"Yuletide Acquaintances"

"Yuletide Acquaintances"

A/N This is set in the third episode of the BBC's marvellous 2007 production of Elizabeth Gaskell's "Cranford", after the Christmas party at the Tompkinsons. I saw the interaction between Mary and Dr Marshland, and from then onwards, I began to ship them shamelessly, despite being pretty much the only fan of them in the world :D

So, yes, a little fluffy one shot, where Mary and Jack get to talk about Ireland, Cranford's ladies, and Jack's song….

Xx

As the evening drew to a close, and Jessie found that she could no longer play for them she was so tired, and even Miss Pole was observed nodding off in her chair, Captain Brown tactically got to his feet and announced that he thought they had "better call it a night."

There was the usual bustle as everyone started up, and hunted around for their coats, bonnets, hats, scarves and gloves. Mary and Jessie sought out Miss Matty and Captain Brown's belongings for them, and returning them to their owners, they all stood by the door to the stairs, putting on their garments.

"Doctor Harrison – "

The doctor spun around, one arm inside his coat and the other almost in, to see Miss Tompkinson stood in front of him, an overlarge smile on her face, her outstretched hand almost shaking as she held out his hat for him. Feeling his ears flush as they often did in such circumstances, he nodded his head to her and gave her a polite smile.

"Thank you, Miss Tompkinson."

The lady in question simply shook her head and retreated, simpering away. Sadly for Frank, the exchange did not go unseen by Jack, who grinned to himself, his witty mind already plotting schemes where he could toy with the poor, besotted woman.

"Gentlemen, could you possibly walk home with all of us?" Captain Brown asked, addressing the two young doctors. "I am sure the ladies would feel much safer with not just me to ward off any bandits or scoundrels."

Doctor Harrison inclined his head. "It would be our pleasure to assist you all home."

"Excellent," Captain Brown beamed, with a twinkle of his dark eyes.

The goodbyes to the Miss Tompkinsons took some time, to ensure that all of the ladies could thank the two enough for their hospitality, and the excellent rum punch that had been circulating all evening. Finally, the doctors and the captain managed to get them all downstairs, where they collected their lamps, and after asking the servant girl there for a light, they made their way out into the night.

Spontaneously, they formed a crocodile line as they started off down the lane, pairing off as they walked. Mary found herself at the back, joined by Doctor Marshland, swinging the lamp quite precariously as he strode along beside her.

"So did you enjoy your evening, Doctor Marshland? Have you had a favourable impression of Cranford?"

Jack smiled. "It was certainly not what I was expecting. Frank told me that we would be spending the evening with the single ladies of Cranford, so you can imagine my surprise once we actually arrived."

Mary laughed. "Yes, I can understand that. But I trust you have not been scared away from Cranford?"

"Scared is certainly the word to use, Miss Smith. I would have thought that in a village where there are very little men, the atmosphere would be quite .. dainty, and soft, yet.. "

"The women of Cranford are somewhat like Amazons, Doctor Marshland."

He threw his head back in laughter, his dark eyes twinkling in the candlelight. "You are right there. I've never felt so intimidated before!"

"And so you should be," she said, with a sparkle in her eye.

"And would you class yourself as one of these "Amazons", Miss Smith?"

"I know my own mind, if that's what you mean, Doctor. I am not content to simply sit at home and let the men do all the work in the world."

"You are a modern thinker then?"

"I believe every creature on this earth deserves the same chances and opportunities. I, along with the majority of my sex, do not shy away from trouble, and difficulties."

Jack felt his respect for this young woman with the wonderful eyes rise. There was something about her gaze that had caught his attention; perhaps it was the way she tilted her head when she was looking at someone, or the way she looked as she read her cards. Some people would simply pass it off as a way of looking, a peculiar, yet beautiful way of looking, but still, just a habit. However, having studied eyes for a long time at Guy's, and now that being his special area in medical science, Jack perceived more than the fact that her eyes were lit from within, and her glance was distorted. He thought that there may be something wrong with them, yet he did not know her well enough to make such a suggestion yet. He would wait and see if his predictions were true before voicing them. How proud Frank would be to know that his friend had actually decided to keep his mouth closed for a change!

"Despite my protestations, I have not been frightened off, Miss Smith. Cranford seems to be a charming place. I am beginning to see why Frank is so attracted to it, when there is such company to be had." He inclined his head slightly towards her, a smile slipping onto his face, and Mary glanced down, remembering the way he had done the same in his song.

"I did enjoy your song, Doctor Marshland. I do not think I have heard it before."

"It is an Irish melody, one that is often sung at the end of parties in Dublin, and across Ireland."

"How old were you when you left Ireland?"

"I was just eighteen when I left for Guy's, and to learn the ways of the world. I have been back but once since."

Mary looked horrified. "Only once! Forgive me, Doctor, but surely you miss your home, and your family?"

The doctor frowned slightly. "I do miss my younger sisters, and my mother. My father died when I was but a lad. I confess it is at such times of the year as this that I do feel the separation most keenly. But you see, tickets to Ireland do not come cheap."

"I understand." They walked on for a moment or two in silence, before Mary turned to him suddenly.

"Doctor Marshland, what is Ireland like?"

Immediately, his face shone, and his dark eyes glistened as he thought of his far off homeland. "It is hard to describe such a place, Miss Smith. Ireland is…. greener, and lusher than any place I have seen in England. The sea crashes against craggy rocks, and harsh cliffs, and the land rolls in emerald grass. You can stand on top of a hill and see nothing but the countryside for miles, a few cottages dotted here and there. Rivers run through the land, gushing with the water of life, and everywhere, there is the thick sludge of potato fields." His eyes were unfocused as he saw his home appearing in his mind, and Mary felt for him, he who hadn't returned to his land for such a time.

"It sounds beautiful," Mary smiled, enjoying the vision he painted for her.

"Nothing can compare to waking up and going for a walk in the dawn." He slid the hand not holding the lamp into his coat pocket, looking up at the stars.

"I'd like to see such a place, one day."

"I'd like you to see it too." They looked at each other, and a thousand different implications seemed to cross from one gaze to the other, before the moment was broken by the party arriving at Miss Matty's gate.

In the hurried goodbyes as Mary and Miss Matty broke apart from the group, Mary hardly found that she had time to wish Doctor Marshland goodnight, until she looked about for him as Captain Brown started to lead the others towards Miss Pole's.

"Goodnight, Miss Smith, and Merry Christmas."

She spun around as she heard someone at her elbow, and there he was, grinning impishly at her confusion. Smiling, she nodded her head to him. "Merry Christmas, Doctor Marshland."

He gave her a friendly, typically wide smile, then turned round to follow the others, and join Frank, as Mary herself followed Miss Matty inside, ushered on by Martha standing on the doorstep.

Mary didn't notice it, but there was a new spring in Jack's step, which he continued to walk with, until after dropping all the ladies off at their respective houses, he and Frank finally returned to his own abode, and as they went inside, pulling off their hats, Jack innocently asked "Say, Frank, what's the back story for Miss Smith then?"

A/N Please review! It really makes my day :)