I recently came across this lovely work by Rebecca Crane, which illustrates a scene in chapter eight of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South:
One day Margaret and her father had been as far as the fields that lay around the town; it was early spring, and she had gathered some of the hedge and ditch flowers, dog-violets, lesser celandines, and the like, with an unspoken lament in her heart for the sweet profusion of the South. Her father had left her to go into Milton upon some business; and on the road home she met her humble friends. The girl looked wistfully at the flowers, and, acting on a sudden impulse, Margaret offered them to her.
Her pale blue eyes lightened up as she took them, and her father spoke for her.
‘Thank yo, Miss. Bessy’ll think a deal o’ them flowers; that hoo will; and I shall think a deal o’ yor kindness. Yo’re not of this country, I reckon?’
‘No!’ said Margaret, half sighing. ‘I come from the South–from Hampshire,’ she continued, a little afraid of wounding his consciousness of ignorance, if she used a name which he did not understand.
‘That’s beyond London, I reckon? And I come fro’ Burnley-ways, and forty mile to th’ North. And yet, yo see, North and South has both met and made kind o’ friends in this big smoky place.’
Margaret had slackened her pace to walk alongside of the man and his daughter, whose steps were regulated by the feebleness of the latter. She now spoke to the girl, and there was a sound of tender pity in the tone of her voice as she did so that went right to the heart of the father.
‘I’m afraid you are not very strong.’
‘No,’ said the girl, ‘nor never will be.’
‘Spring is coming,’ said Margaret, as if to suggest pleasant, hopeful thoughts.
‘Spring nor summer will do me good,’ said the girl quietly.
Margaret looked up at the man, almost expecting some contradiction from him, or at least some remark that would modify his daughter’s utter hopelessness. But, instead, he added–
‘I’m afeared hoo speaks truth. I’m afeared hoo’s too far gone in a waste.’
‘I shall have a spring where I’m boun to, and flowers, and amaranths, and shining robes besides.’
‘Poor lass, poor lass!’ said her father in a low tone. ‘I’m none so sure o’ that; but it’s a comfort to thee, poor lass, poor lass. Poor father! it’ll be soon.’
Margaret was shocked by his words–shocked but not repelled; rather attracted and interested.
‘Where do you live? I think we must be neighbours, we meet so often on this road.’
‘We put up at nine Frances Street, second turn to th’ left at after yo’ve past th’ Goulden Dragon.’
‘And your name? I must not forget that.’
‘I’m none ashamed o’ my name. It’s Nicholas Higgins. Hoo’s called Bessy Higgins. Whatten yo’ asking for?’
Margaret was surprised at this last question, for at Helstone it would have been an understood thing, after the inquiries she had made, that she intended to come and call upon any poor neighbour whose name and habitation she had asked for.
‘I thought–I meant to come and see you.’
She suddenly felt rather shy of offering the visit, without having any reason to give for her wish to make it’ beyond a kindly interest in a stranger. It seemed all at once to take the shape of an impertinence on her part; she read this meaning too in the man’s eyes.
‘I’m none so fond of having strange folk in my house.’ But then relenting, as he saw her heightened colour, he added, ‘Yo’re a foreigner, as one may say, and maybe don’t know many folk here, and yo’ve given my wench here flowers out of yo’r own hand;–yo may come if yo like.’
Margaret was half-amused, half-nettled at this answer. She was not sure if she would go where permission was given so like a favour conferred. But when they came to the town into Frances Street, the girl stopped a minute, and said,
‘Yo’ll not forget yo’re to come and see us.’
‘Aye, aye,’ said the father, impatiently, ‘hoo’ll come. Hoo’s a bit set up now, because hoo thinks I might ha’ spoken more civilly; but hoo’ll think better on it, and come. I can read her proud bonny face like a book. Come along, Bess; there’s the mill bell ringing.’
Margaret went home, wondering at her new friends, and smiling at the man’s insight into what had been passing in her mind. From that day Milton became a brighter place to her. It was not the long, bleak sunny days of spring, nor yet was it that time was reconciling her to the town of her habitation. It was that in it she had found a human interest.