“Father, I still think you are jesting with me that Miss Hale will be giving the lecture.”
Nicholas chuckled. “She said she was. John and I think she’s bluffing. As we’ve talked through the day about tonight, we have had quite a laugh and wonder what is really in store for us. It’s not like Mr. Hale to play games. We think he doesn’t even know that she came to see us. John feels she came to us with this story to revenge herself when she was removed from his building on their first and only meet.”
“I’ve only known her for a couple of hours, but she didn’t seem the revenge type.”
“Well, what else can it be, Bessie? She doesn’t know our business.”
“Does she have to know your business or just budgeting and accounting?”
“The two work together. We are nearing there now. I see John standing outside talking with the other masters.”
“Is he telling them about Miss Hale, do you think?”
“I believe not. Since he doesn’t believe her, I doubt he’s warning his peers. It’s not like he’s responsible for any of these lectures.”
“I’ll be there to give her support. This is going to be like a young woman standing against a wolf pack. Don’t let them slaughter her, father. I just found a friend.” Bessie smiled.
When the coach arrived at the steps, Bessie ran ahead into the hall, leaving her father to mingle with the men. Several had taken seats inside, and Margaret was speaking with her father in a corner. Bessie rushed up to her.
Margaret saw her, squealed softly and threw her arms around Bessie.
“Margaret, it isn’t true that you are teaching tonight, is it? My father and Mr. Thornton think you jested with them this morning.”
“It’s true, Bessie.” Margaret walked Bessie away from her father’s hearing and explained how this all came about.”
“I can hardly believe you doing this, though. I will be here for moral support. I know you can do it. I just feel it.”
“I wish I did. I have a bucket in the next room in case I need to be sick. Oh dear, they’re coming in. I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce you to my father. I will do it later. Don’t let me forget.”
Bessie found a seat in the front row but away from the quickly filling room. She was nervous for Margaret. When Margaret looked her way, she gave her a “thumbs-up.”
Mr. Hale was front and center, waiting for all to settle in, but Margaret felt the eyes of a thousand wolves bearing down on her with their teeth snarled. Before her father could open his mouth, Margaret walked into the next room and threw-up. Bessie quickly followed her.
“Oh, my dear. What can I do for you?”
“You could give the lecture,” Margaret sniffled as she wiped the water from her eyes. She laughed. I am fine. I can do this.”
“Of course, you can. You met my father today. He is a nice man. Just pretend you are talking to only him.”
“I will. I will.”
Margaret heard her name being called. She wanted to pick up the bucket and hold it to her chest for the duration.
“Here we go,” Margaret said to Bessie.
Bessie made her way back to her seat. Margaret noticed that John Thornton was pulling a podium to the center so that she had something to hide behind. He saw how pale she was looking and almost laughed out loud, and he caught a glimpse of Nicholas, who was trying to hold it in.
The large crowd that had attended this evening were beginning to grow loud. Mr. Hale was sure it was from disappointment.
Mr. Hale raised his hand. “Masters of Milton, may I have your attention, please. It is with some regret that I must admit to taking on this budgeting lecture with less knowledge than I thought I knew. But all is not lost, in fact, I feel you will enjoy this better with our guest lecturer, my daughter, Miss Margaret Hale.”
“Well, John, she wasn’t kidding. I feel sorry for her. She will embarrass herself.”
“Nicholas, no one really knows her here. It will be forgotten.” Being quite acquainted with public speaking, John knew she was feeling sick. He didn’t like the rumbling through the audience. At least, they could respect her for trying.
Margaret walked towards the center carrying her papers where her father awaited her. There was a smattering of light applause, but still, the men talked among themselves.
John, being the President of the Masters Association, walked up to the podium and stood in front of it with Margaret behind him. That seemed to quiet down the room.
“Please, let’s be gentlemen and give Miss Hale an opportunity to impress us. Thank you.” John went back to his seat, leaving Margaret staring out at what now seemed like a million eyes. She mouthed the words “thank you” to Mr. Thornton, took a deep breath, and looked at Bessie and then Bessie’s father.
She started. Everyone could hear the tremor in her voice. Twice she cleared her throat.
“I was asked by a master today what credentials did I have to feel I could step into my father’s place this evening.” She cleared her voice again.
“It has been about one year since I graduated from the London’s College for Women’s studies. In place of taking a class on being a good hostess for a gentleman husband, I took a business math course. During the last season, not only were we taught budgeting, which includes, trending and forecasting, but we learned how to diagnose a business to see why he was losing profit when his numbers looked good. I will admit, there were only two other women in the class and we were transported to the men’s college nearby for this one class.”
Margaret saw Nicholas Higgins smile at John. Bessie gave her another “thumbs-up. Another breath.
“May I ask if any masters brought their profit statements with them tonight?”
Two men raised their hands.
“Would you permit me to see them? I have seen one statement today. I am only curious as to how differently or closely you calculate your profit.”
One gentleman walked his up to Margaret and laid it on the podium. The second man followed. Margaret took her time and studied the line items of each while the attendees talked to each other.
“Thank you,” she quietly told the two men. They returned to their seats.
She finally broke a smile.
“Here we go, Nicholas. Hang on to your seat.”
John had a question about should they have all brought their statements tonight, so he raised his hand.
Seeing a question coming from Mr. Thornton, Margaret ran to the next room and threw up again. “I can do this. I can do this.”
She wiped her mouth and forehead and returned.
“I am sorry, I do not know names, but I have met you once, Mr. Thornton. Do you have a question?”
“I think we can all see how nervous you are and I promise you none of us will bite.”
Someone shouted, “Maybe a nice nibble.” That elicited a smattering of laughter. Margaret felt the ice had been broken.
Margaret ignored the rather male-boast. “Yes, Mr. Thornton?”
“I may have missed it, but were we suppose to bring our statements with us?”
“Between the three documents that I have seen today, there is little difference except for the numbers. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.”
“By a show of hands, only, I have a few questions for everyone here. If you have accountants that do your books and you don’t know the answer, do not worry.”
“Father, can you keep count for me?”
He nodded and found a pencil.
“Who, in here, looks at your business using percentages rather than pounds?”
About two-thirds used percentages. Marlborough Mills being one of them.
“You will all want to get used to doing that. Take the extra calculation to convert it to percentages. How many of you calculate your business sales a year in advance?”
Nearly all raised their hands.
“Three years in advance?” Margaret asked.
Less than ten men did that?
“How about five years in advance? Hmm… I see no one does that. It’s a bit soon to be figuring world events into your business, but I assume you have all been hearing rumblings about the slave trade. There will come a time when the slaves are released or paid. That will be a huge impact on your supplies for several years. It may be prudent for you since your city is the industry leader, to begin to drift up your profit a full percent a year. Year after year. You will want to be in a good financial position when that time comes. It bears thinking now. It should be calculated into your budget within five years.
“You all create one budget a year, is that correct?”
Many head nods and agreements.
John raised his hand.
“We make a budget for each quarter. If we see that there are major unexpected changes, we can make adjustments in the following quarter, in hopes of meeting our year in numbers.”
“Excellent, Mr. Thornton. You may want to give your members a lesson on that.”
“But they are my competitors,” he said jokingly. Everyone laughed even Margaret and her father.
“I know you men are intelligent risk-taking leaders. Milton is so thick with brick buildings, it’s a wonder the earth doesn’t sink in. And you have these huge iron machines inside. Noisy iron machines inside,” Margaret laughed.
“If you could stand at the North Pole and be able to see down to the equator and all around the globe, Milton would be seen as a red glow. The activity, the manpower, the work output, the ships, and trains coming and going … this is a breeding ground for innovations and new discoveries, for the world. You are world leaders. All of you. You’re Britain’s pride and joy. I’m surprised you haven’t been knighted,” she laughed. She’d gotten carried away. She learned so much from the newer books in the library today that she suddenly felt emboldened. She peeked at Bessie, who had two thumbs up.
There was an applause and Margaret grew red.
“Please, do not do that. I got carried away. I do not deserve accolades for something I so recently learned.
Nicholas raised his hand.
“Yes, Mr. Higgins?”
“Have you even been inside a mill,” he smiled. The room chuckled.
“Yes. Yes, I have. I wandered into one of those rooms with all the iron machines.” She saw John cross his arms and legs in anticipation of what she would say next. That signaled her to return to her lecture.
“I’m sorry. I have strayed from the reason you are here.
“Do any of you know the real profit on a hundred yard bolt of woven cotton? Let me ask it another way. You double your money on that bolt. You make one hundred percent. Is that correct?”
Everyone seemed to be in agreement.
“You are in the wrong gentleman. How do you count how much is 100 yards as it is spooled onto the bolt?”
“We count the folds,” someone shouted.
“Yes, you count the folds.”
“You are not going to tell us there is another way, Miss Hale,” said Nicholas. That is the only cost effective way to do it.”
“Yes, you are right. There is no other way to do it. But did you know by counting the rings around the bolt, you are cheating your customer out of about 3 yards? We can discuss that later. Just wanted you to know that.”
“Have any of you budgeted the Exhibition next year?”
Many raised their hands.
“Raise your hands if you budgeted the enormous increase in sales from the world seeing your products and buying it, the following year after the exhibition? How about the added sales after the exhibition itself.”
Everyone put their hands down.
“You have just lost a great advantage because you will not be prepared for the increased orders. You should be buying cotton now, lots of it. Are your cotton growers increasing their yield? Milton, the largest cotton weaving city on this globe, is going to be an entire growing year behind the needs of the world unless you are prepared.”
Margaret started coughing from her dry throat. It felt like dust. She couldn’t stop it, which was now turning into gagging with no air intake. There was no water at the lyceum.
“Anyone bring a flask?” John shouted.
Several men appeared quickly, handing their spirits to John. He held Margaret’s head back and poured something into her mouth. He did it a second time.
Now Margaret was starting to drown. Bessie was there by her side. Margaret saw her stricken face and starting laughing, thus gagging again. Finally, the situation passed.
John turned to the masters and told them all to take a break for a few minutes.
Margaret sat on the desk with her father, Bessie, Nicholas and John Thornton all hovering over her.
“Father, I’m sorry. I am a disaster. I have embarrassed you.”
“Miss Hale, all evidence to the contrary, I assure you. Can you continue?”
“I don’t think so. Not tonight anyway. I shall be inebriated any minute now.”
John, Nicholas, and Bessie laughed quite loudly.
“Please wait here.”
“I don’t think I’m going anywhere.”
John smiled. He walked out the door and asked the men of their continued interest because it didn’t look like it would continue tonight.
“You were marvelous, Margaret,” said an excited Bessie.
Nicholas followed on with his words of praise.
“Really? Margaret asked as she wiped her runny nose with her handkerchief. “I don’t even know what I was saying. Words were just tumbling out. It sounded alright?”
“You were very gallant, Miss Hale,” John said returning.
“We have agreed that we want you to continue at another time. Can I give you and your father a lift home?”
“Margaret looked at her father for the answer.”
“Mr. Thornton, thank you. We will accept both offers.”
“Both,” asked Margaret.
“Yes, you will continue where you left off.”
Nicholas and John helped her slide off of the desk to a standing position.
“Margaret, I will come to see you tomorrow,” commented Bessie. “We have a lot to talk about.
“That will be nice. I’m starting to feel strange.”
John took Margaret’s arm and wrapped it around his. Her father steadied her on the other side. They made their way to John’s coach.
On the way home, John watched Miss Hale lean over on her father’s shoulder, with closed eyes while they were talking. He thought it strange that she did not find their words of her knowledge and bravery interesting enough to stay awake. He didn’t know one woman who wouldn’t want to know what someone was saying about her.
“Did you know she threw up two or three times tonight at the lyceum?” mentioned Mr. Hale.
“I am sorry to hear that. Was one of the times when I raised my hand to ask the first question? She disappeared for a moment.”
“Yes,” Mr. Hale laughed.
“Do you think she is afraid of me?”
“I know she once was, after your first and only meeting, I believe.”
“I did apologize to her today for that incident. I wanted to give her a solid reason for why it happened, but she wouldn’t let me finish. She understood.”
“I am sure that is Mr. Bell’s intervention. He knows the danger everyone faces in these mills, and he knows you ….”
“Have a temper?”
“I’m not sure those were his words, but yes.”
“Someday she will let me tell her how that day changed me. I dwelled on her reaction. I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me. I first considered her a woman and that was a natural reaction. So I dismissed it. But when something similar would happen again, I would see myself as if she was standing there. It was quite a strange sensation. I slowly changed my ways. Oh, here we are. Would you like me to carry her to her room?”
“No. Thank you, John. It’s been a most interesting evening for everyone, I dare say. Margaret, wake up. Wake up Margaret.”
“Mr. Hale, I think she has passed out from the drink. I will carry her to your sofa.”
“Thank you, John.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
Richard Hale could hear John lightly chuckling as they walked to the house.
“Yes. I think when she said we should all be knighted was the highpoint of the night.”
Mr. Hale smiled broadly while opening the door for John Thornton.
John laid Margaret down. He could have stood there a few more minutes just to see her, but he didn’t.
“Good night sir, John. We shall pick up the lessons at the next lecture session. Thank you for your understanding tonight.”
“Please, don’t thank me. Remember this is not my lecture. This is yours, and I should be thanking you. I did see a lot of what she was saying will ring true in times to come. And I was quite entertained as well. Good night, sir.”
Mr. Hale walked John to the door and closed it behind him. Checking Margaret on the sofa, he found a quilt and covered her.
“Father, what did you think of Miss Hale? I was so nervous for her. I’ll be proud to be her friend.”
“Honestly Bessie, I was astounded. Not only with her knowledge, which she hasn’t even begun to touch, but her bravery to get up in front of all those masters. Even I have trouble with that, and I know them. Yes, you have my permission to allow her to teach you until the day comes when you want to learn more.”
“She did say she did not take lessons in becoming a hostess to a gentleman husband.”
“I see. You think I am interested in learning that?”
“I don’t know. I am not going to insist on learning the trappings of a societal lifestyle. If you want it, you can learn it, but it may not be from Miss Hale. She does come from a background of society. How she embraced that, I do not know.”
“I just couldn’t believe her, Father. She had such confidence after the initial start. Do you know what Mr. Thornton thought?”
“From his comments and lack of jesting, I would think he was equally impressed.”
“Is that all?”
“What do you mean, is that all?”
“Out with it, Bessie.”
“She’s a young lady, and he’s a youngish man of fine reputation.”
“Do not go meddling, especially in John’s private affairs. He is stepping out with a pretty young woman who may seek to be his wife. The signs are there. He hasn’t mentioned anything, but I’ve known his habits for many years. This one is different.”
“If you say so, father. It’s best left to him, anyway.”
“Not just to him, but everyone. Don’t go playing matchmaker with people’s lives. They have met, and anything beyond that is their own business.”
“I wish I could take her to the ball with us?”
“Oh dear, I don’t think I was supposed to tell you or is it that you know, but Mother won’t be going this year. The flu has her weakened.”
“Yes, you are right. I knew it was going to be that way. I was not planning on going.”
“Couldn’t you arrive with two young ladies on your arms? Would you mind taking Miss Hale and me?”
“You women might give me a reputation among my peers. I don’t know,” he smiled. “I’ll have to give that some thought.”
“Oh, thank you, Father.”
“Don’t go thanking me as if I have agreed.”
“I wonder if she has a nice frock?”
Bessie was lost in the thought that it may come to pass. Her first ball, even if it was with her father, and a friend to go with her. Her father would be off roaming the room and talking. Now he could do it without the guilt of leaving mother or her alone.
The following morning John and Nicholas began their work day talking about how foolish they both felt about the ability of Miss Hale. She’d never really touched on the actual budgeting, but she had shown areas to consider which many a master would not have thought of.
“She was spot on about the Exhibition and what it will show the world. We do need to plan for that,” suggested Nicholas.
“Yes. And that is something we should start considering now before the other masters buy up this season’s stock for next year.”
“How was Miss Hale on the ride home?”
“I spoke mostly with Mr. Hale about her while she slept. I had to carry her inside the house as she was unconscious, I think,” John laughed. “I’m not sure what was in those flasks, but it seemed to be better than choking to death. I can’t help but laugh at it now. What’s our agenda today? I need to get started. I am taking Miss Waverly out tonight.”
“You seem to have a keen interest in this woman.”
There was silence.
“Was there a question in there?” John asked, not looking up from the paperwork he had just begun.
“Ah… I don’t think so. I know better than you to ask you. It was merely a statement,” Nicholas chuckled as he opened his desk drawer to start his own work.
“Oh, that reminds me, Mr. President. Peggy is going to be unable to make it to the ball. She is recovering but will not be strong enough to attend. Bessie has asked to be my guest.”
“Again … is there a question there and how did your discussion of Miss Waverly remind you of that?
Housekeeper Dixon opened the front door to Bessie Higgins.
“I believe Miss Hale is expecting me.”
“Yes, she is. Please come in Miss Higgins. You may wait in the drawing room. She will be with you momentarily.”
“Thank you,” Bessie said, removing her gloves and walking about the room.
“Hello Bessie,” Margaret spoke as she came into the room. “I am so happy you could make it.”
“I would not miss this opportunity for anything. I can’t stop thinking about last night. I was so proud of you. Father said he is happy to have you teach me reading and writing if you still care to.”
“Oh yes. I would love to be of use to someone.”
“Well, get your bonnet, my driver is waiting.”
“Waiting?” Margaret was surprised.
“I am taking you out to find a ball gown.”
“A ball gown?” Margaret questioned.
“Yes, you and I are going to attend the Master’s Ball soon with my father. My mother cannot go. Rather than see my father disappointed, I asked him to take you and me.”
“Me? Surely, you don’t mean me. I have nothing to do with the Masters.”
“Well, you are going to and very soon. You had a nice start last night. I think it’s time you started meeting some nice, eligible gentleman. I am ready, and I don’t want to go out there alone. I think we can have fun together. Sharing our feelings and emotions with one another should help us along our way.”
“Margaret, you are starting to sound like a parrot. Do you want to be a single spinster lady? I don’t. It’s hard to meet nice men. This is an ideal situation. They will be gentlemen. They will ask us to dance. It will be a joyous night.”
“Bessie, I am not sure I am ready to meet eligible gentlemen. I don’t even know if I want to be a wife.”
“We will see how you feel after it’s over. Please go with me?”
“I guess father wouldn’t mind being home alone that night. How about coming to my room and look in my wardrobe. I have some evening frocks from school last year. There may be a few in there. Perhaps, there is one you would like yourself. I’m sure those fashions are just coming into Milton.”
“Let’s go see, shall we?”
Bessie said, “Good day,” to Mr. Hale as the two walked briskly through the hall to the stairs.