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- Sylvia's Lovers - 10/104 -
He had to shout out the last after Philip, for Hepburn, really anxious to please his aunt, and disliking drinking habits himself by constitution, was already at the door, and setting out on his return home, thinking, it must be confessed, far more of the character of Sylvia's shake of the hand than of the parting words of either his uncle or aunt.
STORY OF THE PRESS-GANG
For a few days after the evening mentioned in the last chapter the weather was dull. Not in quick, sudden showers did the rain come down, but in constant drizzle, blotting out all colour from the surrounding landscape, and filling the air with fine gray mist, until people breathed more water than air. At such times the consciousness of the nearness of the vast unseen sea acted as a dreary depression to the spirits; but besides acting on the nerves of the excitable, such weather affected the sensitive or ailing in material ways. Daniel Robson's fit of rheumatism incapacitated him from stirring abroad; and to a man of his active habits, and somewhat inactive mind, this was a great hardship. He was not ill-tempered naturally, but this state of confinement made him more ill-tempered than he had ever been before in his life. He sat in the chimney-corner, abusing the weather and doubting the wisdom or desirableness of all his wife saw fit to do in the usual daily household matters. The 'chimney-corner' was really a corner at Haytersbank. There were two projecting walls on each side of the fire-place, running about six feet into the room, and a stout wooden settle was placed against one of these, while opposite was the circular-backed 'master's chair,' the seat of which was composed of a square piece of wood judiciously hollowed out, and placed with one corner to the front. Here, in full view of all the operations going on over the fire, sat Daniel Robson for four live-long days, advising and directing his wife in all such minor matters as the boiling of potatoes, the making of porridge, all the work on which she specially piqued herself, and on which she would have taken advice--no! not from the most skilled housewife in all the three Ridings. But, somehow, she managed to keep her tongue quiet from telling him, as she would have done any woman, and any other man, to mind his own business, or she would pin a dish-clout to his tail. She even checked Sylvia when the latter proposed, as much for fun as for anything else, that his ignorant directions should be followed, and the consequences brought before his eyes and his nose.
'Na, na!' said Bell, 'th' feyther's feyther, and we mun respect him. But it's dree work havin' a man i' th' house, nursing th' fire, an' such weather too, and not a soul coming near us, not even to fall out wi' him; for thee and me must na' do that, for th' Bible's sake, dear; and a good stand-up wordy quarrel would do him a power of good; stir his blood like. I wish Philip would turn up.'
Bell sighed, for in these four days she had experienced somewhat of Madame de Maintenon's difficulty (and with fewer resources to meet it) of trying to amuse a man who was not amusable. For Bell, good and sensible as she was, was not a woman of resources. Sylvia's plan, undutiful as it was in her mother's eyes, would have done Daniel more good, even though it might have made him angry, than his wife's quiet, careful monotony of action, which, however it might conduce to her husband's comfort when he was absent, did not amuse him when present.
Sylvia scouted the notion of cousin Philip coming into their household in the character of an amusing or entertaining person, till she nearly made her mother angry at her ridicule of the good steady young fellow, to whom Bell looked up as the pattern of all that early manhood should be. But the moment Sylvia saw she had been giving her mother pain, she left off her wilful little jokes, and kissed her, and told her she would manage all famously, and ran out of the back-kitchen, in which mother and daughter had been scrubbing the churn and all the wooden implements of butter-making. Bell looked at the pretty figure of her little daughter, as, running past with her apron thrown over her head, she darkened the window beneath which her mother was doing her work. She paused just for a moment, and then said, almost unawares to herself, 'Bless thee, lass,' before resuming her scouring of what already looked almost snow-white.
Sylvia scampered across the rough farmyard in the wetting, drizzling rain to the place where she expected to find Kester; but he was not there, so she had to retrace her steps to the cow-house, and, making her way up a rough kind of ladder-staircase fixed straight against the wall, she surprised Kester as he sat in the wool-loft, looking over the fleeces reserved for the home-spinning, by popping her bright face, swathed round with her blue woollen apron, up through the trap-door, and thus, her head the only visible part, she addressed the farm-servant, who was almost like one of the family.
'Kester, feyther's just tiring hissel' wi' weariness an' vexation, sitting by t' fireside wi' his hands afore him, an' nought to do. An' mother and me can't think on aught as 'll rouse him up to a bit of a laugh, or aught more cheerful than a scolding. Now, Kester, thou mun just be off, and find Harry Donkin th' tailor, and bring him here; it's gettin' on for Martinmas, an' he'll be coming his rounds, and he may as well come here first as last, and feyther's clothes want a deal o' mending up, and Harry's always full of his news, and anyhow he'll do for feyther to scold, an' be a new person too, and that's somewhat for all on us. Now go, like a good old Kester as yo' are.'
Kester looked at her with loving, faithful admiration. He had set himself his day's work in his master's absence, and was very desirous of finishing it, but, somehow, he never dreamed of resisting Sylvia, so he only stated the case.
'T' 'ool's a vast o' muck in 't, an' a thowt as a'd fettle it, an' do it up; but a reckon a mun do yo'r biddin'.'
'There's a good old Kester,' said she, smiling, and nodding her muffled head at him; then she dipped down out of his sight, then rose up again (he had never taken his slow, mooney eyes from the spot where she had disappeared) to say--'Now, Kester, be wary and deep--thou mun tell Harry Donkin not to let on as we've sent for him, but just to come in as if he were on his round, and took us first; and he mun ask feyther if there is any work for him to do; and I'll answer for 't, he'll have a welcome and a half. Now, be deep and fause, mind thee!'
'A'se deep an' fause enow wi' simple folk; but what can a do i' Donkin be as fause as me--as happen he may be?'
'Ga way wi' thee! I' Donkin be Solomon, thou mun be t' Queen o' Sheba; and I'se bound for to say she outwitted him at last!'
Kester laughed so long at the idea of his being the Queen of Sheba, that Sylvia was back by her mother's side before the cachinnation ended.
That night, just as Sylvia was preparing to go to bed in her little closet of a room, she heard some shot rattling at her window. She opened the little casement, and saw Kester standing below. He recommenced where he left off, with a laugh--
'He, he, he! A's been t' queen! A'se ta'en Donkin on t' reet side, an' he'll coom in to-morrow, just permiskus, an' ax for work, like as if 't were a favour; t' oud felley were a bit cross-grained at startin', for he were workin' at farmer Crosskey's up at t' other side o' t' town, wheer they puts a strike an' a half of maut intil t' beer, when most folk put nobbut a strike, an t' made him ill to convince: but he'll coom, niver fear!'
The honest fellow never said a word of the shilling he had paid out of his own pocket to forward Sylvia's wishes, and to persuade the tailor to leave the good beer. All his anxiety now was to know if he had been missed, and if it was likely that a scolding awaited him in the morning.
'T' oud measter didn't set up his back, 'cause a didn't coom in t' supper?'
'He questioned a bit as to what thou were about, but mother didn't know, an' I held my peace. Mother carried thy supper in t' loft for thee.'
'A'll gang after 't, then, for a'm like a pair o' bellowses wi' t' wind out; just two flat sides wi' nowt betwixt.'
The next morning, Sylvia's face was a little redder than usual when Harry Donkin's bow-legs were seen circling down the path to the house door.
'Here's Donkin, for sure!' exclaimed Bell, when she caught sight of him a minute after her daughter. 'Well, I just call that lucky! for he'll be company for thee while Sylvia and me has to turn th' cheeses.'
This was too original a remark for a wife to make in Daniel's opinion, on this especial morning, when his rheumatism was twinging him more than usual, so he replied with severity--
'That's all t' women know about it. Wi' them it's "coompany, coompany, coompany," an' they think a man's no better than theirsels. A'd have yo' to know a've a vast o' thoughts in myself', as I'm noane willing to lay out for t' benefit o' every man. A've niver gotten time for meditation sin' a were married; leastways, sin' a left t' sea. Aboard ship, wi' niver a woman wi'n leagues o' hail, and upo' t' masthead, in special, a could.'
'Then I'd better tell Donkin as we've no work for him,' said Sylvia, instinctively managing her father by agreeing with him, instead of reasoning with or contradicting him.
'Now, theere you go!' wrenching himself round, for fear Sylvia should carry her meekly made threat into execution. 'Ugh! ugh!' as his limb hurt him. 'Come in, Harry, come in, and talk a bit o' sense to me, for a've been shut up wi' women these four days, and a'm a'most a nateral by this time. A'se bound for 't, they'll find yo' some wark, if 't's nought but for to save their own fingers.'
So Harry took off his coat, and seated himself professional-wise on the hastily-cleared dresser, so that he might have all the light
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