Chapter Forty-One – Spring in Milton
It was not until the end of April 1853 that Milton was released from the claws of winter.
Snow and frost lasted such a long time that the poorer among the worker’s families in the Northern industrial town suffered immensely from hunger and cold. Many of them died, from starvation or diseases of the lungs. Charity could not solve every problem but at least managed to alight some of the misery.
Margaret Hale Thornton was one of the most fervent among those who were trying to make a difference to the lamentable conditions of the poor. Despite her pregnancy of thirty weeks, she was working hard in the sick bay she and Mary Higgins had set up in one of Marlborough Mills’ halls.
They provided food and medical attention every day now, around the clock. Moreover, they supplied wood and coal to a vast number of families, in return for which the older children would help in the surgery. That was, if they were not healthy enough to work in the factory. Families could not afford to lose the money. As much members of a household who were able to work were needed to keep it alive. The more lucky ones were those who had five or more wages brought in and not too many toddlers and babies at home. That way the mother would also be working which meant an extra income.
Now that the snow had gone and the temperature was mild, fewer people fell ill. Margaret and Mary could finally afford to let their guard down and give their attention to other problems, such as a thorough and lasting support of the workers and their families. To that end, Margaret was planning to go to London and attend a seminar on the improvement of workers’ conditions, organised by the National Union of Weavers and Drapers. She also wanted to visit Dr Mortimer Chelmsford in Harley Street who was a well known obstetrician. Now that her baby was well on its way, she needed reassurance that all was well. It would be her last trip away from home before her baby was due at the end of June.
Margaret was huge with pregnancy already and accordingly tired at the end of a day’s work.
Therefore, her husband John, owner and master of Marlborough Mills, was not too happy with this trip.
“Honestly, my love,” he said, as they sat at the dinner table that night, “I am not that keen on sending you to London just now. You are well underway in your third trimester and I cannot bear to miss you! Can you not wait until our child is born?”
Margaret laid her hand on John’s and smiled affectionately at him.
“Darling, it is just for one week! I will be back before you know it.”
John took up Margaret’s small, delicate hand and fondly kissed its palm. He was suddenly overcome with worried tenderness at the thought of his fragile wife on the loose in London where all sorts of danger might be lurking in dark alleys and corners.
“At least you will stay with your Aunt Shaw and you will have you cousin Edith to keep you company,” he said and rose to his feet to help her up. Margaret experienced a difficulty in her movements of lately since her abdomen was heavily swollen and her back gave her pains when she had been sitting in the same position for a while.
“Yes, that is true and I will be so happy to see them both again, after so long a time. Edith is pregnant again and my aunt wrote that she is even more sick in the mornings than she was with Sholto’s pregnancy. Poor Captain Lennox! He will be the first recipient of her complaints!”, Margaret giggled.
“Well,” John grumbled, “I always thought Edith a spoilt brat! Hopefully she is now a bit more grown-up in her ways now that she is to be a mother the second time!”
John led Margaret to their bedroom where he assisted her in undressing for the night. This was their evening ritual and he always looked forward to it. He had been doing so since the terrible fright they had in the early stages of Margaret’s pregnancy after Ann Latimer so dreadfully attacked her. They had been afraid of Margaret losing the baby, then.
Yet, every night, as soon as they came out of the dining room, Dixon would step forward to help her mistress, as she had done so for many years and every night, John had to wave her away. This evening was no exception, though John saw the affectionate smile on the faithful servant’s face and knew she was reconciled with him taking over her love labour. Besides, Dixon would have Margaret to herself in the days to come, since she was accompanying her to London. John felt comforted very much by that knowledge. Dixon would guard his beloved wife like a hen her chicks!
A little while later, John had comfortably settled his wife in their bed, propping up her aching back with several pillows, to allow her to rest properly. While he then began to undress, Margaret lay watching him with fond eyes. Every day, she thanked the Lord for this handsome, strong husband of hers. The happiness she basked in since her marriage to John seemed to grow each day.
And, she thought mischievously, so did the attraction between them!
The sight of John’s long, lean frame, the ripples of those smooth muscles under the silken skin, the broad chest with its light sprinkle of dark hair and, finally, the exquisite sight of his manhood, beautiful even in repose, all of John’s splendid physique still excited her even now.
John caught his wife’s gaze, just before donning his nightshirt.
“What?,” he grinned, “Is there something you wanted from me, my love?”
Margaret gave such a deep sigh that her husband burst out laughing at her disappointed face. They had been forbidden sexual intercourse by Dr Donaldson until after the baby was born because Margaret still was in danger of miscarrying, now that she was so heavily swollen. It was hard for them both but John, who had resigned himself to celibacy, had not been happy that his wife should suffer the same. He therefore had schooled himself in other ways of pleasing his beautiful Margaret and would only be too happy to oblige her, should the need arise.
He dropped the nightshirt and walked over to their bed, where he stretched out his body next to Margaret while proceeding in unbuttoning the front of her nightgown.
“Well,” he said, in a low, sultry voice that sent shivers all over Margaret’s body, “I cannot let you leave on a journey for a whole week without supplies, can I, my darling?”