The following is a vignette originally written for the Northern Rain blog tour. This was the first vignette which appeared on the tour, and was originally published on Janet’s blog, More Agreeably Engaged. As a fun coincidence, the vignette was first posted to appear on Father’s Day.
The vignette is republished here in celebration of the recently released audiobook, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman. I have been unfortunately away from my blog with traveling and moving lately, but I still have one more audiobook to give away, so if you would like a chance to win, please leave a comment!
The reason we enjoy variations is because we have come to love the characters deeply, and in our hearts we begin to wonder how their story might have turned out if but one or two circumstances had played out differently.
In Northern Rain, I wanted to experiment with the characters trying to strike up some sort of amicable relationship after John’s disastrous proposal and Margaret’s humiliating falsehood about Frederick. Thornton thinks highly of Mr Hale, and Margaret wishes for her father not to lose his friend after he has already lost his wife and son. There seems to be good enough incentive for both to learn to be in the same room together. Might matters settle better for Mr Hale? What might happen afterward…?
I think the relationships in Victorian times were fascinating. In some respects, events moved at a plodding pace compared to today’s society. In others, they could move with breathtaking dispatch. One of the things I truly respect is the expectation that if a man paid enough attention to a woman to cultivate any sort of interest, it was understood that he was serious. Courtship may have been a choreographed process- not at all like the relaxed dating style of our world- but once the nature of the relationship was declared, the couple moved quickly to marriage. It seems difficult in this society to cultivate a more platonic friendship, particularly when the parties in question do not harbor such comfortable feelings for one another. It was an enjoyable prospect to explore.
There are so many rich personalities in Gaskell’s work who are worth examining. Besides the relationship between John and Margaret, the family ties are absolutely remarkable. The most “functional” looking family at first appears to be the Hales, until one delves beneath the layers. The Hale family are fraught with their own relational challenges.
Upon reflection, I think that the most profound and likely the healthiest respect is instead displayed between Mrs Thornton and her son. The following is a scene which has long fascinated me- a depiction of life at Marlborough Mills in the months immediately following John and Margaret’s marriage. I am of the school which sees a softer side to Hannah Thornton. In Gaskell’s original work, Hannah speaks grudgingly of Margaret’s admirable traits. One gets the sense that she might have heartily approved of the penniless southern girl, had Margaret not broken her son’s heart. I tend to believe that once assured that her son was happy in his marriage to a woman who returned his affections equally, Hannah might come to truly appreciate her daughter-in-law.
Margaret is not of the same mold as many other women of Hannah’s acquaintance, and is not easily swayed by public opinion. Surely she would often find herself the subject of idle talk, and I like to fancy Hannah as someone who would have no patience for such vanity. It is amusing to think of Hannah acting as guardian over Margaret when she finds herself in a delicate condition. This scene does not appear in Northern Rain, but is intended to flow with that story. I hope you enjoy it ~ NC
The Lost Scene
“Mrs Hamper, Mrs Slickson, how do you do today?” Hannah Thornton received her guests with no small degree of surprise. It was not typical for either of them to call on her, and even more unusual that they should do so in tandem.
“Good morning, Mrs Thornton,” replied Dolores Hamper, primping a drooping frill from her hat as she took a seat.
Catherine Slickson smiled and nodded primly as she also seated herself. “We are quite well, thank you Mrs Thornton. We thought to ask after you and…” her face clouded slightly as she realized the awkwardness of what she was about to say, “Mrs Thornton.”
Hannah’s cheek twitched in mild, but almost invisible amusement. “We are well. I am afraid my daughter-in-law is unable to join us at present, but I shall convey your regards.”
Jane arrived presently with tea, and Hannah watched them with growing entertainment. Mrs Hamper’s eyes widened and she cast a knowing smirk to her companion as they took in the delicate rose-spray pattern from Margaret’s favourite set. It was all very surreptitious, but she could fairly imagine what would be said between them after they took their leave.
“How does Mrs Watson?” asked Mrs Slickson with all innocence.
“She is as well as she was yesterday, I expect,” Hannah commented impassively. “I believe you were also at her dinner party last evening?”
Mrs Hamper cleared her throat. “I believe you meant to ask after the new hospital, was that not right, Catherine?”
“Of course! Oh, do forgive me, Mrs Thornton, I quite forgot! I had heard,” she glanced nervously at her friend, “that your daughter-in-law has become quite invested in the project.”
“Indeed, she has.”
The pair exchanged sly looks once more. “It seems a rather unladylike pursuit, do you not agree?”
“I do not. What can be more worthy of a woman’s efforts than caring for the infirm?”
The pair blinked in shock, their tea cups clattering on their saucers. “I… suppose nothing at all,” replied Mrs Slickson.
“We only worried,” Mrs Hamper covered for her smoothly, “that the young Mrs Thornton might exhaust herself, that is all. She looked rather pale last evening, and we noticed that she left quite early. I do hope, Mrs Thornton, that she will not become one of the hospital’s first patients!”
Hannah’s mouth twitched. At last they had confessed their true curiosity! “My daughter-in-law’s health is quite sound, I assure you.”
“Oh, that is well, Mrs Tho-” Mrs Slickson’s uncomfortable enthusiasm was cut short by the slamming of a door from the outer hall. Hurried footsteps followed, and a moment later, John Thornton burst into his mother’s sitting room.
He took little notice of the two visitors beyond a curt nod of his head. Instead, his anxious gaze sought his mother, who was rolling her eyes and trying to refrain from snapping at him for his untimely interruption. “Margaret?” he gasped breathlessly.
Hannah set her jaw grimly and motioned toward the outer hall with her eyes. She rose and graciously excused herself. “Will you ladies pardon me for just a moment, please?”
John met his mother in the hall and scarcely waited for the sitting room door to thump to a close before he made his demand. “Where is Margaret?” he hissed under his breath.
“She is in her room, John, but you must not go to her now.”
“I saw Donaldson walking to the house! He never comes at this hour for hospital business. Is she ill?”
Hannah hesitated. “Not precisely, John.”
His towering figure froze in place. His face aglow, he shuddered in a choking laugh, a nearly silent cry of joy. “Can she be…? Is it possible, Mother?”
“You should be talking to Margaret about that, John!” she scoffed uneasily. It was not her place, after all, to be the one to convey such news to him. “Stay, John, I did not mean just now!” she called in alarm as he hurriedly started for the stairs. “You must leave her be for a little while longer. Go back to the mill!”
“The mill!” he objected. “While Margaret is… no, it is unthinkable! I must see her! She should not be alone-”
Gritting her teeth in a dogged scowl, she clutched his arm- just painfully enough to draw his full attention. “Dixon is with her, and I have guests!” she reminded him pointedly. “At least go back to your study, John!”
His expression vacant, his thoughts all focused on whatever was taking place upstairs without him, he nodded at last in compliance. At least from his own study, he would be able to hear the doctor’s departure and could go to his wife the sooner.
Hannah sighed in exasperation. There would be no possible way now to downplay Margaret’s indisposition to her guests. She returned to the sitting room, apparently interrupting a whispered conversation between the pair. She resumed her seat with as much poise as she could summon. “I apologize, ladies. My son had… something rather important to discuss with his wife.”
Mrs Slickson nodded sweetly. “Quite all right, Mrs Thornton. I do think young couples are so enchanting! They have been married only a month, is that not correct?”
“Three,” Hannah corrected her drily, her brow arched.
“Oh, yes, do forgive me.” Mrs Slickson sighed, almost in disappointment that today’s morsel of gossip would not be as juicy as she had momentarily hoped.
Mrs Hamper was trying to smother a meaningful smile, but failing utterly. “Well, Mrs Thornton, I am afraid we must be going. You said you might give your daughter-in-law our respects?”
“Naturally,” Hannah assured her. “It was good of you both to call.” They took their time about their departure, fumbling with shawls and teacups for an inordinately long while. It seemed likely that they hoped to cross paths with the doctor on their way out, but Donaldson had slipped away only moments earlier.
What they did see, and what properly shocked them both, was John Thornton rushing up the stairs and encountering his wife half-way. Mrs Thornton tried to usher her guests to the front door as though nothing at all were amiss, but she met with little success. The couple were blissfully unaware of the visitors’ presence, but Mrs Hamper and Mrs Slickson went away with sufficient intelligence to keep themselves and their friends amused for weeks.