“N&S: John Thornton, Love Lessons”, Ch. 4: A Question of Propriety, November 2, 2013 Gratiana Lovelace (Post #465)
[I will illustrate my story using my dream cast from the 2004 BBC production of “North & South”: Richard Armitage for John Thornton, Daniela Denby-Ashe for Margaret Hale, Lesley Manville for Mrs. Maria Hale, Tim Piggott-Smith for Mr. Richard Hale, Sinead Cusack for Mrs. Hannah Thornton, Jo Joyner for Fanny Thornton, and Brendan Coyle for Nicholas Higgins, etc] [(1) story logo image]
Author’s Mature Content Note: “N&S: John Thornton, Love Lessons” is a story with mature themes of love and relationships set within a period drama of the 1850’s and beyond. As such there will be heartfelt moments of love and sensuality–as well as other dramatic emotions–and I will rate those chapters accordingly. If you are unable or unwilling to attend a movie with the ratings that I provide, then please do not read that chapter. This is my disclaimer.
Author’s Recap of the Previous Chapter: John and Margaret had a carriage ride and picnic after church with Mary Higgins as their chaperone, with her sitting several yards away eating with the carriage driver. So John and Margaret had private conversations where they began to open up to each other–with Margaret thinking that John is not quite so stuffy. However, their picnic turned amusing and embarrassing when they tossed grapes at each other to catch in their mouths and Margaret’s grape when down the front of her bodice. However, she when into the woods with Mary to fish it out. And upon her return, Margaret and John resumed their conversations so pleasantly that the first yearnings of their mutual attraction got the better of them and they kissed–quite nicely. And they agreed to another picnic the following Sunday–with Margaret suggesting that they avoid fruit and that she would bring their dessert next time.
“N&S: John Thornton, Love Lessons”, Ch. 4: A Question of Propriety
Having spent the better part of two hours on their carriage ride, picnic, and such this fine Sunday afternoon, John Thornton returns Miss Margaret home around three o’clock. He had previously settled his appearance by tying his cravat and putting on his coat again. For John, his and Margaret’s time together was all too short. With Margaret sitting with Mary Higgins on the bench opposite him, John does not have an opportunity to hold her hand. But John and Margaret do gaze at one another with growing admiration.
Upon arriving at the Hale home at Crampton, John assists Margaret from alighting from the carriage and walks her up the front steps. Mr. Hale opens the door for them since it is Dixon’s afternoon off. And seeing his daughter’s dreamy eyed expression when she is returned to him–and John’s seemingly less stern expression–so Mr. Hale promptly invites John to join them for tea in a little while, after he has a chat with John. So John dispatches his carriage to return Mary Higgins home. John will walk home after tea.
Margaret smiles shyly at John and then walks up the stairs to see if her mother is awake and would like to join them for tea. Whilst Mr. Hale shows John into the front parlor. Actually, it is the Hale’s only parlor in their small home in Crampton.
Mr. Hale: “Please sit, John.” Mr. Hale smiles amiably [(2) right].
Mr. Hale gestures to a chair by the fireplace and takes the matching chair on the other side of a shared occasional table. They face a coffee table with a small sette on the other side, and their backs are to the parlor door.
John: “Thank you.” He nods politely. John wonders if Mr. Hale can sense the change in him that John feels is so profound that he could burst, with his deepening regard for Miss Margaret Hale. But John must temper his thoughts and actions. Mr. Hale is a father –and father’s have very protective views about their daughters, rightly so.
Mr. Hale: Wanting to ascertain the outcome of the picnic, but not wanting to breech his friend and pupil’s privacy, Mr. Hale still forges ahead. He is a father, afterall. But he prattles on a bit. “Well, John. I am glad that the weather was so fine for your picnic with Margaret today. She does so love the out of doors. Why, when we lived at Helstone, her Summers were filled with picnics and reading out of doors. That is, when she wasn’t helping me with my visits to our congregants in need.” Mr. Hale hastens to add–to reflect his daughter Margaret’s kind and compassionate nature.
Listening politely to Mr. Hale’s words, John waits for the older gentleman to take a breath before responding. Mr. Hale looks at John expectantly. So John takes that as his cue to speak.
John: “Indeed. I believe Miss Hale mentioned as much to me as we talked together.” John returns to addressing Margaret formally, for the sake of propriety.
Mr. Hale: “Margaret seemed pleasantly disposed when she arrived home, so I surmise that she enjoyed her outing with you.”
John: “That is my hope as well.” John nods. There is a lull in the conversation as Mr. Hale clearly wants John to share more information. The silence does prod John to continue. “In fact, I invited her to go on another picnic next Sunday–weather permitting, of course–and she agreed.” John allows himself a small smile betraying his delight to see Margaret again socially [(3) right].
Mr. Hale: “Ah! That will be nice.” Another lull while Mr. Hale ponders how to delicately pose his next question. Finding none, he just comes out with it. “John, I hope that you will pardon me for the teacher in me coming out–preferring clarity …” He explains to John’s wondering expression. “… But am I to assume that you wish to pay your addresses to my daughter? Perhaps even to court her?”
John blanches, because Mr. Hale has guessed precisely what has been on John’s mind since he invited Margaret on the picnic today. Then John feels over warm and must presume that he is blushing. He is, and quite crimson.
John: “Well!” John pulls at his shirt collar. He has never been in such an awkward position–at least not lately–of seeking that which he cannot definitively assure will be attainable. As a manufacturer, nothing is denied him. But then, love is not a commodity.
Mr. Hale: Seeing John’s discomfiture, Mr. Hale back peddles. “John, I apologize if I misinterpreted the situation and have put you on the spot. We will speak no more about it.” He waves his hand as if to summarily dismiss the awkward moment.
John: “Oh! No! I mean to say, Mr. Hale, that you have guessed my intentions correctly. I was merely trying to compose how I would broach the matter with you. I have not courted a lady before–me being so focused on my business–so I was unsure of the proper form.”
Mr. Hale: Mr. Hale’s face breaks out into a broad smile. “Well! This is nice. And speaking frankly and honestly about one’s feelings is always in proper form, John.” Then he has a thought. “But, I know that my Margaret can be recalcitrant at times?” He admits hesitantly–since she has not indicated any particular partiality for Mr. Thornton and he was surprised that she joined him for the picnic today. “Do you have any indication from Margaret that she welcomes your attentions, John? As more than a family acquaintance and my friend?” Mr. Hale hints broadly for clarification.
John: Not wanting to breech Miss Hale’s confidentiality about their kissing, he merely replies. “I do, Sir.” But he says no more and will not admit to kissing Mr. Hale’s daughter. Without an understanding between John and Margaret, John’s forwardness in kissing her would be considered by many to be inappropriate at best and the actions of a libertine at worst. And neither description appeals to John–nor does he believe that these labels accurately reflect the tenderness which he feels for Margaret. John smiles benignly at Mr. Hale.
Mr. Hale raises his eyebrow, realizing that Mr. Thornton will not be forthcoming. So perhaps Margaret will be so with her mother, he reasons.
Mr. Hale: “Hmmm. Well, excuse me for a moment while I see what is keeping the ladies.”
John nods at Mr. Hale as he exits the room to head up stairs.
Earlier, upon entering her Mother’s bed chamber–finding her Mother sitting up in her chair waiting for her–Margaret greets her breezily.
Margaret: “Hello Mother, we are back from our picnic.” Margaret smiles a bit wistfully, still remembering Mr. Thornton’s romantic kisses.
Mrs. Hale: Noticing her daughter’s rather dreamy disposition–and her use of we and our–Mrs. Hale asks pointedly. “Margaret Dear, did you have a nice time on your carriage ride and picnic? You look positively radiant.”
Margaret: Blushing, Margaret looks down, hoping not to betray her thoughts too much to her Mother. “We did, Mother. The weather was fine out and the food delicious.” Then Margaret’s face pinkens further, recalling the errant grape episode. But she still smiles.
Mother: “You are blushing, my dear. You must tell me what has caused this? Do you have something to tell me of Mr. Thornton?” She asks interestedly, wondering if Mr. Thornton wishes to pay his addresses to her daughter.
Though Mr. Thornton is not precisely a gentleman in Mrs. Hale’s eyes, he is well regarded in Milton as a successful businessman. And Mrs. Hale has no small amount of motherly pride to think that her daughter is admired by all whom she meets–since Margaret was so carefully brought up as a fine lady with her cousin Edith at Mrs. Hales’ sister’s mansion in London.
Margaret: Margaret hesitates, then reveals the depth of her feelings for Mr. Thornton, because she tells her mother everything–a bit gushingly. “We had a lovely picnic lunch where Mr. Thornton, John, …” She refers to him informally, yet familiarly. “… had thought of everything–a picnic blanket, delicious foods, and enough food for the carriage driver and Mary Higgins to also enjoy a picnic lunch set apart from us.”
Mrs. Hale: “Set apart? Was not Mary sitting with you?” She raises her eyebrows a tad. Chaperones can be discreet, but they must be near enough to act as interference when necessary.
Margaret: “No.” Margaret admits shyly. “But we could see each other and waved once or twice.” Margaret bites her lower lip at having fibbed to her mother–about the waving.
Mrs. Hale: Noticing her daughter’s lip nibbling–a certain sign that there is more to the story, because Mrs. Hale knows her daughter well–she asks. “Is there anything more that happened?”
Margaret: “Happened?” Margaret asks quizzically, and not wanting to breech Mr. Thornton’s privacy about their kisses. So Margaret dissembles and deflects her Mother’s question. “Well, it was rather amusing seeing the very tall Mr. Thornton trying to sit himself down onto the picnic blanket. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! It was as if his knees would not bend. He sat with his legs straight out from him as he leaned against a tree.”
Mrs. Hale: “Margaret! One does not talk about a gentleman’s knees.” Mrs. Hale firmly admonishes her [(4) right].
Margaret: Margaret tilts her head at her Mother’s chiding. Then she continues. “And he admitted to me that he has not picnicked much.” Then Margaret smiles and blushes, remembering the grape episode again. “And though the picnic lunch was delicious, I suggested that I might bring the dessert for our picnic next Sunday.”
Mrs. Hale: “Oh? So you are to picnic again?” Mrs. Hale wonders about what her daughter picnicking with Mr. Thornton twice might convey to others.
Margaret: “Yes! I am very much looking forward to it. So I seek your help in selecting a dessert that he will like.” Margaret requests brightly.
Mrs. Hale: “Margaret, does Mr. Thornton intend to pay his addresses to you and court you formally, with the idea of making you an offer?” Mrs. Hale asks boldly.
Margaret: Blanching, Margaret haltingly admits. “I do not know.” Then she thinks of his lovely kisses. “Possibly?”
Mrs. Hale: “Do you want him to?” She looks at her daughter with a growing awareness.
Margaret hesitates. Knowing that it is not proper for a lady to admit her feelings until a man has declared his feelings for her, Margaret is torn between society’s strictures and her own wishes.
Margaret: “Possibly.” She answers in a half-hearted affirmative, but with a small smile.
Mrs. Hale: “Well, my dear, you should really decide before you give the poor man false hope. Because your continuing to see him in a social setting might cause to give him rise to believe that an understanding exists between the two of you–even if you have only friendship for him. Such as was the case with Henry Lennox last Summer.”
Margaret pales at the mention of Mr. Lennox’s unexpected, unbidden, and decidedly unwanted proposal of marriage to her.
Margaret: “I wish you would forget that, Mother. I promise you that I in no way encouraged Mr. Lennox. It was very audacious of him to suggest otherwise.” Margaret finishes huffily.
Mrs. Hale: “And you feel differently about Mr. Thornton?” She probes.
Margare: “I feel …” She smiles remembering their kisses. “I feel …” But Margaret does not want to get carried away by them simply because he was her first kiss.
Mrs. Hale: “Yes?” She asks patiently.
Margaret: “I feel … that is, I believe that it will be pleasant to get to know Mr. Thornton better.” Margaret decides upon what she hopes is a neutral answer to her Mother’s queries.
Mrs. Hale: “Very well, my Dear. As long as you remember that it is important for a lady to refrain from conveying her regard to a gentleman until she is certain that the gentleman is worthy–and that he might in some way return not only her feelings, but that he also has an honorable intent with regard to her.”
Margaret: “Mother! Despite being a manufacturer and working for a living, Mr. Thornton is very well esteemed and regarded in Milton. And he acts very gentlemanly.” Margaret pleads.
Mrs. Hale: “Yes, Margaret. But you are very young and have not been in varied society. Sometimes that veneer of gentlemanliness gives way to more base actions–especially in these Northern men. Refinement is not in their nature, they are not born to it. Ladies must ever be on their guard from such men’s forward attentions. A lady may take a gentleman’s arm in the course of walking. But she must not hold hands with him until there is an understanding–and approval by the lady’s parents. Certainly, no other familiarities are appropriate until a couple is married.” She reiterates for her daughter with a pointed look.
Margaret: “Familiarities?” Margaret prompts, but she knows the answer.
Mrs. Hale: Though Mrs. Hale has had a more vaguely defined talk of this nature with Margaret long ago, Mrs. Hale finds that she must now be less vague. “No embracing or kissing until one is married is what I refer to, Margaret Dear. A lady of refinement, such as yourself, is one set above the behavior of those in lesser society.”
Margaret: Then she ventures a brazen question. “And if a lady were to allow herself to be kissed? Or even, kiss him back?”
Mrs. Hale: A look of horror crosses Mrs. Hale’s face. “Then a lady would be compromised and must marry instantly. And if the gentleman were not suitable to become her husband, then a respectable substitute would have to be found for her.” Suspicious about Margaret’s intense questions and thinking back about how wistfully Margaret looked when she entered the room, Mrs. Hale asks with trepidation, but straightforwardly. “Margaret, has Mr. Thornton taken advantage of you!?!”
Margaret: “Oh no! Mother, he has not.” For Margaret was a willing participant in their kisses. “He is all politeness and gentlemanly manners.” She offers in his defense.
Margaret squirms under her mother’s penetrating gaze. Margaret drops her eyes in shame from her mother’s eyes [(5) right] –because upon seeing her face, she feels that her mother would instantly know her answer. But with Margaret continuing to be silent, Mrs. Hale already has her answer–and she has a look of thunder in her eyes.
It would seem now that Margaret Hale’s parents are of two different dispositions toward John Thornton. And the tea party this Sunday afternoon–that both John and Margaret have each been looking forward to–might have an altogether unexpected outcome.
To be continued with Chapter 5
Ch. 4 References, November 2, 2013
1) “N&S: John Thornton, Love Lessons” story logo: Richard Armitage as John Thornton and Daniela Denby-Ashe in North & South, 2004 was found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode3/ns3-110.jpg ; For more information about the wonderful 2004 BBC miniseries North & South, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_&_South_%28TV_serial%29
2) Mr. Richard Hale is portrayed by Tim Piggott-Smith in the BBC’s 2004 drama North & South found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode1/ns1-042.jpg
3) John Thornton is portrayed by Richard Amitage in the BBC’s 2004 drama North & South found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode1/ns1-045.jpg
4) Mrs. Maria Hale is portrayed by Lesley Manville in the BBC’s 2004 mini-series North& South April 02, 2012; the image may be found at http://s1.hubimg.com/u/2249784_f260.jpg
5) Margaret Hale (cropped) is portrayed by Daniela Denby-Ashe in the BBC’s 2004 production of North & South as found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode3/ns3-198.jpg