Bessie and Margaret were looking through her wardrobe when they heard a commotion at the door. Both ran down the stairs fearing what was going on.
“Fredrick! Margaret ran into his arms as he let go from shaking his father’s hand.
“Sis, you have become more beautiful. How are you?” He lifted her and twirled her around.
“We shall talk about that later. I would like to introduce you to Miss Bessie Higgins. She is a new friend of mine.”
Fredrick bowed, sweeping his Regimental hat to the floor.
Bessie laughed quietly, not knowing if he was serious in his manners or just happy to be home. “Very nice to meet you…I’m sorry, I don’t know your rank.”
“Just call me Fredrick, if you please. May I call you Bessie?”
“Yes, you may,” Bessie said, beaming with smiles. “I shall leave and let all of you talk. I will be in touch Margaret, hopefully before your next lecture.”
“We must talk before then. Yes, come by tomorrow if you have a coach.”
“I will try. Good day, Fredrick, Mr. Hale. I shall see you soon.”
Fredrick bowed again. Margaret was a bit taken aback seeing her brother with such manners.
“Please someone, find me a drink. I am dying of thirst,” uttered Fredrick as he entered the drawing-room with his father.
Margaret and Dixon went off to the kitchen.
Margaret saw to it that cook fixed him a plate. She knew his journey had been far with probably little to eat.
“Good evening, Mr. Thornton. Please come in,” said Adeline’s doorman.
John handed him his hat, walked into the drawing room and poured himself a drink. There would be a small wait. John wasn’t sure if Adeline was of the opinion that she should be late all the time as if it was some social rule written somewhere or she was a tardy woman. He had taken to fixing himself a drink, which would be finished by the time she came into the room. So, he waited.
“Good evening, John.”
John stood and walked towards her, giving her a light kiss since they were alone in the room. “You look lovely as ever, my dear,” he commented.
They sat together on the couch for a few minutes before leaving for dinner.
“I had some good news today,” Adeline announced.
“And what was that?”
“My brother, Captain Waverly is now retired from Her Majesty’s Service, at his young age, and is returning to live with us while he decides what he wants to do. He’s very well situated now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds interest in the mills. He shall be here early next week.”
“You seem very happy about this. I take it you two are close?”
“Yes, all of our lives. I’ve missed him these eight years. I would think he is your age or a year or two older.”
“What is his name?”
“His name is Christopher, but we call him Kit. Is it hard for a gentleman to meet young ladies in this town?”
“I met you, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but I was introduced to you at a restaurant. I have no idea where single ladies and gentlemen meet.”
“Well, I know one single woman he could meet. If he would care to come to the ball as my guest, I can introduce him to my partner’s daughter. And if I was paying half attention to him this morning, he is going to bring Miss Hale, who taught our class the other night. I have yet to tell you that story.”
“You think we could bring him with us. He may want to dance with me until he meets people. He’s still in uniform, too.”
“That will draw the lady’s attention, I shouldn’t wonder. Those naval dress uniforms are most handsome indeed. This is our annual Mill Master’s social event where proper men and women can meet without fear or expectations.”
“Are we a proper couple, John?”
John stood, pulling Adeline toward him. He placed his arms around her waist and kissed her again. “I think we are a proper couple for the time that we have seen each other.”
Adeline laughed. “So, I am proper?”
“You couldn’t be anything else. Shall we go?”
Dixon was invited to the family table to eat that evening. They left an empty chair in honor of Mrs. Hale. Fredrick hadn’t made it home for her service. He felt ill during dinner as the impact of her not being there took over him. Eventually, as the hours rolled on, it was just Margaret and her brother talking until midnight.
“Margaret, are you seeing a gentleman at the moment?” Fred asked.
She blushed. “I should think that is not your business,” she giggled.
“I see. Well, I will take that as a yes then. I am your older brother, and one of my duties is to protect my sister from the men that are out there. I hope he treats you well and is good for you. If he ever puts pressure on you too, well . . . you know, tell me. I’ll handle him.”
“Fredrick, I am sure I do not know what you mean,” Margaret turned away. She was playing with him.
“You have, haven’t you? He had better marry you. Who is he? I will talk with him since father probably doesn’t know.”
Margaret finally faced him laughing hysterically.
“I hope that laugh means that you were jesting. You are still virtuous … aren’t you?” Fred asked tentatively.
“Fred, you leave us for four years, and you expect nothing to have changed when you return. Are you still virtuous?” She smiled.
“Of course not. I’d be a laughing stock. But, different from you, the Navy is never in one place long enough to form close acquaintanceships. Then I was jailed for eight months. You do know that we men, all men, have far more physical needs than a woman, or so I am told. Most of the time, we have to purchase our requirements.” He chuckled.
“How old are you? Twenty-six?”
“And penniless, I would imagine. Has that need lessened any as you’ve matured?”
“You sure seem to be interested,” he paused. “I know. I know. I am the only one you can ask. The need has not lessened and maybe never will, but the control improves.”
“Do you have a gentleman or not? I should be asking you questions and then telling you what’s happening,” he smiled at his sister.
“I believe I am on the verge of meeting nice gentlemen. I have no idea what to expect or how to act. I just recently met Bessie, and she is the same as I. We’re going to begin being seen in public. Next, we are going to attend the yearly Master’s Ball. However, we are going with her father.”
“How did you get an invitation?”
“Bessie’s mother is temporarily ill at the moment, so Bessie is taking her place and has gotten permission to bring me with her to keep her company as her father walks the tables. It is an affair only for Masters, their foremen, and guests.”
“I might like to get to know this Bessie a little better. No promises and don’t go singing my praises or boast about things that are not true. I have never slain any dragons and don’t own a white horse any longer.” Fred laughed.
“If I have her over more often you won’t pressure her in any way, will you? She will make up her own mind. But remember we are novices that can be easily swept away.”
“I am still an officer and a gentleman. Any pressure as you call it will come from her and there will be a discussion beforehand. I certainly do not want to ruin her reputation.”
“I trust you, my brother. Remember when you were going to catch me as I jumped from that tree limb. You stepped back and laughed as I splatted in the mud.”
“Will I never live that down?”
“Perhaps, but I have a list of those trusting moments when my big brother was my protector. How long are you here for?”
“Indefinitely. I will return in three months to be officially pardoned and relieved of my commission. I’m here to help with the chores and may even find work until something changes my mind.”
“I guess that is a discussion for tomorrow. Father would be interested in it, too. I think it’s time for bed.”
“You go on. I want a quiet, reflective time to walk the house.”
“See you for breakfast at 8:00 a.m.”
It was 8:00 a.m. and the three Hales were seated at a proper English breakfast. The food was laid on the buffet, and they served themselves. It wasn’t a normal routine, but because Fredrick was home, they wanted a treat.
“Father, are you still lecturing? I see all those papers piled up over there.”
“Well, I have been until your sister took over a class a few days back. But I am also teaching the poor how to read and write.”
“What’s this?” Fred turned to his sister.
Margaret started at the beginning and told him everything. She began with how she looked at father’s notes all the way to coming home unconscious.”
“And you still have another lesson to give,” Margaret was asked.
“Yes, at least one. It could be two. Like father says, those masters can go off in another direction and use all of the class time. I had just met Bessie the day before. She was such a dear to come and give me support. Her father was in the class.”
“Perhaps I could attend the next one and see my little sister brave the elements of public leadership.”
“Oh, it’s nothing like leadership. It’s teaching.”
“But you still have to stand in front of a crowd and talk about difficult things.”
“Stop it, Fred. You’re going to make me nervous again.”
“I’ll stand in the back and do things to make you laugh.”
“Father, tell Fred he cannot attend.”
Mr. Hale smiled and shifted his shoulders, which meant he was staying out of it.
“I bet you want to attend so you can sit next to Bessie.”
“Would she sit with me; do you think?”
“She will sit away from the masters, which I imagine you will, too.”
“I think I will go out today and look for a horse and small trap so we may get around this growing city. How have you managed in the past?
“We’ve rented when we had to, son. Our finances are not what they were before you left.”
“Well, I have money saved, regardless of my sister saying I am penniless.
“How about you coming with me, Margaret. I have no idea where I am in this city. Perhaps our coachman can recommend an honest tradesman for a trap and horse.”
“I shall be delighted, Frederick. Father, are you interested in going?”
“No, you two young people have your day at it. I would suggest though that you look over that old building in the back. I know it’s for a small horse and carriage, at least that’s what the landlord said. But having no use for it, I do not know if it is sound. We didn’t bother inspecting it when leasing here.”
“Very well,” said Frederick. “I shall look over the building while my sister prepares herself.”
“Do I not look prepared, brother?” Margaret feigned embarrassment.
“You look lovely as always, but do know we may be traipsing around where horses are stored. I don’t think you want that frock brushing the ground.”
“Oh!” Margaret glanced down at what she was wearing. “I see. Maybe I shall put on an older frock.”
“And don’t forget some old shoes.”
“Yes, and those, too, I would imagine.”
“What shall you do father?” Margaret asked.
“I shall have plenty to do. I believe your lecture should only take one more lesson so I believe I may get an early start on the lecture after that one.”
Margaret and Fred excused themselves from the table and headed toward their current chores.
Fred went out the back door and looked around. He thought to himself that Dixon was probably the only person to see this part of the property. There was an old dilapidated privy that should be torn down. Around the perimeter stood brick walls separating each dwelling from the next but open to the back road. He headed towards the apparent stable if that was what one called a building for a city horse and trap.
Meanwhile, Margaret found her old smock that she kept for such occasions. In Helstone, she wore it to work in the flower garden. She had no use for it since moving to Milton.
“Shoes, shoes, where are some old shoes,” Margaret asked herself. Most of her mother’s clothing was still in the house. “Perhaps mother had an old pair of shoes.” Looking into the wardrobe in her mother’s old room, which would now be Fred’s, she did find some lace-up lady’s boots. They were very old indeed. Margaret had never remembered seeing her mother wearing them. She thought they may be 50 years old. They would do nicely. Back to her room, she went to change.
Looking like a vendor merchant that hawked their wares in front of their apartment, Margaret descended the stairs. She thought how she must look, especially after she put on her fine bonnet. She knew her father would never say anything, so she walked to the back where Fred was still working.
“Fred,” she shouted. She didn’t see him.
“I’m up here – checking the roof. I don’t think I am taking you anywhere looking like that. I have a reputation to uphold.” He started laughing, almost dislodging himself from the roof slant he was so precariously perched upon.
“Frederick Hale! You told me to wear old clothes,” Margaret said as she stamped her foot in a mock childish manner.
“It’s that bonnet, sis.” Fred laughed even louder. “How about no bonnet at all. At least, you will complete an image that doesn’t stand out to people around you. You look like a peasant whose wealthy aunt felt sorry for her and bought her a church bonnet.” Fred slid down a ways and then jumped to the ground. Catching up with his sister, he saw she was laughing.
“Alright, brother – no bonnet. How does the shed look?”
“Shed, is it? Wasn’t sure if it was supposed to resemble a stable.”
“Well, we’ve always called it a shed. If you put a live horse in there, perhaps we can call it a stable.”
“A nail here and there should keep it from collapsing on the horse and killing it.”
Margaret, as she remembered being teased, pushed Fred away from her side. “Fred don’t talk like that. You’re not in the Navy anymore. There will be people about that don’t know you as I do.”
“Dear sis, after being in the Navy, you don’t know me at all, now, either. My soft round schoolboy edges have been chiseled into a hard fighting man.” Fred laughed at himself.
“Wasn’t there supposed to be some gentlemanly conduct taught to you?”
“Yes, but the jail quarters drains that from you.” He paused when he saw his sister’s face become saddened.
“Sis, I am only kidding with you. I have been molded as an officer with intelligence and learned the conduct of a gentleman. I just like to unburden myself to you and make you laugh. Do you know how rare that has been for me these last four years?”
“I was worried there for a moment, but now feel better. Please no more talk about killing a horse, though. Did . . . did you see death while away, I mean in the Navy.”
“Yes, I saw some – more from being at sea too long and shipmen becoming ill. There was the occasional pirate ship that had to be stopped. Now, that was scary. Luckily, my defensive skills kept me alive.”
“Yes, I was excellent at hiding in my bunk.”
Margaret started to push him away with a laugh, but Fred put his hands up to stave her attack. “Now, I didn’t say anything about a killing a horse.”
They both laughed and returned to the house.
Fred went to his father and discussed what he’d found outside while Margaret went back to her room.
She sadly put away her nice bonnet. She hadn’t worn that since coming to Milton. Finding her flat-brimmed brown straw hat, the one that reminded her of a serving platter, she popped that on her head and was ready to leave.
Fred and Margaret walked up the walkway to where rental cabs and coaches could be more readily found.
While waiting for one to pass by, Margaret asked, “Where will you ask the coachman to take us?”
“To the Horse and Buggy shop. Where else?”
“I’m not so sure I have seen such a place, but a coachman would know if there was.”
Finally, a fare was attained after many a cabby had passed them.
“You do know why it took us this long to catch a ride, don’t you, sis?”
“I was surprised. It usually doesn’t take us that long. What is wrong with this time?”
“It’s your manner of dress and that hat. They are not sure they’ll get paid.”
“Oh Fred, stop it,” Margaret said giggling.
“I’m serious this time.”
“You are not.”
“Yes, miss, I am serious. Fetching, you are not.” Fred laughed.
Finding little of offerings where they were driven, Fred asked to go to the next place.
The coach driver told him in all seriousness, “Sir, we just don’t have places that sell both. They are purchased, horse first and then buggy. However, I do know of a private coachman that knows every horse and buggy and what’s for sale, in this town.”
“Can you take us there?”
“I have no idea if he is out with his master, but I can take you there.”
“If you would be so kind, thank you.”
Before she knew it, Margaret noticed they were entering Marlborough Mills property.