Chapter Forty-Three – Old Resentment Laid to Rest
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.”