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?

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!

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!

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.

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Five

Chapter Five – Despair

How could she do this to him?

John paced the parlour in a desperate way, after his mother told him Margaret was missing, and the question kept forcing itself onto his mind. How could she put him into such anxiety when she knew how much he worried about her and their unborn child? Did she even know what she was putting him through? Did she even care? Where was she?

His burning thoughts were interrupted when Higgins burst into the room, brushing an indignant Dixon aside.

“John … she’s nowhere to be found! I’ve questioned Mary and she said Margaret left a few minutes later than she did and everything was fine and undisturbed.”

“Then where is she, damned!,” John barked loudly at Higgins, “Where. The. Bloody. Hell. Is. She?”

“John, please?,” his mother pleaded, “Anger won’t solve a thing. We must think! Sit down calmly and think. Where can Margaret have gone to?”

 

Margaret’s high spirits were soon tamped down when she realised she was trapped inside the store room. At first, she thumped and pounded the door with her fists, shouting that she was in there, but nothing happened! The door was indeed locked and the key was on the outside. There was nothing to do but to wait until someone discovered she was in here. So she settled herself with her back against the cold wall and her bottom upon the freezing cold earthen floor of the small chamber and waited.

 

“There is something very wrong, Mother! This is not at all Margaret’s way! She would have told me if she was going somewhere, wouldn’t she? She knows how I worry about her! Damned and blast!”

John was standing next to the parlour window overlooking the Mill’s courtyard, his body tensed, his muscles strained, his hands clamped together on his back. But shaking, Hannah saw, his hands were trembling in utter desperation.

It was now near dawn in the day after Margaret had disappeared and her son was reaching the end of his endurance. They had searched every nook and cranny of the Mill and its yard but Margaret was nowhere to be found.

“John?”, Hannah asked quietly, “Have you had a disagreement with her? Have you quarrelled?”

looked at his mother in sheer confusion. “Quarrelled? No, of course not, in fact, last night, we …”

He hastily swallowed back what he was going to say, reddening fiercely! And to his mother too!

Hannah smiled sweetly at him.

“You made love to each other, John? Well, I am pleased that you did. It’s a natural thing between husband and wife.”

“Mother, please, I …”

“You’re feeling embarrassed, I know. But, you know, you shouldn’t. I wasn’t always an withered, old woman, John. I know how wonderful it can be when you love each other. Your father and I, we had our good times too, you know.”

Maybe it was his anxiety about Margaret what made him weak but John sat down next to his mother, longing to hear more about this. “Tell me about you and Father,” he begged suddenly and fervently.

Hannah was surprised because it was the first time ever that he asked her about his father but she did oblige. Her eyes got a faraway look in them when she spoke.

“I wasn’t in love with Charles when we married. Our fathers were business acquaintances and between the two of them they arranged our marriage. I was scared to death when we were alone for the first time and so was he. I was nineteen and he twenty, we were like two very shy children.”

His heart was thumping like mad in his chest when John realised what she was going to tell him, yet he didn’t stop her. In fact, he was dying to hear it! There was so little he knew about his father and so much he longed to know!

“Charles and I sat next to each other on our bed and after a long time, he took my hand in his. I was shaking with fear but the touch of his hand soothed me. He asked, in a very shy and disarming way if I would allow him to kiss me. I could only nod, I was unable to speak. He kissed me. Very softly. Very shyly. On the lips but not further. I felt … well, I liked it … a lot.”

Holding his breath John stayed silent. His mother was still smiling but not at him. More like at someone in the far distance, someone she only she could see.

“I won’t embarrass you with details, John, but we did truly become man and wife, that night. Charles was sweet and gentle. So gentle that I have never, ever refused him throughout the twenty years of our marriage.”

John bowed his head when the memories of his father came rushing back to him. His mother laid her hand on his and whispered. “John, you never told me how you felt about Charles’s death. I think you should tell, if not to me than at least to Margaret.”

“No, mother!”, he snapped, “No, I won’t burden her with matters from so long ago when she has enough problems of her own to deal with! Father is long dead and buried; I won’t be the one to unearth him!”

He stalked from the room in the familiar, long strides he adopted whenever in distress.

 

“What’s with the Master leaving you alone now?”, Higgins asked in surprise, when he entered the room right after John left.

Hannah, feeling sad because of John’s reaction, suddenly turned to him. The same moment, seeing Higgins’s tall, broad, reassuring form, she felt as if a burden had fallen from her shoulders.

“Mr. Higgins!” She could hear the distress breaking her voice as she said it. He heard it too.

“Hey, hey, what is it, Mistress? Has Miss Margaret been found? She’s not hurt, is she?”

“No, no, she’s still missing. However, if this goes on for much longer, I don’t know how long my son is going to last.”

Now she could feel her eyes filling! Oh God! That only happened when John was in distress and she was powerless in mending it!

“Hannah …”  Bristling at the impertinence of him calling her by her given name, she looked up at him, a sharp rebuff on her lips. The words died before they were spoken. Nicholas Higgins was looking at her with a strange, comforting light in his eyes.

 

Margaret woke with a gasp! For a split second she was disoriented and unsure of where she was but then, with the damp, cold earthen floor beneath her, it all came back. She was locked up in the store room, in the dark. Hunger gnawed in her stomach, thirst parched her throat but there was something else that was very wrong.

The air in the tiny room was becoming oppressive and she began having trouble breathing.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Four

Chapter Four – Targeted

That night Margaret felt so tired she wanted to retire right after dinner. Hannah had already done so, partly because she wanted John and Margaret to have some time on their own. John was still working on his logbooks when Margaret rose from the settee.

“John, would you mind if I go to sleep? I need to lie down, my … well, my back is hurting. No, no, don’t worry, it’s perfectly alright!”, she added when she saw the look of panic on her husband’s face.

“Shall I come with you, darling, help you into bed?”, he asked, his voice full of concern.

“No need to, dearest, just finish your work. Dixon will assist me.”

In their bedroom Dixon was waiting to help her mistress undress as she did every night. Although Margaret had told her numerous times that it was unnecessary to wait up for her, the trusty old servant wouldn’t hear of it.

“Pardon me, missus, but you don’t look all that well to me! Are you sure you’re doing the right thing in exhausting yourself in that way caring for all those sick people? I mean that’s what doctors are for, isn’t it?”, Dixon grumbled in her own blunt way.

“Dear Dixon, yes, it is the right thing to do. You should see them, these people, they are so poor, so devoid of hope it breaks my heart. I can help them so that’s what I will do.”

“Yes, and try killing yourself doing it, I’m sure!”

“Not if I can help it!” a deep baritone voice sounded from the doorway.

They both turned around to see John standing there. Margaret laid her hand on Dixon’s arm and chuckled. “Go to bed, Dixon, I’ll be fine.”

The maid left and John took his wife into his arms. Margaret rested her head against her husband’s broad chest and sighed.

“Poor Dixon! She always disapproves of what I do.”

“But she’s right, dearest. You are killing yourself working so hard and it breaks my heart to see you struggling day after day.”

John’s hand was stroking the back of her neck and it felt so good, Margaret thought, closing her eyes. How wonderful that this good, fine man was hers! Feeling the strong beating of his heart against her cheek was so soothing and exhilarating at the same time that she wanted to stay then and there for the rest of her life.

“My lovely sweetheart,” John whispered, “come, let me help you to bed. You need to rest.”

Fighting the feelings she kindled deep in his heart and body, John led Margaret to their bed. He began pulling out the pins from her gorgeous hair, letting it fall down her back. Next he undid the buttons of her dress and helped her step out of it. As always, the sight of her slim, perfect body made his own body instantly react but he checked himself. Margaret was pregnant and under the threat of a miscarriage. He should not have intercourse right now, at least until they were sure she would keep the baby. So he contented himself with loosening her corset and helping her into her nightdress. He was, however, infinitively glad that she had her back to him.

“Shall I brush your hair for you?”, he asked, his voice slightly hoarse.

Margaret turned around. His blood started rushing fiercely when he saw the look in her eyes. The next minute she took hold of his arms and laid them around her waist, nearly breaking his strength of will by doing so.

“No,” Margaret whispered, “what I want is you making love to me …”

Her hands went up to his face, drawing it nearer to hers and teasing his mouth with hers. He was breathing heavily by now, forcing himself to keep back.

“Margaret … we shouldn’t … the baby … it’s not right …” She didn’t answer but started to ease his coat from his shoulders.

“Please, Margaret, …” Now she was unbuttoning his waistcoat and his shirt and …

“Margaret, stop, I …” Her hands were on his bare chest now, kissing and stroking, setting on fire every inch of it. Still he was fighting, drawing on every bit of reserve he possessed but she didn’t stop, began loosening his trousers instead. Abruptly he stepped back, causing her to fall onto the bed.

“Come, my love …”, she breathed, “please, come? It’s been so long since we have loved each other.”

“Margaret, what if we hurt the baby? We …” John swallowed back the huge wave of desire threatening to choke him.

“John, listen to me, my love? I want this baby as much as you do. Oh, yes, I know you do want to become a father, I’ve seen it in your eyes, heard it in your words. And I want to become a mother with every fibre of my body, but John, not at the cost of everything! When carrying this baby to full term means that I cannot make love to you for nine months, then I have to draw a line. I cannot be without you for so long, John. I will not. If it is God’s will that this baby be born, then it will. If it is not, then so be it. I will not give you up at any cost, dearest.”

When she drew him onto the bed next to her and placed his hand onto her exquisite little breast, John was done in for and surrendered.

 

The next day Margaret felt rejuvenated, better than she had felt in a long time. Even the sight of the long line of sick people didn’t tamp down her happiness. The thought of their blissful lovemaking the night before still sent shivers of pleasure down her spine. John … what a man he was, so tender and yet so fierce and proud! So skilful, too. Her cheeks were suffused with heat when the memories came back to her. God! She was so completely in love with her handsome husband!

The day dragged on, even though she nor Mary had a single spare moment left. Margaret was teaching Betty and Jenny how to do things, such as the dressing of small wounds or preparing and applying poultices on bruises and chests. The two girls, for that was what they were still, had some trouble understanding what was required of them but they eventually would be of great help, given time. When December’s early dawn set in and the air was growing colder, Mary sent the remaining patients home, promising to call on them later, that night.

“Margaret, go home. We have done our share for today. You need your rest, with the baby underway.”

“Oh!”, Margaret exclaimed, “if there’s another person today mentioning the baby, I swear I am going to scream!”

She had startled Mary and hastened reassuring her. “Sorry, Mary, but I’m sure you understand?”

Mary smiled. “I do, Margaret, I am just one more of those annoying, interfering persons, isn’t it?”

“No,” Margaret replied, “not you, Mary, never you. Now, you go home and prepare Nicholas’s dinner. I’ll lock away the supplies and then go home myself.”

They were done cleaning up so Mary left for home. Margaret collected the medicines and bandages into their basket, closed up the infirmary and went to the office at the back of the factory hall. John had a small storeroom there, where he kept his cash money and ledgers for the night. It had a sturdy iron door but no windows as it was built inside the inner factory wall. John must still be around, she thought, because the door of the store room stood ajar with the key outside in the lock.

Humming under her breath with happiness, Margaret entered the room and put the basket on one of the shelves.

She was about to turn around and leave when the iron door fell close and she was thrown in complete darkness.

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Three

Chapter Three – Women of Marlborough Mills

 

Approaching footsteps made John and Margaret pull apart, albeit reluctantly. They only had so few moments of privacy outside their bedchamber as it was. A knock on the door made them turn towards it. Mary Higgins came in and gave them her shy smile.

“Excuse me, Margaret, Mrs. Thornton said I would find you here but if I’m interrupting I can always come back later?”, she asked in an apologizing tone of voice.

“No, Mary, there’s no need, I’m coming with you right away. Are there many visitors for the infirmary today?”

“At least fifty. Some of them are looking really sick. Should I send for Dr. Donaldson or is it too early?”

“Maybe we shall start examining them first and call upon the doctor later? He already has his hands full with his own surgery, and I don’t want to impose on him too often. Come, let’s go.”

Margaret kissed John’s cheek and, so softly only he could hear it, said, “I’ll see you tonight, sweetheart.”

When the women left, John sank back into his chair, his mind reeling with disturbing thoughts but then, when had it been otherwise? No peace for him, never. There was the Mill, there was his family.  Margaret … their baby on the way. Margaret, who had been through such an ordeal last November, with Ann Latimer’s attack on her. Their baby … John wasn’t exactly sure how he was dealing with Margaret’s pregnancy which could end any day with her miscarrying. Part of him was exulting with joy of becoming a father because it was the confirmation of his love for Margaret. He felt ready for it at thirty-two, he welcomed it. But there was another part of him that was rejecting it too, because it could be dangerous for his beloved Margaret if she should miscarry or … he shuddered inwardly, just by thinking it, if she should die in childbirth.

 

Margaret braced herself against the sudden wave of nausea and swallowed back the burning  liquid that forced itself into her throat. No, she would not be sick now, she needed to get on with her work. Too many people were depending on her and Mary to get help for their illnesses.

There were so many of them, too many. Most of them were mothers with very young children but also a few old people, all of them, without exception, suffering from respiratory diseases and “fluff-on-the-lungs”, just like Bessy Higgins. Poor Bessy … Margaret often thought about her lately, especially now that she was working regularly with Mary, Bessy’s sister. Bessy … such a good, kind soul she had been, such a good friend to Margaret at a time when she had been very lonely. What a waste, what a pity.

Mary had changed much over the past year, Margaret mused, as she studied her friend covertly, while the latter was dressing a minor wound on a small boy. Mary had been a somewhat slovenly, awkward girl when Bessy lived but now she had come into her own. She had lost her awkwardness and her sloppy appearance almost completely and turned into a discretely dressed, quiet kind of woman who handled the busy soup kitchen and infirmary in a most effective way. People liked Mary, trusted her, asked her for advice and help, all of which she gave abundantly yet not in an intrusive way. Margaret loved Mary as she had Bessy and she was glad to have her for a dear friend.

The door opened and Hannah came in, carrying a tray with the tea things. She had taken on the habit of bringing in food for Mary and Margaret when they were working because then she was certain her daughter-in-law would get sustenance at regular times. Shoving aside a pile of paper work on the desk, she put down her load and began pouring tea into large mugs, adding milk and  sugar in Margaret’s cup.

“Here,” she commanded in her usual brisk tone, “drink this and sit down for it, will you? Your face has the colour of those bandages over there, grey! Margaret, you can’t keep doing this! Have you seen the infirmary’s waiting room? It’s crowded with patients and outside there’s a line of at least fifty more! It will be the middle of the night before you’ll be finished.”

The minute she sat down, Margaret realised how tired she was.  “Mother,” she answered, sighing with pleasure when she sipped her tea, “it’s always like that. We are bringing in women with babies and small children to help out. That way they can mind their children while working.”

“Yes,” Hannah said, “and you will work twice as hard as they do and some day you will collapse and then where will we be? No, you listen to what I have to say, my girl!”

Margaret looked at John’s mother in astonishment! It had been a long time since she heard that take-it-or-leave-it tone. Hannah didn’t blink but continued.

“I’m taking over the administration of this business right now. I’ll do the ordering of supplies, the sifting of patients. Yes, don’t look so surprised, I do know something of sick people! As I said, you need to send the really badly afflicted to the hospital or to Dr. Donaldson. I’ll sort them out. I’ll talk to candidates applying to give a hand too, it’s far too time-consuming for you. Now, have you already thought about their wages? They’ll have to be paid something, you know?”

By now, Margaret was stunned! Her mother-in-law was really something!

 

The Spiteful One was watching Margaret while she was talking to a woman with a newborn baby. What smugness, what patronizing, what superiority and arrogance! Margaret Hale Thornton really thought herself to be all-knowing and faultless! A stop needed to be put at it! No more meddling with people’s lives! Yet a careful planning was in order if a maximum of result was to be gained.

Observation, listening and thinking first and then, planning. The Enemy was strong. A young, well-bred woman with a doting husband who guarded her like if she were made of sugar. Margaret Hale Thornton had it all. Never in her life had she known hardship like the Spiteful One had. Well, that was about to change fast.

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twenty-Two

Chapter Two – Margaret’s Struggle

Margaret was stunned!

This was the John from the time she had refused to explain her behaviour in the train station to him, stern, scowling, unforgiving. Was this how their marriage would be? John refusing her to be a part of his work as a manufacturer? John furious when she reclaimed that part as her rightful own? Margaret looked at him, a plea in her eyes not to reject her, to remember their feelings of love and companionship. She rose and extended both of her hands to him but he ignored her gesture.

“John, my love, what is this? Don’t you know I will always …”

“Choose the side of my workers against me? Yes, I do know that, Margaret! You’ve proved that most effectively just now!”, he snapped, blue eyes blazing with fury.

Margaret’s heart sank! “No, that’s not true, I was merely trying to get your attention on …”

“On the fact that it’s your money what saved my mill from bankruptcy? Yes, I do know that all too well, woman! And how do you think I feel when you throw that into my face with one of my workers present?”

He rushed past her causing her to stumble backwards against the desk. A moment later the door banged shut. Margaret gasped as a fierce stab of pain shot through her lower back. The baby! She needed to sit down and breathe! Dr. Donaldson had warned her for this kind of unnecessary strain. Forcing herself in taking deep, slow breaths, Margaret carefully let herself down in her chair again.

 

Outside in the snow, Hannah Thornton wrapped her woollen shawl closer to her body as she watched her son stalking away towards the factory hall. Oh God! How dreadful! They had been quarrelling, and she had been involuntarily eavesdropping on them. She knew why John had behaved this way and she needed to explain it to her daughter-in-law. So, she entered the office to find Margaret bent forward in her chair.

“What is it, child? Are you feeling unwell?”, she asked, taking Margaret’s cold hands in hers.

“Back pain, Mother, don’t worry. I’m sure it will soon pass.”

Hannah knew better, though, but she refrained from pushing into the matter.

“Come with me, Margaret, you need to rest and to keep warm.”

She helped her son’s wife up and supported her while returning to the parlour with its cheerful fire.

“Here,” she said, “settle down on the sofa and get your feet up. Jane?”

“Yes, Mistress?”, the maid answered.

“Go and prepare a mug of hot chocolate for young Mrs. Thornton.”

The maid curtsied, looked curiously at Margaret and left. Hannah waited for Margaret to catch her breath and for Jane to bring the drink. When Margaret had taken a few sips of her cup, she drew her chair nearer and said softly. “Margaret, there’s something I need you to know. Today it’s the anniversary of my husband’s death.”

Margaret stared at John’s mother in startled dismay but the latter went on.

“You know my husband committed suicide, don’t you? Yet, you don’t know all of it and I need you to be fully aware of the details in order to understand my son’s behaviour today.”

Hannah took a deep breath and continued. “Eighteen years ago, John was home for Christmas from his boarding school in York. We were waiting for my husband to come in from his office, the same room where John keeps his nowadays.  As he was late, John went to look for him. His father had hanged himself in the office and John was the one who found him.”

Hannah’s voice wavered a little and Margaret, shocked and grieved, took her hands. “That must have been terrible for him,” she whispered, her heart full of sadness at the thought of what John must have endured.

“If it was, Margaret, he never breathed a word to me about it, although I kept questioning him. I know it must have given him a blow from which I do not think he has ever recovered. On this day, he always remembers but he never speaks about it. That is why he was so … so easily infuriated, earlier.”

“Poor, brave love of mine …”, Margaret said quietly, put down her cup and stood.

 

Once he entered the Mill’s great factory hall, John felt calmer like he always did when hearing the clattering of his looms. After finishing his round between the rows, he climbed onto the platform where Williams, his overseer, was standing.

“How is the mood amongst them?”, he asked.

“Unsettled, Mr. Thornton. They’re planning a meeting tonight.”

“I know. Higgins will see to it.”

“If you say so, sir,” Williams replied. The loyal employee still didn’t understand why his master had taken in that firebrand. It was not for him to judge, so he kept his peace.

John headed for the small office at the back of the hall, in desperate need of solitude. He had behaved like the rough jumped-up worker his wife thought him to be when they’d just met, two years ago. She was right, always had been. He was no gentleman. He had no manners and too much of a temper.

He threw open the door and stopped in his tracks. Margaret was sitting behind his desk, her fine porcelain hands joined on its top. Her bright, lovely, blue eyes smiled at him though her face was serious.

John rushed to her and kneeled by her side. “Oh, sweetheart, forgive me! I was such a bastard to you, I’m so sorry, Margaret.”

“John, my love,” she whispered, caressing his cheek with a slightly trembling hand, “there’s nothing to forgive. I wasn’t exactly tactful, was I? It is I who am sorry, darling.”

He took her face into his hands and gently kissed her mouth.

“Oh, Margaret. How can you even put up with me?”, John sighed and hugged her close. She gave a small gasp and he realised in sudden panic there must be something wrong.

“Love, what is it? Did I hurt you? I’m …”

“No, no, don’t panic. It’s nothing to worry about. Dr. Donaldson warned me about it, it will pass.”

But by now, John wasn’t prepared to take any more risks when Margaret’s wellbeing was at stake. He rose from his knees and scooped her into his arms. “I have to get you home,” he declared in a voice which was all resolution, “I won’t have you putting yourself to risk any longer!”

Margaret’s heart leapt with joy as it always did when John took over control like that. That was how she liked him best and yet, sometimes it did disturb her, too. He could be really overbearing at times and then, nothing could sway him into listening to other people’s point of view.

“Please, put me down, love,” she asked softly, “I’m fine and I can walk on my own two legs well enough.”

John did so but kept her close. She looked up into his face and saw his eyes, exquisitely blue and glowing with love, and her heart skipped several beats. The next second his mouth was on hers, claiming it with a passion that made her weak in the knees. Margaret returned his kiss willingly and full of ardour. These precious moments were what was worth living for.

 

Burning hatred seared the heart of the Spiteful One watching the two of them kissing. Hatred and outrage at this scandalous behaviour in the middle of the day! How dared they do such … such filthy deeds in broad daylight? They would have to be punished for that, it would be the rightful vengeance for what they had done! Oh, yes, the rightful vengeance …