Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C30

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

Chapter Thirty

 

 

“How are you feeling this afternoon, Margaret?”

“Much better, father. My neck is stiff to turn it, but most of the pain is gone. I don’t believe I will need any medication anymore. Adam isn’t visiting today, is he? I can’t take another day like yesterday.”

“Quite honestly, I can’t either. I’ve really let you down, Margaret. I am sorry for that. I just didn’t know how to broach the subject, and I should have. I guess I assumed your mother had covered that with you.”

“Father, don’t be sorry. Mother covered what she should have, and that was about me and my pubescent body, but she said nothing about men. Perhaps, she didn’t know much herself. And with you, as a devoted, loving husband gave her no reason for more knowledge.”

“It would embarrass you for me to go into that part of our life, but we were a happy couple.”

“I’ve always known that. I hope I am as fortunate to have one man love me all my life.”

“Do you think it may be Mr. Thornton?”

“I don’t know. He mainly apologized for the dinner and expressed wanting to know me better. I am fortunate to have that.”

“Margaret, he was quite adamant about seeing you yesterday. There is more behind that apology, I am sure of it.”

“Where is Fred?”

“He’s taken Max out for exercise. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t pass by a particular young lady’s home while he’s riding.”

“Mr. Thornton asked if he could come by today, and I said yes. I don’t know what time, though.”

“Do you feel up to having company?”

“I feel up to seeing him,” Margaret shyly smiled.

“I know the principles that you were raised with, and I trust you to do what is right for you. I do not worry about proper society rules. As you know, your mother went against those herself, and I believe she never regretted it. Do what makes you happy but do keep in mind potential consequences to your actions.”

“Thank you for telling me that, father.”

“I do believe I will hold off on my nap until John gets here.”

“I do believe he is here now,” Margaret mimicked. She went to the window, and Branson had his door open.”

 

“Dixon, I’ll get the door,” Margaret shouted.

“I believe I will retire before he comes in. Richard remarked.”

“See you at dinner, father.”

Margaret opened the door to John Thornton.

“Good afternoon, Miss Hale. Is there an ambush lying in wait for me inside? I would like to apologize, first.”

Margaret laughed, which brought a small frown. “Only me. Do, I count?”

“The answer to that could be misinterpreted, so I will decline. You are alone?”

“Fred is out, and my father just went to rest. Please come in.”

“How is your injury, puppet?” He smiled.

“I think one more day with this collar should suffice. May I get you any refreshment?”

“I was wondering if you felt you could take a brief ride on a good road. I would like to take you into town for lunch. But I can easily wait until you are stronger.”

“If I wear my collar while riding, I should be fine. If you can wait, I will tell Dixon.”

Margaret was gone a few minutes, and John stood in the sitting room twirling his hat. He was reminded of the scene he had made there, only yesterday. He, no doubt, had those other apologies to make.

Margaret was back with her bonnet and neck collar. John noticed she had dimples.

“Margaret, with those little dimples, you do remind me of a puppet,”  John grinned.

“With this stiff collar, I feel like the Queen of Scotland just before they removed her head. I believe they wore those wretched stiff ruffled collars about that time.”

“I’ve never had any reference to the clothing of that era. Perhaps, a day at the London museum?”

“I’m sorry. Is that a question?”

“It’s an invitation if you would like a day out as such.”

“I believe we need more conversation before I can agree to anything as lovely as that.”

“And I believe I have much to say in these conversations. Shall we go?”

John handed her in the coach, spoke with Branson, and then entered as well. He pitched his hat on the opposite bench, settling beside Margaret.

“I am grateful to have this private time with you,” John said. “I have questions that I hope you will feel free to answer. I know this is your business, your life, but still, you leave a mystery in your wake.”

“Should I worry? I was looking forward to lunch with you. Will you spoil it?”

“You have been looking forward to coming out to lunch? Did I not take you to the canteen at the mill? You didn’t seem all that enthused then. I am reminded you made notice of something there, but I digress.”

“Are you teasing me?” Margaret frowned looking at him.

John broke out in a smile looking at that face. “Dimples and frowns and stares. I fear I am not strong enough for your beguiling moods.”

“You are teasing me.”

“Have you never done that yourself? Can you say you never teased me?”

Margaret looked out the window. “How far is the luncheon café?”

John laughed as quietly as he could, but Margaret heard him and laughed, too.

“Well? Asked John.

“I think I would like to table that question until other, more important, issues are known to me.”

“Such as?”

“Branson seems to be slowing down. Are we here?”

“Yes.”

Margaret began to untie the neck collar. Whether it was her nerves or done purposely, the strings became knotted.

Branson was waiting through the open door, looking in. John made no offer to help her. He kept a straight face while he heard small exasperating gushes of air as she wrestled with it. Since she couldn’t see it, he knew she would fail. He waited to  be asked, glancing at Branson.

John couldn’t help it. When Branson started whistling while they waited, John laughed out loud.

“Oof . . .” He heard Margaret utter.

“Margaret, may I be of some assistance?”

“I think you know you can. You waited for me to ask, didn’t you?”

“Margaret Hale, we know very little about each other. By offering my help immediately, you may assume that I didn’t have faith that you could do it yourself.”

“What kind of an answer is that?”

“Poor, I’m afraid. So you do or do not need the benefit of my help?”

“I do. Please.”

“All you had to do was ask. For what’s it’s worth, I am fairly well known for coming to the aid of damsels in distress. You may remember several instances at the Lyceum, for example. And you weren’t even aware that I had to carry you into your house because you were in your cups.”

“Are you done, yet?” Margaret mockingly sounded stern. They were almost nose to nose. Margaret didn’t think his eyesight was that bad that he had to get that close to the knot to see it. “Is the light bad?”

“I’m getting it,” John said, purposely staring into her eyes. She didn’t know that it had been unknotted for several moments. He heard Branson cough.

“There we go. I don’t mind taking you to lunch while you are wearing your collar. If you feel you need it, let’s return it.”

“I don’t think I will have any missteps from here to the door.”

“Not if you take my arm.”

“But doesn’t your own arm bother you?”

“And why would you think that?” He asked, handing her out of the coach.

“You’ve been patting yourself on your back quite long now.”

John heard Branson snort from holding in laughter.

“Branson, that will be enough of that.” John hadn’t laughed like this since he couldn’t remember when.

 

John and Margaret were seated in a secluded part of the café. There were many round tables and chairs and booths around the edge of the big room. Several of them had a bit of privacy to them.

“Will this do, Mr. Thornton?”

“Yes, this is fine. Could you bring us a bottle of your house wine while we read your menu?”

“Coming right up, sir.”

Once Margaret was settled he sat opposite her. “What do you think of this nice little café?”

“It does look very nice. It appears to be somewhere between the pub cafes and the fine restaurants. I’m not sure I would call it small. Does this booth have your name carved in it somewhere? No, wait . . . I bet if I look closely, you have inscribed the names of each of the women you have brought here, is that not so?”

“Actually, this is my booth. I have paid the establishment for my own private use. Yes, I bought it.”

Margaret flopped back against the high wood backrest, staring at John with her mouth open. She bumped her head when she did that, showing John her grimace face.”

“Margaret, are you alright?”

“I’m not sure, but my neck is fine. Your booth? Do patrons vote on the different women you bring to this booth? “Oh, she’s a stunner. “That one’s a little too skinny for me. This trip they must know I am only a fill-in. Is there a ballot box somewhere?”

John withdrew a bit of paper and a pencil from his vest pocket. In large letters, he wrote the word gullible.

“Gullible? You mean me?” Margaret recalled the meat on her plate at the ball.

John just stared at her with a smile.

“Oof . . .” She said and looked away from his smile.

 

The small platters with meatloaf, boiled potatoes, and carrots were served.

“I love this meal,” Margaret announced.

“As do I. None of the other women order it when I bring them here,” he teased.

“Are you ready, Mr. Thornton? You may fire as you bear.”

“As I bear?”

“I’m sorry. I’ve heard my brother say that. If the navy is maneuvering to fire their cannons at another ship, he would tell his men to ‘fire as you bear,’ meaning for them to fire when their bearing was in a good position for an attack.”

“Thank you for such a complete understanding of that word. I did know what you meant. I didn’t think you would.”

“You have underestimated me recently, have you not?”

“That is rather an understatement in itself. That’s where many of my questions lie. But first, there is something more important than your attempts to draw my attention to you.”

“And that would be . . . ?”

“Why?”

“Is that important to you?”

“Most emphatically,” John replied.

“Why?” Asked Margaret.

“Ladies first.”

Margaret set down her fork, looked up into John’s face and said, “I think I love you.”

John reached for her hand across the table. “I thought it would take months to hear you say those words to me. I had come to hope that you did. I have spent a lot of hours thinking about you and how I missed seeing you. I am certain that was by design. Surprisingly, resourceful. I …”

Margaret interrupted. “It’s not right for a woman to say those words first.” Margaret frowned. “l am sure you hear that often, and my declaration doesn’t sound any different than the next female.”

“Oh, you’re so wrong about that.”

“That’s not what my brother tells me. He’s been coaching me about men and what to expect and how to act. Fred’s been telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. What some men expect from women. Adam helped me with ignoring you. I didn’t think of that on my own. I’ve ruined it all.” Margaret started crying.

John stepped around to her side of the bench and placed his arm around her, hugging her to him.

“Stop . . . stop . . . stop this. You haven’t ruined anything. This very minute you changed my life.”

“I what?” Margaret said, glassy-eyed.

“I know I love you.

“You what?” Margaret said, slurring her words. “You can’t know that. After everything I’ve done to you, what is wrong with you that you can say those words? I’ve insulted you, I’ve ignored you, I’ve chastised your pride when you said you carried me around the dance floor. You can’t love someone  if that’s all you know about them.”

“Let me see. You forgot embarrassed me, stared at me, shamed me, and now I find out I’ve been ambushed by the family. I’ve been tricked, hoodwinked, victimized and mislead. I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to do. Don’t you understand?”

“I’d have to have my head examined if I did. How did I embarrass you?”

“You pee’d in your shoes at the Lyceum, didn’t you? You didn’t think I knew about that.”

“Oh my, God.” Margaret hung her head between her hands with her elbows resting on the table. She then pushed her plate to the side and laid her head down.

“I never told anyone. This isn’t exactly like I had planned,” John laughed, “but we sure arrived at the important answers rather quickly. Instead of weeks or months  for each of us to speak of love, it happened in minutes over meatloaf. You should be in my arms right now, I would be kissing your neck, loving the feel of your sweet skin on my lips. We’ve missed so much getting to this point.”

Margaret sat up hearing those words. “You can’t say those words to me. They make me feel odd inside. I think I know that means something. I’ll have to ask Fred, again.”

“Never mind, Fred. You now ask me, since I am the one that is causing that to happen to you. You are doing the same thing to me.”

“Does that mean what I think it means?”

John sucked air through his smile. “With you, it’s hard to say.” He smiled lovingly at her. This was the happiest time of his life.

“See here, John. I’ve been working on these growing feelings for you in excess of two weeks. You have only been thinking about me for two days. It’s impossible for you to know how you really feel.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, Fred says men have desires all the time. Love isn’t known until one gets to know the other.”

“And your brother has been in love, has he?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then how does he know about all men? He’s a naval officer. He was at sea a long time. His mind may have worked differently since companionship wasn’t readily available to him.”

“Why do you think you love me?”

“Because I have never been where I am right now. I want to explode. I’m barely keeping myself together at this moment. I want to fly apart with joy and happiness. I know, at this hour, my whole life is turning a major corner. I believe you crept into my heart at the Lyceum. Watching you, marveling at you, filled me with emotions I didn’t recognize then. My thoughts of love began to solidify at the ball and were engraved on my heart by the dinner. As I felt myself falling in love with you, I spent an entire night going over everything I had heard or seen you do. I thought there may be some interest in me, but then you started acting strangely at the ball. Finally, it was the tear at the dinner table where the pieces began to fit. As much as this is going to hinder my path to you, I do like that you are cautious with your heart and . . . nevermind. Being the innocent that you are, I’m not sure what you feel for me is real love. You’re new at these emotions and . . . odd feelings.”

“Your words sound sincere. I am not to be fooled by them? You’re not just a man in gentleman’s clothing, are you?”

“At the very least I hope I am that. I am a normal male with more than my share of . . . ladies. I’ve tried to live my life as a gentleman in the highest traditions of honor. I believe I have succeeded in that, both professionally and personally. Who do you think you’re in love with? Could it be my appearance, my wealth, my standing? Why did you fall in love with me? Perhaps, I’m the one who should be questioning the motives of a puppet.”

The tears started to form again. John was beside himself. This was definitely uncharted waters, but he vowed that nothing was going to alter her feelings for him. He slid closer, taking her hand in his. He leaned in and kissed her tears.

Margaret turned to him when he did that. She looked into his eyes and then at his mouth where she lingered.

“Do you know you are giving me a signal, Margaret?”

“A signal? Fred didn’t talk about signals. Oh, wait. Yes, he did. He said I was seducing you with my eyes.”

John laughed.

“What am I doing now?”

“You are asking me to kiss you.”

“I never!”

“You did puppet. If I wasn’t the gentleman that you think you love, I would have kissed you, here and now. I had better move back to my side of the table. You don’t know what you’re doing, and I am helpless against you.”

“We’ve confessed our most important thoughts, unhindered and untimely. I am bearing my soul as you are. The words you have said to me are overwhelming that I can’t even take them in. I should be rejoicing, but I am swimming in the path we took to get here. John, do you fancy me?”

“More than anyone in my life and fancy isn’t strong enough.” John was holding her hands across the table.

“Do you seek my favors?”

“All of them. I will seek and know them all. I want you in my life for the rest of our days.”

“I desperately want to  believe you and you to believe me. You have the experience with such matters, and I do not.”

“Margaret, I have never been in love. Ever. I hope you can believe that. There have been many rumors about my personal life, most of them are not true. Yes, it will take time for you to trust that I am telling you the truth. I can wait. I will be constant.”

“Our food is cold.”

“I see we have come to the end of our confessions. ‘Tis sad, that. My heart has yearned to speak these words all my life.”

“Someone has been reading Shakespeare.”

They both laughed.

Seeing Margaret finally smile was almost heartbreakingly wonderful.

“John, as stoic and prideful as you always appear, there may be a romantic inside of you.”

“I foresee one has just awakened. It is incongruous to me how different I feel compared to any other time I have lived. My past never felt hope for any particular woman, and now a mist clears and you are standing before me.”

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C29

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

Chapter Twenty-Nine

 

There was quite a discussion going on in the sitting room when Margaret and Fred arrived downstairs. Adam stood and moved away from the couch to another chair. The change in Margaret’s face said more than her words could tell them. Fred settled her and then fetched another cup of tea for his sister.

“Margaret, the change in you is an extraordinary one,” said Adam.

“This neck brace is most helpful,” she said.”

Adam and Richard chuckled as if that was the only reason.

“Your life seems to have turned around since I saw you only an hour ago. It wouldn’t have to do with that strange man that dashed to your side, would it?” Adam smiled.

“Strange man?”

“He looked vaguely like someone I know, but his conduct was not like the gentleman I know him to be. So who was he?”

Margaret began to smile until she noticed a gun on the nearby table. She gasped when seeing it. “What is a pistol doing in this house?”

Returning to the room with her tea, Fred said, “That is my service weapon. I was just showing it to Adam.”

“When you were in the Navy, you never had anyone slap you in the face with a glove and tell you ‘pistols at dawn,’ did you?”

“Disputes are not settled with pistols while on the high seas, puppet, and no I was never challenged. And should I have been, it could only have been by men of equal rank. In the civilian world, it would have been different.”

Margaret looked at Adam. “Is he telling the truth?”

Adam nodded.

“And what weapon would have been used aboard ship?”

“Swords, my dear,” Fred said.

“It’s hard to believe you were skilled in all those weapons.”

“We learn it all so we can protect our sisters,” Fred laughed.

“Are there no limits?

“None. Except in pistols at dawn where there is only one shot allowed by each combatant.”

“Are you two drinking this early?” Margaret frowned.

“Yes, we had a bit of excitement down here while you slept.”

“Are you talking about, John?”

“No, I think it was some madman that came in here and stormed your room against the odds of three other men.”

Margaret blushed and smiled at the same time. “He didn’t?”

“Oh, it was quite a show. I think you would be very proud of him although he did scare the three of us.”

“I didn’t fear him,” insisted Fred.

“Yes, you did stand up to him very well before he outsmarted you.”

Margaret was almost popping up and down on the couch clapping her hands, hearing this tale.

“I don’t think anyone in this room could have foreseen a gentleman doing that.”

“I certainly believe you to be correct, Fred. Margaret, I think he would have stormed the battlements of Camelot to see you. Can you enlighten us on his mission?” Adam smiled.

“No.”

“Margaret, this is no time to go private with your life. You may be facing some very important issues soon,” Fred insisted. “Every man is this room understands that.”

“I think I want out of this room.”

Everyone laughed.

“Margaret, you are very fortunate to have such a loving, protective brother. Do not fault him for wanting the best for you. He is looking down the road of your life, not just the moment.”

“Does he think I will abandon my moral upbringing at the first sign of weakness.”

“Honestly, yes, Margaret.”

“Adam, I think you judge me unfairly. I think you judge John unfairly.”

“His recent actions indicate feelings deeper than I think even he realizes.”

“And what about my feelings?”

Adam looked at Fred.

“Sis, I think we need to say it like it is. There are emotional feelings and physical feelings.”

“I think I know that.” Margaret huffed. “What is your point?”

Fred threw both hands in the air. “Aaahhh!!!  Your virtue, Margaret,” he shouted.

It was like Margaret was slapped in the face. “My virtue!!”

She looked at her father, who was looking down, circling the fabric on his lap with one finger. Adam was busy filling his pipe. Fred was staring at her like she was an idiot. He was still standing in the middle of the room.

“My virtue,” she repeated. That seems to be more important to you than it does to me.”

“What!! That’s incredulous.”

“Fred, calm down. You’re going to have a stroke. Why do women have to live under a double standard? Tell me that.”

“How long have you had that attitude?”

“You didn’t answer my question.” Margaret could see her father was on the verge of leaving the room, but he couldn’t move. Adam was listening intently, waiting for his opportunity to share his views. Margaret couldn’t believe this discussion of her chastity was going on in the sitting room with three men.

“I want to come over there and shake some sense into you. I know mother never spoke of these things to you, so now you have me. I’m not sure if there is a law, but there are centuries of tradition. You said you understood about a man’s needs. He will always be on the hunt until married. As crass as that sounds, it’s the truth, and he can’t help it.”

“He can’t help it. He can’t help it. That’s all I hear from you.” Margaret said in her agitated tone. “You seem to think that is a given, by rites. It excuses you from your actions because you can’t help it.”

“It’s a biological fact of life, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know that, Fred. But you make it an excuse for everything. He can’t help it. We can’t help it. Will you come home one night with a black eye and maybe bullet hole somewhere because you took Bessie’s virtue. I’ll run to your aid and ask what happened, and you’ll say, I couldn’t help it. Really? You could do that?”

That actually got a laugh from Adam and Fred.

Adam was enjoying this debate, Richard was marveling at the knowledge his daughter had gained. Fred was exasperated.

“You know you could have helped it. I do think God made men that way to perpetuate the species. But it doesn’t excuse your behavior.”

“So you’re saying we need to be ashamed?”

“I am not saying that. I am saying you can help it. A lot of your control is in here.” Margaret rose up to Fred and knocked on his head.

Fred threw up his hands. “I concede. Now let’s get back to you and this century.”

“Margaret, I think we all know that you are correct about a double standard. It is unfair, but the man you marry doesn’t want a woman who is spoilt. It may not really matter at all to him if he is a forward thinking intelligent man, but he must appear to have preserved his rights to you.” Adam added.

“Let me see if I have your thinking correct. If, and I repeat if, John Thornton and I seem to form an attachment, words have been spoken, and marriage is forthcoming, that a very large part of our relationship will be left in doubt?”

“God, she drives a hard bargain, doesn’t she,” Fred said to the rest of the room.”

“Fred, we’ve always known that she was independent.”

“But not with this. Please, not with this, Margaret.”

“Fred, Father, Adam, you’re just going to have to trust me. I don’t want all of you looking after me until I am married and bedded. I don’t want you looking at the gentleman I am seeing and think, I know what he’s after. Give me some credit.” Margaret thought her father was going to have a heart attack. She found the challenge of the argument fun even if she wouldn’t behave as she was implying.

“Fred, she is by rights a woman, now. Free to make her own choices. She was brought up with moral values, educated, and it’s time to let them play out. If it were any other man aside from Thornton, I believe I would have more to say, but I believe him to be the most honorable man I know. He won’t let her weaken unless he knows, in his mind, that he will marry her. He will not allow his passion to lose control unless it is insisted upon him.”

“So if Margaret is … is deflowered, it will be at her own insistence. Is that what you are saying?”

“I am.”

“Aren’t we switching things around here? First, it was the man’s needs, now she’s talking about a woman’s needs. Where did that come from?”

“Hey, I am in the room, you know,” Margaret interjected.

Fred went and sat beside her. “Alright. Can you put our worries to rest?”

“What exactly are your worries – that I will weaken and lose my virtue before marriage, or that I will be insistent?”

“Bloody hell, Margaret. What’s the difference? The man is still in control of you.” Fred’s voice was rising.

“I will promise you this. Now listen. I may lose my virtue ahead of marriage, but it will happen with the man I will marry and no one else.”

“You are assured there will be marriage. I don’t think you can be guaranteed anything.”

“Fred, can you honestly say that you would not seek the knowledge of compatibility with the woman you intend to marry for life?” Margaret looked at him, waiting for an answer.

“Let me try an example,” Margaret added.

Fred sat across the room.

“You and Bessie have been having a relationship for several months. In your heart, you feel she is the one. Time goes on, and passion grows. Your desire becomes unbearable. You think you can’t help it much longer. You have kissed and hugged and petted and maybe a bit beyond that. Unbeknownst to most men, and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough, Bessie will have her own desires that are constantly being put down. She wants you to take her, but she can’t say that or even intimate that because of the double standard. Now the marriage talk comes. It is decided, although a date has not yet been set. On a particular perfect outing, you two are alone. You want the touch and feel of each other. You want her in your arms, she wants to be there. Desires builds, passion mounts, being a man you can no longer hold back. You slowly unbutton her frock and pull the top down, knowing what comes next. She’s beginning to swoon. She has waited a long time for this attention. You look into her face, asking permission. Her eyes are closed, but there is a soft cooing from her lips. You bend down to kiss and then stop. “I can’t do this to you, Bessie, you will be spoiled goods for the next man, should you not marry me.”

“Damn, Margaret, you’re making me sweat.” Fred was forced to leave the room.

“Margaret, that was spectacular. You must write. That is your forte in life. Women’s novels on love. Perhaps, write for men, so they have a guide,” Adam laughed. “You took me back to my younger days. Your father is mighty quiet over there.”

“I think he sees I have come of age.” Margaret smiled.

“In every way, I do think.”

 

It was after dinner, the table was cleared, and John sat with his mother having an evening brandy. The evenings were beginning to chill and on damp nights, a fire was light. Hannah stared at her son as he gazed into the flames for minutes on end.

“Is anything wrong with your brandy, John?”

“I’m sorry. What?”

“You have been far away in your thoughts. What troubles you tonight? Something happen at the mill?”

“I didn’t even get to the mill today. And nothing is wrong.”

“Then what is right, that takes you off this evening?”

“I’ve been thinking about Miss Hale,” John acknowledged.

“In any particular regard? I remember how upset you were at what Lenore may have told her.”

John watched the flames and infrequently looked at his mother. “That has been cleared up with a lot more understanding than a man deserves.”

“You know I liked the girl when I met her.”

“She is a woman, mother,” he exclaimed. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to snap at you.”

“Is she seeking your favor?”

“No. She isn’t.”

“No? I knew she was different. Is that what troubles you?”

“I told you, nothing was troubling me.”

“You’ve been sitting there, pondering, looking into the flames for a long time. Surely, there is something you can tell me about her that takes control of your deep thoughts.”

“I barged into her bedchamber today.” John was pinching the bridge of his nose while his gaze remained on the burning logs. “I had to speak with her and Fred, her brother, was denying me. I understood him not wanting to see me after last night. So, I took the stairs quickly, walked into her room and locked the door.”

“John, you could have been arrested. You’re a magistrate. What had you to say to her that was of such urgency?”

“I wanted to tell her I was sorry,” John said between clenched teeth.

“Wouldn’t a note have sufficed?”

“I spent all night going over in my head every detail that I have observed or heard from her since she was known to me. Every one. My only conclusion to my midnight meanderings is that she has purposely concealed herself from me. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but she did. You know I am one among many bachelor’s in Milton, and there are plenty of women. One cannot help but notice them. It didn’t mean I was interested, but notice I did. I first became aware of Margaret at the office when she came to speak about giving the lessons, which now in hindsight, I missed what I should have seen. There was a day when she stared at me. I found it a common female convention, but I was still amused by it. From then on, she insulted me and then ignored me. She never mentioned she was coming to the dinner and allowed me to tell her I was leaving early from work. Something happened last night that seemed to cause a burst in my chest. It took me all night to figure out what it was and that was seeing Adam Bell wipe a single tear from her cheek. I thought she may have been in pain since Adam said she was, but in bed last night, I knew that wasn’t it.”

“It was Lenore’s words?” Hannah asked.

“Not entirely. You are a smart woman, mother. Perhaps you became aware of a … what do I call this … an attempt to gain my attention by promoting oneself, which seemed to be going on between Lenore and Anne?”

“Yes, I did spot that but that isn’t new to you or me.”

“Exactly.”

“I don’t see where you’re going with this, John.”

“It’s as clear as day to me now.”

“What is?”

“The tear,” he said wistfully. “Miss Hale has been in front of me but never brought attention to herself. She never sought my favor. She didn’t bother me, in fact, she went out of her way at the ball to put me at ease with her indifference. That is a startling revelation. As I look behind all that, I see a very intriguing woman, who is not only independent but funny, intelligent and beautiful.”

“I see. But the tear?”

“Yes, the tear. Her final surrender to herself.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I spent the dark hours trying to interpret what I was unconsciously aware of at the table. Mother, perhaps you can understand and tell me what was going on inside of her. First, we must remember that she went through great pain just to be at your dinner. She was quiet and unobtrusive. I believe she attended, to be noticed by me by continuing to act indifferent. She was protracted, don’t you see; thus drawing my attention more prominently and favorably as it turned out.”

“Let me tell you the rest, John, as I believed happened.”

“Please, mother.”

“As you say, she made a very intelligent play for your scrutiny of her. She was masterful.”

“But?” John added.

“But . . . while sitting at the table, and I don’t know the order of things because I didn’t see the tear, she was forced to hear of Lenore’s boastings. She figured out that she was your companion for the evening.”

“That’s when the tear fell.”

“Finally witnessing the Latimer, Smithers tournament, she would never have engaged in, but it did show her that she was an unworthy opponent. Each woman dressed in their finery with their jewels, while she was a woman who educated herself so she could work. It’s not what they had that she didn’t, it was her giving up on you noticing her.”

“That was when she closed her eyes,” John remembered vividly.

“Yes . . . as I thought. All night I have reviewed this brave young woman at our table. This woman that was there unnoticed because I have become so full of pride, to be glad that she wasn’t a bother.”

“And you feel different towards her now?”

“I very much do. I feel there is new hope in my life and she may well be the one if she will have me. I need to know more of her and she of me.”

“You’ve gone as far as thinking of marriage?”

“I have, along with many other factors, including a brother that protects her as the crown jewels, which I would like the honor of doing some day. No feelings have ever felt so rooted as the ones that have developed overnight.”

“So what do you plan to do, John?”

“I’ve already started by barging into her bedchamber and locking us in.” John laughed. “I had to see her face. Was she really the same person I have been dwelling on for the past twelve hours. Placing her in my life through various situations.”

“And she was?”

“No, she was more than I hoped.”

 

Nicholas found John at work early the next morning. “I was sorry to miss you yesterday. How did the rest of the night unfold? I figured you were up late and had a few too many scotches.”

“You couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t sleep much at all that night, so I caught some of it yesterday afternoon.”

“It must have been something big because you appear somewhat changed.”

“I am changed.”

“It’s Miss Hale, isn’t it?”

“How do you know that? When did you know?”

“Before you, apparently,” Nicholas laughed. “I was sure of it the day she came for the mill walk. You came looking for her or us, and you walked her out of the mill. It would have made more sense if she walked with me and continued to ask questions, or she walked with her brother. That you came at all was a revelation. It meant you were waiting for her.”

All of his reflections last night, and there was that moment that he hadn’t remembered. The mill walk had come to mind but in her regard, not his. He didn’t know why he did it. It was an unconscious thought.

John watched the smiles come and go on Nicholas’ face as he recounted the rest of the dinner up until that very moment.

“You barged into her bedchamber? Against the repeated denials of three other men that have considerably more ownership of her than you do?”

“I know. It seemed rash at the time.”

“It doesn’t seem rash, it was rash.”

“I will never forget yesterday, no matter what comes from it. I would do it again.”

“John, I think you have just crossed over into dangerous territory where bachelors go and never return.”

They both laughed.

“Seriously, John, I have never seen you so taken with someone so easily and this quickly.”

“She was hiding, remember? My self-pride allowed her to remain indifferent and give me peace.”

“Do you think it was that well thought-out and planned. If so, you have been under siege for a fortnight.”

John had to laugh out loud at that. “It doesn’t really matter, how well it may have been planned, but her execution was flawless.”

“So what’s next?”

“The beginning.”

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C28

Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

 

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

John stepped through the door and was shown to the parlor where Adam, Fred, and Richard were talking.

All the men stood and shook hands. John didn’t make a move to sit. “I am here to see Miss Hale.”

“John, this may not be a good time,” responded Adam.

“By whose reckoning?” John challenged. Adam instantly saw a different John. There was determination set on his face.

“John, we can’t let you upset her.”

“I am not here to upset her. I wish to speak with her privately. Where is she?”

Fred approached John. “I’m afraid she doesn’t want to see you just yet.”

“And she has told you this?”

“Adam and I have spent time talking with her. I would assume you are here to apologize for your ladyfriend, Lenore’s comment to her.”

“She is not my ladyfriend. I dismissed her from the dinner and had Branson take her home. Now, where is Margaret?”

“Mr. Thornton, maybe in a day or two.”

“I cannot wait that long to say what I have to say.”

Fred stood firmly in front of John. He took an intimidating military posture. “Mr. Thornton, I don’t like your attitude.”

“I don’t care what you think of my attitude. I will not be deterred. If that’s the way it is . . .” John turned his back on Fred and headed straight to the staircase, bounding up three steps at a time. Ahead of him, he could see into a bedchamber that was surely a woman’s. He entered the room and saw Margaret sleeping. He closed her door and locked it.

Fred began knocking on the door.

“Fred, you will wake her if you persist.”

“If you hurt her, you’re dead.” Fred walked to his room and found his service weapon and loaded it. As he returned, the room was quiet.

John had set his hat on her dresser. He paced her small room looking at her trinkets and out her windows. Finally, he sat on the chair looking into her sleeping face.

Upon hearing nothing, Fred moved away from the door. His father and Adam were standing at the foot of the steps watching him. Fred descended the stairs.

Almost in whispers, Fred said,” What is he here for, Adam?”

“Let’s go sit down. I need a scotch, and I know it’s before lunch.”

Fred fixed a scotch for Adam and a whiskey for him, then he paced.

“Knowing Thornton for as long as I have, I do believe he is here to apologize. But with his resolute determination to talk with her, there is something more.”

“And what would that be? More heartbreak?”

“He is a very private man. Only Margaret will be able to tell us if she cares to.”

“Don’t you have any suppositions?”

Richard Hale listened intently.

“I really don’t care to comment on another man’s personal thoughts. Too many variables.”

“Bloody hell, Adam, he could be up there suffocating her. Give me something, or I am going to break that door down.”

“If I am forced to speak about Thornton, I would say he is now seeing her differently?”

“What the hell does that mean?” Fred was the only one standing and parading around the room. He kept running his hands through his hair. He pulled his pistol from his belt and laid it on the table. He sat.

“I believe he may be falling in love with her.”

“After all that has gone before, why would you say that?” Asked Richard.

“It is his private determination telling on him. If it were not personal, he would have given us a better answer. He has to know of our concern.”

“A man cannot just switch his feelings that quickly.”

“Fred, you have a lot to learn. You’ve heard of love at first sight. I believe he just saw her, in that light, last night. I am not saying I am correct. You wanted an answer, and I have given my opinion on the subject. With the other two women vying for his attention, she did not play that game. She ignored him again like she had at the ball. I think he felt that. He’s probably spent the night going over all he knows of her.”

“And so he wakes up, loving her,” Fred said sarcastically.

“I don’t believe he slept at all, but I think he is determined to find out more about her. You must admit, Margaret is a different sort of woman.”

“I do know that,” Fred relented.

“My observation is that he is ready to embrace something new in his life.”

“I hope you know him that well. My sister is priceless to me.”

 

Margaret felt a warm hand caress her own. She thought it most likely Dixon coming with her lunch.

“Is it lunchtime, Dixon?”

Margaret tried to pull her hand away as if to stretch. The large warm hand clung to hers until she opened an eye. John held her shoulder down disabling her from a sudden movement.

“John is that you?”

“Yes.”

Margaret closed her eyes, assured she was dreaming. He had been visiting her nightly fantasies for several weeks. She moved her hand around searching for that touch once more. It was there. She smiled at the feeling of its warmth and size and roughness. Her own hand began to navigate over the calloused ridges and long fingers. This wasn’t a dream. Margaret peeked one eye open while again John held her shoulder.

“John? John Thornton? Oh my, God, it is you.”

“Shh… shh… Please calm yourself, or your brother will toss me out the window.”

“I’m not dreaming?”

“Do you often dream of me?” John asked with surprise in his voice.

“I don’t believe that is any of your business.” Margaret pulled her hand away from his. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to ask if you dream of me?” He smiled.

“Just how many women can you handle at one time?” Margaret asked in all seriousness.

“Give me a moment. Let me count.”

Margaret wished she could roll back over on her back and not be forced to look into those eyes.

“I  believe my record is . . . sadly one. Only one at a time. That can’t leave this room. I have a reputation as most likely you heard last night.”

“John, you must do something with that Lenore. She is going to embarrass you.”

“I’ve come to ask for forgiveness from you?”

“From me? Whatever for?”

“The tear.”

“What tear? There were no tears.”

“Perhaps you have forgotten Adam wiping a tear that was falling. I have been up all night wondering why that happened and I believe I know.”

“I’m sorry. It has slipped my mind.”

“Has it? I don’t think so.”

“You are thinking a lot this morning. Is it still morning? Could you help me sit up in my bed? Just slide me up and tuck a pillow behind me. I can’t keep staring at your face like this.”

John gently rolled her to her back, placed his hands under arms and slide her up. He held her forward while he placed a pillow behind her back.

Even through the pain, Margaret could feel the warmth engulf her. His big hands had moved her like a feather.

“How is that?”

“Thank you. It feels good to bend in the middle.”

John realized she couldn’t look toward him anymore, so he moved to the side on her bed.

Margaret frowned.

“Now, I am here to discuss Miss Smithers. She …”

“I don’t really want to hear about her. It didn’t bother me about her words. Young men, I think I can understand. It was her boasting about it. She said she probably had made Thornton history.”

“So you are saying that what she said didn’t bother you but how she said it, did.”

“Yes. It took me a while to understand that, but I realized it was none of my business.”

“That is mighty manly of you, Miss Hale, for understanding.”

There was a knock on the door. “Thornton, I want to see my sister.”

John looked at Margaret. “You won’t throw him out the window, will you?” She called out.

John chuckled.

“What? No!”

John walked around and unlocked the door. Fred came in frowning at John and then looked at his sister. He could hardly have seen a more pleasant look on her face.

“Are you all right, puppet?”

“Yes. Mr. Thornton and I are having a discussion. Could you please leave us.”

“Ring the bell if you need me.”

Fred slowly backed out of the room. Once he started back down the steps, John closed the door once again.

John sat down where he had been. “Puppet is it? Does your brother handle your strings?”

Margaret smiled. “No, he only started calling me that this morning because my head needs holding when I move. Now, he’s got Adam calling me that.”

“It’s a charming name.”

“You were saying about Miss Lenore.”

“She is not my ladyfriend, at all. Some ten years past, in our youth, yes, she was. After you had left, she told me what she had said to you. Since I am still single, by choice, she fooled herself into thinking that I had never gotten over her. I did embarrass my mother and myself by having her removed from the house. I have never been that angry in my life. She will no longer bother me.”

“And you feel sure about that? Would she not spread that rumor to some of your ladies?”

“No, you were the one and only person, aside from Adam, that heard that. I couldn’t even explain my ire to my own mother.”

“So you’ve come to ask that Fred, Adam and I never mention it again?”

“No, I have not. I would no more tell someone what to do than I ever have. I just want to say I am sorry that she put the person next to her through that. I am sure her admission was shocking.”

“Yes, it was at first.”

“And the tear and closed eyes?”

“Are still my business.”

John thought how most women would have taken that opportunity, just then, to declare themselves in some innocent voice.

“How is your neck injury?”

“A bit more painful than yesterday. But the doctor told me to expect that. If I take my medication and don’t make any sudden movements, it feels alright.” Margaret inadvertently felt for her collar. “I should be wearing a collar now that I am up.”

“Is that it? John pointed to a stiff-looking collar on her dresser.”

“Yes.”

John rose, picked it up and placed it around her neck. Then he tied the strings in a bow in the front.

“Thank you. You must be busy. I’ve seen how you work. I didn’t need an apology, but I accept it. I won’t take up any more of your time.”

“You won’t, will you?”

“You’re different today, I think.”

“In what way?”

“Softer.”

“Softer?” John laughed, but that puzzled him. “Never has anyone said that to me before. You don’t know me very well, Margaret. We are going to do something about it.”

“Yes, you still owe me a lunch I believe,” Margaret smiled.

“I do at that.”

“Will Miss Anne be jealous?”

“Miss Anne? You are full of surprises today, Miss Hale. I don’t understand the reference to Miss Anne Latimer.”

“Isn’t it obvious to you that she wishes your attentions?”

“Yes, she is obvious. But you aren’t.”

Margaret flashed a stricken look at him. It was a comment she would never forget.

“I think you need a new accountant. You are counting your chickens before they have sold.”

John really laughed, heartily.

“My emotional life has been living on gross profit. I think with you, I might find my way to the bottom line.”

“Again Margaret snapped a look at him, this time eliciting an ‘ouch.’”

“It seems I am hurting you more than helping. Perhaps, I should go.”

“I think it might be a good idea. You have said some things which puzzle me. I need to turn them around in my mind.”

“You may turn, but you daren’t twist them. Would I be welcome to return tomorrow?”

“Yes … a yes.”

John stood. “I shall see you tomorrow, puppet.” He grabbed his hat and left the room. He walked down the steps and out through the door, saying goodbye before the door shut.

Fred raced upstairs.

 

“Sis, you look radiant. I take it Thorton is now seeing you?”

“He made it sound that way. I don’t think I’ll believe it just yet, although I do feel very happy at the moment. John apologized, but he knows how I feel about him. He alluded to it, anyway.”

“How?”

“He said I didn’t know him very well and he was going to do something about that.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, no. I asked him wasn’t it obvious that Miss Anne wanted his attentions. He said, yes, she was obvious, but I wasn’t. I think that ignoring thing worked.”

“Sis, you must have had him in your pocket a long time before he knew. Us men have been scheming on what you could do next. Did you know he demanded to see you and I told him not today? He took the steps three at a time and locked your door. He was determined to see you.”

“Oh, Fred. That all sounds so wonderful. He touched me.”

“He did what?”

“I woke to him holding my hand. I thought it was Dixon. I opened an eye and saw him, but tried to go back to sleep because I was dreaming. I hope it may not be long before you don’t have to teach me anymore.”

“I really beg to differ. If you do have that man’s interest, you must have an older brother to protect you from his untoward advances. This is where I am needed most.”

“What if I want his advances?”

“Surely, Margaret, you can’t mean that.”

“I don’t know if I do or not. I do not truly know what to expect from him or me. What are advances? Fate will guide me.”

“No, it won’t. He has really given us a big day. Do you want to try to make it downstairs?”

“Yes.”

 

Marveling at a John he’d never met, John Thornton rode home contemplating his unconventional behavior. He never did anything in haste, and this was rash. The very idea of storming a woman’s bedchamber unnerved him, but he delighted in the results. How would he atone for his actions? He called out to Branson to stop at the Milton Grand, where he would order flowers and have them sent over.

Accomplishing that, Branson dropped him off at his office. Nicholas’s buggy was gone which meant he was at the other mill. He found his foreman, talked with him and then went home for a few hours of sleep.

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C27

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

Fred and Bessie had a slow ride home. Their evening had been extraordinary in learning about each other. It had brought them closer, still. Fred pulled the buggy up the small drive and turned to Bessie.

“I hope we can see each other again, soon. Perhaps a picnic before the weather turns too cold. Do you think your parents would allow that?”

“You may have to come to dinner one evening. I feel fairly well about my father’s thoughts of you and he’s the boss. But I would like my stepmother to be on our side, too.”

“Whatever you want me to do.”

“Thank you for understanding.”

“May I kiss you, goodnight?”

Fred couldn’t tell in the light, but he felt she was blushing.

“I think I would like that very much.” Bessie smiled.

Fred turned to her and then faced her in front of him. He held her upper arms and pulled her towards him. She easily yielded to his lips that were waiting. Bessie felt his arms slide around her, pulling her further towards him. She reciprocated with her, now, free arms. It only lasted a moment, but both had their hearts hammering.

“You did very well, Bessie, for a beginner,” Fred laughed. Bessie laughed, too.

Fred hopped out of the buggy and walked Bessie to her front door where they said goodnight. He thought he really might be falling in love.

 

Dixon had gone to bed by the time Fred arrived home. He let Adam know he was home but went to check on his sister first. Seeing she was fast asleep, no doubt from the medication, he returned to the parlor.

“I hope you and Miss Higgins had a nice evening.”

“One of the nicest I’ve spent. What happened to my sister?”

Adam told Fred about the whole evening as he had seen it. When he talked about the tear, he admitted he wasn’t sure if it was from physical or emotional pain. His guess would be the latter.

“What a horrid woman!” Fred insisted. “No doubt, that ruined my sister. I know her feelings for Thornton, which is unknown to all except this family and maybe Bessie. She is obsessed with the man. Why are women so different than men?”

“Are we really so different Fred? Wouldn’t you do anything for the one you loved? What would you do if you fell in love with a woman that hardly knew you? She didn’t even notice you.”

“Well, that’s why I think they’re different. I’m not sure we do that. I don’t think we fall so deeply as Margaret has without some sign of interest. Our interest just lays on top like a physical desire until we get to know them. I know that’s not how my sister feels.”

“I’m not so sure you’re right about either statement, but let’s not quibble over that.”

“Wait. Hold on. Are you saying that Margaret may have desires for Thornton? I mean, physical desires?”

“I mean exactly that, although she doesn’t know it. She is well and truly old enough to be moved by a man, but she is proper enough to hold them at bay unconsciously, or she feels embarrassed about them.”

“Exactly what was your major in university?”

“Oh, I have a professorship in many subjects. Psychology, being one of them. Your Bessie is most likely as Margaret, but her feelings are being responded to. She has a sense of worth.  Far different with your sister.”

“Are you saying this as a fact or a perhaps?”

“At their ages, I would use the word ‘probable.’”

“Let’s get passed that for a moment.” Fred shook his head, hardly believing Adam’s words. “Margaret has fallen in love with a man much sought after. You think as of tonight, she felt defeated in her effort to win his attention and is giving up?”

“I do.”

“I am not sure how to guide her in this. I will have to think it over and put myself in John’s position if I can.”

“Being a man, you would face the issue and speak your words to your woman, so you knew exactly where you stood. A woman will rarely do that, especially if there has been no interest shown beforehand. Basically, Margaret has to suffer the loss. She may think it’s the end of her world, but it isn’t. However, it will erode her confidence as a woman. That will all be in her mind, mind you. Some don’t ever recover from the lack of self-worth. You know what pressure they are under from birth.”

“What if I talk to Thornton?”

“And say what? Do you want to lose your sister forever? She would never forgive you.”

“There has to be something that can be done. How about an anonymous letter to him?”

“Fred! She and he would know it came from you or me.”

Fred paced the floor. “I will think of something.”

“For now, at least for the next few days, keep an eye on her and don’t do anything to alienate her. We’ll both be giving this a lot of thought.”

“I know. I could say something to Bessie, who confides in her father, hoping he will talk with Thornton.”

“Fred, I think you’re thinking of a child’s game.” Adam laughed. “Besides, if Thornton turns his attentions to her, and she knows you meddled, she can never trust him. Don’t you see that? Any interest shown has to come from the other totally unhindered by words or rumors. It has to be real. And we can’t force Thornton to love her even if all your ideas were worth trying. He is his own man. No one talks Thornton into anything.”

“I guess you’re right. That would make a difference; it would matter to me. I don’t want anyone to love me out of pity.”

“Exactly.”

“She will be sedentary for the next few days. It will give us some time to work on her. Who knows, she may wake up with an attitude that she can rise above it.”

“She’ll be lying to herself. She’ll show cheerfulness as to put us off any sympathy or knowledge of her despondency. It’s like a death in her soul. Yes, one day she will recover but at what cost.” Fred insisted.

“We shall ponder this on the morrow. I am going back to the hotel. Goodnight, Fred.”

“Until then.”

Adam found his own way to the door.

 

“My God, John. What happened to you and Lenore? I have never seen you act so ungentlemanly, ever. I didn’t know you. Grabbing a woman by the arm and thrusting her in front of you; one might have thought you were making an arrest.”

“Mother, I am not sure I can talk about it now or ever. If she hadn’t been a woman, I would have beaten her.”

“John you can’t act like that for the first time in your life and tell me nothing. Do you know how I will worry forever that you could do this again?”

“Mother, I will tell you this and no more. She embarrassed me, beyond words, to Miss Hale.”

“Miss Hale?”

“Or to any woman who was sitting beside her. It just tears me apart that she said those things to Margaret. I would like to choke her. You and I felt something might happen and it did.”

“I think I can assume part of the rest. Remembering that you once had a fondness for her when you were a very young man, leaves little doubt about the subject.”

John didn’t respond. He walked to the window that overlooked the yard and stared out of it.

“I take it that the den conversation was a reprimand.”

Still nothing from John. “Mother you can think whatever you like, but I have said all I am going to say. And even that little stays with us.”

“Of course, John. But is it over?”

John walked to his bedchamber, not even saying goodnight. He slammed the door shut.

 

John paced his room for an hour still fuming. He didn’t know where to start with his anger. Where did it hurt the most? Was it embarrassment? Was it his private life being exposed? Did Miss Hale figure heavily into his anger or was she just the recipient? John wasn’t even sure he could or should do anything about it.

John began to undress. Margaret had been consistently on his mind through his imagining of the incident. He laid down on the bed, semi-dressed and began to identify his feelings for Margaret. Over and over his mother’s words came back to him.

That woman has a smart and independent spirit. How many young ladies have you met that became educated to support themselves, rather than be a ‘Lady of the Manor’?”

 

“She will need to find a man that will challenge her. And easy living does not seem to be her future, by choice. We had a nice conversation about how she turned away from the society life that she could have had because she did not care for those people.

 

Other brief memories drifted in the lessons and the mill walk with Higgins, the bravery she showed through that entire ordeal, the courage to commit to a job and promise results, her selflessness in not asking to leave early and, of course, the pain she endured to be here tonight. John laughed at remembering her staring at him, and the disappointment in her voice when he left her with his mother while her brother visited Branson. He remembered the ball and how he embarrassed her. Her ingenious effort to put him at ease by showing indifference to him. Who was she? She was beautiful, and she had been in front of him for several weeks, but he never really saw her until tonight. It struck him that if she did have any meaningful feelings for him, that she had to watch him through Adeline and Lenore. Going back to the dinner tonight, even with his disinterest in the game going on between Lenore and Anne, he remembered Margaret closing her eyes and Adam dabbing a tear from her face. At the time, he thought it might be the pain, but he didn’t believe that now.

“She must think she is losing favor with me,” John said quietly to himself. He felt the unconscious smile make itself known. He was confused. “How could I have the first serious stirrings of affections for her without knowing it?”

Tomorrow, John would begin to unravel this mystery, this ricochet of emotions. It was like nothing he knew or had heard of. He dwelt on those thoughts all night.

 

John woke early from his brief respite with renewed hope for his life. “Could Margaret Hale be the woman he had been waiting on?” She had been indefatigable until last night. He didn’t know the answer to that. He may have her thoughts of him absolutely wrong, but his own were becoming solid. Today, he would see her.

 

Dixon knocked quietly. Margaret had to clear her throat before inviting her in.

“Oh, Miss Margaret, you’ve been crying again. Is it the pain?”

Margaret had been awake for several hours, and although the pain was worse, she knew the tears were for a lost love.

“I will get Master Fred. He wanted to know when you woke.”

Dixon left the room. Any minute the Inquisitor would appear. She was wrong. Her father entered first.

“Margaret, my dear, how is the pain. I expect it to be worse, is it?”

“Yes, father a bit more. Even if I don’t try to turn my head, my neck is very stiff with a constant ache.”

“When was the last time you had medication?”

“I believe it was before the dinner last night.”

“Oh, me. I am sure Fred is taking care of that right now. I don’t think you should get out of bed today at all.”

“I know I shall be bored if I stay here all day. Perhaps later in the afternoon, I will try to sit in the parlor. I will not dress, beyond my housecoat for that.”

“Well, we shall see when the time comes. I hear your brother coming. Here is a small bell that can be heard downstairs. Ring if you need any one of us.”

“Thank you, father. I remember Mother using it.”

“Good morning, puppet,” Fred merrily said as he came through the door.

“Puppet?”

“Margaret I will be back later.”

“Thank you, father.”

“Puppet? Why do you call me that?”

“Because we have to hold your head up with a string.” He laughed.

“Don’t make me laugh. It hurts, Margaret smiled.

“I am going to hold you up while you take this powder in this water.” Fred walked around the bed to hold her. “Ready?”

“Yes.”

Margaret took her powdered water without too much fuss.

“I see you’ve been crying not so long ago. Your face is puffy, and your eyes are still red.”

“I think I’m catching a cold.”

“I think not, puppet. Adam filled me in on what he knew about your evening. Now, I want to hear it from you. Something has to be done.”

“Nothing has to be done. I mean that. Yes, what that woman said was hurtful, but I know it shouldn’t be. Doesn’t that sound like a young man’s behavior? I can’t see where he did anything wrong. What bothered me most was her boastful attitude and what embarrassment she could bring to John.”

“Margaret, what have I told you? Thornton will suffer no embarrassment in front of his peers because they are men. I don’t think he’s done anything wrong, either, unless he was unfaithful to another. I also know, or Adam and I feel that you may have given up on the man after seeing two women trying to impress him.”

“Fred, I cannot compete with those women. I have thrown myself in his path, like many other women and he doesn’t see me. I can live with that. There were others interested in me at the ball. I don’t feel entirely worthless. I have attributes to recommend me.”

“I hear you saying the words, but I don’t think you believe them. You’re trying to talk your way out of a broken heart. I think it’s a bit too early to surrender. You would never make a naval man,” Fred smiled.

“I think I can be grateful for that.”

“You have only temporarily lost confidence in yourself. If you can’t take a little more of his indifference, then you have given up too easily. What has it been – two, three weeks? I don’t believe your regard for him is as much as you pretend. Until he is forced to say something like, ‘Margaret, I don’t see you the way you wish,’ then there’s still a chance. You are expecting far too much too soon.”

“Fred, do you really think so?”

“Think what exactly? Think that you have a chance? I do. There are no known answers except that you have not been turned away.”

“I’m not sure I don’t want to get my hopes up again and then watch them destroyed in front of me.”

“You’re a whiney sniveling child. You know that? I expect you to stamp your foot as you once did when you didn’t get your way.”

“Fred, that’s mean talk.”

“Puppet, it’s straight talk.”

“It sounds like man talk. Women aren’t as hardy as men. You know we are emotional. We can’t take a lot of rejection.”

“But that’s my point; you haven’t been rejected. Men are rejected all the time. It seems you could hold out until you get your first one.”

“Well, I have all day to lie here. I will consider what you have said.”

“Good. Dixon is making you something to eat. I’ll be back later.”

“Thank you, brother.”

Margaret had to turn on her side. She had laid on her back all night. Finding the side of the bed, she pulled herself over to her side and pushed more pillow under her head.

She had hardly made it over, and Dixon came around and sat in front of her. “Alright, Miss Magaret here is some tea and creamed oats. I put a little maple syrup in it.”

“I see you have mother’s sick cup. I guess that has the tea in it.”

“Yes, miss. I’m glad you are on your side so you can’t choke.” Dixon placed a linen under her mouth and began feeding her.”

“That tastes good, Dixon. I didn’t eat much yesterday.”

“Yes, miss, I know.”

“Before you leave can you help me with the chamber pot?”

“I’ll certainly try. If I can’t, I’ll get Master Fred.”

“If you can’t, I will find a way through the pain. My brother’s attentions stop there.”

Dixon moved the food tray to the vanity. She pulled the chair close to the side of the bed, sitting the chamber pot on top of it.

“Here we go. I am going to cradle you in my arm until you are sitting up. I think you should be able to stand.”

“Yes, I believe I can do that.”

The process of getting Margaret up and emptied was accomplished. “I should be able to do that tomorrow. This neck ache should start going away today or by then.”

Dixon took the chamber pot away first and then returned for the tray.

Margaret felt comfortable and began to give thoughts to what her brother spoke about. He was right, she hadn’t been rejected. Not being seen wasn’t the same as a rejection.

It seemed only a few moments later when Adam knocked softly on her door.

“Come in, Adam.”

“How is the patient this morning?”

“I’m not sure I am ready for another ball, but I believe I am on schedule according to the doctor. This medication is helping nicely at the moment. Before you get comfortable, my brother has talked my ear off. I don’t believe I need any more instructions on my love life.”

“That means you haven’t given up?”

“I haven’t decided, yet.”

“Then you need more instructions, puppet. Actually, while Dixon was in here, we had another talk.”

“Another one?”

“I know you are suffering from an injury so I will not add to your misery at this time. However, I do have one question?”

“That will be your allowance for the day,” Margaret quipped.

“Why did you make such a difficult effort to be there last night?”

“To see Mrs. Thornton. I like her.”

“And that’s the only Thornton you were interested in seeing?”

“That’s another question.”

“I don’t believe you completely answered my first one.”

“You know why, Adam. I had to see him.”

“As I thought. Would you like me to read to you?”

“No, I think I want to close my eyes for a bit.”

“Then I shall leave you. I will stay here, though.”

“Thank you.”

 

A half hour later, there was a knock on the door.

Dixon answered it. “Good day, Mr. Thornton.”

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C26

Chapter Twenty-Six

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

John had finished dressing in his eveningwear and walked into the dining room to begin to set his bar. Branson came to assist him since he would be serving. It was about 7:00 p.m. when he asked his mother if she needed any help. He was prepared and ready.

“John if you would look at the table and see if you know of anything missing.”

Thirteen places he counted. Was it an omen with Lenore being the last one added.

He felt a little guilty for not offering to pick her up, but she wasn’t his lady friend, yet he had invited her. With dinner being at 8:00 p.m., people could begin arriving at any time. The crystal, silver, and china were set, flowers and candleholders in the center. He really didn’t know what to call everything on the table, but he figured if it was there, it wasn’t missing. He just knew that where there was one, there should be twelve more. The large silver serving spoons were there, but he didn’t know how many of those were needed. It would have been a crushing blow to his mother if something wasn’t set right, which gave him a sense that the table was ready for the queen.

He caught sight of the place cards and began to walk around the table to ensure there were thirteen. He started at his mother’s end, counted around to himself, where Lenore was next to him. He was anxious to see who would sit next to her. He was stunned to see Miss Margaret Hale seated next to Lenore and then there was Adam Bell. So that’s who his guest was.

His mother came into the dining room. “Mother, you didn’t tell me Miss Hale would be here.”

“I heard you tell Adam to surprise you, so I have kept quiet about it.”

“I feel terrible. I didn’t offer to let her go home early to prepare as Nicholas and I did. God, I feel awkward. I saw her injure her neck on the way home, so I doubt she will be here.”

“I don’t know, John. That woman has a smart and independent spirit. How many young ladies have you met that became educated to support themselves, rather than be a ‘Lady of the Manor’?”

“I am sure I don’t know any,” He emphasized.

“She will need to find a man that will challenge her. An easy living does not seem to be her future, by choice.”

“I think we have had this conversation.”

“We had a nice talk about how she turned away from the social life that she could have had because she did not care for those people.”

“Is that so?” John asked softly as he stared off into the unknown thinking about his mother’s comments. The remarks felt appealing to him. Someone who preferred to be an uncommon commoner, he thought. He felt some anxiety in his chest.

Hearing his soft voice, Hannah took notice of her son. He was reacting to something. Hannah wondered if he was seeing Miss Hale differently. “John, what is it? Are you thinking of Miss Hale?”

“In a way.”

“What way would that be?”

“Time will tell.”

Hannah went about her business, smiling at her son and his thoughts. She liked Miss Hale, but her son had overlooked her, and he rarely overlooked anyone.

John slowly walked into the parlor and sat down. His mother saw he was distant, intent on some problem, it seemed.

“How did Miss Hale get injured, John?”

“I saw her brother hand her the reins. Suddenly the horse bolted, almost rearing, but didn’t move away. It could be Miss Hale doesn’t understand reinning yet. I tend to think the workers may have spooked the horse since he’s not used to a crowd. I saw her snap back into the buggy and then she fell forward, bending her upper body down on her lap. I went to them to see if I could help. She said her neck was uncomfortable, but that she was fine. I followed them home on my horse and saw her brother carry her into the house. I sent Donaldson over there.”

“Oh, that’s terrible. I’ve known that to happen to one of my friends. If she does happen to arrive, which I hope she won’t try, bring out your desk chair with the high back for her.”

“Yes, I will.”

“There’s the first knock at the door. Who do you suppose will arrive first?”

“My bet would be Fanny and Watson.”

“You may be right.”

 

It was getting late, but Margaret had on a collar which she would remove in the coach, and Dixon was gently working on her hair. She could not bend over to put on her shoes. In fact, her walk was very slow. She knew she could not get away from looking well because John had seen her in distress and even sent for a doctor.

Downstairs, Adam was worried about her. He went out to talk with his driver about a route that would be as smooth as possible. Adam would cradle her in his arms to support her neck during the drive. He asked Fred to get her a bed pillow, too.

 

Nicholas arrived first, and John was quick to ask Peggy how she was feeling. He mentioned he was sorry she had to miss the ball.

“Thank you, John. I’m still a bit weak, but a dinner here should not wear me out much. I doubt we will stay long.”

“I am glad to have you here for any time you can give us.”

 

It was after 8:00 p.m. and the evening was in full swing when Jane answered the door to the final couple, Adam, and Margaret.

Adam slowly assisted Margaret up to the stairs where they were welcomed into the room.

“Miss Hale, I really didn’t expect you, seeing you being injured today. Wait a moment while I get a different chair for you.”

Margaret was doing her best to smile. Adam had her arm through his to give her support. “How are you, Margaret?”

“I’m fine, Adam. Please bring my head home if it falls off.” Margaret began to laugh at her own joke and then frowned with a smile.

John was there with the chair and sat it in the drawing room for now.

“John, we tried to get her to stay home, but she wasn’t having any of it,” Adam explained.

“Here, Miss Hale. Sit here. I must apologize for not telling you to go home early. It wasn’t until a few moments ago that I knew you were going to be a guest.”

“Thank you, Mr. Thornton, please don’t make a fuss over me. I am fine.”

Hannah came over and sat on the edge of the couch and talked with Margaret.

John pulled Adam away and asked him if she was in much pain.

“Yes, she is. It will be worse tomorrow.”

“Did Donaldson make it over?”

“He did.”

“Didn’t he tell her to stay home?”

“He did that too; from what I understand. He’s given her some strong medication to make it through this evening. She would not be dissuaded from attending. Do you think she fears losing her job if she canceled at the last moment?”

“No, I don’t think it’s that, but I will make sure of it in the next day or so.”

Lenore appeared next to John wondering why that woman was drawing his attention away from his other guests. She didn’t feel she had any business asking about her.

John kept glancing at Margaret and watched how stiff she looked. Once in a while, he would catch a wince on her face. This was agony watching her in discomfort. Why? Why did she insist on attending in her painful condition?

“Adam, see if you can discover any information on why she felt she needed to be here. I don’t want her to fear me.”

“I will see if I can find out what you wish to know.”

 

Finally, a small bell was heard which signaled to come to the table. John went to Margaret and assisted her onto Adams’ arm and then picked up the chair.

“Mr. Thornton, you are going to too much fuss.”

“Let me be the judge of that.”

As Margaret peered around the table, she felt that the woman next to her must be John’s dinner companion. People were talking. John was paying little attention to the woman next to him if she was his guest. Margaret couldn’t turn her head but placed her hand on the lady’s arm, which brought her attention.

“How do you do? I am Margaret Hale. I had a slight injury today and am unable to turn my head. I hope you don’t mind if I converse with you this way.”

“Not at all, Miss Hale. My name is Lenore Smithers. Who is your dinner companion? He’s quite the handsome mature gentleman.”

Margaret tapped on Adams arm, who turned her way. “Adam Bell, I would you like you to meet Lenore Smithers.”

Adam reached over and politely shook her hand. “How do you do, Miss Smithers. Is it Miss or Mrs.?”

“It is Miss. Which one of you knows Mrs. Thornton or John?”

“I have known John for many years,” Adam responded. “Margaret here is a new employee of his. As of yesterday, I believe.”

“Oh, really? I knew John quite well in our formative teen years, about ten years ago. I have returned to see what care is needed for my aging father. My sister has been caring for him while I was abroad.”

“You do go back with John, perhaps longer than I. You wouldn’t have been one of his lady friends from back then?” Adam smiled.

Margaret wondered where Adam got the nerve to ask that.

“Quite so, Mr. Bell. I believe I was his first lady friend. He’s still single after all these years. I guess he’s never recovered from me stealing his virtue. I believe I may go down in the Thornton history book,” Lenore smirked.

Margaret was aghast at what she was stating. She felt Adam squeeze her hand.

Adam quickly pulled his dinner napkin and dabbed a small tear that was ready to roll down her cheek. “Margaret, did you take your medication before you left?”

“Yes, thank you, Adam.”

John turned in time to see Adam catch a tear, but he did not hear what Lenore had said. John felt her pain must be getting unbearable. He knew Adam would do what he had to do so he would not intercede.

 

Several maids appeared with platters and tureens and began serving each of the guests. Branson was standing by watching all the glasses on the table. John began talking with Lenore so he could watch Margaret at the same time.

It was a beautiful meal, Margaret thought. She wondered if Lenore would be in the battle of the finishing schools with Anne Latimer. Margaret was not going to participate. There was no more jealousy of Anne showing off, not when John had invited the first love of his life. Margaret watched on as both women ogled John through dinner.  It seemed the fight for him would be relentless. She knew she didn’t have the weapons to compete. Slowly she closed her eyes for a moment and . . . gave him up.

 

Margaret didn’t eat much and only partook of the final tea and passed on the dessert. She tried to look at other people around the table and not watch the other two women battle over the last man on earth. Anne had become alerted to the fact that Lenore must be John’s guest although most couples were not seated next to each other. Mrs. Thornton seemed to be aware of what was transpiring at her table because she casually watched over them and John’s reaction. Margaret began to think he was oblivious, further proof of his ability to disregard such advances. John was a magnificent host, she thought. No wonder he had found his way to the top of this trade quickly.

Margaret had since stopped listening to the conversation. She was glad that Adam was part of the discussion. Lenore must have been listening because she leaned over to Margaret and said, “You know John’s a Magistrate.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that,” Margaret said. She gently turned her head toward John as he was making a point to Adam. He made contact with her eyes. Once again she stared back, trapped, and then she closed her eyes and turned her head away for the last time. It hurt too much. She hoped she could go home soon. Never having been to such a private formal dinner, she did not know what was expected after the meal finished.

“Adam, when is it proper to leave such a function?”

“If you feel bad, we can leave immediately. Otherwise, the earliest would be when people start rising from the table. Can I take you home now?”

“Yes, I feel like I need to lay down.”

Adam stood to speak. “Mrs. Thornton this has been another success in your annual dinners. Miss Hale and I are grateful to have been here. However, it seems that we must leave early this time. I bid all of you enjoy this excellent evening. Please forgive us.”

Hannah and John stood to see them out, as the others wandered into the sitting room.

Adam assisted her into the hall where John was getting her wrap.

“Miss Hale, I am honored you made an attempt this evening, thank you,” responded Hannah.

“Mrs. Thornton is was truly a delightful experience for me. I wish I felt better so I could visit longer.” Turning to John, Margaret said, “I am sorry, John. The doctor is permitting me no work until Monday.”

“Margaret, take all the time you need. Do not rush your recovery. I will be by to see you tomorrow if you don’t mind.”

“Please don’t bother yourself, Mr. Thornton. I know you are busy.”

“I will see you tomorrow. Good evening.” John went ahead of them down the steps to the door. He helped settle Margaret into Adam’s waiting arm with the pillow in it.”

“Goodnight, John and thank you,” Adam bid.

John stood there and watched the coach roll away until it was out of site.

 

Upstairs, Branson was pouring brandy for the remainder, but it looked as if the Higgins’ were leaving as well. John thanked them in the hall and wished Peggy Higgins a continued good recovery.

Watson and Slickson were already in a corner discussing something, leaving their ladies to fend on their own. Latimer kept Anne company, but it seemed as if Lenore wanted to become friends with his mother. John sought out Lenore to draw her attention away.

“How has your evening been going, Lenore?”

“Very nice. The food was very good.”

“Did you get to talk with anyone?”

“Miss Hale introduced herself, and I asked to be introduced to Mr. Bell. It seems you two have been friends for a long time. I told him how far back you and I went. I think I won.”

“You spoke about us back then, did you?”

“Yes. That was a long time ago, John. Who cares what happened back that far. Since he was a long time friend, I told him I thought I was your first ladyfriend. He said I had him beat.”

“Was there anything else?” John was worried now.

“I told him I took your virtue,” Lenore laughed.

“Could I see you in my den for a moment?”

“Do you want your way with me?” She coyly asked. “John, I’ve changed. I’m not like that anymore. I’m not easy.”

John finally grasped her by the upper arm and led her from the crowd. Once inside, he pushed her into a seat.

“Hey, don’t be so rough.”

“Do you have means, Lenore?”

“Why is that your business, John?”

“Well, I am thinking I might sue you for slander. I was wondering how well I might make out. Aside from your embarrassment, which is of great value to me, maybe there is coin to be gained.”

“You can’t sue me!”

“Why can’t I? Can you prove your claim? Even bringing suit against you and losing still holds you up to public ridicule.”

“You wouldn’t do that?”

“I wouldn’t? I will suffer nothing from it. Do you know that whether your claim is true or not, you embarrassed me to a very dear friend? I have to make amends to her somehow.”

“Is that the one who was crying?”

“Which one was that?”

“The one sitting next to me.”

“She was in pain from her injury.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then you admit you spoke to her with words slanderous to me that you cannot prove.”

“What do you want me to do, John? Apologize? Should I tell her we never spent some beautiful weeks laying naked beside each other? Is that what you want?”

“I want you out of my life. I want you to desist in spreading rumors, you think to be true, to my friends. That is not nearly as hard for me to live down as it would be to you, at least in Milton.”

“So, why aren’t you married. You have to have missed me? Missed our old times. I ruined you for anyone else, it seems.”

“My marriage status is none of your concern, but if you must know something – do know it has nothing to do with you. Do you have a coach?”

“No.”

“Then go in there and thank my mother, and I will have Branson drive you home.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a refresher course in young love?”

“Get out!

John came around his desk in a flash. Lenore scurried for the door. John hadn’t gotten his anger under control when she rushed out of the room.

John opened the door. “Branson!”

“Yes, guv?”

“Take Miss Smithers home.”

“Are you alright, boss?”

“No, I am not. Go on!”

John had never felt such anger in his life. He stormed about his room, trying to calm down until he could leave with some dignity. Of course, he called her bluff, although he could have gone through with his suit if she repeated it. It  wasn’t his virtue or the loss of it that made him angry. It was speaking such words to Miss Hale. He would see her tomorrow and explain. He pulled himself together and left the room with a smile on his face.

All eyes were on him as he exited. He began a new conversation with the closest person, and the room returned to normal, except for the look on his mother’s face.

 

Fred was just escorting Bessie to his coach when Adam and Margaret arrived. He waited and helped Adam assist her to her room. Dixon followed.

“I want to talk with you, Fred when you have time,” Adam said sternly.

“I’ll be a few minutes carrying Bessie home. Will you wait?”

“Yes. Take your time.”

“I believe I will.”

Richard Hale had gone to bed, Fred was out, so Adam helped himself to scotch. He sat on the couch collecting his thoughts.

At Margaret’s young age, Adam believed her to be in love with John Thornton. It was unreciprocated. Even though there was nothing between them more than a working relationship, Adam could see that Lenore’s words devastated her. Being a man, he understood that what Lenore said about John probably happened to most young men. There was no fault with John. It would be hard for Margaret to see it that way or any young woman in love. Adam only understood it as Margaret’s hopes had been high and then found them suddenly dashed upon the rocks. With her physical pain now compounded by her emotional pain, she had rough days ahead. Adam knew he could talk with Fred and leave Richard out of the worry.

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C25

Chapter Twenty-Five

Available at Amazon – Copyrighted

“Good morning, John. I can only wonder what it must be like at your home this morning. Busy are they?”

“My ears are still ringing from the clanking of pots and pans. At least, most of the commotion is limited to the kitchen now. I can tell it is exhausting mother. She will have help next year, but it won’t be me as she hopes. I will hire someone who prepares events like this.”

“How do you think Miss Hale got along yesterday?”

“I’m not sure we spoke much after we had our personal apology session. I really don’t know.”

“I did get those journals for her. I would be interested to see if she can repeat back what we said in the morning yesterday. Wouldn’t you? That gibberish she wrote is some kind of code. She could be spying for another Master that she spoke to early this week,” Nicholas laughed.

“I do believe her. She spoke to me of her dedication to the mill. Perhaps next week, we will ask her what we talked about today, so take some notes after our meeting. Here she comes. Oh, do call her, Margaret.”

A knock came to the door. Nicholas answered the door. “Good morning, Margaret. Forthwith, just come through the door. You are an official of this room.”

“Good morning, gentleman.” She walked directly to her room, found her pen and paper and returned. Her chair was still where it was left yesterday, aside John’s desk. She decided to leave it over there and work on the edge of his desk since she was right-handed. “Do you mind me sitting here, Mr. . . . ah . . . John?”

“Please, help yourself.”

“Have you begun?”

“No. We were wondering how your day went yesterday. Could we have a report from you? This is something we may include every day.”

“Yes. Agreed.” Nicholas added.

“If you wish. This first week may find me with some discussion but little once I am settled. I wasn’t prepared for any report, but I too think it is a good idea. Once the document room is organized, my first priority will be what? Nicholas gave me a list, but I am not sure it is organized as to the importance.”

“Your main job is to find ways to help us save or make money. Your first priority will be the biggest, and that is redesigning our budgeting layout.” John stated.

“And your accountants?”

“Will do as we say, if we agree with you.”

“Do you have all you will need?”

“I don’t believe so, but I am making a list. I don’t think anything expensive is required. You have seen to that. So, please proceed with your meeting.”

While Nicholas and John were talking about what was and wasn’t completed the day before, John would periodically peep at the scribble on the paper. He’d look back at Nicholas, who would smile at his confused look. They both wanted to laugh at each other for not understanding.

Hearing a pause and sensing that John was looking at her paperwork, Margaret had to smile, too. It was turning out to be fun, keeping them wondering.

“Margaret, I believe I saw your basket was still full when you left yesterday. Did you not bring your lunch?” John inquired.

“I did, I lost track of time.”

“You shall come to the canteen today with Nicholas and me, around 1:00 this afternoon.”

“I will be ready.”

“I will be at Mill2 until that time and Nicholas shall be on this property.”

“How do I contact whoever is on the property should someone come to speak with either of you?”

“You may walk into the first shed, don’t go through the rolling doors, but ask anyone you meet to get the foreman for you. He will know which master is where.”

“If you are at Mill2 and someone comes looking specifically for you, do I contact Higgins or let them know where you are?”

John thought for a moment. “I would prefer that you not have to bear that decision. All contacts must go through this mill first.”

“Very good.”

“Oh, one last thing, Nicholas and I will be leaving early today. There will be a foreman in charge at both mills. I guess that is all for now.”

Margaret picked up her papers and returned to her room. John and Nicholas walked out together. Margaret quickly  returned to the front windows and watched them go their separate ways. Nicholas headed to the first shed while John disappeared around the back of his home. Margaret went back to her work.

 

A note came to the Hale house for Fred. It was from Bessie saying that yes she could see him, but could it be at his home since his father was there.

Fred quickly scribbled his answer and gave it to the waiting driver. He went to tell his father that he was having company this evening. Although not spoken sharply, he did emphasize that the company was his. He wanted to give leave to his father not to feel indebted to remain when he became tired.

 

Margaret had her desk tidied by 12:45 p.m. and sat waiting for her lunch appointment. John arrived a few minutes early, so they waited on Nicholas.

“How is your morning so far, Margaret?”

“I do have a question.”

“And that would be?”

“Do you have ledgers per mill or is it all consolidated?”

“Consolidated.”

There was silence.

“Does that mean you have one Profit and Loss statement combined for both mills?”

“Yes.”

Nicholas came through the door. “Are we ready?”

“I am. Should I bring some money?” Margaret inquired.

“No, Margaret. Our guest. You will get to meet Bessie’s sister, Mary.”

“I have met Mary but only briefly.”

The three walked into the canteen, and Margaret was immediately aware that getting down the isles with her smock would be difficult.

“I think I will return to the office if you don’t mind,” she said.

“Do you not care to eat with the workers?”

“Oh, no. I just don’t think I can fit. I will have to dress more sensibly in the future.”

“We will make room for you.”

Overhearing part of the conversation two men at the head of the table moved to another location, carrying their plates with them. Margaret thanked them.

Mary came to the table carrying three bowls of soup and a plate of bread.

“Margaret, I hope you don’t mind this meager meal.”

“Not at all. I prefer it really. Hello, Mary. This smells nice. Pea soup, is it?”

“Yes, miss.”

“One of my favorites. Do you have this on specific days?”

“No.”

“What do you think a slate board and a menu for the week would do for you? It would draw workers to come in only to eat certain items. It may even save some grumbling workers who arrive and don’t care for that day’s choice. What do you think?”

Mary looked at her father. He gave her no indication how to answer. “I think it may save a little more money because we would have less waste. I will think about it and ask some of the workers. Most of them eat here no matter what is served.”

“Mary, Miss Hale is working in our office now.”

“Yes, Father said that may happen. Welcome, Miss Hale. If you need anything or questions answered, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Most of the conversation were men asking John or Nicholas questions.

Margaret set her spoon down and walked over to Mary near the kitchen. “Mary, why are there so few women in here, do you know?”

“There are some men in here that . . . that grab at the women. They talk rudely to them, too.”

“All the men?”

“No, it’s only about four or five.”

“Are they in here now?”

“Two are. All the workers that eat here come in shifts. There are two in here now. The other three were here before you.”

“Do they bother you?”

“They did before they knew who my father is.”

“So, when Mr. Thornton and your father are in here, they are on their best behavior.”

“Yes. The women eat outside in sun or cold. Some don’t even bring a lunch because they can only afford one meal a day.”

“Have you told your father?”

“No, I am afraid of them. They have threatened me.”

“Thank you, Mary.”

 

John came up behind Margaret as they headed outside.

“Was there anything wrong with the meal, Margaret.”

“Not exactly. Before we leave, take a look at your workers in this room.”

“I will.”

John escorted Margaret outside to Nicholas and asked them to wait. He walked back inside, casting an eye around the room. Everyone was eating, there was laughter and not too overcrowded. He left.

“I believe you see something I don’t. Nicholas, go back in there and just look at the workers eating. Look around the room, that’s all I ask.”

Nicholas was gone a minute or so. When he came out, he said, “Was I supposed to see something wrong? If anything was wrong, Mary would have told me.”

As the three walked back to the office in silence, Margaret asked if she was to lock the office somehow when she left at 5:00 p.m.

“I will be on the property for the rest of the day, Margaret. I will take care of it.”

“Are you going to tell us what you saw in there?”

“Not yet.”

“Margaret, I do not wish you to play games with our business.”

“I am not playing a game. I just want to look further into what I saw.”

“Very well. Margaret, I will say goodnight and see you tomorrow, although I may be in and out of here later.”

“Good day to you, John.”

 

John walked around back and talked with Branson about the spirits and wines. Branson said he had taken care of everything.

John found his mother sitting on the sofa when he entered by the back stairs. She had no needlework in her hands. “Mother is all going according to plan? Are you worried about anything?”

“I had forgotten just how exhausting these dinners were. I am taking it easy and resting often. I’ve just been sitting here thinking about that woman.”

“Would that be Lenore Smithers?”

“Yes. I just don’t know where to seat her. I’ve been thinking between Adam Bell and Nicholas. Both of those men would not do anything to excite her into a disruption. Would she be better off near you? She will want to talk with you tonight. She may try to do that across the table.”

“Mother, I do not know what to expect from her. Perhaps she should be seated next to me. There should be no other person that she knows except Slickson, and I doubt she would converse with him. Do we have six and six?”

“No. We will have six and seven. You, Bell, Watson, Latimer, Higgins and Slickson. Each of those will have a partner, and then there is me. With the pairing not even, I think I will sit her next to you and have a woman on the other side of her.”

“That is most likely the soundest idea.”

 

It was nearing 5:00 p.m. when John went to his den and watched out his window for Margaret to leave. Her brother was already waiting for her. He tethered his horse and waited at the bottom step for her. After the wait of a few minutes, Fred walked up to check on her. He entered the office, John saw, wondering what was holding her up. Eventually, Fred opened the door, and they walked to the buggy. Before getting in, they had a conversation which resulted in Margaret taking the reins.

John smiled as he saw her start the horse a bit too quickly causing both of them to lurch in their seats. Fred took the reins from her and pulled the buggy to a stop. John could see Margaret bent over in her lap. Fred was beginning to rub her back. She had hurt herself somehow. John hurried down the steps and trotted over to the pair sitting at a standstill.

“Margaret, are you injured?”

“Thank you, John, I am fine. I have a bit of discomfort in my neck it seems.”

Fred moved his rubbing hand towards her neck, and she winced.

“Can Branson take you to Dr. Donaldson?”

“Thank you, John. We will make it home with no problem.”

“Are you sure, sis?”

“Yes, please Fred, carry on.”

John was worried as Fred pulled away slowly. There were a lot of workers in the yard, leaving for home, which may have spooked the horse he thought. He decided to follow them. John saddled one of his horses and followed at a modest distance. Turning a corner near their home, John could see Margaret still had her head in her lap. He stopped when Fred pulled the buggy to the front of the house. Fred came around to her side and lifted her out. He carried her to the door, where he stood her up and opened the door. John turned around and rode over to Dr. Donaldson’s office.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Thornton. I shall tell the doctor you are here.”

“Please tell him, I just want a discussion with him.”

“Very well.”

John was too restless to be seated. The waiting room was vacant, no doubt near their closing time.

“Come on back, John. Haven’t seen you for a while.”

“I’m not here for myself. I just witnessed a possible injury to one of my workers who insists she is fine. But I am in doubt.”

“Tell me about it.”

John relayed what he had seen.

“It sounds like you are describing whiplash. Most of the time it is painful but not seriously harmful. She refused to come here?”

“Yes, do you think she should?”

“If you saw her move, the chances are great that she did not break her neck. Perhaps you will see her tomorrow?”

“Yes, I will.”

“You will if she can make it to work.”

“I would feel better if you could stop by her house on your way home.” John wrote down the address for Donaldson and returned home. It was time to take his bath and begin his grooming.

 

Fred and Mr. Hale were hovering over Margaret lying on the couch when a knock came to the door. Dixon answered it.

“Hello, my name is Dr. Donaldson. John Thornton reported to me that a woman may have injured her neck and asked me to see to her.”

Fred rushed into the hall and introduced himself. “Thank you for coming. My sister, Margaret, is in here.” Fred led him to the parlor. “This is my father, Mr. Hale.”

“Yes, I know your family. I tended to your mother. John didn’t give me a name only this address.”

Donaldson sat beside the patient and spoke with her while prodding her neck. He helped her sit up and felt all the way down her spine. As he continued his examination, he asked, “Mr. Thornton led me to believe you are a worker at Marlborough Mills. Could that be correct?”

Donaldson could judge by the frown how much it hurt Margaret. “Dr. Donaldson, I only began yesterday as an accountant assistant. We don’t really have a name for what I will be doing.”

“I see. So, you will be sitting for most of your job?”

“Yes.”

“I am going to make a brace for your neck, and I recommend you stay home through the weekend.”

“I have the Thornton dinner tonight and it is most important to me.”

“Margaret,” Richard Haled sighed.

“Well, it is. Fred knows it.”

Dr. Donaldson shook his head but gave her some instructions and strong headache powders. “I must insist you do not attend work tomorrow. You need to lay flat or sit in a chair that supports the back of your head. You must do that for two days. Swivel your head as slowly as possible when you can but come to see me if the pain becomes any worse. The problem with these injuries is that they feel worse the next day and perhaps another day before they begin to ease off the pain. I am giving you a strong medication, but I have stronger if you need it. Just use common sense and be most careful tonight. Do you have someone to dress you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, here is the instructions for making a stiff thick collar around your neck. Wear that as long as you feel you must. I would like to see you Monday, if not before. Have a nice time tonight. I hear Mrs. Thornton spares little expense in her annual dinners. Good evening.” Donaldson closed his bag, found his hat and Fred escorted him to the door.

Expecting Margaret home, Dixon had prepared her bath in the kitchen. She could see there would be difficulty in drying and braiding her hair.

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C24

Chapter Twenty-Four

By Tuesday evening, John was becoming unsettled. He didn’t feel his comfortable confidence. He still hadn’t collected his thoughts on his own apology to Miss Hale. She had explained her reasoning, and it was a sound excuse of someone so thoroughly innocent. He didn’t think that what he could say would stand up against any gentleman’s excuse. He never could see where she was coming from as Higgins seemed to think. If every line in her letter were true, and he couldn’t reason that it wasn’t, she had acted upon advice that seemed to want to put him at ease for the evening. Instead of worrying that another woman was wishing his attentions, she made it clear that she wasn’t. Nicholas was right; it was ingenious. Although, he felt there was little to salvage, he did have to wonder if she was interested in him or not. He only wanted that answer as it was a tactic that had never been used on him. He wanted to know how it was played out. What would have been her countenance toward him after that evening? There seemed to be too many variables for him to settle it in his mind. Who gave her that advice? How did it spiral downward to the point that they each needed to apologize? She said she had been nervous to which he should have concluded on his own. He hoped the words would come when they were needed.

The next evening after seeing Miss Hale at work was his mother’s dinner party. He had invited Lenore instantly. Perhaps too quickly. She seemed to arrive when she was needed most. John mulled over what Higgins had said about this time in his life. He didn’t need or want a steady life of lust which it was, almost ten years before. She was caught with another man by him, after which she began seeing any Master that asked her out. Then she disappeared. What does one say to the other with a history the two had shared? He had no idea of what she expected of him. Where had she been all these years? Was she in any trouble? Was she financially solvent? Was she alone in the world? Had she never recovered from their youthful passion?

He was facing two critical days and was uneasy about both. A sound sleep still eluded him.

 

Higgins had spent the better part of Monday and Tuesday directing carpenters to remodel the back room. A window was added to the outside wall. Glass partitioning separated her office from theirs. They could see each other, but a worker needing a private conversation would feel it was private with her door being closed. He took delivery of several filing cabinets with the surety that he could return or replace them for Margarets needs. The cleaning ladies had scrubbed the furniture and floors, through the entire office and most of the paperwork and ledgers were within easy grasp. Hopefully, that would get her started on her own so she needn’t bother John.

 

Nicholas arrived early Wednesday morning only to find John in the office, pacing.

“What if you and I need to talk privately?”

“And good morning to you, too. How long have you been here?”

“What time is it?”

“7:30.”

“About two hours, I guess. So what do you think?”

“About our privacy?”

“Yes.”

“The only thing private that we rarely talk about are your lady friends. I think we can work around Miss Hale. We can test that room for sound or we wait until she is out of the office or we are at lunch.”

“Nicholas, I must have some words with Miss Hale after our first meeting. Settle her in and then leave for half an hour. I need to apologize somehow.”

“But I thought she was the one to apologize.”

“Not her alone as I now remember. If we are to work together, the air must be cleared.”

“I half expected you to say that. I will take Mill2 today after I get her situated.”

There was a knock on the office door, surprising both of them.

“Enter,” shouted Nicholas. “Good morning, Miss Hale. Please come in. I believe you are a bit early.”

“Good morning to you both. I am sorry. Being our first run today, Fred wasn’t sure how long it would take us.”

Nicholas suggested a chair in front of his desk for her to take.

“May I be allowed to take notes?”

“Yes, of course.” Nicholas disappeared to get her paper and pen.

She pulled her chair closer to the desk edge for a stable writing surface. She peeped at John, and he looked away quickly. “So, that’s how it’s going to be,” she said to herself. She removed her bonnet and asked John where she could place her basket and bonnet.”

“Anywhere you wish, Miss Hale. You may want to keep them in your room.” John said, finding his own chair.

“Here we are.” Nicholas set the pen and paper on his desk edge while Margaret disposed of her things.

John spoke first. “Miss Hale we do not wish for you to delve into serious matters this week. Take these next three days to get accustomed to this office, the mill and set your room any way you wish. Nicholas has made some changes in there. Please tell us what more you may need to do your job and  if you have enough light. Once it is set to your ways of organization, please give us a tour. I am sure all of our paperwork will be rearranged. Nicholas?”

“As you are here at this time, I assume you want to be at our morning meeting. We usually discuss what didn’t get accomplished yesterday, and priorities for today. We also talk about scheduling, deliveries, shipments, etc. Are you comfortable?”

“I am.”

“Then we shall begin. Please speak when you want to understand something or wish to participate.”

“Very well. I’m ready.”

Nicholas and John began their meeting while Margaret took copious notes in shorthand. Neither men could imagine what she was writing down. There was no information that related to her. In essence, Margaret was writing the notes to a meeting which she would encapsulate and place in a daily journal which could be read by either man.

“Miss Hale, may I see what you are writing there?” Asked John.

Margaret handed the paper to John, who studied it and then handed it to Nicholas.

“Is this some sort of language?”

“Yes.”

“And you do this, why?”

“I have written everything the two of you have said, but that was only for practice. At some point, I will know what is important and what isn’t. You will have a record of your conversations written down if you wish me to continue. It is most handy when you are discussing terms with anyone. Salary negotiations, price strategies, any notes from any meeting anywhere.”

“You will show us how that works, in the future sometime, will you not?”

“I will, but I will need a journal or two to be purchased.”

Nicholas made a note.

“Are we done, John?”

“Yes, for now. Show Miss Hale what you wanted to.”

 

Nicholas spent about half an hour introducing her to their document room. He pointed out what had been added for her and ask that she list any further needs.

“Thank you, Nicholas. I have plenty to get me started.”

“John will be here on the property today, but not always in this office. Please use the facilities at his home. Are there any questions.”

“Not yet. Thank you.”

“I will return for our afternoon meeting at 5:00 p.m. Have a good day.”

John sat at his desk, tapping his pencil on his desktop, pondering what he should say. Margaret was already busy drawing out a room of document retention. She had concluded that the accountants only saw the ledgers and never the invoices.

The door between the offices was open. She heard John call to her.

“Miss Hale, may I see you?”

Margaret stood facing him. “Yes, sir?”

John stood and brought the extra chair over to the side of his desk. “Please sit.”

John began to pace the room behind her. She didn’t turn her head to find him. Before he could begin, Margaret started a conversation.

“Mr. Thornton, if what you are about to say has anything to do with the Ball, it will not be necessary. I believe my note was clear to the point of why and how it happened. I am grateful that you still considered a position here for me. I am fortunate. As for your final words about pride, I’ve considered them self-preserving. I was justly reprimanded. I hope that clears the air between us, which I know is a concern of yours. It will in no way impact my dedication to this mill or this position. Will that be all?”

John felt like a certified ass. He sat back at his desk, looking in her direction. “May we speak of this for a few moments?”

Margaret saw those piercing eyes staring at her. “As you wish.” She could see her hands shaking a bit as they were folded in her lap. She looked down at them and not at him.

“I believe the words in your note. I find it almost incongruous that such a plan found it’s mark with me. Never have I been so blind-sided by such a tactic. Was the original plan to put me at ease, so I had no worries that you found favor with me.”

“It was.”

“But you said it went …” John pulled out the note from his inside pocket, refreshing his memory . . . sadly astray.”

John sat there quietly, looking for an answer.

“I’m sorry sir. Was there a question?”

“Exaggerated indifference?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Would you say that had it not been suggested to you, that your attitude towards me would not have been indifferent?”

Margaret was taken aback by that question. What was he getting at? Did he know he was asking her directly as to her interest in him?

“I believe the letter speaks for itself.”

John smiled.

Margaret wanted to melt through the cracks in the wood floor. Certainly, he couldn’t have figured it out.

“May I ask who’s advice you took?”

“No sir, you may not.”

“I believe it quite apparent to me, but I will leave it at that.” John, again, stood and paced behind her.

“Miss Hale, I am sorry for the situations that you were put through on my account. I can see that the intentions were far more honorable than they first appeared. I, too, must apologize for my comments about lifting you on the turns and carrying you around the room. Being your first evening in the company of men craving your attention, I can see why you had other things occupying your mind. As to my comment about seeking you out should I become too prideful, I am ashamed of that? You had twisted me into a knot by that time. That was very ungentlemanly of me to speak to you like that, not matter the reason. If it is amiable to you, can we put that behind us and begin again. I want to know you, I want you to work for me, I want us to get along. Can you see any other way to move forward?”

“It would relieve my mind immensely.”

“Then so be it. Is there anything you wish to say or ask about that night?” From behind, John could see she was nervous again. But she was holding up well.

“I don’t believe so, Mr. Thornton.”

“I thought we went over this once, call me John. You may call me Mr. Thornton in the presence of our subordinates or the Queen,” he laughed loudly.

Margaret finally found a smile that had been lost for days.

 

Little was said between them for the rest of the day. Margaret busied herself all day, making the room her own, but organized for a man to find his way around. She was bent over placing papers in a lower drawer when there was a tapping on her shoulder. Thinking she was alone, she let out a small scream of shock.

“Fred! What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean? Have you planned on spending the night?”

“What time is it?”

“It’s after 5:00 p.m. You didn’t say when to pick you up.”

“After 5:00? I didn’t even have lunch. Let me tidy my desk and collect my things.”

“Sure looks nice in here.” Fred heard voices coming through the door. It was Higgins and Thornton.

“Good day, gentlemen. I have come to retrieve my wicked sister.”

“Fred!”

“She is not wicked, she is just innocent.” The words surprised everyone, even John, who had said them.

“Mr. Thornton, I am trying to break her of the habit, but it’s slow going. She certainly has had a lot of questions since I returned. Poor lass.”

“Fred! Let’s go before I can no longer hold my head up.”

All the men laughed, and Margaret pulled her brother through the office door. John walked to the window and watched them leave. He stood there for a few moments, in thought.

“Words went well I hope,” asked Nicholas.

“Yes, quite well, I think. I believe the air is cleared.”

 

“Alright, sis. Tell me all about it.”

“I don’t know about that. You’re liable to let out all the family secrets. That was a bit embarrassing back there. Let me rein.”

Fred handed the reins to Margaret. “They know I mean to educate you.”

“But still…I don’t want them thinking I need education in that regard.”

“Why not?”

“I’m going to have to get out the woman’s handbook and teach you a thing or two.”

“I would like that.”

“I just bet you would.”

“Fair is fair, isn’t it.”

“Listen, brother, you were the one that felt I needed to learn a few things about men. You jumped all over me as I was watching Mr. Thornton.”

“Staring.”

“Alright, I was staring; completely innocent in my mind. I didn’t come asking for the way to a man’s heart. You took on that mantle, yourself. I do admit I appreciate it, but I can’t tell you what women want when I haven’t experienced it as you have.”

“I sent Bessie a note today. I asked to see her tomorrow. Her parents will be out when you are, dining at Thorntons.”

“And she agreed?”

“I haven’t had a reply yet. She is of age, you know.”

“I do know. Just don’t go counting on that to suddenly begin. I would think she has to ease into that. She needs to give her parents some time to adjust and feel confident she makes the proper choices.”

 

John arrived home to find the house filled with maids, scurrying around the house.

“I’m sorry, John. I thought they would be done before you came home. Do you mind a sandwich in the kitchen?”

He could see the dining table was in the midst of preparation. Before he could answer there was a light knock on the front door, barely overheard above the din. He answered the door himself and found it was Lenore.

“Did you get your days confused, Lenore? Come in. The dinner party is tomorrow evening.”

“Yes, I know. I came to ask a question.”

John thought, now was a time to see what he had revived while no one else was watching. “Have you eaten?”

“No, but…”

“Come on. We’ll take your carriage. I am hungry, and the house is upside down.” John took her hand and pulled her to the coach.

“Milton Meals Café,” he told the driver.

“John, I may not be dressed properly.”

“It doesn’t matter in this place. What was the question you wanted to ask?”

“How formal is the dress?”

“Mother would call it formal. No long formal gowns, if you don’t have one. A nice frock is all you need.”

John tried to look at her in the street lighting. He was anxious to know what rath may lie ahead. He had remembered the problems he’d had ten years, ago, too. The buggy stopped, and John exited first. Lenore followed.

“John, I think you’ve grown taller, still. Have you?”

“I have no idea. As long as I was tall enough, I stopped worrying about it.” John opened the door to the café. A waitress showed them to a table and asked what they wished to drink. John looked at Lenore.

“White wine.”

“Bring the bottle, please,” John replied.

“Very good, sir. If you care to look at our menu on that slate board, I will take your orders soon.”

“This is some joint you brought me to.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, this is some joint here.”

“Would you rather we go somewhere else?”

“No, I am sure the food is edible.”

“I can tell you it is home-cooked meals. I have found a liking for such simple tastes. What have you been doing? Did you ever marry?” John asked.

“The reason I was taken away was that my parents needed to marry me into a family fortune near Paris. No titles, of  course, but there is land. You remember how we were,” she smiled. “It seems my new husband of fifty-eight years didn’t have your stamina. I think my parents counted on that.”

“Are you saying . . .”

“Yes, I am. I was sold to him, so to speak, when the will was drawn up. The money was nice while he lived, but I hated the lying to him. He was a nice old man. I didn’t know exactly what was in the will, but I know his grown children didn’t approve of me. They kicked me out when he died. I took the money I had and the jewels I had been given and left. What my parents did about the will, I don’t know. But I only have a father, sister and a brother, now, and father has no money and less memory. Unfortunately, he only has a few lucid times, so I never heard the whole story.”

“Did you come home then?”

“No. I was still young and . . .”

The waitress appeared for their order.

“I had a little money and still some prestige, so I pushed my luck that it might happen again without my parents this time.”

John was finding it hard to believe. She had taken her passion and turned it into a way of life for gain. He listened about her next husband, too. He was upset with himself at how he reacted too quickly to his memories without giving them due thought. There was dinner tomorrow night and nothing would proceed from there although he did offer advice on living quarters. He couldn’t wait to go home. Finally, the bill was settled and the coach was headed home. He made his apologies that he had to help his mother tonight, paid the coachman for all the time they had used and to take her home, plus the tip. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, Lenore, 8:00 p.m.”

When he arrived at the dining room, the maids had gone. He looked at the table and in his mind saw, his mother, Fanny, Anne, Adam’s guest and Lenore, Slickson – each with their partners. He couldn’t remember if Slickson was bringing a guest or not.

“Mother?” He shouted.

“I’m down here with cook.”

John took the stairs to the kitchen.

“You know I’ve been thinking about that woman you invited. Now, I remember her. I don’t like it.”

“I’ve come ahead of time to apologize. I spoke too quickly in inviting her and do not have a good feeling about it. It will not reflect on you, I promise.”

“I don’t care about me. So, you feel you are in error?”

“I do.”

“That’s all I need to know. I’m just glad you have reconsidered taking to her again.”

“I have.”

“Good.”

 

It had been many days since Margaret had a restful night. Her position with John was not where her heart had wanted to be, but she was given a chance to explain, and it was accepted. In the end, she did nothing more than show her own ignorance.

At the breakfast table, Fred asked her if Thornton knew she was attending the dinner.

“I have no idea. He has not said a word about it to me. In fact, it seems as if they are sparing me the embarrassment of not being invited, by not mentioning it between them. It doesn’t  matter, Fred. I am done with silly girl games. I wouldn’t have thought I ever could allow myself such folly, but I didn’t know about the emotional investment that one can garner for another when it is not returned. Have you ever been in love, Fred with someone who doesn’t see you?”

“I don’t think men miss many women that look like you unless they have another woman on their arm. Looking is much different than pursuing. Women could never stand up to constant rejection that men receive all the time. It becomes a way of life, and we cheer each other on when we find success. And success does not mean a successful relationship.”

“You’re back to that need thing again?”

“Yes and no. When young men get together, that is all they talk about. It is so much on their minds, and they share success stories. That’s how we have had to learn about women. What is proper never enters into it. What works is mostly the topics of conversation, but men also brag to one another. You can tell if a man is a gentleman and has actually fallen in love, as he ceases to speak of his prowess. That is the one shining manner we all do seem to keep and that is any personal information about our lady of interest is kept to ourselves. You haven’t given up on Thornton have you?”

“I don’t know. I think I have because I have burnt that little bridge we talked about. My good first impression is lost forever with him. I just hope these feelings abate or I may not be able to continue to work there. It will hurt seeing another woman coming into the office looking for him. I will just need to see how much I can bear.”

“It’s time I take you to the bear’s den,” Fred smiled.