A/N: I'm really, really sorry about the delay. Things kinda got away from me and well, you might as well know it, I'm not the most dedicated of updaters.

I usually start out with every intention of updating regularly and then am not really able to follow through. However, I'll try to do better. The story is all thought out, "all" that remains is for me to put it to words :D

(Yeah, I know this doesn't really take us forward into the plot much, but well... character establishment is important, right?)

Oh and Happy Independence Day, my dear American friends. ;)

John Thornton was a busy man.

After all, one didn't get as far in life as he had before the age of thirty without a strict work ethic.

He rose early and took his breakfast in the company of his mother while Fanny was still abed and fast asleep. Then he hurried off to his office where he then spent the majority of the day pouring over his account ledgers, or overseeing the efficiency of the empire he had built from ground up.

He was John Thornton of Marlborough Mill, master to some two hundred workers and the magistrate of the town of Milton. He had no time for frivolous or leisurely activities and, indeed, he had no need of them either.

Every day when he returned from his office to share his evening meal with his mother and sister and in the doorway turned around to see the towering structure of his mill behind him, he felt deep satisfaction and not a little pride at what he had accomplished.

And yet, when he received a letter from his landlord, Mr Bell, requesting that he enquire after willing pupils for his old college friend who was searching to begin a new life in the north of England, something rose inside of him and prompted him to name himself as the first and most willing candidate.

"Philosophy and classics, John?! What use is that in a mill?" his mother had said then, the look of complete bewilderment quite out of place on her face.

She was certainly never shy when voicing her own misgivings and doubts to his conduct, however scarce they were. And as was usual, John was well aware that she had the right of it.

Indeed, what use had he, a grown man of thirty, of Greek and Latin? Correspondence with his investors and buyers certainly didn't require those skills and keeping his accounting ledgers straight needed less philosophical attitude and more precise, practical thinking.

John Thornton, the manufacturer and magistrate, had no need of tutoring by a Mr Hale, an ex-clergyman of the Church of England.

And still he thirsted for that knowledge. The more he told himself he was being nonsensical, the more secure he felt in the knowledge that this was something he wanted to do.

There wasn't much time during his days that would allow him to inspect the feeling thoroughly and the practice of introspection certainly wasn't something he was in the habit of indulging in often. However, during one evening in late August, when the air of his office was hot and stifling and the smell of gooseberry pie from the kitchen brought back memories of times long past, he finally recognised his wish to learn for what it was – the yearning to steal back a little of the youth that was stolen from him.

If Mr Bell was surprised at the fact that John's name headed the list of potential pupils for his friend, he contained it well and showed no sign of it. Instead upon an entirely unexpected visit to the mill, the purpose of which John remembered to wonder at only long time after his landlord had gone, Mr Bell took time to thank John for the kindness he showed his friend and, with cordiality that was most unusual, volunteered information about this Mr Hale.

And so John learned that Mr Hale was an old college friend of Mr Bell, a widower and a father to a young daughter. He found himself most grateful that neither Fanny, nor his mother were present for this conversation. He could well imagine his mother's forthright and Fanny's inquisitive stares at the news that a man with a young child in his care should decide to abandon the security of his livelihood in such a way.

John, however, had decided to keep his thoughts to himself and once the Hales arrived in town he was very glad that he had done so. He had no wish to make a fool of himself in front of his landlord.

His overseer Williams wasn't a man of few words and yet when he arrived from his errand at Crampton, John found him in quite a state. Much of what the man had said was merely sputtering and indignant cries of "I say!", however, there was one sentence that made sense and had John amend his imagine of the Hales.

"… a lady with a man's pocket watch! Never saw such a sight! And shrill as a shrew, she demanded to know the rent and be taken to you, master! Bah! A man's pocket watch it was too!"

With this news, Miss Hale grew considerably older in his mind, the image of a sad child was pushed aside by a tall, thin, severe looking harridan of a woman. His feelings towards the ex-clergyman turned quite charitable then.

John was certain that Mr Hale's reasons for leaving the church and relocating far from his home were many, yet now he felt he had some inkling as to at least one of them. No doubt Mr Hale hoped that the men of Milton might be more willing to marry his spinster of a daughter, than the men of the South had been. He only hoped that in his eagerness to begin his lessons, he hadn't made himself the object of these ambitions.

John Thornton, master and magistrate, had no wish to marry. Indeed, he would have to sit down and think really hard before discovering something he desired less.

However, the day of his first visit to Hale's, John had time to sit down and remember his nonsensical musings. He now didn't have to think very hard at all before plenty other things, much less desirable than marriage, popped into his mind.

He'd had another letter from his man in Liverpool and apparently the prices of American cotton were on the rise. The grumbling in the mills had started again.

The hands were unhappy with their wages not yet having returned to the figure before their last strike. And yet John could hardly raise the wages with the price of cotton so high, still laying down payments for the last wheel and his buyers late!

Yes, John Thornton, master and magistrate, was well reminded that there were worse things lurking on the horizon than the notion of marriage.

That, however, didn't mean that, as he picked up his hat and gloves and headed out the door for his first lesson, John did so desirous of Mr Hale's daughter's hand. He rather hoped she'd be out.

And John thanked Providence for being kind to him when an elderly gentleman who opened the door for him, introduced himself enthusiastically as Mr Hale and announced sheepishly that the house was still in a bit of an uproar and that his daughter was out.

"John Thornton, sir," he stated as he shook Mr Hale's hand warmly. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

Mr Hale was exactly as John had imagined him; middle-aged and frail-looking with a set of piercingly perceptive eyes.

"The pleasure is all mine, Mr Thornton- John. May I call you John?" The piercing eyes looked at him expectantly.

"But of course," John got out with only a short pause on his way to sitting down on the settee. He felt a sudden need to tug at his tie. No body but his mother and Fanny called him by his Christian name.

"Excellent, most excellent!" Mr Hale responded with a merry smile on his face. "Then you must call me Richard."

John hoped his smile didn't seem too strained as he nodded his head in acquiescence.

"I presume the mill is –er– running well?" Mr Hale intoned and John felt a little calmer at hearing slight uneasiness creep into his voice. It was reassuring to know that he wasn't the only one who found making new acquaintances most unnerving.

"Quite well, thank you." His smile came a little easier now. "I shall have to return to it soon, today in particular it's kept me occupied and I regret that I cannot stay very long."

"Oh that is a pity! But I understand, I quite understand," called Mr Hale cordially. "Well, we shouldn't waste time with small talk then, let us stop beating around the bush. What day would you find most convenient for our lessons?"

The conversation flowed a lot more easily after that.

John really appreciated Mr Hale's – Richard's – practical approach towards their lessons. He had had dealing with only a few men from the South, but most of them showed to prefer a more lengthy and flippant conversations before touching upon the subject of business. As though the real purpose of their conversation was distasteful to them and needed to be got at seemingly by accident.

John had no patience for such men and no wish to conduct business with them either. That was one of the reasons why he preferred getting his cotton through Liverpool and not Le Havre. It was a good thing that Richard seemed to understand the good business sense of not wasting time with pointless chit-chat. And for that John was prepared to tolerate the strange familiarity he had insisted on as another peculiar custom from the South.

"I must confess, Richard, I'm unsure how much I still recall from my studies," John admitted when the conversation turned towards the topic of their next lesson.

Richard waved his worries aside.

"That is what I am here for, after all. You must only decide whether you'd prefer to begin with Aristotle or Plato."

John smiled. His tutor was in for quite a surprise if he imagined that John had recalled and had preference for either.

"Will it make much difference either way?" he asked and Richard laughed softly.

"No, I suppose not," he admitted. "Perhaps we might start with something else altogether? The Iliad, perhaps?"

"Very well. I shall follow your instructions," John said with a smile and an air of finality. He suddenly realised that he'd already spent a much longer time at the Hale's than he had originally planned.

"You're going already?"

"Yes, I fear I'm already needed at the mill."

"Well, I cannot detain you then."

They got up, John picked up his hat and gloves and they headed for the door.

After meeting and talking with Richard, John felt reassured in his decision to begin taking lessons from the man, that he would quite enjoy them. Indeed, perhaps he might not mind terribly suffering through a couple of meetings with the spinster daughter of his new friend.

"Ah, there she is! Margaret, how fortunate! I was just about to send Dixon for you," Richard cried.

John realised that he'd spoken too soon, for all things indicated that behind his back at the top of the stairs there stood the woman who made his level-headed overseer shake with indignation.

There was nothing for it now, he could not escape the introduction.