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?”
“About two hours, I guess. So what do you think?”
“About our privacy?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
“That’s all I need to know. I’m just glad you have reconsidered taking to her again.”
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.