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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXVII - GLOOMY DAYS
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXVII - GLOOMY DAYS Post by :webtraffic1 Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :1693

Click below to download : Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXVII - GLOOMY DAYS (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXVII - GLOOMY DAYS

Philip had money in the Fosters' bank, not so much as it might have
been if he had not had to pay for the furniture in his house. Much
of this furniture was old, and had belonged to the brothers Foster,
and they had let Philip have it at a very reasonable rate; but still
the purchase of it had diminished the amount of his savings. But on
the sum which he possessed he drew largely--he drew all--nay, he
overdrew his account somewhat, to his former masters' dismay,
although the kindness of their hearts overruled the harder arguments
of their heads.

All was wanted to defend Daniel Robson at the approaching York
assizes. His wife had handed over to Philip all the money or money's
worth she could lay her hands upon. Daniel himself was not one to be
much beforehand with the world; but to Bell's thrifty imagination
the round golden guineas, tied up in the old stocking-foot against
rent-day, seemed a mint of money on which Philip might draw
infinitely. As yet she did not comprehend the extent of her
husband's danger. Sylvia went about like one in a dream, keeping
back the hot tears that might interfere with the course of life she
had prescribed for herself in that terrible hour when she first
learnt all. Every penny of money either she or her mother could save
went to Philip. Kester's hoard, too, was placed in Hepburn's hands
at Sylvia's earnest entreaty; for Kester had no great opinion of
Philip's judgment, and would rather have taken his money straight
himself to Mr. Dawson, and begged him to use it for his master's
behoof.

Indeed, if anything, the noiseless breach between Kester and Philip
had widened of late. It was seed-time, and Philip, in his great
anxiety for every possible interest that might affect Sylvia, and
also as some distraction from his extreme anxiety about her father,
had taken to study agriculture of an evening in some old books which
he had borrowed--_The Farmer's Complete Guide_, and such like; and
from time to time he came down upon the practical dogged Kester with
directions gathered from the theories in his books. Of course the
two fell out, but without many words. Kester persevered in his old
ways, making light of Philip and his books in manner and action,
till at length Philip withdrew from the contest. 'Many a man may
lead a horse to water, but there's few can make him drink,' and
Philip certainly was not one of those few. Kester, indeed, looked
upon him with jealous eyes on many accounts. He had favoured Charley
Kinraid as a lover of Sylvia's; and though he had no idea of the
truth--though he believed in the drowning of the specksioneer as
much as any one--yet the year which had elapsed since Kinraid's
supposed death was but a very short while to the middle-aged man,
who forgot how slowly time passes with the young; and he could often
have scolded Sylvia, if the poor girl had been a whit less heavy at
heart than she was, for letting Philip come so much about her--come,
though it was on her father's business. For the darkness of their
common dread drew them together, occasionally to the comparative
exclusion of Bell and Kester, which the latter perceived and
resented. Kester even allowed himself to go so far as to wonder what
Philip could want with all the money, which to him seemed
unaccountable; and once or twice the ugly thought crossed his mind,
that shops conducted by young men were often not so profitable as
when guided by older heads, and that some of the coin poured into
Philip's keeping might have another destination than the defence of
his master. Poor Philip! and he was spending all his own, and more
than all his own money, and no one ever knew it, as he had bound
down his friendly bankers to secrecy.

Once only Kester ventured to speak to Sylvia on the subject of
Philip. She had followed her cousin to the field just in front of
their house, just outside the porch, to ask him some question she
dared not put in her mother's presence--(Bell, indeed, in her
anxiety, usually absorbed all the questions when Philip came)--and
stood, after Philip had bid her good-by, hardly thinking about him
at all, but looking unconsciously after him as he ascended the brow;
and at the top he had turned to take a last glance at the place his
love inhabited, and, seeing her, he had waved his hat in gratified
farewell. She, meanwhile, was roused from far other thoughts than of
him, and of his now acknowledged love, by the motion against the
sky, and was turning back into the house when she heard Kester's low
hoarse call, and saw him standing at the shippen door.

'Come hither, wench,' said he, indignantly; 'is this a time for
courtin'?'

'Courting?' said she, drawing up her head, and looking back at him
with proud defiance.

'Ay, courtin'! what other mak' o' thing is't when thou's gazin'
after yon meddlesome chap, as if thou'd send thy eyes after him, and
he making marlocks back at thee? It's what we ca'ed courtin' i' my
young days anyhow. And it's noane a time for a wench to go courtin'
when her feyther's i' prison,' said he, with a consciousness as he
uttered these last words that he was cruel and unjust and going too
far, yet carried on to say them by his hot jealousy against Philip.

Sylvia continued looking at him without speaking: she was too much
offended for expression.

'Thou may glower an' thou may look, lass,' said he, 'but a'd thought
better on thee. It's like last week thy last sweetheart were
drowned; but thou's not one to waste time i' rememberin' them as is
gone--if, indeed, thou iver cared a button for yon Kinraid--if it
wasn't a make-believe.'

Her lips were contracted and drawn up, showing her small glittering
teeth, which were scarcely apart as she breathed out--

'Thou thinks so, does thou, that I've forgetten _him_? Thou'd better
have a care o' thy tongue.'

Then, as if fearful that her self-command might give way, she turned
into the house; and going through the kitchen like a blind person,
she went up to her now unused chamber, and threw herself, face
downwards, flat on her bed, almost smothering herself.

Ever since Daniel's committal, the decay that had imperceptibly
begun in his wife's bodily and mental strength during her illness of
the previous winter, had been making quicker progress. She lost her
reticence of speech, and often talked to herself. She had not so
much forethought as of old; slight differences, it is true, but
which, with some others of the same description, gave foundation for
the homely expression which some now applied to Bell, 'She'll never
be t' same woman again.

This afternoon she had cried herself to sleep in her chair after
Philip's departure. She had not heard Sylvia's sweeping passage
through the kitchen; but half an hour afterwards she was startled up
by Kester's abrupt entry.

'Where's Sylvie?' asked he.

'I don't know,' said Bell, looking scared, and as if she was ready
to cry. 'It's no news about him?' said she, standing up, and
supporting herself on the stick she was now accustomed to use.

'Bless yo', no, dunnot be afeared, missus; it's only as a spoke
hasty to t' wench, an' a want t' tell her as a'm sorry,' said
Kester, advancing into the kitchen, and looking round for Sylvia.

'Sylvie, Sylvie!' shouted he; 'she mun be i' t' house.'

Sylvia came slowly down the stairs, and stood before him. Her face
was pale, her mouth set and determined; the light of her eyes veiled
in gloom. Kester shrank from her look, and even more from her
silence.

'A'm come to ax pardon,' said he, after a little pause.

She was still silent.

'A'm noane above axing pardon, though a'm fifty and more, and thee's
but a silly wench, as a've nursed i' my arms. A'll say before thy
mother as a ought niver to ha' used them words, and as how a'm sorry
for 't.'

'I don't understand it all,' said Bell, in a hurried and perplexed
tone. 'What has Kester been saying, my lass?' she added, turning to
Sylvia.

Sylvia went a step or two nearer to her mother, and took hold of her
hand as if to quieten her; then facing once more round, she said
deliberately to Kester,--

'If thou wasn't Kester, I'd niver forgive thee. Niver,' she added,
with bitterness, as the words he had used recurred to her mind.
'It's in me to hate thee now, for saying what thou did; but thou're
dear old Kester after all, and I can't help mysel', I mun needs
forgive thee,' and she went towards him. He took her little head
between his horny hands and kissed it. She looked up with tears in
her eyes, saying softly,--

'Niver say things like them again. Niver speak on----'

'A'll bite my tongue off first,' he interrupted.

He kept his word.

In all Philip's comings and goings to and from Haytersbank Farm at
this time, he never spoke again of his love. In look, words, manner,
he was like a thoughtful, tender brother; nothing more. He could be
nothing more in the presence of the great dread which loomed larger
upon him after every conversation with the lawyer.

For Mr. Donkin had been right in his prognostication. Government took
up the attack on the Rendezvous with a high and heavy hand. It was
necessary to assert authority which had been of late too often
braved. An example must be made, to strike dismay into those who
opposed and defied the press-gang; and all the minor authorities who
held their powers from Government were in a similar manner severe
and relentless in the execution of their duty. So the attorney, who
went over to see the prisoner in York Castle, told Philip. He added
that Daniel still retained his pride in his achievement, and could
not be brought to understand the dangerous position in which he was
placed; that when pressed and questioned as to circumstances that
might possibly be used in his defence, he always wandered off to
accounts of previous outrages committed by the press-gang, or to
passionate abuse of the trick by which men had been lured from their
homes on the night in question to assist in putting out an imaginary
fire, and then seized and carried off. Some of this very natural
indignation might possibly have some effect on the jury; and this
seemed the only ground of hope, and was indeed a slight one, as the
judge was likely to warn the jury against allowing their natural
sympathy in such a case to divert their minds from the real
question.

Such was the substance of what Philip heard, and heard repeatedly,
during his many visits to Mr. Dawson. And now the time of trial drew
near; for the York assizes opened on March the twelfth; not much
above three weeks since the offence was committed which took Daniel
from his home and placed him in peril of death.

Philip was glad that, the extremity of his danger never having been
hinted to Bell, and travelling some forty miles being a most unusual
exertion at that time to persons of her class, the idea of going to
see her husband at York had never suggested itself to Bell's mind.
Her increasing feebleness made this seem a step only to be taken in
case of the fatal extreme necessity; such was the conclusion that
both Sylvia and he had come to; and it was the knowledge of this
that made Sylvia strangle her own daily longing to see her father.
Not but that her hopes were stronger than her fears. Philip never
told her the causes for despondency; she was young, and she, like
her father, could not understand how fearful sometimes is the
necessity for prompt and severe punishment of rebellion against
authority.

Philip was to be in York during the time of the assizes; and it was
understood, almost without words, that if the terrible worst
occurred, the wife and daughter were to come to York as soon as
might be. For this end Philip silently made all the necessary
arrangements before leaving Monkshaven. The sympathy of all men was
with him; it was too large an occasion for Coulson to be anything
but magnanimous. He urged Philip to take all the time requisite; to
leave all business cares to him. And as Philip went about pale and
sad, there was another cheek that grew paler still, another eye that
filled with quiet tears as his heaviness of heart became more and
more apparent. The day for opening the assizes came on. Philip was
in York Minster, watching the solemn antique procession in which the
highest authority in the county accompanies the judges to the House
of the Lord, to be there admonished as to the nature of their
duties. As Philip listened to the sermon with a strained and beating
heart, his hopes rose higher than his fears for the first time, and
that evening he wrote his first letter to Sylvia.

'DEAR SYLVIA,

'It will be longer first than I thought for. Mr. Dawson says Tuesday
in next week. But keep up your heart. I have been hearing the sermon
to-day which is preached to the judges; and the clergyman said so
much in it about mercy and forgiveness, I think they cannot fail to
be lenient this assize. I have seen uncle, who looks but thin, but
is in good heart: only he will keep saying he would do it over again
if he had the chance, which neither Mr. Dawson nor I think is wise in
him, in especial as the gaoler is by and hears every word as is
said. He was very fain of hearing all about home; and wants you to
rear Daisy's calf, as he thinks she will prove a good one. He bade
me give his best love to you and my aunt, and his kind duty to
Kester.

'Sylvia, will you try and forget how I used to scold you about your
writing and spelling, and just write me two or three lines. I think
I would rather have them badly spelt than not, because then I shall
be sure they are yours. And never mind about capitals; I was a fool
to say such a deal about them, for a man does just as well without
them. A letter from you would do a vast to keep me patient all these
days till Tuesday. Direct--

'Mr. Philip Hepburn,

'Care of Mr. Fraser, Draper,
'Micklegate, York.
'My affectionate duty to my aunt.
'Your respectful cousin and servant,
'PHILIP HEPBURN.

'P.S. The sermon was grand. The text was Zechariah vii. 9, "Execute
true judgment and show mercy." God grant it may have put mercy into
the judge's heart as is to try my uncle.'

Heavily the days passed over. On Sunday Bell and Sylvia went to
church, with a strange, half-superstitious feeling, as if they could
propitiate the Most High to order the events in their favour by
paying Him the compliment of attending to duties in their time of
sorrow which they had too often neglected in their prosperous days.

But He 'who knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust,'
took pity upon His children, and sent some of His blessed peace into
their hearts, else they could scarce have endured the agony of
suspense of those next hours. For as they came slowly and wearily
home from church, Sylvia could no longer bear her secret, but told
her mother of the peril in which Daniel stood. Cold as the March
wind blew, they had not felt it, and had sate down on a hedge bank
for Bell to rest. And then Sylvia spoke, trembling and sick for
fear, yet utterly unable to keep silence any longer. Bell heaved up
her hands, and let them fall down on her knees before she replied.

'The Lord is above us,' said she, solemnly. 'He has sent a fear o'
this into my heart afore now. I niver breathed it to thee, my
lass----'

'And I niver spoke on it to thee, mother, because----'

Sylvia choked with crying, and laid her head on her mother's lap,
feeling that she was no longer the strong one, and the protector,
but the protected. Bell went on, stroking her head,

'The Lord is like a tender nurse as weans a child to look on and to
like what it lothed once. He has sent me dreams as has prepared me
for this, if so be it comes to pass.

'Philip is hopeful,' said Sylvia, raising her head and looking
through her tears at her mother.

'Ay, he is. And I cannot tell, but I think it's not for nought as
the Lord has ta'en away all fear o' death out o' my heart. I think
He means as Daniel and me is to go hand-in-hand through the
valley--like as we walked up to our wedding in Crosthwaite Church. I
could never guide th' house without Daniel, and I should be feared
he'd take a deal more nor is good for him without me.'

'But me, mother, thou's forgetting me,' moaned out Sylvia. 'Oh,
mother, mother, think on me!'

'Nay, my lass, I'm noane forgetting yo'. I'd a sore heart a' last
winter a-thinking on thee, when that chap Kinraid were hanging about
thee. I'll noane speak ill on the dead, but I were uneasylike. But
sin' Philip and thee seem to ha' made it up----'

Sylvia shivered, and opened her mouth to speak, but did not say a
word.

'And sin' the Lord has been comforting me, and talking to me many a
time when thou's thought I were asleep, things has seemed to redd
theirselves up, and if Daniel goes, I'm ready to follow. I could
niver stand living to hear folks say he'd been hung; it seems so
unnatural and shameful.'

'But, mother, he won't!--he shan't be hung!' said Sylvia, springing
to her feet. 'Philip says he won't.'

Bell shook her head. They walked on, Sylvia both disheartened and
almost irritated at her mother's despondency. But before they went
to bed at night Bell said things which seemed as though the
morning's feelings had been but temporary, and as if she was
referring every decision to the period of her husband's return.
'When father comes home,' seemed a sort of burden at the beginning
or end of every sentence, and this reliance on his certain coming
back to them was almost as great a trial to Sylvia as the absence of
all hope had been in the morning. But that instinct told her that
her mother was becoming incapable of argument, she would have asked
her why her views were so essentially changed in so few hours. This
inability of reason in poor Bell made Sylvia feel very desolate.

Monday passed over--how, neither of them knew, for neither spoke of
what was filling the thoughts of both. Before it was light on
Tuesday morning, Bell was astir.

'It's very early, mother,' said weary, sleepy Sylvia, dreading
returning consciousness.

'Ay, lass!' said Bell, in a brisk, cheerful tone; 'but he'll, maybe,
be home to-night, and I'se bound to have all things ready for him.'

'Anyhow,' said Sylvia, sitting up in bed, 'he couldn't come home
to-night.'

'Tut, lass! thou doesn't know how quick a man comes home to wife and
child. I'll be a' ready at any rate.'

She hurried about in a way which Sylvia wondered to see; till at
length she fancied that perhaps her mother did so to drive away
thought. Every place was cleaned; there was scarce time allowed for
breakfast; till at last, long before mid-day, all the work was done,
and the two sat down to their spinning-wheels. Sylvia's spirits sank
lower and lower at each speech of her mother's, from whose mind all
fear seemed to have disappeared, leaving only a strange restless
kind of excitement.

'It's time for t' potatoes,' said Bell, after her wool had snapped
many a time from her uneven tread.

'Mother,' said Sylvia, 'it's but just gone ten!'

'Put 'em on,' said Bell, without attending to the full meaning of
her daughter's words. 'It'll, maybe, hasten t' day on if we get
dinner done betimes.'

'But Kester is in t' Far Acre field, and he'll not be home till
noon.'

This seemed to settle matters for a while; but then Bell pushed her
wheel away, and began searching for her hood and cloak. Sylvia found
them for her, and then asked sadly--

'What does ta want 'em for, mother?'

'I'll go up t' brow and through t' field, and just have a look down
t' lane.'

'I'll go wi' thee,' said Sylvia, feeling all the time the
uselessness of any looking for intelligence from York so early in
the day. Very patiently did she wait by her mother's side during the
long half-hour which Bell spent in gazing down the road for those
who never came.

When they got home Sylvia put the potatoes on to boil; but when
dinner was ready and the three were seated at the dresser, Bell
pushed her plate away from her, saying it was so long after dinner
time that she was past eating. Kester would have said something
about its being only half-past twelve, but Sylvia gave him a look
beseeching silence, and he went on with his dinner without a word,
only brushing away the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand
from time to time.

'A'll noane go far fra' home t' rest o' t' day,' said he, in a
whisper to Sylvia, as he went out.

'Will this day niver come to an end?' cried Bell, plaintively.

'Oh, mother! it'll come to an end some time, never fear. I've heerd
say--
"Be the day weary or be the day long,
At length it ringeth to even-song."'

'To even-song--to even-song,' repeated Bell. 'D'ye think now that
even-song means death, Sylvie?'

'I cannot tell--I cannot bear it. Mother,' said Sylvia, in despair,
'I'll make some clap-bread: that's a heavy job, and will while away
t' afternoon.'

'Ay, do!' replied the mother. 'He'll like it fresh--he'll like it
fresh.'

Murmuring and talking to herself, she fell into a doze, from which
Sylvia was careful not to disturb her.

The days were now getting long, although as cold as ever; and at
Haytersbank Farm the light lingered, as there was no near horizon to
bring on early darkness. Sylvia had all ready for her mother's tea
against she wakened; but she slept on and on, the peaceful sleep of
a child, and Sylvia did not care to waken her. Just after the sun
had set, she saw Kester outside the window making signs to her to
come out. She stole out on tip-toe by the back-kitchen, the door of
which was standing open. She almost ran against Philip, who did not
perceive her, as he was awaiting her coming the other way round the
corner of the house, and who turned upon her a face whose import she
read in an instant. 'Philip!' was all she said, and then she fainted
at his feet, coming down with a heavy bang on the round paving
stones of the yard.

'Kester! Kester!' he cried, for she looked like one dead, and with
all his strength the wearied man could not lift her and carry her
into the house.

With Kester's help she was borne into the back-kitchen, and Kester
rushed to the pump for some cold water to throw over her.

While Philip, kneeling at her head, was partly supporting her in his
arms, and heedless of any sight or sound, the shadow of some one
fell upon him. He looked up and saw his aunt; the old dignified,
sensible expression on her face, exactly like her former self,
composed, strong, and calm.

'My lass,' said she, sitting down by Philip, and gently taking her
out of his arms into her own. 'Lass, bear up! we mun bear up, and be
agait on our way to him, he'll be needing us now. Bear up, my lass!
the Lord will give us strength. We mun go to him; ay, time's
precious; thou mun cry thy cry at after!'

Sylvia opened her dim eyes, and heard her mother's voice; the ideas
came slowly into her mind, and slowly she rose up, standing still,
like one who has been stunned, to regain her strength; and then,
taking hold of her mother's arm, she said, in a soft, strange
voice--

'Let's go. I'm ready.'

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