John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 21

Chapter 21

     John’s Alarm

 

The rest of the week, John and Higgins went over some serious planning for the probability of purchasing Slickson’s mill.  John needed to make some people moves for the strategic positions, and Higgins needed a replacement, as overseer.  It was determined that three overseers would be instituted, one for each mill.  The organizational format was going to have to change with having three mills and Higgins in a whole new capacity.  John wanted all the training started immediately because he was sure Slickson’s mill would be his.  He understood very well that he could handle the added work with the top people he had.  John was very confident in the men that Slickson had in place and knew the top overseer there and several other top men.  He was impressed to find what he did at Slickson’s Mill.  The building was in good condition.  The machinery was kept in top shape, serviced, and inspected often.  Speaking with several of the lay people, John found they had a wonderfully satisfied attitude.  As hard as he tried to get them to confess to problems there, it seemed no one had any.  Most of the workers knew of John Thornton and his mill workings and were hopeful that he would be their new master some day.

 

Finished winding her braids, Margaret found the white rose that was almost past its bloom and pinned it in her hair.  Her gown was appropriate for a small home gathering dinner, Margaret thought.  She had acquired many such dresses from all the functions that she and Booker had to attend at the college.

Dixon called up the steps that Mr. Thornton and the Professor were arriving.  Margaret took a final look in the mirror and then hurried down the stairs as Dixon was opening the door to John.

“Good evening Margaret, you look splendid.  Are you ready to leave?  I see you have a lovely rose in your hair tonight.”  John remarked.

“Yes, I am ready,” Margaret replied.  “You are quite the man with flowers,” she said showing a small gleam in her eye and handing John her wrap for him to place on her shoulders.

 

What could she mean by that?  . . .  Quite the man with flowers.  I have never brought her flowers.  And, why haven’t I?

 

The three enjoyed a nice meal at Marlborough Mills that evening.  John and the Professor talked mostly about Milton, and the Chamber Ball invitation and John promised to set a date to talk with him when he returned from Brighton, about his beginnings in the milling industry.  To Margaret’s chagrin, the Professor told John of all the interest Margaret was garnering from his visitors.  “Thank you for the invitation to the Ball.  I will love to attend.  I hope I can sit with Margaret and her gentleman,” said the Professor.

 

Her gentleman . . .   

 

John was trying to cast aside his green demon that had so recently made itself known.  His stomach roiled every time he thought of another man approaching Margaret for any reason.  “I’m sorry I will be unable to be there, myself.  I am sure you will enjoy it, Professor, and Margaret tells me she likes to dance.  Maybe you can accommodate her,” John smirked.

John escorted Margaret and the Professor to his traveling coach with his fine four horses, carrying them to their homes in fashion.

Branson dropped off the Professor first, and then reined the carriage for Margaret’s house.

Margaret asked, “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea or a brandy?”  John replied that he would indeed, a little too hastily.

He spoke into the speak box, inside the carriage, and told Branson to pull around back where they would exit the coach.  With smothered excitement in his voice, John asked if Dixon was home, for if she was not, he might have to give Branson some different instructions.  Unfortunately, Dixon was home, and Branson was encouraged to visit Adrian if he was home.

Dixon brought tea as John reclined in his chair that Margaret had purchased for him, telling her that the size of it made a very comfortable seat.  They were discussing the Professor and the ball when she mentioned, “He has a pretty thick folder on you, already, John.  I read it today.”  Margaret said with a twinkle in her eye.

“He does, does he?  I am sure it is full of fanciful exaggerations.”

“It is a large folder on you, and he hasn’t even started yet on your documentation.  I am most seriously impressed with what you have accomplished while I’ve been away.  You have been far too modest to let me know about the status you hold in this new age.  I’m so proud for you, John.  Why didn’t you speak to me of this?”

John shifted in his big chair.  “Margaret, first of all, I care for none of that heraldry.  I wish I could change my name some days.  Nothing came difficult to me.  And secondly, none of it would have happened when it did if it were not for you.  I want you to fully realize that my success came from your ideas, your passion.”

“That is as may be, John, but YOU took my ideas, which were only a few words, YOU took risks, and YOU almost lost everything.  YOU depleted nearly all you owned to make it work.  YOU saw it through to a successfully smooth transition.  YOU need to accept the fact that YOU are a man for the history books, like it or not.”

John watched her face as she spoke with such earnestness.  Although he did not care to hear about his successes, he was more amazed at Margaret’s insight and perspicacity.  She was driving her point.  Her vitality was stunning.  He was hugely pleased to see what working with the Professor was doing to her confidence.  Or could it be, all the interest that gentlemen found in her was giving her this assurance?  Although he didn’t want to think of that as the reason, it was what she needed, and he knew that.

“Can we not talk about that for now?”  John asked.  “Have you accepted an invitation to the ball, yet?”  It didn’t matter who she said, he was not going to like it.

“Yes, I have accepted Mr. Steen’s offer.  I believe he is fond of dancing.”

“Well, at least you will be safe with him, I think he always has a gun on his person,” John said.

“Since you’re putting me through this at least I would enjoy dancing.”

John laughed to himself, “Margaret, you will have many offers to dance.  Men will flock to you.  If I were taking you, I could shield you from that, if it made you uncomfortable.”

“How do you know this?”  Margaret asked.

“One day you will find your complete inner self again.  And you will like what you see.  I think you are too naive, still, to believe in your own beauty, even with all these potential suitors that come to your office.  Margaret . . .  divorced, widowed or single; you are a very alluring woman.  Many men there that night will want to be close and to hold you in their arms . . . I don’t think I can talk about this any longer.  You will dance all night.  I’m glad that I’ll not be there to see it, honestly.  If I took you, I wouldn’t share you.”

“I think you are a bit biased, Mr. Thornton.”

“Say what you will.  Yes, I am very biased, but I know the attraction that you will unintentionally cause.  I have watched other men turn to look at you.  I wish you could have seen the heads turning your way as you stepped off the train that day.”

Now Margaret wanted to change the subject.  “That was quite a trick.  How did you do it?”  Margaret said to John.

“What is this trick you speak about, Margaret?”

Margaret pointed to the rose in her hair.  “Oh John, don’t play coy.  I know you know,”

John sensing trouble, but not wanting to alarm Margaret played along with it to find out what she was talking about.  “So, tell me, what did you think?”

“Coming home from our dinner out the other night and seeing that note and rose on my pillow had me alarmed at first until I remembered you had a key.  You must have put Branson up to it, didn’t you?”

In his most happy face, he said, “Well, I don’t know if it was mine or not.  What did the note say?”

“John!  Stop being funny.”

“Actually, I went through several versions, which one did I actually send?”

“Oh, you know . . . the one that said – I WILL HAVE YOU ONE DAY AND I KNOW YOU WANT ME, or something like that.”

“John immediately was reminded of the kidnapping note.  Yes, I remember now.  Well . . . you’ve known that haven’t you?”

“I wasn’t sure it was from you immediately because I’ve never seen you print before, but then I remembered the key.  It might not be a good idea for the neighbors seeing a strange young man, like Branson, entering my dark house,” Margaret laughed.

“Margaret, how long is it before Adrian will be able to move here?”

“Ahhhh . . . yes . . .  wondering how long you have to do this, are you?”

“I’m not saying a word, just wondering when he’ll be on premises.”

“Actually, he moved in a month ago.  I am glad he’ll be here when you are so far away in Brighton.”

Brighton!  John remembered how he would be away next week.  He would have to put some plans into action without Margaret’s notice.  It could be an admirer, or something disastrous.  He was taking no chances.  And whoever it was had found a way into her home.

“It is getting late, I must let you have your rest,” John said rising, immediately wanting to see Mason.

Margaret followed him to the door, disappointed in his abrupt departure, wondering why the sudden change in his attitude.

Having his hand on the doorknob, “I will see you before I leave for Brighton.”  Goodnight, Margaret.”  John said as he opened the door and then turned back to kiss her, almost as an afterthought.  His mind preoccupied, he climbed into the carriage, telling Branson to take him to the back of the courthouse.

Filling with fear for Margaret, John hurried through the rear doors and proceeded to the police station on the first floor, looking for Mason; he hoped he was on duty.  Chief Mason was in his office.  He knocked on his door and entered.

“Mason, I am glad to see you working late tonight.  I think I may have a problem and will need your help,” John blurted out with an anxious tone in his voice.

“Anything, Mr. Thornton.  It just happens to be my shift this week to be here now.  What’s the problem, sir?”

John told Mason all about the note and rose that had appeared on Margaret’s pillow.  He, also, told him that he left Margaret thinking it was his idea, so she wouldn’t be upset.

“How long ago did this a happen, Mr. Thornton?”

“This is Tuesday, and we had dinner at The Dove last Friday between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00.  I have a spare key, she has one for herself and a third, which she may have given to her housekeeper, but I don’t know that for sure.”

Mason looking at his notes, said, “Are you sure you want to keep it from her?  We should ask her questions about the keys, and has she noticed any other strange things?”

“You’re right, Mason.  I’m afraid I am likely to over react on this.  I just know that I’m terribly worried and might not be the best judge of the situation.”

“I understand Mr. Thornton.  With your seniority as a Magistrate, I am relieved to know you understand that.”

“Could you put someone on the house for now, until we can talk with her in the morning?  If it’s an admirer that will be bad enough, but I’m concerned it could be more than that.  Remember the kidnapping note?

Mason replied, “Yes, I remember very well.”  He told John to go on home, and he would assign two officers and watch the back and front of the house, without raising suspicion.

 

Dixon ambled to the front door muttering, “Who could be calling this early in the morning?”  Opening the door, she was shocked to see Chief Mason along with Mr. Thornton.  “Won’t you come in sirs?  I’ll get Miss Margaret.  If you would like to sit at the dining room table, I will bring tea for all of you.”

Dixon went upstairs, where Margaret was just finishing her hair for the day.  “Who was it, Dixon?”

“Miss, it is Mr. Thornton, but he has Chief Mason with him.”

“Oh dear, that sounds a bit ominous.  I’ll be right there.”

Margaret entered the dining room, and both men stood.  John spoke first, “Margaret, we are sorry to bother you so early, but we think we may have a situation that we need to speak to you about.”

John looked at Mason, who encouraged John to go on with the story.

“Please go on,” Margaret said, while she took a seat at the table.  Both men sat.

“You do remember last night telling me about the rose and the note left on your pillow last week after our dinner?”

“Yes, of course.  I thought it quite clever of you.  What’s wrong?”

“Margaret, I did not send that note and rose.

“But you said last night . . .”

John interrupted, “I didn’t want to worry you until I had some things sorted.  Your house has been watched all night, and now Mason is here to ask some questions so we can get to the bottom of this.  It could be an admirer, or . . . we don’t know what else.”

Dixon brought in the tea.

“Miss Dixon,” Mason asked, “Do you have a key to this house?”

“No, sir, I don’t.”

Margaret interjected saying, “I lend Dixon the second key when she needs it.  I should have two keys and Mr. Thornton, one key.”

“Would you mind finding both keys, Mrs. Reed,” asked Mason.

Margaret said, “Certainly” and headed for her small handbag.  “I should have both of them in here.”  Digging in her purse, she could only find one, so she dumped the contents on the table.  “Well . . . where is it, the second key?  Dixon, have you seen a key around the house that was set down?”

“No Miss Margaret.

“Mr. Thornton, do you have your key?”  Mason asked.

John produced it from his big key ring.  “These keys are to my home, my mills, and this house.  They are always on my person, except for sleep.

Mason asked if someone would summon Adrian into the room.

Margaret, looking worried said, “I kept both keys in my purse.  With having two and only using one, I cannot tell you how long it’s been gone.  It could be at Dr. Pritchard’s or lost somewhere in the house.  I doubt if it would be in John’s coach.”

John said that he had already thought of that.  With the little sleep, he had last night, he had gone through a lot in his mind.

“I will check my bedroom once again and bring down the note.”

Adrian appeared in the room.  “Someone wanted to see me?”

Mason said, “Yes.  We have an issue of unlawful entry into this house and are asking everyone here what they may have seen or know.  Where were you last Thursday evening between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.?”

“I was visiting my old friend and his family.”

“And they were at home with you the whole time?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen anyone suspicious around this house or watching this house since coming here?  Someone who might be paying a little more attention to the house that would seem normal to you?”

“No, I don’t think so . . . wait . . . I remember working out front sometime last week and there was a man, a gentleman that was sitting over there – under that tree on the bench, in the court yard.”  Adrian said as he pointed to the courthouse lawn.  “He was looking this way, but I just thought he was watching me while he was waiting for someone.  I didn’t pay him any mind, so I don’t know what happened to him.”

“About what time of day was this?”

“I believe it was around 4:30 p.m. because Miss Margaret came home from work about then and she stopped and talked to me.”

“Would you recognize him, if you saw him again?”

“I don’t think so.  Like I said I didn’t pay him no mind.”

“How do you know he was looking this way?”

“Well, you see how that bench is angled, you would have to turn your head to look this way, and it is not dead on.  The couple times I looked over there, his head was turned this way.”

“Was there anything remarkable about him that you can remember?”

“Just that he was a gentleman.  He had a top hat on.  I think he was wearing something gray.  He looked average size, maybe twenty-five to thirty-five years old.  I didn’t see the color of his hair, though.”

“Thank you, Adrian, you’ve been a big help.”

John stopped Adrian before he left, giving him some money out of his pocket.  “I want you to get two new door locks for this house today and have three keys made.  Give me the three keys when you return.  I will be in and out of here today.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Thornton, right away sir.”  He left the room.

Margaret had returned with the note as Adrian walked away.  “Why give you the three keys, John?”

John waited until he was sure Adrian was out of the house.  “I want to go back to where he bought the locks today and talk with the lock maker to be sure he didn’t make four of them.  I think Adrian is a good man and telling the truth, but I am leaving nothing to chance.”

“Here is the note and no sign of the third key,”  Margaret said.

Mason and John looked at it.  It was very nicely printed, but they couldn’t tell if it was from an admirer or some type of impending sexual warning, which turned out to be the case with the last kidnappers, who were never caught.  John was beside himself.  “You’ll keep someone watching her, right Mason?”

“Sir, I am going to have an officer in the house during the day and two at night, out of sight.  I don’t want it to appear she’s being protected.  It appears whoever entered did use a key and that you are resolving today.  And . . . we will also have someone watching her go to and from work and another inside her work place.”

“Thank you, Mason.  I cannot think of anything else except to move her out, and that will never catch this guy.  I just wish I didn’t have to go to Brighton in a few days.  I am very worried.

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 19

Warning: Adult Content, this chapter

Chapter 19

     More Then Joy

 

Finding John unwinding from the excitement of the day, lounging across the couch, Margaret curled up beside him.

“Today was so wonderful.  I can’t think of any other day in my life that I have enjoyed more.  Sadly, I think I shall have to be going home tomorrow.  John, thank you for these past days; they’ve meant more than you could know.  They have been the loveliest and happiest days of my life, ever”

“Do not thank me.  I need no thanks from the one I love.  I cannot tell you how it has pleased me to my very soul to have you here.  I’ve laughed more in a few days than, literally, my entire life.  And like you, our time together has meant more to me than all my life experiences.”

Margaret smiled at John.  “You’re going to have to be on your best behavior tonight because sooner, or later, you will discover that Dixon is out for the entire evening.  She will return to my house instead of here.  So, we are totally alone all night.”

His body flooded with warmth at her words.  He knew his control would not last through the night.  His mind started whirling, and he could feel the heat rising in his body.  Damn the proclamation; this chance may never happen for a long time, he thought.  He more than thought – he wanted to act.  He dreamed and hoped that the night would bring him the opportunity to allow Margaret to know herself and feel like a real woman.  John wanted that more for her than anything.  His own ecstasy was secondary.  “Hmm.  This presents a dilemma,” he said.

Again, Margaret was experiencing sensual stirrings that were causing her body to shiver, and this was not the first time since returned to Milton, only a month previous.  She was not so naive as to misconstrue them as anything other than a passion for John.  Against all propriety and a pious upbringing, she wanted him to make love to her.  She knew he could make her feel like the woman she wanted to be for him.  Margaret still held doubts about herself, as she had never known anything different with Booker.  But sensing the differences that her body was telling her, she knew that John was the one to clear all doubts.  Although, just coming out of her bereavement period and already feeling a commitment to John, there was no chance of intimacy tonight.  The possibility of conception was at its peak.  She knew she had to move away from being so near him.  She rose and went to sit by the fire.  “What do you mean by a dilemma?” she asked, refocusing her mind.

“Excuse me just a minute; I will return, momentarily,” John said, as he walked to his bedroom.  He turned up the gas heater so the room was warm and pulled down the sheets.  He came back, passing through the parlor into Margaret’s room.  He ruffled her sheets so it might appear that she had slept on her bed and then leaving, he closed the door.

“John, what are you doing?”  Margaret asked in bewilderment.

As John sat down next to her in front of the fire, he said, “I am preparing for a dilemma.”

“What dilemma?”

“I think we are out of yarn,” he laughed.

Margaret broke into a smile, but it further deepened her knowledge of the disappointment she knew was coming.  She started to rise from the carpet to sit in the chair when John grabbed her arm.

John sensed she was pulling away from him, but this time it seemed serious.  “Please, sit with me, here.  What is wrong, my love?  Are you apprehensive about what you perceive this night could bring to us?  I can remain the perfect gentleman if that’s what you truly want, but please let me be near you.”  John looked over and saw tears welling in her eyes.  Was she frightened of him?  He couldn’t bear it, if she was.  “Please don’t be afraid of me.  Nothing will happen unless you allow it.”

Margaret didn’t know anything else than to be honest with John.  “I am not afraid of you; it’s quite the reverse.  I am afraid of myself.”  Margaret paused, wondering how to explain the rest.  “I am well aware that the Thornton Proclamation is not, in effect, tonight.  I am sitting here . . . very . . . much desirous of you.  But it cannot happen tonight.  I am quite sure that I’m near or at the peak of conception.  I’m sorry.”  Margaret exhaled loudly, finally getting those words out of her mouth.  She was embarrassed about sounding so unladylike, or being too forward and expectant.

John fell back on the carpet, reeling at her words, not so much about the conception, but that she desired him enough to let him love her.  Every day of heartbreak for the past four years dissolved in those words that she had just spoken.  He put his arm over his face, and only pride kept his tears from falling.  It was the epitome of his hopes and dreams.  A word had not been invented that expressed his emotions at that moment.  He was not sure he could withstand the rush of four years of unrequited love, now reversing its course.  If Margaret’s feelings for him in the past had been a drop of water upon his face, he was now standing under a delirious waterfall.

He sat up quickly, took her hands in his, as her tears fell, and studied her.  He looked at her face, her eyes, her lips, her hair, missing nothing of her beauty.  She was his world, his universe, his everything.

 

Can this moment really be happening?

 

Margaret couldn’t understand all that was showing on his face, but he now expressed the most intimate smile she had ever seen, if there was such a thing.  He was in awe.  “John, you’ve said nothing in the last five minutes.  Please speak to me.”

John didn’t know where to begin.  “Those words that you just spoke, and I know they were from your heart, have fulfilled a hope and dream I’ve had for many years.  You are giving me the chance to love you, because you desire ME, John Thornton, a person you hated at one time in your life.”

Margaret flinched at the remembrance.

“I’ve had a ladder to climb all of my life that would equal the tallest building in the world, and I am only a couple of rungs from the top.  And I know the top is achievable, now.  As for the Thornton proclamation, it is now null and void because I know that you love me, even if you are not completely and utterly sure for yourself, yet.  Still, I do not want you to say the words.  And least of all, about your conception worries, let me love you tonight without any concern there.

“But . . .” Margaret started to say.

“No buts . . . Do you trust me?”  John asked solemnly.

“I do.  I just don’t see how . . . “Margaret trailed off.

John searched her fire-lit face for any signs of dissent.  All he saw was a weak smile.  He slowly stood, pulling Margaret up with him.  He looked into her eyes, his heart still hammering through his chest.  “Margaret, are you sure?”  John asked, very tenderly.

“Yes, John.  I am sure.  I’ve never been this sure about anything.”

His passion and want of her lost its long-suffering control.  The brake was released.  He took her passionately in his arms and kissed her sensuously, for a long time.  Margaret clung to him, clutching his shirt, and then finally trusting the night, encircled her arms around his neck.  Without taking his lips from hers, he lifted her to his chest, carried her to his bed, and closed the door with his foot.

“John . . .?”  Margaret said, holding her glance steady in his eyes as their lips parted.

“Shhh, Margaret,” John said softly.  “These moments of our love are going to happen between you and me.  They have been waiting in the shadows of our dreams for a very long time.  I will be extremely gentle with you.  If you say stop, I will.  I will be slow until you show me differently.  He looked deeply into her eyes for any sign of fear; the light was dim, but he saw none.  John gently set her down allowing her to stand.

“Margaret, I love you.”

He lightly moved his finger tips up her arms to her shoulders and neck.  Touching his lips to hers, his fingers slowly traced her cheeks, down her throat and finally to the nape of her neck; he pulled the ribbons and pins from the back of her hair, letting her light brown curls cascade.  His dreams and fantasies were no longer in his mind.  They were in his hands.  She had beautiful, long, full tresses that wound around her neck and down her back.  John raked his fingers through her hair, feeling its silkiness, and pulled it to his face to inhale her stimulating scent.  He held her face and hair in his hands and drew her to him for another long sensual kiss, probing all, stroking the inside of her mouth, searching for her tongue.  Margaret hesitatingly entwined her arms around his waist.  John pulled away just enough to look into her eyes, for any signs of discomfort, one final time.

“Are you very sure?”

“I am very sure.  But . . .”

John smothered her mouth with devouring hunger before she could finish.  His lips were warm and wet and they covered her mouth.  He lightly nipped and sucked on her bottom lip before parting her lips with his tongue.  John was pulling her face hard against his.  He tightened her to his frame, so they could each feel every soft curve and rigidness of the other.

“Margaret?”  He could see her eyes were closed, but she was responding sensually, whether she was aware of it or not.

“John, I am anxious and frightened at the same time.  This has been a very long time for me.  There was very little intimacy in my marriage.  So . . . please John, take care with me.  I’ve had a very sheltered and sparse physical relationship and don’t know what to expect.  I am already more overwhelmed than I ever was in my marriage.  I don’t think I will know what to do.  I feel so different,” Margaret said, with a hushed voice that trembled as she spoke.

“Margaret, I love you more than life itself.  You will not have to know what to do.  I will guide our passionate journey, my love.”  John whispered these words as he wrapped his arms around her and held her for a long time, letting the fear lessen and the anticipation grow.  John knew he didn’t want to scare or spare her.  He swayed and rocked her, there, where they stood.  He would not let it end too soon.

The gas light from the mill yard cast shadows and spilled angles of light into the room.

Still standing by the bed, John began kissing her again.  He teased her with his tongue.  Long slow probes that were making Margaret’s knees weak.  He held her tightly realizing he was overwhelming her, which he had intended.  He slowly turned her toward the light streaming in the window and unbuttoned the clothing that bound her.  He did this as he kissed her, stopping only to place her hands on his shirt, encouraging the same sensual act of removing his clothes.

Margaret began to unbutton his shirt at the neck, exposing his dark chest hair across his broad frame.  His maleness was unfolding in the dimness of the night.  The slowness of this passionate act was building the anticipation, stronger than it had been only a moment before.  She unbuttoned his shirt further, pulling it out of his trousers.  Only recently, she envisioned  this moment.

John pulled it over his head and then turned to Margaret, completing all the fasteners of her clothing.

His body was beautiful, muscular, and so . . . masculine.  She rubbed her hands through his chest hair and circled his flat nipples, stimulating them into a hard bead with the light touch of her finger tips.  He closed his eyes and sighed, almost bringing his own movements to a standstill while he felt her delicate touch to his body.  He couldn’t ever remember being this hard.  Opening his eyes and looking into hers, he slowly slid the dress off of her shoulders and let it drop to the floor, revealing lovely, pristine, translucent shoulders.  He pulled her forward and kissed each shoulder, her neck, and throat, moving back to her lips as he let her corset and petticoat slip from her body.

Margaret was standing there, only in her undergarment, in shyness, with naked bosoms.  John looked down and cupped both of her well-rounded breasts with his warm hands, as he leaned down and gently kissed each one, running his tongue over her nipples.  He loved the fact they were already responding like lush berries, pink, pebbling, and sweet.  He breathed in the scent of her.  He was on fire.  He could feel her feminine shivers as he moved from her breasts.

He took Margaret’s hands and brought them back to his trouser opening.  She found all the closures, and she could not miss the hard ridge that was lying beneath.  She trembled at his size.  His manhood was . . . He was a big man in all his attributes.  She wasn’t sure how . . .

His trousers dropped to the floor.  He stood in his undergarment and she stood in hers.  John gently removed her undergarment slowly and then his own, freeing his erection.  He sat on the edge of the bed, and drew her in front of him.  With the pale light of the outside gaslight casting its light upon her, with her ivory cream skin, she was the most beautiful creature his eyes had beheld.  He moved her back a few inches so he could take in the whole radiant image of her femininity.

Margaret was quaking with her own shyness.  “What does he think of me?”  She trembled.

Holding her arms out to the sides for her, he said, “Margaret, you are exquisite.  You are perfect and lovely, and soft.  You are more beautiful than I dreamed.  You are the closest I can get to heaven, while here on earth.  I have imagined this moment for years.  God help me to be the man worthy of the woman who stands before me.”

Margaret, having been holding her breath, now exhaled a loud sigh.  She felt relief from John’s most beautiful words.  “I am here because I want to be with you, she told him.  “I want to know you; I want you to hold me, and I want to feel your body and to feel your breath upon my face.”

He kissed her almost translucent skin, circling her nipple with his tongue before drawing her into his mouth with a strong but gentle suckling.  The taste of her was sweet as honey, and she started to sigh softly, while wavering on her feet.

He reached for her and pulled her down on top of him, as he lay back on the bed.

Lying on top of John, she was very aware of his erection.  Margaret felt the heat stirring her own womanly area as he pressed against her.  He adjusted her so that his hardness was pressing into the notch of her thighs.  She was always inhibited with Booker when they were naked, even in the dark.  She now felt nothing but the need of John and his firm lean body touching hers.  Two naked lovers were casting shadows against the wall for the very first time.

John sensing that his own firmness was losing control, rolled her onto her back, so he could look into her face and kiss her again, but he knew he had very little time left before he erupted.

“Are you sure about the conception?”  Margaret asked softly, still unsure.  “I trust you, but how can you stop now, or me, either?  I’ve never felt these sensations.  I don’t know how to bring them down.”

“You won’t have to, and I certainly won’t let you.  Give yourself to me without any fear.  I have waited an eternity for this moment.”

“I want to give myself to you, but it’s the wrong . . .”

“No, my love, there are no wrong times.  These ‘times, that you seem embarrassed about, make you a woman, and I love you because you are this woman.  God has brought you back to me.  We will be united as one in the future, but not tonight, and neither of us will be disappointed.”  He turned her wet simpering face towards his.  “Look at me.”  He knew she would soon find solace.

“Give me your hand, my love . . .  Keep looking at me.  I want to look into your face.”

John took her hand and slowly guided her toward his erect penis.  “With your warm hand, just hold me and feel me.  That is the only passion that I need right now.”

Margaret, timidly, took John into her hand, grasping the firmness of his manhood.

John inhaled loudly.  “Oh dear God, Margaret,” he barely whispered.

Feeling his length and girth, and smoothness, she slowly started to stroke him, even though he hadn’t asked for that.  She sighed at first and then trembled over his size.  John, struggling for concentration, was looking at the uninhibited innocence on her face as she touched and caressed him.  Margaret watched as he slowly closed his eyes and shuttered heavily against her, gasping deeply with completion.  She felt the flood of his warm release.

With misted eyes, John hugged her tightly.  “How I’ve longed for you to touch me in that way.  Thank you,” he reverently whispered into her ear.

Margaret wrapped her arms around John, loving the fact that he reacted to her with his manhood.  “Thank you, John, for responding to me in that way.  I feel . . . well . . . I don’t know how to explain how I feel . . . needed.  Perhaps, I feel needed or wanted, as a woman, to bring you to that act.  It was so fast.  Could I do better next time?”

“That was fast for both of us, but it’s only because I have wanted you and needed you for four years.  There was love from both sides, and that never warrants regrets.  We will learn together, since I will need and want you for the rest of my life; this will happen again.”

Margaret kissed him, but he pulled her over on top of him again, and they kissed for a long time.  He slid his hands up and down her smooth back and buttocks, just feeling her fevered skin and soothing her emotions.  She could feel that John’s arousal was returning.  She lifted herself up on her elbows and said, “Maybe, it’s best if we stop now.”

John held her fast, not letting her go.  “Oh, no . . . not yet.  I’ve only just begun.  You are staying in this bed all night.”  He gently turned and laid her on her back.  He lingered over her, kissing and licking her face, while he parted her legs slowly with his knee, determined to show her pleasure.  He was going to explore and enjoy every part of her body.  “I want to know all of you, Margaret, the feel of you, the scent of you, and the taste of you.  My hands and tongue have been waiting for the discovery of every texture of you, from head to toe.”

John began very slowly letting his hands and tongue, cover all of her.  Margaret started wincing beneath his touch, to some extent from embarrassment and partly from ecstasy.  Her sheltered life had never prepared her for this.  “Oh John,” she murmured.  She felt like a thunderbolt was starting to travel through her body, searching for a release to the outside, as his hands roamed.

He began his soft kisses around her neck and down to her breasts, already hard with anticipation.  After licking and suckling at her breasts, he continued down to her abdomen, circling her navel, while his hands now glided from her breasts to her inner thighs.  He encouraged her slim thighs to open for him, to welcome him into their embrace.

Timidly responding, she felt exposed and helpless, about to burst into flames.

“How long can I bear this . . . this . . . ?” she moaned.  It did not matter, for he was not going to stop.

“Just let the sensations happen; just let go,” John whispered.

Still kissing her lower abdomen, his gentle hand stopped at her soft mound.  His finger entered her.  First one and then another.  He loved hearing her moans and her rapid breathing.  His slid his wet fingers out of her sheath and found that most sensitive area of her, and started to massage her delicately, like butterfly wings’.  He knew this was going to cause the greatest response.  Her legs started to tremble.  She was too close, so he stopped for a moment, watching her body yearn to go on.  She started to arch her back.  John wanted to sustain her pleasurable torment a bit longer.  He could feel her sensual desire rising, so he held her writhing hips and legs tenderly, readying them for his sensual assault.

Her consciousness started to reel out of control.  She was shuddering on the brink of . . . what… she didn’t know.  “What’s happening to me?”  John heard her gasp.

“I am loving you, Margaret.”

She quieted down, but John could feel her body shaking violently.

“Margaret, don’t hold yourself back from me, release your feelings.  I love this as much as you do.”  He had wanted to give, only her, this pleasure.

John lightly parted her soft mound with his tongue.  He had waited a long time to pay this sweet tribute to her femininity.

A startled cry tore through her when he claimed her with his mouth.  He knew to be as gentle as possible now.  Tenderly exploring her folds, his slow tongue swirled and licked, and stroked and savored the sensitive area at the top of her cleft, wanting to send her over the edge.  He gently circled the outer rim of the soft entrance to her body.  Returning to her sweet erect womanly nub, he could feel light throbs there as he paused; they matched her rapid heartbeat.  He knew she was there, teetering, where he wanted her.

Margaret would have screamed from the wildfire running through her if she had any breath, as everything seemed to center on that one single spot.  She could feel his wet hair lightly brushing the insides of her thighs.  Her back bowed in agonizing pleasure.  She was the tempest to his calm.

“Joh . . .”

John knew she was existing only through her physical sense at this moment, and he was controlling her.  She was heavenly in her responsiveness.  She was fire beneath him.

He was dispatching her to luscious torment.  “John,” she cried out, piercing the silence, as she was consumed in sensual swirls sweeping her upward to the pulsating darkness at the top of the unknown.  Her body clenched unbearably and tightened, and John held her down with his mouth.  She cried for mercy, but John had none.  The sensual tension became tighter and tighter.  She couldn’t breathe, and her heart was beating so rapidly, she was beyond caring whether she lived or died through this.  She could not hold on any longer, and it suddenly snapped.  She heard her own blatant cries and moans, disbelieving they were coming from herself.

Margaret split the silence again with her exquisite sounds of euphoria.  “Dear God, John!”

John heard her loud cry and felt her body quake and her muscles quiver.  He allowed himself a smile and only a few brief moments of breath before he started again.  He did not want to stop.  He felt her hands tighten on his shoulders, and her nails dig into his skin.  This moment was so spectacular; he loved giving her this pleasure.  She found his hair and pulled it, trying to coax him away, but he wouldn’t stop.  He wanted so much to hear her sounds, to listen to her continued moans, to feel her legs tremor and spasm.  He climaxed again only from the pleasure of feeling and listening to her.  John wanted to enter her so badly, but he knew he could not.

“Joh . . . Joh . . . John . . . I’m . . . going to . . . faint . . .

He pulled himself up to kiss her neck and shoulders, and cheek, and held her while she quivered and cried as her orgasm floated her back to consciousness.  He almost cried himself for this most precious of moments.

“I didn’t know . . .  I had the capability to feel whatever that was, in every muscle, and nerve ending, “Margaret said between gasps for air.  “I can’t stop crying and I can’t stop smiling from the miraculous feelings.  John, you have brought the dawn of an awakening to my womanhood.  I thought I was being driven mad until . . . until I  . . .

“You climaxed, Margaret.  It’s called an orgasm, apparently your first, and you don’t know how happy, as a man, it makes me feel to be the one to bring that to you.  I once hoped to be first in your life for that experience, and now I find that I am.  I’m afraid I am going to weep, myself,” John said ardently to her.

“I have never experienced this, or anything close to it, before.  And just when I thought I was falling gently back to earth, you brought it back again, leaving me unable to breathe.  I think I was on the verge of a delirious faint.  John, I felt your passion run all the way through my body; every fiber was on fire. All worry and embarrassment was gone, until I just burst inside.  I didn’t want you to stop, but I just couldn’t take the pleasure anymore without fainting.  I feel so selfish.

“Margaret, you are a woman in every way possible and thank you for allowing me to show you that.  I was taken away with your rapture, by your response to me.”

John held her close, both their hearts racing because of the physical action, but more obviously from the emotional connection they had just shared.  These were the most wonderful moments of both of their lives.  It ended all too soon, though.  It wasn’t all it would be someday for both of them, but it is everything right now.  He had taken Margaret to the edge and caused her to fall into ecstasy.  He had never wanted this kind of exalted pleasure with anyone else, and had never felt this gratification, so overwhelming to him.  John realized that this union, this evening, had brought to him the most aspired moment in his manhood: His ability to carry Margaret to the zenith of her orgasm and hold her there, giving her all she could take.

 

She is a woman, and she is mine.

 

“John, I don’t have the words to describe what you caused to happen to me.  I’m sorry that you could not engage in it the way you would have wanted to do,” Margaret said, feeling her breasts heave as she struggled for air.  I’m not sure I would have permitted it, had I known the immeasurable pleasure that I would be receiving, and you with none.

“Margaret, I would not have exchanged my own pleasure in this for anything in the world, except more of it.  You cannot know the emotional climax I have experienced.”  John held her tightly.  “Someday, we will have a life full of this, you know.  I just want you in my arms every minute of the day.”

They lay together in silence letting their luxuriant feelings ebb.

“Margaret, you are positively glowing,” John said, as he watched the light streaming in on her face.  “And we still have the whole night ahead of us.”  Although she couldn’t see it, she could hear the smile in his voice.

“I wonder how long this floating feeling will last.  I feel like I have wings.  I would have it forever if I could, but John, can I ask you something?”

“Of course, you can.  Never ask if you can ask me.  Whatever is on your mind, I want to know all about it.  And yes, you can have it forever.  That’s certainly my intention.”

Margaret looked rather embarrassed and in hushed tones asked, “Was that legal?”

John, trying to be a gentleman and a sensitive passionate man, couldn’t help himself, but nearly came off the bed, bursting with laughter.  He should not laugh but he was so happy, and it was the perfect finish to their first hour of the night.  “Oh Margaret, my love, how innocent you are.  Magistrate as I am, let me put it this way:  Whatever two consenting adults want to do in their own privacy is legal.  The key word, of course, is consenting.  But yes, it is legal between two people who love each other.  Why?  Do you wish to file a complaint to someone?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes? . . .  You do?”  John almost gulped.

“Yes.  Why have we waited this long to be together like this?  I wish you were the first man to take my virtue, but then again, I wouldn’t have known what an extraordinary lover that you are.

“And Margaret?”

“Yes, John?”

“It gets better!”

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John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 18

Chapter 18

     The Gift

 

Hearing Dixon coming through the door downstairs, John and Margaret grabbed their clothes and scattered to their own rooms, laughing hilariously, like school children putting a frog in the teacher’s desk.  John quickly dressed and returned to the parlor, just as Dixon came up from the kitchen.

“Hello Dixon, I didn’t think you would be back this early.  Did you have a nice time?”

“Yes, I did.  Master, I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s snowing again, not nearly as hard as before, but I thought I’d better get back in case it got bad.  I just came up to tell you I was home and about the snow.  Goodnight Master.”

“Thank you, Dixon, and goodnight.”  John went to the window; the snow didn’t seem like it would amount to much.  He waited for Margaret to return, but she didn’t.  It was after 10:00, so he decided to turn in.  Still crowing to himself over the game, he turned the lights off and went to his bedroom, delighting in his new treasure.  He wondered if life could possibly get any better than this, but he knew it could.  Before retiring, John returned to the Christmas tree and hung his mother’s ruby pendant, her gift to Margaret, at the top of the tree.  It wouldn’t be easily seen, but he would wait for her to notice it.

 

The morning broke with a beautiful pristine vista, as far as one could see.  No one was coming to the mill; there were no sounds, nothing to disturb the light dusting of the snow that had fallen last night, painting the entire landscape in white, with tiny sparkling diamonds, whenever the sun caught it.  John woke at his usual early time, but the house was already alive with many voices coming from downstairs.  He went down the backstairs into the bustling kitchen and was taken aback by five people trying to get around each other, as they headed in different directions.  With a rather loud voice, he said, “Happy Christmas to all.”  Everyone echoed back the same and went about their work.  Dixon asked if Miss Margaret was awake; John answered, he didn’t think so.

“Would you care for a cup of tea while you wait on Miss Margaret?”  Dixon asked the Master.

“Yes, bring a pot upstairs, if you don’t mind.”

John had just finished adding a dab of rum into the teapot, when Margaret emerged in an exquisite emerald-green  frock, very dressy and festive.

He inhaled deeply and went to her.  Pulling her into his arms, he started to waltz her around the room.  “You are dazzling, this morning, Miss Margaret.  Happy Christmas, my love,” John whispered to her.

“And a Happy Christmas to you, Mr. John.  I see that you waltz, sir.  Is there no end to your talents?  I cannot find the whole of you.”

“Do you mean like last night?  You were very close to finding the whole of me,” John whispered boldly, with a big grin, still waltzing her around the room.

 

What has come over me?  Why did I say that?  Where is this coming from?  Where are my manners?

 

Margaret blushed over that comment, sensing it had an air of inevitability.

As he continued to waltz her in a circle, he pressed his lips to hers, giving her a firm but light kiss.  Opening her eyes as they parted, Margaret noticed that the mistletoe had been hung from the chandelier.  “I see you put up the mistletoe.”

“Me?  I saw it and thought you did it.  That’s where we were when I just kissed you.  Let me fix you my spiced hot tea and give you a warning  . . . do not go downstairs,” John said, as he walked over to the teapot on the dining table.

“I think I can hear why.”  As Margaret strolled over to the fireplace, she was remembering last night.  She found a small length of yarn that had not burned, and placed it in her book that still sat on the table.  What a precious keepsake, she thought.  On some distant anniversary, she would present it to John and remind him how he cheated.

The heightened excitement seemed to make the day go by quickly.  John had set the bar with everything except champagne, which would come later.  He talked Adrian into tending the liquors.  Margaret checked the table and the upper floor for tidiness, as if she was lady of the house.  This did not escape John’s elated, rapt attention.

The smell from the meal cooking drifted upstairs.  The bar was ready and the table properly prepared to Margaret’s liking.  There was only an hour left to go before Branson picked  up his lady friend, the Professor and Mr. Granger.  John was browsing through a book, but kept one eye on Margaret as she walked back into the room checking that everything was in its place.  She was standing looking at the tree from a distance.  She moved closer as John continued watching her.  As her eyes drifted away, she thought she glimpsed something glittering near the top of the tree.  She stopped and tried to see it again, but she couldn’t find it.  She walked back and forth, looking up, trying to catch the light on it at just the right angle.

John thought what a wonderful portrait that would make.  This was an extraordinary Christmas.

Margaret stopped and stared.  It looked like a chain of some kind.  John had intentionally tucked the pendant behind a bough, so it couldn’t be seen.  He watched as she tried to reach for it, but she was too small.  He didn’t think she realized he was in the room, because she hadn’t asked for his help.

“Darn him,” John heard her mutter, “we agreed to no gifts.  That looks like a very beautiful gold chain to me.  Where is he?  Wait until I get my hands on him!”  She turned and found him standing directly behind her as she walked straight into  his chest.  “Oh, there you are, sorry.”  John looked down at her, giving nothing away.  “I thought we agreed not to buy anything for each other this year.”

“I’m here so you can get your hands on me.  What are you talking about Margaret?”  John said smiling, still wondering about the piffle that was springing from his mouth.

“This!” she said, as she jumped, pointing to the gold chain.  “I guess that got there like the mistletoe.”

John started laughing.  “I did NOT hang the mistletoe on the chandelier, and I did NOT buy you that, whatever it is.”  He now wondered who DID hang the mistletoe.

“Well, what is it, then?  Where did it come from?  John Thornton, I do not believe you.”

John reached up on his own toes to lift the necklace very slowly off the top branch, finally exposing the large heart pendant, swinging from the heavy gold chain.

As he lowered the gem to Margaret, she gasped when he put it in her hands.  “John, this is absolutely stunning.  It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen . . . a beautiful ruby heart.”  She smiled up at him and pulled his lapels down for a kiss, a deep kiss.

John wrapped his arms all the way around her, crushing her to him and kissed her fiercely, slowly thrusting his tongue around and in and out.  It was a very carnal kiss; he was making love to her with his mouth and tongue.  Margaret’s knees weakened, and once again, she fainted.  John carried her to her room and laid her on her bed.  He sat beside her, and hollered for Dixon.

Dixon arrived promptly and before she could become hysterical, John said, “She’s fainted.  Please get me a cool wet cloth.”  Dixon rushed out of the room returning in less than a minute.

Handing the cloth to the Master, she asked what happened.  “She was given a nice gift and it overwhelmed her.  I gave her the heart pendant that my mother wanted her to have.  She’s coming around; would you mind leaving us?”  Dixon backed out of the room as she saw Margaret’s eyes begin to flutter open.

Margaret slowly sat up trying to focus her vision.  John moved enough so she could swing her legs over the side of the bed.  She kept staring at the gem in her hand, realizing that it was an antique, or a family heirloom.  “John, tell me about it.”

John told Margaret the story and ended with telling her how his mother had wanted her to have the necklace.  On her death bed, she had accepted Margaret as John’s love, and wanted to apologize for how she had treated her.  John put his arm around her waist while she cried heavily into his shoulder.  She couldn’t stop the flood of tears.  She had always known that she was not well received by John’s mother, and for that, she also carried guilt.  John took the pendant from her and placed it around her neck, noticing how beautifully the red heart hung against her ivory skin and emerald neckline.  Once fastened, she grabbed the large gem immediately and held the heart tightly in her fist.  It was as if she was “willing” the stone to mend the distance between herself and his mother, for John’s sake.

The first guests were arriving, and John handed her his handkerchief as he rose to greet them in the hall, just outside Margaret’s bedroom door.  It was Higgins and his family.

Upon seeing Margaret come out from her bedroom with red eyes and a runny nose, a sense of sadness wilted the moment.  Margaret quickly said they were –tears of joy- and showed them the necklace.  Higgins looked over at John.  “That was an heirloom gift, specifically to Margaret from my Mother, before she died.  That’s why all the tears.  I’m lucky you came in when you did, or I might not have escaped the same fate, myself.”  Higgins clapped John on the shoulder, saying nothing but giving him a smile.

Margaret gave Nicholas a hug and turned to Peggy.  Nicholas introduced Peggy to Margaret, and the ladies held hands, as they bid each other hello and made the appropriate greetings.  Margaret turned to greet Mary next.  She looked so pretty without her work clothes and severe hair style.  Margaret could see a beautiful young woman emerging.

Adrian arrived to take the drink orders.  Everyone found a place to sit, and they all became caught up in the spirit of the holiday.

With Margaret’s guidance, the conversation flowing cheerfully for a half an hour; soon the Professor arrived and was escorted upstairs by Branson.  Margaret introduced him to everyone.  Both Nicholas and Peggy were interested to hear of his work.  John was content to sit back and let the others talk while he studied his ‘once shy’ Margaret, blossoming into the happy woman she was becoming.  She had a beautiful profile, which he rarely seemed to see.  How could such a small demur woman, with ivory skin, blue eyes, light brown hair, and an independent temperament sweep him off his feet so completely?  He was always off balance around her, never feeling his feet touch the ground.

God . . . how deeply, I love her.

 

Dinner was then served, with Nicholas and John seated at the ends of the table.  There was lively conversation throughout the meal; the food was excellent and plentiful, and everyone was partaking of the holiday spirit.  The goose was cooked to perfection, along with all the trimmings that accompanied a traditional holiday dinner.  The Professor regaled them with Christmas celebrations in other lands, while Margaret spoke of their cotton waste snow trimmings and the magnificent pianoforte that awaited her.

Later, Margaret thought she heard something from far off.  Not quite knowing what it could be, she said, “Quiet everyone,” as she stood and tried to listen.  With the silence in the room, it quickly became clear that they were being serenaded with Christmas carols, from below stairs.  All seven folks from the kitchen came up the stairs singing and stood behind everyone at the table.  They sang, “The First Noel,” and the tabled clapped with pleasure.  As they sang a second carol, each of the seven filled their hands and trays with dishes from the upstairs table, and had it cleaned off in one quick swoop.

John stood and thanked all of them.  “Before you leave, and I know your arms are full, but I wanted to thank all of you for the lovely dinner today.  I know everyone worked very hard, even our two guests downstairs, who seemed to have been enlisted.  Branson and Dixon, please introduce your guests.”

Branson and Dixon did as they were told, to the embarrassment of their guests.  Margaret introduced Adrian and the two cooks.  The merry singers returned to the kitchen, laden with dishes and trays.

With the dishes cleared, John asked everyone to remain at the table a little longer.  Margaret and Peggy were enjoying talking to each other.  They were going to be close friends; Margaret could feel it.  She was a gentleman’s daughter, but did not regard herself that way, just as Margaret herself felt.  She was warm, intelligent and no airs.  She was perfect for Nicholas.

John excused himself for a minute, while Adrian brought out champagne glasses and poured a glass for everyone.  He returned to the table, as five faces looked at him in bewilderment.  It appeared, they were waiting for something else to happen.

The Professor, looking at John, anticipated a toast of some sort.  “If I could be so bold as to say something right here?” he asked.

John motioned for him to continue, and took his seat.

“Nicholas, I wanted to tell you that you were given a very nice compliment.  I haven’t told John this;  I wanted to tell you both.  Mr. Bryan McNeil stopped by the office yesterday.  I had to decline a dinner invitation with him for this evening because I wanted to be here.  I told him that I would be at Mr. Thornton’s home, with his overseer and betrothed, but I didn’t mention you by name.  He asked me if your name was Higgins, and I said yes.  He said he did not know you, but in his past 10 weeks here in Milton, he had made inquiries and had heard a lot about Marlborough Mills.  It seems that whenever Marlborough Mills was mentioned, your name would come up as a highly regarded overseer.  Mr. McNeil heard  about your ingenuity in helping the people of Marlborough Mills, and the owners, come together.  He’s also quite interested in hearing why John hired you after you almost forced the loss of his business.”  Ending there, the Professor smiled and sat back down.  There was a smattering of applause.

As everyone politely laughed, Higgins felt quite embarrassed.  Mary and Peggy looked at him proudly, while John and Margaret looked at each other as if to say, “I’ve never seen him embarrassed before.”

Higgins finally spoke, “Professor Pritchard. I don’t know what to say.”

Standing with a champagne glass raised in his hand, John said, “Well . . . I do.”

John paused to let the words settle in and to raise the anticipation of what he was about to say.  Clearing his throat, John began.

“Nicholas,  as you know, you have not only become my best friend over these last few years, but a very good part of Marlborough Mill’s more recent success is driven directly by you.  I don’t think I have ever thanked you enough for all you have done for the mills and for me.  The Mills owe you a great debt, and so do I.  I want to settle that debt, right now.  I hope you are comfortable in gentleman’s clothes, because for your wedding present, I am giving you and Peggy a 15 percent partnership in all of Marlborough Mills.  Nicholas, you are now an owner in the business and no longer an overseer.  I have paperwork for you to sign,” John said, as he pulled a folded deed out of his coat pocket.

“Of course, this means that you have to come up with your share when we purchase Slickson Mills.”  John smiled.

Silence hung in the air with disbelief.  There was a pause, as everyone came to grips with what he had just announced.

“Nicholas, you are going to have to find a Higgins for us.  Welcome to the land of property and the rank of a gentleman.  Thank you for everything.  A toast: To Nicholas Higgins, now a partner in Marlborough Mills.  Oh, here are your two tickets to the Chamber’s Ball coming in early spring.”

Everyone stood, except Higgins, and raised their glasses.  He was so overcome with emotion. His eyes misted.  Slowly, he got to his feet and lifted his head toward John.  His eyes were glassy, now.  He lifted his champagne glass, and everyone clinked their crystal together over the center of the table.  Margaret, Mary, and Peggy had huge smiles on their faces. John had a broad smile on his face, and Nicholas was speechless.

John added, “No one deserves it more than you, my friend.”

John caught Margaret looking at him with the most endearing look on her face.

Nicholas cleared his throat, barely able to stutter out the words, “Master; I don’t know how to thank you for this.  I am speechless; I mean, I really am speechless.  Thank you, thank you very much from myself, Peggy and the rest of the family.  How does one thank someone for giving them such a magnanimous gift as a partnership?”

“Nicholas, it is I who needed to say to thank you.  Not you.  Things are going to change very rapidly for you.  I have already set the paperwork in motion as you see here, so you better buy yourself a whole new gentlemen’s working wardrobe.  And henceforth, you call me John, no matter who is around.  No more Boss or Master.  That title now belongs to you, too.”

Peggy leaned over and embraced Nicholas and turning to John, said, “Thank you from me, as well.”  Mary kissed him on the cheek.

Margaret came to John’s end of the table.  She looked up into his happy face as he looked down into hers.  She was in awe of this man once again, the one who said he loved her.  She looked into his face for a long time before finally saying, “John, that was the nicest, sincerest  gesture I have ever seen.  I am so proud of you for what you just did.  As I’ve said in the past, there is no end of you.  You gave Nicholas the respect he deserved at a great personal cost to yourself.  That was a beautiful show of passion for your conviction and belief in him.  You are passionate in more ways than one,” she said with a smile.

 

Margaret, you hardly know the beginning of my passion.

 

Little did anyone know that John was getting the better reward hearing her words of praise for him.  He had wanted her love, but gaining her respect and having heard her say those words were another miracle in his life.  He smiled down into her face, wanting to thank her lips for what they had just spoken.

Margaret, sensing the same feelings, quickly went to the other end of the table to hug Nicholas and Peggy.  John followed her.  John put his hand out to Nicholas who grabbed it with both hands, firmly.  The men hugged each other like old friends, while the women did the same.  The Professor walked to the end of the table, too, and offered his congratulations, saying, “You will have a large part in my book as well, but that was planned for you even before this great night.”

The evening eventually ended with Nicholas, once again, thanking John for everything.  Margaret said goodbye to both.   The Professor accepted a ride home with Nicholas, thus freeing Branson for the evening with his lady.

A sense of merriment mixed with pine scent, and holiday cheer filled the spirited evening.  Now, being totally alone until dawn, John and Margaret settled into the comfort of enjoying each other’s company.

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John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 16

Chapter 16

     A Sensual Moment

 

Margaret woke with a start, suddenly conscious of the fact that she didn’t have a holiday gift for John.  She didn’t have anything for anyone.  She was sure it wasn’t expected of her this year, but she must talk to John to ensure he wasn’t going to purchase a gift for her.

Finding him dressed for the day, already reading his paper, Margaret said, “John, I want to talk about gift exchanging.  I know there is a Thornton Proclamation, in effect, but I would have liked to have gotten you a small gift, but I haven’t had time.  Please tell me you are not going to purchase anything for me.”

“I cannot promise that because the first thing we will do this morning is to procure a pair of snow boots for you, unless you have some at your home.”

“Why, yes, John.  I do.  We’ll visit my home first and talk with Adrian.  And I’ve realized another person we forgot to invite, Mr. Granger, Dixon’s gentleman.  Maybe she should be given this evening to visit him.  Could Branson take her over to see him tonight?”

“Yes, if she’d like that, it is fine with me for the carriage use.  How many would that make below stairs if everyone attends?  We may have to find a second goose today.

Margaret started prattling off the names, flipping her fingers in the counting.  “Let’s see, two Cooks, two Housekeepers, two Drivers/Chore men, Mr. Granger, and Branson’s lady friend.  That’s eight below stairs.  That huge work table should sit everyone.  Upstairs, we’ll have . . . let me think . . . six.  Dear me, that is 14 people for dinner, and your cook was probably only expecting 3 or 4.  I’ll go talk with her, now, and ask what she might need in the way of food.”  Margaret disappeared down the stairs before John could tell her where he was about to go.

John waited, putting the day together in his mind.  They would be at Margaret’s home, and the Professors; they needed to purchase the liquors, along with the tree and trimmings.  He went to the back stairs and hollered to Margaret that he was going to get Branson started and talk to Nicholas about the invitation.  “I shall return shortly.”

The day progressed easily even in the deep snow.  Jane was the only one to decline her invitation, as she was expected at her family’s this year.  Nicholas was excited to have Margaret and Peggy together.  He knew they would fit well as good friends.  The Professor tried to beg off, but when he realized that his own Cook would not be cooking for him that day, he acquiesced.  A second goose was located, and a box of assorted liquors and a box of champagne was purchased; that left only the tree, cranberries, holly, and mistletoe.  John told Branson to drive around until he found some street merchants selling the holiday greenery.  He wasn’t about to go tree chopping.  John reached for Margaret’s gloved hand.  He massaged her fingers and then pulled her hand to his face and kissed the underside of her wrist, forgetting himself.  Startled at what he was doing, he said, “I’m just getting a head start on the other gentlemen.  We’ll have an early dinner when we get home.  I’ll have Branson mount the tree and bring it inside with the other greenery and the liquor.  I guess we can leave the goose in the stable overnight.  While he’s doing that, we can walk to the mill and get the cotton snow.”

“John, I’m so excited.  It all feels contented and homey.  It feels so right.  I’ve had a wonderful day today and am looking forward to decorating the tree with you tonight.  Do you keep any old lamp parts around?”

Puzzled, John said, “I think there might be a box of assorted pieces in the back cellar.  What are we looking for now?”

“It’s possible you have saved some of the crystal prisms that hang from chandeliers.  They would catch the light from the fireplace and almost twinkle.”

“I do remember seeing some of those.  I don’t know how many, but we’ll use all we find.  They’ll need washing, I suspect.”  John was carried away by the day, being able to share this holiday with his beloved.  They would be married by this time next year, he hoped.

 

She said the words – “It all feels contented and homey.  It feels so right.”  That is the best gift I can receive.  

 

John and Margaret arrived home and walked over to the mill, instead of taking dinner, while they were still dressed against the cold.  As she walked into the mill office, Margaret couldn’t help but reminisce about her only other time there.  Seeing the white cotton waste hang and drift through the air had been beautiful, almost as inspiring as her first impression of John, standing tall in his black coat as he oversaw the workers.  He was truly a vision at first glimpse that day.  However, the image faded  quickly when she saw John administer his own form of discipline to a worker who lit  a flame in a combustible area.  That was the beginning of her misgivings towards him; a day she came to regret.  It took time for her to be convinced that he had been right in his actions.

“Alright, we are here.  Just stay by me.  I am going to take you up on ‘the cat walk,’ so you can see the whole operation from a high, safe area.  Everyone will look at you and me, but I know you are not shy.”  John laughed.  He paused, wondering if he should take her hand.  Rolling the wide door open, he hadn’t made a decision.

“John, it’s positively beautiful,” she whispered.  John handed her his handkerchief to cover her mouth and nose as they stepped through the door.  “I’m sure you don’t see it that way anymore.  If it wasn’t for the noise, I would think I was in a fairytale.”

John had to lean down to hear what she was saying.  For no other reason than safety, he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her through the narrow aisle and up the six steps to the cat walk.  He released her hand.  Immediately, he turned his attention to Margaret, wanting the time to study her initial reactions.  She was fascinated.  He knew they would need another time when he could give her a good deal of information about everything.  He leaned into  her ear.  “This has been my life and livelihood for many years.  My wife will be part of this, too.”  John could barely be heard over the noise.

Turning to him, Margaret smiled with her eyes, and still holding the cloth to her face, she said, “I think I shall love being part of this.”

He didn’t expect that.  John felt his knees buckle beneath him as he had to catch his own weight on the hand railing.  The room was as noisy as it always had been, but he was sure he heard what she had said.  He couldn’t dare ask her to repeat it, but he smiled broadly, as her attention was elsewhere.  “How can she say something like that and then go on as if nothing had been said?”  John wondered.  He started to doubt that he heard what he thought he did.

 

She would love being part of this.  Could she really have said that?

 

They spent a few minutes as Margaret pointed and asked John questions, all the while the whole workforce was watching.  John felt so proud inside, showing off his lady to them.  He had never brought another female acquaintance into this first room, or any of the mill rooms.  John left her on the cat walk, while he paced the main aisle to retrieve a hemp bag of the cotton waste.  Margaret thought him almost majestic, as she watched the sight of her tall John striding down through the floating cotton.  The workers nodded as he passed, offering their greetings.  John was like a God to them.  They all smiled when he neared.  He stopped to talk with someone in charge and then proceeded down to the end of the room.  To think that he provided all these people with safe work, enabling them to live, eat, and raise families, was a hard thing for Margaret to take in.  Returning to the cat walk, John motioned her towards the steps and handed her down to the floor.  Still clutching her hand and the bag, he led her out, leaving the noise behind them.

“They are in awe of you John, as am I.”  Margaret said, returning his handkerchief.

“You?  After my confession, followed by my proclamation, you can still say that?”  John smiled.

With a serious face, Margaret continued, “Don’t laugh at me.  I mean what I say.  I looked over the . . . what . . . fifty people in there and thought about how you provide sustenance for these people and their families.  How many people work for you?”

“Close to 800, I believe.”

“What?  800?  Really, 800 people work for you?  I am most astonished.  How many other mill owners have that many people working for them?”

“No other; I am the only one.  I am in the planning stages of buying a third mill, possibly, which would add another 350.”

Margaret was beyond stunned, never having had any idea of the amount of his responsibility.  Suddenly,  she felt so very small and inconsequential.  For the first time, she had self-doubts,  about whether or not she was good enough for him.  She was perplexed as to how her attitude had radically shifted in an instant.  She was once so sure of the reverse of that emotion.

“Let us go eat and decorate our tree,”  John said, embarrassed that he was sensing some unmerited esteem emanating from her.

Our tree.  Margaret liked the sound of that.

 

Dixon was in the kitchen helping Cook wash the dinner dishes, waiting for Branson to take her to see Mr. Granger when Branson came through the back door with a tall Christmas tree.  “Oh goody,” she said, like a school girl.  “Look, Cook, a tree to decorate.  I guess Miss Margaret, and the Master are going to do that this evening.  I think it’s wonderful that they are getting along well, so quickly.”

John was down the backstairs next, heading into a back room.  Returning, he handed Dixon a box of prisms and asked her to wash them and bring them upstairs when she was done.  Taking two steps at a time, he was back standing next to Margaret.  The other furniture had been moved about the room, and they stood and gazed at the naked tree, sitting in a corner by the fireplace.

“Where do we start?”  John asked as he looked over the shape of the tree.  He turned it several times and stepped back, trying to get the straightest and fullest look possible.

“I guess we don’t have anything for the top, but that’s alright,” Margaret replied.  “We will not put any candles on it, either, like some families do.  With the cotton, it would not work, and I like the cotton better anyway.  So, we start stringing the cranberries first.  Next will be the cotton snow, followed by the prisms.  Is there a sewing basket in the house?”

John thought he remembered one over in the buffet in the dining room.  “Yes, it’s still here,” he said, walking over to retrieve it.

Handing it to Margaret, she removed what she needed and proceeded to show John how the strings were made, and then attached.  During the cranberry garland construction hour, Branson had brought up the other greenery, and Dixon brought the prisms.  The pair left, saying goodnight as they disappeared down the back steps to the kitchen.

With garland strewn in swags about the boughs, they pulled out the cotton snow next.  Margaret taught John how to make nice little tufts on the branches to make it look like piled snow, then she tried to see how much fluff she could pile on his head before he felt it.  John decorated the top branches, and Margaret decorated John until he discovered what she was up to.  He grabbed her around her waist playfully, pinning her arms down, and then stepped back.  They both encountered an uneasy moment as the merriment had stalled.

Margaret brought over the clean crystal prisms handing them to John.  “Since you are the tall one, you hang them, and I’ll tell you where.  We want it to have a balanced look.”

The prisms were spectacular, a menagerie of long, and short, pointed or tear dropped shapes of cut or faceted glass that refracted the firelight around the room.  Looking like moving stars across the sky, Margaret watched the room evolve into the heavens as John placed them.  After a half-hour of ‘little more to the left and right,’ the tree was done.  They turned to each other and smiled, proud of their creation.  John held her around her waist and pulled her back to get a full view of their handiwork.  The white snow really enhanced the tree in its dark corner, while the constellation exhibition overhead on the dark ceiling walls danced and held them breathless.

John was on the verge of losing himself until he looked over at Margaret and saw her glassy eyes, too.  Turning her to look at their tree, he stood behind her, wrapping his strong arms around her and resting his chin lightly upon her head.  No words needed to be said as they both got caught up in this uninhibited moment of contentment.  Their mirrored emotions took root, and Margaret turned in his arms to face him.  John looked down into her fire-lit face as she lifted her hands against his shoulders, encouraging him forward.

“Unless you say no, I am going to kiss you, Margaret.”

John pulled back slightly to look into her eyes for his answer.  He took her head in his hands and instinctively brushed his lips lightly over hers, letting her respond in her own measure.  Margaret reacted softly in a return kiss, allowing his lips to find more firmness.  The taste of his lips and breath stirred within her, and she was intoxicated by his tenderness and warm body, now moving against hers.  She parted her lips to taste more of him, and that was all the encouragement that John needed.  Holding her fast, he let his tongue glide across her lips, savoring her flavor.  He deepened his kiss by slipping his tongue into her parted lips.  It prowled hungrily, sweetly, wantonly, until he was certain that she felt he had a right to be there.  Stealing her naiveté, he could feel when she was momentarily startled and then relented, accepting him, yielding her innocence.

Margaret shivered with delight, surprised at the sensation she felt as his tongue searched her mouth lightly, and then he began probing her depths.  She moaned quietly.  The sensual kisses continued with Margaret participating more until she slipped her tongue through his lips.  He took her tongue and suckled it lightly, not wanting to let her have it back, which elicited a moan from each of them.  Margaret knew that Booker’s bland kisses were like soft rain compared to John’s delicious storm.  Booker kissed lightly with his lips; John kissed with his entire body.  This was love.

John knew he was dangerously close to the most intimate of acts, and he eased back, exacting every bit of his control.  Margaret was well aware of this new experience, feeling this . . . this . . . runaway passion, and welcomed the forbearance that he showed.

“John?”

“Yes, Margaret,” John whispered.

“I have never been kissed like that.  I feel dizzy from the sweet pleasure of it.  I can even feel . . .” but she paused realizing where she was headed.

 

Where were these words coming from that suddenly wanted to spring from her mouth when she was with John?

 

“Margaret, I know how and where you can feel it, it’s the same for us, both.  I’ve wanted that for us.  You can’t know how I have been turned inside out, thinking of someone else giving you these pleasures.  I am overcome, as a man, knowing I, most likely, will be the one to dispatch you to another place, another sphere of existence.  I want to kiss you like that all over, every inch of you.  I want to kiss you forever, but I think we should return to our tree, or I will carry this too far.  I think I’m doing a fine job of backing away, don’t you?”  John said laughing sarcastically.

John went to his chair by the fire to study their tree.  Margaret walked over to him and sat on his lap, putting her arms around his neck and snuggling her head on his shoulder.  Not looking at him, she said, “Thank you, John.”

As he held her and kissed her softly at the top of her forehead, he asked, “You’re thanking me again; what for?  Margaret, you never need to thank me.”

“I am just having a weak moment.  I am finding a new depth of my ability for love.  It is for you John, and I was thinking how different it is from my past.  I need your closeness.  I have been so adrift.  Regardless of your edict, I know that you are by my side; your sheltering arms are there to pull me in, should I need it; I will dare to be free of the ghosts that have haunted me these past years.  I’ll no longer feel that I cannot come to you for fear of you expecting more from me, right now.  I recognize your passion is being held at bay, because you are a gentleman and want me to be sure of myself.  I thank you for that.  I’m sure it’s costing you all your reserve, but still I thank you.”

John continued to hold her tightly, rubbing her back and kissing her temple.  “Margaret, all will be right someday, and to me every minute with you is perfect, no matter the cost.  Have you forgotten I am your guardian angel, that you once thought me?  Please, just let me always comfort you at your difficult times . . . reach out to me.  And I do know that you will be the woman, and have the life that you want someday, which will include loving me.  I know this in my heart.  You are my woman, Margaret.  And I know this from a higher authority, too.”  John smiled.

“Margaret shifted on his lap, looking more into his face.  I think you have been in my heart a lot longer than I knew.  Having been briefly married, that day on the veranda, when you stood to leave, I thought, ‘I could never be closer to him than I am right now’.  I could not accept that.  That frightened me, not knowing where that emotion was coming from, and what I would do with it when you left.  I needed to spend it, or carry it forever.  Already, I thought myself a failure in my marriage when I thought of you.”

John held her tightly and kissed her from her ear lobes, lightly down her neck to the top of her breasts.  Margaret pulled him closer to her, enjoying this most intimate sensation.  Margaret became quite aware of John’s own intimate sensation.  Before she could rise from his lap, he lifted his head and covered her mouth again with his probing tongue, causing deep moans from both.   He pulled his tongue from her mouth and let it slide down to the hollow of her neck, kissing and licking there.  Margaret put her hands in his hair and pulled his head lower, allowing him to taste the swell of her breasts.  She could feel the sweat in his damp hair, and knew his control was straining him.  She knew John wanted to remain there, stroking the deep curves of her cleavage with his tongue, as she herself wanted . . . but she must find the strength to put a stop to it now.  These sensations were all so new.  She was lost in his love; she didn’t know what she should be doing.  She pulled his hair back until he raised his face to her, and she kissed him lightly, signaling it was over.  She rose to her feet, and swept her hand under his chin, forcing him to look higher, into her eyes.  She bent and kissed his eyes closed and then walked to her room, shaking.

Margaret sat on the edge of her bed, feeling the heat settle in her tender areas.  “Oh, dear God, how naive I really am.  How can I be this age, previously married, educated, and not know that such deep sensations even existed, forgetting experienced?”  She realized it for what it was.  The passion of loving someone . . .  no, not someone…

. . . the passion of loving John.  When John said he loved her beyond all reason, she felt she could now understand what that meant.  She readied for bed, thinking of all the years that John had carried this same love for her with no hope.  Margaret cried herself to sleep, plagued by John’s misery, which both John and the Professor had told her not to dwell on.

John continued to sit in his chair looking down, replaying the moment.  She had come to him.  He raised his hands to see how badly he was shaking, never having felt like this before.  His pulse was racing and his heart felt like a wild bird, trapped, banging itself on the sides of its cage, trying to escape.  He had never needed control with other women.  He knew loving every exquisite moment with Margaret was going to be an agonizing pleasure.  These passionate encounters would eventually take a toll on him if he had many more like this one.  However, he would take them all and damn the toll.

He banked the fire, turned out the lights, and sat in the dark for another hour.  His body finally subsided, and he wondered how he would get through the next couple of days with Margaret being so close.

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 14

Chapter 14

     A Gentleman’s  Agreement

 

Margaret strolled over and closed the door to his library, forbidding even the warmth in the room, while she read the letters.  “Why am I doing this?” she wondered.  “This would not have happened with the old Margaret,” she told herself.

Sitting down, she pulled out the little pile of letters from the drawer, all addressed to her.  She noticed a mixture of dates and wondered why John had never sent them.  Two were before their London meeting on the veranda, and the rest were after that day.  None of them were finished.  Why had they lain in wait to be completed?

The ink on two of the earlier ones seemed to have been smeared, and she assumed this was the reason he had never sent them.  However, as she began reading, she realized they had been wet with his tears, and he had poured out his devastated life, and his need of her, with his pen and paper.  Her eyes filled in spite of herself, adding additional tear stains to the inked words.

 

Dearest Margaret

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . that snowy day.  .  .  .  .  . .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . if you looked back.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . .  .  . took my heart .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . alone with only memories .  .  .  .  .  . .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  love you more than .  .  .  .  .  . breath of my life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . able to go on . . .

 

John’s heart and soul were  wrung from his body onto those pages.  Margaret lost herself in his words of love and emotional disaster.  She wept, adding more of her own tears, to the words describing the desecration that she had caused in John’s life.

The next two letters were equally forlorn, but showed a ray of hope.  She remembered that day on the veranda when she discovered that there was more between them than she had realized before, but he, apparently, had known it for a very long time.  He had written that he understood nothing could be done, and she could not speak to anything, but he left that day, happy that she had come into his arms.  He felt he could cope with a life based only on that one memory.  Still, these letters spoke so much of his heart and his hopes, they would never have been sent.  Continuing to weep, she sought out the last two.

The final letters, written after Booker’s passing, showed a tempered joy, no tears, and much hope in the future with her.  There were many references to his intimate and sensual desires, some of which she had heard of last night.  She almost had to put them down, but she continued reading as she fidgeted in the chair.  Margaret doubted these were ever meant to be sent, as he was speaking most passionately from his heart and body.  She came across a strange reference to a sign from his mother.  “Whatever could that mean, with his mother now being gone?”

Still thinking about John’s strife, Margaret stowed the letters back where they came from and pulled out a sheaf of paper.  Suddenly, he came through the door.

They looked at each other, startled, and Margaret wondered if the guilt was prevalent on her face.

“Good evening, John.  I wasn’t looking for you this early.  I wanted to post a note to Edith; Dixon thought you had paper in your desk.  I hope it was alright to take a piece.”

“Yes, yes, of course.  Take all you like.  I’m sorry to disturb you.  I thought you had retired, so I was coming to look for some correspondence that is stored in my filing cabinets.  It’s of no importance; I shall leave you to your letter.  Would you like the fire lit?”

“No, thank you.  I shall be brief in my writing.”

John walked back to the parlor.  He had sensed a stiffness in Margaret, and wondered why the closed door.  That room was freezing with no fire lit.  Feeling a bit uneasy, he picked up the partially read paper from this morning.  Opening the pages, his mind elsewhere . . .

 

The letters!  She must have found the letters.

 

John did not immediately know what to do about it.  He never wanted her to know how bad his life had been without her.  She might think him weak, but it was in every one of those letters.  Why hadn’t he destroyed them since learning of her return to Milton?  As he heard her footsteps coming into the room, John began to pay more attention to his paper.  Eventually, he looked over at Margaret’s quiet form, sitting across the room from him.  She was perched on the couch, looking a bit awkward, as though she wanted to speak, but didn’t know how to begin.

“You look like you have something to say.  Is anything bothering you, Margaret?”  Now, he thought, was as good a time as any to discuss last night.

“Yes, there is John, but first I must summon my courage.”

“Summon courage?”  John thought.  He was certain she was going to bring up the letters.  Aside from the matter of harboring her brother when he was in the country and under an arrest warrant, which he, himself, never understood at the time, she was almost totally defenseless in the use of deception.  However, how was he to explain them, he wondered.

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, clearing throats and shifting in their seats, when John, not being able to wait any longer, said, “Margaret, if it’s about the letters in my desk, you need no courage to summon.  They should have been destroyed a month ago when I knew you were returning.  I am quite ashamed and embarrassed for you to know the state of mind that I have been in since you left Milton.  They do not matter.  That is all water under the bridge.  They are just ramblings of a man who loved and lost.  And the later letters are the delusions of a man in love still, never for your eyes or anyone’s but my own.  They were like a catharsis for me; instead of reliving all those moments of hopes and dreams, putting them to paper helped me not to dwell on my situation every minute.”  He could not bring himself to look directly at her.

“John, how can I apologize for looking at your private writings?  I, too, am ashamed about what I did and I knew I had to speak to you right away, but I wanted to form my response with some thought.  It was accidentally done.  I was looking for paper, but when I opened the drawer, I saw papers addressed ‘Dearest Margaret’,’ and I wondered why you had never sent them.  I can understand the why in each one of them, now.  I will not speak to the contents, but I want to talk with you about me . . . and you.

Silence was suspended in the room; the wait for Margaret to begin was almost intolerable for John.  He had much to say tonight, himself.

“Foremost, let me say that I am sorrier than you will ever know, for the misery I have caused in your life.  It’s been devastating to read.  I have never known of such love from one person to another as you expressed in those letters and last night.  I didn’t see, or know, of that depth with my parents, or in my own marriage, but I am slowly coming to know of it on my own.  You and I have fought our own demons and were lost, but now, we may be found.  My demons were self-imposed, and yours were also imposed by me – unforeseen circumstances and deception by my family – all of your private hell is on my shoulders.

“No, Margaret . . .” John tried to interrupt, but Margaret continued.

“Please, John . . .”  John sat back, but found himself gripping the claw carved hand rest on his chair, with white knuckles.

 

She cannot take all this blame.  It is behind us, now.

 

“John, please forgive my intrusive question and abrupt conduct of last night.  I am sure I surprised myself more than I did you.  It was unforgivably rude of me.  I laid awake most of the night thinking about our conversation, but came to some realizations while eating alone at your table this evening.  Firstly, I asked the question and you gave me your honest answer.  I’ve wondered why I asked it. It seemed to come out on its own.  I think it was in my thoughts because I hope to be part of your life someday, and I guess I wanted to know where the memories might be buried.  As for your answer, because of your deep love for me, you felt compelled to explain yourself, and I think it was a conscious decision you made that ran very deep.  It was a tremendous sacrifice you made and a risk you took for both of us, in admitting those intimate events, you knew would hurt me.  However, you trusted me to see my way through all that hurt, coming out on the other side knowing you have experienced all in life, and still you chose me, unknowing of the woman I may be.

 

She -did- understand.

 

“You did this because you wanted me to know all of you and have faith in your love for me.  I am prostrate at your feet for the great trust you have placed in me to find my way through that, and for the confidence, you knew I needed to recover.”

John was soon going to need to be strapped down in order to keep from coming out of his chair.

“That was not my only revelation that came out of last night, “Margaret continued.  “When you talked about your passionate promises . . .”

Bolting out of his chair, John took to the center of the room, “Margaret, I must insist that you stop there.”

“But . . .”

“No . . . please no buts.  I, too, have had a lot of thoughts, and it relates in a way to that which you are about to speak.”

“If you feel you must speak now John, then, by all means, go ahead.”

“Please try to listen with your head and not your heart.”

The moment was suspended as John paced the floor, running his fingers through his hair, endeavoring to form the hardest words of his life.

“Margaret, I have been very selfish.  You know I love you, but that should only be my concern right now.  Somehow, I’ve adopted the attitude that you are mine, or soon will be, and I have been very possessive in my thoughts, and maybe some of my actions.  You have never discouraged my advances, but that isn’t good enough.  You have lived in innocence all of your life.  You do not know the world outside your husband and me.  I cannot be totally comfortable with your lack of discouragement to me, because you have had nothing to base my affections on, except for your marriage, which you know was never a real marriage of love.  You are allowing me close, perhaps because of your touching naivety, or some obligation you may feel because of how I feel about you, or any number of other reasons.  It may be love, but we don’t know for sure, do we?”

“I think my heart does.  John, I don’t think I understand where you are going with this.”

“I am going to step back and try not to insist myself upon you so quickly.  As difficult as this is to say, I would like you to accept invitations from other gentlemen.  I would want you to compare all of your suitors, so I know when you turn to me, that you do it with a confident heart.  Just think about it, please.  When I thought about those words I spoke last evening, as much as I wanted you to know my heart, I realized I was laying an encumbrance upon you.  I don’t want you to turn to me unless you have chosen me for the one you want to spend your life with, and how can you choose without choices?  You must experience more of life.  For my sake, use your mind and see all the way through this, to the other side, for both of us,” John said, in a very agonizing but serious voice.

“John, I want to scream and yell and beat my fists against your chest, but if that’s what it takes for you to be sure of my decision, then I will do it.  I can understand you seeing it that way with my naivety, but I already know the result.  I know where I’ll be when I reach the other side.  As much as I do not want to be put through this charade, I will accept other invitations, including yours – I will not let you step back that far.  How will you handle my advancements to you?  Am I allowed that?”

“Only in moderation, until you have spent time with other men.”  John replied, almost smiling now.

“Can the Professor count as one?”  Margaret asked with that pouty face.

John, now laughing said, “No.  Spending time with your father figure does not count toward experiences of the heart.”

“You know John, I started out thinking of him as a father figure, but he is closer than that.  Strange, but he’s more like a close brother or sister to me, one who I can really open up to and talk about things that one would never speak to a parent, yet he has the intelligence and life experience to guide me, better than a parent, really.”

“Margaret, I am glad you have such a confidant in your life.  I’ve never had that, even with my Mother, and I envy you.  Perhaps, someday your husband will take on that responsibility.

“Can I ask a final question?”

“Margaret, always know that you can.  What is it?”

“In those letters in your drawer, there was a reference about your mother working on your behalf.  What did that mean?”

“Margaret, that is for another time to explain, but I promise I will some day.”

“So when does this game begin?”

“There is nothing like the present, I suppose, or whenever you feel you are passed your bereavement time, which I think should be about now.”  John said.

Margaret, breaking the tension that had saturated the air, presented her hand for a handshake.  “We have a gentleman’s agreement, then?” she asked.

John, smiling, took her hand and shook it, “I dare to say it’s better than pistols at dawn.”

They both laughed.  Every laugh between them was drawing them closer.

 

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 12

Chapter 12

     Welcome Home,  Margaret

 

The London station platform was filled with people, but at least she had missed the early surge of London workers.  Margaret had ensured that her baggage was properly stowed onto the huffing train and glanced down the long line of coaches on the track, recognizing that they led to paradise, to her destiny once left behind.

Booker’s family said good-bye to her and had just left the station.  It was a sad time, for she liked them very much, and they loved her.  They promised to come visit her and asked her to do the same.  Aunt Shaw, Edith, and Maxwell stayed there to see her off.  Lots of well wishes, hugs, and kisses passed between them as Margaret boarded her train to freedom.  Edith cried and waved her lace handkerchief to Margaret, as she stepped into her coach.

As the train pulled away from the station, Margaret waved good-bye to her only family and felt everything falling into place.  She was endeavoring to set sail into a brand-new life, ready to find direction and purpose for her existence, and perhaps, her greatest love.

She looked around at her companions in the coach.  She gazed at the young couple who were seated in the corner and the gentleman across from her.  The couple appeared to Margaret to be newly married, possibly on their honeymoon.  The young man had propped himself diagonally in a corner, and the young woman rested between his legs with her back against his chest while he kissed her hair and whispered endearments to her.  It was a scandalously improper scene, but she could feel their love and envied them.

She tucked away any thoughts of romance as she reminded herself that she was going to love her freedom.  She wanted to twirl in a circle with her hands over her head and let the whole world to know that this was a new beginning for her.  Again though, her trip was slightly disturbed as the new unknown rider, a very handsome, elegantly clothed gentleman, kept glancing her way.  Even as she read her book, she could see him through her peripheral vision and could feel his eyes burning into her, but at least he had the decency to look away whenever she would look up.

 

John was getting all of his business affairs out of the way and clearing his desk, foreseeing every detail that could interrupt the lovely time he would be spending with Margaret on her first days in Milton.  She would be staying in his home for several days, until the rest of her household furnishings arrived.  He still was in a dream world anticipating her return, and there he would remain until he saw her step off the train.
As he spoke to John, Higgins could see that, today, his friend’s enthusiasm knew no bounds.  Higgins was amazed by the change in John over the past few weeks.  In all the years of their friendship, Higgins had never seen John so full of life.  He had asked a question but noticed John was now staring out the office window and hadn’t heard a word, he said to him.  Clearing his throat rather loudly, Higgins smiled and said to John, “Ahem.  “I said when is Miss Margaret due to arrive?”
John was thinking of the face among the crowd that he would soon see.  All those passengers leaving their coaches, yet he knew he would spot her instantly.  Hearing Higgins clear his throat, he turned and said, “I’m sorry, I was lost in thought.  What was it, you said?”

“Master,” he said, “I can well understand what this day must mean to you, and I understand you’re lost in thought.  I, myself, am anxious for Margaret to return.  I wish you all the success that one man can wish another.  What I said was, when is Miss Margaret due to arrive?”
“I believe she will arrive at 2:00 this afternoon.”  John replied.”  Are you sure there is nothing that I need to be doing?”

Higgins shook his head, stating that both mills were running at top performance, and no large imports or exports were expected for several more days.  He understood that the Master already knew this, but he was only asking out of nervousness.  Higgins could see John didn’t know what to do with himself as he moved about the room, looking at books and papers, totally unfocused to any purpose at hand.  He had both hands wedged in his pockets, tumbling coins, which was something he never did.  In fact, John had remarked in the past how ungentlemanly and annoying it was when one of his gentleman friends did the same thing.  “Master,” Higgins said, smiling, “do you see what you are doing?”

Without saying the words, as he wanted the sound of the jingling coins to become apparent, Higgins pointed to John’s hands in his pockets.

“What?  Higgins, what are you pointing at?”  John quipped, frowning as he began checking the clothes he’d put on that morning.

Higgins started to chuckle as John became aware of the sound he was making.

John’s face lit with a smile, and he immediately withdrew his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Fine then, Higgins.”  John laughed.  “If you need nothing from me, then I will be off.  Should something arise, send a runner with a note.  I should be home for a short while and then I’ll head for the depot a little early in case the train is ahead of schedule.  Make sure the helpers are there by 1:30, and thanks.”
“M – i – l – t – o – n, Milton INBOUND,” came the call of the porter, who was walking the swaying train aisle.

      John had arrived at the station almost a full half-hour before the train was due, and told his driver to wait for him in the front.  His two helpers, with the cart, were at the far end of the platform, where the large baggage was unloaded.  He passed his time pacing the platform, checking his watch and looking down the tracks.  Aware that he was smiling too much, he wondered what people must think about his behavior.  He was shaking with anticipation.  John had been nervous other times, whenever he spoke to large congregations of his peers, but now that seemed like nothing compared to this moment.  This . . . this was the rest of his life about to arrive on these tracks.  John could hear the long pull on the trains whistle coming from around the bend.  He moved toward the back into the crowd that was waiting to board, and stood on a bench, hoping to see more clearly, through the crowd of departing passengers, the person who was returning with his heart and soul.
The train came to a stop, and John saw a porter open Margaret’s door – the door to his future – a vision he’d been dreaming about for many years.  Margaret was handed out by the porter, her cloak flapping in the wind and a bit of snow blowing past her face.  To John, it was as if she stepped out of a Great Master’s painting.  She wore no bonnet this day; scattered tendrils blew about her face and her hair was pulled back in a braided knot, which accentuated the arch of her neck.  John had another exquisite remembrance for his treasure chest.  Her lovely vision smote him like a fist to his abdomen.  Noticing all the gentlemen turning their heads her way, he hurried along before too many men could offer her their assistance.

When Margaret saw John standing on the crowded platform, cheeks flushed from the cold, she smiled his way.  As she watched him approach, she thought him even more handsome then a mere three weeks ago.  Aching to be with him, his approach seemed as if it was in slow motion, she became aware of his every movement, every fraction of a second that he strode towards her, smiling.  To assist her with her trunks, which seemed to have come out of nowhere at the end of her packing, he had brought two helpers with him.  John met her, doffing his hat.

“Welcome home, Margaret.  It is wonderful to have you back to stay.”  He wanted to kiss her, but instead he asked, “would you mind showing my men which are your trunks, so they can be loaded onto the wagon?”

John offered his arm to Margaret as they strolled down to the baggage area, and Margaret maneuvered through the piles, pointing out her possessions.  The men tipped their heads in recognition and proceeded to load them.

Turning to Margaret and extending his arm again, John said, “Shall we?”  As soon as she had stepped off that train, his heart started hammering through his veins.  He was sure Margaret could see it pounding through his coat and vest.

 

She is finally walking out of my dreams and into my life.

 

“How was your trip?”  John asked, nervously, smiling at her.
As Margaret began her tale about her trip, he could see the glow emanating from her rosy cheeks.  Her eyes were sparkling just the way he imagined they would, even while blinking the snow away, as she looked up to him.  Margaret was still the most beautiful creature in his universe, but now happiness blossomed out of her lit face and made him quiver inside.  John didn’t think this moment could have gotten any better, but it just did.  He steered her toward the coach but could hardly hear what she was saying, he was so enraptured by her presence and the feel of her arm around his, knowing this  was just the beginning.
“John?  John, did you hear what I asked you?”
Looking a bit shocked, John managed to stammer, “No . . . No, I am sorry, I was lost in you.”  He allowed himself to say, “I’m afraid that is the second time today that I have been guilty of that.  I humbly apologize.”

 

What a disaster, I am

 

“Let’s start over again,” he said.  “Margaret, how was your trip?”  This time John paid attention to her story.
As she finished her account of the young couple, they had arrived at the carriage.  Atop was a handsome young blond coachman wearing a nice fitted black tunic with brass buttons and a cap.  Pulling the carriage, were four shiny black horses, called a “hour-in-hand,” who had braided tails and were fitted out with highly polished brass buckles.  Margaret looked at her conveyance and felt like she was entering a fairytale coach.  She didn’t think Milton had such beauty for hire.  As John handed her into the carriage, he could see the question on her face, and he smiled to himself.  He had to sit beside her rather than across, or else he would only stare and not hear her again.

“John, these are a very handsome coach and horses.  You needn’t have gone to such expense on my behalf.”  She looked at him and saw a small smirk in the corners of his mouth.

“Nothing is too good for you, Margaret.”  His smirked widened.

“What’s that look for?  Why this expense?”  Margaret couldn’t help smiling back at John’s grin; it was infectious seeing him happy.

John tapped the roof of the coach, and Branson reined the horses forward.  “Margaret, this is not an expense for me.  I own this traveling coach, another small one and these fine horses.  Branson, the driver up in the box, works for me.  The Mills have done quite well within the past three years.  As Dixon has probably written you, I travel and speak about what we’ve done in Milton as mill and factory owners.  I speak to the issues which we have resolved and how we are still working together, as varied manufacturers, to get our product to the masses and improve the living of our workforce.  You will be amazed at Milton when you finally get a good look at the city; even I haven’t seen it all.  I’ve been selected as President of our Merchant Chamber of Commerce, and like I said before, you had a lot to do with this.”

“I what?  You’ve said that before, and I don’t know why and don’t want to hear it.  Please, stop saying so.”  She turned to look at him in wonder.  John noticed she was making the cutest little “o” with her lips.
“Well, if you’ll close your mouth, I’ll tell you why,” John said, reminiscing the fun they had, just weeks ago.  Margaret stared at him and then they laughed together as he launched into what she had taught him about his own workers and their care and living conditions.  “Because of you, along came a great change to the mills . . .”

“Oh John, I am so relieved to hear this.  Your success and wealth are very nice for you, but to think that the workers are far better off than when I last lived here just makes my heart sing.”

John’s own heart was singing.

“I will take no credit for any of this,” Margaret continued, “do not mention such things to others, either.  You were getting there. I know you were.  You were finding it very hard to accept their crisis, along with your own, back then.  You just needed the most subtle of shoves.  I am just so excited.  I can’t say how many times I’ve thought of the strife here.  When things went badly for me, and I would get upset, I would think of the workers in Milton and see my problem set against the picture of theirs.  I was always coming out ahead.”

“Margaret, you can say what you will about the people here and what they’ve suffered, but you must know that you have suffered far more.  I know of no one else who has gone through one tragedy after another, and yours were such that no one could fix them.  Margaret, you are incredibly strong.  Stronger than I, I am sure.  To be here, happy and bright, and to know that within the past four years, you lost everyone, is nothing short of a miracle.  Let’s change the subject; it depresses me to know of what you’ve endured.”

John was taking in her lovely sweet feminine scent.  His heart wouldn’t stop its heavy pounding.  Unable to resist any longer, he turned and kissed her, covering her mouth with his, holding her head, and chin.  Slowly, he pulled back, looking down at her perfect face as her eyes closed.  He kissed her eyelids and held her tight.

A poignant moment marked its place in time.

Smiling, Margaret said, “Thank you, John.  I’ve been counting the days until that kiss.  Here I am today, looking forward to a new life, one of my own choosing.  I am very happy already, and I’ve barely begun it.

As John listened, he knew Margaret was singing the lyrics of a love song straight to his heart.  “Margaret, before we get into my home, I want to take you through greater Milton.  You didn’t have a good look before.  Since we have plenty of time, now, I want you to see the uptown section where you, and the Professor will live; it’s about two to three years old.  For just a few minutes, sit back, relax, and enjoy the splendor that has bewitched Milton.”  They were both silent.  Margaret was looking out the carriage window in total awe, while John was looking at her.  He slid across the seat facing her and moved towards the window so he could see what she was seeing, in case she had questions.  Her scent was the one thing he had missed the most.  He could always be aroused by her scent: the smell of her hair, the light fragrance she wore, or the soap in which she bathed.  He could hardly restrain himself from reaching out to her this instant.  John found that he had to adjust the position of his great coat or things might become embarrassingly obvious.  He did not want her to be aware of his awkward moment.  Apparently, these rare delicate difficulties were becoming all too frequent, which he didn’t seem to mind, except for his mortification of being noticed.

“Your nice little cottage is ready for you but without all the furnishings.  Dixon is at my home still. She will be your chaperone for the coming nights.  I believe Dixon will have dinner ready for all three of us by the time we get there.  I have asked her to join us this evening.  As much as I have enjoyed having Dixon in my home, she has had a habit of mothering me, too much.  She dotes on me like I was her son.  She’s even learned to sass me on occasion, all in fun, I assure you.  It upsets me when I have to tell her that I am the boss, and she always realizes that, but little seems to deter her from doing it again.  I have to smile thinking about it.  It’s very kind of her to watch over my well being, but I think she crosses the line too often.”  Turning slightly in his seat, John leaned over and spoke into the voice box, “Branson, stop at the cottage.'”

The carriage came to a stop, and John saw Margaret’s eyes open wide with wonder; she was still in love with her home.

She inhaled loudly, “John, I think it is enchanted, like a fairy tale.  It’s like a big doll house.  I do love it, so.  I think that I shall never want to leave this lovely little place.”  She jumped across the seat, hugged him around the neck, and kissed him on the cheek.  “How long do you think before I can move in?”

John felt like he had a little girl on his hands, and she had just opened her birthday present and found her favorite doll.  “It’ll only be a few days, less than a week, I should think.”  He saw the pout on her face.  It was one of those play pouts.  None-the-less, she was disappointed, which pleased him very much because it meant she already loved being here.  From nowhere, came the thought that he wanted his first child to be a daughter.

“John, thank you for all your help with my move.”

John leaned out the window, “Home, Branson!” and turning to face her, he answered, “my pleasure.”

 

Someday I will tell her of the pleasure I felt, seeing her step off that train.

 

“I will be your ride and guide all this week for I have cleared my work for the next five days to be at your disposal, with the exception of one evening meeting.  We should be at Marlborough Mills in just a few minutes.  It’s quite close to this end of town.  You will hardly recognize where you are, from looking at the buildings.  As a frame of reference, your cottage used to be the little book store, you frequented.”

“It was?  Oh, how well I remember that little quiet book store, always filled with new things to read.  I was at it often and so was father.  The book store is my new home!  I loved that shop, but I am grateful that it has been restored to what it is now.”

John could hear the smile in her pleasant sigh.  They were pulling through the mill gates.  Dixon was waiting on the front porch when the carriage rolled up to it.  Branson came down from his box, opened the door, and let down the steps to peals of delighted sounds.  John watched Margaret and Dixon fuss over each other and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Higgins heading out of the office door and trotting over.  They hugged each other like old friends would.

“Higgins, close up the office and come on up to the house.  You shall stay for dinner, too.

Margaret noticed her carpet bag in the downstairs foyer; she assumed her trunks must have been taken on to her cottage.  Everyone ascended the stairs into the sitting room as Margaret and Dixon talked steadily.  When they got into the sitting room, John told Dixon to set another place for dinner.  Dixon knew he meant Higgins, and headed off to the kitchen.

John removed Margaret’s coat and Higgins hung his coat and cap on a peg.  John shed his great coat and waited for Margaret to enter the parlor first.  Higgins found a chair opposite where John usually sat near the fireplace, while Margaret slowly glanced around the room and then comforted her buttocks, once again on the couch.

John stood at the bar and asked for drink orders.

“Oh John, say it again, please!”  Margaret prompted mischievously.

“I’d rather not,” John said looking a bit embarrassed.

“What’s this then?”  Higgins asked, seeing John looking rather uncomfortable.

“Pleeeeeeeease,” Margaret donned her pouty face.

“Brandy, whiskey or port, Milady?  What would you prefer?”  John asked, doing a mock bow to her again, but this time coming up with a red face.  No one had ever seen John like this.

Higgins, Margaret and John, howled with laughter, mainly over John’s embarrassment of acting silly.  This was totally unheard of for him to act in such a manner.

“Miss Margaret, I have seen great and wonderful change in the Master here, since the news of your returning, but nothing like this.  How . . . did you get him to do that?”  Higgins asked, still laughing so hard, he had to wipe the spittle foaming at the corners of his mouth.

Higgins’s remark prompted more laughter all over again, as it made John seem like a performing animal act.

“Higgins, if you value your job, you will forget what you saw here,” John said, followed by another round of laughter.

Higgins asked for a whiskey while Margaret asked for a port.  John poured the drinks and handed them around.

Higgins said, “Well, is anyone going to tell me what that was all about?”

“I can hardly explain my own self,” John began.  “When Margaret showed up unexpectedly a few weeks ago, she strolled in here with all the brevity of a stage performer, announcing the new Margaret.  She was so happy, and full of exuberance that somehow she pulled me onto her stage of merriment.  We were being simple, which actually felt good for a change, but I’m sure I’ve never been that free with myself before.  Abandoning all my pride, doesn’t seem like it has been enough for her, though.  She apparently wanted you to see the act.  She shall pour her own drinks in the future.”

Margaret leaned toward Higgins and whispered loudly, “I think I should feel complimented, because I actually saw him pinch himself that night.”

For the first time ever, John was the center of humiliation.  He couldn’t stop laughing, he couldn’t stop blushing, and apparently he couldn’t stop Margaret.  He had never felt such joy before, even if it was at the expense of his pride and self-respect.  Peals of laughter echoed throughout the house, as Dixon, rolling her eyes at Cook, remarked, “There they go again; just like the last time Margaret arrived.”

Cook nodded her approval.  “This house has needed that sound since the day it was built,” she replied.

A nice dinner was served, and conversation flowed on and on about Higgins’ marriage, Margaret’s new work, the cottage, the changes to Milton and even the rumors about Slickson’s retirement and sale of the mill.  Everyone enjoyed themselves, especially John, as he glanced in Margaret’s direction, often.

Higgins rose to leave, telling Margaret once again how glad he was she was home in Milton.  He’d wanted her to see Mary, who was very excited about her return, and to meet his betrothed, Peggy.

“Thank you, Nicholas, for the warm welcome back.  I’m anxious to see everyone as soon as I am able.”

Higgins left, leaving John and Margaret alone.

They sat and talked comfortably until dark about the past three weeks and their preparations for this day.  Both Margaret and John seemed unable to keep the smiles from their faces.  Each knew they were leaving their sadness behind and embarking on a new and wondrous path in their lives.

“You’ve never seen through the whole house, would you be interested in a tour?”

“Yes, John, I would like that,” Margaret said.

To begin the tour, the two went down the kitchen steps and out the back door.  Although there was plenty of ground running back behind the mills, there was no porch on the back, to speak of, as the enlarged carriage house had taken up most of the yard.  They walked over to the carriage house, and Margaret was introduced to Branson.  “How do you do, Branson?  It’s nice to meet you,” she said, as she shivered in the frosty air.

“Thank you, Miss,” Branson replied as he tipped his cap.

Margaret, eyeing John, said to Branson, “How is it, working for Mr. Thornton?”

“It’s swell, Miss.  He’s a very fair Master.  He’s taught me things, trusts me with his horses that he loves, especially Plato.  He’s let me live over the stable.  And now that I have a lady friend, he gives me nights off so I can be with her.  I wouldn’t change this job for any other.”

“Thank you, Branson, I am sure that is a very accurate assessment of Mr. Thornton, although it was far from my first impression, which I won’t go into as I was in error.  I’m sure we will see each other a lot in the future.  Good Evening, Branson.”

“Good evening, Miss, . . . Sir,” tipping his cap.

As they walked back into the house, John told Margaret how he had admired the downstairs lavatory and the mud room in her cottage.  He would have to consider both of those additions in the future.  Entering the kitchen, all was quiet.  Cook had gone home, and Dixon was in her room.  “I’m afraid I can’t show you Dixon’s room tonight, but maybe another time.  There were several other rooms, such as a scullery, pantry, back cellar and a door that lead to a cold room below ground, plus a second lower parlor, or staff dining room, that was rarely used.  Lately it was mainly used by Dixon, for her small business, as an area for training housekeeping personnel.  Coming up the front stairs from the downstairs parlor, John led Margaret to his Mother’s room, which had been completely refurbished.  “I’ve had this room changed,” he said.  And that was all John said about that room.  They passed Margaret’s guestroom, which had once been Fanny’s old room, and proceeded through the parlor, to his library.  “I work a lot in here,” John said.

Margaret looked about the room, walking around the huge unadorned desk, taking in all his books in the glass fronted cases which had been designed for the room.  There was a comfortable upholstered guest chair, near the front of the desk, a window to the left, the desk chair and one other small chair placed against the wall.  There was an unlit fireplace.  “John, this is a nice room.  It feels warm and cozy even without the fire going.  It’s quite manly looking,” she remarked.  Then Margaret laughed, “Which I think is the point in here.”  John smiled.

The final room they came to was John’s large bedroom with its huge bed; Margaret entered it briefly on her previous visit.  At first, she was startled again at the size of the bed, but soon realized that with John’s height, he would need something much larger than average.  She walked the room, while John leaned against the door frame with his arms folded.  There was a highboy for his undergarments, socks, cravats, and the like; there was a wardrobe for his outerwear; there were two side tables, one holding a gas light, and the other a guttered candle.  A bowl and pitcher stand, with a shaving mirror, was off in one corner and two windows flanked the bed.  The room smelled masculine and seemed stark, a lot like John himself.  Margaret looked at the bed and wondered; could John have any lasting memories in that bed?  “John,” she began somewhat cautiously, “if I ask you a personal question, will you tell me the truth?”

“Forever,” John assured her, “always know that.”

Continuing to gaze at the huge bed, Margaret went over, sat on the edge, and ran her hand across the top counterpane cover.  “Do you ever entertain guests in here?”

“Entertain?”  He was dumbfounded at the word.  John straightened his frame in the doorway.  This was not a question he had expected from her.  He wasn’t sure if he should joke with her, or not.  Either way, he was not embarrassed to answer.  He realized quickly, however, that she could be thinking that he might be carrying long lasting memories of another woman.  “I have had only one woman in this room, other than my family, and that was someone named Margaret Reed; she was here about three weeks ago.”

“John, I’m serious,” Margaret told him, thinking he was attempting to humor her.

“I am too, Margaret.  I have never brought a woman into this room.  I think you are the first to even see into this room.  Do you have any other . . . questions in that regard?” he asked, as he walked into the room and sat beside Margaret.  “Let’s clear up any concern you have there.  I don’t want you wondering what I am thinking while we both might be in this room.”

“No, I don’t think I have any questions, at least not now, maybe never, but it’s really none of my business,” she finished quietly.

John took Margaret by the shoulders and turned her towards him.  “Margaret, I will never lie to you, ever.  I am a normal, sexually adept, active male.  I have always kept that part of my life private and have always been a gentleman, but if you have any questions about me in that regard, I will answer them.  I have sown my wild oats long ago.  I am very understanding of the female body and a woman’s wants and desires, but I have never loved anyone except you.  Like I said, and told you a few weeks ago, I have had sex, but never made love.  Every time I’ve lain with a woman, I have thought of only you.  My passion was withheld waiting for YOU.”  As he spoke, he rubbed Margaret’s arms up and down trying to soothe her.  “After you told me about your husband and your lack of intimacy, I dared hope to think that I might bring you new pleasures for the first time in your life.  I am a passionate man, where you are concerned, Margaret, and it’s been waiting in the dark corners of my soul for a long time.”

Margaret rose from the bed and started towards the parlor.  She had begun this conversation but no longer did she want to hear of it.

John remained seated on the bed, looking at the floor, wondering if he had said too much.  He knew instantly, like a fool, that he had.  It wasn’t what he said, but it was the pressure that he had probably placed on her.  He realized that Margaret might feel obliged to show him more than what were her truest feelings.  As much as he wanted her, he did not want that.  John raised slowly, his mind still reeling at the moment.  He turned off his light and walked back into the parlor, only to hear Margaret’s door closing.

 

God, what I have I done?  I’ve been nothing but honest.  Was I a fool?  I never want her to wonder and feel the jealous torment that I felt.

 

John paced the floor for a while wondering if she would come out.  She didn’t.  He went to her door and tapped lightly.

“We’ll talk tomorrow, John,” Margaret said through the door.  “I’m tired and I would like to sleep now.”

John walked through the sitting room, turned out the gas lights and went to his room.

He sat on the edge of his bed, going over everything he had said to her.  What could have upset her like that?  Everything, he thought . . .  everything could have stepped on her confidence.  He was trying too hard, rushing the relationship he wanted so much to build.  He wanted to do everything for her, tell her everything, touch her, and most of all show his great passion for her, something which, he realized now, was too much too soon.  She knew how he felt about her.  Previously, he had convinced himself he would let her come to him, yet he had not done that.  He was charging at her, forgetting she had just lost a husband, only to discover, soon after his death, some very unsettling news about him.  She had made the move to Milton.  She had his feelings to handle, as well as her own feelings and a new house.  She was going to be overwhelmed very soon, and John knew he had to be cautious and step back.  It was a bitter pill to swallow.

Margaret dressed in her nightwear, sat on the bed, wondering what had made her ask such a question.  She was surprised when she heard her own words coming out of her mouth.  She berated herself for not having realized that John, being the gentleman whom he was, was still an ordinary man with ordinary needs, and it was wrong of her to questioned.  Growing up, thinking of young men had never been much in her thoughts, but of course, that was her own naivety surfacing once again.  She should be thankful that John would have no awakening to other desires, as she experienced in her past marriage.  It was ludicrous for her to think she would have been the only one in his life, yet, he had never married.  How was she going to apologize for her intrusion into the personal life he had before her, and then for her disappointment in his honesty?  Sometimes, she wondered if life was fair.

 

 

 

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 7

Chapter 7

 

     She’s Not the Margret, We Once Knew

 

As the large crowd milled outside, talking, John made his way through to the chapel steps and entered the church.  He seated himself near the front, across from where Margaret was likely to be.  The organist began to play and the assembly filed inside, quickly filling the pews, until there was standing room only.  Searching through the mass of people, John finally noticed Margaret, walking down the aisle.  She was accompanied by a man and woman, who could only have been her husband’s brother and sister. John thought.  Margaret was naturally dressed in black with a netted veil covering her face.  Even so, he thought; only Margaret could still look stunning in mourning attire.  He gazed intently through the veil at her profile, surprised to find few tears being wiped away.  She was composed, as she held her head high, determined to show strength, and still accepting of yet another death in her world of friends and family.  The organ music quietly ended, and the minister began his words with a prayer to the congregation.  It was a nice service and a close faculty friend, an older gentleman, Dr. Trevor Pritchard, who gave the eulogy.  However, John’s attention was steadfastly engaged on Margaret; he was somewhat baffled that she showed little emotion.

 

She looks withdrawn, as if she has been discarded from life.  Odd, that she shows little sadness.

 

After the ceremony was completed, the minister announced that the short private burial would commence immediately behind the chapel.  Booker Reed was being buried in the campus church graveyard.  Apparently, John heard murmured around him; this was an honor rarely bestowed.  Everyone was invited to remain for refreshments in the dining hall, two buildings over.

Having Margaret near, yet so far away, he decided to attend the private burial, hoping to find a moment to speak with her.  The pallbearers bore the coffin out first, followed by Margaret, her family, and the Reed family.  The general assembly then flowed next with John being one of the last ones to exit.

Taking full strides with his long legs, he soon reached the party as they neared the burial site, directly behind the church.  The college cemetery was very elegant with its filigree ironworks, tall oak trees and intricately carved head stones.  About a dozen people attended the private burial, but John, being self-conscious of his height since no one could miss seeing him there, slipped behind the few that were standing.

He was encouraged by the fact that Margaret was handling her situation well and had seemingly shed very few tears, yet he was concerned that there could be more behind her apathetic manner.  He could sense it; he wondered if anyone else could feel it.  Once the final words were read by the Reverend, the mourners filed past the lowered coffin to pay their last respects with a handful of earth or flowers.  John watched as Margaret stood over the grave site for several seconds, tossed her bouquet down to the coffin, then walked away, escorted by her family and followed by the other mourners.

John was the last to leave, and as they all walked toward the front of the church, he was still deciding how he should approach her.

 

Margaret . . . look back at me . . . 

 

As if she’d heard his very thoughts, Margaret slowly turned her head and looking back, noticed John’s tall stately presence, casting his long shadow.

His breath caught, and he stopped walking, drinking in her vision as she stared at him.

 

Through our silence, she is looking back at me, as if she has heard me.

 

 John could feel her eyes gazing at him even through her dark netted veil.  Knowing she was now aware of his presence, his heart began to hammer against his ribs, reaffirming that he loved her more than life.

Margaret stopped and motioned for the others to pass her then looked back in his direction.  The family wondered what had caught her attention.  Her cousin wanted to wait on her, but Margaret waved Edith on.

Not taking his eyes from her, John removed his hat and started walking towards her.  This was a special moment for him, but out of sympathy, he withheld his smile.  He was living one of his recurring dreams.  He recognized it for what it was – Margaret walking towards him as he walked towards her.  He lived this moment in his mind many times.  As she took steps in his direction, the distance between them grew shorter until John touched her extended hand.

Face to face, she lifted her veil.

 

Someday . . . she will lift her wedding veil to me.

 

Releasing a hushed sigh, John looked into her glassy hazel eyes and lost himself in the delicate features of her face.  Even at her lowest, Margaret was the most beautiful creature in his world.  He searched for words, which now seemed stranded deep within him.  The silence became awkward.  John knew if he forced himself to speak, he would fall over his own words.  However, he cherished the fact that she was looking at him intently, unable to speak, herself.

Margaret could hardly believe he was standing before her, so tall and handsome, holding the sun behind him like a monolith.  John was the pillar of inner strength she desperately needed in her life, right now.  And, no doubt, had probably needed for several years, she realized.

Thank you, God, for sending him here.

The stalled moment seemed welcomed by them both as their eyes roamed each other’s faces, like long lost lovers being reunited.  The vision was rapturous for John.  Margaret felt every bit the same; however, she smothered that emotional passion.

Margaret felt like she had been thrown a rope as the high waves were breaking over her, battering her down into the sea.  John was from a different world, a world she had missed for many years.  She knew he would protect her from the harsh storm which seemed to be swirling about her.  Looking into his face, she saw his serenity, his strength, and his love, all beckoning her to step into his space.

 

My arms are your sanctuary . . . reach out to me . . . Margaret

 

Feeling extremely vulnerable and suddenly weak, she collapsed against him, laying her arms against his chest.  What a strange sensation, finding peace and safety even when she was not in any danger.  She needed to draw something from John, but what it was she didn’t know.  There was something about him that made Margaret want to lean on him.  For just a few moments, she longed for reassurance that in her own world, Margaret’s world, she was not alone.  “John. Hold me . . . hold me close.”

He was swiftly overwhelmed, driven by his deep love for her, surrendering his reserve, allowing his eyes to mist.  The emotional wall that John had been hiding behind for many years began to crack.  He fought his dominant male instinct to sweep her off her feet and carry her away to safety.  He ached for her, but gently wrapped his arms about her discreetly, and sheltered her to him.  John felt her unleash shivering sobs against his body.  She felt so warm and soft in his arms; he almost closed his eyes from the pure tenderness of the moment.  Despite the scrutiny of onlookers and how it might be perceived; he threw propriety to the wind and did not interrupt the moment.  John held Margaret close to him, weathering her through her storm.  He laid his cheek on top of her head to secure her closer, reveling in her scent and the feel of her within his arms.  Suddenly, he felt Margaret’s weight sliding through his grasp, as she fainted.  He grabbed her tightly, swinging his arm beneath her knees and lifting her easily to his chest.  He carried her over to a white wooden bench, nearby.

Margaret’s Aunt Shaw and cousin Edith hurried back to see what had happened, and immediately began to fan and fawn over her.  “What did you say to her,” Aunt Shaw asked, rather haughtily.

“We have yet to speak a word to each other,” John replied, somewhat annoyed.  “She must be exhausted from the strain and stress of the day.”  He had no sentiment for these people.

As Margaret’s eyes fluttered open, bringing her back into her surroundings, her aunt sighed in relief.  “You’re going to be alright, Margaret,” she said, assuring her, as though she were a child.  “We’ll take you home, and you won’t have to talk with all these people.”

John was buried in Margaret’s eyes, watching for her awareness of the family’s efforts to direct her life.  If possible, he vowed, never again would he allow them to make decisions for her.

John spoke calmly but firmly, “Would you please allow Mrs. Reed and I a few moments before she leaves, so that I can express my condolences and those of others from Milton.”

Silent glances and frowns were exchanged between Margaret’s relatives.

“I must insist on this,” John said sternly, sensing their reluctance.  “I will bring her to the front of the church directly; please just give us a moment.  I have come a long way to say these few words to her, and I intend to say them.  You have meddled in Margaret’s affairs, possibly changing the course of her life, but you will not meddle in mine, ever again.  Please, leave us.”

Knowing how they had successfully contrived to keep Margaret and him apart, ruining at least one of their lives, John would brook no argument, especially from this family.  There was iron in his voice, and he remained resolute.

Aunt Shaw and Edith walked away, quite aware of what his underlying reasons had meant.

Rising to a seated position, Margaret apologized to John for the scene she had created and thanked him for his help.

John sat her down beside him and turned towards her, rubbing her hands. “I’m so glad to be here with you.  I am sorry for your loss.  Higgins, Mary, Dixon, and I all want you to know you have our support.”

“How are they?” she asked, regaining her senses. “I miss them immensely.”

“As they do you, Margaret” John said.  “Please let our friendship help you through the coming difficulties you will face.  We will all worry and want to write to you, if you allow us.  I will keep in touch with you no matter how you feel about it.  If I receive no response, I will come to London and speak my mind to your family.  No one can stand in my way ever again, except you.”  He gazed at her beautifully sad face with its tear streaks and flushed cheeks, as he handed her his handkerchief.

“Thank you, John,” Margaret said, trying to stifle her tears.

“I’m hoping you might think to consider returning to Milton for your mourning period.”  John said, studying her face closely.  “There you will have true friends who wish to support your wishes and not steer you in any direction.  The thought of you having to return to your family is almost more than I can bear.  Please keep that in mind as you begin your recovery.  I could even take you away this very moment, should you wish to escape all this.”  Seeing her tears increase, he added in a sorrowful voice, “Margaret, I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  I thought I was conveying words that would be welcomed.”

“I’m not crying from sadness, John.”  Margaret assured him, “I’m overcome with relief.  I have felt so . . . detached . . . from this world for a long time.  You have brought an oasis to my desert.  How I’ve longed for friends, my friends, and . . .  and . . . thank you, John, for being here today.  I know you never met Booker and this inconvenience to you is for me, alone.”

Having sensed something more in her words and actions, and unable to keep his sentiment under control any longer, John said softly, “Margaret, there is no inconvenience here.  Never with you,”

“Seeing you standing there, John, I thought my guardian angel had come to rescue me.  Suddenly, I was safe from the world.  I knew everything was going to be alright.  You saved me from the whirlpool of faces and condolences.  You have lifted me up today.  I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.”

I want you always to come to me. 

“You could never embarrass me, Margaret,” he remarked tenderly.  “I am, and always will be your guarding angel.”  Please think of the people who want to help you.  They all love you, you know.”

“As I do them.”  Margaret hastened to assure him.  “Please thank Nicholas, Mary, and Dixon for their sympathy and support.  I may yet come to rely on all of you.”  Margaret looked devoutly into John’s face.  “Thank you . . . most of all.  I’d like to tell you how much it means for you to be here with me, but propriety forbids such admissions.”  She paused, wondering if she should say more.  “I think I should return, now, before we speak beyond our places.”

John became aware of a lump in his throat.  Her words seemed heaven sent.

 

Margaret . . . how I love you.    

                            

“Margaret, before we go . . . and this is a most inappropriate time but not knowing where your future will lead you, I would like to ask a personal question.  I’ve thought about that night for several years, and if you don’t wish to tell me, I will understand.”

“Yes, John, ask anything and I will tell you what I can.

“I never met your husband and although, I think the answer is no . . . was he the gentleman who I saw you with at the train station that night?”

An awkward silence captured the moment, for them both.

 

Why doesn’t she speak . . . I’ve crossed a line. 

 

“No, John, that man was not Booker.”

John knew it was a terrible time to ask a question that he had no right to ask.  As Margaret hesitated, he realized he would be at a loss if she didn’t continue.

“Margaret,” he said, gently, “I never should have inquired into your personal affairs, and I am quite ashamed of how selfish I’ve been.”

“John,” she reassured him, “I’m the one who should be ashamed . . . ashamed of not trusting your feelings for me at the time.  It has troubled me, as well, for I should have confided in you.  Your attitude towards me changed considerably after that night.  I knew why, but I couldn’t rectify it then; now I feel I can.  I needed to keep that secret from you and from everyone, really.”

“I don’t understand, Margaret.  A secret?”  He prompted.

“It’s a long story for another time, but I will tell you that the man you saw me with that night at the train station, is someone I have loved all my life.  That man was my brother.”

“Your brother!”  John repeated quietly, in bewilderment.  The realization that the stranger was her brother slowly relieved him of the mystery that had torn his heart out over three years ago.

 

He was her brother . . . !

 

“I hope someday to hear the whole story.  I know I was harsh and distant, and I am truly sorry.  I think you remember my feelings towards you at that time.  I admit it unsettled me to think you had another gentleman in your life.  I dare to say it would be no different today.  Nevertheless, as you say, that’s for another time.  I think we have a lot of  – IF’s –  in our past,” John continued, somewhat regretfully,  “If you hadn’t run out to the rioters,  if I’d known he was your brother, if our letters weren’t conveyed away from us, if I’d known you were about to marry, but those are all behind us now.  Margaret, dare to free yourself from your past.

“Thank you, John.  When we have time to discuss the whole story, you will understand.”

He nodded to her, hoping that day would come.  John stood; ready to assist her, “Do you think you can stand, now, Margaret?”

“Yes, if you let me take your arm.  I’m sure I am steady on my feet, now.  The swarming emotions have cleared.  When are you returning to Milton?”

“Just as soon as I leave here,” John said, as he helped Margaret and curled her arm around his.  “Do you know what your immediate plans might be?”  He asked as he began to slowly escort her toward the church, not wanting the moment to end.

“I shall be at my cousin’s house for a week,” she said, “after which I must return to our campus quarters and begin packing the few things that were ours.  There are thousands of books to donate to the school’s library, and personal items that his family should have.  It will probably take a few weeks to resolve all the paperwork.  I’ve not totally decided to move into Edith and Maxwell’s home, as is being suggested to me.  However, I may stay with them a month or so until I have firm plans.  This shall be the last time that I ever depend on them.  I need time to take care of all the consequences of Booker’s death, including our living quarters.  Most importantly, I’ll need time to consider my future.  However, I do know for certain that I will not stay in London for my entire mourning period.  Like you, I feel that going back to that environment is directly in opposition to the life I want to lead.  I’m anxious to start a brand-new  life, on my own.

John, hearing those words, put his free hand over her hand, which was wrapped around his arm, and pressed it tightly.  “Will you want Dixon to return to London?”  He asked, as they continued walking.

“I want her to stay with you for now,” Margaret answered, “until I’m quite assured of my direction.  I’m financially independent, and I will leave London.  I will handle my affairs without family intervention.  I’ll always love them, but I can never forgive them for what happened between us, our . . . letters, that is.  Thank you for holding your temper back there.  Your words were quite valiant and far more effective than mine had been.  Right now, I feel I am handling Booker’s death well; far different from when my parents passed.  His family has been very supportive throughout this trying time and wants me to continue receiving the stipend that was his rightful inheritance as a second son.  They are wealthy and quite generous.”

They walked a few steps in silence.

You’ve been without your Mother for almost a year and a half.  How are you faring, John?”

“Margaret, I’m managing well.  I’ll not lie and tell you that I did not grieve a long time after she died, because I did.  I owed her much.  My life is quite empty with her gone, even with Dixon trying to ‘mother’ me.  I suppose we will soon have to have words.”  He smiled, as did Margaret, at the thought of anyone having words with Dixon.

“And you haven’t married; I know this because Dixon writes occasionally about you and your work in Milton.  Do you have a steady lady in your life?”  Margaret asked.

“No, there is no steady lady in my life and never has been since . . .” John caught his own words before he could embarrass himself.

“May I ask why you have not married yet?”  Margaret probed gently.

“No, you may not ask, but I think you know.”  Flustered, he continued, “I am sorry.  That was quite inappropriate to say.”

 

God . . . can I not hold my tongue? 

 

“Please, don’t apologize.  It brings me great comfort.”  Margaret said, feeling a flush of heat come over her.

I have hurt this man at every turn in our acquaintance, and yet he still loves me after all this time, waiting through my marriage.  I do not deserve the attentions of a man such as him.  He is a far greater person than I am, and to think that I once thought . . .

John did not miss her blush or her words.  As they neared the cemetery gates, John could see family and friends waiting for her.  Stopping suddenly, he stepped between Margaret and her family, so his back was to them, shielding her.  He was so close to her that he could feel her body heat.

 

I want to take you into my arms, right now, to kiss you.

 

“Margaret, I wish your society allowed me to visit while you mourn, but I dare not seek to cross the boundaries of propriety, in London, for your sake.”  John lifted her hand and lightly kissed the back of it in the London gentleman tradition as he drank in one last look from her exquisite face, burning her vision into his heart.

Leaning down towards her, he murmured softly into her ear, “I miss you, Margaret.  Please, come back to us.  Don’t lock your heart away.  Return to me.”  He hesitantly turned and left, feeling her absence pressing in on him from that first step away.  There was a knot in his stomach, but he had done all he could do for now.  But was it enough?

Instantly feeling his loss and a great sense of emptiness, Margaret watched as he threaded his way through the crowd.  She would never let him walk out of her life.

John Thornton, look back at me.

As he proceeded around the groups of people waiting to see her, he turned back to Margaret one last time and was ecstatic to see that she still followed him with her eyes.

 

She is still looking at me . . .

 

John noticed that she soon became ensconced by the gathered mourners.

A half-hour later, he was seated on the train, re-living every word and each moment of his time with Margaret.  How he desperately wanted that hope back!  He tried to be objective, but found he could not.  Recalling how she had come into his arms once again, in need of a temporary rescue, John knew she had found solace and protection in his embrace.  The day had begun to close in on her, but he felt there was more to it than the funeral; something more was underlying her grief.  He still sensed she was calling out to him, almost like she was very tired while treading water far from shore.  The time was soon coming when he would respond to all of her needs, without the heavy curtain of propriety always hanging between them.

For the four-hour ride home, John reflected on his few moments with her, feeling as if his heart would burst if he were left alone with his dreams much longer.

 

I looked like her guardian angel . . . You were saving me from . . . You lifted me up. . .

 

As the train pulled into Milton, John shook himself out of his reverie and forced himself back to earth.  Once again, his thoughts returned to the kidnapping.  Exiting the train, he hailed a carriage and went directly to Chief Mason’s office.  As John arrived at the courthouse, he could see Mason through the window of the glass door, enmeshed in paperwork.  Tapping lightly, he walked in.  “Mason, what has happened so far?”  He began in an excited tone.  “And hello, to you, too, Detective Carlson.  Forgive me, I had my mind elsewhere and didn’t see you sitting there.”

“Good evening to you, sir.  Please, no apology needed,” the detective responded.

“Sir, I’m glad you’re back.  There have been some developments in the case.  Only hours ago, Lindsey McKeever escaped her abductors and hailed a passing coach for help.  She was on Hyde road about 2 miles outside of town.  She said she hid along the road until she spotted a decent coach that she could stop.  No second note was received, and no money exchanged hands.  It was obvious, by her condition, that she had been assaulted in some way, starved and possibly tortured or beaten, so I allowed her to be taken home and examined by the doctor.  We will interview her tomorrow, if the doctor permits.  The house has been guarded.  She told us that she remembered being hauled away in her own trap and thought she had walked about two miles before being picked up, so I have men searching the area for her trap.  I’m glad that she is alive and safe, but those men are still out there, probably long gone by now, but we won’t give up.  She thinks there were at least two men, but she wasn’t sure, as she was blindfolded the whole time.  I will plan on going out there tomorrow morning at 10:00 o’clock with Detective Carlson.  Would you would care to join us, sir?”

“No, I’ll leave that in your capable hands.  Let me know if I can be of any other help.  I’ll return tomorrow and read your report.  We still don’t know if the assault was the original intent or if it was a kidnapping.  The note she received, doesn’t clearly specify that either way for us.  I’m very sorry that this has been as brutal as you may think.  I know you will continue to seek these depraved animals.”  Shaking his head and frowning, John said, “There is no lower form of species on this earth than men who prey on women and children to . . .” He could not finish his sentence.

“I agree, sir.  I am sorry you were called away on such unpleasant circumstances, yourself,” Mason said.

“Thank you, Mason.  No, it wasn’t a pleasant time for Mrs. Reed.  You’ll remember her as Miss Hale.  She lost her husband through an accidental fall.  It’s been a long day for me.  I’m just returning now from the funeral and would like to get home.”  Donning his hat, John turned towards the two men.  “If I can be of service, contact me.  Otherwise, I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.  Good-bye, Mason.  Good-bye Detective Carlson,” He shook hands with the men and left the office.

Moments later, John entered his coach, anxious to return home and tell Higgins and Dixon about his visit with Margaret.