A Nightingale Sang Chapter one

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John Thornton entered the parlour; he was already in his Sunday suit, the one he always wore to the evening church service. It seemed appropriate for this solemn occasion. He poured himself coffee from the silver pot which the servants had left. A newspaper was folded on the table; John did not need to see a paper to confirm what was happening on this Sunday morning. He crossed to the window and looked out over the deserted mill yard. Sundays were always silent at Marlborough Mills. It was the one day when the yard, normally a hive of activity was empty. The one day when the machines lay idle. At twenty eight, he was young to be a mill owner, or Master of Marlborough Mills, as some of his older hands called him. The men and women he employed would be home in the comfort of the hearth and hearts of their families. Most would likely be in church waiting just as he was.

The Grandfather clock in the hall struck eleven, he counted each fateful stroke. Now he, and the rest of the country waited. He turned as the door opened, a tall dark haired older woman entered, dressed in her familiar black. She stood ramrod straight her face impassive. A brief smile crossed his lips, as matriarch of Marlborough Mills his mother would never let a radio announcement displace her dignity.

"The servants are gathered in the hall as you requested John." Hannah Thornton looked at her son. "You believe the news will be bad don't you?"

"Aye I do mother, I see no way it can be avoided." His words were blunt, but honest.

He poured her a cup of coffee, which she accepted in silence, no doubt, John thought,, thinking just what had a nation of doomed youth fought and died for a mere 21 years ago. No doubt thinking of his father, whose body lay in some unmarked grave in Flanders field. His mother had been pregnant with his sister Fanny when she had received the fateful telegram. How had she carried on? Where had she found the strength? His mother amazed and inspired him and he thanked God every day for her strength of character.

The door was flung open as his sister made her usual grand entrance.

"I don't see why the servants have to be with us, John. I am sure none of the other Mill owners have staff waiting to join them," she moaned, flopping on to the settee.

John sighed, he loved his sister but having no father had meant that Fanny had grown up, spoilt and indulged.

"Fanny, nobody's life will be the same after today. For many we are on the brink of war for a second time. The old order is changing. The servants have a right to hear this news with the family. Now will you please show them in." He moved to switch on the radio.

"Really John, sometimes you take the caring master image a little too far," she informed him, haughtily.

"I'll do it myself." His mother rose and asked the servants to come in.

The Thornton's were not so grand that they had a large staff just a butler cook and two maids.

"Please do not stand on ceremony find somewhere to sit down. Fanny, sit up so others may sit as well." John spoke as he switched on the radio.

Fanny, looked at him in horrified silence but did as he asked.

The radio was playing some religious music. John withdrew his pocket watch nearly quarter past eleven. The music came to an abrupt halt.

"This is the BBC Home Service." The official voice was calm as it informed the waiting nation that Neville Chamberlain was about to address the country. The whole room seemed to hold its breath.

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