Fred and Bessie had a slow ride home. Their evening had been extraordinary in learning about each other. It had brought them closer, still. Fred pulled the buggy up the small drive and turned to Bessie.
“I hope we can see each other again, soon. Perhaps a picnic before the weather turns too cold. Do you think your parents would allow that?”
“You may have to come to dinner one evening. I feel fairly well about my father’s thoughts of you and he’s the boss. But I would like my stepmother to be on our side, too.”
“Whatever you want me to do.”
“Thank you for understanding.”
“May I kiss you, goodnight?”
Fred couldn’t tell in the light, but he felt she was blushing.
“I think I would like that very much.” Bessie smiled.
Fred turned to her and then faced her in front of him. He held her upper arms and pulled her towards him. She easily yielded to his lips that were waiting. Bessie felt his arms slide around her, pulling her further towards him. She reciprocated with her, now, free arms. It only lasted a moment, but both had their hearts hammering.
“You did very well, Bessie, for a beginner,” Fred laughed. Bessie laughed, too.
Fred hopped out of the buggy and walked Bessie to her front door where they said goodnight. He thought he really might be falling in love.
Dixon had gone to bed by the time Fred arrived home. He let Adam know he was home but went to check on his sister first. Seeing she was fast asleep, no doubt from the medication, he returned to the parlor.
“I hope you and Miss Higgins had a nice evening.”
“One of the nicest I’ve spent. What happened to my sister?”
Adam told Fred about the whole evening as he had seen it. When he talked about the tear, he admitted he wasn’t sure if it was from physical or emotional pain. His guess would be the latter.
“What a horrid woman!” Fred insisted. “No doubt, that ruined my sister. I know her feelings for Thornton, which is unknown to all except this family and maybe Bessie. She is obsessed with the man. Why are women so different than men?”
“Are we really so different Fred? Wouldn’t you do anything for the one you loved? What would you do if you fell in love with a woman that hardly knew you? She didn’t even notice you.”
“Well, that’s why I think they’re different. I’m not sure we do that. I don’t think we fall so deeply as Margaret has without some sign of interest. Our interest just lays on top like a physical desire until we get to know them. I know that’s not how my sister feels.”
“I’m not so sure you’re right about either statement, but let’s not quibble over that.”
“Wait. Hold on. Are you saying that Margaret may have desires for Thornton? I mean, physical desires?”
“I mean exactly that, although she doesn’t know it. She is well and truly old enough to be moved by a man, but she is proper enough to hold them at bay unconsciously, or she feels embarrassed about them.”
“Exactly what was your major in university?”
“Oh, I have a professorship in many subjects. Psychology, being one of them. Your Bessie is most likely as Margaret, but her feelings are being responded to. She has a sense of worth. Far different with your sister.”
“Are you saying this as a fact or a perhaps?”
“At their ages, I would use the word ‘probable.’”
“Let’s get passed that for a moment.” Fred shook his head, hardly believing Adam’s words. “Margaret has fallen in love with a man much sought after. You think as of tonight, she felt defeated in her effort to win his attention and is giving up?”
“I am not sure how to guide her in this. I will have to think it over and put myself in John’s position if I can.”
“Being a man, you would face the issue and speak your words to your woman, so you knew exactly where you stood. A woman will rarely do that, especially if there has been no interest shown beforehand. Basically, Margaret has to suffer the loss. She may think it’s the end of her world, but it isn’t. However, it will erode her confidence as a woman. That will all be in her mind, mind you. Some don’t ever recover from the lack of self-worth. You know what pressure they are under from birth.”
“What if I talk to Thornton?”
“And say what? Do you want to lose your sister forever? She would never forgive you.”
“There has to be something that can be done. How about an anonymous letter to him?”
“Fred! She and he would know it came from you or me.”
Fred paced the floor. “I will think of something.”
“For now, at least for the next few days, keep an eye on her and don’t do anything to alienate her. We’ll both be giving this a lot of thought.”
“I know. I could say something to Bessie, who confides in her father, hoping he will talk with Thornton.”
“Fred, I think you’re thinking of a child’s game.” Adam laughed. “Besides, if Thornton turns his attentions to her, and she knows you meddled, she can never trust him. Don’t you see that? Any interest shown has to come from the other totally unhindered by words or rumors. It has to be real. And we can’t force Thornton to love her even if all your ideas were worth trying. He is his own man. No one talks Thornton into anything.”
“I guess you’re right. That would make a difference; it would matter to me. I don’t want anyone to love me out of pity.”
“She will be sedentary for the next few days. It will give us some time to work on her. Who knows, she may wake up with an attitude that she can rise above it.”
“She’ll be lying to herself. She’ll show cheerfulness as to put us off any sympathy or knowledge of her despondency. It’s like a death in her soul. Yes, one day she will recover but at what cost.” Fred insisted.
“We shall ponder this on the morrow. I am going back to the hotel. Goodnight, Fred.”
Adam found his own way to the door.
“My God, John. What happened to you and Lenore? I have never seen you act so ungentlemanly, ever. I didn’t know you. Grabbing a woman by the arm and thrusting her in front of you; one might have thought you were making an arrest.”
“Mother, I am not sure I can talk about it now or ever. If she hadn’t been a woman, I would have beaten her.”
“John you can’t act like that for the first time in your life and tell me nothing. Do you know how I will worry forever that you could do this again?”
“Mother, I will tell you this and no more. She embarrassed me, beyond words, to Miss Hale.”
“Or to any woman who was sitting beside her. It just tears me apart that she said those things to Margaret. I would like to choke her. You and I felt something might happen and it did.”
“I think I can assume part of the rest. Remembering that you once had a fondness for her when you were a very young man, leaves little doubt about the subject.”
John didn’t respond. He walked to the window that overlooked the yard and stared out of it.
“I take it that the den conversation was a reprimand.”
Still nothing from John. “Mother you can think whatever you like, but I have said all I am going to say. And even that little stays with us.”
“Of course, John. But is it over?”
John walked to his bedchamber, not even saying goodnight. He slammed the door shut.
John paced his room for an hour still fuming. He didn’t know where to start with his anger. Where did it hurt the most? Was it embarrassment? Was it his private life being exposed? Did Miss Hale figure heavily into his anger or was she just the recipient? John wasn’t even sure he could or should do anything about it.
John began to undress. Margaret had been consistently on his mind through his imagining of the incident. He laid down on the bed, semi-dressed and began to identify his feelings for Margaret. Over and over his mother’s words came back to him.
That woman has a smart and independent spirit. How many young ladies have you met that became educated to support themselves, rather than be a ‘Lady of the Manor’?”
“She will need to find a man that will challenge her. And easy living does not seem to be her future, by choice. We had a nice conversation about how she turned away from the society life that she could have had because she did not care for those people.
Other brief memories drifted in the lessons and the mill walk with Higgins, the bravery she showed through that entire ordeal, the courage to commit to a job and promise results, her selflessness in not asking to leave early and, of course, the pain she endured to be here tonight. John laughed at remembering her staring at him, and the disappointment in her voice when he left her with his mother while her brother visited Branson. He remembered the ball and how he embarrassed her. Her ingenious effort to put him at ease by showing indifference to him. Who was she? She was beautiful, and she had been in front of him for several weeks, but he never really saw her until tonight. It struck him that if she did have any meaningful feelings for him, that she had to watch him through Adeline and Lenore. Going back to the dinner tonight, even with his disinterest in the game going on between Lenore and Anne, he remembered Margaret closing her eyes and Adam dabbing a tear from her face. At the time, he thought it might be the pain, but he didn’t believe that now.
“She must think she is losing favor with me,” John said quietly to himself. He felt the unconscious smile make itself known. He was confused. “How could I have the first serious stirrings of affections for her without knowing it?”
Tomorrow, John would begin to unravel this mystery, this ricochet of emotions. It was like nothing he knew or had heard of. He dwelt on those thoughts all night.
John woke early from his brief respite with renewed hope for his life. “Could Margaret Hale be the woman he had been waiting on?” She had been indefatigable until last night. He didn’t know the answer to that. He may have her thoughts of him absolutely wrong, but his own were becoming solid. Today, he would see her.
Dixon knocked quietly. Margaret had to clear her throat before inviting her in.
“Oh, Miss Margaret, you’ve been crying again. Is it the pain?”
Margaret had been awake for several hours, and although the pain was worse, she knew the tears were for a lost love.
“I will get Master Fred. He wanted to know when you woke.”
Dixon left the room. Any minute the Inquisitor would appear. She was wrong. Her father entered first.
“Margaret, my dear, how is the pain. I expect it to be worse, is it?”
“Yes, father a bit more. Even if I don’t try to turn my head, my neck is very stiff with a constant ache.”
“When was the last time you had medication?”
“I believe it was before the dinner last night.”
“Oh, me. I am sure Fred is taking care of that right now. I don’t think you should get out of bed today at all.”
“I know I shall be bored if I stay here all day. Perhaps later in the afternoon, I will try to sit in the parlor. I will not dress, beyond my housecoat for that.”
“Well, we shall see when the time comes. I hear your brother coming. Here is a small bell that can be heard downstairs. Ring if you need any one of us.”
“Thank you, father. I remember Mother using it.”
“Good morning, puppet,” Fred merrily said as he came through the door.
“Margaret I will be back later.”
“Thank you, father.”
“Puppet? Why do you call me that?”
“Because we have to hold your head up with a string.” He laughed.
“Don’t make me laugh. It hurts, Margaret smiled.
“I am going to hold you up while you take this powder in this water.” Fred walked around the bed to hold her. “Ready?”
Margaret took her powdered water without too much fuss.
“I see you’ve been crying not so long ago. Your face is puffy, and your eyes are still red.”
“I think I’m catching a cold.”
“I think not, puppet. Adam filled me in on what he knew about your evening. Now, I want to hear it from you. Something has to be done.”
“Nothing has to be done. I mean that. Yes, what that woman said was hurtful, but I know it shouldn’t be. Doesn’t that sound like a young man’s behavior? I can’t see where he did anything wrong. What bothered me most was her boastful attitude and what embarrassment she could bring to John.”
“Margaret, what have I told you? Thornton will suffer no embarrassment in front of his peers because they are men. I don’t think he’s done anything wrong, either, unless he was unfaithful to another. I also know, or Adam and I feel that you may have given up on the man after seeing two women trying to impress him.”
“Fred, I cannot compete with those women. I have thrown myself in his path, like many other women and he doesn’t see me. I can live with that. There were others interested in me at the ball. I don’t feel entirely worthless. I have attributes to recommend me.”
“I hear you saying the words, but I don’t think you believe them. You’re trying to talk your way out of a broken heart. I think it’s a bit too early to surrender. You would never make a naval man,” Fred smiled.
“I think I can be grateful for that.”
“You have only temporarily lost confidence in yourself. If you can’t take a little more of his indifference, then you have given up too easily. What has it been – two, three weeks? I don’t believe your regard for him is as much as you pretend. Until he is forced to say something like, ‘Margaret, I don’t see you the way you wish,’ then there’s still a chance. You are expecting far too much too soon.”
“Fred, do you really think so?”
“Think what exactly? Think that you have a chance? I do. There are no known answers except that you have not been turned away.”
“I’m not sure I don’t want to get my hopes up again and then watch them destroyed in front of me.”
“You’re a whiney sniveling child. You know that? I expect you to stamp your foot as you once did when you didn’t get your way.”
“Fred, that’s mean talk.”
“Puppet, it’s straight talk.”
“It sounds like man talk. Women aren’t as hardy as men. You know we are emotional. We can’t take a lot of rejection.”
“But that’s my point; you haven’t been rejected. Men are rejected all the time. It seems you could hold out until you get your first one.”
“Well, I have all day to lie here. I will consider what you have said.”
“Good. Dixon is making you something to eat. I’ll be back later.”
“Thank you, brother.”
Margaret had to turn on her side. She had laid on her back all night. Finding the side of the bed, she pulled herself over to her side and pushed more pillow under her head.
She had hardly made it over, and Dixon came around and sat in front of her. “Alright, Miss Magaret here is some tea and creamed oats. I put a little maple syrup in it.”
“I see you have mother’s sick cup. I guess that has the tea in it.”
“Yes, miss. I’m glad you are on your side so you can’t choke.” Dixon placed a linen under her mouth and began feeding her.”
“That tastes good, Dixon. I didn’t eat much yesterday.”
“Yes, miss, I know.”
“Before you leave can you help me with the chamber pot?”
“I’ll certainly try. If I can’t, I’ll get Master Fred.”
“If you can’t, I will find a way through the pain. My brother’s attentions stop there.”
Dixon moved the food tray to the vanity. She pulled the chair close to the side of the bed, sitting the chamber pot on top of it.
“Here we go. I am going to cradle you in my arm until you are sitting up. I think you should be able to stand.”
“Yes, I believe I can do that.”
The process of getting Margaret up and emptied was accomplished. “I should be able to do that tomorrow. This neck ache should start going away today or by then.”
Dixon took the chamber pot away first and then returned for the tray.
Margaret felt comfortable and began to give thoughts to what her brother spoke about. He was right, she hadn’t been rejected. Not being seen wasn’t the same as a rejection.
It seemed only a few moments later when Adam knocked softly on her door.
“Come in, Adam.”
“How is the patient this morning?”
“I’m not sure I am ready for another ball, but I believe I am on schedule according to the doctor. This medication is helping nicely at the moment. Before you get comfortable, my brother has talked my ear off. I don’t believe I need any more instructions on my love life.”
“That means you haven’t given up?”
“I haven’t decided, yet.”
“Then you need more instructions, puppet. Actually, while Dixon was in here, we had another talk.”
“I know you are suffering from an injury so I will not add to your misery at this time. However, I do have one question?”
“That will be your allowance for the day,” Margaret quipped.
“Why did you make such a difficult effort to be there last night?”
“To see Mrs. Thornton. I like her.”
“And that’s the only Thornton you were interested in seeing?”
“That’s another question.”
“I don’t believe you completely answered my first one.”
“You know why, Adam. I had to see him.”
“As I thought. Would you like me to read to you?”
“No, I think I want to close my eyes for a bit.”
“Then I shall leave you. I will stay here, though.”
A half hour later, there was a knock on the door.
Dixon answered it. “Good day, Mr. Thornton.”