“N&S: John Thornton, Love Lessons”, Ch. 7: The Mill’s Future is Cast into Doubt , November 30, 2013 Gratiana Lovelace (Post #477)
Based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel, North & South and its
2004 BBC adaptation; No copyright infringement intended)
[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 dinner at Thornton Manor Sunday evening and told his mother and sister of their wedding plans–with mixed results, though both were shocked. Ever the pragmatist, Mrs. Thornton acknowledge–if not accepted–their announcement with steely poise. John’s sister Fanny was less poised, even petulantly asking a plaintive why. Though Fanny was slightly mollified when she was reminded that the event would be cause for John to buy her a new dress.
“N&S: John Thornton, Love Lessons”, Ch. 7: The Mill’s Future is Cast into Doubt
John had taken Margaret home after dinner with his family that Sunday evening in a euphoria of hopeful anticipation after their engagement and impending nuptials announcement. Not even his sister Fanny’s chaperoning companionship–if one could call it companionship–on the ride home to Thornton Manor after delivering her back to her parents at Crampton–could dampen his spirits. John contentedly went to bed that night dreaming of her, Margaret–and of how in but five weeks time she will be his bride and lay beside him in his bed as his wife. He had rarely dreamed for love and tenderness in his life, and now she, Margaret, will be the unblemished joy upon which all of the dark loneliness will be banished. And though John and Margaret enjoyed a lovely picnic after church again the following Sunday after their engagement, such frivolities would soon be curtailed.
The grumblings of the mill workers planning a strike across all of Milton’s mills persisted. And then, it happened. What they all had dreaded happening came to pass an early Monday morning after John Thornton and Margaret Hale’s first week of being engaged. It was quiet, very quiet. As the Marlborough Mills Overseer William arrived at 5am to stoke the fires to begin the steam engine that would power the looms, he noticed at eerie quiet about the streets. The mill workers are not due to arrive for another hour—until all was in readiness for them.
John Thornton began his Monday morning as usual–ablutions at five o’clock then breakfast with his mother at half past before heading to his office at the mill at six. They could hear the blasts of the steam engine at regular intervals—dispelling the unspent steam until the steam would power the looms. Fanny was not up—she never was at this hour. And she always tried to bury her head in her pillow to sleep longer once the sound of the looms deafened their ears at six o’clock.
And yet, the sound of the looms earnest spinning of thread into cotton fabric did not come. All was quiet. It was the start of the new work week for the mill workers. The start of the new week’s wage period. And mill workers of Milton began their strike across all six mills—including Marlborough Mills—to try to force the masters to raise wages five percent to reclaim what was lost five years ago.
They had been hard years for the mill workers, but prosperous ones for the mill masters. Perhaps that it was had so aggravated the hands—the luxury the mill masters enjoyed on the backs of their workers penury. To be sure, Thornton’s Marlborough Mills had better working conditions with the wheel to contain the cotton fluff that so plagued mill workers lungs—and he paid a slightly higher wage. But it was still not enough to make the workers excuse his mill from their strike. It was all or nothing for Milton’s mill workers.
It is now six o’clock in the morning on Monday. John looks at his pocket watch as he rises to bid his mother good bye for the morning. Only once in a while these days does Hannah Thornton venture into the mill in the early hours—mostly to strike fear into the workers who call her the Dragon Lady behind her back for her stern visage [(2) right].
John: Kissing his mother’s cheek, John smiles. “I have some good news, Mother.”
Mrs. Thornton: “Oh? Have we received the Plimpton order? That will take an extra shift of workers to complete.”
John: He grins. “Yes, that commission did come our way.” He says modestly. For John Thornton as a man of business has no equal for his negotiations with clients. “But that is not it. I had planned to wait to tell you at dinner, but I find that I cannot wait.” He says eagerly.
Mrs. Thornton: “Well? What is it?” She looks up at him curiously. After the previous week’s announcement that her son and Miss Hale are to be joined in marriage, nothing could shock Mrs. Thornton more. She was wrong.
John: “Mother, I have made a decision. I hope to delay a mill strike–by my workers at least. So I am prepared to raise all of their wages by 2%.”
Mrs. Thornton stares incredulously at her son–as if he had just told her that he was traveling to the moon.
Mrs. Thornton: Finding her voice, it still trembles with anger. “John! How did you come such a rash decision? The workers will be ungrateful, claiming they want their 5% wage hike to return their salaries to what they were twelve years ago.”
John: “Mother, I cannot blame them. When I took over as Master at Marlborough Mills ten years ago, I had not been the instigator of their wage cuts–I inherited them. Yet, I did nothing to rectify the situation at the time, nor since then.”
Mrs. Thornton: “No one can blame you for that. You took over a mill that was in decline with old machines and a stagnant pool of clients who rarely paid for their orders. It was only through your hard work making contacts with reliable customers and instigating cost saving measures that allowed you to buy new machinery that transformed Marlborough Mills into the respected manufacturing enterprise that it is today.” She says with flourishing pride.
John: “Thank you, Mother.” He smiles humbly. “But it has been at least five years since the mill has been safe from the threat of financial ruin–and we have enjoyed the fruits of its success–but I have not acknowledged my workforce for the large role they play in that success by increasing their wages as much as I would like.”
Mrs. Thornton: Grumbling. “I suppose the old parson and your fiancé have put ideas into your head about a utopian society where all can flourish through hard work and determination–becoming masters themselves.”
John: He smiles and leans down and kisses her forehead. “No Mother, that was you who did that, when you encouraged me to rise above the difficulties that father left us with.”
Mrs. Thornton: “Hhhh!” She sighs heavily, caught between her encouragement of her son about his future and her son’s hope for bettering his workers’ lives.
John: “I am not saying that the workers’ wages will increase overnight. I will propose that a 2% wage increase be put into effect for workers of five years or more now. Then in six months, workers who have been with us two to five years will see their wages rise by 1%. And finally, our most recent hires will see their wages rise when they have been with us for two years–past their initial apprenticeship stage.”
Mrs. Thornton: She looks at him thoughtfully. “You have through this through then.”
John: “I have. I do not want my senior workers to feel slighted by junior workers receiving the same wage–it would be tantamount to saying that I did not value their expertise and years of loyalty.”
Mrs. Thornton: “I hope the workers appreciate what you are doing for them. When will you tell them?”
John: “I plan to call the union leaders that Williams has identified present in my mill into my office for a meeting this morning. I hope to resolve this matter amicably within the next few weeks–so that I can focus on more pleasant events.” The corners of his mouth curls up at the corners, thinking of his Margaret becoming his wife.
Mrs. Thornton: “Hmmm.” She sees her son’s dreamy eyed look and knows that he is not thinking about payroll and wage considerations. Then something occurs to her that she had not noticed with the distraction of speaking with her son. “ John? Do you hear that?”
John: “What, Mother? I don’t hear anything.” He asks quizzically as he picks up his briefcase from the chair next to him.
Mrs. Thornton: “That is what I am referring to.” She looks at the timepiece on the mantel. “It is nearly half past six. Shouldn’t the workers shift have started? But I do not hear the looms operating?”
John: Attending to the lack of sound that his mother refers to, John has a sickening feeling in the pitt of his stomach. “Oh no! I’m too late!” Then he dashes out of the dining room and heads to the mill.
Mrs. Thornton: “John, wait!” She tries to stop him but can’t. She is worried that the mill workers will do violence in frustration for taking the perilous step of striking the mills.
When John arrived at Marlborough Mills five minutes later, and it is as he feared–empty. And the ramifications for how this will affect not only his workers and their families, but he and Margaret as well, weighs heavily on his mind.
After shutting down the steam engines with the help of Williams his overseer–since no work will be done this day, nor probably for days to come–John Thornton takes long strides back to his home to inform his mother. But he hardly needed to have done that. For the empty Mill courtyard below her window told the tale of dread.
Mrs. Thornton: “John? The workers have gone on strike?”
John: “They have, Mother.” Then he thrusts out a printed hand bill to her. “This was nailed to the Mill gates. I don’t know which printer in town had the gall to print it for them, even if they paid.” John fumes [(3) right]. Gone are John’s magnanimous ideals about raising his worker’s wages when they would betray him with such malice.
Mrs. Thornton reads the handbill silently to herself: Warning! The Mill Workers of Milton are on strike until all of the Masters agree to a return to fair wages lost twelve years ago. Any mill worker found on any of the Mill premises will be in violation of the union and will be cast out of Milton along with his or her family. The Mill Workers Union of Milton
Mrs. Thornton: “But John, after a week of no work and no wages, won’t the workers see sense and return?”
John: “I do not know, Mother. If only the mill workers could see that their strike is damaging their livelihoods by putting the mills at risk for shutting down if we cannot make our orders. And why my mill is lumped in with the lot of the other mill masters, I do not know. I have always been fair and open with my workers.” John says in desperation.
Mrs. Thornton: She exhales heavily. “Hhhhh! Do we have an order yet to be completed?”
John: “We do, for Thompson’s. We were to complete it in a few days time–it is nearly three quarters done. But that was with two dozen workers working 12 hour days on the looms. I had hoped to finish this order early to gain the 10% premium incentive. But now, if the order is not completed and shipped by a week from this Friday, Thompson will charge a 10% penalty for the lateness of his order. Mother, we have to complete Thompson’s order so we can receive payment in order to pay back the bank for our loan for the cotton.”
Mrs. Thornton: “How much do we owe the bank?”
John: “Nearly 500 pounds.”
Mrs. Thornton: “Tch.” She winces. “And Thompson’s payment to Marlborough Mills should we ship on time?”
John: “2,000 pounds. Hhhhh!” He exhales deeply. “With that sum, we could ride out the winter and even hire replacement workers from Ireland.” He thinks aloud.
Mrs. Thornton: “We might not be able avoid the 10% penalty. You will have to write to Thompson requesting an extension. But if we marshall what persons we can to work the looms, we might be able to complete his order next week.”
John: He looks at her incredulously. “Who?”
Mrs. Thornton: “You, Williams, and myself are three.”
John: John nods. “Fanny would be useless and just complain, so we should forget about her.”
Mrs. Thornton: “I agree. Then the four parlor maids had been mill workers. That brings us up to seven.” Mrs.Thornton looks pointedly at John.
John: “Mother. I don’t know if I can ask this of Margaret? She is a lady unaccustomed to this kind of back breaking hard work.”
Margaret: “John you don’t need to ask me. I offer my help!” Margaret says boldly after coming into the room unannounced.
John: He looks at her in astonishment, as does his mother. “How did you know?”
Margaret: “I was going to visit Bessie Higgins this morning before breakfast–taking her breakfast with me for her. But when I walked a little ways and saw all the mill workers standing about, I asked why they weren’t at work and they shoved this into my hand.” She holds out a union strike notice handbill.
John: “We received one as well–nailed to the Mill gates.” He nods his head. “But Margaret, tending the looms for hours at a time is back breaking work.”
Margaret: “I am stronger than I look, John. And do you remember the first tea you had with us and I was so tired?” John nods. “I had spent the whole of the day beating the dust out the parlor drapes and washing and ironing the shears. If I can lift and move a thirty pound drapery panel times four, I can push and pull a steam powered loom.”
Mrs. Thornton: Mrs. Thornton tilts her head at Margaret. “You have pluck, I’ll give you that Miss Hale.” Margaret nods in acknowledgement for the rare compliment from Mrs. Thornton. “John, it might work. Miss Hale would give us eight.”
John: “Margaret, are you certain you wish to do this?” He walks over to Margaret and gazes down at her seeking her assurance–and he finds her resolute [(4) right].
Margaret: “I am certain, John. I belong by your side. And by completing this order we will be saving the mill–not only for ourselves, but for the workers when the strike is over.”
John: “You’re incredible!” He beams a brilliant smile down at her as she gazes up at him in love. He sorely wants to kiss her–but not in front of his mother.
Mrs. Thornton: “Very well! But let us be thankful later, you two. We have work to do.”
John: He rolls his eyes. “Yes, Mother. I will go back to the mill and have Williams relight the steam engines. So we can begin work in an hour. Then I’ll compose a letter to Mr. Thompson explaining the delay–but that we will ship half of his order by this Friday.” Then he looks upon Margaret’s lovely frock. “Perhaps you should go home and change to a lighter weight short sleeved dress that has less of a full skirt. You have to be careful around the looms–nothing must catch on them. They are dangerous.”
Margaret: “Very well, I have an old day dress that is plain and doesn’t require loads of petticoats that I wear when helping Dixon around the house.” She blushes at the mention of undergarments–her undergarments–and John blanches as well.
Even though Margaret tells no one but her father what she is doing in helping to complete the Marlborough Mills order when she arrives home fifteen minutes later, she sees the grumblings of the millworkers in the streets. They had noticed that the Marlborough Mills steam engines had been turned off–and then turned back on as plumes of smoke and hissing steam escape in whistles from the tall smoke stacks. And as Margaret returns to Marlborough Mills in her simple day dress, trying not to draw attention to herself, she is followed. As the fiancé of the Master of Marlborough Mills, the strikers are watching her.
And when Margaret slips back into the mill through its imposing gates when Williams lets her in not an hour after she had left it, she is also seen carrying a satchel with changes of clothes for her should she need to stay at Thornton Manor rather than risk walking the streets to return home each day. Margaret’s mother will find it shocking, her Aunt Shaw would be apoplectic, and Mrs. Thornton is not entirely pleased to have her son’s fiance under her roof lest unkind insinuations be made by others. Conversely, John is ecstatic at Margaret’s pragmatism in being a guest in his home, that will allow them more time together after their busy work days spent at the Mill.
However, the mill workers know Thornton is up to something, and they are determined to cause trouble.
To be continued with Chapter 8
JT Love Lessons, Ch. 7 References, November 30, 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) Hannah Thornton (right, portrayed by Sinead Cusack) in the Mill with her son John Thornton (left, portrayed by Richard Armitage) was found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode2/ns2-004.jpg
3) John Thornton (portrayed by Richard Armitage) was found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode4/ns4-127.jpg
4) Margaret (portrayed by Daniela Denby-Ashe) and John Thornton (portrayed by Richard Armitage) was found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/NandSPromo/album/NandSPromo-29.jpg
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