Chapter 3 – Renewing old acquaintances
Meanwhile at the Thornton house, a much needed cup of tea had been served.
Now that his mind was at rest about his mother’s attitude towards Margaret, John raised an important issue.
“You cannot stay in this house, Margaret. I’m sure, Mother, that you agree with me in this?”
Hannah nodded, her stern face more concerned than Margaret had ever known.
“Yes, Margaret, John is right. It would not do for you to stay in John’s house while the two of you are still unmarried. You also have no relatives in Milton. Perhaps it would be a good idea to stay in a hotel until the wedding?”
“No!” John exclaimed. “No, mother, it would be far better if Margaret could stay with the Watsons until our wedding day. That way all proprieties are met with.”
Margaret said nothing to that although she was sure Fanny Watson would not welcome her wholeheartedly into her home. She had never been able to build up a friendship with the flighty Fanny, who did nothing to hide her dislike of Margaret. John was right, though, and it warmed her heart that he was taking such good care of her.
The two of them set off for Fanny’s house which was located at the outskirts of Milton in a new and pleasant residential area. Fanny Watson received them in her parlour. Margaret noticed that the walls were covered in light shaded papers which made the room pleasant and cosy.
”So, John”, Fanny all but smirked. “What brings you here? I didn’t know you were back from your trip. And Miss Hale, accompanying you, no less! Why are you in Milton when you have the good fortune of living in London, unlike some of us?”
John eyed his sister in a way that betrayed his irritation on her sneering tone of voice. Yet, he kept his own voice unruffled and cool.
“Miss Hale has agreed to become my wife, Fanny. We’re hoping to be wed in a fortnight and Margaret cannot properly stay that long in our house without being married to me. That is why I wanted to ask you if she could stay here for the duration of our betrothal.”
Immediately, Margaret, on seeing Fanny’s face, understood that she’d already known about her brother’s wedding. Yet, Fanny’s words belied that impression.
“Oh, my goodness! Well, this is a surprise, I’m sure. Congratulations, Miss Hale, you’ve achieved what you wished for since the first day you came to Milton! Mama always said you’d set your cap for John.”
This time John couldn’t contain himself. “Fanny, have you no shame! Apologize to Miss Hale at once. I will not tolerate any rudeness towards my future wife.”
He emphasised his words by drawing Margaret close, an act that caused Fanny to gasp with surprise.
Margaret ‘s heart surged with joy at John’s affectionate embrace and she suddenly felt extremely happy. It dawned to her that John must love her fervently to show his feelings so openly for Fanny to see. That realization made her feel warm and a bit confused at what she was feeling. Never had she experienced this.
John’s sister finally agreed to take Margaret in, and the couple left to run their other, most urgent errands.
They visited the town hall next and asked for a marriage license to be issued. Any marriage had to be officially announced for two weeks before it could be sealed. Next they went to the chapel where the Thornton family usually attended mass and asked the vicar to publish the banns for their wedding on Saturday three weeks from then.
From there they headed for the office of Mr. Matthew Fairbanks, John’s solicitor.
Margaret had decided that the half of her money was to be reserved for the restart of Marlborough Mills. John was impatient to get the factory operative again so that as less time as possible was wasted. Too many families depended upon the successful running of the Mill.
A marriage contract was also drawn up, stipulating that Margaret would still be in control of the other half of her fortune after their marriage. This was a very unusual stipulation, for a husband took automatic and legal control of his wife’s money as soon as the marriage was celebrated.
Nevertheless, John wished it so because there was still the possibility of the Mill going bankrupt again and then Margaret’s money would have vanished. Margaret was grateful for her betrothal’s good sense and deep affection towards her.
Dusk had settled in when they left the solicitor’s office and set out for their last visit of the day, the Higgins’s house. Nicholas and his daughter Mary were overjoyed and very surprised to see them. They were stunned when they heard about the impending marriage.
“Oh Miss!’ Mary exclaimed. “I am so happy for you! Marrying Mr. Thornton, it is like a dream come true!”
“Mary, please, call me Margaret. After all this time surely we’ve become friends, haven’t we? I have several plans for social improvement I want to carry out and I hope you’ll help me with them?”
“Yes, of course, Margaret. Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll be ready for it.”
Then, however, Margaret was being taken into Nicholas’s huge embrace.
“Margaret, dear Margaret, I’m so happy that you’ve come back to Milton and to stay also. That is very good news, indeed.”
He released her and, with a mischievous smile on his rugged face, stated. “Mind you, you’re going to have a though job with this fellow here. He’s as hard as they come, although his bark is worse than his bite”’
John burst out laughing so suddenly and so full of mirth that Margaret once again felt a surge of sheer happiness. It was such a rare thing to see John laughing so spontaneously. God knew he’d had his share of misfortune in life. She made herself a solemn vow, then and there to try and make her John happy for the rest of his life.
The two men agreed on seeing each other the next day to begin with the preparations for the Mill’s upstart.
John and Margaret left and started to climb the steep alley from where Nicholas’s house sat towards the broader street at the top. It was now completely dark, and they had to feel their way for there were no street lights in these poor areas of town. As they emerged from the alley, a noise caused Margaret to look upwards. Her heart stopped! A huge piece of stone came crashing down and it was all she could do to push John out of its way. For Margaret, it was too late … some smaller piece grazed her head.
John, who had been thrown onto the pavement, scrambled on hands and knees to his beloved Margaret.
“Margaret! Oh God! Margaret, talk to me, please! Love, sweet love, please, say something!”
Margaret, however, lay still and without response in his trembling embrace, bleeding from a gash at the side of her head.