They walked arm in arm down the tree-lined street, towards the cottage that John hoped someday would be Margaret’s. He was thrust into the feeling of incredible contentment welling up inside of him. He didn’t care to analyze it; he just wanted to hold this tender sensation inside him forever. John noticed the little house several times on his courthouse days. He was still finding it hard to believe that they were strolling toward a possible residence for Margaret’s return to Milton. John suspected she might like it. Its appearance seemed to be well suited for her, he thought. To him, it looked like a tiny white fantasy house. It had intricately carved ornamental trim, dragon scale wood siding, and a spindled banister porch on three sides. If a house could be male or female, this house would most definitely be female.
As they neared the cottage, Margaret excitedly pointed to it. “John,” she asked, “is that it? Is that what you wanted to show me? It looks precious from here. Oh, I hope that’s the one.”
“Yes, that’s it,” John reassured her. “With all the fancy woodwork and white paint, I think I should be cutting a piece and having it on my plate. It appears to have icing,” he added jokingly.
“Oh yes, hurry! Oh, it’s enchanting.”
Laughing to himself, John increased the pace of his stride. Earlier, he had to fall in step with Margaret’s little strides, and now he couldn’t keep up with her. Life was heavenly at this moment, bringing him to hope along with Margaret’s many enjoyable surprises and her cute feminine ways. It seemed as if the years that had torn them apart, had actually brought them closer. How odd when one considered how they had parted ways.
Where did it all go right?
Before John could locate the key in his pocket, Margaret was already running along the wrap-around porch, from window to window, peeking inside. As he opened the door, they were struck with the stringent smell of paint; undeterred, they proceeded to cover every square meter of the “little darling,” as Margaret called it. Occasionally she would say, “Oh, look at this,” as John studied the house from a totally different perspective: possible construction weaknesses, leaks, problems with the roof, dry cellar, faulty plumbing and more. He was pleased to see the little cottage had been refurbished with the most modern conveniences, such as indoor gas lights and an indoor lavatory with tub, all of which Margaret was familiar with, having lived in London. Leaving her to her decorating whims, John headed to the rear of the house. On the ground floor, he noted, with interest, there was a nice mud room with a drain and a secondary lavatory without a tub. Glad to see the back building, he walked to the small carriage house and noted it could stable one horse, with room for a small buggy, a tack room, and quarters overhead. He walked the outside observing the painted wood siding and other facets of the restored buildings. John remembered it when it was a home, but for many years it had been a bookstore that he had visited often. Since the expansion of Milton, many of the older main street small businesses sold out, making extremely nice profits. He was pleased to see the realtor had enough vision to restore the house to its original state. Satisfied with all that he had seen, he went looking for Margaret.
As John entered through the back door, he caught a glimpse of Margaret twirling around the empty kitchen like a ballerina. She was looking up at the ceiling, as she turned around and around with her arms outstretched. He stood there and watched the woman he loved more than life: seemingly enraptured by the probability that she would be living here soon. How precious these unguarded moments were, he thought.
Finally, realizing that John was at a distance watching her spin, she surprised him by saying, “Do you think I can afford it?”
John walked forward, catching her in his arms, and held her while her twirling dizziness subsided. Heat quickly rose within him. He tilted her chin up, looking deep into her eyes, then at her lips and back to her eyes for any sign of uncertainty. Finding none, his lips found hers, drawing her breath into him, kissing her fully for the first time. His kiss was warm and tender, possessed of passion and longing. John couldn’t help the moan that escaped between his lips. Margaret felt his lips soft in touch but firm in deliverance, and her knees gave way to a swoon. John immediately caught her, delighted by her response. No other women had ever reacted like that when he had kissed them, but then he knew kissing Margaret was different; his heart was in his kiss. Pleased that she had not backed away like she had on the veranda, he gently released his hard grasp of her. Having waited and dreamt of this moment for four years, John felt overwhelmed, and he feared he might prompt an action that could have consequences, she was not ready to face so quickly. Reluctantly, he stopped it there, allowing the anticipation of the future to linger. Still cradling her to him, he finally answered her question, “Afford it? It shall be yours at any price.”
Margaret wrestled herself away from John and stepped back, slightly annoyed and a bit dizzy from the kiss. “John Thornton, I’m renting this house. I don’t need any help. If I can’t afford it, I will find somewhere else.”
Uh oh . . . the Margaret I remember first loving has returned . . . independent as ever.
“Well, I can tell how you love this white frosted cake of a house, and I think it’s sound and solid. Let’s go see the agent, Mr. McBride, shall we?” John asked, as he extended his arm and completely ignored her little tantrum.
They walked back in silence, each dazzled in the moment they had just shared: their first kiss; a cherished moment to stow away in the chest of remembrances. Arriving at the Professor’s place, the Professor and McBride were settling on pieces of furniture that remained in the house: these which would also be purchased by the Doctor. John and Margaret looked around at the furniture that was being discussed, waiting for an opportunity to talk with Mr. McBride.
When it eventually came, John began to ask, “We would . . .” but Margaret interrupted him saying, “I would . . . like to speak with you for a moment, Mr. McBride, privately,” looking directly at John as she emphasized the word PRIVATELY.
“Yes, Mrs. Reed, anything you like,” he said as John handed the key back to him and he walked her to the back yard.
As much as he wanted to ensure a good price for her, John knew he was seeing what he loved most about Margaret, and that was her spirit. Smiling, he paced the room, watching from the window as he observed their conversation outside. First Margaret would frown, speak, and then smile. Next McBride would shake his head no, and then frown, speak and smile. It took some time, but John thought the smiles had it by a slim margin. Twenty minutes after god knew what, John saw them shake hands, both smiling at the same time. “She’s coming to live here, and soon,” he said to himself.
Margaret had struck her own deal, and she seemed quite proud. Good, bad, or indifferent, John could see by her face that she was pleased with whatever decision was agreed upon. Perhaps she would share that conversation with him later. Since the Professor was momentarily nowhere to be found, Margaret asked the agent if he had already purchased the very large upholstered wing chair in the future office room. Being told, no, she then asked that she be allowed to purchase it and have it delivered to her new cottage. She thought the chair looked large and comfortable enough for John, so she purchased it for his anticipated visits.
Following a lovely meal and a thoroughly enjoyable conversation at the Marlborough Mills home, the Professor Pritchard excused himself about two hours later, leaving John and Margaret to sit and talk. The three of them were together most of the day, looking all over the city for furnishings. The Professor had bought most of the pieces that were left in the house, as he had no particular preferences other than the two desks and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, he was having made. Margaret, on the other hand, was looking for contents that would go well with the age of the house and had arranged to have several pieces custom made. John and Margaret had both agreed, since he was well-known in the city, they would run the billing through him, and Margaret would reimburse him, when her finances were transferred to Milton. They had accomplished much in just a one-day period and Margaret was excited about their progress. Dixon had a cook already lined up and John was to see about a chore man / driver.
It had grown late, and Dixon came into the room and announced that she was going to bed and asked if they needed anything before she retired. Receiving “no thank you,” she went back downstairs for the night.
John sat slouched down in his chair, arms across his chest, long legs extended in front of the fire. Margaret lounged on the couch. Both felt full and tired, and especially pleased with themselves for their accomplishments of the day.
“John,” Margaret said, after a few moments of quiet, “one week ago, I was depressed, confused, and rushing towards flight out of London, and now my world has completely turned around. How is that possible?” she asked, somewhat puzzled, as she stared off through the window into the dark night, still deep in thought.
John came over and sat beside her on the couch, not facing her, but relaxed against its upholstered back, as he took one of her hands in his. “Margaret,” he said, softly, “I am sure you know how I have felt about you since I first met you. Someday I shall tell you about my first impression of you, shouting at me in the mill.” John smiled, remembering that, “I have thought about you every day for almost four years and suffered the loss of you, twice. I have dreamed of every possible way to win you, to love you, to make love to you and to possess you, forever. I am taking nothing for granted, and I am not making any assumptions at this point, but you have to know how my life has changed in the last twenty-four hours.” He gently squeezed her hand.
Margaret looked up at his handsome profile and spoke softly, “John, thank you for loving me all this time. You may find this hard to understand or think it woman’s intuition, but I could always feel you there . . . waiting . . . and I can’t explain how. You were always hovering somewhere in the twilight of my life and that brought me comfort, which I can hardly explain even to myself. It has seen me through many difficult times. I still have . . .”
John interrupted her, “Wait . . . please, let me speak first while I can,” he said, as he turned to face her, choking back the lump in his throat. “I have always loved you. I have waited a long time to have you near again, and I will wait forever if that’s what it takes you to accept me. I think you have some feelings for me, but I do not want you to feel compelled in any way to express them, at least not for a while. You have only been widowed for three months, and must have many conflicts within yourself to resolve, and a proper bereavement period to conclude. I know you are joyful right now, but a different reality could settle on you once you are comfortably situated in Milton. As much as I would like to carry you off to my bed right now, I know that would be wrong in many ways. I do not want to scare you, pressure you, influence, or smother you. I’m going to keep my emotions reined as well as I possibly can, and I’ll wait for you to come to me. If I get carried away, just say no. I hope I don’t get to the point to embarrass us both, but my body doesn’t always listen to my brain whenever you are near.”
“John . . .” Margaret said, as she stroked his cheek.
Not wanting to lose his train of thought, he pulled her hand from his cheek to his lips and kissed her palm. “Margaret, let me finish, please. I love and desire you beyond all reason. I want to be everything to you, your friend, your lover, your husband, and the father of our children. I will always be at your side to protect you, to cheer you, to comfort you and to love you. But along with my depth of devotion to you, there must come honesty in your feelings. I do not want pity, or any sense of obligation, and I do not want to wear you down. I could not live with that. I will keep my self-respect, for if you turn from me, it is all I will have left. I can take a lot of rejection before it’s all too apparent that you do not care for me in the same regard. Just don’t say you love me until you are sure of your words, but I do love you and will all my life.” John leaned in and gave her a light kiss, then licked the drops, now, falling from her eyes.
Margaret closed her eyes; a hushed sigh escaped her lips, as John drank in the salt of her tears. With a silly incandescent smile, she said, “I wish I had more tears to shed right now.”
Snuggling deep into John’s strong arms, and resting her head on his broad shoulder, Margaret began her tale.
“I think I am in love with you; I am almost sure of it. You have asked me not to say those words just yet, because you fear I don’t know myself, I think. However, I will wait, as you ask, until I am sure that you know that I love you. You seem to need proof.”
John, smiled as he pulled her closer to his chest, encasing her with both arms, while his cheek rested against the top of her head.
“It is true,” Margaret continued, “that I have conflicts within me to resolve, mostly confidence. Not with regards to my independence, as you might think, but my confidence as a woman. With the Professor’s guidance and relentless soul searching, I now know why my marriage was a disaster.”
Margaret paused, wondering how to say what needed to be said.
“If you are to love me fully, you must know where my conflicts lie. I do not want to tell you this, but lying or holding back from you is worse. I now understand what I never saw before, and what the Professor discovered after my marriage to Booker. He has opened my eyes to the fact that my husband was strongly attracted to his male pupils. Perhaps, he never realized this until he married me, but young men were his preference. I will never know if he married me out of love or as a cover for his dark desires. We had no premarital relationships, so nothing was realized beforehand. Once he discovered the truth about himself, which must have been almost immediately, I knew little love and no passion at all. Unaware of any of this, I began to think it was my fault; I was too naive and inexperienced in the ways of passion. He never desired me, not even the pretense of desire. I lived with guilt over not being enough of a woman for him. In his eyes, I was defective, or so I thought. This created deep scars and a total loss of confidence in feeling desirable to a man. We quickly grew apart, barely even touching. No good bye kiss in the morning, nothing – but worst of all, there was no explanation given as to why. I just continued in my misery. In all other ways, he was a decent husband, I guess, but for me, not where it counted – in my heart. I had moved from one setback in my life to another. I reached the bottom of my existence. After my parents died, I didn’t think life could have gotten worse, but the misery became compounded by the feeling that I was being cast off, thrown away. I was of no use. This is the most terrible thing I will ever say: I don’t know what would have happened to me, had I stayed in that marriage for a life time, and I am grateful, I won’t have to know.
So she could liberate all her sorrow and clear her soul, John let her finish without making any comments. He just held her even tighter and kissed her forehead. He wanted to know all of her story. “Go on, Margaret.”
“It became painstakingly clear to me,” she continued, “that day on the veranda that Booker’s affection for me was far from what it should be, and I had taken it to heart as guilt. Then you said those words to me that I will never forget – “Oh, God, how I love you.” You said it in such a way that it tore my heart out because I felt you wouldn’t feel that way if you knew me as Booker did. I had often thought about you. I would pull you out of the twilight and I talked with you whenever I was alone. When I saw you a year later at the funeral, it was like someone turned on the light to my soul. At first, I felt ashamed thinking I was happy to be free of Booker, but then I realized it wasn’t him, it was you entering my life again, descending from my twilight. You weren’t there for him, you were there for me. It was my ‘someday’, and you rescued me that day. The Professor has tried to free me from my guilt. He told me how sorry he felt for me, as he watched the two of us, and saw the relationship spiraling down almost from the beginning. He knew it would get worse. He hadn’t been sure about Booker himself, but after we married it was confirmed, to him, in his mind.
John stroked her cheek and kissed the hollow of her neck, still holding her fast to him. Inside, he wanted to explode and put his fist through a wall or a face of anyone who could have treated her with such indifference, enough to make her despise herself. What she must have endured that year and half marriage, and perhaps was still feeling. She believed she had married a real man only to discover disappointment; then she took the blame on herself for his lack of interest in her. This was more than John could stomach. Margaret was all the woman whom any normal male could ever want, and John knew she was everything to him. Wanting to find a way to reverse her wavering confidence and begin to dispel any self-doubts, John initiated a delicate but passionate move. He gently picked up her hand, which he was holding and placed it lightly in his lap allowing her to feel his arousal for her.
“Margaret . . . know that you are a very desirable woman and never will doubt that again,” John whispered, looking into her tear-filled eyes.
She startled herself, as she realized she wanted to know him in that way, but she hesitantly retracted her hand with a forced embarrassed look. Inside, Margaret was glowing from John’s physical reaction to her; it lifted her. She scoffed to herself that propriety deemed this closeness was too soon. Awaiting the end of her bereavement period was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated. Margaret was blushing and feeling the warmth of that sensual moment from head to toe.
John did not miss a breath of her reaction.
She brought both hands to John’s face, holding him, as she initiated a light but firm kiss. John responded the same while he slowly licked her lips apart and tried to enter her mouth. Naivety surfaced, and she pulled back unsure of what he was doing.
Now radiating inwardly, and sensing her bewildered innocence of such a kiss, John pulled her back to his shoulder. He was exhilarated to find that this passionate act was new to her. Perhaps, he would be the first in her life for many other sensual pleasures. He selfishly hoped so.
“John,” Margaret said, “I want us to take our time. I want to, need to, know that I am what you want in a complete woman. Though I know about Booker, now, but I do not feel strongly about myself, yet.” Starting to laugh, she said, “I know you are anxious to help me find myself, but we must proceed at my pace. Can you bear with me?”
“Margaret, I can wait forever, because you are my life. I have no other options and wouldn’t want them, even if there were. Being who you are, at your core, made that choice for me a long time ago. And yes, I . . . together . . . we will find you. You can be sure of that. However, let me just say, I would still love you for the rest of my life even if real intimacy wasn’t possible. Never, ever think I love you for carnal reasons, alone. I have had experience in that area of life, and still I have waited for only you. I have had sex, but I have never made love. I have wanted only you, Margaret, to release what I know waits inside of me.”
They nestled in each other’s arms for a long time before retiring for bed. Again, a brief embrace was the only affection shown before going to their rooms. The air was heavy with unspent passion.
Separately, they each lay awake a long time, ardently cherishing the openness and honesty of the words imparted that evening. Words straight from their heart were starting to tie the bindings of love.
Dixon’s assignment was to gather a housekeeping staff for the Professor, which was to consist of a live-in housekeeper, a full time cook and a daily char person, whose duties included setting the fire and clearing the fireplace, scrubbing floors and a few more menial tasks. Dixon had already selected Margaret’s cook. She was also responsible of purchasing linen for the home, along with food, cooking utensils and daily chinaware for the kitchen; she would send Margaret the measurements for the window sizes. Margaret would take care of the fine china and silver later. If all the furniture arrived, Dixon would be allowed to move in at any time.
John was responsible for finding a chore man / driver, who would be assigned all outside duties, such as cutting and stacking firewood, in addition to tending the fireplaces inside, general repairs and inconsequential yard duties. If needed, a part-time gardener would be hired on a less frequent basis. The chore man would also be a coach driver, when and if that time arose, as Margaret was already planning on this for some time in the future. In the event that any major pieces of furniture didn’t arrive on schedule, Margaret and Dixon would remain at John’s residence until they were delivered. The chore man, however, was to begin as soon as he was found, and Margaret’s cook would begin next week at Thornton’s home. She had recently retired but didn’t find it to her liking. Eager to return to the kitchen, she would be preparing meals alongside John’s cook, in order to hone her old skills in preparation for her Margaret’s arrival if everything went according to plan. Margaret would return in three weeks, the week before Christmas, to her new home and life. John promised to post to her every couple of days, and keep her informed of their progress.
As they waited for the Professor to come fetch Margaret for the train, John and Margaret stood at his parlor window, looking out at the workers going about their business.
“Margaret,” he asked, “Do you remember the last time we stood together looking out this window?”
It only took Margaret a moment to cast her mind back to the day of the riot. “Yes, John, that was quite a memorable day, as I recall.”
“In more ways than you know, Margaret.” John lifted her hair to see if there was any remaining mark from the stone that had felled her that day. There wasn’t, but John leaned down and kissed the spot where she had bled. “I haven’t spoken to you much about the mills; I didn’t care to waste words, with so little time, but when the strikers were at the door, the words you said to me that day changed my life and the life of everyone who works for me. Those words have been the very cornerstone of my success. I owe much of my success to you, you know.”
“Don’t talk piffle, John. I did no such thing. Don’t credit me for what you have accomplished.”
“Somehow, I knew you would say that, but one day I hope to prove to you, what that day inspired in me after your departure from Milton.”
John saw the carriage coming through the mill gate and pulled Margaret away from the window. “Margaret, I love you, and I will never tire of telling you so. I will live in anticipation until you are safely returned to Milton in a few weeks’ time. I will not have a moments rest while you are away. For you and me, our tomorrow will finally come.” John pulled her into his arms, kissed her lightly but firmly, and held her until they heard the knock on the door.
Dixon escorted Dr. Pritchard into the room and went straight to Margaret for a good-bye hug. “Miss Margaret, we will have everything ready and waiting for you. I’m so excited.”
John retrieved Margaret’s coat as he bid the Professor a cordial “hello.”
The Professor picked up Margaret’s bag, saying, “Hello all…so, Margaret… are you ready? Your carriage awaits, Milady,” and bowed from the waist.
Margaret laughed, as she told the Professor, “You’re stealing John’s lines.” Margaret and John smiled broadly at each other.
John accompanied Dr. Pritchard and Margaret outside, and handed Margaret into the carriage. He closed the door and Margaret leaned out of the window, “See you soon,” she said. John covered her hand, which was resting on the door frame, and squeezed hard on it, mouthing the words, “I love you” as the driver told the horses to ‘walk on’.
John returned to the top of his steps. Once again, he was witnessing Margaret being borne away from him. His stomach roiled at the remembrance, but he was uplifted, as she looked back at him, dispelling one horrid memory with a brilliant new one, balancing the scales. He stood there thinking, long after the coach had departed the gates, how the memory of the two worst days of his life had been replaced with two new beautiful memories: This one, that had just happened, replaced the day Margaret left Milton four years ago; the other, Margaret’s appearance at his door two days ago, replaced the day he read that she had married.