North and South (Chapter 7, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 7

'Mist clogs the sunshine,
Smoky dwarf houses
Have we round on every side.'

MATTHEW ARNOLD.

The next afternoon, about twenty miles from Milton-Northern, they
entered on the little branch railway that led to Heston. Heston
itself was one long straggling street, running parallel to the
seashore. It had a character of its own, as different from the
little bathing-places in the south of England as they again from
those of the continent. To use a Scotch word, every thing looked
more 'purposelike.' The country carts had more iron, and less
wood and leather about the horse-gear; the people in the streets,
although on pleasure bent, had yet a busy mind. The colours
looked grayer--more enduring, not so gay and pretty. There were
no smock-frocks, even among the country folk; they retarded
motion, and were apt to catch on machinery, and so the habit of
wearing them had died out.

In such towns in the south of England,
Margaret had seen the shopmen, when not employed in their
business, lounging a little at their doors, enjoying the fresh
air, and the look up and down the street. Here, if they had any
leisure from customers, they made themselves business in the
shop--even, Margaret fancied, to the unnecessary unrolling and
rerolling of ribbons. All these differences struck upon her mind,
as she and her mother went out next morning to look for lodgings.

Their two nights at hotels had cost more than Mr. Hale had
anticipated, and they were glad to take the first clean, cheerful
for the first time for many days, did Margaret feel at rest.
There rooms they met with that were at liberty to receive them.
There, was a dreaminess in the rest, too, which made it still
more perfect and luxurious to repose in. The distant sea, lapping
the sandy shore with measured sound; the nearer cries of the
donkey-boys; the unusual scenes moving before her like pictures,
which she cared not in her laziness to have fully explained
before they passed away; the stroll down to the beach to breathe
the sea-air, soft and warm on that sandy shore even to the end of
November; the great long misty sea-line touching the
tender-coloured sky; the white sail of a distant boat turning
silver in some pale sunbeam:--it seemed as if she could dream her
life away in such luxury of pensiveness, in which she made her
present all in all, from not daring to think of the past, or
wishing to contemplate the future.

But the future must be met, however stern and iron it be. One
evening it was arranged that Margaret and her father should go
the next day to Milton-Northern, and look out for a house. Mr.
Hale had received several letters from Mr. Bell, and one or two
from Mr. Thornton, and he was anxious to ascertain at once a good
many particulars respecting his position and chances of success
there, which he could only do by an interview with the latter
gentleman. Margaret knew that they ought to be removing; but she
had a repugnance to the idea of a manufacturing town, and
believed that her mother was receiving benefit from Heston air,
so she would willingly have deferred the expedition to Milton.

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