Does anyone else ever think it's a little unfair of 19th century authors to put us and their characters through so much angst, only to cut short the happy ending to barely half a chapter? Well, this little fic is my attempt to remedy that ill. Not that Elizabeth Gaskell's ending wasn't perfect... but you get what I'm trying to say.

Entirely book based, it begins exactly where the book ends, in the back drawing-room at Harley Street...

"How shall I ever tell Aunt Shaw?" she whispered, after some time of delicious silence.

"Let me speak to her."

"Oh, no! I owe to her,—but what will she say?"

"I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, 'That man!'"

"Hush!" said Margaret, "or I shall try and show you your mother's indignant tones as she says, 'That woman!'"

Mr. Thornton laughed, actually laughed, a sound which Margaret had not heard since before the day of the riot.

But he soon sobered, saying, "My mother has loved me better than anyone else on this earth, so you must not blame her for her dislike, thinking as she does that you despise me. But all that will change, for you don't despise me, do you Margaret?" whispering her name softly.

"If my reaction a moment ago was any proof of my feelings, I wonder you need to ask," Margaret replied, flushing at the memory of how she had hidden her face against his shoulder and let him put his arms around her, and of how she had let him kiss her in payment for the Helstone roses, which she had dropped on the table as the kiss claimed her full attention.

"I don't need to ask, but I want to hear it from your own lips."

She raised her eyes to meet his gaze, the deep blush still suffusing her cheeks. "I have never despised you. And it has been a long, long time since I thought of you with anything but the greatest respect, and..." she hesitated, but she would be honest with him, and so she added softly, "with a great deal of regret for what could never be."

"Ah but it will be." John said, reaching up and laying a hand on her cheek. "You will be my Margaret yet, come what may."

"I am your Margaret now."

"Are you?" he asked softly, his beautiful smile lighting his face like sunshine.

"Yes! My heart has been yours ever since... Oh!" She cried out, as if a sudden pain had gripped her, and covered her face with her hands. "How is it that you do not despise me? I asked Mr. Bell to tell you, but he never had the chance, I know. John," and he thrilled to hear his name fall so naturally from her lips, "That lie I told, that horrible, horrible lie. If only you knew how greatly I was tempted."

"Hush, love," he whispered, gently drawing her hands down from her face and clasping them tightly in his own. "I know more than you think, and I can guess at the rest. I know that your brother, Frederick, was in Milton at the time of your mother's death. I know you must have been living in constant fear of his arrest. I know you acted to save him. In short, do not let the thought of that lie trouble you ever again. I have forgiven it long ago, and now you must do the same."

"I don't know that I ever shall, but it will be easier to try..." her voice was so choked with tears that he had to lean still closer to hear her words, "knowing that you forgive me, and do not hate me for it."

"Hate you?" He tried to find language to express how unutterably impossible the idea of his hating her was, but words failed him. So instead he pulled her to her feet and kissed her again, capturing her lips with his own with a desperate desire to make her understand how deeply he loved her.

The door flew open and Edith rushed in, crying as she came, "Margaret! Sholto has tumbled over and hurt himself and he is crying for you. Surely Henry can explain—" she broke off, rosy mouth agape.

John and Margaret had started away from each other, as soon as Edith's voice had registered in their dizzy, love-drunk minds, but it was too late.

Margaret's face was on fire, but she stood tall and regal as a queen, and met Edith's round-eyed gaze unabashedly. John felt as if his heart would burst with pride. She was not ashamed of his kisses. He was a little angry with himself, for losing his head and forgetting where they were, but he could not regret what had passed.

"I will go to Sholto directly," Margaret said quickly, not daring to look at Mr. Thornton as she hurried past Edith. The two remaining inhabitants of the room heard her footsteps receding up the stairs and then there was silence.

For a moment John was annoyed that Margaret had left him to face Edith's stunned surprise alone, but he shook off the irritation in a moment. He was tongue-tied only around her. It was better this way.

"This may come as a surprise to you Mrs. Lennox," he said, his voice sounding rough and business-like even in his own ears. "But I have asked Miss Hale to marry me and she has graciously accepted."

Edith's eyes grew still rounder. "Marry you?" she queried. "But this is all so strange. She never even said that she particularly liked you."

Mr. Thornton frowned a little. "Be that as it may the facts are as I have put them."

Edith was gradually overcoming her shock, and the remembrance of how well her dinner party had gone off the night before last was helping greatly to reconcile her to the idea of Mr. Thornton as a cousin-in-law.

"Well," she said. "It is most shocking, but also rather romantic."

Mr. Thornton did not know how to reply to such a speech, so he only bowed slightly.

"You must stay to lunch," Edith continued. "Mama will want to hear all about it."

"No, thank you, but I had better go. You will allow me to call upon Miss Hale again tomorrow morning? We have much to discuss and I must return to Milton tomorrow afternoon."

Edith bowed graciously, but the pretty effect of her manners was lost on Mr. Thornton. He bowed stiffly to her and strode out of the room.

Edith whirled and hurried up the stairs towards her mother's room, but she was accosted in the hall by her husband.

"There's no need to come running up so fast," he said. "Margaret has quite calmed Sholto, and he is playing contentedly now."

"Is Margaret still with him?" Edith asked.

"No, she left a moment ago saying she would be back directly."

Mr. Thornton reached the front door, which was opened by a liveried footman, but he turned on the threshold and looked back, towards the stairs up which Margaret had disappeared. And there she was, hurrying down to meet him, with that rosy flush still coloring her cheeks, and her eyes glowing like two stars.

"Are you leaving already?" she asked, coming up to him almost bashfully.

John could not help the thrill which ran through him at the sight of this new side of Margaret. Let her be stately and queenly when there were others to see, but with him... Let her be flustered and drop her eyes, that he might see them shining out all the brighter from under her dark lashes and the sweep of her dark hair.

"I thought it better that I should go at once. But I shall be back tomorrow, if you will have me."

"Of course I shall. It pains me to lose sight—" She broke off, for there was the footman, and they must respect the bounds of propriety hereafter, despite having so blatantly disregarded them at the first.

"I shall come at eleven again. And then I must go back to Milton. But it will be only a little while, and if I have my way a very little while, before you join me there."

"The determined look on your face suggests to me that you mean to have your way no matter what," Margaret replied, a teasing note in her voice.

"When I want something done I see that it gets done. I don't wait around for others to do it for me. And I want this, Margaret. More than—" It was his turn to break off, but Margaret understood.

"But things are far from settled," he went on, after a moment's pause. "There is much to discuss about the exact time and place, about what our future plans will be, about the great service you are prepared to render me, which I have not thanked you for as I ought, only because I value the other gift you have given me so much more highly."

"Please do not speak of it," Margaret said softly. "It pains me that you should feel indebted to me, when in reality it is I who owe you so much."

"I must be honest," he replied, "And say that I would indeed be loathed to accept it if it were not for your own sake that I do so, that you may have the life you deserve."

And Margaret lifted her head, and looked straight into his eyes as she said, "And I will be likewise honest with you, and say that were I still a penniless girl and you a poorer man, I should still choose you."

He did not reply, but the intensity in his eyes spoke volumes. If they had been alone, he would have kissed her again; as it was he was tempted so much that he took a step towards her, but she laid a hand on his chest, and shook her head gently. Not now, not yet.

He lifted the hand instead, and kissed it gently. "Goodbye, Miss Hale," he said, his formal words softened by his tender tone.

"Goodbye Mr. Thornton. I shall expect you tomorrow."

He was gone, and Margaret turned and walked slowly up the stairs.

When she reached the landing she saw Edith standing in the doorway of Mrs. Shaw's sitting room.

"He was kissing her Mama!" she was exclaiming.

"What!" Mrs. Shaw's usually languid voice was high pitched and startled.

"Indeed he was, Mama, but I suppose there is no real harm done, for he says they are going to be married!"

"Edith." Margaret's voice was calm. "I think this is my story to tell."

Edith started back in surprise. "Oh Margaret, haven't you given me enough shocks for one day?" she cried petulantly.

Margaret did not reply, but moved past Edith to stand before her aunt.

"Mr. Thornton has proposed to me, Aunt, and I have accepted. Though I am of age, and no longer require your consent, I wish to have your blessing, as you are the nearest thing to a parent I have left on this earth."

"But I don't understand," Mrs. Shaw said anxiously. "Mr. Thornton is in trade, Margaret, and… and I hear that his business has failed!"

"But it hasn't," Margaret said quickly. "His business is safe, due to an unexpected investment made by a party who wishes to remain anonymous. And I find that I don't care at all that he is in trade. In fact I find that I love him the better for it. The struggles and hard work he has faced have made him brave and true, and I could search all my life and not find a man I respected and admired so much."

Margaret spoke with such eagerness now that her voice shook, but Mrs. Shaw barely heard the last part of her speech.

"You say you love this man, Margaret?"

"Yes, Aunt, I do." Margaret said, suddenly covering her face and beginning to shake with sobs.

Edith was at her side in a moment, fussing about her, and bidding her to come and lie down on the sofa before she fainted, for she was as white as anything. Margaret complied, and in a few moments she was better, and able to sit up and dry her eyes.

Mrs. Shaw had come to sit beside her, and now she took Margaret's hand and said in as firm a voice as Margaret had ever heard her use, "My dear, if you truly love Mr. Thornton, then of course you must marry him. I always said that Edith should marry for love, and since you are my other daughter now, you must do the same."

Margaret began to weep afresh at this speech, and she pressed her aunt's hand again and again.

"It is only that I am so happy," she murmured. "I should not cry so otherwise."

"You may cry as long as you like, my dear, but not too long, or you shall be ill," Mrs. Shaw replied.

And Edith added, "Well I for one wish you would dry your eyes, Margaret, for I am dying to discuss wedding plans with you. You will be quite a ravishing bride, especially if you let me dress you as I like, and we will throw such a lovely party afterwards, I can already imagine it."

Margaret laughed. She knew that nothing about the wedding would be settled until she had seen Mr. Thornton again tomorrow, but at this moment she had patience even for Edith's chatter. "I think I should like to wear pomegranate blossoms again," she said, smiling up at her cousin. "You did say they suited me you know."

"Indeed they do," Edith said, all seriousness in a moment now that dress was being discussed. "But I am not sure they are quite the thing for a wedding."

Margaret smiled. "Very well then. Perhaps yellow roses?"

It was the evening of the following day, and Mrs. Thornton was sitting in her parlor, with her hands folded in her lap, idle, now that it was too dark to go on working. Outwardly, she was as rigid and calm as ever, but inside she was straining to catch the sound of her son's return.

At last, she heard the front door open and shut, and the sound of his beloved footsteps on the stairs. But could that really be her John's step, so light and quick, not weighed down by a thousand cares? She rose to her feet, with a hand on her heart to steady its wild beating.


And she heard his voice, exuberant, joyful, calling to her, "Mother, I'm home!"