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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XII - NEW YEAR'S FETE
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XII - NEW YEAR'S FETE Post by :Bob_Bastian Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :1658

Click below to download : Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XII - NEW YEAR'S FETE (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XII - NEW YEAR'S FETE

All this enlargement of interest in the shop occupied Philip fully
for some months after the period referred to in the preceding
chapter. Remembering his last conversation with his aunt, he might
have been uneasy at his inability to perform his promise and look
after his pretty cousin, but that about the middle of November Bell
Robson had fallen ill of a rheumatic fever, and that her daughter
had been entirely absorbed in nursing her. No thought of company or
gaiety was in Sylvia's mind as long as her mother's illness lasted;
vehement in all her feelings, she discovered in the dread of losing
her mother how passionately she was attached to her. Hitherto she
had supposed, as children so often do, that her parents would live
for ever; and now when it was a question of days, whether by that
time the following week her mother might not be buried out of her
sight for ever, she clung to every semblance of service to be
rendered, or affection shown, as if she hoped to condense the love
and care of years into the few days only that might remain. Mrs.
Robson lingered on, began slowly to recover, and before Christmas
was again sitting by the fireside in the house-place, wan and pulled
down, muffled up with shawls and blankets, but still there once
more, where not long before Sylvia had scarcely expected to see her
again. Philip came up that evening and found Sylvia in wild spirits.
She thought that everything was done, now that her mother had once
come downstairs again; she laughed with glee; she kissed her mother;
she shook hands with Philip, she almost submitted to a speech of
more than usual tenderness from him; but, in the midst of his words,
her mother's pillows wanted arranging and she went to her chair,
paying no more heed to his words than if they had been addressed to
the cat, that lying on the invalid's knee was purring out her
welcome to the weak hand feebly stroking her back. Robson himself
soon came in, looking older and more subdued since Philip had seen
him last. He was very urgent that his wife should have some spirits
and water; but on her refusal, almost as if she loathed the thought
of the smell, he contented himself with sharing her tea, though he
kept abusing the beverage as 'washing the heart out of a man,' and
attributing all the degeneracy of the world, growing up about him in
his old age, to the drinking of such slop. At the same time, his
little self-sacrifice put him in an unusually good temper; and,
mingled with his real gladness at having his wife once more on the
way to recovery, brought back some of the old charm of tenderness
combined with light-heartedness, which had won the sober Isabella
Preston long ago. He sat by her side, holding her hand, and talking
of old times to the young couple opposite; of his adventures and
escapes, and how he had won his wife. She, faintly smiling at the
remembrance of those days, yet half-ashamed at having the little
details of her courtship revealed, from time to time kept saying,--

'For shame wi' thee, Dannel--I never did,' and faint denials of a
similar kind.

'Niver believe her, Sylvie. She were a woman, and there's niver a
woman but likes to have a sweetheart, and can tell when a chap's
castin' sheep's-eyes at her; ay, an' afore he knows what he's about
hissen. She were a pretty one then, was my old 'ooman, an' liked
them as thought her so, though she did cock her head high, as bein'
a Preston, which were a family o' standin' and means i' those parts
aforetime. There's Philip there, I'll warrant, is as proud o' bein'
Preston by t' mother's side, for it runs i' t' blood, lass. A can
tell when a child of a Preston tak's to being proud o' their kin, by
t' cut o' their nose. Now Philip's and my missus's has a turn beyond
common i' their nostrils, as if they was sniffin' at t' rest of us
world, an' seein' if we was good enough for 'em to consort wi'. Thee
an' me, lass, is Robsons--oat-cake folk, while they's pie-crust.
Lord! how Bell used to speak to me, as short as though a wasn't a
Christian, an' a' t' time she loved me as her very life, an' well a
knew it, tho' a'd to mak' as tho' a didn't. Philip, when thou goes
courtin', come t' me, and a'll give thee many a wrinkle. A've shown,
too, as a know well how t' choose a good wife by tokens an' signs,
hannot a, missus? Come t' me, my lad, and show me t' lass, an' a'll
just tak' a squint at her, an' tell yo' if she'll do or not; an' if
she'll do, a'll teach yo' how to win her.'

'They say another o' yon Corney girls is going to be married,' said
Mrs. Robson, in her faint deliberate tones.

'By gosh, an' it's well thou'st spoke on 'em; a was as clean
forgettin' it as iver could be. A met Nanny Corney i' Monkshaven
last neet, and she axed me for t' let our Sylvia come o' New Year's
Eve, an' see Molly an' her man, that 'n as is wed beyond Newcassel,
they'll be over at her feyther's, for t' New Year, an' there's to be
a merry-making.'

Sylvia's colour came, her eyes brightened, she would have liked to
go; but the thought of her mother came across her, and her features
fell. Her mother's eye caught the look and the change, and knew what
both meant as well as if Sylvia had spoken out.

'Thursday se'nnight,' said she. 'I'll be rare and strong by then,
and Sylvie shall go play hersen; she's been nurse-tending long

'You're but weakly yet,' said Philip shortly; he did not intend to
say it, but the words seemed to come out in spite of himself.

'A said as our lass should come, God willin', if she only came and
went, an' thee goin' on sprightly, old 'ooman. An' a'll turn
nurse-tender mysen for t' occasion, 'special if thou can stand t'
good honest smell o' whisky by then. So, my lass, get up thy smart
clothes, and cut t' best on 'em out, as becomes a Preston. Maybe,
a'll fetch thee home, an' maybe Philip will convoy thee, for Nanny
Corney bade thee to t' merry-making, as well. She said her measter
would be seem' thee about t' wool afore then.'

'I don't think as I can go,' said Philip, secretly pleased to know
that he had the opportunity in his power; 'I'm half bound to go Wi'
Hester Rose and her mother to t' watch-night.'

'Is Hester a Methodee?' asked Sylvia in surprise.

'No! she's neither a Methodee, nor a Friend, nor a Church person;
but she's a turn for serious things, choose wherever they're found.'

'Well, then,' said good-natured farmer Robson, only seeing the
surface of things, 'a'll make shift to fetch Sylvie back fra' t'
merry-making, and thee an' thy young woman can go to t'
prayer-makin'; it's every man to his taste, say I.'

But in spite of his half-promise, nay against his natural
inclination, Philip was lured to the Corneys' by the thought of
meeting Sylvia, of watching her and exulting in her superiority in
pretty looks and ways to all the other girls likely to be assembled.
Besides (he told his conscience) he was pledged to his aunt to watch
over Sylvia like a brother. So in the interval before New Year's
Eve, he silently revelled as much as any young girl in the
anticipation of the happy coming time.

At this hour, all the actors in this story having played out their
parts and gone to their rest, there is something touching in
recording the futile efforts made by Philip to win from Sylvia the
love he yearned for. But, at the time, any one who had watched him
might have been amused to see the grave, awkward, plain young man
studying patterns and colours for a new waistcoat, with his head a
little on one side, after the meditative manner common to those who
are choosing a new article of dress. They might have smiled could
they have read in his imagination the frequent rehearsals of the
coming evening, when he and she should each be dressed in their gala
attire, to spend a few hours under a bright, festive aspect, among
people whose company would oblige them to assume a new demeanour
towards each other, not so familiar as their every-day manner, but
allowing more scope for the expression of rustic gallantry. Philip
had so seldom been to anything of the kind, that, even had Sylvia
not been going, he would have felt a kind of shy excitement at the
prospect of anything so unusual. But, indeed, if Sylvia had not been
going, it is very probable that Philip's rigid conscience might have
been aroused to the question whether such parties did not savour too
much of the world for him to form one in them.

As it was, however, the facts to him were simply these. He was going
and she was going. The day before, he had hurried off to Haytersbank
Farm with a small paper parcel in his pocket--a ribbon with a little
briar-rose pattern running upon it for Sylvia. It was the first
thing he had ever ventured to give her--the first thing of the kind
would, perhaps, be more accurate; for when he had first begun to
teach her any lessons, he had given her Mavor's Spelling-book, but
that he might have done, out of zeal for knowledge, to any dunce of
a little girl of his acquaintance. This ribbon was quite a different
kind of present; he touched it tenderly, as if he were caressing it,
when he thought of her wearing it; the briar-rose (sweetness and
thorns) seemed to be the very flower for her; the soft, green ground
on which the pink and brown pattern ran, was just the colour to show
off her complexion. And she would in a way belong to him: her
cousin, her mentor, her chaperon, her lover! While others only
admired, he might hope to appropriate; for of late they had been
such happy friends! Her mother approved of him, her father liked
him. A few months, perhaps only a few weeks more of self-restraint,
and then he might go and speak openly of his wishes, and what he had
to offer. For he had resolved, with the quiet force of his
character, to wait until all was finally settled between him and his
masters, before he declared himself to either Sylvia or her parents.
The interval was spent in patient, silent endeavours to recommend
himself to her.

He had to give his ribbon to his aunt in charge for Sylvia, and that
was a disappointment to his fancy, although he tried to reason
himself into thinking that it was better so. He had not time to wait
for her return from some errand on which she had gone, for he was
daily more and more occupied with the affairs of the shop.

Sylvia made many a promise to her mother, and more to herself, that
she would not stay late at the party, but she might go as early as
she liked; and before the December daylight had faded away, Sylvia
presented herself at the Corneys'. She was to come early in order to
help to set out the supper, which was arranged in the large old
flagged parlour, which served as best bed-room as well. It opened
out of the house-place, and was the sacred room of the house, as
chambers of a similar description are still considered in retired
farmhouses in the north of England. They are used on occasions like
the one now described for purposes of hospitality; but in the state
bed, overshadowing so large a portion of the floor, the births and,
as far as may be, the deaths, of the household take place. At the
Corneys', the united efforts of some former generation of the family
had produced patchwork curtains and coverlet; and patchwork was
patchwork in those days, before the early Yates and Peels had found
out the secret of printing the parsley-leaf. Scraps of costly Indian
chintzes and palempours were intermixed with commoner black and red
calico in minute hexagons; and the variety of patterns served for
the useful purpose of promoting conversation as well as the more
obvious one of displaying the work-woman 's taste. Sylvia, for
instance, began at once to her old friend, Molly Brunton, who had
accompanied her into this chamber to take off her hat and cloak,
with a remark on one of the chintzes. Stooping over the counterpane,
with a face into which the flush would come whether or no, she said
to Molly,--

'Dear! I never seed this one afore--this--for all t' world like th'
eyes in a peacock's tail.'

'Thou's seen it many a time and oft, lass. But weren't thou
surprised to find Charley here? We picked him up at Shields, quite
by surprise like; and when Brunton and me said as we was comin'
here, nought would serve him but comin' with us, for t' see t' new
year in. It's a pity as your mother's ta'en this time for t' fall
ill and want yo' back so early.'

Sylvia had taken off her hat and cloak by this time, and began to
help Molly and a younger unmarried sister in laying out the
substantial supper.

'Here,' continued Mrs. Brunton; 'stick a bit o' holly i' yon pig's
mouth, that's the way we do things i' Newcassel; but folks is so
behindhand in Monkshaven. It's a fine thing to live in a large town,
Sylvia; an' if yo're looking out for a husband, I'd advise yo' to
tak' one as lives in a town. I feel as if I were buried alive comin'
back here, such an out-o'-t'-way place after t' Side, wheere there's
many a hundred carts and carriages goes past in a day. I've a great
mind for t' tak yo' two lassies back wi' me, and let yo' see a bit
o' t' world; may-be, I may yet.

Her sister Bessy looked much pleased with this plan, but Sylvia was
rather inclined to take offence at Molly's patronizing ways, and

'I'm none so fond o' noise and bustle; why, yo'll not be able to
hear yoursels speak wi' all them carts and carriages. I'd rayther
bide at home; let alone that mother can't spare me.'

It was, perhaps, a rather ungracious way of answering Molly
Brunton's speech, and so she felt it to be, although her invitation
had been none of the most courteously worded. She irritated Sylvia
still further by repeating her last words,--

'"Mother can't spare me;" why, mother 'll have to spare thee
sometime, when t' time for wedding comes.'

'I'm none going to be wed,' said Sylvia; 'and if I were, I'd niver
go far fra' mother.'

'Eh! what a spoilt darling it is. How Brunton will laugh when I tell
him about yo'; Brunton's a rare one for laughin'. It's a great thing
to have got such a merry man for a husband. Why! he has his joke for
every one as comes into t' shop; and he'll ha' something funny to
say to everything this evenin'.'

Bessy saw that Sylvia was annoyed, and, with more delicacy than her
sister, she tried to turn the conversation.

'That's a pretty ribbon in thy hair, Sylvia; I'd like to have one o'
t' same pattern. Feyther likes pickled walnuts stuck about t' round
o' beef, Molly.'

'I know what I'm about,' replied Mrs. Brunton, with a toss of her
married head.

Bessy resumed her inquiry.

'Is there any more to be had wheere that come fra', Sylvia?'

'I don't know,' replied Sylvia. 'It come fra' Foster's, and yo' can

'What might it cost?' said Betsy, fingering an end of it to test its

'I can't tell,' said Sylvia, 'it were a present.'

'Niver mak' ado about t' price,' said Molly; 'I'll gi'e thee enough
on 't to tie up thy hair, just like Sylvia's. Only thou hastn't such
wealth o' curls as she has; it'll niver look t' same i' thy straight
locks. And who might it be as give it thee, Sylvia?' asked the
unscrupulous, if good-natured Molly.

'My cousin Philip, him as is shopman at Foster's,' said Sylvia,
innocently. But it was far too good an opportunity for the exercise
of Molly's kind of wit for her to pass over.

'Oh, oh! our cousin Philip, is it? and he'll not be living so far
away from your mother? I've no need be a witch to put two and two
together. He's a coming here to-night, isn't he, Bessy?'

'I wish yo' wouldn't talk so, Molly,' said Sylvia; 'me and Philip is
good enough friends, but we niver think on each other in that way;
leastways, I don't

'(Sweet butter! now that's my mother's old-fashioned way; as if
folks must eat sweet butter now-a-days, because her mother did!)
That way,' continued Molly, in the manner that annoyed Sylvia so
much, repeating her words as if for the purpose of laughing at them.
'"That way?" and pray what is t' way yo're speaking on? I niver said
nought about marrying, did I, that yo' need look so red and
shamefaced about yo'r cousin Philip? But, as Brunton says, if t' cap
fits yo', put it on. I'm glad he's comin' to-night tho', for as I'm
done makin' love and courtin', it's next best t' watch other folks;
an' yo'r face, Sylvia, has letten me into a secret, as I'd some
glimpses on afore I was wed.'

Sylvia secretly determined not to speak a word more to Philip than
she could help, and wondered how she could ever have liked Molly at
all, much less have made a companion of her. The table was now laid
out, and nothing remained but to criticize the arrangement a little.

Bessy was full of admiration.

'Theere, Molly!' said she. 'Yo' niver seed more vittle brought
together i' Newcassel, I'll be bound; there'll be above half a
hundredweight o' butcher's meat, beside pies and custards. I've
eaten no dinner these two days for thinking on 't; it's been a weary
burden on my mind, but it's off now I see how well it looks. I told
mother not to come near it till we'd spread it all out, and now I'll
go fetch her.'

Bessy ran off into the house-place.

'It's well enough in a country kind o' way,' said Molly, with the
faint approbation of condescension. 'But if I'd thought on, I'd ha'
brought 'em down a beast or two done i' sponge-cake, wi' currants
for his eyes to give t' table an air.'

The door was opened, and Bessy came in smiling and blushing with
proud pleasure. Her mother followed her on tip-toe, smoothing down
her apron, and with her voice subdued to a whisper:--

'Ay, my lass, it _is fine! But dunnot mak' an ado about it, let 'em
think it's just our common way. If any one says aught about how good
t' vittle is, tak' it calm, and say we'n better i' t' house,--it'll
mak' 'em eat wi' a better appetite, and think the more on us.
Sylvie, I'm much beholden t' ye for comin' so early, and helpin' t'
lasses, but yo' mun come in t' house-place now, t' folks is
gatherin', an' yo'r cousin's been asking after yo' a'ready.'

Molly gave her a nudge, which made Sylvia's face go all aflame with
angry embarrassment. She was conscious that the watching which Molly
had threatened her with began directly; for Molly went up to her
husband, and whispered something to him which set him off in a
chuckling laugh, and Sylvia was aware that his eyes followed her
about with knowing looks all the evening. She would hardly speak to
Philip, and pretended not to see his outstretched hand, but passed
on to the chimney-corner, and tried to shelter herself behind the
broad back of farmer Corney, who had no notion of relinquishing his
customary place for all the young people who ever came to the house,
--or for any old people either, for that matter. It was his
household throne, and there he sat with no more idea of abdicating
in favour of any comer than King George at St James's. But he was
glad to see his friends; and had paid them the unwonted compliment
of shaving on a week-day, and putting on his Sunday coat. The united
efforts of wife and children had failed to persuade him to make any
farther change in his attire; to all their arguments on this head he
had replied,--

'Them as doesn't like t' see me i' my work-a-day wescut and breeches
may bide away.'

It was the longest sentence he said that day, but he repeated it
several times over. He was glad enough to see all the young people,
but they were not 'of his kidney,' as he expressed it to himself,
and he did not feel any call upon himself to entertain them. He left
that to his bustling wife, all smartness and smiles, and to his
daughters and son-in-law. His efforts at hospitality consisted in
sitting still, smoking his pipe; when any one came, he took it out
of his mouth for an instant, and nodded his head in a cheerful
friendly way, without a word of speech; and then returned to his
smoking with the greater relish for the moment's intermission. He
thought to himself:--

'They're a set o' young chaps as thinks more on t' lasses than on
baccy;--they'll find out their mistake in time; give 'em time, give
'em time.'

And before eight o'clock, he went as quietly as a man of twelve
stone can upstairs to bed, having made a previous arrangement with
his wife that she should bring him up about two pounds of spiced
beef, and a hot tumbler of stiff grog. But at the beginning of the
evening he formed a good screen for Sylvia, who was rather a
favourite with the old man, for twice he spoke to her.

'Feyther smokes?'

'Yes,' said Sylvia.

'Reach me t' baccy-box, my lass.'

And that was all the conversation that passed between her and her
nearest neighbour for the first quarter of an hour after she came
into company.

But, for all her screen, she felt a pair of eyes were fixed upon her
with a glow of admiration deepening their honest brightness.
Somehow, look in what direction she would, she caught the glance of
those eyes before she could see anything else. So she played with
her apron-strings, and tried not to feel so conscious. There were
another pair of eyes,--not such beautiful, sparkling
eyes,--deep-set, earnest, sad, nay, even gloomy, watching her every
movement; but of this she was not aware. Philip had not recovered
from the rebuff she had given him by refusing his offered hand, and
was standing still, in angry silence, when Mrs. Corney thrust a young
woman just arrived upon his attention.

'Come, Measter Hepburn, here's Nancy Pratt wi'out ev'n a soul to
speak t' her, an' yo' mopin' theere. She says she knows yo' by sight
fra' having dealt at Foster's these six year. See if yo' can't find
summut t' say t' each other, for I mun go pour out tea. Dixons, an'
Walkers, an' Elliotts, an' Smiths is come,' said she, marking off
the families on her fingers, as she looked round and called over
their names; 'an' there's only Will Latham an' his two sisters, and
Roger Harbottle, an' Taylor t' come; an' they'll turn up afore tea's

So she went off to her duty at the one table, which, placed
alongside of the dresser, was the only article of furniture left in
the middle of the room: all the seats being arranged as close to the
four walls as could be managed. The candles of those days gave but a
faint light compared to the light of the immense fire, which it was
a point of hospitality to keep at the highest roaring, blazing
pitch; the young women occupied the seats, with the exception of two
or three of the elder ones, who, in an eager desire to show their
capability, insisted on helping Mrs. Corney in her duties, very much
to her annoyance, as there were certain little contrivances for
eking out cream, and adjusting the strength of the cups of tea to
the worldly position of the intended drinkers, which she did not
like every one to see. The young men,--whom tea did not embolden,
and who had as yet had no chance of stronger liquor,--clustered in
rustic shyness round the door, not speaking even to themselves,
except now and then, when one, apparently the wag of the party, made
some whispered remark, which set them all off laughing; but in a
minute they checked themselves, and passed the back of their hands
across their mouths to compose that unlucky feature, and then some
would try to fix their eyes on the rafters of the ceiling, in a
manner which was decorous if rather abstracted from the business in
hand. Most of these were young farmers, with whom Philip had nothing
in common, and from whom, in shy reserve, he had withdrawn himself
when he first came in. But now he wished himself among them sooner
than set to talk to Nancy Pratt, when he had nothing to say. And yet
he might have had a companion less to his mind, for she was a decent
young woman of a sober age, less inclined to giggle than many of the
younger ones. But all the time that he was making commonplace
remarks to her he was wondering if he had offended Sylvia, and why
she would not shake hands with him, and this pre-occupation of his
thoughts did not make him an agreeable companion. Nancy Pratt, who
had been engaged for some years to a mate of a whaling-ship,
perceived something of his state of mind, and took no offence at it;
on the contrary, she tried to give him pleasure by admiring Sylvia.

'I've often heerd tell on her,' said she, 'but I niver thought she's
be so pretty, and so staid and quiet-like too. T' most part o' girls
as has looks like hers are always gape-gazing to catch other folks's
eyes, and see what is thought on 'em; but she looks just like a
child, a bit flustered wi' coming into company, and gettin' into as
dark a corner and bidin' as still as she can.

Just then Sylvia lifted up her long, dark lashes, and catching the
same glance which she had so often met before--Charley Kinraid was
standing talking to Brunton on the opposite side of the
fire-place--she started back into the shadow as if she had not
expected it, and in so doing spilt her tea all over her gown. She
could almost have cried, she felt herself so awkward, and as if
everything was going wrong with her; she thought that every one
would think she had never been in company before, and did not know
how to behave; and while she was thus fluttered and crimson, she saw
through her tearful eyes Kinraid on his knees before her, wiping her
gown with his silk pocket handkerchief, and heard him speaking
through all the buzz of commiserating voices.

'Your cupboard handle is so much i' th' way--I hurt my elbow
against it only this very afternoon.'

So perhaps it was no clumsiness of hers,--as they would all know,
now, since he had so skilfully laid the blame somewhere else; and
after all it turned out that her accident had been the means of
bringing him across to her side, which was much more pleasant than
having him opposite, staring at her; for now he began to talk to
her, and this was very pleasant, although she was rather embarrassed
at their _tete-a-tete at first.

'I did not know you again when I first saw you,' said he, in a tone
which implied a good deal more than was uttered in words.

'I knowed yo' at once,' she replied, softly, and then she blushed
and played with her apron-string, and wondered if she ought to have
confessed to the clearness of her recollection.

'You're grown up into--well, perhaps it's not manners to say what
you're grown into--anyhow, I shan't forget yo' again.'

More playing with her apron-string, and head hung still lower down,
though the corners of her mouth would go up in a shy smile of
pleasure. Philip watched it all as greedily as if it gave him

'Yo'r father, he'll be well and hearty, I hope?' asked Charley.

'Yes,' replied Sylvia, and then she wished she could originate some
remark; he would think her so stupid if she just kept on saying such
little short bits of speeches, and if he thought her stupid he might
perhaps go away again to his former place.

But he was quite far enough gone in love of her beauty, and pretty
modest ways, not to care much whether she talked or no, so long as
she showed herself so pleasingly conscious of his close

'I must come and see the old gentleman; and your mother, too,' he
added more slowly, for he remembered that his visits last year had
not been quite so much welcomed by Bell Robson as by her husband;
perhaps it was because of the amount of drink which he and Daniel
managed to get through of an evening. He resolved this year to be
more careful to please the mother of Sylvia.

When tea was ended there was a great bustle and shifting of places,
while Mrs. Corney and her daughters carried out trays full of used
cups, and great platters of uneaten bread and butter into the
back-kitchen, to be washed up after the guests were gone. Just
because she was so conscious that she did not want to move, and
break up the little conversation between herself and Kinraid, Sylvia
forced herself to be as active in the service going on as became a
friend of the house; and she was too much her mother's own daughter
to feel comfortable at leaving all the things in the disorder which
to the Corney girls was second nature.

'This milk mun go back to t' dairy, I reckon,' said she, loading
herself with milk and cream.

'Niver fash thysel' about it,' said Nelly Corney, 'Christmas comes
but onest a year, if it does go sour; and mother said she'd have a
game at forfeits first thing after tea to loosen folks's tongues,
and mix up t' lads and lasses, so come along.'

But Sylvia steered her careful way to the cold chill of the dairy,
and would not be satisfied till she had carried away all the unused
provision into some fresher air than that heated by the fires and
ovens used for the long day's cooking of pies and cakes and much
roast meat.

When they came back a round of red-faced 'lads,' as young men up to
five-and-thirty are called in Lancashire and Yorkshire if they are
not married before, and lasses, whose age was not to be defined,
were playing at some country game, in which the women were
apparently more interested than the men, who looked shamefaced, and
afraid of each other's ridicule. Mrs. Corney, however, knew how to
remedy this, and at a sign from her a great jug of beer was brought
in. This jug was the pride of her heart, and was in the shape of a
fat man in white knee-breeches, and a three-cornered hat; with one
arm he supported the pipe in his broad, smiling mouth, and the other
was placed akimbo and formed the handle. There was also a great
china punch-bowl filled with grog made after an old ship-receipt
current in these parts, but not too strong, because if their
visitors had too much to drink at that early part of the evening 'it
would spoil t' fun,' as Nelly Corney had observed. Her father,
however, after the notions of hospitality prevalent at that time in
higher circles, had stipulated that each man should have 'enough'
before he left the house; enough meaning in Monkshaven parlance the
liberty of getting drunk, if they thought fit to do it.

Before long one of the lads was seized with a fit of admiration for
Toby--the name of the old gentleman who contained liquor--and went
up to the tray for a closer inspection. He was speedily followed by
other amateurs of curious earthenware; and by-and-by Mr. Brunton (who
had been charged by his mother-in-law with the due supplying of
liquor--by his father-in-law that every man should have his fill,
and by his wife and her sisters that no one should have too much, at
any rate at the beginning of the evening,) thought fit to carry out
Toby to be replenished; and a faster spirit of enjoyment and mirth
began to reign in the room.

Kinraid was too well seasoned to care what amount of liquor he
drank; Philip had what was called a weak head, and disliked muddling
himself with drink because of the immediate consequence of intense
feelings of irritability, and the more distant one of a racking
headache next day; so both these two preserved very much the same
demeanour they had held at the beginning of the evening.

Sylvia was by all acknowledged and treated as the belle. When they
played at blind-man's-buff go where she would, she was always
caught; she was called out repeatedly to do what was required in any
game, as if all had a pleasure in seeing her light figure and deft
ways. She was sufficiently pleased with this to have got over her
shyness with all except Charley. When others paid her their rustic
compliments she tossed her head, and made her little saucy
repartees; but when he said something low and flattering, it was too
honey-sweet to her heart to be thrown off thus. And, somehow, the
more she yielded to this fascination the more she avoided Philip. He
did not speak flatteringly--he did not pay compliments--he watched
her with discontented, longing eyes, and grew more inclined every
moment, as he remembered his anticipation of a happy evening, to cry
out in his heart _vanitas vanitatum_.

And now came crying the forfeits. Molly Brunton knelt down, her face
buried in her mother's lap; the latter took out the forfeits one by
one, and as she held them up, said the accustomed formula,--

'A fine thing and a very fine thing, what must he (or she) do who
owns this thing.'

One or two had been told to kneel to the prettiest, bow to the
wittiest, and kiss those they loved best; others had had to bite an
inch off the poker, or such plays upon words. And now came Sylvia's
pretty new ribbon that Philip had given her (he almost longed to
snatch it out of Mrs. Corney's hands and burn it before all their
faces, so annoyed was he with the whole affair.)

'A fine thing and a very fine thing--a most particular fine
thing--choose how she came by it. What must she do as owns this

'She must blow out t' candle and kiss t' candlestick.'

In one instant Kinraid had hold of the only candle within reach, all
the others had been put up high on inaccessible shelves and other
places. Sylvia went up and blew out the candle, and before the
sudden partial darkness was over he had taken the candle into his
fingers, and, according to the traditional meaning of the words, was
in the place of the candlestick, and as such was to be kissed. Every
one laughed at innocent Sylvia's face as the meaning of her penance
came into it, every one but Philip, who almost choked.

'I'm candlestick,' said Kinraid, with less of triumph in his voice
than he would have had with any other girl in the room.

'Yo' mun kiss t' candlestick,' cried the Corneys, 'or yo'll niver
get yo'r ribbon back.'

'And she sets a deal o' store by that ribbon,' said Molly Brunton,

'I'll none kiss t' candlestick, nor him either,' said Sylvia, in a
low voice of determination, turning away, full of confusion.

'Yo'll not get yo'r ribbon if yo' dunnot,' cried one and all.

'I don't care for t' ribbon,' said she, flashing up with a look at
her tormentors, now her back was turned to Kinraid. 'An' I wunnot
play any more at such like games,' she added, with fresh indignation
rising in her heart as she took her old place in the corner of the
room a little away from the rest.

Philip's spirits rose, and he yearned to go to her and tell her how
he approved of her conduct. Alas, Philip! Sylvia, though as modest a
girl as ever lived, was no prude, and had been brought up in simple,
straightforward country ways; and with any other young man,
excepting, perhaps, Philip's self, she would have thought no more of
making a rapid pretence of kissing the hand or cheek of the
temporary 'candlestick', than our ancestresses did in a much higher
rank on similar occasions. Kinraid, though mortified by his public
rejection, was more conscious of this than the inexperienced Philip;
he resolved not to be baulked, and watched his opportunity. For the
time he went on playing as if Sylvia's conduct had not affected him
in the least, and as if he was hardly aware of her defection from
the game. As she saw others submitting, quite as a matter of course,
to similar penances, she began to be angry with herself for having
thought twice about it, and almost to dislike herself for the
strange consciousness which had made it at the time seem impossible
to do what she was told. Her eyes kept filling with tears as her
isolated position in the gay party, the thought of what a fool she
had made of herself, kept recurring to her mind; but no one saw her,
she thought, thus crying; and, ashamed to be discovered when the
party should pause in their game, she stole round behind them into
the great chamber in which she had helped to lay out the supper,
with the intention of bathing her eyes, and taking a drink of water.
One instant Charley Kinraid was missing from the circle of which he
was the life and soul; and then back he came with an air of
satisfaction on his face, intelligible enough to those who had seen
his game; but unnoticed by Philip, who, amidst the perpetual noise
and movements around him, had not perceived Sylvia's leaving the
room, until she came back at the end of about a quarter of an hour,
looking lovelier than ever, her complexion brilliant, her eyes
drooping, her hair neatly and freshly arranged, tied with a brown
ribbon instead of that she was supposed to have forfeited. She
looked as if she did not wish her return to be noticed, stealing
softly behind the romping lads and lasses with noiseless motions,
and altogether such a contrast to them in her cool freshness and
modest neatness, that both Kinraid and Philip found it difficult to
keep their eyes off her. But the former had a secret triumph in his
heart which enabled him to go on with his merry-making as if it
absorbed him; while Philip dropped out of the crowd and came up to
where she was standing silently by Mrs. Corney, who, arms akimbo, was
laughing at the frolic and fun around her. Sylvia started a little
when Philip spoke, and kept her soft eyes averted from him after the
first glance; she answered him shortly, but with unaccustomed
gentleness. He had only asked her when she would like him to take
her home; and she, a little surprised at the idea of going home when
to her the evening seemed only beginning, had answered--

'Go home? I don't know! It's New Year's eve!'

'Ay! but yo'r mother 'll lie awake till yo' come home, Sylvie!'

But Mrs. Corney, having heard his question, broke in with all sorts
of upbraidings. 'Go home! Not see t' New Year in! Why, what should
take 'em home these six hours? Wasn't there a moon as clear as day?
and did such a time as this come often? And were they to break up
the party before the New Year came in? And was there not supper,
with a spiced round of beef that had been in pickle pretty nigh sin'
Martinmas, and hams, and mince-pies, and what not? And if they
thought any evil of her master's going to bed, or that by that early
retirement he meant to imply that he did not bid his friends
welcome, why he would not stay up beyond eight o'clock for King
George upon his throne, as he'd tell them soon enough, if they'd
only step upstairs and ask him. Well; she knowed what it was to want
a daughter when she was ailing, so she'd say nought more, but hasten

And this idea now took possession of Mrs. Corney's mind, for she
would not willingly allow one of her guests to leave before they had
done justice to her preparations; and, cutting her speech short, she
hastily left Sylvia and Philip together.

His heart beat fast; his feeling towards her had never been so
strong or so distinct as since her refusal to kiss the
'candlestick.' He was on the point of speaking, of saying something
explicitly tender, when the wooden trencher which the party were
using at their play, came bowling between him and Sylvia, and spun
out its little period right betwixt them. Every one was moving from
chair to chair, and when the bustle was over Sylvia was seated at
some distance from him, and he left standing outside the circle, as
if he were not playing. In fact, Sylvia had unconsciously taken his
place as actor in the game while he remained spectator, and, as it
turned out, an auditor of a conversation not intended for his ears.
He was wedged against the wall, close to the great eight-day clock,
with its round moon-like smiling face forming a ludicrous contrast
to his long, sallow, grave countenance, which was pretty much at the
same level above the sanded floor. Before him sat Molly Brunton and
one of her sisters, their heads close together in too deep talk to
attend to the progress of the game. Philip's attention was caught by
the words--

'I'll lay any wager he kissed her when he ran off into t' parlour.'

'She's so coy she'd niver let him,' replied Bessy Corney.

'She couldn't help hersel'; and for all she looks so demure and prim
now' (and then both heads were turned in the direction of Sylvia),
'I'm as sure as I'm born that Charley is not t' chap to lose his
forfeit; and yet yo' see he says nought more about it, and she's
left off being 'feared of him.'

There was something in Sylvia's look, ay, and in Charley Kinraid's,
too, that shot conviction into Philip's mind. He watched them
incessantly during the interval before supper; they were intimate,
and yet shy with each other, in a manner that enraged while it
bewildered Philip. What was Charley saying to her in that whispered
voice, as they passed each other? Why did they linger near each
other? Why did Sylvia look so dreamily happy, so startled at every
call of the game, as if recalled from some pleasant idea? Why did
Kinraid's eyes always seek her while hers were averted, or downcast,
and her cheeks all aflame? Philip's dark brow grew darker as he
gazed. He, too, started when Mrs. Corney, close at his elbow, bade
him go in to supper along with some of the elder ones, who were not
playing; for the parlour was not large enough to hold all at once,
even with the squeezing and cramming, and sitting together on
chairs, which was not at all out of etiquette at Monkshaven. Philip
was too reserved to express his disappointment and annoyance at
being thus arrested in his painful watch over Sylvia; but he had no
appetite for the good things set before him, and found it hard work
to smile a sickly smile when called upon by Josiah Pratt for
applause at some country joke. When supper was ended, there was some
little discussion between Mrs. Corney and her son-in-law as to
whether the different individuals of the company should be called
upon for songs or stories, as was the wont at such convivial
meetings. Brunton had been helping his mother-in-law in urging
people to eat, heaping their plates over their shoulders with
unexpected good things, filling the glasses at the upper end of the
table, and the mugs which supplied the deficiency of glasses at the
lower. And now, every one being satisfied, not to say stuffed to
repletion, the two who had been attending to their wants stood
still, hot and exhausted.

'They're a'most stawed,' said Mrs. Corney, with a pleased smile.
'It'll be manners t' ask some one as knows how to sing.'

'It may be manners for full men, but not for fasting,' replied
Brunton. 'Folks in t' next room will be wanting their victual, and
singing is allays out o' tune to empty bellies.'

'But there's them here as 'll take it ill if they're not asked. I
heerd Josiah Pratt a-clearing his throat not a minute ago, an' he
thinks as much on his singin' as a cock does on his crowin'.'

'If one sings I'm afeard all on 'em will like to hear their own

But their dilemma was solved by Bessy Corney, who opened the door to
see if the hungry ones outside might not come in for their share of
the entertainment; and in they rushed, bright and riotous, scarcely
giving the first party time to rise from their seats ere they took
their places. One or two young men, released from all their previous
shyness, helped Mrs. Corney and her daughters to carry off such
dishes as were actually empty. There was no time for changing or
washing of plates; but then, as Mrs. Corney laughingly observed,--

'We're a' on us friends, and some on us mayhap sweethearts; so no
need to be particular about plates. Them as gets clean ones is
lucky; and them as doesn't, and cannot put up wi' plates that has
been used, mun go without.'

It seemed to be Philip's luck this night to be pent up in places;
for again the space between the benches and the wall was filled up
by the in-rush before he had time to make his way out; and all he
could do was to sit quiet where he was. But between the busy heads
and over-reaching arms he could see Charley and Sylvia, sitting
close together, talking and listening more than eating. She was in a
new strange state of happiness not to be reasoned about, or
accounted for, but in a state of more exquisite feeling than she had
ever experienced before; when, suddenly lifting her eyes, she caught
Philip's face of extreme displeasure.

'Oh,' said she, 'I must go. There's Philip looking at me so.'

'Philip!' said Kinraid, with a sudden frown upon his face.

'My cousin,' she replied, instinctively comprehending what had
flashed into his mind, and anxious to disclaim the suspicion of
having a lover. 'Mother told him to see me home, and he's noan one
for staying up late.'

'But you needn't go. I'll see yo' home.'

'Mother's but ailing,' said Sylvia, a little conscience-smitten at
having so entirely forgotten everything in the delight of the
present, 'and I said I wouldn't be late.'

'And do you allays keep to your word?' asked he, with a tender
meaning in his tone.

'Allays; leastways I think so,' replied she, blushing.

'Then if I ask you not to forget me, and you give me your word, I
may be sure you'll keep it.'

'It wasn't I as forgot you,' said Sylvia, so softly as not to be
heard by him.

He tried to make her repeat what she had said, but she would not,
and he could only conjecture that it was something more tell-tale
than she liked to say again, and that alone was very charming to

'I shall walk home with you,' said he, as Sylvia at last rose to
depart, warned by a further glimpse of Philip's angry face.

'No!' said she, hastily, 'I can't do with yo''; for somehow she felt
the need of pacifying Philip, and knew in her heart that a third
person joining their _tete-a-tete walk would only increase his

'Why not?' said Charley, sharply.

'Oh! I don't know, only please don't!'

By this time her cloak and hood were on, and she was slowly making
her way down her side of the room followed by Charley, and often
interrupted by indignant remonstrances against her departure, and
the early breaking-up of the party. Philip stood, hat in hand, in
the doorway between the kitchen and parlour, watching her so
intently that he forgot to be civil, and drew many a jest and gibe
upon him for his absorption in his pretty cousin.

When Sylvia reached him, he said,--

'Yo're ready at last, are yo'?'

'Yes,' she replied, in her little beseeching tone. 'Yo've not been
wanting to go long, han yo'? I ha' but just eaten my supper.'

'Yo've been so full of talk, that's been the reason your supper
lasted so long. That fellow's none going wi' us?' said he sharply,
as he saw Kinraid rummaging for his cap in a heap of men's clothes,
thrown into the back-kitchen.

'No,' said Sylvia, in affright at Philip's fierce look and
passionate tone. 'I telled him not.'

But at that moment the heavy outer door was opened by Daniel Robson
himself--bright, broad, and rosy, a jolly impersonation of Winter.
His large drover's coat was covered with snow-flakes, and through
the black frame of the doorway might be seen a white waste world of
sweeping fell and field, with the dark air filled with the pure
down-fall. Robson stamped his snow-laden feet and shook himself
well, still standing on the mat, and letting a cold frosty current
of fresh air into the great warm kitchen. He laughed at them all
before he spoke.

'It's a coud new year as I'm lettin' in though it's noan t' new year
yet. Yo'll a' be snowed up, as sure as my name s Dannel, if yo' stop
for twel' o'clock. Yo'd better mak' haste and go whoam. Why,
Charley, my lad! how beest ta? who'd ha' thought o' seeing thee i'
these parts again! Nay, missus, nay, t' new year mun find its way
int' t' house by itsel' for me; for a ha' promised my oud woman to
bring Sylvie whoam as quick as may-be; she's lyin' awake and
frettin' about t' snow and what not. Thank yo' kindly, missus, but
a'll tak' nought to eat; just a drop o' somethin' hot to keep out
coud, and wish yo' a' the compliments o' the season. Philip, my man,
yo'll not be sorry to be spared t' walk round by Haytersbank such a
neet. My missus were i' such a way about Sylvie that a thought a'd
just step off mysel', and have a peep at yo' a', and bring her some
wraps. Yo'r sheep will be a' folded, a reckon, Measter Pratt, for
there'll niver be a nibble o' grass to be seen this two month,
accordin' to my readin'; and a've been at sea long enough, and on
land long enough t' know signs and wonders. It's good stuff that,
any way, and worth comin' for,' after he had gulped down a
tumblerful of half-and-half grog. 'Kinraid, if ta doesn't come and
see me afore thou'rt many days ouder, thee and me'll have words.
Come, Sylvie, what art ta about, keepin' me here? Here's Mistress
Corney mixin' me another jorum. Well, this time a'll give "T'
married happy, and t' single wed!"'

Sylvia was all this while standing by her father quite ready for
departure, and not a little relieved by his appearance as her convoy

'I'm ready to see Haytersbank to-night, master!' said Kinraid, with
easy freedom--a freedom which Philip envied, but could not have
imitated, although he was deeply disappointed at the loss of his
walk with Sylvia, when he had intended to exercise the power his
aunt had delegated to him of remonstrance if her behaviour had been
light or thoughtless, and of warning if he saw cause to disapprove
of any of her associates.

After the Robsons had left, a blank fell upon both Charley and
Philip. In a few minutes, however, the former, accustomed to prompt
decision, resolved that she and no other should be his wife.
Accustomed to popularity among women, and well versed in the
incipient signs of their liking for him, he anticipated no
difficulty in winning her. Satisfied with the past, and pleasantly
hopeful about the future, he found it easy to turn his attention to
the next prettiest girl in the room, and to make the whole gathering
bright with his ready good temper and buoyant spirit.

Mrs. Corney had felt it her duty to press Philip to stay, now that,
as she said, he had no one but himself to see home, and the new year
so near coming in. To any one else in the room she would have added
the clinching argument, 'A shall take it very unkind if yo' go now';
but somehow she could not say this, for in truth Philip's look
showed that he would be but a wet blanket on the merriment of the
party. So, with as much civility as could be mustered up between
them, he took leave. Shutting the door behind him, he went out into
the dreary night, and began his lonesome walk back to Monkshaven.
The cold sleet almost blinded him as the sea-wind drove it straight
in his face; it cut against him as it was blown with drifting force.
The roar of the wintry sea came borne on the breeze; there was more
light from the whitened ground than from the dark laden sky above.
The field-paths would have been a matter of perplexity, had it not
been for the well-known gaps in the dyke-side, which showed the
whitened land beyond, between the two dark stone walls. Yet he went
clear and straight along his way, having unconsciously left all
guidance to the animal instinct which co-exists with the human soul,
and sometimes takes strange charge of the human body, when all the
nobler powers of the individual are absorbed in acute suffering. At
length he was in the lane, toiling up the hill, from which, by day,
Monkshaven might be seen. Now all features of the landscape before
him were lost in the darkness of night, against which the white
flakes came closer and nearer, thicker and faster. On a sudden, the
bells of Monkshaven church rang out a welcome to the new year, 1796.
From the direction of the wind, it seemed as if the sound was flung
with strength and power right into Philip's face. He walked down the
hill to its merry sound--its merry sound, his heavy heart. As he
entered the long High Street of Monkshaven he could see the watching
lights put out in parlour, chamber, or kitchen. The new year had
come, and expectation was ended. Reality had begun.

He turned to the right, into the court where he lodged with Alice
Rose. There was a light still burning there, and cheerful voices
were heard. He opened the door; Alice, her daughter, and Coulson
stood as if awaiting him. Hester's wet cloak hung on a chair before
the fire; she had her hood on, for she and Coulson had been to the

The solemn excitement of the services had left its traces upon her
countenance and in her mind. There was a spiritual light in her
usually shadowed eyes, and a slight flush on her pale cheek. Merely
personal and self-conscious feelings were merged in a loving
good-will to all her fellow-creatures. Under the influence of this
large charity, she forgot her habitual reserve, and came forward as
Philip entered to meet him with her new year's wishes--wishes that
she had previously interchanged with the other two.

'A happy new year to you, Philip, and may God have you in his
keeping all the days thereof!'

He took her hand, and shook it warmly in reply. The flush on her
cheek deepened as she withdrew it. Alice Rose said something curtly
about the lateness of the hour and her being much tired; and then
she and her daughter went upstairs to the front chamber, and Philip
and Coulson to that which they shared at the back of the house.

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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIII - PERPLEXITIES Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIII - PERPLEXITIES

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIII - PERPLEXITIES
Coulson and Philip were friendly, but not intimate. They never hadhad a dispute, they never were confidential with each other; intruth, they were both reserved and silent men, and, probably,respected each other the more for being so self-contained. There wasa private feeling in Coulson's heart which would have made a lessamiable fellow dislike Philip. But of this the latter wasunconscious: they were not apt to exchange many words in the roomwhich they occupied jointly.Coulson asked Philip if he had enjoyed himself at the Corneys', andPhilip replied,--'Not much; such parties are noane to my liking.''And yet thou broke off from t' watch-night

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XI - VISIONS OF THE FUTURE Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XI - VISIONS OF THE FUTURE

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XI - VISIONS OF THE FUTURE
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