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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 8
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    'Mist clogs the sunshine,

    Smoky dwarf houses

    Have we round on every side.'


    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.

    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

    '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

    '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.

    'We must go back to the second, I think. That one,--in Crampton,
    don't they call the suburb? There were three sitting-rooms; don't
    you remember how we laughed at the number compared with the three
    bed-rooms? But I have planned it all. The front room down-stairs
    is to be your study and our dining-room (poor papa!), for, you
    know, we settled mamma is to have as cheerful a sitting-room as
    we can get; and that front room up-stairs, with the atrocious
    blue and pink paper and heavy cornice, had really a pretty view
    over the plain, with a great bend of river, or canal, or whatever
    it is, down below. Then I could have the little bed-room behind,
    in that projection at the head of the first flight of
    stairs--over the kitchen, you know--and you and mamma the room
    behind the drawing-room, and that closet in the roof will make
    you a splendid dressing-room.'

    'But Dixon, and the girl we are to have to help?'

    'Oh, wait a minute. I am overpowered by the discovery of my own
    genius for management. Dixon is to have--let me see, I had it
    once--the back sitting-room. I think she will like that. She
    grumbles so much about the stairs at Heston; and the girl is to
    have that sloping attic over your room and mamma's. Won't that

    'I dare say it will. But the papers. What taste! And the
    overloading such a house with colour and such heavy cornices!'

    'Never mind, papa! Surely, you can charm the landlord into
    re-papering one or two of the rooms--the drawing-room and your
    bed-room--for mamma will come most in contact with them; and your
    book-shelves will hide a great deal of that gaudy pattern in the

    'Then you think it the best? If so, I had better go at once and
    call on this Mr. Donkin, to whom the advertisement refers me. I
    will take you back to the hotel, where you can order lunch, and
    rest, and by the time it is ready, I shall be with you. I hope I
    shall be able to get new papers.'

    Margaret hoped so too, though she said nothing. She had never
    come fairly in contact with the taste that loves ornament,
    however bad, more than the plainness and simplicity which are of
    themselves the framework of elegance. Her father took her through
    the entrance of the hotel, and leaving her at the foot of the
    staircase, went to the address of the landlord of the house they
    had fixed upon. Just as Margaret had her hand on the door of
    their sitting-room, she was followed by a quick-stepping waiter:

    'I beg your pardon, ma'am. The gentleman was gone so quickly, I
    had no time to tell him. Mr. Thornton called almost directly
    after you left; and, as I understood from what the gentleman
    said, you would be back in an hour, I told him so, and he came
    again about five minutes ago, and said he would wait for Mr.
    Hale. He is in your room now, ma'am.'

    'Thank you. My father will return soon, and then you can tell
    him.' Margaret opened the door and went in with the straight,
    fearless, dignified presence habitual to her. She felt no
    awkwardness; she had too much the habits of society for that.
    Here was a person come on business to her father; and, as he was
    one who had shown himself obliging, she was disposed to treat him
    with a full measure of civility. Mr. Thornton was a good deal
    more surprised and discomfited than she. Instead of a quiet,
    middle-aged clergyman, a young lady came forward with frank
    dignity,--a young lady of a different type to most of those he
    was in the habit of seeing. Her dress was very plain: a close
    straw bonnet of the best material and shape, trimmed with white
    ribbon; a dark silk gown, without any trimming or flounce; a
    large Indian shawl, which hung about her in long heavy folds, and
    which she wore as an empress wears her drapery. He did not
    understand who she was, as he caught the simple, straight,
    unabashed look, which showed that his being there was of no
    concern to the beautiful countenance, and called up no flush of
    surprise to the pale ivory of the complexion. He had heard that
    Mr. Hale had a daughter, but he had imagined that she was a
    little girl.

    'Mr. Thornton, I believe!' said Margaret, after a half-instant's
    pause, during which his unready words would not come. 'Will you
    sit down. My father brought me to the door, not a minute ago, but
    unfortunately he was not told that you were here, and he has gone
    away on some business. But he will come back almost directly. I
    am sorry you have had the trouble of calling twice.'

    Mr. Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed
    to assume some kind of rule over him at once. He had been getting
    impatient at the loss of his time on a market-day, the moment
    before she appeared, yet now he calmly took a seat at her

    'Do you know where it is that Mr. Hale has gone to? Perhaps I
    might be able to find him.'

    'He has gone to a Mr. Donkin's in Canute Street. He is the
    land-lord of the house my father wishes to take in Crampton.'

    Mr. Thornton knew the house. He had seen the advertisement, and
    been to look at it, in compliance with a request of Mr. Bell's
    that he would assist Mr. Hale to the best of his power: and also
    instigated by his own interest in the case of a clergyman who had
    given up his living under circumstances such as those of Mr.
    Hale. Mr. Thornton had thought that the house in Crampton was
    really just the thing; but now that he saw Margaret, with her
    superb ways of moving and looking, he began to feel ashamed of
    having imagined that it would do very well for the Hales, in
    spite of a certain vulgarity in it which had struck him at the
    time of his looking it over.

    Margaret could not help her looks; but the short curled upper
    lip, the round, massive up-turned chin, the manner of carrying
    her head, her movements, full of a soft feminine defiance, always
    gave strangers the impression of haughtiness. She was tired now,
    and would rather have remained silent, and taken the rest her
    father had planned for her; but, of course, she owed it to
    herself to be a gentlewoman, and to speak courteously from time
    to time to this stranger; not over-brushed, nor over-polished, it
    must be confessed, after his rough encounter with Milton streets
    and crowds. She wished that he would go, as he had once spoken of
    doing, instead of sitting there, answering with curt sentences
    all the remarks she made. She had taken off her shawl, and hung
    it over the back of her chair. She sat facing him and facing the
    light; her full beauty met his eye; her round white flexile
    throat rising out of the full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving
    so slightly as she spoke, not breaking the cold serene look of
    her face with any variation from the one lovely haughty curve;
    her eyes, with their soft gloom, meeting his with quiet maiden
    freedom. He almost said to himself that he did not like her,
    before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate
    himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked upon her
    with an admiration he could not repress, she looked at him with
    proud indifference, taking him, he thought, for what, in his
    irritation, he told himself he was--a great rough fellow, with
    not a grace or a refinement about him. Her quiet coldness of
    demeanour he interpreted into contemptuousness, and resented it
    in his heart to the pitch of almost inclining him to get up and
    go away, and have nothing more to do with these Hales, and their

    Just as Margaret had exhausted her last subject of
    conversation--and yet conversation that could hardly be called
    which consisted of so few and such short speeches--her father
    came in, and with his pleasant gentlemanly courteousness of
    apology, reinstated his name and family in Mr. Thornton's good

    Mr. Hale and his visitor had a good deal to say respecting their
    mutual friend, Mr. Bell; and Margaret, glad that her part of
    entertaining the visitor was over, went to the window to try and
    make herself more familiar with the strange aspect of the street.
    She got so much absorbed in watching what was going on outside
    that she hardly heard her father when he spoke to her, and he had
    to repeat what he said:

    'Margaret! the landlord will persist in admiring that hideous
    paper, and I am afraid we must let it remain.'

    'Oh dear! I am sorry!' she replied, and began to turn over in her
    mind the possibility of hiding part of it, at least, by some of
    her sketches, but gave up the idea at last, as likely only to
    make bad worse. Her father, meanwhile, with his kindly country
    hospitality, was pressing Mr. Thornton to stay to luncheon with
    them. It would have been very inconvenient to him to do so, yet
    he felt that he should have yielded, if Margaret by word or look
    had seconded her father's invitation; he was glad she did not,
    and yet he was irritated at her for not doing it. She gave him a
    low, grave bow when he left, and he felt more awkward and
    self-conscious in every limb than he had ever done in all his
    life before.

    'Well, Margaret, now to luncheon, as fast we can. Have you
    ordered it?'

    'No, papa; that man was here when I came home, and I have never
    had an opportunity.'

    'Then we must take anything we can get. He must have been waiting
    a long time, I'm afraid.'

    'It seemed exceedingly long to me. I was just at the last gasp
    when you came in. He never went on with any subject, but gave
    little, short, abrupt answers.'

    'Very much to the point though, I should think. He is a
    clearheaded fellow. He said (did you hear?) that Crampton is on
    gravelly soil, and by far the most healthy suburb in the
    neighbour hood of Milton.'

    When they returned to Heston, there was the day's account to be
    given to Mrs. Hale, who was full of questions which they answered
    in the intervals of tea-drinking.

    'And what is your correspondent, Mr. Thornton, like?'

    'Ask Margaret,' said her husband. 'She and he had a long attempt
    at conversation, while I was away speaking to the landlord.'

    'Oh! I hardly know what he is like,' said Margaret, lazily; too
    tired to tax her powers of description much. And then rousing
    herself, she said, 'He is a tall, broad-shouldered man,
    about--how old, papa?'

    'I should guess about thirty.'

    'About thirty--with a face that is neither exactly plain, nor yet
    handsome, nothing remarkable--not quite a gentleman; but that was
    hardly to be expected.'

    'Not vulgar, or common though,' put in her father, rather jealous
    of any disparagement of the sole friend he had in Milton.

    'Oh no!' said Margaret. 'With such an expression of resolution
    and power, no face, however plain in feature, could be either
    vulgar or common. I should not like to have to bargain with him;
    he looks very inflexible. Altogether a man who seems made for his
    niche, mamma; sagacious, and strong, as becomes a great

    'Don't call the Milton manufacturers tradesmen, Margaret,' said
    her father.

    'They are very different.'

    'Are they? I apply the word to all who have something tangible to
    sell; but if you think the term is not correct, papa, I won't use
    it. But, oh mamma! speaking of vulgarity and commonness, you must
    prepare yourself for our drawing-room paper. Pink and blue roses,
    with yellow leaves! And such a heavy cornice round the room!'

    But when they removed to their new house in Milton, the obnoxious
    papers were gone. The landlord received their thanks very
    composedly; and let them think, if they liked, that he had
    relented from his expressed determination not to repaper. There
    was no particular need to tell them, that what he did not care to
    do for a Reverend Mr. Hale, unknown in Milton, he was only too
    glad to do at the one short sharp remonstrance of Mr. Thornton,
    the wealthy manufacturer.
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