AUTHOR'S NOTE: So this has been sitting patiently on my computer for many, many, MANY months whilst other voices and stories chattered in my head. None of them proved so consistent as this though so finally, for those of you who are still interested and have been so patient, I present the follow up to Mrs Watson's party. This begins a few days after John and Margaret's wedding so they are still finding their confidence as husband and wife . . .
Margaret was very probably going to be late.
Margaret was never late.
Willing the hands on the clock tower of St. Stephen's to not yet be showing the quarter hour, Margaret quickly descended the long flight of stone steps down from Crampton High Street to the wide, bustling avenue of Church Road. Reaching the pavement she immediately turned right, seeking the reassurance of the clock-face high up on the church.
'Not yet ten past', Margaret murmured to herself. She might yet just make it. Now, if her luck held then she would be able to secure a Hansom and make it to the Town Hall with a little time to spare. Feeling slightly reassured, Margaret turned away from St. Stephen's and struck up a brisk pace along Church Road, her eyes searching the busy street for an unoccupied carriage.
Margaret should have already been at the Town Hall. Fanny had dispatched the Watson's new carriage to Marlborough Mills well over an hour earlier to ensure the timely arrival of her mother and new sister-in-law at what was to be her very first Charity Event. The Milton Ladies Aid Society, of which Fanny was a new member, were holding an 'Evening of Music and Poetry Recitals in Aid of All Saints Church School'. To her delight, Fanny was on the organising committee and had taken a very active role in sourcing both music and literature for this most important event.
Hannah Thornton had acknowledged the exceptionally early arrival of the carriage with a wry smile. Fanny was anxious to impress the Ladies Aid Committee and was resolutely determined that all go smoothly, so Hannah had accepted the inevitability of her own early arrival with good grace. However, she did not see why Margaret should be prevailed upon to immediately begin an evening engagement when she had only just arrived home from a long afternoon fulfilling the unavoidable expectation of Milton's older society ladies that a new bride must call upon them and take tea. Therefore, Hannah had sent the grateful young woman upstairs to bathe and change. There would be more than enough time Hannah reasoned when Margaret began to voice her worries at disappointing Fanny's expectations.
'I shall explain to Fanny that you were delayed and require time to change.' Hannah had said as she fastened her bonnet. 'Besides, you have just spent the afternoon with women who are attending tonight, you cannot be asked to converse with the same women twice in one day without some respite.' Margaret had caught the flicker of humour in her mother-in-law's eye and Hannah's recognition of the dull tedium that had been Margaret's afternoon and she had smiled as Hannah had turned towards her. 'There is more than enough time.'
Margaret took one last glance back over her shoulder at St. Stephen's to check the time before quickly crossing Church Road to turn right on to Prince Street.
There had been more than enough time to bathe in front of the fire in the dressing room, enough time to then put on a fresh skirt and blouse and to restyle her hair. Time enough to have no need of the Thornton's carriage and instead be able to walk to the Town Hall. And yet still Margaret was in danger of being late.
She had lingered too long in John's arms.
John had returned home a while after Hannah Thornton's departure in order to change before meeting Mr. Latimer to finalise the details of use of Margaret's investment. He had planned to go over the papers one last time and so had spread then on the table in the bedroom, reading them over as he quickly removed his cravat and waistcoat, pulling his shirt off over his head as he approached the dressing room. His arrival in the small room had been as unexpected to Margaret as her own presence had been to John. Both had thought the other had already left for their separate evening engagements, and had both began stammering half-thought apologies at their own state of undress and upon finding the other likewise. As, whilst it was entirely probable that a husband and wife would often encounter each other in such a situation other than when they withdrew for the night, this was the first time Margaret and John, after only a few days of marriage, had.
John, stripped to the waist, his shirt in his hands, his hair rumpled by its removal. Margaret, just stepping from the bath, a towel wrapped loosely around her, her hand clasping the edges to her breast.
'I am sorry, I . . . I shall . . . '
'Forgive me . . . I am . . . I thought . . .'
Both had stopped, waiting for the other to continue. Waiting for the palpable attraction rapidly building between them to quiet, but knowing it was their own desire they had apologised for, not their undress. They would see each other again in a few short hours. They would have the whole night. They would have every night after that. Now they had appointments to keep, people to meet. But the promise of the night to come did not seem enough to quell their awareness of each other.
'I thought you had already left?' John's voice when he spoke again had been low, soft. He remained in the doorway, hesitant to cross the dressing room to fetch a clean shirt from the drawers behind Margaret, resolutely trying not noticing her damp body shimmering in the firelight nor the tendrils of hair that curled tightly against her neck, how lightly her hand seemed to rest against the fabric at her breast.
'No,' Margaret's reply had been quiet, 'No, I was granted a short reprieve,' She had turned sideways slightly so that John might get past her in the cramped room more easily, her heart beginning to pound as he approached her. 'I am due to,' her voice had faltered as John reached her and she had fought the impulse to reach up and brush his dark hair off his forehead, to place her hands on his chest and trace the contours of his torso that she had come to know so intimately. But she had looked away and continued. '. . . due to leave directly.'
John had paused beside her, intending to linger just for a moment so that he might, briefly, stand close to the edge of his desire. He had been about to turn away when, unable to deny her impulses any more, Margaret had looked up in to his eyes and neither had been able to resist the nearness of the other's lips. A kiss. Just one. So gentle, so chaste. But one more kiss had led to one more kiss had led to just one more kiss, and then they were smiling into each other's kisses, grinning at their joint foolish, helpless desire. All plans and appointments forgot, John's hand had replaced hers at her breast, letting the towel fall away as her fingers had gently entwined in his hair and flowed over his back.
And now Margaret, newly married to one of Milton's finest businessmen, so now part of one of Milton's most respected families and carrying the expectations such a position entailed, was late.
Margaret Thornton must not be late!
Although, as she reached the cross-roads of Prince Street and the Milton High Road her mind momentarily wandered . . . John's blue eyes darkened with desire, looking deeply in to hers as his body moved on top of her . . . it was enough to make her have to pause to catch her breath and attempt to tame her suddenly ragged heartbeat.