Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Four

Chapter 4 – Gathering Clouds

John was horrified at holding Margaret in his arms, injured, bleeding, just like it had been on the day of the riots. His hand was trembling as he reached for her slender wrist. Thank God, he could feel her racing heartbeat and knew she lived. Carefully, he lifted her into his arms and carried her down the deserted street. Fortunately a hansom cab pulled up near the curb and its driver, recognizing him, stopped and jumped down from the driver’s seat.

“Lord! Mr. Thornton, is that you? Can I be of assistance, sir?”

“Yes, help me get this lady to my house! Quickly, man!”

At his house John carried his still unconscious betrothed inside, calling for his  mother. Hannah, immediately on her feet, directed him to one of the guest rooms, and John gently laid Margaret onto the bed.

“Mother, she’s still unconscious! It was a severe blow, she’s been hit by a piece of stone. Mother, she shoved me out of the way and now … Lord! What am I to do? She …”

“John!” Hannah said in her usual, commanding voice, which managed to snap John out of his panic. “Send for Dr. Donaldson. I will care for her. Please, John, be calm, compose yourself.’

“John …”Margaret’s feeble voice made him hurry by her side.

“Hush, sweet love, do not move.” His breath got stuck in his throat as John traced a trembling finger along Margaret’s alabaster cheek.

Hannah, who stood watching near the door, saw Margaret’s hand come up and caress John’s face in an almost reverent manner. In Hannah’s chest, something moved, and once again she saw how deep Margaret’s love for John was.

“I don’t need a doctor, my love,” Margaret said. “A little rest will do me fine.”

“Maybe,” John said hoarsely, “but I’m calling for Dr Donaldson all the same. That’s a nasty wound, sweetheart. Now, you must lie still, darling, whilst we wait for the doctor .”

He brushed her lips with his and stepped back, so that Hannah could clean away the blood from Margaret’s lovely face.

 

That done, they left Margaret to her rest and returned to the parlour.

“Mother,” John said, his voice still not returned to normal, “she has to stay here, she can’t go to Fanny. I’m not letting her out of my sight after what happened tonight. I can’t shake the feeling that there was something weird about that incident.”

“Yes, “ Hannah replied, “you’re right, she mustn’t go to Fanny’s. But I’m not sure about your assumption of some misdoing, we’ll have to look deeper into the matter. Don’t worry about the tittle-tattle, John, nobody will raise the propriety issue when they know I’m to be her chaperone.”

John smiled and took his mother into his arms. Hannah savoured the moment for a while and then briskly pulled herself free.

“Now”, she said, “what exactly happened out there? Tell me everything.”

John let himself down on the settee and rubbed a hand over his face before telling the story. He was far too pale, thought Hannah, he looked drained as if he hadn’t slept for days. Just telling the story seemed to drain him even more of his energy.

She was relieved when Jane announced the arrival of Dr Donaldson. As she left to greet the doctor, Hannah saw John leaning against the settee’s back in a gesture of pure exhaustion. It pulled at the very strings of her heart.

After the doctor had left, Hannah told her son that there was no cause for concern. Margaret’s wound was only a minor one, a graze. The doctor had given her some laudanum to make her sleep.

The sound of the doorbell suddenly startled them both and a few moments later Jane entered.

“Mrs Thornton, ma’am, here’s Mr Latimer and Miss Latimer to see you.”

Hannah rose to shake hands with the banker and his daughter. John did the same.

“Thornton, Mrs Thornton. I hope we are not causing any inconvenience by visiting at this advanced hour. My daughter and I wanted to be the first in offering our sincere congratulations, Thornton, as I understand that you are to be married?”

“Thank you,” John replied, although he was puzzled as to how the banker already knew this.

Ann Latimer, looking very smart in a dove grey pelisse over a dark blue skirt, offered her small hand to John and curtsied while she looked straight into his face with big brown doe eyes.

“Congratulations, Mr Thornton, on your upcoming marriage. If I may be so bold, I’d like to ask if Miss Hale would consider me as one of her bridesmaids? I know she hasn’t any family in Milton and I would be honoured to help.”

“Thank you, Miss Ann, that is very good of you. I’ll ask Margaret to consider your kind offer.”

She gave him a shy little smile, and John thought it extremely sweet of her to offer assistance to his beloved Margaret.

“Now, Thornton, I’d like a word with you in private if that is possible?” Latimer asked.

Wondering about what private matters the banker could possibly have to discuss with him, John showed him into his study. When they were seated, Latimer cleared his throat.

“Thornton, what’s this rumour about you starting up the Mill again?”

“It is more than a rumour,” John answered, unable to conceal the pride in his voice. “I’m absolutely determined to make the machines work again on Monday next week.”

“Have you found new funds then? It will take quite a lot of money to be manufacturing again.”

“I don’t know if this is any of your business, Latimer,” John said, a ring of anger in his voice and a steel glint in his eyes.

“Well, I’m sure I meant no offence, Thornton,’” Latimer replied in a conciliatory tone, “but would you allow me to offer my services, should you be in need of them? After all, we did conduct some fair business in the past, did we not?”

John was now livid. He had been forced to look for another banker recently, because this man had so much as thrown him out of his offices when Marlborough Mills went bankrupt. The cheek to be asking for his business again.

“Mr. Latimer,” he bit off in a voice that could have frozen lava, “should I be in need of your services, I will inform you. For now all my needs have been met with. I bid you good day, sir, my time is precious!”

He preceded Latimer into the parlour where the man collected his startled daughter, and the two of them were shown out by Jane.

“Mother”, mused John, “I wonder what those two were up to. She wants to be Margaret’s bridesmaid and he wants to be my banker again!”

No, he was not entirely sure as to what the real purpose of this visit had been.

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Three

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.

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Two

Chapter Two – You Do Not Seem Worthy to Me

“Mother!” choked John, his voice giving way with shock.

Margaret witnessed the acute distress on John’s pale face and felt deeply sorry for him. It was imperative for their future relationship’s sake that she and Mrs. Thornton would go on well together.  John needed a home where he could be at ease after the long day’s work at the factory.

Hence she stepped forward and took Mrs. Thornton’s hands in hers.

Hannah startled but did not pull away as she was all too aware of her son’s avid gaze on her.

“Mrs. Thornton,” Margaret pleaded, in a soft subdued voice, “I know I am not the woman you had in mind for John, but I’m asking you for your blessing upon our union. I have long befooled myself in my feelings for him but now I cannot deny any longer that I love him dearly, Mrs. Thornton. I love him with all my heart, and he loves me. Please, Mrs. Thornton, allow me to be your ally in making John happy as he fully deserves after all he has been through.”

Something shifted in Hannah’s heart and mind. Suddenly she realized that Margaret had spoken the truth.  Margaret deeply loved her beloved son, it was in her eyes.  Hannah looked at John and saw the sorrow on his face. No, she thought, she would not add another one to it. She looked Miss Hale straight into the face and spoke quietly.

“I promised your dying mother I would guide you, although it was against my nature to do so. You did not take it lightly, when I tried to warn you about your conduct at the train station.”

Margaret couldn’t help herself and vehemently reacted. “I have apologized to you for that!”

“Yes, you have!” Hannah continued in a more friendly voice. “However, the fact is that we do not go on well together and never have. We are too similar in character and temperament. But, Margaret, for John’s sake we will join forces and get to know each other better. You have my blessing, child, make my son happy, that is all I wish for.”

John gasped with relief. He gathered both Margaret and his mother into his arms, embarrassing them but then, he didn’t care, he was too happy.

 

“‘What?!”

Fanny Watson’s fury exploded in that one word, frightening Jane by the vehemence of it.

Jane had left the Thornton’s house after she heard what had been said in the parlour. She hurried to Miss Fanny’s house as quickly as she could to inform her of Mr. Thornton’s impending marriage to Miss Hale.

“Yes, Miss Fanny, it is true! I’ve heard it all, and your Mama has given her blessing to their union.”

Fanny gave an unladylike snort.

“Ha! She would, wouldn’t she? She always preferred John over me and she condones everything he ever does!”

Her cornflower blue eyes narrowed while she was playing with the big diamond ring on her finger, a sure sign that she was brooding over something.

After a while she smiled a wicked little smile and took Jane’s limp hand in hers.

“Jane, you have done well. You must continue as you do now and tell me everything that’s going on in the house. I will reward you well. For now, I want you to do something for me.”

She went to the pretty little French escritoire in the parlour corner and sat down. Swiftly she scribbled down a few lines on a piece of paper, folded and sealed it. She gave it to Jane and said in an urgent voice.

“Take this to the house of Mr. Latimer, the banker, but make sure you give it to Miss Latimer in person. She must give her answer in return and you have to bring it to me right away.”

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part One

Recap before you start reading

At the end of the four-part series, John Thornton and his Margaret have just met in a train station halfway between London and Manchester after a long absence. John and Margaret have kissed, and the long-standing estrangement between them is finally over. They are both heading for Milton where they will marry.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One – Coming Home With Me

As the train pulled away from the platform, John Thornton sat dreamily watching Margaret.

He still couldn’t believe his luck! Finally they had found each other after all the misery theyhad been through!

“Margaret …” His voice sounded hoarse and unsteady but she turned to him, smiling shyly.

“John,” she whispered. “Oh, John, what will the future bring now? I feel like everything has just been turned upside down.”

He couldn’t help himself but he had to take her in his arms and kiss her. A little too abruptly, it seemed, as he felt he had startled her and was about to let go of her.

Margaret suddenly held on to him and returned his kiss so ardently that John’s heart leapt with pleasure. He had secretly hoped for her to return his own passion but had never expected her to do so with so much vehemence.

“Margaret,” he asked, when they pulled apart, “why have you not informed me of what happened to your brother?” It was a question that had tortured him long enough now.

“You know about Frederic? How?”

“Higgins,” John grinned. “The day I closed the mill, he very casually told me who the gentleman at the station was. Remember I saw you hugging him and – oh my Margaret, I was so envious of that stranger. I longed to know why you were hiding him from me, and Hoggins told me. I daresay he took great pleasure in doing so.”

“Nicholas? Have you two finally formed a more civil relationship then?”

“Margaret, Higgins and I are friends now, I was extremely sorry that I had to turn him down when the mill closed. I’m worried because I don’t think he already found other work.”

Margaret chuckled. “Don’t worry about Nicholas, John, he’ll find whatever he needs, he’s very smart and can put his hands on everything.”

John smiled. She was right, of course. Higgins would find his way. Another worrying thought came up, however.

“We must talk, darling,” he urged. “We have several problems to solve and we must do it right away. You have no family in Milton, and as long as we’re not man and wife, you need lodgings.”

“Can’t I stay in your house, John, after all I will be living there after our marriage?” Margaret felt a sudden warmth rise up at the thought of marrying this extraordinary man. John saw the fine rosy blush infusing her cheeks and gently squeezed her hand.

“No, sweetheart, that would me most improper,” he sighed. “My mother would never allow such a thing.”

Margaret suddenly blanched when she thought of Hannah Thornton and their meeting in the empty hall of the Mill, early that same morning. How Mrs. Thornton had pulled away when Margaret had wanted to comfort her about her fears onJohn’s whereabouts.

“Your mother … oh, John! Your mother hates me. What will she say when she hears of our betrothal?”

John took Margaret’s hands in his and looked straight into her eyes.

“Sweet Margaret of mine, my mother is not an easy person to deal with, I know that, but she is also concerned about me and she knows I could never be happy without you. My mother loves me deeply, Margaret, she will come to love you, too, in time. Don’t tell me you’re afraid of her because I would not believe you. Never you, my intrepid courageous Margaret.”

Margaret raised his hands to her lips and shyly kissed them just as she had done on the platform bench. It sent shivers of pleasure down his spine.

“No,” Margaret replied. “I’m not afraid but I’m not inclined to quarrel with her over you, John. The last thing I want is for you having to choose between me and Mrs. Thornton.”

“It will never come to that,” he said, feeling far less certain than he showed. John Thornton did indeed worry about what his mother would say.

Hannah Thornton had always been too protective over him, and there had been times when he’d been really annoyed about it. John knew very well that his mother had never liked Margaret, yet for his sake, she would try getting on with his bride-to-be. That didn’t mean he foresaw no skirmishes between them, as they both were strong-willed women.

So, when they alighted from the hansom cab, that brought them from Outward Milton Station to Marlborough Mills, John braced himself for what was to come. When they entered the Mill yard, they both looked up to the parlour window. Hannah’s tall thin frame in black bombazine was standing behind the window pane. Motionless and rigid, her stern face was staring down at them, and Margaret felt a shiver of apprehension running down her spine.

She was, however, ready to face John’s mother. Her love for John would sustain her.

They entered the house and Jane, the maid, came rushing in to take their coats. The slight fair girl was staring at Margaret with open mouth.

“M… Miss Margaret! What … did Mrs. Thornton know you were coming?”

John frowned at her impertinent tone. “Jane, I’m sure that is not your concern. Take our coats and bring us some tea in the parlour immediately,” he barked in a cold, clipped voice.

Jane curtsied, her face flushed with embarrassment. “Yes, Mr. Thornton, sir!” She fled from the hall.

Margaret, too, was embarrassed. She was to be Jane’s employer in a few weeks, it did not bode well if the girl didn’t like her from the start.

They climbed the stairs hand in hand and entered the parlour where Mrs. Thornton was still standing by the window. She spun around to face them, but her dark, smouldering eyes only gazed at Margaret.

“So, Miss Hale, come to take over my son now as you did with his life’s work? I will not allow it, I will not release my son into your greedy Southern hands!”

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife

Once in a while, we are touched by something so deeply that it becomes a constant source of joy.

When we need to have our spirits lift, there it is; we just have to revisit our source, and the joy is back.

 

The 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South provides that kind a joy to me. The novel’s plot is brilliant, but Sandy Welsh’s script gives it a contemporary ring so that the characters become even more alive. Brian Percival’s direction is magnificent and gives the viewer a thorough understanding of the nineteenth century workers’ struggle. Martin Phipps’ lovely music touches our hearts.

 

Of course, the actors’ performances are outstanding. All British actors and actresses just have that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes them so lovable. Yet Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage show us a chemistry that shines through the whole film like a beacon of love and hope.

That is why I want to pay tribute to this wonderfull story by writing my own fan fiction. I hope you will bring you the same joy as it did me.

Thank you for reading me.

Luce Fleming

Summary

Margaret Hale, a parson’s daughter, is brought up as a middle-class and well-read young lady in Helstone, Hampshire in the rural South of England. Her father uproots the family and moves to Milton, Lancashire in the North. She is thrown in the middle of the industrial revolution. Everything shocks her; the dirt, the factory smoke, the noise and the gruffness of the people.

John Thornton, owner of Marlborough Mills, fills her with contempt because he is harsh and severe for his workers. Yet, there is also an attraction between the two of them.

Thornton falls in love and proposes marriage, but Margaret rejects him because of his harsh treatment of his workers. Instead she forms friendships amongst the workers and tries to improve their lives by supporting them as much as she can. Especially Betsy Higgins who suffers from a fatal disease, becomes her best friend.

Over time, Margaret will change her opinion of Thornton when his attitude towards the workers changes. But it’s only when he has lost his business to bankruptcy,  that Margaret allows herself to open her heart to him.

Hearts Adrift – Part Six

Armitage_004

Chapter Six

 

Longpré was reached in the late afternoon, and the travellers were all exhausted, hungry and downtrodden. They hid in the surrounding woods while Jake went into the village. He was the least conspicuous of them all; he could pass as a harmless farmhand.

Jéhan was fast asleep, his head on Manon’s lap. She gently brushed the boy’s auburn hair from his brow, a gesture that went straight to Richard’s heart.

“You both have Lily’s colouring, Manon,” he said, his voice a bit hoarse, “and she was the image of her own mother, Lady Elizabeth. There is a large portrait of her in Bearsham Manor’s great hall. Your mother’s picture is in my library, where I can look at it while I work. I loved your mother very much, Manon. I was but a child when she left, yet I acutely felt her absence for years. When my father informed me of her demise, five years ago, I was downcast for months.”

“Your father informed you? How can that be? How did he know?”

“Our fathers kept up a correspondence, apparently. They started it soon after Thibaut Favier settled himself in Paris with Lily. My father, though heartbroken because she ran away with his valet, never stopped loving his daughter. I learned of the connection between our fathers when your mother died giving birth to Jéhan. After my father’s death, I found the letters in his desk. You may read them, if you wish it.”

“Thank you, Uncle; I know for certain I will enjoy reading them. So my father wrote to yours for years? He never told me.”

“My father, your grandfather adored Lily, just like I did. Lily was …”

He stopped, and in his eyes, Manon could see a dreamy sadness. “Lily was beautiful,” he went on.  “Not just pretty, but truly exquisite, with her wavy hair the colour of the purest copper and her sparkling green eyes. She was smart, lively, and sweet. Graceful she was, with a natural elegance, combined with a perfect figure.”

“Maman was always perfect in everything she did. Papa was devastated when she died, and we missed her terribly. I talk about her to Jéhan whenever I think of her. It is a shame that my brother never knew her.”

“We will show him her picture when we reach my home.”

“Your home …” Manon whispered, as if the words meant something unreachable for her.

“Yes,” Richard replied, a sudden constriction in his throat at the forlorn expression on her face. “Bearsham Manor, which will be your home and Jéhan’s from now on, Manon.”

“So I will never see Paris again? How will we fare in England, Jéhan and I? It is another country, another language.”

“I will hire a tutor for Jéhan, to prepare him for a decent boarding school. He has to learn English, of course, and so do you.”

Manon bowed her head so that her uncle would not see her face. She was inwardly debating if she should tell him that she already spoke his language. After what he had done for her the previous night, she knew she could trust him unquestionably. Her decision made, she looked up and said, in perfect English, “No need for language lessons for me, Uncle. Maman insisted that I should learn her mother tongue to perfection.”

Her slight French accent was the arrow that struck him, Richard realised. She was irresistible with those finely clipped consonants and those stretched vowels. As if she had not been utterly striking and charming already. She had pulled her bow and pierced his heart.

“Why did you not tell me before?” he asked, in a voice hoarse with emotion. The answer mattered to him, for some reason.

She shrugged, then smiled. “You were a stranger. I did not trust you, but I do now. Since last night, when you saved me.”

Before Richard could go further into that topic, they both heard Jake’s whistle. He had returned with fortunate news.

“There is this farmer called Bontemps, master,” Jake grinned. “He was part of a gang that raided the local squire’s manor after the family fled. Now he is stranded with four thoroughbreds, and he has no inkling what to do with them. Their upkeep costs him an arm and a leg, he says. I figure we could relieve him of at least two horses.”

“Good, that is what we will do. Listen, Jake, there is no need to speak French anymore, except with the boy. Miss Manon is fluent in English.”

Jake looked at Manon with delight. “She is? Oh, that’s capital! I was growing tired of having to speak the damn …”

“Jake!” Richard threatened, but with a grin on his face.

“Sorry, miss! I was about to speak nonsense, of course!”

“It is of no consequence, Jake. You are my friend, so you may speak to me about whatever you like.”

Richard cleared his throat, waking Jéhan in the process. The boy peered around sleepily before he said, “I am terribly hungry, Manon. When will we have breakfast?”

“Soon, mon chou,” his sister answered in French. “For now, you must pay attention to what our uncle is planning.”

“We must change tack,” Richard explained. “When we buy the horses, it will be under a different disguise. I will pose as a wealthy Parisian shopkeeper, and the three of you as my servants. Having just acquired a large house in Paris from a former aristocrat, I am in need of skilled horses. You, Jake, will do the talking, as I, your master, will be too haughty to speak to riffraff. Manon and Jéhan, you will be there to serve me and see to it that I have everything I need while on the journey. It will be just a pretence, in case someone is nosy enough to ask who we all are. The keyword is haughty. Do not offer information, not even when you are asked, unless it is by soldiers. If that happens, Jake will do the talking. Are we ready? I am counting on you, friends!”

 

They readily pulled it off, the farmer being all too keen to sell three of the horses, for which he was handsomely paid by Richard. Richard rode the largest animal, a big black hunter of seventeen hands by the name of César. Jake had a much smaller bay gelding who answered to the name Cyrano, and Manon, with Jéhan behind her, was to ride a placid chestnut mare named Mélissande.

Richard had decided on three horses so that they could carry their travel bags and food supply more conveniently. Manon, who could not ride, received a quick, elementary riding lesson, with regard to her position in the sidesaddle and how to find and maintain her balance.

“I hope you will manage, Manon,” her uncle said. “We will go slowly, and you must ride beside me. I noticed that the mare and my own steed are comfortable with each other. When you stay at my steed’s side, Mélissande will be more at ease.”

“I will manage, Uncle. Have no fear.”

After a much-deserved breakfast at the only inn Longpré boasted, they repaired to the main road and covered the ten miles to Abbeville in time for dinner and a bed in one of the inns. Abbeville was smaller than Beauvais, with a population of eighteen thousand. In one part of the city, nearly a thousand houses had been destroyed twenty years before when the ammunition depot exploded. A hundred and fifty people had been killed and trice as many had been gravely injured. The gaping holes where the houses had been had not yet been filled in with new ones.

According to what they had agreed upon earlier, the travellers acted as a company of servants to a Parisian bourgeois. Understandably, they dressed in character. Richard donned his breeches and riding boots, and his frock coat, with white shirt, black waistcoat and cravat. He wore his beaver hat and riding gloves and made use of a riding crop. Jake was dressed in modest but well-cut attire, with buckled shoes instead of boots, and a tricorne hat. Jéhan kept his own Parisian clothes, which were suitable for a servant lad and Manon donned one of the gowns her uncle had purchased. It was a morning dress of pale blue cotton with a navy blue bodice. Over her auburn curls, which she had pinned up in a bun at the nape of her neck, she wore a mob cap. That way, she could hide the too noticeable beauty of her long, shining locks in order to avoid unwanted attention. With her eyes downcast and her hands demurely folded in front of her, she truly looked the part.

Jake haughtily requested a private room for his master, Messire Jean-François Breton, master draper of Paris, and three beds in the common room for himself and his companions. While they were having their supper, Richard softly spoke to Manon in French.

“I must ask you to trust me once more, niece. I am not at ease with the riffraff that is staying here, tonight. In the common room, you will doubtless be bothered again. As a gentleman, I cannot allow that. You must stay the night in my room so that I can watch over you.”

Richard paused to look at Manon’s reaction, but she merely nodded.

“You know what people will think, do you not?”

“Yes,” she stated, looking him in the eye, “they will assume that you take your maidservant to bed. I do not care what they think, Uncle. I am ever so grateful that I will be safe and can have a decent night’s rest.”

 

 

 

Hearts Adrift – Part Five

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Chapter Five

 

Five days and four nights later, Richard and his companions reached Amiens.

The journey had been relatively easy, with one checkpoint in Beauvais after twenty-one miles of travelling through the lush Picardie countryside. The farther they moved away from Paris, the less people seemed affected by the Revolution. At least, the farmers were still at their work; the fields had been sowed and the pastures had cattle grazing on them. Even at the Beauvais checkpoint, the guards seemed lax and did not question the travellers. Apparently, a small family of what looked like farmers was not prone to raise their interest.

Richard’s company arrived at Amiens halfway through the fifth day after they left the abbey. The town was buzzing with activity, as if there were no revolution going on. With a population of forty thousand and a thriving community of weavers and drapers, it was not easy to find suitable accommodation. Nonetheless, Richard with Jake acting as the head of the family managed to secure lodgings at an inn in the Quartier Saint Maurice, which was situated northwest of the centre. The Auberge de la Madeleine was run by a large woman by the name of Francine Duval, who ruled her establishment with an iron hand. She put Manon in the common room reserved for women, while the men were lodged in the vast stables. There, they joined ten other men, mostly drapers. There were, however, three soldiers as well, so Richard instantly adopted his “demented uncle” persona. They could not afford to let the soldiers address him.

To her utter relief, Manon discovered that she was the inn’s only female guest in the inn that night. After dinner in the taproom, she quickly retired to the far corner of the common room, which was divided into separate booths by means of wooden partitions. Finally some privacy, she sighed. She enjoyed the luxury of washing in a small wooden tub and afterwards donned a fresh cotton nightgown, which her uncle had purchased for her in Beauvais along with an extra change of small clothes, two cotton gowns and a pair of extra walking boots. Together with her toiletries, those items formed the contents of her new travel bag.

Once she was lying on her narrow cot, Manon felt she could finally let her guard down. For almost a week, the four of them had ridden through the vast French countryside, always on the lookout for soldiers or brigands. Manon had not yet told Jéhan about Papa’s death, yet the boy kept asking when they would go back to Paris to ascertain that he was not in need of assistance. Every time that happened, Manon’s gaze met her uncle’s, who in a private moment, asked her if Jéhan knew that their father was dead. He should be told, her uncle said. There was no point in deceiving the boy when he would eventually have to find out the truth.

Now that she was finally alone, Manon found herself sobbing, at last allowing herself to feel the full impact of recent events. All her efforts and thoughts had been taken up with keeping herself and her brother alive. Papa was dead. She had buried him in their garden in Paris, and the last time, she had seen him alive and well had only been the same morning of the day she had done so. They had parted in joyful affection, never worrying, even in the grim circumstances the Revolution had brought on. Now she was alone, and with the added responsibility of having to look after her little brother. She had yet to live a life taking care of only her own person. Even when they now had the protection of her uncle for which she was utterly grateful in these dire times, the care for Jéhan rested on Manon’s shoulders and no one else’s. The burden was indeed heavy.

Resolutely, Manon dried her tears and went to wash her face in the water basin that sat on the side table. There was no point in dwelling on matters she could not change.

Abruptly and without warning, she was seized by strong hands, which gripped her so hard that her arms were painfully wrenched upwards. An arm slung around her waist, effectively pinning her arms against her body and making it impossible to move. A rough hand clasped over her mouth, and a hoarse voice rasped in crude French, “Ah, but what have we here? A pretty little wench, so fit to please a brave soldier of the Revolution!”

A vile stench of unwashed male accompanied these words, and Manon gagged when her tongue tasted the sour skin of the large hand that covered her lips. In a wave of panic, she writhed and kicked, but the man simply lifted her in the air and smacked her onto her cot, face down. With one hand he held her pinned to the straw mattress, while the other shoved her nightdress high until her backside was bare.

She froze, the breath fleeing from her lungs. He was going to rape her! Her face was pressed into her blanket. In despair, she kicked her legs, but the man simply put his knees onto her bare thighs. His weight was heavy and unyielding like tons of bricks on her tender flesh. She was going to be killed …

And then she was set free. The weight was lifted from her body, and she drew in a large gulp of wonderful air. Hastily, she covered herself and turned onto her back.

“Manon, are you unharmed?” her uncle asked, concern making his voice give way. There he stood, in shirt and breeches, apparently the attire he used while abed.  Manon watched him, still dazed from her experience. She gasped in horror.

“Where is he? That man …” She noticed the large, unkempt soldier, lying unconscious at her feet.

“Oh …”, she said in a small voice. “Uncle, what are we to do? Now, everybody will know you are not demented. We must leave immediately!”

“Shhh, child, do not panic. Jake is preparing Jéhan as we speak. Yes, we are leaving, this instant. Jake and I will carry our friend here and dump him somewhere in the yard. I will pour some cheap wine all over him so that it will appear as if he was in his cups and stumbled when he went to relieve himself. You must dress and pack your bag. We will be waiting for you in the yard as soon as Jake has paid our hostess.”

 

As a precaution, Richard decided to give the cart and horse to the landlady and instead, repair to the marshes lining the river Somme and proceed on foot. His purpose was to find two decent horses and attempt to reach Boulogne on horseback.

They marched as quickly as was possible, which was not easy because the rich pastures near the water were soggy. Fortunately, they were also covered with tree saplings, so the fugitives were hidden from the main road that ran alongside the river. Richard was justifiably worried about the soldiers. They might well try to find them and take revenge.

With Jéhan asleep in his arms, Richard took the lead of their small group. Manon walked behind him with Jake taking the rear. The path was so narrow it only allowed them to walk in single file. It was still very dark, with no moon to guide their way. Richard hoped to reach the village of Longpré before nightfall of the following day. They had approximately twelve miles to cover, and their progress would be slow and tiresome. Fortunately, he had taken the precaution of bringing enough coins from England. The exchange of guineas against Louis d’or in Paris had been easy and very profitable. Money lenders knew the value of English coin and hoarded it for the future. And every Frenchman, high or low, loved a Louis d’or.

The three walked in absolute silence, because they needed to watch their footing on the slippery riverside path. Manon doggedly followed in her uncle’s footsteps, ignoring her weariness after the disturbed peace of the night. Her arms and legs were starting to bruise where the brute had grabbed them. Yet she would not give in to weakness. Her uncle would protect them all, she knew. At that moment, Manon had the absolute conviction that nothing was impossible for Richard de Briers.

 

Richard was extremely anxious to progress as quickly as was possible. He was convinced the three rascals would pursue them, even kill them if they caught up with them. Upon Richard’s instructions, Jake had fed the landlady a tale of a dying relative on a farm south of the river Marne. With enough coin and the cart and horse to keep her silent, Francine Duval had vowed not to tell the soldiers too much. Yet Richard had not overly trusted the woman. Anybody could break under pressure, he knew.

His thoughts kept wandering to his niece and what she had gone through this past week.

Her father had been slaughtered, forcing her to leave the only home she had known, and now she had been brutally assailed by that monster. Richard recalled the white-hot rage he had felt surging through him at the sight of that brute, who had been on the verge of raping her. He had literally seen red and had wanted to smash the man into a bloody pulp. He had not hesitated for one second but had thrown himself to Manon’s rescue, blowing their carefully constructed cover in the process. He might well have signed their death sentence, he realised. If he was not able to secure horses soon and lead the group to Boulogne forthwith, they would be caught. He shuddered at the thought – not for himself or Jake, but for Manon and her little brother.

However, that was not his deepest concern. He was more disturbed by the torrent of raw desire he had been experienced when setting eyes on Manon’s creamy white, round buttocks. May the Lord have mercy on him but he had wanted her so much that he felt his body react just by recalling the image. What a miserable cad he was, lusting after his young niece. And what hell his life was turning into. How was he supposed to keep on living when he felt thus?