John Thornton, Look Back at Me – part 29 (Last Chapter)

Chapter 29

     On Top of the World

 

With all the things John had going on in his life, Nicholas and Peggy still had not had their wedding, but it seemed to now be planned for two weeks before Christmas.  Nicholas had adapted to his gentleman’s clothes and let his hair grow longer, which allowed for a more distinguished appearance that seemed to suit him rather well.  He and John had all three mills running at top performance, and life was good to both of them and their prospective brides.

 

On a beautiful, crisp autumn day, the town of Milton found itself poised to celebrate the marriage of the decade for their city.  John Thornton was to wed Margaret Hale Reed in Milton’s largest church.

Nicholas, in his own coach, drove over to John’s house to find what preparations he could help with, before setting off for his wedding riders.  John was dressed to perfection, as usual, and he handed the ring to Nicholas for safe keeping.

“Are you nervous, John?”

“Actually, no; not severely, anyway.  I am struggling to comprehend that my dream will come true today.  After all these years, how do I switch it over in my mind to reality?  Nicholas, I am sure you know how it must be for me, as you, too, are waiting to marry your lady.  Today, all of the lonely tormented years will be vanquished for all time.  I gave you a ring, did I not?”  John asked as he patted all of his pockets.

“Yes, John, you just handed it to me.”  Nicholas laughed.  “All is ready for you then?  I should be picking up Peggy, Margaret, and the Professor any minute now.  You need to get to the church, sir.  I have traveled beside you, for the most part, on your journey to this day, and my heart is filled with happiness for you and for Margaret.  My very best wishes to you, both.”

John put out his hand to shake Nicholas’s and then pulled him in for a brotherly hug.  “I must be on my way,” John said.

Branson, having spit polished the carriage and himself, held the door open for his master.  He had bathed the horses and braided their tails, polished the brasses, oiled the leathers and straps, and painted the wheels.  He was proud to drive his boss to church on his wedding day.  He wanted to show his respect for his fairy tale coach, which would sit near the entrance, gleaming in the sun.

“Branson, your carriage is impeccable.  Thank you for the compliment to our wedding.”

“Right you are, guv, and good luck today.”

“Has your other duty been taken care of?”

“Yes, sir.  All done.”

With great pride, and looking his finest, Branson climbed into his box and reined the four shiny horses and the groom toward the large bell-tower church.  Later, he would ferry the married couple back to the mill house to change and collect their luggage for the train.

When he arrived, John saw a horde of people milling around outside, talking and waiting for the festivities to begin.  As soon as Branson brought the carriage to a stop, he jumped down, opened the door, and lowered the steps.  John exited the coach looking breathtakingly splendid in tails and top hat.

John stood outside the church, talking and shaking hands with the invited guests until the time drew near.  His joy knew no bounds today; he wore it proudly across his face.  True to the devotion to his workers, many of his mill workers and managers were in attendance, as well as all Chamber members and other business acquaintances from across the motherland.

With nerves beginning to twitch, as the time was drawing close, John pulled out his pocket watch. His stomach did a flip when the organ started playing, inviting the guests to come and be seated.  John saw Higgins’ coach approaching, and he became weak in the knees.  He had waited long for this day than any other day in his life.  And the time was now at hand.  He turned toward the entrance, feeling like he was about to enter the pearly gates on earth.  As he stepped inside the nave of the church, he bowed his head and said a silent prayer:

 

“Thank you, Mother.  I love you.  Your work is done.”

 

He turned to speak with someone who was just inside the door and then proceeded toward the altar, holding his hat in his hand.  Shaking hands, walking the aisle, oblivious to the faces in front of him, he found his way to the minister and placed his hat on the front pew; he waited for Nicholas, his best man, to come down the aisle, followed by the miracle that had come into his life.  John could not help but smile; it was permanently affixed to his face today.  His beloved would be by his side very soon and remain there for the rest of their lives.  In a few moments, Margaret would be his to possess and protect, sharing his dream, fulfilling his life.

John saw, through the sea of heads, Nicholas helping Margaret out of the carriage with Peggy right behind her.  Margaret was stunning in her understated ivory cotton gown, embroidered with ivory flowers and ribbons at the waist and neckline.  He was totally mesmerized; he watched as Peggy lifted the veil over Margaret’s face and placed the bouquet of roses in her hands.

The organ had stopped playing, and the gathering quieted, too, rising to their feet.  Nicholas placed the Professor and Margaret in their positions, with Peggy and himself ahead of them, to lead the small procession to the altar.  The organist started playing the traditional wedding march, as everyone turned their gaze toward the best man and maid of honor making their way.

Margaret found John with her eyes.  She was overcome with his masculinity, dressed in resplendent elegance.  Her man, the one waiting for her at the altar, was tall and proud and exquisitely handsome.  He wore his black, long tails, an ivory shirt, and an ivory waistcoat, but this time he had a red cravat and a single red rose that matched her bouquet, on his lapel.

Margaret was staring at John, who was sending his love back to her, as Peggy and Nicholas began their walk.  She knew to count to ten before she and the Professor started their steps.  By the time she got to five, the Professor had stepped back from her, and her brother Fredrick stepped out from the shadows and into his place by her side.

As he put his arm around her, he looked into her eyes and said, “Hello Sis. Did you think I would let you walk down the aisle without me?  I love you, dear sister.  This is your big day, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”  Fredrick urged her to take the first step.

“Shall we?”  he said/asked.

“How?”  Margaret whispered as they started their march.

“John arranged everything.  I think he pulled in a lot of favors, and I am grateful to him to be here with you at this moment.”

Margaret could feel the moisture forming in her eyes.  She would be a sight when John lifted her veil if she didn’t pull herself together right now.  “Fred . . . ?”

“Shhh,” said Fredrick.  “Behold, your man, standing at the altar waiting for you.  He is dispatching his love for you from where he stands.  He is glowing, and you are a glorious sight to all of us today.”  Margaret looked up to see John, in his regal splendor, staring at her with devotion and pride unfolding across his masculine face.  His chest was full; he stood impressively erect.  She never took her eyes off of him, or he, off hers until she and her brother reached the altar.

Politely shaking John’s hand, Frederick gently placed Margaret’s hand in John’s.  John dared to believe the moment was here.

 

The look in her eyes . . . The English language is inadequate of words to describe her loveliness, what this woman is today...

 

The minister began the service.  Keeping his eyes on her, John knew he would carry this vision into the world beyond.

Their responses were uttered to each other, and the ceremony continued until John turned to Nicholas and asked for the ring that he was holding safe.

John placed the ring on Margaret’s finger and looked into her eyes, as he repeated the words . . . with this ring I thee wed.  They concluded the remainder of their vows and pledges to each other without taking their eyes away from one another.  John could hardly believe that he had overcome almost five years, with all its obstacles, and it had led to this moment.

“And what God has joined together, let no man put asunder,” said the minister.

It was done.

John lifted the veil to release the goddess beneath.  He inhaled deeply when he realized Margaret was wearing his mother’s ruby heart.  Tears welled in his eyes, knowing the happiness of this day could never be repeated in his lifetime.  As he took Margaret in his arms, he quietly said to her, “You are the completion of me.  I will love you beyond our next life.”

Before he kissed her, Margaret said, “John, your lips have kissed my soul.  Love was just a word to me until you showed me its real meaning.  John… thank you for Fredrick.”

They smiled at each other, and to the cheers of the crowd, they kissed passionately

As they walked down the aisle to John’s waiting carriage, the/some folks/guests gathered, tossing flower petals at them, and the church bells pealed to announce that John Thornton and Margaret Hale Thornton were now wed.  Margaret tossed her bouquet; it sailed through the air, right into the hands of a blushing Mary Higgins.  Hopping back up into this/?his box, Branson reined the four-in-hand set of horses toward the courthouse, while/as John settled Margaret into his arms.

“Are you happy, Mrs. Thornton?”  John asked, endearingly, while looking into her watery/tear-filled eyes, gently rubbing the back of his hand down her cheeks to the base of her throat.  “Those were beautiful words you said to me at the end.  Thank you for that.”

“Mrs. Thornton.  That has a wonderful sound.  This is the happiest day of my life, dear husband.  Knowing that I will always have you to myself, to love you, to be loved by you, to be protected by you, to bear your children… I could not ask for any more out of life.  I am blessed with happiness beyond words.”

Feathering her face with light kisses, they drove in silence to their reception.

Now that the ceremony was concluded, everyone made their way to the courthouse, fourth floor.  John, Margaret, Peggy, and Nicholas formed a reception line to welcome their guests.

Margaret whispered to John, “Where’s Fred?”

He’s back at our home.  He will travel with us on the train.  You will get to speak with him for several hours before we part from him.”

“Thank you, John.  This is unmatched by any gift you could have given me.”

“You are welcome, my love.  Oh, how nice that sounds to say out loud, now, not worrying who’s around the corner.”

“Would you like your present from me tonight?” She asked.

“Not in front of all these people, surely,” he laughed.  “I’m sorry, I am too happy right now.  Yes, what is it?”

“I am going to tell you when I knew I was in love with you,” said Margaret.

“You don’t know how long I have wondered when it happened.  To find out   now, and the fact that you chose to wear Mother’s ruby heart pendant on our wedding day, could not please me more.  Thank you, my love.”

“I wanted your Mother to be with us today.”

“I know she is with us, as this is the culmination of the signs she has been sending me for two years.

John reached over and kissed her, unconcerned of the people waiting to shake their hands.

All of the traditional amenities being observed, the orchestra tuned their instruments and waited to begin their music.

John and Margaret took the floor.  The conductor began the first song, a waltz, requested by John, called Brahms Waltz in A-Flat Major, Opus 39 No15, for violin.

The music began. John bowed to Margaret. “This is my dance, I believe?”

“I believe it is, sir.” She curtsied to him.

He put out his left hand for her to take. She took his hand with her right.  John slid his right hand behind her to the small of her back, but this time he allowed very little proper space between them.  She placed her other hand on his shoulder, reaching as far as she could.

The beautiful couple unfolded their mirrored dance of swirls of ribbon and tails, moving about the room as one.  John had tremendous grace about him; he glided, rather than stepped, as he moved.  His right hand splayed against the small of her back as he conducted her with assured commands into intricate little twirls and wider whirls.  The audience was transfixed by their stunning performance and was amazed at how John never took his eyes from Margaret but sensed his position on the floor at all times.  The mill workers were astounded by this man who was their boss, and who displayed such elegant form.

“John?”

“Yes, my love?”

“Do you remember the last time we danced like this?”

“I will always cherish my memory of our first waltz together, as I will this waltz, on our wedding day.  This is my favorite classical piece, and I have yearned to dance it with you.”

“I loved our first waltz because it brought into my mind when I first fell in love with you, even though I wasn’t totally aware it was love that I felt.  I am going to tell you now, but I would like to hear your thoughts on when that was, first.”

As John whirled Margaret around the floor, his eyes never leaving her, he said, “I didn’t think I would be asked, but I have thought about it.  You remember while I lay in the hospital, how I figured out something from your words? You somehow wiggled out of a definite answer.  You said I was there, but you wouldn’t answer if I was there with YOU; I believe that’s how it went.  I am going to say it was the day of your husband’s funeral when I walked away.  I remember so vividly, looking back, and you were still watching me, even though your family was closing in on you.  Am I close?” “No.”

“Hmm . . . Now, you really have my curiosity peaked.  Earlier?

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

Margaret smiled at John’s sudden bewilderment. “I’ll give you a big hint.  It was before I was taken away from Milton.”

John almost came to a halt in the middle of the floor.  “What?  BEFORE you left Milton?  I loved you then as I do now.  I don’t understand.  I thought you knew my feelings for you.  What happened and when was it?

“John, to be honest, I didn’t recognize it then, but I felt sick to my stomach all of a sudden.  I had never experienced the pangs of jealousy and didn’t realize that moment for what it was.  But I know, now, that was the moment I knew I had feelings of love for you.”

“Please, love, don’t keep me in suspense any longer.  I cannot, at all, remember a time when I would ever have made anyone jealous.”

“Oh, you didn’t do it; it was someone else.  And you were quite unaware of it, I think.”

“Please, Margaret . . .”

“It was the day of your sister’s wedding.  You had just exited the church and were shaking hands and talking with people as they filed out.  I stood there, watching your serene countenance, thinking how handsome you looked.  You extended your arm to shake someone’s hand, and Ann Latimer entwined her arms around yours.  You hadn’t offered it, but she took it upon herself to show those gathered that you belonged to her.  I became ill just then, and had to look away; I didn’t understand why at that moment.  You had, by then, and rightly I might add, dismissed me from your life.  Of course, after that, I thought you two were interested in each other.  Father died shortly thereafter, and you know the rest.  I left Milton that day, thinking you were going to find happiness with Ann.  I think our letters would have saved us years of misery.”

“Oh God, Margaret, you thought I had feelings for her and I thought you had feelings for the man at the station.  Let’s not spoil our day with any more talk like this.  I love you, Margaret, my lovely wife.  We shall be happy for the rest of our days and beyond.  I can’t wait for the rest of my life to begin.”

John bent down and kissed her while they turned and twirled about the room.

With Margaret’s lace hem and ribbons swaying away from her, and John’s tails floating aside his body, he slipped his hand up her back, pressing her closer to him, and she followed, moving her hand from John’s shoulder to the back of his neck.  Pulling her right hand to his heart, he cupped her fingers and palm against him.  He leaned towards her and pressed his lips to hers again; closing his eyes, he held her close for a final whirl around the dance floor.

Margaret and John: Finally. Their hopes, dreams, passion, and hearts, once existing as two entities, now beat as one.