Margaret walked into the kitchen to speak with Dixon, asking how long before dinner. She felt her father would want to spread these papers which will become charts, on the table.
“Miss Margaret. Your father has asked me to serve us here in the kitchen. I can’t believe that. Your mother would never have stood for that. But he seems to have work that will take up the entire dining room table.”
“Very well, Dixon. I will be helping father if you need me.”
As Margaret walked through the hall towards the dining room, she saw that a letter had arrived and it was still resting on the buffet. She went to retrieve it and saw that it was from Mr. Bell. She carried it to her father.
Richard Hale was busy shifting large and small pieces of parchment paper around. He would check his notes and move them again.
“Father is this to be a puzzle of some sort?” she asked, walking up beside him.
“I didn’t think so, but it’s looming to be a much larger project than I anticipated. We will be studying this over several sessions and these charts will constantly change.”
“I see.” Peeking at his notes, Margaret hoped he knew what he was doing.
“Father here is a letter from Mr. Bell.”
“Yes, I saw it out there. I shall read it later. I have been expecting him to visit Milton in the near future. I would assume that is news to that effect.”
“Do you wish me to open and read it to you?”
“No, dear. Not at this time. I am concentrating on this layout of papers.”
“But they’re all blank, still.”
Richard Hale laughed. “Yes, they are. But I want to line up the sizes. The smaller pieces will be magnified areas of a part of the larger ones.”
“Do you have them drawn out on small paper?”
“Not all. I haven’t completed the formulas yet. I am not clear as to how to present it. This was a subject they requested to learn, and I am learning it as I go.”
“Father, I did much of this in school.”
“I doubt what you learned is as advanced as they want to learn. Many of these men are educated, too. From the conversation at the next lecture, I will get a more precise sense of the scale of their interest.”
“I am quite good, father,” Margaret replied, trying to impress on her father that she could help.
“Thank you, Margaret. As I go along, I may have a question or two. But it will be an enormous help if you could just draw many lines, like a graph. You will have to find a straight edge of some sort.”
“I will father.” Margaret walked away to find a straight edge. She feared her father was in over his head. He was an intelligent man, but his education was based mostly on the Bible. Margaret decided to look over his books he’d acquired and be ready. Perhaps Mr. Bell would be here soon enough to guide him.
Nicholas Higgins had left for home over an hour ago. John Thornton felt he had seen to a few loose ends that remained from the day. John was a tall, slender, well-built male with dark hair and blue eyes. He had become a self-made man. He started working at an early age, and through diligence, perseverance, and some education had risen to the peak of a new age for mankind. Machines. Born with natural intelligence, he rose quickly in the admiration of his peers. He was a leader; and one who shied away from flattery and the adulation that he rightly deserved. Hard worker, good looks, and humility had made him into one of Milton’s most sought after bachelors. He was 28 years old.
John entered his home situated on the mill property which stood as a testament to his success.
“Good evening, mother. What has you so occupied over there?” John asked as he hung up his coat. “Never mind. It’s your yearly dinner, is it not?”
“Yes, John it is,” Hannah Thornton replied with a note of exhaustion in her voice. “It’s not that far away, and I have only had a few replies. Mr. Bell, of course, and he’s asking to bring a lady friend. Surely your Miss Adeline will be attending?”
“Yes, mother. Of course, she will. Has Latimer answered yet?”
“Yes, he and his daughter, again, will be here. I think he’s still hoping you will see his daughter the way he thinks you should see her. She is a quiet and polite woman.”
“Is that what you like about Anne Latimer … that she is quiet and polite?” John asked smiling.
“Well, she has been reared very well with graceful manners.”
“Mother that is more of the point of why I do not find interest in her. We have been out several times, and I find her dull if you must know. She knows about Adeline and me. So, she may not attend, after all. I think she would feel foolish sitting there with her father.”
“It may well happen as you say. But Mr. Latimer coming on his own may tempt her to keep him company.”
“Do you have any more matchmaking efforts that you haven’t told me about?”
“No, John. Just you.”
“You really do like Adeline?”
“Yes, John. You have had many nice ladies that I found a befitting wife for you. She is in that group. I cannot ever know why you turn away from some and others are a bit more of interest to you – and yet, I can see no difference.”
“Mother, you should see no difference. Many do not act as you know them when there are more private circumstances. I am sure you do not want to delve into a conversation in that area.”
“But, John, you are still a gentleman?” Hannah asked with some trepidation.
“I cannot believe you would ask me that.”
“But you’re twenty-eight years old?”
“Meaning what, exactly?” By now, John had poured his evening scotch and was seated in his comfortable chair, which overlooked the mill yard.
“Well … I … I don’t want to get into your personal affairs, but…”
“But … you need not butt into my personal affairs. If you have heard any bad rumors about me, I am sure I would have heard about it. So, being a big boy now, I think I am handling things rather maturely. The job of Mother can only go so far with her son.”
“I just want to make sure you are happy. You did not have a father to speak with while you grew into an adult man. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder if you’ve been taught all you should know.”
John started laughing. “Mother, I shall bring you along next time. You can point out the error of my ways.” He gushed from laughing so hard. “Tonight I will sit on your lap, and you can tell all about the ways of a man.”
“John! Don’t say such disgusting things.”
“I find it quite far from disgusting. Shall we be done with my maturing phase?”
“Alright. We are done with you. But the women who …”
“On no account will you or anyone know about any woman I have been with. And you can take that any way you like. I am done here.” John left to go to his bedchamber, just to ensure the conversation had ended. He was glad of their talk because he’d always wondered how his mother may have worried about not having a father around. He hoped he had settled all of her apprehensions. It didn’t matter. This subject was closed.
John removed his cravat and waistcoat before returning to the sitting room.
Hesitantly, Hannah started to speak. “John …”
“I only want to know why you feel Adeline may be the one that you marry. Have you spoken the words?”
“There have been no words specifically. I believe there may be an expectation on her part. I am not even sure that she would accept me.”
“But what is it about her … that particular woman that separates her from the others. I would like to know. I would like to see and feel what you do. Perhaps, I would like her more than I do.”
John picked up his empty glass before sitting back down. “Brandy, mother?”
“No, not just yet. You go ahead.”
“Thank you. I think I will.” He smiled to himself. John poured his glass and returned to his chair. “Mother, I am not sure I can answer you. It’s not that I chose not to, but I cannot find the words to express the feelings that I have in her company. She is gay and light-hearted. She doesn’t begrudge me not spending every moment with her. Adeline has her own interests. She has her own money so that worry is not one which you usually dwell upon. I believe her words and emotions are true to herself and not a show for me. I think we could have a nice life together.”
“John! Is that what it’s come down to … someone you can have a nice life with? How about someone you love and loves you? Isn’t that the most important part of a marriage partner?”
“Mother that is a road, unknown to you, that I have traveled in my life. I lost a piece of myself. I cannot go through another difficult time like that ever again.”
“Let’s just say, I spent a lot my emotional self on her and she was false. That’s about all I will tell you.”
“Does anyone else know about this woman?”
“Only Higgins. We discussed it once.”
“You are such a private man that I did not see that happening to you.”
“I was very young then, and I am more the better for it. God only knows what advice you would have given me. You would have been as miserable as I was. It’s over. The lady has left Milton with her family, many years ago. I do not think of her except in the fact that I could have made a terrible mistake.”
“Well, I shall pray for a woman to find you that loves you and you can love. Settling for someone is a desperate act.”
“Mother, I don’t feel I am settling, as you say. Adeline and I have been seeing each other for many months now. I believe we both feel what a married life to each other would be like.”
“Have you discussed any desires to raise a family?”
“I know that she likes children. We have not spoken of a family in regards to us.”
“You don’t feel because of your age that you are rushed to find a suitable mate, do you?”
“Mother, sometimes I wonder if you really raised me. Suitable mate, indeed. I do not feel old or rushed because of my age. I live my life as I wish it to be. Men have a much longer biological clock if that is what you are referring to. Now, what is for dinner? I beginning to lose my appetite.”
“Your sister will be here with Master Watson. Have you heard from any other masters?”
“No. But you know, Slickson will never let one of your meals go by. Ah… dinner is being served. Shall we, Mother?”
Dinner was over. Margaret and her father were quietly busy at the dining room table. Richard Hale was thumbing pages back and forth … first one book and then the other. Margaret had found her ivory ruler, given to her for school by her wealthy aunt, Mrs. Shaw. Being her mother’s sister, Aunt Shaw was still active among London’s society set and had taken it upon herself to see that Margaret was educated. Margaret’s mother, now passed, had married a clergyman for love and not for position, title, or land holdings – which many had done in her youth. Visiting with her Aunt many summers, Margaret became well acquainted with that level of living, and although the amenities were welcomed, it wasn’t worth the smugness of the people who would be part of her life.
“Have you read your letter father?”
“Yes, I was correct. Adam shall be here in another week or sooner. He’ll stay at the Milton Grand Hotel, as usual. I don’t know what business brings him here this time, but he may be with us for a month or more.”
“I take it that your first lecture to the Masters will happen before he arrives?”
“Yes. That is correct. Something seems to be bothering you about my giving these series of lectures to the Masters.”
“I am only questioning teaching this particular subject. Your knowledge is limited to a subject that is their whole way of looking at their livelihood. I fear you may overlook something important. How old are those books you are studying from?”
“Margaret, please stop your worrying. Accounting is fairly basic.”
“If you say so, father. I was learning advanced skills in accounting when I went to school. Retail math. Have you heard the phrase?”
“These men are not retailers. They do not have shops that cater to the customer off of the street. Please, let me get on with my research. If you wish to continue to help me, just do as I ask and do not worry about me. One would think that you wish to teach the class.”
Margaret remembered a case study her class had dissected and why it failed. She thought how easy that was going to be, but it was like a garden that kept growing. Eventually, weeds sprang up, and before the owner could make adjustments, the weeds had snuffed out his profit. It wasn’t the basic accounting of which she was sure her father understood and the masters, too. It was the anticipation of growth and what to do to about it. If you are not prepared for the volume of work in the next season, how could you increase your business?
“Peggy, how are you feeling this evening? Still, have a fever?” Asked Bessie of her mother.
“Yes, I am afraid so. Little I can eat will stay down. Dr. Donaldson says it’s a virus, not a cold and I may be out of sorts for two weeks.”
“Oh dear, how hateful that will be. Well, you know Mary and I can handle the household while you rest.”
“Yes. Knowing that allows me to rest and not worry. Although, there is one thing,” Peggy lowered her voice. “It’s the Master’s Ball. Your father has been looking forward to that. I am sure I will be too weak to attend. Would you be his guest? It isn’t just for husband and wives. It’s for the masters and a guest.”
“Does father dance?”
“He may think he can, and I have told him no different. I doubt he will do much of that with you or even me if I could go. He likes talking to the others.”
“You don’t think he would mind me going in your place?”
“Of course not. He would be proud to have you there.”
“Would it be asking too much to bring a friend?”
“A friend? What friend? A young man?” Bessie’s stepmother brightened.
Bessie laughed. “That would be nice, but no. It’s a new friend I was telling father about. She’s a young lady I met today at the park. I think we’re going to get along very nicely.”
“Is she a working woman?”
“No. She’s from a proper gentleman’s family, but they are not prosperous now. Her mother passed away within the past year, and her father is teaching the masters at the lyceum. I think she said he is teaching willing workers to read and write. Margaret, that’s her name, said she would be willing to teach me if father approves. He shall meet her very soon.”
“Having a new friend all sounds so wonderful. I know how lonely you have been. As for the Master’s Ball, you will ask your father.”
“Does he have any idea that you may not be able to go?”
“We haven’t discussed it. He should know that I can’t and must be holding back any conversation so he will not have to disappointment me.”
“He knows I will feel bad that I cannot attend with him and he doesn’t want to bring it up while I’m not feeling like myself,” Peggy smiled.
“I’ll talk to him after dinner. Are you ready to have your soup brought up?”
“Yes. Please ask Cook for a cool glass of water.”
Dinner was over, and both housekeeper Jane and Cook had left for the evening. John heard a knock on the door and went to answer it.
“Slickson, come in. What brings you to my home at this time of the evening?”
“Thornton, I was passing your mill and decided to stop and extend my thank you and acceptance to Mrs. Thornton’s dinner party.”
“Very good. Can you stay and have a drink?”
“Yes. Not too long, though. Do you have bourbon?”
“I do. Please come up to the sitting room.”
Arriving in the sitting room, Master Slickson walked over and spoke with Mrs. Thornton, while John poured their drinks.
Slickson returned to a chair across from where John sat and took the glass that was offered.
“This will be a nice month for some of us. First the Ball and then your mother’s dinner party. Are you to attend with Miss Waverly?”
“Yes. She is looking forward to it. And you?”
“I know it’s getting close, but I have asked no one as yet. I did tell your mother that I will hope to bring someone to her dinner, and as for the ball, I hope not to go alone there, too.”
“I was quite sorry about the loss of your wife. It’s been two years. How are you coping with that if you don’t mind my asking? I feel it must be a very long time to recover.”
“John. You never recover. It becomes easier as the day’s pass, easier to go on alone, I should say, but you never recover. I can talk about it now. The mill has become my entire life.”
“I’ve heard about some of your improvements.”
“Many of those were wishes of my wife. I now have the wheel to filter the air, as you have probably heard.”
“I have,” John smiled. He saw Slickson pull on his glass and look off into a distant place as if remembering something.
“Oh, I just remembered something I wanted to ask you. Didn’t you take out a Miss Lenore Smithers?”
John felt stunned. That was a name out of his past. She was the woman who broke his heart and then moved away. “Yes, I took her out quite a long time ago. Why do you ask?”
“It seems she is coming back. Whether for a visit or to stay, I don’t know. Her sister is married to my foreman. He asked me if he could have a day off so he and his wife could bring her home from London. I thought you might be interested to know that. You look disturbed.”
John was very disturbed. Was Slickson making him uncomfortable on purpose for some reason or just alerting him to the fact of her pending arrival?
“I know you’ve been seeing Miss Waverly for a while. Figured you would want to know about an old flame coming back to Milton.”
“I appreciate knowing, but there is nothing there. Nothing to concern me with, but thank you, all the same.”