The Game is Afoot
John gently rested Margaret on the couch in his sitting room. He went to the buffet and poured them each a port. He sensed she needed something to strengthen her consciousness.
“Margaret. What am I going to do with you? You will have to warn me when you are about to faint because you startle me before I know it’s happening. I’m thankful that all three times you were in my arms when it happened.” He smiled as he handed her the wine glass.
John settled next to her on the couch and turned towards her. He put his arm across the backrest and caressed her cheeks with the back of his hand, moving it from her temple and then down her shoulders. He kept stroking her while she began to focus on the recent event.
“John, it’s because I am in your arms that causes me to faint. You overwhelm me.” Margaret paused. “John . . . I think you proposed to me in front of everyone tonight?”
“That, I did. And you graciously accepted me and then fainted. I have hundreds of witnesses. There is no turning back now.” John was glowing, watching her bewildered face as if she was trying to sort things out.
Margaret slipped into an unexpected state of serious reflection. “Tonight, John, I watched as you were honored as The Man of the Decade for the Industrial Age. That is ten years worth of sweat, toil, and determination for your caring about the human condition that was Milton. They extolled you as being the hero who sacrificed his life to save the lives of three strangers. I was so passionately proud of you and humbled, my tears came from very deep within, bordering on reverence, I think. To me, you stood there looking like a saint. I felt that you were finally . . . finally, accepting the praise that you have so ruthlessly shunned. Your posture was gracious, majestic, even. I almost fainted when the audience came to their feet to bestow their admiration and appreciation for all that you have accomplished.
“Margaret . . .”
“Shhh . . . I need to say these words….”
“I watched as you looked out over the audience, finally receiving the distinction that you justly deserve, and found it hard to believe that you love me . . . me! John Thornton, Man of the Decade, loves plain, little Margaret Hale from Helston. I felt so incredibly small and vastly unworthy in the whole scheme of your life.
“Scheme of my life?” John questioned loudly, with incredulity. “Margaret, you ARE my life!”
She continued. “To save your family’s name and respect, you spent your teenage years supporting your mother and sister and repaid your father’s creditors for his mistakes. With shame, I recalled my initial impression of you. My naivety overwhelms me: From that first day when I met you in your mill, and thought you uncaring and harsh, to your moment of fame that I witnessed, just a short time ago, when people recognized you for the caring man that you are. Along with everything else you affect, you are a Magistrate for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria’s courts. You are responsible for the livelihoods of over, now, well over a thousand people.
“And yet . . . you are still the same man I met five years ago. All your courage, caring and honor has lived within you all of your life. Why could I not see it five years ago . . . this total person who stood on that dais tonight? As dreadful as I was to you, you loved me even back then; you suffered for me all those years since; you hoped and waited for me. . . living a lonely life with a broken heart. On my suggestion, you took a man in and gave him work, and it almost bankrupted your business. You interceded on my behalf when you saw me that night at the train station, saying goodbye to my, unknown to you, brother, and I had to lie to the police about being there and witnessing an accident. Because of the late hour and my being alone, you protected my reputation, again, with your discreet reserve, not to mention your first marriage proposal when you attempted to rescue me from totally embarrassing myself. You championed my honor at the Ball. Dispite you being normally reticent to stand out in a crowd, you whirled me around the dance floor, gazing lovingly at me with every step, and remained unruffled by the fact that we were the only two being watched by many. And tonight, you knelt down on one knee and proposed to me in front of hundreds of your peers. How am I so honored to have your love?”
John’s heart lept into his throat. “Margaret, I have loved you from the beginning of our acquaintance. I loved everything about you, loved you to your core for who you are inside. You are right; I am still the same man as I was back then, except that I love you beyond all reason, now. If you are proud of me and consider that I am intelligent and caring, what do you think that says about the one I chose to love for the rest of my life? I treasure you, Margaret. I love and lust for you, Margaret. I would give my life for you. God forbid you leave this earth before me; I will follow, for I cannot live in a world where you do not exist. You are so deeply embedded in my spirit and my soul; I just want to be lost in you. I love you Margaret, soon-to-be-Thornton. You are my life, now and forever more; you are my reason for living.”
John pulled her to him, and they sat in silence as Margaret shed her tears of devotion for the man who loved her.
Wrapped in each other’s arms, silence prevailed for many moments, while they absorbed the words spoken by the other.
“I have something that I want to show you,” John said softly.
He left the room and came back from the library with a letter in his hand.
“I took some liberty, hoping eventually that you would agree to marry me. You might like to know what’s in this letter.”
“Before I read this,” she took John’s hands in hers and pointed to her ring, “Thank you for loving me and thank you for this strikingly beautiful ring which proves our love by you offering, and my accepting it. I want everyone to see that I belong to you, and if you must know the truth, if you did not propose to me soon, I was going to do it myself.” She smiled into John’s eyes.
John perceived the deep love and desire in her face. His own body flooded with passion, magnifying what was already within him; he drew her tightly to him and kissed her hard. He whispered in her ear, “You can read the letter tomorrow. Just give me a moment,” he said, as he laid the note down on the table and stood.
John went to his room and returned with a feather blanket that had been in storage. He spread it in front of the roaring fire and turned off all the gas lights. After adding another log and stoking the fire, he took Margaret’s hand and guided her to the downy quilt.
“Oh, stay here, I forgot something,” he said, as he disappeared into the dark. Returning, he held his hands behind him.
Margaret waited for the unveiling of what he had retrieved and was now hiding.
“Care to guess?” John asked.
“Oh, John, you’re not going to make me guess, are you? We’ll be here all night, standing like this,” she said, putting on her pouty face, which she sensed John loved.
“All right, I doubt you would have guessed, anyway. Now, close your eyes.”
Margaret closed her eyes.
“Hold out your hand, palm up, so I can place something in it.”
Margaret held out her palm, face up.
John placed something small and soft in her palm.
“Now, don’t open your eyes yet, and tell me what it is.”
“Can I use my other hand to feel it?”
Margaret started to feel the soft little ball in her hands. She handled the item for a few seconds, and then she burst out laughing. “It’s YARN!” She opened her eyes. “You cheated last time, as I recall.”
“I don’t quite remember it that way, myself. I remember outsmarting you, so I am going to give you a chance to redeem yourself. Only this time, I select what you remove, and you select what I remove,” John said grinning. Ready for the rules?”
“Rules?” Margaret asked, laughingly.
“Yes. Rules. There aren’t many. You may not select an item of clothing that has something lying over it that has to be removed to get to it. Say . . . you could not ask me to remove my woolen socks before my boots. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? And there, Milady, are the rules.”
John had been working on this game for several weeks, in his mind. He was sure he had counted all the garments, and even jewelry, that she could wear, and he had so equipped his pockets with bits of odds and ends to even the score.
“John, this isn’t a good week for me to undress,” she said with a straight face.
Shaking his finger in her face, John said, “Mrs. Thornton-to-be, that is the first fib you have ever told me, and we will have none of that. If you don’t think I had that figured out and plotted for the next year, you have seriously underestimated me. “They both fell into roars of laughter. John laid the yarn down between them. “Ready?”
“Who goes first?” Margaret asked.
Withdrawing a coin from his pocket, John said, “Notice that I have a coin in my pocket; you will want to remember that. I will flip it, and you will call it.” John flipped it, and Margaret called tails. “Tails it is. You may choose first whether to TAKE or GIVE.”
“I will take first and ask for your boots.” John handed Margaret his boots.
John said, “My turn. I will take your shoes.” Margaret handed over her shoes.
She stood there starting to work out his clothing, coin and watch, versus her garments. He had tricked her last time, and she wanted to avoid that or beat him to it. “I will take your watch.” It was handed over.
John said, “I will take your undergarment.”
Margaret’s eyes got really big, and she began to protest until she realized her undergarment had nothing restricting it. She looked wide-eyed at John and saw his shoulders shaking with laughter, but he wasn’t making a sound. He put on an air of smug intellect. Margaret turned her back and pulled off her undergarment pitching it to the chair behind John.
John said, “That’s a foul, but I forgot to tell you that. You must hand your garment to your opponent.” John retrieved her undergarment and slung it over his shoulder.
Margaret was mortified. I guess I can be grateful that he didn’t wear them like a hat, she thought. “I will take your stick pin.”
“And Margaret, I will take your dress. Do you need help with that?”
“No, I can do it, but somehow I don’t think you’re playing fair.”
John looked at her as she stood before him in her corset and half slip. She looked like a short ballerina. She was so adorable, standing there, looking like that; he smiled broadly as he watched her.
Margaret looked down at her predicament and noticed John had hardly removed anything fun. She knew she was in trouble as she realized he’d have her on the floor in three turns. He wouldn’t worry about her stockings, garters, hair barrette or jewelry. Yes, this was a different twist, alright. Margaret gave it a lot of thought. An idea came to her; she studied it for a moment and then said, “I will take the contents of your trouser pockets.”
“Wait, that shouldn’t be fair. You cannot ask for more than one thing,” John said with some alacrity.
“Well, you didn’t ask me for one shoe, you asked for my shoes. I think that constitutes more than one, don’t you?”
“Why . . . you little smart aleck. I didn’t count on that; you outsmarted me. If you don’t marry me, I will hire you.” John handed her his bits and pieces. They both were laughing at each other. John stepped over the yarn and kissed her; that move of hers deserved a reward.
“I will take your half slip thing, whatever that is called.”
“It’s called a crinoline. Here!” Margaret handed it over. “I will take your trousers, please.”
John knew he was beat, but he had one last trick up his sleeve. As he unbuttoned his trousers, he watched her face. He tucked his thumbs in both his trousers and undergarment and slowly started to slide both down, watching Margaret every second. The look of realization on Margaret’s face was priceless. She inhaled loudly and slapped her hands to her eyes. John was laughing so hard that he almost tripped trying to step out of his pants.
She was still hiding her face. “John, you cheated AGAIN! Don’t you have underwear on?” Margaret asked in her little girl pouty voice.
John stepped across the yarn and pulled her hands from her face. He buried her mouth and stroked her lips and tongue with his. He pulled her closer so she could feel his desire against her. He stepped back and started to disrobe her and she did the same with the remainder of his garments.
John laid her down on the blanket, sitting on his knees, and nestled between her thighs. The firelight was throwing its golden light on her body; he was intoxicated. Looking down at her naked body, awaiting him, he could not touch her enough. He knew that at any minute he would remember, again, how to breathe. He lifted her womanhood to his mouth, robbing her of her senses, almost immediately. With all embarrassment and hesitancy gone, she climaxed quickly, as he knew she would. Before her last spasms could subside, he guided himself into her and thrust into her sweet depths, sustaining her climax while he met his. There was no greater joy to him, including his own orgasm, than giving and hearing Margaret have hers. To him, that was the culmination of being a man. She would always come first in his life before himself.
“Margaret, I have fallen in love many times . . . always with you.” After several more hours of lovemaking, Margaret fell asleep cradled in John arms in front of the fire. As the fire began turning to ash, John picked Margaret up and carried her to his bed, returning for all their clothes before he closed the door behind them.
The workers coming in through the mill yard woke Margaret. She became a little flustered with the full light coming into the room, but she laid on the bed and admired John as he dressed, his body hard and muscular, but slim, without all that thickness of clothes.
“I love you, John Thornton.”
“And I love you Margaret, soon-to-be-Thornton. I love every soft centimeter of you. You are so beautiful to watch while you sleep, especially naked. But I think you should dress unless you want more of the same. I am quite prepared, you know? If you’re still in bed by the time I’m shaved, I’ll be back on top of you before you can protest.
“Protest? Let me think about that for a moment.” Margaret giggled. “Last night you said something about a letter?”
John was beaming at her little joke. “Oh yes, let me get it.”
“Here, read it. It is to both of us.”
Margaret lifted up on her pillow pulling the sheet above her bare breasts and began to read. “It’s from my brother, Fredrick! He is giving his approval for me to marry you. John, how did you . . .?”
“I got his address from Dixon and wrote to him. Although you are your own woman, you are still a lady and a gentleman’s daughter, so I thought you would appreciate that I have kept to one of the gentry’s honorable traditions by asking for your hand.
“Oh John, that was so thoughtful of you.” She jumped out of bed, naked, and came over to throw her arms around him and give him a big kiss.
Even though he had lather on his face, he returned her kiss, picked her up, walked to the bed, and sat her on his lap. He wanted his fingertips to roam her silky skin before she covered it.
Margaret insisted that John get to work and allow Branson to drive her home. She didn’t care about the propriety of leaving his home early in the morning. These were her people, now.
John called for Branson to bring the carriage to the front. After a final long, hard kiss goodbye at the door, John escorted Margaret outside to the coach, where he claimed a long, erotic kiss, disregarding Branson, before he handed her inside.