John stepped off of the train and looked around. A warm, golden sun shone on his face, and there was green, everywhere. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun. Walking along the platform, he came up to the ticket booth, next to which was a large map. He scanned it quickly, and headed away from the station. He was only a few miles from Helstone, the childhood home of the woman of his dreams. He sighed. The one woman who had captivated him, body and soul…and the one woman who turned up her nose at him.

For about an hour, he walked through farmer's fields. Several farm laborers paused at their work and stared when they saw a well dressed man trudging through the grass. One young woman even winked at him. Pretty as she was, John ignored her.

By the time he got to the edge of a thin patch of woodland, the air had grown increasingly warmer, much warmer than it ever got in Milton. He reached up and wiped the beads of sweat off of his forehead, and shrugged off his coat. Slinging it over his shoulder, he walked through the trees.

When he emerged from the foliage, his eyes widened in amazement. He could feel a gentle breeze blowing around his ears, and the gentle notes of birdsong floated through the air. There was the distinct smell of roses. Ahead of him, several meters away, was a large tree, and behind it, a little cottage. This must be it, he thought. It is a small wonder Margaret loved this place so. Everything was bright and cheerful and beautiful. He made his way through the grass and past the tree, to a small gravel pathway. All along one side of the path, there grew bushes. As he walked up the path, a snatch of color caught his eye. Peering into the shrubbery, he saw a small yellow rose. Margaret had spoken of these. Reaching into the bush, he picked the rose. He pressed it into its nose, and inhaled it's sweet fragrance. Then, pocketing it, he turned around and walked back towards the tree.

The air was very warm, and he decided to rest for a while under the great tree's shade. Sitting down, he relaxed, and let his thoughts wander. He thought of the first time he beheld Margaret. How he had shouted at her. He remembered how she had scorned him so, the next time they met. How her lip curled in distaste at the very sight of him. He remembered how she had saved him during the riot. How she had flung her perfect arms around his shoulders and used her small body to shield his own. He remembered seeing her beautiful head struck by a stone, and seeing her fall to the ground. He remembered his heart stopping in sheer terror, and then beating faster than he ever remembered it beating, just out of sheer fury. He remembered wrestling with his feelings, so confused and baffled by the affection he was feeling, so overwhelmed that he was sure he would choke. He remembered arriving at Margaret's home in a fevered confusion, and desperately trying to express his love for her. He remembered the look of haughty revulsion in her eyes as she spurned his declarations. And he remembered, the last time he saw her, the strange expression on her face. It almost looked like regret. He remembered how, as she was leaving, he had raced out into the cold wind and stood by the rail of the house, hoping, praying she would look back at him, once last time. But she did not.

John took a deep breath. It had been nearly a year since he had seen her, and still she haunted him. She was a painful, beautiful memory, one that gladdened him and made him miserable at the same time.

The air was still quite warm. John closed his eyes, and leaned back against the tree.

"Mr. Thornton?"

John bolted upright. That voice…

"Mr. Thornton!"

John blinked, and rose to his feet unsteadily. There, emerging from the trees, was Miss Margaret Hale, coming towards him with a beaming smile on her face. The sort of smile that made the dazzling sun dull in comparison.

"Miss Hale…?"

Margaret said nothing, only kept moving forward, slowly, elegantly.

"What…what are you doing here?" John asked.

"I was looking for you, John," Margaret answered, using his Christian name.

John was a little taken aback, but was too happily confused to give it much thought.

"Were you?"

Instead of answering, Margaret, who had now drawn very close, put her arms around his neck…but there was a sharp, persistent little pain in his side.

John opened his eyes, blinked, and touched his side. Something sharp stabbed his fingers. He turned, and realized he had been leaning on a small thorn-bush. Rubbing his head, he sat up. Margaret. Where was Margaret? She had been about to kiss him…

The wave of reality crashed down on his elation, and left him staggering in pain. Of course. It had been nothing but a dream. He felt as if his entire world had been shattered. But John Thornton, Magistrate of Milton and master of Marlborough Mills did not let his emotions get the better of him. He did not cry.

Instead, he stood, picked up his coat, and numbly made his way back to the train station. It was time he accepted his lot in life. Margaret did not love him. She never would. He must somehow find a way to move on without her.


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