Matured Stories

Wish – Episode 6

Mr Thornton was in a foul mood the next morning, for just the afternoon before a pile of useless stationary and been delivered, costing almost all the money he had given her. He knew he shouldn’t have given her so much, but he wanted to appear generous. It irked him that she seemed to think that since he gave her that money she had carte blanche to spend it all. What did he need with four letter trays, he asked himself. It was just frivolous.

He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised, most young girls were frivolous (his sister was a perfect example) but he had expected more from Miss Preston.

He ate breakfast with his mother then stood in the court yard as the employees filed in. The bell rang for the start of work but Miss Preston was no where to be seen. He waited until a quarter past the hour, growing angrier by the second. Did she think she didn’t have to keep to her times like the other mill hands?

Still, he was losing precious time himself in waiting for her so he made his way into his office, shocked to find her standing by his desk, rearranging it.

“You’re here!”

“Yes,” she smiled. “I got here early, I wanted to press on.”

He saw the letter trays laid out on his desk, three on the left hand side, one on the right. His irritation began to rise again.

“I see you had a good time at the stationers yesterday.”

“What? Oh, yes. If you’ll come over here I’ll explain the new system to you.”

“New system?” he was growing more irritable. Now she thought she could just waltz into his office and change things as she saw fit!

“Yes. Here you have three inboxes. One for unpaid bills, one for outstanding invoices and one for other general enquiries that need your attention. Once you have paid a bill, received payment or dealt with an enquiry, you put the paperwork or letters in this outbox over here so that I can file the papers away and post the letters.”

She smiled at him, pleased with herself.

“And over here, I have divided the filing cabinets up into suppliers, buyers and factory related – which has things like the employee tax records, inventory, cotton orders, machine parts, etcetera. Then the paperwork in each group is alphabetically, by company name for the buyers and suppliers and by subject for the factory category.”

Each draw had been labelled with it’s category and which letters of the alphabet it contained.

He was ashamed to admit that her system did seem a lot more organised than his had been . It would only take him a fraction of the time to find what he needed now and he felt bad for thinking ill of her.

“You don’t like it?” she said, noticing his frown.

“No. No I didn’t say that,” he smiled. “I am just surprised, that’s all. You seem to have made things very efficient.”

“Thank you. Oh, and before I forget,” she went to her small purse on the table and retrieved his change and receipts which she placed on his desk.

He looked at her, flushed with happiness as she was, proud of her work.

“I haven’t finished the filing yet, as you can see,” she pointed to the stacks of papers still on the table. “But in theory at least, I think this works well.”

“Indeed.”

His voice was so warm that’s he turned to look at him and suddenly felt rather faint at the admiration she saw in his eyes. She seemed to be frozen, unable to look away or even breath for a moment.

Mr Thornton stepped closer and Carrie wondered if he was going to kiss her. She desperately wanted him too but she also knew that he shouldn’t. He wasn’t hers, he was Margaret’s.

She didn’t know of she had the willpower to refuse him though and she breathed a sigh of relief when a knock sounded at his door, snapping them both out of what ever stupor had overcome them.

Carrie went back to her desk to work while John strode over to the door and opened it, his manner with Williams was somewhat curt but Carrie felt relieved. As they left she took a few moments to compose herself then set about continuing her work.

When Mr Thornton returned they worked mostly in silence until it was time for Carrie to leave, a pattern which repeated itself over the next few days.

When Sunday finally came around, Carrie had never felt so relieved to have a day off. She loved the thrill of getting up, knowing she would be seeing Mr Thornton soon, but she hated working with him all morning, constantly chiding herself not to look at him, lest her will fail her once again.

Sunday was a quiet day, thankfully. After attending church with the Hales, Carrie took herself off for a walk. Milton was a dirty, smoky town but up on the hills there was a modicum of fresher air and from a distance, the dirt and smoke gave the town character and made it look appealing, rather than suffocating.

Margaret may have been used to pea soupers in London but Carrie had never experienced such pollution before.

She settled herself down on the hillside and just sat there for a while, thinking.

She had been stuck in this life for a few months now and seemed no closer to getting home. It had taken her a while to get used to the manners and social mores here but she thought that was settling in well, until Mr Bloody Thornton had to come along and make her fall in love with him!

And this was more than just being in love with his character, because that character was fictional. This Mr Thornton was just as adorable as the fictional one, only he was real, or at least he felt very very real. But he wasn’t meant for her, he was meant for Margaret. Margaret who looked down her nose at him. Margaret who insulted him at every turn, both intentionally and unintentionally. Margaret who didn’t deserve him, damn it! It wasn’t fair!

“I must be going crazy,” she said softly. She was probably right at this moment lying in some insane asylum, dressed in a straight jacket and drugged out of her mind.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

She turned to see Mr Thornton standing behind her.

“Is this grass reserved for someone?” he asked, gesturing to the space beside her.

“Oh, no. I, uh, I like it up here, it sort of puts things in perspective, if you know what I mean.”

“That’s why I like walking this path too,” he said, settling beside her.

“I’m surprised,” she said. “You don’t really seem like the walking type.”

“What type do I seem like?” he asked.

“I don’t know, a bit like me I suppose, a typical city dweller, always busy, never having time to stop and smell the roses.”

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“And yet here we both are. I don’t see any roses but there’s some petunias over there we could smell if you like.”

Carrie laughed. She was seeing an aspect of to Mr Thornton’s character that wasn’t in the book, namely his playful side. He also had a sense of humour which Carrie had never noticed in the book. She found she liked it very much.

“Actually I like it up here because it’s quiet,” Carrie admitted. “Truth be told, I’m a bit of an antisocial git. I like getting away from people and just being who I want to be for a while.”

“And who do you want to be?” he asked.

Carrie turned to look at him, wondering how much she should tell this man.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “But I know it’s not who I’m expected to be.”

“And who is that?”

Carrie sighed deeply.

“Well, my mother thinks, or rather she thought, that a woman’s only role was to be pretty and marry well. My sister kind of agrees and she can’t understand why I waste my time with study when I should be partying and meeting Mr Right. Or Mr. I’ve Got A Yacht in the South of France. My dad, well he just bitches about women, how they’re only after one thing, how they’re all superficial and brainless. Of course it would help if he dated women his own age and stopped dating brain dead air heads.”

“Dating?” Mr Thornton asked, for if she meant what he thought she did, then what was a married man doing courting young women.

Carrie realised her mistake, divorce was unheard on in the 1800s. Well, unless you were Henry VIII that is.

“Dating, yeah, it’s um, it’s just another word for flirting, really. He and my mother live, or rather lived separately and he liked to spend his free time in the company of pretty young women who flattered his ego. Nothing salacious, just a bit desperate and sad really.”

“So who do you want to be?” he asked.

“Like I said, I don’t know. I know I don’t want to be defined by who I marry, forever more known as Mr So And So’s Wife. I want to do something important, you know? Make my own mark on the world in some small way.”

“You want to be famous?” he asked, unsure of her meaning.

“God no!” She cringed as she remembered Mr Hale chastising her for taking the Lord’s name in vain. “Pardon me. No, what I mean is, I want to have an impact on the world, to do something that matters, that changes lives or inspires people, even if it’s only a few people.”

“I think that’s a very worthy goal to have,” he said.

“What about you, did you always want to be a cotton manufacturer or did you have another dream when you were young?”

“Me?” he sounded surprised, as though no one had ever asked him that question before. He was silent for a few moments as he thought about it. “I remember when I was a boy, I wanted to be a doctor.”

“Really?”

“Does that surprise you?”

“Well yes, but only because it’s so different from what you do. Was it a real goal or was it like me wanting to be a ballet dancer when I was five and a vet when I was six, and a lion tamer when I was seven?”

“A lion tamer?” he laughed.

“It’s a real career I’ll have you know,” she grinned. “But it was just a passing fad.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think it was a real goal.” He was silent for a long while and when he spoke again his voice was low, almost like he was confessing a dark secret. “If I’m honest, I always wanted to be a scholar.”

Carrie turned to him and smiled.

“I think you’d have been good at it.”

“Don’t flatter me,” he said gruffly.

“I’m not. I’ve heard some of your discussions with Mr Hale and you seem very insightful.”

“For someone who’s never been to university, you mean.” Mr Thornton was frowning.

“No, just insightful. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have started this conversation.”

“Don’t be. I’m not sorry for the life I lead, circumstances often dictate what we become and I’ve been very successful. I can’t complain.”

Carrie smiled, but it was tinged with sadness.

“An engineer,” she said softly.

“Who, me?” he asked, puzzled by her statement.

“No, me. It wasn’t just a passing fad either, for years I’ve dreamed about building something that would stand the test of time and help improve lives in some way, that’s why I was so interested when you were talking about the power loom the other evening. To make something like that, something that changed a whole industry… But I let myself be talked out of it and into taking soft subjects, ladylike subjects such as English.”

“I don’t think anyone could ever doubt that you’re a lady,” he said, a warm smile on his lips. “But I can see how difficult that kind of career would be for a woman.”

He was judging by Victorian standards though, he didn’t see her as the coward she really was for giving into her family.

“Anyway,” she said, standing up. “That’s enough introspection for one day. I should be getting home.”

Mr Thornton stood up as well and offered her his arm.

“Then allow me to escort you,” he offered.

Carrie slipped her arm through his and they strolled back down the hill towards the town.

They kept the conversation light, on topics such as music and books and when they stopped outside the small house in Crampton, Carrie thought for a moment that he was going to kiss her but instead he stepped back and bid her good night.

Carrie watched him leave, pleased to note that he turned back after a dozen or so paces. She blushed to have been caught watching him and quickly made her way inside the house.

The next day Carrie was surprised to get into the office to find that Mr Thornton had moved the table she worked at so that it was opposite his desk and they now faced each other.

“I thought it was rather rude to put you in the corner so you have to keep your back to the room,” he explained. He also wanted to be able to observe her a little better.

She had finally finished rearranging the filing system on Friday and was about to ask what he wanted her to do when she noticed a stack of post was lying on her desk along with a letter opener. She duly opened the letters and put them in the relevant inboxes, then she filed the few items that had been placed in the outbox after she left on Saturday.

Before she had finished he called her over to his desk for a moment.

“I have to go into town for a meeting shortly,” he explained. “These are two bids I’ve worked out,” he showed her his calculations. “I dug this old tender out and I was wondering if you could copy the format and write the tenders for me?”

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Margaret took the sheets of paper from him and quickly read through them to make sure she understood what she had to do.

“I don’t think I’ll have any problems,” she said.

“Good.” he smiled. “If I’m not back before you go, just leave them on my desk when you’re done.”

She nodded her understanding. Once he had gone she finished the filing then sat back at her desk to write the tenders.

Thankfully in her rucksack she had a pencil case with various pens and highlighters in it. One of those pens was a fountain pen her father had given her that she used to sign her name with. She had brought it into the office after discovering how difficult it was to use an ink well.

She had just finished the first tender when the office door opened and Mr Hale came in.

“There she is, hard at work!” he smiled. Margaret came in behind him.

“Mr Hale, how lovely to see you,” she said, though she was unsure how kindly visitors during work hours would be looked upon.

“We were just returning Mrs Thornton’s visit and we thought we’d stop in and see how you were getting on.”

“Oh, great, thank you.”

Margaret was looking around the office and noticed her fountain pen.

“What an unusual writing instrument,” she said. “I have never seen one quite like it before.”

‘You should see my biro’s,’ Carrie thought.

“Yes, it was a gift from my father on my fourteenth birthday.”

“Is it gold?” Margaret asked, shocked that such a material would be used for a pen.

“I believe so. He had the barrel inscribed, with my name so it would be a kind of keep sake.”

Margaret put the pen down, wondering again what kind of family this woman came from, for they seemed to have been rich and yet Carrie herself had no money. If Margaret needed any more proof of Carrie’s poverty, the fact that she was working was proof enough.

“Well, we won’t keep you,” Mr Hale said. “We just wanted to pop our heads in and say hello.”

“Of course. I hope you enjoy your visit with Mrs Thornton.”

Mrs Thornton had seen them enter and leave the office on their way to the house so she apologised that Mr Thornton had not been there.

“Oh, that’s quite all right, we really wanted to see Miss Preston.”

“You are acquainted with my sons new assistant?” she asked, for she knew hardly anything about the girl. Her son seemed very protective of her and other than commenting on how good her work was, he hadn’t said anything of a personal nature about her.

“Oh yes. She is my ward,” Mr Hale said.

“Oh, I had no idea.” Mrs Thornton said, wondering where the girl had been when she called on the Hales. “Has she been with you for long?”

“No, not long, just a few months now.”

“And, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how did she come to be in your care?”

“Well, she is an orphan. I didn’t feel we could turn her out into the world on her own so we invited her to live with us. Working here was her idea, she’s a very independent young woman and I admire her spirit.”

“Indeed,” Mrs Thornton answered, though her manner was somewhat stiff. “Though I am not sure for how much longer there will be employment here. I suppose you have heard the talk of a strike?”

Mrs Thornton went on to explain all about Milton’s long history of strikes and the battle that raged between masters and workers.

Carrie quickly finished the second tenure, wrote the envelopes for both and placed everything on Mr Thornton’s desk for him to look over and sign.

Having run out of tasks, she went through the post in the general inbox to see if there was anything there that she thought she could handle. There wasn’t so she went through the outstanding invoices to see which were the oldest and those over two months old, she started writing letters to, reminding them of the invoice and that payment was now overdue. She also wrote out a copy of the invoices in case they tried to claim they didn’t have a record of it. Though in all honesty, they had received their cotton, it was surely their duty to pay for it and if they didn’t receive a bill, to ask why not!

Still, she was used to businesses waiting as long as possible before paying their bills and if she didn’t know the financial troubles in Mr Thornton’s future, she probably wouldn’t have minded so much.

The letters she wrote were firm but polite and she was just completing her third and last reminder when Mr Thornton returned.

“You’re still here?” he asked. “I can’t pay you past your time, you know.”

Carrie looked up and realised that it was now half past two.

“I don’t expect it,” she answered. “Sorry, I lost track of time. Besides, Mr Hale popped in earlier on his way to see your mother, so I had some time to make up.” She went back to the letter she was writing and tried not to notice how haggard Mr Thornton looked.

Mr Thornton hardly registered her words since his mind was on other things.

“Are you all right?” she finally asked, her compassion overcoming her desire to keep things professional between them.

“Aye, it’s just the talk of a strike, that’s all.”

Carrie nodded her understanding.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s hardly your fault, is it?”

“No, but… I just wish there was something I could do to help, that’s all.”

“Thank you,” he smiled. “I wish there was too.”

“Would you like some tea?”

“No, I’m fine. I’d best get on. You can finish whatever it is you’re doing tomorrow, if you want.”

“I’m nearly done.”

She got back to work, pleased to note that Mr Thornton checked her tenders, signed them and slotted them into their envelopes for posting.

“Good work,” he praised her. “What are you working on now?”

“Unpaid invoices,” she said, handing him a copy of one of the letters she had written. “I thought a friendly reminded might be in order for those over two months old. I mean you might want me to chase up the more recent ones as well, I just thought these were the most urgent. You may already have chased them of course, but I needed something to do.”

“No,” he said, reading through her letter and the attached copy invoice. “This is very good, authoritative without being rude. Good work.”

“Thank you.” She handed him the second letter she had finished and a few minutes later, she handed him the final letter.

“Well, I’ll get off home now then.”

“Of course.” Mr Thornton smiled at her. “Thank you for this,” he said, holding up the letters. “I’m not sure when I would have gotten around to it.”

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“You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said as she left, though in the event she saw him again that evening.

He called to apologise for not keeping his lesson with Mr Hale the night before and gave Margaret the contact details for Dr Donaldson. Carrie surmised that Margaret must have asked for the details while she visited Mrs Thornton today and looked over at Mrs Hale, who was indeed looking rather pale and listless these days.

Mr Thornton stayed for tea and before long the conversation turned to the strike. Margaret got into quite a heated discussion with Mr Thornton over his handling of his financial affairs. She wanted him to be more open with his workers but Carrie could understand his reticence. In her time, most people were more likely to talk about their sex lives then their financial affairs.

Of course in this case, Margaret was right and his only hope of stopping a strike was to be open and honest with his workforce.

This discussion led on to his rights to influence his workers lives, with Margaret feeling it was his duty as someone with power to tell them what to do away from work and he arguing that his workers deserved their independence when on their own time.

“You must have seen for yourself by now, how independent we Darkshire men are, Miss Hale. What right to I have to dictate how my workers live their lives merely because they have labour to sell and I have the capital to buy it?”

“No, not because of your labour and capital, but because you are a man dealing with a set of men over whom you have immense power and simply because your life and theirs are so interwoven.”

This was something that had always troubled Carrie in the book and so she spoke up now.

“Margaret, God gave man free will so that he might make his own choices. I don’t understand why you believe that Mr Thornton has the right to take that god-given free will away from them? Not to mention what would happen if the master should not be quite so upstanding? What if he led his workers into sin? We have free will so that we can make our own decisions and the most other people can do is to try and educate us about which choices are better than others.”

“That is hardly the point.”

“Then what is the point? If I were to employ your father, should I have the right to dictate how he and you live your lives?”

“Well, no…”

“Why not?”

“Well, because you are a woman.”

“Indeed I am, but I dare say I am more knowledgeable about many things than most men.”

Margaret laughed and Carrie bristled.

“I know that you lack even the most basic understanding of how the human body works because I heard you say that the heart produces blood, for peats sake! And as for the human mind and psychology, you haven’t got a clue how or why people think the way they do or how their behaviour can be influenced. Group dynamics are playing a massive role in this confrontation because the workers identify with each other more than they do with the masters and to convince them that they and their kind are wrong and the masters are right is an uphill struggle. In this conversation, Margaret, you are like a child trying to tell the grown up’s how to behave.”

Margaret was looking rather affronted and Carrie suddenly felt bad.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that, but I am getting sick and tired of being told that I am inferior just because by an accident of birth I am female.”

Realising she was tackling topics that these people were far from wanting to hear about, Carrie excused herself and went into Mr Hale’s study.

She heard the conversation continue between Mr Hale and Mr Thornton but she couldn’t make out their words. She picked up Plato’s republic, which had been mentioned earlier in the conversation, and sat down to read it. She had no idea how long she had been sitting there when he came in.

“Miss Preston?” she looked up to see Mr Thornton peering around the door. “I’m not disturbing you, I hope.”

“Oh, no. I am sorry about my outburst up there but sometimes I get tired of everyone having opinions they are certain are true but can’t back up with facts. My father always said that unless you can argue your opinion on a given subject, you don’t have a right to hold an opinion but so many people here argue with half truths and anecdotes. What about facts, reason and logic?”

“Do you believe me guilty of the same crime?” he asked.

“In some areas, yes, but your opinion on the mills must be respected because of your experience, even if some of your ideas about your employees need a little updating.”

“Updating?” he asked.

“I only mean that, though the masters are locked in a struggle with their men, it would be better for everyone involved if you could find a way to understand each other and come to a compromise.”

“You are right, of course, but I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.”

“Someone once told me that you have to be the change you want to see.”

Mr Thornton smiled at such idealistic words thinking them naive.

“Plato?” he asked, noticing the cover of the book she held.

“I though I’d give it a try, I haven’t read it before.”

“And what do you think so far?”

“Well, so far the descriptions of the utopia seem rather out dated and bear very little resemblance to most modern societies. In fact if I’m being honest, it sounds more like a dictatorship than utopia.”

Mr Thornton smiled, impressed with her answer, for it was a rare man who could so readily form an opinion, let alone a woman.

“Are you sure you have never read that book before?” he asked.

“No, I prefer fiction usually.”

“And you have never heard it spoken of before.”

Carrie’s smile faltered.

“Are you asking me whether I have formed this opinion myself or if I have simply stolen someone else’s idea?” Her voice held a note of warning.

“I suppose I am,” he had the good grace to look sheepish.

“Then I am afraid I can’t dignify your question with an answer. Good evening, Mr Thornton.”

Seeing that he was being well and truly dismissed for underestimating her, he left.

Her earlier words had sounded idealistic and impractical but he couldn’t get that phrase out of his head; ‘be the change you want to see’. He wanted change, that was certain but how could he, only one man, affect that change?

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