Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C32

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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.

 

Dear Margaret,

      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.

“Morning, John.”

“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.”

“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.”

“And?”

“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?”

“How?”

“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.

 

Bessie,

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

 

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?”

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.”

“What time?”

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?”

“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?

“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.”

“His fidelity?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.”

 

 

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 – C23

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

 

Available at Amazon

Bessie wished to speak with Margaret about last night but now felt her visits there would prove much different. Perhaps she would send a note inviting her over. Fred could drop her off.

Bessie prepared a note and sent it with her driver.

 

It was late morning, and Fred was harnessing Max. He trotted him around the block, so any restlessness was exhausted. Now it was time to teach Margaret.

Fred thought she looked better as she approached Max with an apple.

“Ready, sis?”

“First I need to confess something. I followed my own feelings on the matters from last night. I have written a brief apology to Mr. Thornton that I would like to drop it off with his gateman today.”

“Would you like me to read it over?”

“Not this time. I want all consequences to be mine.”

“Good girl. I don’t want you to learn the hard way, but it’s quite favorable that you begin to take some of the reins in your hands. Speaking of reins . . .”

Fred looked on as his sister climbed into the buggy. He didn’t know if there was a lady’s way or not, but she looked and did fine.”

“Margaret, I am going to begin to walk the horse. I will not say anything at first. Watch my hands and the reaction that happens. After that, we will do it again with instructions. Then it will be your turn. On another day, we will put a little more speed into Max and finally we’ll talk about the problems you could face.”

Margaret saluted. “Yes, Captain.”

“I wish. That would be ‘Yes, Lieutenant.’ We will ride to Marlborough Mills in silence.”

“Very good, driver.” Margaret laughed.

 

“Ridiculous or not, and whether she realizes it herself or not; it’s quite ingenious.” Nicholas pointed out. “She seems to have wound your clock.”

“I can tell you it is not working. I believe she is driving a thorn between us, so nothing ever begins, which it won’t in any regard. I will be seeing Lenore this week at mother’s dinner.”

“Isn’t she the one . . .”

“Yes, she is. In my memory, my hours spent with her were the best in my life. We just had problems at the end.”

“But that was your youth. It may not be able to be recaptured in your maturing years.”

“Are you saying I’m getting old, Nicholas?” John smiled.

“Not at all. Not in that respect. It was a youthful physical love driving you then. It may prove different by this time.”

“I imagine you have to be right. I did ask her to dine with me, far too quickly. I’m not sure what I have done. If I am embarrassed to my mother, I will hate myself.”

“Well, as for Miss Hale, it is my opinion that we still hire her. I’ve been working up some responsibilities for her. One of us should discuss these with her, and I think it should be me.”

“Just make her understand she is on a week-to-week trial basis to see how both sides review the work and results.”

“Yes. That would only be fair. I am sure she would readily accept that.”

John heard the gate rolling open. He saw his gatekeeper disappear just beyond view and then return. Rolling the gate shut, John could see he carried a message. He walked to the outside stairs.

“I am here if that is for me.”

The man doffed his cap and handed the note to John. John wasn’t familiar with the handwriting. He took the steps slowly as he opened it. Seeing it was from Miss Hale, he decided to read it outside.

 

 

Mr. Thornton,

I find this type of note hard to begin, but  begin I must. In all good conscience, for which no doubt you think I lack, I was rude to you specifically. The other dance partners suffered no humiliation from my verbal assault. The nervousness you may understand. Being an admired gentlemen with an abundant group of lady friends, it was suggested that I show you ignorance, to alleviate the anxiety of yet another woman finding her way into your path. Having some belief that you must tire of the constant attention that women seek from you, I felt this advice to be sound. Having no experience with men, I now know my exaggerated indifference went sadly astray. Discussing my concerns this morning with my brother, it has been pointed out to me the idiocy and stupidity of my remarks. I was guided by bad advice with good intentions. For this, I must apologize. I was not, at all, the woman that you met at the Lyceum. I thoroughly enjoyed the other parts of my evening, but my guilt holds me back from thinking last night was the best in my life. It is passed, the damage is done.

With my actions which I am unable to undo, I hereby release you from any statements you made to eventual employment. I am sure there are now questions in your mind about my character and capacity to withstand the rigors of a position. Tomorrow, I will begin making my rounds to the other Master’s who had asked for my advice at the Lyceum. I have had two other offers of work, so you need not have any worries about me.

Again, with embarrassment and humility, I am sorry.

                              Margaret Hale

 

 

John walked into the office, throwing the letter on Nicholas’s desk. It was read.

“What is your opinion as to her employment, now?” Nicholas seriously wondered how this had impacted John.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you think about it while I walk the mill.” Nicholas handed the note back to John and left the office.

John paced the room, running his fingers through his hair as he thought upon her letter. The writing was sound, almost to the point of being professional. She stated the problem, the cause, and a solution. It was an educated letter. He no longer doubted her ability to do a proper job. But could she work with him or him with her after last night? It came back to him how he had ended the night’s conversation. He gave to her what she gave to him. He had never insulted a woman even in jest as he meant it to be. What happened between last night and this morning to make him forget what he did? It was settled. Nicholas should leave early and go speak with her. He had his own apology to make, but he had to find the words.

 

It was nearing their mid-day dinner when Margaret and Fred arrived home. Adam Bell’s carriage was out back. Richard was hearing the conversation about the delicacy for the second time.

Richard and Adam stood as Margaret and Fred entered the sitting room.

“We are now a two-driver family,” Fred announced. “Margaret did an excellent job if the pace is normal. She’s not ready for any chariot races, yet.” Everyone laughed.

“Adam, I see the look on your face. Please don’t apologize again. There is no need. A small portion of my evening was a disaster, and I take full responsibility for all of it. However, most of the time I found it was enjoyable. I doubt there will be many lasting rumors about my behavior at the table. I know neither of you, except Fred, knows my embarrassment to Mr. Thornton. I have delivered an apology, and this is the end of it.”

Adam was not surprised at her statement. That was the Margaret he had cherished all his life. Although he knew most of her problems were because of his advice.

 

After dinner, Margaret found a note that had been delivered while she was out. Bessie was asking for her to come by. She decided to go. Could she drive herself, yet, or should she ask Fred?

“Fred, Bessie wishes for me to visit. Can you drive me there without wanting to intrude?”

“Of course I can. I must start showing you my good side, so you know me better.”

Margaret laughed. She fetched her bonnet and said goodbye to Adam and her father. She was looking forward to Bessie’s company.

 

Bessie heard the buggy arrive and peeked out to see Fred. She would not answer the door. She wasn’t ready to see Fred so soon.

“Come in, Miss. Miss Bessie is in her room.”

Margaret heard her call from upstairs. “Up here, Margaret. She took the stairs to Bessie’s room. They both smiled and hugged each other.

Margaret removed her bonnet and shoes, flopping on the bed. “You first, Bessie.”

“Me? You were the one that struggled last night.”

“I know, but you were the one falling in love. What does it feel like?”

“Nothing in this world lifts you higher than love. You certainly do not mistake it for anything else.”

“Was it like seeing him without his shirt that day?”

“I couldn’t help thinking of that last night and wanting more of it. Just being close to him gave me those warm feelings again. And … and I …”

“Yes, go on.”

“I felt the moistness, I’ve heard about.”

“You, too?”

“What do you mean, ‘you too.’ You had a lot of dance partners last night. What type of woman have you become in the last twenty-four hours.” Bessie laughed.

“It was only near John.”

“I had the impression that wasn’t going so well for you. I was saddened.”

“It didn’t go well. It was a disaster, yet I still felt what you did.”

“I didn’t think it worked that way. Isn’t it to prepare you for a sexual interlude?”

“I once thought so. I knew that wasn’t going to happen to me.”

“Maybe you were hoping for something like that.”

“Nothing was conscious. It seems we need more study. But you, you know it may happen, but it wouldn’t be last night and still …”

“Why were you sick last night?”

Margaret proceeded to tell her about her entire night – the bull testicles, the insults, walking shoeless to the dance floor, complimenting John on a dance they never had.

Bessie tried hard not to laugh, but she did. “I’m sorry. What a horrible night for you.”

“It wasn’t all horrible. The other dance partners were delightful. I met almost ten new men.”

“Oh, my.” There was a pause. “What are you going to do about Mr. Thornton.”

“Nothing, I suppose. I have vexed him enough. I have apologized. I must back away now, and look for life in another direction. I feel almost ashamed being attracted to his looks from the beginning. Many more qualities followed, but I’ve turned out to be like any other female in this town.”

“Think of it this way, if you have lost him, no one knows. There was never anything to walk away from except what’s in your head. There is no embarrassment to you in any way except what he knows. He never walked away from any type of romance or relationship.”

“I hadn’t thought of that Bessie. I guess I can find some consolation in that. That is all I will have. I think I will be destined for a marriage where I settle for someone. I’m not sure I want to be in love with anyone again. Enough of me, what about you? Did you and Fred have any serious words?”

“No. We haven’t even kissed. We talked about growing up and our favorite things. He would like to teach me to read, too. He’s not ashamed of me living in the Princeton district. He explained his issues with the Navy. We had lots of conversation. We were beginning to know each other. When father would walk away, he would place his arm on the back of my chair. Every once in a while, his knee would brush mine. Gosh, that almost sent me through the roof, but the dancing and how he held me, properly I might add, weakened my legs. He would move his hand on my back. I thought he was trying to see if I was real,” she laughed. “He seemed to look at my cleavage often.”

“Get used to that. It’s normal for them. I began to study that last night because I had had a talk with Fred about that very thing. It’s instinctual or so he says. I admit I watched many men while dancing and everyone did it. It’s quick, so they don’t get caught. But I think if someone does that to you and it isn’t Fred, he will politely intercede. He wants no other man to ogle you. Somehow, in his mind, you have become his property.”

“That’s rather nice, I think. Feeling protected brings a great relief you never knew you carried. Do you think the men have preferences on breast sizes.”

“I once did and for a long time worried about that. I do not believe it true anymore. They don’t fall in love with your breasts or even our eyes or hair. It’s what’s inside that they wish to live with. These things we have always worried about as women, in the end, mean little to the man that loves you. For a man seeking thrills, it may mean more. It’s just their animal lust when they look. It’s never been bred out of them, and it never will, I suppose.”

“Have you ever had the urge to look at the man?”

Margaret started laughing, “ the man’s what?”

“Stop it. You know.”

“Remember I grew up with an older brother,” Margaret smiled. “And on pain of death, I will not reveal anything that I saw.”

Bessie grew red.

“I will admit, I have looked in that direction, but there is nothing to view. Just hope no one ever says, ‘like what you see.’ Just go to London and look at some of the statues. You’ll know why, then.’’

The girls got hysterical.

“In case anything does appear with my brother, run!

 

The girls carried on until dusk was falling. Someone knocked on the door and said that Miss Hale’s driver was waiting. Bessie stayed out of view again. She didn’t trust her or Fred after last night. Soon, though and if they could be alone.

 

“Hello, sister. Did the two of you find much to talk about.”

“You know we did. I think you’re getting egotistical. I bet you thought we talked about you. Huh?”

“I know you did. You couldn’t help talking about me. Admit it. I believe I cut a nice figure last night.”

“Of course, you did and so did every gentleman there. They all have their clothes tailored to fit. They don’t buy them assembled like you can in London.”

“So what did you talk about?”

“Men’s bodies.”

“What? You did not.”

“We did, too. We’re interested like men are. And since we haven’t been with men and we’re still virgins, there’s a lot of wondering still going on. I even suggested a trip to London, to see the statues.”

Fred roared. “I’m telling you, sis, my teaching you about men stops there. Maybe I will have to draw pictures.”

“I hope not. You’ve got to know that is our greatest fear.”

“It is? Surely you know anatomy.”

“Of course, we do, but there are the other questions that anatomy doesn’t cover.”

“That’s another subject I must think on. I mean I know the mechanics but not how to properly explain them to my sister.”

“Bessie, then?”

“No comment. By the way, Bessie’s father arrived a bit ago to speak with you. I think it’s about a job.”

“Do you think they have changed their mind about me? I expect them to.”

“He gave no clues. I think he was more interested in speaking to me. I feel like I was interrogated.

“That sounds good. He’s looking you over for Bessie. He might even offer you a job someday, at the mill.”

Fred pulled the buggy to a stop. “You go ahead. I’ll take Max around back.

 

Richard and Nicholas stood as Margaret entered. Adam had left.

“Good evening, Miss Hale. I am sorry to bother your evening, but I’ve come to talk about a position for you at Marlboro Mills.”

“Mr. Higgins …”

“Nicholas, please,” he offered.

“Nicholas, are you in possession of the information which I sent to Mr. Thornton today?”

“I am.”

“It is my opinion that Mr. Thornton may want to change his mind and I set his mind free of any offers. Please don’t feel sorry that it was extended and now he wants to rescind it.”

“But he doesn’t.”

“Do you, yourself, have any reservations? I don’t know how much he spoke with you about last night, but we did not part on a comparable footing.”

“I am not sure if I heard everything, but he did consider it a long time. I believe there to be no apprehension about your abilities. His concern lies with you being able to work alongside him.”

“I’m sure that goes both ways.”

“Please excuse me,” Richard said. “I will be in my den.”

“We still want to offer you a position. I have written down the responsibilities, but cannot honestly say that will be all. Filling those duties in whatever time you need, your salary is commensurate with a foreman’s job. You would be able to live well enough with staff. You would be expected by 9:00 a.m., but if you wish to be present at our daily meeting, you would be there by 8:00 a.m.” Also, the first six weeks will be trial only. Finally, could you be available to start on Wednesday?” Nicholas stood and handed her the list of duties.

Margaret sat back where the light was better and began reading. Pausing for several minutes, she stated, “I can agree to this list, but I will have a few questions.”

“Perhaps, I can answer them.”

“What autonomy will I be allowed, considering you have accountants that look over your work?”

“I don’t have that answer.”

“What will you expect of me, if I don’t need all the time permitted in a week to complete this list.”

“I cannot answer that, either.”

“This trial period works both ways, does it not? Meaning I can leave if I so wish within these first six weeks without anything held against me.”

“Yes, if all your work is legal. Of course, you can leave.”

Margaret stood, returning the list to Nicholas. “I will begin Wednesday, and I will be there at 8:00 a.m.”

“Good. I am glad to hear it. I will have your desk ready when you arrive. Do you care for tea or coffee in the morning.”

“I have no preference.”

“Then I shall leave you now and see you on Wednesday.”

“Good evening, Nicholas and thank you. I hope you do not feel you are in a tight spot. I have reconciled myself for whatever happens.”

Nicholas tipped his hat and left the house, to go home.

 

John found his mother waiting on him for dinner when he left his office.

“I didn’t expect you to be working all day, John. This was your day of rest.”

“I had little sleep last night, so I might turn in before you.”

“You haven’t told me about the Ball. I think this to be the first one where you went alone. Did you enjoy yourself? Did you dance?”

“Yes, I danced. I walked the room. I did enjoy the evening.” John didn’t want to go into the Miss Hale affair, so he didn’t offer it up. “What smells good?”

 

Margaret was lying in her bed still awake. She would see John on Wednesday. How would she react? Had she apologized for all that was said? Something had been nagging at the back of her mind, and she couldn’t pull it out until now.

It came back to her when she had talked about the long line of women waiting to be next – somewhere in there, he said there is no line for you or something to that effect. She remembered now that the music stopped and the question of what he meant, never came out. Margaret mulled it over and wondered if that might have been meant as a compliment. She finally dismissed it as water under the bridge by now.

She sat up in bed unable to banish that thought. Had it not been quashed by her later actions, that seemed to be a seriously thoughtful sentence. He must have been remembering that he wished to take her out to dinner at one time. Was that to thank her for the lessons or talk about work? In either case, none came to fruition. It did sound like she stood a chance at some point. Perhaps she was just the new girl. Margaret was determined to get that out of her head.

She snuggled down under the covers and tried not to think about that any further.

Tomorrow she and Fred would visit three Masters, hoping they wouldn’t get lost looking for the mills. Then there would be two mills on Tuesday.

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C22

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

Available at Amazon

The Ball concluded, and many people were making their way to the arched doors. Margaret was walking with Adam, Fred, and Bessie behind her, Nicholas behind them. John Thornton and another Master were exiting the attendees. Margaret heard him explain that the coach names would be called out as they pulled in front of the courthouse. Another long wait, Margaret thought. Besides finding a suitable punishment for Adam, she was determined to have a good sulk about how she treated John. She couldn’t ignore him again, the way she did tonight. Fred would have to guide her, not Adam.

 

It was a pitiful scene for Fred, thought Margaret, as he had to yield Bessie to her father. A beautiful evening like this and he couldn’t even kiss her goodnight.

Adam, Fred, and Margaret entered their coach after a wait.

“Margaret, once again, I am most dreadfully sorry for my comment. It was quite true by the way. I saw them being served when I visited America. It came out of the blue saying that to you. I do remember having the same reaction as to what was on my plate, like you. I couldn’t help myself. But so help me, I never expected that reaction from you. I was looking for a scrunched nose or a shocked look. You really gave us a great performance.

“Fred, stop laughing,” Margaret sneered.

“I’ve had the most delightful night of my life, as you probably could tell. Having to put all that behind me and rush you to the ladies, I was only hoping you wouldn’t puke on my uniform. That would have ruined the rest of my evening.”

“Well, I appeared the fool tonight. Everyone finding some form of amusement with me. Even Mr. Thornton. I had many comments about this being my first night out.”

“Sis, that may be how it felt to you, but it wasn’t visible on the outside.”

“No? Adam had to hand Master Brentstone my dance card while I retracted my hand. Then I had to return for my dance slippers that were beneath the table. I almost vomited as everyone looked on. I insulted Mr. Thornton both times I danced with him.”

“You only danced with him once, sis. What stayed you from the floor? You two were really talking.”

“Oh yes, I was busy insulting him.”

“How?”

“Oh, I’m too tired to go into it all now. Adam, you’re not coming for a final drink unless Fred invites you. I am going to bed.”

“Adam, how about having a drink with me when we get to our house.”

“I’d be delighted, Fred. I feel we need a plan.”

“Oh, yes. Do make a plan on how Margaret Hale may redeem herself. By the way, that Fanny lady, she seems familiar.”

“A… ah . . . Margaret, she is John’s sister. And she’s a real gossipy woman.” Adam broke the news.

“Do we have a train schedule at home?”

“Margaret, it will be better in the morning.”

 

The coach stopped, and Margaret went straight to her room. For a few moments, the sound of leaving Milton for a while was a comforting thought.

 

“Well, Bessie what did you think of the Ball?”

“Father, I think you know the answer to that.”

“Is Fred good to you? Is he speaking or hinting of anything untoward with you?”

“He’s been a complete gentleman in all regards. I told Margaret he’s a man she’s never known.”

“So, you feel he has some serious interest in you. I mean more than having dinner out occasionally?”

“Yes, I think there are serious times ahead for both of us. I know what you’re thinking father. I am conscious as well that he is a young man recently released from the Navy. I know your worries, and I want you to trust me. Do remember, I was raised by you and I am ‘of age,’ now. I will be making my own decisions. I will try to use my head and not my heart.”

“Bessie, do know one thing . . . that is impossible. It’s not only your heart working on you but other more physical impulses. Just be careful.”

“Thank you, father. Good night.” Bessie headed for her room with new memories and planning for the future.

 

As Margaret began to undress for bed, she let her mind wander through the new wisdom that was shown to her tonight. Nervousness was not a malady that she had endured much of her lifetime. She didn’t handle it very well. Margaret knew she would have embarrassed her father, had he been there. Fred was too engaged to pay much attention, and John said that he had been watching her. “Oof!” she shouted quietly as she slammed her two fists on the dresser top. She was disappointed in herself.

Slipping into bed, she must allow for what went right. Master Brentstone didn’t seem that he felt she was idiotic. He showed genuine concern. There were many other dance partners that asked to extend their introductions further at other times. Was that a courtesy that a gentleman naturally expresses? Is that in the handbook? Or is it meant to mollify the lady upon separating when the music stopped? Once Fred’s own feet hit the ground tomorrow, Margaret would be taken for a ride in their new carriage, and he would be asked many questions.

 

John Thornton, arriving home late, checked with his overnight foremen to know if there had been any difficulties. Finding there hadn’t, he slowly climbed the stairs to the sitting room. He removed his greatcoat, his tails, cravat, and waistcoat. John had done very little imbibing for the evening, but now felt the need for a rather large scotch. After attending or presiding over these balls for a few years, few stood out in his mind except tonight. Fortunately, the masters were gentlemen and with no instances of arguments or loud voices. The dances were well received, the food had no complaints. The waiters were prompt, and his short speech was adequate. He danced many dances, but Miss Hale was dug into his mind like a tick on a horse. If she had been his lady this evening, he’d been torn between hugging her or spanking her. Margaret was popping up in his life in very unfamiliar territory. He had no idea that a young woman stepping into the world of men and her own maturity could be fraught with such confusion. Nervousness, he could understand, but he couldn’t see why his own attentions were received so poorly. It wasn’t vanity that seemed to have clipped his wings, it was something which he would search for an answer. What kind of worker would she be? There was now a question on that.

 

The next morning Margaret woke in a poor state. Dixon knocked on the door because there was some worry among the family.

“Miss Margaret.” She knocked again. “Miss Margaret?”

Through the door a groggy, “What is it, Dixon?” was heard.

Dixon entered and found her miss looking feverish. Her bedclothes were in a terrible heap, winding all around her. “Miss Margaret, you have had a very bad night.” Laying her hand on Margaret’s head, she asked, “How are you feeling. You look ill.”

“I am ill. I haven’t slept all night. Could you bring me a cup of tea? I will stay in my bed until I feel myself again. I don’t have a temperature, do I?”

“You don’t feel warm, but your face is flushed. Did you eat something disagreeable last night.”

Margaret whined into her pillow. “Please don’t speak of my dinner. I couldn’t eat it.”

“I will bring you tea and a buttered biscuit, right away.”

“Thank you.” Margaret rolled over on her pillow and continued to sniffle from small crying bouts all night.

By that time, Fred had had a long chat with his father about the previous evening and in hearing of Margaret’s incapacity to rise from her bed, Fred went to her.

He didn’t knock upon entering and immediately sat on the side of her bed.

“Margaret, did a badger get on your bed last night? I’ve only seen bedsheets in this disarray for one reason, and I know that is not your excuse.” Since Margaret wouldn’t face him, he got off the bed, walked around it and pulled up a chair, and looked closely at her.

“Do I have to unpack my crystal ball, or will you tell me what bothers you this much?”

Margaret placed her face on the pillow and shook her head no.

Fred thought he heard a muffled, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But you are talking to me, now. Not Thornton, not Adam. I’m the one that knows you. I could ask Father up here, but I think you’d rather it be me.”

Dixon returned with two cups of tea, and biscuits, prompting Margaret to finally sit up in the bed.

“Do you know how beautiful you are with your hair like it is now?”

“Oh, stop it, Fred. Only the biscuits need buttering.”

“You are just eaten up with self-doubts, and guilt, aren’t you? I believe my next words should be, ‘Where is my sister? What have you done with her?”

Margaret couldn’t resist a little smile.

Fred handed her the teacup and set the biscuit plate on the bed space between them. “I admit, I was not fully cognizant of what was going on around me, but hazarding a guess, I’d say you had problems with Mr. Thornton. Of all nights for you to look forward to being with him, something went wrong. Now spit it out. You don’t want to see what I learned about interrogation practices. I could stick a plank out your window.”

Margaret was able to giggle while the biscuit crumbs sailed from her mouth.

“Did your commander say, ‘Fire at will!’ Avast your tears and biscuit, young maiden.”

“What does Avast mean,” Margaret finally spoke.

“That is a naval secret.”

“Pirates say it.”

“And who was the last pirate you spoke to? They don’t know what it means either. They just thought we sounded smart, so they emulated us.”

Fred now had Margaret smiling and laughing. The first objective completed. Fred removed the empty biscuit plate and proceeded to prop his feet on the bed, leaned back in his chair, cradling his teacup. “Now, I do have extra wood in the stable for a plank. Should I get it or will you talk?”

“Did you ever think raising a sister would be this difficult?”

“Actually when I was about ten years old, I did think that. No one told me to expect the ‘coming of age’ issues. I always thought I would be around to guide you from the beginning since I knew it would fall to me. And I wanted it to be me. I know ‘the nothing’ I got from my father, and surely mother still wonders how we got here. I don’t want to even think about the pleasures they never knew about. I felt confident that Dixon would teach you about the woman’s week and that kind of thing. The school would teach about conception, but there isn’t a book out there about us men.”

“I stared at Mr. Thornton because he is a handsome man. You said I was seducing him. You and Adam encouraged me to ignore him, becoming a mystery to him. Therefore, an investigation into me may begin. I had so many things in my head last night, even if he never was there, that I managed to be the “immature debutante.” When I was near Mr. Thornton, in my head, it was don’t do that, don’t do this, try this instead . . . being so close made me nervous on top of it all. I ended up insulting him trying to prove my indifference. As the ball ended, he walked away. He told me if he became too prideful, he would seek me out.”

Margaret told him the whole conversation of how she remembered it, starting with the ragdoll.

“Ouch!” Fred comically shuddered.

“Yes, that’s just what happened. I have nowhere to go now.”

“Other than your first missteps at the beginning and anything Thornton, are there other issues?”

“Just some general questions about men and their handbook.”

Now Fred was laughing. “Let me see if I can cast them overboard quickly.”

“Do men offer false praise?”

“Sure. All the time. Men, not gentlemen and not all men only have one thing on their mind when meeting a beautiful lady, that they will say whatever is needed to … umm . . . have their way. But that isn’t to say that those same men aren’t in earnest.” Fred saw the confusion on his sister’s face. “I’m sorry, but there it is. You do know about our needs which only God gave us. We are not greedy, we are needy. Few women believe that.”

“So how do men take care of that need on long voyages?”

Fred blanched at that question. “That is another naval secret. Land or sea, deserts, mountain tops, it makes no difference. Let’s move along. I don’t have time for that question.”

“You don’t pop, do you?”

Fred fell out of his chair, laughing. “I promise to have that discussion at a later time. Now, stop.” Fred righted his chair and sat again. “Don’t worry. We have had centuries to figure out what works best.” Fred continued to laugh.

“All right, but don’t forget about it. After your dance partner returns you to the table, is he expected to give a compliment.”

“Not really. A polite ‘Thank you, Miss Hale’ is about the minimum. He may say it was ‘his honor’ which isn’t indebting him to further progress with you. Usually, when he brings you to the floor, more often than not, his first words are sincere. That usually is in regards to your appearance. That’s pretty simple. All women look lovely at balls. Do I take it that you want to understand the difference between his natural or practiced tendencies.”

“Yes!”

“I can’t be much help there. He either does what he feels or does what he must and circumstances can change that. There is no easy sign for you to watch for.”

Margaret pondered. “With men being so tall, am I to look away during dancing or look into his face?”

“That is your prerogative. You do what you feel. There is no must.”

“Can he hold you against his body?”

“A gentleman should never do that. Not even one head-over-heels in love with you.  I can’t say it doesn’t happen, though. Your breast may skim him, and that is sometimes unavoidable, but nothing below the waist.”

“I didn’t get much time to watch but how does he find his footing around our awfully full frocks. Some gowns sweep the ground.”

“I have never had a discussion of that. I don’t know. I think we must notice if your gown is touching the floor. If it is not, there isn’t a problem. So, to get to the bottom of this, Thornton walked away from you with his own little insult, and you think you two shall never speak again?”

“Yes, I think that’s what bothers me the most.”

“You insult the man and then lay the blame at his feet? Someday you must teach me about women.”

“When I think about it all together, I feel you must be right. How does one apologize for such actions that have been taught and then tried? I could ask forgiveness from anyone other than John. He’ll see how weak I am.”

“I am sorry, Margaret that I don’t have all the answers and I am not in Thornton’s skin to know how he actually feels. When do you expect to hear from him about a position at the mill?”

“I doubt that will ever be offered, now. Unless I receive a note from him tomorrow, I will ask you to carry me to several other mills. I want to answer everyone’s inquiry’s if I can.”

“Let me leave you with this for now. Last night your only drawback was with Thornton. I know he means a lot to you, but you did meet many other masters of nice character. You are not lost to the society, such as it is here, at all. You may have burned your little bridge with Mr. Thornton. Let’s face it, it was only a bridge that you were trying to build, not him. I don’t see any fault with the man, nor you – only the advice you were given. I hope some day you will find an opportunity to explain your behavior. You may not work for him, but I think it was felt that someone would hire you quickly. Were any offers of work extended to you last night?”

“Two. I said I had another offer ahead of theirs so I could not answer just yet.”

“Did you have any offers to be taken out to dinner by any other gentlemen?”

“Three.”

“Three? That’s significant. You will find someone that loves you. You will not be alone in your life. You will see Thornton at the dinner party. You just have to prepare yourself for that. I take it he will have no partner at the table. Try to be amiable, not sorrowful. It breaks men’s hearts when they see women cry. They feel helpless, and that doesn’t sit well with a man if he cannot rescue a woman for whatever reason. They can give no assurance that things will work out.”

“I’m having second thoughts about going. I am mad at Adam right now.”

“I think he was really pleased to have you with him last night and imbibed more than he should. He’s always had fun with you, or don’t you know that?”

“That was so crude what he said.”

“Well, I laughed, too. It’s something I might have done to you.” Fred laughed.

“Am I going to have to share Bessie with you now?”

“That will be up to her. We don’t know what we have yet, but I think we’re both eager to see where we are led. There is a strong attraction there. Like you, last night was her first time out, too. For a while, I will not know if her interest in me is genuine, or it’s a matter of the first man in her life. She knows no others. I do not have means. There are many out there that have a lot more going for them than I. I have very little to offer. I don’t want her looking down to me or feeling pity for me. We will be working through a lot. I will accept no gratitude.”

“I’m beginning to see the man that Bessie has glimpsed. I do think you grew into a good man.”

“I bet you thought I only had good looks,” Fred laughed. “Now get out of bed and plan your day for tomorrow. If you want, I will take you out back and start training you for the buggy.”

“Yes, I will like that.” Margaret pulled the coverlet off of her legs and swiveled out of bed to stand. “Out brother! And Fred, thank you.”

He saluted her and left the room.

 

After Margaret had dressed, she decided to do what her heart was telling her; sit down and write a brief apology. She wasn’t asking for forgiveness, that was weak. Just a short letter to explain her actions as best she could.

 

 

Mr. Thornton,

I find this type of note hard to begin, but  begin I must. In all good conscience, for which no doubt you think I lack, I was rude to you specifically. The other dance partners suffered no humiliation from my verbal assault. The nervousness you may understand. Being an admired gentlemen with an abundant group of lady friends, it was suggested that I show you no interest. Having some belief that you must tire of the constant attention that women seek from you, I felt this advice to be sound. Having no experience with men, I now know my exaggerated indifference went sadly astray. Discussing my concerns this morning with my brother, it has been pointed out to me the idiocy and stupidity of my remarks. I was guided by bad advice with good intentions. For this, I must apologize. I was not, at all, the woman that you met at the Lyceum. I thoroughly enjoyed the other parts of my evening, but my guilt holds me back from thinking last night was the best in my life. It is passed, the damage is done.

With my actions which I am unable to undo, I hereby release you from any statements you made to eventual employment. I am sure there are now questions in your mind about my capacity to withstand the rigors of a position. Tomorrow, I will begin making my rounds to the other Master’s who had asked for my advice at the Lyceum. I have had two other offers of work, so you need not have any worries about me.

Again, with embarrassment and humility, I am sorry.

                              Margaret Hale

 

 

 

John poured some coffee into an enamel clad pitcher and walked across to the office. It was Nicholas’s turn to take the Sunday watch, but John knew they should discuss Miss Hale’s position.

“I thought I’d see you this morning,” said Nicholas. And the coffee smells good. How do you think the Ball was received?”

“I think quite well as it does every year. Maybe we should consider having two a year – spring and fall. One would have the association pay for it, like last night and the other could have tickets sold and open to anyone who could afford to go. Think on that. It would have a smaller representation, I imagine but still I think Milton needs a little more distraction from the daily toil.”

“Not bad. Maybe you should approach the Masters about the idea at your next meeting. Selling tickets would require an extra layer of work, but sold over one or two months time wouldn’t be hard.”

John handed Nicholas his coffee cup. “I think we need to discuss whether or not we have a position for Miss Hale.”

“I thought that was decided,” replied Nicholas.

“I’m not sure we finished our complete ideas for her responsibility. I know we discussed her salary. I must admit I found her acting strangely last night. Perhaps, she could not handle the impact on her life, day-to-day. The constant pressure to perform at the high level we expect may wear her down. I saw a different Margaret last night than I did at the Lyceum.”

“You mean the great John Thornton couldn’t see what was going on with her? I believe it plain to see for myself and Fred as we sat with her all night.” Nicholas was smiling.

“Why are you smiling. You don’t know the discussions that she and I had.”

“We didn’t have to. We saw how she reacted to the other partners, but it changed when you returned to the table each time. I haven’t talked with Fred, but I think he and I are of the same opinion. Bessie is silent on the issue.”

“Bloody hell, what are you talking about? And don’t tell me she was trying to gain my favors. She insulted me all night. No woman has ever taken a tact such as that with me. And it’s not what she said that  bothered me at all. I lost no confidence as evidenced by my other dance partners. I am just concerned for her. That’s why I question her working here.”

“I see. She did not seek favor with you, but you have concern for her. Do I have that correct?”

“Your words sound true when you say them fast, but you’re twisting something around.”

“Am I?”

“You know you are. Am I intimidating? You’re using or say she’s using some type of reverse approach? Ridiculous!”

 

 

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

Chapter Eight

“Mother, I would like to introduce Miss Margaret Hale.”

“Welcome, Miss Hale. I have heard much about your teachings this past week.”

“I will leave you two to your tea. I must return to work.”

It wasn’t missed by John or his mother the look of disappointment on Margaret’s face. He’s leaving?

“Miss Hale, is anything wrong? Hannah asked. John looked on waiting for an answer.

“No. No, nothing is wrong.”

“For a moment, you looked stricken.”

“Miss Hale, do you wish me to remain?” asked John.

“Oh, no. Please go on about your business. Thank you for your kind hospitality in meeting your mother and letting my brother speak with your driver.” Margaret struggled to regain her poise.

“I will go then. Please feel free to come here for any help. I know you know very few people in Milton.”

“Thank you, Mr. Thornton.

“Perhaps, you will allow me to take you to dinner in the future so that we can remedy that lack of proper introductions.”

“I shall look forward to it.” Margaret brightened. It was known by then that Miss Hale had an interest in John Thornton. For John and Hannah, this was a common occurrence. Hannah felt sorry for her immediately.

“John, do remember your dinner engagement with Miss Waverly this evening. Don’t be late.”

“Am I ever late, mother? Good day, Miss Hale.” John turned and left with no ceremony. Hannah was eyeing Margaret.

“Miss Hale, you seem disappointed that my son left.”

Margaret did not know how to reply to that. She was caught out.

“I am embarrassed to admit, he is a handsome man. I find it difficult to look away.”

“Nice to hear someone actually admit that. Don’t be ashamed of your acute observations. Many a woman has suffered the same fate. He is favored by far too many women in Milton. Won’t you have a seat? Tea, Jane, if you don’t mind,” Hannah instructed when Jane came into the room.

Margaret took a seat, crushed beyond words. “There seems to be a rumor circulating that he may soon be engaged?”

“You are quite right. That is a rumor. I must admit though that he has been seeing Miss Adeline Waverly for some time. I will not be surprised when he announces it to me.”

“You like her then?”

“She has her own money, which always worries me about John’s lady friends. At least, she is not interested in him for that. She’s polite and interesting. I think she would suit him for a wife.”

“I see. I do wish him happiness. It must be hard for such a man to find a woman that is interested in him for himself and not his wealth, fame or appearance. All those qualities in one gentleman are very hard to find, I would imagine.”

“Do you have a gentleman, yourself?”

“Oh, no. I have only been out two times while at school.”

“Yes, John told me about how impressed he was with your education. Apparently, you learned more of the non-traditional studies.”

“Although I have an aunt in high society in London, who paid for my education, I am smart enough to see my life ahead. I had to study in areas which could bring me a living.”

“Would not your aunt help you?”

“Oh yes. She begs me to allow her, but I do not care for the social strata of London society. I grew up under the influence of a gentleman clergy. We lived in a small town where people worked hard, and there were no barriers. I do not wish to step into a sophisticated world, even though I could. I think my mother was disappointed in me. She, of course, was from the same circles in London, but met my father and married for love. That is what I hope happens to me. She gave up all of her life’s luxuries for my father.”

“And you would do the same?”

“Without hesitation. I saw, although seen in a clerical light, their love was great for one another. My father is struggling with her loss.”

“I am sorry to hear that. Has she been gone long?”

“Almost a year now.”

“And what have you done this past year?”

“When I left school, I came home to tend to my mother and father. He was destroyed. I believe he is just now beginning to recover.”

“So you have seen no gentlemen while here?”

“No, none really, until the other night in the lesson room. I have recently become friends with Miss Bessie Higgins, and she is asking that I go to the Master’s Ball with her and her father. I am looking forward to that, but also very afraid.”

“Do you know why Mrs. Higgins is not attending?”

“She is recovering from an illness. She is feeling much better, but her weakness will still be an issue by the time of the ball. I’m sorry to say her misfortune will be a big adventure for me.”

“How old are you Miss Hale?”

“I shall be twenty-three in two months.”

“Yes, it is getting late for you to get out and be seen. I am sure all the available men will find you and Miss Higgins impossible to resist.”

“I do hope it is not as you say.”

“Why, Miss Hale. Most young women want men falling at their feet.”

“I believe Bessie to be as I am. We are both shy, at least now that this is all new to each of us. How do you tell a gentleman no when you don’t care to dance? Won’t that offend them?”

“I can see you have been quite sheltered in your life. And I suppose you do not have another woman to guide you along after your mother passed.”

“My mother never guided me along. Those things were never spoken about. My brother has just come home from serving in Her Majesties Navy. We have been talking. He told me I was trying to seduce your son, with my eyes, earlier today. I don’t even know what that means. He hasn’t explained it to me yet. I admit I must have stared at your son’s beauty, but I didn’t know I was seducing him. I’m not even sure he’s not teasing me. If it was something that I did, I don’t know how to apologize.”

Hannah finally broke into a smile. She felt Miss Hale was as innocent as she seemed to be. In past visits, she’d had women trying to impress her so that she would compliment them to her son. Miss Hale was not like that. “Miss Hale, I am sure your brother will be quite capable of explaining the male’s thinking. You may get a better education from him than you could ever have hoped for from another woman.”

Margaret giggled. “I hope you’re right. He sure is working on me about my staring. I hope I didn’t embarrass Mr. Thonron today.”

“I am sure you have not. He is quite used to it and does a fine job of ignoring it. He hasn’t let all these women beguile him. I think he must have seen it all. Other single gentlemen are quite enamored with the way he is. He does not care to stand out in any way other than in his business. He is proud of what he has achieved from nothing. I am proud of him too.

“From nothing?”

“Some day you must visit again, and I shall tell you of the hardships he has endured to get where he is.”

“I would very much like to hear it.”

The backdoor was heard being opened and then footsteps on the back stairs.

“Excuse me,” announced Fred as he entered the room.

“Mrs. Thornton, I would like you to meet my brother, Frederick Hale.”

“How do you do, Mr. Hale?”

“Please call me Fred. There is a Mr. Hale ahead of me,” he smiled.

“Was Branson able to help you?”

“Very much so. I think we have a lot in common. I shall enjoy learning from him. He has ideas on where to start. When he is allowed, he and I will begin our quest for a horse and trap or buggy.

“Mrs. Thornton, I really enjoyed our chat. I will look forward to speaking with you again. I suppose we must go. Tell Mr. Thornton, thank you.”

“I will, Miss Hale. Do have a lovely time on the ball.”

“I will hope for the best. Good day.”

Fred said his goodbye and escorted his sister down the front steps.

Margaret cast a glance around the yard and did not see Mr. Thornton. It was disappointing, but she held her composure.

John watched from his office window as Fred helped his sister into the rented coach.

 

“Nicholas, what do you think of Miss Hale’s brother?” John asked smiling.

“First of all, I didn’t know she had a brother. I am not sure I have formed any opinion as of yet. Why do you ask?”

“She apologized for her brother’s comment about Bessie’s appearance. Although complimentary, Miss Hale felt it was too early to state such a remark in front of you. She explained saying that he has just returned from the Navy. I think there is going to be something brewing between him and Bessie. I get the impression that Miss Hale thinks there might be.”

“She may fall in love with whoever she wants to as long as she has my permission.”

They both laughed.

“What do you think of Miss Hale?” John asked.

John was still standing in front of the office window with his arms crossed when Nicholas spun his chair around and asked, “In what regard are you meaning?”

“No particular regard.”

“Well, I was certainly astounded at the last lesson. Aside from knowing our accountability, she actually selected it as a study in school. Highly unlikely if you ask me. Perhaps she wishes she were a man.” Nicholas purposely said that for a reaction from John.

“Now, in what regard do you mean that?” John countered.

“Is there more than one way?”

“Yes, of course, there is. You seem to think she may have a preference for other women.” John became stern.

“Hold on, John. I was saying that for a response from you and you sure gave it.” Nicholas laughed. “The thought of that seems it would be upsetting to you.”

“I’ve never given any thought to an idea such as that. You brought it up.”

“I apologize. I didn’t mean anything by it, and I don’t think it to be so. I was only looking for your response. I was gauging your interest.”

“Please do not draw any inference from my question. I have no interest in her beyond the classroom. I think I’ll go see Branson for a moment and then bathe for my night out. See you tomorrow.”

 

“Margaret, how did your tea chat go with Mrs. Thornton,” Fred asked entering the rented coach.

“Fine, I suppose.”

“Did you discuss Mr. Thornton with her? He already has a lady friend. Right?”

“How do you know?”

“It’s written all over your face.”

“You do seem to take too much interest in my face. Yes, he has a lady friend.”

“Are they engaged?”

“No.”

“You’re not giving up on him, are you?”

“Fred! I stared at the man’s beauty once, just once. You would have me marrying him tomorrow.”

“I can give you pointers.”

“Pointers? What are pointers?”

“I can give you clues on how to turn his head.”

“No, thank you. I don’t think I’d like your pointers.”

“So you are giving up.”

Margaret had no answer. Fred didn’t badger her any further.

“How did the horse conversation turn out?”

“I think we are in fine shape. Branson is going to ask around. I will come to the next lesson that you teach and speak with Branson while he waits for Mr. T.”

“Fred, that will be so nice to have transportation when we want it. Thank you for doing this for us.”

 

Arriving home, Margaret returned to her room with a much different feeling than this morning. She remembered some of the words from Mrs. Thornton about his popularity, but she thought more about her brother asking if she was giving up. She knew what a proper woman would do, but she didn’t like that choice. Something would come to her soon enough.

Fred sat down with his father while dinner was being prepared.

“Father, I think I did well in talking to Mr. Thornton’s driver, Branson. He certainly knows all there is to ever learn. For a driver in-service, he is well acquainted with the rented coaches and their horses and drivers, too.”

“Understand Fred, that a driver waits for his master. Often he gathers with other drivers, be they hired or in-service. I imagine there is a whole unknown community structure among them all.”

“Yes, I suppose you are right. Should Margaret be invited somewhere, I could probably ask Branson about the gentleman. He would most likely know of his reputation or could find out. Also, it seems our Margaret enjoyed Mrs. Thornton this afternoon, the honorable Mr.T did not stay. She seems a little down.”

“It is a good learning experience for her. She couldn’t be in love with the man, so it is not as if she is suffering from a broken heart. I think there’s little worry there.”

 

Ladling his soup into a bowl, Richard Hale asked, “Margaret, have you begun to plan the next lesson section.

“No, I haven’t, father and it’s time I returned to that. I will need one more turn at the library. Perhaps Fred will be able to drive me in a day or two.”

“Margaret, I do believe we will start with something small enough for you to handle yourself. I can teach you to drive a small buggy. Branson will teach me to harness it. Tomorrow, I shall begin to make repairs in the stable,” Fred said beaming. “I always wanted to say I had a stable,” he laughed.

“Can I tell people that you are my driver. That’s something I’ve always wanted to say. ‘’’ Please sir, can you fetch my driver?’”

Richard Hale laughed. “Margaret do you expect your brother to transport you somewhere and then wait upon you?”

“No, because he’ll expect me to pay him,” she giggled.

“Sis, I will do anything within reason for you. I will play the driver to your ladyship if you need that some evening. I will need a proper livery, though. Perhaps, I should begin to design the Hale crest for the door.”

Now everyone was laughing, even Dixon, who could overhear the conversation.

“Father, do we come from any nobility?” Fred asked.

“Of course, you do, but it is not from the Hale side of the family. It was far back in your mother’s ancestry. I doubt the owners of that crest would allow its usage by people such as us.”

“Then we’ll just have to make our own. It’ll be a laugh. Should we have any crossed swords or lions rearing up? Perhaps a hero standing at the large foot of a slain dragon. It will read ‘Hale, Mighty Warrior.’”

Margaret couldn’t remember having such fun in her life. Her brother had grown into a fine man with a sense of humor that matched her own.

“Fred,” Richard Hale admonished, “ even the simple letter “H” will be presumptuous.”

“I shall save that for when we have a real driver, father. We will encircle the “H” in a wreath.”

“Fred, with you being my brother, I can only expect a “For Hire” painted on the door.”

“I did have a good education. I was, for a while, an officer in Her Majesty’s service, which means I should be able to find decent work. But I must admit, hearing Branson sounded far more interesting than sitting behind some desk.”

“Fred, you should know that no one in Milton sits behind a desk as a job. This is a working town. Are you still planning on visiting a tavern tonight?”

Richard Hale looked down at the linen in his lap. Picking it up and wiping his mouth, he said, “If you two will excuse me, I think I shall retire early. Margaret, we should get started on your lesson tomorrow. We will go over what you have taught and find a place to pick up again.” Richard Hale rose.

“Goodnight, father,” both Fred and Margaret said in unison.

 

John, Adeline, and Hannah sat down to a pleasant dinner.

“How are your plans coming along for your big dinner party, Mrs. Thornton?”

“They are satisfactory at this point. I have been working on them daily for almost a week and still have more to go.”

“That is a task to undertake, I can imagine.”

“Yes. I’ve told John that he must handle it next year. I am getting too old, but the Thornton annual dinner with the Masters should continue. I am making notes, so he has them for next time. Perhaps, he will have someone to help him by then.”

Adeline grinned as she sipped at her soup.

John didn’t feel comfortable with his mother stating it that way. It felt to him like she wanted to force a conversation between him and Adeline. He had made no firm decisions in his mind about a wife. He thought that his mother’s doctor visit today reinforced her advancing age and she wanted to see him settled.”

“You say, Masters, Mrs. Thornton, but there are hundreds. How do you pick and choose who to invite?”

“John picks them, but they are the same every year. It usually is a few of the original masters. The ones that have been here the longest.” Hannah looked at John.

“John, have you heard anything from Adam Bell. I wonder if he plans on bringing someone this year. Every year I think he’s going to and every year he doesn’t.”

“I have not had a letter from him in some time. He should be in town in a day or two. If I see him, I will remind him that you would like an answer.”

“I am so looking forward to meeting all of your friends, John. Mrs. Thornton, may I be of any help? It would be nice to learn what is expected.”

“No, my dear. That is a gracious offer, but I need no help as yet, except staff.”

“Could I lend you mine?”

“I tend to select a particular service and its staff that are well accustomed to my ways but thank you.”

“Do remember to call on me, if I can be of any help.”

“You are most kind.”

“If you ladies would like to continue your conversation, I will be in my library for a few minutes.” John excused himself and left the dinner table. How many years he had heard the same conversation? He enjoyed the dinner, the friendship and allowing his mother to bask in her own glory, but the talk of it seemed to be repeated for a month. He was bored with it.

“John I will fetch you for tea or brandy when we’re done here.”

“Thank you, Adeline.”

Hannah thought she detected an underlying feeling in that thank you. Something seemed to be bothering him. She would ask later or tomorrow.

 

John walked into his library and picked up his rolled up profit and loss statement that he had forgotten to take to his last class, but it was the one that Miss Hale had asked to see earlier on that lesson day. With it unfurled and the corners anchored under some small heavy object, he began to peruse what he had learned. Realizing he had left his notes in his mill office. He left to go get them.

As he passed the dining room, the women were still talking. Adeline was smiling with her bright eyes, and he thought his mother looked less interested than she did moments ago. John knew he should rejoin his guest and his mother when he returned. In his mind, he had a fleeting  realization that he had called Adeline a guest instead of by her name.

 

On his return, the women were sitting in the parlor waiting on brandy. He passed around the goblets, and the discussions commenced.

“If you two do not mind, I will excuse myself for the night. It was a pleasure seeing you again, Miss Waverly.”

John stood and took the glass from his mother as she rose. He had taken to being near her when it required some effort for her to rise or use the steps.

“Thank you, Mrs. Thornton, for a lovely meal and conversation. I hope to see you again, soon.”

 

John and Adeline eventually sat together on the sofa.

Laying back in the crook of John’s shoulder, Adeline asked, “What’s the ball going to be like John?”

“I never really know how to answer that. I think some daughters or other women find it a bit disappointing if they have gone to a finishing school. It is our biggest social event. We do dress in our finest. There will be a dinner, a few short speeches and then an orchestra for the rest of the evening. From a man’s point of view, that’s about all I see.”

“Do you sit with others at large tables?”

“Yes, there is seating for eight or ten people. There is a bar at the end of the hall, too.”

“Will others ask me to dance, or does everyone bring a dance partner?”

“It is mainly couples, but there are many masters that are single and come alone. They may ask a woman who is with another gentleman if she wishes to dance. Nicholas’s wife will still be too weak from her illness although she is recovering. He’s going to bring Bessie, his daughter. Every master is counted on to bring at least one guest. It’s not a rigid rule. They just want to ensure there are enough seating and meals. There will also be people associated with the mills but not masters, who will attend. People such as bankers, perhaps the telegraph and railroad executives and others that we do business with.”

“Would you allow someone to dance with me?”

“Yes, I believe so. The acceptance though is entirely up to you.”

“Might you ask another woman?”

“Being the head of the Master’s Association, I may seek out someone who I have noticed has been sitting all night.”

“So I should be prepared to be jealous, is that what you’re saying?”

“I don’t believe I said any such words. You should have no need to feel jealousy … for any reason.”

“And why is that? Do you love me beyond words, and I should know in my heart of your feelings for me, or we have made no commitment to each other and are free to choose?”

John swirled the brandy in his snifter watching it coat the glass sides.

“Adeline, I must be fair. I am enjoying your company and still coming to know you. I admit, there are thoughts in my mind that you would find complimentary. I believe I have spoken most of those. However, I have made no commitment to you or myself in regards to a permanent future together.”

In a huff, Adeline jumped to her feet and folded her arms in front of her. “Are you trying to say you don’t love me?”

“Have I ever told you that I did love you? I think not. I am most careful with those words and know they have never been uttered by me. That doesn’t mean I don’t have strong feelings for you. Perhaps, the longer we see each other, the more convinced in your mind you feel you have heard me say that. I want to clear that up.”

“So what do you suppose we do about this situation?”

“Nothing. I need to be sure. I am not quite there yet, and I cannot tell you when I will be. If you cannot wait for me, you are free to carry on with your life with someone else. I would truly understand and feel quite saddened that I cannot give you complete surety yet. I have seen you longer than most women I have known. And due to that, many have expectations, and rumors are beginning. That is unfortunate for both of us.”

“I was hoping for more, but I will wait.”

“I want you to understand, Adeline that waiting for me may not result in your expectations. I can’t be any more honest than that.”

“Is there someone else you are finding an interest in?” Inquired Adeline.

“Not to the extent of my interest in you. And I have no reason  to explore any possibilities.”

“I see.”

“I hope you mean that,” replied John. “Nothing has changed between us.”

 

Hannah couldn’t help overhearing the conversation. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but she had sensed a burgeoning unease in John, this evening. She did not understand where it was coming from. But hearing these doubts from her son was a new revelation in this relationship. Hannah had thought that he was getting close to settling down. He apparently was not ready.

 

Fred rose from the breakfast buffet to answer the door, shouting to Dixon that he would get it. It was early, but Branson may have news.

“What a surprise, Mr. Bell. It has been a long time in seeing you.” They shook hands vigorously. Fred stood out of the way so he could enter. “Come in and have some tea with us. And thank you for the advice that you gave me for my future trial with the Navy.”

“You’re looking well Fred. Are you happy to be home, here in Milton?”

Dixon had arrived and took his coat, hat, and walking stick.

“Hello, Miss Dixon.”

“Good morning, sir. Tea will be right up.”

Richard Hale kept his seat, but Margaret rushed into the hall to greet Adam Bell. “You are early this time. Early by time and early by a day or so. I hope nothing is wrong.”

Adam wrapped Margaret’s arm over his and escorted her back to the dining room. “Margaret, if anything were wrong it is now past, seeing you. Good morning, Richard.”

Richard Hale stood, and they shook hands. “Please join us, Adam. Take a seat.”

“I believe you remember our last conversation Richard, so I am here early to ask if Margaret would be my dinner companion at Thornton’s dinner party.”

Margaret’s fork stopped halfway to her mouth when all eyes looked her way for an answer.

 

 

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

Chapter Seven

 

 

Margaret climbed the steps to her bedchamber. Entering, she neared the bed and flopped backward with her arms spread wide. After a moment, she realized she was smiling to herself as she stared at the ceiling. She was lost in the tingly feeling she had in her body. There was a feeling of headiness and a perpetual grin which she seemed unable to contain.

He was so tall and handsome.

Margaret started to wonder if this was what her brother was referring to. She thought back about her first meeting with him. She found him loud and harsh in manner. How could she not have noticed the stately man that she has recently been reacquainted with?

Margaret had no idea what Fred meant when he mentioned she was seducing the man. What did that entail? How could she not do it again? As much as her interest in John Thornton seemed to be a little more obliging than a few days ago, it didn’t mean she could display unintended attentions if that was what she was doing. That would be very improper.

Her brother was right about one thing, she was counting the time until they returned.

 

“Father, can I have a word with you about Margaret?”

“Of course, my son. What questions could you have about your sister?”

“Has she been invited out by any gentlemen since she’s been here?”

Mr. Hale reflected on that question for a moment. “I don’t believe so, Fred. In fact, I am sure of it. I do not remember hearing about anyone while she was at school. What are you trying to say?”

“Because I am nearer her age and her big brother, I think it will be my responsibility to teach her about men and how to behave. I wish you could have seen how she was bewitched by Mr. Thornton when we visited there to talk with his driver. I accused her of trying to seduce the man with her eyes, which she wasn’t, but she didn’t know what she was doing.”

“What was this, that she was doing,” Richard Hale, now showing some concern. He folded his newspaper and laid it on the side table. “You have my full attention.”

“Mr. Thornton seemed to show a little more than a vague interest in her. I believe he purposely positioned himself so that he could glance at her seated inside the coach while we talked.”

“We can discuss Mr. Thornton after you tell me about Margaret.”

“She seemed transfixed by his glances to her. Now, that may be all well and good when people first find an interest in each other, but Margaret didn’t realize she was staring back. She didn’t look away or cast her eyes downward. She sat there, beamed and absorbed his admiring gaze like a withering garden welcomes the rain. Thornton did nothing untoward except glance at her once in a while, but Margaret took it as being complimentary.”

“It could also be that Mr. Thornton was polite including her in the conversation. Now unless I understand this incorrectly, I have heard nothing wrong, yet. Yes, it does sound as if Margaret needs some guidance for which I will depend on you. Fred, she has never known men. She is at the age where they should become interesting, and they will find interest in her. She has been at home nearly all her life, except for school. I have not been much of a father in that regard. I should have been more involved with her learning of men. Your mother, I wish she was here. Don’t fault her for desires that are beginning. That is natural and right. She won’t understand it very much, I should think. They will be nothing compared to young men as yourself. I am sure you cannot believe me speaking of sins of the flesh, but once I was a young, vibrant man before college and meeting your mother. Finding a love of someone changes all of your attitudes. Yes, you being a man, will have to be her “teacher of men.”

“She’s not going to like my interfering. Perhaps, we should sit down and discuss that as a family, this evening.”

“Getting back to Mr. Thornton, he is a very popular man with the single ladies of Milton, and I dare say there are some married ones that would stray should he allow it. He’s quite the gentleman, growing wealthy, and has many leadership responsibilities. He is highly regarded. If he falls in love with our Margaret, I will welcome him into the family. But, and I say this with some hesitation for I am not sure, but I believe he has a lady he has seen for some time. There is a rumor of a pending announcement. We cannot allow him to tamper with Margaret’s affections if they are not sincere. You must discover if the rumor is true. However, I would never expect him to act ungentlemanly or purposely create false hopes.”

“Margaret and I are expecting to return this afternoon because his driver was out with Mrs. Thornton. I shall hope to see more of Mr. Thornton’s attentions at that time. He invited Margaret to tea with his mother while I talk to his driver.”

 

Margaret heard a light knock on her door. It certainly wasn’t Dixon tapping that gently. She went to the door to find that Bessie had stopped by.

“Oh, how good of you to visit. Come sit on my bed the way we did as young girls.”

Bessie removed her bonnet and slipped off her shoes. I’ve been wondering if you are getting excited about the Master’s Ball. It’s not far away. Saturday night. Have you planned all of your clothing? Do we need to buy anything?”

“Bessie slow down. You are making me breathless, and that’s the second time today.”

“Second? Bessie broke out in a smile and clapped her hands. Tell me. Tell me.”

“Fred and I went horse and buggy hunting. After a poor start, our coachman said that Mr. Thornton’s driver is the one we should seek. We drove over there. I was in old clothes because I thought I would be near horses and stables, so I stayed in the coach. Fred went looking for someone to talk with, and Mr. Thornton came to the coach. I think he stared at me.” Margaret’s cheeks popped out with her big smile.”

“And?”

“And what? He stared at me.”

“And this is what made you breathless?” Bessie looked at her with incredulity. Bessie realized she had worked around many men for a lot of years. Margaret was new to this.

Margaret promptly folded her arms and sulked.

“I’m sorry Margaret,” she said with a grin. “I know he is very handsome with his wavy black hair and those blue eyes and that tall, slender body. Perhaps, I felt that way the first time I say him, but he never made me breathless. He didn’t notice you struggling to breathe, did he?”

“I don’t know,” Margaret now whined, disappointed that her new friend couldn’t enjoy her moment today. “I can only remember me smiling, and he looked at me several times. He even came up to my window. Fred was rude to me on the way home. He said I was seducing him with my eyes. Now, is that not ridiculous?”

“Were you?”

“I have no idea what he means by that.”

“Oh, I am sure he’s just having fun with you. So, Fred is home, now?” Bessie smiled.

“Yes. He and I will be returning to see Mr. Thornton’s driver at 2:00 p.m. because he was not home earlier. I take it we should go down and have a cup of tea?”

“I would like that.”

“Alright. Come on. I shall watch and see if you seduce my brother with your eyes. He isn’t spoken for you know. I think I should warn you.”

“About . . . ?”

“He hasn’t taken a woman out for a long time. He’s talking about men stuff.”

“Men stuff? Stuff? Margaret, can you be more specific?”

“He said he needs to go to the tavern tonight. I asked him why. He as much as said it wasn’t any of my business.”

“Oh, you mean like going to a pub and having a few pints with the lads.”

“Maybe that’s all I do mean.”

“Margaret?” Bessie inhaled loudly. “You don’t mean that he . . . he  . .,” she was interrupted.

“I think I might. He as much as told me he isn’t chaste. He said he’d be a laughing stock in the Navy if he was. And furthermore, he told me with my seductive eyes, if I weren’t his sister, he would have swept me off my feet. Oh, this should be fun. Let’s go.”

Margaret grabbed Bessie’s hand and pulled her along. She didn’t even allow her to pick up her shoes on the way. Margaret rushed her down the stairwell, making little sound being shoeless. As Margaret came to an abrupt stop just before the parlor, Bessie ran into the back of her, knocking them both into the room and onto the floor. Margaret was pushed forward and then Bessie tripped over her feet.

Both Richard Hale and Fredrick jumped to their feet to assist. Both looked concerned  but then Fred started laughing at the two silly girls.

Margaret! What happened,” asked her father.

“I was hurrying Bessie along behind me, down the stairs. As I reached this doorway, I slowed down.”

“You stopped,” insisted Bessie., folding her arms.

“Are you sure?”

Bessie was embarrassingly red in the face, especially since it was Fred who helped her to stand.

“No, I am not sure, but we’re both fine. Just fine. Foolish, but fine.” Bessie was making sure her dress was laying as it should, and no hair had come out of place. She could tell Margaret’s brother thought the whole miserable display was amusing.

“Well, what’s done is done,” Margaret announced as she brushed her hands together as if they were dusty. We were coming down for a cup of tea.”

“Running, were you? Fred questioned.

“Racing. Yes, we were racing.”

“Did you both lose your shoes on the way?”

“No. We took those off, so we didn’t make much noise as we …ah… raced.”

“I’d say it was all evidence to the contrary.”

Richard Hale finally felt the amusement, picked up his paper but enjoyed the long-forgotten sounds of children at play.

“Bessie let’s go to the kitchen. Anyone else for tea?”

“I’ll have a cup, sis.”

“Not for me,” stated Richard Hale. “I think I shall go up and have a laydown. I do hope the festive noises are over.”

“I can promise for Bessie and I but not Fred.”

Fred stood and followed the girls into the kitchen.

 

John noticed his mother was home and walked across the yard to inform her of a tea guest this afternoon.

Hannah was already at work on her dinner party menu and figuring the extra staff that would be needed.

John came up the stairs, checking to see if her bedchamber door was closed.

“Hello, mother. How was your visit with Dr. Donaldson?”

“Nothing new to report John. These old bones will just  continue to give me aches and pains. He gave me powders for when it becomes bad.”

“Do you have much more on your dinner party planning?”

“I am more than half way through. I need to get the few extra staff members and get the food ordered.”

“Do you think this should be your last year of this?” John asked.

“John, you will have to pick up the expectation. I may slow down, but I will help plan. You will have to do some of the work next year.”

“Whatever you want, Mother. I stopped over to tell you that Miss Hale and her brother came earlier looking for Branson. I guess with her brother now home, he feels the family needs a small buggy and horse. He will be able to handle the rigging and such. With you being out, I invited them back to visit. I asked Miss Hale if she would care to take tea with you while her brother speaks to Branson.”

“I will be delighted to meet this teacher of yours. You’ve spoken of her enough.”

“No, I don’t believe I have done such as you say.”

“Yes, you have. Perhaps you didn’t realize it. You started to repeat yourself. Maybe those all seem like one conversation. I didn’t know the Hale’s had a son.”

“I didn’t either until today. It seems he’s been away in the Navy.”

“I should like to meet them. You haven’t forgotten you invited Adeline for dinner, did you?”

“No, of course not. I’ll go talk with Branson next. I will escort Miss Hale to the parlor. I’ll tell Cook on my way out the back.”

 

“Margaret, while we were having our cups of tea, did you notice how Bessie did not stare at me? She looked down or away when I glanced at her.”

“And because she was polite as you say, she’s supposed to be interested in you?”

“A man can tell these things.”

Margaret doubled over in a laughing fit. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. My brother just says those words so it must be true.

“Well . . . isn’t she interested in me?”

“ Get thee to a tavern and be quick about it.” Margaret felt so alive with her brother home to argue with and pounce upon. He was making her laugh as she hadn’t for years. He did more than come home, he brought her back with him.

‘What does a man know exactly?” Margaret asked, with a broad smile.

“I can’t give away our secrets, sis! It’s for men only.” Fred started to laugh to himself. He was stuck for an answer.

“Are you changed for your next cup of tea today? Don’t move around while at Mrs. Thornton’s house. She’s liable to hear you slosh.”

“Fred, do I look like I’ve changed? You are supposed to know that Bessie is interested in you because she looked away from you and you can’t even notice if I changed. It will only take a few minutes to get out of these stable clothes and shoes,” Margaret said, as she walked out of the room with airs.

“Well, do hurry, sis. Mr. Thornton may be replacing you in his mind right now.” Fred flopped on the couch laughing.

 

Fred was watching his sister as their rented coach pulled into the mill yard. He noticed Mr. Thornton standing outside talking to another man. Looking at his sister, he saw she was beaming.

“Fred, that is Mr. Thornton’s friend, his partner, and Bessie’s father. Do be on your best behavior. Imagine asking that gentleman for her hand in marriage.” Margaret began the giggles again.

As the coach slowed, John Thornton opened the door to hand out Margaret. She was smiling broadly. “You seem amused Miss Hale?”

Margaret had gone speechless with feeling his large warm hand caressing hers. She looked down and saw her four fingers lying in his palm, and he had placed his thumb over the top to secure her hold.

There was a moment, once Margaret stepped out when John noticed her staring at their hands. He thought his hands must be dirty and quickly checked them himself. “Miss Hale, I am sorry. Are my hands unclean?” He didn’t know what else to say.”

A sound of repressed laughter came from the other side of the coach as Fred imagined what must be happening.

“It is I who am sorry. With your grip, I felt very safe in stepping out. Some gentlemen make you hold onto them. I didn’t mean to stare.”

“I am surprised that you are surprised. I shall take that as a compliment if I may.” He saw Miss Hale light up again with smiles.

“Yes, it was a compliment.”

By then Fred was next to her. John introduced Fred to Nicholas Higgins.

“Mr. Higgins.” Fred shook his extended hand. “I have had the very great pleasure of meeting your daughter.”

“I hope that went well. She’s been quite shy most of her life, but she seems to be coming into her own finally.”

“She is quite a handsome woman.”

John, Nicholas, and Margaret, all stared at Fred.

Fred felt the light elbow to his arm from his sister.

“Just go see Mr. Thornton’s driver. Take your time. I will be enjoying Mrs. Thornton and a nice cup of tea. Is that not so, Mr. Thornton?”

“Indeed, it is so. She is looking forward to meeting you.”

Nichlos excused himself with his polite goodbyes.

“Fred, Branson’s quarters are behind the house. I shall escort your sister inside. Just knock on the back door when you are finished.”

“Thank you, sir.” Fred walked off, leaving Margaret and Mr. Thornton in the middle of the yard.

As they walked toward the Thornton front door, John had his hands clamped together behind his back. “You say your brother has completed some military service?”

Margaret turned to him and asked, “Does it show?”

“I’m sorry, does what show?”

“I don’t think he should have remarked on Bessie like that in front of her father at his first meeting.”

John smiled. “I’m not sure a gentleman would have done that quite this quickly, but he’s been away as you said the other day. Living with only men for a long time might tend to slant his etiquette a bit. I am sure it will return in little time.” John was still chuckling over the scene.

Nearing the door, Margaret asked, “Do men know when a woman is interested in them? My brother says that a man knows. I shouldn’t think he can tell that fast. What do you think?”

Looking heavenward, wanting to laugh, “Miss Hale, I believe I am at a disadvantage. I have not had that insight. Perhaps, men at sea tell tales to the younger lads.”

“That must be it. I think he’s taken to bragging since he’s been home.”

“Don’t be too quick to discredit what he says. Was he an officer.”

“Yes, for a while. He argued with his captain on the treatment of the crew. They disciplined him by putting him in jail and then released him not long ago.”

“I see.”

“Please, don’t see anything. It doesn’t reflect on me,” Margaret became worried at what she had said.

Smiling broadly, John looked at her. “Miss Hale, please have no concern there. I hardly know you. I hope we can remedy that in the future.”

Margaret’s cheeks were going to pop. “I wish for that as well. I’ve been a year annoyed about my lack of understanding at our initial meeting.”

“Let’s put that behind us, forever. Shall we? I was in a state that is not me.” John opened the door to the house.

“I appreciate that.”