Henry Lennox could not have known the chill that struck Margaret when he informed her of the certain loss of her tenant. As she calmly buttered her toasted bread, the shock of what she heard began to register.
Mr. Thornton had failed.
Her appetite vanished, leaving an upset in the pit of her stomach. How could this have happened? The strike set back many of the factories financially, but certainly not to the degree where it would bring about bankruptcy.
Deep concern rushed in to take over the initial shock. What will become of the workers and their families? Would other mills fall? The more pressing question on her mind, what will happen to Mr. Thornton?
Frustration settled in from not knowing. Fear of having her secret affection revealed kept her from asking. Her sex made her helpless to take any action. Yanking at the bars and begging to be freed, Margaret felt imprisoned by society’s restraint.
But it’s his spirit I fear for. Remember after his father died, he struggled for years to build everything up again. He raised his family from poverty. How much worse to be brought low a second time.
Her mouth dropped and fingers flew up to touch the parted lips as she recalled what her father said. Would this break his spirit?
“Margaret dear, are you well?” her Aunt Shaw asked.
She blinked out of her gaze. “What…Aunt?”
“Are you well?” she repeated. “You went rather pale.”
“I am well. Preoccupied, that is all.”
Margaret glanced at Henry. By the look on his face, she guessed that he knew the subject of that preoccupation. Pushing back on her chair, she rose from the table, which he politely hurried to follow.
“Please don’t get up, Henry,” she said as she waved him down. “If you will excuse me.”
“Of course. Margaret, about this afternoon?”
“Oh, the outing. I think not, Henry. I would like to write to Mr. Bell.”
“Perhaps next week then?”
Back in the solitude of her room, she sat down at her desk and pulled out a blank page hoping that writing that letter would engage her plagued thoughts elsewhere. A paragraph in, the tears started to drop on the paper causing the ink to bleed. Despairingly, she threw the pen down and dropped her head into the palms of her hands.
Suppressed frustration gave way. She cried for Mr. Thornton, for Nicholas and Mary Higgins, and the other laborers who must find means to survive once again.
Spent emotionally, she sought the softness of her bed where she closed her eyes to stop the cascade of tears. Shivering against the chill of the room, she pulled the bed’s coverlet over. The warmth soon had her relaxed and drifting off into a white void.
A familiar authoritarian voice, low and laced heavily with longing, cut through the quiet.
Come back to me, Margaret. I need you.
Her ghostly self ran toward the sound. After a short distance, she became disoriented and stopped, calling out his name. Only silence followed.
Movement caused her head to turn sharply to see a barely visible figure of a man in the distance....