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- Sylvia's Lovers - 40/104 -
were when yo' were serving Mary Darby and there was a vast o' folk about yo'.'
'I wish I'd seen him,' said Coulson. 'I'd ha' gi'en him a word and a look he'd not ha' forgotten in a hurry.'
'Why, what's up?' said Philip, surprised at William's unusual manner, and, at the same time, rather gratified to find a reflection of his own feelings about Kinraid. Coulson's face was pale with anger, but for a moment or two he seemed uncertain whether he would reply or not.
'Up!' said he at length. 'It's just this: he came after my sister for better nor two year; and a better lass--no, nor a prettier i' my eyes--niver broke bread. And then my master saw another girl, that he liked better'--William almost choked in his endeavour to keep down all appearance of violent anger, and then went on, 'and that he played t' same game wi', as I've heerd tell.'
'And how did thy sister take it?' asked Philip, eagerly.
'She died in a six-month,' said William; '_she_ forgived him, but it's beyond me. I thought it were him when I heerd of t' work about Darley; Kinraid--and coming fra' Newcassel, where Annie lived 'prentice--and I made inquiry, and it were t' same man. But I'll say no more about him, for it stirs t' old Adam more nor I like, or is fitting.'
Out of respect to him, Philip asked no more questions although there were many things that he fain would have known. Both Coulson and he went silently and grimly through the remainder of their day's work. Independent of any personal interest which either or both of them had or might have in Kinraid's being a light o' love, this fault of his was one with which the two grave, sedate young men had no sympathy. Their hearts were true and constant, whatever else might be their failings; and it is no new thing to 'damn the faults we have no mind to.' Philip wished that it was not so late, or that very evening he would have gone to keep guard over Sylvia in her mother's absence--nay, perhaps he might have seen reason to give her a warning of some kind. But, if he had done so, it would have been locking the stable-door after the steed was stolen. Kinraid had turned his steps towards Haytersbank Farm as soon as ever he had completed his purchases. He had only come that afternoon to Monkshaven, and for the sole purpose of seeing Sylvia once more before he went to fulfil his engagement as specksioneer in the _Urania_, a whaling-vessel that was to sail from North Shields on Thursday morning, and this was Monday.
Sylvia sat in the house-place, her back to the long low window, in order to have all the light the afternoon hour afforded for her work. A basket of her father's unmended stockings was on the little round table beside her, and one was on her left hand, which she supposed herself to be mending; but from time to time she made long pauses, and looked in the fire; and yet there was but little motion of flame or light in it out of which to conjure visions. It was 'redd up' for the afternoon; covered with a black mass of coal, over which the equally black kettle hung on the crook. In the back-kitchen Dolly Reid, Sylvia's assistant during her mother's absence, chanted a lugubrious ditty, befitting her condition as a widow, while she cleaned tins, and cans, and milking-pails. Perhaps these bustling sounds prevented Sylvia from hearing approaching footsteps coming down the brow with swift advance; at any rate, she started and suddenly stood up as some one entered the open door. It was strange she should be so much startled, for the person who entered had been in her thoughts all during those long pauses. Charley Kinraid and the story of crazy Nancy had been the subjects for her dreams for many a day, and many a night. Now he stood there, bright and handsome as ever, with just that much timidity in his face, that anxiety as to his welcome, which gave his accost an added charm, could she but have perceived it. But she was so afraid of herself, so unwilling to show what she felt, and how much she had been thinking of him in his absence, that her reception seemed cold and still. She did not come forward to meet him; she went crimson to the very roots of her hair; but that, in the waning light, he could not see; and she shook so that she felt as if she could hardly stand; but the tremor was not visible to him. She wondered if he remembered the kiss that had passed between them on new year's eve--the words that had been spoken in the dairy on new year's day; the tones, the looks, that had accompanied those words. But all she said was--
'I didn't think to see yo'. I thought yo'd ha' sailed.'
'I told yo' I should come back, didn't I?' said he, still standing, with his hat in his hand, waiting to be asked to sit down; and she, in her bashfulness, forgetting to give the invitation, but, instead, pretending to be attentively mending the stocking she held. Neither could keep quiet and silent long. She felt his eyes were upon her, watching every motion, and grew more and more confused in her expression and behaviour. He was a little taken aback by the nature of his reception, and was not sure at first whether to take the great change in her manner, from what it had been when last he saw her, as a favourable symptom or otherwise. By-and-by, luckily for him, in some turn of her arm to reach the scissors on the table, she caught the edge of her work-basket, and down it fell. She stooped to pick up the scattered stockings and ball of worsted, and so did he; and when they rose up, he had fast hold of her hand, and her face was turned away, half ready to cry.
'What ails yo' at me?' said he, beseechingly. 'Yo' might ha' forgotten me; and yet I thought we made a bargain against forgetting each other.' No answer. He went on: 'Yo've never been out o' my thoughts, Sylvia Robson; and I'm come back to Monkshaven for nought but to see you once and again afore I go away to the northern seas. It's not two hour sin' I landed at Monkshaven, and I've been near neither kith nor kin as yet; and now I'm here you won't speak to me.'
'I don't know what to say,' said she, in a low, almost inaudible tone. Then hardening herself, and resolving to speak as if she did not understand his only half-expressed meaning, she lifted up her head, and all but looking at him--while she wrenched her hand out of his--she said: 'Mother's gone to Middleham for a visit, and feyther's out i' t' plough-field wi' Kester; but he'll be in afore long.'
Charley did not speak for a minute or so. Then he said--
'Yo're not so dull as to think I'm come all this way for t' see either your father or your mother. I've a great respect for 'em both; but I'd hardly ha' come all this way for to see 'em, and me bound to be back i' Shields, if I walk every step of the way, by Wednesday night. It's that yo' won't understand my meaning, Sylvia; it's not that yo' don't, or that yo' can't.' He made no effort to repossess himself of her hand. She was quite silent, but in spite of herself she drew long hard breaths. 'I may go back to where I came from,' he went on. 'I thought to go to sea wi' a blessed hope to cheer me up, and a knowledge o' some one as loved me as I'd left behind; some one as loved me half as much as I did her; for th' measure o' my love toward her is so great and mighty, I'd be content wi' half as much from her, till I'd taught her to love me more. But if she's a cold heart and cannot care for a honest sailor, why, then, I'd best go back at once.'
He made for the door. He must have been pretty sure from some sign or other, or he would never have left it to her womanly pride to give way, and for her to make the next advance. He had not taken two steps when she turned quickly towards him, and said something--the echo of which, rather than the words themselves, reached him.
'I didn't know yo' cared for me; yo' niver said so.' In an instant he was back at her side, his arm round her in spite of her short struggle, and his eager passionate voice saying, 'Yo' never knowed I loved you, Sylvia? say it again, and look i' my face while yo' say it, if yo' can. Why, last winter I thought yo'd be such a woman when yo'd come to be one as my een had never looked upon, and this year, ever sin' I saw yo' i' the kitchen corner sitting crouching behind my uncle, I as good as swore I'd have yo' for wife, or never wed at all. And it was not long ere yo' knowed it, for all yo' were so coy, and now yo' have the face--no, yo' have not the face--come, my darling, what is it?' for she was crying; and on his turning her wet blushing face towards him the better to look at it, she suddenly hid it in his breast. He lulled and soothed her in his arms, as if she had been a weeping child and he her mother; and then they sat down on the settle together, and when she was more composed they began to talk. He asked her about her mother; not sorry in his heart at Bell Robson's absence. He had intended if necessary to acknowledge his wishes and desires with regard to Sylvia to her parents; but for various reasons he was not sorry that circumstances had given him the chance of seeing her alone, and obtaining her promise to marry him without being obliged to tell either her father or her mother at present. 'I ha' spent my money pretty free,' he said, 'and I've ne'er a penny to the fore, and yo'r parents may look for something better for yo', my pretty: but when I come back fro' this voyage I shall stand a chance of having a share i' th' _Urania_, and may-be I shall be mate as well as specksioneer; and I can get a matter of from seventy to ninety pound a voyage, let alone th' half-guineas for every whale I strike, and six shilling a gallon on th' oil; and if I keep steady wi' Forbes and Company, they'll make me master i' time, for I've had good schooling, and can work a ship as well as any man; an' I leave yo' wi' yo'r parents, or take a cottage for yo' nigh at hand; but I would like to have something to the fore, and that I shall have, please God, when we come back i' th' autumn. I shall go to sea happy, now, thinking I've yo'r word. Yo're not one to go back from it, I'm sure, else it's a long time to leave such a pretty girl as yo', and ne'er a chance of a letter reaching yo' just to tell yo' once again how I love yo', and to bid yo' not forget yo'r true love.'
'There'll be no need o' that,' murmured Sylvia.
She was too dizzy with happiness to have attended much to his details of his worldly prospects, but at the sound of his tender words of love her eager heart was ready to listen.
'I don't know,' said he, wanting to draw her out into more confession of her feelings. 'There's many a one ready to come after yo'; and yo'r mother is not o'er captivated wi' me; and there's yon tall fellow of a cousin as looks black at me, for if I'm not mista'en he's a notion of being sweet on yo' hisself.'
'Not he,' said Sylvia, with some contempt in her tone. 'He's so full o' business and t' shop, and o' makin' money, and gettin' wealth.'
'Ay, ay; but perhaps when he gets a rich man he'll come and ask my Sylvia to be his wife, and what will she say then?'
'He'll niver come asking such a foolish question,' said she, a little impatiently; 'he knows what answer he'd get if he did.'
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