and he still worked for the railroad.
Margaret also received a hand delivered letter from the Professor saying he was on his way and wishing her good luck with her move. His plans were going smoothly, except for saying goodbye to his colleagues and students which wasn’t quite as easy as he had anticipated, but he was happy to be setting out for Milton. “See you next week after your arrival,” he had ended the note.