Monday, February 18, 2019

Jack Caldwell...Persuasion Behind the Scenes

JT – Welcome to More Agreeably Engaged. Lucky lady that I am, I get the Cajun Cheesehead, Jack Caldwell, for my stop of the PERSUASION: BEHIND THE SCENES blog tour. Jack comes with guests of his own, so we are all fortunate indeed. I have a few questions for you fine gentleman, but Jack, would you please introduce your guests to me and my Readers before we get started? 
JC – Thank you, Janet. With me today are Captain Timothy Harville, Commander James Benwick, and several of the crew of HMS Laconia: Mr. Stokes, Boatswain, and Ordinary Seamen Radle, Eades, and Lauck.
JT - It is nice to meet you, gentleman. Thank you all for visiting my blog today. First, do any of you know Captain Frederick Wentworth and if so, how long have you known him? 
JC – Captain Harville …?
HARVILLE – It has been my honor to know Frederick Wentworth for nearly half my life—more, perhaps. We were midshipmen together, and I was proud to be his First Lieutenant aboard the Asp when we took the Laconia. James, here, was with us.
BENWICK – Aye, I was, as were Stokes, Radle, Eades, and Lauck.
HARVILLE – Frederick has also been one of my dearest friends. After I married my dear wife, he was more than happy to bring her to me. Now that I’m beached, due to this leg, Frederick has never failed to write or call upon us.
BENWICK – I believe that was the only time Wentworth sailed with a lady aboard.
RADLE – Too right, by God. Women aboard are bad luck.
JT - Would you tell us what you think of him as a sailor, a leader, and as a man? Mr. Radle, you are raising your hand.
RADLE – Thankee, ma’am. I say “Fightin’ Freddie’s” th’ best captain in the fleet, an’ any man that says otherwise ain’t a shipmate o’ mine!
JT – “Fighting Freddie”?
STOKES – Er … it’s the name they call the Cap’n below decks, ma’am. Not to his face, mind.
EADES – Th’ Cap’n—he ain’t scared of anything! When we took th’ Laconia, Wentworth sat the barge, calm as anything. An’ when we climbed aboard an’ he saw that Frenchie—
HARVILLE – Belay that talk, Eades. We have a lady present.
EADES – Sorry, sir. Sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean no harm.
BENWICK – If I may comment. I would say the Frederick Wentworth is as fine a gentleman as you would ever find. He is brave, clever, fair, and sensible. And his writing! No one writes a better dispatch than Wentworth! I am proud to have served under him.
RADLE – I’ll sail with no one else, an’ neither will Eades or Lauck.
JT – Mr. Lauck, you have yet to comment.
LAUCK – Just Lauck, ma’am if you please. I ain’t—I mean, I’m no gentleman. It’s just as Radle says. The Cap’n ain’t shy in battle, just careful-like. Eades, remember that time in the Med—
JC – Lauck, if you start talking about your adventures, we’ll be here all day.
JT - I would dearly love to hear of some of your adventures at sea. Can you or will you please share some of those with us? I’m sure each of you much have some exciting tales to tell. 
HARVILLE – Well, ma’am, you ought to talk to Mr. Caldwell here. He’s a fair chronicler of our voyages on the dear Asp and the Laconia.
BENWICK – An excellent raconteur, I agree. He truly captures life under sail, whether it be the day-to-day drudgery or the terror of battle. You can verily smell the cannon smoke—
JC – Thank you, Commander Benwick, but we are here to talk of Captain Wentworth, not me.
BENWICK – But sir, it sits ill with me not to earn those ten pounds you slipped me coming in.
JC – Mr. Benwick! Ha ha. Let us just keep that little thing amongst ourselves, shall we?
STOKES – Ten pounds! I got five!
RADLE – An’ we got only a quid tween th’ three of us. There’s a bit of scrubbery for ya.
JT - I have heard something about “scrubs.” Anyone care to enlighten me on that subject?
STOKES – Ask Mr. Caldwell ‘bout that.
JC – Now, now, gentlemen. We’ll speak later.

HARVILLE – To the subject at hand, a scrub is an unpleasant sort of fellow. He is indolent, underhanded, and rude. He is martinet to his subordinates, insufferable to his comrades, and sycophantic to his superiors.
STOKES – In brief, a pain in the arse! Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am. We had a bad one back in the Med. Matthews, Melbourne … what was his name …?
LAUCK – That’ll be Little Dickie Musgrove.
STOKES – That’s the name! I shouldn’t speak ill o’ the dead, ma’am, but Mr. Musgrove … When the Good Lord made scrubs, he had Mr. Musgrove in mind.
BENWICK – Stokes! For shame, man.
HARVILLE – Oh, come now, James. Would you want a Musgrove aboard your ship?
BENWICK – Of course not, Tim. But all the same—
JC – Well, in case the you are wondering about Richard Musgrove, we’ve included his story in Persuasion: Behind the Scenes, as well as some of the adventures of these fine men. Joining me in telling the story of not only Frederick Wentworth but Miss Anne Elliot are the wonderful Diana Birchall, Marilyn Brant, L.L. Diamond, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Kara Louise, Susan Mason-Milks, Jane Odiwe, C. Allyn Pierson, Mary Lydon Simonsen, and Shannon Winslow. With a group like that, you can’t go wrong.
EADES – Any o’ them scrubs?
JC – Of course not!
EADES – Well, ya can’t be too careful, scrubberly bein’ catching an’ all that.
JC – I said we’ll speak after the interview.
RADLE – And I’m sharpin’ me knife. Just thought you’d like ta know.
JT – Gentleman, gentleman, please! Mr. Caldwell meant no harm, I’m sure of it! 

Ahem, on a different topic, is there anything you can tell us of an amusing nature? I realize you are on serious business when at sea, but certainly there must be some diversion aboard. What of it? Do you have a prankster? One that is fun and not a trouble-maker? I would dearly love to hear any fun tales that you might be willing to share.
HARVILLE – Er … well, in the midshipmen’s berth, there were often pranks and such.  Nothing too dangerous—just the youthful exuberance of young gentlemen far from home.
BENWICK – Much the same behavior as in public school, I should say.
JC – From what I have learned of English public school during the period, that is not saying much. I believe our fair interviewer is asking about harmless pranks.
LAUCK – Hey, what about that time we hung Jackson by his ankles from the mainsail yardarm? 
STOKES – Hah! He screamed like a little girl!
JT – Gentlemen, I see that humor aboard ship is a bit … rough for ladies’ ears.
RADLE – And that’s another reason woman shouldn’t be aboard ship! But no worries, ma’am. Laconia will never be a “hen frigate” while Cap’n Wentworth has ‘er, by God! 
EADES – Too right, there, mate.
JT – Umm … Thank you for stopping by and visiting with me today. Jack, thank you for getting these men together and having, or urging, them to chat with me. 
It has been a most enlightening visit. I must agree with your assessment of the group of authors for this story. They are a fine group and it most certainly will not go wrong. 
By the way, Mr. Caldwell, might I suggest you watch out for that knife?

Jack Caldwell is the author of nine JA-flavored historical novels, including The Three Colonels and Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner. He is one of the contributors to Persuasion: Behind the Scenes and author of the upcoming Persuasion sequel, Persuaded to Sail.


There are still four more stops on the blog tour. I'm eager to see what else is in store for us, aren't you?
Wasn't it generous of Jack Caldwell to visit More Agreeably Engaged and bring these enlightening guests along with him? I worry a bit about his conversation with Radle, and I do hope all goes well! 

Take a look at the blog tour giveaway picture above.  There are some awesome items in this gift package. Good luck to everyone. Don't forget to enter using the Rafflecopter and leave a comment below. The giveaway is for those readers in the US, UK, and Europe. The giveaway will end on February 27th. 

Please let us know what you think of Jack Caldwell's guests. Did you enjoy the interview? Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the rest of the blog tour.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Regina Jeffers...In Want of a Wife

We are fortunate to have Regina Jeffers visit today. It is such a pleasure, Regina. Thank you for stopping by to tell us a little about your newest book, In Want of a Wife, which was released on the 11th of February. Regina is sharing an excerpt from In Want of a Wife, and is also telling us a little bit about amnesia. I learned some interesting facts, not the depictions we see on the movie screen or television. 

I'm always so glad to have you stop by, Regina. Thanks for thinking of me and my readers. Your new book sounds so good and I'm betting we will not be disappointed. 


What we call “amnesia” serves as a major plot device in my latest Jane Austen variation, “In Want of a Wife.” When I began writing the book, I wanted a situation where Darcy and Elizabeth had to learn to trust each other again, without all the hoopla surrounding Lydia’s elopement, Bingley’s abandonment of Jane Bennet, Lady Catherine’s disapproval, etc. I wanted a “clean slate,” so I wiped away Elizabeth’s memory of her family and her relationship with Darcy, including the first five days of their marriage. Oops!!!

In a day and age where concussion protocol is practiced on sports fields and courts throughout America, the idea of amnesia as a plot point may appear a bit lame, but we all likely know someone who had been knocked out or fainted for a brief second or two, or perhaps minutes, who then wakes and takes a bit of time to recall where they are and what is going on. That is what happens to Elizabeth, but instead of minutes, she waits weeks to get her bearings again. In the meantime, she and Darcy are thrown together as husband and wife. One must remember that in the Regency era, marriage was FOREVER. Death do us part, and all that jazz. Divorces were very public and very expensive and, literally, took an act of Parliament. By making Elizabeth also not remember her family, she can no longer depend on others to right her mistakes. Only on Darcy and on herself.

In fiction, we refer to the use of amnesia to advance the story as a motif. Some refer to it as “global amnesia.” Jonathan Lethem in the introduction to his anthology, The Vintage Book of Amnesia: An Anthology of Writing on the Subject of Memory Loss, says, “Amnesia is a common motif in fiction, despite being extraordinarily rare in reality.

Real, diagnosable amnesia – people getting knocked on the head and forgetting their names – is mostly just a rumor in the world. It's a rare condition, and usually a brief one. In books and movies, though, versions of amnesia lurk everywhere, from episodes of  Mission Impossible to metafictional and absurdist masterpieces, with dozens of stops in between. Amnesiacs might not much exist, but amnesiac characters stumble everywhere through comic books, movies, and our dreams. We've all met them and been them.

“Lethem traces the roots of literary amnesia to Frank Kafka and Samuel Beckett, among others, fueled in large part by the seeping into popular culture of the work of Sigmund Freud, which also strongly influenced genre films such as film noir. Amnesia is so often used as a plot device in films, that a widely recognized stereotypical dialogue has even developed around it, with the victim melodramatically asking ‘Where am I? Who am I? What am I?’, or sometimes inquiring of his own name, ‘Bill? Who's Bill?’” [Lethem, Jonathan (ed.) The Vintage Book of Amnesia New York: Vintage, 2000.] 
In movies and television, particularly sitcoms and soap operas, one often sees a second  blow to the head, similar to the first one which caused the amnesia, will then cure it. In reality, however, repeat concussions may cause cumulative deficits including cognitive problems, and in extremely rare cases may even cause deadly swelling of the brain associated with second-impact syndrome.  

In Want of a Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary 
Book Blurb: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” - Jane Austen 

Elizabeth Bennet Darcy wakes in an unfamiliar room, attended by a stranger, who claims she is his wife and saying she has suffered an injury to her head. He accuses her of pretending her memory loss, but to Elizabeth, the fear is real. 

“Surely you know me,” he argued. His words sounded as if he held his emotions tightly in check. “I am William. Your husband.”

She thought to protest, but the darkness had caught her hand and was leading her away from him. With one final attempt to correct his declaration, her mind formed the words, but her lips would not cooperate. Her dissent died before she could tell him: I do not have a husband!

Fitzwilliam Darcy despises his new wife, for he fears she has faked her love for him, better to see her family well-settled, and if love is not powerful enough to change a life, what is? 

“This is unacceptable. I realize I was never your first choice as a husband, but it is too late to change your mind. The vows have been spoken. The registry signed. You cannot deny your pledge with this ploy. I will not have it. No matter how often you call out George Wickham’s name, he will never be your husband. I will never release you.”

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“I plan to enjoy a walk,” Elizabeth told Mr. Nathan. She had been most disappointed when Miss Darcy did not arrive yesterday as planned, and her restlessness had gotten the better of her. Surely Georgiana would make an appearance soon. Elizabeth did not like being alone at Pemberley. Doing so brought on a return of her fears of never recovering her memory.

The butler frowned. “It is not my place to prevent your doing so, but Mr. Darcy charged me and the rest of the staff with your safety, ma’am. Might I add a caution?” Reluctantly, she nodded her acceptance of his warning. “Pemberley is well-tended by the gardeners and groundskeepers, but there is much open land that holds dangerous trails and drop-offs unless one is familiar with the contour of the area.”

Elizabeth wished to remind Mr. Nathan she was the estate’s mistress and she could do as she pleased, but she knew the man was only following Mr. Darcy’s instructions. “I do not mean to go far. Miss Darcy will hopefully arrive soon, and I wish to be here to greet her, but I require a stretch of my legs, or I might go mad.” She added a smile to assure the man she spoke figuratively.

Mr. Nathan nodded his understanding. “Then perhaps you might choose to walk the entrance road. It is wide—properly graveled—nearly a mile to the gatehouse—possesses wonderful views of the parkland and the stream—”

“And I cannot become lost,” Elizabeth finished.

“There is that also,” Mr. Nathan said in practiced tones.

Elizabeth again smiled at the man. “Then fetch my pelisse and my muff, Mr. Nathan.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Within five minutes, she was crossing the circular drive toward the bend in the road that hid the full grandeur of Pemberley from those who dared to arrive on the property without knowledge of Pemberley House, as well as to those who called upon the estate on a regular basis.

As she walked briskly along, Elizabeth concentrated on each remarkable spot, often turning in place and pausing to admire the great variety of ground. Each step revealed more of the splendor into which she had married. “And of this place, I am to serve as mistress,” she whispered in awe.

Finally, she reached a point where the woods began in earnest. It was a considerable eminence, and Elizabeth turned back to rest her eyes on Pemberley House, which was situated on the opposite side of the valley. Its greatness and its beauty had her swallowing a bit of trepidation rushing to her chest. The manor was a large, handsome stone building, imposing in the simplicity of its architectural lines, standing well on high ground, and backed by a ridge of woody hills, which she now recognized as part of the nature trail at the edge of the lawns. She thought there could be no other place for which nature had done more good.

With a sigh of satisfaction, she set her sights on the wooded area ahead. The walk was easy because she was walking downhill. She recalled when she arrived at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s coach entered the park at a low point and slowly climbed to the manor house. “The return will require me to assume a slower pace,” she said with a smile. The crisp air on her cheeks felt good, as did the freedom of the exercise. In spite of her infirmity, the Lord had blessed her. She paused to count God’s favors. She closed her eyes and lifted her chin to speak to Heaven. “Thank you, God, for sparing my life and for bringing William into my world. I possess a loving and faithful husband who promises to protect both me and our family.”

“Does he?”

Elizabeth’s eyes sprang open. She turned frantically in circles, searching the thick woods for any signs of another person.

“Who is there? Show yourself,” she demanded, but there was no movement—no other sound—not even the chirp of birds or the chatter of a squirrel—nothing but the soft snap of a twig and a quick hitch of her breathing.

Suddenly frightened by the unknown, she hiked her skirt and made her feet move in the direction she had come. Constantly looking over her shoulder, she stumbled along the road she had enjoyed until this moment. “Be sensible,” she silently chastised herself, but she did not slow down. The incline she had anticipated earlier caused her to labor, her chest heaving from the exertion. 

Finally, she cleared the heavy woods, but she still did not feel safe. She silently cursed her response, but such did not slow her steps. She was in a strange place, a place she had visited previously, but of which she held no memory. Reaching the spot where she had previously viewed Pemberley in the distance, Elizabeth paused; bent over at the waist and hands braced on her knees, she struggled to capture her breath.

Then she heard it: a loud rumbling coming from the direction she had just fled.  

 Thank you, Regina! I know my readers will be thrilled to have an opportunity to win on of the two eBooks. Your books are always so good and I'm sure this one will be as well. Congratulations on the new release and best wishes. Dear Readers, be sure to leave your contact information, should you be one of the lucky winners. Good luck to all.

What a place to leave us, Regina Jeffers! Wow! That excerpt is quite the teaser and definitely gave me gooseflesh! I want more! You got me hook, line, and sinker! :) Readers, what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day! I wish every one of you a lovely and special day. We're going to have a "special" day at More Agreeably Engaged because I have a surprise guest! Nicole Clarkston is here, and she has prepared something just for you, Dear Readers! As you know, Nicole sometimes writes North & South variations. For Valentine's she has written a scene especially for us. John sees Margaret in London and the scene that follows is touching and heart-warming. We'll have a little eye candy to go with it. It is Valentine's Day, after all! :) 

I'll let Nicole explain the rest. Take it away, Nicole! :)

This scene is another one of those that simply never fit any of the other stories, but still haunted me for longer than I can recall.
In Gaskell’s original novel, there is no train station scene. Instead, Thornton is forced to make the humiliating journey to London to sign over his lease on the mill property. To add insult to injury, he deals with Henry Lennox, who is Margaret’s legal advisor and a known contender for Margaret’s hand.
Thornton might have gotten away from London without ever seeing Margaret again, but Lennox invites him to a dinner party at the house where she lives with her cousin. At that dinner, Gaskell implies that Margaret watches the one who got away with deep shame and remorse, and is inspired to help him. They do not reach their understanding until two days later.
I often wondered if a small change-up in the seating arrangement would have made that dinner far more pleasant for both of them. 

She was here.

The moment I had dreamt and despaired of for over a year was at hand, and my heart quailed within my breast. I forced myself to appear steady—one thing, at least, that I could control. My strides were even and unhurried, and I fancy that my countenance was as regular as I could make it, for my voice hardly quavered when I was close enough to speak.

“Miss Hale. It is a pleasure to see you again.”

She raised her head, just as if she had not been purposefully looking down into her lap as I approached. “Mr Thornton. Good evening, sir.”

I hesitated. Her greeting was proper, civil, and entirely typical for a gathering such as this, but it was cooler than I might have hoped. She was still looking up to me but did not seem inclined to ask the usual questions about my travels, or the weather in Milton, or my family… and I certainly could not ask about her family.

I blinked, for she had begun to softly tilt her head in that way of hers, which meant that something in my manner or appearance had puzzled her. Still, after all this time, I remembered each gesture, each flicker of expression, and each nuance of intonation better than I understood my own. I pinched my lips and my eyes fell to my own hands.

“I am glad to see you looking well, Miss Hale. I hope you have found London agreeable.”

“Thank you, Mr Thornton. I have.”

I drew a long sigh. What did I expect? That she would greet me with an eager smile and beg to speak of days gone by? That she would take my hands and bring me before each of the other guests, introducing me as her friend? That she would come to rest in my arms, as she had done once… and only once…?

“Well, if you will excuse me, Miss Hale,” I muttered, and began to turn away when Henry Lennox approached us both.

“There you are, Thornton! I see you have found Miss Hale already. Margaret, you are looking well this evening. Do you not think so, Thornton?”

With such permission, such a request for approval, I indulged another hungry glance over her while trying to appear the disinterested old acquaintance. She wore a simple, sweeping gown of some autumn gold. Her arms were bare, and her creamy throat rose from the gentle swell of her figure. Her black satin hair was swept up in a simple knot and adorned by petals of fire—some brilliant red blossom that seemed to make those green eyes dance. A rosy blush stained her cheeks, just as it used to do in the old Crampton sitting room when she would argue passionately, and I would provoke her with equal fervor… just so she would continue speaking to me.

Her eyes had shifted back to me now, and her shoulders seemed tense with an indrawn breath.

“Indeed,” I murmured through a tight throat. “London must suit you, Miss Hale.”

Her lips tightened and her gaze fell. “Thank you, Mr Thornton.”

Lennox tipped his head, grinning. “Thornton, I was just speaking to Colthurst, and he is eager to meet you. Excuse us, won’t you, Miss Hale?”

He drew me away, still speaking as we walked. “Mrs Lennox was a bit put out with me when I invited you this evening—made an odd number at table, do you see. I jest, of course, but I was pleased to remedy my own gaffe when I discovered that Colthurst’s daughter had just returned from her tour of the Continent. She is come with him this evening… ah, Mr Colthurst! This is the Mr Thornton I was telling you of.”

A tall, dignified-looking man turned to face me. His black hair was shot through with silver threads of wisdom, and his suit was impeccably tailored. He put out his hand. “Mr Thornton. Your reputation precedes you.”

“As does yours, Mr Colthurst,” I answered. The fellow wasted no time, and immediately began questioning me about the city of my birth and the milling industry.

All this while, Lennox and Miss Colthurst stood by—Lennox looking mightily pleased with himself. They had struck up some quiet conversation of their own, for the lady seemed far less interested in Milton politics than her father. I paid little attention to whatever they might have said, for my own energies, I must confess, were focused on another young lady.

Margaret was standing by Mrs Lennox now, and I could hear the low words they exchanged from several feet away more plainly even than those of Lennox and Miss Colthurst. I could not understand all, for most of my attention was necessarily devoted to rational thought, but I caught enough snatches of their conversation to set a fire in my chest and make my limbs tremble.

“…I do apologise, Margaret, for I know it shall be a great imposition, but the seating…”

“I am sure Mr Thornton would prefer another dinner partner, Edith. Why not Miss Colthurst? … most interested in what Mr Thornton… more practical…”

“I know you would prefer… but I must have Henry…already arranged. Oh, do oblige me, please, Margaret. I promise… not ask you to come down for the next dinner…”

Eventually, I saw her close her eyes and sigh, then both she and Mrs Lennox approached. Colthurst greeted both ladies, but I could only remain silent. She was looking me full in the face, with that earnest, searching expression I recalled so well. Her eyes yielded no impression one way or the other—she was merely the inquisitor, weighing whatever she could perceive in my manner or countenance. I smiled, or tried to, in the way of an old friend. I am afraid it may have looked more like a grimace, for she quickly shifted her gaze to Mrs Lennox.

A moment later, the door to the dining room opened and a small bell rang out. Colchester moved to escort Mrs Lennox to the dining room, but Miss Hale remained, her hands crossed over her skirts. Lennox turned to meet her eye, but she would not look up at him, and he understood her well enough.

“Miss Colthurst,” he turned to the other lady and put out his elbow, “may I escort you to dinner?”

Then we were alone, facing each other. Her cheeks were now deep scarlet, brilliant enough to put the flower in her hair to shame. Slowly, she lifted her eyes.

I offered my arm, mortified as I watched how my own hand trembled. “May I have the pleasure, Miss Hale?

She appeared to catch her breath, then her warm fingers slid over my jacket sleeve and we turned to walk together. “I hope you do not mind, Mr Thornton.”

“Mind?” I checked my stride to look down at her. “Why should I?”

“I… do not expect my conversation to be the most pleasant for you.”

“On the contrary, I consider it a kindness that you would pass the meal with me. Apart from Mr Lennox, whom I have only recently met, everyone else is a new acquaintance. I hope it was no sacrifice for you.”

She looked up, tilted her head again, and for the first time all evening, the corner of her mouth tugged softly. “Not at all, Mr Thornton.” She looked forward again as we joined the line pouring into the dining room, and asked, “Is Mrs Thornton well?”

“She is. She sent her regards, but I told her I did not expect to see you.” She looked swiftly up to me again, and I smiled. “I shall be pleased to report that I was mistaken.”

“I…” she blinked and swallowed. “I should have thought I would be the last person you would wish to see.”

“Far from it, but you may be surprised to know I held the same apprehension. I hope my presence has not made you uncomfortable.”

This time, she truly did smile. “No,” she answered gently.

I cannot describe my feelings at that confession—relief, doubtful joy, the stuttering pangs of hope… I could only stare as we filed into the dining room, caught amidst the swirl of other guests. I had no right to think of her, certainly no cause to hang upon whatever she might say next, as if she alone could gift me with the very breath of my life—but knowing that I was not unwelcome, for the first time in all our acquaintance, sent shivers of ice and fire through nerves I had long thought deadened to all feeling.

She tipped her face close to my shoulder, and in a low voice that would not be overheard, said, “I am very sorry about the mill.”

I do not know whether it was her simple words of solace, or the way I thought I could perceive her breath upon my neck as she spoke, but I froze, gripped by a longing so powerful I could scarcely breathe.
She drew back with an apology. “Forgive me, sir. I had not meant to embarrass—”

“No, no!” I stammered quickly. “I am quite at peace with the matter, Miss Hale. I simply… I did not expect your sympathy.”

Her lips pursed, then quivered in thought. “Did you not?”

“That is not to say I did not believe you would share some remorse. You always were sensitive to the plight of the workers.”

“Yes,” she agreed, then her hand tightened upon my sleeve just before she released my arm and turned to her chair. “But just now, I was thinking of you.” She turned away from me then, as a footman helped her into her seat.

Only a swift move by that same footman kept me from tumbling to the ground in a dazed heap. She… she spared a thought for me! I stood stupefied and mute, my ears ringing with her words and my face heated with pleasure. Her sweet mind had been troubled over my concerns, at least for some passing moment! I fell into my seat, rather clumsily, and fumbled to situate myself without toppling out of the chair and then leaping for sheer joy.

She glanced to the side to arrange her skirts, and her eyes met mine. Her hands stilled and she bit her lip. “I do hope you have some other opportunity.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Why, it is only that I recall how little you like to take your ease. Surely, a man of your experience must be much in demand.”

I shifted in my chair to acknowledge the lady taking her seat on my opposite side, then turned back to Margaret. “I may have an opportunity, as you put it. As a matter of fact, your own Mr Lennox gave my name to an investor—a Mr Dawson—who was considering a venture in cotton. He was brokering some other deal first and has promised to contact me at the earliest word. I would be pleased if something came of it, but if nothing does, I am not yet ready to despair. Nonetheless, it was kind of Mr Lennox to forward my name.”

She had taken a sip from her glass and touched her mouth with her napkin. Lennox himself was seated on her other side, but he was speaking with someone else and did not hear my remarks. The fortunate man! Intimate friend to one whose friendship was a thing to be coveted… Did she hold him in her tender sentiments? I watched her intently for any sign of feeling, but her face was a mask.

“That was indeed kind of him,” she answered neutrally.

Colthurst drew my attention from across the table, and we spent some minutes after the first course was served, discussing a new bill before Parliament regarding factory hours. My answers to his questions seemed to be well-received by the rest of the table, which I saw with some small degree of surprise. My own peers back in Milton would have scoffed and objected to some of my statements, but I wished to represent a reasonable and fair perspective to Mr Colthurst. If progress was to be imposed by men who knew nothing of industry, such men should be informed so that others were not harmed by their efforts.

From Margaret’s far side, I heard Mr Lennox speaking quietly to her. “Colthurst has found just the man he needed! You cannot know, perhaps, what a clever fellow this tenant of yours is, Margaret, but I am most pleased that I brought him tonight.”

“Mr Thornton has always been respected for his opinions,” was her low response.

“Yes,” he whispered, “but to hear him speak so magnanimously on behalf of his workers! Did you not once tell me that he was the man who broke the strike by bringing in Irish workers? I would have expected him to have nothing kind at all to say about the unions.”

“On the contrary,” she murmured back, holding her napkin near her mouth, “Mr Thornton was always the most sought-after employer in Milton, and for good reason.”

“Really?” came back the barely hushed response of her companion. “Then I am doubly glad I… oh, but I suppose I should tell you later what I have in mind for him.”

Miss Hale made some noise in her throat to silence her companion, then said nothing more for a long while. I could not help but glance at her between Colthurst’s questions. I’d never any notion that she could speak well of me in public… and before her fashionable London set! My throat grew peculiarly tight, and were I not forced to speak, I might have dwelt upon my own sentiments long enough for my eyes to mist. Such a wretched unfairness that only now could she spare an understanding thought for me—now, when it was too late to ever win her.

She sipped from her glass, and I caught a guilt-ridden glance in my direction over the rim. I smiled, and something in her countenance eased. Colthurst had ceased speaking for the moment, and she asked, “Have you spoken with Mr Higgins recently?”

“Yesterday, in fact,” I answered. “He and Miss Higgins are well. He asks about you on occasion.”

“Does he?”

“Yes… and…” I hesitated, drew a sip from my glass, and frowned. “He wished to be sure that… that your relative living abroad was safe and well.”

All the colour drained from her face. Her lips parted, her breath began to quicken, and her hand below the table nervously wadded her napkin.

I do not know what made me do it. I have never in my life disrespected a lady, particularly not in the middle of a dinner party, but I knew not how to ease the terror with which I had accidentally stricken her. I caught her hand under the table and clasped her fingers, weaving my own through them and praying she would not snatch her hand away. 

She did not. Rather, her fingers tightened through my own, and she was blinking quickly, her eyes locked with mine. She gave a jerky nod and spoke haltingly. “You may tell him that… that all is well… thanks in part to you.”

To me? Whatever could I have done? I released her hand and turned back to my meal, but under my breath I answered, “I am glad, Miss Hale. You have eased my mind.”

Her only response was an audible sigh, almost a whimper, as she drank from her glass. She set it down, then laughed quietly. She smiled once at me, then turned to answer a question from her cousin.

After that, her demeanour shifted radically. She was warm, she was charming, and she participated in the conversation with a lightness and an energy that I had only seldom witnessed from her. Had we truly spent our entire acquaintance at odds with one another? I must have known only the shadow, for I had never seen this. And now, with that simple, intimate revelation—that I was aware, at least in part, of her motives, and that I held her blameless—it was as if a brick wall had fallen, revealing her in all her glory.

I had never truly seen her, not as she was at her core, and I confess… my heart lurched and throbbed against the iron bars of my own chest. If I had loved her before, when she only showed me the faintest outlines of her true self—if I thought her beyond compare and without her equal when she lived beneath the dark cloud of suspicion and doubt, I understood now that there was no joy in the world, no goodness I could ever claim, without her blessing. If only this hour by her side, basking in her light, could last an eternity!

Alas, the meal ended too soon. With a heavy soul, I stood and bowed slightly to her as she departed the room with the other ladies. She offered me one last smile, and this one reached her eyes as none other had done before that. I sank back into my seat with the other gentlemen, and it was as if the curtains fell again around my narrow existence.

The spotlight had flared, I had gloried in it for one exquisite moment, and now the rest of my life would be a memorial to this day. Old age would encroach, infirmity would take me, and as my eyes dimmed, they would remember only this; that Margaret Hale had once thanked me, spoken well of me, and seemed to take pleasure in my company. I could live on that one moment for the rest of my life.

Captain Lennox offered us each a cigar and something stiffer to drink as the general conversation turned to war and politics. Soon, it was primarily Colchester, myself, and one elderly gentleman named Nelson who carried on the conversation, while the others savoured their cigars. Eventually, it came out that I had failed in business. Lennox tried to interrupt Colchester’s question that led to that confession, but I would not be put off. The man ought to know that it was lives and livelihoods that his laws would seek to alter, and he should understand that no one was so secure that misfortune could not take him.

“Not to worry, Thornton,” Lennox put in, approaching and clapping me on the shoulder. “Why, when Dawson comes through, he shall have need of a man such as yourself. Who better to advise him than the acknowledged Master of Milton?”

I smiled tightly as he lifted his glass in a cheerful show of support. Well might he be light of heart, he who could afford to share his pleasure. How was it that he had not already persuaded Margaret to marry him? Had not Bell told me nearly a year ago that it was expected almost any day? I sighed and drew from my own drink. How I swallowed it without spitting it out, without rising from that room and leaving the fortunate one to his victory, I shall never know.

The door opened, and a servant entered carrying a salver. He went to Mr Lennox, who looked to me as he took the note. He thanked the man and sent him away, then leaned towards me.

“Dawson?” I asked.

He lifted his hands. “I would not have expected word so soon, certainly not to be sent here this evening.”

I took the note grimly and began to slip it into my pocket. There was no need to read it, for as Lennox said… if it were good news, Dawson would have sent round to my hotel tomorrow.

“Perhaps you would like to read it in privacy,” Lennox suggested quietly. He flicked his eyes to the door, then offered me a look of sympathy that stung like a lash.

I could not do otherwise, for every other man in the room had suddenly found a reason not to look in my direction. I rose from the table with a nod to Lennox and stepped into the hall. The note was precisely what I feared. Dawson’s other dealings had collapsed earlier in the day, leaving him without the option of proceeding with the plans we had discussed. I read it twice over. I supposed it was decent of the chap to give me the earliest word he could, but I would rather he had waited, so I need not explain myself before others.

I started to fold the note again, but a sniffling, then a gentle hushing sound caught my attention. Then, from around the corner, I saw her. Margaret… but as I had never seen her. She clasped a boy of perhaps two years to her breast, and I heard her low, playful tones as she soothed whatever had troubled him. She was the very image of the Madonna, so possessed by earthly innocence and maternal grace, and I could have wept then and there.

I cleared my throat, for I truly did fear that I would emit some strange, presumptuous cry, and she lifted her head with a gasp. “Mr Thornton!” She shifted the bundle in her arms, patting the child’s back.

I stepped closer, trying to force myself to breathe. “This must be Mrs Lennox’s child?”

She nodded and put her finger to her lips. “Occasionally, his nurse is unable to calm him, and he asks for me.”

“Even during dinner parties? Mrs Lennox allows this?”

“I… do not mind being called away from dinner parties,” she offered with a sheepish smile.

“But you will come back down?” I asked, an undisguised urgency in my tones.

She gazed steadily at me, her lips parted, and she whispered, “Yes.” Her eyes went to the note in my hand, and she frowned. “Have you been called away? Some bad news?”

I lifted it dismissively. “A lost opportunity, no more.”

Her brow furrowed. “Mr Thornton, will you tell me the truth if I ask it? Not that I could suppose you capable of falsehood, but would you speak openly, without trying to smooth over details you might think I do not wish to hear?”

I stared long into those brilliant eyes I remembered so well, until her cheeks pinked. Her pupils dilated, and her breathing became irregular. “I will always do you that courtesy, Miss Hale. As I hope you would do for me.”

She bit her lip and shifted the child in her arms. “Perhaps I owe you a full confession before I ask after your affairs.”

“You owe me nothing. Mr Bell and Mr Higgins both confided in me, things they thought I would already have known. From that, I gathered enough to understand whom you were protecting, and I cannot fault a single act of yours. Rather, I ought to beg your forgiveness for being unkind when you most needed a friend.”

Her mouth opened slightly, her eyes rounded, and she was blinking back tears. “You were never unkind, sir. Never! I believe it was natural for you to be angry, and I wished then that I could have known what to say or do to alleviate what you must have felt… but you were never unkind, for all that.”

My throat tightened, and I tried once or twice to speak before I found my voice. “I thought you would have despised me.”

She shook her head gently. We stood there for a moment, simply staring at one another until her arms began to sag again. I stepped closer and extended my own arms. “Let me help you. He must be growing heavy.”

She glanced down to his face, nestled against her shoulder. “He has just fallen asleep. I am afraid to wake him.”

I touched the child’s hand, and when I found the fingers limp, I lifted his arm, then chuckled. “I do not think he will wake until morning.”

It was almost as if I were embracing her; stepping so close, my fingers brushing hers, my arms sliding down the length of hers as she passed the sleeping child to me. So close were we that I truly could feel her breath on my cheek, sense her warmth through my sleeves, and smell the rosewater in her hair. She drew back once the child was secure in my arms and gazed up at me strangely.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

She slowly shook her head again, a smile tugging at her lips. “Nothing at all.”

“Where is his room?”

She turned and led the way, up the winding case of stairs and down a long hall. When she reached the correct door, she knocked quietly, but there was no answer. “I suppose his nurse must still be downstairs,” she said.

She opened the door and beckoned me into that darkened room after her. A single candle burned against the far wall, but the shadows were dim and even the sounds of our feet muffled into the soft carpet. Into that dream-like world I followed her, a world where the hardships of the day were no more than a memory and the only defined being was her. For a moment, I wished the child would awaken in a fit of tears, just so I might have reason to stay a little longer.

He did not. I laid him down in his bed, and Margaret leaned over my arm to adjust his pillow and blanket. Then he was settled, and we both stepped away with suspended breath.

No sounds emerged from the crib. We stepped farther back together, giddy in our triumph, and I discovered how close she still was to me. Her hair nearly brushed my chin, and had I but leaned a fraction, my arm would naturally have fallen around her waist. I dipped my shoulder towards her… I do not believe I could have helped it if I had wanted to. She lifted her face, reflecting the warm glow of the room’s single candle… and she leaned closer.

Her cheek looked so soft. I do not know precisely when or how my hand raised, but I shall never forget the instant my index finger first caressed her velvet skin. She drew a sharp breath but did not flinch away. My courage grew, and I allowed a second finger to trace the edge of her jaw.

Her lips parted and she blinked. “We should leave the room,” she whispered.

I dropped my hand as if scalded, and she turned away towards the door. I followed, chastising myself all the while. I had forgotten myself, indeed! How could I have taken such a liberty?

She stopped just outside, and I turned to close the door to the room. I thought she would immediately step away, putting as much distance between us as possible, but she was waiting for me when I turned back.

I hung my head, closing my eyes for a moment. “Miss Hale, please forgive me.”

Her brow wrinkled. “There is nothing to forgive, Mr Thornton.”

“I think there is. I placed you in an uncomfortable position and obliged you to stop me. I should never have presumed so.”

“I only said that we should leave the room. I would not like to wake the child.”

“I… what?” I caught impulsively at her hand. “You did not object to me touching you as I did?”

She said nothing… but she smiled. Cautiously, I reached for her other hand and drew her a step closer. “Did you have some question before that you wished to ask me?”

She nodded. “You are still looking for work of some kind? And pray, be straightforward. I do not seek to mortify you.”

I could not help a soft laugh. “You always were direct, Miss Hale. Yes, I am. I have failed, and I am not ashamed to own it. I know that something or other will come to my hand, but I may be some while in finding it. I have nothing to offer, even if I thought you would wish—”

“I wanted to ask if you would be interested… that is, would you be willing, if it were possible….” She bit her lip, clenched her eyes, then looked up into my own with an intensity that startled me. “I have some fifteen thousand pounds, lying in the bank and doing no one any good whatsoever. I ought to invest it somewhere. I was going to speak with Mr Lennox tomorrow to ask if it were possible to write up a loan, but… would you even agree to it?”

I drew back, studying her. “You would ask Mr Lennox to settle the matter for you?”

“He has been my advisor, and a friend. That is all. I thought you would prefer a straightforward business arrangement.”

“Business? With you?”

She lifted her shoulders in frustration. “Would you take the same sort of investment from another? What should it matter who I am?”

“It matters… yes, it matters. I would broker a deal with the blackest villain if it meant saving the mill. I would take an investment from a man I despised, so long as it brought no harm to my workers. But sign a casual contract with you, when it would daily serve as a reminder of all I shall never call my own? Margaret, my Margaret, how could I return to the mill, to that barren, empty life, knowing that it was all by your goodness, but still bound to wander through this world alone? No, I could not do it.”

Her fingers tightened around my hands. “Perhaps you needn’t be alone.”

A spear of light shocked through my core. Had she truly spoken it? But she must have, for she was trembling, panting, and waiting for me to pour my heart at her feet. I stepped closer, and slowly lowered my mouth close to her ear to whisper the words, for I could not trust my voice.

“Come home with me, Margaret.”

A long, shuddering sigh shook her, a soft moan of joy and acceptance. She turned to the side, and I felt her lips softly graze my cheek. Her face was wet when she pressed it to my neck, her body shaking with rapturous sobs. I pulled her to my chest, weeping like a child, and simply held her for long minutes.

Her trembling began to slow, but her fingers had knotted into the fabric of my coat, as if she could not bear to let me go. I hoped she never would. I turned my face to kiss her ear, her cheek, and then her chin as she slowly lifted her head, and she looked up into my eyes with a passion-drunk longing I thought would never be mine to witness. And then, as heaven is my judge, she kissed me.

There we stood, long enough for time to fade, for the distant chatter of the house to drift away—long enough for two wayward souls to make a holy oath there, in that darkened hall—to belong forevermore to each other. None could count the tears we shed, nor the divine kisses we shared, but in those few tender moments, she became mine.

“Mr Thornton?” She sniffled, brushed her cheek, then pulled back to look at me.

“I believe you should call me ‘John,’ my love,” I whispered.

She smiled. “John.”

I traced her full lips with my fingers, reveling in that glorious privilege. “What is it?”

“We ought to go downstairs. My aunt….”

“Shall we wait until tomorrow to tell her? Do you think she will object to me?”

She laughed softly. “No more than your mother will object to me.”

“Then we shall have some interesting conversations before us. Do not let us go yet—it is all still a dream to me. Stay just another moment, my Margaret.”

She remained with me a little longer, sealing her promise with arms that clung to my neck and sweet words she would never speak over any other. My life began there in her embrace—truly took shape and became a thing of beauty and purpose. In those precious few minutes, the course of my remaining days was set; a new vision, the great love of all my life at my side, a future I could now look forward to, and a home where laughter would ring in the halls. I held her as if my next breath depended upon her touch, kissing her with an abandon I would have never dreamed myself capable of.

And that was when the nurse discovered us.

Well, what did you think of that scene? I thought it was awesome!

Thank you so much, Nicole, for writing this for our reading pleasure. I can see why this would be a scene that would haunt you. It's lovely, perfect for Valentine's Day! 

I'm sure I got carried away with the pictures! Didn't I do this same thing last year? I even used some of the same pictures, but I hope no one will mind too much. I guess I just can't help myself. It is so much fun going through all my stills from making the Austen Men in Film calendar. The hardest part is not overdoing! I know, I know! I did! lol

I'm glad you joined us today and I hope you enjoyed Nicole's special Valentine. Before you leave, be sure to have a virtual cup of hot tea and some delicious cake! :)

We would love to hear your thoughts. What do you think of John and Margaret?