Friday, 23 December 2011

A Merry Little Christmas (Complete)

A Merry Little Christmas
A short story designed to be a companion to Northern Light, the sequel to North and South 
although it can also be read as a stand-alone story.
Chapter One
Given how lavish Victorian dinner parties and balls are, you are probably thinking that my and Margaret's first Christmas was a lavish affair with a nine course dinner and weeks of parties leading up to the big day. However on this occasion, you would be wrong.

A Merry Little Christmas, Part Four

Previous Chapters: Part one | Part two | Part three

A little later that afternoon we ventured down to the kitchen once more for some more of Cook's excellent Christmas pudding with brandy cream and mulled wine, which we took into the rear parlour and sat on the window seat to watch the snow falling.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A Merry Little Christmas, Part three

Previous chapters: Part one | Part two.

The next morning I believe we both felt that we'd had our share of being idle and although we took our time in rousing ourselves, we decided to actually get dressed and take a turn around the town. Margaret cooked breakfast this morning, bacon, eggs and fried bread (to hide the fact that it was now a little stale) which we ate at the kitchen table again. Then we decided to take a stroll to the Mitre Hotel for afternoon tea.
“We're going to be far too early,” Margaret said as she wrapped her scarf around her neck and pulled her winter coat on.
“Then we had best make it a slow walk.”
We headed to the park first, taking our time and enjoying the scenery around us. While many people had returned to work today, most of the shops seemed closed, clearly taking advantage of an extra day off.
Everyone we passed, even those who seemed to be working, had a ready smile and a warm “Good morning” for us.
At we neared the top of the hill in the park, Margaret noted that the park and indeed the whole town, looked magical under its fresh covering of snow. Many of the mill chimneys were active again since many businesses don't recognise Boxing Day as a holiday but today the smoke only added to the festive look of the town.
There were a few people milling around in the park. Some children were making snowmen, as we had yesterday and another group were having a snowball fight. The adults seemed to be enjoying the view of the town for none of them seemed in a rush to get to their destinations and most kept glancing back over the town.
Margaret began rubbing her gloved hands together so I looked around to make sure that we were unobserved, then pulled Margaret behind a large tree nearby. Opening my coat, I placed her hands around me so that the heat from my back could warm her hands. My chest would have done just as well but this way I also got to embrace her.
We stole a few kisses while hidden back there but when Margaret's hands had warmed sufficiently, we continued on our way.
Though we had missed the morning service, we stopped in at the local church so that Margaret could say her prayers.
I offered my own silent prayer, thanking Him for my good fortune of late and, feeling the Christmas spirit myself, slipped a generous amount into the pauper's box on our way out.
With that done we continued to the hotel, pausing to look in some of the shop windows we passed since it seemed that many had gone out of their way to make their windows look festive. Many shops had miniature, hand made nativity scenes on display and it was interesting to see how each one differed from its neighbour. Paper chains and ivy garlands were draped around most windows and wreaths adorned almost every door we passed.
We stopped in at the bakers, one of the few open shops, and bought some fresh bread. The baker greeted us with a hearty smile and threw in two free gingerbread men that had been iced to look like snowmen. We thanked him and continued on our way.
“I still find it hard to believe that there was a time when people didn't celebrate Christmas,” Margaret said as we walked. “This is all so lovely that I don't understand why anyone would want to miss it.”
“Perhaps they didn't know what they were missing,” I reasoned.
“If that's true, it really would be a shame,” she said, tightening her grip on my arm and resting her head briefly on my shoulder.
Those passing us who might usually look upon such a public display of affection with distaste, today only smiled at us, perhaps understanding the need to show love at this time of year.
As we entered the town square it seemed that we had interrupted a snowball fight among some of the local children and as one hit me square in the chest, the boy who had thrown it paused in fright for a moment. Then obviously deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, he turned tail and ran, his friends hot on his heels.
I was angry and about to shout after them (what if they had hit Margaret instead of me!) when Margaret's laugher caught my attention. It seems that she found both my predicament and my annoyance amusing.
“They're only having fun,” she said as she brushed the snow from my coat.
“You call that fun?” I asked. “They could hurt someone.”
“Yes, well you thought it was rather fun yesterday, if I recall correctly.”
She had me there, but I wasn't giving in that easily.
“You started that,” I reminded her. “And besides, we were in the safety of our garden, not hurling missiles at random strangers in the street.”
Margaret smiled indulgently then reached up and kissed me softly, causing the last of my anger to evaporate.
“Come on,” she said, slipping her arm through mine again. “I don't know about you but I'm ready for a nice pot of hot tea.”
We continued to the hotel which was not far from the square and arrived just in time for afternoon tea. They seated us by a window and we enjoyed watching the world pass us by as the people outside laughed, joked and enjoyed the snow and festive season.
“I wish we could do this every year,” she said. “I've loved these two days on our own.”
“And I, love.”
We both knew that we would not be this lucky every year but a part of me hoped that we could recreate this feeling of solitude some time soon. We had not even had the luxury of a honeymoon after our wedding and now that I knew what time alone with Margaret could be like, I was more sorry than ever for that fact.
The mill would be running as normal in another few months so I began to wonder about the possibility of us taking a late honeymoon, perhaps visiting Margaret's brother. It was too soon to voice such ideas to Margaret in case I could not be spared from the mill but I was determined to do my best and secure us a holiday in the coming year. Preferably sooner rather than later.
When the tea, sandwiches and cakes were finished, we paid the bill and set about reapplying all the layers of clothing that we had removed when we entered. Bundled up once more, we headed out onto the street.
The snow was falling again, large fluffy white flakes drifting gently to the ground. Margaret put her hand out in front of her, palm up and watched as the flakes landed there and melted.
“Let's hail a cab,” I suggested. Snow is very pretty to watch but I didn't much fancy the idea of walking all the way home in it. “I find that I am somewhat eager to curl up in front of a nice, warm fire with you once again.”
Margaret put her hand down and nodded her agreement. I hailed the first passing cab and after telling the driver our address, we climbed into the carriage. Thankfully it was enclosed and we were somewhat sheltered from the biting cold.
Though most surely shocking to anyone who might have seen, I couldn't resist Margaret any longer and removed my hat before I leaned over and kissed her. She responded with equal ardour and by the time the cab slowed to a stop, we were both slightly breathless and her lips were quite red and swollen.
After I had paid the driver, we headed inside and although all I wanted to do was have my way with Margaret, I knew that the fires needed tending first.
I had built them up this morning so none had died out but the range in the kitchen was on its last legs. I stoked up the rear parlour fire also in case we spent any time in that room, then I headed up to our bedroom to find that Margaret had already taken care of the fire in there.
She was lying under the eiderdown by the fire and as far as I could tell, not wearing a single stitch of clothing. She had taken her hair out of its bun so it lay fanned out around her head and I paused for a moment to admire her.
“Come and join me,” she pleaded.
'How is a man meant to resist a request like that,' I asked myself? The answer was simple; 'he isn't.'

To be continued...
© Catherine Winchester 2011. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Elizabeth Thornton

Margaret's charcoal sketch of me and Bessy

My Darling Daughter

When I discovered that Margaret was with child, I was ecstatic; we both where. My happiness was soon overshadowed however when in the latter months Margaret began to have problems. First her fingers began to swell to the extent that she had to remove her wedding ring (using lots of butter butter) because it was becoming painful. She also suffered a few nosebleeds and headaches but she insisted that she was fine.
I believed her, until she collapsed one day.
Doctor Donaldson said that she was in danger of developing a condition known as eclampsia and that if her condition got any worse, she may begin to have fits that often proved fatal. He advised complete bed rest, no worry and a bland diet until the child was born.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Victorian Christmas, Part Three

Christmas Dinner & Festive Foods
There are a lot of foods and drinks consumed at Christmas time that are not usually seen for the rest of the year.
Mulled wine is popular, which is red wine mixed with a variety of spices and served warm. Very good for taking the chill off once you come in from the cold. The recipes vary greatly and while Cook will not tell me exactly what she uses, I can taste that there is cinnamon, orange and a touch of cloves in our mulled wine. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Another Christmas Post?

You must be sick of Christmas related posts by now by now but this one is simple. 

Margaret and I would like to take this 
opportunity to wish all our 
friends, followers and visitors 
a Very Happy Christmas!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Merry Little Christmas, Part Two

Click here to read part one.

I would have been happy to lie in front of that fire forever but it seemed that Margaret had a better idea.
As I rose to build the fire up again, she pulled her robe on and handed me mine. I raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“We're getting dressed,” she said.
“We are?” I may have sounded a little petulant.
“We are.” She got to her feet and headed for the door. I followed, curious as to what she had in mind.

Monday, 5 December 2011

A Victorian Christmas, Part Two

Festive Activities
Carolling is a popular pastime come Christmas, with both events for the whole town put on in the town or school hall and smaller groups of people who go door to door, entertaining each household for a while. It is common to give a gift of money to these groups which is usually saved in the village fund to help pay for social events throughout the year.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A Victorian Christmas, Part One

One of Dixon's Christmas wreaths
The house is a hive of activity at the moment as it seems that everyone has been infected with the Christmas spirit.

I don't mean to sound like Scrooge, but when after a quick visit to the play room results in the seat of my morning coat being covered in glitter for the rest of the day (and no one even having the courtesy to tell me) you might be inclined to be a tad grumpy also.
This lunch time I went into the play room to find that Dixon was busy fashioning holly, ivy, pine cones, apples, holly berries and red ribbon into wreaths using wire. Jenny was busy sewing ivy garlands from ivy leaves and strips of material. My daughter, Bessy was having great fun covering snowflake shaped biscuits with glitter and her brother, Alex, instead of making a paper chain with strips of coloured paper as he was supposed to, was trying to get his hands on his sisters glitter (leading to the earlier predicament I described). 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Merry Little Christmas, Part One

With Ms. Winchesters help I have detailed the events of Margaret's and my first Christmas together. The resulting story will be serialised and a new part posted here every Thursday between now and Christmas. This story can be read as a companion piece to Northern Light or as a stand alone story set after our wedding. I do hope that you enjoy it.

Given how lavish Victorian dinner parties and balls are, you are probably thinking that my and Margaret's first Christmas was a lavish affair with a nine course dinner and weeks of parties leading up to the big day. However on this occasion, you would be wrong.
We had not long been married then, only a few months, and it had been difficult for us to spend much time alone. I was still struggling to get the mill back up to full capacity and living with servants meant that time on our own was a precious commodity.
I was surprised when Mother announced her intention to spend Christmas with Fanny and Watson, since I know she does not take much pleasure in their company. I questioned her decision but she was adamant; she had already arranged everything and was to leave us on Christmas Eve and return the day after Boxing Day.
When I told Margaret that evening as we lay together in bed, she raised her head off my chest and smiled at me.
“Imagine, two whole days alone,” she sounded wistful.
“There will still be the servants,” I reminded her.
“Only if we want them,” she bit her lip to stifle the cheeky grin that wanted to escape. “We could send them home to their families for the holiday and then we would have this whole house to ourselves.”

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Early Years, Part Two

Mr Maitland's drapers shop where I worked
A New Beginning
My the time mother and I arrived back in Milton, she had filled me in on the situation.
My grandfather had made his money investing in new businesses and his son had continued in his fathers footsteps however, where my grandfather had done his homework before making an investment, it appeared that my father had not always been so diligent. He became involved with a man named Harrow and they started a business together, buying land and prospecting for oil in America. Harrow was a charismatic man who easily convinced people to trust but he also had another side that we had not been aware of.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Early Years, Part One

From Boy to Man
Rugby School Chapel (left) and Fives Court (right)
 I loved both my parents but it would be fair to say that I have always had more in common with my mother than my father. Those who know her today find it hard to remember my mother as the happy woman that she once was but I still remember it well.
I would not go so far as to call her carefree, but while of a slightly stern disposition, she was generally happy and many times when chastising me, I would often catch her trying her best to stifle a smile at my antics.
My father was the carefree one, always with a ready smile, a shilling for me and my friends and I don't believe he could have disciplined me had his life depended on it. Mother made him try on occasion but he was just no good at it! Indeed he sometimes found himself on the receiving end of my mothers sharp tongue but he took it with equanimity, behaved himself for a few days then quickly resumed his previous behaviour.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Village, Part Three

Thornton Mill
Building A Community
From start to finish, it took 9 years for us to complete the model village. 
Originally just called the village, it took it;s name from the mill (Thornton's) and became Thornton Village. 
The mill was of course, the heart of the village, it's whole reason for being. It was completed almost two months before the first stage of housing.
The first houses were small and functional, as our priority was to get the village operating and decent conditions for our workers to live in. As more housing was built, we began to add some grander houses, for those in management positions who could afford it. In the centre of the village we left space for the community buildings, such as the school, the hospital, the church and Sunday school, so that they could be built as the need for them arose. The purpose built school was completed in between phases three and four.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Village, Part Two

Rose Cottage, pre-renovations
The land for the village was former farmland that had laid fallow for many generations. We were informed when we signed the deeds that the ruins of the old house remained but I was unable to see them from the site of the mill.
I didn't give it much thought to be perfectly honest, since I assumed it was just rubble. During this time Margaret was with child and having suffering from serious health problems related to her condition. I was worried to say the least, and so after inspecting the building work one day, I decide to take a walk before I headed back to Milton. Walking has always been something that helps me handle whatever pressures I am facing and I had been walking for perhaps ten minutes when I topped a small rise and saw that the most wonderful ruin stood before me. Whoever had lived here before had not only been farmers, clearly they must have been landowners to have built such a lovely home.
With my interest piqued I made my way down to the house and began to explore. The roof was long since gone as was much of the timber but the walls were almost completely in tact and it was easy to see the home that this had once been, despite it's current dilapidated state.
I began to picture Margaret and I in a house like this and I knew exactly how much she would love this place.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Village, Part One

Architects sketch of the Village
Making  Plans

It's a rather large leap to go from cotton mill Master to model village* owner and it might surprise you to know that the seed of the idea actually came from Margaret's brother, Fred.
We were walking back from the opera one evening, Dolores and I walking a few paces behind Margaret and her brother, when he made an off hand remark about the strikes in Milton and wasn't it a shame that we couldn't move the mill to Helstone, where the practices of the other mills wouldn't affect us.
She said nothing to me at the time but the comment obviously germinated an idea. It wasn't until the trip home when she broached the subject with me. I came up on deck to find her leaning over the railings looking rather sad. I thought that perhaps she was missing her brother already, or even dreading returning to Milton. After Spain's sunny skies and dry heat, the Milton climate would come as a shock even to me.

The Wedding

Margaret's Wedding Gown
Larger pic under the cut
An Exerpt from Northern Light by Miss Winchester. This has been requested many times, so here it is. I do hope that you enjoy it. Personally I have very fond memories of this day,very fond indeed, and I am more than happy to relive it with you good people.
Who cares what they think.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. “Soon you will be mine and the rest of the world can go hang for all I care.”

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Telling Mother!

An excerpt from Miss Winchester's biography of us, Northern Light, detailing how Mother took the news of mine and Margaret's engagement.

Beware, spoilers for Northern Light below the jump!

Northern Light

For those who are interested in what happened to me and Margaret's after our marriage, Catherine Winchester has very kindly chronicled our lives and published our story for you all to enjoy.

I will be publishing details of certain events every week on this website.

With the threat of another strike, a series of bad mill accidents, a lethal fire and failed speculation, life in Milton is not easy for anyone and it won't be long before the mill masters and their workers clash once more, with devastating consequences.

Getting married and starting a family is difficult enough at the best of times but for John and Margaret, married life will present unique challenges and despite the reforms they are making, even they will not escape Milton's troubles unscathed.

Available on Amazon UK
Amazon US
And all ebook formats
And you can visit Miss Winchester's spider-site here.