Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Twelve

Chapter 12 – A very accomplished young lady

 

Within mere minutes John was on the spot. A number of workers had gathered in the factory hall and were blocking the entrance.

“Let me pass!” His voice thundered through the silent hall.

The men parted, and he rushed by them, taking stock of what had happened. It was a sheer disaster!

All the leather belts which were used to drive the looms were cut and all the cotton in process on the looms was shred to pieces. It would cost a fortune repairing the damage fast enough not to suffer a delay in production.

Then John’s gaze turned towards the two young boys sprawled under one of the looms. Apparently one of the warp beams had come loose and crashed down onto the children, leaving one of them buried under its massive weight and the other trapped by the leg. The latter boy was howling in pain, the other unconscious. Several men were trying to lift the beam but they were unable to do so.

“Master, come, give me a hand!” Higgins shouted at John.

Margaret, who had rushed from the dining room close on John’s heels, watched how the two men took each a side of the beam and heaved it upwards in one mighty haul. Sweat broke out on their brows as they held the heavy beam up while others removed the boys from under it. As soon as they were free, Margaret sprang to action.

“Careful! Don’t move them again!” she shouted. “Mr. Williams, is there a board or a plank we can use to transport them to the infirmary?”

“Of course, Mrs. Thornton, ma’am!” Williams answered and gestured at two of the workers who approached with a board between them.

“Please slide the board under them, very carefully, if you please! We don’t want to dislocate the boy’s pelvis”, Margaret instructed.

She glanced around looking for John but he and Higgins were taking stock of the damage. She preceded the workers bearing the boards with the injured children to the infirmary. Mary, she knew, would already be there to help her.

 

John entered his office and went straight to the cupboard at the back. Retrieving a bottle of brandy, he poured himself a measure and tossed it back in one gulp. The damage to the looms was extensive not to mention the arrears on production. He was also aware of the darker side of this; someone was planning on ruining Marlborough Mills.

Weary to the bone after the crushing task he’d behind him, calculating the cost of the damage repair with Higgins at the ledger office, John sank into his chair behind his desk and ran his hands over his face. Only then he noticed the blood on his hand and sleeve. He had a nasty cut on his forearm which bled a little.

“Oh, John, you’re hurt!”

He violently startled and saw Ann Latimer standing in the doorframe.

“Miss Ann! Good Lord, are you still here? And in the Mill to boot! This is no place for you, come, let me escort you back to the house.”

“No, no, that is not necessary.” She smiled and looked around her.

“So this is where you work. How interesting and inspiring! But, John, you must let me tend to your wound.”

In bewilderment, John saw her stride towards the sink in the corner of the office and wet her fine lace handkerchief under the tab. A second later she had wrapped it around his arm, tying it firmly. Her fingers were light as a feather while they lingered on his wrist, caressing it slowly. She raised her big brown eyes to meet his gaze and her voice was slightly husky when she spoke. “So you’ve managed to save the Mill after all, albeit with the help of Margaret Hale’s money.”

John blinked and pulled his hand free. “Mrs. Thornton, you mean?’ he corrected her, all the while in bewilderment over her strange behaviour.

Ann brought her face closer to his, and he had to keep himself from pulling away. What was going on here? He gave her his most scowling stare. She seemed not to notice.

“Yes, …I forgot, she is now Mrs. Thornton … and she bought herself a neat and tidy little business, didn’t she …”

The extremely impertinent tone of her voice drove John to stand abruptly, forcing her to recede in haste.

“Miss Latimer”, he said in the iciest tone he could muster, “your conduct is highly inappropriate. I suggest that we both return to the house and from there you could leave in Watson’s carriage. I have urgent business, you must excuse me.”

Something changed in the way she looked at him, a glint of something dark gleamed in those doe eyes. Yet, she smiled and bowed her head. “Of course, John, if it pleases you.”

 

Late that night, Hannah and Margaret in the parlour sat waiting for John. Hannah was doing needlework and Margaret was trying to do the same but she didn’t succeed. Her mind kept wandering to the strange events of the day and to the effect they would have on John. It was abundantly clear that someone was trying to destroy Marlborough Mills. That was horrible enough but the wounding of the two children angered her even more. Two innocent victims had suffered from the deeds of someone set on dangerous mischief. Fortunately, the lad with the broken leg was already on the mend, Dr. Donaldson having set and cast it. She’d keep him in the infirmary until the next day as he might still be developing a fever.

The other boy was in a much worse shape. His pelvis had indeed been broken, and Dr. Donaldson had him transferred to the hospital to perform an operation. Margaret’s heart still hurt when she thought about the poor child, howling with pain every time they had to move him.

 

John gestured Ann Latimer out of his office, careful not to offer her his arm or to touch her. She sweetly smiled at him and preceded him outside. While they went through the now deserted Mill shed, he followed her between the damaged rows of looms. His heart ached at the sight of them, he couldn’t keep himself from staring at his machinery in horror. It took a while ‘ere he realized that Ann Latimer was talking to him.

“John, how awful! Please accept my sympathy and my support, should you need it. I can talk to Father about this, I’m sure he would lend you the money to make the necessary repairs.”

“That would be totally unnecessary, Miss Latimer. I told your father that I won’t need his services as I have contracted another banker since the Mill went back into business.”

“Oh! But ….” She edged closer to him and, to his abhorrence, laid a hand to his cheek, one that didn’t wear a glove!

                ”But … John, are you sure? We,… I would do anything, anything, to be of assistance, if you understand what I mean to say? Assistance in everything, John … I fully understand how … unfortunate you must be in having married a woman without the lure of true love. You did it for the sake of your business, I know. So, even if you were unable therefore to ask me to be your wife, I still can … supply whatever need you have for … real companionship, John …I have no objection in doing so, rest assured.”

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Eleven

Chapter 11 – Dixon smells a rat

John lay watching his sleeping wife with a heart full of wondrous feelings.

She was so beautiful, his Margaret! The sight of her perfectly shaped face, her glorious chocolate coloured hair, her exquisite little nose and full lips turned his heart into water. His gaze wandered to her slender neck and round shoulders, her small neat breasts.

His breath caught as he lifted the sheet to feast on her divine body, the slender waist, the flat stomach, the shapely legs and … Oh! God! Desire shot through him like a spear, and he gasped. He wanted her, no, his body craved her so much that it hurt! At the same time, he felt an overwhelming need to protect her, to treasure and cherish her, from now on for the rest of his life.

Because he had uncovered her, Margaret, instinctively searching for his warmth, snuggled up to him and he embraced her, took her as close as he could. His arousal became urgent, yet he didn’t wake her, just held her and let his hands caress her slightly, revelling in how soft her skin felt under his fingers.

“John …”, she whispered suddenly and looked up to him.

“Yes …”, he breathed, drowning in those amazing blue eyes of hers. “I’m here, my love.”

“You said … I was the first woman you ever loved … why was that, John? Have you never been in love before? Never … before me?”

John took a deep gasping breath and searched for the appropriate words to bare his soul to his wife. “My love … there has never been … time nor opportunity to be courting women. I had a duty to perform towards my family. I had a business to run. I have been taken from school at sixteen, as you know already. I had to work in a draper’s shop.”

He paused, and Margaret could feel the tension in his body as he was searching for words.

“I have been in love”, he continued, his voice a little hoarse, “but only once. She was the daughter of the shopkeeper and she was nineteen, two years my senior. I was … as they say, besotted by her. I … she was also very … skilled in the ways of courting and …”

Margaret, feeling embarrassed,  stopped him with a sudden kiss. “You don’t have to …”

“No, I want to tell you, Margaret. It was the most horrible experience I ever had. She came to me, one night, in my cupboard of a room under the stairs and she tried to … deflower me. I … I couldn’t, Margaret, I couldn’t do it! I was … inadequate and I wept in her arms like a baby. She … she was actually very sweet to me. Since then I haven’t even tried for fear of being humiliated again.”

Margaret lay very still, her heart singing with joy as she realized he’d saved himself for the woman he thought worthy. And she, she was that woman …

However, she also realized that her husband must have been a very lonely man, locked up in his duty towards his mother and sister. She vowed to herself to try and change that for him.

 

Downstairs, Dixon checked the table in the dining room with an eagle eye.

Mr. Thornton and Miss Margaret would be up and about in any minute now. It was their wedding breakfast, and the guests were about to arrive. The faithful servant found everything to perfection and went to stand at the window which overlooked the part of the courtyard behind the house.

Dixon’s thoughts strayed to the events of the last weeks. She had been here for more than three weeks now and had settled in nicely. It was a great joy to her that she’d found another household where she could use her numerous skills to perfection, moreover, it was a young household. That she could be with Miss Margaret was an even greater blessing, after the sorrow she’d been through the previous year, losing her dear Mrs. Hale. However, Dixon mused, there were many matters that troubled her in this grand house. Although the old Mrs. Thornton ruled it with iron hand, many malfunctions had met Dixon’s scrutinizing eye.

First there was Jane, the maid. Dixon had caught her eavesdropping on Miss Margaret and the master more than once. Why on earth would the girl do that? Jane, Dixon noticed, took notes of what she was hearing and, steady as clockwork, she left the house after every bit of eavesdropping.

So, Dixon had followed Jane every time she left the house and the following tribulations had then gone.

Jane had gone to Mrs. Watson’s house, had been showed in through the front door and stayed in. A footman had left the house after a few minutes carrying what had clearly been a message to deliver. Ten minutes after Jane’s arrival, a young lady had presented herself. Half an hour or so later, Jane and the young lady had left together in the lady’s carriage. The young lady, whose identity Dixon had managed to establish as one Miss Ann Latimer, was a banker’s daughter.

Now, Dixon thought by herself, what could a banker’s daughter and a maid servant have in common to be companions as close as that? And what was Mrs. Watson’s role? The day before, during the wedding party, she had scarcely spoken to Miss Latimer. Yet, they seemed to be close, if the many knowing looks and smiles they had exchanged, were something to go by .

There wasn’t much Dixon could do for now but to watch Miss Sneaky Jane very closely. Maybe, she mused, she should tell Miss Margaret about it? No, that wouldn’t do, her sweet girl couldn’t be bothered with nasty things in the first days of her marriage.

“Is everything ready and in place?” The commanding voice of Mrs. Hannah Thornton startled Dixon out of her daydreaming. She curtsied and answered. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Then go and wake your mistress. Did you not see the time? The guests are about to arrive.”

Dixon hurried from the room.

 

Later, in attendance at the dining table, Dixon’s thoughts wandered again to the strange doings of Jane as she stood by the buffet observing the guests. Mrs. Shaw was talking to Mrs. Hannah Thornton and Edith and Margaret were engaged in vivid conversation. Her darling Miss Margaret was looking exquisitely beautiful. An inner light seemed to be glowing in her eyes and a faint rosy blush coloured her face. All was well in that area then, Dixon thought.

She turned her attention to the groom and found confirmation for what she wanted to know. John Thornton was listening to Higgins but his eyes kept wandering towards his wife and a dreamy expression warmed his usually impassive and stern face. Every time his gaze met Margaret’s, his eyes seemed to brighten and a smile lit his face.

Dixon still had second thoughts about the master. She’d never liked the man, she’d found him distant and haughty, and he surely was no gentleman like Mr. Hale had been, or like Mr. Lennox. Yet, for the sake of her dear girl, she was prepared to tolerate him. He had, however, yet to earn her respect.

Mrs. Watson was looking bored, Dixon saw. No wonder, that woman always wanted to be in the centre of attention and now she was second plan. Oh! What was that? Mrs. Watson’s eyes were signalling to Miss Latimer to leave the room! Mrs. Watson stood now and left. And yes, two seconds later, so did Miss Latimer!

Dixon waited a couple of heartbeats before she went after them. They were in the ladies’ room? but the door was slightly ajar.

“Ann, you’re not making much progress in dragging my brother away from her, are you? Have you seen the looks he casts on her? Positively and disgustingly maudlin! He must have gotten what he wanted then! Bah! Men!”

Dixon could barely suppress a gasp on hearing such unladylike and crass words!

“Fanny, all is arranged and under way for the downfall of Miss High-and mighty, I assure you! I’ve asked my father for assistance, and he has set up a plan that will work to perfection. Just be patient.”

The scarcely concealed hatred in the young woman’s voice shocked Dixon to the core. She hastened back to the dining room when she heard the women preparing themselves to come out.

Scarcely had she reached her destination when she heard thundering footsteps ascending the stairs and a second later a dishevelled and not to clean young boy of some fifteen years clattered by her and stopped in front of the dining table where the master sat.

Yanking his greasy cap off his head he stammered in a panic stricken voice. “Master! You ‘ave to come to the factory quickly! There’ll be some damage done to the looms and Mr. Williams asked for me to come and get you! And there’s two lads injured too, master!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Ten

Chapter 10 – Margaret, my wife

With gentle care, John lowered Margaret to her feet and took a small step backwards.

“Let me look at you …”, he said in a husky voice that send shivers of pleasure down Margaret’s spine.

She returned his smouldering gaze with a wavering little smile, trying to hide the pricks of anxiety stirring her heart. This was the one moment she had longed for since John first kissed her.

A sharp painful stab of desire pierced her heart, when he placed his hands on her shoulders and caressed her neck and throat. Yet she also found herself afraid for what must come.

How must she to do this? She had but the barest idea of what was requested of a wife when alone with her husband in their bedchamber. Would she be able to please him? To give him pleasure, enough to make him return to her, every night? Would he sleep in her bed or would he retire into his old chamber after their union?

All those thoughts vanished, when John turned her so that he came to stand behind her. He began kissing her neck ever so softly, and she could feel his hands on the buttons of her gown, undoing them slowly. He kept feathering her skin with kisses from her neck down to each spot he uncovered until all the buttons were undone. His hands then moved upwards until they reached her shoulders again. Sweet warmth began building up in Margaret’s stomach, as John slowly peeled her gown down, over her shoulders and down her arms, until it slid onto the floor. He put his hands on her waist and lifted her out of the pool formed by the gown. He then repeated the undoing of the gown in that of her corset but, this time, his hands roved from her back to her breasts every time he undid a hook.

Margaret now shivered in mounting pleasure. The sensation of his hands on her breasts was so ravishingly delicious that her knees became weak all of a sudden.

When, at last, the corset undone and tossed away, he turned her again to face him.

“Love … sweet love of mine, you are so beautiful … “, he whispered. “Come, come to me …”

Margaret stopped his hands on the verge of lowering her chemisette.

“No, my love, wait …”, she pleaded, her voice breaking with desire.

She began to unravel the intricately knotted, gold cravat around his neck, while she gazed deep into those gorgeous blue-grey eyes of his. Then she opened the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt to uncover his magnificent chest. John gasped when she brushed his bare flesh in slow teasing strokes. She eased the shirt of his broad shoulders, caressing his arms all the way down.

How  strange, Margaret thought, that she knew all the necessary gestures and loved every single one of them. He was breathtakingly beautiful … this handsome husband of hers.

John stood motionless, his hands on her waist, his eyes never leaving hers.

When Margaret’s hands moved to his trousers and began opening them, he couldn’t contain the deep moan of longing any longer. He gasped fiercely when she touched his still covered manhood with shaking fingers. She wondered about that, shy all of a sudden.

“Please, Margaret, don’t stop … touch it, keep touching, free it, love …”

Overcome by sheer feminine happiness of having the power to make him beg at her, she pushed his trousers down and also his small clothes. In sudden awe, she gasped when she fully beheld her husband. Shy now, with careful gestures, she touched John and caressed his splendid manhood. He responded by lowering her chemisette over shoulders to free her breasts and cup them.

Margaret gave a shuddering moan and arched her body to be closer to him. His hands were already trying easing down her petticoat, lightly stroking her bottom.

In one sudden move John lifted her in to his arms and lowered her onto the open bed.

“I want to see you, my love, I want to look into your beautiful eyes while I worship you with my love.”

John’s mouth covered her own and at last, Margaret could answer his kiss without restraint. It was heaven. He kept kissing her again and again, every kiss arousing her more and more until the huge ball of desire within her chest and stomach was almost exploding. His hands roved over her body and hers over his.

She didn’t seem to manage reaching every part of him at once. She was desperate to explore his whole body and she couldn’t. Oh … his hands, they fired pure magic! His fingers cupped and caressed her breasts until she thought she would die of sheer desire. Then his mouth left hers and she gasped with sudden disappointment until … Oh God! His lips brushed her breasts now, touching them with ever so light kisses. His mouth encircled a nipple and … she violently shivered in incredible delight.

A heartbeat later he touched her where no one ever had … it was unbearably and totally pleasant. Flames of desire shot up when he caressed her womanly places and she pressed onto him, stroking his chest, his stomach, his thighs, his buttocks, his hard manhood.

Waves of heat washed over John from every spot of his burning body she stroked. She was so beautiful, so soft and warm, so eager to meet him. Now being fully aroused, she was ready for him. He knew he had to be careful when entering her, for she was a virgin. He eased her legs apart and lowered himself between her thighs, while he kept kissing and stroking her. She moaned and her hands were like flames on his skin, arousing him yet further.

He took one of her hands and guided it to his aroused member, not releasing her mouth for one second. She touched and caressed until he could barely hold himself back. He guided himself with one hand into her and stroked her while doing it. She gasped against his mouth but he refused to release her and whirled his tongue in her mouth.

Caressing her further he began to thrust inside her with gentle pushes, his heart rate speeding when he sensed her tighten around him. He kept thrusting and stroking and kissing until she followed his rhythm. His own arousal became now painful and yearning but he kept holding back. Margaret came in a shudder of delight and only then he allowed himself to let his release break free, devastated by its force, strong and fierce like a giant wave in which he drowned with pleasure and infinite wellbeing.

When the aftermath slowly rippled over him, he lowered himself until his body covered hers and let the sheer bliss fill him to the brim. They lay motionless for a long wonderful moment.

“Margaret, my wife … “

The words, as John’s baritone voice whispered them in her ear, filled her with a joy so immense and genuine that her eyes spilled with tears. Yes, her heart sang, yes, I am this wife in truth and he … he is my lord, my commander, my heart’s desire, my husband!

“Dear heart … are you well? You’re weeping? Why? Did I hurt you?”

“No, no, you didn’t hurt me, sweet John. I’m weeping with joy, is all. I was afraid, I did not know what to do or how to do it but … oh John, you were so gentle and loving.”

John rose himself on one elbow and brushed the dark curls from her face, as in reverence. Margaret’s beautiful blue eyes looked deep into his own.

“Did … did I please you?”, she asked shyly.

John kissed her long and fiercely.

“Sweet Margaret of mine, yes, you did! Of course, you did, have you not sensed my rapture?”

He began kissing her face now with uttermost gentleness, her eyes, nose, brow, cheeks and every kiss was like a little flame of pleasure on her glowing skin.

“My dear sweet heart … do you know that you are the first woman that … “

He hesitated,  overcome with shyness. Margaret stifled a smile and said. “That you’ve been with since long? I understand, John, you need not …”

He put his finger on her lips, silencing her.

“No, love, the first woman  I made love to, ever. You are my first and only lover, Margaret. I was as much a virgin as you were when we entered this chamber. There will never be another one but you, darling Margaret, I make this vow to you, now, during our wedding night.”

His mouth covered hers again in a gentle, soothing kiss.

 

 

Mr Thornton takes a Wife – Part Nine

Chapter 9 – Till Death do us part

 

 

 

On Saturday September 10th, John William Thornton of Milton, Lancashire, and Margaret Elizabeth Hale of London, formerly of Helstone, Hampshire, were wedded in a small chapel near Marlborough Mills. It was a bright day with a hint of crispness in the air, an indication that fall was approaching in the North of England .

The ceremony was being witnessed by the very best Milton had to offer. The majority of the mill owners and their spouses wanted to be there when John Thornton, manufacturer and magistrate, pledged his life and virtue to his bride. The groom was pleased to see his fellow mill owners present, as well as a large amount of his workers with their wives. His best man was his brother-in-law, Albert Watson, as he was the closest male relative John had left.

As for Margaret, she had her aunt Shaw and Edith with her husband Maxwell Lennox to be with her on this happiest of days. They had arrived the day before and were staying at the Regent Hotel.

Also present was Henry Lennox.

Margaret knew of Henry’s feelings for her and she felt a little unsure about him being here this day.

Henry, however, seemed to have made his peace regarding  her marriage to John.

One of her bridesmaids was Ann Latimer, who had asked her for it and Margaret had agreed, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The other bridesmaid was her dear friend, Mary Higgins, who had taken her departed sister’s place in Margaret’s heart.

Margaret had no father to give her hand away in marriage. Frederic, her brother, lived in Spain and would still be in mortal danger, should he set foot on English soil, due to the mutiny scandal he was involved in.

Therefore, on the happiest day of her life, Margaret was walking down the aisle on the arm of a very proud Nicholas Higgins. No one better was there to accomplish that task, on that both Margaret and John had decided in unison. Even Hannah, a bit to John’s surprise, had also agreed on it. So was it that Nicholas, dressed to perfection in formal attire, gave Margaret’s hand to his master and friend John, who was looking very handsome in black lawn formal dress, white silk shirt, gold coloured silk waistcoat and gold coloured silk cravat.

Margaret’s dress was of cream coloured silk and had a deep heart-shaped neckline and elbow-long tight-fitting sleeves. The bodice hugged her tiny waist to perfection and the skirt was only slightly domed, straight at the front but sporting a voluminous trail of six feet of cream chiffon.

Margaret’s lovely dark brown hair had been gathered into a chignon at the nape of her neck from which several heavy curls fell onto her back. A simple lace veil framed her beautiful face and a thin row of diamonds adorned her throat with a matching pair of diamonds in her ears.

John’s breath caught when he looked into her exquisite blue eyes. She was so beautiful, his Margaret! His hand slightly trembled when he took hers. A stab of anger rose in his chest when he thought about her hands and how lucky she’d been to have them more or less recovered in time for their wedding. Just a few bruises remained but it were the sight of those that made him inwardly swear to have the culprit punished for causing them.

“Ahem!” The vicar’s voice boomed the congregation into silence.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God, and in the presence of this company, to unite John and Margaret in holy matrimony …”

All attention drifted away for John and Margaret  as soon as they looked each other in the eye. So full of each other were they, that the world around them seemed to shrink until only the very nearness of the other seemed to envelop them both. Only when the weddings vows were to be spoken did they rouse themselves enough to do what was required.

“I John, take you Margaret, to be my wedded wife. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness.”

He then slipped the wedding band onto Margaret’s finger and touched it with a kiss.

“I Margaret, take you John, to be my wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness.”

With shaking fingers she slipped the wedding band onto John’s finger and softly stroked it. John’s soft breath intake thrilled her to the point of tears.

The Vicar’s cheerful voice then boomed again. “Ministering in the name of the Lord Jesus, I now pronounce you husband and wife. May Christ be the Head of your home. May He be the unseen Guest at every meal, the Listener to every conversation. May Christ’s love rule your hearts and lives. Mr. Thornton, you may kiss your wife.”

Cupping Margaret’s face into his hands, John reverently kissed her. When he released her, Margaret suddenly threw her arms around his neck and held onto him as fierce as she could.

“I love you so much, John …”, she whispered, making John the happiest man in the world.

The congregation, in surprise and admiration, applauded for several minutes, while the couple walked down the aisle towards the church entrance.

 

The rest of the day passed in a blissful haze.

Friends and family drank to their health in Hannah’s parlour, where the reception was held. Numerous vows of happiness and many congratulations were bestowed upon John and Margaret but the two had only eyes for each other. With considerable effort they managed to be as civil as was necessary and return each vow or well wish. They drank champagne and nibbled at various bits of delectable food. They spoke with friends, they chatted with family but their eyes kept on straying towards where the other stood. Whenever they were close enough to touch, their hands met and sometimes their lips. All was seen and approved of by the company of invitees.

Gradually and reluctantly they settled for agreeable companionship with their guests, for conversations and smiles, for resignation because they had a duty towards the people who had come to wish them well. Finally, when the last guests had departed and only the closest family was still there, John took his wife’s hand and whispered in her ear. “Shall we call it a day, my dearest Margaret?”

Margaret, faintly blushing, answered. “Yes, my love, we shall.”

They left the parlour without a word and went upstairs to the master bedroom, which had been unoccupied since John’s father had died.

“Wait, my love …” John’s soft words halted Margaret, who had been on the verge of entering the magnificent room. He scooped her in his arms and she laughed under her breath in delight.

“Ready?”, he asked, smiling ever so sweetly.

“Yes”, Margaret breathed and laid her cheek against his.

John carried his wife over their bedroom’s threshold and closed the door behind them both.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Eight

 Chapter 8 – Trouble is brewing

 

Once more John carried Margaret inside while Hannah, who had rushed out after Nicholas Higgins, shouted at Jane to fetch the doctor. Dixon came running down high on Hannah’s heels, her benign face frowned with concern.

Margaret came to her senses when the pain in her hands became worse. She couldn’t keep herself from whimpering a little and it tore at John’s very soul.

“Hush, sweetheart, Dr. Donaldson is on his way. Margaret, please, tell me what I can do to relieve your pain? I cannot stand to see you suffer like that …”

Breathing heavily as a result of the fierce pain Margaret gasped, “A bowl … of fresh cold water … I must cool my hands … please, John …”

Before anyone, including Dixon, could do a thing, he rushed down the stairs to the kitchen and snatched a large porcelain bowl from under Cook’s stupefied nose. He ran to the sink and filled it with water. Then he hurried back upstairs to the room where he’d laid Margaret on a bed, shoving Dixon aside.

Gently, John eased her up, put some pillows behind her back and carefully lowered her hands into the bowl he’d placed on her lap.

She gasped and he saw tears running down her face. His voice hoarse with frustration over his powerlessness, he said, “My poor darling, how you must suffer … I promise you, Margaret, I’ll find the lowlife who did this and kill him with my bare hands!”

Margaret, whose pain had already lessened a little when she bathed her hands in the cool water, gave a small laugh.

“Oh, that would be the solution, wouldn’t it, John Thornton? You ending up in her Majesty’s prison for murder? No, it’s that temper of yours speaking and I’ll not have it. Now, tell me, how much damage is there to the Mill?”

“Not much, thanks to you, Margaret,” Hannah’s voice said from where she was standing in the doorway. Her son gave a sigh of relief and asked, “Is everybody safe? No injuries?”

“No, John, everybody’s fine. Some twenty bales of cotton are lost beyond salvation, I’m afraid, but that’s all.”

John nodded. “It’s only a minor part of our supply, I’ll order some more from Liverpool Docks tomorrow.”

At that point Dixon announced the arrival of Dr. Donaldson.

 

“You have failed,” the voice said coldly to Jay Leonards as the two ruffians, who’d hauled him out of his regular pub, forced him on his knees in front of the man for whom he’d set fire to Marlborough Mills.

“To no fault of mine, sir, please?” Leonards begged. “How could I foresee that wretched Hale woman would be reacting that quick? She pulled ten or more bales out of the way in no time! And then, of course, Thornton was on the scene and that scumbag Higgins! They …”

“Enough!” That voice was as cold as Death, Leonards thought.

“Listen, you miserable sod, if you know what’s good for you. I’ll give you a chance to redeem yourself in this but, this time, I demand full cooperation and success or you’ll be dead and gone before you know it.”

“Yes, sir, whatever you say, sir!” Leonards coaxed as good as he knew how to. He began wondering if it had be such a good idea after all when he’d agreed to work for this man. It seemed a good enough idea at the time and it had the bonus of revenge on that Hale woman, who helped that Hale boy do away with his own brother. Leonards actually wondered where the Hale boy was. Surely he’d be around for his sister’s wedding? Maybe he’d have another chance to have his revenge.

 

John hurried back to Margaret after Dr. Donaldson had left.

“Oh, John,’ Margaret said, “please, the ring! I rolled it in my handkerchief before I got my hands dirty. It’s in my pocket!”

“To hell with the ring, darling, let me see your hands.”

Margaret’s hands were covered by a clean white cloth. The doctor had not bandaged them because he thought they would heal faster in the open air. He had, however, put a soothing ointment onto the worst spots to ease the pain.

“John, I don’t think …”

“I want to see your hands, Margaret,” John interrupted her in a voice that broke no argument. She saw the determination in his eyes and knew he would not give up. She nodded.

Very carefully John lifted the cloth and swallowed. Margaret’s poor hands were swollen and red, the blisters still covering her palms.

“John, it looks worse than it is,” Margaret hastened to say. “Dr. Donaldson says they’ll recover fast if I keep them uncovered.”

But, John stared at her, his eyes dark with misery and a great weight of sorrow on his heart.

 

‘              ”Well, Ann?” Fanny Watson asked as she sipped her tea in the Latimer’s parlour where she had come to visit Ann. “What are your plans? How are you going to drag my brother away from that upstart betrothed of his? I’m warning you, Ann, he’s totally besotted with her, I’m sure I don’t know why! She’s so haughty and it’s not that she’s accomplished or something!”

Ann Latimer daintily placed her teacup on the coffee table and folded her small porcelain hands in her lap. She innocently looked Fanny in the eye and spoke.

“I have my ways, dear Fanny, don’t worry. It’s a little scheme I learnt at my Swiss boarding school. Extreme troubles ask for extreme measures and, after I had my way, little will be left of Miss High-and-mighty Hale.”

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Seven

Chapter 7 – A catastrophe is looming

Jane entered soon thereafter to announce that dinner was served.

The party moved to the dining room and took seats. John sat on one table head with Margaret on his right and Mary next to her. Hannah sat on John’s left side and Nicholas next to her. It was but a simple meal, with pumpkin soup, roast turkey with rice and a simple dressing, accompanied by mashed peas and stewed leak stems, citrus flavoured ice and coffee afterwards.

John poured a French cognac for himself and Nicholas, while the ladies were served with a fine ratafia.

Conversation went on very amiably until Margaret, who had been talking to Mary about the building plans, said, “John, Mary and I want to go down to the building site and check if the plans are being executed as planned.”

“Yes, of course, love. I’ll come with you in a minute. I want to check out the factory hall first. Mother, will you please excuse us?”

Hannah nodded her consent. The two women put on their wrappings and went out. At the front door they parted as John headed for the factory door.

The infirmary was to be built as an appendage to the soup kitchen, situated in an outhouse at the far end of the factory’s yard. Margaret and Mary walked towards the building side which was adjacent to the Mill’s cotton warehouse. They carried a lantern because dusk was settling in.

“Oh Margaret,” Mary said cheerfully, “how wonderful this is! We will not only hand out meals to people, but also nurse them when they get injured.”

“Yes,” Margaret replied, “it was something that should have been established long time ago. I’m so happy that John finally came to understand his duties to his workers.”

The building site had reached the state of shell, walls and roof finished. Soon Margaret and Mary would be supervising the interior arrangements of the infirmary. The women were satisfied with what they saw as work was progressing according to the plans.

While they were waiting for John, they took a small stroll around the yard. The evening was mild and they enjoyed stretching their limbs after being confined inside that long. Margaret noticed the absence of the fragrances she remembered from Helstone, leaves, grass and flowers. Here in Milton, other scents were present, such as smoke from the wood fires in people’s houses or the sharp dusty smell from the cotton bales, stacked in abundance in the Mill’s yard. Yet, there was another smell that struck her, aggressively and all too real, the smell of burning!

 

The tall skinny figure dressed in drab rags approached the carriage that was waiting at the back entrance of Marlborough Mills. The carriage door was opened just enough that he could trust his hand inside.

“Is it done?,” the civilised voice of a man asked coldly. It was the same man who charged him to set fire on the cotton supplies of the Mill, something the ragged scoundrel had only been eager enough to do.

“Yes, sir, as you asked me, sir!” the thug answered, the unmistakable London accent in his own voice audible even to himself.

A leather purse was being dumped in his outstretched hand, and he barely had the time to withdraw it before the carriage door snapped shut. Seconds later the carriage slowly and almost inaudibly slid away.

The man stared after it for some time while he put the money in his coat pocket. Money well earned, he thought, for a job well done. That’ll teach these bastard Thorntons and Hales for what they’d done to him and his brother!

 

John, coming out in the courtyard, was just in time to hear Margaret’s cry of alarm. He ran towards the kitchen outhouse and what he saw chilled the blood in his very veins! A fire! There was a fire behind that cotton stack, he could see the long flames leaping upwards. And Margaret, oh Lord, she was pulling bales out of the way like mad!

John’s mind was reeling with the implications of what could become his worst nightmare. He rushed to the fire scene and started hauling at those bales which were too close to the flames. Only then he saw Mary Higgins and she too was working like a madwoman pulling further away the bales that Margaret had pushed her way. Margaret … oh God! She was the nearest to the fire of them all! Fearless and with no regard to the dangers that threatened her, she was methodically hauling bales out of the fire’s range. It dawned to John that she was far too close to the flames and he hurried to her and grabbed her arm.

“Margaret, come away! You’re too close!”

To his abhorrence she pulled herself free and took several steps closer towards the now blazing inferno, hauling at bales that were not yet on fire.

“Margaret, I beg you, come away! You’ve done well, there’s no immediate danger anymore.”

Only now, Margaret really looked at John. His face was ravaged with concern for her safety, she realized. She smiled and nodded.

“Yes, John, you’re right, I can see that now. I’ll come away.”

She was surprised to see several workers on the spot by now under Nicholas’s command and they were trying to extinguish the fire by dousing it with large buckets of water. It was no easy task as the fire was high and hot and everyone within a distance of fifteen feet was in danger of being seared.

“Oh, darling!”

The panic in John’s voice made Margaret return her attention to him. John was holding her hands in his and he was horrified, she realized. Only then she saw why.

Both her hands were burned and covered with blisters. In some spots the skin had been damaged to leave the flesh raw and red. At that very moment Margaret felt the hot excruciating pain overwhelming her. She crumpled and it was all John could do to keep her from falling.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Six

Chapter 6 – Engaged to be married

Next Friday evening the Thorntons hosted a small intimate party in honour of John and Margaret’s betrothal. It was not a formal engagement party. That would be so if there was to be made an announcement  to both their families of the wedding. As it was, Margaret’s remaining relatives, Aunt Shaw and the Lennoxes, could not make the trip from London for just this occasion. Margaret’s parents had passed away the previous year and her brother Frederic lived in Spain.

John’s sister Fanny already knew of the wedding so it was just a small gathering.

Hannah had ordered a light diner to be served in the dining room. Margaret and John were waiting for her to join them for champagne. She entered just as Jane brought out the tray and glasses.

“Now, Mother,” said John, a twinkle in his eyes, “when do you expect our special guests?”

“Special guests?” Margaret asked. John grinned broadly and Hannah also smiled at her. Margaret looked at the two of them and saw that they were in some scheme of their own.

Jane entered again and curtsied.

“Mister Higgins and Miss Higgins, sir,” Jane said, her plain face showing disapproval.

“Nicholas! Mary! Oh John, what a good idea, what a pleasure!” Margaret hurried towards her friends and hugged first Mary, then Nicholas. Champagne was served and glasses handed over. John took Margaret’s hand and drew her at his side.

“My sweet love,” he said huskily, “we have lost so much precious time in fighting our love for each other and the blame was entirely mine …”

“John, no, I was …” Margaret whispered.

“Hush, sweetheart, hear me out. Now that you finally consented in becoming my wife, please accept this token of my deep and eternal love for you.” His beautiful grey eyes glowed with pride and love when he took Margaret’s fine hand in his and slit a small but tasteful diamond ring on her finger. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, looking deep into her eyes. Never had their mutual understanding been deeper.

“This calls for a toast!” Nicholas’s deep voice boomed. When everybody had their glass, Nicholas raised his and smiled.

“Master, Margaret, I drink to the happy life that awaits you both as I never knew two people who were more destined to be together! I’m proud to be here as a friend! Good health to you!”

Hannah was standing a bit aside when she raised her glass in answer to Nicholas Higgins making his speech. A remarkable man, this Mr. Higgins, she thought, a union man, a strong man with strong beliefs. She knew what John’s dealings with him had been in the past. Although she was suspicious of mankind in general by nature, she sensed a loyalty of character in this man, who had stood by John in his hour of misfortune.

She had, at first, been reluctant in receiving Higgins in her house but John had persuaded her that he was now the only true friend he had left. Higgins, John had said, was of great value to the working of the Mill and that had won Hannah over.

Margaret approached Mary and took her to the settee where they began talking about their plans for the social projects they were drawing up. The soup kitchen, which had been Mary’s pride and joy up until now, had been organized by her into a perfectly working routine. Every day two shifts of meals were being served, one at noon and one at ten p.m.  A dozen young women worked there, doing the purchasing of food, the cooking, serving and cleaning up. They were all nursing mothers  and therefore not able to work in factory shifts. They could do their jobs in the kitchen while bringing their babies along.

Now Mary had worked out plans for a dressing station and the two women were looking for a location to install it in. John had proposed to expand the kitchen building and the women had been scrutinizing the floor plans to comment on the progressing of the works. John sat and leaned back, enjoying his champagne and the view of his Margaret as she was in lively conversation with Mary.

A sigh of contentment escaped him and a smile spread on his face.

Hannah, meanwhile, stood at her favourite spot looking out of the window when suddenly she became aware of Higgins approaching her. She turned her head and directed her cool gaze at him, scanning him from head to toe. His appearance surprised and pleased her. He wore a dark blue suit made of fine wool with a shirt of fine white linen, a waistcoat of grey silk and a burgundy coloured cravat in a simple but elegant knot. His boots were of black leather polished to a shine. He looked as if he had visited a barber, for he was neatly clean shaven and his thick, black hair with only the slightest fringe of grey seemed freshly cut.

“So, Mr. Higgins, it seems that you’re now on the side of the manufacturers rather than on the Union’s?” said Hannah with a hint of lightness in her voice. Instantly the man’s dark brown eyes came to life.

“Oh no, ma’am!” he replied in a carefully controlled voice. “I could never do that. I will be a Union man till I die because it’s in my very soul. My people depend on me, they need me! How could I ever let them down?”

“My son explained to me that you are now dealing with the factory’s supplies of cotton and that you are going over the worker’s wages and the factory’s accounts. Surely that puts you on the same side as my son, the owner of the Mill?” Hannah exclaimed in surprise.

“Master and I are on the same side where the Mill’s workings and future are concerned. However, should Master forget the wellbeing of his workers, he would find me in his way and he bloody well knows it.”

Hannah blinked at his slight cursing but did not rebuke him for it. As a matter of fact, she rather liked him for standing by his beliefs and for defending them. Higgins realized only then what he had said.

“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Thornton, please accept my apology, the word escaped me ‘ere I knew it.”

Hannah couldn’t help herself from laughing. “Apology accepted, Mr. Higgins, and no offence, I have been around long enough not to be too touchy. Come, let me fill your glass again.”

She did so and they toasted, smiling at each other over the rim of their glasses.