I recently re-watched Return to Cranford for the first time since becoming a Tom Hiddleston fan, and let's just say that Mr. William Buxton is now one of my foremost fictional heroes, haha. (I loved him before, I promise, but now I really love him. And I regret nothing.) I also appreciated Peggy Bell much more on this re-watch; I just wish she'd had even more character development. Her combination of suppressed spirit and dreaminess is so intriguing.
All that said, this is just a one-shot about what I think may have happened between Mr. Buxton discovering that William and Peggy are engaged, and the scene where William asks Captain Brown to take him on as an engineering apprentice. Enjoy!
"I've been told nothing of a wedding."
Mr. Buxton sounded so perfectly oblivious that for a moment Peggy Bell thought he was joking. But he didn't laugh. He didn't even smile. Mrs. Bell blinked, speechless, for once, by this unexpected reaction, and under the cover of her confusion Peggy's gaze flew to William. He stared back at her, all the color drained from his face and his lips slightly parted, the apology pouring from his gentle blue eyes.
I'm sorry, Peggy…I am so sorry…
Peggy drew a shaky breath. The tiny seed of courage that had been instilled in her yesterday, in the moment William Buxton whispered that he loved her, seemed to wither in her chest. She swallowed to hold back a sudden wave of nausea and ducked her head.
Oh, Mother, why did you have to say anything? Why, why, why did I even tell her?
"What wedding do we speak of?" Mr. Buxton demanded, his voice sharper this time.
"Why—we—" Mother stammered.
"William and Peggy, of course, sir," Edward said, casting a sly look in Peggy's direction. "She told us of the engagement last night, when she returned from Miss Matty's train party."
Mr. Buxton raised his bushy eyebrows and fastened his gaze on his son. William pressed his thin lips together and looked back at him with such steadiness that Peggy's heart began to pound with fear and—and—was it pride? Could it be pride, for him?
Yes, I think it's pride…oh dear William, don't do anything rash…
"What is this about, Son?" Mr. Buxton snapped.
"Precisely what I mean to speak to you about at two o'clock this morning, Father," William said quietly.
Mr. Buxton looked as if someone could've knocked him back with a feather. Mother recover-ed enough to shoot a furiously bewildered glare in Peggy's direction. Again Peggy lowered her head, half-frightened for her very life.
"Miss Bell," Mr. Buxton said, his voice quieter, "is it true my son has made you a proposal of marriage?"
Peggy clasped her small, work-calloused hands so tightly, her fingers ached. "Yes, sir."
Yes…I, poor Peggy Bell with nary a pound to her name, who draws water from the creek and milks the cow and scrubs the floor…I, Peggy Bell, accepted a proposal from William Buxton, one of the finest young men in all of Cranford.
Peggy's throat tightened. The absurdity of the concept hit her squarely between the eyes for the first time since those dizzying moments of happiness on the train. She could only stand Mr. Buxton's sharp gaze for a few seconds before she stared at the floor again, wishing it would open up and swallow her.
Mr. Buxton drew in a breath, simultaneously drawing himself up to his full height and fixing his eyes once more on William. "Well, I am very sorry to hear that…because my son will not be able to fulfill his promise to you."
William's eyes flashed a cold, angry blue. "Father—"
"Not a word out of you, boy!" Mr. Buxton exploded. "Now go upstairs until I have sufficiently calmed myself and am able to speak to you in a reasonable manner! Go!"
"I am not a child, to be ordered to my room as you please, Father!" William shouted.
Peggy jerked her head up at that. She'd never heard him raise his voice like that except to call out to Napoleon, his dog. William must've noticed the shock and fright in her young face; his eyes softened, if only slightly.
"I will see the Bells to the door," he said in a lower tone. "I don't think anyone will be staying for tea today."
Mr. Buxton said nothing to that, which only confirmed that that, indeed, was his wish. Mother opened her mouth, shut it, and offered a wobbly curtsey. Mr. Buxton bowed stiffly at the waist and looked at Edward.
"My offer to you to work for me still stands, Edward. Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon, sir," Edward said, immensely relieved. No doubt he'd thought any opportunity with Mr. Buxton had been lost the instant Peggy opened her mouth.
Peggy hardly noticed Mother making a stuttering attempt at a goodbye, nor the cold glare her brother shot in her direction as he passed her to take Mother's arm. She was aware only of William's hand suddenly at her elbow, guiding her slowly and gently out of the parlor and into the wide, brightly-lit vestibule.
Her first instinct was to cower away from him. He had no business associating with someone of her station; she should've reminded him of that weeks ago. But he'd been so kind…so attentive, so gentle, so encouraging. Not since Papa died had anyone seemed to value her opinions, or sought out her friendship.
Well, Miss Matty and Miss Smith had, of course…but they were different.
"Peggy, I'm sorry," William whispered. "I didn't get a chance to tell him, he had dinner with Sir Charles last night and didn't get in until long after I'd retired. I never would've thought—"
"It isn't your fault," Peggy mumbled. Edward caught William's whisper and glanced over his shoulder to look at them. She felt his condemnation keenly and almost wished William would stop talking. "Don't concern yourself about me, Mr. Buxton, please."
He stopped in the middle of the vestibule, his hand still on her arm. She knew he looked down at her, but she couldn't bring herself to meet his gaze. She stared instead at the buttons on his waistcoat and tried not to remember the way he'd watched her in the train yesterday afternoon.
"Expect me tonight," he whispered. "All right?"
Peggy's throat felt tight and her heart pounded against her stays—but she managed to swallow and nod. William released her elbow and tried to move his hand up to her shoulder, but Peggy stepped away from him and hurried through the open front doorway, past a startled-looking maid and after her mother and brother.
"So much for that connection," Edward said as soon as they got home, throwing his hat onto the table with a hard smack. "You mucked it up this time, didn't you, Peggy?"
"I should've known it was too good to be true," Mother fretted.
Something in Peggy riled up, something that hadn't risen its hackles since Papa died and took what little courage she had to the grave with him. She stopped on her way upstairs and looked both of them in the eye.
"I mucked it up?" she demanded, her small, lilting voice rising a pitch or two and her brown eyes flashing angrily. "Did you really think that I accepted his proposal merely to convenience you, Edward? Am I not allowed to think of my happiness, too?"
"Oh, don't be a dramatist, Peggy," Mother snapped, brushing past her and into the kitchen. "It is in bad taste when a little mouse such as yourself tries to make waves."
Peggy clenched her hand on the staircase railing. "And it's in even worse taste when a mother tries to promote herself and barge into a private gentleman's home on the grounds of an engagement not four-and-twenty hours old!"
Mother gave an indignant gasp and clapped a hand to her chest. Peggy suddenly felt a large, strong hand on her wrist. She jumped and whirled, but too late to resist Edward dragging her back down the first three stairs.
"What's that you say, Mouse?" he hissed, looking down at her with such contempt in his eyes that Peggy could almost describe it as hatred. "Talking back to Mother, are we? Do you know what you and your precious fiancé have done? You nearly ruined my chances in the wide, wide world—and God knows what I might've done to you if you succeeded."
Peggy's skin crawled and she dared not say a word—but she did force herself to look straight at him. She hoped he could read her thoughts in her face.
Oh yes, I know good and well what you might've done. I've borne your cruelties long enough. The difference now is that I have a friend to whom I might confide everything you've ever done to me…and if I so much as open my mouth you may be sure that I can ruin you in one fell stroke.
That, at least, was what she thought—and at least some of her inner defiance must've shown in the hardness of her eyes and the way she set her teeth. Edward drew in a sharp breath and thrust her aside so violently, Peggy staggered against the stairwell.
"Better behave yourself, Mouse," he hissed, pointing a finger at her. "And don't you dare talk to our mother like that again or I'll make you sorry. You know I will."
Peggy glanced sidelong at her mother. She knew she shouldn't have expected much—Mother always did let Edward do as he pleased—but to see Mother stand there, her face utterly clean of emotion while her son threatened her daughter in such a beastly manner…Peggy's chest tightened and she had to blink hard to hold back the tears. She grabbed her skirts in one hand, the railing with the other, and raced up the stairs before Edward could order her to set out tea.
Only when she slammed her bedroom door behind her did Peggy take in her first deep breath in almost an hour. Her stays pinched and the elaborate hairstyle Mother had insisted she wear to the Buxtons' made her head ache. Peggy collapsed in the rickety chair in front of her tiny vanity and stared at herself in the mirror. The sight of her reflection crumbled the last of her composure. She watched as her own face contorted; her vision blurred and she dropped her face in her hands.
"I love you, Peggy Bell…will you marry me?"
William laughs. "Yes, you."
"But—but—you can't be serious." Peggy stares up at him, not sure whether to laugh or cry—but the wide smile she can't hold back seems to answer that question for her. She releases a shaky giggle as the train rattles beneath her feet. "You are serious!"
"I am as solemn as the grave," William says, lowering his voice in a way that sends a thrill up and down her spine. "And I don't want to take another step forward in life without you at my side."
"But William, I'm not a fine lady! I'm—" Peggy stops, glances out the window so she won't have to face those beautiful blue eyes of his. "I'm all but penniless, William. I couldn't bring a single asset to a marriage, and your father—"
"My father thinks highly of you—and even if he didn't, I would defy him and all the world for you." She shivers as he cups both of her elbows in his hands, steadying her and at the same time drawing her slender body closer to his. "Since I met you I have felt as if someone finally believed in me. You haven't scoffed at my ambitions like Father or ridiculed me like Erminia—"
"Oh, but she means it only in jest!"
William smiles a bit sadly. "True, but even a careless jest can cut deep sometimes."
Peggy pauses, thinking of all the times Mother and Edward cast hurtful remarks her way that they found outrageously amusing. She swallows and lowers her eyes, hoping William doesn't catch how deeply his comment penetrates. But he does, obviously, for he leans closer until the brim of his hat brushes against her bonnet.
"I love you, Peggy. I swear to you, I'd cherish and protect you until the day I die."
She glances up, shocked—and as she does so she meets his concerned eyes and realizes that he knows. He knows how they treat her at home. He knows that protection is the last thing Edward will ever offer her. That her mother favors Edward over Peggy, and would stand idly by if he took it into his head to abuse his younger sister. That perhaps Edward has already taken it into his head more than once, especially since Mr. Bell's death.
"I…" Peggy begins, haltingly, trying to hold back tears. "I don't deserve you…"
"No, Peggy, it is I who don't deserve such a girl as you." William lifts his hand and brushes her cheek with the curve of his fingers. "It would be my honor to love and care for you."
The train lurchs; Peggy gasps and instinctively wraps her fingers around the front of his coat to steady herself. William doesn't flinch, doesn't even take his eyes off of her. Peggy tries to catch her breath, and as the words rise to her lips she finds herself smiling once again, wider than she's smiled since before her father died.
"And I…I would be honored to—to love and care for you, as well," she stammers, blushing so hard she's sure she's the same shade as a strawberry.
William stares at her for a moment, as if he hardly believes what he's just heard—and then his young face breaks out in a smile so brilliant it almost blinds her. He takes her hands in his and lifts one to his lips, pressing upon it a warm kiss that makes something deep and fierce and hot stir deep within her, something she's never felt before in her nineteen years…
Peggy lifted her head with a sudden, wretched sob. The sight of her blotchy, tear-streaked face in the mirror was too much; she bolted out of the chair and went to her bed instead, seating herself on the edge and clenching her skirts in both hands as she tried to talk sense to herself.
There was no point in holding onto any hope now. If Mr. Buxton forbade their marriage, then she and William would have to let each other go. She could see no alternative. What right had she, anyway, to cling to him? She was so below his station, it bordered on the ridiculous.
And yet…and yet no young man had ever looked her way before. They'd always ignored her. She wasn't particularly beautiful, she could hardly string two words together in their presence, and to be honest, she had no interest in them, either. Most of the men she ever came into contact with were Edward's friends, and they both frightened and repelled her.
William was kind, gentle, thoughtful; he sought her out, not Edward; he honored and respected her; he wanted to hear her thoughts on any and every subject. And she loved him for it, she knew that now. She worshipped the ground he walked on. She would go to the ends of the earth for William Buxton, if he asked it of her.
Courage, Peggy, courage. Don't give up so quickly. Wait for William…he said to expect him tonight, so don't lose heart quite yet.
Peggy wrapped her arms around herself and tried to draw several deep, bracing breaths. Yes, she'd wait…and in the meantime, she would not go downstairs. She didn't need her mother or Edward to shake her resolve before William told her to give up.
The afternoon dragged. Peggy tried to nap away the irritating headache that had settled behind her eyes. When she woke, a late sun sent slanting shadows through her small bedroom. Her mother knocked upon the door.
"Peggy? Come down for supper."
Peggy lifted her head off her pillow. "Eat without me, Mother, please. I'm not hungry."
"Don't be silly and sulking. Come down at once."
On any other occasion, Peggy might have obeyed meekly. But this time she dropped her head back to her pillow and said nothing. Mother tried to turn the knob—but Peggy had taken the precaution of locking it before she went to bed. Peggy listened to the rattling for a moment or two before Mother gave up and went downstairs.
The sunlight faded. Peggy lit a candle and tried to read one of the books Erminia lent her, but she could scarcely focus on the words. When the old clock in the parlor chimed eight, she heard Mother come back upstairs. The footsteps stopped for a moment outside her door, then moved down the hallway. Peggy listened as her mother's bedroom door scraped open and shut. Edward retired to his own room half an hour later.
William had not come, then.
Peggy bit her lip. Perhaps his father would not let him come. Perhaps he couldn't get away.
Perhaps someone called on business and he couldn't leave. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…Peggy sat up and began unbuttoning her dress. Better to go to bed and get a good night's sleep than to sit up fretting.
Maybe things will look fresher in the morning, just like Father used to say.
She stood and let the dress pool around her feet as she unlaced her stays. What a relief it was, to breathe freely again. She pulled her nightdress on over her head and sat in front of her vanity to release her golden hair from its pins, not even bothering to wrap sections of it in rags tonight.
She had just brushed out her hair when something rattled against the window. Peggy whirled, startled. Silence. She set her brush down on the vanity—and there it was again: a smattering of pebbles against the windowpane.
Peggy jumped to her feet and raced to the window; she undid the latch and opened it wide. It was very dark outside; clouds had moved in from the north, and the moon hid behind them. But down below, she caught sight of a lantern, and as she leaned out of the window it drew close to a set of unmistakably delicate and yet still-masculine features.
"Peggy!" William hissed. "Can you come down?"
Peggy opened her mouth, shut it, and opened it again. "I—I think so. Mother and Edward are both abed."
"Hurry, then. Father doesn't know I'm here."
Peggy bit her lip and nodded. "Half a moment."
She saw William nod in the lantern-light. She shut the window as quietly as she could; wrapping her cloak around her and taking her shoes in one hand, she crept out of her bedroom. No sound came from Mother's room or Edward's. She tiptoed downstairs, carefully avoiding the creaking sections of individual steps, and opened the door inch by inch to keep it from groaning.
Only when she shut it behind her did she dare to breathe.
Peggy slipped her feet into her shoes and walked quickly around the house. William still wait-ed in the back with his lantern. As she drew closer she saw he wore nothing but a white shirt underneath his heavy brown greatcoat. His golden curls shone in the small, warm light.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I had to be as quiet as I could…I fear it slowed me down…"
"Don't apologize," he whispered. He glanced around. "We shouldn't talk so near the house. If your mother or brother were to wake and look out a window, we'd be in a world of trouble."
Peggy nodded, suddenly very aware of her own state of undress. If they were caught…oh, she could just see the ladies of Cranford twittering about it for a fortnight.
Oh dear…and what does he think?
She cast a worried look up at him, but he didn't seem to be paying attention to her appearance right now. He was too busy taking stock of their surroundings.
"Your private place," he whispered, earnest yes on her again. "Nobody will find us there and it's halfway between here and my father's house."
"All right," Peggy said, nodding. "Follow me."
William nodded, almost, she thought, like a little boy getting ready to follow his governess to some cherished picnic spot. He even gave her the lantern. The terrain was far more difficult to navigate in the dark; more than once Peggy rammed her foot against some unseen root or stone, and even William stumbled.
Finally she reached for his hand and he gave it to her. While it didn't really prevent them from stumbling or tripping, it at least allowed one to help the other back to his or her feet.
The gentle rippling of the stream reached Peggy's ears and she led him over the short wooden plank of a bridge. Neither had said a word during the short walk. Peggy dropped William's hand and motioned for him to sit. He obeyed and she settled down beside him, wrapping her cloak even tighter around herself until it hid the white of her nightdress.
"It's a shame the moon isn't out tonight," she said, her voice a little trembly. "There are some nights when the moon is so bright, you can see everything as clearly as if the sun were out."
William looked at her, surprised. "You come here at night, then?"
Peggy cringed. Caught. "Sometimes."
She took a deep breath. "Sometimes I can't sleep. It helps to take a walk and…well, to sit by the stream and think. Even sleep, sometimes."
William's eyebrows slanted upward in a concerned expression. "It's a wonder you haven't caught your death of cold."
Peggy tried to smile. "I usually dress warmer than this, but I was in a hurry."
His eyes drifted to her thin clothing, and immediately she wished she hadn't referenced it. She pressed her knees together and looked away.
"What did your father say after we left?" she whispered.
William sighed heavily. "Nothing I hoped he would say."
Her heart sank. He went on, his rich, gentle voice sounding so low and sad that she wondered if this was truly the same radiant young man who escorted her home yesterday.
"I truly believed he would welcome you with open arms, Peggy. He'd been so kind and welcoming to you these past few weeks. He certainly had no objection to your spending a considerable amount of time with me and Erminia."
"Yes, well, " Peggy murmured, "it is one thing to welcome a penniless girl to tea. It's quite another for her to be introduced as your son's fianceé…and by her tactless mother, no less."
William shook his head. "I am so, so sorry, Peggy. If I could've spared you that humiliation, I would've done so in a heartbeat. You know that, don't you?"
She nodded, but her stomach churned with dread. Any moment now he would tell her it was no use, they could never be together, the obstacles were simply too great. And she'd have no choice but to acquiesce, just as she always did to everyone else.
And then she'd be alone again.
"He made himself very clear, that's for certain," William said, anger sharpening his tone. "He wants me to 'marry well' and make 'political connections' for myself. He is so set on my going into politics, one would think he'd received some divine revelation about it!"
In spite of herself, Peggy smiled. "I think your father believes every decision he makes ought to have the surety of Holy Writ. He's not an indecisive man."
"No, and neither am I," William said firmly.
The resolve in his keen, delicate features took Peggy aback. Before she could say a word, he turned towards her and caught both of her hands in his.
"I told you yesterday I would defy the whole world for your sake if it came to that," he whispered, "and I am determined to fulfill that promise to you at all costs. Even if it means standing against my father."
Peggy stared at him, the words sinking in with agonizing slowness. She gave her head an uncomprehending little shake. "No, William, please. I don't want to be the cause of any rift between you and your father. He's a good man, he truly is. It would break my heart to see you two torn apart."
William's expression softened; he stroked the tops of her small hands with his thumbs. "This isn't the first time my father and I have been at odds. Even you know that. If anything, this is merely the latest in a series of…differences of opinion, as he'd put it."
"All the better, then, for me to fade out of the picture. One more 'difference of opinion' and you and your father will be estranged forever."
William cocked his head to one side with a look of thinly-veiled hurt. "Are you asking, then, to be released from our engagement?"
Peggy hesitated, her face contorting. Everything in her wanted to squeeze his hands as tightly as she could—or better yet, if her dignity wasn't at stake, to bury her face in his chest and wrap her arms around his waist. No, of course she didn't want to be released! He was the only person she truly loved now. If he left—if she made him go—she would have no one. She didn't think she could bear that kind of loneliness anymore.
But if she didn't let him go, what kind of loneliness would he face?
"I—I don't know," she whispered, ducking her head in shame. "I don't know what I want and I'd be afraid to say it, even if I did."
Except for the ceaseless murmuring of the stream beneath their dangling feet, silence reigned for several long, horrible moments. Peggy stared at their clasped hands, unable to meet William's gaze; as for him, she listened to him sigh several times, felt him stroke her hands, sensed him looking about thoughtfully as if searching for the answer in the hills surrounding little Cranford.
"If you weren't afraid to say it," he finally murmured, "what would you say?"
Peggy pressed her lips together to keep them from quivering. She squeezed his hands as tightly as she dared without hurting him. William tensed and squeezed hers in return as she took a deep breath and lifted her head.
"If I wasn't afraid," she whispered, "I'd beg you not to leave me."
William opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it; with something like modest caution, he lifted a hand to her face. Peggy leaned into his palm, grateful the faint lantern light hid her blush.
"I—will never—leave you," William whispered.
She smiled at him, even as tears of relief burned her eyes. He returned the smile, a little sadly, and ran his thumb over her cheekbone.
"Erminia had a long talk with me this afternoon, too," he said.
"Yes…she says it's a good thing I'm being tried now. She said I was 'well on my way to becoming too imperious.' "
Peggy laughed softly and rested a hand against the one he still held to her cheek. "I cannot imagine you being imperious."
"Stay with me much longer and you shall see my worst side, no doubt—or else Erminia shall acquaint you with it." William smiled briefly. "But she gave me some surprisingly good counsel. I told her I would not let my father be my master…and that you were worthy of his regard. And she told me to prove it."
"By walking away. From him, from his wealth, from the safety his name and fortune afford me." William pursed his lips, as if bracing himself. "I must become my own man. It is high time I did. You have simply been my catalyst."
Peggy frowned. "Will you leave Cranford, then?"
"No. At least, I will not go far. I believe I can get some kind of position with Captain Brown's railway crew. I may not be a proper engineer yet—but I do believe I could be apprenticed on the job and do good, honest work that would profit me and serve our community. And then, when I can support myself and my beautiful Peggy…"
Peggy felt her blush deepen as he smoothed her hair back from her face.
"…then I'll come for her and bring her to our own little cottage, where she can rule it and me to her heart's content."
She giggled weakly. "You make me sound as if I would be the imperious one."
"Oh no, you would be a most benevolent queen," William teased. "But in the meantime…"
"…we'd best not be seen together," she finished, with more resolve than she felt..
"No," he whispered. "It would only infuriate my father."
"And my mother," Peggy murmured. "Her only concern is for Edward. Your father seemed to remain well-disposed towards him, but if I were to cross him openly by meeting with you…"
William nodded, understanding. "It would not bode well for Edward's opportunities."
Peggy sighed. He leaned a little closer.
"Does he harm you, Peggy?"
She lowered her eyes. "He is a bully…"
"Does he physically harm you?"
"He has struck me before, yes…though he is more often unkind with his words." Peggy drew herself up. William needed no more cause to worry; she could put on a show of bravery for him. "But he is still my brother, and I must do the good and honest thing by him. Heaven knows we will both be repaid for our deeds, in this life and the one to come—or so my father always used to tell me. And that's a comfort to remember."
William said nothing; he stared at her so intently, she frowned at him. "What?"
"You amaze me."
She shook her head. "There is nothing amazing about me." She abruptly rose to her feet, hoping to change the subject. "Look…see the gorse bush? I come here to the stream every day to draw water. I'll put a pail here underneath the gorse bush, and it can be our letterbox."
"Excellent." He squeezed her hand gently. "And we'll still see each other in church. It's not as if I'm going to the ends of the earth."
Peggy shook her head. "But we won't be able to say a word to each other."
"Just a glimpse of you will give me the courage to face another week without you."
She felt all the blood rush to her face again. William smiled and drew her arm through his.
"Come…I'll walk you back home. It's getting late and you must be chilled to the bone."
Once the house loomed again in front of them, Peggy suddenly felt the urge to hide. The growing dread in the pit of her stomach brought her to an abrupt halt. William turned, startled.
"Are you all right?"
She hesitated. "Yes. Just let me…let me muster my courage for a moment."
She sucked in a breath and exhaled slowly. William stepped closer to her and ran his hand along the back of her head. Peggy closed her eyes as he trailed his fingers through her hair and exhaled again.
"Do not allow him to intimidate you, Peggy," he whispered firmly. "You are not alone in this world. If he harms you, go to Miss Matty's or to any of the ladies here in Cranford—and do not let him or your mother shame you into going back. You have friends. Rely on them. Do you understand me, Peggy?"
"Yes." Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. "Yes, I understand."
He drew her head close until their foreheads touched, and the hand that didn't rest on the back of her head clasped hers with a warmth and strength that the chill night air could not penetrate. When he pressed his lips to her forehead, she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to ignore the burning in her throat.
"I love you."
The words burst out before she could stop them. As soon as she heard her own voice her eyes flew open; she looked at him, terrified for a moment that he'd laugh or find her forward. The gentle surprise and joy she found instead in his blue eyes soothed any mortification on her part.
"Do you mean that?" he murmured, still stroking her hair.
Peggy nodded, an awkward, jerking motion as she tried to maintain her composure. "Yes. Yes, I do. I love you, William Buxton…I—"
She couldn't go on. She threw herself forward, burying her face in his chest and clinging to the back of his shoulders like a frightened child seeking protection from someone so much bigger and stronger than herself. And when she felt his arms wrap tightly around her, she nestled deeper into him and shut her eyes.
"This is not goodbye, remember that," he murmured into her hair. "Nor will this last forever. The wait will only make our life together even sweeter in the end."
Peggy nodded against his chest, too happy in a strange, bittersweet sort of way to speak. This would end in mere moments, she knew that. She wanted to relish it as long as possible. Draw as much courage and perseverance from him as she could. There would not be the chance of another secret meeting like this for many, many months.
"Will you wait for me, darling?"
Peggy inhaled sharply and lifted her head—and suddenly she realized that if she desperately needed courage, so did he. Her answer now would give him the necessary strength and encouragement for however many arduous months lay ahead of them. She slipped her hands around to rest on his chest, looked him in the eye, and smiled as bravely as she could.
"Yes," she whispered. "I'll wait for you, William…I'll wait as long as I have to."
"And God willing," he said, "it won't be long."
"Well, even if it is…as you said, it will make our lives even sweeter in the end."
He smiled, then, and she knew she'd finally said the right thing, the perfect thing. He didn't kiss her, and strangely enough she was relieved—she wasn't sure she'd know what to do if he did—but he did embrace her once more before he tore himself away and headed back towards the old manor where his father reigned supreme. Peggy stood there in the darkness, hugging herself and watching him until he disappeared from her line of vision.
For you I will wait, William Buxton, she thought. For you I will always wait.
My apologies if my William & Peggy just defied every 19th century social standard by sneaking out for a whispered conversation by moonlight. But then again it may be somewhat canon-compliant...I don't think two 20-somethings would've been allowed to sit in a train car unchaperoned, either ;)