“Margaret, tell me that note was lesson-related.”
“Fred this is lesson-related. I think a walk through a mill will give me a better understanding. I can see all I should know from the current Profit and Loss statements, but being all men, there could be more.”
“That makes no sense at all, you understand,” stated Fred.
Margaret had a twinkle in her eye.
“I think I should go with you.”
“No Fred. Unless Branson sends you a note, then you will stay home.”
Higgins unfolded the note that had been left with the gateman. He smiled. “So, she wants to see the mill, does she?” He put the note aside and waited for John to read it. It was Nicholas’s turn for the half day Sunday shift, and he did not mind showing her around. Apparently, this was something to do with her lesson.
John arrived an hour later from mill 2 for their end of daily shift meeting. He hung up his coat and went to his desk where he found Miss Hale’s note.
“Why do you think Miss Hale wants a walk-through of the mill, Nicholas?”
“I think it’s for her next lesson.”
“What could she tell from looking around?”
“Oh, she may be looking for wasted man-hours. She’s probably hoping to find one-quarter of one percent to be saved.” Nicholas laughed. “It’s my shift tomorrow. I don’t mind if you don’t.”
“No, I don’t mind either. Who knows? Maybe she will see something. I’m not busy tomorrow. Branson has found a horse and trap that may be of interest to the Hales. I told him he could have the day off.”
“I’ll take my turn. You just relax for a day.”
“Write your reply. Branson is headed over to the Hales about tomorrow, himself. He can deliver it at the same time. John was handed Nicholas’s folded paper and walked to the back of his house. “Branson!” He shouted.
Branson opened the door to his rooms over the stable and clamored down the steps while buttoning his shirt. “Yes, Guv?”
“Would you see that Miss Hale gets this note when you talk to her brother?”
Branson left immediately, riding one saddled horse.
Fred answered the knock at the door. “Branson, come in.”
Branson stepped inside but no further. “I’ve come to deliver this note to your sister. Also, I think I have found just what you want. A mill master passed away. He had a second small buggy and horse that the family will want to leave behind. They will take the large coach and horses. I could take you there tomorrow.”
“That sounds grand. Wait here.”
Fred went looking for Margaret, who was sitting on the couch flipping through her books.
“Margaret, here’s a note for you. No doubt a reply to your request to seduce Mr. Thornton again.”
Margaret snapped it out of his hands. “Shush. Branson may hear you. He doesn’t know your humor. Wait, Fred, it needs an answer.” Margaret read it once again. Tell the driver that 11:00 a.m. will be fine.”
“Nice sis. And don’t be fooled that anything can get past Branson when it comes to his master.” Fred smirked.
Fred returned to Branson and told him Margaret’s response and asked if that time would be agreeable to him, as well?”
“Most agreeable, Fred. I will see you two then.”
Branson left as Dixon was calling everyone to the dinner table.
When Fred returned, he noticed his sister was off in dreamland. She was unaware that he had walked into the room. “Practicing a new seduction tactic, are we?” Still no reaction from her, not even a head node to placate him. She was either in Thornton land or working on her lesson plans. She did have the books open on her lap. Fred decided to sit down and study her for a moment. At least she blinked once in a while to moisten her eyes. She seemed to be sucking on her finger or chewing her fingernail. After half a minute, she removed her finger from her mouth and licked her lips. Fred had never seen a woman so deep in thought. He finally walked over to her and waved his hand in front of her face.
“Hello. Anyone home?” He called out.
“Oh, Fred. What is it?”
“Where were you just now?”
“Here, on the sofa. I haven’t moved. You know that.”
Fred scoffed. “Margaret, you were miles away in your mind.”
“So? Am I no longer allowed to think for myself?”
“It was like you fell down the rabbit hole. Gone, gone from this room. Tell me, what were you thinking?”
Margaret felt a book start to slide from her lap. “I was planning a lesson.”
“Oh, that was it? I see. I guess you didn’t hear us called for dinner.”
Cutting his piece of mutton, Richard Hale said, “Margaret, it was nice of you to accept Adam’s invitation to the Thornton dinner.”
“Thank you, father. Adam Bell is my friend as he is yours. I am glad I can help him be more comfortable at the dinner. I will be happy to talk with him.”
“Have you given any thought to the Master’s Ball,” asked Fred.
“I have. It would be very nice to attend with a gentleman and not a kindness to a wallflower. Adam being seen with a young woman twice may not be proper for him or me.”
“Margaret, I know you are not known here in Milton, but Adam is. I am sure people know of his close acquaintanceship with this family, by now. You still have a couple days to decide that, I suppose.”
“Yes, father. That is right. It’s difficult however I look at it.”
“Sis, perhaps another will invite you.”
“Yes, Margaret. After your next lesson, you may have one or two offers. If that happens, we can surely ask Mr. Thornton for an endorsement of the gentleman.”
“I can’t see a complete stranger, even if he is a gentleman, ask me to a ball.”
“Margaret, it seems I will have to be telling you this often in the days to come. You don’t know your own allure to the opposite sex. Any man would be proud to escort you out.”
“Fred, what is it that I offer? I can see nothing in myself. Other ladies will have gone to a school and finished as a lady. I never took all those courses.”
“Father, can you help with this.”
“Don’t put our father on the burner. He is totally biased, where you have experience with the women. I think your real observations will mean more . . . something more up-to-date. You certainly can see what I am doing wrong. What do I have that is right?”
“After dinner, we will talk.”
“I will be doing my lesson planning tonight.”
“Well then, I will start slow. No sense giving you airs where there could be; and I do know you wouldn’t do that. I am going to picture an average well-bred lady who has finished.”
“Do not make anything of the order in which I say them, because I will not do that. Ready?”
“Just in the short time I have been home, I can tell that you are more intelligent than anyone I have ever walked out with. Some men may not like that. To hell with them.”
“Fred! Must you?” Mr. Hale said in a stern voice.
“Margaret, I do not believe you are the type to play games with a man’s feelings. I don’t mean your staring at Mr. Thornton. That is innocence, and it is an attribute that all men sincerely love to see, but it won’t last long. When I was talking about games, I wanted to say do not hide your intellect or your great sense of humor. From the beginning, a man should know the woman he is with. He finds it extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing to later extricate himself from the lady who is no longer the person that he met. Do you understand?”
“I would never pretend with feelings, I know that about myself, at least. I may not want to show an intellectual mind, though. And a sense of humor… Don’t men find that unattractive in their lady?”
“Again, some men might. We are not all the same. But the ones that are worth investing your time will want to know the real you.”
The room became quiet.
“Fred, how about my appearance?”
“That will be for another night.”
Fred saw Margaret’s eyes begin to tear up.
“Please excuse me,” Margaret squeaked out as she left the room.
“Son, it looks like you made a mistake there.”
“I believe I did. She thinks because I wasn’t ready to talk about it that she must not be the beauty that she is.”
“For a man of the navy, experienced in the ways of women, I can’t believe you didn’t think that is what is most important to them.”
“Well…I found that vain in a way and didn’t think of Margaret placing such emphasis on that.”
“You’re wrong, Fred. All young women are raised thinking they must find a husband or they’re lost. They know that their features…face and figure, play a heavy hand in that quest. You and I know that isn’t so. Men aren’t very good at compliments, but we’re not that shallow. She doesn’t know that. She’s upstairs, thinking she has nothing to recommend herself to a gentleman but intelligence and humor.”
Fred pushed away from the table and headed upstairs.
He knocked on Margaret’s door. “I’m sorry. I need to clarify something. Let me in.”
“I hope you are dressed because I am about to open this door.”
“Don’t you dare, Fred.”
“Cover yourself if you are undressing because I am turning the doorknob now.”
Margaret was sitting on the bed with a pillow to her face. Although hiding her wet eyes, Fred could tell she was still crying.
Breakfast around the table the following morning was quiet.
“Margaret, I never finished what I wanted to talk to you about last night.”
“I know, Fred. You were going to convince me that I am pretty.”
“No, sis. You are a beauty.”
“Thank you, Fred,” she said sarcastically.
“Father?” Fred pleaded.
“Margaret, I know you don’t want to hear from me because I am biased. And you are correct there, but I do have the where-with-all to be able to be unbiased when it is important. Your brother is right. Your mother and I often spoke of the loveliness you carry both inside and out. Until moving to Milton, I never worried about the men that may approach you in your life. It was a small town, I knew everyone, but here! I have been put off guard this past year with you staying in. Now, I really feel I am a father to a graceful, handsome woman. I can fear that like any other father.”
Once again, Margaret left the table and ran to her room.
“Father, why do they do that? I think she’s going to be crying because she’s happy. Does that make any sense to you?”
“Fred, with age comes wisdom. It’s hard for younger men to understand. They have never realized the impact that society puts on young women. You went through puberty, more of a delight and an awakening. For women, it is far from that. Yes, they go through their pubertal years but with that comes their biggest stress of life. This has been ingrained in them since birth. Are they strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough to engage in marriage? Can they bear a child? Can they marry for love or will there be another reason? You see they have no rights unto themselves. They are totally dependent on the man that owns them. It’s quite barbaric, I think. Can you understand that at all?”
“I’m beginning to, I think. It may impact the way I treat women in the future.”
“When you find the ‘right’ woman for you, you will treat her as you should. That will come naturally. But how many men really find their soul mate? For years, their manly needs overshadow their heart.”
“I think Margaret has found hers, but it isn’t being reciprocated.”
“She is still young. She may not know what she wants, yet. This is the time when she learns and molds the image of a man she wants to be with. She is beginning to sketch her life.”
Branson pulled the coach into Marlborough Mills for Miss Hale to disembark.
Fred assisted her out.
It only took a minute for Nicholas Higgins to appear from one of the sheds. John Thornton looked on from his parlor room window.
As Nicholas pointed the way to lead Margaret, Fred climbed onto the jump seat with Branson, who turned the coach and the two of them were off.
“Mr. Higgins, I am grateful for your time in showing me the workings of a mill. I did a lot of studying last night, which I am sure nothing new was revealed to me that I won’t see here today.”
As Margaret was escorted to the first shed of looms, she removed pencil and paper from her handbag.
An hour and a half later, there was a knock on Thornton’s kitchen door. Cook opened the door to Fred.
“Hello. Do you know if my sister is ready to go home? He asked.
“She has not returned from her tour to my knowledge. I’ve been waiting for a call for tea, but no one is ringing for it.”
“If you could tell her when she appears, that her brother is waiting for her at the stable area?
“Yes, laddie I will.”
Fred turned to walk down the steps wondering how long it had been since he had been called a lad.
“John, you keep pacing over there by the window. Are you waiting for something to happen? You seem restless,” spoke Hannah.
“Not really. Nicholas is showing Miss Hale the mill structure to help with her next class, but I cannot imagine why it is taking this long.”
“She seems like an intelligent woman. She must be trying in earnest to find ways to work smarter.”
“That is probably impossible. With 200 mill masters having years to think of the same thing, there should be very little she can surprise us with.”
“Well, I for one, give her credit for trying. You know John, women don’t always see things the same way a man does.”
“Yes, that is a hard lesson for a man to learn. Learning it is one thing, understanding and agreeing is entirely another matter.”
Finally, John thought. The shift crew whistle had blown. He went back to his window, this time from his study. He waited. He watched all the workers leave the yard and still no Nicholas or Margaret. He saw Margaret’s brother walk to the front of the house looking for her, assuming the same thing he had. This was too much. He donned his coat and went to look for them.
“Mr. Thornton. Mr. Thornton!”
“Yes, what is it, Fred?”
“Do you know where my sister is?”
“No, but I am about to find out.”
Fred followed as John entered the quiet, empty shed. No one. They walked on to the second shed, still no one. The third shed, checking all floors lead to no one again. Finally, John headed for the canteen and could hear voices. Nicholas, Miss Hale, and Mary Higgins were sitting at a table talking. Miss Hale seemed interested in what Mary was saying.
Nicholas caught Margaret’s attention. “Looks like we’ve been caught out,” he smiled.
Although tired, Margaret perked up as Mr. Thornton and her brother neared them. There was a greeting, but Fred noticed she never looked toward John after the greeting, not even when he was speaking.
“Women!” Fred whispered loudly under his breath.
“I’m sorry, Fred. I didn’t catch that,” remarked John.
“Sorry. Nothing of importance.”
“Miss Hale,” John called out. “You have been busy here today. I do hope you will not go about giving away our trade secrets.”
“Good day, Mr. Thornton. Mr. Higgins did not especially tell me which were your trade secrets and which were not.”
John caught a glimpse of Nicholas nodding his ‘no.’
“Mr. Thornton, do you expect your 600 employees to keep your secrets?”
Fred was astounded at her impetuous statement.
John was frankly taken aback by the question. “Miss Hale, I do tease you. Forgive me. We hide nothing here. It is for all to see.”
Margaret turned to Nicholas and Mary, thanking them for their time. “Mr. Thornton my thanks to you, as well. I shall leave now. I have been here much too long. I believe I know the way out.”
“I’ll walk out with you.”
John and Margaret walked ahead of Nicholas, Mary, and Fred.
“So, Miss Hale, have we been of any help in your lesson?”
“Yes, I am reminded that budgeting goes hand and hand with profiting.”
“That has always been my understanding,” John smiled.
Margaret said no more, walking quietly beside the tall man who made her legs weak.
As they all emerged into the mill yard, John was surprised seeing another coach pull in.
Adam Bell’s side of the coach was opened for his exit.
“My how fortunate to see all of you here. Margaret, I hadn’t thought to find you. Planning your lessons, no doubt.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Bell. Yes, you are correct.”
“Miss Hale and her brother were just leaving. How can I help you?” John remarked.
“I am here to accept the dinner invitation. Should I seek Mrs. Thornton or yourself?”
“Please take the stairs into the house. I shall be with you in a moment.”
As Margaret walked to Branson’s coach in the stable area, John noticed she had gone pale. She hadn’t tried staring at him this time, to which he found a modicum of relief. But the paleness was a bit disconcerting.
“Miss Hale, are you feeling well?”
“I am quite fine, thank you. And again, thank you for your time for allowing me to see the operations of a great mill from all I hear.”
“You are quite right. Marlborough Mills, to which there are two, is held in high regard by the workers. I am fortunate in that.”
“Yes, there was little to learn here when talking with some of the workers.”
“That is good news. I will bid you a good day and see you on Tuesday evening.”
“Perhaps the wives or ladies of the masters would care to listen to the discussion. They may learn all that you are responsible for. They would, of course, sit away from the men, so as not to distract them.”
“I shall let that be known. Interesting thought. Some may find fascination in that. Thank you. Good day.”