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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIII - PERPLEXITIES
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIII - PERPLEXITIES Post by :websitejack Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :950

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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIII - PERPLEXITIES

Coulson and Philip were friendly, but not intimate. They never had
had a dispute, they never were confidential with each other; in
truth, they were both reserved and silent men, and, probably,
respected each other the more for being so self-contained. There was
a private feeling in Coulson's heart which would have made a less
amiable fellow dislike Philip. But of this the latter was
unconscious: they were not apt to exchange many words in the room
which they occupied jointly.

Coulson asked Philip if he had enjoyed himself at the Corneys', and
Philip replied,--

'Not much; such parties are noane to my liking.'

'And yet thou broke off from t' watch-night to go there.'

No answer; so Coulson went on, with a sense of the duty laid upon
him, to improve the occasion--the first that had presented itself
since the good old Methodist minister had given his congregation the
solemn warning to watch over the opportunities of various kinds
which the coming year would present.

'Jonas Barclay told us as the pleasures o' this world were like
apples o' Sodom, pleasant to look at, but ashes to taste.'

Coulson wisely left Philip to make the application for himself. If
he did he made no sign, but threw himself on his bed with a heavy
sigh.

'Are yo' not going to undress?' said Coulson, as he covered him up
in bed.

There had been a long pause of silence. Philip did not answer him,
and he thought he had fallen asleep. But he was roused from his
first slumber by Hepburn's soft movements about the room. Philip had
thought better of it, and, with some penitence in his heart for his
gruffness to the unoffending Coulson, was trying not to make any
noise while he undressed.

But he could not sleep. He kept seeing the Corneys' kitchen and the
scenes that had taken place in it, passing like a pageant before his
closed eyes. Then he opened them in angry weariness at the recurring
vision, and tried to make out the outlines of the room and the
furniture in the darkness. The white ceiling sloped into the
whitewashed walls, and against them he could see the four
rush-bottomed chairs, the looking-glass hung on one side, the old
carved oak-chest (his own property, with the initials of forgotten
ancestors cut upon it), which held his clothes; the boxes that
belonged to Coulson, sleeping soundly in the bed in the opposite
corner of the room; the casement window in the roof, through which
the snowy ground on the steep hill-side could be plainly seen; and
when he got so far as this in the catalogue of the room, he fell
into a troubled feverish sleep, which lasted two or three hours; and
then he awoke with a start, and a consciousness of uneasiness,
though what about he could not remember at first.

When he recollected all that had happened the night before, it
impressed him much more favourably than it had done at the time. If
not joy, hope had come in the morning; and, at any rate, he could be
up and be doing, for the late wintry light was stealing down the
hill-side, and he knew that, although Coulson lay motionless in his
sleep, it was past their usual time of rising. Still, as it was new
year's Day, a time of some licence, Philip had mercy on his
fellow-shopman, and did not waken him till just as he was leaving
the room.

Carrying his shoes in his hand, he went softly downstairs for he
could see from the top of the flight that neither Alice nor her
daughter was down yet, as the kitchen shutters were not unclosed. It
was Mrs. Rose's habit to rise early, and have all bright and clean
against her lodgers came down; but then, in general, she went to
rest before nine o'clock, whereas the last night she had not gone
till past twelve. Philip went about undoing the shutters, and trying
to break up the raking coal, with as little noise as might be, for
he had compassion on the tired sleepers. The kettle had not been
filled, probably because Mrs. Rose had been unable to face the storm
of the night before, in taking it to the pump just at the entrance
of the court. When Philip came back from filling it, he found Alice
and Hester both in the kitchen, and trying to make up for lost time
by hastening over their work. Hester looked busy and notable with
her gown pinned up behind her, and her hair all tucked away under a
clean linen cap; but Alice was angry with herself for her late
sleeping, and that and other causes made her speak crossly to
Philip, as he came in with his snowy feet and well-filled kettle.

'Look the' there! droppin' and drippin' along t' flags as was
cleaned last night, and meddlin' wi' woman's work as a man has no
business wi'.'

Philip was surprised and annoyed. He had found relief from his own
thoughts in doing what he believed would help others. He gave up the
kettle to her snatching hands, and sate down behind the door in
momentary ill-temper. But the kettle was better filled, and
consequently heavier than the old woman expected, and she could not
manage to lift it to the crook from which it generally hung
suspended. She looked round for Hester, but she was gone into the
back-kitchen. In a minute Philip was at her side, and had heaved it
to its place for her. She looked in his face for a moment wistfully,
but hardly condescended to thank him; at least the sound of the
words did not pass the lips that formed them. Rebuffed by her
manner, he went back to his old seat, and mechanically watched the
preparations for breakfast; but his thoughts went back to the night
before, and the comparative ease of his heart was gone. The first
stir of a new day had made him feel as if he had had no sufficient
cause for his annoyance and despondency the previous evening; but
now, condemned to sit quiet, he reviewed looks and words, and saw
just reason for his anxiety. After some consideration he resolved to
go that very night to Haytersbank, and have some talk with either
Sylvia or her mother; what the exact nature of this purposed
conversation should be, he did not determine; much would depend on
Sylvia's manner and mood, and on her mother's state of health; but
at any rate something would be learnt.

During breakfast something was learnt nearer home; though not all
that a man less unconscious and more vain than Philip might have
discovered. He only found out that Mrs. Rose was displeased with him
for not having gone to the watch-night with Hester, according to the
plan made some weeks before. But he soothed his conscience by
remembering that he had made no promise; he had merely spoken of his
wish to be present at the service, about which Hester was speaking;
and although at the time and for a good while afterwards, he had
fully intended going, yet as there had been William Coulson to
accompany her, his absence could not have been seriously noticed.
Still he was made uncomfortable by Mrs. Rose's change of manner; once
or twice he said to himself that she little knew how miserable he
had been during his 'gay evening,' as she would persist in calling
it, or she would not talk at him with such persevering bitterness
this morning. Before he left for the shop, he spoke of his intention
of going to see how his aunt was, and of paying her a new year's day
visit.

Hepburn and Coulson took it in turns week and week about to go first
home to dinner; the one who went first sate down with Mrs. Rose and
her daughter, instead of having his portion put in the oven to keep
warm for him. To-day it was Hepburn's turn to be last. All morning
the shop was full with customers, come rather to offer good wishes
than to buy, and with an unspoken remembrance of the cake and wine
which the two hospitable brothers Foster made a point of offering to
all comers on new year's day. It was busy work for all--for Hester
on her side, where caps, ribbons, and women's gear were exclusively
sold--for the shopmen and boys in the grocery and drapery
department. Philip was trying to do his business with his mind far
away; and the consequence was that his manner was not such as to
recommend him to the customers, some of whom recollected it as very
different, courteous and attentive, if grave and sedate. One buxom
farmer's wife noticed the change to him. She had a little girl with
her, of about five years old, that she had lifted up on the counter,
and who was watching Philip with anxious eyes, occasionally
whispering in her mother's ear, and then hiding her face against her
cloak.

'She's thought a deal o' coming to see yo', and a dunnot think as
yo' mind her at all. My pretty, he's clean forgotten as how he said
last new year's day, he'd gi' thee a barley-sugar stick, if thou'd
hem him a handkercher by this.'

The child's face was buried in the comfortable breadth of duffle at
these words, while the little outstretched hand held a small square
of coarse linen.

'Ay, she's noane forgotten it, and has done her five stitches a day,
bless her; and a dunnot believe as yo' know her again. She's Phoebe
Moorsom, and a'm Hannah, and a've dealt at t' shop reg'lar this
fifteen year.'

'I'm very sorry,' said Philip. 'I was up late last night, and I'm a
bit dazed to-day. Well! this is nice work, Phoebe, and I'm sure I'm
very much beholden to yo'. And here's five sticks o' barley-sugar,
one for every stitch, and thank you kindly, Mrs. Moorsom, too.'

Philip took the handkerchief and hoped he had made honourable amends
for his want of recognition. But the wee lassie refused to be lifted
down, and whispered something afresh into her mother's ear, who
smiled and bade her be quiet. Philip saw, however, that there was
some wish ungratified on the part of the little maiden which he was
expected to inquire into, and, accordingly, he did his duty.

'She's a little fool; she says yo' promised to gi'e her a kiss, and
t' make her yo'r wife.'

The child burrowed her face closer into her mother's neck, and
refused to allow the kiss which Philip willingly offered. All he
could do was to touch the back of the little white fat neck with his
lips. The mother carried her off only half satisfied, and Philip
felt that he must try and collect his scattered wits, and be more
alive to the occasion.

Towards the dinner-hour the crowd slackened; Hester began to
replenish decanters and bottles, and to bring out a fresh cake
before she went home to dinner; and Coulson and Philip looked over
the joint present they always made to her on this day. It was a silk
handkerchief of the prettiest colours they could pick out of the
shop, intended for her to wear round her neck. Each tried to
persuade the other to give it to her, for each was shy of the act of
presentation. Coulson was, however, the most resolute; and when she
returned from the parlour the little parcel was in Philip's hands.

'Here, Hester,' said he, going round the counter to her, just as she
was leaving the shop. 'It's from Coulson and me; a handkerchief for
yo' to wear; and we wish yo' a happy New Year, and plenty on 'em;
and there's many a one wishes the same.'

He took her hand as he said this. She went a little paler, and her
eyes brightened as though they would fill with tears as they met
his; she could not have helped it, do what she would. But she only
said, 'Thank yo' kindly,' and going up to Coulson she repeated the
words and action to him; and then they went off together to dinner.

There was a lull of business for the next hour. John and Jeremiah
were dining like the rest of the world. Even the elder errand-boy
had vanished. Philip rearranged disorderly goods; and then sate down
on the counter by the window; it was the habitual place for the one
who stayed behind; for excepting on market-day there was little or
no custom during the noon-hour. Formerly he used to move the drapery
with which the window was ornamented, and watch the passers-by with
careless eye. But now, though he seemed to gaze abroad, he saw
nothing but vacancy. All the morning since he got up he had been
trying to fight through his duties--leaning against a hope--a hope
that first had bowed, and then had broke as soon as he really tried
its weight. There was not a sign of Sylvia's liking for him to be
gathered from the most careful recollection of the past evening. It
was of no use thinking that there was. It was better to give it up
altogether and at once. But what if he could not? What if the
thought of her was bound up with his life; and that once torn out by
his own free will, the very roots of his heart must come also?

No; he was resolved he would go on; as long as there was life there
was hope; as long as Sylvia remained unpledged to any one else,
there was a chance for him. He would remodel his behaviour to her.
He could not be merry and light-hearted like other young men; his
nature was not cast in that mould; and the early sorrows that had
left him a lonely orphan might have matured, but had not enlivened,
his character. He thought with some bitterness on the power of easy
talking about trifles which some of those he had met with at the
Corneys' had exhibited. But then he felt stirring within him a force
of enduring love which he believed to be unusual, and which seemed
as if it must compel all things to his wish in the end. A year or so
ago he had thought much of his own cleverness and his painfully
acquired learning, and he had imagined that these were the qualities
which were to gain Sylvia. But now, whether he had tried them and
had failed to win even her admiration, or whether some true instinct
had told him that a woman's love may be gained in many ways sooner
than by mere learning, he was only angry with himself for his past
folly in making himself her school--nay, her taskmaster. To-night,
though, he would start off on a new tack. He would not even upbraid
her for her conduct the night before; he had shown her his
displeasure at the time; but she should see how tender and forgiving
he could be. He would lure her to him rather than find fault with
her. There had perhaps been too much of that already.

When Coulson came back Philip went to his solitary dinner. In
general he was quite alone while eating it; but to-day Alice Rose
chose to bear him company. She watched him with cold severe eye for
some time, until he had appeased his languid appetite. Then she
began with the rebuke she had in store for him; a rebuke the motives
to which were not entirely revealed even to herself.

'Thou 're none so keen after thy food as common,' she began. 'Plain
victuals goes ill down after feastin'.'

Philip felt the colour mount to his face; he was not in the mood for
patiently standing the brunt of the attack which he saw was coming,
and yet he had a reverent feeling for woman and for age. He wished
she would leave him alone; but he only said--'I had nought but a
slice o' cold beef for supper, if you'll call that feasting.'

'Neither do godly ways savour delicately after the pleasures of the
world,' continued she, unheeding his speech. 'Thou wert wont to seek
the house of the Lord, and I thought well on thee; but of late
thou'st changed, and fallen away, and I mun speak what is in my
heart towards thee.'

'Mother,' said Philip, impatiently (both he and Coulson called Alice
'mother' at times), 'I don't think I am fallen away, and any way I
cannot stay now to be--it's new year's Day, and t' shop is throng.'

But Alice held up her hand. Her speech was ready, and she must
deliver it.

'Shop here, shop there. The flesh and the devil are gettin' hold on
yo', and yo' need more nor iver to seek t' ways o' grace. New year's
day comes and says, "Watch and pray," and yo' say, "Nay, I'll seek
feasts and market-places, and let times and seasons come and go
without heedin' into whose presence they're hastening me." Time was,
Philip, when thou'd niver ha' letten a merry-making keep thee fra'
t' watch-night, and t' company o' the godly.'

'I tell yo' it was no merry-making to me,' said Philip, with
sharpness, as he left the house.

Alice sat down on the nearest seat, and leant her head on her
wrinkled hand.

'He's tangled and snared,' said she; 'my heart has yearned after
him, and I esteemed him as one o' the elect. And more nor me yearns
after him. O Lord, I have but one child! O Lord, spare her! But o'er
and above a' I would like to pray for his soul, that Satan might not
have it, for he came to me but a little lad.'

At that moment Philip, smitten by his conscience for his hard manner
of speech, came back; but Alice did not hear or see him till he was
close by her, and then he had to touch her to recall her attention.

'Mother,' said he, 'I was wrong. I'm fretted by many things. I
shouldn't ha' spoken so. It was ill-done of me.'

'Oh, my lad!' said she, looking up and putting her thin arm on his
shoulder as he stooped, 'Satan is desiring after yo' that he may
sift yo' as wheat. Bide at whoam, bide at whoam, and go not after
them as care nought for holy things. Why need yo' go to Haytersbank
this night?'

Philip reddened. He could not and would not give it up, and yet it
was difficult to resist the pleading of the usually stern old woman.

'Nay,' said he, withdrawing himself ever so little from her hold;
'my aunt is but ailing, they're my own flesh and blood, and as good
folks as needs be, though they mayn't be o' our--o' your way o'
thinking in a' things.'

'Our ways--your ways o' thinking, says he, as if they were no longer
his'n. And as good folks as need be,' repeated she, with returning
severity. 'Them's Satan's words, tho' yo' spoke 'em, Philip. I can
do nought again Satan, but I can speak to them as can; an' we'll see
which pulls hardest, for it'll be better for thee to be riven and
rent i' twain than to go body and soul to hell.'

'But don't think, mother,' said Philip, his last words of
conciliation, for the clock had given warning for two, 'as I'm boun'
for hell, just because I go t' see my own folks, all I ha' left o'
kin.' And once more, after laying his hand with as much of a caress
as was in his nature on hers, he left the house.

Probably Alice would have considered the first words that greeted
Philip on his entrance into the shop as an answer to her prayer, for
they were such as put a stop to his plan of going to see Sylvia that
evening; and if Alice had formed her inchoate thoughts into words,
Sylvia would have appeared as the nearest earthly representative of
the spirit of temptation whom she dreaded for Philip.

As he took his place behind the counter, Coulson said to him in a
low voice,--

'Jeremiah Foster has been round to bid us to sup wi' him to-night.
He says that he and John have a little matter o' business to talk
over with us.'

A glance from his eyes to Philip told the latter that Coulson
believed the business spoken of had something to do with the
partnership, respecting which there had been a silent intelligence
for some time between the shopmen.

'And what did thou say?' asked Philip, doggedly unwilling, even yet,
to give up his purposed visit.

'Say! why, what could a say, but that we'd come? There was summat
up, for sure; and summat as he thought we should be glad on. I could
tell it fra' t' look on his face.'

'I don't think as I can go,' said Philip, feeling just then as if
the long-hoped-for partnership was as nothing compared to his plan.
It was always distasteful to him to have to give up a project, or to
disarrange an intended order of things, such was his nature; but
to-day it was absolute pain to yield his own purpose.

'Why, man alive?' said Coulson, in amaze at his reluctance.

'I didn't say I mightn't go,' said Philip, weighing consequences,
until called off to attend to customers.

In the course of the afternoon, however, he felt himself more easy
in deferring his visit to Haytersbank till the next evening. Charley
Kinraid entered the shop, accompanied by Molly Brunton and her
sisters; and though they all went towards Hester's side of the shop,
and Philip and Coulson had many people to attend to, yet Hepburn's
sharpened ears caught much of what the young women were saying. From
that he gathered that Kinraid had promised them new year's gifts,
for the purchase of which they were come; and after a little more
listening he learnt that Kinraid was returning to Shields the next
day, having only come over to spend a holiday with his relations,
and being tied with ship's work at the other end. They all talked
together lightly and merrily, as if his going or staying was almost
a matter of indifference to himself and his cousins. The principal
thought of the young women was to secure the articles they most
fancied; Charley Kinraid was (so Philip thought) especially anxious
that the youngest and prettiest should be pleased. Hepburn watched
him perpetually with a kind of envy of his bright, courteous manner,
the natural gallantry of the sailor. If it were but clear that
Sylvia took as little thought of him as he did of her, to all
appearance, Philip could even have given him praise for manly good
looks, and a certain kind of geniality of disposition which made him
ready to smile pleasantly at all strangers, from babies upwards.

As the party turned to leave the shop they saw Philip, the guest of
the night before; and they came over to shake hands with him across
the counter; Kinraid's hand was proffered among the number. Last
night Philip could not have believed it possible that such a
demonstration of fellowship should have passed between them; and
perhaps there was a slight hesitation of manner on his part, for
some idea or remembrance crossed Kinraid's mind which brought a keen
searching glance into the eyes which for a moment were fastened on
Philip's face. In spite of himself, and during the very action of
hand-shaking, Philip felt a cloud come over his face, not altering
or moving his features, but taking light and peace out of his
countenance.

Molly Brunton began to say something, and he gladly turned to look
at her. She was asking him why he went away so early, for they had
kept it up for four hours after he left, and last of all, she added
(turning to Kinraid), her cousin Charley had danced a hornpipe among
the platters on the ground.

Philip hardly knew what he said in reply, the mention of that pas
seul lifted such a weight off his heart. He could smile now, after
his grave fashion, and would have shaken hands again with Kinraid
had it been required; for it seemed to him that no one, caring ever
so little in the way that he did for Sylvia, could have borne four
mortal hours of a company where she had been, and was not; least of
all could have danced a hornpipe, either from gaiety of heart, or
even out of complaisance. He felt as if the yearning after the
absent one would have been a weight to his legs, as well as to his
spirit; and he imagined that all men were like himself.

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As darkness closed in, and the New Year's throng became scarce,Philip's hesitation about accompanying Coulson faded away. He wasmore comfortable respecting Sylvia, and his going to see her mightbe deferred; and, after all, he felt that the wishes of his mastersought to be attended to, and the honour of an invitation to theprivate house of Jeremiah not to be slighted for anything short of apositive engagement. Besides, the ambitious man of business existedstrongly in Philip. It would never do to slight advances towards thesecond great earthly object in his life; one also on which the firstdepended.So when the shop was closed,
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All this enlargement of interest in the shop occupied Philip fullyfor some months after the period referred to in the precedingchapter. Remembering his last conversation with his aunt, he mighthave been uneasy at his inability to perform his promise and lookafter his pretty cousin, but that about the middle of November BellRobson had fallen ill of a rheumatic fever, and that her daughterhad been entirely absorbed in nursing her. No thought of company orgaiety was in Sylvia's mind as long as her mother's illness lasted;vehement in all her feelings, she discovered in the dread of losingher mother how passionately she was
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