Chapter Five – Despair
How could she do this to him?
John paced the parlour in a desperate way, after his mother told him Margaret was missing, and the question kept forcing itself onto his mind. How could she put him into such anxiety when she knew how much he worried about her and their unborn child? Did she even know what she was putting him through? Did she even care? Where was she?
His burning thoughts were interrupted when Higgins burst into the room, brushing an indignant Dixon aside.
“John … she’s nowhere to be found! I’ve questioned Mary and she said Margaret left a few minutes later than she did and everything was fine and undisturbed.”
“Then where is she, damned!,” John barked loudly at Higgins, “Where. The. Bloody. Hell. Is. She?”
“John, please?,” his mother pleaded, “Anger won’t solve a thing. We must think! Sit down calmly and think. Where can Margaret have gone to?”
Margaret’s high spirits were soon tamped down when she realised she was trapped inside the store room. At first, she thumped and pounded the door with her fists, shouting that she was in there, but nothing happened! The door was indeed locked and the key was on the outside. There was nothing to do but to wait until someone discovered she was in here. So she settled herself with her back against the cold wall and her bottom upon the freezing cold earthen floor of the small chamber and waited.
“There is something very wrong, Mother! This is not at all Margaret’s way! She would have told me if she was going somewhere, wouldn’t she? She knows how I worry about her! Damned and blast!”
John was standing next to the parlour window overlooking the Mill’s courtyard, his body tensed, his muscles strained, his hands clamped together on his back. But shaking, Hannah saw, his hands were trembling in utter desperation.
It was now near dawn in the day after Margaret had disappeared and her son was reaching the end of his endurance. They had searched every nook and cranny of the Mill and its yard but Margaret was nowhere to be found.
“John?”, Hannah asked quietly, “Have you had a disagreement with her? Have you quarrelled?”
looked at his mother in sheer confusion. “Quarrelled? No, of course not, in fact, last night, we …”
He hastily swallowed back what he was going to say, reddening fiercely! And to his mother too!
Hannah smiled sweetly at him.
“You made love to each other, John? Well, I am pleased that you did. It’s a natural thing between husband and wife.”
“Mother, please, I …”
“You’re feeling embarrassed, I know. But, you know, you shouldn’t. I wasn’t always an withered, old woman, John. I know how wonderful it can be when you love each other. Your father and I, we had our good times too, you know.”
Maybe it was his anxiety about Margaret what made him weak but John sat down next to his mother, longing to hear more about this. “Tell me about you and Father,” he begged suddenly and fervently.
Hannah was surprised because it was the first time ever that he asked her about his father but she did oblige. Her eyes got a faraway look in them when she spoke.
“I wasn’t in love with Charles when we married. Our fathers were business acquaintances and between the two of them they arranged our marriage. I was scared to death when we were alone for the first time and so was he. I was nineteen and he twenty, we were like two very shy children.”
His heart was thumping like mad in his chest when John realised what she was going to tell him, yet he didn’t stop her. In fact, he was dying to hear it! There was so little he knew about his father and so much he longed to know!
“Charles and I sat next to each other on our bed and after a long time, he took my hand in his. I was shaking with fear but the touch of his hand soothed me. He asked, in a very shy and disarming way if I would allow him to kiss me. I could only nod, I was unable to speak. He kissed me. Very softly. Very shyly. On the lips but not further. I felt … well, I liked it … a lot.”
Holding his breath John stayed silent. His mother was still smiling but not at him. More like at someone in the far distance, someone she only she could see.
“I won’t embarrass you with details, John, but we did truly become man and wife, that night. Charles was sweet and gentle. So gentle that I have never, ever refused him throughout the twenty years of our marriage.”
John bowed his head when the memories of his father came rushing back to him. His mother laid her hand on his and whispered. “John, you never told me how you felt about Charles’s death. I think you should tell, if not to me than at least to Margaret.”
“No, mother!”, he snapped, “No, I won’t burden her with matters from so long ago when she has enough problems of her own to deal with! Father is long dead and buried; I won’t be the one to unearth him!”
He stalked from the room in the familiar, long strides he adopted whenever in distress.
“What’s with the Master leaving you alone now?”, Higgins asked in surprise, when he entered the room right after John left.
Hannah, feeling sad because of John’s reaction, suddenly turned to him. The same moment, seeing Higgins’s tall, broad, reassuring form, she felt as if a burden had fallen from her shoulders.
“Mr. Higgins!” She could hear the distress breaking her voice as she said it. He heard it too.
“Hey, hey, what is it, Mistress? Has Miss Margaret been found? She’s not hurt, is she?”
“No, no, she’s still missing. However, if this goes on for much longer, I don’t know how long my son is going to last.”
Now she could feel her eyes filling! Oh God! That only happened when John was in distress and she was powerless in mending it!
“Hannah …” Bristling at the impertinence of him calling her by her given name, she looked up at him, a sharp rebuff on her lips. The words died before they were spoken. Nicholas Higgins was looking at her with a strange, comforting light in his eyes.
Margaret woke with a gasp! For a split second she was disoriented and unsure of where she was but then, with the damp, cold earthen floor beneath her, it all came back. She was locked up in the store room, in the dark. Hunger gnawed in her stomach, thirst parched her throat but there was something else that was very wrong.
The air in the tiny room was becoming oppressive and she began having trouble breathing.