When Fanny came into the compartment, she brought Ann. Margaret, having spent years at it in Harley Street, was adept on conducting conversations in which she had no particular interest, and so they all talked without saying a single thing of importance all the way to London.
Upon reaching it, Fanny declared them a very merry party, and insisted they take the cab together. This meant they must also take Mr Latimer to escort them, which left Mr Thornton to fare for himself to travel to Tavistock Square, where Colonel Carter lived. Tavistock Square was in a respectable area, though more modest than Harley Street, and more brown.
Colonel Carter was a fine old gentleman, with a big round belly and a smart, well-appointed house. He proclaimed himself fascinated by all things modern. This and perhaps a slight diminishing in the returns of his rather small fortune had led him to invest in Northern businesses, which was how he knew Mr Latimer.
Mrs Carter was as smart and well-appointed as the house, with a trim little house cap she always wore that came just under her ears, and just over most of the greying tendrils of her hair. Being the London sort, they were far more like the people with whom Margaret was used to dealing. She felt instantly comfortable in Tavistock Square, finding its trappings more familiar than those of Milton.
Their trunks arrived with Mr Thornton, but he did not linger in the women's presence. He was off to talk business with Mr Latimer and Colonel Carter, while Ann, Fanny, Mrs Carter and Margaret were left to wash travel away and make ready for supper. For once, Margaret did not mind being sealed off from the interesting conversation. She did not want to see him.
The girl who showed them to their rooms first took Fanny and Ann the room they would share, and then showed Margaret the room down the corridor. Margaret had not considered that she and Mr Thornton would be sharing, and that here quarters would be closer than those in Milton. A house on Harley Street, never mind Tavistock Square, could not be half the size of the mansions of Milton.
In the room there were two beds with a small hearth between them, a chair and divan drawn before it. They made a neat sitting area, but by no means did they section one side of the room from the other. Once the girl had left, Margaret tried the door on the other side of the room. Instead of a connected bed chamber she found only a man's dressing room, which she realized would be Mr Thornton's.
Despite only living there two weeks, Margaret had become accustomed to the luxury of her own room at Marlborough Mills, and was dismayed to learn of the present state of things. She was not sure why this should be. She had believed herself to be willing to engage in marital congress, if only Mr Thornton demanded it of her. She knew that he would not.
In the room there was a screen high enough to shield one's self for dressing. Margaret used this, but changed hurriedly. She had never taken very much time deciding what to wear.
Fanny had complained about having no new gowns to wear in London, and Margaret rather thought Mrs Thornton would have preferred that the whole party wait so that Fanny might have new gowns enough to outdo the highest London fashions. Mr Thornton, however, had no patience for such idling, and they had not waited.
Margaret had not minded at all, but because Mrs Thornton had insisted upon all the fittings and things the week after her marriage, one gown had been finished in time for her to take with her to London. This was a fine silk gown of cornflower blue. Even though with its pearl-stitched bodice, and impractical sleeves that seemed in no way to cover any part of her white round arms, Margaret found the dress ridiculous, she could not help admiring it. It was a ball gown, though, rather than something for merely supper, so Margaret left it in the trunk and chose only the second best dress she had brought from Crampton.
When Margaret came down to the drawing-room she was far before the other ladies. Taking advantage of the time, she obtained pen and ink to dash a quick letter to Edith, to tell her of their arrival and the address. By the time Ann and Fanny came down to wait to be called to supper, Fanny was aflutter with news of a guest joining them for dinner. She was so enthusiastic, Margaret assumed their guest must be some London gentleman or lord.
"It is Watson!" said Fanny, no longer able to contain her glee.
"Mr Watson of Milton?" Margaret asked.
Fanny confirmed it. Margaret was barely able to believe it, as Mr Watson seemed just about the most unexciting person with whom she could imagine sharing dinner. Although they had not spoken often, Margaret had glimpsed him many times in Milton. He had not called on Marlborough Mills since the wedding, but from things said now and then, Margaret had gathered that Mr Watson was a frequent guest. And yet Fanny was as excited as if Watson was a person she had never seen before in the whole of her life, and Margaret could not make it out.
At last Mr Watson arrived, the men joined the women in the drawing-room, and they were called to supper. There was a bit of dance then, as to who should take in whom, as no husbands could take wives, no fathers could take daughters, and no brothers could take sisters. It also seemed apparent to Margaret that no Mr Watsons should take Fannys, at least according to Ann Latimer, for Ann secured Mr Watson's arm early on. But Fanny did not seem to notice this manoeuvring, and this resulted in Colonel Carter taking Margaret.
As a result, Margaret was seated near to Colonel Carter and Mr Watson. She was on the other end of the table from Mr Thornton, and thus not forced to make conversation with her own husband, who had not spoken ten words to her since he had left her on the train.
Mr Watson, Margaret discovered, was a lively fellow who did not care to talk about business in the presence of ladies one bit. Instead he was full of London gossip and news, which held little interest for Margaret even when she had lived in London. She thought it should hold little interest for Mr Watson as well, since she doubted he could make it down to town more than twice a year, but he seemed intent on speaking as though the affairs of London were his own.
He invited them all to a ball for Friday evening, for which his friend Mrs Blakely was on the committee. When this information made its way around the table, Fanny could hardly contain herself, and Mr Watson was most satisfied. He said that everyone important was going, and that he was to help in engaging the band.
The other thing Mr Watson spoke of, besides London and balls, was India. He had the same level of enthusiasm for it he had for London, and—Margaret thought—the same level of knowledge, and rather less first-hand data. He seemed so particularly enthralled by the Taj Mahal, that Margaret thought she suspected why Fanny liked him.
But he was kind and friendly, and laughed a lot. For all his pretensions, he was far more straightforward than many of the London folk with whom he sought to identify himself, and he was honest about not being quite in their positions. Margaret appreciated this blunt speech. If she found it coarse, she also found herself smiling at his jokes more than once.
Mr Thornton did not smile. He was engaged in speaking to Mrs Carter and Mr Latimer, she knew not about what, as Mr Watson tended towards loudness. Mr Thornton did not appear to look her way, either. The few times she cast her eyes down to him, he seemed utterly absorbed.
After supper, the ladies removed to the drawing-room. There they all became consumed again by the angle of hats in London. As the topic held little interest for Margaret, she contributed little to the conversation, and contented herself with observing it..
Fanny was over-excited by the fact of being in London and the thought of the ball in several days' time. Margaret had never thought of Fanny as a beauty, though her features were fine and regular, but now there was a glow to her. The light shone in her gold hair. Her undisguised happiness, her uninhibited delight, seemed to set her off. She looked fresh and true and healthy, nothing like other girls who were all dainty wilting delicacy. No, Fanny was no beauty. And yet, she made one want to look at her.
And this was not so very different from Fanny's brother. Unbidden, Margaret recalled Mr Thornton's voice when he had spoken of Fanny. He, too, showed himself differently than other men. He was rougher, cut from a more coarse cloth than other gentlemen, whose sole passion in life was to be bored, and to speak of love only in abstract, poetic terms. Meanwhile Mr Thornton made you want to look at him, to pay attention, even against your will.
Mrs Carter appeared enchanted by Fanny's quaint bluntness rather than put out, as Mr Thornton had stated people often were. She elicited Fanny's opinions in lively tones. She laughed at some of Fanny's more decided comments, but in such a way that Fanny giggled too. They seemed to get on splendidly, despite the fact that Mrs Carter was at least twenty years older. They were both gregarious, and delighted by the angling of hats.
Ann was more reserved. While she was perfectly civil and warm to Mrs Carter and Fanny, and cleverer than both of them, Margaret could not help the feeling that Ann disapproved of Fanny's gaucheness. It gave Margaret a feeling of unease. She herself disapproved of Fanny's gaucheness, and yet the thought that someone else might do so made her feel strangely protective. She found herself inwardly criticizing Ann's cultivation, feeling it to be an act rather than a natural expression of her true self.
The gentlemen came into the drawing-room after half an hour or so, smelling of cigars and brandy. Fanny had determined in their absence that she would play the piano upon their arrival, and she did. Margaret knew from the past two weeks in her company that Fanny was no remarkable player, but the sounds she produced were not abhorrent either. All in all, she was competent, and everyone clapped politely.
Directly after, however, Ann sat down to play, with such incredible skill that Margaret began to feel resentful—not for herself, but for Fanny. It seemed to her that with such a difference in ability, Ann would have been politer to wait.
No one else seemed to share her opinion. They enjoyed Ann's playing, clapping uproariously. Just as was polite, not a comparison was made. Furthermore, Ann's behaviour appeared impeccable; perhaps it was only Margaret's sudden sympathy with Fanny's feelings that caused her to interpret Ann's gesture differently than the rest.
Fanny, however, did not appear to require sympathy. Delighted by Ann's performance, she freely drew the comparison from which others had politely refrained. "I only wish I had your talent," she told Ann. "I do not think these pudgy fingers could ever compel such beauty. You are a true proficient! What was that piece you played?"
For the first time, Margaret realized that Fanny's professed passion for music was genuine. She had no reason to think it might not be, only that most ladies she had known in London had always professed a passion for music, whether they felt one or not. Fanny must not often get a chance to listen to a performance of true quality.
"Thank you," said Ann, seeming surprised by Fanny's praise. "It is only some mere trifle which I have recently learnt."
"Trifle!" said Fanny. "It is a masterpiece."
"Thank you," Ann said again. There was an awkward pause in which Fanny looked eager and Ann looked rather helpless. "I will find the music sheet, if you wish."
Fanny's eyes grew round. "You are goodness itself."
"I," said Ann, and looked down. "Thank you."
After the impromptu recitals the company fell into various discussions—led by Fanny at one end of the room and Mr Thornton at the other. It came as a surprise to Margaret that this brother and sister pair were easily the most engaging characters in the room. The other people present seemed to fan out around them.
Of course Margaret had noticed that Mr Thornton had a commanding presence, but it was interesting to see that this was still the case even when not in his own home, and in the presence of well-to-do people such as the Carters. Fanny, on the other hand, was a decidedly more startling phenomenon. Margaret had told Mr Thornton that Fanny could not fail to be the centre of attention, but this was because Fanny seemed to demand said attention so wilfully
Margaret did not think those who gave her that attention seemed unwilling. In fact, they seemed somehow entranced—not quite believing that they were enchanted, and yet utterly gone. Fanny was undoubtedly quite silly, but Margaret believed she could see the attraction.
There was the gleam in her eye Margaret had noticed earlier. The way she spoke about music was similar to the way her brother had spoken of her on the train. The lilt of her Northern accent seemed integrated with that deep feeling. She was easily the most animated person in the room, and Mr Watson could not stop looking at her.
Meanwhile, Mr Thornton was engaged in heated discussion with Mr Latimer. Ann, despite being the object of at least half of Fanny's rhapsodies, eventually drifted to this conversation. She had failed in repeated attempts to capture Mr Watson's attention, Margaret noticed, and still seemed embarrassed by Fanny. Mrs Carter, being a more lively sort, joined Fanny in her impassioned appraisal of Mr Handel.
"He was better than any other musician in the entire world," Fanny said, by way of making a universal pronouncement.
"Surely not any other musician," said Mrs Carter, amused. "The Continent is all speaking of Herr Liszt."
"The Continent would swoon for his hand kerchief." Fanny sniffed, then fell in to reverie. "I would die for a cloth Mr Handel had but touched."
Colonel Carter laughed. "What would you do with such a cloth?"
Fanny was prompt, as though the answer was obvious. "Sew it somewhere—into a pillow or my valise."
"But you would be dead," Colonel Carter pointed out.
Fanny lifted her nose. "Handel's music rises above the mortal coil, which anyone who understood him would surely know."
"You could hear him beyond the grave?" asked Mr Watson. "It is like something out of Mr Irving's stories."
"Yes," said Fanny, with dignity. "It is."
"I must hear more Handel!" said Mr Watson.
Both parties were so considerably invested in their discussions that they did not demand that Margaret attend to either one. She never minded this, and indeed found herself grateful for the extended opportunity to scrutinize the company.
Ann did not seem besotted by Mr Watson, despite seeming to pay him particular attention. This particular attention may perhaps have been directed by her father, as Margaret noticed Ann casting the occasional glance in the direction of Mr Latimer, as if for approval. But Ann was never particularly engrossed by what Mr Watson said. In fact, once she joined her father's company, she seemed more interested in Mr Thornton's discourse.
Margaret observed her husband's interactions with Miss Latimer with a similar interest. He was open with Ann, and frank, as he was with anyone. But Margaret noticed that he was also stiffer, and perhaps a little awkward. Wondering why this might be, she recalled an idea that she had had previously, that Mr Thornton did not often deal with many ladies.
She recalled also her thought that perhaps that was why Mr Thornton had expressed an interest in her during his first proposal: Margaret was one of the only ladies with whom he had spent a great deal of time. He might have been fascinated by her for the sake of her novelty, rather than any particular quality.
Although Ann had not been born to the same kind of family as Margaret, she was considerably more refined than many Milton ladies, who had not had the privilege of Ann's schooling. Margaret wondered whether Mr Thornton noticed this sophistication in Ann's behaviour, whether he appreciated it. Now that he was married, of course, he could not take particular interest. But he could notice.
Watching him, Margaret could not tell. He seemed painstakingly polite, smiling sometimes when Ann spoke, the kind of half-smile he sometimes gave to Margaret, but he did not seem particularly delighted. He gave Ann the full, open attention he gave to anyone he respected. He listened to what she said with obvious consideration, and spoke with that booming deliberation she had first noticed at the Thornton's dinner party.
Margaret could not hear of what they spoke. She thought that he was probably not telling Ann of latch needles or thermodynamics. She also thought it unlikely that Ann was making him feel as though he were a mere tradesman only interested in the making of money.
Mr Thornton hardly glanced her way.
After a while of watching this, Margaret excused herself, pleading weariness. The travelling had taken a considerable amount out of her. She followed a maid carrying a lamp up to her room, and there got ready for bed.
As before, she did this as quickly as could be, lest Mr Thornton pled tiredness also. She knew that she should not feel such anxiety regarding their shared room, but the nervousness did not dissipate once she had dismissed the maid and got into bed.
She thought that some of her anxiety must stem from the feeling that she should be performing those conjugal duties usually required of a wife, or even should be wanting them for reasons other than her feelings of obligation. Perhaps Mr Thornton was expecting her to be in love with him. Unknown to her, he could be was waiting for her to announce that she desired to go to bed with him every night.
And yet she thought that he could not, after their argument on the train. Perhaps he would not want to lie with her either, he had taken such offence to her comments. She knew he felt that she had been insinuating that as a tradesman he could not have proper feelings. This was not what she had meant at all. She thought that he was no longer angry, the way he had been at first when she had mentioned the unconsummated circumstances of their marriage, but she thought that he had been hurt nevertheless.
Occupied by these thoughts and regrets, Margaret fell into a fitful slumber. Her dreams were hot and breathless. Knowing that Mr Thornton must enter the room at some point, she kept waking up at the slightest sound.
After two or three hours, there was the click of the door, and Margaret's eyes popped wide open. Just as quickly, she shut them again.
It did not seem strange to go to sleep at a different time than Mr Thornton when they had separate rooms. Any other method would have been difficult to coordinate, except for those evenings Margaret had spent talking to Mr Thornton in his sitting room. But now it seemed inappropriate that she was abed when he was just walking in. Perhaps she should have waited up.
It seemed just as inappropriate that she should be awake, and he not know it. In fact there seemed to be deceit in it, with him going on about his nightly business, assuming she was asleep. Her eyes were closed; she was tucked deep into bed. If he should chance to look over to her, she would look deep in slumber. He could have no idea that her heart was pounding, that she could hear his every movement.
Yet she could see no purpose in announcing her wakefulness. She had no particular need to discuss anything with him. As likely as not he would not invite conversation; she imagined him still not in a mood to talk to her since the train. He could gain nothing from knowing she knew he was there. She would only have the gratitude of the knowledge that she had been utterly forthright.
But it was this that decided her. She had no wish to hide. And when she heard the rustle of cloth, she knew that the lie was serious: had he known that she was awake, he would of course have used the dressing room. Her eyes opened.
After a moment, her mouth opened too, but no sound came out.
He was facing away from her, and had gotten further in divesting himself than she had detected with her ears. When she opened her eyes, he was just removing his last shirt. The gleam of the candlelight revealed to her the contours of his back, the hard planes of it, the strong lines and the grey shadows of muscle and bone.
Margaret had seen bare backs before. As a girl, she had been raised close to farms where men tilled the land in Southern summer heat. As a woman, she had seen naval ports where sailors climbed rigging and tucked away sails, the sun tanning their exposed skin. But these were never backs of men she knew; these backs were disembodied, belonging to people she did not and would never know.
This was perhaps why this nakedness shocked her. She knew Mr Thornton's back. She could recognize it in a crowd, the wide straight set of his shoulders and the proud angle of his spine, but she had never seen it this way. He moved his arm and the muscles slid along each other, strange and foreign and strong.
That was nothing like a woman's back, curved with supple softness, the shoulder blades delicate, like wings, without that hard, planar toughness. There was no give in this back, no sign of gentleness, and Margaret thought that they must not all be like that. There seemed signs of labour in it, of strength, that could not be in the backs of gentlemen. There was roughness to it that Mr Thornton covered with his fine linen shirts, his satin vest, his wool jacket. In clothing he became to all appearances like a gentleman; if broader and slightly less refined, he was not all brute strength and earthy muscle.
All of these thoughts washed over Margaret in blushes of hot shame and surprise. They came with a shock that was something like fear, though she knew not of what. As soon as they came upon her she shut her eyes tightly, but she could still see those lines, shifting gold in the poor light. She knew she would see those lines when she looked at him again, even the next morning when he would be clothed again and perfectly proper. She would look at him and see beneath.
There was no possibility of letting him know she was awake. There was no way she could converse with him—he in that state! And she in this one! He would turn to face her, and she would not know where to look. She was terrified by the thought of his chest, the black hairs that she knew would be there, the strong hardness of it. She thought that she would be repulsed by it, and yet she could not stop thinking of it.
She thought of that glimpse of white in the shadows, of the proud, almost arrogant line of his shoulders. She wondered what kind of woman she was, that she could think of these things.
Worst of all was that fact that though she pressed herself to do so, she could not bring herself to open her eyes again. She felt more deceitful than ever, having seen what she had, and not owning to it. She had never been the sort of woman to feign weariness or sleep, fainting or weakness. Yet now she squeezed her eyes shut tight, and would not open them for the world.
Consumed with guilt at her own deceit, she heard the rest of Mr Thornton changing; she heard him extinguish the light; she heard him lie down.
She realized for the first time that it was the first night since their marriage they had not said good night in the traditional way of shaking hands.
When his breathing evened, she knew that he was asleep, but he was not a quiet sleeper. He did not call out, or make any vocal sound, but deep into the night she could hear him thrashing, as though his sleep was fitful.
She knew that it could not be as fitful as her own.
The next day was spent primarily at the Great Exhibition, as planned.
Margaret heard Mr Thornton rouse himself and ready for the day in the early hours of the morning. Though semi-aware of what he was doing, she did not awaken all the way, and fell into another hour's sleep once he had left.
When she did awake, she was still up before the rest of the house, as she found when she came down to the breakfast room. The footman, Brown, informed her that Mr Thornton had gone to take some air. Brown also gave her a note from Aunt Shaw, who invited them all to Harley Street for supper.
Margaret breakfasted by herself, as she had often done in Harley Street. She found she missed Mr Thornton and his mother's quiet company, but then she remembered the night before, and did not miss it any more. She did not know how she would look Mr Thornton in the eye.
Eventually the rest of the household awoke. Mr Watson called shortly after breakfast, having arranged the previous day that he would tour the exhibits with them. Around then Mr Thornton returned, already having breakfasted.
Margaret found that she could look at him without a blush, as long as she tried not to remember the vision of his back cast in candlelight and shadows. He did not, however, seem any more inclined to look at her now than he had been since their dispute on the train the day previous.
He did look at her for a long moment once they were at the Crystal Palace, and she elected to go with Fanny's party, which was determined to separate from the others to see the art portions of the Exhibition. Mr Thornton, Mr Latimer, and both the Carters were set for the machinery and raw goods portions.
"That is dull,"claimed Fanny. "If we are to go into that section first, I will never see anything of interest."
"Too true!" said Mr Watson, smiling, which seemed a ludicrous sentiment to Margaret, considering Mr Watson's own vested interest in manufacturing. "Shall I be your escort, ma'am?"
Fanny pretended not to care. "If you like." She was very bad at pretending.
Mr Latimer gave Ann a significant look. "I shall join you," Ann said quickly. She moved so that she would be closer than Fanny, should Mr Watson chance to offer his arm.
"Oh Ann," said Fanny. "Let us find the jewels."
Ann looked from Mr Watson to Fanny, then glanced back at her father. She forced a laugh. "Do you care for jewels, Mr Watson?"
"Better than cotton, anyway," said Mr Watson.
Fanny was still pretending. "Never matter what Mr Watson wants to see. He is our escort. And the mosaics, Ann! We must see the mosaics. Do you like a mosaic, Mr Watson?"
Mr Watson's brow furrowed. "There are mosaics?"
"They are better than cotton," Ann murmured, and moved a little closer to Mr Watson.
"Then it is decided!" Fanny declared. "We shall all split up."
Watching all of this unfold, Margaret said, "I should like to see mosaics as well. I will go with your party."
She thought her presence might discourage any machinations or deceptions which might be painful to Fanny, but when she announced her intent, Mr Thornton gave her such a look that made her heart pound. It was swift and sharp, so much so that Margaret was sure that no one else saw. At first she was at a loss to translate the hard set of his jaw, the downward turn to his mouth. After all, she was separating from him for the protection of his sister. She could not decipher why he would be displeased.
It was only later, when she realized there had been hurt in his eyes, that she realized he had not understood her intentions at all. All at once it came upon her that he had thought she would naturally choose his company. He had perhaps even wanted her company.
Furthermore, he had told her on the train of all the inventions he hoped to see today, and she had professed interest. He had been strangely gratified by that interest—and now he thought she must have feigned it, or that she had only been humouring him. Or else he thought that it was his company in particular she was eager to escape, despite her interest in the inventions.
But by the time Margaret realized he might be thinking this, it was too late to change her mind.
"Margaret," Fanny said, "I am so pleased! I have been teaching Margaret Spanish, you know," she told Ann.
"I did not know," said Ann.
"Yes. I am a proficient. I know ever so much about Spain, and we have been talking of it constantly."
"You are interested in Spain?" asked Mr Watson.
Margaret only wished people would stop talking of Spain; it only served to reiterate her guilt about Frederick, and the argument she and Mr Thornton had had on the train. "I am interested in mosaics," Margaret said at last, which was at least true in a vague sense.
"I am so glad you will come," Fanny said again. "We will only see the interesting things, and never speak of boring mills the entire time."
"Hear hear," said Mr Watson.
One would think that with all her relatively new infatuation for Ann, and an obvious long-lasting wonderment over Watson, Fanny would hardly care whether Margaret decided to come along or not. Fanny had deemed her brother quite decidedly a "stick in the mud", and Margaret felt certain Fanny must think the same of her. But Fanny's obvious pleasure gave Margaret to believe Fanny would have been pleased by Mr Thornton joining them also. Fanny was pleased by any attention whatsoever.
Margaret cast only one glance over her shoulder at the others as they separated, and saw Mr Thornton's broad back, encased in all the wool and cotton it had been missing last night. Feeling a flush of shame at the vision of all of that gone, of him naked from the waist up before her, Margaret was twice as glad she had decided to go with Fanny.
As if feeling her hot gaze and all her secret shame, he glanced back too, then quickly away. She could not see whether he was still hurt, or angry, or whatever it had been. She could read nothing in his gaze.
After a day spent touring the Crystal Palace separately, they dined together at Harley Street. Only Mr Thornton, Margaret, and Fanny attended. Watson had invited them all over to his own friends', the Blakelys', around the time Margaret had mentioned the invitation, and the rest of the company felt more obliged to accept Watson's request than the Lennoxes', whom they did not know. The Carters, however, gave Margaret a note to invite the Lennoxes' to dine on Saturday, as they could not accept the present invitation.
The whole way there, Margaret could feel disaster looming. She loved Edith dearly, but Edith was a sheltered girl, with a very distinct sense of her own position in the world. She could never be cruel, but she could be easily startled, and Margaret felt that both Mr Thornton and Fanny would startle her. Though Edith would be all aflutter to be polite to them, especially for Margaret, whom she loved, Margaret feared the Edith would not be able to disguise well enough the fact that she considered the Thorntons decidedly below herself.
Aunt Shaw was stalwart enough to do so, though she might disapprove of the Lennoxes' invitation. Captain Lennox was a little oblivious, and so kind to everyone that even if he made some offensive comment, Margaret thought that nothing would go too wrong there.
But Henry could be so sharp and disapproving. She did not think he would be that way toward Fanny or Mr Thornton. Henry was far too generous—and liberal—a soul to demean them. But Henry knew Margaret's particular philosophies on marriage, and would suspect that there was something amiss with hers. He was also too polite to demand to know the exact circumstances leading to her wedding, but knowing he suspected her of scandal seemed too keen a cross to bear.
This was in particular because she and Mr Thornton had never reconciled after their argument on the train. He had not left her angry, but they had not spoken alone since. Both that morning and when the parties had met together for luncheon, he had been as courteous as usual, but Margaret thought that she had detected a stiffness to it.
Furthermore, her guilt over the night before was no small consideration. Margaret still despised herself for keeping feigning sleep. She despised herself almost as much for the feelings that had coursed through her the one time she had opened her eyes. Though she was now contained, those feelings were not locked deep. She felt she might lose control of them, if Mr Thornton touched her, if he but looked at her in a certain way.
She had had to dress for tonight in her room with the full knowledge that he could enter any time. Even though she was behind the screen, this caused her considerable anxiety. Shortly after she had finished her toilet, he had knocked from his dressing room, and she had come to answer the door. His eyes had swept over her, and that was how she knew none of her shame nor heat from the night before were gone.
She wore the gown she had worn for her wedding. It was her second best, after the new one that had been made after her marriage.
Mr Thornton saw it all. His eyes missed nothing: the coral pins in her dark hair, the coral necklace at her throat. But when he spoke, he said only, "I wanted to see if you were ready."
For a moment she could not find her breath, so exposed did she feel under his eyes. Yet he was all calm politeness. She supposed he must still resent what she had said on the train, or the fact that she had not stayed by his side in the Crystal Palace. She did not fill up his mind the way that he did hers.
A full twenty seconds passed before she realized he was indicating that they might leave.
And now they were stepping out of their hired carriage onto Harley Street, and Margaret still felt guilty. She felt that her Aunt Shaw and Edith and Henry would look at her and know that she had seen Mr Thornton the way she had last night.
What was so much worse was that they all thought she would have seen him in far more intimate circumstances. Everyone would assume, of course, that the marriage had been consummated. They would expect her to have done things she could barely contemplate.
She resented Mr Thornton for putting her in this deceptive position. She was confused and resentful with him also for looking the way he had when she had seen him clothed in nothing but light, for the heat and strength in his hands when he lifted her down from the carriage.
On top of all of this, Margaret was concerned for Fanny. Only Margaret could preserve Fanny from the dangers of navigating the situations for which she had no preparation or inherent proficiency. She did not want Fanny to be disappointed, and she did not want Edith to be affronted, and she did not want Henry to look at her in that way, and she did not want to look at Mr Thornton, and she did not want—
"Margaret." Mr Thornton's voice was the steadiest, calmest thing in the world. He held her arm very firmly as they stepped up to the door. Fanny was on his other side, but Mr Thornton was turned to her. "Are you well?"
Hearing that strong sure voice, feeling the firm grip on her arm, Margaret threw her head back. "Yes," she said clearly.
There was swift pressure on her inner arm, and then it was gone. "I look forward to meeting your family," he said.
The way he said it sounded as though he was saying something else. The way he said it sounded like, You will be fine; I will make it so.
"Yes," she said.
"Look at me."
Startled, she looked up at him, and the door to Number 2 Harley Street swung open.
The evening was not a disaster, though no one would have called it a success.
Margaret felt far more at ease once they were inside the house. Of course Edith was delighted to see her, and there was much ado about Sholto, whom they had allowed to stay up to meet his aunt. The rest were all perfectly civil, and Fanny was not too gauche.
After supper, Aunt Shaw retired early, and Edith and Fanny became distracted by a discussion of London fashion. Edith seemed a little surprised by Fanny, but not put out, and Fanny, with her usual enthusiasm, was oblivious to everything but her delight in the cut of Edith's gown. Margaret wanted to stay by to smooth over any trips in the conversation, but Henry pulled her away. There was no way she could put off so dear a friend, especially one with the history between the she and Henry had.
Acutely aware of what he might think of her marriage, Margaret followed him to another part of the room. She held herself with all the dignity to which she was so accustomed, but he had never been intimidated by this.
"And how are you, Margaret?" he asked, once they were over by the sideboard. They had often used to stand here, observing Edith and Captain Lennox's more gay behaviour in company, while Aunt Shaw and some of the older or more sedate guests sat behind them in the sitting area by the fire.
Margaret told him that she was well, and asked after him.
He looked down at her with the old spark of amusement in his eye. "Am I to credit the London air for this bloom of health? Or your happy state in Milton?"
She did not think he was being pointed. She thought, in fact, that he seemed concerned. Lifting her head up higher, she answered, "I am well in both places."
"But they are quite different, are they not? Tell me. I would not know, never having ventured to Northern climes."
"It is colder there, and less green. But you knew that, Henry."
He smiled the old smile, the one that she thought made him look almost handsome, though she would never have admitted it. "You have caught me out. I meant rather the climate of society. I have heard that Northern ways are different."
"They are, but that does not make them by necessity unpleasant."
"I would never suggest as much," Henry said quickly, solidifying her belief that he only meant genuine inquiry after her welfare, and no slight upon her situation.
"I am growing used to Northern ways," she said. She thought of the day she had just passed with Fanny, Ann, and Mr Watson. There was in them all a more genuine delight in the wonders they had witnessed at the Great Exhibition than she thought anyone in London might have evinced. It made the exhibits themselves more enjoyable, Margaret had thought. She appreciated hearing what people actually thought about things, even when they were silly. "Indeed," she said, "I find I like some Northern ways."
"I am glad to hear it. What in particular interests you?"
"The lack of pretence." Margaret answered him honestly, as she was accustomed to, but she wondered if perhaps she was also picking up a Northern tendency towards bluntness.
Henry raised a brow. "You find the South pretentious?"
"Do not put words into my mouth." She smiled, for it was not the first time she had accused him of this. Their debates were not as serious as Margaret's with Mr Thornton. Henry also had a tendency to dismiss her more on the grounds of her womanhood than Mr Thornton, who seemed to forget the fact of it sometimes, when he became engrossed by a subject in conversation with her. But more than most men, Margaret had been able to have intelligent conversations with Henry, and only had to remind him of her own mind now and then.
"There is a simplicity in the speech of most Northern people," Margaret said, "which many Southern people lack. I do not mean that Northern people are more honest, only more direct. In London, one might make some comment, and to everyone it might mean a thousand different things. In Milton, one says exactly what one means."
Henry's brow stayed raised. "You admire a lack of subtlety?"
"Yes." Margaret raised her chin. "I think I do."
"That is interesting." Henry thought about it. "I have always admired subtlety. One cannot have poetry without subtlety. Even in my work, the law allows for many different things. If it was all straightforward as you say, exceptions could not be made for extenuating circumstances."
"I was not dismissing the value of subtlety altogether."
"I know." He thought some more. "I see why you would appreciate bluntness. You have always been forthright yourself."
She grinned. "Thank you."
He did not look entirely happy. "I think we have sometimes been at odds for that reason. I always mean more than one thing by the words I have said, and assumed that you did too."
"I do not think Margaret capable of saying things she does not mean," a low voice interjected.
"Hullo, Mr Thornton," said Henry, smiling genially.
Margaret turned to face Mr Thornton. "Henry would not accuse me of falsehood."
Mr Thornton glanced between them.
"Margaret was only telling me of how much she appreciates Northern frankness," Henry said. "She says that Milton people are quite direct, and she admires it."
Mr Thornton looked surprised. "I am glad there is something in our Northern ways to please you."
Margaret did not scowl, but felt the stiffness in her neck signified the same thing. "There is more than one thing to please me."
Henry looked shrewdly from one to the other. "What else is there, then, Margaret?" Henry said, almost gently. "Come, regale us with the pleasures of the North."
Turning to him, Margaret still held her head high, her dark eyes even and unblinking. "I have made good friends there."
"I believe it," Henry said. "Margaret is such a supreme character, she would make friends anywhere. Do you agree?" he asked Mr Thornton.
Mr Thornton was inscrutable. "She is a supreme character."
Henry was smiling an ironic smile that Margaret did not like, even if he did not mean anything by it. As she had thought before, he was merely concerned, perhaps a little over-interested. He bore her no ill will. He would not attack her, nor Mr Thornton. And yet she felt defensive, and found herself speaking up before she could stop herself. "I also admire the work ethic in the North."
Henry took his eyes off Mr Thornton and turned back to her in surprise. "Work ethic?"
"There, everyone is engaged in fruitful labour," she said. "And even those poor souls who are suffering may find a means to make a living, and to better that living. Meanwhile those who have worked hard and made success of it are full of ingenuity and ideas. I do not always agree with everything they do, but I see a fighting spirit. I admire it."
"With so much work, there can be little time for finer things," Henry said.
"What finer things?" said Margaret. "The finest thing is, I think, the human soul, which is fed by ideas. I think that those who care will always have time for that. A world of leisure does not always provide more food for thought."
Henry frowned. "I always thought it did."
"Why?" Mr Thornton said suddenly. "I understand how a man who is starved, who is harried by business and hard work, might not have time for big ideas, or contemplation of the infinite. But I do not understand how a man who has no experience of this—of hardship or famine, or any kind of crucible—can understand this world."
"Is Milton a crucible, then?" Henry's voice was quiet.
Mr Thornton frowned.
"I have known no personal hardship or famine," Margaret said. "But having seen enough of both of it in Milton, I feel I have a better understanding of the human plight."
Mr Thornton seemed to find what she had said just as disagreeable as what Henry had said. "We are all suffering and strikes in the North," he told Henry coolly.
Margaret did scowl then, turning to Mr Thornton. "I have also seen great things in Milton. I have seen progress, and people coming together. Today at the Crystal Palace I saw the fine things Henry mentioned, which could not have been produced without suffering, but also not without genius."
Mr Thornton looked down at her, frown fading into thoughtfulness. She remembered thinking earlier that she would become confused under such a gaze.
"Forgive me." Henry sounded abrupt. "I did not mean to imply that nothing fine might come out of Milton."
He nodded to Margaret.
During the remainder of the evening, Henry and Mr Thornton were all politeness to each other, but Margaret detected a stiffness between them. Edith and Fanny were speaking in small fits and starts. They had found they shared a mutual passion for millinery, but Edith was obviously clueless regarding what to do with some of Fanny's more choice comments. Fanny did not know how to reply to Edith's speechlessness, and often made things worse.
Meanwhile, Captain Lennox was delighted by everyone, as he often was. By the end of the evening he was quite charmed by the notion of cotton. He pronounced an interest in trying his hand at it, while Henry told him he did not have the energy for it. They consulted Mr Thornton, who wore his familiar annoyed expression, and told Captain Lennox he knew nothing of dabbling.
Margaret thought that it was true, that Mr Thornton never did anything only a little bit. He did everything with all of himself. She admired it and was grateful for it, though she was worried about how the company might take his comment.
It was the only time that evening Mr Thornton was painfully blunt, but it was also the only time Henry smiled at him in complete agreement. Captain Lennox's face fell; Edith laughed; Fanny wondered who the on earth was interested in cotton anyway, and by the end of the evening, Captain Lennox had rallied.
In fact he seemed to admire Mr Thornton for his not dabbling, so much so that the next thing Maxwell Lennox thought to try his hand at was not dabbling himself. It would be delightful, he said, not to dabble. "There is something admirable, something most thrilling, in being completely devoted to one's cause," Captain Lennox announced. "Think how much the world could accomplish, if only we did not dabble!"
"Lord," said Fanny. "Do not become a bore."
"Do not," agreed Edith. She seemed to worry that her husband might be influenced by all this Northern strong-mindedness.
"Why not?" Captain Lennox asked. "I am dedicated to your cause, my sweet wife."
"You are not," Edith told him affectionately. "You forget I am in the room half the time."
"Hush," Captain Lennox said. "I am trying to convince Mr Thornton I have the wherewithal not to dabble."
"You can do whatever you like," said Mr Thornton, who was perplexed by this mindless banter.
"What I like is this Northern dedication to things!" said Captain Lennox. "I am determined to devote myself to being devoted. And now I only need something to which to devote myself. Are you sure cotton is not an option?"
"I am sick of cotton," said Fanny.
"We will always wear linen," said Edith.
Margaret saw that Mr Thornton was becoming more and more perturbed by all this frivolity. They meant no harm, but she could see he felt they were making fun of what he must do in order to live, while Captain Lennox made a joke of it. Meanwhile, Henry looked on in sardonic amusement at all of them. Margaret did not know how to fix any of it, without declaring one side insensitive, and the other side over-sensitive.
"It is late," she said. "With more of the Exhibition to explore tomorrow, I think we might consider taking our leave, Edith. We will need our rest."
Reluctantly, Captain Lennox ceased his antics, and Edith and Henry and Fanny bid each other good bye. Margaret secured Edith's promise to come to Tavistock Square for supper on Saturday. Mr Thornton nodded to everyone in a way that was polite enough, but Margaret knew was cooler than his wont. The rest would not know, so she only worried over it in regards to what he must feel. Fanny, of course, noticed nothing, and chatted the whole way back to Tavistock Square about the cut of Edith's gown.
Margaret determined to make a different night of it than the one which had caused her so much guilt the night before.
At Tavistock Square, the Latimers and Carters had already returned from the Blakelys', and were all abed. Margaret and Fanny went straight up, but Mr Thornton lingered downstairs. Margaret thought he made an excuse so that she could be alone while she changed out of her evening clothes. She was grateful for this, and as ever, when it came to the circumstances of their night-time married life, confused.
Changing behind the screen, Margaret decided he must not want to embarrass her. He did not want her to feel pressured either, and this was kind of him. But she also suspected that the sight of her naked back would not affect him as his had affected her, and this must somehow be connected to his reluctance to demand his husbandly rights of her. Perhaps he did not want to, after all.
Sighing, Margaret struggled into her nightclothes, and then into the dressing gown. A maid had lit a fire in the fireplace between the beds, and Margaret curled up on the divan in front of it to wait.
She did not know in particular what she should say. She only knew she did not want to pretend to sleep when he came in. Nor did she wish to open her eyes and catch an unintentional glimpse of him as she had the night before. She wanted to be honest and forthright. She wanted to try to make amends for the day before on the train, for deserting him earlier when they had split to tour the Exhibition, for Edith and Captain Lennox, Henry and Fanny, who he seemed to feel judged him.
She did not have to wait long. He came in after she had been sitting before the fire about ten minutes. A startled look of surprise passed his face as he saw her there, then something like warmth. He shut the door behind him, and came toward her.
"I did not have a door to knock," she said, by way of explanation.
"You can always talk to me." His voice sounded husky. He came closer.
"Will you sit down?" she asked him.
He sat down across from her. When she did not say anything more, he shifted. "Your cousins and aunt seemed well," he said at last.
"Yes. I love them very much." She paused. "Captain Lennox is a harmless man. He meant no disrespect."
He looked taken aback. "I know what a joke is. Humour is not completely lost on me."
She felt that in its strictest sense, that must be true, because over the past few weeks she had learned that Mr Thornton did not lie. She also remembered something that had previously occurred to her: that Mr Thornton had not had many opportunities in his life to laugh. "But you felt the joke was directed at you," she said.
"No. They are jolly people." The tone of his voice was strange; she wondered whether it was envy. "That does not make it so that I can laugh at what I have chosen to do with my life."
"Everyone must laugh once in a while. Even at tragedies."
"Is it a tragedy, then?"
"No." He was so sensitive! "I think that business is important. As I told Henry, it sustains the livelihood of men. It gives them a chance to better their lives."
"Business is not all that I am."
"It is some of the best of what you are."
"Is that what you think?"
She watched him, trying to divine his thoughts. It was still so difficult to know him; every time they conversed it seemed they ended arguing. She thought that it was becoming apparent why: he had something to prove. He was convinced that she and people like Edith thought of him as she had initially accused him of being: someone concerned only with acquisition, someone without true understanding or sensitivity towards matters of the heart, or higher notions. If he had thought this even a little before her accusations, what she had said on the train must have cut deep.
"I think what I told Henry was true," Margaret said again. "There is much to admire in the work at Milton. I also do not think such work precludes understanding of higher ideals. I think that some work enables it. What I said about the Exhibition was also true: I saw genius there."
He looked annoyed. "Some of it."
"What did not meet with your approval?" she asked, realizing he was not annoyed at her.
"The guards that were rumoured for the looms have not improved." Lines appeared between his brows. "The London gentlemen can only gawk, instead of seek to understand. The dyes are still not good enough, and all the manufacturers I meet from Stockport and Rocherdale and even back in Milton will not agree with me about the wheel. If it was made a standard, then it would not cost so much."
"This was the wheel you mentioned before, to keep the fluff off the workers?" Bessy had spoken of it also.
He nodded and explained a little bit more about it. She thought that the wheel was not the only thing on his mind, but that he had business matters weighing on him heavily as well as other things. Perhaps on top of everything else, he had not been able to drum up the investors today that he had hoped to. That would have made Henry's irony and Captain Lennox's revelry more difficult to bear.
"But why would not any other manufacturer get a wheel?" Margaret asked.
"They do not see it as good business sense."
Margaret recoiled. "Business sense? What does it have to do with business?"
"Everything. They think that the benefits do not cover the cost. It would, if enough people were buying wheels to make production of them more streamlined. This would bring them down in price."
"Benefits?" Margaret asked. "Are we not speaking of human lives? You said that with a wheel, the workers will not breath in the fluff and dust. Bessy died from brown lungs. You cannot price that."
"That is what other manufacturers think. They think it is bleeding heart charity work, because you cannot put a price on it. But you can. With a wheel, the hands are healthier. They live longer. They work longer for me." It sounded like something he had had to explain before.
Astounded, Margaret said, "You are saying you have a wheel at Marlborough Mills because it is good business sense?"
For a moment, Mr Thornton merely looked at her. Then he sat back deeper in his chair. "I cannot afford to do it out of kindness, Margaret."
"I think you should do it because it is simple human decency!"
"I have been trying to tell you that that is not the way that business works."
"Then why can you not change the way it works?"
"It may change eventually. I hope it will change eventually." He seemed annoyed, as though his explanation some time ago, of how industry had grown up and how the workers had responded, explained everything. "As it stands, it is about capital. We are each of us in a race for more capital. The equipment for the mill, the latest inventions, the newest technology—not just mean wheels and guards for looms, but also new looms and needles, better brakes and engines—these are all in the name of capital."
Margaret could hardly believe her ears. "You are speaking of profit."
"Why? When there are children—"
"You would have me buy meat and bread, clothes and bonnets, roofs for the heads of workers?" asked Mr Thornton.
"To begin with."
He was sitting deep in the chair, which cast his face half in shadow. She could not read his expression. She did not want to read his expression. "Then you would have me be their lord. You would take what right the workers have to their own homes, to choose their masters, to be free men. You would remove their ability to rise above their current station, through their own industry and capital they have earned by living honestly and working hard. You would have us return to the feudal system."
"I would not," said Margaret, hotly. "I am saying merely that one such as Bessy, one such as Boucher, does not have the opportunity to rise above his current station. They are so poor; they are so downtrodden, there is no opportunity left."
Mr Thornton's jaw was hard. "My grandfather was not a gentleman, Mrs Thornton. My father was not a gentleman. Do you think 'Thornton' is the name of aristocracy? I come from weavers and from working men, not from lords."
"I do not disparage you for your forefathers," Margaret said, frustrated. "I disparage your unkindness."
"You disparage my ideals." Mr Thornton stood up so that he was looking down at her. "Have I been so unkind to you?"
Margaret stood up too. "You know that I am not speaking of you as a man, but as a master."
"The best of what I am," Mr Thornton repeated her words from earlier. His lip curled. "These London gentleman think it is only something to play at. That it is a game. But it is real, and ugly, and there is no good way to do it. I understand it as these Southerners cannot. But I understand other things, too."
"How can you—"
"I do not wish to defend myself to you." He cut her off, pale and angry, but most of all looking weary. "Not now, anyway. I have been defending myself all day." He rose to go. "Go to sleep. You are tired. Good night, Margaret." He turned and walked out of the room.
It was the second night in a row they did not shake hands.