Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C23

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

 

Available at Amazon

Bessie wished to speak with Margaret about last night but now felt her visits there would prove much different. Perhaps she would send a note inviting her over. Fred could drop her off.

Bessie prepared a note and sent it with her driver.

 

It was late morning, and Fred was harnessing Max. He trotted him around the block, so any restlessness was exhausted. Now it was time to teach Margaret.

Fred thought she looked better as she approached Max with an apple.

“Ready, sis?”

“First I need to confess something. I followed my own feelings on the matters from last night. I have written a brief apology to Mr. Thornton that I would like to drop it off with his gateman today.”

“Would you like me to read it over?”

“Not this time. I want all consequences to be mine.”

“Good girl. I don’t want you to learn the hard way, but it’s quite favorable that you begin to take some of the reins in your hands. Speaking of reins . . .”

Fred looked on as his sister climbed into the buggy. He didn’t know if there was a lady’s way or not, but she looked and did fine.”

“Margaret, I am going to begin to walk the horse. I will not say anything at first. Watch my hands and the reaction that happens. After that, we will do it again with instructions. Then it will be your turn. On another day, we will put a little more speed into Max and finally we’ll talk about the problems you could face.”

Margaret saluted. “Yes, Captain.”

“I wish. That would be ‘Yes, Lieutenant.’ We will ride to Marlborough Mills in silence.”

“Very good, driver.” Margaret laughed.

 

“Ridiculous or not, and whether she realizes it herself or not; it’s quite ingenious.” Nicholas pointed out. “She seems to have wound your clock.”

“I can tell you it is not working. I believe she is driving a thorn between us, so nothing ever begins, which it won’t in any regard. I will be seeing Lenore this week at mother’s dinner.”

“Isn’t she the one . . .”

“Yes, she is. In my memory, my hours spent with her were the best in my life. We just had problems at the end.”

“But that was your youth. It may not be able to be recaptured in your maturing years.”

“Are you saying I’m getting old, Nicholas?” John smiled.

“Not at all. Not in that respect. It was a youthful physical love driving you then. It may prove different by this time.”

“I imagine you have to be right. I did ask her to dine with me, far too quickly. I’m not sure what I have done. If I am embarrassed to my mother, I will hate myself.”

“Well, as for Miss Hale, it is my opinion that we still hire her. I’ve been working up some responsibilities for her. One of us should discuss these with her, and I think it should be me.”

“Just make her understand she is on a week-to-week trial basis to see how both sides review the work and results.”

“Yes. That would only be fair. I am sure she would readily accept that.”

John heard the gate rolling open. He saw his gatekeeper disappear just beyond view and then return. Rolling the gate shut, John could see he carried a message. He walked to the outside stairs.

“I am here if that is for me.”

The man doffed his cap and handed the note to John. John wasn’t familiar with the handwriting. He took the steps slowly as he opened it. Seeing it was from Miss Hale, he decided to read it outside.

 

 

Mr. Thornton,

I find this type of note hard to begin, but  begin I must. In all good conscience, for which no doubt you think I lack, I was rude to you specifically. The other dance partners suffered no humiliation from my verbal assault. The nervousness you may understand. Being an admired gentlemen with an abundant group of lady friends, it was suggested that I show you ignorance, to alleviate the anxiety of yet another woman finding her way into your path. Having some belief that you must tire of the constant attention that women seek from you, I felt this advice to be sound. Having no experience with men, I now know my exaggerated indifference went sadly astray. Discussing my concerns this morning with my brother, it has been pointed out to me the idiocy and stupidity of my remarks. I was guided by bad advice with good intentions. For this, I must apologize. I was not, at all, the woman that you met at the Lyceum. I thoroughly enjoyed the other parts of my evening, but my guilt holds me back from thinking last night was the best in my life. It is passed, the damage is done.

With my actions which I am unable to undo, I hereby release you from any statements you made to eventual employment. I am sure there are now questions in your mind about my character and capacity to withstand the rigors of a position. Tomorrow, I will begin making my rounds to the other Master’s who had asked for my advice at the Lyceum. I have had two other offers of work, so you need not have any worries about me.

Again, with embarrassment and humility, I am sorry.

                              Margaret Hale

 

 

John walked into the office, throwing the letter on Nicholas’s desk. It was read.

“What is your opinion as to her employment, now?” Nicholas seriously wondered how this had impacted John.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you think about it while I walk the mill.” Nicholas handed the note back to John and left the office.

John paced the room, running his fingers through his hair as he thought upon her letter. The writing was sound, almost to the point of being professional. She stated the problem, the cause, and a solution. It was an educated letter. He no longer doubted her ability to do a proper job. But could she work with him or him with her after last night? It came back to him how he had ended the night’s conversation. He gave to her what she gave to him. He had never insulted a woman even in jest as he meant it to be. What happened between last night and this morning to make him forget what he did? It was settled. Nicholas should leave early and go speak with her. He had his own apology to make, but he had to find the words.

 

It was nearing their mid-day dinner when Margaret and Fred arrived home. Adam Bell’s carriage was out back. Richard was hearing the conversation about the delicacy for the second time.

Richard and Adam stood as Margaret and Fred entered the sitting room.

“We are now a two-driver family,” Fred announced. “Margaret did an excellent job if the pace is normal. She’s not ready for any chariot races, yet.” Everyone laughed.

“Adam, I see the look on your face. Please don’t apologize again. There is no need. A small portion of my evening was a disaster, and I take full responsibility for all of it. However, most of the time I found it was enjoyable. I doubt there will be many lasting rumors about my behavior at the table. I know neither of you, except Fred, knows my embarrassment to Mr. Thornton. I have delivered an apology, and this is the end of it.”

Adam was not surprised at her statement. That was the Margaret he had cherished all his life. Although he knew most of her problems were because of his advice.

 

After dinner, Margaret found a note that had been delivered while she was out. Bessie was asking for her to come by. She decided to go. Could she drive herself, yet, or should she ask Fred?

“Fred, Bessie wishes for me to visit. Can you drive me there without wanting to intrude?”

“Of course I can. I must start showing you my good side, so you know me better.”

Margaret laughed. She fetched her bonnet and said goodbye to Adam and her father. She was looking forward to Bessie’s company.

 

Bessie heard the buggy arrive and peeked out to see Fred. She would not answer the door. She wasn’t ready to see Fred so soon.

“Come in, Miss. Miss Bessie is in her room.”

Margaret heard her call from upstairs. “Up here, Margaret. She took the stairs to Bessie’s room. They both smiled and hugged each other.

Margaret removed her bonnet and shoes, flopping on the bed. “You first, Bessie.”

“Me? You were the one that struggled last night.”

“I know, but you were the one falling in love. What does it feel like?”

“Nothing in this world lifts you higher than love. You certainly do not mistake it for anything else.”

“Was it like seeing him without his shirt that day?”

“I couldn’t help thinking of that last night and wanting more of it. Just being close to him gave me those warm feelings again. And … and I …”

“Yes, go on.”

“I felt the moistness, I’ve heard about.”

“You, too?”

“What do you mean, ‘you too.’ You had a lot of dance partners last night. What type of woman have you become in the last twenty-four hours.” Bessie laughed.

“It was only near John.”

“I had the impression that wasn’t going so well for you. I was saddened.”

“It didn’t go well. It was a disaster, yet I still felt what you did.”

“I didn’t think it worked that way. Isn’t it to prepare you for a sexual interlude?”

“I once thought so. I knew that wasn’t going to happen to me.”

“Maybe you were hoping for something like that.”

“Nothing was conscious. It seems we need more study. But you, you know it may happen, but it wouldn’t be last night and still …”

“Why were you sick last night?”

Margaret proceeded to tell her about her entire night – the bull testicles, the insults, walking shoeless to the dance floor, complimenting John on a dance they never had.

Bessie tried hard not to laugh, but she did. “I’m sorry. What a horrible night for you.”

“It wasn’t all horrible. The other dance partners were delightful. I met almost ten new men.”

“Oh, my.” There was a pause. “What are you going to do about Mr. Thornton.”

“Nothing, I suppose. I have vexed him enough. I have apologized. I must back away now, and look for life in another direction. I feel almost ashamed being attracted to his looks from the beginning. Many more qualities followed, but I’ve turned out to be like any other female in this town.”

“Think of it this way, if you have lost him, no one knows. There was never anything to walk away from except what’s in your head. There is no embarrassment to you in any way except what he knows. He never walked away from any type of romance or relationship.”

“I hadn’t thought of that Bessie. I guess I can find some consolation in that. That is all I will have. I think I will be destined for a marriage where I settle for someone. I’m not sure I want to be in love with anyone again. Enough of me, what about you? Did you and Fred have any serious words?”

“No. We haven’t even kissed. We talked about growing up and our favorite things. He would like to teach me to read, too. He’s not ashamed of me living in the Princeton district. He explained his issues with the Navy. We had lots of conversation. We were beginning to know each other. When father would walk away, he would place his arm on the back of my chair. Every once in a while, his knee would brush mine. Gosh, that almost sent me through the roof, but the dancing and how he held me, properly I might add, weakened my legs. He would move his hand on my back. I thought he was trying to see if I was real,” she laughed. “He seemed to look at my cleavage often.”

“Get used to that. It’s normal for them. I began to study that last night because I had had a talk with Fred about that very thing. It’s instinctual or so he says. I admit I watched many men while dancing and everyone did it. It’s quick, so they don’t get caught. But I think if someone does that to you and it isn’t Fred, he will politely intercede. He wants no other man to ogle you. Somehow, in his mind, you have become his property.”

“That’s rather nice, I think. Feeling protected brings a great relief you never knew you carried. Do you think the men have preferences on breast sizes.”

“I once did and for a long time worried about that. I do not believe it true anymore. They don’t fall in love with your breasts or even our eyes or hair. It’s what’s inside that they wish to live with. These things we have always worried about as women, in the end, mean little to the man that loves you. For a man seeking thrills, it may mean more. It’s just their animal lust when they look. It’s never been bred out of them, and it never will, I suppose.”

“Have you ever had the urge to look at the man?”

Margaret started laughing, “ the man’s what?”

“Stop it. You know.”

“Remember I grew up with an older brother,” Margaret smiled. “And on pain of death, I will not reveal anything that I saw.”

Bessie grew red.

“I will admit, I have looked in that direction, but there is nothing to view. Just hope no one ever says, ‘like what you see.’ Just go to London and look at some of the statues. You’ll know why, then.’’

The girls got hysterical.

“In case anything does appear with my brother, run!

 

The girls carried on until dusk was falling. Someone knocked on the door and said that Miss Hale’s driver was waiting. Bessie stayed out of view again. She didn’t trust her or Fred after last night. Soon, though and if they could be alone.

 

“Hello, sister. Did the two of you find much to talk about.”

“You know we did. I think you’re getting egotistical. I bet you thought we talked about you. Huh?”

“I know you did. You couldn’t help talking about me. Admit it. I believe I cut a nice figure last night.”

“Of course, you did and so did every gentleman there. They all have their clothes tailored to fit. They don’t buy them assembled like you can in London.”

“So what did you talk about?”

“Men’s bodies.”

“What? You did not.”

“We did, too. We’re interested like men are. And since we haven’t been with men and we’re still virgins, there’s a lot of wondering still going on. I even suggested a trip to London, to see the statues.”

Fred roared. “I’m telling you, sis, my teaching you about men stops there. Maybe I will have to draw pictures.”

“I hope not. You’ve got to know that is our greatest fear.”

“It is? Surely you know anatomy.”

“Of course, we do, but there are the other questions that anatomy doesn’t cover.”

“That’s another subject I must think on. I mean I know the mechanics but not how to properly explain them to my sister.”

“Bessie, then?”

“No comment. By the way, Bessie’s father arrived a bit ago to speak with you. I think it’s about a job.”

“Do you think they have changed their mind about me? I expect them to.”

“He gave no clues. I think he was more interested in speaking to me. I feel like I was interrogated.

“That sounds good. He’s looking you over for Bessie. He might even offer you a job someday, at the mill.”

Fred pulled the buggy to a stop. “You go ahead. I’ll take Max around back.

 

Richard and Nicholas stood as Margaret entered. Adam had left.

“Good evening, Miss Hale. I am sorry to bother your evening, but I’ve come to talk about a position for you at Marlboro Mills.”

“Mr. Higgins …”

“Nicholas, please,” he offered.

“Nicholas, are you in possession of the information which I sent to Mr. Thornton today?”

“I am.”

“It is my opinion that Mr. Thornton may want to change his mind and I set his mind free of any offers. Please don’t feel sorry that it was extended and now he wants to rescind it.”

“But he doesn’t.”

“Do you, yourself, have any reservations? I don’t know how much he spoke with you about last night, but we did not part on a comparable footing.”

“I am not sure if I heard everything, but he did consider it a long time. I believe there to be no apprehension about your abilities. His concern lies with you being able to work alongside him.”

“I’m sure that goes both ways.”

“Please excuse me,” Richard said. “I will be in my den.”

“We still want to offer you a position. I have written down the responsibilities, but cannot honestly say that will be all. Filling those duties in whatever time you need, your salary is commensurate with a foreman’s job. You would be able to live well enough with staff. You would be expected by 9:00 a.m., but if you wish to be present at our daily meeting, you would be there by 8:00 a.m.” Also, the first six weeks will be trial only. Finally, could you be available to start on Wednesday?” Nicholas stood and handed her the list of duties.

Margaret sat back where the light was better and began reading. Pausing for several minutes, she stated, “I can agree to this list, but I will have a few questions.”

“Perhaps, I can answer them.”

“What autonomy will I be allowed, considering you have accountants that look over your work?”

“I don’t have that answer.”

“What will you expect of me, if I don’t need all the time permitted in a week to complete this list.”

“I cannot answer that, either.”

“This trial period works both ways, does it not? Meaning I can leave if I so wish within these first six weeks without anything held against me.”

“Yes, if all your work is legal. Of course, you can leave.”

Margaret stood, returning the list to Nicholas. “I will begin Wednesday, and I will be there at 8:00 a.m.”

“Good. I am glad to hear it. I will have your desk ready when you arrive. Do you care for tea or coffee in the morning.”

“I have no preference.”

“Then I shall leave you now and see you on Wednesday.”

“Good evening, Nicholas and thank you. I hope you do not feel you are in a tight spot. I have reconciled myself for whatever happens.”

Nicholas tipped his hat and left the house, to go home.

 

John found his mother waiting on him for dinner when he left his office.

“I didn’t expect you to be working all day, John. This was your day of rest.”

“I had little sleep last night, so I might turn in before you.”

“You haven’t told me about the Ball. I think this to be the first one where you went alone. Did you enjoy yourself? Did you dance?”

“Yes, I danced. I walked the room. I did enjoy the evening.” John didn’t want to go into the Miss Hale affair, so he didn’t offer it up. “What smells good?”

 

Margaret was lying in her bed still awake. She would see John on Wednesday. How would she react? Had she apologized for all that was said? Something had been nagging at the back of her mind, and she couldn’t pull it out until now.

It came back to her when she had talked about the long line of women waiting to be next – somewhere in there, he said there is no line for you or something to that effect. She remembered now that the music stopped and the question of what he meant, never came out. Margaret mulled it over and wondered if that might have been meant as a compliment. She finally dismissed it as water under the bridge by now.

She sat up in bed unable to banish that thought. Had it not been quashed by her later actions, that seemed to be a seriously thoughtful sentence. He must have been remembering that he wished to take her out to dinner at one time. Was that to thank her for the lessons or talk about work? In either case, none came to fruition. It did sound like she stood a chance at some point. Perhaps she was just the new girl. Margaret was determined to get that out of her head.

She snuggled down under the covers and tried not to think about that any further.

Tomorrow she and Fred would visit three Masters, hoping they wouldn’t get lost looking for the mills. Then there would be two mills on Tuesday.