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.