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.
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.