After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Seven

Chapter 7 – Edward’s tale

Bertha “After you left, I was a wreck, Jane.”

Edward paused to draw breath and grasped for my hand which he clutched hard.

“I lived like someone who was clubbed on the head; numb, lethargic, and utterly miserable. I roamed the Hall and the lands around it for hours and hours. I yelled at everyone who dared speak to me. I did not eat, could not sleep, found no rest or solace. My heart seemed to have died within my breast, my mind to have fled from my head.”

“Edward …”, I whispered, but he silenced me with a small hand gesture.

“After a time, it slowly got better. I found I could sleep for a couple of hours after I drank myself into oblivion. Mrs. Fairfax, dear soul that she was, kept forcing food on me, and at some point I began taking it in again. It was not a moment too soon, for I had lost some twenty pounds by then. When my strength came back, I began noticing my surroundings again and also, Adèle. The poor mite was as lost as I was, Jane, and I, great, big, selfish lout had not seen it.”

He leaned back somewhat tired, and I offered him a glass of water, which he avidly drank.

“So Adèle and I comforted each other. In the evenings, she came to sit with me in the drawing room and told me what she had done with her day. It seems that she had been keeping up with her lessons as if you were still there. At that point, it occurred to me I ought to take over her education and I busied myself in teaching her. I read several books with her, I took her on a visit of England’s most famous landmarks.  Through her young and unbiased eyes I, blind as I was, experienced a new understanding of those places. As a result, Jane, I found myself healed by her youthful enthusiasm, so much that my heartache did not burn so fiercely anymore. I came to be in some kind of peace, a truce after the onslaught of my deepest emotions.”

“Edward, I am so sorry for all that has happened …”

“You are not to blame, Jane, you of all people are certainly not at fault. But let me continue. Adèle wished to go to a boarding school in Newcastle, and I arranged for her to go. She was happy there and made good progress with her learning. I was alone once more, however, and it was even harder to bear than before. Bertha had become even more difficult to handle and Grace Poole, her keeper and servant, was at the end of her wits. Bertha attacked her one night, stabbing her in the chest, and we had to transfer her to the physician’s house in a nearby town. Poor woman nearly died, Jane. Nobody wanted to attend to Bertha from then on, they were all scared to death, so it was up to me.”

Fire

By now I watched with fear that he was exhausting himself rapidly.

“Edward, you must stop now and rest. I shall hear the rest after you have slept …”

“No, dearest!”, he cried and gripped my hand even more powerful.

“No, Jane, listen! Bertha, realizing I was her keeper now, began clinging to me almost in an unbearable manner. She refused to eat, to sleep, to be quiet, and she would howl whenever I came into her room. Whenever I let my guard down, even for a second, she tried to attack me, using everything she could get her hands on as a weapon. I was forced, finally, to tie her onto her bed by hands and feet, there was no other way of handling her. Then one night, she managed to escape her room; how I do not know for she was bound as usual. She had been howling for days and nights by then, and the staff was not getting any rest. I had granted them a week’s leave to recuperate, so that night I was alone in the Hall. I was lying on my bed, I had fallen asleep, thoroughly exhausted after I’d tried and failed feeding Bertha. It was just like before, on the night you found me in my burning bedroom. This time I awoke coughing and choking from the smoke, and when I managed to get out of my room, the whole North wing was already in flames! I had to cover myself with my wet cloak to pass through the fire into the tower where Bertha was. When I burst into her room, she was not there. She was outside, on the battlements, standing on the edge, barefoot and in her nightgown, her arms stretched out as if she wanted to fly away. I jumped outside in an attempt to reach her, but between her and me flames were already leaping out of the roof. I called her name, pleaded her to step away from the edge, but she just stood there, rocking and flapping her arms, a strange, insane smile on her face. I managed to jump over the fire, at some point, and edged my way to her, dodging flames, when, suddenly, she leapt from the wall like a huge white bird. I saw her crash onto the stones of the courtyard …”

Edward gasped, and I saw to my abhorrence that he was shaking like a leaf. Tears were running down his face and it seemed as if he could not draw breath.

 

“Dearest, stop, please?” I begged him. My heart was crying for him and the poor wretched creature that had been his wife. I stroked his face, dried his tears, kissed him. I raked my brain as how to ease his pain. When I leaned over to him, he flung his good left arm about me and buried his face against my breast, gasping in sheer misery. My trembling hands smoothed his tousled curls, and I whispered sweet little nothings to him, until he seemed to calm down a little.

“So you see, Jane, I finally paid for what I did, all those years ago by marrying her without taking the precautions of looking into her family. I was young and stupid, and I paid for it.”

Suddenly he scoffed harshly.

“Seemed I did not pay it to the full! After Bertha had jumped, I endeavoured to get out of that inferno as quick as I could, numbed by what I had seen. When I reached the great wooden staircase in the hall, it collapsed, and I fell into a sea of flames. I have been unconscious for two whole weeks, they tell me. The left side of my body was burned, and I lost two fingers on that hand. I was blind. The doctors told me I must have had a vicious blow to the head because I was found buried under a pile of rubbish in the cellars. That must have saved my life, a large beam had fallen onto my body and protected me from being buried alive. There had been enough air for me to survive until they came searching for me.”

“I cannot thank the Lord enough for sparing your life, Edward. I only wish I had been there for you. It was wrong of me to run away, I know that now.”

“No, sweetheart, you were right to do so. I was selfish enough wanting to take you as my mistress without a thought for your reputation. I will never forgive myself for that.”

By now Edward was breathing very hard with sheer exhaustion.

I hastened to give him some laudanum and a drink of water. Then I undressed to nothing but my chemise and went to lie beside him under the covers. After a while he fell asleep, his head on my chest. I, on the other hand, lay awake for a long, long time.

 

I slept very late, the following morning and woke to find Edward was still immersed in a comatose-like sleep. As quietly as possible I rose and dressed, determined to make sure no more disturbances befell upon our budding marriage.

Descending the stairs I noticed the great pile of mail George had put on the salver, and I eagerly ruffled through it. One letter instantly captured my attention because the soft, lilac colour of the paper and the round, graciously formed handwriting suggested a female hand.

My curiosity, however, was raised when I read the name of the sender, Miss Edwina Blackthorn, and the addressee, Mr. Edward Rochester of Ferndean Manor.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Six

Chapter 6 – Torn by doubt

Rochester's Damaged Face

 

 

I could scarcely believe it!

There I was sitting beside my husband’s sick bed, staring at his prostrated body; Edward was still deeply sunk in unconsciousness. We had been married for only one day …

During the long hours of my watch, I relived the terrifying events at the Hall. I was not shaken by Mason’s behaviour – no, not at all. In fact, I pitied the man; he had lost a beloved sister in a most atrocious way and he obviously was still in shock over it. Not for a moment had I thought myself in danger, not even when the gun was held against my head. I was convinced that, given the opportunity, I could have talked him out of hurting us.

No, my fears and worries originated from the very strange reaction Edward had when he heard that Mason had been a witness on that terrible night.

My husband, when again confronted with Bertha’s death, had been horrified, and more specifically, when Mason had accused him of murdering his sister. I knew I could never forget the look of strong abhorrence on Edward’s face, nor the frozen bearing his body took, as if a part of him was dying on the spot.

I only knew what had taken place on that dreadful night from what Edward had told me. From what the servants whispered when they thought themselves unobserved. Edward did not speak much of his wife’s death. Although his love for Bertha had died long before he knew me, he had always done the best he could for her. Moreover,  he had never harmed her, not even when, on numerous occasions, Bertha had attacked him. So, in view of all this, I did not think he had wanted her to die. If he had told me the truth, then he had done all he could to save her. If he had told the truth …

My hands flew to my face, in disgust over my own thoughts!

I loved Edward to distraction; he was my husband, for God’s sake! How could I even think such horrendous things!

But I did. At the time of Bertha’s death, Edward had been deeply in love with me. I had run away from him, abhorring the thought of committing bigamy or becoming his mistress. The only person standing between the two of us had been Bertha. The temptation of doing away with her must have been enormous for him. Had he actually pushed her? Or had he refrained from helping her in those final moments, when she stood on the edge of the battlements’ precipice?

 

When Sophie entered to take her turn to watch the patient, I went to look for Mrs. Fairfax. It was near dawn,and I knew I would find her in the kitchen, readying herself for the tasks of the new day.

“Mrs. Fairfax,” I asked, when we were seated at the large oak table enjoying a cup of tea, “do you know what happened on the night Thornfield Hall burned down?”

I had startled her. She looked at me with huge eyes in a deadly white face.

“What? What is it, Mrs. Fairfax?” I urged, suddenly very much concerned. However, she had already recovered and shook her head.

“I don’t really know, Jane, I’m sorry. The master had given us leave for a few days, and I went to visit my sister in the village. She’d just become a grandmother by her daughter, and I hadn’t seen the baby yet … but …”

“Yes, Mrs. Fairfax, but … what?”

I could see she was now very upset and I took her hand in mine. If I was to go to the bottom of this, I needed her to be my ally.

“Dear Mrs. Fairfax, Alice … my husband was very badly wounded yesterday by the hand of Richard Mason, brother to the first Mrs. Rochester. What little I know of Mr. Mason, is that he is a kind man. I cannot imagine why he would want to harm the master. They used to be good friends. Mr. Mason must think the master has done something terrible to his sister, but I cannot believe such a thing. My husband cannot be a murderer, Alice, I refuse to think him one. So I must contrive to find out what really happened that night when Mrs. Rochester died.”

Mrs. Fairfax looked me in the eye now, her face still very pale and her eyes haunted.

“Oh, Jane … there is some talk amongst the country folk about the master. Some believe him to have pushed his wife to death from the battlements.” Her voice broke with misery, and I felt my heart grow cold!

“Were there any witnesses? Has anyone seen anything?” I asked softly.

“No. There was an inquest, of course. The coroner asked for witnesses to come forward, but none came! The master was acquitted of every suspicion.”

“Acquitted? Was there a trial, then?”

“No, of course not! For a powerful landlord to be imprisoned and put to trial, a coroner needs to have impeccable proof of foul playing and there wasn’t any, only talk and gossip!”

Yes, of course, I thought, the rich and powerful answered to different laws than the poor did.

 

Later, when had returned to my husband’s bedside, I pondered over all the facts I had been given.

One question stood out clearly in my mind; how was it that people were gossiping about Edward being his wife’s murderer, when there had been no witnesses that night? Could it be true that Mason had indeed witnessed something? Why had he not come forward at the inquest if that were true?

Someone must have started these rumours. Why? Who?

Edward suddenly stirred and moaned. Thank God! He was coming round! I sprang to my feet and took his hand.

“Edward …”, was all I managed to say before my voice gave way. It was enough. His eyes fluttered open and I saw he had recognized my voice and smiled.

“Hey, my dearest witch … ouch! My head … how come I have such a splitting headache? What’s happened?”

“You were injured, yesterday. Do you remember our encounter with Richard Mason at the Hall?”

“Yes … yes, I do now …”, he croaked and tried to sit up.

“No, Edward, you must stay down, the doctor says you have concussion,” I urged him.

“Right he is! Why do I feel so weak, Jane?”

“You were shot. You have lost a fair amount of blood but Edward …”

I hesitated, afraid of having to upset him. My conscience, however, was not to be silenced.

“Edward, please, you must tell me about the night Bertha died”, I said softly. “I think that as your wife, I have a right to know …”

He turned his blind gaze to me, and I saw tears coming into his eyes.

“Jane, I swear I did not kill her! Say you believe me, Jane, I beg you, please say it!”

I swallowed back my own tears now.

“Dearest, I cannot for the life of me think of you as a murderer. But Mason said he saw you pushing Bertha over the edge and …”

“He’s lying! He’s bloody lying, Jane!”

This outburst of rage cost him a fit of coughing, and I had to steady him because I was afraid he might cause his arm wound to bleed.

“Shhh! Shhh! Calm yourself, Edward, please?”

I gave him some water to drink and then I settled him against the pillow.

“Now, tell me everything, from the very first beginning.”

Taking a deep breath Edward began recounting the events of that wretched night.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Five

Chapter 5 – In dire straits

Richard Mason

 

 

“Mr. Mason!” I exclaimed, shocked by the vicious tone of the words uttered by Bertha’s brother Richard.

“Ah! The faithful yet wayward governess has finally found her match. You always were his most ardent supporter, were you not, Miss Eyre? You obeyed his tiniest command and worked yourself into exhaustion covering up his wicked deeds.”

Mason came nearer to where we stood, hand in hand. Only now I took notice of Edward when his hand pressed mine like a vice. His face was ashen, his lips were grey and in his eyes I saw an expression of the fiercest horror.

“Dearest, what is it?” I urged, turning towards him. “Are you unwell? Shall I go and …”

“You, Mrs. Rochester, are not going anywhere!”  rasped the angry voice of Mason, putting a stress on my name that sent shivers of fear down my spine.  Before I could do anything, he grasped my wrist and tore me away from Edward who did not seem to notice. His blind gaze was staring into some terrifying void, one that only he could see. His face had the same horrified expression as before. What was wrong with him? Never had I seen him like this!

Mason’s arm came up around my neck, and the cold barrel of a firearm was pressed against my temple.

“The time has come, Rochester, for you to atone for what you have done. Ha! Is it not cruel irony that you should return to the very place of your crime, only to suffer the same fate as Bertha in just a moment of time? Here you are, triumphantly showing your new whore around where your wife came to her end when you pushed her to her death? She was unwell, and she behaved abominably, but she was my sister. She was precious to me, damnation! How relieved you must have felt when, finally, you had a chance of ridding yourself of her, poor, lost soul that she was?  All your troubles over and you free to marry again, was that what you were thinking when, instead of pulling Bertha back to safety, you gave her the last shove over the edge?”

“There was nobody to see! You were not here! You cannot …”, Edward shouted, his voice giving way with despair.

In growing horror I heard this words and realised what they meant. Edward had thought himself alone at Thornfield Hall when Bertha died.

“Ah, yes! You thought yourself clever, sending the servants away, didn’t you? First you set fire to the Hall and then you dragged Bertha out of her room onto the roof and pushed her over the edge! I know, Rochester, because I saw you!”

Edward staggered back as if he received a blow. His cane fell to the ruined tiles of the hall and rolled away to disappear into a crack where the floor had caved in. Underneath the hall lay the vast cellars, as I recalled. In rising alarm I noticed that Edward was disorientated. Without his cane he was unable to feel his whereabouts. I saw him venture a few paces to the left but he stumbled when his feet encountered debris.

“Edward, stay where you are! There is a …”

I couldn’t finish my sentence because Mason suddenly wrung my arm up behind my back. A sharp shot of fierce pain raked my shoulder, and it was all I could do not to cry out.

“Jane? Jane, where are you? I … come back to me …”,  Edward pleaded, trying to feel his surroundings with both arms outstretched.

I have her, you murderer! She has my gun to her head, and if you take another step, I shall kill her!”

Edward swung round towards where Mason’s voice had come from.

“Edward, no!” I shouted, when he swiftly approached us.

I was too late in warning him! To my abhorrence Mason fired his gun, and Edward reeled under the impact. He fell backwards, the floor collapsed under him, and he disappeared into the hole. A loud crush reached my shocked ears and, as I knew the cellar bottom was at least five meters below ground level, I feared for Edward’s very life. An unknown force made me wrench myself out of Mason’s grasp. I flung myself onto my stomach and peered over the hole’s edge. Edward lay on his back, arms and legs sprawled, covered by bricks and wood. A large red stain was spreading over his buff-coloured waistcoat.

“Edward! Edward, talk to me! Please, my love, please?”

I was now frantically looking for a way to get down there. I had to help him! The thought of losing him was unbearable. My heart was pounding so painfully, deep within my chest, that it felt like being stabbed by a spear.  In despair I glanced around and … to my astonishment, I was alone. Mason had gone.

Somehow that made me come to my senses again.

In the hole where my wounded husband lay, there was an kind of slope, formed by the falling of the debris. On shaking legs, I ventured to climb down on it, careful as not to twist my foot.

My breath was now working painfully in my lungs, as I began examining Edward.

The bullet had struck him in the left upper arm but it had damaged an artery, from which the blood spurted onto his chest in pulsing jets. As quickly as I could, I attempted to apply a tourniquet, made from one of my stockings and a piece of wood. To my immense relief I succeeded in diminishing the blood spurt into a trickle and I bandaged it as firmly as I could with my handkerchief and my other stocking.

“Sir … Ma’am … are you there? Sir, the hour upon which we agreed has passed and …”

The groom! Thank God!

“Mister Keithley, down here! We’re in the cellars! Come quickly! The master is hurt!”

Never had I been more relieved than when I saw the benign face of the man peering over the edge of the hole.

“Madam! What …”

“Please, Mr. Keithley, go back to Ferndean and get help. My husband is badly wounded. I will stay here, with him. Fast, Mr. Keithley!”

“Aye, Ma’am, don’t fret, I’ll be back soon!”

 

The following hours were a nightmare. I fussed over my unconscious Edward, making a fool of myself and not helping him in the least. The entire sequence of events seemed unreal to me, yet here my love was lying, spilling his life’s blood.

Our servants and a few of our tenants came after what seemed a very long time. Between them, they managed to get Edward out of the cellar. On the way home in our curricle I held his head on my lap. He was still unconscious and very pale, and by times, he shivered in spasms, although I had him tightly tucked in blankets. All the time, my conviction grew stronger that he might be seriously hurt.

At the house, they carried him to our bedchamber, where I washed and nursed him with the help of our doctor, Philip Woodhouse. The lines of worry on the good doctor’s face were deep.

“I do not like this deep unconsciousness, Mrs. Rochester,” he said. “Your husband has suffered a severe concussion, but he should have become awake by now. His arm wound is serious, but I managed to bind off the damaged artery, and it should heal in time. You must keep him warm and try to give him some water from time to time. It is possible that he goes into a fever, so if that happens, call for me immediately. I shall return twice each day to check on him.”

Dr. Woodhouse left, and there I was, married for one day, and my dear Edward in the clutches of death.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Four

Chapter 4 – Ghosts from the past

Happy Jane

 

A stray ray of sunshine through a gap in the curtains woke me at dawn and first I was disorientated by my surroundings. A most peculiar sound, one I was not accustomed to, startled me; soft snoring and a warm breath on my bare shoulder. Cuddled up against me, my Edward though still sleeping, had taken full possession of me. One arm and one leg, both naked, were wrapped around me.

My heart leapt at the sight of him; he had thrown away the covers, allowing me to admire the view of his magnificent bare chest. The burn marks were clearly visible in the harsh light of dawn, yet it did not lessen his appearance. They only enhanced the tone of his muscles and the width of his shoulders. My gaze wandered towards his firm buttocks, and his mighty thighs, and it reached his awesome manhood, still impressive even in repose.

I felt the heated stirrings coming to life deep in my body; desire, lush and tangible, washed over me so violently, that I suddenly trembled. Carefully – for I did not want to wake him – I slipped from under Edward’s body and propped myself up on one elbow. He shifted and his leg moved from mine, displaying the whole of his body to me. My breath caught.

What, I wondered, must a woman do when the sight of her naked husband arouses her?

Was I to keep quiet and suffer in immobility? Must I try and seek sleep again, secretly hoping for him to wake? Or must I try and waken him, seduce him out of sleep with light yet urgent caresses?

Unable to keep myself from touching him, I slid a trembling hand over his heavy, dark curls. His left cheek rested upon the pillow and I could only see the unharmed side of his face. I brushed his brow and jaw with feathery fingers and let my hand slide down to his shoulder and arm, revelling in the feeling of the hard muscles. Over the length of his back my hand travelled down to his buttocks and thighs, venturing towards his manhood. Its smoothness astonished me deeply; the velvety skin was like silk under my fingers.

Suddenly I jumped! The object of my admiration suddenly changed in appearance and Edward’s baritone voice murmured, “Give me a second, Jane, and I will soon be ready for you …”

All of a sudden he slipped an arm under me, gripped my waist in both hands and lifted me onto his body. I found myself straddling him and gasped at the wonderful excitement this induced.

“Look what you do to me, you adorable little witch!”

Without a warning he heaved me onto his splendid arousal. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before! Being placed on top of him seemed to heighten the sensitivity of my womanly places to the extreme. I closed my eyes so that I could savour this new and very agreeable feeling.

“Do you like this, Jane?,” Edward’s husky voice interrupted, “And this, my love, how do you like this?”

His hands cupped my breasts and his thumbs rubbed the hard peaks.

A flame of sudden desire overwhelmed me, and instinctively I started to move my pelvis up and down his manhood. Oh God! Oh sweet Lord! My breath seemed to be cut off and my heart stopped.

“Jane … oh, Jane, do not stop! Whatever you do, do not stop!”

My own arousal was now increasing so rapidly I could not have stopped for the life of me. Along with my rising pleasure I was immensely thrilled by the knowledge of my own power over my husband. He wanted me to continue, he liked what I was doing.

His hands travelled quickly up and down my body, from my tingling breasts and nipples to my stomach and thighs. I staggered and had to steady myself by gripping his shoulders. This position only strengthened the already powerful sensations, now rippling through me like a fever. I toppled over into delight so violently I thought my heart would never recover.

Edward’s loud cry of release was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. His hands were buried in the soft flesh of my waist, and he was shaking uncontrollably in the aftermath of his climax.

“Oh Jane, look what you do to me, you wicked, sensual, sweet witch … my own … my very own witch.”

Thornfield Hall

It was early afternoon when we finally woke up.

Never in my whole life had this happened to me, and I sat up with a gasp when I saw the hour on the little Ormolu clock on my nightstand. Two strong arms pulled me back, and Edward mischievously chuckled in my ear, “Where do you imagine you are going, Jane?”

“Edward, it is three o’clock! I cannot imagine what people will think of us and …”

“People can go to hell as far as I am concerned, my little swallow! I must have you shackled onto me at all times, or you might escape me once again.”

Mirth and mayhem were so evident in his rumbling voice that I could not help myself from bursting into laughter.

“If you think of keeping me under your thumb, Edward Rochester, then you can think again! I refuse to be at your beck and call all day, I have a household to run and …”

All at once I was captured fast and hard and pinned on top of him.

“Jane, Jane, how good it is to hear you laugh, to hold you, to … to love you, dearest, sweetest Jane! I knew you would do me good, I knew it from the first time I set eyes on you!”

We kissed … and made love again.

 

When we finally got up and dressed, Edward had a few things in store for me.

“Jane, put on your … coat, bonnet, and whatever it is you females wear and come with me.”

I did so, curious about what he was up to, and found myself dragged away to the stables. Edward must know his way around Ferndean very well for he managed to reach the back of the house solely by searching his way with his cane. His groom was waiting for us, beaming with pride and some secret pleasure. I soon saw why.

An adorable little curricle, brand-new and shining, awaited me.

“Oh! Edward, you bought us a new carriage?”

“Not “us”, darling, this is your own, personal curricle! I want you to master the art of driving it, so we can go on trips around the country side together. I cannot ride any more, remember? Now, tell me, do you like it?”

I was overwhelmed, and tears pricked, but I swallowed them quickly. It would not do should I disgrace myself in front of the groom.

“Yes, of course, Edward, I simply adore it! It is so beautiful, thank you!”

And then I did disgrace myself and flung my arms around him, hugging him fiercely!

“Yes, yes, I know, I am the best!”, he mocked. “Now, come on, Keithley here will drive us. I want you to do something.”

We were driven to the ruin of Thornfield Hall, and the sight of its ragged remains, its blackened stones and hollow, empty windows tore at my very heart. This was the place where I had been the happiest woman on earth.

“Now, Jane,” Edward said, while we alighted, “I want you to take me inside and describe what you see to me. I have to know what can be done to restore it. This is my ancestral home and the place where my children will be born and raised. Keithley, take the horse for a drive and come back to collect us in an hour!”

“Very good, sir,” the groom answered and left with the curricle.

My heart pounded with fear of what I might discover within the poor burned wreck of a house as I guided my husband inside. As we went on through the remains of the hall, the drawing room and library, the dining room and kitchens, I did as Edward wanted; I recounted what I was seeing.

The place was thoroughly damaged.

“Edward, I am no expert on this. Surely you need an architect to establish the right appraisal of the building?”

He squeezed my hand in an affectionate manner.

“I will, Jane, rest assured. I wanted you to talk about what you see because I know you will be telling the truth. Impressions, Jane, feelings, thoughts, that was what I wanted, and you did well.”

He kissed me lightly on the cheek, and we were about to proceed, when suddenly the figure of a man blocked our way-out effectively.

“So it is true what people say about murderers. They do tend to return to the scene of their crimes.”

 

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – Chapter Three

[JT Look Back at Me]

Chapter 3

     A Visit with Dixon

1853 summer

Upon discovering that Margaret had married, John spent the next few weeks trying not to sink through the hole in his heart, until he could visit Dixon and discuss the content of her letter.  Still determined to understand the meaning of her statement about why Margaret married, he wrote, requesting a few moments of her time on the day he planned to be in London.

In addition to losing the greatest love of his life, John now feared the loss of his mother.  She was growing weaker and more staid, appearing increasingly deficient by the day.  It was small comfort to John that she was under Dr. Donaldson’s care.  She still refused to share her health issues, and John’s concern grew.  Aware of Hannah’s waning strength, Dixon came to mind.  She would be ideal; a caring companion for his mother.  John had no idea, however, with Margaret married and gone, in what capacity Dixon served the Lennox household.  He needed to find out if she was available to tend to his mother, as her fragility progressed.

With sleeves rolled up, John sat slumped over his desk, strewn with scattered papers, graphs, and financial ledgers, immersing himself in concentrating on the upcoming convention.  He looked up at the sound of a knock on the door, welcoming the distraction from his tiresome work.

Higgins opened the door and poked his head in, “Can I have a word with you?  Oh … It looks like this might not be a good time.  Should I come back later?”

John tossed his feathered pen down onto the papers.  “Come in,” he said, “I’m not getting very far with this and I could use a rest.  What can I help you with?  Take a seat.”

Pushing his chair out from under the desk, John leaned back with his hands behind his head.  Arching his stiff back and stifling a small groan, he waited for Higgins to enter the room.

Higgins stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and removed his cap.  He sat down across from John, and not knowing how to start, he began whirling his cap round and round by the rim.  John could see Higgins was anxious and worried about something.

“Higgins,” he prompted, “I know that look.  What’s on your mind?”

Shifting slightly in his seat, he began, “Boss, you put me in charge of this mill.  And it is for the mill I am speaking to you now.  Nearly all of our people, including myself, are sensing a drastic change in your manner.  We are all concerned and there is much talk.  They are coming to me, asking what’s wrong with the Master.  Many think the mill might be in trouble.  I know that not to be true; I tell them that, but have no explanation to give them about their concerns.  You and I work close together and I can see a great sadness that you’re trying to hide from everyone.  I didn’t want to speak about this with you, as it must be personal in nature, but the people are growing more worried by the day; that includes me.  They’re starting to fear for their jobs, and some have talked about looking for work at other mills.  Can you share anything which might relieve their worries?”

John stood, curling his hands into his pockets, and turned away from Higgins.  He gazed out the window over-looking the yard where his laborers were working.  He’d known all along that his recent behavior would soon be called into question, and he wondered how to broach the concerns about the two women in his life.

Still looking out the window, John began to speak, “Higgins, you put that most delicately.  Your leadership skills improve by the day.  In the entire world, I think you’ve been the closet friend to me.  Sometimes I look upon you like a brother.  I think we’re quite alike, you and I.  We have the same high standards.  We’re both honest to a fault; we work hard, and we care for our fellowman.  You’re not just my overseer.  I’m proud to call you my friend.”

John turned and faced Higgins.  Pausing briefly, he allowed his words to sink in, and then began pacing the room.  “I’m going to tell you, and only you, the two factors that have been plaguing my life recently.  Part of it is personal, and the other part will be known soon enough.”

As Higgins watched his boss pace the floor, sorrow flooded him; he knew it was all going to be bad.

Not wanting to look Higgins in the eye, John turned back to the window and slowly started to speak.  “First, and again… this is for you only . . . about a month ago, I learned that Margaret Hale married a college professor.  They’re living on the college campus in London.  I’ve had no communication with her since she left Milton, although I’ve tried repeatedly.  I feel there’s more wrong than right going on there, and I will get to the bottom of it.”

Feeling helpless, Higgins looked up at John who was still staring out the window.  “I’m sorry, Master.  I knew of your feelings towards her, so I can only imagine how deeply saddened you are over this.  This alone tells me why you’ve acted the way you have, of late.  If I could ask, what do you feel is wrong?”

John turned, facing Higgins once more, and sat down at his desk, clasping his hands in front of him.  “I think it’s very unlikely that Miss Hale ever received my four letters to her in two years, and I’ve never received a single response.  I finally wrote to Dixon; she doesn’t believe she ever got them.  I’m going to get to the bottom of this, or go crazy wondering.  It’s too late for anything to be done, other than to ease my mind that she had not purposely avoided replying.  I do feel there has been some . . . some… shall I say, mishandling of her posts?”

John leaned back in his chair, casually twirling his pen between his fingers and spoke before Higgins could reply.  “It gets worse.”  He hesitated a moment before continuing, “I’m now facing the fact . . . my mother does not have long to live.  The doctor comes to the house several times a week, but she doesn’t wish to confide in me about the seriousness of her illness.  So, I’ve decided, since I cannot be at her side constantly, when I go to London in next week, I’ll ask Dixon if she can be her companion and watch over her.  I don’t believe mother will have any further contact with our workers, since she hardly leaves the house now and never comes to the mill.  I think we can be honest with our people and let them know that I’m worried about her health.”  He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath.

Higgins, be strong for me now

 “As much as I wish to be among our workers,” John continued, “I don’t want to see the pity in their faces…” then he added softly, “… as I see in yours now.  Assure them this mill is in the best financial shape it has ever been, and that we have hopes of building another.”

“Master, I’m sorry to hear…  ”

“Higgins, dear friend,” before you try to find the words to say to me just now, I’m going to ask that you don’t speak them.  I know you’re sorry for me.  I have no doubt you’ll suffer along with me.  You yourself have been at this point, with the loss of your daughter, and I can now understand some of what you felt, and perhaps Margaret, too.  It’s a hardship we cannot help but bear.”

“Yes, it is, Master.”  Higgins said softly, wishing he could give John some words of comfort.

Smiling slightly, John continued, “I’m going to thank you now, for what I will probably lay at your door over the months ahead.  As it is, you already do everything here, but I may find myself asking for more.  I’m sorry for that, but I know you’ll see me right,” said John, leaning forward on his desk, looking down at his steepled fingers, avoiding any eye contact, lest he tear up.

“Whatever I can do . . . Master.  I wish you all the best getting through this.  I’ll be here for you.  Don’t give another thought to the mill.  Just handle your personal affairs, and I’ll be an ear if you want to talk about anything.”

“Thank you Nicholas,” John replied, his voice thick with emotion.  He didn’t rise to extend his hand in thanks but he knew Higgins would understand.  “I know you will.  You’re always there for me.”

The following week, having quietly instructed Fanny to keep an eye on their mother, John said good-bye to Hannah.  While he was having a few final words with Higgins in the office, he collected the papers of his documented studies, and slipped them into his leather portfolio.  Feeling confident that he had done all he could, he departed for the train to London.

His journey lasted almost four hours but was comfortable.  He didn’t notice any of the other mill owners on his morning train.  He used the time to relax, refresh his notes, and go over the conference agenda.  Tomorrow he would breakfast with his friends and then attend a short strategy meeting, before the conference, which was scheduled to begin at 11:00 am.  A meal would be served around two o’clock in the afternoon, and the conference would adjourn between five and six o’clock.  Dinner would be held across the street at the Stag and Whistle pub, with late evening plans differing with every person.  But for John, it was the day after the meeting that concerned him the most.  He was determined to visit Dixon.  After several hours of thinking about the conference and his visit, the swaying train and the sound of its clickety-clack rhythm lulled him into sleep.

An hour later, he was abruptly awakened by the noise of screeching brakes and to the hissing of vented steam.  After several stops, his station was called out and John prepared to disembark.  Donning his hat, he gathered his travel bag and portfolio then gingerly hopped off the train, before it came to a halt.  Pushing his way through the platform crowds, he made his way to the front and hailed a hansom cab.  He went directly to his hotel, having decided to sightsee later, should time permit.

That evening, as he entered the large, wood paneled dining hall a few minutes early, John spotted his fellow mill owners.  Standing behind chairs at a round table, glass in hand, they were casually engaged in conversation.  When the last owner arrived, they all settled into their seats and began discussing the next day’s events.

Slickson immediately came to the point.  “I think we’re well prepared for tomorrow,” he said, “We all ready had our big discussion at Thornton’s house the other night, plus, we’ll be meeting again tomorrow morning.  What do you say we just enjoy the evening; at least not talk about the conference?”
There was agreement all around, as glasses were raised, and the men settled back down into other conversations.  The dinner progressed through to the final course.  By then, most of the conversation had turned towards the possibility of other factories coming into Milton.  Many of the Masters were receiving inquiries from outside merchants, wishing to relocate.  It seemed inevitable that, with new businesses flowing in, some type of merchant council or chamber would have to be created, if they were going to maintain a balance of wages.  They had to form some guidelines for the influx that would be headed Milton’s way.  This would ensure the survival of their mills, as well as that of the manufacturers of low profit goods and their wage concerns.  The evening ended with everyone in agreement to meet for further discussion when they returned to Milton.

 

The next morning, as the clock in his room struck seven, a porter, at John’s request, promptly knocked on the door announcing the time.  John called out “thank you” through the door and the porter left.  He had an hour before meeting the masters for breakfast.  He shaved and dressed, then collected his notes and headed downstairs to meet the others.  Everyone was ready for their morning meal and eager to discover what the day would bring.

The conference lasted until nearly 6:30 p.m.  Discussions and debates led the day, with John acting as spokesman for their group.  Little was settled, except for small concessions by the shippers, and a promise from the growers to yield more volume.  Prior to the meeting, John and the other Milton owners knew that’s all they could expect, but it took all day to get to that point.  They left the conference satisfied with their small achievement and headed out for dinner, across the street at the pub.  With the meal and talk of the day completed, some owners left to catch late trains and others had plans similar to the night before.

Having nothing better to do, John decided to take a carriage ride over by the college, just to see the type of environment where Margaret lived.  “It suits her well.” he thought.  The ivy covered walls and arched doorways seemed warm and inviting, academic, and definitely a world apart from the grand tiers that one might find in London.  He hoped she was happy and being treated as she deserved.

Somewhere among these hallowed halls, my true love lives. 

Despite going to bed at 10 o’clock, John arose the next morning, suffering from a very poor night’s sleep.  His thoughts turned to his mother’s failing health and what he would do if Dixon wasn’t available.  His sadness regarding his mother was tolerable now, because he knew what to expect; what Dixon might tell him about Margaret was causing unbearable anxiety.  Time seemed to drag on, as he counted the hours until one o’clock when he would meet Dixon and find out what she had meant in her letter.  The thread of hope he was clinging to could very well break today, but he needed to know everything in order to deal with the rest of his life.

It was nearing 11 o’clock when he came down for breakfast, having packed all his things and closed out his room account.

From his pocket, he took an old yellowed piece of paper with an address on it, and asked the registrar if he recognized the area, and how long it would take to get there.  The registrar was unfamiliar with the exact address, but knew the area and approximated a 20 minute carriage ride.  John checked his pocket watch and calculated that he should leave the hotel by 12:30 p.m.

He ate alone, mostly pushing food around on his plate, and finished his second cup of tea.  Pulling out his pocket watch for the third time in half an hour, he noted it was almost midday.  He paid the waiter for his uneaten meal, collected his belongings, and went into the lobby where people were talking or reading the paper.  Sitting alone, in a far off corner of the room, he allowed his mind to wander.  He wasn’t too concerned about finding a caretaker for his mother, surely it would be an easy task to accomplish, but finding someone who would put up with her stubborn ways, might prove to be difficult.  Having his home on the mill property meant he would be able to assist her, but surely, as she grew weaker, she would need someone to help her with the more personal details.

And then there was Margaret…  John wondered what he would do if Dixon told him she believed Margaret married to gain freedom from her relatives.  Certainly, they would have encouraged a commonality with the different levels of the London upper class.  Marriage to a college professor sounded like an act of escape from a certain measure of the higher social circle.  But in other ways, John thought, it did have a ring of truth about it: An educator would be very much to Margaret’s liking.  Realizing he was becoming more anxious by the moment, he took out his pocket watch once more.  Time came to hail a cab.

Five minutes before the hour, John stepped out of the coach.  As he paid the driver, he instructed him to return in 20 minutes; if he was going to be any later then someone would come out and pay him to wait.

Arriving at Captain Lennox’s home, John looked over the highly ornate, white Regency town home, with its columned front porch and tall windows.  Hesitantly, he proceeded forward.  He climbed the marble steps up the slight embankment then stepped onto a slate walkway leading to the door.  Before he could lift the knocker, Dixon opened the door.  Removing his hat, John entered the house.

“Good to see you Mr. Thornton.”  Dixon said politely, a hint of sadness in her voice.  “You can place your hat and things over here.”  She pointed to a highly polished table in the foyer.  The Mr. and Missus are not in, but they know you were coming.  If you will follow me.”

“Good day to you, Dixon.  Thank you for seeing me.”

Dixon led John toward the back of the house.  “Mr. Thornton, if you would care to go out onto the veranda, I’ll fetch some tea.”

“Very good.  This is a lovely home you work in, Dixon.  I’ve not seen a veranda in many years.  I’m sure you remember the air in Milton; it wouldn’t suit such a luxury.”

As John stepped out onto the wide veranda, he was immediately struck by the large fountain, toward the center of the back garden, spewing water into its trough at the bottom.  He had always been fascinated by the water wheel engineering that lay beneath its foundation.  Wheels would turn by falling water, raised in turn by other wheels bringing the water back up the center flow.  Thinking back on his study of its construction, he was reminded that there would be a hidden chamber where a workman could repair the works from below, if needed.  Before he could have a closer look at its complex design, his senses were suddenly filled with the awareness of her, and then the voice struck his heart like a lightning bolt.

“Hello Mr. Thornton.”

(Continued on Mondays)

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Two

Chapter  2 – Jane, I want a wife …

Blanche

 

 

“Edward!”

Blanche Ingram’s voice cut through the hum of voices in the hall. Its shrill loudness made my husband turn his head in astonishment. A smile appeared on his face, and his eyes shone with a wicked pleasure.

“Blanche, you sly little thing, is that you? Well, I never! So you have come to admit defeat then, have you?”

I gasped in surprise at Edward’s mischief, but Blanche’s silvery laugh showed that she wasn’t going to be insulted!

“Now what made you think I have ever been interested in you, you dreadful man? You have never been handsome and now, now you are too hideous to be attractive to me! I’ll gladly abandon you to Miss Eyre here, she is the one who had a crush on you, not me!”

Edward laughed with genuine pleasure and took her into his arms, kissing her on both cheeks with his usual enthusiasm. Blanche Ingram cast me a knowing little smile which brought fire into my face!

“Dear Blanche,” Edward said affectionately, “I am so pleased that you are here, and so is my Jane. But … she is Mrs. Rochester now, don’t you forget that!”

“Of course, how could I forget?”

Blanche turned to me and offered me her hand. We curtsied. I could very well remember the first time I set eyes on her. It was at the house party Edward hosted shortly after Bertha’s attempt to burn him alive in his bed. I was still hurting at the time, because he had left the house the day after I had lost my heart to him. Blanche had seemed like an angel from heaven to Adèle’s young impressionable mind and as I recalled to me, too. I could still see her in my mind’s eye in the white silk dress she wore that night. She made me think of a fairy, so light, so lovely, so beautiful, so much more suitable than me to a man of Edward’s station …

I shook myself. All that was behind me now and of no importance.

Only then did I see the young woman behind her and, recalling my duties as a hostess, I smiled at her.

“Allow me to present Miss Edwina Blackthorn, my companion and friend. Her mother was a dear friend of Mama’s. Miss Blackthorn came to live with us after Mrs. Blackthorn’s death last year,” Blanche said.

We greeted each other, and I studied the young woman more closely.

She was very tall, at least 5’9, and thin but not skinny. She had womanly curves in all the right places. Her hair was a raven black and her eyes were green-blue. She was a stunning beauty.

“May I congratulate you on your marriage, Mr and Mrs Rochester, and thank you for inviting me. I wish you all the happiness in the world.”

A voice like a siren’s! Deep, smooth and seductive … I could see how Edward was savouring the sound of it. Her face looked somehow familiar to me? but I was unable to recall where I had seen her.

My thoughts were distracted when Roberts, looking dashing in his Thornfield livery, presented us all with champagne, and Edward bade a welcome to our guests. The wedding breakfast began.

 

It was a fine party altogether. The food had been excellent and abundant, the wine of the finest quality. Mrs. Fairfax and I had made sure no efforts had been spared. Now the last of our guests had left, and the servants were already tidying up. I told Adèle that it was her bedtime, and she sulked a little, as was her habit.

“Come, Adèle!” Edward admonished her. “Don’t make me sorry to have you stay up that late. Do as Miss Eyre tells you.”

“Oh, Monsieur Rochester!” She giggled. “You are mistaken! She is not Miss Eyre any more but Mrs. Rochester! Can I not call you “Maman” now, Mrs. Rochester?”

I smiled affectionately at her; she was such a cheerful child.

“Yes, Adèle,” I answered, “you can call me whatever you like.”

“No!” Edward shouted, making us both jump, “I absolutely forbid you to call my wife “Maman”, Adèle! She’s not your mother!”

I found this a little harsh of him. Adèle, her eyes full of tears, turned and ran away.

“Edward, that was cruel of you. She’s only a child, she means no offense.”

He sighed and reached for my hand.

“You’re right, Jane, as always. But, when I think of what her mother was like, I cannot bear to have you compared to her!”

“Still, dearest, I think you should apologise to her. She is fast becoming a young woman, and it frightens her when you lose your temper like that. Her feelings are easily hurt.”

Edward chuckled.

“All right, I’ll do it, when it pleases you! But now, my precious little witch, we have other things to attend to, much more important ones than the feelings of a teenager. Lead the way to our bedchamber, Mrs. Rochester.”

Jane and Rochester3

When the bedroom door closed behind us, I abruptly halted, causing Edward to bump into me.

“What is it, Jane?… Are you afraid? Of me, Jane …?”

He stood behind me and wrapped his arms around me, burying his mouth in my hair. I caught his scent, a mixture of sandalwood and musk, and my heart leaped at the closeness of him. My blood pounded in my ears, and I clasped his hands that lay upon my waist.

“I cannot see you, Jane … I can only rely on my memory of you … I remember the way you feel under my hands … I recognize the way you breathe … my body recalls the way you touch me, Jane …”

He kissed me softly above my ear and his breath was warm on my skin.

I took one step towards our bed, two steps and he followed me, hands on my waist, stroking my hips, sending shivers down my spine.

My legs bumped against the bed and he slowly turned me, opening the buttons of my gown. His eyes were a sparkling green and his breath came in shallow gasps. Mine too … as I began undoing his cravat, his waistcoat … Oh God! His hands were on my bare flesh now, pushing my gown from my shoulders, hard and fast! The feeling of his left hand, the one in the white cotton glove, was no less exciting than the one that bore no glove!

I helped him shrug off his coat and waistcoat, undid his shirt buttons with trembling hands.

Suddenly, he grabbed both of my hands and held them hard.

“Jane … Jane, you might not … like to see what’s under there …I don’t want you to be horrified by my injuries …”

I freed my hands and cupped his face.

“Edward, dear precious Edward, I love you … I want to feel you, to love you, to be with you, completely, without boundaries … “

I slid his shirt from his shoulders. Yes, he was damaged … the left side of his chest was shrivelled and red, his left arm badly bruised where the flames had gnawed at him. I didn’t care … he was magnificent! Broad, hard shoulders, strong muscled arms, flat stomach and slim waist …

My fingers fumbled with the buttons of his trousers and Edward gasped.

“You wicked little witch …”,  he breathed but did not interrupt me. Instead his hands were pushing my gown down along my legs and then went up to my stays. In seconds he had unhooked them, leaving me in my chemise and drawers.

“Jane … will you do something for me?”

“Yes … Edward …”

“Get rid of those stupid clothes and wait for me in bed with your eyes closed. I’ll undress and I’ll join you. I want our first contact to be completely naked, Jane … my flesh must find yours … please, Jane … we must touch without you seeing me …”

 

 

 

 

 

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – Chapter Two

[JT Look Back at Me]

Chapter 2

     Abandoned Hope

 

Over the next year, John Thornton became a shell of the man he once was: a thinking human being with no central core, little constancy, adrift in his own life.  In an effort to keep his company from failing, he kept long hours at work, trying to lose himself in his mill.  Margaret’s words, on the day of the riot, continued to haunt him.  He recognized that consideration for the human condition of his people was the road to the mill’s salvation, but how to accomplish this remained an issue for him and all the cotton masters.  Feeling lost, he nevertheless was determined to resolve the wage issue, even if it meant losing everything to do it.  And through it all, his faith in Margaret’s insights remained intact.  Resolute to form a new perspective, John set to work on a solution.

By the end of that first year after Margaret had left, he began to see the benefits of his hard work.  He had successfully tightened controls, hired capable, more productive people, and retrained his workers.  In order to pay wages, he diluted most of his personal financial holdings.  He met with his workers individually, and held monthly meetings so they could air their grievances.  Wanting his labor force to comprehend the whole picture, he demonstrated, with slate and chalk, where every pound was going, and helped clear all their financial misunderstandings of the company.  His goal was to make them partners in his decisions.  Over time, the entire mill came to recognize their newly acquired knowledge (some absorbed more than others), as fair and equal.  They had a sense of partnership and they had a purpose: they wanted John to succeed.  He wasn’t only their boss, he became their friend.  In the end, the workers’ personal interest in the success of the company, and their mutual pride and dedication to workmanship, produced a finer product.

Before long, John’s mill began to reap great rewards; the other mill masters, observing the result of changes he had made, began to follow his lead.  Although they didn’t always agree with him on his expenditures and personal sacrifices (with regard to the workers), John showed them that sacrifice was at the core of his success.  He believed in a new way of thinking: a future vision that embraced the workers’ humanity and would ultimately resolve most problems.  Recognized as a highly acclaimed merchant within the Cotton Industry, it wasn’t long before other burgeoning industries began to take notice of the name John Thornton and the town of Milton.  Respect and admiration for his business skills, and absence of dissention among his 300 plus workers, resulted in his fame being spread throughout other areas of commerce.  His methods were recorded in trade journals, and he was asked to speak at various functions around the country.  John was obliging, but shunned the limelight, and never put himself forward to be admired.  He disliked receiving praise for common sense work and he highly undervalued himself.  The world, however, saw him differently…

At a time when John was achieving great success and blazing historical trails, his personal life was far from successful, but he kept it well hidden from all but his closest friends.  Margaret never wrote to him after her bereavement ended.  He had written her two letters, but they went unanswered.  This puzzled him.  It was most unlike Margaret to be so impolite.  Having had no communication from her, and having heard no news of her, he began to worry, sensing she might slip through his grasp.

My destiny cannot be to live without her.

In the second year after Margaret left, John attempted two more courteous letters but received no replies.  Now, concerned that something was amiss, he wrote to Dixon, hoping she could shed some light on Margaret’s apparent disregard for his letters.  Clearly, this was not the Margaret he once knew.  He had to find out why.

Late one evening, John returned home from the mill.  As he entered the sitting room,   Hannah was sitting at the dining table, reviewing Cook’s menus for the following week.

“Good evening, Mother.  How has your day been?”

Hannah Thornton looked up from her work and smiled fondly at her son.  “Oh, a bit tiring…”  Lottie came by to gossip for a while and we had tea.  Then I wrote a letter, did a little cross stitch… and here I sit working on our meals for next week.”  Rising from the table, walking to the couch, she watched him, as he removed his coat and cravat and placed them over the back of a chair.  “And how was your day, John?”

John walked over to the buffet and poured himself a brandy before responding.  Lifting the glass he turned slightly towards Hannah, “Mother?”

“Yes, John, but I would prefer a small sherry, instead.  By the way, something came in the post for you today.  It’s on the dining room table.”

Without acknowledging her comment about the post, John continued pouring their drinks.  “It was a rather easy day, today.  Higgins still amazes me with his capacity for completing all the work I assign him.  I can’t find the end of the man.  He never tires, never complains, good teacher – a perfect overseer.  I’m going to get him into the office for some of the financial side of the business.”  Picking up her sherry, but leaving his brandy behind, John walked to the dining table and retrieved the letter.  Crossing the room, he handed his mother her glass.  He paused a moment to open the note, quickly scanning for a signature.

“Finally,” John said as he walked back to the buffet and picked up his brandy.  Walking over to his leather chair in front of the fire, he sat down and began to unfold the letter.

“Who is it from?” his mother asked, watching John’s movements.

“It’s from Dixon, the Hales’ housekeeper.  She now works for Margaret.”

Hannah looked at him angrily.  “John, you didn’t!  Please tell me you didn’t write to her and ask about Miss Hale behind her back.”

Raising his eyes to meet hers, John answered, “Mother, I cannot tell you so, because I did write to her.  I wrote to Margaret four times in two years and received no response to my letters.  I thought a quick note to Dixon, requesting a reply, would let me know if Margaret received them.  I have reason to suspect that her family may be censoring her post.  I didn’t tell you about writing to her because I knew you would go on . . . like you are about to do now . . .” He paused for a moment, letting the weight of his words sink in.  His mother’s consistent negativity towards Margaret Hale, from the very beginning of their acquaintance, was an ongoing source of frustration for him.  “So,” he continued, “if you don’t mind, mother, I would like to read Dixon’s letter now.”

As John began reading, Hannah was up and pacing the floor.  She was worried about this “re-emergence of the “Miss Hale” story.  For the past two years, he had been seeing other women, no one permanently, but she thought Miss Hale was far from his mind.  Suddenly, Hannah’s thoughts were interrupted as she heard the sound of glass, shattering on the floor.  She quickly turned around and saw John, still seated, bent slightly forward with his elbows supported on his knees.  He was holding his head in his hands, looking down, staring at the letter that had fallen to the floor.

“What is it, John?” she asked, alarmed by his pale face and empty unfocused eyes.

She watched as he stood up.  Without acknowledging her question, and oblivious to the glass fragments on the floor, he walked out of the room, down the stairs, and out the front door with neither coat, nor hat, in hand.  Hannah was stunned; he’d never done anything like that before.  She hurried to the window, in time to see him walking through the mill gate.

At the sound of footsteps coming from the kitchen stairs, Hannah turned and saw Jane, the housekeeper, entering the room, dustpan, and broom in hand.

“I thought I heard the sound of breaking glass, ma’am.” she said, glancing around the room.

Hannah composed herself.  “Over here, Jane,” she said as she pointed to the floor, “but hand me that letter first, if you don’t mind?”

Jane handed her mistress the note and began to sweep the glass.  Hannah waited patiently for her to leave, then sat in John’s chair and began to read.

Dear Mr. Thornton,

It was nice hearing from you.  I do not think Miss Margaret got your letters because I think she would have told me.  She and I are close friends.  She does not care for London, so we talk a lot about Helstone and Milton.  I know she wrote to you once or maybe it was two times, because she asked me if I wanted to add anything.  I just wanted to say Hello to you.  Did you not receive them? 

I don’t know if this is good news or bad news for you, but Miss Margaret married her a college professor last month.  She is not living here anymore.  They live on the school grounds somewhere.  I was not allowed to go with her because they have their own staffing. 

To be honest with you Mr. Thornton, I don’t know if she was happy to be married or happy to be out of here.  She’s been very sad a long time, but I don’t think it is all about her parents dying.  She just hates living here and society life being pressed on her.  I know she would have been happy to hear from you, because we wondered how you and Mr. Higgins were getting along.  I think that is all you wanted to know.  Please write again if I can tell you anymore, I like getting letters.                                                                                                 Dixon
By the time Hannah finished reading the letter, tears were rolling down her cheeks, and her heart beat rapidly in her chest.  She felt terrible for her son.  She decided to wait and have dinner with him, but he didn’t return and she could not eat.  Feeling unwell, she retired to her room for the evening.

Knowing John was at a very low point, weighed heavily on her conscience, exhausting her even further.  She recognized she held some blame in this disaster in her son’s life.  Originally, she never endeared herself to Margaret, and had since tried to sweep her memory out of the way.  John, meanwhile, had been holding on to her tightly, in his heart.  “How he must have struggled to tolerate me,” she thought,” when I was so quick to dismiss any conversation about Miss Hale.”

Will he ever forgive me?

Outside, John walked towards nowhere; numb, not caring, and oblivious to everything around him, including the cold and the approaching darkness.  His thoughts were incomprehensible; he was inconsolable.
I cannot believe what has happened to my life.  It is over. 
John had loved Margaret for over three years.  Although there had been no communication between them for two of those years, he still had clung to hope.  He had dreams and he had plans, all of which just died a horrible death.

Walking with his head down, people stared at him as he passed.  He wandered aimlessly out of town and found himself at the cemetery, where Margaret had visited weekly, at the grave of her lost friend, Bessie.

John’s insides were churning as he walked around in circles, simultaneously wrestling with anger and sorrow.  Tears rolled down his face, as his stomach convulsed with pain, and pure mental agony consumed him.

Margaret  . . .  my love, my life, why did you marry someone else? 

Holding his arms straight over his head, shaking his fist skyward, shouting and sobbing at his maker, John wailed to the heavens, “Why, God . . . why?  Why take Margaret from me, again?  What have I done to deserve this?  . . .  God, anything but this!”

John silently cursed his god.  For him, God no longer existed.  With despondency heavily descending upon him, he slid to his knees and fell backwards on to the cold damp ground.  A few moments later he sat up, resting his head on his arms, which were laying across his up-drawn knees.  Tears of utter desolation poured out from him.  He thought he was watching himself go mad.

“I have loved her for three years, God.  Two years ago, my heart broke when you took her from me.  I have not looked into her face since then, but have continued to live in hope every day.  And today, God, you put a pistol to my head and pulled the trigger.  You have taken away my love, my reason for living, my everything.  She wrapped herself around my very soul, now you’ve wrenched her away.  You have destroyed me, God.  I am done with you, as you are done with me.”  John cried uncontrollably, feeling as if he was bleeding to death, and wishing, somehow, that he could.

As the hours rolled by, he sank deeper into despair, and thoughts of ending his own life began to appear, but the recollection of the family’s grief, over his father’s suicide, kept him teetering on the brink of life.  He knew, without a doubt, living in a world without Margaret, in a world without hope of Margaret, meant living in a void: a meaningless, senseless life; forever floating, trapped in a world of depression, and ostracized from reciprocated love.

As the pale light of dawn rose over the smoky town, John stood slowly, straining at his stiffness, and decided to go home and try to survive the rest of his damaged life.  There were no tears left to shed.  He was completely and utterly spent.

Everything is gone . . .  lost to me now . . .  and I, too, am lost.

Approaching his home, John tried putting on a good face for the early workers wandering the yard, but he knew he looked awful and it matched his mood.  Feeling unprepared to face his mother over Miss Hale, again, he mounted the porch steps, took a deep breath, and turned the doorknob.  As he came bravely through the door to the sitting room, Hannah looked up from her chair and quietly gasped.  Standing before her in muddied clothes, looking totally exhausted, was her son: face swollen, eyes bloodshot and cheeks stained and streaked with tears.  He was a broken man and her heart sank for him.  How he suffers…  Without saying a word, she walked over, putting her motherly arms around him.  She wanted to tell him she was sorry, but it didn’t seem enough, considering her past attitude toward Miss Hale, so, she kept silent on the matter.

“Would you like something to eat, John?”  Hannah asked, tentatively, as she stepped back from him.

“No thank you, mother.  I’m going to clean up and lie down for a few hours.  Would you send Jane to find Higgins and tell him it will be a while before I get to the office?”

Hannah said she would take care of it.  Having decided she would say nothing about the letter until he did, she stood silently watching him.  Picking up Dixon’s letter, John turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.  Hannah thought to herself that she had never seen him so dejected.  Unfortunately, and all too late, she realized the great love her son had for Miss Hale; so much more than she had ever thought.  At last, she fully recognized the understanding John had of Margaret.  Hannah knew, for certain, she had misjudged this woman.

In his room, John undressed and bathed, feeling the weight of loneliness descend upon his tired body.  Putting on a fresh undergarment he lay down on the bed.  Exhaustion overtook him, finally, and he slept fitfully, never finishing Dixon’s letter.

He awoke several hours later, bathed in sweat.  Throwing his legs over the side of the bed, he sat up, trying to clear his head.  He wished he was awakening from a nightmare, but there it was, on the night table: Dixon’s letter, spelling out THE END to the rest of his life.  Reaching over, he picked it up, and began reading where he had left off:

 

  To be honest with you Mr. Thornton, I don’t know if she was happy to be married or happy to be out of here.  She’s been very sad a long time, but I don’t think it is all about her parents.  She just hates living here and society life being pressed on her.  I know she would have been happy to hear from you, because we wondered how you and Mr. Higgins were getting along.  

 Suddenly, he stopped.  “What did that mean . . . happy to be married or happy to be out of there?”

John stood, continuing to read, as he paced the floor and ran his fingers through his hair.  They were words, just words, but ignoring them would haunt him forever.  Nothing could be done now; there could be no difference in their permanent separation.  But still… he had to know…

 Did she marry for love? 

It seemed absurd to want to know the answer; what difference would it make?  Yet, deep down, burned the desire to feel what might have been.  What if she could have loved him?  That, at least, would be worth something to him.

He knew what he must do…  In a few weeks he was due to attend the annual convention for the cotton mill industry, held in London.

“I will visit Dixon while I’m there.  I must understand what she meant by those words.”

(Continuing on Mondays)