Hearts Adrift – Part two

 

Chapter Two

“Are you certain, sir, that you want to pursue this matter? The streets are extremely dangerous in Paris right now.”

The young man’s pleasant countenance grew serious, causing Richard de Briers to turn a sharp eye on him. “What is it that you are saying, Jake? Are the streets barred? Bridges over the Seine destroyed, maybe?”

Jake Davies had been acting as Richard’s business man in Paris for the last four years. He had begun his life as a London street urchin and Robert de Briers had caught the boy trying to steal his handkerchief one rainy night. Richard’s father, seeing the sorry state the starving boy was in, took him into his London household and gave him a home, responsibilities, and, seeing a potential in him, eventually an education. Jake started his career as a clerk to Mr. Donby, Robert de Briers’ secretary. His childhood in the London rookeries made him the perfect man to tackle post-revolutionary Paris. He had made possible many successful business transactions for Richard and his father before him. So, when Jake found it necessary to warn him, Richard listened and pondered.

“I am saying, sir, that we must go unnoticed, which implies we have to go after dark. However, the darkness will add a definite danger to our journey. There are two liabilities, as I see it. We could get held up by the troops of the Terror –  and arrested if they have a mind to it. In that case, we are as good as dead, being foreigners, and English to boot. They will think us spies. On the other hand, we could be caught by cutthroats, and be robbed and murdered. No one would be surprised by one or two corpses floating in the Seine, these days.”

“Or, Jake, we could be clever and pick our way to the Rue Saint-Jacques cautiously. We could bring my relatives back to the inn in Auteuil and from there, set off to the coast. Once we reach Boulogne, we could hire a boat to bring us back to England.”

Jake bowed his head at the resolute tone of his master’s voice. “Yes, sir, we could do all that. Well, no better time than tonight.”

“My good man!” Richard grinned. “Let us prepare ourselves!”

The riots were still raging through Paris’ streets; therefore, Manon and Jéhan were sensibly staying indoors. They had, however, finished their last bits of food the night before. Manon realised they could not stay at the house for much longer. Jéhan was frightened, with reason, and she had done all she could to keep him quiet and comfort him as best as she was able to. After four days of hiding, Manon told her brother that their father might have been arrested. She kept silent about the real situation. Jéhan was too young to understand. Better to let him think their father was in prison, and therefore unreachable. No one was allowed to visit prisoners these days, and Jéhan, young though he was, knew that. She would explain what transpired when the time was right.

For now, she would make a plan to escape from Paris. Her mind was diligently considering her options, while she was picking up eggs in the back garden. By some miracle, the plunderers had overlooked a single chicken, hidden under a pile of straw.

A large hand covered her mouth and a steely arm sneaked around her body, effectively pinning her arms in a tight hold. Manon struggled, fought, kicked her heels against her assailant’s shins, but it was like kicking a brick wall. A warm whiff of breath caressed her ear, and a deep baritone voice whispered, “Do not fight me. Are you Manon Favier, daughter of Lily de Briers and Thibaut Favier?”

The tall, incredibly strong man had spoken in heavily accented French, and Manon had to strain her ears just to be able to understand what he said. She nodded as well as she could, given the fact that his hand was still on her mouth.

“I am your uncle Richard de Briers,” the man said. “I will release you now, and you must not make a sound. I have come to take you and your brother to England with me.”

Manon heaved a deep sigh and turned to look at her uncle as soon as he set her back on her feet. It was early dusk and she could see him clearly in the light of the setting sun.

Richard de Briers was tall and broad-shouldered, with a figure that seemed to be hewn out of granite. Although he was dressed in the drab, coarsely woven clothes of a commoner, his stance and the expression on his face immediately gave him away as an aristocrat. A face as handsome as the devil’s, Manon registered – clean-cut, with wide-set eyes the colour of a winter sky, a long blade of a nose and a wide, thin-lipped mouth. A full head of pitch-black hair completed the image of a devil, yet what troubled Manon the most was the cold, steely gaze in those grey eyes.

She shivered but straightened to her full height, which only allowed her to bring the top of her head halfway up his chest. Mon Dieu, but the man was a giant!

“How do I know that you are who you say you are, monsieur?” she challenged him, tossing back the red mane of her hair that had come undone from its pins. Her green eyes blazed at him with unmitigated defiance as she lifted her face to look him straight in the eyes.

Richard de Briers stared at her in disbelief, unable, for a moment, to find the words that would convince her. Was this slip of a girl doubting his word? If he was to act as her guardian, he had better make it clear to her from the beginning that he was the one giving the orders.

“Quit your whims, girl, and follow me. Do not fuss or there will be consequences. I have no qualms binding and gagging you.”

He gripped her arm and towed her along into the kitchen, where another man slighter and shorter than de Briers was waiting with her little brother, perched on his shoulder. Jéhan did not seem to be afraid of the strangers and had his wooden horse tucked under his arm.

“We are travelling to England, Manon! Is that not wonderful?” The boy was smiling broadly.

“Keep quiet, little master,” Jake admonished in perfect Parisian French. “We do not want the guards to hear us.”

“Sorry,” Jéhan apologized. “I can be quiet as a mouse, monsieur, I promise!”

“Who are you, monsieur?” Manon challenged Jake. “Let go of my brother, now!”

“His name is Jake Davies and he is my business man. You have nothing to fear from him,” Richard de Briers’ voice rumbled above her head. “Now, listen, mademoiselle. We will go to the river, where I have a small boat ready to take us to my rooms in Auteuil. That way, we will avoid the Barrière de Grenelle and inspection by the guards at the barrier checkpoint. The surveillance is very thorough these days.”

Manon humphed, which made the man raise an annoyed eyebrow. “I know all too well how thorough the surveillance is, monsieur! I live here, remember?”

De Briers cut her short with a glare that could have set the place on fire, then continued. “From Auteuil, where I have horses ready, we ride to Boulogne, from where we sail to England. Can you ride?”

“No,” she sneered, “Why would I have learned to ride a horse? There is no need to ride in Paris!”

“Perfect!” De Briers growled under his breath, but aloud he said, “It is of no consequence. Jake and I can take you behind us in the saddle in turn.”

Manon decided to give in, at least for now. This was as good a way as any other to escape Paris. Her “uncle” seemed to have made his plan rather thoroughly. The toll barriers and the wall, called Murs des Fermiers Généraux had been in place since 1788, a year before the storming of the Bastille. The people had not approved of the tolls on all incoming goods, which were levied to pay for the aristocrats’ extravagances. Since 1790, the barriers were checkpoints for controlling not only goods, but also the comings and goings of people, so avoiding them was paramount. Once they were in the countryside, Manon would find an opportunity to run away. Surely, in the Bois de Boulogne, that opportunity would present itself.

Manon did not trust this “uncle” unconditionally. Father had told her about her so-called English family often enough, and what she had learned about these people had not inclined her to feel generous towards them, but these were desperate times.

Manon’s mother had been a child of her grandfather’s first marriage. After the death of his wife in childbirth, her grandfather had not taken much notice of his baby daughter, so Maman had been raised by her nanny, and later, by her governess. At fifteen, Maman had eloped with her father’s French valet, Thibaut Favier. To escape her father’s wrath, they had fled to Paris, where Papa had worked in his father’s apothecary shop and learned the trade. Manon was born and the couple stayed in Paris. Jéhan was born when Manon was fifteen, but this late pregnancy was too much for Maman’s frail body. She died after three days in horrible agony, even though Manon – who had also learned the apothecary trade – and her father had tried everything that was humanly possible to heal her.

There had never been a word from England, as far as Manon knew. And now this “uncle” had shown up. Her grandfather must have remarried at some point.

“Have you gathered the necessities for your journey?” De Briers shook her arm, as if he had noticed her daydreaming.

“We have only the clothes on our backs, Jéhan and I. Our house was plundered a few days ago.”

He nodded. “I will provide you with clothes and necessaries, when we reach Auteuil. It might be useful if you had a cloak, however. The river can be damp at night.”

“I have no cloak,” Manon replied. “Nor does Jéhan.”

“We have to go, Master,” Jake urged. “In another ten minutes, the night watch will be upon us.”

“Come on, then,” De Briers said, and took Jéhan from Jake, settling the boy on his hip, before striding to the door.

 

Hearts Adrift – Part One

Chapter One

At Bearsham Manor, Hampshire, England, Sir Robert de Briers, baronet, lay dying. His ragged breathing was shallow and fast, indicating that the end was near. This last apoplexy had proved too much of a strain on Sir Robert’s heavyset, gout-infected body, even though his mind was as sharp as ever. With considerable effort, he opened his pale blue, bloodshot eyes and searched for the tall figure of his son and heir, Richard. Sir Robert had one last yet most urgent request for him.

“Come, my son, come closer…”

Richard de Briers obeyed readily and bent down on one knee beside his father’s bed. Guessing that the old man wanted only him and no one else present to hear, he bowed his head toward his father.

“I am listening, sir,” he whispered in his father’s ear. “What is it that you want from me?”

Wheezing and fighting for air, Sir Robert explained.

“You must go to Paris and find Lily’s family,” he said, referring to Richard’s late half-sister. “Her husband has … an apothecary’s workshop … on the Rue Saint-Jacques. There have been many riots lately, with the revolutionaries taking power. Thibaut Favier, Lily’s husband … has not written to me on his usual date of the second Sunday of the month. I fear … something bad might have befallen him. If so, I want you … to bring the children … to the estate and … become their legal guardian. I have discussed this … with Mr Brownslow, my solicitor in Portsmouth. Go to him and ask him. Richard …”

The old man’s pudgy hand grabbed his son’s in urgent need.

“Do not say a word of this matter to your mother. She never approved of my concern for Lily.”

Sir Robert squeezed Richard’s hand rather hard. “Swear to me, Richard … that you will do as I ask!”,

“I give you my word, Father that I will see that Lily’s children are safe.”

Richard had no inkling as to how he was to achieve such a difficult task, what with all the frightful news that seeped through from France and from Jake Davies, his poor, besieged business man in Paris. Now he had made a promise to his dying father so he would do his utmost for his niece and nephew.

“Richard, my son …” Sir Robert’s fading voice once more claimed his attention.

“Yes, father?”

“You must be the best of guardians to them, care for them as if they were your own … Richard, you must learn to love them, promise me …”

“I promise, father.”  What was the meaning of all this, he wondered? Why was his father so adamant?

“Listen, come closer. There is a letter for you … you must read it and act upon its contents. It is hidden behind … behind …”

Sir Robert gasped for breath, but the grip on Richard’s fingers never slackened.

“Where, father?” Richard encouraged.

“Behind the veil …” A faint, barely audible gust of breath escaped Sir Robert’s parched lips. It was his last one. Sir Robert de Briers was gone.

Richard laid the limp hand upon his father’s chest and closed his staring yet unseeing eyes. He rose from his knees and opened the door to the landing.

“Mrs Briskley,” Richard addressed Bearsham Manor’s housekeeper, “would you do me the kindness of seeing to it that my father is decently laid out?”

The plump, motherly woman bobbed. “Yes, sir, right away, sir,” she said as her tears quietly slipped from her eyes. She watched Sir Richard with distressed gaze as he left his father’s room.

 

“Thornton, will you notify Beacon & Sons that I will have need of their services for my father’s funeral, please?”

The elderly, thin butler bowed his head. “Of course, sir. Will you be needing anything else, sir?”

“I will say so when I think of it, Thornton, thank you. For now, I would like to be on my own for a while, in my father’s library.”

“Yes, sir. Sir … on behalf of the staff, I would like to convey our deepest sympathy on the passing of Sir Robert.”

“Thank you.” Weary to the bone, Richard descended the long, winding staircase and turned to the library door  when his mother’s cold voice stopped him.

“How is he, Richard?”

Without turning to her, he replied in the same disinterested tone his mother, Mildred de Briers had used. “My father is dead, Madam. You can pay your respects after he has been laid out.”

Not wishing to speak to her for the moment, he entered the library and closed the door behind him with a definitive click.

Lady Mildred de Briers stared at the closed door for a few moments, then gathered her lavender silk skirts and slowly mounted the stairs. As she passed the large, gold-framed mirror on the landing, she stopped and studied her face and instantly wiped the grim expression from it. At forty-five, she was still beautiful, Mildred gloated. A pity, that her only son always managed to raise her hackles, but then there it was and it would never change. She hated her son, and had done so since Richard was born.

 

It was June 1793 and Paris was once again in turmoil.

The people were rioting against the Terror regime, the power that had crushed hopes of a good life and instead made them suffer even more cruelly than under the Ancient Régime. The execution of the royal family, presented to the people as the ultimate victory over the aristocracy, had obtained the opposite effect, as people began to pity the unfortunate King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie-Antoinette, both beheaded in January 1793, as well as their surviving daughter Marie-Thérèse, barely fifteen and still imprisoned at the Tour du Temple.

People were murdered, women violated, children left to die of starvation on the streets. Shops were ransacked, houses burned, churches destroyed. It was chaos, the end of a world and of an era.

For Manon Favier, fate had something particular in store.

Up until now, the Faviers had managed to keep their heads above water well enough. Thibaut Favier had taken over his father’s apothecary shop on the Rue Saint-Jacques, near the Sorbonne university after he fled England. He was well-known and loved in the neighbourhood. He provided the much-tried inhabitants with potions, pills, and ointments for their many ailments, often without asking for payment. So the people had protected their apothecary and his family. However, recently, Paris had been caught in a different kind of frenzy, where all the values of before were scattered and obliterated. Thibaut Favier’s shop was ransacked, and the owner killed. Manon and her little five-year-old brother Jéhan were left orphans without a penny to live on.

On the day her father was killed, Manon – unaware of what had befallen to their father – had gone out to meet her brother at the Couvent des Dames de Marie, where he attended school. She was on her usual rounds, seeing to the patients in her care, so she had been carrying her apothecary satchel, filled with the necessities of her trade, and a load of various items of food, given to her by  her grateful patients. Manon had spotted the rioters, waited until they were gone, and inwardly sent up a prayer of thanks because they hadn’t set fire to the house.

She and Jéhan had gone inside, barred the door, and were planning to make up a bed for the night amidst the torn curtains and clothes the plunderers had discarded, when Manon noticed the rusting-iron odour of her father’s slaughtered corpse on the kitchen floor. Quickly, she had ushered Jéhan into the shop, preventing him from seeing the horror.

“Here, my darling; let us sit down and eat something, shall we?”

Jéhan obeyed but asked, “Where is Papa? It is filthy in here, Manon. I want to go eat in the kitchen.”

“We cannot, my darling.”  Manon debated what she should do while she handed a lump of bread and a piece of cheese to her brother. Jéhan had to be told about their father, but it was not necessary for him to see the bloodied corpse. Her stomach churning and her heart grieving, she applied herself to feeding her brother and putting him to sleep on a pile of rags in one corner of the shop. She waited until he was fast asleep before she ventured back into the kitchen again.

They had stabbed Papa multiple times, and he had bled copiously until one blade pierced his heart. His face, surprisingly, was intact and serene, as if he had not suffered a great deal. Maybe he had not, Manon mused, but she knew she was fooling herself. A large lump had formed in her throat, now threatening to burst. She closed her eyes, heaved a deep sigh and started to think.

She and Jéhan could not stay in Paris, that was obvious. The riots were becoming harsher by the day, and half the city was on the run for the countryside. The populace that would stay was a rabble of miscreants and murderers, not to mention the Terror’s troops. Any time now, she and her brother could be arrested and put on trial, which would certainly lead to them being beheaded. The fact that Jéhan was only five years old would not stop the monsters. Her own fate would even be worse than death.

Manon shivered, swallowed, and made her decision. She would bury her father in the small back garden, where they grew their herbs, and would then wait until the rebellion against the Terror slowed down enough for her to leave Paris. Where she would be going, she did not know yet. But she was going, no doubt about that.

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Sixty

Chapter Twenty – The Miracle of Life

Around the clock of noon on June 19th 1853, Mrs Eliza Goodyear, nurse and midwife, came into the parlour of the Thornton house, carrying two small bundles, one in each arm. Beaming with pride, she placed them in the lap of John Thornton with a smile.

“Here you are, Mr Thornton! Meet your twin sons! They are a fine example of strong, healthy English babies and you can be proud of your good wife for delivering them in so fine a condition.”

“Margaret! Oh, my God, how is she?”

“As well as can be expected, do not worry. She is sleeping and Dr Chelmsford will soon be here to tell you all about her. For now, look at your babies!”

John’s large hands were trembling when he held his newborn sons. They were so small yet so perfect!

His thumb touched one of the tiny hands and instantly the delicate fingers curled around his with a surprising strength.

“Ouch! But you are quite the muscle man, aren’t you, son,” he whispered, grinning at Nicholas and Hannah, who stood smiling at him, his mother all misty-eyed.

“Oh, you don’t know half of it!”, Mrs Goodyear assured him, “Wait until they open their mouths!”

As if waiting for a sign, both babies began crying their hearts out, the level of noise deafening and very, very shrill!

“Good God!”, John exclaimed, “Is this how it is going to be from now on? May God have mercy on us!”

Hannah now laughed through her tears of joy and reached out for one of the babies. John stood and laid one howling child in Hannah’s arms and the other in the arms of a startled Nicholas.

“Oh, yes, Higgins! I am not going to do this on my own! You are to help me, Granddad! And you too, Granny!,” he joked with an impish smile curling his mouth.

After that, he escaped from the parlour and went to find Margaret in their bedroom. Dr Chelmsford was just checking her pulse and put a finger to his lips when John entered. ‘Five minutes’ he gestured, stood and left.

The sight of his beloved wife resting peacefully brought a lump into John’s throat. He seated himself next to the bed and carefully took her porcelain little hand in his. With anxious eyes roaming over her, he took it all in, her lovely dark brown hair neatly brushed from her still pale face, delicate and precious in its sleep-relaxed state, her breast moving under the intake of breath, the slight curve  of her stomach under the covers where their children had been. He couldn’t keep himself from caressing the alabaster cheeks and the curve of the cherry mouth.

Margaret opened her eyes, saw him and smiled. “John …”

“How are you, my heart? Do you know how much I love you? You have done so marvellously, my love! You have given me two strong, handsome sons for whom we yet have to find names. I was hoping you would have some suggestions?”

Margaret smiled again, so sweetly that John’s heart turned into water.

“I know you have already picked one name, John. Charles Richard, after both of our fathers. I do agree with that but what about the other one?”

John chuckled and squeezed her hand.

“There is no way to keep anything from you, is it not? You are right. Charles Richard Thornton is a good name but which one of them is going to have it?”

“The firstborn, of course! He has a small birthmark on his chest, in the shape of a weaving reel.”

“Really? I never saw that! Remarkable! So our little future weaver is named Charles. Now the other one, any suggestions?”

“Yes … I would like to call him Nicholas Alexander. And … I would like to have Nicholas as his godfather and Dr Donaldson for Charles, if that is alright with you, John?”

John stroked his wife’s face and whispered. “You have been thinking this over very thoroughly, haven’t you, my love? Alright, I agree but what about godmothers?”

“Mother for Charles and Mary for Nicholas. It is really very simple, if you put your mind to it.”

John grinned mischievously, kissed Margaret on the mouth and stood. “Well, I will leave you to rest, darling, and go and inform the godparents-to-be of their future duties. I am looking forward to that in rapt anticipation! Just think of all the money they will have to spend on sugared almonds and silver spoons!”

Margaret burst out into genuinely merry laughter which caused her husband to bend over her and take her into his arms.

“Margaret, you are my heart and soul and I love you more than life itself. Thank you for our boys and thank you for loving me. Life is going to be just marvellous!”

The End

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Nine

Chapter Fifty-Nine– The Agony of a Husband

On that long day in June 1853, Margaret and John Thornton were fighting side-by-side to bring the birth of their twins to a good end. As time went on, John learned to recognize all the signs and proceedings of a confinement and of giving birth.

He could feel the slightest change in Margaret’s body when a contraction was coming, a tiny rippling of her back muscles under his hands. Then he would straighten his own back, harden his own muscles and tighten his grip on her waist, as he sat behind her, legs spread with Margaret between them. When it began, he would support her with all his might, to give her the extra strength needed for the contraction to be as efficient as possible.

This process was going on for long, excruciating hours, so long that John had lost all notion of time. He had seen dawn coming through the windows, where Dixon had forgotten to draw the curtains, busy as she was with bustling from the room to the kitchen in a supply of fresh hot water, hot drinks and food for everybody in attendance.

John could very well tell that Margaret was weakening rapidly now. He literally had to hold her upright during her labour. Yet he never allowed himself to stop encouraging her, firing her up, praising her efforts, telling her he loved her. Margaret’s tears of sheer exhaustion were falling upon his hands and arms and tearing apart his very heart in the process.

Was not this the outcome of his love for her? Had he not been the sole villain in this, by impregnating her? How cruel was this, when a man could enforce this kind of torture onto his wife, solely by loving her? By God, he swore he would find a way to spare Margaret further agony in the future or to die trying to!

 

Margaret had not an ounce of strength left. She felt completely drained, body and mind. Only John’s presence and strength kept her going. John … she was utterly grateful for her husband’s strong body behind her, his capable hands on her waist and his loving voice in her ear.

“Come on, my love. Hold on for just a little while. Doctor says it is not long now. Sweet darling, come on, push, my love, push!”

“I … I cannot … I cannot go on, John, I …”

“Yes, you can! Together, we can, my love! Come on, together with me, now, Margaret!”

It was only John that kept her going, Margaret thought. As long as she heard his voice, she could indeed go on! John, stay with me, John, please, help me!

The doctor’s voice came from somewhere far away.

“Dr Donaldson? Mrs Goodyear? Stand by, if you please … here comes number one! Oh, what a beauty!”

The haze of pain grew to an extremely high peak but, strangely, Margaret found she could endure it somehow. Her body was still fighting, though she did not know how that was possible.

Someone was pressing onto her stomach but her eyes refused to open and see who it was.

“Oh … oh, my God, Margaret! Sweet Jesus, Margaret … oh, oh …”

Was John crying? She could feel him sobbing but could not believe it. John, crying? Impossible!

“Come on, my brave, brave darling, push, PUSH!”

“There is the other one!”, Dr Chelmsford cried, “And what a healthy one it is! Dr Donaldson, take him, please?”

Suddenly the level of pain dropped to almost nothing and Margaret was left shivering with exhaustion and sudden cold.

“Nurse, give me an extra blanket! Here, Mr Thornton, wrap this around her, she is in shock!”

 

John tenderly wrapped his wife into the blanket and climbed out of the bed, helped by the strong hands of his mother. Hannah’s face was wet with tears but her eyes were shining.

“Oh, John! You have two sons! Two healthy sons, is it not, Dr Chelmsford?”

As his knees buckled under the sudden demand of being upright, John took a deep breath and tried to collect his scattered wits.

“Is it true, doctor? Are the children healthy?”

It was Dr Donaldson’s voice that answered. At some point John had noticed that the faithful family doctor had entered the room but he had been too busy with his wife to even greet him.

“Yes, Mr Thornton, I have examined the children and they are very well. Two strong boys they are, a little small as was to be expected, but strong nevertheless. Would you like to see them?”

“In a while, Dr Donaldson, if you please. Dr Chelmsford, how is Margaret?”

The London obstetrician turned to him while he was working on Margaret.

“She is completely exhausted, Mr Thornton, and asleep. The after-birth bleeding does not seem too extreme and I think we must leave her into the competent hands of Mrs Goodyear who will make her as comfortable as possible. I would be obliged if you and Mrs Hannah would leave the room now, so that we can do our jobs.”

“But …but I want to see how Margaret is and …”

At this point, Hannah took hold of her son’s arm and quietly but firmly led him out of the room.

Once outside, John’s knees did really buckle and he would have crashed onto the floor but for the strong, steadying hands of Nicholas Higgins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Eight – The Curse of Eve

 

John Thornton had weathered many bad spells in his life. Some of them – like when Marlborough Mills went bankrupt – could even be called horrible. On the whole his life had never been easy and he was fairly sure he could bear far more than any other man. Yet, what he was forced to undergo in the days that followed Margaret’s first pains of childbirth, nearly did him in.

How he ever survived those hellish days, he never knew.

During that first night, Margaret felt only four painful spasms. Although she managed – with John’s help – to breathe in the required way, her anxiety prevented her from sleeping between spells.

This was the time, her time. It was all or nothing. No matter what would happen in the next hours, or days, she would be in the centre of it. She stood on the verge of fighting the most important battle of her life and she was terrified!

Margaret wasn’t really asleep, she was just dozing off into a state of numbness. John, perched on the edge of a chair next to their bed, was watching her with growing anxiety. Lord! How long was this going to take?

The night had drifted into dawn and Nurse Goodyear had just examined Margaret’s progress. The cervix had barely dilated from the three inches it had the last time she checked. There was no progress! Even though the contractions – John had to force himself to call them so – followed each other a bit more frequently, the cervix did not open further.

Where was that damned fellow Chelmsford? Why wasn’t he here yet?

“John?”

He looked up to find his mother beside him. She blanched and he did not understand why but his brain was too befuddled to make an effort.

“John, go and lie down. You cannot help her and she needs to regain her strength before the next contraction starts. I will stay here, go!”

Margaret moaned as the pain rushed through her, fiercer now and much longer. She clasped the hands that were holding her, tears running down her cheeks. Her body ached all over and rivers of sweat trickled over her breasts and thighs.

“Margaret, breathe! Now, Margaret! Small puffs, quick and shallow, come on, do it, Margaret!”

When she opened her eyes to the forceful voice of Hannah, barking out the words, Margaret felt immensely relieved to have her near.

“Oh, Mother! I am so glad you are here!” Pain cut her off and she puffed, just like Hannah told her to. It helped … a bit.

“Very good, Mrs Thornton!”That was Eliza’s voice. Now Margaret was no longer so scared. She had two very competent women to help her.

Of course John could not sleep. He was lying on the couch in the parlour, ears pricked to the sounds coming from the bedroom, heart pounding with fear for what might be going on there. Suddenly he sat up and covered his face. It was no use, he was eaten up by sheer fear! It gnawed at him like a wild animal. It tore him apart and ripped the flesh from his very soul!

A cry from Margaret had him on his feet and into the bedroom. His wife was half sitting, half lying against the stack of pillows in their bed. The covers were thrown back, revealing her spread legs and raised knees. On both sides of her, his mother and the nurse were supporting her through yet another attack of pain as she arched away from the mattress. Then Nurse Goodyear took sight of him.

“Mr Thornton, will you please leave the room immediately? This is not your place!”

“Curse it! I will not go! I cannot leave her alone now! Tell me what to do, for God’s sake, woman!”

A deep voice from the doorway cut through his speech.

“You can climb into that bed behind her and support her with your body, mister! And for the rest, you can just shut up or I will remove you from the room myself!”

Dr Mortimer Chelmsford had finally arrived.

 

She was now one large mass of fierce, hot pain, eating at her, tearing her apart, killing her slowly but unstoppably. She had lost all control. There was nothing she could do except to undergo it, to let it engulf her and to try to survive. A lot of voices were humming around her but she could not make out what they were saying any longer. However, there was one familiar voice that managed to penetrate the haze of red hot pain. It came from somewhere behind her where a warm, hard presence was holding her, supporting her, carrying her through the fiery waves. She clung to that voice with every fibre of her weakening body.

“Very good, my darling, my sweet, brave love, very good. Breathe, my love, breathe, in and out, slowly, deeply, in and out. I am here, my darling, do not be afraid, I am here, with you.”

John! It was John! Oh, sweet Mother of God, thank you!

 

Five people were stubbornly and tirelessly working together to help Margaret Hale Thornton giving birth to her babies.

There was Dixon, sponging her sweat-streaked face. There was Hannah, offering her hand and arm so that Margaret might cling to them when a contraction set in. There was Eliza, watching the doctor’s every move and word, so that she might do what he asked for. There was Mortimer Chelmsford at the foot of the bed, checking Margaret’s progress after each pain wave and listening to her heartbeat and that of the babies.

Finally, there was her husband John, sitting behind his wife, legs spread to steady himself and hands firmly on her lower back to give her his extra strength when the pain hit her. Indefatigably, he talked to her, encouraging her with his steadying voice. As far as he was concerned, John was taking no risks at all to let anything go wrong in this!

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Seven

Chapter Fifty-Seven – Torn Between Fear and Joy

Near the half of June 1853, Margaret found herself growing more and more restless every day.

She was now huge and experienced great discomfort from her pregnancy, although the babies seemed healthy enough. They were very active, especially when she tried to rest or sleep. Even John marvelled about the force of his unborn children when he laid his hand on Margaret’s stomach.

“My poor darling,” he said, one night when he helped Margaret to go to the bathroom for the fourth time that night, “how I wish I could relieve your suffering! I cannot imagine how the weight of the children must burden you.”

He plumped up her pillows and helped her back into bed. “Now, how many weeks to go?”

Margaret gave a deep, heartfelt sigh. “Theoretically three and a half weeks. But I fervently wish it to be less!”

“You know what the doctor said, darling. The longer you carry them, the stronger they will be.”

“Yes, you are right, John. It was very selfish of me to wish for the birth to begin.”

“Come, my love. Close your eyes and sleep now. You need to rest.”

Her head resting upon John’s breast, while lying on her side with one leg drawn up and the other stretched out – a position she found very comfortable – Margaret soon found sleep.

John, on the other hand, worried, as usual. He watched Margaret grow more tired every day and of lower spirits. Lord, but to have to carry two babies, large, heavy babies, for that matter, must be torture for his fragile, slender wife.

John Thornton had always been a fighter. Problems might arouse but they had to be dealt with. He was going to make absolutely sure Margaret was being taken care of as completely as could be.

Therefore he wrote a letter to Dr Mortimer Chelmsford, obstetrician in London, and invited him to come and live at the Thornton home so as to be ready at hand when Margaret would go into labour.

Dr Chelmsford , who was a busy man with a blooming practice, promised to come to Milton during the last week of June or, should labour start sooner, travel post haste to be with her. For now, he sent his most skilled midwife to cover for him until he would arrive.

Mrs Eliza Goodyear arrived duly on the 20th of June from London. She was a widow whose husband died of pneumonia ten years ago, leaving her without money. Dr Chelmsford, who was looking for a housekeeper took her on and discovered very soon that Mrs Goodyear was better suited to care for the sick than for sweeping and cooking. He provided her with the money to take a proper training so that she could go and offer her services wherever they were needed.

Margaret was immediately drawn to the lively and cheerful woman of thirty-five.

Eliza Goodyear had soon organized Margaret’s days into long periods of rest and short intervals of sitting up on the parlour couch. C & J, Margaret’s faithful chair bearers were banned from the house, at least as far the wheelchair was concerned. No more outings, Eliza said, no more tiring distractions.

That was a good thing for one night at the dinner table where she was taking her evening meal in the company of John, Margaret suddenly felt a gnawing pain in her lower back. She gasped, startling John into action.

“Love, what is the matter? Are you unwell? Talk to me, Margaret, please?”

At that moment the pain was expanding, circling her waist like a belt and growing stronger by the second. Margaret clasped John’s hand with closed eyes, unable to breathe.

“Dixon! Mrs Goodyear! Somebody, help!,” John bellowed in helpless rage.

It was Dixon who was first on the spot but this was so clearly beyond her usual skills that John was relieved when Eliza Goodyear entered the room. She took matters in hand with a comforting  confidence.

“Mr Thornton, sir, help her up. Come on, Mrs Thornton, we must get you to your bed.”

John, in his usual brisk manner, shoved her aside and scooped up his wife as if she weighed nothing. Eliza Goodyear’s eyes widened in admiring surprise seeing how strong he was. Between the two of them, they soon had Margaret in bed.

“Mrs Thornton, I want you to lie on your side in, as I told you, was the position of relax. Very well, that is it. Now, breathe, exactly the way I taught you to, deep long intakes that go all the way down to your stomach. Then, hold your breath for ten seconds and release it very slowly. Yes, that is good.”

She turned towards John. “Mr Thornton, you must see that she does this every time the pain starts. It is her body preparing for birth. The womb, which is in fact no more than a very strong muscle, is in great need of oxygen. That is the reason for the elaborated breathing process. You, sir, must help her to breathe instead of clamping up, like she did just now. Can I trust you with this? Can you do this?”

John shot the nurse a very grim but determined look. “Of course I can! Do you think me a weakling?” He turned to Margaret, kneeled by the bed and started working on her breathing along with her.

Eliza Goodyear smiled in satisfaction and left the room, feeling reassured about John Thornton’s utter commitment and cooperation.

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Six – I, Nicholas, Take Thee Hannah

 

The second day of the month of June in the year of Our Lord 1853, the bells of Milton Chapel were peeling joyfully to announce the wedding of Mrs Hannah Thornton, mother of the Master of Marlborough Mills, and Mr Nicholas Higgins, assistant manager of the factory.

The day was a bit overcast but that did not lessen the joyful mood as the bride was being led down the aisle on the arm of her proud son, John Thornton of Marlborough Mills. At the altar stood Nicholas Higgins, tall and broad in a suit of black superfine, a white, linen shirt, dove grey waistcoat and dazzling white cravat. His hands held a pair of white cotton gloves and a black top hat, and his honest face bore a wide, happy grin as he watched Hannah approach on John’s arm.

Hannah was magnificently decked out in a lavender dress of gleaming silk, whose sober, straight cut accented the slimness of her tall, erect figure but softened the lines in her usually stern countenance. Now, Hannah was smiling, blue eyes sparkling like diamonds. Her thick, black hair, with only the hint of silver, was combed back loosily from her face to fall down in heavy waves on her back. Nicholas’s heart skipped a beat as he noticed the loosened hair. It made her look like the young girl she must have been when she married John’s father.

John solemnly lay his mother’s hand on Nicholas’s and retired at the side of his own wife.

Margaret smiled at him as he sat down beside her wheelchair and took her hand.

 

Not yet one year ago, they had been bride and groom at this very church themselves. How well John remembered his lovely Margaret in her cream coloured silk dress and lace vale, the very picture of beauty and grace. Today she wore a loose gown of mint green silk, very light to the touch as to give her as much comfort as possible with the heavy burden of her pregnancy to bear. John’s heart lurched in fear as it had for so many days now, since he knew Margaret was carrying twins.

He pressed her fine boned hand and smiled at her, not showing what he was really feeling other than his huge love for her.

Margaret watched the couple at the altar with quiet joy filling her heart.

Dear Nicholas and sweet Mother! How she wished them to gain a new happiness with each other! They had been through such a difficult time, with Hannah being stalked and nearly killed. A shiver ran through her as she remembered the deeds of their former maid, Jane.

Another memory returned suddenly and she had to swallow back tears. At this same time of year, last June, her father had died. Margaret could still see the tall figure of Mr Bell, standing in the street with her father’s suitcase in his hand, when he came to tell her of Mr Hale’s demise.

The sudden kick of one of her babies brought Margaret back from the sad past into the present. She admonished herself sternly. It was no use reminiscing about past sorrow. She had things to do, she must prepare herself for motherhood and stop being such a ninny! After all, she had the most dedicated and loving man in the whole world at her side and the strong support of a woman whom she considered a mother. Her own dear departed mother would never have given her strength at all, weak and sickly as she had been. So she brought John’s hand to her lips and watched fondly as Nicholas and Hannah spoke their wedding vows.

 

After the ceremony, there was a reception at the Thornton house. The gathering was small. There was the family, of course, and a few acquaintances, such as Dr Donaldson and Inspector Mason from the Milton Constabulary.

Margaret was watching the guests with a fond eye when her friend, Mary Higgins, came to sit on a chair beside her wheelchair.

“Dear Margaret, how are you feeling? This must be an exhausting day for you. Are you comfortable? Can I get you something?”

Margaret took Mary’s hand and pressed it fondly. “No, Mary, do not worry.  I’m perfectly alright, though huge as a beached whale! How I am ever to get my figure back after this, I do not know!”

She winced as a kick from the babies made her stomach lurch with a burning gulf of bile. Mary laid her hand on Margaret’s swollen stomach and smiled as she felt the strong kicking.

“They are very healthy in there, for sure! Two boys, I should say, and rugby players to boot!”

The two women burst into laughter at the thought, and Margaret saw John’s head turn towards her in surprise. She waved at him and he, reassured with her lightness of spirit, went on with his conversation with Dr Donaldson.

“Mary, I have not yet have an opportunity to thank you for sending your cousin, Letty Monroe, to us. She is very sweet and, although still very young, she impressed me with her quiet self-confidence. She will make a good nanny, I’m sure.”

Mary was silent for a moment, then spoke in an earnest tone. “Letty had an unusual childhood, Margaret, one that would have scarred a less stronger girl for life but not her! She was but ten years old when she lost her left foot. A cart wheel broke down and the wheel axe’s sharp edge severed it clean, so no chance of saving it. Many little girls would have lost courage but not our Letty. She stepped into our house, one day, on her crutches and tackled Dad, whom she knew to be a good carver of wood. ‘Uncle Nick,’ she said, ‘make me a wooden foot so that I can walk without these stupid crutches.’ I tell you, Margaret, Father was all in doubt about it but he did as Letty asked. After lots of failures, he finally managed to make a foot to match her leg stump fairly good.”

Margaret listened in awe to all this. “Did she manage to walk on the foot? I imagine it must have been difficult to keep her balance?”

“It was. She kept falling and she didn’t seem to be able to fasten the foot adequately enough on her stump. But, finally, she succeeded. She and Father designed something quite new, a leather sock, lined with cotton waste, to cover her stump, and then they used Arabic gum to make it stick on the foot as an addition to the straps around her leg. It works. She’ll never be able to run, of course, but she can walk alright.”

This girl, Margaret thought, deserved a chance.

 

After the reception Nicholas Higgins took his bride to their new home, their carriage seen off by their family and friends. Despite being as tall as he, Nicholas carried Hannah over the threshold and straight up to their bedroom. The housekeeper and maids had the rare experience of hearing their mistress giggle like a young girl.

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Five – Most Cherished List Item: the Babies

“If I do not survive this, then you must not grieve me forever, John.”

John, on hearing those soft-spoken words, found himself prey to many different feelings, of which rage was the most powerful. “Margaret, no! I forbid you to speak like that!”

The cheer vibrant fury in John’s voice startled Margaret. Her eyes grew moist and she pressed his hand strongly.

“John, John, forgive me, I did not mean …”

But John turned her so that she now faced him.

“Margaret Hale Thornton, do not ever say such a thing again or I … I … oh, I do not know what I will do but … Lord, Margaret! We cannot even think of you not being here to raise our children together with me!”

“John, I’m sorry. I … I had a moment of weakness and it will never occur again, my darling. I am sure that I can succeed in this with you by my side.”

“Exactly, you are not alone, my darling. I will be there every step of the way. Now, you must rest. Come, let me help you to get comfortable.”

Long after her husband had fallen asleep, Margaret lay awake, staring at the silver rectangle of the window. She was really afraid of the ordeal awaiting her. The pregnancy was beginning to wear her down, more so than she would have liked and not only physically.

 

“Margaret?”

John came bursting through the parlour door, a huge grin on his handsome face and blue eyes shining with pleasure. Behind him, Margaret could see the figure of another man, a tradesman by the look of it.

“Darling, this is Mr Topplewaite. He runs a furniture shop in one of Milton’s finest neighbourhoods. I asked him to come and show you some of the drawings of the furniture he has in the shop. Nursery furniture, that is!”

“Oh!” Margaret’s face flushed with pleasure. She had been worrying about the nursery for some time now.  Hannah showed her the room when Margaret’s pregnancy was certain and the mother-to-be hadn’t been happy with it. Situated on the top floor of the house, it was a gloomy, oppressive place and too far away from their own bedroom, to Margaret’s taste. Thus, she was relieved to see John take this problem out of her hands.

“Now,” John said, “Crispin, Justin, take your places. Come, darling, fasten your seatbelt. Here, let me help you.”

Margaret had to fight herself not to ruffle her husband’s black hair while he kneeled before her to help with the belt. Dear, sweet John …

C & J wheeled her chair, not toward the stairs, but to their bedroom door and then beyond, to the room John occupied before their marriage.

“John, what is this? I don’t understand …”

“This,” John said as he threw open the door, “is to be the nursery. Look what I have done with the place.”

Margaret’s chair rolled into the room and she gasped with surprise. The whole space had been cleared, the wallpaper had been stripped, the carpets removed, the curtains unhooked. What had been John’s former bachelor room, upholstered with the appropriate subdued browns and dark greens, was now a spacious, light and airy children’s room. The wall were a soft sky blue, the ceiling pure white and the floor had been decked with new boards, painted in dove grey and polished to a gleam. The windows were hung with dark blue velvet curtains from top to bottom.

“Mr Topplewaite, do your magic, if you please? Margaret, you are to assist Mr Topplewaite and choose the right furnishings. When you are ready, Mr Topplewaite, I would be obliged to you if you would step into my office, later? Thank you.”

With that the Master left the room, still grinning with delight.

Margaret spent the next two hours choosing two cots, two small wardrobes, a large chest-of-drawers with a marble top, destined for the babies’ toilette, and a comfortable rocking chair. She picked out a small bath tub and a few stuffed animals and toys. Also needed was a bed, wardrobe and dressing table for the nursery maid – and, Good Lord, she had yet to find one!

This pleasant chore finished, the four of them were sipping at a much needed cup of tea, when Hanna and Nicholas came in. They had been overseeing the work going on in their new house and were glad to drink a cup too.

“What do you say, chaps?”, he grinned at the men present, “How about something a bit stronger to accompany the tea? I myself could stomach a brandy!”

The other three eagerly nodded in agreement and Hannah pointed at the sherry bottle.

Margaret and Mr Topplewaite then began explaining what they had been up to and the newcomers examined and approved of it all.

After tea, Mr Topplewaite and the two men excused themselves and Margaret told Hannah and Nicholas about her wanting to find a nursemaid.

“You know, Margaret,” Nicholas said, “I might have just the lass for you.”

“Oh?”, Margaret asked, smiling at him.

“Yes, her name is Letty Monroe and she is Mary’s cousin. Her father is my late wife’s brother.

Letty is … well, she had an accident when she was ten, lost a foot at Henderson’s mill. As a result, she cannot work in a shed any more. When she has to stand on that leg, despite the wooden foot, she tires easily. But, Margaret, she is a bright girl, taught herself to read and write and she is awfully good at drawing. You should see her drawings.”

Margaret kept her face bland but she was having doubts about Letty Monroe. A poor girl from the worker’s class was not what she had in mind as a nanny for her children. Yet, she agreed to receive the girl the next day and talk to her.

 

 

“So, you have found yourself a nanny, then?,” John asked, that night. He had just helped his wife into bed and was now undressing himself.

“I don’t know, John, I have to see her first. I confess I am a bit apprehensive. She is an uneducated girl, John, and she has a wooden foot, Nicholas said. She lost a foot in an accident at Henderson’s, as a child.”

John retrieved his shirt and asked. “When was this? I seem to recall something of the kind, five or six years ago.”

“I do not know. Nicholas is sending her here tomorrow.”

Hearing the sound of doubt in Margaret’s voice, her husband was surprised.

“Margaret, what is this? You seem … somehow prejudiced against this girl! That is not like you! Normally, you have no qualms about members of the working class.”

Margaret bowed her head in a sudden consternation. “Oh, I’m sorry, John, it’s just that …”

She looked up at him, tears in her beautiful eyes. Her voice was very small when she whispered. “I’m so afraid, John, I’m terrified …”

With a grunt of deep concern, John took his wife into his arms and hugged her.

“Margaret, my love, do not lose heart? I’ll move heaven and earth to help and protect you. I promise you that everything will be alright. I will not leave your side, Margaret! You and I, we will bring this baby business to a good end.”

But, Margaret was softly sobbing, her face hidden into his shoulder and, not for the first time, John Thornton, strong man that he was, had dire forebodings about the weeks to come.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Four

Chapter 54 – Most Urgent List Item: the Wedding

Hannah’s and Nicholas’ wedding  day was approaching rapidly and Margaret wanted it to be as lovely as could be for the pair of them. John, who first had been reluctant to see them wed, had changed his view under Margaret’s gentle guidance. He knew all too well that his mother had been lonely after his father’s death, although she never let it show, even to him.

John was still slightly astonished how an attachment between the two had possibly managed to grow but, when he saw them together and watched how they looked at each other, he had no more doubts about the depth of their mutual feeling. After all, Nicholas had become a capable and decent man with a suitable salary to keep his wife in a station that was due to her.

So, he helped Margaret to make the necessary arrangements.

 

There was a particularly tricky matter to settle, one that would require all of Margaret’s diplomatic talents. Hannah and Nicholas needed a house to live in after their marriage.

Hannah did not really wanted to leave her present house but she realised all too well that she couldn’t go on living there indefinitely, now that John and Margaret were to become parents. They would need all the space they could get, as soon as the children were born. So, she agreed upon inspecting Milton’s house market with Margaret and her two attendants, albeit reluctantly.

Nicholas, however, proved to be the hardest to convince. He was used to and fond of his small house on Princess Street, where he lived since he married Bessy’s and Mary’s mother. Apart from being rather dank and far too small, the dismal little house had as good as no amenities whatsoever and could not possibly be thought suitable for a lady like Hannah Thornton.

 

After a long time – and a good deal of convincing – it was Mary who brought her father to reason. She stated very simply that she had too much to do at the Infirmary to have some time to spare for looking after the Boucher children. After their parent’s death, two years before, Nicholas had taken in the three boys, Thomas, Christopher and Harold and the three girls, Jemima, Louisa and Tabitha.

Tom was now almost nine and working with John at Marlborough Mills.  His sister Jemima, eight, who first worked as a ‘scavenger’, was now helping Mary at the Infirmary. The four younger siblings still needed a lot of looking after and also, a lot of space. A bigger house, Mary said to her father, was just a question of good common sense.

Thus, one beautiful day at the end of May, Hannah and Nicholas agreed on signing the contract of sale on a house in the suburbs of Milton, with five bedrooms and a large garden. Margaret and John were very pleased with the acquisition and promised to help with the move.

After that, there was only the ceremony to prepare and the date of the wedding to come.

 

“It feels awkward,” John whispered one evening. They were in bed, exhausted from a very long and tiring day.

“What, darling?”, Margaret asked.

“Mother leaving this house. I … I had it built, especially for her, you know. It was my first big expenditure after two years of substantial profit. I could scarcely afford it but I wanted mother and Fanny out of the bleak, shabby rooms we occupied at the time. Mother knew we had not yet enough money to spare on the mill’s expenses but she never said a word. She acknowledged my need to honour her for her troubles and hard work.”

Margaret laughed softly. “Mother always seems to know what you are thinking or feeling, sometimes even before you do yourself.”

“Yes, that is so. As I do with her. I could never have succeeded without her, Margaret.”

“I know. John …”

“Mmmm …”

Her husband’s arms were around Margaret’s heavy body, cradling it soothingly in his warmth.

“John … I once made a vow that … that I would never come between you and Mother. I hope I succeeded in that?”

“Oh, my darling Margaret, of course you did! Yet, should I ever be forced to choose between the two of you, I would not know how to deal with it. That is why I love you so much, my sweetheart, you have made it very easy for me by loving my mother as if she were you own. I will never have to make this choice.”

Margaret nestled herself deeper in John’ arms. How good it felt to be held by him …

“Sweetheart …”, she breathed, her heart pinched all of a sudden.

“What is it, darling?”

“John, you must promise me this, please? If … if I do not … survive this …”

“Margaret, no!”

“If I do not survive this, then you must not grieve me forever, John.”

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Three

Chapter 53 – Ever Recurring List Items: Housekeeping and Infirmary

 

From that day on, Margaret kept her promise to her family very faithfully.

She still performed the many duties she had imposed upon herself but she was careful not to overdo. In this she counted on the strong hands of Crispin and Justin, her two “wheelchair bearers”, as she called them. Those trustworthy, very patient men, strong of arms and cheerful of mind, carried her all day long wherever she wanted to go.

“Where to first, Mrs T?” Crispin would ask, as they presented themselves each morning in her parlour.

“Kitchen, Mr Crispin!”, Margaret would reply and settle herself firmly into her wheelchair.

John had, from the very first day, spotted that the chair might be a trifle unsafe. The risk of Margaret toppling out of it if the bearers should tilt the contraption a bit too much, had immediately come to his attention. So John, practical as ever, fitted out the chair with a seat belt of his own design. This was one of his own belts but padded with cotton waste as to not hurt Margaret’s body. She was very heavy now, at 33 weeks and the month of May three weeks old.

The first day of Margaret’s new way of doing her job, John had not left her side. He had very scrupulously observed all Crispin’s and Justin’s doings, criticized their actions whenever he saw a flaw in them and copiously sprinkled them with advise as how to improve their work. Justin, a quiet, patient man, had only smiled benignly at this but Crispin, being of a more feisty nature, had reacted frequently against the Master’s interferences. Margaret had to bid John to withdraw, at the end. John resigned himself to do so, as soon as he saw that his wife was becoming nervous under the constant bickering between him and Crispin. Reluctantly, however.

 

Margaret’s household staff now consisted of five members, all of them living in.

There was, of course, the faithful Adelaide Dixon, who was now housekeeper of the Thornton’s household. Directly under her was Mrs Ursula Pennywater, the widow of the former overseer at Marlborough Mills. She and her husband had been childless and Mrs Pennywater had come to work as a cook for Hannah when her husband died. Dixon had become great friends with Cook and they often spent their leisure hours together, reading or talking.

Annie Babcock, the upstairs maid, was a lively girl of twenty-two, whose father and brothers worked at the mill. She had a younger sister of twelve, Dottie, who worked as a scullery maid under Mrs Pennywater.

Last there was the laundry maid, Jenny Hawkins, who had only recently come to the household. She was eighteen and her parents and five brothers all worked for John at the mill.

These were the people Margaret conferred with at the beginning of each day.

There were meals to be decided on, the smooth running of the household to be discussed and the many other tasks to be carried out. It usually took half of the morning.

 

After that, Justin and Crispin carried and wheeled their mistress to the Infirmary, situated in one of the halls of Marlborough Mills. The sick and the weak amongst the workers and their families had a special place in Margaret’s heart. She was seriously planning to increase her efforts in that field after the babies would be born.

The vast space of the hall was divided into smaller spaces by wooden partitions. Each ward had their own supervising female attendant watching over the smooth running of them. These women were not real nurses. England, in the nineteenth century, had not yet training schools to that goal. It was only in that same year of 1853, that Florence Nightingale began her own training in Paris. It would not be before 1899, when the Council of Nurses was formed, that a proper training was established.

So, Margaret’s women were virtually untrained, but eager to learn and hard workers. They all received a financial reward for their work which enabled them to bring in a little money for their families.

There were, in total, eight wards, in which four types of illnesses were cared for, each with separate spaces for men and women. One was for various injuries and fractures acquired during working hours at the mill. Those were fairly frequent, so much so that Nicholas Higgins was seriously thinking of installing a committee for the improvement of safety on the premises of the mill.

A second ward provided for the sick children, boys and girls separated, of course. Another space was solely preserved for women who recently gave birth. Here mothers and their babies were properly cared for and they were allowed to bring their young children with them when there was no one to take care of them at home. A fourth ward was destined specifically for lung diseases, such as ‘brown lung disease’ or byssinosis, or in popular terms ‘fluff on the lungs’. This was the illness that caused the death of Margaret’s friend, Bessy Higgins, two years ago.

It was a vile disease, causing the sick person a great many discomforts, such as chest tightness and subsequently breathing difficulties, wheezing and coughing. The patient suffered a narrowing of the trachea in the lungs, lung scarring and, eventually death from infection or respiratory failure. There was, unfortunately not a great thing to be done for those patients. Nurses could only try to make them more comfortable.

 

John would always try to be at Margaret’s side when she visited the Infirmary.

He knew all too well how appalled she was on seeing the suffering of her dear patients. His Margaret had a soft and tender heart for those with a lower station in life who suffered from it. It was one of the things Margaret had taught him. Before he met her, John had not known, or not wanted to know, about the life conditions of his workers and their families.

So, he was always with his wife on moments like this. He worried, he simply did. About Margaret and his unborn babies.

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