Chapter 2 – Becoming Mrs. Thornton

Chapter 2 – Becoming Mrs. Thornton

If you haven’t read the prior posts for Becoming Mrs. Thornton, my sequel to Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, you may want to start here. The links at the end of subsequent chapters will carry you through. I post a new chapter every week.

Chapter 2 – Becoming Mrs. Thorntoncopyright Jill Hughey 2014

After inviting Mr. Thornton and Mr. Lennox to join her in the drawing room for tea, Miss Hale left them to the details of the loan. 
Eagerness to share her happy news with Aunt Shaw and Edith elevated her stride to a country trot, even though she knew neither would be happy with her decision. Aunt would be horrified by the match of her niece, a gentlewoman, with a man she viewed as something coarser than a tradesman. Her only visit to Milton, at the time of Margaret’s father’s death, had been filled with exhortations of its filth and industry. She would be appalled that Margaret planned to return to spend the rest of her life in a mill town as the wife of a mill owner, no less.
Edith, on the other hand, would be sorely disappointed in her failure to match Margaret with her brother-in-law Mr. Lennox. She had pictured a familial household so that she and Margaret could live as sisters. Margaret loved her cousin dearly, but also understood that she would have permanently inhabited the role of Edith’s glorified secretary and governess in the arrangement.
Her engagement announcement was greeted exactly as she expected. “Is this why Henry was so grim yesterday?” Edith demanded.
“I don’t know why it would be,” Margaret replied, confused. “We were discussing business that pertained to Mr. Thornton’s mill, but our engagement has just happened in the last half hour.” Just saying the words our engagement made a thrilling shiver run through her.
Aunt Shaw’s tiny curls vibrated as she shook her head. “Business! You are too enamored of it and now look where it has landed you. Can you really mean to return to that vile, smoky town?”
“Yes, Aunt. Mr. Thornton is a manufacturer, it is true, and I know you view that as an unrespectable profession, though I do not understand how providing work for so many people makes a man contemptible.” She looked down at her hands, white and soft as cotton fluff after months of genteel idleness. “I think Milton suits me better than London.” Edith flapped her fan at the preposterous idea, driving Margaret to continue the defense of her choice. “I learned on my trip to Helstone with Mr. Bell that I can never return to my girlhood, nor can I languish here in the wonderful home you provided for me. I have been changed somehow, in the kernel of my being, and there does not seem to be a way to change back, even if I should wish it, which I do not.”
“It is all so sudden,” Edith said with exasperation. “Who is this Mr. Thornton? We have never seen him before the last few days. He has not been courting you, except if you’ve kept it a great secret. Why, he barely spoke to you at our dinner last night!”
Margaret continued to study her hands. She owed them no explanation, yet she could not stand that they suspect, as Henry had, that Mr. Thornton was a fortune hunter. “Mr. Thornton paid his addresses to me long ago, before Mother’s death. I rejected him in the rudest manner possible. I did not know him then and have long regretted how harshly I spoke that day.” She looked up at her companions. “For some time — for quite some time — I have questioned my rejection. A misunderstanding of my own creation cast yet another obstacle between us, making it impossible for me to encourage a renewal of his affections. I have been given another chance,” she said firmly, “and I will marry him.” Aunt Shaw and Edith blinked at the brilliance of her sudden smile. “I will marry Mr. John Thornton. If you cannot be happy for me then I ask, if you love me at all, that you at least be civil to him when he joins us for tea.”
“We are always civil,” Aunt Shaw sniffed, letting the matter drop. 
The three women discussed invitations they’d received that morning until Mr. Thornton arrived with Henry, who stayed only long enough to insist he must return to his offices to see about some financial matters. Mr. Thornton accepted tepid congratulations while Miss Hale rang for tea. They all sat, awkward and silent, for a few moments.
“How is Mrs. Thornton?” Aunt Shaw finally ventured. “I met her, you know, when I’d come to fetch Margaret.”
“Yes, I remember. My mother is well, thank you.”
The tea tray arrived. Edith poured and served.
“Perhaps she and I should correspond,” Aunt Shaw said as she balanced a delicate cup in its saucer. At his confusion, she added, “About the wedding, I mean.”
He glanced at Margaret. They had not discussed any details.
“Aunt, you needn’t trouble yourself. Mr. Thornton and I will determine how best to proceed.”
Aunt Shaw drew herself up stiffly. “You are like a daughter to me. You can be married out of this house. We will plan it just as we did Edith’s.”
Edith’s face lit up at the idea of recreating the exhausting spectacle that had nearly driven Margaret to a vow of permanent spinsterhood.
“I might wish to be married in Milton,” Margaret suggested. 
“Milton!” mother and daughter protested as if with one voice.
“That is where our home will be,” she said, looking for Mr. Thornton’s reaction. His slight nod, a softening at the edges of his mouth, spoke volumes of approval and adoration to her. “And you must recall what a trial Edith’s wedding was to you. I would not ask you to repeat it for the world.”
“Milton!” Aunt puffed again. “It will most inconvenient for the people in town.”
“It is an easy journey by train.” As Aunt began to protest, Margaret laughed, set her tea aside and went to her to clasp her hands. “Let Mr. Thornton and I give the matter some consideration. You must not feel obliged to provide a grand a wedding like Edith’s. I have never had her taste for the dramatic, nor do I have the large circle of fashionable friends she enjoys.”
Aunt Shaw grumbled but gave up the argument.
Mr. Thornton saved them all by suggesting that he and Margaret enjoy a stroll to a nearby park. Miss Hale called for her pelisse, eager for the chance to speak with him now that the initial shock of their engagement had worn off.

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Chapter 3 is here >

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