The Lost Northbound Train – Part Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen – Choices

 

Of course, things were not that simple. To get legally married, first and foremost, you needed an identity. One that you could prove with the required documents, to boot. There was no way John Thornton could prove himself an Englishman, even though he had lived in England all his life. Margaret was in the exact same situation. In 1852, people didn’t have passports or driver’s licences.

John and Margaret thought long and hard about it and discussed it with their friends. Jowan promised to ask around at the hospital’s legal department. These people sometimes had to deal with illegal immigrants. A situation similar to the one John and Margaret were in. The thought was bewildering!

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After a few days of fretting, Margaret couldn’t stand it anymore and she went into Leicester after work to find John at “The Green Huntsman”.

There were only a few customers, she saw, and she was glad about it. John would be able to make time for her. In her quiet, sweet way, Margaret greeted Paul behind the bar.

“Hello, Paul,” she said, smiling, “where can I find John?”

Paul Burrows liked Margaret immensely. She was the kind of girl that reminded him of his own Dorothy when she had that age. Dorothy too had been shy but determined when she had something on her mind that she wanted to sort out. Oh, and he could see Margaret definitively had something to sort out! Her little, rounded chin stuck out in stubbornness and her eyes shone with resolution.

“He’ll be in the kitchen, love, discussing menus with Monsieur Robert. Shall I fetch him for you?”

“No, thank you. I will go find him myself.”

Paul watched Margaret as she disappeared through the door leading to the back of the restaurant. She was such an elegant little thing, he thought. Just look at the way she strode through the place. Margaret didn’t just walk, no, she strode, as if she were walking down the aisle of a church. Even in jeans and sneakers, Margaret managed to walk very elegantly.

 

Monsieur Robert and his new help Malik, a sixteen year old Pakistani boy who tried to scrape enough money to buy himself a motorbike, were busy preparing food for the evening meals. John was nowhere to be seen, and Margaret panicked just a little. She retreated to the pub again, suddenly scared as hell. John … where was he? For some unknown, absurd reason, Margaret had a sudden vision about John gone back to 1852, and she left behind in the twenty-first century. What if he had found a new portal, gone through it and was now unable to come back? The train carriage surely could not be the only way to travel between times, could it?

Like the flood of a river swollen by spring’s melted snow, Margaret felt panic overwhelm her and grab her by the throat. A life without John! She would perish from sheer sorrow! Abruptly she treaded back and bumped into the wall, her knees trembling and her heart thumping. Closing her eyes, she found her mind racing with terror. Sweat broke out all over her body, and she gave a little moan.

“Margaret! Sweetheart, what is wrong? Come here!”

John’s arms engulfed her, and her head came to rest against his hard chest, its top barely brushing his chin.

“John …” she breathed.

“Hey, hey, what has come over you, darling? You’re shaking! Have you hurt yourself? Are you unwell?”

“No … it’s nothing … I’m being silly …”

“Oh, yes? How so? Tell me.”

“I thought you had disappeared to 1852 again without taking me. I know it’s very silly but it looked so real!”

John’s heart turned into water, just at the implication of what she was saying. That he had gone, leaving her behind. Why would an absurd thing like that come into her head?

“My sweet darling little goose, would I ever do such a stupid thing? It would kill me, for sure! A life without you would mean the death of me, Margaret. Oh, you silly little adorable goose!”

He pressed her so close that she let out a small cry of protest.

“John, you will crush me if you continue in that way!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetheart. You had me in a panic, you know? Now, what brings you here, all of a sudden? It is unusual for you to venture into Leicester on your own.”

“I took the bus into town after work instead of returning to the cottage.”

“You … YOU … took the bus? The bus crowded with people, and you were not scared? I’m amazed, Margaret! There was a time when you were afraid of crowds.”

“I was a little afraid at first but I conquered it. After all, people take the bus all the time in 2013. If I am to live here and now, I want to do what other people do.”

She looked up into John’s face with determined gravity.

“If we are to live here, John, I want to be like other people. I want to have a real relationship with you.”

Reluctantly, John released her to rake a hand through his hair.

“Margaret, I am doing all I can to figure out what we can do to get married but those things take time and …”

“I do not want to wait, John. The longer we stay here, the harder it will become, just to be together and not …”

The fact that she hesitated, told John that she wasn’t yet completely sure herself and, more important, that she struggled with the whole blasted situation. So did he. It was so bloody confusing, damn it!

“Margaret, I know that, believe me! Yet, I refuse to let despair overwhelm me. We will weather this, I promise you. Just give me a couple of days, please? If the situation has not become clearer then, we will …”

In sudden passion John took Margaret by the shoulders and looked deep into her eyes.

“I will make you mine, my love. Don’t you know how much I want you, you must know how much it takes me to … just hold back? I am a man, Margaret, and I am deeply in love with the most beautiful woman on earth. Living with you, day after day, under the same roof and not be allowed to love you completely, is torture beyond bearing, Margaret!”

“John …” Margaret whispered, her lovely eyes filling with tears of compassion, “I am so sorry I only made it harder for you … for us, with my whining. Please, forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive, my love,” John said and kissed her softly on the mouth.

 

“Hum!” a voice sounded and the couple leapt with surprise to see Betty standing a few yards away.

“I’m sorry, my darlings,” she said and smiled at them, “but I couldn’t help overhearing. I think I have the solution for your problem, or at least, I know someone who might help. Can you come with me now or haven’t you finished with your work here tonight, John? In that case, I could …”

“No, Betty, no. I could stop right now and come with you. Margaret has finished work already, so she can come too.”

“Splendid! Let’s go then!”

Outside the pub they found Marjorie in her car, parked in front. As soon as they’d gotten in, she drove away and took them to one of the less finer neighbourhoods of town. She stopped in front of a terraced house which must have had better days a century before but was now in a rather shabby state. In fact, the whole street was shabby but it was also alive with the hustle and bustle of people, few of them English. There were shops where women were buying their groceries, bargaining aloud with the Indian or Pakistani shopkeepers, and children were playing and chasing each other in laughter and merriment. Men sat in front of coffee shops, drinking and smoking and arguing, most of them speaking in rapid Arabic and gesticulating ardently.

Margaret was overwhelmed with the liveliness of the place which reminded her of Milton’s Princeton district. It gave her a pang of home sickness, so vivid, that tears filled her eyes. Nicholas and Mary … how she missed them …

However, Betty didn’t give her time to reminiscence much. She told them to get out so that Marjorie could go and park the car.

“Here we are!” she said briskly and banged a fist on the front door, which was badly in need of paint.

It was opened a crack by a little girl in brightly coloured Oriental trousers and tunic.

“Hello, Sharia!,” Betty greeted her. “Is Father Patrick in?”

“Yes, Mrs Betty, come in, please?”

Margaret and John followed her inside a narrow corridor, also badly in need of paint but otherwise very clean and tidy. Sharia opened a door on the left side and gestured them in, announcing them loudly.

“Mrs Betty and visitors, Father!”

“Come in! Come in! Welcome!” a deep rumbling voice in an unmistakable Irish accent boomed. The next moment John and Margaret found themselves vigorously shaking hands with a large man in the black robes of a Catholic priest.

“I’m Father Patrick, pastor of this multicoloured parish. How can I help you, folks?”

 

 

The Lost Northbound Train – Part Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen – Blending In

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Within three weeks John and Margaret’s situation had thoroughly changed.

John was doing a hell of a job at “The Green Huntsman”. With Jowan’s help, he hired an elderly man who retired from public service the year before but who had done some pub work in his spare time to have an extra income. Paul Burrows was a short, slender man with a shock of white hair and a pair of dark brown eyes. He had kept himself fairly fit over the years by working out at a gym. A couple of years before, his two daughters had left the house to set up their own households – finally, as Paul stated to John – since they had lingered at home for far too long in their father’s opinion. His eldest had recently become a mother, and Paul’s wife Dorothy was so besotted with her first grandson that she spent all her waking hours with him. Paul felt a little lonesome lately, so he jumped at the chance of making a little money on the sideline. John found out pretty quickly that Paul was a regular employee, hard-working and honest. Despite his short stature, he could display authority when it was needed in the pub. John was very much taken with him.

Margaret too was settling in nicely. She accompanied Betty to the old people’s home “The Larks” and found herself loving working for and with the elderly, especially with the ones that suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. They were the ones that were completely defenceless, as vulnerable as babies, but Margaret loved the way they smiled at her when she helped them. Even though they had no idea of what she was doing or why, they often communicated the only way they still could – with a smile. Then there were the silent ones, those who had withdrawn within themselves into a world thoroughly closed to others. Margaret just helped them where she could, mostly at meal times, when she would butter their toast and feed it to them, or make sure they finished their plates and help them drink. It was a difficult task since there were not enough nurses to help all the people. Margaret usually busied herself with five or six people at the same time.

She had only been working at “The Larks” for a week when she was asked to come and work for a private service that helped elderly people who wanted to stay in their homes as long as possible. Small household tasks were needed, such as dusting and cleaning, making beds, cooking simple meals, doing the shopping. Most of all, those elderly needed the contact with others, so that they could talk and reminiscence about the past. Margaret eagerly agreed, especially since this job came with a small salary which was very welcome. She didn’t give up her work at “The Larks”, though she just wasn’t able anymore to come in every day.

On Sundays, John and Margaret went for long, lazy walks through the lush Leicestershire countryside. It was September now and the leaves, though still a dark green, were inevitably turning golden.

John loved these walks immensely. Strolling over country paths, hand in hand with Margaret, he frequently took her in his arms in spots that were hidden from view. He knew Margaret was still a bit shy about embracing in broad daylight where people could see them. He’d had problems with it himself but with what he daily saw in the pub, he’d realised the people in this era didn’t care a bit about propriety and good manners. They just did the things they enjoyed, and embracing in public in the middle of the day was very common now. Yet he acknowledged Margaret’s qualms because he respected her.

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On one of such walks, Margaret and John found a spot in the woods where trees had been cleared and sunlight threw a dappled golden light through the remaining tree leaves. The forest floor was carpeted with soft green moss, and they stretched out on it, enjoying the quiet peace of nature around them.

Margaret’s head rested on her beloved’s chest while she was cradled in his arms, the strong, steady beat of his heart against her cheek. She could have felt completely at ease but for one thought that had been nagging her since days. Timidly but determinedly as was her habit, Margaret broached the subject.

“John, where do we stand on the matter of our wedding?”

 

She caught John completely off guard. He had been so busy, these last weeks, that he had totally forgot about their future together. How could he have done so? Wasn’t Margaret the most important person in his life? Yes, and yet he had let his feelings go dormant in the rush of new things that drowned him, without even noticing it.

“My sweet Margaret,” he whispered, cupping her face to look deep into her lovely blue-green eyes, “if you still want me for a husband, I am at your feet. I just do not have the slightest notion as to how we are going to make it come true.”

Margaret smiled a little sadly.

“Yes, it all depends whether we stay here or return to our own time and Milton, does it not?”

“We cannot return, sweetheart, the portal is gone.”

“John, I do not know how I know this but I do think the portal is not available anymore for a reason. We are meant to spend some time here in this era so that we can learn from it and then take it back to 1852. With that knowledge we could improve so much in our own time. Just think about the way the hospitals are organized. So clean and efficient! They have homes for old people here, John! People grow old in this century. I saw several ninety-year-old and a lot of people reach eighty very easily. A great deal of them are even fairly fit, physically and mentally.”

John, who’d gone to “The Larks” with Margaret once or twice, particularly remembered the Alzheimer cases.

“Yes, but many of them have their mind slipped away from them also. I do not wish to grow old like that, Margaret, it scares me.”

“At least they are given the chance to grow old, John!” Her cheeks were flushed now, and she was warming to her subject rapidly. “In 1852, people just die long before they reach sixty! Their minds are already numb with misery from the day they are born!”

John appalled2

With a sudden shock, John recalled that day when he had gone to speak to Higgins in the Princeton district and wandered through the dismal alleys. He again felt the pity over the black despair that marked the faces of the people there, crouching before their homes. He again was moved by the absolute misery that made the children whimper and cower like cornered animals when they knew they were going to be killed by the hunters. No hope for the future, no joy. That day, John had realised that these people were his people, his workers and their families. Living, breathing and struggling to survive. That day, he had understood why Margaret so loved this people. She knew what it was to lose someone to a disease like measles or pneumonia that could have been prevented by a minimum of concern and care. Had she not lost her dear friend Bessy Higgins?                                                                                                           “So do you think we will be given a chance to go back to 1852, then?” he asked Margaret.                      “Yes, I do, John. I believe that we will find the portal when we are ready to go back. But that was not my question, my love. I asked you if we should not get married here, in this present era. After all, we do not know when the portal will appear again, and I cannot wait endlessly to become your wife. It is my dearest wish to become yours, John, completely and without restraint.”

“Oh, my dear heart!” John cried, pulling her to him. “I too wish this fervently! Let’s do it, Margaret! Let’s get married.”

The Lost Northbound Train – Part Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen – Taking Stock

 

Around three in the morning, John, Margaret and Jowan finally returned to Betty’s cottage, all of them weary to the bone. Yet, all pressing and disturbing issues had been brought to a satisfactory end.

Jowan’s father was recuperating from his stroke which in the end, was not that severe. The doctors had every confidence of him leaving the hospital as soon as his vitals were back to normal. Mrs Thorn was back in her home and her sister, living nearby in a Leicestershire village had come to keep her company, whilst Mr Thorn was still in hospital.

Jowan now faced the problem of his father’s pub and he wasn’t happy about it.

“How am I going to do this?” he asked John when they all sat in the cottage’s kitchen where Betty, roused from a fitful dose on the settee, had provided them with tea and cookies to set them straight again.

John, who had problems of his own to deal with, hazarded a proposition.

“Well, you saw what I did in the pub, didn’t you? What would you say if I was to return there in the morning and in the days to follow and run it for you? I like Robert Duvalier. He deserves to be supported and therefore needs hands. The pub is seriously understaffed, Jowan. I gathered that there’s a large clientele at noon, and on Sundays, and also, on nights when they show sports on television. If you could hire an extra kitchen help and a man behind the counter, I could set them to work efficiently.”

“You would do that for me? That would be … well, splendid! I can’t get away from my duties at the hospital, and nor can Marjorie. Thanks, John! I agree on the staff issue and will see to it first thing tomorrow.”

The two men toasted their tea cups when a quiet voice interrupted them.

“And what about me? What am I to do with my time?”

Two pair of astonished male eyes turned in Margaret’s direction.

“I think I have the answer to that, dear,” Betty’s calm voice came. “You must accompany me when I do my voluntary work at the old people’s home in Leicester. There’s a great need of helping hands in every aspect of the caring for them, especially feeding them, an activity for which there’s a serious understaffing.”

“I would be allowed to do that?” Margaret asked, with bright eyes.

“Yes, of course. No financial compensation, I’m afraid. The home is in serious need of funds, although the National Health Service is doing what they can. But you, my dear, have the right skills and temperament for such a task, being compassionate and patient as you are.”

Margaret blushed at Betty’s appraisal and met John’s fond gaze when she raised her eyes again.

“I would like that very much, Betty. Thank you for your kindness.”

“Well,” Jowan said, rising and yawning, “I don’t know about you, guys, but I’m turning in. I’m absolutely knackered! Goodnight!”

They all stood and went for their rooms. Margaret laid a hesitating hand on John’s arm.

“John, we must talk,” she said softly because she didn’t want the others to hear.

“What is it, my love?”

“Come with me to my room,” she urged and then coloured a fierce red as she realised what she just said and implied but John did not seem to notice. He nodded, curled an arm around her waist and steered her to the room she was using as her bed chamber.

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Once inside, John could not contain himself any longer and did what he had wanted to do all day long, and a blasted eternally long day it had been! He drew his Margaret into his arms and kissed her as hard as he could.

Welcoming the violent stir of desire deep inside him, he deepened their kiss as soon as he registered Margaret’s own, fierce reaction. She hugged her body close to his and, through the thin fabric of the cotton blouse she was wearing, he suddenly felt the peaks of her breasts against his chest. Dear Lord  in heaven …

While he was plundering her lush mouth with his tongue, his body was screaming with need as a reaction to the little, needy moans Margaret was uttering between gasps of breath. He tore himself away from her before his own need would drive him to act upon it.

“My dearest love,” he breathed, “are we not so lost in this madness that we do not know anymore what is right and what to do? I know I am. Without you, my Margaret, I should go insane out of sheer confusion. Thank God that I can at least hold you in my arms and restore my inner peace.”

Margaret raised her face upwards and suddenly his heart stopped at the sight of her beautiful eyes overflowing with tears. The desolation in her look tugged at him with violent sorrow.

“Margaret, sweetest, what is the matter? You are weeping! Is it my doing? Tell me, for heaven’s sake!”

Margaret freed herself from his anxious grasp and wiped her cheeks clean with hasty hands.

“Forgive me, John, it is nothing. Only my stupid weakness of character that turns me into a puddle every time something arises that I cannot handle. It will not happen again, my love.”

She laid her hand against John’s cheek and peered into his eyes, shyly smiling.

“And, John, I too am immensely happy that you are with me. I too would not have born the strength to endure all this. But, meanwhile, we are indeed caught in the middle of it and must deal with it.”

She drew him with her to the bed and made him sit down beside her.

“Now, tell me. Something is worrying you, John. I saw it all too clear, during this long, long day.”

“You are right, sweetest. When I walked through the countryside, last night, I noticed the train carriage had disappeared. We no longer have a portal to go back to our own time.”

Margaret raised startled eyes to him.

“Oh, John! What will we do? How is this even possible?”

“I don’t know, my darling, but I do know we are trapped here, in this century. We have to make the best of it, which means I have to make a living. We cannot keep living off Jowan, Marjorie and Betty forever.”

Margaret nodded in agreement and asked, “What profession will you take on, John? And I, should I also try and earn some money? In this century, women stand on their own two feet. I like that, John, and I would welcome an income of my own. Do you suppose we could still make use of the money I inherited from Mr Bell?”

“No, Margaret, that is impossible. We even have no real identity any more. I spoke with Jowan, earlier, and it seems that you must have a way to prove who you are, if asked for by the authorities. Jowan uses his driver’s license, which is needed if you want to drive the motored vehicles of this era, or his British passport, which is needed if you want to go abroad.”

“Can we get one of these, John? We must if we want to blend in with the rest.”

John chuckled and shook his head.

“For the driver’s license, you have to pass a test, and I must learn to drive a motor car first. Jowan tells me it needs a lot of practicing. To obtain a passport, I must prove myself a British citizen, which I could do by proving that I was born in England or have lived in England for ten years.”

“Oh! That is fine, then!” Margaret exclaimed. “We  have lived in England all our lives!”

“Yes, but how are we going to prove that, darling? I was under the assumption that I was living in Milton and now, Jowan tells me Milton does not really exists! That Milton and Helstone are products of a writer’s imagination, that we are characters in a novel. It is utterly confusing and inexplicable, Margaret. Yet, we have to make the best of it, so I am going to run “The Green Huntsman” for a living. Jowan and I will work out a suitable compensation.”

He drew her closer and kissed her brow.

“We will weather this, Margaret. It is a promise I make to you, here and now.”

 

 

The Lost Northbound Train – Part Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen –  Human Sorrow Will Not Alter Over Time 

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Margaret watched Jowan’s mother as the older woman sat next to her in the silent waiting area at Leicester UH. Mrs Thorn was clasping her hands in worry; and her fingers kept plucking at the back of her hands. With a shock Margaret recognised that gesture; it was one that her own mother used to have whenever she was in serious concern about something. Poor Mama was forever concerned about something or other, Margaret recalled. The despair of the gesture tugged at her heart, and she covered Mrs Thorn’s hands with one of her own for comfort.

 

“Please, Mrs Thorn, Ma’am, keep heart. I am positively sure the doctors of this hospital will do their utmost best for your husband. I had the privilege of observing them today when a major motorcar accident brought in many injured people. They were perfectly up to the task, I assure you.”

“Thank you, dear, I’ll try but … but …”

The tears, kept at bay for too long, spilled from the poor woman’s eyes, and Margaret laid her arms around the slender shoulders.

“Shhh … there, there …”

A sharp vision of the past shot through her head; her mother, weeping inconsolably on the settee, when she knew she must die in a short time. It had been the night of Mrs Thornton’s dinner party and Margaret, despite an earlier sweet interlude with John, had violently quarrelled with him over the dinner table. The look of contempt in his eyes had haunted her for days. All that had been supplanted by the huge anxiety over her mother’s health.

“I’m sorry, Miss Margaret, I lost control for just a while.”

“You may drop the “miss”, Mrs Thorn, and please, it is only too natural to feel concern about the ones we love. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to show it.”

“You’re a sweet girl, Margaret. I very much appreciate that you’re staying here with me. My name is Maria.”

“Oh!” Margaret exclaimed in surprise, “Maria, that was my mother’s name!”

“Was? Does that mean your mother passed away?”

“Yes, only half a year ago … my father followed her three months after.”

“You had your own part of sorrow, then, my dear. Life can be cruel, can’t it?”

Margaret nodded. The two women held each other for support and comfort.

 

In the kitchen of “The Green Huntsman” in Leicester’s town centre, Monsieur Robert Duvalier, cook and Frenchman, eyed the tall, lean man in front of him with suspicion. The newcomer was clad in dark jeans, white shirt and black leather jacket, all of these not quite fitting his broad shoulders as if they belonged to someone slighter. Yet the man didn’t seem ridiculed by them. On the contrary, the tight-fitting leather jacket only emphasized the strength of muscle of chest and arms, and the snug jeans showed the strong thighs to perfection. The man’s stance and bearing spoke of a quiet, masterful authority and his lean, strong-boned face bore an expression of cool serenity.

When the man addressed him in a pleasant deep baritone voice, Monsieur Duvalier found himself jump to attention as if he were the merest schoolboy.

“Monsieur Duvalier, my name is John Thornton and I am a friend of Mr Jowan Thorn. No doubt, the sad news about Mr Thorn senior has already reached you?

“Mais oui, bien sûr!,” the cook exclaimed, suddenly eager to please this man. No, he thought, make it this “gentleman”. During his five year stay in the United Kingdom, Robert Duvalier hadn’t found much to make him think good of the country and its inhabitants, especially with respect to the fine French cuisine. These people didn’t like the refined dishes he created for this cheap version of a “bistro” he was working for. The customers differed from midday working people, in need for a hasty lunch, over five o’clock regulars, enjoying their after-work pint of ale, to the motley sort of hangers-on that stayed until closing time and drank far too much. Only on Sunday did people come to lunch who really appreciated his cooking so they were the only reason he’d stayed in the UK so far.

“So, Monsieur Duvalier,” John Thornton said in a casual tone, “how did you end up in this country? I should think your talents would go to waste in the vast amount of foreign cuisines that are to be found here?”

Duvalier was a bit surprised by this man’s odd manner of speech as he was more accustomed to the gentle Mid-England accent of Leicester. He shrugged.

“A need to look farther than France’s borders, I guess. European Union and all that. You’re right about my talents going down the drain, Mr Thornton.”

“John, please. May I call you Robert?”

John pronounced the name the French way, with the stress on the last syllable, and received a smile and a nod from the Frenchman.

“So, Robert, tell me what you usually put on the menu in this cosy little pub of Mr Thorn’s?”

“The usual fish and chips, jacked potatoes and Sunday roast, of course, but also salmon, lamb or beef, cooked and dressed up the French way, although that doesn’t always have the success I wish it to have.”

“Sounds nice to me,” John murmured, but aloud he said, “You seem to be a proud sort of chap, Robert. Proud of your knowledge and skill, that is. Am I wrong?”

The Frenchman drew himself up to his full height of 5’8.

Bien sûr! What do you take me for, John?”

“Good! I thought as much! Then, let’s make this kitchen the way it suits a proper French cook, right? I will send you some hands to help you clean it up in no time.”

John ignored Robert’s stunned stare and headed for the bar where the three customers were still lingering over their pints. Kylie, he saw, was fidgeting behind the counter and threw him an uncertain glance as he strode in.

“Hey, gentlemen!” he greeted the three, mentally ranging them under the working class material, which he knew so well from Marlborough Mills. “Would you like to make a little extra profit by lending a hand to my cook? The cleaning staff seems to have deserted him tonight, and he is in sore need of help. There’s a hundred pounds in it for each of you plus free drinks after and no charge for what you already had.”

 

Jowan returned to the hospital to find his mother safely in the care of Margaret’s gentle comfort. Mum looked better, he thought, much less agitated. She was smiling again and she had lost that look of fear in her eyes. When the attending doctor came to them and explained that his father was out of danger for the moment, they all heaved a sigh of relief. His mother and Jowan were then allowed to go and see him and Margaret waited patiently for their return.

She was, however, only thinking of John, now that she finally had the leisure to relax after the strain of Mr Thorn’s illness. With a small knot of apprehension in her stomach, Margaret realised that they were in great uncertainty about their future.

 

 

The Lost Northbound Train – Part Twelve

Chapter Twelve – Pitching In

Horrified Margaret

“Jowan, what is it?” Margaret asked. Betty got to her feet too, her plain, motherly face full of concern.

“That was my mum,” Jowan stammered, “it seems that my dad has had a stroke. He’s in hospital and she’s terrified. I … I’ll have to go too, see what I can do to help.”

“I am sorry, Jowan,” John’s voice sounded, “I will accompany you to the hospital and assist you.”

“I am coming too,” Margaret said.

 

At Leicester UH, John and Margaret met with Mrs Thorn, Jowan’s mother, a rather stocky woman of a height that was that of Margaret. She had the same curly hair as Jowan which must have been dark in her youth but was now sprinkled with grey, and very dark eyes. When she saw her son coming into the waiting area, she burst out in tears. It seemed that her husband was getting worse, after having himself worked up about the pub he ran in the town’s centre, where he’d collapsed an hour before. The doctors were still examining him, and Mrs Thorn was waiting for them to be informed about her husband’s condition.

Margaret instantly concerned herself with the distressed woman. She remembered all too well her own, dear mother who had become so ill after they had moved to Milton.

“Come, Mrs Thorn, let me get you a cup of tea.”

The older woman looked at her with sudden relief as if she hadn’t thought about it herself.

“I’m sorry, dear. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.”

“This is Margaret,” Jowan said, “a friend of Marjorie’s from Manchester who’s staying with us for a few days. This is her partner, John.”

Hands were shaken, and they all settled in the waiting area with tea from the vending machines.

Jowan’s mother began telling them what had happened.

The pub Jowan’s father owned was his life’s achievement and pride. He had worked long hours all his life to get it like it was now, a busy, well-tended place where people could have a good meal for a reasonable price, a pint of ale after work, or even a cup of tea and a piece of pie while they did their shopping. The biggest problem was to find and keep a sufficient staff in an age when people did not like to work on weekends, or late at night. Mr Thorn was forever fighting battles to meet his own standards, and he pitched in himself when it was busy. As a result of the long hours and hard work, not to mention the stress of dealing with inadequate employees, he had worked himself to exhaustion time after time. His body, which had protested several times over the years, had now given up, but he couldn’t stop worrying about the pub, even during the transport to the hospital

Mrs Thorn began imploring Jowan to go down there and see what could be done to assure that everything went well during his father’s absence.

“Mum, why? Dad has a few employees to do the work while he’s ill, hasn’t he? I’m sure …”

“You don’t understand, Jowan! Your dad has been doing it practically on his own, lately! You know that French cook he took on has too much airs to get his hands messy. Cutting and washing vegetables is beneath him. And that waitress, Kylie is good for nothing if your dad’s not around. Please, darling, you must go there. Your dad will want to hear all about it.”

 

Twenty minutes later, Jowan parked his car in front of “The Green Huntsman”, Mr Thorn’s pub. Although it was eight pm, there were but a few patrons inside when he and John walked in. A girl in a skirt and top that scarcely bedecked her body was sitting on one of the patrons’ lap. To John, she looked like a prostitute, as she was showing her naked arms and legs and a considerable portion of  her bosom and bare stomach. John was immensely glad that Margaret had stayed at the hospital with Mrs Thorn, otherwise she would have witnessed this unspeakable behaviour.

“Hello, Kylie,” Jowan said as he strode towards the back where the kitchen was, “is Bert still here?”

The girl hastily jumped off the patron’s lap and trotted after Jowan.

“Yes, Jowan! He’s …”

“Sleeping on the job as usual,” Jowan mocked and threw open the door to the kitchen. John brushed past Kylie without a glance and followed Jowan inside.

The kitchen, which was large and well-equipped, looked like a battlefield. The dishes were piled up in the big sink, and there were dirty pots and pans all over the place, not to mention food residues, empty bottles and other signs of neglect everywhere.

 

Next to the kitchen was a small restroom where they found the chef lounging in a comfortable chair with a glass of brandy in his hand. He didn’t stir when Jowan and John strode in but stared defiantly at them.

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“Mr Duvalier, good evening!” Jowan said, trying to keep his voice level. “I see that the kitchen is not tidied up. Did the cleaning team not come in today?”

“No, they didn’t!” the chef said in a strong French accent. “How am I supposed to keep up now that Monsieur Thorn has met with illness?”

“Well, couldn’t you have a go with the cleaning-up, then?” Jowan retaliated, anger growing in his tone.

“I absolutely refuse to do that! I am a chef, not a cleaning woman!”

Jowan opened his mouth to shout at him, but John drew him out of the room and whispered,

“Look, do not be shocked by my bluntness, Jowan, but can I make a suggestion? You are needed at the hospital with your mother. I can perfectly sort this out and keep an eye on the business while your father is ill. Trust me, I know a disgruntled employee when I see one. I can handle him.”

“What? John, you don’t know what you’re talking about! This is a stinking mess of a job, you’ll never get that lazy bastard to dirty his hands by doing the dishes!”

“Well,” John chuckled, “a few days ago, I could have easily said that of myself, too! Since then, I have already “dirtied my hands” with the dishes twice and suffered no ill consequences from it. Just tell him I am the one in charge until your father comes back. Leave the rest to me.”

“Okay … if you insist but what do I tell Margaret? You’ll be tied up in here for the largest part of the day … and the night.”

“Bring her here. If I know my Margaret, her hands will soon be dirtied, too! Leave me some cash, please. I might need to go out and buy stuff.”

“Here,” Jowan said, “this is the key to Father’s safe. I’ll show you how it’s opened. You can take whatever you need from it. Thank you, John. I appreciate this.”

John reflecting

After Jowan explained the restaurant’s daily routine and the working of the safe to John, the young man left. He was anxious about what he would find at the hospital, and John’s help was most welcome.

John Thornton now found himself alone and in charge. As usual. He was up to it.

 

The Lost Northbound Train – Part Eleven

Chapter Eleven – Learning and Coping

John finished his story at that same moment, and Dylan clapped his hands in delight.

“Another one, another one!”

“No, Dylan,” his big sister scolded, “John already told you three stories and …”

Margaret saw how the girl’s eyes suddenly opened wide and how the boy followed his sister’s gaze.

“Daddy!” Both children jumped from their seats and ran toward a man who opened his arms to gather them into his embrace.

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A sweet smile lit John’s face when he saw the man’s relieved happiness at seeing his children unharmed. Earlier on, the nurse who’d attended their mother, had reassured them of her welfare. She was only mildly injured and was now being treated for a broken forearm so the children would be allowed to see her soon. John stood and turned to see Margaret watching him with bright eyes and a certain look in them he had not seen before. It sent his pulse racing as a rush of sheer desire went straight through him.

“Good day, my love. I did not know you were here too?”

“I came with Marjorie. John, were those children involved in the accident?”

“Yes … their mum was but she is well now. The little boy was so frightened, Margaret, and his sister, God! I have never seen so much pent-up anxiety in someone’s eyes before. And so much … forlornness! Yet she kept herself strong for her little brother’s sake. I am glad their father has come, and that their mother is going to be alright.”

“Have you been here long, darling?”

“I have no idea, Margaret, I came here with Jowan when chaos broke out. There is not much I can do to relieve physical pain but I saw that the relatives of the injured people were left on their own. I took pity on the children and I wanted to help.”

“John,” Margaret said, “you have so thoroughly changed, my love. When I first met you, you did not see other people’s misery.”

John smiled a little sadly, hurt by the memories of his past life that Margaret was conjuring up. It was not something he liked to remember. He had been such a harsh man, only interested in making profit and keeping his mill running.

“Little Tom Boucher has … I don’t know, I cannot really put it into words, but that child has somehow opened my eyes.”

“He has touched your heart, my darling.”

His hand came up to cup her face.

“No, my love, that was your doing, only yours.”

They stood amidst the still packed emergency room, and it was like if they were alone, just the two of them. Gazing at each other, smiling into each other’s eyes, drowning in each other’s expression of pure love, John and his Margaret felt simply happy and strong.

 

The day at the hospital just flew by, and evening approached almost imperceptibly. Jowan and Marjorie were absolutely worn out by the time they were being relieved by the next team of nurses. During the car drive home, they were quiet, and so were John and Margaret, still very impressed by all they had seen.

Betty took one look at her daughter and knew Marjorie was at the end of her tether, but it was Margaret who led her to her room.

“I will help you undress and bathe, Marjorie,” she said softly, “and I will bring you your supper on a tray afterwards. You need to rest. This cannot be good for the baby.”

Marjorie smiled weakly and sank into a chair.

“It’s because of the baby I feel so knackered, Margaret. Pregnancy will do that for you, although today was so hectic that I’m sure everybody on that ward will be completely exhausted tonight.”

She extended her hand to Margaret, who kneeled beside her and looked up at her.

“Margaret, I watched you with the children and you were marvellous. You could be a nurse yourself, you have the right attitude and a kind heart. Maybe you should consider taking a proper training?”

“Oh, but … can one train as a nurse just like that?”

“Well, you’d have to pass a test before entering medical school, but I’m sure the education you enjoyed back in 1852 will be more than adequate. I’ll rummage through my books, later on, and we can find out what would be required, okay?”

“Erm … okay …” Margaret answered, still uneasy with the twentieth-century wording.

 

Jowan poured them both a stiff whisky, when he and John settled in the study to unwind. They had been ushered out of the kitchen by Betty, who was preparing supper. The first moments were spent in silence while they sat enjoying the excellent single malt Jowan had chosen.

“This is exquisite,” John praised, “I do not know this brand. Where have you purchased it, Jowan?”

“I have an uncle and a cousin, back in Scotland, who both work at a brewery and send me supplies, now and then,” Jowan replied, “I’ll bet the whisky breweries you knew, back in 1852, are still in place nowadays. We should go and find out, and you’ll see that Scotland too has changed very much in a hundred and sixty years.”

John nodded, shrugging and grinning.

“Yes, that would be so, I guess. After what I saw today, I have a hard time figuring out where Margaret and I belong to in this era. We might have to think about it, though. Last night, when I was wandering through the fields, I discovered that the train carriage is no longer there so we have no means to go back to our time. I have no money, and we cannot live off you and Marjorie and Betty indefinitely so I will have to seek employment and a place to live.”

“Wow, wow, mate!” Jowan raised a steadying hand and looked somewhat alarmed.

“John, what kind of work would you be doing? You’re an employer yourself, a manufacturer! You’re not used to being bossed around, and ordered what to do, and how to behave! You’ll go bonkers within a week!”

John straightened himself in his chair, feeling slightly annoyed with Jowan’s critique of his character.

“I know it will be hard and unfamiliar, and that there will be a great deal for me to learn anew, but I also know myself, Jowan. I work hard and I always was a quick study. Being an employer of men is the best training school there is to adapt yourself to any situation that might arise. Adapting to the unforeseen is what I do day after day in my mill, Jowan.”

“Yes,” Jowan said, a look of surprise in his eyes at the calm strength this nineteenth-century manufacturer displayed. “Yes, I think I understand, John. There is something about you that might do the trick in many a circumstance.”

“Anyway,” John stated, rising from his chair in a determined way, “I have to speak with Margaret first. I am not alone in this situation, and from what I have seen so far, in this era, women do have a say in all kinds of situations. I am not sure I will get used to that, ever!”

 

Soon thereafter, Betty called them all to supper, and they enjoyed it in blessed silence. Marjorie had come to table too, though she still looked a bit pale. After the meal, Margaret insisted that the young woman should go to bed and rest, while she herself would help Betty clean up the dishes. She was pleasantly surprised to see Jowan and John doing their share, and again she marvelled how the latter had changed. To be honest, they had not seen each other for months before they met at the train station, yet Margaret had instantly sensed that John had changed, both in manners and also in character. He was – what was the word she was looking for – he was milder, more tolerant of people and their behaviour. He had learned to control his temper, and this was reflected in his dealings with people. He was kinder, much less conceited, and ready to do whatever was needed.

Margaret liked this John very much.

When all but Marjorie retreated to the terrace, there was a call on Jowan’s mobile, which he took inside the house. The look of sorrow on his face was enough to get Margaret on her feet. She quietly asked him what was going on.

The Lost Northbound Train – Part One

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Chapter One – Stepping into The Great Unknown

 

So it had happened.

They were finally going home. Just an hour ago, home had meant Milton, and Marlborough Mills. John Thornton had never known a better home than the one his mother Hannah created for him and his sister Fanny. The many responsibilities in his busy life as a cotton manufacturer had been adequately balanced by Hannah, who reigned his household with quiet efficiency.

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Now – just an hour ago – John discovered that Margaret had finally come to love him, the way he had loved her for three, long, and lonely years. They had met on a train station platform and kissed.

All this time, John Thornton had loved Margaret Hale, but she had first been repulsed by his harsh ways and flaring temper. To his shame and fury, she had rejected his marriage proposal. He had tried to convince himself that his foolish passion for her was gone, ever since, but he had failed, of course. He had and would always love Margaret and now they were finally together on their way to Milton, to begin their live as a newly betrothed and soon to be married couple. The bliss of that moment still sang in his blood, while he stared out of the train window and watched the green, lush English countryside glide by.

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When the train rather abruptly came to a stop, John Thornton jolted out of the dreamlike state he was in.

Margaret, her head resting against his shoulder, had been slumbering peacefully, her slender frame supported by his arm.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice soft and slightly hoarse after her little doze.

John had no idea why they had come to a standstill in the middle of nowhere with no train station in sight. He was somewhat dense to react after having to shake off the bliss of having Margaret so close. God knew how long he had been waiting for that final outcome to their relationship which had been so strained for so long.

 

Slowly the new situation got hold of John as he realised that the train would not have stopped here unless something unusual had occurred. He freed his arm from Margaret’s waist.

“I will go and take a look, Margaret” he said and stood. “Please, wait here for me.”

“No!”

Her sudden outcry startled him.

“No, John …” she said, rather nervously. “I … I would rather not be separated from you …”

The fierce look of pure, unmitigated love in John’s eyes overwhelmed Margaret like a ray of warm Southern sunshine. John Thornton still loved her after all the misery she had inflicted upon him. And she … she had finally admitted to herself that she loved him back, that she could no longer live without him, that she did not want to be away from him, ever again.

His hand cupped her face, drew it nearer. Margaret’s heart pounded with anticipation … and fear. How was she to deal with their sudden intimacy? Yet all these disturbing thoughts vanished like snow under the sun when his lips touched hers. They kissed, first shyly and awkwardly, then John’s hand glided to her lower back, pressing her even closer. His kiss became bolder as he opened her lips with his tongue. Margaret surrendered and threw her arms around his neck, answering his kiss with delight.

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It took some time before they were able to speak again.

“Very well, Miss Hale,” John smiled. “If you cannot be separated from me, I guess I will have to take you with me. Let me take your bag.”

As soon as they left their compartment, John became aware of the complete silence that was reigning all around them. Although they had been alone in their own compartment, he knew for certain they had not been the only ones on the train. During the earlier ten-minutes stop he had seen several passengers mounting it. Where again had that stop occurred? John was fairly sure it was in Leicester Station, although he had failed to pay attention to it, being fully distracted by seeing Margaret.

Hand in hand, they started down the corridor, looking into the compartments as they passed them.

They were all deserted. Soon the couple realised they were the only passengers in this carriage.

“John, look …”

Margaret pointed to one of the windows behind which they could only see a dense fog obscuring the view as thoroughly as if a curtain had been drawn.

“This is weird,” John mused. “I would not have expected a fog on such a sunny day, and it is not morning, too, but the height of the afternoon. Let us take a look outside.”

He helped Margaret down from the train step which was now considerably higher than the ground since there was no platform. The first astonishing discovery was that their carriage seemed to be the only one that was left of the train. Neither before nor after, there was not a single thing on the track.

John frowned in disbelief.

“Margaret, is it possible that our carriage has broken loose from the rest of the train, you think? Although I cannot recall that ours was the end carriage …”

“It was not. I clearly remember we were somewhere in the middle of that long train, John. What can have happened?”

“I don’t know but let us find out where we are.”

Peering through the thick fog, they were barely able to make out their surroundings but eventually they could make out the low brick wall on either side of the track that suggested they were on a bridge. Carefully, John looked over it.

“There seems to be a road under this bridge, Margaret. Shall we try to descend the embankment?”

Margaret nodded but gripped his hand even firmer. He gave her an encouraging smile.

“You need not to be afraid, dearest. You are in my care, now.”

While they were descending the steep slope, Margaret basked in the stunning realisation of what John had called her. She was his dearest, his … his beloved! It was too bewildering for words!

 

It was indeed a narrow country road that meandered under the bridge, but they could not see farther than a few yards. That, however, was not what John was concerned of. Sinking onto one knee, he touched the surface of the road, which seemed to be made of a black gravel-like substance, hard and solid to the touch. He had never seen such a thing!

“Margaret, have you noticed this? On first sight, this is an ordinary narrow country road, flanked by hedgerows that are in urgent need to be trimmed because they are overgrown by brambles. Yet, its surface is unique!”

“Extraordinary and also very efficient. No deep potholes in this road, no matter how hard it rains. What could this substance be, John? Have you any idea? We should acquire something similar for Marlborough Mills’ courtyard, don’t you think?”

John burst into a hearty laugh and pulled her close, kissing her fondly on the top of her head.

“Making plans already, are you, Miss Hale? Yes, you are right about the mill’s courtyard. It is always something of a mess after a rainstorm.”

He lifted her chin, an inquiring grin relaxing his handsome face.

“You do not seem worried in the least, my darling. You must have realised that we are in strange surroundings and that something very weird must have happened, although I have not the slightest inkling of what it could be. Yet, you do not seem afraid. How is this?”

“No,” Margaret replied softly. “No, you are right, John. I am not afraid at all. Instead I feel excited, like if I were entering an unknown, fairytale-like world, waiting to be discovered. And, John …”

She paused to lay her hand on his cheek and gently caress it.

“What is it, sweetheart …” John breathed, heart pounding because of the love in Margaret’s tone.

“Whenever I am with you, my love, I will never be afraid of anything.”

Their kiss lasted several minutes and left them both breathless.

Eventually, hand in hand, they set forth over the narrow road, walking to the North and into the Great Unknown.