**Note: Video was not created by me, but when I came across it on youtube, I thought the music fitting for the beginning of this story.**
Upon the train platform stood two figures holding each other, the pervasive shadows of night conquering the beams of moonlight unable to reach them. Alongside them, a train hissed, exhaling melancholy breaths of lingering steam. To the few travelers passing by them at the depot, the couple had every appearance of being lovers as they shared an embrace, whispered words, and then pulled apart to search each other's saddened gazes.
But to John Thornton, who was anything but a stranger to one half of the pair, in that moment, he felt as though he never really knew the woman standing just a few feet away, willingly wrapped in the arms of another man – a man who was not he.
All John could do was watch breathlessly nearby, a sea of hurt, anger, and jealousy churning dangerously below the surface. Every muscle within him ached to reach out and physically remove the man from the arms of the woman he loved. His hands clenched in eagerness to do just that. Throat constricting with the tide of emotion swelling within, he fought back the rare surge of tears and chastising words, and in self-preservation, allowed a brief but violent wave of censure to roll over him. How could she sneak around at night, unchaperoned and wholly vulnerable to the whims of a man unwilling to court her properly? And he, esteemed mill master and magistrate, was no gentleman? The man before him was acting anything but a gentleman under such circumstances.
And Margaret. Since their very first meeting, he had considered her a lady far above all others. But now, he second guessed everything he thought he knew about her as he watched the couple. Had he been fooled? Had everything he had built her up to be in his mind just been a fabrication by design of his own longings, his own desire? Or was this just a momentary lapse of judgement, a mistake she would soon regret? What was he missing that could possibly explain the absurdity of this unfolding scene before him?
He shook his head in despair.
Shattered. Regardless of it all, no other word could better describe the state of his heart and the image of perfection he had so passionately painted of Margaret. If he thought her rejection stung, this discovery ripped him to pieces.
No doubt she would find her reputation damaged as well – perhaps it already was, though the judgement of her selfless defense of him on the very steps of his home would be nothing in comparison to the condemnation she would receive if word spread of her endeavors this night, wrapped in a public display of passion.
Where her reputation might once have been saved through their marriage, maybe even the passage of time, it would never recover from an event such as this, were it to get out. A tryst in the middle of the night with an unknown man? Impossible! And ultimately, her reputation would be irredeemable in the eyes of society.
Having been refused the privilege of saving her reputation once before, he couldn't – wouldn't – allow her to make the same mistake twice, because, despite the pain he felt of seeing her with another, it would be nothing in comparison to seeing her, and by association, her father, shunned and humiliated. He cared about them both too much to stand by and do nothing.
So, his mind made up, he did not hesitate to close the distance between himself and the object of his affections, his strides long and determined. He inwardly cautioned himself to avoid a tone of authority or challenge, knowing such an approach would only provoke her. He had certainly learned his lesson, and tonight was no time to incite a debate or argument, regardless of how much he secretly enjoyed them. Her acquiescence was essential, though she mustn't know it. Suddenly, he was standing behind her.
"Miss Hale, you must know it is very late. Please allow me to escort you home."
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Reputations - A North and South FanfictionFanfiction
Reputations, like the delicate petals of a Helstone rose, are fragile things indeed... Upon discovering Margaret in the arms of an unknown man, John intervenes. How will their story end when reputations are questioned? **This is a North and South fa...