If Margaret thought she had been in a weakened state before, it was now officially confirmed when John walked through the door in his exquisite evening attire. He had a yellow rose in his lapel and a yellow rose nosegay for Margaret. He handed Nicholas and Adam yellow roses for their apparel and went directly to Margaret. Peggy moved away and everyone walked out of the room to give them privacy. Nicholas even closed the door behind them.
John knelt at Margaret’s feet.
“I love you more this minute than any time before. Are you ready to be Mrs. John Thornton?”
“You know I am. John, you are so handsome, you make me want to cry.”
“All for you, my love. Only and forever for you, Margaret. Where is that stunning hospital gown I was expecting? I even wore a white cravat to match you,” he smiled. You look positively stunning. And what are you doing sitting on the side of the bed? Shouldn’t you be sitting up with pillows behind you?”
“I convinced the doctor that there was nothing wrong with me legs. I want to stand beside you for as long as I can. When you kiss me at the end of the vows, just don’t squeeze me too hard. I’ll take a lot of pain for that kiss I want so badly, though.”
“Oh, how I want to squeeze you now. I cannot wait to get you home so that I can serve you and hold you and stroke your forehead and kiss your neck. I am going to stop there, or you will know me better than you should right now.”
Margaret smiled and grimaced once again.
John leaned in and parting her lips gave her a sensual kiss. “I won’t be able to do that with everyone watching. Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready for two years. I am eagerly waiting to give you my vows. I do so love you, John Thornton.”
John kissed her once again and then helped her to her feet. Do you have a preference where you want stand?”
“I think at the end of the bed. I can lean back on the footboard if I need to.”
“If you need to lean, you lean on me. I want you to lean on me always, Miss Hale. And say goodbye to Miss Hale, now.”
John placed Margaret at the end of the bed and opened the door for the others to take their places.
Margaret was surprised that Adam stood next to her and not John. She realized he was giving her away. She looked up into his eyes, and both had tears welling.
The minister stood facing Adam and Margaret and asked who gives this woman away.
Adam said, “I do.” Adam turned to shake John’s hand and then placed Margaret’s hand into John’s. Adam and John exchanged places.
Peggy collected the flowers Margaret had been holding and Margaret could feel John looking down on her. She peeped up and saw an almost reverent benevolent smile. His eyes were speaking his love to her heart.
Staff from the hospital had drifted in, including Nurse Pickering and Dr. Wagner.
The minister continued into the vows and then Nicholas had to fish out the emerald ring for Margaret’s finger, to hand John. Margaret gasped at its loveliness as John looked into her face and slowly slid it onto her finger, then squeezed her hand. Margaret felt her knees trembling, and John felt that happening, too. He gently folded his arm around her waist and held her up until the final words of Man and Wife were spoken. He had wanted to kiss her tenderly in front of the crowd but found no success there. He kissed her for long moments, to the applause of everyone in the room. John, the passionate man and lover, was finally revealed to all who watched.
As soon as he gave her breath, he escorted her to the chair, where she received all the well wishes and kisses.
The doctor was in and out of Margaret’s room until he thought the festivities had gone on long enough. He could see his patient tiring and spoke to Mr. Thornton. John went to his friends and told them of Margaret’s fatigue. To Adam, he said he would seem him later this evening at his home. Branson carried the minister back to the church and John said he would get a cabby to take him home.
“No, sir. I will be back for you. I will be outside starting at 7:00 pm.
John walked his friends to the hospital entrance while Nurse Pickering changed Margaret back into a fresh cotton gown and got her comfortably settled into her bed.
“Mrs. Thornton, you can’t seem to stop smiling.”
Margaret paused, hearing that phrase for the first time from someone other than John. Her face flushed as the smile grew larger.
“Mrs. Thornton,” she sighed out loud.
“Yes, Mrs. Thornton,” John repeated coming back through the door.
The nurse disappeared knowing that Margaret was settled, perhaps in the best situation of her life.
John quietly pushed the door closed when she had left, not latching it, but hiding them from onlookers. He walked back to Margaret’s bedside and took the chair pulling it close to his new wife.
“Margaret, you have made me the happiest man on this earth today. Even up until you said, ‘I do’, I feared something might interrupt us for what I have waited for since meeting you. I want to make you as happy as I am.”
“You already have. You’ve taken on a woman of reduced circumstances, who treated you poorly, and then left you heartbroken. I am a woman who returns to you when everything in her life has failed her and asks for sanctuary, and you took me in. You give me love and not just abidance.”
“Margaret, stop that. You sound like you are making yourself self out to be a charity case. Had I known there was any regard for me, I would have sought you out long ago. I have done nothing but think about you. I tried to carry on; I saw very few women since you left, but no one could compare to you, my love. Under any condition imaginable, I wanted you, everyday in every way. For the past few months, I have even thought of selling the mills. I had to make some change in my life to get past you or give up living. I could no longer face the world with you somewhere that I couldn’t touch. Don’t ever think there is gratitude in my love for you. You don’t think that I could ever entertain the idea that you returned because I just happen to be a little better than the last man seeking you. Do you? No, I know that you love me and today was something we both wanted. This wedding was not a rescue for either of us. We’re married because we should have done this, two years ago. I know I rushed you into this, perhaps much faster than is proper. Here you lay in a hospital bed, delirious on laudanum and saying you will be my wife. I hope you never come to regret that. I was terribly selfish in gaining your hand while you were willing.”
“John, now you stop talking that way. I was not delirious when I accepted your offer of marriage. It wasn’t long after I was taken from Milton that I knew I had left my heart behind. I felt trapped between the two men I love most in this world. I knew I broke your heart as mine had already done, but my brother’s life could have been at stake and that weighed a bit heavier than my happiness.”
“Margaret, let’s not dwell on the past and the why’s. We have finally reached each other for all time and that’s all that matters, now. We just need you to concentrate on getting you well, so that you can come home with me. You cannot imagine how my mind is carrying me too far off places I’ve never thought of before. You will be loved like no other woman.”
“I hope can live up to your expectations.” Margaret said softly.
“Margaret, you far exceeded my expectations long long ago. I guess I am too anxious to know all of you and I have told you not to think of me being anxious. There is love driving me, not lust. It feels quite different, you know? My desire lies more with me wanting to please you than the other way around. It is a most exhilarating fantasy, waiting to come true. You’re blushing! Black eye, red cheeks, what more could a man ask for?” John laughed.
“I loved our little wedding. Everyone here wanted this for us, too. I am glad it is behind us now, so when I face my aunt, she will have no advice to give me.”
“Yes, I am afraid you have a couple more days of discomfort with visitors. Your aunt and cousin will want to know what happened, why you are here, and why you are married. It will be up to you what you say to them. I will not tell them what I know.” John moved towards Margaret’s lips. It was their first kiss since the ceremony. Margaret was able to manage one arm around John’s neck. John put one arm behind her, anchoring his hand under her bottom and pulled her to him. The other hand stroked her face and neck. He tenderly made love to her with his tongue and hers intertwining. They eventually pulled apart and John withdrew his hand from underneath her. That had been their most intimate contact.
“Yes, my love. What is it?”
“This medicine hasn’t dulled all my feelings.”
“I don’t understand. What are you telling me?”
Margaret blushed and smiled causing John to kiss her again, as before.