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.