Chapter Forty-Four – Working for Marlborough Mills
John’s hand, holding a spoon full of stew, stopped half way up to his mouth in surprise. This was the first time ever Mary ‘proposed’ something to him!
“Well … I couldn’t help notice you are being overtaken by work and a lot of it is that of an office clerk, filling in the ledgers, calculating and checking numbers, writing letters and so on. Do you remember little Tom Boucher? John, thanks to your kind concern, the boy, now eight, has become an astute little fellow who is particularly good at mathematics. His school teacher, Mr Debenham, even refers to him as ‘brilliant’. His handwriting is neat and very legible. Maybe he could give you a hand, as an junior office hand?”
John put down his spoon and grabbed Mary’s hand in so fierce a grasp that she startled!
“Mary, Mary, thank you! Now why haven’t I thought about that? It is simply perfect! Bring him to me this instant. He will do very nicely, I’m sure!”
Although the meeting at the Assembly Hall was very instructive, Margaret was glad to return to Harley Street when it was over. She had been participating and asking questions throughout the debate and lectures, frantically making notes and instructing Dixon to go hunting for pamphlets. Now, at the end of a very long morning, she felt exhausted. Her back was troubling her something fiercely and her head was spinning. Dixon’s reproaches on what she called Margaret’s foolish behaviour did nothing to relieve the headache she now had. When they came out into the courtyard, they had an unpleasant surprise as their cab was nowhere to be seen.
“Miss, you go back inside and I’ll go fetch another one!” Dixon ordered.
“No, Dixon, let’s go together. No need for you to go on your own.”
Leaning heavily on Dixon’s sturdy arm, Margaret left the courtyard into the narrow Throgmorton Street and the pair of them set foot in the direction of the broader London Wall thoroughfare.
She bit her lower lip at the pain in her back. Dr Donaldson had been trying to reassure her about it, saying it was only her pelvis ligaments elongating, caused by her growing belly. This way her body prepared itself to give birth. It did hurt mightily and she had to stifle a groan when she overturned her ankle and the shock reverberated through her belly. Thanks to Dixon’s strong grasp on her arm she did not fall.
“Margaret! Margaret, for God’s sake, what are you doing out here?”
They both turned toward the voice and saw, to their infinite relief, Henry Lennox, alighting from his carriage.
When Tom Boucher entered the office, John stood and bid him welcome, motioning to a chair in front of his desk.
“Hello, Tom! How are you? I hear you want to come and work for me?”
The boy, who had grown quite a bit over the last two years, beamed at him and replied. “Oh, yes, Mr Thornton, sir! I would very much like that! I am quite good at maths and I can write a clear hand, sir. Mary told me to bring these with me, so you could see for yourself.”
Tom handed over a map to John who opened and studied it. Mary had not at all been exaggerating. The boy wrote an impeccable hand and his calculating examples were neat and correct. John smiled at him and looked him over.
“You have grown a lot since I last saw you, Tom. What is it, some three inches?”
“Three and a half, Mr Thornton, sir!” Tom beamed.
John realised he had neglected to inquire about the boy’s health and progress even though he promised himself to do so after discovering that Nicholas had taken Boucher’s children in. Thank God Mary had cared for them!
“Well, Tom, I want you to come into the office at eight in the morning and take care of all the administration, a task for which I do not have time. You will work until five pm and you will take three meals a day in the kitchen of my house. I will inform my cook about this. I will pay you a weekly salary of nine shillings a week with a monthly raise of half a shilling, if you keep up the good work. Here are some of the ledgers from the supply that have to be updated.”
John led Tom to a high writing desk and gestured him to climb on the high stool.
The serious note in John’s voice made the boy look him straight into the face.
“Yes, Mr Thornton, sir?”
“I do hope you are aware of the fact that all things in here are confidential? You are not to speak about any of these affairs to any one, not even to Mary. Do you understand, Tom?”
The blue eyes of the boy stared into his own with grave honesty.
“Yes, Mr Thornton, I do understand. You have my word, Sir.”
That night, John Thornton sat in his parlour after he dined alone in his dining room.
The house was very quiet and dark, all noises coming to an end as evening settled in. The factory itself seemed to have grown silent, as it did every night at ten pm, when the last shift of workers went home. John was always aware of the ending of work but never as acutely as now, when he was alone in his house, without everyone he loved.
Never before, not even in earlier times of being rejected by her, had John felt Margaret’s absence more deeply than now. His darling wife had become a part of him. Without her he was lost.
Medici: The Magnificent was definitely a far cry from the marvellous first season Medici: Masters of Florence, having none of its great cast and masterful storytelling, as its lead star Daniel Sharman showed a rather shocking lack of acting chops, charisma and any kind of expression or even screen presence, but RAI‘s most successful international project is still getting the third season and we have first photos from the sets revealing not only a new longer hair look for Sharman’s Lorenzo Medici, but also Sanditon’s Rose Williams who is joining the season in the role of Caterina Sforza Riario, a historical figure known as the Renaissance lioness whose defiance and ruthlessness have made her a tyrant.
Rose Williams is joining the cast as Lady Sforza Riario
She was a daughter of the Duke of Milan and the wife of Girolamo Riario (Jack Roth), Pope Sixtus IV’s nephew. Reign‘s and Last Kingdom‘s Tobi Regbo is also joining the cast as painter and architect Peruzzi.
MEDICI: POWER AND BEAUTY
Daniel Sharman’s Lorenzo will be in his 40s in the series
will be arriving to RAI this Autumn, under that new title, and will probably air later on at Netflix too. The story will be set after the terrible Pazzi Conspiracy in which Giuliano Medici (Bradley James) lost his life. Lorenzo is tormented by the desire for revenge against Pope Sixtus IV (Raoul Bova), who authorized that bloody attack, and towards Count Riario, the last survivor among the conspirators. His beloved wife Clarice (Synnove Karlsen) tries to convince him to find peace with a compromise that would save both his soul and the city. He does not see much hope even after the discovery that Giuliano left a son, Giulio, who is welcomed into the family. Lorenzo is determined to save his family and Florence even at
Synnove Karlsen returns to the role of Lorenzo’s unloved wife Clarice
the price of losing his soul. As the bank’s situation becomes increasingly unstable, politics pushes Lorenzo to give up the ideals of the past and his relationship with his wife Clarice also suffers, especially after he meets beautiful lady Sforza. He also continues to finance the world of art, meeting
Toby Regbo will be the new friend of the Medicis, painter Peruzzi
the great artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo. In affirming his ever-increasing power, however, Lorenzo clashes with an unexpected enemy, the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (Francesco Montanari), who inflames the people of Florence with his sermons against the tyranny of the Medici.
“Much better, father. My neck is stiff to turn it, but most of the pain is gone. I don’t believe I will need any medication anymore. Adam isn’t visiting today, is he? I can’t take another day like yesterday.”
“Quite honestly, I can’t either. I’ve really let you down, Margaret. I am sorry for that. I just didn’t know how to broach the subject, and I should have. I guess I assumed your mother had covered that with you.”
“Father, don’t be sorry. Mother covered what she should have, and that was about me and my pubescent body, but she said nothing about men. Perhaps, she didn’t know much herself. And with you, as a devoted, loving husband gave her no reason for more knowledge.”
“It would embarrass you for me to go into that part of our life, but we were a happy couple.”
“I’ve always known that. I hope I am as fortunate to have one man love me all my life.”
“Do you think it may be Mr. Thornton?”
“I don’t know. He mainly apologized for the dinner and expressed wanting to know me better. I am fortunate to have that.”
“Margaret, he was quite adamant about seeing you yesterday. There is more behind that apology, I am sure of it.”
“Where is Fred?”
“He’s taken Max out for exercise. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t pass by a particular young lady’s home while he’s riding.”
“Mr. Thornton asked if he could come by today, and I said yes. I don’t know what time, though.”
“Do you feel up to having company?”
“I feel up to seeing him,” Margaret shyly smiled.
“I know the principles that you were raised with, and I trust you to do what is right for you. I do not worry about proper society rules. As you know, your mother went against those herself, and I believe she never regretted it. Do what makes you happy but do keep in mind potential consequences to your actions.”
“Thank you for telling me that, father.”
“I do believe I will hold off on my nap until John gets here.”
“I do believe he is here now,” Margaret mimicked. She went to the window, and Branson had his door open.”
“Dixon, I’ll get the door,” Margaret shouted.
“I believe I will retire before he comes in. Richard remarked.”
“See you at dinner, father.”
Margaret opened the door to John Thornton.
“Good afternoon, Miss Hale. Is there an ambush lying in wait for me inside? I would like to apologize, first.”
Margaret laughed, which brought a small frown. “Only me. Do, I count?”
“The answer to that could be misinterpreted, so I will decline. You are alone?”
“Fred is out, and my father just went to rest. Please come in.”
“How is your injury, puppet?” He smiled.
“I think one more day with this collar should suffice. May I get you any refreshment?”
“I was wondering if you felt you could take a brief ride on a good road. I would like to take you into town for lunch. But I can easily wait until you are stronger.”
“If I wear my collar while riding, I should be fine. If you can wait, I will tell Dixon.”
Margaret was gone a few minutes, and John stood in the sitting room twirling his hat. He was reminded of the scene he had made there, only yesterday. He, no doubt, had those other apologies to make.
Margaret was back with her bonnet and neck collar. John noticed she had dimples.
“Margaret, with those little dimples, you do remind me of a puppet,” John grinned.
“With this stiff collar, I feel like the Queen of Scotland just before they removed her head. I believe they wore those wretched stiff ruffled collars about that time.”
“I’ve never had any reference to the clothing of that era. Perhaps, a day at the London museum?”
“I’m sorry. Is that a question?”
“It’s an invitation if you would like a day out as such.”
“I believe we need more conversation before I can agree to anything as lovely as that.”
“And I believe I have much to say in these conversations. Shall we go?”
John handed her in the coach, spoke with Branson, and then entered as well. He pitched his hat on the opposite bench, settling beside Margaret.
“I am grateful to have this private time with you,” John said. “I have questions that I hope you will feel free to answer. I know this is your business, your life, but still, you leave a mystery in your wake.”
“Should I worry? I was looking forward to lunch with you. Will you spoil it?”
“You have been looking forward to coming out to lunch? Did I not take you to the canteen at the mill? You didn’t seem all that enthused then. I am reminded you made notice of something there, but I digress.”
“Are you teasing me?” Margaret frowned looking at him.
John broke out in a smile looking at that face. “Dimples and frowns and stares. I fear I am not strong enough for your beguiling moods.”
“You are teasing me.”
“Have you never done that yourself? Can you say you never teased me?”
Margaret looked out the window. “How far is the luncheon café?”
John laughed as quietly as he could, but Margaret heard him and laughed, too.
“Well? Asked John.
“I think I would like to table that question until other, more important, issues are known to me.”
“Branson seems to be slowing down. Are we here?”
Margaret began to untie the neck collar. Whether it was her nerves or done purposely, the strings became knotted.
Branson was waiting through the open door, looking in. John made no offer to help her. He kept a straight face while he heard small exasperating gushes of air as she wrestled with it. Since she couldn’t see it, he knew she would fail. He waited to be asked, glancing at Branson.
John couldn’t help it. When Branson started whistling while they waited, John laughed out loud.
“Oof . . .” He heard Margaret utter.
“Margaret, may I be of some assistance?”
“I think you know you can. You waited for me to ask, didn’t you?”
“Margaret Hale, we know very little about each other. By offering my help immediately, you may assume that I didn’t have faith that you could do it yourself.”
“What kind of an answer is that?”
“Poor, I’m afraid. So you do or do not need the benefit of my help?”
“I do. Please.”
“All you had to do was ask. For what’s it’s worth, I am fairly well known for coming to the aid of damsels in distress. You may remember several instances at the Lyceum, for example. And you weren’t even aware that I had to carry you into your house because you were in your cups.”
“Are you done, yet?” Margaret mockingly sounded stern. They were almost nose to nose. Margaret didn’t think his eyesight was that bad that he had to get that close to the knot to see it. “Is the light bad?”
“I’m getting it,” John said, purposely staring into her eyes. She didn’t know that it had been unknotted for several moments. He heard Branson cough.
“There we go. I don’t mind taking you to lunch while you are wearing your collar. If you feel you need it, let’s return it.”
“I don’t think I will have any missteps from here to the door.”
“Not if you take my arm.”
“But doesn’t your own arm bother you?”
“And why would you think that?” He asked, handing her out of the coach.
“You’ve been patting yourself on your back quite long now.”
John heard Branson snort from holding in laughter.
“Branson, that will be enough of that.” John hadn’t laughed like this since he couldn’t remember when.
John and Margaret were seated in a secluded part of the café. There were many round tables and chairs and booths around the edge of the big room. Several of them had a bit of privacy to them.
“Will this do, Mr. Thornton?”
“Yes, this is fine. Could you bring us a bottle of your house wine while we read your menu?”
“Coming right up, sir.”
Once Margaret was settled he sat opposite her. “What do you think of this nice little café?”
“It does look very nice. It appears to be somewhere between the pub cafes and the fine restaurants. I’m not sure I would call it small. Does this booth have your name carved in it somewhere? No, wait . . . I bet if I look closely, you have inscribed the names of each of the women you have brought here, is that not so?”
“Actually, this is my booth. I have paid the establishment for my own private use. Yes, I bought it.”
Margaret flopped back against the high wood backrest, staring at John with her mouth open. She bumped her head when she did that, showing John her grimace face.”
“Margaret, are you alright?”
“I’m not sure, but my neck is fine. Your booth? Do patrons vote on the different women you bring to this booth? “Oh, she’s a stunner. “That one’s a little too skinny for me. This trip they must know I am only a fill-in. Is there a ballot box somewhere?”
John withdrew a bit of paper and a pencil from his vest pocket. In large letters, he wrote the word gullible.
“Gullible? You mean me?” Margaret recalled the meat on her plate at the ball.
John just stared at her with a smile.
“Oof . . .” She said and looked away from his smile.
The small platters with meatloaf, boiled potatoes, and carrots were served.
“I love this meal,” Margaret announced.
“As do I. None of the other women order it when I bring them here,” he teased.
“Are you ready, Mr. Thornton? You may fire as you bear.”
“As I bear?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve heard my brother say that. If the navy is maneuvering to fire their cannons at another ship, he would tell his men to ‘fire as you bear,’ meaning for them to fire when their bearing was in a good position for an attack.”
“Thank you for such a complete understanding of that word. I did know what you meant. I didn’t think you would.”
“You have underestimated me recently, have you not?”
“That is rather an understatement in itself. That’s where many of my questions lie. But first, there is something more important than your attempts to draw my attention to you.”
“And that would be . . . ?”
“Is that important to you?”
“Most emphatically,” John replied.
“Why?” Asked Margaret.
Margaret set down her fork, looked up into John’s face and said, “I think I love you.”
John reached for her hand across the table. “I thought it would take months to hear you say those words to me. I had come to hope that you did. I have spent a lot of hours thinking about you and how I missed seeing you. I am certain that was by design. Surprisingly, resourceful. I …”
Margaret interrupted. “It’s not right for a woman to say those words first.” Margaret frowned. “l am sure you hear that often, and my declaration doesn’t sound any different than the next female.”
“Oh, you’re so wrong about that.”
“That’s not what my brother tells me. He’s been coaching me about men and what to expect and how to act. Fred’s been telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. What some men expect from women. Adam helped me with ignoring you. I didn’t think of that on my own. I’ve ruined it all.” Margaret started crying.
John stepped around to her side of the bench and placed his arm around her, hugging her to him.
“Stop . . . stop . . . stop this. You haven’t ruined anything. This very minute you changed my life.”
“I what?” Margaret said, glassy-eyed.
“I know I love you.
“You what?” Margaret said, slurring her words. “You can’t know that. After everything I’ve done to you, what is wrong with you that you can say those words? I’ve insulted you, I’ve ignored you, I’ve chastised your pride when you said you carried me around the dance floor. You can’t love someone if that’s all you know about them.”
“Let me see. You forgot embarrassed me, stared at me, shamed me, and now I find out I’ve been ambushed by the family. I’ve been tricked, hoodwinked, victimized and mislead. I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to do. Don’t you understand?”
“I’d have to have my head examined if I did. How did I embarrass you?”
“You pee’d in your shoes at the Lyceum, didn’t you? You didn’t think I knew about that.”
“Oh my, God.” Margaret hung her head between her hands with her elbows resting on the table. She then pushed her plate to the side and laid her head down.
“I never told anyone. This isn’t exactly like I had planned,” John laughed, “but we sure arrived at the important answers rather quickly. Instead of weeks or months for each of us to speak of love, it happened in minutes over meatloaf. You should be in my arms right now, I would be kissing your neck, loving the feel of your sweet skin on my lips. We’ve missed so much getting to this point.”
Margaret sat up hearing those words. “You can’t say those words to me. They make me feel odd inside. I think I know that means something. I’ll have to ask Fred, again.”
“Never mind, Fred. You now ask me, since I am the one that is causing that to happen to you. You are doing the same thing to me.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?”
John sucked air through his smile. “With you, it’s hard to say.” He smiled lovingly at her. This was the happiest time of his life.
“See here, John. I’ve been working on these growing feelings for you in excess of two weeks. You have only been thinking about me for two days. It’s impossible for you to know how you really feel.”
“Yes, Fred says men have desires all the time. Love isn’t known until one gets to know the other.”
“And your brother has been in love, has he?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then how does he know about all men? He’s a naval officer. He was at sea a long time. His mind may have worked differently since companionship wasn’t readily available to him.”
“Why do you think you love me?”
“Because I have never been where I am right now. I want to explode. I’m barely keeping myself together at this moment. I want to fly apart with joy and happiness. I know, at this hour, my whole life is turning a major corner. I believe you crept into my heart at the Lyceum. Watching you, marveling at you, filled me with emotions I didn’t recognize then. My thoughts of love began to solidify at the ball and were engraved on my heart by the dinner. As I felt myself falling in love with you, I spent an entire night going over everything I had heard or seen you do. I thought there may be some interest in me, but then you started acting strangely at the ball. Finally, it was the tear at the dinner table where the pieces began to fit. As much as this is going to hinder my path to you, I do like that you are cautious with your heart and . . . nevermind. Being the innocent that you are, I’m not sure what you feel for me is real love. You’re new at these emotions and . . . odd feelings.”
“Your words sound sincere. I am not to be fooled by them? You’re not just a man in gentleman’s clothing, are you?”
“At the very least I hope I am that. I am a normal male with more than my share of . . . ladies. I’ve tried to live my life as a gentleman in the highest traditions of honor. I believe I have succeeded in that, both professionally and personally. Who do you think you’re in love with? Could it be my appearance, my wealth, my standing? Why did you fall in love with me? Perhaps, I’m the one who should be questioning the motives of a puppet.”
The tears started to form again. John was beside himself. This was definitely uncharted waters, but he vowed that nothing was going to alter her feelings for him. He slid closer, taking her hand in his. He leaned in and kissed her tears.
Margaret turned to him when he did that. She looked into his eyes and then at his mouth where she lingered.
“Do you know you are giving me a signal, Margaret?”
“A signal? Fred didn’t talk about signals. Oh, wait. Yes, he did. He said I was seducing you with my eyes.”
“What am I doing now?”
“You are asking me to kiss you.”
“You did puppet. If I wasn’t the gentleman that you think you love, I would have kissed you, here and now. I had better move back to my side of the table. You don’t know what you’re doing, and I am helpless against you.”
“We’ve confessed our most important thoughts, unhindered and untimely. I am bearing my soul as you are. The words you have said to me are overwhelming that I can’t even take them in. I should be rejoicing, but I am swimming in the path we took to get here. John, do you fancy me?”
“More than anyone in my life and fancy isn’t strong enough.” John was holding her hands across the table.
“Do you seek my favors?”
“All of them. I will seek and know them all. I want you in my life for the rest of our days.”
“I desperately want to believe you and you to believe me. You have the experience with such matters, and I do not.”
“Margaret, I have never been in love. Ever. I hope you can believe that. There have been many rumors about my personal life, most of them are not true. Yes, it will take time for you to trust that I am telling you the truth. I can wait. I will be constant.”
“Our food is cold.”
“I see we have come to the end of our confessions. ‘Tis sad, that. My heart has yearned to speak these words all my life.”
“Someone has been reading Shakespeare.”
They both laughed.
Seeing Margaret finally smile was almost heartbreakingly wonderful.
“John, as stoic and prideful as you always appear, there may be a romantic inside of you.”
“I foresee one has just awakened. It is incongruous to me how different I feel compared to any other time I have lived. My past never felt hope for any particular woman, and now a mist clears and you are standing before me.”
Upon hearing the angry voice behind her, Margaret rose from her chair and turned around.
“Henry …,” she said softly and beheld the stern figure of Henry Lennox as he stood in the doorway, not the slightest trace of a smile on his handsome countenance.
She did the only thing that made sense on such an awkward moment; she smiled … and had the satisfaction of seeing a myriad of feelings pass over Henry’s face, resentment, anger, distress. However, there was also the more intense emotion of surprised compassion as his eyes roamed over her figure, swollen in pregnancy.
“Margaret … you are … with child?”
Henry suddenly swallowed hard, at the tender beauty of Margaret, her slight, small body held upright and proud, her slender waist now supporting the weight of her unborn child. Not for the first time Henry envied John Thornton and the enormous fortune that man had of being able to love Margaret in all possible ways.
“Yes, Henry, as you can see! John and I are expecting our first child early July. One of my purposes of coming to London is to visit Dr Mortimer Chelmsford, further down the street. I want to be absolutely certain that nothing has been overlooked and that I can await the birth of my child in peace and quiet.”
Aunt Shaw cleared her throat noisily at this point, drawing all attention to herself.
“Speaking of childbirth, Margaret, I was wondering if you should not stay here when your time comes. Surely there is no better place to have the baby than here in the capital of the Empire? What brand of physicians would they have up there in the great, barren North?”
Margaret let burst out her silvery little peel of laughter, which suddenly pinched at Henry’s heart.
“Oh, Auntie! Never! Do you suppose John would let me do such a thing? He wants to be at my side when the baby is to be born! Unless you are prepared on taking us both in, he will not be away from me!”
Mrs Shaw pinched her lips in her usual disapproving manner but said nothing more. She had never understood what attracted her niece in the brooding mill master that was John Thornton, nor why she chose to live in the grimy, unsanitary Northern town where the only thing of value seemed to be the making of cotton. Inwardly she scoffed. Cotton! Was there ever a more vile, low-quality fabric than that? And the factories! Stuffy, dark, stifling dens full of sickly, ragged people! Yet she kept quiet and promised herself to bide her time. There might come a moment when Margaret would see the profit of being in the warm comfort of a well-to-do London mansion.
The next morning, Margaret attended the seminary she had come to London for in the company of her faithful Dixon. It was held at the National Union of Weavers and Drapers Assembly Hall in Cheapside, a long way from Harley Street and Regent’s Park. The beautiful houses of the rich gradually gave way to more modest lodgings and farther away to grimy, forbidding warehouses as the hansom cab approached the river Thames. The hall itself was a large, brown-bricked building designed for practicality rather than aesthetics. Dixon and her mistress entered the big gate of the porch in their carriage, asking the driver to come and collect them in four hours. They alighted into a rather shabby courtyard and were immediately hailed a welcome by a stout, round-cheeked young man who introduced himself as Frederick Porter, the secretary of the organisation.
“Mrs Thornton,” he beamed, “it is you, isn’t it? Only a man with Mr Thornton’s progressive views would send his honoured spouse to attend our modest meetings. Welcome, ma’am. Please, let me have the honour of escorting you.”
Margaret smiled at him as she took his outstretched hand in a sturdy grasp.
“Thank you, Mr Porter, it will be my pleasure. Dixon, you need not to stay with me. I would be glad to give you the morning off, if you like?”
“Miss Margaret, I am not leaving your side! How can you think such a dreadful thing of me and in your delicate condition too!”, Dixon exclaimed. Margaret giggled inwardly at Dixon still calling her “Miss Margaret”. Her dear old Dixon had never accepted Margaret’s status of a distinguished married lady at all!
“Very well, Dixon, you may come along, if that is what you wish.”
She then allowed Mr Porter to escort her inside.
At Marlborough Mills John was almost swamped in work.
He had the orders to look after, the supplies to tend to, the worker’s wages to be calculated and paid. In addition to that he also had to supervise the construction sites of all the new buildings that were in the process of being erected on the grounds of the mill. His days were nearly endless as he was at his office at six am and not leaving until eleven at night. There was often no time to eat and no Margaret, Hannah or Higgins to drag him out of his office and make him partake of some food. As had frequently occurred in the past, John worked himself into exhaustion attempting to cope with it all.
He hadn’t even heard the quiet knock on the door at first until it repeated itself more vigorously the second time.
“Come!”, he replied.
Mary Higgins’ dainty little figure appeared in the doorway and John rose politely and pointed her to a chair.
“Good day, Mary,” he greeted her, “What can I do for you?”
“Mr Thornton, sir …”, Mary began but John interrupted her, smiling friendly at her.
“Please, Mary, I beg you, no stiff society stuff must rule our relationship. You have been a true support to me and Margaret, all these long months, and you are like family, now that Nicholas is marrying my mother. Call me John, I insist!”
Mary smiled back. “Alright, … John …” It still sounded a little awkward to her modest ears!
“John, forgive me for meddling with you but Margaret asked me to … as she called it, ‘keep an eye on you’. She was particularly worried that you should overdo it in your work and that you … forgive the expression, should starve yourself in the line of your duty.”
She then opened the basket she had brought with her and extracted a big bowl of stew and a large chunk of bread, all of which she expertly placed under his nose on top of the papers lying on his desk. The heavenly smell of warm, freshly cooked meat assaulted John’s nose and he gave in with a hearty laugh.
“Thank you, Mary! It is most welcome, I am ravenous!”
While he was tucking in with a healthy appetite, Mary hesitantly continued. “If you would allow me some more meddling, John, I have something I want to propose to you.”
Margaret’s heart thudded frantically as John’s expert fingers undid the buttons of her nightgown, pushing it from her shoulders and down her body. She closed her eyes in pure delight when he began kissing the soft skin of her neck and shoulders, setting it aflame as his lips trailed down to her now full breasts.
“John, we must not …”, she moaned, all the while unable to stop her body from arching into his touch when his hands cupped her aching breasts and his thumbs rubbed her taut nipples.
“Shhh, my beautiful love,” John soothed, “leave this to me. There are many ways to worship your exquisite body.”
Margaret, who was becoming fully aroused, wondered what he could mean! Many ways … oh! Oh! Oh! He was removing her gown and kissing her swollen, sensitive belly!
“John … stop, please … I …”
“Shhh, my precious, don’t fight me, just enjoy. Oh, my darling Margaret, how beautiful you are …”
His strokes became even more insistent now, invading her womanly place with long, deep … oh, God! He was kissing her … there? Yes, he was and … it was incredible! She plunged her hands into his thick sabre locks to steady herself as her arousal built up quickly to take her up, to that peak of delight.
Margaret’s senses suddenly exploded into a myriad of rippling waves of intense pleasure. The sensations rolled over her, again and again, as her tender womanly folds clenched in the heat of pleasure. It took several moments for her to recover her breath, while John stroked her stomach with soothing hands.
“My beautiful love,” he said hoarsely, “do you know how perfectly gorgeous you are? Oh, my Margaret, my sweet, my dearest, I love you so much …”
“John, I love you too … thank you for what you just did, it was magical. But … you, John, what of you?”
Margaret saw how intense her husband’s arousal was and how he was forcing himself to suppress it.
“Do not think of me, my darling, it will pass. We, men, are accustomed to suppress our needs many times over. If I did not lust after you, I would not be a proper man and if I had to gain satisfaction every time I feel the need for you, you would not be allowed to leave our bed all day.”
This made Margaret giggle in delight, for it was a huge compliment her husband just paid her.
The next day Margaret and Dixon took the 9.45 London-and-North-Western-Railway from Outward Milton Station to London Euston Station. They were bound on a five-hour journey of jostling on reasonably comfortable, plush couches with a half way stop in Leicester, so they made themselves comfortable. John returned to his mill, suppressing his distress about Margaret’s departure. The work was huge enough, what with Nicholas Higgins not present.
The events of the past winter and their consequences were yet another thorn in John’s side.
It was extremely difficult for him to accept that his mother and Higgins had taken a romantic interest in each other. He knew very well he was being unfair but still he could not begin to comprehend what the two of them saw in each other. They were so far apart in their social status and their education that John did not understand their mutual attachment. In the summer, they would marry, as soon as his mother had recovered from her ordeals brought on by the treacherous maid Jane. At present, his mother was recuperating in a sanatorium in Cornwall and Nicholas was at her side.
The union man had put all protest aside and ignored the claim of propriety on accompanying his betrothed before they were married.
“Damn it all, John!”, had been his exact words, “I’ll do as I see fit! Hannah needs me by her side and that’s the lot of it! To hell with anyone who dares object to it!”
In his heart, John knew he would have done the same, should Margaret be in similar circumstances. It left him, though, in dire conditions at Marlborough Mills, since Nicholas had proven himself almost indispensable in the running of the cotton factory. Now John was all by himself, as he had been before, were it not that the mill had grown in such a steep way that it now employed two thousand workers. That fact had forced John to build three new sheds for carding and weaving, as well as two new storehouses and a building fit for housing the large maintenance department he had installed.
Consequently, John’s working days were considerably long and hard.
Margaret and Dixon arrived at Euston Station in London at three o’clock and had scarcely alighted from their carriage on the platform when a young, feminine voice called her name. Through the throng of people, Edith came hurrying in their direction. The two young women embraced each other in a hearty welcome.
“Oh, Margaret! I have missed you so much! Let me look at you! You look absolutely radiant!”
“Edith, I missed you too! I am so happy to see you! Are you here all by yourself?”
“No, Margaret!,” the voice of Captain Lennox sounded, “I would not dare let her lose in town without me! She might bring irreparable harm to our capital!”
Margaret kissed and hugged Edith’s husband fondly. Then she saw Aunt Shaw stepping from behind her daughter.
“My dear child!”
With a pang of sorrow Margaret embraced her mother’s sister. Her aunt had grown stouter and her benign face was much more wrinkled than the last time she saw her. Her dark blond hair showed many grey streaks and her step was heavier.
“Come!”, Captain Lennox said, “let us go to the carriage and bring you home. Do not worry, Miss Dixon, John, our footman will see to your luggage!”
Half an hour later Margaret was seated in her aunt’s parlour at Harley Street with a restoring cup of tea in her hand. There was so much to tell and she knew hardly where to begin. So she recounted the events that had followed her wedding day, with the doings of Ann Latimer and later those of their maid, Jane. Unbelief was written on everyone’s faces when hearing this.
“Well!”, Aunt Shaw exclaimed, “I am extremely chagrined to hear that your husband does not take good care of you, my dear! What is he thinking, subjecting you to all this danger and mischief?”
Margaret was about to defend John when a voice came from the open door.
“Yes, Margaret, what does that big lout of a Thornton mean to do about protecting you?