---- DEEPENING SHADOWS|
---- BRIEF REJOICING
---- COMING TROUBLES
---- A DREARY VIGIL
---- GLOOMY DAYS
---- THE ORDEAL
---- WEDDING RAIMENT
---- HAPPY DAYS
---- EVIL OMENS
---- RESCUED FROM THE WAVES
But before Coulson was married, many small events happened - small events to all but Philip. To him they were as the sun and moon. The days when he went up to Haytersbank and Sylvia spoke to him, the days when he went up and she had apparently no heart to speak to any one, but left the room as soon as he came, or never entered it at all, although she must have known that he was there - these were his alternations from happiness to sorrow.
From her parents he always had a welcome. Oppressed by their daughter's depression of spirits, they hailed the coming of any visitor as a change for her as well as for themselves. The former intimacy with the Corneys was in abeyance for all parties, owing to Bessy Corney's out-spoken grief for the loss of her cousin, as if she had had reason to look upon him as her lover, whereas Sylvia's parents felt this as a slur upon their daughter's cause of grief. But although at this time the members of the two families ceased to seek after each other's society, nothing was said. The thread of friendship might be joined afresh at any time, only just now it was broken; and Philip was glad of it. Before going to Haytersbank he sought each time for some little present with which to make his coming welcome. And now he wished even more than ever that Sylvia had cared for learning; if she had he could have taken her many a pretty ballad, or story-book, such as were then in vogue. He did try her with the translation of the Sorrows of Werther, so popular at the time that it had a place in all pedlars' baskets, with Law's Serious Call, the Pilgrim's Progress, Klopstock's Messiah, and Paradise Lost. But she could not read it for herself; and after turning the leaves languidly over, and smiling a little at the picture of Charlotte cutting bread and butter in a left-handed manner, she put it aside on the shelf by the Complete Farrier; and there Philip saw it, upside down and untouched, the next time he came to the farm.
Many a time during that summer did he turn to the few verses in Genesis in which Jacob's twice seven years' service for Rachel is related, and try and take fresh heart from the reward which came to the patriarch's constancy at last. After trying books, nosegays, small presents of pretty articles of dress, such as suited the notions of those days, and finding them all received with the same languid gratitude, he set himself to endeavour to please her in some other way. It was time that he should change his tactics; for the girl was becoming weary of the necessity for thanking him, every time he came, for some little favour or other. She wished he would let her alone and not watch her continually with such sad eyes. Her father and mother hailed her first signs of impatient petulance towards him as a return to the old state of things before Kinraid had come to disturb the tenour of their lives; for even Daniel had turned against the specksioneer, irritated by the Corneys' loud moans over the loss of the man to whom their daughter said that she was attached. If Daniel wished for him to be alive again, it was mainly that the Corneys might be convinced that his last visit to the neighbourhood of Monkshaven was for the sake of the pale and silent Sylvia, and not for that of Bessy, who complained of Kinraid's untimely death rather as if by it she had been cheated of a husband than for any overwhelming personal love towards the deceased.
'If he were after her he were a big black scoundrel, that's what he were; and a wish he were alive again to be hung. But a dunnot believe it; them Corney lasses were allays a-talkin' an' a-thinking on sweethearts, and niver a man crossed t' threshold but they tried him on as a husband. An' their mother were no better: Kinraid has spoken civil to Bessy as became a lad to a lass, and she makes an ado over him as if they'd been to church together not a week sin'.'
'I dunnot uphold t' Corneys; but Molly Corney - as is Molly Brunton now - used to speak on this dead man to our Sylvie as if he were her sweetheart in old days. Now there's no smoke without fire, and I'm thinking it's likely enough he were one of them fellows as is always after some lass or another, and, as often as not, two or three at a time. Now look at Philip, what a different one he is! He's niver thought on a woman but our Sylvie, I'll be bound. I wish he wern't so old-fashioned and faint-hearted.'
'Ay! and t' shop's doin' a vast o' business, I've heard say. He's a deal better company, too, 'n or he used to be. He'd a way o' preaching wi' him as a couldn't abide; but now he tak's his glass, an' holds his tongue, leavin' room for wiser men to say their say.'
Such was a conjugal colloquy about this time. Philip was gaining ground with Daniel, and that was something towards winning Sylvia's heart; for she was unaware of her father's change of feeling towards Kinraid, and took all his tenderness towards herself as if they were marks of his regard for her lost lover and his sympathy in her loss, instead of which he was rather feeling as if it might be a good thing after all that the fickle-hearted sailor was dead and drowned. In fact, Daniel was very like a child in all the parts of his character. He was strongly affected by whatever was present, and apt to forget the absent. He acted on impulse, and too often had reason to be sorry for it; but he hated his sorrow too much to let it teach him wisdom for the future. With all his many faults, however, he had something in him which made him be dearly loved, both by the daughter whom he indulged, and the wife who was in fact superior to him, but whom he imagined that he ruled with a wise and absolute sway.
Love to Sylvia gave Philip tact. He seemed to find out that to please the women of the household he must pay all possible attention to the man; and though he cared little in comparison for Daniel, yet this autumn he was continually thinking of how he could please him. When he had said or done anything to gratify or amuse her father, Sylvia smiled and was kind. Whatever he did was right with his aunt; but even she was unusually glad when her husband was pleased. Still his progress was slow towards his object; and often he sighed himself to sleep with the words, 'seven years, and maybe seven years more'. Then in his dreams he saw Kinraid again, sometimes struggling, sometimes sailing towards land, the only one on board a swift advancing ship, alone on deck, stern and avenging; till Philip awoke in remorseful terror.
Such and similar dreams returned with the greater frequency when, in the November of that year, the coast between Hartlepool and Monkshaven was overshadowed by the presence of guard-ships, driven south from their station at North Shields by the resolution which the sailors of that port had entered into to resist the press-gang, and the energy with which they had begun to carry out their determination. For on a certain Tuesday evening yet remembered by old inhabitants of North Shields, the sailors in the merchant service met together and overpowered the press-gang, dismissing them from the town with the highest contempt, and with their jackets reversed. A numerous mob went with them to Chirton Bar; gave them three cheers at parting, but vowed to tear them limb from limb should they seek to re-enter North Shields. But a few days afterwards some fresh cause of irritation arose, and five hundred sailors, armed with such swords and pistols as they could collect, paraded through the town in the most riotous manner, and at last attempted to seize the tender Eleanor, on some pretext of the ill-treatment of the impressed men aboard. This endeavour failed, however, owing to the energetic conduct of the officers in command. Next day this body of sailors set off for Newcastle; but learning, before they reached the town, that there was a strong military and civil force prepared to receive them there, they dispersed for the time; but not before the good citizens had received a great fright, the drums of the North Yorkshire militia beating to arms, and the terrified people rushing out into the streets to learn the reason of the alarm, and some of them seeing the militia, under the command of the Earl of Fauconberg, marching from the guard-house adjoining New Gate to the house of rendezvous for impressed seamen in the Broad Chase.
But a few weeks after, the impressment service took their revenge for the insults they had been subjected to in North Shields. In the dead of night a cordon was formed round that town by a regiment stationed at Tynemouth barracks; the press-gangs belonging to armed vessels lying off Shields harbour were let loose; no one within the circle could escape, and upwards of two hundred and fifty men, sailors, mechanics, labourers of every description, were forced on board the armed ships. With that prize they set sail, and wisely left the place, where deep passionate vengeance was sworn against them. Not all the dread of an invasion by the French could reconcile the people of these coasts to the necessity of impressment. Fear and confusion prevailed after this to within many miles of the sea-shore. A Yorkshire gentleman of rank said that his labourers dispersed like a covey of birds, because a press-gang was reported to have established itself so far inland as Tadcaster; and they only returned to work on the assurance from the steward of his master's protection, but even then begged leave to sleep on straw in the stables or outhouses belonging to their landlord, not daring to sleep at their own homes. No fish was caught, for the fishermen dared not venture out to sea; the markets were deserted, as the press-gangs might come down on any gathering of men; prices were raised, and many were impoverished; many others ruined. For in the great struggle in which England was then involved, the navy was esteemed her safeguard; and men must be had at any price of money, or suffering, or of injustice. Landsmen were kidnapped and taken to London; there, in too many instances, to be discharged without redress and penniless, because they were discovered to be useless for the purpose for which they had been taken.
Autumn brought back the whaling-ships. But the period of their return was full of gloomy anxiety, instead of its being the annual time of rejoicing and feasting; of gladdened households, where brave steady husbands or sons returned; of unlimited and reckless expenditure, and boisterous joviality among those who thought that they had earned unbounded licence on shore by their six months of compelled abstinence. In other years this had been the time for new and handsome winter clothing; for cheerful if humble hospitality; for the shopkeepers to display their gayest and best; for the public-houses to be crowded; for the streets to be full of blue jackets, rolling along with merry words and open hearts. In other years the boiling-houses had been full of active workers, the staithes crowded with barrels, the ship-carpenters' yards thronged with seamen and captains; now a few men, tempted by high wages, went stealthily by back lanes to their work, clustering together, with sinister looks, glancing round corners, and fearful of every approaching footstep, as if they were going on some unlawful business, instead of true honest work. Most of them kept their whaling-knives about them ready for bloody defence if they were attacked. The shops were almost deserted; there was no unnecessary expenditure by the men; they dared not venture out to buy lavish presents for the wife or sweetheart or little children. The public-houses kept scouts on the look-out; while fierce men drank and swore deep oaths of vengeance in the bar - men who did not maunder in their cups, nor grow foolishly merry, but in whom liquor called forth all the desperate, bad passions of human nature.
Indeed, all along the coast of Yorkshire, it seemed as if a blight hung over the land and the people. Men dodged about their daily business with hatred and suspicion in their eyes, and many a curse went over the sea to the three fatal ships lying motionless at anchor three miles off Monkshaven. When first Philip had heard in his shop that these three men-of-war might be seen lying fell and still on the gray horizon, his heart sank, and he scarcely dared to ask their names. For if one should be the Alcestis; if Kinraid should send word to Sylvia; if he should say he was living, and loving, and faithful; if it should come to pass that the fact of the undelivered message sent by her lover through Philip should reach Sylvia's ears: what would be the position of the latter, not merely in her love - that, of course, would be hopeless - but in her esteem? All sophistry vanished; the fear of detection awakened Philip to a sense of guilt; and, besides, he found out, that, in spite of all idle talk and careless slander, he could not help believing that Kinraid was in terrible earnest when he uttered those passionate words, and entreated that they might be borne to Sylvia. Some instinct told Philip that if the specksioneer had only flirted with too many, yet that for Sylvia Robson his love was true and vehement. Then Philip tried to convince himself that, from all that was said of his previous character, Kinraid was not capable of an enduring constant attachment; and with such poor opiate to his conscience as he could obtain from this notion Philip was obliged to remain content, until, a day or two after the first intelligence of the presence of those three ships, he learned, with some trouble and pains, that their names were the Megoera, the Bellerophon, and the Hanover.
Then he began to perceive how unlikely it was that the Alcestis should have been lingering on this shore all these many months. She was, doubtless, gone far away by this time; she had, probably, joined the fleet on the war station. Who could tell what had become of her and her crew? she might have been in battle before now, and if so - -
So his previous fancies shrank to nothing, rebuked for their improbability, and with them vanished his self-reproach. Yet there were times when the popular attention seemed totally absorbed by the dread of the press-gang; when no other subject was talked about - hardly, in fact, thought about. At such flows of panic, Philip had his own private fears lest a flash of light should come upon Sylvia, and she should suddenly see that Kinraid's absence might be accounted for in another way besides death. But when he reasoned, this seemed unlikely. No man-of-war had been seen off the coast, or, if seen, had never been spoken about, at the time of Kinraid's disappearance. If he had vanished this winter time, every one would have been convinced that the press-gang had seized upon him. Philip had never heard any one breathe the dreaded name of the Alcestis. Besides, he went on to think, at the farm they are out of hearing of this one great weary subject of talk. But it was not so, as he became convinced one evening. His aunt caught him a little aside while Sylvia was in the dairy, and her husband talking in the shippen with Kester.
'For good's sake, Philip, dunnot thee bring us talk about t' press-gang. It's a thing as has got hold on my measter, till thou'd think him possessed. He's speaking perpetual on it i' such a way, that thou'd think he were itching to kill 'em a' afore he tasted bread again. He really trembles wi' rage and passion; an' a' night it's just as bad. He starts up i' his sleep, swearing and cursing at 'em, till I'm sometimes afeard he'll mak' an end o' me by mistake. And what mun he do last night but open out on Charley Kinraid, and tell Sylvie he thought m'appen t' gang had got hold on him. It might make her cry a' her saut tears o'er again.'
Philip spoke, by no wish of his own, but as if compelled to speak.
'An' who knows but what it's true?'
The instant these words had come out of his lips he could have bitten his tongue off. And yet afterwards it was a sort of balm to his conscience that he had so spoken.
'What nonsense, Philip!' said his aunt; 'why, these fearsome ships were far out o' sight when he went away, good go wi' him, and Sylvie just getting o'er her trouble so nicely, and even my master went on for to say if they'd getten hold on him, he were not a chap to stay wi' 'em; he'd gi'en proofs on his hatred to 'em, time on. He either ha' made off - an' then sure enough we should ha' heerd on him somehow - them Corneys is full on him still and they've a deal to wi' his folk beyond Newcassel - or, as my master says, he were just t' chap to hang or drown hissel, sooner nor do aught against his will.'
'What did Sylvie say?' asked Philip, in a hoarse low voice.
'Say? why, a' she could say was to burst out crying, and after a bit, she just repeated her feyther's words, and said anyhow he was dead, for he'd niver live to go to sea wi' a press-gang. She knowed him too well for that. Thou sees she thinks a deal on him for a spirited chap, as can do what he will. I belie' me she first began to think on him time o' t' fight aboard th' Good Fortune, when Darley were killed, and he would seem tame-like to her if he couldn't conquer press-gangs, and men-o'-war. She's sooner think on him drowned, as she's ne'er to see him again.'
'It's best so,' said Philip, and then, to calm his unusually excited aunt, he promised to avoid the subject of the press-gang as much as possible.
But it was a promise very difficult of performance, for Daniel Robson was, as his wife said, like one possessed. He could hardly think of anything else, though he himself was occasionally weary of the same constantly recurring idea, and would fain have banished it from his mind. He was too old a man to be likely to be taken by them; he had no son to become their victim; but the terror of them, which he had braved and defied in his youth, seemed to come back and take possession of him in his age; and with the terror came impatient hatred. Since his wife's illness the previous winter he had been a more sober man until now. He was never exactly drunk, for he had a strong, well-seasoned head; but the craving to hear the last news of the actions of the press-gang drew him into Monkshaven nearly every day at this dead agricultural season of the year; and a public-house is generally the focus from which gossip radiates; and probably the amount of drink thus consumed weakened Robson's power over his mind, and caused the concentration of thought on one subject. This may be a physiological explanation of what afterwards was spoken of as a supernatural kind of possession, leading him to his doom.
The public-house that had been chosen by the leaders of the press-gang in Monkshaven at this time, for their rendezvous (or 'Randyvowse', as it was generally pronounced), was an inn of poor repute, with a yard at the back which opened on to the staithe or quay nearest to the open sea. A strong high stone wall bounded this grass-grown mouldy yard on two sides; the house, and some unused out-buildings, formed the other two. The choice of the place was good enough, both as to situation, which was sufficiently isolated, and yet near to the widening river; and as to the character of the landlord, John Hobbs was a failing man, one who seemed as if doomed to be unfortunate in all his undertakings, and the consequence of all this was that he was envious of the more prosperous, and willing to do anything that might bring him in a little present success in life. His household consisted of his wife, her niece, who acted as servant, and an out-of-doors man, a brother of Ned Simpson, the well-doing butcher, who at one time had had a fancy for Sylvia. But the one brother was prosperous, the other had gone on sinking in life, like him who was now his master. Neither Hobbs nor his man Simpson were absolutely bad men; if things had gone well with them they might each have been as scrupulous and conscientious as their neighbours, and even now, supposing the gain in money to be equal, they would sooner have done good than evil; but a very small sum was enough to turn the balance. And in a greater degree than in most cases was the famous maxim of Rochefoucault true with them; for in the misfortunes of their friends they seemed to see some justification of their own. It was blind fate dealing out events, not that the events themselves were the inevitable consequences of folly or misconduct. To such men as these the large sum offered by the lieutenant of the press-gang for the accommodation of the Mariners' Arms was simply and immediately irresistible. The best room in the dilapidated house was put at the service of the commanding officer of the impress service, and all other arrangements made at his desire, irrespective of all the former unprofitable sources of custom and of business. If the relatives both of Hobbs and of Simpson had not been so well known and so prosperous in the town, they themselves would have received more marks of popular ill opinion than they did during the winter the events of which are now being recorded. As it was, people spoke to them when they appeared at kirk or at market, but held no conversation with them; no, not although they each appeared better dressed than they had either of them done for years past, and although their whole manner showed a change, inasmuch as they had been formerly snarling and misanthropic, and were now civil almost to deprecation.
Every one who was capable of understanding the state of feeling in Monkshaven at this time must have been aware that at any moment an explosion might take place; and probably there were those who had judgment enough to be surprised that it did not take place sooner than it did. For until February there were only occasional cries and growls of rage, as the press-gang made their captures first here, then there; often, apparently, tranquil for days, then heard of at some distance along the coast, then carrying off a seaman from the very heart of the town. They seemed afraid of provoking any general hostility, such as that which had driven them from Shields, and would have conciliated the inhabitants if they could; the officers on the service and on board the three men-of-war coming often into the town, spending largely, talking to all with cheery friendliness, and making themselves very popular in such society as they could obtain access to at the houses of the neighbouring magistrates or at the rectory. But this, however agreeable, did not forward the object the impress service had in view; and, accordingly, a more decided step was taken at a time when, although there was no apparent evidence as to the fact, the town was full of the Greenland mariners coming quietly in to renew their yearly engagements, which, when done, would legally entitle them to protection from impressment. One night - it was on a Saturday, February 23rd, when there was a bitter black frost, with a north-east wind sweeping through the streets, and men and women were close shut in their houses - all were startled in their household content and warmth by the sound of the fire-bell busily swinging, and pealing out for help. The fire-bell was kept in the market-house where High Street and Bridge Street met: every one knew what it meant. Some dwelling, or maybe a boiling-house was on fire, and neighbourly assistance was summoned with all speed, in a town where no water was laid on, nor fire-engines kept in readiness. Men snatched up their hats, and rushed out, wives following, some with the readiest wraps they could lay hands on, with which to clothe the over-hasty husbands, others from that mixture of dread and curiosity which draws people to the scene of any disaster. Those of the market people who were making the best of their way homewards, having waited in the town till the early darkness concealed their path, turned back at the sound of the ever-clanging fire-bell, ringing out faster and faster as if the danger became every instant more pressing.
As men ran against or alongside of each other, their breathless question was ever, 'Where is it?' and no one could tell; so they pressed onwards into the market-place, sure of obtaining the information desired there, where the fire-bell kept calling out with its furious metal tongue.
The dull oil-lamps in the adjoining streets only made darkness visible in the thronged market-place, where the buzz of many men's unanswered questions was rising louder and louder. A strange feeling of dread crept over those nearest to the closed market-house. Above them in the air the bell was still clanging; but before them was a door fast shut and locked; no one to speak and tell them why they were summoned - where they ought to be. They were at the heart of the mystery, and it was a silent blank! Their unformed dread took shape at the cry from the outside of the crowd, from where men were still coming down the eastern side of Bridge Street. 'The gang! the gang!' shrieked out some one. 'The gang are upon us! Help! help!' Then the fire-bell had been a decoy; a sort of seething the kid in its mother's milk, leading men into a snare through their kindliest feelings. Some dull sense of this added to utter dismay, and made them struggle and strain to get to all the outlets save that in which a fight was now going on; the swish of heavy whips, the thud of bludgeons, the groans, the growls of wounded or infuriated men, coming with terrible distinctness through the darkness to the quickened ear of fear.
A breathless group rushed up the blackness of a narrow entry to stand still awhile, and recover strength for fresh running. For a time nothing but heavy pants and gasps were heard amongst them. No one knew his neighbour, and their good feeling, so lately abused and preyed upon, made them full of suspicion. The first who spoke was recognized by his voice.
'Is it thee, Daniel Robson?' asked his neighbour, in a low tone.
'Ay! Who else should it be?'
'If a am to be any one else, I'd like to be a chap of nobbut eight stun. A'm welly done for!'
'It were as bloody a shame as iver I heerd on. Who's to go t' t' next fire, a'd like to know!'
'A tell yo' what, lads,' said Daniel, recovering his breath, but speaking in gasps. 'We were a pack o' cowards to let 'em carry off yon chaps as easy as they did, a'm reckoning!'
'A think so, indeed,' said another voice.
Daniel went on -
'We was two hunder, if we was a man; an' t' gang has niver numbered above twelve.'
'But they was armed. A seen t' glitter on their cutlasses,' spoke out a fresh voice.
'What then!' replied he who had latest come, and who stood at the mouth of the entry. 'A had my whalin' knife wi' me i' my pea-jacket as my missus threw at me, and a'd ha' ripped 'em up as soon as winkin', if a could ha' thought what was best to do wi' that d - - d bell makin' such a din reet above us. A man can but die onest, and we was ready to go int' t' fire for t' save folks' lives, and yet we'd none on us t' wit to see as we might ha' saved yon poor chaps as screeched out for help.'
'They'll ha' getten 'em to t' Randyvowse by now,' said some one.
'They cannot tak' 'em aboard till morning; t' tide won't serve,' said the last speaker but one.
Daniel Robson spoke out the thought that was surging up into the brain of every one there.
'There's a chance for us a'. How many be we?' By dint of touching each other the numbers were counted. Seven. 'Seven. But if us seven turns out and rouses t' town, there'll be many a score ready to gang t' Mariners' Arms, and it'll be easy work reskyin' them chaps as is pressed. Us seven, each man jack on us, go and seek up his friends, and get him as well as he can to t' church steps; then, mebbe, there'll be some theere as'll not be so soft as we was, lettin' them poor chaps be carried off from under our noses, just becase our ears was busy listenin' to yon confounded bell, whose clip-clappin' tongue a'll tear out afore this week is out.'
Before Daniel had finished speaking, those nearest to the entrance muttered their assent to his project, and had stolen off, keeping to the darkest side of the streets and lanes, which they threaded in different directions; most of them going straight as sleuth-hounds to the haunts of the wildest and most desperate portion of the seafaring population of Monkshaven. For, in the breasts of many, revenge for the misery and alarm of the past winter took a deeper and more ferocious form than Daniel had thought of when he made his proposal of a rescue. To him it was an adventure like many he had been engaged in in his younger days; indeed, the liquor he had drunk had given him a fictitious youth for the time; and it was more in the light of a rough frolic of which he was to be the leader, that he limped along ( always lame from old attacks of rheumatism), chuckling to himself at the apparent stillness of the town, which gave no warning to the press-gang at the Rendezvous of anything in the wind. Daniel, too, had his friends to summon; old hands like himself, but 'deep uns', also, like himself, as he imagined.
It was nine o'clock when all who were summoned met at the church steps; and by nine o'clock, Monkshaven, in those days, was more quiet and asleep than many a town at present is at midnight. The church and churchyard above them were flooded with silver light, for the moon was high in the heavens: the irregular steps were here and there in pure white clearness, here and there in blackest shadow. But more than half way up to the top, men clustered like bees; all pressing so as to be near enough to question those who stood nearest to the planning of the attack. Here and there, a woman, with wild gestures and shrill voice, that no entreaty would hush down to the whispered pitch of the men, pushed her way through the crowd - this one imploring immediate action, that adjuring those around her to smite and spare not those who had carried off her 'man', - the father, the breadwinner. Low down in the darkened silent town were many whose hearts went with the angry and excited crowd, and who would bless them and caress them for that night's deeds. Daniel soon found himself a laggard in planning, compared to some of those around him. But when, with the rushing sound of many steps and but few words, they had arrived at the blank, dark, shut-up Mariners' Arms, they paused in surprise at the uninhabited look of the whole house: it was Daniel once more who took the lead.
'Speak 'em fair,' said he; 'try good words first. Hobbs 'll mebbe let 'em out quiet, if we can catch a word wi' him. A say, Hobbs,' said he, raising his voice, 'is a' shut up for t' neet; for a'd be glad of a glass. A'm Dannel Robson, thou knows.'
Not one word in reply, any more than from the tomb; but his speech had been heard nevertheless. The crowd behind him began to jeer and to threaten; there was no longer any keeping down their voices, their rage, their terrible oaths. If doors and windows had not of late been strengthened with bars of iron in anticipation of some such occasion, they would have been broken in with the onset of the fierce and now yelling crowd who rushed against them with the force of a battering-ram, to recoil in baffled rage from the vain assault. No sign, no sound from within, in that breathless pause.
'Come away round here! a've found a way to t' back o' behint, where belike it's not so well fenced,' said Daniel, who had made way for younger and more powerful men to conduct the assault, and had employed his time meanwhile in examining the back premises. The men rushed after him, almost knocking him down, as he made his way into the lane into which the doors of the outbuildings belonging to the inn opened. Daniel had already broken the fastening of that which opened into a damp, mouldy-smelling shippen, in one corner of which a poor lean cow shifted herself on her legs, in an uneasy, restless manner, as her sleeping-place was invaded by as many men as could cram themselves into the dark hold. Daniel, at the end farthest from the door, was almost smothered before he could break down the rotten wooden shutter, that, when opened, displayed the weedy yard of the old inn, the full clear light defining the outline of each blade of grass by the delicate black shadow behind.
This hole, used to give air and light to what had once been a stable, in the days when horse travellers were in the habit of coming to the Mariners' Arms, was large enough to admit the passage of a man; and Daniel, in virtue of its discovery, was the first to get through. But he was larger and heavier than he had been; his lameness made him less agile, and the impatient crowd behind him gave him a helping push that sent him down on the round stones with which the yard was paved, and for the time disabled him so much that he could only just crawl out of the way of leaping feet and heavy nailed boots, which came through the opening till the yard was filled with men, who now set up a fierce, derisive shout, which, to their delight, was answered from within. No more silence, no more dead opposition: a living struggle, a glowing, raging fight; and Daniel thought he should be obliged to sit there still, leaning against the wall, inactive, while the strife and the action were going on in which he had once been foremost.
He saw the stones torn up; he saw them used with good effect on the unguarded back-door; he cried out in useless warning as he saw the upper windows open, and aim taken among the crowd; but just then the door gave way, and there was an involuntary forward motion in the throng, so that no one was so disabled by the shots as to prevent his forcing his way in with the rest. And now the sounds came veiled by the walls as of some raging ravening beast growling over his prey; the noise came and went - once utterly ceased; and Daniel raised himself with difficulty to ascertain the cause, when again the roar came clear and fresh, and men poured into the yard again, shouting and rejoicing over the rescued victims of the press-gang. Daniel hobbled up, and shouted, and rejoiced, and shook hands with the rest, hardly caring to understand that the lieutenant and his gang had quitted the house by a front window, and that all had poured out in search of them; the greater part, however, returning to liberate the prisoners, and then glut their vengeance on the house and its contents.
From all the windows, upper and lower, furniture was now being thrown into the yard. The smash of glass, the heavier crash of wood, the cries, the laughter, the oaths, all excited Daniel to the utmost; and, forgetting his bruises, he pressed forwards to lend a helping hand. The wild, rough success of his scheme almost turned his head. He hurraed at every flagrant piece of destruction; he shook hands with every one around him, and, at last, when the destroyers inside paused to take breath, he cried out, -
'If a was as young as onest a was, a'd have t' Randyvowse down, and mak' a bonfire on it. We'd ring t' fire-bell then t' some purpose.'
No sooner said than done. Their excitement was ready to take the slightest hint of mischief; old chairs, broken tables, odd drawers, smashed chests, were rapidly and skilfully heaped into a pyramid, and one, who at the first broaching of the idea had gone for live coals the speedier to light up the fire, came now through the crowd with a large shovelful of red-hot cinders. The rioters stopped to take breath and look on like children at the uncertain flickering blaze, which sprang high one moment, and dropped down the next only to creep along the base of the heap of wreck, and make secure of its future work. Then the lurid blaze darted up wild, high, and irrepressible; and the men around gave a cry of fierce exultation, and in rough mirth began to try and push each other in. In one of the pauses of the rushing, roaring noise of the flames, the moaning low and groan of the poor alarmed cow fastened up in the shippen caught Daniel's ear, and he understood her groans as well as if they had been words. He limped out of the yard through the now deserted house, where men were busy at the mad work of destruction, and found his way back to the lane into which the shippen opened. The cow was dancing about at the roar, and dazzle, and heat of the fire; but Daniel knew how to soothe her, and in a few minutes he had a rope round her neck, and led her gently out from the scene of her alarm. He was still in the lane when Simpson, the man-of-all-work at the Mariners' Arms, crept out of some hiding-place in the deserted outbuilding, and stood suddenly face to face with Robson.
The man was white with fear and rage.
'Here, tak' thy beast, and lead her wheere she'll noane hear yon cries and shouts. She's fairly moithered wi' heat an' noise.'
'They're brennin' ivery rag I have i' t' world,' gasped out Simpson: ' I niver had much, and now I'm a beggar.'
'Well! thou shouldn't ha' turned again' thine own town-folks, and harboured t' gang. Sarves thee reet. A'd noane be here leadin' beasts if a were as young as a were; a'd be in t' thick on it.'
'It was thee set 'm on - a heerd thee - a see'd thee a helping on 'em t' break in; they'd niver ha' thought on attackin' t' house, and settin' fire to yon things, if thou hadn't spoken on it.' Simpson was now fairly crying. But Daniel did not realize what the loss of all the small property he had in the world was to the poor fellow (rapscallion though he was, broken down, unprosperous ne'er-do-weel!) in his pride at the good work he believed he had set on foot.
'Ay,' said he; 'it's a great thing for folk to have a chap for t' lead 'em wi' a head on his shouthers. A misdoubt me if there were a felly theere as would ha' thought o' routling out yon wasps' nest; it tak's a deal o' mother-wit to be up to things. But t' gang'll niver harbour theere again, one while. A only wish we'd cotched 'em. An' a should like t' ha' gi'en Hobbs a bit o' my mind.'
'He's had his sauce,' said Simpson, dolefully. 'Him and me is ruined.'
'Tut, tut, thou's got thy brother, he's rich enough. And Hobbs 'll do a deal better; he's had his lesson now, and he'll stick to his own side time to come. Here, tak' thy beast an' look after her, for my bones is achin'. An' mak' thysel' scarce, for some o' them fellys has getten their blood up, an' wunnot be for treating thee o'er well if they fall in wi' thee.'
'Hobbs ought to be served out; it were him as made t' bargain wi' lieutenant; and he's off safe wi' his wife and his money bag, and a'm left a beggar this neet i' Monkshaven street. My brother and me has had words, and he'll do nought for me but curse me. A had three crown-pieces, and a good pair o' breeches, and a shirt, and a dare say better nor two pair o' stockings. A wish t' gang, and thee, and Hobbs and them mad folk up yonder, were a' down i' hell, a do.'
'Coom, lad,' said Daniel, noways offended at his companion's wish on his behalf. 'A'm noane flush mysel', but here's half-a-crown and tuppence; it's a' a've getten wi' me, but it'll keep thee and t' beast i' food and shelter to-neet, and get thee a glass o' comfort, too. A had thought o' takin' one mysel', but a shannot ha' a penny left, so a'll just toddle whoam to my missus.'
Daniel was not in the habit of feeling any emotion at actions not directly affecting himself; or else he might have despised the poor wretch who immediately clutched at the money, and overwhelmed that man with slobbery thanks whom he had not a minute before been cursing. But all Simpson's stronger passions had been long ago used up; now he only faintly liked and disliked, where once he loved and hated; his only vehement feeling was for himself; that cared for, other men might wither or flourish as best suited them.
Many of the doors which had been close shut when the crowd went down the High Street, were partially open as Daniel slowly returned; and light streamed from them on the otherwise dark road. The news of the successful attempt at rescue had reached those who had sate in mourning and in desolation an hour or two ago, and several of these pressed forwards as from their watching corner they recognized Daniel's approach; they pressed forward into the street to shake him by the hand, to thank him (for his name had been bruited abroad as one of those who had planned the affair), and at several places he was urged to have a dram - urgency that he was loath for many reasons to refuse, but his increasing uneasiness and pain made him for once abstinent, and only anxious to get home and rest. But he could not help being both touched and flattered at the way in which those who formed his ' world ' looked upon him as a hero; and was not insensible to the words of blessing which a wife, whose husband had been impressed and rescued this night, poured down upon him as he passed.
'Theere, theere, - dunnot crack thy throat wi' blessin'. Thy man would ha' done as much for me, though mebbe he mightn't ha' shown so much gumption and capability; but them's gifts, and not to be proud on.'
When Daniel reached the top of the hill on the road home, he turned to look round; but he was lame and bruised, he had gone along slowly, the fire had pretty nearly died out, only a red hue in the air about the houses at the end of the long High Street, and a hot lurid mist against the hill-side beyond where the Mariners' Arms had stood, were still left as signs and token of the deed of violence.
Daniel looked and chuckled. 'That comes o' ringin' t' fire-bell,' said he to himself; 'it were shame for it to be tellin' a lie, poor oud story-teller.'
Daniel's unusually late absence from home disturbed Bell and Sylvia not a little. He was generally at home between eight and nine on market days. They expected to see him the worse for liquor at such times; but this did not shock them; he was no worse than most of his neighbours, indeed better than several, who went off once or twice a year, or even oftener, on drinking bouts of two or three days' duration, returning pale, sodden, and somewhat shame-faced, when all their money was gone; and, after the conjugal reception was well over, settling down into hard-working and decently sober men until the temptation again got power over them. But, on market days, every man drank more than usual; every bargain or agreement was ratified by drink; they came from greater or less distances, either afoot or on horseback, and the 'good accommodation for man and beast' (as the old inn-signs expressed it) always included a considerable amount of liquor to be drunk by the man.
Daniel's way of announcing his intention of drinking more than ordinary was always the same. He would say at the last moment, 'Missus, I've a mind to get fuddled to-neet,' and be off, disregarding her look of remonstrance, and little heeding the injunctions she would call after him to beware of such and such companions, or to attend to his footsteps on his road home.
But this night he had given no such warning. Bell and Sylvia put the candle on the low window-seat at the usual hour to guide him through the fields - it was a habit kept up even on moonlight nights like this - and sate on each side of the fire, at first scarcely caring to listen, so secure were they of his return. Bell dozed, and Sylvia sate gazing at the fire with abstracted eyes, thinking of the past year and of the anniversary which was approaching of the day when she had last seen the lover whom she believed to be dead, lying somewhere fathoms deep beneath the surface of that sunny sea on which she looked day by day without ever seeing his upturned face through the depths, with whatsoever heart-sick longing for just one more sight she yearned and inwardly cried. If she could set her eyes on his bright, handsome face, that face which was fading from her memory, overtasked in the too frequent efforts to recall it; if she could but see him once again, coming over the waters beneath which he lay with supernatural motion, awaiting her at the stile, with the evening sun shining ruddy into his bonny eyes, even though, after that one instant of vivid and visible life, he faded into mist; if she could but see him now, sitting in the faintly flickering fire-light in the old, happy, careless way, on a corner of the dresser, his legs dangling, his busy fingers playing with some of her woman's work; - she wrung her hands tight together as she implored some, any Power, to let her see him just once again - just once - for one minute of passionate delight. Never again would she forget that dear face, if but once more she might set her eyes upon it.
Her mother's head fell with a sudden jerk, and she roused herself up; and Sylvia put by her thought of the dead, and her craving after his presence, into that receptacle of her heart where all such are kept closed and sacred from the light of common day.
'Feyther's late,' said Bell.
'It's gone eight,' replied Sylvia.
'But our clock is better nor an hour forrard,' answered Bell.
'Ay, but t' wind brings Monkshaven bells clear to-night. I heerd t' eight o'clock bell ringing not five minutes ago.'
It was the fire-bell, but she had not distinguished the sound.
There was another long silence; both wide awake this time.
'He'll have his rheumatics again,' said Bell.
'It's cold for sartin,' said Sylvia. 'March weather come afore its time. But I'll make him a treacle-posset, it's a famous thing for keeping off hoasts.'
The treacle-posset was entertainment enough for both while it was being made. But once placed in a little basin in the oven, there was again time for wonder and anxiety.
'He said nought about having a bout, did he, mother?' asked Sylvia at length.
'No,' said Bell, her face a little contracting. After a while she added, 'There's many a one as has husbands that goes off drinking without iver saying a word to their wives. My master is none o' that mak'.'
'Mother,' broke in Sylvia again, 'I'll just go and get t' lantern out of t' shippen, and go up t' brow, and mebbe to t' ash-field end.'
'Do, lass,' said her mother. 'I'll get my wraps and go with thee.'
'Thou shall do niver such a thing,' said Sylvia. 'Thou's too frail to go out i' t' night air such a night as this.'
'Then call Kester up.'
'Not I. I'm noane afraid o' t' dark.'
'But of what thou mayst meet i' t' dark, lass?'
Sylvia shivered all over at the sudden thought, suggested by this speech of her mother's, that the idea that had flashed into her own mind of going to look for her father might be an answer to the invocation to the Powers which she had made not long ago, that she might indeed meet her dead lover at the ash-field stile; but though she shivered as this superstitious fancy came into her head, her heart beat firm and regular; not from darkness nor from the spirits of the dead was she going to shrink; her great sorrow had taken away all her girlish nervous fear.
She went; and she came back. Neither man nor spirit had she seen; the wind was blowing on the height enough to sweep all creatures before it; but no one was coming.
So they sate down again to keep watch. At length his step was heard close to the door; and it startled them even in their state of expectation.
'Why, feyther!' cried Sylvia as he entered; while his wife stood up trembling, but not saying a word.
'A'm a'most done up,' said he, sitting heavily down on the chair nearest the door.
'Poor old feyther!' said Sylvia, stooping to take off his heavy clogged shoes; while Bell took the posset out of the oven.
'What's this? posset? what creatures women is for slops,' said he; but he drank it all the same, while Sylvia fastened the door, and brought the flaring candle from the window-seat. The fresh arrangement of light displayed his face blackened with smoke, and his clothes disarranged and torn.
'Who's been melling wi' thee?' asked Bell.
'No one has melled wi' me; but a've been mellin' wi' t' gang at last.'
'Thee: they niver were for pressing thee!' exclaimed both the women at once.
'No! they knowed better. They'n getten their belly-full as it is. Next time they try it on, a reckon they'll ax if Daniel Robson is wi'in hearin'. A've led a resky this neet, and saved nine or ten honest chaps as was pressed, and carried off to t' Randyvowse. Me and some others did it. And Hobbs' things and t' lieutenant's is a' burnt; and by this time a reckon t' Randyvowse is pretty nigh four walls, ready for a parish-pound.'
'Thou'rt niver for saying thou burnt it down wi' t' gang in it, for sure?' asked Bell.
'Na, na, not this time. T' 'gang fled up t' hill like coneys; and Hobbs and his folks carried off a bag o' money; but t' oud tumbledown place is just a heap o' brick and mortar; an' t' furniture is smoulderin' int' ashes; and, best of a', t' men is free, and will niver be cotched wi' a fire-bell again.'
And so he went on to tell of the ruse by which they had been enticed into the market-place; interrupted from time to time by their eager questions, and interrupting himself every now and then with exclamations of weariness and pain, which made him at last say, -
'Now a'm willing to tell yo' a' about it to-morrow, for it's not ivery day a man can do such great things; but to-neet a mun go to bed, even if King George were wantin' for to know how a managed it a'.'
He went wearily upstairs, and wife and daughter both strove their best to ease his aching limbs, and make him comfortable. The warming-pan, only used on state occasions, was taken down and unpapered for his service; and as he got between the warm sheets, he thanked Sylvia and her mother in a sleepy voice, adding, -
'It's a vast o' comfort to think on yon poor lads as is sleepin' i' their own homes this neet,' and then slumber fell upon him, and he was hardly roused by Bell's softly kissing his weather-beaten cheek, and saying low, -
'God bless thee, my man! Thou was allays for them that was down and put upon.'
He murmured some monosyllabic reply, unheard by his wife, who stole away to undress herself noiselessly, and laid herself down on her side of the bed as gently as her stiffened limbs would permit.
They were late in rising the next morning. Kester was long since up and at his work among the cattle before he saw the house-door open to admit the fresh chill morning air; and even then Sylvia brushed softly, and went about almost on tip-toe. When the porridge was ready, Kester was called in to his breakfast, which he took sitting at the dresser with the family. A large wooden platter stood in the middle; and each had a bowl of the same material filled with milk. The way was for every one to dip his pewter spoon into the central dish, and convey as much or as little as he liked at a time of the hot porridge into his pure fresh milk. But to-day Bell told Kester to help himself all at once, and to take his bowl up to the master's room and keep him company. For Daniel was in bed, resting from his weariness, and bemoaning his painful bruises whenever he thought of them. But his mind was still so much occupied with the affair of the previous night, that Bell judged rightly that a new listener would give ease to his body as well as to his mind, and her proposal of Kester's carrying up his breakfast had been received by Daniel with satisfaction.
So Kester went up slowly, carrying his over-full basin tenderly, and seated himself on the step leading down into the bed-room (for levels had not been calculated when the old house was built) facing his master, who, half sitting up in the blue check bed, not unwillingly began his relation again; to which Kester listened so attentively, that his spoon was often arrested in its progress from the basin to his mouth, open ready to receive it, while he gazed with unwinking eyes at Daniel narrating his exploits.
But after Daniel had fought his battle o'er again to every auditor within his reach, he found the seclusion of his chamber rather oppressive, without even the usual week-days' noises below; so after dinner, though far from well, he came down and wandered about the stable and the fields nearest to the house, consulting with Kester as to crops and manure for the most part; but every now and then breaking out into an episodical chuckle over some part of last night's proceedings. Kester enjoyed the day even more than his master, for he had no bruises to remind him that, although a hero, he was also flesh and blood.
When they returned to the house they found Philip there, for it was already dusk. It was Kester's usual Sunday plan to withdraw to bed at as early an hour as he could manage to sleep, often in winter before six; but now he was too full of interest in what Philip might have to tell of Monkshaven news to forego his Sabbath privilege of spending the evening sitting on the chair at the end of the dresser behind the door.
Philip was as close to Sylvia as he could possibly get without giving her offence, when they came in. Her manner was listless and civil; she had lost all that active feeling towards him which made him positively distasteful, and had called out her girlish irritation and impertinence. She now was rather glad to see him than otherwise. He brought some change into the heavy monotony of her life - monotony so peaceful until she had been stirred by passion out of that content with the small daily events which had now become burdensome recurrences. Insensibly to herself she was becoming dependent on his timid devotion, his constant attention; and he, lover-like, once so attracted, in spite of his judgment, by her liveliness and piquancy, now doted on her languor, and thought her silence more sweet than words.
He had only just arrived when master and man came in. He had been to afternoon chapel; none of them had thought of going to the distant church; worship with them was only an occasional duty, and this day their minds had been too full of the events of the night before. Daniel sate himself heavily down in his accustomed chair, the three-cornered arm-chair in the fireside corner, which no one thought of anybody else ever occupying on any occasion whatever. In a minute or two he interrupted Philip's words of greeting and inquiry by breaking out into the story of the rescue of last night. But to the mute surprise of Sylvia, the only one who noticed it, Philip's face, instead of expressing admiration and pleasant wonder, lengthened into dismay; once or twice he began to interrupt, but stopped himself as if he would consider his words again. Kester was never tired of hearing his master talk; by long living together they understood every fold of each other's minds, and small expressions had much significance to them. Bell, too, sate thankful that her husband should have done such deeds. Only Sylvia was made uneasy by Philip's face and manner. When Daniel had ended there was a great silence, instead of the questions and compliments he looked to receive. He became testy, and turning to Bell, said, -
'My nephew looks as though he was a-thinking more on t' little profit he has made on his pins an' bobs, than as if he was heeding how honest men were saved from being haled out to yon tender, an' carried out o' sight o' wives and little 'uns for iver. Wives an' little 'uns may go t' workhouse or clem for aught he cares.
Philip went very red, and then more sallow than usual. He had not been thinking of Charley Kinraid, but of quite another thing, while Daniel had told his story; but this last speech of the old man's brought up the remembrance that was always quick, do what he would to smother or strangle it. He did not speak for a moment or two, then he said, -
'To-day has not been like Sabbath in Monkshaven. T' rioters, as folks call 'em, have been about all night. They wanted to give battle to t' men-o'-war's men; and it were taken up by th' better end, and they've sent to my Lord Malton for t' militia; and they're come into t' town, and they're hunting for a justice for t' read th' act; folk do say there'll be niver a shop opened to-morrow.'
This was rather a more serious account of the progress of the affair than any one had calculated upon. They looked grave upon it awhile, then Daniel took heart and said, -
'A think we'd done a'most enough last neet; but men's not to be stopped wi' a straw when their blood is up; still it's hard lines to call out t' sojers, even if they be but militia. So what we seven hatched in a dark entry has ta'en a lord to put a stop to 't!' continued he, chuckling a little, but more faintly this time.
Philip went on, still graver than before, boldly continuing to say what he knew would be discordant to the family he loved so well.
'I should ha' telled yo' all about it; I thought on it just as a bit o' news; I'd niver thought on such a thing as uncle there having been in it, and I'm main sorry to hear on it, I am.'
'Why?' said Sylvia, breathlessly.
'It's niver a thing to be sorry on. I'm proud and glad,' said Bell.
'Let-a-be, let-a-be,' said Daniel, in much dudgeon. 'A were a fool to tell him o' such-like doings, they're noane i' his line; we'll talk on yard measures now.
Philip took no notice of this poor attempt at sarcasm: he seemed as if lost in thought, then he said, -
'I'm vexed to plague yo', but I'd best say all I've got i' my mind. There was a vast o' folk at our chapel speaking about it - last night's doings and this morning's work - and how them as set it afoot was assured o' being clapt int' prison and tried for it; and when I heered uncle say as he was one, it like ran through me; for they say as t' justices will be all on t' Government side, and mad for vengeance.'
For an instant there was dead silence. The women looked at each other with blank eyes, as if they were as yet unable to take in the new idea that the conduct which had seemed to them a subject for such just pride could be regarded by any one as deserving of punishment or retribution. Daniel spoke before they had recovered from their amazement.
'A'm noane sorry for what a did, an' a'd do it again to-neet, if need were. So theere's for thee. Thou may tell t' justices fra' me that a reckon a did righter nor them, as letten poor fellys be carried off i' t' very midst o' t' town they're called justices for.'
Perhaps Philip had better have held his tongue; but he believed in the danger, which he was anxious to impress upon his uncle, in order that, knowing what was to be apprehended, the latter might take some pains to avert it.
He went on.
'But they're making a coil about the Randyvowse being all destroyed!'
Daniel had taken down his pipe from the shelf in the chimney corner, and was stuffing tobacco into the bowl. He went on pretending to do this a little while after it was filled; for, to tell the truth, he was beginning to feel uncomfortable at the new view of his conduct presented to him. Still he was not going to let this appear, so lifting up his head with an indifferent air he lighted the pipe, blew into it, took it out and examined it as something were wrong about it, and until that was put to rights he was unable to attend to anything else; all the while the faithful three who hung upon his well-being, gazing, breathless, at his proceedings, and anxious for his reply.
'Randyvowse!' said he at length, 'it were a good job it were brenned down, for such a harbour for vermin a never seed: t' rats ran across t' yard by hunders an' thousands; an' it were no man's property as a've heerd tell, but belonged to Chancery, up i' Lunnon; so wheere's t' harm done, my fine felly?'
Philip was silent. He did not care to brave any further his uncle's angry frown and contracted eye. If he had only known of Daniel Robson's part in the riot before he had left the town, he would have taken care to have had better authority for the reality of the danger which he had heard spoken about, and in which he could not help believing. As it was, he could only keep quiet until he had ascertained what was the legal peril overhanging the rioters, and how far his uncle had been recognized.
Daniel went on puffing angrily. Kester sighed audibly, and then was sorry he had done so, and began to whistle. Bell, full of her new fear, yet desirous to bring all present into some kind of harmony, said, -
'It'll ha' been a loss to John Hobbs - all his things burnt, or trampled on. Mebbe he desarved it all, but one's a kind o' tender feeling to one's tables and chairs, special if one's had t' bees-waxing on 'em.'
'A wish he'd been burnt on t' top on 'em, a do,' growled out Daniel, shaking the ash out of his pipe.
'Don't speak so ill o' thysel',' said his wife. 'Thou'd ha' been t' first t' pluck him down if he'd screeched out.'
'An' a'll warrant if they come about wi' a paper asking for feyther's name to make up for what Hobbs has lost by t' fire, feyther 'll be for giving him summut,' said Sylvia.
'Thou knows nought about it,' said Daniel. 'Hold thy tongue next time till thou's axed to speak, my wench.'
His sharp irritated way of speaking was so new to Sylvia, that the tears sprang to her eyes, and her lip quivered. Philip saw it all, and yearned over her. He plunged headlong into some other subject to try and divert attention from her; but Daniel was too ill at ease to talk much, and Bell was obliged to try and keep up the semblance of conversation, with an occasional word or two from Kester, who seemed instinctively to fall into her way of thinking, and to endeavour to keep the dark thought in the background.
Sylvia stole off to bed; more concerned at her father's angry way of speaking than at the idea of his being amenable to law for what he had done; the one was a sharp present evil, the other something distant and unlikely. Yet a dim terror of this latter evil hung over her, and once upstairs she threw herself on her bed and sobbed. Philip heard her where he sate near the bottom of the short steep staircase, and at every sob the cords of love round his heart seemed tightened, and he felt as if he must there and then do something to console her.
But, instead, he sat on talking of nothings, a conversation in which Daniel joined with somewhat of surliness, while Bell, grave and anxious, kept wistfully looking from one to the other, desirous of gleaning some further information on the subject, which had begun to trouble her mind. She hoped some chance would give her the opportunity of privately questioning Philip, but it seemed to be equally her husband's wish to thwart any such intention of hers. He remained in the house-place, till after Philip had left, although he was evidently so much fatigued as to give some very distinct, though unintentional, hints to his visitor to be gone.
At length the house-door was locked on Philip, and then Daniel prepared to go to bed. Kester had left for his loft above the shippen more than an hour before. Bell had still to rake the fire, and then she would follow her husband upstairs.
As she was scraping up the ashes, she heard, intermixed with the noise she was making, the sound of some one rapping gently at the window. In her then frame of mind she started a little; but on looking round, she saw Kester's face pressed against the glass, and, reassured, she softly opened the door. There he stood in the dusk outer air, distinct against the gray darkness beyond, and in his hand something which she presently perceived was a pitchfork.
'Missus!' whispered he, 'a've watched t' maister t' bed; an' now a'd be greatly beholden to yo' if yo'd let me just lay me down i' t' house-place. A'd warrant niver a constable i' a' Monkshaven should get sight o' t' maister, an' me below t' keep ward.'
Bell shivered a little.
'Nay, Kester,' she said, patting her hand kindly on his shoulder; 'there's nought for t' fear. Thy master is not one for t' hurt nobody; and I dunnot think they can harm him for setting yon poor chaps free, as t' gang catched i' their wicked trap.'
Kester stood still; then he shook his head slowly.
'It's t' work at t' Randyvowse as a'm afeared on. Some folks thinks such a deal o' a bonfire. Then a may lay me down afore t' fire, missus?' said he, beseechingly.
'Nay, Kester - ' she began; but suddenly changing, she said, 'God bless thee, my man; come in and lay thee down on t' settle, and I'll cover thee up wi' my cloak as hangs behind t' door. We're not many on us that love him, an' we'll be all on us under one roof, an' niver a stone wall or a lock betwixt us.'
So Kester took up his rest in the house-place that night, and none knew of it besides Bell.
The morning brought more peace if it did not entirely dissipate fear. Daniel seemed to have got over his irritability, and was unusually kind and tender to wife and daughter, especially striving by silent little deeds to make up for the sharp words he had said the night before to the latter.
As if by common consent, all allusion to the Saturday night's proceedings was avoided. They spoke of the day's work before them; of the crops to be sown; of the cattle; of the markets; but each one was conscious of a wish to know more distinctly what were the chances of the danger that, to judge from Philip's words, hung over them, falling upon them and cutting them off from all these places for the coming days.
Bell longed to send Kester down into Monkshaven as a sort of spy to see how the land lay; but she dared not manifest her anxiety to her husband, and could not see Kester alone. She wished that she had told him to go to the town, when she had had him to herself in the house-place the night before; now it seemed as though Daniel were resolved not to part from him, and as though both had forgotten that any peril had been anticipated. Sylvia and her mother, in like manner, clung together, not speaking of their fears, yet each knowing that it was ever present in the other's mind.
So things went on till twelve o'clock - dinner-time. If at any time that morning they had had the courage to speak together on the thought which was engrossing all their minds, it is possible that some means might have been found to avert the calamity that was coming towards them with swift feet. But among the uneducated - the partially educated - nay, even the weakly educated - the feeling exists which prompted the futile experiment of the well-known ostrich. They imagine that, by closing their own eyes to apprehended evil, they avert it. The expression of fear is supposed to accelerate the coming of its cause. Yet, on the other hand, they shrink from acknowledging the long continuance of any blessing, in the idea that when unusual happiness is spoken about, it disappears. So, although perpetual complaints of past or present grievances and sorrows are most common among this class, they shrink from embodying apprehensions for the future in words, as if it then took shape and drew near.
They all four sate down to dinner, but not one of them was inclined to eat. The food was scarcely touched on their plates, yet they were trying to make talk among themselves as usual; they seemed as though they dared not let themselves be silent, when Sylvia, sitting opposite to the window, saw Philip at the top of the brow, running rapidly towards the farm. She had been so full of the anticipation of some kind of misfortune all the morning that she felt now as if this was the very precursive circumstance she had been expecting; she stood up, turning quite white, and, pointing with her finger, said, -
'There he is!'
Every one at table stood up too. An instant afterwards, Philip, breathless, was in the room.
He gasped out, 'They're coming! the warrant is out. You must go. I hoped you were gone.'
'God help us!' said Bell, and sate suddenly down, as if she had received a blow that made her collapse into helplessness; but she got up again directly.
Sylvia flew for her father's hat. He really seemed the most unmoved of the party.
'A'm noane afeared,' said he. 'A'd do it o'er again, a would; an' a'll tell 'em so. It's a fine time o' day when men's to be trapped and carried off, an' them as lays traps to set 'em free is to be put i' t' lock-ups for it.'
'But there was rioting, beside the rescue; t' house was burnt,' continued eager, breathless Philip.
'An' a'm noane goin' t' say a'm sorry for that, neyther; tho', mebbe, a wouldn't do it again.'
Sylvia had his hat on his head by this time; and Bell, wan and stiff, trembling all over, had his over-coat, and his leather purse with the few coins she could muster, ready for him to put on.
He looked at these preparations, at his wife and daughter, and his colour changed from its ruddy brown.
'A'd face lock-ups, an' a fair spell o' jail, but for these,' said he, hesitating.
'Oh!' said Philip, 'for God's sake, lose no time, but be off.'
'Where mun he go?' asked Bell, as if Philip must decide all.
'Anywhere, anywhere, out of this house - say Haverstone. This evening, I'll go and meet him there and plan further; only be off now.' Philip was so keenly eager, he hardly took note at the time of Sylvia's one vivid look of unspoken thanks, yet he remembered it afterwards.
'A'll dang 'em dead,' said Kester, rushing to the door, for he saw what the others did not - that all chance of escape was over; the constables were already at the top of the little field-path not twenty yards off.
'Hide him, hide him,' cried Bell, wringing her hands in terror; for she, indeed they all, knew that flight would now be impossible. Daniel was heavy, rheumatic, and, moreover, had been pretty severely bruised on that unlucky night.
Philip, without another word, pushed Daniel before him upstairs, feeling that his own presence at Haytersbank Farm at that hour of the day would be a betrayal. They had just time to shut themselves up in the larger bed-room, before they heard a scuffle and the constables' entry down-stairs.
'They're in,' said Philip, as Daniel squeezed himself under the bed; and then they held quite still, Philip as much concealed by the scanty, blue-check curtain as he could manage to be. They heard a confusion of voices below, a hasty moving of chairs, a banging of doors, a further parley, and then a woman's scream, shrill and pitiful; then steps on the stairs.
'That screech spoiled all,' sighed Philip.
In one instant the door was opened, and each of the hiders was conscious of the presence of the constables, although at first the latter stood motionless, surveying the apparently empty room with disappointment. Then in another moment they had rushed at Philip's legs, exposed as these were. They drew him out with violence, and then let him go.
'Measter Hepburn!' said one in amaze. But immediately they put two and two together; for in so small a place as Monkshaven every one's relationships and connexions, and even likings, were known; and the motive of Philip's coming out to Haytersbank was perfectly clear to these men.
'T' other 'll not be far off,' said the other constable. 'His plate were down-stairs, full o' victual; a seed Measter Hepburn a-walking briskly before me as a left Monkshaven'
'Here he be, here he be,' called out the other man, dragging Daniel out by his legs, 'we've getten him.'
Daniel kicked violently, and came out from his hiding-place in a less ignominious way than by being pulled out by his heels.
He shook himself, and then turned, facing his captors.
'A wish a'd niver hidden mysel'; it were his doing,' jerking his thumb toward Philip: 'a'm ready to stand by what a've done. Yo've getten a warrant a'll be bound, for them justices is grand at writin' when t' fight's over.'
He was trying to carry it off with bravado, but Philip saw that he had received a shock, from his sudden look of withered colour and shrunken feature.
'Don't handcuff him,' said Philip, putting money into the constable's hand. 'You'll be able to guard him well enough without them things.'
Daniel turned round sharp at this whisper.
'Let-a-be, let-a-be, my lad,' he said. 'It 'll be summut to think on i' t' lock-up how two able-bodied fellys were so afeared on t' chap as reskyed them honest sailors o' Saturday neet, as they mun put him i' gyves, and he sixty-two come Martinmas, and sore laid up wi' t' rheumatics.'
But it was difficult to keep up this tone of bravado when he was led a prisoner through his own house-place, and saw his poor wife quivering and shaking all over with her efforts to keep back all signs of emotion until he was gone; and Sylvia standing by her mother, her arm round Bell's waist and stroking the poor shrunken fingers which worked so perpetually and nervously in futile unconscious restlessness. Kester was in a corner of the room, sullenly standing.
Bell quaked from head to foot as her husband came down-stairs a prisoner. She opened her lips several times with an uneasy motion, as if she would fain say something, but knew not what. Sylvia's passionate swollen lips and her beautiful defiant eyes gave her face quite a new aspect; she looked a helpless fury.
'A may kiss my missus, a reckon,' said Daniel, coming to a standstill as he passed near her.
'Oh, Dannel, Dannel!' cried she, opening her arms wide to receive him. 'Dannel, Dannel, my man!' and she shook with her crying, laying her head on his shoulder, as if he was all her stay and comfort.
'Come, missus! come, missus!' said he, 'there couldn't be more ado if a'd been guilty of murder, an' yet a say again, as a said afore, a'm noane ashamed o' my doings. Here, Sylvie, lass, tak' thy mother off me, for a cannot do it mysel', it like sets me off.' His voice was quavering as he said this. But he cheered up a little and said, 'Now, good-by, oud wench ' (kissing her), ' and keep a good heart, and let me see thee lookin' lusty and strong when a come back. Good-by, my lass; look well after mother, and ask Philip for guidance if it's needed.'
He was taken out of his home, and then arose the shrill cries of the women; but in a minute or two they were checked by the return of one of the constables, who, cap in hand at the sight of so much grief, said, -
'He wants a word wi' his daughter.'
The party had come to a halt about ten yards from the house. Sylvia, hastily wiping her tears on her apron, ran out and threw her arms round her father, as if to burst out afresh on his neck.
'Nay, nay, my wench, it's thee as mun be a comfort to mother: nay, nay, or thou'll niver hear what a've got to say. Sylvie, my lass, a'm main and sorry a were so short wi' thee last neet; a ax thy pardon, lass, a were cross to thee, and sent thee to thy bed wi' a sore heart. Thou munnot think on it again, but forgie me, now a'm leavin' thee.'
'Oh, feyther! feyther!' was all Sylvia could say; and at last they had to make as though they would have used force to separate her from their prisoner. Philip took her hand, and softly led her back to her weeping mother.
For some time nothing was to be heard in the little farmhouse kitchen but the sobbing and wailing of the women. Philip stood by silent, thinking, as well as he could, for his keen sympathy with their grief, what had best be done next. Kester, after some growls at Sylvia for having held back the uplifted arm which he thought might have saved Daniel by a well-considered blow on his captors as they entered the house, went back into his shippen - his cell for meditation and consolation, where he might hope to soothe himself before going out to his afternoon's work; labour which his master had planned for him that very morning, with a strange foresight, as Kester thought, for the job was one which would take him two or three days without needing any further directions than those he had received, and by the end of that time he thought that his master would be at liberty again. So he - so they all thought in their ignorance and inexperience.
Although Daniel himself was unreasoning, hasty, impulsive - in a word, often thinking and acting very foolishly - yet, somehow, either from some quality in his character, or from the loyalty of nature in those with whom he had to deal in his every-day life, he had made his place and position clear as the arbiter and law-giver of his household. On his decision, as that of husband, father, master, perhaps superior natures waited. So now that he was gone and had left them in such strange new circumstances so suddenly, it seemed as though neither Bell nor Sylvia knew exactly what to do when their grief was spent, so much had every household action and plan been regulated by the thought of him. Meanwhile Philip had slowly been arriving at the conclusion that he was more wanted at Monkshaven to look after Daniel's interests, to learn what were the legal probabilities in consequence of the old man's arrest, and to arrange for his family accordingly, than standing still and silent in the Haytersbank kitchen, too full of fellow-feeling and heavy foreboding to comfort, awkwardly unsympathetic in appearance from the very aching of his heart.
So when his aunt, with instinctive sense of regularity and propriety, began to put away the scarcely tasted dinner, and Sylvia, blinded with crying, and convulsively sobbing, was yet trying to help her mother, Philip took his hat, and brushing it round and round with the sleeve of his coat, said, -
'I think I'll just go back, and see how matters stand.' He had a more distinct plan in his head than these words implied, but it depended on so many contingencies of which he was ignorant that he said only these few words; and with a silent resolution to see them again that day, but a dread of being compelled to express his fears, so far beyond theirs, he went off without saying anything more. Then Sylvia lifted up her voice with a great cry. Somehow she had expected him to do something - what, she did not know; but he was gone, and they were left without stay or help.
'Hush thee, hush thee,' said her mother, trembling all over herself; 'it's for the best. The Lord knows.'
'But I niver thought he'd leave us,' moaned Sylvia, half in her mother's arms, and thinking of Philip. Her mother took the words as applied to Daniel.
'And he'd niver ha' left us, my wench, if he could ha' stayed.'
'Oh, mother, mother, it's Philip as has left us, and he could ha' stayed.'
'He'll come back, or mebbe send, I'll be bound. Leastways he'll be gone to see feyther, and he'll need comfort most on all, in a fremd place - in Bridewell - and niver a morsel of victual or a piece o' money.' And now she sate down, and wept the dry hot tears that come with such difficulty to the eyes of the aged. And so - first one grieving, and then the other, and each draining her own heart of every possible hope by way of comfort, alternately trying to cheer and console - the February afternoon passed away; the continuous rain closing in the daylight even earlier than usual, and adding to the dreariness, with the natural accompaniments of wailing winds, coming with long sweeps over the moors, and making the sobbings at the windows that always sound like the gasps of some one in great agony. Meanwhile Philip had hastened back to Monkshaven. He had no umbrella, he had to face the driving rain for the greater part of the way; but he was thankful to the weather, for it kept men indoors, and he wanted to meet no one, but to have time to think and mature his plans. The town itself was, so to speak, in mourning. The rescue of the sailors was a distinctly popular movement; the subsequent violence (which had, indeed, gone much further than has been described, after Daniel left it) was, in general, considered as only a kind of due punishment inflicted in wild justice on the press-gang and their abettors. The feeling of the Monkshaven people was, therefore, in decided opposition to the vigorous steps taken by the county magistrates, who, in consequence of an appeal from the naval officers in charge of the impressment service, had called out the militia (from a distant and inland county) stationed within a few miles, and had thus summarily quenched the riots that were continuing on the Sunday morning after a somewhat languid fashion; the greater part of the destruction of property having been accomplished during the previous night. Still there was little doubt but that the violence would have been renewed as evening drew on, and the more desperate part of the population and the enraged sailors had had the Sabbath leisure to brood over their wrongs, and to encourage each other in a passionate attempt at redress, or revenge. So the authorities were quite justified in the decided steps they had taken, both in their own estimation then, and now, in ours, looking back on the affair in cold blood. But at the time feeling ran strongly against them; and all means of expressing itself in action being prevented, men brooded sullenly in their own houses. Philip, as the representative of the family, the head of which was now suffering for his deeds in the popular cause, would have met with more sympathy, ay, and more respect than he imagined, as he went along the streets, glancing from side to side, fearful of meeting some who would shy him as the relation of one who had been ignominiously taken to Bridewell a few hours before. But in spite of this wincing of Philip's from observation and remark, he never dreamed of acting otherwise than as became a brave true friend. And this he did, and would have done, from a natural faithfulness and constancy of disposition, without any special regard for Sylvia.
He knew his services were needed in the shop; business which he had left at a moment's warning awaited him, unfinished; but at this time he could not bear the torture of giving explanations, and alleging reasons to the languid intelligence and slow sympathies of Coulson.
He went to the offices of Mr Donkin, the oldest established and most respected attorney in Monkshaven - he who had been employed to draw up the law papers and deeds of partnership consequent on Hepburn and Coulson succeeding to the shop of John and Jeremiah Foster, Brothers.
Mr Donkin knew Philip from this circumstance. But, indeed, nearly every one in Monkshaven knew each other; if not enough to speak to, at least enough to be acquainted with the personal appearance and reputation of most of those whom they met in the streets. It so happened that Mr Donkin had a favourable opinion of Philip; and perhaps for this reason the latter had a shorter time to wait before he obtained an interview with the head of the house, than many of the clients who came for that purpose from town or country for many miles round.
Philip was ushered in. Mr Donkin sate with his spectacles pushed up on his forehead, ready to watch his countenance and listen to his words.
'Good afternoon, Mr Hepburn!'
'Good afternoon, sir.' Philip hesitated how to begin. Mr Donkin became impatient, and tapped with the fingers of his left hand on his desk. Philip's sensitive nerves felt and rightly interpreted the action.
'Please, sir, I'm come to speak to you about Daniel Robson, of Haytersbank Farm.'
'Daniel Robson?' said Mr Donkin, after a short pause, to try and compel Philip into speed in his story.
'Yes, sir. He's been taken up on account of this affair, sir, about the press-gang on Saturday night.'
'To be sure! I thought I knew the name.' And Mr Donkin's face became graver, and the expression more concentrated. Looking up suddenly at Philip, he said, 'You are aware that I am the clerk to the magistrates?'
'No, sir,' in a tone that indicated the unexpressed 'What then?'
'Well, but I am. And so of course, if you want my services or advice in favour of a prisoner whom they have committed, or are going to commit, you can't have them, that's all.'
'I am very sorry - very!' said Philip; and then he was again silent for a period; long enough to make the busy attorney impatient.
'Well, Mr Hepburn, have you anything else to say to me?'
'Yes, sir. I've a deal to ask of you; for you see I don't rightly understand what to do; and yet I'm all as Daniel's wife and daughter has to look to; and I've their grief heavy on my heart. You could not tell me what is to be done with Daniel, could you, sir?'
'He'll be brought up before the magistrates to-morrow morning for final examination, along with the others, you know, before he's sent to York Castle to take his trial at the spring assizes.'
'To York Castle, sir?'
Mr Donkin nodded, as if words were too precious to waste.
'And when will he go?' asked poor Philip, in dismay.
'To-morrow: most probably as soon as the examination is over. The evidence is clear as to his being present, aiding and abetting, - indicted on the 4th section of 1 George I., statute 1, chapter 5. I'm afraid it's a bad look-out. Is he a friend of yours, Mr Hepburn?'
'Only an uncle, sir,' said Philip, his heart getting full; more from Mr Donkin's manner than from his words. 'But what can they do to him, sir?'
'Do?' Mr Donkin half smiled at the ignorance displayed. 'Why, hang him, to be sure; if the judge is in a hanging mood. He's been either a principal in the offence, or a principal in the second degree, and, as such, liable to the full punishment. I drew up the warrant myself this morning, though I left the exact name to be filled up by my clerk.'
'Oh, sir! can you do nothing for me?' asked Philip, with sharp beseeching in his voice. He had never imagined that it was a capital offence; and the thought of his aunt's and Sylvia's ignorance of the possible fate awaiting him whom they so much loved, was like a stab to his heart.
'No, my good fellow. I'm sorry; but, you see, it's my duty to do all I can to bring criminals to justice.'
'My uncle thought he was doing such a fine deed.'
'Demolishing and pulling down, destroying and burning dwelling-houses and outhouses,' said Mr Donkin. 'He must have some peculiar notions.'
'The people is so mad with the press-gang, and Daniel has been at sea hisself; and took it so to heart when he heard of mariners and seafaring folk being carried off, and just cheated into doing what was kind and helpful - leastways, what would have been kind and helpful, if there had been a fire. I'm against violence and riots myself, sir, I'm sure; but I cannot help thinking as Daniel had a deal to justify him on Saturday night, sir.'
'Well; you must try and get a good lawyer to bring out all that side of the question. There's a good deal to be said on it; but it's my duty to get up all the evidence to prove that he and others were present on the night in question; so, as you'll perceive, I can give you no help in defending him.'
'But who can, sir? I came to you as a friend who, I thought, would see me through it. And I don't know any other lawyer; leastways, to speak to.'
Mr Donkin was really more concerned for the misguided rioters than he was aware; and he was aware of more interest than he cared to express. So he softened his tone a little, and tried to give the best advice in his power.
'You'd better go to Edward Dawson on the other side of the river; he that was articled clerk with me two years ago, you know. He's a clever fellow, and has not too much practice; he'll do the best he can for you. He'll have to be at the court-house, tell him, to-morrow morning at ten, when the justices meet. He'll watch the case for you; and then he'll give you his opinion, and tell you what to do. You can't do better than follow his advice. I must do all I can to collect evidence for a conviction, you know.'
Philip stood up, looked at his hat, and then came forward and laid down six and eightpence on the desk in a blushing, awkward way.
'Pooh! pooh!' said Mr Donkin, pushing the money away. 'Don't be a fool; you'll need it all before the trial's over. I've done nothing, man. It would be a pretty thing for me to be feed by both parties.'
Philip took up the money, and left the room. In an instant he came back again, glanced furtively at Mr Donkin's face, and then, once more having recourse to brushing his hat, he said, in a low voice -
'You'll not be hard upon him, sir, I hope?'
'I must do my duty,' replied Mr Donkin, a little sternly, 'without any question of hardness.'
Philip, discomfited, left the room; an instant of thought and Mr Donkin had jumped up, and hastening to the door he opened it and called after Philip.
'Hepburn - Hepburn - I say, he'll be taken to York as soon as may be to-morrow morning; if any one wants to see him before then, they'd better look sharp about it.'
Philip went quickly along the streets towards Mr Dawson's, pondering upon the meaning of all that he had heard, and what he had better do. He had made his plans pretty clearly out by the time he arrived at Mr Dawson's smart door in one of the new streets on the other side of the river. A clerk as smart as the door answered Philip's hesitating knock, and replied to his inquiry as to whether Mr Dawson was at home, in the negative, adding, after a moment's pause -
'He'll be at home in less than an hour; he's only gone to make Mrs Dawson's will - Mrs Dawson, of Collyton - she's not expected to get better.'
Probably the clerk of an older-established attorney would not have given so many particulars as to the nature of his master's employment; but, as it happened it was of no consequence, the unnecessary information made no impression on Philip's mind; he thought the matter over and then said -
'I'll be back in an hour, then. It's gone a quarter to four; I'll be back before five, tell Mr Dawson.'
He turned on his heel and went back to the High Street as fast as he could, with a far more prompt and decided step than before. He hastened through the streets, emptied by the bad weather, to the principal inn of the town, the George - the sign of which was fastened to a piece of wood stretched across the narrow street; and going up to the bar with some timidity (for the inn was frequented by the gentry of Monkshaven and the neighbourhood, and was considered as a touch above such customers as Philip), he asked if he could have a tax-cart made ready in a quarter of an hour, and sent up to the door of his shop.
'To be sure he could; how far was it to go?'
Philip hesitated before he replied -
'Up the Knotting Lane, to the stile leading down to Haytersbank Farm; they'll have to wait there for some as are coming.'
'They must not wait long such an evening as this; standing in such rain and wind as there'll be up there, is enough to kill a horse.'
'They shan't wait long,' said Philip, decisively: 'in a quarter of an hour, mind.'
He now went back to the shop, beating against the storm, which was increasing as the tide came in and the night hours approached.
Coulson had no word for him, but he looked reproachfully at his partner for his long, unexplained absence. Hester was putting away the ribbons and handkerchiefs, and bright-coloured things which had been used to deck the window; for no more customers were likely to come this night through the blustering weather to a shop dimly lighted by two tallow candles and an inefficient oil-lamp. Philip came up to her, and stood looking at her with unseeing eyes; but the strange consciousness of his fixed stare made her uncomfortable, and called the faint flush to her pale cheeks, and at length compelled her, as it were, to speak, and break the spell of the silence. So, curiously enough, all three spoke at once. Hester asked (without looking at Philip) -
'Yo're sadly wet, I'm feared?'
Coulson said -
'Thou might have a bit o' news to tell one after being on the gad all afternoon.'
Philip whispered to Hester -
'Wilt come into t' parlour? I want a word wi' thee by oursel's.'
Hester quietly finished rolling up the ribbon she had in her hands when he spoke, and then followed him into the room behind the shop before spoken of.
Philip set down on the table the candle which he had brought out of the shop, and turning round to Hester, took her trembling hand into both of his, and gripping it nervously, said -
'Oh! Hester, thou must help me - thou will, will not thou?'
Hester gulped down something that seemed to rise in her throat and choke her, before she answered.
'Anything, thou knows, Philip.'
'Yes, yes, I know. Thou sees the matter is this: Daniel Robson - he who married my aunt - is taken up for yon riot on Saturday night at t' Mariners' Arms - - '
'They spoke on it this afternoon; they said the warrant was out,' said Hester, filling up the sentence as Philip hesitated, lost for an instant in his own thoughts.
'Ay! the warrant is out, and he's in t' lock-up, and will be carried to York Castle to-morrow morn; and I'm afeared it will go bad with him; and they at Haytersbank is not prepared, and they must see him again before he goes. Now, Hester, will thou go in a tax-cart as will be here in less than ten minutes from t' George, and bring them back here, and they must stay all night for to be ready to see him to-morrow before he goes? It's dree weather for them, but they'll not mind that.'
He had used words as if he was making a request to Hester; but he did not seem to await her answer, so sure was he that she would go. She noticed this, and noticed also that the rain was spoken of in reference to them, not to her. A cold shadow passed over her heart, though it was nothing more than she already knew - that Sylvia was the one centre of his thoughts and his love.
'I'll go put on my things at once,' said she, gently.
Philip pressed her hand tenderly, a glow of gratitude overspread him.
'Thou's a real good one, God bless thee!' said he. 'Thou must take care of thyself, too,' continued he; 'there's wraps and plenty i' th' house, and if there are not, there's those i' the shop as 'll be none the worse for once wearing at such a time as this; and wrap thee well up, and take shawls and cloaks for them, and mind as they put 'em on. Thou'll have to get out at a stile, I'll tell t' driver where; and thou must get over t' stile and follow t' path down two fields, and th' house is right before ye, and bid 'em make haste and lock up th' house, for they mun stay all night here. Kester 'll look after things.'
All this time Hester was hastily putting on her hat and cloak, which she had fetched from the closet where they usually hung through the day; now she stood listening, as it were, for final directions.
'But suppose they will not come,' said she; 'they dunnot know me, and mayn't believe my words.'
'They must,' said he, impatiently. 'They don't know what awaits 'em,' he continued. 'I'll tell thee, because thou 'll not let out, and it seems as if I mun tell some one - it were such a shock - he's to be tried for 's life. They know not it's so serious; and, Hester,' said he, going on in his search after sympathy, ' she's like as if she was bound up in her father.'
His lips quivered as he looked wistfully into Hester's face at these words. No need to tell her who was she. No need to put into words the fact, told plainer than words could have spoken it, that his heart was bound up in Sylvia.
Hester's face, instead of responding to his look, contracted a little, and, for the life of her, she could not have helped saying, -
'Why don't yo' go yourself, Philip?'
'I can't, I can't,' said he, impatiently. 'I'd give the world to go, for I might be able to comfort her; but there's lawyers to see, and iver so much to do, and they've niver a man friend but me to do it all. You'll tell her,' said Philip, insinuatingly, as if a fresh thought had struck him, 'as how I would ha' come. I would fain ha' come for 'em, myself, but I couldn't, because of th' lawyer, - mind yo' say because of th' lawyer. I'd be loath for her to think I was minding any business of my own at this time; and, whatever yo' do, speak hopeful, and, for t' life of yo', don't speak of th' hanging, it's likely it's a mistake o' Donkin's; and anyhow - there's t' cart - anyhow I should perhaps not ha' telled thee, but it's a comfort to make a clean breast to a friend at times. God bless thee, Hester. I don't know what I should ha' done without thee,' said he, as he wrapped her well up in the cart, and placed the bundles of cloaks and things by her side.
Along the street, in the jolting cart, as long as Hester could see the misty light streaming out of the shop door, so long was Philip standing bareheaded in the rain looking after her. But she knew that it was not her own poor self that attracted his lingering gaze. It was the thought of the person she was bound to.
Through the dark rain, against the cold wind, shaken over the rough stones, went Hester in the little tax-cart. Her heart kept rising against her fate; the hot tears came unbidden to her eyes. But rebellious heart was soothed, and hot tears were sent back to their source before the time came for her alighting.
The driver turned his horse in the narrow lane, and shouted after her an injunction to make haste as, with her head bent low, she struggled down to the path to Haytersbank Farm. She saw the light in the window from the top of the brow, and involuntarily she slackened her pace. She had never seen Bell Robson, and would Sylvia recollect her? If she did not, how awkward it would be to give the explanation of who she was, and what her errand was, and why she was sent. Nevertheless, it must be done; so on she went, and standing within the little porch, she knocked faintly at the door; but in the bluster of the elements the sound was lost. Again she knocked, and now the murmur of women's voices inside was hushed, and some one came quickly to the door, and opened it sharply.
It was Sylvia. Although her face was completely in shadow, of course Hester knew her well; but she, if indeed she would have recognized Hester less disguised, did not know in the least who the woman, muffled up in a great cloak, with her hat tied down with a silk handkerchief, standing in the porch at this time of night, could be. Nor, indeed, was she in a mood to care or to inquire. She said hastily, in a voice rendered hoarse and arid with grief:
'Go away. This is no house for strangers to come to. We've enough on our own to think on;' and she hastily shut the door in Hester's face, before the latter could put together the right words in which to explain her errand. Hester stood outside in the dark, wet porch discomfited, and wondering how next to obtain a hearing through the shut and bolted door. Not long did she stand, however; some one was again at the door, talking in a voice of distress and remonstrance, and slowly unbarring the bolts. A tall, thin figure of an elderly woman was seen against the warm fire-light inside as soon as the door was opened; a hand was put out, like that which took the dove into the ark, and Hester was drawn into the warmth and the light, while Bell's voice went on speaking to Sylvia before addressing the dripping stranger -
'It's not a night to turn a dog fra' t' door; it's ill letting our grief harden our hearts. But oh! missus (to Hester), yo' mun forgive us, for a great sorrow has fallen upon us this day, an' we're like beside ourselves wi' crying an' plaining.'
Bell sate down, and threw her apron over her poor worn face, as if decently to shield the signs of her misery from a stranger's gaze. Sylvia, all tear-swollen, and looking askance and almost fiercely at the stranger who had made good her intrusion, was drawn, as it were, to her mother's side, and, kneeling down by her, put her arms round her waist, and almost lay across her lap, still gazing at Hester with cold, distrustful eyes, the expression of which repelled and daunted that poor, unwilling messenger, and made her silent for a minute or so after her entrance. Bell suddenly put down her apron.
'Yo're cold and drenched,' said she. 'Come near to t' fire and warm yo'rsel'; yo' mun pardon us if we dunnot think on everything at onest.'
'Yo're very kind, very kind indeed,' said Hester, touched by the poor woman's evident effort to forget her own grief in the duties of hospitality, and loving Bell from that moment.
'I'm Hester Rose,' she continued, half addressing Sylvia, who she thought might remember the name, 'and Philip Hepburn has sent me in a tax-cart to t' stile yonder, to fetch both on yo' back to Monkshaven.' Sylvia raised her head and looked intently at Hester. Bell clasped her hands tight together and leant forwards.
'It's my master as wants us?' said she, in an eager, questioning tone.
'It's for to see yo'r master,' said Hester. 'Philip says he'll be sent to York to-morrow, and yo'll be fain to see him before he goes; and if yo'll come down to Monkshaven to-night, yo'll be on t' spot again' the time comes when t' justices will let ye.'
Bell was up and about, making for the place where she kept her out-going things, almost before Hester had begun to speak. She hardly understood about her husband's being sent to York, in the possession of the idea that she might go and see him. She did not understand or care how, in this wild night, she was to get to Monkshaven; all she thought of was, that she might go and see her husband. But Sylvia took in more points than her mother, and, almost suspiciously, began to question Hester.
'Why are they sending him to York? What made Philip leave us? Why didn't he come hissel'?'
'He couldn't come hissel', he bade me say; because he was bound to be at the lawyer's at five, about yo'r father's business. I think yo' might ha' known he would ha' come for any business of his own; and, about York, it's Philip as telled me, and I never asked why. I never thought on yo'r asking me so many questions. I thought yo'd be ready to fly on any chance o' seeing your father.' Hester spoke out the sad reproach that ran from her heart to her lips. To distrust Philip! to linger when she might hasten!
'Oh!' said Sylvia, breaking out into a wild cry, that carried with it more conviction of agony than much weeping could have done. 'I may be rude and hard, and I may ask strange questions, as if I cared for t' answers yo' may gi' me; an', in my heart o' hearts, I care for nought but to have father back wi' us, as love him so dear. I can hardly tell what I say, much less why I say it. Mother is so patient, it puts me past mysel', for I could fight wi' t' very walls, I'm so mad wi' grieving. Sure, they'll let him come back wi' us to-morrow, when they hear from his own sel' why he did it?'
She looked eagerly at Hester for an answer to this last question, which she had put in a soft, entreating tone, as if with Hester herself the decision rested. Hester shook her head. Sylvia came up to her and took her hands, almost fondling them.
'Yo' dunnot think they'll be hard wi' him when they hear all about it, done yo'? Why, York Castle's t' place they send a' t' thieves and robbers to, not honest men like feyther.'
Hester put her hand on Sylvia's shoulder with a soft, caressing gesture.
'Philip will know,' she said, using Philip's name as a kind of spell - it would have been so to her. 'Come away to Philip,' said she again, urging Sylvia, by her looks and manner, to prepare for the little journey. Sylvia moved away for this purpose, saying to herself, -
'It's going to see feyther: he will tell me all.'
Poor Mrs Robson was collecting a few clothes for her husband with an eager, trembling hand, so trembling that article after article fell to the floor, and it was Hester who picked them up; and at last, after many vain attempts by the grief-shaken woman, it was Hester who tied the bundle, and arranged the cloak, and fastened down the hood; Sylvia standing by, not unobservant, though apparently absorbed in her own thoughts.
At length, all was arranged, and the key given over to Kester. As they passed out into the storm, Sylvia said to Hester, -
'Thou's a real good wench. Thou's fitter to be about mother than me. I'm but a cross-patch at best, an' now it's like as if I was no good to nobody.'
Sylvia began to cry, but Hester had no time to attend to her, even had she the inclination: all her care was needed to help the hasty, tottering steps of the wife who was feebly speeding up the wet and slippery brow to her husband. All Bell thought of was that 'he' was at the end of her toil. She hardly understood when she was to see him; her weary heart and brain had only received one idea - that each step she was now taking was leading her to him. Tired and exhausted with her quick walk up hill, battling all the way with wind and rain, she could hardly have held up another minute when they reached the tax-cart in the lane, and Hester had almost to lift her on to the front seat by the driver. She covered and wrapped up the poor old woman, and afterwards placed herself in the straw at the back of the cart, packed up close by the shivering, weeping Sylvia. Neither of them spoke a word at first; but Hester's tender conscience smote her for her silence before they had reached Monkshaven. She wanted to say some kind word to Sylvia, and yet knew not how to begin. Somehow, without knowing why, or reasoning upon it, she hit upon Philip's message as the best comfort in her power to give. She had delivered it before, but it had been apparently little heeded.
'Philip bade me say it was business as kept him from fetchin' yo' hissel' - business wi' the lawyer, about - about yo'r father.'
'What do they say?' said Sylvia, suddenly, lifting her bowed head, as though she would read her companion's face in the dim light.
'I dunnot know,' said Hester, sadly. They were now jolting over the paved streets, and not a word could be spoken. They were now at Philip's door, which was opened to receive them even before they arrived, as if some one had been watching and listening. The old servant, Phoebe, the fixture in the house, who had belonged to it and to the shop for the last twenty years, came out, holding a candle and sheltering it in her hand from the weather, while Philip helped the tottering steps of Mrs Robson as she descended behind. As Hester had got in last, so she had now to be the first to move. Just as she was moving, Sylvia's cold little hand was laid on her arm.
'I am main and thankful to yo'. I ask yo'r pardon for speaking cross, but, indeed, my heart's a'most broken wi' fear about feyther.'
The voice was so plaintive, so full of tears, that Hester could not but yearn towards the speaker. She bent over and kissed her cheek, and then clambered unaided down by the wheel on the dark side of the cart. Wistfully she longed for one word of thanks or recognition from Philip, in whose service she had performed this hard task; but he was otherwise occupied, and on casting a further glance back as she turned the corner of the street, she saw Philip lifting Sylvia carefully down in his arms from her footing on the top of the wheel, and then they all went into the light and the warmth, the door was shut, the lightened cart drove briskly away, and Hester, in rain, and cold, and darkness, went homewards with her tired sad heart.
Philip had done all he could, since his return from lawyer Dawson's, to make his house bright and warm for the reception of his beloved. He had a strong apprehension of the probable fate of poor Daniel Robson; he had a warm sympathy with the miserable distress of the wife and daughter; but still at the back of his mind his spirits danced as if this was to them a festal occasion. He had even taken unconscious pleasure in Phoebe's suspicious looks and tones, as he had hurried and superintended her in her operations. A fire blazed cheerily in the parlour, almost dazzling to the travellers brought in from the darkness and the rain; candles burned - two candles, much to Phoebe's discontent. Poor Bell Robson had to sit down almost as soon as she entered the room, so worn out was she with fatigue and excitement; yet she grudged every moment which separated her, as she thought, from her husband.
'I'm ready now,' said she, standing up, and rather repulsing Sylvia's cares; 'I'm ready now,' said she, looking eagerly at Philip, as if for him to lead the way.
'It's not to-night,' replied he, almost apologetically. 'You can't see him to-night; it's to-morrow morning before he goes to York; it was better for yo' to be down here in town ready; and beside I didn't know when I sent for ye that he was locked up for the night.'
'Well-a-day, well-a-day,' said Bell, rocking herself backwards and forwards, and trying to soothe herself with these words. Suddenly she said, -
'But I've brought his comforter wi' me - his red woollen comforter as he's allays slept in this twelvemonth past; he'll get his rheumatiz again; oh, Philip, cannot I get it to him?'
'I'll send it by Phoebe,' said Philip, who was busy making tea, hospitable and awkward.
'Cannot I take it mysel'?' repeated Bell. 'I could make surer nor anybody else; they'd maybe not mind yon woman - Phoebe d'ye call her?'
'Nay, mother,' said Sylvia, 'thou's not fit to go.'
'Shall I go?' asked Philip, hoping she would say 'no', and be content with Phoebe, and leave him where he was.
'Oh, Philip, would yo'?' said Sylvia, turning round.
'Ay,' said Bell, 'if thou would take it they'd be minding yo'.'
So there was nothing for it but for him to go, in the first flush of his delightful rites of hospitality.
'It's not far,' said he, consoling himself rather than them. 'I'll be back in ten minutes, the tea is maskit, and Phoebe will take yo'r wet things and dry 'em by t' kitchen fire; and here's the stairs,' opening a door in the corner of the room, from which the stairs immediately ascended. 'There's two rooms at the top; that to t' left is all made ready, t' other is mine,' said he, reddening a little as he spoke. Bell was busy undoing her bundle with trembling fingers.
'Here,' said she; 'and oh, lad, here's a bit o' peppermint cake; he's main and fond on it, and I catched sight on it by good luck just t' last minute.'
Philip was gone, and the excitement of Bell and Sylvia flagged once more, and sank into wondering despondency. Sylvia, however, roused herself enough to take off her mother's wet clothes, and she took them timidly into the kitchen and arranged them before Phoebe's fire.
Phoebe opened her lips once or twice to speak in remonstrance, and then, with an effort, gulped her words down; for her sympathy, like that of all the rest of the Monkshaven world, was in favour of Daniel Robson; and his daughter might place her dripping cloak this night wherever she would, for Phoebe.
Sylvia found her mother still sitting on the chair next the door, where she had first placed herself on entering the room.
'I'll gi'e you some tea, mother,' said she, struck with the shrunken look of Bell's face.
'No, no' said her mother. 'It's not manners for t' help oursel's.'
'I'm sure Philip would ha' wished yo' for to take it,' said Sylvia, pouring out a cup.
Just then he returned, and something in his look, some dumb expression of delight at her occupation, made her blush and hesitate for an instant; but then she went on, and made a cup of tea ready, saying something a little incoherent all the time about her mother's need of it. After tea Bell Robson's weariness became so extreme, that Philip and Sylvia urged her to go to bed. She resisted a little, partly out of 'manners,' and partly because she kept fancying, poor woman, that somehow or other her husband might send for her. But about seven o'clock Sylvia persuaded her to come upstairs. Sylvia, too, bade Philip good-night, and his look followed the last wave of her dress as she disappeared up the stairs; then leaning his chin on his hand, he gazed at vacancy and thought deeply - for how long he knew not, so intent was his mind on the chances of futurity.
He was aroused by Sylvia's coming down-stairs into the sitting-room again. He started up.
'Mother is so shivery,' said she. 'May I go in there,' indicating the kitchen, 'and make her a drop of gruel?'
'Phoebe shall make it, not you,' said Philip, eagerly preventing her, by going to the kitchen door and giving his orders. When he turned round again, Sylvia was standing over the fire, leaning her head against the stone mantel-piece for the comparative coolness. She did not speak at first, or take any notice of him. He watched her furtively, and saw that she was crying, the tears running down her cheeks, and she too much absorbed in her thoughts to wipe them away with her apron.
While he was turning over in his mind what he could best say to comfort her (his heart, like hers, being almost too full for words), she suddenly looked him full in the face, saying, -
'Philip! won't they soon let him go? what can they do to him?' Her open lips trembled while awaiting his answer, the tears came up and filled her eyes. It was just the question he had most dreaded; it led to the terror that possessed his own mind, but which he had hoped to keep out of hers. He hesitated. 'Speak, lad!' said she, impatiently, with a little passionate gesture. 'I can see thou knows!'
He had only made it worse by consideration; he rushed blindfold at a reply.
'He's ta'en up for felony.'
'Felony,' said she. 'There thou're out; he's in for letting yon men out; thou may call it rioting if thou's a mind to set folks again' him, but it's too bad to cast such hard words at him as yon - felony,' she repeated, in a half-offended tone.
'It's what the lawyers call it,' said Philip, sadly; 'it's no word o' mine.'
'Lawyers is allays for making the worst o' things,' said she, a little pacified, 'but folks shouldn't allays believe them.'
'It's lawyers as has to judge i' t' long run.'
'Cannot the justices, Mr Harter and them as is no lawyers, give him a sentence to-morrow, wi'out sending him to York?'
'No!' said Philip, shaking his head. He went to the kitchen door and asked if the gruel was not ready, so anxious was he to stop the conversation at this point; but Phoebe, who held her young master in but little respect, scolded him for a stupid man, who thought, like all his sex, that gruel was to be made in a minute, whatever the fire was, and bade him come and make it for himself if he was in such a hurry.
He had to return discomfited to Sylvia, who meanwhile had arranged her thoughts ready to return to the charge.
'And say he's sent to York, and say he's tried theere, what's t' worst they can do again' him?' asked she, keeping down her agitation to look at Philip the more sharply. Her eyes never slackened their penetrating gaze at his countenance, until he replied, with the utmost unwillingness, and most apparent confusion, -
'They may send him to Botany Bay.'
He knew that he held back a worse contingency, and he was mortally afraid that she would perceive this reserve. But what he did say was so much beyond her utmost apprehension, which had only reached to various terms of imprisonment, that she did not imagine the dark shadow lurking behind. What he had said was too much for her. Her eyes dilated, her lips blanched, her pale cheeks grew yet paler. After a minute's look into his face, as if fascinated by some horror, she stumbled backwards into the chair in the chimney comer, and covered her face with her hands, moaning out some inarticulate words.
Philip was on his knees by her, dumb from excess of sympathy, kissing her dress, all unfelt by her; he murmured half-words, he began passionate sentences that died away upon his lips; and she - she thought of nothing but her father, and was possessed and rapt out of herself by the dread of losing him to that fearful country which was almost like the grave to her, so all but impassable was the gulf. But Philip knew that it was possible that the separation impending might be that of the dark, mysterious grave - that the gulf between the father and child might indeed be that which no living, breathing, warm human creature can ever cross.
'Sylvie, Sylvie!' said he, - and all their conversation had to be carried on in low tones and whispers, for fear of the listening ears above, - 'don't, - don't, thou'rt rending my heart. Oh, Sylvie, hearken. There's not a thing I'll not do; there's not a penny I've got, - th' last drop of blood that's in me, - I'll give up my life for his.'
'Life,' said she, putting down her hands, and looking at him as if her looks could pierce his soul; 'who talks o' touching his life? Thou're going crazy, Philip, I think;' but she did not think so, although she would fain have believed it. In her keen agony she read his thoughts as though they were an open page; she sate there, upright and stony, the conviction creeping over her face like the grey shadow of death. No more tears, no more trembling, almost no more breathing. He could not bear to see her, and yet she held his eyes, and he feared to make the effort necessary to move or to turn away, lest the shunning motion should carry conviction to her heart. Alas! conviction of the probable danger to her father's life was already there: it was that that was calming her down, tightening her muscles, bracing her nerves. In that hour she lost all her early youth.
'Then he may be hung,' said she, low and solemnly, after a long pause. Philip turned away his face, and did not utter a word. Again deep silence, broken only by some homely sound in the kitchen. 'Mother must not know on it,' said Sylvia, in the same tone in which she had spoken before.
'It's t' worst as can happen to him,' said Philip. 'More likely he'll be transported: maybe he'll be brought in innocent after all.'
'No,' said Sylvia, heavily, as one without hope - as if she were reading some dreadful doom in the tablets of the awful future. 'They'll hang him. Oh, feyther! feyther!' she choked out, almost stuffing her apron into her mouth to deaden the sound, and catching at Philip's hand, and wringing it with convulsive force, till the pain that he loved was nearly more than he could bear. No words of his could touch such agony; but irrepressibly, and as he would have done it to a wounded child, he bent over her, and kissed her with a tender, trembling kiss. She did not repulse it, probably she did not even perceive it.
At that moment Phoebe came in with the gruel. Philip saw her, and knew, in an instant, what the old woman's conclusion must needs be; but Sylvia had to be shaken by the now standing Philip, before she could be brought back to the least consciousness of the present time. She lifted up her white face to understand his words, then she rose up like one who slowly comes to the use of her limbs.
'I suppose I mun go,' she said; 'but I'd sooner face the dead. If she asks me, Philip, what mun I say?'
'She'll not ask yo',' said he, 'if yo' go about as common. She's never asked yo' all this time, an' if she does, put her on to me. I'll keep it from her as long as I can; I'll manage better nor I've done wi' thee, Sylvie,' said he, with a sad, faint smile, looking with fond penitence at her altered countenance.
'Thou mustn't blame thysel',' said Sylvia, seeing his regret. 'I brought it on me mysel'; I thought I would ha' t' truth, whativer came on it, and now I'm not strong enough to stand it, God help me!' she continued, piteously.
'Oh, Sylvie, let me help yo'! I cannot do what God can, - I'm not meaning that, but I can do next to Him of any man. I have loved yo' for years an' years, in a way it's terrible to think on, if my love can do nought now to comfort yo' in your sore distress.'
'Cousin Philip,' she replied, in the same measured tone in which she had always spoken since she had learnt the extent of her father's danger, and the slow stillness of her words was in harmony with the stony look of her face, 'thou's a comfort to me, I couldn't bide my life without thee; but I cannot take in the thought o' love, it seems beside me quite; I can think on nought but them that is quick and them that is dead.'
Philip had money in the Fosters' bank, not so much as it might have been if he had not had to pay for the furniture in his house. Much of this furniture was old, and had belonged to the brothers Foster, and they had let Philip have it at a very reasonable rate; but still the purchase of it had diminished the amount of his savings. But on the sum which he possessed he drew largely - he drew all - nay, he overdrew his account somewhat, to his former masters' dismay, although the kindness of their hearts overruled the harder arguments of their heads.
All was wanted to defend Daniel Robson at the approaching York assizes. His wife had handed over to Philip all the money or money's worth she could lay her hands upon. Daniel himself was not one to be much beforehand with the world; but to Bell's thrifty imagination the round golden guineas, tied up in the old stocking-foot against rent-day, seemed a mint of money on which Philip might draw infinitely. As yet she did not comprehend the extent of her husband's danger. Sylvia went about like one in a dream, keeping back the hot tears that might interfere with the course of life she had prescribed for herself in that terrible hour when she first learnt all. Every penny of money either she or her mother could save went to Philip. Kester's hoard, too, was placed in Hepburn's hands at Sylvia's earnest entreaty; for Kester had no great opinion of Philip's judgment, and would rather have taken his money straight himself to Mr Dawson, and begged him to use it for his master's behoof.
Indeed, if anything, the noiseless breach between Kester and Philip had widened of late. It was seed-time, and Philip, in his great anxiety for every possible interest that might affect Sylvia, and also as some distraction from his extreme anxiety about her father, had taken to study agriculture of an evening in some old books which he had borrowed - The Farmer's Complete Guide, and such like; and from time to time he came down upon the practical dogged Kester with directions gathered from the theories in his books. Of course the two fell out, but without many words. Kester persevered in his old ways, making light of Philip and his books in manner and action, till at length Philip withdrew from the contest. 'Many a man may lead a horse to water, but there's few can make him drink,' and Philip certainly was not one of those few. Kester, indeed, looked upon him with jealous eyes on many accounts. He had favoured Charley Kinraid as a lover of Sylvia's; and though he had no idea of the truth - though he believed in the drowning of the specksioneer as much as any one - yet the year which had elapsed since Kinraid's supposed death was but a very short while to the middle-aged man, who forgot how slowly time passes with the young; and he could often have scolded Sylvia, if the poor girl had been a whit less heavy at heart than she was, for letting Philip come so much about her - come, though it was on her father's business. For the darkness of their common dread drew them together, occasionally to the comparative exclusion of Bell and Kester, which the latter perceived and resented. Kester even allowed himself to go so far as to wonder what Philip could want with all the money, which to him seemed unaccountable; and once or twice the ugly thought crossed his mind, that shops conducted by young men were often not so profitable as when guided by older heads, and that some of the coin poured into Philip's keeping might have another destination than the defence of his master. Poor Philip! and he was spending all his own, and more than all his own money, and no one ever knew it, as he had bound down his friendly bankers to secrecy.
Once only Kester ventured to speak to Sylvia on the subject of Philip. She had followed her cousin to the field just in front of their house, just outside the porch, to ask him some question she dared not put in her mother's presence - (Bell, indeed, in her anxiety, usually absorbed all the questions when Philip came) - and stood, after Philip had bid her good-by, hardly thinking about him at all, but looking unconsciously after him as he ascended the brow; and at the top he had turned to take a last glance at the place his love inhabited, and, seeing her, he had waved his hat in gratified farewell. She, meanwhile, was roused from far other thoughts than of him, and of his now acknowledged love, by the motion against the sky, and was turning back into the house when she heard Kester's low hoarse call, and saw him standing at the shippen door.
'Come hither, wench,' said he, indignantly; 'is this a time for courtin'?'
'Courting?' said she, drawing up her head, and looking back at him with proud defiance.
'Ay, courtin'! what other mak' o' thing is't when thou's gazin' after yon meddlesome chap, as if thou'd send thy eyes after him, and he making marlocks back at thee? It's what we ca'ed courtin' i' my young days anyhow. And it's noane a time for a wench to go courtin' when her feyther's i' prison,' said he, with a consciousness as he uttered these last words that he was cruel and unjust and going too far, yet carried on to say them by his hot jealousy against Philip.
Sylvia continued looking at him without speaking: she was too much offended for expression.
'Thou may glower an' thou may look, lass,' said he, 'but a'd thought better on thee. It's like last week thy last sweetheart were drowned; but thou's not one to waste time i' rememberin' them as is gone - if, indeed, thou iver cared a button for yon Kinraid - if it wasn't a make-believe.'
Her lips were contracted and drawn up, showing her small glittering teeth, which were scarcely apart as she breathed out -
'Thou thinks so, does thou, that I've forgetten him? Thou'd better have a care o' thy tongue.'
Then, as if fearful that her self-command might give way, she turned into the house; and going through the kitchen like a blind person, she went up to her now unused chamber, and threw herself, face downwards, flat on her bed, almost smothering herself.
Ever since Daniel's committal, the decay that had imperceptibly begun in his wife's bodily and mental strength during her illness of the previous winter, had been making quicker progress. She lost her reticence of speech, and often talked to herself. She had not so much forethought as of old; slight differences, it is true, but which, with some others of the same description, gave foundation for the homely expression which some now applied to Bell, 'She'll never be t' same woman again.
This afternoon she had cried herself to sleep in her chair after Philip's departure. She had not heard Sylvia's sweeping passage through the kitchen; but half an hour afterwards she was startled up by Kester's abrupt entry.
'Where's Sylvie?' asked he.
'I don't know,' said Bell, looking scared, and as if she was ready to cry. 'It's no news about him?' said she, standing up, and supporting herself on the stick she was now accustomed to use.
'Bless yo', no, dunnot be afeared, missus; it's only as a spoke hasty to t' wench, an' a want t' tell her as a'm sorry,' said Kester, advancing into the kitchen, and looking round for Sylvia.
'Sylvie, Sylvie!' shouted he; 'she mun be i' t' house.'
Sylvia came slowly down the stairs, and stood before him. Her face was pale, her mouth set and determined; the light of her eyes veiled in gloom. Kester shrank from her look, and even more from her silence.
'A'm come to ax pardon,' said he, after a little pause.
She was still silent.
'A'm noane above axing pardon, though a'm fifty and more, and thee's but a silly wench, as a've nursed i' my arms. A'll say before thy mother as a ought niver to ha' used them words, and as how a'm sorry for 't.'
'I don't understand it all,' said Bell, in a hurried and perplexed tone. 'What has Kester been saying, my lass?' she added, turning to Sylvia.
Sylvia went a step or two nearer to her mother, and took hold of her hand as if to quieten her; then facing once more round, she said deliberately to Kester, -
'If thou wasn't Kester, I'd niver forgive thee. Niver,' she added, with bitterness, as the words he had used recurred to her mind. 'It's in me to hate thee now, for saying what thou did; but thou're dear old Kester after all, and I can't help mysel', I mun needs forgive thee,' and she went towards him. He took her little head between his horny hands and kissed it. She looked up with tears in her eyes, saying softly, -
'Niver say things like them again. Niver speak on - - '
'A'll bite my tongue off first,' he interrupted.
He kept his word.
In all Philip's comings and goings to and from Haytersbank Farm at this time, he never spoke again of his love. In look, words, manner, he was like a thoughtful, tender brother; nothing more. He could be nothing more in the presence of the great dread which loomed larger upon him after every conversation with the lawyer.
For Mr Donkin had been right in his prognostication. Government took up the attack on the Rendezvous with a high and heavy hand. It was necessary to assert authority which had been of late too often braved. An example must be made, to strike dismay into those who opposed and defied the press-gang; and all the minor authorities who held their powers from Government were in a similar manner severe and relentless in the execution of their duty. So the attorney, who went over to see the prisoner in York Castle, told Philip. He added that Daniel still retained his pride in his achievement, and could not be brought to understand the dangerous position in which he was placed; that when pressed and questioned as to circumstances that might possibly be used in his defence, he always wandered off to accounts of previous outrages committed by the press-gang, or to passionate abuse of the trick by which men had been lured from their homes on the night in question to assist in putting out an imaginary fire, and then seized and carried off. Some of this very natural indignation might possibly have some effect on the jury; and this seemed the only ground of hope, and was indeed a slight one, as the judge was likely to warn the jury against allowing their natural sympathy in such a case to divert their minds from the real question.
Such was the substance of what Philip heard, and heard repeatedly, during his many visits to Mr Dawson. And now the time of trial drew near; for the York assizes opened on March the twelfth; not much above three weeks since the offence was committed which took Daniel from his home and placed him in peril of death.
Philip was glad that, the extremity of his danger never having been hinted to Bell, and travelling some forty miles being a most unusual exertion at that time to persons of her class, the idea of going to see her husband at York had never suggested itself to Bell's mind. Her increasing feebleness made this seem a step only to be taken in case of the fatal extreme necessity; such was the conclusion that both Sylvia and he had come to; and it was the knowledge of this that made Sylvia strangle her own daily longing to see her father. Not but that her hopes were stronger than her fears. Philip never told her the causes for despondency; she was young, and she, like her father, could not understand how fearful sometimes is the necessity for prompt and severe punishment of rebellion against authority.
Philip was to be in York during the time of the assizes; and it was understood, almost without words, that if the terrible worst occurred, the wife and daughter were to come to York as soon as might be. For this end Philip silently made all the necessary arrangements before leaving Monkshaven. The sympathy of all men was with him; it was too large an occasion for Coulson to be anything but magnanimous. He urged Philip to take all the time requisite; to leave all business cares to him. And as Philip went about pale and sad, there was another cheek that grew paler still, another eye that filled with quiet tears as his heaviness of heart became more and more apparent. The day for opening the assizes came on. Philip was in York Minster, watching the solemn antique procession in which the highest authority in the county accompanies the judges to the House of the Lord, to be there admonished as to the nature of their duties. As Philip listened to the sermon with a strained and beating heart, his hopes rose higher than his fears for the first time, and that evening he wrote his first letter to Sylvia.
'It will be longer first than I thought for. Mr Dawson says Tuesday in next week. But keep up your heart. I have been hearing the sermon to-day which is preached to the judges; and the clergyman said so much in it about mercy and forgiveness, I think they cannot fail to be lenient this assize. I have seen uncle, who looks but thin, but is in good heart: only he will keep saying he would do it over again if he had the chance, which neither Mr Dawson nor I think is wise in him, in especial as the gaoler is by and hears every word as is said. He was very fain of hearing all about home; and wants you to rear Daisy's calf, as he thinks she will prove a good one. He bade me give his best love to you and my aunt, and his kind duty to Kester.
'Sylvia, will you try and forget how I used to scold you about your writing and spelling, and just write me two or three lines. I think I would rather have them badly spelt than not, because then I shall be sure they are yours. And never mind about capitals; I was a fool to say such a deal about them, for a man does just as well without them. A letter from you would do a vast to keep me patient all these days till Tuesday. Direct -
'Mr Philip Hepburn,
'P.S. The sermon was grand. The text was Zechariah vii. 9, "Execute true judgment and show mercy." God grant it may have put mercy into the judge's heart as is to try my uncle.'
Heavily the days passed over. On Sunday Bell and Sylvia went to church, with a strange, half-superstitious feeling, as if they could propitiate the Most High to order the events in their favour by paying Him the compliment of attending to duties in their time of sorrow which they had too often neglected in their prosperous days.
But He 'who knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust,' took pity upon His children, and sent some of His blessed peace into their hearts, else they could scarce have endured the agony of suspense of those next hours. For as they came slowly and wearily home from church, Sylvia could no longer bear her secret, but told her mother of the peril in which Daniel stood. Cold as the March wind blew, they had not felt it, and had sate down on a hedge bank for Bell to rest. And then Sylvia spoke, trembling and sick for fear, yet utterly unable to keep silence any longer. Bell heaved up her hands, and let them fall down on her knees before she replied.
'The Lord is above us,' said she, solemnly. 'He has sent a fear o' this into my heart afore now. I niver breathed it to thee, my lass - - '
'And I niver spoke on it to thee, mother, because - - '
Sylvia choked with crying, and laid her head on her mother's lap, feeling that she was no longer the strong one, and the protector, but the protected. Bell went on, stroking her head,
'The Lord is like a tender nurse as weans a child to look on and to like what it lothed once. He has sent me dreams as has prepared me for this, if so be it comes to pass.
'Philip is hopeful,' said Sylvia, raising her head and looking through her tears at her mother.
'Ay, he is. And I cannot tell, but I think it's not for nought as the Lord has ta'en away all fear o' death out o' my heart. I think He means as Daniel and me is to go hand-in-hand through the valley - like as we walked up to our wedding in Crosthwaite Church. I could never guide th' house without Daniel, and I should be feared he'd take a deal more nor is good for him without me.'
'But me, mother, thou's forgetting me,' moaned out Sylvia. 'Oh, mother, mother, think on me!'
'Nay, my lass, I'm noane forgetting yo'. I'd a sore heart a' last winter a-thinking on thee, when that chap Kinraid were hanging about thee. I'll noane speak ill on the dead, but I were uneasylike. But sin' Philip and thee seem to ha' made it up - - '
Sylvia shivered, and opened her mouth to speak, but did not say a word.
'And sin' the Lord has been comforting me, and talking to me many a time when thou's thought I were asleep, things has seemed to redd theirselves up, and if Daniel goes, I'm ready to follow. I could niver stand living to hear folks say he'd been hung; it seems so unnatural and shameful.'
'But, mother, he won't! - he shan't be hung!' said Sylvia, springing to her feet. 'Philip says he won't.'
Bell shook her head. They walked on, Sylvia both disheartened and almost irritated at her mother's despondency. But before they went to bed at night Bell said things which seemed as though the morning's feelings had been but temporary, and as if she was referring every decision to the period of her husband's return. 'When father comes home,' seemed a sort of burden at the beginning or end of every sentence, and this reliance on his certain coming back to them was almost as great a trial to Sylvia as the absence of all hope had been in the morning. But that instinct told her that her mother was becoming incapable of argument, she would have asked her why her views were so essentially changed in so few hours. This inability of reason in poor Bell made Sylvia feel very desolate.
Monday passed over - how, neither of them knew, for neither spoke of what was filling the thoughts of both. Before it was light on Tuesday morning, Bell was astir.
'It's very early, mother,' said weary, sleepy Sylvia, dreading returning consciousness.
'Ay, lass!' said Bell, in a brisk, cheerful tone; 'but he'll, maybe, be home to-night, and I'se bound to have all things ready for him.'
'Anyhow,' said Sylvia, sitting up in bed, 'he couldn't come home to-night.'
'Tut, lass! thou doesn't know how quick a man comes home to wife and child. I'll be a' ready at any rate.'
She hurried about in a way which Sylvia wondered to see; till at length she fancied that perhaps her mother did so to drive away thought. Every place was cleaned; there was scarce time allowed for breakfast; till at last, long before mid-day, all the work was done, and the two sat down to their spinning-wheels. Sylvia's spirits sank lower and lower at each speech of her mother's, from whose mind all fear seemed to have disappeared, leaving only a strange restless kind of excitement.
'It's time for t' potatoes,' said Bell, after her wool had snapped many a time from her uneven tread.
'Mother,' said Sylvia, 'it's but just gone ten!'
'Put 'em on,' said Bell, without attending to the full meaning of her daughter's words. 'It'll, maybe, hasten t' day on if we get dinner done betimes.'
'But Kester is in t' Far Acre field, and he'll not be home till noon.'
This seemed to settle matters for a while; but then Bell pushed her wheel away, and began searching for her hood and cloak. Sylvia found them for her, and then asked sadly -
'What does ta want 'em for, mother?'
'I'll go up t' brow and through t' field, and just have a look down t' lane.'
'I'll go wi' thee,' said Sylvia, feeling all the time the uselessness of any looking for intelligence from York so early in the day. Very patiently did she wait by her mother's side during the long half-hour which Bell spent in gazing down the road for those who never came.
When they got home Sylvia put the potatoes on to boil; but when dinner was ready and the three were seated at the dresser, Bell pushed her plate away from her, saying it was so long after dinner time that she was past eating. Kester would have said something about its being only half-past twelve, but Sylvia gave him a look beseeching silence, and he went on with his dinner without a word, only brushing away the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand from time to time.
'A'll noane go far fra' home t' rest o' t' day,' said he, in a whisper to Sylvia, as he went out.
'Will this day niver come to an end?' cried Bell, plaintively.
'Oh, mother! it'll come to an end some time, never fear. I've heerd say -
'To even-song - to even-song,' repeated Bell. 'D'ye think now that even-song means death, Sylvie?'
'I cannot tell - I cannot bear it. Mother,' said Sylvia, in despair, 'I'll make some clap-bread: that's a heavy job, and will while away t' afternoon.'
'Ay, do!' replied the mother. 'He'll like it fresh - he'll like it fresh.'
Murmuring and talking to herself, she fell into a doze, from which Sylvia was careful not to disturb her.
The days were now getting long, although as cold as ever; and at Haytersbank Farm the light lingered, as there was no near horizon to bring on early darkness. Sylvia had all ready for her mother's tea against she wakened; but she slept on and on, the peaceful sleep of a child, and Sylvia did not care to waken her. Just after the sun had set, she saw Kester outside the window making signs to her to come out. She stole out on tip-toe by the back-kitchen, the door of which was standing open. She almost ran against Philip, who did not perceive her, as he was awaiting her coming the other way round the corner of the house, and who turned upon her a face whose import she read in an instant. 'Philip!' was all she said, and then she fainted at his feet, coming down with a heavy bang on the round paving stones of the yard.
'Kester! Kester!' he cried, for she looked like one dead, and with all his strength the wearied man could not lift her and carry her into the house.
With Kester's help she was borne into the back-kitchen, and Kester rushed to the pump for some cold water to throw over her.
While Philip, kneeling at her head, was partly supporting her in his arms, and heedless of any sight or sound, the shadow of some one fell upon him. He looked up and saw his aunt; the old dignified, sensible expression on her face, exactly like her former self, composed, strong, and calm.
'My lass,' said she, sitting down by Philip, and gently taking her out of his arms into her own. 'Lass, bear up! we mun bear up, and be agait on our way to him, he'll be needing us now. Bear up, my lass! the Lord will give us strength. We mun go to him; ay, time's precious; thou mun cry thy cry at after!'
Sylvia opened her dim eyes, and heard her mother's voice; the ideas came slowly into her mind, and slowly she rose up, standing still, like one who has been stunned, to regain her strength; and then, taking hold of her mother's arm, she said, in a soft, strange voice -
'Let's go. I'm ready.'
It was the afternoon of an April day in that same year, and the sky was blue above, with little sailing white clouds catching the pleasant sunlight. The earth in that northern country had scarcely yet put on her robe of green. The few trees grew near brooks running down from the moors and the higher ground. The air was full of pleasant sounds prophesying of the coming summer. The rush, and murmur, and tinkle of the hidden watercourses; the song of the lark poised high up in the sunny air; the bleat of the lambs calling to their mothers - everything inanimate was full of hope and gladness.
For the first time for a mournful month the front door of Haytersbank Farm was open; the warm spring air might enter, and displace the sad dark gloom, if it could. There was a newly-lighted fire in the unused grate; and Kester was in the kitchen, with his clogs off his feet, so as not to dirty the spotless floor, stirring here and there, and trying in his awkward way to make things look home-like and cheerful. He had brought in some wild daffodils which he had been to seek in the dawn, and he placed them in a jug on the dresser. Dolly Reid, the woman who had come to help Sylvia during her mother's illness a year ago, was attending to something in the back-kitchen, making a noise among the milk-cans, and singing a ballad to herself as she worked; yet every now and then she checked herself in her singing, as if a sudden recollection came upon her that this was neither the time nor the place for songs. Once or twice she took up the funeral psalm which is sung by the bearers of the body in that country -
But it was of no use: the pleasant April weather out of doors, and perhaps the natural spring in the body, disposed her nature to cheerfulness, and insensibly she returned to her old ditty.
Kester was turning over many things in his rude honest mind as he stood there, giving his finishing touches every now and then to the aspect of the house-place, in preparation for the return of the widow and daughter of his old master.
It was a month and more since they had left home; more than a fortnight since Kester, with three halfpence in his pocket, had set out after his day's work to go to York - to walk all night long, and to wish Daniel Robson his last farewell.
Daniel had tried to keep up and had brought out one or two familiar, thread-bare, well-worn jokes, such as he had made Kester chuckle over many a time and oft, when the two had been together afield or in the shippen at the home which he should never more see. But no 'Old Grouse in the gunroom' could make Kester smile, or do anything except groan in but a heart-broken sort of fashion, and presently the talk had become more suitable to the occasion, Daniel being up to the last the more composed of the two; for Kester, when turned out of the condemned cell, fairly broke down into the heavy sobbing he had never thought to sob again on earth. He had left Bell and Sylvia in their lodging at York, under Philip's care; he dared not go to see them; he could not trust himself; he had sent them his duty, and bade Philip tell Sylvia that the game-hen had brought out fifteen chickens at a hatch.
Yet although Kester sent this message through Philip - although he saw and recognized all that Philip was doing in their behalf, in the behalf of Daniel Robson, the condemned felon, his honoured master - he liked Hepburn not a whit better than he had done before all this sorrow had come upon them.
Philip had, perhaps, shown a want of tact in his conduct to Kester. Acute with passionate keenness in one direction, he had a sort of dull straightforwardness in all others. For instance, he had returned Kester the money which the latter had so gladly advanced towards the expenses incurred in defending Daniel. Now the money which Philip gave him back was part of an advance which Foster Brothers had made on Philip's own account. Philip had thought that it was hard on Kester to lose his savings in a hopeless cause, and had made a point of repaying the old man; but Kester would far rather have felt that the earnings of the sweat of his brow had gone in the attempt to save his master's life than have had twice ten times as many golden guineas.
Moreover, it seemed to take his action in lending his hoard out of the sphere of love, and make it but a leaden common loan, when it was Philip who brought him the sum, not Sylvia, into whose hands he had given it.
With these feelings Kester felt his heart shut up as he saw the long-watched-for two coming down the little path with a third person; with Philip holding up the failing steps of poor Bell Robson, as, loaded with her heavy mourning, and feeble from the illness which had detained her in York ever since the day of her husband's execution, she came faltering back to her desolate home. Sylvia was also occupied in attending to her mother; one or twice, when they paused a little, she and Philip spoke, in the familiar way in which there is no coyness nor reserve. Kester caught up his clogs, and went quickly out through the back-kitchen into the farm-yard, not staying to greet them, as he had meant to do; and yet it was dull-sighted of him not to have perceived that whatever might be the relations between Philip and Sylvia, he was sure to have accompanied them home; for, alas! he was the only male protector of their blood remaining in the world. Poor Kester, who would fain have taken that office upon himself, chose to esteem himself cast off, and went heavily about the farmyard, knowing that he ought to go in and bid such poor welcome as he had to offer, yet feeling too much to like to show himself before Philip.
It was long, too, before any one had leisure to come and seek him. Bell's mind had flashed up for a time, till the fatal day, only to be reduced by her subsequent illness into complete and hopeless childishness. It was all Philip and Sylvia could do to manage her in the first excitement of returning home; her restless inquiry for him who would never more be present in the familiar scene, her feverish weariness and uneasiness, all required tender soothing and most patient endurance of her refusals to be satisfied with what they said or did.
At length she took some food, and, refreshed by it, and warmed by the fire, she sank asleep in her chair. Then Philip would fain have spoken with Sylvia before the hour came at which he must return to Monkshaven, but she eluded him, and went in search of Kester, whose presence she had missed.
She had guessed some of the causes which kept him from greeting them on their first return. But it was not as if she had shaped these causes into the definite form of words. It is astonishing to look back and find how differently constituted were the minds of most people fifty or sixty years ago; they felt, they understood, without going through reasoning or analytic processes, and if this was the case among the more educated people, of course it was still more so in the class to which Sylvia belonged. She knew by some sort of intuition that if Philip accompanied them home (as, indeed, under the circumstances, was so natural as to be almost unavoidable), the old servant and friend of the family would absent himself; and so she slipped away at the first possible moment to go in search of him. There he was in the farm-yard, leaning over the gate that opened into the home-field, apparently watching the poultry that scratched and pecked at the new-springing grass with the utmost relish. A little farther off were the ewes with their new-dropped lambs, beyond that the great old thorn-tree with its round fresh clusters of buds, again beyond that there was a glimpse of the vast sunny rippling sea; but Sylvia knew well that Kester was looking at none of these things. She went up to him and touched his arm. He started from his reverie, and turned round upon her with his dim eyes full of unshed tears. When he saw her black dress, her deep mourning, he had hard work to keep from breaking out, but by dint of a good brush of his eyes with the back of his hand, and a moment's pause, he could look at her again with tolerable calmness.
'Why, Kester: why didst niver come to speak to us?' said Sylvia, finding it necessary to be cheerful if she could.
'A dun know; niver ax me. A say, they'n gi'en Dick Simpson' (whose evidence had been all material against poor Daniel Robson at the trial) 'a' t' rotten eggs and fou' things they could o' Saturday, they did,' continued he, in a tone of satisfaction; ' ay, and they niver stopped t' see whether t' eggs were rotten or fresh when their blood was up - nor whether stones was hard or soft,' he added, in a lower tone, and chuckling a little.
Sylvia was silent. He looked at her now, chuckling still. Her face was white, her lips tightened, her eyes a-flame. She drew a long breath.
'I wish I'd been theere! I wish I could do him an ill turn,' sighed she, with some kind of expression on her face that made Kester quail a little.
'Nay, lass! he'll get it fra' others. Niver fret thysel' about sich rubbish. A'n done ill to speak on him.'
'No! thou hasn't. Then as was friends o' father's I'll love for iver and iver; them as helped for t' hang him' (she shuddered from head to foot - a sharp irrepressible shudder!) 'I'll niver forgive - niver!'
'Niver's a long word,' said Kester, musingly. 'A could horsewhip him, or cast stones at him, or duck him mysel'; but, lass! niver's a long word!'
'Well! niver heed if it is - it's me as said it, and I'm turned savage late days. Come in, Kester, and see poor mother.'
'A cannot,' said he, turning his wrinkled puckered face away, that she might not see the twitchings of emotion on it. 'There's kine to be fetched up, and what not, and he's theere, isn't he, Sylvie?' facing round upon her with inquisitiveness. Under his peering eyes she reddened a little.
'Yes, if it's Philip thou means; he's been all we've had to look to sin'.' Again the shudder.
'Well, now he'll be seein' after his shop, a reckon?'
Sylvia was calling to the old mare nibbling tufts of early-springing grass here and there, and half unconsciously coaxing the creature to come up to the gate to be stroked. But she heard Kester's words well enough, and so he saw, although she made this excuse not to reply. But Kester was not to be put off.
'Folks is talkin' about thee and him; thou'll ha' to mind lest thee and him gets yo'r names coupled together.'
'It's right down cruel on folks, then,' said she, crimsoning from some emotion. 'As if any man as was a man wouldn't do all he could for two lone women at such a time - and he a cousin, too! Tell me who said so,' continued she, firing round at Kester, 'and I'll niver forgive 'em - that's all.'
'Hoots!' said Kester, a little conscious that he himself was the principal representative of that name of multitude folk. 'Here's a pretty lass; she's' got "a'll niver forgi'e" at her tongue's end wi' a vengeance.'
Sylvia was a little confused.
'Oh, Kester, man,' said she, 'my heart is sore again' every one, for feyther's sake.'
And at length the natural relief of plentiful tears came; and Kester, with instinctive wisdom, let her weep undisturbed; indeed, he cried not a little himself. They were interrupted by Philip's voice from the back-door.
'Sylvie, your mother's awake, and wants you!'
'Come, Kester, come,' and taking hold of him she drew him with her into the house.
Bell rose as they came in, holding by the arms of the chair. At first she received Kester as though he had been a stranger.
'I'm glad to see yo', sir; t' master's out, but he'll be in afore long. It'll be about t' lambs yo're come, mebbe?'
'Mother!' said Sylvia, 'dunnot yo' see? it's Kester, - Kester, wi' his Sunday clothes on.'
'Kester! ay, sure it is; my eyes have getten so sore and dim of late; just as if I'd been greeting. I'm sure, lad, I'm glad to see thee! It's a long time I've been away, but it were not pleasure-seeking as took me, it were business o' some mak' - tell him, Sylvie, what it were, for my head's clean gone. I only know I wouldn't ha' left home if I could ha' helped it; for I think I should ha' kept my health better if I'd bided at home wi' my master. I wonder as he's not comed in for t' bid me welcome? Is he far afield, think ye, Kester?'
Kester looked at Sylvia, mutely imploring her to help him out in the dilemma of answering, but she was doing all she could to help crying. Philip came to the rescue.
'Aunt,' said he, 'the clock has stopped; can you tell me where t' find t' key, and I'll wind it up.'
'T' key,' said she, hurriedly, 't' key, it's behind th' big Bible on yon shelf. But I'd rayther thou wouldn't touch it, lad; it's t' master's work, and he distrusts folk meddling wi' it.'
Day after day there was this constant reference to her dead husband. In one sense it was a blessing; all the circumstances attendant on his sad and untimely end were swept out of her mind along with the recollection of the fact itself. She referred to him as absent, and had always some plausible way of accounting for it, which satisfied her own mind; and, accordingly they fell into the habit of humouring her, and speaking of him as gone to Monkshaven, or afield, or wearied out, and taking a nap upstairs, as her fancy led her to believe for the moment. But this forgetfulness, though happy for herself, was terrible for her child. It was a constant renewing of Sylvia's grief, while her mother could give her no sympathy, no help, or strength in any circumstances that arose out of this grief. She was driven more and more upon Philip; his advice and his affection became daily more necessary to her.
Kester saw what would be the end of all this more clearly than Sylvia did herself; and, impotent to hinder what he feared and disliked, he grew more and more surly every day. Yet he tried to labour hard and well for the interests of the family, as if they were bound up in his good management of the cattle and land. He was out and about by the earliest dawn, working all day long with might and main. He bought himself a pair of new spectacles, which might, he fancied, enable him to read the Farmer's Complete Guide, his dead master's vade-mecum. But he had never learnt more than his capital letters, and had forgotten many of them; so the spectacles did him but little good. Then he would take the book to Sylvia, and ask her to read to him the instructions he needed; instructions, be it noted, that he would formerly have despised as mere book-learning: but his present sense of responsibility had made him humble.
Sylvia would find the place with all deliberation: and putting her finger under the line to keep the exact place of the word she was reading, she would strive in good earnest to read out the directions given; but when every fourth word had to be spelt, it was rather hopeless work, especially as all these words were unintelligible to the open-mouthed listener, however intent he might be. He had generally to fall back on his own experience; and, guided by that, things were not doing badly in his estimation, when, one day, Sylvia said to him, as they were in the hay-field, heaping up the hay into cocks with Dolly Reid's assistance -
'Kester - I didn't tell thee - there were a letter from Measter Hall, Lord Malton's steward, that came last night and that Philip read me.'
She stopped for a moment.
'Ay, lass! Philip read it thee, and whatten might it say?'
'Only that he had an offer for Haytersbank Farm, and would set mother free to go as soon as t' crops was off t' ground.'
She sighed a little as she said this.
"'Only!" sayst ta? Whatten business has he for to go an' offer to let t' farm afore iver he were told as yo' wished to leave it?' observed Kester, in high dudgeon.
'Oh!' replied Sylvia, throwing down her rake, as if weary of life. 'What could we do wi' t' farm and land? If it were all dairy I might ha' done, but wi' so much on it arable.'
'And if 'tis arable is not I allays to t' fore?'
'Oh, man, dunnot find fault wi' me! I'm just fain to lie down and die, if it were not for mother.'
'Ay! thy mother will be sore unsettled if thou's for quitting Haytersbank,' said merciless Kester.
'I cannot help it; I cannot help it! What can I do? It would take two pair o' men's hands to keep t' land up as Measter Hall likes it; and beside - - '
'Beside what?' said Kester, looking up at her with his sudden odd look, one eye shut, the other open: there she stood, her two hands clasped tight together, her eyes filling with tears, her face pale and sad. 'Beside what?' he asked again, sharply.
'T' answer's sent to Measter Hall - Philip wrote it last night; so there's no use planning and fretting, it were done for t' best, and mun be done.' She stooped and picked up her rake, and began tossing the hay with energy, the tears streaming down her cheeks unheeded. It was Kester's turn to throw down his rake. She took no notice, he did not feel sure that she had observed his action. He began to walk towards the field-gate; this movement did catch her eye, for in a minute her hand was on his arm, and she was stooping forward to look into his face. It was working and twitching with emotion. 'Kester! oh, man! speak out, but dunnot leave me a this-ns. What could I ha' done? Mother is gone dateless wi' sorrow, and I am but a young lass, i' years I mean; for I'm old enough wi' weeping.'
'I'd ha' put up for t' farm mysel', sooner than had thee turned out,' said Kester, in a low voice; then working himself up into a passion, as a new suspicion crossed his mind, he added, 'An' what for didn't yo' tell me on t' letter? Yo' were in a mighty hurry to settle it a', and get rid on t' oud place.'
'Measter Hall had sent a notice to quit on Midsummer day; but Philip had answered it hisself. Thou knows I'm not good at reading writing, 'special when a letter's full o' long words, and Philip had ta'en it in hand to answer.'
'Wi'out asking thee?'
Sylvia went on without minding the interruption.
'And Measter Hall makes a good offer, for t' man as is going to come in will take t' stock and a' t' implements; and if mother - if we - if I - like, th' furniture and a' - - '
'Furniture!' said Kester, in grim surprise. 'What's to come o' t' missus and thee, that yo'll not need a bed to lie on, or a pot to boil yo'r vittel in?'
Sylvia reddened, but kept silence.
'Cannot yo' speak?'
'Oh, Kester, I didn't think thou'd turn again' me, and me so friendless. It's as if I'd been doin' something wrong, and I have so striven to act as is best; there's mother as well as me to be thought on.'
'Cannot yo' answer a question?' said Kester, once more. 'Whatten's up that t' missus and yo'll not need bed and table, pots and pans?'
'I think I'm going to marry Philip,' said Sylvia, in so low a tone, that if Kester had not suspected what her answer was to be, he could not have understood it.
After a moment's pause he recommenced his walk towards the field-gate. But she went after him and held him tight by the arm, speaking rapidly.
'Kester, what could I do? What can I do? He's my cousin, and mother knows him, and likes him; and he's been so good to us in a' this time o' trouble and heavy grief, and he'll keep mother in comfort all t' rest of her days.'
'Ay, and thee in comfort. There's a deal in a well-filled purse in a wench's eyes, or one would ha' thought it weren't so easy forgettin' yon lad as loved thee as t' apple on his eye.'
'Kester, Kester,' she cried, 'I've niver forgotten Charley; I think on him, I see him ivery night lying drowned at t' bottom o' t' sea. Forgetten him! Man! it's easy talking!' She was like a wild creature that sees its young, but is unable to reach it without a deadly spring, and yet is preparing to take that fatal leap. Kester himself was almost startled, and yet it was as if he must go on torturing her.
'An' who telled thee so sure and certain as he were drowned? He might ha' been carried off by t' press-gang as well as other men.'
'Oh! if I were but dead that I might know all!' cried she, flinging herself down on the hay.
Kester kept silence. Then she sprang up again, and looking with eager wistfulness into his face, she said, -
'Tell me t' chances. Tell me quick! Philip's very good, and kind, and he says he shall die if I will not marry him, and there's no home for mother and me, - no home for her, for as for me I dunnot care what becomes on me; but if Charley's alive I cannot marry Philip - no, not if he dies for want o' me - and as for mother, poor mother, Kester, it's an awful strait; only first tell me if there's a chance, just one in a thousand, only one in a hundred thousand, as Charley were ta'en by t' gang?' She was breathless by this time, what with her hurried words, and what with the beating of her heart. Kester took time to answer. He had spoken before too hastily, this time he weighed his words.
'Kinraid went away from this here place t' join his ship. An' he niver joined it no more; an' t' captain an' all his friends at Newcassel as iver were, made search for him, on board t' king's ships. That's more nor fifteen month ago, an' nought has iver been heerd on him by any man. That's what's to be said on one side o' t' matter. Then on t' other there's this as is known. His hat were cast up by t' sea wi' a ribbon in it, as there's reason t' think as he'd not ha' parted wi' so quick if he'd had his own will.'
'But yo' said as he might ha' been carried off by t' gang - yo' did, Kester, tho' now yo're a' for t' other side.'
'My lass, a'd fain have him alive, an' a dunnot fancy Philip for thy husband; but it's a serious judgment as thou's put me on, an' a'm trying it fair. There's allays one chance i' a thousand as he's alive, for no man iver saw him dead. But t' gang were noane about Monkshaven then: there were niver a tender on t' coast nearer than Shields, an' those theere were searched.'
He did not say any more, but turned back into the field, and took up his hay-making again.
Sylvia stood quite still, thinking, and wistfully longing for some kind of certainty.
Kester came up to her.
'Sylvie, thou knows Philip paid me back my money, and it were eight pound fifteen and three-pence; and t' hay and stock 'll sell for summat above t' rent; and a've a sister as is a decent widow-woman, tho' but badly off, livin' at Dale End; and if thee and thy mother 'll go live wi' her, a'll give thee well on to all a can earn, and it'll be a matter o' five shilling a week. But dunnot go and marry a man as thou's noane taken wi', and another as is most like for t' be dead, but who, mebbe, is alive, havin' a pull on thy heart.'
Sylvia began to cry as if her heart was broken. She had promised herself more fully to Philip the night before than she had told Kester; and, with some pains and much patience, her cousin, her lover, alas! her future husband, had made the fact clear to the bewildered mind of her poor mother, who had all day long shown that her mind and heart were full of the subject, and that the contemplation of it was giving her as much peace as she could ever know. And now Kester's words came to call up echoes in the poor girl's heart. Just as she was in this miserable state, wishing that the grave lay open before her, and that she could lie down, and be covered up by the soft green turf from all the bitter sorrows and carking cares and weary bewilderments of this life; wishing that her father was alive, that Charley was once more here; that she had not repeated the solemn words by which she had promised herself to Philip only the very evening before, she heard a soft, low whistle, and, looking round unconsciously, there was her lover and affianced husband, leaning on the gate, and gazing into the field with passionate eyes, devouring the fair face and figure of her, his future wife.
'Oh, Kester,' said she once more, 'what mun I do? I'm pledged to him as strong as words can make it, and mother blessed us both wi' more sense than she's had for weeks. Kester, man, speak! Shall I go and break it all off? - say.'
'Nay, it's noane for me t' say; m'appen thou's gone too far. Them above only knows what is best.'
Again that long, cooing whistle. 'Sylvie!'
'He's been very kind to us all,' said Sylvia, laying her rake down with slow care, 'and I'll try t' make him happy.'
Philip and Sylvia were engaged. It was not so happy a state of things as Philip had imagined. He had already found that out, although it was not twenty-four hours since Sylvia had promised to be his. He could not have defined why he was dissatisfied; if he had been compelled to account for his feeling, he would probably have alleged as a reason that Sylvia's manner was so unchanged by her new position towards him. She was quiet and gentle; but no shyer, no brighter, no coyer, no happier, than she had been for months before. When she joined him at the field-gate, his heart was beating fast, his eyes were beaming out love at her approach. She neither blushed nor smiled, but seemed absorbed in thought of some kind. But she resisted his silent effort to draw her away from the path leading to the house, and turned her face steadily homewards. He murmured soft words, which she scarcely heard. Right in their way was the stone trough for the fresh bubbling water, that, issuing from a roadside spring, served for all the household purposes of Haytersbank Farm. By it were the milk-cans, glittering and clean. Sylvia knew she should have to stop for these, and carry them back home in readiness for the evening's milking; and at this time, during this action, she resolved to say what was on her mind.
They were there. Sylvia spoke.
'Philip, Kester has been saying as how it might ha' been - - '
'Well!' said Philip.
Sylvia sate down on the edge of the trough, and dipped her hot little hand in the water. Then she went on quickly, and lifting her beautiful eyes to Philip's face, with a look of inquiry - 'He thinks as Charley Kinraid may ha' been took by t' press-gang.'
It was the first time she had named the name of her former lover to her present one since the day, long ago now, when they had quarrelled about him; and the rosy colour flushed her all over; but her sweet, trustful eyes never flinched from their steady, unconscious gaze.
Philip's heart stopped beating; literally, as if he had come to a sudden precipice, while he had thought himself securely walking on sunny greensward. He went purple all over from dismay; he dared not take his eyes away from that sad, earnest look of hers, but he was thankful that a mist came before them and drew a veil before his brain. He heard his own voice saying words he did not seem to have framed in his own mind.
'Kester's a d - d fool,' he growled.
'He says there's mebbe but one chance i' a hundred,' said Sylvia, pleading, as it were, for Kester; 'but oh! Philip, think yo' there's just that one chance?'
'Ay, there's a chance, sure enough,' said Philip, in a kind of fierce despair that made him reckless what he said or did. 'There's a chance, I suppose, for iverything i' life as we have not seen with our own eyes as it may not ha' happened. Kester may say next as there's a chance as your father is not dead, because we none on us saw him - - '
'Hung,' he was going to have said, but a touch of humanity came back into his stony heart. Sylvia sent up a little sharp cry at his words. He longed at the sound to take her in his arms and hush her up, as a mother hushes her weeping child. But the very longing, having to be repressed, only made him more beside himself with guilt, anxiety, and rage. They were quite still now. Sylvia looking sadly down into the bubbling, merry, flowing water: Philip glaring at her, wishing that the next word were spoken, though it might stab him to the heart. But she did not speak.
At length, unable to bear it any longer, he said, 'Thou sets a deal o' store on that man, Sylvie.'
If 'that man' had been there at the moment, Philip would have grappled with him, and not let go his hold till one or the other were dead. Sylvia caught some of the passionate meaning of the gloomy, miserable tone of Philip's voice as he said these words. She looked up at him.
'I thought yo' knowed that I cared a deal for him.'
There was something so pleading and innocent in her pale, troubled face, so pathetic in her tone, that Philip's anger, which had been excited against her, as well as against all the rest of the world, melted away into love; and once more he felt that have her for his own he must, at any cost. He sate down by her, and spoke to her in quite a different manner to that which he had used before, with a ready tact and art which some strange instinct or tempter 'close at his ear' supplied.
'Yes, darling, I knew yo' cared for him. I'll not say ill of him that is - dead - ay, dead and drowned - whativer Kester may say - before now; but if I chose I could tell tales.'
'No! tell no tales; I'll not hear them,' said she, wrenching herself out of Philip's clasping arm. 'They may misca' him for iver, and I'll not believe 'em.'
'I'll niver miscall one who is dead,' said Philip; each new unconscious sign of the strength of Sylvia's love for her former lover only making him the more anxious to convince her that he was dead, only rendering him more keen at deceiving his own conscience by repeating to it the lie that long ere this Kinraid was in all probability dead - killed by either the chances of war or tempestuous sea; that, even if not, he was as good as dead to her; so that the word 'dead' might be used in all honest certainty, as in one of its meanings Kinraid was dead for sure.
'Think yo' that if he were not dead he wouldn't ha' written ere this to some one of his kin, if not to thee? Yet none of his folk Newcassel-way but believe him dead.'
'So Kester says,' sighed Sylvia.
Philip took heart. He put his arm softly round her again, and murmured -
'My lassie, try not to think on them as is gone, as is dead, but t' think a bit more on him as loves yo' wi' heart, and soul, and might, and has done iver sin' he first set eyes on yo'. Oh, Sylvie, my love for thee is just terrible.'
At this moment Dolly Reid was seen at the back-door of the farmhouse, and catching sight of Sylvia, she called out -
'Sylvia, thy mother is axing for thee, and I cannot make her mind easy.'
In a moment Sylvia had sprung up from her seat, and was running in to soothe and comfort her mother's troubled fancies.
Philip sate on by the well-side, his face buried in his two hands. Presently he lifted himself up, drank some water eagerly out of his hollowed palm, sighed, and shook himself, and followed his cousin into the house. Sometimes he came unexpectedly to the limits of his influence over her. In general she obeyed his expressed wishes with gentle indifference, as if she had no preferences of her own; once or twice he found that she was doing what he desired out of the spirit of obedience, which, as her mother's daughter, she believed to be her duty towards her affianced husband. And this last motive for action depressed her lover more than anything. He wanted the old Sylvia back again; captious, capricious, wilful, haughty, merry, charming. Alas! that Sylvia was gone for ever.
But once especially his power, arising from whatever cause, was stopped entirely short - was utterly of no avail.
It was on the occasion of Dick Simpson's mortal illness. Sylvia and her mother kept aloof from every one. They had never been intimate with any family but the Corneys, and even this friendship had considerably cooled since Molly's marriage, and most especially since Kinraid's supposed death, when Bessy Corney and Sylvia had been, as it were, rival mourners. But many people, both in Monkshaven and the country round about, held the Robson family in great respect, although Mrs Robson herself was accounted 'high' and 'distant;' and poor little Sylvia, in her heyday of beautiful youth and high spirits, had been spoken of as 'a bit flighty,' and 'a set-up lassie.' Still, when their great sorrow fell upon them, there were plenty of friends to sympathize deeply with them; and, as Daniel had suffered in a popular cause, there were even more who, scarcely knowing them personally, were ready to give them all the marks of respect and friendly feeling in their power. But neither Bell nor Sylvia were aware of this. The former had lost all perception of what was not immediately before her; the latter shrank from all encounters of any kind with a sore heart, and sensitive avoidance of everything that could make her a subject of remark. So the poor afflicted people at Haytersbank knew little of Monkshaven news. What little did come to their ears came through Dolly Reid, when she returned from selling the farm produce of the week; and often, indeed, even then she found Sylvia too much absorbed in other cares or thoughts to listen to her gossip. So no one had ever named that Simpson was supposed to be dying till Philip began on the subject one evening. Sylvia's face suddenly flashed into glow and life.
'He's dying, is he? t' earth is well rid on such a fellow!'
'Eh, Sylvie, that's a hard speech o' thine!' said Philip; 'it gives me but poor heart to ask a favour of thee!'
'If it's aught about Simpson,' replied she, and then she interrupted herself. 'But say on; it were ill-mannered in me for t' interrupt yo'.'
'Thou would be sorry to see him, I think, Sylvie. He cannot get over the way, t' folk met him, and pelted him when he came back fra' York, - and he's weak and faint, and beside himself at times; and he'll lie a dreaming, and a-fancying they're all at him again, hooting, and yelling, and pelting him.'
'I'm glad on 't,' said Sylvia; 'it's t' best news I've heered for many a day, - he, to turn again' feyther, who gave him money fo t' get a lodging that night, when he'd no place to go to. It were his evidence as hung feyther; and he's rightly punished for it now.'
'For a' that, - and he's done a vast o' wrong beside, he's dying now, Sylvie!'
'Well! let him die - it's t' best thing he could do!'
'But he's lying i' such dree poverty, - and niver a friend to go near him, - niver a person to speak a kind word t' him.'
'It seems as yo've been speaking wi' him, at any rate,' said Sylvia, turning round on Philip.
'Ay. He sent for me by Nell Manning, th' old beggar-woman, who sometimes goes in and makes his bed for him, poor wretch, - he's lying in t' ruins of th' cow-house of th' Mariners' Arms, Sylvie.'
'Well!' said she, in the same hard, dry tone.
'And I went and fetched th' parish doctor, for I thought he'd ha' died before my face, - he was so wan, and ashen-grey, so thin, too, his eyes seem pushed out of his bony face.'
'That last time - feyther's eyes were starting, wild-like, and as if he couldn't meet ours, or bear the sight on our weeping.'
It was a bad look-out for Philip's purpose; but after a pause he went bravely on.
'He's a poor dying creature, anyhow. T' doctor said so, and told him he hadn't many hours, let alone days, to live.'
'And he'd shrink fra' dying wi' a' his sins on his head?' said Sylvia, almost exultingly.
Philip shook his head. 'He said this world had been too strong for him, and men too hard upon him; he could niver do any good here, and he thought he should, maybe, find folks i' t' next place more merciful.'
'He'll meet feyther theere,' said Sylvia, still hard and bitter.
'He's a poor ignorant creature, and doesn't seem to know rightly who he's like to meet; only he seems glad to get away fra' Monkshaven folks; he were really hurt, I am afeared, that night, Sylvie, - and he speaks as if he'd had hard times of it ever since he were a child, - and he talks as if he were really grieved for t' part t' lawyers made him take at th' trial, - they made him speak, against his will, he says.'
'Couldn't he ha' bitten his tongue out?' asked Sylvia. 'It's fine talking o' sorrow when the thing is done!'
'Well, anyhow he's sorry now; and he's not long for to live. And, Sylvie, he bid me ask thee, if, for the sake of all that is dear to thee both here, and i' th' world to come, thou'd go wi' me, and just say to him that thou forgives him his part that day.'
'He sent thee on that errand, did he? And thou could come and ask me? I've a mind to break it off for iver wi' thee, Philip.' She kept gasping, as if she could not say any more. Philip watched and waited till her breath came, his own half choked.
'Thee and me was niver meant to go together. It's not in me to forgive, - I sometimes think it's not in me to forget. I wonder, Philip, if thy feyther had done a kind deed - and a right deed - and a merciful deed - and some one as he'd been good to, even i' t' midst of his just anger, had gone and let on about him to th' judge, as was trying to hang him, - and had getten him hanged, - hanged dead, so that his wife were a widow, and his child fatherless for ivermore, - I wonder if thy veins would run milk and water, so that thou could go and make friends, and speak soft wi' him as had caused thy feyther's death?'
'It's said in t' Bible, Sylvie, that we're to forgive.'
'Ay, there's some things as I know I niver forgive; and there's others as I can't - and I won't, either.'
'But, Sylvie, yo' pray to be forgiven your trespasses, as you forgive them as trespass against you.'
'Well, if I'm to be taken at my word, I'll noane pray at all, that's all. It's well enough for them as has but little to forgive to use them words; and I don't reckon it's kind, or pretty behaved in yo', Philip, to bring up Scripture again' me. Thou may go about thy business.'
'Thou'rt vexed with me, Sylvie; and I'm not meaning but that it would go hard with thee to forgive him; but I think it would be right and Christian-like i' thee, and that thou'd find thy comfort in thinking on it after. If thou'd only go, and see his wistful eyes - I think they'd plead wi' thee more than his words, or mine either.'
'I tell thee my flesh and blood wasn't made for forgiving and forgetting. Once for all, thou must take my word. When I love I love, and when I hate I hate; and him as has done hard to me, or to mine, I may keep fra' striking or murdering, but I'll niver forgive. I should be just a monster, fit to be shown at a fair, if I could forgive him as got feyther hanged.'
Philip was silent, thinking what more he could urge.
'Yo'd better be off,' said Sylvia, in a minute or two. 'Yo' and me has got wrong, and it'll take a night's sleep to set us right. Yo've said all yo' can for him; and perhaps it's not yo' as is to blame, but yo'r nature. But I'm put out wi' thee, and want thee out o' my sight for awhile.'
One or two more speeches of this kind convinced him that it would be wise in him to take her at her word. He went back to Simpson, and found him, though still alive, past the understanding of any words of human forgiveness. Philip had almost wished he had not troubled or irritated Sylvia by urging the dying man's request: the performance of this duty seemed now to have been such a useless office.
After all, the performance of a duty is never a useless office, though we may not see the consequences, or they may be quite different to what we expected or calculated on. In the pause of active work, when daylight was done, and the evening shades came on, Sylvia had time to think; and her heart grew sad and soft, in comparison to what it had been when Philip's urgency had called out all her angry opposition. She thought of her father - his sharp passions, his frequent forgiveness, or rather his forgetfulness that he had even been injured. All Sylvia's persistent or enduring qualities were derived from her mother, her impulses from her father. It was her dead father whose example filled her mind this evening in the soft and tender twilight. She did not say to herself that she would go and tell Simpson that she forgave him; but she thought that if Philip asked her again that she should do so.
But when she saw Philip again he told her that Simpson was dead; and passed on from what he had reason to think would be an unpleasant subject to her. Thus he never learnt how her conduct might have been more gentle and relenting than her words - words which came up into his memory at a future time, with full measure of miserable significance.
In general, Sylvia was gentle and good enough; but Philip wanted her to be shy and tender with him, and this she was not. She spoke to him, her pretty eyes looking straight and composedly at him. She consulted him like the family friend that he was: she met him quietly in all the arrangements for the time of their marriage, which she looked upon more as a change of home, as the leaving of Haytersbank, as it would affect her mother, than in any more directly personal way. Philip was beginning to feel, though not as yet to acknowledge, that the fruit he had so inordinately longed for was but of the nature of an apple of Sodom.
Long ago, lodging in widow Rose's garret, he had been in the habit of watching some pigeons that were kept by a neighbour; the flock disported themselves on the steep tiled roofs just opposite to the attic window, and insensibly Philip grew to know their ways, and one pretty, soft little dove was somehow perpetually associated in his mind with his idea of his cousin Sylvia. The pigeon would sit in one particular place, sunning herself, and puffing out her feathered breast, with all the blue and rose-coloured lights gleaming in the morning rays, cooing softly to herself as she dressed her plumage. Philip fancied that he saw the same colours in a certain piece of shot silk - now in the shop; and none other seemed to him so suitable for his darling's wedding-dress. He carried enough to make a gown, and gave it to her one evening, as she sate on the grass just outside the house, half attending to her mother, half engaged in knitting stockings for her scanty marriage outfit. He was glad that the sun was not gone down, thus allowing him to display the changing colours in fuller light. Sylvia admired it duly; even Mrs Robson was pleased and attracted by the soft yet brilliant hues. Philip whispered to Sylvia - (he took delight in whispers, - she, on the contrary, always spoke to him in her usual tone of voice) -
'Thou'lt look so pretty in it, sweetheart, - o' Thursday fortnight!'
'Thursday fortnight. On the fourth yo're thinking on. But I cannot wear it then, - I shall be i' black.'
'Not on that day, sure!' said Philip.
'Why not? There's nought t' happen on that day for t' make me forget feyther. I couldn't put off my black, Philip, - no, not to save my life! Yon silk is just lovely, far too good for the likes of me, - and I'm sure I'm much beholden to yo'; and I'll have it made up first of any gown after last April come two years, - but, oh, Philip, I cannot put off my mourning!'
'Not for our wedding-day!' said Philip, sadly.
'No, lad, I really cannot. I'm just sorry about it, for I see thou'rt set upon it; and thou'rt so kind and good, I sometimes think I can niver be thankful enough to thee. When I think on what would ha' become of mother and me if we hadn't had thee for a friend i' need, I'm noane ungrateful, Philip; tho' I sometimes fancy thou'rt thinking I am.'
'I don't want yo' to be grateful, Sylvie,' said poor Philip, dissatisfied, yet unable to explain what he did want; only knowing that there was something he lacked, yet fain would have had.
As the marriage-day drew near, all Sylvia's care seemed to be for her mother; all her anxiety was regarding the appurtenances of the home she was leaving. In vain Philip tried to interest her in details of his improvements or contrivances in the new home to which he was going to take her. She did not tell him; but the idea of the house behind the shop was associated in her mind with two times of discomfort and misery. The first time she had gone into the parlour about which Philip spoke so much was at the time of the press-gang riot, when she had fainted from terror and excitement; the second was on that night of misery when she and her mother had gone in to Monkshaven, to bid her father farewell before he was taken to York; in that room, on that night, she had first learnt something of the fatal peril in which he stood. She could not show the bright shy curiosity about her future dwelling that is common enough with girls who are going to be married. All she could do was to restrain herself from sighing, and listen patiently, when he talked on the subject. In time he saw that she shrank from it; so he held his peace, and planned and worked for her in silence, - smiling to himself as he looked on each completed arrangement for her pleasure or comfort; and knowing well that her happiness was involved in what fragments of peace and material comfort might remain to her mother.
The wedding-day drew near apace. It was Philip's plan that after they had been married in Kirk Moorside church, he and his Sylvia, his cousin, his love, his wife, should go for the day to Robin Hood's Bay, returning in the evening to the house behind the shop in the market-place. There they were to find Bell Robson installed in her future home; for Haytersbank Farm was to be given up to the new tenant on the very day of the wedding. Sylvia would not be married any sooner; she said that she must stay there till the very last; and had said it with such determination that Philip had desisted from all urgency at once.
He had told her that all should be settled for her mother's comfort during their few hours' absence; otherwise Sylvia would not have gone at all. He told her he should ask Hester, who was always so good and kind - who never yet had said him nay, to go to church with them as bridesmaid - for Sylvia would give no thought or care to anything but her mother - and that they would leave her at Haytersbank as they returned from church; she would manage Mrs Robson's removal - she would do this - do that - do everything. Such friendly confidence had Philip in Hester's willingness and tender skill. Sylvia acquiesced at length, and Philip took upon himself to speak to Hester on the subject.
'Hester,' said he, one day when he was preparing to go home after the shop was closed; 'would yo' mind stopping a bit? I should like to show yo' the place now it's done up; and I've a favour to ask on yo' besides.' He was so happy he did not see her shiver all over. She hesitated just a moment before she answered, -
'I'll stay, if thou wishes it, Philip. But I'm no judge o' fashions and such like.'
'Thou'rt a judge o' comfort, and that's what I've been aiming at. I were niver so comfortable in a' my life as when I were a lodger at thy house,' said he, with brotherly tenderness in his tone. 'If my mind had been at ease I could ha' said I niver were happier in all my days than under thy roof; and I know it were thy doing for the most part. So come along, Hester, and tell me if there's aught more I can put in for Sylvie.'
It might not have been a very appropriate text, but such as it was the words, 'From him that would ask of thee turn not thou away,' seemed the only source of strength that could have enabled her to go patiently through the next half-hour. As it was, she unselfishly brought all her mind to bear upon the subject; admired this, thought and decided upon that, as one by one Philip showed her all his alterations and improvements. Never was such a quiet little bit of unconscious and unrecognized heroism. She really ended by such a conquest of self that she could absolutely sympathize with the proud expectant lover, and had quenched all envy of the beloved, in sympathy with the delight she imagined Sylvia must experience when she discovered all these proofs of Philip's fond consideration and care. But it was a great strain on the heart, that source of life; and when Hester returned into the parlour, after her deliberate survey of the house, she felt as weary and depressed in bodily strength as if she had gone through an illness of many days. She sate down on the nearest chair, and felt as though she never could rise again. Philip, joyous and content, stood near her talking.
'And, Hester,' said he, 'Sylvie has given me a message for thee - she says thou must be her bridesmaid - she'll have none other.'
'I cannot,' said Hester, with sudden sharpness.
'Oh, yes, but yo' must. It wouldn't be like my wedding if thou wasn't there: why I've looked upon thee as a sister iver since I came to lodge with thy mother.'
Hester shook her head. Did her duty require her not to turn away from this asking, too? Philip saw her reluctance, and, by intuition rather than reason, he knew that what she would not do for gaiety or pleasure she would consent to, if by so doing she could render any service to another. So he went on.
'Besides, Sylvie and me has planned to go for our wedding jaunt to Robin Hood's Bay. I ha' been to engage a shandry this very morn, before t' shop was opened; and there's no one to leave wi' my aunt. Th' poor old body is sore crushed with sorrow; and is, as one may say, childish at times; she's to come down here, that we may find her when we come back at night; and there's niver a one she'll come with so willing and so happy as with thee, Hester. Sylvie and me has both said so.'
Hester looked up in his face with her grave honest eyes.
'I cannot go to church wi' thee, Philip; and thou must not ask me any further. But I'll go betimes to Haytersbank Farm, and I'll do my best to make the old lady happy, and to follow out thy directions in bringing her here before nightfall.'
Philip was on the point of urging her afresh to go with them to church; but something in her eyes brought a thought across his mind, as transitory as a breath passes over a looking-glass, and he desisted from his entreaty, and put away his thought as a piece of vain coxcombry, insulting to Hester. He passed rapidly on to all the careful directions rendered necessary by her compliance with the latter part of his request, coupling Sylvia's name with his perpetually; so that Hester looked upon her as a happy girl, as eager in planning all the details of her marriage as though no heavy shameful sorrow had passed over her head not many months ago.
Hester did not see Sylvia's white, dreamy, resolute face, that answered the solemn questions of the marriage service in a voice that did not seem her own. Hester was not with them to notice the heavy abstraction that made the bride as if unconscious of her husband's loving words, and then start and smile, and reply with a sad gentleness of tone. No! Hester's duty lay in conveying the poor widow and mother down from Haytersbank to the new home in Monkshaven; and for all Hester's assistance and thoughtfulness, it was a dreary, painful piece of work - the poor old woman crying like a child, with bewilderment at the confused bustle which, in spite of all Sylvia's careful forethought, could not be avoided on this final day, when her mother had to be carried away from the homestead over which she had so long presided. But all this was as nothing to the distress which overwhelmed poor Bell Robson when she entered Philip's house; the parlour - the whole place so associated with the keen agony she had undergone there, that the stab of memory penetrated through her deadened senses, and brought her back to misery. In vain Hester tried to console her by telling her the fact of Sylvia's marriage with Philip in every form of words that occurred to her. Bell only remembered her husband's fate, which filled up her poor wandering mind, and coloured everything; insomuch that Sylvia not being at hand to reply to her mother's cry for her, the latter imagined that her child, as well as her husband, was in danger of trial and death, and refused to be comforted by any endeavour of the patient sympathizing Hester. In a pause of Mrs Robson's sobs, Hester heard the welcome sound of the wheels of the returning shandry, bearing the bride and bridegroom home. It stopped at the door - an instant, and Sylvia, white as a sheet at the sound of her mother's wailings, which she had caught while yet at a distance, with the quick ears of love, came running in; her mother feebly rose and tottered towards her, and fell into her arms, saying, 'Oh! Sylvie, Sylvie, take me home, and away from this cruel place!'
Hester could not but be touched with the young girl's manner to her mother - as tender, as protecting as if their relation to each other had been reversed, and she was lulling and tenderly soothing a wayward, frightened child. She had neither eyes nor ears for any one till her mother was sitting in trembling peace, holding her daughter's hand tight in both of hers, as if afraid of losing sight of her: then Sylvia turned to Hester, and, with the sweet grace which is a natural gift to some happy people, thanked her; in common words enough she thanked her, but in that nameless manner, and with that strange, rare charm which made Hester feel as if she had never been thanked in all her life before; and from that time forth she understood, if she did not always yield to, the unconscious fascination which Sylvia could exercise over others at times.
Did it enter into Philip's heart to perceive that he had wedded his long-sought bride in mourning raiment, and that the first sounds which greeted them as they approached their home were those of weeping and wailing?
And now Philip seemed as prosperous as his heart could desire. The business flourished, and money beyond his moderate wants came in. As for himself he required very little; but he had always looked forward to placing his idol in a befitting shrine; and means for this were now furnished to him. The dress, the comforts, the position he had desired for Sylvia were all hers. She did not need to do a stroke of household work if she preferred to 'sit in her parlour and sew up a seam'. Indeed Phoebe resented any interference in the domestic labour, which she had performed so long, that she looked upon the kitchen as a private empire of her own. 'Mrs Hepburn' (as Sylvia was now termed) had a good dark silk gown-piece in her drawers, as well as the poor dove-coloured, against the day when she chose to leave off mourning; and stuff for either gray or scarlet cloaks was hers at her bidding.
What she cared for far more were the comforts with which it was in her power to surround her mother. In this Philip vied with her; for besides his old love, and new pity for his aunt Bell, he never forgot how she had welcomed him to Haytersbank, and favoured his love to Sylvia, in the yearning days when he little hoped he should ever win his cousin to be his wife. But even if he had not had these grateful and affectionate feelings towards the poor woman, he would have done much for her if only to gain the sweet, rare smiles which his wife never bestowed upon him so freely as when she saw him attending to 'mother,' for so both of them now called Bell. For her creature comforts, her silk gowns, and her humble luxury, Sylvia did not care; Philip was almost annoyed at the indifference she often manifested to all his efforts to surround her with such things. It was even a hardship to her to leave off her country dress, her uncovered hair, her linsey petticoat, and loose bed-gown, and to don a stiff and stately gown for her morning dress. Sitting in the dark parlour at the back of the shop, and doing 'white work,' was much more wearying to her than running out into the fields to bring up the cows, or spinning wool, or making up butter. She sometimes thought to herself that it was a strange kind of life where there were no out-door animals to look after; the 'ox and the ass' had hitherto come into all her ideas of humanity; and her care and gentleness had made the dumb creatures round her father's home into mute friends with loving eyes, looking at her as if wistful to speak in words the grateful regard that she could read without the poor expression of language.
She missed the free open air, the great dome of sky above the fields; she rebelled against the necessity of 'dressing' (as she called it) to go out, although she acknowledged that it was a necessity where the first step beyond the threshold must be into a populous street.
It is possible that Philip was right at one time when he had thought to win her by material advantages; but the old vanities had been burnt out of her by the hot iron of acute suffering. A great deal of passionate feeling still existed, concealed and latent; but at this period it appeared as though she were indifferent to most things, and had lost the power of either hoping or fearing much. She was stunned into a sort of temporary numbness on most points; those on which she was sensitive being such as referred to the injustice and oppression of her father's death, or anything that concerned her mother.
She was quiet even to passiveness in all her dealings with Philip; he would have given not a little for some of the old bursts of impatience, the old pettishness, which, naughty as they were, had gone to form his idea of the former Sylvia. Once or twice he was almost vexed with her for her docility; he wanted her so much to have a will of her own, if only that he might know how to rouse her to pleasure by gratifying it. Indeed he seldom fell asleep at nights without his last thoughts being devoted to some little plan for the morrow, that he fancied she would like; and when he wakened in the early dawn he looked to see if she were indeed sleeping by his side, or whether it was not all a dream that he called Sylvia 'wife.'
He was aware that her affection for him was not to be spoken of in the same way as his for her, but he found much happiness in only being allowed to love and cherish her; and with the patient perseverance that was one remarkable feature in his character, he went on striving to deepen and increase her love when most other men would have given up the endeavour, made themselves content with half a heart, and turned to some other object of attainment. All this time Philip was troubled by a dream that recurred whenever he was over-fatigued, or otherwise not in perfect health. Over and over again in this first year of married life he dreamt this dream; perhaps as many as eight or nine times, and it never varied. It was always of Kinraid's return; Kinraid was full of life in Philip's dream, though in his waking hours he could and did convince himself by all the laws of probability that his rival was dead. He never remembered the exact sequence of events in that terrible dream after he had roused himself, with a fight and a struggle, from his feverish slumbers. He was generally sitting up in bed when he found himself conscious, his heart beating wildly, with a conviction of Kinraid's living presence somewhere near him in the darkness. Occasionally Sylvia was disturbed by his agitation, and would question him about his dreams, having, like most of her class at that time, great faith in their prophetic interpretation; but Philip never gave her any truth in his reply.
After all, and though he did not acknowledge it even to himself, the long-desired happiness was not so delicious and perfect as he had anticipated. Many have felt the same in their first year of married life; but the faithful, patient nature that still works on, striving to gain love, and capable itself of steady love all the while, is a gift not given to all.
For many weeks after their wedding, Kester never came near them: a chance word or two from Sylvia showed Philip that she had noticed this and regretted it; and, accordingly, he made it his business at the next leisure opportunity to go to Haytersbank (never saying a word to his wife of his purpose), and seek out Kester.
All the whole place was altered! It was new white-washed, new thatched: the patches of colour in the surrounding ground were changed with altered tillage; the great geraniums were gone from the window, and instead, was a smart knitted blind. Children played before the house-door; a dog lying on the step flew at Philip; all was so strange, that it was even the strangest thing of all for Kester to appear where everything else was so altered!
Philip had to put up with a good deal of crabbed behaviour on the part of the latter before he could induce Kester to promise to come down into the town and see Sylvia in her new home.
Somehow, the visit when paid was but a failure; at least, it seemed so at the time, though probably it broke the ice of restraint which was forming over the familiar intercourse between Kester and Sylvia. The old servant was daunted by seeing Sylvia in a strange place, and stood, sleeking his hair down, and furtively looking about him, instead of seating himself on the chair Sylvia had so eagerly brought forward for him.
Then his sense of the estrangement caused by their new positions infected her, and she began to cry pitifully, saying, -
'Oh, Kester! Kester! tell me about Haytersbank! Is it just as it used to be in feyther's days?'
'Well, a cannot say as it is,' said Kester, thankful to have a subject started. 'They'n pleughed up t' oud pasture-field, and are settin' it for 'taters. They're not for much cattle, isn't Higginses. They'll be for corn in t' next year, a reckon, and they'll just ha' their pains for their payment. But they're allays so pig-headed, is folk fra' a distance.'
So they went on discoursing on Haytersbank and the old days, till Bell Robson, having finished her afternoon nap, came slowly down-stairs to join them; and after that the conversation became so broken up, from the desire of the other two to attend and reply as best they could to her fragmentary and disjointed talk, that Kester took his leave before long; falling, as he did so, into the formal and unnaturally respectful manner which he had adopted on first coming in.
But Sylvia ran after him, and brought him back from the door.
'To think of thy going away, Kester, without either bit or drink; nay, come back wi' thee, and taste wine and cake.'
Kester stood at the door, half shy, half pleased, while Sylvia, in all the glow and hurry of a young housekeeper's hospitality, sought for the decanter of wine, and a wine-glass in the corner cupboard, and hastily cut an immense wedge of cake, which she crammed into his hand in spite of his remonstrances; and then she poured him out an overflowing glass of wine, which Kester would far rather have gone without, as he knew manners too well to suppose that he might taste it without having gone through the preliminary ceremony of wishing the donor health and happiness. He stood red and half smiling, with his cake in one hand, his wine in the other, and then began, -
'Theere, that's po'try for yo' as I larnt i' my youth. But there's a deal to be said as cannot be put int' po'try, an' yet a cannot say it, somehow. It 'd tax a parson t' say a' as a've getten i' my mind. It's like a heap o' woo' just after shearin' time; it's worth a deal, but it tak's a vast o' combin', an' cardin', an' spinnin' afore it can be made use on. If a were up to t' use o' words, a could say a mighty deal; but somehow a'm tongue-teed when a come to want my words most, so a'll only just mak' bold t' say as a think yo've done pretty well for yo'rsel', getten a house-full o' furniture' (looking around him as he said this), 'an' vittle an' clothin' for t' axing, belike, an' a home for t' missus in her time o' need; an' mebbe not such a bad husband as a once thought yon man 'ud mak'; a'm not above sayin' as he's, mebbe, better nor a took him for; - so here's to ye both, and wishin' ye health and happiness, ay, and money to buy yo' another, as country folk say.'
Having ended his oration, much to his own satisfaction, Kester tossed off his glass of wine, smacked his lips, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, pocketed his cake, and made off.
That night Sylvia spoke of his visit to her husband. Philip never said how he himself had brought it to pass, nor did he name the fact that he had heard the old man come in just as he himself had intended going into the parlour for tea, but had kept away, as he thought Sylvia and Kester would most enjoy their interview undisturbed. And Sylvia felt as if her husband's silence was unsympathizing, and shut up the feelings that were just beginning to expand towards him. She sank again into the listless state of indifference from which nothing but some reference to former days, or present consideration for her mother, could rouse her.
Hester was almost surprised at Sylvia's evident liking for her. By slow degrees Hester was learning to love the woman, whose position as Philip's wife she would have envied so keenly had she not been so truly good and pious. But Sylvia seemed as though she had given Hester her whole affection all at once. Hester could not understand this, while she was touched and melted by the trust it implied. For one thing Sylvia remembered and regretted - her harsh treatment of Hester the rainy, stormy night on which the latter had come to Haytersbank to seek her and her mother, and bring them into Monkshaven to see the imprisoned father and husband. Sylvia had been struck with Hester's patient endurance of her rudeness, a rudeness which she was conscious that she herself should have immediately and vehemently resented. Sylvia did not understand how a totally different character from hers might immediately forgive the anger she could not forget; and because Hester had been so meek at the time, Sylvia, who knew how passing and transitory was her own anger, thought that all was forgotten; while Hester believed that the words, which she herself could not have uttered except under deep provocation, meant much more than they did, and admired and wondered at Sylvia for having so entirely conquered her anger against her.
Again, the two different women were divergently affected by the extreme fondness which Bell had shown towards Hester ever since Sylvia's wedding-day. Sylvia, who had always received more love from others than she knew what to do with, had the most entire faith in her own supremacy in her mother's heart, though at times Hester would do certain things more to the poor old woman's satisfaction. Hester, who had craved for the affection which had been withheld from her, and had from that one circumstance become distrustful of her own power of inspiring regard, while she exaggerated the delight of being beloved, feared lest Sylvia should become jealous of her mother's open display of great attachment and occasional preference for Hester. But such a thought never entered Sylvia's mind. She was more thankful than she knew how to express towards any one who made her mother happy; as has been already said, the contributing to Bell Robson's pleasures earned Philip more of his wife's smiles than anything else. And Sylvia threw her whole heart into the words and caresses she lavished on Hester whenever poor Mrs Robson spoke of the goodness and kindness of the latter. Hester attributed more virtue to these sweet words and deeds of gratitude than they deserved; they did not imply in Sylvia any victory over evil temptation, as they would have done in Hester.
It seemed to be Sylvia's fate to captivate more people than she cared to like back again. She turned the heads of John and Jeremiah Foster, who could hardly congratulate Philip enough on his choice of a wife.
They had been prepared to be critical on one who had interfered with their favourite project of a marriage between Philip and Hester; and, though full of compassion for the cruelty of Daniel Robson's fate, they were too completely men of business not to have some apprehension that the connection of Philip Hepburn with the daughter of a man who was hanged, might injure the shop over which both his and their name appeared. But all the possible proprieties demanded that they should pay attention to the bride of their former shopman and present successor; and the very first visitors whom Sylvia had received after her marriage had been John and Jeremiah Foster, in their sabbath-day clothes. They found her in the parlour (so familiar to both of them!) clear-starching her mother's caps, which had to be got up in some particular fashion that Sylvia was afraid of dictating to Phoebe.
She was a little disturbed at her visitors discovering her at this employment; but she was on her own ground, and that gave her self-possession; and she welcomed the two old men so sweetly and modestly, and looked so pretty and feminine, and, besides, so notable in her handiwork, that she conquered all their prejudices at one blow; and their first thought on leaving the shop was how to do her honour, by inviting her to a supper party at Jeremiah Foster's house.
Sylvia was dismayed when she was bidden to this wedding feast, and Philip had to use all his authority, though tenderly, to make her consent to go at all. She had been to merry country parties like the Corneys', and to bright haymaking romps in the open air; but never to a set stately party at a friend's house.
She would fain have made attendance on her mother an excuse; but Philip knew he must not listen to any such plea, and applied to Hester in the dilemma, asking her to remain with Mrs Robson while he and Sylvia went out visiting; and Hester had willingly, nay, eagerly consented - it was much more to her taste than going out.
So Philip and Sylvia set out, arm-in-arm, down Bridge Street, across the bridge, and then clambered up the hill. On the way he gave her the directions she asked for about her behaviour as bride and most honoured guest; and altogether succeeded, against his intention and will, in frightening her so completely as to the grandeur and importance of the occasion, and the necessity of remembering certain set rules, and making certain set speeches and attending to them when the right time came, that, if any one so naturally graceful could have been awkward, Sylvia would have been so that night.
As it was, she sate, pale and weary-looking, on the very edge of her chair; she uttered the formal words which Philip had told her were appropriate to the occasion, and she heartily wished herself safe at home and in bed. Yet she left but one unanimous impression on the company when she went away, namely, that she was the prettiest and best-behaved woman they had ever seen, and that Philip Hepburn had done well in choosing her, felon's daughter though she might be.
Both the hosts had followed her into the lobby to help Philip in cloaking her, and putting on her pattens. They were full of old-fashioned compliments and good wishes; one speech of theirs came up to her memory in future years: -
'Now, Sylvia Hepburn,' said Jeremiah, 'I've known thy husband long, and I don't say but what thou hast done well in choosing him; but if he ever neglects or ill-uses thee, come to me, and I'll give him a sound lecture on his conduct. Mind, I'm thy friend from this day forrards, and ready to take thy part against him!'
Philip smiled as if the day would never come when he should neglect or ill-use his darling; Sylvia smiled a little, without much attending to, or caring for, the words that were detaining her, tired as she was; John and Jeremiah chuckled over the joke; but the words came up again in after days, as words idly spoken sometimes do.
Before the end of that first year, Philip had learnt to be jealous of his wife's new love for Hester. To the latter, Sylvia gave the free confidence on many things which Philip fancied she withheld from him. A suspicion crossed his mind, from time to time, that Sylvia might speak of her former lover to Hester. It would be not unnatural, he thought, if she did so, believing him to be dead; but the idea irritated him.
He was entirely mistaken, however; Sylvia, with all her apparent frankness, kept her deep sorrows to herself. She never mentioned her father's name, though he was continually present to her mind. Nor did she speak of Kinraid to human being, though, for his sake, her voice softened when, by chance, she spoke to a passing sailor; and for his sake her eyes lingered on such men longer than on others, trying to discover in them something of the old familiar gait; and partly for his dead sake, and partly because of the freedom of the outlook and the freshness of the air, she was glad occasionally to escape from the comfortable imprisonment of her 'parlour', and the close streets around the market-place, and to mount the cliffs and sit on the turf, gazing abroad over the wide still expanse of the open sea; for, at that height, even breaking waves only looked like broken lines of white foam on the blue watery plain.
She did not want any companion on these rambles, which had somewhat of the delight of stolen pleasures; for all the other respectable matrons and town-dwellers whom she knew were content to have always a business object for their walk, or else to stop at home in their own households; and Sylvia was rather ashamed of her own yearnings for solitude and open air, and the sight and sound of the mother-like sea. She used to take off her hat, and sit there, her hands clasping her knees, the salt air lifting her bright curls, gazing at the distant horizon over the sea, in a sad dreaminess of thought; if she had been asked on what she meditated, she could not have told you.
But, by-and-by, the time came when she was a prisoner in the house; a prisoner in her room, lying in bed with a little baby by her side - her child, Philip's child. His pride, his delight knew no bounds; this was a new fast tie between them; this would reconcile her to the kind of life that, with all its respectability and comfort, was so different from what she had lived before, and which Philip had often perceived that she felt to be dull and restraining. He already began to trace in the little girl, only a few days old, the lovely curves that he knew so well by heart in the mother's face. Sylvia, too, pale, still, and weak, was very happy; yes, really happy for the first time since her irrevocable marriage. For its irrevocableness had weighed much upon her with a sense of dull hopelessness; she felt all Philip's kindness, she was grateful to him for his tender regard towards her mother, she was learning to love him as well as to like and respect him. She did not know what else she could have done but marry so true a friend, and she and her mother so friendless; but, at the same time, it was like lead on her morning spirits when she awoke and remembered that the decision was made, the dead was done, the choice taken which comes to most people but once in their lives. Now the little baby came in upon this state of mind like a ray of sunlight into a gloomy room.
Even her mother was rejoiced and proud; even with her crazed brain and broken heart, the sight of sweet, peaceful infancy brought light to her. All the old ways of holding a baby, of hushing it to sleep, of tenderly guarding its little limbs from injury, came back, like the habits of her youth, to Bell; and she was never so happy or so easy in her mind, or so sensible and connected in her ideas, as when she had Sylvia's baby in her arms.
It was a pretty sight to see, however familiar to all of us such things may be - the pale, worn old woman, in her quaint, old-fashioned country dress, holding the little infant on her knees, looking at its open, unspeculative eyes, and talking the little language to it as though it could understand; the father on his knees, kept prisoner by a small, small finger curled round his strong and sinewy one, and gazing at the tiny creature with wondering idolatry; the young mother, fair, pale, and smiling, propped up on pillows in order that she, too, might see the wonderful babe; it was astonishing how the doctor could come and go without being drawn into the admiring vortex, and look at this baby just as if babies came into the world every day.
'Philip,' said Sylvia, one night, as he sate as still as a mouse in her room, imagining her to be asleep. He was by her bed-side in a moment.
'I've been thinking what she's to be called. Isabella, after mother; and what were yo'r mother's name?'
'Margaret,' said he.
'Margaret Isabella; Isabella Margaret. Mother's called Bell. She might be called Bella.'
'I could ha' wished her to be called after thee.'
She made a little impatient movement.
'Nay; Sylvia's not a lucky name. Best be called after thy mother and mine. And I want for to ask Hester to be godmother.'
'Anything thou likes, sweetheart. Shall we call her Rose, after Hester Rose?'
'No, no!' said Sylvia; 'she mun be called after my mother, or thine, or both. I should like her to be called Bella, after mother, because she's so fond of baby.'
'Anything to please thee, darling.'
'Don't say that as if it didn't signify; there's a deal in having a pretty name,' said Sylvia, a little annoyed. 'I ha' allays hated being called Sylvia. It were after father's mother, Sylvia Steele.'
'I niver thought any name in a' the world so sweet and pretty as Sylvia,' said Philip, fondly; but she was too much absorbed in her own thoughts to notice either his manner or his words.
'There, yo'll not mind if it is Bella, because yo' see my mother is alive to be pleased by its being named after her, and Hester may be godmother, and I'll ha' t' dove-coloured silk as yo' gave me afore we were married made up into a cloak for it to go to church in.'
'I got it for thee,' said Philip, a little disappointed. 'It'll be too good for the baby.'
'Eh! but I'm so careless, I should be spilling something on it? But if thou got it for me I cannot find i' my heart for t' wear it on baby, and I'll have it made into a christening gown for mysel'. But I'll niver feel at my ease in it, for fear of spoiling it.'
'Well! an' if thou does spoil it, love, I'll get thee another. I make account of riches only for thee; that I may be able to get thee whativer thou's a fancy for, for either thysel', or thy mother.'
She lifted her pale face from her pillow, and put up her lips to kiss him for these words.
Perhaps on that day Philip reached the zenith of his life's happiness.
The first step in Philip's declension happened in this way. Sylvia had made rapid progress in her recovery; but now she seemed at a stationary point of weakness; wakeful nights succeeding to languid days. Occasionally she caught a little sleep in the afternoons, but she usually awoke startled and feverish.
One afternoon Philip had stolen upstairs to look at her and his child; but the efforts he made at careful noiselessness made the door creak on its hinges as he opened. it. The woman employed to nurse her had taken the baby into another room that no sound might rouse her from her slumber; and Philip would probably have been warned against entering the chamber where his wife lay sleeping had he been perceived by the nurse. As it was, he opened the door, made a noise, and Sylvia started up, her face all one flush, her eyes wild and uncertain; she looked about her as if she did not know where she was; pushed the hair off her hot forehead; all which actions Philip saw, dismayed and regretful. But he kept still, hoping that she would lie down and compose herself. Instead she stretched out her arms imploringly, and said, in a voice full of yearning and tears, -
'Oh! Charley! come to me - come to me!' and then as she more fully became aware of the place where she was, her actual situation, she sank back and feebly began to cry. Philip's heart boiled within him; any man's would under the circumstances, but he had the sense of guilty concealment to aggravate the intensity of his feelings. Her weak cry after another man, too, irritated him, partly through his anxious love, which made him wise to know how much physical harm she was doing herself. At this moment he stirred, or unintentionally made some sound: she started up afresh, and called out, -
'Oh, who's theere? Do, for God's sake, tell me who yo' are!'
'It's me,' said Philip, coming forwards, striving to keep down the miserable complication of love and jealousy, and remorse and anger, that made his heart beat so wildly, and almost took him out of himself. Indeed, he must have been quite beside himself for the time, or he could never have gone on to utter the unwise, cruel words he did. But she spoke first, in a distressed and plaintive tone of voice.
'Oh, Philip, I've been asleep, and yet I think I was awake! And I saw Charley Kinraid as plain as iver I see thee now, and he wasn't drowned at all. I'm sure he's alive somewheere; he were so clear and life-like. Oh! what shall I do? what shall I do?'
She wrung her hands in feverish distress. Urged by passionate feelings of various kinds, and also by his desire to quench the agitation which was doing her harm, Philip spoke, hardly knowing what he said.
'Kinraid's dead, I tell yo', Sylvie! And what kind of a woman are yo' to go dreaming of another man i' this way, and taking on so about him, when yo're a wedded wife, with a child as yo've borne to another man?'
In a moment he could have bitten out his tongue. She looked at him with the mute reproach which some of us see (God help us!) in the eyes of the dead, as they come before our sad memories in the night-season; looked at him with such a solemn, searching look, never saying a word of reply or defence. Then she lay down, motionless and silent. He had been instantly stung with remorse for his speech; the words were not beyond his lips when an agony had entered his heart; but her steady, dilated eyes had kept him dumb and motionless as if by a spell.
Now he rushed to the bed on which she lay, and half knelt, half threw himself upon it, imploring her to forgive him; regardless for the time of any evil consequences to her, it seemed as if he must have her pardon - her relenting - at any price, even if they both died in the act of reconciliation. But she lay speechless, and, as far as she could be, motionless, the bed trembling under her with the quivering she could not still.
Philip's wild tones caught the nurse's ears, and she entered full of the dignified indignation of wisdom.
'Are yo' for killing yo'r wife, measter?' she asked. 'She's noane so strong as she can bear flytin' and scoldin', nor will she be for many a week to come. Go down wi' ye, and leave her i' peace if yo're a man as can be called a man!'
Her anger was rising as she caught sight of Sylvia's averted face. It was flushed crimson, her eyes full of intense emotion of some kind, her lips compressed; but an involuntary twitching overmastering her resolute stillness from time to time. Philip, who did not see the averted face, nor understand the real danger in which he was placing his wife, felt as though he must have one word, one responsive touch of the hand which lay passive in his, which was not even drawn away from the kisses with which he covered it, any more than if it had been an impassive stone. The nurse had fairly to take him by the shoulders, and turn him out of the room.
In half an hour the doctor had to be summoned. Of course, the nurse gave him her version of the events of the afternoon, with much animus against Philip; and the doctor thought it his duty to have some very serious conversation with him.
'I do assure you, Mr Hepburn, that, in the state your wife has been in for some days, it was little less than madness on your part to speak to her about anything that could give rise to strong emotion.'
'It was madness, sir!' replied Philip, in a low, miserable tone of voice. The doctor's heart was touched, in spite of the nurse's accusations against the scolding husband. Yet the danger was now too serious for him to mince matters.
'I must tell you that I cannot answer for her life, unless the greatest precautions are taken on your part, and unless the measures I shall use have the effect I wish for in the next twenty-four hours. She is on the verge of a brain fever. Any allusion to the subject which has been the final cause of the state in which she now is must be most cautiously avoided, even to a chance word which may bring it to her memory.'
And so on; but Philip seemed to hear only this: then he might not express contrition, or sue for pardon, he must go on unforgiven through all this stress of anxiety; and even if she recovered the doctor warned him of the undesirableness of recurring to what had passed!
Heavy miserable times of endurance and waiting have to be passed through by all during the course of their lives; and Philip had had his share of such seasons, when the heart, and the will, and the speech, and the limbs, must be bound down with strong resolution to patience.
For many days, nay, for weeks, he was forbidden to see Sylvia, as the very sound of his footstep brought on a recurrence of the fever and convulsive movement. Yet she seemed, from questions she feebly asked the nurse, to have forgotten all that had happened on the day of her attack from the time when she dropped off to sleep. But how much she remembered of after occurrences no one could ascertain. She was quiet enough when, at length, Philip was allowed to see her. But he was half jealous of his child, when he watched how she could smile at it, while she never changed a muscle of her face at all he could do or say.
And of a piece with this extreme quietude and reserve was her behaviour to him when at length she had fully recovered, and was able to go about the house again. Philip thought many a time of the words she had used long before - before their marriage. Ominous words they were.
'It's not in me to forgive; I sometimes think it's not in me to forget.'
Philip was tender even to humility in his conduct towards her. But nothing stirred her from her fortress of reserve. And he knew she was so different; he knew how loving, nay, passionate, was her nature - vehement, demonstrative - oh! how could he stir her once more into expression, even if the first show or speech she made was of anger? Then he tried being angry with her himself; he was sometimes unjust to her consciously and of a purpose, in order to provoke her into defending herself, and appealing against his unkindness. He only seemed to drive her love away still more.
If any one had known all that was passing in that household, while yet the story of it was not ended, nor, indeed, come to its crisis, their hearts would have been sorry for the man who lingered long at the door of the room in which his wife sate cooing and talking to her baby, and sometimes laughing back to it, or who was soothing the querulousness of failing age with every possible patience of love; sorry for the poor listener who was hungering for the profusion of tenderness thus scattered on the senseless air, yet only by stealth caught the echoes of what ought to have been his.
It was so difficult to complain, too; impossible, in fact. Everything that a wife could do from duty she did; but the love seemed to have fled, and, in such cases, no reproaches or complaints can avail to bring it back. So reason outsiders, and are convinced of the result before the experiment is made. But Philip could not reason, or could not yield to reason; and so he complained and reproached. She did not much answer him; but he thought that her eyes expressed the old words,-
'It's not in me to forgive; I sometimes think it's not in me to forget.'
However, it is an old story, an ascertained fact, that, even in the most tender and stable masculine natures, at the supremest season of their lives, there is room for other thoughts and passions than such as are connected with love. Even with the most domestic and affectionate men, their emotions seem to be kept in a cell distinct and away from their actual lives. Philip had other thoughts and other occupations than those connected with his wife during all this time.
An uncle of his mother's, a Cumberland 'statesman', of whose existence he was barely conscious, died about this time, leaving to his unknown great-nephew four or five hundred pounds, which put him at once in a different position with regard to his business. Henceforward his ambition was roused, - such humble ambition as befitted a shop-keeper in a country town sixty or seventy years ago. To be respected by the men around him had always been an object with him, and was, perhaps, becoming more so than ever now, as a sort of refuge from his deep, sorrowful mortification in other directions. He was greatly pleased at being made a sidesman; and, in preparation for the further honour of being churchwarden, he went regularly twice a day to church on Sundays. There was enough religious feeling in him to make him disguise the worldly reason for such conduct from himself. He believed that he went because he thought it right to attend public worship in the parish church whenever it was offered up; but it may be questioned of him, as of many others, how far he would have been as regular in attendance in a place where he was not known. With this, however, we have nothing to do. The fact was that he went regularly to church, and he wished his wife to accompany him to the pew, newly painted, with his name on the door, where he sate in full sight of the clergyman and congregation.
Sylvia had never been in the habit of such regular church-going, and she felt it as a hardship, and slipped out of the duty as often as ever she could. In her unmarried days, she and her parents had gone annually to the mother-church of the parish in which Haytersbank was situated: on the Monday succeeding the Sunday next after the Romish Saint's Day, to whom the church was dedicated, there was a great feast or wake held; and, on the Sunday, all the parishioners came to church from far and near. Frequently, too, in the course of the year, Sylvia would accompany one or other of her parents to Scarby Moorside afternoon service, - when the hay was got in, and the corn not ready for cutting, or the cows were dry and there was no afternoon milking. Many clergymen were languid in those days, and did not too curiously inquire into the reasons which gave them such small congregations in country parishes.
Now she was married, this weekly church-going which Philip seemed to expect from her, became a tie and a small hardship, which connected itself with her life of respectability and prosperity. 'A crust of bread and liberty' was much more accordant to Sylvia's nature than plenty of creature comforts and many restraints. Another wish of Philip's, against which she said no word, but constantly rebelled in thought and deed, was his desire that the servant he had engaged during the time of her illness to take charge of the baby, should always carry it whenever it was taken out for a walk. Sylvia often felt, now she was strong, as if she would far rather have been without the responsibility of having this nursemaid, of whom she was, in reality, rather afraid. The good side of it was that it set her at liberty to attend to her mother at times when she would have been otherwise occupied with her baby; but Bell required very little from any one: she was easily pleased, unexacting, and methodical even in her dotage; preserving the quiet, undemonstrative habits of her earlier life now that the faculty of reason, which had been at the basis of the formation of such habits, was gone. She took great delight in watching the baby, and was pleased to have it in her care for a short time; but she dozed so much that it prevented her having any strong wish on the subject.
So Sylvia contrived to get her baby as much as possible to herself, in spite of the nursemaid; and, above all, she would carry it out, softly cradled in her arms, warm pillowed on her breast, and bear it to the freedom and solitude of the sea-shore on the west side of the town where the cliffs were not so high, and there was a good space of sand and shingle at all low tides.
Once here, she was as happy as she ever expected to be in this world. The fresh sea-breeze restored something of the colour of former days to her cheeks, the old buoyancy to her spirits; here she might talk her heart-full of loving nonsense to her baby; here it was all her own; no father to share in it, no nursemaid to dispute the wisdom of anything she did with it. She sang to it, she tossed it; it crowed and it laughed back again, till both were weary; and then she would sit down on a broken piece of rock, and fall to gazing on the advancing waves catching the sunlight on their crests, advancing, receding, for ever and for ever, as they had done all her life long - as they did when she had walked with them that once by the side of Kinraid; those cruel waves that, forgetful of the happy lovers' talk by the side of their waters, had carried one away, and drowned him deep till he was dead. Every time she sate down to look at the sea, this process of thought was gone through up to this point; the next step would, she knew, bring her to the question she dared not, must not ask. He was dead; he must be dead; for was she not Philip's wife? Then came up the recollection of Philip's speech, never forgotten, only buried out of sight: 'What kind of a woman are yo' to go on dreaming of another man, and yo' a wedded wife?' She used to shudder as if cold steel had been plunged into her warm, living body as she remembered these words; cruel words, harmlessly provoked. They were too much associated with physical pains to be dwelt upon; only their memory was always there. She paid for these happy rambles with her baby by the depression which awaited her on her re-entrance into the dark, confined house that was her home; its very fulness of comfort was an oppression. Then, when her husband saw her pale and fatigued, he was annoyed, and sometimes upbraided her for doing what was so unnecessary as to load herself with her child. She knew full well it was not that that caused her weariness. By-and-by, when he inquired and discovered that all these walks were taken in one direction, out towards the sea, he grew jealous of her love for the inanimate ocean. Was it connected in her mind with the thought of Kinraid? Why did she so perseveringly, in wind or cold, go out to the sea-shore; the western side, too, where, if she went but far enough, she would come upon the mouth of the Haytersbank gully, the point at which she had last seen Kinraid? Such fancies haunted Philip's mind for hours after she had acknowledged the direction of her walks. But he never said a word that could distinctly tell her he disliked her going to the sea, otherwise she would have obeyed him in this, as in everything else; for absolute obedience to her husband seemed to be her rule of life at this period - obedience to him who would so gladly have obeyed her smallest wish had she but expressed it! She never knew that Philip had any painful association with the particular point on the sea-shore that she instinctively avoided, both from a consciousness of wifely duty, and also because the sight of it brought up so much sharp pain.
Philip used to wonder if the dream that preceded her illness was the suggestive cause that drew her so often to the shore. Her illness consequent upon that dream had filled his mind, so that for many months he himself had had no haunting vision of Kinraid to disturb his slumbers. But now the old dream of Kinraid's actual presence by Philip's bedside began to return with fearful vividness. Night after night it recurred; each time with some new touch of reality, and close approach; till it was as if the fate that overtakes all men were then, even then, knocking at his door.
In his business Philip prospered. Men praised him because he did well to himself. He had the perseverance, the capability for head-work and calculation, the steadiness and general forethought which might have made him a great merchant if he had lived in a large city. Without any effort of his own, almost, too, without Coulson's being aware of it, Philip was now in the position of superior partner; the one to suggest and arrange, while Coulson only carried out the plans that emanated from Philip. The whole work of life was suited to the man: he did not aspire to any different position, only to the full development of the capabilities of that which he already held. He had originated several fresh schemes with regard to the traffic of the shop; and his old masters, with all their love of tried ways, and distrust of everything new, had been candid enough to confess that their successors' plans had resulted in success. 'Their successors.' Philip was content with having the power when the exercise of it was required, and never named his own important share in the new improvements. Possibly, if he had, Coulson's vanity might have taken the alarm, and he might not have been so acquiescent for the future. As it was, he forgot his own subordinate share, and always used the imperial 'we', 'we thought', 'it struck us,' &c.
Meanwhile Hester came and went as usual; in so quiet and methodical a way, with so even and undisturbed a temper, that she was almost forgotten when everything went well in the shop or household. She was a star, the brightness of which was only recognized in times of darkness. She herself was almost surprised at her own increasing regard for Sylvia. She had not thought she should ever be able to love the woman who had been such a laggard in acknowledging Philip's merits; and from all she had ever heard of Sylvia before she came to know her, from the angry words with which Sylvia had received her when she had first gone to Haytersbank Farm, Hester had intended to remain on friendly terms, but to avoid intimacy. But her kindness to Bell Robson had won both the mother's and daughter's hearts; and in spite of herself, certainly against her own mother's advice, she had become the familiar friend and welcome guest of the household.
Now the very change in Sylvia's whole manner and ways, which grieved and vexed Philip, made his wife the more attractive to Hester. Brought up among Quakers, although not one herself, she admired and respected the staidness and outward peacefulness common amongst the young women of that sect. Sylvia, whom she had expected to find volatile, talkative, vain, and wilful, was quiet and still, as if she had been born a Friend: she seemed to have no will of her own; she served her mother and child for love; she obeyed her husband in all things, and never appeared to pine after gaiety or pleasure. And yet at times Hester thought, or rather a flash came across her mind, as if all things were not as right as they seemed. Philip looked older, more care-worn; nay, even Hester was obliged to allow to herself that she had heard him speak to his wife in sharp, aggrieved tones. Innocent Hester! she could not understand how the very qualities she so admired in Sylvia were just what were so foreign to her nature that the husband, who had known her from a child, felt what an unnatural restraint she was putting upon herself, and would have hailed petulant words or wilful actions with an unspeakable thankfulness for relief.
One day - it was in the spring of 1798 - Hester was engaged to stay to tea with the Hepburns, in order that after that early meal she might set to again in helping Philip and Coulson to pack away the winter cloths and flannels, for which there was no longer any use. The tea-time was half-past four; about four o'clock a heavy April shower came on, the hail pattering against the window-panes so as to awaken Mrs Robson from her afternoon's nap. She came down the corkscrew stairs, and found Phoebe in the parlour arranging the tea-things.
Phoebe and Mrs Robson were better friends than Phoebe and her young mistress; and so they began to talk a little together in a comfortable, familiar way. Once or twice Philip looked in, as if he would be glad to see the tea-table in readiness; and then Phoebe would put on a spurt of busy bustle, which ceased almost as soon as his back was turned, so eager was she to obtain Mrs Robson's sympathy in some little dispute that had occurred between her and the nurse-maid. The latter had misappropriated some hot water, prepared and required by Phoebe, to the washing of the baby's clothes; it was a long story, and would have tired the patience of any one in full possession of their senses; but the details were just within poor Bell's comprehension, and she was listening with the greatest sympathy. Both the women were unaware of the lapse of time; but it was of consequence to Philip, as the extra labour was not to be begun until after tea, and the daylight hours were precious.
At a quarter to five Hester and he came in, and then Phoebe began to hurry. Hester went up to sit by Bell and talk to her. Philip spoke to Phoebe in the familiar words of country-folk. Indeed, until his marriage, Phoebe had always called him by his Christian name, and had found it very difficult to change it into 'master.'
'Where's Sylvie?' said he.
'Gone out wi' t' babby,' replied Phoebe.
'Why can't Nancy carry it out?' asked Philip.
It was touching on the old grievance: he was tired, and he spoke with sharp annoyance. Phoebe might easily have told him the real state of the case; Nancy was busy at her washing, which would have been reason enough. But the nursemaid had vexed her, and she did not like Philip's sharpness, so she only said, -
'It's noane o' my business; it's yo' t' look after yo'r own wife and child; but yo'r but a lad after a'.'
This was not conciliatory speech, and just put the last stroke to Philip's fit of ill-temper.
'I'm not for my tea to-night,' said he, to Hester, when all was ready. 'Sylvie's not here, and nothing is nice, or as it should be. I'll go and set to on t' stock-taking. Don't yo' hurry, Hester; stop and chat a bit with th' old lady.'
'Nay, Philip,' said Hester, 'thou's sadly tired; just take this cup o' tea; Sylvia 'll be grieved if yo' haven't something.'
'Sylvia doesn't care whether I'm full or fasting,' replied he, impatiently putting aside the cup. 'If she did she'd ha' taken care to be in, and ha' seen to things being as I like them.'
Now in general Philip was the least particular of men about meals; and to do Sylvia justice, she was scrupulously attentive to every household duty in which old Phoebe would allow her to meddle, and always careful to see after her husband's comforts. But Philip was too vexed at her absence to perceive the injustice of what he was saying, nor was he aware how Bell Robson had been attending to what he said. But she was sadly discomfited by it, understanding just enough of the grievance in hand to think that her daughter was neglectful of those duties which she herself had always regarded as paramount to all others; nor could Hester convince her that Philip had not meant what he said; neither could she turn the poor old woman's thoughts from the words which had caused her distress.
Presently Sylvia came in, bright and cheerful, although breathless with hurry.
'Oh,' said she, taking off her wet shawl, 'we've had to shelter from such a storm of rain, baby and me - but see! she's none the worse for it, as bonny as iver, bless her.'
Hester began some speech of admiration for the child in order to prevent Bell from delivering the lecture she felt sure was coming down on the unsuspecting Sylvia; but all in vain.
'Philip's been complaining on thee, Sylvie,' said Bell, in the way in which she had spoken to her daughter when she was a little child; grave and severe in tone and look, more than in words. 'I forget justly what about, but he spoke on thy neglecting him continual. It's not right, my lass, it's not right; a woman should - but my head's very tired, and all I can think on to say is, it's not right.'
'Philip been complaining of me, and to mother!' said Sylvia, ready to burst into tears, so grieved and angry was she.
'No!' said Hester, 'thy mother has taken it a little too strong; he were vexed like at his tea not being ready.'
Sylvia said no more, but the bright colour faded from her cheek, and the contraction of care returned to her brow. She occupied herself with taking off her baby's walking things. Hester lingered, anxious to soothe and make peace; she was looking sorrowfully at Sylvia, when she saw tears dropping on the baby's cloak, and then it seemed as if she must speak a word of comfort before going to the shop-work, where she knew she was expected by both Philip and Coulson. She poured out a cup of tea, and coming close up to Sylvia, and kneeling down by her, she whispered, -
'Just take him this into t' ware-room; it'll put all to rights if thou'll take it to him wi' thy own hands.'
Sylvia looked up, and Hester then more fully saw how she had been crying. She whispered in reply, for fear of disturbing her mother, -
'I don't mind anything but his speaking ill on me to mother. I know I'm for iver trying and trying to be a good wife to him, an' it's very dull work; harder than yo' think on, Hester, - an' I would ha' been home for tea to-night only I was afeared of baby getting wet wi' t' storm o' hail as we had down on t' shore; and we sheltered under a rock. It's a weary coming home to this dark place, and to find my own mother set against me.'
'Take him his tea, like a good lassie. I'll answer for it he'll be all right. A man takes it hardly when he comes in tired, a-thinking his wife '11 be there to cheer him up a bit, to find her off, and niver know nought of t' reason why.'
'I'm glad enough I've getten a baby,' said Sylvia, 'but for aught else I wish I'd niver been married, I do!'
'Hush thee, lass!' said Hester, rising up indignant; 'now that is a sin. Eh! if thou only knew the lot o' some folk. But let's talk no more on that, that cannot be helped; go, take him his tea, for it's a sad thing to think on him fasting all this time.'
Hester's voice was raised by the simple fact of her change of position; and the word fasting caught Mrs Robson's ear, as she sate at her knitting by the chimney-corner.
'Fasting? he said thou didn't care if he were full or fasting. Lassie! it's not right in thee, I say; go, take him his tea at once.'
Sylvia rose, and gave up the baby, which she had been suckling, to Nancy, who having done her washing, had come for her charge, to put it to bed. Sylvia kissed it fondly, making a little moan of sad, passionate tenderness as she did so. Then she took the cup of tea; but she said, rather defiantly, to Hester, -
'I'll go to him with it, because mother bids me, and it'll ease her mind.'
Then louder to her mother, she added, -
'Mother, I'll take him his tea, though I couldn't help the being out.'
If the act itself was conciliatory, the spirit in which she was going to do it was the reverse. Hester followed her slowly into the ware-room, with intentional delay, thinking that her presence might be an obstacle to their mutually understanding one another. Sylvia held the cup and plate of bread and butter out to Philip, but avoided meeting his eye, and said not a word of explanation, or regret, or self-justification. If she had spoken, though ever so crossly, Philip would have been relieved, and would have preferred it to her silence. He wanted to provoke her to speech, but did not know how to begin.
'Thou's been out again wandering on that sea-shore!' said he. She did not answer him. 'I cannot think what's always taking thee there, when one would ha' thought a walk up to Esdale would be far more sheltered, both for thee and baby in such weather as this. Thou'll be having that baby ill some of these days.'
At this, she looked up at him, and her lips moved as though she were going to say something. Oh, how he wished she would, that they might come to a wholesome quarrel, and a making friends again, and a tender kissing, in which he might whisper penitence for all his hasty words, or unreasonable vexation. But she had come resolved not to speak, for fear of showing too much passion, too much emotion. Only as she was going away she turned and said, -
'Philip, mother hasn't many more years to live; dunnot grieve her, and set her again' me by finding fault wi' me afore her. Our being wed were a great mistake; but before t' poor old widow woman let us make as if we were happy.'
'Sylvie! Sylvie!' he called after her. She must have heard, but she did not turn. He went after her, and seized her by the arm rather roughly; she had stung him to the heart with her calm words, which seemed to reveal a long-formed conviction.
'Sylvie!' said he, almost fiercely, 'what do yo' mean by what you've said? Speak! I will have an answer.'
He almost shook her: she was half frightened by his vehemence of behaviour, which she took for pure anger, while it was the outburst of agonized and unrequited love.
'Let me go! Oh, Philip, yo' hurt me!'
Just at this moment Hester came up; Philip was ashamed of his passionate ways in her serene presence, and loosened his grasp of his wife, and she ran away; ran into her mother's empty room, as to a solitary place, and there burst into that sobbing, miserable crying which we instinctively know is too surely lessening the length of our days on earth to be indulged in often.
When she had exhausted that first burst and lay weak and quiet for a time, she listened in dreading expectation of the sound of his footstep coming in search of her to make friends. But he was detained below on business, and never came. Instead, her mother came clambering up the stairs; she was now in the habit of going to bed between seven and eight, and to-night she was retiring at even an earlier hour.
Sylvia sprang up and drew down the window-blind, and made her face and manner as composed as possible, in order to soothe and comfort her mother's last waking hours. She helped her to bed with gentle patience; the restraint imposed upon her by her tender filial love was good for her, though all the time she was longing to be alone to have another wild outburst. When her mother was going off to sleep, Sylvia went to look at her baby, also in a soft sleep. Then she gazed out at the evening sky, high above the tiled roofs of the opposite houses, and the longing to be out under the peaceful heavens took possession of her once more.
'It's my only comfort,' said she to herself; 'and there's no earthly harm in it. I would ha' been at home to his tea, if I could; but when he doesn't want me, and mother doesn't want me, and baby is either in my arms or asleep; why, I'll go any cry my fill out under yon great quiet sky. I cannot stay in t' house to be choked up wi' my tears, nor yet to have him coming about me either for scolding or peace-making.'
So she put on her things and went out again; this time along the High Street, and up the long flights of steps towards the parish church, and there she stood and thought that here she had first met Kinraid, at Darley's burying, and she tried to recall the very look of all the sad, earnest faces round the open grave - the whole scene, in fact; and let herself give way to the miserable regrets she had so often tried to control. Then she walked on, crying bitterly, almost unawares to herself; on through the high, bleak fields at the summit of the cliffs; fields bounded by loose stone fences, and far from all sight of the habitation of man. But, below, the sea rose and raged; it was high water at the highest tide, and the wind blew gustily from the land, vainly combating the great waves that came invincibly up with a roar and an impotent furious dash against the base of the cliffs below.
Sylvia heard the sound of the passionate rush and rebound of many waters, like the shock of mighty guns, whenever the other sound of the blustering gusty wind was lulled for an instant. She was more quieted by this tempest of the elements than she would have been had all nature seemed as still as she had imagined it to be while she was yet in-doors and only saw a part of the serene sky.
She fixed on a certain point, in her own mind, which she would reach, and then turn back again. It was where the outline of the land curved inwards, dipping into a little bay. Here the field-path she had hitherto followed descended somewhat abruptly to a cluster of fishermen's cottages, hardly large enough to be called a village; and then the narrow roadway wound up the rising ground till it again reached the summit of the cliffs that stretched along the coast for many and many a mile.
Sylvia said to herself that she would turn homewards when she came within sight of this cove, - Headlington Cove, they called it. All the way along she had met no one since she had left the town, but just as she had got over the last stile, or ladder of stepping-stones, into the field from which the path descended, she came upon a number of people - quite a crowd, in fact; men moving forward in a steady line, hauling at a rope, a chain, or something of that kind; boys, children, and women holding babies in their arms, as if all were fain to come out and partake in some general interest.
They kept within a certain distance from the edge of the cliff, and Sylvia, advancing a little, now saw the reason why. The great cable the men held was attached to some part of a smack, which could now be seen by her in the waters below, half dismantled, and all but a wreck, yet with her deck covered with living men, as far as the waning light would allow her to see. The vessel strained to get free of the strong guiding cable; the tide was turning, the wind was blowing off shore, and Sylvia knew without being told, that almost parallel to this was a line of sunken rocks that had been fatal to many a ship before now, if she had tried to take the inner channel instead of keeping out to sea for miles, and then steering in straight for Monkshaven port. And the ships that had been thus lost had been in good plight and order compared to this vessel, which seemed nothing but a hull without mast or sail.
By this time, the crowd - the fishermen from the hamlet down below, with their wives and children - all had come but the bedridden - had reached the place where Sylvia stood. The women, in a state of wild excitement, rushed on, encouraging their husbands and sons by words, even while they hindered them by actions; and, from time to time, one of them would run to the edge of the cliff and shout out some brave words of hope in her shrill voice to the crew on the deck below. Whether these latter heard it or not, no one could tell; but it seemed as if all human voice must be lost in the tempestuous stun and tumult of wind and wave. It was generally a woman with a child in her arms who so employed herself. As the strain upon the cable became greater, and the ground on which they strove more uneven, every hand was needed to hold and push, and all those women who were unencumbered held by the dear rope on which so many lives were depending. On they came, a long line of human beings, black against the ruddy sunset sky. As they came near Sylvia, a woman cried out, -
'Dunnot stand idle, lass, but houd on wi' us; there's many a bonny life at stake, and many a mother's heart a-hangin' on this bit o' hemp. Tak' houd, lass, and give a firm grip, and God remember thee i' thy need.'
Sylvia needed no second word; a place was made for her, and in an instant more the rope was pulling against her hands till it seemed as though she was holding fire in her bare palms. Never a one of them thought of letting go for an instant, though when all was over many of their hands were raw and bleeding. Some strong, experienced fishermen passed a word along the line from time to time, giving directions as to how it should be held according to varying occasions; but few among the rest had breath or strength enough to speak. The women and children that accompanied them ran on before, breaking down the loose stone fences, so as to obviate delay or hindrance; they talked continually, exhorting, encouraging, explaining. From their many words and fragmentary sentences, Sylvia learnt that the vessel was supposed to be a Newcastle smack sailing from London, that had taken the dangerous inner channel to save time, and had been caught in the storm, which she was too crazy to withstand; and that if by some daring contrivance of the fishermen who had first seen her the cable had not been got ashore, she would have been cast upon the rocks before this, and 'all on board perished'.
'It were dayleet then,' quoth one woman; 'a could see their faces, they were so near. They were as pale as dead men, an' one was prayin' down on his knees. There was a king's officer aboard, for I saw t' gowd about him.'
'He'd maybe come from these hom'ard parts, and be comin' to see his own folk; else it's no common for king's officers to sail in aught but king's ships.'
'Eh! but it's gettin' dark! See there's t' leeghts in t' houses in t' New Town! T' grass is crispin' wi' t' white frost under out feet. It'll be a hard tug round t' point, and then she'll be gettin' into still waters.'
One more great push and mighty strain, and the danger was past; the vessel - or what remained of her - was in the harbour, among the lights and cheerful sounds of safety. The fishermen sprang down the cliff to the quay-side, anxious to see the men whose lives they had saved; the women, weary and over-excited, began to cry. Not Sylvia, however; her fount of tears had been exhausted earlier in the day: her principal feeling was of gladness and high rejoicing that they were saved who had been so near to death not half an hour before.
She would have liked to have seen the men, and shaken hands with them all round. But instead she must go home, and well would it be with her if she was in time for her husband's supper, and escaped any notice of her absence. So she separated herself from the groups of women who sate on the grass in the churchyard, awaiting the return of such of their husbands as could resist the fascinations of the Monkshaven public houses. As Sylvia went down the church steps, she came upon one of the fishermen who had helped to tow the vessel into port.
'There was seventeen men and boys aboard her, and a navy-lieutenant as had comed as passenger. It were a good job as we could manage her. Good-neet to thee, thou'll sleep all t' sounder for havin' lent a hand.'
The street air felt hot and close after the sharp keen atmosphere of the heights above; the decent shops and houses had all their shutters put up, and were preparing for their early bed-time. Already lights shone here and there in the upper chambers, and Sylvia scarcely met any one.
She went round up the passage from the quay-side, and in by the private door. All was still; the basins of bread and milk that she and her husband were in the habit of having for supper stood in the fender before the fire, each with a plate upon them. Nancy had gone to bed, Phoebe dozed in the kitchen; Philip was still in the ware-room, arranging goods and taking stock along with Coulson, for Hester had gone home to her mother.
Sylvia was not willing to go and seek out Philip, after the manner in which they had parted. All the despondency of her life became present to her again as she sate down within her home. She had forgotten it in her interest and excitement, but now it came back again.
Still she was hungry, and youthful, and tired. She took her basin up, and was eating her supper when she heard a cry of her baby upstairs, and ran away to attend to it. When it had been fed and hushed away to sleep, she went in to see her mother, attracted by some unusual noise in her room.
She found Mrs Robson awake, and restless, and ailing; dwelling much on what Philip had said in his anger against Sylvia. It was really necessary for her daughter to remain with her; so Sylvia stole out, and went quickly down-stairs to Philip - now sitting tired and worn out, and eating his supper with little or no appetite - and told him she meant to pass the night with her mother.
His answer of acquiescence was so short and careless, or so it seemed to her, that she did not tell him any more of what she had done or seen that evening, or even dwell upon any details of her mother's indisposition.
As soon as she had left the room, Philip set down his half-finished basin of bread and milk, and sate long, his face hidden in his folded arms. The wick of the candle grew long and black, and fell, and sputtered, and guttered; he sate on, unheeding either it or the pale gray fire that was dying out - dead at last.