Mr Thornton Takes a Wife

Once in a while, we are touched by something so deeply that it becomes a constant source of joy.

When we need to have our spirits lift, there it is; we just have to revisit our source, and the joy is back.

 

The 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South provides that kind a joy to me. The novel’s plot is brilliant, but Sandy Welsh’s script gives it a contemporary ring so that the characters become even more alive. Brian Percival’s direction is magnificent and gives the viewer a thorough understanding of the nineteenth century workers’ struggle. Martin Phipps’ lovely music touches our hearts.

 

Of course, the actors’ performances are outstanding. All British actors and actresses just have that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes them so lovable. Yet Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage show us a chemistry that shines through the whole film like a beacon of love and hope.

That is why I want to pay tribute to this wonderfull story by writing my own fan fiction. I hope you will bring you the same joy as it did me.

Thank you for reading me.

Luce Fleming

Summary

Margaret Hale, a parson’s daughter, is brought up as a middle-class and well-read young lady in Helstone, Hampshire in the rural South of England. Her father uproots the family and moves to Milton, Lancashire in the North. She is thrown in the middle of the industrial revolution. Everything shocks her; the dirt, the factory smoke, the noise and the gruffness of the people.

John Thornton, owner of Marlborough Mills, fills her with contempt because he is harsh and severe for his workers. Yet, there is also an attraction between the two of them.

Thornton falls in love and proposes marriage, but Margaret rejects him because of his harsh treatment of his workers. Instead she forms friendships amongst the workers and tries to improve their lives by supporting them as much as she can. Especially Betsy Higgins who suffers from a fatal disease, becomes her best friend.

Over time, Margaret will change her opinion of Thornton when his attitude towards the workers changes. But it’s only when he has lost his business to bankruptcy,  that Margaret allows herself to open her heart to him.

Hearts Adrift – Part One

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Chapter One

 

At Bearsham Manor, Hampshire, England, Sir Robert de Briers, baronet, lay dying. His ragged breathing was shallow and fast, indicating that the end was near. This last apoplexy had proved too much of a strain on Sir Robert’s heavyset, gout-infected body, even though his mind was as sharp as ever. With considerable effort, he opened his pale blue, bloodshot eyes and searched for the tall figure of his son and heir, Richard. Sir Robert had one last, yet most urgent request for him.

“Come, my son, come closer…”

Richard de Briers obeyed readily and bent down on one knee beside his father’s bed. Guessing that the old man wanted only him and no one else present to hear, he bowed his head toward his father.

“I am listening, sir,” he whispered in his father’s ear. “What is it that you want from me?”

Wheezing and fighting for air, Sir Robert explained.

“You must go to Paris and find Lily’s family,” he said, referring to Richard’s late half-sister. “Her husband has … an apothecary’s workshop … on the Rue Saint-Jacques. There have been many riots lately, with the revolutionaries taking power. Thibaut Favier, Lily’s husband … has not written to me on his usual date of the second Sunday of the month. I fear … something bad might have befallen him. If so, I want you … to bring the children … to the estate and … become their legal guardian. I have discussed this … with Mr Brownslow, my solicitor in Portsmouth. Go to him and ask him. Richard …”

The old man’s pudgy hand grabbed his son’s in urgent need.

“Do not say a word of this matter to your mother. She never approved of my concern for Lily.”

Sir Robert squeezed Richard’s hand rather hard.

“Swear to me, Richard … that you will do as I ask!”,

“I give you my word, Father that I will see that Lily’s children are safe.”

Richard had no inkling as to how he was to achieve such a difficult task, what with all the frightful news that seeped through from France and from Jake Davies, his poor, besieged business man in Paris. Now he had made a promise to his dying father, so he would do his utmost for his niece and nephew.

“Richard, my son …” Sir Robert’s fading voice once more claimed his attention.

“Yes, father?”

“You must be the best of guardians to them, care for them as if they were your own … Richard, you must learn to love them, promise me …”

“I promise, father.”

What was the meaning of all this, he wondered? Why was his father so adamant?

“Listen, come closer. There is a letter for you … you must read it and act upon its contents. It is hidden behind … behind …”

Sir Robert gasped for breath, but the grip on Richard’s fingers never slackened.

“Where, father?” Richard encouraged.

“Behind the veil …”

A faint, barely audible gust of breath escaped Sir Robert’s parched lips. It was his last one. Sir Robert de Briers was gone.

Richard laid the limp hand upon his father’s chest and closed his staring yet unseeing eyes. He rose from his knees and opened the door to the landing.

“Mrs Briskley,” Richard addressed Bearsham Manor’s housekeeper, “would you do me the kindness of seeing to it that my father is decently laid out?”

The plump, motherly woman bobbed. “Yes, sir, right away, sir,” she said as her tears quietly slipped from her eyes. She watched Sir Richard with distressed gaze as he left his father’s room.

 

 

“Thornton, will you notify Beacon & Sons that I will have need of their services for my father’s funeral, please?”

The elderly, thin butler bowed his head. “Of course, sir. Will you be needing anything else, sir?”

“I will say so when I think of it, Thornton, thank you. For now, I would like to be on my own for a while, in my father’s library.”

“Yes, sir. Sir … on behalf of the staff, I would like to convey our deepest sympathy on the passing of Sir Robert.”

“Thank you.”

Weary to the bone, Richard descended the long, winding staircase and turned to the library door  when his mother’s cold voice stopped him.

“How is he, Richard?”

Without turning to her, he replied in the same disinterested tone his mother, Mildred de Briers had used. “My father is dead, Madam. You can pay your respects after he has been laid out.”

Not wishing to speak to her for the moment, he entered the library and closed the door behind him with a definitive click.

Lady Mildred de Briers stared at the closed door for a few moments, then gathered her lavender silk skirts and slowly mounted the stairs. As she passed the large, gold-framed mirror on the landing, she stopped and studied her face and instantly wiped the grim expression from it. At forty-five, she was still beautiful, Mildred gloated. A pity, that her only son always managed to raise her hackles, but then there it was and it would never change. She hated her son, and had done so since Richard was born.

 

It was June 1793 and Paris was once again in turmoil.

The people were rioting against the Terror regime, the power that had crushed hopes of a good life and instead made them suffer even more cruelly than under the Ancient Régime. The execution of the royal family, presented to the people as the ultimate victory over the aristocracy, had obtained the opposite effect, as people began to pity the unfortunate King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie-Antoinette, both beheaded in January 1793, as well as their surviving daughter Marie-Thérèse, barely fifteen and still imprisoned at the Tour du Temple.

People were murdered, women violated, children left to die of starvation on the streets. Shops were ransacked, houses burned, churches destroyed. It was chaos, the end of a world and of an era.

 

For Manon Favier, fate had something particular in store.

Up until now, the Faviers had managed to keep their heads above water well enough. Thibaut Favier had taken over his father’s apothecary shop on the Rue Saint-Jacques, near the Sorbonne university after he fled England. He was well-known and loved in the neighbourhood. He provided the much-tried inhabitants with potions, pills, and ointments for their many ailments, often without asking for payment. So the people had protected their apothecary and his family. However, recently, Paris had been caught in a different kind of frenzy, where all the values of before were scattered and obliterated. Thibaut Favier’s shop was ransacked, and the owner killed. Manon and her little five-year-old brother Jéhan were left orphans without a penny to live on.

On the day her father was killed, Manon – unaware of what had befallen on their father – had gone out to meet her brother at the Couvent des Dames de Marie, where he attended school. She was on her usual rounds, seeing to the patients in her care, so she had been carrying her apothecary satchel, filled with the necessities of her trade, and a load of various items of food, given to her by her grateful patients. Manon had spotted the rioters, waited until they were gone, and inwardly sent up a prayer of thanks because they hadn’t set fire to the house.

She and Jéhan had gone inside, barred the door, and were planning to make up a bed for the night amidst the torn curtains and clothes the plunderers had discarded, when Manon noticed the rusting-iron odour of her father’s slaughtered corpse on the kitchen floor. Quickly, she had ushered Jéhan into the shop, preventing him from seeing the horror.

“Here, my darling; let us sit down and eat something, shall we?”

Jéhan obeyed but asked, “Where is Papa? It is filthy in here, Manon. I want to go eat in the kitchen.”

“We cannot, my darling.”

Manon debated what she should do while she handed a lump of bread and a piece of cheese to her brother. Jéhan had to be told about their father, but it was not necessary for him to see the bloodied corpse. Her stomach churning and her heart grieving, she applied herself to feeding her brother and putting him to sleep on a pile of rags in one corner of the shop. She waited until he was fast asleep before she ventured back into the kitchen again.

They had stabbed Papa multiple times, and he had bled copiously until one blade pierced his heart. His face, surprisingly, was intact and serene, as if he had not suffered a great deal. Maybe he had not, Manon mused, but she knew she was fooling herself. A large lump had formed in her throat, now threatening to burst. She closed her eyes, heaved a deep sigh and started to think.

She and Jéhan could not stay in Paris, that was obvious. The riots were becoming harsher by the day, and half the city was on the run for the countryside. The populace that would stay, was a rabble of miscreants and murderers, not to mention the Terror’s troops. Any time now, she and her brother could be arrested and put on trial, which would certainly lead to them being beheaded. The fact that Jéhan was only five years old would not stop the monsters. Her own fate would even be worse than death.

Manon shivered, swallowed, and made her decision. She would bury her father in the small back garden, where they grew their herbs, and would then wait until the rebellion against the Terror slowed down enough for her to leave Paris. Where she would be going, she did not know yet. But she was going, no doubt about that.

 

 

 

 

John Thornton Meets Fitzwilliam Darcy … or How Everything Is Possible in a Period Drama Christmas Story

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Milton, Lancashire – December 24th, 1850

Tomorrow was Christmas, and it should have been a merry time.

Another year was over, and Marlborough Mills had done reasonably well, despite the strike. Or should I say, it had been doing well before the strike? Ah …

Men would seek to better themselves, and strive to bring down mill masters who stood in their way.

I, John Thornton, was in their black book even more, because I brought in Irish workers to do their jobs while the strike lasted. Yet who could blame me for trying to save my business, no matter what it took?

On this icy-cold Christmas Eve, I was on my way to my banker. My workers were at home, celebrating the season as best they could, and God knew they hadn’t much to celebrate with.

I was not inclined to celebrate, either. I had my mill to keep safe and sound, so I was to learn of an investor Latimer had invited to come and meet me. As I walked the cold, deserted streets of Milton, snow crunched and ice crackled underfoot. It was one of the harshest winters I had ever known.

I hurried on, past the dark alley entrances of the Princeton district, eager to reach the larger, well-to-do streets further on. From one of these dismal openings came a keening, sobbing sound. I stopped to investigate, and froze; a woman was holding a bundle of rags close to her chest, weeping disparagingly. She seemed lost in her own, distant world of misery.

“Can I be of assistance, madam?” I asked, stunning myself in the process. What possessed me to even talk to the woman? But she looked up at me, and I was shocked to see that she was very young, and approximately the same age as Margaret. Something moved deep inside me.

“My little girl is dying, mister,” she sobbed. “She’s just three weeks old, and my milk has run dry. Oh, what am I to do? My dearest girl …”

From out of the dark, a young boy darted at me. “Leave me sister alone, you bastard!” His small fists pounded at me, but he was too short to reach higher than my thighs. I grabbed him by the shoulders and made him to look at me.

“Listen, boy,” I commanded, “here’s a tuppence coin for you if you do as I say. Go to Mr Latimer’s house and tell him Mr Thornton has been delayed. I’m taking your sister and her babe to my house at Marlborough Mills. Can you remember that?”

“Yes, sir, yes!”

“Then, go!” He disappeared into the night, while I scooped up woman and child and strode back home as quickly as I could.

 

“Mother!” I shouted, and kicked the front door close. I headed for the kitchen, Mother’s footsteps resounding behind me almost at once.

“John, what’s happened? Are you hurt? What …”

In a few words, I explained, putting the woman in a chair before the hearth, while Mrs Baxter, our cook, took the small bundle from her.

“Oh, Lord! What ‘ave we ‘ere? Oh, heavens, what a poor little mite!”

“The baby had no feedings for I know not how long,” I said, rubbing the hands of the woman, who had fainted when the warmth from the fire overwhelmed her. “Mrs Baxter, what can you use to restore her? I don’t know how long she’s been without food.”

“Leave it to me, sir. Jane? Jane, come and ‘elp me!” Our maid Jane was there in an instant, wide-eyed and aghast. Mrs Baxter laid the bundle in Jane’s arms.

“Put your little finger into the babe’s mouth and see if she suckles, while I prepare some hot milk with honey,” Mother advised.

Jane, a slender, not too bright girl, was standing there nonplussed, when Mother took over.

“Give her to me, Jane, and prepare a basin with tepid water. We need to warm her up first.”

By now, the mother had regained consciousness and was gaping at the room at large. I splashed a bit of brandy into a glass and handed it to her. “Here, sip this, but very carefully, mind! What’s your name?”

“Daisy, sir. Daisy Hardman. We live in Princess Street, next to Nicholas Higgins. Oh, Mr Thornton, what ‘ll happen to my little Margaret?”

It had to be a Margaret, for surely I would never ever be allowed to forget her. She who had so cruelly rejected me. She who I would love until my last breath. Margaret, my love …

A weak but distinctive cry came from the scullery, causing Daisy to jump up and run.

A few moments later, she returned with little Margaret clutched against her breast. Mrs Baxter and Jane, preceded by Mother, followed. Mother handed Daisy a small glass bottle which contained the milk. It was topped by what looked like a cow’s teat. I was greatly astonished; where on earth had she found such an object?

Daisy, however, took it from Mother, and after hesitating for a short time, inserted the teat into little Margaret’s mouth. The baby began to suckle, first cautiously, but then more vigorously.

“Careful!”  Mother warned, then said, “Don’t give her too much at a time. She can’t cope with too much food after she missed her nursing for a whole day.”

Mother turned to me and whispered, “Apparently she stopped having milk only since yesterday. It’s bad enough, but I don’t think it too late to save the child.” I nodded. Mother is good at these matters.

The knocker on the front door sent Jane away, and I wondered who would come calling at this hour. Jane returned soon, her face flushed.

“Master, there’s a gentleman to speak with you. I showed him into the parlour. He says he’s from Mr Latimer’s bank.”

I hastened upstairs, wondering who my visitor would be. The most extraordinary vision awaited me in the parlour.

The man was undoubtedly a gentleman, and one of the old school, to boot. He was not young, in his late sixties or early seventies, but it was obvious that he was in excellent condition. He was tall, slender and still muscular, with broad shoulders and a proud, upright posture. His clothing was of the finest broadcloth, his linen snowy white, and his overcoat was of thick, blue wool. He wore tall, shiny boots, that were of a fashion some forty years ago. I had seen my father wearing them, when I was a child. I believe they were called Hessians, and they would have been worn by gentlemen of some wealth.

This gentleman offered me his hand, saying, “Mr Thornton? My name is Darcy, and your late father was a friend of mine when we were at university. I was sorry to hear that he died, after that dreadful bankruptcy. I was one of his investors, at the time.”

“Mr Darcy of the Pemberley estate in Derbyshire? It’s an honour to meet you, sir, although I’m embarrassed that my father’s debacle caused you to lose money. If there are still some debts, I will do my utmost best to cover them.”

“Oh, no, you misunderstand me, sir. I have come to offer you my support for your business. I was most impressed by the way your lady mother paid back all that was lost in the bankruptcy.”

I was speechless. So flabbergasted was I, that I failed to hear the door open. Mother passed me and curtsied to Mr Darcy, in so an unusual but graceful manner, that I was stunned to see her do it.

“Mr Darcy, I am Mrs Thornton, and I am so very glad to finally make your acquaintance, sir. Still, I’m afraid you give me too much credit. It was not I who repaid you, but my son John, here. As a sixteen-year-old, he quit school and went to work at a draper’s shop to gather all the missing funds and pay them to everyone who had lost their money.”

Mr Darcy turned back to me, joy shining in his deep-brown eyes.

“Then, Mr Thornton, I can repay you in proposing a business deal. I want to become a partner in Marlborough Mills.”

 

Later, much later, Mr Darcy and I had agreed to the conditions of our partnership, and were enjoying a glass of brandy. I was very tired, not only because of the long day, with all its demanding events, but also because I fully realised for the first time that I would never share this with Margaret. She had cut all the ties that existed between us when she refused me.

“Forgive me, Mr Thornton, but I can see that there is something weighing on you. If I can help, I will gladly do so.”

I looked him in the eye and saw that, for some reason, that he understood me. I hesitated. Mr Darcy was a stranger, after all.

“Is it because of a woman, Mr Thornton? Oh, don’t give me that suspicious look. I know the signs all too well. I have been there myself.”

“You, sir?” I stammered.

“Oh, yes,” he replied, smiling ruefully. “My Lizzie gave me a hard time before she agreed to be mine. I deserved every ounce of it. I had treated her with disdain and misplaced pride, I’m afraid. But finally I was able to convince her of my deep and sincere feelings of love and affection.”

And so, Mr Darcy told me his story. It was incredible but beautiful. At the time he and Miss Elizabeth Bennet met, he considered her family inferior, and her siblings empty-headed geese. He especially hurt his wife by offending her mother in the most vicious way, although he had a point when thinking Mrs Bennet a bit vulgar in some ways. Small wonder that Miss Bennet had rejected him with words that even now rang bitter in his mind.

“With a few well-chosen words, she accused me of being anything but a gentleman,” Mr Darcy said. “And I, fool that I was, failed to see the hurtful tears in her fine eyes. Tears that had been caused by my foolish pride. Ah, Mr Thornton, love comes to us like a disease, unexpected and unwanted. We feel completely lost in an unknown world and are helpless to right the wrongs we might cause. Men fight love, when it overwhelms us, Mr Thornton, and are as miserable as can be, until we embrace it to the full.”

I stared at him, experiencing a feeling of unabashed comfort. This man knew what he was talking of. “But,” I said hesitantly, “all went well in the end for you and your lady?”

“It did,” Mr Darcy smiled. “I had the good fortune of being able to help my Lizzie with a most embarrassing family matter, which made her see me in a totally different light. She, of course, had come to love me, she must already have had feelings for me when I uttered my ill-mannered proposal. So after a long time, when all difficulties had been taken care of, she accepted my proposal when I asked her a second time. We have been married happily for nigh forty years. What I want to say to you, Mr Thornton, is this; do not give up. Do not lose sight of your lady, and watch over her. There might come a new opportunity to offer her your love.”

He smiled. “Ladies have their pride, too. They need to hear you declare your love in a most sincere manner. They can be offended when you do not use the right words.”

 

Long after Mr Darcy left me, his words kept turning over and over in my head. Could he be right? Was there still a possibility that Margaret might come to love me? Time would tell, but I was determined to watch and love her from afar until that moment came.

 

Dear Reader, a merry Christmas and a happy New Year from Luce. May all your wishes come true and may you and your family prosper in 2016.