In this chapter of the North and South sequel, we are going to a wedding! And not just any wedding, the wedding! If you need to start from the very beginning, click here to go to Chapter 1.
Chapter 9 – Becoming Mrs. Thornton – copyright Jill Hughey 2014
John’s sister, Fanny Watson, had been disappointed to be excluded from what she viewed as the house party preceding the wedding. Her petulance failed to create enough guest chambers to accommodate Mr. and Mrs. Watson in addition to the London visitors, so she had had to leave for Milton from her own home in Hayleigh at the first hint of dawn, and in her delicate condition, she kept reminding everyone. Her arrival an hour before the ten o’clock wedding demanded the entire household’s attention to make amends.
The diversion left the bride, already dressed in her gown, and Edith, her fashionable matron of honor, free to talk quietly in Margaret’s room.
“Dearest, are you quite sure this is the family you want?” Edith whispered as Fanny’s persistent voice penetrated the walls like a needle stabbing repeatedly through cotton cloth.
“I am certain Mr. Thornton is the husband I want,” Margaret assured her. “The rest will work itself out.” John’s wedding band rested reassuringly on her gloved thumb. She twirled it around and around, wishing again that the time to leave for the church would come.
“He is rather distinguished,” Edith admitted. “And he adores you, no matter how chilly he is about showing it.”
“I know. You explained last night that I should have no worries about his lack of passion. But truly, he could have spirited you away for a few minutes after that spectacle of fruitcake. Heaven knows the Captain spent a few reassuring moments with me the night before our wedding.”
Margaret would never tell Edith about the exquisite kisses she’d enjoyed in the shadows of the front steps last night. “Mr. Thornton is a gentleman,” she said. “He would not risk any impropriety, especially knowing that the Lennoxes view manufacturers as something akin to barbarians.”
Edith laughed with chagrin. “He has succeeded in being gentlemanly, then. Thank goodness his mother will go to his horrible sister’s home for a visit so that you can settle in here,” she whispered. She turned her face toward the window. “Oh, I hear the carriages now. Come, let me check your hair one last time.”
Margaret stood before a long looking glass, hardly recognizing the woman who stared back at her, her sleek, dark hair in remarkable contrast to the froth of veil over her bonnet. The simple gown had a fitted bodice topped with a layer of fine lace, long tight sleeves, and a full skirt of ivory damask. She wore a coral pendant and matching earrings that had been her mother’s.
Unexpected tears assaulted her as she touched the necklace. “My parents should be here,” she said to Edith.
“Yes, they should,” Edith replied, hugging her from behind and putting her chin on a lacy shoulder. “You said your father liked Mr. Thornton, didn’t you?”
Margaret nodded, heartened by the recollection. Father would have approved. “Thank you, Edith. I know this is not what you wanted for me.”
Edith sighed dramatically as she handed the bride her nosegay of roses and orange blossoms. “Sholto and I will miss you so, but how can I deny you what I found with the Captain?” She reached up to pinch some color into Margaret’s pale cheeks.
A knock sounded, followed by Jane. “Your carriage is waiting, Miss. All the others have gone. Oh, you do look beautiful, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Captain Lennox had stayed to escort them. The day took on a dream-like quality as Margaret walked to the carriage that waited at the edge of the bustling mill yard. The few workers who were outside stopped to stare. They cheered as the driver urged the horses toward the gate.
The familiar stone church wavered in her vision, its entrance seeming very far away when she alighted at the end of the short path. When Edith entered the narrow door ahead of her, Captain Lennox had to place Margaret’s hand formally on his arm to urge her forward. “Time for the charge,” he said encouragingly.
The delicious dream continued with the handsome, distinguished John Thornton waiting near the altar. For her.
This was really happening.
He stood with almost military stiffness. He might be accused of frowning, even glowering at her from under his fine slashing dark eyebrows, but she could see the glow in his eyes that Edith apparently could not. How could anyone consider him chilly when that intense expression on his face nearly melted her?
She remembered nothing of the ceremony, only the moment John slipped the delicately worked ring, warm from his coat pocket, onto her finger and looked at it there, fiercely pleased. He lifted her veil to kiss her and suddenly it was done.
Miss Hale, now Mrs. John Thornton, had enjoyed handing out cake last night much more than the wedding breakfast where Fanny competed with Edith, and Aunt Shaw silently disliked everything. Some of the other mill owners had come to the ceremony, making the men’s conversation after the meal lively, while Mrs. Thornton gravely introduced the new Mrs. John Thornton to the manufacturer’s wives without attempting to hide her displeasure at the task. Margaret struggled to remember their names, wishing she could clear the fog in her mind as the women welcomed her to their social set.
The only thing she seemed to be able to concentrate on was John. His proud voice carried across the drawing room. His possessive gaze often turned to her, though the sight of her looking back didn’t seem to scramble his words like hers, which, when she tried to speak, were mixed up like eggs for a fruitcake.
Suddenly, the small reception was done, too. The Londoners rushed to catch their train, and Mr. Watson bundled his unwilling wife and mother-in-law into his carriage, eager to get home before dark, just as the other local guests were.
Mr. and Mrs. John Thornton stood alone in the entryway. It was 2PM. The enterprise of the mill clattered around the house in workday normality. The cook and maids were heard cleaning teacups and pans below stairs.
Margaret frowned at the door. “I am not sure I comported myself well. I’ve already forgotten the names of most of your friends’ wives.”
He let out a shuddering breath. “They will undoubtedly forgive you. Are you exhausted? Would you like to rest this afternoon?”
“I’ve been feeling like an exotic animal on display at a circus. What I might like above all else is to take a walk. Will we make too much of a spectacle to go out on our wedding day? Of course, you might wish to go to the mill,” she realized suddenly.
He shook his head. “No mill, not until this time tomorrow, perhaps. If my wife wishes to take a walk, then a walk she shall have.”
Margaret rushed up to the room that had been hers, eager to prepare for a calming walk in the fresh air. She found her room has already been stripped of her belongings. She rang for Jane who led her down the hall, through a small sitting room, and into a corner bedchamber as severe as the rest of the house, with walls painted such a dark gray they were nearly black. Her pastel gowns looked frivolous and out of place in the heavy mahogany armoire. Burgundy velvet curtains and damask bedding provided just enough gothic horror to make Margaret certain she would never sleep a wink.
Jane helped her into a day gown. Margaret was glad to have Jane. Though flighty to be sure, the maid was accustomed to the house and thus provided a steadying force in this foreign land. Dixon, who had by default become Margaret’s maid after her mother died, had chosen to remain in London where she would seek a new position. Her fierce loyalty to Mrs. Hale had not transferred to Margaret, and the idea of returning to the town where her lifelong charge had died had been more than she could face.
Jane tied a heavy cloak under Margaret’s chin. “Your clothes are a pretty sight, Miss…Mrs. Thornton. Will you still go to London for your wardrobe?”
“I don’t know, Jane. I hope that is not necessary.”
She hurried out her door, so intent on not keeping John waiting that she nearly plowed into him in the sitting room. He had also changed into every-day clothing. “I see you have found your chamber,” he said as Jane scurried away. “You will want to redecorate. I had hoped Mother would show it to you when you visited before, so you might have the work done by today, but she thought it more appropriate to wait.”
“Was it her room?”
“No, we never lived here when my father was alive. However, she finished it in her style which I know is not yours. You must not worry about hurting her feelings. You must do with your bedroom and this sitting room as you would like.” He pointed to an open door behind him, at the corner opposite her door. “My chamber is there.”
Her face grew hot.
He gestured toward the hall. “Shall we walk?”
* * *
Chapter 10 will be posted on April 2. Find it here. Wedding night jitters and….