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.