John had been having a long talk with Nicholas when Fred Hale knocked on his office door and entered.
“Fred, I can guess why you are here. I believe I have everything under control. I am so sorry for what your sister had to endure from the Captain, but he knows where he stands now. I hope you can control your temper and not do anything that would get you into trouble legally.”
Branson had parked the carriage and followed behind Fred.
“Mr. Thornton, I have asked Branson to be here to witness what I am about to say. Sir, you are a gentleman and should another incident like last night happen, I wish a driver to spread the word about him, where you may wish to handle things privately. That man is a libertine and deserves no quarter. I thought the name Waverly was memorable to me, but I only knew of a Captain Christopher Waverly, not someone named Kit.”
“I think we should all sit-down,” John said. “You know more about this man?”
“Much more, sir,” Fred spoke for the next half hour on all the news he could impart on the Captain. He included the good with the bad and what was rumored to be true, and what was truly known – such as the court case.
“It is only by the grace of my sister, and her assurance that you became involved, that I am not at his door with my pistol. My sister was shaken only slightly when she returned last night, and she is fine this morning. Of course, that is all on the surface. However, she begs me not to seek revenge in her honor and I am being forced to concede to her wishes. I did tell her that I would let you know what I know. That is all I have to say.”
“Do you have further information about his family?”
“If you mean Miss Waverly, I do not. I’m sorry. Also, I should tell you that she told our father that she had a fine evening, so he knows nothing about what happened. As much as she was looking forward to it, she is home now reconsidering if she will go to the ball. She assumes the Captain would be at the same table.”
“I will see to it that his invitation is revoked. I promise her, he will not be there. I will take care of that this morning.”
“Thank you. She will be relieved to hear that. If I can be of any further help, please, please let me help. Branson and I shall leave you and go purchase our horse and buggy.”
“Fred if you could hold on for a bit, I want Branson to take me to see the Captain now. You may ride on the top with him, but I wish you not to enter the home. Let me handle it. I fear you may find yourself in jail.”
“Let’s go, sir.”
“Good luck, John,” Nicholas stated as they left.
Branson brought the carriage to a stop at the Waverly home. John fitted his top hat as he strode to the front door.
“Please come in, Mr. Thornton,” said the housemaid.
“I would prefer to see the Captain outside if he doesn’t mind.”
“Please wait here. I will ask him.”
Branson and Fred were eagerly waiting to see why John did not enter. The door opened, and Kit came out still slipping on his coat.
Fred started down the wheel, and Branson restrained him.
No one could hear what the two were saying, but John was doing most of the talking. It wasn’t long before Adeline opened the front door, hearing the commotion outside.
John tipped his hat to her and returned to the carriage, never speaking to her. John entered the coach and Branson pulled away.
“Branson, what was that all about being outside?”
“My master does that when a possible fight could break out, or he does not want his lady to overhear the conversation. I would think both were reasons this time. I am sure he was successful because he wouldn’t have left until he was.”
Coming to a halt, Fred jumped down to speak with Mr. Thornton.
“Fred, it is all settled. I believe he is packing his bags at this moment. When I began to mention a few of the vulgarities that you mentioned, he had no response. He said he would save himself further embarrassment and move on.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thornton. I sure wanted a piece of him.”
“I know. Gentlemen do try to resolve issues without fists, but sometimes it is necessary. And one more piece of advice. Unless you become a cabby that carries money and fine people, don’t tote the pistol around that I see in your trousers,” John smiled, then climbed the stairs to his office.
“Branson, can we ride by my home so I can put my sister’s mind at ease?”
The post came.
“Bessie, you have a letter,” Peggy called up the steps.
“I do?” Bessie replied as she scurried down the steps. “Who would send me a letter. I can talk to everyone I know.” She ripped the note open and saw it was from Fred. Her face reddened. Peggy asked her who it was from.
“Fred. It’s from Fred.” Bessie let the back door slam closed as she hurried to the iron bench in Peggy’s small garden. She turned her back to the house.
Miss Higgins, dear Bessie …
Had I known you were visiting, you would not have found me in the state that you did. I seemed to embarrass you. For that, I am sorry. However, I only heard a brief few words that you spoke to my sister, and I was quite complimented. I’ve heard that many times in my head since you ran off. My sister seems to believe you will not forgive me. I tease my sister often, but if I am honest, I made that statement for you. I wanted you to know that I had heard you. I hope you saw the smile and how pleased I was to hear that.
In this note, I want to impart my wishes to see you again and as often as you wish it. If I have burned my bridge, I have lost something dear I had hoped to cultivate. If you permit me, I will apologize in person, but privately. I am very poor at writing letters so you will forgive me for what I should be saying but haven’t. I wait with a great interest in your feelings on this.
I live in hope,
Bessie let the happy tears fall where they would. The embarrassment that she had felt that day was ebbing slowly, but this note would hasten that uncomfortable feeling. Bessie decided to go see Margaret since Fred was out getting his horse.
Dixon showed her in just as Fred returned to tell Margaret that the Captain would be leaving Milton.
Fred noticed Bessie’s carriage outside and immediately became nervous. He opened the door and saw Bessie waiting at the staircase. Her head was bent.
“Bessie! I had not expected you. I just returned home to speak with Margaret. I am sure she will tell you all about last night. I am here to assuage her worries. I take it you received my note?”
Hesitantly Bessie stuttered, “I felt it was more than just a note.” She couldn’t lift her head and look at him.
“I cannot tell from that answer where I stand with my apology. I was most pleased to overhear your comment, but I was an idiot teasing you two about it. Have I dissolved our beginning friendship?”
“No …” she was interrupted and all the gladder for it. It was still hanging out there.
“Bessie! So glad you’re here. Fred, did you retrieve the horse yet?”
“No. I came back to tell you that John went to the Captain’s sister’s home just a bit ago and had a talk with him outside. He believes the Captain is packing to leave Milton. He will not be there tomorrow night.”
“Oh, thank you, Fred. Bessie, you don’t know how close I came to not going tomorrow night.”
“I will leave you ladies to your gowns. I hope to speak with you soon, Bessie.” Fred looked at her expectant of an answer, but none came. He left the house.
“I see you two are talking or am I wrong?” asked Margaret.
Bessie handed her the note.
“Let’s go to my room.” Margaret read it twice. “My brother never ceases to amaze me. I would not have thought he had the capacity to write such a nice note. Do you think it’s nice?”
Bessie threw her arms around Margaret. “I think it is the nicest words I have ever heard.”
“Did you tell him?”
“No, not entirely. You came down the steps. I was fumbling for words, and I was glad to see you,” Bessie smiled. “So what happened last night with your dinner?”
Margaret told her the whole story as she knew, but John had done much that she was not aware of. “It sounds like John has kicked him out of Milton.”
“I wonder how Miss Waverly will take that? Which man will she sacrifice in her heart?”
“Oh, Bessie, you would bring that up. Well, it doesn’t matter. Tomorrow night our social lives begin anew. I just hope we get asked to dance. Your father and John can introduce us to nearly everyone who would come asking.”
“John? You’re calling him, John, now?” Bessie grinned.
“At the dinner, it was agreed that we all use first names. As for tomorrow night, I doubt I will do that in front of others unless he does.”
“I think that is quite a step forward.”
“I don’t know anyone besides my father, his mother and Miss Waverly that he allows to call him John.”
“I suppose all the ladies that he’s attended eventually called him by his name, don’t you think?”
“You are probably right.”
“Don’t get me excited like that,” Margaret said. “So you are ready with your apparel?”
“Yes. How about you?”
“I don’t have much in the way of jewelry. I believe Father put my mother’s pieces in a box at the bank. I don’t know if it comes to me or it’s there for our old ages. I have a pearl drop and earbobs to match. That will have to do.”
“I am the same. Not much for me either. We never had money before, and jewelry for me hasn’t been thought by anyone.”
“I guess our jewels will be our young innocent faces.” They both laughed.
Dixon knocked on the door. “Mr. Bell to see you, Miss Margaret.”
“Tell him, I’ll be right down. Bessie, do you know Mr. Bell?”
“Not well. I believe I saw him at the lesson. I’ve heard father speak of him. An older man, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but he will ask us to dance. So don’t worry about sitting there like a wallflower.”
“I guess I had better go meet him.”
Night had fallen, and Richard Hale had retired early, and Margaret found Fred outside brushing his new horse, Max.
“How are you getting along with Max?” Margaret asked.
“He’s perfect. Nice and gentle, strong, healthy, he seems. Branson did well. He showed me how to check his shoes and many other things this afternoon.”
“Can Max have an apple?” One appeared in Margaret’s opened palm.
“As long as it isn’t green.” Fred took it from her hand. “Here you go, fella. Margaret brought you a treat.”
The horse slowly gathered it out of Fred’s hand.
“Bessie showed me your note to her, this morning?”
“She did? Do women usually share those things?”
“Actually, never, I don’t think. Perhaps it was her gushing excitement that allowed her to do it this one time. I knew what you might mean to her one day, but your silly remark the other day gave her doubts about your maturity.”
“She said that, did she?” Fred squatted and starting brushing Max’s legs.
“Not in so many words, at least nothing about the maturity. I saw that and felt she saw the same thing. You should have just enjoyed that and went on. You wrote that you wanted her to know you said that? Teach me something. Why? Why did you want her to know you heard her?”
“I … I … I’m not sure a woman would understand. It’s very subtle. I was fairly far away, and we weren’t alone. If you can understand that, I felt the same way, too. I wanted to reflect her words back to her as if coming from me. I wasn’t belittling you for not hearing me. I only hope she saw the smile on my face when I said that. It’s almost something having to be read between the lines. Do you understand.”
“That’s good. Men don’t like being that clear about things at the beginning of what may become an important part of their life. That won’t show any emotional investment. Understand now?”
“I don’t think so. You’re making my head hurt. Anyway, that was a beautiful note any woman would love to receive. I didn’t know you were capable of that.”
“It seems we both grew up while I was away.”
“Can I ask you something and you won’t get mad?”
Fred reached behind Margaret for the small saddle. He wanted to fit it to the horse. “Yes, you know you can ask me anything.”
“But how about not getting mad at me?”
“You don’t miss a thing, do you? Go on. I promise. Do sound effects count?” He laughed.
“The other day when I saw John Thornton, and he was feeling coerced into asking me to be introduced to the Captain, and although he knew I was not in favor of it, I did say it had collateral benefits.”
“Collateral benefits? What did you mean by that? It’s usually collateral damage.”
“Is that similar to what you did with Bessie?”
“Collateral benefits! Oh, I think I get it. You meant because Mr. Thornton was going to be there, too?”
“That’s what I meant. I don’t know why I said it. It was far too bold. Do you think he understood it that way? I’m almost too embarrassed to think he did.”
“There seems to be no stopping you, sister. Of course, he figured out what you meant. That was a dangerous thing to do, just as I did. You took that chance of driving a wedge into their new friendship. Most likely, he thought the vague words were cute, but he would ignore them and go on, thinking about your maturity.” Fred smirked.
“You have told me how worthless your quest is; you should give up, but still you go on. You can’t love him, you know. You don’t even know what that feels like.”
“How will I know if I love him?”
“Oh, you’ll know. There is no mistaking it.”
“Do I look for any signs of encouragement or rejection?”
“If he truly is in love with Miss Waverly, you’ll become a hovering pest, and he may frown a lot when you speak to him. He will not seek you. He will not open a conversation with you unless it is necessary. Actually, he’s such an example of a true gentleman, I believe he acts that same way to everyone; pest or lover.”
“Big help that was.”
“That’s what I mean when I say you don’t know love.”
“And you do?”
“I know more than you, and inside I have expectations that I’ve never had before. It’s growing all the time.”
“So what should I do about Mr. Thornton. Would you try to steal another man’s lady if you loved her?”
“You can’t steal another’s love. The only thing is to recognize when he finally understands your interest and what his subsequent mannerisms toward you become. But, Margaret, you’ve bumped your head against that wall several times now. The next time may result in damage.”
“I see. I guess I just have to wait and see.”
“If you really do love him, it won’t leave you, Go on with other requests for your company. The comparisons will do you good. He’ll find you if you’re the one or the next one.”
“That doesn’t sound nice.”
“We’re men. We can’t help it. We don’t like being alone.”
“I still have an outstanding meeting with him about employment. That should probably come early next week. I am sure some of the Masters that were interested in more than I had to say will be at the ball. They will probably bring it up. I’ll have to tell them it will be next week before I can visit with them.”
“And I will be your driver and protector,” Fred smiled. “I shall practice this weekend and be ready by Monday.”
Margaret had stood before her dressing mirror before she put on her night shift. John was tall, Adeline was taller than her. She couldn’t compete in clothes, jewelry, or finishing manners. If anything, her studies had been very unfeminine and may shame a suitable husband. She had no money, which John didn’t need, but Miss Waverly’s interest was not monetary, and he knew that. That was probably a consideration he likely gave pause to reflect upon. Staring into the looking glass, her figure was passable. She didn’t know what men really looked for in that regard. She’d have to ask Fred. “Tomorrow night and the dinner at Mrs. Thornton’s would put an end to wondering what to do.”
There was a knock on the door which Adeline’s housemaid answered.
John was admitted and asked to wait while Miss Waverly was called. He heard nor saw the Captain.
“John. This is a surprise.”
“I’m sorry for not letting you know ahead of time. It was a last minute decision to visit you. I feel I have some explaining to do. And I wanted to do it before the ball tomorrow night.”
Adeline suggested a chair to him. John sat. “Is your brother here?”
“No. He left for the train station a few hours ago.”
“May I ask what he told you or why he was leaving?”
“He wasn’t specific but said he had a reputation with the ladies, and it had followed him here. He felt it better to move on. Is that what you know?”
“Yes. There is more to it than that, but I will spare you the details. You seem to understand what’s important, though.”
“John, tell me more than that.”
“I would rather not. I came by to apologize that I had to react the way I did to the rumors and the legal actions that he has been involved with some women. It isn’t pretty.”
“I see. Is there a paternity suit out there?”
“Nothing is proven. Please, let’s put that behind us.”
“If you wish it.”
“The other issue I had last night was with the comment you whispered to me about Miss Hale.”
“You mean when I said ‘She’s never been out with a man?’ What’s so wrong with that?”
“It seemed to me a belittlement of her innocence. Something you found to scoff at.”
“Oh, John, you’re not serious about that, are you?” Adeline walked over to the bar. “Scotch?”
“No thank you. I guess I am wondering why you felt the need to say that to me?”