This is a first on Stories from the Past! Today, I’m welcoming author Nicole Clarkston to share a vignette of her latest release, Northern Rain, a North and South variation. Frequent visitors to this blog will notice that I mostly have Austenesque books but I confess that I quite love Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South in particular, and if it came to a battle between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Thornton…well, I might trade in Empire waist gowns for a crinoline. 🙂 Without further ado, here is a lovely vignette that did not make the final cut of Northern Rain.
In Northern Rain, during a conversation between John and Margaret, I suggested that perhaps Thornton had experienced something of London life before his father’s death. We have no evidence of that in Gaskell’s book, but it was not an uncommon practice to send children to boarding schools, or to gain the advantages of better connections by living with a wealthier family. What Gaskell reveals of George Thornton relates only to his later desperate gambles to remain solvent, but is it possible such a man might at one point have tried to gain some material advantage for his son? Thornton admits that he was considered “a pretty fair classic” as a youth, meaning that somewhere, he had obtained a fine education, though he felt it did him little good once life’s pressures came to bear. This is simply a product of my imagination, but it is not terribly implausible.
Regent’s Park, 1835
The lanky boy with the dark hair stood enraptured before the glorious fountain, sprays of rainbow mist showering over his clothing. Blinking the drops from his eyes and squinting in the magnified sunlight though he was, he could not tear his gaze away. It was not the aesthetics of the sculpture or the purity of the falling water which dazzled him, although the fountain’s beauty was beyond all that he had ever seen. It was the steady, silent pump which he contemplated; drawing water from the shattered glass of the pool’s surface, and forcing it into the explosive steam which dampened his garments. What a marvel of technology!
The pump was nothing new, of course. He had studied the mechanics of it long ago, but back home in Milton, there were not many opportunities to admire such graceful fusions of machinery and art. This, he thought, is how it was meant to be! This was the perfect union of practicality and wonder, of simple principles employed to best advantage. That such impressive technology could improve the world, make lives better, and bring something of peace to the hurries and wants of his surroundings, made the boy’s gangling frame quiver in sympathetic yearning. The call was upon his life, and he longed to be about the business of making and doing, seeing the fruit of his labours borne out in the betterment of society.
He turned his face fully into the spray, closing his eyes and standing far nearer the shimmering mist than any of the more refined park goers. He was not of their kind, and already at twelve, he knew it. Perhaps it was well, he reflected, that his mother had at last overruled his father’s desire for him to remain here in London. The letters from home had never presented the facts so plainly, but young John knew his mother. She was no silent, retiring little wife, as even he at times thought she ought to be. His father more often than not lost to her when she pitted her will against his. As a consequence, he would be boarding a train tomorrow morning. This was to be his last day in London for some while, and he counted himself fortunate that it happened to fall on a day when the splendid park was now open to the public.
He stepped back at last, beginning to sense himself conspicuous. It was not like him to display his pleasure so openly- he must take care in the future, or he would be looked down upon. His enjoyment was honest and intense, but it would sink others’ opinions of his self-control, and that he could not have. He briefly shook the droplets from his face and hair, and looked about for an empty bench where he might open the bread and cheese he had packed for his day out. He found one within easy view of the fountain, and proceeded to savour his repast.
Just behind him, in a little grassy area, he could see a fine family in the midst of enjoying their own day at the park. The gentleman was older, but his wife appeared young and merry. There was a boy, perhaps a year or two younger than himself, shepherding two little girls who were probably about three or four. John draped his arm over the back of his bench, observing with some delight as he ate his meal. One of the little girls, the one with darker curls, simply would not do as the other desired for her to- wandering near the sparkling fountain, tumbling after a passing duck, or contemplating the squirrels in a nearby tree. The blonde girl remained sedately
near the family’s little picnic, and complained strenuously when her counterpart would not do likewise. It was at these junctures that their older brother would retrieve the child, only to become distracted himself as the girl wandered off again.
John was nearly laughing aloud by the time three such episodes had played out. He could empathize with this curious little girl, and thought her vibrant wonder at the world quite like his own. It was with growing amusement that he watched her escape once more, and this time, she ambled near to where he sat.
He smiled cheerfully, not wishing to frighten the child. She did not look directly at him at first, her eyes instead diverted to the sprinkling fountain. She paused near his bench.
“It is beautiful, is it not?” he asked the girl.
Her little bonneted head jerked in his direction. Clear, green-blue eyes surveyed him, a plump little lip stuck out in thought. Slowly, she returned his smile.
“Do you like it?” he asked gently.
“Yes,” was the frank reply. The girl turned her face back toward the fountain- not precisely dismissing him, but not focusing on him either.
He glanced over his shoulder, wondering if the child’s absence had again been noted. Apparently, it had not, as the older brother was absorbed in a book, and the parents were chatting with some acquaintance. He turned back to the pert little lass. “Does your sister not enjoy it?” he wondered.
“She’s my cousin,” the child informed him blithely. “That’s my brother. We are visiting for a fort… a fort-night,” she stammered.
“I see,” he answered with a grin. She was certainly a frank little maid! “Here,” he offered in sudden inspiration, “I’ve some bread left. Would you like to feed some geese with me?”
“Aunt says they are dirty,” she returned sceptically.
“It is not dirty to feed them, surely. Do they not need someone to care for them?” he teased.
Doubt creased between those bright little eyes. She drew near with heightened caution, and quickly, as though she were afraid he might make a grab for her, snatched the piece of bread he had offered. Still eyeing him with some cynicism, she turned and gave an awkward toss toward a hopeful goose. Several others descended upon the recipient of her goodwill, and amidst a raucous flapping of white wings, one emerged the victor. Boldly, the flock looked back to their benefactress.
The girl turned to look helplessly at him. “They all want some!” she cried.
He grinned. “We will just have to share a little more, will we not?” He rose from his bench to kneel beside her, and together they broke the pieces of bread. He quite liked the hearty little giggles bubbling from her- it sounded so healthy and genuine compared with little Fanny’s weak and ailing laugh. If only his sister were strong and vivacious like this little girl!
At length, he ran out of bread, but his new little friend did not abandon him at once. He returned to the bench and made a show of checking his empty satchel for more morsels of bread, but of course, there were none. When he turned back to her in laughing remorse, he noted that her eyes had strayed to the book he had brought along with him. She was scrutinizing the title with a furrowed little brow, tilting her head to read it properly. He watched her in some amusement.
She looked back to him with surprised appreciation flashing in her eyes. “My papa has that book,” she informed him.
His brows shot up. “You can read the title?”
She spared him a withering look, which seemed wholly out of place and comical in so young and innocent a face. “Of course I can,” she scoffed, as if it were the most natural thing in the world that a child of four should be able to read “The Iliad.” “He reads it to me,” she continued brightly. “I do not think Paris was very nice,” she surmised with a knowing shrug of her little shoulders.
John was laughing heartily now. “Perhaps not,” he agreed. “But have you thought that perhaps Helen was little better?”
Shock washed over her face at such an audacious supposition. She gaped at him in confusion and horror that he could suggest the lovely Helen of Troy might not have been fully an innocent party to her own abduction. Such was her consternation that he dared cast up any blame to a woman that he began to feel he ought to apologize. After all, it was only conjecture on his part to begin with, and certainly no concept with which he ought to burden a little girl- and a very little one at that. As he began to make his amends, however, another voice cut in.
“Margaret! What have you gone and done now?” The girl’s older brother at last came huffing up to retrieve her once more.
John glanced over to the younger boy, noting the look of embarrassment on his face. “She does not trouble me, I assure you,” he soothed.
The boy glared at him speechlessly, then bent to collect his sister’s hand. “Margaret, Aunt is very cross! You must not continue to wander so!”
“We were feeding the birds, Fred,” the child justified herself. “The boy is nice.” She peered back up at John with the faintest shadow of hesitation crossing her features. Apparently she still had not fully erased her qualms about his views on literature, but his initial kindness to her had in some measure founded a basic amenity for him.
“It was a pleasure,” John declared. And it had been. Here in London he had been largely without friends, though surrounded by boys of similar age in the house of his father’s business partner. None shared his spark of quick interest in knowing and doing all he could, and for the second time he wished the little sister he went home to on the morrow might grow into one closer in character to himself.
The older brother, however, wanted none of John’s assurances. A smartly attired gentleman’s boy, he scowled in askance at John. “Margaret, do not meddle with tradesmen’s sons. As Uncle says, it is a shame that just anyone may use the park now.” He grasped the child’s hand and dragged her unwillingly away.
John stood bereft and empty for more than one reason. Again, he had evidence that he was simply not good enough in the eyes of the elite. The little girl- Margaret- looked plaintively over her shoulder as her brother propelled her forward, but she obeyed and left him alone. He watched as the entourage of gentle folk made ready to depart. The only one ever to acknowledge his existence was the dark-haired little maid, who offered him one last comradely smile.
It was a pity, he thought glumly, that within a few years, even that cheerful, friendly little soul would have her views soured on the middle class. What hope was there for one such as himself when those he encountered only sneered at him because his father had a profession? How was he any less worthy than the next boy?
He returned to his bench to gather his little parcel of belongings. Somehow, someday, he would find a way to make something of himself. He would not bear scorn based on such archaic notions. The will to achieve, to rise above, and the deserving pride in a job well done ought to be the measure of a man- not what he had inherited at birth, without any proof of his worthiness!
Scowling just a little as he stuffed his book inside his little parcel, he made himself a vow. One day, he would prove himself so wholly and utterly that none might ever dare look down on him again- not that haughty boy, and certainly not that charming little girl, nor any of their well-heeled relations! It was time to leave behind himself the lessons of a scholar, and take up the mantle of industry. He drew a deep, filling breath. Tomorrow, he was going home to make a beginning.
There is nothing like a long walk in the rain to guarantee a little privacy… unless the last person you wish to encounter happens also to be in search of solitude.
John Thornton is a man of heavy responsibilities who has many things on his mind, but the most troublesome of them all is Margaret Hale. She wants nothing to do with him, and he wishes he could feel the same. When a moment of vulnerability allows her a glimpse into his heart, she begins to see him very differently.
Is something so simple as friendship even possible after all that has passed between them? Thornton has every good reason to move on, not the least of which is the lovely Genevieve Hamilton and her wealthy father. Will Thornton act according to duty and accept an opportunity to save his mill, or will he take a chance on love, hoping to change Margaret’s mind?
Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools. She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don’t ask).
Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole’s books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.
Northern Rain Blog Tour Schedule
7/8-9: Launch Vignette, Excerpt & Giveaway at Fly High
7/10: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
7/11: Vignette & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride & Prejudice
7/12: Author Interview at More Than Thornton
7/14: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
7/15: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride & Prejudice
7/16: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
7/17: Vignette & Giveaway at Laughing With Lizzie
7/18: Author/Character Interview & Giveaway at From Pemberley to Milton
7/19: Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway at So little time…
7/20: Vignette & Giveaway at Stories from the Past
7/21: Vignette & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
7/24: Review, Excerpt & Giveaway at Margie’s Must Reads
7/26: Guest Post & Giveaway at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life
9/10: Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
Please do leave a comment congratulating Ms. Clarkston on her release and if you enjoyed the vignette but use the link below to enter the generous giveaway.
Congrats, Ms. Clarkston and best wishes on your release! Good luck to all who enter the giveaway!