The Reform of John Thornton – Part Two

Chapter Two

 

As a rule, I am not a violent man. I do not take pleasure in beating my workers to a bloody pulp. Yet I have a temper, which at times gets the better of me. Thus when I witnessed Stephens’ transgression with my own eyes, I literally saw red.

Stephens is a brainless fool, who has only his own selfish interests at heart. His poor wife and four children do not often see much of his wages, because he squanders them away in the tavern as soon as he gets his hands on the coins. Many times over, I have warned him, and he always promises it is the last time he smokes during work hours, yet the wretch always does it again. Now my patience had been tried too much, and I was right in dismissing him. Unfortunately, his family will reap the miserable consequences. I do not run a charitable institution, so as sad as it may be, I cannot do a thing about it. The interests of the mill must come first.

Even though I had been entirely justified in behaving as I had, a nagging concern kept gnawing at my conscience. I am a rational man, yet I had let my temper boil over so rashly that I now felt downright wretched.

This state of mind was so unfamiliar to me that it puzzled me to the extreme. Never before in my life had I regretted any action I had done, yet now I positively loathed what I had done to Stephens. I could not for the life of me comprehend why this was so. Nobody in the whole shed had frowned upon me, nor had anybody come to Stephens’ help, because they all thought it justified he be chastised.

Nobody? No one, except for the petite brunette who had so rashly chastised me, John Thornton of Marlborough Mills. Before the eyes of my workers, a mere slip of a girl had talked back at me. Better yet, she had dared raise her voice at the master of Marlborough Mills, a place where she had no business being.

All present had indeed noticed. Some were shocked, but others had smirked with glee. Many of my workers resented me, even though I give them an income and thus save them from starvation and misery. As it is Mother’s wont to say, some men raise themselves to be masters, while others will strive to bring them down.

I should have retorted to the forward young woman, yet I had not. Instead, a strange paralysis had overcome me, I, a man who was never ill, who never showed weakness. A man who was master and answerable to no one but himself.

I strangely felt answerable to Miss Margaret Hale. For some incomprehensible reason, at that time I felt compelled to go and explain myself to her, if possible even that same day.

Margaret Hale … the name was familiar, though I could not immediately place it. I knew I would not be satisfied until I found out, so I went in search of Overseer Williams.

The loyal employee was back at his workplace on the raised platform, scrupulously watching the workers. I climbed the rickety ladder, absentmindedly making a mental note to have it made sturdier.

“Why did you bring that young woman in here, Williams? Surely, you know as well as I do, that strangers to the workplace are not allowed in the weaving shed.”

“She was at the house you found for your acquaintance, Mr Bell, master. She said she wanted to speak to you, and nothing I or the agent said would change her mind. A stubborn one, that.”

“What was her name again?” I asked, knowing well enough what it was.

“Margaret Hale, master. She said she and her father were sharing the task of finding lodgings. Not quite proper, if you ask me. Women have no business doing such a task.”

I ignored his remark about Miss Hale’s impropriety, although it was not Williams’ place to comment at all. “And where was this?”

“In Canute Street in Crampton, master. A nice little place, and well it may be, because the owner asks thirty pounds a year for it.”

I thanked him and left him to his work. Puzzled, I went back to my office.

The whole business of Williams seeking lodgings had its origin in Mr Bell’s request that I find a house for a friend of his, whose name was Richard Hale, I recalled. Mr Bell was an academic from  Oxford and one of my chief investors. Therefore, I had not had the luxury to turn him down, when he claimed some of my precious time. He had come from Oxford with the sole purpose of asking for my cooperation but he had prattled on so endlessly about his friend Hale, that I had lost all interest long before he was finished. Matters that have nothing to do with Marlborough Mills cannot keep my attention for long.

I made an effort to recall what exactly he had told me about Hale, a former clergyman who had given up his living to come and teach in Milton. Something to do with him not willing to reaffirm in the Book of Common Prayer, or some such nonsense. What would prompt a man to give up his livelihood and rob his family of income, I asked myself. I thought about this for some time, but was unable to solve the question. To me, Hale’s behaviour was on the brink of insanity.

Bell had also said that the man needed private pupils in order to bring in some money.

Now that, I found most interesting.

I was a mill master and a magistrate, but my education had been cut short. When I was but sixteen years old, I began working at a draper’s shop to rescue my mother and sister from poverty. Ever since, I had felt the lack of literature and culture and was anxious to remedy that. I was determined to pay Mr Hale a visit, as soon as he was settled in Canute Street.

My reminiscing about the past had, unfortunately, revived my memories of those disastrous days of fifteen years ago, when my father had taken his own life. The three of us, Mother, Fanny and myself were cast into ruin and poverty, because Father had lost all his possessions in a fraudulent speculation. At that time, he had been struggling to keep his cotton mill afloat after a most violent strike, wherein the workers had squeezed a ten percent raise from him. Unable to pay his workers beyond the weeks to come, Father had then turned to his banker. That man, who was the owner of several London banks, had taken Father’s personal fortune, promising him a scheme that would yield ten times the sum. The London banker was an imposter. He fled abroad, taking all Father’s money with him. Facing bankruptcy, Father had hanged himself.

 

I sat there, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, for I know not how long. When Mother suddenly appeared in the doorway, I was startled to see that it was ten in the evening. The mill had emptied of workers, the machines had been stopped, yet I had not noticed.

“What is troubling you, John? Why are you still here?”

Mother came to stand beside my chair and felt my brow with the back of her hand. I could not stifle a smile. To Mother, I am still a young boy, even though I had reached my thirty-first year last August. Sometimes, she is downright overprotective, which vexes me a little, but I do not have the heart to tell her otherwise. So I rose swiftly and drew her arm through mine.

“Just working over my time, Mother. You know as well as I do that the running of the mill takes the better part of my time. I presume dinner is ready?”

“It is, and Fanny is calling you names for making her wait.”

“By all means, let us not keep her waiting, then.”

 

The Reform of John Thornton – Part One

Chapter One

The day I met Miss Margaret Hale, Fate kicked me in the gut so hard that I was transformed into a man I would come to loathe.

I am John Thornton, manufacturer and magistrate in Milton, Lancashire, and therefore, I speak bluntly. Gentlemanlike manners are no use to me when I have to deal with workers, tradesmen, and the likes, who do not understand civil language should it kick them in the arse.

That day, I was not only speaking my mind in the rudest of ways but I was also swearing at that bloody idiot Stephens for smoking in the weaving shed. I was so livid with rage that I chased him from between the rows of cotton looms to a spot where I could trash him into oblivion. Fire in a cotton mill – as every sane person knows – is highly dangerous. If the cotton waste is set ablaze, nothing can save the mill from burning down to the ground.

Finally, I was able to catch the fool by the collar. “Smokin’ again!” I bellowed. “Where is it?”

I began searching his filthy rags of clothing until I found the pipe, which, of course, he had been smoking on the sly. “Still warm,” I accused, my rage now boiling over. “Stupid idiot!”

It was a relief to swing my fists at him, and with satisfaction, I dealt him a few well-placed blows.

“Look at me!” I commanded. “Look at me!”

“Stop! In God’s name, stop!”

The light voice – barely audible above the din of the machines – did really stop me, although all I wanted to do was to kill Stephens with my bare hands. I jerked around, sweat trickling down my face. The air was knocked from my lungs, as I beheld the most beautiful creature in all the world. Her face was frozen in horror, her mouth partly opened and her eyes – ah, the eyes! – were wide with dismay. I looked at her, paralysed by the sight of such perfect beauty, My raised arm hung high in the air, ready to strike again, but the strength seemed to have left me.

What strange sickness had suddenly overcome me? I felt like a statue, I was unable to breathe. The girl – for she was little more than that – lifted her gaze to capture mine, and now a giant fist squeezed my heart. I could feel the blood drain from my face, until an icy shiver raked my entire body.

“Please, miss, please!” And then I was free again, thanks to Williams’ desperate plea. My trustworthy overseer was trying to pull the girl away, but even as slight as she was, she managed to resist him.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” I barked at her.

“My name is Margaret Hale,” she replied, her eyes blazing with fury.

Williams hastened to enlighten me. “I’m sorry, sir, I told her to stay in the office.”

Again I felt myself sliding into that haze of rage and I cried, “Get her out of here!” But then that little rat Stephens began crawling away from me. I released him but I could not stop myself from kicking him like the rat he is. “Aye, crawl away on your belly and don’t come back here again!”

Stephens was now desperate to escape but he gasped, “Please, sir, I ‘ave little ones!”

“You know the rules!” The rat dared answer me back, devil take it!

“My children will starve, sir,” Stephens sobbed, but I was too far gone to listen.

“Better they starve than burn to death!” I cried, and placed a hard kick in his belly.

“Stop! Stop, please!”

This time, the girl’s voice did not freeze me. I had more than enough of her interferences! I whirled around and snarled at Williams, “Get that woman out of here!” Williams succeeded in his endeavour to remove the girl this time, and she let herself be hauled behind a stack of cotton bales.

All the light seemed to vanish from the weaving shed. My knees buckled, and I had to seek support against the wall. The air seemed laden with some vile stench that clawed at my throat. Cotton fluff added more hardship to my already disturbed breathing. My brain, the part of my body I can always rely on, screamed at me to get the hell out of there.

I began stumbling towards the exit, pain raking through me like a spear. Gasping for breath, I reached the courtyard, and the cool air revived me instantly, when I gasped. It took me several moments to compose myself enough that I could go to the house and climb the stairs to the parlour. My mother keeps a bottle of port on a table near the door, and I splashed a large portion of it in a glass. The sweet, heavy liquid burned a path through my insides, and at last, I could breathe again.

“Why are you imbibing in the middle of the day, John? That is not you. Has something happened at the mill?” Mother’s cool voice inquired.

I took great care to take my glass and stride calmly to the mantelpiece, as was my habit, when I came up from the mill during the day. “Everything is fine, mother,” I said. “Just a restorative glass of port, is all.”

Mother was sitting in her usual spot on the coach beneath the window, darning some old socks of mine. Mother’s hands are never idle, God bless her, but why was she wasting her energy on clothing that was only fit to be thrown away? I took a few steps toward her and gently took the socks out of her hands.

“We are wealthy, Mother. You do not need to do such useless menial tasks. These socks are no longer your concern. Give them to one of the maids, if you want them darned.”

Mother is not easily fooled. She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips but she let go of the socks without protest. “Fortune is as volatile as the smoke from our stacks, John, as you well know. We should be frugal at all times, so that we do not come on hardship once more.”

By now, I had full control over my countenance. “Mother, if you think it best to darn these very old socks in order to preserve me from going bankrupt, then by all means, do it.”

I was rewarded by her beautiful, but rare smile, which she bestows solely on me. The corners of my own lips turned upwards in answer, before I left her to go back to the mill. I sought the relative calm of my office, a cubicle set aside from the weaving shed by crude, wooden boards. Most of the space is occupied by a large desk and some shelves. I let myself down on the hard wooden chair behind the desk, planted my elbows on its surface and covered my face with my hands.

The Reform of John Thornton – Preface

Preface

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 lifted, 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.

 

North & South is in essence Margaret Hale’s story. John Thornton is her love interest as the male lead, but we mostly see Margaret’s views and reactions, in the novel as well as in the film.

I decided it was time to give Thornton the opportunity to explain himself to the full.

 

Writing The Reform of John Thornton was both a joy and a thrill. I can’t aspire to match Mrs Gaskell’s brilliant writing, of course. I will endeavour to use my own style and hope for the best.

As soon as I finished writing, I realised that my story could never be published. I broke too many rules in using Sandy Welsh’s script word for word. Yet it could not be done otherwise and gave me lots of fun.

 

I hope you will enjoy Thornton’s own story and forgive me for giving him that chance.

 

 

 

Lucia Swiers

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Sixty

Chapter Twenty – The Miracle of Life

Around the clock of noon on June 19th 1853, Mrs Eliza Goodyear, nurse and midwife, came into the parlour of the Thornton house, carrying two small bundles, one in each arm. Beaming with pride, she placed them in the lap of John Thornton with a smile.

“Here you are, Mr Thornton! Meet your twin sons! They are a fine example of strong, healthy English babies and you can be proud of your good wife for delivering them in so fine a condition.”

“Margaret! Oh, my God, how is she?”

“As well as can be expected, do not worry. She is sleeping and Dr Chelmsford will soon be here to tell you all about her. For now, look at your babies!”

John’s large hands were trembling when he held his newborn sons. They were so small yet so perfect!

His thumb touched one of the tiny hands and instantly the delicate fingers curled around his with a surprising strength.

“Ouch! But you are quite the muscle man, aren’t you, son,” he whispered, grinning at Nicholas and Hannah, who stood smiling at him, his mother all misty-eyed.

“Oh, you don’t know half of it!”, Mrs Goodyear assured him, “Wait until they open their mouths!”

As if waiting for a sign, both babies began crying their hearts out, the level of noise deafening and very, very shrill!

“Good God!”, John exclaimed, “Is this how it is going to be from now on? May God have mercy on us!”

Hannah now laughed through her tears of joy and reached out for one of the babies. John stood and laid one howling child in Hannah’s arms and the other in the arms of a startled Nicholas.

“Oh, yes, Higgins! I am not going to do this on my own! You are to help me, Granddad! And you too, Granny!,” he joked with an impish smile curling his mouth.

After that, he escaped from the parlour and went to find Margaret in their bedroom. Dr Chelmsford was just checking her pulse and put a finger to his lips when John entered. ‘Five minutes’ he gestured, stood and left.

The sight of his beloved wife resting peacefully brought a lump into John’s throat. He seated himself next to the bed and carefully took her porcelain little hand in his. With anxious eyes roaming over her, he took it all in, her lovely dark brown hair neatly brushed from her still pale face, delicate and precious in its sleep-relaxed state, her breast moving under the intake of breath, the slight curve  of her stomach under the covers where their children had been. He couldn’t keep himself from caressing the alabaster cheeks and the curve of the cherry mouth.

Margaret opened her eyes, saw him and smiled. “John …”

“How are you, my heart? Do you know how much I love you? You have done so marvellously, my love! You have given me two strong, handsome sons for whom we yet have to find names. I was hoping you would have some suggestions?”

Margaret smiled again, so sweetly that John’s heart turned into water.

“I know you have already picked one name, John. Charles Richard, after both of our fathers. I do agree with that but what about the other one?”

John chuckled and squeezed her hand.

“There is no way to keep anything from you, is it not? You are right. Charles Richard Thornton is a good name but which one of them is going to have it?”

“The firstborn, of course! He has a small birthmark on his chest, in the shape of a weaving reel.”

“Really? I never saw that! Remarkable! So our little future weaver is named Charles. Now the other one, any suggestions?”

“Yes … I would like to call him Nicholas Alexander. And … I would like to have Nicholas as his godfather and Dr Donaldson for Charles, if that is alright with you, John?”

John stroked his wife’s face and whispered. “You have been thinking this over very thoroughly, haven’t you, my love? Alright, I agree but what about godmothers?”

“Mother for Charles and Mary for Nicholas. It is really very simple, if you put your mind to it.”

John grinned mischievously, kissed Margaret on the mouth and stood. “Well, I will leave you to rest, darling, and go and inform the godparents-to-be of their future duties. I am looking forward to that in rapt anticipation! Just think of all the money they will have to spend on sugared almonds and silver spoons!”

Margaret burst out into genuinely merry laughter which caused her husband to bend over her and take her into his arms.

“Margaret, you are my heart and soul and I love you more than life itself. Thank you for our boys and thank you for loving me. Life is going to be just marvellous!”

The End

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Nine

Chapter Fifty-Nine– The Agony of a Husband

On that long day in June 1853, Margaret and John Thornton were fighting side-by-side to bring the birth of their twins to a good end. As time went on, John learned to recognize all the signs and proceedings of a confinement and of giving birth.

He could feel the slightest change in Margaret’s body when a contraction was coming, a tiny rippling of her back muscles under his hands. Then he would straighten his own back, harden his own muscles and tighten his grip on her waist, as he sat behind her, legs spread with Margaret between them. When it began, he would support her with all his might, to give her the extra strength needed for the contraction to be as efficient as possible.

This process was going on for long, excruciating hours, so long that John had lost all notion of time. He had seen dawn coming through the windows, where Dixon had forgotten to draw the curtains, busy as she was with bustling from the room to the kitchen in a supply of fresh hot water, hot drinks and food for everybody in attendance.

John could very well tell that Margaret was weakening rapidly now. He literally had to hold her upright during her labour. Yet he never allowed himself to stop encouraging her, firing her up, praising her efforts, telling her he loved her. Margaret’s tears of sheer exhaustion were falling upon his hands and arms and tearing apart his very heart in the process.

Was not this the outcome of his love for her? Had he not been the sole villain in this, by impregnating her? How cruel was this, when a man could enforce this kind of torture onto his wife, solely by loving her? By God, he swore he would find a way to spare Margaret further agony in the future or to die trying to!

 

Margaret had not an ounce of strength left. She felt completely drained, body and mind. Only John’s presence and strength kept her going. John … she was utterly grateful for her husband’s strong body behind her, his capable hands on her waist and his loving voice in her ear.

“Come on, my love. Hold on for just a little while. Doctor says it is not long now. Sweet darling, come on, push, my love, push!”

“I … I cannot … I cannot go on, John, I …”

“Yes, you can! Together, we can, my love! Come on, together with me, now, Margaret!”

It was only John that kept her going, Margaret thought. As long as she heard his voice, she could indeed go on! John, stay with me, John, please, help me!

The doctor’s voice came from somewhere far away.

“Dr Donaldson? Mrs Goodyear? Stand by, if you please … here comes number one! Oh, what a beauty!”

The haze of pain grew to an extremely high peak but, strangely, Margaret found she could endure it somehow. Her body was still fighting, though she did not know how that was possible.

Someone was pressing onto her stomach but her eyes refused to open and see who it was.

“Oh … oh, my God, Margaret! Sweet Jesus, Margaret … oh, oh …”

Was John crying? She could feel him sobbing but could not believe it. John, crying? Impossible!

“Come on, my brave, brave darling, push, PUSH!”

“There is the other one!”, Dr Chelmsford cried, “And what a healthy one it is! Dr Donaldson, take him, please?”

Suddenly the level of pain dropped to almost nothing and Margaret was left shivering with exhaustion and sudden cold.

“Nurse, give me an extra blanket! Here, Mr Thornton, wrap this around her, she is in shock!”

 

John tenderly wrapped his wife into the blanket and climbed out of the bed, helped by the strong hands of his mother. Hannah’s face was wet with tears but her eyes were shining.

“Oh, John! You have two sons! Two healthy sons, is it not, Dr Chelmsford?”

As his knees buckled under the sudden demand of being upright, John took a deep breath and tried to collect his scattered wits.

“Is it true, doctor? Are the children healthy?”

It was Dr Donaldson’s voice that answered. At some point John had noticed that the faithful family doctor had entered the room but he had been too busy with his wife to even greet him.

“Yes, Mr Thornton, I have examined the children and they are very well. Two strong boys they are, a little small as was to be expected, but strong nevertheless. Would you like to see them?”

“In a while, Dr Donaldson, if you please. Dr Chelmsford, how is Margaret?”

The London obstetrician turned to him while he was working on Margaret.

“She is completely exhausted, Mr Thornton, and asleep. The after-birth bleeding does not seem too extreme and I think we must leave her into the competent hands of Mrs Goodyear who will make her as comfortable as possible. I would be obliged if you and Mrs Hannah would leave the room now, so that we can do our jobs.”

“But …but I want to see how Margaret is and …”

At this point, Hannah took hold of her son’s arm and quietly but firmly led him out of the room.

Once outside, John’s knees did really buckle and he would have crashed onto the floor but for the strong, steadying hands of Nicholas Higgins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Eight – The Curse of Eve

 

John Thornton had weathered many bad spells in his life. Some of them – like when Marlborough Mills went bankrupt – could even be called horrible. On the whole his life had never been easy and he was fairly sure he could bear far more than any other man. Yet, what he was forced to undergo in the days that followed Margaret’s first pains of childbirth, nearly did him in.

How he ever survived those hellish days, he never knew.

During that first night, Margaret felt only four painful spasms. Although she managed – with John’s help – to breathe in the required way, her anxiety prevented her from sleeping between spells.

This was the time, her time. It was all or nothing. No matter what would happen in the next hours, or days, she would be in the centre of it. She stood on the verge of fighting the most important battle of her life and she was terrified!

Margaret wasn’t really asleep, she was just dozing off into a state of numbness. John, perched on the edge of a chair next to their bed, was watching her with growing anxiety. Lord! How long was this going to take?

The night had drifted into dawn and Nurse Goodyear had just examined Margaret’s progress. The cervix had barely dilated from the three inches it had the last time she checked. There was no progress! Even though the contractions – John had to force himself to call them so – followed each other a bit more frequently, the cervix did not open further.

Where was that damned fellow Chelmsford? Why wasn’t he here yet?

“John?”

He looked up to find his mother beside him. She blanched and he did not understand why but his brain was too befuddled to make an effort.

“John, go and lie down. You cannot help her and she needs to regain her strength before the next contraction starts. I will stay here, go!”

Margaret moaned as the pain rushed through her, fiercer now and much longer. She clasped the hands that were holding her, tears running down her cheeks. Her body ached all over and rivers of sweat trickled over her breasts and thighs.

“Margaret, breathe! Now, Margaret! Small puffs, quick and shallow, come on, do it, Margaret!”

When she opened her eyes to the forceful voice of Hannah, barking out the words, Margaret felt immensely relieved to have her near.

“Oh, Mother! I am so glad you are here!” Pain cut her off and she puffed, just like Hannah told her to. It helped … a bit.

“Very good, Mrs Thornton!”That was Eliza’s voice. Now Margaret was no longer so scared. She had two very competent women to help her.

Of course John could not sleep. He was lying on the couch in the parlour, ears pricked to the sounds coming from the bedroom, heart pounding with fear for what might be going on there. Suddenly he sat up and covered his face. It was no use, he was eaten up by sheer fear! It gnawed at him like a wild animal. It tore him apart and ripped the flesh from his very soul!

A cry from Margaret had him on his feet and into the bedroom. His wife was half sitting, half lying against the stack of pillows in their bed. The covers were thrown back, revealing her spread legs and raised knees. On both sides of her, his mother and the nurse were supporting her through yet another attack of pain as she arched away from the mattress. Then Nurse Goodyear took sight of him.

“Mr Thornton, will you please leave the room immediately? This is not your place!”

“Curse it! I will not go! I cannot leave her alone now! Tell me what to do, for God’s sake, woman!”

A deep voice from the doorway cut through his speech.

“You can climb into that bed behind her and support her with your body, mister! And for the rest, you can just shut up or I will remove you from the room myself!”

Dr Mortimer Chelmsford had finally arrived.

 

She was now one large mass of fierce, hot pain, eating at her, tearing her apart, killing her slowly but unstoppably. She had lost all control. There was nothing she could do except to undergo it, to let it engulf her and to try to survive. A lot of voices were humming around her but she could not make out what they were saying any longer. However, there was one familiar voice that managed to penetrate the haze of red hot pain. It came from somewhere behind her where a warm, hard presence was holding her, supporting her, carrying her through the fiery waves. She clung to that voice with every fibre of her weakening body.

“Very good, my darling, my sweet, brave love, very good. Breathe, my love, breathe, in and out, slowly, deeply, in and out. I am here, my darling, do not be afraid, I am here, with you.”

John! It was John! Oh, sweet Mother of God, thank you!

 

Five people were stubbornly and tirelessly working together to help Margaret Hale Thornton giving birth to her babies.

There was Dixon, sponging her sweat-streaked face. There was Hannah, offering her hand and arm so that Margaret might cling to them when a contraction set in. There was Eliza, watching the doctor’s every move and word, so that she might do what he asked for. There was Mortimer Chelmsford at the foot of the bed, checking Margaret’s progress after each pain wave and listening to her heartbeat and that of the babies.

Finally, there was her husband John, sitting behind his wife, legs spread to steady himself and hands firmly on her lower back to give her his extra strength when the pain hit her. Indefatigably, he talked to her, encouraging her with his steadying voice. As far as he was concerned, John was taking no risks at all to let anything go wrong in this!

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Seven

Chapter Fifty-Seven – Torn Between Fear and Joy

Near the half of June 1853, Margaret found herself growing more and more restless every day.

She was now huge and experienced great discomfort from her pregnancy, although the babies seemed healthy enough. They were very active, especially when she tried to rest or sleep. Even John marvelled about the force of his unborn children when he laid his hand on Margaret’s stomach.

“My poor darling,” he said, one night when he helped Margaret to go to the bathroom for the fourth time that night, “how I wish I could relieve your suffering! I cannot imagine how the weight of the children must burden you.”

He plumped up her pillows and helped her back into bed. “Now, how many weeks to go?”

Margaret gave a deep, heartfelt sigh. “Theoretically three and a half weeks. But I fervently wish it to be less!”

“You know what the doctor said, darling. The longer you carry them, the stronger they will be.”

“Yes, you are right, John. It was very selfish of me to wish for the birth to begin.”

“Come, my love. Close your eyes and sleep now. You need to rest.”

Her head resting upon John’s breast, while lying on her side with one leg drawn up and the other stretched out – a position she found very comfortable – Margaret soon found sleep.

John, on the other hand, worried, as usual. He watched Margaret grow more tired every day and of lower spirits. Lord, but to have to carry two babies, large, heavy babies, for that matter, must be torture for his fragile, slender wife.

John Thornton had always been a fighter. Problems might arouse but they had to be dealt with. He was going to make absolutely sure Margaret was being taken care of as completely as could be.

Therefore he wrote a letter to Dr Mortimer Chelmsford, obstetrician in London, and invited him to come and live at the Thornton home so as to be ready at hand when Margaret would go into labour.

Dr Chelmsford , who was a busy man with a blooming practice, promised to come to Milton during the last week of June or, should labour start sooner, travel post haste to be with her. For now, he sent his most skilled midwife to cover for him until he would arrive.

Mrs Eliza Goodyear arrived duly on the 20th of June from London. She was a widow whose husband died of pneumonia ten years ago, leaving her without money. Dr Chelmsford, who was looking for a housekeeper took her on and discovered very soon that Mrs Goodyear was better suited to care for the sick than for sweeping and cooking. He provided her with the money to take a proper training so that she could go and offer her services wherever they were needed.

Margaret was immediately drawn to the lively and cheerful woman of thirty-five.

Eliza Goodyear had soon organized Margaret’s days into long periods of rest and short intervals of sitting up on the parlour couch. C & J, Margaret’s faithful chair bearers were banned from the house, at least as far the wheelchair was concerned. No more outings, Eliza said, no more tiring distractions.

That was a good thing for one night at the dinner table where she was taking her evening meal in the company of John, Margaret suddenly felt a gnawing pain in her lower back. She gasped, startling John into action.

“Love, what is the matter? Are you unwell? Talk to me, Margaret, please?”

At that moment the pain was expanding, circling her waist like a belt and growing stronger by the second. Margaret clasped John’s hand with closed eyes, unable to breathe.

“Dixon! Mrs Goodyear! Somebody, help!,” John bellowed in helpless rage.

It was Dixon who was first on the spot but this was so clearly beyond her usual skills that John was relieved when Eliza Goodyear entered the room. She took matters in hand with a comforting  confidence.

“Mr Thornton, sir, help her up. Come on, Mrs Thornton, we must get you to your bed.”

John, in his usual brisk manner, shoved her aside and scooped up his wife as if she weighed nothing. Eliza Goodyear’s eyes widened in admiring surprise seeing how strong he was. Between the two of them, they soon had Margaret in bed.

“Mrs Thornton, I want you to lie on your side in, as I told you, was the position of relax. Very well, that is it. Now, breathe, exactly the way I taught you to, deep long intakes that go all the way down to your stomach. Then, hold your breath for ten seconds and release it very slowly. Yes, that is good.”

She turned towards John. “Mr Thornton, you must see that she does this every time the pain starts. It is her body preparing for birth. The womb, which is in fact no more than a very strong muscle, is in great need of oxygen. That is the reason for the elaborated breathing process. You, sir, must help her to breathe instead of clamping up, like she did just now. Can I trust you with this? Can you do this?”

John shot the nurse a very grim but determined look. “Of course I can! Do you think me a weakling?” He turned to Margaret, kneeled by the bed and started working on her breathing along with her.

Eliza Goodyear smiled in satisfaction and left the room, feeling reassured about John Thornton’s utter commitment and cooperation.

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Five – Most Cherished List Item: the Babies

“If I do not survive this, then you must not grieve me forever, John.”

John, on hearing those soft-spoken words, found himself prey to many different feelings, of which rage was the most powerful. “Margaret, no! I forbid you to speak like that!”

The cheer vibrant fury in John’s voice startled Margaret. Her eyes grew moist and she pressed his hand strongly.

“John, John, forgive me, I did not mean …”

But John turned her so that she now faced him.

“Margaret Hale Thornton, do not ever say such a thing again or I … I … oh, I do not know what I will do but … Lord, Margaret! We cannot even think of you not being here to raise our children together with me!”

“John, I’m sorry. I … I had a moment of weakness and it will never occur again, my darling. I am sure that I can succeed in this with you by my side.”

“Exactly, you are not alone, my darling. I will be there every step of the way. Now, you must rest. Come, let me help you to get comfortable.”

Long after her husband had fallen asleep, Margaret lay awake, staring at the silver rectangle of the window. She was really afraid of the ordeal awaiting her. The pregnancy was beginning to wear her down, more so than she would have liked and not only physically.

 

“Margaret?”

John came bursting through the parlour door, a huge grin on his handsome face and blue eyes shining with pleasure. Behind him, Margaret could see the figure of another man, a tradesman by the look of it.

“Darling, this is Mr Topplewaite. He runs a furniture shop in one of Milton’s finest neighbourhoods. I asked him to come and show you some of the drawings of the furniture he has in the shop. Nursery furniture, that is!”

“Oh!” Margaret’s face flushed with pleasure. She had been worrying about the nursery for some time now.  Hannah showed her the room when Margaret’s pregnancy was certain and the mother-to-be hadn’t been happy with it. Situated on the top floor of the house, it was a gloomy, oppressive place and too far away from their own bedroom, to Margaret’s taste. Thus, she was relieved to see John take this problem out of her hands.

“Now,” John said, “Crispin, Justin, take your places. Come, darling, fasten your seatbelt. Here, let me help you.”

Margaret had to fight herself not to ruffle her husband’s black hair while he kneeled before her to help with the belt. Dear, sweet John …

C & J wheeled her chair, not toward the stairs, but to their bedroom door and then beyond, to the room John occupied before their marriage.

“John, what is this? I don’t understand …”

“This,” John said as he threw open the door, “is to be the nursery. Look what I have done with the place.”

Margaret’s chair rolled into the room and she gasped with surprise. The whole space had been cleared, the wallpaper had been stripped, the carpets removed, the curtains unhooked. What had been John’s former bachelor room, upholstered with the appropriate subdued browns and dark greens, was now a spacious, light and airy children’s room. The wall were a soft sky blue, the ceiling pure white and the floor had been decked with new boards, painted in dove grey and polished to a gleam. The windows were hung with dark blue velvet curtains from top to bottom.

“Mr Topplewaite, do your magic, if you please? Margaret, you are to assist Mr Topplewaite and choose the right furnishings. When you are ready, Mr Topplewaite, I would be obliged to you if you would step into my office, later? Thank you.”

With that the Master left the room, still grinning with delight.

Margaret spent the next two hours choosing two cots, two small wardrobes, a large chest-of-drawers with a marble top, destined for the babies’ toilette, and a comfortable rocking chair. She picked out a small bath tub and a few stuffed animals and toys. Also needed was a bed, wardrobe and dressing table for the nursery maid – and, Good Lord, she had yet to find one!

This pleasant chore finished, the four of them were sipping at a much needed cup of tea, when Hanna and Nicholas came in. They had been overseeing the work going on in their new house and were glad to drink a cup too.

“What do you say, chaps?”, he grinned at the men present, “How about something a bit stronger to accompany the tea? I myself could stomach a brandy!”

The other three eagerly nodded in agreement and Hannah pointed at the sherry bottle.

Margaret and Mr Topplewaite then began explaining what they had been up to and the newcomers examined and approved of it all.

After tea, Mr Topplewaite and the two men excused themselves and Margaret told Hannah and Nicholas about her wanting to find a nursemaid.

“You know, Margaret,” Nicholas said, “I might have just the lass for you.”

“Oh?”, Margaret asked, smiling at him.

“Yes, her name is Letty Monroe and she is Mary’s cousin. Her father is my late wife’s brother.

Letty is … well, she had an accident when she was ten, lost a foot at Henderson’s mill. As a result, she cannot work in a shed any more. When she has to stand on that leg, despite the wooden foot, she tires easily. But, Margaret, she is a bright girl, taught herself to read and write and she is awfully good at drawing. You should see her drawings.”

Margaret kept her face bland but she was having doubts about Letty Monroe. A poor girl from the worker’s class was not what she had in mind as a nanny for her children. Yet, she agreed to receive the girl the next day and talk to her.

 

 

“So, you have found yourself a nanny, then?,” John asked, that night. He had just helped his wife into bed and was now undressing himself.

“I don’t know, John, I have to see her first. I confess I am a bit apprehensive. She is an uneducated girl, John, and she has a wooden foot, Nicholas said. She lost a foot in an accident at Henderson’s, as a child.”

John retrieved his shirt and asked. “When was this? I seem to recall something of the kind, five or six years ago.”

“I do not know. Nicholas is sending her here tomorrow.”

Hearing the sound of doubt in Margaret’s voice, her husband was surprised.

“Margaret, what is this? You seem … somehow prejudiced against this girl! That is not like you! Normally, you have no qualms about members of the working class.”

Margaret bowed her head in a sudden consternation. “Oh, I’m sorry, John, it’s just that …”

She looked up at him, tears in her beautiful eyes. Her voice was very small when she whispered. “I’m so afraid, John, I’m terrified …”

With a grunt of deep concern, John took his wife into his arms and hugged her.

“Margaret, my love, do not lose heart? I’ll move heaven and earth to help and protect you. I promise you that everything will be alright. I will not leave your side, Margaret! You and I, we will bring this baby business to a good end.”

But, Margaret was softly sobbing, her face hidden into his shoulder and, not for the first time, John Thornton, strong man that he was, had dire forebodings about the weeks to come.

 

 

Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-One – Taking Care of Margaret

“Concern? Margaret, sweetheart, are you alright? Is something amiss with the baby?”

Blue eyes full of alarm, John dropped onto his knees in front of Margaret. Since the beginning of her pregnancy, he had doubts and fears about it, although he had recently begun to relax because she seemed fine and healthy. Margaret hastened to reassure him.

“No, no, do not panic, John! I’m fine, really, I am. It’s just …”

She took his face into her hands and brushed the tumbled black locks back from his furrowed brow.

“I’m carrying twins, John. That is why I’m so heavy and so easily tired.”

Dumbfounded and aghast, John stared at his wife. He felt like he had just received a kick in the stomach and a feeling of absolute terror began rising in his chest.

“Oh, Margaret,” he whispered hoarsely, “I do not know what to say. This is … this cannot be true?”

He placed his hand on Margaret’s heavily swollen belly which immediately caused a reaction from his offspring. John startled, realising in overwhelming fear that there were now two of them inside his wife’s delicate body.

“John, my darling John, look at me. It is true and we must deal with it. I went to see Dr Chelmsford when I was in London. He told me the pregnancy would only grow more difficult but I have a fairly good chance of carrying the babies closer to full term if I were to take enough rest. I will probably go into premature labour so I must try and hold on as long as I can.” She smiled at him, a very wavering little smile which pierced John’s heart.

“But … but what about the delivery, sweetheart? Won’t it be … dangerous? Will the babies survive? Margaret … will you? Oh, Margaret!”

He couldn’t help himself but buried his face into her lap. Strong man though he was, he couldn’t suppress the huge wave of crushing fear raging through his heart and soul. It lasted only a few seconds and then John raised his head again and stood.

“Come, my love,” he said,” let’s get you to bed.”

When Margaret was safely settled against the pillows, John prepared himself for bed and joined her. Letting her body rest against his own, he gently stroked her hair.

“My brave, beautiful Margaret,” he said solemnly, “I promise you I will do everything that is in my power to assist and comfort you. We will weather this, my darling, together we will prevail.”

 

By the evening of the next day, all the rest of Milton and Marlborough Mills seemed to know that young Mrs Thornton was expecting twins and the Master himself was in a fit state of raging fear about it.

Everywhere he so much as showed his face, people were grinning knowingly at him or clapping him on the back with a well-meant word of congratulation. John stomped into the parlour of his house around eight pm to find his mother, Nicholas, Mary, Dixon and even Donaldson there but not his wife. They were all fixing him with a determined gaze.

Hannah rose swiftly to lay a soothing hand upon his arm.

“Before you ask, John, Margaret is resting and absolutely fine. Now, come and sit down. We have things to discuss.”

Nicholas pressed a whisky into his hands and pushed him gently on one of the settees.

“John,” he said in a efficient tone, “we need a plan, a strategy to bring this baby business to a good end. If I know your Margaret – and I think I do – she is not going to sit still and wait for the birth just like that. Besides, it will just make her unhappy and nervous and that cannot be good for the babies. It is therefore of vital importance that we keep her happy and relaxed.”

John took a large swig of his whisky and replied wearily, “And how the devil are you going to pull this off? She’ll want to do her work at the infirmary and she’ll be running around helping strays and … Oh, God, she’ll drive me over the edge!”

“John Thornton!”, his mother said sternly, “Stop this at once! This panicking will bring you nowhere and it is very bad for Margaret too. Listen to what Nicholas has to say.”

They were right, of course. It was just that whenever he thought of Margaret and the babies – oh, God, the babies! – his mind seemed to go haywire and he found himself unable to think clearly. He took a deep, steadying breath and concentrated upon Nicholas.

“From now on,” Higgins began, “we are all on a mission. It is called ‘Operation Twins’.”

He drew a paper out of the breast pocket of his rumpled suit. Nicholas still had not grown accustomed to fine and fancy clothes, John thought, inwardly smiling. On the paper was a list which contained the following items:

 

Operation Twins – Presumed Achievement Date: July 2, 1853

 

  1. Adjustment of Time: the children’s birth can occur in the weeks preceding this date.

Measurements To Be Taken: to keep a vigilant eye on Margaret from this day on.

 

  1. Handling the next months of pregnancy:

Most Important Issue: to force Margaret to rest.

Measurements To Be Taken: make sure all her points of interest are being taken care of.

 

  1. Margaret’s Points of Interest:

– John

– The Housekeeping

– The Infirmary

– The Wedding of Hannah and Nicholas

– The Delivery of the Babies

– The Care of the Babies

 

  1. Division of Tasks and Responsibilities:

 

The Housekeeping – Miss Adelaide Dixon

From now on, Miss Dixon will take over the general management of the Thornton’s housekeeping and keep at this until Margaret is well again after the babies’ birth.

 

The Infirmary – Miss Mary Higgins

From now on, Miss Higgins will take over the total responsibility over the working of the Infirmary in close consultation with Dr Donaldson and his staff. The next primary goal here is to establish a proper hospital ward in the vicinity of Marlborough Mills. An additional planning meeting about this issue is to be held in the near future in the presence of Margaret.

 

The Wedding of Hannah and Nicholas – the two individuals concerned

Wedding date: June, 2d 1853.

No one else is allowed to have a say in this matter but the two people who are directly concerned.

 

The Delivery of the Babies – Dr Abraham Donaldson

Due to the special difficulties of twin sibling birth, Dr Donaldson will ask for the assistance of Dr Mortimer Chelmsford of Harley Street, London. In his capacity of experienced obstetrician this gentleman is best placed to bring the matter to success. Mr John Thornton will therefore officially request the London doctor to come and stay in Milton as soon as possible.

 

The Care of the Babies – General Supervision: Mrs Hannah (soon to be Higgins) Thornton

The former will urgently proceed in hiring a nurse, for the care of Margaret during and after the delivery, and a nanny, for the care of the babies. She will also assist Margaret in establishing a proper nursery.

She will also go in search of a wet nurse to help Margaret with the feeding of the babies once they are born.

 

John – himself

 

               John did not know whether to burst into helpless laughter or into a righteous rage over this preposterous bit of paper. He turned to his friend with the most dark scowl he could muster and asked in a cold, accusing tone.

              “And what, Mr Nicholas Higgins, is there on this list that you want ME to do?”

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