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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XX - LOVED AND LOST
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XX - LOVED AND LOST Post by :majorian Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :2367

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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XX - LOVED AND LOST

Philip walked towards the Robsons' farm like a man in a dream, who
has everything around him according to his wish, and yet is
conscious of a secret mysterious inevitable drawback to his
enjoyment. Hepburn did not care to think--would not realize what
this drawback, which need not have been mysterious in his case, was.

The May evening was glorious in light and shadow. The crimson sun
warmed up the chilly northern air to a semblance of pleasant heat.
The spring sights and sounds were all about; the lambs were bleating
out their gentle weariness before they sank to rest by the side of
their mothers; the linnets were chirping in every bush of golden
gorse that grew out of the stone walls; the lark was singing her
good-night in the cloudless sky, before she dropped down to her nest
in the tender green wheat; all spoke of brooding peace--but Philip's
heart was not at peace.

Yet he was going to proclaim his good fortune. His masters had that
day publicly announced that Coulson and he were to be their
successors, and he had now arrived at that longed-for point in his
business, when he had resolved to openly speak of his love to
Sylvia, and might openly strive to gain her love. But, alas! the
fulfilment of that wish of his had lagged sadly behind. He was
placed as far as he could, even in his most sanguine moments, have
hoped to be as regarded business, but Sylvia was as far from his
attainment as ever--nay, farther. Still the great obstacle was
removed in Kinraid's impressment. Philip took upon himself to decide
that, with such a man as the specksioneer, absence was equivalent to
faithless forgetfulness. He thought that he had just grounds for
this decision in the account he had heard of Kinraid's behaviour to
Annie Coulson; to the other nameless young girl, her successor in
his fickle heart; in the ribald talk of the sailors in the Newcastle
public-house. It would be well for Sylvia if she could forget as
quickly; and, to promote this oblivion, the name of her lover should
never be brought up, either in praise or blame. And Philip would be
patient and enduring; all the time watching over her, and labouring
to win her reluctant love.

There she was! He saw her as he stood at the top of the little
hill-path leading down to the Robsons' door. She was out of doors,
in the garden, which, at some distance from the house, sloped up the
bank on the opposite side of the gully; much too far off to be
spoken to--not too far off to be gazed at by eyes that caressed her
every movement. How well Philip knew that garden; placed long ago by
some tenant of the farm on a southern slope; walled in with rough
moorland stones; planted with berry-bushes for use, and southernwood
and sweet-briar for sweetness of smell. When the Robsons had first
come to Haytersbank, and Sylvia was scarcely more than a pretty
child, how well he remembered helping her with the arrangement of
this garden; laying out his few spare pence in hen-and-chicken
daisies at one time, in flower-seeds at another; again in a
rose-tree in a pot. He knew how his unaccustomed hands had laboured
with the spade at forming a little primitive bridge over the beck in
the hollow before winter streams should make it too deep for
fording; how he had cut down branches of the mountain-ash and
covered them over, yet decked with their scarlet berries, with sods
of green turf, beyond which the brilliancy crept out; but now it was
months and years since he had been in that garden, which had lost
its charm for Sylvia, as she found the bleak sea-winds came up and
blighted all endeavours at cultivating more than the most useful
things--pot-herbs, marigolds, potatoes, onions, and such-like. Why
did she tarry there now, standing quite motionless up by the highest
bit of wall, looking over the sea, with her hand shading her eyes?
Quite motionless; as if she were a stone statue. He began to wish
she would move--would look at him--but any way that she would move,
and not stand gazing thus over that great dreary sea.

He went down the path with an impatient step, and entered the
house-place. There sat his aunt spinning, and apparently as well as
ever. He could hear his uncle talking to Kester in the neighbouring
shippen; all was well in the household. Why was Sylvia standing in
the garden in that strange quiet way?

'Why, lad! thou'rt a sight for sair een!' said his aunt, as she
stood up to welcome him back. 'An' when didst ta come, eh?--but thy
uncle will be glad to see thee, and to hear thee talk about yon
pleughs; he's thought a deal o' thy letters. I'll go call him in.'

'Not yet,' said Philip, stopping her in her progress towards the
door. 'He's busy talking to Kester. I'm in no haste to be gone. I
can stay a couple of hours. Sit down, and tell me how you are
yoursel'--and how iverything is. And I've a deal to tell you.'

'To be sure--to be sure. To think thou's been in Lunnon sin' I saw
thee!--well to be sure! There's a vast o' coming and going i' this
world. Thou'll mind yon specksioneer lad, him as was cousin to t'
Corneys--Charley Kinraid?'

Mind him! As if he could forget him.

'Well! he's dead and gone.'

'Dead! Who told you? I don't understand,' said Philip, in strange
bewilderment. Could Kinraid have tried to escape after all, and been
wounded, killed in the attempt? If not, how should they know he was
dead? Missing he might be, though how this should be known was
strange, as he was supposed to be sailing to the Greenland seas. But
dead! What did they mean? At Philip's worst moment of hatred he had
hardly dared to wish him dead.

'Dunnot yo' mention it afore our Sylvie; we niver speak on him to
her, for she takes it a deal to heart, though I'm thinkin' it were a
good thing for her; for he'd got a hold of her--he had on Bessy
Corney, too, as her mother telled me;--not that I iver let on to
them as Sylvia frets after him, so keep a calm sough, my lad. It's a
girl's fancy--just a kind o' calf-love; let it go by; and it's well
for her he's dead, though it's hard to say so on a drowned man.'

'Drowned!' said Philip. 'How do yo' know?' half hoping that the poor
drenched swollen body might have been found, and thus all questions
and dilemmas solved. Kinraid might have struggled overboard with
ropes or handcuffs on, and so have been drowned.

'Eh, lad! there's no misdoubtin' it. He were thought a deal on by t'
captain o' t' _Urania_; and when he niver come back on t' day when
she ought for to have sailed, he sent to Kinraid's people at
Cullercoats, and they sent to Brunton's i' Newcassel, and they knew
he'd been here. T' captain put off sailing for two or three days,
that he might ha' that much law; but when he heard as Kinraid were
not at Corneys', but had left 'em a'most on to a week, he went off
to them Northern seas wi' t' next best specksioneer he could find.
For there's no use speaking ill on t' dead; an' though I couldn't
abear his coming for iver about t' house, he were a rare good
specksioneer, as I've been told.'

'But how do you know he was drowned?' said Philip, feeling guiltily
disappointed at his aunt's story.

'Why, lad! I'm a'most ashamed to tell thee, I were sore put out
mysel'; but Sylvia were so broken-hearted like I couldn't cast it up
to her as I should ha' liked: th' silly lass had gone and gi'en him
a bit o' ribbon, as many a one knowed, for it had been a vast
noticed and admired that evenin' at th' Corneys'--new year's eve I
think it were--and t' poor vain peacock had tied it on his hat, so
that when t' tide----hist! there's Sylvie coming in at t' back-door;
never let on,' and in a forced made-up voice she inquired aloud, for
hitherto she had been speaking almost in a whisper,--

'And didst ta see King George an' Queen Charlotte?'

Philip could not answer--did not hear. His soul had gone out to meet
Sylvia, who entered with quiet slowness quite unlike her former
self. Her face was wan and white; her gray eyes seemed larger, and
full of dumb tearless sorrow; she came up to Philip, as if his being
there touched her with no surprise, and gave him a gentle greeting
as if he were a familiar indifferent person whom she had seen but
yesterday. Philip, who had recollected the quarrel they had had, and
about Kinraid too, the very last time they had met, had expected
some trace of this remembrance to linger in her looks and speech to
him. But there was no such sign; her great sorrow had wiped away all
anger, almost all memory. Her mother looked at her anxiously, and
then said in the same manner of forced cheerfulness which she had
used before,--

'Here's Philip, lass, a' full o' Lunnon; call thy father in, an
we'll hear a' about t' new-fangled pleughs. It'll be rare an' nice
a' sitting together again.'

Sylvia, silent and docile, went out to the shippen to obey her
mother's wish. Bell Robson leant forward towards Philip,
misinterpreting the expression on his face, which was guilt as much
as sympathy, and checked the possible repentance which might have
urged him on at that moment to tell all he knew, by saying, 'Lad!
it's a' for t' best. He were noane good enough for her; and I
misdoubt me he were only playin' wi' her as he'd done by others. Let
her a-be, let her a-be; she'll come round to be thankful.'

Robson bustled in with loud welcome; all the louder and more
talkative because he, like his wife, assumed a cheerful manner
before Sylvia. Yet he, unlike his wife, had many a secret regret
over Kinraid's fate. At first, while merely the fact of his
disappearance was known, Daniel Robson had hit on the truth, and had
stuck to his opinion that the cursed press-gang were at the bottom
of it. He had backed his words by many an oath, and all the more
because he had not a single reason to give that applied to the
present occasion. No one on the lonely coast had remarked any sign
of the presence of the men-of-war, or the tenders that accompanied
them, for the purpose of impressment on the king's ships. At
Shields, and at the mouth of the Tyne, where they lay in greedy
wait, the owners of the _Urania had caused strict search to be made
for their skilled and protected specksioneer, but with no success.
All this positive evidence in contradiction to Daniel Robson's
opinion only made him cling to it the more; until the day when the
hat was found on the shore with Kinraid's name written out large and
fair in the inside, and the tell-tale bit of ribbon knotted in the
band. Then Daniel, by a sudden revulsion, gave up every hope; it
never entered his mind that it could have fallen off by any
accident. No! now Kinraid was dead and drowned, and it was a bad
job, and the sooner it could be forgotten the better for all
parties; and it was well no one knew how far it had gone with
Sylvia, especially now since Bessy Corney was crying her eyes out as
if he had been engaged to her. So Daniel said nothing to his wife
about the mischief that had gone on in her absence, and never spoke
to Sylvia about the affair; only he was more than usually tender to
her in his rough way, and thought, morning, noon, and night, on what
he could do to give her pleasure, and drive away all recollection of
her ill-starred love.

To-night he would have her sit by him while Philip told his stories,
or heavily answered questions put to him. Sylvia sat on a stool by
her father's knee, holding one of his hands in both of hers; and
presently she laid down her head upon them, and Philip saw her sad
eyes looking into the flickering fire-light with long unwinking
stare, showing that her thoughts were far distant. He could hardly
go on with his tales of what he had seen, and what done, he was so
full of pity for her. Yet, for all his pity, he had now resolved
never to soothe her with the knowledge of what he knew, nor to
deliver the message sent by her false lover. He felt like a mother
withholding something injurious from the foolish wish of her
plaining child.

But he went away without breathing a word of his good fortune in
business. The telling of such kind of good fortune seemed out of
place this night, when the thought of death and the loss of friends
seemed to brood over the household, and cast its shadow there,
obscuring for the time all worldly things.

And so the great piece of news came out in the ordinary course of
gossip, told by some Monkshaven friend to Robson the next market
day. For months Philip had been looking forward to the sensation
which the intelligence would produce in the farm household, as a
preliminary to laying his good fortune at Sylvia's feet. And they
heard of it, and he away, and all chance of his making use of it in
the manner he had intended vanished for the present.

Daniel was always curious after other people's affairs, and now was
more than ever bent on collecting scraps of news which might
possibly interest Sylvia, and rouse her out of the state of
indifference as to everything into which she had fallen. Perhaps he
thought that he had not acted altogether wisely in allowing her to
engage herself to Kinraid, for he was a man apt to judge by results;
and moreover he had had so much reason to repent of the
encouragement which he had given to the lover whose untimely end had
so deeply affected his only child, that he was more unwilling than
ever that his wife should know of the length to which the affair had
gone during her absence. He even urged secrecy upon Sylvia as a
personal favour; unwilling to encounter the silent blame which he
openly affected to despise.

'We'll noane fret thy mother by lettin' on how oft he came and went.
She'll, may-be, be thinkin' he were for speakin' to thee, my poor
lass; an' it would put her out a deal, for she's a woman of a stern
mind towards matteremony. And she'll be noane so strong till
summer-weather comes, and I'd be loath to give her aught to worrit
hersel' about. So thee and me 'll keep our own counsel.'

'I wish mother had been here, then she'd ha' known all, without my
telling her.'

'Cheer up, lass; it's better as it is. Thou'll get o'er it sooner
for havin' no one to let on to. A myself am noane going to speak
on't again.'

No more he did; but there was a strange tenderness in his tones when
he spoke to her; a half-pathetic way of seeking after her, if by any
chance she was absent for a minute from the places where he expected
to find her; a consideration for her, about this time, in his way of
bringing back trifling presents, or small pieces of news that he
thought might interest her, which sank deep into her heart.

'And what dun yo' think a' t' folks is talkin' on i' Monkshaven?'
asked he, almost before he had taken off his coat, on the day when
he had heard of Philip's promotion in the world. 'Why, missus, thy
nephew, Philip Hepburn, has got his name up i' gold letters four
inch long o'er Fosters' door! Him and Coulson has set up shop
together, and Fosters is gone out!'

'That's t' secret of his journey t' Lunnon,' said Bell, more
gratified than she chose to show.

'Four inch long if they're theere at all! I heerd on it at t' Bay
Horse first; but I thought yo'd niver be satisfied 'bout I seed it
wi' my own eyes. They do say as Gregory Jones, t' plumber, got it
done i' York, for that nought else would satisfy old Jeremiah. It'll
be a matter o' some hundreds a year i' Philip's pocket.'

'There'll be Fosters i' th' background, as one may say, to take t'
biggest share on t' profits,' said Bell.

'Ay, ay, that's but as it should be, for I reckon they'll ha' to
find t' brass the first, my lass!' said he, turning to Sylvia. 'A'm
fain to tak' thee in to t' town next market-day, just for thee t'
see 't. A'll buy thee a bonny ribbon for thy hair out o' t' cousin's
own shop.'

Some thought of another ribbon which had once tied up her hair, and
afterwards been cut in twain, must have crossed Sylvia's mind, for
she answered, as if she shrank from her father's words,--

'I cannot go, I'm noane wantin' a ribbon; I'm much obliged, father,
a' t' same.'

Her mother read her heart clearly, and suffered with her, but never
spoke a word of sympathy. But she went on rather more quickly than
she would otherwise have done to question her husband as to all he
knew about this great rise of Philip's. Once or twice Sylvia joined
in with languid curiosity; but presently she became tired and went
to bed. For a few moments after she left, her parents sate silent.
Then Daniel, in a tone as if he were justifying his daughter, and
comforting himself as well as his wife, observed that it was almost
on for nine; the evenings were light so long now. Bell said nothing
in reply, but gathered up her wool, and began to arrange the things
for night.

By-and-by Daniel broke the silence by saying,--

'A thowt at one time as Philip had a fancy for our Sylvie.'

For a minute or two Bell did not speak. Then, with deeper insight
into her daughter's heart than her husband, in spite of his greater
knowledge of the events that had happened to affect it, she said,--

'If thou's thinking on a match between 'em, it 'll be a long time
afore th' poor sad wench is fit t' think on another man as
sweetheart.'

'A said nought about sweethearts,' replied he, as if his wife had
reproached him in some way. 'Woman's allays so full o' sweethearts
and matteremony. A only said as a'd thowt once as Philip had a fancy
for our lass, and a think so still; and he'll be worth his two
hunder a year afore long. But a niver said nought about
sweethearts.'

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