Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Seventeen

Chapter 17 – Mrs. Thornton intervenes

 

By now the Milton Police were organizing a search for Margaret. Mason was in charge but he had no idea where to start. Young Mrs. Thornton could be anywhere from here to London and beyond!

Nevertheless he organized his men starting from Marlborough Mills and searching every house , alley or building in an ever-widening circle. It would take all night and a good deal of the next day.

Hannah Thornton, meanwhile, had a mission of her own.

As soon as Jane had spilt the beans about Fanny, she went to the Watsons’s house despite the nightly hour. A sleepy parlour maid was ordered to rouse the mistress at once.

The Watsons appeared before long, both in dressing gowns over their nightclothes.

“Mrs. Thornton! What brings you here at this hour of …” Watson tried.

“I’ve business with my daughter, sir, but you’re welcome to it if you want to stay and listen. Perhaps you’re to blame as well for her latest folly?”

Fanny turned white and let herself down onto the settee. Watson eyed her with a puzzled expression on his thickset face. “Fanny, what is your mother speaking of? What have you done?”, he asked, panic creeping into his voice.

Hannah drew herself up to her full height, ignoring Watson’s gesture that she should sit down.

“Margaret has disappeared and I have every reason to believe that Fanny has a hand in this. Well, am I to shake some sense into you, girl, or are you going to tell us of your own accord?”

Fanny, cowering under her mother’s fierce gaze, threw her hands to her face and began crying violently. Watson, bless his heart, immediately went by her side and put his arm around her shoulder. “Now, my love, what is it? You’re worrying me, sweet, what is going on?”

Fanny clung to her husband’s arm and sobbed. “I never thought she would actually do it! I knew she detested Margaret and…”

“Oh no, my girl, you’re wrong!” Hannah cut her short. “You both detested her from the start. I’m even guilty of that myself at first but at that time I didn’t really know her.”

“Mother, you don’t understand! Ann doesn’t detest Margaret, she hates her! She said she would kill Margaret but I didn’t think she was serious about it until …”

“Until what, Fanny?” Watson now urged, beginning to realize something was truly wrong.

“She was speaking of doing away with Margaret with such violent hate in her voice and eyes …” Fanny whispered.

Hannah approached her daughter, took her hands in hers and gently asked. “Sweetheart, do you know what she could have done to Margaret? Where could she have brought her to? John is beside himself and now the Mill is on fire and …”

Fanny stared at her in horror. “The Mill? Oh God! But … but … that cannot be Ann’s doing then, can it? She would never do anything that can harm John, she’s in love with him! She only wanted to harm Margaret, frighten her, so that she would leave John and then Ann could go and comfort him and …”

Hannah shook her head in utter disbelief. “Oh Fanny, you’re such a harebrained nit! How can you believe such nonsense? Have you any idea as to where Ann Latimer could have taken Margaret?”

“No! How would I?”

Watson took over now. “We’re coming with you to Marlborough Mills, Mrs. Thornton. I believe Thornton will need all the help he can get. And, another thing, I can’t believe for a second that Ann Latimer did this on her own, she must have had help.”

 

 

It was now two a.m. and Marlborough Mills was on fire.

John and Nicholas had soon discovered, however, that the fire mainly was situated on the second floor of the cotton warehouse, the only place where bales were still stored. The dockworkers’ strike proved to be a blessing, for normally the warehouse would have been filled to the rafters.

Mill workers were fighting to keep it contained within the second floor space. It was a terribly straining job, for the water had to be brought up in buckets, and the fire was roaring. The noise was deafening and the heat infernal. John and Nicholas, along with a few of the braver lads, were pulling bales out of range with long hook-tipped poles.

“Master!” Higgins shouted. “Back away! It’s far too hot!”

“We must prevent it spreading towards the attic! More water! Come on, hurry!”

Thankfully, the fire-fighters’ squad arrived at that time, and they began pulling out their long hoses which reached just high enough to deal with the second floor fire.

John and Nicholas, both exhausted and filthy, retreated to the courtyard. A carriage arrived from which John’s mother alighted accompanied by Fanny and Watson.

“John!” Hannah shouted over the din made by the fire-fighters. “John, are you alright? You’re not injured ..?”

“No mother, but why have you brought the Watsons here?”

“Fanny says that Ann Latimer is indeed involved in Margaret’s disappearing, John. She threatened to kill her, she hates her!”

John stared at his mother and sister in disbelief. “Fanny, is this true?’ And when his sister meekly nodded. “But … why? What can Margaret possibly have done to her to induce such actions?”

Hannah snorted. “Well, apparently she’s set her cap on you and she planned to have a go on you once Margaret was out of the way.”

John sat down on a bale of cotton, his knees giving way as he began to see where all this was leading to. The initial attack on Margaret, the first attempt of setting fire to the Mill, Ann Latimer’s very strange behaviour towards him, it all added up to an attempt to destroy both his wife and his business!

Suddenly, one of the piecer lads came running towards him, stumbling over his feet.

“Master, master! Hurry! The fire commander says there’s someone on the top floor of the warehouse and they can’t reach them, ‘cause the fire’s too well advanced!”

John and Higgins hurried away towards the long ladders that were perched against the building. John scrambled up the ladder and reached the attic manhole set up high in the roof. He lowered himself in and saw several fire-fighters aiming their lance onto the wooden floor. It was not yet on fire but it was already smoking.

John peered into the smoke-filled space at the back of the attic and could just see the form of a person propped up against the wall. A person? That … that was … oh, sweet Lord!

That was Margaret!

 

 

Author: Luce (Belgium)

 

luce@justperioddrama.com

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Sixteen

Chapter 16 – In mortal danger

By now it was midnight, and Hannah Thornton was in agony.

She had grown tired of waiting for Margaret to return home and consequently had gone to the infirmary, only to find it closed and dark. She had then gone to Higgins’s house, swallowing her pride and her disgust in having to descend that filthy alley, past decayed houses and begging children in rags.

“But, Mrs Thornton,” Mary had said when she’d explained her coming, “Margaret went home at half past nine!”

Hannah and Higgins stared at each other in stunned silence.

 

John Thornton stepped from the train in Outward Milton Station around half past midnight. He and Williams had been able to bribe some dockworkers in Liverpool Harbour in unloading their so much needed bales of cotton onto a dray cart, which was now been driven home by Williams. It should be at the Mill by morning.

John was weary to the bone.

He hadn’t slept the night before and he couldn’t recall the last time he’d had a meal.

When he alighted from the hansom cap, it was near one p.m. The house was quiet and the lights dimmed. Jane seemed a little subdued, he thought.

There was nobody in the parlour nor in the dining room or the bedrooms.

“Jane!” he bellowed. The maid came rushing in, face pale and eyes shifting.

“Where are my wife and my mother?” he asked, scowling at her.

Jane wrung her hands and wailed. “Mr. Thornton, sir, please, it’s … it’s Mrs. Thornton, sir, your wife … she …”

“What of her, girl, talk!”

The maid didn’t meet his eyes and whimpered. “She’s … she’s not come home, sir, she’s … disappeared …”

 

Margaret lay on the hard floor for what seemed to her like for days. She had lost all notion of time because she had drifted into unconsciousness and back for several times. Her body, aching and stone-cold, was shaking uncontrollably and her breathing was ragged. Because of her tightly bound hands and feet, she was forced to stay as immobile as she could but every time she passed out, her throat was being tightened by the noose. For what had been an eternity, she had managed to stay alive but she knew it was just a matter of time before her body would give up and then she would die.

 

Stepping into the parlour, still in her hat and coat, Hannah heard Jane’s stammered words.

“John! Oh, dear Lord, I’m so relieved that you’re home! It’s Margaret, she’s not returned home from the infirmary. I went to Mary’s house and she told me Margaret had gone home around half past nine.”

John couldn’t take in what his mother was saying. Margaret was not here? Why? What had happened?

“It’s true, master”, Higgins, who had accompanied Hannah, said. “I’ve notified the police and sergeant Mason is already organizing a search.”

Somehow, Nicholas’s grave tone of voice breached the dam of John’s paralyzing apathy. He sank onto the settee, his knees suddenly buckling.

“When has this happened? When was she last seen?” he said, his voice giving way.

Higgins tried to explain. “She must have disappeared here, John, in the Mill. It cannot have happened otherwise. Mary told her to go home, because they were done for the day. Margaret was glad to go, she was tired, Mary said. Margaret wouldn’t have gone elsewhere but home. No, she must have been taken here, in the Mill.”

John stood abruptly. “Have you searched the Mill?” he asked wearily.

“No, I just heard about it from Mrs. Thornton. I came back with her to begin searching.”

“I’ll come with you!”

At that moment Dixon came in, furious and scowling at Higgins. “I told you so, you wretched man, and you did nothing! Now my poor mistress has been snatched and could be lying dead somewhere!” She launched herself at Higgins, who had all the trouble in the world fighting her off. John and Hannah took her each by an arm and held her back.

“Miss Dixon, what are you talking about?” John asked her when she had calmed down a bit.

Dixon shrugged herself free and, in two steps, had reached Jane, whom she took firmly by the arm.

“I’m sure you should listen to what this sorry miss here has to tell, master! She could maybe explain why she eavesdropped on you and the mistress and why she kept record of it and carried it to Mrs Watson. And maybe she knows why Mrs Watson is in cahoots with Miss Latimer. And maybe she could explain to me why two rich ladies are befriended with a little nobody like herself?”

When she stopped because she’d run out of breath, John turned to a frightened Jane now. “Well, Jane?” he enquired.

But Jane had reached the end of her wits now and burst into hysteric tears. “Oh, for God’s sake!” Hannah exclaimed and gave Jane a fierce shook on her arm. “Come on, Jane, tell us!”

The stern voice of her mistress stopped Jane’s hiccupping cries at once.

She began spilling everything. How Mrs Watson had ordered her to eavesdrop and report of what she’d heard. How she’d heard Miss Latimer speak to Mrs Watson about harming Miss Margaret.

“Harm her?” John exclaimed. “Fanny plans to harm Margaret? I’m going over there now!”

He was stopped by Hannah.

“No, John”, she said calmly. “I am going over there. You are needed here.”

Sudden clamour and noise dragged everybody towards the window.

John’s stomach cramped when he saw flames and smokes rising from the upper windows of the Mill!

A fire, there was a fire!

 

Margaret was beyond exhaustion by now.

She was crying without being able to stop it. She thought of John and sank even deeper into despair.

He didn’t even know that she was taken. No one knew it. She wouldn’t be missed for a long time and therefore nobody would be looking for her. Help would not come for her.

Her awareness was fading, and she had no strength left to fight for it.

Then, suddenly, an acrid smell rose from beneath her …

Slowly, she began to understand what it was … a fire, there was a fire beneath her! In violent panic she tried to scream, to make a sound and failed! Her bonds were already strangling her again and she forced herself to stay motionless, draining whatever strength was left in her cramped body.

She had a choice between being strangled and burn to death!

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifteen

Chapter 15 – The power of hate

 

Nicholas looked at Margaret’s maidservant  while she was telling him what she needed him to know, in a straightforward blunt way. Dixon’s tale surprised him, but he wasn’t really concerned. He even wondered why a level-headed woman like Dixon would be worried about a maid that had befriended Fanny Watson. Jane had always been in Mrs. Watson’s service before the latter had married so it was normal that she should be close to her.

He did, however, not say so. Instead, he assured her he would look into it, and as soon as Dixon had left him, he forgot all about it.

Two days after John had left for Liverpool, Margaret and Mary were hard at work at the infirmary.

There was a inflow of people coming in, as the November nights became cold and damp. People suffering from “fluff on the lungs” or byssinosis would especially be affected by moist weather. At least fifty people, mostly mothers with little children, had asked for help and relief. Mary learned them to inhale the vapour coming from a bowl of hot water mixed with eucalyptus oil, which brought them temporarily relief. She also taught them to wear a mouth mask of clean cotton, when stepping outside their houses and into the mills, to avoid the cotton fluff entering their respiratory ways.

Margaret was not sorry when the last patient left around half past nine. She was not feeling well herself, she was tired and her back ached. She couldn’t even remember when was the last time she’d eaten. Mary told her to go back to the house.

“I’ll do the cleaning up, don’t worry, Margaret.”

“Thank you, Mary, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Margaret walked towards the house which was a good half mile away from the infirmary. The surface of the Mill was approximately one square mile, and the outhouse sat at the back of it. It was a cold and damp night with fog swirling between the buildings. She had barely walked for twenty yards when a blow on the back of her head thrust her into a deep black darkness.

Hannah, working on her household books in the parlour, looked up when the clock on the mantelpiece struck ten. She frowned and wondered where Margaret was. Working herself into exhaustion in that infirmary, no doubt!

She rose and went to stand at the window overlooking the front courtyard. It was a nasty night. Hannah shivered but not from cold. She felt uncomfortable, as she always did when John was not at home. She worried about John, how would he fare in Liverpool?

“Oh, come on, woman!” she inwardly admonished herself. “What has become of you? You shiver and tremble over nothing!” Resolutely she resumed her seat and continued working on her books.

 

Margaret’s body was screaming with pain. She seemed to be immerged into a black sea of pain and she could not breathe properly.  She was lying on a hard unyielding surface, gasping and retching uncontrollably because she could not get enough air into her lungs. There was a blindfold, and a gag which blocked her nose and mouth.

Fighting the panic that threatened to overwhelm her, she tried to take small shallow breaths. It helped a little but it didn’t drive the pain away.

“Well … how the high and mighty have fallen,” a voice drawled somewhere above her head, and it took Margaret some time to realize that the voice belonged to Ann Latimer. It didn’t make sense, why would Ann Latimer do her harm? She tried to move, but her hands were tied onto her back, and her bound feet were connected with her hands. They had laid a noose around her neck and connected it with her hands and feet. She was in a stranglehold. If she moved either hands or feet, the noose was tightening and she would be slowly throttled.

“Careful now, Miss Hale! If you move, you’ll strangle yourself,” Ann Latimer said triumphantly.

Margaret heard the faint rustle of fabric close to her head. Her attacker must have lowered herself somehow because this time the voice was much closer.

“But it won’t matter, my dear, for you’ll die anyway. You see, you’re in my way, you keep John away from me, simply because you exist. I have loved John far more and far longer than you have. There was even a time when we were on the brink of betrothal, as you seemed to be away from Milton for good.”

That voice! So cold and so full of hate, and why? What had she ever done to harm Ann Latimer?

“Oh yes, the minute he realized that you were going to leave Milton forever, he came to me. He courted me and wooed me, and I welcomed it with all my heart. The first time we kissed, I thought I’d die from happiness. He is a passionate man, my John, and soon he will be mine again, solely mine!”

Margaret desperately tried to shield her mind and her heart from those words and from the agonizing feelings they stirred up. She knew that the woman was lying, she had to be lying! John would never have done such things, not when she knew he had loved her all along. John had never stopped loving her, of that Margaret was indisputably certain. Then, however, she recalled John telling her about Ann trying to kiss him …

“Say your prayers, Miss Hale, you will die at the same time Marlborough Mills is destroyed. Destroyed for good, this time, so that your despicable money won’t be able to rebuild it again. John will inherit that money and it will make him a rich husband for me. You see, my dear, I have no money of my own. My brute of a father won’t settle a sufficient dowry on me as he cannot part of it. I have to fend for myself and I will. Goodbye, my dear, try to stay alive long enough for you to burn to death.”   

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fourteen

Chapter 14 – We have ways and means

Dixon was truly and seriously worried.

Ever since the break-in in the Mill, now two months ago, she hadn’t been able to make up her mind as to whom she should speak about Jane’s curious behaviour. She had been trying to speak to Margaret, but her young mistress had her hands full with the new infirmary. In the evening Margaret was often too tired to be harassed with such tales.

Dixon did not dare to approach Hannah Thornton.

The mistress of the Thornton household – yes, she still was all of that – was a stern and forbidding woman. Dixon herself was not so easily scared but she wanted to be careful for Miss Margaret’s sake. She didn’t want to drive a wedge between Miss Margaret and her mother-in-law. So that was that.

Approaching Mr. Thornton was no option either.

Dixon still had no notion of what to make of the master. He seemed to love her mistress but was that really so? Men did want only one thing, didn’t they?

He was a very hard worker, she had to give him that! To put in so many hours a day, to mix with his workers if need be, even not being afraid to get dirt on his hands if need be. Not many masters did that. But, Dixon realized, the Mill was his life’s blood. The master would do anything that was required to keep his Mill operating. Dixon doubted if he even had any other interests but his cotton mill. So, no, she would not talk about her suspicions to the master.

 

 

Nicholas Higgins knocked before he entered his master’s office even though the door was rarely closed. John looked up from his paperwork and smiled.

“Ah, Nicholas, come in, sit down! What’s the news?”

As soon as he saw Nicholas’s face, John knew something was not right.

“Well, master, we might have some trouble looming. There’s a strike at Liverpool Harbour and the cotton is not being unloaded from the merchant ships. If we don’t get our supply by Monday next week, we’ll go out of production.”

“Damn!” John stood and went to close the office door. He didn’t want anybody to hear that, it could raise troubles amongst the workers. He resumed his seat and was lost in thought for a couple of minutes.

“I’ll have to go down there, Nicholas.”

“I’m coming with you, when do we go?”

“No!” John said. “I need you to stay here and look after the Mill. I’m not at all sure the attacks are behind us and I don’t want vigilance to slow down. Besides, if I don’t succeed in bringing some of our cotton with me, you’ll have to deal with the workers and prevent commotion. I’ll take Williams with me, he knows his way around the harbour better than I do.”

Nicholas nodded and stood.

“When will you leave, master?”

“I’ll take the last train tonight so I’d better tell Margaret.”

 

Dixon was helping Margaret and Hannah sorting out a box of supplies for the infirmary that had arrived that morning, when John entered the parlour.

“My love,” he said “I must leave for Liverpool this instant. There’s a problem with our cotton supply that I must see into. Now, mother’ – he turned to Hannah – ‘Nicholas is to remain here as my substitute. He’s the only one that can keep the workers from getting stirred up.”

“I’ll go and prepare your suitcase, John,”Margaret said quietly and went to their bedchamber.

Dixon, who’d been feeling restless for days over past events, was suddenly very worried. She didn’t know where it came from but she was not happy with the master’s departure, especially at a time like the present. Somehow the master’s tall form seemed to be needed to feel oneself safe.

While she kept working alone now, for both the ladies had left, Dixon fretted about Jane and her doings. Whom could she talk to, who could help her? At some point she walked over to the window, tired of being in the same position so long, and stretched her back. It was then that she saw Nicholas Higgins in the courtyard, giving instructions to a couple of men. And suddenly, Dixon knew what to do.

 

Fanny Watson stamped her foot and exclaimed, “What? He did what? He rejected you? Oooohhh, what a stick-in-the-mud my brother is! I can’t believe it! Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

Ann Latimer’s eyes smouldered with suppressed rage, even after so long a time. When she thought back of that morning, six weeks earlier, on which she had been so brutally rejected by John Thornton, her fury was brought alive again.

“Oh, do you think it is something I want everybody to know, then? And besides, you were away to the continent until yesterday, Fanny! How was I to reach you, then? It’s not something you write about in a letter to your touring fiend, is it? He humiliated me, Fanny!” spat Ann. Seeing Fanny’s eyes widen with surprise, she smothered down her fury.

“Your brother will pay for this, Fanny,” she said in a calmer voice.

She was perfectly able to conceal the power of her revenge if she wished to. And, oh yes, revenge she would have.

“What are we going to do next, dear Ann? We must do something! I cannot be stuck with the stupid Hale woman for the rest of my days, can I?”

“Well …” Ann Latimer said, “we must raise the stakes a little bit higher, then. Your brother will suffer in a way he’s never imagined and he’s not even going to know it was me who did it to him.”

Struck by the extreme hate she heard in Ann Latimer’s voice, Fanny looked at her in sudden fear now.

“What do you mean? Suffer? Why must John suffer? He will be a little downcast when the Hale woman leaves him but as you will step into her place, he’ll come around sometime, don’t you think?”

Ann Latimer’s cruel little laugh chilled Fanny to the bones.

“Oh, the Hale bitch will leave him alright! So definitively that she’ll be a corpse anytime soon now!”

Fanny stared at her in frightened surprise, not sure if she’d heard right.

“What … what do you mean, a corpse? You can’t mean to say that … oh no, Ann, you couldn’t!”

Ann’s eyes were black as coal when she whispered, “I could, I can and I will, Fanny.”

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Thirteen

Chapter 13 – A woman scorned

John stood rooted to the spot, feeling as if he had been kicked in the stomach!

He felt the blood draining from his face as he stared at the face of this … well-educated accomplished female he’d supposed was coming from a decent family of bankers. She was … offering herself to him! He must have misunderstood! This was so absurd, or … maybe it wasn’t after all?

Still reeling from the shock, he saw how she brought her pretty face nearer to his. She was taller than Margaret. She had also beautiful brown eyes, fit for a man to be drowned in their depths, and he couldn’t help himself looking at her full rosy lips. The next second, she had thrown her arms around him, and he felt the curves of her body plying against his in an incredibly intimate way. She slowly moved her pelvis against his and pressed her mouth onto his. The instant she was inserting her tongue into his mouth, he came to his senses and violently pushed her away. She hadn’t foreseen that and bumped into one of the looms with a cry of pain.

John’s gentlemanlike disposition forced him to take her arm and steady her.

“Miss Latimer, for God’s sake, take care! You’ll hurt yourself!”

He hadn’t finished his sentence before he was being slapped hard in the face by this wretched girl.

“You will come to regret what you did, John Thornton!” she spat, “I’ll never forget that you rejected me and doubted my sincere love for you! Be sure of my retaliation!”

Ann Latimer turned on her heels and stalked away, leaving him baffled to the extreme.

 

“This is your next assignment, Leonards. I’m very pleased with the way you handled the previous one. You’re sure nobody saw you when you left the courtyard?” the gentleman in the carriage said in his cold unmoving voice.

“No, sir,” Leonards assured. “This should be very easy and very to my liking too! It will be the ultimate revenge on that Hale woman!”

“Then go and prepare yourself. There will be guards around the Mill now, I know Thornton, he’ll not take any risks.’”

 

When John entered the parlour, Margaret’s heart tightened.

He was nearly beyond exhaustion, his face pale and drawn, his mouth a thin rigid line, his eyes drained of everything but extreme weariness. She and Hannah jumped to their feet simultaneously to ease him down on the settee. Margaret withdrew in favour of Hannah, who she knew was dying to help her son. Instead she went to the small table loaded with glasses and a decanter of sherry. On reflexion she poured him a generous glass of whisky and was rewarded by a look of profound gratitude when she handed it to him. She and Hannah resumed their seats.

“The damage?” Hannah asked, her voice only slightly trembling.

“Bad enough, but we’ll be able to make repairs. What troubles me more is, that there’s been a deliberate attempt to ruin my Mill. To make me go bankrupt again! I … God! It’s obscene, criminal even!”

 

 

Margaret bend over to touch his hand. “Steady, my love …”, she urged. “Everything is under control. We will conquer this, if we all work together. Have you posted guards?”

“Yes, and not only by night, also by day. Higgins has drawn up a roster for the guards to be on a four hour shift on ten different locations about the Mill. We have notified the Milton Police Department and they agreed to give us support.”

Hannah, who had kept silent until then, softly said,                                                        “Margaret, he’s at the end of his wits. Help him to go to bed.”

“Mother, I’m not …”

“Come …,” Margaret said and eased him up. They retreated to their bedroom.

“John?” Margaret said gently, “do you wish to go to your former boy’s bedroom so that you can sleep better?”

John turned to her and his eyes scanned her face. “Margaret, my sweet love, I’m not going anywhere. I need your presence, I cannot do without you, sweetheart …Come …”

With a happy sigh Margaret went to him and was instantly in his arms.

“So how are the injured lads doing?” John asked.

Margaret noticed how tired he must be for his voice gave way with fatigue and emotion over the children’s fate.

“They’re stable, thank God. Jimmy, the one with the broken leg, has gone home already and Tommy is at the hospital for an operation. The poor boy has his pelvis broken and Dr Donaldson has promised to tell me if he has any news. Oh John! The damage to the Mill is bad enough but it‘s nothing compared to what happened to the children! Tommy’s mother is a widow with five children and only Tommy is old enough to work. Luckily Jimmy has two older brothers but even so it will be a huge loss of income for his family when he’s not working!”

“Shhh, shhh! Don’t worry, darling, I’ve asked Higgins to see to the needs of the two families and to the cost for the boys. We’ll help as best as we can. But Margaret …”

He lifted her chin so he could see into her eyes. “It is because of you, my precious one, that I’ve come to realize the need my workers and their families are in. Before I knew you, I had no knowledge of it and nor did I care. You have made a better man of me, darling, and for that, I thank you.”

Margaret smiled and laid her hand against his cheek. John involuntarily winced when she touched the spot where he was slapped.

“John! What happened? You have a bruise!”

“Ah, yes … well, darling, brace yourself for I have something to tell you, something quite unbelievable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twelve

Chapter 12 – A very accomplished young lady

 

Within mere minutes John was on the spot. A number of workers had gathered in the factory hall and were blocking the entrance.

“Let me pass!” His voice thundered through the silent hall.

The men parted, and he rushed by them, taking stock of what had happened. It was a sheer disaster!

All the leather belts which were used to drive the looms were cut and all the cotton in process on the looms was shred to pieces. It would cost a fortune repairing the damage fast enough not to suffer a delay in production.

Then John’s gaze turned towards the two young boys sprawled under one of the looms. Apparently one of the warp beams had come loose and crashed down onto the children, leaving one of them buried under its massive weight and the other trapped by the leg. The latter boy was howling in pain, the other unconscious. Several men were trying to lift the beam but they were unable to do so.

“Master, come, give me a hand!” Higgins shouted at John.

Margaret, who had rushed from the dining room close on John’s heels, watched how the two men took each a side of the beam and heaved it upwards in one mighty haul. Sweat broke out on their brows as they held the heavy beam up while others removed the boys from under it. As soon as they were free, Margaret sprang to action.

“Careful! Don’t move them again!” she shouted. “Mr. Williams, is there a board or a plank we can use to transport them to the infirmary?”

“Of course, Mrs. Thornton, ma’am!” Williams answered and gestured at two of the workers who approached with a board between them.

“Please slide the board under them, very carefully, if you please! We don’t want to dislocate the boy’s pelvis”, Margaret instructed.

She glanced around looking for John but he and Higgins were taking stock of the damage. She preceded the workers bearing the boards with the injured children to the infirmary. Mary, she knew, would already be there to help her.

 

John entered his office and went straight to the cupboard at the back. Retrieving a bottle of brandy, he poured himself a measure and tossed it back in one gulp. The damage to the looms was extensive not to mention the arrears on production. He was also aware of the darker side of this; someone was planning on ruining Marlborough Mills.

Weary to the bone after the crushing task he’d behind him, calculating the cost of the damage repair with Higgins at the ledger office, John sank into his chair behind his desk and ran his hands over his face. Only then he noticed the blood on his hand and sleeve. He had a nasty cut on his forearm which bled a little.

“Oh, John, you’re hurt!”

He violently startled and saw Ann Latimer standing in the doorframe.

“Miss Ann! Good Lord, are you still here? And in the Mill to boot! This is no place for you, come, let me escort you back to the house.”

“No, no, that is not necessary.” She smiled and looked around her.

“So this is where you work. How interesting and inspiring! But, John, you must let me tend to your wound.”

In bewilderment, John saw her stride towards the sink in the corner of the office and wet her fine lace handkerchief under the tab. A second later she had wrapped it around his arm, tying it firmly. Her fingers were light as a feather while they lingered on his wrist, caressing it slowly. She raised her big brown eyes to meet his gaze and her voice was slightly husky when she spoke. “So you’ve managed to save the Mill after all, albeit with the help of Margaret Hale’s money.”

John blinked and pulled his hand free. “Mrs. Thornton, you mean?’ he corrected her, all the while in bewilderment over her strange behaviour.

Ann brought her face closer to his, and he had to keep himself from pulling away. What was going on here? He gave her his most scowling stare. She seemed not to notice.

“Yes, …I forgot, she is now Mrs. Thornton … and she bought herself a neat and tidy little business, didn’t she …”

The extremely impertinent tone of her voice drove John to stand abruptly, forcing her to recede in haste.

“Miss Latimer”, he said in the iciest tone he could muster, “your conduct is highly inappropriate. I suggest that we both return to the house and from there you could leave in Watson’s carriage. I have urgent business, you must excuse me.”

Something changed in the way she looked at him, a glint of something dark gleamed in those doe eyes. Yet, she smiled and bowed her head. “Of course, John, if it pleases you.”

 

Late that night, Hannah and Margaret in the parlour sat waiting for John. Hannah was doing needlework and Margaret was trying to do the same but she didn’t succeed. Her mind kept wandering to the strange events of the day and to the effect they would have on John. It was abundantly clear that someone was trying to destroy Marlborough Mills. That was horrible enough but the wounding of the two children angered her even more. Two innocent victims had suffered from the deeds of someone set on dangerous mischief. Fortunately, the lad with the broken leg was already on the mend, Dr. Donaldson having set and cast it. She’d keep him in the infirmary until the next day as he might still be developing a fever.

The other boy was in a much worse shape. His pelvis had indeed been broken, and Dr. Donaldson had him transferred to the hospital to perform an operation. Margaret’s heart still hurt when she thought about the poor child, howling with pain every time they had to move him.

 

John gestured Ann Latimer out of his office, careful not to offer her his arm or to touch her. She sweetly smiled at him and preceded him outside. While they went through the now deserted Mill shed, he followed her between the damaged rows of looms. His heart ached at the sight of them, he couldn’t keep himself from staring at his machinery in horror. It took a while ‘ere he realized that Ann Latimer was talking to him.

“John, how awful! Please accept my sympathy and my support, should you need it. I can talk to Father about this, I’m sure he would lend you the money to make the necessary repairs.”

“That would be totally unnecessary, Miss Latimer. I told your father that I won’t need his services as I have contracted another banker since the Mill went back into business.”

“Oh! But ….” She edged closer to him and, to his abhorrence, laid a hand to his cheek, one that didn’t wear a glove!

                ”But … John, are you sure? We,… I would do anything, anything, to be of assistance, if you understand what I mean to say? Assistance in everything, John … I fully understand how … unfortunate you must be in having married a woman without the lure of true love. You did it for the sake of your business, I know. So, even if you were unable therefore to ask me to be your wife, I still can … supply whatever need you have for … real companionship, John …I have no objection in doing so, rest assured.”

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Eleven

Chapter 11 – Dixon smells a rat

John lay watching his sleeping wife with a heart full of wondrous feelings.

She was so beautiful, his Margaret! The sight of her perfectly shaped face, her glorious chocolate coloured hair, her exquisite little nose and full lips turned his heart into water. His gaze wandered to her slender neck and round shoulders, her small neat breasts.

His breath caught as he lifted the sheet to feast on her divine body, the slender waist, the flat stomach, the shapely legs and … Oh! God! Desire shot through him like a spear, and he gasped. He wanted her, no, his body craved her so much that it hurt! At the same time, he felt an overwhelming need to protect her, to treasure and cherish her, from now on for the rest of his life.

Because he had uncovered her, Margaret, instinctively searching for his warmth, snuggled up to him and he embraced her, took her as close as he could. His arousal became urgent, yet he didn’t wake her, just held her and let his hands caress her slightly, revelling in how soft her skin felt under his fingers.

“John …”, she whispered suddenly and looked up to him.

“Yes …”, he breathed, drowning in those amazing blue eyes of hers. “I’m here, my love.”

“You said … I was the first woman you ever loved … why was that, John? Have you never been in love before? Never … before me?”

John took a deep gasping breath and searched for the appropriate words to bare his soul to his wife. “My love … there has never been … time nor opportunity to be courting women. I had a duty to perform towards my family. I had a business to run. I have been taken from school at sixteen, as you know already. I had to work in a draper’s shop.”

He paused, and Margaret could feel the tension in his body as he was searching for words.

“I have been in love”, he continued, his voice a little hoarse, “but only once. She was the daughter of the shopkeeper and she was nineteen, two years my senior. I was … as they say, besotted by her. I … she was also very … skilled in the ways of courting and …”

Margaret, feeling embarrassed,  stopped him with a sudden kiss. “You don’t have to …”

“No, I want to tell you, Margaret. It was the most horrible experience I ever had. She came to me, one night, in my cupboard of a room under the stairs and she tried to … deflower me. I … I couldn’t, Margaret, I couldn’t do it! I was … inadequate and I wept in her arms like a baby. She … she was actually very sweet to me. Since then I haven’t even tried for fear of being humiliated again.”

Margaret lay very still, her heart singing with joy as she realized he’d saved himself for the woman he thought worthy. And she, she was that woman …

However, she also realized that her husband must have been a very lonely man, locked up in his duty towards his mother and sister. She vowed to herself to try and change that for him.

 

Downstairs, Dixon checked the table in the dining room with an eagle eye.

Mr. Thornton and Miss Margaret would be up and about in any minute now. It was their wedding breakfast, and the guests were about to arrive. The faithful servant found everything to perfection and went to stand at the window which overlooked the part of the courtyard behind the house.

Dixon’s thoughts strayed to the events of the last weeks. She had been here for more than three weeks now and had settled in nicely. It was a great joy to her that she’d found another household where she could use her numerous skills to perfection, moreover, it was a young household. That she could be with Miss Margaret was an even greater blessing, after the sorrow she’d been through the previous year, losing her dear Mrs. Hale. However, Dixon mused, there were many matters that troubled her in this grand house. Although the old Mrs. Thornton ruled it with iron hand, many malfunctions had met Dixon’s scrutinizing eye.

First there was Jane, the maid. Dixon had caught her eavesdropping on Miss Margaret and the master more than once. Why on earth would the girl do that? Jane, Dixon noticed, took notes of what she was hearing and, steady as clockwork, she left the house after every bit of eavesdropping.

So, Dixon had followed Jane every time she left the house and the following tribulations had then gone.

Jane had gone to Mrs. Watson’s house, had been showed in through the front door and stayed in. A footman had left the house after a few minutes carrying what had clearly been a message to deliver. Ten minutes after Jane’s arrival, a young lady had presented herself. Half an hour or so later, Jane and the young lady had left together in the lady’s carriage. The young lady, whose identity Dixon had managed to establish as one Miss Ann Latimer, was a banker’s daughter.

Now, Dixon thought by herself, what could a banker’s daughter and a maid servant have in common to be companions as close as that? And what was Mrs. Watson’s role? The day before, during the wedding party, she had scarcely spoken to Miss Latimer. Yet, they seemed to be close, if the many knowing looks and smiles they had exchanged, were something to go by .

There wasn’t much Dixon could do for now but to watch Miss Sneaky Jane very closely. Maybe, she mused, she should tell Miss Margaret about it? No, that wouldn’t do, her sweet girl couldn’t be bothered with nasty things in the first days of her marriage.

“Is everything ready and in place?” The commanding voice of Mrs. Hannah Thornton startled Dixon out of her daydreaming. She curtsied and answered. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Then go and wake your mistress. Did you not see the time? The guests are about to arrive.”

Dixon hurried from the room.

 

Later, in attendance at the dining table, Dixon’s thoughts wandered again to the strange doings of Jane as she stood by the buffet observing the guests. Mrs. Shaw was talking to Mrs. Hannah Thornton and Edith and Margaret were engaged in vivid conversation. Her darling Miss Margaret was looking exquisitely beautiful. An inner light seemed to be glowing in her eyes and a faint rosy blush coloured her face. All was well in that area then, Dixon thought.

She turned her attention to the groom and found confirmation for what she wanted to know. John Thornton was listening to Higgins but his eyes kept wandering towards his wife and a dreamy expression warmed his usually impassive and stern face. Every time his gaze met Margaret’s, his eyes seemed to brighten and a smile lit his face.

Dixon still had second thoughts about the master. She’d never liked the man, she’d found him distant and haughty, and he surely was no gentleman like Mr. Hale had been, or like Mr. Lennox. Yet, for the sake of her dear girl, she was prepared to tolerate him. He had, however, yet to earn her respect.

Mrs. Watson was looking bored, Dixon saw. No wonder, that woman always wanted to be in the centre of attention and now she was second plan. Oh! What was that? Mrs. Watson’s eyes were signalling to Miss Latimer to leave the room! Mrs. Watson stood now and left. And yes, two seconds later, so did Miss Latimer!

Dixon waited a couple of heartbeats before she went after them. They were in the ladies’ room? but the door was slightly ajar.

“Ann, you’re not making much progress in dragging my brother away from her, are you? Have you seen the looks he casts on her? Positively and disgustingly maudlin! He must have gotten what he wanted then! Bah! Men!”

Dixon could barely suppress a gasp on hearing such unladylike and crass words!

“Fanny, all is arranged and under way for the downfall of Miss High-and mighty, I assure you! I’ve asked my father for assistance, and he has set up a plan that will work to perfection. Just be patient.”

The scarcely concealed hatred in the young woman’s voice shocked Dixon to the core. She hastened back to the dining room when she heard the women preparing themselves to come out.

Scarcely had she reached her destination when she heard thundering footsteps ascending the stairs and a second later a dishevelled and not to clean young boy of some fifteen years clattered by her and stopped in front of the dining table where the master sat.

Yanking his greasy cap off his head he stammered in a panic stricken voice. “Master! You ‘ave to come to the factory quickly! There’ll be some damage done to the looms and Mr. Williams asked for me to come and get you! And there’s two lads injured too, master!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Ten

Chapter 10 – Margaret, my wife

With gentle care, John lowered Margaret to her feet and took a small step backwards.

“Let me look at you …”, he said in a husky voice that send shivers of pleasure down Margaret’s spine.

She returned his smouldering gaze with a wavering little smile, trying to hide the pricks of anxiety stirring her heart. This was the one moment she had longed for since John first kissed her.

A sharp painful stab of desire pierced her heart, when he placed his hands on her shoulders and caressed her neck and throat. Yet she also found herself afraid for what must come.

How must she to do this? She had but the barest idea of what was requested of a wife when alone with her husband in their bedchamber. Would she be able to please him? To give him pleasure, enough to make him return to her, every night? Would he sleep in her bed or would he retire into his old chamber after their union?

All those thoughts vanished, when John turned her so that he came to stand behind her. He began kissing her neck ever so softly, and she could feel his hands on the buttons of her gown, undoing them slowly. He kept feathering her skin with kisses from her neck down to each spot he uncovered until all the buttons were undone. His hands then moved upwards until they reached her shoulders again. Sweet warmth began building up in Margaret’s stomach, as John slowly peeled her gown down, over her shoulders and down her arms, until it slid onto the floor. He put his hands on her waist and lifted her out of the pool formed by the gown. He then repeated the undoing of the gown in that of her corset but, this time, his hands roved from her back to her breasts every time he undid a hook.

Margaret now shivered in mounting pleasure. The sensation of his hands on her breasts was so ravishingly delicious that her knees became weak all of a sudden.

When, at last, the corset undone and tossed away, he turned her again to face him.

“Love … sweet love of mine, you are so beautiful … “, he whispered. “Come, come to me …”

Margaret stopped his hands on the verge of lowering her chemisette.

“No, my love, wait …”, she pleaded, her voice breaking with desire.

She began to unravel the intricately knotted, gold cravat around his neck, while she gazed deep into those gorgeous blue-grey eyes of his. Then she opened the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt to uncover his magnificent chest. John gasped when she brushed his bare flesh in slow teasing strokes. She eased the shirt of his broad shoulders, caressing his arms all the way down.

How  strange, Margaret thought, that she knew all the necessary gestures and loved every single one of them. He was breathtakingly beautiful … this handsome husband of hers.

John stood motionless, his hands on her waist, his eyes never leaving hers.

When Margaret’s hands moved to his trousers and began opening them, he couldn’t contain the deep moan of longing any longer. He gasped fiercely when she touched his still covered manhood with shaking fingers. She wondered about that, shy all of a sudden.

“Please, Margaret, don’t stop … touch it, keep touching, free it, love …”

Overcome by sheer feminine happiness of having the power to make him beg at her, she pushed his trousers down and also his small clothes. In sudden awe, she gasped when she fully beheld her husband. Shy now, with careful gestures, she touched John and caressed his splendid manhood. He responded by lowering her chemisette over shoulders to free her breasts and cup them.

Margaret gave a shuddering moan and arched her body to be closer to him. His hands were already trying easing down her petticoat, lightly stroking her bottom.

In one sudden move John lifted her in to his arms and lowered her onto the open bed.

“I want to see you, my love, I want to look into your beautiful eyes while I worship you with my love.”

John’s mouth covered her own and at last, Margaret could answer his kiss without restraint. It was heaven. He kept kissing her again and again, every kiss arousing her more and more until the huge ball of desire within her chest and stomach was almost exploding. His hands roved over her body and hers over his.

She didn’t seem to manage reaching every part of him at once. She was desperate to explore his whole body and she couldn’t. Oh … his hands, they fired pure magic! His fingers cupped and caressed her breasts until she thought she would die of sheer desire. Then his mouth left hers and she gasped with sudden disappointment until … Oh God! His lips brushed her breasts now, touching them with ever so light kisses. His mouth encircled a nipple and … she violently shivered in incredible delight.

A heartbeat later he touched her where no one ever had … it was unbearably and totally pleasant. Flames of desire shot up when he caressed her womanly places and she pressed onto him, stroking his chest, his stomach, his thighs, his buttocks, his hard manhood.

Waves of heat washed over John from every spot of his burning body she stroked. She was so beautiful, so soft and warm, so eager to meet him. Now being fully aroused, she was ready for him. He knew he had to be careful when entering her, for she was a virgin. He eased her legs apart and lowered himself between her thighs, while he kept kissing and stroking her. She moaned and her hands were like flames on his skin, arousing him yet further.

He took one of her hands and guided it to his aroused member, not releasing her mouth for one second. She touched and caressed until he could barely hold himself back. He guided himself with one hand into her and stroked her while doing it. She gasped against his mouth but he refused to release her and whirled his tongue in her mouth.

Caressing her further he began to thrust inside her with gentle pushes, his heart rate speeding when he sensed her tighten around him. He kept thrusting and stroking and kissing until she followed his rhythm. His own arousal became now painful and yearning but he kept holding back. Margaret came in a shudder of delight and only then he allowed himself to let his release break free, devastated by its force, strong and fierce like a giant wave in which he drowned with pleasure and infinite wellbeing.

When the aftermath slowly rippled over him, he lowered himself until his body covered hers and let the sheer bliss fill him to the brim. They lay motionless for a long wonderful moment.

“Margaret, my wife … “

The words, as John’s baritone voice whispered them in her ear, filled her with a joy so immense and genuine that her eyes spilled with tears. Yes, her heart sang, yes, I am this wife in truth and he … he is my lord, my commander, my heart’s desire, my husband!

“Dear heart … are you well? You’re weeping? Why? Did I hurt you?”

“No, no, you didn’t hurt me, sweet John. I’m weeping with joy, is all. I was afraid, I did not know what to do or how to do it but … oh John, you were so gentle and loving.”

John rose himself on one elbow and brushed the dark curls from her face, as in reverence. Margaret’s beautiful blue eyes looked deep into his own.

“Did … did I please you?”, she asked shyly.

John kissed her long and fiercely.

“Sweet Margaret of mine, yes, you did! Of course, you did, have you not sensed my rapture?”

He began kissing her face now with uttermost gentleness, her eyes, nose, brow, cheeks and every kiss was like a little flame of pleasure on her glowing skin.

“My dear sweet heart … do you know that you are the first woman that … “

He hesitated,  overcome with shyness. Margaret stifled a smile and said. “That you’ve been with since long? I understand, John, you need not …”

He put his finger on her lips, silencing her.

“No, love, the first woman  I made love to, ever. You are my first and only lover, Margaret. I was as much a virgin as you were when we entered this chamber. There will never be another one but you, darling Margaret, I make this vow to you, now, during our wedding night.”

His mouth covered hers again in a gentle, soothing kiss.

 

 

Mr Thornton takes a Wife – Part Nine

Chapter 9 – Till Death do us part

 

 

 

On Saturday September 10th, John William Thornton of Milton, Lancashire, and Margaret Elizabeth Hale of London, formerly of Helstone, Hampshire, were wedded in a small chapel near Marlborough Mills. It was a bright day with a hint of crispness in the air, an indication that fall was approaching in the North of England .

The ceremony was being witnessed by the very best Milton had to offer. The majority of the mill owners and their spouses wanted to be there when John Thornton, manufacturer and magistrate, pledged his life and virtue to his bride. The groom was pleased to see his fellow mill owners present, as well as a large amount of his workers with their wives. His best man was his brother-in-law, Albert Watson, as he was the closest male relative John had left.

As for Margaret, she had her aunt Shaw and Edith with her husband Maxwell Lennox to be with her on this happiest of days. They had arrived the day before and were staying at the Regent Hotel.

Also present was Henry Lennox.

Margaret knew of Henry’s feelings for her and she felt a little unsure about him being here this day.

Henry, however, seemed to have made his peace regarding  her marriage to John.

One of her bridesmaids was Ann Latimer, who had asked her for it and Margaret had agreed, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The other bridesmaid was her dear friend, Mary Higgins, who had taken her departed sister’s place in Margaret’s heart.

Margaret had no father to give her hand away in marriage. Frederic, her brother, lived in Spain and would still be in mortal danger, should he set foot on English soil, due to the mutiny scandal he was involved in.

Therefore, on the happiest day of her life, Margaret was walking down the aisle on the arm of a very proud Nicholas Higgins. No one better was there to accomplish that task, on that both Margaret and John had decided in unison. Even Hannah, a bit to John’s surprise, had also agreed on it. So was it that Nicholas, dressed to perfection in formal attire, gave Margaret’s hand to his master and friend John, who was looking very handsome in black lawn formal dress, white silk shirt, gold coloured silk waistcoat and gold coloured silk cravat.

Margaret’s dress was of cream coloured silk and had a deep heart-shaped neckline and elbow-long tight-fitting sleeves. The bodice hugged her tiny waist to perfection and the skirt was only slightly domed, straight at the front but sporting a voluminous trail of six feet of cream chiffon.

Margaret’s lovely dark brown hair had been gathered into a chignon at the nape of her neck from which several heavy curls fell onto her back. A simple lace veil framed her beautiful face and a thin row of diamonds adorned her throat with a matching pair of diamonds in her ears.

John’s breath caught when he looked into her exquisite blue eyes. She was so beautiful, his Margaret! His hand slightly trembled when he took hers. A stab of anger rose in his chest when he thought about her hands and how lucky she’d been to have them more or less recovered in time for their wedding. Just a few bruises remained but it were the sight of those that made him inwardly swear to have the culprit punished for causing them.

“Ahem!” The vicar’s voice boomed the congregation into silence.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God, and in the presence of this company, to unite John and Margaret in holy matrimony …”

All attention drifted away for John and Margaret  as soon as they looked each other in the eye. So full of each other were they, that the world around them seemed to shrink until only the very nearness of the other seemed to envelop them both. Only when the weddings vows were to be spoken did they rouse themselves enough to do what was required.

“I John, take you Margaret, to be my wedded wife. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness.”

He then slipped the wedding band onto Margaret’s finger and touched it with a kiss.

“I Margaret, take you John, to be my wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness.”

With shaking fingers she slipped the wedding band onto John’s finger and softly stroked it. John’s soft breath intake thrilled her to the point of tears.

The Vicar’s cheerful voice then boomed again. “Ministering in the name of the Lord Jesus, I now pronounce you husband and wife. May Christ be the Head of your home. May He be the unseen Guest at every meal, the Listener to every conversation. May Christ’s love rule your hearts and lives. Mr. Thornton, you may kiss your wife.”

Cupping Margaret’s face into his hands, John reverently kissed her. When he released her, Margaret suddenly threw her arms around his neck and held onto him as fierce as she could.

“I love you so much, John …”, she whispered, making John the happiest man in the world.

The congregation, in surprise and admiration, applauded for several minutes, while the couple walked down the aisle towards the church entrance.

 

The rest of the day passed in a blissful haze.

Friends and family drank to their health in Hannah’s parlour, where the reception was held. Numerous vows of happiness and many congratulations were bestowed upon John and Margaret but the two had only eyes for each other. With considerable effort they managed to be as civil as was necessary and return each vow or well wish. They drank champagne and nibbled at various bits of delectable food. They spoke with friends, they chatted with family but their eyes kept on straying towards where the other stood. Whenever they were close enough to touch, their hands met and sometimes their lips. All was seen and approved of by the company of invitees.

Gradually and reluctantly they settled for agreeable companionship with their guests, for conversations and smiles, for resignation because they had a duty towards the people who had come to wish them well. Finally, when the last guests had departed and only the closest family was still there, John took his wife’s hand and whispered in her ear. “Shall we call it a day, my dearest Margaret?”

Margaret, faintly blushing, answered. “Yes, my love, we shall.”

They left the parlour without a word and went upstairs to the master bedroom, which had been unoccupied since John’s father had died.

“Wait, my love …” John’s soft words halted Margaret, who had been on the verge of entering the magnificent room. He scooped her in his arms and she laughed under her breath in delight.

“Ready?”, he asked, smiling ever so sweetly.

“Yes”, Margaret breathed and laid her cheek against his.

John carried his wife over their bedroom’s threshold and closed the door behind them both.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Eight

 Chapter 8 – Trouble is brewing

 

Once more John carried Margaret inside while Hannah, who had rushed out after Nicholas Higgins, shouted at Jane to fetch the doctor. Dixon came running down high on Hannah’s heels, her benign face frowned with concern.

Margaret came to her senses when the pain in her hands became worse. She couldn’t keep herself from whimpering a little and it tore at John’s very soul.

“Hush, sweetheart, Dr. Donaldson is on his way. Margaret, please, tell me what I can do to relieve your pain? I cannot stand to see you suffer like that …”

Breathing heavily as a result of the fierce pain Margaret gasped, “A bowl … of fresh cold water … I must cool my hands … please, John …”

Before anyone, including Dixon, could do a thing, he rushed down the stairs to the kitchen and snatched a large porcelain bowl from under Cook’s stupefied nose. He ran to the sink and filled it with water. Then he hurried back upstairs to the room where he’d laid Margaret on a bed, shoving Dixon aside.

Gently, John eased her up, put some pillows behind her back and carefully lowered her hands into the bowl he’d placed on her lap.

She gasped and he saw tears running down her face. His voice hoarse with frustration over his powerlessness, he said, “My poor darling, how you must suffer … I promise you, Margaret, I’ll find the lowlife who did this and kill him with my bare hands!”

Margaret, whose pain had already lessened a little when she bathed her hands in the cool water, gave a small laugh.

“Oh, that would be the solution, wouldn’t it, John Thornton? You ending up in her Majesty’s prison for murder? No, it’s that temper of yours speaking and I’ll not have it. Now, tell me, how much damage is there to the Mill?”

“Not much, thanks to you, Margaret,” Hannah’s voice said from where she was standing in the doorway. Her son gave a sigh of relief and asked, “Is everybody safe? No injuries?”

“No, John, everybody’s fine. Some twenty bales of cotton are lost beyond salvation, I’m afraid, but that’s all.”

John nodded. “It’s only a minor part of our supply, I’ll order some more from Liverpool Docks tomorrow.”

At that point Dixon announced the arrival of Dr. Donaldson.

 

“You have failed,” the voice said coldly to Jay Leonards as the two ruffians, who’d hauled him out of his regular pub, forced him on his knees in front of the man for whom he’d set fire to Marlborough Mills.

“To no fault of mine, sir, please?” Leonards begged. “How could I foresee that wretched Hale woman would be reacting that quick? She pulled ten or more bales out of the way in no time! And then, of course, Thornton was on the scene and that scumbag Higgins! They …”

“Enough!” That voice was as cold as Death, Leonards thought.

“Listen, you miserable sod, if you know what’s good for you. I’ll give you a chance to redeem yourself in this but, this time, I demand full cooperation and success or you’ll be dead and gone before you know it.”

“Yes, sir, whatever you say, sir!” Leonards coaxed as good as he knew how to. He began wondering if it had be such a good idea after all when he’d agreed to work for this man. It seemed a good enough idea at the time and it had the bonus of revenge on that Hale woman, who helped that Hale boy do away with his own brother. Leonards actually wondered where the Hale boy was. Surely he’d be around for his sister’s wedding? Maybe he’d have another chance to have his revenge.

 

John hurried back to Margaret after Dr. Donaldson had left.

“Oh, John,’ Margaret said, “please, the ring! I rolled it in my handkerchief before I got my hands dirty. It’s in my pocket!”

“To hell with the ring, darling, let me see your hands.”

Margaret’s hands were covered by a clean white cloth. The doctor had not bandaged them because he thought they would heal faster in the open air. He had, however, put a soothing ointment onto the worst spots to ease the pain.

“John, I don’t think …”

“I want to see your hands, Margaret,” John interrupted her in a voice that broke no argument. She saw the determination in his eyes and knew he would not give up. She nodded.

Very carefully John lifted the cloth and swallowed. Margaret’s poor hands were swollen and red, the blisters still covering her palms.

“John, it looks worse than it is,” Margaret hastened to say. “Dr. Donaldson says they’ll recover fast if I keep them uncovered.”

But, John stared at her, his eyes dark with misery and a great weight of sorrow on his heart.

 

‘              ”Well, Ann?” Fanny Watson asked as she sipped her tea in the Latimer’s parlour where she had come to visit Ann. “What are your plans? How are you going to drag my brother away from that upstart betrothed of his? I’m warning you, Ann, he’s totally besotted with her, I’m sure I don’t know why! She’s so haughty and it’s not that she’s accomplished or something!”

Ann Latimer daintily placed her teacup on the coffee table and folded her small porcelain hands in her lap. She innocently looked Fanny in the eye and spoke.

“I have my ways, dear Fanny, don’t worry. It’s a little scheme I learnt at my Swiss boarding school. Extreme troubles ask for extreme measures and, after I had my way, little will be left of Miss High-and-mighty Hale.”