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A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapter 15 and Epilogue (Final)

November 10, 2017 11:48PM

Chapter 15: Changes at Milton


Marlborough Mills, Monday October 27, 1851

The remainder of the week passed in a blur of conflicting emotions. Margaret did visit the Higgins family the following day, and engaged Mary to temporarily serve as cook at Marlborough Mills until Betsy returned. While she was there, Boucher's body was carried into the street on a door. He had drowned himself in shame. Both Nicholas and her Father's nerve had failed them and so Margaret was left to break the news to the widow – if one counted Bessy's death, it was the third time in as many months that she had been the bearer of such news to a loved one. Mere days later Mrs. Boucher finally succumbed to her lingering illness and joined her husband, leaving her six children in the care of Nicholas Higgins. The encumbrance of grief was heavy indeed, but Margaret had John's love as an ever-present support.

Their home life was somewhat of a challenge. Mrs. Thornton was insistent on teaching Margaret the running of the household, though she clearly did so reluctantly. Margaret was placed in the untenable situation of having the nominal title and responsibilities of mistress of the house without the agency to change anything for fear of incurring Mrs. Thornton's wrath.

Father's spirits were still dreadfully low, and it was difficult to rouse him to any interest. Aid in this quarter came from an unexpected source. On Wednesday evening, John, Mr. Hale, and Margaret were having a lively conversation about Plato and the benefits of philosophy in social reform when Fanny tried to join the conversation with a somewhat trite observation. Mrs. Thornton, already weary of the subject and disdainful of social reform in general, snapped at Fanny for trying to speak on topics she knew nothing about. The following day, Mr. Hale found Fanny curled up in a chair in the library with an English translation of Plato and a crease in her brow. Rather than scolding or teasing her, father sat down and began explaining the finer points of the passage to her. Urged by a combination of defiance to her mother, deference to the kind old man who believed she could comprehend the difficult concepts, and some actual interest in the topic, Fanny decided to continue her study. Thus Mr. Hale gained his newest pupil and a brief distraction from his grief.

Margaret also fought off the tolls of grief through activity. She took on the task of planning the school, putting her mother's wisdom to use. She spent two days together interviewing potential teachers. She plotted out books, lesson plans, furniture, slate boards – anything she thought might help. She tackled any task that could fall to her to further the project.

Margaret was therefore in the building slated to become the schoolhouse playing the role of Peggy the maidservant on the following Monday morning. The Wentworth's train was scheduled to arrive at half past three and she was determined to have the space looking as habitable and cheery as she could before she had to go change to receive their visitors. The housemaid had gone to get her fresh soapy watter for cleaning the windows, so when she she heard the door open, she didn't even look up from her task, but just said: “Thank you Hannah. If you could just bring that to me straight away, this bucket is doing no more than streaking...” She trailed off at the sound of a very masculine laugh. Turning slowly she saw John striding into the room followed by the spotless and elegant Lord and Lady Wentworth.

~~~


Anne Wentworth was somewhat weary upon leaving the train station, they had woken frightfully early that morning in order to catch the train. Their solicitor, Mr. Banks, had suddenly found that he was required in London on Tuesday so they had rapidly adjusted their travel schedule so that he could complete his role in Milton in one day. Now that they were walking along the bustling streets of Milton, she felt her spirits rising. To be sure, the weather was cold and the air was affected by the looming smokestacks of the manufactories scattered about the city. However, there was a certain energy about the place, everyone was rushing about their business with a sense of vigor that was often absent in London or in the south. Mr. Banks separated off to find the offices of Mr. Lattimer while Anne and Frederick continued to Marlborough Mills.

Upon arrival, they were led up a narrow staircase – clearly not designed for a lady's petticoats – to Mr. Thornton's office. He received them warmly and gave them a quick tour of the warehouse. The very rooms seemed to be alive with the constant whir of machinery. The air did have quite a bit of eerie white particles floating about that gave the impression of snow. Anne noted with pleasure that unlike snow, there was a distinguishable upward movement of the fluff directed toward the wheel at the top of the room, she could only imagine what the conditions would be without such accommodations.

As they exited the building and were able to better hear Mr. Thornton's monologue when the door shut on the din of the looms, she caught him say: “I'm afraid we will take Margaret quite by surprise.” Margaret is it now? She thought to herself, this did seem to be nice progress from the disdainful Miss Hale he spat at her at the Great Exhibition. “We have not done much by way of renovation as of yet, but we've plotted out locations and researched cost. This building will be our schoolhouse, Margaret has taken it as her personal charge.”

He opened the door to a good sized room with no furnishings as of yet, but ample windows. Miss Hale was diligently cleaning windows and called out: “Thank you Hannah. If you could just bring that to me straight away, this bucket is doing no more than streaking...” Frederick chuckled until Anne sent him a disapproving look.

Miss Hale wheeled around and exclaimed: “Oh! We were not expecting you until this afternoon...” She ran a nervous hand over her disheveled hair and dress.

Anne felt horrible for making the poor girl uncomfortable and sought to put her at ease. “I do apologize for bursting in on you early like this, but our solicitor found that he had a pressing engagement tomorrow morning and therefore has to return to London tonight. We took an earlier train to accommodate him.” Lady Wentworth said graciously.

Miss Hale gave an elegant courtesy that was at odds with her rumpled appearance. “Of course, welcome to Milton Lord and Lady Wentworth. It's only … I find myself relating to your story Lady Wentworth, mortified to have the most handsome man – do excuse me Lord Wentworth, two of the most handsome men – walk through the door to find me covered in grime.” Anne laughed and smiled warmly at Frederick.

“And I find myself relating to Wentworth, even the smudges on your cheeks are enchanting my dear,” replied Mr. Thornton.

“Well, Miss Hale, since we've already established that I approve of active, useful women, and that Anne is not opposed to hard work herself, I'd say there's no need for mortification,” added Frederick.

“I couldn't agree more, Wentworth. However, you are no longer addressing Miss Hale. We were recently married.” John said with an adoring smile towards his wife, which she returned eagerly.

Anne's face lit up at the swift conclusion to her scheme. “My sincere congratulations to you both! I am certain it will be a very happy match.”

Frederick laughed as he extended his hand to John, “congratulations Thornton, you certainly waste no time, do you?”

Mrs. Thornton's face fell. “Unfortunately, we were left with little choice. My mother …” she began, but ended on a small sigh. Mr. Thornton instantly crossed to her and took her hand to comfort her.

“Mrs. Hale's health was rapidly declining upon our return from London. We thought a hasty marriage would be best so that she, and other family who were visiting at the time, could be present. She passed away last Friday.”

Anne's heart bled for the girl, she keenly remembered the pain of loosing her own mother as a girl and the more recent pain of Lady Russel's death. “You poor dear, I am so sorry for your loss. Here you are in the midst of your grief and we've got you washing up windows!”

“Oh no! I find that staying useful helps the pain. My mother ran the parish school in Helstone and inundated me with advice last week. Planning the school makes me feel closer to her, like a part of her is still thriving and helping others.”

Anne felt tears pool in her own eyes at the thought and could not resist giving the girl a commiserating hug. “That is exactly what this school shall be, your mother and Lady Russell's legacies living on. I can think of no better way to honor them.” As she pulled back, she laughed slightly at Frederick and Mr. Thornton synchronously passing handkerchiefs to their wives.

“It would seem that I was somewhat prophetic in suggesting that I direct the projects through Mrs. Thornton,” Anne said to lighten the mood.

“Oh, we already have a Mrs. Thornton of longstanding, please do call me Mrs. Margaret or simply Margaret if you prefer.” Anne was a bit taken aback by this unconventional mode of address but happily agreed.

“Well then, Margaret, you must call me Anne. Please tell me more about your plans.” Margaret briefly outlined their plans for the school, then they continued on their tour to the building plotted out for the dining hall. On further discussion, it was decided that the space was insufficient for both a kitchen and dining hall, so when construction began, they would expand the building to accommodate both.

The group then removed to the house for dinner where the senior Mrs. Thornton was an odd combination of solicitude toward her son's investors and defiance against aiding the workers. Anne could see why Margaret wanted to distinguish herself from her stern mother-in-law.

In the afternoon, they met with Mr. Banks, Mr. Lattimer, and Mr. Higgins at the previously appointed hour. Formal proposals were reviewed, contracts drawn up and signed, and a sum of fifteen thousand pounds invested in Marlborough Mills. Mr. Banks ran off to catch the six o'clock train back to London. Mr. Higgins respectfully took his leave. The remaining party returned to the house to dine together. Anne and Frederick stayed three days at Marlborough Mills helping to set their plans in motion, meeting the community, and enjoying their new friendship with the Thorntons.

~~~


April 1852

The investment from the Wentworths was sufficient to pull Marlborough Mills out of the strain put on the mill's finances from the strike and to weather the period of bad trade that persisted the following year. Both the school and the dining hall were a resounding success. Through the odd friendship that developed between Mr. Thornton and Higgins, a greater sense of mutual respect grew between the master of Marlborough Mills and his hands. Many of the laborers had long since had a friendly relationship with 'Miss Margaret', but the hands of Marlborough Mills grew to love and respect 'Mrs. Margaret' even more because of her continued support, empathy, and friendship even in her elevated role. Most days she spent at least an hour or two in the schoolroom helping as she could in the lessons, or merely minding the younger children when the school mistress was busy.

Their domestic felicity did not run as smoothly. As time wore on, Margaret began asserting more control over the household. While she had won the respect of her servants, Mrs. Thornton still held their fear. Mrs. Thornton fought against every alteration to the efficiently run household that Margaret proposed, creating a tense atmosphere.

Fanny received an offer from a Mr. Watson, a respected manufacturer who was rather well set up. A year prior, Fanny would have happily agreed and gleefully began selecting her trousseau. But Fanny had witnessed John and Margaret's loving marriage and could not imagine finding such felicity with Mr. Watson. He was somewhat gray, rather boisterous, and not at all interested in any of Fanny's thoughts or ideas. She therefore determined to decline his offer and wait to find love.

Mr. Hale never truly recovered his spirits after his wife's death. The move to Marlborough Mills helped in that he daily enjoyed conversation with Mr. Thornton, grew ever fonder of his lessons with Miss Thornton, and had the joy of seeing Margaret happy and well settled. But in Milton he had the constant reminder of his wife's last illness and his perceived role in it. Therefore, when an invitation from Mr. Bell for a proposed reunion of their Oxford friends arrived in April, Margaret and John urged him to take it. Without the constant strain of her father's grief and pain, Margaret's spirits rose. She had just begun incorporating the purples, blues, and grays of half-mourning into her wardrobe six months after her mother's death when Mr. Bell arrived with the news. Her father had died peacefully in his sleep.

Margaret again was driven into deep mourning. John again became her rock. He accompanied her to Oxford for the funeral. He held her while she cried. He loved her and she drew strength from that love. As her role in the planning and efficient running of the school was minimal now, she sought for some other project to throw herself into. Desperate to help his wife, and eager to spend more time with her when she needed him, he taught her how to manage the ledgers for the mill. She quickly excelled at this new task and they even placed a small desk for her in his office.

~~~


August 1852

It began as a typical day. Margaret arose early to take breakfast with John. After breakfast, she spent two hours going over the household budgets, speaking with Betsy about the menu for dinner, and tending to various household chores. She then went to John's office to pour over the mill's ledgers. They shared a light dinner from a basket she had brought from the kitchens before John had to return to work. Upon returning to the house, however, the course of Margaret's day veered.

She entered the parlor, intending to sit with Mrs. Thornton and Fanny for a while and work on the mending before making her visit to the schoolhouse, but drew up short at the sight of a visitor. “Oh, Mr. Bell! I never thought of seeing you!”

“But you give me a welcome, I hope, as well as that very pretty start of surprise,”
he teased.

“Of course you are always welcome! What brings you to Milton?”

“Why, does a man need any more impetus than to see his god-daughter?” He asked in his good-natured teasing tone, “you are all the attraction I could need.”

Mrs. Thornton cleared her throat in disapproval of Mr. Bell's idle flirtation. Margaret looked uneasily at her and turned the course of the conversation. “Have you just come from Oxford?”

“Actually, I've just come from London.”

“London?” Fanny perked up at the mention of the metropolis, “Have you been to the theater? Any concerts?”

Mr. Bell indulged Fanny with some witty observations on his recent journey before turning back to Margaret. “Margaret, my dear, would you be so kind as to escort me to your husband's office?”

“Of course,” she replied and stood with him. As soon as they were out of hearing of the parlor, she asked, “I hope you're not worried about Marlborough Mills?”

“No, no, my dear, nothing like that. But there will be some … changes to the lease that I must speak to you and Thornton about.” Their walk across the square continued in relative silence, broken only by Margaret's greetings to the workers.

John greeted Mr. Bell cautiously, obviously curious as to what brought this unexpected visit from his landlord. Mr. Bell led Margaret to a chair and sat beside her in front of John's desk. After a very few minutes of pleasantries, Margaret could no longer contain her curiosity. “Mr. Bell, you said there would be changes to the lease?”

“Indeed my dear, soon this property will be changing hands … to my heir.”

Margaret gasped, catching the subtext of his speech. “Oh, Mr. Bell,” she said with the sad, numb feeling of a person well acquainted with grief and clasped his hand.

“Yes, I'm afraid my visit to London was not just to visit the theaters and report back to Miss Thornton, I also saw my doctor.”

“I'm sorry,” John said somberly.

“Well, I have the benefit of settling my affairs to my liking. So, I plan to sign over the bulk of my wealth and properties to my god-daughter.”

“No!” Margaret said in quiet indignation, “I can not, I will not!”

“Yes, you will,” he replied in an indulgent tone. “You may rightly wonder what right the old man has to settle your affairs for you so cavalierly? I make no doubt you have. Yet the old man has a right. He loved your father for five and thirty years; he stood beside him on his wedding-day; he closed his eyes in death. Moreover, he is your godfather; and as he cannot do you much good spiritually, having a hidden consciousness of your superiority in such things, he would fain do you the poor good of endowing you materially. And the old man has not a known relation on earth; "who is there to mourn for Adam Bell?" and his whole heart is set and bent upon this one thing, and Margaret Hale – excuse me, Margaret Thornton – is not the girl to say him nay.”

“No,” Margaret said quietly, willing away the tears, “Margaret Thornton is not the girl to say him nay.”

“Good, that's my pearl.” He said, squeezing her hand gently. “Now, I've heard my little revolutionary has made her mark all over Marlborough Mills, would you care to show me your projects?” Margaret laughed and accepted his arm.

Turning to John, Mr. Bell said, “my Milton attorney will be by at half past three to manage the settlements if that is acceptable?” At John's nod, he added, “Excellent, Margaret can show me around a bit and we will be back by then.”

Margaret proudly showed him around the dining hall and introduced him to Mary Higgins – who had proven herself such a good cook that they hired her straight away for the dining hall once Betsy had returned to her post. They stayed quite some time in the school room, where both Margaret and Mr. Bell happily aided in the lessons – though they were far more basic than Mr. Bell was accustomed to at Oxford. As they exited the school house, Mr. Bell commented, “It's a fine school you've made there Margaret, your father and mother would be proud.”

“Thank you, I like to think they would be.”

“It does seem a touch overcrowded though.”

“Yes, we had no idea it would be so successful when we started it. We've got so many pupils now that the single teacher and single outbuilding we've got are hardly sufficient. But, we must make do.”

“Must you? I do have several other properties in Milton, you know. You could move the school to a larger building and hire more teachers,” he said, adding in a teasing tone, “now that you are a wealthy heiress.”

“I suppose I haven't had the time to think on it.” She said, rapidly turning the idea over. Now that they wouldn't have to pay rent, that would open a significant amount of the Mill's budget up as well.

“We still have half an hour before the lawyer gets here, I have a lovely property not a quarter mile from here if you care to see it,” offered Mr. Bell.

~~~


John had kept a keen eye on Margaret through dinner that evening. Mr. Bell had stayed, of course, knowing that few people could arrange an impromptu dinner for guests with the flair of Mrs. Thornton. Mr. Bell had been his usual sardonic self. Fanny was excited to have another person at table to chatter with and was largely unaware of the barbs their guest threw her way. Mother was equal parts relieved at the security the inheritance would bring them and annoyed that it had come to Margaret rather than directly to John. He made all of these observations, yet his primary concern was his wife. He had been around her in her grief long enough to know when she was forcing cheerfulness.

She had been through so much over the last year, almost an unbearable amount. It was nearly two years since she came to Milton, grieving over the loss of her garden paradise of Helstone. It was just over a year since the riot at Marlborough Mills. A year since he held her in his arms and realized the depth of his own feelings. A year since she discovered the severity of her mother's illness. A year since her friend Bessy Higgins had died. Ten months had passed since the fateful trip to London, their marriage, and the tragedy of her mother's death. Only four months had passed since they'd lost her father. Henry Lennox had written to inform them that he could find none of the witnesses to speak on Frederick's behalf, that there was nothing more he could do. She feared that she would never see her brother again. And now Mr. Bell, her god-father, would depart as well. It was far more grief than any twenty-year-old should have to bear.

As Margaret was both John and Mr. Bell's primary concern, the gentlemen did not separate from the ladies after dinner. Conversation in the parlor was more lively than usual, Mr. Bell was always keen to talk, Margaret was eager to engage him in conversation, and Mother was more apt to talk with company present. Fanny cajoled Margaret into playing a duet with her on the piano which was lovely and well received. Overall it was a pleasant evening.

As soon as he closed the door of their bedchamber when they retired he pulled Margaret into his arms and she began crying. He knew his wife, he knew that she had been holding this emotion in all day. After several minutes she settled down. “I've just lost so many people.”

“I know love,” he said as he stroked her back.

Margaret's eyes pooled again, “Mr. Bell was rather impressed with the school house today. He even tried going into more philosophical lessons with some of the older pupils. But he noted that the pupils already exceed the space of the school house. He suggested that we expand it. I feel so guilty inheriting his fortune, it feels like we're profiting from a good man's death. At least this way we can put his fortune to good use.”

“Aye, I think that's a good use of the inheritance.

“John,” she said softly, a hint of doubt creeping into her voice, “Mr. Bell owns … I now own several properties in Milton. He took me to see a house today that is not more than a quarter mile from here, a fifteen minute walk at a brisk pace. It is quite as large as this house, though not as ostentatious, and it is far quieter. It even has a little garden in back.”

“It sounds like a good location for the children,” he responded, open to her plans for expansion.

“It sounds like a good place to live...” Margaret added shyly.

Her meaning slowly dawned on him. He had never thought of moving, but he could see how Margaret may wish to. Mother had yet to give up the reigns to this house, and it would conceivably always remain her house. Even this room, which Margaret had transformed from the dreary and spartan bachelor's rooms into a comfortable and inviting space with her possessions and decorations, still featured dark, masculine papers and furniture.“You mean for us?”

“Exactly,” she said, timidly, “then we could move the school into the main house here and it would still be conveniently located for our hands to drop their children off. With that amount of space, we could hire more teachers and take on more pupils. Without having to worry about rent, the mill will have more disposable income, and I'll have my own money to invest as well.”

“Mother won't like having her house over run by the children of laborers.”

“Your mother doesn't approve of anything I do,” she countered. “What do you think of the idea?”

“I think I want my wife to be comfortable in her own home,” he said kissing the top of her head. “I think we have more children than we have stools in the school house. I think we've already seen a number of skilled workers apply here from other mills since we've introduced the school and dining hall, so the scheme has been profitable. I think expanding the school sounds like a good idea. Perhaps we could even offer some more advanced classes to children who are able to remain enrolled after they're old enough to work. I can think of no better legacy for the great Oxford academic from Milton than to bring better education to his native city.”

“Thank you,” she whispered into his shoulder.

“Now, would you like me to call Dixon, or shall I help you?” He asked as he ran his hand up and down her arm.

“I don't have the energy to see anyone other than you tonight, if you don't mind playing ladies maid.” She gave him a half-smile that bespoke both weariness and intimacy.

John smiled and happily obliged. He loved that she still turned to him when she didn't have the energy to face anyone else. He slowly began unbuttoning her gown, allowing his hands to linger now as he had been unable to do on their wedding night. This had become a familiar dance, reserved for days when his wife needed the most care. When she was divested of her clothing, he led her to the vanity and began slowly removing the pins from her hair, then gently stroking the brush through her hair. He knelt beside her to plait her hair and tie it off. She lowered her lips to his in a passionate kiss. He swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed.

Some time later, they lie in bed entangled in each other's arms. Margaret's soft voice broke into his blissful haze. “Do you think that you will brush our daughter's hair like that some day?”

He thought about the whole of the ritual they just performed and laughed, “not quite like that, but yes, I imagine I will.” Her tinkling laughter washed over him.

“I remember on our wedding night, the first thought that broke through my shock and sorrow was that you would make a rather good father some day. I envisioned you caring for little Fanny and the picture gradually morphed into our own daughter, seated at my mother's vanity while you plaited her hair. I look forward to seeing that reality.”

“Well I, for one, am quite willing to keep trying until that vision is a reality,” he replied lightheartedly, leaning in for another kiss. Instead of raising her face to his, however, she burrowed it further into his neck. A gesture of emotional embarrassment he hadn't seen in recent months.

“There's no need for 'trying' … that's already done.”

He heard his heart pound fast in his ears. “Margaret!” he called, and raised her face to look into those magnificent eyes. “Margaret are you …?”

She smiled, “Dr. Donaldson confirmed it yesterday, but he said it was too early to be telling anyone.”

“Oh my Margaret!” He cried, his heart expanding with love and joy. As he soundly kissed her, his hand traveled down to rest on her abdomen.

“It seems our joys are always to be paired with sorrows,” he said softly, recalling the events of the day.

“I prefer to see it more optimistically, the burden of our sorrows seems always to be lifted by our joys.” She rose up on her arm and leaned in to kiss him.

Epilogue


October 17, 1852

Margaret sat patiently at her vanity as Dixon again created an elaborate style for her hair. The cheerful yellow papers of the room glowed with the late afternoon sun and she could see a glimpse of the garden below. In her altogether biased opinion, their new home was the most wonderfully serene place in the whole of Milton. It contained the very best of the charm of the Helstone parsonage, the elegance of Harley Street, and the practicality of Marlborough Mills with just a touch of Mrs. Thornton's splendor.

Mrs. Thornton – Hannah – had not been enthusiastic about the move, but news of the grandchild soothed her furrowed brow and elicited the first real smile from the stern woman that Margaret had ever seen. John and Margaret steadily campaigned for the move, even bringing in Dr. Donaldson's expertise to assure her that some distance from the noise and bustle of the mill would be healthier for the child, and a garden a far more suitable play area than a mill yard. They eventually won her reluctant consent and had moved in the month prior after some minor improvements and redecoration.

Margaret's relationship with Hannah had improved over the course of her pregnancy thus far. John had been overly anxious about her health and whenever he was absent, Hannah had been nearly as solicitous. Having been through the process herself, she was eager to impart the wisdom of her experiences on Margaret. True, her ministrations were devoid of the tenderness her own mother would have shown on such an occasion, yet Margaret understood that it was not in her mother-in-law's nature to show her affection.

In spite of this increased amiability, there was one point on which Hannah was adamant. She had agreed to the hasty wedding ceremony with the belief that they would host a dinner in honor of the marriage. Following Mrs. Hale's death, Margaret and John had delayed, focusing on Mr. Hale's condition, the mill, and their social experiments. They had just begun planning the dinner for after Mr. Hale's return from Oxford when news of his death had arrived and Margaret was plunged back into deep mourning. Hannah had argued emphatically for the dinner to be held now, on their anniversary. While Margaret was still in mourning for her father and Mr. Bell – who had sadly lived only weeks after his trip to Milton – she was now easing int half-mourning. They could not put the dinner off another six months as Margaret would then be in confinement for the babe.

Margaret owned to some trepidation on the occasion. Outside of morning calls, business meetings, and the occasional afternoon tea, Margaret had, quite properly, avoided society while she was in deep mourning. This would be her first real social event as Mrs. John Thornton – for she held no doubt that unlike the laborers, Milton society would see her as an extension of her husband. Would they accept her? Would she be an embarrassment? She ran her hands over her gray silk evening gown, bringing them to rest over her slightly swollen abdomen. Had they put the dinner off any longer, her delicate condition would be obvious to all, but luckily the voluminous dress concealed her condition for the most part. She was not unaware of the rumors that had run rampant about their hasty marriage and the speculation as to their reason for such unseemly haste. Although the Milton gossips had waited anxiously for evidence that she and John had anticipated their vows, none had presented itself. On that score, Margaret was relieved that on her first anniversary she found herself merely three months into her pregnancy.

The soft click of the latch from the dressing room heralded John's arrival just as Dixon was placing the final black jet comb in her hair. Dixon quietly took a step back and Margaret turned to greet him with a smile.

~~~


“Margaret are...” John's question died on his lips as he entered their bedchamber. Margaret was haloed in the soft glow of the dying afternoon sunlight, half turned from her vanity to greet him with her hands lightly resting over their unborn child. Her beauty took his breath away. If Dixon were not in the room and they did not have half of Milton society imminently expected …

“How is it that you manage to look more beautiful every time I see you?” She blushed and shifted her eyes to her lap, somehow only enhancing her beauty. He gravitated towards her. “If I had any confidence that photography could capture even half of your beauty, I would have your portrait taken just as you are now.”

“Dixon has prevailed in transforming me into a fine lady once more.” Margaret demurred. The ladies maid, who had been discretely moving toward the door, stopped at this praise.

“Your appearance this evening is highly to Miss Dixon's credit I am sure,” he said with a grateful nod to the servant, “but your ethereal beauty is yours alone.” Miss Dixon gave something between a nod of agreement and an insulted huff as she turned to leave the room. Closing the gap between him and his wife he leaned down to kiss her. She brought her hand to the back of his neck and as they separated it slipped down to his chest, smoothing an invisible wrinkle in his lapel.

“You are looking rather dashing yourself tonight John,” she replied fondly before returning her focus to her vanity to attach her earbobs.

“Well, I must make some effort to polish off my Milton dust when escorting such a lady as you to a party.” He said it lightly, but it did touch on real fears. This would be their first social appearance, they had proven themselves an equal pair in their daily lives, but she was far his superior in society. He had the irrational fear that people would suddenly realize how unequal their marriage was, how crass and brutish he was in the face of her grace and refinement.

“Nonsense,” she laughed, “you know very well that in tonight's company I will be seen as the interloper. I shall have to contend with all of the disappointed young ladies and their mothers who cannot conceive how you – the handsomest, most eligible catch in Milton – came to marry a foreigner like me.”

He smiled at her, insecurities rarely shone through in his regal determined Margaret and it was somewhat endearing that her fears were so close to his own. He met her eyes in the mirror. “And yet with all of their attentions none of them ever managed to touch my heart. You flounced in and gave me one imperious glance and I was lost.” He bent down to press a reverent kiss to the creamy expanse of shoulder bared by her gown – a truly lovely aspect of evening gowns. Aware of their time constraints – but ever hopeful of a slight reprieve – he consulted his watch and sighed at the advanced hour. “Are you nearly ready love? Guests will be arriving in about a half hour, but Mother requires your presence.”

“I am ready,” she said with one last glance at her reflection, “although I don't know that it is in my power to be truly prepared for our first dinner party.”

“Shall we face the lions together?” He said as he extended his hand to help her up.

“Always,” she said, placing her hand in his.

~~~


Margaret found that armed with all of the love, happiness, and equality of her marriage, she was able to bear the thinly veiled envy and malice of her peers tolerably well. Dinner had yet to be announced but most of the party had arrived and were milling about the parlor. She had high hopes for the success of the evening. She had endeavored to merge Hannah's opulence with her own understated elegance and was rather pleased thus far with the result. Margaret stood at a short distance watching Fanny flirt with a handsome young banker. He was perhaps not as well set up as Fanny or her mother would have wished, but he had all of the benefits of youth, charm, and potential to recommend him. It would be a far more suitable match in Margaret's opinion than that proposed by Mr. Watson, who was far more interested in being pleased by a young lady than in pleasing her. Margaret blushed at exactly how pleasing a truly loving husband could be.

Just then she looked up and caught the appreciative gazes of her husband and Mr. Horsfall. She heard just the end of what Mr. Horsfall was saying to John: “so quiet, so stately, and so beautiful.” Given where their attention landed, Margaret could have no doubt that the comment referred to her. She blushed and smiled and as soon as her eyes locked with John's he rather rudely walked away from his companion and drew near to her.

Feeling a decided similarity to events at a former dinner party, and struck by an impish desire to tease, she decided to play out the rest of the scene. She boldly held out her hand to him and when he took it she clasped her other hand around his. “See, I am learning Milton ways Mr. Thornton.” She said with an arch smile. For a moment he merely responded with a smoldering look then his smile slowly grew.

He broke their reenactment by lifting her hand to his lips and placing a lingering kiss on her knuckles. “And I am learning London ways, Mrs. Thornton,” he said with a roguish smile. “And unlike last year, nobody will tear me away from your side tonight.”

“Well, I can't guarantee that we won't be separated at all, but I do anticipate a great number of pleasant changes from your last dinner party.”

“Particularly the way the evening ends,” he said, reviving the smoldering look. Margaret blushed and averted her eyes. She had yet to recover when the Slicksons approached a moment later to make their formal congratulations, but by the time dinner was announced she had regained enough composure to lead the company in to the meal.

The End



Author's Note: I hope you all enjoyed this crossover story, I had a lot of fun writing it. I decided that I don't know enough about the Victorian Royal Navy, mutinies, and court martials to commit to Frederick Wentworth helping Frederick Hale at this time and I don't have time to do the research at present. So, there may be a sequel to this story exploring that.

If you already requested a pdf, the epilogue is entirely new, and there were some structural changes to the ending. If you would like an updated version of the pdf just let me know.

Karentia and EvelynJean, thank you for pointing out these mistakes. I have no beta, so no matter how many times I read the stories over, there are always a few typos, misspellings, and oversights that make their way in.
SubjectAuthorPosted

A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapter 15 and Epilogue (Final)

MorganANovember 10, 2017 11:48PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapter 15 and Epilogue (Final)

Lucy J.November 21, 2017 03:57AM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapter 15 and Epilogue (Final)

Agnes BeatrixNovember 13, 2017 02:21PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapter 15 and Epilogue (Final)

KateBNovember 11, 2017 01:23PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapter 15 and Epilogue (Final)

Maria VNovember 11, 2017 08:06AM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapter 15 and Epilogue (Final)

EvelynJeanNovember 11, 2017 03:09AM

Well said! grinning smiley. nfm

KarenteaNovember 11, 2017 09:01PM



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