Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C17

 Chapter Seventeen

 

“You look very pretty, dear sister.”

“Indeed, she does,” replied Richard Hale.

“Thank you, both.”

Fred thought he spotted a nervousness to her. Her face couldn’t quite work up a smile.

“Any advice, Fred?”

“Are you seriously asking me that or are you humoring me?”

“I think I’m serious,” Margaret said as she sat down and tried to keep her hands from shaking.

“Margaret, just be yourself,” said her father.

“I agree. Be polite, but you always are, and if conversations ensue, speak your mind. Don’t hesitate. No playing, little Miss Mouse in the corner. Be who you are from the beginning whether you’re funny or show too much intelligence, which you could easily do. If the Captain approaches you in an un-gentleman-like fashion, embarrass him, walk to the front and call a cabby.” Fred reached into his pocket. “Advice. This is always and forever, carry the cost of a ride home.”

“That’s good advice, Margaret.”

“Here, take this and put it in your bag.”

“Thank you, Fred. That does give me some comfort.”

 

Fred heard the coach approaching before anyone else. He went to open the door before the knock. He’d really like to speak with Branson only a minute to confirm tomorrow’s time. Captain Waverly came to the door. “How do you do, sir,” he said to Fred. Not thinking, Fred automatically saluted the officer.

“I say old chap, are you in the Navy?”

“Yes, I was until recently.”

“Well, we must talk sometime soon. Were you an officer?”

“I lost my commission, sir. Let me get my sister.”

“Very well.”

Fred stepped back into the house, and Margaret was waiting.

As Margaret stepped out to greet the Captain, she saw Mr. Thornton standing outside his coach. That was quite the gentleman. She wondered how often that happened. All gentlemen would exit a coach and allow a lady to take her own seat.

“Good evening, Miss Hale. Thank you for this proper introduction. You are most lovely.”

“Thank you,” Margaret replied as she saw Fred hurry by them heading towards Branson. “Please excuse my brother. He needs to speak with Mr. Thornton’s driver.”

As they arrived at the coach, Mr. Thornton tipped his hat, “Good evening, Miss Hale.” He was immediately struck with her alluring frock. He thought he had seen them all, but this simple evening gown looked spectacular. She had no jewelry that caught the eye before seeing the face. Also, there was nothing drawing a man’s eye to her breasts. John encouraged Kit to enter before Margaret and sit facing his sister. Margaret entered next and then John.

Margaret realized the pattern John created in entering the coach was so that the two ladies would have room for the gowns if they sat opposite a man.

“Miss Hale, I am not sure you were properly introduced to Miss Adeline Waverly. Adeline this is Miss Margaret Hale.”

“Yes, actually we were.” The ladies exchanged polite handshakes and greetings. Margaret could feel all eyes on her undervalued apparel. She didn’t care. She was proper, Miss Waverly seemed to have set her bonnet at Mr. Thornton, and she didn’t think she would find much interest in the Captain.

The Captain opened the conversation. “Miss Hale, you and I seem to be new to this nightlife of Milton. Perhaps you and I shall learn our way around together. Do you know the restaurants of Milton?”

“I know little of Milton, itself and none of the dining houses.” Margaret saw Miss Waverly lean over and whisper something to John, who kept his stoic presence.

“Would you enjoy going out for dinners, Miss Hale?”

“Captain, please call me Margaret as I wish everyone in this carriage would do. As to going out for dinners, I cannot say. This is new to me, and I do not know you. I have quite simple tastes, sir.”

John was smiling inside as Margaret was keeping him at bay. It was a game to watch this evening.

“Margaret, I wish you to call me, Adeline, as well. I wanted to tell you how impressive your lesson was the other evening. I did not understand it, but the rumblings in the crowd seem to find it helpful. Did finishing school teach you that?”

“No, Miss Adeline, I did not attend a proper finishing school. I attended a woman’s university that had some finishing classes. I am afraid, Captain, that I may not be the kind of lady you are hoping to meet. I would not make a terribly good hostess.”

“All thoughts to the contrary, my dear.”

Margaret didn’t care to be called ‘my dear.’ She would mention it if he repeated it. “And how about you, Captain, what are your plans now that peacetime and retirement loom in front of you?”

“At the moment, I am trying to re-enter the public world. There seems little accountability outside the military and it makes me quite anxious.”

 

The carriage pulled to a stop in front of The Dove. Adeline mumbled something about being there again. “Adeline, The Dove is new to these people,” John whispered back.

“Yes, John. How selfish of me.”

John exited the coach and handed Margaret out, followed by Adeline. Kit quickly caught up with Margaret. He offered his arm for the walk inside, and Margaret took it reluctantly, letting go of him when they stopped.

“Good evening, Mr. Thornton and guests. I have your table ready. Please follow me.”

John laughed inwardly as the owner, who waited on him personally, had given up on learning the names of the women that he brought.

They were led to John’s table, which he never asked for, but it was prominently placed in the room.

Margaret was astounded at the size and beauty of the walls and tables. Arriving at their table, she noticed the gleaming silver and the reflections off the cut crystal stemware. A finely spun linen tablecloth covered the table, and the matching dinner linens were placed in their laps. John couldn’t help watching her look at everything around the room.

“This is a most elegant place, Mr. Thornton,” Margaret said in hushed tones.

“Yes, it is nice. Please call me John.”

A waiter brought a complimentary bottle of champagne and filled their glasses.

“I would like to make a toast,” opened the Captain. “Everyone lifted their glass. “To new friends, new places and a new life.” The glasses were clinked.

“Tell me more about this college you attended, Margaret,” asked Adeline. “You said you had some finishing classes. Can I ask what they entailed?”

“Of course, there were advanced manners, in case I meet the queen,” Margaret laughed. A basic course on how to entertain. We learned about what to expect from a proper gentleman and what to expect from someone who isn’t. We actually learned several moves to defend ourselves.” She looked at the Captain jokingly.

“We learned to ride and jump, which I particularly liked. Never know when you will be invited to a fox hunt in Milton.” Everyone laughed at that.

“Let me think a bit. There were small classes on dressing properly for the occasion, including balls, riding and working hours. There were a few others, but they do not come to mind.”

“And you had subject material, too?”

“Oh, yes. You heard about the accounting, we had other math’s, world history, British history, writing, literature and a bit of science. There was more in-depth science, but I replaced the few finishing classes in place of the advanced sciences. I knew I would never be a doctor. Oh, and we had a bit of law, which was most discouraging.”

“Why is that,” asked John.

“I wish to not put a damper on the evening, so I will just say, I believe the rights of women are in severely reduced circumstances. It’s pitiful how the laws ignore us. If you read Charles Dickens, he calls the law an ass. He said that women have the same rights as criminals.”

“And where did he say that?” John asked.

“He wrote that in Oliver Twist; one of his famous writings. It was written about fifteen years ago.”

“You do know your literature. You may not know, but I am a Magistrate in the Court system. Men do not get away with any wife abusing in my court. When it comes to property rights and divorce, I am saddened to have to follow the law.”

“That is admirable of you, Mr. … John.”

“Enough of this, where is the wine menu?” complained Kit.

 

Wines and meals were ordered, and the foursome returned to the conversation.

“Margaret, you know I wish to converse with you about possible employment, but that will be at another time. However, I was wondering how many offers you received from the masters for additional help, if you don’t mind revealing that.”

“No, of course, I do not mind. I believe Bessie wrote down six mills and one came in the mail only yesterday. You were a great help to my father and I and took my word on blind faith. I feel indebted to listen to your offer first.”

“Thank you. I am relieved. Nicholas and I were afraid we may be too late in asking.”

“I do intend to visit these masters and help them establish their bookwork, but I will accept no permanent work until speaking with you. I do believe you have two of the most successful cotton mills in England.”

“So, Margaret, you intend to work, do you?” asked Kit.

“Captain, although I have a home available to me in London, within the society circles, I have refused that life. I selected my education purposely to prepare my life to be self-reliant. I could see no other choice. I intend to marry for love and nothing else. Being quite focused on that intention I am prepared to never be married.”

“So, my dear, if destitute, you would not marry for a roof over your head.”

“If it came to such drastic circumstances, I may have to return to my aunt in London. Kit, you are a nice gentlemen, but I wish that you would not call me ‘my dear, my pet, my love’ or any such endearments. We’ve only been introduced. I beg that you understand me. I am sorry.”

“No, I must apologize for any offense given, it must be a habit I will have to break. My, you do say your piece, don’t you?”

John threw his hand to his mouth as if to cough but squelched the broad smile and chuckle he was experiencing.

“Margaret, can I ask about this life in London that you turn from?” Spoke Adeline.

“Adeline, I would be glad to speak with you about that, but I find I am monopolizing all of the conversation. If you will permit me to enlighten you at another time.”

“Of course, dear.” Adeline laughed and then so did Margaret.

The meals were served and all settled into their feast sitting before them. Compliments about the food were being handed around when Margaret dropped her fork.

“Excuse me, Captain, but I believe you have taken my dinner linen.

“Please forgive me,” apologized Kit. I thought that was my dinner napkin.

“You thought you would find your dinner napkin on my thigh?” Margaret started laughing. “You should see the look on your face!”

“Margaret, why are you laughing?” asked John.

“I see I caused a commotion and may be embarrassing you, so the laugh was to appease the onlookers.” Margaret gave that explanation with a smile on her face. She didn’t want anything to fall on John for Kit’s groping.

“Well, did it happen or not?”

Kit spoke up. “It was an accident; you must believe me. I am not starting out very well, am I?”

John knew better. That was no accident, but Margaret handled it brilliantly.

“My brother gave me a very good piece of advice tonight.”

“And that was what?” Asked John.

“He gave me money and told me never to go out at night without cab fare home.”

“Good advice, indeed,” remarked Adeline.

 

The night was starting to grow old. Kit was looking despondent, John was seething, Adeline was a bit tipsy, and Margaret was exhausted from the interrogations. She wondered if all introductions were like this. She was indebted to John for not leaving her alone with the Captain.

“Shall we go?” Suggested John.

“Please.” Responded Margaret.

On the ride home the conversation was stilted. “I wish to thank all of you for an interesting first night out. I will assume this was not exactly as one would have expected but the food was excellent, and the collateral benefits were nice.”

“What does she mean by that,” came from Adeline.

Although, John felt he knew he never answered.

Arriving at the Hale residence, John stepped out and took Margaret’s hand. As Kit began his exit, John pushed him back inside on the bench.

“John, thank you for such a lovely place and meal. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of not allowing an evening alone with him. I hold nothing against you for the Captain’s actions. You said you could not recommend him and I knew that. I am going to assume that he will need some civilian training to enter this public world.”

“You can’t know how terrible I feel for what you were put through tonight. He was supposed to be a perfect gentleman, and he wasn’t. I will make it up to you someday soon.”

“That is not necessary John.”

“I think it is. Good night Miss Margaret. I shall see you at the ball.”

“Good night, Master John.” Margaret opened the door and entered her home.

 

“John why did you not let me walk Margaret to the door?”

“Why? You have to ask?” John angrily asked. “When you and I are alone, I shall tell you why. For God’s sake, Captain. If there is no improvement at the ball, I will wish to know you no longer. You are an embarrassment for gentlemen and even an officer.”

“Now see here, John Thornton!”

“Yes?” John questioned in a harsh voice.

“I will not be spoken to like that.”

“Then sir, I would suggest you return to the Navy. It is perhaps that which causes you to act as you did tonight.”

“I said the dinner linen was an accident,” braved the Captain.

“You and I know different. You embarrassed her when she was forced to ask you not to call her ‘my dear.’ That indicated far more familiarity than what you have a right to speak. I would encourage you to become more aware of the civilian gentleman.”

“John, aren’t you being a little hard on my brother?”

“No, I am not. He as much as told me the type of gentleman he was when he spoke earlier of examining her manifest. I despised his intimated intent. And that would be directed toward any woman.”

“Well, brother, it looks as though you’ve been a bad boy.”

“Adeline, the both of you should understand that the gentlemen of Milton have an unwritten code of ethics. Should Kit be seen doing such things by someone else, he will be publically outcast by the gentlemen here. From there the word will spread. London may be better suited for such actions.”

The carriage rolled in front of the Waverly home. Before exiting the coach, Kit said, “I will give your words some consideration, John.”

“Captain, it better be more than thinking about my words, if you wish to remain here. And should you think about becoming a business merchant, that shall be lost to you as well. Good evening.”

The Captain walked ahead of his sister and John.

Stopping before the door, Adeline said, “I am sorry for my brother’s actions. I truly believe it to be the result of naval life. Maybe he’s just been at sea too long.”

“I hope you are right, Adeline, but I can’t see treating any woman, whatever type they are, differently. It should be a way of life to him, not some standard used in particular situations as a tool. Do your best with him. He will not be welcomed here if he does not change. He is to hope that Miss Hale is quiet about that. She was brilliant in covering it up with laughter. I have said my words and they are resolute. Good evening, Adeline.” John kissed her lightly, then turned and left.

It was too late in the evening, or John would have apologized again. He was still seething. He knew sleep would be little.

 

Fred was waiting up for his sister when she arrived home.

“Fred you waited up?”

“It’s not that late, sis. Here, let me take your bonnet and shawl so you can sit and tell me all.”

Margaret sat in a comfortable chair but worried about how much she should tell him. He was going to be mad.

“Alright. I’m ready. Don’t leave anything out.”

She hesitated.

“Oh, I can tell this is a tale to tell,” Fred announced.

“Before I start, I want to say that father can’t know everything and that Mr. Thornton came to my aid like a champion.”

“Get on with it.”

“First I felt like a rabbit on a spit. It seemed I was the center of attention all night.”

“It was an introduction. That isn’t entirely an unlikely thing to happen.”

“He called me ‘my dear,’ twice. I corrected that by asking him not to call me by any endearments.”

“Good for you. That was not proper at all.”

“The worst that happened was he started touching my thigh. He said he was feeling for his own dinner linen.”

“Bastard!”

“Fred! He apologized, but I did make a mockery out of him by announcing, did he think he’d find his dinner linen on my thigh. There were onlookers, so I turned it into a joke, but John was serious about finding out if it really did happen. That’s when the Captain apologized. Mr. Thornton was terribly upset, and it showed for the rest of the evening. I would have hated to be in that carriage with just the two of them.”

“I forbid you to go out with him again.”

“You forbid me? You forbid me, not!” Margaret laughed. “I may dance with him at the ball, but I will never be in a position where we are alone. I will not accept any offers to go out.  But don’t think you can forbid me.”

“I keep thinking I know of him. I remember hearing the name Waverly, but it was a Captain Christopher Waverly, not Kit.”

“That’s his real name. Kit is the short name that he is called.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Christopher Waverly?”

“I do believe so. Why? What do you know?”

“Oh, my God.” Fred started pacing the room. “He was a good seafaring captain. He knew tactics of war and could read the stars for navigation, but he was cruel to the women in the foreign ports. I know he was accused of raping a woman, but due to her vague English language and her profession, it was never proven. He was a deviant, a libertine. The women that he paid were forced to do unspeakable sexual acts. I cannot stand to think of him touching you. I want to face him man-to-man.”

“Oh, please don’t do that. My honor is safe. If you make a scene, it will only bring up the issue that no one knows about. Please, Fred, no.”

“Fred, where are you going. Please don’t go.”

“I’m going to inform Mr. Thornton about what I know.”

“It’s late. If you must, please let it be tomorrow. He needs to relax. He might kill the man.”

“Are you sure there were no reflections against your innocence or your regard?”

“I am not sure, but I don’t think so. Mr. Thornton could tell you, but I am alright. Please don’t make too much of this. I don’t want to start out my social life with any suspicions.”

“Sis, do know that you will never meet another gentleman like this. You have been seated with the worst and survived it. He gives the adult male a bad name. He is the worst sort of our lot. Branson will be by here tomorrow. I will have him take me to the mill office.”