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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 Three

Over the next week, Margaret’s days settled into a routine.

In the mornings, Margaret took breakfast with her husband and Mrs Thornton. Mr Thornton rose early in order to have enough daylight hours at the mill, Mrs Thornton had no doubt developed the habit from the long years when her son had worked to support them all, and the Hales had always risen early in the country. At Marlborough Mills, it was only Fanny who did not deign to rise before eight.

Margaret grew more used to Mrs Thornton and his son during their morning meal. Teatime was all for Fanny and supper time was more Fanny. But during breakfast, without Fanny's incessant chatter, Margaret felt she came to know her husband and his mother a little better. She did not feel as though she became privy to their inmost thoughts—discussion at breakfast was primarily topical—but Margaret became used to their manner of expressing themselves, and even grew to admire it.

These quiet morning were all much more like what Margaret was used to than the elaborate meals served in the stilted dining room. The breakfast room was the airiest room in the house; the furnishings were simplistic, the meals light.

“I like these breakfasts,” she told Mr Thornton one morning. “They remind me of meals we took at Helstone.” Those had been easier times, when every day had been quiet and calm, full of the simple, routine tasks that filled one's day.

Mr Thornton’s eyes seemed to soften.

“It does not seem to me as though they would be similar,” Mrs Thornton said. “For one thing, there would not be the sound of looms going in the South. No doubt there would be birds chirping and . . .” Mrs Thornton seemed at a loss to determine what could be as insipid as the chirping of birds, and then went on, “sheep.”

Margaret hid a smile. “There were not many sheep in the vicinity of Helstone, Mrs Thornton,” she said, “though one might often be awakened by a cock’s crow in the morning.”

Mrs Thornton gave her a look as if to say, “You see?” Instead she said, “In Milton, by the time the cocks awake, their crows are already drowned out by the sounds of industry.”

Mr Thornton was not paying attention to his mother, Margaret thought. “Why does breakfast here remind you of Helstone?” he asked.

“I was thinking that it is quiet,” Margaret said, smiling ruefully. “I forgot about the ‘sounds of industry.’ At Helstone, the meals were always very simple. We sat together, as a family. It—” She cut herself off when she realized that Mr Thornton was looking at her in that way again. While she was not adverse to his pleasure, she had not meant anything at all intimate in her statement. That he should so interpret it made her uncomfortable. Briefly, she thought of his feelings, and the obligation in their marriage she could not fulfil. “I liked it,” she concluded.

There was a silence, and then Mrs Thornton said stiffly, “If you dislike the lunch-time or the supper meals, you must speak to Cook. I am sure we can find something simple to suit you.”

Margaret looked down at her fruit and toast and repressed a sigh. “I did not mean other meals did not suit me,” she said. When she looked again, Mr Thornton seemed preoccupied by his porridge, and did not look back at her.

Mr Thornton and his mother were quiet people, but most of the time, the quiet was not uncomfortable. This was the silence of people who did not always need to hear themselves speaking, of people who spoke straightforwardly when a thing needed to be said, instead of circumnavigating delicate subjects.

Often Mrs Thornton spoke of the mill—not of workers and unions, or the things that particularly interested Margaret, but of day-to-day business: how much of an order was filled, the rate of production, the quality of an overseer, the investment of capital. Sometimes Mrs Thornton spoke of Milton society, but this discussion never digressed into speculation on who was courting whom. She did not seem very interested in the gossip that so consumed Fanny, and she never spoke of the weather.

Mr Thornton answered his mother’s questions regarding his business with frank and full disclosure. He never seemed inclined to hide any of his business affairs, either from his mother or his wife, nor did he rebuff Mrs Thornton’s opinions on the grounds of her sex or relation to him. He spoke freely, as though they both had the capacity to understand what concerned him.

At first, Margaret listened to these conversations with concealed distaste. She had always claimed never to be interested in business or trade. Such discussion over breakfast seemed to her vulgar. However, as one day passed to the next, she realized that these conversations, just like her conversation with Mr Thornton regarding the institution of cotton trade, could teach her much about the plights of men like Nicholas and Boucher.

This was her opportunity to be the impartial observer they had spoken of when she had asked Mr Thornton about Boucher. Perhaps the better she listened, the better she would learn Milton ways, and the more she could help poor souls like him, or even Bessy.

Once Margaret was resigned to listening to these conversations, she found her interest growing, until she was actually looking forward to them. She sat with such silent attention that one might have been hard pressed to determine whether she was listening at all. Yet Margaret absorbed everything, learning more than she had ever known about the running of a business, and all that a master must do to remain prosperous.

Slowly, Margaret grew impressed by Mr Thornton’s authority in business situations, and his grasp of so many details. She often thought of this in the context of his story regarding Milton’s cotton industry; he seemed to her integral to that story now. But Margaret marvelled also at Mrs Thornton’s obvious understanding of so much of this profession. Margaret felt certain that had Mrs Thornton run her own mill, she would be as successful as or more so than her son.

What impressed Margaret most of all, however, was the open discourse between the two of them. Mr Thornton did not exactly impart trade secrets, and Mrs Thornton did not act as though she had authority in running the mill. Yet they were so frank with each other, it reminded Margaret of the method of her father’s declaration of his decision to move them to Milton. She remembered how they never spoke of Frederick. Even the circumstances of Margaret’s own marriage—her disgrace in Milton society, the decision she had had to make to marry Mr Thornton—had seemed stifled by a strange, oppressive silence.

Margaret felt that she had wished for this openness that mother and son so obviously shared. She had wished for it without even being aware that it could exist.

Once breakfast was over, Mr Thornton went to the mill. He always bid his mother and Margaret farewell. He said Margaret’s name when he said goodbye, as he had that first morning, and brushed her cheek with what she came to believe must be his lips, though it was barely a touch.

Sometimes he spent longer bidding his mother good-bye, inquiring after some mutual acquaintance, reminding her of some small thing, but with Margaret, his farewell was always brief. Yet it was always Margaret he looked at last, and sometimes she caught a strange, avid look in his eye. It was as if he was drinking her in before he left for the day, as if he did not want to forget her face, or thought she might be gone come evening.

After his departure, Mrs Thornton and Margaret busied themselves with household tasks, while Fanny arose and took breakfast. Margaret was still learning the ways of the household, and often used this time to get to know the servants. Though she was set upon not overhauling it immediately in respect for Mrs Thornton’s sentiments, Margaret was also changing her room little by little so that it became a place that suited her.

One thing that Mrs Thornton insisted upon was seeing that Margaret be measured for new dresses. Though Margaret had never been very interested in her apparel, she understood the need. Mr Thornton may be a manufacturer, but he was considerably wealthy. The grey and brown frocks, which had until now well suited Margaret, were unfashionable and dowdy in comparison to what Hannah Thornton thought a Mrs Thornton’s attire should be.

Mr Thornton should probably have felt the same way as his mother, had he been a London man, but he was not. Margaret suspected that he had as little care for what dress she wore as she had. Still, Mrs Thornton seemed to think he would mind, and like many ridiculous social necessities, Margaret submitted herself to the fittings and selection of fabric with grace. She must submit, if she were to have any control over the situation and not find herself costumed in something approximating Fanny’s magenta tartan.

The Thornton women stayed in for most of the first week, as many who had not come to the wedding had promised to call on Mr Thornton's new bride. Margaret remembered some of these visitors from the Thorntons’ annual dinner, but in this context they were significantly less interesting.

The men who came to call with their wives or sisters were constrained to speeches about things they thought interested the women. Neither Mr Thornton nor their colleagues were present in order for them to discuss business, which at the dinner had so fascinated Margaret. The forthright and blunt manner of Milton people was significantly less charming when restricted to comments on fashion, children, and who might get married next.

They spoke more freely of Margaret's wedding than Margaret had expected. Of course, the marriage must be acknowledged, but Margaret had thought the shameful circumstances of it would cause people to speak little of the wedding. Yet neither Mrs Thornton nor Fanny seemed to mind all this bluntness, and Margaret decided this was yet another thing to which Southern sensibilities made her sensitive. It must be more common, or not such a disgraceful thing, to be married in such quick order in the North.

Because Milton society seemed so much more open regarding an issue of disgrace than the society with which she was familiar, Margaret sometimes wondered what it would have been like had the incident at the riot happened anywhere else. She had resented Milton society for their rumours and gossip. She had thought there were more dignified people elsewhere who would have made an effort to understand the situation, instead of jumping to wild conclusions.

Yet when Margaret compared London society to this one, she found London society no more honest, and far more secretive. The disgrace surrounding her there might not have been so openly spoken of, but she would nevertheless have been disgraced, and that would have poisoned her associations with everyone she knew. Despite the rampant gossip before the marriage, the way that everyone in Milton was now so frank about what had happened led Margaret to believe that they’d forgiven or forgotten her perceived indiscretions. In London, she did not think everything would have been so simple.

On the other hand, Margaret could not imagine the situation at all in Helstone. She had only ever spent her childhood and summers there, and the few months before moving to Milton. It seemed too idyllic a place to unfairly condemn her for her actions during the riot, and yet she wondered whether she was perhaps being too idealistic.

In the early afternoon, Margaret and her in-laws took luncheon, either with company or without. While this was again held in the morning room, the simplicity of their surroundings was often forgotten amidst Fanny's observations of their recent visitors. Fanny’s conversations similarly filled the evening hours, when Mrs Thornton, Mr Thornton, Margaret, and Fanny retired to the drawing room after supper.

Besides gossip, Fanny only had two real topics of conversation: London and Mozambique.

“Do you like the Alhambra?” Margaret asked her one evening, recalling something Fanny had said to her on the first day of their acquaintance.

“From Tales of the Alhambra, yes,” agreed Fanny.

“But the Alhambra is in Spain,” Margaret pointed out. “You said once that you would like to go there, but now you speak only of London and Mozambique.”

Fanny just looked at her. “That was last month.”

“Does that mean you no longer wish to go there?”

For a while, Fanny was thoughtful. “Of the places I should like to go,” she began at last, “I most prefer Mozambique, then London, and third, the Alhambra.”

“This is important to know, should you be soon pressed to make a choice.”

“One never knows,” Fanny said, a little tartly. “It is not impossible.”

“Of course not.” Margaret regretted her joke. “London is but a train ride.”

“Indeed.” Fanny set her chin in a way that suddenly reminded Margaret of Mr Thornton. “I have told Mother often enough, and she will still not consent to let me go.” She glared stonily in the direction of Mrs Thornton, who sat darning and did not deign to notice her daughter’s pointed stare. After several seconds of this intense look, Fanny got bored of it, and shrugged. “But Spain is not so very far, either.”

“It feels far.” Margaret thought of the letter she had sent. “How long do you think it would be to get there?”

“Three weeks,” Fanny said promptly. “Good weather permitting.”

“Surely it must be more.” If Fanny were correct, Fredrick would have received her letter. Margaret had sent it the day of the riot; one month after the riot, she had been married. She had now been married one week, which meant they should hear from Frederick in one week’s time. It did not seem soon enough, and yet it seemed too soon.

“We shall consult the atlas,” announced Fanny. Her abrupt departure from the room brooked no dissent.

When she returned to the drawing room, Fanny held a large book. Though the book was modern, with sleek ink and detailed maps, the pages were well worn. Thinking of Fanny’s list of places she should like to go, Margaret thought that her list must have been reordered far more often than just this once to accommodate Mozambique and the Alhambra.

Mr Thornton watched this presentation of the atlas from his desk. He often worked there in the evenings, while his mother sewed.

“I know that John is not interested in the atlas,” Fanny said to Margaret, apparently having noticed her brother’s attention. “All he can think about is Milton.” And yet she turned to him.

Something ticked in Mr Thornton’s face. “Do not show her the whole thing,” he told Fanny quietly, and went back to his writing.

Fanny’s mouth tightened. “You see he is an old bore.”

Margaret would have liked to spend time reading, but Fanny was eager to talk, and the others did not seem much inclined to listen. During these times, Margaret often recalled her impression of Fanny that first evening of her marriage: her idea that Fanny must not have had many friends. Margaret wondered why, if Fanny had no one to speak to, her brother did not make more of an effort. Fanny had obviously wanted him to join them in looking at the atlas.

“I am willing to look at whatever you will show me, Fanny.” Margaret pointedly did not look at Mr Thornton while she said this, lest he find rebuke in her statement. Mr Thornton said nothing, and Fanny began to show her her favourite maps in the atlas. When Margaret chanced to glance up at him, he was engrossed by the ledger at his desk—most likely determined to ignore their inconsequential chatter, Margaret supposed.

“The Spanish Armada left from here,” Fanny pointed out. “You know, the Spanish Armada. Mr Irving mentions it in both Astoria and Captain Bonneville.”

“I do know the Armada,” Margaret said carefully, “though I have never read Astoria.”

“You have not?” Fanny seemed shocked. “It is a history of the finest quality.” When Margaret only nodded, Fanny seemed impatient. “Mr Poe reviewed it.”

“Mr Poe?” said Margaret.

“Mr Edgar Allan. Of ‘Annabelle Lee.’”

“I know of him,” was all Margaret could say.

“I like anything with poetry. I never read anything else.”

“Besides Mr Irving,” Margaret pointed out, since Tales of the Alhambra was not verse.

“Unless it is something with gypsies. I will consent to read about gypsies.”

Margaret did not know what to say. “I like novels about social problems. Have you read Charles Dickens?”

Mr Thornton was no longer writing. He was sitting back, his head tilted toward them as if to catch the drift of conversation, yet he did not seem inclined to join in. Margaret wondered at it, since in the company of her father, Mr Thornton had proven himself to be a great reader. Yet he did not turn towards them, and Margaret could only judge his mood by his profile. He seemed thoughtful, as though he contemplated something exceedingly pleasant. That contented reverie convinced her that his thoughts must be elsewhere, which discouraged Margaret from soliciting his opinions.

Mrs Thornton meanwhile continued sewing, likely as not having no interest in novels at all. Margaret could hardly imagine any book that might entice Mrs Thornton to read it. No doubt all she would have to say on Fordyce’s Sermons was that it would have been better written in Milton.

“Here is Granada,” Fanny said, having given Dickens all the contemplation she felt he deserved. She pointed to the map helpfully. “That is where the Alhambra is situated.”

Margaret obediently followed Fanny’s lead. “Near Cadiz.”

“Yes,” said Fanny. “Though Granada is far more exquisite.”

“What route would one take to Cadiz?”

“Mr Irving travelled by land from Seville, to travel the immense plains of the Castiles and of La Mancha. The country, you know, is of an Arabian character.”

“I did not know.”

“I have read,” Fanny told her. “Extensively.”

While Margaret had to cover her amusement, she did not need to feign her eager interest. “Tell me, then, what that country is like.”

Ever since Margaret had written to Frederick, she hoped for and feared his coming. Hearing of where he might be stirred her hopes and anxieties, yet in a way that was not as terrifying as considering his arrival. The turmoil was in its own way pleasant, because it reminded her of him.

“Would you rather hear about Mozambique?” Fanny asked. She began to turn the pages in the atlas, but Margaret stayed her hand.

“No. I prefer to hear about Cadiz.”

“Mozambique has mosques.” Fanny seemed to think mosques were all the rage.

“There are no mosques in the south of Spain?”

“You mean Andalusia. That is what the south of Spain is called.” Fanny seemed to think Andalusia was all the rage, too.

“Andalusia, then.”

“It is true that Mozambique is far more mysterious,” Fanny admitted. “We do not know as much about it as the Four Kingdoms of Andalusia.” She sounded as though she knew everything there was to know about the Four Kingdoms of Andalusia. She also sounded as though she was willing to tell Margaret everything there was to know about the Four Kingdoms of Andalusia, and delighted at the prospect.

“Then visions of Mozambique we shall have to forgo,” Margaret said, smiling.

“You will find Andalusia dull in comparison.” Fanny seemed very excited by the prospect of this dullness.

“I am sure you can tell me something interesting.”

“I suppose.” Fanny was attempting to feign reluctance, but by now she was so excited by the dullness of Andalusia, the pretence was perfectly transparent. Margaret concluded Fanny must have had no one with whom to share this fascination probably for all her life. Her mother and brother were so focused on what lay in Milton that it must have been hard for a girl growing up, imagining other lands. Margaret could not help but feel sympathy for her.

“The roads are very dangerous,” Fanny said. “One never travels anywhere without a caravan. How I long to ride in a caravan!”

“On an Arabian stallion?”

Fanny gave her a strange look. “On a mule,” she said, just exactly as if an Arabian stallion was an absurd notion if there was a mule to be had. “How I long for a mule! But if one is to ride a mule, one must contract a muleteer.”

Fanny seemed to think that muleteers were quite the most mysterious and amazing beings anywhere. “Muleteers wear an alforjas, you know,” Fanny went on, obviously having even less an idea than Margaret what an alforjas was, “and sing impromptu ballads of contrabandistas. Thieves are all romantic heroes, in Spain.” Fanny seemed to ardently wish smugglers were all romantic heroes in England, too.

Margaret was highly diverted. “What about those from whom contra—”

“Contrabandistas.”

“Yes, those from whom contrabandistas steal? Surely those people do not think contrabandistas are romantic heroes.”

Fanny was startled by this idea. “Well—everybody is always on the look out for contrabandistas.” The way she said this made Margaret wonder whether Fanny was secretly—hopefully—on the look out for contrabandistas, too. “And wherever you go, they say, ‘Dios guarde a usted!’ That is ‘God guard you!’ Spanish, you know.”

“I do not know,” Margaret said, laughing. “Do you speak Spanish?”

“Oh yes.” Fanny sounded as if this was the most natural thing in the world. “Well, I have learned enough, for when I travel to the Alhambra.”

Margaret laughed again, and they talked the evening away with conversation of Spain.

Margaret found this topic of immense interest, and more often than not the hours after supper were spent by Fanny and Margaret speaking of Spain, with Mrs Thornton sewing, and Mr Thornton working away at his desk.

Although Margaret still found Fanny gauche and insensitive, she felt these hours spent together formed a friendly bond between them. Margaret felt pity for this girl who had been lonely all her life, and grateful for the opportunity to show that girl kindness. She thought the pictures Fanny liked to paint of Andalusia and Mozambique were inaccurate, albeit picturesque. Sometimes Fanny’s obsession with smugglers and mosques and things made Margaret wonder whether there were people in Cadiz or Mozambique who idealized English blacksmiths and parish churches.

Margaret credited Fanny with the fascination of these thoughts. It still seemed selfish to be preoccupied by music and patterns and far away places, when people should be concerned with strikes and hunger and conditions in the mills. Yet there was something invigorating in Fanny’s fantasies, and her enthusiasm for them. Fanny was unable to feign the yawning disinterest of London society; her interests were blunt and impassioned.

The attitudes of her mother and brother must seem oppressive to Fanny. They were quiet, serious people, concerned with weighty matters. At the same time, Margaret realized her own attitude was far closer to Mr Thornton’s and his mother’s than to Fanny's. She had been inclined to initially be dismissive of Fanny. But Frederick had always been of a lively disposition, as had Edith, and her father could gently tease, even if Mother for the most part did not like him to do so. And so Margaret had learned to laugh, whereas she did not think that Mr Thornton or Mrs Thornton had.

To her, Mr Thornton was always most courteous, and though sometimes Margaret thought he was less so to his sister, sometimes she would catch him looking at Fanny. This was not quite the same look Margaret caught Mr Thornton giving her, but there was a similar wistfulness in it, as though he thought Fanny could disappear somehow before his eyes.

Many evenings after supper, Margaret caught Mr Thornton staring absently in the distance instead of at the accounts on his desk. This was when Fanny would wax poetic about smugglers and Mr Irving. That first night, Margaret had merely assumed Mr Thornton was thinking about something entirely removed from the drawing room, some pleasant memory that made his mouth turn so softly up at the corners. But now, Margaret was sure that he was listening to their conversations, mostly filled with Fanny’s idle chatter.

At times, Margaret thought Mr Thornton might join them. He half turned toward them, as if to listen, or he would make some movement as if to examine sheet music or patterns Fanny would brandish about. But Fanny never recognized these stillborn gestures for what Margaret thought they were. When Fanny noticed them at all, she reacted defensively, turning up her nose and calling him an old bore.

And yet, at all the opposite times, Margaret saw Fanny gaze at the austere line of her brother’s back, as if she wished that he would turn from his figures and join them in their lighter pursuits. Margaret saw her brandish those self-same music notes or patterns right where he would be at efforts to ignore them, and saw her face fall when he did not seem to evince interest in them. If he could only be more sensitive to her, Margaret thought, Fanny would be more sympathetic to him.

This would perhaps require pretending Fanny was less silly than she really was. Though it seemed simple enough, Margaret could understand Mr Thornton’s position. She abhorred pretending anything she did not feel. She did not approve of treating the ridiculous as sublime—and yet, not to compromise in this instance seemed unkind.

When Margaret thought of Mr Thornton, she often marvelled at the differences between his behaviour here and at Crampton. At Crampton, he had been eager in his address toward her, but also prickly and defensive. Here at Marlborough Mills, he seemed far more at ease. He let the evening discussions be dominated by Fanny, and never seemed to feel the need to speak in order to exert his authority over the household.

As for his treatment of her, he listened when she spoke, and was kind if she went to him with household needs or questions. Each morning, he asked whether she had slept well, and always asked in the evening, too, how her day had been. Though Margaret always answered truthfully, she did not tell him when she was annoyed with his sister, or that she felt certain his mother had yet to think Margaret had done a single thing right since living in this house.

She did not tell him that the reason she sometimes slept poorly at night was that she was still uncomfortable here. She worried for her mother; she ached for the gentleness of her father and the comfort of familiar surroundings; she even missed steadfast Dixon. She did not tell him she had yet to understand her place in this house; she could not help feeling she had intruded upon the running of this household and this family.

He had said he loved her when he had first proposed; sometimes when he looked at her, she felt certain it must still be true. He had never repeated this sentiment to her, however, and the polite friendliness with which he treated her was not necessarily an indication of deeper regard. A noble man, ardently in love, would have treated her in this way, in order to create as little intimidation or sense of obligation for her as possible. An polite man, who remained indifferent, would have treated her this way as well.

She had felt closer to Mr Thornton the night they had discussed Nicholas Higgins, but since then she had felt reluctant to approach him. She could not very well speak to him of Spain. She might have liked to talk more about the masters and the workers, ‘social politics,’ but she also did not want to be responsible for any arguments. She had promised they could try to be friends.

As it was, for the first week or so of marriage, they did not engage in very many complex discussions, as they once had. Margaret could not tell if this disappointed her; perhaps she had expected all her days with Mr Thornton to be packed with heated discourse. Instead, she found that he was quiet, and often seemed thoughtful.

At times, Margaret wished they might discuss the status of their marriage. Since they had not consummated it, she wondered if they were lying to the world. This might be a different kind of living in sin. She knew that the act was meant to be performed by people who were in love, while she also knew that those who did not love each other still performed it.

She wondered whether she herself was vulgar, that she should desire to perform this duty as his wife, in lieu of her other duty of loving him. Her conscience would feel cleaner, she thought, her obligation to him closer met, if only she might behave fully as his wife.

Yet, to broach the subject may make it seem as though she were overly interested; to speak of her willingness may make her seem eager. Her curiosity made her ashamed. Meanwhile, Mr Thornton appeared not care for the subject. He had even seemed repulsed by some of their discussion that first night of their marriage.

That she should continue to dwell on it while he apparently paid it no mind shamed her further still, particularly as this was a subject on which it was appropriate for men to reflect, while women must merely do what was asked of them. Margaret was highly sensible of the fact that Mr Thornton was attempting to be generous by relieving her of this burden, but she rather wished that she might undertake that burden. She thought that she would feel stronger and more honest, having done it.

Because such openness was not permitted, Margaret attempted to return his kindness. She asked after his days and work, and she listened to anything he chose to tell her with attention. She included him in the evening conversations when she felt that he was interested—this was not often—and always bid him good night with a firm grasp of her hand.

They parted company in the evenings in the hallway before their rooms. After this, they did not see each other again until morning. They never seemed to touch any other time except by accident.

Mr Thornton had said that she might come to his room in the evenings, but something prevented her from taking him up on this offer. Somehow it felt too intimate. If he was not interested in other intimacies, she recoiled at being the one to instigate these. She had always been forthright, but she had never been forward.

And yet she was interested in knowing him better. If only for the sake of practicality, she thought, it was better not to live with a stranger. There were other reasons she thought of him, though, and wondered what he was really thinking.

Sometimes she saw their old, heated arguments in a new light. At times, she missed them, and other times, she appreciated the quiet stability she was learning to see in him, the unspoken strength. She liked the way that he commanded business at the mill, but gave her and his mother leeway to run the household. She liked that he was willing to be her friend.

Margaret’s relationship with Mrs Thornton was also courteous. But while Margaret was beginning to feel comfortable around Mr Thornton, she did not feel the same about his mother. Between themselves they were cordial enough, but Margaret felt that those living in the same household could stand to be more than cordial.

Mrs Thornton was cold, proud, and implacable. She never spoke a negative word to Margaret, and yet Margaret could feel emanating from her an air not quite of disapproval, but of judgement. From every move Margaret made toward friendship with her, Mrs Thornton seemed to distance herself, in order to stand back and judge whether such a move was worthy of one married to her son.

To make things worse, Margaret had no idea whether her own pride similarly rebuffed Mrs Thornton. Margaret felt that she was trying her very best, but she had never had a way of knowing what may cause a Milton person offence. She and Mrs Thornton remained on polite terms, but no more.

This friction, and the day to day worries of learning the structure of a new household, acted to oppress Margaret’s spirits. She tried to see her new life in a positive light. Fanny was interesting, and Margaret thought that she could help her. Mr Thornton was trying to make things comfortable for her, and his attention to her welfare was more than could be said of some husbands Margaret had observed. She was not treated poorly; she thought that eventually they might come to know each other better and be on friendly terms.

And yet, sometimes she remembered that it had not been her choice to be here in the first place. She thought of the life she had dreamed about for herself and felt an aching regret. She thought of her mother, ailing without her, and how her father must be worried for both women he held dearest. She felt selfish, but she also thought of doing what she liked and going where she pleased. There had been less responsibility in her life at Crampton.

Most of these cares could be put aside for an hour or two during the time Margaret went to visit her mother and father. This she did in the afternoon, well after luncheon but before supper.

Shortly after she and Fanny first began to speak of Spain, Margaret arrived at Crampton to find her mother perusing a letter from Aunt Shaw. A similar letter had been copied out and sent to Marlborough Mills, but Aunt Shaw wanted Maria to persuade Margaret as well. The letter was an exhortation for Margaret to visit them at Harley Street to tour the Great Exhibition. Mr Thornton and his sister were included in the invitation. Aunt Shaw and Edith were eager—or felt obliged—to meet Margaret’s new family.

Margaret said that she could not possibly go, but Mrs Hale was surprisingly insistent. She felt much better, and seemed almost lively again. She sat up in bed, and mentioned the bears and elephants and exotic people and inventions from all over the Empire that she herself wished she could see. “If you went,” she said to Margaret, “you could tell me all about it, and maybe bring me something back, and that would give me something to look forward to.”

Margaret smiled at her mother’s determination. “I will think about it.”

Mrs Hale’s mouth went tight. “You have written to Frederick, have you not?” she said, in a tremulous tone that nevertheless sounded like an accusation.

Something in Margaret went still. Until she had been asked to write to him, Margaret had not heard her mother speak that name in so long. To hear her speak it now still made her think that something awful had happened.

“Now I think about it, I am afraid of him coming,” Mrs Hale went on, “in case he should be taken after all of these years that he has kept away and lived safely.”

Margaret was afraid, too. It was not only the idea of Frederick being taken that disturbed her. It was the thought of this dark thing being drawn into the open. Frederick himself was not dark; he had been the brightest thing in her life, but for Helstone. However, the mutiny and subsequent call for his arrest were carefully guarded secrets, kept closely by her family.

Margaret prided herself on speaking the truth, but of this they never spoke. This secret had become a part of her, a part of all her family. In some ways she thought it was all that held her family together, in the wake of losing both son and brother. Frederick’s presence in Milton would not only risk himself, but the destruction of what they sacrificed in order to conceal him.

But Margaret could not face these fears and fight them. She must push them all down and leave them, so that she might seem strong just now for her mother. Reassuring Mrs Hale, Margaret enlisted Dixon’s help. Dixon agreed that she would keep the door like a dragon should Frederick be able to visit them, and Mrs Hale was temporarily mollified.

“Then you will go to the Exhibition,” Mrs Hale continued, as if this was what they had been settling all along.

“Mama,” Margaret said.

“I want to see my poor daughter happy,” Mrs Hale said. “I want to think of her in London, where it is warmer, and there are—there are delightful things to see. I want her to be among friends, and not—not where she never wished to be.”

“It is not so very bad,” Margaret said lowly. Even if she had wanted to leave her mother, Margaret did not know whether she could really accept Edith’s invitation. Mr Thornton seemed consumed by business. If he had to stay behind, she did not know if he would want her to travel without him so soon after their marriage. It might not look proper, she thought, but she did not say this to her mother.

Mrs Hale was proposing the journey partly because of Mr Thornton, Margaret had no doubt. She was so sure that Margaret was unhappy at Marlborough Mills, and instead wanted to think of Margaret happy in Harley Street with Aunt Shaw and Edith. She thought she was being helpful by encouraging this adventure, as if Margaret did not have the rest of her life to live with Mr Thornton at Marlborough Mills. But Mrs Hale did not want to think of that; she wanted her daughter to be happy, without having to consider all the circumstances of her unhappiness.

“Margaret.” Mrs Hale held out her hands, and Margaret took them. Mrs Hale’s grip had always been weak, her hands soft, but now they felt almost limp. Margaret’s heart ached. “Promise me you go. If Frederick is to come, you must go.”

Margaret did not see how the two were connected, but she knew that in her mother’s mind, they were. There were too many things Mrs Hale could not control, too many situations on which her mind did not wish to dwell. Mrs Hale seemed to think that if she could force her daughter to be happy, she could suppress all thoughts of anything else.

Feeling oppressed in this gentle, stifling way, Margaret could do nothing but recalculate her previous considerations. It might be possible. Even if Mr Thornton could not go, she would probably be able to prevail upon him to let her go without him. She could bring Fanny. Miss Thornton would at last see London—the thought of this, it surprised Margaret to learn, was almost as pleasant to her as the thought of getting to see Edith and the much talked of Sholto.

Mr Thornton must consent. She would bring up the case at supper. If he denied his permission . . . she did not think he would. He had been so kind to her, had listened to everything she said with such attention. So far he had tried to give her anything she wanted.

If for some reason he denied her, she could talk to him again, alone. He had said she might go to him at any hour, or that she might wait up for him in his sitting room if he were gone. If she were able to make clear to him the importance of such a trip to Mrs Hale, Edith, and Fanny, he would let her go. She could be open and frank with him, and explain the reasons, as she could not to some other people. He would listen in that quiet, serious way of his.

Margaret told her mother that she would go, and Mrs Hale was pleased. The whole way home, Margaret thought of the trip to London, of Fanny’s delight, and of how she would put the question to Mr Thornton. It relieved her to think of him in this way—as someone to whom she might go. They might speak to each other, and discuss, and ask things of the other. He would not manipulate her or suppress her in any way. They might be open with one another.

He had said that she might knock.

*

As events played out, Margaret did not need to prevail upon Mr Thornton to allow her and Fanny to go to the Great Exhibition.

Margaret came home to find the copy of the letter Aunt Shaw had promised, and she broached the topic of the invitation at supper. Mr Thornton replied he had had a similar invitation from Mr Latimer, by extension of Mr Latimer’s friend, Colonel Carter, also an acquaintance of Mr Thornton’s.

“Colonel Carter has a house in London,” Mr Thornton explained. “Mr Latimer is bringing Miss Latimer, and invites you and me and Fanny to stay for the duration.”

“In London?” Fanny said.

“I understand,” Margaret said. Mr Thornton would prefer to stay with his friends rather than with strangers. Of course, as his wife, she must stay by his side. “Will you accept?”

“I have begun arrangements,” Mr Thornton said.

“To London?” Fanny said.

“I thought that your business might keep you here,” Margaret said.

“It is business which takes me away,” he explained. “I go to raise capital for the mill, and perhaps also to seek new clients. Besides, it will be important to learn from the engineers who will be there, and see what other mill owners are doing.”

“In London?” Fanny said. She seemed horribly wounded that her brother could go to London to look at machines, and terrified that she might be forced to look at machines, too.

“Mr Latimer has invited you, too,” Mr Thornton said at last to his sister.

“To London!”

“I am sure you will be very happy there, dearest,” Mrs Thornton said. Her voice was kind, while her tone toward her son was so often merely practical. Yet Margaret sensed something perfunctory in Mrs Thornton's comment toward Fanny, and the underlying wealth of true admiration as she turned to Mr Thornton and said, “Others are more likely to learn from you, John.”

“If that be so, it is not my purpose in going,” Mr Thornton told her. “Margaret, I understand if your mother cannot spare you.”

“I think she can ill afford to,” Margaret began. Mr Thornton gave a quick nod. “Yet she wishes to.”

Mr Thornton went still.

“I would stay in Milton, could I do any good,” Margaret went on. “But I know her too well. She will fret so, thinking I should be in London instead of tending to her, that it will only make her condition worsen. Letters about Edith and Aunt Shaw, and my tales of the Exhibition on my return will at least serve to entertain her.”

“Then you will go.” Mr Thornton was still unmoving.

“Yes.”

“And you will stay at the Carters’?”

Margaret was not aware that had been an option. She did not know if he was asking whether she would stay in London separately from him, or whether he was asking whether he should accept Aunt Shaw’s invitation instead of Mr Latimer’s. But that would have been unfair. She at least knew the Latimers in passing, even if she did not know this Colonel Carter, and he had never met Aunt Shaw or Edith.

She thought of Mr Thornton in Harley Street. Margaret had visions of Edith and Aunt Shaw, unsure of how to react to this rough manufacturer, and Mr Thornton reacting with hurt pride and affronted dignity. The differences in his own background would be more evident than ever on Harley Street, in polite, gentrified society. Even the thought of Mr Thornton, so blunt and straightforward and a little unpolished, in those dainty, anaemic, and refined surroundings, made Margaret feel embarrassed both for Aunt Shaw and for him.

“I will stay where you are,” Margaret said.

Mr Thornton looked so gratified that for a moment Margaret was embarrassed anyway.

“When are we to leave?” Fanny asked.

“The beginning of next week,” Mr Thornton said.

“Impossible,” said Fanny. “That is not nearly enough time for a new gown.”

“And yet,” Mr Thornton’s mouth twitched; Margaret could not tell if it was in annoyance or amusement, “next week it still is.”

Go to: Chapter Four

Eyregirl

Date: 2015-07-07 10:50 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I know it's been a long time since you wrote this fiction but I'm anyway telling you how much I admire your work. You are awesome!

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