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A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 10-12 (Post 4)

November 03, 2017 08:13PM

Chapter 10: A Business Proposal


Tuesday October 14, 1851

Margaret hurried along the familiar path to the Princeton district. Yesterday, all conversation at the Hale household had been focused on the upcoming wedding. It wasn't until this morning when Margaret mentioned her planned visit to Nicholas that she remembered to tell her parents about Lady Wentworth's investment and their plans for the dining hall and school. As the pastor's wife, Mrs. Hale had been active in running the parish school in Helstone. She had immediately rushed – with all of the haste and vigor possible to anyone as ill as she was – to impart all of the wisdom she could on her daughter regarding the management of a school. She was rather knowledgeable on the subject, and as Margaret was keen to hang on every word of wisdom her mother was willing to bestow while she had the breath to do so, their conversation had lasted far longer than either realized. By the time Margaret made it to Princeton, she would have scarcely half an hour to convince Nicholas of the merits of the scheme before they must set out for Marlborough Mills to meet with John.

She was greeted fondly by Nicholas and Mary, who was eager to hear any news of the splendors of London that Margaret was willing to share. “I am sorry Mary, I shall not have time for such revelations today. I have come on business.”

“Business?” Chuckled Nicholas.

“That's right, it's a business proposal for you Nicholas.”

“And what important business might yo' have wi' me?”

“You see, in London, I attended a dinner party that Mr. Thornton was also present at. Our hosts, Lord and Lady Wentworth were interested in investing in Marlborough Mills. No, please Nicholas,” Margaret scolded, “allow me to finish before you object. Lady Wentworth is interested in investing in Marlborough Mills in order to improve the conditions of the laborers. We came up with some ideas for projects to do so, but I suggested that we consult the union on how best to implement them. Would you be willing to help, Nicholas?”

He stared at her incredulously for a moment. “And Thornton agreed to this?”

“He did.”

“I canna find work since t'strike without forsakin' the union, and yet Thornton's willin' ta talk wi' union leaders?”

“Have you been to Marlbourough Mills about work then?”

“Aye, Th' o'erlooker bid me go and be d—— d.”

“Then you've not spoken to Mr. Thornton?”

“Such a chap as me is not like to see the measter.”

“Well, you are very likely to do so today, as we've an appointment with him at two, if you're willing to hear us out.”

“Us?” Nicholas turned his steady eyes on her, “How came yo' t'be meddling 'twixt master and man? I dunna see as tis any of yo'r business.”

Margaret blushed and responded with far more confidence than she'd had when outlying their proposal, “Mr. Thornton and I are to be married. I dare say there are some who would still consider it meddling for a wife to take an interest in her husband's business, but I assure you Mr. Thornton is not one of them.”

Mary cried out in excitement and gave her an awkward hug. Much to Margaret's surprise, Nicholas laughed. “My but yo'r a queer lass! Yo're getin' married to th'master an yo' dunnot say a word afore titterin on about business!”

“Well, I didn't think it as pressing,” Margaret laughed. “Do you know, you're the first people I've told outside of family and the parson.”

“Oh miss!” Cried Mary in excitement.

“So, Nicholas, will you consider our plan?”

He stared at her in uncertainty for a moment and Margaret was nearly certain he would deny her. Finally, he responded, “I do it for yo'r sake, Miss Hale, and it's first time in my life as e'er I give way to a woman.”

“All the more do I thank you,” said Margaret, smiling. “Though I don't believe you: I believe you have just given way to wife and daughter as much as most men.”

As they walked to Marlborough Mills, Margaret filled him in on their ideas for the dining hall and school. Margaret was just as unconscious of the surprised looks of passerby today as she had been the previous day. The gossip mills of Milton churned just as tirelessly as the cotton mills, and soon the whole town was speculating about the renegade parson's daughter who was out walking with a handsome young mill master one day and a union ringleader the next!

~~~


John Thornton was having a difficult time readjusting to his life. He had returned yesterday afternoon to nearly two day's worth of back work from his trip to London. He had been tempted to remain in his office late to make up the difference, but he owed it to his mother to go home to dinner. She had been incensed at the idea of a rushed wedding – how would it look for one of the pillars of Milton society to marry quietly and hastily without even inviting the other masters? He'd appeased her somewhat with the prospect of a grand dinner party to celebrate the wedding at a later date. Nonetheless, she spent dinner berating Margaret. Every attempt on his part to defend his betrothed only seemed to fuel his mother's ire. Eventually, he had no recourse but to storm out of the room and back to his office.

He had worked late, woken early and was nearly caught up when word came in that one of the spinning frames was broken. One of the Irish hands had loaded it improperly then proceeded to use it for a shift and a half, wasting a good deal of cotton on useless thread and eventually breaking the machine.As if we weren't far enough behind! He and the overseer had just finished repairing the machine when he walked into his office in his shirtsleeves, disheveled, sweaty, and covered in machine grease.

He was having a bad day. But then there she was: seated regally in the chair in front of his desk, laughing at something that Higgins had said, brightening his world. He smiled and breathed her name. When she looked up, he felt a slight tinge of fear at her perusal of his state. She had but just begun to see him as a gentleman and now – what a fright he must look! But then she looked up and gave him a serene smile. He wished Higgins to the devil, wanting only to have Margaret to himself.

“John! May I introduce you to Nicholas Higgins, Nicholas, this is Mr. Thornton.”

John gave a slight nod and repeated, “Higgins.”

“Master.” Higgins touched his hand to his forehead in deference.

“Has Miss Hale filled you in on what we are looking to do?”

“Aye, tho I canna say as I believe it till yo' say so. Yo've broke t'strike with them knobsticks o' yourn that did na know weft fro' warp an now yo're willin t'work with t'union?”

“You don't want impudence, that's very clear,” John responded hotly. “No, I've not much respect for the union after the violence your strikers brought down on me and mine.”

“Fro' what I reckon, there was but one injury on yo'r side, while yo'r soldiers injured dozens o'starvin' strikers, an' some o' them were women. The union leaders did na wish for violence. We were not weak men such as the rioters, but steady thoughtful men; good hands, and good citizens, who were friendly to law and judgment, and would uphold order; who only wanted their right wage.”

“Yes, your right wage whether or not the masters could afford to pay it.” John was in no mood for this confrontation. He should have known this would never work. “And at any rate, as the leaders of the union, you incited the strike, the actions of your strikers are on your heads.”

“Just as your actions on the day of the riot were on my head, right?” Margaret's reproachful voice sliced through his ire as nothing else could. “After all, I was the one who told you to go down and face them. And yet, when I tried to correct my mistake, I seem to recall you resented my attempts.” And there she was, the headstrong Margaret of days past, quick to find fault with him and slow to concede a point. They'd been getting on so well that he'd almost forgotten that this Margaret would make her appearance again at some juncture.

“That is not the same,” he struggled to soften his tone, “you urged me to treat them as men and they proved to be animals none the less.”

“It seems to me that the union urged the men to be noble, but were unable to control a small fraction of the turnouts. Much as I urged you to be compassionate and was unable to inspire anything more than defiance in you. Therefore, by your model, I must have earned any punishment I received.”

John paled at the thought, “they could have killed you.”

“That were you?” Higgins asked with a start.

John rounded on him. “Aye, your strikers turned on a lady who was only trying to help them!” Higgins winced and drew a weary hand down his face

“As I still am.” Margaret interjected. “Now, gentlemen, I believe we've had quite enough of this argument. Allow me to distill the finer points. On the one hand, the union was trying to improve the lives of the workers to relieve them of the burdens of hunger, exposure to the elements, and unsafe living conditions through the most expedient means. Higher wages. Is that correct?” She paused and looked toward Higgins, who gave her a nod. “On the other hand, not all of the masters were willfully withholding money for personal gain but could honestly not afford to pay more. Particularly when those masters had already invested money in the wheel and new machinery to improve the conditions of their workers, yes?” She looked at him and John nodded. “Now, what we are discussing today are alternate ways to address the same issues with the capital available to us. I have high hopes for this scheme, but it will never work if the pair of you continue in this manner.”

John was not in the habit of being dictated to in his own office but he could scarcely abandon a plan they had in fact orchestrated together. Especially when Margaret was stood so regal and resolute, glaring down on them like an avenging Boudica. “Of course my dear. There's little point belaboring past grievances.”

Higgins replied “Aye Miss Margaret, I'm willin' ta try.”

“Excellent!” Margaret smiled at them, John tried to tamp down his jealousy at the fact that her smiles were evenly dispersed between himself and Higgins. “Now the first step is Nicholas himself, if he is to be our union reference, he needs a job.”

She looked at him expectantly, but this was too much for even her to ask. “I might as well put a firebrand into the midst of the cotton-waste.”

“At the moment, Nicholas is valuable to this scheme because he is well known and respected amongst the hands, they know that he will look out for their best interests. We need him if we want our plans to work. What will happen if he can not find work? If he is forced to move away to find a job?” Margaret's logic was sound, and John was beginning to see the value in the suggestion. Until Higgins opened his mouth again.

“I'd promise yo', measter, I'd not speak a word as could do harm, if so be yo' did right by us; and I'd promise more: I'd promise that when I seed yo' going wrong, and acting unfair, I'd speak to yo' in private first; and that would be a fair warning.”

“Upon my word, you don't think small beer of yourself! Hamper has had a loss of you. How came he to let you and your wisdom go?” John seethed at the idea of this man telling him how to run his business. “I'll not give you work.”

~~~


The statement rang through the office like a death knell for Margaret's hopes. Apparently all of the ideals that he had agreed to in London were tainted by the Milton air. Had it all been a show? A ploy to attract investors? A desire to please Margaret when he was still basking in the glow of her acceptance? Had her influence really been so fleeting? After all, he hadn't actually agreed with her assessment of the union earlier, only agreed to leave old grievances behind.

Nicholas interrupted her melancholy thoughts. “I hear, sir. I would na ha' troubled yo', but that I were bid to come, by one as seemed to think yo'd getten some soft place in yo'r heart. Hoo were mistook, and I were misled. But I'm not the first man as is misled by a woman.”

Was she mistaken? I suppose it's better to discover you were wrong about a man's heart mere days before the wedding than after, she thought gloomily. “John,” she touched his arm gently, unable to keep the disappointment out of her tone, “was I wrong? In London you spoke of your desire for men and masters to learn to live together, to bleed strikes of their bitterness. This is what drew me to you that day, it is also what led Lady Wentworth to invest in Marlborough Mills. Indeed, this whole meeting is meant as a bridge between you as a master and your workers through the union. Will you allow your own bitterness to destroy that before it begins?”

He let out a sigh and covered her hand with his. “No,” he replied tenderly to Margaret and she released a breath she was scarcely aware she'd been holding. Then, turning to Higgins he said in a brusque tone, “there's a job here for you if you'll take it.”

“Yo'll not stop me fro' payin' in to the union?”

“How you spend your money is no affair of mine as long as you don't go making mischief.”

“Yo'll not be sorry, I'm a good hand, measter, and a steady man.” Higgins held out his hand and John shook it to seal the agreement.

“Well then, shall we begin our plans then?” Asked Margaret in a happier tone. Although there were occasional bouts of pique or bluster, they managed to spend the next couple of hours drawing up plans for the dining hall and school.

When John was walking her home that evening, he squeezed her hand gently and renewed their thread of conversation from the day prior. “For the record, if today is any indication, your presence is far less of a distraction than your absence. You were wonderful today my love, and you made me better as well.”

Chapter 11: Haste to the Wedding


Crampton, October 16, 1851

The rest of the week passed in a blur. Margaret spent most of her days with her mother and Dixon working on wedding plans. In spite of Margaret's desire to simply wear her favorite dress, her mother caught on the idea of Margaret wearing her gown. Anything that could be done to make Mama happy of course would be done, so Margaret and Dixon set to modifying the gown. As they worked in Mrs. Hale's chamber, they happily chatted with Mama when she was awake and quietly stitched while she rested. Margaret delivered the promised stories of London, of the Great Exhibition, and of all of the nuances and follies of her relationship with John. Mama in turn reminisced on her own wedding and courtship. Margaret treasured each of these stories away in her mind.

Margaret had written express to Aunt Shaw and Edith informing them of her hasty marriage preparations and the reason behind it. Edith had written back an effusive letter. As the course of true love in Edith's case had run remarkably smooth, she was living vicariously through Margaret's romantic tragedy. After waxing poetic for several pages about special licenses, a secret parlor ceremony, and the endurance of true love through hardship and grief, she cheerfully outlined all of the flowers and treats she would bring with her from London to ensure that Margaret's wedding was everything lovely.

Aunt Shaw's note was far more terse. She wrote the minimal congratulations required for civility and made a point of emphasizing that Henry was far too cast down to join them on their foray into the northern climate. For all of Aunt Shaw's bluster about her own disappointment over a marriage of convenience and effusions about Edith marrying for love, she was doing a rather poor job at hiding her displeasure in Margaret's choice. Thankfully, Aunt Shaw was not her guardian, and therefore could do little else but bluster.

They would be here tomorrow. Tomorrow. Margaret had the odd sensation that she'd been waiting both forever and no time at all for this wedding. Her emotions had been so violent and in such extremes that it was rather difficult for her to alight on feeling either utter joy at her love or utter despair over her mother's declining health. At the same time she was utterly exhausted. The week had been full of planning: for the wedding, for the changes to the mill, for the possibility of Frederick's visit. With this last in mind, they had allowed Martha a holiday to visit her mother. In her place, Mary Higgins was to come help in the kitchens. All must be arranged so as to conceal Frederick as much as possible. Margaret felt that she had been quite busy from the moment they stepped off of the train.

She was sitting in the parlor in this state of nervous anticipation and finishing affixing some lace to a hair comb for her veil when she heard a rapid knock at the door. Dixon blustered into the room “I suppose it's all well and good for you that Mr. Thornton thinks he can come a visiting at all hours now that you're engaged.” Their faithful servant had not scrupled to show her disappointment in the upcoming marriage whenever she was out of Mrs. Hale's hearing. Margaret smiled and cheerily offered to answer the door herself. He had been visiting her each night after the mill closed. When she opened the door, she was momentarily confused as the tall man silhouetted against the street lamps was certainly not John.

“Is this Mr. Hale's?” said he, in a clear, full, delicate voice.

Margaret trembled all over; at first she did not answer. In a moment she sighed out, “Frederick!” and stretched out both her hands to catch his, and draw him in.

"Oh, Margaret!" said he, holding her off by her shoulders, after they had kissed each other, as if even in that darkness he could see her face, and read in its expression a quicker answer to his question than words could give,—

"My mother! is she alive?"

"Yes, she is alive, dear, dear brother! She—as ill as she can be she is; but alive! She is alive!"

"Thank God!" said he.

"Papa is utterly prostrate with this great grief."

"You expect me, don't you?"

"No, we have had no letter."

"Then I have come before it. But my mother knows I am coming?"

"Oh! we all knew you would come!”
She threw her arms around his neck and held him tight. Her Brother! Returned after so many years of exile.

~~~


All of the fear and anxiety that Frederick Hale had felt on the long solitary journey was momentarily lifted at the joy of seeing his dearest sister again after all of these years. As the initial emotions of the reunion began to ebb, he became aware of the gauzy fabric oddly strewn over his shoulder. “What's this now? I've heard lament about the Milton climate, but I should hardly think you require mosquito nets.”

“Oh! I was in such a rush to answer the door I quite forgot it was still in my hand!” Margaret's radiant smile seemed at odds with the news that had brought him to Milton. He had barely a moment to process this response when a dark brooding figure blocked the doorway and swept his gaze over them. He entered the house and hastily slammed the door shut with force.

“What were you thinking, embracing in the doorway without even closing the door! Why anyone could have seen you!” The irate stranger yelled at his sister in a harsh whisper. Frederick instinctively shielded Margaret behind him.

“Oh dear, I fear I was overcome by emotions, as you know I haven't seen my brother in so long!”

“Margaret!” Frederick turned on his sister, “you know how clandestine this visit is, how could you go announce it to your neighbors?”

“How could you?” Asked the stranger in a harsh tone, “If you won't take basic precautions for your own sake, I'll thank you to not endanger your sister as well! Even if you weren't recognized, do you know what damage you could have done to her reputation?”

“There are so few people in the street at this hour, I daresay nobody saw,” Margaret responded in the typical tone she used when arbitrating family disputes. The stranger only glared at Margaret until she conceded, “but you are right, we must be more careful.” The stranger nodded and his expression softened.

“Margaret, what is going on?” Frederick asked, confused.

“Fred, this is John Thornton,” she paused, sharing a tender smile with the stranger, “my fiancé. John, this is my brother Frederick.”

“How do you do,” Mr. Thornton said in an amiable voice and held out his hand.

Frederick was stunned. In his head, Margaret was still the happy thirteen year old who had waved him off on his departure for the navy. Her girlish greeting had done little to displace that vision. This hulking brute could not be her betrothed. He appraised Thornton longer than was polite before he realized a response was required. Reluctantly, he shook the man's hand.

“Fred,” Margaret addressed him as she ushered him up the steps, “mother is asleep, but father will be pleased to see you. He's been so cast down about Mama that I fear he would have sunk into despair had it not been for the prospect of seeing you and the wedding. Aunt Shaw, Edith, and Captain Lennox will be here on the morrow. I'm so glad you made it in time!”

“In time?”

“In order to bring your mother some joy and something to look forward to, we planned the wedding for tomorrow.” The rational answer from Mr. Thornton irritated him. Margaret's last letter was less than a month old and yet she had made no mention of an engagement.

“So soon!” Frederick was taken aback, “Margaret, you've not been pressured into this have you? You know I would do anything to make Mother happy right now, but not in place of your future happiness.”

Margaret gave him a small reproachful smile and set down the veil in the parlor. “I thought you knew me better than that, do you suppose I would be so weak willed? No, I am marrying John because I love him.” She cast a smile on her betrothed, and that man's face was transformed from the scowl that still lingered from his entrance into a lovesick grin. Unable to dismiss such conclusive evidence, Frederick wished them well.

Looking around the cramped house, Frederick cursed himself for neglecting his family. He had lamented his exile for years. The poor sailor, martyred for a noble cause, forever estranged from his home and those he loved. In absence of evidence to the contrary, it was easy for him to believe the cheery slant that Margaret put on their situation in her letters. It wasn't until he saw the abysmal circumstances here for himself that he truly felt the strain that his absence had put on his family. Had he been here in England, had he an income to share, he could have prevented this.

The small party sat in the parlor, Dixon flitting about, eager to do anything she could for him. The dear lady had always had a fondness for him. His father greeted him as warmly as could be expected under the circumstances but Frederick was saddened by the old man's despondency. While Frederick told the tale of his journey, Mr. Hale hardly said a word. When the talk turned to his mother, Mr. Hale sunk farther into his grief, rallying only to praise Mr. Thornton of the care he had shown them during Mother's illness. The only subject that seemed to rouse him was talk of the upcoming wedding. It was clear that whatever deficiencies there were in the care of his mother and sister were being addressed by this northern tradesman. It was not the match that Frederick had envisioned for his sister, but it was clear that the man doted on her. Even the tirade he had made on his entrance had been born of a wish to protect Margaret. She, at least, would be in good hands.

After some time, the conversation had largely dwindled and Father had fallen into a peaceful doze. Mr. Thornton broached a delicate subject. “The ceremony will be small and private, in this very room. Your Harley street relations are aware of your circumstances and can be trusted, I presume?” Frederick nodded. “The only other people present will be the parson, my mother, and my sister. We must decide what to tell them.”

“Yes, now that I'm here I wouldn't miss your wedding for the world, but it would be best to minimize exposure.”

“When will the Harley Street party arrive?” Thornton asked.

“On the nine o'clock train at the Milton station.” Margaret supplied.

Thornton turned to Frederick, “I've been wondering if it might be best for you to slip out in the morning and make your way separately to the train station. If you attach yourself to the Harley Street party from the train station, we could say you were a cousin come up from London.”

“Oh, yes. Nobody would question whether I have one cousin or two,” Margaret agreed.

“It is one more trip outside of the house, and every exposure has its risks.” Frederick replied.

“True, but I am sorry to say that my sister is a rather flighty creature. I'm certain that your fashionable relations arrival will be noted by the women of Milton and Fanny will hear. If you are to be exposed to anyone outside of the present occupants of this house, an active alias may be better protection than merely attempting to hide.”

Frederick sighed, “I suppose I must be Mr. Shaw for the present then.” It would be risky, but perhaps Mr. Thornton was correct. The wedding was fortuitous in providing an excuse for extra visitors in the house. This way he could hide in plain sight.

~~~



Friday October 17, 1851

John drew on his years of negotiation in business to maintain his typical detachment as he alighted from his carriage at the Milton station. Margaret was too engaged in preparations to meet her relations at the station and so he was here alone. If he was concerned that he would be a spectacle in his wedding finery, he was relieved of that burden as soon as he saw Mrs. Shaw floating down the platform like a queen, casting imperious glares at anyone in her way, a small hoard of porters following in her wake tending to the various packages of wedding 'necessities' that she and Mrs. Lennox had brought from London. The Captain escorted his wife, who was fussing over the packages, but kindly thanking the porters. John noted Frederick discretely attaching himself to the tail of the group. As they arrived at the carriage, the porters and coachman began loading the packages as John greeted his new relations. He handed Mrs. Shaw and Mrs. Lennox into the carriage before greeting Captain Lennox and adding in a low voice, “Lieutenant Hale arrived last night, please play along and I'll explain in the carriage.” The captain gave him a startled look but nodded.

“Mr. Shaw, welcome to Milton.” John addressed Frederick in a booming voice and shook his hand. From inside the carriage Mrs. Lennox gasped and Mrs. Shaw began a loud rebuttal, but the Captain made a loud display of boarding the carriage and managed to quiet them. By the time Frederick and John entered the carriage, it seemed that the two startled ladies could do little but stare in shocked silence. Thankfully the door had closed and the carriage had just begun moving when the dam broke and Mrs. Shaw loudly exclaimed “Frederick! Is that you? Oh my nerves!” Mrs. Lennox gave a high pitched squeal and launched herself into Frederick's arms.

“Aunt, Edith, I apologize for startling you, but as we've got a wedding to attend, Mr. Thornton thought it best that I assume the role of your son for the present.” Frederick said on a laugh as he set Edith away from him.

“It was best to have him seen and acknowledged rather than lurking in corners, though we will be discrete.” John added

“Sholto,” Mrs. Lennox said in a giddy voice, “allow me to present my dear cousin Frederick. He has to be careful, as you know.”

“Well, any brother of Edith is a brother of mine.” Captain Lennox replied cheerily and shook Frederick's hand.

When they arrived at Crampton, John sent the carriage back to Marlborough Mills as soon as it was unloaded to fetch his mother and Fanny. The men were ushered into Mr. Hale's study. “You,” Edith said to John with the strict authority of a bridesmaid, “are not to venture upstairs until summoned. You,” she turned to Frederick, “are required for the heavy lifting,” she added with an impish smile. And so John was abandoned in the study with Captain Lennox. He could hear the sound of furniture being moved in the parlor above in preparation for the wedding. His wedding. In one short hour Margaret would be his wife! His feet longed to take him up the stairs to Margaret's side, so he paced the small room in order to give them some occupation as he waited.

“Nervous?” Asked Captain Lennox with a raised brow.

John met his knowing look and responded honestly, “impatient.”

“Good man.” Captain Lennox said with a jovial slap to his shoulder, “I could not sit idly before my own wedding either. Of course, I didn't have to hear the preparations being made above me, I was safely at the church while Edith dressed at home.” The thought of Margaret dressing for their wedding in some unknown chamber above him did nothing to settle John. Captain Lennox chatted on about his own wedding. His descriptions of the never-ending commotion about trifles that his mother-in-law had created then left to be sorted by Edith and Margaret amused John enough to almost distract him from the woman upstairs.

“Margaret is a dear girl. In situations where she can make things easier for those she loves, she is the sweetest, most obliging person you could meet.” John smiled at this characterization, he had seen it many times in her care for her parents and counted himself blessed that he had somehow won her love. “But then,” Captain Lennox continued, “if you catch her on a matter of morals, or conviction, that obliging girl turns into quite the fighter.”

“Oh, I'm well aware of her crusades,” replied John replied John with a rueful half smile, “when she first moved to Milton, Margaret saw me only as a pattern-book mill master, the kind you read about in the reform leaflets – a tyrant who takes delight in subjecting his employees to atrocities in order to line his own pockets. It took quite some time to convince her that I was a man with a soul … and a heart.”

“And yet, here you are,” said the Captain with a smile.

Margaret's tinkling laugh drifted down to him through the floorboards and he couldn't help but smile towards it wistfully, “aye, here we are.”

“I know that Edith and my mother-in-law had hopes for Margaret in another direction, but I don't think Henry had the spirit to manage her. You, on the other hand seem quite capable.”

“Aye, though I think it's debatable which of us will be managing the other,” John smiled thinking back on their recent meeting with Higgins. “We're equally stubborn and strong willed. But, I'll not be expecting her to change on my account. How could I, when she's had me entranced from the first.”

Conversation between the two gentlemen was stilted as John settled into pacing for one of the longest hours of his life thus far.

~~~


Margaret's nerves had been sorely tested that morning, though not from anything so slight as wedding-day jitters. Frederick had slipped out of the servant's entrance to the house just before dawn in order to minimize his chances of being seen. That left him some several hours to hide himself as best he could before he could join the others at nine o'clock and begin hiding in plain sight. She jumped at every noise on the street, fearful that it was an inspector come to inform them of Frederick's arrest. Regardless of her own fears, it fell to her to assuage the fears of both her father and mother. Though all had agreed last night that this was the best course of action, once it was set in motion, her father fretted and her mother lamented. Luckily, her mother was easy to distract with preparations for the upcoming nuptials. Mary came around half past seven to help prepare a modest wedding breakfast and relieve Dixon so that she could help Margaret dress. Nicholas came along to attend the wedding – he had been granted half the day's leave as his master was the groom and the bride had plead for his presence at the wedding – and was invaluable in distracting her father.

In order to incorporate Mrs. Hale into her preparations, Margaret dressed in the sick room. She allowed Dixon to concoct a far more lavish hairstyle than was her habit per her mother's instructions. Her mother asked Dixon to fetch her jewelry casket, from which she reverently lifted her pearls. Margaret perched on the side of the bed and allowed her mother to clasp the pearls around her neck. A small commotion was heard below and within minutes, Mary led Fanny and Mrs. Shaw into the chamber.

“Oh phoo!” Exclaimed Edith, “You're already nearly full dressed! I was hoping to help you as you did me!”

Margaret rose and gave Edith an exited hug “I am sorry Edith, but we've but an hour before the parson arrives.”

“And we've so much to prepare in the parlor!” Edith cried.

Aunt Shaw bent somewhat from her rigid stance and gave Margaret an indulgent smile. “You look lovely in your mother's gown my dear. Why don't you girls go set up the parlor while Dixon and I get your mother ready.”

Although Margaret was a sensible girl, something of Edith's whimsical excitement stirred a like feeling in her and they giggled their way hand in hand to the parlor like a pair of schoolgirls. Mary and the coachman were just setting the last of the boxes on the floor and Mr. Hale was introducing his nephew, Mr. Frederick Shaw to Nicholas and Mary. Thank God he made it back safely! Margaret thought when she heard his voice and released a sigh of relief. As they entered the parlor, all eyes fell on Margaret in stunned silence.

Margaret indeed did feel stunning in her mother's dress. It was made of the softest pale blue silk – as Mama married before Queen Victoria made white dresses all the rage – with a delicate white lace over-skirt that ended some five inches above the hem, where the skirt was trimmed with an intricate scroll pattern embroidered in silver and dark blue with fine seed pearls worked in. The cut and fit of the old-fashioned dress was somewhat freeing as the waist was a bit higher, the skirts less full, and it lacked the voluminous bustles, bows, and endless flounces of the current fashions in formal attire. She felt elegant without being overdone, which was all Margaret could wish for on this day.

Nicholas recovered first, “Why Miss Margaret, I canna say as I've ever seen a bonnier bride than yo!”

Mary, as terse usual, cried her habitual “Oh Miss!” with awed enthusiasm.

Frederick, in the universal manner of big brothers, could not resist the slight joke of, “I suppose you'll do,” but the wink and the warm smile he gave her belied his words.

Her father was staring at her in awe, eyes pooling with tears. “Margaret!” He said in an unsteady voice, “you look just like your mother, I feel as if I've stepped into the past.”

“Oh Papa,” she replied as she stepped forward to hug him, “that is the best compliment you could ever give me!”

“Now, now, everyone,” Edith said with mock severity, “we could spend the next hour admiring the stunning vision Margaret presents in her wedding finery, but then we'd have no decorations for the wedding itself.”

“I believe you are right, and as you've brought it all from London that would be a shame,” Margaret said as she disentangled herself from her father's embrace. “Edith, these are my friends, Nicholas and Mary Higgins.” Margaret did not miss the look of confusion that crossed Edith's face at being introduced to people whom she had assumed were servants.

After a moment, she gave them a shallow curtsy and plowed forward in her planning. “Now, where are we to put Aunt Hale?”

“We tried to convince her it would be as well to have the ceremony in her room so she would not have to leave her bed, but she would not hear us. I think it best if we move her onto the settee in her room and bundle her tight, then carry the settee in here. That way we minimize her exposure to the draft in the hall.” Margaret replied.

“Splendid! Luckily her room is on this floor, so she won't have to be moved far,” replied Edith, mentally tallying the available furniture and plotting in her head. After a moment she began giving orders to Frederick and Nicholas to move the furniture. Before long, the sofa and chairs, as well as several chairs from the dining parlor, were arranged facing the fireplace, with a makeshift aisle between them and an empty space near the fireplace left for Mrs. Hale's settee. Meanwhile, Margaret and Mary began unpacking the parcels of flowers, ribbons, and other finery that Edith had brought. She noted with pleasure that the flowers were various shades of white, blue, and purple that complemented her dress splendidly. She was touched that for all of her disapproval, Aunt Shaw must have had a part in planning the flowers. Margaret had only told Edith they were using her mother's dress but had not described it. They were just about to start adorning the room when Dixon entered and formally announced that Mrs. Hale was ready to be brought in.

With Frederick and Nicholas lifting at either end of the settee and Dixon imperiously tutting and fretting while directing them, Mrs. Hale made her way down the aisle for her daughter's wedding in a farce of Cleopatra on her liter. From this throne, she then animatedly directed the placement of flowers, ribbons, and garlands for several minutes before growing tired and napping lightly as people worked around her. At this stage Aunt Shaw, who saw herself as nearly an adoptive mother to Margaret, took over the role of imperious overseer to this production.

Nicholas had carefully untangled a long garland of flowers and was standing with it draped about his shoulders and arms. He was feeding it to Dixon and Mary, who were standing precariously on chairs affixing the garland to the doorway as Aunt Shaw barked orders as to its placement when Mrs. and Miss Thornton made their entrance. Introductions were made. Fanny squealed about the lavish flowers brought up from London and happily went to help Margaret arrange flowers into silver vases, while Edith was distributing the finished vases around the room. Mrs. Thornton, with far more command and somewhat less taste, was attempting to over-rule Aunt Shaw's instructions as to the garland. A knock on the door and a quick glance at the clock alerted Margaret to the fact that their preparation time was up. She momentarily sighed over the spectacle of the room and took decisive action.

“Dixon, Mary, the garland looks perfect where it is now, please secure it and come down.” The two matrons looked at her indignantly, as they were both advocating for some slight alteration, but their distraction lasted long enough for the task to be completed. “Excellent. Dixon, Mary, would you please take these floral arrangements down to the dining parlor and verify that all is prepared for the breakfast.” In the pause, she gratefully heard John answer the door to the parson. “Mrs. Thornton, would you be so kind as to fetch the gentlemen from the study?” Margaret saw her chin rise indignantly, so she softened the order by adding, “I am sure that John would appreciate a quiet moment with you before we get underway.” Mrs. Thornton's expression softened slightly and she gave an answering nod and exited the room. “Frederick, Nicholas, would you please clear these boxes? You may place them in my room for the moment. Thank you. Aunt Shaw, would you please wake my mother and make sure she is comfortable? Edith, Fanny, as bridesmaids, would you care to join me in mother's room to finish preparing?” Both young ladies gave excited titters and Edith grabbed Margaret's posy of flowers. “Father, would you please come to fetch me when I am needed?” He nodded and smiled.

Margaret gave one more sweeping glance around the room. It had been transformed into a garden oasis. It was perfect. She nodded and retreated to her mother's room with Edith and Fanny following her like ducklings. All that was really left for Margaret's preparations was to attach her veil, which Edith did with all of the solemnity that such a rite of passage deserved. Fanny busied herself about straightening invisible wrinkles in Margaret's dress and complimenting the exquisite embroidery.

Margaret could do with a good deal less fuss over her marriage. She was quite sure that she did not need fancy silks and imported flowers to make the day she joined her life with John's memorable. And yet, the flowers werelovely, the dress was beautiful. She was certain John would think her beautiful in it. And nothing could be more precious than the look of pride her mother gave her when she saw Margaret in her dress, the tenderness with which she clasped the pearls with her shaking fingers, and the childlike glee she had when she was issuing orders about the decorations. The vows would be for her and John, but every thing else about today was about family.

Before very many minutes had passed, her father came to collect her. Edith and Fanny preceded them into the parlor with all of the pomp they could muster. Father kissed her cheek, squeezed her hand affectionately, and escorted her into the parlor. They turned into the doorway and there he was. John was standing by the fireplace beside the pastor and his face transformed the moment he saw her to one of wistful awe, as if he still couldn't believe that this was all happening. That look he focused on her seemed to pull the air out of the room while drawing her in. She returned a brilliant smile as she admired the dashing figure he cut. While his formal coat and pantaloons were still his customary black, he wore a blue cravat and matching waistcoat. He was always handsome, but the color suited him, gave him a softer look than his habitual black. Her father shifted his arm slightly pulling her out of her focused gaze. She glanced around the room and saw a sea of loving faces. Her father standing proud as he walked her down their makeshift aisle, Frederick's cheeky grin as he stood up with John, Mother's pale cheeks brightened by the excitement, Edith and Fanny looking like a pair of perfect Dresden figurines, Even Mrs. Thornton was managing a small smile. For a brief moment, she felt as if all of her cares would disappear if only she could keep everyone she loved safe and cocooned in this magical space. Her smile faltered as her practical side reminded her that this wasn't true. But then her gaze focused again on John and her joy returned in force. Her John. Her anchor.

~~~


She was the most beautiful sight John ever seen. He would never tire of having that devoted smile aimed in his direction. She was always beautiful but today she was stunning. It had been a trying day and the stress was beginning to wear on him. But as soon as he caught sight of Margaret all thoughts of his mother's complaints about Margaret's airs, Mrs. Shaw's disapproval, or Frederick's slip of calling his own mother 'Mama' rather than his aunt flew from his head. Margaret was regally floating on the arm of her father, looking for all the world like she was walking down the aisle of the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace rather than crossing a parlor in a small house in Crampton. He could still scarcely believe that this magnificent creature cared for him. From tonight onward, he would no longer have to take his leave of her at night and return to his lonely bed. He would have a partner, a wife to share his joys and his burdens. He saw a momentary flicker of grief as she looked at her mother and reminded himself that he would share her burdens as well. For once he entirely let his social mask fall and conveyed all of his emotions, his convictions, his love, his unparalleled happiness, into the steady adoring smile he trained on Margaret. His Margaret.

When she reached him he took her hands, impatient to confirm that this was real, that she wouldn't evaporate away like she had in the wretched dreams that had plagued him for months. Her fingers were indeed solid within his grasp. He could scarcely account for the events of the ceremony itself. He must have given the appropriate responses when prompted and slipped a ring on her finger because it seemed that before he could shift any of his attention away from the woman beside him people were approaching and congratulating him. His wife – wife! – was moving towards her mother and as he was yet unwilling to let go of her hand he moved along with her.

“Margaret … John … I am so … happy for you … to have … my whole … family together … to see … you … married … has made … me … so happy!” Her labored breathing and ensuing coughing fit finally brought John back down to earth.

“Shall I fetch you some water?” She nodded weakly, but before he managed more than a step, Miss Dixon arrived with a glass of water and aided her mistress to drink.

“Have we taxed you overmuch today Mama?” Margaret asked in concern.

“No … my dear … I would have … given … anything … to see this … day.” Mrs. Hale gave her daughter a joyful smile. “Although … I am … tired … I fear … I must … rest.”

Eager to be useful to his mother-in-law, John lifted the back of the settee while Frederick lifted the foot and they carried her into her room.

~~~


Once Dixon had shooed the men out of the room and maneuvered Mama back to her bed, Margaret went forward and grasped her hand. “I shall … be … well after … some rest … go … enjoy your … wedding … breakfast.” Her eyelids were drooping and she was clearly exhausted, but the joy still shone on her face. Margaret squeezed her hand and reluctantly left her to her rest. John was waiting for her in the hallway.

“Has Frederick gone down?”

“Aye, I like your brother,” he said as he took her hand, “I think he wanted to give us a moment alone. How are you holding up?”

“I am well. The wedding was perfect. Having everyone here, all of the love and joy and support, for a brief moment it felt like everything would be ok. Mama seemed so happy, but then after …”

He drew her into his comforting embrace and whispered, “after the ceremony she was still happy, just tired. She is ill and needs her rest, but the important thing is that she was here with you at our wedding.”

Our wedding, she thought and smiled up at him. “We're married!”

He kissed her reverently and tenderly replied, “that we are, Mrs. Thornton.” Margaret's brow furrowed and John's face grew anxious. “You're not having regrets?”

“Oh no John! The only regret I have is that it took me so long to see your merits. It's just … well, when you called me Mrs. Thornton I had to fight the urge to look around for your mother.” His deep laughter rumbled through her.

“I suppose it will take some getting used to. But you are not unhappy in your choice of husband?”

“Never,” she replied sincerely, “and are you happy in your choice of wife?”

“Margaret, you cannot imagine how blissfully happy you've made me today.” He proceeded to demonstrate this bliss with a deep, passionate kiss.

She pulled away and hid her face against his shoulder, still unaccustomed to this level of intimacy. “I'm afraid if we tarry any longer your mother may send up a search party.”

“Aye, I suppose it would not do for the bride and groom to miss the wedding breakfast.” He offered her his arm and escorted her down to the dining parlor.

“Ah, there you are Margaret, John,” her father greeted them with far more cheer in his tone than had been his habit of late, “or should I say Mr. and Mrs. Thornton!”

Mrs. Hannah Thornton winced at the statement and added caustically, “we were beginning to despair of you joining us.”

“I was helping to settle my mother,” Margaret said, striving for calm. From the heat in her cheeks and the alternating mischievous or disapproving looks this elicited from many in the party, Margaret knew she was not entirely successful.

Edith attempted to lighten the atmosphere by saying, “Margaret, I know you once decried the necessity of a wedding-breakfast, I was wondering if you were staying away on principle.”

“Oh Edith, you know I loved your wedding, I was merely weary of planning and arranging at the time.”

“Yes, well, that was a far more formal affair,” snapped her aunt as she looked down at the assortment of delightful meats and pastries that Dixon and Mary had prepared.

“And it suited Edith very well, but you know I do not like such fuss for myself.” Margaret thought she heard a scoff from her mother-in-law but chose to ignore it. In spite of the pique of the two matrons, the rest of the conversation at the breakfast continued pleasantly. Fanny broke the tension first with a conversation about the delights they saw at the exhibition which Margaret, John, Edith, and Captain Lennox were happy to contribute to. The exotic wares of the empire naturally segued into a discussion of travel. Edith and Captain Lennox gave picturesque descriptions of Corfu, Aunt Shaw chimed in with tales from her latest trip to Italy, and Frederick entertained them with vivid, graphic, rattling accounts of the wild life he had led in Mexico, South America, and elsewhere – carefully avoiding any mention of how he came to live such a life and of his current home in Spain.

Margaret cherished these lighthearted animated conversations; however, the highlight of the meal for her was the solid presence of her husband by her side. While it was true that many of these people would soon return to London or Spain – possibly never to return again – Margaret knew that John would remain. When the worst happened and her mother departed this earth, John would be here by her side. This may be the final time that the present party were all assembled under the same roof but it was only the first of a lifetime of meals with her husband.

Author's Note: I've got the whole story written at 15 chapters, if you would like a pdf of the whole, please e-mail me at cynicallycharged@gmail.com. However, I've been thinking that it'd be a shame to have Frederick Wentworth as an acquaintance of the Hales & Thorntons and not have him help out Frederick Hale from his mutiny case. But, I keep getting caught up on whether he could do so and remain true to his character. He is duty bound to the navy, after all. Is there anything within the bounds of Navy structure that would allow him to help? Would he just tow the line and condemn Frederick Hale as a traitor & mutineer? Maybe there's inside information or rumors about Captain Reed's later behavior that the general public just doesn't know about but Frederick Wentworth does? I'm considering adding this on as another chapter or epilogue if I can sort it out, but I would like your feedback on this plot point. Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any knowledge or ideas about this. ~Morgan
SubjectAuthorPosted

A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 10-12 (Post 4)

MorganANovember 03, 2017 08:13PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 10-12 (Post 4)

MichaNovember 05, 2017 12:52PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 10-12 (Post 4)

EvelynJeanNovember 04, 2017 04:35AM

Oops, *Chapters 10-11*

MorganANovember 03, 2017 08:19PM



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