Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Six – I, Nicholas, Take Thee Hannah

 

The second day of the month of June in the year of Our Lord 1853, the bells of Milton Chapel were peeling joyfully to announce the wedding of Mrs Hannah Thornton, mother of the Master of Marlborough Mills, and Mr Nicholas Higgins, assistant manager of the factory.

The day was a bit overcast but that did not lessen the joyful mood as the bride was being led down the aisle on the arm of her proud son, John Thornton of Marlborough Mills. At the altar stood Nicholas Higgins, tall and broad in a suit of black superfine, a white, linen shirt, dove grey waistcoat and dazzling white cravat. His hands held a pair of white cotton gloves and a black top hat, and his honest face bore a wide, happy grin as he watched Hannah approach on John’s arm.

Hannah was magnificently decked out in a lavender dress of gleaming silk, whose sober, straight cut accented the slimness of her tall, erect figure but softened the lines in her usually stern countenance. Now, Hannah was smiling, blue eyes sparkling like diamonds. Her thick, black hair, with only the hint of silver, was combed back loosily from her face to fall down in heavy waves on her back. Nicholas’s heart skipped a beat as he noticed the loosened hair. It made her look like the young girl she must have been when she married John’s father.

John solemnly lay his mother’s hand on Nicholas’s and retired at the side of his own wife.

Margaret smiled at him as he sat down beside her wheelchair and took her hand.

 

Not yet one year ago, they had been bride and groom at this very church themselves. How well John remembered his lovely Margaret in her cream coloured silk dress and lace vale, the very picture of beauty and grace. Today she wore a loose gown of mint green silk, very light to the touch as to give her as much comfort as possible with the heavy burden of her pregnancy to bear. John’s heart lurched in fear as it had for so many days now, since he knew Margaret was carrying twins.

He pressed her fine boned hand and smiled at her, not showing what he was really feeling other than his huge love for her.

Margaret watched the couple at the altar with quiet joy filling her heart.

Dear Nicholas and sweet Mother! How she wished them to gain a new happiness with each other! They had been through such a difficult time, with Hannah being stalked and nearly killed. A shiver ran through her as she remembered the deeds of their former maid, Jane.

Another memory returned suddenly and she had to swallow back tears. At this same time of year, last June, her father had died. Margaret could still see the tall figure of Mr Bell, standing in the street with her father’s suitcase in his hand, when he came to tell her of Mr Hale’s demise.

The sudden kick of one of her babies brought Margaret back from the sad past into the present. She admonished herself sternly. It was no use reminiscing about past sorrow. She had things to do, she must prepare herself for motherhood and stop being such a ninny! After all, she had the most dedicated and loving man in the whole world at her side and the strong support of a woman whom she considered a mother. Her own dear departed mother would never have given her strength at all, weak and sickly as she had been. So she brought John’s hand to her lips and watched fondly as Nicholas and Hannah spoke their wedding vows.

 

After the ceremony, there was a reception at the Thornton house. The gathering was small. There was the family, of course, and a few acquaintances, such as Dr Donaldson and Inspector Mason from the Milton Constabulary.

Margaret was watching the guests with a fond eye when her friend, Mary Higgins, came to sit on a chair beside her wheelchair.

“Dear Margaret, how are you feeling? This must be an exhausting day for you. Are you comfortable? Can I get you something?”

Margaret took Mary’s hand and pressed it fondly. “No, Mary, do not worry.  I’m perfectly alright, though huge as a beached whale! How I am ever to get my figure back after this, I do not know!”

She winced as a kick from the babies made her stomach lurch with a burning gulf of bile. Mary laid her hand on Margaret’s swollen stomach and smiled as she felt the strong kicking.

“They are very healthy in there, for sure! Two boys, I should say, and rugby players to boot!”

The two women burst into laughter at the thought, and Margaret saw John’s head turn towards her in surprise. She waved at him and he, reassured with her lightness of spirit, went on with his conversation with Dr Donaldson.

“Mary, I have not yet have an opportunity to thank you for sending your cousin, Letty Monroe, to us. She is very sweet and, although still very young, she impressed me with her quiet self-confidence. She will make a good nanny, I’m sure.”

Mary was silent for a moment, then spoke in an earnest tone. “Letty had an unusual childhood, Margaret, one that would have scarred a less stronger girl for life but not her! She was but ten years old when she lost her left foot. A cart wheel broke down and the wheel axe’s sharp edge severed it clean, so no chance of saving it. Many little girls would have lost courage but not our Letty. She stepped into our house, one day, on her crutches and tackled Dad, whom she knew to be a good carver of wood. ‘Uncle Nick,’ she said, ‘make me a wooden foot so that I can walk without these stupid crutches.’ I tell you, Margaret, Father was all in doubt about it but he did as Letty asked. After lots of failures, he finally managed to make a foot to match her leg stump fairly good.”

Margaret listened in awe to all this. “Did she manage to walk on the foot? I imagine it must have been difficult to keep her balance?”

“It was. She kept falling and she didn’t seem to be able to fasten the foot adequately enough on her stump. But, finally, she succeeded. She and Father designed something quite new, a leather sock, lined with cotton waste, to cover her stump, and then they used Arabic gum to make it stick on the foot as an addition to the straps around her leg. It works. She’ll never be able to run, of course, but she can walk alright.”

This girl, Margaret thought, deserved a chance.

 

After the reception Nicholas Higgins took his bride to their new home, their carriage seen off by their family and friends. Despite being as tall as he, Nicholas carried Hannah over the threshold and straight up to their bedroom. The housekeeper and maids had the rare experience of hearing their mistress giggle like a young girl.

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty

Chapter Fifty – Family Joys

A noise from below sounded all of a sudden, breaking the strange mood between the two women.

Nicholas’ deep voice was rumbling with laughter, along with Hannah’s unmitigated giggle.

“Nicholas Higgins, put me down this instant! This is not your house and it is not yet our honeymoon!”

“Ah, but I figured to have a try in carrying you over the threshold, my girl! You finally seem to have put on a bit of flesh on during these past weeks, so I’d thought finding out if I actually still could carry you in my arms!”

A look of absolute and horrible disgust showed on Fanny’s face as she exclaimed, “Oh, Good God! This cannot be true! This must be my worst nightmare!”

She jumped up when Nicholas burst in carrying her mother in his arms and let out a cry of disgust when she saw Hannah had her arms wrapped firmly around his neck.

“Mother!”

Fanny drew herself up and fixed Hannah with a look worthy of her brother’s worst scowl.

“In Christ’s name, will you show some dignity? And you, you … horrible man, put her down at once! You scoundrel, you ruffian, you …”

She then rushed toward the couple with raised fists and would have pounded on Nicholas had not John come in and grabbed her with his good arm.

“Fanny, dear,” he mocked, “I’m sure Watson is a trifle worried about you, right now. I think it’s time you went home.”

His sister let out a wholehearted ‘Oof!’, gathered up her skirts and stalked out of the room.

“Nicholas, my friend,” John addressed him, “I think you can put Mother down safely now.”

Higgins did so and the two man shook hands vigorously.

“Ah, John! It’s good to be back! Come and embrace your mother!”

John smiled at Hannah, took her hand and kissed it. “Mother, how are you?”

“Oh, John!”, Hannah laughed and put her arms around him.

“What have you been doing? Is it true you threw yourself under a loom?”

 

Of course, the men wanted to go and see the mill so Margaret and Hannah were on their own. After Dixon brought in a fresh pot of tea, the two women could finally catch up.

“Margaret, is he going to be alright? You’re sure he has no other injuries than the dislocated shoulder?”

“Yes, mother, that is all. It has been a close call, however. Thank God it was for the good of the little boy. I am actually very proud of John, you know.”

“Yes, as am I. Now, what was all that about with our Fanny? What is she up to now?”

After Margaret told her, Hannah sighed deeply.

“I do not understand, Margaret. What have I done wrongly? I tried to give both of my children a proper education and a true understanding of good, solid human values but it seems only my son profited from that.”

“Mother, Fanny is still so very young and all she can think about, is her comfort. I tried to explain it to her, what is was that makes a woman proud of bearing her husband’s child but I fear I failed.”

Suddenly, a distressing thought struck her.

“Oh, heavens! I have told Fanny something even John does not know yet! Oh, God! She … she has not gone to the factory, has she?”

“No, you need not worry about that, dear. I do not think Fanny has ever set foot into the factory in her whole life. She hates it. Why did you say that?”

Margaret swallowed and coloured bright red.

“Because I have revealed something to her that I should have told John first. Mother, I am expecting twins. I do not want John to hear it from any other than me.”

Hannah stared at her in astonishment.

“Good Lord, child! This is … astonishing news! How do you know? Did you learn this in London?”

“Yes, I did. Oh, I don’t know how John is going to react to this!”

“Well, Margaret, you’d better tell him tonight. John is fairly down-to earth, I am sure he will take it like a man.”

Hannah smiled encouragingly and patted Margaret’s hands. The latter promised herself to tell her husband the good news the same night.

“So, Mother, is your health fully restored? When are you planning on marrying Nicholas?”

The older woman suddenly got a dreamy look in her eyes which made her look twenty years younger.

“Oh, Margaret, he has been so good to me! Yes, I’m pretty much like my old self again, thanks to Nicholas. He was with me every step of the way, supporting me during the obligatory daily walks and watching over me to eat properly and rest sufficiently.”

Hannah paused and Margaret saw her cheeks were flushed rosy.

“I don’t know what has come over me, Margaret, but I am so very happy! It has been a long time since I felt like this. My marriage to Charles, John’s father, was a happy one but the shadow of his death always tamped down the good memories of the past. I had grown bitter and cold over the years, Margaret, only leaving room to care for John and Fanny. I only now realise that I blamed myself for Charles’ suicide, thinking he didn’t trust me enough to confide in me in his hour of need. Nicholas has made me see that all this was unnecessary. He gave me some perspective again and a lot of joy.”

“That is good, Mother. You certainly deserve that and I know you and Nicholas will be very happy together. So when is it going to be?”

“In four weeks, June the second. Oh, Margaret, there is so much to be done! I don’t know how …”

“Shhh, Mother, do not worry. I will help you and so will John. Just give him a day or two to recuperate from his fall.”

 

That night, Margaret felt yet again exhausted.

Her back did not stop hurting whichever position she was in. Sitting or standing, walking or reclining, it was all alike. She had to suppress a groan when she rose from the settee to accompany her husband to their bedchamber. John was instantly at her side, his eyes large with concern.

“Darling, what is it? Are you unwell?”

He slung his good arm around her waist when he saw her stagger.

“Damn! This bloody shoulder keeps me from taking proper care of you! Here, lean on me, sweetheart, let us go to our room.”

To be sure, there was the omnipresent Dixon.

“Shall I give you some assistance, Master?”

“No, Dixon, thank you. I’ll manage.”

In their room, John lowered Margaret onto the bed. She grabbed his hand and looked up to him.

“John, darling, I have to tell you something which might cause you concern.”

 

 

 

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