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- Sylvia's Lovers - 20/104 -
'Are you tired?' asked he, with a strange mixture of crossness and tenderness.
'Yes, very,' was her reply.
'But thou ought'st not to be tired,' said Bell, who had not yet got over the offence to her hospitality; who, moreover, liked her nephew, and had, to boot, a great respect for the learning she had never acquired.
'Mother!' said Sylvia, bursting out, 'what's the use on my writing "Abednego," "Abednego," "Abednego," all down a page? If I could see t' use on 't, I'd ha' axed father to send me t' school; but I'm none wanting to have learning.'
'It's a fine thing, tho', is learning. My mother and my grandmother had it: but th' family came down i' the world, and Philip's mother and me, we had none of it; but I ha' set my heart on thy having it, child.'
'My fingers is stiff,' pleaded Sylvia, holding up her little hand and shaking it.
'Let us take a turn at spelling, then,' said Philip.
'What's t' use on't?' asked captious Sylvia.
'Why, it helps one i' reading an' writing.'
'And what does reading and writing do for one?'
Her mother gave her another of the severe looks that, quiet woman as she was, she could occasionally bestow upon the refractory, and Sylvia took her book and glanced down the column Philip pointed out to her; but, as she justly considered, one man might point out the task, but twenty could not make her learn it, if she did not choose; and she sat herself down on the edge of the dresser, and idly gazed into the fire. But her mother came round to look for something in the drawers of the dresser, and as she passed her daughter she said in a low voice--
'Sylvie, be a good lass. I set a deal o' store by learning, and father 'ud never send thee to school, as has stuck by me sore.'
If Philip, sitting with his back to them, heard these words he was discreet enough not to show that he heard. And he had his reward; for in a very short time, Sylvia stood before him with her book in her hand, prepared to say her spelling. At which he also stood up by instinct, and listened to her slow succeeding letters; helping her out, when she looked up at him with a sweet childlike perplexity in her face: for a dunce as to book-learning poor Sylvia was and was likely to remain; and, in spite of his assumed office of schoolmaster, Philip Hepburn could almost have echoed the words of the lover of Jess MacFarlane--
I sent my love a letter, But, alas! she canna read, And I lo'e her a' the better.
Still he knew his aunt's strong wish on the subject, and it was very delightful to stand in the relation of teacher to so dear and pretty, if so wilful, a pupil.
Perhaps it was not very flattering to notice Sylvia's great joy when her lessons were over, sadly shortened as they were by Philip's desire not to be too hard upon her. Sylvia danced round to her mother, bent her head back, and kissed her face, and then said defyingly to Philip,--
'If iver I write thee a letter it shall just be full of nothing but "Abednego! Abednego! Abednego!"'
But at this moment her father came in from a distant expedition on the moors with Kester to look after the sheep he had pasturing there before the winter set fairly in. He was tired, and so was Lassie, and so, too, was Kester, who, lifting his heavy legs one after the other, and smoothing down his hair, followed his master into the house-place, and seating himself on a bench at the farther end of the dresser, patiently awaited the supper of porridge and milk which he shared with his master. Sylvia, meanwhile, coaxed Lassie--poor footsore dog--to her side, and gave her some food, which the creature was almost too tired to eat. Philip made as though he would be going, but Daniel motioned to him to be quiet.
'Sit thee down, lad. As soon as I've had my victual, I want t' hear a bit o' news.'
Sylvia took her sewing and sat at the little round table by her mother, sharing the light of the scanty dip-candle. No one spoke. Every one was absorbed in what they were doing. What Philip was doing was, gazing at Sylvia--learning her face off by heart.
When every scrap of porridge was cleared out of the mighty bowl, Kester yawned, and wishing good-night, withdrew to his loft over the cow-house. Then Philip pulled out the weekly York paper, and began to read the latest accounts of the war then raging. This was giving Daniel one of his greatest pleasures; for though he could read pretty well, yet the double effort of reading and understanding what he read was almost too much for him. He could read, or he could understand what was read aloud to him; reading was no pleasure, but listening was.
Besides, he had a true John Bullish interest in the war, without very well knowing what the English were fighting for. But in those days, so long as they fought the French for any cause, or for no cause at all, every true patriot was satisfied. Sylvia and her mother did not care for any such far-extended interest; a little bit of York news, the stealing of a few apples out of a Scarborough garden that they knew, was of far more interest to them than all the battles of Nelson and the North.
Philip read in a high-pitched and unnatural tone of voice, which deprived the words of their reality; for even familiar expressions can become unfamiliar and convey no ideas, if the utterance is forced or affected. Philip was somewhat of a pedant; yet there was a simplicity in his pedantry not always to be met with in those who are self-taught, and which might have interested any one who cared to know with what labour and difficulty he had acquired the knowledge which now he prized so highly; reading out Latin quotations as easily as if they were English, and taking a pleasure in rolling polysyllables, until all at once looking askance at Sylvia, he saw that her head had fallen back, her pretty rosy lips open, her eyes fast shut; in short, she was asleep.
'Ay,' said Farmer Robson, 'and t' reading has a'most sent me off. Mother 'd look angry now if I was to tell yo' yo' had a right to a kiss; but when I was a young man I'd ha' kissed a pretty girl as I saw asleep, afore yo'd said Jack Robson.'
Philip trembled at these words, and looked at his aunt. She gave him no encouragement, standing up, and making as though she had never heard her husband's speech, by extending her hand, and wishing him 'good-night.' At the noise of the chairs moving over the flag floor, Sylvia started up, confused and annoyed at her father's laughter.
'Ay, lass; it's iver a good time t' fall asleep when a young fellow is by. Here's Philip here as thou'rt bound t' give a pair o' gloves to.'
Sylvia went like fire; she turned to her mother to read her face.
'It's only father's joke, lass,' said she. 'Philip knows manners too well.'
'He'd better,' said Sylvia, flaming round at him. 'If he'd a touched me, I'd niver ha' spoken to him no more.' And she looked even as it was as if she was far from forgiving him.
'Hoots, lass! wenches are brought up sa mim, now-a-days; i' my time they'd ha' thought na' such great harm of a kiss.'
'Good-night, Philip,' said Bell Robson, thinking the conversation unseemly.
'Good-night, aunt, good-night, Sylvie!' But Sylvia turned her back on him, and he could hardly say 'good-night' to Daniel, who had caused such an unpleasant end to an evening that had at one time been going on so well.
A few days after, Farmer Robson left Haytersbank betimes on a longish day's journey, to purchase a horse. Sylvia and her mother were busied with a hundred household things, and the early winter's evening closed in upon them almost before they were aware. The consequences of darkness in the country even now are to gather the members of a family together into one room, and to make them settle to some sedentary employment; and it was much more the case at the period of my story, when candles were far dearer than they are at present, and when one was often made to suffice for a large family.
The mother and daughter hardly spoke at all when they sat down at last. The cheerful click of the knitting-needles made a pleasant home-sound; and in the occasional snatches of slumber that overcame her mother, Sylvia could hear the long-rushing boom of the waves, down below the rocks, for the Haytersbank gulley allowed the sullen roar to come up so far inland. It might have been about eight o'clock--though from the monotonous course of the evening it seemed much later--when Sylvia heard her father's heavy step cranching down the pebbly path. More unusual, she heard his voice talking to some companion.
Curious to see who it could be, with a lively instinctive advance towards any event which might break the monotony she had begun to find somewhat dull, she sprang up to open the door. Half a glance into the gray darkness outside made her suddenly timid, and she drew back behind the door as she opened it wide to admit her father and Kinraid.
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