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Title: Sick of Shadows
Rating: this chapter PG, overall NC-17 for explicit sex
Length: this chapter 6 K, overall probably 110 K. 80 K written so far
Characters: Margaret Hale/John Thornton
Summary: Margaret and Mr. Thornton gradually get to know each other better. With conversation, balls, politics, and Fanny.
A/N: thank you to kleindog at C-19 for the initial beta a year ago; thank you to [personal profile] hl for the recent beta, and for being extraordinary and amazing

Constructive criticism is welcome.

Go to: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9? | Chapter 10? | Chapter 11? | Chapter 12?

Chapter Two

The next day, Mr Thornton had more business to attend at the mill. He bid his mother and wife good-bye, much as he had the previous day, and left the women to their own devices. That morning a few callers paid visits, ostensibly to congratulate the new Mrs Thornton on her marriage, but in reality to gawk.

The afternoon was the first time Margaret had to herself, and she spent it visiting her family at Crampton. Her mother had taken to her bed again, and as Mrs Thornton and Fanny could not very well crowd into the bedroom at the same time as Margaret, they did not go with Margaret on her visit.

Margaret found her mother in low spirits, but stable. Her father was anxious to assure himself that his daughter was faring well, so Margaret reassured him that she was. She also told him about her letter to Frederick, not knowing when he would come. Margaret wished now that she had not sent for him; she had not imagined that she would marry Mr Thornton when the letter was posted. Mr Hale warned her that the danger for Frederick was still very great indeed, although he was gladdened at the prospect of seeing his son. Margaret could only contemplate the difficulty of keeping Fred a secret from everybody.

On the way home , Margaret cut behind the Golden Dragon on her way to Marlborough Mills, meaning to pay a visit to Bessy. She was uncertain how she would be greeted by Nicholas, being now Mr Thornton’s wife, but when she arrived, the man had far greater concerns than her matrimonial affiliation. Bessy had died that morning.

Nicholas was in a state of half-denial, and Mary’s eyes were pink from crying. Well aware that her own grief could be nothing to theirs, Margaret repressed her emotion as best as she could. Pushing the ache of her sore heart down, she clamped her jaw whenever she felt tears threaten. Instead, she sought the best ways to comfort this family, for whom she still cared deeply. They needed help, not her sorrow.

Her help entailed convincing Nicholas not to go out, for Margaret knew only further grief could come from that. At last she lit upon the idea of sending Nicholas to converse with her father. As Mr Hale was a man towards whom Nicholas felt kindly, and Mr Hale had much experience in his past as a parson comforting bereaved families, Margaret felt they might do each other some good. Nicholas, after some turmoil, at last agreed.

Wishing mightily that she could go with Nicholas instead, Margaret knew her first duty now lay elsewhere. With a heavy heart, she returned to Marlborough Mills just before Mr Thornton arrived for supper.

At the meal Margaret was quiet, and had little appetite. She kept thinking of her friend, the first and best—and in some respects, only—friend she had had in Milton. Still, she could not cry. All too aware of her new position in this household, Margaret did not wish to seem ungrateful by pleading sickness or leaving the table early.

Fanny attempted to revive their discourse from the night previous, and regaled her brother with tales of the guests they had entertained that morning. But when Margaret contributed little to the conversation, Fanny drifted into an offended silence, and glared sullenly at her food. Mrs Thornton and her son seemed no more inclined to speech than they had the previous evening. The dourness and gloom she had noticed then were no less present now, and Margaret was too wrapped up in her grief to worry if they found her own behaviour odd.

After supper, the party repaired to the drawing-room, and Fanny tried once again to engage Margaret with the dress patterns she had been showing her the previous night. Margaret tried to be polite, but felt such a strain that she could evince nothing which seemed like true interest. Fanny soon gave up. “There is far more interest in Mr Irving’s tales than could ever be found here,” Fanny said pointedly, as if to chasten them all, and flounced off.

Margaret sighed. Feeling that she needed to be away from these cold, silent people whom she had never liked and whom she did not know, she said, “I do not know about Mr Irving, but I think a book is more agreeable to me than cross-point at the moment.” She directed this comment toward Mrs Thornton, feeling a stab of guilt toward her husband. Surely she should have tried to be livelier or kinder to him, but it would have only been a ruse. She could not bring herself to do it. “If you pardon me, I will be in the library.”

The library, despite being rather too crammed with ornamentation, held a fine collection of books. Margaret pored over titles, which somewhat coincided with her father’s, feeling no particular interest in any of them. She did not know what good books—even had they been her father’s own precious books—could do when the memory of her friend’s laughter seemed so much more real.

She was thinking this when Mr Thornton came into the room. Lit only by the oil lamp, his face was cast in harsh angles and sharp relief.

“You are not well,” he told her, without preamble.

She did not dispute him, as he spoke the truth. But she was also in no mood to accept his scorn and dismissal of her friends, knowing as she did his opinion of Nicholas. He need not know of Bessy. “I shall improve,” she told him, lifting her chin. “It is only a passing indisposition.”

“You are ill?”

“I am well in body. At present, my spirits are dampened, but I shall recover soon.” She thought that she would recover more quickly if she were alone.

There was a long pause. She continued looking at the books, though no longer seeing them. As far as she knew, he continued gazing at her. She did not care.

When he spoke, it was with effort. “Has my mother given you any difficulties in your assuming control of the household?”

Startled by this suggestion, Margaret turned back to him. “No. I am perfectly capable of cooperating with your mother.”

He ignored this. “Does the house not please you? You find it difficult to manage?”

“I have not been mistress in a place so large, but I am well able to keep the affairs of a house,” she said tartly, annoyed by all these implications.

“Then is it the fact of our marriage that has depressed you? I have offended you in some way, or you are embarrassed by me. The idea of being married to me, born with neither land nor the manner of a—”

She could not listen any more. “You think that I am moping? What could that possibly serve? That I should stamp my foot like a spoiled child and go about demanding things be different than they are would change nothing. I assure you, Mr Thornton, I am well able to accept the terms of my own condition!”

His expression hardened. “I understand, Mrs Thornton. Your condition must be abhorrent indeed.”

She opened her mouth to protest.

He did not let her. “I am sorry to have trespassed upon your time.”

She only realized then that he had been trying to ask her what was wrong. Regret tugged at her. For the first time that day, her eyes stung. “Mr Thornton,” she said, and went after him.

He paused at the door.

“I—my friend–Bessy Higgins.” Margaret struggled to keep her voice steady. “She died this morning. I only just found out before supper.”

He slowly turned to her. “I am sorry.”

“I know what you think of her father.”

His voice was far kinder than it had been a minute ago. “That makes no difference.”

She nodded and at last dipped her chin. Unable to cry, having no one in whom she could seek comfort, she felt so heavy. A weight felt as though it were settled on her shoulders.

He made a move as if to come toward her. She turned away.

“Can I be of assistance?” he asked.

“No.” Margaret shook her head. “They have enough to live on, and are too proud for charity, regardless.”

“I would have thought as much. I spoke of you. Allow me to help.” He came closer. His voice was rough.

“No,” Margaret said again. “There is nothing to do. She is dead, and we go on alone.”

He reached out. She jerked her head up to look at him. Something in her face must have stayed him, for his hand stopped mid-motion. The concern in his face somehow made everything worse.

Margaret spoke quickly, feeling as if any moment all this monumental control she exerted to contain her grief would break. “Would it seem terribly—would I be an ungenerous wife if I was to say good-night now? I wish to be alone.”

Mr Thornton’s hand fell. “This is your home. You may say good-night whenever you wish.”

“Thank you.” She turned to go. He had given his permission, yet with him standing there so still as she brushed by, she felt ungenerous. Then she remembered, and rallied her defences. “Goodnight, John,” she said, and extended her hand.

After a moment’s hesitation, his warm, strong hand enveloped hers. “Margaret,” he said, her name a shallow husk of a word on his lips.

Then he let her go, and stood back. “You had better go.”

Not quite knowing why, Margaret lingered. “Give my good-night to your mother.”

“Yes,” he told her, and she went.

*

Mr Thornton was attentive the next morning, and Margaret was grateful for it. Not only was he polite, she thought that he was genuinely concerned.

Margaret felt much better. She had expected Bessy’s death, and had long been making herself ready to bear it. This did not lessen her grief, but made her more able to control it, now that she had had the night to get used to it. Seeing that Margaret was not struck down with sorrow—was indeed, not exhibiting any of it—Mr Thornton found his concern put to little use. Shortly after breakfast, he excused himself to the mill.

That afternoon, Margaret went to call on her family again, bringing Nicholas and Mary with her so that Nicholas would not bethink himself the expedient of drink.

Nicholas directed his sorrow and anger at the masters. He claimed he had not forgotten “who was lying at home,” and how much Bessy had loved Margaret, but Nicholas felt that the strike and its violent end had been Bessy’s final disappointment. He was also angry at Boucher, and went on to speak of the “ways and means” his union had of punishing Boucher.

Margaret did not like the sound of these “ways and means,” and questioned him. Nicholas’s response made him sound no better than his own descriptions of the masters’ injustice. His vehemence made Margaret concerned both for him and Boucher. She worried that Nicholas was consumed by his own grief, and that Boucher would suffer for it.

But there was nothing Margaret could do. Nicholas would not hear reason, and Margaret had no power to convince him otherwise. Nor did she have the time, for she soon had to return to Marlborough Mills.

Supper with her husband and his mother and sister was less oppressive than the night before, but Margaret was still pensive, thinking of Nicholas and Boucher and the troubles that plagued both men. Mr Thornton asked after her health more than once, but she assured him of her wellness. He could do naught but accept this, she thought.

He must have, for after supper, he explained that he still had business at the mill. He told his mother not to wait up for him, and bid Margaret good night. Once he was gone, Fanny, still sulking over Margaret’s distanced treatment of her, excused herself to her music room.

Mrs Thornton remained quietly sewing by the fire, but Margaret knew the woman had been harbouring disapproval of her since her disappearance last night. Margaret knew she should be concerned by this, but she could not help being more concerned about the workers’ union and Boucher’s family. Her own concerns—even her marriage to a man she was so distanced from, and his disapproving mother—seemed trivial in comparison.

Still, she could not help thinking that the very issues which consumed her interest—Boucher’s troubles and the union—had resulted in her own current circumstances. It had been her defence of Mr Thornton from Boucher that had caused such an uproar. At the time, she had considered herself a third party—not disinterested, perhaps, but certainly not directly involved. And yet now, she was more tangled in it than she could ever have imagined herself. Mr Thornton, the very man with whom she had disagreed so often concerning the workers, was now her husband.

Margaret wished she could discuss with someone all that she had felt this afternoon: her pity for the man’s family, her worry for what Nicholas might do, her anxiety over the uneasy peace that had fallen between masters and workers, and her sorrow over Bessy. She had no one with whom to discuss these things. She knew her husband could have no sympathy for her feelings, that he could care less over Nicholas’s and Boucher’s fate.

And yet, he was by no means disinterested in other issues she struggled to understand. More than anyone else besides Nicholas and Boucher, Mr Thornton had a strong stake in all of the union’s actions, even if his was the opposite point of view. And this, in Margaret’s opinion, was better than nothing. If she could not have a discussion of sensibilities, she would have to settle for a discussion of sense.

“It is late,” announced Mrs Thornton, when the clock struck ten.

“Please do not stay up on my account,” Margaret told her.

Mrs Thornton gave her a measuring look. “You are staying up for John.”

When Margaret nodded, Mrs Thornton gave her an approving look. Margaret felt a twinge of guilt. She knew that Mrs Thornton thought her earlier wanness, and her premature retirement last night, were because she was sulking over the circumstances of her marriage. Mrs Thornton had little tolerance for this callow behaviour—except in her own daughter—and moreover could not understand why anyone should sulk over the high privilege of marrying her son.

Mrs Thornton must think now that Margaret was making some sort of amends, that she was waiting for Mr Thornton out of sentiment or out of duty as his wife. How put out Mrs Thornton would be if she knew Margaret only stayed up for him because she wanted to discuss matters of social politics!

But Mrs Thornton did not know this, and bid Margaret goodnight rather more graciously than she had done so far. Margaret said her goodnight also, and set to wait with her book by the fire.

*

It was very late when the drawing-room door clicked.

“I told you not to wait,” said a soft voice from the shadows.

“Mr Thornton!” Margaret started, and found that the fire had gone low. The room was quite cold.

“Margaret!” Mr Thornton exclaimed, coming around to the front of her chair, equally surprised. “Peter only told me that Mrs Thornton . . .” His voice trailed off. He had thought she was his mother.

“I must have fallen asleep.” Margaret tried to shake her dreams from her, embarrassed.

“Why are you here?” He sat down close to her, on the foot rest across from her seat. He had on only shirt-sleeves and waistcoat. Of course, that made sense: late in the evening in his own home, he would have no need of coat or cravat. Yet she had never seen him in such dishevelment, and to her sleep-soaked eyes it was all the more startling.

“Forgive me,” she said, struggling to sit up in a more lady-like position.

“Why are you here?”

At last she focused on him. There was a ghost of a smile curving his mouth. “I wanted to talk to you,” she blurted.

Instead of seeming surprised, he nodded, still smiling. Standing, he said, “Let us go up. Peter has already lit the fire in my room.”

Her heart hammered in my chest. “I thought we might talk here.”

“In the cold?” He raised his brows.

“It only needs another log.”

For a moment, he looked down at her, his long, sharp nose an imposing angle, though his eyes held no reproach. “I have already told you that you are in no danger from me,” he said quietly. “I know that you only want to talk. In my room it is warm and comfortable. I have had a long day, and am tired. Will not you come up with me? You are tired, too.”

“Yes.” It was awkward for her, to accept an invitation to a man’s room. She had to remind herself that he was not supposed to be a stranger. The man was her husband, and she had been to his room before. “I—thank you.”

He followed her upstairs.

In the sitting area of Mr Thornton’s room, Peter had indeed lit the fire. Mr Thornton had been right. It was close in here, and the chairs were soft—considerably more comfortable than the drafty drawing room. His rooms, she had noticed, were decidedly less ugly than the rest of the house.

They sat before the fire, where they had been seated the night of their marriage. “This is merry,” she told him, because the flames leaping at the hearth made pretty shadows dance against the richly upholstered chairs pulled up beside it.

“I hope that you should always feel welcome here,” Mr Thornton began. “If you need anything in the night,—I do not speak of marital duties—if you have questions or concerns, you only need open the door and walk through it. Your rooms are your own. I will never enter them without your express permission. But if I am working of an evening, you are free to enter. You need not wait in the cold drawing-room if you want to talk. I would not find your presence an imposition, if you were here when I returned.”

In fact, there was something in his voice that seemed to say he would find her presence quite the opposite.

“Thank you,” she said. “You are most kind.”

He drew back. “I do not offer to be kind. I only know that we are not used to each other; you are not yet at home in this house. I want you to have a place where you know you will have privacy, and another place where you will feel free to confide in someone.”

Margaret wondered what he thought kindness was.

She felt another pang of guilt, remembering the night before: how he had followed her into the library, and asked after her welfare. She had told him they might be friends, but he was the one who had so far made efforts to understand her feelings. When she considered what he had asked about her having problems with his mother—how such a question must have hurt his pride to ask her, when he cared for his mother so strongly, and believed Mrs Thornton to be unassailable! Merely the acceptance that his mother could clash with a new mistress of Marlborough Mills must have been a painful admission to him.

But Margaret had been wrapped in her own grief then, and had not realized the admissions Mr Thornton had been willing to make for her sake. She had only felt indignation at the idea that she could not manage that situation in her own way. Her pride too often got in the way where Mr Thornton was concerned.

“I meant to say you might enter this room or come to me that first night, when we talked,” Mr Thornton was saying. “I did plan on it.”

She smiled, thinking that he knew his own pride got in the way as well. “Yet we always end up speaking of something else.”

Mr Thornton was all politeness. “Speaking?”

“What would you call it, Mr Thornton?”

“Perhaps making declarations.” Then the teasing tone faded away, and he spoke with effort. “You must forgive me for speaking harshly that night.”

“No more harshly than I.”

“I did not intend to argue.”

She looked away, embarrassed by the subject of that conversation.

Mr Thornton looked toward the flames, and for a while the fire crackled between them. “Of what did you wish to speak to me, then?”

“Of the workers’ union.”

A shadow fell across his face. “You have further judgement of my handling of the strike?”

Of course he would assume she meant to accuse him. He did not do so without provocation, Margaret admitted to herself. She did not want an argument. “It is Nicholas Higgins,” she said. She described her conversation of that afternoon, Nicholas’s “ways and means,” and the union’s anger toward Mr Thornton for not pressing charges against Boucher.

Mr Thornton frowned. “Then you would have me press charges?”

“No!” Margaret sat back, horrified, only then realizing that she had leaned closer to Mr Thornton to describe the situation. “The poor man already has enough to suffer.”

“But he was the one who committed the violence.”

“But he did not mean to!”

Mr Thornton’s tone grew a little harder. “He meant to commit violence on someone.”

“I do not think he meant anything; he was in such a state. Boucher was unable to consider the consequences of his actions, unable to think, able only to act. The terror, self-loathing, and hunger, combined with the idiocy grown and perpetuated by an angry mob—these compelled his actions.”

“Then you think he holds no responsibility.”

“Of course he is responsible,” Margaret said. “Only he has more than paid for his action with the shame of it. And even were it not for the union, no master would hire him now. Considering his wife and children, that is far more punishment than cruelty from his fellows or the hammer of the law could mete out.”

Mr Thornton listened thoughtfully, his head tilted toward her. When he spoke, it was with that measured, rational tone she had heard him use to respond to his business colleagues and her father. “Naturally, I agree with you. This is why I have not pressed charges.” Margaret nodded, but Mr Thornton continued, “But have you taken into account Boucher’s personal damage to you?”

“It was nothing—a scrape on the head.”

“Perhaps,” Mr Thornton said. “But you saw him lift the rock. And because you saw him, you put yourself in front of me. Do you see now what I mean?”

“You are saying that his actions indirectly resulted in my disgrace,” Margaret said, “and my family’s. You may be right, but this disgrace was mitigated by our marriage. It has only been three days since we were married, but to hear everyone talk, what happened the day of the riot is now considered as if it were good joke.”

“Yes.” He looked at her intently. “If it had not been for Boucher, you would not have been married to me now.”

“That may be so.”

“You would be free of me. You would have nothing to do with me.”

“I am not being tortured,” she told him shortly.

Mr Thornton let it go. “Then you mean that you disagree with the union’s actions. You do not think they are justified in ostracising Boucher?”

“He is their man,” Margaret said, happily following Mr Thornton’s segue. “They should forgive him, and help him survive, now that he has nothing.”

“How are they to do that, when they themselves have suffered so much from the strike? You know that we masters are not accepting any of the strike leaders to work again.”

“I know.” Margaret nodded. “I do not mean the union must make a living for him. I only mean they must be generous with him, and understanding. They must try to help him—not materially, if that is impossible. Instead they must help him find work, or send him somewhere where he can find it himself.”

“If they help him, and he comes out no worse for wear, what then?”

It was interesting, having someone encourage her to look at all angles of the situation. It did not change her mind, but so few people Margaret knew encouraged such rational thinking. He went on, “Workers’ strikes will always be broken by men such as Boucher, because they know there will be no consequences for their actions.”

Surprised, Margaret asked, “Then you agree with the union?”

“I pay heed to my own business, and they pay heed to theirs,” said Mr Thornton, annoyed. “We always do, without concern for what the other is doing. But if I were a leader of a union, I would behave as your Nicholas Higgins. There must be consequences for one that acts against the group. Among masters, it is not so very different.”

Partially smiling at the irony, Margaret told him, “I told Nicholas that this afternoon.”

Mr Thornton raised a brow. “How did your Nicholas like that?”

“He did not like it at all.” Margaret laughed. “But he did not disagree.”

Mr Thornton looked thoughtful again. For the first time, she noticed that he also looked exhausted. He was sitting back in the deep chair, his arms on the rests and his hands hanging over the ends—large hands, with long fingers, still strong even in repose. It was a careless posture, far less studied than the way she had seen men sit most of her life, though everyone was less studied in Milton.

If it reminded her of anyone, it reminded her of Frederick, who was always free around her. The way he flung himself into chairs and the way he slouched up against doorways always made her feel that he was talking to one of his friends, and not to a woman. Only, that freedom in Fredrick was boyish, and Mr Thornton decidedly wasn’t that.

Quickly looking down, Margaret realized she was still in her evening dress, still prim and proper as could be. It must be the early hours of the morning. Bessy had died nearly forty-eight hours ago, now, she thought with a pang.

“What is your solution, then?” Mr Thornton asked suddenly.

“Pardon me?”

“If the union is to readmit Boucher into their midst, how does it prevent future violence and strike-breakers?” He smiled. “I am certain you have decided opinions on these matters.”

Margaret felt colour rise in her cheeks. “I am merely an observer, Mr Thornton. I cannot know the minds of the players.”

“I can offer you what I know. But do you think it would change your mind?”

“I also think the point of view of an impartial observer is sometimes the best one,” Margaret said. “I can see both sides as the players cannot. Can you not admit that there could be some benefit in that?”

“There could,” Mr Thornton said. “But it seems unlikely. As you said, an outsider cannot know the stakes involved, and so cannot understand.” Mr Thornton looked considering—a look she had seen him give her father, a speculative look. It was a look men gave each other, business partners and scholars. “That does not mean I would not take an outsider’s view point into account,” he said. “For instance, I would have yours.”

Margaret sighed. “I do not know what is to be done about Boucher. I do think if both sides took a little more time to know each other’s “stakes,” as you call them, then both sides could learn to understand. They should communicate with each other. The masters are not monsters—”

“Thank you.”

Margaret did not heed him; he was being stubborn. She continued, “And the workers are not idiots. The workers will try to understand, if there are no wages to be paid. They will also try to understand that once there are more orders, the masters will pay the wages, without withholding sums to selfish purpose.”

“It is a very pretty picture,” Mr Thornton said. “It will not work.”

“Why?” When he began to get his old look of annoyance, she went on forcefully, “You said you could offer me what you know. And like you, I feel that we may not agree, but if you have reasons, I am open to hearing them. Do not simply say that I could not understand because I am not involved.”

“I would not do that.” Mr Thornton inclined his head toward her. “Not with you.”

“Thank you.”

She thought for a moment that he might not say any more after that, that he had merely been humouring her. But then he slowly began to speak, and what he told her was the history of Milton’s cotton manufacturing. Some of what he said she knew; some was entirely new information. He told her of the days before the cotton gin and steam engines. He told her of the rise of masters and of workers.

He told her about acts of Parliament. He told her of the atrocities committed before these acts, of atrocities still committed. He told her of children under six years of age being made to work in the mills—not by masters, but by their own families. He told her of workers dying due to dangerous or faulty equipment, and masters hiding the accidents so they could keep running their cheap equipment.

His story seemed to favour neither masters nor workers, neither Parliament nor mill towns which sought more localized governing. His words were not poetic, nor were they pretty. But they were more honest than almost any words Margaret had ever heard, and they explained things most people dared not speak of in the company of women.

Margaret would not have thought she would be interested in such a story. She disdained of trade, and yet had found herself embroiled in the conflicts directly pertaining to it once she moved to Milton. If she was to help people like Nicholas and Boucher, she must know something of it. In spite of her former distaste, she found herself listening with a new and growing fascination.

Mr Thornton’s voice was deep, that low booming she remembered from the Thornton’s dinner party. Periodically he gestured—absent movements, a careless sweep of a broad palm with its long long fingers—as though to grasp something intangible.

He leaned in to put another log on the fire. The flames danced up to lick his face, his exposed neck, and his white collar, and to play against the thin fabric of his sleeves until he sat back, half shadowed once more.

“This might seem like a history lesson, but it is still going on,” he said. “This is why we cannot speak as men, as you would have us do. Lord knows I would like to,” he did not seem to notice his language, “but to them, I am not John Thornton. I am a long line of masters who have perpetrated injustice and cruelty. Even if I would like to know your Nicholas Higgins, I cannot. If he always thinks the same of me, I must needs think the same of him—that he is not Nicholas Higgins, but a hand. He and his union are determined to use strikes, the law, and by God, their very life’s blood, to keep masters “honest”, as they call it—when in reality it is to keep us as afraid of them as they are of us.”

He was frowning into the fire as he said this, an expression of disgust on his face. Once she might have interpreted this as disgust for the workers, but now she thought that it was disgust for the situation, along with sorrow, too.

He looked up. “I am sorry. This must be boring for you.”

“On the contrary.”

He scrubbed his face with his hand, and she remembered how weary he must be, they both must be. It was another thing she rarely saw a man do. It was too casual. Because it was such a natural, absent movement, it seemed to her intimate to watch.

“It is no fit conversation for a lady,” he said, sounding unhappy with himself.

She recalled the only time besides their wedding she had had a chance to see him interact with any ladies besides those related to him. He had not talked to the ladies at his annual dinner very much, and when he had, he had been quite formal in his address. She supposed that here was a man who was not so very often in mixed company, who was more used to speaking to his business compatriots than polite society. She wondered if that was why he had said he loved her, when he first proposed: she was one of the only ladies with whom he had spent significant portions of time.

She wondered if his feelings toward her had or would change when he realized she was not very much like many other ladies; she was not very interested in conversation that was thought fit for them.

And yet he had been open in this conversation. She did not know whether it was out of respect for her, or whether he had merely forgotten she was a woman. She could not read the answer in the tired lines of his face, in the frown creasing his brow.

“I am interested in it,” Margaret told him. “I do not know whether what you have said has affected my opinions in any significant ways. I will have to re-examine them, and determine what I think now.”

For a moment, the unhappy look melted. He looked surprised and gratified. “I confess I am interested in the result,” he said.

She stifled a yawn in response.

Chuckling, he stood and offered her his hand. She took it and stood. “You are tired,” he said.

“Yes.” Margaret yawned again. “Sarah will be abed. It seems ridiculous to wake her to change clothes now.”

There was a long pause, and then Mr Thornton let go of her hand. “If you require assistance, you must wake her.”

“I do not. I think it is equally ridiculous that a servant should help undress me when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself.”

“Then do not call her,” Mr Thornton said shortly, and went to bank the fire.

Mortified, Margaret wondered what had possessed her to mention her clothes in such a way, at such a late hour. Yet they had been having such a free discussion; it had seemed just as ridiculous to keep the aura of privacy around such practical matters. She could have been talking to Frederick, who used to tease her when Dixon had to help dress her hair, or Henry . . . .

She recalled that speaking freely to Henry had led to false assumptions on his part. She must watch her tongue, were she not to give Mr Thornton the wrong ideas. The next moment she remembered that it was Mr Thornton who had determined that they should not consummate their marriage, and had added the stipulation that she must love him in order to lie with him. She could have brought herself to lie with him for duty’s sake, and she considered that just. It was his own choice if he wished her to feel a thing she could not force.

“The fire should be lit in your room,” Mr Thornton told her. He no longer sounded snappish, only very weary. “Jane will have lit it before retiring, though now it will be low.”

“Yes.” Margaret walked over to stand beside him. “Thank you for our conversation,” she told him. “I was most interested.”

His eyes seemed to bore into her own. “You are welcome.”

“Goodnight, John.” She put out her hand.

He clasped it, and she remembered how those long fingers had looked against the firelight. “Margaret,” he said, and released her hand. He moved away, and she retired to her room.

Go to chapter 3

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Date: 2011-03-17 11:15 pm (UTC)
stultiloquentia: Campbells condensed primordial soup (Default)
From: [personal profile] stultiloquentia
This is so delicious! I loooove the whole conversation at the end -- the detail and care you put into it, the way it flows. Thanks for making it a rolling-around-in-ideas novel, not just a Margaret-and-John-have-sexual-tension novel. When they do fall in love, I'm going to believe in it because I got to listen to them learn to appreciate each other's minds. You make them so complex and vivid, with all their misunderstandings and snap assumptions and oh god, they're trying so hard, the darlings! ♥♥

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-18 06:21 am (UTC)
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
From: [personal profile] carmarthen
Mmmmm, so much thinky goodness and conversation.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-07 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oh my gosh, this is awesome! You have pictured them beautifully. I am in love with your John Thornton.

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It's Lion Turtles all the way down

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