Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Forty-Seven

Chapter Seven – Reunited

“Twins! Oh, my God, Margaret, that is disastrous! You could die! Oh, heavens!”

Edith stood beside the couch upon which they had laid Margaret after she collapsed a few minutes earlier. She had thought it advisable to tell her aunt and cousin about what Dr Chelmsford told her. Edith was wringing her hands in despair and Aunt Shaw, sitting on a nearby chair, was silently weeping, as if Margaret were already dead.

Suddenly Mrs Shaw jumped up and decreed in a determined voice. “You must stay here for the remainder of your pregnancy. With Dr Chelmsford, as your physician, of course. His knowledge and the fact that he lives nearby are now of vital importance for your health, Margaret. I shall instruct the butler to send a telegram to your husband.”

“No!”

Margaret sat upright and spoke vehemently. “I must go back to Milton! I feel … no, I know something is not right! With John … something has happened to John!”

Edith and Mrs Shaw stared at her as if she had suddenly grown two heads.

“I cannot explain, auntie,” Margaret said softly, tears blurring her vision, “I just know it. John is in danger, I have to go to him.”

At one point on the train ride back to Milton, Margaret stopped listening to Dixon’s endless complaints about their returning home so soon. It was keeping her mind off John and she did not want that. Something had transpired in Milton and it had affected her husband. Of that she was absolutely sure. She needed to be with John, as soon as possible.

Although they had taken seats in the first class carriage of the train, upholstered with soft, red plush seat cushions, Margaret was not comfortable at all. Her back ached and her head swam. She could not help thinking of her unborn babies and what would become of them when the birthing took place. She now realised that the reason for her being so heavy was the fact that she was bearing two children instead of one. How was she to give birth to them? Would they survive? Would she survive herself? However, all that was not the worst of it. No, it was John and what it was that had befallen him, for she was convinced it would be something dreadful! God! Could this confounded train go any slower than this?

 

In Dr Donaldson’s small surgery John was laid upon an examination table. Mary hurried in after the doctor and between the two of them they proceeded in establishing the damage. After a while, Dr Donaldson breathed a sigh of relief.

“It is not as bad as it looks like, Mary. He’s got a dislocated shoulder. We must set it instantly otherwise, his muscles will cramp up too much. Help me undress him, I want to examine his rib cage.”

In her quiet, discreet way, Mary did as she was asked. With careful movements, she eased John out of his coat and shirt, as gently as she could. It did not keep him from uttering a groan of pain but he did not wake up. Dr Donaldson’s hands started probing John’s torso which was already beginning to show ugly bruises all over the broad chest and back.

“No broken ribs, thank God. Now, Mary, I’m going to turn him on his side, but just a tad, mind you. Very well, so far so good. Keep him in that position and steady his head. Gently, please?”

With caution the doctor’s fingers examined the back of John’s head and the base of his neck.

“No, there is no fracture, as far as I can feel.”

A loud groan from the patient startled them both.

“Hell, Donaldson! I’m dying here! What did you do to me, you old scoundrel?”

“Mr Thornton, you’re awake? Steady, Mary, ease him onto his back again.”

 

By the time they had arrived at Outward Milton Station, Margaret was in a fine state of panic. The ride had taken much longer, due to a delay somewhere on the line, where she had been pacing up and down the platform, fretting about John, until finally, the station master had given the signal for departure. It was already dark and a fine fog was curling over the platform as Dixon and her mistress alighted from the train. They hurried into a hansom cab and Dixon ordered the driver to Marlborough Mills. Then she turned to her mistress.

“Miss Margaret, how are you feeling? I hope …”

“I am fine enough, Dixon, do not fuss.”

Margaret lay her hand on Dixon’s. “Dixon, dear Dixon, I am going to have a great need of you, the days to came. I cannot say why, I just know it.”

“I will always be at your service, Miss, you know that, I hope?”

“Yes, Dixon, I do.”

At Marlborough Mills a surprise awaited Margaret. Jenny, the maid that had replaced Jane, told her that the master had been taken to Dr Donaldson’s surgery.

 

“So, all that’s wrong with me, is a dislocated shoulder? Damnation, Donaldson, how can this hurt so much? It’s like a hot poker is being plunged into it!”

“I really must set it now, Mr Thornton. It is already far too long since they brought you here and your muscles are cramping up.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Get on with it!”

“Wait, doctor!”

John’s heart leapt at hearing the beloved voice of his Margaret. He pushed Donaldson aside and there she was!

“Darling!” he exclaimed, “What the devil are you doing here?”

He had meant it as a joke but when he saw Margaret’s ashen face, he sobered quite quickly.

Margaret rushed to him, then checked herself. “Doctor, what is wrong with him?”

“Not much, Mrs Thornton. A dislocated shoulder and a concussion. Now, if you will forgive me, Ma’am, I must set the shoulder.”

“Donaldson, surely, if I’m to be subjected to torture, I’m entitled to kiss my wife first. Come here, you adorable darling of mine.”

Not caring of Donaldson’s and Mary’s seeing it, John drew Margaret close with his good arm and kissed her soundly and squarely on her lovely mouth.

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Six – A Narrow Escape

At Marlborough Mills things were busy but progressing very nicely.

John was supervising the installation of looms in one of his new sheds and at this moment, he wished Nicholas could have been with him. Higgins’ vast knowledge of machinery would have served him well but it would be at least another week before he and Hannah would be back in Milton. Thank God his mother was getting back on her feet without any visible setbacks, John thought.

He redirected his attention to the affairs in hand.

Three groups of sturdy workmen were building up an equal number of Lancashire Looms in the vast new hall, especially built for just that. The looms were the latest invention and very expensive. John and Margaret had invested a great part of their fortune in the acquisition of the three of them. It was of vital importance, therefore, that they would be functioning as soon as possible.

Hovering at the entrance of the hall were a group of women of Mary’s infirmary ward, taking their break. Some of them had their children with them, and the little ones were running around and laughing and playing. Mary had organized a neat scheme of turning shifts and she was now employing thirty young workers’ wives, who were prevented from working because they had recently given birth or had too many children under the age of six. Children older than six would be at the factories working as “scavengers”. Their task consisted in crawling under the looms to collect pieces of cloth and tie up loose ends. It was a dangerous job and many children were injured, some met their deaths when caught up in the looms. John always insisted on a thorough training beforehand and asked Mr Williams, his overseer, to keep a firm eye on the children. Mr Williams had an overseer in every shed, so that the children could be watched.

John was attentively watching the progress of assembling the looms, when, like a flash of lightning, a small form slid under one of the machines, giggling and shrieking. The worker, holding up one of the warp beams, startled and the heavy beam slit from his hands. He managed to get a grip but his hands, not getting the right hold, kept slipping. Without thinking, John plunged under the loom, snatched the child and literally threw it from under the menacing beam.

At that moment, with a sound like thunder, the beam crashed down on John.

Margaret was numb with bewilderment as she stammered. “Tw … twins … you’re … you … but … doctor …”

“Mrs Thornton, please, collect yourself. There is no need for panic. You must proceed as you have until now, only, you need to lie down every couple of hours. Try not to be on your feet for too long. Be careful with your food. Nothing too fat or too sugary, no alcohol or coffee, but lots of fluids, tea or water. You must forestall the gain of too much weight. Now, we must get you home and, do not worry, I will order my coachman to drive you home.”

“Surely, doctor,” Margaret began, “my aunt’s house is 300 yards down the street and …”

“No arguing, Mrs Thornton, if you please? You had a shock, you need to rest, to be calm. No straining exercise anymore today.”

 

Margaret had to admit she was indeed in shock. Twins … how on earth was she to tell John?

When she entered her aunt’s house, Edith came out of the drawing room.

“Oh, dear! Margaret, you look awful! Come and sit down, sweetheart. Holly, help me with Mrs Thornton.”

They lowered Margaret onto a chair and Dixon, who came whirling in, fell on her knees beside her mistress.

“Oh, my dear Miss Margaret! I must get you to bed immediately.”

“No,” Margaret said, “I’m fine. I just need to lie down a bit.”

To emphasize this, she rose. A sharp stab of pain in her lower back made her gasp but that was not the worse. All of a sudden, out of the blue, she had a horrible feeling something was very wrong … with John …

 

For a few seconds everybody in the hall just stood rooted to the ground in shock!

Then Mr Williams bellowed to haul up the warp beam and secure it. He knelt and crawled toward the master who lay motionless on his stomach, his arm bent back in a weird angle and blood trickling of a wound at the back of his head. Mr Williams put out a shaking hand and touched the master’s neck. A pulse … thank God, there was a heartbeat! A very weak one …

They sent for Dr Donaldson who gave directions as how to retrieve John from under the loom. A board was slowly slit under the master’s body, and they carried him to Dr Donaldson’s surgery, three blocks away. All the way, a large and totally silent mass of workers followed the stretcher, a mass growing more and more.

The word was spreading rapidly through the city. John Thornton, master of Marlborough Mills had just been gravely, maybe fatally, injured.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Five – Startling News

 

Margaret woke to the grey dawn of April in a London drenched by rain. She had slept very badly as she always seemed to do lately, when John was not beside her in the bed. John … oh, how she missed him!  His gentle reassurance after a day’s hard work, his sweet soothing of her, with kisses and caresses … John … the handsome face of her husband came into her mind and she felt a stab of sheer loss of not having him close to her! Only four days … four long, lonely days … without John.

With a sigh Margaret rose and readied herself for her second day in the Empire’s capital. As she did so, her baby violently kicked.

In Milton John woke after the most wretched night he ever had.

Damn! How was he supposed to sleep without his wife next to him? And then, this empty house, without even his mother! Damn! His world had been turned upside down!

He dragged himself out of bed and dressed. It was barely six am and still dark but he made a point of being there when the first shift arrived. Just so that the workers knew their master shared their working hours.

Tom was already in the office, busily jotting down numbers in one of the large ledgers.

“Good Lord, boy! And you here in this blistering cold? Why do you come here so early? Mr Williams does not light the stove before eight am!”

“I don’t feel the cold, Mr Thornton, sir!”, Tom beamed, “I awoke at five and couldn’t stay in bed! Not with all the work there’s to be done!”

John laughed.

“Be sure to go down to the house for breakfast, Tom. I notified Cook you would.”

“Right, sir!”

 

Margaret entered the waiting room of Dr Mortimer Chelmsford, renowned gynaecologist in London’s Harley Street, which hosted the residences of a vast amount of famous (read: exclusive and expensive) members of the medical profession. A very dignified lady at the reception led her into it, indicating a chair.

“The doctor will see you soon, Ma’am,” she proclaimed in a rigid manner and retired.

Margaret  waited, her nervousness mounting as time ticked away. Although she had a deep trust in Dr Donaldson and his abilities, she was anxious to hear the opinion of the London doctor on her pregnancy. Just to be on the safe side. She remembered all too well how precarious the situation had been in the first months of waiting anxiously for a miscarriage to happen.

Dr Chelmsford was not at all as Margaret had imagined he would. For instance, he was young; he could not be more than thirty-five. He was also very reassuring , cordially welcomed her into his office and held out a chair for her. His big brown eyes shone with warm interest and his large mouth smiled readily while he penned down her data on a page of the record book he kept for his patients. He did not interrupt Margaret before she told him the whole story about her pregnancy.

“Well, Mrs Thornton, if you would be so kind as to step behind that screen? I would like you to disrobe of your coat, shirt, skirt and corset, if you please? Then, pray, stretch out onto the couch.”

Feeling a trifle awkward, Margaret did as he asked. She stiffened when the doctor began to probe the swollen mound of her belly with gentle hands.

“Please, Mrs Thornton, I beg you to relax. This procedure is very necessary in order to establish the position and condition of your baby. I will endeavour not to prolong it beyond its necessity. Now, close your eyes, think of pleasant, soothing things.”

With an effort, Margaret directed her thoughts to the man she loved beyond everything. She forced herself to recall John’s face and brilliant blue eyes, his smile when he looked at her, his upright frame and long legs. John … only four days and she would be with him again.

“There, Mrs Thornton, that part is over. Now, I want you to be very brave. There is one examination I have to do and it is not a pleasant one. I must ascertain myself of the condition of the cervix.”

Margaret gasped.

“But … doctor, how will you …”

Dr Chelmsford took one of her hands and squeezed it gently.

“I must ask you to put yourself into my hands, Mrs Thornton. If you prefer not to be alone with me during this examination, I will ask my assistant to be present. That way propriety will be satisfied. Would you like Mrs Dorcas, who is a respectfully married lady with two children,  to be present?”

“Yes, please,” Margaret whispered.

After what was positively the most horrible ten minutes of her entire life, Margaret was allowed to dress again. She was a trifle wobbly in the legs when she returned to the chair in front of Dr Chelmsford’s desk. When Mrs Dorcas, face still placidly unperturbed, handed her a cup of fragrant, steaming tea, she gladly accepted. The tea was strong and sweet and after she drained the cup greedily, Margaret felt almost restored to her old self.

“Mrs Thornton,” the doctor said gravely, “I have some … disturbing news for you. I must inform you of the fact that you are carrying twins.”

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Four – Working for Marlborough Mills

John’s hand, holding a spoon full of stew, stopped half way up to his mouth in surprise. This was the first time ever Mary ‘proposed’ something to him!

“Yes, Mary?”

“Well … I couldn’t help notice you are being overtaken by work and a lot of it is that of an office clerk,  filling in the ledgers, calculating and checking numbers, writing letters and so on. Do you remember little Tom Boucher? John, thanks to your kind concern, the boy, now eight, has become an astute little fellow who is particularly good at mathematics. His school teacher, Mr Debenham, even refers to him as ‘brilliant’. His handwriting is neat and very legible. Maybe he could give you a hand, as an junior office hand?”

John put down his spoon and grabbed Mary’s hand in so fierce a grasp that she startled!

“Mary, Mary, thank you! Now why haven’t I thought about that? It is simply perfect! Bring him to me this instant. He will do very nicely, I’m sure!”

 

Although the meeting at the Assembly Hall was very instructive, Margaret was glad to return to Harley Street when it was over. She had been participating and asking questions throughout the debate and lectures, frantically making notes and instructing Dixon to go hunting for pamphlets. Now, at the end of a very long morning, she felt exhausted. Her back was troubling her something fiercely and her head was spinning. Dixon’s reproaches on what she called Margaret’s foolish behaviour did nothing to relieve the headache she now had. When they came out into the courtyard, they had an unpleasant surprise as their cab was nowhere to be seen.

“Miss, you go back inside and I’ll go fetch another one!” Dixon ordered.

“No, Dixon, let’s go together. No need for you to go on your own.”

Leaning heavily on Dixon’s sturdy arm, Margaret left the courtyard into the narrow Throgmorton Street and the pair of them set foot in the direction of the broader London Wall thoroughfare.

She bit her lower lip at the pain in her back. Dr Donaldson had been trying to reassure her about it, saying it was only her pelvis ligaments elongating, caused by her growing belly. This way her body prepared itself to give birth. It did hurt mightily and she had to stifle a groan when she overturned her ankle and the shock reverberated through her belly. Thanks to Dixon’s strong grasp on her arm she did not fall.

“Margaret! Margaret, for God’s sake, what are you doing out here?”

They both turned toward the voice and saw, to their infinite relief, Henry Lennox, alighting from his carriage.

 

When Tom Boucher entered the office, John stood and bid him welcome, motioning to a chair in front of his desk.

“Hello, Tom! How are you? I hear you want to come and work for me?”

The boy, who had grown quite a bit over the last two years, beamed at him and replied. “Oh, yes, Mr Thornton, sir! I would very much like that! I am quite good at maths and I can write a clear hand, sir. Mary told me to bring these with me, so you could see for yourself.”

Tom handed over a map to John who opened and studied it. Mary had not at all been exaggerating. The boy wrote an impeccable hand and his calculating examples were neat and correct. John smiled at him and looked him over.

“You have grown a lot since I last saw you, Tom. What is it, some three inches?”

“Three and a half, Mr Thornton, sir!” Tom beamed.

John realised he had neglected to inquire about the boy’s health and progress even though he promised himself to do so after discovering that Nicholas had taken Boucher’s children in. Thank God Mary had cared for them!

“Well, Tom, I want you to come into the office at eight in the morning and take care of all the administration, a task for which I do not have time. You will work until five pm and you will take three meals a day in the kitchen of my house. I will inform my cook about this. I will pay you a weekly salary of nine shillings a week with a monthly raise of half a shilling, if you keep up the good work. Here are some of the ledgers from the supply that have to be updated.”

John led Tom to a high writing desk and gestured him to climb on the high stool.

“Tom?”

The serious note in John’s voice made the boy look him straight into the face.

“Yes, Mr Thornton, sir?”

“I do hope you are aware of the fact that all things in here are confidential? You are not to speak about any of these affairs to any one, not even to Mary. Do you understand, Tom?”

The blue eyes of the boy stared into his own with grave honesty.

“Yes, Mr Thornton, I do understand. You have my word, Sir.”

That night, John Thornton sat in his parlour after he dined alone in his dining room.

The house was very quiet and dark, all noises coming to an end as evening settled in. The factory itself seemed to have grown silent, as it did every night at ten pm, when the last shift of workers went home. John was always aware of the ending of work but never as acutely as now, when he was alone in his house, without everyone he loved.

Never before, not even in earlier times of being rejected by her, had John felt Margaret’s absence more deeply than now. His darling wife had become a part of him. Without her he was lost.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Three – Old Resentment Laid to Rest

Upon hearing the angry voice behind her, Margaret rose from her chair and turned around.

“Henry …,” she said softly and beheld the stern figure of Henry Lennox as he stood in the doorway, not the slightest trace of a smile on his handsome countenance.

She did the only thing that made sense on such an awkward moment; she smiled … and had the satisfaction of seeing a myriad of feelings pass over Henry’s face, resentment, anger, distress. However, there was also the more intense emotion of surprised compassion as his eyes roamed over her figure, swollen in pregnancy.

“Margaret … you are … with child?”

Henry suddenly swallowed hard, at the tender beauty of Margaret, her slight, small body held upright and proud, her slender waist now supporting the weight of her unborn child. Not for the first time Henry envied John Thornton and the enormous fortune that man had of being able to love Margaret in all possible ways.

“Yes, Henry, as you can see! John and I are expecting our first child early July. One of my purposes of coming to London is to visit Dr Mortimer Chelmsford, further down the street. I want to be absolutely certain that nothing has been overlooked and that I can await the birth of my child in peace and quiet.”

Aunt Shaw cleared her throat noisily at this point, drawing all attention to herself.

“Speaking of childbirth, Margaret, I was wondering if you should not stay here when your time comes. Surely there is no better place to have the baby than here in the capital of the Empire? What brand of physicians would they have up there in the great, barren North?”

Margaret let burst out her silvery little peel of laughter, which suddenly pinched at Henry’s heart.

“Oh, Auntie! Never! Do you suppose John would let me do such a thing? He wants to be at my side when the baby is to be born! Unless you are prepared on taking us both in, he will not be away from me!”

Mrs Shaw pinched her lips in her usual disapproving manner but said nothing more. She had never understood what attracted her niece in the brooding mill master that was John Thornton, nor why she chose to live in the grimy, unsanitary  Northern town where the only thing of value seemed to be the making of cotton. Inwardly she scoffed. Cotton! Was there ever a more vile, low-quality fabric than that? And the factories! Stuffy, dark, stifling dens full of sickly, ragged people! Yet she kept quiet and promised herself to bide her time. There might come a moment when Margaret would see the profit of being in the warm comfort of a well-to-do London mansion.

The next morning, Margaret attended the seminary she had come to London for in the company of her faithful Dixon. It was held at the National Union of Weavers and Drapers Assembly Hall in Cheapside, a long way from Harley Street and Regent’s Park. The beautiful houses of the rich gradually gave way to more modest lodgings and farther away to grimy, forbidding warehouses as the hansom cab approached the river Thames. The hall itself was a large, brown-bricked building designed for practicality rather than aesthetics. Dixon and her mistress entered the big gate of the porch in their carriage, asking the driver to come and collect them in four hours. They alighted into a rather shabby courtyard and were immediately hailed a welcome by a stout, round-cheeked young man who introduced himself as Frederick Porter, the secretary of the organisation.

“Mrs Thornton,” he beamed, “it is you, isn’t it? Only a man with Mr Thornton’s progressive views would send his honoured spouse to attend our modest meetings. Welcome, ma’am. Please, let me have the honour of escorting you.”

Margaret smiled at him as she took his outstretched hand in a sturdy grasp.

“Thank you, Mr Porter, it will be my pleasure. Dixon, you need not to stay with me. I would be glad to give you the morning off, if you like?”

“Miss Margaret, I am not leaving your side! How can you think such a dreadful thing of me and in your delicate condition too!”, Dixon exclaimed. Margaret giggled inwardly at Dixon still calling her “Miss Margaret”. Her dear old Dixon had never accepted Margaret’s status of a distinguished married lady at all!

“Very well, Dixon, you may come along, if that is what you wish.”

She then allowed Mr Porter to escort her inside.

 

At Marlborough Mills John was almost swamped in work.

He had the orders to look after, the supplies to tend to, the worker’s wages to be calculated and paid. In addition to that he also had to supervise the construction sites of all the new buildings that were in the process of being erected on the grounds of the mill. His days were nearly endless as he was at his office at six am and not leaving until eleven at night. There was often no time to eat and no Margaret, Hannah or Higgins to drag him out of his office and make him partake of some food. As had frequently occurred in the past, John worked himself into exhaustion attempting to cope with it all.

He hadn’t even heard the quiet knock on the door at first until it repeated itself more vigorously the second time.

“Come!”, he replied.

Mary Higgins’ dainty little figure appeared in the doorway and John rose politely and pointed her to a chair.

“Good day, Mary,” he greeted her, “What can I do for you?”

“Mr Thornton, sir …”, Mary began but John interrupted her, smiling friendly at her.

“Please, Mary, I beg you, no stiff society stuff must rule our relationship. You have been a true support to me and Margaret, all these long months, and you are like family, now that Nicholas is marrying my mother. Call me John, I insist!”

Mary smiled back. “Alright, … John …” It still sounded a little awkward to her modest ears!

“John, forgive me for meddling with you but Margaret asked me to … as she called it, ‘keep an eye on you’. She was particularly worried that you should overdo it in your work and that you … forgive the expression, should  starve yourself in the line of your duty.”

She then opened the basket she had brought with her and extracted a big bowl of stew and a large chunk of bread, all of which she expertly placed under his nose on top of the papers lying on his desk. The heavenly smell of warm, freshly cooked meat assaulted John’s nose and he gave in with a hearty laugh.

“Thank you, Mary! It is most welcome, I am ravenous!”

While he was tucking in with a healthy appetite, Mary hesitantly continued. “If you would allow me some more meddling, John, I have something I want to propose to you.”

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Two – A Journey to London

Margaret’s heart thudded frantically as John’s expert fingers undid the buttons of her nightgown, pushing it from her shoulders and down her body. She closed her eyes in pure delight when he began kissing the soft skin of her neck and shoulders, setting it aflame as his lips trailed down to her now full breasts.

“John, we must not …”, she moaned, all the while unable to stop her body from arching into his touch when his hands cupped her aching breasts and his thumbs rubbed her taut nipples.

“Shhh, my beautiful love,” John soothed, “leave this to me. There are many ways to worship your exquisite body.”

Margaret, who was becoming fully aroused, wondered what he could mean! Many ways … oh! Oh! Oh! He was removing her gown and kissing her swollen, sensitive belly!

“John … stop, please … I …”

“Shhh, my precious, don’t fight me, just enjoy. Oh, my darling Margaret, how beautiful you are …”

His strokes became even more insistent now, invading her womanly place with long, deep … oh, God! He was kissing her … there? Yes, he was and … it was incredible! She plunged her hands into his thick sabre locks to steady herself as her arousal built up quickly to take her up, to that peak of delight.

Margaret’s senses suddenly exploded into a myriad of rippling waves of intense pleasure. The sensations rolled over her, again and again, as her tender womanly folds clenched in the heat of pleasure. It took several moments for her to recover her breath, while John stroked her stomach with soothing hands.

“My beautiful love,” he said hoarsely, “do you know how perfectly gorgeous you are? Oh, my Margaret, my sweet, my dearest, I love you so much …”

“John, I love you too … thank you for what you just did, it was magical. But … you, John, what of you?”

Margaret saw how intense her husband’s arousal was and how he was forcing himself to suppress it.

“Do not think of me, my darling, it will pass. We, men, are accustomed to suppress our needs many times over. If I did not lust after you, I would not be a proper man and if I had to gain satisfaction every time I feel the need for you, you would not be allowed to leave our bed all day.”

This made Margaret giggle in delight, for it was a huge compliment her husband just paid her.

 

 

 

The next day Margaret and Dixon took the 9.45 London-and-North-Western-Railway from Outward Milton Station to London Euston Station. They were bound on a five-hour journey of jostling  on reasonably comfortable, plush couches with a half way stop in Leicester, so they made themselves comfortable. John returned to his mill, suppressing his distress about Margaret’s departure. The work was huge enough, what with Nicholas Higgins not present.

 

 

The events of the past winter and their consequences were yet another thorn in John’s side.

It was extremely difficult for him to accept that his mother and Higgins had taken a romantic interest in each other. He knew very well he was being unfair but still he could not begin to comprehend what the two of them saw in each other. They were so far apart in their social status and their education that John did not understand their mutual attachment. In the summer, they would marry, as soon as his mother had recovered from her ordeals brought on by the treacherous maid Jane. At present, his mother was recuperating in a sanatorium in Cornwall and Nicholas was at her side.

The union man had put all protest aside and ignored the claim of propriety on accompanying his betrothed before they were married.

“Damn it all, John!”, had been his exact words, “I’ll do as I see fit! Hannah needs me by her side and that’s the lot of it! To hell with anyone who dares object to it!”

In his heart, John knew he would have done the same, should Margaret be in similar circumstances. It left him, though, in dire conditions at Marlborough Mills, since Nicholas had proven himself almost indispensable in the running of the cotton factory. Now John was all by himself, as he had been before, were it not that the mill had grown in such a steep way that it now employed two thousand workers. That fact had forced John to build three new sheds for carding and weaving, as well as two new storehouses and a building fit for housing the large maintenance department he had installed.

Consequently, John’s working days were considerably long and hard.

 

 

Margaret and Dixon arrived at Euston Station in London at three o’clock and had scarcely alighted from their carriage on the platform when a young, feminine voice called her name. Through the throng of people, Edith came hurrying in their direction. The two young women embraced each other in a hearty welcome.

“Oh, Margaret! I have missed you so much! Let me look at you! You look absolutely radiant!”

“Edith, I missed you too! I am so happy to see you! Are you here all by yourself?”

“No, Margaret!,” the voice of Captain Lennox sounded, “I would not dare let her lose in town without me! She might bring irreparable harm to our capital!”

“Maxwell!”

Margaret kissed and hugged Edith’s husband fondly. Then she saw Aunt Shaw stepping from behind her daughter.

“Auntie!”

“My dear child!”

 

 

With a pang of sorrow Margaret embraced her mother’s sister. Her aunt had grown stouter and her benign face was much more wrinkled than the last time she saw her. Her dark blond hair showed many grey streaks and her step was heavier.

“Come!”, Captain Lennox said, “let us go to the carriage and bring you home. Do not worry, Miss Dixon, John, our footman will see to your luggage!”

Half an hour later Margaret was seated in her aunt’s parlour at Harley Street with a restoring cup of tea in her hand. There was so much to tell and she knew hardly where to begin. So she recounted the events that had followed her wedding day, with the doings of Ann Latimer and later those of their maid, Jane. Unbelief was written on everyone’s faces when hearing this.

“Well!”, Aunt Shaw exclaimed, “I am extremely chagrined to hear that your husband does not take good care of you, my dear! What is he thinking, subjecting you to all this danger and mischief?”

Margaret was about to defend John when a voice came from the open door.

“Yes, Margaret, what does that big lout of a Thornton mean to do about protecting you?

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Forty-One

Chapter Forty-One – Spring in Milton

It was not until the end of April 1853 that Milton was released from the claws of winter.

Snow and frost lasted such a long time that the poorer among the worker’s families in the Northern industrial town suffered immensely from hunger and cold. Many of them died, from starvation or diseases of the lungs. Charity could not solve every problem but at least managed to alight some of the misery.

Margaret Hale Thornton was one of the most fervent among those who were trying to make a difference to the lamentable conditions of the poor. Despite her pregnancy of thirty weeks, she was working hard in the sick bay she and Mary Higgins had set up in one of Marlborough Mills’ halls.

They provided food and medical attention every day now, around the clock. Moreover, they supplied wood and coal to a vast number of families, in return for which the older children would help in the surgery. That was, if they were not healthy enough to work in the factory. Families could not afford to lose the money. As much members of a household who were able to work were needed to keep it alive. The more lucky ones were those who had five or more wages brought in and not too many toddlers and babies at home. That way the mother would also be working which meant an extra income.

Now that the snow had gone and the temperature was mild, fewer people fell ill. Margaret and Mary could finally afford to let their guard down and give their attention to other problems, such as a thorough and lasting support of the workers and their families. To that end, Margaret was planning to go to London and attend a seminar on the improvement of workers’ conditions,  organised by the National Union of Weavers and Drapers. She also wanted to visit Dr Mortimer Chelmsford in Harley Street who was a well known obstetrician. Now that her baby was well on its way, she needed reassurance that all was well. It would be her last trip away from home before her baby was due at the end of June.

Margaret was huge with pregnancy already and accordingly tired at the end of a day’s work.

Therefore, her husband John, owner and master of Marlborough Mills, was not too happy with this trip.

“Honestly, my love,” he said, as they sat at the dinner table that night, “I am not that keen on sending you to London just now. You are well underway in your third trimester and I cannot bear to miss you! Can you not wait until our child is born?”

Margaret laid her hand on John’s and smiled affectionately at him.

“Darling, it is just for one week! I will be back before you know it.”

John took up Margaret’s small, delicate hand and fondly kissed its palm. He was suddenly overcome with worried tenderness at the thought of his fragile wife on the loose in London where all sorts of danger might be lurking in dark alleys and corners.

“At least you will stay with your Aunt Shaw and you will have you cousin Edith to keep you company,” he said and rose to his feet to help her up. Margaret experienced a difficulty in her movements of lately since her abdomen was heavily swollen and her back gave her pains when she had been sitting in the same position for a while.

“Yes, that is true and I will be so happy to see them both again, after so long a time. Edith is pregnant again and my aunt wrote that she is even more sick in the mornings than she was with Sholto’s pregnancy. Poor Captain Lennox! He will be the first recipient of her complaints!”, Margaret giggled.

“Well,” John grumbled, “I always thought Edith a spoilt brat! Hopefully she is now a bit more grown-up in her ways now that she is to be a mother the second time!”

John led Margaret to their bedroom where he assisted her in undressing for the night. This was their evening ritual and he always looked forward to it. He had been doing so since the terrible fright they had in the early stages of Margaret’s pregnancy after Ann Latimer so dreadfully attacked her. They had been afraid of Margaret losing the baby, then.

Yet, every night, as soon as they came out of the dining room, Dixon would step forward to help her mistress, as she had done so for many years and every night, John had to wave her away. This evening was no exception, though John saw the affectionate smile on the faithful servant’s face and knew she was reconciled with him taking over her love labour. Besides, Dixon would have Margaret to herself in the days to come, since she was accompanying her to London. John felt comforted very much by that knowledge. Dixon would guard his beloved wife like a hen her chicks!

A little while later, John had comfortably settled his wife in their bed, propping up her aching back with several pillows, to allow her to rest properly. While he then began to undress, Margaret lay watching him with fond eyes. Every day, she thanked the Lord for this handsome, strong husband of hers. The happiness she basked in since her marriage to John seemed to grow each day.

And, she thought mischievously, so did the attraction between them!

The sight of John’s long, lean frame, the ripples of those smooth muscles under the silken skin, the broad chest with its light sprinkle of dark hair and, finally, the exquisite sight of his manhood, beautiful even in repose, all of John’s splendid physique still excited her even now.

John caught his wife’s gaze, just before donning his nightshirt.

“What?,” he grinned, “Is there something you wanted from me, my love?”

Margaret gave such a deep sigh that her husband burst out laughing at her disappointed face. They had been forbidden sexual intercourse by Dr Donaldson until after the baby was born because Margaret still was in danger of miscarrying, now that she was so heavily swollen. It was hard for them both but John, who had resigned himself to celibacy, had not been happy that his wife should suffer the same. He therefore had schooled himself in other ways of pleasing his beautiful Margaret and would only be too happy to oblige her, should the need arise.

He dropped the nightshirt and walked over to their bed, where he stretched out his body next to Margaret while proceeding in unbuttoning the front of her nightgown.

“Well,” he said, in a low, sultry voice that sent shivers all over Margaret’s body, “I cannot let you leave on a journey for a whole week without supplies, can I, my darling?”