Chapter Twenty – Inexorable Fate
While John was propelled into the Unknown, only one fact stood clearly in his mind; he must not let go of Margaret! In that last conscious second, he managed to sling his arms around her waist and cling tightly to her. Whatever would transpire, he would not release his hold on Margaret, even if he should die in the process! But the violence of the force with which they were thrown into the darkness was overpowering …
As consciousness slowly returned, Margaret immediately felt the sting of an injury to her left shoulder and, when she moved it, she cried out in pain. Opening her eyes, she saw John’s worried face hovering above hers.
“Margaret, darling, lay still! I think you may have dislocated your shoulder.”
“Where are we?” Margaret asked, looking around.
“We are in the mill’s loom hall. Fortunately we seem to have landed onto a pile of cotton waste which must have cushioned the blow somewhat. Margaret, the looms are not working, so I guess we cannot be sure in what era we are.”
Margaret, firmly holding on to John’s arm, managed to sit up, though the pain in her shoulder was growing worse by the minute.
“John,” she urged, “look closely! I recognize this location very clearly. I was here just before I took the train back to London in the company of Henry Lennox. Do you recall it, John? I told you so on the station platform where our trains crossed.”
John nodded, deep in thoughts.
“I met your mother in here, that day,” Margaret continued. “She was so very bitter, John. She accused me of coming to gloat over you and the bankruptcy of Marlborough Mills. Oh, John, she was so very distressed about not knowing where you were! Just think of it! She still does not know after all these weeks that we spent in the future!”
“Yes, you are right, darling. We should go and find out where we are and, more important, in which era. Come, let’s get you on your feet.”
With the greatest care, John assisted his wife in getting up, yet he couldn’t prevent her having a lot of pain in her injured shoulder. Eventually, they started toward the entrance door of the hall. As they were passing one of the grimy windows, they saw the deserted courtyard stretching out beneath it.
“Oh God!” John whispered. “Is it possible that we arrived back in our own time?”
“Let’s go outside, John.”
They did indeed exited the hall into a courtyard that acutely resembled the one John had fled after the mill’s downfall and, in sore need of a distraction from all his worries, had gone on a train to Helstone, Hampshire. In unison, their glances turned to the house where John and his family had lived. Laced curtains still adorned the clean windows, and the doorstep was still meticulously swept.
Hiding behind a stack of cotton bales, John and Margaret observed the stately house. It certainly looked like John’s 1852 home!
“Listen, sweetheart, we cannot go inside the way we are dressed just now, in jeans, T-shirts and denim jackets. I will bring you back to the hall and install you somewhat more comfortably there, while I will go and see if I can get us more suitable clothing. Can you wait for me there?”
“Of course I can, John. You are so right! That is just the thing to do.”
Once nightfall had set in, John cautiously crept toward the house’s back door with the intention to wait until the lights went out in the pantry. That was a sure sign that Cook had gone to her bedchamber. Cook was always the last to seek her bed for the night. He had to wait for another hour before he could execute his plan of forcing his way into his own house by picking the pantry’s door lock. The house was quiet but faint little noises were audible, as if the rooms themselves were listening for intruders. John stole his way up to his bedroom by using the servant’s staircase, which lay at the back of the house and was more isolated than the main staircase. Ten minutes later, he had done his ablutions, dressed himself in clean clothes and sneaked into Fanny’s old bedroom to get a dress out of her closet. His spoilt sister had not bothered taking them all with her after her marriage to Watson.
He hurried back to the factory hall where he found Margaret dozing on the bed of cotton waste.
“My dearest, I am going to help you get into this dress. It will be painful but also necessary, for I want
to take you to Dr Donaldson. You shoulder needs to be set as soon as possible lest the muscles cramp up.”
Margaret acquiesced with lips as white as the left-over sheets of cotton on the inert looms, and John eased her into the dress. By the time he was finished, she had passed out with the pain. John was not surprised. He knew all too well how excruciating the pain must be. Carefully, he carried her to the street and hailed a conveniently passing cab.
Dr Donaldson did not so much as blink when John rang at his door that late. He knew John would not call for just a trifle illness or injury. With stoicism, he accepted John’s explanation that Margaret had taken a fall on a train platform, somewhere halfway between Milton and London. He nodded pensively at John’s going into detail about their trains crossing and he spotting her. The doctor’s thoughts were already on the task at hand.
“Help me get her onto the examination table, Mr Thornton. I will set the shoulder while you are to keep her down. Poor child, she has not had much of a respite, this last year, has she?”
“No, she has not,” John replied, emotion clouding his voice.
After the task was completed, John asked the doctor if Margaret could spend the night at his infirmary, to which Dr Donaldson agreed. John would come and get her in the morning. He left the doctor’s house to perform a task that he was even more reluctant to; he had to go and speak with his mother.
John had to knock hard before he was heard by a sleepy Jane whose task it was to answer the door.
“Mr Thornton!” she exclaimed, clutching the shawl hard over her nightgown for propriety’s sake.
“Thank you for letting me in, Jane. I am sorry to have woken you so late but be so good as to inform my mother I have come home. There is no need for her to rise, I will see her in the morning.”
However, by the time he had reached his bedchamber, Hannah Thornton rushed in, right out of bed, without having bothered to put on a dressing gown.
“John! Thank Heaven you have returned! I have been worried out of my wits! Where the hell have you been?”
“Mother …” He was with her in two long strides and took her into his arms, so firmly that she whimpered frm the force of his embrace.
“Mother, why were you so out of sorts? Surely, I was not gone that long?”
“John, you were gone for two whole days! That is enough to drive any mother into madness! It was not something you had ever done before, John. You always used to inform me of all you undertook.”
Closing his eyes to prevent his mother to witness his astonishment, John processed what he just heard. Two days! All those long weeks he spent with Margaret in 2013, came down on only two days in 1852! Unfathomable!
“Mother, I’m so sorry to have put you through this. It will never happen again, be sure of that.”
“You’re home safely, that’s enough! What have you been doing then?”
John gestured to one of the chairs next to his washstand and sat down himself, using the other one.
“Mother, I have something to tell you …” he said quietly, looking her in the face.