John timidly knocked on the Hale’s door early that evening. Dixon answered the door.
“Is Miss Hale at home?”
“Please come in. Would you care to wait here or in the sitting room?”
“I shall wait here.”
Sitting down with her second cup of tea in her bedroom, Dixon announced to Margaret that she had a visitor.
“Who is it, Dixon?”
“It is Master Thornton, mum.”
“Sis, do you want to see him? I can speak on your behalf.”
“Certainly not. I can speak for myself.”
Margaret smoothed her dress and then proceeded to the staircase. There was a moment that hung in the air as she spotted him, holding his hat. He was looking up at her and walked forward near the bottom step. Margaret felt warm.
“Miss Hale, please forgive me for stopping by unannounced.”
“Please do not bother yourself. We had no plans. Are you sure you wouldn’t wish to be comfortable in the sitting room?”
“What I want is for this to be private so you can make a decision without a lot of advice. Let me speak first, and then you can change where you wish to speak.”
“Would you mind sitting out front or in your coach? My brother may listen in. He’s taking me in hand.”
“I don’t understand. Yes, by all means, let’s take a ride in my coach. Would that be suitable?”
“Yes, I shall enjoy your beautiful coach.”
John opened the door for Margaret and then handed her inside the coach. He spoke with Branson for a moment and then entered the coach himself.
The coach moved, and John began. “Miss Hale before I speak of my reason for being here, let me again applaud your work on behalf of the masters. You imparted good solid information. And that will lead to another discussion with you.”
They were seated face to face in John’s two-benched coach. Margaret didn’t know where to look. It was hard looking into his eyes without staring. It was hot in there.
“Miss Hale, I find myself in a position I don’t care to be in. I am here at the behest of Captain Waverly.”
“Who? Oh yes, your lady’s brother, I think.”
“Yes. That is right. I am not here to plead his case; it is more of an introduction. He will be at the ball and hopes to have a dance with you. He felt he would like to speak with you again before that evening.”
“And he sent you to ask me for another introduction before that night?”
“Miss Hale, please understand I do not like what I am doing. Because I am someone you know in a small way, I was asked to arrange this. It should not place any bearing on your answer. I am feeling quite foolish. It’s warm in here.”
“Do go on.”
“I told him that I was hoping to speak with you soon about employment and there is no change there. It was an idea that came to me where I decided that the four of us should have dinner tomorrow evening. God, I’m making a fool of myself. It was my opinion that you may not want to spend lunch alone with him, which was his suggestion. I do not know the man, so I am giving you no recommendation for him. I wouldn’t wish to speak with you about employment in that situation as it is, but I didn’t want to push you into a situation totally unfamiliar to you. Is any of this making sense?” John heaved a sigh.
“I will agree to that if only to save you from Miss Waverly should you return unsuccessful. I’m sorry. I should not have said that.”
“Miss Hale, above all, do not think that. I care not for any reaction from her regarding this dinner. As I said, I am embarrassed for both of us. However, he is recently retired from the Navy, and I would think he is well schooled as a gentleman. You would not be alone with him, and I would feel better about that.”
“You would?” Margaret asked tentatively.
John smiled at her. “Yes, of course.”
Margaret felt the heat that Bessie mentioned.
“Thank you for thinking of my safety.”
“What did you mean by your brother was taking you in hand?”
Margaret blushed which made John’s chest heave.
“You know he is recently home and knows that I have been caring for my parents, which has left me no time to meet gentlemen. He wants to help me understand the ways of men, and gentlemen and what to expect and other things.” Margaret’s face grew redder.”
“I see. He doesn’t think you can make up your own mind?”
“May I be candid with you.?”
“Yes. I wish all women were like that, but they are not. Please, go on.”
“When we were visiting your mill about the horse, my brother chastised me for seducing you with my eyes.”
“He did, did he?” John laughed inside at her explanation.
“I do candidly admit, and you should be used to this, found you quite handsome and could not pull away from looking at you. It was simply that. He thought I had some intention in my actions and he decided I had to learn what to do and not do around men. Apparently, that was childish. I am sorry.”
John broke out laughing. “Please don’t apologize. Your frankness has been well worth it.”
“I told him I’ve been schooled in such matters and he laughed, telling me I didn’t know the half of it.”
“So you will go through life expecting to experience all your brothers tells you?”
“No. I will always make my own decisions. He hasn’t realized as he grew into a man in the navy, I grew into a woman while he was gone. He thinks me an innocent child, I think. He may give me advice on someone like Captain Waverly, but he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know women and their emotional feelings. As he said himself, the navy hardly allows time for relationships to begin and build.”
“Miss Hale, you are quite refreshing to listen to. I hate to bring this to an end, but I must relay your answer to the Captain. Would it suit you for us to come by for you at 7:15 p.m.?
“That would be grand.”
“Will this be your first date out?”
“Is this a date?”
John smiled again. Seeing him smile at her, her breath caught.
“Since you will be out without chaperones and in the company of men, I think it could pass as your first date.” John chuckled.
“It’s not exactly the way I had envisioned it would be,” Margaret frowned and then laughed.
“No, I don’t think it will count. We would be part of a foursome. I’ll wait for the twosome to call an evening a date.”
“I think that is best. You wouldn’t want to look back on tomorrow night as a truly memorable experience.”
“I wouldn’t go that far in dismissing it. There are collateral benefits.” Margaret wished she hadn’t said that.
John laughed heartily again but wondered what she meant exactly.
Arriving at the Hale home, John walked Margaret to her door. Her brother was there to greet her.
“Good evening, Fred. Until tomorrow evening Miss Hale. Good night.”
Fred followed her to her bedroom asking what that was all about.
“That is my business.”
“You two were alone in the coach.”
“And Branson was driving. Leave me. I must find a frock for tomorrow night. I was invited out for dinner tomorrow night.”
“With the man himself?”
“No.” Margaret liked keeping Fred in the dark.
“Mr. Thornton drove you around in his coach to ask you out for dinner tomorrow evening but not with him.”
“Correct.” Margaret was laying out frocks on her bed.”
“Do you, at least, know this man, who didn’t have the nerve to face you and ask himself.”
“Yes. He wants an introduction.”
“I see. Will you be alone with him?”
“No. Now go.”
“Will you tell me all if I send an apology to Bessie in a note?”
“I’ll see the note first. I will hold it for posting, too.”
“Deal.” Fred left the room.
Margaret looked over all the gowns on the bed. She picked out a few of her finest and put them back in the wardrobe. She pulled out her walking and daily frocks and put them aside, too. That left about six to choose from. Nothing left on the bed was slated for the ball or the dinner. She settled on a pretty but simple frock. She definitely did not want to compete with Miss Waverly. Even though Mr. Thornton would be in attendance with her, Margaret figured John seemed to be a man who did not like airs, either. Perhaps Margaret’s understated frock would find approval by him and less interest by the Captain.”
She went looking for Fred. She found him at the dining room table writing.
“Fred, do men take a big interest in women’s fashion?”
“Sis, that depends on the man. That is an individual taste. I would think, at least for me, if I had a real interest in a woman, I would not like to see her advertising herself to other men. She may think her gentleman likes showing her off, but he doesn’t. Not in that way, anyway. That reflects poorly on the man and his choice of women.”
“Thank you.” Fred taught her nothing new there, but it was nice to hear his thinking. He wasn’t totally fooled.
That night Margaret went to bed remembering some of the conversations by the girls at school. Such tricks women could play. They all weren’t like that, but she felt sorry for the men that stepped out with them.
“Dad, I need to confess something,” said a bashful Bessie at the breakfast table.
“This is a first.”
“Well, I know you said you would worry about me now that I will be seeing men.”
“And you have something to confess about that?” Nicholas gave her his whole attention.
“I don’t know what to do next.”
Bessie began the story of her visit to Margaret and Fred working on the roof of the stable. She told her father and Peggy the statement she made about how she felt, although she left out the warm feeling part. She said she ran when she realized he had overheard her and how she felt she couldn’t show her face there anymore. Bessie caught the smiles between her father and her stepmother.
“Nicholas, Bessie and I will have a chat later.”
“Let me give you my thoughts. What you felt is natural and healthy. What you said to another female, even the sister, in confidence is also normal. Being overheard is embarrassing for you. And I will leave the rest up to Peggy. Thank you for letting me know. I will always be here for any discussions about men and women.”
At the Hale house, Margaret was discussing her eventful day, yesterday, and her night dinner coming up.
“Margaret, how fast things turn around,” smiled her father. “Who is this dinner with?”
Margaret told her father the whole curious story. “You understand, father, that I don’t feel this is a date.”
“Yes, I can see that. Hmm… a Captain in the Navy. Does Fred know of him?”
“I never asked. I believe he saw him at the lesson, but I don’t know if he heard his name. Where is Fred?”
“He’s gotten an early start on what is shaping into a stable. I think the horse and buggy come tomorrow.”
“Really. How exciting. Sunday, after the ball, I shall have Fred start teaching me. I’m going to go see him now. Excuse me, father.”
Margaret was full of smiles as she walked up to Fred. “Father says the horse comes tomorrow?”
“Yes, he does.”
“Does he have a name or do you rename him?”
“I don’t know if they learn their names as a dog would, but I am not changing it.”
“So, what is it?”
“I like that. Max! Will you teach me on Sunday? I will have busy days until the ball is over.”
“About yesterday and last night …” Fred was interrupted.
“Did you write the note?”
“I did.” Fred wiped his hands on his pants and pulled the note from his pocket.
“Fred, I was going to ask if I could read it, but I am not. That is your business, and no matter what you wrote in here, that’s between you and her. So, I am going to seal it.”
“Fine. Thank you.”
“I will see Mr. Thornton tonight, along with Miss Waverly and her brother the Captain. I will hand Mr. Thornton the note to give to Mr. Higgins tomorrow.”
“I’d rather it went post today.”
“I will set it on the post tray in the hall.”
“So, the Captain is it?”
“Yes. Father asked if you knew him from the Navy.”
“What’s his name?”
“They call him Kit, but Captain Waverly is all I know.”
“Waverly? Waverly? The name sounds familiar, but I never saw him.”
“No matter. He just may not want to see me a second time when he finds out what my brother has done,” she laughed.
“That may be truer than you think. I hope not for your sake.”
Adeline Waverly was bringing out her jewels and asking Kit which would look better with what she was wearing. He said they were all nice. He didn’t want to be subjected to this fashion show any longer. The one nice thing about the Navy was that you have very little to choose from. His retirement wasn’t quite official yet, and he could have worn civilian clothing, but he hadn’t bought any.
There was a knock at the door, and John Thornton was shown into the room.
“Good evening Adeline, Captain.”
Kit stood and shook his hand. “Once again, I want to thank you. I wish I had more knowledge of how introductions work. They have been rare for me.”
“I must admit; I did feel a bit uncomfortable. To be honest, I do not know you and could not recommend you personally to Miss Hale. But your rank puts most unknowns at ease.”
“I understand. Thank you for being honest.”
“Adeline, you are most beautiful this evening.”
“Thank you, John. Anything for you. I do not want Miss Hale to catch your eye this evening. I know she has your attention.”
“Yes, she does. I have decided not to speak to her about employment this evening. I wish nothing to detract from your brother’s pursuit.”
“I think a Navy man would understand that.”
“He would, indeed,” replied Kit. “However, her manifest must be examined.” Kit laughed.
John thought that was a very rude remark, even to another man. It sounded like he was only interested in her innocence. He would most likely ensure her chastity was listed. John began roiling inside.
“Were you not astonished at her lesson the other night? Apparently, she took her education in a new direction than most women.”
“Yes, yes, a charming woman.”
“Captain, you do understand that she is a young lady.”
“What are you trying to tell me, Thornton?”
“Oh, John. It’s worthless talking to him about women and ladies. He thinks we’re all alike.”
“As in the women that might be waiting on the docks at a port?”
“Oh, come, John. Let’s not get into that in front of my sister. I will treat Miss Hale with all due respect unless she shows me differently.”
“She is quite naïve and may mislead you, unknowing of her actions,” John remembered her story of the staring.
“John, why are you demeaning my brother and defending a woman, a lady. Is there something I should know?”
“No, Adeline. I spoke with her last night which I considered our first conversation. She asked if this would be called a date as she’s never been out with a gentleman. I would want the gentleman to understand that and handle her differently than the women he usually associates with.” John stared at Kit.
“I understand you, sir. I did not need that sermon.”
“My apologies, Captain. Shall we go?”
John felt better for having said that but it would be a while before he calmed down about his manifest statement.