I partly started this writing exercise to work out in my head how John Thornton and Margaret Hale would function as a couple. In this segment, I explore not only the beginning of their marriage, but what those moments must have been like for a young woman who had been raised to be demure and virtuous.
If you need to start at the beginning, you can click here to go to Chapter One.
Chapter 10 – Becoming Mrs. Thornton
copyright Jill Hughey 2014
She held John’s arm as they ventured from his side of Milton to the Crampton street where she’d once lived. The familiar walk cleared her head and steadied her. They shared a lighthearted conversation that would have eluded them in the early days.
Twilight tinged the sky when they returned to house. Cook brought a tray of food to the sitting room. She assured the new Mrs. Thornton that a large kettle of water for tea would simmer on the stove all night and a cold breakfast waited in the pantry. She excused herself so the newlyweds could have the house to themselves until luncheon tomorrow.
They ate soup and biscuits in front of the crackling fireplace, the anecdotes from the day eventually dwindling to silence. John leaned on the mantle for several minutes, staring into the flames. He turned. “I would like to retire now,” he said in his direct way.
Margaret nodded and took his hand to rise, willing yet terrified, feeling exactly as Edith had warned her she would feel. When they were upstairs, he indicated she should go to her room then meet him in the sitting room again.
She donned the long-sleeved satin nightgown Edith had insisted she have made. The V-necked bodice clung too tightly to her breasts. The waistband accentuated her hips scandalously. “Trust me,” Edith had said. “And let your hair down. He will never look at you the same way again once he has seen you in this.”
Margaret stared at herself for a long time in the glass. She brushed her hair over one shoulder, as she imagined courtesan might, the long black curls harsh against the silky white fabric. The gown gleamed through the darkness of the room, casting her as a forlorn ghost with bare feet poking from under the bottom ruffle. She smoothed her hand down the front. The gold of her wedding band flashed. She remembered her husband’s countenance as he had placed it on her finger. The memory braced her. “He loves you,” she whispered to herself. “You love him.” She forced her legs to carry her to the sitting room, ridiculously remembering Captain Lennox’s encouraging words as she slipped through the door. “Time for the charge.”
* * *
John rose to stand formally, as if the Queen had entered the room to find him as he was, without jacket or waistcoat, his shirt loose at the collar, neck cloth discarded. He seemed to be rendered momentarily speechless by the sight of her.
She, too, was a little surprised. Her gaze slid down to his feet, wearing socks but no shoes. He did not say a word. What must he think of her audacious display? His hands flexed. She was about to apologize for her boldness when he finally spoke.
“Margaret,” he said reverently. “You are so beautiful. Certainly more beautiful than a man like me deserves.”
She smiled, still not able to look at his face. “I think I am underdressed,” she said.
“Not at all,” he assured her. “When I wear a night shirt I could be mistaken for a water bird. All legs. I was afraid you would run for the train and never come back if confronted by that vision.” His teasing calmed her nerves a bit. He held out his hand. “Come, sit. You might enjoy some sherry while we talk for a moment.”
She sat on the edge of the deep-seated settee, feeling ridiculous as the hem of the indecent gown rode up to the middle of her shins, though the sight of his shoeless feet next to her bare ones encouraged her a little. He pressed a goblet in her hand. She took a fortifying drink, letting the warmth burn to her stomach as she glanced nervously around the room, noticing a small writing desk flanked by an upholstered chair that might be more comfortable for reading a book than the seats they now occupied.
“I have never spent much time up here, so I hope you will make whatever you want of it. These rooms are yours and mine, where we can be private as husband and wife, man and woman. Behind this door I ask you to speak as you will to me, to do as you like, to dress as you wish. You may be Margaret and I may be John, and neither of us will expect more or less than that.”
The solemnity and trust implied in his unexpected speech rivaled the vows they had spoken in the church. She set her glass carefully aside so she could reach for his hand. “I would like that,” she whispered.
He leaned in to kiss her. The hand that at first cupped the back of her head soon followed her long fall of hair, combing through the silken waves. He pulled back for a moment to look at the strands splayed across his palm. “Beautiful,” he murmured. He resumed kissing her, eventually dropping his fiery lips to her neck and collarbones. His arm supported her back as he arched over her. He pulled away again, his eyelids heavy. A finger traced the edge of her neckline, stopping at the quivering softness of her breast.
When he stood, she began to follow him but he leaned down to lift her in his arms. “I wish to bring you to my chamber tonight. To my bed. After this first night, we will nest wherever you prefer, but tonight I need you here.”
She digested no detail of the room except that it smelled like him, which made it much more familiar than the stranger’s room next door. He laid her in the middle of a large bed that already had the linens folded toward the foot. She felt merely foolish, there by herself, until she realized he was stripping his clothes off, silhouetted by a low fire in the hearth. She didn’t know where to look so she closed her eyes until the bed sagged with his weight. He flipped the sheet over them, covering them both up to their waists.
He began to kiss her again, exploring her mouth as his hand travelled down her arm then up her side. She inhaled sharply as his thumb traced the peak of her breast. He took his time there, and moved to the other side then began to slide down, down, across her belly to her hip and thigh. His slow exploration made her restless. She was wondering what to do with her own hands when she felt him drawing her nightgown up, thankfully stopping at her waist. His hot palm touched her bare knee and she thought she would die from embarrassment.
Then he became even more personal. She turned her face into his neck.
“It is all right, love,” he murmured. “It is perfect. You are beautiful. Beyond beautiful. You are exquisite.”
She did not think she ever would have felt ready. He was loving, gentle, careful, but not even Edith’s encouraging explanation could prepare a woman for that, could it? Still, when he was over her, so intensely focused on their coupling, she could sense the beauty of it poised just beyond her grasp. She could feel a hint of the unity Edith described, though, at least for tonight, newness conquered wonder.
* * *
John woke before the sun, as he always did, instantly aware that today was not like other days. He would not do some figuring at breakfast then arrive at the office before anyone else. He would not rush from task to task and crisis to crisis.
He turned his head to see his beloved Margaret, her hair in a wild raven tumble across the pillow, a breast still beautifully molded in the nightgown that had nearly brought him to his knees last night. He hadn’t dared remove it for fear he would be unmanned.
He rose to light the fires in all three of their rooms. When he returned to the bed and reached across her for the heavier coverlet, she moved into his side without waking. She put her head on his shoulder and curved her hand across his ribs.
He nuzzled her hair. “You have made me so happy, love,” he whispered. He had said the same thing last night, afterwards, when she had been silent and overwhelmed, and so warmly pliant in his arms.
He lay there as dawn brightened the room, content to feel her cozy weight beside him as he absently caressed her shoulder for an hour or two and the sounds of the mill escalated outside.
Her head jerked up when she woke. He waited to see if she might settle back down to sleep. She glanced around the room before finally looking at his face. Her eyes widened. She stared at him for a half minute, until he lifted his head to kiss her. She met him halfway. She seemed more abandoned, less analytical this morning. Greedy as he might be, he needed this with her again. Soon he ventured to lift the nightgown over her head.
“Oh, Margaret,” he whispered after admiring pale skin and perfect female curves, “you’ve struck me dumb again.”
Her nakedness had reminded her to be shy. Her cheeks blushed furiously under his stare. She curled her hands in the sheets. He gently pried one loose to press to his bare shoulder. “Touch me as I touch you.”
“Are you sure?” she asked tremulously.
She bravely followed his lead until they were both panting. “Put your hands back on my shoulders,” he ordered gruffly as he moved over her.
She soon became very brave. She slipped her hands down his back until she could feel the powerful flex of his body. “John,” she whispered. “Please.”
“I know, love. Stay with me. Look at me,” he groaned, undone as she urged him on with her touch.
She broke, curling up into him until her lips were pressed to his chest. He had never experienced anything like it. He had never expected the body of the woman he loved to welcome him so generously. Hoped, yes, but never allowed himself the expectation.
When he had collected himself, he held her tightly, one hand cradling her head, the other draped possessively over her hip. Stupid, sated man that he was, he did not realize she was crying until she hiccupped.
“Margaret, what is it?” he asked, trying not to sound alarmed even though he knew she could feel every muscle in his body tense.
“You must be appalled. I mean, should I have done that?” she asked in a rush. “Was that correct? It is not very ladylike….”
He rolled her to her back so he could look down at her. His fingertips brushed the tears from her passion-flushed cheeks. “It was perfect, and I am the farthest thing from appalled. In fact, I would wager every penny I have ever earned that I am the luckiest man alive this morning.”
She blinked up at him, wanting to believe yet still worrying.
“Remember what I said last night? In these rooms we are man and woman. I love you. My body is made to show you that love.”
She lifted a hand to his stubbly cheek. She had never imagined that the privilege of seeing Mr. John Thornton with disheveled hair and no shirt would make her heart feel like it wanted to burst. “I love you, too, John, even more than I did yesterday at this time. Isn’t that a wondrous thing?”
* * *
In the next segment, to be posted on April 9, Margaret tries to fit in, especially after the return of the dragon. Click here if it is after April 9, 2014.