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Title: Sick of Shadows
Rating: this chapter PG, overall NC-17 for explicit sex
Length: this chapter 7 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: Sooooo much thanks to [personal profile] hl, who made this fic better than it was.

Constructive criticism is welcome.

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 Six

The ideas Mr Thornton had put forth seemed all wrong, but Margaret had come to believe he was not the merciless, grasping profiteer she had imagined everyone in Milton to be at first. She had seen that he was honourable She had also seen glimpses of his higher ideals, and warmer feelings. She knew that he could be kind and generous. He had been kind and generous to her.

All that night and the next morning, Margaret tried to reconcile this image of Mr Thornton with ideas that seemed to her vicious and unprincipled. Mr Thornton had come into their bedroom to sleep some time during the night, but he had left again before Margaret arose. Again Margaret breakfasted by herself. Then Mr Watson came to call, and they were all off to the Crystal Palace.

Fanny wanted to split into their same groups again, and Margaret could not seem to convince her otherwise. Mr Thornton did not look her way at all while this debate was settled. At last they divided again, and Margaret went with Fanny. She still felt it prudent, even if Mr Thornton did not understand her reasoning.

But neither Fanny nor Ann nor Mr Watson got up to any mischief, and Margaret soon grew restless. She enjoyed looking at the art and riches—fine sculpture and tapestries, large diamonds and golden ornaments—but her mind was not on them. Instead, the things that Mr Thornton had said the night before kept percolating through her mind.

By late morning she had convinced their little party to find the Carters, Mr Latimer, and Mr Thornton to join them for lunch. As they wandered through the mechanical section to find them, Margaret was at last able to see and admire the machines and new inventions. She thought of Mr Thornton speaking of them on the train, his passion and eagerness for new ideas, for progress. She thought of his love for his sister and mother, and his gentleness towards herself.

Whatever he claimed his principles to be, he was a good man. She could not despise him; she must endeavour to understand him, as she had told him she was trying to do. She was willing to try. She wanted to.

They came upon the Carters; and Fanny, Ann, and Mr Watson stopped to look at some fascinating daguerreotypes. Margaret moved away, still looking for Mr Thornton.

She found him not far away, standing in a group of businessmen. As she had noticed earlier at Tavistock Square and even before then, at Marlborough Mills, when Mr Thornton was in a crowd, the crowd seems to orient itself towards him. People spread out from around him like a fountain-head. But Margaret did not know if he seemed to be the centre of everything because he was the centre of her thoughts just then, or because he had such a commanding presence, such magnetism over the crowd. She thought that it might be both.

“You are all here to see this fine machinery,” Mr Thornton was saying. “Technologically, we are the envy of the world.” Margaret moved in so that she could hear better, noticing that the faces of the men around her, men older and even more well-to-do than Mr Thornton, were completely riveted by him. He held all their attention. “If only there was a mechanism to enable us all to live together, to take advantage of the great benefits that come from industry. But that will be for future generations. We can bring back marmosets from Mozambique, but we cannot stop man from behaving as he always has.”

“Do you think we can bring about an end to strikes?” one of the men asked.

“Not in my lifetime,” Mr Thornton answered, “but with time and patience, we might try to bleed them of their bitterness.” Then he noticed Margaret standing there. “My wife here knows the depths we men in Milton have fallen to, how we masters only strive to grind our workers into the ground.”

Margaret flared up with indignation. “I certainly do not think that,” she announced, “as Mr Thornton could tell you, if he would know me at all.” Turning her back deliberately, she moved away.

He came after her, leaving all the businessmen behind. Wondering what had happened, these men began to drift, somewhat aimless now without someone to lead them.

“I thought that I understood you well enough last night,” Mr Thornton said behind her, his voice low in her ear.

Margaret saw Fanny and Ann find them at last, but Ann pulled Fanny away. For once, Margaret was glad of Ann’s finer cultivation. Miss Latimer obviously understood that they were having a conversation between husband and wife. Rounding on Mr Thornton, she told him clearly, “Last night I was trying to understand you.

“What did you make out?” he said bitterly. “From your expressions, I do not think you found anything to please you.”

“John,” she said, not knowing where it came from.

He stopped whatever he was going to say, sudden confusion leaping into his eyes.

“You must understand that I am trying,” she said. “I do not understand everything that you are. I do not understand all of Milton. Northern ways are still confusing to me. I hear things that sound to my ears wrong, and I do not know how to make them seem right.”

His mouth closed into a hard firm line. “I would give you time. I would give you anything, I—” He forcibly cut himself short. “But you condemn me before I can show you that I can deserve you.”

Her heart leapt into her throat. “I have not condemned you.”

“Have you not?”

“No. As I am trying to understand you, you must try to understand me. Do not walk away from me, as you did last night. Do not condemn me either.”

“What do you speak of so secretly over here?” It was Mrs Carter, her eyes merry and full of mischief.

Mr Thornton slowly turned to her. “Merely a discussion continued from before.”

“I have no doubt it is most intriguing,” Mrs Carter assured him, “but all our younger counterparts have come demanding that we feed them. Are either of you earthly enough for food? Or is conversation enough to feed your hunger?” Mrs Carter moved away with a light step.

Mr Thornton gave Margaret a sidelong glance. “I will do anything,” he said, and lifted his arm.

Margaret took it, and they joined the rest for lunch.

*

The rest of that day, Mr Thornton was more cordial to her than he had been since they arrived. This gave Margaret to realize first of all, that he had not behaved normally to her since their argument on the train. She had thought that he was still hurt, or angry, but it occurred to her it might have been a combination of things. He did not seem to like London. He might even have been anxious—even as much as she—about meeting her family, although he had not shown it. Though he seemed to expect to be judged harshly, he had a reason for this expectation. Genteel London was not always the kindest to tradesmen.

Second, Margaret realized that she had missed Mr Thornton’s ways. Though he had never stopped being polite, now that he was warm towards her again, she realized that he had always shown her a special kind of consideration.

The difference was subtle. He was not this way with Ann Latimer, nor with Mrs Carter. But for all his annoyance with her, all his claims to her ridiculousness, he was this way with Fanny: warmer somehow, eager to attend, even despite her silly behaviour. It was not something you would notice if you did not know him. Even Fanny did not appear to see it, though perhaps that was because she was used to it.

Some of it was just that Margaret caught Mr Thornton looking at her when no one else was, watching her, listening to her with an attention no one else did. He was not overt or conspicuous, yet she could feel him with her everywhere they went.

Supper that night was at Tavistock Square, but with considerably more guests than there had been the first night. The Blakelys had to repay the visit the Carters had paid them, so they all came to Tavistock Square. With the extra guests, Margaret did not see much of Mr Thornton at dinner, nor afterwards.

Instead, she stayed near Fanny, as she had taken to doing of late. The London girls tonight were considerably more fashionable than Ann Latimer, and had already begun to look askance at Margaret’s sister-in-law. Fanny would go on about Mr Irving.

“There are treasures throughout Spain,” she said, “even under the Alhambra. As anyone would know, if they knew the Alhambra. From Tales of . . .” Here she paused, likely for dramatic effect, “. . . The Alhambra.”

There was a little silence.

“I have been reading Thackeray,” Ann said. “He writes works of social relevance.”

Margaret felt her lip curl. The comment, to be sure, was not unlike a comment Margaret had made, two weeks ago now. Fanny’s literary interests were a little childish. Margaret had been unable to relate. She could only bring up Dickens, who at least addressed today’s concerns. But now that Ann had done exactly the same thing, Margaret fumed in resentment. It seemed to her belittling towards Fanny, even if it was true.

“None of his characters are ever appealing,” a Miss Blakely said, finding Thackeray a much better subject of discourse than buried treasures. “Tell me whom we are supposed to like in a novel that has no hero; I ask you!”

There followed a discussion on the literary merits of a book without a picture to strive toward, with part of the company claiming that a book did not fulfil its duty if it did not show society as it was meant to be. Another part claimed that the book was more realistic that way, and realism was more important than idealism in literature. Another part asked whether art had any duty at all.

Ruskin was brought into it and everybody debated, and for the first time in London Margaret heard an interesting discussion that was not Mr Thornton’s. She wondered whether it had anything to do with most of the company being tradespeople, though they were all educated like gentlefolk. Ann Latimer seemed to have a great deal more thoughts in her head than Edith Lennox.

Meanwhile, Fanny looked heartily bored, and disappointed that the conversation had ceased to centre around her. At the other end of the room, Mr Thornton had his own circle around him. Margaret was beginning to think that he always did. Fanny often did, but in more diverse company often lost hold of it, because even if Margaret thought her rather more interesting than most people, Fanny also knew less and showed it.

As if determined to show it now, Fanny spoke up in a loud voice. “I am quite enamoured of Hans Christian Anderson,” she told the group, which caused the conversation to come to a kind of stuttering halt, and they all looked at her.

After a silence, a Mr Blakely said kindly, “We all like the Fairy Tales.”

“Of course,” said Ann Latimer. “I have always favoured ‘The Ugly Duckling’. It was so shocking to find out that bird was a swan. I was barely able to credit it, when I saw how gawky and awkward it was.”

Someone tittered.

Margaret seethed.

“I never liked the farm stories,” Fanny said. She tossed her head. “I like ‘The Snow Queen’. And ‘The Little Mermaid’, though I do not understand it. I would far rather have her palaces of pearl.”

There was again a silence.

“They are very pretty stories,” Ann said. “For children.”

Someone else laughed.

Margaret threw her head back and advanced. “We were speaking of social relevance,” she said. Against her voice, calm and clear as a bell, the other voices in the group sounded tinny.

“Ah, Mrs Thornton,” Ann said. “You have read Vanity Fair?”

“I do not mean to change the subject. I mean that Fairy Tales is a socially relevant collection, if we consider it properly.”

Ann laughed. “They are throw-away stories for children.”

“If you had read Mr Anderson, you would know that his stories are parables. Each has a moral value attached. Is it not important that our children learn such things?”

“It is better than rubbish, I suppose,” one man said, laconic.

“Of course it is important,” Miss Blakely said. “But children should learn those values from the home.”

“I agree,” said Margaret, “but what of children who have no homes?”

“Margaret, you really are a stick in the mud,” said Fanny. Margaret had to hide a smile, for she had half expected Fanny to say as much. “I do not love the Fairy Tales because of any of that. I love them because they are good stories.”

Ignoring Fanny, Ann was attempting to hold Margaret’s eyes. “If we are instructing children to read or be read to for the sake of their moral education, better to read them Pilgrim’s Progress. Or go straight to the source of it: sermons and scripture.”

“Scripture is very important,” Margaret said. “But I think that Fairy Tales are too.”

Fanny said, “Yes, because they are interesting.”

“Yes.” Margaret smiled. “Exactly so: because they are interesting. Not only children, but adults, too, like a good story. Mr Thackeray may poke fun at society’s foibles all he wishes; most of us would not have listened had he not also written a very good story. The proof is here before us. We have all read Mr Anderson.” Margaret formed an arch expression. “Even Miss Latimer appreciates ‘The Ugly Duckling’. Although she was hardly able to credit anything awkward or strange becoming beautiful.”

There followed another silence, broken suddenly by Mr Blakely. “That is true,” he said musingly. “I have always favoured Monsieur Perrault. Who has read any of the Grimms’ collections?”

And then the tone of conversation changed. Fanny was not only saved; she had much to say on this subject, for she loved not only Mr Anderson and M. Perrault, but Mr Irving wrote some wonderful fantasy tales as well. Smiling, Margaret receded again, letting the conversation take its course. She glanced across the room.

Mr Thornton was watching her. He wore that smile which softened his face; he was paying no attention to the field of men and interested ladies arrayed around him.

Margaret felt her flesh go hot. Self-consciously pushing her bracelets up her wrist, she looked away.

“Well, my dear,” Mrs Carter laughed, pulling Margaret aside. “I do not think we have had such interesting conversation at Number 8 in quite some time! What is your favourite fairy tale, Mrs T?”

“I like Madame Villeneuve,” Margaret said, without hesitation.

La Belle Et La Bete. I must count myself surprised! I would have thought you preferred ‘The Cinder Girl’.”

“I have never liked that story,” said Margaret. “It stopped before all of the interesting parts. You never get to see how the cinder girl adjusts to living in her completely different circumstances.”

“But to marry so well,” Mrs Carter teased.

Margaret lifted her chin. “Belle was forced into her different circumstance. She did not want to go. Only gradually does she see that all is not as it seems.”

“But the beast!” said Mrs Carter. “He is horrid!”

“Only at first,” said Margaret. “He has to learn to look beyond the surface of things as well. Then he learns that he is not a monster, even as she does.”

“You have thought about this far more than all the rest of us,” Mrs Carter said. “You seem so practical and realistic. I never would have thought you would think about fairy stories.”

“We all have inner longings for the romantic and fantastic,” Margaret said.

Mrs Carter laughed, and told her she was surprising. They turned back to the conversation, where Fanny was regaling them all with Rip Van Winkle, which Margaret realized with startlement Fanny might just have memorized. Some of the party broke off to discuss Ruskin and Thackeray and social justice again, Ann included. But even if there was no particular enlightenment or intelligence in Fanny’s story, Margaret thought that most people enjoyed it. She thought that might be enough.

When she looked again, Mr Thornton had turned back to his peers.

*

That night, Margaret sat up waiting for Mr Thornton in front of the fire.

It was not long after she had retired that he appeared. “Margaret,” he said, and came toward her. She thought he sounded nervous.

“Sit down,” she offered, but did not ask or say please.

He sat.

“I have been thinking about what you said last night.”

He tilted his head to show that he was listening, but he did not look pleased.

“You said that you could only think in terms of business. Did you mean because otherwise, the business would fail?”

“One cannot become distracted,” Mr Thornton said. “If one begins to think of kindness . . .” He shook his head. “Business is not built on that. It may not meet with your moral standard, Margaret, but there can be integrity in manufacturing, in the creation of a product. I am not benevolent, but I am fair.”

“I believe you,” she said. “It seems to me that if one is as fair as one might possibly be, one might appear benevolent, even if that is not one's intention. This is hard to credit. I believe intention to be very important.”

“I am sorry?” He looked askance at her. “I do not follow. To be benevolent is not at all the same as turning a profit.”

“I think that this is true,” she said. “But to run a business which is sound, and treats its workers well, but still makes a profit—I believe that it is possible. I believe that you do, too.”

“Then you think I treat my workers poorly?”

Margaret ignored this. “I thought about the situation you put to me,” she said, “the idea that you might spend the profits of the mill to buy your workers food to eat, and wool and roofs. I thought that this would diminish your capital; not only would you cease to profit from it, but also the business would be diminished. You would not have the funds to buy new equipment,” she said, a little embarrassed by such explicit talk of money, but going forward nevertheless. “Your competitors would get ahead of you. The mill would fail; everyone would be out of work, with nothing to eat at all, and hard winters with nothing at all to keep them warm.”

Mr Thornton seemed wary. “In an extreme situation, yes. Masters have suffered from being too lenient.”

“I am not talking about just masters, but of the industry itself. It must be successful, or everyone could suffer the consequence.”

“That is partly correct,” he said slowly, “but I do not turn a profit merely to give the workers an income.”

“I know. That income is a side-effect of the work you are doing, a fact which is difficult for me to accept. I value philanthropy as an aim, and you do not. I am . . . not sure what to think of that. But I do not think that it is categorically equal to corruption.”

“I am glad to know that I am not evil.” He half meant it, she thought, but his tone was light. He was trying to trust her good intentions as well.

“Not necessarily.”

“I am sorry?”

“It is all about compromise.”

“I do not compromise,” he told her immediately, in a tone of warning. “I cannot consider the workers at all. I must only focus on the mill itself, and its progress.”

“I say that you must compromise.”

Again, he tilted his head. He had never not been willing to listen.

“Slickson, Hamper, those other millowners,” Margaret said, “all those other businessmen you have been trying to convince should get a wheel. Do you think they are any less business-oriented than you?”

“We have our disagreements,” Mr Thornton told her, “but we are all of accord that masters must work on the principles of supply and demand. We could all agree together that we must focus on charity projects, and not on production. That would be a very nice fairy tale, such as you and Fanny were speaking of tonight.” Margaret was surprised, not knowing that he had listened so well. “But it would never work. Someone somehow would see a way of coming out ahead, and that would cause the downfall of the rest of us. So must we all keep our eyes directed toward profit.”

“Yes, but if Slickson and Hamper and the rest are only trying to run a good business, why do not they have wheels? Why are not they concerned over guards for looms? Why do they not stop the looms to clean them, as you have told me they do at Marlborough Mills? Yet you have told me these are all good business practices.”

“Slickson and Hamper are only concerned with the money they will make tomorrow. They do not look as far ahead as I.”

“That is exactly what I mean.”

Mr Thornton gave her a strange look.

“You look to the workers—” Here she held up a hand to halt his protest—“even if it is not your intention to benefit them directly. You look to the workers because it is good business. You must do exactly as much as you can, which is not to gift them with charity for an indeterminate amount of time, but rather do as much as you can to see that they are happy and satisfied. You must build a relationship with them which will be mutually beneficial to you both. If you were both more willing to deal with one another, you would not be faced with all the financial hardships of these strikes.”

Mr Thornton thought for a while. “That is an . . . interesting idea. I am not entirely sure how you mean to implement it."

Margaret smiled. “I know. But when I think of a person like Nicholas Higgins . . . he has opportunities in the North he never could have in the South. He can learn to read. He can pay to support a family. He never could do those things, without industry. So I do not know whether it is good or bad, only I am learning most things are neither.”

“Most things,” said Mr Thornton.

“In my opinion, one should err on the side of benevolence.”

“That is precisely what I cannot do.”

Margaret smiled. “It is only my opinion. However, if what is good for workers is good for manufacturing, you should do what is good for the workers.”

“That is not an opinion. That is algebra, of the Mr Boole variety.”

“I dislike algebra.” Margaret’s voice went lazy. She was still smiling.

Mr Thornton looked distinctly ruffled. “I wish that I could make some of these London gentlemen think as you do.”

Margaret felt an odd thrill. “If I recall, they are not overly fond of algebra either.”

“I do not think progress is by nature evil,” Mr Thornton said, “but gentlemen in London seem to think it is. They see only the changes it has wrought in their comfortable lives. If they are a great deal more insightful, they see only the suffering and slavery so many are subject to as a result of what we call progress.”

“But I have heard many people admiring industrial invention. Is that not what the Great Exhibition is all about?”

When Mr Thornton spoke, it was with a roughness she had heard before. “I spent all day today talking to London gentlemen, who could come and look at the machinery like an exhibit in a zoo. They do not understand I have to go back and live with it.”

“But you do not resent living with it.”

“No.” He seemed annoyed. “It is my livelihood. How could I resent it? Only these people do not understand having to make a living.”

Once, she would have disdained him also. “Do you think it unfair? That you should work while they do not have to?”

“The justice of it does not concern me. I know who I am, and who my father was. Never for a second do I regret it. I think moaning about one’s lot in life is why some men fail. Accepting one’s fate is why others succeed.”

Margaret rather thought a man such as Boucher might have some right to bemoan his lot in life. Then again, she herself had abhorred the idea of Mr Thornton thinking she could not accept her own marriage to him. She had been willing to accept her own fate. Filing this away to think about in the future, she listened to Mr Thornton go on.

“It is the thoughtlessness of it all,” he was saying. “It is as Captain Lennox said: think what men could do if they applied themselves! And yet half of us seemed trapped by mindless drudgery, and the other half seem stifled by actionless contemplation. Why cannot thought and action be combined? If we could live in peace, outside of these systems of master and slave, intellectualism and trade, man could truly build something truly great. Progress would not be a cross to bear of enlightenment and pain. It would only benefit us all.”

She thought that she had never heard sounder sense spoken. She told him as much.

“I am not surprised you think so,” he said lowly.

The look he gave her made her suddenly and abruptly recall the first night in this room. She had glimpsed that nakedness, that hardness of his back and that strength. She recalled the heat it had made her feel, and the earthliness she now knew lay coiled beneath the veneer of elegance she saw in him.

He looked away first, snapping the connection which had seemed to her to crackle between them. He looked unhappy. “It only remains for us to convince everyone else.”

“Is that what you have been doing at the Great Exhibition?” She smiled. “Convincing everyone?”

“I have been trying to.” His eyes cast down; he did not look at her. “You are the first person who has ever listened.”

“I like to listen to you.”

He brought his eyes up. “Do you?”

“Yes.” She lifted her chin.

She saw him swallow, and suddenly ached to know what it looked like: beneath his cravat, his shirt, what the slide of muscle and flesh across his throat must look like.

Feeling herself go hot, she looked away. He could have no idea of the things she was feeling. He was only speaking of ideas. “I went with Fanny because I was concerned for her,” she found herself saying. She did not know what she was doing. Never once before had she tried to make an excuse for herself.

“What?” he asked, sounding hoarse.

“At the Crystal Palace. Today and yesterday. Fanny is after Mr Watson, you see, but so is Miss Latimer. I think I feared that Fanny might make a spectacle of herself—”

“You need not fear she might,” Mr Thornton said. “Fanny always will.”

“It was rather Miss Latimer I was concerned about,” Margaret went on. “She is cleverer than Fanny, if you will pardon my saying so, and I did not want Fanny to suddenly find herself alone, should Miss Latimer manage to spirit Mr Watson away.”

“You did not want my sister to be alone?”

Margaret shook her head. “Or disappointed. I do not think Miss Latimer always has Fanny’s best interests to heart.”

“But you do.”

His posture was more relaxed now than it had been. He sat back in his chair, legs crossed, an attitude she had seen before when he spoke to her father. He seemed open that way, as if receptive to anything anyone might say, and yet there was assurance in it too. Perfectly at ease, he was also perfectly self-confident. She thought that there was power in the way he sat.

She could not tell whether others would have said the firelight was kind to his face. The dim glow softened sharp lines, yet deepened the shadows, so that one was left with an impression of strong features, an implacable jaw, a straight set of brows. But his expression now was soft, in a way she often saw but did not think many others did.

“I think Miss Latimer is not kindly disposed towards Fanny,” Margaret said.

Mr Thornton shifted. “Miss Latimer would not hurt Fanny.”

Margaret wondered, then, how Mr Thornton knew Miss Latimer so well.

“Thank you for caring for my sister,” Mr Thornton went on. “I know that you do not do it for my sake. You made that clear on the train. But I am glad for her sake, as well as my own. She is not always easy to care for. As we also discussed.”

“I admit that at first I found her . . . a trifle abrasive.” Margaret always tried to be as forthright as she could. “But after getting used to her, I do not find her difficult to care for at all.”

“I am interested as to why you think so.”

She gave him a puzzled look. “I know you can see for yourself.” She wanted to assure him that he had misunderstood her intent on the train. “I know that you love her.”

“I want to see through your eyes.” There was something naked in his own.

“Well, she is so . . . enthusiastic, primarily. She is not afraid to express her own private excitements and her vexations. I think that this is partly because she does not know how to control her feelings. I think sometimes she does not know the proper way to . . . .” Margaret trailed off.

“You can be frank with me.” His voice was low.

“I think she does not know any better,” Margaret said. “But I think it is not her fault, and I appreciate openness more than concealment. The main thing is that even if her tastes are simple, they are fervent. I have seen enough misery in Milton that sometimes it seems as though no one loves anything. At the same time, I have seen enough boredom in London that sometimes it seems as though no one loves anything here, either.” Margaret took a breath. “I am reserved; some people think me cold.”

“You could never seemed dispassionate.”

“I know how to love,” she said.

His tone was a mere murmur. “I have no doubt of it.”

“I do not care a whit for fashion, as Fanny does. I do not care for most of the things in which Fanny is interested. It is the same with Edith. In fact, it is exactly the same. Edith is delightful; even though we care about such different things, she brings me joy. Your sister makes me smile.”

“I am grateful you see that. I had forgotten . . . .” He shifted uncomfortably. Looking around, then at her, his eyes raked over her so swiftly that she caught her breath, and all the sudden remembered she was in but a chemise and dressing gown. As if thinking the same, he said, “Do you mind if I take off my coat?”

Her eyes widened. “Mr Thornton,” she said at last, finding her voice. “This is your room, too.”

“I am sorry.” Then he shook his head. “I do not know why I am apologizing.” He stood up, took off the coat, went to go hang it up on a hook on his side the room. Then he untied the cravat, and slung that over the coat. He came back to stir the fire. “I do not mean to be awkward toward you.”

“I am your wife,” she said.

He looked at her, eyes raking over her in that way again. He took a swift breath, and directly again looked away. “I had not remembered,” he said suddenly, in a new tone, “for so long I had forgotten, until you spoke that way, what our father was like. When she was a little girl we all thought her very like him.”

Margaret had never heard him speak of his father but for that one time.

Hanging the poker up, Mr Thornton tugged at his collar. He unfastened the fabric at his wrists, rolling them up. Obviously overheated, or perhaps disturbed by memory, he came and sat back down. His eyes stayed on the fire.

“Will you speak of him?” Her voice was a low, mellow tone.

“I have always been more like Mother. Even as a boy, I was more like her. Dark haired and pale, studious and—a little too irritable. Even then I was . . . very independent. I did not keep much company.”

Lonely, he was saying.

“But Father . . . he was so lively. He had a golden head of hair, just like Fanny’s. His eyes were bright like hers, his mouth so often smiling, and he . . . was so expressive. He had a passion for things. He loved them deeply and truly; he was inspired by them, and you could visibly see it. My father shined, and people were drawn to it, like moths to flame. He was like Pan; anyone could be put under his spell. It really was like a spell. You did not have to know what he was saying. You just wanted to be near him.”

It was then that Margaret knew a quality Mr Thornton had not inherited from his mother.

“Everyone loved him,” Mr Thornton went on. “I resented it; I was so acutely aware of everything at the time, and so serious . . . . I would not call him overly merry, but he was perfectly open, and very trusting. I was horribly jealous of his attention, even when he was with Mother. But Mother was the same way. She was head over ears for him.”

Margaret tried to imagine Mrs Thornton being head over ears for anyone.

“I know.” Mr Thornton gave a gruff chuckle. “Mother is so stately. She was not much like him, and she does not often love. But where she loves, she loves deeply. And father was the only one who could really make her smile. I see her, sometimes, looking at Fanny. I know that she misses him still.”

“You do, too,” Margaret said.

Mr Thornton looked at her. She felt the rise of heat, as she so often did, but did not feel the expected sting of shame that usually came with it. Perhaps she was so used to this feeling now, or perhaps she at last thought that it was all right to feel this way. She did not know.

Mr Thornton looked away. “When Fanny was a little girl, she was enchanting. As hard as I had to work, we read books together. The Fairy Tales, Irving, Poe, those other things she loves. I read them to her because she was like Father, and Father loved adventure and mystery and magic. I never even cared for them; I only did because she did. I told her stories; we played such games . . . pretending we were different than we were.”

Firelight settled into the white of Mr Thornton’s shirt, curled up his neck, painting him with soft gold. Margaret felt sorry for that aching dark-haired boy, ripped so early from someone he loved, trying so carefully to bring up a tiny, laughing, golden-haired little girl. He would have been in his late teenage years by then, or early twenties, gone back to childhood for the sake of that little girl.

“She was bright, and gay, and did not mind that we did not have the means to give her everything she deserved. She was so innocent and artless, she was not aware of it, no matter how painfully I was. Sometimes it was the thought of that that drove me—and Margaret, I was driven. It was as though the fires of hell licked my heels sometimes, the way I worked.”

His hands hung carelessly off the ends of his chair’s arm rests, curled slightly in a loose, relaxed way. Margaret remembered noticing before how long his fingers were, how strong they looked. She remembered his back. He was comfortable now, at ease, and still he was all leashed power.

“But I got older,” he went on, “and so did she. Mr Harlowe—he was my mentor—gave me the opportunity to take on more business, and I had even less time than before. And then between the age of twelve and thirteen . . . . Fanny changed so drastically. I did not even know how to talk to her any more. We argued all the time.”

Then he stopped talking, and there was silence for a while. A log broke in the fire, and Margaret got up to push it back, so that it would not spark. When she turned back, he was looking at her in such a way that she almost thought she knew what it meant. She went to him.

“John,” she said, and put out her hand.

Looking up at her in wonder, he took it.

She knelt down beside him. “I think you have been a good brother,” she told him. “I think you misunderstood what I said on the train. Please—let me speak to you this way.” She tightened her hand on his, and would not let him pull away. “You remember those early days so vividly. Even though she was younger, Fanny does too. She does love you. I promise you; I have seen it. She just does not know how to act with you. I think you miss your sister, even though she is right beside you. I think she misses you too.”

His eyes searched hers. “I do not even know how I started talking about it.”

“We started by my attempting to trust your good intentions regarding industry, while at the same time instructing you in algebra.” Though she smiled, he did not. “And then I think you forgave me what slights you took on the train, and since then. And then I attempted to explain why I did not stay with you in the Crystal Palace, to see all the inventions you had spoken of and all the machines I longed to see. You are always saying how our conversations get away from us.”

His hand gripped hers. “I have wanted to talk to you like this.”

She looked into his eyes. “I did not know before, but I know now that I want you to.”

“There is no one else I speak to in this way.”

“You said that I might always come talk to you.” She put her other hand over the one she gripped, and held fast. “You might always come talk to me as well, John.”

His other hand came to her cheek, his fingers touching her hair, so light against her skin. His eyes had that look of wonder, as if he could not quite believe she would let him touch her this way.

But she did let him, only trembling the very slightest. Her breath was caught in her chest, somewhere in the vicinity of her heart.

His fingers smoothed tendrils of her hair, his thumb gentle and so soft near her temple. He was touching her neck.

She wanted to bring his hand close to her, to press her lips against it. Perhaps she thought of how he had worked and suffered, and she wanted to soothe those cares away. And yet she did not understand this impulse. There was no reason that everything about this moment suddenly seemed so dear and desperate; she needed time to think it through.

“I think the fire has gone out,” she said.

She remembered thinking not long after she first met him that his smile was a brightness not often seen in dreary Milton; she remembered later seeing it again and feeling that it transformed his face. Somehow it made him seem boyish, free, delighted by the simplest thing, and he smiled that way now, until she could hardly breathe. “It has not,” he murmured.

“Still, I should—should tend to it.”

“Then I will let you go.” He removed his hand from her face, but not the other from her own hand. He gripped it as she tried to stand, and stood with her. “I will go out for some air. Will you sleep?”

“I do not know,” she said, confused.

But he only smiled, and leaned down, and kissed her on the brow.

His mouth was very hot.

“Good night,” he told her, and left her there.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-04-27 12:11 am (UTC)
japanimecrazed: Yukina, totally clueless. (Default)
From: [personal profile] japanimecrazed
Yay! A chapter ended on a positive note. It's nice to see them making progress. :)

chapter 6

Date: 2011-04-28 01:06 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I am really loving this. You are developing their characters so well. am especially liking the connection between Fanny and her father and the light it sheds on Thornton's behavior.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-04-28 06:23 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was utterly fantastic. I read and reread the words you've written as if there is hint or a message or some underlying subtlety I've missed entirely. I love how wonderfully intricate the characters are and the dialogue - the dialogue is some of the best I've read. This story brings me great joy and I cannot wait until the next installation. Wonderful job!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-04-29 01:03 am (UTC)
stultiloquentia: Campbells condensed primordial soup (Default)
From: [personal profile] stultiloquentia
Another chapter already? I am going to get spoilt.

Dude. Tell you what: if the story stops feeling like it's moving forward, starts wafting about aimlessly, I'll let you know. So far, two thumbs up! :D /dorktastic

"Margaret threw her head back and advanced": the perfect line to set up that moment. I was all, "HaHA! Now they're in for it!" and sat back to watch her pwn the whole room. I think that's probably the last time you can get away with using that phrase, "threw her head back," for a while, but it was so worth it. I thought it was cool how she bopped Ann Latimer on the snout, connected Fairy Tales to Vanity Fair on the fly, oxygenated a choking conversation, then faded tidily back into silence. You can't always tell how many thoughts a person has by how many they chose to share.

I was tickled by your Ruskin namedrop, because I'm reading his essays on aesthetics right as you're posting; it's fun. I kind of want to smack him, with his, "The Dutch masters are stupid for painting stupid, ugly people!" and, "Only pure minds can make noble art!" (pfbbt. wanna bet, buddy?), but his rhetoric is fascinating. He's really catty. Like a blogger. I do not know if he ever opined on Mr. Thackeray, but I can't imagine he was a fan.

Aiieeee, the Margaret/John conversation! It is everything I wanted! I am so grateful to you for the effort you expended on it. It's gorgeous, and it flows naturally, and they are both such beautiful people (physically, sure, but you know I mean everything).

Margaret: Contented workers are good for business.

John: ...Mebbe.

Margaret: Your sister is kind of adorable.

John: I feelz feeeelings! I haz friend to talk to! \o/

Margaret: I want to lick your Adam's apple.

John: "The fire has not gone out!" Bweh. Oh, John, you are cracking yourself right up, there.

John: "'Scuse me, I'm just going to get some air."

Stulti: *thinks thoughts even less appropriate than Mr. Bell and the cabana boys*

(no subject)

Date: 2011-07-08 09:07 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I love your writing. Looking forward to more!

Eyregirl

Date: 2015-07-08 12:36 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Please, please don't think about it Margaret!! For God's sake... just kiss him!!!

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