Chapter Forty-Four – Working for Marlborough Mills
John’s hand, holding a spoon full of stew, stopped half way up to his mouth in surprise. This was the first time ever Mary ‘proposed’ something to him!
“Well … I couldn’t help notice you are being overtaken by work and a lot of it is that of an office clerk, filling in the ledgers, calculating and checking numbers, writing letters and so on. Do you remember little Tom Boucher? John, thanks to your kind concern, the boy, now eight, has become an astute little fellow who is particularly good at mathematics. His school teacher, Mr Debenham, even refers to him as ‘brilliant’. His handwriting is neat and very legible. Maybe he could give you a hand, as an junior office hand?”
John put down his spoon and grabbed Mary’s hand in so fierce a grasp that she startled!
“Mary, Mary, thank you! Now why haven’t I thought about that? It is simply perfect! Bring him to me this instant. He will do very nicely, I’m sure!”
Although the meeting at the Assembly Hall was very instructive, Margaret was glad to return to Harley Street when it was over. She had been participating and asking questions throughout the debate and lectures, frantically making notes and instructing Dixon to go hunting for pamphlets. Now, at the end of a very long morning, she felt exhausted. Her back was troubling her something fiercely and her head was spinning. Dixon’s reproaches on what she called Margaret’s foolish behaviour did nothing to relieve the headache she now had. When they came out into the courtyard, they had an unpleasant surprise as their cab was nowhere to be seen.
“Miss, you go back inside and I’ll go fetch another one!” Dixon ordered.
“No, Dixon, let’s go together. No need for you to go on your own.”
Leaning heavily on Dixon’s sturdy arm, Margaret left the courtyard into the narrow Throgmorton Street and the pair of them set foot in the direction of the broader London Wall thoroughfare.
She bit her lower lip at the pain in her back. Dr Donaldson had been trying to reassure her about it, saying it was only her pelvis ligaments elongating, caused by her growing belly. This way her body prepared itself to give birth. It did hurt mightily and she had to stifle a groan when she overturned her ankle and the shock reverberated through her belly. Thanks to Dixon’s strong grasp on her arm she did not fall.
“Margaret! Margaret, for God’s sake, what are you doing out here?”
They both turned toward the voice and saw, to their infinite relief, Henry Lennox, alighting from his carriage.
When Tom Boucher entered the office, John stood and bid him welcome, motioning to a chair in front of his desk.
“Hello, Tom! How are you? I hear you want to come and work for me?”
The boy, who had grown quite a bit over the last two years, beamed at him and replied. “Oh, yes, Mr Thornton, sir! I would very much like that! I am quite good at maths and I can write a clear hand, sir. Mary told me to bring these with me, so you could see for yourself.”
Tom handed over a map to John who opened and studied it. Mary had not at all been exaggerating. The boy wrote an impeccable hand and his calculating examples were neat and correct. John smiled at him and looked him over.
“You have grown a lot since I last saw you, Tom. What is it, some three inches?”
“Three and a half, Mr Thornton, sir!” Tom beamed.
John realised he had neglected to inquire about the boy’s health and progress even though he promised himself to do so after discovering that Nicholas had taken Boucher’s children in. Thank God Mary had cared for them!
“Well, Tom, I want you to come into the office at eight in the morning and take care of all the administration, a task for which I do not have time. You will work until five pm and you will take three meals a day in the kitchen of my house. I will inform my cook about this. I will pay you a weekly salary of nine shillings a week with a monthly raise of half a shilling, if you keep up the good work. Here are some of the ledgers from the supply that have to be updated.”
John led Tom to a high writing desk and gestured him to climb on the high stool.
The serious note in John’s voice made the boy look him straight into the face.
“Yes, Mr Thornton, sir?”
“I do hope you are aware of the fact that all things in here are confidential? You are not to speak about any of these affairs to any one, not even to Mary. Do you understand, Tom?”
The blue eyes of the boy stared into his own with grave honesty.
“Yes, Mr Thornton, I do understand. You have my word, Sir.”
That night, John Thornton sat in his parlour after he dined alone in his dining room.
The house was very quiet and dark, all noises coming to an end as evening settled in. The factory itself seemed to have grown silent, as it did every night at ten pm, when the last shift of workers went home. John was always aware of the ending of work but never as acutely as now, when he was alone in his house, without everyone he loved.
Never before, not even in earlier times of being rejected by her, had John felt Margaret’s absence more deeply than now. His darling wife had become a part of him. Without her he was lost.