My post this Sunday is going to be a little different. I recently wrote a short story that is significantly longer than I normally write. The reason is that it is based on a miniseries that I recently watched from the BBC. It was brilliant. And while the ending was touching, it left a few threads that needed to be pulled.
The original story is about the clash of two cultures through the embodiment of two individuals. One is a young lady from the south of England who is the daughter of a preacher and was raised in a very strict society. The other is a very successful cotton mill owner in an industrial town. His world leans more to hard work. It isn’t an easy life.
Margaret Hale and John Thornton may feel an attraction to each other but they are constantly at odds because of misunderstandings and societal dictates. But like all good love stories they do finally connect. I had no idea what to expect when I first started watching this miniseries and I honestly did not know it was a love story. But it touched me deeply. Which is why I could not leave the characters alone.
In the original story, the Mill is facing financial ruin due to a prolonged strike and Margaret has returned to London after the death of her parents. A wealthy friend of her father’s is also dying and he decides to leave his great wealth to his best friend’s daughter.
So, apologies to the BBC and I hope you enjoy my offering of Thornton Hall.
A continuation of the BBC miniseries North and South. (An unofficial version.)
Margaret watched the countryside pass by her window. She sighed. She was going home. She never thought she would ever consider Milton home but it was, now. And the man beside her was the reason. In time her eyes grew heavy, she rested her head on John’s shoulder and slept.
John was also watching the countryside pass by but his thoughts were more in keeping with his position. He was thinking about the Mill. He was thinking about what needed to be done first to get it up and running and his workers back. He smiled as he thought about the woman’s head resting on his shoulder. He had never experienced such overwhelming love. He had also never thought that she would accept him but she did. In time he too slept. It had been a very long day, both physically and emotionally.
As John helped his soon to be bride into his home, he could feel her exhaustion. Food and sleep he thought, that will put it right. But as he came into the parlor, he saw a formidable sight: Mrs. Thornton.
“John! Where have you been? Miss Hale was…”
It was at that moment that Mrs. Thornton saw Margaret Hale. For a moment she could not speak. And then she turned to John and could only ask one word:
“Mother, I will explain everything. Right this moment we need food and Miss Hale will need a room to rest. A great deal has happened today. Tomorrow I will take Miss Hale in marriage and we will begin the reopening of the Mill.”
To her credit Mrs. Thornton did not hesitate. She called the servants and made the appropriate arrangements. She then looked more closely at Margaret. With a sideways glance at her son, she took charge of the young woman. She helped her into a chair and poured her a glass of water. Margaret was exhausted.
After a bit of soup Margaret was taken to a bedroom. She had no trouble falling asleep. John, on the other hand, was pacing. There was so much to be done. He would start by contacting William, his Overseer and then Nicholas Higgins and then the Bank and a Pastor would have to be found that would marry them that day. He did not want to be parted from Margaret any longer.
Mrs. Thornton watched John. She knew he had to come to her with his plans. She could not risk losing him by trying to come between them.
“Where were you John?” The question was asked quietly, gently.
John stopped his pacing and smiled at his mother. “I went to Helstone. Miss Hale spoke so highly of it. I wanted to see a place she loved. Coming back, I saw her at the train station. She told me she had been to Milton with a business proposal. Mr. Bell left her his fortune and she now has the means to invest in Marlborough Mills. Mother, she offered this investment with no strings. I still love her. And she has admitted that she feels the same way. I will not be parted from her again.” This last statement was said through clenched teeth. John Thornton would not be dissuaded.
The following morning Margaret awoke confused. It took her a minute to realize where she was and what had happened the previous day. She smiled. Her new life stretched out in front of her and she was looking forward to it. But first she had to face Mrs. Thornton. A formidable woman but she did love John as did Margaret.
By the time she was dressed and presentable, a little difficult when she didn’t have all her usual toiletries, Thornton Hall was eerily quiet. She had not planned to stay in Milton more than a day so she had not packed accordingly. There was a steaming pot of tea on the dining room table but there was no John, no Mrs. Thornton, not even any servants. It was a little disconcerting. As she poured herself a cup of tea, a young girl came into the room with a few scones. At that point Margaret realized just how hungry she was. But she needed information.
“Where is your Master and your Mistress?”
The question was asked gently but the young girl seemed unsure of herself.
“The Master has gone to the Mill, Miss. And the Mistress has gone to the shops.
With these few words blurted out, the young servant fled the room. Margaret smiled. She couldn’t possibly see herself as being intimidating but she guessed that everyone now knew she was going to marry the Master. Things were going to change. She sat back and enjoyed her tea knowing the next few hours were going to be hectic. Probably the next few days and months as well. And then she remembered the first time she had laid eyes on John. He had been standing on the gantry above the Mill floor. He looked strong and in command, handsome. A true Master. And then he had caught sight of someone smoking and he became, in her eyes, a bully. She eventually understood the danger and fear of fire in the Mill but at the time she was still a young woman from the South who did not understand the ways of the North. There was so much she had to learn and unlearn.
She opened her eyes at the sound of her name and saw in front of her the eyes of the man she had been dreaming of. John Thornton took her face in his hands and kissed her with such restraint and such passion that it took her breath away.
“Are you well my love?”
“Yes! I, I was just thinking, well, I was thinking of you.”
Margaret quickly dropped her gaze. She was not used to being quite so forward. John simply smiled.
He sat himself properly at the table and grabbed a scone. Margaret poured him a cup of tea.
“My former Overseer Williams has moved on but I have spoken to Higgins and he will round up what people he can so we can at least get the Mill open. It will take time to get it running properly but at least we can start. There have been improvements since you’ve been gone. Higgins and I have been collaborating. I think you’ll approve. I have been to the bank and we have an appointment with Mr. Latimer this afternoon so we can finalize the accounts. Are you sure you want to do this Margaret? Are you sure you want to invest in Marlborough Mills?”
Margaret took John’s hands. “I have never been so sure of anything in my life. This is the right thing to do, the moral thing to do as my father would say.” They smiled at the memory of the man they both cared for.
With that there was a flurry at the door and Mrs. Thornton burst into the room followed by several young men carrying packages. Both John and Margaret looked up, startled.
Mrs. Thornton took the packages and dismissed the young men. She turned back to her son and soon to be daughter-in-law and grimaced. “You did not think I was going to let Miss Hale be married in her shift did you?”
“I have spoken to Father Edwards and he will be here promptly at five to perform the ceremony. I managed to get a dress for Margaret in one of the shops. It is not perfect but it is seemly and befitting of a Master’s wife. Cook will have a light supper prepared for those of us attending the ceremony and you will have to find a few witnesses for the documentation.”
John and Margaret looked stunned. They both tried to speak at the same time.
“Mother, this is wonderful!”
“Mrs. Thornton! How incredibly kind!”
Inwardly pleased, Hannah Thornton turned away to fuss with the packages. “You did not think I would let my son and his wife start their life together in anything below their station?”
Margaret was nervous. She sat with her hands tightly clasped in her lap. John beside her. She knew this was right but banks intimidated her. She didn’t understand them. She didn’t understand money. Except that it was necessary. John stood as Mr. Latimer came into the room. They shook hands and Latimer began to speak only to John.
“This is a substantial amount of money Thornton. You will have no more financial issues.”
He offered the necessary documents to be signed. John took what was offered and handed them to Margaret.
“These are your documents Miss Hale, yours to sign. Are you sure you want to do this?”
Margaret could only nod, Eyes still cast down. She signed where indicated and return the documents to John.
He then turned to Latimer. “Five thousand pounds will be deposited in the account for Marlborough Mills, our debt to be paid in full. The other ten thousand pounds will be opened in a new account under the name of Margaret Thornton.”
Margaret looked up sharply but she recognized his expression and refrained from speaking. Latimer simply nodded his head and took the documents. Their business was concluded.
As soon as they exited the building Margaret spoke. “Why John? That money was all to be used for the Mill.”
“I will not take your inheritance and I will pay back what I have borrowed. And I have borrowed it! You will receive interest. It may take a while but I repay my debts. I am not marrying you for your money.”
With that John took the arm of his beloved in a manner that invited no discussion. They walked slowly back to Thornton Hall, easy in their own company. They knew there was still a great deal to be done but they wanted these few moments together, alone.
As the day continued Margaret realize just what monumental tasks stilled remained. She missed Dixon. Mother’s faithful servant had been a part of her life for most of it and she wished she had her stoic presence today. But she had decided to remain in the south. A position was offered to her by Margaret’s Aunt. She simply did not wish to return to Milton.
John’s sister Fanny had also been notified of the upcoming nuptials but she found the whole situation untenable and had refused to attend. Neither Margaret or John were terribly upset by her decision.
Their story will continue . . .