Here is Chapter 2. I used a bit of Mrs. Gaskell's ending here. Let me know what you think!
Hardly sure how he had mustered the courage to be so bold, Mr. Thornton turned sharply and bid her follow him. As he turned from her, he could not help but think himself mad to be indulging the deepest wishes of his heart by trying to understand Margaret's apparent change of opinion about Milton. He could not resist hoping that somehow that change could also apply to him. It was a tiny hope, but in light of the utter desolation he had suffered these past months, it was as though a bright fire burned in his chest.
They arrived in the library, both feeling a little uncomfortable to be alone together, and each unsure of what the other felt and intended.
"Miss Hale, I…"
Something unfamiliar in Mr. Thornton's demeanor – a certain softness, perhaps – gave Margaret a surge of courage.
"Please, Mr. Thornton," Margaret interrupted. "I did not think I would have the chance to speak with you, but now as the opportunity has arisen, and as my departure looms ever closer, I must. I could not forgive myself otherwise. I have been so terribly pained and shamed by the falsehood to the police inspector… particularly in that I knew it debased me in your eyes. I cannot bear it." She looked to him with pleading eyes.
Mr. Thornton stared at her in amazed and anxious silence, willing her to continue. She looked down and did so: "I cannot regret it entirely, for it was done to protect another. I could not speak of it to you earlier for fear for his safety, but I must speak to you now to satisfy my conscience. The man you saw me with at the station that night, he is my brother."
She searched his face for understanding; what she saw baffled her. Mr. Thornton hung his head and sighed raggedly in what appeared to be deep relief.
"So….so, you are not….you do not…" Mr. Thornton stammered.
Margaret did not know what to say; her heart raced as she trembled at the emotion in Mr. Thornton's incomplete utterance.
"My brother, Frederick, is wanted by the Navy," she continued hurriedly. "He is not at fault, but he was charged with mutiny nonetheless and faces immediate hanging if he is ever discovered. We could not allow anyone to know of his presence here. He came only to see mother one last time. I am sorry I could not tell you earlier, but I was afraid for his life while I believed him still to be in the country. And I, …I did not wish to put you in a difficult position as a magistrate."
Margaret bowed her head in regret, and did not see the elation in Mr. Thornton's expression. "Margaret…." he began, with great emotion, his courage rising, and hope with it.
At the tender tone of his voice, Margaret raised her face to his, eyes wide.
"Margaret," he said again, and this time she noticed the use of her Christian name. "How is it that you do not wish to leave Milton…when you have lost so much here?"
She was at a loss at this change in topic. She could not believe he did not remark upon all that she had divulged – all that she had kept so closely guarded for so long. "I hardly know," she began hesitantly. "I did not like Milton when I first came here, but I have grown accustomed to it." She paused. "It is my home," she added almost inaudibly.
"Your home?" Mr. Thornton murmurred, afraid to believe what he heard.
"Yes, because in Milton I have lived a full life; I've learned much. I…" She broke off, looking once more at the floor.
"Miss Hale, you…what?"
"I… I have known you, Mr. Thornton," as she uttered these words, she wished she could run from the room. Her strength of character, however, kept her feet firmly rooted to the floor; her only escape was to keep her eyes away from his. She could not bear to look at what would surely be reproach in his eyes, though she did not doubt that she deserved it.
"Margaret!" Mr. Thornton breathed.
She would not look at him.
"Margaret," he said again, with more force. "I must know what you mean. You do not wish to leave Milton because…you have known me?"
"Mr. Thornton, please. Forget what I said."
"Forget?" he asked, the pain evident in his voice. "How can I forget...what…what may be that which I have long wished to hear? How can I not try once more to…" His voice trailed off.
He waited, but she said nothing. He could hardly contain the swirl of emotions that stirred within him – fear, hope, longing, consternation, love – but he would not speak so unguardedly, so rashly, this time. He needed some assurance from her, some sign that he was not alone, his feelings not unrequited, any longer.
"Margaret, please…speak, or I shall claim you as my own in some presumptuous way."
"Your own?" she nearly whispered. "…But you said…you told me you did not care for me."
"Never mind what I said then. What did you mean when you said you have known me?"
"Oh, Mr. Thornton, I cannot. I am not good enough," Margaret murmured.
Mr. Thornton could hold his feelings at bay no longer.
"Not good enough! Don't make a mockery of my own sense of unworthiness. Margaret…" He hesitated. "Margaret, I did not speak the truth when I said my passion for you was over. Can you not see how it was impossible for me to do otherwise, when I had no hope of gaining your regard, when I believed you to love another? I loved you then. I love you still." He moved closer to her, his eyes beseeching her for a response. He was terrified to hope too much, yet she did not shrink away from him as he feared.
Margaret was somewhat stunned by Mr. Thornton's admission, but not displeased as she had been the first time he told her of his love. Through the overwhelming waves of confusion, and, it seemed, elation – for her feelings, and their strength, surprised even herself – she managed to speak at last.
"Mr. Thornton, please do not think me…indifferent to your feelings. I…I have learned that things in Milton are not always as they appear, that I misjudged you. I have come to deeply regret the way I have spoken to you, especially after the riot. Please forgive me."
"Forgive you, Margaret? I cannot forgive what I do not resent."
Margaret raised her eyes to Mr. Thornton's. She could hardly believe his words or understand his gentle, loving tone of voice.
"You are no longer indifferent to me?" Mr. Thornton continued timidly. "Can you possibly return even a small measure of my feelings for you?" He waited for his heart to break afresh, too afraid to look at her.