Monday, March 10, 2014

Return to Milton - Mr. Thornton's New Wife


Mr. Thornton’s New Wife

Every theory of love, from Plato down, teaches that each individual loves in the other sex what he lacks in himself. - G. Stanley Hall

 

Mrs. Hannah Thornton sat in her candle lit dining room with a table linen laid out before her. She held the corner of the linen in her left hand and a needle in her right fingers. Slowly she caressed the initials “G.H.T” and reflected on her earlier years when she had first put the initials in the linen, after her marriage to Mr. Gordon Thornton. She had been debating whether or not to remove them recently when John had proposed to Miss Hale. Now she debated removing them in order to sell the linens, should they need to settle debts owed for John’s business.

John had worked so hard to bring up his family to their current status in Milton society. After his father’s death, John had left school and gone to work to provide an income for his mother and sister. With his mother’s frugal assistance, John had saved enough money to go into business in the cotton milling industry and soon bought equipment and hired workers. Eventually the profits flowed and the Thornton’s had been able to rent the factory and residence above. Now it was all gone, due in part to the untimely occurrence of the strikes.

As Mrs. Thornton sat there she knew that whatever may come from their current situation, her son would once again pull himself up and take care of her. She may have to go live with her daughter, Mrs. Watson, for a while - that was the least of her worries. How fortunately had Miss Hale benefitted from her father’s relationship with Mr. Bell? To be named the sole heir of his property and wealth; leaving her the factory as part of her new inheritance. As Mr. Bell had promised, Miss Hale did not interfere as the new landlord and when things were all said and done, she had the gull to come to Milton looking for John.

The sound of the stairway door closing and front room floor boards creaking brought Mrs. Thornton back to the present and she hoped it was John returned from who knows where. “John is that you?”

“Yes, mother it is me,” he answered as he moved towards the archway between the front room and the dining room.

“Are you well?” Mrs. Thornton turned in her chair to face her son, who stood tall and proud before her

“Yes, mother quite. I needed a day or two to clear my head.” He replied, but didn’t budge from where he stood.

“Where did you go?”

“I went to Helstone. Mr. Hale and Miss Hale had so talked about the area I felt I needed to see it.” John looked at the floor boards in front of him with a faint smile on his lips.

“Funny, you go to Helstone and Miss Hale comes looking for you here!” Mrs. Thornton stood now, placing the sewing on the table and rounded her chair towards where her son stood.

“She came here…”

John could not finish before his mother interrupted, “Yes, she did! I thought she had come to see your misfortune, but she was rather upset about it. Instead she said that she wanted to talk to you about a business investment. Can you believe that? She thinks herself a woman of business now, after a short time in Milton!”

John could hear the conflict in his mother’s voice that Miss Hale’s actions had created. He answered her to the point now, “I know all about it mother.”

“You do?” Mrs. Thornton was surprised by her son’s comment on the visit. He must have run into one of the other mill owners on the way home. Gossip spreads so fast these days, by now the whole town must be talking about Miss Hale’s visit to Marlborough Mill. She stood next to her son now, “Then what will you decide to do?”

“I have decided to accept Miss Hale’s offer to invest in Marlborough Mills. I have also made her a counter proposal.”

John’s statement made Mrs. Thornton recoil slightly as she looked John directly in the eye she replied, “A counter proposal?”

“Yes, I have asked her to be my wife.” He stated it as calmly as he could and turned slightly towards the stairway door. “Miss Hale and I had a chance meeting. She made her business proposal known to me at that time and her hidden feelings for me were also revealed. Let us say for Miss Hale’s honor, that I made it clear what my terms toward her were and I renewed my earlier offer of marriage.”

“But what of her indiscretion at the Milton station! Does she not show affection to another man?” The look of disbelief and vileness that his mother displayed now, gripped John’s heart. It was time to clear the air of mislead acquisitions.

John broke his stern resolve and grinned slightly as he responded, “Yes, I would hope she does show the other man her affection! She would not be a good sister otherwise, now would she mother?”

“What!?” it took a moment for John’s meaning to sink in. “Are you saying it was a brother that she was seen with?”

“Indeed, Miss Hale’s brother had come from Spain, secretly, to be there for their ill mother. He had to leave quickly and return to Spain and his own family there.”

The new revelation of this information stunned Mrs. Thornton and blinded all thoughts that she was rehashing regarding Miss Hale, “I did not realize there was a brother…there was never any mention…”

“…I know mother, I was as much in the dark as you. Mr. Hale made no mention of it to me either. However, I eventually learned the truth and Miss Hale’s honor was indeed intact. I had to know what her true feelings were for me and I sought to reconcile this matter as quickly as possible.”

“Did she accept you, Even though you stood before her penniless?”

“She did mother and she now waits in the stairway to be presented before you. She is everything to me mother and has saved Marlborough Mills in this dark time. I expect your kindness and to be as much a mother to her, as you have been to Fanny and me. However, if you find it too difficult a task to resolve your views of Miss Hale and start your relationship afresh with her, then I suggest you live with Mrs. Watson until the time that you can find it in your heart to do so.”

That was it then, John had laid down his decision and expectations. He was always strong-willed and never so more than now. Mrs. Thornton took a deep breath and began, “Then let me meet my soon to be daughter, you shan’t keep her waiting in the stairway.”

“Very well mother!” John turned quickly and went to the door. Miss Hale was on the stairway landing, standing behind the banister, along the hall that led to the adjacent bedrooms. He smiled and held out his hand beckoning her to come into the front reception room.

Margaret had heard little of the discussion between mother and son. She honestly did not wish to hear what might be said against her. So she had barely made out the notice about Fredrick and him being her brother, but she had most definitely understood the final decree put forth by Mr. Thornton to his mother. She therefore moved forward with a timid air about her.

Margaret lightly took the hand offered to her and slid by Mr. Thornton through the open door and walked cautiously to the middle of the front reception room. She glanced up at Mrs. Thornton carefully and read the set look upon her face. Margaret immediately looked back towards John as he moved to stand by her side.

Margaret spoke softly, but from her heart, “Mrs. Thornton, I do hope that you and I can mend our differences. I hope that I may prove to you how much I have come to love your son, as you do, and that I will try to be a good and honest daughter to you.”

Mrs. Thornton could see Margaret’s humility in the present situation. She knew now that she had been wrong in scolding Margaret about her indiscretions and that Margaret had been in the right to defend herself from the verbal assault. However, Margaret would have to make changes in her present character and approach to the Thornton’s business now that she was to become part of their family. Therefore, who better to guide her than the woman chosen by Margaret’s own mother to do so and, with that in mind, Mrs. Thornton took a deep breath and moved towards Margaret.

Mrs. Thornton held out her hand and Margaret recognized in this gesture the significant step they were both about to take. Margaret took Mrs. Thornton’s hand in both her own and without words, nodded her head in agreement to the unspoken pact that had just been offered to her. Suddenly, without warning Mrs. Thornton smiled and with her other hand touched Margaret’s cheek saying, “The minute I saw you, I knew you would steal my John’s heart away. Little did I think about the beautiful and thoughtful daughter I would be gaining in exchange; welcome to our home!”

John silently stepped behind Margaret and placed his hands upon her waist and back, as she still held Mrs. Thornton’s hand. “How lucky a man I am to have both women I love under one roof together!”

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