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A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 12-14 (Post 5)

November 06, 2017 05:05PM
Trigger Warning: You probably know this is coming, but there is canonical character death in this chapter.

Chapter 12: Swift Departure



Most people around the table had long abandoned their forks and settled into pleasant conversation over tea when John noticed Miss Dixon solemnly enter the dining parlor. Her expression was so altered from her earlier happiness that he knew it did not bode well for Mrs. Hale's condition.

“Dixon, how fares Maria?” Mr. Hale asked with an anxious tone. The room quieted and all eyes turned to the Hale's servant.

“She is awake …” she heaved a shuddering breath “... barely. She is quite anxious to see Mrs. Shaw, Mas … Mr. Shaw, and Mrs. Lennox before they go.” Her tone suggested an urgency none of them had expected after her energy of the morning. Frederick and Mrs. Lennox bolted from the room as swiftly as they could, while Mrs. Shaw was only slightly delayed by following proper decorum. Margaret hastily left her chair to help Mr. Hale from his. Half an hour ago, Mr. Hale was a middle-aged man; now his sight was dim, his senses wavering, his walk tottering, as if he were seventy years of age. John couldn't begin to imagine the pain he was suffering. He himself had only been married for two hours and already the thought of loosing Margaret was unbearable.

Margaret gave him a searching look just before she left the dining parlor, he answered her silent plea: “I will see to the rest of our guests and call for Dr. Donaldson. I will be here if you need me.” She gave him a grateful nod and continued up the stairs.

“Mother, shall I call for the carriage?”

“I don't see how I can be of any use here. But what about you, should I send it back?”

“No, I think it unlikely that we will be home tonight, we will be needed here.”

“Surely you …”

“No Mother,” he said in a quiet firm voice. He knew that her primary opposition to his marriage was that she would loose him, and here he was quitting the house on the very first night but it could not be helped. “I can not and will not leave my wife on our wedding day while her mother is dying.”

Mother straightened and nodded, caving in to the demands of propriety. “Very well. Dr. Donaldson is not terribly far from Marlborough Mills. We shall stop to fetch him and send him back in the carriage then walk the rest of the way home.” She glared at Fanny as if daring her to complain, Fanny merely closed her mouth and nodded dispite her petulant look.

“Thank you Mother,” he said, kissing her cheek.

He sent Mary down to the mews to call for the coach, and soon saw his mother and sister out. Returning to the dining parlor, he found himself again alone with Captain Lennox – Higgins having left before the breakfast in order to meet with some men about the dining hall at the mill. “This would seem to be a rather dramatic introduction into the family,” the Captain said gravely.

“Aye, but it was not wholly unexpected. This was, after all, the reason for our haste. She just looked so much improved this morning.”

“I wish there were something useful for us to do.” Mary bustled into the room to clean up the remains of breakfast. Dixon would be focused on Mrs. Hale for the foreseeable future.

“Well, I suspect that most of the family will be asked to leave the room when the doctor arrives, perhaps we should set the parlor to rights?” John suggested. Captain Lennox gave a decisive nod and led the way. By the time the doctor's quick rap on the door sounded, the furniture had been rearranged and a fire built. John went down to answer the door. In passing Mary at on the landing, he requested she bring up tea to the parlor. He then showed the doctor up to Mrs. Hale's room. Margaret and Frederick were positioned on either side of her holding her hands. Mrs. Shaw and Edith had taken up positions by the lower bedposts. Mr. Hale leaned heavily against the door, as if he had not the strength to stand on his own.

“Ok, if everyone could please clear the room so I can conduct my examination. Miss Dixon and Miss Hale may stay if you like.”

“Mrs. … Thornton,” Mrs. Hale gasped out with as much of a smile as she could muster while struggling for breath. John smiled slightly that even as she struggled for her last breaths, she was announcing her daughter's marriage.

“Yes, she fetched me in the carriage so that I could arrive quickly, so very kind of her,” the doctor replied. Mrs. Hale turned to Margaret with frustration clear on her face.

“No,” replied Margaret with a weak smile, “she means me. I am no longer Miss Hale, we were married today.” She looked tenderly at John and he couldn't suppress a small smile despite the circumstances.

“I see. Congratulations Mrs. Thornton,” he said brusquely as he set his bag on the bedside table, “you may stay if you like, everyone else please leave.”

John helped Mr. Hale to the parlor and into his habitual chair. Frederick leaned languidly against the fireplace. Mrs. Shaw, Mrs. Lennox and the Captain shared the sofa so John took the chair opposite Mr. Hale. Nobody spoke. Mr. Hale was wracked with silent sobs. Frederick peered into the fire as if it held the solution to this grave problem. Mrs. Shaw was ashen and introspective. Mrs. Lennox grasped her husband's hand while he gently tried to soothe her. Mary brought in the tea service and as neither of the women roused themselves to pour, he prepared a cup for Mr. Hale himself. He knew how he took it as he had often watched Margaret preparing her father's tea, entranced at the little pantomime they acted out – her father would take her little finger and thumb in his masculine hand, and made them serve as sugar-tongs. It was so loving and familiar that John had longed from the first for even a small fraction of that love.

He handed the tea to Mr. Hale and urged him to drink something, more as a distraction than any urgent need for tea. The older man automatically lifted the cup to his mouth once in compliance, then fell back into his despondency. Captain Lennox was preparing a cup for his wife, so John asked in a low voice how Mrs. Shaw took her tea and made her a cup.

She started up when he offered her the cup and seemed to come out of her daze. She looked up at him in confusion, but after a moment replied. “Thank you Mr. Thornton, I'm afraid I'm rather overcome.” She looked around her for the first time since leaving, evidently noting the rearranged furniture. She cast him an appraising look and said, “Thank you for taking care of us, for taking care of her.” For the first time in his acquaintance with the woman, he felt true gratitude and respect behind those words.

“I assure you Mrs. Shaw, it is my pleasure and my privileged to do whatever I can to relieve the burden of this distressing time.” He got the notion that when she nodded her approval, it encompassed more than his response. The room then lapsed into anxious silence until Margaret and Dr. Donaldson appeared. She looked so pale and haggard at the door, but before taking many steps into the room a serene mask fell across her features. No doubt she felt the need to protect her father from her own feelings. John immediately helped her to his own chair and went to make her tea.

~~~


Margaret was in a daze. Mama is dying. Of course, she had known that for some time now. But there was a difference between knowing that Mama would eventually die from this illness and knowing that Mama would likely die within the day. She walked mechanically to the parlor, steeped in grief. When she saw her father and brother turn to her with expectant eyes she knew that she would have to be the strong one. She had to pull the family through this. So she strengthened her resolve, and controlled her expression. John came forward and showed her to a chair.

“I gave her some opiates and she's resting comfortably now,” the doctor was repeating the news he had told her moments ago as John handed her a cup of tea. When their hands briefly touched, she caught his and held it tightly, an anchor to hold her stable. The doctor continued, “However, this state of tranquility can not endure for many days, nor perhaps for many hours. Allow her to sleep as much as she can, try to have only one person sit with her at a time so as not to disturb her sleep. When she wakes up, make the most of her time left.” After this alarming speech, John showed Dr. Donaldson out.

Almost before the doctor was out of earshot Frederick wheeled around from the fireplace. 'I don't believe it,' he exclaimed. 'She is very ill; she may be dangerously ill, and in immediate danger, too; but I can't imagine that she could be as she is, if she were on the point of death. Margaret! she should have some other advice—some London doctor. Have you never thought of that?'

“Oh yes!” Added Aunt Shaw, “I can't imagine a Milton doctor has half the skill of one from London.”

Margaret sighed, “Of course I've considered it, more than once. But I don't believe it would do any good. And, you know, we have not the money or time to bring any great London surgeon down, and I am sure Dr. Donaldson is only second in skill to the very best,—if, indeed, he is to them.”

Aunt Shaw looked indignant, Frederick began pacing impatiently, and Father looked haunted. Margaret saw the turn that this conversation would very soon take. They blamed Milton for Mama's illness and by extension Father. But the man was already devastated by the decline of the woman he loved, and full of self-reproach. He could not bear being attacked. “If only …” Frederick began lamenting, but Margaret quickly cut him off.

“Frederick! Aunt! I know that we all desperately wish we could do something to help mother. But her symptoms started even before we left Helstone and Mama made the decision to not reveal the extent of her illness to us until it was necessary partly to avoid this fuss and worry. She does not want this.” Margaret succeeded in quelling the dispute for the time being. For the remainder of the afternoon, they took turns sitting with Mama while she slept. Aunt Shaw decided that she could not possibly return to London today, and so Captain Lennox went to engage rooms at a nearby hotel.

Late that afternoon, Mrs. Hale woke while Margaret was sitting with her. She grabbed her hand and yelled: “Frederick, Father!” The whole party huddled into the small room. Speaking was difficult for Mrs. Hale and induced frightful coughing fits, but she reached out her hand to each person in their turn, silently saying her farewells. They spent a cheerful half hour talking and reminiscing with Mrs. Hale communicating her enjoyment through smiles and nodding. She fell asleep holding Frederick's hand and nobody was willing to disturb her to release it. After this interlude, Aunt Shaw, Edith, and Captain Lennox retired to their hotel, fatigued from their early travel and trying day.

Before the night of that day, Dr. Donaldson's opinion was proved to be too well founded. Convulsions came on; and when they ceased, Mrs. Hale was unconscious. Her husband might lie by her shaking the bed with his sobs; her son's strong arms might lift her tenderly up into a comfortable position; her daughter's hands might bathe her face; but she knew them not. She would never recognize them again, till they met in Heaven. Before the morning came all was over.

~~~


It was nearly three in the morning when John finally convinced Margaret to get some rest. Her brother was shut in his room sobbing, her father sat trembling and silently refused to leave his wife's side. John knew that Margaret wished to comfort them, but there was little she could do tonight and she needed her own rest and her own time to grieve so he gently led her to her own room. She still wore her wedding dress, her attire forgotten in the chaos of the day. He asked if she needed help and she nodded faintly. He carefully helped her remove her dress and unlace her stays, a sad pantomime of a wedding night. He had a whole lifetime ahead of him with Margaret, tonight she needed to sleep and to grieve. And yet he rejoiced in being able to do this much. Dixon had retired hours ago, too lost in her own grief and managing the rest of the household to recall Margaret's stays. John was grateful that as her husband he was able to take care of her, to offer her these small comforts, that his great love might come in to comfort and console her. When she was down to her shift, he sat her at the vanity. She had removed her veil at some point during the day but her hair was still elaborately fixed, so he began removing pins from her hair. Throughout all of this she remained silent, dazed. He gently brushed out her hair and began plaiting it across her shoulder.

“You make a surprisingly good ladies maid,” she said softly in a dull voice, “I don't suppose you often find yourself plaiting hair at the Mill?” Gentle teasing was good. She was coming out of her stupor somewhat, and she was not opposed to his services.

“Perhaps not at the Mill, but I do have a younger sister. When Fanny was little it was just Mother and I, we had no servants so I did what was needed. She used to prefer it when I brushed her hair, she said I was more gentle. Mother would scold her and tap her over the head with the brush if she moved too much, but I could never bring myself to hurt the little pixie.” He said as he sought out a ribbon from the vanity to secure the plait.

“I can see why you're so well practiced then,” she said then paused contemplatively as he finished the bow. “John,” she reached up to capture his hand, “thank you.”

Her look of tender gratitude melted his heart and he sank down to his knees beside her. “Margaret, I promise that I will always do anything in my power to take care of you,” he paused and gave her a lopsided grin, “even if all I can do is fetch the tea and serve as a ladies maid.” He was rewarded with a small laugh and a light kiss. “Now, you need some rest,” he said as he rose. She nodded and stood.

“You won't leave me?” Her voice wavered a bit and he smiled, she wanted him to stay. His pulse quickened despite himself.

“No my love. I'll just be a moment.” He quickly divested himself of his coat, waistcoat, cravat, and shoes. He found it oddly appealing to toss his coordinating waistcoat and cravat on the chair alongside Margaret's wedding dress. A tangible record that something momentous and wonderful happened today in spite of the grief and sorrow that followed.

He blew out the candles so that only the warm glow of the fire in the hearth lit the room, conscious of the fact that Margaret watched his progress through the room. He gently climbed under the covers beside her and pulled her into his embrace. “How are you bearing up?” He asked as he gently rubbed her back.

“My grief pales in comparison to my father's, I must be strong for his sake. And for Fred's.”

John's brow furrowed. “You must grieve for yourself as well, it is unhealthy to bottle it up.”

“But I can bear it better than they.”

“How about we strike a bargain, I will not stop you from taking the weight of your family's grief on your shoulders as long as you allow me to do the same for you. You are not alone Margaret, there is no reason to be hide your feelings from me, love. I know the pain of loosing a parent, but I do not know what I would have done without my Mother's strength. Let me give that to you.”

“Thank you,” she responded in a quavering voice as she began to shed the first tears she had cried since her mother's passing. He held her as silent sobs racked her body and she clung to him. He lay there caressing her back, stroking her hair, whispering endearments, wishing there were more he could do but knowing there was not. Eventually her shuddering stilled and her breathing evened out as she fell asleep. He sighed and kissed the top of her head before he closed his eyes and succumbed to his own exhaustion.

Trigger Warning: The following chapter has one sentence referring to domestic violence in a minor character relationship. It is brief and not explicit.

Chapter 13: Mischances


Saturday October 18, 1851

Margaret awoke feeling warm and content, it took her a few moments to realize that the source of that warmth was John. Slightly more accustomed to the sensation than she had been before, she nestled further into his shoulder and sighed. Her husband. She smiled briefly at the memory of her wedding, but memories of the rest of the day followed swiftly on its heels allowing harsh reality to creep into her cocoon of happiness. When she rose, she would have to put on a mourning dress – it had been over three years since General Shaw had died, did her mourning gowns still fit? Aunt Shaw would need to be notified, Frederick and Father would need comforting, the funeral must be planned. However, the worst task ahead of her was figuring out how to live in a world without her mother. Her sob must have woken John, because his arm began stroking her back steadily.

“I'm sorry,” she said meekly, “I must control myself.”

“No, never apologize for your grief.” He said tenderly as he kissed the top of her head, “we are still alone, now is the time to give way.” She allowed herself the relief of tears, weeping into his shoulder so that no one else might hear her cry. Hearing Dixon close a door below, Margaret remembered that she could not give in entirely to her grief. She focused on the rhythmic movement of John's hand on her back, the beat of his heart, the gentle rise and fall of his chest and tried to regulate her breathing to his. She recalled his tenderness of the previous evening, his care, his gentle hands … heavens, he undressed me! She gasped and looked down to verify that she was indeed in only her shift and he was in his shirtsleeves. Her face flamed and she tugged at the coverlet to hide herself.

His voice rumbled through her. “I was unsure how aware you were when we retired last night, but Dixon had long since retired and you surely couldn't sleep well in your stays.”

“No, I could not,” she said, burying her face deeper into his shoulder to hide her embarrassment. “I do appreciate you taking care of me. It's just … nobody's seen me in only my shift save maids. You must allow for some maidenly modesty.”

“Of course,” he said, then cleared his throat and shifted, “shall I run down and fetch some hot water?”

She shifted up on her elbow and replied, “thank you, that would be wonderful.” She watched him swiftly replace his waistcoat and his shoes then disappear out the door. She marveled at his hasty departure and could only conclude that he wanted to see to her needs. He is certainly attentive, she thought as she moved to the wardrobe to search for appropriate attire.

~~~


John exited the room quickly and braced his arms against the wall. Last night had been easy. Margaret needed him and he did what was necessary. His own needs or desires had been unimportant. But lying in bed with her, the hazy light of dawn illuminating her hair while she blushed so becomingly, speaking of their state of undress and her maidenly modesty had brought his own desires screaming to the forefront. Her embarrassment was evident, but she had turned into him in her discomfort rather than jumping away, her warm body pressed against his side. Then there was the sleepy rumpled look she had about her when she sat up on her elbow and her shift … shifted. He doubted she even realized what her gaze did to him as she watched him dress, so he'd settled for only his waistcoat and shoes before fleeing the room. Last night everything had been easy, this morning things were, well, hard. He looked down and tried to cool his ardor. She was his wife, but she was grieving. Her mother had just died less than eight hours ago, in this house. This house in mourning where her mother's body lay lifeless and her Father and brother slept below. That sobering thought brought his body back under regulation, and he quietly made his way down to the kitchen.

“Oh, Mr. Thornton!” Miss Dixon jumped slightly on his entrance. “I did not realize you were still here.”

“I could not leave my wife in the state she was in last night, and she could not leave her father or brother.”

Her face softened and she replied, “no, I suppose not. How is she?”

“As well as can be expected,” he replied, “I've come to fetch her some hot water to wash up.”

She directed him to the pot on the hearth and returned to unpacking her basket from the morning's trip to the market. As he was pouring hot water into a can, she opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it again and looked at him appraisingly. After a moment, she seemed to decide he was trustworthy and asked, “Mr. Thornton, how much do you know about Master Frederick?” She fretted with the clasp of her basket then added, “about his situation?”

John sighed, not liking the direction this was going. “I know the basic facts, enough to know the risk he took coming and the danger he's in until he's gone.”

She sighed in obvious relief. “I don't think it's safe for Master Frederick to be here,” she confided. “This morning at the market I met a Helstone man, a nasty, good-for-nothing fellow by the name George Leonards. We exchanged greetings, then before long we exchanged words, and the sum of it is he reminded me of the mutiny and the hundred pound reward out for the capture of Lieutenant Hale and had the effrontery to offer to go partners in the reward with me if I'd help him trap him.”

“And did he give any indication that he knew Frederick was in Milton?” John asked anxiously.

“No, I dare say he did it all just to be impudent. Thankfully, he had never the grace to ask where I was staying; and I shouldn't have told him if he had asked.”

That was some comfort at least, but the situation was grave indeed. “Have you told anyone else of this encounter?”

“Nobody's awake to hear it.”

“Good. I agree that it's too dangerous for him to remain here, but would you allow me to look into this Leonards before you tell the others? It would not do to act hastily and put Frederick in further danger.”

“Yes, I wasn't sure if I ought to disturb the Master nor Master Frederick with it in their state.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the servant's entrance. Miss Dixon jumped and threw a hand to her heart, so Mr. Thornton stepped forward to answer it. His overseer stood there holding an overnight bag. “Excuse me, Master. I checked in at th'house this morning seeing as yo were away yesterday an' yo'r Mother told me where t'find yo and asked me to bring yo a bag.”

“Thank you Williams, would you come through to the study for a moment?” After a quick overview of yesterday's events at the Mill, John took advantage of this unforeseen resource and tasked Williams with discretely inquiring into a Mr. George Leonards. He gave the reason that the man had made threats to the Hale's servant without being more explicit. After a few more brief words of business, and scrawling a hasty update for Williams to deliver to his mother, John focused his attention back to his wife.

When he returned to the kitchen after seeing Williams out, Dixon had made up a fresh can of warm Water as well as some tea for Margaret and him, all arranged on a tray. John made his way back up to his wife. At his soft tap on the door, Margaret thankfully opened the door – balancing a tray as well as his bag was a daunting task.

“I am sorry I was longer than expected, my overseer dropped of this bag and I spoke to him for a few minutes about business,” he said as he set the tray on a table. He looked up and was unsure whether to be pleased or worried that she was still in her shift, although a black dress had been laid out on the bed. In the morning light, he could see her silhouette through her white shift and averted his eyes, struggling against his baser urges. They quietly got ready together. He unpacked his bag while she washed up, he helped her with her stays and gown, she fixed her hair while he shaved. It was all so blissfully, agonizingly domestic and intimate.

~~~


Margaret puzzled over John's behavior. All day yesterday he was the perfect attentive husband and last night he had been so gentle but now he could scarcely look at her. Missing the intimacy, she stepped before him and helped him straighten his cravat. He shifted his eyes over her shoulder. She impatiently tugged a bit at his cravat, “John. What is the matter?” His eyes, though still averted from her expressed confusion, then longing. When they finally settled on her they showed determination.

“I do not want you to worry overmuch until we have more information.” A sense of foreboding settled on Margaret, “Miss Dixon had an interaction this morning with a young man named Leonards who made some impertinent remarks about your brother. About the reward.”

“Leonards, the draper's son from Helstone?” Margaret's mind raced as to how he could even be in Milton.

“Apparently. As far as we can tell, he does not know that Frederick is in Milton.” His soothing hand was back, caressing her arm, “I have asked Williams to find out what he can about the man. If it meets your approval, I think it best to wait to inform your family until we know more.”

“Yes, I wouldn't want to distress them any more than necessary.” Margaret said, calming. She would have gladly stepped into his embrace, but her husband abruptly turned away and began fussing about his clothes. “John, what else?” Her anxiety rose again. What could be so much worse than news of Fred's increased danger that he could not tell her?

“Nothing.” He replied evasively.

“Then why won't you look at me?”

He sighed and looked into her eyes, “you're so …”

Margaret was well aware of her current appearance, she had just spent several minutes looking at her reflection while fixing her hair. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying, contrasting with her pale cheeks and the dark circles from her late night. She was certainly not the blushing bride of yesterday morning.

“... beautiful …” he said reverently, startling Margaret with this unexpected praise. “... and I love you, and you're my wife! But you're grieving, and we're in your father's home, and you need my support, not my …” He turned around in frustration and ran a hand through his hair. Margaret couldn't help a small smile at the circumstances.

“John,” she said, gently tugging his tense arm, “I do need your support, I need you to remind me that life will continue after this great loss. I need you to remind me that there will be love and joy and laughter in my life. I too am sorry that our marriage was so swiftly followed by tragedy, but please do not withdraw from me.” Her voice cracked on the last plea and John's arms swiftly enfolded her.

After a few moments of tender embraces and solicitude, Margaret felt equal to the task of facing the day. They descended the stairs and began their morning. Margaret languidly assisted Dixon with preparing for breakfast. Every room in this house held some ghost of her mother's influence and fueled her grief, but she persisted, feeling that action was preferable to languor. As she worked, she and John had discussed the contents of the death notice and he was now diligently writing it out. It would appear in the paper only a day after their marriage announcement – which had been sent off the previous day. When the fire was bright and crackling—when everything was ready for breakfast, and the tea-kettle was singing away, Margaret gave a last look round the room before going to summon Mr. Hale and Frederick. She wanted everything to look as cheerful as possible; and yet, when it did so, the contrast between it and her own thoughts nearly oppressed her, but she looked up and saw her husband seated nearby sharing her burdens and she soldiered on.

Mr. Hale came—as if in a dream, or rather with the unconscious motion of a sleep-walker, whose eyes and mind perceive other things than what are present. Frederick came briskly in, with a forced cheerfulness, grasped her hand, looked into her eyes, and burst into tears. She had to try and think of little nothings to say all breakfast-time.

After breakfast, Margaret and John attempted to make preparations for the funeral with her father, but he absently turned the task over to John's capable hands. John was preparing to quit the room to seek out the undertaker when Mr. Hale added in a hollow voice, “Ask Mr. Bell.” John looked to Margaret and she nodded.

“I will write to-day,” said she.

Margaret was seated at this task when Aunt Shaw, Edith, and Captain Lennox returned, reminding her shamefully that she had never sent them the news. This worry, however, abated when her aunt informed her that Mr. Thornton had sent word the previous evening. She silently thanked God that she had John to help them through this troubling time.

~~~


John walked briskly through the chilly Milton streets, anxious to return to Margaret. The undertaker had been an easy stop, residing on the same road in Crampton as the Hales. Unwilling as he was to be away from Margaret at this time, he had ventured further to post the death notice at the newspaper and stopped at the mill to pick up materials for the proposals for Lady Wentworth that he could work on from Crampton. The shuttered windows and black-crepe adorned doorway of the Hale's house had just come into view when he heard his name called.

“Mr. Thornton, sir,” Williams touched his cap in greeting. “I've an update on the young man we discussed this morning.”

“That was fast,” John replied.

“Aye, didna need t'look far. Turns out 'e lurks about Marlborough Mills enough t'be known. Leonards is engaged to one of yo'r servants, Betsy. She 'as nothing bad to say of 'im, but Sarah and Hannah opened up right enough. Seems 'e likes 'is drink and turns right violent when tipsy, they've seen bruises on Betsy more th'n once. 'E only arrived in Milton a few months ago but 'e 'as debts with a number of tradesmen. Works as a porter at Outwood station, tho not fer long word is.”

Drunk, violent, and desperate, not a good combination, thought John. “Thank you for looking into this for me Williams, it seems I've more than one servant to worry about near this man. I will thank you for your discretion on this matter. I find I will be busy with family matters for the rest of the day, please look after the mill and send for me here only if necessary.”

Williams merely tipped his hat and said, “aye Master,” before making his way off to the mill.

John hastened his way back to the Hale residence. He found all of the Hales and Harley Street party assembled in the parlor and drew Margaret away to relate the news. “I think Frederick should leave today, before the funeral is announced, the notice in the papers may be enough to suggest Frederick's presence to Leonards and this man sounds dangerous.” Margaret paled and John supported her elbow but she nodded her agreement. “Would you like me to break the news, or would you rather do so yourself.”

She slipped her hand in his and said, “we shall do it together,” with surprising resoluteness. “Though lets do ring for Dixon, it was her chance meeting that started this after all.” They rejoined the others and Margaret rang for the servant.

“When do you plan to depart?” John asked Aunt Shaw in a seemingly conversational voice, though a plan was forming in his head.

“Edith is anxious to return to little Sholto and as Edith and I can't attend the funeral after all, I see no reason to remain longer. We leave this afternoon.” Apparently supporting your niece in her time of grief is not sufficient reason, John thought uncharitably. He merely nodded in response. Dixon entered the room and Margaret stepped forward.

“Dixon, would you be so kind as to tell everyone about the run-in you had this morning?” Dixon turned to John with a questioning eyebrow and he nodded. When her tale was complete, the room exploded into an array of shocked responses. Frederick foolishly wished to meet with Leonards himself. Edith cried in distress, Aunt Shaw had a fit of the nerves and demanded her smelling salts, and Mr. Hale began murmuring that Frederick must go.

John broke into the confusion, “This situation is distressing, but all is not lost. I think it best if we continue the ruse we began yesterday. For all knowledge in Milton, Frederick is Mr. Shaw and arrived yesterday with you from London. If he leaves today in broad daylight with a party of ladies, he will draw little attention.”

“Oh yes!” Edith brightened, “that way we can see you safely to London and on from there to sail home to Spain.”

“And nobody will find anything amiss if I were to accompany my aunt and cousins to the train,” added Margaret.

Mr. Hale looked up, “Yes, Margaret, please do. I should always be fancying some one had known him, and that he had been stopped, unless you could tell me you had seen him off. And go to the Outwood station. It is quite as near, and not so many people about. Take a cab there. There is less risk of his being seen.”

“No,” John said severely, then moderated his tone. “I've made inquiries and discovered that this Leonards is a porter at the Outwood station, it would not do to loiter there. If you board at Milton, there's no reason a porter at the Outwood station should notice you as long as you hide your face from view.” After a few more attacks of Mrs. Shaw's nerves, the plan was accepted by all.

John's heart dropped when Margaret suggested that Frederick ask Henry Lennox's help clearing his name. True, a lawyer could do more for the cause than a magistrate, but John could not prevent the stab of jealousy at Margaret's dependence on Henry Lennox for anything. Captain Lennox revealed that his brother was away from London on business until the following Tuesday, over a week away. Frederick had expressed his willingness to stay in London, but Mr. Hale and Margaret plead that such a delay could be fatal to Frederick. In the end, it was decided that Frederick would write his account of the mutiny and the available witnesses and Captain Lennox would discuss the matter with his brother after Frederick was safely out of the country.

John and Margaret both accompanied the party to the train station. The parting was a tear filled affair. If Margaret clung to Frederick, she did as much to Edith and her aunt. In a whiz of smoke and steel the train was gone and they were left nearly alone on the platform. Feeling the need for more intimacy than offering her his arm, John offered her his hand and she clung to it. As they turned to walk back down the platform John heard his name.

“Mr. Thornton,” came the melodic voice of Miss Lattimer, that melody went flat as she added, “Miss Hale. We thought you returned from London on Monday.” They turned to see Mr. Lattimer escorting his daughter toward them, the later eying their joined hands with ill-concealed contempt.

He didn't even need to force his cheerful tone as he realized he would no longer have to deal with the likes of Miss Lattimer dangling after him. “Mr. Lattimer, Miss Lattimer, we did return on Monday, but it was a busy week. This is Miss Hale no longer,” John paused, appreciating the look of horrified suspense on Miss Lattimer's face, “we married yesterday.”

Miss Lattimer managed only a strangled: “married?”

Her father, however, managed a more socially correct, “congratulations Thornton, Mrs. Thornton.”

Miss Lattimer, apparently stripped of all of her hard-won refinements by shock added, “so quickly?”

“My mother …” Margaret began, but was prevented by a choked sob and John pressed her hand reassuringly.

“We returned to find that Mrs. Hale's health had rapidly declined. Wishing her to be a part of the day, we opted for a short engagement. Sadly, she passed away last evening.” The Lattimers appeared to notice Margaret's mourning attire for the first time. “We've just seen her relations off home.”

“I am sorry for your loss Miss … Mrs. Thornton,” Mr. Lattimer replied, and when he realized that no such condolence was forthcoming from his daughter, he hastily made their goodbyes.

When they reached the relative seclusion of the cab, John pulled Margaret into his arms. “I am sorry you had to bear her ill-will at such a time my dear.”

“It is alright, I suppose it had to happen some time. At least I can feel assured now that word of our marriage will spread quickly.” She replied with a ghost of mirth in her voice. “Hopefully there will be few others as surprised by the news.”

He kissed the top of her head. “There is good reason to hope, it seems that gossip is one of the idle refinements they teach at fine Swiss finishing schools.”

Trigger Warning: The following chapter has a brief reference to domestic violence in a minor character relationship, as well as victim rationalization of said relationship. Nothing is explicit and the reference is only a couple of sentences long.

Chapter 14: Comfort in Sorrow


Marlborough Mills, Tuesday October 21, 1851

Margaret awoke on Tuesday cold and in unfamiliar surroundings. As she blinked her eyes open, she noted that the walls and bed linens were dark and the decoration sparse. Rolling onto her back and glancing around the room, her eyes finally rested on the familiar form of her husband. She rolled closer to nudge his side and he instantly wrapped his arm around her, enveloping her in his soothing warmth.

The past few days had been a blur of grief and anxious activity. Yesterday they had laid her mother to rest on a hill overlooking the city. Although women of her class did not generally attend funerals, Margaret argued her case fiercely and her father and husband yielded to her wishes. Her mother-in-law, of course, disapproved but had little power to prevent her. The spectacle of a funeral had attracted the usual curious crowd at the funeral ceremony, but it was comprised of mostly strangers. Nicholas and Mary Higgins were a welcome sight. Nicholas wore his usual fustian clothes, but had a bit of black stuff sewn round his hat—a mark of mourning which he had never shown to his daughter Bessy's memory. Mr. Bell could not come. He had the gout. It was a most affectionate letter, and expressed great and true regret for his inability to attend and his bewildered congratulations on Margaret's marriage. And so it was that only Margaret, John and Dixon attended Mr. Hale to the cemetery. The four people in all of Milton who truly grieved Mrs. Hale's loss.

There had been no question of Margaret or Mr. Hale removing from the house while Mrs. Hale's body remained there. John had patiently and unquestioningly stayed with her throughout but he did have a mill to run, and a household of his own to return to. So after the funeral, Margaret had convinced her bereft and lethargic father to remove with them to Marlborough Mills. She could not bear the thought of him alone in that empty house with nobody but Dixon and his memories to keep him company. It was a solemn party that had entered the house the previous evening. Margaret suspected that it was only years of hosting dinners and rebuilding her own social credit following her husband's unfortunate demise that allowed Mrs. Thornton to receive them with civility.

The clock struck six drawing her back to the present. She heard a rumbling moan from her husband. She instinctively draped her arm across his chest. “Margaret, I have to get up.”

Her grip tightened. “Must you?”

He groaned and began trailing a soothing, tingling caress across her back. “I must, I haven't spent as many days away from the mill as I have in the past week and a half since …” he paused and considered, “well, I don't know that I ever have.”

She lifted her head and looked at him, “I will miss you,” she said tremulously. It was a simple phrase, but it encompassed so much more. For the past four days he had been her anchor, stabilizing her in troubled waters. How was she to manage without him even for the day?

His eyes were soft, worried, and full of so much love when he let out a soft, “oh my Margaret!” He then bent his head and kissed her tenderly. “You know that I would gladly remain here with you, but you did not marry one of those idle refined southern gentlemen. I must see to business.” Margaret got the impression that he was trying to convince himself as much as her. As soon as this speech was finished, he reclaimed her lips. Knowing that this kiss would have to fortify her until that evening, Margaret returned it with greater fervor than she had done in the past. John moaned and shifted so that she was on her back and he was leaning over her. She reveled in the comforting weight of him, the heat radiating from his body, the demanding reverence of his lips on hers. He pulled back breathlessly and rested his forehead against hers, gently stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. “I've woken at this time every day for most of my life, and yet I've never had such trouble rising from this bed.”

“Well, you've never woken to your wife in this bed until today,” Margaret teased.

John gave a low growl and lowered his head to her shoulder. “No, but as I have not the time to give my wife the proper attention she deserves,” he dropped a lingering kiss against her neck, “we shall have to continue this tonight.” Margaret sighed as he rolled off of the bed and began dressing for his day.

“Will you be home for dinner?” She asked hopefully.

His brow furrowed and he reluctantly answered, “no, it is unlikely, but I shall be home for supper.” As he moved off into the dressing room she sighed and rose herself. If she was to be denied his company at dinner, she would not miss breakfast with him by lounging abed.

~~~


It had taken every scrap of willpower John had to get out of that bed. He had been married for four days. He had spent four nights sleeping with Margaret in his arms. However, the situation still hadn't felt right to develop the physical side of their relationship. While staying in Crampton, it had seemed highly irreverent while Mrs. Hale's body rested within the house. Last night Margaret had been distraught from the funeral and somewhat uneasy about the move. But this morning she was so tender and responsive and it finally felt right, natural. Unfortunately, he was needed at the mill shortly. Margaret deserved better than he could give her right now. She deserved tenderness, romance, and his undivided attention. She deserved to fall asleep in her husband's arms after their first time together secure in the knowledge that he would be there when she woke. Tonight.

When John had finished shaving and re-entered the main chamber from the dressing room, he was surprised to find Margaret awake and dressed in a simple black gown with her hair loosely fastened at her nape. “Shall we go down to breakfast?” She asked, smiling sweetly up at him.

He could not repress a responding smile. “Yes, my love.” He held out his hand to her and briefly brought it to his lips before leading her down to the dining parlor hand in hand. Mother was already seated at the table when they entered and looked significantly at the clock to emphasize his tardiness. They said their good mornings and filled their plates. John was still amazed at her presence by his side. He could gladly spend every morning for the rest of his life looking over his tea cup at his wife, enjoying her bashful smiles, admiring the graceful way she spread jam on toast, basking in her presence.

His mother cleared her throat reproachfully and asked after the mill and his plans for the day, drawing him away from his study of Margaret's perfection. “As is to be expected, there is a great deal of work to catch up on. I also have a meeting with Higgins and Lattimer today about the Wentworth projects.”

“I should like to be a part of that meeting,” Margaret began, then added quietly under Mrs. Thornton's glare, “... if you do not mind.”

“Of course, my love, these projects are just as much yours as my own. I value your input.” He added with a smirk, “and your intervention with Higgins.”

Margaret smiled and would have responded, but Mother cut in with: “I don't understand why you should work with a man who is so unpredictable.”

“Actually, Mother, it was my stubborn foolishness that nearly spoiled the deal. Margaret was, thankfully, able to bring me to see reason.” He was spared hearing Mother's reaction to this statement by the clock chiming seven. If only he could whisk Margaret away with him, for he did not doubt Mother's opinion would be expressed to her. “I must go.” He gave his mother the usual buss on her cheek then moved on to Margaret. His kiss to her cheek lingered and he whispered a quick “I love you” into her ear. Pulling back he said in a normal voice, “shall I see you at four in my office then?” She blushed, gave him a small smile and nodded her assent.

He startled Williams with his exuberant entrance into the offices. His employees were not used to seeing their master happy and it caused quite a stir of gossip among the hands. Although his thoughts were more agreeably engaged when he entered the mill, they were soon turned to the cares and troubles of the mill. He had worked through the dinner hour and was sat with his head bent over the accounts when he heard a knock at his office door. Hope surged in his heart that it was Margaret, come for their meeting, but sank again when a police inspector entered.

“Excuse me, sir. There's a man in the Infirmary who is likely to die soon. He was found unconscious beside the road Saturday last. He has never recovered sufficient consciousness to give any distinct account of his fall, although once or twice he has had glimmerings of sense sufficient to make us send for the nearest magistrate, in hopes that you might be able to take down the dying man's deposition of the cause of his death.” The officer informed him and concluded with an expectant look urging John to follow. He sighed, closed the account book and nodded for the inspector to lead, stopping only to inform Williams of his errand.

The hospital, thankfully, was near by. John was surprised when he arrived at the infirmary to find that the dying man was none other than George Leonards. He was rambling about being at sea, and mixing up names of captains and lieutenants in an indistinct manner with those of his fellow porters at the railway; and his last words were a curse on the 'Cornish trick' which had, he said, made him a hundred pounds poorer than he ought to have been. John took down the deposition in trepidation. While the incoherent monologue did not directly reveal Frederick Hale's situation, it was enough to give John pause.

After the man had died, John took the inspector and the surgeon to the side and inquired whether there was any cause to suspect a violent end other than fevered rantings. The doctor informed him that his demise was caused by some internal complaint, and the man's own habit of drinking but it seemed to be exacerbated by some fall or blow. The inspector informed him that there were no witnesses to the fall, but the other porters reported that he had rushed into the station house just after the afternoon train for London had departed the station on Saturday last with some long story or other about a fall he'd had, swearing awfully; and wanted to borrow some money to go to London by the next up-train.

“Is there any evidence to prove whether this fall was a result of violence or an accident?” John asked gravely.

“None sir, other than his own rantings.” Answered the surgeon.

John breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, gentlemen, I think it's safe to say there is insufficient evidence to justify an inquest.” His decision was agreed upon by the others and he was free to return to his office.

~~~


Margaret exited the house at quarter to four, unable to bear her mother-in-law's cold silence, her sister-in-law's idle chatter, or her father's bleak expression any longer. Mrs. Thornton had introduced her to the servants that morning and given her a tour of the house, as was her duty. But it was evident that she was fiercely possessive of her power over the household, the daily routine, and the décor of nearly every room. Although Margaret was now mistress of the house in name, she would not gain that role in deed without a battle with her mother-in-law. She was too exhausted and broken with grief at the moment to even consider such a battle.

She quickly made her way across the courtyard and up to John's office. She gently tapped on the door, hoping her husband would not mind her early arrival. He barked: “Enter!” But when she quietly slipped into the room his stern brow dissolved and he smiled at her. “Margaret!” He quickly rose from his desk and enveloped her in an embrace, Margaret sighed as the cares of the weary day rolled off of her. After a moment, he seemed to stiffen and bade her sit down.

“I have news,” he said in a grave voice as he sat in the chair next to her.

Her mind jumped to the worst, “Frederick?” she said in a small, quivering voice, caught in the steely grip of dread.

“No,” he replied, “not directly. Leonards is dead. I was called as a magistrate to take his deposition this afternoon. His story was incoherent to everyone else, but as I had some foreknowledge, it seems as if he saw Frederick as the train was passing through the Outwood station and as he ran after the train he fell off the platform. This fall accelerated his death from an existing illness. There will be no inquest.”

For a moment Margaret could do nothing but sit dumbstruck. How close Frederick had come to danger! What could have happened if they had departed from the Outwood station instead of the Milton station, or if Leonards had hopped on the train? She shivered at the thought. “Margaret, love, are you alright?”

“I am well,” she said softly and shook her head slightly, “It's just … Fred came so close. I am sorry that Leonards died, but I am so relieved that he is no longer a threat to Frederick!”

“I know, I didn't want to distress you but you deserved to know,” he said as he gently rubbed her back, “besides, he was engaged to our cook, Betsy, so you would doubtless have heard about his death regardless.”

“Oh dear, has she been told?”

“I doubt it, I've only just come back from the hospital.”

Margaret's heart broke for the poor girl. He may have been a cad, but no one deserves to loose someone they love. The recent wound of her mother's death re-opened slightly at the thought. “I shall tell her when I return to the house.” At John's startled look, she added: “Whatever our thoughts of the man were, she just lost the man she loves. She deserves better than to hear the news from an impersonal doctor or inspector. She is a member of our household, after all.”

John lifted her hand to his lips and said reverently, “your purity of heart and compassion never cease to amaze me, my love.” Their eyes met and they began to gravitate towards each other, but the spell was broken by a rough knock on the door. Recalled to their surroundings, John quickly moved behind the desk and yelled, “enter!”

Nicholas walked in from the door to the warehouse and gave them a knowing smile. “Maester, Miss. Margaret,” he greeted them, touching his cap. “No, yo'r ne'er Mis. Margaret no more, Mrs. Thornton.”

Margaret frowned, and at Nicholas's confused look, John responded, “Margaret feels she's being followed by my mother when addressed as Mrs. Thornton, but it would not do for all of the hands to be calling you Margaret.”

Margaret smiled at him. “I suppose we have to figure this out eventually. There's always Mrs. John Thornton or Mrs. John.” It left a bitter taste in her mouth. She did not like having her identity entirely subsumed by her husband's.

“No,” replied John somewhat forcefully. “As we've established, you are not a possession!”

Margaret was both relieved by his assertion and shamed for the horrid things she had accused him of. “Mrs. Margaret then?” Asked Higgins with a smile.

“It is unconventional,” replied Margaret.

“As are you,” said John with a grin.

“And if anyone is uncomfortable with that, they can just suffer through the whole length of 'Mrs. Margaret Thornton,'” Margaret concluded with a satisfied nod. Mr. Lattimer arrived shortly thereafter and the meeting commenced.

~~~


Betsy moved silently through the kitchens about her work. The whole house was in an uproar over the master's new wife and father-in-law moving in. The new mistress seemed quiet and unassuming, her father seemed to wander around aimlessly in his grief, and that Miss. Dixon they brought with them gave herself airs as if she were above them all. Mrs. Thornton seemed to respond to the usurper by tightening the reins even more than her usual dictatorial tendencies. Of course, all of the servants in the house had known that the master would marry Miss. Hale from the day of the riot when she shamelessly threw herself at him in full view of all the world. Betsy didn't know if she could trust a woman who could step so far out of her place and act so brazenly. The main gossip at the moment was the odd secrecy and haste of the wedding. If they'd been engaged since the riot, why didn't they tell anyone? If they hadn't, why marry so quickly? To her mortification, these thoughts were interrupted by the new mistress herself.

“Betsy, would you please follow me into the study?” It was a request, spoken in soft tones with her gentle southern accent. It was a glaring contrast to the harsh commands of Mrs. Thornton. Betsy bobbed a curtsy and followed her with trepidation. Surely such a request could not lead to a scolding, or worse being let go?

“Please sit down,” the mistress swept her arm toward the sofa in front of the fire for all the world as if Betsy was a guest and not merely the cook. Betsy sat and the mistress settled beside her.

“Betsy, I understand you're engaged to a young man by the name of George Leonards, is that correct?” Betsy's heart thudded in her chest. Had Sarah and Hannah been spreading their gossip about him? It was only twice that they had seen the bruises but they were determined to dislike George because of them. They never saw how gentle he was most of the time. Then again, Betsy hadn't heard from George in several days, had something happened to him?

“Yes ma'am,” she replied meekly, unable to suppress the fear. The mistress's eyes softened to a look of sadness.

“I am so sorry,” she began, the pause filling Betsy with dread. “Mr. Thornton was called to the hospital this afternoon as a magistrate to take down his deposition. It seems he had a longstanding internal disease and an excess of drink and a fall on Saturday evening made it worse.”

Betsy started up, “I must go to him!” but the mistress put her hand on Betsy's arm and directed her back to the sofa.

“No, Betsy. I am so sorry, but he did not survive. He passed away this afternoon.” Betsy began trembling, then sobbing. For some time she was insensible to anything other than her own grief. At length, Betsy became aware that the mistress was holding her as she sobbed. Reminding herself of her station despite her grief, she shifted back and apologized for her breech of decorum.

The mistress merely placed her hand on Betsy's shoulder and said, “a good man recently told me that you should never apologize for your grief.” Betsy looked up in astonishment at her employer, taking in the lady's own black mourning attire, her misty, red-rimmed eyes, and the sincere look of worry on her brow. “You should take the rest of the day off, the rest of the week if you like.”

“But Mrs. Thornton … I mean … t'other Mrs. Thornton is quick to remind us that there's always more to take our places.”

“I shall speak with my mother-in-law. But as I have already spoken with my husband, I can safely say you may take as much time as you need without fear of loosing your position.” Betsy could scarcely believe that this young lady, wrapped up in her own grief, was willing to brave the dragon's wrath for her. She already felt a deep sense of loyalty towards the new Mrs. Thornton, no matter what her actions were before her marriage or what level of turmoil the house would face. It was not long after Betsy returned to the kitchen to inform the housekeeper and cook of the strange encounter that news of the new mistress's kindness spread through the whole of the staff.

~~~


It was a battle, but Margaret had eventually convinced Dixon to handle dinner for the evening and breakfast in the morning. Having made the transition from ladies maid to maid of all work and back again, Dixon was loathe to return to the household chores she despised now that they were in a grand house with a large staff. But, as none of the other servants had much experience cooking and Dixon was in the proper state of mourning to understand Betsy's grief, she eventually yielded.

It was an even larger battle to convince Mrs. Thornton that allowing Betsy time off to grieve now was not only their moral duty but also the best way to ensure that she wouldn't leave entirely in the long run. Margaret suspected her mother-in-law was more upset about Margaret making decisions about the staff than about giving Betsy the time. Margaret was determined to call on Mary Higgins in the morning to see if she could fill in until Betsy returned in order to keep the peace in the household.

She was drawn out of her rumination on these household concerns by the slight dip in the bed as John joined her. She turned into his warmth and he enfolded her in his arms. “I believe I've become rather spoiled over these past days,” he sighed, “I can't even go a full shift without missing my wife.”

Margaret laughed, “you didn't even go a full shift without seeing your wife, we had a meeting this afternoon.”

“Aye, we'll have to make that a frequent occurrence,” he said as he dropped a kiss on the top of her head.

“You have managed to live thirty-one years of your life without me,” Margaret said playfully.

“Well, there's a difference between living and living,” he replied and kissed her soundly. “You do know, don't you, how much you've changed my life? I've always been driven, dedicated, hard working, – I am my mother's son – but I had no purpose further than success in itself. I've always taken care of Mother and Fanny, but now it's different. I have someone to come home to. A reason to finish my work at work so that I can enjoy the pleasure of your company.”

“That's an awful lot of pressure to put on one person,” Margaret said timidly, nestling her face into his shoulder. “What if I don't live up to your expectations?”

“Margaret, love, trust me. I know you have your faults, and I'm not putting pressure on you to be or do anything. Did you miss me today?” He asked, with a hint of trepidation in his voice.

“You know I did. I came to your office early because I couldn't bear a longer wait.” His face lit up in a boyish smile of delight.

“That is all I ask of you. To allow me to love you, and for your love in return.”

She reached up her hand to his cheek, “you have that.” He leaned down to kiss her again.

“Now,” he said repositioning himself over her, “this morning I believe we left off about here …”

Author's Note:Sorry for all of the angst, but I felt the need to carry out the major plot points of N&S. I've had the whole story written at 15 chapters, but I'll probably add a happy fluffy epilogue too.

I'd still like your opinions on whether Frederick Wentworth could/would do something to help Frederick Hale. Please leave me a note if you've got any thoughts on the matter.
SubjectAuthorPosted

A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 12-14 (Post 5)

MorganANovember 06, 2017 05:05PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 12-14 (Post 5)

KarenteaNovember 07, 2017 07:28PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 12-14 (Post 5)

EvelynJeanNovember 07, 2017 08:04AM



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