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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIX - AN IMPORTANT MISSION
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIX - AN IMPORTANT MISSION Post by :EbizPro Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :3178

Click below to download : Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIX - AN IMPORTANT MISSION (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XIX - AN IMPORTANT MISSION

Philip was too late for the coach he had hoped to go by, but there
was another that left at night, and which reached Newcastle in the
forenoon, so that, by the loss of a night's sleep, he might overtake
his lost time. But, restless and miserable, he could not stop in
Hartlepool longer than to get some hasty food at the inn from which
the coach started. He acquainted himself with the names of the towns
through which it would pass, and the inns at which it would stop,
and left word that the coachman was to be on the look-out for him
and pick him up at some one of these places.

He was thoroughly worn out before this happened--too much tired to
gain any sleep in the coach. When he reached Newcastle, he went to
engage his passage in the next London-bound smack, and then directed
his steps to Robinson's, in the Side, to make all the inquiries he
could think of respecting the plough his uncle wanted to know about.

So it was pretty late in the afternoon, indeed almost evening,
before he arrived at the small inn on the quay-side, where he
intended to sleep. It was but a rough kind of place, frequented
principally by sailors; he had been recommended to it by Daniel
Robson, who had known it well in former days. The accommodation in
it was, however, clean and homely, and the people keeping it were
respectable enough in their way.

Still Hepburn was rather repelled by the appearance of the sailors
who sate drinking in the bar, and he asked, in a low voice, if there
was not another room. The woman stared in surprise, and only shook
her head. Hepburn went to a separate table, away from the roaring
fire, which on this cold March evening was the great attraction, and
called for food and drink. Then seeing that the other men were
eyeing him with the sociable idea of speaking to him, he asked for
pen and ink and paper, with the intention of defeating their purpose
by pre-occupation on his part. But when the paper came, the new pen,
the unused thickened ink, he hesitated long before he began to
write; and at last he slowly put down the words,--

'DEAR AND HONOURED UNCLE,'----

There was a pause; his meal was brought and hastily swallowed. Even
while he was eating it, he kept occasionally touching up the letters
of these words. When he had drunk a glass of ale he began again to
write: fluently this time, for he was giving an account of the
plough. Then came another long stop; he was weighing in his own mind
what he should say about Kinraid. Once he thought for a second of
writing to Sylvia herself, and telling her---how much? She might
treasure up her lover's words like grains of gold, while they were
lighter than dust in their meaning to Philip's mind; words which
such as the specksioneer used as counters to beguile and lead astray
silly women. It was for him to prove his constancy by action; and
the chances of his giving such proof were infinitesimal in Philip's
estimation. But should the latter mention the bare fact of Kinraid's
impressment to Robson? That would have been the natural course of
things, remembering that the last time Philip had seen either, they
were in each other's company. Twenty times he put his pen to the
paper with the intention of relating briefly the event that had
befallen Kinraid; and as often he stopped, as though the first word
would be irrevocable. While he thus sate pen in hand, thinking
himself wiser than conscience, and looking on beyond the next step
which she bade him take into an indefinite future, he caught some
fragments of the sailors' talk at the other end of the room, which
made him listen to their words. They were speaking of that very
Kinraid, the thought of whom filled his own mind like an actual
presence. In a rough, careless way they spoke of the specksioneer,
with admiration enough for his powers as a sailor and harpooner; and
from that they passed on to jesting mention of his power amongst
women, and one or two girls' names were spoken of in connection with
him. Hepburn silently added Annie Coulson and Sylvia Robson to this
list, and his cheeks turned paler as he did so. Long after they had
done speaking about Kinraid, after they had paid their shot, and
gone away, he sate in the same attitude, thinking bitter thoughts.

The people of the house prepared for bed. Their silent guest took no
heed of their mute signs. At length the landlord spoke to him, and
he started, gathered his wits together with an effort, and prepared
to retire with the rest. But before he did so, he signed and
directed the letter to his uncle, leaving it still open, however, in
case some sudden feeling should prompt him to add a postscript. The
landlord volunteered the information that the letter his guest had
been writing must be posted early the next morning if it was going
south; as the mails in that direction only left Newcastle every
other day.

All night long Hepburn wearied himself with passionate tossings,
prompted by stinging recollection. Towards morning he fell into a
dead sound sleep. He was roused by a hasty knocking at the door. It
was broad full daylight; he had overslept himself, and the smack was
leaving by the early tide. He was even now summoned on board. He
dressed, wafered his letter, and rushed with it to the neighbouring
post-office; and, without caring to touch the breakfast for which he
paid, he embarked. Once on board, he experienced the relief which it
always is to an undecided man, and generally is at first to any one
who has been paltering with duty, when circumstances decide for him.
In the first case, it is pleasant to be relieved from the burden of
decision; in the second, the responsibility seems to be shifted on
to impersonal events.

And so Philip sailed out of the mouth of the Tyne on to the great
open sea. It would be a week before the smack reached London, even
if she pursued a tolerably straight course, but she had to keep a
sharp look-out after possible impressment of her crew; and it was
not until after many dodges and some adventures that, at the end of
a fortnight from the time of his leaving Monkshaven, Philip found
himself safely housed in London, and ready to begin the delicate
piece of work which was given him to do.

He felt himself fully capable of unravelling each clue to
information, and deciding on the value of the knowledge so gained.
But during the leisure of the voyage he had wisely determined to
communicate everything he learnt about Dickinson, in short, every
step he took in the matter, by letter to his employers. And thus his
mind both in and out of his lodgings might have appeared to have
been fully occupied with the concerns of others.

But there were times when the miserable luxury of dwelling upon his
own affairs was his--when he lay down in his bed till he fell into
restless sleep--when the point to which his steps tended in his
walks was ascertained. Then he gave himself up to memory, and regret
which often deepened into despair, and but seldom was cheered by
hope.

He grew so impatient of the ignorance in which he was kept--for in
those days of heavy postage any correspondence he might have had on
mere Monkshaven intelligence was very limited--as to the affairs at
Haytersbank, that he cut out an advertisement respecting some new
kind of plough, from a newspaper that lay in the chop-house where he
usually dined, and rising early the next morning he employed the
time thus gained in going round to the shop where these new ploughs
were sold.

That night he wrote another letter to Daniel Robson, with a long
account of the merits of the implements he had that day seen. With a
sick heart and a hesitating hand, he wound up with a message of
regard to his aunt and to Sylvia; an expression of regard which he
dared not make as warm as he wished, and which, consequently, fell
below the usual mark attained by such messages, and would have
appeared to any one who cared to think about it as cold and formal.

When this letter was despatched, Hepburn began to wonder what he had
hoped for in writing it. He knew that Daniel could write--or rather
that he could make strange hieroglyphics, the meaning of which
puzzled others and often himself; but these pen-and-ink signs were
seldom employed by Robson, and never, so far as Philip knew, for the
purpose of letter-writing. But still he craved so for news of
Sylvia--even for a sight of paper which she had seen, and perhaps
touched--that he thought all his trouble about the plough (to say
nothing of the one-and-twopence postage which he had prepaid in
order to make sure of his letter's reception in the frugal household
at Haytersbank) well lost for the mere chance of his uncle's caring
enough for the intelligence to write in reply, or even to get some
friend to write an answer; for in such case, perhaps, Philip might
see her name mentioned in some way, even though it was only that she
sent her duty to him.

But the post-office was dumb; no letter came from Daniel Robson.
Philip heard, it is true, from his employers pretty frequently on
business; and he felt sure they would have named it, if any ill had
befallen his uncle's family, for they knew of the relationship and
of his intimacy there. They generally ended their formal letters
with as formal a summary of Monkshaven news; but there was never a
mention of the Robsons, and that of itself was well, but it did not
soothe Philip's impatient curiosity. He had never confided his
attachment to his cousin to any one, it was not his way; but he
sometimes thought that if Coulson had not taken his present
appointment to a confidential piece of employment so ill, he would
have written to him and asked him to go up to Haytersbank Farm, and
let him know how they all were.

All this time he was transacting the affair on which he had been
sent, with great skill; and, indeed, in several ways, he was quietly
laying the foundation for enlarging the business in Monkshaven.
Naturally grave and quiet, and slow to speak, he impressed those who
saw him with the idea of greater age and experience than he really
possessed. Indeed, those who encountered him in London, thought he
was absorbed in the business of money-making. Yet before the time
came when he could wind up affairs and return to Monkshaven, he
would have given all he possessed for a letter from his uncle,
telling him something about Sylvia. For he still hoped to hear from
Robson, although he knew that he hoped against reason. But we often
convince ourselves by good argument that what we wish for need never
have been expected; and then, at the end of our reasoning, find that
we might have saved ourselves the trouble, for that our wishes are
untouched, and are as strong enemies to our peace of mind as ever.
Hepburn's baulked hope was the Mordecai sitting in Haman's gate; all
his success in his errand to London, his well-doing in worldly
affairs, was tasteless, and gave him no pleasure, because of this
blank and void of all intelligence concerning Sylvia.

And yet he came back with a letter from the Fosters in his pocket,
curt, yet expressive of deep gratitude for his discreet services in
London; and at another time--in fact, if Philip's life had been
ordered differently to what it was--it might have given this man a
not unworthy pleasure to remember that, without a penny of his own,
simply by diligence, honesty, and faithful quick-sightedness as to
the interests of his masters, he had risen to hold the promise of
being their successor, and to be ranked by them as a trusted friend.

As the Newcastle smack neared the shore on her voyage home, Hepburn
looked wistfully out for the faint gray outline of Monkshaven Priory
against the sky, and the well-known cliffs; as if the masses of
inanimate stone could tell him any news of Sylvia.

In the streets of Shields, just after landing, he encountered a
neighbour of the Robsons, and an acquaintance of his own. By this
honest man, he was welcomed as a great traveller is welcomed on his
return from a long voyage, with many hearty good shakes of the hand,
much repetition of kind wishes, and offers to treat him to drink.
Yet, from some insurmountable feeling, Philip avoided all mention of
the family who were the principal bond between the honest farmer and
himself. He did not know why, but he could not bear the shock of
first hearing her name in the open street, or in the rough
public-house. And thus he shrank from the intelligence he craved to
hear.

Thus he knew no more about the Robsons when he returned to
Monkshaven, than he had done on the day when he had last seen them;
and, of course, his first task there was to give a long _viva voce_
account of all his London proceedings to the two brothers Foster,
who, considering that they had heard the result of everything by
letter, seemed to take an insatiable interest in details.

He could hardly tell why, but even when released from the Fosters'
parlour, he was unwilling to go to Haytersbank Farm. It was late, it
is true, but on a May evening even country people keep up till eight
or nine o'clock. Perhaps it was because Hepburn was still in his
travel-stained dress; having gone straight to the shop on his
arrival in Monkshaven. Perhaps it was because, if he went this night
for the short half-hour intervening before bed-time, he would have
no excuse for paying a longer visit on the following evening. At any
rate, he proceeded straight to Alice Rose's, as soon as he had
finished his interview with his employers.

Both Hester and Coulson had given him their welcome home in the
shop, which they had, however, left an hour or two before him.

Yet they gave him a fresh greeting, almost one in which surprise was
blended, when he came to his lodgings. Even Alice seemed gratified
by his spending this first evening with them, as if she had thought
it might have been otherwise. Weary though he was, he exerted
himself to talk and to relate what he had done and seen in London,
as far as he could without breaking confidence with his employers.
It was something to see the pleasure he gave to his auditors,
although there were several mixed feelings in their minds to produce
the expression of it which gratified him. Coulson was sorry for his
former ungenerous reception of the news that Philip was going to
London; Hester and her mother each secretly began to feel as if this
evening was like more happy evenings of old, before the Robsons came
to Haytersbank Farm; and who knows what faint delicious hopes this
resemblance may not have suggested?

While Philip, restless and excited, feeling that he could not sleep,
was glad to pass away the waking hours that must intervene before
to-morrow night, at times, he tried to make them talk of what had
happened in Monkshaven during his absence, but all had gone on in an
eventless manner, as far as he could gather; if they knew of
anything affecting the Robsons, they avoided speaking of it to him;
and, indeed, how little likely were they ever to have heard their
names while he was away?

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