This vignette was originally written for the Northern Rain blog tour. It was first featured on Rita’s blog From Pemberley To Milton. 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.
Interview With A Mill Master
RD: Pardon me, Mr Thornton, sir?
JT: Yes? What can I do for you?
RD: Forgive my intrusion, sir. I am from the Times, and I was hoping to speak to some of Milton’s mill owners on the outlook of the cotton trade.
JT: By all means, my good man, although I have only a few moments. I had another appointment which had to be rescheduled, and I am to depart again shortly.
RD: Of course, sir, I will try not to take too much of your time. I only wished to be able to quote an experienced master such as yourself. If I may, how do the mills fare at present?
JT: Excellently, sir. I think there is no stronger export just now, particularly with war looming in the Baltic, and our increased presence in India. Cotton is certainly a utilitarian material in both cases.
RD: Yes, I would expect as much. Now, there was a rather bad strike last year affecting a number of mills. How did that affect your business, and do you expect future difficulties?
JT: Naturally, any disruption to the flow of commerce is an unfavourable circumstance. It is unfortunate, but the mills and laborers involved have since come to a working agreement. I do not expect it shall be the last strike we will see, but at present, I see no immediate cause for concern.
RD: So the Union is presently content with your terms?
JT: (Laughing) The Union is rarely content, but their grievances are not serious enough at this juncture to cause any real trouble. I pay my men better than others, sir, and Marlborough Mills is equipped with many new innovations to make the work safer and more comfortable. Of course, I would pay good men more if such an expense were justified, because I have an interest in keeping the best working for me. As profitable as cotton is, however, even I have my limits.
RD: Quite so. Mr Thornton, I am very glad to speak with you, in particular, because I have been told something of how you came to your position here. You are rather unique among Milton’s masters, in that your father did-
JT: My father had nothing to do with it, sir. I can account for my success purely by tireless diligence and careful planning.
RD: You do not find any circumstances in your past to be the work of fortune?
JT: Not at all. If you will forgive me, sir, I am afraid I must make my appointment. Had you still some questions?
RD: Indeed, sir, I should like to speak with you further. May I wait on you later this afternoon?
JT: That would be agreeable. I shall return by three o’ clock. Will that suit?
JT: Do forgive my tardiness, sir.
RD: Not to worry, Mr Thornton, your overseer has given me a most enlightening tour.
JT: Tour? Oh, yes, that is well.
RD: Sir… do forgive me, sir, but you look as though you have had some bad news. I hope that is not the case!
JT: Bad news? No! Nothing of the kind. A gentleman has just moved to Milton to become a Classics teacher, and he was referred to me by a mutual friend for assistance in settling. He… and his daughter… were having some difficulty in securing lodgings.
RD: I am glad it was nothing serious, sir. Now, we were speaking of how you got your start here at Marlborough Mills.
JT: Pardon me, what was that?
RD: Ahem. I was wondering, sir, how a man like you starts from nothing, and then finds himself confidently the master of the finest mill in the city.
JT: Confidently? Nothing is certain in this industry, sir.
RD: Mr Thornton, I have heard nothing but that your peers admire and respect your opinions. I should say you have every reason for confidence.
JT: I have, then, do I? Tell me, sir, have you ever covered any story relating to the labour unions?
RD: Er… Well, no, Mr Thornton. I know little of them.
JT: They can be fickle, like a woman. One moment, a man might fancy himself the master, and the next… and the next… he finds himself quite humbled.
RD: That is an interesting analogy. You are not married, are you Mr Thornton? I wonder that you should think of such a comparison.
JT: Half of the people in this country are women, sir. I encounter their kind daily… though I do not wish to sound a churl, for most of them are gentle enough.
RD: Forgive me, Mr Thornton, but you are looking rather unwell. Might you wish to call off the remainder of the interview?
JT: I am quite well, sir. Now, then, you were asking how I got my start in the mill?
RD: Let us return to that in a moment. You have made me think of something else. Are you not the only mill master in the city who is presently unmarried, Mr Thornton?
JT: That is rather a personal question, sir!
RD: Not necessarily. A married man is seen as stable, where an unmarried man might be prone to take greater risks in his business.
JT: I have my mother and sister, sir. You cannot think I would act rashly with them in my care!
RD: I did not mean to imply that you would, sir. Only that a family man has greater incentive toward stability. There is a vast difference between having a mother who keeps house for you and a having wife and children of your own.
JT: A… a wife?
RD: I say, Mr Thornton, have you taken a chill?
JT: No! I only… Sir, are you married?
RD: (Laughing) No, sir, but I am well familiar with the power a woman might hold over a man. My grandfather still gets a look on his face very much like yours when my grandmother chooses to contradict him!
JT: Your grandmother must be a rather provoking woman. I wonder that your grandfather does not put some stop to it!
RD: My grandfather counts himself the most fortunate of men, I assure you. Were I heir to the estate, I should do exactly as he did- find a sharp-tongued, clever woman such as my grandmother, and marry her regardless of circumstance. It will be a number of years before I have earned the security which would permit such a marriage, but… well, a man in your position, on the other hand….
JT: Did you not come here to ask questions about the mill?
RD: I believe I have what I need for my article, Mr Thornton. Perhaps I may call for another interview should the occasion arise?
JT: What? Oh, yes, certainly. Forgive me, sir, but I do not think we were properly introduced.
RD: That was intentional, sir. I beg your pardon. I am but a humble reporter, wishing to succeed on my own merits, but it becomes rather awkward when I tell people my last name. Richard Darcy, at your service. I hope, sir, that… er… your new friend and his family find Milton to their satisfaction. Good day, sir.