North and South (Chapter 7, page 2 of 6)


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Chapter 7

For several miles before they reached Milton, they saw a deep
lead-coloured cloud hanging over the horizon in the direction in
which it lay. It was all the darker from contrast with the pale
gray-blue of the wintry sky; for in Heston there had been the
earliest signs of frost. Nearer to the town, the air had a faint
taste and smell of smoke; perhaps, after all, more a loss of the
fragrance of grass and herbage than any positive taste or smell.
Quick they were whirled over long, straight, hopeless streets of
regularly-built houses, all small and of brick. Here and there a
great oblong many-windowed factory stood up, like a hen among her
chickens, puffing out black 'unparliamentary' smoke, and
sufficiently accounting for the cloud which Margaret had taken to
foretell rain. As they drove through the larger and wider
streets, from the station to the hotel, they had to stop
constantly; great loaded lurries blocked up the not over-wide
thoroughfares. Margaret had now and then been into the city in
her drives with her aunt. But there the heavy lumbering vehicles
seemed various in their purposes and intent; here every van,
every waggon and truck, bore cotton, either in the raw shape in
bags, or the woven shape in bales of calico. People thronged the
footpaths, most of them well-dressed as regarded the material,
but with a slovenly looseness which struck Margaret as different
from the shabby, threadbare smartness of a similar class in
London.

'New Street,' said Mr. Hale. 'This, I believe, is the principal
street in Milton. Bell has often spoken to me about it. It was
the opening of this street from a lane into a great thoroughfare,
thirty years ago, which has caused his property to rise so much
in value. Mr. Thornton's mill must be somewhere not very far off,
for he is Mr. Bell's tenant. But I fancy he dates from his
warehouse.' 'Where is our hotel, papa?' 'Close to the end of this street, I believe. Shall we have lunch
before or after we have looked at the houses we marked in the
Milton Times?' 'Oh, let us get our work done first.' 'Very well. Then I will only see if there is any note or letter
for me from Mr. Thornton, who said he would let me know anything
he might hear about these houses, and then we will set off. We
will keep the cab; it will be safer than losing ourselves, and
being too late for the train this afternoon.' There were no letters awaiting him. They set out on their
house-hunting. Thirty pounds a-year was all they could afford to
give, but in Hampshire they could have met with a roomy house and
pleasant garden for the money. Here, even the necessary
accommodation of two sitting-rooms and four bed-rooms seemed
unattainable. They went through their list, rejecting each as
they visited it. Then they looked at each other in dismay.

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