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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter X - A REFRACTORY PUPIL
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter X - A REFRACTORY PUPIL Post by :taxon Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :1010

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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter X - A REFRACTORY PUPIL

Sylvia was still full of the specksioneer and his stories, when
Hepburn came up to give her the next lesson. But the prospect of a
little sensible commendation for writing a whole page full of
flourishing 'Abednegos,' had lost all the slight charm it had ever
possessed. She was much more inclined to try and elicit some
sympathy in her interest in the perils and adventures of the
northern seas, than to bend and control her mind to the right
formation of letters. Unwisely enough, she endeavoured to repeat one
of the narratives that she had heard from Kinraid; and when she
found that Hepburn (if, indeed, he did not look upon the whole as a
silly invention) considered it only as an interruption to the real
business in hand, to which he would try to listen as patiently as he
could, in the hope of Sylvia's applying herself diligently to her
copy-book when she had cleared her mind, she contracted her pretty
lips, as if to check them from making any further appeals for
sympathy, and set about her writing-lesson in a very rebellious
frame of mind, only restrained by her mother's presence from spoken
mutiny.

'After all,' said she, throwing down her pen, and opening and
shutting her weary, cramped hand, 'I see no good in tiring myself
wi' learning for t' write letters when I'se never got one in a' my
life. What for should I write answers, when there's niver a one
writes to me? and if I had one, I couldn't read it; it's bad enough
wi' a book o' print as I've niver seen afore, for there's sure to be
new-fangled words in 't. I'm sure I wish the man were farred who
plagues his brains wi' striking out new words. Why can't folks just
ha' a set on 'em for good and a'?'

'Why! you'll be after using two or three hundred yoursel' every day
as you live, Sylvie; and yet I must use a great many as you never
think on about t' shop; and t' folks in t' fields want their set,
let alone the high English that parsons and lawyers speak.'

'Well, it's weary work is reading and writing. Cannot you learn me
something else, if we mun do lessons?'

'There's sums--and geography,' said Hepburn, slowly and gravely.

'Geography!' said Sylvia, brightening, and perhaps not pronouncing
the word quite correctly, 'I'd like yo' to learn me geography.
There's a deal o' places I want to hear all about.'

'Well, I'll bring up a book and a map next time. But I can tell you
something now. There's four quarters in the globe.'

'What's that?' asked Sylvia.

'The globe is the earth; the place we live on.'

'Go on. Which quarter is Greenland?'

'Greenland is no quarter. It is only a part of one.'

'Maybe it's a half quarter.'

'No, not so much as that.'

'Half again?'

'No!' he replied, smiling a little.

She thought he was making it into a very small place in order to
tease her; so she pouted a little, and then said,--

'Greenland is all t' geography I want to know. Except, perhaps,
York. I'd like to learn about York, because of t' races, and London,
because King George lives there.'

'But if you learn geography at all, you must learn 'bout all places:
which of them is hot, and which is cold, and how many inhabitants is
in each, and what's the rivers, and which is the principal towns.'

'I'm sure, Sylvie, if Philip will learn thee all that, thou'lt be
such a sight o' knowledge as ne'er a one o' th' Prestons has been
sin' my great-grandfather lost his property. I should be main proud
o' thee; 'twould seem as if we was Prestons o' Slaideburn once
more.'

'I'd do a deal to pleasure yo', mammy; but weary befa' riches and
land, if folks that has 'em is to write "Abednegos" by t' score, and
to get hard words int' their brains, till they work like barm, and
end wi' cracking 'em.'

This seemed to be Sylvia's last protest against learning for the
night, for after this she turned docile, and really took pains to
understand all that Philip could teach her, by means of the not
unskilful, though rude, map which he drew for her with a piece of
charred wood on his aunt's dresser. He had asked his aunt's leave
before beginning what Sylvia called his 'dirty work;' but by-and-by
even she became a little interested in starting from a great black
spot called Monkshaven, and in the shaping of land and sea around
that one centre. Sylvia held her round chin in the palms of her
hands, supporting her elbows on the dresser; looking down at the
progress of the rough drawing in general, but now and then glancing
up at him with sudden inquiry. All along he was not so much absorbed
in his teaching as to be unconscious of her sweet proximity. She was
in her best mood towards him; neither mutinous nor saucy; and he was
striving with all his might to retain her interest, speaking better
than ever he had done before (such brightness did love call
forth!)--understanding what she would care to hear and to know;
when, in the middle of an attempt at explaining the cause of the
long polar days, of which she had heard from her childhood, he felt
that her attention was no longer his; that a discord had come in
between their minds; that she had passed out of his power. This
certainty of intuition lasted but for an instant; he had no time to
wonder or to speculate as to what had affected her so adversely to
his wishes before the door opened and Kinraid came in. Then Hepburn
knew that she must have heard his coming footsteps, and recognized
them.

He angrily stiffened himself up into coldness of demeanour. Almost
to his surprise, Sylvia's greeting to the new comer was as cold as
his own. She stood rather behind him; so perhaps she did not see the
hand which Kinraid stretched out towards her, for she did not place
her own little palm in it, as she had done to Philip an hour ago.
And she hardly spoke, but began to pore over the rough black map, as
if seized with strong geographical curiosity, or determined to
impress Philip's lesson deep on her memory.

Still Philip was dismayed by seeing the warm welcome which Kinraid
received from the master of the house, who came in from the back
premises almost at the same time as the specksioneer entered at the
front. Hepburn was uneasy, too, at finding Kinraid take his seat by
the fireside, like one accustomed to the ways of the house. Pipes
were soon produced. Philip disliked smoking. Possibly Kinraid did so
too, but he took a pipe at any rate, and lighted it, though he
hardly used it at all, but kept talking to farmer Robson on sea
affairs. He had the conversation pretty much to himself. Philip sat
gloomily by; Sylvia and his aunt were silent, and old Robson smoked
his long clay pipe, from time to time taking it out of his mouth to
spit into the bright copper spittoon, and to shake the white ashes
out of the bowl. Before he replaced it, he would give a short laugh
of relishing interest in Kinraid's conversation; and now and then he
put in a remark. Sylvia perched herself sideways on the end of the
dresser, and made pretence to sew; but Philip could see how often
she paused in her work to listen.

By-and-by, his aunt spoke to him, and they kept up a little side
conversation, more because Bell Robson felt that her nephew, her own
flesh and blood, was put out, than for any special interest they
either of them felt in what they were saying. Perhaps, also, they
neither of them disliked showing that they had no great faith in the
stories Kinraid was telling. Mrs. Robson, at any rate, knew so little
as to be afraid of believing too much.

Philip was sitting on that side of the fire which was nearest to the
window and to Sylvia, and opposite to the specksioneer. At length he
turned to his cousin and said in a low voice--

'I suppose we can't go on with our spell at geography till that
fellow's gone?'

The colour came into Sylvia's cheek at the words 'that fellow'; but
she only replied with a careless air--

'Well, I'm one as thinks enough is as good as a feast; and I've had
enough of geography this one night, thank you kindly all the same.'

Philip took refuge in offended silence. He was maliciously pleased
when his aunt made so much noise with her preparation for supper as
quite to prevent the sound of the sailor's words from reaching
Sylvia's ears. She saw that he was glad to perceive that her efforts
to reach the remainder of the story were baulked! this nettled her,
and, determined not to let him have his malicious triumph, and still
more to put a stop to any attempt at private conversation, she began
to sing to herself as she sat at her work; till, suddenly seized
with a desire to help her mother, she dexterously slipped down from
her seat, passed Hepburn, and was on her knees toasting cakes right
in front of the fire, and just close to her father and Kinraid. And
now the noise that Hepburn had so rejoiced in proved his foe. He
could not hear the little merry speeches that darted backwards and
forwards as the specksioneer tried to take the toasting-fork out of
Sylvia's hand.

'How comes that sailor chap here?' asked Hepburn of his aunt. 'He's
none fit to be where Sylvia is.'

'Nay, I dunnot know,' said she; 'the Corneys made us acquaint first,
and my master is quite fain of his company.'

'And do you like him, too, aunt?' asked Hepburn, almost wistfully;
he had followed Mrs. Robson into the dairy on pretence of helping
her.

'I'm none fond on him; I think he tells us traveller's tales, by way
o' seeing how much we can swallow. But the master and Sylvia think
that there never was such a one.'

'I could show them a score as good as he down on the quayside.'

'Well, laddie, keep a calm sough. Some folk like some folk and
others don't. Wherever I am there'll allays be a welcome for thee.'

For the good woman thought that he had been hurt by the evident
absorption of her husband and daughter with their new friend, and
wished to make all easy and straight. But do what she would, he did
not recover his temper all evening: he was uncomfortable, put out,
not enjoying himself, and yet he would not go. He was determined to
assert his greater intimacy in that house by outstaying Kinraid. At
length the latter got up to go; but before he went, he must needs
bend over Sylvia and say something to her in so low a tone that
Philip could not hear it; and she, seized with a sudden fit of
diligence, never looked up from her sewing; only nodded her head by
way of reply. At last he took his departure, after many a little
delay, and many a quick return, which to the suspicious Philip
seemed only pretences for taking stolen glances at Sylvia. As soon
as he was decidedly gone, she folded up her work, and declared that
she was so much tired that she must go to bed there and then. Her
mother, too, had been dozing for the last half-hour, and was only
too glad to see signs that she might betake herself to her natural
place of slumber.

'Take another glass, Philip,' said farmer Robson.

But Hepburn refused the offer rather abruptly. He drew near to
Sylvia instead. He wanted to make her speak to him, and he saw that
she wished to avoid it. He took up the readiest pretext. It was an
unwise one as it proved, for it deprived him of his chances of
occasionally obtaining her undivided attention.

'I don't think you care much for learning geography, Sylvie?'

'Not much to-night,' said she, making a pretence to yawn, yet
looking timidly up at his countenance of displeasure.

'Nor at any time,' said he, with growing anger; 'nor for any kind of
learning. I did bring some books last time I came, meaning to teach
you many a thing--but now I'll just trouble you for my books; I put
them on yon shelf by the Bible.'

He had a mind that she should bring them to him; that, at any rate,
he should have the pleasure of receiving them out of her hands.

Sylvia did not reply, but went and took down the books with a
languid, indifferent air.

'And so you won't learn any more geography,' said Hepburn.

Something in his tone struck her, and she looked up in his face.
There were marks of stern offence upon his countenance, and yet in
it there was also an air of wistful regret and sadness that touched
her.

'Yo're niver angry with me, Philip? Sooner than vex yo', I'll try
and learn. Only, I'm just stupid; and it mun be such a trouble to
you.'

Hepburn would fain have snatched at this half proposal that the
lessons should be continued, but he was too stubborn and proud to
say anything. He turned away from the sweet, pleading face without a
word, to wrap up his books in a piece of paper. He knew that she was
standing quite still by his side, though he made as if he did not
perceive her. When he had done he abruptly wished them all
'good-night,' and took his leave.

There were tears in Sylvia's eyes, although the feeling in her heart
was rather one of relief. She had made a fair offer, and it had been
treated with silent contempt. A few days afterwards, her father came
in from Monkshaven market, and dropped out, among other pieces of
news, that he had met Kinraid, who was bound for his own home at
Cullercoats. He had desired his respects to Mrs. Robson and her
daughter; and had bid Robson say that he would have come up to
Haytersbank to wish them good-by, but that as he was pressed for
time, he hoped they would excuse him. But Robson did not think it
worth while to give this long message of mere politeness. Indeed, as
it did not relate to business, and was only sent to women, Robson
forgot all about it, pretty nearly as soon as it was uttered. So
Sylvia went about fretting herself for one or two days, at her
hero's apparent carelessness of those who had at any rate treated
him more like a friend than an acquaintance of only a few weeks'
standing; and then, her anger quenching her incipient regard, she
went about her daily business pretty much as though he had never
been. He had gone away out of her sight into the thick mist of
unseen life from which he had emerged--gone away without a word, and
she might never see him again. But still there was a chance of her
seeing him when he came to marry Molly Corney. Perhaps she should be
bridesmaid, and then what a pleasant merry time the wedding-day
would be! The Corneys were all such kind people, and in their family
there never seemed to be the checks and restraints by which her own
mother hedged her round. Then there came an overwhelming
self-reproaching burst of love for that 'own mother'; a humiliation
before her slightest wish, as penance for the moment's unspoken
treason; and thus Sylvia was led to request her cousin Philip to
resume his lessons in so meek a manner, that he slowly and
graciously acceded to a request which he was yearning to fulfil all
the time.

During the ensuing winter, all went on in monotonous regularity at
Haytersbank Farm for many weeks. Hepburn came and went, and thought
Sylvia wonderfully improved in docility and sobriety; and perhaps
also he noticed the improvement in her appearance. For she was at
that age when a girl changes rapidly, and generally for the better.
Sylvia shot up into a tall young woman; her eyes deepened in colour,
her face increased in expression, and a sort of consciousness of
unusual good looks gave her a slight tinge of coquettish shyness
with the few strangers whom she ever saw. Philip hailed her interest
in geography as another sign of improvement. He had brought back his
book of maps to the farm; and there he sat on many an evening
teaching his cousin, who had strange fancies respecting the places
about which she wished to learn, and was coolly indifferent to the
very existence of other towns, and countries, and seas far more
famous in story. She was occasionally wilful, and at times very
contemptuous as to the superior knowledge of her instructor; but, in
spite of it all, Philip went regularly on the appointed evenings to
Haytersbank--through keen black east wind, or driving snow, or
slushing thaw; for he liked dearly to sit a little behind her, with
his arm on the back of her chair, she stooping over the outspread
map, with her eyes,--could he have seen them,--a good deal fixed on
one spot in the map, not Northumberland, where Kinraid was spending
the winter, but those wild northern seas about which he had told
them such wonders.

One day towards spring, she saw Molly Corney coming towards the
farm. The companions had not met for many weeks, for Molly had been
from home visiting her relations in the north. Sylvia opened the
door, and stood smiling and shivering on the threshold, glad to see
her friend again. Molly called out, when a few paces off,--

'Why, Sylvia, is that thee! Why, how thou'rt growed, to be sure!
What a bonny lass thou is!'

'Dunnot talk nonsense to my lass,' said Bell Robson, hospitably
leaving her ironing and coming to the door; but though the mother
tried to look as if she thought it nonsense, she could hardly keep
down the smile that shone out of her eyes, as she put her hand on
Sylvia's shoulder, with a fond sense of proprietorship in what was
being praised.

'Oh! but she is,' persisted Molly. 'She's grown quite a beauty sin'
I saw her. And if I don't tell her so, the men will.'

'Be quiet wi' thee,' said Sylvia, more than half offended, and
turning away in a huff at the open barefaced admiration.

'Ay; but they will,' persevered Molly. 'Yo'll not keep her long,
Mistress Robson. And as mother says, yo'd feel it a deal more to
have yer daughters left on hand.'

'Thy mother has many, I have but this one,' said Mrs. Robson, with
severe sadness; for now Molly was getting to talk as she disliked.
But Molly's purpose was to bring the conversation round to her own
affairs, of which she was very full.

'Yes! I tell mother that wi' so many as she has, she ought to be
thankful to t' one as gets off quickest.'

'Who? which is it?' asked Sylvia, a little eagerly, seeing that
there was news of a wedding behind the talk.

'Why! who should it be but me?' said Molly, laughing a good deal,
and reddening a little. 'I've not gone fra' home for nought; I'se
picked up a measter on my travels, leastways one as is to be.'

'Charley Kinraid,' said Sylvia smiling, as she found that now she
might reveal Molly's secret, which hitherto she had kept sacred.

'Charley Kinraid be hung!' said Molly, with a toss of her head.
'Whatten good's a husband who's at sea half t' year? Ha ha, my
measter is a canny Newcassel shopkeeper, on t' Side. A reckon a've
done pretty well for mysel', and a'll wish yo' as good luck, Sylvia.
For yo' see,' (turning to Bell Robson, who, perhaps, she thought
would more appreciate the substantial advantages of her engagement
than Sylvia,) 'though Measter Brunton is near upon forty if he's a
day, yet he turns over a matter of two hundred pound every year; an
he's a good-looking man of his years too, an' a kind, good-tempered
feller int' t' bargain. He's been married once, to be sure; but his
childer are dead a' 'cept one; an' I don't mislike childer either;
an' a'll feed 'em well, an' get 'em to bed early, out o' t' road.'

Mrs. Robson gave her her grave good wishes; but Sylvia was silent.
She was disappointed; it was a coming down from the romance with the
specksioneer for its hero. Molly laughed awkwardly, understanding
Sylvia's thoughts better than the latter imagined.

'Sylvia's noane so well pleased. Why, lass! it's a' t' better for
thee. There's Charley to t' fore now, which if a'd married him, he'd
not ha' been; and he's said more nor once what a pretty lass yo'd
grow into by-and-by.'

Molly's prosperity was giving her an independence and fearlessness
of talk such as had seldom appeared hitherto; and certainly never
before Mrs. Robson. Sylvia was annoyed at Molly's whole tone and
manner, which were loud, laughing, and boisterous; but to her mother
they were positively repugnant. She said shortly and gravely,--

'Sylvia's none so set upo' matrimony; she's content to bide wi' me
and her father. Let a be such talking, it's not i' my way.'

Molly was a little subdued; but still her elation at the prospect of
being so well married kept cropping out of all the other subjects
which were introduced; and when she went away, Mrs. Robson broke out
in an unwonted strain of depreciation.

'That's the way wi' some lasses. They're like a cock on a dunghill,
when they've teased a silly chap into wedding 'em. It's
cock-a-doodle-do, I've cotched a husband, cock-a-doodle-doo, wi'
'em. I've no patience wi' such like; I beg, Sylvie, thou'lt not get
too thick wi' Molly. She's not pretty behaved, making such an ado
about men-kind, as if they were two-headed calves to be run after.'

'But Molly's a good-hearted lass, mother. Only I never dreamt but
what she was troth-plighted wi' Charley Kinraid,' said Sylvia,
meditatively.

'That wench 'll be troth-plight to th' first man as 'll wed her and
keep her i' plenty; that's a' she thinks about,' replied Bell,
scornfully.

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Before May was out, Molly Corney was married and had left theneighbourhood for Newcastle. Although Charley Kinraid was not thebridegroom, Sylvia's promise to be bridesmaid was claimed. But thefriendship brought on by the circumstances of neighbourhood andparity of age had become very much weakened in the time that elapsedbetween Molly's engagement and wedding. In the first place, sheherself was so absorbed in her preparations, so elated by her goodfortune in getting married, and married, too, before her eldersister, that all her faults blossomed out full and strong. Sylviafelt her to be selfish; Mrs. Robson thought her not maidenly. A yearbefore she
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A few days after, Farmer Robson left Haytersbank betimes on alongish day's journey, to purchase a horse. Sylvia and her motherwere busied with a hundred household things, and the early winter'sevening closed in upon them almost before they were aware. Theconsequences of darkness in the country even now are to gather themembers of a family together into one room, and to make them settleto some sedentary employment; and it was much more the case at theperiod of my story, when candles were far dearer than they are atpresent, and when one was often made to suffice for a large family.The mother
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