Friday, February 23, 2018

My share in the conversation...The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn

It's a pleasure to participate in Don Jacobson's blog tour for his latest book in the The Bennet Wardrobe series, The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. I am sharing my thoughts on the book and Don is sharing an excerpt that you are going to love. I know I did when I read the book.

My review follows the excerpt, but before getting to the review and excerpt, let's take a look at the blurb and learn more about Don.

Blurb:

“I have been shaped by the events of over forty years. The world is a nasty place full of awful persons, Mr. Wickham, and does not get any lighter through complaining or blaming.”

The Countess: An Enigma? A Mystery? Or a young girl all-grown-up?

Kitty Bennet, the fourth daughter of the Master and Mistress of Longbourn, had spent far too long as the shadow of her youngest sister. The all-knowing Meryton chinwaggers suggested that young Miss Bennet needed education—and quickly.

How right they were…but the type of instruction Kitty Bennet received, and the where/when in which she matriculated was far beyond their ken. For they knew nothing of that remarkable piece of furniture which had been part of the lives of clan Bennet for over 120 years: The Bennet Wardrobe.

Forty-six years from when she left her Papa’s bookroom, the Dowager Countess of Matlock returned to that exact same moment in 1811 to tend to many important pieces of Family business.

In the process, Kitty Fitzwilliam helped her youngest sister find the love she craved with the hero who, as the Duke said, “saved us all.”

Who can resist the magic of time-travel? Pages of worldwide history rustle back and forth between Regency grand salons, Napoleonic battlefields and more recent conflicts as, guided by Don Jacobson’s masterful pen, the Bennet sisters grow as people and come into their own. ‘The Countess Visits Longbourn’ is a wonderful new instalment, and we cannot fail to revel in the excellent writing and the abundance of detail as the mysteries of the Wardrobe continue to unfold. This captivating series, that brings together real and much-loved fictional characters from all walks of life, is one to savour, and I will revisit it again and again.

Joana Starnes, author of Miss Darcy’s Companion 

Author Bio:

Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years.  His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio.  His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards.  He has previously published five books, all non-fiction.  In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe SeriesThe Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series.  Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”
 Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations.  As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.
He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound.  Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).
            He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear.  Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.  
His other passion is cycling.  Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills).  He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days).  Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).

 Contact Info:


Buy Links:  Paperback & Kindle

Blog Tour Schedule:

Feb. 14 Austenesque Reviews;  Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
Feb. 15 My Jane Austen Book Club;  Guest Post, GA
Feb. 17 My Love for Jane Austen; Character Interview, GA
Feb. 19 So little time…  Excerpt, GA
Feb. 20 Interests of a Jane Austen Girl;  Review, GA
Feb. 21 Babblings of a Bookworm; Guest Post, GA
Feb. 23 More Agreeably Engaged;  Review, Excerpt, GA
Feb. 24 Darcyholic Diversions;  Character Interview, GA
Feb. 26 From Pemberley to Milton;  Excerpt
Feb. 28 Just Jane 1813;  Review, GA
Mar. 2  Diary of an Eccentric;  Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
Mar. 3  My Vices and Weaknesses; Author Interview, GA
Mar. 5  Laughing With Lizzie; Guest Post, GA

Excerpt:

This excerpt from Chapter XXVII of “The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn,” brings you into a waiting area in the offices of Wilson and Hunters, the Bennet family’s London solicitors. The pas de deux between Laura Jenkinson, the spinster sister-in-law of Mrs. Jenkinson who works as a lady’s companion in Kent, and Sergeant Henry Wilson, late of the South Essex Regiment are the first shots in a relationship that will help shape aspects of the Wardrobe’s Universe.

This excerpt is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction in any form of this work without the expressed written consent of the creator is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.
  
Laura Jenkinson settled herself in one of the well-stuffed chairs. The modest waiting area was made cozy by a coal-fed blaze sputtering in the hearth. Never one to leave things to chance, the companion pulled a small folio containing nearly a dozen foolscap quarto sheets from her reticule.[i] She then settled herself in for a wait—long or short. Luckily, Miss J was familiar with the tightly crabbed hand that had copied out the extensive fragment entitled Canto The First. She would have been otherwise utterly out-to-sea as she read the poetry that covered the slightly yellowed fine linen paper.
To this point, she had only briefly noticed the giant footman standing adjacent to the mantle, so placid was he, although not in a bovine nature, but rather akin to a South American jaguar poised upon a branch observing fauna passing unawares underneath. There was a tension which emanated from him, a controlled fury awaiting release, although not born of anger, but rather a potential for unknown action, either for good or not. Beyond that, though, she expected to consign him to blend into the woodwork, as was the nature of her class: servants were seen only when needed.
Yet, he defied this normal practice simply through his presence which overwhelmed her efforts to ignore him: first unconsciously and then with awakened sentiments as she tried to concentrate on the writing spread across the leaves resting in her lap. Even though she kept her head bowed, Laura could not avoid the sense of his thereness. T’was not his massive frame, towering well over six feet nor his near white blond hair above eyes bluer than the skies above the North Sea on a midsummer’s day. His body, broad—impossibly wide—at the shoulders, v’ed down to narrow hips leaving the impression of an inverted arrowhead. His entire being—both physical and spiritual—unsettled her in a manner thoroughly unfamiliar.
He wore a livery with which she was not acquainted: black wool of the finest quality—cashmere, perhaps—and richly dyed, with gold frogging anchoring richly embossed buttons. The device embroidered on his coat’s left breast, a deeply entwined “M and H,” bore testament to his position as a member of a household of note.
His eyes stopped their perpetual perambulation around the room and concentrated on her. She could feel their boring gaze penetrating through the brim of her bonnet as it blinkered her vision. Her inner self trembled under the intensity of that observation, that dissection which was laying her naked before him. Soon the vibrations that had plucked her psyche’s hidden strings manifested themselves in her lightly shaking hands.
This has to stop! He is a footman…a man…no more, no less! And I am his better.
Laura raised her eyes from the poem and shot a potent look toward the servant fully expecting him to avert his attention, ignore her, and allow her to slide back into the anonymity of her position. Instead he refocused his orbs swallowing hers in their depths, further rocking her sensibilities.
The titan cleared his throat. He wished permission to address her, but was aware enough of his lowly status to petition her. She nodded her assent.
In a rolling baritone that annihilated her last defenses he spoke, not as a servant, but as an educated man, “Please forgive my forward behavior. I am aware that you are Mrs. Wickham’s companion. Since it appears that we are to be near one another for some time, I hope you will allow me to introduce myself.”
Given another stuttering nod by the young lady, he slowly continued, “I am Sergeant Henry Wilson, soon to be of Wellesley’s own 33rd, that is infantry, ma’am. I am on detached duty in the service of the House of Deauville. I accompanied my Lady here today for her meeting with your charge.”
She absorbed his military background that explained his powerful presence to her. However, his cultured speech surprised her.
This is a man who has probably spent years dispatching His Majesty’s foes. That he is a Sergeant means that he has survived long enough to be recognized by his commanders. However, he speaks as a man with education. Perhaps there is more to him than a common soldier and footman to be scorned as a creature of the slums.
She quickly and graciously responded. “I am pleased to meet you, Sergeant Wilson. I am Miss Laura Jenkinson, lately from Northumberland where I lived with my brother and his wife. However, fever swept the vicar and his children off, forcing Mrs. Jenkinson and me to find employment. I am now under the protection of young Mr. Hunters and this firm.
“As you may divine, I receive various commissions from the gentleman in exchange for my bed and board. I live at Oakham House.”
Wilson paused as pieces clicked into place.
A preacher’s sister, like dear Miss Smythe. Thankfully when Mr. Smythe passed on, he did not leave her without resources. Me and the other Mersey boys who’d made something of themselves, thanks to his ministry, worked all the bawdy houses and hellholes around the docks until we added another 100 guineas to send the poor lady off to her cousin in Bath with a decent inheritance.
Miss Jenkinson, though, has more steel in her. Not for her the predictable life of a lady’s companion…or a governess: instead she is an operator who takes the unusual and makes it her own.
And, she is all lady, not like that vacant piece of fluff who just flounced past here on her way into that meeting from which both Miss Jenkinson and I have been barred.
He frankly, but not obviously, appraised the lady’s attributes. What he saw was a full-grown woman with medium brown hair—based upon the curls that were escaping from her bonnet’s confines—and an attractive face graced with light brown eyes. A blush of health suffused her cheeks that framed a pert nose above a mouth that may have been characterized by the tabbies of the ton as unfashionably wide. When her lips parted, he could spy white teeth evenly spaced. A gentle dusting of freckles bore testament to her love of the outdoors. Little could be made of her body that was now curled in the chair. However, Wilson recalled watching her approach after she was sent back to wait. He could attest to the fact that she was neither thin nor plump and had the requisite curves in all the right places.
Her loveliness nearly unmanned him. Shaking himself, he asked Miss Jenkinson what she was reading.
Taking the opportunity to regain her composure, Laura happily replied, “This is a wonderful little bit of work by a friend of Mr. Hunters. You may have heard of him, perhaps: Mr. Gordon who is also Lord Byron.
“He has long been a friend of the Hunters family. When Mrs. Hunters, whom I attended during the last year of her life, was failing, Byron, knowing that she loved lyric poems, presented her with a rough draft of the new verses upon which he was working…Childe Burun.[ii]
“Byron is one of those new breed of poets rising in England—the Romantics.”
Wilson nodded and offered back as he, more comfortable now, circled around from his station by the hearth, and settled into a chair, “I myself favor the Romantics…in fact their Founder, Mr. Blake, is someone who has brought me comfort many a cold night on the lines in the Peninsula.
“His words speak to me and remind me of the trials and matching wonders that confront us every day.
He lifted his head and quoted, entrancing Laura with every word,
The little boy lost in the lonely fen,
   Led by the wandering light,
   Began to cry, but God, ever nigh,
Appeared like his father, in white.
He kissed the child, and by the hand led,
   And to his mother brought,
Who in sorrow pale, through the lonely dale,
   Her little boy weeping sought.[iii]
Laura was astonished at the depths to which the currents of the Sergeant’s soul ran. She could well imagine him as a child alienated from his mother through circumstances beyond his control. How Blake’s words helped him mourn his loss of a mama’s love, she knew not, but that these were the stanzas he was able to quickly quote told the tale.
However, not to be outdone, she challenged back, “Mr. Gordon has yet to fully make his name, so the comparison may be unfair. If, my fine sir, you chose to quote an established poet to me, then I can only respond with Mr. Wordsworth.”
What possessed her to select that poet or those specific verses would cause her to wonder that evening and the countless thousands more of her long and joyous life. Perhaps it was the cant of the universe at that odd moment…or not. The dice with which the gods determine the fates of men and women tumbled out of the cup to her eternal pleasure.

If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence—wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake![iv]

The gleam in his eyes told her all. He was as captured as she. Agape exploded throughout her being.
At that exact moment, the door to Mr. Hunter’s office popped open and the Lady, her shroud lifted, strode out with Lydia and Mr. Hunters trailing behind her like two frigates attending the flagship of the fleet, eagerly awaiting their orders. Miss J and Wilson both shot to their feet and turned expectantly.
She and he both felt the Countess’ appraising glance speedily read them far better than any Gypsy fortuneteller. Then the Lady nodded and mumbled mostly for her ears only, “Hmmmpf: as I expected. Besotted!  
“They are utterly lost to us. Liam and Sean were correct. The story was assuredly not apocryphal.”



[i] 6.5” X 8” See http://www.papersizes.org/old-imperial-sizes.htm accessed 12/11/17.
[ii] Byron retiled the reworked final poem and published it in 1812 as Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
[iii] The Little Boy Found from William Blake, Songs of Innocence (1794). https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1934/1934-h/1934-h.htm accessed 12/11/17.
[iv] William Wordsworth. Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye. July 13, 1798. (1798). https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45527/lines-composed-a-few-miles-above-tintern-abbey-on-revisiting-the-banks-of-the-wye-during-a-tour-july-13-1798


My review includes some thoughts on the Bennet Wardrobe as a whole, as well as The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. 

A Book Review, The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn by Don Jacobson

I love The Bennet Wardrobe Series and have been fascinated with it since reading the first book, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. Don Jacobson is an exceptional writer and his interweaving of history, fictional characters, real-life people, and events is brilliant. He makes it all fit together seamlessly, not contrived nor forced, but realistically, as if his world was truth. It is, isn’t it?

I love that the Wardrobe takes its occupant to a place where he/she needs to go, to become the person that he/she is meant to be, to develop to their full potential. The person of Bennet blood does not have a choice of where to travel. The Wardrobe makes that decision for them.

Don Jacobson’s newest release in The Bennet Wardrobe series is the second part of book two, The Exile, with the continuation of Kitty Bennet’s story. Kitty is now Lady Kate Fitzwilliam, the Dowager Countess of Matlock, and is of an age, forty-six years more than when she first entered the Wardrobe. Kitty is at her beach house in Deauville, making plans to return to Longbourn. After much research, Kitty believes she has discovered the driving force behind the Wardrobe, and that discovery stretched her mind almost beyond what was sanely possible. ‘Without revealing her stunning conclusion’, she must make sure her father has sufficient knowledge to secure the Wardrobe and the future of the Five Families. She can scatter ‘a fistful of breadcrumbs’ without changing any events to come or destroying the purpose of the Wardrobe.

I loved reading about Kitty and her father. Per the Wardrobe rules, Kitty returns to the moment in time when she left. She is now sixty-three, but her father has not aged, thus he is younger than Kitty. It was fun to see her older than Mr. Bennet, yet at times still feeling like the girl of seventeen. How strange that must have been for them both. Lady Kate is now a strong, independent woman of means and influence. She sets some events in motion that give answers to a few things mentioned in earlier books, ah-ha moments. The inception of and the reasons for the Founder’s Letters were excellent and satisfying. There are so many neat things in this story of Kitty and her visit back to the point of her first departure. Those tasty morsels I will leave for the reader to glean themselves.

I loved learning more about Wickham and Lydia. I began to like him and that is quite unusual. Mr. Jacobson teased us well with this inclusion. Now I eagerly wait for Lydia’s book!

There are new characters, relatives of some from P&P and some that are introduced for the first time. There are minor characters from canon that are developed and grow into strong forces of nature, as the author envisions they could and will be.

At the front of each book, Mr. Jacobson gives a dramatis personae, a list of characters and from whence they came. The Gibbons’ Rules of the Wardrobe will follow this list. Next is the Bennets of Longbourn, and it is the family tree, past, present, and future. I enjoy going back and perusing these inclusions as I read each book in the series.

Toward the end of this Bennet history, Kitty travels back to the beach house in Deauville, where her future awaits. It is a touching, yet bittersweet grand finale to the story that is the life of Miss Kitty Bennet, the fourth daughter of Mr. Thomas Bennet of Longbourn. It leaves us a with a hint and hope for what awaits us in the next book.

I am amazed at the author’s ability to bring to life this universe that is the Bennet Wardrobe. He makes it a reality and keeps the telling of it, flowing smoothly and with ease. I highly recommend this series by Don Jacobson. His stories have depth and a style that move them into a league of their own. They are different from any in this genre I have read in the past. I am glad that I have had the opportunity to encounter this author and his books. Thank you, Don Jacobson.


Giveaway: 

Don Jacobson is offering a fantastic giveaway of 12 books – 10 eBooks and 2 Paperbacks. Enter the Rafflecopter for a chance to win.

Terms and Conditions:

Readers may enter the drawing by tweeting once a day and daily commenting on a blog post or review that has a giveaway attached for the tour. Entrants must provide the name of the blog where they commented (which will be verified). If an entrant does not do so, that entry will be disqualified. Remember: Tweet and comment once daily to earn extra entries.

A winner may win ONLY 1 (ONE) eBook or Paperback of The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn by Don Jacobson. Each winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and the giveaway is international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'm glad you stopped by my blog today. Thank you for reading my thoughts on Don's book. Have you read it yet? Have you read any other books in this series? If so, what are your thoughts. I would love to know what you think. Be sure to visit all the other blogs in the tour and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity, my share in the conversation...

It is my pleasure to be the first stop of the blog tour for A D'Orazio's new book, A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity. I'm so excited to take part in Amy's blog tour and especially to open it with my review of her book. I loved her first book and was anxious to read this new one. But before I get to my review of it, let's learn a little more about the author and the book. Isn't the cover lovely! The red roses on the back (you will see those further down in the post) and red cape are breath-taking!

Synopsis:

Is not the very meaning of love that it surpasses every objection against it?

Jilted. Never did Mr. Darcy imagine it could happen to him. 

But it has, and by Elizabeth Bennet, the woman who first hated and rejected him but then came to love him—he believed—and agree to be his wife. Alas, it is a short-lived, ill-fated romance that ends nearly as soon as it has begun. No reason is given. 

More than a year since he last saw her—a year of anger, confusion, and despair—he receives an invitation from the Bingleys to a house party at Netherfield. Darcy is first tempted to refuse, but with the understanding that Elizabeth will not attend, he decides to accept. 

When a letter arrives, confirming Elizabeth’s intention to join them, Darcy resolves to meet her with indifference. He is determined that he will not demand answers to the questions that plague him. Elizabeth is also resolved to remain silent and hold fast to the secret behind her refusal. Once they are together, however, it proves difficult to deny the intense passion that still exists. Fury, grief, and profound love prove to be a combustible mixture. But will the secrets between them be their undoing?

Contact Links:

Twitter:  @AllAbtAusten

Buy Links:


Author Biography:

Amy D’Orazio is a former breast cancer researcher and current stay at home mom who is addicted to Austen and Starbucks in about equal measures. While she adores Mr. Darcy, she is married to Mr. Bingley and their Pemberley is in Pittsburgh PA.
She has two daughters who are devoted to sports which require long practices and began writing her own stories as a way to pass the time she spent sitting in the lobbies of various gyms and studios. She is a firm believer that all stories should have long looks, stolen kisses and happily ever afters. Like her favorite heroine, she dearly loves a laugh and considers herself an excellent walker.

Now it's time to share my thoughts on A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity by A D’Orazio.
A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity, the newest release by A D’Orazio, begins at Netherfield. In the hopes of helping their friends find the same happiness they share, Charles and Jane Bingley, now married, with a son, are hosting a house party. They have invited an equal number of single men and women, including Fitzwilliam Darcy. Darcy, hesitant to attend for fear of seeing Elizabeth Bennet, decides to accept, believing Elizabeth will not be in attendance.

Elizabeth Bennet, living in Cheltenham for the past year, has agreed to make her home with the Bingleys. A changed woman, Lizzy is not the impertinent woman of the past. Her arrival during the house party sets the stage for the events and trials that follow.

Go back a little over a year when Lizzy visits Pemberley with the Gardiners. The misunderstanding that came from the Hunsford proposal has been resolved. Lizzy accepts Darcy’s second proposal and for a short period, they experience exquisite felicity, thus the title. The title is referred to several times throughout the book and those references are apropos.

Lydia’s unfortunate adventure/misadventure with Wickham proves too much and Lizzy calls off the engagement with no explanation. Not only does she call if off, she does so in a letter. Darcy has been jilted and he cannot imagine why. Heartbroken he refuses to attend Bingley’s wedding nor does he visit until the house party. There is much more to Lizzy’s departure than the reader will know until nearer the ending. Lizzy and Darcy struggle while trying to come to terms with what happened, what could have been, what each does not know, and their inability to quit loving each other. Throw into this mix, eligible men and women and some sparks will fly. Oh my, let the fun begin!

Lizzy’s reason for living in Cheltenham is questioned. Rumors fly and one source of those rumors caught me totally offguard. Even Darcy begins to believe some of the rumors. Will they make a difference in those feelings he still has for her or will they put an end to those feelings forever? 

This novel grabbed my attention from the beginning. I felt invested in the characters and the story, enough so that I got a bit frustrated at times. I wanted to shake Darcy and Lizzy and tell them to please sit down and talk to each other. When they finally did try, they kept getting interference from first one and then the other. The angst was not only caused by Darcy’s and Lizzy’s misunderstanding but also by the so-called ‘help’ of friends and family. Anytime there is angst, the romance, when it happens, will be all the sweeter. That certainly is the case in this novel.

A D’Orazio is an excellent storyteller, and her novel is well-written. It kept this reader up late into the night. It had some twists and turns that I never saw coming. Amy’s first book, The Best Part of Love, was exceptional and I eagerly awaited the publication of her second. It did not disappoint. Thank you, Amy, for such an entertaining read.

A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity Tour Schedule


February 21 More Agreeably Engaged / Book Review & Giveaway
February 22 From Pemberley to Milton / Book Review & Giveaway
February 23 Austenesque Reviews / Guest Post & Giveaway
February 24 My Vices and Weaknesses / Excerpt Post & Giveaway
February 25 My Love for Jane Austen / Vignette & Giveaway
February 26 Babblings of a Bookworm / Book Review & Giveaway
February 27 Savvy Verse and Wit / Guest Post & Giveaway
February 28 Laughing with Lizzie / Vignette Post & Giveaway
March 1 So Little Time / Excerpt Post & Giveaway
March 2 Of Pens and Pages / Book Review & Giveaway
March 3 Liz’s Reading Life / Author Interview
March 4 Just Jane 1813 / Book Review & Giveaway
March 5 Diary of an Eccentric / Guest Post & Giveaway
March 6 Margie’s Must Reads / Book Review & Giveaway

Giveaway:

8 eBooks of A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity are being given away by Meryton Press and the giveaway is open to international readers. This giveaway is open to entries from midnight ET on February 21 – until midnight ET on March 8, 2018.

Terms and conditions:

Readers may enter the drawing by tweeting once each day and by commenting daily on a blog post or review that has a giveaway attached to this tour. Entrants must provide the name of the blog where they commented.

Each winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and the giveaway is international. Each entrant is eligible to win one eBook.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to all of you for stopping by. If you have read either or both of Amy's books, will you share your thoughts? I would love to hear them. If you haven't read this new release, be sure and visit all the stops in the tour for a chance to win it. You won't be disappointed. Thank you to Amy for giving us such a lovely book, to Meryton Press for hosting the giveaway and to Claudine Pepe for organizing the blog tour. Best wishes for your book, Amy, and have fun during your blog tour. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day Surprise!

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you, Dear Readers! My wish for you is a day filled with love and happiness. My Valentine to you is a special treat I'm sure you will enjoy. It's even better than chocolate! Do I have your attention?

Enjoy a short story by Nicole Clarkston starring John Thornton and Margaret Hale! It is utterly delicious! Maybe the best thing to do is have some chocolate while you read! Now that is a good idea!

♥♥♥♥♥

One of the reasons we enjoy variations is because we wish, with all our hearts, that our favourite characters would just figure it out! Period-inappropriate or out of character, sometimes we just want to see them get it right without quite so much angst.

Often when I have been digging deeply into some of our beloved characters, a scene starring them will pop into my head that has nothing to do with the story I am writing. It doesn't fit, the circumstances are insupportable, but it won't leave me alone. It simply demands to be written. This is one of those scenes.

Enjoy, and Happy Valentines Day!

NC

♥♥♥♥♥

Confession

Margaret Hale stood before the unlocked gates, gazing in at the barren courtyard. It seemed to her that the entire property had been lain waste. The monuments to industry remained in the great stone walls, the shadows of equipment through the windows, but Marlborough Mills was desolate and lifeless.

Her heart lurched. She tried to tell herself that she had come on behalf of the several hundred people who had suddenly lost their employment, that her offer was for the good of their children and even those others whose livelihoods were impacted by the closing of the mill... but it was no good. She could not help searching every window, every corner of the yard, to see if he were there somewhere, exulting her penitent approach.

The excruciating pleasure of seeing him once more, she would gladly bear; but what mortification her presence might cause him, she earnestly lamented. She must present her offer as a matter of business, refusing to let him see the regret she would surely make plain if she spoke one word from personal motive. His lost regard would be hers to mourn after this business had been completed, and she could not wound him by seeming to act out of pity.

She ought to go to the house. Surely that was where he would be, perhaps even removing his belongings at this very moment. She drew breath and her eyes fluttered closed... Mrs Thornton would be there as well. She was already terrified to face the son– much more daunting still was the mother who guarded the way to him! How would she manage to breach the gates?

Her eyes skimmed round the courtyard once more, delaying just a few more seconds as she tested her courage... and then her breath caught. Was that movement in one of the upper windows of the mill? She blinked, hope daring to kindle in her breast. It was.

It took her several minutes to find a door that led to that part of the building. She began walking toward it and then drew up sharply when it opened before her. Expecting it to be Mr Thornton, she wetted her lips and rehearsed the beginnings of the speech she had prepared. The words died when none other than Nicholas Higgins appeared, carting one of the Boucher children at his hip.

"Nicholas!" she cried in joy.

The battered weaver's cap swung in her direction, the grizzled face split into a grin, and he sauntered toward her. "Miss Marg'et," he seemed to sigh in relief. "I knew yo'd come."

"What can you mean, you knew?"

"Well, the mill, 'tis yo'r property. I dinna yo'd come so soon, but I told my Mary we'd be seeing yo' again."

Brendan Coyle as Nicholas Higgins

She smiled sadly. "How is your family, Nicholas?"

He ruffled the child's hair, forcing a bit of bravado. "Well enough, Miss Marg'et." He glanced over his shoulder. "He's up there, Miss. Second floor."

She opened her mouth to protest. Was she so obvious? But Nicholas only set the boy on the ground and took the small hand in his own. "Stop by before yo' go, if yo' will."

She touched his shoulder as he passed by. "I will, Nicholas," she promised. She looked up at the imposing door, steeled her courage, and pushed.

The building was perfectly still, somehow even more dead than during the strikes. From somewhere above, she could hear slow, measured footsteps. Her heart began to pound again, but she would not shrink. She only prayed she would not offend him.

She tiptoed up a narrow iron staircase, her breath coming more loudly than her steps. At the top she stopped, searching the cavernous room for movement but finding none. She scanned the room more carefully... and then she saw him.

He was scarcely ten paces away, slightly concealed by his position half-seated on a loom, leaning his weight against it as he gazed across the expanse of machinery. Her fingers clutched one another tightly and she stepped onto the long wooden planks of the floor.

His head twitched in acknowledgment– not quite turning to see her, but a welcome of sorts. His voice– that deep tone which sent shivers through her even now– resounded in the still of the room.

"I have been a fool, Mother."

Margaret's steps faltered. She gasped, ready to speak, to alert him to her identity, but he interrupted.

"No, do not try to tell me otherwise. I was blinded, by envy and wounded pride. This blow is the harshest of them all, far worse than failure. Many men fail in business, but only a cursed few cut their own hearts out. I was wrong, but I am glad of it."

She swallowed, daring to step softly nearer, but her courage failed when she tried to summon speech. Walking was enough– more than enough.

"Aye, you must wonder what I can mean! Yes, I am glad. Mother, I judged her wrongly. She never once traded her dignity. No shame ever touched her but that which I tried, in my own arrogance, to cast her way. She has a brother! I never knew...." he heaved an agonised groan, as if his chest were rent in two. "And I was so quick to condemn her who could never care for me. There, now you know the whole measure of my vanity."

Margaret felt her cheeks burning with a conscious guilt at listening to the heartfelt confession meant for another's ears. Yet her spirit had begun to soar. He did not despise her! And somehow, he knew the truth that she had wished but never dared to disclose. Eagerly, she came to stand behind his shoulder, her eyes brimming with tears and her throat now too tight for speech.

"You need not fear for me, Mother. I will content myself with allowing myself now to remember her as my heart wished to, with no shadow of recrimination. I know not yet where we will go, but I go with my conscience clear, save for one thing. I have done all I could, I have paid all men, failed with my honour intact. I could wish..." he drew a ragged breath, bit his lips together, and forged on.

"I could only have asked for the chance to see her once more, to beg her forgiveness. Aye, I go to London to give up my lease, but I will not force her to speak with me. Her agent will settle the matter, and that will be the end, but I could wish for her to know the truth of my humility. Pray for me, Mother, that in this, too, I will guard against disgrace and have the strength to walk away as I must."

He awaited an answer now, but she had none to give him. She ought to speak, to pardon herself, to apologise in her turn, but all she could think to do was to offer him the sort of tender consolation she herself yearned for. She reached to touch his shoulder, and as she did, the shadow of his lashes fell low upon his cheek and his head turned slightly to her. She reached, instead, beyond his stiff white collar, her fingers brushing hesitantly over his chin.

She felt his jaw flex, then drop into her hand. He tipped his head slightly, as if drawing courage from the caress before he opened his eyes. Margaret choked back a sob.

A rush of air warmed her thumb, so near his mouth, and those brilliant blue eyes that had haunted her dreams fluttered open. He blinked again in disbelief, his lips slightly parted as he huffed in astonishment. "Margaret!" he whispered.

She allowed her fingers to fall, but her gaze, unable yet to meet his, remained fixed on the mouth which was again speaking her name.

"Margaret!"


His own hand had raised, longing to touch, and he caught hers as it fell. He was shaking his head in glad disbelief. "Margaret, forgive me," he murmured.


"There is nothing to forgive," she answered softly, and deliberately twined her fingers with his. His chest filled sharply, then he abruptly bent and his warm lips caressed hers.


Margaret stiffened in mild surprise, but closed her eyes and savoured the taste of him for a few sweet seconds. When he pulled away, she tottered forward, her natural balance following him and her eyes still closed. He leaned back down and kissed her again, as if he could not deny himself this one indulgence, and his arms slid hungrily about her waist. He was pulling her against him, and she could feel him trembling through his thin cotton shirtsleeves.










Margaret's lips teased his in answer to every gentle stroke, her mouth opening slightly more. She was standing on her toes now, her breath was growing ragged, her head light as the room seemed to spin. He released her, his own shoulders heaving as his hand raised to cup her cheek. "I am sorry," he rasped, his eyes roving lovingly over her face.


She shook her head with a bashful smile as he breath slowed. "I am just not accustomed to... I had not expected, and I have never...."

"Nor have I. I hope I have not frightened you."

"No!" she answered quickly. "Please do not apologise. I did not come here to cause you any distress."

His hand slid down to capture hers again and he pulled it to his chest, gently stroking each of her fingers. "Why did you come? It was not for this," he touched his forehead to hers.

"I came on an errand of business, but perhaps it is unimportant now."


He pulled back to look at her. "It cannot be ignored. I will not manipulate you, nor will I be in your debt."

"I would not have considered you so. I came to offer an... an investment, if you will. One that would permit you to go on working the mill. But... I did not know that... that matters could be different than I had imagined."

His mouth lifted into a roguish half-smile. "You speak of a personal end now?"

"I thought... well, yes," she faltered.

He touched her chin, lifting her lips within inches of his own until she could feel his breath on her cheek. "Would you have a failed tradesman, Margaret?" he asked, his tones low and uncertain. "Would you have a man who does not even deserve a kind word from you, who gave his heart away and thereafter swore like a fool that he never had one?"

"I would have John Thornton," she whispered back. "

He smiled and tugged her close, clasping her to his heart. Margaret wound her arms around his neck and drank in his presence, free at last to confess her love.

♥♥♥


♥♥♥

Hannah Thornton had searched the premises, and had begun to think her son might have already left for London without speaking again to her. She feared for him, for the shame which should never be his, for the heartbreak and trial he had yet to endure. One moment of encouragement was all she had wished to bestow, but he was not to be found.

On her final pass through the mill buildings, just before she was set upon giving up, she saw him... but he was not inclined to notice her. His coat was gone, his hair disheveled, but his face, what she could see of it, bore the most blissfully content expression she had ever known upon his features. And the cause of such a feeling, certainly, was the woman cradled to his chest, whose fingers even now raked through his hair, and whose slim neck arched to meet his ardent caresses.

The mother gasped aloud, but neither her son nor Margaret Hale– for it could be no other– were deterred from their occupation. Their hapless observer was then treated to a shocking display of forfeited decorum, of propriety thrown over in favour of a greater prize. Lips and hands moved in frantic expression, bodies swayed in concert, and two hearts appeared to be learning to beat as one.

She backed softly from the room and descended the stairs as quietly as she might. There would be time enough for explanations later. For now, one thing was sure: John had everything he needed.

♥♥♥♥♥

'Sigh' So, what do you think about this Valentine's Day treat? Isn't it absolutely swoon-worthy?! Do you think I got carried away with the kissing scenes? lol  This short story or scene is one to read slowly and savour! :)

I love John and Margaret from North & South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. If you haven't read this book yet, what are you waiting for? It is excellent! Nicole Clarkston has some excellent N&S fanfiction, too...No Such Thing as LuckNorthern Rain, and she is writing another one now. :) Nicole is the author of three JAFF novels, Rumours & Recklessness, The Courtship of Edward Gardiner, and These Dreams, with another P&P variation in progress.

Thank you, Nicole, for letting me post your story at More Agreeably Engaged. Happy Valentine's Day to you and to all my readers!


The pictures in the post are stills I photographed from the 2004 North & South miniseries starring Richard Armitage as John Thornton and Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale.