Hello, this is attempt number two in my new series, "North and South: Short and Sweet Stories," in which my only two rules are that I need to:

-Stick to no more than 2,500 words per story. I had previously made it 1,500, but I mean, it's me, so let's get realistic.

-Each story has to be written/edited/posted within 1.5 hours.

Again, due to the shortness of the writing/editing time, please do excuse the odd mistake. If I read it back at a later date and anything majorly wrong jumps out at me, I will fix it, but other than that, as part of the exercise to write something concisely, I will keep the story as it is.

I hope you enjoy. 😊



From: "North and South: Short and Sweet Stories."

John and Margaret were both fidgeting, fiddling, and feeling unspeakably frustrated in general, a most disagreeable combination if there ever was one.

As they each cast a restless glance at the clock on the mantel, the hundredth time they had done so in the past hour, they both let out a long and rather loud sigh of exasperation, the volume and vigour of which caused those positioned to their left and right to turn their heads sharply and eye them with a mixture of confusion and annoyance.

Sitting opposite each other from across the expanse of Fanny and Watson's lavishly decorated dining table, they both tilted their heads, widened their eyes, and shared a conspiratorial grumble, their faces contorting into petulant grimaces.

Four hours!

They had been at this ghastly gathering for four sluggish and darned dreary hours, and it seemed as if it was threatening to go on and on and on until the good Lord interrupted the tedious revelry with his rapture, an event which they both privately thought could not come too soon. As they were thinking this most depressing and disturbing thought, Margaret emitted a restrained moan while John let out a significantly less discreet groan, each rude sound a reflexive response to Fanny clearing her shrill throat so that she might make ready to regale her guests with the tale about how she had acquired her Indian wallpaper, her attention to detail both surprising and painfully mind-numbing. As she swayed tipsily from side to side, the woman having consumed enough wine to knock out a rhinoceros, John and Margaret guessed that this particular version of the riveting story was going to last as long as a Shakespearean play – the unabridged version, mind.

Flopping back against her chair, Margaret tutted while John went one further and folded his arms in a surly sulk, all the while muttering a few choice profanities under his breath.

The couple had very nearly not ventured out at all this evening, but after a lot of whinging from Fanny, flattering from Watson, and coaxing from Hannah, they had finally conceded to get dressed up and dragged off to play their parts as social butterflies. John and Margaret had not even been married a year yet, and much to the disappointment of a miffed Milton society, the new Mr and Mrs Thornton had declined to attend almost every social event that the town had waved under their nose, the two of them choosing instead to remain at home like hermits.

Indeed, rather than swanning around like Lord and Lady Muck, (something that people thought they ought to do, given their unfairly good fortune when it came to youth, attractiveness, commercial success, and wealth), the masters and their wives of the manufacturing elite were peeved to discover that the newlyweds seemed to prefer their own company and had rarely been seen out in public.

However, after the pair had point-blank refused to attend a single party over the festive period of December, due to understandable reasons, Hannah had put her foot down and said that as much as she respected and appreciated their wishes, it was time the lovebirds flew their coop and attended at least one function, especially given that they were the toast of the town, what with Marlborough Mills now being hailed as the most profitable cotton factory in Darkshire. After a great deal of fussing, not to mention fretting, the couple had finally admitted defeat and agreed, which is why they now found themselves at the Watson's end of January dinner party to celebrate goodness knows what, since Fanny never needed a pretext to hold an extravagant soirée, the woman having more silliness than sense in that head of hers, as John would say, a meanness which Margaret chided him for as she tried not to chuckle.

But why, oh why, did it have to take so long?! How long did it take for one to nibble a few disgusting canapés, make courteous conversation with a cluster of humdrum strangers, shake one or two sweaty hands, laugh at four or five of Watson's dreadful jokes, listen to six or sixty of Fanny's egocentric anecdotes, and then make some sort of polite excuse to depart and then disappear as quickly as one could scarper with one's dignity still intact? Not four hours, nine minutes, and forty-three seconds, surely!

Peeping at her husband from below her long eyelashes, Margaret could see that he was getting terribly hot and bothered under his starched collar, his cravat tied far too tight and no doubt making him cross and crotchety as it cut off his circulation. She could tell that John was tapping his leg beneath the table, his thick thighs trembling as his foot tetchily thumped on the floor so fast that if his heart tried to keep up with the punishing pace, it would most certainly cease to beat and seize up from exhaustion. Gnawing her lip, Margaret could see that he was in one of his sullen and snappy huffs because his eyes were narrowed, his jaw was taut, his lips were clamped into a thin line, his nostrils were flared, and his head was hung low in that menacing way of his. To be sure, Margaret felt a tad concerned that if someone said so much as boo to John, he would bark at them and bite their head off, such was the king's temper tonight at being forced to abandon his castle and all the treasures that lay within.

Although, to be fair, Margaret could not help but smile a little, since despite his evident tetchiness, her husband was looking mightily handsome this evening in his silver waistcoat and blue necktie, the colour of which set off his dazzling eyes, causing them to smoulder like burning blue coals, not that there was such a thing, but still. Even although Margaret would never let on, she actually quite liked it when her husband grumped in the way he was tonight. It was a girlish fancy of hers, a foible even, since Margaret always felt that John was at his most strikingly good looking when he was brooding, something which made him irresistible to her, affecting her body to yearn for him in a way which still made her turn as red as a radish. It was as if his whole features and figure took on a wild quality, giving him a most roguish visage, one which quite undid her if truth be told, a fact which her husband had soon cottoned onto and now frequently used to his benefit when he wanted his wicked way with her.

However, her attention was soon filched as John took out his pocket watch and then sniffed, snorted and scowled in succession, the man at his wits end with aggravation at being kept here against his will.

Margaret giggled under her breath. Oh John! Her dear boy, how she loved him.

In turn, John's sulking was interrupted as he suddenly glanced up from his interrogating inspection of the floor, his agitated eyes at once arrested by the sight of his wife smirking at him. God! – she was so beautiful! All at once, John felt his body still, (and stiffen slightly), as he looked upon her with undisguised adoration and attraction. His Margaret, she was so unreasonably lovely, and John found that he could do nothing but stare at her in awestruck wonder. She was wearing that dress which he had bought her, the material thin and delicate, the hue a subtle blend of pale golds, the fabric so fine that it looked like her flawless porcelain skin glowed by the light of a thousand candles from within, a halo forming around her most pretty and pleasing form.

However, despite her customary comportment of charm and composure, John could tell that Margaret was not comfortable, since she was chewing her bottom lip in that way she did when she was jittery, and he could see her twisting something round and round in her small hands on her lap, no doubt her napery. As Margaret inclined her head so that she could hear the extremely piggish fellow sitting next to her natter on monotonously at a deafening decibel about shipping his goods to America, John could discern that she was not listening. Yes, even although Margaret smiled and nodded at all the right intervals, always the refined southern lady of breeding who knew how to be a delightful table companion, he could tell that her mind was miles away, back at home, the nest which she had reluctantly been forced to forsake. With a frown of husbandly vexation, John vowed to make sure he got her back as soon as he could, the man always devastated to see his wife look unhappy, something which thankfully was not a frequent occurrence.

Nonetheless, despite his longing to escape this profligate party and retreat to the sanctuary of his own four walls, John could not help but grin to himself. He was such a lucky so-and-so! While all the women sat around him were gaudy with their overly trimmed trinkets and trussed up frocks that were so bright it was a wonder he was not blind, his Margaret, his remarkable Meg, she was the very definition of modesty and majesty with her unpretentious gown and natural grace. John's ardent eyes darted to take in the small yellow roses that adorned her hair, each one tiny and hardly noticeable, but he knew they were there all the same. After a trifling tiff during their engagement, John had made a promise to himself to give Margaret at least one flower every day of their marriage, and so far, he had been true to his word, and those roses were today's humble offering from one man to his woman, his world entire.

John thought on how in an attempt to make her feel more excited about the dinner, he had gifted her a set of elegant yellow rose pins from the same Helstone jewellers from which he had acquired her engagement ring, the proprietor only too happy to send them up to John on the northbound train. While she had sat at her dressing table tonight, Margaret had looked up at his reflection in the mirror with something akin to dreamy reverence, and in turn, John had stood behind her and gently placed the floral pins into her neatly arranged hair one-by-one, hiding them with quixotic amusement between the strands of her chestnut locks, waiting on her like a most willing servant. John had been overcome with a longing to scoop her up in his arms and negate his promise to quit the house this night, since it was offensively unfair to expect a husband to leave the refuge of his bedroom when his wife was looking as radiant and ravishing as ever, the woman being a true Helstone rose plucked and replanted in Milton, this rare flower's new and permanent dwelling place.

Gazing at her now, John's chest puffed out in pride to think that this goddess was his one and only, just as he was hers, and out of all the men in all the world, he would be the lucky one to escort Margaret home tonight and take her to his bed, a cosy haven where he fully intended to show her just how special she was to him in every conceivable way.

John laughed under his breath. Oh Margaret! His darling girl, how he loved her.

Before they had left their bedroom tonight, the couple had stopped, stilled, and stared at each other, their breathing ragged, their hearts beating far too fast to be salubrious. With heaving lungs, prickling flushes, and skin itching with longing, they had fought to quell the erratic eruption of emotions which surged within them. They had held each other's gaze for an obscenely long period, their bodies slowly but surely inching nearer, until at last, they had stood wonderfully close, their aching limbs brushing against each other in irritated impatience, screaming out for them to touch with scandalous intimacy. As their panting mouths drifted closer, they had felt each other's hot breath tickling their skin, and their minds were flooded with indecent thoughts that they could no longer ignore.

They had not done anything remotely like this for weeks, not since…well, not since their ability to do so had been disrupted and temporarily suspended, pleasantly so, but still. But then, who was to say that tonight, they could not….there was nothing stopping them…perhaps it was time…yes…they could again…at last…if only they could ─

But then there had been a boisterous knock at their door, Dixon's knock, and this had caused the couple to jolt out of their trance, and after springing back in alarm and shaking themselves out of their sensual and seductive stupor, they had both blushed, shuffled away in clumsy self-consciousness, and made ready to leave for the Watson's.

Now that dinner was over, John found himself slouching against the wall in the shadows of the drawing room like a towering tree that was dangerously close to falling over. As he listened with distracted disinterest to Hamper blather on like a right boor about how the union had cost him a small and sore fortune of late, John's eyes darted to the side so that he might peer at his wife with unapologetic enthralment. With his lips curling upwards in satisfaction, he found her almost at once, since she was never difficult to find.

For one, John was so tall that locating anyone was not really a problem for the lofty giant who tended to be head and shoulders above his average sized acquaintances. Secondly, Margaret was the most damned irresistible woman in any room, meaning that the graceful swan that was his wife stood out in the crowd of ugly ducklings like a sore thumb. Well, not a sore thumb exactly, but John was not so good with expressing how enchanting he found his lover, so we must not blame him for his lack of eloquence. And lastly, Margaret, in her infinite sweetness, somehow seemed to radiate a warmth and light wherever she went, the sunshine of her gentle and generous soul overflowing from her every pore and making her shine with purity. As a result, John never found it hard to find her, his own soul always feeling lonely if its twin was not near at hand.

At the same time, as Margaret listened to Mrs Slickson drone on about her latest servant crisis, the young lady stole a sly glimpse around the room so that she might hunt for – ah there he was! With hardly any effort at all, Margaret discovered John standing across the room staring at her with blatant fascination, although, to be honest, he was always looking at her. Margaret had once considered that her husband's unremitting affection and attention would perhaps cause her embarrassment in public, the woman being of a shy disposition, but in fact, this could not be further from the truth. Indeed, Margaret found it oddly comforting to know that his devotion was so resolutely steadfast, the knowledge of his fierce fidelity allowing her to feel safe and strong all at once. Certainly, John may have been a formidable figure to his fellow men and masters, but to Margaret, the resilience of her husband's power of body, sharpness of mind, and force of character, did not cause her to feel intimidated, but in contrast, they only served to inspire her with a sense of serenity and fortitude.

As their eyes met from across the crowded room, they both shared a secret smile, one which was small, soft, and tenderly soulful. John loved how Margaret always looked for him when they were apart, even if they were only separated by a few feet. She was a lioness, a creature of magnificence and valour who could not be tamed or daunted, but still, it filled him with a strange manly pride to know that this woman who was both beautiful and benevolent still sought his presence and found both comfort and courage in it. In turn, Margaret loved how John, the man of the hour, the one person whom everyone always bustled to speak to in the hopes of gaining advice relating to trade or the law, only seemed to have eyes and ears for her and her alone. Well, perhaps her and one other Thornton woman, thought Margaret, as Watson raised his glass to her in greeting from beside the piano where Fanny was playing as noisily as her nimble fingers would warrant.

To be sure, that is why John and Margaret were both beside themselves with pent-up frustration tonight. It was because they wanted to go home, now, right away, at once, so that they might return to their own little world where they were alone, a private paradise away from the prying eyes of the world, a place where they could cherish the treasured fruits of their marriage and bask in their bond of love, loyalty and laughter. And tonight, well, they had something very specific they wanted to do, and sharing a knowing smirk, they each acknowledged that there was a certain somebody they wanted to see a lot more of.

Swaying coquettishly and grinning like giddy schoolchildren, they wordlessly communicated all the clandestine confidences of their heart from their own secluded and shaded corners of the Watson's drawing room. While he winked, she waved, and they both spoke to each other from across the void, the other guests none the wiser to their furtive conversation.

'Hurry!' he griped. 'Make haste!' she grumbled. 'We want to go home!' they protested and pleaded in chorus.

Rolling their eyes and shaking their heads drolly, they both glanced at the clock for the hundredth time plus one, and they decided there and then with a firm nod of their heads that it was well and truly time to go home. Making their excuses and wishing Hannah a fond farewell for the night, Mr and Mrs Thornton said their goodbyes, hauled on their coats and scarves, scurried off out the door, bundled into their carriage, and bid the driver to look lively and trundle back to Marlborough Mills as swiftly as the horses would cart them.

Once they had arrived back in the familiar surroundings of the mill yard, the night dark, the air cold, the snow thick beneath their boots, Margaret and John both hopped out of the hansom cab and rushed as fast as their legs could carry them towards the house. Once inside, they tore off their outer clothes and near enough threw them at the poor butler before fleeing up the stairs, taking them two, (sometimes three), at a time. Holding hands, Margaret dragged John behind her with a sense of urgency and energy which quite astounded him. Laughing heartily, John pulled her close and kissed the crown of her head in response to her endearing enthusiasm, the wisps of her hair tickling his nose. John too was as eager as a puppy to get upstairs, and he could hardly wait to hold and kiss his precious girl, something which he had been desperate to do all night long.

When they reached the landing, they both raced along the passageway, sprinting and skidding right past their bedroom, the two of them coming to a grinding halt outside a closed door. Pausing to calm down, they looked at each other and smiled before sharing a brief yet delicious kiss, their mouths lingering in delectable bliss. Then, with their combined hands bearing down on the handle, they quietly slipped inside. Peering into the darkness, John and Margaret tiptoed onwards as unobtrusively as two mice, their stealthy steps sneaking towards something which reposed in the middle of the room.

Coming to rest by its side, they both let out a sigh of relief, their tense shoulders sagging as all the anxiety and agitation which had been hounding them for the past four and a bit hours left the couple and floated away into nothingness.

Leaning their heads together, they both sighed contentedly and wrapped their arms around each other, her head cushioned against his chest, his head dipping so that his chin rested on her shoulder.

Standing cautiously still and silent, John and Margaret gazed down at the most perfect and precious jewel in the whole wide world. It was a bundle of joy with ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, a sweet angel who was made from half of him and half of her, a baby girl who was no more than six weeks old. As she slumbered serenely in her crib, none the wiser to her mother and father's doting cooing, her chest rose and fell, her fingers twitched, her arms stretched, and she let out a dreamy yawn, all of which affected her smitten parent's hearts to melt at the sight of their darling dove who was healthy and happy.

Oh, how they had missed her!

Gazing into each other's eyes, John and Margaret knew that right here, right now, this was precisely where they wanted to be, these three Thorntons together, one, two, and she. After rubbing noses like a pair of affectionate cats, they both bent down so that they might bestow a loving kiss on their daughter's cheek, this tiny and utterly treasured Thornton that they loved beyond compare. As they did this, John and Margaret smiled and placed one of their fingers in each of her outstretched hands, and as she curled her teensy fingers around their larger ones, they both whispered as softly and as tenderly as can be:

'Here we are, little one, we're finally home!'

Yes, yes, I know that was slightly longer than 2,500, but not by much, but hey, that's still pretty well behaved for me, so I'm proud of that, plus I still managed it in 1.5 hours, so woo-hoo!

Oh, and yes, for those of you who don't know me, I have a slight obsession with alliteration. It's not my fault, it just happens.

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