Stunned and Confused
"Tell me what you love, and I will tell you who you are."
- Arsene Houssaye, French Novelist
Margaret woke up the next day dazed and confused, not quite sure if she dreamt the events of the previous evening or if it did truly occur. As she rubbed her eyes lightly to clear off the last cobwebs of sleep, she noticed the blond head of her cousin, Edith peeking from the left side of the bed. This brought a smile to Margaret's face as she recalled what happened that evening when she was escorted home by Lord John Thornton... her affianced... "Affianced," she whispered, the word coming out of her lips as if it was something foreign and unknown, but not unwelcome. "Could it really be? He called me His Margaret, His Beloved, His Helstone Rose." Margaret's thoughts brought a contemplative frown on her face as she examined the Thornton signet ring she wore on left her ring finger. It was not a typical engagement ring. Lord Thornton was caught unprepared by the suddenness of the events, but he had to take his chance he said, as he was a military man used to taking bold actions to accomplish what he needed, when the opportunity presented itself. He assured her that he would do what was right by her always. He was most insistent on her wearing a physical sign of their promise that he gave her the Thornton signet ring, he wore in his pinky finger. He was very tender when he apologized for the "meager offering," a simple gold ring with John's crest and he sincerely promised that he would correct the oversight quickly and would give her a proper engagement ring of her choosing. He only wanted what would be most pleasing to her.
He said they belonged together now and he would never let her go. A shiver went over Margaret as she reflected on Lord John Thornton's earnest words. "Does he really love me? He must. He was in earnest last night, it moved me. I felt I could not refuse such unabashed sincerity and passion. It was not just the words he said, I felt something more than words can express. Is it love? Do I love him?" Margaret shook her head, getting more confused as she examined her feelings. Women of her station married for alliance not for love. She had never been in love before and never thought that she could. Lord John Thornton was not like any man she knew. The boldness, physical strength, great confidence and raw power that emanated from his very being were all at once intimidating, frightening and exciting to her. Margaret shook her head. "Why did I let him kiss me? Why accept his proposal so suddenly - without thinking, with only the slightest hesitation, that was easily overcome by his passionate words? I was just so lost in those blue eyes, so earnest, so full of love, so passionate in his declarations, plainly spoken, honest and direct." Margaret touched her lips as she remembered the very tender and passionate kiss of Lord John. Sighing, she whispered to herself, "I could not help but say yes."
A soft knock on the door, interrupted her contemplation.
"Pardon me, Miss. Your mother is looking for you. She would like to speak with you this morning as she missed you during breakfast," Martha said as she walked into the room.
At this, Margaret's face was filled with horror as she replied, "What time is it? Have Edith and I overslept and missed breakfast?"
"Yes, Miss. It is almost noon. You missed a call from Lord Thornton as well. He stopped by for morning call after breakfast."
"What! Oh, no! Why did no one wake me?"
"Lord Hale's orders. He wanted you to rest as you had quite a night," Martha answered softly with a knowing smile as most of the serving staff has been informed by the steward what occurred last evening when Miss Hale returned home late the evening prior escorted by Lord John Thornton.
Margaret jumped out of bed and shook her cousin awake, "Edith wake up! It is almost noontime."
Edith groaned in protest, turned her face away from Margaret, and snuggled deeper into the blanket.
"Edith, get up! Get to your room so we can get ready for the day. Everyone is looking for us. You fell asleep in my bed while we were talking last night. Edith get up, please! It is so very late. Get up, please." Edith growled in protest of Margaret's shaking.
"Alright, alright. I'm awake. Stop shaking me or I will be telling Martha here or Mama what you and Lord Thornton were really doing out in that balcony and into the Thornton back- garden alone." Edith quipped with a wink to Margaret.
"You wouldn't dare! We did the pinky promise."
"Pinky promises are for children, Margaret. We are ladies now," Edith replied as she regally and daintily got up and sauntered off towards the door. Margaret being a full head taller and with longer legs, beat Edith to the door. Margaret leaned against the door and prevented her cousin's departure.
"You would not dare." Margaret whispered as she leaned closer to her cousin's ear so as not to be overheard by Martha who was preparing Margaret's morning bath. Margaret placed a silencing index finger into her cousin's mouth gently and continued softly, "or I will tell Aunt Shaw what you and Captain Lennox are really doing when we accompany Fred on his visits to the Lennoxes."
Edith gave Margaret a look of mock offense.
"Why... Margaret, blackmail, cousin? Milton is truly rubbing off on you." Edith admonished teasingly with a laugh as she nodded, gave a very low ridiculous curtsy and continued to say with a twinkling laugh, "Parlay, dearest cousin. Very well, your secret is safe with me."
Margaret gave an even lower, more ridiculous curtsy in return, as she let her cousin pass.
"Thank you, Ms. Edith Shaw, much obliged to you."
"You owe me. I collect. Don't forget." Edith shot back as she closed the door and before Margaret could further pursue her, hurriedly run to her room across the hall. Margaret laughed at her cousin's antics and went to take her bath.
As she was soaking, her thoughts returned again to Lord John Thornton, she still can't quite fathom what happened. So unreal, it seemed. Especially the befuddlement serum, Uncle Shaw made her drink as soon as she returned to Harley Street to indicate if she had been bewitched by Lord Thornton. She could still hear the tone of deep offense from Lord Thornton as he protested; he said he would never disrespect a woman as to befuddle her to keep his company and he would most especially not do that to the woman he most greatly esteemed.
"It's negative, Father Bell," Uncle Shaw said flatly but with a kindly smile to Margaret, as he examined Margaret's eyes after he administered the serum. His fingers lingered on the serum bottle and he swallowed nervously, as if the action, thumped down, any comment he wanted to add.
"Thank you, Shaw. Margaret, if you will excuse us, my dear. Your father, Uncle and I have matters to discuss with Lord Thornton."
"Of course, Grandfather," Margaret replied shivering a little bit at the cold tone of her grandfather.
Margaret quietly left the room with her eyes looking down, she already saw the look of deep disappointment and concern from both her father and grandfather and felt terrible about being the cause of it. Even Uncle Shaw shifted in discomfort as if something bothered him. She hated to add to their burden especially since her mother's low spirits and degrading health had caused great concern to everyone already. As she closed the door, she heard her grandfather ask Lord Thornton in a very stiff tone, "What is the nature of your claim, Thornton? What type of blessing have you to offer my family?" Margaret would have stayed by the door a bit longer to listen to Lord Thornton's answer, were it not for Edith calling her at the top of the stairs. Margaret walked up the stairs gracefully and as soon as she reached the top stairs of the residential wing, her cousin quickly ushered her into her bedroom where Edith helped her out of her gown and into the evening dress that lay atop Margaret's bed.
As Margaret continued preparing for bed, she and Edith talked about every minute detail of the evening. Edith went to the bed with her as she used to when they were children and they kept talking, sharing and giggling all through the wee hours of the morning until sleep claimed them.
Margaret sighed as she finished her bath and toweled herself off. "What am I going to do? What will I say to my poor mother? She must be so worried and with her low spirits, I hate to add to her concern." With this troubling thought Margaret hurriedly put on her brown day dress and went to her Mother's room. Upon crossing the threshold of her mother's room, she said, "Good morning, Mama."
"Good Morning, my dear child. You gave me quite a scare last night."
"I'm sorry, Mama."
"So, Lord John offered and you have accepted?"
"Your father tells me that everything is settled and a wedding is imminent."
"It is settled then?"
"My lord father tells me that it is a great honor to be offered and become a mage's first wife, his true legal wife. Lord Thornton offer appears sincere. Very uncommon offer for a mage. They don't like to legitimately mate with non-mages, preferring to make commoners their concubines... Are you happy to belong to the great and honorable Lord John Thornton, my dear child?"
At this question, Margaret who was looking down at the floor, shoulders bent and submissive, finally looked up at her mother and saw in her mother's eyes great pride and love for her.
"Are you proud of me, Mama, that I have chosen so well. Are you happy for me?"
With a loving smile, her fair but delicate mother replied, "I'm always proud of you, Margaret. I was surprised you would choose a mage. But it's a good alliance, considering Father's plan for you, to be the sole heiress of his Milton Estates. I trust you. You never do anything wrong, you have a good head on your shoulders, I accept your choice. As long as Lord Thornton makes you happy then I am happy." Her mother gave Margaret a quick hug before sending her off to grab a light snack as she missed breakfast and luncheon was a couple of hours away.
Margaret did as she was bid. While in the kitchen a missive came for her, it was from Mary, Bessie was seriously having her coughing fits again and was asking to see her. Margaret concerned for her friend, quickly ordered a carriage and found her brother to accompany her to the Princeton District. When Margaret entered the dark and damp one-room Higgins home, she was quickly assaulted with a bear hug from a coughing, very ill-looking Bessie, "You came, Miss Margaret. I thought I would never see you as you have switched sides and are mixing it up with them mages now."
"Oh, Bessie, I will always come when a friend needs me. I see you are in great stress and your health has fallen ever more since our last encounter."
"Oh, miss. I care not for myself. I will be meeting My Maker soon. I have not much to walk with the living."
"Bessie, do not speak so. You have many years yet."
Bessie snorted, in the midst of her coughing fit, "I doubt I will live through the cold winter!"
"I speak only the truth, there is nothing wrong with accepting one's fate, no matter how miserable it is."
Margaret looking tenderly at her friend, saw the truth to Bessie's word and grew very sad. Bessie at seeing how her cutting words had affected her friend, smiled at Margaret.
"Well, Miss. Don't just stand there, all sad and the like. This ain't my funeral yet. Tell me what's this everyone talking about you and Lord Thornton being engaged and how you are a great heiress and how you two are sooooo in looooove," said Bessie, exaggeratedly puckering her lips as she ended her sentence.
"Bessie!" The two friends spent the next hour talking about nothing and everything that came to their minds. After Margaret read a couple of passages from the bible to comfort Bessie. She and Fred gave their farewells and left.
On the carriage ride back from their short visit to the Princeton District, Margaret and Fred talked about Lord Thornton. Margaret was ever so glad when they finally reached Harley House as her brother's teasing was making her blush all over and she was a very solid pinkish red by the time they reached the grand house.
"Fred, you are incorrigible."
"Aye, my dearest pearl, and you love me for it."
"That I do, so God help me," Margaret replied with a laugh as they entered the family parlor. To her surprise, Lord John Thornton was there and looking very livid, shooting murder stares towards Fred.
Fred, suddenly afraid of the very powerfully built man excused himself and went to the attendants hall.
"Run, you coward. Afraid of my fiancée?" Margaret teased as she warmly wrapped her arms towards Lord Thornton's offered elbow. As she went up to her tip toes to give Lord Thornton a quick peck on the cheek. John quickly cupped her head towards him, as he gave her a very possessive and passionate kiss on the lips as if branding her, letting her know that she belonged to him and him alone. An unfamiliar heat coursed through Margaret as she began to respond to Lord Thornton's kiss, forgetting that her whole family sans Fred was staring quite scandalously at them.
"I say my boy, control your pants. You are in a respectable mage home. Do not carry on like some infatuated lad," Uncle Shaw said with a smirk on his face. At her father's short laugh, her mother's gasp of dismay and Edith's merry laugh, Margaret broke away from Lord John and walked quickly to her dead silent grandfather. When he mother started babbling about the improprieties they had just witnessed, Lord Hale quickly reminded her dear mother of their younger days when they too were a newly engaged couple and how they had behaved. Lady Hale grew silent, as she lightly smacked her husband's shoulder. As Lady Hale's blush deepened, her father only laughed harder. Her Aunt Shaw looked on with great disgust at all inappropriate behavior going on in her parlor. Everyone was quite relieved when the luncheon was announced and everyone proceeded to the solar room to dine.
Margaret still mortified by the kiss and her body's response to it became taciturn, unsure of herself. She stayed silent and reserved throughout the whole lunch and never once looked at Lord John Thornton during the meal. Lord John kept an amicable and friendly conversation with the men. Margaret could hear the confidence and power in Lord John's voice and felt a prickle of pride for her intended. Margaret was very confused indeed about the strange feelings that are making themselves known to her.
After luncheon, Lord Bell, accompanied by Margaret and Lord Thornton, went to the Thornton manor to pay an afternoon call to Queen Hannah. As Lord John and Lord Bell dropped her off in front of Fanny's private sitting room, they excused themselves. Lord John, who had tucked Margaret's arm with his arm, grabbed gently Margaret's entwined hand and raised it towards his lips. He kissed the back of her hand most tenderly as he excused himself to accompany Lord Bell on his call with the Queen and promised her that he would return as soon as his business is concluded. Margaret could still feel the tingling of her hands as an attendant opened the door to Fanny's sitting room and ushered her in.
Inside was Fanny in a very colorful gown and sitting beside her, was another equally well dressed Lady Mage, Anne Lattimer. Margaret, looking at her plain brown day dress, felt quite out of place. Margaret wished that she had change to a "more appropriate" outfit. She grew in discomfort as she felt the disapproving and appraising gaze of Lady Anne.
"Good Afternoon, ladies."
"Good Afternoon, Margaret, my sister-to-be," Fanny gushed as she rushed towards Margaret and gave her a very affectionate hug and peck on the cheek.
Margaret smiled at Fanny's exaggerated gesture. The warmth that was building in her heart towards vain, spoiled but sweet Fanny was quickly doused by Lady Anne.
Lady Anne Lattimer, a very tall and beautiful blonde, spoke with such a sonorous sweet lilt she looked and sounded genuinely helpful that seemed to belie her true malicious intentions."Miss Hale, how lovely to see you again. If I may give you some advice?" Before Margaret could reply, Lady Anne continued speaking with a thin smile on her lips, "You are a mage lord's intended. You need to look the part. You don't want to embarrass, Lord Thornton, do you? My dearest girl, you have to get yourself some smarter clothes, if you are going to be mixing it up with us Mages. Really, one would think a model would know how to dress herself properly and being a..." Lady Anne paused briefly hinting at her sarcasm as she looked Margaret over critically, emphasized the next two words..."Great Heiress, I am sure you can afford to get a nice frock or two. You don't want people to mistake you as a mere lass from the working districts, do you? Take care, my dear, to always reflect the dignity and pride of your house and the house you will belong to." Lady Anne's voice was deceptively soft and seemingly full of concern but Margaret detected the viper in her tone. Margaret ever so gracious and a bit taciturn, merely nodded at Lady Anne's comment and Fanny laughed.
"Oh, Anne, you are being so dramatic. Margaret looks lovely no matter what she wore. Besides, my brother seems to have developed a very deep fondness for her "drabness", so who are we to comment? Each to his own, I say. Margaret is very comfortable with her monotone look." Fanny said with a wink and fond smile towards Margaret.
As the ladies settled down to talk, Lady Anne continued to sweetly make caustic remarks towards Margaret, as if she was only asking these highly personal questions out of great concern for Margaret in order to educate her and help her blend into mage society. Margaret feeling highly uncomfortable at the questions, dissembled and kept a polite smile on her countenance as she gave polite but monotone responses. Fanny, unaware of the tension building between her two friends, continued chatting as if everything was right with the world. Margaret was so relieved when Lord John Thornton returned that she jumped out of her seat and entwined her arm with Lord John's arm, very happy to be escorted out to the back-gardens for a quick walk on her way to leave with her grandfather. While she was walking away, Margaret could feel the weight of Lady Anne's dagger like stares and clasped tighter to Lord Thorton's arm as if gaining strength from his strong and possessive grip, she kept walking gracefully and retained her polite smile, which softened quite a bit when she looked at her John... Her John! Could such a powerful, strong, devastatingly handsome man, honest and principled man ever be truly hers? She felt most undeserving. "Lady Anne might be right, I am not good enough to deserve such a man. Am I?"