A/N: I'm sooo sorry it's taken me over a month to post this. School is absolutely kicking my butt. I'll try to be much better about updating, I promise. I know this chapter is a little wonky, but I wanted to get something out there for those of you who actually like the story. I'll go back and fix mistakes when I have a minute. Let me know if you see anything I should change! Thank you so much to everyone who follow/favorite/review. You guys are the best, and I'm so glad I did this. You make it worth my while. Please let me know what you think! Muah! -Sav
Margaret stood quietly by the fire and watched as the flames crackled and swayed. Her breathing became normal after a few minutes alone, but they quickly started up again when her thoughts were brought back to the previous events. John Thornton. How everything has changed, she thought.
"Margaret, are you well?" Asked Fanny who stood in the doorway with a concerned expression.
"I am quite well, thank you, Fanny." She smiled at her ignorant friend. "Shall we return to the party?"
"If you are quite ready! Super will be in a few short minutes. Your father is wondering where you are. Although, I must say, he does not seem very concerned by your absence."
"That's alright, he has a lot on his mind. He most likely thinks I've wondered off to the garden. He's not scornful of my frivolous activities." Margaret blushed softly to herself at the thought of her father knowing her most recent activity.
"Well, if you're sure. We should be getting back before anyone else notices. Perhaps you can engage in a debate with John. He's in rather high spirits. There's a good chance he won't say something ridiculous." Fanny rolled her eyes at her brother's behavior, but quickly shifted into a gleaming smile. She took Margaret by the arm and led her through the house. Once they entered the room, Margaret forced herself to not seek him out. Her efforts were in vain.
Thornton approached immediately and offered Margaret his arm. "Fanny, Mother was looking for her. I suggest you find her. I will bring Miss Hale back to her father."
Fanny rolled her eyes once more but reluctantly left her friend.
"I hope my father was not too worried." Margaret said looking down, not meeting his gaze. All too quickly Margaret felt a rush of shame for her actions. Her accusation, her rudeness, her inexcusable behavior.
"Not at all. I provided you with a most seamless excuse." He watched her expression become surprised, then worried. He smiled to himself and followed her gaze to the floor. "I told him you were with Fanny. He understood me, I'm sure."
"Oh, I see. Thank you, Mr. Thornton." She felt his arm draw to his side, forcing her closer to him.
"Now Margaret, I dare say we are too familiar to use such formalities."
His deep, hushed tone made Margaret shiver. Her heart leapt at the thought of his open affection, but quickly plummeted when she remembered herself. There were too many factors that restrained her from him, and she must respect them.
"John, may I speak with you alone? There is something-" She was cut off by the sound of a bell. Super was ready.
"Please hold that thought, Margaret. We will speak after super, I promise you." He brought his free hand to hers that lay on his arm. He squeezed it gently, and then released it to an approaching Mr. Hale. Thornton escorted his mother to the dining hall while Fanny was on the arm of Mr. Watson.
Super went on with the conversation dictated by the gentlemen and an occasional comment by Mrs. Thornton. Careful to avoid the topic of the strike, the men tried to speak of non-business related subjects. This lasted only but five minutes.
"I say they won't last more than two more weeks. I don't see how they can." Said one man with a suit too small for him.
"They have made it this long. Who's to say they don't have some means of work underground? They could hardly make it when they were earning money. There's not a chance they are surviving on nothing." Said another, sipping from his third serving of wine.
"Gentlemen, you forget the union. The have means of support." Said Watson with distaste.
"That isn't there only form of support," piped up Miss Ann Latimer. "Margaret, I heard that you bring baskets to the families in Princeton."
The table silenced and looked to Margaret. Instead of fear, irritation rose within her. "You're right, Miss Latimer, I do. However, I can hardly feed all of Princeton with a basket. It's for a friend of mine who is ill. In fact, her sickness is due to the unsafe conditions of the mills."
Several men coughed and exchanged looks between each other. Who was this woman, and what gave her such entitlement? Ann Latimer exaggerated her shocked look and turned towards Thornton. His face was unreadable.
"Well, Miss Hale, then are we to assume that the mill owners do not have your approval?" Mr. Watson spat.
Several men snickered at Watson's question. Margaret's courage was fleeting, but before it was gone, she responded: "One does."
The men shushed once again and their eyes flickered to Thornton. Her gaze was direct and she smiled softly. For the first time since the conversation began, Thornton removed his eyes from his plate. His eyes snapped to meet Margaret's. Before anyone could utter a word, she defended her statement.
"To me knowledge, Mr. Thornton is the only master that has installed a wheel, am I correct?"
The table remained silent.
"Am I also correct to say that this wheel improves the working conditions?"
Again, no one spoke. The room continued to look at her in surprise and disapproval. She picked up her fork and restarted at her meal. Eventually, everyone did the same, and conversations started again. They did not discuss the strike.
Mr. Thornton did not remove his eyes from Margaret. He watched her in complete awe and adoration. No one, especially no woman, had ever silenced the men of the mills on their own subject. He fought the urge to proclaim himself in front of the whole party. Like Margaret, his mind had not stopped revisiting the hour before. If only he could rewind time and relive those few seconds over and over.
Soon, the sexes separated into their designated rooms. Margaret sat along side Fanny but said nothing. The only thing Margaret could think of was her impending conversation with Thornton. The privacy of it excited her, but the reason for it made her stomach knot. She would have to tell him that she could no longer see him, and that tore her very heart in half.
"Margaret, may I ask you something?"
"Of course, Fanny."
"What do you think of Mr. Watson?" Fanny's brow came together and sat furrowed on her face.
"I do not think I am the most qualified person to ask, Fanny. My opinion is most likely ill conceived based on prejudice." Margaret stated blankly. She stared forward, nothing particular in her view.
"I ask you because I believe you to be the most level headed person I know. Your opinion is the only that I trust."
Margaret looked up to Fanny's face and smiled. "Why do you ask me of him?"
"I ask you because he made his intentions clear to me this evening. He is rich, to be sure, and the match would be most advantageous. But Margaret, I cannot come to believe that I could ever love him. Not in the way I so desperately hope for. What if such a love is not meant for me? Am I doomed to eternal misery with a man who provides money instead of affection?" Fanny slumped back into her seat with a deflated expression.
Margaret considered her words carefully. Her influence on Fanny was important in this moment, and a single word could lead her astray. "Fanny, there is no guarantee marriage. One can never know if they will be truly happy with someone, only God knows that. My advice to you, Fanny, is to get to know Mr. Watson before you make your decision on him. Let him prove to you his affection with actions instead of words. That should be the basis of your choice."
"Margaret, I do not know where I would be without you. Probably married!" Margaret and Fanny laughed merrily with each other as they were led to rejoin the gentlemen.
As they entered, Margaret saw her father standing alone by a table with finely laced cloth. He seemed to be studying the pattern of the stitching. She smiled at him and took his arm. "How are you, Papa? Are you enjoying your evening?"
"Immensely, my dear. I dare say that super was the most interesting part of tonight." He playfully raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips. She grinned shyly and squinted her eyes in a challenging manner. She saw a tall, dark figure to the right of her and caught sight of him. He stood with Fanny and Mrs. Thornton while people continued to shuffle in.
"How much longer should you like to stay, Papa? I'm sure you're getting tired."
"Not much longer. There are a few things I would like to discuss with John before the evening is through, but they can wait until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Is Mr. Thornton coming for a lesson then?" Margaret felt her heart quicken.
"Indeed. When you vanished from the party, he told me how much he missed our talks. We decided that resuming our schedule would be good for him."
Before Margaret could reply, Thornton walked towards them. "I hope this evening was enjoyable for the two of you. I'm very sorry Mrs. Hale could not make it. Her presence was missed."
"Thank you, John. Margaret and I are very glad you invited us. I'm afraid our days as of late are filled with silence and rain. Your resuming visits will surely bring light back to them."
Thornton smiled fondly at his friend. He turned to Margaret, offered her a knowing smile, and turned back to her father.
"John, it's been a lovely evening, but we must be getting on. Margaret, did you see where I placed my gloves?"
"No, Papa." She said looking around her.
"I'll have a servant help you look for them, Hale."
As Mr. Hale went off in search of the missing gloves, Margaret was left standing with Thornton by the lace covered table.
"Margaret, please, call me John."
"John..." She said slowly, relishing the liberty she would soon be taking from herself. "John, I need to speak to you."
"Would it happen to be about earlier?" He asked with a crooked smile.
"Actually, yes. I wanted to apologize for my behavior."
"There is nothing you need be sorry for, nor do I wish for you to be sorry. That would mean you regret it."
Margaret opened her mouth to speak, but choked on her threatening tears. She dropped her head down to her hands and fiddled with the hem of her sleeve again.
"Do you, Margaret?" He said sadly. His eyes followed hers to her hands. How he wanted to calm her fidgeting fingers.
"No, John, I do not regret it. But I feel as though I should. There are many reasons to put an end to this-"
"Margaret, it's hardly begun. I don't care for any reasons you may come up with. If you're afraid, I understand. I'll do anything in my power to make you feel secure. However, if it's a matter of your feelings-"
"There is no question as to how I feel about you." She interrupted. His face broke out in a wide smile.
"Then there is no question as to what will proceed."
Margaret's head snapped up to meet his gaze. Her heart pounded against its confinement. Her response was hindered by her hand being brought to his lips in one smooth motion. After she was released, her father appeared behind Thornton and gave him a slap on the shoulder. "Well, I cannot imagine how my gloves were placed in the entrance hall, but your servant Jane was most helpful. Margaret, are you ready?"
Unable to speak, Margaret simply nodded and followed her father to the door. Thornton trailed behind and watched her with amusement.
Once they were gone, Thornton returned to his guests until the last of them were sent away. He spent the rest of his evening in his study and went over the evening in detail, with one specific moment in mind.