Mr. Richard Hale, formerly a clergyman from the southern part of England was beginning to settle into what would seem to be the rest of his life.
Giving up his vocation after a struggle with ecclesiastical doubts, he was persuaded by his friend, Adam Bell, to move to a new location and begin anew. Although, not in harmony with this wife and daughter, he took his friend’s advice and moved the family to a burgeoning industrial city in the north called Milton. He and Adam, a very close alumni and family friend, knew that his strength lay in teaching. Preaching the gospel wasn’t a far cry to teaching from a textbook.
It had been nearly ten months since his wife passed away, shortly after arriving in Milton, when he began to put his heart into his new profession. He was currently teaching poverty-stricken laborers to read and write, in two classes a week, but his income came from higher education sessions which the Cotton Mill Masters seemed to find of interest.
As he walked outside into the crisp night from the Lyceum where he taught, he took a deep breath being exhilarated from his past month’s interest and participation in his work. His lectures were finding great interest and his student body was growing. He offered private lessons and consultations to men who seemed dedicated or interested in one particular area.
Tonight had been a good night. There were twenty mill masters in attendance with lively participation by all. The comraderies of these men surprised him. Although, each a competitor to the other, there seemed to be an “us against the world” brotherhood amongst them. Richard Hale soon learned what both the masters and the laborers were up against in this new machine age and it was difficult times for all.
John Thornton, talking to another master, walked down the steps behind Richard. They both tipped their hats and continued on down engrossed in conversation about the current labor force. Richard Hale thought about the rumor he had heard recently that John Thornton was now betrothed. Being a handsome, successful master, gave pause to Richard in thinking – why has it taken him so long to marry. He might talk with Adam Bell about it someday. Adam was good friends with John even though he wasn’t in the business. However, Adam did have investment interests all through the cotton industry in Milton, even to the point of buying land years ahead of the anticipated expansion. Coming from a very high academic background, Adam Bell was no innocent in the world of shrewd finances.
As Richard Hale walked home, he thought how his daughter would be waiting. With only their housekeeper, Dixon, to talk with, Margaret was living a very dull life for such a young woman. Not growing up in this part of the country she had no friends and there was no one who could recommend her to eligible young men of good character. Richard decided to include some lectures in the future where he could ask her to accompany him and assist in some way. All the men that he had met in his class seemed amiable enough. He did not know who was married and who wasn’t, but she would start to be seen. Richard Hale knew that as pious as he had once been and as lonely as he would be, he had to think of her future now.
Margaret, a young woman of twenty-two, sat home waiting for her father. She had pulled out her needlework, which she never really enjoyed as a pastime, but that was all she seemed to have . . . time. No longer having to care for her mother and even her father during her mother’s illness, life was now spent listening to the clock on the mantel. Occasionally, she would go to the library and spend time there reading, as being home every minute suffocated her. Only a year away she had returned home from an extensive, although forward thinking, woman’s school. It was a college and part finishing school to truly round out the industrious and independent woman. Margaret was independent, if anything. Daily, her father, would correspond with friends, read the paper, and prepare lessons. Dixon, the housekeeper, puttered around, complaining under her breath about something or other. It seemed every day brought a new mumbled criticism about Milton or the north end of England . . . the sun never showed itself . . . no friends came or went from the house. Margaret was tired of hearing it all even though she, too, had her own gripes. She had to find something to do, and that be the end of it. Perhaps she could volunteer at the library or was there a bookstore owner who needed help. She heard her father come home when he closed the front door.
“How was your class, father? You seem cheerful.”
“Tonight was a good night. I quite enjoyed myself. It was with the masters, as you may know.”
“No, I don’t believe, I do, father. Are you speaking of the men who own those cotton mills on the other side of town?”
“Yes, those men who are managing wonders with new machines. They bring great fame to the city. Many are educated men, too. They have a head full of knowledge. Not thinking there would be much interest, I placed a small writing in the paper about lectures on various subjects which I thought might benefit or interest a working educated man.”
“And you received interest?”
“Yes, tonight there were twenty paying masters and one or two other businessmen from the railroad.”
“That is wonderful, father. I am happy when you enlighten the masses.”
“Margaret, it sounds like you are under-estimating the intelligence in this city. These are smart men that are steering a new generation, cutting in-roads in machinery that will lead the world forward. Nowhere on earth is there a town of this size doing what they do. Their products outsell every other type of export that Britain has, by a large percentage. Adam foresaw this. Even though he is not in the business, he had the sense to see what it was going to become and invested in land and business property. He is a wealthy man or soon will be.”
Richard removed his coat and kept talking. “Margaret, I know you have had very little knowledge of where we have moved. With your mother growing sick when we moved, you’ve been busy with both she and I. You had the sense to run the family issues as they came up when I could only think of her. I would imagine you haven’t met anyone who you would wish to be friends. Have you?”
“I met a woman about my age and her brother as they walked home from work in the mills. We eventually began to speak with each other rather easily as I followed them near their home. Her name is Wanda, and her younger brother is Samuel. She said they had once lived in the poor section of town, but that doesn’t preclude me from being friendly, does it? I haven’t seen any what I would call class barriers here.”
“And you won’t Margaret. Yes, there is poverty versus the masters, but they do not distance themselves from each other if passing on the street. The industry they are bringing to the world is low pay. The masters don’t make all that much either. They are not getting very rich. They would be considered a well-heeled merchant, but there is nothing like a society or nobility anywhere here. The whole town works for a living. These masters are in their mills every hour of the day. They do not sit home while others do their work. That’s what I find so amazing about these men I taught tonight. One of the masters was leaving to go visit an injured worker of his, just to be courteous but genuinely interested in the man’s wellbeing. Margaret, these people are like none we have ever known. The poor are very poor. And the others are not snobbish or boastful. Which reminds me . . . I have a lesson coming up next week, and I wish to engage your help.”
“My help?” What can I do for you . . . erase your slate board?” Margaret laughed.”
“With teaching the masters, they absorb what I say, so fast, that even erasing the slate board would help me. But that’s not what I had in mind. I will be spending the week drawing some simple illustrations . . . charts, if you will, on financing for their future workloads and how to spot the trends. Adam has spoken about this often and left me with two textbooks, which I will use. While I am talking, it would help if you could pass the illustrations among the gentlemen there. Or perhaps, if I can make them large enough, you could hold them up in front of the class while I go over them.”
“If you wish me to help, I will, father. I barely have anything to do. Perhaps I could help you draw?”
“Perhaps you can, at that. I will get supplies tomorrow, and we can begin. If you draw, I will be able to put more time into studying. I will look forward to your help.”
“And I shall, too.”
The following day, while Margaret waited for her father and his supplies, she took her daily walk, carrying her book, to the closest park. There were a few mothers with their perambulators and one young woman, Margaret thought her to be about her own age. She was sitting on a bench under one of the shade trees, and it appeared to Margaret that she was doing needlework. Margaret decided to sit beside her.
“Miss? Would it be an imposition to sit on this bench while you are doing you handwork?”
“I would very much like the company. Quite honestly, I do not like this hand-sewing that seems all the women must learn to do. I wish I could read; I would love to carry a book here as you do.”
“You find me taken aback. You are a neat and finely dressed young lady. I can see that someone has done your hair this morning, so you must come from a well-established family. You never had the chance for an education? Before you answer that, let me apologize. It is really none of my business. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“I am not afraid to say that this fine lady learning is new to me. My father, sister and I have recently come from the mill floors. My father, having a good head on shoulders, impressed a mill master. The master elevated my father to a position of authority and as of last year, made him a partner in one of the mills. Most of our life, we didn’t know where our next meal would come from, but now I am living in this fancy world. I can cook, clean and iron, but I cannot sew, pick out bonnets or fabrics for frocks. I’m sorry, but there it is. This is the person you have had the misfortune to sit next to.”
Margaret laughed heartily. “What a strange but welcoming situation this is for me. My name is Margaret Hale. Please call me Margaret, m’lady.” She giggled.
“It’s nice to be amusing to someone. My name is Bessie Higgins. I used to know many women, some were friends, but now with father’s new position, they’ve all deserted me. I am lonelier with money than without. Why is it that you laugh at me?”
“It’s not you, personally. It’s our situations. My father is a gentleman, my mother was a real society lady that married below her class, and I am educated. But now, we live in reduced circumstances. I have no friends either. We moved to Milton from Helstone, which is in the southern part of England. But since returning from school, I have been engaged in helping father to assist my mother in leaving this world. I am just now getting out of the house. Most of my neighborhood are tradesmen. It’s just nice to see someone my age with a nice frock on,” she laughed.
“This seems like a fortunate meeting for both of us. So is it just you and your father?”
“And a housekeeper. She has been with us all of my life and we could never let her go no matter our situation in life. Father was a clergyman, but he is teaching to workers and masters now. The classes are gauged to their interest and advancement. I could teach you to read.”
“Oh, could you? Really? You would not mind? My father is planning on sending me away, and I do not want to go.”
“I would be quite delighted to teach you. I need something to do. And I can help you with frocks. I do not particularly care for needlework myself. I want to broaden my knowledge of Milton, too.”
“Yes, I know what you mean. Needling is beautiful, but I feel it is just to keep us busy. I know of women that go to finishing schools to learn to be hostesses and to run a household, but how many of them are really educated. Men will stand back if an educated woman speaks her mind. They don’t know whether to admire her or lock her in the cellar,” Bessie smiled.
Margaret laughed along with her. Margaret could feel a friendship beginning to bond. It was like she had taken a deep breath of clean air in this sooty city. “Perhaps we can visit at each other’s homes?” Margaret asked.
“Oh, I do hope so.”
“I know I can find the time and I do not have to ask permission. However, we do not have a carriage. My father has just asked me to help him with his lectures at the Lyceum every once in a while. I know I’ll have to go sometime this week. He is going to teach the masters about financial forecasting. I will be holding charts,” she smiled.
“I know that class. My father and Mr. Thornton, his partner, are attending that. I do believe that’s true. Perhaps, I will attend with my father and introduce you to him.”
“I’ve never done this before. Now I will be nervous knowing someone knows me.”
Both girls laughed.
“Margaret, it has been a very great pleasure meeting you. I have been here for two hours and must be home soon, as I had promised to be. I will see you in a few days at the Lyceum. This has been such a delightful afternoon. Can we give you a lift anywhere?”
“Thank you, Bessie, but no. I love my walks, and I have only just come out today. I hope to see you at the lecture. Goodbye, Bessie.”
Bessie’s driver walked towards her to carry her basket, but Bessie took the time to turn back and wave. Margaret felt a tear wanting to form as she waved back. This was a joyous day. Maybe she would have a life beyond caring for her father and Dixon with a true friend as she aged.
Nicholas sat at the dining room table with his wife and children. Mary and Bessie were his own, his wife was Peggy, who he married years after his first wife died. The four other children he had taken in when both parents had committed suicide over their impoverished conditions. Although, Nicholas, once in poverty as they had been, was still in a position to see both sides of the unrest between the workers and the masters and their wages, which was now a benefit where he worked.
“Father, you attended a lecture a few nights ago, did you not?”
“Yes, did you wish to come with me?” Nicholas joked.
“Yes, I would actually. Today I met a young woman of my age, who I believe shall be a good friend to me. She is educated. She comes from a gentleman’s family, who are now living below the life she has always known. Her spirits are high, though. She has offered to teach me to read and help me select frocks and bonnets.”
“And I am to rejoice that someone is taking you under their wing and teaching you how to spend money?” He smiled.
“Oh, father. I think when you meet her, you will see that it not be needed for me to be sent away.”
“And what has that to do with the lecture?”
“Apparently, her father, who must be Mr. Hale, is your lecturer. He has asked her to assist him in his class this next time. I want to introduce her to you.”
“I will always want to meet a friend you are making, but wouldn’t you be bored once the introduction has taken place?”
“Hearing her today, I think she could use a friend in the room.”
“I guess that would be fine. I am sure Mr. Hale would welcome a friend of his daughter’s. You may want to sit away from us as the men will want to be speaking amongst each other. They may not feel comfortable speaking across a woman in their midst.”
“Yes, of course. Women seem relegated to the far ends of everything, but we are not destined to stay that way.” Bessie smiled.
“And just what does that mean?” Nicholas laughed.
“I have no idea, but today was so enjoyable … to actually find a true friend, at least, I hope she will be.”
“With her father being the lecturer, and you say she’s educated, I will make a final decision in regards to sending you away after I get to know her.”
“Ah…Margaret. I see that you are back. How was your walk?”
“Exceptionally fine today. I think I have met a friend. She is a woman about my age. Her name is Bessie Higgins. Her whole family once worked in the mills, but her father has been taken in as a partner in Marlborough Mills.”
“That’s one of John Thornton’s mills. You’ve met him. Do you remember?”
“I am afraid not. I have met so few people. I am taken surprised that I have forgotten someone.”
“Well, according to you, your unexpected meeting did not go well. When we first arrived and were looking for a place to stay, you questioned one of the flat managers about something. He sent you to Mr. Thornton at the mill.”
“Oh. That man?”
“Do you remember him now?”
“I remember the man. I’m not sure I bothered to remember the name after what I saw in his mill.”
“He’s been here a few times. I guess you were never here to greet him or you were hiding. He’s actually a very nice man. Well respected in this town. Smart, growing wealthy, popular with the ladies and he has quite a high level of intelligence. Don’t judge him too harshly just yet. Adam can tell you more. Enough of Mr. Thornton. You say your new friend’s father is a partner in Thornton’s mill?”
Margaret spoke to her father regarding the little she had learned of Bessie. She mentioned that Bessie may be permitted to come to the lecture with her father so they could meet.
“That will be fine, Margaret. She will be bored as you will be, but you will be busy. Does she know that?”
“Yes. Yes, she does. It was such a grand day. I am really hoping that she will be a friend to me.”
“Margaret, anyone that knows you would be your friend. You just haven’t had the opportunities to meet new people. I know very few myself which has been unfortunate that I cannot introduce you to nice eligible gentlemen. Perhaps this Bessie knows the way of the ladies in this town.”
“I am sure she does not. This wealth came upon them quickly. She went from the milling machine to the park bench in a relatively short time. However, her father should know just about everyone. Are you trying to marry me off, father?” Margaret smiled.
“Furthest thing from my mind, my dear. I would like to see you taken care of with love and protection before I meet your mother. Are you ready to draw?”
Kindle Edition $3.99 US