[Editor's Note:—The chapter numbering for volume 2 & 3 was changed from the original in order to have unique chapter numbers for the complete version, so volume 2 starts with chapter XV and volume 3 starts with chapter XXX.]
Oh for thy voice to soothe and bless! What hope of answer, or redress? Behind the veil! Behind the veil!—Tennyson
IN THREE VOLUMES.
XXX HAPPY DAYS XXXI EVIL OMENS XXXII RESCUED FROM THE WAVES XXXIII AN APPARITION XXXIV A RECKLESS RECRUIT XXXV THINGS UNUTTERABLE XXXVI MYSTERIOUS TIDINGS XXXVII BEREAVEMENT XXXVIII THE RECOGNITION XXXIX CONFIDENCES XL AN UNEXPECTED MESSENGER XLI THE BEDESMAN OF ST SEPULCHRE XLII A FABLE AT FAULT XLIII THE UNKNOWN XLIV FIRST WORDS XLV SAVED AND LOST
And now Philip seemed as prosperous as his heart could desire. The business flourished, and money beyond his moderate wants came in. As for himself he required very little; but he had always looked forward to placing his idol in a befitting shrine; and means for this were now furnished to him. The dress, the comforts, the position he had desired for Sylvia were all hers. She did not need to do a stroke of household work if she preferred to 'sit in her parlour and sew up a seam'. Indeed Phoebe resented any interference in the domestic labour, which she had performed so long, that she looked upon the kitchen as a private empire of her own. 'Mrs Hepburn' (as Sylvia was now termed) had a good dark silk gown-piece in her drawers, as well as the poor dove-coloured, against the day when she chose to leave off mourning; and stuff for either gray or scarlet cloaks was hers at her bidding.
What she cared for far more were the comforts with which it was in her power to surround her mother. In this Philip vied with her; for besides his old love, and new pity for his aunt Bell, he never forgot how she had welcomed him to Haytersbank, and favoured his love to Sylvia, in the yearning days when he little hoped he should ever win his cousin to be his wife. But even if he had not had these grateful and affectionate feelings towards the poor woman, he would have done much for her if only to gain the sweet, rare smiles which his wife never bestowed upon him so freely as when she saw him attending to 'mother,' for so both of them now called Bell. For her creature comforts, her silk gowns, and her humble luxury, Sylvia did not care; Philip was almost annoyed at the indifference she often manifested to all his efforts to surround her with such things. It was even a hardship to her to leave off her country dress, her uncovered hair, her linsey petticoat, and loose bed-gown, and to don a stiff and stately gown for her morning dress. Sitting in the dark parlour at the back of the shop, and doing 'white work,' was much more wearying to her than running out into the fields to bring up the cows, or spinning wool, or making up butter. She sometimes thought to herself that it was a strange kind of life where there were no out-door animals to look after; the 'ox and the ass' had hitherto come into all her ideas of humanity; and her care and gentleness had made the dumb creatures round her father's home into mute friends with loving eyes, looking at her as if wistful to speak in words the grateful regard that she could read without the poor expression of language.
She missed the free open air, the great dome of sky above the fields; she rebelled against the necessity of 'dressing' (as she called it) to go out, although she acknowledged that it was a necessity where the first step beyond the threshold must be into a populous street.
It is possible that Philip was right at one time when he had thought to win her by material advantages; but the old vanities had been burnt out of her by the hot iron of acute suffering. A great deal of passionate feeling still existed, concealed and latent; but at this period it appeared as though she were indifferent to most things, and had lost the power of either hoping or fearing much. She was stunned into a sort of temporary numbness on most points; those on which she was sensitive being such as referred to the injustice and oppression of her father's death, or anything that concerned her mother.
She was quiet even to passiveness in all her dealings with Philip; he would have given not a little for some of the old bursts of impatience, the old pettishness, which, naughty as they were, had gone to form his idea of the former Sylvia. Once or twice he was almost vexed with her for her docility; he wanted her so much to have a will of her own, if only that he might know how to rouse her to pleasure by gratifying it. Indeed he seldom fell asleep at nights without his last thoughts being devoted to some little plan for the morrow, that he fancied she would like; and when he wakened in the early dawn he looked to see if she were indeed sleeping by his side, or whether it was not all a dream that he called Sylvia 'wife.'
He was aware that her affection for him was not to be spoken of in the same way as his for her, but he found much happiness in only being allowed to love and cherish her; and with the patient perseverance that was one remarkable feature in his character, he went on striving to deepen and increase her love when most other men would have given up the endeavour, made themselves content with half a heart, and turned to some other object of attainment. All this time Philip was troubled by a dream that recurred whenever he was over-fatigued, or otherwise not in perfect health. Over and over again in this first year of married life he dreamt this dream; perhaps as many as eight or nine times, and it never varied. It was always of Kinraid's return; Kinraid was full of life in Philip's dream, though in his waking hours he could and did convince himself by all the laws of probability that his rival was dead. He never remembered the exact sequence of events in that terrible dream after he had roused himself, with a fight and a struggle, from his feverish slumbers. He was generally sitting up in bed when he found himself conscious, his heart beating wildly, with a conviction of Kinraid's living presence somewhere near him in the darkness. Occasionally Sylvia was disturbed by his agitation, and would question him about his dreams, having, like most of her class at that time, great faith in their prophetic interpretation; but Philip never gave her any truth in his reply.
After all, and though he did not acknowledge it even to himself, the long-desired happiness was not so delicious and perfect as he had anticipated. Many have felt the same in their first year of married life; but the faithful, patient nature that still works on, striving to gain love, and capable itself of steady love all the while, is a gift not given to all.
For many weeks after their wedding, Kester never came near them: a chance word or two from Sylvia showed Philip that she had noticed this and regretted it; and, accordingly, he made it his business at the next leisure opportunity to go to Haytersbank (never saying a word to his wife of his purpose), and seek out Kester.
All the whole place was altered! It was new white-washed, new thatched: the patches of colour in the surrounding ground were changed with altered tillage; the great geraniums were gone from the window, and instead, was a smart knitted blind. Children played before the house-door; a dog lying on the step flew at Philip; all was so strange, that it was even the strangest thing of all for Kester to appear where everything else was so altered!
Philip had to put up with a good deal of crabbed behaviour on the part of the latter before he could induce Kester to promise to come down into the town and see Sylvia in her new home.
Somehow, the visit when paid was but a failure; at least, it seemed so at the time, though probably it broke the ice of restraint which was forming over the familiar intercourse between Kester and Sylvia. The old servant was daunted by seeing Sylvia in a strange place, and stood, sleeking his hair down, and furtively looking about him, instead of seating himself on the chair Sylvia had so eagerly brought forward for him.
Then his sense of the estrangement caused by their new positions infected her, and she began to cry pitifully, saying,—
'Oh, Kester! Kester! tell me about Haytersbank! Is it just as it used to be in feyther's days?'
'Well, a cannot say as it is,' said Kester, thankful to have a subject started. 'They'n pleughed up t' oud pasture-field, and are settin' it for 'taters. They're not for much cattle, isn't Higginses. They'll be for corn in t' next year, a reckon, and they'll just ha' their pains for their payment. But they're allays so pig-headed, is folk fra' a distance.'
So they went on discoursing on Haytersbank and the old days, till Bell Robson, having finished her afternoon nap, came slowly down-stairs to join them; and after that the conversation became so broken up, from the desire of the other two to attend and reply as best they could to her fragmentary and disjointed talk, that Kester took his leave before long; falling, as he did so, into the formal and unnaturally respectful manner which he had adopted on first coming in.
But Sylvia ran after him, and brought him back from the door.
'To think of thy going away, Kester, without either bit or drink; nay, come back wi' thee, and taste wine and cake.'
Kester stood at the door, half shy, half pleased, while Sylvia, in all the glow and hurry of a young housekeeper's hospitality, sought for the decanter of wine, and a wine-glass in the corner cupboard, and hastily cut an immense wedge of cake, which she crammed into his hand in spite of his remonstrances; and then she poured him out an overflowing glass of wine, which Kester would far rather have gone without, as he knew manners too well to suppose that he might taste it without having gone through the preliminary ceremony of wishing the donor health and happiness. He stood red and half smiling, with his cake in one hand, his wine in the other, and then began,—
'Long may ye live, Happy may ye he, And blest with a num'rous Pro-ge-ny.'
'Theere, that's po'try for yo' as I larnt i' my youth. But there's a deal to be said as cannot be put int' po'try, an' yet a cannot say it, somehow. It 'd tax a parson t' say a' as a've getten i' my mind. It's like a heap o' woo' just after shearin' time; it's worth a deal, but it tak's a vast o' combin', an' cardin', an' spinnin' afore it can be made use on. If a were up to t' use o' words, a could say a mighty deal; but somehow a'm tongue-teed when a come to want my words most, so a'll only just mak' bold t' say as a think yo've done pretty well for yo'rsel', getten a house-full o' furniture' (looking around him as he said this), 'an' vittle an' clothin' for t' axing, belike, an' a home for t' missus in her time o' need; an' mebbe not such a bad husband as a once thought yon man 'ud mak'; a'm not above sayin' as he's, mebbe, better nor a took him for;—so here's to ye both, and wishin' ye health and happiness, ay, and money to buy yo' another, as country folk say.'
Having ended his oration, much to his own satisfaction, Kester tossed off his glass of wine, smacked his lips, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, pocketed his cake, and made off.
That night Sylvia spoke of his visit to her husband. Philip never said how he himself had brought it to pass, nor did he name the fact that he had heard the old man come in just as he himself had intended going into the parlour for tea, but had kept away, as he thought Sylvia and Kester would most enjoy their interview undisturbed. And Sylvia felt as if her husband's silence was unsympathizing, and shut up the feelings that were just beginning to expand towards him. She sank again into the listless state of indifference from which nothing but some reference to former days, or present consideration for her mother, could rouse her.
Hester was almost surprised at Sylvia's evident liking for her. By slow degrees Hester was learning to love the woman, whose position as Philip's wife she would have envied so keenly had she not been so truly good and pious. But Sylvia seemed as though she had given Hester her whole affection all at once. Hester could not understand this, while she was touched and melted by the trust it implied. For one thing Sylvia remembered and regretted—her harsh treatment of Hester the rainy, stormy night on which the latter had come to Haytersbank to seek her and her mother, and bring them into Monkshaven to see the imprisoned father and husband. Sylvia had been struck with Hester's patient endurance of her rudeness, a rudeness which she was conscious that she herself should have immediately and vehemently resented. Sylvia did not understand how a totally different character from hers might immediately forgive the anger she could not forget; and because Hester had been so meek at the time, Sylvia, who knew how passing and transitory was her own anger, thought that all was forgotten; while Hester believed that the words, which she herself could not have uttered except under deep provocation, meant much more than they did, and admired and wondered at Sylvia for having so entirely conquered her anger against her.
Again, the two different women were divergently affected by the extreme fondness which Bell had shown towards Hester ever since Sylvia's wedding-day. Sylvia, who had always received more love from others than she knew what to do with, had the most entire faith in her own supremacy in her mother's heart, though at times Hester would do certain things more to the poor old woman's satisfaction. Hester, who had craved for the affection which had been withheld from her, and had from that one circumstance become distrustful of her own power of inspiring regard, while she exaggerated the delight of being beloved, feared lest Sylvia should become jealous of her mother's open display of great attachment and occasional preference for Hester. But such a thought never entered Sylvia's mind. She was more thankful than she knew how to express towards any one who made her mother happy; as has been already said, the contributing to Bell Robson's pleasures earned Philip more of his wife's smiles than anything else. And Sylvia threw her whole heart into the words and caresses she lavished on Hester whenever poor Mrs. Robson spoke of the goodness and kindness of the latter. Hester attributed more virtue to these sweet words and deeds of gratitude than they deserved; they did not imply in Sylvia any victory over evil temptation, as they would have done in Hester.
It seemed to be Sylvia's fate to captivate more people than she cared to like back again. She turned the heads of John and Jeremiah Foster, who could hardly congratulate Philip enough on his choice of a wife.
They had been prepared to be critical on one who had interfered with their favourite project of a marriage between Philip and Hester; and, though full of compassion for the cruelty of Daniel Robson's fate, they were too completely men of business not to have some apprehension that the connection of Philip Hepburn with the daughter of a man who was hanged, might injure the shop over which both his and their name appeared. But all the possible proprieties demanded that they should pay attention to the bride of their former shopman and present successor; and the very first visitors whom Sylvia had received after her marriage had been John and Jeremiah Foster, in their sabbath-day clothes. They found her in the parlour (so familiar to both of them!) clear-starching her mother's caps, which had to be got up in some particular fashion that Sylvia was afraid of dictating to Phoebe.
She was a little disturbed at her visitors discovering her at this employment; but she was on her own ground, and that gave her self-possession; and she welcomed the two old men so sweetly and modestly, and looked so pretty and feminine, and, besides, so notable in her handiwork, that she conquered all their prejudices at one blow; and their first thought on leaving the shop was how to do her honour, by inviting her to a supper party at Jeremiah Foster's house.
Sylvia was dismayed when she was bidden to this wedding feast, and Philip had to use all his authority, though tenderly, to make her consent to go at all. She had been to merry country parties like the Corneys', and to bright haymaking romps in the open air; but never to a set stately party at a friend's house.
She would fain have made attendance on her mother an excuse; but Philip knew he must not listen to any such plea, and applied to Hester in the dilemma, asking her to remain with Mrs. Robson while he and Sylvia went out visiting; and Hester had willingly, nay, eagerly consented—it was much more to her taste than going out.
So Philip and Sylvia set out, arm-in-arm, down Bridge Street, across the bridge, and then clambered up the hill. On the way he gave her the directions she asked for about her behaviour as bride and most honoured guest; and altogether succeeded, against his intention and will, in frightening her so completely as to the grandeur and importance of the occasion, and the necessity of remembering certain set rules, and making certain set speeches and attending to them when the right time came, that, if any one so naturally graceful could have been awkward, Sylvia would have been so that night.
As it was, she sate, pale and weary-looking, on the very edge of her chair; she uttered the formal words which Philip had told her were appropriate to the occasion, and she heartily wished herself safe at home and in bed. Yet she left but one unanimous impression on the company when she went away, namely, that she was the prettiest and best-behaved woman they had ever seen, and that Philip Hepburn had done well in choosing her, felon's daughter though she might be.
Both the hosts had followed her into the lobby to help Philip in cloaking her, and putting on her pattens. They were full of old-fashioned compliments and good wishes; one speech of theirs came up to her memory in future years:—
'Now, Sylvia Hepburn,' said Jeremiah, 'I've known thy husband long, and I don't say but what thou hast done well in choosing him; but if he ever neglects or ill-uses thee, come to me, and I'll give him a sound lecture on his conduct. Mind, I'm thy friend from this day forrards, and ready to take thy part against him!'
Philip smiled as if the day would never come when he should neglect or ill-use his darling; Sylvia smiled a little, without much attending to, or caring for, the words that were detaining her, tired as she was; John and Jeremiah chuckled over the joke; but the words came up again in after days, as words idly spoken sometimes do.
Before the end of that first year, Philip had learnt to be jealous of his wife's new love for Hester. To the latter, Sylvia gave the free confidence on many things which Philip fancied she withheld from him. A suspicion crossed his mind, from time to time, that Sylvia might speak of her former lover to Hester. It would be not unnatural, he thought, if she did so, believing him to be dead; but the idea irritated him.
He was entirely mistaken, however; Sylvia, with all her apparent frankness, kept her deep sorrows to herself. She never mentioned her father's name, though he was continually present to her mind. Nor did she speak of Kinraid to human being, though, for his sake, her voice softened when, by chance, she spoke to a passing sailor; and for his sake her eyes lingered on such men longer than on others, trying to discover in them something of the old familiar gait; and partly for his dead sake, and partly because of the freedom of the outlook and the freshness of the air, she was glad occasionally to escape from the comfortable imprisonment of her 'parlour', and the close streets around the market-place, and to mount the cliffs and sit on the turf, gazing abroad over the wide still expanse of the open sea; for, at that height, even breaking waves only looked like broken lines of white foam on the blue watery plain.
She did not want any companion on these rambles, which had somewhat of the delight of stolen pleasures; for all the other respectable matrons and town-dwellers whom she knew were content to have always a business object for their walk, or else to stop at home in their own households; and Sylvia was rather ashamed of her own yearnings for solitude and open air, and the sight and sound of the mother-like sea. She used to take off her hat, and sit there, her hands clasping her knees, the salt air lifting her bright curls, gazing at the distant horizon over the sea, in a sad dreaminess of thought; if she had been asked on what she meditated, she could not have told you.
But, by-and-by, the time came when she was a prisoner in the house; a prisoner in her room, lying in bed with a little baby by her side—her child, Philip's child. His pride, his delight knew no bounds; this was a new fast tie between them; this would reconcile her to the kind of life that, with all its respectability and comfort, was so different from what she had lived before, and which Philip had often perceived that she felt to be dull and restraining. He already began to trace in the little girl, only a few days old, the lovely curves that he knew so well by heart in the mother's face. Sylvia, too, pale, still, and weak, was very happy; yes, really happy for the first time since her irrevocable marriage. For its irrevocableness had weighed much upon her with a sense of dull hopelessness; she felt all Philip's kindness, she was grateful to him for his tender regard towards her mother, she was learning to love him as well as to like and respect him. She did not know what else she could have done but marry so true a friend, and she and her mother so friendless; but, at the same time, it was like lead on her morning spirits when she awoke and remembered that the decision was made, the dead was done, the choice taken which comes to most people but once in their lives. Now the little baby came in upon this state of mind like a ray of sunlight into a gloomy room.
Even her mother was rejoiced and proud; even with her crazed brain and broken heart, the sight of sweet, peaceful infancy brought light to her. All the old ways of holding a baby, of hushing it to sleep, of tenderly guarding its little limbs from injury, came back, like the habits of her youth, to Bell; and she was never so happy or so easy in her mind, or so sensible and connected in her ideas, as when she had Sylvia's baby in her arms.
It was a pretty sight to see, however familiar to all of us such things may be—the pale, worn old woman, in her quaint, old-fashioned country dress, holding the little infant on her knees, looking at its open, unspeculative eyes, and talking the little language to it as though it could understand; the father on his knees, kept prisoner by a small, small finger curled round his strong and sinewy one, and gazing at the tiny creature with wondering idolatry; the young mother, fair, pale, and smiling, propped up on pillows in order that she, too, might see the wonderful babe; it was astonishing how the doctor could come and go without being drawn into the admiring vortex, and look at this baby just as if babies came into the world every day.
'Philip,' said Sylvia, one night, as he sate as still as a mouse in her room, imagining her to be asleep. He was by her bed-side in a moment.
'I've been thinking what she's to be called. Isabella, after mother; and what were yo'r mother's name?'
'Margaret,' said he.
'Margaret Isabella; Isabella Margaret. Mother's called Bell. She might be called Bella.'
'I could ha' wished her to be called after thee.'
She made a little impatient movement.
'Nay; Sylvia's not a lucky name. Best be called after thy mother and mine. And I want for to ask Hester to be godmother.'
'Anything thou likes, sweetheart. Shall we call her Rose, after Hester Rose?'
'No, no!' said Sylvia; 'she mun be called after my mother, or thine, or both. I should like her to be called Bella, after mother, because she's so fond of baby.'
'Anything to please thee, darling.'
'Don't say that as if it didn't signify; there's a deal in having a pretty name,' said Sylvia, a little annoyed. 'I ha' allays hated being called Sylvia. It were after father's mother, Sylvia Steele.'
'I niver thought any name in a' the world so sweet and pretty as Sylvia,' said Philip, fondly; but she was too much absorbed in her own thoughts to notice either his manner or his words.
'There, yo'll not mind if it is Bella, because yo' see my mother is alive to be pleased by its being named after her, and Hester may be godmother, and I'll ha' t' dove-coloured silk as yo' gave me afore we were married made up into a cloak for it to go to church in.'
'I got it for thee,' said Philip, a little disappointed. 'It'll be too good for the baby.'
'Eh! but I'm so careless, I should be spilling something on it? But if thou got it for me I cannot find i' my heart for t' wear it on baby, and I'll have it made into a christening gown for mysel'. But I'll niver feel at my ease in it, for fear of spoiling it.'
'Well! an' if thou does spoil it, love, I'll get thee another. I make account of riches only for thee; that I may be able to get thee whativer thou's a fancy for, for either thysel', or thy mother.'
She lifted her pale face from her pillow, and put up her lips to kiss him for these words.
Perhaps on that day Philip reached the zenith of his life's happiness.
The first step in Philip's declension happened in this way. Sylvia had made rapid progress in her recovery; but now she seemed at a stationary point of weakness; wakeful nights succeeding to languid days. Occasionally she caught a little sleep in the afternoons, but she usually awoke startled and feverish.
One afternoon Philip had stolen upstairs to look at her and his child; but the efforts he made at careful noiselessness made the door creak on its hinges as he opened it. The woman employed to nurse her had taken the baby into another room that no sound might rouse her from her slumber; and Philip would probably have been warned against entering the chamber where his wife lay sleeping had he been perceived by the nurse. As it was, he opened the door, made a noise, and Sylvia started up, her face all one flush, her eyes wild and uncertain; she looked about her as if she did not know where she was; pushed the hair off her hot forehead; all which actions Philip saw, dismayed and regretful. But he kept still, hoping that she would lie down and compose herself. Instead she stretched out her arms imploringly, and said, in a voice full of yearning and tears,—
'Oh! Charley! come to me—come to me!' and then as she more fully became aware of the place where she was, her actual situation, she sank back and feebly began to cry. Philip's heart boiled within him; any man's would under the circumstances, but he had the sense of guilty concealment to aggravate the intensity of his feelings. Her weak cry after another man, too, irritated him, partly through his anxious love, which made him wise to know how much physical harm she was doing herself. At this moment he stirred, or unintentionally made some sound: she started up afresh, and called out,—
'Oh, who's theere? Do, for God's sake, tell me who yo' are!'
'It's me,' said Philip, coming forwards, striving to keep down the miserable complication of love and jealousy, and remorse and anger, that made his heart beat so wildly, and almost took him out of himself. Indeed, he must have been quite beside himself for the time, or he could never have gone on to utter the unwise, cruel words he did. But she spoke first, in a distressed and plaintive tone of voice.
'Oh, Philip, I've been asleep, and yet I think I was awake! And I saw Charley Kinraid as plain as iver I see thee now, and he wasn't drowned at all. I'm sure he's alive somewheere; he were so clear and life-like. Oh! what shall I do? what shall I do?'
She wrung her hands in feverish distress. Urged by passionate feelings of various kinds, and also by his desire to quench the agitation which was doing her harm, Philip spoke, hardly knowing what he said.
'Kinraid's dead, I tell yo', Sylvie! And what kind of a woman are yo' to go dreaming of another man i' this way, and taking on so about him, when yo're a wedded wife, with a child as yo've borne to another man?'
In a moment he could have bitten out his tongue. She looked at him with the mute reproach which some of us see (God help us!) in the eyes of the dead, as they come before our sad memories in the night-season; looked at him with such a solemn, searching look, never saying a word of reply or defence. Then she lay down, motionless and silent. He had been instantly stung with remorse for his speech; the words were not beyond his lips when an agony had entered his heart; but her steady, dilated eyes had kept him dumb and motionless as if by a spell.
Now he rushed to the bed on which she lay, and half knelt, half threw himself upon it, imploring her to forgive him; regardless for the time of any evil consequences to her, it seemed as if he must have her pardon—her relenting—at any price, even if they both died in the act of reconciliation. But she lay speechless, and, as far as she could be, motionless, the bed trembling under her with the quivering she could not still.
Philip's wild tones caught the nurse's ears, and she entered full of the dignified indignation of wisdom.
'Are yo' for killing yo'r wife, measter?' she asked. 'She's noane so strong as she can bear flytin' and scoldin', nor will she be for many a week to come. Go down wi' ye, and leave her i' peace if yo're a man as can be called a man!'
Her anger was rising as she caught sight of Sylvia's averted face. It was flushed crimson, her eyes full of intense emotion of some kind, her lips compressed; but an involuntary twitching overmastering her resolute stillness from time to time. Philip, who did not see the averted face, nor understand the real danger in which he was placing his wife, felt as though he must have one word, one responsive touch of the hand which lay passive in his, which was not even drawn away from the kisses with which he covered it, any more than if it had been an impassive stone. The nurse had fairly to take him by the shoulders, and turn him out of the room.
In half an hour the doctor had to be summoned. Of course, the nurse gave him her version of the events of the afternoon, with much animus against Philip; and the doctor thought it his duty to have some very serious conversation with him.
'I do assure you, Mr. Hepburn, that, in the state your wife has been in for some days, it was little less than madness on your part to speak to her about anything that could give rise to strong emotion.'
'It was madness, sir!' replied Philip, in a low, miserable tone of voice. The doctor's heart was touched, in spite of the nurse's accusations against the scolding husband. Yet the danger was now too serious for him to mince matters.
'I must tell you that I cannot answer for her life, unless the greatest precautions are taken on your part, and unless the measures I shall use have the effect I wish for in the next twenty-four hours. She is on the verge of a brain fever. Any allusion to the subject which has been the final cause of the state in which she now is must be most cautiously avoided, even to a chance word which may bring it to her memory.'
And so on; but Philip seemed to hear only this: then he might not express contrition, or sue for pardon, he must go on unforgiven through all this stress of anxiety; and even if she recovered the doctor warned him of the undesirableness of recurring to what had passed!
Heavy miserable times of endurance and waiting have to be passed through by all during the course of their lives; and Philip had had his share of such seasons, when the heart, and the will, and the speech, and the limbs, must be bound down with strong resolution to patience.
For many days, nay, for weeks, he was forbidden to see Sylvia, as the very sound of his footstep brought on a recurrence of the fever and convulsive movement. Yet she seemed, from questions she feebly asked the nurse, to have forgotten all that had happened on the day of her attack from the time when she dropped off to sleep. But how much she remembered of after occurrences no one could ascertain. She was quiet enough when, at length, Philip was allowed to see her. But he was half jealous of his child, when he watched how she could smile at it, while she never changed a muscle of her face at all he could do or say.
And of a piece with this extreme quietude and reserve was her behaviour to him when at length she had fully recovered, and was able to go about the house again. Philip thought many a time of the words she had used long before—before their marriage. Ominous words they were.
'It's not in me to forgive; I sometimes think it's not in me to forget.'
Philip was tender even to humility in his conduct towards her. But nothing stirred her from her fortress of reserve. And he knew she was so different; he knew how loving, nay, passionate, was her nature—vehement, demonstrative—oh! how could he stir her once more into expression, even if the first show or speech she made was of anger? Then he tried being angry with her himself; he was sometimes unjust to her consciously and of a purpose, in order to provoke her into defending herself, and appealing against his unkindness. He only seemed to drive her love away still more.
If any one had known all that was passing in that household, while yet the story of it was not ended, nor, indeed, come to its crisis, their hearts would have been sorry for the man who lingered long at the door of the room in which his wife sate cooing and talking to her baby, and sometimes laughing back to it, or who was soothing the querulousness of failing age with every possible patience of love; sorry for the poor listener who was hungering for the profusion of tenderness thus scattered on the senseless air, yet only by stealth caught the echoes of what ought to have been his.
It was so difficult to complain, too; impossible, in fact. Everything that a wife could do from duty she did; but the love seemed to have fled, and, in such cases, no reproaches or complaints can avail to bring it back. So reason outsiders, and are convinced of the result before the experiment is made. But Philip could not reason, or could not yield to reason; and so he complained and reproached. She did not much answer him; but he thought that her eyes expressed the old words,—
'It's not in me to forgive; I sometimes think it's not in me to forget.'
However, it is an old story, an ascertained fact, that, even in the most tender and stable masculine natures, at the supremest season of their lives, there is room for other thoughts and passions than such as are connected with love. Even with the most domestic and affectionate men, their emotions seem to be kept in a cell distinct and away from their actual lives. Philip had other thoughts and other occupations than those connected with his wife during all this time.
An uncle of his mother's, a Cumberland 'statesman', of whose existence he was barely conscious, died about this time, leaving to his unknown great-nephew four or five hundred pounds, which put him at once in a different position with regard to his business. Henceforward his ambition was roused,—such humble ambition as befitted a shop-keeper in a country town sixty or seventy years ago. To be respected by the men around him had always been an object with him, and was, perhaps, becoming more so than ever now, as a sort of refuge from his deep, sorrowful mortification in other directions. He was greatly pleased at being made a sidesman; and, in preparation for the further honour of being churchwarden, he went regularly twice a day to church on Sundays. There was enough religious feeling in him to make him disguise the worldly reason for such conduct from himself. He believed that he went because he thought it right to attend public worship in the parish church whenever it was offered up; but it may be questioned of him, as of many others, how far he would have been as regular in attendance in a place where he was not known. With this, however, we have nothing to do. The fact was that he went regularly to church, and he wished his wife to accompany him to the pew, newly painted, with his name on the door, where he sate in full sight of the clergyman and congregation.
Sylvia had never been in the habit of such regular church-going, and she felt it as a hardship, and slipped out of the duty as often as ever she could. In her unmarried days, she and her parents had gone annually to the mother-church of the parish in which Haytersbank was situated: on the Monday succeeding the Sunday next after the Romish Saint's Day, to whom the church was dedicated, there was a great feast or wake held; and, on the Sunday, all the parishioners came to church from far and near. Frequently, too, in the course of the year, Sylvia would accompany one or other of her parents to Scarby Moorside afternoon service,—when the hay was got in, and the corn not ready for cutting, or the cows were dry and there was no afternoon milking. Many clergymen were languid in those days, and did not too curiously inquire into the reasons which gave them such small congregations in country parishes.
Now she was married, this weekly church-going which Philip seemed to expect from her, became a tie and a small hardship, which connected itself with her life of respectability and prosperity. 'A crust of bread and liberty' was much more accordant to Sylvia's nature than plenty of creature comforts and many restraints. Another wish of Philip's, against which she said no word, but constantly rebelled in thought and deed, was his desire that the servant he had engaged during the time of her illness to take charge of the baby, should always carry it whenever it was taken out for a walk. Sylvia often felt, now she was strong, as if she would far rather have been without the responsibility of having this nursemaid, of whom she was, in reality, rather afraid. The good side of it was that it set her at liberty to attend to her mother at times when she would have been otherwise occupied with her baby; but Bell required very little from any one: she was easily pleased, unexacting, and methodical even in her dotage; preserving the quiet, undemonstrative habits of her earlier life now that the faculty of reason, which had been at the basis of the formation of such habits, was gone. She took great delight in watching the baby, and was pleased to have it in her care for a short time; but she dozed so much that it prevented her having any strong wish on the subject.
So Sylvia contrived to get her baby as much as possible to herself, in spite of the nursemaid; and, above all, she would carry it out, softly cradled in her arms, warm pillowed on her breast, and bear it to the freedom and solitude of the sea-shore on the west side of the town where the cliffs were not so high, and there was a good space of sand and shingle at all low tides.
Once here, she was as happy as she ever expected to be in this world. The fresh sea-breeze restored something of the colour of former days to her cheeks, the old buoyancy to her spirits; here she might talk her heart-full of loving nonsense to her baby; here it was all her own; no father to share in it, no nursemaid to dispute the wisdom of anything she did with it. She sang to it, she tossed it; it crowed and it laughed back again, till both were weary; and then she would sit down on a broken piece of rock, and fall to gazing on the advancing waves catching the sunlight on their crests, advancing, receding, for ever and for ever, as they had done all her life long—as they did when she had walked with them that once by the side of Kinraid; those cruel waves that, forgetful of the happy lovers' talk by the side of their waters, had carried one away, and drowned him deep till he was dead. Every time she sate down to look at the sea, this process of thought was gone through up to this point; the next step would, she knew, bring her to the question she dared not, must not ask. He was dead; he must be dead; for was she not Philip's wife? Then came up the recollection of Philip's speech, never forgotten, only buried out of sight: 'What kind of a woman are yo' to go on dreaming of another man, and yo' a wedded wife?' She used to shudder as if cold steel had been plunged into her warm, living body as she remembered these words; cruel words, harmlessly provoked. They were too much associated with physical pains to be dwelt upon; only their memory was always there. She paid for these happy rambles with her baby by the depression which awaited her on her re-entrance into the dark, confined house that was her home; its very fulness of comfort was an oppression. Then, when her husband saw her pale and fatigued, he was annoyed, and sometimes upbraided her for doing what was so unnecessary as to load herself with her child. She knew full well it was not that that caused her weariness. By-and-by, when he inquired and discovered that all these walks were taken in one direction, out towards the sea, he grew jealous of her love for the inanimate ocean. Was it connected in her mind with the thought of Kinraid? Why did she so perseveringly, in wind or cold, go out to the sea-shore; the western side, too, where, if she went but far enough, she would come upon the mouth of the Haytersbank gully, the point at which she had last seen Kinraid? Such fancies haunted Philip's mind for hours after she had acknowledged the direction of her walks. But he never said a word that could distinctly tell her he disliked her going to the sea, otherwise she would have obeyed him in this, as in everything else; for absolute obedience to her husband seemed to be her rule of life at this period—obedience to him who would so gladly have obeyed her smallest wish had she but expressed it! She never knew that Philip had any painful association with the particular point on the sea-shore that she instinctively avoided, both from a consciousness of wifely duty, and also because the sight of it brought up so much sharp pain.
Philip used to wonder if the dream that preceded her illness was the suggestive cause that drew her so often to the shore. Her illness consequent upon that dream had filled his mind, so that for many months he himself had had no haunting vision of Kinraid to disturb his slumbers. But now the old dream of Kinraid's actual presence by Philip's bedside began to return with fearful vividness. Night after night it recurred; each time with some new touch of reality, and close approach; till it was as if the fate that overtakes all men were then, even then, knocking at his door.
In his business Philip prospered. Men praised him because he did well to himself. He had the perseverance, the capability for head-work and calculation, the steadiness and general forethought which might have made him a great merchant if he had lived in a large city. Without any effort of his own, almost, too, without Coulson's being aware of it, Philip was now in the position of superior partner; the one to suggest and arrange, while Coulson only carried out the plans that emanated from Philip. The whole work of life was suited to the man: he did not aspire to any different position, only to the full development of the capabilities of that which he already held. He had originated several fresh schemes with regard to the traffic of the shop; and his old masters, with all their love of tried ways, and distrust of everything new, had been candid enough to confess that their successors' plans had resulted in success. 'Their successors.' Philip was content with having the power when the exercise of it was required, and never named his own important share in the new improvements. Possibly, if he had, Coulson's vanity might have taken the alarm, and he might not have been so acquiescent for the future. As it was, he forgot his own subordinate share, and always used the imperial 'we', 'we thought', 'it struck us,' &c.
RESCUED FROM THE WAVES
Meanwhile Hester came and went as usual; in so quiet and methodical a way, with so even and undisturbed a temper, that she was almost forgotten when everything went well in the shop or household. She was a star, the brightness of which was only recognized in times of darkness. She herself was almost surprised at her own increasing regard for Sylvia. She had not thought she should ever be able to love the woman who had been such a laggard in acknowledging Philip's merits; and from all she had ever heard of Sylvia before she came to know her, from the angry words with which Sylvia had received her when she had first gone to Haytersbank Farm, Hester had intended to remain on friendly terms, but to avoid intimacy. But her kindness to Bell Robson had won both the mother's and daughter's hearts; and in spite of herself, certainly against her own mother's advice, she had become the familiar friend and welcome guest of the household.
Now the very change in Sylvia's whole manner and ways, which grieved and vexed Philip, made his wife the more attractive to Hester. Brought up among Quakers, although not one herself, she admired and respected the staidness and outward peacefulness common amongst the young women of that sect. Sylvia, whom she had expected to find volatile, talkative, vain, and wilful, was quiet and still, as if she had been born a Friend: she seemed to have no will of her own; she served her mother and child for love; she obeyed her husband in all things, and never appeared to pine after gaiety or pleasure. And yet at times Hester thought, or rather a flash came across her mind, as if all things were not as right as they seemed. Philip looked older, more care-worn; nay, even Hester was obliged to allow to herself that she had heard him speak to his wife in sharp, aggrieved tones. Innocent Hester! she could not understand how the very qualities she so admired in Sylvia were just what were so foreign to her nature that the husband, who had known her from a child, felt what an unnatural restraint she was putting upon herself, and would have hailed petulant words or wilful actions with an unspeakable thankfulness for relief.
One day—it was in the spring of 1798—Hester was engaged to stay to tea with the Hepburns, in order that after that early meal she might set to again in helping Philip and Coulson to pack away the winter cloths and flannels, for which there was no longer any use. The tea-time was half-past four; about four o'clock a heavy April shower came on, the hail pattering against the window-panes so as to awaken Mrs. Robson from her afternoon's nap. She came down the corkscrew stairs, and found Phoebe in the parlour arranging the tea-things.
Phoebe and Mrs. Robson were better friends than Phoebe and her young mistress; and so they began to talk a little together in a comfortable, familiar way. Once or twice Philip looked in, as if he would be glad to see the tea-table in readiness; and then Phoebe would put on a spurt of busy bustle, which ceased almost as soon as his back was turned, so eager was she to obtain Mrs. Robson's sympathy in some little dispute that had occurred between her and the nurse-maid. The latter had misappropriated some hot water, prepared and required by Phoebe, to the washing of the baby's clothes; it was a long story, and would have tired the patience of any one in full possession of their senses; but the details were just within poor Bell's comprehension, and she was listening with the greatest sympathy. Both the women were unaware of the lapse of time; but it was of consequence to Philip, as the extra labour was not to be begun until after tea, and the daylight hours were precious.
At a quarter to five Hester and he came in, and then Phoebe began to hurry. Hester went up to sit by Bell and talk to her. Philip spoke to Phoebe in the familiar words of country-folk. Indeed, until his marriage, Phoebe had always called him by his Christian name, and had found it very difficult to change it into 'master.'
'Where's Sylvie?' said he.
'Gone out wi' t' babby,' replied Phoebe.
'Why can't Nancy carry it out?' asked Philip.
It was touching on the old grievance: he was tired, and he spoke with sharp annoyance. Phoebe might easily have told him the real state of the case; Nancy was busy at her washing, which would have been reason enough. But the nursemaid had vexed her, and she did not like Philip's sharpness, so she only said,—
'It's noane o' my business; it's yo' t' look after yo'r own wife and child; but yo'r but a lad after a'.'
This was not conciliatory speech, and just put the last stroke to Philip's fit of ill-temper.
'I'm not for my tea to-night,' said he, to Hester, when all was ready. 'Sylvie's not here, and nothing is nice, or as it should be. I'll go and set to on t' stock-taking. Don't yo' hurry, Hester; stop and chat a bit with th' old lady.'
'Nay, Philip,' said Hester, 'thou's sadly tired; just take this cup o' tea; Sylvia 'll be grieved if yo' haven't something.'
'Sylvia doesn't care whether I'm full or fasting,' replied he, impatiently putting aside the cup. 'If she did she'd ha' taken care to be in, and ha' seen to things being as I like them.'
Now in general Philip was the least particular of men about meals; and to do Sylvia justice, she was scrupulously attentive to every household duty in which old Phoebe would allow her to meddle, and always careful to see after her husband's comforts. But Philip was too vexed at her absence to perceive the injustice of what he was saying, nor was he aware how Bell Robson had been attending to what he said. But she was sadly discomfited by it, understanding just enough of the grievance in hand to think that her daughter was neglectful of those duties which she herself had always regarded as paramount to all others; nor could Hester convince her that Philip had not meant what he said; neither could she turn the poor old woman's thoughts from the words which had caused her distress.
Presently Sylvia came in, bright and cheerful, although breathless with hurry.
'Oh,' said she, taking off her wet shawl, 'we've had to shelter from such a storm of rain, baby and me—but see! she's none the worse for it, as bonny as iver, bless her.'
Hester began some speech of admiration for the child in order to prevent Bell from delivering the lecture she felt sure was coming down on the unsuspecting Sylvia; but all in vain.
'Philip's been complaining on thee, Sylvie,' said Bell, in the way in which she had spoken to her daughter when she was a little child; grave and severe in tone and look, more than in words. 'I forget justly what about, but he spoke on thy neglecting him continual. It's not right, my lass, it's not right; a woman should—but my head's very tired, and all I can think on to say is, it's not right.'
'Philip been complaining of me, and to mother!' said Sylvia, ready to burst into tears, so grieved and angry was she.
'No!' said Hester, 'thy mother has taken it a little too strong; he were vexed like at his tea not being ready.'
Sylvia said no more, but the bright colour faded from her cheek, and the contraction of care returned to her brow. She occupied herself with taking off her baby's walking things. Hester lingered, anxious to soothe and make peace; she was looking sorrowfully at Sylvia, when she saw tears dropping on the baby's cloak, and then it seemed as if she must speak a word of comfort before going to the shop-work, where she knew she was expected by both Philip and Coulson. She poured out a cup of tea, and coming close up to Sylvia, and kneeling down by her, she whispered,—
'Just take him this into t' ware-room; it'll put all to rights if thou'll take it to him wi' thy own hands.'
Sylvia looked up, and Hester then more fully saw how she had been crying. She whispered in reply, for fear of disturbing her mother,—
'I don't mind anything but his speaking ill on me to mother. I know I'm for iver trying and trying to be a good wife to him, an' it's very dull work; harder than yo' think on, Hester,—an' I would ha' been home for tea to-night only I was afeared of baby getting wet wi' t' storm o' hail as we had down on t' shore; and we sheltered under a rock. It's a weary coming home to this dark place, and to find my own mother set against me.'
'Take him his tea, like a good lassie. I'll answer for it he'll be all right. A man takes it hardly when he comes in tired, a-thinking his wife '11 be there to cheer him up a bit, to find her off, and niver know nought of t' reason why.'
'I'm glad enough I've getten a baby,' said Sylvia, 'but for aught else I wish I'd niver been married, I do!'
'Hush thee, lass!' said Hester, rising up indignant; 'now that is a sin. Eh! if thou only knew the lot o' some folk. But let's talk no more on that, that cannot be helped; go, take him his tea, for it's a sad thing to think on him fasting all this time.'
Hester's voice was raised by the simple fact of her change of position; and the word fasting caught Mrs. Robson's ear, as she sate at her knitting by the chimney-corner.
'Fasting? he said thou didn't care if he were full or fasting. Lassie! it's not right in thee, I say; go, take him his tea at once.'
Sylvia rose, and gave up the baby, which she had been suckling, to Nancy, who having done her washing, had come for her charge, to put it to bed. Sylvia kissed it fondly, making a little moan of sad, passionate tenderness as she did so. Then she took the cup of tea; but she said, rather defiantly, to Hester,—
'I'll go to him with it, because mother bids me, and it'll ease her mind.'
Then louder to her mother, she added,—
'Mother, I'll take him his tea, though I couldn't help the being out.'
If the act itself was conciliatory, the spirit in which she was going to do it was the reverse. Hester followed her slowly into the ware-room, with intentional delay, thinking that her presence might be an obstacle to their mutually understanding one another. Sylvia held the cup and plate of bread and butter out to Philip, but avoided meeting his eye, and said not a word of explanation, or regret, or self-justification. If she had spoken, though ever so crossly, Philip would have been relieved, and would have preferred it to her silence. He wanted to provoke her to speech, but did not know how to begin.
'Thou's been out again wandering on that sea-shore!' said he. She did not answer him. 'I cannot think what's always taking thee there, when one would ha' thought a walk up to Esdale would be far more sheltered, both for thee and baby in such weather as this. Thou'll be having that baby ill some of these days.'
At this, she looked up at him, and her lips moved as though she were going to say something. Oh, how he wished she would, that they might come to a wholesome quarrel, and a making friends again, and a tender kissing, in which he might whisper penitence for all his hasty words, or unreasonable vexation. But she had come resolved not to speak, for fear of showing too much passion, too much emotion. Only as she was going away she turned and said,—
'Philip, mother hasn't many more years to live; dunnot grieve her, and set her again' me by finding fault wi' me afore her. Our being wed were a great mistake; but before t' poor old widow woman let us make as if we were happy.'
'Sylvie! Sylvie!' he called after her. She must have heard, but she did not turn. He went after her, and seized her by the arm rather roughly; she had stung him to the heart with her calm words, which seemed to reveal a long-formed conviction.
'Sylvie!' said he, almost fiercely, 'what do yo' mean by what you've said? Speak! I will have an answer.'
He almost shook her: she was half frightened by his vehemence of behaviour, which she took for pure anger, while it was the outburst of agonized and unrequited love.
'Let me go! Oh, Philip, yo' hurt me!'
Just at this moment Hester came up; Philip was ashamed of his passionate ways in her serene presence, and loosened his grasp of his wife, and she ran away; ran into her mother's empty room, as to a solitary place, and there burst into that sobbing, miserable crying which we instinctively know is too surely lessening the length of our days on earth to be indulged in often.
When she had exhausted that first burst and lay weak and quiet for a time, she listened in dreading expectation of the sound of his footstep coming in search of her to make friends. But he was detained below on business, and never came. Instead, her mother came clambering up the stairs; she was now in the habit of going to bed between seven and eight, and to-night she was retiring at even an earlier hour.
Sylvia sprang up and drew down the window-blind, and made her face and manner as composed as possible, in order to soothe and comfort her mother's last waking hours. She helped her to bed with gentle patience; the restraint imposed upon her by her tender filial love was good for her, though all the time she was longing to be alone to have another wild outburst. When her mother was going off to sleep, Sylvia went to look at her baby, also in a soft sleep. Then she gazed out at the evening sky, high above the tiled roofs of the opposite houses, and the longing to be out under the peaceful heavens took possession of her once more.
'It's my only comfort,' said she to herself; 'and there's no earthly harm in it. I would ha' been at home to his tea, if I could; but when he doesn't want me, and mother doesn't want me, and baby is either in my arms or asleep; why, I'll go any cry my fill out under yon great quiet sky. I cannot stay in t' house to be choked up wi' my tears, nor yet to have him coming about me either for scolding or peace-making.'
So she put on her things and went out again; this time along the High Street, and up the long flights of steps towards the parish church, and there she stood and thought that here she had first met Kinraid, at Darley's burying, and she tried to recall the very look of all the sad, earnest faces round the open grave—the whole scene, in fact; and let herself give way to the miserable regrets she had so often tried to control. Then she walked on, crying bitterly, almost unawares to herself; on through the high, bleak fields at the summit of the cliffs; fields bounded by loose stone fences, and far from all sight of the habitation of man. But, below, the sea rose and raged; it was high water at the highest tide, and the wind blew gustily from the land, vainly combating the great waves that came invincibly up with a roar and an impotent furious dash against the base of the cliffs below.
Sylvia heard the sound of the passionate rush and rebound of many waters, like the shock of mighty guns, whenever the other sound of the blustering gusty wind was lulled for an instant. She was more quieted by this tempest of the elements than she would have been had all nature seemed as still as she had imagined it to be while she was yet in-doors and only saw a part of the serene sky.
She fixed on a certain point, in her own mind, which she would reach, and then turn back again. It was where the outline of the land curved inwards, dipping into a little bay. Here the field-path she had hitherto followed descended somewhat abruptly to a cluster of fishermen's cottages, hardly large enough to be called a village; and then the narrow roadway wound up the rising ground till it again reached the summit of the cliffs that stretched along the coast for many and many a mile.
Sylvia said to herself that she would turn homewards when she came within sight of this cove,—Headlington Cove, they called it. All the way along she had met no one since she had left the town, but just as she had got over the last stile, or ladder of stepping-stones, into the field from which the path descended, she came upon a number of people—quite a crowd, in fact; men moving forward in a steady line, hauling at a rope, a chain, or something of that kind; boys, children, and women holding babies in their arms, as if all were fain to come out and partake in some general interest.
They kept within a certain distance from the edge of the cliff, and Sylvia, advancing a little, now saw the reason why. The great cable the men held was attached to some part of a smack, which could now be seen by her in the waters below, half dismantled, and all but a wreck, yet with her deck covered with living men, as far as the waning light would allow her to see. The vessel strained to get free of the strong guiding cable; the tide was turning, the wind was blowing off shore, and Sylvia knew without being told, that almost parallel to this was a line of sunken rocks that had been fatal to many a ship before now, if she had tried to take the inner channel instead of keeping out to sea for miles, and then steering in straight for Monkshaven port. And the ships that had been thus lost had been in good plight and order compared to this vessel, which seemed nothing but a hull without mast or sail.
By this time, the crowd—the fishermen from the hamlet down below, with their wives and children—all had come but the bedridden—had reached the place where Sylvia stood. The women, in a state of wild excitement, rushed on, encouraging their husbands and sons by words, even while they hindered them by actions; and, from time to time, one of them would run to the edge of the cliff and shout out some brave words of hope in her shrill voice to the crew on the deck below. Whether these latter heard it or not, no one could tell; but it seemed as if all human voice must be lost in the tempestuous stun and tumult of wind and wave. It was generally a woman with a child in her arms who so employed herself. As the strain upon the cable became greater, and the ground on which they strove more uneven, every hand was needed to hold and push, and all those women who were unencumbered held by the dear rope on which so many lives were depending. On they came, a long line of human beings, black against the ruddy sunset sky. As they came near Sylvia, a woman cried out,—
'Dunnot stand idle, lass, but houd on wi' us; there's many a bonny life at stake, and many a mother's heart a-hangin' on this bit o' hemp. Tak' houd, lass, and give a firm grip, and God remember thee i' thy need.'
Sylvia needed no second word; a place was made for her, and in an instant more the rope was pulling against her hands till it seemed as though she was holding fire in her bare palms. Never a one of them thought of letting go for an instant, though when all was over many of their hands were raw and bleeding. Some strong, experienced fishermen passed a word along the line from time to time, giving directions as to how it should be held according to varying occasions; but few among the rest had breath or strength enough to speak. The women and children that accompanied them ran on before, breaking down the loose stone fences, so as to obviate delay or hindrance; they talked continually, exhorting, encouraging, explaining. From their many words and fragmentary sentences, Sylvia learnt that the vessel was supposed to be a Newcastle smack sailing from London, that had taken the dangerous inner channel to save time, and had been caught in the storm, which she was too crazy to withstand; and that if by some daring contrivance of the fishermen who had first seen her the cable had not been got ashore, she would have been cast upon the rocks before this, and 'all on board perished'.
'It were dayleet then,' quoth one woman; 'a could see their faces, they were so near. They were as pale as dead men, an' one was prayin' down on his knees. There was a king's officer aboard, for I saw t' gowd about him.'
'He'd maybe come from these hom'ard parts, and be comin' to see his own folk; else it's no common for king's officers to sail in aught but king's ships.'
'Eh! but it's gettin' dark! See there's t' leeghts in t' houses in t' New Town! T' grass is crispin' wi' t' white frost under out feet. It'll be a hard tug round t' point, and then she'll be gettin' into still waters.'
One more great push and mighty strain, and the danger was past; the vessel—or what remained of her—was in the harbour, among the lights and cheerful sounds of safety. The fishermen sprang down the cliff to the quay-side, anxious to see the men whose lives they had saved; the women, weary and over-excited, began to cry. Not Sylvia, however; her fount of tears had been exhausted earlier in the day: her principal feeling was of gladness and high rejoicing that they were saved who had been so near to death not half an hour before.
She would have liked to have seen the men, and shaken hands with them all round. But instead she must go home, and well would it be with her if she was in time for her husband's supper, and escaped any notice of her absence. So she separated herself from the groups of women who sate on the grass in the churchyard, awaiting the return of such of their husbands as could resist the fascinations of the Monkshaven public houses. As Sylvia went down the church steps, she came upon one of the fishermen who had helped to tow the vessel into port.
'There was seventeen men and boys aboard her, and a navy-lieutenant as had comed as passenger. It were a good job as we could manage her. Good-neet to thee, thou'll sleep all t' sounder for havin' lent a hand.'
The street air felt hot and close after the sharp keen atmosphere of the heights above; the decent shops and houses had all their shutters put up, and were preparing for their early bed-time. Already lights shone here and there in the upper chambers, and Sylvia scarcely met any one.
She went round up the passage from the quay-side, and in by the private door. All was still; the basins of bread and milk that she and her husband were in the habit of having for supper stood in the fender before the fire, each with a plate upon them. Nancy had gone to bed, Phoebe dozed in the kitchen; Philip was still in the ware-room, arranging goods and taking stock along with Coulson, for Hester had gone home to her mother.
Sylvia was not willing to go and seek out Philip, after the manner in which they had parted. All the despondency of her life became present to her again as she sate down within her home. She had forgotten it in her interest and excitement, but now it came back again.
Still she was hungry, and youthful, and tired. She took her basin up, and was eating her supper when she heard a cry of her baby upstairs, and ran away to attend to it. When it had been fed and hushed away to sleep, she went in to see her mother, attracted by some unusual noise in her room.
She found Mrs. Robson awake, and restless, and ailing; dwelling much on what Philip had said in his anger against Sylvia. It was really necessary for her daughter to remain with her; so Sylvia stole out, and went quickly down-stairs to Philip—now sitting tired and worn out, and eating his supper with little or no appetite—and told him she meant to pass the night with her mother.
His answer of acquiescence was so short and careless, or so it seemed to her, that she did not tell him any more of what she had done or seen that evening, or even dwell upon any details of her mother's indisposition.
As soon as she had left the room, Philip set down his half-finished basin of bread and milk, and sate long, his face hidden in his folded arms. The wick of the candle grew long and black, and fell, and sputtered, and guttered; he sate on, unheeding either it or the pale gray fire that was dying out—dead at last.
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.'