Part 21 Always…
Coming out of a deep sleep, John knew instantly she wasn't by his side and his eyelids opened slowly knowing the reason why.
His eyes focused and found her in the dimmed light just as the first rays of dawn were appearing. She was sitting in the rocker next to the bed, tenderly nursing their daughter.
John thought he never witnessed a more beautiful picture in his life. He watched every loving expression that crossed Margaret's face as Hannah Maria took hungrily of her breast.
As the baby nursed, her young mother played with her tiny hand and fingers and brought it up to her lips whispering a soothing lullaby of endearments. The window let in just enough of the waking light to give one side of her face and long loose tresses a warm soft glow. She was so beautiful and his heart couldn't stop the deep sigh of love and contentment from escaping alerting her that he was no longer asleep.
She slowly looked up at him and their eyes met and her lip curled up gracefully as her eyes lowered to the child's face, "Papa's awake."
The baby, responding to her mother's new tone, detached herself and little arms went flaying in excitement causing Margaret to laugh softly as she looked back at John, "I think she is done. Do you want her?"
Propping himself up against the head board and pillows he grinned back at her, "Everyday just like her mother."
His simple answer made his wife's smile come alive and she drew up her nightgown and padded over to his side of the bed and gently placed their daughter into his waiting arms.
John took the opportunity to bid his wife a good morning and their lips touched briefly as she drew herself up and went over to the bassinette to tidy the contents commenting that Hannah will soon need the larger crib.
John gave an exaggerated frown as Hannah's tiny hand played with her father's lower lip. His voice was adoring as he addressed his daughter with mock sternness, "Listen my girl, no growing up to quickly. I won't have it ye hear."
"John, it is no use…" Margaret turned to him with a glint in her eyes, "…trying to be a domineering master to our daughter isn't going to work."
"Unfortunately, I know this." He took the opportunity to kiss his daughter's forehead, "She will most likely be just like you." After a pause he looked up at his wife and captured her eyes and added, "Thankfully."
"With her dark hair and those blue eyes John, I couldn't say she is just like me."
"Appearances excluded. You are coming back to bed?"
Margaret moved to the other side of the bed and hitching up her gown she climbed on and moved over close to her husband to watch as he playfully mouthed Hannah's tiny fingers. They both laughed at her many expressions of wonderment, surprise and baby smiles.
John looked down at his daughter and then to the face of his Maggie and suddenly felt a surge of love that it threatened to overwhelm him. He was barely able to choke out a whispered, "Maggie."
Concern crossed Margaret's face at his tone, "What is it?"
"I don't want to remember my life before you…" Looking down at Hannah, "…and her."
Margaret's eyes went soft and she raised a hand to draw his cheek towards her to get his complete attention.
"I don't think you would have loved me as much as you do now if you forgotten the path taken to get here. No John, I want you to remember so you never allow yourself to go back."
John thought for a moment and had to agree with her statement. The remembrances of what his life lacked before had been filled by what he had with her.
"My lovely dearest Margaret. You are right again. The story of my life may have started at birth but I didn't begin living it until the chapter when you appeared in the words."
She smiled, "I did make a rather sudden appearance."
He leaned slightly forward and confirmed, "Yes you did. I was never the same after that moment."
"I'm glad of it even with me believing at first you were the villainous character."
"And you the feisty heroine."
She laughed sweetly, "As much as I like being called feisty heroine, I think blind mouse is more appropriate word but…" Looking at the now slumbering child in John's arms, "…I think the story turned out rather well. Don't you think?"
John caught her meaning it produced a large grin as he leaned in to answer her question by finding her mouth and taking it deeply.
Pulling away he regarded her with desirous indigo blue eyes, "The story continues Mrs. Thornton and if I wasn't holding our sleeping child right now…what would I be doing?"
"I can't imagine Mr. Thornton." Her blushing cheeks told him otherwise.
He emitted a low chuckle, "Can't you?"
Then he moved to kissed her again only more tenderly. Her hand went up and touched where their lips were fused causing John to move his mouth over slightly to kiss her palm and then move down to her neck.
After a minute of nuzzling she spoke, "John."
"You know what part of the week this is."
"The end." He murmured against her skin.
Margaret moved away and slipped off the bed causing John to emit a disappointed groan. Padding around the bed she bent over to take the slumbering baby from his arms and whispered to him, "Yes and…end of the month as well." She glanced over at him as she reached the bassinette, "And it is looking to be a very warm and beautiful day again."
He looked at her strangely, "Yes…" Then it dawned on him, "Do you want help to plant your garden…"
Lowering the baby into the bassinette she rose and turned towards him with hands to her waist, "No think again."
"Higgin's engagement dinner?"
She shook her head, "No, that is next week. John Thornton, if you don't remember this, I just might become angry with you."
He frowned. What did she mean?
"Well, it's not our anniversary. I'll never forget that day. Maggie…unfortunately you may have to become angry with me. Come here; let me start my begging for forgiveness now."
He watched as she struggled to stay serious but the little upward curve of her lip gave her away but she kept playing the part.
She let an over exaggerated sign escaped her as she went around and started to make up her side of the bed. With down-casted eyes she mumbled with mock disgust, "If you don't remember our agreement, then I will just go alone. You can stay with Hannah and Dixon. I'll have Mary pack the basket for myself…"
Margaret found her arm being grabbed and she being gently pulled across the length of the bed and into his tight embrace. She wasn't able to even let out a squeak before John had her on her back and he pinning her motionless with him placing his weight on top of her.
"The picnic! How could I have forgotten! Maggie…" His tone was very apologetic.
"But you did and I am thoroughly affronted husband. It has been months since we were able to go with me heavy with child and the weather…"
"I haven't breach the agreement just yet. I am still willing to keep to it."
"I wish to make an adjustment or I will insist on voiding the entire…um…"
"Nothing was signed. There is nothing to void."
"But we did shake hands…and…sealed it in another manner…isn't that binding?"
John let amusement show on his face as he remembered them sealing the agreement with an impassioned kiss. He nodded, "Yes, I would say that qualifies as a valid contract. So what is this adjustment?"
"That…well John, could we could try to make it two weekends out of the month? I mean with autumn and winter, it really doesn't seem…"
Margaret found herself thoroughly kissed with firm and serious lips of a business man. Lifting his head he peered into her enlarge luminous eyes, "You'll not catch me again forgetting Mrs. Thornton. This I guarantee."
"I'm glad of it Mr. Thornton."
He went in to kiss her again but found her hand stopping him and to his shock, her pushing his weight off of her.
"No you don't. Not now husband. Later."
Margaret loved his look of a boy who just had his new puppy taken away.
She took his face into her hands, "Husband, save your strength. I have another purpose for our little outing today."
His eyes questioned as he asked what that purpose was.
She leaned in close to his ear and whispered into it and his eyes grew wide and then one of his full brilliant smiles appeared.
"So soon Maggie?"
"I'm willing if you are able."
She laughed heartily and then suddenly covered her mouth to muffle herself remembering the sleeping baby nearby.
He drew her into his arms and cradled her in his arms as he looked down into her beaming face, "If it is a boy, you'll allow me to name him?"
Margaret giggled, "Frances Eugene Reginald is still available."
John shook his head remembering the name that was to be his nephew's. But provenience gave Fanny a girl and she fared no better.
"But thankfully, Francine Estelle Regina isn't. What if it is a girl?"
"Then Madeline will have to do. I liked that name."
"Or we will just have to name her after her beautiful mother."
Margaret bowed her head, "No, Madeline will do just fine."
John lifted her chin, "You don't like your name?"
She shook her head, "It is that I don't like it…" Lifting her eyes to his, "…but I like Maggie better."
He lightly kissed her mouth, "Well, that name is exclusively reserved for you."
"I'm glad of it."
The conversation stopped as the couple, holding each other closely, languished together on the soft bed; Margaret's thoughts were on the much anticipated afternoon excursion. John's thoughts were suddenly alert to the fact that the afternoon picnic would be the perfect time to tell her the surprise he had for her.
Over the course of the past few months he had been in correspondence with Fredrick making plans for a late summer visit to Spain. Hannah would be old enough for travel, and Mary could come with them while Dixon stayed back at the cottage.
With the lucrative sale of Hampers and the considerable downgrade in work, Higgins would be able to handle Marlborough Mills without his partner for a couple months. Higgins, being established in the grand house nicely enough and soon, a new wife to care for the children and come home too, John knew that it would be an ideal time to add traveling abroad to his growing list of firsts.
It would be a first for Margaret as well. Their first trip abroad was to be to Argentina but...
When news of Mr. Bell's decline of health came in November, Margaret was in no condition to travel to Argentina. John knew she wanted to be there for him but in the end, he died peacefully in his sleep shortly after. His last letter to her was one of acceptance and "glad to be exiting this life on his own terms".
Her voice was barely a whisper. He knew she wanted something, "Hmm."
"I was…well…Fredrick. I thought that perhaps this year…"
John wasn't going to allow her spoil his surprise during the picnic, "Not now Margaret."
"No argument. I'm not sure Higgins can handle the mill by himself yet and…"
"You won't even discuss it then."
"You are being very unreasonable to deny us even discussing it."
He could tell she was very disappointed and agitated, "Am I? Seems to me Maggie, you are the one who just moments before being unreasonable in denying her husband in our bed."
Margaret's face flamed, "Oh I…well…that isn't…"
John's laughter rang out as he grabbed her around the waist and positioned her on her back and him pinning her down with his weight once again, "I'll tell you what Mrs. Thornton, let us compromise…" He started to kiss her face, "…you don't deny me now and in return I will agree to discuss Spain at our outing."
Margaret allowed his lips to inch downwards and even though she didn't have much hope that the discussion of a possible trip abroad was going to turn out in her favor she let out a huge sigh, "Very well." He let out a small sound of satisfaction where she then replied with a dejected but resolved tone, "Always a tradesman first."
Looking up from nuzzling her neck he grinned at her with his eyes the deepest of blues with all seriousness, "No…" Lowing his lips just a breath away from her, "Tradesman is third. Father is second but my darling Maggie, I will always be yours first."
At that, he claimed his wife's lips and began to prove it her.