I've always wondered what the first proposal would have been like if Thornton hadn't waited until the next day to do it. By the next day Thornton is trying to be the "master" of his emotions and Margaret has had the night to come up with her "I am an a noble woman" explanation.

What would the proposal have been like if Thornton just revealed his emotions as he was discovering them, and Margaret, having just regained consciousness, had not had time to think of her dumb excuse?

Thanks to Lori, Rosy and mackhaggis at C19.

After the Riot

By Digne

"MOTHER, MOTHER!" Mr. Thornton cried; "Come down; they are gone and Miss Hale is hurt!"

"Goodness, John," said Mrs. Thornton rushing down the stairs. "What has happened?"

"She was hit on the head ... a stone. There's no time to explain. We must send for a doctor."

"Yes, I'll go myself. No sense asking Jane; she's sulking from the fright. And Fanny's still holed up in her room."

"Thank you, Mother," he replied, heading upstairs.

Mr. Thornton bore Margaret into the dinning-room and laid her on the sofa there; laid her down softly, and looking on her pure white face, the sense of what she was to him came upon him so keenly that he spoke it out in his pain.

"Oh, my Margaret ... my Margaret! No one can tell what you are to me! Dead ... cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh, Margaret ... Margaret!"

"OH MARGARET ... Margaret!" a man's voice seemed to call to her from far away as if in a dream. There was more to it but Margaret could never quite make it out. It was a song that called to her, willing her to answer, but its meaning was lost in the haze.

She blinked the dream away. The blur before her melted into the shape of Mr. Thornton kneeling at her side.

"Oh, thank God!" he exclaimed. "How are you? Are you badly hurt?"

He was all right. The mob hadn't harmed him. Relief swelled over her. But why was he asking about her? It was he who had been in danger. An ache from her head brought the memory back; the stone, it had hit her. She blinked a few more times and saw she was in the Thorntons' dining parlour.

"Are you all right?" he asked again.

"I think so," she replied, although her voice was weak. "Only my head, it ... I feel dizzy." She felt her head. There was a bump and some blood near her left temple.

"Just rest," Mr. Thornton bade. "I ... Mother has gone to fetch a doctor. I'm not sure what I can do to help ... Except we do have some cologne. They say it helps with headaches and fainting. I could bathe your head if you like?"

"Thank you."

He left, returning in a moment with the eau de Cologne and a cloth. He dampened the cloth and brought it to her forehead. The cologne did seem to help. The steady motion of his hand against her skin seemed to alleviate the pain.

His gaze was fixed on her, but its expression was hard to read. He seemed puzzled by something. Was it her? Indeed she shouldn't wonder at that. Following her advise had nearly killed them both. Why wouldn't he question her sanity?

All the same, the motion of his hand across her head was comforting. He was being so kind after she'd put him in danger. He was so capable. Was there no end to his talents? Facing down angry mobs one minute then nursing the sick the next. It was a relief to just forget her troubles and rest in his care.

His pace slowed and the air around them grew thick with the smell of the eau de Cologne. It sweetened the smoky Milton air, noticeable even indoors. From time to time drops of water fell from the cloth and ran down her face. She felt one drop fall onto her lips. He seemed to notice it as well for his eyes were intent upon her. His puzzled look was replaced by an expression of anxiety. This surprised Margaret. He was truly concerned for her. His care for her wasn't just a formality or an action to satisfy some curiosity.

He must have noticed her surprise. He stopped bathing her head and he pulled back. His breath quickened as he broke eye contact. He looked one way then back at her. Next he looked in another direction, still with the same heavy breathing.

Margaret was afraid, worried that whatever concern he was feeling would become too much for him. Something ached inside her to see him so troubled.

She managed to sit up. "I'm all right," she said, placing her hand on his drawing him out of himself. "It was just a dizzy ..." She was going to say "dizzy spell" but when she met his gaze something in his expression stopped her. It was a look of such entreaty and hope. A funny sort of twittering began within her making her wonder if she was having another kind of dizzy spell.

She drew her hand away from his but all at once he seized it. The pleading look in his eyes froze her in place.

"Oh Margaret!" he moaned. "Margaret, I love you."

It was as though Mr. Thornton were speaking Chinese. Love her? She was too young, still a girl. And he? He was Mr. Thornton. It had never occurred to her that he might consider her in that way.

He went on, "You are wonderful, beautiful. You were so brave down there. I never ... and then when you were lying there not moving I just ... When I thought that you ..." He paused to catch his breath. "I know I'm not saying this right. But I never loved anybody before. You understand me, don't you? Oh God! You madden me!"

What had she done to encourage this? Then she remembered. Her face burned as she recalled what had happened on the stoop, even as that other sort of dizziness tugged at her heart. A suffocating force hit her at the memory of having put her arms around him, and in front of all those people. What had prompted her to rush out to him? Yet it didn't stop there. Afterwards had she not let him be intimate enough as to bathe her forehead? Now here he was kneeling before her with her hand clutched in his.

"No ... please," she gasped, pulling her hand free from him.

He must have read the horror in her face. His face fell. His eyes like shattered glass stabbed at her heart. "Miss Hale, I love you. Please!" he cried.

It was as if there was something else, some inner vulnerability she had that his words exploited. This thought brought a fear so sharp that it obliterated all other feelings. She could not forget what she had done to bring about this change in him. She drew herself to the far end of the sofa away from him.

"You are being indecent! I madden you?" She was almost crying now. It must be her fault. She had aroused this beast in him. She had done this to Henry too. But even as the fear overtook her again a voice within her fought back. No, no! That was not true. It couldn't be true. He had done this. It was his doing.

"I'm not talking about anything indecent," he protested, his voice cracking. "I want to marry you!"

"What you say is insulting," she shot back, shutting out his words. "It is blasphemous. I cannot help it, if that is my first feeling. I don't understand you. How can you one minute profess love and the next ... ? Those poor people down there." This was going too far and she knew it, but she couldn't stop. "Haven't they felt the ... Where was your love for them? How can someone who professes love be so cruel to people below him. Love you? I don't even like you!"

He turned pale. At first he did not speak. He seemed to be recovering from shock.

When he did speak it was in a low voice scarcely above a whisper. "Those people?" he said. "They nearly killed us. I risked my life to speak to them, acting on your advice, yet you say that I have no love for them?"

Shame made Margaret speechless. She had been unjustly cruel but she was too proud to admit it.

Mr. Thornton staggered to his feet and went over to the window. His steps were slow and his breathing fragmented.

Standing at the window he couldn't have seen the tears Margaret felt pooling in her eyes. What could she do? What Mr. Thornton had wanted from her was impossible. It was too disturbing to contemplate. Yet she shouldn't have said those hateful things to him.

All at once there was noise coming from outside, a carriage stopping followed by the sounds of the door opening and people rushing up the stairs. Mrs. Thornton and a man entered.

"Here she is, Mr. Lowe," Mrs. Thornton directed.

Mr. Lowe was a surgeon. He examined Margaret's wound but she took little notice of him. She was too numb to that pain to care.

"It looks worse than it is," he ruled. "And if what Mrs. Thornton told me is true, that you faced that mob, you're lucky it's nothing worse."

Margaret did not answer.

"John," Mrs. Thornton said, turning to her son, "what possessed you to go down there at all? You knew how it would be."

"What possessed me to ... ?" He laughed slightly, not turning from the window. There was a long silence. "I suppose I allowed my heart to do the thinking." His voice faltered; he paused again. "Foolishness really. I should have known what would come of it."

Only Margaret understood his true meaning.

After plaster was applied to cover the wound Margaret was anxious to be gone. Both Mrs. Thornton and Mr. Lowe begged her to stay and rest, but Margaret insisted and they yielded, providing Mr. Lowe escorted her home.

As she rose to leave her head ached again in protest. She ignored it; her heart was far more troubled. She glanced once more in Mr. Thornton's direction. He had not moved from the window. He did not turn to look at her.

The smell of the cologne still lingered in the air and Margaret knew things would never be the same.