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Mistaken

Dearest Loveliest Meg

Mr Thornton Takes A Wife

 

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WildNEW! - Every Tuesday I will post a story!

 

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After I Married Mr Rochester

 

One of the most beautiful novels is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

The 2006 BBC version starring Toby Stephens as Rochester and Ruth Wilson as Jane made a strong impression on me. I decided to write my own fan fiction about what happened after Jane married Rochester.

Thanks for reading me!

After I Married Mr Rochester

The Lost Northbound Train

Chapter One - Stepping Into The Great Unknown

 

So it had happened.

They were finally going home. Just an hour ago, home had meant Milton, and Marlborough Mills. John Thornton had never known a better home than the one his mother Hannah created for him and his sister Fanny. The many responsibilities in his busy life as a cotton manufacturer had been adequately balanced by Hannah, who reigned his household with quiet efficiency.

Now – just an hour ago – John discovered that Margaret had finally come to love him, the way he had loved her for three, long, and lonely years. They had met on a train station platform and kissed.

All this time, John Thornton had loved Margaret Hale, but she had first been repulsed by his harsh ways and flaring temper. To his shame and fury, she had rejected his marriage proposal. He had tried to convince himself that his foolish passion for her was gone, ever since, but he had failed, of course. He had and would always love Margaret and now, they were finally together, on their way to Milton, to begin their live as a newly betrothed and soon to be married couple. The bliss of that moment still sang in his blood, while he stared out of the train window and watched the green, lush English countryside glide by.

                When the train rather abruptly came to a stop, John Thornton jolted out of the dreamlike state he was in. Margaret, her head resting against his shoulder, had been slumbering peacefully, her slender frame supported by his arm.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice soft and slightly hoarse after her little doze.

John had no idea why they had come to a standstill in the middle of nowhere with no train station in sight. He was somewhat dense to react after having to shake off the bliss of having Margaret so close. God knew how long he had been waiting for that final outcome to their relationship which had been so strained for so long.

Slowly the new situation got hold of John as he realised that the train would not have stopped here unless something unusual had occurred. He freed his arm from Margaret’s waist.

“I will go and take a look, Margaret” he said and stood. “Please, wait here for me.”

“No!”

Her sudden outcry startled him.

“No, John ...” she said, rather nervously. “I ... I would rather not be separated from you ...”

The fierce look of pure, unmitigated love in John’s eyes overwhelmed Margaret like a ray of warm Southern sunshine. John Thornton still loved her after all the misery she had inflicted upon him. And she ... she had finally admitted to herself that she loved him back, that she could no longer live without him, that she did not want to be away from him, ever again.

His hand cupped her face, drew it nearer. Margaret’s heart pounded with anticipation ... and fear. How was she to deal with their sudden intimacy? Yet all these disturbing thoughts vanished like snow under the sun when his lips touched hers. They kissed, first shyly and awkwardly, then John’s hand glided to her lower back, pressing her even closer. His kiss became bolder as he opened her lips with his tongue. Margaret surrendered and threw her arms around his neck, answering his kiss with delight.

It took some time before they were able to speak again.

“Very well, Miss Hale,” John smiled. “If you cannot be separated from me, I guess I will have to take you with me. Let me take your bag.”

As soon as they left their compartment, John became aware of the complete silence that was reigning all around them. Although they had been alone in their own compartment, he knew for certain they had not been the only ones on the train. During the earlier ten-minutes stop he had seen several passengers mounting it. Where again had that stop occurred? John was fairly sure it was in Leicester Station, although he had failed to pay attention to it, being fully distracted by seeing Margaret.

Hand in hand, they started down the corridor, looking into the compartments as they passed them. They were all deserted. Soon the couple realised they were the only passengers in this carriage.

“John, look ...”

Margaret pointed to one of the windows behind which they could only see a dense fog obscuring the view as thoroughly as if a curtain had been drawn.

“This is weird,” John mused. “I would not have expected a fog on such a sunny day, and it is not morning, too, but the height of the afternoon. Let us take a look outside.”

He helped Margaret down from the train step which was now considerably higher than the ground since there was no platform. The first astonishing discovery was that their carriage seemed to be the only one that was left of the train. Neither before nor after, there was not a single thing on the track.

John frowned in disbelief.

“Margaret, is it possible that our carriage has broken loose from the rest of the train, you think? Although I cannot recall that ours was the end carriage ...”

“It was not. I clearly remember we were somewhere in the middle of that long train, John. What can have happened?”

“I don’t know but let us find out where we are.”

Peering through the thick fog, they were barely able to make out their surroundings but eventually they could make out the low brick wall on either side of the track that suggested they were on a bridge. Carefully, John looked over it.

 “There seems to be a road under this bridge, Margaret. Shall we try to descend the embankment?”

Margaret nodded but gripped his hand even firmer. He gave her an encouraging smile.

“You need not to be afraid, dearest. You are in my care, now.”

While they were descending the steep slope, Margaret basked in the stunning realisation of what John had called her. She was his dearest, his ... his beloved! It was too bewildering for words!

It was indeed a narrow country road that meandered under the bridge, but they could not see farther than a few yards. That, however, was not what John was concerned of. Sinking onto one knee, he touched the surface of the road, which seemed to be made of a black gravel-like substance, hard and solid to the touch. He had never seen such a thing!

“Margaret, have you noticed this? On first sight, this is an ordinary narrow country road, flanked by hedgerows that are in urgent need to be trimmed because they are overgrown by brambles. Yet, its surface is unique!”

“Extraordinary and also very efficient. No deep potholes in this road, no matter how hard it rains. What could this substance be, John? Have you any idea? We should acquire something similar for Marlborough Mills’ courtyard, don’t you think?”

John burst into a hearty laugh and pulled her close, kissing her fondly on the top of her head.

“Making plans already, are you, Miss Hale? Yes, you are right about the mill’s courtyard. It is always something of a mess after a rainstorm.”

He lifted her chin, an inquiring grin relaxing his handsome face.

“You do not seem worried in the least, my darling. You must have realised that we are in strange surroundings and that something very weird must have happened, although I have not the slightest inkling of what it could be. Yet, you do not seem afraid. How is this?”

“No,” Margaret replied softly. “No, you are right, John. I am not afraid at all. Instead I feel excited, like if I were entering an unknown, fairytale-like world, waiting to be discovered. And, John ...”

She paused to lay her hand on his cheek and gently caress it.

“What is it, sweetheart ...” John breathed, heart pounding because of the love in Margaret’s tone.

“Whenever I am with you, my love, I will never be afraid of anything.”

Their kiss lasted several minutes and left them both breathless.

Eventually, hand in hand, they set forth over the narrow road, walking to the North and into the Great Unknown.

 

Chapter Two – Strange Encounters

Walking side by side through the fog, John and Margaret were locked up in their own thoughts.

Margaret could not keep herself from thinking about what she was now sharing with John, this new and exciting intimacy with so many possible consequences yet to come. She had no room for other reflections. This was the most important and the most drastic thing she had ever done, abandoning herself to John, confessing her love to him, finally accepting him as her future husband. She could only begin to imagine what was coming to her in the next few weeks but she knew one thing for certain; as long as John was with her, she did not care what was coming.

John, on the other hand, had much more issues worrying him, right now. The feelings that had overwhelmed him on that station platform had been so forceful he could still not think clearly. Margaret was his! She allowed him to kiss her and call her his sweetheart. It was nearly unbelievable yet it had truly happened. They were going to be husband and wife, and it would be soon now. He would see to that. There was nothing he craved more now than making Margaret his own, forever.

Yet, there was also the curious weirdness of their present situation. If anything had become very clear to him, it was that they were experiencing something very out of the ordinary. Why had the carriage been detached from the train? The carriage that had been in the middle of all the others. Where were the other passengers that had occupied theirs? Where did that thick fog come from and what was the odd substance covering this seemly innocent country road?

John had not yet found a suitable answer

to all these questions, when they came upon the outskirts of what looked like

an ordinary English village; a main street, some shops and the grey mass of a Saxon church tower crowned with the lace of a gothic railing sitting on a square. Every street, main or not, as well as the square, were coated with that same black substance. The lanterns adorning the houses were also very peculiar, resembling none he knew, set as they were right under the gutters, and way too high for a lantern lighter to reach them. As a matter of fact, it was not common for a village to have street lighting at all. This borough must indeed have a rich and lavish benefactor.

There were other, very disturbing things to see in that street, John thought. What were those strange contraptions lined up near the side of the road? They looked like some means of transport because they had four wheels, but no horses were attached to them.

A sign beside the road read ‘Sileby’. John vaguely knew that name from his favourite books about geography. He remembered a certain Thomas Crick had recently opened a shoe factory here, and John had made a promise to himself to visit it, if he had the chance.

 

He was not given the time to ponder any further.

Suddenly and completely out of the blue, a roaring monster burst through the fog at a breakneck speed! Margaret was so frightened by it that she whirled around and was propelled into the road side’s hedgerow where she bumped her head against the brick wall.

“Margaret!”

John’s cry of panic was only barely audible over the rack of yet another passing monster. His thoughts were tumbling through his brain while he knelt beside a slightly dazed Margaret.

“I am alright, John, just a little bump on the head. Please, help me up.”

At that moment, they heard someone shout, and a young woman, a pretty brunette, came running toward them, her voice ringing with concern. Only now, John and Margaret saw they were in front of a neat, little cottage with a lovely front garden filled with flowers, where the woman must have been working.

 

 

 

“Oh, my goodness! Stupid kids! They will do it over and over again, won’t they? Frightening people out of their wits with their reckless driving! Are you alright, love?”

“Yes ... yes, I think so,” Margaret stammered, “thank you for asking, Ma’am.”

“Well, you seem a bit shaken. Come and rest on the bench, I’ll get you some water.”

She wiped her hands on her ... Margaret stared incredulously at her because she only then noticed the woman’s clothing! Was she wearing trousers? And what a peculiar blouse she wore! It seemed to be a jumper but what a fine type of knitting the maker had used! One could scarcely see the stitches, they were so small!

She must have presented a face full of wonder because the woman stopped smiling.

“What’s the matter? Are you sick? You look like you’re going to faint!”

John and Margaret were still standing rooted to the spot, stunned by the strange clothes the woman wore, when the cottage door opened and a young man came out. He was also wearing the same kind of trousers but his jumper was more roughly knit.

“Hi, guys!”, he greeted them, “Wow, what beautiful costumes! Are you going to a costumed ball? Or are you members of a Victorian society?”

At last John recovered his speech. It seemed he was only capable of tackling one issue at a time, he mused.

“Victorian? What do you mean by that?”

The young man, a handsome fellow with a shock of dark, rather long curls and a pair of sparkling blue eyes, seemed surprised.

“Well, you are dressed in clothes from the Victorian era, aren’t you?”

“What exactly is ‘the Victorian era’, sir?”, John asked, his temper beginning to flare.

The young man burst into laughter.

“Yeah, right, as if you didn’t know!”

John drew himself up to his full six feet two and addressed him sternly.

“No, sir, I do not know! Kindly explain it to me, if you please?”

At that moment, the cottage door opened again and a short, stout, middle-aged woman appeared, her hazel eyes round with what looked like happy astonishment.

“Oh, how splendid! Those costumes are exquisite! Marjorie, looked at that dress. It’s made of the best superfine I’ve ever seen! Miss, where did you get it? I want something like that for the annual ball of the Sileby Victorians!”

Margaret,  recognising fashion talk when she heard it, replied automatically.

“At Harvard, Preston and Cook, Bond Street, London!”

“That’s weird,” the older woman said, “I thought I knew every Victorian renting shop in England, especially in London, but I’ve never heard that name before. Are you sure you got the name right, Miss?”

“Well, yes ...” Margaret began but John interrupted her.

“Come, Margaret, we must be on our way. These people are mocking us. We must find the railway station so that we can catch a train to Milton as soon as possible. I can but imagine how worried Mother will be, by now.”

“Milton? Where’s that?” the young man asked, incredulously.

“Sir, if you do not know England’s largest industrial city by name, there is nothing I can do to explain it. Good Day!”

“Erm, excuse me, mister, but that would be Birmingham.”

John was irritated by now.

“No, sir, it is not! Milton comes first, then Liverpool and Birmingham comes third! You should brush up on your geography, you know.”

The older woman suddenly pitched in.

“Milton? But ... but, that’s impossible! Oh, dear, oh, dear! Can this be true? Jowan, it can’t, for sure?”

“What do you mean, Betty? I don’t have a clue of what you’re talking!”

Betty had become very agitated and she gripped Margaret’s hand. Immediately, John laid his own hand on the woman’s arm but Margaret brushed it away.

“My dear,” Betty urged, “you spoke of Milton. Is your name, by any chance, Margaret Hale?”

“Y .. yes ... how do you know that, Ma’am?”

Betty’s hazel eyes were glowing with rapt happiness.

“Marjorie, Jowan, I’m not sure of what they’re up to here but these people are posing as – if I’m not mistaken – characters from ‘North & South’, a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell! So cool, so magnificent! Is this a new activity of the Victorians I’m not aware of?”

 

Chapter Three – A Weird Kind of Notebook

This was all too much for Margaret. She crumpled like a wounded bird.

Jowan was the first to kneel down beside her and take her wrist. The next second he was lying sprawled on his back and John bellowed:

“Keep away from her, sir, or I will hit you!”

With his heart pounding in his ears, John scooped his beloved into his arms and turned away, determined to leave all this madness behind. The woman called Betty laid her hand on his arm and said softly:

“You should bring her inside the house, sir. She needs some looking after.”

Numb with fear about Margaret, John followed her.

 

The cottage was pretty and looked normal enough, thank God, he thought upon ducking under the low lintel. It was fairly large for a country cottage, though, and the furniture was not what he had thought it to be. The first item John noticed was a chintz settee. It looked exactly what he needed and he gently laid Margaret down upon it. Hands trembling, he caressed her lovely face.

“My love, say something, please. Margaret, sweetheart, wake up.”

She was so pale ... so still ... the horrible memories of that long-ago day of the strike, when she had been struck down by a stone, were already so vivid again that John suddenly panicked. He sprang to his feet and shouted in panicked fear:

“She needs a doctor! For the love of God, will someone go for a doctor?”

The young woman called Marjorie knelt beside Margaret and felt her wrist and brow.

“I’ll see to her, sir, I’m a nurse.”

Her quiet, resolute voice had the power to calm him though she wasn’t dressed as a proper nurse but it was Betty, the older woman, that really managed to ease his mind when she said:

“Mr Thornton, come with me. I need to speak with you.”

 

Overwhelmed, just like Margaret, by all these new impressions, John Thornton let himself be taken into another room, which looked like a study, with three large, old, leather seats and a huge mahogany desk. The walls were covered floor to ceiling with book cases, which was very reassuring to John. However, there were other items in the room that again worried him because he had not the slightest idea what they were.

Betty, who had been searching through the book case, came to him and handed him a rather slim volume with an oddly thin cover and a picture of a landscape on it. The landscape showed a green countryside with cows and a shepherd but also, in the background, the smoking stacks of a mill.

‘North and South’, the title read and the author was Elizabeth Gaskell.

John stared at it but Betty turned the volume in his hands.

“Read the text, Mr Thornton,” she said quietly, indicating the back cover.

 

‘How am I to dress up in my finery, and go off and away to smart parties, after the sorrow I have seen today?’

 

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill-workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice.

This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man

John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over treatment over his employees masks a deeper attraction.

In North and South Elizabeth Gaskell skilfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

 

“Sweet Lord!” John whispered, “This is a novel about Margaret and me. How? I cannot fathom ...”

“Yes,” Betty replied, “although the film does not entirely correspond with the novel. For example, the train station scene at the end ...”

She stopped abruptly when she saw John’s bewildered stare.

“Film ... what is a film?” he stammered, his eyes full of staggering disbelief.

Betty looked at Jowan who had followed the whole episode without interrupting.

“Jowan, I don’t think ... Oh, my God, oh, oh, ...”

Jowan suddenly addressed John in a matter-of-fact way.

“Mr Thornton, what year is it?”

“Are you making fun of me, sir? 1852, of course!”

“Does all of this looks like 1852 to you? Does this?” Jowan said and placed his open laptop on John’s knees, holding it steady, should John drop it in sudden shock.

He watched the astonishment and wonder on John’s face as he stared at the BBC North and South page with pictures of him and Margaret and a synopsis of the film.

Jowan clicked on the link for episode 4 and moved fast forward to the train station scene. Before John’s wide eyes, the scene unrolled where he and Margaret kissed and got on the train together. His very own words of ‘Coming home with me?’ rang in his ears, upsetting him so much, he felt his breath catch in his throat. He closed his eyes to wipe it all out, stammering:

“I do not understand. How is this possible? What is this ... weird kind of ledger and how have they managed to put moving images in it? I must be dreaming ...”

Jowan’s voice brought him back to reality.

“This is the year 2011. By some strange coincidence you and the young lady seem to have landed here from the past.”

He waved a hand and pointed to the room.“It seems that you ... have been time-travelling ...”

Margaret regained consciousness almost immediately when Marjorie bathed her face with cold water. She apologized as sincerely as she could for the inconvenience she inflicted.

“Nonsense!,” Marjorie exclaimed, “Do you have a headache at the moment or do you feel any nausea, Miss Hale?”

“No, I’m fine, Miss ...?”

“Marjorie Hallam. You already saw my S.O., Jowan Thorn, and my Mum, Betty Hallam. This cottage is hers and Jowan and I are currently living here until we find something for ourselves that we can afford.”

“Your ... S.O? What on earth is that?” Margaret inquired with a shaky smile.

“Significant Other,” Marjorie laughed, “it’s a euphemism for the man you are living with without being married.”

Margaret gasped in genuine shock.

“You ... are not married yet you ... are cohabiting? That must be very hard ... people must be cruel on you with judgemental gossip and ...”

Marjorie Hallam burst out in real, joyous laughter now.

“Oh, no! Everybody does it, nowadays! Marriage is so overrated and it’s certainly not a guarantee for being happy together. I’m very happy with Jowan, marriage or not. It isn’t worth the fuss, you know.”

“Nowadays ...” Margaret was beginning to have an inkling of what was going on and Marjorie, too, was grasping the situation to the full.

“Margaret? May I call you so?”

After a confirmative nod, the young woman continued.

“Margaret,  I see it occurred to you that you are no longer in the nineteenth century? This is the twenty-first and it is now 2011.”

With a stab of pity, Marjorie watched the panoply of emotions pass over the other girl’s sensitive face. She waited patiently until Margaret found the courage to speak again.

“We ... John and I, that is ... seem to have travelled through the times. How is such a thing possible?”

“I don’t know, love,” Marjorie said softly, “but we are here to help you. You can stay with us as long as you wish. I’m sure Jowan will have explained it all to John by now.”

As to confirm her words, the two men and Betty were coming into the sitting room right now and it was all too clear that John Thornton was shaken to the core by what he’d just learned.

 

 

Chapter Four – A Bathroom from Paradise

“John?”

Margaret’s sweet voice managed to shake John out of his stupor; he directed an inquiring gaze at her. She didn’t say anything, just reached out a hand, which he grabbed into his own.

“My love,” John whispered, kneeling in front of her, “I need you to be brave, for something extraordinary seems to have befallen us.”

Margaret touched her beloved’s face with a trembling hand.

“I know, my love, Marjorie just explained it to me. John, we cannot really grasp what is going on but we can assess what we are planning to do about it. Do you not think this is a golden opportunity for us to figure out how we can turn this to our advantage? If, by some miracle or other, we should return to our own century, we can use everything we learn here to better people’s circumstances. John, is this not exciting!”

For a split second, John eyed his Margaret with an incredulous stare, but soon he was grinning  mischievously.

“Miss Hale, you do not cease to astonish me! Is this how we are to deal with each other from now on? I am trying to put your mind at ease yet you already have found the silver lining to the storm cloud.”

“Oh, John ...”

They kissed, completely oblivious of their surroundings.

Marjorie and Jowan smiled and Betty whispered, “They are so in love, aren’t they?”

 

It took the two young people a while to realise they weren’t exactly alone in the room but eventually, the suppressed giggles of Marjorie got Margaret’s attention and she freed herself from John’s arms.

“Don’t mind us, people!” Jowan chuckled, “We too were once young!”

“Erm ... forgive us, please, we did not mean any offense here,” John replied, his face beet red. Margaret hid her face against his shoulder but she was softly giggling.

“Well,” Betty said matter-of-factly, “let’s get practical, shall we? I’m guessing our two travellers must be very weary and hungry. Shall we show them to their room, Marjorie? Jowan, maybe you could order us some curry, because I don’t really feel like cooking tonight.”

 

Margaret suddenly felt enormously relieved and thankful. This day just did not seem to end and she was indeed extremely tired and ravenous. She eagerly followed Marjorie while John, who was waiting for Betty to show him his own room, remained behind.

“Dear, oh dear,” Betty sighed, “I realise there are a lot of problems I hadn’t the slightest idea would turn up here. Mr Thornton, I’m afraid we only have one guest room.”

“That is quite alright, Ma’am. I’ll sleep here in the parlour. The couch seems very comfortable.”

“Well, erm ... you know, love – sorry, Mr Thornton – today’s society does not frown anymore upon a couple when they stay the night in the same room ... without being ... lawfully wedded.”

John’s jaw literally dropped in stupefaction. Then, a few seconds later, his face turned white with furious indignation.

“Madam, if you are implying I should share a bed with my betrothed before we exchange our marriage vowsl, then you do offend me most seriously! My feelings for Miss Hale are of the deepest respect and the most sincere integrity!”

Poor Betty threw her hands up in defence from those piercing blue eyes.

“All right, all right, I understand but I’m afraid you’re in for some big surprises, my boy! Erm, sorry, Mr Thornton.”

Inexplicably, Betty found herself unable to be informal with this man who radiated a deeply rooted authority. By now, she’d recognized all the characteristics of the charismatic mill owner from “North & South”, both from the novel, which she’d read in her teens, and from the BBC miniseries, which she’d loved and still did. This John Thornton - for it must be the man himself - was as strong as the actor Richard Armitage portrayed him.

Then, totally out of the blue, the other, more vulnerable side showed. The blue eyes softened, the stiff shoulders relaxed and the scowl on his face dissolved into a shy but immensely sweet smile. Betty’s motherly heart melted on the spot.

“Please, forgive me, Ma’am. I was acting under enormous pressure and let myself be carried away by my insufferable temper. It will not happen again, I give you my word.”

“All forgiven, Mr Thornton. Come with me, I’ll show you the bathroom.

The bathroom ... neither John nor Margaret had ever seen such a lovely place! It was tiled from top to bottom in soft grey and white and the tub, washbasin and the rest of the utensils were in shiny white porcelain. They were blocking the entrance so Marjorie cleared her throat before she tried to slip past them.

“Here are some towels, and you’ll find soap and shampoo in this cupboard. You can alter the water’s temperature with this mixer tap while the other one is for switching between tap and shower head.”

She gave the tap a turn and the tub began filling. Looking back at John and Margaret, she startled when she noticed their bewildered stares.

“Oh, of course! You didn’t have taps and plumbing back in 1852, I forgot.”

After that obvious remark, she left the two alone.

 

Margaret stepped into the gorgeous bathroom and reached out a hand at the strong jet of water spurting from the wall.

“John, it’s amazing ... the water is blissfully warm ...”

She opened the cupboard Marjorie indicated and saw a multitude of brightly coloured bottles and jars lined up like little soldiers, one of them reading ‘Lavender Bubble Experience’. Upon opening it, a delicious scent of the familiar Victorian herb caressed her nostrils. Instinctively, Margaret knew how to use it and immediately the bath tub filled with a cascade of lavender scented foam.

“Oh, John, isn’t this exquisite?” she exclaimed and whirled around to face him.

John seemed to wake up from some dream and had to clear his throat before being able to speak.

“Yes ... yes, it is, my love ...”

“Come and see the room!” Margaret said cheerfully, grabbed his hand and pulled him to it.

Another vision of loveliness opened before John’s stunned gaze which was immediately drawn to the huge king size futon bed in the room’s corner. Only one bed, he noticed, still numbed by the plethora of new and exciting impressions that had been showering him for hours.

“Margaret, I will sleep on the parlour couch. I am content with you taking the room for you need a good night’s sleep, my love. I will retire so that you can perform your ablutions undisturbed.”

“John, wait.”

Shyly, Margaret placed her hands against his shoulders and looked up into his face with pleading eyes.

“John ... by some miracle, we seemed to have reached a new and exciting era, so different from our own, that it simply boggles the mind. I think we must explore it to the full, my love.”

 

Chapter Five – A Man-to-Man Conversation

“What is it you are saying, Margaret?” John asked in return, moved by the look in her beautiful blue eyes. Margaret blushed deeply but held his gaze with an intensity that turned his heart into water, all of a sudden.

“My love,” she began hesitantly but then she went on in a more confident manner, “everything here is so completely different from what we know. We have no standards to relate to anymore; you and I, we are at a new beginning where we can set the rules ourselves. We are our own masters, John, nobody will interfere with us or judge us. From what Marjorie tells me, there is but one bond between man and woman here, in this era; love. Men and women only obey the call of love, without the bond of marriage, John.”

In sheer, overwhelming horror, John tore himself away from her and backed out of the room.

“No!” The hoarse cry came from him. “No, never! You are to be my wife, Margaret, not my mistress!”

Then he was gone and Margaret was left alone, her heart breaking under the force of his rejection. She had just offered herself to the man she loved more than life itself, and he had refused her.

In deep turmoil John almost fled back to the parlour, abhorred by his own passionate feelings that besieged him like an army of fiends. He could not stomach the sudden violent desire that engulfed him just now and stay in the same room with Margaret! The fact that she had just surrendered herself to him, had nothing to do with it. As mind-boggling as that thought might be, it sank into oblivion compared by his own hot need for her and the strength it cost him to resist the attraction she enforced on him.

The parlour was deserted and John could hear voices coming from the adjacent kitchen. A pair of French windows had been left open and he was instinctively drawn to the terrace stretching out behind them.

A path led through the garden and John took it, deeply breathing in the sweet air of summer dusk, laden with a myriad of scents. Above his head, the soft, lilac twilight sky was giving way to a deeper indigo canopy pierced with the first flickering of stars. Silence reigned around him and John felt his mind coming to rest again. A bench, skilfully arranged under a roof of flowered creepers beckoned and he let himself down on it with a sigh of relief.

This is what he needed, a quiet, remote place where he could gather his scattered thoughts. He closed his eyes, grateful for the opportunity to let himself unwind for the first time during that long, upsetting day.

He needed to think, that was abundantly clear.

Due to some weird time warp, he and Margaret had been propelled forward in time a hundred and sixty years. That, at least, had begun to sink in, though he had not the faintest idea what to do next. What could he do? Was there a possibility to go back to their own time without suffering any consequences? If not, could they fit into this new era, without being destroyed completely, mentally and emotionally?

Emotions ... ah, they were running high, weren’t they?

How was he to keep a tight rein on his passion for Margaret in a world so totally lacking of restraint between men and women? Flushing with shame, he recalled the images he’d seen on that laptop device earlier. Because it was so easy to use, John had quickly understood how the device worked. After a mere few minutes, he had been clicking away, discovering a fascinating new universe of thrilling images with each click. Images that were of a shocking, very forthright manner, especially on the subject of human relationships and behaviour. People seemed to have no shame left in this era yet they also faced its challenges straightforwardly and with great courage.

Lust and love seemed to be entwined beyond comprehension and also, the visualisation of it, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination, showing it all to the full. Overwhelmed with shame, John recalled the arousal that had resulted from seeing those bold pictures of men and women alike, where nothing was left unveiled, showing them fully naked. No wonder they were cohabitating without marriage! There really had no choice as they were literally showered with a cascade of debauchery!

“Fancy a drink? You look like you need it, mate!”

Torn from his scary thoughts, John saw Jowan standing in front of him with two glasses of what looked like ale. He hesitated but Jowan said, “It’s just a pint of lager, John, I’m sure you knew beer, back in 1852.”

“Yes, of course. Thanks, sir!”

“Just Jowan ... I’m no ‘sir’, I’m just a normal bloke who tries to make a living as a doctor, that’s all.”

He seated himself next to John who accepted the beer, toasted and drank deeply from the glass filled with liquid gold.

“Ah! I did need that, Jowan, thanks again. So, you are a doctor? How am I to picture that? Can I compare it to the doctor I knew in my own time, Dr Donaldson?”

“If you mean, am I as committed as Dr Donaldson to my patients and my work, then, yes, it surely compares completely. I watched “North and South” with Marjorie and her mother many times, so I know what I’m talking about. As for current medical procedures and medicines, no. Everything has thoroughly changed, John, but it’s too much of a challenge to explain that in a few minutes.”

“Do not make an attempt to do it, then. I am sure I will discover that on my own, very soon. I intend to explore this era to the full, believe me, though it is all very overwhelming and confusing, mind.”

“So far, what are the things that struck you most, John?”

John fell suddenly silent, feeling restricted by his upbringing and the nineteenth century customs branded into him.

“May I make a guess?” Jowan suggested. “You don’t have to answer, if you don’t want to.”

John looked him in the face and nodded.

“I think,” said Jowan, “it’s about how you’re going to deal with Margaret. She is the one thing left from your own time and also, she is the only person you love and trust, here in this era. You’re feeling uncertain about yourself and how you’re going to behave towards her. You’re shocked but also drawn by what you saw on my laptop.”

“I cannot feel but completely shocked, can I? Such forthrightness, such bold, unveiled images! How can anyone with a shred of morality bear to see it and not have his world rocked to the core?”

Jowan did not immediately reply but sat quietly sipping his beer for a while. John found himself eagerly anticipating what Jowan would say next. He liked the man, despite his blunt, unguarded ways.

“Listen, John, here’s what it comes to. There’s what you see all over the media of this era, all the stunning reality of it, and it can be quite overwhelming. Then, there’s what really lives among the people of this era and that’s not quite so different from what really touches people throughout eternity, no matter what era they’re from. It’s simply love. Love between two people is what signifies. I love Marjorie and as long as I love her, I’ll stay with her. I hope our love will last a life time but I can’t be sure of that. Circumstances change every day, relationships alter, people alter. Who knows what lies in store for Marjorie and me? Yet of one thing I’m absolutely and thoroughly convinced; as long as I love her, I’ll hang on to her!”

“I simply cannot imagine there would come a time that I would not be with Margaret!” John exclaimed, all fired up. “I will never leave Margaret out of my sight, ever again! I cannot live without her! I will marry her and make her mine and she will be the light of my life, the mother of my children, the companion I crave for, for the rest of my life!”

“Wow, wow!” Jowan protested, raising his hands in mock fear. “Back off, boy! Easy there, I’m not suggesting you’d do otherwise!”

Then he sobered up again and said softly, “We don’t do much marrying anymore, nowadays, you know. It’s not important to give a woman your name. Women have made their way into all areas of society without the help of men. They’re becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers, you name it. They are no longer dependent on being married to stand their ground. They no longer need us, John. Marjorie is a fully trained nurse with a salary of her own on which I have no claims. She chooses to go through life at my side because it’s her own, independent choice and because she loves me.”

“So ... the two of you ... you are not wedded yet you ...”

“We sleep with each other, yes. Why shouldn’t we since we love each other?”

“Have you never asked for her hand in marriage at all, then?”

Jowan’s open face suddenly grew a bit crestfallen.

“I have asked her but she refused. Said she wasn’t prepared to get hooked for life ...”

“Yet she allowed you to take her to bed?”

“Yes, mate, she did.”

“What if she becomes pregnant? Will you marry her then?”

Jowan suddenly looked away in what looked like bashfulness to John.

“At the moment, Marjorie is with child but she still refuses to become my wife,” he whispered.

John was too dumbstruck to find an answer to that and tossed back the last of his beer in utter shock.

 

 

Chapter Six – Girl Talk

 

Marjorie was checking her email on her laptop in the study when a shy little knock on the door sounded. It was Margaret and she seemed somewhat distressed, though she made a good job hiding it.

“Is the room to your liking?” Marjorie asked, “I see you’ve put on one of my nightgowns and my spare dressing gown after your bath?”

“Yes, thank you, Marjorie, everything is very fine. Do you think I am dressed appropriately enough to face your relatives?”

“My goodness, yes! Mum always puts on her peejays after tea, she says she can’t really relax without them!”

“Her ... peejays? What is that?” Margarets smiled, liking the word.

“It’s a short for pyjamas, the clothes we wear in bed, apart from nightgowns.”

“And what, pray tell, are pyjamas?”

“It’s a pair of trousers and a vest, made of cotton, silk or satin. Originally it came from Japan and the wives of our military stationed in the Orient brought it back to England during World War II. Oh, sorry, you don’t know about that either, do you?”

“No, but I expect I’ll have more than that to get to know, in the near future.”

“I can’t exactly begin to grasp what you must be going through, Margaret. How well you are keeping up! I’m not sure I could do the same, were I in your place.”

Margaret cast down her eyes in a modest way, reminding Marjorie of how much things had changed in a hundred and sixty years, especially for women.

“What is it, Margaret?” she asked softly and took the other girl with her to the settee.

“I would like to ask you ... about you and Jowan, Marjorie, if you do not think it too inquisitive.”

“No, fire away, sweetie.”

Margaret giggled and it was such an impulsive thing for her to do that Marjorie felt happy that she was finally relaxing a bit.

“Well, you mentioned earlier that the two of you were not married. Does that mean you will not always stay together? Marriage is final and binding and divorce is simply not to be thought of so ...”

“Margaret, Margaret, you have a lot to learn about twenty-first century relationships, sweetie. Why should I be married to Jowan when we’re together anyway? Marriage is all good and well but it makes it a lot more complicated, doesn’t it? How do I know if Jowan is the one I’m going to be with forever? We love each other, but what about in ten years time? Who knows what might have happened that could have us break up for good? If that occurs and I’m married, it’ll cost a lot of money and heartbreak to split us up and I don’t want that.”

“What if ... you should be with child? Would Jowan ask you then?”

To Margaret’s astonishment, Marjorie seemed embarrassed.

“I am so sorry, Marjorie, for being so nosy. You don’t have to answer ...”

“Actually, Margaret, I’m ten weeks pregnant.”

“Oh! My God, Marjorie, I am so sorry!”

“Why, for heaven’s sake? I’m over the moon at becoming a mum! I’m twenty-nine, Margaret, time’s ticking, you know?”

“But ... but what will you do? How will you be able to provide for the child if you are unmarried?”

“I was fully trained as a nurse, sweetie, I have my salary and Mum will look after the baby while I’m working. No big deal there!”

“Still, I think it was very nasty of Jowan not to ask you to marry him!”

“He did ask me, only, I was the one refusing. I’ll not marry him solely for the child’s sake.”

“Marjorie, I do not understand your attitude! The welfare of the child should be your first priority!”

“It is, Margaret! The child is first and foremost mine. Jowan is nothing but its sire. I am its mother!”

Margaret wrapped her arms around her body as a chill ran down her spine, all of a sudden, like someone was walking over her grave.

“Marjorie, that sounds awful! Like you do not love Jowan at all!”

“I do love him, Margaret, I just don’t want to stake my whole future on him, that’s all.”

Now Margaret was truly fired up and she all but shouted, “I do not understand, Marjorie! I cannot live without John! I want to be his wife, more than anything! He IS my future, Marjorie, I would go through hell and high water for him, lay my life for him!”

“Yes, but what if your love runs sour, what if you would meet someone else, someone you love better? Wouldn’t you be ...”

“I could never love anyone but John! John is my life, Marjorie, other men do not signify next to him!”

The soothing smile Marjorie gave her irritated Margaret largely but she let it go for she had other things to ask her.

“Marjorie, I am not entirely certain how to inquire about this but ... as you are no longer ...”

Margaret had to swallow before she could muster the courage to tackle this delicate subject and she was thankful Marjorie did not press her.

“Marjorie, forgive me but, since you are pregnant with Jowan’s child, I reckon you are no longer ...”

“A virgin?” Marjorie took Margaret’s hand to support her when she saw her blush deeply.

“No, I’m not a virgin anymore, obviously, but you still are, aren’t you? And you are ignorant about those intimate dealings between man and woman. Am I right in supposing you want to learn about them?”

Margaret smiled shyly again and covered her face with trembling hands.

“You must think me a genuine goose, Marjorie. Surely, being in love with John, should give me an inkling of what will transpire between us the moment we choose to become husband and wife?”

“No,” Marjorie replied gently, “it’s very natural for a young girl to feel uncertain, especially when she is brought up very strictly, like you. Nowadays, television, films, books, they all talk of it openly and girls are fully informed since the age of ten, eleven.”

“Oh, my God, that is very upsetting, I’m sure! How are they to deal with such a thing?”

“Margaret, you must be aware that in your era young girls would have been witnesses to the act of love from a very tender age, too? They all lived together, large families, in cramped little houses. The children must have seen much more than ours do today.”

“Yes ...” Margaret whispered, appalled by the very idea, but she realised Marjorie was right. She thought of the dismal little house where the Higgins lived. Bessy’s bed had been in the very kitchen where the family spent their days. Again her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Good Lord, it didn’t bare thinking!

Yet the question burning in her mind was still there. She was ignorant about everything physical that transpired between a man and a woman; she wanted, needed to know.

“The act of love ... what a beautiful name that is ...”she mused. “Is the act as beautiful as the name, Marjorie?”

“Margaret, with the right person, the man you love, it’s simply divine! You love John and he loves you. It will be splendid. Do not worry.”

“Yes, but ... how ... what is actually happening, Marjorie?”

Her new-found friend took a deep breath when she grasped at last what Margaret meant. Then she explained how a man and a woman expressed their love to each other and, after she was finished, Margaret found herself frozen in utter disbelief.

 

Chapter Seven – Curry and Rugby

 

Meanwhile, Betty busied herself with the supper preparations. She reckoned it was best to go through the normal routine of everyday life and simply include the nineteenth century couple in it. People had to eat, from whatever century they were. So she’d ordered a curry from the Indian restaurant in the village and laid it out on the terrace table. When she was finished, Betty put the small flatscreen TV they used in the kitchen in front of the open kitchen window. There was a rugby match on, that evening, and Betty knew Jowan wouldn’t want to miss that for the world, rugby freak that he was!

“Ah! Come, boys!” she called, when John and Jowan returned from the garden. “Supper’s ready! Jowan, would you pour us a glass of wine, please? I’ll go and get the girls!”

Soon everybody was seated at the terrace table in companiable ease, Margaret and Marjorie next to each other on one side, John and Jowan on the other while Betty was presiding at the head.

“Now,” Betty announced, “this is a curry! It’s Indian but you could have Pakistani or Thai or whatever Eastern country dish you like, the choice is yours. I’m not going to explain what it is before you’ve tasted it. Jowan, show them how it’s done.”

Jowan grinned broadly and obliged, dipping a piece of papadum into one of the dip sauces and scooping up the black olives in it before putting it into his mouth. John imitated him without so much as a blink but winced when he was assaulted by the sting of spices on his tongue.

“Good Lord! What have they put in there? It’s like liquid fire!”

“Turmeric, coriander and cumin, mostly!” Betty offered. “They tend to exaggerate the amount of it, though. You’d want to doze that fire with a sip of wine, John.”

That was something John was all too happy to do.

“Margaret, my love, you should try it too,” he said and scooped up a bit of dip into a chip of papadum. With a teasing smile, John slowly put it into her mouth and watched her sensual lips while they took it in. Margaret shuddered a bit when she tasted the hot, spicy food but she didn’t even turned a hair when she swallowed it.

“Oh, John, this is so good!” she exclaimed, licking her lips in a way that sent shivers all over John’s spine by the sheer sensuality of it. As a result, the two of them sat feeding each other from the multitude of Indian dishes, without saying a word but looking into each other’s eyes, like they were the only two people left on the planet. Jowan winked at Marjorie and put a finger to his lips and his partner nodded in unison. John and Margaret had no need for company, right now.

While she was savouring all those new and unknown dishes, Margaret could not take her eyes from John’s handsome face, his bright, blue eyes overflowing with love, his large, beautiful mouth curving in a sweet smile. He’d covered one of her hands with his and was slowly stroking the palm with his thumb, a gesture that sparkled fire from it all over her arm and right to her very heart. Soon, she wasn’t tasting anything anymore, so lost she was in John’s love and ... yes, Margaret thought, his desire for her. She recognised it for what it was because she was feeling exactly the same need for him.

 

Suddenly they were rushed back into reality when Jowan switched on the telly, and the loud roar of a rugby match destroyed the sweet silence of dusk.

“Sorry, mate,” the young man grinned, “match is on tonight! I’m sure you’re interested in it too?”

“No, I am the one begging your pardon, Jowan. I am afraid we were not good company, Margaret and I. Rugby, you said? Is this the same physical activity I was subjected to when I was at school?”

“Jowan,” Marjorie intervened, “in John’s time it wasn’t an international sport yet. Boys only practised it at school.”

“Well, mate, you’re in for a surprise, then. Nowadays, rugby is Britain’s first national sport and there’s an international competition with France, Italy, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, or at least, these are the main players. They all wear cotton shirts and shorts, you know. So, you see, your cotton manufactory has a future, indeed!”

“Amazing! This era is indeed most interesting!” John agreed. “Where does this food come from? It is delicious.”

“Oh, it’s practically common daily food, these days. After the war, it became a fancy to eat the more exotic dishes instead of our plain English home cooking. Guess that’s all that’s left of our Empire!” Jowan added, grinning mischievously.

“That cannot be true!” John exclaimed in alarm, “We have lost our Empire, you say?”

“Sorry, mate, but there it is! Britain does no longer rule the waves. Our American nephews have taken over!”

“My Lord ... that is awful! Does that mean they are controlling the world markets too? They are ... were already overflowing them with cheap cotton, back in 1852.”

“They are the world’s largest economical power but China is threatening to take over, say in twenty years time.”

“China? Unbelievable ... poor, underdeveloped China?”

“Yes,” said Jowan impatiently, “but right now, shut up and watch the game!”

 

Marjorie nudged Margaret and signalled that she should leave table and come with her. The three women retired to the parlour where Betty served them a cup of tea for which Margaret was very grateful. At least, tea still seemed to be a constancy in 2011, thank God!

“Margaret, are you interested in my job as a nurse? I could take you with me to the hospital tomorrow.”

“Oh, yes! I would very much like that, Marjorie! I am extremely interested in improving people’s health, especially that of the factory workers and their families. You have no idea how these people are suffering from the poor sanitary conditions and all the diseases they go through.”

“Then you will be pleased to see how things have evolved since 1852. Mind you, I have the early shift. You have to be ready at six am.”

“Marjorie, Margaret looks very tired. I think she should retire now.”

“Oh, no! I am helping you with the cleaning-up in the kitchen first, Betty.”

Marjorie chuckled and Betty smirked.

“No, dear,” the latter said, “on a rugby night, the boys are doing the dishes. After all, we are deprived of television, and they have to compensate for that!”

 

The boys, meanwhile, were having a good time, watching a very decent rugby match between the Leicester Tigers and the Northampton Saints in the English Premiership league. The Tigers won by 32 to 25, and John had enjoyed the match quite a lot, surprising himself with the vehemence he displayed encouraging the Tigers along with Jowan.

“You must be joking!” John exclaimed when next Jowan announced they were doing the dishes. “I have never done domestic chores in my whole life. There are servants for that. Even my mother did not have to do her own dishes.”

“Welcome to the 21th century, mate! Men and women do not shun any job and help each other out since they both have full time jobs. It would be incredibly unfair if all domestic tasks were solely reserved to women. As to servants, who can afford them? Marjorie and me are struggling hard enough to save our money for the purchase of a small house as it is, so we don’t make extra expenses if we can avoid it. Nothing wrong with using your own hands, mate!”

At last, that was a statement which rang true to John’s ears, used as he was to be close to his workers while they were at work in the mill’s sheds. He had even taken a job in a draper’s shop after his father killed himself, to be able to save money, so he understood very well what Jowan was saying. So he tucked in with good humour and helped Jowan clearing the food away and washing up in the kitchen. All the while, the two young men were engaged in a lively conversation about the evolution in factory work that took place in the hundred and sixty years between John’s time and the present.

When they were finished, Jowan took John with him to the library, poured him a stiff brandy and opened his laptop again.

 

Chapter Eight – Lost Souls

 

 

 

In the library, John was shown images of a modern cotton factory.

“Where are the workers?” was his first question which Jowan readily answered.

“Replaced by machines, operated and controlled by computers.”

“Computers? What are those?”

By the time Jowan had more or less begun to explain that particular product of modern science and technology, John was only beginning to understand how much he had yet to learn.

“Would it be possible to visit such a factory, Jowan?”

“I must disappoint you there, John. The picture of the factory you see is taken in the India. England does not have any cotton factories left. We had to close down the industry as the wages were growing so high the companies couldn’t keep producing  in the UK. In the so called developing countries, those wages can be kept low so the profit is much higher for the companies.”

On John’s face consternation showed so intensely that Jowan grew concerned.

“All right, mate? You look a bit done in.”

“No workers ...” John whispered.

“Well, not a lot, anyway. There are a few men around to keep an eye on things and the company will have a huge sales department and a substantial patent department as well as a research department but in the factory hall itself, it’ll be machines.”

“No workers ... but what about unions?”

“Oh, they’re still there but not many strikes anymore, at least, no unannounced or wild ones. It’s all about negotiations and talks these days. Unions want their companies healthy and strong. They bargain about the wages and the rights.”

“I’m not sure I can ever take all this in,” John said, all bewildered.

“Well, you don’t have to tonight, do you? Have a good night’s rest, John, we’ll tackle all this new stuff tomorrow.”

 

Around John, the house was now quiet and dark. He was lying under a blanket on the parlour couch, dressed in one of Jowan’s pyjamas - cotton, by the feel of it. Sleep alluded him as the many unfamiliar images of today’s journey overwhelmed him, over and over again. It was no use, he couldn’t find peace, so he rose and went to the French windows and opened them. The garden was glowing blue-grey in the light of a nearly full moon and in the distance, he could hear a dog’s low howl in response to it. John started wandering over the terrace, deeply breathing in the fragrant and balmy night air, feeling his tension flow from his stiffened muscles.

Which window was Margaret’s? One of the other French windows on the terrace also stood open and he went to it. There was no sound, not even the regular breathing of someone in a deep sleep. Margaret ... he had some amends to make to her, for his barging out on her like a madman. All throughout supper, he found no occasion to talk with her but they had gazed into each other’s eyes the whole time, ignoring the world around them.

 

 

 

 

 

“Margaret?” he whispered, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest.

A rustling from inside told him the person was awake, pray God it would be Margaret. The curtain was brushed aside and Margaret’s luminous eyes were looking up into his own.

“John ... dear Lord ... what are you doing here? Is something wrong?”

“No ... yes, something is very wrong, my love ... I have to apologise to you for behaving so boorishly, this afternoon.”

Stepping aside, Margaret said, “You’d better come in, John.”

Blood racing through his very veins, John breathed, “No, sweetheart, I can’t. This is highly inappropriate ...”

“Come, my love,” Margaret replied, taking his hand and drawing him into the room.

Once inside, John drank in the very loveliness of his beautiful Margaret, dressed in a white satin nightgown, that ended halfway her thighs and had only two thin ribbons for straps. Her long dark curls spilled all over her shoulders, almost to her waist and her clear blue eyes were shining, inviting him to embrace her.

Embrace her? If he did just that, he might ravish her on the spot ... yet his body was screaming to hold her close, so close that he would be able to feel and discover all those lush and delicate curves of her slender form. He could feel the hard pulse of his arousal threatening to rule out the last remnants of his wavering restraint.

Margaret remained motionless and silent, although her body was pulsing for John’ touch in a strange but lovely feeling of warmth and longing. She was aroused and wanton with need yet she knew she must let him make the first move. His avid gaze was roaming all over her figure and his eyes were dark with the heat of desire, driving the very breath out of her with the sheer strength of it.

His hand came up and touched her face, and she gave a small, quavering moan.

Hearing that sweet little sound almost did John in. He could not keep himself from letting his hand trace the creamy curve of her jaw, then down her long neck and shoulder where he brushed aside the strap. He saw the peaks of her rising breasts appear through the thin fabric of the nightgown and was immediately driven to touch them, fingers carefully rounding the soft breast, thumbs brushing the peak.

In response, Margaret freed her body of the nightgown with a shake of her shoulders, thus revealing her body to the man she loved beyond everything. Her reward was a gasp from John which emboldened her enough to place her hands on his chest. She closed her eyes while she undid the buttons of the cotton pyjama vest, savouring the feeling of John’s hard muscles under her fingers. He was so deliciously warm and so overwhelmingly beautiful ...

Desperately wishing this moment to be absolutely perfect, John forced himself to keep his desire in check. It was one of the most difficult tasks ever bestowed upon him. He took Margaret’s hands in his and guided them over his chest to his sides and waist. Encouraging her fingers to push down his cotton trousers, he felt her shaking like a leaf yet she did not shirk away. When they were both naked, he took her face into his hands, forcing her to meet his gaze.

“My heart, you are the only one that matters to me. If you do not want me to continue, I will instantly leave this room.”

“I cannot, for the life of me stop now, my darling. Come, take me to bed. Tonight we shall be one.”

Drawing her close, their bodies touching in blessed warmth, John lifted Margaret into his arms so that her feet stopped touching the floor. Slowly he walked to the bed and let her down, so gently like if she were made of gossamer. Then, lowering himself next to her, he covered them both with the sheet.

“My dearest, sweetest Margaret, you are dearer to me than anything in the world, dearer than my own life.”

He interrupted himself to touch her lips with his. His hand travelled from the gentle curve of her cheek to her throat, then slid under the sheet to her breast, cupping it. Margaret gasped and her body quivered in response to his fingers stroking her peaks.

“My love, the events of this day were so strange and mind-numbing that you and I have become uprooted. We have been thrown into the unknown, no longer certain because nothing is left from the things that are dear and familiar to us. All is new and all is strange, except you, my love. At this moment, you are the only constancy in my life, and I in yours.”

He kissed her again, feeling the need to calm her, to transfer his love to her in the only way he deemed right, by the standards he was brought up in.

“I will not touch you, my precious darling, not until I have been blessed in church as your husband.”

“John, please ... I cannot ... John, I do so long for you ... please, do not reject me ...”

“Shhh, shhh, close your eyes, my sweetheart. Let me worship you in a way that you will remain untouched ...”

“John ... how ...”

“Shhh, my heart. Do not speak, just promise me you will not do anything but lay still with your eyes closed. Can you promise me that, Margaret?”

“I ... I promise, John ...”

Margaret did as she just promised, closing her eyes and lying very still, though she was in a puzzle as to why. Her body was acting in a very strange way, as if she no longer had any control over it. Yet it all felt so very nice, especially when her heart started to go faster by the second, and a pleasant heat spread through her veins. John’s hands were slowly, gently caressing both her breasts now, and she let herself be drowned in that exhilarating new sensation of life itself pulsating through her. Her body responded and arched under those expertly stroking hands. Then, just as she was becoming used to it, his hands touched another part of her body where they had not dwelled before, sending waves of heat and uncontrollable shivers through the very core of her. Margaret moaned and writhed in ecstasy while John’s relentless hands continued their magic. Her body seemed to be floating higher and higher, and she gripped the sheets under it in sheer fear of losing herself completely in this thrilling, throbbing feeling of life itself.

John’s mouth was on hers, his tongue begging entrance which she gave all too willingly.

All of a sudden, his hands were touching the very seat of her womanhood! They caressed and probed until her legs parted to give them more access to her very core. The heat rose higher and higher with every stroke of those magical fingers and suddenly, violently, Margaret’s world exploded into a myriad of burning sparks, shattering her into blessed, wonderful oblivion.

 

 

Chapter Nine - The Care for the Sick

 

There was a soft but very determined knock on the door and Margaret instantly was wide awake and upright!

“Yes ...” she whispered, completely off-balance and unable to utter anything beyond that little word.

“It’s Marjorie. We must leave for work soon. I’ll leave a jar of hot water and some clothes outside.”

“Erm ... very well, I am coming ...”

For a few moments, Margaret stayed where she was, taking in the room and the astonishing fact that she was alone in it. Remembering what happened the night before, a red hot flush rushed into her face. John ... and what he had done to her! Such wonders, such indescribable delights!

Yet she had not even thanked him, had not even noticed when he left her bed, basked in that exquisite numbness she had not had the slightest control over as it took possession of her body, mind and soul. Sometime later, she had succumbed to sleep, the blessed, wonderful sleep of repletion and complete wholeness. Yes, Margaret realised, now she was whole, a woman, John’s woman ... John’s, she was John’s!

With a whoop of delight, she jumped out of the bed, ready to tackle anything that might challenge her. She found Marjorie’s jar and gave herself a quick wash at the dressing table where Betty had provided her with a wash basin and a towel and wash cloth the evening before. Afterwards she dressed in the trousers and jumper Marjorie supplied. She brushed her hair vigorously and gathered it in a tail at the nape of her neck with a ribbon. Surprised but pleased, she contemplated her image in the mirror and found she would fit nicely into this strange new world.

In the parlour she found Marjorie, ready and eager to go.

“Come, Margaret, I’m late enough as it is. My shift starts in twenty minutes and we have to drive to Leicester UH!”

“Where is John? Was he still asleep when you entered here?”

“I haven’t seen him. Come on!”

Confused and a bit anxious, Margaret followed Marjorie outside.

 

The soft neighing of a horse next to his ear woke John Thornton out of a restless sleep. It was a comforting sound, a sound he knew, a familiar, normal sound. He was lying in the grass of a meadow and the horse was sniffing his face.

Recalling the reason why he had ended up there, to flee from his beloved Margaret, John had decided he should go look for the portal by which they had entered this era, the train carriage on the rails crossing the meadow.

He had not found it.

Although the meadow had been easy to locate, thanks to the country road, leading from the cottage, and the railway bridge and the railway, the carriage was nowhere to be seen. Confused and anxious, for they had no means to return to 1852 now, John had started to walk for long, lonely hours.

He had been so incredibly tired, last night, when his knees had buckled during the long walk he had taken that he had been totally unable to take another step and just fallen on the spot he was now in.

He felt so wretched and miserable that his tumbling thoughts kept going back to Margaret and what he had done to her. His own attitude, the recollection of how he had felt, was even more agony.

Leaving Margaret alone, after he pleasured her, had been one of the hardest things ever but it was necessary to make the distance between them as large as possible lest he lost control over his aroused body.

John walked back to the cottage, dreading what must surely come. Just by thinking of Margaret, his body responded in the most violent way, so he was terrified imagining what it would mean if she was to embrace him. To his surprise, Betty was waiting for him on the terrace.

“Good morning, Mr Thornton. You’ve just missed the girls. They have left for the hospital for Marjorie’s shift starts at seven am. Jowan says you want to go with him today?”

“Yes ... yes, I would like that very much, Ma’am.”

“My name is Betty, sir. Would you like to bathe and breakfast first?”

“Very much so, Betty, and please, call me John? We have no use for ceremony, here in this era, if I am to fit in with the rest of you. Thank you for your kind hospitality, Betty, it was most gracious to take us in, Margaret and me.”

Betty’s smile was so sweet John felt instantly comforted so he took himself off to the bathroom. After a shower – an extremely pleasant activity he very much liked – John found Betty and Jowan on the breakfast table.

“Come on, man, tuck in! Betty’s outdone herself this morning!”

They stuffed themselves with bacon and eggs, kippers and the lot until they couldn’t eat another bite and then drove to Leicester University Hospital in Jowan’s old Ford Sierra.

“Sorry about the old girl, John, I know she’s creaking a bit but I haven’t got the money for a new car. She will have to do for a couple of years.”

“To me she looks fine, Jowan, a great improvement on the creaky carriages from my time. One is not even jolted about when driving in a pothole. What kind of springs have they used?”

“Oh, it’s a whole arrangement of them, called the ‘suspension’. One day, I’ll tell you all about it but for now, I want to inform you about the hospital and my work. I’m a A&E intern, A for Accidents and E for Emergency, which means the department has to deal with casualties of all sorts, from road accidents to industrial ones. Some days, it can be hectic, when the casualty input is high and every patient’s injuries are urgent.”

 

 

“A&E, I like the name. It gives an exact image of what one might encounter there. So, what you are saying is, you will be extremely busy?”

“Probably, but I’m hoping for a slow day so that I can show you around.”

They reached the hospital in record time, barely twenty minutes after they’d left the cottage. John marvelled about the speed of the contraption called motorcar.

“Don’t worry”, Jowan chuckled, “in another thirty year’s time, a German fellow, named Karl Benz, will invent it.”

“Oh, thanks, old chap, I’ll be able to enjoy it when I’m in my sixties, then!” John mocked.

As the two men walked from the car park to the emergency entrance, several ambulances speeded up to it, sirens wailing. Jowan began running, motioning John to follow him. 

Inside, it was bedlam. In most of the cubicles, a bustling activity was developing, nurses running up and down, doctors and orderlies working on patients.

“What’s happened?” Jowan shouted at one of the nurses over the rack of noise.

“Multiple collision on the motorway, just before Leicester. They say over twenty cars and vans are involved, two dead bodies, already, twenty-four severely injured are here and another eight coming.”

“John, listen, I can’t be with you now. Stay out of everybody’s way, please.”

“Don’t worry about me. Go ahead.”

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Marjorie had taken Margaret to her own department, the Maternity ward. She explained how it worked and what care was given to the mothers and their babies, not only after birth but also before. Margaret took it all in, making mental notes of how the babies were cared for, and she was very much impressed by the level of cleanliness of the ward.

“How large is the death rate after birth for mothers and babies, Marjorie?” was one of her many questions.

“Between 10 and 20 per 100.000 births in the European Union, as far as the mothers are concerned, and about 23 per 1000 babies worldwide.”

This caused Margaret to gasp in surprise and she exclaimed:

“My Lord! That is ... that is extraordinary low!”

“Yes, but it still happens, if not in the UK, then certainly in the poorer countries of Asia, Africa and South America. It’s particularly sad that a lot of it could be prevented with a minimum of hygiene and a few basic medicines such as antibiotics in case of a fever.”

Margaret was about to ask about this when one of Marjorie’s colleagues came running towards her.

“Marge, are you very busy? A&E is asking for help, there’s been a huge collision and they’re swamped!”

“I’m coming! Margaret, I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you here ...”

“Can I come with you? I’d very much like to?”

“Alright, but stay out of the way.”

The two women hastened towards the Accident and Emergency Ward where they found and absolute bustle of activity going on.

 

Chapter Ten – True Colours

 

For the first few minutes, John was completely taken aback by the incredible craziness of his surroundings. He withdrew into a quiet corner near a row of strange machines with pictures of strangely looking drinks and food on them. A few chairs and a table had been placed there, inviting him to sit and watch.

 

 

What a chaos! Every second seemed to bring in medical workers carrying stretchers with injured people. People bleeding and screaming with the pain of horrible wounds; and nurses and doctors whirling about like they had absolutely no idea to what they were doing.

John observed and took in all he saw, finding himself cool and composed instead of confused and scared. There seemed to be a pattern in the chaos. At the entrance of the building was a stout, middle-aged nurse with a writing pad who took scrupulous notes of what the people, who brought in the stretchers, yelled at her. She then directed them to one of the many small cubicles that lined one long side of the hall. In each cubicle there was a nurse and a doctor in attendance who instantly began to deal with the wounded person. After some time, the patients were towed away with a directive of the organizing nurse, probably to another department where the medical staff would be able to deal more efficiently with the injuries.

There was, however, one type of casualty that was not immediately dealt with; in almost every case the patient did not come alone into the hospital. His family or companions, that were not injured themselves, were there as well, completely baffled and forlorn, desperate and always in deep distress. Nobody had time to busy themselves with them, and many of them were children. A bunch of them were huddled together in a corner of the room, some clinging to each other, and others, totally on their own, too frightened to cry. John slowly walked towards them.

A girl of some fourteen years old was holding a little, desperately crying boy by the hand.

“Hi there,” John said gently, crouching down. “Is this your brother? What is your name? I am John.”

The girl eyed him wearily and very much on her guard but she seemed reassured by his appearance. Jowan had lent John some trousers and a jumper that morning, so he fitted in with the rest of them.

“Hayley Peters, mister, and this is my brother Dylan.”

“Were you in the accident, then, Hayley?”

“Yes, mum’s car crashed into a lorry, and they brought her here ... oh, mister, is she going to be all right? There was an awful lot of blood and ...”

“Come with me, Hayley, we must not stay here in this chaos. Over there are some chairs; you come and sit down for a bit, hey? Leicester University Hospital is one of the best in the United Kingdom, and the people here are going to take the best care of your mum. You must be as brave as you can, dear, for your little brother’s sake. Can you do that?”

She nodded, followed to the waiting area him and sat down. The little boy, who had stopped crying and was watching him with big blue eyes, immediately crawled onto her lap and buried his head against her chest, never taking his eyes off John.

“Hello mate,” John smiled, “how old are you, then?”

The boy raised four fingers and smiled back shyly.

“I want a coke and a waffle,” he said, snuffing his nose.

He extended a grubby hand to John and showed him a coin.

“The lady at the door gave it to me,” the boy said and jumped off his sister’s lap.

John, who had already gathered what the machines were for, took him by the hand and said,

“Well, do explain to me how those weird machines are working, mate! I’m hungry myself and I cannot figure out how to get something out of them!”

Dylan giggled and drew John to one of the vending machines where he showed him what to do. Apparently you had to insert the coin into one of the slits, push some buttons and then the thing released what you had chosen and it came rolling down a big hole at the bottom. Returning a content Dylan to his sister, John asked quietly, “Can you manage, Hayley, I have to see to other children, too.”

“Yes, sir, I can.”

“Good girl!” John replied and turned away.

 

Margaret had not felt this way since she opened the factory door on her first visit to Marlborough Mills and had been overwhelmed by the onslaught of noise and images of the cotton looms, on that long ago day. She now experienced the same assault on her senses, felt the same startling confusion and knew she had to deal with it or flee from there. So many people, so many voices shouting, commanding, scolding, directing. So many sufferers ... at least that was familiar to Margaret, the sight of people in pain, people in distress, people in confusion. However the world might have changed, human misery was just as vivid and real as it had been in 1852, and this was something she could deal with. There was much to do for her here.

Quickly she rushed forward to help a nurse who was struggling to hold a child down on a stretcher. The little girl, barely four or five, was howling with fright and panic. Margaret took her father’s watch out of her jeans’ pocket and opened it. A sweet little tingling song came out and the child, still sobbing, stopped crying and reached out a grubby hand to the watch.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Margaret asked softly. “Would you like to hold it?”

The girl nodded and was given the watch whereupon the nurse managed to make her lie down to be examined.

“Where is she hurt?” Margaret inquired, whispering into the nurse’s ear.

“She isn’t. She’s just freaked out with anxiety because of her dad being brought in with multiple wounds. He was unconscious and bleeding, and she thought him dead. Thank God his wounds were just cuts and bruises, nothing really serious, though he bumped his head rather seriously. He’ll live, and now I can tell her. She’ll be okay now, thanks!”

Margaret turned away and went to help out through the chaos of the room wherever she was needed. There were a variety of things to do; comforting, lending a hand, holding someone, helping wheel out the patients that had been seen to and bringing them to other departments. Those areas of the hospital all bore strange, incomprehensible names, such as Radiology, MT Scan Department, Surgery 1 and Intensive Care. Intensive care for what? To Margaret it seemed that the whole hospital was delivering intensive care everywhere!

Finally, the chaos subsided. All casualties had been moved away to other areas, and a cleaning staff had just arrived to ready the department for new arrivals. Margaret found herself at leisure to look around her again, when she saw something so uncommon that she gasped in surprise!

 

In a corner of the room, John Thornton was sitting, holding a small boy on his lap. He was talking to the child who was listening in rapt attention and smiling and clapping his hands. Snatches of John’s words reached her ears now.

“And then the prince, who had fought the dragon so valiantly a few moments earlier, found himself besieged by a fear so great and so captivating that he knew not how to deal with it. On the couch, draped in the finest silk, lay the figure of a beautiful princess and she was asleep. The prince knew he had to perform the one act he was most thoroughly afraid of in his entire life, and that was to kiss the princess awake ...”

It occurred to Margaret that John’s nineteenth century language must be as foreign as Chinese to the boy, yet the child was listening with such rapture that his whole countenance was alight with pleasure. Margaret knew why; John’s deep baritone voice, so dear to her, was soothing the child.

Never had Margaret imagined that she would once witness the stern master of Marlborough Mills telling stories to a child. The picture caused her heart to turn into water with deep love for her John. Their future, whatever it turned out to be, was going to be delightful and warm.

 

Chapter Eleven – Learning and Coping

 

John finished his story at that same moment, and Dylan clapped his hands in delight.

“Another one, another one!”

“No, Dylan,” his big sister scolded, “John already told you three stories and ...”

Margaret saw how the girl’s eyes suddenly opened wide and how the boy followed his sister’s gaze.

“Daddy!” Both children jumped from their seats and ran toward a man who opened his arms to gather them into his embrace.

 

          A sweet smile lit John’s face when he saw the man’s relieved happiness at seeing his children unharmed. Earlier on, the nurse who’d attended their mother, had reassured them of her welfare. She was only mildly injured and was now being treated for a broken forearm so the children would be allowed to see her soon. John stood and turned to see Margaret watching him with bright eyes and a certain look in them he had not seen before. It sent his pulse racing as a rush of sheer desire went straight through him.

“Good day, my love. I did not know you were here too?”

“I came with Marjorie. John, were those children involved in the accident?”

“Yes ... their mum was but she is well now. The little boy was so frightened, Margaret, and his sister, God! I have never seen so much pent-up anxiety in someone’s eyes before. And so much ... forlornness! Yet she kept herself strong for her little brother’s sake. I am glad their father has come, and that their mother is going to be alright.”

“Have you been here long, darling?”

“I have no idea, Margaret, I came here with Jowan when chaos broke out. There is not much I can do to relieve physical pain but I saw that the relatives of the injured people were left on their own. I took pity on the children and I wanted to help.”

“John,” Margaret said, “you have so thoroughly changed, my love. When I first met you, you did not see other people’s misery.”

John smiled a little sadly, hurt by the memories of his past life that Margaret was conjuring up. It was not something he liked to remember. He had been such a harsh man, only interested in making profit and keeping his mill running.

“Little Tom Boucher has ... I don’t know, I cannot really put it into words, but that child has somehow opened my eyes.”

“He has touched your heart, my darling.”

His hand came up to cup her face.

“No, my love, that was your doing, only yours.”

They stood amidst the still packed emergency room, and it was like if they were alone, just the two of them. Gazing at each other, smiling into each other’s eyes, drowning in each other’s expression of pure love, John and his Margaret felt simply happy and strong.

 

The day at the hospital just flew by, and evening approached almost imperceptibly. Jowan and Marjorie were absolutely worn out by the time they were being relieved by the next team of nurses. During the car drive home, they were quiet, and so were John and Margaret, still very impressed by all they had seen.

Betty took one look at her daughter and knew Marjorie was at the end of her tether, but it was Margaret who led her to her room.

“I will help you undress and bathe, Marjorie,” she said softly, “and I will bring you your supper on a tray afterwards. You need to rest. This cannot be good for the baby.”

Marjorie smiled weakly and sank into a chair.

“It’s because of the baby I feel so knackered, Margaret. Pregnancy will do that for you, although today was so hectic that I’m sure everybody on that ward will be completely exhausted tonight.”

She extended her hand to Margaret, who knelt beside her and looked up at her.

“Margaret, I watched you with the children and you were marvellous. You could be a nurse yourself, you have the right attitude and a kind heart. Maybe you should consider taking a proper training?”

“Oh, but ... can one train as a nurse just like that?”

“Well, you’d have to pass a test before entering medical school, but I’m sure the education you enjoyed back in 1852 will be more than adequate. I’ll rummage through my books, later on, and we can find out what would be required, okay?”

“Erm ... okay ...” Margaret answered, still uneasy with the twentieth-century wording.

 

Jowan poured them both a stiff whisky, when he and John settled in the study to unwind. They had been ushered out of the kitchen by Betty, who was preparing supper. The first moments were spent in silence while they sat enjoying the excellent single malt Jowan had chosen.

“This is exquisite,” John praised, “I do not know this brand. Where have you purchased it, Jowan?”

“I have an uncle and a cousin, back in Scotland, who both work at a brewery and send me supplies, now and then,” Jowan replied, “I’ll bet the whisky breweries you knew, back in 1852, are still in place nowadays. We should go and find out, and you’ll see that Scotland too has changed very much in a hundred and sixty years.”

John nodded, shrugging and grinning.

“Yes, that would be so, I guess. After what I saw today, I have a hard time figuring out where Margaret and I belong to in this era. We might have to think about it, though. Last night, when I was wandering through the fields, I discovered that the train carriage is no longer there so we have no means to go back to our time. I have no money, and we cannot live off you and Marjorie and Betty indefinitely so I will have to seek employment and a place to live.”

“Wow, wow, mate!” Jowan raised a steadying hand and looked somewhat alarmed.

“John, what kind of work would you be doing? You’re an employer yourself, a manufacturer! You’re not used to being bossed around, and ordered what to do, and how to behave! You’ll go bonkers within a week!”

John straightened himself in his chair, feeling slightly annoyed with Jowan’s critique of his character.

“I know it will be hard and unfamiliar, and that there will be a great deal for me to learn anew, but I also know myself, Jowan. I work hard and I always was a quick study. Being an employer of men is the best training school there is to adapt yourself to any situation that might arise. Adapting to the unforeseen is what I do day after day in my mill, Jowan.”

“Yes,” Jowan said, a look of surprise in his eyes at the calm strength this nineteenth-century manufacturer displayed. “Yes, I think I understand, John. There is something about you that might do the trick in many a circumstance.”

“Anyway,” John stated, rising from his chair in a determined way, “I have to speak with Margaret first. I am not alone in this situation, and from what I have seen so far, in this era, women do have a say in all kinds of situations. I am not sure I will get used to that, ever!”

 

Soon thereafter, Betty called them all to supper, and they enjoyed it in blessed silence. Marjorie had come to table too, though she still looked a bit pale. After the meal, Margaret insisted that the young woman should go to bed and rest, while she herself would help Betty clean up the dishes. She was pleasantly surprised to see Jowan and John doing their share, and again she marvelled how the latter had changed. To be honest, they had not seen each other for months before they met at the train station, yet Margaret had instantly sensed that John had changed, both in manners and also in character. He was – what was the word she was looking for – he was milder, more tolerant of people and their behaviour. He had learned to control his temper, and this was reflected in his dealings with people. He was kinder, much less conceited, and ready to do whatever was needed.

Margaret liked this John very much.

When all but Marjorie retreated to the terrace, there was a call on Jowan’s mobile, which he took inside the house. The look of sorrow on his face was enough to get Margaret on her feet. She quietly asked him what was going on.

 

 

Chapter Twelve – Pitching In

“Jowan, what is it?” Margaret asked. Betty got to her feet too, her plain, motherly face full of concern.

“That was my mum,” Jowan stammered, “it seems that my dad has had a stroke. He’s in hospital and she’s terrified. I ... I’ll have to go too, see what I can do to help.”

“I am sorry, Jowan,” John’s voice sounded, “I will accompany you to the hospital and assist you.”

“I am coming too,” Margaret said.

 

At Leicester UH, John and Margaret met with Mrs Thorn, Jowan’s mother, a rather stocky woman of a height that was that of Margaret. She had the same curly hair as Jowan which must have been dark in her youth but was now sprinkled with grey, and very dark eyes. When she saw her son coming into the waiting area, she burst out in tears. It seemed that her husband was getting worse, after having himself worked up about the pub he ran in the town’s centre, where he’d collapsed an hour before. The doctors were still examining him, and Mrs Thorn was waiting for them to be informed about her husband’s condition.

Margaret instantly concerned herself with the distressed woman. She remembered all too well her own, dear mother who had become so ill after they had moved to Milton.

“Come, Mrs Thorn, let me get you a cup of tea.”

The older woman looked at her with sudden relief as if she hadn’t thought about it herself.

“I’m sorry, dear. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.”

“This is Margaret,” Jowan said, “a friend of Marjorie’s from Manchester who’s staying with us for a few days. This is her partner, John.”

Hands were shaken, and they all settled in the waiting area with tea from the vending machines.

Jowan’s mother began telling them what had happened.

The pub Jowan’s father owned was his life’s achievement and pride. He had worked long hours all his life to get it like it was now, a busy, well-tended place where people could have a good meal for a reasonable price, a pint of ale after work, or even a cup of tea and a piece of pie while they did their shopping. The biggest problem was to find and keep a sufficient staff in an age when people did not like to work on weekends, or late at night. Mr Thorn was forever fighting battles to meet his own standards, and he pitched in himself when it was busy. As a result of the long hours and hard work, not to mention the stress of dealing with inadequate employees, he had worked himself to exhaustion time after time. His body, which had protested several times over the years, had now given up, but he couldn’t stop worrying about the pub, even during the transport to the hospital

 Mrs Thorn began imploring Jowan to go down there and see what could be done to assure that everything went well during his father’s absence.

“Mum, why? Dad has a few employees to do the work while he’s ill, hasn’t he? I’m sure ...”

“You don’t understand, Jowan! Your dad has been doing it practically on his own, lately! You know that French cook he took on has too much airs to get his hands messy. Cutting and washing vegetables is beneath him. And that waitress, Kylie is good for nothing if your dad’s not around. Please, darling, you must go there. Your dad will want to hear all about it.”

 

Twenty minutes later, Jowan parked his car in front of “The Green Huntsman”, Mr Thorn’s pub. Although it was eight pm, there were but a few patrons inside when he and John walked in. A girl in a skirt and top that scarcely bedecked her body was sitting on one of the patrons’ lap. To John, she looked like a prostitute, as she was showing her naked arms and legs and a considerable portion of  her bosom and bare stomach. John was immensely glad that Margaret had stayed at the hospital with Mrs Thorn, otherwise she would have witnessed this unspeakable behaviour.

“Hello, Kylie,” Jowan said as he strode towards the back where the kitchen was, “is Bert still here?”

The girl hastily jumped off the patron’s lap and trotted after Jowan.

“Yes, Jowan! He’s ...”

“Sleeping on the job as usual,” Jowan mocked and threw open the door to the kitchen. John brushed past Kylie without a glance and followed Jowan inside.

The kitchen, which was large and well-equipped, looked like a battlefield. The dishes were piled up in the big sink, and there were dirty pots and pans all over the place, not to mention food residues, empty bottles and other signs of neglect everywhere.

 

Next to the kitchen was a small restroom where they found the chef lounging in a comfortable chair with a glass of brandy in his hand. He didn’t stir when Jowan and John strode in but stared defiantly at them.

 

“Mr Duvalier, good evening!” Jowan said, trying to keep his voice level. “I see that the kitchen is not tidied up. Did the cleaning team not come in today?”

“No, they didn’t!” the chef said in a strong French accent. “How am I supposed to keep up now that Monsieur Thorn has met with illness?”

“Well, couldn’t you have a go with the cleaning-up, then?” Jowan retaliated, anger growing in his tone.

“I absolutely refuse to do that! I am a chef, not a cleaning woman!”

Jowan opened his mouth to shout at him, but John drew him out of the room and whispered,

“Look, do not be shocked by my bluntness, Jowan, but can I make a suggestion? You are needed at the hospital with your mother. I can perfectly sort this out and keep an eye on the business while your father is ill. Trust me, I know a disgruntled employee when I see one. I can handle him.”

“What? John, you don’t know what you’re talking about! This is a stinking mess of a job, you’ll never get that lazy bastard to dirty his hands by doing the dishes!”

“Well,” John chuckled, “a few days ago, I could have easily said that of myself, too! Since then, I have already “dirtied my hands” with the dishes twice and suffered no ill consequences from it. Just tell him I am the one in charge until your father comes back. Leave the rest to me.”

“Okay ... if you insist but what do I tell Margaret? You’ll be tied up in here for the largest part of the day ... and the night.”

“Bring her here. If I know my Margaret, her hands will soon be dirtied, too! Leave me some cash, please. I might need to go out and buy stuff.”

“Here,” Jowan said, “this is the key to Father’s safe. I’ll show you how it’s opened. You can take whatever you need from it. Thank you, John. I appreciate this.”

After Jowan explained the restaurant’s daily routine and the working of the safe to John, the young man left. He was anxious about what he would find at the hospital, and John’s help was most welcome.

John Thornton now found himself alone and in charge. As usual. He was up to it.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen -  Human Sorrow Will Not Alter Over Time                                                        

 

Margaret watched Jowan’s mother as the older woman sat next to her in the silent waiting area at Leicester UH. Mrs Thorn was clasping her hands in worry; and her fingers kept plucking at the back of her hands. With a shock Margaret recognised that gesture; it was one that her own mother used to have whenever she was in serious concern about something. Poor Mama was forever concerned about something or other, Margaret recalled. The despair of the gesture tugged at her heart, and she covered Mrs Thorn’s hands with one of her own for comfort.

 

“Please, Mrs Thorn, Ma’am, keep heart. I am positively sure the doctors of this hospital will do their utmost best for your husband. I had the privilege of observing them today when a major motorcar accident brought in many injured people. They were perfectly up to the task, I assure you.”

“Thank you, dear, I’ll try but ... but ...”

The tears, kept at bay for too long, spilled from the poor woman’s eyes, and Margaret laid her arms around the slender shoulders.

“Shhh ... there, there ...”

A sharp vision of the past shot through her head; her mother, weeping inconsolably on the settee, when she knew she must die in a short time. It had been the night of Mrs Thornton’s dinner party and Margaret, despite an earlier sweet interlude with John, had violently quarrelled with him over the dinner table. The look of contempt in his eyes had haunted her for days. All that had been supplanted by the huge anxiety over her mother’s health.

“I’m sorry, Miss Margaret, I lost control for just a while.”

“You may drop the “miss”, Mrs Thorn, and please, it is only too natural to feel concern about the ones we love. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to show it.”

“You’re a sweet girl, Margaret. I very much appreciate that you’re staying here with me. My name is Maria.”

“Oh!” Margaret exclaimed in surprise, “Maria, that was my mother’s name!”

“Was? Does that mean your mother passed away?”

“Yes, only half a year ago ... my father followed her three months after.”

“You had your own part of sorrow, then, my dear. Life can be cruel, can’t it?”

Margaret nodded. The two women held each other for support and comfort.

 

In the kitchen of “The Green Huntsman” in Leicester’s town centre, Monsieur Robert Duvalier, cook and Frenchman, eyed the tall, lean man in front of him with suspicion. The newcomer was clad in dark jeans, white shirt and black leather jacket, all of these not quite fitting his broad shoulders as if they belonged to someone slighter. Yet the man didn’t seem ridiculed by them. On the contrary, the tight-fitting leather jacket only emphasized the strength of muscle of chest and arms, and the snug jeans showed the strong thighs to perfection. The man’s stance and bearing spoke of a quiet, masterful authority and his lean, strong-boned face bore an expression of cool serenity.

When the man addressed him in a pleasant deep baritone voice, Monsieur Duvalier found himself jump to attention as if he were the merest schoolboy.

“Monsieur Duvalier, my name is John Thornton and I am a friend of Mr Jowan Thorn. No doubt, the sad news about Mr Thorn senior has already reached you?

“Mais oui, bien sûr!,” the cook exclaimed, suddenly eager to please this man. No, he thought, make it this “gentleman”. During his five year stay in the United Kingdom, Robert Duvalier hadn’t found much to make him think good of the country and its inhabitants, especially with respect to the fine French cuisine. These people didn't like the refined dishes he created for this cheap version of a “bistro” he was working for. The customers differed from midday working people, in need for a hasty lunch, over five o’clock regulars, enjoying their after-work pint of ale, to the motley sort of hangers-on that stayed until closing time and drank far too much. Only on Sunday did people come to lunch who really appreciated his cooking so they were the only reason he’d stayed in the UK so far.

“So, Monsieur Duvalier,” John Thornton said in a casual tone, “how did you end up in this country? I should think your talents would go to waste in the vast amount of foreign cuisines that are to be found here?”

Duvalier was a bit surprised by this man’s odd manner of speech as he was more accustomed to the gentle Mid-England accent of Leicester. He shrugged.

“A need to look farther than France’s borders, I guess. European Union and all that. You’re right about my talents going down the drain, Mr Thornton.”

“John, please. May I call you Robert?”

John pronounced the name the French way, with the stress on the last syllable, and received a smile and a nod from the Frenchman.

“So, Robert, tell me what you usually put on the menu in this cosy little pub of Mr Thorn’s?”

“The usual fish and chips, jacked potatoes and Sunday roast, of course, but also salmon, lamb or beef, cooked and dressed up the French way, although that doesn’t always have the success I wish it to have.”

“Sounds nice to me,” John murmured, but aloud he said, “You seem to be a proud sort of chap, Robert. Proud of your knowledge and skill, that is. Am I wrong?”

The Frenchman drew himself up to his full height of 5’8.

Bien sûr! What do you take me for, John?”

“Good! I thought as much! Then, let’s make this kitchen the way it suits a proper French cook, right? I will send you some hands to help you clean it up in no time.”

John ignored Robert’s stunned stare and headed for the bar where the three customers were still lingering over their pints. Kylie, he saw, was fidgeting behind the counter and threw him an uncertain glance as he strode in.

“Hey, gentlemen!” he greeted the three, mentally ranging them under the working class material, which he knew so well from Marlborough Mills. “Would you like to make a little extra profit by lending a hand to my cook? The cleaning staff seems to have deserted him tonight, and he is in sore need of help. There’s a hundred pounds in it for each of you plus free drinks after and no charge for what you already had.”

 

Jowan returned to the hospital to find his mother safely in the care of Margaret’s gentle comfort. Mum looked better, he thought, much less agitated. She was smiling again and she had lost that look of fear in her eyes. When the attending doctor came to them and explained that his father was out of danger for the moment, they all heaved a sigh of relief. His mother and Jowan were then allowed to go and see him and Margaret waited patiently for their return.

She was, however, only thinking of John, now that she finally had the leisure to relax after the strain of Mr Thorn’s illness. With a small knot of apprehension in her stomach, Margaret realised that they were in great uncertainty about their future.

 

Chapter Fourteen – Taking Stock

 

Around three in the morning, John, Margaret and Jowan finally returned to Betty’s cottage, all of them weary to the bone. Yet, all pressing and disturbing issues had been brought to a satisfactory end.

Jowan’s father was recuperating from his stroke which in the end, was not that severe. The doctors had every confidence of him leaving the hospital as soon as his vitals were back to normal. Mrs Thorn was back in her home and her sister, living nearby in a Leicestershire village had come to keep her company, whilst Mr Thorn was still in hospital.

Jowan now faced the problem of his father’s pub and he wasn’t happy about it.

“How am I going to do this?” he asked John when they all sat in the cottage’s kitchen where Betty, roused from a fitful dose on the settee, had provided them with tea and cookies to set them straight again.

John, who had problems of his own to deal with, hazarded a proposition.

“Well, you saw what I did in the pub, didn’t you? What would you say if I was to return there in the morning and in the days to follow and run it for you? I like Robert Duvalier. He deserves to be supported and therefore needs hands. The pub is seriously understaffed, Jowan. I gathered that there’s a large clientele at noon, and on Sundays, and also, on nights where they show sports on television. If you could hire an extra kitchen help and a man behind the counter, I could set them to work efficiently.”

“You would do that for me? That would be ... well, splendid! I can’t get away from my duties at the hospital, and nor can Marjorie. Thanks, John! I agree on the staff issue and will see to it first thing tomorrow.”

The two men toasted their tea cups when a quiet voice interrupted them.

“And what about me? What am I to do with my time?”

Two pair of astonished male eyes turned in Margaret’s direction.

“I think I have the answer to that, dear,” Betty’s calm voice came. “You must accompany me when I do my voluntary work at the old people’s home in Leicester. There’s a great need of helping hands in every aspect of the caring for them, especially feeding them, an activity for which there’s a serious understaffing.”

“I would be allowed to do that?” Margaret asked, with bright eyes.

“Yes, of course. No financial compensation, I’m afraid. The home is in serious need of funds, although the National Health Service is doing what they can. But you, my dear, have the right skills and temperament for such a task, being compassionate and patient as you are.”

Margaret blushed at Betty’s appraisal and met John’s fond gaze when she raised her eyes again.

“I would like that very much, Betty. Thank you for your kindness.”

“Well,” Jowan said, rising and yawning, “I don’t know about you, guys, but I’m turning in. I’m absolutely knackered! Goodnight!”

They all stood and went for their rooms. Margaret laid a hesitating hand on John’s arm.

“John, we must talk,” she said softly because she didn’t want the others to hear.

“What is it, my love?”

“Come with me to my room,” she urged and then coloured a fierce red as she realised what she just said and implied but John did not seem to notice. He nodded, curled an arm around her waist and steered her to the room she was using as her bed chamber.

                                                                        

Once inside, John could not contain himself any longer and did what he had wanted to do all day long, and a blasted eternally long day it had been! He drew his Margaret into his arms and kissed her as hard as he could.

Welcoming the violent stir of desire deep inside him, he deepened their kiss as soon as he registered Margaret’s own, fierce reaction. She hugged her body close to his and, through the thin fabric of the cotton blouse she was wearing, he suddenly felt the peaks of her breasts against his chest. Dear Lord  in heaven ...

While he was plundering her lush mouth with his tongue, his body was screaming with need as a reaction to the little, needy moans Margaret was uttering between gasps of breath. He tore himself away from her before his own need would drive him to act upon it.

“My dearest love,” he breathed, “are we not so lost in this madness that we do not know anymore what is right and what to do? I know I am. Without you, my Margaret, I should go insane out of sheer confusion. Thank God that I can at least hold you in my arms and restore my inner peace.”

Margaret raised her face upwards and suddenly his heart stopped at the sight of her beautiful eyes overflowing with tears. The desolation in her look tugged at him with violent sorrow.

“Margaret, sweetest, what is the matter? You are weeping! Is it my doing? Tell me, for heaven’s sake!”

Margaret freed herself from his anxious grasp and wiped her cheeks clean with hasty hands.

“Forgive me, John, it is nothing. Only my stupid weakness of character that turns me into a puddle every time something arises that I cannot handle. It will not happen again, my love.”

She laid her hand against John’s cheek and peered into his eyes, shyly smiling.

“And, John, I too am immensely happy that you are with me. I too would not have born the strength to endure all this. But, meanwhile, we are indeed caught in the middle of it and must deal with it.”

She drew him with her to the bed and made him sit down beside her.

“Now, tell me. Something is worrying you, John. I saw it all too clear, during this long, long day.”

“You are right, sweetest. When I walked through the countryside, last night, I noticed the train carriage had disappeared. We no longer have a portal to go back to our own time.”

Margaret raised startled eyes to him.

“Oh, John! What will we do? How is this even possible?”

“I don’t know, my darling, but I do know we are trapped here, in this century. We have to make the best of it, which means I have to make a living. We cannot keep living off Jowan, Marjorie and Betty forever.”

Margaret nodded in agreement and asked, “What profession will you take on, John? And I, should I also try and earn some money? In this century, women stand on their own two feet. I like that, John, and I would welcome an income of my own. Do you suppose we could still make use of the money I inherited from Mr Bell?”

“No, Margaret, that is impossible. We even have no real identity any more. I spoke with Jowan, earlier, and it seems that you must have a way to prove who you are, if asked for by the authorities. Jowan uses his driver’s license, which is needed if you want to drive the motored vehicles of this era, or his British passport, which is needed if you want to go abroad.”

“Can we get one of these, John? We must if we want to blend in with the rest.”

John chuckled and shook his head.

“For the driver’s license, you have to pass a test, and I must learn to drive a motor car first. Jowan tells me it needs a lot of practicing. To obtain a passport, I must prove myself a British citizen, which I could do by proving that I was born in England or have lived in England for ten years.”

“Oh! That is fine, then!” Margaret exclaimed. “We  have lived in England all our lives!”

“Yes, but how are we going to prove that, darling? I was under the assumption that I was living in Milton and now, Jowan tells me Milton does not really exists! That Milton and Helstone are products of a writer’s imagination, that we are characters in a novel. It is utterly confusing and inexplicable, Margaret. Yet, we have to make the best of it, so I am going to run “The Green Huntsman” for a living. Jowan and I will work out a suitable compensation.”

He drew her closer and kissed her brow.

“We will weather this, Margaret. It is a promise I make to you, here and now.”

 

Chapter Fifteen – Blending In

 

Within three weeks John and Margaret’s situation had thoroughly changed.

 

John was doing a hell of a job at “The Green Huntsman”. With Jowan’s help, he hired an elderly man who retired from public service the year before but who had done some pub work in his spare time to have an extra income. Paul Burrows was a short, slender man with a shock of white hair and a pair of dark brown eyes. He had kept himself fairly fit over the years by working out at a gym. A couple of years before, his two daughters had left the house to set up their own households – finally, as Paul stated to John – since they had lingered at home for far too long in their father’s opinion. His eldest had recently become a mother, and Paul’s wife Dorothy was so besotted with her first grandson that she spent all her waking hours with him. Paul felt a little lonesome lately, so he jumped at the chance of making a little money on the sideline. John found out pretty quickly that Paul was a regular employee, hard-working and honest. Despite his short stature, he could display authority when it was needed in the pub. John was very much taken with him.

 

 

Margaret too was settling in nicely. She accompanied Betty to the old people’s home “The Larks” and found herself loving working for and with the elderly, especially with the ones that suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. They were the ones that were completely defenceless, as vulnerable as babies, but Margaret loved the way they smiled at her when she helped them. Even though they had no idea of what she was doing or why, they often communicated the only way they still could – with a smile. Then there were the silent ones, those who had withdrawn within themselves into a world thoroughly closed to others. Margaret just helped them where she could, mostly at meal times, when she would butter their toast and feed it to them, or make sure they finished their plates and help them drink. It was a difficult task since there were not enough nurses to help all the people. Margaret usually busied herself with five or six people at the same time.

She had only been working at “The Larks” for a week when she was asked to come and work for a private service that helped elderly people who wanted to stay in their homes as long as possible. Small household tasks were needed, such as dusting and cleaning, making beds, cooking simple meals, doing the shopping. Most of all, those elderly needed the contact with others, so that they could talk and reminiscence about the past. Margaret eagerly agreed, especially since this job came with a small salary which was very welcome. She didn’t give up her work at “The Larks”, though she just wasn’t able anymore to come in every day.

On Sundays, John and Margaret went for long, lazy walks through the lush Leicestershire countryside. It was September now and the leaves, though still a dark green, were inevitably turning golden.

John loved these walks immensely. Strolling over country paths, hand in hand with Margaret, he frequently took her in his arms in spots that were hidden from view. He knew Margaret was still a bit shy about embracing in broad daylight where people could see them. He’d had problems with it himself but with what he daily saw in the pub, he’d realised the people in this era didn’t care a bit about propriety and good manners. They just did the things they enjoyed, and embracing in public in the middle of the day was very common now. Yet he acknowledged Margaret’s qualms because he respected her.

 

On one of such walks, Margaret and John found a spot in the woods where trees had been cleared and sunlight threw a dappled golden light through the remaining tree leaves. The forest floor was carpeted with soft green moss, and they stretched out on it, enjoying the quiet peace of nature around them.

Margaret’s head rested on her beloved’s chest while she was cradled in his arms, the strong, steady beat of his heart against her cheek. She could have felt completely at ease but for one thought that had been nagging her since days. Timidly but determinedly as was her habit, Margaret broached the subject.

“John, where do we stand on the matter of our wedding?”

 

She caught John completely off guard. He had been so busy, these last weeks, that he had totally forgot about their future together. How could he have done so? Wasn’t Margaret the most important person in his life? Yes, and yet he had let his feelings go dormant in the rush of new things that drowned him, without even noticing it.

“My sweet Margaret,” he whispered, cupping her face to look deep into her lovely blue-green eyes, “if you still want me for a husband, I am at your feet. I just do not have the slightest notion as to how we are going to make it come true.”

Margaret smiled a little sadly.

“Yes, it all depends whether we stay here or return to our own time and Milton, does it not?”

“We cannot return, sweetheart, the portal is gone.”

“John, I do not know how I know this but I do think the portal is not available anymore for a reason. We are meant to spend some time here in this era so that we can learn from it and then take it back to 1852. With that knowledge we could improve so much in our own time. Just think about the way the hospitals are organized. So clean and efficient! They have homes for old people here, John! People grow old in this century. I saw several ninety-year-old and a lot of people reach eighty very easily. A great deal of them are even fairly fit, physically and mentally.”

John, who’d gone to “The Larks” with Margaret once or twice, particularly remembered the Alzheimer cases.

“Yes, but many of them have their mind slipped away from them also. I do not wish to grow old like that, Margaret, it scares me.”

“At least they are given the chance to grow old, John!” Her cheeks were flushed now, and she was warming to her subject rapidly. “In 1852, people just die long before they reach sixty! Their minds are already numb with misery from the day they are born!”

 

With a sudden shock, John recalled that day when he had gone to speak to Higgins in the Princeton district and wandered through the dismal alleys. He again felt the pity over the black despair that marked the faces of the people there, crouching before their homes. He again was moved by the absolute misery that made the children whimper and cower like cornered animals when they knew they were going to be killed by the hunters. No hope for the future, no joy. That day, John had realised that these people were his people, his workers and their families. Living, breathing and struggling to survive. That day, he had understood why Margaret so loved this people. She knew what it was to lose someone to a disease like measles or pneumonia that could have been prevented by a minimum of concern and care. Had she not lost her dear friend Bessy Higgins?                                                                                                           “So do you think we will be given a chance to go back to 1852, then?” he asked Margaret.                      “Yes, I do, John. I believe that we will find the portal when we are ready to go back. But that was not my question, my love. I asked you if we should not get married here, in this present era. After all, we do not know when the portal will appear again, and I cannot wait endlessly to become your wife. It is my dearest wish to become yours, John, completely and without restraint.”                                                                       “Oh, my dear heart!” John cried, pulling her to him. “I too wish this fervently! Let’s do it, Margaret! Let’s get married.”

 

 

Chapter Sixteen - Choices

 

Of course, things were not that simple. To get legally married, first and foremost, you needed an identity. One that you could prove with the required documents, to boot. There was no way John Thornton could prove himself an Englishman, even though he had lived in England all his life. Margaret was in the exact same situation. In 1852, people didn’t have passports or driver’s licences.

 

John and Margaret thought long and hard about it and discussed it with their friends. Jowan promised to ask around at the hospital’s legal department. These people sometimes had to deal with illegal immigrants. A situation similar to the one John and Margaret were in. The thought was bewildering!

 

After a few days of fretting, Margaret couldn’t stand it anymore and she went into Leicester after work to find John at “The Green Huntsman”.

There were only a few customers, she saw, and she was glad about it. John would be able to make time for her. In her quiet, sweet way, Margaret greeted Paul behind the bar.

“Hello, Paul,” she said, smiling, “where can I find John?”

Paul Burrows liked Margaret immensely. She was the kind of girl that reminded him of his own Dorothy when she had that age. Dorothy too had been shy but determined when she had something on her mind that she wanted to sort out. Oh, and he could see Margaret definitively had something to sort out! Her little, rounded chin stuck out in stubbornness and her eyes shone with resolution.

“He’ll be in the kitchen, love, discussing menus with Monsieur Robert. Shall I fetch him for you?”

“No, thank you. I will go find him myself.”

Paul watched Margaret as she disappeared through the door leading to the back of the restaurant. She was such an elegant little thing, he thought. Just look at the way she strode through the place. Margaret didn’t just walk, no, she strode, as if she were walking down the aisle of a church. Even in jeans and sneakers, Margaret managed to walk very elegantly.

 

Monsieur Robert and his new help Malik, a sixteen year old Pakistani boy who tried to scrape enough money to buy himself a motorbike, were busy preparing food for the evening meals. John was nowhere to be seen, and Margaret panicked just a little. She retreated to the pub again, suddenly scared as hell. John ... where was he? For some unknown, absurd reason, Margaret had a sudden vision about John gone back to 1852, and she left behind in the twenty-first century. What if he had found a new portal, gone through it and was now unable to come back? The train carriage surely could not be the only way to travel between times, could it?

Like the flood of a river swollen by spring’s melted snow, Margaret felt panic overwhelm her and grab her by the throat. A life without John! She would perish from sheer sorrow! Abruptly she treaded back and bumped into the wall, her knees trembling and her heart thumping. Closing her eyes, she found her mind racing with terror. Sweat broke out all over her body, and she gave a little moan.

“Margaret! Sweetheart, what is wrong? Come here!”

John’s arms engulfed her, and her head came to rest against his hard chest, its top barely brushing his chin.

“John ...” she breathed.

“Hey, hey, what has come over you, darling? You’re shaking! Have you hurt yourself? Are you unwell?”

“No ... it’s nothing ... I’m being silly ...”

“Oh, yes? How so? Tell me.”

“I thought you had disappeared to 1852 again without taking me. I know it’s very silly but it looked so real!”

John’s heart turned into water, just at the implication of what she was saying. That he had gone, leaving her behind. Why would an absurd thing like that come into her head?

“My sweet darling little goose, would I ever do such a stupid thing? It would kill me, for sure! A life without you would mean the death of me, Margaret. Oh, you silly little adorable goose!”

He pressed her so close that she let out a small cry of protest.

“John, you will crush me if you continue in that way!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetheart. You had me in a panic, you know? Now, what brings you here, all of a sudden? It is unusual for you to venture into Leicester on your own.”

“I took the bus into town after work instead of returning to the cottage.”

“You ... YOU ... took the bus? The bus crowded with people, and you were not scared? I’m amazed, Margaret! There was a time when you were afraid of crowds.”

“I was a little afraid at first but I conquered it. After all, people take the bus all the time in 2013. If I am to live here and now, I want to do what other people do.”

She looked up into John’s face with determined gravity.

“If we are to live here, John, I want to be like other people. I want to have a real relationship with you.”

Reluctantly, John released her to rake a hand through his hair.

“Margaret, I am doing all I can to figure out what we can do to get married but those things take time and ...”

“I do not want to wait, John. The longer we stay here, the harder it will become, just to be together and not ...”

The fact that she hesitated, told John that she wasn’t yet completely sure herself and, more important, that she struggled with the whole blasted situation. So did he. It was so bloody confusing, damn it!

“Margaret, I know that, believe me! Yet, I refuse to let despair overwhelm me. We will weather this, I promise you. Just give me a couple of days, please? If the situation has not become clearer then, we will ...”

In sudden passion John took Margaret by the shoulders and looked deep into her eyes.

“I will make you mine, my love. Don’t you know how much I want you, you must know how much it takes me to ... just hold back? I am a man, Margaret, and I am deeply in love with the most beautiful woman on earth. Living with you, day after day, under the same roof and not be allowed to love you completely, is torture beyond bearing, Margaret!”

“John ...” Margaret whispered, her lovely eyes filling with tears of compassion, “I am so sorry I only made it harder for you ... for us, with my whining. Please, forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive, my love,” John said and kissed her softly on the mouth.

 

“Hum!” a voice sounded and the couple leapt with surprise to see Betty standing a few yards away.

“I’m sorry, my darlings,” she said and smiled at them, “but I couldn’t help overhearing. I think I have the solution for your problem, or at least, I know someone who might help. Can you come with me now or haven’t you finished with your work here tonight, John? In that case, I could ...”

“No, Betty, no. I could stop right now and come with you. Margaret has finished work already, so she can come too.”

“Splendid! Let’s go then!”

Outside the pub they found Marjorie in her car, parked in front. As soon as they’d gotten in, she drove away and took them to one of the less finer neighbourhoods of town. She stopped in front of a terraced house which must have had better days a century before but was now in a rather shabby state. In fact, the whole street was shabby but it was also alive with the hustle and bustle of people, few of them English. There were shops where women were buying their groceries, bargaining aloud with the Indian or Pakistani shopkeepers, and children were playing and chasing each other in laughter and merriment. Men sat in front of coffee shops, drinking and smoking and arguing, most of them speaking in rapid Arabic and gesticulating ardently.

Margaret was overwhelmed with the liveliness of the place which reminded her of Milton’s Princeton district. It gave her a pang of home sickness, so vivid, that tears filled her eyes. Nicholas and Mary ... how she missed them ...

However, Betty didn’t give her time to reminiscence much. She told them to get out so that Marjorie could go and park the car.

“Here we are!” she said briskly and banged a fist on the front door, which was badly in need of paint.

It was opened a crack by a little girl in brightly coloured Oriental trousers and tunic.

“Hello, Sharia!,” Betty greeted her. “Is Father Patrick in?”

“Yes, Mrs Betty, come in, please?”

Margaret and John followed her inside a narrow corridor, also badly in need of paint but otherwise very clean and tidy. Sharia opened a door on the left side and gestured them in, announcing them loudly.

“Mrs Betty and visitors, Father!”

“Come in! Come in! Welcome!” a deep rumbling voice in an unmistakable Irish accent boomed. The next moment John and Margaret found themselves vigorously shaking hands with a large man in the black robes of a Catholic priest.

“I’m Father Patrick, pastor of this multicoloured parish. How can I help you, folks?”

 

 

Chapter Seventeen – Setting Things In Motion

 

The priest continued in the same, relaxed way, not giving them a chance to recollect themselves after the first shock John and Margaret had suffered.

“I have to dress the old-fashioned way, you know. People in this neighbourhood still feel strongly about every man that holds a position in religion; they want to know him for what he is, no more, no less. Certainly, no less. A priest must look like one. I came here in jeans and leather jacket but I soon changed into traditional garb since I was ignored, even by the few Irish that live here. Now, what can I do for you, my good people? Sit down, sit down. Sharia, my pet, won’t you ask Mrs Trundle if she can serve us some tea, there’s a good girl?”

 

Betty, noticing the couple’s embarrassment, took over.

“Patrick, this is John Thornton and his fiancée, Margaret Hale. They’ve been staying at my house since a couple of weeks now. They would like to be married, only, they are illegally staying in the country. I know how you dealt with cases like that in the past and I thought you might be able to help them.”

The priest showed no visible surprise or rejection.

 

“So, you don’t have the necessary documents to prove your identity? Well, you just have come to the right neighbourhood, then. Half the residents are in the exact same position as you are. But, forgive me for asking, Thornton looks like a real British name to me, and so does Hale. What’s happening here?”

The indomitable Betty opened her big handbag and pulled a book out of it.

“Here, Patrick. I think you should have a look at this. Go directly for the back cover.”

 

How am I to dress up in my finery, and go off and away to smart parties, after the sorrow I have seen today?’

 

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill-workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice.

This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man

John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over treatment over his employees masks a deeper attraction.

In North and South Elizabeth Gaskell skilfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

 

John watched the priest as he was reading with sharp attention what was on the page. The absurdity of it all again hit him with considerable force. How was one to explain what had happened to him and Margaret? John wasn’t even sure he understood himself but here he was – propelled forward into time for the span of a hundred and sixty years. It was mind-blowing!

Father Patrick looked up to gaze directly at John first and then at Margaret.

“Look here,” he said slowly, “if you hadn’t come with Betty, I would have taken you for two people who are seriously confused in their minds. People who are so shaken by life that they seek relief in extreme escapism by posing as characters out of a novel. But I have known Betty for ten years now, and she is the most level-headed person I know. So I have no choice but to believe her. You two are the John and Margaret of a Gaskell novel but you have ended up here, not only real but also with knowledge of your past lives or – at least - how this novel describes them?”

“Yes, Father,” John replied in a steady voice, “we were in a train carriage somewhere between London and Milton, in 1852. The train stopped, and we discovered that the carriage, we were in was all that was left of the train. We alighted and found ourselves in the twenty-first century.

Somehow – and do not ask me how for I have no inkling – we must have gone through a time portal.”

Father Patrick nodded.

“Well,” he mused, “it’s certainly very unusual and utterly inexplicable, but there are more things between Heaven and Earth that are also inexplicable to us, mere mortals. You must have been thoroughly shaken by the experience! A time gap of a hundred and sixty years is immense. The changes that have taken place must overwhelm the two of you.”

John smiled and took Margaret’s hand in his.

“Margaret and I are in this together, Father. We draw whatever courage we can from each other’s presence and support. But you are right; we do keep being amazed – and sometimes shocked – by all the unknown new things that we’re discovering. It’s mind-boggling what people have achieved over the years.”

Father Patrick studied the couple sitting in front of his desk with interest. They were so obviously not in their right place, even though they were dressed in jeans, T-shirt and denim jacket. The girl’s hair was a rich, chocolate brown, wavy and thick, and tied in a tail in the nape of her neck but Patrick could easily picture her with her hair piled up on top of her head as was the custom in the eighteen-hundreds. The man’s bearing was full of quiet dignity and strong authority, as was befitting his status as a manufacturer from 1852. They were deeply in love; he could feel the strength of that love in every look they gave each other, in every sweet, yet very shaky smile. They were also very afraid. The force of that fear seeped through their every action and was visible in the depths of their eyes.

“What would you have me do to help you, people?” he asked quietly, folding his hands before him.

The girl spoke for the first time, directing her blue eyes at him.

“We want you to marry us, Father.”

 

After they had all returned to Betty’s cottage and explained to Jowan where they had been, Margaret wanted Marjorie to go and rest. The young woman’s face was very pale and she seemed exhausted. Betty and Margaret then saw to supper.

“Do you think Father Patrick can marry us, Betty?” Margaret asked.

“No, dear, since you and John are no Roman-Catholics. But he knows a lot of people, and I’m sure he can find a clergyman of The Church of England to perform the ceremony. I was surprised, though, when he said he wanted to read ‘North & South’ first.”

“I am not,” John said, matter-of-factly. “If I were in his shoes, I would have done the same thing. It is of the uttermost importance for a priest to know everything there is about the couple.”

“So you’re really going through with it, John?” Jowan asked, while he sat down and began buttering toast.

“Of course I am. Margaret and I have chosen each other for life, and we want to seal our union for life, also.” He extended a hand to Margaret who took it and smiled sweetly at him.

“I should go and bring Marjorie something to eat,” she said. “She was really tired, Jowan. She’s well up in her second trimester now, yet her nausea spells keep coming up still.”

When she entered Marjorie’s room, Margaret found her friend sitting in a chair in front of the window.

“I brought you some toast and scrambled eggs and some tea, Marjorie. You should be in bed, you know. You need a lot of rest.”

Marjorie swung round to face her, distress plainly on her face.

“I envy you, Margaret. What did John do to persuade you to marry him?”

Margaret put her tray on the dressing table and looked at her friend in astonishment.

“What do you mean ‘persuade me’? John proposed to me a long time ago, you know that from – well, from the film and the book. I was so stupid and stubborn. I did not see what a good man he was and how much he loved me. I have a lot to make up to him, Marjorie, for I must have caused him great sorrow. Yet, he did not stop loving me but kept hoping we would come together. God knows I have kept him waiting a long time, refusing to realise that I, too had started loving him. It is only natural that we should become man and wife, now that we both know we love each other.”

“Yes, but when did you realise that you loved him? What did persuade you that he was the right man for you? What had changed, so long after that first proposal?”

Margaret suddenly found herself blushing with embarrassment.

“Marjorie, I think I was attracted to John from the first time I set eyes on him, in the sorting room at Marlborough Mills. Yet, the attraction turned instantly into revulsion, when I saw him beat Stephens. I remember being troubled for days, after that. I kept seeing his angry face, and the appalling violence he used to punish a worker who was weaker than himself. From then on, I fought the attraction and focussed on the revulsion. John – time after time – confused me when one minute, he was arrogant and cruel and abrasive and, the next minute, he was compassionate and civil. And at some point, he was downright sweet. That was when he broke through my defences, so gradually that I did not see it. After Mason came to tell me John had annulled the coroner’s inquest after the death of Leonards, it suddenly dawned on me just how much he must love me. At that same moment, I realised I loved him too.”

“But he withdrew from you then, isn’t it? He was persuading himself that it would never work out between the two of you.”

“Yes!” Margaret exclaimed. “Oh, I was such a goose, Marjorie! I did not know how to deal with his newfound aloofness, which hurt me very deeply. There were times when I wanted to scream at him, to shout out loud that I loved him! But my upbringing prevented me from doing so. Thank God, we got another chance, at that train station. Now I absolutely know I will never let him go again.”

Marjorie nodded, her face very earnest.

“Maybe I should let Jowan break through my defences too, isn’t it? Maybe it’s time I accepted his proposal, now that we’re going to have a baby together.”

 

 

Chapter Eighteen - When Two Become One

 

The cold winds announcing fall began coming in from the north when, one evening, Father Patrick visited Betty’s cottage.

“I’ve good news for you, John and Margaret, but there’s also some bad news.”

“Oh!” Margaret’s anguished cry startled John, and he went to put his arm around her shoulder.

“For God’s sake, Father! Do tell us! You are upsetting Margaret.”

“I’m sorry, my dear,” Patrick apologized, “but I’m afraid a proper civil marriage isn’t possible. The Registrar has to enter your marriage in the register, and since you have no proper address nor legal whereabouts, that won’t be possible. However, you can marry in a religious marriage and be registered here, in the parish where Betty lives. Mr Routhledge, the local vicar, has agreed to perform the ceremony. You could be husband and wife within three weeks from the date the banns are published.”

Margaret immediately looked at John. Although her heart had just made a huge jump of joy inside her, she wasn’t sure about her betrothed’s reaction. John had set rules for himself that could be very strict. Being engaged to him, she was now subjected to those same rules.

She was seeing conflicting feelings on that strong face of his; a bit of doubt, a touch of fear but also, relief.

“My darling,” he said softly, “do you find it convenient if we go to Mr Routhledge and ask him to publish our banns?”

Margaret flung herself around his neck in sheer joy!

 

On the tenth of October 2013, John and Margaret were wed in the parish church of St Mary’s at Sileby by Mr Routhledge, the vicar. Margaret was wearing a beautiful, mint-green dress in the finest cotton, that reached halfway down her legs, in transparent white stockings, to reveal her slim feet in short, white, high-heeled boots. To protect herself from the biting wind, she had donned a woollen coat, a bit longer than her dress, and of a green a bit darker than that of her dress. She could not stop glancing at her bridegroom in his three-piece black suit of fine wool over a light blue linen shirt and matching tie. Even without the glorious cravats he used to wear in 1852, John managed to look simply dashing.

Father Patrick was there too and acted as a witness for John and also, for Jowan. He and Marjorie finally decided to be husband and wife and begin a real family, now that their baby was duly underway. Betty was radiant with pride and joy for the two lovely couples in front of the altar. She was Margaret’s witness and Dorothy, Paul Burrows’ wife had agreed to be Marjorie’s. Of course, Jowan’s parents were also present.

After the ceremony, the whole company went to “The Green Huntsman” to celebrate with a fine meal and a few bottles of champagne.

John and Margaret were then settled in a taxi, which brought them to a nearby hotel for their wedding night. This was Mr Thorn’s wedding present for the newlyweds, as a token of his appreciation for John, who’d worked so hard in the pub. They would stay for three days and enjoy a quiet honeymoon in Leicester.                                                               

After the door closed behind them, they found themselves in a pretty room of large proportions, upholstered in a twenty-first century version of the Victorian style, with dark mahogany furniture and long, dark red velvet curtains. A flower-patterned wallpaper covered the walls and their feet sunk into a thick carpet of a rich brown, sprinkled with tiny rose buds. However, their eyes were drawn to the big four-poster bed with its silken bedspread.                                                                                                                   Margaret’s breath escaped her lips in a helpless little sigh of both anxiety and anticipation. This was her wedding night with John! She turned towards her husband and immediately was enveloped in his intense blue gaze, burning dark with unmistakeable desire. It startled her, despite the stirring of her own rising need. How familiar this feeling had become, she reflected. This surge of heat, originating low in her abdomen and spreading slowly through her entire body, until she shivered from the intensity of it.                                                                                                                                                                 John saw the slight shudder of fear in Margaret’s stance and his heart clenched with deep, uncontrolled love for her. He opened his arms and offered her his brightest smile.                                    “Come, my love.” He said it with a voice so husky with suppressed need, that Margaret instantly responded to his call and stepped into the waiting circle of his arms. She felt so safe and so whole as her cheek came to rest against the hard surface of his chest.

“My sweet Margaret ...” The deep, warm rumble of his voice kindled the fire within her to a heat and Margaret lifted her face for him to kiss her. He took her mouth in his with a fierceness that made her want to press even closer to him. Plundering her mouth with his tongue, revelling in the sweet, clean taste of it, John moaned and let his hands move to the back of her dress. Slowly unzipping it, his fingers felt only the soften silkiness of her creamy skin until they found her bra, which he unhooked deftly. Margaret gasped as her breasts came free from their restraint.

“Shhh, love ... relax ... let me finish.”

Suppressing the burning need to simply throw her onto the bed and take her, John forced himself to go slowly. He eased Margaret’s dress from her shoulders, removing the bra in the process, and his hands followed the fabric as it fell to the ground, tracing the lush yet delicate curves of her gorgeous body. The soft moans, escaping from her moist lips, delighted him to a sudden edge of fierce arousal, and he pressed her against his body to let her feel how he ached for her.

Margaret felt the long hardness push against the silk of her drawers, and a sudden wetness pooled between her legs in a rush of heat. It was breathtaking! Swirls of molten fire started to originate in her belly with tantalizing progress. She found herself tugging at John’s jacket and removing it. Then she attacked his waistcoat and shirt, unfastening buttons as they came. Finally, at last, she found the warm yet soft skin of his bare chest and roved her hands over the taut muscles in delight.

“Slowly, my sweet. Do not rush things.”

John’s suave baritone voice sounded at the edge of her ear, and Margaret closed her eyes, better to savour the moment. She felt John’s hands slide down her body to her legs. Her stockings were being peeled off her legs and her drawers followed and, at the back of her mind, she acknowledged vaguely that she was naked.

She looked down to see her husband’s gaze travel over her in awe. Heat swirling through her, she continued working on John’s clothing with a determination of steel. She wanted him naked too, as quickly as possible.

That goal finally achieved, they stood contemplating each other for a while, eyes big with wonder.

“My God, Margaret! You are so incredibly beautiful, my love ...”

“So are you, John ... I ... it is the first time I ... oh, oh, it’s ... it’s so ... “

“What?” John chuckled. “Don’t you like what you see? I can put on my clothes again and ...”

“No! No, don’t do that!” Margaret shrieked in panic.

John swooped her up in his arms so swiftly her breath seemed to become solid within her. With endless tenderness, he positioned her on the turned-up bed and lowered himself beside her. His hand followed the soft curve of her cheek to cup her face and kiss her. Margaret gave herself over to that kiss with rapt eagerness, and now her body was aching for him. John felt the length of her slender figure touch every inch of him and again he had to control himself fiercely not to go till the end.

With slow, teasing touches of lips, tongue and teeth, he traced the curve of her neck to descend further to her shoulder and lower, to the onset of her breasts until, at last, his lips encountered the hard peaks. Margaret gave a small cry of delight when he nibbled, first one peak and then, the other. The ache in her belly became a roaring fire, and she pressed herself hard against the steely length of him, marvelling in the delicious tortures it unleashed in her.

While Margaret was savouring all those swirls deep inside her, John began kissing her along her flat stomach and down to the dark triangle that covered her femininity. God, the scent of her! All roses and cream, so completely woman! He gently parted her thighs with trembling hands to gain access to her deepest core, kissing her warm folds, tasting her sweetness and shivering with the delight of it.

Margaret arched her back to meet his mouth even closer, swept up by waves and waves of sheer, uncontrolled pleasure. She buried her hands in John’s thick, black curls, slid her hands over the hard muscles of his back. Her legs gripped him around the waist with only one purpose; to bring that tantalizing mouth of his deeper into her core. Suddenly, she came in a rush of heat so fierce that she cried out in the bliss of her intense release.

John positioned himself between her thighs and slowly eased himself into her wetness. Oh Lord! She was still pulsing with the bliss of her aftermath. It tore at his control so fiercely that he had to fight the incredibly powerful urge to let himself go.

He began thrusting carefully while he waited patiently between strokes until she adjusted herself to his weight and to the rhythm of he set. When Margaret started to follow his pace, he gradually began pushing harder and faster.

A faint little whimper escaped her as a sharp pain meandered through her deepest core.

John instantly stopped and drew her close.

“I am so sorry, my darling, did I hurt you? The pain won’t last, sweetheart, do not be afraid.”

“John ...”

“Yes, my heart?”

“Do not stop, please?”

Exulting in her eagerness, John resumed his lovemaking, thrusting gently into her sleek womanhood. As he felt Margaret respond again to his caresses, he gave himself over to his own arousal completely. Rushes of heat swept through him as his strokes became stronger and faster. Margaret climaxed suddenly and she cried out, her inner muscles clenching around his manhood, which caused the wave of desire to sweep him higher and higher until it pushed him over the edge in a powerful release.

Shock after shock of sheer bliss rolled over him, and his breath was harsh and loud as he struggled for air. Sweet Lord in Heaven! Later, much later, he lay down beside Margaret, taking her into his arms and, pulling the bedclothes over them both, he cradled her tousled head against his heart. Sweet oblivion settled over John, now that Margaret was finally his. 

  

Chapter Nineteen – Forever Bound

 

Margaret woke to a sound she knew must be rather common but one she never actually heard before in her life; the steady, strong breathing of a man firmly surrendered to deep sleep. In the first light that seeped through a gap in the heavy curtains, she was fascinated by what she saw. The long, lean, bare form of her husband, stretched out on his back beside her, one arm upwards to support his head, the other flung out over the edge of the bed.

A stir of longing awoke deep inside her chest and belly, while her gaze travelled over the most beautiful sight she ever beheld.

John’s handsome face was in deep repose and slightly averted so that a lock of his raven-black hair had tumbled over his brow. His finely chiselled lips were curled in a smile, as if he were dreaming about something that brought him joy. She took in the breathtaking sight of his bare muscular chest with its fine sprinkle of dark curls, trailing down over his flat stomach and narrow hips to the seat of his manhood, now inert but still incredibly beautiful.

Margaret’s trembling hand reached out to stroke the skin of his thigh, rough with a growth of fine black hair. She marvelled when it quivered slightly under her fingers. She followed the long structure of thighbone and shin down to his strong foot with its firm ankle and long toes.

All this hard strength, all this power and grace combined, it fascinated her!

This man, John Thornton, was now her husband. Her. Husband. She was Mrs John Thornton, from now on until Death did do them part.

She lay down and huddled against him, instantly loving the warmth emanating from his smooth, silken skin.  John’s arm went up to draw her close and suddenly, her bare breasts rippled over the rough patch of hair on his chest, as he pulled her on top of him. It was so incredibly arousing, and Margaret loved it!

“Hey, you ...” the slightly husky voice of her husband sounded. “What is it that you want, Mrs Thornton? Tell me, or better, show me ...”

 

The newlywed couple had five glorious days of enjoying each other at the hotel. They did not do anything else but be together in thrilling, joyous, infinitively satisfying lovemaking, only leaving the bed to fortify themselves with tasty bites and fine champagne.

John could not but marvel in the repeating pleasure he found in making love to Margaret. Every time he coaxed her between the sheets again, his beautiful bride found a new way of fuelling his arousal into new heights of incredible delight. Margaret would be alternatively shy or bold, languid or playful, sweet or passionate. He never knew what attitude she would adopt, and every time again, she managed to surprise him. It was immensely exhilarating and a way of showing herself to him that he could never have guessed before. She delighted him with every move and gesture she used.

Afterwards, they would lie in each other’s arms, exhausted, bruised but very replete. They would bathe together in the huge tub in the adjoining bathroom, each of them rinsing, soothing, cleansing the other, trying to ignore the nascent arousal for as long as it was bearable, when their fingers washed and caressed the intimate zones of their bodies. But, eventually, they would end up in bed again, unable to resist the pull of arousal any longer.

 

After their honeymoon, John and Margaret returned to Betty’s cottage where they found the other happy couple, Jowan and Marjorie, just come back from a short stay at Bristol. Jowan had promised Marjorie a holiday on Barbados when the baby was born. He hadn’t dared go too far away from England while Marjorie was almost eighteen weeks pregnant now.

They could still make short day trips, though, as they did regularly around the country, to show their friends all the new and unknown things that had been realized in one hundred and sixty years of progress.

John and Margaret were taken to London, a city they’d both known back in 1852, yet it hadn’t had anything familiar. Take the river, for instance. John had known the docksides pretty well, with all their grimy ugliness and their bustle and noise. Now it was all neat and tidy warehouses, riversides buildings with smart lofts, trendy disco bars. The real harbour activity was concentrated mainly at Purfleet, Thurdock, Tilbury and Coryton, further down the estuary. Canvey Island in EssexDartford and Northfleet in Kent, and GreenwichSilvertownBarkingDagenham and Erith in Greater London were also important extensions.

Their friends took the Thorntons to see Heathrow Airport where they were stunned to see the bustle of airplanes land and lift off. The railway stations too had changed beyond recognition, as had the trains. Everywhere and always present were the motorcars and motorbikes, the busses and the cabs. London was still a city crowded with people, running and hastening about like ants. It was nearly impossible to take in.

 

One evening, after yet another busy day, the two couples and Betty were sitting in the kitchen, enjoying a light meal and a glass of wine.

“John,” Jowan asked, “do you think it possible that you might return to your own time, one day?”

“It certainly is my most fervent wish, Jowan, and I believe Margaret thinks the same.”

John’s wife nodded without speaking.

“But, how will that happen?” Marjorie asked. “Will you just disappear and we won’t know where you’ve gone to? I would hate that! It’s so horrible to know that, some day, you won’t be there anymore!”

Margaret smiled at Marjorie and laid her arm around her friend’s shoulders.

“I am sure I would hate it too, Marjorie. It’s the not knowing that is the worst. I confess I would like nothing more than to return to my own era but when I do, I will never see you again and that, I loathe.”

“I have an idea,” Betty intervened. “Let’s agree on something. Whenever you go somewhere other than to your work, you must tell us or leave us a message, so that we know where you went through the portal when you don’t return.”

“That is a splendid idea, Betty!” John exclaimed. “That is exactly what we will do!”

 

One beautiful Autumn Sunday, John and Margaret went to visit the large industrial town of Manchester, where they planned to visit several mill sites that remained from Manchester’s cotton mill days. They all had museums where one could see how the mills worked in the old days.

John attempted to find a resemblance or a familiar view from his own Milton. Maybe he would recognize a street, a building, a park, anything that would reassure him that Manchester indeed modeled for Milton in Mrs Gaskell’s novel. Yet, there was nothing familiar for him to see.

“Little wonder, darling,” Margaret tried to soothe him. “Marjorie told me most of the street scenes were taken in Edinburg instead of Manchester.”

John shook his head in bewilderment as they headed for the entrance of the Sedgewick Mill in Union Street. They paid their fee and began strolling through the sparsely visited rooms of the museum.

The walls were lined with glass cases containing a mass of small objects that were used back in the eighteen hundreds. In the middle of the room stood a large steel loom, and the sight of it lifted John’s heart. He had hundreds of such looms in his mill! Pulling his hand from Margaret’s, he strode towards it and touched the long warp beam with a longing hand.

In his mind, he could see himself in the busy hall of Marlborough Mills, overseeing his workers while they were manufacturing cotton. A longing, so fierce that it jolted through him like lightning, made him close his eyes in sudden despair of ever going back to Milton ever again. He sighed. What was he to do?

Margaret’s quiet touch on his cheek shook him out of his downcast mood. Thank God they were together!

A sign on the wall pointed toward a small set-aside construction with the name “Video of a working Manchester mill in 1852”.

“John, look! Let’s go see it!” Margaret enthused, dragging him along.

John followed her eagerly through the door. As soon as they were inside, a blinding light burned their eyes and Margaret was trusted back against John’s hard body. The pair was struck down with  a violence that robbed them of their senses, and the world went black.

 

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18.10 | 04:41

HI, could you please send me a PDF of "Mr Thornton Takes A Wife." My email address is: sales@vintagebabyboomers.com Thanks very much.
Nancy

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21.11 | 07:29

We are so proud: our teacher is also an autor.

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22.08 | 17:45

Very cool animation!

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02.12 | 23:38

I am happy to have a english teacher with such personality!!

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