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- Sylvia's Lovers - 30/104 -
perhaps go away again to his former place.
But he was quite far enough gone in love of her beauty, and pretty modest ways, not to care much whether she talked or no, so long as she showed herself so pleasingly conscious of his close neighbourhood.
'I must come and see the old gentleman; and your mother, too,' he added more slowly, for he remembered that his visits last year had not been quite so much welcomed by Bell Robson as by her husband; perhaps it was because of the amount of drink which he and Daniel managed to get through of an evening. He resolved this year to be more careful to please the mother of Sylvia.
When tea was ended there was a great bustle and shifting of places, while Mrs. Corney and her daughters carried out trays full of used cups, and great platters of uneaten bread and butter into the back-kitchen, to be washed up after the guests were gone. Just because she was so conscious that she did not want to move, and break up the little conversation between herself and Kinraid, Sylvia forced herself to be as active in the service going on as became a friend of the house; and she was too much her mother's own daughter to feel comfortable at leaving all the things in the disorder which to the Corney girls was second nature.
'This milk mun go back to t' dairy, I reckon,' said she, loading herself with milk and cream.
'Niver fash thysel' about it,' said Nelly Corney, 'Christmas comes but onest a year, if it does go sour; and mother said she'd have a game at forfeits first thing after tea to loosen folks's tongues, and mix up t' lads and lasses, so come along.'
But Sylvia steered her careful way to the cold chill of the dairy, and would not be satisfied till she had carried away all the unused provision into some fresher air than that heated by the fires and ovens used for the long day's cooking of pies and cakes and much roast meat.
When they came back a round of red-faced 'lads,' as young men up to five-and-thirty are called in Lancashire and Yorkshire if they are not married before, and lasses, whose age was not to be defined, were playing at some country game, in which the women were apparently more interested than the men, who looked shamefaced, and afraid of each other's ridicule. Mrs. Corney, however, knew how to remedy this, and at a sign from her a great jug of beer was brought in. This jug was the pride of her heart, and was in the shape of a fat man in white knee-breeches, and a three-cornered hat; with one arm he supported the pipe in his broad, smiling mouth, and the other was placed akimbo and formed the handle. There was also a great china punch-bowl filled with grog made after an old ship-receipt current in these parts, but not too strong, because if their visitors had too much to drink at that early part of the evening 'it would spoil t' fun,' as Nelly Corney had observed. Her father, however, after the notions of hospitality prevalent at that time in higher circles, had stipulated that each man should have 'enough' before he left the house; enough meaning in Monkshaven parlance the liberty of getting drunk, if they thought fit to do it.
Before long one of the lads was seized with a fit of admiration for Toby--the name of the old gentleman who contained liquor--and went up to the tray for a closer inspection. He was speedily followed by other amateurs of curious earthenware; and by-and-by Mr. Brunton (who had been charged by his mother-in-law with the due supplying of liquor--by his father-in-law that every man should have his fill, and by his wife and her sisters that no one should have too much, at any rate at the beginning of the evening,) thought fit to carry out Toby to be replenished; and a faster spirit of enjoyment and mirth began to reign in the room.
Kinraid was too well seasoned to care what amount of liquor he drank; Philip had what was called a weak head, and disliked muddling himself with drink because of the immediate consequence of intense feelings of irritability, and the more distant one of a racking headache next day; so both these two preserved very much the same demeanour they had held at the beginning of the evening.
Sylvia was by all acknowledged and treated as the belle. When they played at blind-man's-buff go where she would, she was always caught; she was called out repeatedly to do what was required in any game, as if all had a pleasure in seeing her light figure and deft ways. She was sufficiently pleased with this to have got over her shyness with all except Charley. When others paid her their rustic compliments she tossed her head, and made her little saucy repartees; but when he said something low and flattering, it was too honey-sweet to her heart to be thrown off thus. And, somehow, the more she yielded to this fascination the more she avoided Philip. He did not speak flatteringly--he did not pay compliments--he watched her with discontented, longing eyes, and grew more inclined every moment, as he remembered his anticipation of a happy evening, to cry out in his heart _vanitas vanitatum_.
And now came crying the forfeits. Molly Brunton knelt down, her face buried in her mother's lap; the latter took out the forfeits one by one, and as she held them up, said the accustomed formula,--
'A fine thing and a very fine thing, what must he (or she) do who owns this thing.'
One or two had been told to kneel to the prettiest, bow to the wittiest, and kiss those they loved best; others had had to bite an inch off the poker, or such plays upon words. And now came Sylvia's pretty new ribbon that Philip had given her (he almost longed to snatch it out of Mrs. Corney's hands and burn it before all their faces, so annoyed was he with the whole affair.)
'A fine thing and a very fine thing--a most particular fine thing--choose how she came by it. What must she do as owns this thing?'
'She must blow out t' candle and kiss t' candlestick.'
In one instant Kinraid had hold of the only candle within reach, all the others had been put up high on inaccessible shelves and other places. Sylvia went up and blew out the candle, and before the sudden partial darkness was over he had taken the candle into his fingers, and, according to the traditional meaning of the words, was in the place of the candlestick, and as such was to be kissed. Every one laughed at innocent Sylvia's face as the meaning of her penance came into it, every one but Philip, who almost choked.
'I'm candlestick,' said Kinraid, with less of triumph in his voice than he would have had with any other girl in the room.
'Yo' mun kiss t' candlestick,' cried the Corneys, 'or yo'll niver get yo'r ribbon back.'
'And she sets a deal o' store by that ribbon,' said Molly Brunton, maliciously.
'I'll none kiss t' candlestick, nor him either,' said Sylvia, in a low voice of determination, turning away, full of confusion.
'Yo'll not get yo'r ribbon if yo' dunnot,' cried one and all.
'I don't care for t' ribbon,' said she, flashing up with a look at her tormentors, now her back was turned to Kinraid. 'An' I wunnot play any more at such like games,' she added, with fresh indignation rising in her heart as she took her old place in the corner of the room a little away from the rest.
Philip's spirits rose, and he yearned to go to her and tell her how he approved of her conduct. Alas, Philip! Sylvia, though as modest a girl as ever lived, was no prude, and had been brought up in simple, straightforward country ways; and with any other young man, excepting, perhaps, Philip's self, she would have thought no more of making a rapid pretence of kissing the hand or cheek of the temporary 'candlestick', than our ancestresses did in a much higher rank on similar occasions. Kinraid, though mortified by his public rejection, was more conscious of this than the inexperienced Philip; he resolved not to be baulked, and watched his opportunity. For the time he went on playing as if Sylvia's conduct had not affected him in the least, and as if he was hardly aware of her defection from the game. As she saw others submitting, quite as a matter of course, to similar penances, she began to be angry with herself for having thought twice about it, and almost to dislike herself for the strange consciousness which had made it at the time seem impossible to do what she was told. Her eyes kept filling with tears as her isolated position in the gay party, the thought of what a fool she had made of herself, kept recurring to her mind; but no one saw her, she thought, thus crying; and, ashamed to be discovered when the party should pause in their game, she stole round behind them into the great chamber in which she had helped to lay out the supper, with the intention of bathing her eyes, and taking a drink of water. One instant Charley Kinraid was missing from the circle of which he was the life and soul; and then back he came with an air of satisfaction on his face, intelligible enough to those who had seen his game; but unnoticed by Philip, who, amidst the perpetual noise and movements around him, had not perceived Sylvia's leaving the room, until she came back at the end of about a quarter of an hour, looking lovelier than ever, her complexion brilliant, her eyes drooping, her hair neatly and freshly arranged, tied with a brown ribbon instead of that she was supposed to have forfeited. She looked as if she did not wish her return to be noticed, stealing softly behind the romping lads and lasses with noiseless motions, and altogether such a contrast to them in her cool freshness and modest neatness, that both Kinraid and Philip found it difficult to keep their eyes off her. But the former had a secret triumph in his heart which enabled him to go on with his merry-making as if it absorbed him; while Philip dropped out of the crowd and came up to where she was standing silently by Mrs. Corney, who, arms akimbo, was laughing at the frolic and fun around her. Sylvia started a little when Philip spoke, and kept her soft eyes averted from him after the first glance; she answered him shortly, but with unaccustomed gentleness. He had only asked her when she would like him to take her home; and she, a little surprised at the idea of going home when to her the evening seemed only beginning, had answered--
'Go home? I don't know! It's New Year's eve!'
'Ay! but yo'r mother 'll lie awake till yo' come home, Sylvie!'
But Mrs. Corney, having heard his question, broke in with all sorts of upbraidings. 'Go home! Not see t' New Year in! Why, what should take 'em home these six hours? Wasn't there a moon as clear as day? and did such a time as this come often? And were they to break up the party before the New Year came in? And was there not supper, with a spiced round of beef that had been in pickle pretty nigh sin' Martinmas, and hams, and mince-pies, and what not? And if they thought any evil of her master's going to bed, or that by that early
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