Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C30

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

Chapter Thirty

 

 

“How are you feeling this afternoon, Margaret?”

“Much better, father. My neck is stiff to turn it, but most of the pain is gone. I don’t believe I will need any medication anymore. Adam isn’t visiting today, is he? I can’t take another day like yesterday.”

“Quite honestly, I can’t either. I’ve really let you down, Margaret. I am sorry for that. I just didn’t know how to broach the subject, and I should have. I guess I assumed your mother had covered that with you.”

“Father, don’t be sorry. Mother covered what she should have, and that was about me and my pubescent body, but she said nothing about men. Perhaps, she didn’t know much herself. And with you, as a devoted, loving husband gave her no reason for more knowledge.”

“It would embarrass you for me to go into that part of our life, but we were a happy couple.”

“I’ve always known that. I hope I am as fortunate to have one man love me all my life.”

“Do you think it may be Mr. Thornton?”

“I don’t know. He mainly apologized for the dinner and expressed wanting to know me better. I am fortunate to have that.”

“Margaret, he was quite adamant about seeing you yesterday. There is more behind that apology, I am sure of it.”

“Where is Fred?”

“He’s taken Max out for exercise. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t pass by a particular young lady’s home while he’s riding.”

“Mr. Thornton asked if he could come by today, and I said yes. I don’t know what time, though.”

“Do you feel up to having company?”

“I feel up to seeing him,” Margaret shyly smiled.

“I know the principles that you were raised with, and I trust you to do what is right for you. I do not worry about proper society rules. As you know, your mother went against those herself, and I believe she never regretted it. Do what makes you happy but do keep in mind potential consequences to your actions.”

“Thank you for telling me that, father.”

“I do believe I will hold off on my nap until John gets here.”

“I do believe he is here now,” Margaret mimicked. She went to the window, and Branson had his door open.”

 

“Dixon, I’ll get the door,” Margaret shouted.

“I believe I will retire before he comes in. Richard remarked.”

“See you at dinner, father.”

Margaret opened the door to John Thornton.

“Good afternoon, Miss Hale. Is there an ambush lying in wait for me inside? I would like to apologize, first.”

Margaret laughed, which brought a small frown. “Only me. Do, I count?”

“The answer to that could be misinterpreted, so I will decline. You are alone?”

“Fred is out, and my father just went to rest. Please come in.”

“How is your injury, puppet?” He smiled.

“I think one more day with this collar should suffice. May I get you any refreshment?”

“I was wondering if you felt you could take a brief ride on a good road. I would like to take you into town for lunch. But I can easily wait until you are stronger.”

“If I wear my collar while riding, I should be fine. If you can wait, I will tell Dixon.”

Margaret was gone a few minutes, and John stood in the sitting room twirling his hat. He was reminded of the scene he had made there, only yesterday. He, no doubt, had those other apologies to make.

Margaret was back with her bonnet and neck collar. John noticed she had dimples.

“Margaret, with those little dimples, you do remind me of a puppet,”  John grinned.

“With this stiff collar, I feel like the Queen of Scotland just before they removed her head. I believe they wore those wretched stiff ruffled collars about that time.”

“I’ve never had any reference to the clothing of that era. Perhaps, a day at the London museum?”

“I’m sorry. Is that a question?”

“It’s an invitation if you would like a day out as such.”

“I believe we need more conversation before I can agree to anything as lovely as that.”

“And I believe I have much to say in these conversations. Shall we go?”

John handed her in the coach, spoke with Branson, and then entered as well. He pitched his hat on the opposite bench, settling beside Margaret.

“I am grateful to have this private time with you,” John said. “I have questions that I hope you will feel free to answer. I know this is your business, your life, but still, you leave a mystery in your wake.”

“Should I worry? I was looking forward to lunch with you. Will you spoil it?”

“You have been looking forward to coming out to lunch? Did I not take you to the canteen at the mill? You didn’t seem all that enthused then. I am reminded you made notice of something there, but I digress.”

“Are you teasing me?” Margaret frowned looking at him.

John broke out in a smile looking at that face. “Dimples and frowns and stares. I fear I am not strong enough for your beguiling moods.”

“You are teasing me.”

“Have you never done that yourself? Can you say you never teased me?”

Margaret looked out the window. “How far is the luncheon café?”

John laughed as quietly as he could, but Margaret heard him and laughed, too.

“Well? Asked John.

“I think I would like to table that question until other, more important, issues are known to me.”

“Such as?”

“Branson seems to be slowing down. Are we here?”

“Yes.”

Margaret began to untie the neck collar. Whether it was her nerves or done purposely, the strings became knotted.

Branson was waiting through the open door, looking in. John made no offer to help her. He kept a straight face while he heard small exasperating gushes of air as she wrestled with it. Since she couldn’t see it, he knew she would fail. He waited to  be asked, glancing at Branson.

John couldn’t help it. When Branson started whistling while they waited, John laughed out loud.

“Oof . . .” He heard Margaret utter.

“Margaret, may I be of some assistance?”

“I think you know you can. You waited for me to ask, didn’t you?”

“Margaret Hale, we know very little about each other. By offering my help immediately, you may assume that I didn’t have faith that you could do it yourself.”

“What kind of an answer is that?”

“Poor, I’m afraid. So you do or do not need the benefit of my help?”

“I do. Please.”

“All you had to do was ask. For what’s it’s worth, I am fairly well known for coming to the aid of damsels in distress. You may remember several instances at the Lyceum, for example. And you weren’t even aware that I had to carry you into your house because you were in your cups.”

“Are you done, yet?” Margaret mockingly sounded stern. They were almost nose to nose. Margaret didn’t think his eyesight was that bad that he had to get that close to the knot to see it. “Is the light bad?”

“I’m getting it,” John said, purposely staring into her eyes. She didn’t know that it had been unknotted for several moments. He heard Branson cough.

“There we go. I don’t mind taking you to lunch while you are wearing your collar. If you feel you need it, let’s return it.”

“I don’t think I will have any missteps from here to the door.”

“Not if you take my arm.”

“But doesn’t your own arm bother you?”

“And why would you think that?” He asked, handing her out of the coach.

“You’ve been patting yourself on your back quite long now.”

John heard Branson snort from holding in laughter.

“Branson, that will be enough of that.” John hadn’t laughed like this since he couldn’t remember when.

 

John and Margaret were seated in a secluded part of the café. There were many round tables and chairs and booths around the edge of the big room. Several of them had a bit of privacy to them.

“Will this do, Mr. Thornton?”

“Yes, this is fine. Could you bring us a bottle of your house wine while we read your menu?”

“Coming right up, sir.”

Once Margaret was settled he sat opposite her. “What do you think of this nice little café?”

“It does look very nice. It appears to be somewhere between the pub cafes and the fine restaurants. I’m not sure I would call it small. Does this booth have your name carved in it somewhere? No, wait . . . I bet if I look closely, you have inscribed the names of each of the women you have brought here, is that not so?”

“Actually, this is my booth. I have paid the establishment for my own private use. Yes, I bought it.”

Margaret flopped back against the high wood backrest, staring at John with her mouth open. She bumped her head when she did that, showing John her grimace face.”

“Margaret, are you alright?”

“I’m not sure, but my neck is fine. Your booth? Do patrons vote on the different women you bring to this booth? “Oh, she’s a stunner. “That one’s a little too skinny for me. This trip they must know I am only a fill-in. Is there a ballot box somewhere?”

John withdrew a bit of paper and a pencil from his vest pocket. In large letters, he wrote the word gullible.

“Gullible? You mean me?” Margaret recalled the meat on her plate at the ball.

John just stared at her with a smile.

“Oof . . .” She said and looked away from his smile.

 

The small platters with meatloaf, boiled potatoes, and carrots were served.

“I love this meal,” Margaret announced.

“As do I. None of the other women order it when I bring them here,” he teased.

“Are you ready, Mr. Thornton? You may fire as you bear.”

“As I bear?”

“I’m sorry. I’ve heard my brother say that. If the navy is maneuvering to fire their cannons at another ship, he would tell his men to ‘fire as you bear,’ meaning for them to fire when their bearing was in a good position for an attack.”

“Thank you for such a complete understanding of that word. I did know what you meant. I didn’t think you would.”

“You have underestimated me recently, have you not?”

“That is rather an understatement in itself. That’s where many of my questions lie. But first, there is something more important than your attempts to draw my attention to you.”

“And that would be . . . ?”

“Why?”

“Is that important to you?”

“Most emphatically,” John replied.

“Why?” Asked Margaret.

“Ladies first.”

Margaret set down her fork, looked up into John’s face and said, “I think I love you.”

John reached for her hand across the table. “I thought it would take months to hear you say those words to me. I had come to hope that you did. I have spent a lot of hours thinking about you and how I missed seeing you. I am certain that was by design. Surprisingly, resourceful. I …”

Margaret interrupted. “It’s not right for a woman to say those words first.” Margaret frowned. “l am sure you hear that often, and my declaration doesn’t sound any different than the next female.”

“Oh, you’re so wrong about that.”

“That’s not what my brother tells me. He’s been coaching me about men and what to expect and how to act. Fred’s been telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. What some men expect from women. Adam helped me with ignoring you. I didn’t think of that on my own. I’ve ruined it all.” Margaret started crying.

John stepped around to her side of the bench and placed his arm around her, hugging her to him.

“Stop . . . stop . . . stop this. You haven’t ruined anything. This very minute you changed my life.”

“I what?” Margaret said, glassy-eyed.

“I know I love you.

“You what?” Margaret said, slurring her words. “You can’t know that. After everything I’ve done to you, what is wrong with you that you can say those words? I’ve insulted you, I’ve ignored you, I’ve chastised your pride when you said you carried me around the dance floor. You can’t love someone  if that’s all you know about them.”

“Let me see. You forgot embarrassed me, stared at me, shamed me, and now I find out I’ve been ambushed by the family. I’ve been tricked, hoodwinked, victimized and mislead. I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to do. Don’t you understand?”

“I’d have to have my head examined if I did. How did I embarrass you?”

“You pee’d in your shoes at the Lyceum, didn’t you? You didn’t think I knew about that.”

“Oh my, God.” Margaret hung her head between her hands with her elbows resting on the table. She then pushed her plate to the side and laid her head down.

“I never told anyone. This isn’t exactly like I had planned,” John laughed, “but we sure arrived at the important answers rather quickly. Instead of weeks or months  for each of us to speak of love, it happened in minutes over meatloaf. You should be in my arms right now, I would be kissing your neck, loving the feel of your sweet skin on my lips. We’ve missed so much getting to this point.”

Margaret sat up hearing those words. “You can’t say those words to me. They make me feel odd inside. I think I know that means something. I’ll have to ask Fred, again.”

“Never mind, Fred. You now ask me, since I am the one that is causing that to happen to you. You are doing the same thing to me.”

“Does that mean what I think it means?”

John sucked air through his smile. “With you, it’s hard to say.” He smiled lovingly at her. This was the happiest time of his life.

“See here, John. I’ve been working on these growing feelings for you in excess of two weeks. You have only been thinking about me for two days. It’s impossible for you to know how you really feel.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, Fred says men have desires all the time. Love isn’t known until one gets to know the other.”

“And your brother has been in love, has he?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then how does he know about all men? He’s a naval officer. He was at sea a long time. His mind may have worked differently since companionship wasn’t readily available to him.”

“Why do you think you love me?”

“Because I have never been where I am right now. I want to explode. I’m barely keeping myself together at this moment. I want to fly apart with joy and happiness. I know, at this hour, my whole life is turning a major corner. I believe you crept into my heart at the Lyceum. Watching you, marveling at you, filled me with emotions I didn’t recognize then. My thoughts of love began to solidify at the ball and were engraved on my heart by the dinner. As I felt myself falling in love with you, I spent an entire night going over everything I had heard or seen you do. I thought there may be some interest in me, but then you started acting strangely at the ball. Finally, it was the tear at the dinner table where the pieces began to fit. As much as this is going to hinder my path to you, I do like that you are cautious with your heart and . . . nevermind. Being the innocent that you are, I’m not sure what you feel for me is real love. You’re new at these emotions and . . . odd feelings.”

“Your words sound sincere. I am not to be fooled by them? You’re not just a man in gentleman’s clothing, are you?”

“At the very least I hope I am that. I am a normal male with more than my share of . . . ladies. I’ve tried to live my life as a gentleman in the highest traditions of honor. I believe I have succeeded in that, both professionally and personally. Who do you think you’re in love with? Could it be my appearance, my wealth, my standing? Why did you fall in love with me? Perhaps, I’m the one who should be questioning the motives of a puppet.”

The tears started to form again. John was beside himself. This was definitely uncharted waters, but he vowed that nothing was going to alter her feelings for him. He slid closer, taking her hand in his. He leaned in and kissed her tears.

Margaret turned to him when he did that. She looked into his eyes and then at his mouth where she lingered.

“Do you know you are giving me a signal, Margaret?”

“A signal? Fred didn’t talk about signals. Oh, wait. Yes, he did. He said I was seducing you with my eyes.”

John laughed.

“What am I doing now?”

“You are asking me to kiss you.”

“I never!”

“You did puppet. If I wasn’t the gentleman that you think you love, I would have kissed you, here and now. I had better move back to my side of the table. You don’t know what you’re doing, and I am helpless against you.”

“We’ve confessed our most important thoughts, unhindered and untimely. I am bearing my soul as you are. The words you have said to me are overwhelming that I can’t even take them in. I should be rejoicing, but I am swimming in the path we took to get here. John, do you fancy me?”

“More than anyone in my life and fancy isn’t strong enough.” John was holding her hands across the table.

“Do you seek my favors?”

“All of them. I will seek and know them all. I want you in my life for the rest of our days.”

“I desperately want to  believe you and you to believe me. You have the experience with such matters, and I do not.”

“Margaret, I have never been in love. Ever. I hope you can believe that. There have been many rumors about my personal life, most of them are not true. Yes, it will take time for you to trust that I am telling you the truth. I can wait. I will be constant.”

“Our food is cold.”

“I see we have come to the end of our confessions. ‘Tis sad, that. My heart has yearned to speak these words all my life.”

“Someone has been reading Shakespeare.”

They both laughed.

Seeing Margaret finally smile was almost heartbreakingly wonderful.

“John, as stoic and prideful as you always appear, there may be a romantic inside of you.”

“I foresee one has just awakened. It is incongruous to me how different I feel compared to any other time I have lived. My past never felt hope for any particular woman, and now a mist clears and you are standing before me.”

The Second Sleep

All civilizations think they are invulnerable. History warns us none is.

1468. A young priest, Christopher Fairfax, arrives in a remote Exmoor village to conduct the funeral of his predecessor. The land around is strewn with ancient artifacts – coins, fragments of glass, human bones – which the old parson used to collect. Did his obsession with the past lead to his death?

As Fairfax is drawn more deeply into the isolated community, everything he believes – about himself, his faith and the history of his world – is tested to destruction.

 

Biography

Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

Carnival Row

Carnival Row is a fantasy-noir set in a neo-Victorian city. Mythical creatures fleeing their war-torn homeland have gathered in the city, and tensions are simmering between citizens and the growing immigrant population. We follow the investigation of a string of unsolved murders which are eating away at whatever uneasy peace still exists.Premieres Aug 30

Per show’s official twitter account, Carnival Row has been renewed for season 2, ahead of the season 1 premiere. Follow the link to read the original tweet.Reported on: Jul 28, 2019 – Source: twitter.com»

 

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C29

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

Chapter Twenty-Nine

 

There was quite a discussion going on in the sitting room when Margaret and Fred arrived downstairs. Adam stood and moved away from the couch to another chair. The change in Margaret’s face said more than her words could tell them. Fred settled her and then fetched another cup of tea for his sister.

“Margaret, the change in you is an extraordinary one,” said Adam.

“This neck brace is most helpful,” she said.”

Adam and Richard chuckled as if that was the only reason.

“Your life seems to have turned around since I saw you only an hour ago. It wouldn’t have to do with that strange man that dashed to your side, would it?” Adam smiled.

“Strange man?”

“He looked vaguely like someone I know, but his conduct was not like the gentleman I know him to be. So who was he?”

Margaret began to smile until she noticed a gun on the nearby table. She gasped when seeing it. “What is a pistol doing in this house?”

Returning to the room with her tea, Fred said, “That is my service weapon. I was just showing it to Adam.”

“When you were in the Navy, you never had anyone slap you in the face with a glove and tell you ‘pistols at dawn,’ did you?”

“Disputes are not settled with pistols while on the high seas, puppet, and no I was never challenged. And should I have been, it could only have been by men of equal rank. In the civilian world, it would have been different.”

Margaret looked at Adam. “Is he telling the truth?”

Adam nodded.

“And what weapon would have been used aboard ship?”

“Swords, my dear,” Fred said.

“It’s hard to believe you were skilled in all those weapons.”

“We learn it all so we can protect our sisters,” Fred laughed.

“Are there no limits?

“None. Except in pistols at dawn where there is only one shot allowed by each combatant.”

“Are you two drinking this early?” Margaret frowned.

“Yes, we had a bit of excitement down here while you slept.”

“Are you talking about, John?”

“No, I think it was some madman that came in here and stormed your room against the odds of three other men.”

Margaret blushed and smiled at the same time. “He didn’t?”

“Oh, it was quite a show. I think you would be very proud of him although he did scare the three of us.”

“I didn’t fear him,” insisted Fred.

“Yes, you did stand up to him very well before he outsmarted you.”

Margaret was almost popping up and down on the couch clapping her hands, hearing this tale.

“I don’t think anyone in this room could have foreseen a gentleman doing that.”

“I certainly believe you to be correct, Fred. Margaret, I think he would have stormed the battlements of Camelot to see you. Can you enlighten us on his mission?” Adam smiled.

“No.”

“Margaret, this is no time to go private with your life. You may be facing some very important issues soon,” Fred insisted. “Every man is this room understands that.”

“I think I want out of this room.”

Everyone laughed.

“Margaret, you are very fortunate to have such a loving, protective brother. Do not fault him for wanting the best for you. He is looking down the road of your life, not just the moment.”

“Does he think I will abandon my moral upbringing at the first sign of weakness.”

“Honestly, yes, Margaret.”

“Adam, I think you judge me unfairly. I think you judge John unfairly.”

“His recent actions indicate feelings deeper than I think even he realizes.”

“And what about my feelings?”

Adam looked at Fred.

“Sis, I think we need to say it like it is. There are emotional feelings and physical feelings.”

“I think I know that.” Margaret huffed. “What is your point?”

Fred threw both hands in the air. “Aaahhh!!!  Your virtue, Margaret,” he shouted.

It was like Margaret was slapped in the face. “My virtue!!”

She looked at her father, who was looking down, circling the fabric on his lap with one finger. Adam was busy filling his pipe. Fred was staring at her like she was an idiot. He was still standing in the middle of the room.

“My virtue,” she repeated. That seems to be more important to you than it does to me.”

“What!! That’s incredulous.”

“Fred, calm down. You’re going to have a stroke. Why do women have to live under a double standard? Tell me that.”

“How long have you had that attitude?”

“You didn’t answer my question.” Margaret could see her father was on the verge of leaving the room, but he couldn’t move. Adam was listening intently, waiting for his opportunity to share his views. Margaret couldn’t believe this discussion of her chastity was going on in the sitting room with three men.

“I want to come over there and shake some sense into you. I know mother never spoke of these things to you, so now you have me. I’m not sure if there is a law, but there are centuries of tradition. You said you understood about a man’s needs. He will always be on the hunt until married. As crass as that sounds, it’s the truth, and he can’t help it.”

“He can’t help it. He can’t help it. That’s all I hear from you.” Margaret said in her agitated tone. “You seem to think that is a given, by rites. It excuses you from your actions because you can’t help it.”

“It’s a biological fact of life, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know that, Fred. But you make it an excuse for everything. He can’t help it. We can’t help it. Will you come home one night with a black eye and maybe bullet hole somewhere because you took Bessie’s virtue. I’ll run to your aid and ask what happened, and you’ll say, I couldn’t help it. Really? You could do that?”

That actually got a laugh from Adam and Fred.

Adam was enjoying this debate, Richard was marveling at the knowledge his daughter had gained. Fred was exasperated.

“You know you could have helped it. I do think God made men that way to perpetuate the species. But it doesn’t excuse your behavior.”

“So you’re saying we need to be ashamed?”

“I am not saying that. I am saying you can help it. A lot of your control is in here.” Margaret rose up to Fred and knocked on his head.

Fred threw up his hands. “I concede. Now let’s get back to you and this century.”

“Margaret, I think we all know that you are correct about a double standard. It is unfair, but the man you marry doesn’t want a woman who is spoilt. It may not really matter at all to him if he is a forward thinking intelligent man, but he must appear to have preserved his rights to you.” Adam added.

“Let me see if I have your thinking correct. If, and I repeat if, John Thornton and I seem to form an attachment, words have been spoken, and marriage is forthcoming, that a very large part of our relationship will be left in doubt?”

“God, she drives a hard bargain, doesn’t she,” Fred said to the rest of the room.”

“Fred, we’ve always known that she was independent.”

“But not with this. Please, not with this, Margaret.”

“Fred, Father, Adam, you’re just going to have to trust me. I don’t want all of you looking after me until I am married and bedded. I don’t want you looking at the gentleman I am seeing and think, I know what he’s after. Give me some credit.” Margaret thought her father was going to have a heart attack. She found the challenge of the argument fun even if she wouldn’t behave as she was implying.

“Fred, she is by rights a woman, now. Free to make her own choices. She was brought up with moral values, educated, and it’s time to let them play out. If it were any other man aside from Thornton, I believe I would have more to say, but I believe him to be the most honorable man I know. He won’t let her weaken unless he knows, in his mind, that he will marry her. He will not allow his passion to lose control unless it is insisted upon him.”

“So if Margaret is … is deflowered, it will be at her own insistence. Is that what you are saying?”

“I am.”

“Aren’t we switching things around here? First, it was the man’s needs, now she’s talking about a woman’s needs. Where did that come from?”

“Hey, I am in the room, you know,” Margaret interjected.

Fred went and sat beside her. “Alright. Can you put our worries to rest?”

“What exactly are your worries – that I will weaken and lose my virtue before marriage, or that I will be insistent?”

“Bloody hell, Margaret. What’s the difference? The man is still in control of you.” Fred’s voice was rising.

“I will promise you this. Now listen. I may lose my virtue ahead of marriage, but it will happen with the man I will marry and no one else.”

“You are assured there will be marriage. I don’t think you can be guaranteed anything.”

“Fred, can you honestly say that you would not seek the knowledge of compatibility with the woman you intend to marry for life?” Margaret looked at him, waiting for an answer.

“Let me try an example,” Margaret added.

Fred sat across the room.

“You and Bessie have been having a relationship for several months. In your heart, you feel she is the one. Time goes on, and passion grows. Your desire becomes unbearable. You think you can’t help it much longer. You have kissed and hugged and petted and maybe a bit beyond that. Unbeknownst to most men, and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough, Bessie will have her own desires that are constantly being put down. She wants you to take her, but she can’t say that or even intimate that because of the double standard. Now the marriage talk comes. It is decided, although a date has not yet been set. On a particular perfect outing, you two are alone. You want the touch and feel of each other. You want her in your arms, she wants to be there. Desires builds, passion mounts, being a man you can no longer hold back. You slowly unbutton her frock and pull the top down, knowing what comes next. She’s beginning to swoon. She has waited a long time for this attention. You look into her face, asking permission. Her eyes are closed, but there is a soft cooing from her lips. You bend down to kiss and then stop. “I can’t do this to you, Bessie, you will be spoiled goods for the next man, should you not marry me.”

“Damn, Margaret, you’re making me sweat.” Fred was forced to leave the room.

“Margaret, that was spectacular. You must write. That is your forte in life. Women’s novels on love. Perhaps, write for men, so they have a guide,” Adam laughed. “You took me back to my younger days. Your father is mighty quiet over there.”

“I think he sees I have come of age.” Margaret smiled.

“In every way, I do think.”

 

It was after dinner, the table was cleared, and John sat with his mother having an evening brandy. The evenings were beginning to chill and on damp nights, a fire was light. Hannah stared at her son as he gazed into the flames for minutes on end.

“Is anything wrong with your brandy, John?”

“I’m sorry. What?”

“You have been far away in your thoughts. What troubles you tonight? Something happen at the mill?”

“I didn’t even get to the mill today. And nothing is wrong.”

“Then what is right, that takes you off this evening?”

“I’ve been thinking about Miss Hale,” John acknowledged.

“In any particular regard? I remember how upset you were at what Lenore may have told her.”

John watched the flames and infrequently looked at his mother. “That has been cleared up with a lot more understanding than a man deserves.”

“You know I liked the girl when I met her.”

“She is a woman, mother,” he exclaimed. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to snap at you.”

“Is she seeking your favor?”

“No. She isn’t.”

“No? I knew she was different. Is that what troubles you?”

“I told you, nothing was troubling me.”

“You’ve been sitting there, pondering, looking into the flames for a long time. Surely, there is something you can tell me about her that takes control of your deep thoughts.”

“I barged into her bedchamber today.” John was pinching the bridge of his nose while his gaze remained on the burning logs. “I had to speak with her and Fred, her brother, was denying me. I understood him not wanting to see me after last night. So, I took the stairs quickly, walked into her room and locked the door.”

“John, you could have been arrested. You’re a magistrate. What had you to say to her that was of such urgency?”

“I wanted to tell her I was sorry,” John said between clenched teeth.

“Wouldn’t a note have sufficed?”

“I spent all night going over in my head every detail that I have observed or heard from her since she was known to me. Every one. My only conclusion to my midnight meanderings is that she has purposely concealed herself from me. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but she did. You know I am one among many bachelor’s in Milton, and there are plenty of women. One cannot help but notice them. It didn’t mean I was interested, but notice I did. I first became aware of Margaret at the office when she came to speak about giving the lessons, which now in hindsight, I missed what I should have seen. There was a day when she stared at me. I found it a common female convention, but I was still amused by it. From then on, she insulted me and then ignored me. She never mentioned she was coming to the dinner and allowed me to tell her I was leaving early from work. Something happened last night that seemed to cause a burst in my chest. It took me all night to figure out what it was and that was seeing Adam Bell wipe a single tear from her cheek. I thought she may have been in pain since Adam said she was, but in bed last night, I knew that wasn’t it.”

“It was Lenore’s words?” Hannah asked.

“Not entirely. You are a smart woman, mother. Perhaps you became aware of a … what do I call this … an attempt to gain my attention by promoting oneself, which seemed to be going on between Lenore and Anne?”

“Yes, I did spot that but that isn’t new to you or me.”

“Exactly.”

“I don’t see where you’re going with this, John.”

“It’s as clear as day to me now.”

“What is?”

“The tear,” he said wistfully. “Miss Hale has been in front of me but never brought attention to herself. She never sought my favor. She didn’t bother me, in fact, she went out of her way at the ball to put me at ease with her indifference. That is a startling revelation. As I look behind all that, I see a very intriguing woman, who is not only independent but funny, intelligent and beautiful.”

“I see. But the tear?”

“Yes, the tear. Her final surrender to herself.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I spent the dark hours trying to interpret what I was unconsciously aware of at the table. Mother, perhaps you can understand and tell me what was going on inside of her. First, we must remember that she went through great pain just to be at your dinner. She was quiet and unobtrusive. I believe she attended, to be noticed by me by continuing to act indifferent. She was protracted, don’t you see; thus drawing my attention more prominently and favorably as it turned out.”

“Let me tell you the rest, John, as I believed happened.”

“Please, mother.”

“As you say, she made a very intelligent play for your scrutiny of her. She was masterful.”

“But?” John added.

“But . . . while sitting at the table, and I don’t know the order of things because I didn’t see the tear, she was forced to hear of Lenore’s boastings. She figured out that she was your companion for the evening.”

“That’s when the tear fell.”

“Finally witnessing the Latimer, Smithers tournament, she would never have engaged in, but it did show her that she was an unworthy opponent. Each woman dressed in their finery with their jewels, while she was a woman who educated herself so she could work. It’s not what they had that she didn’t, it was her giving up on you noticing her.”

“That was when she closed her eyes,” John remembered vividly.

“Yes . . . as I thought. All night I have reviewed this brave young woman at our table. This woman that was there unnoticed because I have become so full of pride, to be glad that she wasn’t a bother.”

“And you feel different towards her now?”

“I very much do. I feel there is new hope in my life and she may well be the one if she will have me. I need to know more of her and she of me.”

“You’ve gone as far as thinking of marriage?”

“I have, along with many other factors, including a brother that protects her as the crown jewels, which I would like the honor of doing some day. No feelings have ever felt so rooted as the ones that have developed overnight.”

“So what do you plan to do, John?”

“I’ve already started by barging into her bedchamber and locking us in.” John laughed. “I had to see her face. Was she really the same person I have been dwelling on for the past twelve hours. Placing her in my life through various situations.”

“And she was?”

“No, she was more than I hoped.”

 

Nicholas found John at work early the next morning. “I was sorry to miss you yesterday. How did the rest of the night unfold? I figured you were up late and had a few too many scotches.”

“You couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t sleep much at all that night, so I caught some of it yesterday afternoon.”

“It must have been something big because you appear somewhat changed.”

“I am changed.”

“It’s Miss Hale, isn’t it?”

“How do you know that? When did you know?”

“Before you, apparently,” Nicholas laughed. “I was sure of it the day she came for the mill walk. You came looking for her or us, and you walked her out of the mill. It would have made more sense if she walked with me and continued to ask questions, or she walked with her brother. That you came at all was a revelation. It meant you were waiting for her.”

All of his reflections last night, and there was that moment that he hadn’t remembered. The mill walk had come to mind but in her regard, not his. He didn’t know why he did it. It was an unconscious thought.

John watched the smiles come and go on Nicholas’ face as he recounted the rest of the dinner up until that very moment.

“You barged into her bedchamber? Against the repeated denials of three other men that have considerably more ownership of her than you do?”

“I know. It seemed rash at the time.”

“It doesn’t seem rash, it was rash.”

“I will never forget yesterday, no matter what comes from it. I would do it again.”

“John, I think you have just crossed over into dangerous territory where bachelors go and never return.”

They both laughed.

“Seriously, John, I have never seen you so taken with someone so easily and this quickly.”

“She was hiding, remember? My self-pride allowed her to remain indifferent and give me peace.”

“Do you think it was that well thought-out and planned. If so, you have been under siege for a fortnight.”

John had to laugh out loud at that. “It doesn’t really matter, how well it may have been planned, but her execution was flawless.”

“So what’s next?”

“The beginning.”