فصل 14

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فصل 14

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Chapter fourteen

Meeting Again

Meanwhile, in Milton, Mr Thornton’s financial troubles were growing more and more serious. The strike, more than a year and a half ago, had meant that he was unable to complete some of his business contracts. What made things worse was that in recent months, the commercial value of cotton had fallen. Mr Thornton’s business was very badly affected and he had spent a lot of money on expensive new machinery, with the result that now he did not have money when he needed it. No new orders were coming in, and meanwhile there were the huge expenses of paying the workers and maintaining the mill.

Mr Thornton did not despair, however. He was as calm and gentle to the women in his home as he had always been. He did not say much to his workers, but they understood his situation and were sympathetic. His relationship with them had changed greatly. Previously, his only ambition had been to be head of a firm that was known and respected all over the world. Now, he often talked to the workers, particularly Higgins, and listened to what they had to say. These conversations had made him realise that people everywhere were connected by the same human feelings. He had begun to see that, as a manufacturer, he was in a position to help and influence those less fortunate than him; he had even arranged to send the older Boucher children to school. Now, though, it seemed that he might lose this position, just as he was beginning to understand it!

One afternoon, as Mr Thornton was walking down Marlborough Street, absorbed in his thoughts, Higgins approached him. Noticing that the mill owner was looking even gloomier than usual, Higgins tried to think of something to cheer him up.

‘Have you heard any news of Miss Margaret lately?’ he asked.

‘Miss - who?’ replied Mr Thornton.

‘Miss Margaret - Miss Hale, the clergyman’s daughter.’

‘Oh, Miss Hale!’ Suddenly the worried look left Mr Thornton’s face and he smiled warmly. ‘I’m her tenant now, you know, Higgins. I hear about her from her lawyer every now and then. She’s well and living with friends - thank you, Higgins.’

‘Will she be coming to Milton again?’

‘No.’

Higgins came closer to Mr Thornton and said in a low tone, ‘How is the young gentleman?’ Seeing that the mill owner did not seem to understand, he continued, ‘The young gentleman - I mean Frederick, her brother who came to Milton.’

‘He came to Milton!’

‘Yes, when their mother died. Don’t be afraid I’ll tell anyone. Mary told me. She found out about it when she was working at the house.’

‘And he was here? It was her brother?’

‘Yes. I thought you knew all about it or I would never have said anything. I won’t say another word.’

The conversation ended and Mr Thornton continued on his way, saying to himself, ‘It was her brother. I am so glad. I may never see her again, but it is a relief to know that. I knew she could never have done anything wrong. But I needed to be sure. I am so glad.’

This news was a little golden thread in his fortunes. Several American firms that he did business with had failed and his financial situation was becoming more and more gloomy. Night after night Mr Thornton took his papers into his office and sat there long after his mother had gone to bed. One morning, when the first light of day was beginning to creep into the room, he realised that nothing could be done; he would have to give up the business that he had worked so hard to make a success.

One hot summer evening, Edith came into Margaret’s room, dressed for dinner.

‘Margaret, I need to talk to you! Henry has come to me and asked me if a Mr Thornton of Milton - your tenant, you know - can join our dinner party tonight. It is such a nuisance; the arrangements were perfect, and now they must be changed.’

‘I won’t have dinner tonight. I don’t want any,’ said Margaret in a low voice. ‘Dixon can bring me a cup of tea here. I will be really glad to lie down.’

‘You can’t do that - we need you! Mr Colthurst, who is a Member of Parliament, is coming, and you know we planned for you to talk to him about Milton. Oh, I’ve just remembered, this Mr Thornton comes from Milton! How fortunate! Mr Colthurst is going to talk about the cotton industry in his next speech; he and Mr Thornton will have a lot to say to each other. Really, I think Henry has done very well. I asked him if Mr Thornton is a man one should be ashamed of. He said, “Not if you have any sense, little sister.” So I suppose he can pronounce his h’s.’

‘Did Mr Lennox say why Mr Thornton had come to London?’ asked Margaret, her voice sounding rather tight.

‘Oh, his business has failed, or something like that. I’m sure Henry told you that, the day you had such a headache. Anyway, he has said that Mr Thornton has lost all his money, and deserves our respect, and I must be very polite to him. And as I have no idea how to do that, I need you to help me. And now come down with me, and rest on the sofa for half an hour.’

Henry Lennox came early, and Margaret, blushing as she spoke, asked him some questions about Mr Thornton.

‘He can’t afford to continue his payments for Marlborough Mills and the house, so he has come to discuss what can be done. I thought you would like him to come to the dinner party.’

Mr Lennox had lowered his voice as he spoke to Margaret. Then, noticing that Mr Thornton had just entered, he jumped up and introduced him to Edith and Captain Lennox. Margaret watched Mr Thornton anxiously as he talked to them. She had not seen him for a long time and his circumstances had changed completely. Being tall and well-built, he looked as impressive as ever, but there were lines of worry on his face that had not been there before. Still, thought Margaret, he had nobleness and strength that made people respect him immediately.

Mr Thornton’s first glance around the room had shown him that Margaret was there. He had seen how carefully she listened to Mr Lennox, and came up to her with the calm, friendly manner of an old friend. She blushed, and the colour did not leave her cheeks for the rest of the evening. But she did not seem to have much to say to him, and when others approached her, he moved away and began talking to Mr Lennox.

‘Miss Hale is looking very well, is she not?’ said Mr Lennox. ‘I don’t think Milton was very good for her. When she first came to London, I thought I had never seen anyone so changed. Tonight she is looking wonderful, and she is so much stronger now. Last autumn a two-mile walk made her tired. On Friday we walked for six miles at least.’

‘We? Who? Just the two of them?’ wondered Mr Thornton.

Dinner began, and during the meal Mr Colthurst, the Member of Parliament, heard enough of Mr Thornton’s conversation to want to meet him. He asked Edith who the gentleman was, and when she told him that he was Mr Thornton of Milton, exclaimed ‘Mr Thornton of Milton!’, clearly recognising the name. Edith was pleased. Her dinner party was going well; Henry was being amusing, and Mr Thornton and Mr Colthurst were busy talking in a corner of the room. Margaret did not speak much, but was looking so beautiful that it did not matter. She was watching Mr Thornton’s face and noticing the changes in him. He only smiled once, that brilliant smile that she remembered so well, and he glanced at her, almost as if he wanted her approval. But then his expression changed and he avoided looking at her again.

After dinner, the ladies went upstairs, and Margaret, who did not feel like talking, started to do some sewing. The gentlemen soon followed, and as Mr Colthurst and Mr Thornton were standing near her, she was able to listen to their conversation.

‘My business has failed,’ Mr Thornton said, ‘and I am looking for a position in Milton where I can experiment with some ideas that I have.’

‘What experiments are these?’ asked Mr Colthurst respectfully.

‘I now believe that an organisation can be much more successful if the employers and workers talk freely to one another and see each other as people. If an employer has a new plan, the workers may not realise how carefully he has thought about it. But if he discusses it with his workers, they will feel they are part of it and will want it to be successful.’

‘And you think this may prevent strikes?’

‘Not at all. But it might mean that the strikers aren’t so bitter and so full of hatred.’

Suddenly, Mr Thornton turned and walked up to Margaret, as if he knew she was listening.

‘Miss Hale,’ he said, ‘I had a letter from some of my men saying that they wished to work for me if I was ever in a position to employ them again. That was good, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes, how wonderful! I am so glad,’ said Margaret. She looked straight at him with her expressive eyes, then looked down when he looked back at her.

He gazed at her for about a minute, as if he did not know what to say next. Then he sighed and said, ‘I knew you would be pleased,’ and turned away and did not speak to her again until he wished her good night very formally.

As Mr Lennox was leaving, Margaret said hesitantly, ‘Can I speak to you tomorrow? I want your help about - something.’

‘Certainly. I will come at whatever time you wish. At eleven? I will see you then.’

His eyes brightened with pleasure. How she was learning to depend on him! It seemed as if any day now, she would make her feelings about him clear, and then he could once again ask her to marry him.

Edith moved around the house very quietly the next morning, as if any sudden noise would disturb the meeting that was taking place in the sitting-room. Two o’clock came, and Margaret and Mr Lennox still sat there behind closed doors. Then there was the sound of a man’s footsteps running downstairs.

Edith opened the sitting-room door.

‘Well, Henry?’ she said.

‘Well what?’ he said rather shortly.

‘Come in to lunch.’

‘No thank you, I can’t. I’ve lost too much time here already.’

‘Then it’s not all settled,’ said Edith sadly.

‘No, not at all, if you mean what I think you mean. It will never happen, Edith, so give up thinking about it.’

‘If Margaret lived near me, it would be so nice for us all,’ said Edith, who did not want Henry to give up hope. ‘At the moment, I am always afraid she will go and live in Cadiz.’

‘I am certain that Miss Hale would not marry me. And I shall not ask her.’

‘Then what have you been talking about?’

‘Business matters.’

‘Oh, go away if that’s all.’

‘I shall. I am coming again tomorrow, and bringing Mr Thornton with me, as he needs to talk to Miss Hale.’

‘Mr Thornton! Why?’

‘He is Miss Hale’s tenant,’ said Mr Lennox, turning away. ‘And he can no longer afford to rent the mill.’

No one ever knew why Mr Lennox did not keep his appointment the following day. Mr Thornton arrived punctually; after he had waited for nearly an hour, Margaret came in looking very white and anxious.

‘I am so sorry Mr Lennox is not here,’ she said hurriedly. ‘He could have done it so much better. He is my adviser in this

‘I am sorry if it worries you. Shall I try to find him?’

‘No, thank you. I wanted to tell you how sorry I am that I am going to lose you as a tenant. But Mr Lennox has told me that he feels sure you will regain your former position. Please don’t speak until I have finished.’

Margaret turned over some papers in a trembling, hurried manner, and continued, ‘Oh, here it is! He has written a document showing that if you would borrow some money of mine, about 18,000 pounds that is lying unused in the bank, you could pay me better interest than I have now, and Marlborough Mills could continue.’

Mr Thornton did not speak and she went on looking for some papers, as if she was very anxious that he would see the arrangement as being advantageous for her. But her heart almost seemed to stop beating when Mr Thornton said, in a voice that trembled with passion, ‘Margaret!’

She looked up and then tried to hide her expressive eyes by hiding her head in her hands. He came nearer, and said her name again in the same passionate way.

Her head sank even lower. He came close to her and knelt by her side, and whispered, ‘Be careful. If you do not speak, I shall claim you as my own. Send me away at once, if I must go. Margaret!’

She turned and laid his head on her shoulder, still with her face in her hands. It was delicious for him to feel her soft cheek against him. He held her close, but they did not speak. Finally, she whispered, ‘Oh, Mr Thornton, I am not good enough!’

‘Not good enough! It is I who am not good enough.’

After a minute or two, he gently removed her hands from her face, and put her arms around his shoulders, as they had been on the day of the riot.

‘Do you remember, love?’ he asked.

‘Yes, and I remember how cruel I was to you the next day.’

‘Lift your head. I have something to show you.’

Blushing, she raised her head.

‘Do you recognise these roses?’ he asked, taking some dead flowers out of a book that he had with him.

‘No!’ she replied. ‘Did I give them to you?’

‘No, you did not. But you have probably worn roses like these.’

She looked at them, thought for a minute, then smiled a little and said, ‘They are from Helstone, are they not? Oh, have you been there? When did you go?’

‘I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew up, even when I had no hope of winning you. I went there after I returned from France.’

‘You must give them to me,’ she said, trying to take them out of his hand.

‘You may have them, but you must pay me for them.’

‘How can I ever tell Aunt Shaw?’ she whispered, after some minutes of delicious silence.

‘Let me speak to her.’

‘Oh, no, I should tell her. But what will she say?’

‘I can guess. She will exclaim, “That man!”.’

‘Be careful,’ said Margaret, ‘or I will imitate the way your mother will say, “That woman!”.’

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