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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXII - DEEPENING SHADOWS
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXII - DEEPENING SHADOWS Post by :jimmy Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :2571

Click below to download : Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXII - DEEPENING SHADOWS (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXII - DEEPENING SHADOWS

But before Coulson was married, many small events happened--small
events to all but Philip. To him they were as the sun and moon. The
days when he went up to Haytersbank and Sylvia spoke to him, the
days when he went up and she had apparently no heart to speak to any
one, but left the room as soon as he came, or never entered it at
all, although she must have known that he was there--these were his
alternations from happiness to sorrow.

From her parents he always had a welcome. Oppressed by their
daughter's depression of spirits, they hailed the coming of any
visitor as a change for her as well as for themselves. The former
intimacy with the Corneys was in abeyance for all parties, owing to
Bessy Corney's out-spoken grief for the loss of her cousin, as if
she had had reason to look upon him as her lover, whereas Sylvia's
parents felt this as a slur upon their daughter's cause of grief.
But although at this time the members of the two families ceased to
seek after each other's society, nothing was said. The thread of
friendship might be joined afresh at any time, only just now it was
broken; and Philip was glad of it. Before going to Haytersbank he
sought each time for some little present with which to make his
coming welcome. And now he wished even more than ever that Sylvia
had cared for learning; if she had he could have taken her many a
pretty ballad, or story-book, such as were then in vogue. He did try
her with the translation of the _Sorrows of Werther_, so popular at
the time that it had a place in all pedlars' baskets, with Law's
_Serious Call_, the _Pilgrim's Progress_, Klopstock's _Messiah_, and
_Paradise Lost_. But she could not read it for herself; and after
turning the leaves languidly over, and smiling a little at the
picture of Charlotte cutting bread and butter in a left-handed
manner, she put it aside on the shelf by the _Complete Farrier_; and
there Philip saw it, upside down and untouched, the next time he
came to the farm.

Many a time during that summer did he turn to the few verses in
Genesis in which Jacob's twice seven years' service for Rachel is
related, and try and take fresh heart from the reward which came to
the patriarch's constancy at last. After trying books, nosegays,
small presents of pretty articles of dress, such as suited the
notions of those days, and finding them all received with the same
languid gratitude, he set himself to endeavour to please her in some
other way. It was time that he should change his tactics; for the
girl was becoming weary of the necessity for thanking him, every
time he came, for some little favour or other. She wished he would
let her alone and not watch her continually with such sad eyes. Her
father and mother hailed her first signs of impatient petulance
towards him as a return to the old state of things before Kinraid
had come to disturb the tenour of their lives; for even Daniel had
turned against the specksioneer, irritated by the Corneys' loud
moans over the loss of the man to whom their daughter said that she
was attached. If Daniel wished for him to be alive again, it was
mainly that the Corneys might be convinced that his last visit to
the neighbourhood of Monkshaven was for the sake of the pale and
silent Sylvia, and not for that of Bessy, who complained of
Kinraid's untimely death rather as if by it she had been cheated of
a husband than for any overwhelming personal love towards the
deceased.

'If he were after her he were a big black scoundrel, that's what he
were; and a wish he were alive again to be hung. But a dunnot
believe it; them Corney lasses were allays a-talkin' an' a-thinking
on sweethearts, and niver a man crossed t' threshold but they tried
him on as a husband. An' their mother were no better: Kinraid has
spoken civil to Bessy as became a lad to a lass, and she makes an
ado over him as if they'd been to church together not a week sin'.'

'I dunnot uphold t' Corneys; but Molly Corney--as is Molly Brunton
now--used to speak on this dead man to our Sylvie as if he were her
sweetheart in old days. Now there's no smoke without fire, and I'm
thinking it's likely enough he were one of them fellows as is always
after some lass or another, and, as often as not, two or three at a
time. Now look at Philip, what a different one he is! He's niver
thought on a woman but our Sylvie, I'll be bound. I wish he wern't
so old-fashioned and faint-hearted.'

'Ay! and t' shop's doin' a vast o' business, I've heard say. He's a
deal better company, too, 'n or he used to be. He'd a way o'
preaching wi' him as a couldn't abide; but now he tak's his glass,
an' holds his tongue, leavin' room for wiser men to say their say.'

Such was a conjugal colloquy about this time. Philip was gaining
ground with Daniel, and that was something towards winning Sylvia's
heart; for she was unaware of her father's change of feeling towards
Kinraid, and took all his tenderness towards herself as if they were
marks of his regard for her lost lover and his sympathy in her loss,
instead of which he was rather feeling as if it might be a good
thing after all that the fickle-hearted sailor was dead and drowned.
In fact, Daniel was very like a child in all the parts of his
character. He was strongly affected by whatever was present, and apt
to forget the absent. He acted on impulse, and too often had reason
to be sorry for it; but he hated his sorrow too much to let it teach
him wisdom for the future. With all his many faults, however, he had
something in him which made him be dearly loved, both by the
daughter whom he indulged, and the wife who was in fact superior to
him, but whom he imagined that he ruled with a wise and absolute
sway.

Love to Sylvia gave Philip tact. He seemed to find out that to
please the women of the household he must pay all possible attention
to the man; and though he cared little in comparison for Daniel, yet
this autumn he was continually thinking of how he could please him.
When he had said or done anything to gratify or amuse her father,
Sylvia smiled and was kind. Whatever he did was right with his aunt;
but even she was unusually glad when her husband was pleased. Still
his progress was slow towards his object; and often he sighed
himself to sleep with the words, 'seven years, and maybe seven years
more'. Then in his dreams he saw Kinraid again, sometimes
struggling, sometimes sailing towards land, the only one on board a
swift advancing ship, alone on deck, stern and avenging; till Philip
awoke in remorseful terror.

Such and similar dreams returned with the greater frequency when, in
the November of that year, the coast between Hartlepool and
Monkshaven was overshadowed by the presence of guard-ships, driven
south from their station at North Shields by the resolution which
the sailors of that port had entered into to resist the press-gang,
and the energy with which they had begun to carry out their
determination. For on a certain Tuesday evening yet remembered by
old inhabitants of North Shields, the sailors in the merchant
service met together and overpowered the press-gang, dismissing them
from the town with the highest contempt, and with their jackets
reversed. A numerous mob went with them to Chirton Bar; gave them
three cheers at parting, but vowed to tear them limb from limb
should they seek to re-enter North Shields. But a few days
afterwards some fresh cause of irritation arose, and five hundred
sailors, armed with such swords and pistols as they could collect,
paraded through the town in the most riotous manner, and at last
attempted to seize the tender Eleanor, on some pretext of the
ill-treatment of the impressed men aboard. This endeavour failed,
however, owing to the energetic conduct of the officers in command.
Next day this body of sailors set off for Newcastle; but learning,
before they reached the town, that there was a strong military and
civil force prepared to receive them there, they dispersed for the
time; but not before the good citizens had received a great fright,
the drums of the North Yorkshire militia beating to arms, and the
terrified people rushing out into the streets to learn the reason of
the alarm, and some of them seeing the militia, under the command of
the Earl of Fauconberg, marching from the guard-house adjoining New
Gate to the house of rendezvous for impressed seamen in the Broad
Chase.

But a few weeks after, the impressment service took their revenge
for the insults they had been subjected to in North Shields. In the
dead of night a cordon was formed round that town by a regiment
stationed at Tynemouth barracks; the press-gangs belonging to armed
vessels lying off Shields harbour were let loose; no one within the
circle could escape, and upwards of two hundred and fifty men,
sailors, mechanics, labourers of every description, were forced on
board the armed ships. With that prize they set sail, and wisely
left the place, where deep passionate vengeance was sworn against
them. Not all the dread of an invasion by the French could reconcile
the people of these coasts to the necessity of impressment. Fear and
confusion prevailed after this to within many miles of the
sea-shore. A Yorkshire gentleman of rank said that his labourers
dispersed like a covey of birds, because a press-gang was reported
to have established itself so far inland as Tadcaster; and they only
returned to work on the assurance from the steward of his master's
protection, but even then begged leave to sleep on straw in the
stables or outhouses belonging to their landlord, not daring to
sleep at their own homes. No fish was caught, for the fishermen
dared not venture out to sea; the markets were deserted, as the
press-gangs might come down on any gathering of men; prices were
raised, and many were impoverished; many others ruined. For in the
great struggle in which England was then involved, the navy was
esteemed her safeguard; and men must be had at any price of money,
or suffering, or of injustice. Landsmen were kidnapped and taken to
London; there, in too many instances, to be discharged without
redress and penniless, because they were discovered to be useless
for the purpose for which they had been taken.

Autumn brought back the whaling-ships. But the period of their
return was full of gloomy anxiety, instead of its being the annual
time of rejoicing and feasting; of gladdened households, where brave
steady husbands or sons returned; of unlimited and reckless
expenditure, and boisterous joviality among those who thought that
they had earned unbounded licence on shore by their six months of
compelled abstinence. In other years this had been the time for new
and handsome winter clothing; for cheerful if humble hospitality;
for the shopkeepers to display their gayest and best; for the
public-houses to be crowded; for the streets to be full of blue
jackets, rolling along with merry words and open hearts. In other
years the boiling-houses had been full of active workers, the
staithes crowded with barrels, the ship-carpenters' yards thronged
with seamen and captains; now a few men, tempted by high wages, went
stealthily by back lanes to their work, clustering together, with
sinister looks, glancing round corners, and fearful of every
approaching footstep, as if they were going on some unlawful
business, instead of true honest work. Most of them kept their
whaling-knives about them ready for bloody defence if they were
attacked. The shops were almost deserted; there was no unnecessary
expenditure by the men; they dared not venture out to buy lavish
presents for the wife or sweetheart or little children. The
public-houses kept scouts on the look-out; while fierce men drank
and swore deep oaths of vengeance in the bar--men who did not
maunder in their cups, nor grow foolishly merry, but in whom liquor
called forth all the desperate, bad passions of human nature.

Indeed, all along the coast of Yorkshire, it seemed as if a blight
hung over the land and the people. Men dodged about their daily
business with hatred and suspicion in their eyes, and many a curse
went over the sea to the three fatal ships lying motionless at
anchor three miles off Monkshaven. When first Philip had heard in
his shop that these three men-of-war might be seen lying fell and
still on the gray horizon, his heart sank, and he scarcely dared to
ask their names. For if one should be the _Alcestis_; if Kinraid
should send word to Sylvia; if he should say he was living, and
loving, and faithful; if it should come to pass that the fact of the
undelivered message sent by her lover through Philip should reach
Sylvia's ears: what would be the position of the latter, not merely
in her love--that, of course, would be hopeless--but in her esteem?
All sophistry vanished; the fear of detection awakened Philip to a
sense of guilt; and, besides, he found out, that, in spite of all
idle talk and careless slander, he could not help believing that
Kinraid was in terrible earnest when he uttered those passionate
words, and entreated that they might be borne to Sylvia. Some
instinct told Philip that if the specksioneer had only flirted with
too many, yet that for Sylvia Robson his love was true and vehement.
Then Philip tried to convince himself that, from all that was said
of his previous character, Kinraid was not capable of an enduring
constant attachment; and with such poor opiate to his conscience as
he could obtain from this notion Philip was obliged to remain
content, until, a day or two after the first intelligence of the
presence of those three ships, he learned, with some trouble and
pains, that their names were the _Megoera_, the _Bellerophon_, and
the _Hanover_.

Then he began to perceive how unlikely it was that the _Alcestis_
should have been lingering on this shore all these many months. She
was, doubtless, gone far away by this time; she had, probably,
joined the fleet on the war station. Who could tell what had become
of her and her crew? she might have been in battle before now, and
if so---

So his previous fancies shrank to nothing, rebuked for their
improbability, and with them vanished his self-reproach. Yet there
were times when the popular attention seemed totally absorbed by the
dread of the press-gang; when no other subject was talked about--
hardly, in fact, thought about. At such flows of panic, Philip had
his own private fears lest a flash of light should come upon Sylvia,
and she should suddenly see that Kinraid's absence might be
accounted for in another way besides death. But when he reasoned,
this seemed unlikely. No man-of-war had been seen off the coast, or,
if seen, had never been spoken about, at the time of Kinraid's
disappearance. If he had vanished this winter time, every one would
have been convinced that the press-gang had seized upon him. Philip
had never heard any one breathe the dreaded name of the _Alcestis_.
Besides, he went on to think, at the farm they are out of hearing of
this one great weary subject of talk. But it was not so, as he
became convinced one evening. His aunt caught him a little aside
while Sylvia was in the dairy, and her husband talking in the
shippen with Kester.

'For good's sake, Philip, dunnot thee bring us talk about t'
press-gang. It's a thing as has got hold on my measter, till thou'd
think him possessed. He's speaking perpetual on it i' such a way,
that thou'd think he were itching to kill 'em a' afore he tasted
bread again. He really trembles wi' rage and passion; an' a' night
it's just as bad. He starts up i' his sleep, swearing and cursing at
'em, till I'm sometimes afeard he'll mak' an end o' me by mistake.
And what mun he do last night but open out on Charley Kinraid, and
tell Sylvie he thought m'appen t' gang had got hold on him. It might
make her cry a' her saut tears o'er again.'

Philip spoke, by no wish of his own, but as if compelled to speak.

'An' who knows but what it's true?'

The instant these words had come out of his lips he could have
bitten his tongue off. And yet afterwards it was a sort of balm to
his conscience that he had so spoken.

'What nonsense, Philip!' said his aunt; 'why, these fearsome ships
were far out o' sight when he went away, good go wi' him, and Sylvie
just getting o'er her trouble so nicely, and even my master went on
for to say if they'd getten hold on him, he were not a chap to stay
wi' 'em; he'd gi'en proofs on his hatred to 'em, time on. He either
ha' made off--an' then sure enough we should ha' heerd on him
somehow--them Corneys is full on him still and they've a deal to wi'
his folk beyond Newcassel--or, as my master says, he were just t'
chap to hang or drown hissel, sooner nor do aught against his will.'

'What did Sylvie say?' asked Philip, in a hoarse low voice.

'Say? why, a' she could say was to burst out crying, and after a
bit, she just repeated her feyther's words, and said anyhow he was
dead, for he'd niver live to go to sea wi' a press-gang. She knowed
him too well for that. Thou sees she thinks a deal on him for a
spirited chap, as can do what he will. I belie' me she first began
to think on him time o' t' fight aboard th' _Good Fortune_, when
Darley were killed, and he would seem tame-like to her if he
couldn't conquer press-gangs, and men-o'-war. She's sooner think on
him drowned, as she's ne'er to see him again.'

'It's best so,' said Philip, and then, to calm his unusually excited
aunt, he promised to avoid the subject of the press-gang as much as
possible.

But it was a promise very difficult of performance, for Daniel
Robson was, as his wife said, like one possessed. He could hardly
think of anything else, though he himself was occasionally weary of
the same constantly recurring idea, and would fain have banished it
from his mind. He was too old a man to be likely to be taken by
them; he had no son to become their victim; but the terror of them,
which he had braved and defied in his youth, seemed to come back and
take possession of him in his age; and with the terror came
impatient hatred. Since his wife's illness the previous winter he
had been a more sober man until now. He was never exactly drunk, for
he had a strong, well-seasoned head; but the craving to hear the
last news of the actions of the press-gang drew him into Monkshaven
nearly every day at this dead agricultural season of the year; and a
public-house is generally the focus from which gossip radiates; and
probably the amount of drink thus consumed weakened Robson's power
over his mind, and caused the concentration of thought on one
subject. This may be a physiological explanation of what afterwards
was spoken of as a supernatural kind of possession, leading him to
his doom.

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