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John Thornton sat at home in the lounge room.
He held in his hand Richard Hale's much loved Plato. Reading the pages by firelight, his other hand aimlessly ran up and down the back of his sleeping son, finally settled and resting on his chest.
He would not move him just yet.
The stillness was interrupted when the housekeeper dashed in. He looked up in concern at her distress. "There's a man to see you master." She spoke rapidly. "He's looking about what to do with two young children abandoned at the train station. Will you come? You being the magistrate and all?"
He rose from his chair instantly and handed Hale to Dixon. "Please advise Mrs Thornton that I have been called away and shall need her home as soon as possible."
Reaching for his coat and hat on the way, he went to the man waiting at his front door. They walked the short distance to the station together.
Walking onto the deserted platform, his eyes adjusted to the gloom and he saw one of the children the constable spoke of. Stepping closer, he was filled with dread.
"Georgie!" he cried in part surprise and part horror as he recognised them.
The exhausted six year old's head lifted at his voice and he saw she wasn't alone. His sister's youngest child was whimpering in her arms.
He moved swiftly, not apologising when he bumped past the stationmaster.
Kneeling before his niece, he dropped his hat to the ground beside them as he stretched his arms out. He immediately took the babe who, safe in this unknown man's arms, settled instantly.
He reached for Georgiana next, pulling her into his side with his other arm. The events of the past day and a half now catching up with her, Georgie burst into tears, sobbing into his shoulder. Thornton held her close, pressing a kiss to her crown when her sobs lessened and she was simply left emotionally wrought and tired.
He rose, both firmly in his grasp.
"I thank you for drawing this to my attention," he said formally to the small crowd now gathered. "This is my niece and nephew, and I will take charge of them now."
"Move on, move on," ordered the constable obediently. "Nothing to see here."
Margaret was standing in the hall, just returned from her meeting when he stepped inside. Her hand rose to cover her mouth as she realised just who her husband held in her arms.
He was ever thankful that he had married such a woman when she didn't say a word – just reached out for Thorne and led the way to the kitchen.
As he watched her coax them both to eat, he could feel the anger rising within him. He said nothing as he turned on his heel and left the room. Georgie did not need to see him like this.
Margaret joined him some time later.
"They are sleeping," she said softly as she stood in the doorway. "I put Georgie in with Marley and the baby with Hale."
Her husband stood at the window, looking unseeingly out into the dark. As she stepped into the room and approached him, she could see the tense way he was holding his shoulders. Placing a hand on his back, she felt the anger radiating off him.
She was angry herself, but words would not serve a purpose at the moment and so she slid her palm down and wrapped her arms around him, resting her cheek on her back as she offered what comfort she could.
They stood that way for several minutes as she sensed her husband struggling to get his temper under control. He reached some balance shortly after as he pressed one hand to hers and turned.
She stepped back as he spoke.
"It was clear that Watson wasn't up to parenting his own children," he began in a tight voice, "but I never would have thought he would stoop so low in his responsibilities for them to send them alone to Milton."
"Without even a note!" added Margaret, her own anger escaping. "Without a care!"
Up in the nursery, Georgie woke suddenly to the sound of loud voices downstairs. Unable to stifle her cries, she buried her face into the pillow for she knew she must be the cause. Consumed by her grief, she never sensed her bed partner leave, or saw the identical figures that followed her.
The three Thornton girls made their way downstairs to where they could hear their parents rowing. It was Marley who stepped into the room first, but the Frederica and Gwendolyn who drew attention them. "Stop shouting!" they cried in unison.
Marley eyed them solemnly. "You're making Georgie cry."
Margaret spared a glance with her husband before she immediately made for the door. Entering the nursery, she saw that Georgiana was indeed crying.
Seeing her aunt, she couldn't compose herself. "Don't send me back," she begged. "I'll be good I promise. I'll do needlework and everything."
"Oh you poor dear," said Margaret instantly, sitting on the bed and pulling the child into her lap. "You're not going anywhere."
Her eyes sought her husband's pain-filled ones in the doorway as she pressed a kiss to the distraught Georgie's head, rocking her backward and forward as their own children gathered around, offering what childish comfort they could.
Thornton knew he needed to make this right.
Coming up: Visiting Beldon.