Margaret of the North (10 page)

BOOK: Margaret of the North
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Yet, despite rejecting him once,
Margaret had chosen John over the many other men in London who had probably
swarmed around her after her fortune increased considerably.  Mrs. Thornton,
who thought no other young man equal to her son, was not surprised at
Margaret's choice and credited her, in fact, for her good judgment.  But Mrs.
Thornton had to admit as well that Margaret must truly care for her son or she
would not have come back.  It reassured her to get this further proof because,
despite Margaret's earlier acknowledgement of her attachment to John, Mrs.
Thornton continued to have apprehensions about her.  Not that those
apprehensions were now eliminated.  Margaret was still a Southerner whose ideas
and attitudes Mrs. Thornton distrusted.  But a sense of fairness compelled her
to grant Margaret her gratitude for loving her son and admiration for
possessing the strong mind and will to go after what she desired instead of
what she was merely offered.

The following morning, before
Margaret came down to breakfast, Mrs. Thornton asked, "Did you know
Margaret made a fortune from Watson's speculative venture?"

"No, mother, I did not.  We
have never talked about those things.  I am marrying Margaret for no other
reason than I love her.  If she was Margaret Hale from Crampton, I would still
marry her."  John could not help the irritation in his voice.  Before his
mother could answer, he added, "By the way, I have invited Nicholas
Higgins and his daughter to our wedding."

Mrs. Thornton started to protest
but this time, she stopped herself, mollified by what she had lately learned
about Margaret's wealth.  She nodded at her son but secretly, she sighed as she
realized that in holding her tongue, being agreeable to Margaret was not going
to be easy.

 

 

V. Readjustments

 

Three days after Margaret posted
her letters to London, Dixon arrived with most of her possessions.  Among these
were Mrs. Hale's bridal gown which Margaret decided to wear on her wedding and
an heirloom comb with which she intended to secure her veil in place.  The comb
first belonged to a grandmother several generations back.  When a daughter was
not born, it had been passed on to the first-born son to be presented to his
oldest daughter on her sixteenth birthday.  On Edith's suggestion, Dixon also
bundled the gown with yards of white Spanish lace that Frederick had brought as
a present to his mother and his sister when he came to Milton.  Edith knew
Margaret's reason for wanting to wear those items from her parents and thought
that she would agree that something from her brother would complete the sense
of having her immediate family celebrating with her on that important day. 
Edith gave Dixon detailed instructions on fashioning the lace into a bridal
veil and using some of it to let out the bridal gown for Margaret who was
taller and shapelier than her mother.

As they were unpacking, Dixon
said to Margaret, "I cannot say I was surprised, Miss, about you and Mr.
Thornton although everyone else at Harley Street was."

Margaret looked up from the trunk
she was rummaging through and regarded Dixon with amused curiosity.  "Oh? 
Why not?  I never said anything to anyone about what passed between Mr.
Thornton and me."

"No, Miss, but I always
thought there was a spark in your eyes when he was around.  Like that I saw in
your mother when Mr. Hale was courting her," Dixon replied timidly,
searching for any signs that Margaret might have been annoyed or thought her
impertinent for offering her opinion.

With Margaret about to become the
mistress of her own household and wife of a man who had some prominence in his
trade, Dixon felt that she had to show more deference if she wanted to remain
the young Mrs. Thornton's personal maid.  Mrs. Hale had always been kind and
sweet-tempered with her and receptive to her counsel even through her silent
suffering as the pastor's wife.  But Margaret had an imperious streak, evident
since childhood, from which Dixon had often smarted when she could not persuade
the child to comply with what she asked her to do.  As a young woman, Margaret
kept her own counsel.  Dixon stayed noncommittal and offered her opinions only
when she thought Mrs. Hale might object to Margaret's judgment, an admittedly
rare occurrence.

When Dixon saw only an amused
half-smile on Margaret's face in response to her observation, Dixon added,
"And Mr. Thornton was always staring at you in that intense way he
has."

"When did you notice all
this, Dixon?"  Margaret asked, her curiosity turning into incredulity.

"I think ever since the
evening Mr. Thornton came to tea and you worked so hard ironing curtains,
Miss.  I thought you wanted to make a good impression on him."

"That early?  You must have
known me then better than I knew myself," Margaret replied wryly.

Dixon regarded her for a long
moment and did not answer.  Then, she smiled eloquently, "I was there when
you were born.  I have lived with you from the time you were a baby and I am
familiar with your moods and all the many expressions in your eyes and your
mouth.  You have always had that spark in your eyes when something excited you
and made you happy.  I knew Mr. Lennox had feelings for you, too, but he never
got you agitated the way Mr. Thornton did.  No, unfortunately for him, that
spark was never there."

Margaret smiled at Dixon with a
wistful sadness.  "Oh Dixon, how sweet you are!  You are the only one with
me now who has been around ever since I can remember."

This simple declaration, so rich
with implications for both of them kept them not only silent; it arrested what
they were doing.  They sat still as shared memories of the past took hold of
their consciousness, asserting the unique bond they had between them.  Margaret
thought it was something to be grateful for that she had someone so intimately
acquainted with her history that she did not have to explain anything to her. 
It did not matter at all that Dixon was not of her flesh and blood.

Some minutes later, Margaret
reached out and touched Dixon's hand.  "We have quite a bit more to go
through in those trunks, I'm afraid."

When they had finished unpacking,
Margaret placed a hand on Dixon's arm.  "Please sit down, Dixon.  There is
something I would like to talk to you about."

Dixon sat down, apprehensive at
the gravity in Margaret's voice.  She dared not speak and waited for what
Margaret had to say.

"Dixon, I am aware that you
never really liked Milton.  I would not want to force you to stay with me if
you think you will be unhappy here.  Would you rather return to Helstone and be
with your family?  Or perhaps since you seemed to like London, Edith or my aunt
might find a place for you in their household.  In either case, I am now quite
capable of providing a lifelong allowance that would make you quite comfortable
and free from anybody else's charity.  You could choose not to work for anyone
anymore."

Dixon was dumbfounded for a few
moments.  Then, with a quivering voice, she asked, "Would you prefer that
I go, Miss?"

"Were I the one who decides,
I would say no, Dixon.  Until you arrived, I felt as if John was the only one
who wanted me here and it was only with him that I really relax.  So, I very
much appreciate your familiar presence.  But you served my parents most of your
adult life and since I have the means, you are free to take advantage of it to
live your life as you choose.  If you should wish to leave Milton where most of
your memories were sad, I can understand and respect that."

Dixon bowed her head to hide the
tears welling up in her eyes.  She could not speak until a few minutes later
when she had composed herself and could answer in a low, solemn voice, "I
would rather stay with you Miss.  Most of the life I have known is with the
Hales and, truth be told, it is not so bad in Milton, with you here.  And I do
like Mr. Thornton who had been most kind to my poor mistress, your mother." 
She paused and added, hesitatingly, "But I confess this house gives me the
chills.  It is so stony and big.  I cannot imagine you in it."  Then, she
smiled.  "So, you see, you need me here."

"Are you sure this is what
you want?  I assure you, you will have more than enough to live on."  With
a teasing smile, Margaret added, "And you would no longer need to wake up
too early in the morning and cater to someone else's needs and whims.  You can
do what you want any time you want."

"I know no other life, Miss. 
What will I do back in Helstone with my grasping relatives?  You mean more to
me than any of them."

Margaret regarded Dixon for a few
moments, her eyes glistening and growing moist.  She pressed Dixon's hand and
said, "Thank you.  I am grateful and actually rather relieved to have you
stay.  We shall endure this place together and, with time, I hope that we both
become less intimidated with it and learn to be content.  But I want you to
know that if you ever decide to be released from doing service, tell me so as
my offer of an allowance is a permanent one and you shall have it, in any case,
as soon as Henry sends me the legal papers.  It is an amount on top of whatever
wages you get from continuing to work."

**************

Margaret could now make her room
a little more her own by filling it with her personal possessions—the books she
treasured, some linens her mother had embroidered and a few other treasured
family heirlooms.  Dixon helped her arrange them in the room in a manner as
similar as was possible to what they had been accustomed in Helstone.  They
piled often-read books on the writing desk, adorned the mantelpiece with a
couple of antique chests and candelabras, draped her mother's linens on the
back of chairs, and placed vases for flowers on tables.  With these familiar
items from her past and curtains now permanently drawn to the sides so that
light streamed in through much of the day, the room felt less forbidding and
asserted the presence of a vibrant occupant who lived day-to-day with things
that she needed or that amused her.  These small changes made the strangeness
of her new home a little more bearable and, in her room at least, Margaret
could do as she pleased in more familiar comfort.

Dixon was grateful that she had
to get busy doing alterations to the dress which she had seen the young Miss
Beresford wear the first time when she married the handsome and educated but
penniless Mr. Hale.  Mrs.  Lennox's instructions had been very specific and
because Dixon needed to lay the dress out on a large surface like a bed and
occasionally check how well it fitted, Margaret decided it was best for Dixon
to work on the dress in her bedroom.  There, she could also help with some of
the sewing.  Working in Margaret's bedroom allowed Dixon to adjust slowly to
this new household which she found stranger than Margaret did.  She had made
the choice to stay in Milton and she must find some ways to lessen her
uneasiness in the Thornton house.

Mrs. Thornton was as different as
fire and water from the kind and refined Mrs. Hale who spoke gently and often
left many decisions about housekeeping to her.  Dixon learned on her first
couple of days that the formidable Mrs. Thornton held full control of her
household and the servants were all careful not to incur her displeasure.  They
allowed, however, that she was always fair, never took anyone to task unless
they were really amiss in their duties, and was known to have been generous
when one of them was in serious need.  She ran a tight and tidy household that
tolerated neither a speck of dust nor tardy dinners.  Dixon, used to a gentle
and permissive mistress and still afflicted with the snobbishness of one who
thought of herself a lady's maid, doubted her capacity to fit well into a
household that she thought was run without grace, natural ease, or unstudied
refinement.  So, this period in which she only needed to cater to Miss Margaret
was also a time she could use to observe the workings of the household and find
some way of becoming a part of it with the least pain and aggravation.

Dixon knew enough to realize that
she could not be Miss Margaret's personal maid the way she had been with Mrs.
Hale in Helstone where she devoted her services to Mrs. Hale and rarely did any
of the other house work.  Margaret, independent and capable, hardly ever needed
the attendance of a maid.  Dixon could not, however, imagine Margaret being the
mistress of this big house and assume its management in the same cold,
efficient manner.  In Dixon's mind, her young mistress, who she knew better
than anybody else in the Thornton household, was as unlike the massive grey
surroundings as one could be and would reject the formality and regimentation
its current mistress imposed.  "Well," Dixon thought, "it is
Mrs. Margaret I serve and I would do it the best way I know how!"

**************

John began to spend a little more
time planning and working on reopening the mill.  He resumed going to the club
where he and his colleagues in the cotton manufacturing business met to
socialize and hold meetings, discuss business, and resolve their common
problems.  At the first such meeting he attended since Marlborough Mills closed
down, he announced he was getting married on the Sunday after the coming one.

"I know this marriage is
news to you and this invitation is rather sudden and informal and not the usual
way these things are done but we do not have the luxury for formalities.  So
please forgive me and tell me at the meeting next week if you can come.  This
invitation is for all of you and your wives, of course."

The news was naturally a surprise
to his colleagues but not for too long.  Many of them had guessed that the
elusive Mr. Thornton might finally marry to recoup his financial losses and
someone asked, "Is it the Latimer girl?"  All his colleagues knew he
had escorted Miss Latimer a few times and her inheritance is rumored to be
rather sizable.  She was thus the perfect answer out of his financial
predicament.  That she was also very pretty and the product of a finishing
school might have been too tempting even for Mr. Thornton to resist.  Most of
them had not heard the more recent gossip about him escorting a relatively
unknown young woman who was not from Milton and who was, in fact, staying in
his house.

BOOK: Margaret of the North
2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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