Hello! I only saw the BBC adaptation of North and South recently (I know, I know what HAVE I been missing all this time!) and the whole story and characters really captured my imagination. I began to think about how Margaret would move back to Milton and how the relationship between her and John would evolve leading up to their marriage. Especially in the very early days, we all know what its like when you finally get together with someone and all you can think of is them and you suddenly become so very aware of where they are in relation to you?

There are a couple of possible historical/Victorian etiquette violations in this; would a young woman take a small house? Would newly engaged couples not be separated at dinner parties? And probably many more. However, I hope you will forgive me these as plot devices, but any feedback is welcome. Am still poking around with the fifth (and final) chapter of this but here is the first . . .

I own nothing, all characters are from the talented pen of Elizabeth Gaskill, and the imagination of the BBC adaptors.

CHAPTER ONE

Mrs Watson had been impatiently waiting for an excuse to hold a large dinner party. She and Watson had been married for almost a year and still did not feel truly recognised as a society hostess. The occasion of Watson's birthday, Fanny had decided, would be the perfect event. This was to be it, her first large social party, and let no one in this household forget it! The smaller dinners she had held, Fanny considered, could only be thought of as mere rehearsals for this, her statement of intent as a hostess. She patrolled proudly around her bedecked table straightening already perfect flowers and realigning place cards that dared to be a millimetre out of place.

The seating plan had been something she had spent many hours toiling over hoping to achieve that most elusive of things; the perfect arrangement of persons and personalities. Then a mere two weeks before, one of her own closest friends had thought better of coming leaving an aching gap in Fanny's impeccable balance. Well, friend no more! Yes London was exciting but the season was coming to an end, what possible reason could she have not to come? Thankfully, Margaret Hale had thought better of her London life and returned to Milton, so if you really thought about it, Fanny mused, that infernal friend had probably saved a good deal more trouble; one female out of seating plan, one female in. No ugly uneven number or unbalance of the sexes.

'I just hope,' Fanny said to the empty room, adjusting a candle, 'that Miss Hale recognises how lucky she is that I was able to accommodate her, John too for that matter.' she addressed the name card 'because you would have been even more moody if she had been unable to come than if she had never come back in the first place.' Fanny stood back, sweeping her eyes over the room one last time, nodded and hurried upstairs to chivvy Watson into his suit.

Margaret Hale was, currently, not perhaps as thankful for her invite as Fanny would have liked. She had spent the day moving from the Milton Hotel to the house she had rented for the weeks leading up to her marriage. In a quiet street in the Crampton district, not far from where she had lived with her parents, she had found a perfect little home. The small house had a kitchen and snug parlour in the basement, a light and airy drawing room and small but elegant dining room on the ground floor both with large windows at either ends, and a two cosy bedrooms upstairs. All came furnished plainly but adequately.

'Little it most definitely is' John had teased, when Margaret had seen it with him a few days before. He purposefully paced across the parlour's shortest wall to illustrate his point.

'I'm not going to be hosting any large social gatherings!' Margaret had laughed. 'No, this will do for myself and Dixon perfectly, its much better than living at the hotel.'

Dixon had followed Margaret back to Milton, resolutely determined to ensure Margaret's smooth transition to her new life.

'But, you have always disliked Milton,' Margaret had said, delighted and surprised by Dixon's decision. 'And you had such plans; to move back to Hampshire? With your sister?'

'My sister and Hampshire will still be there in a month, Miss Margaret,' Dixon insisted. Then speaking quietly, ' Your mother was so very dear to me Miss, I treasure her memory and I feel it only right that I should stay with you, her only daughter, and see everything settled. Miss Margaret, if you will have me I shall stay until you are married and all is straight.'

'Dixon!' Margaret was deeply touched by her kindness. 'Thank you! But all shall be as it was before. I shall continue to help you with ironing and starching and cleaning. After all, this is meant to be the start of your retirement, not the beginning of a new house keeping position!'

'Miss Margaret, in a place as compact as this! I shall have all chores done in half a day!'

So it was that Margaret took ownership of her temporary new home on the same day as Fanny's dinner party. She and Dixon spent the afternoon removing dust covers, shifting the furniture around and unpacking the few trunks that held the majority of their belongings. Margaret was to travel to London the next day to pack up her room in Aunt Shaw's house and crate up her father's books. By the end of the week Margaret would fully belong back in Milton. It would be her home again and it felt so comforting, so right.

Margaret smiled at the thought of it, pushing the pearl pins in to her hair. She was dressed in a light dusky coral coloured silk dress, full skirted and plain bodiced with short narrow sleeves that sat low on her shoulders. She reached for the drop earrings on the dressing table

There was a light tap on the open door and Dixon stepped into the bedroom 'Mr Thornton is waiting downstairs for you Miss.' Margaret turned towards her.

'Thank you, Dixon.'

'There now,' Dixon smiled. 'You do look lovely Miss. Such a shame we couldn't get your new green silk ready in time.'

'I would rather be moved in and unpacked than have spent all afternoon ironing petticoats and washing lace!' Margaret smiled. Whilst in London, Edith had persuaded Margaret to buy some new dresses. The green silk was of the very latest fashion and Dixon had wanted so badly for Margaret to wear it, to show this Milton 'society' what proper ladies wore. But its intricate delicacy had not survived the move and there had been no time to devote to fixing its deep creases. 'Maybe next time Dixon,' Margaret said, tilting her head to fasten her earrings.

Dixon nodded and turned back to the stairs, she was warming Margaret's stole by the fire in the kitchen. The infernal climate up here was something she would not miss when happily settled in Hampshire.

John, waiting for Margaret in the drawing room heard Dixon descending the stairs. Then turned, hearing another lighter step and approached the bottom of the stairs.

The rush, the flurry, the second choice dress, it was all lost to Margaret's mind as John smiled gently up at her.

John stood watching as Margaret came towards him, reaching out his hand to assist her with the last few steps. Her beauty astonished him, Margaret in her everyday blouses and skirts always sent a tremor through his heart, so graceful, poised and beautiful. Margaret in this elegant gown, stretching out to accept his offered hand, seemed to be almost ethereal, her skin softly glowing, her eyes shining. John was captivated.

'John', she stood smiling in welcome in front of him. He raised the hand he held to his lips and kissed it. Dixon silently watching from the top of the stairs leading down to the kitchen could not help but sigh to herself. To see the two of them together, so in love, so happy thrilled her to her soul. Miss Margaret had known enough sorrow to last her lifetime and, although Dixon still doubted Mr Thornton's true standing as a proper gentlemen, his impeccable behaviour and beautiful manners endeared him to her. She turned away and continued down to the kitchen.

'You are so beautiful.' To John it seemed so inadequate a word, but Margaret's cheeks flushed slightly and she dropped her eyes from his in happy embarrassment. Then, hearing Dixon's footsteps fade away, lifted her lips to his and kissed him. John gently pulled her closer placing her hand, which he still held, on his shoulder, and his arm around her waist.

Margaret thrilled to the feeling of being so close to John, breathing him in. She had become so aware of his body and physical being in the days since she had moved back to Milton. His height,the length of his stride, how his arms could encircle her waist, the gentle taper of his body from his shoulders to his waist, the distance between the top of his collar and the sharp flow of his jawline, how his skin smelt. Even the contours of his chest, such that she could feel through jacket, waistcoat and shirt.

Dixon was returning holding John's tall hat and with Margaret's stole draped over her arm, and they stepped back from each other.

'Thank you, Dixon,' Margaret said, reaching for her stole. But John reached for it too, taking from Dixon's arm to her slight disapproval, and gently held the soft silk in his hands as Margaret turned so that he could lay it around her bare shoulders. His fingers briefly brushed her skin as he did so, and she paused momentarily under his touch, turning back to him her heart fluttering.

For the briefest of moments, John and Margaret knew only each other, were aware only of the other's physical presence. It was John who turned away, seeming to take a breath before reaching for his hat from Dixon, who's opinion of him was rapidly changing.

'Thank you Dixon,' he said and couldn't help but smile at her stony expression. 'Cheek!' Dixon thought as they turned to go. She had seen the look that had just passed between them, she was going to have to watch Mr Thornton, she decided. And Miss Margaret too for that matter.