John had a long evening pacing the floor that night. The day brought a huge milestone in his life. He asked himself every question he could think of. He had little to no fear of the intimate part of their life, he thought, but could she love him for a lifetime? How would she take to the rigors of being married to a mill master? He knew there were many broken marriages from loneliness on the part of the wife and children rather than indiscretions. Perhaps their jobs caused the wife to eventually seek warmth with some other man. He was going to have to change things for both him and Nicholas.
Margaret couldn’t think straight after talking with Fred. She closed her journal and laid down in bed reliving every moment. She also remembered she had to follow up with the doctor tomorrow. Margaret wanted to visit with Bessie. Perhaps, she could after seeing Dr. Donaldson.
“Bessie, you are late to the table this morning.”
“I had trouble falling asleep last night, so it seems I had to make it up this morning.”
“What are your plans today?”
“I would like to visit with Margaret. In fact, I will prepare a note for her now and have our driver deliver before her day begins. Excuse me.”
Bessie went to her father’s den, pulling paper from his desk.
It would be nice if you could find some time for me today and perhaps have lunch with me in town. The driver will wait for an answer. Bessie
She folded the note, dropped a bit of hot wax and sought out her driver in the stables.
Nicholas was drafting a small building for the property when John entered for the morning.
“And a good morning to you,” John replied, causing Nicholas to pause hearing the merriment.
Nicholas turned his drawing around and discussed it with John before he sat down.
“We will need one of these at Mill2, as well. Somehow, we will find the money to buy extra goods to store for next year.”
“Perhaps, Miss Hale can tell us how to do that.”
Margaret’s job. He’d totally forgotten about that.
“John, is there a ghost in the room that only you can see?”
John shook himself out of his revelry and smiled.
“Thinking of her injury, Margaret’s new position here slipped my mind.”
“All you have to do is look through that office door and see the vast changes made to be reminded,” Nicholas laughed.
John produced a half slanted grin, feeling a bit embarrassed, as he sat at his desk.
“John, you know, a lot of things in my life are changing.”
“Yes. Bessie for one.”
John was quiet for a moment. “I see. Did you give your approval for Fred Hale to drop anchor?” John smiled.
“He did actually come and talk to me. As you know Bessie is of age, and that wasn’t really needed, but he knew of the custom and approached me.”
“I remember when Watson came and spoke to Mother and me when he wanted to be seeing Fanny on a regular basis. It is a strange feeling inside. You know it really doesn’t matter whether you approve or not, because they will do what they want. But all of a sudden you feel you hold great power over two lives as if you were a ruling king. It passes quickly, but it was rather uplifting to be asked as if our feelings mattered. So how did it go?”
“Unlike you, I wanted to know how he planned to make his way in life. I see income potential in him. However, I needed to ask.”
“He was a bit vague. If Bessie doesn’t accept his advances, he may turn to driving for a while. It seems Branson has sparked his interest. And if Bessie remains in the picture, he feels he’s educated and trained enough to be hired in many places. My concern is, that may not be in Milton.”
“He may have money in his own right at this time. Not enough for a lifetime. What do you think of bringing him on here – at one of the mills? Let him start at the bottom, but we will accelerate his promotions. After all, he may be the son you leave your partnership to.” John offered.
“I had thought about him coming on board. I had not thought of him as a successor. Perhaps, I should think of that. We maybe should begin grooming him.” Nicholas said next.
“Whether Bessie accepts him or not, I do think he’s a good candidate for us. He will bring to us skills we hadn’t known we needed. He’ll oversee these mills with new eyes. Look what his sister is endeavoring to do for us.”
“Well, we seem to agree on that. Which one of us should approach him?”
“I think I should,” John insisted. He shouldn’t feel any pressure to accept.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“No. He may someday have to face you as a father-in-law. He’s marrying the bosses daughter. I believe that puts him in a spot of feeling forced to comply. Why? Why do you think I’m joking?”
“Fred may someday have to face you as a brother.” Nicholas smiled.
John was stunned. “I don’t know that. How do you know that?”
“John, this is me you’re talking to. You don’t even have to tell me the words. I see the small changes in you. It’s been happening since the Lyceum. You were seeing one lady at the time, but I expected you to get out of that and you did. You seemed inspired at the ball before that Lenore woman created a spectacle at the dinner. I have never seen you take a woman’s arm by force like that. I was sure then. So, perhaps we should have one of our trusted foremen approach him.”
Both men laughed.
“You said changes in your life. What else other than Bessie?”
“Well, you, my friend, of course.”
“I will change little, if any.”
“You can’t really believe that, can you?”
“Time, John, time. I will miss you during the late hours, a day here and there.”
“I’m glad you brought that up. Whether Miss Hale is my destiny or not, we’re going to change the amount of time we spend away from our families.”
Bessie received the reply from Margaret.
Please pick me up at 11:00 a.m. You can accompany me to the doctor’s and then we’ll go to lunch. I am so excited to be seeing you.
Margaret went to find Fred. Adam was there visiting her father.
“Good morning, Adam. Father do you know where Fred is?”
“Where else is he anymore? He’s with his horse,” Richard Hale laughed.
Margaret trundled through the kitchen to the outside stable. Fred was mucking out the mess.
Fred, sweat rolling down his face, “Do you think the rich people do this? No. They have drivers or stableboys doing this. I might reconsider being a driver.”
Margaret laughed. “I am here to give you fair warning.”
Fred stopped what he was doing and leaned on his pitchfork. That image struck Margaret so funny.” Fred, right now, you would make a fine portrait,” she laughed.
“What’s the warning, sis?” Fred didn’t want to add to her comment, although he found it funny, himself.
“Bessie is going to take me to Dr. Donaldson’s, and then we will have lunch. Just she and I.”
Margaret thought fast. “She will not get out of her carriage, but it will stop here at noon.”
“Thank you, my dear selfish sister.”
“Perhaps, when we return, she might find time for you, jealous brother.”
Margaret giggled all the way back to the house. She went to see her father and Adam to tell them her plans for the next couple of hours.
Finally 11:00 came, and Margaret heard her carriage. She said goodbye to her father and Adam and dashed out the door. Fred was just coming in to wash up. Hearing the coach pull away, he ran to the door . . . muck and all.
“Fred, get yourself back to the mud room and remove those boots. You’re stinking up the whole house.”
Hanging his head, in missing Bessie, he returned to the back of the house.
Margaret and Bessie hugged. Both had cheeks ready to burst with exciting news.
“Margaret, why did you run to the coach?”
“I told Fred, you would arrive at noon. I had to get in here and away before he knew I fibbed to him. He would have taken my time with you for himself,” she laughed. “Let’s not talk about the men until we are seated for lunch. I want no interruptions. Agreed?”
It seemed forever for Margaret to get through the doctor visit, declaring she was mending as she should. She was still reminded to not put herself in any position like she had, for a while, yet.
“Bessie, I know a nice café for lunch. John took me there. Do you have a favorite place?”
“No, let’s go where you want.”
Bessie knocked on the roof of the coach and asked the driver to come down. Margaret didn’t know the name but explained what she knew. The driver acknowledged that he was familiar with the place.
The girls were seated in a booth, but not the private booths, which Margaret was quick to point out when they entered.
“John said one of those booths was his.” Margaret laughed.
“Really he said it, but I’m sure it’s not true. Let’s look at the menu and then you can go first. I want to hear about Fred and you.”
The luncheon went on for an hour or more. Both had desserts with several cups of tea afterward. Bessie held nothing back from Margaret but being careful to frame some of her thoughts and feelings since she was talking to Fred’s sister.
“Bessie, do you feel inhibited talking to me? Have I become Fred’s sister and not your best friend?”
“In all honesty, a bit. You are my best friend, and I am sharing every detail with you and wanting your opinion, but at the same time, I am watching my words because you are his sister.”
“Don’t be like that. I know Fred. I can well imagine how he can be romantic and I am so happy he is bestowing his charm on you. By the way, tell him you think him charming when a good moment arrives. He’s jealous of John Thornton and how he acts.” Margaret laughed.
“Now how about you, Margaret? Fred has told me a bit, but, of course, that is coming from a man’s point of view. Seeing you at the ball, I didn’t think things were going well for you. Then father talked about the scene at the dinner. He thought you left early because of that other woman. Is that so?”
“There were two other women vying for his attention.”
“Oh. Was it Anne Latimer?”
“Yes. You know her?”
“Yes. She’s pretty, typical finishing school debutant, but I know John finds her boring. My father told me that.”
Margaret went on to shock Bessie with all the news that she had to impart. Bessie was excited for her.
“Margaret, I can’t believe it. He has never proposed to anyone.”
“Well, he hasn’t proposed to me, either.”
“But what you say doesn’t seem in character with what we’ve known of him. You are really changing his life, I hope.”
“What do you mean ‘I hope.’”
“I don’t think I meant to say that.”
“I want to know what you’re thinking. I don’t want to be surprised down the line.”
“Now, there is no reason to assume what I say has any truth, be it rumor or fact. It is only something I have thought of in the past, especially when I worked on the mill floor and the ladies talked about him all the time.”
“What is it, Bessie? What did they say?”
“John has been seeing women, off and on, not steady for over ten years. Everyone wondered what type of woman would suit him. And honestly, I think it’s you. However, there was just talk, mind you, about his . . . his fidelity after marriage.”
“Well, no one every knew why he let some very nice ladies go. I think we joked that there may be something amiss in the more intimate details if you know what I mean.”
Margaret was startled. What Bessie was saying about fidelity had never occurred to her.
“So, what are you saying?”
“I don’t know what I am saying. I am giving only conjecture, no facts. I’m sure there was something with the ladies that he eventually felt he could not live a life with. He did most of the rejecting as time passed. There was a woman who I think felt intimidated by him, but that wasn’t his fault. You, you are so different. I don’t know what he would have said to the other women during the course of their relationship, but I believe it would have sounded a lot different than what words he speaks to you.”
“Since he seemed to stay with these women, I mean some of them as a relationship built, could it possibly be . . . you know . . . you know what I am getting at, that didn’t suit him for a lifelong partner?”
“I have no idea. The women on the mill floor thought so. Each bragging how they could change that for him. It was disgusting really, but they had little to talk about in their lives. Fantasizing was a game they played.”
Margaret was quiet. Bessie waited.
“I see you thinking very hard, Margaret. You don’t need to go there. He’s a man. Perhaps he became too passionate, and etiquette told them to refuse. I doubt that, but it could be another idea. I don’t tend to think that myself or we would have heard rumors about it from the women he left behind. However, he broke off from the more special women, must have been an embarrassment to them for nothing to be said by either party.”
“Does he talk with your father?”
“Sometimes. Asks his opinion of the lady if dad has met her, but I really doubt there was ever any intimate talk. A gentleman never discusses that.”
“Do you think that, eventually, that area of a relationship should be known before it progresses into a marriage?”
“Personally, I do. Not just with John, but with any couple preparing to live together for life. That is such a large and wonderful part of marriage. I think it should be tested before commitment.”
“So, you and my brother . . . ?”
“If you mean Fred and me . . . yes, that time will most likely come. I won’t resist it.”
Margaret laughed at Bessie’s naming Fred as a man and not her brother.
“Have you talked about it?”
“Not in those words. He tells me, I need not be afraid as he will not initiate any advances in that direction.”
Margaret laughed. “That sure doesn’t sound like the Fred that just came back to us.” Bessie laughed, too. “Instead of telling me about the ways of men, he’s going to be asking me the ways of women.
“I can’t believe our good fortune. Why . . . we could be sisters someday. I get to see John tonight for a nice dinner. Gosh, I feel like I could be walking off a cliff. Going out into the unknown every time I see, John. Neither of us know ourselves enough, saying nothing about men, and what happens along the way.”
“I guess we must be glad that they have had the experience.”
“I’ll try to think of it that way,” Margaret giggled. “I guess we best go. I wish we could set aside one day a week, at least, to catch up. We’re both lost in the woods. You’ll never believe what Fred has asked me to do.”
“He knows John is very popular, so he wants me to expedite our budding relationship, so I can tell him what to do next.”
Both girls laughed so hard, people looked at them.
“You’re right, we must go.”
The carriage pulled to the front of Margaret’s flat and Fred came out of the door. They past each other on the steps without saying a word. Margaret went inside and sat on the couch looking out at the couple. The coach door was open, but Fred sat on the floor of the doorway. They were talking. Fred was smiling and laughing. She couldn’t see Bessie very well.
“Don’t you think they deserve a little privacy, Margaret?” Adam surprised her being in the room.
“I haven’t spoken to you since that debate on your virtue. How are you doing?”
“As you can see, I no longer have my neck collar. I am doing fine.”
“And Thornton? Has he made any attempt to apologize? It would be unlike him if he didn’t.”
“Yes. He came by yesterday but father was resting, and Fred was visiting Bessie. He took me to lunch, as he promised after the budget lessons and we had a good talk. I must confess something to you. I hope it doesn’t hurt your friendship, but I told John about the ‘ignoring him’ plan.”
“Did you now? What was his reaction.”
“I’m not sure as it was heaped in with all the other nonsense I played on him. I think he found it innovative. He said he’d never seen such a ploy.”
Adam laughed. “We’ve known each other a long time. In Milton, he feels superior to me, in a friendly way, and that is because he is. He knows the town, people, the business. It felt good to put one over on him. I think we shall laugh at it one day. It couldn’t have worked with anyone else except you.”
“Because he didn’t know you. He hadn’t figured you out. He knew you were different but not to that point.”
They both chuckled.
“I believe I will be off to the hotel for awhile. Have you any dinner plans this evening?”
“Yes, thank you, Adam, but I do. However, I do want your opinion on something before you leave Milton for London.”
“Can we discuss it now?”
“Not yet. I must think it over first.”