The following evening, while dining out, Adeline felt John was at a distance. Her cajoling did not seem to impact him as it usually did.
“John you are far away tonight. Is there something wrong?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“You see; you are not paying attention. I just asked now because you seemed at a distance.”
“I am sorry. Yes, I have something on my mind.”
“Has it something to do with your mills?
“No, it is a personal matter. It need not concern you.” But it did John thought. He had to be reading more into this than there was. It seemed quite foolish to think that Lenore would be in any way disrespectful of Adeline.
“Are we not confiding personal matters to each other,” Adeline asked.
“Right now, it is a matter that I doubt will ever come up. Should that happen, I will discuss it with you. How is your meal?”
“John you ask me that every time. You know I love this place. I order the same dish all the time,” Adeline continued to smile. “Someday, I would like to learn to cook a meal or two. I think every woman, even ladies, should learn to cook a little. What do you think?”
“I’m sorry. What?”
“I said, we can leave whenever you are ready.”
“Very well.” John caught the waiter’s attention and the bill was brought and signed.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thornton. I shall hail your driver.”
Adeline wasn’t able to pull John out of his thoughts, this evening. “Do we have plans tomorrow night?”
“Not tomorrow night. I have my lecture class to attend. Perhaps you will dine with Mother and me the night after.”
“I believe I can make it. Can I ask a personal question and you not get upset with me?”
“Adeline, you may ask me anything at any time.”
“I’ve noticed that your mother seems a bit protective of you. That doesn’t bother you?”
“If I am to be truthful, yes, it does. We have to live together, so I make an effort to endure it with a smile. That is not always the case, though. Just yesterday, she mentioned that she had been concerned about me for many years since I did not have a father to teach me the ways of a man,” John chuckled. “Then when I assured her I had matured well without a father, she asked if I was still a gentleman. What would you have told her? Am I a gentleman?”
“In every way.”
“Too much of a gentleman?” He asked in the way of jesting but wondered how she saw him.
“John, this is the 1850’s.”
He didn’t know where to go with that answer. It could mean anything, really. Was he too forward with her or could she be in want of more of him?
“I’m not quite sure I understand your answer. Can you be more specific about the realities of the time?”
“No, you’ve gotten the only answer you’re getting,” she laughed.
“From your laugh, I will have to deduce my own answer. I can at least hope, and I am a good gentleman.” John hoped she would respond to that and she didn’t. How uneasy that made him feel. He knew what men suffered if they started to question their ability to perform. Their few encounters had gone very well, he thought. He knew he wasn’t the first in her life, but he didn’t know how many men she had experienced. How did he compare to other men in that area of passion? This was going to frustrate him, he knew it. Pride in his work seemed to be his nemesis.
He escorted her home but did not enter through the door when she requested it. “I will bid you a good night,” John said. She looked a little winsome but then she smiled.
“Father, I am finished all the drawings,” said Margaret. “Can I look over your notes for tomorrow night? Perhaps you would like to practice on me.”
“Margaret, I know you are anxious that I know what I will be saying and I am proud that you know this material far better than I, but let me study. I am not done yet. Here are some notes that I believe I have finished with, but I do not have time to practice. That hardly does much good anyway. The men begin asking questions or making statements about their own experiences, and the lesson goes off into another direction. Everyone will think that their way is best, and it may be for them. I only want to open up some new thinking for them. I believe they can put their numbers under a microscope and learn the finer points of their business. They can hone their knowledge.”
“Father, that sounds exactly right. I am glad to say that I feel more comfortable now, knowing your direction. I didn’t think you would want to insist on your way, which you aren’t. You’re just giving them new ideas, correct?”
“You have it, my dear. Read those notes tonight and tomorrow and let me know what you think.”
“I shall.” Margaret picked up the notes he had made for the lecture and carried them into the sitting room. She poured herself a glass of wine and sat down on the sofa near the gas lamp on the wall.
As Margaret began the notes, she thought he needed a more powerful opening … one that would make them sit up and pay attention … one that left them with expectations. She continued to flip through the pages, front and back. It was hard where the ink had bled through the sheaf, but everything she was seeing was basic bookkeeping for a company. She hoped that what he was working on now, was much more substantial than this. This … was barely an opener. She kept going over the material and found it was a step up from a home budget. Yes, to father, it was a honed budget, but far from what the masters were already doing. Margaret knew that he would soon go to bed, giving her time to look over the last notes and to see the ages of these books he was studying. She feared he was about to lose face if he presented the lecture she held in her hand.
Somewhere in the North Atlantic, a ship, bound for England, was bringing home Margaret’s long lost brother, who had lost his commission in the Navy and released from duty.
It was late. The clock had struck 11:00. Margaret finally laid all the notes on the dining room table. Her stomach was unsettled, but she would have to tell her father that he could not present his hard work to these Masters of men. After years of honing their business skills, the lecture would be condescending to them. They were more circumspect and advanced in their thinking. How was she going to tell her father?
John sat in his chair by the window. He had finished his daily paper but couldn’t pick up the book he had recently started. It was lonely at nights. He liked the quiet time but didn’t like the loneliness that seemed to be necessary to achieve it. He had been sitting there trying to avoid giving much thought to Adeline’s comment. She had placed a seed of doubt, and after years of confidence in his performance as a man, he thought it likely she had been playing a game.
Hearing from Slickson about Lenore Smithers returning to Milton, John thought back to their break-up. Many months, there had been joy in his life and love. He did wonder now if it was real love. It certainly felt so at the time. But he was mature now. He had matured enough to know that the physicality of a relationship was only part of the love that a man has for a woman. Women loved differently, and there wasn’t much he could do about that except to find the woman that could be his other half. With Lenore, it had been a lustful relationship. With every effort of his being, he tried to remain at proper gentleman at all times, but Lenore was addicted to her carnal pleasures. Even then, John was attempting to find a solution that both could live with, but when he found her the second time with another man, it was over. The best physical time of his life had finished. She had taken his love and virginity, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t long before Lenore was making the rounds with other masters that her reputation plummeted. John took a lot of ridicule for letting such a wanton woman go. He knew that soon he would drown in his own animalistic ego that she seemed to drive him too. Looking back, he was a very young man with few goals in his life. After several years of sewing his seed, he thought there must be more to life. Something had to change, or he would be disgraced in an empire he was destined to lead.
Lenore had left within two months from seeing John for the last time. John avoided her, would not answer her letters and passed her on the streets with not so much as a hat tip. He spoke long and deep with Adam Bell on two occasions. Adam being older, his past experiences with the opposite sex were unknown by most. Those few who knew him as a young man were keeping to themselves.
To his knowledge, Adam was soon due back to Milton. John would be glad he would be here for Lenore’s arrival. John wondered why he worried. It had been nearly ten years. Surely she must have a family and husband by now. He prayed she didn’t arrive with anyone around nine years old. Those days of lust-filled nights without precautions were a thing of the past. John learned quickly to avoid any parental trap. He would look forward to the day when that was no longer a barrier between him and the woman he wanted to love and be with for life.
He heard the clock strike 2:00 a.m. and rolled over in his bed. John had brought a full glass of scotch with him to see the night through. It worked. He fell asleep.
Margaret arrived for breakfast an hour past her father. Greetings were spoken with him as she carried on into the kitchen for a cup of tea. Strolling slowly, so as, not to slosh her tea, she walked back to the dining room where her father was busy working. She watched as he feverishly was lifting papers looking for a particular semblance of presentation order.
“Margaret, you’ve looked over the notes, I believe. What have you found that I missed?”
Margaret looked down for an extended moment as she set her cup on the saucer and sat down. “Father, I wish this was not the case, but it is incumbent upon me to help you save face. You’ve worked very hard, I know, but you simply did not go far enough to interest the masters. I know you have worked with the home budget and most likely the church’s budget and all these papers surpass that. You are scratching the surface of big business but still far behind in the knowledge these men are using. Remember, they have been honing business numbers for a decade. I am sorry to tell you this.”
“Have you seen it all?”
“Yes, I was up late last night and read all of your notes and charts.”
“And you, yourself, have learned more than this?”
“Quite a substantial bit more. I only left school less than a year ago. That was a fine Lady’s College. One of the many group studies I elected to take covered exactly what you are trying to do. I will never do needlework, but I can find a job if I have to keep myself and Dixon.”
Her father looked crushed. He stood silently and walked into the sitting room. Richard Hale moved towards the fireplace and rested his arm on the mantle. He looked down into the flames. “What am I going to do Margaret? Apologize for underestimating their knowledge and send them home? I can’t do that. They’ll never want to have other classes with me.”
“Father, I can teach them if you and they will permit me.”
“Margaret,” her father ruffled. “I doubt you will be very well received. Are you sure you can add to their knowledge?”
“Unless they’ve been to school in the last year, I feel everyone will get something from what I know. Some more, some less. If they were promised this particular lecture, I would doubt you have any other choice. Your introduction of me will set the tone of their acquiescence to listen to me. I expect them all to groan, and perhaps some will leave, but the ones that stay, I promise will learn.”
“Do you need any drawings done today?”
“No, I’ll use the slate board and chalk. They will take notes if they are interested.”
“Margaret, I trust that you know what you are doing. I trust that your knowledge can be useful to some. I will worry about your acceptance, but there is little we can do now.”
“What time will we leave this evening? I will have to put my points in order assuming I can think the way they do.”
“We have to be there by 8:00 p.m. What do you mean, think the way they do?”
Every business is unique to its product. What I learned, and I shall tell you if you wish me too, does not lend itself to taking a commodity such as raw cotton, reconstructing it, and then shipping it out. The accounting is nearly completely the same, but there are areas of difference.”
“How much is their advertising budget? Do they even advertise or are their trading and buying partners under a contract?”
“I see what you mean about what I didn’t know.”
“I wish I could speak with Bessie’s father for a few minutes. Several quick questions would help enormously. Do you think there is any way possible?”
“We could rent a coach, and you could ride over to their mill. He or Mr. Thornton may be in their office. I would tell you that if you could impress either of them, you will reach the others. I’ll walk to the corner with you when you are ready to go.”
“Thank you, father. Let me get my questions formed first. I don’t want to sound foolish.”
“Are you sure you do not need any of these drawings or notes?”
“Yes, father. I am sure.”
“I will be ready when you are.”
John met his mother at the table. His paper was there next to him, and his mother still seemed to have dinner plans scattered on her side.
Bessie reminded her father that she would be attending the lecture tonight and asked if he would be home to take her or go straight to the Lyceum.
“I’ll be home. Today should be a light day. In fact, John told me to sleep in for another hour or two and come in later.”
“But you seem ready to go at your regular time.”
“Yes, I am, and I will go. I have no reason to stay home.”
John had gone to the office early due to the light sleep he received last night. It still bothered him that Adeline would not put his mind at ease. Don’t women understand the importance of a man’s performance to his partner? Men took lightly to flattery as they knew how they used it themselves. Oft times, it was sincere – other times, a means to an end. Yet, any remarks, insinuations, or doubts in pleasuring their partner and the man could suffer a drop in self-pride, leading to a physical and psychological ambush at the most delicate of times.
John heard Higgins coming up the steps, but the person stopped and knocked on the door. Assuming it to be a worker, he shouted for them to enter. He was surprised when Lenore Smithers stepped inside.
“Miss Smithers, what an unexpected surprise. Master Slickson thought you had returned to Milton. Please take this chair.” John pulled a wooden seat near his desk.
“I should have written first before barging in on a working day. I didn’t know if you knew I was here, so I decided to let you know.”
John could hear Higgin’s carriage. The rescue would soon arrive. “What brings you back to Milton?”
“Father is not well, and my sister is getting a bit old to handle his weight for his needs. I am going to see if I can help or find someone that can. How long has it been, John? Ten years?”
“About that.” Where was Higgins, John wondered. “Did you ever marry that man you threw me over for?” John didn’t think he had any feelings anymore and here he was getting angry all over again.
There was a new knock on the door. “Excuse me, Miss Smithers. I don’t know where this company is coming from this morning. This time, John walked to the door hoping to stave her answer. He opened the door to Miss Margaret Hale.
“I … I am sorry to bother you, Mr. Thornton. I have come to seek some answers from Mr. Higgins. He is not expecting me. I will understand if you send me away.”
“It’s been about a year since we last met,” John stated.
“Met? Is that what that was?” She said, curtly. “I’m sorry. I see you have someone here. I shall wait outside.”
“Let me introduce you. Miss Margaret Hale, this is Miss or is it, Mrs. Lenore Smithers.”
“How do you do?” Margaret greeted.
“I am very fine, Miss Hale. I only stopped by to let John know I am back in Milton and I have done that. You may have his attention now. I will go.”
“Oh, please don’t go on my account. My visit is to see Mr. Higgins.”
“Miss Hale, he should be here any time now if you care to wait.”
“Yes, I will wait, but I will wait outside. I insist.” Margaret didn’t stay for a reply. She turned and left the room.
“I hope I didn’t make your little friend angry, John.”
“She is not a friend. If I remember at our first and only meeting, I was disciplining a worker, and she wanted to interfere. I asked the foreman to remove her from the building. I don’t think we’ve ever spoken since. That was a year ago.”
“That’s good to hear. Are you seeing anyone?”
“I believe that is my business. Just as apparently yours was ten years ago.” John scolded himself for being such an angry child.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Here I was thinking, after all, these years, if you weren’t married yet, perhaps you would forgive me.”
“I don’t have any feeling towards forgiveness or any other thoughts of you, but I am sorry for my attitude. I apologize.”
“Thank you, John. Perhaps all is not lost. I will say goodbye. Maybe we shall talk in the future. Good morning to you.”
Lenore walked towards the door, and John opened it. Margaret was several steps down the stairs and moved to the side to let her pass. Higgins was pulling in.
“Miss Hale. Mr. Higgins is here. Please come back into the office.”
Margaret quietly walked back into the room and was offered the now empty chair. “Thank you.”
“Miss Hale, it is nice to see you. I’m not sure we were ever introduced a year ago, but I know I was rude. You saw me at a most difficult and distressing time.”
“Please, Mr. Thornton, do not go on. I was new to Milton and had little idea of the danger of these mills. It has been explained to me. Even though I still feel a sense of alarm over such disciplining, I can understand how you feared for everyone’s lives. Can we leave it at that? I have wanted to apologize but didn’t know you or how to go about it.”
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that your reaction that day has given me many pauses to think how it could have been handled differently. I must keep the fear utmost in their minds, at all times. If it’s the fear of me, so be it. At least I am doing all I can for them.”
Nicholas Higgins came through the door. He looked at John waiting to be introduced.
“You must be Mr. Higgins. I am Margaret Hale.”
“Oh, Miss Hale. Bessie has been talking about you for several days. She is most happy to think she has a potential friend.”
“I am quite pleased myself. I’ve been here a year without any friends. Perhaps it is providence.”
“I thought I was to meet you this evening. How can I help you?”
John was putting on his coat, ready to head to one of the mills when he heard Miss Hale’s next statement, which peaked his interest.
“I am not ashamed to admit this, but I am sorry to say that my father, Mr. Hale, has studied all week for his lecture this evening.”
Interrupting, “Is he unwell?” Asked Nicholas.
“No, but he was never able to grasp the detail of business accounting. He worked on budgets in the church and must have felt with a little more study, he could understand and perhaps teach the Masters about a new way of looking at their work. I have tried to help him, but he felt I knew less about it than he did. After being up most of the night, I had to tell him he could not deliver the lecture he had promised.”
John was back in his chair now. He had spread the word about the lecture to many other masters and now felt foolish for doing so. Well, it couldn’t be helped.
“I am sorry to hear that Miss Hale,” said Nicholas. “There seemed to be a gathering interest in the lesson tonight.”
“Well, that is why I am here. I can teach this lesson. I know it seems like a very boastful statement to make.”
“Miss Hale,” interjected John Thornton, “what gives you the credentials to assume you know the depth of our business?”
“Education, sir,” Margaret said with an air of expectancy.
John and Nicholas politely chuckled.
“I understand you to find humor in this. My father cannot believe it himself. Almost a year ago, I left a Woman’s College. In my final year, instead of learning the art of being a hosting wife, I took a class in business math thinking I may have to work one day.”
“And you believe you learned more than we know at this point.”
“I do. But I came here to ask Mr. Higgins several questions that are pertinent to the cotton industry so I can equate them with this new knowledge of budgets for business.”
Still smiling over the brash statements she was making, Higgins asked, “Are you sure this is not an attempt to rescue your father’s reputation? Excuse me for asking that.”
“I quite understand. I know women are not to be educated in such a fashion and it seems inconceivable to any male that we can be.”
“Miss Hale,” John said, gaining her attention once again, “Can I put a question or two to you for a sign that you have learned about business budgeting?”
“Not knowing the cotton industry, I will tell you what I can. I am only schooled in the math, not any of the nuances that go with the textile trade.”
“Fair enough. Please wait a moment while I confer with my partner.”
“May I ask one question before you confer?
“Are you the president of the Master’s association?”
“I am at present,” John replied.
“So, if I cannot impress you, then there will be no class tonight?”
“I’m not sure that is a fair statement. These lectures are not mandated by myself or anyone. They are on a volunteer personal interest basis. I have no right to pick and choose what they do in their spare time.”
“Thank you.” Margaret was quiet at that point. Seeing she had finished her question, John motioned Higgins to the other side of the office.
Margaret heard another chuckle or two. Becoming quite nervous, she felt she needed to use the facilities.
“Excuse me. Where are your facilities? I am feeling nervous.”
“Let me take you to my home. I would rather you didn’t use the worker’s area.”
“I don’t mind, Mr. Thornton.”
“I do. Follow me, please.”
John looked over her head to Nicholas as he escorted her out the door. They both grinned at the absurdity of her being able to teach them anything.
Margaret was quickly introduced to John’s mother and shown to the lavatory.
After shutting the door, Margaret felt sick to her stomach now. Which did she do? Sit or throw up first.
After several minutes, Margaret emerged from the door looking paler than when she entered.
“Miss Hale, are you feeling well? Asked Hannah Thornton.
“Much better, thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Without a word, Margaret headed to the stairs leading outside. John was a moment behind her, talking with his mother.
Margaret wondered why she started all this. It was to help her father. Yes, that was it. For any other reason, she would have fled by now.
Walking across the mill yard, “Miss Hale, I must credit you for the bravery you are showing for your father. You are unselfish in letting the blame fall at your feet and not Mr. Hales.”
“I understand your doubts but thank you.”
John thought that if nothing else, the men would have a pretty young woman to look at this evening.
Arriving back at the office, Higgins pulled him aside to discuss a question or two.
Margaret returned to her chair, feeling sick again. The words of her father, “if you can impress him, you can impress anyone,” seemed to set the butterflies aloft in her stomach.
She watched as Mr. Higgins and Mr. Thornton returned to their desks.
John pulled out his last month’s profit and loss statement and handed it to her. They both were shocked when she smiled.
“You find something amusing, Miss Hale.”
They both watched as she seemed to read line by line. A frown came over her face. Margaret suddenly felt emboldened.
“What would you like to know, Mr. Thornton?”
“What would you call that document?”
“It’s a Profit and Loss statement from last month.”
John looked over at Nicholas and smiled.
“What is a business’s largest expense category?”
“Other than goods purchased, it would be wages.”
“Very good. So, what do you see as an overall picture of that statement?”
“You are fooling yourself if you think this bottom number is your true profit. Subsequently, future budgeting will fall short.”
Higgins let out an, “Oh ho…”
John sat back in his swivel chair, tapping a pencil against his teeth as he stared at her.
Margaret had seen all she needed to see. She had no questions for Mr. Higgins.
“So what is the true profit?”
“I guess you’ll have to come to the lecture to find out.” She stood and headed towards the door.
“Wait! Didn’t you have questions for Mr. Higgins?”
“I have seen all I need, thank you.”
As Margaret made her way down the outside stairs, Nicholas asked John, “So, what do you think?”
“I think she bluffed us.” John smiled. “It’s quite funny when you think about it. She will never get away with it. I am sorry for her to be in front of these masters tonight.”
“You were not impressed with her answers?”
“Those could be found in any accounting book. I believe she has had a modest course in accounting. Nothing that could serve us.”
“And the overall profit picture?” Nicholas mentioned.
“That was the bluff. She didn’t have an answer. She may have something by tonight, though,” John laughed.
Margaret walked up to the coach driver and asked to be taken to the library. She didn’t need any books on accounting, but she wanted a quick look at working in the cotton and textiles industry. She assumed there should be many books on the subject waiting for her.
Arriving, she was not disappointed. Margaret quickly glanced down the aisles of books on the subject, selected several and carried them to the center reading tables. She was fortunate to find a new book that didn’t look like it had been opened many times. Apparently, masters either bought their own copy or felt they knew all there was. She started to thumb through the book.
An hour later, Margaret was headed home to prepare her lesson.
“Bessie, what will you wear to a master’s lecture tonight,” asked her stepmother, Peggy.
“I think a normal day frock will suffice. I know there is little I do know, but I can’t see there being any etiquette rules for lectures.”
“I am sure you are right. Your father will correct you if he thinks you are overdressed for the occasion.
“How are you coming along Margaret? There isn’t much time left,” inquired Richard Hale.
“I have my lecture ready. I am just looking for an opening to catch their attention.”
“Any ideas, Margaret?”
“Several, father. Would you know if any of the Masters will be bringing the profit statements with them?”
“I do not know, dear. It was not discussed. Are you still sure you have something to reach them?”
“I had a look at Marlborough Mills profit statement today. I smiled when I saw it. I am sure they think I don’t know what I will be talking about. If Marlborough Mills are the masters to impress, I can do that.”
“Margaret, you do understand that even with all your knowledge which exceeds theirs, there is still going to be issues with believing you.”
“Father, that will be up to them, but I am ready for any attitude they want to display. They can boo me off of the stage if they want. I will go rather than cause consternation amongst them, but they will not learn. I am quite prepared to be challenged or tossed out.”
“Margaret, you’re a better man than I., And you are doing this all for me. I hope it goes well.”
“I don’t believe it will, but we shall try.”