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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter VIII - ATTRACTION AND REPULSION
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter VIII - ATTRACTION AND REPULSION Post by :kmander Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :1519

Click below to download : Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter VIII - ATTRACTION AND REPULSION (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter VIII - ATTRACTION AND REPULSION

A fortnight had passed over and winter was advancing with rapid
strides. In bleak northern farmsteads there was much to be done
before November weather should make the roads too heavy for half-fed
horses to pull carts through. There was the turf, pared up on the
distant moors, and left out to dry, to be carried home and stacked;
the brown fern was to be stored up for winter bedding for the
cattle; for straw was scarce and dear in those parts; even for
thatching, heather (or rather ling) was used. Then there was meat to
salt while it could be had; for, in default of turnips and
mangold-wurzel, there was a great slaughtering of barren cows as
soon as the summer herbage failed; and good housewives stored up
their Christmas piece of beef in pickle before Martinmas was over.
Corn was to be ground while yet it could be carried to the distant
mill; the great racks for oat-cake, that swung at the top of the
kitchen, had to be filled. And last of all came the pig-killing,
when the second frost set in. For up in the north there is an idea
that the ice stored in the first frost will melt, and the meat cured
then taint; the first frost is good for nothing but to be thrown
away, as they express it.

There came a breathing-time after this last event. The house had had
its last autumn cleaning, and was neat and bright from top to
bottom, from one end to another. The turf was led; the coal carted
up from Monkshaven; the wood stored; the corn ground; the pig
killed, and the hams and head and hands lying in salt. The butcher
had been glad to take the best parts of a pig of Dame Robson's
careful feeding; but there was unusual plenty in the Haytersbank
pantry; and as Bell surveyed it one morning, she said to her husband
--

'I wonder if yon poor sick chap at Moss Brow would fancy some o' my
sausages. They're something to crack on, for they are made fra' an
old Cumberland receipt, as is not known i' Yorkshire yet.'

'Thou's allays so set upo' Cumberland ways!' said her husband, not
displeased with the suggestion, however. 'Still, when folk's sick
they han their fancies, and maybe Kinraid 'll be glad o' thy
sausages. I ha' known sick folk tak' t' eating snails.'

This was not complimentary, perhaps. But Daniel went on to say that
he did not mind if he stepped over with the sausages himself, when
it was too late to do anything else. Sylvia longed to offer to
accompany her father; but, somehow, she did not like to propose it.
Towards dusk she came to her mother to ask for the key of the great
bureau that stood in the house-place as a state piece of furniture,
although its use was to contain the family's best wearing apparel,
and stores of linen, such as might be supposed to be more needed
upstairs.

'What for do yo' want my keys?' asked Bell.

'Only just to get out one of t' damask napkins.'

'The best napkins, as my mother span?'

'Yes!' said Sylvia, her colour heightening. 'I thought as how it
would set off t' sausages.'

'A good clean homespun cloth will serve them better,' said Bell,
wondering in her own mind what was come over the girl, to be
thinking of setting off sausages that were to be eaten, not to be
looked at like a picture-book. She might have wondered still more,
if she had seen Sylvia steal round to the little flower border she
had persuaded Kester to make under the wall at the sunny side of the
house, and gather the two or three Michaelmas daisies, and the one
bud of the China rose, that, growing against the kitchen chimney,
had escaped the frost; and then, when her mother was not looking,
softly open the cloth inside of the little basket that contained the
sausages and a fresh egg or two, and lay her autumn blossoms in one
of the folds of the towel.

After Daniel, now pretty clear of his rheumatism, had had his
afternoon meal (tea was a Sunday treat), he prepared to set out on
his walk to Moss Brow; but as he was taking his stick he caught the
look on Sylvia's face; and unconsciously interpreted its dumb
wistfulness.

'Missus,' said he, 't' wench has nought more t' do, has she? She may
as well put on her cloak and step down wi' me, and see Molly a bit;
she'll be company like.'

Bell considered.

'There's t' yarn for thy stockings as is yet to spin; but she can
go, for I'll do a bit at 't mysel', and there's nought else agate.'

'Put on thy things in a jiffy, then, and let's be off,' said Daniel.

And Sylvia did not need another word. Down she came in a twinkling,
dressed in her new red cloak and hood, her face peeping out of the
folds of the latter, bright and blushing.

'Thou should'st na' ha' put on thy new cloak for a night walk to
Moss Brow,' said Bell, shaking her head.

'Shall I go take it off, and put on my shawl?' asked Sylvia, a
little dolefully.

'Na, na, come along! a'm noane goin' for t' wait o' women's chops
and changes. Come along; come, Lassie!' (this last to his dog).

So Sylvia set off with a dancing heart and a dancing step, that had
to be restrained to the sober gait her father chose. The sky above
was bright and clear with the light of a thousand stars, the grass
was crisping under their feet with the coming hoar frost; and as
they mounted to the higher ground they could see the dark sea
stretching away far below them. The night was very still, though now
and then crisp sounds in the distant air sounded very near in the
silence. Sylvia carried the basket, and looked like little Red
Riding Hood. Her father had nothing to say, and did not care to make
himself agreeable; but Sylvia enjoyed her own thoughts, and any
conversation would have been a disturbance to her. The long
monotonous roll of the distant waves, as the tide bore them in, the
multitudinous rush at last, and then the retreating rattle and
trickle, as the baffled waters fell back over the shingle that
skirted the sands, and divided them from the cliffs; her father's
measured tread, and slow, even movement; Lassie's pattering--all
lulled Sylvia into a reverie, of which she could not have given
herself any definite account. But at length they arrived at Moss
Brow, and with a sudden sigh she quitted the subjects of her dreamy
meditations, and followed her father into the great house-place. It
had a more comfortable aspect by night than by day. The fire was
always kept up to a wasteful size, and the dancing blaze and the
partial light of candles left much in shadow that was best ignored
in such a disorderly family. But there was always a warm welcome to
friends, however roughly given; and after the words of this were
spoken, the next rose up equally naturally in the mind of Mrs
Corney.

'And what will ye tak'? Eh! but t' measter 'll be fine and vexed at
your comin' when he's away. He's off to Horncastle t' sell some
colts, and he'll not be back till to-morrow's neet. But here's
Charley Kinraid as we've getten to nurse up a bit, and' t' lads 'll
be back fra' Monkshaven in a crack o' no time.'

All this was addressed to Daniel, to whom she knew that none but
masculine company would be acceptable. Amongst uneducated
people--whose range of subjects and interest do not extend beyond
their daily life--it is natural that when the first blush and hurry
of youth is over, there should be no great pleasure in the
conversation of the other sex. Men have plenty to say to men, which
in their estimation (gained from tradition and experience) women
cannot understand; and farmers of a much later date than the one of
which I am writing, would have contemptuously considered it as a
loss of time to talk to women; indeed, they were often more
communicative to the sheep-dog that accompanied them through all the
day's work, and frequently became a sort of dumb confidant. Farmer
Robson's Lassie now lay down at her master's feet, placed her nose
between her paws, and watched with attentive eyes the preparations
going on for refreshments--preparations which, to the
disappointment of her canine heart, consisted entirely of tumblers
and sugar.

'Where's t' wench?' said Robson, after he had shaken hands with
Kinraid, and spoken a few words to him and to Mrs. Corney. 'She's
getten' a basket wi' sausages in 'em, as my missus has made, and
she's a rare hand at sausages; there's noane like her in a' t' three
Ridings, I'll be bound!'

For Daniel could praise his wife's powers in her absence, though he
did not often express himself in an appreciative manner when she was
by to hear. But Sylvia's quick sense caught up the manner in which
Mrs. Corney would apply the way in which her mother's housewifery had
been exalted, and stepping forwards out of the shadow, she said,--

'Mother thought, maybe, you hadn't killed a pig yet, and sausages is
always a bit savoury for any one who is na' well, and----'

She might have gone on but that she caught Kinraid's eyes looking at
her with kindly admiration. She stopped speaking, and Mrs. Corney
took up the word--

'As for sausages, I ha' niver had a chance this year, else I stand
again any one for t' making of 'em. Yorkshire hams 's a vast thought
on, and I'll niver let another county woman say as she can make
better sausages nor me. But, as I'm saying, I'd niver a chance; for
our pig, as I were sa fond on, and fed mysel', and as would ha' been
fourteen stone by now if he were an ounce, and as knew me as well as
any Christian, and a pig, as I may say, that I just idolized, went
and took a fit a week after Michaelmas Day, and died, as if it had
been to spite me; and t' next is na' ready for killing, nor wunnot
be this six week. So I'm much beholden to your missus, and so's
Charley, I'm sure; though he's ta'en a turn to betterin' sin' he
came out here to be nursed.'

'I'm a deal better,' said Kinraid; 'a'most ready for t' press-gang
to give chase to again.'

'But folk say they're gone off this coast for one while,' added
Daniel.

'They're gone down towards Hull, as I've been told,' said Kinraid.
'But they're a deep set, they'll be here before we know where we
are, some of these days.'

'See thee here!' said Daniel, exhibiting his maimed hand; 'a reckon
a served 'em out time o' t' Ameriky war.' And he began the story
Sylvia knew so well; for her father never made a new acquaintance
but what he told him of his self-mutilation to escape the
press-gang. It had been done, as he would himself have owned, to
spite himself as well as them; for it had obliged him to leave a
sea-life, to which, in comparison, all life spent on shore was worse
than nothing for dulness. For Robson had never reached that rank
aboard ship which made his being unable to run up the rigging, or to
throw a harpoon, or to fire off a gun, of no great consequence; so
he had to be thankful that an opportune legacy enabled him to turn
farmer, a great degradation in his opinion. But his blood warmed, as
he told the specksioneer, towards a sailor, and he pressed Kinraid
to beguile the time when he was compelled to be ashore, by coming
over to see him at Haytersbank, whenever he felt inclined.

Sylvia, appearing to listen to Molly's confidences, was hearkening
in reality to all this conversation between her father and the
specksioneer; and at this invitation she became especially
attentive.

Kinraid replied,--

'I'm much obliged to ye, I'm sure; maybe I can come and spend an
ev'ning wi' you; but as soon as I'm got round a bit, I must go see
my own people as live at Cullercoats near Newcastle-upo'-Tyne.'

'Well, well!' said Daniel, rising to take leave, with unusual
prudence as to the amount of his drink. 'Thou'lt see, thou'lt see! I
shall be main glad to see thee; if thou'lt come. But I've na' lads
to keep thee company, only one sprig of a wench. Sylvia, come here,
an let's show thee to this young fellow!'

Sylvia came forwards, ruddy as any rose, and in a moment Kinraid
recognized her as the pretty little girl he had seen crying so
bitterly over Darley's grave. He rose up out of true sailor's
gallantry, as she shyly approached and stood by her father's side,
scarcely daring to lift her great soft eyes, to have one fair gaze
at his face. He had to support himself by one hand rested on the
dresser, but she saw he was looking far better--younger, less
haggard--than he had seemed to her before. His face was short and
expressive; his complexion had been weatherbeaten and bronzed,
though now he looked so pale; his eyes and hair were dark,--the
former quick, deep-set, and penetrating; the latter curly, and
almost in ringlets. His teeth gleamed white as he smiled at her, a
pleasant friendly smile of recognition; but she only blushed the
deeper, and hung her head.

'I'll come, sir, and be thankful. I daresay a turn'll do me good, if
the weather holds up, an' th' frost keeps on.'

'That's right, my lad,' said Robson, shaking him by the hand, and
then Kinraid's hand was held out to Sylvia, and she could not avoid
the same friendly action.

Molly Corney followed her to the door, and when they were fairly
outside, she held Sylvia back for an instant to say,--

'Is na' he a fine likely man? I'm so glad as yo've seen him, for
he's to be off next week to Newcastle and that neighbourhood.'

'But he said he'd come to us some night?' asked Sylvia, half in a
fright.

'Ay, I'll see as he does; never fear. For I should like yo' for to
know him a bit. He's a rare talker. I'll mind him o' coming to yo'.'

Somehow, Sylvia felt as if this repeated promise of reminding
Kinraid of his promise to come and see her father took away part of
the pleasure she had anticipated from his visit. Yet what could be
more natural than that Molly Corney should wish her friend to be
acquainted with the man whom Sylvia believed to be all but Molly's
engaged lover?

Pondering these thoughts, the walk home was as silent as that going
to Moss Brow had been. The only change seemed to be that now they
faced the brilliant northern lights flashing up the sky, and that
either this appearance or some of the whaling narrations of Kinraid
had stirred up Daniel Robson's recollections of a sea ditty, which
he kept singing to himself in a low, unmusical voice, the burden of
which was, 'for I loves the tossin' say!' Bell met them at the door.

'Well, and here ye are at home again! and Philip has been, Sylvie,
to give thee thy ciphering lesson; and he stayed awhile, thinking
thou'd be coming back.'

'I'm very sorry,' said Sylvia, more out of deference to her mother's
tone of annoyance, than because she herself cared either for her
lesson or her cousin's disappointment.

'He'll come again to-morrow night, he says. But thou must take care,
and mind the nights he says he'll come, for it's a long way to come
for nought.'

Sylvia might have repeated her 'I'm very sorry' at this announcement
of Philip's intentions; but she restrained herself, inwardly and
fervently hoping that Molly would not urge the fulfilment of the
specksioneer's promise for to-morrow night, for Philip's being there
would spoil all; and besides, if she sate at the dresser at her
lesson, and Kinraid at the table with her father, he might hear all,
and find out what a dunce she was.

She need not have been afraid. With the next night Hepburn came; and
Kinraid did not. After a few words to her mother, Philip produced
the candles he had promised, and some books and a quill or two.

'What for hast thou brought candles?' asked Bell, in a
half-affronted tone.

Hepburn smiled.

'Sylvia thought it would take a deal of candlelight, and was for
making it into a reason not to learn. I should ha' used t' candles
if I'd stayed at home, so I just brought them wi' me.'

'Then thou may'st just take them back again,' said Bell, shortly,
blowing out that which he had lighted, and placing one of her own on
the dresser instead.

Sylvia caught her mother's look of displeasure, and it made her
docile for the evening, although she owed her cousin a grudge for
her enforced good behaviour.

'Now, Sylvia, here's a copy-book wi' t' Tower o' London on it, and
we'll fill it wi' as pretty writing as any in t' North Riding.'

Sylvia sate quite still, unenlivened by this prospect.

'Here's a pen as 'll nearly write of itsel',' continued Philip,
still trying to coax her out her sullenness of manner.

Then he arranged her in the right position.

'Don't lay your head down on your left arm, you'll ne'er see to
write straight.'

The attitude was changed, but not a word was spoken. Philip began to
grow angry at such determined dumbness.

'Are you tired?' asked he, with a strange mixture of crossness and
tenderness.

'Yes, very,' was her reply.

'But thou ought'st not to be tired,' said Bell, who had not yet got
over the offence to her hospitality; who, moreover, liked her
nephew, and had, to boot, a great respect for the learning she had
never acquired.

'Mother!' said Sylvia, bursting out, 'what's the use on my writing
"Abednego," "Abednego," "Abednego," all down a page? If I could see
t' use on 't, I'd ha' axed father to send me t' school; but I'm none
wanting to have learning.'

'It's a fine thing, tho', is learning. My mother and my grandmother
had it: but th' family came down i' the world, and Philip's mother
and me, we had none of it; but I ha' set my heart on thy having it,
child.'

'My fingers is stiff,' pleaded Sylvia, holding up her little hand
and shaking it.

'Let us take a turn at spelling, then,' said Philip.

'What's t' use on't?' asked captious Sylvia.

'Why, it helps one i' reading an' writing.'

'And what does reading and writing do for one?'

Her mother gave her another of the severe looks that, quiet woman as
she was, she could occasionally bestow upon the refractory, and
Sylvia took her book and glanced down the column Philip pointed out
to her; but, as she justly considered, one man might point out the
task, but twenty could not make her learn it, if she did not choose;
and she sat herself down on the edge of the dresser, and idly gazed
into the fire. But her mother came round to look for something in
the drawers of the dresser, and as she passed her daughter she said
in a low voice--

'Sylvie, be a good lass. I set a deal o' store by learning, and
father 'ud never send thee to school, as has stuck by me sore.'

If Philip, sitting with his back to them, heard these words he was
discreet enough not to show that he heard. And he had his reward;
for in a very short time, Sylvia stood before him with her book in
her hand, prepared to say her spelling. At which he also stood up by
instinct, and listened to her slow succeeding letters; helping her
out, when she looked up at him with a sweet childlike perplexity in
her face: for a dunce as to book-learning poor Sylvia was and was
likely to remain; and, in spite of his assumed office of
schoolmaster, Philip Hepburn could almost have echoed the words of
the lover of Jess MacFarlane--

I sent my love a letter,
But, alas! she canna read,
And I lo'e her a' the better.

Still he knew his aunt's strong wish on the subject, and it was very
delightful to stand in the relation of teacher to so dear and
pretty, if so wilful, a pupil.

Perhaps it was not very flattering to notice Sylvia's great joy when
her lessons were over, sadly shortened as they were by Philip's
desire not to be too hard upon her. Sylvia danced round to her
mother, bent her head back, and kissed her face, and then said
defyingly to Philip,--

'If iver I write thee a letter it shall just be full of nothing but
"Abednego! Abednego! Abednego!"'

But at this moment her father came in from a distant expedition on
the moors with Kester to look after the sheep he had pasturing there
before the winter set fairly in. He was tired, and so was Lassie,
and so, too, was Kester, who, lifting his heavy legs one after the
other, and smoothing down his hair, followed his master into the
house-place, and seating himself on a bench at the farther end of
the dresser, patiently awaited the supper of porridge and milk which
he shared with his master. Sylvia, meanwhile, coaxed Lassie--poor
footsore dog--to her side, and gave her some food, which the
creature was almost too tired to eat. Philip made as though he would
be going, but Daniel motioned to him to be quiet.

'Sit thee down, lad. As soon as I've had my victual, I want t' hear
a bit o' news.'

Sylvia took her sewing and sat at the little round table by her
mother, sharing the light of the scanty dip-candle. No one spoke.
Every one was absorbed in what they were doing. What Philip was
doing was, gazing at Sylvia--learning her face off by heart.

When every scrap of porridge was cleared out of the mighty bowl,
Kester yawned, and wishing good-night, withdrew to his loft over the
cow-house. Then Philip pulled out the weekly York paper, and began
to read the latest accounts of the war then raging. This was giving
Daniel one of his greatest pleasures; for though he could read
pretty well, yet the double effort of reading and understanding what
he read was almost too much for him. He could read, or he could
understand what was read aloud to him; reading was no pleasure, but
listening was.

Besides, he had a true John Bullish interest in the war, without
very well knowing what the English were fighting for. But in those
days, so long as they fought the French for any cause, or for no
cause at all, every true patriot was satisfied. Sylvia and her
mother did not care for any such far-extended interest; a little bit
of York news, the stealing of a few apples out of a Scarborough
garden that they knew, was of far more interest to them than all the
battles of Nelson and the North.

Philip read in a high-pitched and unnatural tone of voice, which
deprived the words of their reality; for even familiar expressions
can become unfamiliar and convey no ideas, if the utterance is
forced or affected. Philip was somewhat of a pedant; yet there was a
simplicity in his pedantry not always to be met with in those who
are self-taught, and which might have interested any one who cared
to know with what labour and difficulty he had acquired the
knowledge which now he prized so highly; reading out Latin
quotations as easily as if they were English, and taking a pleasure
in rolling polysyllables, until all at once looking askance at
Sylvia, he saw that her head had fallen back, her pretty rosy lips
open, her eyes fast shut; in short, she was asleep.

'Ay,' said Farmer Robson, 'and t' reading has a'most sent me off.
Mother 'd look angry now if I was to tell yo' yo' had a right to a
kiss; but when I was a young man I'd ha' kissed a pretty girl as I
saw asleep, afore yo'd said Jack Robson.'

Philip trembled at these words, and looked at his aunt. She gave him
no encouragement, standing up, and making as though she had never
heard her husband's speech, by extending her hand, and wishing him
'good-night.' At the noise of the chairs moving over the flag floor,
Sylvia started up, confused and annoyed at her father's laughter.

'Ay, lass; it's iver a good time t' fall asleep when a young fellow
is by. Here's Philip here as thou'rt bound t' give a pair o' gloves
to.'

Sylvia went like fire; she turned to her mother to read her face.

'It's only father's joke, lass,' said she. 'Philip knows manners too
well.'

'He'd better,' said Sylvia, flaming round at him. 'If he'd a touched
me, I'd niver ha' spoken to him no more.' And she looked even as it
was as if she was far from forgiving him.

'Hoots, lass! wenches are brought up sa mim, now-a-days; i' my time
they'd ha' thought na' such great harm of a kiss.'

'Good-night, Philip,' said Bell Robson, thinking the conversation
unseemly.

'Good-night, aunt, good-night, Sylvie!' But Sylvia turned her back
on him, and he could hardly say 'good-night' to Daniel, who had
caused such an unpleasant end to an evening that had at one time
been going on so well.

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'And now tell me all about th' folk at home?' said Philip, evidentlypreparing to walk back with the girls. He generally came toHaytersbank every Sunday afternoon, so Sylvia knew what she had toexpect the moment she became aware of his neighbourhood in thechurchyard.'My feyther's been sadly troubled with his rheumatics this weekpast; but he's a vast better now, thank you kindly.' Then,addressing herself to Molly, she asked, 'Has your cousin a doctor tolook after him?''Ay, for sure!' said Molly, quickly; for though she knew nothingabout the matter, she was determined to suppose that her cousin hadeverything becoming an invalid as well
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