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He had done it now.

 

How could he have been so stupid? Kissing her in the middle of the station! It is not something a gentleman ought to do. Even thinking about it made his body stiffen, both in longing and regret. But he had done it, and he felt proud that she had let him be the man to kiss her. Kissing her, Miss Hale, the woman who had occupied his mind so much over the last few months, Margaret… Nothing would ever make him feel so alive again.

 

But she had run away the moment the spell was broken. He could not blame her. How could he be worthy of a queen? A failed manufacturer from the uneducated North. Maybe she would still be his patron, his investor, she was a woman of her word after all. But after what he had done, he would never see her again. All her business would be done by that Lennox man and she would reside in London, as a queen befits.

 

He had done it now and there was no way back. He stood up and walked across the platform to his compartment, there was no use in making himself catch a glimpse of her. It would only act as salt in his wounds. But he could not make himself go into the compartment either. While he was on this platform, she would be here too — in his mind at least. Maybe he should move to wherever this is. Become a station master? There was not much left in Milton for him now.

 

While the Master of Marlborough Mills was thinking about all these worst-case scenarios, something moved in the corner of his eye. A reflection glinted in the glass. He looked at it. Surely it was a figment of his imagination. He turned around and she was standing there. The curls of her hair dancing in the wind as she looked at him with a shy but determined smile. They locked eyes and he could not help it, a wide smile came to his face. He could not believe it! There she was, in all her regal glory, with a bag in her hand.

 

‘You’re coming home with me?’ he asked, he hoped. She didn’t answer but handed him her bag, and as her servant in everything he took it and helped her into the compartment. He climbed in after her and stowed the bag away. In a short instant of sanity, he decided not to crumble at her feet and pledge his fealty, but to take the seat next to her. Seating himself as close as her billowing skirts would allow.

 

He didn’t know what to do next, she had not yet said anything. What were they to do, they—. His mind went blank when she put her hand on his, stroking it lightly as the train was set in motion. After watching their hands for what felt like an eternity, he needed to see the owner of it. He turned his head to her, and she did the same. He couldn’t help it, he did it again.

 


 

He looked at her, with those piercing blue eyes full of emotion. She could not describe what came over her, but she leaned in and he met her halfway. She felt their lips touching and her mind go blank. Once the kiss broke, she turned her head to look out the window, feeling a little bit embarrassed about her actions.

 

She could only think of him, Mr. Thornton, of the man who had engaged her soul, of John. Yesterday she could not put a name to what she was feeling, and now? She knew she never wanted to let go of his hand. If she could, she wanted to fold him up and put him in her reticule! Take him with her everywhere, share every aspect of her life with him (and maybe take him out once in a while just to smell his scent to comfort her when she needed it). She trusted him so much that she wanted him to be a part of her life, of her. If that was not love, what was?

 

Her very heart- pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said:—

 

‘Margaret!’

 

For an instant she looked up; and then sought to veil her luminous eyes by dropping her forehead on her hands. Again, whilst coming nearerhe besought her with another tremulous eager call upon her name.

 

‘Margaret!’

 

Still lower went the head; more closely hidden was the face . He came nearer still, to bring his face to a level with her ear; and whispered-panted out the words:—

 

‘Take care.— If you do not speak—I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.—Send me away at once, if I must go;—Margaret!—’

 

At that third call she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence. At length she murmured in a broken voice:

 

‘Oh, Mr. Thornton, I am not good enough!’

 

‘Not good enough! Don’t mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.’

 

At this she looked up defiantly. How could he think that he was unworthy? An intelligent and honest gentleman on whom so many depended, a king in his own right. And she? A poor clergymans daughter. The fortune which Mr. Bell had left her meant nothing to her as it had helped no-one yet. In Milton he had provided fair work for so many, and in doing so, took care of so many. The only thing she had left in Milton was her ruptured reputation after what happened on the train station with Fred. She must tell him about Frederick, he had to know.

 

‘I know, in your eyes at least, I must be unworthy after what happened that night on the train station in Milton. I couldn’t tell you, a magistrate no less!—’ He interrupted her, wanting to lessen her pain.

 

‘Please don’t make yourself suffer, love. I know he was your brother, Higgins told me as much, in private mind. Hopefully, you will trust me with the story some other time. But the fact that you defended your family so, only makes me regard you with more esteem. Although I hope you will never have to do so again.’ This last thing he said very seriously in a mock severe tone, making her giggle just a little bit, which made him smile brightly. Train stations, she thought, were always ruining her reputation…

 


 

Suddenly Margaret shot up almost elbowing his head, and turned to sit on the opposite bench. What had he said? What had he done? She had giggled after he last spoke, that surely must be a good sign? What had happened? He tried to find words, but could only say:

 

‘Love?’

 

‘If you don’t think badly of me after what happened, everybody else will, and even more now. Kissing you on the platform, and traveling with you alone, unchaperoned, back to Milton, where I have no place to stay. What will everybody say, what will Aunt Shaw say when Henry comes back alone! Oh, what a mess I have made!’

 

He leaned forward and placed his hand on hers and smiled up at her.

 

‘What a mess we have made, I was just as much part of it as you were.’

 

She looked up and away; maybe lightening the mood with jest was not the best idea, he reflected. He leaned back and said a little bit sternly:

 

‘Well, we cannot go back now. Even if you wanted to go back with Lennox, we would not catch up. And in the matter of your staying in Milton, now you have brought it up, I think I would like you to stay with me at the Mill house. Since my landlord won’t evict me.’

 

‘No. She won’t evict you, but she might think about it if you keep talking like that. I cannot stay with you, we are not married!’ He knew it was unseemly, but she was so lovely when she looked at him so defiantly. His mind was racing with all she had said. He looked out of the window, seeing the landscape while the train was steadily going North. North…

 

‘I… I had hoped… Hoped that you might consider marring me in Milton, allowing me to be your husband.’ His hands went up to his jacket pocket, and pulled out the yellow rose he had put there so carefully after she had fiddled with it on the platform.

 

‘I don’t have a ring, I have only this to give you as a token of my love. But, dear Miss Hale, dearest Margaret, would you marry me in Scotland?’

 


 

She couldn’t believe her ears. Although Mr. Thorn— John’s wish to marry came not as a surprise, his proposal to do this in Scotland was. The ever-in-control-John Thornton running off to marry in Scotland, it would certainly be the tittle-tattle of the town! But not in an unseemly way at least, everybody knew they had not seen each other for months. It was not like she was a fallen woman. She blushed at that, not really able to think about that just yet. Suddenly she remembered he was sitting there, in silence, waiting for her answer. She leaned towards him and took his hands in hers.

 

‘I want to be your wife, John. I want to marry yo—’ She was not able to utter a single syllablemore as John’s lips met hers. He had sat down next to her again and was clasping her close, only stopping for breath as he bestowed his love on her. She smiled, and after a while she shoved him away, just a little bit, not yet wanting to lose his embrace.

 

‘But in Scotland? I have never wanted an elaborate wedding, but I had hoped to marry in a church and not over an anvil.’

 

‘We would have a little ceremony when we are back in Milton, just our family, to bless our marriage. But let us be married as soon as possible, I… If you let me, I want to be at your side, and you at mine, and they will only let me be as your husband. Please, think about it… I know it’s not perf—’

 

This time it was she who silenced him.

 


 

‘How shall I ever tell Aunt Shaw?’ she whispered, after some time of delicious silence. The train was carrying them South, not to the South, only to Milton. Margaret Hale had become Mrs. John Thornton on a sunny morning, after their wedding over the anvil. They had slept little the night before. The journey to Scotland had taken longer than expected and on arrival it was already morning. When they had changed trains in England, John had left Margaret alone for a little while in the ladies waiting room. He wanted Margaret to have more than a wilted yellow flower, and he thought he should write a note to his mother, telling her of the recent passings and events to come. Margaret had loved the ring, a simple golden band with a little yellow diamant, almost the same shade as the rose, but not quite.

 

The Thorntons had stayed a few days in Scotland, enjoying their time walking in the sunshine, and enjoying their time alone in their rooms. But they knew their life was waiting for them in Milton. John and Margaret were both eager to startup the Mills again, and so they were traveling back to Milton. Sitting a bit too close for propriety’s sake on the train bench, they talked of cotton, of the beautiful scenery in Scotland and of childhood memories. And of the people they were to inform of their newlywed status.

 

‘Let me speak to her.’

 

‘Oh, no! I owe to her, — but what will she say?’

 

‘I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, “That man!”’

 

‘Hush!’ said Margaret, ‘or I shall try and show you your mother’s indignant tones as she says, “That woman!”’