A/N: Thanks so much for the great suggestions you all made about what should happen in this chapter! I hope I did the ones I was able to include justice, and that someday I or another more gifted author will be able to do justice to the others. Again, they were all amazing!

Enjoy the wedding! :)

Chapter 3

It was the day before the wedding, and the stone buildings and smoking chimneys of Milton were in sight. Margaret, leaning out of the carriage window, drank them all in with the same delight a weary traveler might feel who sees a green oasis opening up before him, after days of wandering in the dessert.

She could hardly believe that it had been over a year since she had left—the sights and sounds and smells of the place were as familiar to her as if she had been there but yesterday, and her heart leaped towards them, with as much force as it had recoiled from them when first she laid eyes on the place nearly three years ago.

"Are you quite certain your Mr. Thornton is worth living in this dismal place for?" Mrs. Shaw asked in a plaintive tone, breaking in on Margaret's happy reverie.

Margaret turned to her aunt, who sat beside her, while Edith and Captain Lennox occupied the opposite seat.

"Oh yes, Aunt. Indeed, knowing that he is here is enough to make the place appear beautiful in my eyes."

Mrs. Shaw sniffed a little but did not feel energetic enough to argue further, however much her opinion might differ from her nieces'.

"You know I really begin to understand Mrs. Thornton's love of Milton," Margaret added. "I never used to think I could find anything to admire in any place very different from my beautiful Helstone. But now I understand that wherever real love exists, there is beauty."

"You say the oddest things sometimes, Margaret," Edith protested sleepily, for she had been dozing on Captain Lennox's shoulder. "Surely you cannot think Milton as beautiful as you always thought Helstone?"

"No, I cannot go so far as all that. But if I had to choose between Milton with Mr. Thornton, or Helstone without him, I should always choose the former."

Edith smiled. "Margaret is so in love she has quite lost all sense," she said, with a little laugh. "But we shall not hold it against her, shall we Cosmo?"

"No indeed, replied her husband cheerfully. "I for one am delighted to see our Margaret so happy again."

Margaret smiled gratefully at him, and then turned to the window once more, as the buildings of Milton rose up around them, welcoming her home.

Half an hour later they had alighted at the Milton Hotel. It had been recommended by Mr. Thornton as a good hotel, and the London party was pleased enough with its appearance to feel no qualms about passing the night there.

They ate a very good dinner in the private dining room they had ordered, and as soon as it was finished Margaret excused herself, claiming that the trip had fatigued her, and went to her own room.

Dixon was there, laying out her nightclothes.

At first Margaret had thought to leave Dixon behind in Harley Street, knowing that, while John would support whatever decision she made, Mrs. Thornton would consider a lady's maid an unnecessary and vain expense. But when she had timidly suggested the idea to Dixon, the worthy servant had burst into tears, and wept bitterly at the thought that "her young lady" no longer wanted her. So, Dixon had come to Milton to stay, and Margaret had prepared herself mentally to face Mrs. Thornton's disapproval once again, which she found the thought of much easier to endure than the tears of her faithful and devoted old servant had been.

"Did my dress arrive safely?" Margaret asked Dixon.

"Oh yes Miss Margaret. Hardly a wrinkle on it. I've laid it out in my room tonight, and I'll bring it to you tomorrow once it's been aired and I've taken care of any creases that did manage to form."

"I'm glad to hear it, after all the trouble you took packing it."

Dixon sniffed. "It's my opinion that you should care more for your wedding dress for its own sake than on account of my feelings."

Margaret smiled. "I do care for my dress," she said honestly. "But I care a great deal more for you, Dixon."

"Now, now, you'll not win me over with such honey-coated speeches," Dixon protested. "It's my duty to see that you are the most beautiful bride Milton has ever seen, come tomorrow, and I mean to do it too."

"Very well," Margaret acquiesced with a little laugh. "But I'm tired now, Dixon, and wish to sit quietly for the rest of the evening. I shall change now, so that you needn't come up again."

Dixon helped Margaret out of her dress and into her nightgown. Just as she was finishing her task, there was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Shaw entered.

"A note just arrived for you from Mr. Thornton," she announced, "And I thought I'd bring it up myself and wish you goodnight, seeing as you slipped away so quickly after dinner."

Margaret received the paper eagerly, and then wished her aunt a cordial goodnight. Mrs. Shaw and Dixon left together, and she was left alone with her letter.

She broke the seal, and read:

My Margaret,

I wished to see you this evening, but Mother was so appalled by the idea of the groom seeing the bride the night before the wedding that I have reluctantly given up the idea. Perhaps it is for the best. The temptation to kiss you would be so great I don't think even your aunt's presence could stop me. To be apart from you is painful indeed, but to see you and not be allowed to take you in my arms would be torture. I must write no more, or you shall grow ashamed of me. My only excuse is that my lack of self-control is your own doing. No one has ever affected me, mind, heart, and body, as you do.

Yours until death,

John Thornton

Margaret read the note three times, and then crossed to her trunk and undid the latch.

All her worldly goods were in this chest: her clothes, the few books of her father's that she had kept, the little drinking cup that she had taken to remember Bessy Higgin's by, and in the corner, folded up in a bit of silk, a bundle of letters. These Margaret drew out.

She curled up in the armchair in the corner of the room and untied the packet.

There were letters from her parents, dating back to her youth in Harley Street. Even as a young girl, before any thought of someday losing her mother and father had ever occurred to her, she had treasured up those letters, which brought her closer to the parents and beautiful home she so greatly missed. Now, as she examined them afresh, she was doubly glad that she had kept them, and the tears of the woman fell on the smudges where the tears of the girl had fallen years before.

Letters from Fredrick were next. The latest one contained the news that Dolores was in the family way, and Fredrick urged Margaret to visit them next spring, when she would be able to meet both her sister-in-law and the baby. This suggestion, coupled with Mr. Thornton's promise that they should travel to Spain together when the time was right, eased Margaret's heartache over the long separation from her beloved brother.

And last there were the letters from Mr. Thornton himself. Margaret felt almost guilty as she held them, it felt so strangely intimate to be curled up in her nightgown in the lamplight, running her fingertips over the paper that his hand had brushed against, tracing the path of his pen as it wrote out words of love he had composed for her.

He had written nearly every day, during the month they had been apart. Some days he had time for only a line or two, but there was always something, and Margaret's longing to be with him in Milton had been half assuaged and half increased by the love she felt in his letters. Until she read those letters, she had never known the depth of tenderness his heart contained, hidden as it was behind his steady outward manner. She had glimpsed that warm heart before, as on the occasion of his first ill-fated proposal, but she had been too angry and prejudiced to understand what she saw. Now, within the pages of his letters, his heart was fully revealed to her, and she understood the treasure she was to receive.

Margaret held the letters tightly against her heart and prayed that she would be worthy of John's love. Then, with a quiet peace filling her heart, she climbed into bed and fell asleep.

Margaret was up before the dawn, for the moment she opened her eyes there was no chance of her falling asleep again. The sky was overcast, but not threateningly so, and the August air was pleasantly cooled by the damp breeze which blew in through the open window.

Margaret was very quiet while Edith and Dixon dressed her and arranged her hair. Her gown was white silk, with layers of white organza over the skirt. Along the front of the neckline, silk roses, of that same soft yellow as the Helstone ones she loved so dearly, had been fastened, and below them a v shaped cascade of lace fell over the silken bodice. The veil was fastened to a crown of real yellow roses, which Edith stood on tiptoe to place on Margaret's dark hair, before stepping back to admire her work.

"You look perfectly enchanting, Margaret," she gushed. "I would give anything to have a figure like yours, so statuesque and regal. And your dress is quite the loveliest thing I have seen in years."

Dixon meanwhile was sobbing quietly into her handkerchief.

"I wish you would not cry so Dixon," Margaret said, speaking for the first time since the dressing had begun. "You will make me cry and then where shall I be?"

"I can't help it Miss Margaret. When I see you looking so lovely, and when I think of how I dressed your poor mother for her wedding, and how much she would have loved to see you today."

Margaret went to Dixon and took her by both hands. "I was thinking of her and wishing she could be here all the time you were dressing me," she whispered. "But I must take comfort in the thought that she can see me, and is watching over me, even now."

Dixon only cried the harder at this thought, but Margaret had no time to comfort her, for at that moment Mrs. Shaw entered, to inspect and compliment the bride and to announce that the carriage was at the door, ready to convey them to the church.

Margaret sat beside Captain Lennox, to allow as much room for her skirts as possible, while Edith and Mrs. Shaw sat opposite, every inch of the seat covered by their own wide silk skirts.

The drive was short, and in only a few minutes they were outside the church. Margaret still maintained her calm demeanor, although she had gone very pale. But the whiteness of her face only served to make her look more like a marble statue than ever in her white dress.

Captain Lennox exited the carriage first, and with his help the ladies got themselves and their skirts out. Then Edith hurried inside the church, to make certain that everything was prepared. It was only a moment until she returned, although it felt like a lifetime to Margaret, as Mrs. Shaw fussed about her dress, smoothing the few inevitable wrinkles and arranging her veil.

"Everything is ready," Edith exclaimed. "The church looks divine, Margaret. And your Mr. Thornton looks very well himself in his blue coat. It suits him better than the black I think. Are you ready Margaret?"

"I am."

"Good," said Edith. "Then I and Mamma must hurry in and take our places, for I wouldn't miss the effect of you walking down the aisle on Cosmo's arm for anything."

The two ladies went in accordingly.

"Shall we?" Captain Lennox asked Margaret in a calm, kind tone that was very comforting after the hurried, excited manner of her cousin.

They began to walk towards the church doors, but as she was nearing the threshold Margaret gave a little cry and let go of Captain Lennox's arm.

"Nicholas!" she cried, holding out her hands to him, her pale face lighting up like a lantern.

"Aye but it's good to see you Miss," Nicholas Higgins said, stepping forward from where he had been standing at the side of the church and taking her little hands in his great rough ones. "I wanted to see you, afore you went in th' church."

"You are coming in, aren't you?" Margaret asked. "For indeed you must."

"Aye, I'm comin' in. But I wanted to see you first, and to wish you all th' happiness in th' world."

"You don't mind that I am marrying Mr. Thornton then?" Margaret asked eagerly.

Higgins paused. "A year agone I would ha' said very different. But now I can't say as I know a man that deserves your own sel' more. I'll tell you that I never saw such change come over a man as come over him when twas all settled that thou wert to marry. He was tha' happy… But t'would be hard for him to be happier than I am, lass, that you're comin' back to us."

Margaret's eyes were full of tears, but her face was shining with happiness as she pressed Nicholas's hand. "I didn't know it was possible to be so happy and go on living," she whispered.

"Oh, you'll go on living right 'nough," Higgin's said, smiling broadly. "And you'll be happy and well-doing alongside Thornton. Now dry those tears, lass, and go in to him."

Margaret pressed his hand again, and then he held her bouquet while she dried her eyes carefully, so that no trace of tears remained. Then he left her with a final smile, and disappeared into the church.

Margaret took Captain Lennox's arm once more, and with her head held high, she stepped forward across the threshold.

And there was John, standing beside the alter, and under the intensity of his gaze everything else—the people in the pews, the music, the beauty of the church, the smell of the flowers—faded away, and there were only the two of them. Margaret did not take her eyes from his face as she passed up the aisle to stand before him. It was as if his clear, deep set, earnest eyes held her entranced, and she could no more look away than she could fly.

They stood before each other, and John reached out and took her hand, and he smiled, that beautiful smile like sunshine dancing on water, which lighted his whole face. And at that touch and that smile, Margaret awoke from her trance, and John Thornton's heart beat fast to see her dark eyes light up, and her lips part in a returning, joyful smile.

She could see the church now, simple but lovely, with a bunch of yellow roses attached to the side of every pew, and two large bouquets of them on either side of the alter. And she could see the people, the individuals who made up her little world, and whom she loved so dearly in that moment, no matter what their shortcomings in daily life.

Mrs. Shaw was wiping her eyes with her handkerchief, while Edith and Captain Lennox supported her on either side. Across from them, in the opposite front pew sat Hannah Thornton and the Watsons. Fanny was craning her neck to see if the London ladies' dresses were finer than her own, but after a moment she sat back with a satisfied smile on her face, confident that her husband's money and her own passion for dress had not allowed her to be outdone. Hannah was looking straight ahead, with all the rigidity and sternness she was so famous for.

Behind them were friends and business associates of Mr. Thornton who had come to wish him well on his wedding day. In the back of the church, Dixon was sniffling loudly. Margaret caught Nicholas's eye, and saw with delight that Mary and the little Boucher children were arranged on the bench beside him.

The priest was beginning, and Margaret turned back to John with shining eyes.

"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy matrimony…"

The ceremony progressed, and John drew out the ring, and slipped it onto Margaret's finger, repeating the beautiful old words, "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Then the priest placed Margaret's right hand in John's, saying solemnly, "Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder." And as the priest spoke these words, Hannah Thornton gave one short, firm nod of her head.

The ceremony was over, and amid a little storm of applause, Margaret and John left the church as man and wife. They ran through a light smattering of rain to the Thornton carriage, which would lead the procession to the Watson's house where Fanny had been eager to hold the reception.

Fanny was satisfied. The wedding supper had been a great success, and now the guests were beginning to take their leave.

The London party was still there, and Fanny took this opportunity to approach Edith, who was sitting alone for the moment, fanning herself languidly. Margaret had introduced the two after the ceremony, and Fanny was eager to secure Mrs. Lennox's good graces.

"My brother and your cousin look well together," she began, when they had bowed to each other, secretly congratulating herself on such a fine opening, which would remind Edith of their connection.

"Indeed they look perfect together," Edith said dreamily, admiring the handsome couple where they stood together, receiving the final congratulations of a departing guest.

"I am only surprised Miss Hale—Mrs. Thornton now! La how strange it is to say it so. Well, I am only surprised she was so eager to return to Milton. Watson has taken me to London three times since our marriage, and if only I could live in London all the time, I would be supremely happy."

"Oh, well you must stay with us sometime when you and your husband are in Town," Edith replied languidly, leaning back in her chair and fanning herself.

"What a gracious offer!" Fanny cried, in a tone of such surprise one would never guess she had wished for just such an invitation. "Perhaps we might go to the shops together, you have such a taste for fashion," eying Edith's pink dress once more, and beginning to wonder if the cut was not slightly more fashionable than that of her own blue silk.

"If you wish it I would be glad of your company, for it will be so dull without Margaret, not that she ever came shopping with me anyway."

Fanny was not quite sure whether to be flattered or offended by this speech, so she said, "Miss—Mrs. Thornton never struck me as caring much for dress."

"No indeed. But everything looks well on her anyway," Edith said with a little pout.

"Edith!" Mrs. Shaw's languid call came drifting over. "I think we must go now."

"Coming Mama!" Edith replied, standing up and bowing to Fanny.

"Goodbye, and thank you for coming. It was such a delight getting to know you better," Fanny said, bowing in return.

The time for Margaret to bid her family farewell had come. There were tearful smiles and protests from Edith that Margaret must not forget them.

John was a comforting presence at Margaret's side through all this emotional strain, and when at last Mrs. Shaw and the Lennox couple had been ushed out by Fanny, he said softly to Margaret, "I was thinking perhaps we might walk home together. The carriage can follow with your things."

"I would like that very much," Margaret replied, blushing and dropping her eyes in that way that he found so thrilling.

Hannah Thornton was still there, as she intended to remain with Fanny that night, so that her son and his bride might have the house on Marlborough Street to themselves.

John went to her now, and kissed her cheek. "Goodbye, Mother," he said gently.

"Goodbye, John," she replied, her voice hard but not cold.

Margaret stepped forward timidly, not sure what how to bid Mrs. Thornton goodbye, but Hannah came to her rescue. "You must kiss me too, as my daughter."

Margaret's eyes filled with tears and she kissed Hannah Thornton's roughened cheek, and whispered, "Thank you."

Then she took John's arm, and they stepped out together, into the coolness of the grey evening.

They walked in silence for the most part, arms entwined, content to simply be alone together at last. Darkness came early on that cloudy day, and dusk had already fallen when they reached the steps of the house. They went up, and Margaret paused, waiting for John to draw out the key and open the door. But he did not. Instead he stepped towards her and lifted her arms so that they rested about his neck.

"Did you know it was two years, yesterday, since you stood here and defended me from the crowd down there?" John asked softly.

"I did not know," Margaret replied, blushing in the darkness.

"Many's the time I have stood here and remembered the feeling of your arms about me, and many's the time I have turned away in anger, remembering that it meant nothing. But only in recent days have I dared to dream of a time when you might do so again, and mean it this time."

"However confused my feelings were then, I was not so indifferent to you as I claimed," Margaret said quietly. "But that was then, and this is now, and I love you, John."

He bent and kissed her, softly and yet passionately, and Margaret melted into his embrace. Tomorrow, later, all this would feel real, but tonight everything was like a dream. There was only him, and her, and the sweet stillness of the night, and the happiness flooding their hearts.

The End

A/N: Thank you all so much for reading this little story! This is really and truly the end this time, and I hope you all enjoyed it! :)