Several months ago I discovered an author on Amazon called Nicole Clarkston. She caught my attention because she was the first author I saw writing JAFF and North and South Fan Fic. At the time she had published Rumours and Recklessness a Pride and Prejudice Variation and No Such Thing as Luck, a North and South Variation.
Both books had incredible reviews and ratings and when I read Rumours and Recklessness I understood why! Nicole Clarkston’s writing is extremely good and the character development is impressive, she captures their essence so well I believe both Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell would have been proud of her work.
Last week I discovered she released a new book called Northern Rain and I couldn’t have been more happy, especially because there aren’t as many N&S variations as P&P and I love the company of John Thornton, Margaret Hale and Nicolas Higgins 🙂
I’ve started reading Northern Rain and will post the review shortly, but I must tell you, the opening scene is just incredible!
So I’m incredibly happy and honored to receive, for the first time, Nicole Clarkston as a guest in From Pemberley to Milton, and I must publicly thank her not only for the availability and the generous giveaway, but also for putting so much work and time on this post with such a positive, humble and kind attitude.
Today she brings a vignette she wrote and I hope you like it as much as I did, because more than that is practically impossible!
The following vignette is a concept which I found fascinating. What were John Thornton’s early years like? We know that they were hard years, years of deprivation and struggle. We also know that at the end of them, this formidable young man emerged with the highest respect for the woman who was his mother; for her integrity and wisdom, and for the gentle yet firm guidance she had offered her son. Did he ever resent his father’s choices? What form could his grief have taken? This short story explores those questions, and also explains how John Thornton began making the annual pilgrimage to his father’s grave, which is the opening scene in Northern Rain. I hope you enjoy it. – NC
A Man of Honour
Fifteen-year-old John Thornton stood before the door to the humble residence, jingling his week’s earnings in his pocket. It was not his own door at which he stood, but one just a row down. It was not a house one wished to be seen standing outside of.
For a year now- exactly a year, in fact- he had assumed the role of a man, while yet a boy. He had borne the challenge stoically, refusing to cower under his feelings of shame. He was no longer a child, and he was no longer his father’s son! That regret was long past, he had spent the year assuring himself.
The cares and labours of manhood were upon him, and with them, a new sense of himself. He had grown tall and broad of shoulder, and many mistook him for a young man of nine and ten. Nothing of his lost youth remained, and these days, he was feeling quite proud of that fact. New thoughts and ideas had begun to occur to him in the past months, and in the consuming fire typical of burgeoning masculinity, he had been able to think of little else.
He had every right, he consoled himself- his reward for this past year. He was a man, and man had needs. His observations had informed him that he was far from the only one to bring them to this house. His fingers twitched again in his pocket, sweating now. He was most certainly not nervous. A business transaction, that was all this was; one to alleviate his cravings and clear his head once more. He could conceive of no good reason for his throat to be suddenly parched.
Squaring his shoulders, he rapped on the door. It opened to him slowly, and, squinting his eyes a little, he entered. Rosemary- that was the only name anyone called her. She was in her late twenties, but the bloom had long since faded from her cheeks. She had other assets, however, which more than made up for her lack of innocence. John stared at the ample flesh bared before him in the dark little room. He was having some trouble swallowing. He had seen ladies’ evening gowns which lavishly displayed the bounties of alluring young gentlewomen, eager to ensnare a husband- but this was more blatant, even, than that. Little was left to his active imagination by Rosemary’s low-scooped bodice. The blood pounded in his ears, and in a number of other places as well.
Mumbling his request, he dipped his hand into his pocket and emptied it on her little table. Rouge-tinted lips smiled, and his money disappeared. Not certain what he was to do next, he merely stood… waiting.
Rosemary turned slightly away from him, and with practiced fingers, began to effortlessly free herself of some of her garments. His keen gaze caught a bare shoulder, and then a glimpse of her curved back, as her top fell. His eager hands reached out, but just before he touched her, from somewhere in the back of the house, a babe began to cry. He stopped, his limbs quivering.
The fallen angel before him muttered a low curse, and urged him to pay it no mind. Perhaps her bit of professional courtesy might have lent another man all the necessary courage he required, but John’s bravado shattered. Rather than the ravishing seductress he had seen a moment ago, the young lad now beheld a tired, care-worn mother. His forehead broke out in a sudden sweat.
He blinked, panting, and tried vainly to banish the righteous thoughts which once again intruded upon his conscience. The moment, however, was gone. Rosemary peered at him curiously, her bodice drooping, but John could not even bring himself to look on what he had so desired only seconds before. His breath was heaving now, and his entire being flooded with regret and humiliation. Stammering a hasty excuse, he spun out of her door and slammed it behind himself.
He stood alone on the street, but this was not a place he could bear to linger. Not knowing quite what he was about, he began walking. He walked until he could breathe once more, and until the sweat had dried from his brow. He walked until he could hear the voices around him, rather than the screaming of his own conscience in his ears. He walked until he almost forgot where he was, and until the passing humanity had dissipated from about him.
He hated himself. What a selfish, prideful little fool he was! He had thought to call himself a man, but a man’s honour was in the keeping of his own, not the squandering in idle pleasures. And what had he done with this week’s wages? Lost! How was he to confess this to his mother? She, who had so diligently taught him to work, to budget, to save- she, who had such faith in his honour! How was he to tell her that he had intended to throw over his integrity for a few moments of boyish lust? He could not!
He looked about at last, finally recognizing where his steps had carried him. The graveyard. There was no surer place to seek his solitude, to castigate himself without the trouble of witnesses. Well… if he could not confess the truth to his mother, he would take his anger out on his other parent. His steps coming in a frenzied rush, he descended upon that fresh stone- the one he and his mother had so painstakingly saved to purchase.
“You!” he snarled to the silent stone as he marched toward it. “You are to blame! For Mother’s grief, for Fanny’s illness, for the days I spend in the draper’s shop- all of it! It was your selfishness which brought this shame to us!” His fists beat upon the stone until his flesh was torn, then he slashed at the unyielding granite with a contemptuous and satisfyingly irreverent kick. Violent sobs racked him and he collapsed. He remained there, gasping through his inarticulate cries of fury, for many long moments.
Conviction was slow to dawn, but faithfully, it did so. He clenched his eyes against his own disgrace. How was he any better than his father? He had nearly succumbed to his own temporal desires, had he not? He had harmed his family by foolishly squandering his hard-earned pay. What were they even to eat for this next week? Burying his face in his grime-covered palms, he raged in anguish, his youthful body shaking in the throes of his disgust with himself.
After a few moments, an inspiration pricked him. It could all be forgotten- he need not return to his mother empty-handed! Furiously, he dug in his other pocket for the watch his mother had given him. His father’s- as if he wanted anything belonging to that man! Snatching it up, he nearly laughed in relief. He could sell this, fetch a handsome price, and perhaps even buy his mother that new dress she so badly needed!
As he wrung the chain, shaking the watch as if it were his own father’s miserable neck, his eyes caught the time. Half past three, on the nose. It was not right, of course. It was, in fact, much later in the day now, as he had already worked his full shift at the draper’s shop. He shook the watch again, wondering why it had stopped with its hands in that precise position. What sadistic turn of events would cause the watch to pause at the exact moment when that gunshot had rung out last year- and on this day, of all days?
His eyes flooded with emotion, but not a single tear did he shed. He was the only man his family had left, and a man did not do such a thing. He drew a long breath and restored the watch to its proper place in his pocket. A man did not weep, and a man did not lie. He rose, dusting off the grass from his clothing, and made his sorrowful journey home.
He found his mother sitting in silence, her back to the door. She did not turn her face to him as he entered. He braced his lanky frame, not daring to allow himself to delay his confession even a moment, lest he forever lose the courage to do so. “Mother,” rasped he, his voice hesitant and broken. “I have disgraced you!”
Hannah Thornton sat immovably. Her reply was faint, spoken in a shaken tone. “You could never disgrace me, John. You are my son.”
He closed his eyes and swallowed. “You do not know what I have done, Mother!”
She turned to him at last, her ebony gaze tipping up to him. “I saw, John. I was on the street. I saw you go in, and I saw you leave.”
He groaned and sat in the chair behind her, his face in his hands. “I have no right to even speak to you,” he mumbled between his fingers. “What must you think of your son, Mother?”
“I think my son is a man,” Hannah answered simply.
He lifted his face. “I am a fool! A selfish braggart who wished to please himself, to the detriment of his family!”
“A boy,” Hannah commented softly, “would not have come to such a conclusion.”
He shuddered in another vexatious sob. “I have acted the coward this day, Mother! I thought to hide for a time from my own cares, and I have only increased your burden.”
Hannah stood at last and her soft footsteps approached him. She rested a gentle hand on his shoulder as he hid his face from her. “John,” she commanded his attention. Regretfully, he raised his eyes to her. “It is not evidence of manhood to display your prowess before others. A man’s nobility is his own, independent of circumstances or prevailing opinions. Others may slink in shame and then try to cover their degradation, but that is not a path you need follow. You are free to choose a better way, but none other can determine your course for you.”
He blinked, still uncomfortable holding her gaze. “Mother,” he whispered, “I would have you know that nothing happened.”
“I know, John.” She pulled the flimsy chair on which she had sat near to him. She rested herself at his side, and took his blood-streaked hand in hers. She squeezed it faintly, looking down as if gathering her thoughts. Once she felt able to continue, she locked eyes with her young man.
“One day, my son, some other woman will catch your eye. She will be fine and strong, and worthy of you, my John. Do not give your strength, your dignity, or your affections to one less deserving, for you would rob the woman you love of what ought rightfully to be hers.”
His breath caught. His mother placed so much faith in him, but all of these glorious hopes of hers seemed so distant just now! “Mother,” he shook his head, “I cannot at present see beyond our debts. What woman would ever have me?”
Her face warmed gently, and she caressed his newly rough cheek with a tender hand. “A very fortunate one, John.”
He tried to return her smile. “I went to Father’s grave today,” he murmured, as though the two subjects were somehow linked together.
Hannah’s expression fell in mute surprise. “Oh?” she replied, trying to keep the tremour from her voice.
His gaze lost focus, as though he were looking through her rather than at her. “I think I understand something, Mother. What I want- what I expect… and what Father could not see.”
She swallowed. “And what is that, John?”
His jaw clenched. “Honour. I wish to be a man of honour, Mother. And I shall begin by honouring the man who set me on this course. I shall no longer despise him, Mother. If not for he, I would not face my present difficulties. I choose to be strengthened, rather than broken. I will care for you and Fanny in every way, and I will look back with respect for the opportunity I have been granted.”
Hannah released a tight breath. “Then, my John, you are indeed a man now.”
Isn’t this an amazing view of John Thornton as a teenager?
It is impressive how Mrs. Clarkston captured John and Hanna’s personalities. Their actions and inner thoughts are just as I would imagine them to be in this situation and when I finished reading this vignette I wanted to know more, I wanted to know how John’s life progressed until he became a Master. I am afraid Mrs. Clarkston has created in me a curiosity that wasn’t there before, and I’m really hoping she can satisfy this curiosity in the guest posts she will have on the upcoming blog tour!
Also, I could clearly relate this scene to the opening scene of Northern Rain, and something tells me that in the future we might be presented with a prequel to this recently released book. Wouldn’t that be interesting? I have never read a prequel to North and South, and I would love to see John’s struggles and growth through the years, it must have been a hard but interesting journey. But until then, I’ll have Northern Rain to feed my soul 🙂
(Sorry, couldn’t resist the older version…)
***It’s giveaway time!***
The giveaway is international and to participate all you have to do is comment this post.
Let us know what you thought of the vignette, the Northern Rain’s release, if you have read any of Mrs. Clarkston’s other books or anything else North and South related.
The giveaway is open until the 8th of July and the lucky winners will be randomly picked and announced a few days later.
Good luck everyone!