---- VISIONS OF THE FUTURE|
---- NEW YEAR'S FETE
---- A DIFFICULT QUESTION
---- THE ENGAGEMENT
---- REJECTED WARNINGS
---- EDDY IN LOVE'S CURRENT
---- AN IMPORTANT MISSION
---- LOVED AND LOST
---- A REJECTED SUITOR
Before May was out, Molly Corney was married and had left the neighbourhood for Newcastle. Although Charley Kinraid was not the bridegroom, Sylvia's promise to be bridesmaid was claimed. But the friendship brought on by the circumstances of neighbourhood and parity of age had become very much weakened in the time that elapsed between Molly's engagement and wedding. In the first place, she herself was so absorbed in her preparations, so elated by her good fortune in getting married, and married, too, before her elder sister, that all her faults blossomed out full and strong. Sylvia felt her to be selfish; Mrs Robson thought her not maidenly. A year before she would have been far more missed and regretted by Sylvia; now it was almost a relief to the latter to be freed from the perpetual calls upon her sympathy, from the constant demands upon her congratulations, made by one who had no thought or feeling to bestow on others; at least, not in these weeks of 'cock-a-doodle-dooing,' as Mrs Robson persisted in calling it. It was seldom that Bell was taken with a humorous idea; but this once having hatched a solitary joke, she was always clucking it into notice - to go on with her own poultry simile.
Every time during that summer that Philip saw his cousin, he thought her prettier than she had ever been before; some new touch of colour, some fresh sweet charm, seemed to have been added, just as every summer day calls out new beauty in the flowers. And this was not the addition of Philip's fancy. Hester Rose, who met Sylvia on rare occasions, came back each time with a candid, sad acknowledgement in her heart that it was no wonder that Sylvia was so much admired and loved.
One day Hester had seen her sitting near her mother in the market-place; there was a basket by her, and over the clean cloth that covered the yellow pounds of butter, she had laid the hedge-roses and honeysuckles she had gathered on the way into Monkshaven; her straw hat was on her knee, and she was busy placing some of the flowers in the ribbon that went round it. Then she held it on her hand, and turned it round about, putting her head on one side, the better to view the effect; and all this time, Hester, peeping at her through the folds of the stuffs displayed in Foster's windows, saw her with admiring, wistful eyes; wondering, too, if Philip, at the other counter, were aware of his cousin's being there, so near to him. Then Sylvia put on her hat, and, looking up at Foster's windows, caught Hester's face of interest, and smiled and blushed at the consciousness of having been watched over her little vanities, and Hester smiled back, but rather sadly. Then a customer came in, and she had to attend to her business, which, on this as on all market days, was great. In the midst she was aware of Philip rushing bare-headed out of the shop, eager and delighted at something he saw outside. There was a little looking-glass hung against the wall on Hester's side, placed in that retired corner, in order that the good women who came to purchase head-gear of any kind might see the effect thereof before they concluded their bargain. In a pause of custom, Hester, half-ashamed, stole into this corner, and looked at herself in the glass. What did she see? a colourless face, dark soft hair with no light gleams in it, eyes that were melancholy instead of smiling, a mouth compressed with a sense of dissatisfaction. This was what she had to compare with the bright bonny face in the sunlight outside. She gave a gulp to check the sigh that was rising, and came back, even more patient than she had been before this disheartening peep, to serve all the whims and fancies of purchasers.
Sylvia herself had been rather put out by Philip's way of coming to her. 'It made her look so silly,' she thought; and 'what for must he make a sight of himself, coming among the market folk in that-a-way'; and when he took to admiring her hat, she pulled out the flowers in a pet, and threw them down, and trampled them under foot.
'What for art thou doing that, Sylvie?' said her mother. 'The flowers is well enough, though may-be thy hat might ha' been stained.'
'I don't like Philip to speak to me so,' said Sylvia, pouting.
'How?' asked her mother.
But Sylvia could not repeat his words. She hung her head, and looked red and pre-occupied, anything but pleased. Philip had addressed his first expression of personal admiration at an unfortunate tune.
It just shows what different views different men and women take of their fellow-creatures, when I say that Hester looked upon Philip as the best and most agreeable man she had ever known. He was not one to speak of himself without being questioned on the subject, so his Haytersbank relations, only come into the neighborhood in the last year or two, knew nothing of the trials he had surmounted, or the difficult duties he had performed. His aunt, indeed, had strong faith in him, both from partial knowledge of his character, and because he was of her own tribe and kin; but she had never learnt the small details of his past life. Sylvia respected him as her mother's friend, and treated him tolerably well as long as he preserved his usual self-restraint of demeanour, but hardly ever thought of him when he was absent.
Now Hester, who had watched him daily for all the years since he had first come as an errand-boy into Foster's shop - watching with quiet, modest, yet observant eyes - had seen how devoted he was to his master's interests, had known of his careful and punctual ministration to his absent mother's comforts, as long as she was living to benefit by his silent, frugal self-denial.
His methodical appropriation of the few hours he could call his own was not without its charms to the equally methodical Hester; the way in which he reproduced any lately acquired piece of knowledge - knowledge so wearisome to Sylvia - was delightfully instructive to Hester - although, as she was habitually silent, it would have required an observer more interested in discovering her feelings than Philip was to have perceived the little flush on the pale cheek, and the brightness in the half-veiled eyes whenever he was talking. She had not thought of love on either side. Love was a vanity, a worldliness not to be spoken about, or even thought about. Once or twice before the Robsons came into the neighbourhood, an idea had crossed her mind that possibly the quiet, habitual way in which she and Philip lived together, might drift them into matrimony at some distant period; and she could not bear the humble advances which Coulson, Philip's fellow-lodger, sometimes made. They seemed to disgust her with him.
But after the Robsons settled at Haytersbank, Philip's evenings were so often spent there that any unconscious hopes Hester might, unawares, have entertained, died away. At first she had felt a pang akin to jealousy when she heard of Sylvia, the little cousin, who was passing out of childhood into womanhood. Once - early in those days - she had ventured to ask Philip what Sylvia was like. Philip had not warmed up at the question, and had given rather a dry catalogue of her features, hair, and height, but Hester, almost to her own surprise, persevered, and jerked out the final question.
'Is she pretty?'
Philip's sallow cheek grew deeper by two or three shades; but he answered with a tone of indifference, -
'I believe some folks think her so.'
'But do you?' persevered Hester, in spite of her being aware that he somehow disliked the question.
'There's no need for talking o' such things,' he answered, with abrupt displeasure.
Hester silenced her curiosity from that time. But her heart was not quite at ease, and she kept on wondering whether Philip thought his little cousin pretty until she saw her and him together, on that occasion of which we have spoken, when Sylvia came to the shop to buy her new cloak; and after that Hester never wondered whether Philip thought his cousin pretty or no, for she knew quite well. Bell Robson had her own anxieties on the subject of her daughter's increasing attractions. She apprehended the dangers consequent upon certain facts, by a mental process more akin to intuition than reason. She was uncomfortable, even while her motherly vanity was flattered, at the admiration Sylvia received from the other sex. This admiration was made evident to her mother in many ways. When Sylvia was with her at market, it might have been thought that the doctors had prescribed a diet of butter and eggs to all the men under forty in Monkshaven. At first it seemed to Mrs Robson but a natural tribute to the superior merit of her farm produce; but by degrees she perceived that if Sylvia remained at home, she stood no better chance than her neighbours of an early sale. There were more customers than formerly for the fleeces stored in the wool-loft; comely young butchers came after the calf almost before it had been decided to sell it; in short, excuses were seldom wanting to those who wished to see the beauty of Haytersbank Farm. All this made Bell uncomfortable, though she could hardly have told what she dreaded. Sylvia herself seemed unspoilt by it as far as her home relations were concerned. A little thoughtless she had always been, and thoughtless she was still; but, as her mother had often said, 'Yo' canna put old heads on young shoulders;' and if blamed for her carelessness by her parents, Sylvia was always as penitent as she could be for the time being. To be sure, it was only to her father and mother that she remained the same as she had been when an awkward lassie of thirteen. Out of the house there were the most contradictory opinions of her, especially if the voices of women were to be listened to. She was 'an ill-favoured, overgrown thing'; 'just as bonny as the first rose i' June, and as sweet i' her nature as t' honeysuckle a-climbing round it;' she was 'a vixen, with a tongue sharp enough to make yer very heart bleed;' she was 'just a bit o' sunshine wheriver she went; ' she was sulky, lively, witty, silent, affectionate, or cold-hearted, according to the person who spoke about her. In fact, her peculiarity seemed to be this - that every one who knew her talked about her either in praise or blame; in church, or in market, she unconsciously attracted attention; they could not forget her presence, as they could that of other girls perhaps more personally attractive. Now all this was a cause of anxiety to her mother, who began to feel as if she would rather have had her child passed by in silence than so much noticed. Bell's opinion was, that it was creditable to a woman to go through life in the shadow of obscurity, - never named except in connexion with good housewifery, husband, or children. Too much talking about a girl, even in the way of praise, disturbed Mrs Robson's opinion of her; and when her neighbours told her how her own daughter was admired, she would reply coldly, 'She's just well enough,' and change the subject of conversation. But it was quite different with her husband. To his looser, less-restrained mind, it was agreeable to hear of, and still more to see, the attention which his daughter's beauty received. He felt it as reflecting consequence on himself. He had never troubled his mind with speculations as to whether he himself was popular, still less whether he was respected. He was pretty welcome wherever he went, as a jovial good-natured man, who had done adventurous and illegal things in his youth, which in some measure entitled him to speak out his opinions on life in general in the authoritative manner he generally used; but, of the two, he preferred consorting with younger men, to taking a sober stand of respectability with the elders of the place; and he perceived, without reasoning upon it, that the gay daring spirits were more desirous of his company when Sylvia was by his side than at any other time. One or two of these would saunter up to Haytersbank on a Sunday afternoon, and lounge round his fields with the old farmer. Bell kept herself from the nap which had been her weekly solace for years, in order to look after Sylvia, and on such occasions she always turned as cold a shoulder to the visitors as her sense of hospitality and of duty to her husband would permit. But if they did not enter the house, old Robson would always have Sylvia with him when he went the round of his land. Bell could see them from the upper window: the young men standing in the attitudes of listeners, while Daniel laid down the law on some point, enforcing his words by pantomimic actions with his thick stick; and Sylvia, half turning away as if from some too admiring gaze, was possibly picking flowers out of the hedge-bank. These Sunday afternoon strolls were the plague of Bell's life that whole summer. Then it took as much of artifice as was in the simple woman's nature to keep Daniel from insisting on having Sylvia's company every time he went down to Monkshaven. And here, again, came a perplexity, the acknowledgement of which in distinct thought would have been an act of disloyalty, according to Bell's conscience. If Sylvia went with her father, he never drank to excess; and that was a good gain to health at any rate (drinking was hardly a sin against morals in those days, and in that place); so, occasionally, she was allowed to accompany him to Monkshaven as a check upon his folly; for he was too fond and proud of his daughter to disgrace her by any open excess. But one Sunday afternoon early in November, Philip came up before the time at which he usually paid his visits. He looked grave and pale; and his aunt began, -
'Why, lad! what's been ado? Thou'rt looking as peaked and pined as a Methody preacher after a love-feast, when he's talked hisself to Death's door. Thee dost na' get good milk enow, that's what it is, - such stuff as Monkshaven folks put up wi'!'
'No, aunt; I'm quite well. Only I'm a bit put out - vexed like at what I've heerd about Sylvie.'
His aunt's face changed immediately.
'And whatten folk say of her, next thing?'
'Oh,' said Philip, struck by the difference of look and manner in his aunt, and subdued by seeing how instantly she took alarm. 'It were only my uncle; - he should na' take a girl like her to a public. She were wi' him at t' "Admiral's Head" upo' All Souls' Day - that were all. There were many a one there beside, - it were statute fair; but such a one as our Sylvie ought not to be cheapened wi' t' rest.'
'And he took her there, did he?' said Bell, in severe meditation. 'I had never no opinion o' th' wenches as 'll set theirselves to be hired for servants i' th' fair; they're a bad lot, as cannot find places for theirselves - 'bout going and stannin' to be stared at by folk, and grinnin' wi' th' plough-lads when no one's looking; it's a bad look-out for t' missus as takes one o' these wenches for a servant; and dost ta mean to say as my Sylvie went and demeaned hersel' to dance and marlock wi' a' th' fair-folk at th' "Admiral's Head?"'
'No, no, she did na' dance; she barely set foot i' th' room; but it were her own pride as saved her; uncle would niver ha' kept her from it, for he had fallen in wi' Hayley o' Seaburn and one or two others, and they were having a glass i' t' bar, and Mrs Lawson, t' landlady, knew how there was them who would come and dance among parish 'prentices if need were, just to get a word or a look wi' Sylvie! So she tempts her in, saying that the room were all smartened and fine wi' flags; and there was them in the room as told me that they never were so startled as when they saw our Sylvie's face peeping in among all t' flustered maids and men, rough and red wi' weather and drink; and Jem Macbean, he said she were just like a bit o' apple-blossom among peonies; and some man, he didn't know who, went up and spoke to her; an' either at that, or at some o' t' words she heard - for they'd got a good way on afore that time - she went quite white and mad, as if fire were coming out of her eyes, and then she turned red and left the room, for all t' landlady tried to laugh it off and keep her in.'
'I'll be down to Monkshaven before I'm a day older, and tell Margaret Lawson some on my mind as she'll not forget in a hurry.'
Bell moved as though she would put on her cloak and hood there and then.
'Nay, it's not in reason as a woman i' that line o' life shouldn't try to make her house agreeable,' said Philip.
'Not wi' my wench,' said Bell, in a determined voice.
Philip's information had made a deeper impression on his aunt than he intended. He himself had been annoyed more at the idea that Sylvia would be spoken of as having been at a rough piece of rustic gaiety - a yearly festival for the lower classes of Yorkshire servants, out-door as well as in-door - than at the affair itself, for he had learnt from his informant how instantaneous her appearance had been. He stood watching his aunt's troubled face, and almost wishing that he had not spoken. At last she heaved a deep sigh, and stirring the fire, as if by this little household occupation to compose her mind, she said -
'It's a pity as wenches aren't lads, or married folk. I could ha' wished - but it were the Lord's will - It would ha' been summut to look to, if she'd had a brother. My master is so full on his own thoughts, yo' see, he's no mind left for thinking on her, what wi' th' oats, and th' wool, and th' young colt, and his venture i' th' Lucky Mary.'
She really believed her husband to have the serious and important occupation for his mind that she had been taught to consider befitting the superior intellect of the masculine gender; she would have taxed herself severely, if, even in thought, she had blamed him, and Philip respected her feelings too much to say that Sylvia's father ought to look after her more closely if he made such a pretty creature so constantly his companion; yet some such speech was only just pent within Philip's closed lips. Again his aunt spoke -
'I used to think as she and yo' might fancy one another, but thou'rt too old-fashioned like for her; ye would na' suit; and it's as well, for now I can say to thee, that I would take it very kindly if thou would'st look after her a bit.'
Philip's countenance fell into gloom. He had to gulp down certain feelings before he could make answer with discretion.
'How can I look after her, and me tied to the shop more and more every day?'
'I could send her on a bit of an errand to Foster's, and then, for sure, yo' might keep an eye upon her when she's in th' town; and just walk a bit way with her when she's in th' street, and keep t' other fellows off her - Ned Simpson, t' butcher, in 'special, for folks do say he means no good by any girl he goes wi' - and I'll ask father to leave her a bit more wi' me. They're coming down th' brow, and Ned Simpson wi' them. Now, Philip, I look to thee to do a brother's part by my wench, and warn off all as isn't fit.'
The door opened, and the coarse strong voice of Simpson made itself heard. He was a stout man, comely enough as to form and feature, but with a depth of colour in his face that betokened the coming on of the habits of the sot. His Sunday hat was in his hand, and he smoothed the long nap of it, as he said, with a mixture of shyness and familiarity -
'Sarvant, missus. Yo'r measter is fain that I should come in an' have a drop; no offence, I hope?'
Sylvia passed quickly through the house-place, and went upstairs without speaking to her cousin Philip or to any one. He sat on, disliking the visitor, and almost disliking his hospitable uncle for having brought Simpson into the house, sympathizing with his aunt in the spirit which prompted her curt answers, and in the intervals of all these feelings wondering what ground she had for speaking as if she had now given up all thought of Sylvia and him ever being married, and in what way he was too 'old-fashioned.'
Robson would gladly have persuaded Philip to join him and Simpson in their drink, but Philip was in no sociable mood, and sate a little aloof, watching the staircase down which sooner or later Sylvia must come; for, as perhaps has been already said, the stairs went up straight out of the kitchen. And at length his yearning watch was rewarded; first, the little pointed toe came daintily in sight, then the trim ankle in the tight blue stocking, the wool of which was spun and the web of which was knitted by her mother's careful hands; then the full brown stuff petticoat, the arm holding the petticoat back in decent folds, so as not to encumber the descending feet; the slender neck and shoulders hidden under the folded square of fresh white muslin; the crowning beauty of the soft innocent face radiant in colour, and with the light brown curls clustering around. She made her way quickly to Philip's side; how his heart beat at her approach! and even more when she entered into a low-voiced tete-a-tete.
'Isn't he gone yet?' said she. 'I cannot abide him; I could ha' pinched father when he asked him for t' come in.'
'Maybe, he'll not stay long,' said Philip, hardly understanding the meaning of what he said, so sweet was it to have her making her whispered confidences to him.
But Simpson was not going to let her alone in the dark corner between the door and the window. He began paying her some coarse country compliments - too strong in their direct flattery for even her father's taste, more especially as he saw by his wife's set lips and frowning brow how much she disapproved of their visitor's style of conversation.
'Come, measter, leave t' lass alone; she's set up enough a'ready, her mother makes such a deal on her. Yo' an' me's men for sensible talk at our time o' life. An', as I was saying, t' horse was a weaver if iver one was, as any one could ha' told as had come within a mile on him.'
And in this way the old farmer and the bluff butcher chatted on about horses, while Philip and Sylvia sate together, he turning over all manner of hopes and projects for the future, in spite of his aunt's opinion that he was too 'old-fashioned' for her dainty, blooming daughter. Perhaps, too, Mrs Robson saw some reason for changing her mind on this head as she watched Sylvia this night, for she accompanied Philip to the door, when the time came for him to start homewards, and bade him 'good-night' with unusual fervour, adding -
'Thou'st been a deal o' comfort to me, lad - a'most as one as if thou wert a child o' my own, as at times I could welly think thou art to be. Anyways, I trust to thee to look after the lile lass, as has no brother to guide her among men - and men's very kittle for a woman to deal wi; but if thou'lt have an eye on whom she consorts wi', my mind 'll be easier.'
Philip's heart beat fast, but his voice was as calm as usual when he replied -
'I'd just keep her a bit aloof from Monkshaven folks; a lass is always the more thought on for being chary of herself; and as for t' rest, I'll have an eye to the folks she goes among, and if I see that they don't befit her, I'll just give her a warning, for she's not one to like such chaps as yon Simpson there; she can see what's becoming in a man to say to a lass, and what's not.'
Philip set out on his two-mile walk home with a tumult of happiness in his heart. He was not often carried away by delusions of his own creating; to-night he thought he had good ground for believing that by patient self-restraint he might win Sylvia's love. A year ago he had nearly earned her dislike by obtruding upon her looks and words betokening his passionate love. He alarmed her girlish coyness, as well as wearied her with the wish he had then felt that she should take an interest in his pursuits. But, with unusual wisdom, he had perceived his mistake; it was many months now since he had betrayed, by word or look, that she was anything more to him than a little cousin to be cared for and protected when need was. The consequence was that she had become tamed, just as a wild animal is tamed; he had remained tranquil and impassive, almost as if he did not perceive her shy advances towards friendliness. These advances were made by her after the lessons had ceased. She was afraid lest he was displeased with her behaviour in rejecting his instructions, and was not easy till she was at peace with him; and now, to all appearance, he and she were perfect friends, but nothing more. In his absence she would not allow her young companions to laugh at his grave sobriety of character, and somewhat prim demeanour; she would even go against her conscience, and deny that she perceived any peculiarity. When she wanted it, she sought his advice on such small subjects as came up in her daily life; and she tried not to show signs of weariness when he used more words - and more difficult words - than were necessary to convey his ideas. But her ideal husband was different from Philip in every point, the two images never for an instant merged into one. To Philip she was the only woman in the world; it was the one subject on which he dared not consider, for fear that both conscience and judgment should decide against him, and that he should be convinced against his will that she was an unfit mate for him, that she never would be his, and that it was waste of time and life to keep her shrined in the dearest sanctuary of his being, to the exclusion of all the serious and religious aims which, in any other case, he would have been the first to acknowledge as the object he ought to pursue. For he had been brought up among the Quakers, and shared in their austere distrust of a self-seeking spirit; yet what else but self-seeking was his passionate prayer, 'Give me Sylvia, or else, I die?' No other vision had ever crossed his masculine fancy for a moment; his was a rare and constant love that deserved a better fate than it met with. At this time his hopes were high, as I have said, not merely as to the growth of Sylvia's feelings towards him, but as to the probability of his soon being in a position to place her in such comfort, as his wife, as she had never enjoyed before.
For the brothers Foster were thinking of retiring from business, and relinquishing the shop to their two shopmen, Philip Hepburn and William Coulson. To be sure, it was only by looking back for a few months, and noticing chance expressions and small indications, that this intention of theirs could be discovered. But every step they took tended this way, and Philip knew their usual practice of deliberation too well to feel in the least impatient for the quicker progress of the end which he saw steadily approaching. The whole atmosphere of life among the Friends at this date partook of this character of self-repression, and both Coulson and Hepburn shared in it. Coulson was just as much aware of the prospect opening before him as Hepburn; but they never spoke together on the subject, although their mutual knowledge might be occasionally implied in their conversation on their future lives. Meanwhile the Fosters were imparting more of the background of their business to their successors. For the present, at least, the brothers meant to retain an interest in the shop, even after they had given up the active management; and they sometimes thought of setting up a separate establishment as bankers. The separation of the business, - the introduction of their shopmen to the distant manufacturers who furnished their goods (in those days the system of 'travellers' was not so widely organized as it is at present), - all these steps were in gradual progress; and already Philip saw himself in imagination in the dignified position of joint master of the principal shop in Monkshaven, with Sylvia installed as his wife, with certainly a silk gown, and possibly a gig at her disposal. In all Philip's visions of future prosperity, it was Sylvia who was to be aggrandized by them; his own life was to be spent as it was now, pretty much between the four shop walls.
All this enlargement of interest in the shop occupied Philip fully for some months after the period referred to in the preceding chapter. Remembering his last conversation with his aunt, he might have been uneasy at his inability to perform his promise and look after his pretty cousin, but that about the middle of November Bell Robson had fallen ill of a rheumatic fever, and that her daughter had been entirely absorbed in nursing her. No thought of company or gaiety was in Sylvia's mind as long as her mother's illness lasted; vehement in all her feelings, she discovered in the dread of losing her mother how passionately she was attached to her. Hitherto she had supposed, as children so often do, that her parents would live for ever; and now when it was a question of days, whether by that time the following week her mother might not be buried out of her sight for ever, she clung to every semblance of service to be rendered, or affection shown, as if she hoped to condense the love and care of years into the few days only that might remain. Mrs Robson lingered on, began slowly to recover, and before Christmas was again sitting by the fireside in the house-place, wan and pulled down, muffled up with shawls and blankets, but still there once more, where not long before Sylvia had scarcely expected to see her again. Philip came up that evening and found Sylvia in wild spirits. She thought that everything was done, now that her mother had once come downstairs again; she laughed with glee; she kissed her mother; she shook hands with Philip, she almost submitted to a speech of more than usual tenderness from him; but, in the midst of his words, her mother's pillows wanted arranging and she went to her chair, paying no more heed to his words than if they had been addressed to the cat, that lying on the invalid's knee was purring out her welcome to the weak hand feebly stroking her back. Robson himself soon came in, looking older and more subdued since Philip had seen him last. He was very urgent that his wife should have some spirits and water; but on her refusal, almost as if she loathed the thought of the smell, he contented himself with sharing her tea, though he kept abusing the beverage as 'washing the heart out of a man,' and attributing all the degeneracy of the world, growing up about him in his old age, to the drinking of such slop. At the same time, his little self-sacrifice put him in an unusually good temper; and, mingled with his real gladness at having his wife once more on the way to recovery, brought back some of the old charm of tenderness combined with light-heartedness, which had won the sober Isabella Preston long ago. He sat by her side, holding her hand, and talking of old times to the young couple opposite; of his adventures and escapes, and how he had won his wife. She, faintly smiling at the remembrance of those days, yet half-ashamed at having the little details of her courtship revealed, from time to time kept saying, -
'For shame wi' thee, Dannel - I never did,' and faint denials of a similar kind.
'Niver believe her, Sylvie. She were a woman, and there's niver a woman but likes to have a sweetheart, and can tell when a chap's castin' sheep's-eyes at her; ay, an' afore he knows what he's about hissen. She were a pretty one then, was my old 'ooman, an' liked them as thought her so, though she did cock her head high, as bein' a Preston, which were a family o' standin' and means i' those parts aforetime. There's Philip there, I'll warrant, is as proud o' bein' Preston by t' mother's side, for it runs i' t' blood, lass. A can tell when a child of a Preston tak's to being proud o' their kin, by t' cut o' their nose. Now Philip's and my missus's has a turn beyond common i' their nostrils, as if they was sniffin' at t' rest of us world, an' seein' if we was good enough for 'em to consort wi'. Thee an' me, lass, is Robsons - oat-cake folk, while they's pie-crust. Lord! how Bell used to speak to me, as short as though a wasn't a Christian, an' a' t' time she loved me as her very life, an' well a knew it, tho' a'd to mak' as tho' a didn't. Philip, when thou goes courtin', come t' me, and a'll give thee many a wrinkle. A've shown, too, as a know well how t' choose a good wife by tokens an' signs, hannot a, missus? Come t' me, my lad, and show me t' lass, an' a'll just tak' a squint at her, an' tell yo' if she'll do or not; an' if she'll do, a'll teach yo' how to win her.'
'They say another o' yon Corney girls is going to be married,' said Mrs Robson, in her faint deliberate tones.
'By gosh, an' it's well thou'st spoke on 'em; a was as clean forgettin' it as iver could be. A met Nanny Corney i' Monkshaven last neet, and she axed me for t' let our Sylvia come o' New Year's Eve, an' see Molly an' her man, that 'n as is wed beyond Newcassel, they'll be over at her feyther's, for t' New Year, an' there's to be a merry-making.'
Sylvia's colour came, her eyes brightened, she would have liked to go; but the thought of her mother came across her, and her features fell. Her mother's eye caught the look and the change, and knew what both meant as well as if Sylvia had spoken out.
'Thursday se'nnight,' said she. 'I'll be rare and strong by then, and Sylvie shall go play hersen; she's been nurse-tending long enough.'
'You're but weakly yet,' said Philip shortly; he did not intend to say it, but the words seemed to come out in spite of himself.
'A said as our lass should come, God willin', if she only came and went, an' thee goin' on sprightly, old 'ooman. An' a'll turn nurse-tender mysen for t' occasion, 'special if thou can stand t' good honest smell o' whisky by then. So, my lass, get up thy smart clothes, and cut t' best on 'em out, as becomes a Preston. Maybe, a'll fetch thee home, an' maybe Philip will convoy thee, for Nanny Corney bade thee to t' merry-making, as well. She said her measter would be seem' thee about t' wool afore then.'
'I don't think as I can go,' said Philip, secretly pleased to know that he had the opportunity in his power; 'I'm half bound to go Wi' Hester Rose and her mother to t' watch-night.'
'Is Hester a Methodee?' asked Sylvia in surprise.
'No! she's neither a Methodee, nor a Friend, nor a Church person; but she's a turn for serious things, choose wherever they're found.'
'Well, then,' said good-natured farmer Robson, only seeing the surface of things, 'a'll make shift to fetch Sylvie back fra' t' merry-making, and thee an' thy young woman can go to t' prayer-makin'; it's every man to his taste, say I.'
But in spite of his half-promise, nay against his natural inclination, Philip was lured to the Corneys' by the thought of meeting Sylvia, of watching her and exulting in her superiority in pretty looks and ways to all the other girls likely to be assembled. Besides (he told his conscience) he was pledged to his aunt to watch over Sylvia like a brother. So in the interval before New Year's Eve, he silently revelled as much as any young girl in the anticipation of the happy coming time.
At this hour, all the actors in this story having played out their parts and gone to their rest, there is something touching in recording the futile efforts made by Philip to win from Sylvia the love he yearned for. But, at the time, any one who had watched him might have been amused to see the grave, awkward, plain young man studying patterns and colours for a new waistcoat, with his head a little on one side, after the meditative manner common to those who are choosing a new article of dress. They might have smiled could they have read in his imagination the frequent rehearsals of the coming evening, when he and she should each be dressed in their gala attire, to spend a few hours under a bright, festive aspect, among people whose company would oblige them to assume a new demeanour towards each other, not so familiar as their every-day manner, but allowing more scope for the expression of rustic gallantry. Philip had so seldom been to anything of the kind, that, even had Sylvia not been going, he would have felt a kind of shy excitement at the prospect of anything so unusual. But, indeed, if Sylvia had not been going, it is very probable that Philip's rigid conscience might have been aroused to the question whether such parties did not savour too much of the world for him to form one in them.
As it was, however, the facts to him were simply these. He was going and she was going. The day before, he had hurried off to Haytersbank Farm with a small paper parcel in his pocket - a ribbon with a little briar-rose pattern running upon it for Sylvia. It was the first thing he had ever ventured to give her - the first thing of the kind would, perhaps, be more accurate; for when he had first begun to teach her any lessons, he had given her Mavor's Spelling-book, but that he might have done, out of zeal for knowledge, to any dunce of a little girl of his acquaintance. This ribbon was quite a different kind of present; he touched it tenderly, as if he were caressing it, when he thought of her wearing it; the briar-rose (sweetness and thorns) seemed to be the very flower for her; the soft, green ground on which the pink and brown pattern ran, was just the colour to show off her complexion. And she would in a way belong to him: her cousin, her mentor, her chaperon, her lover! While others only admired, he might hope to appropriate; for of late they had been such happy friends! Her mother approved of him, her father liked him. A few months, perhaps only a few weeks more of self-restraint, and then he might go and speak openly of his wishes, and what he had to offer. For he had resolved, with the quiet force of his character, to wait until all was finally settled between him and his masters, before he declared himself to either Sylvia or her parents. The interval was spent in patient, silent endeavours to recommend himself to her.
He had to give his ribbon to his aunt in charge for Sylvia, and that was a disappointment to his fancy, although he tried to reason himself into thinking that it was better so. He had not time to wait for her return from some errand on which she had gone, for he was daily more and more occupied with the affairs of the shop.
Sylvia made many a promise to her mother, and more to herself, that she would not stay late at the party, but she might go as early as she liked; and before the December daylight had faded away, Sylvia presented herself at the Corneys'. She was to come early in order to help to set out the supper, which was arranged in the large old flagged parlour, which served as best bed-room as well. It opened out of the house-place, and was the sacred room of the house, as chambers of a similar description are still considered in retired farmhouses in the north of England. They are used on occasions like the one now described for purposes of hospitality; but in the state bed, overshadowing so large a portion of the floor, the births and, as far as may be, the deaths, of the household take place. At the Corneys', the united efforts of some former generation of the family had produced patchwork curtains and coverlet; and patchwork was patchwork in those days, before the early Yates and Peels had found out the secret of printing the parsley-leaf. Scraps of costly Indian chintzes and palempours were intermixed with commoner black and red calico in minute hexagons; and the variety of patterns served for the useful purpose of promoting conversation as well as the more obvious one of displaying the work-woman 's taste. Sylvia, for instance, began at once to her old friend, Molly Brunton, who had accompanied her into this chamber to take off her hat and cloak, with a remark on one of the chintzes. Stooping over the counterpane, with a face into which the flush would come whether or no, she said to Molly, -
'Dear! I never seed this one afore - this - for all t' world like th' eyes in a peacock's tail.'
'Thou's seen it many a time and oft, lass. But weren't thou surprised to find Charley here? We picked him up at Shields, quite by surprise like; and when Brunton and me said as we was comin' here, nought would serve him but comin' with us, for t' see t' new year in. It's a pity as your mother's ta'en this time for t' fall ill and want yo' back so early.'
Sylvia had taken off her hat and cloak by this time, and began to help Molly and a younger unmarried sister in laying out the substantial supper.
'Here,' continued Mrs Brunton; 'stick a bit o' holly i' yon pig's mouth, that's the way we do things i' Newcassel; but folks is so behindhand in Monkshaven. It's a fine thing to live in a large town, Sylvia; an' if yo're looking out for a husband, I'd advise yo' to tak' one as lives in a town. I feel as if I were buried alive comin' back here, such an out-o'-t'-way place after t' Side, wheere there's many a hundred carts and carriages goes past in a day. I've a great mind for t' tak yo' two lassies back wi' me, and let yo' see a bit o' t' world; may-be, I may yet.
Her sister Bessy looked much pleased with this plan, but Sylvia was rather inclined to take offence at Molly's patronizing ways, and replied, -
'I'm none so fond o' noise and bustle; why, yo'll not be able to hear yoursels speak wi' all them carts and carriages. I'd rayther bide at home; let alone that mother can't spare me.'
It was, perhaps, a rather ungracious way of answering Molly Brunton's speech, and so she felt it to be, although her invitation had been none of the most courteously worded. She irritated Sylvia still further by repeating her last words, -
'"Mother can't spare me;" why, mother 'll have to spare thee sometime, when t' time for wedding comes.'
'I'm none going to be wed,' said Sylvia; 'and if I were, I'd niver go far fra' mother.'
'Eh! what a spoilt darling it is. How Brunton will laugh when I tell him about yo'; Brunton's a rare one for laughin'. It's a great thing to have got such a merry man for a husband. Why! he has his joke for every one as comes into t' shop; and he'll ha' something funny to say to everything this evenin'.'
Bessy saw that Sylvia was annoyed, and, with more delicacy than her sister, she tried to turn the conversation.
'That's a pretty ribbon in thy hair, Sylvia; I'd like to have one o' t' same pattern. Feyther likes pickled walnuts stuck about t' round o' beef, Molly.'
'I know what I'm about,' replied Mrs Brunton, with a toss of her married head.
Bessy resumed her inquiry.
'Is there any more to be had wheere that come fra', Sylvia?'
'I don't know,' replied Sylvia. 'It come fra' Foster's, and yo' can ask.'
'What might it cost?' said Betsy, fingering an end of it to test its quality.
'I can't tell,' said Sylvia, 'it were a present.'
'Niver mak' ado about t' price,' said Molly; 'I'll gi'e thee enough on 't to tie up thy hair, just like Sylvia's. Only thou hastn't such wealth o' curls as she has; it'll niver look t' same i' thy straight locks. And who might it be as give it thee, Sylvia?' asked the unscrupulous, if good-natured Molly.
'My cousin Philip, him as is shopman at Foster's,' said Sylvia, innocently. But it was far too good an opportunity for the exercise of Molly's kind of wit for her to pass over.
'Oh, oh! our cousin Philip, is it? and he'll not be living so far away from your mother? I've no need be a witch to put two and two together. He's a coming here to-night, isn't he, Bessy?'
'I wish yo' wouldn't talk so, Molly,' said Sylvia; 'me and Philip is good enough friends, but we niver think on each other in that way; leastways, I don't
'(Sweet butter! now that's my mother's old-fashioned way; as if folks must eat sweet butter now-a-days, because her mother did!) That way,' continued Molly, in the manner that annoyed Sylvia so much, repeating her words as if for the purpose of laughing at them. '"That way?" and pray what is t' way yo're speaking on? I niver said nought about marrying, did I, that yo' need look so red and shamefaced about yo'r cousin Philip? But, as Brunton says, if t' cap fits yo', put it on. I'm glad he's comin' to-night tho', for as I'm done makin' love and courtin', it's next best t' watch other folks; an' yo'r face, Sylvia, has letten me into a secret, as I'd some glimpses on afore I was wed.'
Sylvia secretly determined not to speak a word more to Philip than she could help, and wondered how she could ever have liked Molly at all, much less have made a companion of her. The table was now laid out, and nothing remained but to criticize the arrangement a little.
Bessy was full of admiration.
'Theere, Molly!' said she. 'Yo' niver seed more vittle brought together i' Newcassel, I'll be bound; there'll be above half a hundredweight o' butcher's meat, beside pies and custards. I've eaten no dinner these two days for thinking on 't; it's been a weary burden on my mind, but it's off now I see how well it looks. I told mother not to come near it till we'd spread it all out, and now I'll go fetch her.'
Bessy ran off into the house-place.
'It's well enough in a country kind o' way,' said Molly, with the faint approbation of condescension. 'But if I'd thought on, I'd ha' brought 'em down a beast or two done i' sponge-cake, wi' currants for his eyes to give t' table an air.'
The door was opened, and Bessy came in smiling and blushing with proud pleasure. Her mother followed her on tip-toe, smoothing down her apron, and with her voice subdued to a whisper: -
'Ay, my lass, it is fine! But dunnot mak' an ado about it, let 'em think it's just our common way. If any one says aught about how good t' vittle is, tak' it calm, and say we'n better i' t' house, - it'll mak' 'em eat wi' a better appetite, and think the more on us. Sylvie, I'm much beholden t' ye for comin' so early, and helpin' t' lasses, but yo' mun come in t' house-place now, t' folks is gatherin', an' yo'r cousin's been asking after yo' a'ready.'
Molly gave her a nudge, which made Sylvia's face go all aflame with angry embarrassment. She was conscious that the watching which Molly had threatened her with began directly; for Molly went up to her husband, and whispered something to him which set him off in a chuckling laugh, and Sylvia was aware that his eyes followed her about with knowing looks all the evening. She would hardly speak to Philip, and pretended not to see his outstretched hand, but passed on to the chimney-corner, and tried to shelter herself behind the broad back of farmer Corney, who had no notion of relinquishing his customary place for all the young people who ever came to the house, - or for any old people either, for that matter. It was his household throne, and there he sat with no more idea of abdicating in favour of any comer than King George at St James's. But he was glad to see his friends; and had paid them the unwonted compliment of shaving on a week-day, and putting on his Sunday coat. The united efforts of wife and children had failed to persuade him to make any farther change in his attire; to all their arguments on this head he had replied, -
'Them as doesn't like t' see me i' my work-a-day wescut and breeches may bide away.'
It was the longest sentence he said that day, but he repeated it several times over. He was glad enough to see all the young people, but they were not 'of his kidney,' as he expressed it to himself, and he did not feel any call upon himself to entertain them. He left that to his bustling wife, all smartness and smiles, and to his daughters and son-in-law. His efforts at hospitality consisted in sitting still, smoking his pipe; when any one came, he took it out of his mouth for an instant, and nodded his head in a cheerful friendly way, without a word of speech; and then returned to his smoking with the greater relish for the moment's intermission. He thought to himself: -
'They're a set o' young chaps as thinks more on t' lasses than on baccy; - they'll find out their mistake in time; give 'em time, give 'em time.'
And before eight o'clock, he went as quietly as a man of twelve stone can upstairs to bed, having made a previous arrangement with his wife that she should bring him up about two pounds of spiced beef, and a hot tumbler of stiff grog. But at the beginning of the evening he formed a good screen for Sylvia, who was rather a favourite with the old man, for twice he spoke to her.
'Yes,' said Sylvia.
'Reach me t' baccy-box, my lass.'
And that was all the conversation that passed between her and her nearest neighbour for the first quarter of an hour after she came into company.
But, for all her screen, she felt a pair of eyes were fixed upon her with a glow of admiration deepening their honest brightness. Somehow, look in what direction she would, she caught the glance of those eyes before she could see anything else. So she played with her apron-strings, and tried not to feel so conscious. There were another pair of eyes, - not such beautiful, sparkling eyes, - deep-set, earnest, sad, nay, even gloomy, watching her every movement; but of this she was not aware. Philip had not recovered from the rebuff she had given him by refusing his offered hand, and was standing still, in angry silence, when Mrs Corney thrust a young woman just arrived upon his attention.
'Come, Measter Hepburn, here's Nancy Pratt wi'out ev'n a soul to speak t' her, an' yo' mopin' theere. She says she knows yo' by sight fra' having dealt at Foster's these six year. See if yo' can't find summut t' say t' each other, for I mun go pour out tea. Dixons, an' Walkers, an' Elliotts, an' Smiths is come,' said she, marking off the families on her fingers, as she looked round and called over their names; ' an' there's only Will Latham an' his two sisters, and Roger Harbottle, an' Taylor t' come; an' they'll turn up afore tea's ended.'
So she went off to her duty at the one table, which, placed alongside of the dresser, was the only article of furniture left in the middle of the room: all the seats being arranged as close to the four walls as could be managed. The candles of those days gave but a faint light compared to the light of the immense fire, which it was a point of hospitality to keep at the highest roaring, blazing pitch; the young women occupied the seats, with the exception of two or three of the elder ones, who, in an eager desire to show their capability, insisted on helping Mrs Corney in her duties, very much to her annoyance, as there were certain little contrivances for eking out cream, and adjusting the strength of the cups of tea to the worldly position of the intended drinkers, which she did not like every one to see. The young men, - whom tea did not embolden, and who had as yet had no chance of stronger liquor, - clustered in rustic shyness round the door, not speaking even to themselves, except now and then, when one, apparently the wag of the party, made some whispered remark, which set them all off laughing; but in a minute they checked themselves, and passed the back of their hands across their mouths to compose that unlucky feature, and then some would try to fix their eyes on the rafters of the ceiling, in a manner which was decorous if rather abstracted from the business in hand. Most of these were young farmers, with whom Philip had nothing in common, and from whom, in shy reserve, he had withdrawn himself when he first came in. But now he wished himself among them sooner than set to talk to Nancy Pratt, when he had nothing to say. And yet he might have had a companion less to his mind, for she was a decent young woman of a sober age, less inclined to giggle than many of the younger ones. But all the time that he was making commonplace remarks to her he was wondering if he had offended Sylvia, and why she would not shake hands with him, and this pre-occupation of his thoughts did not make him an agreeable companion. Nancy Pratt, who had been engaged for some years to a mate of a whaling-ship, perceived something of his state of mind, and took no offence at it; on the contrary, she tried to give him pleasure by admiring Sylvia.
'I've often heerd tell on her,' said she, 'but I niver thought she's be so pretty, and so staid and quiet-like too. T' most part o' girls as has looks like hers are always gape-gazing to catch other folks's eyes, and see what is thought on 'em; but she looks just like a child, a bit flustered wi' coming into company, and gettin' into as dark a corner and bidin' as still as she can.
Just then Sylvia lifted up her long, dark lashes, and catching the same glance which she had so often met before - Charley Kinraid was standing talking to Brunton on the opposite side of the fire-place - she started back into the shadow as if she had not expected it, and in so doing spilt her tea all over her gown. She could almost have cried, she felt herself so awkward, and as if everything was going wrong with her; she thought that every one would think she had never been in company before, and did not know how to behave; and while she was thus fluttered and crimson, she saw through her tearful eyes Kinraid on his knees before her, wiping her gown with his silk pocket handkerchief, and heard him speaking through all the buzz of commiserating voices.
'Your cupboard handle is so much i' th' way - I hurt my elbow against it only this very afternoon.'
So perhaps it was no clumsiness of hers, - as they would all know, now, since he had so skilfully laid the blame somewhere else; and after all it turned out that her accident had been the means of bringing him across to her side, which was much more pleasant than having him opposite, staring at her; for now he began to talk to her, and this was very pleasant, although she was rather embarrassed at their tete-a-tete at first.
'I did not know you again when I first saw you,' said he, in a tone which implied a good deal more than was uttered in words.
'I knowed yo' at once,' she replied, softly, and then she blushed and played with her apron-string, and wondered if she ought to have confessed to the clearness of her recollection.
'You're grown up into - well, perhaps it's not manners to say what you're grown into - anyhow, I shan't forget yo' again.'
More playing with her apron-string, and head hung still lower down, though the corners of her mouth would go up in a shy smile of pleasure. Philip watched it all as greedily as if it gave him delight.
'Yo'r father, he'll be well and hearty, I hope? ' asked Charley.
'Yes,' replied Sylvia, and then she wished she could originate some remark; he would think her so stupid if she just kept on saying such little short bits of speeches, and if he thought her stupid he might perhaps go away again to his former place.
But he was quite far enough gone in love of her beauty, and pretty modest ways, not to care much whether she talked or no, so long as she showed herself so pleasingly conscious of his close neighbourhood.
'I must come and see the old gentleman; and your mother, too,' he added more slowly, for he remembered that his visits last year had not been quite so much welcomed by Bell Robson as by her husband; perhaps it was because of the amount of drink which he and Daniel managed to get through of an evening. He resolved this year to be more careful to please the mother of Sylvia.
When tea was ended there was a great bustle and shifting of places, while Mrs Corney and her daughters carried out trays full of used cups, and great platters of uneaten bread and butter into the back-kitchen, to be washed up after the guests were gone. Just because she was so conscious that she did not want to move, and break up the little conversation between herself and Kinraid, Sylvia forced herself to be as active in the service going on as became a friend of the house; and she was too much her mother's own daughter to feel comfortable at leaving all the things in the disorder which to the Corney girls was second nature.
'This milk mun go back to t' dairy, I reckon,' said she, loading herself with milk and cream.
'Niver fash thysel' about it,' said Nelly Corney, 'Christmas comes but onest a year, if it does go sour; and mother said she'd have a game at forfeits first thing after tea to loosen folks's tongues, and mix up t' lads and lasses, so come along.'
But Sylvia steered her careful way to the cold chill of the dairy, and would not be satisfied till she had carried away all the unused provision into some fresher air than that heated by the fires and ovens used for the long day's cooking of pies and cakes and much roast meat.
When they came back a round of red-faced ' lads,' as young men up to five-and-thirty are called in Lancashire and Yorkshire if they are not married before, and lasses, whose age was not to be defined, were playing at some country game, in which the women were apparently more interested than the men, who looked shamefaced, and afraid of each other's ridicule. Mrs Corney, however, knew how to remedy this, and at a sign from her a great jug of beer was brought in. This jug was the pride of her heart, and was in the shape of a fat man in white knee-breeches, and a three-cornered hat; with one arm he supported the pipe in his broad, smiling mouth, and the other was placed akimbo and formed the handle. There was also a great china punch-bowl filled with grog made after an old ship-receipt current in these parts, but not too strong, because if their visitors had too much to drink at that early part of the evening 'it would spoil t' fun,' as Nelly Corney had observed. Her father, however, after the notions of hospitality prevalent at that time in higher circles, had stipulated that each man should have 'enough' before he left the house; enough meaning in Monkshaven parlance the liberty of getting drunk, if they thought fit to do it.
Before long one of the lads was seized with a fit of admiration for Toby - the name of the old gentleman who contained liquor - and went up to the tray for a closer inspection. He was speedily followed by other amateurs of curious earthenware; and by-and-by Mr Brunton (who had been charged by his mother-in-law with the due supplying of liquor - by his father-in-law that every man should have his fill, and by his wife and her sisters that no one should have too much, at any rate at the beginning of the evening,) thought fit to carry out Toby to be replenished; and a faster spirit of enjoyment and mirth began to reign in the room.
Kinraid was too well seasoned to care what amount of liquor he drank; Philip had what was called a weak head, and disliked muddling himself with drink because of the immediate consequence of intense feelings of irritability, and the more distant one of a racking headache next day; so both these two preserved very much the same demeanour they had held at the beginning of the evening.
Sylvia was by all acknowledged and treated as the belle. When they played at blind-man's-buff go where she would, she was always caught; she was called out repeatedly to do what was required in any game, as if all had a pleasure in seeing her light figure and deft ways. She was sufficiently pleased with this to have got over her shyness with all except Charley. When others paid her their rustic compliments she tossed her head, and made her little saucy repartees; but when he said something low and flattering, it was too honey-sweet to her heart to be thrown off thus. And, somehow, the more she yielded to this fascination the more she avoided Philip. He did not speak flatteringly - he did not pay compliments - he watched her with discontented, longing eyes, and grew more inclined every moment, as he remembered his anticipation of a happy evening, to cry out in his heart vanitas vanitatum.
And now came crying the forfeits. Molly Brunton knelt down, her face buried in her mother's lap; the latter took out the forfeits one by one, and as she held them up, said the accustomed formula, -
'A fine thing and a very fine thing, what must he (or she) do who owns this thing.'
One or two had been told to kneel to the prettiest, bow to the wittiest, and kiss those they loved best; others had had to bite an inch off the poker, or such plays upon words. And now came Sylvia's pretty new ribbon that Philip had given her (he almost longed to snatch it out of Mrs Corney's hands and burn it before all their faces, so annoyed was he with the whole affair.)
'A fine thing and a very fine thing - a most particular fine thing - choose how she came by it. What must she do as owns this thing?'
'She must blow out t' candle and kiss t' candlestick.'
In one instant Kinraid had hold of the only candle within reach, all the others had been put up high on inaccessible shelves and other places. Sylvia went up and blew out the candle, and before the sudden partial darkness was over he had taken the candle into his fingers, and, according to the traditional meaning of the words, was in the place of the candlestick, and as such was to be kissed. Every one laughed at innocent Sylvia's face as the meaning of her penance came into it, every one but Philip, who almost choked.
'I'm candlestick,' said Kinraid, with less of triumph in his voice than he would have had with any other girl in the room.
'Yo' mun kiss t' candlestick,' cried the Corneys, 'or yo'll niver get yo'r ribbon back.'
'And she sets a deal o' store by that ribbon,' said Molly Brunton, maliciously.
'I'll none kiss t' candlestick, nor him either,' said Sylvia, in a low voice of determination, turning away, full of confusion.
'Yo'll not get yo'r ribbon if yo' dunnot,' cried one and all.
'I don't care for t' ribbon,' said she, flashing up with a look at her tormentors, now her back was turned to Kinraid. 'An' I wunnot play any more at such like games,' she added, with fresh indignation rising in her heart as she took her old place in the corner of the room a little away from the rest.
Philip's spirits rose, and he yearned to go to her and tell her how he approved of her conduct. Alas, Philip! Sylvia, though as modest a girl as ever lived, was no prude, and had been brought up in simple, straightforward country ways; and with any other young man, excepting, perhaps, Philip's self, she would have thought no more of making a rapid pretence of kissing the hand or cheek of the temporary 'candlestick', than our ancestresses did in a much higher rank on similar occasions. Kinraid, though mortified by his public rejection, was more conscious of this than the inexperienced Philip; he resolved not to be baulked, and watched his opportunity. For the time he went on playing as if Sylvia's conduct had not affected him in the least, and as if he was hardly aware of her defection from the game. As she saw others submitting, quite as a matter of course, to similar penances, she began to be angry with herself for having thought twice about it, and almost to dislike herself for the strange consciousness which had made it at the time seem impossible to do what she was told. Her eyes kept filling with tears as her isolated position in the gay party, the thought of what a fool she had made of herself, kept recurring to her mind; but no one saw her, she thought, thus crying; and, ashamed to be discovered when the party should pause in their game, she stole round behind them into the great chamber in which she had helped to lay out the supper, with the intention of bathing her eyes, and taking a drink of water. One instant Charley Kinraid was missing from the circle of which he was the life and soul; and then back he came with an air of satisfaction on his face, intelligible enough to those who had seen his game; but unnoticed by Philip, who, amidst the perpetual noise and movements around him, had not perceived Sylvia's leaving the room, until she came back at the end of about a quarter of an hour, looking lovelier than ever, her complexion brilliant, her eyes drooping, her hair neatly and freshly arranged, tied with a brown ribbon instead of that she was supposed to have forfeited. She looked as if she did not wish her return to be noticed, stealing softly behind the romping lads and lasses with noiseless motions, and altogether such a contrast to them in her cool freshness and modest neatness, that both Kinraid and Philip found it difficult to keep their eyes off her. But the former had a secret triumph in his heart which enabled him to go on with his merry-making as if it absorbed him; while Philip dropped out of the crowd and came up to where she was standing silently by Mrs Corney, who, arms akimbo, was laughing at the frolic and fun around her. Sylvia started a little when Philip spoke, and kept her soft eyes averted from him after the first glance; she answered him shortly, but with unaccustomed gentleness. He had only asked her when she would like him to take her home; and she, a little surprised at the idea of going home when to her the evening seemed only beginning, had answered -
'Go home? I don't know! It's New Year's eve!'
'Ay! but yo'r mother 'll lie awake till yo' come home, Sylvie!'
But Mrs Corney, having heard his question, broke in with all sorts of upbraidings. 'Go home! Not see t' New Year in! Why, what should take 'em home these six hours? Wasn't there a moon as clear as day? and did such a time as this come often? And were they to break up the party before the New Year came in? And was there not supper, with a spiced round of beef that had been in pickle pretty nigh sin' Martinmas, and hams, and mince-pies, and what not? And if they thought any evil of her master's going to bed, or that by that early retirement he meant to imply that he did not bid his friends welcome, why he would not stay up beyond eight o'clock for King George upon his throne, as he'd tell them soon enough, if they'd only step upstairs and ask him. Well; she knowed what it was to want a daughter when she was ailing, so she'd say nought more, but hasten supper.
And this idea now took possession of Mrs Corney's mind, for she would not willingly allow one of her guests to leave before they had done justice to her preparations; and, cutting her speech short, she hastily left Sylvia and Philip together.
His heart beat fast; his feeling towards her had never been so strong or so distinct as since her refusal to kiss the 'candlestick.' He was on the point of speaking, of saying something explicitly tender, when the wooden trencher which the party were using at their play, came bowling between him and Sylvia, and spun out its little period right betwixt them. Every one was moving from chair to chair, and when the bustle was over Sylvia was seated at some distance from him, and he left standing outside the circle, as if he were not playing. In fact, Sylvia had unconsciously taken his place as actor in the game while he remained spectator, and, as it turned out, an auditor of a conversation not intended for his ears. He was wedged against the wall, close to the great eight-day clock, with its round moon-like smiling face forming a ludicrous contrast to his long, sallow, grave countenance, which was pretty much at the same level above the sanded floor. Before him sat Molly Brunton and one of her sisters, their heads close together in too deep talk to attend to the progress of the game. Philip's attention was caught by the words -
'I'll lay any wager he kissed her when he ran off into t' parlour.'
'She's so coy she'd niver let him,' replied Bessy Corney.
'She couldn't help hersel'; and for all she looks so demure and prim now' (and then both heads were turned in the direction of Sylvia), 'I'm as sure as I'm born that Charley is not t' chap to lose his forfeit; and yet yo' see he says nought more about it, and she's left off being 'feared of him.'
There was something in Sylvia's look, ay, and in Charley Kinraid's, too, that shot conviction into Philip's mind. He watched them incessantly during the interval before supper; they were intimate, and yet shy with each other, in a manner that enraged while it bewildered Philip. What was Charley saying to her in that whispered voice, as they passed each other? Why did they linger near each other? Why did Sylvia look so dreamily happy, so startled at every call of the game, as if recalled from some pleasant idea? Why did Kinraid's eyes always seek her while hers were averted, or downcast, and her cheeks all aflame? Philip's dark brow grew darker as he gazed. He, too, started when Mrs Corney, close at his elbow, bade him go in to supper along with some of the elder ones, who were not playing; for the parlour was not large enough to hold all at once, even with the squeezing and cramming, and sitting together on chairs, which was not at all out of etiquette at Monkshaven. Philip was too reserved to express his disappointment and annoyance at being thus arrested in his painful watch over Sylvia; but he had no appetite for the good things set before him, and found it hard work to smile a sickly smile when called upon by Josiah Pratt for applause at some country joke. When supper was ended, there was some little discussion between Mrs Corney and her son-in-law as to whether the different individuals of the company should be called upon for songs or stories, as was the wont at such convivial meetings. Brunton had been helping his mother-in-law in urging people to eat, heaping their plates over their shoulders with unexpected good things, filling the glasses at the upper end of the table, and the mugs which supplied the deficiency of glasses at the lower. And now, every one being satisfied, not to say stuffed to repletion, the two who had been attending to their wants stood still, hot and exhausted.
'They're a'most stawed,' said Mrs Corney, with a pleased smile. 'It'll be manners t' ask some one as knows how to sing.'
'It may be manners for full men, but not for fasting,' replied Brunton. 'Folks in t' next room will be wanting their victual, and singing is allays out o' tune to empty bellies.'
'But there's them here as 'll take it ill if they're not asked. I heerd Josiah Pratt a-clearing his throat not a minute ago, an' he thinks as much on his singin' as a cock does on his crowin'.'
'If one sings I'm afeard all on 'em will like to hear their own pipes.'
But their dilemma was solved by Bessy Corney, who opened the door to see if the hungry ones outside might not come in for their share of the entertainment; and in they rushed, bright and riotous, scarcely giving the first party time to rise from their seats ere they took their places. One or two young men, released from all their previous shyness, helped Mrs Corney and her daughters to carry off such dishes as were actually empty. There was no time for changing or washing of plates; but then, as Mrs Corney laughingly observed, -
'We're a' on us friends, and some on us mayhap sweethearts; so no need to be particular about plates. Them as gets clean ones is lucky; and them as doesn't, and cannot put up wi' plates that has been used, mun go without.'
It seemed to be Philip's luck this night to be pent up in places; for again the space between the benches and the wall was filled up by the in-rush before he had time to make his way out; and all he could do was to sit quiet where he was. But between the busy heads and over-reaching arms he could see Charley and Sylvia, sitting close together, talking and listening more than eating. She was in a new strange state of happiness not to be reasoned about, or accounted for, but in a state of more exquisite feeling than she had ever experienced before; when, suddenly lifting her eyes, she caught Philip's face of extreme displeasure.
'Oh,' said she, 'I must go. There's Philip looking at me so.'
'Philip!' said Kinraid, with a sudden frown upon his face.
'My cousin,' she replied, instinctively comprehending what had flashed into his mind, and anxious to disclaim the suspicion of having a lover. 'Mother told him to see me home, and he's noan one for staying up late.'
'But you needn't go. I'll see yo' home.'
'Mother's but ailing,' said Sylvia, a little conscience-smitten at having so entirely forgotten everything in the delight of the present, 'and I said I wouldn't be late.'
'And do you allays keep to your word?' asked he, with a tender meaning in his tone.
'Allays; leastways I think so,' replied she, blushing.
'Then if I ask you not to forget me, and you give me your word, I may be sure you'll keep it.'
'It wasn't I as forgot you,' said Sylvia, so softly as not to be heard by him.
He tried to make her repeat what she had said, but she would not, and he could only conjecture that it was something more tell-tale than she liked to say again, and that alone was very charming to him.
'I shall walk home with you,' said he, as Sylvia at last rose to depart, warned by a further glimpse of Philip's angry face.
'No!' said she, hastily, 'I can't do with yo''; for somehow she felt the need of pacifying Philip, and knew in her heart that a third person joining their tete-a-tete walk would only increase his displeasure.
'Why not?' said Charley, sharply.
'Oh! I don't know, only please don't!'
By this time her cloak and hood were on, and she was slowly making her way down her side of the room followed by Charley, and often interrupted by indignant remonstrances against her departure, and the early breaking-up of the party. Philip stood, hat in hand, in the doorway between the kitchen and parlour, watching her so intently that he forgot to be civil, and drew many a jest and gibe upon him for his absorption in his pretty cousin.
When Sylvia reached him, he said, -
'Yo're ready at last, are yo'?'
'Yes,' she replied, in her little beseeching tone. 'Yo've not been wanting to go long, han yo'? I ha' but just eaten my supper.'
'Yo've been so full of talk, that's been the reason your supper lasted so long. That fellow's none going wi' us?' said he sharply, as he saw Kinraid rummaging for his cap in a heap of men's clothes, thrown into the back-kitchen.
'No,' said Sylvia, in affright at Philip's fierce look and passionate tone. 'I telled him not.'
But at that moment the heavy outer door was opened by Daniel Robson himself - bright, broad, and rosy, a jolly impersonation of Winter. His large drover's coat was covered with snow-flakes, and through the black frame of the doorway might be seen a white waste world of sweeping fell and field, with the dark air filled with the pure down-fall. Robson stamped his snow-laden feet and shook himself well, still standing on the mat, and letting a cold frosty current of fresh air into the great warm kitchen. He laughed at them all before he spoke.
'It's a coud new year as I'm lettin' in though it's noan t' new year yet. Yo'll a' be snowed up, as sure as my name s Dannel, if yo' stop for twel' o'clock. Yo'd better mak' haste and go whoam. Why, Charley, my lad! how beest ta? who'd ha' thought o' seeing thee i' these parts again! Nay, missus, nay, t' new year mun find its way int' t' house by itsel' for me; for a ha' promised my oud woman to bring Sylvie whoam as quick as may-be; she's lyin' awake and frettin' about t' snow and what not. Thank yo' kindly, missus, but a'll tak' nought to eat; just a drop o' somethin' hot to keep out coud, and wish yo' a' the compliments o' the season. Philip, my man, yo'll not be sorry to be spared t' walk round by Haytersbank such a neet. My missus were i' such a way about Sylvie that a thought a'd just step off mysel', and have a peep at yo' a', and bring her some wraps. Yo'r sheep will be a' folded, a reckon, Measter Pratt, for there'll niver be a nibble o' grass to be seen this two month, accordin' to my readin'; and a've been at sea long enough, and on land long enough t' know signs and wonders. It's good stuff that, any way, and worth comin' for,' after he had gulped down a tumblerful of half-and-half grog. 'Kinraid, if ta doesn't come and see me afore thou'rt many days ouder, thee and me'll have words. Come, Sylvie, what art ta about, keepin' me here? Here's Mistress Corney mixin' me another jorum. Well, this time a'll give "T' married happy, and t' single wed!"'
Sylvia was all this while standing by her father quite ready for departure, and not a little relieved by his appearance as her convoy home.
'I'm ready to see Haytersbank to-night, master!' said Kinraid, with easy freedom - a freedom which Philip envied, but could not have imitated, although he was deeply disappointed at the loss of his walk with Sylvia, when he had intended to exercise the power his aunt had delegated to him of remonstrance if her behaviour had been light or thoughtless, and of warning if he saw cause to disapprove of any of her associates.
After the Robsons had left, a blank fell upon both Charley and Philip. In a few minutes, however, the former, accustomed to prompt decision, resolved that she and no other should be his wife. Accustomed to popularity among women, and well versed in the incipient signs of their liking for him, he anticipated no difficulty in winning her. Satisfied with the past, and pleasantly hopeful about the future, he found it easy to turn his attention to the next prettiest girl in the room, and to make the whole gathering bright with his ready good temper and buoyant spirit.
Mrs Corney had felt it her duty to press Philip to stay, now that, as she said, he had no one but himself to see home, and the new year so near coming in. To any one else in the room she would have added the clinching argument, 'A shall take it very unkind if yo' go now'; but somehow she could not say this, for in truth Philip's look showed that he would be but a wet blanket on the merriment of the party. So, with as much civility as could be mustered up between them, he took leave. Shutting the door behind him, he went out into the dreary night, and began his lonesome walk back to Monkshaven. The cold sleet almost blinded him as the sea-wind drove it straight in his face; it cut against him as it was blown with drifting force. The roar of the wintry sea came borne on the breeze; there was more light from the whitened ground than from the dark laden sky above. The field-paths would have been a matter of perplexity, had it not been for the well-known gaps in the dyke-side, which showed the whitened land beyond, between the two dark stone walls. Yet he went clear and straight along his way, having unconsciously left all guidance to the animal instinct which co-exists with the human soul, and sometimes takes strange charge of the human body, when all the nobler powers of the individual are absorbed in acute suffering. At length he was in the lane, toiling up the hill, from which, by day, Monkshaven might be seen. Now all features of the landscape before him were lost in the darkness of night, against which the white flakes came closer and nearer, thicker and faster. On a sudden, the bells of Monkshaven church rang out a welcome to the new year, 1796. From the direction of the wind, it seemed as if the sound was flung with strength and power right into Philip's face. He walked down the hill to its merry sound - its merry sound, his heavy heart. As he entered the long High Street of Monkshaven he could see the watching lights put out in parlour, chamber, or kitchen. The new year had come, and expectation was ended. Reality had begun.
He turned to the right, into the court where he lodged with Alice Rose. There was a light still burning there, and cheerful voices were heard. He opened the door; Alice, her daughter, and Coulson stood as if awaiting him. Hester's wet cloak hung on a chair before the fire; she had her hood on, for she and Coulson had been to the watch-night.
The solemn excitement of the services had left its traces upon her countenance and in her mind. There was a spiritual light in her usually shadowed eyes, and a slight flush on her pale cheek. Merely personal and self-conscious feelings were merged in a loving good-will to all her fellow-creatures. Under the influence of this large charity, she forgot her habitual reserve, and came forward as Philip entered to meet him with her new year's wishes - wishes that she had previously interchanged with the other two.
'A happy new year to you, Philip, and may God have you in his keeping all the days thereof!'
He took her hand, and shook it warmly in reply. The flush on her cheek deepened as she withdrew it. Alice Rose said something curtly about the lateness of the hour and her being much tired; and then she and her daughter went upstairs to the front chamber, and Philip and Coulson to that which they shared at the back of the house.
Coulson and Philip were friendly, but not intimate. They never had had a dispute, they never were confidential with each other; in truth, they were both reserved and silent men, and, probably, respected each other the more for being so self-contained. There was a private feeling in Coulson's heart which would have made a less amiable fellow dislike Philip. But of this the latter was unconscious: they were not apt to exchange many words in the room which they occupied jointly.
Coulson asked Philip if he had enjoyed himself at the Corneys', and Philip replied, -
'Not much; such parties are noane to my liking.'
'And yet thou broke off from t' watch-night to go there.'
No answer; so Coulson went on, with a sense of the duty laid upon him, to improve the occasion - the first that had presented itself since the good old Methodist minister had given his congregation the solemn warning to watch over the opportunities of various kinds which the coming year would present.
'Jonas Barclay told us as the pleasures o' this world were like apples o' Sodom, pleasant to look at, but ashes to taste.'
Coulson wisely left Philip to make the application for himself. If he did he made no sign, but threw himself on his bed with a heavy sigh.
'Are yo' not going to undress?' said Coulson, as he covered him up in bed.
There had been a long pause of silence. Philip did not answer him, and he thought he had fallen asleep. But he was roused from his first slumber by Hepburn's soft movements about the room. Philip had thought better of it, and, with some penitence in his heart for his gruffness to the unoffending Coulson, was trying not to make any noise while he undressed.
But he could not sleep. He kept seeing the Corneys' kitchen and the scenes that had taken place in it, passing like a pageant before his closed eyes. Then he opened them in angry weariness at the recurring vision, and tried to make out the outlines of the room and the furniture in the darkness. The white ceiling sloped into the whitewashed walls, and against them he could see the four rush-bottomed chairs, the looking-glass hung on one side, the old carved oak-chest (his own property, with the initials of forgotten ancestors cut upon it), which held his clothes; the boxes that belonged to Coulson, sleeping soundly in the bed in the opposite corner of the room; the casement window in the roof, through which the snowy ground on the steep hill-side could be plainly seen; and when he got so far as this in the catalogue of the room, he fell into a troubled feverish sleep, which lasted two or three hours; and then he awoke with a start, and a consciousness of uneasiness, though what about he could not remember at first.
When he recollected all that had happened the night before, it impressed him much more favourably than it had done at the time. If not joy, hope had come in the morning; and, at any rate, he could be up and be doing, for the late wintry light was stealing down the hill-side, and he knew that, although Coulson lay motionless in his sleep, it was past their usual time of rising. Still, as it was new year's Day, a time of some licence, Philip had mercy on his fellow-shopman, and did not waken him till just as he was leaving the room.
Carrying his shoes in his hand, he went softly downstairs for he could see from the top of the flight that neither Alice nor her daughter was down yet, as the kitchen shutters were not unclosed. It was Mrs Rose's habit to rise early, and have all bright and clean against her lodgers came down; but then, in general, she went to rest before nine o'clock, whereas the last night she had not gone till past twelve. Philip went about undoing the shutters, and trying to break up the raking coal, with as little noise as might be, for he had compassion on the tired sleepers. The kettle had not been filled, probably because Mrs Rose had been unable to face the storm of the night before, in taking it to the pump just at the entrance of the court. When Philip came back from filling it, he found Alice and Hester both in the kitchen, and trying to make up for lost time by hastening over their work. Hester looked busy and notable with her gown pinned up behind her, and her hair all tucked away under a clean linen cap; but Alice was angry with herself for her late sleeping, and that and other causes made her speak crossly to Philip, as he came in with his snowy feet and well-filled kettle.
'Look the' there! droppin' and drippin' along t' flags as was cleaned last night, and meddlin' wi' woman's work as a man has no business wi'.'
Philip was surprised and annoyed. He had found relief from his own thoughts in doing what he believed would help others. He gave up the kettle to her snatching hands, and sate down behind the door in momentary ill-temper. But the kettle was better filled, and consequently heavier than the old woman expected, and she could not manage to lift it to the crook from which it generally hung suspended. She looked round for Hester, but she was gone into the back-kitchen. In a minute Philip was at her side, and had heaved it to its place for her. She looked in his face for a moment wistfully, but hardly condescended to thank him; at least the sound of the words did not pass the lips that formed them. Rebuffed by her manner, he went back to his old seat, and mechanically watched the preparations for breakfast; but his thoughts went back to the night before, and the comparative ease of his heart was gone. The first stir of a new day had made him feel as if he had had no sufficient cause for his annoyance and despondency the previous evening; but now, condemned to sit quiet, he reviewed looks and words, and saw just reason for his anxiety. After some consideration he resolved to go that very night to Haytersbank, and have some talk with either Sylvia or her mother; what the exact nature of this purposed conversation should be, he did not determine; much would depend on Sylvia's manner and mood, and on her mother's state of health; but at any rate something would be learnt.
During breakfast something was learnt nearer home; though not all that a man less unconscious and more vain than Philip might have discovered. He only found out that Mrs Rose was displeased with him for not having gone to the watch-night with Hester, according to the plan made some weeks before. But he soothed his conscience by remembering that he had made no promise; he had merely spoken of his wish to be present at the service, about which Hester was speaking; and although at the time and for a good while afterwards, he had fully intended going, yet as there had been William Coulson to accompany her, his absence could not have been seriously noticed. Still he was made uncomfortable by Mrs Rose's change of manner; once or twice he said to himself that she little knew how miserable he had been during his 'gay evening,' as she would persist in calling it, or she would not talk at him with such persevering bitterness this morning. Before he left for the shop, he spoke of his intention of going to see how his aunt was, and of paying her a new year's day visit.
Hepburn and Coulson took it in turns week and week about to go first home to dinner; the one who went first sate down with Mrs Rose and her daughter, instead of having his portion put in the oven to keep warm for him. To-day it was Hepburn's turn to be last. All morning the shop was full with customers, come rather to offer good wishes than to buy, and with an unspoken remembrance of the cake and wine which the two hospitable brothers Foster made a point of offering to all comers on new year's day. It was busy work for all - for Hester on her side, where caps, ribbons, and women's gear were exclusively sold - for the shopmen and boys in the grocery and drapery department. Philip was trying to do his business with his mind far away; and the consequence was that his manner was not such as to recommend him to the customers, some of whom recollected it as very different, courteous and attentive, if grave and sedate. One buxom farmer's wife noticed the change to him. She had a little girl with her, of about five years old, that she had lifted up on the counter, and who was watching Philip with anxious eyes, occasionally whispering in her mother's ear, and then hiding her face against her cloak.
'She's thought a deal o' coming to see yo', and a dunnot think as yo' mind her at all. My pretty, he's clean forgotten as how he said last new year's day, he'd gi' thee a barley-sugar stick, if thou'd hem him a handkercher by this.'
The child's face was buried in the comfortable breadth of duffle at these words, while the little outstretched hand held a small square of coarse linen.
'Ay, she's noane forgotten it, and has done her five stitches a day, bless her; and a dunnot believe as yo' know her again. She's Phoebe Moorsom, and a'm Hannah, and a've dealt at t' shop reg'lar this fifteen year.'
'I'm very sorry,' said Philip. 'I was up late last night, and I'm a bit dazed to-day. Well! this is nice work, Phoebe, and I'm sure I'm very much beholden to yo'. And here's five sticks o' barley-sugar, one for every stitch, and thank you kindly, Mrs Moorsom, too.'
Philip took the handkerchief and hoped he had made honourable amends for his want of recognition. But the wee lassie refused to be lifted down, and whispered something afresh into her mother's ear, who smiled and bade her be quiet. Philip saw, however, that there was some wish ungratified on the part of the little maiden which he was expected to inquire into, and, accordingly, he did his duty.
'She's a little fool; she says yo' promised to gi'e her a kiss, and t' make her yo'r wife.'
The child burrowed her face closer into her mother's neck, and refused to allow the kiss which Philip willingly offered. All he could do was to touch the back of the little white fat neck with his lips. The mother carried her off only half satisfied, and Philip felt that he must try and collect his scattered wits, and be more alive to the occasion.
Towards the dinner-hour the crowd slackened; Hester began to replenish decanters and bottles, and to bring out a fresh cake before she went home to dinner; and Coulson and Philip looked over the joint present they always made to her on this day. It was a silk handkerchief of the prettiest colours they could pick out of the shop, intended for her to wear round her neck. Each tried to persuade the other to give it to her, for each was shy of the act of presentation. Coulson was, however, the most resolute; and when she returned from the parlour the little parcel was in Philip's hands.
'Here, Hester,' said he, going round the counter to her, just as she was leaving the shop. 'It's from Coulson and me; a handkerchief for yo' to wear; and we wish yo' a happy New Year, and plenty on 'em; and there's many a one wishes the same.'
He took her hand as he said this. She went a little paler, and her eyes brightened as though they would fill with tears as they met his; she could not have helped it, do what she would. But she only said, 'Thank yo' kindly,' and going up to Coulson she repeated the words and action to him; and then they went off together to dinner.
There was a lull of business for the next hour. John and Jeremiah were dining like the rest of the world. Even the elder errand-boy had vanished. Philip rearranged disorderly goods; and then sate down on the counter by the window; it was the habitual place for the one who stayed behind; for excepting on market-day there was little or no custom during the noon-hour. Formerly he used to move the drapery with which the window was ornamented, and watch the passers-by with careless eye. But now, though he seemed to gaze abroad, he saw nothing but vacancy. All the morning since he got up he had been trying to fight through his duties - leaning against a hope - a hope that first had bowed, and then had broke as soon as he really tried its weight. There was not a sign of Sylvia's liking for him to be gathered from the most careful recollection of the past evening. It was of no use thinking that there was. It was better to give it up altogether and at once. But what if he could not? What if the thought of her was bound up with his life; and that once torn out by his own free will, the very roots of his heart must come also?
No; he was resolved he would go on; as long as there was life there was hope; as long as Sylvia remained unpledged to any one else, there was a chance for him. He would remodel his behaviour to her. He could not be merry and light-hearted like other young men; his nature was not cast in that mould; and the early sorrows that had left him a lonely orphan might have matured, but had not enlivened, his character. He thought with some bitterness on the power of easy talking about trifles which some of those he had met with at the Corneys' had exhibited. But then he felt stirring within him a force of enduring love which he believed to be unusual, and which seemed as if it must compel all things to his wish in the end. A year or so ago he had thought much of his own cleverness and his painfully acquired learning, and he had imagined that these were the qualities which were to gain Sylvia. But now, whether he had tried them and had failed to win even her admiration, or whether some true instinct had told him that a woman's love may be gained in many ways sooner than by mere learning, he was only angry with himself for his past folly in making himself her school - nay, her taskmaster. To-night, though, he would start off on a new tack. He would not even upbraid her for her conduct the night before; he had shown her his displeasure at the time; but she should see how tender and forgiving he could be. He would lure her to him rather than find fault with her. There had perhaps been too much of that already.
When Coulson came back Philip went to his solitary dinner. In general he was quite alone while eating it; but to-day Alice Rose chose to bear him company. She watched him with cold severe eye for some time, until he had appeased his languid appetite. Then she began with the rebuke she had in store for him; a rebuke the motives to which were not entirely revealed even to herself.
'Thou 're none so keen after thy food as common,' she began. 'Plain victuals goes ill down after feastin'.'
Philip felt the colour mount to his face; he was not in the mood for patiently standing the brunt of the attack which he saw was coming, and yet he had a reverent feeling for woman and for age. He wished she would leave him alone; but he only said - 'I had nought but a slice o' cold beef for supper, if you'll call that feasting.'
'Neither do godly ways savour delicately after the pleasures of the world,' continued she, unheeding his speech. 'Thou wert wont to seek the house of the Lord, and I thought well on thee; but of late thou'st changed, and fallen away, and I mun speak what is in my heart towards thee.'
'Mother,' said Philip, impatiently (both he and Coulson called Alice 'mother' at times), 'I don't think I am fallen away, and any way I cannot stay now to be - it's new year's Day, and t' shop is throng.'
But Alice held up her hand. Her speech was ready, and she must deliver it.
'Shop here, shop there. The flesh and the devil are gettin' hold on yo', and yo' need more nor iver to seek t' ways o' grace. New year's day comes and says, "Watch and pray," and yo' say, "Nay, I'll seek feasts and market-places, and let times and seasons come and go without heedin' into whose presence they're hastening me." Time was, Philip, when thou'd niver ha' letten a merry-making keep thee fra' t' watch-night, and t' company o' the godly.'
'I tell yo' it was no merry-making to me,' said Philip, with sharpness, as he left the house.
Alice sat down on the nearest seat, and leant her head on her wrinkled hand.
'He's tangled and snared,' said she; 'my heart has yearned after him, and I esteemed him as one o' the elect. And more nor me yearns after him. O Lord, I have but one child! O Lord, spare her! But o'er and above a' I would like to pray for his soul, that Satan might not have it, for he came to me but a little lad.'
At that moment Philip, smitten by his conscience for his hard manner of speech, came back; but Alice did not hear or see him till he was close by her, and then he had to touch her to recall her attention.
'Mother,' said he, 'I was wrong. I'm fretted by many things. I shouldn't ha' spoken so. It was ill-done of me.'
'Oh, my lad!' said she, looking up and putting her thin arm on his shoulder as he stooped, 'Satan is desiring after yo' that he may sift yo' as wheat. Bide at whoam, bide at whoam, and go not after them as care nought for holy things. Why need yo' go to Haytersbank this night?'
Philip reddened. He could not and would not give it up, and yet it was difficult to resist the pleading of the usually stern old woman.
'Nay,' said he, withdrawing himself ever so little from her hold; 'my aunt is but ailing, they're my own flesh and blood, and as good folks as needs be, though they mayn't be o' our - o' your way o' thinking in a' things.'
'Our ways - your ways o' thinking, says he, as if they were no longer his'n. And as good folks as need be,' repeated she, with returning severity. 'Them's Satan's words, tho' yo' spoke 'em, Philip. I can do nought again Satan, but I can speak to them as can; an' we'll see which pulls hardest, for it'll be better for thee to be riven and rent i' twain than to go body and soul to hell.'
'But don't think, mother,' said Philip, his last words of conciliation, for the clock had given warning for two, 'as I'm boun' for hell, just because I go t' see my own folks, all I ha' left o' kin.' And once more, after laying his hand with as much of a caress as was in his nature on hers, he left the house.
Probably Alice would have considered the first words that greeted Philip on his entrance into the shop as an answer to her prayer, for they were such as put a stop to his plan of going to see Sylvia that evening; and if Alice had formed her inchoate thoughts into words, Sylvia would have appeared as the nearest earthly representative of the spirit of temptation whom she dreaded for Philip.
As he took his place behind the counter, Coulson said to him in a low voice, -
'Jeremiah Foster has been round to bid us to sup wi' him to-night. He says that he and John have a little matter o' business to talk over with us.'
A glance from his eyes to Philip told the latter that Coulson believed the business spoken of had something to do with the partnership, respecting which there had been a silent intelligence for some time between the shopmen.
'And what did thou say?' asked Philip, doggedly unwilling, even yet, to give up his purposed visit.
'Say! why, what could a say, but that we'd come? There was summat up, for sure; and summat as he thought we should be glad on. I could tell it fra' t' look on his face.'
'I don't think as I can go,' said Philip, feeling just then as if the long-hoped-for partnership was as nothing compared to his plan. It was always distasteful to him to have to give up a project, or to disarrange an intended order of things, such was his nature; but to-day it was absolute pain to yield his own purpose.
'Why, man alive?' said Coulson, in amaze at his reluctance.
'I didn't say I mightn't go,' said Philip, weighing consequences, until called off to attend to customers.
In the course of the afternoon, however, he felt himself more easy in deferring his visit to Haytersbank till the next evening. Charley Kinraid entered the shop, accompanied by Molly Brunton and her sisters; and though they all went towards Hester's side of the shop, and Philip and Coulson had many people to attend to, yet Hepburn's sharpened ears caught much of what the young women were saying. From that he gathered that Kinraid had promised them new year's gifts, for the purchase of which they were come; and after a little more listening he learnt that Kinraid was returning to Shields the next day, having only come over to spend a holiday with his relations, and being tied with ship's work at the other end. They all talked together lightly and merrily, as if his going or staying was almost a matter of indifference to himself and his cousins. The principal thought of the young women was to secure the articles they most fancied; Charley Kinraid was (so Philip thought) especially anxious that the youngest and prettiest should be pleased. Hepburn watched him perpetually with a kind of envy of his bright, courteous manner, the natural gallantry of the sailor. If it were but clear that Sylvia took as little thought of him as he did of her, to all appearance, Philip could even have given him praise for manly good looks, and a certain kind of geniality of disposition which made him ready to smile pleasantly at all strangers, from babies upwards.
As the party turned to leave the shop they saw Philip, the guest of the night before; and they came over to shake hands with him across the counter; Kinraid's hand was proffered among the number. Last night Philip could not have believed it possible that such a demonstration of fellowship should have passed between them; and perhaps there was a slight hesitation of manner on his part, for some idea or remembrance crossed Kinraid's mind which brought a keen searching glance into the eyes which for a moment were fastened on Philip's face. In spite of himself, and during the very action of hand-shaking, Philip felt a cloud come over his face, not altering or moving his features, but taking light and peace out of his countenance.
Molly Brunton began to say something, and he gladly turned to look at her. She was asking him why he went away so early, for they had kept it up for four hours after he left, and last of all, she added (turning to Kinraid), her cousin Charley had danced a hornpipe among the platters on the ground.
Philip hardly knew what he said in reply, the mention of that pas seul lifted such a weight off his heart. He could smile now, after his grave fashion, and would have shaken hands again with Kinraid had it been required; for it seemed to him that no one, caring ever so little in the way that he did for Sylvia, could have borne four mortal hours of a company where she had been, and was not; least of all could have danced a hornpipe, either from gaiety of heart, or even out of complaisance. He felt as if the yearning after the absent one would have been a weight to his legs, as well as to his spirit; and he imagined that all men were like himself.
As darkness closed in, and the new year's throng became scarce, Philip's hesitation about accompanying Coulson faded away. He was more comfortable respecting Sylvia, and his going to see her might be deferred; and, after all, he felt that the wishes of his masters ought to be attended to, and the honour of an invitation to the private house of Jeremiah not to be slighted for anything short of a positive engagement. Besides, the ambitious man of business existed strongly in Philip. It would never do to slight advances towards the second great earthly object in his life; one also on which the first depended.
So when the shop was closed, the two set out down Bridge Street to cross the river to the house of Jeremiah Foster. They stood a moment on the bridge to breathe the keen fresh sea air after their busy day. The waters came down, swollen full and dark, with rapid rushing speed from the snow-fed springs high up on the moorland above. The close-packed houses in the old town seemed a cluster of white roofs irregularly piled against the more unbroken white of the hill-side. Lights twinkled here and there in the town, and were slung from stern and bow of the ships in the harbour. The air was very still, settling in for a frost; so still that all distant sounds seemed near: the rumble of a returning cart in the High Street, the voices on board ship, the closing of shutters and barring of doors in the new town to which they were bound. But the sharp air was filled, as it were, with saline particles in a freezing state; little pungent crystals of sea salt burning lips and cheeks with their cold keenness. It would not do to linger here in the very centre of the valley up which passed the current of atmosphere coming straight with the rushing tide from the icy northern seas. Besides, there was the unusual honour of a supper with Jeremiah Foster awaiting them. He had asked each of them separately to a meal before now; but they had never gone together, and they felt that there was something serious in the conjuncture.
They began to climb the steep heights leading to the freshly-built rows of the new town of Monkshaven, feeling as if they were rising into aristocratic regions where no shop profaned the streets. Jeremiah Foster's house was one of six, undistinguished in size, or shape, or colour; but noticed in the daytime by all passers-by for its spotless cleanliness of lintel and doorstep, window and window frame. The very bricks seemed as though they came in for the daily scrubbing which brightened handle, knocker, all down to the very scraper.
The two young men felt as shy of the interview with their master under such unusual relations of guest and host, as a girl does of her first party. Each rather drew back from the decided step of knocking at the door; but with a rebuffing shake at his own folly, Philip was the one to give a loud single rap. As if they had been waited for, the door flew open, and a middle-aged servant stood behind, as spotless and neat as the house itself; and smiled a welcome to the familiar faces.
'Let me dust yo' a bit, William,' said she, suiting the action to the word. 'You've been leanin' again some whitewash, a'll be bound. Ay, Philip,' continued she, turning him round with motherly freedom, 'yo'll do if yo'll but gi' your shoon a polishin' wipe on yon other mat. This'n for takin' t' roughest mud off. Measter allays polishes on that.'
In the square parlour the same precise order was observed. Every article of furniture was free from speck of dirt or particle of dust; and everything was placed either in a parallel line, or at exact right-angles with every other. Even John and Jeremiah sat in symmetry on opposite sides of the fire-place; the very smiles on their honest faces seemed drawn to a line of exactitude.
Such formality, however admirable, was not calculated to promote ease: it was not until after supper - until a good quantity of Yorkshire pie had been swallowed, and washed down, too, with the best and most generous wine in Jeremiah's cellar - that there was the least geniality among them, in spite of the friendly kindness of the host and his brother. The long silence, during which mute thanks for the meal were given, having come to an end, Jeremiah called for pipes, and three of the party began to smoke.
Politics in those days were tickle subjects to meddle with, even in the most private company. The nation was in a state of terror against France, and against any at home who might be supposed to sympathise with the enormities she had just been committing. The oppressive act against seditious meetings had been passed the year before; and people were doubtful to what extremity of severity it might be construed. Even the law authorities forgot to be impartial, but either their alarms or their interests made too many of them vehement partisans instead of calm arbiters, and thus destroyed the popular confidence in what should have been considered the supreme tribunal of justice. Yet for all this, there were some who dared to speak of reform of Parliament, as a preliminary step to fair representation of the people, and to a reduction of the heavy war-taxation that was imminent, if not already imposed. But these pioneers of 1830 were generally obnoxious. The great body of the people gloried in being Tories and haters of the French, with whom they were on tenter-hooks to fight, almost unaware of the rising reputation of the young Corsican warrior, whose name would be used ere a dozen years had passed to hush English babies with a terror such as that of Marlborough once had for the French.
At such a place as Monkshaven all these opinions were held in excess. One or two might, for the mere sake of argument, dispute on certain points of history or government; but they took care to be very sure of their listeners before such arguments touched on anything of the present day; for it had been not unfrequently found that the public duty of prosecuting opinions not your own overrode the private duty of respecting confidence. Most of the Monkshaven politicians confined themselves, therefore, to such general questions as these: 'Could an Englishman lick more than four Frenchmen at a time?' 'What was the proper punishment for members of the Corresponding Society (correspondence with the French directory), hanging and quartering, or burning?' 'Would the forthcoming child of the Princess of Wales be a boy or a girl? If a girl, would it be more loyal to call it Charlotte or Elizabeth?'
The Fosters were quite secure enough of their guests this evening to have spoken freely on politics had they been so inclined. And they did begin on the outrages which had been lately offered to the king in crossing St James's Park to go and open the House of Lords; but soon, so accustomed were their minds to caution and restraint, the talk dropped down to the high price of provisions. Bread at 1s. 3d. the quartern loaf, according to the London test. Wheat at 120s. per quarter, as the home-baking northerners viewed the matter; and then the conversation died away to an ominous silence. John looked at Jeremiah, as if asking him to begin. Jeremiah was the host, and had been a married man. Jeremiah returned the look with the same meaning in it. John, though a bachelor, was the elder brother. The great church bell, brought from the Monkshaven monastery centuries ago, high up on the opposite hill-side, began to ring nine o'clock; it was getting late. Jeremiah began:
'It seems a bad time for starting any one on business, wi' prices and taxes and bread so dear; but John and I are getting into years, and we've no children to follow us: yet we would fain draw out of some of our worldly affairs. We would like to give up the shop, and stick to banking, to which there seemeth a plain path. But first there is the stock and goodwill of the shop to be disposed on.'
A dead pause. This opening was not favourable to the hopes of the two moneyless young men who had been hoping to succeed their masters by the more gradual process of partnership. But it was only the kind of speech that had been agreed upon by the two brothers with a view of impressing on Hepburn and Coulson the great and unusual responsibility of the situation into which the Fosters wished them to enter. In some ways the talk of many was much less simple and straightforward in those days than it is now. The study of effect shown in the London diners-out of the last generation, who prepared their conversation beforehand, was not without its parallel in humbler spheres, and for different objects than self-display. The brothers Foster had all but rehearsed the speeches they were about to make this evening. They were aware of the youth of the parties to whom they were going to make a most favourable proposal; and they dreaded that if that proposal was too lightly made, it would be too lightly considered, and the duties involved in it too carelessly entered upon. So the role of one brother was to suggest, that of the other to repress. The young men, too, had their reserves. They foresaw, and had long foreseen, what was coming that evening. They were impatient to hear it in distinct words; and yet they had to wait, as if unconscious, during all the long preamble. Do age and youth never play the same parts now? To return. John Foster replied to his brother:
'The stock and goodwill! That would take much wealth. And there will be fixtures to be considered. Philip, canst thee tell me the exact amount of stock in the shop at present?'
It had only just been taken; Philip had it at his fingers' ends. 'One thousand nine hundred and forty-one pounds, thirteen shillings and twopence.'
Coulson looked at him in a little dismay, and could not repress a sigh. The figures put into words and spoken aloud seemed to indicate so much larger an amount of money than when quickly written down in numerals. But Philip read the countenances, nay, by some process of which he was not himself aware, he read the minds of the brothers, and felt no dismay at what he saw there.
'And the fixtures?' asked John Foster.
'The appraiser valued them at four hundred and thirty-five pounds three and sixpence when father died. We have added to them since, but we will reckon them at that. How much does that make with the value of the stock?'
'Two thousand one hundred and seventy-six pounds, sixteen shillings and eightpence,' said Philip.
Coulson had done the sum quicker, but was too much disheartened by the amount to speak.
'And the goodwill?' asked the pitiless John. 'What dost thee set that at?'
'I think, brother, that that would depend on who came forward with the purchase-money of the stock and fixtures. To some folks we might make it sit easy, if they were known to us, and those as we wished well to. If Philip and William here, for instance, said they'd like to purchase the business, I reckon thee and me would not ask 'em so much as we should ask Millers' (Millers was an upstart petty rival shop at the end of the bridge in the New Town).
'I wish Philip and William was to come after us,' said John. 'But that's out of the question,' he continued, knowing all the while that, far from being out of the question, it was the very question, and that it was as good as settled at this very time.
No one spoke. Then Jeremiah went on:
'It's out of the question, I reckon?'
He looked at the two young men. Coulson shook his head. Philip more bravely said, -
'I have fifty-three pounds seven and fourpence in yo'r hands, Master John, and it's all I have i' the world.'
'It's a pity,' said John, and again they were silent. Half-past nine struck. It was time to be beginning to make an end. 'Perhaps, brother, they have friends who could advance 'em the money. We might make it sit light to them, for the sake of their good service?'
Philip replied, -
'There's no one who can put forwards a penny for me: I have but few kin, and they have little to spare beyond what they need.'
Coulson said -
'My father and mother have nine on us.'
'Let alone, let alone!' said John, relenting fast; for he was weary of his part of cold, stern prudence. 'Brother, I think we have enough of this world's goods to do what we like wi' our own.'
Jeremiah was a little scandalized at the rapid melting away of assumed character, and took a good pull at his pipe before he replied -
'Upwards of two thousand pounds is a large sum to set on the well-being and well-doing of two lads, the elder of whom is not three-and-twenty. I fear we must look farther a-field.'
'Why, John,' replied Jeremiah, 'it was but yesterday thee saidst thee would rather have Philip and William than any men o' fifty that thee knowed. And now to bring up their youth again them.'
'Well, well! t' half on it is thine, and thou shall do even as thou wilt. But I think as I must have security for my moiety, for it's a risk - a great risk. Have ye any security to offer? any expectations? any legacies, as other folk have a life-interest in at present?'
No; neither of them had. So Jeremiah rejoined -
'Then, I suppose, I mun do as thee dost, John, and take the security of character. And it's a great security too, lads, and t' best o' all, and one that I couldn't ha' done without; no, not if yo'd pay me down five thousand for goodwill, and stock, and fixtures. For John Foster and Son has been a shop i' Monkshaven this eighty years and more; and I dunnot think there's a man living - or dead, for that matter - as can say Fosters wronged him of a penny, or gave short measure to a child or a Cousin Betty.'
They all four shook hands round with the same heartiness as if it had been a legal ceremony necessary to the completion of the partnership. The old men's faces were bright with smiles; the eyes of the young ones sparkled with hope.
'But, after all,' said Jeremiah, 'we've not told you particulars. Yo're thanking us for a pig in a poke; but we had more forethought, and we put all down on a piece o' paper.'
He took down a folded piece of paper from the mantel-shelf, put on his horn spectacles, and began to read aloud, occasionally peering over his glasses to note the effect on the countenances of the young men. The only thing he was in the habit of reading aloud was a chapter in the Bible daily to his housekeeper servant; and, like many, he reserved a peculiar tone for that solemn occupation - a tone which he unconsciously employed for the present enumeration of pounds, shillings, and pence.
'Average returns of the last three years, one hundred and twenty-seven pounds, three shillings, and seven penny and one-sixth a week. Profits thereupon thirty-four per cent. - as near as may be. Clear profits of the concern, after deducting all expenses except rent - for t' house is our own - one thousand two hundred and two pound a year.'
This was far more than either Hepburn or Coulson had imagined it to be; and a look of surprise, almost amounting to dismay, crept over their faces, in spite of their endeavour to keep simply motionless and attentive.
'It's a deal of money, lads, and the Lord give you grace to guide it,' said Jeremiah, putting down his paper for a minute.
'Amen,' said John, shaking his head to give effect to his word.
'Now what we propose is this,' continued Jeremiah, beginning afresh to refer to his paper: 'We will call t' value of stock and fixtures two thousand one hundred and fifty. You may have John Holden, appraiser and auctioneer, in to set a price on them if yo' will; or yo' may look over books and bills; or, better still, do both, and so check one again t'other; but for t' sake o' making the ground o' the bargain, I state the sum as above; and I reckon it so much capital left in yo'r hands for the use o' which yo're bound to pay us five per cent. quarterly - that's one hundred and seven pound ten per annum at least for t' first year; and after it will be reduced by the gradual payment on our money, which must be at the rate of twenty per cent., thus paying us our principal back in five years. And the rent, including all back yards, right of wharfage, warehouse, and premises, is reckoned by us to be sixty-five pound per annum. So yo' will have to pay us, John and Jeremiah Foster, brothers, six hundred and twelve pound ten out of the profits of the first year, leaving, at the present rate of profits, about five hundred and eighty-nine pound ten, for the share to be divided between yo'.'
The plan had, in all its details, been carefully arranged by the two brothers. They were afraid lest Hepburn and Coulson should be dazzled by the amount of profits, and had so arranged the sliding-scale of payment as to reduce the first year's income to what the elder men thought a very moderate sum, but what to the younger ones appeared an amount of wealth such as they, who had neither of them ever owned much more than fifty pounds, considered almost inexhaustible. It was certainly a remarkable instance of prosperity and desert meeting together so early in life.
For a moment or two the brothers were disappointed at not hearing any reply from either of them. Then Philip stood up, for he felt as if anything he could say sitting down would not be sufficiently expressive of gratitude, and William instantly followed his example. Hepburn began in a formal manner, something the way in which he had read in the York newspapers that honourable members returned thanks when their health was given.
'I can hardly express my feelings' (Coulson nudged him) 'his feelings, too - of gratitude. Oh, Master John! Master Jeremiah, I thought it might come i' time; nay, I've thought it might come afore long; but I niver thought as it would be so much, or made so easy. We've got good kind friends - we have, have we not, William? - and we'll do our best, and I hope as we shall come up to their wishes.'
Philip's voice quivered a little, as some remembrance passed across his mind; at this unusual moment of expansion out it came. 'I wish mother could ha' seen this day.'
'She shall see a better day, my lad, when thy name and William's is painted over t' shop-door, and J. and J. Foster blacked out.'
'Nay, master,' said William, 'that mun never be. I'd a'most sooner not come in for the business. Anyhow, it must be 'late J. and J. Foster,' and I'm not sure as I can stomach that.'
'Well, well, William,' said John Foster, highly gratified, 'there be time enough to talk over that. There was one thing more to be said, was there not, brother Jeremiah? We do not wish to have this talked over in Monkshaven until shortly before the time when yo' must enter on the business. We have our own arrangements to make wi' regard to the banking concern, and there'll be lawyer's work to do, after yo've examined books and looked over stock again together; may-be we've overstated it, or t' fixtures aren't worth so much as we said. Anyhow yo' must each on yo' give us yo'r word for to keep fra' naming this night's conversation to any one. Meantime, Jeremiah and I will have to pay accounts, and take a kind of farewell of the merchants and manufacturers with whom Fosters have had dealings this seventy or eighty year; and when and where it seems fitting to us we will take one of yo' to introduce as our successors and friends. But all that's to come. But yo' must each give us yo'r word not to name what has passed here to any one till further speech on the subject has passed between us.'
Coulson immediately gave the promise. Philip's assent came lagging. He had thought of Sylvia living, almost as much as of the dead mother, whose last words had been a committal of her child to the Father of the friendless; and now that a short delay was placed between the sight of the cup and his enjoyment of it, there was an impatient chafing in the mind of the composed and self-restrained Philip; and then repentance quick as lightning effaced the feeling, and he pledged himself to the secrecy which was enjoined. Some few more details as to their mode of procedure - of verifying the Fosters' statements, which to the younger men seemed a perfectly unnecessary piece of business - of probable journeys and introductions, and then farewell was bidden, and Hepburn and Coulson were in the passage donning their wraps, and rather to their indignation being assisted therein by Martha, who was accustomed to the office with her own master. Suddenly they were recalled into the parlour.
John Foster was fumbling with the papers a little nervously: Jeremiah spoke -
'We have not thought it necessary to commend Hester Rose to you; if she had been a lad she would have had a third o' the business along wi' yo'. Being a woman, it's ill troubling her with a partnership; better give her a fixed salary till such time as she marries.'
He looked a little knowingly and curiously at the faces of the young men he addressed. William Coulson seemed sheepish and uncomfortable, but said nothing, leaving it as usual to Philip to be spokesman.
'If we hadn't cared for Hester for hersel', master, we should ha' cared for her as being forespoken by yo'. Yo' and Master John shall fix what we ought t' pay her; and I think I may make bold to say that, as our income rises, hers shall too - eh, Coulson?' (a sound of assent quite distinct enough); 'for we both look on her as a sister and on Alice like a mother, as I told her only this very day.'
Philip went to bed with that kind of humble penitent gratitude in his heart, which we sometimes feel after a sudden revulsion of feeling from despondency to hope. The night before it seemed as if all events were so arranged as to thwart him in his dearest wishes; he felt now as if his discontent and repining, not twenty-four hours before, had been almost impious, so great was the change in his circumstances for the better. Now all seemed promising for the fulfilment of what he most desired. He was almost convinced that he was mistaken in thinking that Kinraid had had anything more than a sailor's admiration for a pretty girl with regard to Sylvia; at any rate, he was going away to-morrow, in all probability not to return for another year (for Greenland ships left for the northern seas as soon as there was a chance of the ice being broken up), and ere then he himself might speak out openly, laying before her parents all his fortunate prospects, and before her all his deep passionate love.
So this night his prayers were more than the mere form that they had been the night before; they were a vehement expression of gratitude to God for having, as it were, interfered on his behalf, to grant him the desire of his eyes and the lust of his heart. He was like too many of us, he did not place his future life in the hands of God, and only ask for grace to do His will in whatever circumstances might arise; but he yearned in that terrible way after a blessing which, when granted under such circumstances, too often turns out to be equivalent to a curse. And that spirit brings with it the material and earthly idea that all events that favour our wishes are answers to our prayer; and so they are in one sense, but they need prayer in a deeper and higher spirit to keep us from the temptation to evil which such events invariably bring with them.
Philip little knew how Sylvia's time had been passed that day. If he had, he would have laid down this night with even a heavier heart than he had done on the last.
Charley Kinraid accompanied his cousins as far as the spot where the path to Haytersbank Farm diverged. Then he stopped his merry talk, and announced his intention of going to see farmer Robson. Bessy Corney looked disappointed and a little sulky; but her sister Molly Brunton laughed, and said, -
'Tell truth, lad! Dannel Robson 'd niver have a call fra' thee if he hadn't a pretty daughter.'
'Indeed, but he would,' replied Charley, rather annoyed; 'when I've said a thing, I do it. I promised last night to go see him; besides, I like the old man.'
'Well! when shall we tell mother yo're comin' whoam?'
'Toward eight o'clock - may-be sooner.'
'Why it's bare five now! bless t' lad, does he think o' staying theere a' neet, and they up so late last night, and Mrs Robson ailing beside? Mother 'll not think it kind on yo' either, will she, Bess?'
'I dunno. Charley mun do as he likes; I daresay no one'll miss him if he does bide away till eight.'
'Well, well! I can't tell what I shall do; but yo'd best not stop lingering here, for it's getting on, and there'll be a keen frost by t' look o' the stars.'
Haytersbank was closed for the night as far as it ever was closed; there were no shutters to the windows, nor did they care to draw the inside curtains, so few were the passers-by. The house door was fastened; but the shippen door a little on in the same long low block of building stood open, and a dim light made an oblong upon the snowy ground outside. As Kinraid drew near he heard talking there, and a woman's voice; he threw a passing glance through the window into the fire-lit house-place, and seeing Mrs Robson asleep by the fireside in her easy-chair, he went on.
There was the intermittent sound of the sharp whistling of milk into the pail, and Kester, sitting on a three-legged stool, cajoling a capricious cow into letting her fragrant burden flow. Sylvia stood near the farther window-ledge, on which a horn lantern was placed, pretending to knit at a gray worsted stocking, but in reality laughing at Kester's futile endeavours, and finding quite enough to do with her eyes, in keeping herself untouched by the whisking tail, or the occasional kick. The frosty air was mellowed by the warm and odorous breath of the cattle - breath that hung about the place in faint misty clouds. There was only a dim light; such as it was, it was not dearly defined against the dark heavy shadow in which the old black rafters and manger and partitions were enveloped.
As Charley came to the door, Kester was saying, 'Quiet wi' thee, wench! Theere now, she's a beauty, if she'll stand still. There's niver sich a cow i' t' Riding; if she'll only behave hersel'. She's a bonny lass, she is; let down her milk, theere's a pretty!'
'Why, Kester,' laughed Sylvia, 'thou'rt asking her for her milk wi' as many pretty speeches as if thou wert wooing a wife!'
'Hey, lass!' said Kester, turning a bit towards her, and shutting one eye to cock the other the better upon her; an operation which puckered up his already wrinkled face into a thousand new lines and folds. 'An' how does thee know how a man woos a wife, that thee talks so knowin' about it? That's tellin'. Some un's been tryin' it on thee.'
'There's niver a one been so impudent,' said Sylvia, reddening and tossing her head a little; 'I'd like to see 'em try me!'
'Well, well!' said Kester, wilfully misunderstanding her meaning, 'thou mun be patient, wench; and if thou's a good lass, may-be thy turn 'll come and they 'll try it.'
'I wish thou'd talk of what thou's some knowledge on, Kester, i'stead of i' that silly way,' replied Sylvia.
'Then a mun talk no more 'bout women, for they're past knowin', an' druv e'en King Solomon silly.'
At this moment Charley stepped in. Sylvia gave a little start and dropped her ball of worsted. Kester made as though absorbed in his task of cajoling Black Nell; but his eyes and ears were both vigilant.
'I was going into the house, but I saw yo'r mother asleep, and I didn't like to waken her, so I just came on here. Is yo'r father to the fore?'
'No,' said Sylvia, hanging down her head a little, wondering if he could have heard the way in which she and Kester had been talking, and thinking over her little foolish jokes with anger against herself. 'Father is gone to Winthrop about some pigs as he's heerd on. He'll not be back till seven o'clock or so.'
It was but half-past five, and Sylvia in the irritation of the moment believed that she wished Kinraid would go. But she would have been extremely disappointed if he had. Kinraid himself seemed to have no thought of the kind. He saw with his quick eyes, not unaccustomed to women, that his coming so unexpectedly had fluttered Sylvia, and anxious to make her quite at her ease with him, and not unwilling to conciliate Kester, he addressed his next speech to him, with the same kind of air of interest in the old man's pursuit that a young man of a different class sometimes puts on when talking to the chaperone of a pretty girl in a ball-room.
'That's a handsome beast yo've just been milking, master.'
'Ay; but handsome is as handsome does. It were only yesterday as she aimed her leg right at t' pail wi' t' afterings in. She knowed it were afterings as well as any Christian, and t' more t' mischief t' better she likes it; an' if a hadn't been too quick for her, it would have a' gone swash down i' t' litter. This'n 's a far better cow i' t' long run, she's just a steady goer,' as the milky down-pour came musical and even from the stall next to Black Nell's.
Sylvia was knitting away vigorously, thinking all the while that it was a great pity she had not put on a better gown, or even a cap with brighter ribbon, and quite unconscious how very pretty she looked standing against the faint light, her head a little bent down; her hair catching bright golden touches, as it fell from under her little linen cap; her pink bed-gown, confined by her apron-string, giving a sort of easy grace to her figure; her dark full linsey petticoat short above her trim ancles, looking far more suitable to the place where she was standing than her long gown of the night before would have done. Kinraid was wanting to talk to her, and to make her talk, but was uncertain how to begin. In the meantime Kester went on with the subject last spoken about.
'Black Nell's at her fourth calf now, so she ought to ha' left off her tricks and turned sober-like. But bless yo', there's some cows as 'll be skittish till they're fat for t' butcher. Not but what a like milking her better nor a steady goer; a man has allays summat to be watchin' for; and a'm kind o' set up when a've mastered her at last. T' young missus theere, she's mighty fond o' comin' t' see Black Nell at her tantrums. She'd niver come near me if a' cows were like this'n.'
'Do you often come and see the cows milked?' asked Kinraid,
'Many a time,' said Sylvia, smiling a little. 'Why, when we're throng, I help Kester; but now we've only Black Nell and Daisy giving milk. Kester knows as I can milk Black Nell quite easy,' she continued, half vexed that Kester had not named this accomplishment.
'Ay! when she's in a good frame o' mind, as she is sometimes. But t' difficulty is to milk her at all times.'
'I wish I'd come a bit sooner. I should like t' have seen you milk Black Nell,' addressing Sylvia.
'Yo'd better come to-morrow e'en, and see what a hand she'll mak' on her,' said Kester.
'To-morrow night I shall be far on my road back to Shields.'
'To-morrow!' said Sylvia, suddenly looking up at him, and then dropping her eyes, as she found he had been watching for the effect of his intelligence on her.
'I mun be back at t' whaler, where I'm engaged,' continued he. 'She's fitting up after a fresh fashion, and as I've been one as wanted new ways, I mun be on the spot for t' look after her. Maybe I shall take a run down here afore sailing in March. I'm sure I shall try.'
There was a good deal meant and understood by these last few words. The tone in which they were spoken gave them a tender intensity not lost upon either of the hearers. Kester cocked his eye once more, but with as little obtrusiveness as he could, and pondered the sailor's looks and ways. He remembered his coming about the place the winter before, and how the old master had then appeared to have taken to him; but at that time Sylvia had seemed to Kester too little removed from a child to have either art or part in Kinraid's visits; now, however, the case was different. Kester in his sphere - among his circle of acquaintance, narrow though it was - had heard with much pride of Sylvia's bearing away the bell at church and at market, wherever girls of her age were congregated. He was a north countryman, so he gave out no further sign of his feelings than his mistress and Sylvia's mother had done on a like occasion.
'T' lass is weel enough,' said he; but he grinned to himself, and looked about, and listened to the hearsay of every lad, wondering who was handsome, and brave, and good enough to be Sylvia's mate. Now, of late, it had seemed to the canny farm-servant pretty clear that Philip Hepburn was 'after her'; and to Philip, Kester had an instinctive objection, a kind of natural antipathy such as has existed in all ages between the dwellers in a town and those in the country, between agriculture and trade. So, while Kinraid and Sylvia kept up their half-tender, half-jesting conversation, Kester was making up his slow persistent mind as to the desirability of the young man then present as a husband for his darling, as much from his being other than Philip in every respect, as from the individual good qualities he possessed. Kester's first opportunity of favouring Kinraid's suit consisted in being as long as possible over his milking; so never were cows that required such 'stripping,' or were expected to yield such ' afterings', as Black Nell and Daisy that night. But all things must come to an end; and at length Kester got up from his three-legged stool, on seeing what the others did not - that the dip-candle in the lantern was coming to an end - and that in two or three minutes more the shippen would be in darkness, and so his pails of milk be endangered. In an instant Sylvia had started out of her delicious dreamland, her drooping eyes were raised, and recovered their power of observation; her ruddy arms were freed from the apron in which she had enfolded them, as a protection from the gathering cold, and she had seized and adjusted the wooden yoke across her shoulders, ready to bear the brimming milk-pails to the dairy.
'Look yo' at her!' exclaimed Kester to Charley, as he adjusted the fragrant pails on the yoke. 'She thinks she's missus a ready, and she's allays for carrying in t' milk since t' rhumatiz cotched my shouther i' t' back end; and when she says "Yea," it's as much as my heed's worth to say "Nay."'
And along the wall, round the corner, down the round slippery stones of the rambling farmyard, behind the buildings, did Sylvia trip, safe and well-poised, though the ground wore all one coating of white snow, and in many places was so slippery as to oblige Kinraid to linger near Kester, the lantern-bearer. Kester did not lose his opportunity, though the cold misty night air provoked his asthmatic cough when-ever he breathed, and often interrupted his words.
'She's a good wench - a good wench as iver was - an come on a good stock, an' that's summat, whether in a cow or a woman. A've known her from a baby; she's a reet down good un.'
By this time they had reached the back-kitchen door, just as Sylvia had unladen herself, and was striking a light with flint and tinder. The house seemed warm and inviting after the piercing outer air, although the kitchen into which they entered contained only a raked and slumbering fire at one end, over which, on a crook, hung the immense pan of potatoes cooking for the evening meal of the pigs. To this pan Kester immediately addressed himself, swinging it round with ease, owing to the admirable simplicity of the old-fashioned machinery. Kinraid stood between Kester and the door into the dairy, through which Sylvia had vanished with the milk. He half wished to conciliate Kester by helping him, but he seemed also attracted, by a force which annihilated his will, to follow her wherever she went. Kester read his mind.
'Let alone, let alone,' said he; 'pigs' vittle takes noan such dainty carryin' as milk. A may set it down an' niver spill a drop; she's noan fit for t' serve swine, nor yo' other, mester; better help her t' teem t' milk.'
So Kinraid followed the light - his light - into the icy chill of the dairy, where the bright polished tin cans were quickly dimmed with the warm, sweet-smelling milk, that Sylvia was emptying out into the brown pans. In his haste to help her, Charley took up one of the pails.
'Eh? that'n 's to be strained. Yo' have a' the cow's hair in. Mother's very particular, and cannot abide a hair.'
So she went over to her awkward dairymaid, and before she - but not before he - was aware of the sweet proximity, she was adjusting his happy awkward arms to the new office of holding a milk-strainer over the bowl, and pouring the white liquid through it.
'There!' said she, looking up for a moment, and half blushing; 'now yo'll know how to do it next time.'
'I wish next time was to come now,' said Kinraid; but she had returned to her own pail, and seemed not to hear him. He followed her to her side of the dairy. 'I've but a short memory, can yo' not show me again how t' hold t' strainer?'
'No,' said she, half laughing, but holding her strainer fast in spite of his insinuating efforts to unlock her fingers. 'But there's no need to tell me yo've getten a short memory.'
'Why? what have I done? how dun you know it?'
'Last night,' she began, and then she stopped, and turned away her head, pretending to be busy in her dairy duties of rinsing and such like.
'Well!' said he, half conjecturing her meaning, and flattered by it, if his conjecture were right. 'Last night - what?'
'Oh, yo' know!' said she, as if impatient at being both literally and metaphorically followed about, and driven into a corner.
'No; tell me,' persisted he.
'Well,' said she, 'if yo' will have it, I think yo' showed yo'd but a short memory when yo' didn't know me again, and yo' were five times at this house last winter, and that's not so long sin'. But I suppose yo' see a vast o' things on yo'r voyages by land or by sea, and then it's but natural yo' should forget.' She wished she could go on talking, but could not think of anything more to say just then; for, in the middle of her sentence, the flattering interpretation he might put upon her words, on her knowing so exactly the number of times he had been to Haytersbank, flashed upon her, and she wanted to lead the conversation a little farther afield - to make it a little less personal. This was not his wish, however. In a tone which thrilled through her, even in her own despite, he said, -
'Do yo' think that can ever happen again, Sylvia?'
She was quite silent; almost trembling. He repeated the question as if to force her to answer. Driven to bay, she equivocated.
'What happen again? Let me go, I dunno what yo're talking about, and I'm a'most numbed wi' cold.'
For the frosty air came sharp in through the open lattice window, and the ice was already forming on the milk. Kinraid would have found a ready way of keeping his cousins, or indeed most young women, warm; but he paused before he dared put his arm round Sylvia; she had something so shy and wild in her look and manner; and her very innocence of what her words, spoken by another girl, might lead to, inspired him with respect, and kept him in check. So he contented himself with saying, -
'I'll let yo' go into t' warm kitchen if yo'll tell me if yo' think I can ever forget yo' again.'
She looked up at him defiantly, and set her red lips firm. He enjoyed her determination not to reply to this question; it showed she felt its significance. Her pure eyes looked steadily into his; nor was the expression in his such as to daunt her or make her afraid. They were like two children defying each other; each determined to conquer. At last she unclosed her lips, and nodding her head as if in triumph, said, as she folded her arms once more in her check apron, -
'Yo'll have to go home sometime.'
'Not for a couple of hours yet,' said he; 'and yo'll be frozen first; so yo'd better say if I can ever forget yo' again, without more ado.'
Perhaps the fresh voices breaking on the silence, - perhaps the tones were less modulated than they had been before, but anyhow Bell Robson's voice was heard calling Sylvia through the second door, which opened from the dairy to the house-place, in which her mother had been till this moment asleep. Sylvia darted off in obedience to the call; glad to leave him, as at the moment Kinraid resentfully imagined. Through the open door he heard the conversation between mother and daughter, almost unconscious of its meaning, so difficult did he find it to wrench his thoughts from the ideas he had just been forming with Sylvia's bright lovely face right under his eyes.
'Sylvia!' said her mother, 'who's yonder?' Bell was sitting up in the attitude of one startled out of slumber into intensity of listening; her hands on each of the chair-arms, as if just going to rise. 'There's a fremd man i' t' house. I heerd his voice!'
'It's only - it's just Charley Kinraid; he was a-talking to me i' t' dairy.'
'I' t' dairy, lass! and how com'd he i' t' dairy?'
'He com'd to see feyther. Feyther asked him last night,' said Sylvia, conscious that he could overhear every word that was said, and a little suspecting that he was no great favourite with her mother.
'Thy feyther's out; how com'd he i' t' dairy?' persevered Bell.
'He com'd past this window, and saw yo' asleep, and didn't like for t' waken yo'; so he com'd on to t' shippen, and when I carried t' milk in --'
But now Kinraid came in, feeling the awkwardness of his situation a little, yet with an expression so pleasant and manly in his open face, and in his exculpatory manner, that Sylvia lost his first words in a strange kind of pride of possession in him, about which she did not reason nor care to define the grounds. But her mother rose from her chair somewhat formally, as if she did not intend to sit down again while he stayed, yet was too weak to be kept in that standing attitude long.
'I'm afeared, sir, Sylvie hasn't told yo' that my master's out, and not like to be in till late. He'll be main and sorry to have missed yo'.'
There was nothing for it after this but to go. His only comfort was that on Sylvia's rosy face he could read unmistakable signs of regret and dismay. His sailor's life, in bringing him suddenly face to face with unexpected events, had given him something of that self-possession which we consider the attribute of a gentleman; and with an apparent calmness which almost disappointed Sylvia, who construed it into a symptom of indifference as to whether he went or stayed, he bade her mother good-night, and only said, in holding her hand a minute longer than was absolutely necessary, -
'I'm coming back ere I sail; and then, may-be, you'll answer yon question.'
He spoke low, and her mother was rearranging herself in her chair, else Sylvia would have had to repeat the previous words. As it was, with soft thrilling ideas ringing through her, she could get her wheel, and sit down to her spinning by the fire; waiting for her mother to speak first, Sylvia dreamt her dreams.
Bell Robson was partly aware of the state of things, as far as it lay on the surface. She was not aware how deep down certain feelings had penetrated into the girl's heart who sat on the other side of the fire, with a little sad air diffused over her face and figure. Bell looked upon Sylvia as still a child, to be warned off forbidden things by threats of danger. But the forbidden thing was already tasted, and possible danger in its full acquisition only served to make it more precious-sweet.
Bell sat upright in her chair, gazing into the fire. Her milk-white linen mob-cap fringed round and softened her face, from which the usual apple-red was banished by illness, and the features, from the same cause, rendered more prominent and stern. She had a clean buff kerchief round her neck, and stuffed into the bosom of her Sunday woollen gown of dark blue, - if she had been in working-trim she would have worn a bedgown like Sylvia's. Her sleeves were pinned back at the elbows, and her brown arms and hard-working hands lay crossed in unwonted idleness on her check apron. Her knitting was by her side; and if she had been going through any accustomed calculation or consideration she would have had it busily clinking in her fingers. But she had something quite beyond common to think about, and, perhaps, to speak about; and for the minute she was not equal to knitting.
'Sylvie,' she began at length, 'did I e'er tell thee on Nancy Hartley as I knew when I were a child? I'm thinking a deal on her to-night; may-be it's because I've been dreaming on yon old times. She was a bonny lass as ever were seen, I've heerd folk say; but that were afore I knew her. When I knew her she were crazy, poor wench; wi' her black hair a-streaming down her back, and her eyes, as were a'most as black, allays crying out for pity, though never a word she spoke but "He once was here." Just that o'er and o'er again, whether she were cold or hot, full or hungry, "He once was here," were all her speech. She had been farm-servant to my mother's brother - James Hepburn, thy great-uncle as was; she were a poor, friendless wench, a parish 'prentice, but honest and gaum-like, till a lad, as nobody knowed, come o'er the hills one sheep-shearing fra' Whitehaven; he had summat to do wi' th' sea, though not rightly to be called a sailor: and he made a deal on Nancy Hartley, just to beguile the time like; and he went away and ne'er sent a thought after her more. It's the way as lads have; and there's no holding 'em when they're fellows as nobody knows - neither where they come fro', nor what they've been doing a' their lives, till they come athwart some poor wench like Nancy Hartley. She were but a softy after all: for she left off doing her work in a proper manner. I've heerd my aunt say as she found out as summat was wrong wi' Nancy as soon as th' milk turned bingy, for there ne'er had been such a clean lass about her milk-cans afore that; and from bad it grew to worse, and she would sit and do nothing but play wi' her fingers fro' morn till night, and if they asked her what ailed her, she just said, "He once was here;" and if they bid her go about her work, it were a' the same. And when they scolded her, and pretty sharp too, she would stand up and put her hair from her eyes, and look about her like a crazy thing searching for her wits, and ne'er finding them, for all she could think on was just, "He once was here." It were a caution to me again thinking a man t' mean what he says when he's a-talking to a young woman.'
'But what became on poor Nancy?' asked Sylvia.
'What should become on her or on any lass as gives hersel' up to thinking on a man who cares nought for her?' replied her mother, a little severely. ' She were crazed, and my aunt couldn't keep her on, could she? She did keep her a long weary time, thinking as she would, may-be, come to hersel', and, anyhow, she were a motherless wench. But at length she had for t' go where she came fro' - back to Keswick workhouse: and when last I heerd on her she were chained to th' great kitchen dresser i' t' workhouse; they'd beaten her till she were taught to be silent and quiet i' th' daytime, but at night, when she were left alone, she would take up th' oud cry, till it wrung their heart, so they'd many a time to come down and beat her again to get any peace. It were a caution to me, as I said afore, to keep fro' thinking on men as thought nought on me.'
'Poor crazy Nancy!' sighed Sylvia. The mother wondered if she had taken the 'caution' to herself, or was only full of pity for the mad girl, dead long before.
'As the day lengthens so the cold strengthens.' It was so that year; the hard frost which began on new year's eve lasted on and on into late February, black and bitter, but welcome enough to the farmers, as it kept back the too early growth of autumn-sown wheat, and gave them the opportunity of leading manure. But it did not suit invalids as well, and Bell Robson, though not getting worse, did not make any progress towards amendment. Sylvia was kept very busy, notwithstanding that she had the assistance of a poor widow-woman in the neighbourhood on cleaning, or washing, or churning days. Her life was quiet and monotonous, although hard-working; and while her hands mechanically found and did their accustomed labour, the thoughts that rose in her head always centred on Charley Kinraid, his ways, his words, his looks, whether they all meant what she would fain believe they did, and whether, meaning love at the time, such a feeling was likely to endure. Her mother's story of crazy Nancy had taken hold of her; but not as a 'caution,' rather as a parallel case to her own. Like Nancy, and borrowing the poor girl's own words, she would say softly to herself, 'He once was here'; but all along she believed in her heart he would come back again to her, though it touched her strangely to imagine the agonies of forsaken love.
Philip knew little of all this. He was very busy with facts and figures, doggedly fighting through the necessary business, and only now and then allowing himself the delicious relaxation of going to Haytersbank in an evening, to inquire after his aunt's health, and to see Sylvia; for the two Fosters were punctiliously anxious to make their shopmen test all their statements; insisting on an examination of the stock, as if Hepburn and Coulson were strangers to the shop; having the Monkshaven auctioneer in to appraise the fixtures and necessary furniture; going over the shop books for the last twenty years with their successors, an employment which took up evening after evening; and not unfrequently taking one of the young men on the long commercial journeys which were tediously made in a gig. By degrees both Hepburn and Coulson were introduced to distant manufacturers and wholesale dealers. They would have been willing to take the Fosters' word for every statement the brothers had made on new year's day; but this, it was evident, would not have satisfied their masters, who were scrupulous in insisting that whatever advantage there was should always fall on the side of the younger men.
When Philip saw Sylvia she was always quiet and gentle; perhaps more silent than she had been a year ago, and she did not attend so briskly to what was passing around her. She was rather thinner and paler; but whatever change there was in her was always an improvement in Philip's eyes, so long as she spoke graciously to him. He thought she was suffering from long-continued anxiety about her mother, or that she had too much to do; and either cause was enough to make him treat her with a grave regard and deference which had a repressed tenderness in it, of which she, otherwise occupied, was quite unaware. She liked him better, too, than she had done a year or two before, because he did not show her any of the eager attention which teased her then, although its meaning was not fully understood.
Things were much in this state when the frost broke, and milder weather succeeded. This was the time so long looked forward to by the invalid and her friends, as favouring the doctor's recommendation of change of air. Her husband was to take her to spend a fortnight with a kindly neighbour, who lived near the farm they had occupied, forty miles or so inland, before they came to Haytersbank. The widow-woman was to come and stay in the house, to keep Sylvia company, during her mother's absence. Daniel, indeed, was to return home after conveying his wife to her destination; but there was so much to be done on the land at this time of the year, that Sylvia would have been alone all day had it not been for the arrangement just mentioned.
There was active stirring in Monkshaven harbour as well as on shore. The whalers were finishing their fittings-out for the Greenland seas. It was a 'close' season, that is to say, there would be difficulty in passing the barrier of ice which lay between the ships and the whaling-grounds; and yet these must be reached before June, or the year's expedition would be of little avail. Every blacksmith's shop rung with the rhythmical clang of busy hammers, beating out old iron, such as horseshoes, nails or stubs, into the great harpoons; the quays were thronged with busy and important sailors, rushing hither and thither, conscious of the demand in which they were held at this season of the year. It was war time, too. Many captains unable to procure men in Monkshaven would have to complete their crews in the Shetlands. The shops in the town were equally busy; stores had to be purchased by the whaling-masters, warm clothing of all sorts to be provided. These were the larger wholesale orders; but many a man, and woman, too, brought out their small hoards to purchase extra comforts, or precious keepsakes for some beloved one. It was the time of the great half-yearly traffic of the place; another impetus was given to business when the whalers returned in the autumn, and the men were flush of money, and full of delight at once more seeing their homes and their friends.
There was much to be done in Fosters' shop, and later hours were kept than usual. Some perplexity or other was occupying John and Jeremiah Foster; their minds were not so much on the alert as usual, being engaged on some weighty matter of which they had as yet spoken to no one. But it thus happened that they did not give the prompt assistance they were accustomed to render at such times; and Coulson had been away on some of the new expeditions devolving on him and Philip as future partners. One evening after the shop was closed, while they were examining the goods, and comparing the sales with the entries in the day-book, Coulson suddenly inquired -
'By the way, Hester, does thee know where the parcel of best bandanas is gone? There was four left, as I'm pretty sure, when I set off to Sandsend; and to-day Mark Alderson came in, and would fain have had one, and I could find none nowhere.'
'I sold t' last to-day, to yon sailor, the specksioneer, who fought the press-gang same time as poor Darley were killed. He took it, and three yards of yon pink ribbon wi' t' black and yellow crosses on it, as Philip could never abide. Philip has got 'em i' t' book, if he'll only look.'
'Is he here again?' said Philip; 'I didn't see him. What brings him here, where he's noan wanted?'
'T' shop were throng wi' folk,' said Hester, 'and he knew his own mind about the handkercher, and didn't tarry long. Just as he was leaving, his eye caught on t' ribbon, and he came back for it. It were when yo' were serving Mary Darby and there was a vast o' folk about yo'.'
'I wish I'd seen him,' said Coulson. 'I'd ha' gi'en him a word and a look he'd not ha' forgotten in a hurry.'
'Why, what's up?' said Philip, surprised at William's unusual manner, and, at the same time, rather gratified to find a reflection of his own feelings about Kinraid. Coulson's face was pale with anger, but for a moment or two he seemed uncertain whether he would reply or not.
'Up!' said he at length. 'It's just this: he came after my sister for better nor two year; and a better lass - no, nor a prettier i' my eyes - niver broke bread. And then my master saw another girl, that he liked better' - William almost choked in his endeavour to keep down all appearance of violent anger, and then went on, ' and that he played t' same game wi', as I've heerd tell.'
'And how did thy sister take it?' asked Philip, eagerly.
'She died in a six-month,' said William; 'she forgived him, but it's beyond me. I thought it were him when I heerd of t' work about Darley; Kinraid - and coming fra' Newcassel, where Annie lived 'prentice - and I made inquiry, and it were t' same man. But I'll say no more about him, for it stirs t' old Adam more nor I like, or is fitting.'
Out of respect to him, Philip asked no more questions although there were many things that he fain would have known. Both Coulson and he went silently and grimly through the remainder of their day's work. Independent of any personal interest which either or both of them had or might have in Kinraid's being a light o' love, this fault of his was one with which the two grave, sedate young men had no sympathy. Their hearts were true and constant, whatever else might be their failings; and it is no new thing to 'damn the faults we have no mind to.' Philip wished that it was not so late, or that very evening he would have gone to keep guard over Sylvia in her mother's absence - nay, perhaps he might have seen reason to give her a warning of some kind. But, if he had done so, it would have been locking the stable-door after the steed was stolen. Kinraid had turned his steps towards Haytersbank Farm as soon as ever he had completed his purchases. He had only come that afternoon to Monkshaven, and for the sole purpose of seeing Sylvia once more before he went to fulfil his engagement as specksioneer in the Urania, a whaling-vessel that was to sail from North Shields on Thursday morning, and this was Monday.
Sylvia sat in the house-place, her back to the long low window, in order to have all the light the afternoon hour afforded for her work. A basket of her father's unmended stockings was on the little round table beside her, and one was on her left hand, which she supposed herself to be mending; but from time to time she made long pauses, and looked in the fire; and yet there was but little motion of flame or light in it out of which to conjure visions. It was 'redd up' for the afternoon; covered with a black mass of coal, over which the equally black kettle hung on the crook. In the back-kitchen Dolly Reid, Sylvia's assistant during her mother's absence, chanted a lugubrious ditty, befitting her condition as a widow, while she cleaned tins, and cans, and milking-pails. Perhaps these bustling sounds prevented Sylvia from hearing approaching footsteps coming down the brow with swift advance; at any rate, she started and suddenly stood up as some one entered the open door. It was strange she should be so much startled, for the person who entered had been in her thoughts all during those long pauses. Charley Kinraid and the story of crazy Nancy had been the subjects for her dreams for many a day, and many a night. Now he stood there, bright and handsome as ever, with just that much timidity in his face, that anxiety as to his welcome, which gave his accost an added charm, could she but have perceived it. But she was so afraid of herself, so unwilling to show what she felt, and how much she had been thinking of him in his absence, that her reception seemed cold and still. She did not come forward to meet him; she went crimson to the very roots of her hair; but that, in the waning light, he could not see; and she shook so that she felt as if she could hardly stand; but the tremor was not visible to him. She wondered if he remembered the kiss that had passed between them on new year's eve - the words that had been spoken in the dairy on new year's day; the tones, the looks, that had accompanied those words. But all she said was -
'I didn't think to see yo'. I thought yo'd ha' sailed.'
'I told yo' I should come back, didn't I?' said he, still standing, with his hat in his hand, waiting to be asked to sit down; and she, in her bashfulness, forgetting to give the invitation, but, instead, pretending to be attentively mending the stocking she held. Neither could keep quiet and silent long. She felt his eyes were upon her, watching every motion, and grew more and more confused in her expression and behaviour. He was a little taken aback by the nature of his reception, and was not sure at first whether to take the great change in her manner, from what it had been when last he saw her, as a favourable symptom or otherwise. By-and-by, luckily for him, in some turn of her arm to reach the scissors on the table, she caught the edge of her work-basket, and down it fell. She stooped to pick up the scattered stockings and ball of worsted, and so did he; and when they rose up, he had fast hold of her hand, and her face was turned away, half ready to cry.
'What ails yo' at me?' said he, beseechingly. 'Yo' might ha' forgotten me; and yet I thought we made a bargain against forgetting each other.' No answer. He went on: 'Yo've never been out o' my thoughts, Sylvia Robson; and I'm come back to Monkshaven for nought but to see you once and again afore I go away to the northern seas. It's not two hour sin' I landed at Monkshaven, and I've been near neither kith nor kin as yet; and now I'm here you won't speak to me.'
'I don't know what to say,' said she, in a low, almost inaudible tone. Then hardening herself, and resolving to speak as if she did not understand his only half-expressed meaning, she lifted up her head, and all but looking at him - while she wrenched her hand out of his - she said: 'Mother's gone to Middleham for a visit, and feyther's out i' t' plough-field wi' Kester; but he'll be in afore long.'
Charley did not speak for a minute or so. Then he said -
'Yo're not so dull as to think I'm come all this way for t' see either your father or your mother. I've a great respect for 'em both; but I'd hardly ha' come all this way for to see 'em, and me bound to be back i' Shields, if I walk every step of the way, by Wednesday night. It's that yo' won't understand my meaning, Sylvia; it's not that yo' don't, or that yo' can't.' He made no effort to repossess himself of her hand. She was quite silent, but in spite of herself she drew long hard breaths. 'I may go back to where I came from,' he went on. 'I thought to go to sea wi' a blessed hope to cheer me up, and a knowledge o' some one as loved me as I'd left behind; some one as loved me half as much as I did her; for th' measure o' my love toward her is so great and mighty, I'd be content wi' half as much from her, till I'd taught her to love me more. But if she's a cold heart and cannot care for a honest sailor, why, then, I'd best go back at once.'
He made for the door. He must have been pretty sure from some sign or other, or he would never have left it to her womanly pride to give way, and for her to make the next advance. He had not taken two steps when she turned quickly towards him, and said something - the echo of which, rather than the words themselves, reached him.
'I didn't know yo' cared for me; yo' niver said so.' In an instant he was back at her side, his arm round her in spite of her short struggle, and his eager passionate voice saying, 'Yo' never knowed I loved you, Sylvia? say it again, and look i' my face while yo' say it, if yo' can. Why, last winter I thought yo'd be such a woman when yo'd come to be one as my een had never looked upon, and this year, ever sin' I saw yo' i' the kitchen corner sitting crouching behind my uncle, I as good as swore I'd have yo' for wife, or never wed at all. And it was not long ere yo' knowed it, for all yo' were so coy, and now yo' have the face - no, yo' have not the face - come, my darling, what is it?' for she was crying; and on his turning her wet blushing face towards him the better to look at it, she suddenly hid it in his breast. He lulled and soothed her in his arms, as if she had been a weeping child and he her mother; and then they sat down on the settle together, and when she was more composed they began to talk. He asked her about her mother; not sorry in his heart at Bell Robson's absence. He had intended if necessary to acknowledge his wishes and desires with regard to Sylvia to her parents; but for various reasons he was not sorry that circumstances had given him the chance of seeing her alone, and obtaining her promise to marry him without being obliged to tell either her father or her mother at present. 'I ha' spent my money pretty free,' he said, 'and I've ne'er a penny to the fore, and yo'r parents may look for something better for yo', my pretty: but when I come back fro' this voyage I shall stand a chance of having a share i' th' Urania, and may-be I shall be mate as well as specksioneer; and I can get a matter of from seventy to ninety pound a voyage, let alone th' half-guineas for every whale I strike, and six shilling a gallon on th' oil; and if I keep steady wi' Forbes and Company, they'll make me master i' time, for I've had good schooling, and can work a ship as well as any man; an' I leave yo' wi' yo'r parents, or take a cottage for yo' nigh at hand; but I would like to have something to the fore, and that I shall have, please God, when we come back i' th' autumn. I shall go to sea happy, now, thinking I've yo'r word. Yo're not one to go back from it, I'm sure, else it's a long time to leave such a pretty girl as yo', and ne'er a chance of a letter reaching yo' just to tell yo' once again how I love yo', and to bid yo' not forget yo'r true love.'
'There'll be no need o' that,' murmured Sylvia.
She was too dizzy with happiness to have attended much to his details of his worldly prospects, but at the sound of his tender words of love her eager heart was ready to listen.
'I don't know,' said he, wanting to draw her out into more confession of her feelings. 'There's many a one ready to come after yo'; and yo'r mother is not o'er captivated wi' me; and there's yon tall fellow of a cousin as looks black at me, for if I'm not mista'en he's a notion of being sweet on yo' hisself.'
'Not he,' said Sylvia, with some contempt in her tone. 'He's so full o' business and t' shop, and o' makin' money, and gettin' wealth.'
'Ay, ay; but perhaps when he gets a rich man he'll come and ask my Sylvia to be his wife, and what will she say then?'
'He'll niver come asking such a foolish question,' said she, a little impatiently; 'he knows what answer he'd get if he did.'
Kinraid said, almost as if to himself, 'Yo'r mother favours him though.' But she, weary of a subject she cared nothing about, and eager to identify herself with all his interests, asked him about his plans almost at the same time that he said these last words; and they went on as lovers do, intermixing a great many tender expressions with a very little conversation relating to facts.
Dolly Reid came in, and went out softly, unheeded by them. But Sylvia's listening ears caught her father's voice, as he and Kester returned homewards from their day's work in the plough-field; and she started away, and fled upstairs in shy affright, leaving Charley to explain his presence in the solitary kitchen to her father.
He came in, not seeing that any one was there at first; for they had never thought of lighting a candle. Kinraid stepped forward into the firelight; his purpose of concealing what he had said to Sylvia quite melted away by the cordial welcome her father gave him the instant that he recognized him.
'Bless thee, lad! who'd ha' thought o' seein' thee? Why, if iver a thought on thee at all, it were half way to Davis' Straits. To be sure, t' winter's been a dree season, and thou'rt, may-be, i' t' reet on 't to mak' a late start. Latest start as iver I made was ninth o' March, an' we struck thirteen whales that year.'
'I have something to say to you,' said Charley, in a hesitating voice, so different to his usual hearty way, that Daniel gave him a keen look of attention before he began to speak. And, perhaps, the elder man was not unprepared for the communication that followed. At any rate, it was not unwelcome. He liked Kinraid, and had strong sympathy not merely with what he knew of the young sailor's character, but with the life he led, and the business he followed. Robson listened to all he said with approving nods and winks, till Charley had told him everything he had to say; and then he turned and struck his broad horny palm into Kinraid's as if concluding a bargain, while he expressed in words his hearty consent to their engagement. He wound up with a chuckle, as the thought struck him that this great piece of business, of disposing of their only child, had been concluded while his wife was away.
'A'm noane so sure as t' missus 'll like it,' said he; 'tho' whativer she'll ha' to say again it, mischief only knows. But she's noane keen on matterimony; though a have made her as good a man as there is in a' t' Ridings. Anyhow, a'm master, and that she knows. But may-be, for t' sake o' peace an' quietness - tho' she's niver a scolding tongue, that a will say for her - we'n best keep this matter to ourselves till thou comes int' port again. T' lass upstairs 'll like nought better than t' curl hersel' round a secret, and purr o'er it, just as t' oud cat does o'er her blind kitten. But thou'll be wanting to see t' lass, a'll be bound. An oud man like me isn't as good company as a pretty lass.' Laughing a low rich laugh over his own wit, Daniel went to the bottom of the stairs, and called, 'Sylvie, Sylvie! come down, lass! a's reet; come down!'
For a time there was no answer. Then a door was unbolted, and Sylvia said,
'I can't come down again. I'm noane comin' down again to-night.'
Daniel laughed the more at this, especially when he caught Charley's look of disappointment.
'Hearken how she's bolted her door. She'll noane come near us this neet. Eh! but she's a stiff little 'un; she's been our only one, and we'n mostly let her have her own way. But we'll have a pipe and a glass; and that, to my thinking, is as good company as iver a woman i' Yorkshire.'
The post arrived at Monkshaven three times in the week; sometimes, indeed, there were not a dozen letters in the bag, which was brought thither by a man in a light mail-cart, who took the better part of a day to drive from York; dropping private bags here and there on the moors, at some squire's lodge or roadside inn. Of the number of letters that arrived in Monkshaven, the Fosters, shopkeepers and bankers, had the largest share.
The morning succeeding the day on which Sylvia had engaged herself to Kinraid, the Fosters seemed unusually anxious to obtain their letters. Several times Jeremiah came out of the parlour in which his brother John was sitting in expectant silence, and, passing through the shop, looked up and down the market-place in search of the old lame woman, who was charitably employed to deliver letters, and who must have been lamer than ever this morning, to judge from the lateness of her coming. Although none but the Fosters knew the cause of their impatience for their letters, yet there was such tacit sympathy between them and those whom they employed, that Hepburn, Coulson, and Hester were all much relieved when the old woman at length appeared with her basket of letters.
One of these seemed of especial consequence to the good brothers. They each separately looked at the direction, and then at one another; and without a word they returned with it unread into the parlour, shutting the door, and drawing the green silk curtain close, the better to read it in privacy.
Both Coulson and Philip felt that something unusual was going on, and were, perhaps, as full of consideration as to the possible contents of this London letter, as of attention to their more immediate business. But fortunately there was little doing in the shop. Philip, indeed, was quite idle when John Foster opened the parlour-door, and, half doubtfully, called him into the room. As the door of communication shut the three in, Coulson felt himself a little aggrieved. A minute ago Philip and he were on a level of ignorance, from which the former was evidently going to be raised. But he soon returned to his usual state of acquiescence in things as they were, which was partly constitutional, and partly the result of his Quaker training.
It was apparently by John Foster's wish that Philip had been summoned. Jeremiah, the less energetic and decided brother, was still discussing the propriety of the step when Philip entered.
'No need for haste, John; better not call the young man till we have further considered the matter.'
But the young man was there in presence; and John's will carried the day.
It seemed from his account to Philip (explanatory of what he, in advance of his brother's slower judgment, thought to be a necessary step), that the Fosters had for some time received anonymous letters, warning them, with distinct meaning, though in ambiguous terms, against a certain silk-manufacturer in Spitalfields, with whom they had had straightforward business dealings for many years; but to whom they had latterly advanced money. The letters hinted at the utter insolvency of this manufacturer. They had urged their correspondent to give them his name in confidence, and this morning's letter had brought it; but the name was totally unknown to them, though there seemed no reason to doubt the reality of either it or the address, the latter of which was given in full. Certain circumstances were mentioned regarding the transactions between the Fosters and this manufacturer, which could be known only to those who were in the confidence of one or the other; and to the Fosters the man was, as has been said, a perfect stranger. Probably, they would have been unwilling to incur the risk they had done on this manufacturer Dickinson's account, if it had not been that he belonged to the same denomination as themselves, and was publicly distinguished for his excellent and philanthropic character; but these letters were provocative of anxiety, especially since this morning's post had brought out the writer's full name, and various particulars showing his intimate knowledge of Dickinson's affairs.
After much perplexed consultation, John had hit upon the plan of sending Hepburn to London to make secret inquiries respecting the true character and commercial position of the man whose creditors, not a month ago, they had esteemed it an honour to be.
Even now Jeremiah was ashamed of their want of confidence in one so good; he believed that the information they had received would all prove a mistake, founded on erroneous grounds, if not a pure invention of an enemy; and he had only been brought partially to consent to the sending of Hepburn, by his brother's pledging himself that the real nature of Philip's errand should be unknown to any human creature, save them three.
As all this was being revealed to Philip, he sat apparently unmoved and simply attentive. In fact, he was giving all his mind to understanding the probabilities of the case, leaving his own feelings in the background till his intellect should have done its work. He said little; but what he did say was to the point, and satisfied both brothers. John perceived that his messenger would exercise penetration and act with energy; while Jeremiah was soothed by Philip's caution in not hastily admitting the probability of any charge against Dickinson, and in giving full weight to his previous good conduct and good character.
Philip had the satisfaction of feeling himself employed on a mission which would call out his powers, and yet not exceed them. In his own mind he forestalled the instructions of his masters, and was silently in advance of John Foster's plans and arrangements, while he appeared to listen to all that was said with quiet business-like attention.
It was settled that the next morning he was to make his way northwards to Hartlepool, whence he could easily proceed either by land or sea to Newcastle, from which place smacks were constantly sailing to London. As to his personal conduct and behaviour there, the brothers overwhelmed him with directions and advice; nor did they fail to draw out of the strong box in the thick wall of their counting-house a more than sufficient sum of money for all possible expenses. Philip had never had so much in his hands before, and hesitated to take it, saying it was more than he should require; but they repeated, with fresh urgency, their warnings about the terrible high prices of London, till he could only resolve to keep a strict account, and bring back all that he did not expend, since nothing but his taking the whole sum would satisfy his employers.
When he was once more behind the counter, he had leisure enough for consideration as far as Coulson could give it him. The latter was silent, brooding over the confidence which Philip had apparently received, but which was withheld from him. He did not yet know of the culminating point - of Philip's proposed journey to London; that great city of London, which, from its very inaccessibility fifty years ago, loomed so magnificent through the mist of men's imaginations. It is not to be denied that Philip felt exultant at the mere fact of 'going to London.' But then again, the thought of leaving Sylvia; of going out of possible daily reach of her; of not seeing her for a week - a fortnight; nay, he might be away for a month, - for no rash hurry was to mar his delicate negotiation, - gnawed at his heart, and spoilt any enjoyment he might have anticipated from gratified curiosity, or even from the consciousness of being trusted by those whose trust and regard he valued. The sense of what he was leaving grew upon him the longer he thought on the subject; he almost wished that he had told his masters earlier in the conversation of his unwillingness to leave Monkshaven for so long a time; and then again he felt that the gratitude he owed them quite prohibited his declining any task they might impose, especially as they had more than once said that it would not do for them to appear in the affair, and yet that to no one else could they entrust so difficult and delicate a matter. Several times that day, as he perceived Coulson's jealous sullenness, he thought in his heart that the consequence of the excessive confidence for which Coulson envied him was a burden from which he would be thankful to be relieved.
As they all sat at tea in Alice Rose's house-place, Philip announced his intended journey; a piece of intelligence he had not communicated earlier to Coulson because he had rather dreaded the increase of dissatisfaction it was sure to produce, and of which he knew the expression would be restrained by the presence of Alice Rose and her daughter.
'To Lunnon!' exclaimed Alice.
Hester said nothing.
'Well! some folks has the luck!' said Coulson.
'Luck!' said Alice, turning sharp round on him. 'Niver let me hear such a vain word out o' thy mouth, laddie, again. It's the Lord's doing, and luck's the devil's way o' putting it. Maybe it's to try Philip he's sent there; happen it may be a fiery furnace to him; for I've heerd tell it's full o' temptations, and he may fall into sin - and then where'd be the "luck" on it? But why art ta going? and the morning, say'st thou? Why, thy best shirt is in t' suds, and no time for t' starch and iron it. Whatten the great haste as should take thee to Lunnon wi'out thy ruffled shirt?'
'It's none o' my doing,' said Philip; 'there's business to be done, and John Foster says I'm to do it; and I'm to start to-morrow.'
'I'll not turn thee out wi'out thy ruffled shirt, if I sit up a' neet,' said Alice, resolutely.
'Niver fret thyself, mother, about t' shirt,' said Philip. 'If I need a shirt, London's not what I take it for if I can't buy mysel' one ready-made.'
'Hearken to him!' said Alice. 'He speaks as if buying o' ready-made shirts were nought to him, and he wi' a good half-dozen as I made mysel'. Eh, lad? but if that's the frame o' mind thou'rt in, Lunnon is like for to be a sore place o' temptation. There's pitfalls for men, and traps for money at ivery turn, as I've heerd say. It would ha' been better if John Foster had sent an older man on his business, whativer it be.'
'They seem to make a deal o' Philip all on a sudden,' said Coulson. 'He's sent for, and talked to i' privacy, while Hester and me is left i' t' shop for t' bear t' brunt o' t' serving.'
'Philip knows,' said Hester, and then, somehow, her voice failed her and she stopped.
Philip paid no attention to this half-uttered sentence; he was eager to tell Coulson, as far as he could do so without betraying his master's secret, how many drawbacks there were to his proposed journey, in the responsibility which it involved, and his unwillingness to leave Monkshaven: he said -
'Coulson, I'd give a deal it were thou that were going, and not me. At least, there is many a time I'd give a deal. I'll not deny but at other times I'm pleased at the thought on't. But, if I could I'd change places wi' thee at this moment.'
'It's fine talking,' said Coulson, half mollified, and yet not caring to show it. 'I make no doubt it were an even chance betwixt us two at first, which on us was to go; but somehow thou got the start and thou'st stuck to it till it's too late for aught but to say thou's sorry.'
'Nay, William,' said Philip, rising, 'it's an ill look-out for the future, if thee and me is to quarrel, like two silly wenches, o'er each bit of pleasure, or what thou fancies to be pleasure, as falls in t' way of either on us. I've said truth to thee, and played thee fair, and I've got to go to Haytersbank for to wish 'em good-by, so I'll not stay longer here to be misdoubted by thee.'
He took his cap and was gone, not heeding Alice's shrill inquiry as to his clothes and his ruffled shirt. Coulson sat still, penitent and ashamed; at length he stole a look at Hester. She was playing with her teaspoon, but he could see that she was choking down her tears; he could not choose but force her to speak with an ill-timed question.
'What's to do, Hester?' said he.
She lifted up those eyes, usually so soft and serene; now they were full of the light of indignation shining through tears.
'To do!' she said; 'Coulson, I'd thought better of thee, going and doubting and envying Philip, as niver did thee an ill turn, or said an ill word, or thought an ill thought by thee; and sending him away out o' t' house this last night of all, may-be, wi' thy envyings and jealousy.'
She hastily got up and left the room. Alice was away, looking up Philip's things for his journey. Coulson remained alone, feeling like a guilty child, but dismayed by Hester's words, even more than by his own regret at what he had said.
Philip walked rapidly up the hill-road towards Haytersbank. He was chafed and excited by Coulson's words, and the events of the day. He had meant to shape his life, and now it was, as it were, being shaped for him, and yet he was reproached for the course it was taking, as much as though he were an active agent; accused of taking advantage over Coulson, his intimate companion for years; he who esteemed himself above taking an unfair advantage over any man! His feeling on the subject was akin to that of Hazael, 'Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?'
His feelings, disturbed on this one point, shook his judgment off its balance on another. The resolution he had deliberately formed of not speaking to Sylvia on the subject of his love till he could announce to her parents the fact of his succession to Fosters' business, and till he had patiently, with long-continuing and deep affection, worked his way into her regard, was set aside during the present walk. He would speak to her of his passionate attachment, before he left, for an uncertain length of time, and the certain distance of London. And all the modification on this point which his judgment could obtain from his impetuous and excited heart was, that he would watch her words and manner well when he announced his approaching absence, and if in them he read the slightest token of tender regretful feeling, he would pour out his love at her feet, not even urging the young girl to make any return, or to express the feelings of which he hoped the germ was already budding in her. He would be patient with her; he could not be patient himself. His heart beating, his busy mind rehearsing the probable coming scene, he turned into the field-path that led to Haytersbank. Coming along it, and so meeting him, advanced Daniel Robson, in earnest talk with Charley Kinraid. Kinraid, then, had been at the farm: Kinraid had been seeing Sylvia, her mother away. The thought of poor dead Annie Coulson flashed into Philip's mind. Could he be playing the same game with Sylvia? Philip set his teeth and tightened his lips at the thought of it. They had stopped talking; they had seen him already, or his impulse would have been to dodge behind the wall and avoid them; even though one of his purposes in going to Haytersbank had been to bid his uncle farewell.
Kinraid took him by surprise from the hearty greeting he gave him, and which Philip would fain have avoided. But the specksioneer was full of kindliness towards all the world, especially towards all Sylvia's friends, and, convinced of her great love towards himself, had forgotten any previous jealousy of Philip. Secure and exultant, his broad, handsome, weather-bronzed face was as great a contrast to Philip's long, thoughtful, sallow countenance, as his frank manner was to the other's cold reserve. It was some minutes before Hepburn could bring himself to tell the great event that was about to befall him before this third person whom he considered as an intrusive stranger. But as Kinraid seemed to have no idea of going on, and as there really was no reason why he and all the world should not know of Philip's intentions, he told his uncle that he was bound for London the next day on business connected with the Fosters.
Daniel was deeply struck with the fact that he was talking to a man setting off for London at a day's notice.
'Thou'll niver tell me this hasn't been brewin' longer nor twelve hours; thou's a sly close chap, and we hannot seen thee this se'nnight; thou'll ha' been thinkin' on this, and cogitating it, may-be, a' that time.'
'Nay,' said Philip, 'I knew nought about it last night; it's none o' my doing, going, for I'd liefer ha' stayed where I am.'
'Yo'll like it when once yo're there,' said Kinraid, with a travelled air of superiority, as Philip fancied.
'No, I shan't,' he replied, shortly. 'Liking has nought to do with it.'
'Ah' yo' knew nought about it last neet,' continued Daniel, musingly. 'Well, life's soon o'er; else when I were a young fellow, folks made their wills afore goin' to Lunnon.'
'Yet I'll be bound to say yo' niver made a will before going to sea,' said Philip, half smiling.
'Na, na; but that's quite another mak' o' thing; going' to sea comes natteral to a man, but goin' to Lunnon, - I were once there, and were near deafened wi' t' throng and t' sound. I were but two hours i' t' place, though our ship lay a fortneet off Gravesend.'
Kinraid now seemed in a hurry; but Philip was stung with curiosity to ascertain his movements, and suddenly addressed him:
'I heard yo' were i' these parts. Are you for staying here long?'
There was a certain abruptness in Philip's tone, if not in his words, which made Kinraid look in his face with surprise, and answer with equal curtness.
'I'm off i' th' morning; and sail for the north seas day after.'
He turned away, and began to whistle, as if he did not wish for any further conversation with his interrogator. Philip, indeed, had nothing more to say to him: he had learned all he wanted to know.
'I'd like to bid good-by to Sylvie. Is she at home?' he asked of her father.
'A'm thinking thou'll not find her. She'll be off to Yesterbarrow t' see if she'd get a settin' o' their eggs; her grey speckled hen is cluckin', and nought 'll serve our Sylvia but their eggs to set her upon. But, for a' that, she mayn't be gone yet. Best go on and see for thysel'.'
So they parted; but Philip had not gone many steps before his uncle called him back, Kinraid slowly loitering on meanwhile. Robson was fumbling among some dirty papers he had in an old leather case, which he had produced out of his pocket.
'Fact is, Philip, t' pleugh's in a bad way, gearin' and a', an' folk is talkin' on a new kind o' mak'; and if thou's bound for York --'
'I'm not going by York; I'm going by a Newcastle smack.'
'Newcassel - Newcassel - it's pretty much t' same. Here, lad, thou can read print easy; it's a bit as was cut out on a papper; there's Newcassel, and York, and Durham, and a vast more towns named, wheere folk can learn a' about t' new mak' o' pleugh.'
'I see,' said Philip: '"Robinson, Side, Newcastle, can give all requisite information."'
'Ay, ay,' said Robson; 'thou's hit t' marrow on t' matter. Now, if thou'rt i' Newcassel, thou can learn all about it; thou'rt little better nor a woman, for sure, bein' mainly acquaint wi' ribbons, but they'll tell thee - they'll tell thee, lad; and write down what they sayn, and what's to be t' price, and look sharp as to what kind o' folk they are as sells 'em, an' write and let me know. Thou'll be i' Newcassel to-morrow, may-be? Well, then, I'll reckon to hear fro' thee in a week, or, mayhap, less, - for t' land is backward, and I'd like to know about t' pleughs. I'd a month's mind to write to Brunton, as married Molly Corney, but writin' is more i' thy way an' t' parson's nor mine; and if thou sells ribbons, Brunton sells cheese, and that's no better.'
Philip promised to do his best, and to write word to Robson, who, satisfied with his willingness to undertake the commission, bade him go on and see if he could not find the lass. Her father was right in saying that she might not have set out for Yesterbarrow. She had talked about it to Kinraid and her father in order to cover her regret at her lover's accompanying her father to see some new kind of harpoon about which the latter had spoken. But as soon as they had left the house, and she had covertly watched them up the brow in the field, she sate down to meditate and dream about her great happiness in being beloved by her hero, Charley Kinraid. No gloomy dread of his long summer's absence; no fear of the cold, glittering icebergs bearing mercilessly down on the Urania, nor shuddering anticipation of the dark waves of evil import, crossed her mind. He loved her, and that was enough. Her eyes looked, trance-like, into a dim, glorious future of life; her lips, still warm and reddened by his kiss, were just parted in a happy smile, when she was startled by the sound of an approaching footstep - a footstep quite familiar enough for her to recognize it, and which was unwelcome now, as disturbing her in the one blessed subject of thought in which alone she cared to indulge.
'Well, Philip! an' what brings yo' here?' was her rather ungracious greeting.
'Why, Sylvie, are yo' sorry to see me?' asked Philip, reproachfully. But she turned it off with assumed lightness.
'Oh, yes,' said she. 'I've been wanting yo' this week past wi' t' match to my blue ribbon yo' said yo'd get and bring me next time yo' came.'
'I've forgotten it, Sylvie. It's clean gone out of my mind,' said Philip, with true regret. 'But I've had a deal to think on,' he continued, penitently, as if anxious to be forgiven. Sylvia did not want his penitence, did not care for her ribbon, was troubled by his earnestness of manner - but he knew nothing of all that; he only knew that she whom he loved had asked him to do something for her, and he had neglected it; so, anxious to be excused and forgiven, he went on with the apology she cared not to hear.
If she had been less occupied with her own affairs, less engrossed with deep feeling, she would have reproached him, if only in jest, for his carelessness. As it was, she scarcely took in the sense of his words.
'You see, Sylvie, I've had a deal to think on; before long I intend telling yo' all about it; just now I'm not free to do it. And when a man's mind is full o' business, most particular when it's other folk's as is trusted to him, he seems to lose count on the very things he'd most care for at another time.' He paused a little.
Sylvia's galloping thoughts were pulled suddenly up by his silence; she felt that he wanted her to say something, but she could think of nothing besides an ambignous -
'And I'm off to London i' t' morning,' added he, a little wistfully, almost as if beseeching her to show or express some sorrow at a journey, the very destination of which showed that he would be absent for some time.
'To Lunnon!' said she, with some surprise. 'Yo're niver thinking o' going to live theere, for sure!'
Surprise, and curiosity, and wonder; nothing more, as Philip's instinct told him. But he reasoned that first correct impression away with ingenious sophistry.
'Not to live there: only to stay for some time. I shall be back, I reckon, in a month or so.'
'Oh! that's nought of a going away,' said she, rather petulantly. 'Them as goes to t' Greenland seas has to bide away for six months and more,' and she sighed.
Suddenly a light shone down into Philip's mind. His voice was changed as he spoke next.
'I met that good-for-nothing chap, Kinraid, wi' yo'r father just now. He'll ha' been here, Sylvie?'
She stooped for something she had dropped, and came up red as a rose.
'To be sure; what then?' And she eyed him defiantly, though in her heart she trembled, she knew not why.
'What then? and yo'r mother away. He's no company for such as thee, at no time, Sylvie.'
'Feyther and me chooses our own company, without iver asking leave o' yo',' said Sylvia, hastily arranging the things in the little wooden work-box that was on the table, preparatory to putting it away. At the time, in his agitation, he saw, but did not affix any meaning to it, that the half of some silver coin was among the contents thus turned over before the box was locked.
'But thy mother wouldn't like it, Sylvie; he's played false wi' other lasses, he'll be playing thee false some o' these days, if thou lets him come about thee. He went on wi' Annie Coulson, William's sister, till he broke her heart; and sin then he's been on wi' others.'
'I dunnot believe a word on 't,' said Sylvia, standing up, all aflame.
'I niver telled a lie i' my life,' said Philip, almost choking with grief at her manner to him, and the regard for his rival which she betrayed. 'It were Willie Coulson as telled me, as solemn and serious as one man can speak to another; and he said it weren't the first nor the last time as he had made his own game with young women.'
'And how dare yo' come here to me wi' yo'r backbiting tales?' said Sylvia, shivering all over with passion.
Philip tried to keep calm, and to explain.
'It were yo'r own mother, Sylvia, as knowed yo' had no brother, or any one to see after yo'; and yo' so pretty, so pretty, Sylvia,' he continued, shaking his head, sadly, 'that men run after yo' against their will, as one may say; and yo'r mother bade me watch o'er ye and see what company yo' kept, and who was following after yo', and to warn yo', if need were.'
'My mother niver bade yo' to come spying after me, and blaming me for seeing a lad as my feyther thinks well on. An' I don't believe a word about Annie Coulson; an' I'm not going to suffer yo' to come wi' yo'r tales to me; say 'em out to his face, and hear what he'll say to yo'.'
'Sylvie, Sylvie,' cried poor Philip, as his offended cousin rushed past him, and upstairs to her little bedroom, where he heard the sound of the wooden bolt flying into its place. He could hear her feet pacing quickly about through the unceiled rafters. He sate still in despair, his head buried in his two hands. He sate till it grew dusk, dark; the wood fire, not gathered together by careful hands, died out into gray ashes. Dolly Reid had done her work and gone home. There were but Philip and Sylvia in the house. He knew he ought to be going home, for he had much to do, and many arrangements to make. Yet it seemed as though he could not stir. At length he raised his stiffened body, and stood up, dizzy. Up the little wooden stairs he went, where he had never been before, to the small square landing, almost filled up with the great chest for oat-cake. He breathed hard for a minute, and then knocked at the door of Sylvia's room.
'Sylvie! I'm going away; say good-by.' No answer. Not a sound heard. 'Sylvie!' (a little louder, and less hoarsely spoken). There was no reply. 'Sylvie! I shall be a long time away; perhaps I may niver come back at all'; here he bitterly thought of an unregarded death. 'Say good-by.' No answer. He waited patiently. Can she be wearied out, and gone to sleep, he wondered. Yet once again - 'Good-by, Sylvie, and God bless yo'! I'm sorry I vexed yo'.'
With a heavy, heavy heart he creaked down the stairs, felt for his cap, and left the house.
'She's warned, any way,' thought he. Just at that moment the little casement window of Sylvia's room was opened, and she said -
The window was shut again as soon as the words were spoken. Philip knew the uselessness of remaining; the need for his departure; and yet he stood still for a little time like one entranced, as if his will had lost all power to compel him to leave the place. Those two words of hers, which two hours before would have been so far beneath his aspirations, had now power to re-light hope, to quench reproach or blame.
'She's but a young lassie,' said he to himself; 'an' Kinraid has been playing wi' her, as such as he can't help doing, once they get among t' women. An' I came down sudden on her about Annie Coulson, and touched her pride. Maybe, too, it were ill advised to tell her how her mother was feared for her. I couldn't ha' left the place to-morrow if he'd been biding here; but he's off for half a year or so, and I'll be home again as soon as iver I can. In half a year such as he forgets, if iver he's thought serious about her; but in a' my lifetime, if I live to fourscore, I can niver forget. God bless her for saying, "Good-by, Philip."' He repeated the words aloud in fond mimicry of her tones: 'Good-by, Philip.'
The next morning shone bright and clear, if ever a March morning did. The beguiling month was coming in like a lamb, with whatever storms it might go raging out. It was long since Philip had tasted the freshness of the early air on the shore, or in the country, as his employment at the shop detained him in Monkshaven till the evening. And as he turned down the quays (or staithes) on the north side of the river, towards the shore, and met the fresh sea-breeze blowing right in his face, it was impossible not to feel bright and elastic. With his knapsack slung over his shoulder, he was prepared for a good stretch towards Hartlepool, whence a coach would take him to Newcastle before night. For seven or eight miles the level sands were as short and far more agreeable a road than the up and down land-ways. Philip walked on pretty briskly, unconsciously enjoying the sunny landscape before him; the crisp curling waves rushing almost up to his feet, on his right hand, and then swishing back over the fine small pebbles into the great swelling sea. To his left were the cliffs rising one behind another, having deep gullies here and there between, with long green slopes upward from the land, and then sudden falls of brown and red soil or rock deepening to a yet greater richness of colour at their base towards the blue ocean before him. The loud, monotonous murmur of the advancing and receding waters lulled him into dreaminess; the sunny look of everything tinged his day-dreams with hope. So he trudged merrily over the first mile or so; not an obstacle to his measured pace on the hard, level pavement; not a creature to be seen since he had left the little gathering of bare-legged urchins dabbling in the sea-pools near Monkshaven. The cares of land were shut out by the glorious barrier of rocks before him. There were some great masses that had been detached by the action of the weather, and lay half embedded in the sand, draperied over by the heavy pendent olive-green seaweed. The waves were nearer at this point; the advancing sea came up with a mighty distant length of roar; here and there the smooth swell was lashed by the fret against unseen rocks into white breakers; but otherwise the waves came up from the German Ocean upon that English shore with a long steady roll that might have taken its first impetus far away, in the haunt of the sea-serpent on the coast of 'Norroway over the foam.' The air was soft as May; right overhead the sky was blue, but it deadened into gray near the sea lines. Flocks of seagulls hovered about the edge of the waves, slowly rising and turning their white under-plumage to glimmer in the sunlight as Philip approached. The whole scene was so peaceful, so soothing, that it dispelled the cares and fears (too well founded in fact) which had weighed down on his heart during the dark hours of the past night.
There was Haytersbank gully opening down its green entrance among the warm brown bases of the cliffs. Below, in the sheltered brushwood, among the last year's withered leaves, some primroses might be found. He half thought of gathering Sylvia a posy of them, and rushing up to the farm to make a little farewell peace-offering. But on looking at his watch, he put all thoughts of such an action out of his head; it was above an hour later than he had supposed, and he must make all haste on to Hartlepool. Just as he was approaching this gully, a man came dashing down, and ran out some way upon the sand with the very force of his descent; then he turned to the left and took the direction of Hartlepool a hundred yards or so in advance of Philip. He never stayed to look round him, but went swiftly and steadily on his way. By the peculiar lurch in his walk - by everything - Philip knew it was the specksioneer, Kinraid.
Now the road up Haytersbank gully led to the farm, and nowhere else. Still any one wishing to descend to the shore might do so by first going up to the Robsons' house, and skirting the walls till they came to the little slender path down to the shore. But by the farm, by the very house-door they must of necessity pass. Philip slackened his pace, keeping under the shadow of the rock. By-and-by Kinraid, walking on the sunlight open sands, turned round and looked long and earnestly towards Haytersbank gully. Hepburn paused when he paused, but as intently as he looked at some object above, so intently did Hepburn look at him. No need to ascertain by sight towards whom his looks, his thoughts were directed. He took off his hat and waved it, touching one part of it as if with particular meaning. When he turned away at last, Hepburn heaved a heavy sigh, and crept yet more into the cold dank shadow of the cliffs. Each step was now a heavy task, his sad heart tired and weary. After a while he climbed up a few feet, so as to mingle his form yet more completely with the stones and rocks around. Stumbling over the uneven and often jagged points, slipping on the sea-weed, plunging into little pools of water left by the ebbing tide in some natural basins, he yet kept his eyes fixed as if in fascination on Kinraid, and made his way almost alongside of him. But the last hour had pinched Hepburn's features into something of the wan haggardness they would wear when he should first be lying still for ever.
And now the two men were drawing near a creek, about eight miles from Monkshaven. The creek was formed by a beck (or small stream) that came flowing down from the moors, and took its way to the sea between the widening rocks. The melting of the snows and running of the flooded water-springs above made this beck in the early spring-time both deep and wide. Hepburn knew that here they both must take a path leading inland to a narrow foot-bridge about a quarter of a mile up the stream; indeed from this point, owing to the jutting out of the rocks, the land path was the shortest; and this way lay by the water-side at an angle right below the cliff to which Hepburn's steps were leading him. He knew that on this long level field path he might easily be seen by any one following; nay, if he followed any one at a short distance, for it was full of turnings; and he resolved, late as he was, to sit down for a while till Kinraid was far enough in advance for him to escape being seen. He came up to the last rock behind which he could be concealed; seven or eight feet above the stream he stood, and looked cautiously for the specksioneer. Up by the rushing stream he looked, then right below.
'It is God's providence,' he murmured. 'It is God's providence.'
He crouched down where he had been standing and covered his face with his hands. He tried to deafen as well as to blind himself, that he might neither hear nor see anything of the coming event of which he, an inhabitant of Monkshaven at that day, well understood the betokening signs.
Kinraid had taken the larger angle of the sands before turning up towards the bridge. He came along now nearing the rocks. By this time he was sufficiently buoyant to whistle to himself. It steeled Philip's heart to what was coming to hear his rival whistling, 'Weel may the keel row,' so soon after parting with Sylvia.
The instant Kinraid turned the corner of the cliff, the ambush was upon him. Four man-of-war's men sprang on him and strove to pinion him.
'In the King's name!' cried they, with rough, triumphant jeers.
Their boat was moored not a dozen yards above; they were sent by the tender of a frigate lying off Hartlepool for fresh water. The tender was at anchor just beyond the jutting rocks in face.
They knew that fishermen were in the habit of going to and from their nets by the side of the creek; but such a prize as this active, strong, and evidently superior sailor, was what they had not hoped for, and their endeavours to secure him were in proportion to the value of the prize.
Although taken by surprise, and attacked by so many, Kinraid did not lose his wits. He wrenched himself free, crying out loud:
'Avast, I'm a protected whaler. I claim my protection. I've my papers to show, I'm bonded specksioneer to the Urania whaler, Donkin captain, North Shields port.'
As a protected whaler, the press-gang had, by the 17th section of Act 26 Geo. III. no legal right to seize him, unless he had failed to return to his ship by the 10th March following the date of his bond. But of what use were the papers he hastily dragged out of his breast; of what use were laws in those days of slow intercourse with such as were powerful enough to protect, and in the time of popular panic against a French invasion?
'D - n your protection,' cried the leader of the press-gang; 'come and serve his Majesty, that's better than catching whales.'
'Is it though?' said the specksioneer, with a motion of his hand, which the swift-eyed sailor opposed to him saw and interpreted rightly.
'Thou wilt, wilt thou? Close with him, Jack; and ware the cutlass.'
In a minute his cutlass was forced from him, and it became a hand-to-hand struggle, of which, from the difference in numbers, it was not difficult to foretell the result. Yet Kinraid made desperate efforts to free himself; he wasted no breath in words, but fought, as the men said, 'like a very devil.'
Hepburn heard loud pants of breath, great thuds, the dull struggle of limbs on the sand, the growling curses of those who thought to have managed their affair more easily; the sudden cry of some one wounded, not Kinraid he knew, Kinraid would have borne any pain in silence at such a moment; another wrestling, swearing, infuriated strife, and then a strange silence. Hepburn sickened at the heart; was then his rival dead? had he left this bright world? lost his life - his love? For an instant Hepburn felt guilty of his death; he said to himself he had never wished him dead, and yet in the struggle he had kept aloof, and now it might be too late for ever. Philip could not bear the suspense; he looked stealthily round the corner of the rock behind which he had been hidden, and saw that they had overpowered Kinraid, and, too exhausted to speak, were binding him hand and foot to carry him to their boat.
Kinraid lay as still as any hedgehog: he rolled when they pushed him; he suffered himself to be dragged without any resistance, any motion; the strong colour brought into his face while fighting was gone now, his countenance was livid pale; his lips were tightly held together, as if it cost him more effort to be passive, wooden, and stiff in their hands than it had done to fight and struggle with all his might. His eyes seemed the only part about him that showed cognizance of what was going on. They were watchful, vivid, fierce as those of a wild cat brought to bay, seeking in its desperate quickened brain for some mode of escape not yet visible, and in all probability never to become visible to the hopeless creature in its supreme agony.
Without a motion of his head, he was perceiving and taking in everything while he lay bound at the bottom of the boat. A sailor sat by his side, who had been hurt by a blow from him. The man held his head in his hand, moaning; but every now and then he revenged himself by a kick at the prostrate specksioneer, till even his comrades stopped their cursing and swearing at their prisoner for the trouble he had given them, to cry shame on their comrade. But Kinraid never spoke, nor shrank from the outstretched foot.
One of his captors, with the successful insolence of victory, ventured to jeer him on the supposed reason for his vehement and hopeless resistance.
He might have said yet more insolent things; the kicks might have hit harder; Kinraid did not hear or heed. His soul was beating itself against the bars of inflexible circumstance; reviewing in one terrible instant of time what had been, what might have been, what was. Yet while these thoughts thus stabbed him, he was still mechanically looking out for chances. He moved his head a little, so as to turn towards Haytersbank, where Sylvia must be quickly, if sadly, going about her simple daily work; and then his quick eye caught Hepburn's face, blanched with excitement rather than fear, watching eagerly from behind the rock, where he had sat breathless during the affray and the impressment of his rival.
'Come here, lad!' shouted the specksioneer as soon as he saw Philip, heaving and writhing his body the while with so much vigour that the sailors started away from the work they were engaged in about the boat, and held him down once more, as if afraid he should break the strong rope that held him like withes of green flax. But the bound man had no such notion in his head. His mighty wish was to call Hepburn near that he might send some message by him to Sylvia. 'Come here, Hepburn,' he cried again, falling back this time so weak and exhausted that the man-of-war's men became sympathetic.
'Come down, peeping Tom, and don't be afeared,' they called out.
'I'm not afeared,' said Philip; 'I'm no sailor for yo' t' impress me: nor have yo' any right to take that fellow; he's a Greenland specksioneer, under protection, as I know and can testify.'
'Yo' and yo'r testify go hang. Make haste, man and hear what this gem'man, as was in a dirty blubbery whale-ship, and is now in his Majesty's service, has got to say. I dare say, Jack,' went on the speaker, 'it's some message to his sweetheart, asking her to come for to serve on board ship along with he, like Billy Taylor's young woman.'
Philip was coming towards them slowly, not from want of activity, but because he was undecided what he should be called upon to do or to say by the man whom he hated and dreaded, yet whom just now he could not help admiring.
Kinraid groaned with impatience at seeing one, free to move with quick decision, so slow and dilatory.
'Come on then,' cried the sailors, 'or we'll take you too on board, and run you up and down the main-mast a few times. Nothing like life aboard ship for quickening a land-lubber.'
'Yo'd better take him and leave me,' said Kinraid, grimly. 'I've been taught my lesson; and seemingly he has his yet to learn.'
'His Majesty isn't a schoolmaster to need scholars; but a jolly good captain to need men,' replied the leader of the gang, eyeing Philip nevertheless, and questioning within himself how far, with only two other available men, they durst venture on his capture as well as the specksioneer's. It might be done, he thought, even though there was this powerful captive aboard, and the boat to manage too; but, running his eye over Philip's figure, he decided that the tall stooping fellow was never cut out for a sailor, and that he should get small thanks if he captured him, to pay him for the possible risk of losing the other. Or else the mere fact of being a landsman was of as little consequence to the press-gang, as the protecting papers which Kinraid had vainly showed.
'Yon fellow wouldn't have been worth his grog this many a day, and be d - d to you,' said he, catching Hepburn by the shoulder, and giving him a push. Philip stumbled over something in this, his forced run. He looked down; his foot had caught in Kinraid's hat, which had dropped off in the previous struggle. In the band that went round the low crown, a ribbon was knotted; a piece of that same ribbon which Philip had chosen out, with such tender hope, to give to Sylvia for the Corneys' party on new year's eve. He knew every delicate thread that made up the briar-rose pattern; and a spasm of hatred towards Kinraid contracted his heart. He had been almost relenting into pity for the man captured before his eyes; now he abhorred him.
Kinraid did not speak for a minute or two. The sailors, who had begun to take him into favour, were all agog with curiosity to hear the message to his sweetheart, which they believed he was going to send. Hepburn's perceptions, quickened with his vehement agitation of soul, were aware of this feeling of theirs; and it increased his rage against Kinraid, who had exposed the idea of Sylvia to be the subject of ribald whispers. But the specksioneer cared little what others said or thought about the maiden, whom he yet saw before his closed eyelids as she stood watching him, from the Haytersbank gully, waving her hands, her handkerchief, all in one passionate farewell.
'What do yo' want wi' me?' asked Hepburn at last in a gloomy tone. If he could have helped it, he would have kept silence till Kinraid spoke first; but he could no longer endure the sailors' nudges, and winks, and jests among themselves.
'Tell Sylvia,' said Kinraid --
'There's a smart name for a sweetheart,' exclaimed one of the men; but Kinraid went straight on, -
'What yo've seen; how I've been pressed by this cursed gang.'
'Civil words, messmate, if you please. Sylvia can't abide cursing and swearing, I'm sure. We're gentlemen serving his Majesty on board the Alcestis, and this proper young fellow shall be helped on to more honour and glory than he'd ever get bobbing for whales. Tell Sylvia this, with my love; Jack Carter's love, if she's anxious about my name.'
One of the sailors laughed at this rude humour; another bade Carter hold his stupid tongue. Philip hated him in his heart. Kinraid hardly heard him. He was growing faint with the heavy blows he had received, the stunning fall he had met with, and the reaction from his dogged self-control at first.
Philip did not speak nor move.
'Tell her,' continued Kinraid, rousing himself for another effort, 'what yo've seen. Tell her I'll come back to her. Bid her not forget the great oath we took together this morning; she's as much my wife as if we'd gone to church; - I'll come back and marry her afore long.'
Philip said something inarticulately.
'Hurra!' cried Carter, 'and I'll be best man. Tell her, too that I'll have an eye on her sweetheart, and keep him from running after other girls.'
'Yo'll have yo'r hands full, then,' muttered Philip, his passion boiling over at the thought of having been chosen out from among all men to convey such a message as Kinraid's to Sylvia.
'Make an end of yo'r d - d yarns, and be off,' said the man who had been hurt by Kinraid, and who had sate apart and silent till now.
Philip turned away; Kinraid raised himself and cried after him, -
'Hepburn, Hepburn! tell her --' what he added Philip could not hear, for the words were lost before they reached him in the outward noise of the regular splash of the oars and the rush of the wind down the gully, with which mingled the closer sound that filled his ears of his own hurrying blood surging up into his brain. He was conscious that he had said something in reply to Kinraid's adjuration that he would deliver his message to Sylvia, at the very time when Carter had stung him into fresh anger by the allusion to the possibility of the specksioneer's 'running after other girls,' for, for an instant, Hepburn had been touched by the contrast of circumstances. Kinraid an hour or two ago, - Kinraid a banished man; for in those days, an impressed sailor might linger out years on some foreign station, far from those he loved, who all this time remained ignorant of his cruel fate.
But Hepburn began to wonder what he himself had said - how much of a promise he had made to deliver those last passionate words of Kinraid's. He could not recollect how much, how little he had said; he knew he had spoken hoarsely and low almost at the same time as Carter had uttered his loud joke. But he doubted if Kinraid had caught his words.
And then the dread Inner Creature, who lurks in each of our hearts, arose and said, 'It is as well: a promise given is a fetter to the giver. But a promise is not given when it has not been received.'
At a sudden impulse, he turned again towards the shore when he had crossed the bridge, and almost ran towards the verge of the land. Then he threw himself down on the soft fine turf that grew on the margin of the cliffs overhanging the sea, and commanding an extent of view towards the north. His face supported by his hands, he looked down upon the blue rippling ocean, flashing here and there, into the sunlight in long, glittering lines. The boat was still in the distance, making her swift silent way with long regular bounds to the tender that lay in the offing.
Hepburn felt insecure, as in a nightmare dream, so long as the boat did not reach her immediate destination. His contracted eyes could see four minute figures rowing with ceaseless motion, and a fifth sate at the helm. But he knew there was a sixth, unseen, lying, bound and helpless, at the bottom of the boat; and his fancy kept expecting this man to start up and break his bonds, and overcome all the others, and return to the shore free and triumphant.
It was by no fault of Hepburn's that the boat sped well away; that she was now alongside the tender, dancing on the waves; now emptied of her crew; now hoisted up to her place. No fault of his! and yet it took him some time before he could reason himself into the belief that his mad, feverish wishes not an hour before - his wild prayer to be rid of his rival, as he himself had scrambled onward over the rocks alongside of Kinraid's path on the sands - had not compelled the event.
'Anyhow,' thought he, as he rose up, 'my prayer is granted. God be thanked!'
Once more he looked out towards the ship. She had spread her beautiful great sails, and was standing out to sea in the glittering path of the descending sun.
He saw that he had been delayed on his road, and had lingered long. He shook his stiffened limbs, shouldered his knapsack, and prepared to walk on to Hartlepool as swiftly as he could.
Philip was too late for the coach he had hoped to go by, but there was another that left at night, and which reached Newcastle in the forenoon, so that, by the loss of a night's sleep, he might overtake his lost time. But, restless and miserable, he could not stop in Hartlepool longer than to get some hasty food at the inn from which the coach started. He acquainted himself with the names of the towns through which it would pass, and the inns at which it would stop, and left word that the coachman was to be on the look-out for him and pick him up at some one of these places.
He was thoroughly worn out before this happened - too much tired to gain any sleep in the coach. When he reached Newcastle, he went to engage his passage in the next London-bound smack, and then directed his steps to Robinson's, in the Side, to make all the inquiries he could think of respecting the plough his uncle wanted to know about.
So it was pretty late in the afternoon, indeed almost evening, before he arrived at the small inn on the quay-side, where he intended to sleep. It was but a rough kind of place, frequented principally by sailors; he had been recommended to it by Daniel Robson, who had known it well in former days. The accommodation in it was, however, clean and homely, and the people keeping it were respectable enough in their way.
Still Hepburn was rather repelled by the appearance of the sailors who sate drinking in the bar, and he asked, in a low voice, if there was not another room. The woman stared in surprise, and only shook her head. Hepburn went to a separate table, away from the roaring fire, which on this cold March evening was the great attraction, and called for food and drink. Then seeing that the other men were eyeing him with the sociable idea of speaking to him, he asked for pen and ink and paper, with the intention of defeating their purpose by pre-occupation on his part. But when the paper came, the new pen, the unused thickened ink, he hesitated long before he began to write; and at last he slowly put down the words, -
'DEAR AND HONOURED UNCLE,' --
There was a pause; his meal was brought and hastily swallowed. Even while he was eating it, he kept occasionally touching up the letters of these words. When he had drunk a glass of ale he began again to write: fluently this time, for he was giving an account of the plough. Then came another long stop; he was weighing in his own mind what he should say about Kinraid. Once he thought for a second of writing to Sylvia herself, and telling her -- how much? She might treasure up her lover's words like grains of gold, while they were lighter than dust in their meaning to Philip's mind; words which such as the specksioneer used as counters to beguile and lead astray silly women. It was for him to prove his constancy by action; and the chances of his giving such proof were infinitesimal in Philip's estimation. But should the latter mention the bare fact of Kinraid's impressment to Robson? That would have been the natural course of things, remembering that the last time Philip had seen either, they were in each other's company. Twenty times he put his pen to the paper with the intention of relating briefly the event that had befallen Kinraid; and as often he stopped, as though the first word would be irrevocable. While he thus sate pen in hand, thinking himself wiser than conscience, and looking on beyond the next step which she bade him take into an indefinite future, he caught some fragments of the sailors' talk at the other end of the room, which made him listen to their words. They were speaking of that very Kinraid, the thought of whom filled his own mind like an actual presence. In a rough, careless way they spoke of the specksioneer, with admiration enough for his powers as a sailor and harpooner; and from that they passed on to jesting mention of his power amongst women, and one or two girls' names were spoken of in connection with him. Hepburn silently added Annie Coulson and Sylvia Robson to this list, and his cheeks turned paler as he did so. Long after they had done speaking about Kinraid, after they had paid their shot, and gone away, he sate in the same attitude, thinking bitter thoughts.
The people of the house prepared for bed. Their silent guest took no heed of their mute signs. At length the landlord spoke to him, and he started, gathered his wits together with an effort, and prepared to retire with the rest. But before he did so, he signed and directed the letter to his uncle, leaving it still open, however, in case some sudden feeling should prompt him to add a postscript. The landlord volunteered the information that the letter his guest had been writing must be posted early the next morning if it was going south; as the mails in that direction only left Newcastle every other day.
All night long Hepburn wearied himself with passionate tossings, prompted by stinging recollection. Towards morning he fell into a dead sound sleep. He was roused by a hasty knocking at the door. It was broad full daylight; he had overslept himself, and the smack was leaving by the early tide. He was even now summoned on board. He dressed, wafered his letter, and rushed with it to the neighbouring post-office; and, without caring to touch the breakfast for which he paid, he embarked. Once on board, he experienced the relief which it always is to an undecided man, and generally is at first to any one who has been paltering with duty, when circumstances decide for him. In the first case, it is pleasant to be relieved from the burden of decision; in the second, the responsibility seems to be shifted on to impersonal events.
And so Philip sailed out of the mouth of the Tyne on to the great open sea. It would be a week before the smack reached London, even if she pursued a tolerably straight course, but she had to keep a sharp look-out after possible impressment of her crew; and it was not until after many dodges and some adventures that, at the end of a fortnight from the time of his leaving Monkshaven, Philip found himself safely housed in London, and ready to begin the delicate piece of work which was given him to do.
He felt himself fully capable of unravelling each clue to information, and deciding on the value of the knowledge so gained. But during the leisure of the voyage he had wisely determined to communicate everything he learnt about Dickinson, in short, every step he took in the matter, by letter to his employers. And thus his mind both in and out of his lodgings might have appeared to have been fully occupied with the concerns of others.
But there were times when the miserable luxury of dwelling upon his own affairs was his - when he lay down in his bed till he fell into restless sleep - when the point to which his steps tended in his walks was ascertained. Then he gave himself up to memory, and regret which often deepened into despair, and but seldom was cheered by hope.
He grew so impatient of the ignorance in which he was kept - for in those days of heavy postage any correspondence he might have had on mere Monkshaven intelligence was very limited - as to the affairs at Haytersbank, that he cut out an advertisement respecting some new kind of plough, from a newspaper that lay in the chop-house where he usually dined, and rising early the next morning he employed the time thus gained in going round to the shop where these new ploughs were sold.
That night he wrote another letter to Daniel Robson, with a long account of the merits of the implements he had that day seen. With a sick heart and a hesitating hand, he wound up with a message of regard to his aunt and to Sylvia; an expression of regard which he dared not make as warm as he wished, and which, consequently, fell below the usual mark attained by such messages, and would have appeared to any one who cared to think about it as cold and formal.
When this letter was despatched, Hepburn began to wonder what he had hoped for in writing it. He knew that Daniel could write - or rather that he could make strange hieroglyphics, the meaning of which puzzled others and often himself; but these pen-and-ink signs were seldom employed by Robson, and never, so far as Philip knew, for the purpose of letter-writing. But still he craved so for news of Sylvia - even for a sight of paper which she had seen, and perhaps touched - that he thought all his trouble about the plough (to say nothing of the one-and-twopence postage which he had prepaid in order to make sure of his letter's reception in the frugal household at Haytersbank) well lost for the mere chance of his uncle's caring enough for the intelligence to write in reply, or even to get some friend to write an answer; for in such case, perhaps, Philip might see her name mentioned in some way, even though it was only that she sent her duty to him.
But the post-office was dumb; no letter came from Daniel Robson. Philip heard, it is true, from his employers pretty frequently on business; and he felt sure they would have named it, if any ill had befallen his uncle's family, for they knew of the relationship and of his intimacy there. They generally ended their formal letters with as formal a summary of Monkshaven news; but there was never a mention of the Robsons, and that of itself was well, but it did not soothe Philip's impatient curiosity. He had never confided his attachment to his cousin to any one, it was not his way; but he sometimes thought that if Coulson had not taken his present appointment to a confidential piece of employment so ill, he would have written to him and asked him to go up to Haytersbank Farm, and let him know how they all were.
All this time he was transacting the affair on which he had been sent, with great skill; and, indeed, in several ways, he was quietly laying the foundation for enlarging the business in Monkshaven. Naturally grave and quiet, and slow to speak, he impressed those who saw him with the idea of greater age and experience than he really possessed. Indeed, those who encountered him in London, thought he was absorbed in the business of money-making. Yet before the time came when he could wind up affairs and return to Monkshaven, he would have given all he possessed for a letter from his uncle, telling him something about Sylvia. For he still hoped to hear from Robson, although he knew that he hoped against reason. But we often convince ourselves by good argument that what we wish for need never have been expected; and then, at the end of our reasoning, find that we might have saved ourselves the trouble, for that our wishes are untouched, and are as strong enemies to our peace of mind as ever. Hepburn's baulked hope was the Mordecai sitting in Haman's gate; all his success in his errand to London, his well-doing in worldly affairs, was tasteless, and gave him no pleasure, because of this blank and void of all intelligence concerning Sylvia.
And yet he came back with a letter from the Fosters in his pocket, curt, yet expressive of deep gratitude for his discreet services in London; and at another time - in fact, if Philip's life had been ordered differently to what it was - it might have given this man a not unworthy pleasure to remember that, without a penny of his own, simply by diligence, honesty, and faithful quick-sightedness as to the interests of his masters, he had risen to hold the promise of being their successor, and to be ranked by them as a trusted friend.
As the Newcastle smack neared the shore on her voyage home, Hepburn looked wistfully out for the faint gray outline of Monkshaven Priory against the sky, and the well-known cliffs; as if the masses of inanimate stone could tell him any news of Sylvia.
In the streets of Shields, just after landing, he encountered a neighbour of the Robsons, and an acquaintance of his own. By this honest man, he was welcomed as a great traveller is welcomed on his return from a long voyage, with many hearty good shakes of the hand, much repetition of kind wishes, and offers to treat him to drink. Yet, from some insurmountable feeling, Philip avoided all mention of the family who were the principal bond between the honest farmer and himself. He did not know why, but he could not bear the shock of first hearing her name in the open street, or in the rough public-house. And thus he shrank from the intelligence he craved to hear.
Thus he knew no more about the Robsons when he returned to Monkshaven, than he had done on the day when he had last seen them; and, of course, his first task there was to give a long viva voce account of all his London proceedings to the two brothers Foster, who, considering that they had heard the result of everything by letter, seemed to take an insatiable interest in details.
He could hardly tell why, but even when released from the Fosters' parlour, he was unwilling to go to Haytersbank Farm. It was late, it is true, but on a May evening even country people keep up till eight or nine o'clock. Perhaps it was because Hepburn was still in his travel-stained dress; having gone straight to the shop on his arrival in Monkshaven. Perhaps it was because, if he went this night for the short half-hour intervening before bed-time, he would have no excuse for paying a longer visit on the following evening. At any rate, he proceeded straight to Alice Rose's, as soon as he had finished his interview with his employers.
Both Hester and Coulson had given him their welcome home in the shop, which they had, however, left an hour or two before him.
Yet they gave him a fresh greeting, almost one in which surprise was blended, when he came to his lodgings. Even Alice seemed gratified by his spending this first evening with them, as if she had thought it might have been otherwise. Weary though he was, he exerted himself to talk and to relate what he had done and seen in London, as far as he could without breaking confidence with his employers. It was something to see the pleasure he gave to his auditors, although there were several mixed feelings in their minds to produce the expression of it which gratified him. Coulson was sorry for his former ungenerous reception of the news that Philip was going to London; Hester and her mother each secretly began to feel as if this evening was like more happy evenings of old, before the Robsons came to Haytersbank Farm; and who knows what faint delicious hopes this resemblance may not have suggested?
While Philip, restless and excited, feeling that he could not sleep, was glad to pass away the waking hours that must intervene before to-morrow night, at times, he tried to make them talk of what had happened in Monkshaven during his absence, but all had gone on in an eventless manner, as far as he could gather; if they knew of anything affecting the Robsons, they avoided speaking of it to him; and, indeed, how little likely were they ever to have heard their names while he was away?
Philip walked towards the Robsons' farm like a man in a dream, who has everything around him according to his wish, and yet is conscious of a secret mysterious inevitable drawback to his enjoyment. Hepburn did not care to think - would not realize what this drawback, which need not have been mysterious in his case, was.
The May evening was glorious in light and shadow. The crimson sun warmed up the chilly northern air to a semblance of pleasant heat. The spring sights and sounds were all about; the lambs were bleating out their gentle weariness before they sank to rest by the side of their mothers; the linnets were chirping in every bush of golden gorse that grew out of the stone walls; the lark was singing her good-night in the cloudless sky, before she dropped down to her nest in the tender green wheat; all spoke of brooding peace - but Philip's heart was not at peace.
Yet he was going to proclaim his good fortune. His masters had that day publicly announced that Coulson and he were to be their successors, and he had now arrived at that longed-for point in his business, when he had resolved to openly speak of his love to Sylvia, and might openly strive to gain her love. But, alas! the fulfilment of that wish of his had lagged sadly behind. He was placed as far as he could, even in his most sanguine moments, have hoped to be as regarded business, but Sylvia was as far from his attainment as ever - nay, farther. Still the great obstacle was removed in Kinraid's impressment. Philip took upon himself to decide that, with such a man as the specksioneer, absence was equivalent to faithless forgetfulness. He thought that he had just grounds for this decision in the account he had heard of Kinraid's behaviour to Annie Coulson; to the other nameless young girl, her successor in his fickle heart; in the ribald talk of the sailors in the Newcastle public-house. It would be well for Sylvia if she could forget as quickly; and, to promote this oblivion, the name of her lover should never be brought up, either in praise or blame. And Philip would be patient and enduring; all the time watching over her, and labouring to win her reluctant love.
There she was! He saw her as he stood at the top of the little hill-path leading down to the Robsons' door. She was out of doors, in the garden, which, at some distance from the house, sloped up the bank on the opposite side of the gully; much too far off to be spoken to - not too far off to be gazed at by eyes that caressed her every movement. How well Philip knew that garden; placed long ago by some tenant of the farm on a southern slope; walled in with rough moorland stones; planted with berry-bushes for use, and southernwood and sweet-briar for sweetness of smell. When the Robsons had first come to Haytersbank, and Sylvia was scarcely more than a pretty child, how well he remembered helping her with the arrangement of this garden; laying out his few spare pence in hen-and-chicken daisies at one time, in flower-seeds at another; again in a rose-tree in a pot. He knew how his unaccustomed hands had laboured with the spade at forming a little primitive bridge over the beck in the hollow before winter streams should make it too deep for fording; how he had cut down branches of the mountain-ash and covered them over, yet decked with their scarlet berries, with sods of green turf, beyond which the brilliancy crept out; but now it was months and years since he had been in that garden, which had lost its charm for Sylvia, as she found the bleak sea-winds came up and blighted all endeavours at cultivating more than the most useful things - pot-herbs, marigolds, potatoes, onions, and such-like. Why did she tarry there now, standing quite motionless up by the highest bit of wall, looking over the sea, with her hand shading her eyes? Quite motionless; as if she were a stone statue. He began to wish she would move - would look at him - but any way that she would move, and not stand gazing thus over that great dreary sea.
He went down the path with an impatient step, and entered the house-place. There sat his aunt spinning, and apparently as well as ever. He could hear his uncle talking to Kester in the neighbouring shippen; all was well in the household. Why was Sylvia standing in the garden in that strange quiet way?
'Why, lad! thou'rt a sight for sair een!' said his aunt, as she stood up to welcome him back. 'An' when didst ta come, eh? - but thy uncle will be glad to see thee, and to hear thee talk about yon pleughs; he's thought a deal o' thy letters. I'll go call him in.'
'Not yet,' said Philip, stopping her in her progress towards the door. 'He's busy talking to Kester. I'm in no haste to be gone. I can stay a couple of hours. Sit down, and tell me how you are yoursel' - and how iverything is. And I've a deal to tell you.'
'To be sure - to be sure. To think thou's been in Lunnon sin' I saw thee! - well to be sure! There's a vast o' coming and going i' this world. Thou'll mind yon specksioneer lad, him as was cousin to t' Corneys - Charley Kinraid?'
Mind him! As if he could forget him.
'Well! he's dead and gone.'
'Dead! Who told you? I don't understand,' said Philip, in strange bewilderment. Could Kinraid have tried to escape after all, and been wounded, killed in the attempt? If not, how should they know he was dead? Missing he might be, though how this should be known was strange, as he was supposed to be sailing to the Greenland seas. But dead! What did they mean? At Philip's worst moment of hatred he had hardly dared to wish him dead.
'Dunnot yo' mention it afore our Sylvie; we niver speak on him to her, for she takes it a deal to heart, though I'm thinkin' it were a good thing for her; for he'd got a hold of her - he had on Bessy Corney, too, as her mother telled me; - not that I iver let on to them as Sylvia frets after him, so keep a calm sough, my lad. It's a girl's fancy - just a kind o' calf-love; let it go by; and it's well for her he's dead, though it's hard to say so on a drowned man.'
'Drowned!' said Philip. 'How do yo' know?' half hoping that the poor drenched swollen body might have been found, and thus all questions and dilemmas solved. Kinraid might have struggled overboard with ropes or handcuffs on, and so have been drowned.
'Eh, lad! there's no misdoubtin' it. He were thought a deal on by t' captain o' t' Urania; and when he niver come back on t' day when she ought for to have sailed, he sent to Kinraid's people at Cullercoats, and they sent to Brunton's i' Newcassel, and they knew he'd been here. T' captain put off sailing for two or three days, that he might ha' that much law; but when he heard as Kinraid were not at Corneys', but had left 'em a'most on to a week, he went off to them Northern seas wi' t' next best specksioneer he could find. For there's no use speaking ill on t' dead; an' though I couldn't abear his coming for iver about t' house, he were a rare good specksioneer, as I've been told.'
'But how do you know he was drowned?' said Philip, feeling guiltily disappointed at his aunt's story.
'Why, lad! I'm a'most ashamed to tell thee, I were sore put out mysel'; but Sylvia were so broken-hearted like I couldn't cast it up to her as I should ha' liked: th' silly lass had gone and gi'en him a bit o' ribbon, as many a one knowed, for it had been a vast noticed and admired that evenin' at th' Corneys' - new year's eve I think it were - and t' poor vain peacock had tied it on his hat, so that when t' tide -- hist! there's Sylvie coming in at t' back-door; never let on,' and in a forced made-up voice she inquired aloud, for hitherto she had been speaking almost in a whisper, -
'And didst ta see King George an' Queen Charlotte?'
Philip could not answer - did not hear. His soul had gone out to meet Sylvia, who entered with quiet slowness quite unlike her former self. Her face was wan and white; her gray eyes seemed larger, and full of dumb tearless sorrow; she came up to Philip, as if his being there touched her with no surprise, and gave him a gentle greeting as if he were a familiar indifferent person whom she had seen but yesterday. Philip, who had recollected the quarrel they had had, and about Kinraid too, the very last time they had met, had expected some trace of this remembrance to linger in her looks and speech to him. But there was no such sign; her great sorrow had wiped away all anger, almost all memory. Her mother looked at her anxiously, and then said in the same manner of forced cheerfulness which she had used before, -
'Here's Philip, lass, a' full o' Lunnon; call thy father in, an we'll hear a' about t' new-fangled pleughs. It'll be rare an' nice a' sitting together again.'
Sylvia, silent and docile, went out to the shippen to obey her mother's wish. Bell Robson leant forward towards Philip, misinterpreting the expression on his face, which was guilt as much as sympathy, and checked the possible repentance which might have urged him on at that moment to tell all he knew, by saying, 'Lad! it's a' for t' best. He were noane good enough for her; and I misdoubt me he were only playin' wi' her as he'd done by others. Let her a-be, let her a-be; she'll come round to be thankful.'
Robson bustled in with loud welcome; all the louder and more talkative because he, like his wife, assumed a cheerful manner before Sylvia. Yet he, unlike his wife, had many a secret regret over Kinraid's fate. At first, while merely the fact of his disappearance was known, Daniel Robson had hit on the truth, and had stuck to his opinion that the cursed press-gang were at the bottom of it. He had backed his words by many an oath, and all the more because he had not a single reason to give that applied to the present occasion. No one on the lonely coast had remarked any sign of the presence of the men-of-war, or the tenders that accompanied them, for the purpose of impressment on the king's ships. At Shields, and at the mouth of the Tyne, where they lay in greedy wait, the owners of the Urania had caused strict search to be made for their skilled and protected specksioneer, but with no success. All this positive evidence in contradiction to Daniel Robson's opinion only made him cling to it the more; until the day when the hat was found on the shore with Kinraid's name written out large and fair in the inside, and the tell-tale bit of ribbon knotted in the band. Then Daniel, by a sudden revulsion, gave up every hope; it never entered his mind that it could have fallen off by any accident. No! now Kinraid was dead and drowned, and it was a bad job, and the sooner it could be forgotten the better for all parties; and it was well no one knew how far it had gone with Sylvia, especially now since Bessy Corney was crying her eyes out as if he had been engaged to her. So Daniel said nothing to his wife about the mischief that had gone on in her absence, and never spoke to Sylvia about the affair; only he was more than usually tender to her in his rough way, and thought, morning, noon, and night, on what he could do to give her pleasure, and drive away all recollection of her ill-starred love.
To-night he would have her sit by him while Philip told his stories, or heavily answered questions put to him. Sylvia sat on a stool by her father's knee, holding one of his hands in both of hers; and presently she laid down her head upon them, and Philip saw her sad eyes looking into the flickering fire-light with long unwinking stare, showing that her thoughts were far distant. He could hardly go on with his tales of what he had seen, and what done, he was so full of pity for her. Yet, for all his pity, he had now resolved never to soothe her with the knowledge of what he knew, nor to deliver the message sent by her false lover. He felt like a mother withholding something injurious from the foolish wish of her plaining child.
But he went away without breathing a word of his good fortune in business. The telling of such kind of good fortune seemed out of place this night, when the thought of death and the loss of friends seemed to brood over the household, and cast its shadow there, obscuring for the time all worldly things.
And so the great piece of news came out in the ordinary course of gossip, told by some Monkshaven friend to Robson the next market day. For months Philip had been looking forward to the sensation which the intelligence would produce in the farm household, as a preliminary to laying his good fortune at Sylvia's feet. And they heard of it, and he away, and all chance of his making use of it in the manner he had intended vanished for the present.
Daniel was always curious after other people's affairs, and now was more than ever bent on collecting scraps of news which might possibly interest Sylvia, and rouse her out of the state of indifference as to everything into which she had fallen. Perhaps he thought that he had not acted altogether wisely in allowing her to engage herself to Kinraid, for he was a man apt to judge by results; and moreover he had had so much reason to repent of the encouragement which he had given to the lover whose untimely end had so deeply affected his only child, that he was more unwilling than ever that his wife should know of the length to which the affair had gone during her absence. He even urged secrecy upon Sylvia as a personal favour; unwilling to encounter the silent blame which he openly affected to despise.
'We'll noane fret thy mother by lettin' on how oft he came and went. She'll, may-be, be thinkin' he were for speakin' to thee, my poor lass; an' it would put her out a deal, for she's a woman of a stern mind towards matteremony. And she'll be noane so strong till summer-weather comes, and I'd be loath to give her aught to worrit hersel' about. So thee and me 'll keep our own counsel.'
'I wish mother had been here, then she'd ha' known all, without my telling her.'
'Cheer up, lass; it's better as it is. Thou'll get o'er it sooner for havin' no one to let on to. A myself am noane going to speak on't again.'
No more he did; but there was a strange tenderness in his tones when he spoke to her; a half-pathetic way of seeking after her, if by any chance she was absent for a minute from the places where he expected to find her; a consideration for her, about this time, in his way of bringing back trifling presents, or small pieces of news that he thought might interest her, which sank deep into her heart.
'And what dun yo' think a' t' folks is talkin' on i' Monkshaven?' asked he, almost before he had taken off his coat, on the day when he had heard of Philip's promotion in the world. 'Why, missus, thy nephew, Philip Hepburn, has got his name up i' gold letters four inch long o'er Fosters' door! Him and Coulson has set up shop together, and Fosters is gone out!'
'That's t' secret of his journey t' Lunnon,' said Bell, more gratified than she chose to show.
'Four inch long if they're theere at all! I heerd on it at t' Bay Horse first; but I thought yo'd niver be satisfied 'bout I seed it wi' my own eyes. They do say as Gregory Jones, t' plumber, got it done i' York, for that nought else would satisfy old Jeremiah. It'll be a matter o' some hundreds a year i' Philip's pocket.'
'There'll be Fosters i' th' background, as one may say, to take t' biggest share on t' profits,' said Bell.
'Ay, ay, that's but as it should be, for I reckon they'll ha' to find t' brass the first, my lass!' said he, turning to Sylvia. 'A'm fain to tak' thee in to t' town next market-day, just for thee t' see 't. A'll buy thee a bonny ribbon for thy hair out o' t' cousin's own shop.'
Some thought of another ribbon which had once tied up her hair, and afterwards been cut in twain, must have crossed Sylvia's mind, for she answered, as if she shrank from her father's words, -
'I cannot go, I'm noane wantin' a ribbon; I'm much obliged, father, a' t' same.'
Her mother read her heart clearly, and suffered with her, but never spoke a word of sympathy. But she went on rather more quickly than she would otherwise have done to question her husband as to all he knew about this great rise of Philip's. Once or twice Sylvia joined in with languid curiosity; but presently she became tired and went to bed. For a few moments after she left, her parents sate silent. Then Daniel, in a tone as if he were justifying his daughter, and comforting himself as well as his wife, observed that it was almost on for nine; the evenings were light so long now. Bell said nothing in reply, but gathered up her wool, and began to arrange the things for night.
By-and-by Daniel broke the silence by saying, -
'A thowt at one time as Philip had a fancy for our Sylvie.'
For a minute or two Bell did not speak. Then, with deeper insight into her daughter's heart than her husband, in spite of his greater knowledge of the events that had happened to affect it, she said, -
'If thou's thinking on a match between 'em, it 'll be a long time afore th' poor sad wench is fit t' think on another man as sweetheart.'
'A said nought about sweethearts,' replied he, as if his wife had reproached him in some way. 'Woman's allays so full o' sweethearts and matteremony. A only said as a'd thowt once as Philip had a fancy for our lass, and a think so still; and he'll be worth his two hunder a year afore long. But a niver said nought about sweethearts.'
There were many domestic arrangements to be made in connection with the new commercial ones which affected Hepburn and Coulson.
The Fosters, with something of the busybodiness which is apt to mingle itself with kindly patronage, had planned in their own minds that the Rose household should be removed altogether to the house belonging to the shop; and that Alice, with the assistance of the capable servant, who, at present, managed all John's domestic affairs, should continue as mistress of the house, with Philip and Coulson for her lodgers.
But arrangements without her consent did not suit Alice at any time, and she had very good reasons for declining to accede to this. She was not going to be uprooted at her time of life, she said, nor would she consent to enter upon a future which might be so uncertain. Why, Hepburn and Coulson were both young men, she said, and they were as likely to marry as not; and then the bride would be sure to wish to live in the good old-fashioned house at the back of the shop.
It was in vain she was told by every one concerned, that, in case of such an event, the first married partner should take a house of his own, leaving her in undisputed possession. She replied, with apparent truth, that both might wish to marry, and surely the wife of one ought to take possession of the house belonging to the business; that she was not going to trust herself to the fancies of young men, who were always, the best of them, going and doing the very thing that was most foolish in the way of marriage; of which state, in fact, she spoke with something of acrimonious contempt and dislike, as if young people always got mismatched, yet had not the sense to let older and wiser people choose for them.
'Thou'll not have been understanding why Alice Rose spoke as she did this morning,' said Jeremiah Foster to Philip, on the afternoon succeeding the final discussion of this plan. 'She was a-thinking of her youth, I reckon, when she was a well-favoured young woman, and our John was full of the thought of marrying her. As he could not have her, he has lived a bachelor all his days. But if I am not a vast mistaken, all that he has will go to her and to Hester, for all that Hester is the child of another man. Thee and Coulson should have a try for Hester, Philip. I have told Coulson this day of Hester's chances. I told him first because he is my wife's nephew; but I tell thee now, Philip. It would be a good thing for the shop if one of ye was married.'
Philip reddened. Often as the idea of marriage had come into his mind, this was the first time it had been gravely suggested to him by another. But he replied quietly enough.
'I don't think Hester Rose has any thought of matrimony.'
'To be sure not; it is for thee, or for William Coulson, to make her think. She, may-be, remembers enough of her mother's life with her father to make her slow to think on such things. But it's in her to think on matrimony; it's in all of us.'
'Alice's husband was dead before I knew her,' said Philip, rather evading the main subject.
'It was a mercy when he were taken. A mercy to them who were left, I mean. Alice was a bonny young woman, with a smile for everybody, when he wed her - a smile for every one except our John, who never could do enough to try and win one from her. But, no! she would have none of him, but set her heart on Jack Rose, a sailor in a whale-ship. And so they were married at last, though all her own folks were against it. And he was a profligate sinner, and went after other women, and drank, and beat her. She turned as stiff and as grey as thou seest her now within a year of Hester's birth. I believe they'd have perished for want and cold many a time if it had not been for John. If she ever guessed where the money came from, it must have hurt her pride above a bit, for she was always a proud woman. But mother's love is stronger than pride.'
Philip fell to thinking; a generation ago something of the same kind had been going on as that which he was now living through, quick with hopes and fears. A girl beloved by two - nay, those two so identical in occupation as he and Kinraid were - Rose identical even in character with what he knew of the specksioneer; a girl choosing the wrong lover, and suffering and soured all her life in consequence of her youth's mistake; was that to be Sylvia's lot? - or, rather, was she not saved from it by the event of the impressment, and by the course of silence he himself had resolved upon? Then he went on to wonder if the lives of one generation were but a repetition of the lives of those who had gone before, with no variation but from the internal cause that some had greater capacity for suffering than others. Would those very circumstances which made the interest of his life now, return, in due cycle, when he was dead and Sylvia was forgotten?
Perplexed thoughts of this and a similar kind kept returning into Philip's mind whenever he had leisure to give himself up to consideration of anything but the immediate throng of business. And every time he dwelt on this complication and succession of similar events, he emerged from his reverie more and more satisfied with the course he had taken in withholding from Sylvia all knowledge of her lover's fate.
It was settled at length that Philip was to remove to the house belonging to the shop, Coulson remaining with Alice and her daughter. But in the course of the summer the latter told his partner that he had offered marriage to Hester on the previous day, and been refused. It was an awkward affair altogether, as he lived in their house, and was in daily companionship with Hester, who, however, seemed to preserve her gentle calmness, with only a tinge more of reserve in her manner to Coulson.
'I wish yo' could find out what she has again' me, Philip,' said Coulson, about a fortnight after he had made the proposal. The poor young man thought that Hester's composure of manner towards him since the event argued that he was not distasteful to her; and as he was now on very happy terms with Philip, he came constantly to him, as if the latter could interpret the meaning of all the little occurrences between him and his beloved. 'I'm o' right age, not two months betwixt us; and there's few in Monkshaven as would think on her wi' better prospects than me; and she knows my folks; we're kind o' cousins, in fact; and I'd be like a son to her mother; and there's noane i' Monkshaven as can speak again' my character. There's nought between yo' and her, is there, Philip?'
'I ha' telled thee many a time that she and me is like brother and sister. She's no more thought on me nor I have for her. So be content wi't, for I'se not tell thee again.'
'Don't be vexed, Philip; if thou knew what it was to be in love, thou'd be always fancying things, just as I am.'
'I might be,' said Philip; 'but I dunnut think I should be always talking about my fancies.'
'I wunnot talk any more after this once, if thou'll just find out fra' thysel', as it were, what it is she has again' me. I'd go to chapel for iver with her, if that's what she wants. Just ask her, Philip.'
'It's an awkward thing for me to be melling wi',' said Hepburn, reluctantly.
'But thou said thee and she were like brother and sister; and a brother would ask a sister, and niver think twice about it.'
'Well, well,' replied Philip, 'I'll see what I can do; but, lad, I dunnot think she'll have thee. She doesn't fancy thee, and fancy is three parts o' love, if reason is t' other fourth.'
But somehow Philip could not begin on the subject with Hester. He did not know why, except that, as he said, 'it was so awkward.' But he really liked Coulson so much as to be anxious to do what the latter wished, although he was almost convinced that it would be of no use. So he watched his opportunity, and found Alice alone and at leisure one Sunday evening.
She was sitting by the window, reading her Bible, when he went in. She gave him a curt welcome, hearty enough for her, for she was always chary in her expressions of pleasure or satisfaction. But she took off her horn spectacles and placed them in the book to keep her place; and then turning more fully round on her chair, so as to face him, she said, -
'Well, lad! and how does it go on? Though it's not a day for t' ask about worldly things. But I niver see thee now but on Sabbath day, and rarely then. Still we munnot speak o' such things on t' Lord's day. So thee mun just say how t' shop is doing, and then we'll leave such vain talk.'
'T' shop is doing main an' well, thank ye, mother. But Coulson could tell yo' o' that any day.'
'I'd a deal rayther hear fra' thee, Philip. Coulson doesn't know how t' manage his own business, let alone half the business as it took John and Jeremiah's heads - ay, and tasked 'em, too - to manage. I've no patience with Coulson.'
'Why? he's a decent young fellow as ever there is in Monkshaven.'
'He may be. He's noane cut his wisdom-teeth yet. But, for that matter, there's other folks as far fra' sense as he is.'
'Ay, and farther. Coulson mayn't be so bright at all times as he might be, but he's a steady-goer, and I'd back him again' any chap o' his age i' Monkshaven.'
'I know who I'd sooner back in many a thing, Philip!' She said it with so much meaning that he could not fail to understand that he himself was meant, and he replied, ingenuously enough, -
'If yo' mean me, mother, I'll noane deny that in a thing or two I may be more knowledgeable than Coulson. I've had a deal o' time on my hands i' my youth, and I'd good schooling as long as father lived.'
'Lad! it's not schooling, nor knowledge, nor book-learning as carries a man through t' world. It's mother-wit. And it's noane schooling, nor knowledge, nor book-learning as takes a young woman. It's summat as cannot be put into words.'
'That's just what I told Coulson!' said Philip, quickly. 'He were sore put about because Hester had gi'en him the bucket, and came to me about it.'
'And what did thou say?' asked Alice, her deep eyes gleaming at him as if to read his face as well as his words. Philip, thinking he could now do what Coulson had begged of him in the neatest manner, went on, -
'I told him I'd help him all as I could --'
'Thou did, did thou? Well, well, there's nought sa queer as folks, that a will say,' muttered Alice, between her teeth.
' - but that fancy had three parts to do wi' love,' continued Philip, 'and it would be hard, may-be, to get a reason for her not fancying him. Yet I wish she'd think twice about it; he so set upon having her, I think he'll do himself a mischief wi' fretting, if it goes on as it is.'
'It'll noane go on as it is,' said Alice, with gloomy oracularness.
'How not?' asked Philip. Then, receiving no answer, he went on, 'He loves her true, and he's within a month or two on her age, and his character will bear handling on a' sides; and his share on t' shop will be worth hundreds a year afore long.'
Another pause. Alice was trying to bring down her pride to say something, which she could not with all her efforts.
'Maybe yo'll speak a word for him, mother,' said Philip, annoyed at her silence.
'I'll do no such thing. Marriages are best made wi'out melling. How do I know but what she likes some one better?'
'Our Hester's not th' lass to think on a young man unless he's been a-wooing on her. And yo' know, mother, as well as I do - and Coulson does too - she's niver given any one a chance to woo her; living half her time here, and t' other half in t' shop, and niver speaking to no one by t' way.'
'I wish thou wouldn't come here troubling me on a Sabbath day wi' thy vanity and thy worldly talk. I'd liefer by far be i' that world wheere there's neither marrying nor giving in marriage, for it's all a moithering mess here.' She turned to the closed Bible lying on the dresser, and opened it with a bang. While she was adjusting her spectacles on her nose, with hands trembling with passion, she heard Philip say, -
'I ask yo'r pardon, I'm sure. I couldn't well come any other day.'
'It's a' t' same - I care not. But thou might as well tell truth. I'll be bound thou's been at Haytersbank Farm some day this week?'
Philip reddened; in fact, he had forgotten how he had got to consider his frequent visits to the farm as a regular piece of occupation. He kept silence.
Alice looked at him with a sharp intelligence that read his silence through.
'I thought so. Next time thou thinks to thyself, 'I'm more knowledgeable than Coulson,' just remember Alice Rose's words, and they are these: - If Coulson's too thick-sighted to see through a board, thou'rt too blind to see through a window. As for comin' and speakin' up for Coulson, why he'll be married to some one else afore t' year's out, for all he thinks he's so set upon Hester now. Go thy ways, and leave me to my Scripture, and come no more on Sabbath days wi' thy vain babbling.'
So Philip returned from his mission rather crestfallen, but quite as far as ever from 'seeing through a glass window.'
Before the year was out, Alice's prophecy was fulfilled. Coulson, who found the position of a rejected lover in the same house with the girl who had refused him, too uncomfortable to be endured, as soon as he was convinced that his object was decidedly out of his reach, turned his attention to some one else. He did not love his new sweetheart as he had done Hester: there was more of reason and less of fancy in his attachment. But it ended successfully; and before the first snow fell, Philip was best man at his partner's wedding.