“Mother, I would like to introduce Miss Margaret Hale.”
“Welcome, Miss Hale. I have heard much about your teachings this past week.”
“I will leave you two to your tea. I must return to work.”
It wasn’t missed by John or his mother the look of disappointment on Margaret’s face. He’s leaving?
“Miss Hale, is anything wrong? Hannah asked. John looked on waiting for an answer.
“No. No, nothing is wrong.”
“For a moment, you looked stricken.”
“Miss Hale, do you wish me to remain?” asked John.
“Oh, no. Please go on about your business. Thank you for your kind hospitality in meeting your mother and letting my brother speak with your driver.” Margaret struggled to regain her poise.
“I will go then. Please feel free to come here for any help. I know you know very few people in Milton.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thornton.
“Perhaps, you will allow me to take you to dinner in the future so that we can remedy that lack of proper introductions.”
“I shall look forward to it.” Margaret brightened. It was known by then that Miss Hale had an interest in John Thornton. For John and Hannah, this was a common occurrence. Hannah felt sorry for her immediately.
“John, do remember your dinner engagement with Miss Waverly this evening. Don’t be late.”
“Am I ever late, mother? Good day, Miss Hale.” John turned and left with no ceremony. Hannah was eyeing Margaret.
“Miss Hale, you seem disappointed that my son left.”
Margaret did not know how to reply to that. She was caught out.
“I am embarrassed to admit, he is a handsome man. I find it difficult to look away.”
“Nice to hear someone actually admit that. Don’t be ashamed of your acute observations. Many a woman has suffered the same fate. He is favored by far too many women in Milton. Won’t you have a seat? Tea, Jane, if you don’t mind,” Hannah instructed when Jane came into the room.
Margaret took a seat, crushed beyond words. “There seems to be a rumor circulating that he may soon be engaged?”
“You are quite right. That is a rumor. I must admit though that he has been seeing Miss Adeline Waverly for some time. I will not be surprised when he announces it to me.”
“You like her then?”
“She has her own money, which always worries me about John’s lady friends. At least, she is not interested in him for that. She’s polite and interesting. I think she would suit him for a wife.”
“I see. I do wish him happiness. It must be hard for such a man to find a woman that is interested in him for himself and not his wealth, fame or appearance. All those qualities in one gentleman are very hard to find, I would imagine.”
“Do you have a gentleman, yourself?”
“Oh, no. I have only been out two times while at school.”
“Yes, John told me about how impressed he was with your education. Apparently, you learned more of the non-traditional studies.”
“Although I have an aunt in high society in London, who paid for my education, I am smart enough to see my life ahead. I had to study in areas which could bring me a living.”
“Would not your aunt help you?”
“Oh yes. She begs me to allow her, but I do not care for the social strata of London society. I grew up under the influence of a gentleman clergy. We lived in a small town where people worked hard, and there were no barriers. I do not wish to step into a sophisticated world, even though I could. I think my mother was disappointed in me. She, of course, was from the same circles in London, but met my father and married for love. That is what I hope happens to me. She gave up all of her life’s luxuries for my father.”
“And you would do the same?”
“Without hesitation. I saw, although seen in a clerical light, their love was great for one another. My father is struggling with her loss.”
“I am sorry to hear that. Has she been gone long?”
“Almost a year now.”
“And what have you done this past year?”
“When I left school, I came home to tend to my mother and father. He was destroyed. I believe he is just now beginning to recover.”
“So you have seen no gentlemen while here?”
“No, none really, until the other night in the lesson room. I have recently become friends with Miss Bessie Higgins, and she is asking that I go to the Master’s Ball with her and her father. I am looking forward to that, but also very afraid.”
“Do you know why Mrs. Higgins is not attending?”
“She is recovering from an illness. She is feeling much better, but her weakness will still be an issue by the time of the ball. I’m sorry to say her misfortune will be a big adventure for me.”
“How old are you Miss Hale?”
“I shall be twenty-three in two months.”
“Yes, it is getting late for you to get out and be seen. I am sure all the available men will find you and Miss Higgins impossible to resist.”
“I do hope it is not as you say.”
“Why, Miss Hale. Most young women want men falling at their feet.”
“I believe Bessie to be as I am. We are both shy, at least now that this is all new to each of us. How do you tell a gentleman no when you don’t care to dance? Won’t that offend them?”
“I can see you have been quite sheltered in your life. And I suppose you do not have another woman to guide you along after your mother passed.”
“My mother never guided me along. Those things were never spoken about. My brother has just come home from serving in Her Majesties Navy. We have been talking. He told me I was trying to seduce your son, with my eyes, earlier today. I don’t even know what that means. He hasn’t explained it to me yet. I admit I must have stared at your son’s beauty, but I didn’t know I was seducing him. I’m not even sure he’s not teasing me. If it was something that I did, I don’t know how to apologize.”
Hannah finally broke into a smile. She felt Miss Hale was as innocent as she seemed to be. In past visits, she’d had women trying to impress her so that she would compliment them to her son. Miss Hale was not like that. “Miss Hale, I am sure your brother will be quite capable of explaining the male’s thinking. You may get a better education from him than you could ever have hoped for from another woman.”
Margaret giggled. “I hope you’re right. He sure is working on me about my staring. I hope I didn’t embarrass Mr. Thonron today.”
“I am sure you have not. He is quite used to it and does a fine job of ignoring it. He hasn’t let all these women beguile him. I think he must have seen it all. Other single gentlemen are quite enamored with the way he is. He does not care to stand out in any way other than in his business. He is proud of what he has achieved from nothing. I am proud of him too.
“Some day you must visit again, and I shall tell you of the hardships he has endured to get where he is.”
“I would very much like to hear it.”
The backdoor was heard being opened and then footsteps on the back stairs.
“Excuse me,” announced Fred as he entered the room.
“Mrs. Thornton, I would like you to meet my brother, Frederick Hale.”
“How do you do, Mr. Hale?”
“Please call me Fred. There is a Mr. Hale ahead of me,” he smiled.
“Was Branson able to help you?”
“Very much so. I think we have a lot in common. I shall enjoy learning from him. He has ideas on where to start. When he is allowed, he and I will begin our quest for a horse and trap or buggy.
“Mrs. Thornton, I really enjoyed our chat. I will look forward to speaking with you again. I suppose we must go. Tell Mr. Thornton, thank you.”
“I will, Miss Hale. Do have a lovely time on the ball.”
“I will hope for the best. Good day.”
Fred said his goodbye and escorted his sister down the front steps.
Margaret cast a glance around the yard and did not see Mr. Thornton. It was disappointing, but she held her composure.
John watched from his office window as Fred helped his sister into the rented coach.
“Nicholas, what do you think of Miss Hale’s brother?” John asked smiling.
“First of all, I didn’t know she had a brother. I am not sure I have formed any opinion as of yet. Why do you ask?”
“She apologized for her brother’s comment about Bessie’s appearance. Although complimentary, Miss Hale felt it was too early to state such a remark in front of you. She explained saying that he has just returned from the Navy. I think there is going to be something brewing between him and Bessie. I get the impression that Miss Hale thinks there might be.”
“She may fall in love with whoever she wants to as long as she has my permission.”
They both laughed.
“What do you think of Miss Hale?” John asked.
John was still standing in front of the office window with his arms crossed when Nicholas spun his chair around and asked, “In what regard are you meaning?”
“No particular regard.”
“Well, I was certainly astounded at the last lesson. Aside from knowing our accountability, she actually selected it as a study in school. Highly unlikely if you ask me. Perhaps she wishes she were a man.” Nicholas purposely said that for a reaction from John.
“Now, in what regard do you mean that?” John countered.
“Is there more than one way?”
“Yes, of course, there is. You seem to think she may have a preference for other women.” John became stern.
“Hold on, John. I was saying that for a response from you and you sure gave it.” Nicholas laughed. “The thought of that seems it would be upsetting to you.”
“I’ve never given any thought to an idea such as that. You brought it up.”
“I apologize. I didn’t mean anything by it, and I don’t think it to be so. I was only looking for your response. I was gauging your interest.”
“Please do not draw any inference from my question. I have no interest in her beyond the classroom. I think I’ll go see Branson for a moment and then bathe for my night out. See you tomorrow.”
“Margaret, how did your tea chat go with Mrs. Thornton,” Fred asked entering the rented coach.
“Fine, I suppose.”
“Did you discuss Mr. Thornton with her? He already has a lady friend. Right?”
“How do you know?”
“It’s written all over your face.”
“You do seem to take too much interest in my face. Yes, he has a lady friend.”
“Are they engaged?”
“You’re not giving up on him, are you?”
“Fred! I stared at the man’s beauty once, just once. You would have me marrying him tomorrow.”
“I can give you pointers.”
“Pointers? What are pointers?”
“I can give you clues on how to turn his head.”
“No, thank you. I don’t think I’d like your pointers.”
“So you are giving up.”
Margaret had no answer. Fred didn’t badger her any further.
“How did the horse conversation turn out?”
“I think we are in fine shape. Branson is going to ask around. I will come to the next lesson that you teach and speak with Branson while he waits for Mr. T.”
“Fred, that will be so nice to have transportation when we want it. Thank you for doing this for us.”
Arriving home, Margaret returned to her room with a much different feeling than this morning. She remembered some of the words from Mrs. Thornton about his popularity, but she thought more about her brother asking if she was giving up. She knew what a proper woman would do, but she didn’t like that choice. Something would come to her soon enough.
Fred sat down with his father while dinner was being prepared.
“Father, I think I did well in talking to Mr. Thornton’s driver, Branson. He certainly knows all there is to ever learn. For a driver in-service, he is well acquainted with the rented coaches and their horses and drivers, too.”
“Understand Fred, that a driver waits for his master. Often he gathers with other drivers, be they hired or in-service. I imagine there is a whole unknown community structure among them all.”
“Yes, I suppose you are right. Should Margaret be invited somewhere, I could probably ask Branson about the gentleman. He would most likely know of his reputation or could find out. Also, it seems our Margaret enjoyed Mrs. Thornton this afternoon, the honorable Mr.T did not stay. She seems a little down.”
“It is a good learning experience for her. She couldn’t be in love with the man, so it is not as if she is suffering from a broken heart. I think there’s little worry there.”
Ladling his soup into a bowl, Richard Hale asked, “Margaret, have you begun to plan the next lesson section.
“No, I haven’t, father and it’s time I returned to that. I will need one more turn at the library. Perhaps Fred will be able to drive me in a day or two.”
“Margaret, I do believe we will start with something small enough for you to handle yourself. I can teach you to drive a small buggy. Branson will teach me to harness it. Tomorrow, I shall begin to make repairs in the stable,” Fred said beaming. “I always wanted to say I had a stable,” he laughed.
“Can I tell people that you are my driver. That’s something I’ve always wanted to say. ‘’’ Please sir, can you fetch my driver?’”
Richard Hale laughed. “Margaret do you expect your brother to transport you somewhere and then wait upon you?”
“No, because he’ll expect me to pay him,” she giggled.
“Sis, I will do anything within reason for you. I will play the driver to your ladyship if you need that some evening. I will need a proper livery, though. Perhaps, I should begin to design the Hale crest for the door.”
Now everyone was laughing, even Dixon, who could overhear the conversation.
“Father, do we come from any nobility?” Fred asked.
“Of course, you do, but it is not from the Hale side of the family. It was far back in your mother’s ancestry. I doubt the owners of that crest would allow its usage by people such as us.”
“Then we’ll just have to make our own. It’ll be a laugh. Should we have any crossed swords or lions rearing up? Perhaps a hero standing at the large foot of a slain dragon. It will read ‘Hale, Mighty Warrior.’”
Margaret couldn’t remember having such fun in her life. Her brother had grown into a fine man with a sense of humor that matched her own.
“Fred,” Richard Hale admonished, “ even the simple letter “H” will be presumptuous.”
“I shall save that for when we have a real driver, father. We will encircle the “H” in a wreath.”
“Fred, with you being my brother, I can only expect a “For Hire” painted on the door.”
“I did have a good education. I was, for a while, an officer in Her Majesty’s service, which means I should be able to find decent work. But I must admit, hearing Branson sounded far more interesting than sitting behind some desk.”
“Fred, you should know that no one in Milton sits behind a desk as a job. This is a working town. Are you still planning on visiting a tavern tonight?”
Richard Hale looked down at the linen in his lap. Picking it up and wiping his mouth, he said, “If you two will excuse me, I think I shall retire early. Margaret, we should get started on your lesson tomorrow. We will go over what you have taught and find a place to pick up again.” Richard Hale rose.
“Goodnight, father,” both Fred and Margaret said in unison.
John, Adeline, and Hannah sat down to a pleasant dinner.
“How are your plans coming along for your big dinner party, Mrs. Thornton?”
“They are satisfactory at this point. I have been working on them daily for almost a week and still have more to go.”
“That is a task to undertake, I can imagine.”
“Yes. I’ve told John that he must handle it next year. I am getting too old, but the Thornton annual dinner with the Masters should continue. I am making notes, so he has them for next time. Perhaps, he will have someone to help him by then.”
Adeline grinned as she sipped at her soup.
John didn’t feel comfortable with his mother stating it that way. It felt to him like she wanted to force a conversation between him and Adeline. He had made no firm decisions in his mind about a wife. He thought that his mother’s doctor visit today reinforced her advancing age and she wanted to see him settled.”
“You say, Masters, Mrs. Thornton, but there are hundreds. How do you pick and choose who to invite?”
“John picks them, but they are the same every year. It usually is a few of the original masters. The ones that have been here the longest.” Hannah looked at John.
“John, have you heard anything from Adam Bell. I wonder if he plans on bringing someone this year. Every year I think he’s going to and every year he doesn’t.”
“I have not had a letter from him in some time. He should be in town in a day or two. If I see him, I will remind him that you would like an answer.”
“I am so looking forward to meeting all of your friends, John. Mrs. Thornton, may I be of any help? It would be nice to learn what is expected.”
“No, my dear. That is a gracious offer, but I need no help as yet, except staff.”
“Could I lend you mine?”
“I tend to select a particular service and its staff that are well accustomed to my ways but thank you.”
“Do remember to call on me, if I can be of any help.”
“You are most kind.”
“If you ladies would like to continue your conversation, I will be in my library for a few minutes.” John excused himself and left the dinner table. How many years he had heard the same conversation? He enjoyed the dinner, the friendship and allowing his mother to bask in her own glory, but the talk of it seemed to be repeated for a month. He was bored with it.
“John I will fetch you for tea or brandy when we’re done here.”
“Thank you, Adeline.”
Hannah thought she detected an underlying feeling in that thank you. Something seemed to be bothering him. She would ask later or tomorrow.
John walked into his library and picked up his rolled up profit and loss statement that he had forgotten to take to his last class, but it was the one that Miss Hale had asked to see earlier on that lesson day. With it unfurled and the corners anchored under some small heavy object, he began to peruse what he had learned. Realizing he had left his notes in his mill office. He left to go get them.
As he passed the dining room, the women were still talking. Adeline was smiling with her bright eyes, and he thought his mother looked less interested than she did moments ago. John knew he should rejoin his guest and his mother when he returned. In his mind, he had a fleeting realization that he had called Adeline a guest instead of by her name.
On his return, the women were sitting in the parlor waiting on brandy. He passed around the goblets, and the discussions commenced.
“If you two do not mind, I will excuse myself for the night. It was a pleasure seeing you again, Miss Waverly.”
John stood and took the glass from his mother as she rose. He had taken to being near her when it required some effort for her to rise or use the steps.
“Thank you, Mrs. Thornton, for a lovely meal and conversation. I hope to see you again, soon.”
John and Adeline eventually sat together on the sofa.
Laying back in the crook of John’s shoulder, Adeline asked, “What’s the ball going to be like John?”
“I never really know how to answer that. I think some daughters or other women find it a bit disappointing if they have gone to a finishing school. It is our biggest social event. We do dress in our finest. There will be a dinner, a few short speeches and then an orchestra for the rest of the evening. From a man’s point of view, that’s about all I see.”
“Do you sit with others at large tables?”
“Yes, there is seating for eight or ten people. There is a bar at the end of the hall, too.”
“Will others ask me to dance, or does everyone bring a dance partner?”
“It is mainly couples, but there are many masters that are single and come alone. They may ask a woman who is with another gentleman if she wishes to dance. Nicholas’s wife will still be too weak from her illness although she is recovering. He’s going to bring Bessie, his daughter. Every master is counted on to bring at least one guest. It’s not a rigid rule. They just want to ensure there are enough seating and meals. There will also be people associated with the mills but not masters, who will attend. People such as bankers, perhaps the telegraph and railroad executives and others that we do business with.”
“Would you allow someone to dance with me?”
“Yes, I believe so. The acceptance though is entirely up to you.”
“Might you ask another woman?”
“Being the head of the Master’s Association, I may seek out someone who I have noticed has been sitting all night.”
“So I should be prepared to be jealous, is that what you’re saying?”
“I don’t believe I said any such words. You should have no need to feel jealousy … for any reason.”
“And why is that? Do you love me beyond words, and I should know in my heart of your feelings for me, or we have made no commitment to each other and are free to choose?”
John swirled the brandy in his snifter watching it coat the glass sides.
“Adeline, I must be fair. I am enjoying your company and still coming to know you. I admit, there are thoughts in my mind that you would find complimentary. I believe I have spoken most of those. However, I have made no commitment to you or myself in regards to a permanent future together.”
In a huff, Adeline jumped to her feet and folded her arms in front of her. “Are you trying to say you don’t love me?”
“Have I ever told you that I did love you? I think not. I am most careful with those words and know they have never been uttered by me. That doesn’t mean I don’t have strong feelings for you. Perhaps, the longer we see each other, the more convinced in your mind you feel you have heard me say that. I want to clear that up.”
“So what do you suppose we do about this situation?”
“Nothing. I need to be sure. I am not quite there yet, and I cannot tell you when I will be. If you cannot wait for me, you are free to carry on with your life with someone else. I would truly understand and feel quite saddened that I cannot give you complete surety yet. I have seen you longer than most women I have known. And due to that, many have expectations, and rumors are beginning. That is unfortunate for both of us.”
“I was hoping for more, but I will wait.”
“I want you to understand, Adeline that waiting for me may not result in your expectations. I can’t be any more honest than that.”
“Is there someone else you are finding an interest in?” Inquired Adeline.
“Not to the extent of my interest in you. And I have no reason to explore any possibilities.”
“I hope you mean that,” replied John. “Nothing has changed between us.”
Hannah couldn’t help overhearing the conversation. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but she had sensed a burgeoning unease in John, this evening. She did not understand where it was coming from. But hearing these doubts from her son was a new revelation in this relationship. Hannah had thought that he was getting close to settling down. He apparently was not ready.
Fred rose from the breakfast buffet to answer the door, shouting to Dixon that he would get it. It was early, but Branson may have news.
“What a surprise, Mr. Bell. It has been a long time in seeing you.” They shook hands vigorously. Fred stood out of the way so he could enter. “Come in and have some tea with us. And thank you for the advice that you gave me for my future trial with the Navy.”
“You’re looking well Fred. Are you happy to be home, here in Milton?”
Dixon had arrived and took his coat, hat, and walking stick.
“Hello, Miss Dixon.”
“Good morning, sir. Tea will be right up.”
Richard Hale kept his seat, but Margaret rushed into the hall to greet Adam Bell. “You are early this time. Early by time and early by a day or so. I hope nothing is wrong.”
Adam wrapped Margaret’s arm over his and escorted her back to the dining room. “Margaret, if anything were wrong it is now past, seeing you. Good morning, Richard.”
Richard Hale stood, and they shook hands. “Please join us, Adam. Take a seat.”
“I believe you remember our last conversation Richard, so I am here early to ask if Margaret would be my dinner companion at Thornton’s dinner party.”
Margaret’s fork stopped halfway to her mouth when all eyes looked her way for an answer.