The following is a very nascent idea which popped up in the initial story development of Northern Rain. It did not survive long- it is fanciful and not at all plausible, but it was a fun, romantic concept to return to for the afternoon.
This vignette was originally written for the Northern Rain blog tour. It was first featured on Maria’s blog Fly High It is republished here in celebration of the new Audiobook release of Northern Rain, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman. This same vignette can also be found on Goodreads under Creative Writing.
In North & South, both Thornton and Margaret pay visits to Helstone, but at different parts of the story. This short vignette explores the very unlikely possibility that their visits might have coincided. We find Margaret just as she learns she is to be an heiress, and John as he is pining for the woman he never expects to see again. One wonders if they would even need words, after so unexpectedly happening upon one another in such a remarkable setting. – NC
The Rejected Scene
“Margaret, my dear, are you well?”
The young woman’s eyes had become somewhat glazed, and she appeared quite out of breath as she sat sedately by the old man’s side. She gasped, still in shock. “You cannot leave me everything, Mr Bell! Surely, there is some other, someone who might know what to do with it all!”
Thomas Bell laughed softly and patted Margaret’s hand as they sat together on their makeshift bench. “No, Margaret, there is not. You and Frederick are all I have left, and he is quite well taken care of. My wish, my dear, is that you will make better use than I did of everything I leave to you. I have no doubt that you shall bestow your goodness on those- or perhaps on one at least- who is deserving of your care.”
She shook her head, still dazed. “But it is so much,” she objected humbly. “Surely, there can be no need for you to sign it all over now. What about you?”
“Never fear, my child.” Bell allowed his gaze to drift over the simple stone cottage which had once been his old friend’s parsonage. Even the picturesque little Helstone home lacked the serenity of former days, and, like his dear friend Hale, Bell had found that the world no longer had a place for him. He sighed, blinking, then looked back to Margaret.
She was sobbing quietly, understanding his meaning. “Oh, now, come, my dear!” he interrupted her. “Do not carry on so. Look here, I brought a new book along, and I should like to retire to the inn to enjoy it. It is much too fine a day for you to remain cooped up with me- why do you not go visit the school house as you proposed earlier?”
Margaret was eventually persuaded to agree to his plan. Feeling guilty, she left him to his comforts and set out upon her own path. It was a pleasure to return to Helstone once more, but it was not the home she remembered. Nothing remained the same. Old faces had gone. Of those she still knew, some had changed, some had remained the same; always she found it to be to the worse. She tried to enjoy her visit to the schoolhouse, but the pleasure was hollow. Feeling lonely and out of place, she at last took her leave.
By the time she had done so, dark clouds had rolled over the landscape she knew so well. Rain would soon fall, if she knew Hampshire’s weather at all, but Margaret made no attempts to hurry her path. She wandered, lost in thought. It had occurred to her that Mr Bell’s assets remained mostly in Milton, the city she thought never to see again. Chief among her new belongings would be… oh, dear. What would he think when he heard she was to be his landlady? Naturally, an executor would manage the properties for her. She would not see him, even if she wanted to….
A few sparse droplets sprinkled over her skirts now. Margaret nibbled her lip. She did want to see John Thornton. Had he not despised her so, she never would have left Milton in the first place, but his just scorn made the very walls of her own home close stiflingly about her. She simply had to go!
Mr Bell had just unlocked the door to him again, but she would fear humiliating him with her new possessions- and that was before she even began to consider what he must still think of her! Immodest and capricious, that was what he thought her to be. Dishonourable, too, lest she forget that accusation! No, she could not go to him, even with something so simple as a business relationship… could she? Could his opinion of her sink any lower?
The corners of her mouth tugged upward and she began to blink rapidly in elation. No, it could not! She turned her eyes up to the skies, allowing them to shower refreshingly over her face. She would think of some way to see him, and perhaps if he were generous, she might survive the encounter without wishing for the floor to swallow her up. Joy bubbled from her throat, and she longed to do what she had not done since childhood. Gathering her skirts, she began to run in the falling rain.
She had not gone far before she began to think she ought to seek some other shelter. The rain was falling heavily now, and her inn was a long way off yet. There was old Gibson’s home, was there not? She had been told that he had died and his house now stood abandoned. Surely she could pause there for a short while until the rain passed. She changed her course, turning up a lane and then cutting through a tall hedgerow of roses. Thorns tugged at her skirts, detaining her, but once she had freed herself, she looked up and, with a gasp, lurched to a halt once more.
John Thornton turned at the sound of the brush scraping through fabric. In his hand, he still held the rose he had just sentimentally plucked, but the vision which drew his eye froze him. Margaret? His Margaret, here and glowing with fresh radiance as she smiled up to him? It had to be a dream! He took a step toward her, experimentally offering the rose he held, but afraid to speak lest he shatter this heavenly reverie.
Reality blossomed when her warm, damp hand met his. She looked openly into his face, her eyes smiling her relief at his welcome. They stared at one another for several seconds, neither turning loose of their rose as the rain pooled inside its petals. Margaret had at first seemed hesitant, but the longer he gazed down at her, searching for the loving words he wished to declare, the more confident she grew. At last, her fingers closed fully around his. “Come,” she beckoned, a lively warmth glowing upon her cheeks. “There is a house this way!”
He followed her willingly, clutching her small hand as though she were a phantom, and taking care that the thorns of their shared rose should bite into his own palm and not hers. A brief gust swept over them, and his hat sailed forever beyond his reach. He glanced at it as it went, but not for the whole world would he relinquish the treasure he held.
After only a moment, she led him to a low thatched hut. He looked about disbelievingly. This solitary place could surely not be her destination! Why would she bring him here? And alone? His breath quickened. It could not be real! Only in his most vivid imaginings would she make herself so vulnerable, placing her trust so wholly in his honour.
She released his hand and hesitated expectantly. Dream or no, it was only proper that he should open the door. He struggled with the decayed latch for only a moment, and then he was gesturing for her to enter the rustic little abode before him. Her cheeks pink, she did.
John bolted the door against the rain once more, then turned back to her. Margaret’s face lit with inscrutable pleasure- could it be he who had inspired such an expression? He studied her clear, bright eyes, the warm blush, and those full, delicately turned lips. A few rain drops had pooled into one on her cheek, and begun the slow descent down to her jaw. Entranced, his body responded.
He caught the drop with his forefinger, so lightly that he scarcely touched her skin. He could feel the heat radiating from her breath, brushing over the back of his fingers. He no longer cared if he were hallucinating.
His heart hammering in his throat, he fairly lunged for her. His hands found her shoulders, hungrily sliding down her back as he drew her to his chest. Ducking his face under the brim of her hat, he sought to taste his dream. She was sweet, and soft, and warm… and very real.
He drew back, panting with wide eyes. “Margaret!” he whispered at last. His lips were still misted from the touch of hers, and he licked them self-consciously. Her gaze was turned down now, looking on the arms he had wrapped possessively around her. Guiltily, he started to withdraw, but then she looked up. She was smiling- almost laughing, even.
There was so much he longed to say to her, so much he would ask, but her eyes gave him the answer to the most important question of all. He had yearned for her so long, and here by some awesome wonder she seemed content in his embrace! He could not bear another moment without claiming her for his own. Those brilliant eyes still shone up to him, and her mouth tipped lusciously in shy acceptance.
John had not spent countless hours in church staring at her back without making a careful study of the pin holding her hat in place. So many times he had envisioned slipping it from her thickly coiled hair, then sweeping that final barrier to her lovely face out of his way. Without even asking, and sensing somehow that she would not object, he now fulfilled that fantasy.
Her eyes steadily held his, her face flushed with maidenly innocence, and he felt, of a certainty, that she had longed for this reunion as fervently as he. Could it be? He rightly ought to speak to her, but had never employed his words to any great effect where she had been concerned. Never before had she granted him such tenderness, and this without speaking a word! What matter if his proposal came in the form of a more unmistakable eloquence?
The hat dropped from his hand, rolling to rest somewhere behind her. His gaze scanned over her mouth, then raised back to hers in an unspoken question. The corners of her eyes softened, and she offered the barest lift of her chin. It was enough.
His face dipped to hers once more, trembling with the new reality of her closeness. Before, he had doubted his senses, but he did so no longer. Fear mingled with elation as he drew near. She was waiting for him, her lashes fallen over her cheeks and her lips slightly parted. A soft moan escaped him as he closed the remaining breath between them.
At his glad sigh, Margaret had also moved in unrestrained reciprocation. It happened that their noses bumped uncomfortably, but John was not deterred. Her eyes flashed up again, and she had opened her mouth to apologize, but he swept down to cover it with his own. Unpracticed in the art though they both might be, he was determined to learn her- each exquisite detail. With every gentle brush of his mouth, he explored the pouting little ridge outlining her lower lip, savouring the velvety softness of its curve, and sipping of the succulent dew just inside the rim.
Margaret almost forgot breathe, so wholly absorbed was she with his caresses. After some seconds, she at last remembered to take a great, trembling draught of air, causing her to part her lips even further. With a throaty groan, John took advantage of her shift in posture to draw her even more intimately to himself. The abandoned little dwelling was silent but for the sound of their synchronized breaths, punctuated by the soft friction of their kisses.
Margaret’s eyes fluttered open. She wanted to see him! It was so strange to be this close, to examine for herself every misted drop of rain on his face, the lines of care creasing his forehead, and each dark hair of his lashes and brows. The taste of him on her lips was somehow fresh and delicious, and so sensually revealing of his bitter longings. With profound humility, she recognized the licence and privilege he extended to her. It could be hers to wash away his sorrow, and to light his darkened way- if she would only accept him. She continued to respond to the tender strokes of his mouth, but her eyes traced lovingly over his strong, square face bent in submission to her. Hesitantly, she reached up to touch the short, masculine hairs curling down the edge of his jawline.
Blue eyes startled open, but he did not draw away. She felt him smile, heard another little shudder of joy escape him, and his gentle expression held hers as he tugged her body closer. His upper lip, rough from his long day, teased and tickled the inner parts of her mouth in a way she had never imagined. Discomfited by such near eye contact, but unwilling to relinquish the awakening tenderness growing between them, both began to chuckle very softly. Their amusement stole the dexterity from their caresses, the pleasure shining in both faces overpowering the heady play of their lips.
Margaret, beginning to lose the last threads of her composure, lifted her chin still more and nestled her smiling mouth at the deepening line below his cheek, where a broad expression of euphoria pulled at his face. He nuzzled her faintly in sympathy, a low luxuriating breath whispering over her skin. “Margaret,” his well-remembered tones caressed her name as he pronounced it. “What are you doing here?”
She pulled back to meet his eyes again, her fingers still threading through the hairs of his jaw. “I am visiting with Mr Bell. I never thought to see you here!”
One side of his mouth creased. “You are not sorry to see me?”
She began to blink, her lips quivering into the flourishing radiance of everything she felt in that moment. All of the pent-up trepidation and regret dissipated now in the face of his gladness at their reunion. “I have missed you,” she whispered. “I thought it would be you who might not wish to see me!”
He groaned, tightening his grip around her still more. “I want you with me from hereafter, my love. Would you…” he placed another soft kiss on her lips, then drew back, his eyes full of apprehension, “would you come back to Milton with me?”
The glow in her eyes was so immediate, and so articulate, that he wanted no other answer. He shook in relief, lifting her up and sweeping her long skirts in a circle about his feet. “Margaret!” he cried jubilantly. “Are you certain?” he paused, setting her down once more. His brow furrowed in sudden disappointment and frustration. “I may have to ask you to wait some while. I… I do not know where I stand at present.”
Her small hands, both clutching the front of his dampened waistcoat now, flexed tightly. “I believe I might have some encouraging news for you, then. Would your standing be improved by full ownership of Marlborough Mills?”
He stared, aghast. “Full… do you mean that Mr Bell has…?”
She nodded. “It is so very good of him! Now I think I know what he meant when he tried to tell me what he wished. Oh, but there is more I must tell you!” She quivered in tense anxiety, alarmed at the painful subject which she must justly broach.
He stilled her with an assertive press of his lips to hers- his right and honour, now, in the most glorious shift of circumstance his life had ever known. “I know of your brother,” he murmured. “Forgive me, love, for speaking so harshly. I was unjust. May we put it behind us?”
Precious air rushed into her lungs and she trembled in joyous relief. “Yes, John.”
A wide grin split his face, the brilliance of his contentment emanating from his flawless smile in their small shelter. There was still so much to be said, many paths which must be crossed before he might bring her to his home in the exultant triumph of a groom, favoured with a woman’s devotion. He refused to think on that now. She was in his arms- the woman he had so long ached to love, and despaired of ever pleasing. Tipping his head playfully toward the door, he asked with sparkling eyes, “How long do you expect before the rain lightens and we may return to your Mr Bell?”
A mischievous twinkle lit Margaret’s expression. “It could be hours yet,” she laughed.