Chapter Thirty One
The next morning, Lady Mills proudly unfurled their banner, proclaiming them to be Milton’s Finest Team. All through the morning carriages slowed as mill owners gaped out of their coach windows at the spirit Lady Mills displayed.
And so went the challenge month of September. For Lady Mills, there were no hitches, no down time, and happy workers showing their best to her.
Calendars were finally flipped to October and the challenge came to an exhaustive ending. Many of banker Latimer’s accountants were on hand the morning of October first. He could not be at each mill, but he had spent the last week calculating where each Master should be by the month’s end. Where he had sensed some unfair play could enter, he had men at that mill’s door at first light. He was happy to find no questioning bookkeeping practices with the exception of one Master. These were good Men, he knew. By mid October, he was ready with his findings.
At the Chambers October meetings the winners would be announced and Lady Mills would be introduced. Everyone had been patiently waiting to hear about Miss Margaret Hale, Mill Mistress.
* * *
Mr. Latimer approached the podium and waited for the room to quiet down, while shuffling his notes on the slanted presentation top. “I have quite enjoyed this past month with being involved in the Sales Increase Contest that our newest mill owner, Miss Hale had challenged. I was glad to be asked to be your judge and be able to look into your financial books. (laughter came from the audience) As all challengers know, we inspected the ledgers, receipts, and shipping logs, insuring that the sales that left a building on September 1st were considered the beginning of the month and start of the contest. We began with forty-six challengers and ended with forty-two owner participants who felt like they could improve over the average mill increase. John Thornton has advised me that the trade papers are reporting an average increase of 5% in September apparently it’s that time of year for heavier fabrics. I will tell you now that thirty-five mills in the contest bested 5%. The four Masters that withdrew were because three dropped out of their own accord, no reason given, and the fourth Master, I felt, held some August orders for September, so I disqualified him. I have the envelope here which states the top three mills, and I understand that will be opened toward the end of this meeting, if That is what we’re calling this occasion tonight. All mills will have their increase numbers posted out on your message board shortly after the meeting. I believe your Chamber President is going to take over from me and introduce you to Milton’s biggest phenomena. I will be back later for the winner announcement.”
There was applause as Mr. Latimer left the stage and John approached the podium from his second seated place at the head of the table of the executive Masters of the Chamber, all sitting on stage. The chair closest to the podium was empty, waiting on Miss Hale.
“Good evening everyone,” John opened. “Let us have a fine welcome to Lady Mills who is with us tonight.” (much applause, hoots, hollers and whistles) John continued once the Masters and the Lady Mills workers quieted. “We have a slightly different format tonight in letting the workers attend this meeting. Would the workers from Lady Mills, in the back, please stand and be recognized. (applause) I am sure that none of the challengers here tonight know that it was these workers who offered the challenge and not the owner. (more applause and hoots from the Lady Mills people). Tonight I want to introduce you to this personally vibrant lady and an unprecedented professional woman, Miss Margaret Hale. Miss Hale, would you please join us on stage?”
To the cheers and hollers of her proud workers and the Masters, Margaret strolled from the back of the room, through the aisles, up to the front stage. She wore her ‘working blacks’, as she was asked to do. John walked to the steps on the right and handed her up.
“Miss Hale, would you take the seat of honor this evening,” John said, directing her to the first chair next to the podium.
John turned back to the audience. “I am not sure which is the bigger event tonight, the contest winner or Mistress Hale’s introduction.”
Margaret rose from her chair and stepped to the podium and announced, “Mr. Thornton, they are but one in the same.” The crowd broke out in laughter, a little taken aback by this woman, but Margaret had broken the ice and her people cheered her.
“So, you keep telling me, Miss Hale,” John smiled. (crowd laughs again)
“Apparently, later, we will explain Miss Hale’s wardrobe, which I believe she calls her ‘working blacks’, which has been a much circulated question among us all.”
John paused, ready to begin his presentation. The crowd quieted.
“We not only live in but have created a new age here in Milton. We are by far the largest industrial city in the world and are very proud of our accomplishments, and our place in history. We have worked hard over many years, honing the policies and practices that have made the machine age work and work well.”
John paused and looked around the room.
“Milton’s Mills are about to add a new chapter in our glorious history. It is not only Milton that writes this chapter, but the industry itself. I am proud to introduce our new chapter and history maker, Miss Margaret Hale of Lady Mills.”
Applause broke out, and everyone came to their feet and the Lady Mills workers went wild, cheering loudly. Their enthusiasm for their Mistress knew no bounds this evening. John signaled for her to stand, which she did, along with the clapping Masters on stage and the applause became even louder, in her honor. She nodded and mouthed the words ‘thank you’. She started to blush and John could only remember seeing her do that at intimate times. John removed a handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to her. She smiled, accepting it, then sat down, too embarrassed for these accolades to continue.
John waited for the applause to abate, but there were still hoots from her people. They really loved her.
“Before Miss Hale tells us about her mill experience and then we get into the more personal side of this unique woman, I have a few words about her achievements.”
Again, John paused, adding a bit of drama.
“I have done some research unbeknownst to Miss Hale, who seems to take her exclusive status as common practice. To her, she seems only interested in treating her people fair (more hoots from her people – which the attendees were really enjoying), producing a fine product, and doing her best.” Turning to Margaret, John said, “Miss Hale, let me enlighten you a bit on your legendary achievement. You are famous; I bet you didn’t even know that. (more hoots and applause from Lady Mills people).”
Margaret nodded in the negative, indicating she had never given her place that much thought.
“You’ve been hidden away in the small town of Helstone, never discovered, but your anonymity is over now. Miss Hale, you are the first woman Master in the Machine Age and this Industry!” John paused for the huge standing applause. Finally, he continued.
“There are several other women that I found of merit. By that I mean actively leading their business, as opposed to just owning it. These three ladies are from America, one being a cotton plantation owner and the other two being cattle ranchers. None of these women direct the work of over 50 workers, whereas you direct over 350 workers, a larger work force than many Masters here tonight. (loud applause)
“A few months after you set up shop here and word circulated about you, I started receiving invitations for you to speak at a few ‘Working Women Organization’ groups, and also from the normal industry magnates who are very interested in you. (applause) I must admit it will be nice to share the spotlight. (laughter) You have taken a giant step into the machine age, and you are rapidly rising as a symbol for women everywhere, to strive and lead. (applause) I do have more accolades I could bestow on you, but by that look on your face, I think we will move on.”
John paused as he reached for a box under the podium. “Miss Hale, would you please come to the podium. Before you speak Miss Hale, the Masters of Commerce in Milton would like to make you one of the boys, since you are entering our world by presenting you this.”
John handed the box to Margaret.
Margaret looked out over the audience. “Mr. Thornton, I thank you very much for those gracious words. I bet you thought I would be speechless but that has never happened to me in my life. (laughter) All right, what could this Chamber have found to give the new thorn in their side as a gift?” (loud laughter) John took the box back and held it, encouraging Margaret to open the lid. Margaret frowned as John finally lifted the box lid. She was afraid to unwrap the paper around it. John was laughing. Margaret started to pull the gift out when she realized it was a pink cravat. She doubled over with laughter, trying to hold up the cravat and show the audience. “Oh, my gosh,” she happily exclaimed. “So this is the secret to get into the Men’s club. Here, I thought it was some strange handshake.” Everyone laughed and applauded her comical attitude.
John took the cravat, and stood behind Margaret and tied it on her. He then faced her to him to complete a nicely knotted look.
Turning to her people, she asked, “How do I look, team?”
Lady Mills broke out in loud applauses, hoots, hollers and cheers. The other Masters found it highly amusing and applauded. “Do not I have the happiest workers?” Margaret smiled while throwing her workers a kiss from the stage. Needless to say, the clamor continued.
John played his waiting game again. “I am sure each Master here tonight wishes they had your team back there. They need a round applause just for them.” The audience felt the same and obliged John with applause for the Lady Mill’s workers.
“Miss Hale will speak in just a minute, but I have one final thing I would like to say before she begins her own story. Miss Hale is a single woman, but has graciously accepted my proposal of marriage. So gentlemen, hands off. (more applause and laughter) All Lady Mills people stood and applauded that announcement.
Margaret, still at the podium, playing with her cravat, spoke up, saying “If I have this right, the proposal acceptance was only if I won the contest.”
“Miss Margaret, I believe the words were soon after the contest if you did not win.” John corrected.
“If you say so.” Margaret looked at the audience, somewhat embarrassed, “Mr. Thornton was constantly asking me what we did to plan for the challenge; I am afraid he didn’t have a lot of faith in my leadership and confidence in my people. He thinks we’re too new and worried that we were putting our reputation on the line too early, so I asked him to make a side wager. His wager was if Marlborough Mills bested Lady Mills, than I would marry him soon after the challenge. Now, my wager was that I would marry him tonight if we won. (hoots and hollers from the entire audience) Can you believe he was disappointed in that, having so little confidence in our team and my leadership.” Turning to John, she said, “John, let me give you a hint. Having little confidence in the woman you would like to marry is not a smart move.” (laughter, even from John) “He asked if I had prepared my people to lose, being so new here. I told him that I had not done that, but I felt very assured that we would do well, even if we didn’t win. But doing well, didn’t fit into the wagers anywhere. Well, we shall see later, but I can assure you we will be in the top five, even if we are bested by Marlborough Mills.”
John returned to the podium, asking, “Miss Hale, will you please sit down? (laughter) Masters, you have just been introduced to a lady who was born with no airs and certainly no graces. She is down to earth and loves life. She is my ‘spice of life’, but I can see that anything goes with her tonight, which is entirely in character. She throws everyone around her off balance.”
“John, does that include our romantic interludes?” Margaret interjected with one raised eye brow and a pixie smile.
A roar of laughter and the anticipation of a fun evening had the audience on the edge of their seats. John Thornton blushed for the first time in his life. He grinned as he tried to cover his embarrassment, then leaned over to Margaret and spoke something in her ear.
“Mr. Thornton, I think you have taken up enough time, it’s my turn, thank you.”
John, being summarily dismissed, walked to his seat which was next to Margaret’s now empty chair.
“First,” she began, “as I look out over this audience of Masters, I see that my mill is here, and I see my household staff, and my management team but what scares me the most is that my butler, Grayson, is here. If you only knew him . . . (laughter)
“I will give you a brief history of myself.” Margaret proceeded to tell the audience about her joining her uncle’s mill at the age of eight, working there for 13 years, before she was bequeathed it four years ago by him. She told of their hardships in Helstone and her decision to relocate to Milton due to the mill’s growth. She mentioned a little about the cotton dying as her niche in the industry. “I think That is enough about my beginnings. Margaret turned to look off stage and announced, “Lads?” Four young big men carried out her signed Milton’s Finest Team banner and unfurled it, tacking it to the wall behind her. Applause from her people was extremely loud.
“Before I get to our banner, I see you have a welcoming banner for me. Thank you for this immense honor of allowing me into the inner sanctum of The Masters.” Margaret made quote marks in the air with her fingers. She looked over her shoulder at the paper banner that said, Welcome Lady Margaret of Lady Mills.
“I was asked to wear these clothes tonight so they could be explained. Maybe that sign should read, Welcome Laddie Margaret of Lady Mills. (laughter) Mr. Thornton, you continually harassed me to tell you what I was doing to prepare for this challenge. I was never sure if you wanted to see that you didn’t miss anything yourself, or were truly worried that I knew what I was doing. I doubt I will ever know the truth.”
John spoke loudly from his chair, “I did not harass you and I was truly concerned. After all, you will be a Thornton some day and I want to save face.” He could hardly stop laughing at what he was saying. He felt it was time to get even a bit. “Go on, please.”
Margaret tried not to laugh at his comment. Starring at him, she made a big “O” with her mouth as in complete surprise, which she was. That wasn’t like John to tease her or anyone. She loved him for his playful attitude tonight. Turning back to the audience, “As you can you see, somewhere along our path to loving each other, we found we could be friends, too.”
Margaret pulled a piece of paper from her inside pocket. As she did that she said, “I have always wanted to do this.”
John asked in all candor, “What is it that you always wanted to do?”
“This,” she said, putting the paper back into the inside pocket and then removing it again. “I have always envied a man’s inside pockets. You men just do not know how good you have it. I also envy back trouser pockets. (laughter) I think more women would be in positions of leadership today if they only had pockets.” (roars of laugher)
The whole assembly was thoroughly enjoying Miss Margaret Hale, and finding she was so completely different from any woman or lady, that they had ever seen. However, her crew knew her to be what she was . . . an exceptional person regardless of gender.
“All right, Thornton,” she emphasized his last name. “I have my list of plans. I will let you see them, unless the other Masters want to be bored with what we did to prepare.” She started to hand John her list.
The Masters applauded and wanted to hear what this woman had done in preparation. How did she really operate?
“Miss Hale, it would seem the Masters would like to hear your preparations,” John said.
“Well, in that case,” she said, “here goes:
“We had meetings with all people on all shifts every week and they knew what numbers we were currently running and what we were likely to be up against. You could ask anyone of them right now and they could tell you –– what we were up against and tell you week by week what increases we were having.
All worker leave of absences were taken before September.
All machines serviced.
The top five iron parts, most likely to fail from use or breakage, were ordered in abundant supplies.
Retrained all management, including myself, and a secondary team to repair the iron.
More people were hired and trained to replace any sick or injured people, give breaks to the workers so no machines were down, but mostly were there for adding a 3rd shift or a Sunday shift if the orders overwhelmed us.
Added people to the shipping and receiving area so all orders flowed out almost the day the order was received. In and out in one day was our goal.
Meals were provided for all shifts, as usual, but there was plenty of free coffee and tea on their break times.
Unless the newly hired people were needed for an added shift, they replaced the workers for a break every two hours instead of four.
Pointing to her banner behind her, we encouraged team spirit, participation, and ownership of this challenge. That was hardly needed, because they always have team spirit. We had no arguments between any workers to resolve. Everyone helped each other.
We cross trained people.
All management had two meetings daily. Everyone one of us was aware of any issues going on in the buildings at all times. We stressed communication until there was no tomorrow.
We built a roster of volunteers to work overnight or Sunday and could implement that in a moment’s time.
All management had second and third areas of responsibilities. For instance, Thane, my second in command, oversaw all the accounting that was being put in the ledger, he was in charge of training and all people movements if needed.
I will not go into the other managers, but that, Masters, were our plans.”
The crowd came to their feet, applauding loudly being hugely impressed with her plans and moderately embarrassed at what they themselves had not done. Even her own people had not realized all that had gone on behind the scene. If it was possible, their admiration for her had just raised another remarkable notch higher.
John walked to the podium. “Miss Hale, those preparations were indeed very impressive. I do not think you left anything out and I must admit you have probably embarrassed many of us here in what we overlooked. I know I am. (laughter)
“And now, Miss Hale, knowing that you are a good sort, we decided to let some of your people tell us about you, since you would probably be reluctant yourself.”
“All right, Mr. Thornton, bring ‘em on, but remember, I have a right to rebuttal,” Margaret stated as she put her hands on her hips and strolled to her chair, which caused more laughter all around.
“You shall indeed, Miss Hale.” John remarked, laughing at seeing her walk back to her seat.