Carrie returned home from work to find that Mr Hale was out but Dr Donaldson had just been to see Mrs Hale and the news wasn’t good. She comforted Margaret as best she could and was grateful that the girl never seemed to hold a grudge against her when Carrie went off on one at her. She was a much more forgiving person than Carrie had ever given her credit for when she read the book.
Margaret wanted to be alone to see her mother then and, being wise enough to realise that this was a family time, Carrie took herself off for another long walk.
The doctor had diagnosed consumption, which Carrie knew was what tuberculosis was often called. Unfortunately she also knew that while easily treated with antibiotics in her time, here there was no treatment. She knew that antibiotics came from mould but she had no idea how to extract penicillin from mould.
‘The internet would know,’ she thought sadly.
Though this wasn’t the first time since arriving her that she missed the internet, she didn’t think she had ever felt the loss of that resource as greatly as she did right now.
She stopped in at the apothecary and picked up more willow bark as well as some laudanum, which she knew was basically morphine. It would ease Mrs Hale’s pain as the disease progresses and help suppress her cough reflex, which would surely only be a relief once the disease began to ravage her lungs.
With little else to do, she began walking around the town, just trying to get to know the place a little better.
Finally, realising it was getting quite late she turned to head in the direction she thought Crampton was. She didn’t notice Mr Thornton behind her, or hear his calls since one of the mills or factories around here had just let out and the streets were suddenly thronged with people. She began to feel herself being buffeted about by them. Some who passed her began cat calling and pretty soon hands began to touch and grab at her.
Carrie slapped the hands away as best she could but before she knew it, she was pushed face first into a wall and pressed against it by someone behind her. Instinct and her self defence training kicked in and with a roar, the heal of her boot came squarely down on his foot and less than a moment later, her elbow went into his ribs. As soon as she was free she spun around and although her attacker was on the ground clutching his foot, it appeared he wasn’t alone and his friends did not take kindly to their mate being beaten up by a girl.
He was also rather angry. A crowd had formed around them to watch. Perhaps this passed as sport up here, or perhaps they were enjoying her winning the fight. Either way, she thought that a little help would have been nice right about now.
Never had she been so pleased to hear someone’s voice and as the workers began to disperse, she ran at Mr Thornton, wrapping her arms around his neck.
He quickly took in the scene before him and while he silently praised her bravery at taking these three men on, he cursed himself for having been so slow to reach her. He held her tightly, keeping an eye on her attackers.
Seconds later he heard the sound of whistles and the last of the by standers moved away as the police arrived.
Carrie detached herself from Mr Thornton, apologising to him for her forward behaviour. The police arrested the men, though they clearly didn’t believe her when she said that she had felled them. Mr Thornton backed her account up though, since he had seen what happened as he ran down the hill towards her.
“You’d best be careful when the whistle sounds in future, Miss,” the officer told her.
“I didn’t realise it was so late,” she said, for the evenings were growing much lighter.
“Are you done?” Mr Thornton asked the officers.
“I’ll see Miss Preston home then,” he said, guiding her away from the scene. “Are you sure you are all right?” he asked when they were out of ear shot of the policemen.
“I’ll be fine,” she assured him, though she could already feel her control slipping.
He took her to the mill as it was closer and led her into his house. His mother and sister stood up in shock as they came in to the parlour and Carrie figured that she must look a bit of a sight.
“Well, not exactly the first impression, I wanted to make,” she joked but as she went to laugh, a sob escaped instead and she began to cry.
Mr Thornton gathered her into his arms and held her while she cried, stroking her hair and cooing softly to her.
She pulled away as soon as she had herself reasonably under control again.
“I’m sorry, I think the shock just caught up with me.”
“Nonsense,” he reassured her. “Now, sit down and let’s get you cleaned up.”
While she had been crying, evidently his mother had gone for supplies as she shooed her son out of the way and began to clean Carrie cheek with a cloth and a bowl of water.
“The skin doesn’t look broken,” Mrs Thornton said. “But you’ll have a nasty bruise come morning.”
“What happened?” Fanny asked.
“She was attacked,” Mr Thornton explained. “Three men from Hampers tried to get a little fresh with her, but she put them in their place.”
Mrs Thornton began to clean Carrie’s hands, evidently expecting to find abrasions under the blood but there was nothing.
“It’s not my blood,” she explained. “I broke one of their noses.”
“Where did you learn to do that?” John asked.
“I studied karate for a while.”
“It’s a martial art from the far east. It’s a combination of fighting skill, discipline and philosophy.”
“And why did you yell when you struck them?” he asked, for he had never seen anything like her display before.
“It helps to channel aggression and can unnerve your opponent.”
“You learned to fight?” Fanny said, quite disgusted by the idea.
“No, the point of martial arts isn’t to become a good fighter, but rather to end violence swiftly when it occurs. I have never attacked anyone in my life, only defended myself.”
“Well I think it very unseemly.”
Carrie though it best not to answer since Fanny’s mind was obviously made up.
“What do you think John? I’m quite sure none of my friends would have behaved in such a manner.”
“I think you’re right,” he agreed with her, his tone neutral.
“See!” Fanny smiled as though she had won some kind of argument.
“Then perhaps I should have just let them do with me as they wanted until some big, strong man found the time to ride to my rescue, but who knows what greater evils might have been done to me than damaging my reputation through fighting.”
Her sarcasm wasn’t lost of Fanny, who harrumphed with displeasure.
“Well, what were you doing out alone? I never go anywhere without mother or a servant.”
“Then what a very small and dull life you must lead, Miss Thornton. I don’t like to rely on others or become a burden to them. I much prefer being able to take care of myself. Besides, I’ve been hurt worse than this horse riding, and I do that for fun.”
“You horse ride?” Fanny asked, suddenly sounding much more friendly.
“Yes. I used to have my own horses.”
“Really? What were they like?”
Carrie didn’t really think that Fanny would become a friend but in the interests of civility she answered the question.
“My first mount was a black pony called Friday. She was gorgeous. I learned to ride on her and I kept her even after I was too big to ride her. She became a companion to my next horse, Milly, a chestnut thoroughbred. She could be a little temperamental at times but she was a lovely horse.”
“What happened to them?”
“Friday slipped on the hard ground in the field one winter; she broke her leg and had to be put to sleep. When I went-” she remembered that women didn’t go to university here. “When I returned from Spain, I left Milly with a friend of mine.”
“Oh, I adore horses, I would love to learn to ride.”
“Well, if you want to get serious about it, it’s pretty dangerous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen off. I’ve broken my wrist and my finger and two toes, I dislocated my shoulder once and have suffered so many cuts and bruises that I couldn’t even begin to count them.”
“You’re rather accident prone then?” Mr Thornton said with an amused smile.
“Hardly. I used to love show jumping, cross country and puissance, all rather high risk activities, I’m afraid.”
“Did you hunt?” Fanny asked.
“No, I think it’s cruel and barbaric, I can’t stand it.”
Once again Fanny looked taken aback.
“What’s puissance?” John asked, hoping to divert the conversation on to safer ground.
“There’s only one jump and it gets higher and higher each round until only one horse and rider remains. If you knock the jump over, then you’re out. The highest I ever managed to jump was just under six feet on Milly. That was taller than she was at the withers.”
John looked at this woman before him with a new found respect. She had talked about not being inferior to men but now he could see that it was more than just talk. She had bravery which was uncommon among her sex and took a control over her own life and destiny that few ladies did.
“There,” Mrs Thornton said. “There’s not too much damage.”
“Do you have a mirror?” Carrie asked.
Mrs Thornton gestured to the mirror over the fireplace and Carrie went to look at her cheek.
“I should be able to cover that with makeup,” she said.
“You mean paint?” Fanny gasped, clearly affronted once again.
Carrie took a deep breath so that she didn’t shout.
“I really am getting quite tired of being judged by you, Miss Thornton. Yes, I mean paint or whatever you want to call it, something to disguise the bruising and if you really think a little bit of makeup is so scandalous, then perhaps you should ask yourself why?”
“No decent woman wears paint.”
“I can assure you my dear, I am every inch the decent woman and my pedigree is far superior to yours.” Carrie turned to her. “The problem with social climbers is that they feel the need to judge everyone else. You belittle others because you don’t feel a you belong to the class you wish to. It’s a tell tale sign of a social climber. If you want to fit in and appear middle or upper class, I suggest learn to be a little more tolerant, my dear, and treat the lowest of the working classes with exactly the same courtesy as you would show Queen Victoria, should you ever be lucky enough meet her.”
“If you’re so superior, then why are you working in John’s factory?”
“I said my pedigree was superior, I didn’t say I was. I prefer to pay my own way rather than being a burden to others and I see nothing shameful in working; in fact I quite enjoy it. The class I was born to is simply a matter of chance and has very little to do with the kind of person I am or wish to be. I prefer to judge people on their character, not their class.”
Knowing that she couldn’t argue that trade was shameful without offending her mother and brother, Fanny returned to the earlier point.
“And what does it say about your character that you wear paint?”
“You know nothing of my character but you assume based on one comment that I am some harlot.” Well, in truth by Victorian standards she was, but she had no intention of letting Fanny win this argument. “I rather think that wanting to cover up a bruise and not become the subject of attention and gossip shows a sense of decorum, though I can see now that, having met you, there is no way I can avoid becoming the talk of Milton.” She took a deep breath. “Now, I really think that I have made quite enough of a show of myself for one evening and I had better return home before the Hales begin to worry. They have quite enough on their plate at the moment.”
“Nothing serious, I hope?” Mr Thornton asked.
Carrie’s gaze shot to Fanny. She didn’t so much mind being the subject of local gossip herself but she didn’t want Mrs Hale to be subject to it.
“Let me see you home,” Mr Thornton offered.
“I’m fine, honestly. Thank you for your help earlier, I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t come along when you did.”
“Nonsense, you wiped the floor with them.”
Carrie smiled but she was beginning to feel rather tired now that the adrenalin was wearing off.
“Let me see you home,” he asked again. “Please.”
Carrie nodded, accepting his help. She felt better when she was with him and right now, even if it was inconveniencing him, she wanted to feel good.
“Well,” Fanny huffed once they had left. “I have never been so insulted in all my life!”
Mrs Thornton actually admired the girl in many ways, for she could see her own indomitable spirit in her. Unfortunately she also saw how her son looked at her and couldn’t help but think that the girl was so wild that she would surely make him the talk of Milton, and not in a good way.
No, this association was not to be encouraged in the slightest and until the day John came to her, telling her his intentions towards Miss Preston, she would not accept the possibility.
“Are you really okay?” John asked as they sat in the cab. “You’re wincing.”
“I think my hip is bruised,” she confessed. “But I got some willow bark for Mrs Hale today, I can take some of that to help with the pain in necessary.”
“Is Mrs Hale worse?” he asked.
“I’m afraid so. Mr Hale is still mostly ignorant, I think he wants to believe she can recover, but Dr Donaldson visited today and I think it is a lost cause.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, taking her hand to comfort her.
“Thank you,” she said, squeezing his hand.
“For being so understanding, for coming along when you did. For not calling me a brazen hussy for daring to defend myself and talking about makeup.”
“You could never be a hussy in my eyes.”
Tears pricked at her eyes and she smiled, for she really had had more than her fill of being judged and found wanting since she arrived in this place.
“I know you’d beat me up if I did,” he teased.
Carrie laughed he was captivated by her smile. On impulse he reached out with his free hand and caressed her cheek. Her laughter faded rather abruptly as the mood in the cab changed. He leaned in closer and gently kissed her, his lips barely brushing hers. When she didn’t pull away, he deepened the kiss.
For a moment, Carrie gave herself up to her desire, relishing the feel of his lips on hers, the gentle caress of his finger as he stroked her cheek with the back of his hand, the strong, masculine scent of him that threatened to overwhelm her and make her swoon as Victorian ladies were prone to do in novels.
All too soon however, the carriage slowed to a stop and Mr Thornton pulled away. Carrie suddenly remembered that he wasn’t hers, he was Margaret’s. Here she was about to destroy the greatest romance that she had ever known!
Embarrassed and ashamed, she ran from the cab and into the house, pausing to lean against the door after she closed it while she caught her breath. She half expected Mr Thornton to knock but he didn’t and after a few moments she headed up to her room.
“Carrie, is that you my dear?”
“Yes, Mr Hale. I will be back in a moment but the streets are rather dusty today and I need to wash.”
She bolted up to her room and closed the door behind her. She pulled her mirror out of her handbag and surveyed the damage to her face. The bruise was already showing quite a bit but she thought she could cover it well, especially since it was finally growing dark outside and the only light would be from candles. She hurriedly changed into clean clothes, pausing to survey the bruise that was forming on her hip, then she found a packet of matches to light her own candle. Sitting close by it, she used her concealer to cover the bruise and then dabbed some powder over the top to set it.
Considering the poor light, it probably wasn’t the best job she had ever done but it seemed to look okay. And the light would be no better downstairs.
Thankfully her concealer was fairly new, as was her compact so she should have more than enough to keep her bruise covered for the next week or so until it faded.
She headed down stairs to sit with the family.
“We were getting worried about you,” Mr Hale said, smiling as she came in. “You missed dinner.”
“Yes. I apologise, I lost track of time and then I just got lost and it took me a while to find a cab to bring me home.”
“Well, I’m sure Dixon has saved you something.” He got up to ring the bell.
“No, don’t. I’ll go down and see her.”
Dixon had kept some stew which she warmed up for her. Carrie ate in the kitchen, then returned to the family and sat reading until her eyes grew heavy and she excused herself to bed.
“I do not think that working agrees with her,” Mrs Hale said after she had left. “It is very early for one so young to be tired.”
“Perhaps she has just walked further than normal today,” Margaret said. “She has not looked tired on other nights.”
“No indeed, she is quite a formidable young woman,” Mr Hale added.
Carrie listened from the stairwell and as hot years streamed over her face. She certainly didn’t feel very formidable right now.
Carrie stayed in bed until Margaret had risen the next day so that she could apply her makeup in peace. If ‘paint’ was indeed looked down upon, she didn’t want the Hales to know she was wearing any, nor indeed why she was wearing it.
There was a good light as she sat in front of the window and though it took two layers of concealer, she thought she did a pretty good job covering the bruise. After she applied the face powder over the top and she also added a tiny but of blusher, just to trick the eye to notice the colour rather than the slight swelling of her cheek.
Because she had stayed in bed she had to rush through breakfast so that she could make it to work on time, but given how little she was looking forward to seeing Mr Thornton today, she didn’t mind not having time to think.
He wasn’t in the office when she entered so she sat down and began opening and sorting his post. He came in about an hour later and she turned and smiled warmly at him.
“Morning, boss,” she said, her tone bright but brittle.
“Miss Preston. How are you today?”
“Well, aside from being a fallen, painted lady, I’m fine.”
He walked up to her and she turned her cheek to him so that he could see for himself.
“I’d never know if I didn’t know what to look for.”
“Good.” She nodded.
“Miss Preston, I want to apologise for my behaviour yesterday. I should never have been so forward with you. My actions were unforgivable and I apologise.”
Carrie put the letter she was holding down and turned to him.
“I’m not offended,” she said. “I… I like you, a lot. An awful lot. More than I should because… well you weren’t meant for me and the fact we have feelings for each other is just… well it’s weird, if you must know. Please don’t think you offended my morality or anything, because I enjoyed it. It’s just…”
“I’m meant for someone else,” he finished uncertainly.
“Did you have anyone specific in mind?”
“Yes. And no. It’s complicated.”
“So you are refusing me because you believe me to be in love with another.”
“Exactly,” for in the book he was already madly in love with Margaret. He may like Carrie, but he must also have feelings for Margaret.
“I hate to break it to you, but no one else has any kind of hold over my heart.”
Carrie looked down. Oh no, what had she done!
“You look upset,” he noted.
“Because… Oh, because it’s all wrong, that’s why. Nothing is going the way it should and that’s my fault.” She felt tears sting her eyes but did her best to blink them back.
“How is it your fault?”
“Because I’m not supposed to be here,” she confessed. “I’m supposed to be studying in London with my family.”
Mr Thornton knelt down in front of her.
“I know tragedies can happen but you must not blame yourself. Wherever your family are now, do you not think they would want you to be happy?”
He was being so kind to her, but it was all a lie because her family wasn’t dead! That only served to make her feel worse; she didn’t deserve his sympathy. Finally Carrie could hold her tears back no longer and they spilled out over her cheeks.
“Hey,” he cupped her face. “Don’t cry. I’m sorry I upset you.”
“I don’t deserve you, Mr Thornton. The affection you feel for me shouldn’t be mine. I’ve ruined everything.”
Though he didn’t know what she meant, he could see that her pain was genuine.
“Do you suppose that one day that you might explain these statements?” he asked kindly. “For while they sound like nonsense, I think they are a very large part of understanding who you are.”
Carrie looked into his eyes.
“If I told you the truth, you would think I was crazy.”
“Do you really believe so little of me?”
“No,” she managed a wry smile. “But half the time, I think I’m crazy.”
“We will talk no more of this now,” he said, standing. “I have upset you and you don’t trust me. I hope that at some point you will open up to me and come to realise that how I feel about you is very real and very right.”
Carrie nodded and turned back to her work.
As if her misery was not enough, on the Friday the workers went on strike.