John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 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 around 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 closely 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 closest 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 fellow man.  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 toward 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 find out why, or go crazy wondering.  It’s too late for anything to be done, other than to ease my mind that she did not purposely avoid 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 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 into 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 on 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 bare.”

“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 already had our big discussion at Thornton’s house the other night, plus, we’ll be meeting tomorrow morning again.  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 toward 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.”

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)

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – Chapter One

[JT Look Back at Me]

This is a fantasy novel of John and Margaret. It is not a continuation from where the film or book ended. This is a new love story. Parts of this novel are for mature readers.

Chapter 1

     Lost Love

1851 winter, Milton, N.W. England

Look back ………………. look back at me.”

John heard his thoughts slip from his mouth, as he stood and watched the coach bearing Margaret away forever.  Unknowingly, she carried his heart, his soul, and his future dreams.

Inside the carriage, Margaret dwelled deep within her own misery of lost family, drowning in the solitude she thought her life to be, too absorbed to give a backward glance.

On that snowy day, John’s soul froze over; all of his passion fell dormant.  With her coach out of sight, he felt nausea sweep over him.  He was an empty shell.  A large void replaced his heart.  He wondered if he wanted to live in a world without her.

John Thornton was a tall, virile, handsome man of twenty nine years.  He had black hair and ocean blue eyes, and beneath his cravat and black frock cloak he carried a taut muscular, perfectly proportioned body.  Years of hard learning had produced a keen mind, and with his mother’s guidance, he achieved manhood and became a gentleman.  Simmering just beneath the surface was a well managed temper, fueled by great passion, but rarely displayed.  He was well regarded by his peers and ladies alike, and though he did not seek it, seemed destined for history and fame.

John never had the luxury of a misspent youth and had little time for sowing his wild oats.  Hardship fell early in his life.  His father committed suicide, the result of unfortunate business mistakes, and John was forced to support his mother and sister.  As a young lad, he worked hard to restore his family’s good name and eventually repaid his father’s creditors, even though the name Thornton had been written off as a bad debt.

Through pure diligence and hard work, John became a merchant, a tradesman, and a Master Cotton Mill owner, employing several hundred workers.  Milton, the town where he was raised, had birthed the Machine’s Industrial Age, and John Thornton was an integral part of it.  He, along with other owners, pioneered the manufacturing of cotton fabric and shipped it, not only within country, but worldwide.  Cotton was a low profit commercial item for which the world was starting to clamor.  With its lower cost and lighter weight, it replaced many textiles such as canvas, fur, velvets, and linen.  It was already Great Britain’s largest exported product, and because of it, the town of Milton was on the verge of exploding into a very large dot on the map.

John became a leader among his peers in the cotton industry.  Inspired by the words of Miss Margaret Hale (since gone from his life), he soon became the solution to the unsolvable wage issues that had kept the workers impoverished.

By 1851, when the worst of the labor issues existed, Margaret Hale, her mother, and father (a disillusioned clergyman turned teacher) and Dixon, their housekeeper had been in Milton for a year.  John became acquainted with the family and fell in love with Margaret Hale almost immediately, but differences in customs of the slow-paced south and the industrial north caused a series of misunderstandings between them.  Margaret felt John was too crude and forward, certainly not a gentlemen in the genteel south or London tradition.  Most of the time, she shunned him.  She didn’t care for his northern ways.

One eventful day, Margaret visited John’s mother, Hannah, at their home situated within the property of Marlborough Mills.  While there, a riot broke out among the strikers who were demanding more pay.  Barred inside the house, Margaret and John observed the incited crowd from an upper window.  Margaret spoke to him, begging him to consider the situation and see it through the eyes of the workers.  “They’re being driven mad with hunger” she told him, “but they’re only human.  You must find a solution.  Please, go talk to them.”  John pondered her suggestion for a few moments, then without really knowing what to say, walked outside to speak to them.  As Margaret continued to watch from inside, she realized the crowd was growing angrier and she quickly went out to help him.  Knowing that they would not harm a woman, she forced herself between John and the rioters and tried to reason with them.  John was momentarily caught off guard.  Angry, but fearing for her safety, he tried to force her back into the house when suddenly he felt her body slump, lifeless against his, having been felled by a thrown rock intended for him.  John carried an unconscious Margaret inside and laid her on the couch.  His mother told him to do what he needed to do and that she would care for Margaret.  Minutes later, the doctor arrived and declared she had a bad bump on her head but she would be fine.  The doctor took her home in his carriage.

Unbeknownst to Margaret, her spontaneous reaction signified more than just concern for John’s safety.  To the people in the north, she had signaled an interest in John which propriety could not overlook, and although not her intention, it was taken as such by all who witnessed her behavior.  Both John and his Mother then felt he was obligated to protect her reputation and ask for her hand in marriage.  Marrying Margaret was already in his thoughts, but doing it at this particular time was less than ideal for either of them.

Her rejection of his proposal was a miserable and extremely painful experience for them both, but over time John felt that she was beginning to understand the ways of the north.  He remained hopeful that a relationship could be salvaged in the future.  Other misunderstandings of lesser significance were also present, but they were nothing more than that, solvable, if time were on their side.

During that same year, Margaret suffered several losses: First, Bessie, the only friend that she made since moving to Milton, then tragically and within a short time of each other, her parents.  She was devastated by the death of her father, her only remaining parent, and having lost so many of her loved ones, she felt lonely and bewildered.  Margaret secretly wondered what it was within her, or what she had done, to cause such grievous misfortunes to befall her and desolate her life so quickly.

Immediately following her father’s death, and even though she was of age, Margaret’s aunt took her under her care and swept her away, to live in London.  Aunt Shaw never thought Milton was good enough for her sister and her family, so Margaret was quickly forced to adapt to London and its societal lifestyle, a lifestyle that John never felt she totally embraced.

The day she left Milton, Margaret went to say goodbye to John and his family.  She gave him a book that had belonged to her father.  In that instant, John realized his world had changed dramatically.  Moments later, he stood silently watching her coach leave his mill yard.  As it passed through the gate, out of sight, John knew Margaret was gone from his life.  But, he vowed, he would not . . . could not let it end this way.

 I cannot lose her, lest I lose myself.

(Continuing on Mondays)