This is based on Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South and the BBC adaptation of the novel, starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. You may recognize a few snippets of dialog from the adaptation here. Disclaimer: These characters/borrowed dialog do not belong to me. (Note: I realized the last few lines were accidentally moved further up in the chapter when I copied this over, so I edited to correct. My apologies for any confusion!)
A Change of Heart: Ch. 1.
With what little strength she had, Margaret roused herself from her father's chair and made her way downstairs to don her bonnet and coat. She had only one last task to complete before her Aunt Shaw would escort her back to London, back to her home at Harley Street. Margaret was not eager to complete this task; she was not happy to be leaving Milton, despite all of the sadness she had felt there, and she could not shake the lingering regret she felt that Mr. Thornton should still think so badly of her. She wanted so very much to have his good opinion, or so she told herself. Somewhere, in a place she did not quite acknowledge, there was also the profound feeling that there was more to her regret than that – that perhaps, she wished she could have his affection, the love he pledged he would not abandon, once more. She knew that to be impossible, though, as he had renounced the "foolish passion" he'd had for her, so she kept her deepest wishes locked away from her conscious thoughts, refusing to face the implications that were presented by the combination of her prideful, prejudiced actions and the realization that Mr. Thornton was in fact the finest man she had ever met.
So it was with a heavy heart that Margaret set off to complete her final task in Milton – to bid farewell to the Thorntons of Marlborough Mills. She had asked her Aunt to remain at Crampton, knowing how ill at ease her Aunt would be visiting a manufacturer's home. Margaret simply did not have the wherewithal to bear her aunt's ungracious commentary. Having reached the Mill, Margaret was ushered inside the gate by Williams and made her way to the house, where she was admitted by one of the maids. She was led to the drawing room, and found Mrs. Thornton sitting with her needlework. Margaret took a seat on the sofa to Mrs. Thornton's left, as she was bid. After brief remarks of sympathy and polite inquiry as to the health of the other, Margaret and Mrs. Thornton sat in awkward silence. Margaret ventured to break that silence:
"Mrs. Thornton, I know we have not always understood each other, but I would very much regret to part on bad terms. Please accept my apology for the way I spoke to you at our last meeting. I know your intentions were good."
"Thank you, Miss Hale. Consider it forgotten," Mrs. Thornton responded, more out of sympathy for Margaret's orphaned condition than from true forgiveness. She still resented Margaret's refusal of her son, and could not bring herself to consider that perhaps Margaret had acted innocently that night at the train station.
"So you will be leaving today, Miss Hale?"
"Yes, my aunt wishes to take me home as soon as possible."
Suddenly, Margaret noticed Mr. Thornton's presence in the doorway behind her. She did not know how long he had been there.
"Indeed, as soon as possible," replied Mrs. Thornton.
"So, you are going?" Mr. Thornton spoke in a low voice, half questioning, half stating the obvious, as he lowered his eyes to the floor. His face was weighed down with sadness, which Margaret attributed to her father's death.
Margaret stood and faced him fully. "Yes… although it is not my wish," she acknowledged forthrightly.
At these words, he started. His eyes shifted abruptly to her face, searching for he knew not what. "You…you do not wish to leave?"
"No," she confirmed in a barely audible voice, as she fought the almost inexplicable urge to cry.
"But you have always disliked Milton, Miss Hale. Surely you cannot wish to remain here." Mrs. Thornton thrust herself back into the conversation, drawing the attention of her son and Margaret back to the fact that they were not alone.
"Not always, Mrs. Thornton… in the beginning, yes, but not now."
Mrs. Thornton stared at her perplexedly.
Mr. Thornton could not believe what he heard. His heart raced. Had she indeed come to feel differently about Milton? Could that possibly mean that perhaps she had changed her feelings towards him as well? He had to know before he could let her leave him forever. But how?
Receiving no immediate response, Margaret remembered that she had brought her father's copy of Plato to give to Mr. Thornton. She moved to retrieve it from the sofa, and then turned and approached him.
"Mr. Thornton, I have brought father's Plato for you. I thought you might like it, and I am sure it would please him for you to have it. Father valued your friendship very much," she said evenly, having regained some of her composure.
"As I valued his; he is deeply missed" replied Mr. Thornton quietly, as he stepped forward from the doorway and grasped the book she held out to him. "I shall treasure it." He paused, his mind struggling to find a way to detain her and discern what she meant when she had said she did not wish to leave Milton.
Margaret looked down, not wanting to leave, but sure that the visit had come to an end. She had begun to turn in order to bid Mrs. Thornton goodbye, when his voice, soft and quiet, arrested her movement.
"Miss Hale, there is something I would like to offer you; would you accompany me to the library?"
Margaret's eyes flashed to his in utter surprise. She could not imagine what he meant to give her, or indeed what could have made him speak so gently to her.
Mrs. Thornton raised her eyebrows in disapproval. She could not openly protest her son's actions, but neither could she condone the repeated risking of his heart to such an unworthy young woman. She wished Miss Hale would just take herself off and never set foot in Milton again. Perhaps then John could be at peace, she reasoned.
"Yes, Mr. Thornton, as you wish," Margaret finally answered, with not a little bewilderment evident in her tone.
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