“I don’t really know. I just said it. We aren’t going to fight over this, are we?”
“Did you direct that statement at me because of jealousy; because she possesses that one thing that you do not?”
“John? What’s wrong with you? Please, let’s not get into trivialities.”
“It is not trivial to me. I know you should know that chaste or not; means very little to me. That isn’t my puzzlement. She has very little to recommend her to a wealthy gentleman, I can see that, but why did you feel the need to embarrass her to me. I would have thought a lady would not have spoken that thought to her gentleman. Help me understand you. Just you. The past two meetings with you; something different seems to be gradually unfolding.”
“You are hallucinating, John. Perhaps you want to find something wrong with me, so you’re grasping at straws.”
“In a small conversation with your brother, he mentioned how he was very interested in who you were seeing, meaning me. The tone of his words immediately gave me concern that you had embellished our relationship when you spoke to him. You had not been in Milton very long when we were introduced, so I nor anyone knew of you. I make up my own mind, so I was not bothered by that. However, in meeting your brother and our last two meetings, is giving me pause to wonder who you really are. How do you really perceive the way I feel about you?”
Adeline picked up her brandy, crossed in front of John and sat in a big chair across from him. She pulled her legs under herself and sat comfortably on her feet.
“I take it that I have misunderstood your intentions?”
“I have never mentioned intentions. I am very careful with my words, as I know women take them any way they want to. Perhaps somehow my words evolved into a fantasy or misunderstanding as you say?
“Do you love me, John?”
“Have I ever told you that?”
“You must have, especially during our intimate moments.”
“I have, yet, in my life, to speak that word. I may have thought it at times, but I have never spoken it, especially when it can easily roll off the tongue during passionate encounters. I do know that is misleading.”
“And speaking of passionate encounters, would a gentleman involve himself in that if he didn’t love the woman.”
“At her insistent behest.”
“You’re saying that those three times we slept together, I was the one who initiated it?”
“Yes, I am saying that. It was lovely, but not love.”
“So, there is no marriage in the future?”
“I don’t know. My only regard to the word marriage was what you may be expecting. I have given it little thought. I know I have seen you longer than most women. I was looking deep for long-lasting happiness with you. I haven’t seen it yet, and I am beginning to lose what I did like about you.”
“I’ve made all this up in my mind, then?”
“I don’t know what’s in your mind. But love and certainly marriage is not in mine. I don’t believe I will ever marry. I am too hard to please, I suppose.”
“Bloody hell, John Thornton, I have invested a lot of time in you.”
“Invested? Is that how you see me . . . as an investment? Surely you have good financial support. Or do you? Has this all been a ruse to make me fall in love with you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If my funds begin to run out, my brother would always take me in.”
“I did not come here to have this type of conversation just yet, but I am glad I did. I believe I’ve gotten to the bottom of this relationship. The truth is finally coming to light. Thank you for that.”
“But if you love me, just a little, that shouldn’t make any difference.”
“You are correct. It would make no difference as to your financial means. I would never live off of a woman’s money, ever. But deceit breeds, once it is started. I could never find happiness with a woman I could no longer trust to tell me the truth.”
“So, you’re saying, we’re over?”
“I cannot see how this can be rectified. It didn’t just happen. You’ve been keeping in character for many months.”
“Well, that hasn’t been hard with you, John. It is quite easy to fall in love with you.”
“And I don’t believe that either. In the beginning, you seemed too good to be true. But the hill of our building relationship seemed to get slippery as time went on. Here and there, you must have shown the real you and I forgave it or made up some excuse in my mind wondering why you did or said something. Now, I see I was blind. I began hoping you were going to be the one. It is apparent that I have been played. I am a fool. Usually, I can spot those intentions, but I failed myself this time.”
“Since we’re confessing each other’s annoyances, let me have my say.”
“Please, go on.”
“As a man, you have too much pride in yourself. I’ve seen signs of a temper. As a gentleman, you achieve perfection. Do you know how that demeans women who know that can’t live up to your expectations? As a mill master, you are exemplary, but you would make a poor husband because you are married to your work.”
“I’m never changing who I am, Adeline.”
“I tried to love you, Adeline admitted.”
“And I the same but if you never showed your real self, I doubt you would have been happy with me. May I ask a question to which you never answered.
“Let’s let it all out. What did I not answer?”
“I was telling you the conversation that I had with my mother about her worrying of me growing into a gentleman without a father. I asked you if you thought I was a gentleman. You gave a positive response. Then I asked if I was too much of a gentleman to which you replied, ‘It is the 1850’s. What did you mean by that?”
“In my mind, you were a perfectionist gentleman. I wanted you to be a little more aggressive with me. You were dull, too sweet, too obliging. I only said that because gentlemen from where I come from had passed that point. That’s all.”
“You probably don’t see, but to hell with you now.”
John stood. “I guess this is goodbye.”
“That’s the way you seem to want it. Nothing I can do to change that, I see.”
“I’m sorry for all this Adeline. If I had any doubts walking in here tonight, this conversation has put them to rest. Do you intend to stay in Milton?”
“You will probably spread rumors about me like you would have done with my brother.”
“Oh… So you did know all about him. I will not spread rumors about you. I will not even spread the truth unless asked directly. There are plenty of well-off single gentlemen in Milton. If you attach yourself to another one, don’t pretend with him. He’s most likely to be a friend of mine and ask me about you. I am sorry you will have to miss the ball tomorrow evening. However, I did promise to take you and I will if you want to go. But furthermore, I will pay little attention to you. Do you want to attend?”
“I am going to say I do not want to attend. If I change my mind, I will send a note with my driver.”
“Please send it before 5:00 p.m. I will have to make a speech and ensure everything is set up properly, so I will be there early. I think we have said the last words to each other. I wish you better success in the future. Good evening.”
Adeline watched John walk out of her life. If she had tried to deny anything he brought up, she would dig a deeper hole. Perhaps this town was full of Masters that wouldn’t care if she wasn’t wealthy. She may decide to stay here.”
John and Nicholas left their office around mid-day and spoke with the foreman who would handle the next two shifts. Arriving home, John sat down and made a few notes to open the ball. Before taking his bath, he thought it was time to speak with his mother about Adeline.
Hannah sat and listened to the story John always seemed to be repeating. She looked for signs of sadness, but he appeared remarkably relieved and calm.
“What about the ball tonight, John?”
“I told her I would take her since I promised, but I would pay little to no consideration. She has until 5:00 p.m. to let me know if she wants to attend. Her initial reaction was that she did not wish to go.”
“Can you uninvite her to the dinner party? Ask someone else?”
“I can try. I will not bring her to your dinner, but as far as replacing her with a new guest, I doubt that may happen.”
“How about that Miss Ha….?” There was a knock on the door interrupting Hannah.
John headed towards the stairs; telling his mother, “I hope that’s not her changing her mind.”
John opened the door to Lenore Smithers. “Lenore. What a pleasant surprise. Please come in.”
Ascending the steps, Lenore said, “I believe this is the ball night and you must be busy preparing. I will only take a moment of your time.”
John couldn’t help but smile thinking of their youth when she took his virginity.
“Mother, I do not know if you remember Miss Smithers? She was my first lady friend about ten years ago.”
“I’m sorry. I only have a vague remembrance. How do you do, Miss Smithers? Please sit down.”
John waited for the women to be seated. “Lenore, you are correct, I do have little time. How can I be of help?”
“I am here to ask if you have any recommendations for a flat somewhere in town that can accommodate three people.”
Hannah thought the smile on her son’s face was very unmanly. It was more child-like.
“I haven’t decided if it will be permanent or not. It all depends on how I can manage my father. It is more difficult than I thought to help him move from the bed to a chair. I’ve just hired a man to live-in and help my sister, but my brother is hoping I can take him there. My father is old and stubborn and doesn’t want to leave his flat. At the moment, the hired man is sleeping on a floor pallet in my father’s room as he has nightly needs.”
“I will ask around. I am sure we can find something for you. I will start asking tonight. May have news for you very soon.”
“Thank you, John. Your help would be most agreeable. I will go now and let you ready yourself.”
John walked with her to the bottom of the steps. “Lenore, my mother is having her annual dinner party this coming Thursday. We had a cancellation today and mother has tasked me to find a lady at the last minute. You wouldn’t be available on such short notice, would you?”
“You haven’t changed in ten years. Always surprising me. I am sure that I can manage it. I will know tomorrow. If for some reason, my man cannot be home that evening, I will send a note.”
“Very well. Let’s hope you can be my guest that evening. If not, I will still contact you when I find a flat.”
“Thank you, again. Have a nice evening, John.”
“Good night, Lenore.”
“Mother, she will be my guest on Thursday.”
“Never mind. Some other time. Go take care of yourself.”
John wondered if it was fate that she knocked on his door today or was it bounce from Adeline. A bit of excitement rose inside of him. It was just memories stirring him along. He didn’t know if it was Lenore, or his first sexual encounter or a combination of the two, but nothing had ever surpassed those few weeks they spent together. Maturity had come along bringing other new experiences being more important to living and providing, but still, those memories had stayed with him. Maybe that was what he wanted to capture in a wife. In either case, he was going to find if she was the answer. All the bad memories that broke them up had faded in his mind.
John called for Branson to bring the carriage around to the front. It looked as if Adeline wouldn’t be coming. As mad as he was, he’d appear ungentlemanly ignoring her.
Adam Bell was sipping his drink talking with Richard while Margaret and Dixon put on her finishing touches. She wondered if Bessie was as nervous as she was.
Fred had spent the entire day with Max and the buggy. As Margaret would watch from the pantry window, she was pleased that he had complete control getting into the saddle and managing Max that way. She couldn’t tell when he took the buggy out if was knocking people off the sidewalks or not. The constable hadn’t paid the house a visit, so Fred must be faring well. Adam being here with his hired driver, Fred went around to talk with him for some time. Fred was getting a sense of the difference between in-service and independent driving.
Dixon finished Margaret braids with small white flowers and small sprigs of mint leaves to make her smell nice. Looking at herself in the mirror, she knew she looked the best she could. Putting on her dance slippers and filling her small bag with a bit of rouge powder and a handkerchief, she was ready. She tiptoed down the steps and quietly met Fred outside.
He turned in her direction and was in awe. “Margaret? Are you my sister? You are stunning. You won’t be seated all night. Someone will have you on the dance floor all evening. I’ve never seen you so lovely.” He smiled. “I am not playing with you.”
“You really think so? I mean really? Your impression of how I look is important to me.”
“Sis, I really mean it.”
“Can you tell me what you noticed first about me? Wait, what would a man notice by looking at me for the first time? Be honest.”
“You’re not going to like me being honest.”
“First I notice the gown and its shape and color. Next, I look directly at the cut of the neckline. Sorry. No man will admit that but it’s true gentleman or not. Then before I get noticed staring, the face burst’s forth with the smile, the eyes, and even the teeth. Somewhere along the line, I would probably look at your ears. Can’t have old man ears at your age. And finally your countenance. Now understand, that is the quick look over. Some men stop at the neckline and never pass it. That won’t be the gents tonight, though. Most of what I told you is almost unconscious. It is probably the same for women.”
“I think you might be right. We love cravats,” Margaret laughed.
“Come here. Let me smell you.”
Margaret walked over to Fred. “What is that, mint?”
“Yes, do you like it?”
“It’s rather a unique idea, but I am not sure I would like it.”
“Why?” Margaret asked, looking saddened.
“It’s pleasant enough but too pleasant I think. It’s a very strong scent and what happens as they wilt through the evening?”
“Oh, Fred.” Margaret stomped her foot. “I think I am grateful that you told me now. I’ll do something else.” Margaret turned, entered the kitchen, and pulled Dixon upstairs with her.
Looking through the sewing basket, a nice piece of green velvet ribbon was found. Dixon wove that through the flowers and the braids. Margaret applied a light mist of perfume.
“There. You are ready Miss Margaret.”
“Thank you, Dixon. You always do a very nice job with my hair. Mother always thought so, too.”
As she entered the parlor, both men stood. “You look marvelous, Margaret,” her father said.
“I’m afraid I can’t say that.” Adam Bell sputtered. “She is much more than marvelous. Stupendous would be my word.”
“Thank you, both. Please sit. You’re making me more shaky.”
“Margaret. What makes you feel that way? Don’t answer that. I believe I have an idea of what a young woman is feeling on her first ball. We only have a few more minutes before we leave, if you have anything else to do.”
“Oh, I left my wrap.” By the time she reached the stairs, Dixon was carrying it to her. “Thank you.”
“Are you ready, Margaret?”
“Indubitably, Mr. Bell,” she smiled.
“Reading again, are you?” Bell asked as Dixon handed him his hat and cane.
“Don’t try to drop that in conversation. I would think about one-half would not know the word.” Adam now laughed.