The Lost Northbound Train – Part Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen – When Two Become One


The cold winds announcing fall began coming in from the north when, one evening, Father Patrick visited Betty’s cottage.

“I’ve good news for you, John and Margaret, but there’s also some bad news.”

“Oh!” Margaret’s anguished cry startled John, and he went to put his arm around her shoulder.

“For God’s sake, Father! Do tell us! You are upsetting Margaret.”

“I’m sorry, my dear,” Patrick apologized, “but I’m afraid a proper civil marriage isn’t possible. The Registrar has to enter your marriage in the register, and since you have no proper address nor legal whereabouts, that won’t be possible. However, you can marry in a religious marriage and be registered here, in the parish where Betty lives. Mr Routhledge, the local vicar, has agreed to perform the ceremony. You could be husband and wife within three weeks from the date the banns are published.”

Margaret immediately looked at John. Although her heart had just made a huge jump of joy inside her, she wasn’t sure about her betrothed’s reaction. John had set rules for himself that could be very strict. Being engaged to him, she was now subjected to those same rules.

She was seeing conflicting feelings on that strong face of his; a bit of doubt, a touch of fear but also, relief.

“My darling,” he said softly, “do you find it convenient if we go to Mr Routhledge and ask him to publish our banns?”

Margaret flung herself around his neck in sheer joy!


On the tenth of October 2013, John and Margaret were wed in the parish church of St Mary’s at Sileby by Mr Routhledge, the vicar. Margaret was wearing a beautiful, mint-green dress in the finest cotton, that reached halfway down her legs, in transparent white stockings, to reveal her slim feet in short, white, high-heeled boots. To protect herself from the biting wind, she had donned a woollen coat, a bit longer than her dress, and of a green a bit darker than that of her dress. She could not stop glancing at her bridegroom in his three-piece black suit of fine wool over a light blue linen shirt and matching tie. Even without the glorious cravats he used to wear in 1852, John managed to look simply dashing.

Father Patrick was there too and acted as a witness for John and also, for Jowan. He and Marjorie finally decided to be husband and wife and begin a real family, now that their baby was duly underway. Betty was radiant with pride and joy for the two lovely couples in front of the altar. She was Margaret’s witness and Dorothy, Paul Burrows’ wife had agreed to be Marjorie’s. Of course, Jowan’s parents were also present.

After the ceremony, the whole company went to “The Green Huntsman” to celebrate with a fine meal and a few bottles of champagne.

John and Margaret were then settled in a taxi, which brought them to a nearby hotel for their wedding night. This was Mr Thorn’s wedding present for the newlyweds, as a token of his appreciation for John, who’d worked so hard in the pub. They would stay for three days and enjoy a quiet honeymoon in Leicester.

After the door closed behind them, they found themselves in a pretty room of large proportions, upholstered in a twenty-first century version of the Victorian style, with dark mahogany furniture and long, dark red velvet curtains. A flower-patterned wallpaper covered the walls and their feet sunk into a thick carpet of a rich brown, sprinkled with tiny rose buds. However, their eyes were drawn to the big four-poster bed with its silken bedspread.

Margaret’s breath escaped her lips in a helpless little sigh of both anxiety and anticipation. This was her wedding night with John! She turned towards her husband and immediately was enveloped in his intense blue gaze, burning dark with unmistakeable desire. It startled her, despite the stirring of her own rising need. How familiar this feeling had become, she reflected. This surge of heat, originating low in her abdomen and spreading slowly through her entire body, until she shivered from the intensity of it.

John saw the slight shudder of fear in Margaret’s stance and his heart clenched with deep, uncontrolled love for her. He opened his arms and offered her his brightest smile.

“Come, my love.” He said it with a voice so husky with suppressed need, that Margaret instantly responded to his call and stepped into the waiting circle of his arms. She felt so safe and so whole as her cheek came to rest against the hard surface of his chest.

“My sweet Margaret …” The deep, warm rumble of his voice kindled the fire within her to a heat and Margaret lifted her face for him to kiss her. He took her mouth in his with a fierceness that made her want to press even closer to him. Plundering her mouth with his tongue, revelling in the sweet, clean taste of it, John moaned and let his hands move to the back of her dress. Slowly unzipping it, his fingers felt only the soften silkiness of her creamy skin until they found her bra, which he unhooked deftly. Margaret gasped as her breasts came free from their restraint.

“Shhh, love … relax … let me finish.”

Suppressing the burning need to simply throw her onto the bed and take her, John forced himself to go slowly. He eased Margaret’s dress from her shoulders, removing the bra in the process, and his hands followed the fabric as it fell to the ground, tracing the lush yet delicate curves of her gorgeous body. The soft moans, escaping from her moist lips, delighted him to a sudden edge of fierce arousal, and he pressed her against his body to let her feel how he ached for her.

Margaret felt the long hardness push against the silk of her drawers, and a sudden wetness pooled between her legs in a rush of heat. It was breathtaking! Swirls of molten fire started to originate in her belly with tantalizing progress. She found herself tugging at John’s jacket and removing it. Then she attacked his waistcoat and shirt, unfastening buttons as they came. Finally, at last, she found the warm yet soft skin of his bare chest and roved her hands over the taut muscles in delight.

“Slowly, my sweet. Do not rush things.”

John’s suave baritone voice sounded at the edge of her ear, and Margaret closed her eyes, better to savour the moment. She felt John’s hands slide down her body to her legs. Her stockings were being peeled off her legs and her drawers followed and, at the back of her mind, she acknowledged vaguely that she was naked.

She looked down to see her husband’s gaze travel over her in awe. Heat swirling through her, she continued working on John’s clothing with a determination of steel. She wanted him naked too, as quickly as possible.

That goal finally achieved, they stood contemplating each other for a while, eyes big with wonder.

“My God, Margaret! You are so incredibly beautiful, my love …”

“So are you, John … I … it is the first time I … oh, oh, it’s … it’s so … “

“What?” John chuckled. “Don’t you like what you see? I can put on my clothes again and …”

“No! No, don’t do that!” Margaret shrieked in panic.

John swooped her up in his arms so swiftly her breath seemed to become solid within her. With endless tenderness, he positioned her on the turned-up bed and lowered himself beside her. His hand followed the soft curve of her cheek to cup her face and kiss her. Margaret gave herself over to that kiss with rapt eagerness, and now her body was aching for him. John felt the length of her slender figure touch every inch of him and again he had to control himself fiercely not to go till the end.

With slow, teasing touches of lips, tongue and teeth, he traced the curve of her neck to descend further to her shoulder and lower, to the onset of her breasts until, at last, his lips encountered the hard peaks. Margaret gave a small cry of delight when he nibbled, first one peak and then, the other. The ache in her belly became a roaring fire, and she pressed herself hard against the steely length of him, marvelling in the delicious tortures it unleashed in her.

While Margaret was savouring all those swirls deep inside her, John began kissing her along her flat stomach and down to the dark triangle that covered her femininity. God, the scent of her! All roses and cream, so completely woman! He gently parted her thighs with trembling hands to gain access to her deepest core, kissing her warm folds, tasting her sweetness and shivering with the delight of it.

Margaret arched her back to meet his mouth even closer, swept up by waves and waves of sheer, uncontrolled pleasure. She buried her hands in John’s thick, black curls, slid her hands over the hard muscles of his back. Her legs gripped him around the waist with only one purpose; to bring that tantalizing mouth of his deeper into her core. Suddenly, she came in a rush of heat so fierce that she cried out in the bliss of her intense release.

John positioned himself between her thighs and slowly eased himself into her wetness. Oh Lord! She was still pulsing with the bliss of her aftermath. It tore at his control so fiercely that he had to fight the incredibly powerful urge to let himself go.

He began thrusting carefully while he waited patiently between strokes until she adjusted herself to his weight and to the rhythm of he set. When Margaret started to follow his pace, he gradually began pushing harder and faster.

A faint little whimper escaped her as a sharp pain meandered through her deepest core.

John instantly stopped and drew her close.

“I am so sorry, my darling, did I hurt you? The pain won’t last, sweetheart, do not be afraid.”

“John …”

“Yes, my heart?”

“Do not stop, please?”

Exulting in her eagerness, John resumed his lovemaking, thrusting gently into her sleek womanhood. As he felt Margaret respond again to his caresses, he gave himself over to his own arousal completely. Rushes of heat swept through him as his strokes became stronger and faster. Margaret climaxed suddenly and she cried out, her inner muscles clenching around his manhood, which caused the wave of desire to sweep him higher and higher until it pushed him over the edge in a powerful release.

Shock after shock of sheer bliss rolled over him, and his breath was harsh and loud as he struggled for air. Sweet Lord in Heaven! Later, much later, he lay down beside Margaret, taking her into his arms and, pulling the bedclothes over them both, he cradled her tousled head against his heart. Sweet oblivion settled over John, now that Margaret was finally his.

The Lost Northbound Train – Part Seventeen

Chapter Seventeen – Setting Things In Motion

The priest continued in the same, relaxed way, not giving them a chance to recollect themselves after the first shock John and Margaret had suffered.


“I have to dress the old-fashioned way, you know. People in this neighbourhood still feel strongly about every man that holds a position in religion; they want to know him for what he is, no more, no less. Certainly, no less. A priest must look like one. I came here in jeans and leather jacket but I soon changed into traditional garb since I was ignored, even by the few Irish that live here. Now, what can I do for you, my good people? Sit down, sit down. Sharia, my pet, won’t you ask Mrs Trundle if she can serve us some tea, there’s a good girl?”

Betty, noticing the couple’s embarrassment, took over.

“Patrick, this is John Thornton and his fiancée, Margaret Hale. They’ve been staying at my house since a couple of weeks now. They would like to be married, only, they are illegally staying in the country. I know how you dealt with cases like that in the past and I thought you might be able to help them.”

The priest showed no visible surprise or rejection.

“So, you don’t have the necessary documents to prove your identity? Well, you just have come to the right neighbourhood, then. Half the residents are in the exact same position as you are. But, forgive me for asking, Thornton looks like a real British name to me, and so does Hale. What’s happening here?”

The indomitable Betty opened her big handbag and pulled a book out of it.

“Here, Patrick. I think you should have a look at this. Go directly for the back cover.”

How am I to dress up in my finery, and go off and away to smart parties, after the sorrow I have seen today?’


When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill-workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice.

This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man

John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over treatment over his employees masks a deeper attraction.

In North and South Elizabeth Gaskell skilfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

John watched the priest as he was reading with sharp attention what was on the page. The absurdity of it all again hit him with considerable force. How was one to explain what had happened to him and Margaret? John wasn’t even sure he understood himself but here he was – propelled forward into time for the span of a hundred and sixty years. It was mind-blowing!

Father Patrick looked up to gaze directly at John first and then at Margaret.

“Look here,” he said slowly, “if you hadn’t come with Betty, I would have taken you for two people who are seriously confused in their minds. People who are so shaken by life that they seek relief in extreme escapism by posing as characters out of a novel. But I have known Betty for ten years now, and she is the most level-headed person I know. So I have no choice but to believe her. You two are the John and Margaret of a Gaskell novel but you have ended up here, not only real but also with knowledge of your past lives or – at least – how this novel describes them?”

“Yes, Father,” John replied in a steady voice, “we were in a train carriage somewhere between London and Milton, in 1852. The train stopped, and we discovered that the carriage, we were in was all that was left of the train. We alighted and found ourselves in the twenty-first century.

Somehow – and do not ask me how for I have no inkling – we must have gone through a time portal.”

Father Patrick nodded.

“Well,” he mused, “it’s certainly very unusual and utterly inexplicable, but there are more things between Heaven and Earth that are also inexplicable to us, mere mortals. You must have been thoroughly shaken by the experience! A time gap of a hundred and sixty years is immense. The changes that have taken place must overwhelm the two of you.”

John smiled and took Margaret’s hand in his.

“Margaret and I are in this together, Father. We draw whatever courage we can from each other’s presence and support. But you are right; we do keep being amazed – and sometimes shocked – by all the unknown new things that we’re discovering. It’s mind-boggling what people have achieved over the years.”

Father Patrick studied the couple sitting in front of his desk with interest. They were so obviously not in their right place, even though they were dressed in jeans, T-shirt and denim jacket. The girl’s hair was a rich, chocolate brown, wavy and thick, and tied in a tail in the nape of her neck but Patrick could easily picture her with her hair piled up on top of her head as was the custom in the eighteen-hundreds. The man’s bearing was full of quiet dignity and strong authority, as was befitting his status as a manufacturer from 1852. They were deeply in love; he could feel the strength of that love in every look they gave each other, in every sweet, yet very shaky smile. They were also very afraid. The force of that fear seeped through their every action and was visible in the depths of their eyes.

“What would you have me do to help you, people?” he asked quietly, folding his hands before him.

The girl spoke for the first time, directing her blue eyes at him.

“We want you to marry us, Father.”


After they had all returned to Betty’s cottage and explained to Jowan where they had been, Margaret wanted Marjorie to go and rest. The young woman’s face was very pale and she seemed exhausted. Betty and Margaret then saw to supper.

“Do you think Father Patrick can marry us, Betty?” Margaret asked.

“No, dear, since you and John are no Roman-Catholics. But he knows a lot of people, and I’m sure he can find a clergyman of The Church of England to perform the ceremony. I was surprised, though, when he said he wanted to read ‘North & South’ first.”

“I am not,” John said, matter-of-factly. “If I were in his shoes, I would have done the same thing. It is of the uttermost importance for a priest to know everything there is about the couple.”

“So you’re really going through with it, John?” Jowan asked, while he sat down and began buttering toast.

“Of course I am. Margaret and I have chosen each other for life, and we want to seal our union for life, also.” He extended a hand to Margaret who took it and smiled sweetly at him.

“I should go and bring Marjorie something to eat,” she said. “She was really tired, Jowan. She’s well up in her second trimester now, yet her nausea spells keep coming up still.”

When she entered Marjorie’s room, Margaret found her friend sitting in a chair in front of the window.

“I brought you some toast and scrambled eggs and some tea, Marjorie. You should be in bed, you know. You need a lot of rest.”

Marjorie swung round to face her, distress plainly on her face.

“I envy you, Margaret. What did John do to persuade you to marry him?”

Margaret put her tray on the dressing table and looked at her friend in astonishment.

“What do you mean ‘persuade me’? John proposed to me a long time ago, you know that from – well, from the film and the book. I was so stupid and stubborn. I did not see what a good man he was and how much he loved me. I have a lot to make up to him, Marjorie, for I must have caused him great sorrow. Yet, he did not stop loving me but kept hoping we would come together. God knows I have kept him waiting a long time, refusing to realise that I, too had started loving him. It is only natural that we should become man and wife, now that we both know we love each other.”

“Yes, but when did you realise that you loved him? What did persuade you that he was the right man for you? What had changed, so long after that first proposal?”

Margaret suddenly found herself blushing with embarrassment.

“Marjorie, I think I was attracted to John from the first time I set eyes on him, in the sorting room at Marlborough Mills. Yet, the attraction turned instantly into revulsion, when I saw him beat Stephens. I remember being troubled for days, after that. I kept seeing his angry face, and the appalling violence he used to punish a worker who was weaker than himself. From then on, I fought the attraction and focussed on the revulsion. John – time after time – confused me when one minute, he was arrogant and cruel and abrasive and, the next minute, he was compassionate and civil. And at some point, he was downright sweet. That was when he broke through my defences, so gradually that I did not see it. After Mason came to tell me John had annulled the coroner’s inquest after the death of Leonards, it suddenly dawned on me just how much he must love me. At that same moment, I realised I loved him too.”

“But he withdrew from you then, isn’t it? He was persuading himself that it would never work out between the two of you.”

“Yes!” Margaret exclaimed. “Oh, I was such a goose, Marjorie! I did not know how to deal with his newfound aloofness, which hurt me very deeply. There were times when I wanted to scream at him, to shout out loud that I loved him! But my upbringing prevented me from doing so. Thank God, we got another chance, at that train station. Now I absolutely know I will never let him go again.”

Marjorie nodded, her face very earnest.

“Maybe I should let Jowan break through my defences too, isn’t it? Maybe it’s time I accepted his proposal, now that we’re going to have a baby together.”


The Lost Northbound Train – Part Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen – Choices


Of course, things were not that simple. To get legally married, first and foremost, you needed an identity. One that you could prove with the required documents, to boot. There was no way John Thornton could prove himself an Englishman, even though he had lived in England all his life. Margaret was in the exact same situation. In 1852, people didn’t have passports or driver’s licences.

John and Margaret thought long and hard about it and discussed it with their friends. Jowan promised to ask around at the hospital’s legal department. These people sometimes had to deal with illegal immigrants. A situation similar to the one John and Margaret were in. The thought was bewildering!


After a few days of fretting, Margaret couldn’t stand it anymore and she went into Leicester after work to find John at “The Green Huntsman”.

There were only a few customers, she saw, and she was glad about it. John would be able to make time for her. In her quiet, sweet way, Margaret greeted Paul behind the bar.

“Hello, Paul,” she said, smiling, “where can I find John?”

Paul Burrows liked Margaret immensely. She was the kind of girl that reminded him of his own Dorothy when she had that age. Dorothy too had been shy but determined when she had something on her mind that she wanted to sort out. Oh, and he could see Margaret definitively had something to sort out! Her little, rounded chin stuck out in stubbornness and her eyes shone with resolution.

“He’ll be in the kitchen, love, discussing menus with Monsieur Robert. Shall I fetch him for you?”

“No, thank you. I will go find him myself.”

Paul watched Margaret as she disappeared through the door leading to the back of the restaurant. She was such an elegant little thing, he thought. Just look at the way she strode through the place. Margaret didn’t just walk, no, she strode, as if she were walking down the aisle of a church. Even in jeans and sneakers, Margaret managed to walk very elegantly.


Monsieur Robert and his new help Malik, a sixteen year old Pakistani boy who tried to scrape enough money to buy himself a motorbike, were busy preparing food for the evening meals. John was nowhere to be seen, and Margaret panicked just a little. She retreated to the pub again, suddenly scared as hell. John … where was he? For some unknown, absurd reason, Margaret had a sudden vision about John gone back to 1852, and she left behind in the twenty-first century. What if he had found a new portal, gone through it and was now unable to come back? The train carriage surely could not be the only way to travel between times, could it?

Like the flood of a river swollen by spring’s melted snow, Margaret felt panic overwhelm her and grab her by the throat. A life without John! She would perish from sheer sorrow! Abruptly she treaded back and bumped into the wall, her knees trembling and her heart thumping. Closing her eyes, she found her mind racing with terror. Sweat broke out all over her body, and she gave a little moan.

“Margaret! Sweetheart, what is wrong? Come here!”

John’s arms engulfed her, and her head came to rest against his hard chest, its top barely brushing his chin.

“John …” she breathed.

“Hey, hey, what has come over you, darling? You’re shaking! Have you hurt yourself? Are you unwell?”

“No … it’s nothing … I’m being silly …”

“Oh, yes? How so? Tell me.”

“I thought you had disappeared to 1852 again without taking me. I know it’s very silly but it looked so real!”

John’s heart turned into water, just at the implication of what she was saying. That he had gone, leaving her behind. Why would an absurd thing like that come into her head?

“My sweet darling little goose, would I ever do such a stupid thing? It would kill me, for sure! A life without you would mean the death of me, Margaret. Oh, you silly little adorable goose!”

He pressed her so close that she let out a small cry of protest.

“John, you will crush me if you continue in that way!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetheart. You had me in a panic, you know? Now, what brings you here, all of a sudden? It is unusual for you to venture into Leicester on your own.”

“I took the bus into town after work instead of returning to the cottage.”

“You … YOU … took the bus? The bus crowded with people, and you were not scared? I’m amazed, Margaret! There was a time when you were afraid of crowds.”

“I was a little afraid at first but I conquered it. After all, people take the bus all the time in 2013. If I am to live here and now, I want to do what other people do.”

She looked up into John’s face with determined gravity.

“If we are to live here, John, I want to be like other people. I want to have a real relationship with you.”

Reluctantly, John released her to rake a hand through his hair.

“Margaret, I am doing all I can to figure out what we can do to get married but those things take time and …”

“I do not want to wait, John. The longer we stay here, the harder it will become, just to be together and not …”

The fact that she hesitated, told John that she wasn’t yet completely sure herself and, more important, that she struggled with the whole blasted situation. So did he. It was so bloody confusing, damn it!

“Margaret, I know that, believe me! Yet, I refuse to let despair overwhelm me. We will weather this, I promise you. Just give me a couple of days, please? If the situation has not become clearer then, we will …”

In sudden passion John took Margaret by the shoulders and looked deep into her eyes.

“I will make you mine, my love. Don’t you know how much I want you, you must know how much it takes me to … just hold back? I am a man, Margaret, and I am deeply in love with the most beautiful woman on earth. Living with you, day after day, under the same roof and not be allowed to love you completely, is torture beyond bearing, Margaret!”

“John …” Margaret whispered, her lovely eyes filling with tears of compassion, “I am so sorry I only made it harder for you … for us, with my whining. Please, forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive, my love,” John said and kissed her softly on the mouth.


“Hum!” a voice sounded and the couple leapt with surprise to see Betty standing a few yards away.

“I’m sorry, my darlings,” she said and smiled at them, “but I couldn’t help overhearing. I think I have the solution for your problem, or at least, I know someone who might help. Can you come with me now or haven’t you finished with your work here tonight, John? In that case, I could …”

“No, Betty, no. I could stop right now and come with you. Margaret has finished work already, so she can come too.”

“Splendid! Let’s go then!”

Outside the pub they found Marjorie in her car, parked in front. As soon as they’d gotten in, she drove away and took them to one of the less finer neighbourhoods of town. She stopped in front of a terraced house which must have had better days a century before but was now in a rather shabby state. In fact, the whole street was shabby but it was also alive with the hustle and bustle of people, few of them English. There were shops where women were buying their groceries, bargaining aloud with the Indian or Pakistani shopkeepers, and children were playing and chasing each other in laughter and merriment. Men sat in front of coffee shops, drinking and smoking and arguing, most of them speaking in rapid Arabic and gesticulating ardently.

Margaret was overwhelmed with the liveliness of the place which reminded her of Milton’s Princeton district. It gave her a pang of home sickness, so vivid, that tears filled her eyes. Nicholas and Mary … how she missed them …

However, Betty didn’t give her time to reminiscence much. She told them to get out so that Marjorie could go and park the car.

“Here we are!” she said briskly and banged a fist on the front door, which was badly in need of paint.

It was opened a crack by a little girl in brightly coloured Oriental trousers and tunic.

“Hello, Sharia!,” Betty greeted her. “Is Father Patrick in?”

“Yes, Mrs Betty, come in, please?”

Margaret and John followed her inside a narrow corridor, also badly in need of paint but otherwise very clean and tidy. Sharia opened a door on the left side and gestured them in, announcing them loudly.

“Mrs Betty and visitors, Father!”

“Come in! Come in! Welcome!” a deep rumbling voice in an unmistakable Irish accent boomed. The next moment John and Margaret found themselves vigorously shaking hands with a large man in the black robes of a Catholic priest.

“I’m Father Patrick, pastor of this multicoloured parish. How can I help you, folks?”



The Lost Northbound Train – Part Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen – Blending In


Within three weeks John and Margaret’s situation had thoroughly changed.

John was doing a hell of a job at “The Green Huntsman”. With Jowan’s help, he hired an elderly man who retired from public service the year before but who had done some pub work in his spare time to have an extra income. Paul Burrows was a short, slender man with a shock of white hair and a pair of dark brown eyes. He had kept himself fairly fit over the years by working out at a gym. A couple of years before, his two daughters had left the house to set up their own households – finally, as Paul stated to John – since they had lingered at home for far too long in their father’s opinion. His eldest had recently become a mother, and Paul’s wife Dorothy was so besotted with her first grandson that she spent all her waking hours with him. Paul felt a little lonesome lately, so he jumped at the chance of making a little money on the sideline. John found out pretty quickly that Paul was a regular employee, hard-working and honest. Despite his short stature, he could display authority when it was needed in the pub. John was very much taken with him.

Margaret too was settling in nicely. She accompanied Betty to the old people’s home “The Larks” and found herself loving working for and with the elderly, especially with the ones that suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. They were the ones that were completely defenceless, as vulnerable as babies, but Margaret loved the way they smiled at her when she helped them. Even though they had no idea of what she was doing or why, they often communicated the only way they still could – with a smile. Then there were the silent ones, those who had withdrawn within themselves into a world thoroughly closed to others. Margaret just helped them where she could, mostly at meal times, when she would butter their toast and feed it to them, or make sure they finished their plates and help them drink. It was a difficult task since there were not enough nurses to help all the people. Margaret usually busied herself with five or six people at the same time.

She had only been working at “The Larks” for a week when she was asked to come and work for a private service that helped elderly people who wanted to stay in their homes as long as possible. Small household tasks were needed, such as dusting and cleaning, making beds, cooking simple meals, doing the shopping. Most of all, those elderly needed the contact with others, so that they could talk and reminiscence about the past. Margaret eagerly agreed, especially since this job came with a small salary which was very welcome. She didn’t give up her work at “The Larks”, though she just wasn’t able anymore to come in every day.

On Sundays, John and Margaret went for long, lazy walks through the lush Leicestershire countryside. It was September now and the leaves, though still a dark green, were inevitably turning golden.

John loved these walks immensely. Strolling over country paths, hand in hand with Margaret, he frequently took her in his arms in spots that were hidden from view. He knew Margaret was still a bit shy about embracing in broad daylight where people could see them. He’d had problems with it himself but with what he daily saw in the pub, he’d realised the people in this era didn’t care a bit about propriety and good manners. They just did the things they enjoyed, and embracing in public in the middle of the day was very common now. Yet he acknowledged Margaret’s qualms because he respected her.


On one of such walks, Margaret and John found a spot in the woods where trees had been cleared and sunlight threw a dappled golden light through the remaining tree leaves. The forest floor was carpeted with soft green moss, and they stretched out on it, enjoying the quiet peace of nature around them.

Margaret’s head rested on her beloved’s chest while she was cradled in his arms, the strong, steady beat of his heart against her cheek. She could have felt completely at ease but for one thought that had been nagging her since days. Timidly but determinedly as was her habit, Margaret broached the subject.

“John, where do we stand on the matter of our wedding?”


She caught John completely off guard. He had been so busy, these last weeks, that he had totally forgot about their future together. How could he have done so? Wasn’t Margaret the most important person in his life? Yes, and yet he had let his feelings go dormant in the rush of new things that drowned him, without even noticing it.

“My sweet Margaret,” he whispered, cupping her face to look deep into her lovely blue-green eyes, “if you still want me for a husband, I am at your feet. I just do not have the slightest notion as to how we are going to make it come true.”

Margaret smiled a little sadly.

“Yes, it all depends whether we stay here or return to our own time and Milton, does it not?”

“We cannot return, sweetheart, the portal is gone.”

“John, I do not know how I know this but I do think the portal is not available anymore for a reason. We are meant to spend some time here in this era so that we can learn from it and then take it back to 1852. With that knowledge we could improve so much in our own time. Just think about the way the hospitals are organized. So clean and efficient! They have homes for old people here, John! People grow old in this century. I saw several ninety-year-old and a lot of people reach eighty very easily. A great deal of them are even fairly fit, physically and mentally.”

John, who’d gone to “The Larks” with Margaret once or twice, particularly remembered the Alzheimer cases.

“Yes, but many of them have their mind slipped away from them also. I do not wish to grow old like that, Margaret, it scares me.”

“At least they are given the chance to grow old, John!” Her cheeks were flushed now, and she was warming to her subject rapidly. “In 1852, people just die long before they reach sixty! Their minds are already numb with misery from the day they are born!”

John appalled2

With a sudden shock, John recalled that day when he had gone to speak to Higgins in the Princeton district and wandered through the dismal alleys. He again felt the pity over the black despair that marked the faces of the people there, crouching before their homes. He again was moved by the absolute misery that made the children whimper and cower like cornered animals when they knew they were going to be killed by the hunters. No hope for the future, no joy. That day, John had realised that these people were his people, his workers and their families. Living, breathing and struggling to survive. That day, he had understood why Margaret so loved this people. She knew what it was to lose someone to a disease like measles or pneumonia that could have been prevented by a minimum of concern and care. Had she not lost her dear friend Bessy Higgins?                                                                                                           “So do you think we will be given a chance to go back to 1852, then?” he asked Margaret.                      “Yes, I do, John. I believe that we will find the portal when we are ready to go back. But that was not my question, my love. I asked you if we should not get married here, in this present era. After all, we do not know when the portal will appear again, and I cannot wait endlessly to become your wife. It is my dearest wish to become yours, John, completely and without restraint.”

“Oh, my dear heart!” John cried, pulling her to him. “I too wish this fervently! Let’s do it, Margaret! Let’s get married.”

The Lost Northbound Train – Part Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen – Taking Stock


Around three in the morning, John, Margaret and Jowan finally returned to Betty’s cottage, all of them weary to the bone. Yet, all pressing and disturbing issues had been brought to a satisfactory end.

Jowan’s father was recuperating from his stroke which in the end, was not that severe. The doctors had every confidence of him leaving the hospital as soon as his vitals were back to normal. Mrs Thorn was back in her home and her sister, living nearby in a Leicestershire village had come to keep her company, whilst Mr Thorn was still in hospital.

Jowan now faced the problem of his father’s pub and he wasn’t happy about it.

“How am I going to do this?” he asked John when they all sat in the cottage’s kitchen where Betty, roused from a fitful dose on the settee, had provided them with tea and cookies to set them straight again.

John, who had problems of his own to deal with, hazarded a proposition.

“Well, you saw what I did in the pub, didn’t you? What would you say if I was to return there in the morning and in the days to follow and run it for you? I like Robert Duvalier. He deserves to be supported and therefore needs hands. The pub is seriously understaffed, Jowan. I gathered that there’s a large clientele at noon, and on Sundays, and also, on nights when they show sports on television. If you could hire an extra kitchen help and a man behind the counter, I could set them to work efficiently.”

“You would do that for me? That would be … well, splendid! I can’t get away from my duties at the hospital, and nor can Marjorie. Thanks, John! I agree on the staff issue and will see to it first thing tomorrow.”

The two men toasted their tea cups when a quiet voice interrupted them.

“And what about me? What am I to do with my time?”

Two pair of astonished male eyes turned in Margaret’s direction.

“I think I have the answer to that, dear,” Betty’s calm voice came. “You must accompany me when I do my voluntary work at the old people’s home in Leicester. There’s a great need of helping hands in every aspect of the caring for them, especially feeding them, an activity for which there’s a serious understaffing.”

“I would be allowed to do that?” Margaret asked, with bright eyes.

“Yes, of course. No financial compensation, I’m afraid. The home is in serious need of funds, although the National Health Service is doing what they can. But you, my dear, have the right skills and temperament for such a task, being compassionate and patient as you are.”

Margaret blushed at Betty’s appraisal and met John’s fond gaze when she raised her eyes again.

“I would like that very much, Betty. Thank you for your kindness.”

“Well,” Jowan said, rising and yawning, “I don’t know about you, guys, but I’m turning in. I’m absolutely knackered! Goodnight!”

They all stood and went for their rooms. Margaret laid a hesitating hand on John’s arm.

“John, we must talk,” she said softly because she didn’t want the others to hear.

“What is it, my love?”

“Come with me to my room,” she urged and then coloured a fierce red as she realised what she just said and implied but John did not seem to notice. He nodded, curled an arm around her waist and steered her to the room she was using as her bed chamber.


Once inside, John could not contain himself any longer and did what he had wanted to do all day long, and a blasted eternally long day it had been! He drew his Margaret into his arms and kissed her as hard as he could.

Welcoming the violent stir of desire deep inside him, he deepened their kiss as soon as he registered Margaret’s own, fierce reaction. She hugged her body close to his and, through the thin fabric of the cotton blouse she was wearing, he suddenly felt the peaks of her breasts against his chest. Dear Lord  in heaven …

While he was plundering her lush mouth with his tongue, his body was screaming with need as a reaction to the little, needy moans Margaret was uttering between gasps of breath. He tore himself away from her before his own need would drive him to act upon it.

“My dearest love,” he breathed, “are we not so lost in this madness that we do not know anymore what is right and what to do? I know I am. Without you, my Margaret, I should go insane out of sheer confusion. Thank God that I can at least hold you in my arms and restore my inner peace.”

Margaret raised her face upwards and suddenly his heart stopped at the sight of her beautiful eyes overflowing with tears. The desolation in her look tugged at him with violent sorrow.

“Margaret, sweetest, what is the matter? You are weeping! Is it my doing? Tell me, for heaven’s sake!”

Margaret freed herself from his anxious grasp and wiped her cheeks clean with hasty hands.

“Forgive me, John, it is nothing. Only my stupid weakness of character that turns me into a puddle every time something arises that I cannot handle. It will not happen again, my love.”

She laid her hand against John’s cheek and peered into his eyes, shyly smiling.

“And, John, I too am immensely happy that you are with me. I too would not have born the strength to endure all this. But, meanwhile, we are indeed caught in the middle of it and must deal with it.”

She drew him with her to the bed and made him sit down beside her.

“Now, tell me. Something is worrying you, John. I saw it all too clear, during this long, long day.”

“You are right, sweetest. When I walked through the countryside, last night, I noticed the train carriage had disappeared. We no longer have a portal to go back to our own time.”

Margaret raised startled eyes to him.

“Oh, John! What will we do? How is this even possible?”

“I don’t know, my darling, but I do know we are trapped here, in this century. We have to make the best of it, which means I have to make a living. We cannot keep living off Jowan, Marjorie and Betty forever.”

Margaret nodded in agreement and asked, “What profession will you take on, John? And I, should I also try and earn some money? In this century, women stand on their own two feet. I like that, John, and I would welcome an income of my own. Do you suppose we could still make use of the money I inherited from Mr Bell?”

“No, Margaret, that is impossible. We even have no real identity any more. I spoke with Jowan, earlier, and it seems that you must have a way to prove who you are, if asked for by the authorities. Jowan uses his driver’s license, which is needed if you want to drive the motored vehicles of this era, or his British passport, which is needed if you want to go abroad.”

“Can we get one of these, John? We must if we want to blend in with the rest.”

John chuckled and shook his head.

“For the driver’s license, you have to pass a test, and I must learn to drive a motor car first. Jowan tells me it needs a lot of practicing. To obtain a passport, I must prove myself a British citizen, which I could do by proving that I was born in England or have lived in England for ten years.”

“Oh! That is fine, then!” Margaret exclaimed. “We  have lived in England all our lives!”

“Yes, but how are we going to prove that, darling? I was under the assumption that I was living in Milton and now, Jowan tells me Milton does not really exists! That Milton and Helstone are products of a writer’s imagination, that we are characters in a novel. It is utterly confusing and inexplicable, Margaret. Yet, we have to make the best of it, so I am going to run “The Green Huntsman” for a living. Jowan and I will work out a suitable compensation.”

He drew her closer and kissed her brow.

“We will weather this, Margaret. It is a promise I make to you, here and now.”



The Lost Northbound Train – Part Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen –  Human Sorrow Will Not Alter Over Time 


Margaret watched Jowan’s mother as the older woman sat next to her in the silent waiting area at Leicester UH. Mrs Thorn was clasping her hands in worry; and her fingers kept plucking at the back of her hands. With a shock Margaret recognised that gesture; it was one that her own mother used to have whenever she was in serious concern about something. Poor Mama was forever concerned about something or other, Margaret recalled. The despair of the gesture tugged at her heart, and she covered Mrs Thorn’s hands with one of her own for comfort.


“Please, Mrs Thorn, Ma’am, keep heart. I am positively sure the doctors of this hospital will do their utmost best for your husband. I had the privilege of observing them today when a major motorcar accident brought in many injured people. They were perfectly up to the task, I assure you.”

“Thank you, dear, I’ll try but … but …”

The tears, kept at bay for too long, spilled from the poor woman’s eyes, and Margaret laid her arms around the slender shoulders.

“Shhh … there, there …”

A sharp vision of the past shot through her head; her mother, weeping inconsolably on the settee, when she knew she must die in a short time. It had been the night of Mrs Thornton’s dinner party and Margaret, despite an earlier sweet interlude with John, had violently quarrelled with him over the dinner table. The look of contempt in his eyes had haunted her for days. All that had been supplanted by the huge anxiety over her mother’s health.

“I’m sorry, Miss Margaret, I lost control for just a while.”

“You may drop the “miss”, Mrs Thorn, and please, it is only too natural to feel concern about the ones we love. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to show it.”

“You’re a sweet girl, Margaret. I very much appreciate that you’re staying here with me. My name is Maria.”

“Oh!” Margaret exclaimed in surprise, “Maria, that was my mother’s name!”

“Was? Does that mean your mother passed away?”

“Yes, only half a year ago … my father followed her three months after.”

“You had your own part of sorrow, then, my dear. Life can be cruel, can’t it?”

Margaret nodded. The two women held each other for support and comfort.


In the kitchen of “The Green Huntsman” in Leicester’s town centre, Monsieur Robert Duvalier, cook and Frenchman, eyed the tall, lean man in front of him with suspicion. The newcomer was clad in dark jeans, white shirt and black leather jacket, all of these not quite fitting his broad shoulders as if they belonged to someone slighter. Yet the man didn’t seem ridiculed by them. On the contrary, the tight-fitting leather jacket only emphasized the strength of muscle of chest and arms, and the snug jeans showed the strong thighs to perfection. The man’s stance and bearing spoke of a quiet, masterful authority and his lean, strong-boned face bore an expression of cool serenity.

When the man addressed him in a pleasant deep baritone voice, Monsieur Duvalier found himself jump to attention as if he were the merest schoolboy.

“Monsieur Duvalier, my name is John Thornton and I am a friend of Mr Jowan Thorn. No doubt, the sad news about Mr Thorn senior has already reached you?

“Mais oui, bien sûr!,” the cook exclaimed, suddenly eager to please this man. No, he thought, make it this “gentleman”. During his five year stay in the United Kingdom, Robert Duvalier hadn’t found much to make him think good of the country and its inhabitants, especially with respect to the fine French cuisine. These people didn’t like the refined dishes he created for this cheap version of a “bistro” he was working for. The customers differed from midday working people, in need for a hasty lunch, over five o’clock regulars, enjoying their after-work pint of ale, to the motley sort of hangers-on that stayed until closing time and drank far too much. Only on Sunday did people come to lunch who really appreciated his cooking so they were the only reason he’d stayed in the UK so far.

“So, Monsieur Duvalier,” John Thornton said in a casual tone, “how did you end up in this country? I should think your talents would go to waste in the vast amount of foreign cuisines that are to be found here?”

Duvalier was a bit surprised by this man’s odd manner of speech as he was more accustomed to the gentle Mid-England accent of Leicester. He shrugged.

“A need to look farther than France’s borders, I guess. European Union and all that. You’re right about my talents going down the drain, Mr Thornton.”

“John, please. May I call you Robert?”

John pronounced the name the French way, with the stress on the last syllable, and received a smile and a nod from the Frenchman.

“So, Robert, tell me what you usually put on the menu in this cosy little pub of Mr Thorn’s?”

“The usual fish and chips, jacked potatoes and Sunday roast, of course, but also salmon, lamb or beef, cooked and dressed up the French way, although that doesn’t always have the success I wish it to have.”

“Sounds nice to me,” John murmured, but aloud he said, “You seem to be a proud sort of chap, Robert. Proud of your knowledge and skill, that is. Am I wrong?”

The Frenchman drew himself up to his full height of 5’8.

Bien sûr! What do you take me for, John?”

“Good! I thought as much! Then, let’s make this kitchen the way it suits a proper French cook, right? I will send you some hands to help you clean it up in no time.”

John ignored Robert’s stunned stare and headed for the bar where the three customers were still lingering over their pints. Kylie, he saw, was fidgeting behind the counter and threw him an uncertain glance as he strode in.

“Hey, gentlemen!” he greeted the three, mentally ranging them under the working class material, which he knew so well from Marlborough Mills. “Would you like to make a little extra profit by lending a hand to my cook? The cleaning staff seems to have deserted him tonight, and he is in sore need of help. There’s a hundred pounds in it for each of you plus free drinks after and no charge for what you already had.”


Jowan returned to the hospital to find his mother safely in the care of Margaret’s gentle comfort. Mum looked better, he thought, much less agitated. She was smiling again and she had lost that look of fear in her eyes. When the attending doctor came to them and explained that his father was out of danger for the moment, they all heaved a sigh of relief. His mother and Jowan were then allowed to go and see him and Margaret waited patiently for their return.

She was, however, only thinking of John, now that she finally had the leisure to relax after the strain of Mr Thorn’s illness. With a small knot of apprehension in her stomach, Margaret realised that they were in great uncertainty about their future.



The Lost Northbound Train – Part Twelve

Chapter Twelve – Pitching In

Horrified Margaret

“Jowan, what is it?” Margaret asked. Betty got to her feet too, her plain, motherly face full of concern.

“That was my mum,” Jowan stammered, “it seems that my dad has had a stroke. He’s in hospital and she’s terrified. I … I’ll have to go too, see what I can do to help.”

“I am sorry, Jowan,” John’s voice sounded, “I will accompany you to the hospital and assist you.”

“I am coming too,” Margaret said.


At Leicester UH, John and Margaret met with Mrs Thorn, Jowan’s mother, a rather stocky woman of a height that was that of Margaret. She had the same curly hair as Jowan which must have been dark in her youth but was now sprinkled with grey, and very dark eyes. When she saw her son coming into the waiting area, she burst out in tears. It seemed that her husband was getting worse, after having himself worked up about the pub he ran in the town’s centre, where he’d collapsed an hour before. The doctors were still examining him, and Mrs Thorn was waiting for them to be informed about her husband’s condition.

Margaret instantly concerned herself with the distressed woman. She remembered all too well her own, dear mother who had become so ill after they had moved to Milton.

“Come, Mrs Thorn, let me get you a cup of tea.”

The older woman looked at her with sudden relief as if she hadn’t thought about it herself.

“I’m sorry, dear. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.”

“This is Margaret,” Jowan said, “a friend of Marjorie’s from Manchester who’s staying with us for a few days. This is her partner, John.”

Hands were shaken, and they all settled in the waiting area with tea from the vending machines.

Jowan’s mother began telling them what had happened.

The pub Jowan’s father owned was his life’s achievement and pride. He had worked long hours all his life to get it like it was now, a busy, well-tended place where people could have a good meal for a reasonable price, a pint of ale after work, or even a cup of tea and a piece of pie while they did their shopping. The biggest problem was to find and keep a sufficient staff in an age when people did not like to work on weekends, or late at night. Mr Thorn was forever fighting battles to meet his own standards, and he pitched in himself when it was busy. As a result of the long hours and hard work, not to mention the stress of dealing with inadequate employees, he had worked himself to exhaustion time after time. His body, which had protested several times over the years, had now given up, but he couldn’t stop worrying about the pub, even during the transport to the hospital

Mrs Thorn began imploring Jowan to go down there and see what could be done to assure that everything went well during his father’s absence.

“Mum, why? Dad has a few employees to do the work while he’s ill, hasn’t he? I’m sure …”

“You don’t understand, Jowan! Your dad has been doing it practically on his own, lately! You know that French cook he took on has too much airs to get his hands messy. Cutting and washing vegetables is beneath him. And that waitress, Kylie is good for nothing if your dad’s not around. Please, darling, you must go there. Your dad will want to hear all about it.”


Twenty minutes later, Jowan parked his car in front of “The Green Huntsman”, Mr Thorn’s pub. Although it was eight pm, there were but a few patrons inside when he and John walked in. A girl in a skirt and top that scarcely bedecked her body was sitting on one of the patrons’ lap. To John, she looked like a prostitute, as she was showing her naked arms and legs and a considerable portion of  her bosom and bare stomach. John was immensely glad that Margaret had stayed at the hospital with Mrs Thorn, otherwise she would have witnessed this unspeakable behaviour.

“Hello, Kylie,” Jowan said as he strode towards the back where the kitchen was, “is Bert still here?”

The girl hastily jumped off the patron’s lap and trotted after Jowan.

“Yes, Jowan! He’s …”

“Sleeping on the job as usual,” Jowan mocked and threw open the door to the kitchen. John brushed past Kylie without a glance and followed Jowan inside.

The kitchen, which was large and well-equipped, looked like a battlefield. The dishes were piled up in the big sink, and there were dirty pots and pans all over the place, not to mention food residues, empty bottles and other signs of neglect everywhere.


Next to the kitchen was a small restroom where they found the chef lounging in a comfortable chair with a glass of brandy in his hand. He didn’t stir when Jowan and John strode in but stared defiantly at them.


“Mr Duvalier, good evening!” Jowan said, trying to keep his voice level. “I see that the kitchen is not tidied up. Did the cleaning team not come in today?”

“No, they didn’t!” the chef said in a strong French accent. “How am I supposed to keep up now that Monsieur Thorn has met with illness?”

“Well, couldn’t you have a go with the cleaning-up, then?” Jowan retaliated, anger growing in his tone.

“I absolutely refuse to do that! I am a chef, not a cleaning woman!”

Jowan opened his mouth to shout at him, but John drew him out of the room and whispered,

“Look, do not be shocked by my bluntness, Jowan, but can I make a suggestion? You are needed at the hospital with your mother. I can perfectly sort this out and keep an eye on the business while your father is ill. Trust me, I know a disgruntled employee when I see one. I can handle him.”

“What? John, you don’t know what you’re talking about! This is a stinking mess of a job, you’ll never get that lazy bastard to dirty his hands by doing the dishes!”

“Well,” John chuckled, “a few days ago, I could have easily said that of myself, too! Since then, I have already “dirtied my hands” with the dishes twice and suffered no ill consequences from it. Just tell him I am the one in charge until your father comes back. Leave the rest to me.”

“Okay … if you insist but what do I tell Margaret? You’ll be tied up in here for the largest part of the day … and the night.”

“Bring her here. If I know my Margaret, her hands will soon be dirtied, too! Leave me some cash, please. I might need to go out and buy stuff.”

“Here,” Jowan said, “this is the key to Father’s safe. I’ll show you how it’s opened. You can take whatever you need from it. Thank you, John. I appreciate this.”

John reflecting

After Jowan explained the restaurant’s daily routine and the working of the safe to John, the young man left. He was anxious about what he would find at the hospital, and John’s help was most welcome.

John Thornton now found himself alone and in charge. As usual. He was up to it.