Margaret climbed the steps to her bedchamber. Entering, she neared the bed and flopped backward with her arms spread wide. After a moment, she realized she was smiling to herself as she stared at the ceiling. She was lost in the tingly feeling she had in her body. There was a feeling of headiness and a perpetual grin which she seemed unable to contain.
He was so tall and handsome.
Margaret started to wonder if this was what her brother was referring to. She thought back about her first meeting with him. She found him loud and harsh in manner. How could she not have noticed the stately man that she has recently been reacquainted with?
Margaret had no idea what Fred meant when he mentioned she was seducing the man. What did that entail? How could she not do it again? As much as her interest in John Thornton seemed to be a little more obliging than a few days ago, it didn’t mean she could display unintended attentions if that was what she was doing. That would be very improper.
Her brother was right about one thing, she was counting the time until they returned.
“Father, can I have a word with you about Margaret?”
“Of course, my son. What questions could you have about your sister?”
“Has she been invited out by any gentlemen since she’s been here?”
Mr. Hale reflected on that question for a moment. “I don’t believe so, Fred. In fact, I am sure of it. I do not remember hearing about anyone while she was at school. What are you trying to say?”
“Because I am nearer her age and her big brother, I think it will be my responsibility to teach her about men and how to behave. I wish you could have seen how she was bewitched by Mr. Thornton when we visited there to talk with his driver. I accused her of trying to seduce the man with her eyes, which she wasn’t, but she didn’t know what she was doing.”
“What was this, that she was doing,” Richard Hale, now showing some concern. He folded his newspaper and laid it on the side table. “You have my full attention.”
“Mr. Thornton seemed to show a little more than a vague interest in her. I believe he purposely positioned himself so that he could glance at her seated inside the coach while we talked.”
“We can discuss Mr. Thornton after you tell me about Margaret.”
“She seemed transfixed by his glances to her. Now, that may be all well and good when people first find an interest in each other, but Margaret didn’t realize she was staring back. She didn’t look away or cast her eyes downward. She sat there, beamed and absorbed his admiring gaze like a withering garden welcomes the rain. Thornton did nothing untoward except glance at her once in a while, but Margaret took it as being complimentary.”
“It could also be that Mr. Thornton was polite including her in the conversation. Now unless I understand this incorrectly, I have heard nothing wrong, yet. Yes, it does sound as if Margaret needs some guidance for which I will depend on you. Fred, she has never known men. She is at the age where they should become interesting, and they will find interest in her. She has been at home nearly all her life, except for school. I have not been much of a father in that regard. I should have been more involved with her learning of men. Your mother, I wish she was here. Don’t fault her for desires that are beginning. That is natural and right. She won’t understand it very much, I should think. They will be nothing compared to young men as yourself. I am sure you cannot believe me speaking of sins of the flesh, but once I was a young, vibrant man before college and meeting your mother. Finding a love of someone changes all of your attitudes. Yes, you being a man, will have to be her “teacher of men.”
“She’s not going to like my interfering. Perhaps, we should sit down and discuss that as a family, this evening.”
“Getting back to Mr. Thornton, he is a very popular man with the single ladies of Milton, and I dare say there are some married ones that would stray should he allow it. He’s quite the gentleman, growing wealthy, and has many leadership responsibilities. He is highly regarded. If he falls in love with our Margaret, I will welcome him into the family. But, and I say this with some hesitation for I am not sure, but I believe he has a lady he has seen for some time. There is a rumor of a pending announcement. We cannot allow him to tamper with Margaret’s affections if they are not sincere. You must discover if the rumor is true. However, I would never expect him to act ungentlemanly or purposely create false hopes.”
“Margaret and I are expecting to return this afternoon because his driver was out with Mrs. Thornton. I shall hope to see more of Mr. Thornton’s attentions at that time. He invited Margaret to tea with his mother while I talk to his driver.”
Margaret heard a light knock on her door. It certainly wasn’t Dixon tapping that gently. She went to the door to find that Bessie had stopped by.
“Oh, how good of you to visit. Come sit on my bed the way we did as young girls.”
Bessie removed her bonnet and slipped off her shoes. I’ve been wondering if you are getting excited about the Master’s Ball. It’s not far away. Saturday night. Have you planned all of your clothing? Do we need to buy anything?”
“Bessie slow down. You are making me breathless, and that’s the second time today.”
“Second? Bessie broke out in a smile and clapped her hands. Tell me. Tell me.”
“Fred and I went horse and buggy hunting. After a poor start, our coachman said that Mr. Thornton’s driver is the one we should seek. We drove over there. I was in old clothes because I thought I would be near horses and stables, so I stayed in the coach. Fred went looking for someone to talk with, and Mr. Thornton came to the coach. I think he stared at me.” Margaret’s cheeks popped out with her big smile.”
“And what? He stared at me.”
“And this is what made you breathless?” Bessie looked at her with incredulity. Bessie realized she had worked around many men for a lot of years. Margaret was new to this.
Margaret promptly folded her arms and sulked.
“I’m sorry Margaret,” she said with a grin. “I know he is very handsome with his wavy black hair and those blue eyes and that tall, slender body. Perhaps, I felt that way the first time I say him, but he never made me breathless. He didn’t notice you struggling to breathe, did he?”
“I don’t know,” Margaret now whined, disappointed that her new friend couldn’t enjoy her moment today. “I can only remember me smiling, and he looked at me several times. He even came up to my window. Fred was rude to me on the way home. He said I was seducing him with my eyes. Now, is that not ridiculous?”
“I have no idea what he means by that.”
“Oh, I am sure he’s just having fun with you. So, Fred is home, now?” Bessie smiled.
“Yes. He and I will be returning to see Mr. Thornton’s driver at 2:00 p.m. because he was not home earlier. I take it we should go down and have a cup of tea?”
“I would like that.”
“Alright. Come on. I shall watch and see if you seduce my brother with your eyes. He isn’t spoken for you know. I think I should warn you.”
“About . . . ?”
“He hasn’t taken a woman out for a long time. He’s talking about men stuff.”
“Men stuff? Stuff? Margaret, can you be more specific?”
“He said he needs to go to the tavern tonight. I asked him why. He as much as said it wasn’t any of my business.”
“Oh, you mean like going to a pub and having a few pints with the lads.”
“Maybe that’s all I do mean.”
“Margaret?” Bessie inhaled loudly. “You don’t mean that he . . . he . .,” she was interrupted.
“I think I might. He as much as told me he isn’t chaste. He said he’d be a laughing stock in the Navy if he was. And furthermore, he told me with my seductive eyes, if I weren’t his sister, he would have swept me off my feet. Oh, this should be fun. Let’s go.”
Margaret grabbed Bessie’s hand and pulled her along. She didn’t even allow her to pick up her shoes on the way. Margaret rushed her down the stairwell, making little sound being shoeless. As Margaret came to an abrupt stop just before the parlor, Bessie ran into the back of her, knocking them both into the room and onto the floor. Margaret was pushed forward and then Bessie tripped over her feet.
Both Richard Hale and Fredrick jumped to their feet to assist. Both looked concerned but then Fred started laughing at the two silly girls.
Margaret! What happened,” asked her father.
“I was hurrying Bessie along behind me, down the stairs. As I reached this doorway, I slowed down.”
“You stopped,” insisted Bessie., folding her arms.
“Are you sure?”
Bessie was embarrassingly red in the face, especially since it was Fred who helped her to stand.
“No, I am not sure, but we’re both fine. Just fine. Foolish, but fine.” Bessie was making sure her dress was laying as it should, and no hair had come out of place. She could tell Margaret’s brother thought the whole miserable display was amusing.
“Well, what’s done is done,” Margaret announced as she brushed her hands together as if they were dusty. We were coming down for a cup of tea.”
“Running, were you? Fred questioned.
“Racing. Yes, we were racing.”
“Did you both lose your shoes on the way?”
“No. We took those off, so we didn’t make much noise as we …ah… raced.”
“I’d say it was all evidence to the contrary.”
Richard Hale finally felt the amusement, picked up his paper but enjoyed the long-forgotten sounds of children at play.
“Bessie let’s go to the kitchen. Anyone else for tea?”
“I’ll have a cup, sis.”
“Not for me,” stated Richard Hale. “I think I shall go up and have a laydown. I do hope the festive noises are over.”
“I can promise for Bessie and I but not Fred.”
Fred stood and followed the girls into the kitchen.
John noticed his mother was home and walked across the yard to inform her of a tea guest this afternoon.
Hannah was already at work on her dinner party menu and figuring the extra staff that would be needed.
John came up the stairs, checking to see if her bedchamber door was closed.
“Hello, mother. How was your visit with Dr. Donaldson?”
“Nothing new to report John. These old bones will just continue to give me aches and pains. He gave me powders for when it becomes bad.”
“Do you have much more on your dinner party planning?”
“I am more than half way through. I need to get the few extra staff members and get the food ordered.”
“Do you think this should be your last year of this?” John asked.
“John, you will have to pick up the expectation. I may slow down, but I will help plan. You will have to do some of the work next year.”
“Whatever you want, Mother. I stopped over to tell you that Miss Hale and her brother came earlier looking for Branson. I guess with her brother now home, he feels the family needs a small buggy and horse. He will be able to handle the rigging and such. With you being out, I invited them back to visit. I asked Miss Hale if she would care to take tea with you while her brother speaks to Branson.”
“I will be delighted to meet this teacher of yours. You’ve spoken of her enough.”
“No, I don’t believe I have done such as you say.”
“Yes, you have. Perhaps you didn’t realize it. You started to repeat yourself. Maybe those all seem like one conversation. I didn’t know the Hale’s had a son.”
“I didn’t either until today. It seems he’s been away in the Navy.”
“I should like to meet them. You haven’t forgotten you invited Adeline for dinner, did you?”
“No, of course not. I’ll go talk with Branson next. I will escort Miss Hale to the parlor. I’ll tell Cook on my way out the back.”
“Margaret, while we were having our cups of tea, did you notice how Bessie did not stare at me? She looked down or away when I glanced at her.”
“And because she was polite as you say, she’s supposed to be interested in you?”
“A man can tell these things.”
Margaret doubled over in a laughing fit. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. My brother just says those words so it must be true.
“Well . . . isn’t she interested in me?”
“ Get thee to a tavern and be quick about it.” Margaret felt so alive with her brother home to argue with and pounce upon. He was making her laugh as she hadn’t for years. He did more than come home, he brought her back with him.
‘What does a man know exactly?” Margaret asked, with a broad smile.
“I can’t give away our secrets, sis! It’s for men only.” Fred started to laugh to himself. He was stuck for an answer.
“Are you changed for your next cup of tea today? Don’t move around while at Mrs. Thornton’s house. She’s liable to hear you slosh.”
“Fred, do I look like I’ve changed? You are supposed to know that Bessie is interested in you because she looked away from you and you can’t even notice if I changed. It will only take a few minutes to get out of these stable clothes and shoes,” Margaret said, as she walked out of the room with airs.
“Well, do hurry, sis. Mr. Thornton may be replacing you in his mind right now.” Fred flopped on the couch laughing.
Fred was watching his sister as their rented coach pulled into the mill yard. He noticed Mr. Thornton standing outside talking to another man. Looking at his sister, he saw she was beaming.
“Fred, that is Mr. Thornton’s friend, his partner, and Bessie’s father. Do be on your best behavior. Imagine asking that gentleman for her hand in marriage.” Margaret began the giggles again.
As the coach slowed, John Thornton opened the door to hand out Margaret. She was smiling broadly. “You seem amused Miss Hale?”
Margaret had gone speechless with feeling his large warm hand caressing hers. She looked down and saw her four fingers lying in his palm, and he had placed his thumb over the top to secure her hold.
There was a moment, once Margaret stepped out when John noticed her staring at their hands. He thought his hands must be dirty and quickly checked them himself. “Miss Hale, I am sorry. Are my hands unclean?” He didn’t know what else to say.”
A sound of repressed laughter came from the other side of the coach as Fred imagined what must be happening.
“It is I who am sorry. With your grip, I felt very safe in stepping out. Some gentlemen make you hold onto them. I didn’t mean to stare.”
“I am surprised that you are surprised. I shall take that as a compliment if I may.” He saw Miss Hale light up again with smiles.
“Yes, it was a compliment.”
By then Fred was next to her. John introduced Fred to Nicholas Higgins.
“Mr. Higgins.” Fred shook his extended hand. “I have had the very great pleasure of meeting your daughter.”
“I hope that went well. She’s been quite shy most of her life, but she seems to be coming into her own finally.”
“She is quite a handsome woman.”
John, Nicholas, and Margaret, all stared at Fred.
Fred felt the light elbow to his arm from his sister.
“Just go see Mr. Thornton’s driver. Take your time. I will be enjoying Mrs. Thornton and a nice cup of tea. Is that not so, Mr. Thornton?”
“Indeed, it is so. She is looking forward to meeting you.”
Nichlos excused himself with his polite goodbyes.
“Fred, Branson’s quarters are behind the house. I shall escort your sister inside. Just knock on the back door when you are finished.”
“Thank you, sir.” Fred walked off, leaving Margaret and Mr. Thornton in the middle of the yard.
As they walked toward the Thornton front door, John had his hands clamped together behind his back. “You say your brother has completed some military service?”
Margaret turned to him and asked, “Does it show?”
“I’m sorry, does what show?”
“I don’t think he should have remarked on Bessie like that in front of her father at his first meeting.”
John smiled. “I’m not sure a gentleman would have done that quite this quickly, but he’s been away as you said the other day. Living with only men for a long time might tend to slant his etiquette a bit. I am sure it will return in little time.” John was still chuckling over the scene.
Nearing the door, Margaret asked, “Do men know when a woman is interested in them? My brother says that a man knows. I shouldn’t think he can tell that fast. What do you think?”
Looking heavenward, wanting to laugh, “Miss Hale, I believe I am at a disadvantage. I have not had that insight. Perhaps, men at sea tell tales to the younger lads.”
“That must be it. I think he’s taken to bragging since he’s been home.”
“Don’t be too quick to discredit what he says. Was he an officer.”
“Yes, for a while. He argued with his captain on the treatment of the crew. They disciplined him by putting him in jail and then released him not long ago.”
“Please, don’t see anything. It doesn’t reflect on me,” Margaret became worried at what she had said.
Smiling broadly, John looked at her. “Miss Hale, please have no concern there. I hardly know you. I hope we can remedy that in the future.”
Margaret’s cheeks were going to pop. “I wish for that as well. I’ve been a year annoyed about my lack of understanding at our initial meeting.”
“Let’s put that behind us, forever. Shall we? I was in a state that is not me.” John opened the door to the house.
“I appreciate that.”