The next day was a Sunday. Mr Hale and Margaret went to church but Carrie didn’t feel like going today and told the Hales she was unwell. She roused herself enough to get dressed and allowed Dixon to do her hair, but only because Dixon seemed to take it as a personal affront when she did her own hair.
She had left all of her belongings from her old life with Mr Thornton. She knew she would have to get them back at some point but she couldn’t face him just yet. Her computer and phone would probably have run out of battery by then, but she could hardly recharge them so it had to happen at some point.
She spent the day in a kind of dreamlike state, not quite in the present but not quite gone either. She drifted, doing as she was told and speaking only when she was spoken to.
Right now she missed her music even more than she missed her copy of North and South, for since Mr Thornton had broken her heart she found it difficult to be quite so enamoured of that story any longer. At home, whenever she was sad or angry or frustrated she would sit at her piano and play as loudly as she could, sometimes singing along and using that to vent her feelings. Here though she had no such outlet.
Still, she found sad music running through her head, comforting her in a small way, though it did nothing to help her improve her mood.
The family ate lunch together and Carrie did her best to join in the conversation. The character of Fred had always interested her in the books and she wanted to get to know him a little better, she just didn’t feel as if she had the energy to, right now.
After lunch she sat by the window in the parlour, looking down at the street below, watching everyone as they went about their business, though their pace was much more leisurely today than usual. It was almost four o’clock when she saw Mr Thornton striding up the street towards the house, carrying the basket she had left at the mill the day before.
Suddenly her body flooded with adrenalin. He must not be allowed in the house in case he saw Fred, but he also couldn’t be left out on the street because she feared what would happen if someone else were to discover the things he carried in the basket! She would be kidnapped and interrogated for her knowledge of the future or put into some insane asylum and left to rot, or her belongings stolen and used to enhance technology here early, causing Skynet to build Terminators and wipe out humanity.
Okay, that probably wasn’t the most objective reaction but it was hard to keep a level head when you had so many balls in the air at once.
She didn’t know what to do for the best. She ran down the stairs, oblivious to the Hale’s stares as she passed them, and opened the front door before Mr Thornton could knock.
She pulled him inside and manhandled him into the study which was just off the hallway.
“Such a greeting,” he said, his voice as hard as iron as she closed the door behind them.
“I did not want you to disturb the Hales. Mrs hale is very ill now.”
“Or rather, you do not want them to learn what kind of woman you really are.”
He pulled her essay file out of the basket and began to look through it.
“I don’t understand it,” he said. “This work is some of the finest I have ever seen. This essay, discussing the similarities between Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein was so insightful. And this one on the depiction of Mr Bennet is so well argued that I could hardly believe that it was the work of a woman.”
Carrie laughed at the irony.
“Those essay’s were written about arguably two of the best books in the history of the world. Both books were written by women and yet you question a woman’s ability to analyse them?”
Clearly he didn’t like being laughed at.
“Argue your way out of this one then.” He reached into the basket once again and threw the packet of condoms at her. “Go on,” he taunted. “Deny it!”
She caught the packet and blushed as she realised what they were.
“I have no intention of denying anything.” This was no longer amusing and her back stiffened as he sat in judgement of her.
“So you admit it then, that you’ve debased yourself with that man in the photograph?”
Carrie stayed quiet, she had no intention of justifying herself to this man.
“How many others have there been? How many others have you debauched yourself with? How many!”
“Fine, I’ll tell you,” she answered, her cool and calm attitude belying the rage she felt at his accusations.
“You will?” He seemed taken aback.
“Yes. I have done nothing that I am ashamed of.”
“Go in then, tell me.”
“I will. Just as soon as you tell me how many women you have slept with.”
“You heard me. You are a red blooded, thirty-something man, I hardly think likely that you’re still a virgin.”
“That has got nothing to do with this.”
“I think it has. If you want to sit in judgement of my behaviour, then I think I have a perfect right to sit in judgement of yours.”
“Why? Because you’re a man and I’m a woman?”
“So I am expected to be a pure virgin on my wedding night, but I don’t have the right to expect that from my husband?”
Mr Thornton looked uncomfortable.
“Well I’m sorry but I don’t hold with double standards like that and where I come from, men and women are treated equally. So, if it really is that important for you to know exactly how many men I’ve slept with, then you’ll have to tell me your magic number first.”
Mr Thornton seemed to have been rendered speechless.
“Did you care about those women?” Carrie asked. “What were they, easy conquests? Innocent maids that you could take advantage of? Prostitutes? Did you even considering using protection to prevent pregnancy and infections?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He was barely able to contain his anger but Carrie wasn’t about to back down.
“On the contrary, I rather think I know a lot more about sex than you do. Ever since the Kinsey Reports on sexual behaviour in the 1950’s my culture has studied all aspects of sex, attraction and relationships. Where I come from most sexually transmitted diseases are easily curable. The clap is cured by taking a few pills but I’ll bet it’s a pretty horrific thing to have here, isn’t it? Rather than examine sex, like my society, what has yours done? Told you that sex is bad, that sex is sinful, that you should only have sex after you’re married. How’s that working out, because it sure as hell doesn’t look like that last one had any impact on you, did it, John?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“I’ll call you whatever the hell I like. I opened my heart to you, John. I told you my biggest secret, something I haven’t told anyone else since I arrived in this horrific, backwards time and you not only shove my gesture back in my face, you rip my heart out, stamp on it and now you think you can come into my home and sit in judgement on me for a crime you are equally guilty of? Well I’m, sorry, but I’m not in the mood for hypocrisy today.”
She opened the study door for him to see himself out and though he hesitated for a moment, he finally left. The front door slammed a few moments later and Carrie sagged, as though her strings had been cut.
She looked over to the basket of possessions that had caused this mess and saw his gloves lying on the table beside it. Without thinking she picked them up and made to follow him out, but stopped just short of the front door. What was she thinking? He didn’t deserve her thoughtfulness. In fact, he could rot in hell for all she cared.
“Are you all right?” She looked over to the bottom of the stairs, where Frederic now stood. “We heard arguing. I wanted to come down but Father wouldn’t let me until he was gone.”
How was it that Fred, a virtual stranger, could be so kind while Mr Thornton, a man she would have done almost anything for, could be so cruel.
That thought was her undoing and she began to weep again.
“Oh, hey, it’s all right,”
Frederick came up to her and wrapped her in his embrace. There had never been a lot of tenderness in her life and she found herself unable to reject the comfort he offered. He tucked her head under his chin and stroked her back.
“Everything will work out for the best, you’ll see,” he told her.
But everything didn’t work out for the best because at that precise moment, Mr Thornton returned for his gloves. She had meant to lock the front door again but as she turned to look at him she realised that she had forgotten. Less than a second later she also realised that he had completely misread the situation he had walked in on.
Mr Thornton took one look at Carrie in another man’s arms and a red mist seemed to descend over him.
Carrie looked on in horror as he charged at Fred, knocking him to the ground. They wrestled around on the floor, rolling over, each gaining the upper hand for a moment only to lose it again.
Mr Hale, Margaret and Dixon all came to see what the commotion was but they were too shocked to make any move to break up the fight. Carrie was also shocked for a while, until she realised that if she wasn’t careful, one of these men was going to end up killing the other.
Mr Thornton gained the upper hand again and Carrie pounced on his back, she wrapped her right arm around his neck, holding onto her left forearm with her other hand as she placed her left hand behind his head, pressing it forward.
He clawed at her arm, his nails raking painfully into her skin but he couldn’t hold out for long against the wave of darkness that enveloped him and soon became limp in her arms.
Knowing that she could cause brain damage if she held on for too long, she released him and with Fred’s help, rolled him off the younger man. She offered Fred her hand and helped him up.
“What the hell did you do?” Fred asked.
“It’s called a sleeper hold, it cuts off the blood flow to the brain. Hopefully he’ll wake up in a few minutes.”
“Help me get him up to the sitting room,” Margaret said, coming down the stairs now that the danger had passed.
“Leave him there,” Carrie said, in no mood to be charitable but she was ignored and between them, Fred, Dixon, Mr Hale and Margaret managed to get Mr Thornton upstairs and lay him out on the sofa there.
Dixon fetched some water and Margaret set about bathing Fred’s injuries.
“What do we tell him when he wakes up?” Fred asked.
“I don’t see we have any alternative but to tell him the truth,” Mr Hale said.
“But he’s a magistrate,” Margaret argued.
“He’s an honourable man,” Mr Hale said, ignoring Carrie’s derisive snort. “I doubt once he knows the whole story that he will betray us.”
“I don’t suppose we have much choice,” Margaret agreed. “Why were you two fighting?” she asked Fred.
“It’s not Fred’s fault,” Carrie hastened to defend him. “I was upset after Mr Thornton left and Fred was comforting me. I forgot to lock the door so when Mr Thornton returned for his gloves he saw us and became jealous.”
“He must really like you,” Fred said, trying to cheer Carrie.
“He’s got a funny way of showing,” she scoffed.
“I’d best go and check on your mother,” Mr Hale said, getting to his feel, though he looked very tired. “Make sure she wasn’t disturbed.”
“Do you want me to come?” Carrie asked.
“No, you stay here and referee in case things heat up again.”
No sooner had Mr Hale left the room than Mr Thornton showed signs of waking up. Carrie dipped her fingers in the bowl of water Margaret was using for Fred and flicked them at Mr Thornton’s face. He shook his head at the droplets hit him and opened his eyes.
“Are you ready to behave like a grown up now?” she asked.
Mr Thornton sat up, looking over to where Margaret was tending to Fred, but he didn’t look like he was about to renew the fight so Carrie went and stood by the window, looking down into the street.
“Mr Thornton,” Margaret said. “I’d like you to meet my brother, Frederick.”
“You have a brother?” he sounded surprised.
“Yes. Fred doesn’t live in England. He is visiting because my mother is so unwell.”
Mr Thornton had the good grace to look ashamed, not that Carrie could see his expression from where she stood. He looked over to her but her back and shoulders were rigid and it seemed clear that she wanted nothing to do with him. He couldn’t blame her.
“I’m sorry. I behaved shamefully. I apologise.”
“No harm done,” Fred said. He wasn’t the type to bear grudges. “Not to me at any rate,” he said, gesturing to where Carrie stood.
Mr Thornton looked over at her and sighed. The things he had said… he hadn’t meant them, not really. He hated the idea of her being with anyone else, it made him feel physically sick but in all honesty, he couldn’t claim to have waited for her. She was right, he was a hypocrite.
He wondered if her stance was softening a little.
“There.” Margaret declared when she had finished bathing Fred’s face. “All done.”
“Thank you.” Fred smiled at his sister.
“And we can’t send you home looking like that,” Margaret told Mr Thornton.
“I’m fine, honestly.”
“What would your mother think?”
“That I’m a foolish man who got into a fight.”
“Please, Mr Thornton, let me at least wash away the blood.”
“Honestly, Miss Hale, I am all right.”
“Typical blood man, refusing help when he needs it,” Carrie said under her breath, though the others could clearly hear her. She stomped back to them and took the bowl from Margaret. “Stay!” she ordered as she sat next to Mr Thornton on the sofa. Her fierce expression was belied by the gentleness of her touch as she dipped the cloth into the water and began to wash his abrasions. She took care not to look at his eyes, because she was sure she’d see contrition in them and that would make her want to forgive him.
She heard Fred and Margaret leave, closing the door behind them.
“Carrie,” Mr Thornton said her name with such tenderness that it was almost her undoing. She bit down hard on her lower lip and focused on the cut on his cheek.
“Look at me,” he pleaded.
He sagged slightly but didn’t speak again for a few moments. Margaret rinsed the cloth out then dampened it again. She was just about to dab at his cheek when he spoke, drawing her attention to his eyes.
“Three,” he said softly. “That’s… what did you call it, my magic number?”
Carrie nodded, lost, as she suspected she would be, in his eyes.
“The first time it was paid for by friends of mine. I can’t even remember her name. I’m not sure I ever asked. I felt so ashamed afterwards but at the time I didn’t know how to say no. I didn’t want to be the only virgin. The second was Sarah, a girl who came into the drapers I used to work in. She was so bonny but awfully shy. I tried to draw her out every time she came in and gradually she opened up to me. When her parents found out they tried to put a stop to it, so we would meet up in secret. Some how they found out and sent her off to finishing school in Switzerland. She came back a few years later, married to a London banker.”
He looked very sad as he confessed that and Carrie realised that he’d had real feelings for her.
“Since then there’s only been Anna, a woman who works at my club. She’s not exactly a prostitute but she’s not exactly a hard lay either. She picks and chooses who she wants to sleep with though. I said no for a long time, then I began to talk to her and slowly I grew to like her. It didn’t seem so wrong after that.”
“How often?” Carrie asked.
“Every month or so.”
“And since you met me?”
“I haven’t laid with her for the past three months, at least and I always used a prophylactic. My friends at school knew all about it, made sure I had something to wear even back then. I’ve used it ever since.”
Carrie nodded with relief and went back to cleaning his cuts. She supposed she could understand him needing relief sometimes but if he hadn’t used protection that would have been it. There was no way she would risk catching an STD in this backwards time.
He didn’t ask but she felt compelled to confess all the same.
“One,” she admitted. “I met Mark when I was seventeen and he was twenty, he’s been my only serious boyfriend. I think that’s why it took me so long to end it, because… I guess I was used to him and being on my own again was scary.”
“Can I ask you something?” he sounded hesitant.
“Only if you’re sure you want to hear the answer.”
He smiled slightly, acknowledging her point.
“How come you can fight so well?” He had noticed the scratches on her arm and had enough sense to realise that it was her who had knocked him out.
“I was mugged,” she said. “I was walking home from school when I was fourteen and these two men attacked me. They took my money, my watch, my phone, my laptop and gave me a broken rib. I lay there waiting for someone to find me and just decided, never again. As soon as I was healed, I started taking Karate. It’s safe to say I was obsessed for a while but the good thing was that the instructor would spend about six weeks on technique for those who were taking an exam, then the six weeks after the exams teaching us street fighting and survival techniques. The kind of dirty fighting that isn’t in any book but that saves your life. I got pretty good at one point but I don’t have much time to devote to it now.”
Mr Thornton brought his hands up and caught hers, stopping her from continuing her work.
“I’m sorry. And I don’t just mean for you being attacked.”
Carrie blinked back the tears that were stinging her eyes.
“I was an idiot. I was hurt and jealous and angry and I took it out at the one person I shouldn’t have; you. I can’t lose you, Carrie, without you I’m nothing.”
Carrie felt her lip tremble as her tears threatened to overwhelm her.
“Please say you can forgive me?”
Carrie’s tears spilled over and John gently wiped them away with his thumbs.
“I can forgive what you said, John, but not what you did.”
“What did I do?”
“In your office, you shoved me.”
“I was angry, I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“I know, but you also attacked Fred.”
“He has forgiven me, why can’t you?”
“Because I won’t live my life in fear. My father had a temper, I never knew how he was going to react.”
“Carrie, love, it won’t happen again. I promise.”
“No, it won’t, because this is goodbye, John.”
She made a move to stand up and he tightened his hold on her hands.
“No! No this can’t be it, I won’t accept that.”
“Except that I am my own person and I have my own mind… and this is it, John. The way you came at me, not just physically but verbally, you were trying to wound me in whatever way you could.”
“I’m sorry.” He felt tears stinging his eyes, mirroring hers.
“It will never happen again.”
“Until the next time.”
“Carrie!” He couldn’t believe this was it, that in one moment of jealousy and he had driven her away.
“No. Effective immediately, I resign my position at Marlborough Mills and in future when you visit Mr Hale, I will not be present,” Carrie said, keeping her voice as steady as she could, though tears streamed down her cheeks. “Now, please let go of me.”
Seeing his tears was almost her undoing, but then she remembered all the times her father would plead for forgiveness and somehow, though he was not the injured party, her mother always ended up comforting him.
Finally he accepted the inevitable and released her wrists. Carrie ran from the room and fled to her bedroom, throwing herself down on the bed and crying until she had no more tears left.
Margaret went back into the sitting room once Carrie had fled, fully intending to give Mr Thornton a piece of her mind. He might be a manufacturer, but Carrie deserved much better than the way he was treating her and she was sure he had it in him to be better behaved towards her.
What she saw as she entered stopped her diatribe cold, for Mr Thornton looked just as upset as Carrie had.
He hastily wiped his eyes before turning to her but it was clear that he had been crying.
“What has happened?” she asked.
“Nothing just… Miss Preston has ended any possibility of our involvement.”
“But why? I thought she cared a great deal about you. She has been most upset since you fell out with each other.”
“I think she does care for me,” he admitted. “But I have been very foolish and now I fear I have driven her away forever.”
“Surely not. If she truly loves you, I do not see how she could stay away.”
“Well I did not believe true love could be jealous, or petty or vengeful, and yet I have found myself to be capable of all three.”
“If you don’t mind, Miss Hale, I would rather not discuss it any further.”
“Of course. Let me make you some tea, then I shall continue cleaning your abrasions.”
“That is not necessary.”
“But is is, Mr Thornton, for there is something very important that we must ask of you.” She turned and left, giving him a few moments to compose himself before she returned and continued where Carrie had left off.
As she worked, she explained to Mr Thornton about Frederick. When she had finished her tale, she said a silent prayer that her father was right and that Mr Thornton could be trusted.
Despite her low opinion of him and his own confession of his character defects, Margaret found it hard to picture Mr Thornton as petty, jealous or vengeful. He just did not seem the type.
To her great relief, Mr Thornton gave his word that he would keep Fred’s presence a secret, out of respect for Mr Hale if nothing else.
“Thank you, Mr Thornton,” Margaret smiled, possibly the first genuine smile she had ever bestowed on him. “You are a good man.”