CHAPTER 9

Both woke up with a start when there was a soft knock on the door.

"Mr. Thornton, Sir," they heard Betsy's anxious voice from outside, "Mrs. Thornton asks if you and Mrs. Thornton will attend dinner."

John had established the rule long since that the servants weren't allowed to burst into his private rooms after knocking, but had to wait outside since he called them in. So he gathered his wits and simply said nonchalantly "Of course, Betsy. Tell her we'll be downstairs in ten – ", he looked at his dishevelled wife, "or let's say twenty minutes."

"But", Betsy answered in a really uncomfortable manner, "dinner's been served for about a quarter of an hour."

John repeatedly cursed himself and managed only an "All right, tell her to start then – we'll join her immediately."

Margaret had already been getting up and started to dress herself, repeatedly swallowing for she feared to burst into tears. John felt her distress and it made him feel even more angry.

"Margaret", he addressed her in a very stern voice, "I'll not allow you to cry, do you hear me? I claim the right to do as I please in my own house and wish not to be interfered with by my mother or the servants." His voice grew softer. "I love you, you know I do. And you're my wife. Good gracious, I'd do just the same right again, for it was most wonderful." He stopped full short, seeing her fight with her petticoats and knowing for sure that she was crying by now. "You said so yourself!" He saw her shoulders heave and felt a complete idiot to have brought her to this. "Whatever – this was worth it, yes, that was just what you said. Or …" sounding afraid now, "did you change your mind? Didn't you want it too, love? Didn't you like it?"

She turned around, the tears trickling down her face, hurrying into his arms.

"You know that it is heaven. But …", her arms fell down helplessly, "I'll never be properly dressed in time. And I can't go downstairs like this. What am I to do? This is so impolite to your mother. And so stupid to give her reason to be angry with me!"

He nearly crushed her in his embrace.

"I'll not allow this to be turned into something bad. It's ours and ours alone and I will defend it." He kissed her hair. "I'm going to send for Betsy right now. I'm ready and will go downstairs and tell mother that you've been tired after the journey and fell asleep, that you're sorry and will join us immediately. And in, say fifteen minutes, I'll come and fetch you. You shall walk to dinner at my arm and never otherwise when I'm around. You're my wife and I'll be damned if I'm not allowed to be proud of you and to show you the respect you deserve. Do not look so stricken, love. Look at me the way you did before we fell asleep."

But she only hugged him once more and turned away to look for her dressing gown. Striding down the stairs he tried to summon as much dignity as he could muster, inwardly calling himself one utterly besotted fool and egotistical puppy. It had been his responsibility to take care of his wife, he and he alone had brought on this situation and her distress, how wonderful their hours of intimacy ever might have been. When he entered the dining room Mrs. Thornton had had time enough to prepare more than one spiteful little speech, but one look in her son's face taught her better of it. They must have had quarrelled, indeed quarrelled on their first day at home, for why should he otherwise be so angry and come to the table without this accursed woman.

"Good evening, mother. Excuse us for being late. Margaret was tired after the journey and fell asleep and I didn't wake her in time. She'll be right here."

"Well, you're not her maid, are you? Why should you …" Mrs. Thornton began to talk against her own better judgement. The next instance she had her son coming down on her in an almost frightening way.

"Mother!" his voice trembled with anger. "Will you stop interfering and do so immediately! I never should have thought that I'd ever be forced to talk to you in this way, but your behaviour is inacceptable. Inacceptable!" Now he spoke very slowly. "I do no longer care if you approve of my wife! Because whatever she may do or may not do, your mind is set against her and you will always find fault with her. She did wrong to me, well, so did I to her! I love Margaret more than anything in the world, and so does she love me. I always thought that you were concerned for my happiness. But now I start to feel that you're only concerned for your own. For I am happy, mother, more than happy, and I will not allow you to spoil the best days of my life. If you really want to see me happy, make do with Margaret and find her to be the dear dear girl she is. When I left her she cried because of the reception you gave her. I will not tolerate this, do understand that once and for all! And now I'm going to fetch her, so you'll have some quiet minutes to muse about your decisions. And send the meal back in the kitchen – I don't fancy cold potatoes and roastbeef."

These harsh words hadn't helped John in soothing his anger and he shoved his chair back so brusquely that it nearly fell over. He left the room and sighed, thinking of what might be waiting for him in Margaret's dressing room. He knocked softly and went in when he heard her soft voice calling his name. There she sat in front of her dresser, smiling at him, but how wretchedly. It turned his heart over. Betsy stepped back from her mistress, never the less looking very satisfied, and couldn't help herself addressing her master

"T' mistress is looking so beautiful, isn't she?!" Involuntary John smiled a crooked smile. "Indeed she is, Betsy. Most beautiful!"

And with this he ceremonially moved to Margaret and bade her his arm.

"And she looking so cute, she was, and 'im, looking at 'er and 'olding out 'is arm, such a gentleman the master is with 'er, I couldn't believe me own eyes, I couldn't. And then …" and here she paused dramatically, "'e kissed 'er 'and, 'e did, and right before me eyes. I didn't know where to take 'm, you believe me. Well", her eyes closed dreamily, "they married for luve, didn't they?"

Those were her words to many an interested ear later in the kitchen, the housemaids giggling and poking their ribs.

Margaret knew nothing of this when she reached out her hand and felt his tender kiss. Her eyes shone bright after her tears and her cheeks had a rosy tinge from their afternoon of love. She wore one of her elegant new dresses from her trosseau and looked really beautifully, but not as calm and serene as usual, and he only wished he could wipe the last half hour from her mind. With a wave of his hand John dismissed Betsy from the room.

"Forgive me, Margaret. I should have known better, as a matter of fact, I knew better all along". He pulled her in his arms and rested his head on her hair to hide the tears of anger and despair that had stolen into his eyes. "Forgive the way I spoke to you, about my house and my wife. This is us. This concerns us, not me alone. But let me comfort you. No one knows the reason why we're late, Margaret, you overslept after a long and tiresome journey, that's all. I'm sorry for it and all the more because it distresses you so much and I will take good care not to let such a thing happen again. But please, love, please, let this not touch what happened between us, for I swear that I will never ever forget it, never in all my life. Can you forgive me"?

Margaret heard his voice quaver and it gave her a pang of pain. What did she care for this haughty woman sitting downstairs and glaring at her? Nothing, nothing at all. She gently stroked his hair and his face, pulling it down to her.

"No John, you forgive me! I behaved like a fool and I'm sorry for it. We talked about finding our own way, and we did so every day of the last week. Whatever happened, we chose to do so, you and me and I will not and never ever repent it. You're right, we did nothing wrong but to be late for dinner and I will not blush for it, I promise. Let's go downstairs and see Mrs. Thornton."

"I'm not sure if we will, for we had rather unpleasant talk. Do not look so stricken again, love. I spoke my mind as I thought it necessary and she's used to that. Maybe I should have done so all along before our marriage day. Let's just have dinner."

Meanwhile they had reached the dining room, always on the lookout for curious servants. Quickly he bent forwards and kissed her sweet lips.

"In we go, my rosebud lips", he whispered and opened the door.

Keeping her at his arm by laying his hand on hers he led her to her chair. Indeed his mother was still sitting at her place, staring at their rather ceremonial entry.

"Good evening, Mrs. Thornton. I'm very sorry to be so late and to have disturbed your dinner. Please forgive me. I was so tired after the journey, I should have told Betsy to call me in time."

Mrs. Thornton looked at her with a blank expression.

"Well", she gathered her wits, "you must have been very tired indeed. I'll call for the food immediately; you must be very hungry too. John, pull the bell, please."

A few moments later dinner was served for the second time at this evening and although the potatoes had been roasted to reheat them the young couple thought it a most wonderful meal.

Especially John felt nearly famished and when Mrs. Thornton saw them eating so heartily she announced "Well, the sea air obviously did your appetite some good, too.", causing Margaret to blush although she had so decidedly told that she wouldn't.

John's mouth twisted when he saw this and he thought about her mockery about him having worked hard for his breakfast. Well, he had always thought about himself as a hard working man, but never the less he'd never felt such wolfish hunger or – to talk of that – literally shaking legs in the evening. Involuntary he shook his head. Nobody ever had told him about this perils of the married state.

Meanwhile Margaret had started to make polite conversation to her mother in law. She asked for their acquaintances and how Mrs. Thornton had passed the last week and John's mother answered not enthusiastically but not unfriendly too. Soon their talk went on about the next day, the reopening of the mill and the things to do. This was a topic all three of them had something or the other to say about and so dinner went by rather pleasantly and they found themselves facing their dessert in no time. As Mrs. Thornton always had been an early riser she fixed the time for next morning's breakfast and then excused herself, retiring to her room and searching the peace of slumber. Many thoughts raced through her head, above all about the unexpectedly pleasant dinner, and many of those she didn't like to dwell upon. So she resolutely closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep in an instant.

So Margaret and John – against all odds - found themselves sovereigns of the living room at a still early hour and happily took in their old place on the sofa. This brought on many still fresh memories and Margaret recalled minutely how she had felt the last time she had been sitting on this same sofa with John. When he rose again to pour himself his glass of brandy she thought his movements a bit awkward and his steps towards the small refreshment table kind of … gingerly. So she stayed in her corner after he'd let himself plunge down again and watched his face for traces of pain.

"You're not well, love?" she asked at least.

Now it was his turn to blush. "Very well, thank you. But …" his lips crooked into a mischievous smile "it seems we need to practise more often to get my limbs used to such endeavours as today."

Of course his wife went crimson in an instant, but she hid it well in sliding from the sofa and kneeling down to open his shoes.

"Let's put those poor misused legs up then" she said, turning his limbs on where she had sat right before and stuffing a cushion in his back, "and give them some rest."

Then she lifted his feet up, sat down and cradled them in her lap. John's first reaction was to protest against such treatment but then he felt her small hand sliding into one leg of his trousers and stroking his bare skin, her head cocked a bit to one side watching his expression.

She spoke before he could: "Once I surprised my parents sitting like that, my mother's feet on my father's lap, just talking. They were so embarrassed, but to me it has always been a very vivid picture of the strong bond between them. They seemed so relaxed – at least till they saw me … and as we don't have curious little girls around yet …"

He smiled and she bowed towards him to touch his cheek.

"Dearest …" her voice trailed off. "But speaking of little ones – I shall go and see Mary tomorrow and hopefully the little Butcher's too. When will you reopen the cantina? Shall I ask Mary about it?"

"Well, the cantina was a success for sure. I never before talked to my men so much – and they to me, as it were. I hope we could go on with it, but let's wait till we see how things work out."

"Do you question your success? Are you uncomfortable about it? Why so?"

John winced inwardly.

"Because it's your money I risk", he thought, but was wise enough not to say so aloud.

When he had mentioned his scruples for the first time Margaret had become really upset.

"Wouldn't you've had me without this money? When you first asked me I had none. Well, I was stupid enough to have rejected you then, but should I have accepted I never would have thought about your money! Didn't you say 'I do' to the part with the worldly possessions too?"

He didn't want to indulge in this matter.

"Cotton is such a young industry. Things have to sort themselves out and running a business like this will always be a risk. Otherwise …" he paused for the shortest time "I wouldn't have failed the last time. You see for yourself the ups and downs in the stock markets, enterprises we judged to be successful for sure ended up as sad miscalculations. And with them the fortune of many a master."

His cheeks had flushed and he took a sip of his brandy to calm himself. He'd always comforted himself with the thought that the failure of his business hadn't been by his own making. Clients not paying their bills, business partners not buying the promised amount of cotton, the strike ... Things had summed up badly and he hadn't had the capital to hold out just for the little while it would have taken him to make the mill survive. True, Margaret's money was more than enough to hold out in circumstances much more difficult and he didn't earnestly doubt his abilities to successfully run a mill. But he was sure he'd hear more than one sliding comment on his fortunate marriage, and the more he felt how utterly and helplessly he loved her, the angrier this thought made him. By god, he would have married this woman right out of the poor house and it wouldn't have dashed his pride. But to have his devotion questioned because of her fortune … he'd have to be careful with his temper. Again she silently watched his face and when he reached out to let her sip from hiss glass she slightly shook her head.

"May I kiss some from your lips?" she then asked.

He obliged with pleasure and she smelled his sweet breath when their mouths met. Quickly her little tounge shot out and wandered once around his lips.

"You taste good" she announced, leaning back into her corner.

"And …?" he asked after a while.

"And nothing", she smiled. "You taste good. You smell good. You … feel good. But I felt drawn to you before I could find out all that, remember? I felt drawn to you because I simply knew that you WERE good, even when I'd set my mind in thinking bad of you. I knew that you wouldn't partake in the speculation. I know now that you'll not jeopardize your money, or the welfare of your men. As far as it's up to you, you'll succeed, John. And as far as it's not up to you – well, it's up to God. I'll be proud to see you back in your office tomorrow, because it's the place where you belong – so don't you start fretting."

John smiled rather ruefully, feeling distinctly like his mother had been coming down on him.

"Speaking of places where on belongs" he said, eager to change the topic and keeping his tone light, "at this time of day you belong on my knees for sure!" and speaking so he swung his legs to the floor and pulled her close. Margaret took her seat there most willingly, sliding both arms around his neck and pressing her mouth on his sensible skin.

"Dearest …." she whispered again, her hands tousling his hair.

He looked so young and boyish then and she wished to tousle his dark thoughts away too.

"Let's go to bed now. You'll need your sleep for tomorrow, don't you think?"

"You're probably right" he sighed and she slipped from his knees and started to wander through the room, extinguishing the candles.

John took his shoes in one hand, rustled in the grate and waited at the door for Margaret who brought the candle with her. He closed the door, took her hand and led her upstairs

And here, my dear friends, this story is told, I'm afraid. As you have noticed for sure my topic of interest is the relationship of the happy young couple, how it develops and how both feel with that. I hope that you find my development of characters not only interesting but as well comprehensible; be assured that I tried very hard to show the reasons and motives why things at least worked out like they did. Of course I hope that you enjoied sharing some of the pleasantness of the married state too – it is a thin line between being erotic and being tactless and rude and I do hope I hit the right note in my descriptions. In my opinion their love only could be a passionate one, given their characters, but a very sweet one as well, and if you at this point feel the same I should be rather proud and happy. I tried to give the newly weds at least some moments of humour, especially John whom I imagine to be simply irresistible when joking! To be honest I trusted in Dorothy Sayers who wrote "Love always should make her bed with laughter …" (Sayers, Dorothy: Busman's Honeymoon), a fact I believe to be more than true in literature as well as in real life!

As I'm a woman this story obviously is a bit on the "John-side", a fact never intended and fought against when I realised it. But although the greater part is told from his POV I think Margaret nevertheless proved to be the strong, spirited and – for her time – liberated woman Mrs. Gaskell first introduced to us. So, I hope this story works for you – it sure does for me and wirting it had been a great pasttime.