Master of the Mill 1
Margaret closed her eyes and tried to concentrate.
“What choice do we have Papa? We can no longer sustain our life here. Mother’s
annuity is gone with her death, our circumstances are now much tried. The
reduction in our income is such that we can no longer live in this house, let
alone pay wages to poor Dixon.”
“But surely my dear…” Her father hesitated, his brow twisted with worry. “Surely
my work will bring sufficient income to cover our needs? They are after all very
small. Will it not preclude the necessity for you to…” He faltered at the word
work in relation to his precious child. He sighed; even he knew his income would
not cover even the smallest of their expenditures. In exasperation he almost
cried out, “But a mill my dear, must it be a mill, is there no other way?” He
knew the mill masters to be hard, and in some cases tyrannical employers. That
his darling child be brought to this by his own act of moral integrity brought
him low. Margaret had been gently reared, how could she survive and blossom in
such a hot house of coarseness and raw life? “Could we not prevail upon your
“No, Papa, we will not. To be poor relations at her beck and call? I would
rather earn our bread by honest labour, toiling in a field. Others do, there is
no dishonour in it. But to beg favours from relations…No, we will stay true to
ourselves. You taught me this Papa, to stay true, whatever happens.
Marlborough Mill was a dark, thrilling place. The noise, bustle and smell of
cotton oil was enough to make Margaret dizzy. But the power that throbbed there,
the very walls trembling with the might of the looms as they clacked and knocked
producing the raw cotton fabric, air thick with heat from the friction of those
machines. The the smell of oil and grease that clung to the air one breathed in,
all of it exhilarated her.
She waited patiently at first, but as time passed she grew restless. Surely the
Master could see her for a few minutes?
At last she decided. She would find the man. Seek out her fate. If Thornton’s
would not hire her to work as a clerk, then she would look elsewhere, mills
abounded in the district.
She walked with determined caution through the offices, workrooms and storage
areas. The drift of cotton fibre in the air and noise increased steadily as she
approached the weaving rooms. At last she opened a large heavy door, and was
confronted by a scene that could have as easily been Heaven or Hades.
White faced, white clad workers moved about the huge room like worker bees in a
hive. As they moved they caused swirls in the clouds of white fibres that
floated in the heavy air. Amazed by the sight she stared, taking in all about
her. Thoughts trailed through her mind, which circle of Hell was this, was it
Hell at all?
Then her eyes caught sight of a man standing on a raised walk way. He too
watched the scene, eyes tight, snapping from loom to loom, worker to worker. He
looked like the Angel Gabriel, dressed in black, tall, commanding, powerful,
ready. But not an angel, not Gabriel, Mill Master John Thornton stood surveying
Then he sprang…
The enraged shout had Margaret looking about her. A small man in white working
clothes hurtled past her. Then she was shoved aside as John Thornton chased
after the hapless Stevens, cornering him between the looms and bales of newly
delivered cotton bales.
Margaret had been drawn by the fury of one man and the pathetic terror of the
other. She rounded the corner in time to witness Thornton smashing his large
fist into the pitiful face of the smaller man.
“Look at me!” He punched the bleeding man again and again, grinding out “Look at
me.” one more time as the man fell to the floor.
“Stop.” she shouted at the master, but Thornton viciously kicked the prone man
in the stomach.
“Please, stop.” Crying out again, she was desperate now.
A foreman held her back, certain it was for her own safety. Who knew what the
Master might do if he turned on her?
Thornton jerked around and glared at her. “Who are you? What are you doin’
here?” He didn’t really care, but she was hindering him.
“My name is Margaret Hales.” It sounded weak, but she had distracted him from
beating the tiny pathetic man.
“I told ‘er ta stay in’t office Mr. Thornton.”
“Get ‘er out of ‘ere!” The Master turned his attention back to Stevens.
Margaret found herself hauled away from the dark towering demonic form of the
John Thornton was still heaving with rage at the lazy stupid Stevens. But the
horrified innocence in the face of the girl…accused him, tore him, wrenched at
the man he was. How dare she look at him like that. He stormed from the factory
floor, seething not at Stevens, but at the impertinent chit who accused him with
Ann Latimer carefully mounted the wooden stair way to the offices of Marlborough
Mills. The invitation to dine with her father was a ruse, and not a subtle one,
no lady should visit a gentleman at his place of business. It was unseemly, but
she needed only the slenderest of excuses to gain the man’s presence. Of all the
men she had met since her return from Switzerland, John Thornton was the only
one who interested her. Their encounters had grown from a simple sedate
partnering on the dance floor, to urgent couplings in the summerhouse in the
grounds of her father’s small estate…and his office.
John Thornton was not a man you said no to, not that she had any intention of
As she rounded the corner she saw him storm into a room and slam the door. Ann
smiled to herself, if his dander was up then so would other things be. He was a
man of passions not easily reined in. She found his anger a wondrous thing to
see. She loved the set of his jaw, the sneer on his lips, the power in his body.
The thought of the things he would do to her body made her swallow hard, the
thrill in her belly caused her to wince and she stifled a tiny moan.
“Master’s not receiving visitors miss, he’ll not be in a humour for it.”
Brooker, the chief clerk stepped into the corridor, halting her.
“Oh he’ll see me, never fear.” She raised her hand to tap lightly on the glass
Brooker raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Everyone at the mill knew Miss
Latimer cooled the Master’s temper. There were a few who even envied her, but
Brooker would not have let his daughter near John Thornton, he was not a
gentleman, for all his silk top hat and money.
John sat in his office long legs spayed, fingers steepled at his lips, his jaw
The knock at his door was answered with an unenthused “Come.” The sight of Ann brought a tight smile to his lips. “Don’t just stand there, shut the door
and come here.”