"Miss Hale, I didn't just come here to thank you. I came...because...I think it...very likely—I know I've never found myself in this position before. It's...difficult to find the words... Miss Hale, my feelings for you are very strong—"

"Please, stop! Pray, please don't go any further!"

"Excuse me?"

"Please don't continue in that way; it's not the way of a gentleman."

"I'm well aware that—in your eyes, at least—I am not a gentleman, but I think I deserve to know why I am offensive."

"It offends me that you should speak to me as if it were your...duty to rescue my reputation!"

"I spoke to you about my feelings because I love you; I have no thought for your reputation!"

"You think that because you are rich, and my father is in...reduced circumstances, that you can have me for your possession. I suppose I should expect no less from someone in trade!"

"I don't want to possess you, I wish to marry you because I love you!"

Margaret sat, completely stunned. He really does love me. I can scarcely believe it! Mr. Thornton watched her warily, waiting for another outburst. But one never came. Margaret was lost in her memories and he was becoming worried.

Margaret's flashback

Two years before Margaret returned to Helstone

"Margaret, there's a man here to see you," Edith informed her. "He's one of the ones we met at the theater last week."

Margaret groaned. "Please tell me he's not a tradesman! They always speak so condescendingly to me and seem to think I should be grateful to them for their attention to me!"

Edith sighed and came over to her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I know it is hard on you, dear Margaret, but you need only endure him for fifteen minutes. Mother and I will be there with you. We will help make it bearable for you."

Margaret dragged herself downstairs, Edith chiding her to be more dignified and confident. "You won't be able to chase him away with your current attitude." Sighing, Margaret straightened her back and glided forward, determined to put the caller in his place.

"Miss Hale, how lovely to see you again!" Mr. Landon simpered before introducing his sister. Margaret groaned internally. How was she to endure fifteen minutes of this? Mr. Landon talked about his work for fifteen minutes, not giving them an opportunity to say anything, adding, "Oh, but of course you ladies could not possibly understand what I am talking about! Your minds are far too delicate and simple to comprehend such things!"

Margaret barely restrained herself, but her aunt gave her a sharp look and spoke before Margaret had the chance. "Then perhaps we should speak of something else, Mr. Landon, unless you wish to visit someone else who might perhaps understand?"

He looked perplexed for a moment, as if trying to decide if there was any malice or sneering in Mrs. Shaw's tone. Deciding there was none, he perked up and declared, "Why, that is a brilliant idea, Mrs. Shaw! Who ever would have thought a lady could think of something like that?!"

Miss Landon, his sister, had been sending apologetic glances to them throughout his monologue about his work. It was obvious to them that she had little choice or control. At the last comment of his, however, she frowned. "Honestly, Adam, have you no manners?!"

"Oh, quiet! Do you not recall that you are not to speak unless spoken to?" he scolded her. They then took their leave. Unfortunately for Mrs. Shaw, Edith, and especially Margaret, he was not the only simpering fool in trade to call on them—that day, and over the course of the next year, many more called on Margaret. A few of the bolder ones talked of marriage in their circles as the husband possessing the wife when they caught her alone and proposed to her. This is what had shaped Margaret's opinion of tradespeople. The callers stopped only when the Lennox brothers began to call on them.

End of flashback

When Mr. Thornton had begun spending time with her father, she had refused to like him. But she felt herself drawn to him. Her confusion had made her sharp whenever they disagreed. After the riot, however, she could no longer deny her feelings for him, but she feared she would only get hurt. That fear made her lash out at him, but here was the proof, along with his respect of her opinions, that showed he really did love her. It was a foreign concept to her, but she would keep him waiting no longer.

She spoke quietly. "Mr. Thornton, I...I apologize for my harshness." She looked up at him, willing him to understand, then dropped her gaze back to her hands before she continued on. Mr. Thornton still watched her warily, but slowly approached her. "When I was in London with my aunt and cousin, there were several...men who called on me over the course of a year. They were all tradesmen. Those that were not simpering or spoke only of themselves would always look at me pityingly if I contributed to the conversation, as if I had not been taught manners well enough, or could not possibly know of what I was speaking."

Margaret was near tears and Mr. Thornton, realizing she'd been wounded by these men, pulled over a chair and sat down beside her, gently taking her hands in his. Her grip was strong, but it gave her the needed strength to continue. "There were a few who came upon me when I was alone and proposed to me." She felt Mr. Thornton's grip tighten in agitation, causing her nearly to laugh at the thought that she might now need to give him comfort, but she sobered a moment later. "Obviously, I refused them. But...in their proposals, they spoke of...possessing me and how all tradesmen thought of their wives and daughters as possessions, even if they never expressed it."

"Oh, Margaret," Mr. Thornton breathed, unable to fathom the heartlessness that would have been required for them to hurt his Margaret. Then again, perhaps with people like Watson and Hamper, maybe it was a little easier to imagine. Wait, she's not my Margaret, yet! She hasn't yet agreed to marry me! But he sensed she was not yet done.

That simple statement was enough to reassure Margaret she had not made a mistake in telling Mr. Thornton all of this. He was a kind, understanding, compassionate man, although he did have a bit of a temper. And although, compared to the other mill owners, he was a kind and fair master, he needed more compassion for humanity in general. Perhaps she could show him that the workers were not so different from them. Maybe she should talk to him about it before agreeing to anything...

Taking a breath, she continued softly. "When we first met, I was determined to hate you. But then when you began spending time with my father and I listened to you—and then later to my father singing your praises or telling us one thing or another that you had said—," she added with a soft chuckle that warmed Mr. Thornton's heart, "I began feeling conflicted, and so I was harsh when I spoke to you. It...wasn't until last night, after the riot, that I finally understood and accepted what I was feeling."

Margaret decided to go for subtlety regarding the workers. "As I have learned, you can not decide if you like a person or not based on their social status, education, or wealth. It is their character, and that alone. Everyone is different, and sometimes we might think that a person with a certain social status is not worth our concern, or perhaps that they are beneath our notice, we should still take the chance to get to know them, because they just might be different from what we expected."

Mr. Thornton sighed. "You want me to take the chance to get to know some of my mill workers."

"Please," Margaret pleaded. "Just make the effort. They're not all bad."

He smiled at her softly. She has such a compassionate nature. Well, she was kind enough to give me a chance, however unwillingly it may have been, but I suppose I should make the effort to give each of my workers a chance. "All right, then. I'll make the effort." Margaret was so pleased that she felt like kissing him, although she managed to restrain herself. "I have another question for you," Mr. Thornton added. Margaret turned expectant eyes to him. "Will you marry me?"

Her eyes widened in surprise while he waited with baited breath. "Yes," she finally whispered.

So happy was he that he picked her up and spun her around, Margaret laughing once she overcame her shock at his actions. She placed her arms around his neck and hugged him close. He set her back down on the floor, but kept his arms around her waist while she kept her arms around his neck.

Tenderly stroking her cheek with his hand, he whispered, "My Margaret." Hugging her to him, he continued, "I am so sorry you had to deal with those men who tried to make you feel like no more than something to be possessed. You've remained strong and have held it in, but you do not need to face your struggles alone, anymore. I promise you that I will always be here for you. And I love you more than life itself," he promised.

Margaret sighed and leaned against him. "I love you, too," she replied.

Mr. Thornton's grip around her waist tightened, nearly unable to believe she had said those words. Pulling back some so that he could look at her, he asked, "Do you really?" At her shy nod, he did the only thing he could think to do. He kissed her passionately. Margaret moaned and at first, he thought she was displeased or upset. Then the next second, she had melted into him.

Suddenly, the door opened and they jumped apart. Mr. Hale stood there, unable to believe what he was seeing. "Margaret..." he began, only to trail off. He looked extremely disappointed.

Mr. Thornton and Margaret were flushed with embarrassment at what Mr. Hale had walked into. Margaret, knowing her father as well as she did, knew his disappointment was only because he did not know Mr. Thornton had asked for her hand in marriage and thought his pupil and friend was compromising his daughter. So, Margaret placed her hand in Mr. Thornton's and gave it an encouraging squeeze. The action was not missed by Mr. Hale, who relaxed a little.

"Mr. Hale, I would like to ask for your permission to marry your daughter," Mr. Thornton said nervously.

Mr. Hale stood there for a moment, letting his future son-in-law squirm a little, until Margaret sent him a reproving look. "I can think of no better man to give my beloved daughter to. Welcome to the family, John," he replied. Mr. Thornton breathed a sigh of relief before allowing himself to be hugged by Mr. Hale, who then turned to his daughter and hugged her before adding mischievously, "When Dixon told me that John was here and requesting to speak with you, I rushed here as soon as possible, thinking that you disliked him. However, I see you've been getting along with him quite well."

"Father!" Margaret cried, coloring in embarrassment because her father had walked in one them kissing. She also had not wanted Mr. Thornton to know that her family had misinterpreted her confusion for dislike, and that she had done nothing to change that belief.

Mr. Thornton merely chuckled. "I have to admit, sir, that I myself was uncertain as to whether or not she merely tolerated my presence. My mother, on the other hand, was quite certain of what Margaret's feelings were, and she encouraged me the moment I expressed doubt. It turns out she was right."

Mr. Hale smiled and left to tell his wife the news, while the newly engaged couple spoke quietly. Mr. Thornton slipped a simple, but beautiful ring on Margaret's finger, to tell all the world that she was his.

"It's lovely!" Margaret exclaimed.

"It was my mother's," Mr. Thornton explained quietly.

"Oh," Margaret breathed. Mr. Thornton was worried she wouldn't like it, but then she looked up at him with a smile. "I am honored to wear it, Mr. Thornton."

"John," he corrected instantly and so solemnly that Margaret couldn't help but laugh.

"John," she agreed, thinking it felt weird to call him that. But she knew she would get used to it. Eventually.

When it was obvious Mrs. Hale was dying, and Mrs. Hale asked Margaret to write a letter telling Frederick, Margaret sent off a letter to her brother, telling him of their mother's condition. When her father found out, he suggested telling Mr. Thornton. "But, Father! He's a magistrate! Surely he would turn Frederick over immediately."

"Now, Margaret," Mr. Hale soothed, "John is a fair man. I am sure if he knew what really happened, he would do his best to protect Frederick." Margaret continued to protest, but Mr. Hale was firm. They would tell Mr. Thornton when he visited in a few days.

When Mr. Thornton arrived, he greeted Margaret with a kiss. "I've been wanting to do that for the past few days," he told her once he had pulled away.

"Oh? You've been wanting to kiss anyone, or me in particular?" she teased.

He growled playfully and pulled her to him. "You in particular, silly. Actually," he admitted quietly, "I wanted to kiss from nearly the first moment I met you. You were so beautiful and regal, I wanted to fall down at your feet and beg you to let me kiss you."

Margaret smiled and pulled him down for another kiss before dancing away from him. "Come, John," she said lightly, "Father is waiting for us in the drawing room."

Mr. Thornton followed her down the hall and into the drawing room, where Mr. Hale and some tea sat waiting for them. Margaret began preparing the tea while Mr. Thornton and her father greeted each other. There was a moment of quiet as the tea was served and then Mr. Hale spoke up.

"John," Mr. Hale began, sending a glance full of uncertainty to Margaret, who smiled at him encouragingly, "there is something that Margaret and I need to tell you, seeing as you will be a part of this family soon."

Mr. Thornton had tensed up at the glance and Mr. Hale's words—thinking there might be some complication and he and Margaret would not be able to marry—until the second part of the sentence. "What is it?" he asked anxiously.

"First, I must ask that you will keep what we tell you to yourself, no matter what it might be that we tell you," Mr. Hale requested. At Mr. Thornton's nod of acquiescence, Mr. Hale continued hesitantly. He still needed more reassurance before he would put his son in danger. "Let me ask you something. If you knew someone who had done something that was perceived as wrong by the government, but was morally right, and the government was hunting them down what would you do?"

Mr. Thornton looked thoughtful for a moment. "My mother raised me a Christian, sir. She lives by the Bible and reads it every day. I would most certainly do what I could to protect the person; perhaps give them money so they might take refuge in another country." Sensing what had most likely prompted such a question, he added, "Even though I am a magistrate, if the person had done something morally correct, then I would protect them to the best of my ability."

Mr. Hale relaxed. "Then you must forgive me for not telling you this earlier. We do not speak of it amongst ourselves as it is, and it has just come to my attention again."

Mr. Thornton nodded his understanding, wondering with great curiosity what could possibly be weighing on his mentor's mind. He glanced over at Margaret and noticed that she was watching him carefully, but once his eyes met hers, she gave him a small, reassuring smile.

"I have a son who lives in Cadiz, in Spain" Mr. Hale began. He explained about the mutiny and the events leading up to it, then finished by explaining that Frederick would be coming so that he might see his mother one last time before she died.

"I remember hearing about that mutiny," Mr. Thornton replied slowly. "I recall thinking it most unfair that there were no trials for those who were caught. Someone had told me they had heard the reason behind the mutiny and I must admit I was never prouder of my fellow countrymen than when I found out that they had stood to protect those innocent children, regardless of the consequences. I will do everything I can to help protect your son and I will be proud to call him brother-in-law."

Margaret and Mr. Hale breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, John," Mr. Hale said. "I could tell my wife was getting a little anxious about how safe Frederick would be. Let me go tell her that there will be one more person helping protect our son."

Mr. Thornton and Margaret watched Mr. Hale walk out of the room and then Margaret ran across to where Mr. Thornton was sitting and threw her arms around him, tears of relief streaming down her face. "Thank you, John," she whispered.

Mr. Thornton pulled her close. "You don't really need to thank me, love, but you're welcome. I remember wondering who the family of the leader of the mutiny was, thinking they must be a good, strong family. Clearly, I was right. You know, the family of a few of the others quite abandoned them. I am glad that you did not abandon your brother."

"I would never!" Margaret exclaimed, sounding scandalized by the thought.

Mr. Thornton smiled softly. "Even if he had done something terrible?" he asked.

Margaret thought for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. "He is family. Even if he had done something wrong, it would not justify abandoning him." Mr. Thornton kissed her and then held her close until they heard footsteps in the hallway. Margaret reluctantly pulled away and returned to her seat just as Mr. Hale returned to the room. The rest of the visit went smoothly, with them discussing the wedding. They decided it would be by special license and they all prayed that Mrs. Hale would live to see her daughter get married. Frederick would be disguised, as well, so that he could see his sister's wedding, if he arrived in time.

Epilogue

Frederick did indeed arrive in time for the wedding and Mrs. Hale was pleased to see her daughter marry. Mr. Bell was there, as well, and gave them 15,000 pounds and the mill as a wedding gift. Bessie had survived long enough to see her friend marry and both Margaret and Mr. Thornton were at the girl's bedside the moment she died, along with Mary and Nicholas. Mr. Thornton had gotten to know Nicholas and the two became friends, working together to improve the lives of the mill workers.

Mrs. Thornton came to respect Margaret and soon loved her as if she had been her own daughter. Edith and Henry were disappointed, but they soon were content once they realized how happy Margaret was. Mrs. Shaw felt it a great disgrace that her niece had married a tradesman ("After all that fuss over the tradesmen who called on you in London, and you go and marry one anyway!"), but Captain Lennox was truly pleased for Margaret, glad she had found happiness with a man who clearly loved and respected her.

THE END :)