Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C8

Chapter Eight

“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.

“From nothing?”

“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?”

“No.”

“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 see.”

“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.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-One

Chapter 21– John Thornton, manufacturer and magistrate

After the removal of the Latimers and Leonards, life finally settled into normality. Time inexorably went on, its progress relentless and bold.

It was December the 20th and, for weeks, an Arctic winter held Milton in its clutches. Snow lay 20 inches thick, frozen solid as the temperature didn’t rise above minus 15 C by day.

John Thornton was sitting at his desk in his ice-cold office, trying to work on the Mill’s books.

Many worries were keeping him from his work. There was, of course, Marlborough Mills and its many problems. At least the Mill was prospering, bringing in a steady amount of money from the selling of cotton to the draper’s shops and clothes factories. Yet, when a factory made profit, its workers started clamouring for a raise, and that was something John was not prepared to grant. It was far too early to be handing out too much money now. The profit had to be consolidated first, at  least over an entire year. Knowing this and making his workers understand were two very different things.

 

An icy gust blew in when the door opened letting Nicholas Higgins in. He shook the snow from his shoulders and grumbled in his deep, gravelly voice. “Bloody ‘ell! What a foul weather it is! And it’s not much better in here, is it? Why don’t you light a fire when it’s that freezing?”

John chuckled. “Would make the place all nice and cosy, wouldn’t it? No, Nicholas, I need to keep focused in here and a fire would make me doze off, which I can’t afford with all the amount of work on my desk. Now, tell me, how’s the mood among our workers?”

“Bit turbulent, I’d say. They know the Mill is making good profit. Moreover, prices of food are exorbitant and coal is unaffordable for most of them. Once Winter will set in for good, and that’s not going to take long, their children will grow sick. Then, they’ll be clamouring for higher wages.”

Sighing deeply, John rubbed his hand through his face. “I can’t blame them, Nicholas, but I can’t give in either. We’re still staggering between profit consolidation and bankruptcy as it is. I need all the money I can get right now.”

Higgins sharply sucked in his breath and looked John in the eye, in a way that reminded the latter of the man Higgins really was, first a union committee man, before anything else. The glimpse of fierce awareness he caught in Higgins’s glare made John brace himself. Inwardly he prepared himself for battle.

“Master, you know I’ll have to take the workers’ side when it comes to a strike. Me being your Administration Manager must come second to their welfare, I’ve warned you about that.”

With a pinch of disappointment in his heart, John rose from his seat. Higgins always switched back to master when he was in union mode, instead of using John’s given name when he was not.

“You do what you have to do, Higgins, I cannot discuss raises right now, it’s out of the question!”

Higgins suddenly grew red in the face and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, in that case, sir, prepare yourself for another strike!”

Anger welled up in John and he too crossed his arms. Just when he was about to give a caustic response to Higgins’s words, the door opened again and his wife entered.

 

“My God, how cold …,” Margaret began but stopped when she saw the grim expressions on the two men’s faces. John, she noticed had his master face on and Nicholas … well, it had been a long time since she’d seen the union man on him.

“It’s the wage demands again, isn’t it?”, she said softly, loosening her scarf and coat.

John looked at her now but his mouth didn’t relax into a smile. “Margaret, don’t get involved in …”

“Stop! Don’t go there, John!”, she interrupted him in a trembling voice. “I have a right getting involved! It’s my money supporting this mill, isn’t it? I’m a share holder so let me have my say!”

The sudden hurt in John’s eyes nearly did her in but it was necessary to shock him before he did something stupid like ruining the fine understanding he had with Nicholas Higgins. Margaret took a deep breath and turned towards the older man with a sad smile on her face.

“Nicholas, dear Nicholas, listen. I have a proposition for you.”

At least she had his attention and his goodwill, Margaret saw.

“I want you to speak to the workers tonight and ask them for patience,” she said.

She raised her hand quickly when she saw him open his mouth to retaliate. “Yes, I know about the meeting you’ve planned at the Lyceum Hall, Nicholas. I talk to people and I listen to them as well. I know there’s much suffering amongst them, especially when the weather is as cold as it is now. At least we can try and relieve part of it, so I’ve hired a dozen women with small children to help out at the infirmary and soup kitchen. There’s Jenny, who can come in and bring her newborn baby with her. It will allow her to feed him at the required times, and he’ll be kept warm. Betty will come too, bringing little Alice with her, and she’ll be able to keep up her strength in the last trimester of her pregnancy. These are just a few I’m thinking of. There are loads of women too weak with or coming out of a pregnancy, and they cannot work. I hope you see my point here, Nicholas? Me and Mary, we are organising an income for the weakest members of our society, allowing them to survive when they are not fit to do factory work.”

She’d got him to listen, Margaret saw, with an avid interest. So she went on. “Nicholas, talk to them about that at the meeting. You, with your talent to reach out to their hearts, must make them see that it is important to keep funds free for this kind of work first. Later, when things are going to pick up, we can talk about higher wages. First we must care for the weakest members of our society. Our workers will understand when winter lasts and children and mothers grow sick.”

Higgins was smiling at her now and she returned his smile fully. “Margaret, thank you,” he replied, “you’re right and I will do as you ask. But, John?”

John involuntarily startled when his attention was snatched away from the enthralling sight of his beloved holding up a torch for his workers.

“John,” Nicholas enquired, “give me your word that wages will be raised in time, when Margaret’s projects will be properly organised, because that’s the only thing I’m willing to plead for with my men tonight, that they withhold their demands until the weak are provided for.”

Margaret’s heart clenched in fear seeing all these conflicting emotions crossing John’s face. How come he still didn’t trust Nicholas, or her, for that matter? When it came to Marlborough Mills, John still had a one-track mind on letting it come before everything else. She still had a long way to go before he would open his heart for his workers and see their needs.

“Okay, Higgins,” he replied, mouth set in grim determination, “you have my word on those wage raises if you can guarantee me a winter without strikes. Take it or leave it.”

Higgins wetted his lips, drew himself up to his full six feet and said evenly. “It’s a deal, Master!”

He offered his hand to John who took it in a strong grasp. Turning on his heels Higgins then stalked out of the office room. Margaret felt so relieved that her legs started shaking beneath her. She hastily sat down on one of the wooden chairs and wiped her brow with her handkerchief, only now realising she had been terrified that Nicholas would bristle on John’s haughty reserve.

John’s voice, harsh with suppressed fury, startled her. “So, Mrs. Thornton, tell me? Which side are you really on? I need to be sure that you’re on mine if I’m to put your money to good use!”

 

 

 

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C7

Chapter Seven

 

 

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?”

“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?”

“Were you?”

“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.”

“I see.”

“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.”

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty

Chapter 20 – All’s well that ends well

 

In sudden panic Margaret was hauled back to consciousness realizing she was choking!

Gasping and gagging for air, she was terrified, and her body was raked with pain. She tried to move, to make a sound, call for help but she was paralyzed. Her limbs had no strength, and she could not see nor hear nor speak. The only living thing was her extreme fear, it was like a gnawing monster deep inside her. I am dying, I am beyond rescue, it is over …

Light came suddenly back into her eyes and sound reached her ears. Sweet clean air entered her nose and mouth, and she greedily gasped until her lungs stopped aching and her mind cleared.

“Shhh! Shhh! It’s over, sweetheart, I’m here! It’s me, it’s John!”

Relief washed over her! John, thank God, John was with her!  Margaret opened her eyes and saw her husband’s face hovering over her own, his eyes full of concern. Oh, dear Lord, how wonderful to see his face and feel his hands on her.

“What happened?” Her voice was just a faint croak. Then she saw Ann Latimer! Terror washed over her once more. She gave a strangled cry and John immediately held her closer.

“Don’t be afraid, darling, she cannot do you any more harm! Look …”

Margaret did so and saw that Ann Latimer had her hands tied behind her back and that she was being held by a police officer.

Dixon sat next to her bed and held a cup to her mouth. “Come on, Miss Margaret, drink this.

It’s sweet tea and it’ll do you good.”

Margaret drank greedily from the cup and felt the soothing liquid go down her aching throat.

“I had a police officer hidden in the room”, John explained. “I let her alone with you on purpose and she rose to the bait. The officer barely had time realizing what she intended to do when it was all he could do to snatch her away from you. A vicious little cat, this one!”

While the officer led Ann Latimer away, one of the lads came stomping up the stairs.

“Master! Master! Come quickly! Higgins has caught the arsonist!”

 

It was true.

As John came out of the house, a large crowd of workers had gathered around Higgins and a tall, thin fellow in rags, held by two of his sturdiest workers. The man had something vaguely familiar but John couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Officer Mason now entered through the open Mill gate with several of his fellow men.

“Ah,” he said. “I see we’ve succeeded. Your plan worked, Mr. Thornton. This here fellow is Jay Leonards, does the name not ring a bell, sir?”

Of course! Leonards, the drunk that died in hospital after he was found near the station embankment last year. A few days after he’d seen Margaret in that same station, embracing an unknown young man. A man who turned out to be her brother but at that time, John had only being ravaged by jealousy. Now John could see the resemblance between the two well enough.

“It’s his brother,” Mason explained. “He’s been wanted by the Metropolitan Police in London for a good deal of mischief. Reckon the soil became too hot under his feet.”

Mason turned towards Leonards and grabbed the lapel of his ragged coat. “So you decided to cause trouble in Milton, then, you lowlife!”

“I … I don’t know … what you’re talking about … I never …”

Mason cut him short. “You’ve no business being on this premises, my lad, and surely not when you’re carrying a can of lamp oil and a box of matches! No, man, you’re done!”

At that moment a carriage rode through the gate at an alarming pace. The door opened to let Latimer, the banker, out.

“Thornton,” he barked. “What is this business about my daughter? They tell me she’s been taken into custody? Surely …”

Leonard’s voice was loud and shrill when he yelled. “That’s him! That’s the fellow who ordered me to set fire on the Mill! He’s the real criminal, he paid me fifty guineas for it!”

Latimer gave a harsh laugh and seemed not in the least worried. “What the deuce is this man talking about? Surely some lunatic or …”

“No, dearest father!”

Ann Latimer, held by two officers, stood proud and erect and smiled cruelly at her father.

“No, father, you are going down with me! I know what you did, I heard it all from your own lips, remember? You told me to go after John and seduce him so that he had to let his guard down and you could destroy the Mill. No, dearest father, if I’m to be punished, you will take the brunt of it!”

“Hush, you stupid girl, hold your tongue!” Latimer shouted, his voice shrill with alarm.

“Too late, Mr. Latimer!” Mason said. “It’s over! Come on, lads, bring them in!”

Stunned into disbelieve, John watched the two being led away. Latimer behind this? It was too mind-reeling!

Yet it all made sense. The damage to the looms, the fires, the attack on Margaret … and the injured boys, innocent victims of these bastards! Damn, Latimer would pay for this!

The hand of Nicholas on his shoulder brought him back into reality.

“Master,” Nicholas said softly. “John … it’s over. Go to her, she needs you now. I’ll take care of things here.”

 

Margaret lay in their bed, propped up by pillows, face pale and eyes shut. His mother rose from her seat next to the bed and withdrew as soon as he’d taken her place.

“My love, my Margaret …” he breathed, caressing her face with the back of his hand.

Margaret opened her eyes and smiled at him, so sweetly that his heart turned to water.

“John …” she whispered, “John, please, hold me …”

In one heartbeat he was beside her on their bed. He took her in his arms, ever so gently, and drew her to him, careful not to hurt her. They did not speak. The sharing of comfort and belonging together was enough and the feeling of peace and safety filled their hearts completely.

“John …”

“Mm … what, my heart”’

“John, I … I might … it could be that …” She stopped, throat tightened with sudden emotion.

He lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. “It could be that you are with child, my precious love?”

“Yes … but …”

“Shhh, shhh, I know, Dr. Donaldson told me.” In a surge of protectiveness, he drew her closer again.

“We’ll wait, my darling, for Nature to take its course. Let’s not think further ahead than just now, let’s savour this moment.”

Yes, he thought, there was nothing else to do or … go insane with worry. He would stand by her, whatever came their way. Together they could face the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Nineteen

Chapter 19 – Do not trifle with John Thornton

 

John had never, in his whole life, been as stunned as he was now. “Margaret, pregnant? Oh, sweet Jesus, but … oh, Lord!”  He rubbed his face in a desperate gesture.

Dr. Donaldson quickly added,  “She is young and healthy, Mr. Thornton, she will survive this. She’s suffered from being gagged and bound for so long a time but she’ll recover fast enough if she has enough rest. However, I cannot guarantee that … that the baby will not be affected by the lack of fluids and proper air supply.”

John closed his eyes, overwhelmed by despair and sorrow.

“Are you sure that Margaret is pregnant?” he asked wearily.

“Yes, sir, your wife is about seven weeks. It’s only noticeable to me, as a professional, I doubt if she has even realized it herself. However, there has been some loss of blood. We can only wait. If the baby is affected, she will miscarry within days.”

“Can … can I see her?” John whispered.

“Of course, sir, but she’s sleeping. I gave her something mildly sedating.”

 

Nicholas came into the parlour just as the doctor had left.

“Master”, he said, “the fire has been dealt with. We were able to rescue the roof of the building but the second store floor is lost and the attic floor collapsed only minutes after we’d evacuated it. Some fifty bales went up in the flames as well. How is Miss Margaret, John? People are asking after her …”

John looked up in surprise. “They … they are? Oh, my God … of course, she’s been their advocate since the day she came to Milton. Doctor says she will recover but it will take some time. Please tell that to our lads, will you? And, Nicholas … thank you! I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Higgins grinned and took his leave.

“John?” He’d forgotten about his mother. She stood next to the parlour window, her trembling hands clasped in front of her.

“I’m sorry, mother, I’ve kept you waiting long enough. Where’s Fanny?”

“She’s returned home,” Hannah said quietly. “What did Dr. Donaldson say to you?”

John took her by the arm and led her into the master bedroom. They seated themselves next to the bed. Margaret was unconscious, sedated by Dr. Donaldson. Her pale face was smooth but the dead white colour contrasted highly with her dark brown hair.

Hannah looked at her son. She had never seen him that downcast and drawn. When he spoke, his voice was rough with suppressed emotion.

“She might be with child. Donaldson says there’s been some blood loss and it may be that she miscarries within the next days.”

Hannah’s heart lurched with deep compassion for her beloved son. She did not know what to say. She laid her hand on John’s and he grasped it fiercely. That did her in, she took him in her arms, and he sobbed, but only once.

“Don’t fret about what might come, John,” she whispered. “we’ll take that fence when we come to it. I’ll make sure that she gets enough rest and fortification. She’s very young and she’s strong. It might turn out right, you have to keep your spirits up.”

John forced himself into a very sad little smile but his eyes were weary. “Will you stay with her, mother? There’s something I have to do.”

 

John, frustrated and powerless, needed to lessen his fury about what happened to his wife. Helping Margaret had been taken out of his hands. All he could do was to wait for her to get better. Violently pushing the thought of her possible pregnancy  out of his mind, he headed for his office.

Nicholas Higgins was waiting for him there.

“Sit down, Nicholas”, he said. “We have an arsonist and a murderer to catch.”

“They’ll not set fire on the Mill again, John. I’ve got the watch doubled. He must have used lamp oil to fuel the fire, we’ve found the empty can near the place where it started. Unfortunately I have no idea as to who he is.”

“I think there are two different criminals and we’ll have to flush them out, Nicholas. Listen, I have a plan.”

 

Jay Leonards was about to take a train to London when his sponsor’s henchmen intercepted him. They dragged him, bound and blindfolded, before the man who’d ordered him to set fire on the mill.

Rage and hatred sounded in the man’s cold voice when he spat into Leonard’s face. “You have failed me again! Twice now have you forfeited a chance to burn down Marlborough Mills and you will pay dearly! Say your prayers, you’ll die a slow and agonizing death.”

“No, no, sir, I beg you! Please, sir, give me just one more chance, I’ll do it for sure now! Please, sir, please?”

 

The Milton Chronicle had a striking headline on the day after the fire, clamouring that Marlborough Mills had successfully fought off a fire that threatened to destroy the whole mill. John Thornton, the mill-owner, had promised a considerable sum of money to the individual that provided a clue as to the identity of the arsonist. The article stated further that Mrs. Margaret Thornton had been badly injured during the fire and was fighting for her life.

 

Nicholas Higgins took no chances as to the vigilance on the Mill. Two workers at each of the twenty locations he’d marked as likely to be a potential fire starter spot was no luxury at all. One of each pair would report back to him every hour. Each worker had a tin whistle in his pocket so that, if there was an attempt or even a stranger inside the Mill, the other watchmen would be there seconds later. His carefully prepared scheme paid off very nicely. When nightfall had set in, his men captured the bedraggled figure of Jay Leonards and hauled him before Higgins and John Thornton. In his pockets they found a can of fire oil, the same brand that had been used for the arson and a box of matches.

“Go and warn Mr. Mason. Tell him we’ve got a suspect,” John said to one of the men.

 

When he went back to the house, John heard voices in the parlour, indicating that they had visitors. He found his mother in the company of Fanny and Ann Latimer. The latter rose quickly as he stepped in and took his hands in hers before he knew what happened.

“Oh, John! How dreadful! Margaret so badly injured! Please accept my deepest sympathy and be assured of my ardent prayers for the recovery of Margaret’s health!”

He could have been fooled by the warm compassionate voice and the sympathy in those brown eyes, if he’d not known better. The woman was good, excellent even. He’d have to match her role playing with one of his own.

“Thank you, Ann. I may call you Ann, I hope?” And when she smiled and nodded, he continued. “I’m totally lost, Ann! This is so very hard on me that I don’t know how I’ll survive this. She is dying, Ann, my precious wife is dying and I don’t know what to do!” He hoped he’d kept his voice wavering with sorrow enough to make her let her guard down. Not that he didn’t feel his sorrow weighing him down enough.

“Can I go and see her, John? I would like to pray at her bedside for a moment.”

“Of course, my dear, come, I’ll show you to her room.”

He let her into their bedchamber where Margaret was still lying in deep sedation.  Avoiding looking at his beloved for fear of breaking down, he said, “I must see to the business, dear Ann. Just go back to the parlour when you’re finished. And, thank you for your sympathy, I appreciate it.”

After the door had closed behind him, Ann Latimer stilled herself for a few moments while contemplating Margaret’s motionless figure in the bed.

Then she came forward, took a pillow from the seat next to the bed and, with both hands, pressed it hard onto Margaret’s face. She used all reserves of strength and transferred it into her tiny white hands, the burning hate within her strengthening her even more.

 

 

 

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C5

Chapter Five

 

Bessie and Margaret were looking through her wardrobe when they heard a commotion at the door. Both ran down the stairs fearing what was going on.

“Fredrick! Margaret ran into his arms as he let go from shaking his father’s hand.

“Sis, you have become more beautiful. How are you?” He lifted her and twirled her around.

“We shall talk about that later. I would like to introduce you to Miss Bessie Higgins. She is a new friend of mine.”

Fredrick bowed, sweeping his Regimental hat to the floor.

Bessie laughed quietly, not knowing if he was serious in his manners or just happy to be home. “Very nice to meet you…I’m sorry, I don’t know your rank.”

“Just call me Fredrick, if you please. May I call you Bessie?”

“Yes, you may,” Bessie said, beaming with smiles. “I shall leave and let all of you talk. I will be in touch Margaret, hopefully before your next lecture.”

“We must talk before then. Yes, come by tomorrow if you have a coach.”

“I will try. Good day, Fredrick, Mr. Hale. I shall see you soon.”

Fredrick bowed again. Margaret was a bit taken aback seeing her brother with such manners.

“Please someone, find me a drink. I am dying of thirst,” uttered Fredrick as he entered the drawing-room with his father.

Margaret and Dixon went off to the kitchen.

Margaret saw to it that cook fixed him a plate. She knew his journey had been far with probably little to eat.

 

“Good evening, Mr. Thornton. Please come in,” said Adeline’s doorman.

John handed him his hat, walked into the drawing room and poured himself a drink. There would be a small wait. John wasn’t sure if Adeline was of the opinion that she should be late all the time as if it was some social rule written somewhere or she was a tardy woman. He had taken to fixing himself a drink, which would be finished by the time she came into the room. So, he waited.

“Good evening, John.”

John stood and walked towards her, giving her a light kiss since they were alone in the room. “You look lovely as ever, my dear,” he commented.

They sat together on the couch for a few minutes before leaving for dinner.

“I had some good news today,” Adeline announced.

“And what was that?”

“My brother, Captain Waverly is now retired from Her Majesty’s Service, at his young age, and is returning to live with us while he decides what he wants to do. He’s very well situated now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds interest in the mills. He shall be here early next week.”

“You seem very happy about this. I take it you two are close?”

“Yes, all of our lives. I’ve missed him these eight years. I would think he is your age or a year or two older.”

“What is his name?”

“His name is Christopher, but we call him Kit. Is it hard for a gentleman to meet young ladies in this town?”

“I met you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, but I was introduced to you at a restaurant. I have no idea where single ladies and gentlemen meet.”

“Well, I know one single woman he could meet. If he would care to come to the ball as my guest, I can introduce him to my partner’s daughter. And if I was paying half attention to him this morning, he is going to bring Miss Hale, who taught our class the other night. I have yet to tell you that story.”

“You think we could bring him with us. He may want to dance with me until he meets people. He’s still in uniform, too.”

“That will draw the lady’s attention, I shouldn’t wonder. Those naval dress uniforms are most handsome indeed. This is our annual Mill Master’s social event where proper men and women can meet without fear or expectations.”

“Are we a proper couple, John?”

John stood, pulling Adeline toward him. He placed his arms around her waist and kissed her again. “I think we are a proper couple for the time that we have seen each other.”

Adeline laughed. “So, I am proper?”

“You couldn’t be anything else. Shall we go?”

 

Dixon was invited to the family table to eat that evening. They left an empty chair in honor of Mrs. Hale. Fredrick hadn’t made it home for her service. He felt ill during dinner as the impact of her not being there took over him. Eventually, as the hours rolled on, it was just Margaret and her brother talking until midnight.

“Margaret, are you seeing a gentleman at the moment?” Fred asked.

She blushed. “I should think that is not your business,” she giggled.

“I see. Well, I will take that as a yes then. I am your older brother, and one of my duties is to protect my sister from the men that are out there. I hope he treats you well and is good for you. If he ever puts pressure on you too, well . . . you know, tell me. I’ll handle him.”

“Fredrick, I am sure I do not know what you mean,” Margaret turned away. She was playing with him.

“You have, haven’t you? He had better marry you. Who is he? I will talk with him since father probably doesn’t know.”

Margaret finally faced him laughing hysterically.

“I hope that laugh means that you were jesting. You are still virtuous … aren’t you?” Fred asked tentatively.

“Fred, you leave us for four years, and you expect nothing to have changed when you return. Are you still virtuous?” She smiled.

“Of course not. I’d be a laughing stock. But, different from you, the Navy is never in one place long enough to form close acquaintanceships. Then I was jailed for eight months. You do know that we men, all men, have far more physical needs than a woman, or so I am told. Most of the time, we have to purchase our requirements.” He chuckled.

“How old are you? Twenty-six?”

“About that.”

“And penniless, I would imagine. Has that need lessened any as you’ve matured?”

“You sure seem to be interested,” he paused. “I know. I know. I am the only one you can ask. The need has not lessened and maybe never will, but the control improves.”

“Control?”

“Do you have a gentleman or not? I should be asking you questions and then telling you what’s happening,” he smiled at his sister.

“I believe I am on the verge of meeting nice gentlemen. I have no idea what to expect or how to act. I just recently met Bessie, and she is the same as I. We’re going to begin being seen in public. Next, we are going to attend the yearly Master’s Ball. However, we are going with her father.”

“How did you get an invitation?”

“Bessie’s mother is temporarily ill at the moment, so Bessie is taking her place and has gotten permission to bring me with her to keep her company as her father walks the tables. It is an affair only for Masters, their foremen, and guests.”

“I might like to get to know this Bessie a little better. No promises and don’t go singing my praises or boast about things that are not true. I have never slain any dragons and don’t own a white horse any longer.” Fred laughed.

“If I have her over more often you won’t pressure her in any way, will you? She will make up her own mind. But remember we are novices that can be easily swept away.”

“I am still an officer and a gentleman. Any pressure as you call it will come from her and there will be a discussion beforehand. I certainly do not want to ruin her reputation.”

“I trust you, my brother. Remember when you were going to catch me as I jumped from that tree limb. You stepped back and laughed as I splatted in the mud.”

“Will I never live that down?”

“Perhaps, but I have a list of those trusting moments when my big brother was my protector. How long are you here for?”

“Indefinitely. I will return in three months to be officially pardoned and relieved of my commission. I’m here to help with the chores and may even find work until something changes my mind.”

“I guess that is a discussion for tomorrow. Father would be interested in it, too. I think it’s time for bed.”

“You go on. I want a quiet, reflective time to walk the house.”

“I understand.”

“See you for breakfast at 8:00 a.m.”

“Goodnight, sis.”

 

It was 8:00 a.m. and the three Hales were seated at a proper English breakfast. The food was laid on the buffet, and they served themselves. It wasn’t a normal routine, but because Fredrick was home, they wanted a treat.

“Father, are you still lecturing? I see all those papers piled up over there.”

“Well, I have been until your sister took over a class a few days back. But I am also teaching the poor how to read and write.”

“What’s this?” Fred turned to his sister.

Margaret started at the beginning and told him everything. She began with how she looked at father’s notes all the way to coming home unconscious.”

“And you still have another lesson to give,” Margaret was asked.

“Yes, at least one. It could be two. Like father says, those masters can go off in another direction and use all of the class time. I had just met Bessie the day before. She was such a dear to come and give me support. Her father was in the class.”

“Perhaps I could attend the next one and see my little sister brave the elements of public leadership.”

“Oh, it’s nothing like leadership. It’s teaching.”

“But you still have to stand in front of a crowd and talk about difficult things.”

“Stop it, Fred. You’re going to make me nervous again.”

“I’ll stand in the back and do things to make you laugh.”

“Father, tell Fred he cannot attend.”

Mr. Hale smiled and shifted his shoulders, which meant he was staying out of it.

“I bet you want to attend so you can sit next to Bessie.”

“Would she sit with me; do you think?”

“She will sit away from the masters, which I imagine you will, too.”

“I think I will go out today and look for a horse and small trap so we may get around this growing city. How have you managed in the past?

“We’ve rented when we had to, son. Our finances are not what they were before you left.”

“Well, I have money saved, regardless of my sister saying I am penniless.

“How about you coming with me, Margaret. I have no idea where I am in this city. Perhaps our coachman can recommend an honest tradesman for a trap and horse.”

“I shall be delighted, Frederick. Father, are you interested in going?”

“No, you two young people have your day at it. I would suggest though that you look over that old building in the back. I know it’s for a small horse and carriage, at least that’s what the landlord said. But having no use for it, I do not know if it is sound. We didn’t bother inspecting it when leasing here.”

“Very well,” said Frederick. “I shall look over the building while my sister prepares herself.”

“Do I not look prepared, brother?” Margaret feigned embarrassment.

“You look lovely as always, but do know we may be traipsing around where horses are stored. I don’t think you want that frock brushing the ground.”

“Oh!” Margaret glanced down at what she was wearing. “I see. Maybe I shall put on an older frock.”

“And don’t forget some old shoes.”

“Yes, and those, too, I would imagine.”

“What shall you do father?” Margaret asked.

“I shall have plenty to do. I believe your lecture should only take one more lesson so I believe I may get an early start on the lecture after that one.”

 

Margaret and Fred excused themselves from the table and headed toward their current chores.

Fred went out the back door and looked around. He thought to himself that Dixon was probably the only person to see this part of the property. There was an old dilapidated privy that should be torn down. Around the perimeter stood brick walls separating each dwelling from the next but open to the back road. He headed towards the apparent stable if that was what one called a building for a city horse and trap.

Meanwhile, Margaret found her old smock that she kept for such occasions. In Helstone, she wore it to work in the flower garden. She had no use for it since moving to Milton.

“Shoes, shoes, where are some old shoes,” Margaret asked herself. Most of her mother’s clothing was still in the house. “Perhaps mother had an old pair of shoes.” Looking into the wardrobe in her mother’s old room, which would now be Fred’s, she did find some lace-up lady’s boots. They were very old indeed. Margaret had never remembered seeing her mother wearing them. She thought they may be 50 years old. They would do nicely. Back to her room, she went to change.

Looking like a vendor merchant that hawked their wares in front of their apartment, Margaret descended the stairs. She thought how she must look, especially after she put on her fine bonnet. She knew her father would never say anything, so she walked to the back where Fred was still working.

“Fred,” she shouted. She didn’t see him.

“I’m up here – checking the roof. I don’t think I am taking you anywhere looking like that. I have a reputation to uphold.” He started laughing, almost dislodging himself from the roof slant he was so precariously perched upon.

“Frederick Hale! You told me to wear old clothes,” Margaret said as she stamped her foot in a mock childish manner.

“It’s that bonnet, sis.” Fred laughed even louder. “How about no bonnet at all. At least, you will complete an image that doesn’t stand out to people around you. You look like a peasant whose wealthy aunt felt sorry for her and bought her a church bonnet.” Fred slid down a ways and then jumped to the ground. Catching up with his sister, he saw she was laughing.

“Alright, brother – no bonnet. How does the shed look?”

“Shed, is it? Wasn’t sure if it was supposed to resemble a stable.”

“Well, we’ve always called it a shed. If you put a live horse in there, perhaps we can call it a stable.”

“A nail here and there should keep it from collapsing on the horse and killing it.”

Margaret, as she remembered being teased, pushed Fred away from her side. “Fred don’t talk like that. You’re not in the Navy anymore. There will be people about that don’t know you as I do.”

“Dear sis, after being in the Navy, you don’t know me at all, now, either. My soft round schoolboy edges have been chiseled into a hard fighting man.” Fred laughed at himself.

“Wasn’t there supposed to be some gentlemanly conduct taught to you?”

“Yes, but the jail quarters drains that from you.” He paused when he saw his sister’s face become saddened.

“Sis, I am only kidding with you. I have been molded as an officer with intelligence and learned the conduct of a gentleman. I just like to unburden myself to you and make you laugh. Do you know how rare that has been for me these last four years?”

“I was worried there for a moment, but now feel better. Please no more talk about killing a horse, though. Did . . . did you see death while away, I mean in the Navy.”

“Yes, I saw some – more from being at sea too long and shipmen becoming ill. There was the occasional pirate ship that had to be stopped. Now, that was scary. Luckily, my defensive skills kept me alive.”

“Defensive skills?”

“Yes, I was excellent at hiding in my bunk.”

Margaret started to push him away with a laugh, but Fred put his hands up to stave her attack. “Now, I didn’t say anything about a killing a horse.”

They both laughed and returned to the house.

 

Fred went to his father and discussed what he’d found outside while Margaret went back to her room.

She sadly put away her nice bonnet. She hadn’t worn that since coming to Milton. Finding her flat-brimmed brown straw hat, the one that reminded her of a serving platter, she popped that on her head and was ready to leave.

Fred and Margaret walked up the walkway to where rental cabs and coaches could be more readily found.

While waiting for one to pass by, Margaret asked, “Where will you ask the coachman to take us?”

“To the Horse and Buggy shop. Where else?”

“I’m not so sure I have seen such a place, but a coachman would know if there was.”

Finally, a fare was attained after many a cabby had passed them.

“You do know why it took us this long to catch a ride, don’t you, sis?”

“I was surprised. It usually doesn’t take us that long. What is wrong with this time?”

“It’s your manner of dress and that hat. They are not sure they’ll get paid.”

“Oh Fred, stop it,” Margaret said giggling.

“I’m serious this time.”

“You are not.”

“Yes, miss, I am serious. Fetching, you are not.” Fred laughed.

 

Finding little of offerings where they were driven, Fred asked to go to the next place.

The coach driver told him in all seriousness, “Sir, we just don’t have places that sell both. They are purchased, horse first and then buggy. However, I do know of a private coachman that knows every horse and buggy and what’s for sale, in this town.”

“Can you take us there?”

“I have no idea if he is out with his master, but I can take you there.”

“If you would be so kind, thank you.”

 

Before she knew it, Margaret noticed they were entering Marlborough Mills property.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen – The power of love

 

“Margaret! Margaret, can you hear me? Margaret!” John shouted at the top of his lungs.

Nicholas, who’d come up after John, could now also see someone lying near the back wall of the attic but he was unable to see who it was. John, however, started to ease nearer to the flames that were now leaking through the floor boards. In a short time there would be a wall of fire between his master and the inanimate figure at the back, so Nicholas got hold of John’s arm.

“Master! Master, no! You can’t reach her, it’s too dangerous!”

“It’s Margaret! Can’t you see it’s Margaret, I have to get to her!”

John shook himself free and leapt into one of the firemen’s gushes to soak himself while he bound his wet handkerchief around his nose and mouth as the smoke in the attic was now suffocating.

In a few strides he’d reached her, and his heart nearly stopped when he saw the state she was in. Violently coughing from the acrid smoke despite the handkerchief, John tried to untie her with shaking hands. He dared not move her because she could be strangled when he picked her up. His eyes kept on darting towards her dead white face. She felt so cold under his touch!

“Master, hurry!” He looked up to see Nicholas at his side.

“I can’t move her … she’s not breathing …” John choked as the smoke invaded his lungs now in a most aggressive wave.

We must do it together, John! Keep the rope between her arms and legs slack!

Yes, of course, Higgins was right. John inwardly thanked God for Nicholas’s common sense and courage.

Between the two of them they managed to carry Margaret towards the manhole. One of the firemen handed John a knife, and he quickly cut all the ropes, snatched away the gags from her face and started giving her mouth-to-mouth respiration.

It was taking far too long! She was not responding! Oh God, she was not responding!

Suddenly Higgins took hold of him and tore him away from Margaret’s lifeless form. John then realized Dr Donaldson was taking over. Gasping with exhaustion and lack of proper breathing John kept hold of Higgins’s strong support.

Agonizing seconds ticked by, every beat of his terrified heart sounding like thunder in his ears! After what looked like eternity he heard a weak little cough. Margaret’s body shook even with the weakness of it. Instantly he was at his knees by her side and shoved his arm under her head and shoulders.

“Margaret, sweet love, come back to me, please, don’t leave me? Please, dear heart, come back to me?”

To his uttermost relief, he saw her eyes flutter open, first without seeing but then her gaze came to rest upon his face. She tried to speak but violent coughing assaulted her.

“Shhh! Shhh! Do not speak, my love, do not move. I’ll take care of you.”

John rose and lifted her up. He saw Nicholas sighing with relief too. He laid Margaret in to the waiting arms of a fireman at the top of the ladder. A moment later, she was being handed down the latter by a chain of firemen, handling her with careful gestures. While he descended the ladder, he saw Dixon and his mother taking care of Margaret. He hastily followed them inside the house and into their bedroom, only to be banned from Margaret’s side by Dr Donaldson.

“Please?” the good doctor said. “I need some peace and quiet checking on Mrs Thornton, sir? I’ll be as quick as I can, alright?” He gestured towards Dixon who eagerly sprang to assist him.

 

In the parlour Hannah took her son by the arm and directed him to the settee. Fanny was already offering him a glass of water which he drank avidly. Watson had gone home again, he had his own business to attend to.

John was beyond exhaustion, Hannah realized.

He was covered in dirt and his face was very pale and drawn. Then she saw how his hands were covered with blisters.

“Shall I look to your injuries, John?” she asked quietly. He shook his head, leaning back with closed eyes. Hannah couldn’t keep herself from stroking his hair. Her heart was bleeding for her poor son.

The three of them sat waiting for Dr Donaldson to give word of Margaret’s condition. Time ticked away, and John’s fear kept growing with every second that went by. Would he lose his beloved after only six weeks of being together? It’d be the death of him, he knew that for certain …

Life meant nothing without his Margaret. She was everything to him, she’d always been. He remembered seeing her for the first time that day in the Mill. How, even furious and flushed about that stupid fool Stephens, he’d been struck by her beauty and liveliness when she had withstood him without any sign of fear. How she had constantly and systematically countered him in words and deeds, only following her own heart and conscience. How he’d been annoyed and sometimes angry about that. He had not been used to a woman who spoke her mind, apart from his mother, nor had he been prepared coming in close contact to an extremely  beautiful and spirited young woman like Margaret. Before Margaret, he had been lonely. He’d never had any kind of relationship because he’d never met a woman who was worthy of his most deep feelings.

The entrance of Dr Donaldson startled him into action.

“She is doing well, all things considered,” the doctor said. “I … erm … would like to have a word with you, in private if possible, Mr Thornton.”

John’s stomach lurched with sudden fear but he preceded the doctor into his study.

“Please, sit down,” he asked before letting himself down behind his desk.

Dr Donaldson’s face was grave as was his voice when he asked. “Mr Thornton, sir … have you, by any chance, knowledge of Mrs Thornton being with child?”

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C4

$3.99 Kindle Edition

Chapter Four

“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?”

“No.”

“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.

“Mr. Thornton?”

“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.

“Something amusing?”

“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.”

“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?”

“Nothing.”

“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?”

“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.”

“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.

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Seventeen

Chapter 17 – Mrs. Thornton intervenes

 

By now the Milton Police were organizing a search for Margaret. Mason was in charge but he had no idea where to start. Young Mrs. Thornton could be anywhere from here to London and beyond!

Nevertheless he organized his men starting from Marlborough Mills and searching every house , alley or building in an ever-widening circle. It would take all night and a good deal of the next day.

Hannah Thornton, meanwhile, had a mission of her own.

As soon as Jane had spilt the beans about Fanny, she went to the Watsons’s house despite the nightly hour. A sleepy parlour maid was ordered to rouse the mistress at once.

The Watsons appeared before long, both in dressing gowns over their nightclothes.

“Mrs. Thornton! What brings you here at this hour of …” Watson tried.

“I’ve business with my daughter, sir, but you’re welcome to it if you want to stay and listen. Perhaps you’re to blame as well for her latest folly?”

Fanny turned white and let herself down onto the settee. Watson eyed her with a puzzled expression on his thickset face. “Fanny, what is your mother speaking of? What have you done?”, he asked, panic creeping into his voice.

Hannah drew herself up to her full height, ignoring Watson’s gesture that she should sit down.

“Margaret has disappeared and I have every reason to believe that Fanny has a hand in this. Well, am I to shake some sense into you, girl, or are you going to tell us of your own accord?”

Fanny, cowering under her mother’s fierce gaze, threw her hands to her face and began crying violently. Watson, bless his heart, immediately went by her side and put his arm around her shoulder. “Now, my love, what is it? You’re worrying me, sweet, what is going on?”

Fanny clung to her husband’s arm and sobbed. “I never thought she would actually do it! I knew she detested Margaret and…”

“Oh no, my girl, you’re wrong!” Hannah cut her short. “You both detested her from the start. I’m even guilty of that myself at first but at that time I didn’t really know her.”

“Mother, you don’t understand! Ann doesn’t detest Margaret, she hates her! She said she would kill Margaret but I didn’t think she was serious about it until …”

“Until what, Fanny?” Watson now urged, beginning to realize something was truly wrong.

“She was speaking of doing away with Margaret with such violent hate in her voice and eyes …” Fanny whispered.

Hannah approached her daughter, took her hands in hers and gently asked. “Sweetheart, do you know what she could have done to Margaret? Where could she have brought her to? John is beside himself and now the Mill is on fire and …”

Fanny stared at her in horror. “The Mill? Oh God! But … but … that cannot be Ann’s doing then, can it? She would never do anything that can harm John, she’s in love with him! She only wanted to harm Margaret, frighten her, so that she would leave John and then Ann could go and comfort him and …”

Hannah shook her head in utter disbelief. “Oh Fanny, you’re such a harebrained nit! How can you believe such nonsense? Have you any idea as to where Ann Latimer could have taken Margaret?”

“No! How would I?”

Watson took over now. “We’re coming with you to Marlborough Mills, Mrs. Thornton. I believe Thornton will need all the help he can get. And, another thing, I can’t believe for a second that Ann Latimer did this on her own, she must have had help.”

 

 

It was now two a.m. and Marlborough Mills was on fire.

John and Nicholas had soon discovered, however, that the fire mainly was situated on the second floor of the cotton warehouse, the only place where bales were still stored. The dockworkers’ strike proved to be a blessing, for normally the warehouse would have been filled to the rafters.

Mill workers were fighting to keep it contained within the second floor space. It was a terribly straining job, for the water had to be brought up in buckets, and the fire was roaring. The noise was deafening and the heat infernal. John and Nicholas, along with a few of the braver lads, were pulling bales out of range with long hook-tipped poles.

“Master!” Higgins shouted. “Back away! It’s far too hot!”

“We must prevent it spreading towards the attic! More water! Come on, hurry!”

Thankfully, the fire-fighters’ squad arrived at that time, and they began pulling out their long hoses which reached just high enough to deal with the second floor fire.

John and Nicholas, both exhausted and filthy, retreated to the courtyard. A carriage arrived from which John’s mother alighted accompanied by Fanny and Watson.

“John!” Hannah shouted over the din made by the fire-fighters. “John, are you alright? You’re not injured ..?”

“No mother, but why have you brought the Watsons here?”

“Fanny says that Ann Latimer is indeed involved in Margaret’s disappearing, John. She threatened to kill her, she hates her!”

John stared at his mother and sister in disbelief. “Fanny, is this true?’ And when his sister meekly nodded. “But … why? What can Margaret possibly have done to her to induce such actions?”

Hannah snorted. “Well, apparently she’s set her cap on you and she planned to have a go on you once Margaret was out of the way.”

John sat down on a bale of cotton, his knees giving way as he began to see where all this was leading to. The initial attack on Margaret, the first attempt of setting fire to the Mill, Ann Latimer’s very strange behaviour towards him, it all added up to an attempt to destroy both his wife and his business!

Suddenly, one of the piecer lads came running towards him, stumbling over his feet.

“Master, master! Hurry! The fire commander says there’s someone on the top floor of the warehouse and they can’t reach them, ‘cause the fire’s too well advanced!”

John and Higgins hurried away towards the long ladders that were perched against the building. John scrambled up the ladder and reached the attic manhole set up high in the roof. He lowered himself in and saw several fire-fighters aiming their lance onto the wooden floor. It was not yet on fire but it was already smoking.

John peered into the smoke-filled space at the back of the attic and could just see the form of a person propped up against the wall. A person? That … that was … oh, sweet Lord!

That was Margaret!

 

 

Author: Luce (Belgium)

 

luce@justperioddrama.com

 

 

 

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C3

Chapter Three

 

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.”

“For instance?”

“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?

John nodded.

“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.”

“Yes.”

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.”