|The movie should start shooting this winter|
Chapter Forty-Six – A Narrow Escape
At Marlborough Mills things were busy but progressing very nicely.
John was supervising the installation of looms in one of his new sheds and at this moment, he wished Nicholas could have been with him. Higgins’ vast knowledge of machinery would have served him well but it would be at least another week before he and Hannah would be back in Milton. Thank God his mother was getting back on her feet without any visible setbacks, John thought.
He redirected his attention to the affairs in hand.
Three groups of sturdy workmen were building up an equal number of Lancashire Looms in the vast new hall, especially built for just that. The looms were the latest invention and very expensive. John and Margaret had invested a great part of their fortune in the acquisition of the three of them. It was of vital importance, therefore, that they would be functioning as soon as possible.
Hovering at the entrance of the hall were a group of women of Mary’s infirmary ward, taking their break. Some of them had their children with them, and the little ones were running around and laughing and playing. Mary had organized a neat scheme of turning shifts and she was now employing thirty young workers’ wives, who were prevented from working because they had recently given birth or had too many children under the age of six. Children older than six would be at the factories working as “scavengers”. Their task consisted in crawling under the looms to collect pieces of cloth and tie up loose ends. It was a dangerous job and many children were injured, some met their deaths when caught up in the looms. John always insisted on a thorough training beforehand and asked Mr Williams, his overseer, to keep a firm eye on the children. Mr Williams had an overseer in every shed, so that the children could be watched.
John was attentively watching the progress of assembling the looms, when, like a flash of lightning, a small form slid under one of the machines, giggling and shrieking. The worker, holding up one of the warp beams, startled and the heavy beam slit from his hands. He managed to get a grip but his hands, not getting the right hold, kept slipping. Without thinking, John plunged under the loom, snatched the child and literally threw it from under the menacing beam.
At that moment, with a sound like thunder, the beam crashed down on John.
Margaret was numb with bewilderment as she stammered. “Tw … twins … you’re … you … but … doctor …”
“Mrs Thornton, please, collect yourself. There is no need for panic. You must proceed as you have until now, only, you need to lie down every couple of hours. Try not to be on your feet for too long. Be careful with your food. Nothing too fat or too sugary, no alcohol or coffee, but lots of fluids, tea or water. You must forestall the gain of too much weight. Now, we must get you home and, do not worry, I will order my coachman to drive you home.”
“Surely, doctor,” Margaret began, “my aunt’s house is 300 yards down the street and …”
“No arguing, Mrs Thornton, if you please? You had a shock, you need to rest, to be calm. No straining exercise anymore today.”
Margaret had to admit she was indeed in shock. Twins … how on earth was she to tell John?
When she entered her aunt’s house, Edith came out of the drawing room.
“Oh, dear! Margaret, you look awful! Come and sit down, sweetheart. Holly, help me with Mrs Thornton.”
They lowered Margaret onto a chair and Dixon, who came whirling in, fell on her knees beside her mistress.
“Oh, my dear Miss Margaret! I must get you to bed immediately.”
“No,” Margaret said, “I’m fine. I just need to lie down a bit.”
To emphasize this, she rose. A sharp stab of pain in her lower back made her gasp but that was not the worse. All of a sudden, out of the blue, she had a horrible feeling something was very wrong … with John …
For a few seconds everybody in the hall just stood rooted to the ground in shock!
Then Mr Williams bellowed to haul up the warp beam and secure it. He knelt and crawled toward the master who lay motionless on his stomach, his arm bent back in a weird angle and blood trickling of a wound at the back of his head. Mr Williams put out a shaking hand and touched the master’s neck. A pulse … thank God, there was a heartbeat! A very weak one …
They sent for Dr Donaldson who gave directions as how to retrieve John from under the loom. A board was slowly slit under the master’s body, and they carried him to Dr Donaldson’s surgery, three blocks away. All the way, a large and totally silent mass of workers followed the stretcher, a mass growing more and more.
The word was spreading rapidly through the city. John Thornton, master of Marlborough Mills had just been gravely, maybe fatally, injured.
| John Patrick Shanley is preparing to turn his Broadway stage play Outside Mullingarinto a romantic movie titled WILD MOUNTAIN THYME and that Jamie Dornan and Holliday Grainger will play the lovebirds in it, but she is now being replaced by Emily Blunt with John Hamm and Christopher Walken also joining the cast in the story set in the enchanting landscapes of rural Ireland. Dornan and Blunt will play obstinate star crossed lovers, whose families are caught up in a feud over a hotly contested patch of land that separates their two farms.
|Emily Blunt takes over the lead female role|
John sat holding Margaret’s hand in the carriage.
“We are nearing your home. There are no words which can describe what you have brought to me this day and for the rest of my life. I think we are both beyond overwhelmed and should make time to breathe in, our words declared. You may have had two weeks, I much less, but I feel as if I have been dropped into another world, and I am wandering in a fog.”
Looking down at her hand in his, “John, I am there with you in this fog of love. It is swirling around me. Moments ago, this fog wrapped me in its arms, pressed me to its bosom and whispered, he is here for you.” Margaret teared up halfway through her mind song and watched as John’s eyes watered.
“Margaret, that was beautiful.” John turned towards her. He placed his long fingers at the back of her neck, holding her cheeks with this thumbs and moved his face close to hers. He was cautious of any apprehension on her part, as she could be in no doubt that he was about to kiss her. Gently, slowly and with purpose, John pressed his lips to hers. He sensed the pleasant reception from her supple lips. He withdrew and kissed her again and again. Margaret placed her hands against his sides showing acceptance, which elicited a reaction from him. It was like he had been holding his breath and her touch allowed him to breathe.
They felt the carriage come to a stop.
“Will you speak of us with your family?” John inquired.
“John, it is hard for me to accept what has happened between us within the last two hours. I cannot expect anyone to understand unless it is you. My family will think I am delusional, and I’m not so sure that I’m not, but I wish to begin from yesterday – your apology. For the sake of your professional reputation and all the broken hearts that you will leave in your wake, can we step back and capture all we have missed?”
“Margaret, I care not for my professional reputation when it comes to my feelings for you, and I certainly owe no woman an explanation or warning. However, I do see a potential dilemma for you, but aside from that, I would enjoy the chance to woo you. I am unskilled in that area. I can wait until you feel an ease of separating from your family.
“Separating from my family, you say? If that is some contorted backhanded proposal, you need to work on your presentation. If I ever needed proof that you have never been in love, you just gave it to me,” Margaret smiled, and John laughed.
“If a woman is true to herself, she waits her entire life for those words. She has fantasized how it would happen a hundred times. I will admit that my dreams have been a little more untraditional but not quite to the point where I had to read between the lines.” She laughed at John’s red face.
“I consider myself rightly chastised and will work on a passionate style of offering for your hand.” John laughed. “That is one reason why I knew I loved you because you don’t mess about with a flourish of false compliments or complaints, as in this case.”
“I am going to find it hard to leave your coach.” Margaret stuttered in soft sounds.
“You will have dinner with me, tomorrow evening, at a nice restaurant?
“Yes, I will. That will be three times in a row. People may begin to talk.”
“I hope so.”
“Ask your mother if she would receive me for a visit. Never mind, I will send her a note. I did enjoy my visit with her and would like to visit with her again.”
“I’m sure she would like that, too.”
The coach stopped. John did not kiss her again, as there may be onlookers. He walked her to the door and reminded her that he will pick her up a 7:00 tomorrow evening. “Thank you for a very special afternoon.” He tipped his hat and returned to the coach.
“Margaret, I see you went for a ride with Thornton.”
“Yes, father. He had said he wanted to take me to lunch for my performance at the lessons, and so he did.”
“May I ask about his attitude toward you?”
“First, I think he came here to apologize to you and Fred, but neither of you was here. His attitude seemed appealing and friendly.”
“This is good, I think.”
“I think so, too.”
“You are very flushed in the face. Perhaps, you overextended yourself going out with your neck as it is.”
“I took the feel of the good wind in my face from the window. It’s lovely outside.”
Richard Hale walked to the window to look out. “That’s strange, to me it seems like rain my come.”
“Is Fred still out?”
“Yes. He’s probably plying a driver trade in town,” Richard laughed.
“He can’t be. He doesn’t know the town, Margaret laughed. She was in a mood that she just wanted to share with herself. When bedtime came, she would be alone with her memories from the day. She would pen them in her journal, never wanting to forget a single moment of the most significant day in all the days she had lived. Margaret untied her neck collar with no trouble this time.
“Mr. Higgins, I know Bessie is of age, but I would still ask for permission to see her. By that, I mean on a continual basis.”
Fred and Nicholas were wandering around the stable as Nicholas was tending to his buggy and horse upon returning from work.
“I am not asking for her hand, but I hope to someday. I find that I am very fond of her. She will be treated by a respectful gentleman.”
“Not as seaman home from a long voyage?”
“No, sir. That is a different life that is behind me.”
“And what does she think of this?”
“I believe her to be receptive to the idea, but I will hope you speak with her.”
“There is one thing I would like to know.”
“What is your goal in life after your service to the Queen?”
“That may depend on Bessie. Should she reject my attention, I may try driving, but not as a lifelong living. I am educated, and should Bessie find favor with me, I will seek to find employment that would befit a husband with a family.”
“Have you ever thought about working at the mills?”
“As I am coming to know them, I cannot see me in such poverty. I believe I am quite competent to be easily and quickly trained. I would not shy from that, but I know what Bessie has been through with your long hours away from home. We would have to discuss that. We are not near that point, sir.”
“I will give you my blessing as you don’t need my permission. Bessie will decide.”
“Thank you, sir. I will treat her as my own sister.”
“I’m not sure she’s expecting just that, son.”
Fred finally understood what he was saying, showing a slight blush.
“I will treat her as she wishes to be treated.”
“Fine. You are dismissed. My dinner is ready.” Nicholas smiled. He knew the day was coming and his question and answer were prepared.
Margaret was sitting on the back stoop, reliving her day when Fred pulled into the back area. She continued to day-dream as Fred unharnessed Max, fed him and pulled the buggy into the shed. He came to her side and sat.
“Margaret, I have had the most amazing day in my life.”
“I have, too.”
“Really, I mean the life-changing type of day.”
“I spoke honestly, man-to-man with Nicholas Higgins about Bessie. I laid out my intentions, which did not include marriage. Although I am sure she’s the one, I didn’t want to spring that on him too quickly.”
“What a coincidence.” Margaret was starting to find it funny that her brother wasn’t hearing anything she was saying.
“We began to speak words of love of the most innocent kind.” Fred rambled on.
“Yes, innocent but meaningful, right?”
“Yesss . . . right.” Fred was twiddling with a piece of straw, looking far into a distance that wasn’t visible to her.
“And you think this is serious?” Margaret smiled, on the verge of laughing at him.
“More than you know.”
“I think I know the feeling.”
Fred chuckled, “Margaret, you know nothing yet. But someday you will, and it will bring a beauty into your life which people rarely talk about.”
“I can see it now.”
“Puppet, I know you are mimicking me, but I want you to be happy for me.”
“Oh, Fred. I truly am. For you and for Bessie. Now, just hear me out as I have learned this from you, dear brother.”
“Bessie, as I, don’t know or understand men yet. You are most likely the first man in her life. She blooms. Life’s mysteries are beginning to unravel. She feels like a woman, and she may no longer fear finding someone to love. Strange vibrations are awakening in her body.”
“Oh, I hope you are right.”
“Now, you . . . you are a rather randy seaman home from the high seas. Bessie is the first woman that you see. Like you said, you’re always on the hunt, and there she stands before you. Innocent. That is surely appealing. You catch her complimenting you to me, and voila, the path is now open to be receptive . . .”
“Stop right there! It isn’t like that with me.”
“I am sure all men say that at some point. How do you know it’s love and not some lustful fantasy in your mind?”
“Because it’s, different. That’s all.”
“What? Because it’s different? That hardly seems to be much of a reason to call it love and speak with her father. Poor Bessie – because it’s different,” Margaret sarcastically muttered just loud enough for him to hear. “So help me, Fredrick Hale, if you do anything to ruin a new best friend, I will never speak to you again.”
Fred took Margaret’s shoulders in his hands and stared into her face.
“Listen to me,” he almost shook her. “Listen, I know in my heart of the deep feelings I have for her. As far as randy, it’s the farthest thing from my mind. And yes, that is after being months away from any port. I am looking far past that. I am looking into her heart, her soul. Yes, I want to possess her in that way and brand her as mine, but not now. I will admit, I have found far greater feelings than that.”
“Do you admit that not all men are on the hunt?”
“I will acquiesce and say that not all men are on the hunt, consciously.”
“I think I’ll take that as a win.”
Dixon called them in for dinner.
“How was your ride today, Fred?”
“Did you see, Miss Higgins at all?”
“I did spend a lot of the afternoon talking with her.”
“Your sister had a nice afternoon, too.”
“Oh yeah? Another exciting day at the library, Puppet?” Fred smiled broadly.
Margaret started to answer, but her father filled it in. “She had a luncheon with Mr. Thornton.”
“Did you, now?” Fred seemed stunned as he looked at her with wide eyes.
“Yes, Mr. Thornton came to apologize to you and father, but you were gone, and father was resting. He reminded me that he had promised me a luncheon as a thank you for my lessons.”
“So you went with him in his coach to a place that serves foods?”
“Where else? Fred, honestly! Tsk.”
Margaret laughed inside when she saw Fred start to stare into his soup bowl. He would look up at her and go back to his soup.
“Margaret . . .”
“Please, no questions about my afternoon. Suffice it to say, John was an amiable luncheon companion. Can I have a biscuit, please?”
After Richard Hale had retired for the evening, Margaret went to her room. She sat at her desk, pulled out her journal, and inked her pen. Where did she begin to summarize this day? There was a knock at the door. She knew Fred would would want to talk this evening.
“Come in, Fred. You’ve got me so excited about yours and Bessie’s happiness. I hardly had her as a friend, and now you will take up her time.”
Fred gave her a big smile. “She’s changed my life.”
“What happens now? You’ve had words. Is it a continuation of the same to intensify and secure the relationship?”
Fred laid back on Margaret’s pillow with his hands behind his head. He stared at the ceiling. “I honestly don’t know, sis. I mean, it’s not that I don’t know, but I will put her in control of me. I can’t accidently offend her in any way. I want more than anything to make her happy.”
“How is she to know that you are putting her in control? Control of what exactly?”
“I’m so nervous around her. I fear speaking out of place. The pace has to be hers, I can wait forever.”
“It is quite strange to hear my brother, who is lost in how to treat his woman. I thought you were well acquainted with all things woman.”
“Physically, I am.”
“Oh . . . emotionally, you are not?”
Fred sat up. “Margaret, I am drifting. There is a mild overcast of panic. She means so much to me, I dare not make a move for concern of her misunderstanding me.”
“I do think she is a smart woman. If she feels for you the way you say she does, there isn’t much you can do to displease her . . . except for inaction.”
“Inaction? What do you take that to mean?”
“Women are brought up to be shy and look away, remember. We have had to suppress the longings we feel out of worry for our reputations. It may become a stalemate between the two of you. You’re waiting for a sign from her, and she’s waiting for you to advance the relationship forward.”
“I understand what you are saying, but I don’t believe it. She hasn’t spoken to you about me, has she?”
“Only what you heard her whisper to me. We’ve had very little time together. You’ve been with her more than I have.”
“So what you are trying to teach me about women, or the one woman in my life, is that, after an appropriate amount of time, I should endeavor to . . . bloody hell, how do I say this, I should . . . enhance . . . her desire . . . for me?”
Margaret felt sorry for her brother just then. His eyes were pleading for an answer.
“Fred, you are a man like most others and have been brought up with standards that all men think they know. Men really don’t have much sense when it comes to loving us. I mean love, not bedding. The desires men have are worn on their sleeve, in their mannerisms, in smoke filled rooms at the private clubs. Women have those desires too, but we’ve been forced to repress them, which keeps us in good stead. But when a woman finally meets the man she will love all her life, and he promises the same, she wants to express them, but will not unless coaxed.”
“I don’t believe you. I can’t see how you would even know this.”
“Have you kissed her, yet?”
“No signs of complacency or shock. No slap in the face or talk of not doing that?” Margaret asked.
“Quite the contrary.”
“Have you tasted her?”
“Tasted? I’m not sure I want to go into that with you.”
“Have you licked her lips or neck, tasted her tongue, kissed her eyes, long kisses down her neck?”
“No, but I sure want to do that. I see that long naked neck, and it beckons and teases me.”
“I would say that is your next step if you feel she is in a receptive mood.”
“I wish you would hurry and garner Thornton’s attentions. I’d like to know how he handles this.”
“Oh, I see. You want me to move my mission up to gain his favors, so that what he may give to me, I can tell you for Bessie’s sake?”
“Well . . . yeah. Why not? We’re brother and sister. Brotherly love and all that.”
Margaret snorted so loud, she had to grab a hanky out of her drawer.”
“For Queen and Country, is it? I will try to persuade Mr. Thornton to give lessons at the Lyceum.” Margaret laughed. “Realistically, Adam may have an ounce of advice that he’s willing to part with. Father said he was and still is, quite the lady’s man in London.”
“Yes, I know.”
“How do you know that, Fred?”
“One man can tell a lot about another man. He’s a gentleman, Oxford educated, a man of means, nice looking for his age and very private. All the ingredients to make an irresistible partner. Like Thornton, who is self-taught.”
“I don’t know about one man knowing another and his ways, but I do think you may be correct about Adam.”
“Margaret, the one thing a gentleman will never do is ask another gentleman how to handle the woman he is coming to love. We’re just supposed to know how to do that somehow.”
“No, you’re not. Your primitive instincts are born within you. You will always succumb to those whims. However, with the woman you want as your wife, you will govern yourself to match what she wants. I’d say it’s almost done for you. You have a part of you that drives you in that direction. I am having dinner with Mr. Thornton tomorrow night. I will ask if he can throw a tidbit your way.”
“Don’t you dare. You must learn it first hand?” Fred declared with a smile.
“One day you embarrass me in front of Adam and my father when talking about my virtue, now you want me to go out and learn how to give it away? I’ve already told you how to treat Bessie. Just be slow and gentle and watch for signs of excitement and reception. She’ll step back when she feels she needs to.”
“I look at Thornton, and I see the charm. How does a fellow learn charm? What is charm and how does it attract women?”
“I only know this. He immediately puts you at ease, which means he smiles and listens. He listens. His responses are honest. You know he actually listened, therefore, found interest in your words. If he compliments, you know he means it. He treats women as equals, and that is important. He is always well-groomed, and his dress is perfect. He has the knowledge of how to please someone, be it male or female. He projects an image one cannot lightly forget. Women will stare at that! He is humble. That may be the ultimate draw. He never seeks favors. He is his own man. With a nice haircut, you could be too. You don’t have to look prosperous, but you can look nice. You’re handsome. You have that on your side.”
“I’m not sure I can fit all this into my head. With the words that Bessie and I shared and this talk with you, I am overwhelmed.”
“You should be because we are worth it.”
Chapter Forty-Five – Startling News
Margaret woke to the grey dawn of April in a London drenched by rain. She had slept very badly as she always seemed to do lately, when John was not beside her in the bed. John … oh, how she missed him! His gentle reassurance after a day’s hard work, his sweet soothing of her, with kisses and caresses … John … the handsome face of her husband came into her mind and she felt a stab of sheer loss of not having him close to her! Only four days … four long, lonely days … without John.
With a sigh Margaret rose and readied herself for her second day in the Empire’s capital. As she did so, her baby violently kicked.
In Milton John woke after the most wretched night he ever had.
Damn! How was he supposed to sleep without his wife next to him? And then, this empty house, without even his mother! Damn! His world had been turned upside down!
He dragged himself out of bed and dressed. It was barely six am and still dark but he made a point of being there when the first shift arrived. Just so that the workers knew their master shared their working hours.
Tom was already in the office, busily jotting down numbers in one of the large ledgers.
“Good Lord, boy! And you here in this blistering cold? Why do you come here so early? Mr Williams does not light the stove before eight am!”
“I don’t feel the cold, Mr Thornton, sir!”, Tom beamed, “I awoke at five and couldn’t stay in bed! Not with all the work there’s to be done!”
“Be sure to go down to the house for breakfast, Tom. I notified Cook you would.”
Margaret entered the waiting room of Dr Mortimer Chelmsford, renowned gynaecologist in London’s Harley Street, which hosted the residences of a vast amount of famous (read: exclusive and expensive) members of the medical profession. A very dignified lady at the reception led her into it, indicating a chair.
“The doctor will see you soon, Ma’am,” she proclaimed in a rigid manner and retired.
Margaret waited, her nervousness mounting as time ticked away. Although she had a deep trust in Dr Donaldson and his abilities, she was anxious to hear the opinion of the London doctor on her pregnancy. Just to be on the safe side. She remembered all too well how precarious the situation had been in the first months of waiting anxiously for a miscarriage to happen.
Dr Chelmsford was not at all as Margaret had imagined he would. For instance, he was young; he could not be more than thirty-five. He was also very reassuring , cordially welcomed her into his office and held out a chair for her. His big brown eyes shone with warm interest and his large mouth smiled readily while he penned down her data on a page of the record book he kept for his patients. He did not interrupt Margaret before she told him the whole story about her pregnancy.
“Well, Mrs Thornton, if you would be so kind as to step behind that screen? I would like you to disrobe of your coat, shirt, skirt and corset, if you please? Then, pray, stretch out onto the couch.”
Feeling a trifle awkward, Margaret did as he asked. She stiffened when the doctor began to probe the swollen mound of her belly with gentle hands.
“Please, Mrs Thornton, I beg you to relax. This procedure is very necessary in order to establish the position and condition of your baby. I will endeavour not to prolong it beyond its necessity. Now, close your eyes, think of pleasant, soothing things.”
With an effort, Margaret directed her thoughts to the man she loved beyond everything. She forced herself to recall John’s face and brilliant blue eyes, his smile when he looked at her, his upright frame and long legs. John … only four days and she would be with him again.
“There, Mrs Thornton, that part is over. Now, I want you to be very brave. There is one examination I have to do and it is not a pleasant one. I must ascertain myself of the condition of the cervix.”
“But … doctor, how will you …”
Dr Chelmsford took one of her hands and squeezed it gently.
“I must ask you to put yourself into my hands, Mrs Thornton. If you prefer not to be alone with me during this examination, I will ask my assistant to be present. That way propriety will be satisfied. Would you like Mrs Dorcas, who is a respectfully married lady with two children, to be present?”
“Yes, please,” Margaret whispered.
After what was positively the most horrible ten minutes of her entire life, Margaret was allowed to dress again. She was a trifle wobbly in the legs when she returned to the chair in front of Dr Chelmsford’s desk. When Mrs Dorcas, face still placidly unperturbed, handed her a cup of fragrant, steaming tea, she gladly accepted. The tea was strong and sweet and after she drained the cup greedily, Margaret felt almost restored to her old self.
“Mrs Thornton,” the doctor said gravely, “I have some … disturbing news for you. I must inform you of the fact that you are carrying twins.”
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.