It had been a long day in the Crampton household. Margaret set the crisply folded papers down on her lap with a sigh. After waiting so long to hear if Frederick had arrived safely back in Spain, a missive had finally made its way to Milton. Fred had made it to London to speak with Henry Lennox, but it appeared his case had proven more difficult than first anticipated. Although Margaret was extremely relieved to hear that Henry was working on his case, she also felt a sense of sadness wash over her. Sadness that Frederick might always remain a criminal in the eyes of the English Navy. Sadness that she may never see him again if he failed in clearing his name. And sadness that she was still here, alone with her Father, under the oppressiveness of her mother’s recent passing. If only Fred was a free man, he could be here to help her shoulder the burden of sadness that threatened to consume her.
Margaret believed that things would not be so bad if she had something more to occupy her time with. If she had someone to occupy her time with. Suddenly, thoughts of Mr. Thornton came flooding to the forefront. She had so many regrets, so many overwhelming emotions. If only he had never seen her that night at Outwood Station. If only she could have had the opportunity to be truthful with him. If only...
Margaret attempted to shake Mr. Thornton from her thoughts. Sulking over the past would do her no favors, she must guide her thoughts elsewhere. The only way to improve one’s mood was to first improve one’s outlook. She would not be a victim of her situation, and she would not be a victim of her past transgressions. Today was a new day, and today she was a new woman! She would find things to be grateful for, and she would praise each new day that God gave her. She was going to take the proverbial bull by its proverbial horns.
The first task of the day was for Margaret to assist her father in getting out of the house. He had been invited to spend some time in Oxford with his good friend, Mr. Bell. For the first time since her mother’s passing, Mr. Hale had appeared genuinely excited about something. He had discussed his plans animatedly and was looking forward to his trip. He had finally begun to emerge from his shell of despair, and happiness had once again begun to appear in the household.
Mr. Hale would be spending the New Year in Oxford, and Dixon would be spending it with her sister in a nearby town. After much ruminating about the best course of action, Margaret had decided she would celebrate the New Year by making a peace offering to Mr. Thornton. He was, after all, a good family friend. He had been a favorite student of her father’s, and had been extremely kind toward her mother in her final days. She couldn’t allow their damaged friendship to interfere with the relationship between he and her father. She wouldn’t allow things to remain stifled between them any longer. If he chose to remain angry at her, so be it, but Margaret would be the bigger person. She would smother her fears and hesitations, and offer him a new friendship, one that he would hopefully accept. If nothing else, she hoped he would quit avoiding her.
Next on the list was Dixon, who would be departing for her sister’s house tomorrow morning....which also happened to be New Year’s Eve. Her father would be leaving this afternoon. That would leave Margaret well, and truly, alone for a few days. Nothing that she could not manage, or hadn’t managed before. She began to feel excitement at this opportunity for alone time; it was just the thing she needed in order to begin to move on and move forward. Just the thing she needed to start anew, put pain and misunderstandings behind her, and regain friendship and hope.
Quickly folding the letter from Frederick in her lap, she placed it back in its envelope and stood from her chair. Hearing footsteps above her, she decided to check on her father’s progress. She quickly climbed up the stairs, then deposited the letter in her bedroom, before making her way to the bedroom of her father.
“Papa, do you need any help with your packing? Do you have everything you need?”
Margaret’s soft voice was always a soothing balm to her father’s soul. He happily turned around to face her. “Margaret, my dear. Yes, I believe I am just about finished here.”
“Are you sure? Have you brought enough warm clothing? Did you pack your extra coat in case it rains? Will you bring an umbrella?”
Mr. Hale chuckled. It warmed him to see Margaret fuss over him so, and brought a smile to his face. “I do believe I have more than enough, Margaret. I believe we will be spending most of our time indoors, so rain should not be a problem. However, I will bring my umbrella just in case. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine.”
Mr. Hale wrapped his arm around Margaret’s shoulders. “I’m so lucky to have a daughter such as yourself. God has truly blessed me!”
“Oh, Papa. It is I who am lucky. I just want to make sure you are safe. And I want you to have a wonderful time with Mr. Bell.”
Mr. Hale hesitated slightly, “Are you sure you will be alright alone, Margaret? I don’t have to go if it will upset you. I am more than happy to stay here and keep you company.”
Truthfully, Margaret’s father had been very poor company as of late, although she would never tell him that. “No, Papa, you must go! I will enjoy the solitude. I have plans to visit Nicholas and the Boucher children. I would like to take them a New Year’s basket, and one to the Thornton’s as well.”
Mr. Hale’s eyes lit up. “You’re going to see John? That’s wonderful news! I am sure he and Mrs. Thornton will be delighted to see you! Please tell him hello for me, will you?”
Margaret was doubtful at receiving a warm welcome from the Thornton’s, but she wouldn’t voice her concerns. “Of course, Papa. I will. Now, we must get on our way to the station before it gets too late.” Margaret helped her father to get his luggage down the stairs and out the front door.
All too soon after arriving at the station, Margaret found herself waving goodbye to her father as the train rolled its way down the tracks, into the distance. She could still see the puffs of smoke from the engine after her father was out of sight.
Margaret sighed to herself. Although sad to see her father go, she knew this was the beginning of something wonderful. A new beginning for herself, and for her future. She made her way back home in short time, and discussed the upcoming itinerary with Dixon.
The faithful servant was bustling around the kitchen when Margaret arrived back home. “I’ll be off first thing tomorrow morning, Miss. No need to see me off. I can manage on my own. It’d be best for you to get your rest. No need to lose sleep on my account.”
Margaret smiled to herself. Dixon was cooking and cleaning to ensure that everything would be squared away in her absence. She realized how lucky she was to have Dixon in her life. Although, bothersome at times, Dixon was family. Margaret knew that she wouldn’t have it any other way.
After hearing no reply, Dixon turned. “Well, why are you just standing there, Miss Margaret? Get off with you. I’ll call for you when dinner’s ready.” Dixon shooed Margaret away with her hands, then quickly resumed her tasks in the kitchen.
Smiling, Margaret made her way up to her father’s study, slid a book from a shelf, and decided to read to pass the time.
As the light began to fade outside, Margaret and Dixon shared an evening meal. Before long, Margaret found herself tucked snugly into bed, enjoying the softness and warmth of her covers. She drifted off to sleep with thoughts of what would lay ahead of her the following day.
Margaret awoke the next day to warm rays of sunlight filtering in through her curtains. She savored the warmth upon her face and indulged in the feeling of total relaxation. Remembering that Dixon would already have departed, she felt at ease in that moment, with no worries on her mind. Stretching and pulling the covers up around her chin, she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so renewed. Surely, it would have been prior to the death of her dear mother.
She felt the heavy sadness began to creep in around her, as the darkness pressed in upon her soul. “No!”, she thought to herself. She would not allow the grief to consume her again. With intense effort, she pushed the overwhelming sensations aside. Today was New Year’s Eve. Today she was breaking out of her shell of darkness. She would pull free of the shadows of despair. A new year and a new self.
Margaret emerged from her bed and dressed for the day. Putting her hair up in an elegant, but simple style, she made her way down to the kitchen. She pondered over what would be best to add to her basket for the Higgins’s and Boucher children. She made sure to add things that all people in the family would enjoy. Some meat and cheese for Nicholas, a few pastries for Mary, and fresh apples and oranges for the children. Ensuring that the basket was full, and properly tucked in with a towel, Margaret set off for the Princeton district.
It was a chilly day outside, but the sun was shining brightly in the sky, a few wispy clouds could be seen making their way across the horizon. Due to the New Year’s Eve holiday, there were less people about on the streets, but Margaret was far from being the only one making her way through town.
A gust of wind blew across her path, causing Margaret to pull her coat tighter around her. As she approached Princeton, she weaved her way through the narrow streets. Arriving at her destination at last, she knocked three times on the thick wooden door of the Higgins’ home.
Margaret’s afternoon had passed quickly in the Higgins household, and she found the sun lower in the sky as she made her way back to Crampton. Storm clouds had begun to descend on the town, and she groaned inwardly, having hoped to already be well on her way to the Thornton home. Refusing to be deterred by a few lost hours of daylight, she pushed forward with her purpose of preparing, then delivering, her final basket.
Arriving back home, she made quick work of organizing a basket for the Thornton family. She took extra care in packing the best items she could find; adding come cheeses and meats, plums and apples, and even some grapes and small chocolate confections. She also added a batch of ginger cookies, for she new they were Mr. Thornton’s favorite, then topped it off with a bottle of champagne, as it was a traditional New Year’s celebratory beverage.
Feeling happy with her gift basket, she readied herself for the journey to Marlborough Mills. Donning her coat and gloves, and placing the basket over her arm, she walked out the front door. She started at a brisk pace, the dark clouds looming overhead, but her steps began to slow as a feeling of anxiety overtook her. What if Mr. Thornton was displeased to see her? Perhaps he would turn her away.....no, he was too gentlemanly to do such a thing, even if he wished to. It had been quite some time since she had last seen him, but it was quite likely that he would still harbor ill sentiment towards her for what he witnessed at Outwood Station. She was determined to regain his good opinion of her, no matter how difficult. A shiver overtook her as she walked. The sun was sitting low on the horizon and the wind grew colder. Readjusting the basket on her arm, she strode forward with renewed purpose.