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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XVIII - EDDY IN LOVE'S CURRENT
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XVIII - EDDY IN LOVE'S CURRENT Post by :David_C_H Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :2982

Click below to download : Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XVIII - EDDY IN LOVE'S CURRENT (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XVIII - EDDY IN LOVE'S CURRENT

The next morning shone bright and clear, if ever a March morning
did. The beguiling month was coming in like a lamb, with whatever
storms it might go raging out. It was long since Philip had tasted
the freshness of the early air on the shore, or in the country, as
his employment at the shop detained him in Monkshaven till the
evening. And as he turned down the quays (or staithes) on the north
side of the river, towards the shore, and met the fresh sea-breeze
blowing right in his face, it was impossible not to feel bright and
elastic. With his knapsack slung over his shoulder, he was prepared
for a good stretch towards Hartlepool, whence a coach would take him
to Newcastle before night. For seven or eight miles the level sands
were as short and far more agreeable a road than the up and down
land-ways. Philip walked on pretty briskly, unconsciously enjoying
the sunny landscape before him; the crisp curling waves rushing
almost up to his feet, on his right hand, and then swishing back
over the fine small pebbles into the great swelling sea. To his left
were the cliffs rising one behind another, having deep gullies here
and there between, with long green slopes upward from the land, and
then sudden falls of brown and red soil or rock deepening to a yet
greater richness of colour at their base towards the blue ocean
before him. The loud, monotonous murmur of the advancing and
receding waters lulled him into dreaminess; the sunny look of
everything tinged his day-dreams with hope. So he trudged merrily
over the first mile or so; not an obstacle to his measured pace on
the hard, level pavement; not a creature to be seen since he had
left the little gathering of bare-legged urchins dabbling in the
sea-pools near Monkshaven. The cares of land were shut out by the
glorious barrier of rocks before him. There were some great masses
that had been detached by the action of the weather, and lay half
embedded in the sand, draperied over by the heavy pendent
olive-green seaweed. The waves were nearer at this point; the
advancing sea came up with a mighty distant length of roar; here and
there the smooth swell was lashed by the fret against unseen rocks
into white breakers; but otherwise the waves came up from the German
Ocean upon that English shore with a long steady roll that might
have taken its first impetus far away, in the haunt of the
sea-serpent on the coast of 'Norroway over the foam.' The air was
soft as May; right overhead the sky was blue, but it deadened into
gray near the sea lines. Flocks of seagulls hovered about the edge
of the waves, slowly rising and turning their white under-plumage to
glimmer in the sunlight as Philip approached. The whole scene was so
peaceful, so soothing, that it dispelled the cares and fears (too
well founded in fact) which had weighed down on his heart during the
dark hours of the past night.

There was Haytersbank gully opening down its green entrance among
the warm brown bases of the cliffs. Below, in the sheltered
brushwood, among the last year's withered leaves, some primroses
might be found. He half thought of gathering Sylvia a posy of them,
and rushing up to the farm to make a little farewell peace-offering.
But on looking at his watch, he put all thoughts of such an action
out of his head; it was above an hour later than he had supposed,
and he must make all haste on to Hartlepool. Just as he was
approaching this gully, a man came dashing down, and ran out some
way upon the sand with the very force of his descent; then he turned
to the left and took the direction of Hartlepool a hundred yards or
so in advance of Philip. He never stayed to look round him, but went
swiftly and steadily on his way. By the peculiar lurch in his
walk--by everything--Philip knew it was the specksioneer, Kinraid.

Now the road up Haytersbank gully led to the farm, and nowhere else.
Still any one wishing to descend to the shore might do so by first
going up to the Robsons' house, and skirting the walls till they
came to the little slender path down to the shore. But by the farm,
by the very house-door they must of necessity pass. Philip slackened
his pace, keeping under the shadow of the rock. By-and-by Kinraid,
walking on the sunlight open sands, turned round and looked long and
earnestly towards Haytersbank gully. Hepburn paused when he paused,
but as intently as he looked at some object above, so intently did
Hepburn look at him. No need to ascertain by sight towards whom his
looks, his thoughts were directed. He took off his hat and waved it,
touching one part of it as if with particular meaning. When he
turned away at last, Hepburn heaved a heavy sigh, and crept yet more
into the cold dank shadow of the cliffs. Each step was now a heavy
task, his sad heart tired and weary. After a while he climbed up a
few feet, so as to mingle his form yet more completely with the
stones and rocks around. Stumbling over the uneven and often jagged
points, slipping on the sea-weed, plunging into little pools of
water left by the ebbing tide in some natural basins, he yet kept
his eyes fixed as if in fascination on Kinraid, and made his way
almost alongside of him. But the last hour had pinched Hepburn's
features into something of the wan haggardness they would wear when
he should first be lying still for ever.

And now the two men were drawing near a creek, about eight miles
from Monkshaven. The creek was formed by a beck (or small stream)
that came flowing down from the moors, and took its way to the sea
between the widening rocks. The melting of the snows and running of
the flooded water-springs above made this beck in the early
spring-time both deep and wide. Hepburn knew that here they both
must take a path leading inland to a narrow foot-bridge about a
quarter of a mile up the stream; indeed from this point, owing to
the jutting out of the rocks, the land path was the shortest; and
this way lay by the water-side at an angle right below the cliff to
which Hepburn's steps were leading him. He knew that on this long
level field path he might easily be seen by any one following; nay,
if he followed any one at a short distance, for it was full of
turnings; and he resolved, late as he was, to sit down for a while
till Kinraid was far enough in advance for him to escape being seen.
He came up to the last rock behind which he could be concealed;
seven or eight feet above the stream he stood, and looked cautiously
for the specksioneer. Up by the rushing stream he looked, then right
below.

'It is God's providence,' he murmured. 'It is God's providence.'

He crouched down where he had been standing and covered his face
with his hands. He tried to deafen as well as to blind himself, that
he might neither hear nor see anything of the coming event of which
he, an inhabitant of Monkshaven at that day, well understood the
betokening signs.

Kinraid had taken the larger angle of the sands before turning up
towards the bridge. He came along now nearing the rocks. By this
time he was sufficiently buoyant to whistle to himself. It steeled
Philip's heart to what was coming to hear his rival whistling, 'Weel
may the keel row,' so soon after parting with Sylvia.

The instant Kinraid turned the corner of the cliff, the ambush was
upon him. Four man-of-war's men sprang on him and strove to pinion
him.

'In the King's name!' cried they, with rough, triumphant jeers.

Their boat was moored not a dozen yards above; they were sent by the
tender of a frigate lying off Hartlepool for fresh water. The tender
was at anchor just beyond the jutting rocks in face.

They knew that fishermen were in the habit of going to and from
their nets by the side of the creek; but such a prize as this
active, strong, and evidently superior sailor, was what they had not
hoped for, and their endeavours to secure him were in proportion to
the value of the prize.

Although taken by surprise, and attacked by so many, Kinraid did not
lose his wits. He wrenched himself free, crying out loud:

'Avast, I'm a protected whaler. I claim my protection. I've my
papers to show, I'm bonded specksioneer to the _Urania whaler,
Donkin captain, North Shields port.'

As a protected whaler, the press-gang had, by the 17th section of
Act 26 Geo. III. no legal right to seize him, unless he had failed
to return to his ship by the 10th March following the date of his
bond. But of what use were the papers he hastily dragged out of his
breast; of what use were laws in those days of slow intercourse with
such as were powerful enough to protect, and in the time of popular
panic against a French invasion?

'D--n your protection,' cried the leader of the press-gang; 'come
and serve his Majesty, that's better than catching whales.'

'Is it though?' said the specksioneer, with a motion of his hand,
which the swift-eyed sailor opposed to him saw and interpreted
rightly.

'Thou wilt, wilt thou? Close with him, Jack; and ware the cutlass.'

In a minute his cutlass was forced from him, and it became a
hand-to-hand struggle, of which, from the difference in numbers, it
was not difficult to foretell the result. Yet Kinraid made desperate
efforts to free himself; he wasted no breath in words, but fought,
as the men said, 'like a very devil.'

Hepburn heard loud pants of breath, great thuds, the dull struggle
of limbs on the sand, the growling curses of those who thought to
have managed their affair more easily; the sudden cry of some one
wounded, not Kinraid he knew, Kinraid would have borne any pain in
silence at such a moment; another wrestling, swearing, infuriated
strife, and then a strange silence. Hepburn sickened at the heart;
was then his rival dead? had he left this bright world? lost his
life--his love? For an instant Hepburn felt guilty of his death; he
said to himself he had never wished him dead, and yet in the
struggle he had kept aloof, and now it might be too late for ever.
Philip could not bear the suspense; he looked stealthily round the
corner of the rock behind which he had been hidden, and saw that
they had overpowered Kinraid, and, too exhausted to speak, were
binding him hand and foot to carry him to their boat.

Kinraid lay as still as any hedgehog: he rolled when they pushed
him; he suffered himself to be dragged without any resistance, any
motion; the strong colour brought into his face while fighting was
gone now, his countenance was livid pale; his lips were tightly held
together, as if it cost him more effort to be passive, wooden, and
stiff in their hands than it had done to fight and struggle with all
his might. His eyes seemed the only part about him that showed
cognizance of what was going on. They were watchful, vivid, fierce
as those of a wild cat brought to bay, seeking in its desperate
quickened brain for some mode of escape not yet visible, and in all
probability never to become visible to the hopeless creature in its
supreme agony.

Without a motion of his head, he was perceiving and taking in
everything while he lay bound at the bottom of the boat. A sailor
sat by his side, who had been hurt by a blow from him. The man held
his head in his hand, moaning; but every now and then he revenged
himself by a kick at the prostrate specksioneer, till even his
comrades stopped their cursing and swearing at their prisoner for
the trouble he had given them, to cry shame on their comrade. But
Kinraid never spoke, nor shrank from the outstretched foot.

One of his captors, with the successful insolence of victory,
ventured to jeer him on the supposed reason for his vehement and
hopeless resistance.

He might have said yet more insolent things; the kicks might have
hit harder; Kinraid did not hear or heed. His soul was beating
itself against the bars of inflexible circumstance; reviewing in one
terrible instant of time what had been, what might have been, what
was. Yet while these thoughts thus stabbed him, he was still
mechanically looking out for chances. He moved his head a little, so
as to turn towards Haytersbank, where Sylvia must be quickly, if
sadly, going about her simple daily work; and then his quick eye
caught Hepburn's face, blanched with excitement rather than fear,
watching eagerly from behind the rock, where he had sat breathless
during the affray and the impressment of his rival.

'Come here, lad!' shouted the specksioneer as soon as he saw Philip,
heaving and writhing his body the while with so much vigour that the
sailors started away from the work they were engaged in about the
boat, and held him down once more, as if afraid he should break the
strong rope that held him like withes of green flax. But the bound
man had no such notion in his head. His mighty wish was to call
Hepburn near that he might send some message by him to Sylvia. 'Come
here, Hepburn,' he cried again, falling back this time so weak and
exhausted that the man-of-war's men became sympathetic.

'Come down, peeping Tom, and don't be afeared,' they called out.

'I'm not afeared,' said Philip; 'I'm no sailor for yo' t' impress
me: nor have yo' any right to take that fellow; he's a Greenland
specksioneer, under protection, as I know and can testify.'

'Yo' and yo'r testify go hang. Make haste, man and hear what this
gem'man, as was in a dirty blubbery whale-ship, and is now in his
Majesty's service, has got to say. I dare say, Jack,' went on the
speaker, 'it's some message to his sweetheart, asking her to come
for to serve on board ship along with he, like Billy Taylor's young
woman.'

Philip was coming towards them slowly, not from want of activity,
but because he was undecided what he should be called upon to do or
to say by the man whom he hated and dreaded, yet whom just now he
could not help admiring.

Kinraid groaned with impatience at seeing one, free to move with
quick decision, so slow and dilatory.

'Come on then,' cried the sailors, 'or we'll take you too on board,
and run you up and down the main-mast a few times. Nothing like life
aboard ship for quickening a land-lubber.'

'Yo'd better take him and leave me,' said Kinraid, grimly. 'I've
been taught my lesson; and seemingly he has his yet to learn.'

'His Majesty isn't a schoolmaster to need scholars; but a jolly good
captain to need men,' replied the leader of the gang, eyeing Philip
nevertheless, and questioning within himself how far, with only two
other available men, they durst venture on his capture as well as
the specksioneer's. It might be done, he thought, even though there
was this powerful captive aboard, and the boat to manage too; but,
running his eye over Philip's figure, he decided that the tall
stooping fellow was never cut out for a sailor, and that he should
get small thanks if he captured him, to pay him for the possible
risk of losing the other. Or else the mere fact of being a landsman
was of as little consequence to the press-gang, as the protecting
papers which Kinraid had vainly showed.

'Yon fellow wouldn't have been worth his grog this many a day, and
be d--d to you,' said he, catching Hepburn by the shoulder, and
giving him a push. Philip stumbled over something in this, his
forced run. He looked down; his foot had caught in Kinraid's hat,
which had dropped off in the previous struggle. In the band that
went round the low crown, a ribbon was knotted; a piece of that same
ribbon which Philip had chosen out, with such tender hope, to give
to Sylvia for the Corneys' party on new year's eve. He knew every
delicate thread that made up the briar-rose pattern; and a spasm of
hatred towards Kinraid contracted his heart. He had been almost
relenting into pity for the man captured before his eyes; now he
abhorred him.

Kinraid did not speak for a minute or two. The sailors, who had
begun to take him into favour, were all agog with curiosity to hear
the message to his sweetheart, which they believed he was going to
send. Hepburn's perceptions, quickened with his vehement agitation
of soul, were aware of this feeling of theirs; and it increased his
rage against Kinraid, who had exposed the idea of Sylvia to be the
subject of ribald whispers. But the specksioneer cared little what
others said or thought about the maiden, whom he yet saw before his
closed eyelids as she stood watching him, from the Haytersbank
gully, waving her hands, her handkerchief, all in one passionate
farewell.

'What do yo' want wi' me?' asked Hepburn at last in a gloomy tone.
If he could have helped it, he would have kept silence till Kinraid
spoke first; but he could no longer endure the sailors' nudges, and
winks, and jests among themselves.

'Tell Sylvia,' said Kinraid----

'There's a smart name for a sweetheart,' exclaimed one of the men;
but Kinraid went straight on,--

'What yo've seen; how I've been pressed by this cursed gang.'

'Civil words, messmate, if you please. Sylvia can't abide cursing
and swearing, I'm sure. We're gentlemen serving his Majesty on board
the _Alcestis_, and this proper young fellow shall be helped on to
more honour and glory than he'd ever get bobbing for whales. Tell
Sylvia this, with my love; Jack Carter's love, if she's anxious
about my name.'

One of the sailors laughed at this rude humour; another bade Carter
hold his stupid tongue. Philip hated him in his heart. Kinraid
hardly heard him. He was growing faint with the heavy blows he had
received, the stunning fall he had met with, and the reaction from
his dogged self-control at first.

Philip did not speak nor move.

'Tell her,' continued Kinraid, rousing himself for another effort,
'what yo've seen. Tell her I'll come back to her. Bid her not forget
the great oath we took together this morning; she's as much my wife
as if we'd gone to church;--I'll come back and marry her afore
long.'

Philip said something inarticulately.

'Hurra!' cried Carter, 'and I'll be best man. Tell her, too that
I'll have an eye on her sweetheart, and keep him from running after
other girls.'

'Yo'll have yo'r hands full, then,' muttered Philip, his passion
boiling over at the thought of having been chosen out from among all
men to convey such a message as Kinraid's to Sylvia.

'Make an end of yo'r d--d yarns, and be off,' said the man who had
been hurt by Kinraid, and who had sate apart and silent till now.

Philip turned away; Kinraid raised himself and cried after him,--

'Hepburn, Hepburn! tell her---' what he added Philip could not hear,
for the words were lost before they reached him in the outward noise
of the regular splash of the oars and the rush of the wind down the
gully, with which mingled the closer sound that filled his ears of
his own hurrying blood surging up into his brain. He was conscious
that he had said something in reply to Kinraid's adjuration that he
would deliver his message to Sylvia, at the very time when Carter
had stung him into fresh anger by the allusion to the possibility of
the specksioneer's 'running after other girls,' for, for an instant,
Hepburn had been touched by the contrast of circumstances. Kinraid
an hour or two ago,--Kinraid a banished man; for in those days, an
impressed sailor might linger out years on some foreign station, far
from those he loved, who all this time remained ignorant of his
cruel fate.

But Hepburn began to wonder what he himself had said--how much of a
promise he had made to deliver those last passionate words of
Kinraid's. He could not recollect how much, how little he had said;
he knew he had spoken hoarsely and low almost at the same time as
Carter had uttered his loud joke. But he doubted if Kinraid had
caught his words.

And then the dread Inner Creature, who lurks in each of our hearts,
arose and said, 'It is as well: a promise given is a fetter to the
giver. But a promise is not given when it has not been received.'

At a sudden impulse, he turned again towards the shore when he had
crossed the bridge, and almost ran towards the verge of the land.
Then he threw himself down on the soft fine turf that grew on the
margin of the cliffs overhanging the sea, and commanding an extent
of view towards the north. His face supported by his hands, he
looked down upon the blue rippling ocean, flashing here and there,
into the sunlight in long, glittering lines. The boat was still in
the distance, making her swift silent way with long regular bounds
to the tender that lay in the offing.

Hepburn felt insecure, as in a nightmare dream, so long as the boat
did not reach her immediate destination. His contracted eyes could
see four minute figures rowing with ceaseless motion, and a fifth
sate at the helm. But he knew there was a sixth, unseen, lying,
bound and helpless, at the bottom of the boat; and his fancy kept
expecting this man to start up and break his bonds, and overcome all
the others, and return to the shore free and triumphant.

It was by no fault of Hepburn's that the boat sped well away; that
she was now alongside the tender, dancing on the waves; now emptied
of her crew; now hoisted up to her place. No fault of his! and yet
it took him some time before he could reason himself into the belief
that his mad, feverish wishes not an hour before--his wild prayer to
be rid of his rival, as he himself had scrambled onward over the
rocks alongside of Kinraid's path on the sands--had not compelled
the event.

'Anyhow,' thought he, as he rose up, 'my prayer is granted. God be
thanked!'

Once more he looked out towards the ship. She had spread her
beautiful great sails, and was standing out to sea in the glittering
path of the descending sun.

He saw that he had been delayed on his road, and had lingered long.
He shook his stiffened limbs, shouldered his knapsack, and prepared
to walk on to Hartlepool as swiftly as he could.

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The post arrived at Monkshaven three times in the week; sometimes,indeed, there were not a dozen letters in the bag, which was broughtthither by a man in a light mail-cart, who took the better part of aday to drive from York; dropping private bags here and there on themoors, at some squire's lodge or roadside inn. Of the number ofletters that arrived in Monkshaven, the Fosters, shopkeepers andbankers, had the largest share.The morning succeeding the day on which Sylvia had engaged herselfto Kinraid, the Fosters seemed unusually anxious to obtain theirletters. Several times Jeremiah came out of the parlour in which
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