Sylvia's Lovers, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XXV

Coming Troubles

The morning brought more peace if it did not entirely dissipate fear. Daniel seemed to have got over his irritability, and was unusually kind and tender to wife and daughter, especially striving by silent little deeds to make up for the sharp words he had said the night before to the latter.

As if by common consent, all allusion to the Saturday night’s proceedings was avoided. They spoke of the day’s work before them; of the crops to be sown; of the cattle; of the markets; but each one was conscious of a wish to know more distinctly what were the chances of the danger that, to judge from Philip’s words, hung over them, falling upon them and cutting them off from all these places for the coming days.

Bell longed to send Kester down into Monkshaven as a sort of spy to see how the land lay; but she dared not manifest her anxiety to her husband, and could not see Kester alone. She wished that she had told him to go to the town, when she had had him to herself in the house-place the night before; now it seemed as though Daniel were resolved not to part from him, and as though both had forgotten that any peril had been anticipated. Sylvia and her mother, in like manner, clung together, not speaking of their fears, yet each knowing that it was ever present in the other’s mind.

So things went on till twelve o’clock — dinner-time. If at any time that morning they had had the courage to speak together on the thought which was engrossing all their minds, it is possible that some means might have been found to avert the calamity that was coming towards them with swift feet. But among the uneducated — the partially educated — nay, even the weakly educated — the feeling exists which prompted the futile experiment of the well-known ostrich. They imagine that, by closing their own eyes to apprehended evil, they avert it. The expression of fear is supposed to accelerate the coming of its cause. Yet, on the other hand, they shrink from acknowledging the long continuance of any blessing, in the idea that when unusual happiness is spoken about, it disappears. So, although perpetual complaints of past or present grievances and sorrows are most common among this class, they shrink from embodying apprehensions for the future in words, as if it then took shape and drew near.

They all four sate down to dinner, but not one of them was inclined to eat. The food was scarcely touched on their plates, yet they were trying to make talk among themselves as usual; they seemed as though they dared not let themselves be silent, when Sylvia, sitting opposite to the window, saw Philip at the top of the brow, running rapidly towards the farm. She had been so full of the anticipation of some kind of misfortune all the morning that she felt now as if this was the very precursive circumstance she had been expecting; she stood up, turning quite white, and, pointing with her finger, said —

‘There he is!’

Every one at table stood up too. An instant afterwards, Philip, breathless, was in the room.

He gasped out, ‘They’re coming! the warrant is out. You must go. I hoped you were gone.’

‘God help us!’ said Bell, and sate suddenly down, as if she had received a blow that made her collapse into helplessness; but she got up again directly.

Sylvia flew for her father’s hat. He really seemed the most unmoved of the party.

‘A’m noane afeared,’ said he. ‘A’d do it o’er again, a would; an’ a’ll tell ’em so. It’s a fine time o’ day when men’s to be trapped and carried off, an’ them as lays traps to set ’em free is to be put i’ t’ lock-ups for it.’

‘But there was rioting, beside the rescue; t’ house was burnt,’ continued eager, breathless Philip.

‘An’ a’m noane goin’ t’ say a’m sorry for that, neyther; tho’, mebbe, a wouldn’t do it again.’

Sylvia had his hat on his head by this time; and Bell, wan and stiff, trembling all over, had his over-coat, and his leather purse with the few coins she could muster, ready for him to put on.

He looked at these preparations, at his wife and daughter, and his colour changed from its ruddy brown.

‘A’d face lock-ups, an’ a fair spell o’ jail, but for these,’ said he, hesitating.

‘Oh!’ said Philip, ‘for God’s sake, lose no time, but be off.’

‘Where mun he go?’ asked Bell, as if Philip must decide all.

‘Anywhere, anywhere, out of this house — say Haverstone. This evening, I’ll go and meet him there and plan further; only be off now.’ Philip was so keenly eager, he hardly took note at the time of Sylvia’s one vivid look of unspoken thanks, yet he remembered it afterwards.

‘A’ll dang ’em dead,’ said Kester, rushing to the door, for he saw what the others did not — that all chance of escape was over; the constables were already at the top of the little field-path not twenty yards off.

‘Hide him, hide him,’ cried Bell, wringing her hands in terror; for she, indeed they all, knew that flight would now be impossible. Daniel was heavy, rheumatic, and, moreover, had been pretty severely bruised on that unlucky night.

Philip, without another word, pushed Daniel before him upstairs, feeling that his own presence at Haytersbank Farm at that hour of the day would be a betrayal. They had just time to shut themselves up in the larger bed-room, before they heard a scuffle and the constables’ entry down-stairs.

‘They’re in,’ said Philip, as Daniel squeezed himself under the bed; and then they held quite still, Philip as much concealed by the scanty, blue-check curtain as he could manage to be. They heard a confusion of voices below, a hasty moving of chairs, a banging of doors, a further parley, and then a woman’s scream, shrill and pitiful; then steps on the stairs.

‘That screech spoiled all,’ sighed Philip.

In one instant the door was opened, and each of the hiders was conscious of the presence of the constables, although at first the latter stood motionless, surveying the apparently empty room with disappointment. Then in another moment they had rushed at Philip’s legs, exposed as these were. They drew him out with violence, and then let him go.

‘Measter Hepburn!’ said one in amaze. But immediately they put two and two together; for in so small a place as Monkshaven every one’s relationships and connexions, and even likings, were known; and the motive of Philip’s coming out to Haytersbank was perfectly clear to these men.

‘T’ other ‘ll not be far off,’ said the other constable. ‘His plate were down-stairs, full o’ victual; a seed Measter Hepburn a-walking briskly before me as a left Monkshaven.’

‘Here he be, here he be,’ called out the other man, dragging Daniel out by his legs, ‘we’ve getten him.’

Daniel kicked violently, and came out from his hiding-place in a less ignominious way than by being pulled out by his heels.

He shook himself, and then turned, facing his captors.

‘A wish a’d niver hidden mysel’; it were his doing,’ jerking his thumb toward Philip: ‘a’m ready to stand by what a’ve done. Yo’ve getten a warrant a’ll be bound, for them justices is grand at writin’ when t’ fight’s over.’

He was trying to carry it off with bravado, but Philip saw that he had received a shock, from his sudden look of withered colour and shrunken feature.

‘Don’t handcuff him,’ said Philip, putting money into the constable’s hand. ‘You’ll be able to guard him well enough without them things.’

Daniel turned round sharp at this whisper.

‘Let-a-be, let-a-be, my lad,’ he said. ‘It ‘ll be summut to think on i’ t’ lock-up how two able-bodied fellys were so afeared on t’ chap as reskyed them honest sailors o’ Saturday neet, as they mun put him i’ gyves, and he sixty-two come Martinmas, and sore laid up wi’ t’ rheumatics.’

But it was difficult to keep up this tone of bravado when he was led a prisoner through his own house-place, and saw his poor wife quivering and shaking all over with her efforts to keep back all signs of emotion until he was gone; and Sylvia standing by her mother, her arm round Bell’s waist and stroking the poor shrunken fingers which worked so perpetually and nervously in futile unconscious restlessness. Kester was in a corner of the room, sullenly standing.

Bell quaked from head to foot as her husband came down-stairs a prisoner. She opened her lips several times with an uneasy motion, as if she would fain say something, but knew not what. Sylvia’s passionate swollen lips and her beautiful defiant eyes gave her face quite a new aspect; she looked a helpless fury.

‘A may kiss my missus, a reckon,’ said Daniel, coming to a standstill as he passed near her.

‘Oh, Dannel, Dannel!’ cried she, opening her arms wide to receive him. ‘Dannel, Dannel, my man!’ and she shook with her crying, laying her head on his shoulder, as if he was all her stay and comfort.

‘Come, missus! come, missus!’ said he, ‘there couldn’t be more ado if a’d been guilty of murder, an’ yet a say again, as a said afore, a’m noane ashamed o’ my doings. Here, Sylvie, lass, tak’ thy mother off me, for a cannot do it mysel’, it like sets me off.’ His voice was quavering as he said this. But he cheered up a little and said, ‘Now, good-by, oud wench’ (kissing her), ‘and keep a good heart, and let me see thee lookin’ lusty and strong when a come back. Good-by, my lass; look well after mother, and ask Philip for guidance if it’s needed.’

He was taken out of his home, and then arose the shrill cries of the women; but in a minute or two they were checked by the return of one of the constables, who, cap in hand at the sight of so much grief, said —

‘He wants a word wi’ his daughter.’

The party had come to a halt about ten yards from the house. Sylvia, hastily wiping her tears on her apron, ran out and threw her arms round her father, as if to burst out afresh on his neck.

‘Nay, nay, my wench, it’s thee as mun be a comfort to mother: nay, nay, or thou’ll niver hear what a’ve got to say. Sylvie, my lass, a’m main and sorry a were so short wi’ thee last neet; a ax thy pardon, lass, a were cross to thee, and sent thee to thy bed wi’ a sore heart. Thou munnot think on it again, but forgie me, now a’m leavin’ thee.’

‘Oh, feyther! feyther!’ was all Sylvia could say; and at last they had to make as though they would have used force to separate her from their prisoner. Philip took her hand, and softly led her back to her weeping mother.

For some time nothing was to be heard in the little farmhouse kitchen but the sobbing and wailing of the women. Philip stood by silent, thinking, as well as he could, for his keen sympathy with their grief, what had best be done next. Kester, after some growls at Sylvia for having held back the uplifted arm which he thought might have saved Daniel by a well-considered blow on his captors as they entered the house, went back into his shippen — his cell for meditation and consolation, where he might hope to soothe himself before going out to his afternoon’s work; labour which his master had planned for him that very morning, with a strange foresight, as Kester thought, for the job was one which would take him two or three days without needing any further directions than those he had received, and by the end of that time he thought that his master would be at liberty again. So he — so they all thought in their ignorance and inexperience.

Although Daniel himself was unreasoning, hasty, impulsive — in a word, often thinking and acting very foolishly — yet, somehow, either from some quality in his character, or from the loyalty of nature in those with whom he had to deal in his every-day life, he had made his place and position clear as the arbiter and law-giver of his household. On his decision, as that of husband, father, master, perhaps superior natures waited. So now that he was gone and had left them in such strange new circumstances so suddenly, it seemed as though neither Bell nor Sylvia knew exactly what to do when their grief was spent, so much had every household action and plan been regulated by the thought of him. Meanwhile Philip had slowly been arriving at the conclusion that he was more wanted at Monkshaven to look after Daniel’s interests, to learn what were the legal probabilities in consequence of the old man’s arrest, and to arrange for his family accordingly, than standing still and silent in the Haytersbank kitchen, too full of fellow-feeling and heavy foreboding to comfort, awkwardly unsympathetic in appearance from the very aching of his heart.

So when his aunt, with instinctive sense of regularity and propriety, began to put away the scarcely tasted dinner, and Sylvia, blinded with crying, and convulsively sobbing, was yet trying to help her mother, Philip took his hat, and brushing it round and round with the sleeve of his coat, said —

‘I think I’ll just go back, and see how matters stand.’ He had a more distinct plan in his head than these words implied, but it depended on so many contingencies of which he was ignorant that he said only these few words; and with a silent resolution to see them again that day, but a dread of being compelled to express his fears, so far beyond theirs, he went off without saying anything more. Then Sylvia lifted up her voice with a great cry. Somehow she had expected him to do something — what, she did not know; but he was gone, and they were left without stay or help.

‘Hush thee, hush thee,’ said her mother, trembling all over herself; ‘it’s for the best. The Lord knows.’

‘But I niver thought he’d leave us,’ moaned Sylvia, half in her mother’s arms, and thinking of Philip. Her mother took the words as applied to Daniel.

‘And he’d niver ha’ left us, my wench, if he could ha’ stayed.’

‘Oh, mother, mother, it’s Philip as has left us, and he could ha’ stayed.’

‘He’ll come back, or mebbe send, I’ll be bound. Leastways he’ll be gone to see feyther, and he’ll need comfort most on all, in a fremd place — in Bridewell — and niver a morsel of victual or a piece o’ money.’ And now she sate down, and wept the dry hot tears that come with such difficulty to the eyes of the aged. And so — first one grieving, and then the other, and each draining her own heart of every possible hope by way of comfort, alternately trying to cheer and console — the February afternoon passed away; the continuous rain closing in the daylight even earlier than usual, and adding to the dreariness, with the natural accompaniments of wailing winds, coming with long sweeps over the moors, and making the sobbings at the windows that always sound like the gasps of some one in great agony. Meanwhile Philip had hastened back to Monkshaven. He had no umbrella, he had to face the driving rain for the greater part of the way; but he was thankful to the weather, for it kept men indoors, and he wanted to meet no one, but to have time to think and mature his plans. The town itself was, so to speak, in mourning. The rescue of the sailors was a distinctly popular movement; the subsequent violence (which had, indeed, gone much further than has been described, after Daniel left it) was, in general, considered as only a kind of due punishment inflicted in wild justice on the press-gang and their abettors. The feeling of the Monkshaven people was, therefore, in decided opposition to the vigorous steps taken by the county magistrates, who, in consequence of an appeal from the naval officers in charge of the impressment service, had called out the militia (from a distant and inland county) stationed within a few miles, and had thus summarily quenched the riots that were continuing on the Sunday morning after a somewhat languid fashion; the greater part of the destruction of property having been accomplished during the previous night. Still there was little doubt but that the violence would have been renewed as evening drew on, and the more desperate part of the population and the enraged sailors had had the Sabbath leisure to brood over their wrongs, and to encourage each other in a passionate attempt at redress, or revenge. So the authorities were quite justified in the decided steps they had taken, both in their own estimation then, and now, in ours, looking back on the affair in cold blood. But at the time feeling ran strongly against them; and all means of expressing itself in action being prevented, men brooded sullenly in their own houses. Philip, as the representative of the family, the head of which was now suffering for his deeds in the popular cause, would have met with more sympathy, ay, and more respect than he imagined, as he went along the streets, glancing from side to side, fearful of meeting some who would shy him as the relation of one who had been ignominiously taken to Bridewell a few hours before. But in spite of this wincing of Philip’s from observation and remark, he never dreamed of acting otherwise than as became a brave true friend. And this he did, and would have done, from a natural faithfulness and constancy of disposition, without any special regard for Sylvia.

He knew his services were needed in the shop; business which he had left at a moment’s warning awaited him, unfinished; but at this time he could not bear the torture of giving explanations, and alleging reasons to the languid intelligence and slow sympathies of Coulson.

He went to the offices of Mr. Donkin, the oldest established and most respected attorney in Monkshaven — he who had been employed to draw up the law papers and deeds of partnership consequent on Hepburn and Coulson succeeding to the shop of John and Jeremiah Foster, Brothers.

Mr. Donkin knew Philip from this circumstance. But, indeed, nearly every one in Monkshaven knew each other; if not enough to speak to, at least enough to be acquainted with the personal appearance and reputation of most of those whom they met in the streets. It so happened that Mr. Donkin had a favourable opinion of Philip; and perhaps for this reason the latter had a shorter time to wait before he obtained an interview with the head of the house, than many of the clients who came for that purpose from town or country for many miles round.

Philip was ushered in. Mr. Donkin sate with his spectacles pushed up on his forehead, ready to watch his countenance and listen to his words.

‘Good afternoon, Mr. Hepburn!’

‘Good afternoon, sir.’ Philip hesitated how to begin. Mr. Donkin became impatient, and tapped with the fingers of his left hand on his desk. Philip’s sensitive nerves felt and rightly interpreted the action.

‘Please, sir, I’m come to speak to you about Daniel Robson, of Haytersbank Farm.’

‘Daniel Robson?’ said Mr. Donkin, after a short pause, to try and compel Philip into speed in his story.

‘Yes, sir. He’s been taken up on account of this affair, sir, about the press-gang on Saturday night.’

‘To be sure! I thought I knew the name.’ And Mr. Donkin’s face became graver, and the expression more concentrated. Looking up suddenly at Philip, he said, ‘You are aware that I am the clerk to the magistrates?’

‘No, sir,’ in a tone that indicated the unexpressed ‘What then?’

‘Well, but I am. And so of course, if you want my services or advice in favour of a prisoner whom they have committed, or are going to commit, you can’t have them, that’s all.’

‘I am very sorry — very!’ said Philip; and then he was again silent for a period; long enough to make the busy attorney impatient.

‘Well, Mr. Hepburn, have you anything else to say to me?’

‘Yes, sir. I’ve a deal to ask of you; for you see I don’t rightly understand what to do; and yet I’m all as Daniel’s wife and daughter has to look to; and I’ve their grief heavy on my heart. You could not tell me what is to be done with Daniel, could you, sir?’

‘He’ll be brought up before the magistrates tomorrow morning for final examination, along with the others, you know, before he’s sent to York Castle to take his trial at the spring assizes.’

‘To York Castle, sir?’

Mr. Donkin nodded, as if words were too precious to waste.

‘And when will he go?’ asked poor Philip, in dismay.

‘To-morrow: most probably as soon as the examination is over. The evidence is clear as to his being present, aiding and abetting — indicted on the 4th section of 1 George I., statute 1, chapter 5. I’m afraid it’s a bad look-out. Is he a friend of yours, Mr. Hepburn?’

‘Only an uncle, sir,’ said Philip, his heart getting full; more from Mr. Donkin’s manner than from his words. ‘But what can they do to him, sir?’

‘Do?’ Mr. Donkin half smiled at the ignorance displayed. ‘Why, hang him, to be sure; if the judge is in a hanging mood. He’s been either a principal in the offence, or a principal in the second degree, and, as such, liable to the full punishment. I drew up the warrant myself this morning, though I left the exact name to be filled up by my clerk.’

‘Oh, sir! can you do nothing for me?’ asked Philip, with sharp beseeching in his voice. He had never imagined that it was a capital offence; and the thought of his aunt’s and Sylvia’s ignorance of the possible fate awaiting him whom they so much loved, was like a stab to his heart.

‘No, my good fellow. I’m sorry; but, you see, it’s my duty to do all I can to bring criminals to justice.’

‘My uncle thought he was doing such a fine deed.’

‘Demolishing and pulling down, destroying and burning dwelling-houses and outhouses,’ said Mr. Donkin. ‘He must have some peculiar notions.’

‘The people is so mad with the press-gang, and Daniel has been at sea hisself; and took it so to heart when he heard of mariners and seafaring folk being carried off, and just cheated into doing what was kind and helpful — leastways, what would have been kind and helpful, if there had been a fire. I’m against violence and riots myself, sir, I’m sure; but I cannot help thinking as Daniel had a deal to justify him on Saturday night, sir.’

‘Well; you must try and get a good lawyer to bring out all that side of the question. There’s a good deal to be said on it; but it’s my duty to get up all the evidence to prove that he and others were present on the night in question; so, as you’ll perceive, I can give you no help in defending him.’

‘But who can, sir? I came to you as a friend who, I thought, would see me through it. And I don’t know any other lawyer; leastways, to speak to.’

Mr. Donkin was really more concerned for the misguided rioters than he was aware; and he was aware of more interest than he cared to express. So he softened his tone a little, and tried to give the best advice in his power.

‘You’d better go to Edward Dawson on the other side of the river; he that was articled clerk with me two years ago, you know. He’s a clever fellow, and has not too much practice; he’ll do the best he can for you. He’ll have to be at the court-house, tell him, tomorrow morning at ten, when the justices meet. He’ll watch the case for you; and then he’ll give you his opinion, and tell you what to do. You can’t do better than follow his advice. I must do all I can to collect evidence for a conviction, you know.’

Philip stood up, looked at his hat, and then came forward and laid down six and eightpence on the desk in a blushing, awkward way.

‘Pooh! pooh!’ said Mr. Donkin, pushing the money away. ‘Don’t be a fool; you’ll need it all before the trial’s over. I’ve done nothing, man. It would be a pretty thing for me to be feed by both parties.’

Philip took up the money, and left the room. In an instant he came back again, glanced furtively at Mr. Donkin’s face, and then, once more having recourse to brushing his hat, he said, in a low voice —

‘You’ll not be hard upon him, sir, I hope?’

‘I must do my duty,’ replied Mr. Donkin, a little sternly, ‘without any question of hardness.’

Philip, discomfited, left the room; an instant of thought and Mr Donkin had jumped up, and hastening to the door he opened it and called after Philip.

‘Hepburn — Hepburn — I say, he’ll be taken to York as soon as may be tomorrow morning; if any one wants to see him before then, they’d better look sharp about it.’

Philip went quickly along the streets towards Mr. Dawson’s, pondering upon the meaning of all that he had heard, and what he had better do. He had made his plans pretty clearly out by the time he arrived at Mr. Dawson’s smart door in one of the new streets on the other side of the river. A clerk as smart as the door answered Philip’s hesitating knock, and replied to his inquiry as to whether Mr. Dawson was at home, in the negative, adding, after a moment’s pause —

‘He’ll be at home in less than an hour; he’s only gone to make Mrs Dawson’s will — Mrs. Dawson, of Collyton — she’s not expected to get better.’

Probably the clerk of an older-established attorney would not have given so many particulars as to the nature of his master’s employment; but, as it happened it was of no consequence, the unnecessary information made no impression on Philip’s mind; he thought the matter over and then said —

‘I’ll be back in an hour, then. It’s gone a quarter to four; I’ll be back before five, tell Mr. Dawson.’

He turned on his heel and went back to the High Street as fast as he could, with a far more prompt and decided step than before. He hastened through the streets, emptied by the bad weather, to the principal inn of the town, the George — the sign of which was fastened to a piece of wood stretched across the narrow street; and going up to the bar with some timidity (for the inn was frequented by the gentry of Monkshaven and the neighbourhood, and was considered as a touch above such customers as Philip), he asked if he could have a tax-cart made ready in a quarter of an hour, and sent up to the door of his shop.

‘To be sure he could; how far was it to go?’

Philip hesitated before he replied —

‘Up the Knotting Lane, to the stile leading down to Haytersbank Farm; they’ll have to wait there for some as are coming.’

‘They must not wait long such an evening as this; standing in such rain and wind as there’ll be up there, is enough to kill a horse.’

‘They shan’t wait long,’ said Philip, decisively: ‘in a quarter of an hour, mind.’

He now went back to the shop, beating against the storm, which was increasing as the tide came in and the night hours approached.

Coulson had no word for him, but he looked reproachfully at his partner for his long, unexplained absence. Hester was putting away the ribbons and handkerchiefs, and bright-coloured things which had been used to deck the window; for no more customers were likely to come this night through the blustering weather to a shop dimly lighted by two tallow candles and an inefficient oil-lamp. Philip came up to her, and stood looking at her with unseeing eyes; but the strange consciousness of his fixed stare made her uncomfortable, and called the faint flush to her pale cheeks, and at length compelled her, as it were, to speak, and break the spell of the silence. So, curiously enough, all three spoke at once. Hester asked (without looking at Philip)—

‘Yo’re sadly wet, I’m feared?’

Coulson said —

‘Thou might have a bit o’ news to tell one after being on the gad all afternoon.’

Philip whispered to Hester —

‘Wilt come into t’ parlour? I want a word wi’ thee by oursel’s.’

Hester quietly finished rolling up the ribbon she had in her hands when he spoke, and then followed him into the room behind the shop before spoken of.

Philip set down on the table the candle which he had brought out of the shop, and turning round to Hester, took her trembling hand into both of his, and gripping it nervously, said —

‘Oh! Hester, thou must help me — thou will, will not thou?’

Hester gulped down something that seemed to rise in her throat and choke her, before she answered.

‘Anything, thou knows, Philip.’

‘Yes, yes, I know. Thou sees the matter is this: Daniel Robson — he who married my aunt — is taken up for yon riot on Saturday night at t’ Mariners’ Arms ——’

‘They spoke on it this afternoon; they said the warrant was out,’ said Hester, filling up the sentence as Philip hesitated, lost for an instant in his own thoughts.

‘Ay! the warrant is out, and he’s in t’ lock-up, and will be carried to York Castle tomorrow morn; and I’m afeared it will go bad with him; and they at Haytersbank is not prepared, and they must see him again before he goes. Now, Hester, will thou go in a tax-cart as will be here in less than ten minutes from t’ George, and bring them back here, and they must stay all night for to be ready to see him tomorrow before he goes? It’s dree weather for them, but they’ll not mind that.’

He had used words as if he was making a request to Hester; but he did not seem to await her answer, so sure was he that she would go. She noticed this, and noticed also that the rain was spoken of in reference to them, not to her. A cold shadow passed over her heart, though it was nothing more than she already knew — that Sylvia was the one centre of his thoughts and his love.

‘I’ll go put on my things at once,’ said she, gently.

Philip pressed her hand tenderly, a glow of gratitude overspread him.

‘Thou’s a real good one, God bless thee!’ said he. ‘Thou must take care of thyself, too,’ continued he; ‘there’s wraps and plenty i’ th’ house, and if there are not, there’s those i’ the shop as ‘ll be none the worse for once wearing at such a time as this; and wrap thee well up, and take shawls and cloaks for them, and mind as they put ’em on. Thou’ll have to get out at a stile, I’ll tell t’ driver where; and thou must get over t’ stile and follow t’ path down two fields, and th’ house is right before ye, and bid ’em make haste and lock up th’ house, for they mun stay all night here. Kester ‘ll look after things.’

All this time Hester was hastily putting on her hat and cloak, which she had fetched from the closet where they usually hung through the day; now she stood listening, as it were, for final directions.

‘But suppose they will not come,’ said she; ‘they dunnot know me, and mayn’t believe my words.’

‘They must,’ said he, impatiently. ‘They don’t know what awaits ’em,’ he continued. ‘I’ll tell thee, because thou ‘ll not let out, and it seems as if I mun tell some one — it were such a shock — he’s to be tried for ‘s life. They know not it’s so serious; and, Hester,’ said he, going on in his search after sympathy, ‘she’s like as if she was bound up in her father.’

His lips quivered as he looked wistfully into Hester’s face at these words. No need to tell her who was she. No need to put into words the fact, told plainer than words could have spoken it, that his heart was bound up in Sylvia.

Hester’s face, instead of responding to his look, contracted a little, and, for the life of her, she could not have helped saying —

‘Why don’t yo’ go yourself, Philip?’

‘I can’t, I can’t,’ said he, impatiently. ‘I’d give the world to go, for I might be able to comfort her; but there’s lawyers to see, and iver so much to do, and they’ve niver a man friend but me to do it all. You’ll tell her,’ said Philip, insinuatingly, as if a fresh thought had struck him, ‘as how I would ha’ come. I would fain ha’ come for ’em, myself, but I couldn’t, because of th’ lawyer — mind yo’ say because of th’ lawyer. I’d be loath for her to think I was minding any business of my own at this time; and, whatever yo’ do, speak hopeful, and, for t’ life of yo’, don’t speak of th’ hanging, it’s likely it’s a mistake o’ Donkin’s; and anyhow — there’s t’ cart — anyhow I should perhaps not ha’ telled thee, but it’s a comfort to make a clean breast to a friend at times. God bless thee, Hester. I don’t know what I should ha’ done without thee,’ said he, as he wrapped her well up in the cart, and placed the bundles of cloaks and things by her side.

Along the street, in the jolting cart, as long as Hester could see the misty light streaming out of the shop door, so long was Philip standing bareheaded in the rain looking after her. But she knew that it was not her own poor self that attracted his lingering gaze. It was the thought of the person she was bound to.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gaskell/elizabeth/sylvia/chapter25.html

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:18