Hey guys, do please excuse the somewhat harried style of this story, I had this idea and wanted to jot it down while it was fresh, so I typed it out in a mad rush during the night while I waited for news of my new niece being born, so it's very basic. Anyway, I might well come back to fix it up a bit and make it better, but it's a start for now. Again, you must forgive me, but due to how hastily I wrote this story, the alliteration is particularly heavy, since it seems to flow naturally when I type fast.


Part 1 of 1

From The Thornton Tales

Margaret had been busy all morning tidying up the shocking mess that had overtaken her home, a clutter which consisted of strewn clothes, ornaments and books, all indiscriminate artefacts that the boys had left scattered in various rooms, almost like a particularly exasperating treasure hunt which had no rewarding prize awaiting her at the end as a form of compensation.

Muttering under her breath, Margaret did her best to return the house to a tolerably orderly state before anyone stumbled upon this ungodly mayhem, a mish-mash of objects that was not only unsightly, but could well end up causing some poor unsuspecting soul to trip or slip, the end result being them falling flat on their face. With her cheeks blushing, the mistress of the house was mortified by the very idea that the servants should feel obliged to pick up and put away the pandemonium that had been left behind in the wake of none other than Mr Thornton and Mr Thornton, the most troublesome twosome that had ever been born and bred – God love 'em!

As she wondered and worried what tricks the boys were up to as we speak, what with having daringly, (if not unwisely), left them alone in the nursery unsupervised with a plate of ginger snaps and a collection of wooden animals to buy their brief attention, Margaret found herself using a few choice and not entirely ladylike words as she reached behind a chair and collected up yet another sock. (How and why those two monkeys managed to find and toss about so many socks, she would never know).

However, as she snatched the mucky garment and added it to her pile of accumulated and most irregular odds and ends, Margaret's ears pricked as she heard a deep tenor resonating from the nursery a few doors down. Stopping, she stilled as the sound drifted into her ears, and all at once, the stressful burden which had been weighing down on her spirit lifted, and Margaret was left feeling as light as a feather, the plumes tickling her insides and leaving her giddy with gladness.

The sound was strangely gruff yet gentle all at once, a voice that she knew oh-so-very-well, since it was the last thing she heard every night before she went to sleep, her very own lullaby. Standing up and overlooking the wearisome grumble that came from her back, Margaret furrowed her brow as she tiptoed closer to the door and paused outside, her keen eyes peering through the thin crack of the joint.

Margaret beamed, so brightly that her skin glowed and her eyes gleamed.

There, before her, was a scene that warmed her soul with the most heavenly of joys, a blessedness that no amount of money can acquire, might can build, or bartering can persuade, since it is something so wholesome that only a pure heart could ever hope to bring it about. The spectacle was a simple one, nothing out of the ordinary, not in this house anyway, but still, such a sight never ceased to fill Margaret with a richness of cheer and contentment, a sentiment that was so moving, she sometimes found herself trembling from the potency of it.

At the other side of the room, sitting in a high-backed chair, was a man, a person whom she could map every inch of, inside and out, so much so that Margaret knew him better than she even knew herself. He was tall, dark, and excessively handsome, and while he slumped back, his large frame relaxing in equanimity, he grinned, the skin around his eyes creasing as his face spoke of the pride and peace he felt within.


Why was he proud, one might ask? Well, it was because of what sat before him, or better yet, of whom sat before him, for there, on each of his sturdy knees, was perched a pair of boys, two further Mr Thorntons, ones who were much, much smaller than he, even if they did take after him in so many wonderful ways.

John's sons.

Margaret rested her head against the doorpost and clutched a nurturing hand to her stomach, her belly now beginning to reveal a slight bump as she entered into the fourth month of her new pregnancy, and as she did so, her heart sang to think that her baby would be so lucky as to have such a devoted and doting papa as John. Margaret knew that many a man had a negligible interest in his children, and considered them a noisy nuisance who should be kept out of the way until adulthood, only permitting them a fleeting wisp of attention when they were trotted out in their best clothes to shake his hand once a week before church.

However, when it came to John, Margaret was delighted to report that far from being aloof in his parenting, her husband was an incredibly affectionate father, and instead of banishing his little ones from his sight, the hardworking master and magistrate did whatever he could to spend time with them, even if he was always in demand elsewhere, because he made it a steadfast priority to be at home with his children whenever he could. In fact, John's study had become like a nursery in its own right, his floor covered in all manner of toys, because while he worked away, John insisted on having his three little Thorntons come to him and crawl, totter, and run about his feet while they played, since the man who had once needed silence and seclusion to focus, now found that he could not concentrate if they were not near at hand, the sound of his children's giggles and gurgles being the symphony, the harmony of his soul.

The boys, Richard and Daniel, who sat wriggling upon his knee like they had ants crawling up their backs, were John and Margaret's second and third baby chicks, a set of twins who had come after their eldest daughter, Maria. No more than two years old, the young masters of the house were utterly darling, the pair of them full of inquisitiveness, cleverness, and fun. What was more, they each possessed a delightfully charismatic charm, their fetching little grins enough to steal your heart with just one fatal look. To be sure, it would seem that the lads had made a conquest or two already, many a grown woman swooning at the sight of their smouldering smiles as they strolled down the street with their pockets full of sweeties, the sewing circles of Milton hailing them as the most handsome chaps from here to Timbuktu.

Margaret could not claim to know a great deal about the mysteries of childbirth, but she did know that having unidentical twins was a fluke, and that in reality, it was down to nothing more than sheer luck that two babies came out and not just one. It was such a strange happenstance, to be sure, and John, ever the tradesman, would laugh and say they had been given, "two for the price of one," the man joking that it had been a productive day of business when his lads had been conceived. Nevertheless, now that her boys were here, Margaret often found herself brooding over what it would be like without one of them here, and as she watched the two of them playing side-by-side, she felt a shudder of grief in her maternal breast to imagine having to say goodbye to either of them, and so she thanked her lucky stars that God had seen fit to sew two cherished seeds in her womb that day, rather than only one.

However, Lord help them, John and Margaret knew that there was no denying that while their angels might be sweet and sensitive by nature, they had also been made with a generous helping of impishness, God having no doubt accidentally spilt a mite too much of that ingredient into their mixing bowl when their mould had been made. This meant that while her boys were still sweethearts, they were also a set of cheeky cherubs, rascally scamps who kept their parents on their toes with their never ending array of mischievous hoaxes and hoodwinks.

Nevertheless, despite that irritable temper which was part and parcel of John's disposition, Margaret had been both astonished and reassured to find that in contrast to being constantly displeased or even angry with his boys, John was the very definition of patience. Indeed, their father had never once failed in his ability to simultaneously encourage their spirited characters whilst also trying his darndest to manage their puckishness with a wealth of tolerance, a forgiving and forbearing charity which left Margaret in awe of her husband.

As she watched in stealthy silence, Margaret's eyes sparkled to see John unreservedly playing with his sons as he tickled and teased them, the scallywags letting out a series of shrill giggles which filled the house with laughter, the merry sound of a blissful childhood. Leaning in a little nearer, Margaret cooed as John began to bounce them briskly on his long legs, the two tinks sat straddling his thick thighs while he clicked his teeth and pretended to be a horse trotting along a bumpy road. In a fit of hysterical glee, the twins were near enough howling with gaiety as they teetered from side to side and nearly toppled off their saddles, their father's shielding hands hovering nearby to ensure that no such calamity befell his precious cargo.

Covering her mouth with her palm, Margaret had to stifle a chuckle of her own. Oh! How she adored her three boys.

However, as much as she treasured their Ricky and Danny, there was just one teeny, tiny problem that was hard to ignore, and this was that the twins had developed a most unfortunate habit, one which all children do at that age, especially boys, I am sorry to say, and that was the unpleasant tendency to –

'NO!' bellowed a sudden shout, one which was as loud as a lion and as thunderous as…well, as thunder. You must forgive Margaret her want of articulation at this point, but she was so taken aback by the unexpected outcry, that her wits quite deserted her.

Indeed, Margaret jumped on the spot at the sudden rumble, an uproar which had been so ferocious in its booming vibrations that she found her knees were knocking beneath her skirts. Returning her anxious eyes to the narrow slit, Margaret glimpsed that John's countenance had changed, and in place of appearing tranquil, her husband was now terribly out of sorts, his features set into a rigid mask of disapproval as he held on tightly to the boys' wrists, their gangly arms raised into the air and dangling there in suspended motion.

Oh dear!

You see, this was the very problem of which I attempted to tell you of earlier, but was so rudely interrupted by said problem itself rearing its ugly head. The issue was that the twins, like many children who find themselves at the interesting age of two, had taken a liking to the rather hostile and indeed horrid practice of hitting. That is, they were not sadistic or savage little ones, not in the least, and you must not think so, for it would break Margaret's heart if you should judge her beloved boys so harshly. No, it was just that when they got excited and were full of beans, as Dixon would say, before they had the chance to think, they would lift up their arms and scratch, thump, nip, or slap people with a bounty of thuggish vigour. It really was a most unflattering thing for them to do. And what was worse, because they were their father's sons, then Richard and Daniel's strength was startlingly incalculable, meaning that one half-hearted wallop from them could whack someone all the way into the middle of next week if they were not careful, something which they unfortunately never were.

Things would not have been so bad if this had remained both an infrequent and mild occurrence, but oh-dear, oh-my, I am sorry to say that this barbarism had become an everyday predicament in the Thornton household over the past few months, a crisis which Fanny had now dubbed as: "The Thornton trouncing," (a fellow alliteration fan apparently). After several weeks of this waywardness, the lads had now amassed a list of victims so long that all the paper in all the world would not suffice to catalogue their offences, their poor prey including the cook, the scullery maid, the butler, and Mr Slickson, (although, to be fair, John and Margaret were not so fussed about the latter).

What was worse, because there were two of them, then they tended to provoke and pester each other with their frolicsome jokes and jests until they were so riled that nothing and nobody could ever hope to calm them. Then, as they chuckled away like a pair of small-scale mischief-makers, Richard and Daniel would grow increasingly animated, meaning that all this fizzing momentum that bubbled away inside of them had to have some form of release, and regrettably, well, it was no wonder that it often came out as an act of feisty aggression.

Oh boy-oh-boy, what a pair of boys they had!

No, they were not naughty, honestly, they were just boys, and boisterous ones at that. What was more, equipped with the additional clout of a strapping Thornton arm, the rascally duo found, through no fault of their own, that they were outfitted with a most formidable weapon indeed in the form of a powerful right hook…occasionally the left one too. Again, while some parents would not have been troubled in the slightest by such commonplace trifles, marking it down to the lads exercising their latent masculinity, Margaret, ever the gentle and genteel woman, could not abide it, and it made her miserable to see her sons lashing out, even if it was just for a supposedly harmless lark.

To be sure, it would not do, since their waggishness had caused more than one person to cry and complain, and flushed with embarrassment to think that her own children had instigated such an unholy upset, Margaret could not allow such a thing to go unbridled, and neither, so it would seem, would their father. In actual fact, John gave the impression of being more concerned by it than anyone, even with his mother clucking away and reminding him that he was no different at that age, and that her grandsons would soon grow out of it as they matured into their manners. Yet still, the moment their skirmishing started on any given day, John was the first to leap to his feet, and after towering high above their heads, he would growl at them to stop. Dragging them apart and separating them like two felons, the master would give his sons that look, the one we all know, the one which only fathers are able to give, one which contains a multitude of promises of punishment if his authority is not obeyed to the letter.

Margaret smiled to herself. Dear John! While some men might be more fearsome when it came to dishing out discipline, as a mother, Margaret was relieved to have discovered that she would never have to find herself in the distressing position of begging the father of her babies not to strike their little ones. No, she had never had to suffer this dilemma, since such cruelty was just not in John's nature, and the very thought of laying one furious finger on his three Thornton pups seemed to turn John as white as a sheet. John had never once used physical penalties as a form of penance, and Margaret trusted that he never would. Nonetheless, there was no denying that when John Thornton got that look in his eye, the same one Margaret had seen during their first encounter when he had caught a worker smoking, then such a frightening mien was enough to terrify the living daylights out of anyone and intimidate them into submission.

In light of John's irrefutable aptitude for looking daunting with his irate eyes, taut jaw, angled head, and laboured breathing, then there was surely no surprise that the boys backed down and retreated in meek compliance as the alpha male asserted his dominance over the pack, John's untamed features giving him an imposing wolflike quality. Margaret sighed to think that they had not long dealt with this problem, since only four days ago, John had been alarmed to hear his wife yelp all the way from his study, and after investigating, he had been livid to discover that whilst trying to wheedle them into their evening bath, the boys had struck Margaret right in the abdomen.

Overwhelmed by a sense of defensive anger, John had shouted at the twins for hitting their mother, especially when she was with child, his hand covering her belly to try and show them that this was a precious and protected spot that they had to treat "nicely." After ensuring that his wife was well, John had sent Margaret away and had seen to the boy's bath himself, the father scrubbing at them more roughly than was strictly necessary, ignoring their whinges and gripes of complaint. After that, he had put them to bed early, and no matter how many times they climbed out and strayed through the house to find their parents sitting at the table eating their dinner, John would just pick up his sons, and without saying a word on the matter, he would take them back to bed, all three Thornton men playing out a battle of stubbornness, none of them willing to back down and admit defeat, since such a word was not to be found in their dictionary.

As she stood there on the brink of this unsettling scene, Margaret sighed to herself, wishing that such pleasant moments as a father spending his precious time with his sons would not be ruined by bad behaviour. But alas, such a world did not exist, and parents had no choice but to grin and bear it, muddling through and doing their best to both love their children and to teach them the difference between right and wrong, a line in the sand that they would inevitably have to decide for themselves one day.

As Margaret set down her pile of socks, she was about to make her presence known and step into the room so that she might lend a helping hand. However, for some reason, the wife and mother held back as her feet froze in place when she found herself suddenly routed by a curious inclination to keep her distance and observe unseen. Why? Perhaps it was because John was so much better at dealing with this quandary than she was, and after trying and failing goodness knows how many times to persuade Richard and Daniel to play politely, Margaret had found that she sorely lacked John's convincing demeanour of strict say-so, and so, she decided that on this occasion, she would wait and see what her husband did next.

With her eyes wide and her heart pounding, Margaret resumed her position beside the door, waiting and watching quietly in the wings.

Letting go of their arms with gradual and cautious unhurriedness, John continued to keep his eyes fixed upon the twins, his stare so solemn and severe that the pair of them recoiled and whimpered in subservience, the tykes fully aware that they had crossed the line in trying to thwack their father squarely across the face.

'No!' he repeated, even more firmly this time, his speech overly pronounced so that the boys, who were only two years old, might fully heed his warning and his order to desist at once or else face his displeasure. 'No hitting!' John reminded them, shaking his head slowly.

The boys hunched their shoulders and looked up at their father sheepishly, but if he studied them carefully, John was sure he could spy a trace of defiance lurking behind their hangdog expressions, and this made him smirk, since at that precise moment, as they regarded him thus, all he could see was his darling Meg looking back at him. Yes, despite the gravity of the situation, John could still find room in his heart to feel blessed that his boys had such a beautiful and benevolent mother as Margaret, for with such a woman's blood running through their veins, then there was no question in John's mind that his lads would turn out to be the very best of men.

Correcting his tone so that it was more calm than cantankerous, John raised his eyebrows at them both and narrowed his eyes knowingly. 'Now then,' came a dense Darkshire twang, 'have I not told you before, lads, hmm? No hitting!' he reiterated.

'Why?' Richard spluttered huffily as he shoved his thumb into his mouth and sucked away, the child using one of the few words the boys had learnt, and, as it would turn out, by far their favourite, one which they used so frequently that it had lost all meaning.

'Aye,' Daniel agreed, his head bobbing up and down vigorously as he squirmed about, creasing his father's trousers in the process. 'Why Dada, whyyyyyeee?' he echoed, the boy's question coming out as nonsensical gibberish as Daniel's palms pressed down on John's leg to steady himself while he attempted to push his brother over, the two of them still scrapping, even in the midst of their ticking-off. It was always like this, the boys soon forgetting all about John's scary and stern scowls after a moment or two, meaning that after feeling sorry for the pithiest of intervals, they would promptly return to revelling in their horseplay and hijinks within the twinkling of an elfin eye.

Lordie, they were insatiable!

'Because it makes people sad,' John said simply, aware that it was difficult to rationalise the concept of indefinable kindness and respect to such young weans, the man finding that his lack of eloquence when it came to expressing himself was being sorely tested now that he was a parent. This meant that John was constantly having to find new ways of communicating with his children, a vital requirement which mattered a great deal to him, since he was determined to prove himself worthy of the honoured title of, "father."

But the boys just shared a confused glance and frowned, their little mouths turning downwards dramatically as their heads shook from side-to-side in mulish descent in retort to their father's daft reasoning. 'No sad, Da! We no sad!' they contended in unison, baffled as to why their papa should think their antics would bring them the least bit of uneasiness, not when they enjoyed their boxing and wrestling immensely.

John laughed out loud, a real robust chuckle. 'I know you're not sad,' he acknowledged, massaging his brow despairingly, amused by their logic. 'But I am, it makes Da sad,' he explained as he pointed to himself and assumed a sorrowful expression, his lips puckered and his eyes moist. 'It makes me cry in here,' he said, placing a hand over his most loving and loyal heart.

All at once, the boys gasped, and they quickly sprung up and scrambled onto their knees so that they could fling their arms around John's neck and squeeze him tight in a comforting cuddle. 'No, Da!' they cried in concern, the boys taking after their mother in their instinctive need to demonstrate compassion. 'No! Peese!' Kneading their heads against his neck and giggling at the feel of his scratchy bristles, they each clutched onto John and nearly ripped the material of his shirt, their grip as strong as Hercules himself, just like their father's.

'Dada no cry,' they pleaded unhappily, a tragic whine to their voices. 'We-we-we be good boys!' they vowed, although, to be fair, this pledge would most likely only endure for an hour or two at best, no matter how sincere it may be in the here and now, since one cannot realistically expect long-term commitment from children whose span of attention averages around three minutes.

Wrapping his arms around them, John hauled his sons close into his chest and held them there, his hands rubbing along their shoulders, their arms warmed by the woollen clothes that their grandmother had knitted them last winter, the weans already outgrowing the threads with their substantial Thornton frames. Smirking, John guessed that the lads would be taller than their mother by the following month if they kept on growing at this rate. Leaving a tender kiss upon the crown of Ricky's black mane and Danny's blonde curls, John smiled, because he recollected sitting in this very chair five years ago, this being the only room in the house that afforded the brother an escape from his sister's strangled singing. After finally finding some solace, the master had attempted to read so that he might prepare himself for his forthcoming lesson with his tutor, but alas, he could not concentrate, not when she was on his mind, and on his mind she was always to be.

As he closed his eyes, John had pictured a woman, an enchanting one with pretty eyes and a refreshingly pert tongue, but a woman nonetheless who had no interest in him whatsoever, since she would never have him, not if he were the last man on earth. Oh, how John had wished that one day she would sit here in this room with him, and together, they would tend to their children, the married couple as happy as can be to share this familial bond and know that their united flesh had created such a sweet thing as a babe. But thinking back on those prayers now, John's heart leapt for joy, because never in his wildest imaginings had he envisioned that any of it could actually come to bear fruit, and that such contentment really could be within his grasp to achieve. Moreover, his fantasies had been hallowed enough, but it was a miracle to now find that the reality John had been gifted far outshone his most fervent dreams.

With tears wetting his lashes, John returned his gaze to his sons, the two of them peering up at him, their broad eyes twinkling with a thousand questions of youth.

'You are good boys,' he told them with a sentimental sniff, since it was true, they really were as good as gold if you dusted off that thin layer of audacity which veiled their kind-hearted natures. 'You are my good boys, and I love you so very much. But you should never hit anybody, not for any reason,' he counselled, the master's face growing dark as he remembered a time in his life when, much to his shame, he would not have thought twice about raising his own fists to another man, not when he felt the sorry sod deserved his wrath.

It would be unfair to say that John had ever been a genuinely violent man, for such an assessment would disgrace his principled character and degrade his sense of justice to an extent which is just downright slanderous, given that despite his surly temper, the Master of Marlborough Mills was a man grounded by the doctrines of fairness and honour. However, it was unfortunately true that in his formative years, John had voiced much of his pent-up frustrations and fears through the use of his brute strength, his knuckles having boxed many a man's ear, nose and jaw, blows which had been rougher than he would care to admit. As a grown man, his menacing moods had been seldom, but again, John felt both humiliated and humbled to confess that while he would never have struck a woman nor a child, never, he had been known to knock down and knock out the odd fellow or two, most of them not gentlemen, but wretched souls who were far weaker in both physical brawn and social eminence than he.

Yes, it was a chapter and component of his life which John regretted bitterly, but on this occasion, his repentant ruminations were interrupted as he felt something tug on his shirtsleeve impatiently, and he twitched as a small voice piped up and pierced the silence. 'But why, Pa?' Daniel parroted sulkily, his little mind struggling to work it all out.

John sat in reserved contemplation for a while as he thought on this, his boys staring at their father with enquiring gazes as they continued to cuddle into him, because to Richard and Daniel, John was not merely their papa, but he was their friend too, someone who provided security, a fatherly fortress of shelter that kept them safe against the tide of any raging storm.

At long last, John drew a deep breath and replied cryptically with the words: 'Because that is the measure of a man.'

Nodding his head sagely, John thought on a particular evening when he and Mr Hale had sat and considered the ways of the world together, and while they enjoyed each other's company before a cheering fire, the pupil and teacher had discussed Plato, the scholar of old whom they both admired so much. If John remembered correctly, then they had not been alone that evening, and off to his left, just within his range of vision if he squinted, there had sat a young lady, her head bowed over a book, her cheeks aglow with the flush of the passionate flames. God, she was so lovely, this Aphrodite who hardly cared to know what he thought or what he wanted, her radiant beauty so appealing and her shy countenance so endearing that the master had been forced to loosen his cravat, since he found that he could hardly breathe in her presence, something which had not changed.

Lifting his head and looking at a well-worn tome of Greek philosophy which lay on a nearby table, a volume which he could recite in his sleep, John related: 'The measure of a man is what he does with power…for a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories…and all men are by nature equal, made all of the same earth by one workman; and however we deceive ourselves, as dear unto God is the poor peasant as the mighty prince….so you should never consider yourself better than any other of God's creations, since it is in the womb of this misconception that wickedness is , you see, there are three classes of men, boys, lovers of wisdom, lovers of honour, and lovers of gain, and I hope that you shall never be the latter,' he determined pensively, the father wondering what paths in life his sons would choose for themselves.

'I may not be able to give you everything in this world, Ricky, Danny, nor should any man acquire such a thing for both his own sanity and the safety of others. Rather, I believe that parents should bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence. And so, my sons, I tell you that the measure of a man is not found in the muscle of his arm, but in the sharpness of his wits, the grit of his fortitude, the loyalty of his nature, and most significantly, in his ability to both offer and receive love without restraint and without the need to keep a record of rights and wrongs. In doing so, he will learn that love is the most precious commodity of trade in the world, one which the more he gives away, the richer he will become himself.'

As John's faraway gaze faded and the nursery returned to the forefront, he restored his penetrating eyes to his sons, and he smiled, because it goes without saying that far from appreciating his erudite reflections, the little lambs had not understood a single word. Raising a hand and extending his fingers to caress their soft cheeks, John could only hope that one day they would meet a man as knowledgeable as Richard Hale, and after welcoming them into the heart of his home, such a man, (or woman), would open up their minds to greater things than facts and figures, profit and loss, and good-old cotton. Instead, such a person of noble wisdom would allow them to realise that when all is said and done, love is all that really matters, it is all that remains, and it is what makes us human after all.

Clearing his throat, John tried one last time to help them understand. 'What I mean, boys, is that a man should never use these to manage his problems,' he explained, lifting his fists and tutting as he shook his head, their curious eyes following his every move. 'No, a man can sometimes use this,' he suggested, settling a finger over each of their mouths. 'But most of all, a man should use these,' he told them, one hand resting over Richard's heart and the other on Daniel's head. 'These, my sons, these characteristics are the real measure of a man. Do you know who taught me that?' he tested.

The boys looked at each other and then back at their father before shaking their heads.

John's heart stirred as it thought of its keeper. 'It was your mother.'

John smiled, a small and private smile. Margaret, his darling girl. Again, John could never be described as a truly vicious or violent man, but there was no denying that since he had met his wife, something had changed in the character of the Master of Marlborough Mills, and he had experienced a shift in his thinking, an alteration which meant that he no longer harboured a base desire to assert his strength, but rather, he now cultivated a fundamental need to nurture his sensitivity. John would never forget the look on his sweet Margaret's face when she had witnessed him beating Stephens for smoking on the factory floor, and while John did not regret reprimanding and dismissing the man for putting himself and everyone else there in grave danger, he would never be able to shirk that feeling of shame which niggled away at his conscience for the way he had dealt with that threat. Looking back, John appreciated that he could have achieved the same end if he had simply told Stephens to leave and never come back, but no, with the nightmarish memory of that Yorkshire fire and the hundreds of bodies laid out on the hill, many of them children, the master had seen red, and his temper had got the better of him.

It was just so dammed unfortunate that it had been in front of her…of all people!

But where he would have once put it down to an inconsequential lapse in his self-control, John had not been allowed to forget his transgression as a gentleman, because the very next day, standing in the parlour of a cramped Crampton house, he had turned to face the most captivating woman he had ever met, and it had been she. However, far from fawning over and flattering him as many young ladies seemed to do, she had simply stared back at him with naked disgust, and from that moment on, John had wanted nothing more than to earn and secure her good opinion. And now, well, he had won it, but with God as his witness, John knew that so much as one punch would diminish and demean her respect for him forever, and such a thought was too unbearable for the enamoured husband to stomach. Therefore, day after day, despite the red blood which coursed through his veins, the master knew that he had had to suppress any hint of rage which flared up within, and he must never let it go unchecked, since he could not do that to her, not to the one who had tamed his temper and made him a better man for it.

But again, John's thoughts were disturbed as he heard Richard ask him another question. 'Is Mama a good girl?' the lad wanted to know, his head cocked as he tried to puzzle it out for himself. John smirked. The twins had a habit of calling John a boy and Margaret a girl, something which never failed to entertain him, especially when Margaret said that while John toiled away at the mill, his sons would roam from room to room looking for him, and ask: 'Where dat boy gone?' the two of them not content until their father walked through the door at six o'clock sharp, and swiftly scooped them up into his arms, the man having missed them more than they would ever know.

John nodded. 'She is all goodness,' he said patently. 'There is not one bad bone in your mama's body, and that is why I know that deep down, you are good boys at heart, because you come from her, and there is nobody so compassionate or caring in all the world than your mother.'

Still lingering and listening on the other side of the door, Margaret placed her fingers over her mouth, and pressed her lips to them, before blowing a clandestine kiss through the door to her husband. Picking up her pile of discarded items, a load which no longer seemed so bothersome, Margaret quietly walked away, since she understood that she was not needed here, not when her boys were well, the three of them looking after each other.

As she rested a hand on her belly, Margaret wondered how many babies she and John would have, because while the idea of a large family may once have daunted her, it no longer did, not now that her babes had a protector and provider like John. Stopping in the twin's bedroom and gathering up the blankets that Hannah had knitted them when they were born, she lifted them to her face, the soft yarn warming her skin, that delightful new-born smell still enduring, even after all this time.

Margaret did not know how her boys could ever hope to be as remarkable as their father, but they could but try, and if her dear children turned out even half as munificent, conscientious and faithful as he, then they would do their mother proud, since in her eyes, John Thornton was the true measure of what a man should be.

Hi, so I don't know if anyone will comment on this, but for anyone who might…

I want to make it clear that I know John having been violent towards Stephens is a very contentious topic in North&South fanfiction, given that it is not in the novel and a lot of people feel let down that it was included in the 2004 BBC series. My purpose for including it here is not so much to validate that addition to his character, but to give John a chance to explore his past feelings of aggression and for us to witness some of the journey he has done through to become a man who has put that behind him. We all know that regardless of how he was portrayed in the TV series, John is not a bad man, and he is not prone to violence, nor would he ever hurt those he cares about. But I also wanted to bring up a very typical part of parenting, which is when every parent inevitably needs to teach their children that hitting is wrong, and as parents, we try and show them that we should use our minds, words and hearts to both explore and express our feelings and relationships. In light of this, it occurred to me that this was a good chance for John to have a moment like that with his boys, and it made it feel more poignant to me if that came from a place of experience for him, something which makes him really want to show them that there is a better way to handle themselves than to hit. Anyway, I just thought I would explain my rationale.

Also, a little shout out to one of my nephew and my husband in this story. When my nephew was three, he used to wander from room to room looking for my husband and ask, "Where dat boy gone," and I am sure he will be humiliated beyond words to find out I have put it in this story, haha!

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