. . . Continued. The final chapter of Thornton Hall.
The afternoon had gone beautifully. The gown Mrs. Thornton had chosen for Margaret was lovely and set off her features to John’s great delight. But now everyone was gone. John’s mother had retired to her suite of rooms and the newlyweds were alone.
John put his arms around Margaret and gently pull her into a light embrace. He kissed her eyes and her nose and then her lips. They broke apart laughing.
Margaret was excited, anticipating the rest of the evening and also a little frightened. She had no experience pleasing a man and she desperately wanted to please John. The object of her thoughts simply took his new wife’s hand and started upstairs. He had his own suite of rooms on the far side of the house. Their suite of rooms. Margaret smiled.
When they reach the bedroom, Margaret was amazed at the size. She hadn’t thought it would be so beautifully decorated. Something else she was learning about her husband, he had good taste.
John Thornton pulled his new bride into his arms. He could feel her heart beating quickly. “I will be gentle my love.” Margaret Thornton drew back slightly, she raised her head, her voice catching in her throat. “I, I want you to . . . I . . . “. She didn’t need to finish her sentence. John cupped her face in his hands and pulled her into a deep kiss. Passionate and longing and she returned it.
Much later she could hear John snoring ever so quietly, his body in complete repose. Margaret lay awake, thinking. She smiled; her body ached in all the right places. She glanced over at her husband and gently reached out to touch his shoulder. He was real.
Eventually the house moved into an easy routine. The original Mrs. Thornton still ran the household, John got up early most days and went into the Mill where he spent much of his time. Margaret discovered that she had a talent for organization so, with John’s blessing, she helped Mary organize their Communal Kitchen. A place where the workers could eat a decent meal together. Fees needed to be collected from the workers and product needed to be ordered for the kitchen. Margaret came home to John every night with tales of the workers and satisfaction in her voice. The Mill prospered. It was a good life. The kitchen was making money because John was taking none of it. It was for the workers and by the workers. They were doing so well they were able to buy a small farm that allowed them to provide their own meat.
And before long Margaret learned she was with child. His child. There was a new life breathed into the old home. Margaret would catch John watching her from across the room with such intensity, such longing. He always seemed to have a slight curve to his lips. A gentle smile that she found so incredibly sweet. As the weather became colder and it started to snow, John suggested that she no longer go to the Communal Kitchen but that the cook Mary come to her with any documentation that needed to be taken care of. John could be quite insistent when he was being protective.
Margaret felt blessed. She didn’t feel ill or at least not often but as her weight increased, she did begin to feel awkward. Their lovemaking became more tender, more loving. Even Hannah Thornton seemed to smile more and often when looking at Margaret. She was content, mostly. She desperately wanted to see her brother Frederick but that was impossible, he lived so far away. John thought that they might take some time and travel to Spain in the spring but with the baby, that was now impossible. So, she did the next best thing and wrote him a long and loving letter. She would see him again.
After several days of dismal clouds, the sun burst through the heavens and the air became warm with a hint of spring. Margaret thought it was a perfect day for a walk and she could mail her letter to Frederick. She knew John would not approve so she waited until he had gone to the Mill. With a new sense of energy Margaret tossed on her warm coat and headed out of Thornton Hall.
She carefully navigated the stonework underneath her feet. Keeping her head down also prevented anyone from seeing her face. She was sure that if she was seen, someone would tell John, the Master. Once outside the gate Margaret lifted her face to the sun. The warmth was intoxicating! Smiling she continued on her short walk and mailed her letter. As she turned to begin the walk back to the Hall her foot slipped. In different circumstances she might have been able to recover but her body was awkward with pregnancy and she fell, hard. Fortunately, a worker had seen her and recognized her. He sounded the alarm and several hands lifted her and brought her back to Thornton Hall. One man was sent at a run to inform the Master while another was sent to retrieve the doctor.
Only a few moments after Margaret had been laid on her own bed, the Master burst through the door. He no longer looked the part. He was a husband and father on the edge of panic. His mother quickly came to his side.
“The doctor has been called and for the moment she’s fine. She has not woken up. What was she doing outside?”
John couldn’t speak. He held the hand of his beloved and prayed.
Before too much time had passed, the doctor arrived and he proceeded to force John out of the room. With an intensity born from years of experience he examined his patient. Hannah Thornton looked on with concern. She hadn’t always liked the young woman in front of her but she had come to respect her.
Nicholas Higgins arrived on the scene and took charge of John. “You cannot be here Master, come away. Come away with me.” As if he were leading a small child, Nicholas took his Master downstairs. He found him something alcoholic to drink and made him sit. Mrs. Thornton had summoned him with strict instructions to keep John away from the birthing room.
Having a child in the mid-1800s was never a sure thing. Many women died in childbirth as did many children. Hannah was not going to allow her son to witness such an event. She rolled up her sleeves and assisted the doctor.
Several hours later Hannah entered the parlour with her arms wrapped around a small blanket. Without saying a word, she gently placed the blanket in her son’s arms. She glanced at Nicholas and shook her head. The ordeal was not over. John seemed to come awake as he looked into the eyes of his daughter. She in turn decided to howl at the indignity of being born. John was smitten. He raised this small child and kissed her forehead. Then he looked at Nicholas.
Several young women had been hired to care for the child. She would need constant care. Especially now. When John was no longer anchored by his small child, he stood up and began to pace again. Nicholas could do nothing to ease his Master’s pain. He could only stand by and watch. What John didn’t know was that Margaret had become important to the workers, the kitchen staff, the porters, all those people that worked at Marlborough Mills. Never before had the wife of a Master shown such concern for the people that worked for him. The Master had also shown a different side. It showed that he cared. So the people in the Mill prayed.
The once handsome face of John Thornton was drawn and haggard. He refused to eat or to drink, all he did was pace. Nicholas had stood his ground anytime John had tried to go to his wife. It wasn’t easy. The day had become night and then day again. John was perched on a chair with his head in his hands.
“She’s alive.” The voice broke through the fog that had encased John’s mind. It was the doctor, he leapt to his feet and brushed past Nicholas. The doctor put out his hand as John left the room, “It’s all right she’s going to be fine. She’s just very weak right now. Perhaps the best thing for her is to see her husband and then her child.” He pointed to Nicholas, “ You should get some rest and something to eat. You look as bad as Mr. Thornton.”
The next few days were difficult. Margaret was very weak and John refused to leave her side until he was forced to by his mother. Nicholas took over the running of the Mill and while things were not normal, everything was getting done. There was an air of sombre anticipation as people waited for news of the Mistress. They prayed it would be good news.
And it was. Each day Margaret grew stronger. John became less haunted and the young child received her name.
“I would like her name to be Elizabeth but at home we will call her Bessie. Do you like that John?”
“Bessie was the name of Higgins daughter, the one that died. I remember her.”
“She was my first friend in Milton and she liked you. She thought I should like you too.”
John smiled. He was looking less like the panicked husband and more like the Master. He knew he had to get back to work. But it was difficult to leave. He was amazed at the transformation of his mother. She seemed to enjoy being a grandmother. He was also quite sure that she had been instrumental in helping to save his wife. When questioned, the doctor had simply smiled.
Time seemed to fly by. Margaret was once again her old self and back in the Communal Kitchen. Tiny Elizabeth became the darling of the Mill. She was a precocious child and intensely curious. The millworkers loved her. They were happy.
As the years moved on, the Mill prospered even more. And with it the town of Milton. John and Margaret grew even more in love as the years went by. Their daughter grew up to be a lovely young woman with her mother’s spirit and her father’s tenacity. She married a lawyer and moved to London but she visited Milton often. Hannah lived to see her grandchild grow but she grew tired and one day she didn’t wake up.
John too became tired and looked forward to relaxing with his beloved in a small cottage near the Mill. Nicholas Higgins had become his right hand man over the years and he turned the Mill over to him. Nicholas became the Master. His daughter Mary became a successful cook. She ran kitchens for several Mills and trained young girls to work in them.
In time the Mills evolved just as John said they would. But he had left a legacy of decency and integrity that was never forgotten.