by Loyal Wynyard
John Thornton, Look Back at Me 31
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 dinner 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 either; 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 residence, 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 had 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 gentlemen. 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 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, most sincere 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 was 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 of them. 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.