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The Nurse and the Mill Owner

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It is a warm day in Milton, the sun is shining harshly down on the land and the buildings, making many of them sweltering hot, causing the occupants inside to suffer. The Thornton household is no different and the servants have covered many windows with thick cloth to keep some of the heat out. Mrs. Thornton is currently sitting on a chair by a big bed in one of the bedrooms, running a wet cloth over her daughter’s forehead. Fanny is big with child and her eyes are currently closed, trying to rest before her body is wrecked by yet another contraction. Her husband is away on business, they didn’t think the baby would arrive this soon, but babies have a mind on their own it seems.

Mrs. Thornton looks her her daughter “I know, Fanny…...but you just need to breathe, dear…...nothing else will do it…...John send Higgins to fetch the midwife”.

Fanny whimpers and cries out “I can’t do this!” earning a scowl from her mother, who gets up, nodding to the maid, Elsie to take over for a moment and she leaves the room.

She walks in the living room, muttering “for heaven’s sake, she is such a cry baby”. John, her son, is sitting over by the window, pouring over some papers, his face wrinkled with worry and he looks up when his mother comes in “everything alright, mother?”.

Mrs. Thornton’s features soften when she looks at her son “just your sister being a whimp”. He nods and then says quietly “well, from what I hear, birthing children is not pleasant”.

“Not much in life is, dear…..just a fact and if you choose to indulge in the pleasure of making a child, you better be prepared to suffer the consequences” and she gives him a hard look.

John blushes slightly, returning his gaze to the papers before him, praying his mother won’t say another word. No such luck. “Oh stop blushing, you are old enough to know of your manly needs and the pleasures of bedding a woman. I’m sure you have” and she lifts a hand in warning “and no, you better not tell me about it ever”. He coughs, turning even redder and avoids her gaze. She huffs and strolls out of there, almost hissing “children”.

John lets go of the papers, leans back in his chair, sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Yes, he is aware of his physical needs and he knows how to take care of that well enough, quietly, alone, in his room at night, but when it comes to actually bedding a woman, he is clueless. He has heard plenty of talk from others about it, but he has yet to experience it himself. He could probably find someone willing to do the act with him, but he somehow wants to save that for the person he hopes to marry one day. He would like a wife and someone in his life, but no such luck yet. The last woman he had fancied broke his heart into pieces. He was taken by her, but in the end she proved too judgmental and left town, he heard she ended up marrying someone quite a bit older than herself. John sighs, maybe women are too complicated, his mother and sister sure seem difficult more often than not.

He gets up, glancing out the window and into the court yard of the mill, workers are buzzing around like busy bees and he smiles, he feels grateful they were able to avoid a strike and the mill is thriving. He knows he owes it to Nicholas Higgins, he had been the go between Marlborough Mills and the workers. In the end they had found a middle ground and John has grown to respect the slightly older, hardy worker. 

Higgins has slowly become John's right hand man and confidant in many ways, they have learned to trust each other and an odd friendship has been formed. Higgins took John to eat in the communal kitchen they had decided to create for the workers and he had felt so utterly out of place, but once the hearty food hit his tongue, he had forgotten about it. The food was delicious and it was now a weekly ritual, that him and Higgins eat there every Friday. John has secretly started to send more supplies to the kitchen, just leaving them outside the door late at night, totally unaware, that Higgins has seen him and knows what he is doing.

John moves a hand over his face, over his sideburns, his sleeves are rolled up on his white shirt and his cravat flung over the chair next to his jacket, it is too warm to be all dressed up today. Besides, he is just here, working on the accounts for the mill today, staying around in case he is needed by the rest of the family. He sighs and then goes in the kitchen, fetching some water for himself before deciding to go check on the mill. He must admit, he does like to walk around the machines and watch the fabric being woven.

 

At the same time across town:

I'm sitting at the breakfast table with my folks, Miss Mary, our servant, brings us our food and my father thanks her "lovely....thank you" and she nods before disappearing into the kitchen.

My mother is sipping her tea and looks around in the dining parlor and then at us "this really is a lovely house, isn't it?".

"Yes, it is, my love and I am really pleased you like it.....it was hard to find something with such short notice, but there was no way we were going to stay at the old doctors house after all the scandalous things that went on in that house..." and my father wrinkles his nose.

I laugh "are we sure he was that bad, father?".

"Well, if you believe the town folks and the medical board, mind you, dear Elizabeth", I cringe internally when he calls me that, and he goes on "the doctor was more than busy checking on sick female patients all the time, most of them unclothed from what I understand and so was he.......Mrs. Wiggins up the street even told me, she caught him with his trousers down".

My mother looks up from her tea, sort of smirking "maybe he wasn't married......men..."and she lifts an eyebrow "and women do have needs, Martin......you, of all people, as a doctor should know that.......the human body is a mysterious thing".

"I do know that, but there are other ways to take care of such needs, besides bedding as many women as possible" and he looks at me "I'm sorry we are having such a blunt discussion".

"Oh, don't mind me.....it is not like I don't know already....mother has done a fine job enlightening me about human nature, needs and desires....".

"Which is good, there is certainly nothing wrong with that.....it is quite natural actually, but what the doctor did was a bit unnatural, if you ask me" and my father looks stern.

My mom reaches for a scone, saying cheerfully "well, I guess it was our luck since we wanted to move anyway and Dr. Franz was ready to take over in our old town".

"Yes, I guess it was......people here seem friendly enough and news has traveled fast and I guess we have all been busy. Those mills will keep me busy enough, always some injury or something and with all the families, plenty of babies to deliver".

My mother nods "yeah, glad there are more than one midwife here in town, it wont be such a burden and Elizabeth can just go and help either of us".

I am a nurse, my mother a very skilled midwife and my father a doctor. My parents met when my father was studying to become a doctor. My mother is a few years older than him and he had been smitten right away and pursued her, until she finally let him court her. They had married and had my brother, Frank and I. Frank is now a banker in London and doing very well. He is married to Abigail and they are yet to have children.

KNOCK    KNOCK

We all look at each other and then Mary comes in "Mr. Higgins is here.......Mrs. Fanny Thornton Watson is having her child".

My father looks at my mother "I think that is your department, dear.....".

She puts her tea down "yes, I will gather my things" and my father gets up "Mary, please have Mr. Higgins comes in, offer him a cup of tea please". She nods and soon returns with a big, burly looking man, announcing "Mr. Higgins".

My father waves him in and shakes his hand "Mr. Higgins, nice to meet you......I'm Dr. Martin Green" and he gestures to me "this is my daughter, Elizabeth and my wife went to fetch her things so she can go with you".

Higgins takes my father's hand " it is nice to meet you Dr. and I have heard a lot of good things about you" and he puts his hand out to me "how do you do, Miss?".

"I'm fine" and I take his hand, finding it strong and our eyes meet, his are kind, but I see at lot of underlying sadness and it makes me wonder about him.

He turns back to my father "and the Thornton's sure are fond of your wife already, even Mrs. Thornton and that says at lot...".

"She is a very kind and gifted woman...." and my father looks at Higgins "the Thornton's are quite the family here in town, aren't they? They own Marlborough Mills, correct?".

"Yes, they do....run now by Mrs. Thornton's son, John.....I'm sort of his right hand man".

"Well, good for you" and my father looks up "ahhh, there she is...the miracle worker" and my mother comes in, her big bag in hand.

She smiles "Mr. Higgins....a pleasure and I guess it is time, huh?".

"That's what they told me.....actually all they told me was to go fetch you.......".

"We better get going then" and then she looks at me "care to join me, Elizabeth? It is her first child and it could be difficult".

I get up "sure, I'll be glad to" and I straighten my dress and then go in the kitchen to quickly throw together a basket we always bring if we have time.

We bid my father goodbye and get in the open carriage that Mr. Higgins came in. He skillfully steers the horses along the road and we are thankful we can enjoy the weather as we make our way across town.

We arrive at Marlborough Mills and the great wooden door to the courtyard swings open and we are driven in. Higgins jumps down and is about to give us a hand, when there is a ruckus and the door to the mill itself flies open and two men tumble out.

One is clearly a worker and the other is dressed in black trousers and a fine white shirt, the sleeves rolled up and the collar open, from where his cravat would usually be tied. The nicer dressed man roars with much anger "GET OUT, TIM! OUT! I warned you 2 times not to smoke in there! OUT!". He grabs the mans shirt and tosses him towards the gate and us. the man scurries away.

The nicer dressed man stops in his tracks when he sees us, his eyes darting from me to my mother and back to me. Our eyes meet briefly and even from a little distance, I can see he has the prettiest blue eyes. They flashes with anger and then something else, I am not quite sure what and then he turns to Higgins and he gestures "I just caught him in there smoking again" and he looks at us, trying to explain "I can't risk it......the danger of a fire...." and then he looks down and then back up "I'm sorry if I offended you ladies by shouting".

Higgins nods "Tim should know better...you did what was right, Thornton" and he gestures towards us "pardon me.....this is Mrs. Green and her daughter, Miss Elizabeth......the midwife and her nurse....they are here to help Mrs. Fanny".

Thornton walks closer, wiping his hand on his pants and he takes my mother's hand "Mrs. Green....thank you for coming, I'm John Thornton....Fanny's brother".

"Nice to meet you Mr. Thornton......" and she looks at him "no reason to apologize, it is your mill.....and fires are so dangerous".

I am watching him as he comes closer and I feel my breath getting caught in my throat, he is so handsome with his dark hair and sideburns, a slight scruff on his chin. I can't help but look in the open part of the top of his shirt, I can see a few dark hairs sticking out and it makes me warm inside. I try not to blush when he extends his hand towards me "Miss Elizabeth, how do you do?".

"I'm fine, thank you" and our eyes meet as his hand closes around mine. He has a firm handshake and my thumb feels the coarse hair on top of his hand. I am met with curiosity and we gaze into each others eyes, there is something there, an instant connection and he holds my hand until Higgins clears his throat. John reluctantly lets go of my hand, saying softly "sorry, didn't mean to keep you" and our fingers brush slightly over each other as we part.

My mother looks at me with an raised eyebrow, but we then gather ourselves and follow Higgins to the door leading to the house. He knocks and then lets the servant take over, nodding to us and then turning back to the court yard and John, who is standing there, staring into space.

"Thornton", no answer, "Mr. Thornton", still nothing. Higgins finally walks down to him "John" and he looks confused "wh..what? Did you just call me by my first name, Nicholas" and he smiles.

"Yes, because you were clearly somewhere else......daydreaming?".

John looks offended "certainly not! I don't do that".

"Sure, whatever you say........." and Higgins goes to take the carriage back to the stable. 

John follows, walking next to him and then blurting out "who is she?".

"Who? Elizabeth?" and Higgins looks amused "fancy her now, do you?".

"I don't", but John's blushing gives him away and he finally nods "perhaps.....she seems different.....".

"She is different, Thornton......she is a nurse, very skilled from what I hear and her parents are in the medical field as well. I talked to a bloke from their old town, Brookstone, the other day and he was singing Dr. Green's praises, actually the entire family's, very good and kind people......the doctor often treats people for free if they can't pay". He looks at John "I know that is not something you might approve of, but it sure buys a lot of goodwill among us poor folk" and then he smirks "you should call at their house one of these days and try to court her, you need a woman in your life.....".

John grumbles "look who is talking.....".

"I have enough women in my life, Thornton, Bessie and the rest of the lot are plenty for me" and he winks "just because I don't have a wife to go home to, that doesn't mean I can't seek out a pretty lady for company once in a while".

"I don't think I need to hear any more about your lady company, Higgins, but thanks for sharing....".

"Your welcome" and he breaks into a good chuckle and John soon joins him.

They make it to the stable and they help each other unhook the horses, brushing them down, before sticking them back in their stalls. John really likes the horses and to be around them, they calm him and he likes to work with his hands taking care of them, something that was met by raised eyebrows from his mother, disapproval from his sister and total surprise by the workers at the mill.

They wash up in the basin by the troth and then John looks at Higgins "well, I guess I better go back to house and see if we have a baby yet" and he sighs.

"It might be a bit longer, Thornton, it is Mrs. Fanny's first child, that one is always a hard one......my poor wife was in labor for over one day when she birthed Bessie......".

John groans "great.....Fanny and mother, one in pain and the other one uptight.......".

"Well, go see and remember, Elizabeth is there too".

"True, but I gather she will be busy as well......".

"Yes, but she will be there, in your house.......so go......and Thornton, please be kind.....remember first impressions are everything".

John snorts "well I guess I blew my chances then, haven't I? The first glimpse she gets of me is throwing Tim out of the mill.....she probably thinks I am some raging lunatic".

"Give her a chance" and Higgins says quietly "not everyone judges as much as other.......".

"You mean not every one judges like Miss Hale" and John gets a hard look on his face.

"Something like that......and Thornton, I know you might not be ready to hear this, but I think you can be thankful you didn't marry her......I think you would have been miserable".

"You are probably right.......but it still hurts.......".

"Of course it does, that is love for you, but it can also feel totally wonderful and make you so happy, you feel your heart will burst out of your chest.....now go and see if you can see that pretty nurse again" and he winks, before walking towards the factory part of the mill.

John stands there for a moment and then shakes his head, walking back towards the house.

 

Inside the house:

Things are a bit intense in the bedroom. Mrs. Thornton is trying to calm Fanny while my mother is attempting to turn the baby. Elsie looks on from the corner, a bit pale and I am sitting on the bed, ready to help. My mother grasps Fanny's stomach and feels, taking a firm grip and then twists her hands. Fanny lets out a blood curdling scream and I hold my hand on the point on her stomach as my mother finishes the rotation.

Fanny lets out a breath and a whimper "bloody hell......urghh....", but then she looks in surprise "what did you do? It doesn't hurt as bad anymore.....".

My mother smiles at her "we turned your baby, it was facing the wrong way.....so now it will hopefully go a bit smoother".

Mrs. Thornton wipes a cold rag on her daughter's face "now dear, please watch your language".

"Mother, please be quiet for a change, would you?" and Fanny makes a face.

"Excuse me! I will certainly not be quiet" and they stare at each other until Fanny has another contraction.

I nod at my mother "I'll go fetch some more hot water and maybe get the soup cooking" and she smiles "that would be wonderful, dear".

Elsie pipes up "I should go do some washing" and she hurries out before me, and showing me the kitchen. I pour water into a big pot and light the stove. I get the basket we brought and another pot, filling it with a bit of water and putting the chicken in it. I start to chop the vegetables, looking out the window and seeing the hustle and bustle in the courtyard.

There are footsteps and John Thornton comes in the kitchen, stops in his tracks, mumbling "sorry....I just fancied a glass of water".

I turn, looking over my shoulder "oh don't mind me......this is your kitchen after all".

He walks in, finding a cup and scoops some water from the bucket. He watches me for a minute "you know, our servant can do that....the chopping of vegetables.......where is Elsie?".

I dump some carrots and potatoes in the pot with the chicken, stirring it slightly "she went to wash linens and I honestly don't mind....I like cooking and it is....."and I quickly look at him and then away "it is a bit intense in that room right now".

He chuckles "I can imagine.....my mother and sister are very intense people.......was it Fanny screaming a few moments ago? Is everything alright?" and he looks concerned.

"Everything is fine, Mr. Thornton......the baby was not in the right position, so my mother had to turn it, it should be coming easier now...".

"I hope so, it is hard for me to concentrate doing the books with all the screaming".

"Well, Mr. Thornton.....I bet you would be screaming too, if you had to push a watermelon out your rear end" and I give him a mischievous grin. 

He stares at me for a second and I am afraid I have offended him, I am about to apologize when his face splits into a smile and he laughs "I guess you are right....." and he sort of shakes his body "that is a very unpleasant thought indeed....I stand corrected".

"Well, my mother taught me that it hurts exactly as much as they say it does, nothing more or less, you just have to be sympathetic and help them through it".

He nods and there is silence between us, our eyes meeting and having some sort of unspoken conversation. He finally clears his throat and gestures "I'm very sorry you had to witness my temper this morning when we met......I...I...need to learn to control it better.....".

I stir the pot and the soup slowly starts to broil "well, that man put a lot of people in danger by smoking in there, so you don't need to apologize....".

"Well, I don't want you to think I am some raging lunatic of a mill owner.....that treats his workers bad and chase them out for no reason".

I look at him in surprise "and why on earth would I think that, Mr. Thornton? That would be a little harsh and quick to judgement wouldn't it?".

"Perhaps, but....I just don't want to make the wrong impression" and he looks at me with sort of pleading eyes.

"Honestly.......that is just silly......and for your information, you didn't make a bad impression, you just acted like someone that do care for the safety of your workers" and I look him square in the eyes "I have seen what a mill fire can do to people, we had one in Brookstone last year, at Harbor Mills and it was horrid......so many dead and some with terrible burns.....I understand, Mr. Thornton, fire is not a joking matter".

"No it isn't...." and he looks back at me, saying quietly "thank you".

"For what?" and I looked surprised "for not judging you?".

He nods and I huff "who has been judging you, Mr Thornton? From what I have heard around town, you are one of the most respected mill owners and even workers want to come work for you, because you have put in fans for better conditions and I heard something about a communal kitchen to feed the workers, which sounds brilliant".

John's face lights up "that was Mr. Higgins idea and it works so well and they serve some of the best food I have ever had. My workers do better, because they don't have to worry about feeding their families during the work week".

"So everyone wins" and I smile at him.

He returns it and I almost get lost in his blue eyes. He nods "exactly".

ARGHHHHHHHH       OHHHHHHHHHHHH   URGHHHHHHHHH

We both jump with the piercing sounds coming from down the hall and then I hear a baby cry. I look at Mr. Thornton "I think your niece or nephew have arrived".

"Thank goodness" and he empties his cup.

"I'll be back in a few to let you know what it is" and I stir the pot one more for time, before hurrying out the door, carrying a bucket with the hot water from the stove.

I am surprised when I feel his hand on my arm, slightly touching my exposed skin on my lower arm, I get goosebumps and I turn towards him. He looks at me with sincerity, whispering "thank you".

"Anytime" and I rush out, feeling a flush coming over my neck and cheeks. His fingers felt so warm and good on my skin.

I make it to the room and enter, seeing Fanny with her newborn. I put the bucket by the bed and my mother takes the baby and hands him to me, so I can clean him up, washing him gently with the warm water. My mother tends to Fanny and Mrs. Thornton comes over to admirer her grandson. She smiles at me as I wrap the baby and then hand him to her. 

She takes him in her arms and she softens quite a bit, looking at Fanny "oh he is beautiful, looks quite like John when he was a baby" and then she brings him over so Fanny can admirer him some more.

My mother get Fanny cleaned up and comfortable in bed and Mrs. Thornton looks at her "thank you Mrs. Green.....you are very skilled indeed, it could have gone terrible.....we are indebted to you".

"Oh nonsense, Mrs. Thornton, I was just doing my job and we have a healthy baby boy".

"Thank you never the less and I shall go inform my son".

I pipe up "I'll go, I told him I would return and tell him" and I walk towards the door.

"Very well, Miss Elizabeth and please bring him down, he should hold his newborn nephew" and she rolls her eyes "who knows, it might be the only newborn John will ever hold".

"Mother! And he can't see me like this".

"Shush, Fanny.......you look just fine, Mrs. Green cleaned and covered you all up".

I leave, relieved I can escape their bickering for a few minutes. I walk back in the kitchen, but John is no there. I ladle up some soup in a bowl and break a piece of bread from the basket. I leave it on the table and then call out softly "Mr. Thornton? Are you around?".

"In here, Miss Elizabeth" and I follow the sound down the hall, finding him in an elaborate sitting area with couches. He is seated, the light from the window hitting him just right and he looks gorgeous. He looks up, his blue eyes meeting mine and he smiles "well, what do we have?" and he motions for me to come in. I step into the room, smoothing subconsciously the front of my simple dress, which he notices, he waves his hand "don't worry, you look fine" and he takes a deep breath, looking at me "you are very beautiful just the way you are".

I blush "thank you" and then return his gaze "you have a nephew and your mother wants you to come see and hold him".

John freezes "she wants me to do what?" and he shakes his head "I'm not holding him, he is just born".

"Well, that is what she instructed me to tell you" and I shrug.

He sighs and then gets up "well, as you know by now, no point in arguing with her.......I'll go look at him at least".

"Why don't you want to hold him?" and I look at him curiously.

"I don't know......babies seem so fragile and they cry".

I laugh "not all the time and they are actually quite sturdy, if you think what they have to go through when born.......".

He smiles and waves a finger at me "you are too smart for your own good, Miss Elizabeth" and we walk out of there. I grab the bowl with soup on the way down and he inhales "it smells delicious".

"It is my mothers recipe, she likes to make it for the new mothers, but there is plenty, she always makes enough to feed the family for a day or two, so help yourself".

"I might just do that, thank you".

We get to the door and he opens it for me, so I can walk in with the soup. My mother takes it from me, sitting down next to Fanny "here, this will get some of your strength back and it will help with your milk too".

Fanny nods and then John leans over to kiss her cheek "congratulations, sister....I'm really pleased".

"Thank you, John....now go look at him in mother's arms" and she turns her attention to the food.

I watch as John walks over to Mrs. Thornton, who stands up to show her son the baby "Meet your nephew, John! Isn't he cute?".

He peaks at the baby, who is just looking around "yes, he is very handsome, mother and so little".

"You were that little too when you were born" and she tries to hand the baby to John "here, hold him".

"I don't know....".

"Oh non sense, John.....it is just a tiny baby" and she places the baby in his arms and he cradles him, looking at him with a mixture of panic and love.

The baby just stares and John looks back at him, just as fascinated and when the baby starts to fuss a bit, he rocks him, walking around and soon the baby is fast asleep in his arms. He catches my eyes for second and looks proud and happy.

Mrs. Thornton coos "see, John....you knew what to do......Fanny might call upon you at 3 in the morning when the baby wont sleep".

He rolls his eyes "I certainly hope not, I like my sleep, thank you very much" and he hand the tiny baby back to Fanny to hold "you have a beautiful son" and he leaves the room after giving us all a slight nod. Our eyes meet as he exits and he gives me a tiny smile.

We get Fanny situated trying to nurse her baby and he soon catches on and is sucking happily when we tidy up, pack our things and congratulate her yet again before departing.

Mrs. Thornton walks us out, after making sure Elsie is in the room with Fanny. She walks us to the entrance hall, shaking our hands "I really thank you deeply Mrs. Green and Miss Elizabeth, you provided such expert care for Fanny and made sure she delivered a healthy baby boy. I am very grateful".

My mother looks at her "our pleasure, that is what we do, deliver babies and it never gets old......and thank you for your hospitality Mrs. Thornton, please don't hesitate to call if we can assist any further, I'll stop in within the next few days to make sure everything is alright".

"Please do, you are most welcome" and she opens the door "I'll have Higgins bring you home".

"Oh no worries, Mrs. Thornton....we don't mind the walk, the weather is nice and it is a bit cooler now evening is approaching".

"Are you sure?" and she looks concerned.

"Yes, we are sure, but thank you".

We say goodbye and walk down the steps and out the court yard. I glance briefly around, seeing if I can get another glimpse of John and something catches my eye in a far window over by the mill. It is him. He nods slightly and I smile at him as we walk out.

We are both unaware that someone is watching from the window in the house.