Chapter 11 – Dixon smells a rat
John lay watching his sleeping wife with a heart full of wondrous feelings.
She was so beautiful, his Margaret! The sight of her perfectly shaped face, her glorious chocolate coloured hair, her exquisite little nose and full lips turned his heart into water. His gaze wandered to her slender neck and round shoulders, her small neat breasts.
His breath caught as he lifted the sheet to feast on her divine body, the slender waist, the flat stomach, the shapely legs and … Oh! God! Desire shot through him like a spear, and he gasped. He wanted her, no, his body craved her so much that it hurt! At the same time, he felt an overwhelming need to protect her, to treasure and cherish her, from now on for the rest of his life.
Because he had uncovered her, Margaret, instinctively searching for his warmth, snuggled up to him and he embraced her, took her as close as he could. His arousal became urgent, yet he didn’t wake her, just held her and let his hands caress her slightly, revelling in how soft her skin felt under his fingers.
“John …”, she whispered suddenly and looked up to him.
“Yes …”, he breathed, drowning in those amazing blue eyes of hers. “I’m here, my love.”
“You said … I was the first woman you ever loved … why was that, John? Have you never been in love before? Never … before me?”
John took a deep gasping breath and searched for the appropriate words to bare his soul to his wife. “My love … there has never been … time nor opportunity to be courting women. I had a duty to perform towards my family. I had a business to run. I have been taken from school at sixteen, as you know already. I had to work in a draper’s shop.”
He paused, and Margaret could feel the tension in his body as he was searching for words.
“I have been in love”, he continued, his voice a little hoarse, “but only once. She was the daughter of the shopkeeper and she was nineteen, two years my senior. I was … as they say, besotted by her. I … she was also very … skilled in the ways of courting and …”
Margaret, feeling embarrassed, stopped him with a sudden kiss. “You don’t have to …”
“No, I want to tell you, Margaret. It was the most horrible experience I ever had. She came to me, one night, in my cupboard of a room under the stairs and she tried to … deflower me. I … I couldn’t, Margaret, I couldn’t do it! I was … inadequate and I wept in her arms like a baby. She … she was actually very sweet to me. Since then I haven’t even tried for fear of being humiliated again.”
Margaret lay very still, her heart singing with joy as she realized he’d saved himself for the woman he thought worthy. And she, she was that woman …
However, she also realized that her husband must have been a very lonely man, locked up in his duty towards his mother and sister. She vowed to herself to try and change that for him.
Downstairs, Dixon checked the table in the dining room with an eagle eye.
Mr. Thornton and Miss Margaret would be up and about in any minute now. It was their wedding breakfast, and the guests were about to arrive. The faithful servant found everything to perfection and went to stand at the window which overlooked the part of the courtyard behind the house.
Dixon’s thoughts strayed to the events of the last weeks. She had been here for more than three weeks now and had settled in nicely. It was a great joy to her that she’d found another household where she could use her numerous skills to perfection, moreover, it was a young household. That she could be with Miss Margaret was an even greater blessing, after the sorrow she’d been through the previous year, losing her dear Mrs. Hale. However, Dixon mused, there were many matters that troubled her in this grand house. Although the old Mrs. Thornton ruled it with iron hand, many malfunctions had met Dixon’s scrutinizing eye.
First there was Jane, the maid. Dixon had caught her eavesdropping on Miss Margaret and the master more than once. Why on earth would the girl do that? Jane, Dixon noticed, took notes of what she was hearing and, steady as clockwork, she left the house after every bit of eavesdropping.
So, Dixon had followed Jane every time she left the house and the following tribulations had then gone.
Jane had gone to Mrs. Watson’s house, had been showed in through the front door and stayed in. A footman had left the house after a few minutes carrying what had clearly been a message to deliver. Ten minutes after Jane’s arrival, a young lady had presented herself. Half an hour or so later, Jane and the young lady had left together in the lady’s carriage. The young lady, whose identity Dixon had managed to establish as one Miss Ann Latimer, was a banker’s daughter.
Now, Dixon thought by herself, what could a banker’s daughter and a maid servant have in common to be companions as close as that? And what was Mrs. Watson’s role? The day before, during the wedding party, she had scarcely spoken to Miss Latimer. Yet, they seemed to be close, if the many knowing looks and smiles they had exchanged, were something to go by .
There wasn’t much Dixon could do for now but to watch Miss Sneaky Jane very closely. Maybe, she mused, she should tell Miss Margaret about it? No, that wouldn’t do, her sweet girl couldn’t be bothered with nasty things in the first days of her marriage.
“Is everything ready and in place?” The commanding voice of Mrs. Hannah Thornton startled Dixon out of her daydreaming. She curtsied and answered. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Then go and wake your mistress. Did you not see the time? The guests are about to arrive.”
Dixon hurried from the room.
Later, in attendance at the dining table, Dixon’s thoughts wandered again to the strange doings of Jane as she stood by the buffet observing the guests. Mrs. Shaw was talking to Mrs. Hannah Thornton and Edith and Margaret were engaged in vivid conversation. Her darling Miss Margaret was looking exquisitely beautiful. An inner light seemed to be glowing in her eyes and a faint rosy blush coloured her face. All was well in that area then, Dixon thought.
She turned her attention to the groom and found confirmation for what she wanted to know. John Thornton was listening to Higgins but his eyes kept wandering towards his wife and a dreamy expression warmed his usually impassive and stern face. Every time his gaze met Margaret’s, his eyes seemed to brighten and a smile lit his face.
Dixon still had second thoughts about the master. She’d never liked the man, she’d found him distant and haughty, and he surely was no gentleman like Mr. Hale had been, or like Mr. Lennox. Yet, for the sake of her dear girl, she was prepared to tolerate him. He had, however, yet to earn her respect.
Mrs. Watson was looking bored, Dixon saw. No wonder, that woman always wanted to be in the centre of attention and now she was second plan. Oh! What was that? Mrs. Watson’s eyes were signalling to Miss Latimer to leave the room! Mrs. Watson stood now and left. And yes, two seconds later, so did Miss Latimer!
Dixon waited a couple of heartbeats before she went after them. They were in the ladies’ room? but the door was slightly ajar.
“Ann, you’re not making much progress in dragging my brother away from her, are you? Have you seen the looks he casts on her? Positively and disgustingly maudlin! He must have gotten what he wanted then! Bah! Men!”
Dixon could barely suppress a gasp on hearing such unladylike and crass words!
“Fanny, all is arranged and under way for the downfall of Miss High-and mighty, I assure you! I’ve asked my father for assistance, and he has set up a plan that will work to perfection. Just be patient.”
The scarcely concealed hatred in the young woman’s voice shocked Dixon to the core. She hastened back to the dining room when she heard the women preparing themselves to come out.
Scarcely had she reached her destination when she heard thundering footsteps ascending the stairs and a second later a dishevelled and not to clean young boy of some fifteen years clattered by her and stopped in front of the dining table where the master sat.
Yanking his greasy cap off his head he stammered in a panic stricken voice. “Master! You ‘ave to come to the factory quickly! There’ll be some damage done to the looms and Mr. Williams asked for me to come and get you! And there’s two lads injured too, master!”