Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-One – Up to the task again

It was New Year’s Eve. Snow still shrouded the town in a thick layer of white, softening the harshness of Milton’s greyness. People’s hardship, however, was festering under it.

The infirmary was being overflowed with miserable, sick folk, the largest part of them mothers with small children and babies. Hospitals were already full and many patients were turned down by them.

So Margaret and her small but hard-working staff set up a ward on the top floor of one of the Mill’s cotton warehouses and equipped it with as many beds they could lay their hands on. She requisitioned a group of workers to give the walls and floors a thorough scrubbing and whitewash. A wooden partition separated the men from the women and children.

 

John Thornton was steadily recovering from his knife wound and subsequent fever, which had kept him bedridden for more than a week. Christmas Eve and Christmas had passed quietly. He hadn’t been able to enjoy it very much, since he had been too weak to sit up for more than one hour. Now, however, he was getting better by the day. Margaret’s rigorous regime of bed rest and strong chicken broth had resulted in building up his strength. Although he wasn’t entirely like his old self again, John felt strong enough to go back to his beloved business. He had resumed his position at the helm of Marlborough Mills on the twenty-ninth. Pleas for caution from his wife and mother were to no avail. His mill had done without him long enough, though he marvelled at the work Higgins had done during his absence. The cotton production had suffered no reduction to speak of and the stocks had been sold and paid for on a regular base.

“I cannot thank you enough, Higgins”, a grateful John said to his manager on the first occasion they had alone. “You have carried on splendidly!”

“Well, Master, I brought my brains with me almost every day!”, Higgins mocked.

But, the next moment, his face became serious and he looked his employer straight in the face.

“John, winter is getting tougher and many families are in deep distress. Some of them have to feed eight to ten children on a wage of fifteen shillings a week and the price of a loaf of bread or a pound of potatoes is  five pence! A lot of them are slowly starving, John!”

John raked his hand through his hair, making it stand on end.

“I know, Nicholas! I was in your district the other night with Margaret who was handing out food and medicine. It’s appalling how some people have to live! Listen, tell Mary she must make a list of families who are in the greatest need. She can serve them a meal a day for naught in the soup kitchen.”

“Good initiative, John, but not enough, not by a long shot! The problem will not be solved by handing out food. There must be a raise, master!”

“Higgins, I can’t grant a raise just now! I still haven’t consolidated our profits strongly enough to be drawing from the reserves I’ve so carefully built up these past months!”

Higgins’s face grew like stone and his eyes turned a steely grey. “You are making a big mistake, master! You are ungrateful too! These people have supported you during your illness, only because your good wife spoke to their hearts. If that’s the way you are going to reward them, it will cost you far more dearly than a few shillings a week, mark my words!”

John’s temper flared and he drew himself up into his full height. “Are you threatening me, Nicholas Higgins? Because if you are, I will not let it pass without consequences!”

Without even flinching, Higgins brought his face close to John’s and said in a low, rumbling voice. “Consider yourself threatened then, master, by a strike without mercy until you give in to our demands. If I don’t hear from you by Friday, we will stop the machines at two pm!”

He marched out of the office and John pounded his fist upon the surface of his desk in fury!

Wretched man! How could he do this? How could he not comprehend that the Mill wasn’t yet prosperous enough and John was not able to hand out raises, just like that?

Yet, a strike would be far worse an ordeal than draining his still tender reserves, though it would put him in a vulnerable financial position. Far too vulnerable …

 

That night, when her husband came back from the factory, Margaret immediately saw how drained he was. His face was ashen again and he lowered himself far too carefully upon the parlour settee. Hannah met her eyes and Margaret understood that her mother-in-law had seen it too.

Margaret knew these moods of John all too well. There was trouble underfoot and John was retreating into non-speaking mode. Yet, now was not the time and she slightly shook her head at Hannah and put her finger to her lips. Hannah nodded and went to the side table to pour him a whisky which he took from her with a tired smile. The two women resumed their needlework in silence until Jane announced that dinner was served.

After dinner John retired into his study without a word.

“What can be ailing him?,” Hannah asked.

“It’s the factory, I presume,” Margaret quietly replied, “I recognise the mood. He will not speak unless we tear it from him. But, Mother, this is not good for him! He should rest and problems will prevent him from sleeping.”

“He is such a worried man, my son,” Hannah continued, “it is because of his father and what that has done to him. John can never entirely relax, his mind nor his conscience will allow him to do so.”

She abruptly stood when her eyes filled with tears. Hannah was never one to show her feelings yet Margaret had seen her sorrow well enough because she was feeling exactly the same way. She joined Hannah by the window overlooking the Mill’s courtyard and placed her hand on Hannah’s arm.

“Mother, what can we do to help him? I do love him so, Mother, it breaks my heart to see him so discouraged …”

Hannah turned towards her daughter-in-law, tears now running down her face. Margaret threw her arms around her and held John’s mother close while she was silently weeping against her shoulder.

It didn’t last long.

“Instead of indulging myself in useless behaviour I should think of something that can help John,” Hannah said in a gruff voice and turned away from Margaret to stalk out of the room. Margaret sighed, thinking John’s character was much alike to that of his mother. She tied away her needlework and went to her husband’s study.

John sat with his hands to his face, the very image of misery!

“Oh, dearest, what is it? Are you unwell? Tell me!”

Margaret rushed at his side and took his hands away from his pale face. He gave her a shaky smile.

“No, my love, I’m tired but that is all.”

John put his arms around his wife’s waist, kissed the slight swelling of her stomach and laid his cheek against it.

“How is our little one doing?”, he asked softly, and all of a sudden, the baby moved. John gasped!

“Oh, my God, Margaret! Did you feel that?”

Margaret laughed softly and her fingers raked through John’s thick, raven hair.

“Yes, my love, I did. It is such a lively child, dearest, so strong. It must be a boy, the very image of his father.”

John released her and stood. With one movement he scooped Margaret into his arms.

“Come, my sweet,” he breathed, “let us go to bed.”

 

The Spiteful One hastily retreated into the shadows when the study door opened. She’d been eavesdropping and now, she was burning with fury and hatred. Curse the Thorntons! How dare they be so happy! They didn’t deserve to be happy, it was forbidden to them after what they had done! She raked her brain to find a way to cause then harm once again.

Then, all of a sudden, she knew exactly how she would destroy the Thorntons. There was almost certainly going to be a strike. That meant chaos, maybe violence. Who knew what could happen during violence?

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C19

Available at Amazon

Chapter Nineteen

(previous chapter)

 

“I don’t really know. I just said it. We aren’t going to fight over this, are we?”

“Did you direct that statement at me because of jealousy; because she possesses that one thing that you do not?”

“John? What’s wrong with you? Please, let’s not get into trivialities.”

“It is not trivial to me. I know you should know that chaste or not; means very little to me. That isn’t my puzzlement. She has very little to recommend her to a wealthy gentleman, I can see that, but why did you feel the need to embarrass her to me. I would have thought a lady would not have spoken that thought to her gentleman. Help me understand you. Just you. The past two meetings with you; something different seems to be gradually unfolding.”

“You are hallucinating, John. Perhaps you want to find something wrong with me, so you’re grasping at straws.”

“In a small conversation with your brother, he mentioned how he was very interested in who you were seeing, meaning me. The tone of his words immediately gave me concern that you had embellished our relationship when you spoke to him. You had not been in Milton very long when we were introduced, so I nor anyone knew of you. I make up my own mind, so I was not bothered by that. However, in meeting your brother and our last two meetings, is giving me pause to wonder who you really are. How do you really perceive the way I feel about you?”

Adeline picked up her brandy, crossed in front of John and sat in a big chair across from him. She pulled her legs under herself and sat comfortably on her feet.

“I take it that I have misunderstood your intentions?”

“I have never mentioned intentions. I am very careful with my words, as I know women take them any way they want to. Perhaps somehow my words evolved into a fantasy or misunderstanding as you say?

“Do you love me, John?”

“Have I ever told you that?”

“You must have, especially during our intimate moments.”

“I have, yet, in my life, to speak that word. I may have thought it at times, but I have never spoken it, especially when it can easily roll off the tongue during passionate encounters. I do know that is misleading.”

“And speaking of passionate encounters, would a gentleman involve himself in that if he didn’t love the woman.”

“At her insistent behest.”

“You’re saying that those three times we slept together, I was the one who initiated it?”

“Yes, I am saying that. It was lovely, but not love.”

“So, there is no marriage in the future?”

“I don’t know. My only regard to the word marriage was what you may be expecting. I have given it little thought. I know I have seen you longer than most women. I was looking deep for long-lasting happiness with you. I haven’t seen it yet, and I am beginning to lose what I did like about you.”

“I’ve made all this up in my mind, then?”

“I don’t know what’s in your mind. But love and certainly marriage is not in mine. I don’t believe I will ever marry. I am too hard to please, I suppose.”

“Bloody hell, John Thornton, I have invested a lot of time in you.”

“Invested? Is that how you see me . . . as an investment? Surely you have good financial support. Or do you? Has this all been a ruse to make me fall in love with you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. If my funds begin to run out, my brother would always take me in.”

“I did not come here to have this type of conversation just yet, but I am glad I did. I believe I’ve gotten to the bottom of this relationship. The truth is finally coming to light. Thank you for that.”

“But if you love me, just a little, that shouldn’t make any difference.”

“You are correct. It would make no difference as to your financial means. I would never live off of a woman’s money, ever. But deceit breeds, once it is started. I could never find happiness with a woman I could no longer trust to tell me the truth.”

“So, you’re saying, we’re over?”

“I cannot see how this can be rectified. It didn’t just happen. You’ve been keeping in character for many months.”

“Well, that hasn’t been hard with you, John. It is quite easy to fall in love with you.”

“And I don’t believe that either. In the beginning, you seemed too good to be true. But the hill of our building relationship seemed to get slippery as time went on. Here and there, you must have shown the real you and I forgave it or made up some excuse in my mind wondering why you did or said something. Now, I see I was blind. I began hoping you were going to be the one. It is apparent that I have been played. I am a fool. Usually, I can spot those intentions, but I failed myself this time.”

“Since we’re confessing each other’s annoyances, let me have my say.”

“Please, go on.”

“As a man, you have too much pride in yourself. I’ve seen signs of a temper. As a gentleman, you achieve perfection. Do you know how that demeans women who know that can’t live up to your expectations? As a mill master, you are exemplary, but you would make a poor husband because you are married to your work.”

“I’m never changing who I am, Adeline.”

“I tried to love you, Adeline admitted.”

“And I the same but if you never showed your real self, I doubt you would have been happy with me. May I ask a question to which you never answered.

“Let’s let it all out. What did I not answer?”

“I was telling you the conversation that I had with my mother about her worrying of me growing into a gentleman without a father. I asked you if you thought I was a gentleman. You gave a positive response. Then I asked if I was too much of a gentleman to which you replied, ‘It is the 1850’s. What did you mean by that?”

“In my mind, you were a perfectionist gentleman. I wanted you to be a little more aggressive with me. You were dull, too sweet, too obliging. I only said that because gentlemen from where I come from had passed that point. That’s all.”

“I see.”

“You probably don’t see, but to hell with you now.”

John stood. “I guess this is goodbye.”

“That’s the way you seem to want it. Nothing I can do to change that, I see.”

“I’m sorry for all this Adeline. If I had any doubts walking in here tonight, this conversation has put them to rest. Do you intend to stay in Milton?”

“You will probably spread rumors about me like you would have done with my brother.”

“Oh… So you did know all about him. I will not spread rumors about you. I will not even spread the truth unless asked directly. There are plenty of well-off single gentlemen in Milton. If you attach yourself to another one, don’t pretend with him. He’s most likely to be a friend of mine and ask me about you. I am sorry you will have to miss the ball tomorrow evening. However, I did promise to take you and I will if you want to go. But furthermore, I will pay little attention to you. Do you want to attend?”

“I am going to say I do not want to attend. If I change my mind, I will send a note with my driver.”

“Please send it before 5:00 p.m. I will have to make a speech and ensure everything is set up properly, so I will be there early. I think we have said the last words to each other. I wish you better success in the future. Good evening.”

Adeline watched John walk out of her life. If she had tried to deny anything he brought up, she would dig a deeper hole. Perhaps this town was full of Masters that wouldn’t care if she wasn’t wealthy. She may decide to stay here.”

 

John and Nicholas left their office around mid-day and spoke with the foreman who would handle the next two shifts. Arriving home, John sat down and made a few notes to open the ball. Before taking his bath, he thought it was time to speak with his mother about Adeline.

Hannah sat and listened to the story John always seemed to be repeating. She looked for signs of sadness, but he appeared remarkably relieved and calm.

“What about the ball tonight, John?”

“I told her I would take her since I promised, but I would pay little to no consideration. She has until 5:00 p.m. to let me know if she wants to attend. Her initial reaction was that she did not wish to go.”

“Can you uninvite her to the dinner party? Ask someone else?”

“I can try. I will not bring her to your dinner, but as far as replacing her with a new guest, I doubt that may happen.”

“How about that Miss Ha….?” There was a knock on the door interrupting Hannah.

John headed towards the stairs; telling his mother, “I hope that’s not her changing her mind.”

John opened the door to Lenore Smithers. “Lenore. What a pleasant surprise. Please come in.”

Ascending the steps, Lenore said, “I believe this is the ball night and you must be busy preparing. I will only take a moment of your time.”

John couldn’t help but smile thinking of their youth when she took his virginity.

“Mother, I do not know if you remember Miss Smithers? She was my first lady friend about ten years ago.”

“I’m sorry. I only have a vague remembrance. How do you do, Miss Smithers? Please sit down.”

John waited for the women to be seated. “Lenore, you are correct, I do have little time. How can I be of help?”

“I am here to ask if you have any recommendations for a flat somewhere in town that can accommodate three people.”

“You’re staying?”

Hannah thought the smile on her son’s face was very unmanly. It was more child-like.

“I haven’t decided if it will be permanent or not. It all depends on how I can manage my father. It is more difficult than I thought to help him move from the bed to a chair. I’ve just hired a man to live-in and help my sister, but my brother is hoping I can take him there. My father is old and stubborn and doesn’t want to leave his flat. At the moment, the hired man is sleeping on a floor pallet in my father’s room as he has nightly needs.”

“I will ask around. I am sure we can find something for you. I will start asking tonight. May have news for you very soon.”

“Thank you, John. Your help would be most agreeable. I will go now and let you ready yourself.”

John walked with her to the bottom of the steps. “Lenore, my mother is having her annual dinner party this coming Thursday. We had a cancellation today and mother has tasked me to find a lady at the last minute. You wouldn’t be available on such short notice, would you?”

“You haven’t changed in ten years. Always surprising me. I am sure that I can manage it. I will know tomorrow. If for some reason, my man cannot be home that evening, I will send a note.”

“Very well. Let’s hope you can be my guest that evening. If not, I will still contact you when I find a flat.”

“Thank you, again. Have a nice evening, John.”

“Good night, Lenore.”

“Mother, she will be my guest on Thursday.”

“John?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Never mind. Some other time. Go take care of yourself.”

John wondered if it was fate that she knocked on his door today or was it bounce from Adeline. A bit of excitement rose inside of him. It was just memories stirring him along. He didn’t know if it was Lenore, or his first sexual encounter or a combination of the two, but nothing had ever surpassed those few weeks they spent together. Maturity had come along bringing other new experiences being more important to living and providing, but still, those memories had stayed with him. Maybe that was what he wanted to capture in a wife. In either case, he was going to find if she was the answer. All the bad memories that broke them up had faded in his mind.

 

John called for Branson to bring the carriage around to the front. It looked as if Adeline wouldn’t be coming. As mad as he was, he’d appear ungentlemanly ignoring her.

 

Adam Bell was sipping his drink talking with Richard while Margaret and Dixon put on her finishing touches. She wondered if Bessie was as nervous as she was.

Fred had spent the entire day with Max and the buggy. As Margaret would watch from the pantry window, she was pleased that he had complete control getting into the saddle and managing Max that way. She couldn’t tell when he took the buggy out if was knocking people off the sidewalks or not. The constable hadn’t paid the house a visit, so Fred must be faring well. Adam being here with his hired driver, Fred went around to talk with him for some time. Fred was getting a sense of the difference between in-service and independent driving.

Dixon finished Margaret braids with small white flowers and small sprigs of mint leaves to make her smell nice. Looking at herself in the mirror, she knew she looked the best she could. Putting on her dance slippers and filling her small bag with a bit of rouge powder and a handkerchief, she was ready. She tiptoed down the steps and quietly met Fred outside.

“Fred?”

He turned in her direction and was in awe. “Margaret? Are you my sister? You are stunning. You won’t be seated all night. Someone will have you on the dance floor all evening. I’ve never seen you so lovely.” He smiled. “I am not playing with you.”

“You really think so? I mean really? Your impression of how I look is important to me.”

“Sis, I really mean it.”

“Can you tell me what you noticed first about me? Wait, what would a man notice by looking at me for the first time? Be honest.”

“You’re not going to like me being honest.”

“Try me.”

“First I notice the gown and its shape and color. Next, I look directly at the cut of the neckline. Sorry. No man will admit that but it’s true gentleman or not. Then before I get noticed staring, the face burst’s forth with the smile, the eyes, and even the teeth. Somewhere along the line, I would probably look at your ears. Can’t have old man ears at your age. And finally your countenance. Now understand, that is the quick look over. Some men stop at the neckline and never pass it. That won’t be the gents tonight, though. Most of what I told you is almost unconscious. It is probably the same for women.”

“I think you might be right. We love cravats,” Margaret laughed.

“Come here. Let me smell you.”

Margaret walked over to Fred. “What is that, mint?”

“Yes, do you like it?”

“It’s rather a unique idea, but I am not sure I would like it.”

“Why?” Margaret asked, looking saddened.

“It’s pleasant enough but too pleasant I think. It’s a very strong scent and what happens as they wilt through the evening?”

“Oh, Fred.” Margaret stomped her foot. “I think I am grateful that you told me now. I’ll do something else.” Margaret turned, entered the kitchen, and pulled Dixon upstairs with her.

Looking through the sewing basket, a nice piece of green velvet ribbon was found. Dixon wove that through the flowers and the braids. Margaret applied a light mist of perfume.

“There. You are ready Miss Margaret.”

“Thank you, Dixon. You always do a very nice job with my hair. Mother always thought so, too.”

 

As she entered the parlor, both men stood. “You look marvelous, Margaret,” her father said.

“I’m afraid I can’t say that.” Adam Bell sputtered. “She is much more than marvelous. Stupendous would be my word.”

“Thank you, both. Please sit. You’re making me more shaky.”

“Margaret. What makes you feel that way? Don’t answer that. I believe I have an idea of what a young woman is feeling on her first ball. We only have a few more minutes before we leave, if you have anything else to do.”

“Oh, I left my wrap.” By the time she reached the stairs, Dixon was carrying it to her. “Thank you.”

“Are you ready, Margaret?”

“Indubitably, Mr. Bell,” she smiled.

“Reading again, are you?” Bell asked as Dixon handed him his hat and cane.

Margaret laughed.

“Don’t try to drop that in conversation. I would think about one-half would not know the word.” Adam now laughed.

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Thirty

Chapter Thirty – Margaret Thornton of Marlborough Mills

It was now three days since John had been stabbed.

The day after the murderous attempt he developed a high fever without even regaining consciousness. Dr. Donaldson had taken residence at the house because he had his hands full with the patient. Hannah was at John’s side during the night and Margaret during the day. Dixon relieved both of them when they were in need of extra rest.

Meanwhile, Marlborough Mills kept its looms working with Nicholas Higgins at the helm as  substitute for John. Margaret had asked Nicholas to gather up the workers at the Lyceum Hall where she had spoken to them. She told them that the Master was very ill. Her voice had broken when she mentioned that he might die. She asked the workers of Marlborough Mills to take good care of their livelihood while John was absent. She pleaded them to keep their demands low until he was better, to keep the mill going. She reminded them of the money the mill produced along with the cotton fabric, money that was needed for their wages and for the working of the soup kitchen and infirmary. A strike, she said, would weaken the mill and, in consequence, would weaken them all and their families. When she finished speaking, the workers unanimously offered her their whole-hearted support and cooperation. It warmed her heart and gave her a little strength which she was able to share with Hannah.

 

John’s mother had a tough time, maybe the worse time in her entire life.

She wasn’t accustomed to see her son ill, let alone wounded and burning up with fever. He was also the only person that mattered to her, he was her anchor, her reason for living. Seeing him prostrated with fever, pale and withering away, was destroying her step by step.

John was tall and muscular but without an ounce of extra fat on his body. Because of the fever, he was wasting away, slowly but inevitably. After only a few hours of high fever, his eyes were sunken and his cheekbones stood out like those of a bare skull. They tried with every possible means they had to force some food pass his dried lips but the efforts were far too lacking. He did swallow a spoonful of broth or some drops of lemon water but not nearly enough to keep up his strength.

Dr Donaldson, however, encouraged them to keep on doing as they were. No vital organs had been damaged, he said. There was only the huge amount of blood lost that was the cause of his weakness. A lesser man than John Thornton would have succumbed far earlier.

Nonetheless, when Margaret entered the room to take Hannah’s place at John’s side, she found her brushing away a few lonely tears from her cheeks. It startled her, she had never seen Hannah display her emotions like that!

“What is it, Mother? Is he worse?”

“No, no, child, there is no change. Margaret, we have to get something in him! Look at him, he is so thin! Look at his face, it’s grey and his cheeks have caved in! I’ve been trying to give him water every hour but he does not take it in! Look at his lips, they’re all dried up! Merciful God! My son is fading away! What will become of him?”

There was no answer Margaret could give to that question.

“Mother, please, go to sleep. You’re exhausted. It is my turn to sit with him.”

Hannah left and Margaret put her hand on her husband’s brow. It was still way too hot and damp. John was soaked in sweat and his breathing was ragged and uneven. Hannah was right, his lips were parched and the flesh seemed to have melted from his handsome face. She applied herself in  bathing her husband with lukewarm water until he felt a little less hot. She changed his nightshirt and the sheets on the bed. Her work at the infirmary had taught her how to change sheets with the patient still on the bed. After that she dressed into her nightgown. With John propped up against his pillows, she tried and worked until she had gotten half a glass of lemon water between his lips. For the first time in three days he finally seemed to swallow it more easily. When, after that, she rested her head upon her own pillow, her baby suddenly jumped hard. Thank God for that, Margaret thought, at least our baby is alright! Gently she drew up the blanket over them both, turned down the lamp and closed her eyes.

 

John became aware of tiny scraps of consciousness piercing through the thick, black darkness surrounding him. Off and on they came, like the rotating lamp of a lighthouse he once saw at the coast in Scarborough. It was preventing him from sinking back into oblivion … but then, he did not want to go back there. Finally, a warm, soft presence close to him was dragging him back for good.

Margaret! She was sleeping next to him! His hand was lying upon her body and he recognized it! Why was his head so heavy and foggy? His throat was parched, his lips cracked. He felt like hell … no, that was not so, he revelled in the feeling of his wife’s body touching his. His hand on her stomach … Oh  … oh God! A ripple, a fluttering, a whisper of movement so tiny he first thought it a trick of imagination but no, there it was again!

“Margaret …”

His voice was all but entirely without sound but she heard it all the same and woke up.

“John! Oh, thank God, you are awake!”

Margaret sat upright in a split second and touched his brow with a shaking hand. It felt cool and dry.

“Oh, John! We have been so anxious! We all thought you gone beyond rescue. Do you know, my love, how very ill you have been? You were burning up with fever and we could not get you to eat or drink! Oh, my love, my own, my heart …”

She laid her head upon his shoulder and John wrapped his arms around her. All was well, all was perfect. He was holding his precious love and all was well …

“Margaret … I felt something … just now …”

Margaret’s heart soared! His voice, that tiny lisp of him when he said the word “something”, that was all John!

“Sometimes our baby is moving, dearest,” she answered, “I am almost fourteen weeks now. Dr Donaldson says it is very early for a baby to be moving but I can feel it. And now, you felt it too.

“That is so wonderful …”

John gently let his hand glide over his wife’s stomach. It was slightly, ever so slightly swollen. Margaret saw his smile, sweet and shy, but so alive! Their eyes met. Happiness … love … sparkled between them. Margaret caressed his face with the back of her hand and was suddenly startled into action when she realised he urgently needed to be nursed! Quickly she rose from the bed, pulled her shawl over her nightdress and ran from the room. She knocked upon Hannah’s bedroom door.

“What is it? Come in!”

“Mother!”, she said, still gasping for breath, “he is awake! Come and see, he is better!”

Then she ran down the stairs to stir the household into action; the Master needed care!

 

Hannah burst into the bedroom to find her son struggling to get up.

“Almighty God, John!”

“Mother? Mother, take care … you are suffocating me … Mother!”

This had to be a first! John had never known his mother to be overly inclined in displaying her affection like that! A caress, now and then, a hand on his arm, but not this overwhelming, highly emotional embrace! Yet, he returned it warmly, feeling ridiculously happy.

 

The news of the Master’s cautious recovery spread like a fire through the whole of the household and factory. The Spiteful One knew she had failed. John Thornton was still alive and so was his wife. The need for revenge burning in her heart was now like an ache. It gnawed and growled like a wild animal, devouring her very soul. Soon she would have to try again and this time she would make sure to succeed.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Nine

Chapter Twenty-Nine – Fighting for dear life

Wallpaper by Heathra on Richard Armitage Net.com

Dr. Donaldson turned to Margaret and Hannah as soon as they had laid John onto the pristine kitchen table. Mary took Hannah’s place at his side to keep hold of the severed vein.

“Ladies, I want you to leave us to do our work.  Go and lie down for a rest. You have both been shaken to the core. You, young Mistress, should try to get some sleep, for your baby’s sake. You, Mrs.Thornton, are exhausted. Please, ladies, leave?”

Margaret realised he was right. John’s mother was at the end of her wits as she was standing ramrod straight but pale as a ghost, her hands covered with John’s blood. She gently took Hannah’s arm and guided her out of the kitchen.

“Come, dear Mother, let us take care of one another.”

They climbed the stairs dragging their feet.

 

As soon as the women had left, Dr. Donaldson took the matter in hand. He seemed to become an entirely different person, cool and businesslike.

“Miss Dixon, you are in charge of the constant supply of hot water, bandages, or whatever we might need or call for. Mr. Higgins, take a pair of scissors and strip him. I want him removed of all his clothes. Mary, you keep the pressure on that vein while I sterilise my instruments.”

The team worked in a steady rhythm for the next three hours.

John was stripped naked and covered with a fresh sheet. Higgins was ordered to sit at his head and check his pulse whenever the doctor asked him to. He also had a bottle of ether and a cotton cloth ready, should John be showing signs to come around. The doctor wanted him absolutely motionless during the operation. Mary acted as assisting nurse when the doctor asked her to swipe away the sweat from his brow or dab up the excess of blood in the wound. She also kept her fingers firmly on the severed vein.

For all those long hours John did not stir. Higgins, who was watching him attentively, was worried by his ashen face, shallow breathing and cold dampness of skin. When finally Dr. Donaldson had the wound stitched and bandaged, he was the one who carefully wrapped John up in a clean sheet and carried him to his bedroom upstairs. From then on, the two women in John’s life who loved him fiercely, took over. They washed the dried blood from his body and dressed him in a clean nightshirt.

Dr. Donaldson came up and checked on John one last time before going home.

“All we can but do now, is wait and pray. He has lost a large amount of blood and he’s not breathing the way he should, it is too shallow. In the next hours to come, he might develop a fever. If so, you must call for me and, in the meantime, try and keep his temperature down by sponging his body with lukewarm water. Keep up your spirits, dear ladies, you are going to need them. I thank God he is young and healthy and may have a chance to overcome this.”

 

The doctor left together with Higgins who took the knife to Police Sergeant Mason and explained the situation to him. Mason, one of John’s friends, was thoroughly shaken by what he heard.

“Holy smoke, Higgins, this is serious! Thornton stabbed in his own mill? Who could be responsible for this? A disgruntled worker? A business competitor?”

“I don’t know!”, Higgins growled, displeased at the hint of a worker being the culprit. “But I am determined to find out and strangle the bastard with my bare hands!”

 

Margaret and Hannah established a strict routine in order to keep watch at John’s sickbed both day and night. Between the two of them and Dixon, they indefatigably cared for him. Checking for fever, giving him some drops of lemon water at regular times, praying for him. John, however, was in deep unconsciousness and did not stir for long hours.

 

There was no way she could get access to John Thornton now, the Spiteful One mused. Margaret Hale Thornton was equally unreachable while she stayed at her husband’s sickbed. Moreover, the old dragon Hannah Thornton and that bitch Dixon were in full attendance almost around the clock! Hell and damnation! She would have to rethink her whole strategy now!

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C17

 Chapter Seventeen

 

“You look very pretty, dear sister.”

“Indeed, she does,” replied Richard Hale.

“Thank you, both.”

Fred thought he spotted a nervousness to her. Her face couldn’t quite work up a smile.

“Any advice, Fred?”

“Are you seriously asking me that or are you humoring me?”

“I think I’m serious,” Margaret said as she sat down and tried to keep her hands from shaking.

“Margaret, just be yourself,” said her father.

“I agree. Be polite, but you always are, and if conversations ensue, speak your mind. Don’t hesitate. No playing, little Miss Mouse in the corner. Be who you are from the beginning whether you’re funny or show too much intelligence, which you could easily do. If the Captain approaches you in an un-gentleman-like fashion, embarrass him, walk to the front and call a cabby.” Fred reached into his pocket. “Advice. This is always and forever, carry the cost of a ride home.”

“That’s good advice, Margaret.”

“Here, take this and put it in your bag.”

“Thank you, Fred. That does give me some comfort.”

 

Fred heard the coach approaching before anyone else. He went to open the door before the knock. He’d really like to speak with Branson only a minute to confirm tomorrow’s time. Captain Waverly came to the door. “How do you do, sir,” he said to Fred. Not thinking, Fred automatically saluted the officer.

“I say old chap, are you in the Navy?”

“Yes, I was until recently.”

“Well, we must talk sometime soon. Were you an officer?”

“I lost my commission, sir. Let me get my sister.”

“Very well.”

Fred stepped back into the house, and Margaret was waiting.

As Margaret stepped out to greet the Captain, she saw Mr. Thornton standing outside his coach. That was quite the gentleman. She wondered how often that happened. All gentlemen would exit a coach and allow a lady to take her own seat.

“Good evening, Miss Hale. Thank you for this proper introduction. You are most lovely.”

“Thank you,” Margaret replied as she saw Fred hurry by them heading towards Branson. “Please excuse my brother. He needs to speak with Mr. Thornton’s driver.”

As they arrived at the coach, Mr. Thornton tipped his hat, “Good evening, Miss Hale.” He was immediately struck with her alluring frock. He thought he had seen them all, but this simple evening gown looked spectacular. She had no jewelry that caught the eye before seeing the face. Also, there was nothing drawing a man’s eye to her breasts. John encouraged Kit to enter before Margaret and sit facing his sister. Margaret entered next and then John.

Margaret realized the pattern John created in entering the coach was so that the two ladies would have room for the gowns if they sat opposite a man.

“Miss Hale, I am not sure you were properly introduced to Miss Adeline Waverly. Adeline this is Miss Margaret Hale.”

“Yes, actually we were.” The ladies exchanged polite handshakes and greetings. Margaret could feel all eyes on her undervalued apparel. She didn’t care. She was proper, Miss Waverly seemed to have set her bonnet at Mr. Thornton, and she didn’t think she would find much interest in the Captain.

The Captain opened the conversation. “Miss Hale, you and I seem to be new to this nightlife of Milton. Perhaps you and I shall learn our way around together. Do you know the restaurants of Milton?”

“I know little of Milton, itself and none of the dining houses.” Margaret saw Miss Waverly lean over and whisper something to John, who kept his stoic presence.

“Would you enjoy going out for dinners, Miss Hale?”

“Captain, please call me Margaret as I wish everyone in this carriage would do. As to going out for dinners, I cannot say. This is new to me, and I do not know you. I have quite simple tastes, sir.”

John was smiling inside as Margaret was keeping him at bay. It was a game to watch this evening.

“Margaret, I wish you to call me, Adeline, as well. I wanted to tell you how impressive your lesson was the other evening. I did not understand it, but the rumblings in the crowd seem to find it helpful. Did finishing school teach you that?”

“No, Miss Adeline, I did not attend a proper finishing school. I attended a woman’s university that had some finishing classes. I am afraid, Captain, that I may not be the kind of lady you are hoping to meet. I would not make a terribly good hostess.”

“All thoughts to the contrary, my dear.”

Margaret didn’t care to be called ‘my dear.’ She would mention it if he repeated it. “And how about you, Captain, what are your plans now that peacetime and retirement loom in front of you?”

“At the moment, I am trying to re-enter the public world. There seems little accountability outside the military and it makes me quite anxious.”

 

The carriage pulled to a stop in front of The Dove. Adeline mumbled something about being there again. “Adeline, The Dove is new to these people,” John whispered back.

“Yes, John. How selfish of me.”

John exited the coach and handed Margaret out, followed by Adeline. Kit quickly caught up with Margaret. He offered his arm for the walk inside, and Margaret took it reluctantly, letting go of him when they stopped.

“Good evening, Mr. Thornton and guests. I have your table ready. Please follow me.”

John laughed inwardly as the owner, who waited on him personally, had given up on learning the names of the women that he brought.

They were led to John’s table, which he never asked for, but it was prominently placed in the room.

Margaret was astounded at the size and beauty of the walls and tables. Arriving at their table, she noticed the gleaming silver and the reflections off the cut crystal stemware. A finely spun linen tablecloth covered the table, and the matching dinner linens were placed in their laps. John couldn’t help watching her look at everything around the room.

“This is a most elegant place, Mr. Thornton,” Margaret said in hushed tones.

“Yes, it is nice. Please call me John.”

A waiter brought a complimentary bottle of champagne and filled their glasses.

“I would like to make a toast,” opened the Captain. “Everyone lifted their glass. “To new friends, new places and a new life.” The glasses were clinked.

“Tell me more about this college you attended, Margaret,” asked Adeline. “You said you had some finishing classes. Can I ask what they entailed?”

“Of course, there were advanced manners, in case I meet the queen,” Margaret laughed. A basic course on how to entertain. We learned about what to expect from a proper gentleman and what to expect from someone who isn’t. We actually learned several moves to defend ourselves.” She looked at the Captain jokingly.

“We learned to ride and jump, which I particularly liked. Never know when you will be invited to a fox hunt in Milton.” Everyone laughed at that.

“Let me think a bit. There were small classes on dressing properly for the occasion, including balls, riding and working hours. There were a few others, but they do not come to mind.”

“And you had subject material, too?”

“Oh, yes. You heard about the accounting, we had other math’s, world history, British history, writing, literature and a bit of science. There was more in-depth science, but I replaced the few finishing classes in place of the advanced sciences. I knew I would never be a doctor. Oh, and we had a bit of law, which was most discouraging.”

“Why is that,” asked John.

“I wish to not put a damper on the evening, so I will just say, I believe the rights of women are in severely reduced circumstances. It’s pitiful how the laws ignore us. If you read Charles Dickens, he calls the law an ass. He said that women have the same rights as criminals.”

“And where did he say that?” John asked.

“He wrote that in Oliver Twist; one of his famous writings. It was written about fifteen years ago.”

“You do know your literature. You may not know, but I am a Magistrate in the Court system. Men do not get away with any wife abusing in my court. When it comes to property rights and divorce, I am saddened to have to follow the law.”

“That is admirable of you, Mr. … John.”

“Enough of this, where is the wine menu?” complained Kit.

 

Wines and meals were ordered, and the foursome returned to the conversation.

“Margaret, you know I wish to converse with you about possible employment, but that will be at another time. However, I was wondering how many offers you received from the masters for additional help, if you don’t mind revealing that.”

“No, of course, I do not mind. I believe Bessie wrote down six mills and one came in the mail only yesterday. You were a great help to my father and I and took my word on blind faith. I feel indebted to listen to your offer first.”

“Thank you. I am relieved. Nicholas and I were afraid we may be too late in asking.”

“I do intend to visit these masters and help them establish their bookwork, but I will accept no permanent work until speaking with you. I do believe you have two of the most successful cotton mills in England.”

“So, Margaret, you intend to work, do you?” asked Kit.

“Captain, although I have a home available to me in London, within the society circles, I have refused that life. I selected my education purposely to prepare my life to be self-reliant. I could see no other choice. I intend to marry for love and nothing else. Being quite focused on that intention I am prepared to never be married.”

“So, my dear, if destitute, you would not marry for a roof over your head.”

“If it came to such drastic circumstances, I may have to return to my aunt in London. Kit, you are a nice gentlemen, but I wish that you would not call me ‘my dear, my pet, my love’ or any such endearments. We’ve only been introduced. I beg that you understand me. I am sorry.”

“No, I must apologize for any offense given, it must be a habit I will have to break. My, you do say your piece, don’t you?”

John threw his hand to his mouth as if to cough but squelched the broad smile and chuckle he was experiencing.

“Margaret, can I ask about this life in London that you turn from?” Spoke Adeline.

“Adeline, I would be glad to speak with you about that, but I find I am monopolizing all of the conversation. If you will permit me to enlighten you at another time.”

“Of course, dear.” Adeline laughed and then so did Margaret.

The meals were served and all settled into their feast sitting before them. Compliments about the food were being handed around when Margaret dropped her fork.

“Excuse me, Captain, but I believe you have taken my dinner linen.

“Please forgive me,” apologized Kit. I thought that was my dinner napkin.

“You thought you would find your dinner napkin on my thigh?” Margaret started laughing. “You should see the look on your face!”

“Margaret, why are you laughing?” asked John.

“I see I caused a commotion and may be embarrassing you, so the laugh was to appease the onlookers.” Margaret gave that explanation with a smile on her face. She didn’t want anything to fall on John for Kit’s groping.

“Well, did it happen or not?”

Kit spoke up. “It was an accident; you must believe me. I am not starting out very well, am I?”

John knew better. That was no accident, but Margaret handled it brilliantly.

“My brother gave me a very good piece of advice tonight.”

“And that was what?” Asked John.

“He gave me money and told me never to go out at night without cab fare home.”

“Good advice, indeed,” remarked Adeline.

 

The night was starting to grow old. Kit was looking despondent, John was seething, Adeline was a bit tipsy, and Margaret was exhausted from the interrogations. She wondered if all introductions were like this. She was indebted to John for not leaving her alone with the Captain.

“Shall we go?” Suggested John.

“Please.” Responded Margaret.

On the ride home the conversation was stilted. “I wish to thank all of you for an interesting first night out. I will assume this was not exactly as one would have expected but the food was excellent, and the collateral benefits were nice.”

“What does she mean by that,” came from Adeline.

Although, John felt he knew he never answered.

Arriving at the Hale residence, John stepped out and took Margaret’s hand. As Kit began his exit, John pushed him back inside on the bench.

“John, thank you for such a lovely place and meal. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of not allowing an evening alone with him. I hold nothing against you for the Captain’s actions. You said you could not recommend him and I knew that. I am going to assume that he will need some civilian training to enter this public world.”

“You can’t know how terrible I feel for what you were put through tonight. He was supposed to be a perfect gentleman, and he wasn’t. I will make it up to you someday soon.”

“That is not necessary John.”

“I think it is. Good night Miss Margaret. I shall see you at the ball.”

“Good night, Master John.” Margaret opened the door and entered her home.

 

“John why did you not let me walk Margaret to the door?”

“Why? You have to ask?” John angrily asked. “When you and I are alone, I shall tell you why. For God’s sake, Captain. If there is no improvement at the ball, I will wish to know you no longer. You are an embarrassment for gentlemen and even an officer.”

“Now see here, John Thornton!”

“Yes?” John questioned in a harsh voice.

“I will not be spoken to like that.”

“Then sir, I would suggest you return to the Navy. It is perhaps that which causes you to act as you did tonight.”

“I said the dinner linen was an accident,” braved the Captain.

“You and I know different. You embarrassed her when she was forced to ask you not to call her ‘my dear.’ That indicated far more familiarity than what you have a right to speak. I would encourage you to become more aware of the civilian gentleman.”

“John, aren’t you being a little hard on my brother?”

“No, I am not. He as much as told me the type of gentleman he was when he spoke earlier of examining her manifest. I despised his intimated intent. And that would be directed toward any woman.”

“Well, brother, it looks as though you’ve been a bad boy.”

“Adeline, the both of you should understand that the gentlemen of Milton have an unwritten code of ethics. Should Kit be seen doing such things by someone else, he will be publically outcast by the gentlemen here. From there the word will spread. London may be better suited for such actions.”

The carriage rolled in front of the Waverly home. Before exiting the coach, Kit said, “I will give your words some consideration, John.”

“Captain, it better be more than thinking about my words, if you wish to remain here. And should you think about becoming a business merchant, that shall be lost to you as well. Good evening.”

The Captain walked ahead of his sister and John.

Stopping before the door, Adeline said, “I am sorry for my brother’s actions. I truly believe it to be the result of naval life. Maybe he’s just been at sea too long.”

“I hope you are right, Adeline, but I can’t see treating any woman, whatever type they are, differently. It should be a way of life to him, not some standard used in particular situations as a tool. Do your best with him. He will not be welcomed here if he does not change. He is to hope that Miss Hale is quiet about that. She was brilliant in covering it up with laughter. I have said my words and they are resolute. Good evening, Adeline.” John kissed her lightly, then turned and left.

It was too late in the evening, or John would have apologized again. He was still seething. He knew sleep would be little.

 

Fred was waiting up for his sister when she arrived home.

“Fred you waited up?”

“It’s not that late, sis. Here, let me take your bonnet and shawl so you can sit and tell me all.”

Margaret sat in a comfortable chair but worried about how much she should tell him. He was going to be mad.

“Alright. I’m ready. Don’t leave anything out.”

She hesitated.

“Oh, I can tell this is a tale to tell,” Fred announced.

“Before I start, I want to say that father can’t know everything and that Mr. Thornton came to my aid like a champion.”

“Get on with it.”

“First I felt like a rabbit on a spit. It seemed I was the center of attention all night.”

“It was an introduction. That isn’t entirely an unlikely thing to happen.”

“He called me ‘my dear,’ twice. I corrected that by asking him not to call me by any endearments.”

“Good for you. That was not proper at all.”

“The worst that happened was he started touching my thigh. He said he was feeling for his own dinner linen.”

“Bastard!”

“Fred! He apologized, but I did make a mockery out of him by announcing, did he think he’d find his dinner linen on my thigh. There were onlookers, so I turned it into a joke, but John was serious about finding out if it really did happen. That’s when the Captain apologized. Mr. Thornton was terribly upset, and it showed for the rest of the evening. I would have hated to be in that carriage with just the two of them.”

“I forbid you to go out with him again.”

“You forbid me? You forbid me, not!” Margaret laughed. “I may dance with him at the ball, but I will never be in a position where we are alone. I will not accept any offers to go out.  But don’t think you can forbid me.”

“I keep thinking I know of him. I remember hearing the name Waverly, but it was a Captain Christopher Waverly, not Kit.”

“That’s his real name. Kit is the short name that he is called.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Christopher Waverly?”

“I do believe so. Why? What do you know?”

“Oh, my God.” Fred started pacing the room. “He was a good seafaring captain. He knew tactics of war and could read the stars for navigation, but he was cruel to the women in the foreign ports. I know he was accused of raping a woman, but due to her vague English language and her profession, it was never proven. He was a deviant, a libertine. The women that he paid were forced to do unspeakable sexual acts. I cannot stand to think of him touching you. I want to face him man-to-man.”

“Oh, please don’t do that. My honor is safe. If you make a scene, it will only bring up the issue that no one knows about. Please, Fred, no.”

“Fred, where are you going. Please don’t go.”

“I’m going to inform Mr. Thornton about what I know.”

“It’s late. If you must, please let it be tomorrow. He needs to relax. He might kill the man.”

“Are you sure there were no reflections against your innocence or your regard?”

“I am not sure, but I don’t think so. Mr. Thornton could tell you, but I am alright. Please don’t make too much of this. I don’t want to start out my social life with any suspicions.”

“Sis, do know that you will never meet another gentleman like this. You have been seated with the worst and survived it. He gives the adult male a bad name. He is the worst sort of our lot. Branson will be by here tomorrow. I will have him take me to the mill office.”

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Eight – From the depths I cry to Thee, oh Lord, hear my pleas for mercy

Higgins slowly pushed open the office door and lifted his lantern. He drew in a sharp breath when he saw John, collapsed on top of his books, a dark puddle at his feet. The irony smell of blood made him retreat into the hall. He needed to break the news gently to the pregnant Margaret.

“Miss Dixon,” he said quietly, “would you please go and call for Dr. Donaldson?”

That was all he said but the tone of his voice was enough to make Dixon turn on her heels and run like hell. Margaret gave a small shriek and pushed past Nicholas who was too late to stop her.

Her heart lurched when she saw her husband and realised he was wounded and bleeding!

“John! Oh my God, John!”

“Margaret, don’t touch him, for Heaven’s sake!”, Nicholas shouted. By now a shaking Hannah took Margaret by the arm.

“He’s right, Margaret. There’s … oh God!”, she gasped as she fully understood what it was she was seeing, “He’s been stabbed, Margaret!” Hannah’s voice broke suddenly and she gave a tiny whale . Margaret held on to her as her mother-in-law was swaying in horror.

Both women stood there clinging to each other, watching Higgins go to John and feel at his neck.

“He’s still breathing!”, he said in huge relief, “but we must not move him. The knife is still in the wound and displacing him could …”

Margaret suddenly knew with absolute certainty that John was balancing on the brink of death at this very moment. She let go of Hannah and went at his side. With uttermost care, she placed a hand on his cheek.

“Dear Lord,” she breathed, “he is so cold …”

She quickly took off her shawl and draped it over John’s shoulders, then grasped his hand and cradled it between her own.

“John … please, don’t die … don’t leave us, my love … hold on …”

Deep down in her body something was shifting … oh God! a flutter, so tiny that it felt like a caress … like a ripple of breeze over a field of corn … and she knew what it had been. Their baby had just moved! With tears running down her cheeks, Margaret placed John’s hand on her stomach and begged her child to move again against his father’s hand.

“John, my love … we all love you so much … we need you, John, me and the baby and mother, please, don’t leave us …”

Then she was praying. Begging, pleading, ordering God to let John live! He must let John live!

 

Dr. Donaldson burst into the office and instantly sank to his knees at John’s side.

“I need more light over here!”, he shouted. “Quickly!”

Hannah who had been standing there without moving, paralysed by the sight of her beloved son bleeding to death, shook herself into action and began lightening several lanterns. She placed two of them on the floor under John’s desk.

“Mrs. Thornton, come here, sit on your knees beside him! Come, give me your hand.”

Hannah obeyed and felt how the doctor guided her hand towards John’s stomach, low and on the right side. With a shock she came upon the knife sticking out of his body but she didn’t flinch.

“Now, Ma’am, I am going to put your fingers around the severed vein and then you must squeeze it hard while I remove the knife. Keep the pressure up! Mr. Higgins?”

“Aye, doctor?”

“Find me a board or something so I can have him transported to the house. Miss Dixon?”

“Yes, doctor?”

“I need large quantities of hot water, boiled for several minutes. Also I need you to clear a table in the kitchen and spread a clean sheet over it. Furthermore I want bandages, medicinal alcohol and laudanum. You’ll find all these in the infirmary. Send someone for Miss Mary, she can give me a hand.”

Margaret heard all this and began hoping again. Dear Dr. Donaldson! If anybody could save John, he was the one. She kept talking to John and pressed his hand against her stomach. Her baby moved again, all of a sudden, right there against John’ hand! She whispered to him, tears running down her cheeks.

“John, the baby moved! Did you feel it, love? That was for you, solely for you! Our baby is reaching out to you, John, don’t let go of it! Feel it, John! Feel!”

 

John was desperately trying to move closer to the bright light at the end of the narrowing tunnel when he saw the figure of his father fading into the distance. Alarm swept through him and he screamed. “Father, no! Please, father, please don’t leave me? Father! Father!”

It was all for naught! His father was gone and he was alone in this dark, narrow corridor. Bereft, alone, left behind, just like when his father took his own life.

“John … please, John, don’t leave us? Come back to us, John?”

Again someone was calling his name but the sound came from the other side, the dark one, and he didn’t want to go there. But they were calling him, pulling at him, begging him to come back …

 

“Doctor, he’s shivering so violently! What must I do?”

At Margaret’s alarmed cry Dr. Donaldson, who knew all too well John was in severe shock from the massive loss of blood and therefore trembling, answered calmly. “Don’t pay attention to it, Mrs. Thornton. Just stay where you are and keep calling his name.”

The doctor then turned to Hannah. “Now, Ma’am, you know what to do. I will pull the knife out and you must hold the pressure onto that vein. Mr. Higgins and I will then place Mr. Thornton on the board. You must not, under any circumstances, release your hold of that vein, do you understand?”

Hannah nodded. She was trembling herself now, while she had her fingers tightened on the severed vein in her son’s lower body. The men then did what they had to. Nicholas and the doctor had to lift the heavy desk over her head and out of the way so that the doctor was given a clear sight in order to retrieve the knife. When he did that, albeit ever so slowly, John gave a groan of pain which cut through Hannah’s heart like a blade. Margaret felt John’s body shudder in shock! Oh, why was it taking so long to get him out of here?

“Good,” Dr. Donaldson said, “he’s responding! Now, Mr. Higgins, you take him under the arms. I will lift his feet. Gently, steady, try not moving him too abruptly, gently now …”

Between the two of them they managed to lay down John on the office door which had been heaved from its hinges by Nicholas. Hannah kept her fingers firmly on the damaged vein while they transported John towards the house. Margaret held his hand in hers.

 

The Spiteful One stamped her foot in frustration. This was too soon! They had found Thornton way too soon! He could not already have bled to death! She would have to start all over again and how would she do that now that Thornton was in the house. His wife and mother would stand guard over him like lionesses! She needed to let off for now and leave this place. Someone might discover that she was not where she was supposed to be!

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C16

Chapter Sixteen

 

 

John timidly knocked on the Hale’s door early that evening. Dixon answered the door.

“Is Miss Hale at home?”

“Please come in. Would you care to wait here or in the sitting room?”

“I shall wait here.”

Sitting down with her second cup of tea in her bedroom, Dixon announced to Margaret that she had a visitor.

“Who is it, Dixon?”

“It is Master Thornton, mum.”

“Sis, do you want to see him? I can speak on your behalf.”

“Certainly not. I can speak for myself.”

Margaret smoothed her dress and then proceeded to the staircase. There was a moment that hung in the air as she spotted him, holding his hat. He was looking up at her and walked forward near the bottom step. Margaret felt warm.

“Miss Hale, please forgive me for stopping by unannounced.”

“Please do not bother yourself. We had no plans. Are you sure you wouldn’t wish to be comfortable in the sitting room?”

“What I want is for this to be private so you can make a decision without a lot of advice. Let me speak first, and then you can change where you wish to speak.”

“Would you mind sitting out front or in your coach? My brother may listen in. He’s taking me in hand.”

“I don’t understand. Yes, by all means, let’s take a ride in my coach. Would that be suitable?”

“Yes, I shall enjoy your beautiful coach.”

John opened the door for Margaret and then handed her inside the coach. He spoke with Branson for a moment and then entered the coach himself.

The coach moved, and John began. “Miss Hale before I speak of my reason for being here, let me again applaud your work on behalf of the masters. You imparted good solid information. And that will lead to another discussion with you.”

They were seated face to face in John’s two-benched coach. Margaret didn’t know where to look. It was hard looking into his eyes without staring. It was hot in there.

“Miss Hale, I find myself in a position I don’t care to be in. I am here at the behest of Captain Waverly.”

“Who? Oh yes, your lady’s brother, I think.”

“Yes. That is right. I am not here to plead his case; it is more of an introduction. He will be at the ball and hopes to have a dance with you. He felt he would like to speak with you again before that evening.”

“And he sent you to ask me for another introduction before that night?”

“Miss Hale, please understand I do not like what I am doing. Because I am someone you know in a small way, I was asked to arrange this. It should not place any bearing on your answer. I am feeling quite foolish. It’s warm in here.”

“Do go on.”

“I told him that I was hoping to speak with you soon about employment and there is no change there. It was an idea that came to me where I decided that the four of us should have dinner tomorrow evening. God, I’m making a fool of myself. It was my opinion that you may not want to spend lunch alone with him, which was his suggestion. I do not know the man, so I am giving you no recommendation for him. I wouldn’t wish to speak with you about employment in that situation as it is, but I didn’t want to push you into a situation totally unfamiliar to you. Is any of this making sense?” John heaved a sigh.

“I will agree to that if only to save you from Miss Waverly should you return unsuccessful. I’m sorry. I should not have said that.”

“Miss Hale, above all, do not think that. I care not for any reaction from her regarding this dinner. As I said, I am embarrassed for both of us. However, he is recently retired from the Navy, and I would think he is well schooled as a gentleman. You would not be alone with him, and I would feel better about that.”

“You would?” Margaret asked tentatively.

John smiled at her. “Yes, of course.”

Margaret felt the heat that Bessie mentioned.

“Thank you for thinking of my safety.”

“What did you mean by your brother was taking you in hand?”

Margaret blushed which made John’s chest heave.

“You know he is recently home and knows that I have been caring for my parents, which has left me no time to meet gentlemen. He wants to help me understand the ways of men, and gentlemen and what to expect and other things.” Margaret’s face grew redder.”

“I see. He doesn’t think you can make up your own mind?”

“May I be candid with you.?”

“Yes. I wish all women were like that, but they are not. Please, go on.”

“When we were visiting your mill about the horse, my brother chastised me for seducing you with my eyes.”

“He did, did he?” John laughed inside at her explanation.

“I do candidly admit, and you should be used to this, found you quite handsome and could not pull away from looking at you. It was simply that. He thought I had some intention in my actions and he decided I had to learn what to do and not do around men. Apparently, that was childish. I am sorry.”

John broke out laughing. “Please don’t apologize. Your frankness has been well worth it.”

“I told him I’ve been schooled in such matters and he laughed, telling me I didn’t know the half of it.”

“So you will go through life expecting to experience all your brothers tells you?”

“No. I will always make my own decisions. He hasn’t realized as he grew into a man in the navy, I grew into a woman while he was gone. He thinks me an innocent child, I think. He may give me advice on someone like Captain Waverly, but he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know women and their emotional feelings. As he said himself, the navy hardly allows time for relationships to begin and build.”

“Miss Hale, you are quite refreshing to listen to. I hate to bring this to an end, but I must relay your answer to the Captain. Would it suit you for us to come by for you at 7:15 p.m.?

“That would be grand.”

“Will this be your first date out?”

“Is this a date?”

John smiled again. Seeing him smile at her, her breath caught.

“Since you will be out without chaperones and in the company of men, I think it could pass as your first date.” John chuckled.

“It’s not exactly the way I had envisioned it would be,” Margaret frowned and then laughed.

“No, I don’t think it will count. We would be part of a foursome. I’ll wait for the twosome to call an evening a date.”

“I think that is best. You wouldn’t want to look back on tomorrow night as a truly memorable experience.”

“I wouldn’t go that far in dismissing it. There are collateral benefits.” Margaret wished she hadn’t said that.

John laughed heartily again but wondered what she meant exactly.

Arriving at the Hale home, John walked Margaret to her door. Her brother was there to greet her.

“Good evening, Fred. Until tomorrow evening Miss Hale. Good night.”

 

Fred followed her to her bedroom asking what that was all about.

“That is my business.”

“You two were alone in the coach.”

“And Branson was driving. Leave me. I must find a frock for tomorrow night. I was invited out for dinner tomorrow night.”

“With the man himself?”

“No.” Margaret liked keeping Fred in the dark.

“Mr. Thornton drove you around in his coach to ask you out for dinner tomorrow evening but not with him.”

“Correct.” Margaret was laying out frocks on her bed.”

“Do you, at least, know this man, who didn’t have the nerve to face you and ask himself.”

“Yes. He wants an introduction.”

“I see. Will you be alone with him?”

“No. Now go.”

“Will you tell me all if I send an apology to Bessie in a note?”

“I’ll see the note first. I will hold it for posting, too.”

“Deal.” Fred left the room.

Margaret looked over all the gowns on the bed. She picked out a few of her finest and put them back in the wardrobe. She pulled out her walking and daily frocks and put them aside, too. That left about six to choose from. Nothing left on the bed was slated for the ball or the dinner. She settled on a pretty but simple frock. She definitely did not want to compete with Miss Waverly. Even though Mr. Thornton would be in attendance with her, Margaret figured John seemed to be a man who did not like airs, either. Perhaps Margaret’s understated frock would find approval by him and less interest by the Captain.”

She went looking for Fred. She found him at the dining room table writing.

“Fred, do men take a big interest in women’s fashion?”

“Sis, that depends on the man. That is an individual taste. I would think, at least for me, if I had a real interest in a woman, I would not like to see her advertising herself to other men. She may think her gentleman likes showing her off, but he doesn’t. Not in that way, anyway. That reflects poorly on the man and his choice of women.”

“Thank you.” Fred taught her nothing new there, but it was nice to hear his thinking. He wasn’t totally fooled.

That night Margaret went to bed remembering some of the conversations by the girls at school. Such tricks women could play. They all weren’t like that, but she felt sorry for the men that stepped out with them.

 

“Dad, I need to confess something,” said a bashful Bessie at the breakfast table.

“This is a first.”

“Well, I know you said you would worry about me now that I will be seeing men.”

“And you have something to confess about that?” Nicholas gave her his whole attention.

“I don’t know what to do next.”

“About what?”

Bessie began the story of her visit to Margaret and Fred working on the roof of the stable. She told her father and Peggy the statement she made about how she felt, although she left out the warm feeling part. She said she ran when she realized he had overheard her and how she felt she couldn’t show her face there anymore. Bessie caught the smiles between her father and her stepmother.

“Nicholas, Bessie and I will have a chat later.”

“Let me give you my thoughts. What you felt is natural and healthy. What you said to another female, even the sister, in confidence is also normal. Being overheard is embarrassing for you. And I will leave the rest up to Peggy. Thank you for letting me know. I will always be here for any discussions about men and women.”

 

At the Hale house, Margaret was discussing her eventful day, yesterday, and her night dinner coming up.

“Margaret, how fast things turn around,” smiled her father. “Who is this dinner with?”

Margaret told her father the whole curious story. “You understand, father, that I don’t feel this is a date.”

“Yes, I can see that. Hmm… a Captain in the Navy. Does Fred know of him?”

“I never asked. I believe he saw him at the lesson, but I don’t know if he heard his name. Where is Fred?”

“He’s gotten an early start on what is shaping into a stable. I think the horse and buggy come tomorrow.”

“Really. How exciting. Sunday, after the ball, I shall have Fred start teaching me. I’m going to go see him now. Excuse me, father.”

Margaret was full of smiles as she walked up to Fred. “Father says the horse comes tomorrow?”

“Yes, he does.”

“Does he have a name or do you rename him?”

“I don’t know if they learn their names as a dog would, but I am not changing it.”

“So, what is it?”

“It’s Max.”

“I like that. Max! Will you teach me on Sunday? I will have busy days until the ball is over.”

“About yesterday and last night …” Fred was interrupted.

“Did you write the note?”

“I did.” Fred wiped his hands on his pants and pulled the note from his pocket.

“Fred, I was going to ask if I could read it, but I am not. That is your business, and no matter what you wrote in here, that’s between you and her. So, I am going to seal it.”

“Fine. Thank you.”

“I will see Mr. Thornton tonight, along with Miss Waverly and her brother the Captain. I will hand Mr. Thornton the note to give to Mr. Higgins tomorrow.”

“I’d rather it went post today.”

“I will set it on the post tray in the hall.”

“So, the Captain is it?”

“Yes. Father asked if you knew him from the Navy.”

“What’s his name?”

“They call him Kit, but Captain Waverly is all I know.”

“Waverly?  Waverly? The name sounds familiar, but I never saw him.”

“No matter. He just may not want to see me a second time when he finds out what my brother has done,” she laughed.

“That may be truer than you think. I hope not for your sake.”

 

Adeline Waverly was bringing out her jewels and asking Kit which would look better with what she was wearing. He said they were all nice. He didn’t want to be subjected to this fashion show any longer. The one nice thing about the Navy was that you have very little to choose from. His retirement wasn’t quite official yet, and he could have worn civilian clothing, but he hadn’t bought any.

There was a knock at the door, and John Thornton was shown into the room.

“Good evening Adeline, Captain.”

Kit stood and shook his hand. “Once again, I want to thank you. I wish I had more knowledge of how introductions work. They have been rare for me.”

“I must admit; I did feel a bit uncomfortable. To be honest, I do not know you and could not recommend you personally to Miss Hale. But your rank puts most unknowns at ease.”

“I understand. Thank you for being honest.”

“Adeline, you are most beautiful this evening.”

“Thank you, John. Anything for you. I do not want Miss Hale to catch your eye this evening. I know she has your attention.”

“Yes, she does. I have decided not to speak to her about employment this evening. I wish nothing to detract from your brother’s pursuit.”

“Pursuit?”

“I think a Navy man would understand that.”

“He would, indeed,” replied Kit. “However, her manifest must be examined.” Kit laughed.

John thought that was a very rude remark, even to another man. It sounded like he was only interested in her innocence. He would most likely ensure her chastity was listed. John began roiling inside.

“Were you not astonished at her lesson the other night? Apparently, she took her education in a new direction than most women.”

“Yes, yes, a charming woman.”

“Captain, you do understand that she is a young lady.”

“What are you trying to tell me, Thornton?”

“Oh, John. It’s worthless talking to him about women and ladies. He thinks we’re all alike.”

“As in the women that might be waiting on the docks at a port?”

“Oh, come, John. Let’s not get into that in front of my sister. I will treat Miss Hale with all due respect unless she shows me differently.”

“She is quite naïve and may mislead you, unknowing of her actions,” John remembered her story of the staring.

“John, why are you demeaning my brother and defending a woman, a lady. Is there something I should know?”

“No, Adeline. I spoke with her last night which I considered our first conversation. She asked if this would be called a date as she’s never been out with a gentleman. I would want the gentleman to understand that and handle her differently than the women he usually associates with.” John stared at Kit.

“I understand you, sir. I did not need that sermon.”

“My apologies, Captain. Shall we go?”

John felt better for having said that but it would be a while before he calmed down about his manifest statement.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Seven – Ultimate Disaster

Margaret felt much better after she had a little rest. Despite Dixon’s protests she got up from her bed and went to the parlour where she sat down at her escritoire to catch up on the infirmary’s log books. After having discussed it previously with Mary they had agreed on a work schedule for five young women, who were currently unable to do factory work, to come and help them with the patients. So the promise she gave Nicholas was taken care off. However, Margaret knew there was so much more to do in order to alleviate the workers’ many needs. For instance, the children were not sent to school because they had to work from a very early age. School fees would always be far too steep for the families of the workers so the children often grew up to be illiterate adults. A few of the lucky ones, such as little Tom Boucher, got the attention of a wealthy patron. It was a great joy to Margaret that John had taken the bright young boy under his wing. Tom was devouring John’s library at a rate that he would soon be ready to be sent to a grammar school.

But Tom was but one among many and Margaret was determined to change that. To that end, she read all there was on the organisation and financing of schools.

 

Nicholas had trouble getting over his surprise at Mrs. Thornton – stern, aloof Mrs. Thornton for Christ’s sake! – coming to talk to him about her troubles in his own, poorly accommodated home! But here she was, and very determined too, by the looks of it!

“Ma’am, whatever do you mean, someone is wishing to do harm to Miss Margaret? Couldn’t the master have her locked in inadvertently when he closed up for the night?”

He was punished by a fierce look in the lady’s blue eyes which nearly made him flinch. But Nicholas Higgins didn’t flinch that easily, not even when she barked at him in her familiar brisk way. “My son always checks that store room before locking it! What kind of a fool do you think he is?”

An unperturbed Nicholas grinned her with an impish smile. She actually flushed, which gave him a wicked satisfaction. He then turned to his daughter who quietly sat sipping her tea.

“Child, do you know of anyone wanting to hurt Margaret? You work with her all day so you should be the one to know?”

“No, Father, I cannot imagine someone would do such a thing. Everybody loves Margaret and with good reason! She is a lovely person, never intrusive, never patronising. She has a sacred respect for every patient she nurses, she knows every single one of them by name, where they live, how many children there are in their families! The children adore her!”

Hannah suddenly gave a snort of frustration and threw her hands up. “Then what can we do? Who is it then, if not one of the patients?”

Higgins put his large, calloused hand on her arm and squeezed it.

“We will keep an eye on her,” he said in a serious tone of voice, unexpectedly sending a shiver down Hannah’s spine, “I will make it my personal business to guard Margaret and keep her safe. I owe John that much.”

Hannah found herself finding comfort in those pale blue eyes, something she had not experienced since many years. Comfort, and the certainty that Higgins indeed would watch over Margaret.

“We must get you home now, Mrs.Thornton, have you come in your carriage?”

“Of course not,” she snapped, determined not to let herself be shaken by the likes of him, “do you think I would waste my money on bringing out the horses for such a short ride? No, I came by cab.”

“Good! I will walk you home then, Ma’am!”, he replied, and opening the door for her, offered her his arm.

 

John rubbed his face in sheer fatigue. God, but he was tired! He popped his father’s big hunter from his waistcoat pocket and saw to his surprise that it was near ten pm. His wife and his mother would come looking for him if he did not hurry back to the house, so he stood.

And the room swayed and tilted all of a sudden!

He gripped the edge of the desk and tried to swallow back a sudden nausea. His legs gave way and he abruptly sat back again. What was wrong with him? How come he was so strangely bone-tired? It was certainly not the first time he worked late, he was accustomed to it! So much for the large pot of coffee he had drunk earlier to keep awake! With an effort John rose again. That was when he heard the creak of a footstep from the deserted factory hall.

“Don’t bother coming all the way, Mother! I’m coming right away!”

Nobody answered.

“Mother? Margaret? Is that you?”

Just when he wanted to take a step away from the desk, a dark shadow flew across the room and a split second later a hot, sharp pain in his side made him gasp for breath. While the shadow’s fleeing footsteps faded away, John looked in bewilderment at the knife in his stomach. His legs gave way and he sank back into the chair with a thump, just before the room grew dark.

“Mother, Nicholas!”

They heard Margaret’s shout as soon as they entered the Mill’s courtyard and saw her coming out of the house with Dixon at her side. The two women came hurrying towards them.

“Thank God you’re here, Mother! I was just going to look for John, it’s past midnight and he has not come in yet. Oh, I hate it when he does that! He has not had enough rest as it is lately!”

If Margaret was surprised to see her with Higgins at such an impropriate hour, Hannah saw no evidence of it. At least her daughter-in-law had done the sensible thing bringing Dixon with her when she left the house so late.

“Let’s go find him, child,” she said and headed for the Mill door. However, it was locked when she tried to lower the handle. Puzzled she looked at Higgins.

“How very strange! Where could John be at this late hour if not in the Mill?”

Margaret took a step towards her.

“Mother,” she urged, “we need to get inside! There’s something wrong with him! Don’t ask me how I know, I just do!”

Higgins pulled a key from his pocket and opened the door for them. Margaret whizzed past him into the dusty darkness of the Mill’s great hall and towards the office at the back.

“Margaret, wait!”, Higgins voice sounded behind her, “Let me at least light a lantern!”

He was right, she thought. Without light she might trip and fall and hurt their baby. A few moments later the small group proceeded further down the hall between the now deserted rows of cotton looms. Higgins held out his arm all of a sudden.

“Wait here,” he said, “there’s no light in the office. Stay together while I go to take a look.”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dixon place herself before Margaret, a grim expression on her usually benign face.

 

Lord! He had done it again! His mother would be furious if she knew he had fallen asleep on top of his ledgers again! And Margaret, as well … Hell! Why could he not lift his head? He could feel his sweaty cheek sticking to the paper of the register. It would be ruined if he didn’t lift his head. He was so very weak … so very tired. Why was it so dark in his office and why did his breath come in shallow little gasps as if his lungs would not expand properly?

“John …”

A whispering voice called his name and he squinted his eyes to see who it was.

“John … my son, my dear boy …”

His father! It was his dear father calling him, he could see him clearly now in the shiny, white distance, beckoning him.

“Father ?” he choked, “Father, have you come back to us?”

“John … my brave, strong son … come to me … please …”

There was nothing in the whole world he wanted more than to go to his father and embrace him! How he had missed his father!

“Yes, father, I’m coming …”

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Six – No Rest For The Righteous

The Spiteful One was watching Marlborough Mills from an advantageous and concealed position.

She had to be on her guard because John Thornton was by now growing desperate. He had already turned the factory upside down three times and still he was not giving up!

She hated John Thornton almost as much as she hated his wife! How many times had she hidden her aversion for him. She had to because, if he so much as caught a glimpse in her eyes, he would immediately retaliate. She could not afford crossing Thornton openly but she could give him surreptitious blows which weakened him and made him suffer. Like she had done now by locking his precious wife into an airless closet!

 

Margaret had by now disappeared for more than thirty hours. At ten o’ clock in the evening when John finished his round in the deserted factory, he had reached the state of emotional exhaustion, brought about by anxiety over his beloved. Weird, he mused, he hadn’t busied himself with his mill in two days now and he didn’t even care. It was as if nothing was worth caring for when Margaret was not with him. If Margaret would stay missing, he … his thoughts stopped for a second but then he dared admit it; he would wish to die. Nothing was worth living for without Margaret, nothing. Not even Marlborough Mills.

He entered the small office at the back of the factory hall and saw his ledgers which were still lying open on the top of his desk. Lord! They had been there all along for all to see, to steel! Quickly he gathered them and headed for the store room and, startled, stopped in his tracks! Had he really left the key in the lock for two whole days, leaving his valuables accessible to whoever stepped into his office?

To his surprise, the door was firmly locked, when he turned the handle.

 

Distant sounds from outside reached Margaret’s ears, even through the throbbing of her own blood in them. Someone was there, outside the door! She pounded the heavy wooden door with both her fists as hard as she could. Her strength was fading rapidly and her breath came heavily with each painful, airless gasp she made. With a head swimming from the lack of oxygen she found she had not enough power. Her banging was too weak. Help! Help! Desperately she shouted the words but they came without much sound. She was about to faint when suddenly the door opened and a bright light blinded her.

“Oh merciful Lord! Margaret!”

John’s voice … his arms, his warmth … she fainted after all.

 

Unbelievable! Outrageous!

Fury raged through John as he carried Margaret towards the house. She couldn’t have locked herself into the room, so someone else had. He hadn’t closed the door himself, he remembered that much.

Besides, he was always very careful and never turned the key before he had looked inside. The air in the room rapidly turned foul, he knew that much. Oh God! Margaret! How long has she been inside?

“Jane!”, he thundered and when the maid appeared; “Fetch the doctor! Now!”

The startled girl fled to do his bidding.

“Mother, please, help me!”

He took the steps two at the time and headed for their bedchamber. His mother and Dixon were hard on his heels, and the faithful maid started undoing Margaret’s collar as soon as John laid her on the bed. Hannah bathed her face with a clean cloth drenched in scented water and soon thereafter Margaret’s eyes fluttered. She violently coughed and John eased her up allowing her to breath deeper.

“John … Mother …”

“Shhh, dearest, do not speak. It’s alright, you’re home with me.”

But Margaret couldn’t stop herself. “John, someone must have locked me in the store room …”

“Shhh, I know, sweetheart, I know …”

Relief washed over John when Margaret laid her head against his chest. She was safe, dear Lord, she was safe! For a moment he allowed himself to savour the feel of her slender body against his. He met his mother’s gaze above his wife’s head and smiled at her. Hannah smiled back, she too was relieved they found Margaret. He laid Margaret’s body to rest against the pillows and offered her a drink of water which she avidly took in.

“Tell me how this happened, Margaret,” he asked, settling himself in the chair beside the bed.

“There is not much to tell, John. I went to lock away the medicines in the store room and all of a sudden the door fell close. I could hear the key turning in the lock.”

“That key is never going to leave my pocket anymore, from now on!”, John said and took her hand in his. “Margaret, someone is determined to hurt you, someone close to us. How did they know of the store room if they are not living in a close vicinity to us? It must be someone working here! By all Saints, I’m going to discover who it is!”

Dixon chose that precise moment to brush him aside, clucking with concern and saying, “The mistress needs her rest now, Master!”

 

Later, after Dr. Donaldson examined Margaret and found her unharmed, John went to find his mother in the parlour where she was mending sheets.

“Mother,” he urged, “do you know more of what’s going on in the soup kitchen and infirmary? I can’t shake the impression that someone connected to it wants to harm Margaret.”

Hannah looked at her son in astonishment.

“John,” she asked, “what makes you think such a thing? Margaret is very much respected amongst the people she cares for. Surely, after what happened last November, all danger is now out of the way!”

“Mother,” he said in a shaking voice, “I can feel it! Something is wrong! Someone locked Margaret in that store room, knowing full well that I would not return to it soon, as I was totally absorbed in the search for her!”

John stopped, choking back his anxiety and concern but his mother mentally finished his thoughts for him; how devastated he would be if something happened to Margaret. When John left for the factory again, Hannah donned her coat and bonnet and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders to ward off the extreme cold. Christmas was approaching fast now and snow fell almost every day. Hannah got on her way to find help.

 

Nicholas Higgins had a tough time hiding his surprise when Mary opened the door of his small, dark house on Mrs. Thornton.

“Mistress! What brings you here? I’m sorry for …”

Hannah raised her hand to silence him but at the same moment she smiled at him.

“No need, Mr. Higgins. I have something I want to discuss with you if you can spare me the time?”

Nicholas bid her to sit down at the bare, clean-scrubbed table and Mary served her a cup of fragrant tea. Hannah looked about her in the shabby but spotless room and wondered not for the first time why Higgins would choose to stay and live here when he now earned a good salary as John’s manager.

She refrained from saying so, however. She knew he wanted to be near his fellow workers instead of somewhere nicer but farther away.

“Look here, Mr. Higgins, I’ll speak bluntly. No doubt you already know that my son’s wife has been found, locked into the small store room in John’s office. She is, let me hasten to say, unharmed. However, something is afoot and it does not bode well for my son and daughter-in-law. Margaret’s recent predicament clearly indicates that someone is after her again. I came here to seek yours and Mary’s help in protecting her and the baby from harm. What do you propose to be done?”

 

The Spiteful One stood lurking in the shadows of the Mill’s courtyard. Margaret Hale Thornton was unreachable for now, resting in her bed at the house under the protection of that harpy Dixon. She was afraid of Dixon’s sharp eyes and fierce temper. Best avoid the blasted woman. Old Mrs. Thornton was out tonight so Dixon would be even more on her guard.

But John Thornton was alone in his office at the back of the Mill’s hall. The workers had gone home for the night and Higgins had been the last to leave. Now was the right time to punish John Thornton.

 

 

 

 

Brotherly Love – A North and South Novel with John Thornton – C14

Chapter Fourteen

On the drive home, John had to wonder if he had an aversion to marriage or not. Several times women had assumed he would be proposing soon and he had to extricate himself from that thinking. He may have wished to continue seeing that lady but clearing the misconception always lead to a complete break-up. His confidence seemed to plummet every time that happened, but he held fast to his pride so it would never show. He seemed to be wanted only for what he had, not who he was inside. He’d known many men that had pursued their intended with more vigor than he had ever imagined. Could he really have a fear of marriage or had he not met the woman that would own his soul? Perhaps, he’d read too many books, and true love wasn’t as consuming as the stories told, although true history books painted the experience of falling or being in love as magnificent.

 

The Hale house was passing around the wine and scotch glasses when they arrived home. Dixon was cheerful hearing all the comments about Miss Margaret.

“Margaret, I think your visual demonstration with the coins was the most impressive,” said Adam.

Richard Hale and Fred agreed.

“I remembered that from class and the impact it made on me at the time. Many things seem to become clear once I saw the merchant do that. Math isn’t visual, there is nothing to excite the learner and some people never take to math in their entire life. But everyone seemed to understand that. I’m glad I thought about it.”

“So, Margaret, where do you go from here?”

Margaret sighed a deep breath. “I don’t know. Bessie made a list of Masters and their mill names. I suppose I should write and see if they really do want more from me.”

“You should charge for this, sis,” said Fred.

“I can’t do that. I wouldn’t do that. It was a teaching session, Fred.”

“Well . . . the biggest visual demonstration tonight was not the coins so much as the teacher. You’ve opened up the world for yourself, sis. I think that retired Captain is first in line, too.”

“Don’t be daft, Fred. There was nothing social about the lesson.”

“Think that if you will.”

“Margaret, I do feel Fred makes a good point,” replied Adam. “I believe that to be your practice ‘coming out’ event. That’s more than Milton usually offers young ladies. I had hoped that I would introduce you at the ball, which I still shall, but I imagine there are rumors circulating as we speak.” Bell smiled.

“Father, could that be true what they say?”

“I think you should prepare yourself for events in your life that you have missed for several years.”

“Sis, you know how you and I have spoken about a certain gentleman, well now, you will have many to entertain you and maybe one or two to fight off.”

“Fight off?”

“I will cover that with you when we are alone.”

“Now, you’re scaring me, Fred.”

“I mean to. This time of life looms larger in a woman’s life than in a man’s. Unfortunately, young women are not only innocent but ignorant of men and their . . .”

“Ahem,” was heard quite loudly from Richard Hale.

“. . . their ways,” Fred concluded. “I will teach you. I just hope I can do it in time.”

“Now Fred, have more confidence in Margaret then that,” proclaimed Adam.

“I do. I do. She’s just physically weak, that’s all.”

“Fred, are you talking about …eh…mm…femininity?”

“Actually, I’m talking about masculinity.”

Margaret blushed badly. Fred laughed, Richard worried, and Adam thought it was endearing.

“I’ve had schooling, Fred!” Margaret spat back.

Fred doubled over with laughter. “I am sure you never learned what I will warn you about.”

Margaret did not want to raise her eyes to three men watching her reaction. She stood and turned to the kitchen. “I have to see Dixon, who has disappeared.”

“On that fine note, I shall leave you fellows to sort out the wheat from the chaff on this adventure Margaret will be embarking on. I will return later this week, but please remind Margaret of the Saturday evening Master’s Ball, which is only four days away.”

 

The house was quiet when John returned. He removed his coat, cravat, and waistcoat. He poured himself an evening scotch, found his newspaper and sat in his chair. There was another reminder for the ball in the paper. He would have to work on some small welcoming speech, introduce the orchestra and the caterers. His mind drifted back to Kit Waverly’s statement about being interested in anyone that Adeline was stepping out with.

“I guess that was a natural reaction or comment by a brother,” he thought. “It just seemed . . . seemed heavier than that, as if she had embellished their relationship or perhaps a warning given if read between the lines.”

 

It was nearing 11:00 p.m. when Bessie tip-toed out and saw her father sitting in the darkened parlor room, staring into the fire.

“Is something troubling you, Father,” Bessie asked.

“No, not really. I always knew there would come a time when you were not my little girl anymore. I seemed quite conscious of it tonight when that horde of Masters surrounded you and Margaret. I know I have promised to take you both to the ball and I guess it is time for you to enter the arena of life and men.”

“And that bothers you? Peggy and I have had long talks about being out with men.”

Nicholas sighed. “I’m glad to hear that. I won’t have to begin at the beginning.”

“Father, Peggy was candid with me and the way it is with males of all ages, but especially the younger ones. For all their life, they will have the physical desire to . . . mate. I heard things when I worked the looms, but it wasn’t until Peggy talked with me that I believed what I had been hearing.”

“I hope she told you to save yourself for marriage.”

“No, she didn’t. But I knew that is the proper way. I also know about a woman’s heart which is more of a factor than men realize.”

“I’m not sure what that means exactly.”

“I know, Father. You are not alone. Just have faith in me that I may not be schooled, but I am intelligent enough to handle myself in situations that I feel sure will arise. I know men are not always true to their hearts when they speak of love. They may think they are at that moment in time, but the woman ultimately has to take the risk. Take Mr. Thornton and Miss Waverly. I would imagine there has been some intimacy in their relationship by now. And I can tell you that she thinks he’ll marry her, but I know he’s not going to. He is not in love with her.”

“Bessie! How can you know such a thing?”

“Because I am a woman. When I met her tonight, it would be apparent to another woman what she wants. John is no fool when all is said and done. He may think he could or is in love with her, but he isn’t and will never marry her.”

“Honestly, you cannot know that. I am close with the man every day. I know how often they see each other.”

Bessie laughed. “Do me a favor over the next couple of weeks. Take note of how many times he speaks about her other than a date of stepping out. Watch him look at her at the Ball. Watch him with her at Mrs. Thornton’s dinner. He will not look lovingly into her face as you once did with Peggy.”

“That’s understandable. A gentleman does not wear his emotions on his sleeve, especially John.”

“He would if he loved her. He would smile more in her presence for one thing. He would not be able to help it, just as you couldn’t. Time will tell, Father. You’ll see that I am right. He may not even know that he won’t marry her, regardless of what his mother might be telling him. I don’t think the poor man has ever been in real love. Every woman would or should be suspect to him, by now. He’s living a fairy-tale. He would like to slip from the castle and go where he is not known and find someone that loves him for himself and not what he can offer. The problem is, John has to run the castle and cannot get away for that to happen. I’ve worked on the mill floors for a few years, and you should have heard how the women talked about him. The man is perfect in every way as a husband.”

“I know the adoration by the females for him. And I can tell you he does not like it. He tries to stay as private as he can. He does miss the joys of life because he’s been in hiding for so long. Now this Miss Waverly seems to be making it around the bend with him.”

“If that’s true, it’s because he’s running out of new women to meet. Father, men, are so dense when it comes to women. The only excuse you have is that you are all the same. We think of it as a birth defect.” Bessie laughed.

“Now listen here, Bessie. That door swings both ways.”

“Before you start on a litany of why women do what they do, I’ll grant you some leverage there. Another time you must tell me where we are faulty. Good night, father.” Bessie smiled and went to the stairs.

 

John rose from his seat and went to collect his writing box. Situating it on his lap, he pulled out a sheaf of paper and began a note to Miss Hale.

 

Dear Miss Hale,

 

I wish to thank you for an illuminating and valued lesson that you presented at the Lyceum over the past two Tuesdays. After a rough start,  which amused me by the way, you launched into your mission with vigor and aplomb instilling in your audience a sense of importance to your words. Someday I wish to tell you about my first few public speaking engagements. It was none the easier for me.

Unfortunately, there had been unexpected guests that required my attention, impairing me from joining the other masters waiting to speak with you. I do wish to speak again soon and perhaps offer you a small employment at our mills. I will factor your salary into my wage budget. I will create a line item for “Budgeteer.”

Perhaps a light lunch at a local eatery would be convenient for you.

Again, a job well down and an apology for telling you this through  a note.

  1. Thornton

 

John sealed the note and prepared it for Branson to deliver the next morning.

 

Dawn was breaking as John was dressing for the day. His thoughts wandered back to Miss Hale and her nervous ordeal of public speaking. He started laughing when he thought of her being drunk last week. She took her embarrassment well. She seemed quite friendly. Why were all the women he saw so serious? With the exception of Higgins wife, he had no women friends. Inwardly, he was admitting to himself that he would be interested to see how she fared in public.

 

“Good morning, John. How was the lesson last night? Did Miss Hale astound the masters?”

“She was quite impressive and did open our eyes to some avenues we’ve never pursued. She had a bit of a hard start as I saw her begin to tilt on her first few words, but I brought a chair for her to sit in. After that, she took off like a shot.”

“I’ve never known a woman like that, have you?”

“How do you mean, mother?”

“It’s not like she’s a suffragette and pleading a cause. She was standing in front of men that are forerunners and history makers and telling them how they can improve. Is she the new woman of today? I don’t know where she got the backbone to do that.”

“Mother, she was trying to save her father from embarrassment. She really didn’t choose to do that.”

“But she did. The nerve had to come from somewhere. She will never be anyone’s common wife.”

“What are you saying? Stay away from her?”

“I’m not saying anything like that. Her husband won’t be telling her what to do very often.”

“Mother, I don’t think you’re very fair to her.”

“You don’t see it, do you, John? I am complementing her. It’s too bad there weren’t any women there to witness what women can do.”

“When I have time, Mother, I will reflect on your words. You are making it sound like a historical event that was hardly worthy of us men of business.” John smiled.

“Oh, stop it, John. You have Miss Waverly. Let some other man try to pull Miss Hale in line.” Hannah asked for the teapot.

John picked up his newspaper and began to scan the headers. His conversation reminded him of his note to Miss Hale. He would have Branson handle that early this morning.

 

Margaret was late coming down to breakfast. She apologized, admitting that the past evening event had been fatiguing. Her father was already in his study with some lesson plans, and she didn’t see Fred.

Settling into the kitchen area, “Dixon, where is Fred?”

“Miss, I will have your tea and breakfast in a moment. I think master Fredrick is outside working on the shed. Yes, I see him. That’s what he’s doing, Miss Margaret.”

“I’ll pop out while you serve the food. Just put it here on the kitchen work table.”

“Yes, Miss.”

Margaret almost had a skip in her step as she bid Fred a good morning. “How is it coming along, your fine stable, that is?” Margaret laughed.

“Sis, my dear, your are looking at a soon-to-be master of horses. I will have to add on to his stable to allow for a second horse, you see.” Fred continued to hammer nails into the rotting wood.

“There was so much talk about me last night, I never found out what you and Branson have accomplished.”

“We should be set with a carriage and horse by the end of the week. I want to buy a saddle today. I believe the buggy assembly has all it needs. I guess I should find out what they eat. Oh, I guess we get straw. I’ll see Branson again in a day or two. I can drive you to the ball to meet Bessie and her father or take you over there.”

“I am sure I will have a ride in Adam’s coach. I am going back inside to eat something.”

“I haven’t checked the front page of the paper to see if you made headlines,” he snickered.

“Stop it, Fred,” Margaret smiled.

 

As Margaret entered the back of the house, she passed Branson on his way out back.

“Good morning, Miss Hale. I have brought a note to you from my master. Miss Dixon has it.”

“Thank you, Branson.”

Knowing in her mind that Mr. Thornton was a taken man, she none-the-less scurried to read his words.