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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXIII - AN APPARITION
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXIII - AN APPARITION Post by :Shannon_Brown Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :2384

Click below to download : Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXIII - AN APPARITION (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXIII - AN APPARITION

Mrs. Robson was very poorly all night long. Uneasy thoughts seemed
to haunt and perplex her brain, and she neither slept nor woke, but
was restless and uneasy in her talk and movements.

Sylvia lay down by her, but got so little sleep, that at length she
preferred sitting in the easy-chair by the bedside. Here she dropped
off to slumber in spite of herself; the scene of the evening before
seemed to be repeated; the cries of the many people, the heavy roar
and dash of the threatening waves, were repeated in her ears; and
something was said to her through all the conflicting noises,--what
it was she could not catch, though she strained to hear the hoarse
murmur that, in her dream, she believed to convey a meaning of the
utmost importance to her.

This dream, that mysterious, only half-intelligible sound, recurred
whenever she dozed, and her inability to hear the words uttered
distressed her so much, that at length she sate bolt upright,
resolved to sleep no more. Her mother was talking in a
half-conscious way; Philip's speech of the evening before was
evidently running in her mind.

'Sylvie, if thou're not a good wife to him, it'll just break my
heart outright. A woman should obey her husband, and not go her own
gait. I never leave the house wi'out telling father, and getting his
leave.'

And then she began to cry pitifully, and to say unconnected things,
till Sylvia, to soothe her, took her hand, and promised never to
leave the house without asking her husband's permission, though in
making this promise, she felt as if she were sacrificing her last
pleasure to her mother's wish; for she knew well enough that Philip
would always raise objections to the rambles which reminded her of
her old free open-air life.

But to comfort and cherish her mother she would have done anything;
yet this very morning that was dawning, she must go and ask his
permission for a simple errand, or break her word.

She knew from experience that nothing quieted her mother so well as
balm-tea; it might be that the herb really possessed some sedative
power; it might be only early faith, and often repeated experience,
but it had always had a tranquillizing effect; and more than once,
during the restless hours of the night, Mrs. Robson had asked for it;
but Sylvia's stock of last year's dead leaves was exhausted. Still
she knew where a plant of balm grew in the sheltered corner of
Haytersbank Farm garden; she knew that the tenants who had succeeded
them in the occupation of the farm had had to leave it in
consequence of a death, and that the place was unoccupied; and in
the darkness she had planned that if she could leave her mother
after the dawn came, and she had attended to her baby, she would
walk quickly to the old garden, and gather the tender sprigs which
she was sure to find there.

Now she must go and ask Philip; and till she held her baby to her
breast, she bitterly wished that she were free from the duties and
chains of matrimony. But the touch of its waxen fingers, the hold of
its little mouth, made her relax into docility and gentleness. She
gave it back to Nancy to be dressed, and softly opened the door of
Philip's bed-room.

'Philip!' said she, gently. 'Philip!'

He started up from dreams of her; of her, angry. He saw her there,
rather pale with her night's watch and anxiety, but looking meek,
and a little beseeching.

'Mother has had such a bad night! she fancied once as some balm-tea
would do her good--it allays used to: but my dried balm is all gone,
and I thought there'd be sure to be some in t' old garden at
Haytersbank. Feyther planted a bush just for mother, wheere it
allays came up early, nigh t' old elder-tree; and if yo'd not mind,
I could run theere while she sleeps, and be back again in an hour,
and it's not seven now.'

'Thou's not wear thyself out with running, Sylvie,' said Philip,
eagerly; 'I'll get up and go myself, or, perhaps,' continued he,
catching the shadow that was coming over her face, 'thou'd rather go
thyself: it's only that I'm so afraid of thy tiring thyself.'

'It'll not tire me,' said Sylvia. 'Afore I was married, I was out
often far farther than that, afield to fetch up t' kine, before my
breakfast.'

'Well, go if thou will,' said Philip. 'But get somewhat to eat
first, and don't hurry; there's no need for that.'

She had got her hat and shawl, and was off before he had finished
his last words.

The long High Street was almost empty of people at that early hour;
one side was entirely covered by the cool morning shadow which lay
on the pavement, and crept up the opposite houses till only the
topmost story caught the rosy sunlight. Up the hill-road, through
the gap in the stone wall, across the dewy fields, Sylvia went by
the very shortest path she knew.

She had only once been at Haytersbank since her wedding-day. On that
occasion the place had seemed strangely and dissonantly changed by
the numerous children who were diverting themselves before the open
door, and whose playthings and clothes strewed the house-place, and
made it one busy scene of confusion and untidiness, more like the
Corneys' kitchen in former times, than her mother's orderly and
quiet abode. Those little children were fatherless now; and the
house was shut up, awaiting the entry of some new tenant. There were
no shutters to shut; the long low window was blinking in the rays of
the morning sun; the house and cow-house doors were closed, and no
poultry wandered about the field in search of stray grains of corn,
or early worms. It was a strange and unfamiliar silence, and struck
solemnly on Sylvia's mind. Only a thrush in the old orchard down in
the hollow, out of sight, whistled and gurgled with continual shrill
melody.

Sylvia went slowly past the house and down the path leading to the
wild, deserted bit of garden. She saw that the last tenants had had
a pump sunk for them, and resented the innovation, as though the
well she was passing could feel the insult. Over it grew two
hawthorn trees; on the bent trunk of one of them she used to sit,
long ago: the charm of the position being enhanced by the possible
danger of falling into the well and being drowned. The rusty unused
chain was wound round the windlass; the bucket was falling to pieces
from dryness. A lean cat came from some outhouse, and mewed
pitifully with hunger; accompanying Sylvia to the garden, as if glad
of some human companionship, yet refusing to allow itself to be
touched. Primroses grew in the sheltered places, just as they
formerly did; and made the uncultivated ground seem less deserted
than the garden, where the last year's weeds were rotting away, and
cumbering the ground.

Sylvia forced her way through the berry bushes to the herb-plot, and
plucked the tender leaves she had come to seek; sighing a little all
the time. Then she retraced her steps; paused softly before the
house-door, and entered the porch and kissed the senseless wood.

She tried to tempt the poor gaunt cat into her arms, meaning to
carry it home and befriend it; but it was scared by her endeavour
and ran back to its home in the outhouse, making a green path across
the white dew of the meadow. Then Sylvia began to hasten home,
thinking, and remembering--at the stile that led into the road she
was brought short up.

Some one stood in the lane just on the other side of the gap; his
back was to the morning sun; all she saw at first was the uniform of
a naval officer, so well known in Monkshaven in those days.

Sylvia went hurrying past him, not looking again, although her
clothes almost brushed his, as he stood there still. She had not
gone a yard--no, not half a yard--when her heart leaped up and fell
again dead within her, as if she had been shot.

'Sylvia!' he said, in a voice tremulous with joy and passionate
love. 'Sylvia!'

She looked round; he had turned a little, so that the light fell
straight on his face. It was bronzed, and the lines were
strengthened; but it was the same face she had last seen in
Haytersbank Gully three long years ago, and had never thought to see
in life again.

He was close to her and held out his fond arms; she went fluttering
towards their embrace, as if drawn by the old fascination; but when
she felt them close round her, she started away, and cried out with
a great pitiful shriek, and put her hands up to her forehead as if
trying to clear away some bewildering mist.

Then she looked at him once more, a terrible story in her eyes, if
he could but have read it.

Twice she opened her stiff lips to speak, and twice the words were
overwhelmed by the surges of her misery, which bore them back into
the depths of her heart.

He thought that he had come upon her too suddenly, and he attempted
to soothe her with soft murmurs of love, and to woo her to his
outstretched hungry arms once more. But when she saw this motion of
his, she made a gesture as though pushing him away; and with an
inarticulate moan of agony she put her hands to her head once more,
and turning away began to run blindly towards the town for
protection.

For a minute or so he was stunned with surprise at her behaviour;
and then he thought it accounted for by the shock of his accost, and
that she needed time to understand the unexpected joy. So he
followed her swiftly, ever keeping her in view, but not trying to
overtake her too speedily.

'I have frightened my poor love,' he kept thinking. And by this
thought he tried to repress his impatience and check the speed he
longed to use; yet he was always so near behind that her quickened
sense heard his well-known footsteps following, and a mad notion
flashed across her brain that she would go to the wide full river,
and end the hopeless misery she felt enshrouding her. There was a
sure hiding-place from all human reproach and heavy mortal woe
beneath the rushing waters borne landwards by the morning tide.

No one can tell what changed her course; perhaps the thought of her
sucking child; perhaps her mother; perhaps an angel of God; no one
on earth knows, but as she ran along the quay-side she all at once
turned up an entry, and through an open door.

He, following all the time, came into a quiet dark parlour, with a
cloth and tea-things on the table ready for breakfast; the change
from the bright sunny air out of doors to the deep shadow of this
room made him think for the first moment that she had passed on, and
that no one was there, and he stood for an instant baffled, and
hearing no sound but the beating of his own heart; but an
irrepressible sobbing gasp made him look round, and there he saw her
cowered behind the door, her face covered tight up, and sharp
shudders going through her whole frame.

'My love, my darling!' said he, going up to her, and trying to raise
her, and to loosen her hands away from her face. 'I've been too
sudden for thee: it was thoughtless in me; but I have so looked
forward to this time, and seeing thee come along the field, and go
past me, but I should ha' been more tender and careful of thee. Nay!
let me have another look of thy sweet face.'

All this he whispered in the old tones of manoeuvring love, in that
voice she had yearned and hungered to hear in life, and had not
heard, for all her longing, save in her dreams.

She tried to crouch more and more into the corner, into the hidden
shadow--to sink into the ground out of sight.

Once more he spoke, beseeching her to lift up her face, to let him
hear her speak.

But she only moaned.

'Sylvia!' said he, thinking he could change his tactics, and pique
her into speaking, that he would make a pretence of suspicion and
offence.

'Sylvia! one would think you weren't glad to see me back again at
length. I only came in late last night, and my first thought on
wakening was of you; it has been ever since I left you.'

Sylvia took her hands away from her face; it was gray as the face of
death; her awful eyes were passionless in her despair.

'Where have yo' been?' she asked, in slow, hoarse tones, as if her
voice were half strangled within her.

'Been!' said he, a red light coming into his eyes, as he bent his
looks upon her; now, indeed, a true and not an assumed suspicion
entering his mind.

'Been!' he repeated; then, coming a step nearer to her, and taking
her hand, not tenderly this time, but with a resolution to be
satisfied.

'Did not your cousin--Hepburn, I mean--did not he tell you?--he saw
the press-gang seize me,--I gave him a message to you--I bade you
keep true to me as I would be to you.'

Between every clause of this speech he paused and gasped for her
answer; but none came. Her eyes dilated and held his steady gaze
prisoner as with a magical charm--neither could look away from the
other's wild, searching gaze. When he had ended, she was silent for
a moment, then she cried out, shrill and fierce,--

'Philip!' No answer.

Wilder and shriller still, 'Philip!' she cried.

He was in the distant ware-room completing the last night's work
before the regular shop hours began; before breakfast, also, that
his wife might not find him waiting and impatient.

He heard her cry; it cut through doors, and still air, and great
bales of woollen stuff; he thought that she had hurt herself, that
her mother was worse, that her baby was ill, and he hastened to the
spot whence the cry proceeded.

On opening the door that separated the shop from the sitting-room,
he saw the back of a naval officer, and his wife on the ground,
huddled up in a heap; when she perceived him come in, she dragged
herself up by means of a chair, groping like a blind person, and
came and stood facing him.

The officer turned fiercely round, and would have come towards
Philip, who was so bewildered by the scene that even yet he did not
understand who the stranger was, did not perceive for an instant
that he saw the realization of his greatest dread.

But Sylvia laid her hand on Kinraid's arm, and assumed to herself
the right of speech. Philip did not know her voice, it was so
changed.

'Philip,' she said, 'this is Kinraid come back again to wed me. He
is alive; he has niver been dead, only taken by t' press-gang. And
he says yo' saw it, and knew it all t' time. Speak, was it so?'

Philip knew not what to say, whither to turn, under what refuge of
words or acts to shelter.

Sylvia's influence was keeping Kinraid silent, but he was rapidly
passing beyond it.

'Speak!' he cried, loosening himself from Sylvia's light grasp, and
coming towards Philip, with a threatening gesture. 'Did I not bid
you tell her how it was? Did I not bid you say how I would be
faithful to her, and she was to be faithful to me? Oh! you damned
scoundrel! have you kept it from her all that time, and let her
think me dead, or false? Take that!'

His closed fist was up to strike the man, who hung his head with
bitterest shame and miserable self-reproach; but Sylvia came swift
between the blow and its victim.

'Charley, thou shan't strike him,' she said. 'He is a damned
scoundrel' (this was said in the hardest, quietest tone) 'but he is
my husband.'

'Oh! thou false heart!' exclaimed Kinraid, turning sharp on her. 'If
ever I trusted woman, I trusted you, Sylvia Robson.'

He made as though throwing her from him, with a gesture of contempt
that stung her to life.

'Oh, Charley!' she cried, springing to him, 'dunnot cut me to the
quick; have pity on me, though he had none. I did so love thee; it
was my very heart-strings as gave way when they told me thou was
drowned--feyther, and th' Corneys, and all, iverybody. Thy hat and
t' bit o' ribbon I gave thee were found drenched and dripping wi'
sea-water; and I went mourning for thee all the day long--dunnot
turn away from me; only hearken this once, and then kill me dead,
and I'll bless yo',--and have niver been mysel' since; niver ceased
to feel t' sun grow dark and th' air chill and dreary when I thought
on t' time when thou was alive. I did, my Charley, my own love! And
I thought thou was dead for iver, and I wished I were lying beside
thee. Oh, Charley! Philip, theere, where he stands, could tell yo'
this was true. Philip, wasn't it so?'

'Would God I were dead!' moaned forth the unhappy, guilty man. But
she had turned to Kinraid, and was speaking again to him, and
neither of them heard or heeded him--they were drawing closer and
closer together--she, with her cheeks and eyes aflame, talking
eagerly.

'And feyther was taken up, and all for setting some free as t'
press-gang had gotten by a foul trick; and he were put i' York
prison, and tried, and hung!--hung! Charley!--good kind feyther was
hung on a gallows; and mother lost her sense and grew silly in
grief, and we were like to be turned out on t' wide world, and poor
mother dateless--and I thought yo' were dead--oh! I thought yo' were
dead, I did--oh, Charley, Charley!'

By this time they were in each other's arms, she with her head on
his shoulder, crying as if her heart would break.

Philip came forwards and took hold of her to pull her away; but
Charley held her tight, mutely defying Philip. Unconsciously she was
Philip's protection, in that hour of danger, from a blow which might
have been his death if strong will could have aided it to kill.

'Sylvie!' said he, grasping her tight. 'Listen to me. He didn't love
yo' as I did. He had loved other women. I, yo'--yo' alone. He loved
other girls before yo', and had left off loving 'em. I--I wish God
would free my heart from the pang; but it will go on till I die,
whether yo' love me or not. And then--where was I? Oh! that very
night that he was taken, I was a-thinking on yo' and on him; and I
might ha' given yo' his message, but I heard them speaking of him as
knew him well; talking of his false fickle ways. How was I to know
he would keep true to thee? It might be a sin in me, I cannot say;
my heart and my sense are gone dead within me. I know this, I've
loved yo' as no man but me ever loved before. Have some pity and
forgiveness on me, if it's only because I've been so tormented with
my love.'

He looked at her with feverish eager wistfulness; it faded away into
despair as she made no sign of having even heard his words. He let
go his hold of her, and his arm fell loosely by his side.

'I may die,' he said, 'for my life is ended!'

'Sylvia!' spoke out Kinraid, bold and fervent, 'your marriage is no
marriage. You were tricked into it. You are my wife, not his. I am
your husband; we plighted each other our troth. See! here is my half
of the sixpence.'

He pulled it out from his bosom, tied by a black ribbon round his
neck.

'When they stripped me and searched me in th' French prison, I
managed to keep this. No lies can break the oath we swore to each
other. I can get your pretence of a marriage set aside. I'm in
favour with my admiral, and he'll do a deal for me, and back me out.
Come with me; your marriage shall be set aside, and we'll be married
again, all square and above-board. Come away. Leave that damned
fellow to repent of the trick he played an honest sailor; we'll be
true, whatever has come and gone. Come, Sylvia.'

His arm was round her waist, and he was drawing her towards the
door, his face all crimson with eagerness and hope. Just then the
baby cried.

'Hark!' said she, starting away from Kinraid, 'baby's crying for me.
His child--yes, it is his child--I'd forgotten that--forgotten all.
I'll make my vow now, lest I lose mysel' again. I'll never forgive
yon man, nor live with him as his wife again. All that's done and
ended. He's spoilt my life,--he's spoilt it for as long as iver I
live on this earth; but neither yo' nor him shall spoil my soul. It
goes hard wi' me, Charley, it does indeed. I'll just give yo' one
kiss--one little kiss--and then, so help me God, I'll niver see nor
hear till--no, not that, not that is needed--I'll niver see--sure
that's enough--I'll never see yo' again on this side heaven, so help
me God! I'm bound and tied, but I've sworn my oath to him as well as
yo': there's things I will do, and there's things I won't. Kiss me
once more. God help me, he's gone!'

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Meanwhile Hester came and went as usual; in so quiet and methodicala way, with so even and undisturbed a temper, that she was almostforgotten when everything went well in the shop or household. Shewas a star, the brightness of which was only recognized in times ofdarkness. She herself was almost surprised at her own increasingregard for Sylvia. She had not thought she should ever be able tolove the woman who had been such a laggard in acknowledging Philip'smerits; and from all she had ever heard of Sylvia before she came toknow her, from the angry words with which Sylvia had received
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