Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Five – Most Cherished List Item: the Babies

“If I do not survive this, then you must not grieve me forever, John.”

John, on hearing those soft-spoken words, found himself prey to many different feelings, of which rage was the most powerful. “Margaret, no! I forbid you to speak like that!”

The cheer vibrant fury in John’s voice startled Margaret. Her eyes grew moist and she pressed his hand strongly.

“John, John, forgive me, I did not mean …”

But John turned her so that she now faced him.

“Margaret Hale Thornton, do not ever say such a thing again or I … I … oh, I do not know what I will do but … Lord, Margaret! We cannot even think of you not being here to raise our children together with me!”

“John, I’m sorry. I … I had a moment of weakness and it will never occur again, my darling. I am sure that I can succeed in this with you by my side.”

“Exactly, you are not alone, my darling. I will be there every step of the way. Now, you must rest. Come, let me help you to get comfortable.”

Long after her husband had fallen asleep, Margaret lay awake, staring at the silver rectangle of the window. She was really afraid of the ordeal awaiting her. The pregnancy was beginning to wear her down, more so than she would have liked and not only physically.

 

“Margaret?”

John came bursting through the parlour door, a huge grin on his handsome face and blue eyes shining with pleasure. Behind him, Margaret could see the figure of another man, a tradesman by the look of it.

“Darling, this is Mr Topplewaite. He runs a furniture shop in one of Milton’s finest neighbourhoods. I asked him to come and show you some of the drawings of the furniture he has in the shop. Nursery furniture, that is!”

“Oh!” Margaret’s face flushed with pleasure. She had been worrying about the nursery for some time now.  Hannah showed her the room when Margaret’s pregnancy was certain and the mother-to-be hadn’t been happy with it. Situated on the top floor of the house, it was a gloomy, oppressive place and too far away from their own bedroom, to Margaret’s taste. Thus, she was relieved to see John take this problem out of her hands.

“Now,” John said, “Crispin, Justin, take your places. Come, darling, fasten your seatbelt. Here, let me help you.”

Margaret had to fight herself not to ruffle her husband’s black hair while he kneeled before her to help with the belt. Dear, sweet John …

C & J wheeled her chair, not toward the stairs, but to their bedroom door and then beyond, to the room John occupied before their marriage.

“John, what is this? I don’t understand …”

“This,” John said as he threw open the door, “is to be the nursery. Look what I have done with the place.”

Margaret’s chair rolled into the room and she gasped with surprise. The whole space had been cleared, the wallpaper had been stripped, the carpets removed, the curtains unhooked. What had been John’s former bachelor room, upholstered with the appropriate subdued browns and dark greens, was now a spacious, light and airy children’s room. The wall were a soft sky blue, the ceiling pure white and the floor had been decked with new boards, painted in dove grey and polished to a gleam. The windows were hung with dark blue velvet curtains from top to bottom.

“Mr Topplewaite, do your magic, if you please? Margaret, you are to assist Mr Topplewaite and choose the right furnishings. When you are ready, Mr Topplewaite, I would be obliged to you if you would step into my office, later? Thank you.”

With that the Master left the room, still grinning with delight.

Margaret spent the next two hours choosing two cots, two small wardrobes, a large chest-of-drawers with a marble top, destined for the babies’ toilette, and a comfortable rocking chair. She picked out a small bath tub and a few stuffed animals and toys. Also needed was a bed, wardrobe and dressing table for the nursery maid – and, Good Lord, she had yet to find one!

This pleasant chore finished, the four of them were sipping at a much needed cup of tea, when Hanna and Nicholas came in. They had been overseeing the work going on in their new house and were glad to drink a cup too.

“What do you say, chaps?”, he grinned at the men present, “How about something a bit stronger to accompany the tea? I myself could stomach a brandy!”

The other three eagerly nodded in agreement and Hannah pointed at the sherry bottle.

Margaret and Mr Topplewaite then began explaining what they had been up to and the newcomers examined and approved of it all.

After tea, Mr Topplewaite and the two men excused themselves and Margaret told Hannah and Nicholas about her wanting to find a nursemaid.

“You know, Margaret,” Nicholas said, “I might have just the lass for you.”

“Oh?”, Margaret asked, smiling at him.

“Yes, her name is Letty Monroe and she is Mary’s cousin. Her father is my late wife’s brother.

Letty is … well, she had an accident when she was ten, lost a foot at Henderson’s mill. As a result, she cannot work in a shed any more. When she has to stand on that leg, despite the wooden foot, she tires easily. But, Margaret, she is a bright girl, taught herself to read and write and she is awfully good at drawing. You should see her drawings.”

Margaret kept her face bland but she was having doubts about Letty Monroe. A poor girl from the worker’s class was not what she had in mind as a nanny for her children. Yet, she agreed to receive the girl the next day and talk to her.

 

 

“So, you have found yourself a nanny, then?,” John asked, that night. He had just helped his wife into bed and was now undressing himself.

“I don’t know, John, I have to see her first. I confess I am a bit apprehensive. She is an uneducated girl, John, and she has a wooden foot, Nicholas said. She lost a foot in an accident at Henderson’s, as a child.”

John retrieved his shirt and asked. “When was this? I seem to recall something of the kind, five or six years ago.”

“I do not know. Nicholas is sending her here tomorrow.”

Hearing the sound of doubt in Margaret’s voice, her husband was surprised.

“Margaret, what is this? You seem … somehow prejudiced against this girl! That is not like you! Normally, you have no qualms about members of the working class.”

Margaret bowed her head in a sudden consternation. “Oh, I’m sorry, John, it’s just that …”

She looked up at him, tears in her beautiful eyes. Her voice was very small when she whispered. “I’m so afraid, John, I’m terrified …”

With a grunt of deep concern, John took his wife into his arms and hugged her.

“Margaret, my love, do not lose heart? I’ll move heaven and earth to help and protect you. I promise you that everything will be alright. I will not leave your side, Margaret! You and I, we will bring this baby business to a good end.”

But, Margaret was softly sobbing, her face hidden into his shoulder and, not for the first time, John Thornton, strong man that he was, had dire forebodings about the weeks to come.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Four

Chapter 54 – Most Urgent List Item: the Wedding

Hannah’s and Nicholas’ wedding  day was approaching rapidly and Margaret wanted it to be as lovely as could be for the pair of them. John, who first had been reluctant to see them wed, had changed his view under Margaret’s gentle guidance. He knew all too well that his mother had been lonely after his father’s death, although she never let it show, even to him.

John was still slightly astonished how an attachment between the two had possibly managed to grow but, when he saw them together and watched how they looked at each other, he had no more doubts about the depth of their mutual feeling. After all, Nicholas had become a capable and decent man with a suitable salary to keep his wife in a station that was due to her.

So, he helped Margaret to make the necessary arrangements.

 

There was a particularly tricky matter to settle, one that would require all of Margaret’s diplomatic talents. Hannah and Nicholas needed a house to live in after their marriage.

Hannah did not really wanted to leave her present house but she realised all too well that she couldn’t go on living there indefinitely, now that John and Margaret were to become parents. They would need all the space they could get, as soon as the children were born. So, she agreed upon inspecting Milton’s house market with Margaret and her two attendants, albeit reluctantly.

Nicholas, however, proved to be the hardest to convince. He was used to and fond of his small house on Princess Street, where he lived since he married Bessy’s and Mary’s mother. Apart from being rather dank and far too small, the dismal little house had as good as no amenities whatsoever and could not possibly be thought suitable for a lady like Hannah Thornton.

 

After a long time – and a good deal of convincing – it was Mary who brought her father to reason. She stated very simply that she had too much to do at the Infirmary to have some time to spare for looking after the Boucher children. After their parent’s death, two years before, Nicholas had taken in the three boys, Thomas, Christopher and Harold and the three girls, Jemima, Louisa and Tabitha.

Tom was now almost nine and working with John at Marlborough Mills.  His sister Jemima, eight, who first worked as a ‘scavenger’, was now helping Mary at the Infirmary. The four younger siblings still needed a lot of looking after and also, a lot of space. A bigger house, Mary said to her father, was just a question of good common sense.

Thus, one beautiful day at the end of May, Hannah and Nicholas agreed on signing the contract of sale on a house in the suburbs of Milton, with five bedrooms and a large garden. Margaret and John were very pleased with the acquisition and promised to help with the move.

After that, there was only the ceremony to prepare and the date of the wedding to come.

 

“It feels awkward,” John whispered one evening. They were in bed, exhausted from a very long and tiring day.

“What, darling?”, Margaret asked.

“Mother leaving this house. I … I had it built, especially for her, you know. It was my first big expenditure after two years of substantial profit. I could scarcely afford it but I wanted mother and Fanny out of the bleak, shabby rooms we occupied at the time. Mother knew we had not yet enough money to spare on the mill’s expenses but she never said a word. She acknowledged my need to honour her for her troubles and hard work.”

Margaret laughed softly. “Mother always seems to know what you are thinking or feeling, sometimes even before you do yourself.”

“Yes, that is so. As I do with her. I could never have succeeded without her, Margaret.”

“I know. John …”

“Mmmm …”

Her husband’s arms were around Margaret’s heavy body, cradling it soothingly in his warmth.

“John … I once made a vow that … that I would never come between you and Mother. I hope I succeeded in that?”

“Oh, my darling Margaret, of course you did! Yet, should I ever be forced to choose between the two of you, I would not know how to deal with it. That is why I love you so much, my sweetheart, you have made it very easy for me by loving my mother as if she were you own. I will never have to make this choice.”

Margaret nestled herself deeper in John’ arms. How good it felt to be held by him …

“Sweetheart …”, she breathed, her heart pinched all of a sudden.

“What is it, darling?”

“John, you must promise me this, please? If … if I do not … survive this …”

“Margaret, no!”

“If I do not survive this, then you must not grieve me forever, John.”

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Three

Chapter 53 – Ever Recurring List Items: Housekeeping and Infirmary

 

From that day on, Margaret kept her promise to her family very faithfully.

She still performed the many duties she had imposed upon herself but she was careful not to overdo. In this she counted on the strong hands of Crispin and Justin, her two “wheelchair bearers”, as she called them. Those trustworthy, very patient men, strong of arms and cheerful of mind, carried her all day long wherever she wanted to go.

“Where to first, Mrs T?” Crispin would ask, as they presented themselves each morning in her parlour.

“Kitchen, Mr Crispin!”, Margaret would reply and settle herself firmly into her wheelchair.

John had, from the very first day, spotted that the chair might be a trifle unsafe. The risk of Margaret toppling out of it if the bearers should tilt the contraption a bit too much, had immediately come to his attention. So John, practical as ever, fitted out the chair with a seat belt of his own design. This was one of his own belts but padded with cotton waste as to not hurt Margaret’s body. She was very heavy now, at 33 weeks and the month of May three weeks old.

The first day of Margaret’s new way of doing her job, John had not left her side. He had very scrupulously observed all Crispin’s and Justin’s doings, criticized their actions whenever he saw a flaw in them and copiously sprinkled them with advise as how to improve their work. Justin, a quiet, patient man, had only smiled benignly at this but Crispin, being of a more feisty nature, had reacted frequently against the Master’s interferences. Margaret had to bid John to withdraw, at the end. John resigned himself to do so, as soon as he saw that his wife was becoming nervous under the constant bickering between him and Crispin. Reluctantly, however.

 

Margaret’s household staff now consisted of five members, all of them living in.

There was, of course, the faithful Adelaide Dixon, who was now housekeeper of the Thornton’s household. Directly under her was Mrs Ursula Pennywater, the widow of the former overseer at Marlborough Mills. She and her husband had been childless and Mrs Pennywater had come to work as a cook for Hannah when her husband died. Dixon had become great friends with Cook and they often spent their leisure hours together, reading or talking.

Annie Babcock, the upstairs maid, was a lively girl of twenty-two, whose father and brothers worked at the mill. She had a younger sister of twelve, Dottie, who worked as a scullery maid under Mrs Pennywater.

Last there was the laundry maid, Jenny Hawkins, who had only recently come to the household. She was eighteen and her parents and five brothers all worked for John at the mill.

These were the people Margaret conferred with at the beginning of each day.

There were meals to be decided on, the smooth running of the household to be discussed and the many other tasks to be carried out. It usually took half of the morning.

 

After that, Justin and Crispin carried and wheeled their mistress to the Infirmary, situated in one of the halls of Marlborough Mills. The sick and the weak amongst the workers and their families had a special place in Margaret’s heart. She was seriously planning to increase her efforts in that field after the babies would be born.

The vast space of the hall was divided into smaller spaces by wooden partitions. Each ward had their own supervising female attendant watching over the smooth running of them. These women were not real nurses. England, in the nineteenth century, had not yet training schools to that goal. It was only in that same year of 1853, that Florence Nightingale began her own training in Paris. It would not be before 1899, when the Council of Nurses was formed, that a proper training was established.

So, Margaret’s women were virtually untrained, but eager to learn and hard workers. They all received a financial reward for their work which enabled them to bring in a little money for their families.

There were, in total, eight wards, in which four types of illnesses were cared for, each with separate spaces for men and women. One was for various injuries and fractures acquired during working hours at the mill. Those were fairly frequent, so much so that Nicholas Higgins was seriously thinking of installing a committee for the improvement of safety on the premises of the mill.

A second ward provided for the sick children, boys and girls separated, of course. Another space was solely preserved for women who recently gave birth. Here mothers and their babies were properly cared for and they were allowed to bring their young children with them when there was no one to take care of them at home. A fourth ward was destined specifically for lung diseases, such as ‘brown lung disease’ or byssinosis, or in popular terms ‘fluff on the lungs’. This was the illness that caused the death of Margaret’s friend, Bessy Higgins, two years ago.

It was a vile disease, causing the sick person a great many discomforts, such as chest tightness and subsequently breathing difficulties, wheezing and coughing. The patient suffered a narrowing of the trachea in the lungs, lung scarring and, eventually death from infection or respiratory failure. There was, unfortunately not a great thing to be done for those patients. Nurses could only try to make them more comfortable.

 

John would always try to be at Margaret’s side when she visited the Infirmary.

He knew all too well how appalled she was on seeing the suffering of her dear patients. His Margaret had a soft and tender heart for those with a lower station in life who suffered from it. It was one of the things Margaret had taught him. Before he met her, John had not known, or not wanted to know, about the life conditions of his workers and their families.

So, he was always with his wife on moments like this. He worried, he simply did. About Margaret and his unborn babies.

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Two

Chapter 52 – A Trustworthy Family

“Ah!”, Nicholas exclaimed, “I knew this was going to stir him out of his whining!”

“Whining? I am not at all whining. I’m just aghast that you … Good God, Nicholas, it’s just … the completeness of this list only emphasizes its enormous importance! We must indeed do all this to keep Margaret safe and the babies to be born healthy. Thank you, my friend, thank you all. Now, what will be my part on this list? I see you have not rounded it out yet?”

Nicholas, under Hannah’s gaze full of concern for her son, placed his hand on John’s shoulder.

“You, my friend, have the most difficult task of all. You must convince our Margaret that there is only one rule for her to obey: she needs to rest as much as she can. You, John, must be the most vigilant of all because you are her husband and you are close to her. Now, listen, what I have in mind.”

 

At breakfast the next morning, Margaret was presented with a full delegation of friends and family.

Her husband, eyes shining with mirth, did the talking.

“My dearest, we need you to listen to what we have to say. First of all, we all love you dearly, Margaret. Look at us all, here we are, your servants, all of us.”

Margaret’s gaze went around the company and rested for a while upon them all, one by one.

There was Mary, her very best friend and co-worker, smiling shyly at her, and Dixon, her faithful servant and friend, her ruddy face beaming with affection. There was Dr Donaldson, tall and trustworthy, nodding reassuringly at her. There were Nicholas and Hannah, hand in hand, towers of strength, both of them. And then, there was John …

Tall frame and broad shoulders erect but eyes sparkling with love, so deeply it brought tears into her eyes. She reached out for him and he instantly came and took her into his arms. He kissed her on the top of her head and lifted her face to his.

“Margaret, my love …”

His voice broke as he continued.

“You are the most precious person in all our lives now. We want you to be safe and whole so please, listen to us?”

He led her to the settee and sat her down gently.

Nicholas handed her the List, as it would be called from now on and, after the first shock of surprise, Margaret began perusing it attentively. Her eyes gradually widened as she began to comprehend what was written down in so many details.

“But … but, John, Nicholas, am I to be … in bed … all the time, then? How could I possibly supervise all these projects when I am not there? I do want to rest, surely, but how could I if I am not allowed to be bodily present?”

John saw tears in her beautiful blue eyes and he squeezed her shoulder in support.

“Be calm, my love, Nicholas has it all covered.”

Indeed, the big union man smiled broadly and clapped his hands. Two sturdy fellows came in, one of them pushing the most comfortable wheel chair ever seen!

“Margaret, this is Crispin.”

The man in question was about thirty, at least six three and very massively built. His dark eyes shone with humour and his broad, ruddy face beamed with affability. He bowed to Margaret and said, in a deep bass voice:

“At your service, Ma’am, all day long!”

“And this,” Nicholas went on, “is Justin.”

Same built and height, but Justin was fair-haired and had beautiful hazel eyes which had a touch of shyness in them.

“Your humble servant, Ma’am, at your beck and call.”

His voice was soft and deep, as if he wasn’t used to much talking.

Margaret was extremely puzzled. She liked the two men instantly but she did not understand why they were here. Nicholas explained.

“From now on, my dear young lady,” he said in a mock stern voice, “you are not going anywhere but in that wheel chair. Crispin and Justin here are your attendants. They will wheel you around the mill yard and the house, even up the stairs, whenever and wherever you want to go. Have I your word that you will employ them as intended?”

“Margaret?”, John chimed in, eyes serious.

They all stared sternly at her, even in a very immovable fashion, as if they would not take ‘no’ for an answer. Margaret quickly pondered all that was laid before her. They were right, of course, and they were brilliant! This ‘List’ made it possible for her to be everywhere she wanted to be and her two attendants would provide her with the means to do so without endangering her babies and her health.

 

She let her gaze wander to all those loving faces and answered:

“Dear friends, thank you for your love and concern. Yes, I will do as you suggest and follow my ‘List’ faithfully. With the support of all of you, I am sure nothing can go wrong.”

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-One – Taking Care of Margaret

“Concern? Margaret, sweetheart, are you alright? Is something amiss with the baby?”

Blue eyes full of alarm, John dropped onto his knees in front of Margaret. Since the beginning of her pregnancy, he had doubts and fears about it, although he had recently begun to relax because she seemed fine and healthy. Margaret hastened to reassure him.

“No, no, do not panic, John! I’m fine, really, I am. It’s just …”

She took his face into her hands and brushed the tumbled black locks back from his furrowed brow.

“I’m carrying twins, John. That is why I’m so heavy and so easily tired.”

Dumbfounded and aghast, John stared at his wife. He felt like he had just received a kick in the stomach and a feeling of absolute terror began rising in his chest.

“Oh, Margaret,” he whispered hoarsely, “I do not know what to say. This is … this cannot be true?”

He placed his hand on Margaret’s heavily swollen belly which immediately caused a reaction from his offspring. John startled, realising in overwhelming fear that there were now two of them inside his wife’s delicate body.

“John, my darling John, look at me. It is true and we must deal with it. I went to see Dr Chelmsford when I was in London. He told me the pregnancy would only grow more difficult but I have a fairly good chance of carrying the babies closer to full term if I were to take enough rest. I will probably go into premature labour so I must try and hold on as long as I can.” She smiled at him, a very wavering little smile which pierced John’s heart.

“But … but what about the delivery, sweetheart? Won’t it be … dangerous? Will the babies survive? Margaret … will you? Oh, Margaret!”

He couldn’t help himself but buried his face into her lap. Strong man though he was, he couldn’t suppress the huge wave of crushing fear raging through his heart and soul. It lasted only a few seconds and then John raised his head again and stood.

“Come, my love,” he said,” let’s get you to bed.”

When Margaret was safely settled against the pillows, John prepared himself for bed and joined her. Letting her body rest against his own, he gently stroked her hair.

“My brave, beautiful Margaret,” he said solemnly, “I promise you I will do everything that is in my power to assist and comfort you. We will weather this, my darling, together we will prevail.”

 

By the evening of the next day, all the rest of Milton and Marlborough Mills seemed to know that young Mrs Thornton was expecting twins and the Master himself was in a fit state of raging fear about it.

Everywhere he so much as showed his face, people were grinning knowingly at him or clapping him on the back with a well-meant word of congratulation. John stomped into the parlour of his house around eight pm to find his mother, Nicholas, Mary, Dixon and even Donaldson there but not his wife. They were all fixing him with a determined gaze.

Hannah rose swiftly to lay a soothing hand upon his arm.

“Before you ask, John, Margaret is resting and absolutely fine. Now, come and sit down. We have things to discuss.”

Nicholas pressed a whisky into his hands and pushed him gently on one of the settees.

“John,” he said in a efficient tone, “we need a plan, a strategy to bring this baby business to a good end. If I know your Margaret – and I think I do – she is not going to sit still and wait for the birth just like that. Besides, it will just make her unhappy and nervous and that cannot be good for the babies. It is therefore of vital importance that we keep her happy and relaxed.”

John took a large swig of his whisky and replied wearily, “And how the devil are you going to pull this off? She’ll want to do her work at the infirmary and she’ll be running around helping strays and … Oh, God, she’ll drive me over the edge!”

“John Thornton!”, his mother said sternly, “Stop this at once! This panicking will bring you nowhere and it is very bad for Margaret too. Listen to what Nicholas has to say.”

They were right, of course. It was just that whenever he thought of Margaret and the babies – oh, God, the babies! – his mind seemed to go haywire and he found himself unable to think clearly. He took a deep, steadying breath and concentrated upon Nicholas.

“From now on,” Higgins began, “we are all on a mission. It is called ‘Operation Twins’.”

He drew a paper out of the breast pocket of his rumpled suit. Nicholas still had not grown accustomed to fine and fancy clothes, John thought, inwardly smiling. On the paper was a list which contained the following items:

 

Operation Twins – Presumed Achievement Date: July 2, 1853

 

  1. Adjustment of Time: the children’s birth can occur in the weeks preceding this date.

Measurements To Be Taken: to keep a vigilant eye on Margaret from this day on.

 

  1. Handling the next months of pregnancy:

Most Important Issue: to force Margaret to rest.

Measurements To Be Taken: make sure all her points of interest are being taken care of.

 

  1. Margaret’s Points of Interest:

– John

– The Housekeeping

– The Infirmary

– The Wedding of Hannah and Nicholas

– The Delivery of the Babies

– The Care of the Babies

 

  1. Division of Tasks and Responsibilities:

 

The Housekeeping – Miss Adelaide Dixon

From now on, Miss Dixon will take over the general management of the Thornton’s housekeeping and keep at this until Margaret is well again after the babies’ birth.

 

The Infirmary – Miss Mary Higgins

From now on, Miss Higgins will take over the total responsibility over the working of the Infirmary in close consultation with Dr Donaldson and his staff. The next primary goal here is to establish a proper hospital ward in the vicinity of Marlborough Mills. An additional planning meeting about this issue is to be held in the near future in the presence of Margaret.

 

The Wedding of Hannah and Nicholas – the two individuals concerned

Wedding date: June, 2d 1853.

No one else is allowed to have a say in this matter but the two people who are directly concerned.

 

The Delivery of the Babies – Dr Abraham Donaldson

Due to the special difficulties of twin sibling birth, Dr Donaldson will ask for the assistance of Dr Mortimer Chelmsford of Harley Street, London. In his capacity of experienced obstetrician this gentleman is best placed to bring the matter to success. Mr John Thornton will therefore officially request the London doctor to come and stay in Milton as soon as possible.

 

The Care of the Babies – General Supervision: Mrs Hannah (soon to be Higgins) Thornton

The former will urgently proceed in hiring a nurse, for the care of Margaret during and after the delivery, and a nanny, for the care of the babies. She will also assist Margaret in establishing a proper nursery.

She will also go in search of a wet nurse to help Margaret with the feeding of the babies once they are born.

 

John – himself

 

               John did not know whether to burst into helpless laughter or into a righteous rage over this preposterous bit of paper. He turned to his friend with the most dark scowl he could muster and asked in a cold, accusing tone.

              “And what, Mr Nicholas Higgins, is there on this list that you want ME to do?”

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty

Chapter Fifty – Family Joys

A noise from below sounded all of a sudden, breaking the strange mood between the two women.

Nicholas’ deep voice was rumbling with laughter, along with Hannah’s unmitigated giggle.

“Nicholas Higgins, put me down this instant! This is not your house and it is not yet our honeymoon!”

“Ah, but I figured to have a try in carrying you over the threshold, my girl! You finally seem to have put on a bit of flesh on during these past weeks, so I’d thought finding out if I actually still could carry you in my arms!”

A look of absolute and horrible disgust showed on Fanny’s face as she exclaimed, “Oh, Good God! This cannot be true! This must be my worst nightmare!”

She jumped up when Nicholas burst in carrying her mother in his arms and let out a cry of disgust when she saw Hannah had her arms wrapped firmly around his neck.

“Mother!”

Fanny drew herself up and fixed Hannah with a look worthy of her brother’s worst scowl.

“In Christ’s name, will you show some dignity? And you, you … horrible man, put her down at once! You scoundrel, you ruffian, you …”

She then rushed toward the couple with raised fists and would have pounded on Nicholas had not John come in and grabbed her with his good arm.

“Fanny, dear,” he mocked, “I’m sure Watson is a trifle worried about you, right now. I think it’s time you went home.”

His sister let out a wholehearted ‘Oof!’, gathered up her skirts and stalked out of the room.

“Nicholas, my friend,” John addressed him, “I think you can put Mother down safely now.”

Higgins did so and the two man shook hands vigorously.

“Ah, John! It’s good to be back! Come and embrace your mother!”

John smiled at Hannah, took her hand and kissed it. “Mother, how are you?”

“Oh, John!”, Hannah laughed and put her arms around him.

“What have you been doing? Is it true you threw yourself under a loom?”

 

Of course, the men wanted to go and see the mill so Margaret and Hannah were on their own. After Dixon brought in a fresh pot of tea, the two women could finally catch up.

“Margaret, is he going to be alright? You’re sure he has no other injuries than the dislocated shoulder?”

“Yes, mother, that is all. It has been a close call, however. Thank God it was for the good of the little boy. I am actually very proud of John, you know.”

“Yes, as am I. Now, what was all that about with our Fanny? What is she up to now?”

After Margaret told her, Hannah sighed deeply.

“I do not understand, Margaret. What have I done wrongly? I tried to give both of my children a proper education and a true understanding of good, solid human values but it seems only my son profited from that.”

“Mother, Fanny is still so very young and all she can think about, is her comfort. I tried to explain it to her, what is was that makes a woman proud of bearing her husband’s child but I fear I failed.”

Suddenly, a distressing thought struck her.

“Oh, heavens! I have told Fanny something even John does not know yet! Oh, God! She … she has not gone to the factory, has she?”

“No, you need not worry about that, dear. I do not think Fanny has ever set foot into the factory in her whole life. She hates it. Why did you say that?”

Margaret swallowed and coloured bright red.

“Because I have revealed something to her that I should have told John first. Mother, I am expecting twins. I do not want John to hear it from any other than me.”

Hannah stared at her in astonishment.

“Good Lord, child! This is … astonishing news! How do you know? Did you learn this in London?”

“Yes, I did. Oh, I don’t know how John is going to react to this!”

“Well, Margaret, you’d better tell him tonight. John is fairly down-to earth, I am sure he will take it like a man.”

Hannah smiled encouragingly and patted Margaret’s hands. The latter promised herself to tell her husband the good news the same night.

“So, Mother, is your health fully restored? When are you planning on marrying Nicholas?”

The older woman suddenly got a dreamy look in her eyes which made her look twenty years younger.

“Oh, Margaret, he has been so good to me! Yes, I’m pretty much like my old self again, thanks to Nicholas. He was with me every step of the way, supporting me during the obligatory daily walks and watching over me to eat properly and rest sufficiently.”

Hannah paused and Margaret saw her cheeks were flushed rosy.

“I don’t know what has come over me, Margaret, but I am so very happy! It has been a long time since I felt like this. My marriage to Charles, John’s father, was a happy one but the shadow of his death always tamped down the good memories of the past. I had grown bitter and cold over the years, Margaret, only leaving room to care for John and Fanny. I only now realise that I blamed myself for Charles’ suicide, thinking he didn’t trust me enough to confide in me in his hour of need. Nicholas has made me see that all this was unnecessary. He gave me some perspective again and a lot of joy.”

“That is good, Mother. You certainly deserve that and I know you and Nicholas will be very happy together. So when is it going to be?”

“In four weeks, June the second. Oh, Margaret, there is so much to be done! I don’t know how …”

“Shhh, Mother, do not worry. I will help you and so will John. Just give him a day or two to recuperate from his fall.”

 

That night, Margaret felt yet again exhausted.

Her back did not stop hurting whichever position she was in. Sitting or standing, walking or reclining, it was all alike. She had to suppress a groan when she rose from the settee to accompany her husband to their bedchamber. John was instantly at her side, his eyes large with concern.

“Darling, what is it? Are you unwell?”

He slung his good arm around her waist when he saw her stagger.

“Damn! This bloody shoulder keeps me from taking proper care of you! Here, lean on me, sweetheart, let us go to our room.”

To be sure, there was the omnipresent Dixon.

“Shall I give you some assistance, Master?”

“No, Dixon, thank you. I’ll manage.”

In their room, John lowered Margaret onto the bed. She grabbed his hand and looked up to him.

“John, darling, I have to tell you something which might cause you concern.”

 

 

 

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