Inspired by the 2007 BBC series Cranford, which was adapted from multiple works of the 19th century English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. I have included several quotations from the dialogue in the screenplay but added much of my own, and leave you to discover which is which.
The lyrics to "The Parting Glass" are in the public domain.
One More Day to Stay
Christmas at home in Manchester, Mary Smith decided, had nothing whatever to recommend it. If her stepmother was not scolding the servants concerning dinner preparations or fretting about the purchase of gifts, the children would be crying over a broken plaything or shrieking at their games, and the noise would be enough to ensure a most wretched headache for any adult in the household.
It had required little thought, then, to give a firm but polite no to Clara's entreaties that Mary return to her father's house in Manchester in December of 1842 to observe the festivities.
Sadly, though, Mary hadn't had to make much effort to dissuade Clara and her father, both of whom were mindful that Miss Matty Jenkyns had buried her elder sister, Deborah, that August. It would have been unspeakably unkind to deprive Miss Matty of company while she was in mourning, and especially at such a season. Clara had even made some noises about bringing Miss Matty to Manchester for the holiday but in the end had yielded to the argument that it was best if she spent Christmas among her friends and in her own house, with Mary for company, and a generous gift of oranges and sweets in honor of the day. And so, with a single decision, Clara had spared the collective nerves of her would-be guest and stepdaughter.
Still, even in Cranford, myriad crises and anxieties attended the season. There had been, for instance, that terrible incident outside Johnson's Universal Stores. Mr. Johnson had only been slightly injured in the attack and ever after could never be certain who had set upon him. Yet for weeks afterward the entire community made liberal use of their candles of an evening, and one only answered a late-night knock on the door after arming oneself with a poker or, in the case of Mrs. Jamieson's butler, a musket.
Quite apart from dealing with those highly interesting developments, Mrs. Forrester and Mary had had a job to persuade Miss Matty to accept the Tomkinson sisters' invitation to their Christmas Eve soiree.
Miss Matty had not been taken with the plan.
It had been a difficult year, and several families in the community were as yet in deep mourning. Captain Brown and his younger daughter, sweet Miss Jessie, had suffered the loss of Miss Brown not long after they had come to town, and in an especially cruel blow, little Walter Hutton had died immediately following Lady Ludlow's fete. The family, even his good, brave, and devout Papa, were said to be as yet inconsolable.
How could it be possible, then, for the community to go on this Yuletide season as before?
"It'll be a sad Christmas this year," Mary's father had once said, in the months after her mother had died. At that Mary had thought herself a most wicked child. She had wanted there to be Christmas, a happy Christmas. She had longed for sweetmeats and games and pretty things, a doll for herself, when really she ought to have been thinking of Mama in heaven.
It was many years before she understood that Mama herself would have begrudged her none of those pleasures, not even the most trifling among them, and it was with that memory that she now turned to Miss Matty, whose sister had died on the same day as young Walter, and tried to persuade her to yield to Mrs. Forrester's entreaties.
"I think a party would be most welcome," said Mary when Mrs. Forrester had put forth the invitation. "It can be no disgrace to your sister's memory to mark the season with your closest friends."
"We cannot proceed without you," added Mrs. Forrester warmly. "You'll be too much missed."
Miss Matty had still remained very much in doubt, especially when she learned that Captain Brown was to attend the gathering. Deborah had had harsh words with that particular gentleman – yes, even on the day she had died! – and spending Christmas Eve in his company might well prove painfully awkward.
Mary resolved to get past this final obstacle. "Cranford has seen such trouble, Miss Matty," she said gently. "I think we should rally, and demonstrate our strength. Deborah would not hide away at home," she added, and with that conquered the final barrier between Miss Matty and an evening with the Tomkinson sisters and all their friends.
Christmas Eve arrived, and a cheerful but decorous party of ladies, and few gentlemen, assembled in the Tomkinsons' sitting room. To everyone's astonishment, young Dr. Harrison had accepted the sisters' invitation, though Mary suspected it was only because no other offers, particularly the one he most desired, had been forthcoming.
But Dr. Harrison had surprised them all by bringing along a colleague of his, Dr. Jack Marshland of the Manchester Infirmary, to join in their Christmas Eve party.
Dr. Marshland proved as voluble and as heedless as Dr. Harrison was reticent and diplomatic. While the company prepared for card-playing, the Irishman regaled them with stories of medical student pranks at Guy's Hospital, including rather astonishing evidence of Dr. Harrison's own proclivity for mischief. Captain Brown, and even all the gentle ladies present, laughed appreciatively at that, leaving poor Dr. Harrison to blush and murmur, "That's quite enough from you," to his puckish friend.
"I do not think Dr. Harrison appreciates your telling tales on him," whispered Mary to Dr. Marshland, who was seated beside her at the card table.
"Ah, what's sugar without a little salt? Frank's halo can stand a bit of tarnishing."
Mary smiled. "That was a rather liberal use of metaphors." She added, a touch boldly, "And I would suspect that Dr. Harrison could, in turn, provide a few revelations about you."
Dr. Marshland grinned. "That he could."
"And can you afford to be sanguine about such a prospect?"
He smiled again and caught her eye. "I've no need of a halo, Miss Smith, not among all the other sinners in Manchester. But in Cranford one needs to be respectable, and yet just interesting enough to draw notice." And he looked across the room to where Caroline Tomkinson was gazing at Dr. Harrison with an expression of undisguised adoration.
Mary giggled. "You are astonishingly observant, for all that you are new to our little community."
"I'd be a poor physician, Miss Smith, if I were not observant!" And he caught her eye again, and for some reason Mary felt herself blushing and thus concentrated on making a careful study of the cards she had just been dealt.
There was, of course, music that evening. Jessie Brown obliged them at the pianoforte, and then Miss Pole, whose soprano was remarkably sweet and fine, sang them a carol or two. Next, Mrs. Forrester consented to a duet with her, and then Miss Tomkinson made it a trio. But poor Captain Brown, possessed of a fine bass voice, would not agree to sing, nor would young Dr. Harrison, who perhaps had not the heart to draw further attention to himself.
Dr. Marshland, however, had no such inhibitions, even without the benefit of accompaniment, and stood boldly before them. He'd sing them an Irish tune, he said, perhaps one they'd not heard before.
"Of all the money that e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm I've ever done.
Alas, it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall.
So fill for me the parting glass.
Good night, and joy be with you all.
"Of all the comrades that e'er I had,
They're sorry for my going away.
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had,
They'd wish me one more day to stay.
But since it fell into my lot
That I should rise and you should not,
I'll gently rise and softly call
Good night, and joy be with you all."
Cranford did not seem a dangerous place that night, nor a bleak one, as the little party bade goodnight to the Tomkinson sisters and walked home together. Their protector, Captain Brown, looked not the least bit fierce as the lantern light cast shadows on his kind, craggy face, and yet their hearts were at peace in his company. They would all sleep well tonight, recent troubles forgotten.
Mary found herself beside Dr. Marshland, who kept up a stream of chatter as they walked along, and that too seemed of a piece with this evening. Surely it was no sin to laugh tonight, to share in games and jokes and song. Mama would have wanted it so, and perhaps even Miss Deborah Jenkyns would have as well.
Christmas morning proved surprisingly bright, and sunshine flooded the room as Miss Matty and Mary took their breakfast together. Even Martha was of a happy disposition this morning, humming a carol as she bustled about in the kitchen.
Miss Matty was cheerful enough, yet solicitous as ever of Mary's spirits. "Well, my dear, I am certainly glad of your company this morning, for all that, on this day of all days, you really ought to be at home with your family in Manchester."
"Oh, Miss Matty, do not believe that I'd wish myself somewhere else today." She smiled at her friend. "I can say with a sincere heart that there is no other place I would rather spend Christmas than here with you, in our own dear Cranford."