On the drive home, John had to wonder if he had an aversion to marriage or not. Several times women had assumed he would be proposing soon and he had to extricate himself from that thinking. He may have wished to continue seeing that lady but clearing the misconception always lead to a complete break-up. His confidence seemed to plummet every time that happened, but he held fast to his pride so it would never show. He seemed to be wanted only for what he had, not who he was inside. He’d known many men that had pursued their intended with more vigor than he had ever imagined. Could he really have a fear of marriage or had he not met the woman that would own his soul? Perhaps, he’d read too many books, and true love wasn’t as consuming as the stories told, although true history books painted the experience of falling or being in love as magnificent.
The Hale house was passing around the wine and scotch glasses when they arrived home. Dixon was cheerful hearing all the comments about Miss Margaret.
“Margaret, I think your visual demonstration with the coins was the most impressive,” said Adam.
Richard Hale and Fred agreed.
“I remembered that from class and the impact it made on me at the time. Many things seem to become clear once I saw the merchant do that. Math isn’t visual, there is nothing to excite the learner and some people never take to math in their entire life. But everyone seemed to understand that. I’m glad I thought about it.”
“So, Margaret, where do you go from here?”
Margaret sighed a deep breath. “I don’t know. Bessie made a list of Masters and their mill names. I suppose I should write and see if they really do want more from me.”
“You should charge for this, sis,” said Fred.
“I can’t do that. I wouldn’t do that. It was a teaching session, Fred.”
“Well . . . the biggest visual demonstration tonight was not the coins so much as the teacher. You’ve opened up the world for yourself, sis. I think that retired Captain is first in line, too.”
“Don’t be daft, Fred. There was nothing social about the lesson.”
“Think that if you will.”
“Margaret, I do feel Fred makes a good point,” replied Adam. “I believe that to be your practice ‘coming out’ event. That’s more than Milton usually offers young ladies. I had hoped that I would introduce you at the ball, which I still shall, but I imagine there are rumors circulating as we speak.” Bell smiled.
“Father, could that be true what they say?”
“I think you should prepare yourself for events in your life that you have missed for several years.”
“Sis, you know how you and I have spoken about a certain gentleman, well now, you will have many to entertain you and maybe one or two to fight off.”
“I will cover that with you when we are alone.”
“Now, you’re scaring me, Fred.”
“I mean to. This time of life looms larger in a woman’s life than in a man’s. Unfortunately, young women are not only innocent but ignorant of men and their . . .”
“Ahem,” was heard quite loudly from Richard Hale.
“. . . their ways,” Fred concluded. “I will teach you. I just hope I can do it in time.”
“Now Fred, have more confidence in Margaret then that,” proclaimed Adam.
“I do. I do. She’s just physically weak, that’s all.”
“Fred, are you talking about …eh…mm…femininity?”
“Actually, I’m talking about masculinity.”
Margaret blushed badly. Fred laughed, Richard worried, and Adam thought it was endearing.
“I’ve had schooling, Fred!” Margaret spat back.
Fred doubled over with laughter. “I am sure you never learned what I will warn you about.”
Margaret did not want to raise her eyes to three men watching her reaction. She stood and turned to the kitchen. “I have to see Dixon, who has disappeared.”
“On that fine note, I shall leave you fellows to sort out the wheat from the chaff on this adventure Margaret will be embarking on. I will return later this week, but please remind Margaret of the Saturday evening Master’s Ball, which is only four days away.”
The house was quiet when John returned. He removed his coat, cravat, and waistcoat. He poured himself an evening scotch, found his newspaper and sat in his chair. There was another reminder for the ball in the paper. He would have to work on some small welcoming speech, introduce the orchestra and the caterers. His mind drifted back to Kit Waverly’s statement about being interested in anyone that Adeline was stepping out with.
“I guess that was a natural reaction or comment by a brother,” he thought. “It just seemed . . . seemed heavier than that, as if she had embellished their relationship or perhaps a warning given if read between the lines.”
It was nearing 11:00 p.m. when Bessie tip-toed out and saw her father sitting in the darkened parlor room, staring into the fire.
“Is something troubling you, Father,” Bessie asked.
“No, not really. I always knew there would come a time when you were not my little girl anymore. I seemed quite conscious of it tonight when that horde of Masters surrounded you and Margaret. I know I have promised to take you both to the ball and I guess it is time for you to enter the arena of life and men.”
“And that bothers you? Peggy and I have had long talks about being out with men.”
Nicholas sighed. “I’m glad to hear that. I won’t have to begin at the beginning.”
“Father, Peggy was candid with me and the way it is with males of all ages, but especially the younger ones. For all their life, they will have the physical desire to . . . mate. I heard things when I worked the looms, but it wasn’t until Peggy talked with me that I believed what I had been hearing.”
“I hope she told you to save yourself for marriage.”
“No, she didn’t. But I knew that is the proper way. I also know about a woman’s heart which is more of a factor than men realize.”
“I’m not sure what that means exactly.”
“I know, Father. You are not alone. Just have faith in me that I may not be schooled, but I am intelligent enough to handle myself in situations that I feel sure will arise. I know men are not always true to their hearts when they speak of love. They may think they are at that moment in time, but the woman ultimately has to take the risk. Take Mr. Thornton and Miss Waverly. I would imagine there has been some intimacy in their relationship by now. And I can tell you that she thinks he’ll marry her, but I know he’s not going to. He is not in love with her.”
“Bessie! How can you know such a thing?”
“Because I am a woman. When I met her tonight, it would be apparent to another woman what she wants. John is no fool when all is said and done. He may think he could or is in love with her, but he isn’t and will never marry her.”
“Honestly, you cannot know that. I am close with the man every day. I know how often they see each other.”
Bessie laughed. “Do me a favor over the next couple of weeks. Take note of how many times he speaks about her other than a date of stepping out. Watch him look at her at the Ball. Watch him with her at Mrs. Thornton’s dinner. He will not look lovingly into her face as you once did with Peggy.”
“That’s understandable. A gentleman does not wear his emotions on his sleeve, especially John.”
“He would if he loved her. He would smile more in her presence for one thing. He would not be able to help it, just as you couldn’t. Time will tell, Father. You’ll see that I am right. He may not even know that he won’t marry her, regardless of what his mother might be telling him. I don’t think the poor man has ever been in real love. Every woman would or should be suspect to him, by now. He’s living a fairy-tale. He would like to slip from the castle and go where he is not known and find someone that loves him for himself and not what he can offer. The problem is, John has to run the castle and cannot get away for that to happen. I’ve worked on the mill floors for a few years, and you should have heard how the women talked about him. The man is perfect in every way as a husband.”
“I know the adoration by the females for him. And I can tell you he does not like it. He tries to stay as private as he can. He does miss the joys of life because he’s been in hiding for so long. Now this Miss Waverly seems to be making it around the bend with him.”
“If that’s true, it’s because he’s running out of new women to meet. Father, men, are so dense when it comes to women. The only excuse you have is that you are all the same. We think of it as a birth defect.” Bessie laughed.
“Now listen here, Bessie. That door swings both ways.”
“Before you start on a litany of why women do what they do, I’ll grant you some leverage there. Another time you must tell me where we are faulty. Good night, father.” Bessie smiled and went to the stairs.
John rose from his seat and went to collect his writing box. Situating it on his lap, he pulled out a sheaf of paper and began a note to Miss Hale.
Dear Miss Hale,
I wish to thank you for an illuminating and valued lesson that you presented at the Lyceum over the past two Tuesdays. After a rough start, which amused me by the way, you launched into your mission with vigor and aplomb instilling in your audience a sense of importance to your words. Someday I wish to tell you about my first few public speaking engagements. It was none the easier for me.
Unfortunately, there had been unexpected guests that required my attention, impairing me from joining the other masters waiting to speak with you. I do wish to speak again soon and perhaps offer you a small employment at our mills. I will factor your salary into my wage budget. I will create a line item for “Budgeteer.”
Perhaps a light lunch at a local eatery would be convenient for you.
Again, a job well down and an apology for telling you this through a note.
John sealed the note and prepared it for Branson to deliver the next morning.
Dawn was breaking as John was dressing for the day. His thoughts wandered back to Miss Hale and her nervous ordeal of public speaking. He started laughing when he thought of her being drunk last week. She took her embarrassment well. She seemed quite friendly. Why were all the women he saw so serious? With the exception of Higgins wife, he had no women friends. Inwardly, he was admitting to himself that he would be interested to see how she fared in public.
“Good morning, John. How was the lesson last night? Did Miss Hale astound the masters?”
“She was quite impressive and did open our eyes to some avenues we’ve never pursued. She had a bit of a hard start as I saw her begin to tilt on her first few words, but I brought a chair for her to sit in. After that, she took off like a shot.”
“I’ve never known a woman like that, have you?”
“How do you mean, mother?”
“It’s not like she’s a suffragette and pleading a cause. She was standing in front of men that are forerunners and history makers and telling them how they can improve. Is she the new woman of today? I don’t know where she got the backbone to do that.”
“Mother, she was trying to save her father from embarrassment. She really didn’t choose to do that.”
“But she did. The nerve had to come from somewhere. She will never be anyone’s common wife.”
“What are you saying? Stay away from her?”
“I’m not saying anything like that. Her husband won’t be telling her what to do very often.”
“Mother, I don’t think you’re very fair to her.”
“You don’t see it, do you, John? I am complementing her. It’s too bad there weren’t any women there to witness what women can do.”
“When I have time, Mother, I will reflect on your words. You are making it sound like a historical event that was hardly worthy of us men of business.” John smiled.
“Oh, stop it, John. You have Miss Waverly. Let some other man try to pull Miss Hale in line.” Hannah asked for the teapot.
John picked up his newspaper and began to scan the headers. His conversation reminded him of his note to Miss Hale. He would have Branson handle that early this morning.
Margaret was late coming down to breakfast. She apologized, admitting that the past evening event had been fatiguing. Her father was already in his study with some lesson plans, and she didn’t see Fred.
Settling into the kitchen area, “Dixon, where is Fred?”
“Miss, I will have your tea and breakfast in a moment. I think master Fredrick is outside working on the shed. Yes, I see him. That’s what he’s doing, Miss Margaret.”
“I’ll pop out while you serve the food. Just put it here on the kitchen work table.”
Margaret almost had a skip in her step as she bid Fred a good morning. “How is it coming along, your fine stable, that is?” Margaret laughed.
“Sis, my dear, your are looking at a soon-to-be master of horses. I will have to add on to his stable to allow for a second horse, you see.” Fred continued to hammer nails into the rotting wood.
“There was so much talk about me last night, I never found out what you and Branson have accomplished.”
“We should be set with a carriage and horse by the end of the week. I want to buy a saddle today. I believe the buggy assembly has all it needs. I guess I should find out what they eat. Oh, I guess we get straw. I’ll see Branson again in a day or two. I can drive you to the ball to meet Bessie and her father or take you over there.”
“I am sure I will have a ride in Adam’s coach. I am going back inside to eat something.”
“I haven’t checked the front page of the paper to see if you made headlines,” he snickered.
“Stop it, Fred,” Margaret smiled.
As Margaret entered the back of the house, she passed Branson on his way out back.
“Good morning, Miss Hale. I have brought a note to you from my master. Miss Dixon has it.”
“Thank you, Branson.”
Knowing in her mind that Mr. Thornton was a taken man, she none-the-less scurried to read his words.