In Consequence - Chapter 6

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A beam of morning sun angled into the open window as Margaret drowsily opened her eyes. She watched the suspended dance of illuminated dust for a moment before lifting her gaze to trace the light heavenward. Slowly drawing in her breath, she raised a hopeful prayer that Bessy had found a peace beyond the woeful cares of this earth.

She kept her swollen eyes fixed on this promising vision until the steady light slowly faded as Milton's murky clouds swallowed up the fleeting opening to the sun. The room fell instantly into a dim pallor of gray and Margaret felt the bleak despair of loneliness descend upon her once more.

****

The shaft of light that pierced the gloomy sky illuminated the high street where Mr. Thornton navigated his way past morning shoppers, intent upon his purpose.

The granite curb sparkled in the brilliant light and sunshine glinted off the shopfront windows. The colored garments and hats of the women in front of him took on more vibrant hues as the sun's rays bathed everything indiscriminately in its yellow light.

Mr. Thornton glanced upward to see the source of this uncommon illumination and hoped that Providence would similarly smile upon his heartfelt desire - to keep the favor of the woman he loved so that he might secure a place in her heart. Taking a deep breath, he scanned the heavens hopefully before turning to enter a store. The Master pushed open the door and stepped inside, where he was at once surrounded by the exotic fragrance and myriad colors of the florist's shop.

******

Margaret moved with a heavy heart through her morning routine. Disbelief, grief, and confusion wrung deep sighs from her as she wondered if Nicholas was truly so sorely set against her. She dreaded the thought of facing her parents and renouncing her engagement, and wished desperately that she could crawl back into her bed and let the world go on without her for a time.

She was relieved when Dixon informed her that her mother was sleeping late this morning, and resolved to take the opportunity to visit Mary, remembering with sudden urgency that Bessy had asked to be buried with something of Margaret's in her hand.

Burrowing through her chest of drawers, Margaret retrieved a fine embroidered handkerchief with lace edging that she had received as a blossoming girl. She folded the delicate fabric, carefully placing it in her reticule, and was soon on her way to the Princeton district.

When she emerged from the narrow alleyway into the open space near the Higgins' home, she was disconcerted to see a fair gathering of neighbors in their tired and worn Sunday best at Nicholas' open door.

Margaret nodded ceremoniously as she bypassed them all, ignoring their curious scrutiny of the lady in their midst. Inside, a small procession of people were paying their respects to the dead girl who lay upon the white cushions within fine-looking coffin of polished elm.

"Oh Miss, you've come!" Mary blurted, hurrying to her side from her position at the foot of the coffin. "I knew you'd not forget," she said with grateful relief as Margaret pulled out the embroidered handkerchief from her reticule and handed it to her.

Margaret watched as Mary gently placed the fabric in the still hands of her sister. "She looks so fine," the younger girl whispered as her eyes gazed upon Bessy. "It was very kind of yo' to send such a beautiful coffin as. I know it lifted Father's spirits to see her so grandly cared for," she gratefully related.

Margaret opened her mouth in confusion at her words. "But we..." she faltered as she stole a glance at Nicholas, who was surrounded by sympathetic neighbors across the room.

Higgins caught her gaze. His eyes pierced hers with cautious appraisal before he inexorably melted at the sight of her contrite expression. He turned away to hide the tenderness of his heart.Margaret thought she discerned a glimmer of warmth in his eyes, and her heart lifted in hope that she might regain his favor.

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