He made as though throwing her from him, with a gesture of contempt that stung her to life.
'Oh, Charley!' she cried, springing to him, 'dunnot cut me to the quick; have pity on me, though he had none. I did so love thee; it was my very heart-strings as gave way when they told me thou was drowned—feyther, and th' Corneys, and all, iverybody. Thy hat and t' bit o' ribbon I gave thee were found drenched and dripping wi' sea-water; and I went mourning for thee all the day long—dunnot turn away from me; only hearken this once, and then kill me dead, and I'll bless yo',—and have niver been mysel' since; niver ceased to feel t' sun grow dark and th' air chill and dreary when I thought on t' time when thou was alive. I did, my Charley, my own love! And I thought thou was dead for iver, and I wished I were lying beside thee. Oh, Charley! Philip, theere, where he stands, could tell yo' this was true. Philip, wasn't it so?'
'Would God I were dead!' moaned forth the unhappy, guilty man. But she had turned to Kinraid, and was speaking again to him, and neither of them heard or heeded him—they were drawing closer and closer together—she, with her cheeks and eyes aflame, talking eagerly.
'And feyther was taken up, and all for setting some free as t' press-gang had gotten by a foul trick; and he were put i' York prison, and tried, and hung!—hung! Charley!—good kind feyther was hung on a gallows; and mother lost her sense and grew silly in grief, and we were like to be turned out on t' wide world, and poor mother dateless—and I thought yo' were dead—oh! I thought yo' were dead, I did—oh, Charley, Charley!'
By this time they were in each other's arms, she with her head on his shoulder, crying as if her heart would break.
Philip came forwards and took hold of her to pull her away; but Charley held her tight, mutely defying Philip. Unconsciously she was Philip's protection, in that hour of danger, from a blow which might have been his death if strong will could have aided it to kill.
'Sylvie!' said he, grasping her tight. 'Listen to me. He didn't love yo' as I did. He had loved other women. I, yo'—yo' alone. He loved other girls before yo', and had left off loving 'em. I—I wish God would free my heart from the pang; but it will go on till I die, whether yo' love me or not. And then—where was I? Oh! that very night that he was taken, I was a-thinking on yo' and on him; and I might ha' given yo' his message, but I heard them speaking of him as knew him well; talking of his false fickle ways. How was I to know he would keep true to thee? It might be a sin in me, I cannot say; my heart and my sense are gone dead within me. I know this, I've loved yo' as no man but me ever loved before. Have some pity and forgiveness on me, if it's only because I've been so tormented with my love.'
He looked at her with feverish eager wistfulness; it faded away into despair as she made no sign of having even heard his words. He let go his hold of her, and his arm fell loosely by his side.
'I may die,' he said, 'for my life is ended!'
'Sylvia!' spoke out Kinraid, bold and fervent, 'your marriage is no marriage. You were tricked into it. You are my wife, not his. I am your husband; we plighted each other our troth. See! here is my half of the sixpence.'
He pulled it out from his bosom, tied by a black ribbon round his neck.
'When they stripped me and searched me in th' French prison, I managed to keep this. No lies can break the oath we swore to each other. I can get your pretence of a marriage set aside. I'm in favour with my admiral, and he'll do a deal for me, and back me out. Come with me; your marriage shall be set aside, and we'll be married again, all square and above-board. Come away. Leave that damned fellow to repent of the trick he played an honest sailor; we'll be true, whatever has come and gone. Come, Sylvia.'
His arm was round her waist, and he was drawing her towards the door, his face all crimson with eagerness and hope. Just then the baby cried.
'Hark!' said she, starting away from Kinraid, 'baby's crying for me. His child—yes, it is his child—I'd forgotten that—forgotten all. I'll make my vow now, lest I lose mysel' again. I'll never forgive yon man, nor live with him as his wife again. All that's done and ended. He's spoilt my life,—he's spoilt it for as long as iver I live on this earth; but neither yo' nor him shall spoil my soul. It goes hard wi' me, Charley, it does indeed. I'll just give yo' one kiss—one little kiss—and then, so help me God, I'll niver see nor hear till—no, not that, not that is needed—I'll niver see—sure that's enough—I'll never see yo' again on this side heaven, so help me God! I'm bound and tied, but I've sworn my oath to him as well as yo': there's things I will do, and there's things I won't. Kiss me once more. God help me, he's gone!'
A RECKLESS RECRUIT
She lay across a chair, her arms helplessly stretched out, her face unseen. Every now and then a thrill ran through her body: she was talking to herself all the time with incessant low incontinence of words.
Philip stood near her, motionless: he did not know whether she was conscious of his presence; in fact, he knew nothing but that he and she were sundered for ever; he could only take in that one idea, and it numbed all other thought.
Once more her baby cried for the comfort she alone could give.
She rose to her feet, but staggered when she tried to walk; her glazed eyes fell upon Philip as he instinctively made a step to hold her steady. No light came into her eyes any more than if she had looked upon a perfect stranger; not even was there the contraction of dislike. Some other figure filled her mind, and she saw him no more than she saw the inanimate table. That way of looking at him withered him up more than any sign of aversion would have done.
He watched her laboriously climb the stairs, and vanish out of sight; and sat down with a sudden feeling of extreme bodily weakness.
The door of communication between the parlour and the shop was opened. That was the first event of which Philip took note; but Phoebe had come in unawares to him, with the intention of removing the breakfast things on her return from market, and seeing them unused, and knowing that Sylvia had sate up all night with her mother, she had gone back to the kitchen. Philip had neither seen nor heard her.
Now Coulson came in, amazed at Hepburn's non-appearance in the shop.
'Why! Philip, what's ado? How ill yo' look, man!' exclaimed he, thoroughly alarmed by Philip's ghastly appearance. 'What's the matter?'
'I!' said Philip, slowly gathering his thoughts. 'Why should there be anything the matter?'
His instinct, quicker to act than his reason, made him shrink from his misery being noticed, much more made any subject for explanation or sympathy.
'There may be nothing the matter wi' thee,' said Coulson, 'but thou's the look of a corpse on thy face. I was afeared something was wrong, for it's half-past nine, and thee so punctual!'
He almost guarded Philip into the shop, and kept furtively watching him, and perplexing himself with Philip's odd, strange ways.
Hester, too, observed the heavy broken-down expression on Philip's ashen face, and her heart ached for him; but after that first glance, which told her so much, she avoided all appearance of noticing or watching. Only a shadow brooded over her sweet, calm face, and once or twice she sighed to herself.
It was market-day, and people came in and out, bringing their store of gossip from the country, or the town—from the farm or the quay-side.
Among the pieces of news, the rescue of the smack the night before furnished a large topic; and by-and-by Philip heard a name that startled him into attention.
The landlady of a small public-house much frequented by sailors was talking to Coulson.
'There was a sailor aboard of her as knowed Kinraid by sight, in Shields, years ago; and he called him by his name afore they were well out o' t' river. And Kinraid was no ways set up, for all his lieutenant's uniform (and eh! but they say he looks handsome in it!); but he tells 'm all about it—how he was pressed aboard a man-o'-war, an' for his good conduct were made a warrant officer, boatswain, or something!'
All the people in the shop were listening now; Philip alone seemed engrossed in folding up a piece of cloth, so as to leave no possible chance of creases in it; yet he lost not a syllable of the good woman's narration.
She, pleased with the enlarged audience her tale had attracted, went on with fresh vigour.
'An' there's a gallant captain, one Sir Sidney Smith, and he'd a notion o' goin' smack into a French port, an' carryin' off a vessel from right under their very noses; an' says he, "Which of yo' British sailors 'll go along with me to death or glory?" So Kinraid stands up like a man, an' "I'll go with yo', captain," he says. So they, an' some others as brave, went off, an' did their work, an' choose whativer it was, they did it famously; but they got caught by them French, an' were clapped into prison i' France for iver so long; but at last one Philip—Philip somethin' (he were a Frenchman, I know)—helped 'em to escape, in a fishin'-boat. But they were welcomed by th' whole British squadron as was i' t' Channel for t' piece of daring they'd done i' cuttin' out t' ship from a French port; an' Captain Sir Sidney Smith was made an admiral, an' him as we used t' call Charley Kinraid, the specksioneer, is made a lieutenant, an' a commissioned officer i' t' King's service; and is come to great glory, and slep in my house this very blessed night as is just past!'
A murmur of applause and interest and rejoicing buzzed all around Philip. All this was publicly known about Kinraid,—and how much more? All Monkshaven might hear tomorrow—nay, to-day—of Philip's treachery to the hero of the hour; how he had concealed his fate, and supplanted him in his love.
Philip shrank from the burst of popular indignation which he knew must follow. Any wrong done to one who stands on the pinnacle of the people's favour is resented by each individual as a personal injury; and among a primitive set of country-folk, who recognize the wild passion in love, as it exists untamed by the trammels of reason and self-restraint, any story of baulked affections, or treachery in such matters, spreads like wildfire.
Philip knew this quite well; his doom of disgrace lay plain before him, if only Kinraid spoke the word. His head was bent down while he thus listened and reflected. He half resolved on doing something; he lifted up his head, caught the reflection of his face in the little strip of glass on the opposite side, in which the women might look at themselves in their contemplated purchases, and quite resolved.
The sight he saw in the mirror was his own long, sad, pale face, made plainer and grayer by the heavy pressure of the morning's events. He saw his stooping figure, his rounded shoulders, with something like a feeling of disgust at his personal appearance as he remembered the square, upright build of Kinraid; his fine uniform, with epaulette and sword-belt; his handsome brown face; his dark eyes, splendid with the fire of passion and indignation; his white teeth, gleaming out with the terrible smile of scorn.
The comparison drove Philip from passive hopelessness to active despair.
He went abruptly from the crowded shop into the empty parlour, and on into the kitchen, where he took up a piece of bread, and heedless of Phoebe's look and words, began to eat it before he even left the place; for he needed the strength that food would give; he needed it to carry him out of the sight and the knowledge of all who might hear what he had done, and point their fingers at him.
He paused a moment in the parlour, and then, setting his teeth tight together, he went upstairs.
First of all he went into the bit of a room opening out of theirs, in which his baby slept. He dearly loved the child, and many a time would run in and play a while with it; and in such gambols he and Sylvia had passed their happiest moments of wedded life.
The little Bella was having her morning slumber; Nancy used to tell long afterwards how he knelt down by the side of her cot, and was so strange she thought he must have prayed, for all it was nigh upon eleven o'clock, and folk in their senses only said their prayers when they got up, and when they went to bed.
Then he rose, and stooped over, and gave the child a long, lingering, soft, fond kiss. And on tip-toe he passed away into the room where his aunt lay; his aunt who had been so true a friend to him! He was thankful to know that in her present state she was safe from the knowledge of what was past, safe from the sound of the shame to come.
He had not meant to see Sylvia again; he dreaded the look of her hatred, her scorn, but there, outside her mother's bed, she lay, apparently asleep. Mrs. Robson, too, was sleeping, her face towards the wall. Philip could not help it; he went to have one last look at his wife. She was turned towards her mother, her face averted from him; he could see the tear-stains, the swollen eyelids, the lips yet quivering: he stooped down, and bent to kiss the little hand that lay listless by her side. As his hot breath neared that hand it was twitched away, and a shiver ran through the whole prostrate body. And then he knew that she was not asleep, only worn out by her misery,—misery that he had caused.
He sighed heavily; but he went away, down-stairs, and away for ever. Only as he entered the parlour his eyes caught on two silhouettes, one of himself, one of Sylvia, done in the first month of their marriage, by some wandering artist, if so he could be called. They were hanging against the wall in little oval wooden frames; black profiles, with the lights done in gold; about as poor semblances of humanity as could be conceived; but Philip went up, and after looking for a minute or so at Sylvia's, he took it down, and buttoned his waistcoat over it.
It was the only thing he took away from his home.
He went down the entry on to the quay. The river was there, and waters, they say, have a luring power, and a weird promise of rest in their perpetual monotony of sound. But many people were there, if such a temptation presented itself to Philip's mind; the sight of his fellow-townsmen, perhaps of his acquaintances, drove him up another entry—the town is burrowed with such—back into the High Street, which he straightway crossed into a well-known court, out of which rough steps led to the summit of the hill, and on to the fells and moors beyond.
He plunged and panted up this rough ascent. From the top he could look down on the whole town lying below, severed by the bright shining river into two parts. To the right lay the sea, shimmering and heaving; there were the cluster of masts rising out of the little port; the irregular roofs of the houses; which of them, thought he, as he carried his eye along the quay-side to the market-place, which of them was his? and he singled it out in its unfamiliar aspect, and saw the thin blue smoke rising from the kitchen chimney, where even now Phoebe was cooking the household meal that he never more must share.
Up at that thought and away, he knew not nor cared not whither. He went through the ploughed fields where the corn was newly springing; he came down upon the vast sunny sea, and turned his back upon it with loathing; he made his way inland to the high green pastures; the short upland turf above which the larks hung poised 'at heaven's gate'. He strode along, so straight and heedless of briar and bush, that the wild black cattle ceased from grazing, and looked after him with their great blank puzzled eyes.
He had passed all enclosures and stone fences now, and was fairly on the desolate brown moors; through the withered last year's ling and fern, through the prickly gorse, he tramped, crushing down the tender shoots of this year's growth, and heedless of the startled plover's cry, goaded by the furies. His only relief from thought, from the remembrance of Sylvia's looks and words, was in violent bodily action.
So he went on till evening shadows and ruddy evening lights came out upon the wild fells.
He had crossed roads and lanes, with a bitter avoidance of men's tracks; but now the strong instinct of self-preservation came out, and his aching limbs, his weary heart, giving great pants and beats for a time, and then ceasing altogether till a mist swam and quivered before his aching eyes, warned him that he must find some shelter and food, or lie down to die. He fell down now, often; stumbling over the slightest obstacle. He had passed the cattle pastures; he was among the black-faced sheep; and they, too, ceased nibbling, and looked after him, and somehow, in his poor wandering imagination, their silly faces turned to likenesses of Monkshaven people—people who ought to be far, far away.
'Thou'll be belated on these fells, if thou doesn't tak' heed,' shouted some one.
Philip looked abroad to see whence the voice proceeded.
An old stiff-legged shepherd, in a smock-frock, was within a couple of hundred yards. Philip did not answer, but staggered and stumbled towards him.
'Good lork!' said the man, 'wheere hast ta been? Thou's seen Oud Harry, I think, thou looks so scared.'
Philip rallied himself, and tried to speak up to the old standard of respectability; but the effort was pitiful to see, had any one been by, who could have understood the pain it caused to restrain cries of bodily and mental agony.
'I've lost my way, that's all.'
''Twould ha' been enough, too, I'm thinkin', if I hadn't come out after t' ewes. There's t' Three Griffins near at hand: a sup o' Hollands 'll set thee to reeghts.'
Philip followed faintly. He could not see before him, and was guided by the sound of footsteps rather than by the sight of the figure moving onwards. He kept stumbling; and he knew that the old shepherd swore at him; but he also knew such curses proceeded from no ill-will, only from annoyance at the delay in going and 'seem' after t' ewes.' But had the man's words conveyed the utmost expression of hatred, Philip would neither have wondered at them, nor resented them.
They came into a wild mountain road, unfenced from the fells. A hundred yards off, and there was a small public-house, with a broad ruddy oblong of firelight shining across the tract.
'Theere!' said the old man. 'Thee cannot well miss that. A dunno tho', thee bees sich a gawby.'
So he went on, and delivered Philip safely up to the landlord.
'Here's a felly as a fund on t' fell side, just as one as if he were drunk; but he's sober enough, a reckon, only summat's wrong i' his head, a'm thinkin'.'
'No!' said Philip, sitting down on the first chair he came to. 'I'm right enough; just fairly wearied out: lost my way,' and he fainted.
There was a recruiting sergeant of marines sitting in the house-place, drinking. He, too, like Philip, had lost his way; but was turning his blunder to account by telling all manner of wonderful stories to two or three rustics who had come in ready to drink on any pretence; especially if they could get good liquor without paying for it.
The sergeant rose as Philip fell back, and brought up his own mug of beer, into which a noggin of gin had been put (called in Yorkshire 'dog's-nose'). He partly poured and partly spilt some of this beverage on Philip's face; some drops went through the pale and parted lips, and with a start the worn-out man revived.
'Bring him some victual, landlord,' called out the recruiting sergeant. 'I'll stand shot.'
They brought some cold bacon and coarse oat-cake. The sergeant asked for pepper and salt; minced the food fine and made it savoury, and kept administering it by teaspoonfuls; urging Philip to drink from time to time from his own cup of dog's-nose.
A burning thirst, which needed no stimulant from either pepper or salt, took possession of Philip, and he drank freely, scarcely recognizing what he drank. It took effect on one so habitually sober; and he was soon in that state when the imagination works wildly and freely.
He saw the sergeant before him, handsome, and bright, and active, in his gay red uniform, without a care, as it seemed to Philip, taking life lightly; admired and respected everywhere because of his cloth.
If Philip were gay, and brisk, well-dressed like him, returning with martial glory to Monkshaven, would not Sylvia love him once more? Could not he win her heart? He was brave by nature, and the prospect of danger did not daunt him, if ever it presented itself to his imagination.
He thought he was cautious in entering on the subject of enlistment with his new friend, the sergeant; but the latter was twenty times as cunning as he, and knew by experience how to bait his hook.
Philip was older by some years than the regulation age; but, at that time of great demand for men, the question of age was lightly entertained. The sergeant was profuse in statements of the advantages presented to a man of education in his branch of the service; how such a one was sure to rise; in fact, it would have seemed from the sergeant's account, as though the difficulty consisted in remaining in the ranks.
Philip's dizzy head thought the subject over and over again, each time with failing power of reason.
At length, almost, as it would seem, by some sleight of hand, he found the fatal shilling in his palm, and had promised to go before the nearest magistrate to be sworn in as one of his Majesty's marines the next morning. And after that he remembered nothing more.
He wakened up in a little truckle-bed in the same room as the sergeant, who lay sleeping the sleep of full contentment; while gradually, drop by drop, the bitter recollections of the day before came, filling up Philip's cup of agony.
He knew that he had received the bounty-money; and though he was aware that he had been partly tricked into it, and had no hope, no care, indeed, for any of the advantages so liberally promised him the night before, yet he was resigned, with utterly despondent passiveness, to the fate to which he had pledged himself. Anything was welcome that severed him from his former life, that could make him forget it, if that were possible; and also welcome anything which increased the chances of death without the sinfulness of his own participation in the act. He found in the dark recess of his mind the dead body of his fancy of the previous night; that he might come home, handsome and glorious, to win the love that had never been his.
But he only sighed over it, and put it aside out of his sight—so full of despair was he. He could eat no breakfast, though the sergeant ordered of the best. The latter kept watching his new recruit out of the corner of his eye, expecting a remonstrance, or dreading a sudden bolt.
But Philip walked with him the two or three miles in the most submissive silence, never uttering a syllable of regret or repentance; and before Justice Cholmley, of Holm-Fell Hall, he was sworn into his Majesty's service, under the name of Stephen Freeman. With a new name, he began a new life. Alas! the old life lives for ever!
After Philip had passed out of the room, Sylvia lay perfectly still, from very exhaustion. Her mother slept on, happily unconscious of all the turmoil that had taken place; yes, happily, though the heavy sleep was to end in death. But of this her daughter knew nothing, imagining that it was refreshing slumber, instead of an ebbing of life. Both mother and daughter lay motionless till Phoebe entered the room to tell Sylvia that dinner was on the table.
Then Sylvia sate up, and put back her hair, bewildered and uncertain as to what was to be done next; how she should meet the husband to whom she had discarded all allegiance, repudiated the solemn promise of love and obedience which she had vowed.
Phoebe came into the room, with natural interest in the invalid, scarcely older than herself.
'How is t' old lady?' asked she, in a low voice.
Sylvia turned her head round to look; her mother had never moved, but was breathing in a loud uncomfortable manner, that made her stoop over her to see the averted face more nearly.
'Phoebe!' she cried, 'come here! She looks strange and odd; her eyes are open, but don't see me. Phoebe! Phoebe!'
'Sure enough, she's in a bad way!' said Phoebe, climbing stiffly on to the bed to have a nearer view. 'Hold her head a little up t' ease her breathin' while I go for master; he'll be for sendin' for t' doctor, I'll be bound.'
Sylvia took her mother's head and laid it fondly on her breast, speaking to her and trying to rouse her; but it was of no avail: the hard, stertorous breathing grew worse and worse.
Sylvia cried out for help; Nancy came, the baby in her arms. They had been in several times before that morning; and the child came smiling and crowing at its mother, who was supporting her own dying parent.
'Oh, Nancy!' said Sylvia; 'what is the matter with mother? yo' can see her face; tell me quick!'
Nancy set the baby on the bed for all reply, and ran out of the room, crying out,
'Master! master! Come quick! T' old missus is a-dying!'
This appeared to be no news to Sylvia, and yet the words came on her with a great shock, but for all that she could not cry; she was surprised herself at her own deadness of feeling.
Her baby crawled to her, and she had to hold and guard both her mother and her child. It seemed a long, long time before any one came, and then she heard muffled voices, and a heavy tramp: it was Phoebe leading the doctor upstairs, and Nancy creeping in behind to hear his opinion.
He did not ask many questions, and Phoebe replied more frequently to his inquiries than did Sylvia, who looked into his face with a blank, tearless, speechless despair, that gave him more pain than the sight of her dying mother.
The long decay of Mrs. Robson's faculties and health, of which he was well aware, had in a certain manner prepared him for some such sudden termination of the life whose duration was hardly desirable, although he gave several directions as to her treatment; but the white, pinched face, the great dilated eye, the slow comprehension of the younger woman, struck him with alarm; and he went on asking for various particulars, more with a view of rousing Sylvia, if even it were to tears, than for any other purpose that the information thus obtained could answer.
'You had best have pillows propped up behind her—it will not be for long; she does not know that you are holding her, and it is only tiring you to no purpose!'
Sylvia's terrible stare continued: he put his advice into action, and gently tried to loosen her clasp, and tender hold. This she resisted; laying her cheek against her poor mother's unconscious face.
'Where is Hepburn?' said he. 'He ought to be here!'
Phoebe looked at Nancy, Nancy at Phoebe. It was the latter who replied,
'He's neither i' t' house nor i' t' shop. A seed him go past t' kitchen window better nor an hour ago; but neither William Coulson or Hester Rose knows where he's gone to.
Dr Morgan's lips were puckered up into a whistle, but he made no sound.
'Give me baby!' he said, suddenly. Nancy had taken her up off the bed where she had been sitting, encircled by her mother's arm. The nursemaid gave her to the doctor. He watched the mother's eye, it followed her child, and he was rejoiced. He gave a little pinch to the baby's soft flesh, and she cried out piteously; again the same action, the same result. Sylvia laid her mother down, and stretched out her arms for her child, hushing it, and moaning over it.
'So far so good!' said Dr Morgan to himself. 'But where is the husband? He ought to be here.' He went down-stairs to make inquiry for Philip; that poor young creature, about whose health he had never felt thoroughly satisfied since the fever after her confinement, was in an anxious condition, and with an inevitable shock awaiting her. Her husband ought to be with her, and supporting her to bear it.
Dr Morgan went into the shop. Hester alone was there. Coulson had gone to his comfortable dinner at his well-ordered house, with his common-place wife. If he had felt anxious about Philip's looks and strange disappearance, he had also managed to account for them in some indifferent way.
Hester was alone with the shop-boy; few people came in during the universal Monkshaven dinner-hour. She was resting her head on her hand, and puzzled and distressed about many things—all that was implied by the proceedings of the evening before between Philip and Sylvia; and that was confirmed by Philip's miserable looks and strange abstracted ways to-day. Oh! how easy Hester would have found it to make him happy! not merely how easy, but what happiness it would have been to her to merge her every wish into the one great object of fulfiling his will. To her, an on-looker, the course of married life, which should lead to perfect happiness, seemed to plain! Alas! it is often so! and the resisting forces which make all such harmony and delight impossible are not recognized by the bystanders, hardly by the actors. But if these resisting forces are only superficial, or constitutional, they are but the necessary discipline here, and do not radically affect the love which will make all things right in heaven.
Some glimmering of this latter comforting truth shed its light on Hester's troubled thoughts from time to time. But again, how easy would it have been to her to tread the maze that led to Philip's happiness; and how difficult it seemed to the wife he had chosen!
She was aroused by Dr Morgan's voice.
'So both Coulson and Hepburn have left the shop to your care, Hester. I want Hepburn, though; his wife is in a very anxious state. Where is he? can you tell me?'
'Sylvia in an anxious state! I've not seen her to-day, but last night she looked as well as could be.'
'Ay, ay; but many a thing happens in four-and-twenty hours. Her mother is dying, may be dead by this time; and her husband should be there with her. Can't you send for him?'
'I don't know where he is,' said Hester. 'He went off from here all on a sudden, when there was all the market-folks in t' shop; I thought he'd maybe gone to John Foster's about th' money, for they was paying a deal in. I'll send there and inquire.'
No! the messenger brought back word that he had not been seen at their bank all morning. Further inquiries were made by the anxious Hester, by the doctor, by Coulson; all they could learn was that Phoebe had seen him pass the kitchen window about eleven o'clock, when she was peeling the potatoes for dinner; and two lads playing on the quay-side thought they had seen him among a group of sailors; but these latter, as far as they could be identified, had no knowledge of his appearance among them.
Before night the whole town was excited about his disappearance. Before night Bell Robson had gone to her long home. And Sylvia still lay quiet and tearless, apparently more unmoved than any other creature by the events of the day, and the strange vanishing of her husband.
The only thing she seemed to care for was her baby; she held it tight in her arms, and Dr Morgan bade them leave it there, its touch might draw the desired tears into her weary, sleepless eyes, and charm the aching pain out of them.
They were afraid lest she should inquire for her husband, whose non-appearance at such a time of sorrow to his wife must (they thought) seem strange to her. And night drew on while they were all in this state. She had gone back to her own room without a word when they had desired her to do so; caressing her child in her arms, and sitting down on the first chair she came to, with a heavy sigh, as if even this slight bodily exertion had been too much for her. They saw her eyes turn towards the door every time it was opened, and they thought it was with anxious expectation of one who could not be found, though many were seeking for him in all probable places.
When night came some one had to tell her of her husband's disappearance; and Dr Morgan was the person who undertook this.
He came into her room about nine o'clock; her baby was sleeping in her arms; she herself pale as death, still silent and tearless, though strangely watchful of gestures and sounds, and probably cognizant of more than they imagined.
'Well, Mrs. Hepburn,' said he, as cheerfully as he could, 'I should advise your going to bed early; for I fancy your husband won't come home to-night. Some journey or other, that perhaps Coulson can explain better than I can, will most likely keep him away till to-morrow. It's very unfortunate that he should be away at such a sad time as this, as I'm sure he'll feel when he returns; but we must make the best of it.'
He watched her to see the effect of his words.
She sighed, that was all. He still remained a little while. She lifted her head up a little and asked,
'How long do yo' think she was unconscious, doctor? Could she hear things, think yo', afore she fell into that strange kind o' slumber?'
'I cannot tell,' said he, shaking his head. 'Was she breathing in that hard snoring kind of way when you left her this morning?'
'Yes, I think so; I cannot tell, so much has happened.'
'When you came back to her, after your breakfast, I think you said she was in much the same position?'
'Yes, and yet I may be telling yo' lies; if I could but think: but it's my head as is aching so; doctor, I wish yo'd go, for I need being alone, I'm so mazed.'
'Good-night, then, for you're a wise woman, I see, and mean to go to bed, and have a good night with baby there.'
But he went down to Phoebe, and told her to go in from time to time, and see how her mistress was.
He found Hester Rose and the old servant together; both had been crying, both were evidently in great trouble about the death and the mystery of the day.
Hester asked if she might go up and see Sylvia, and the doctor gave his leave, talking meanwhile with Phoebe over the kitchen fire. Hester came down again without seeing Sylvia. The door of the room was bolted, and everything quiet inside.
'Does she know where her husband is, think you?' asked the doctor at this account of Hester's. 'She's not anxious about him at any rate: or else the shock of her mother's death has been too much for her. We must hope for some change in the morning; a good fit of crying, or a fidget about her husband, would be more natural. Good-night to you both,' and off he went.
Phoebe and Hester avoided looking at each other at these words. Both were conscious of the probability of something having gone seriously wrong between the husband and wife. Hester had the recollection of the previous night, Phoebe the untasted breakfast of to-day to go upon.
She spoke first.
'A just wish he'd come home to still folks' tongues. It need niver ha' been known if t' old lady hadn't died this day of all others. It's such a thing for t' shop t' have one o' t' partners missin', an' no one for t' know what's comed on him. It niver happened i' Fosters' days, that's a' I know.'
'He'll maybe come back yet,' said Hester. 'It's not so very late.'
'It were market day, and a',' continued Phoebe, 'just as if iverything mun go wrong together; an' a' t' country customers'll go back wi' fine tale i' their mouths, as Measter Hepburn was strayed an' missin' just like a beast o' some kind.'
'Hark! isn't that a step?' said Hester suddenly, as a footfall sounded in the now quiet street; but it passed the door, and the hope that had arisen on its approach fell as the sound died away.
'He'll noane come to-night,' said Phoebe, who had been as eager a listener as Hester, however. 'Thou'd best go thy ways home; a shall stay up, for it's not seemly for us a' t' go to our beds, an' a corpse in t' house; an' Nancy, as might ha' watched, is gone to her bed this hour past, like a lazy boots as she is. A can hear, too, if t' measter does come home; tho' a'll be bound he wunnot; choose wheere he is, he'll be i' bed by now, for it's well on to eleven. I'll let thee out by t' shop-door, and stand by it till thou's close at home, for it's ill for a young woman to be i' t' street so late.'
So she held the door open, and shaded the candle from the flickering outer air, while Hester went to her home with a heavy heart.
Heavily and hopelessly did they all meet in the morning. No news of Philip, no change in Sylvia; an unceasing flow of angling and conjecture and gossip radiating from the shop into the town.
Hester could have entreated Coulson on her knees to cease from repeating the details of a story of which every word touched on a raw place in her sensitive heart; moreover, when they talked together so eagerly, she could not hear the coming footsteps on the pavement without.
Once some one hit very near the truth in a chance remark.
'It seems strange,' she said, 'how as one man turns up, another just disappears. Why, it were but upo' Tuesday as Kinraid come back, as all his own folk had thought to be dead; and next day here's Measter Hepburn as is gone no one knows wheere!'
'That's t' way i' this world,' replied Coulson, a little sententiously. 'This life is full o' changes o' one kind or another; them that's dead is alive; and as for poor Philip, though he was alive, he looked fitter to be dead when he came into t' shop o' Wednesday morning.'
'And how does she take it?' nodding to where Sylvia was supposed to be.
'Oh! she's not herself, so to say. She were just stunned by finding her mother was dying in her very arms when she thought as she were only sleeping; yet she's never been able to cry a drop; so that t' sorrow's gone inwards on her brain, and from all I can hear, she doesn't rightly understand as her husband is missing. T' doctor says if she could but cry, she'd come to a juster comprehension of things.'
'And what do John and Jeremiah Foster say to it all?'
'They're down here many a time in t' day to ask if he's come back, or how she is; for they made a deal on 'em both. They're going t' attend t' funeral to-morrow, and have given orders as t' shop is to be shut up in t' morning.'
To the surprise of every one, Sylvia, who had never left her room since the night of her mother's death, and was supposed to be almost unconscious of all that was going on in the house, declared her intention of following her mother to the grave. No one could do more than remonstrate: no one had sufficient authority to interfere with her. Dr Morgan even thought that she might possibly be roused to tears by the occasion; only he begged Hester to go with her, that she might have the solace of some woman's company.
She went through the greater part of the ceremony in the same hard, unmoved manner in which she had received everything for days past.
But on looking up once, as they formed round the open grave, she saw Kester, in his Sunday clothes, with a bit of new crape round his hat, crying as if his heart would break over the coffin of his good, kind mistress.
His evident distress, the unexpected sight, suddenly loosed the fountain of Sylvia's tears, and her sobs grew so terrible that Hester feared she would not be able to remain until the end of the funeral. But she struggled hard to stay till the last, and then she made an effort to go round by the place where Kester stood.
'Come and see me,' was all she could say for crying: and Kester only nodded his head—he could not speak a word.
That very evening Kester came, humbly knocking at the kitchen-door. Phoebe opened it. He asked to see Sylvia.
'A know not if she'll see thee,' said Phoebe. 'There's no makin' her out; sometimes she's for one thing, sometimes she's for another.'
'She bid me come and see her,' said Kester. 'Only this mornin', at missus' buryin', she telled me to come.'
So Phoebe went off to inform Sylvia that Kester was there; and returned with the desire that he would walk into the parlour. An instant after he was gone, Phoebe heard him return, and carefully shut the two doors of communication between the kitchen and sitting-room.
Sylvia was in the latter when Kester came in, holding her baby close to her; indeed, she seldom let it go now-a-days to any one else, making Nancy's place quite a sinecure, much to Phoebe's indignation.
Sylvia's face was shrunk, and white, and thin; her lovely eyes alone retained the youthful, almost childlike, expression. She went up to Kester, and shook his horny hand, she herself trembling all over.
'Don't talk to me of her,' she said hastily. 'I cannot stand it. It's a blessing for her to be gone, but, oh——'
She began to cry, and then cheered herself up, and swallowed down her sobs.
'Kester,' she went on, hastily, 'Charley Kinraid isn't dead; dost ta know? He's alive, and he were here o' Tuesday—no, Monday, was it? I cannot tell—but he were here!'
'A knowed as he weren't dead. Every one is a-speaking on it. But a didn't know as thee'd ha' seen him. A took comfort i' thinkin' as thou'd ha' been wi' thy mother a' t' time as he were i' t' place.'
'Then he's gone?' said Sylvia.
'Gone; ay, days past. As far as a know, he but stopped a' neet. A thought to mysel' (but yo' may be sure a said nought to nobody), he's heerd as our Sylvia were married, and has put it in his pipe, and ta'en hissel' off to smoke it.'
'Kester!' said Sylvia, leaning forwards, and whispering. 'I saw him. He was here. Philip saw him. Philip had known as he wasn't dead a' this time!'
Kester stood up suddenly.
'By goom, that chap has a deal t' answer for.'
A bright red spot was on each of Sylvia's white cheeks; and for a minute or so neither of them spoke.
Then she went on, still whispering out her words.
'Kester, I'm more afeared than I dare tell any one: can they ha' met, think yo'? T' very thought turns me sick. I told Philip my mind, and took a vow again' him—but it would be awful to think on harm happening to him through Kinraid. Yet he went out that morning, and has niver been seen or heard on sin'; and Kinraid were just fell again' him, and as for that matter, so was I; but——'
The red spot vanished as she faced her own imagination.
'It's a thing as can be easy looked into. What day an' time were it when Philip left this house?'
'Tuesday—the day she died. I saw him in her room that morning between breakfast and dinner; I could a'most swear to it's being close after eleven. I mind counting t' clock. It was that very morn as Kinraid were here.'
'A'll go an' have a pint o' beer at t' King's Arms, down on t' quay-side; it were theere he put up at. An' a'm pretty sure as he only stopped one night, and left i' t' morning betimes. But a'll go see.'
'Do,' said Sylvia, 'and go out through t' shop; they're all watching and watching me to see how I take things; and daren't let on about t' fire as is burning up my heart. Coulson is i' t' shop, but he'll not notice thee like Phoebe.'
By-and-by Kester came back. It seemed as though Sylvia had never stirred; she looked eagerly at him, but did not speak.
'He went away i' Rob Mason's mail-cart, him as tak's t' letters to Hartlepool. T' lieutenant (as they ca' him down at t' King's Arms; they're as proud on his uniform as if it had been a new-painted sign to swing o'er their doors), t' lieutenant had reckoned upo' stayin' longer wi' 'em; but he went out betimes o' Tuesday morn', an' came back a' ruffled up, an paid his bill—paid for his breakfast, though he touched noane on it—an' went off i' Rob postman's mail-cart, as starts reg'lar at ten o'clock. Corneys has been theere askin' for him, an' makin' a piece o' work, as he niver went near em; and they bees cousins. Niver a one among 'em knows as he were here as far as a could mak' out.'
'Thank yo', Kester,' said Sylvia, falling back in her chair, as if all the energy that had kept her stiff and upright was gone now that her anxiety was relieved.
She was silent for a long time; her eyes shut, her cheek laid on her child's head. Kester spoke next.
'A think it's pretty clear as they'n niver met. But it's a' t' more wonder where thy husband's gone to. Thee and him had words about it, and thou telled him thy mind, thou said?'
'Yes,' said Sylvia, not moving. 'I'm afeared lest mother knows what I said to him, there, where she's gone to—I am-' the tears filled her shut eyes, and came softly overflowing down her cheeks; 'and yet it were true, what I said, I cannot forgive him; he's just spoilt my life, and I'm not one-and-twenty yet, and he knowed how wretched, how very wretched, I were. A word fra' him would ha' mended it a'; and Charley had bid him speak the word, and give me his faithful love, and Philip saw my heart ache day after day, and niver let on as him I was mourning for was alive, and had sent me word as he'd keep true to me, as I were to do to him.'
'A wish a'd been theere; a'd ha' felled him to t' ground,' said Kester, clenching his stiff, hard hand with indignation.
Sylvia was silent again: pale and weary she sate, her eyes still shut.
Then she said,
'Yet he were so good to mother; and mother loved him so. Oh, Kester!' lifting herself up, opening her great wistful eyes, 'it's well for folks as can die; they're spared a deal o' misery.'
'Ay!' said he. 'But there's folk as one 'ud like to keep fra' shirkin' their misery. Think yo' now as Philip is livin'?'
Sylvia shivered all over, and hesitated before she replied.
'I dunnot know. I said such things; he deserved 'em all——'
'Well, well, lass!' said Kester, sorry that he had asked the question which was producing so much emotion of one kind or another. 'Neither thee nor me can tell; we can neither help nor hinder, seein' as he's ta'en hissel' off out on our sight, we'd best not think on him. A'll try an' tell thee some news, if a can think on it wi' my mind so full. Thou knows Haytersbank folk ha' flitted, and t' oud place is empty?'
'Yes!' said Sylvia, with the indifference of one wearied out with feeling.
'A only telled yo' t' account like for me bein' at a loose end i' Monkshaven. My sister, her as lived at Dale End an' is a widow, has comed int' town to live; an' a'm lodging wi' her, an' jobbin' about. A'm gettin' pretty well to do, an' a'm noane far t' seek, an' a'm going now: only first a just wanted for t' say as a'm thy oldest friend, a reckon, and if a can do a turn for thee, or go an errand, like as a've done to-day, or if it's any comfort to talk a bit to one who's known thy life from a babby, why yo've only t' send for me, an' a'd come if it were twenty mile. A'm lodgin' at Peggy Dawson's, t' lath and plaster cottage at t' right hand o' t' bridge, a' among t' new houses, as they're thinkin' o' buildin' near t' sea: no one can miss it.'
He stood up and shook hands with her. As he did so, he looked at her sleeping baby.
'She's liker yo' than him. A think a'll say, God bless her.'
With the heavy sound of his out-going footsteps, baby awoke. She ought before this time to have been asleep in her bed, and the disturbance made her cry fretfully.
'Hush thee, darling, hush thee!' murmured her mother; 'there's no one left to love me but thee, and I cannot stand thy weeping, my pretty one. Hush thee, my babe, hush thee!'
She whispered soft in the little one's ear as she took her upstairs to bed.
About three weeks after the miserable date of Bell Robson's death and Philip's disappearance, Hester Rose received a letter from him. She knew the writing on the address well; and it made her tremble so much that it was many minutes before she dared to open it, and make herself acquainted with the facts it might disclose.
But she need not have feared; there were no facts told, unless the vague date of 'London' might be something to learn. Even that much might have been found out by the post-mark, only she had been too much taken by surprise to examine it.
It ran as follows:—
'Tell those whom it may concern, that I have left Monkshaven for ever. No one need trouble themselves about me; I am provided for. Please to make my humble apologies to my kind friends, the Messrs Foster, and to my partner, William Coulson. Please to accept of my love, and to join the same to your mother. Please to give my particular and respectful duty and kind love to my aunt Isabella Robson. Her daughter Sylvia knows what I have always felt, and shall always feel, for her better than I can ever put into language, so I send her no message; God bless and keep my child. You must all look on me as one dead; as I am to you, and maybe shall soon be in reality.
'Your affectionate and obedient friend to command,
'P.S.—Oh, Hester! for God's sake and mine, look after ('my wife,' scratched out) Sylvia and my child. I think Jeremiah Foster will help you to be a friend to them. This is the last solemn request of P. H. She is but very young.'
Hester read this letter again and again, till her heart caught the echo of its hopelessness, and sank within her. She put it in her pocket, and reflected upon it all the day long as she served in the shop.
The customers found her as gentle, but far more inattentive than usual. She thought that in the evening she would go across the bridge, and consult with the two good old brothers Foster. But something occurred to put off the fulfilment of this plan.
That same morning Sylvia had preceded her, with no one to consult, because consultation would have required previous confidence, and confidence would have necessitated such a confession about Kinraid as it was most difficult for Sylvia to make. The poor young wife yet felt that some step must be taken by her; and what it was to be she could not imagine.
She had no home to go to; for as Philip was gone away, she remained where she was only on sufferance; she did not know what means of livelihood she had; she was willing to work, nay, would be thankful to take up her old life of country labour; but with her baby, what could she do?
In this dilemma, the recollection of the old man's kindly speech and offer of assistance, made, it is true, half in joke, at the end of her wedding visit, came into her mind; and she resolved to go and ask for some of the friendly counsel and assistance then offered.
It would be the first time of her going out since her mother's funeral, and she dreaded the effort on that account. More even than on that account did she shrink from going into the streets again. She could not get over the impression that Kinraid must be lingering near; and she distrusted herself so much that it was a positive terror to think of meeting him again. She felt as though, if she but caught a sight of him, the glitter of his uniform, or heard his well-known voice in only a distant syllable of talk, her heart would stop, and she should die from very fright of what would come next. Or rather so she felt, and so she thought before she took her baby in her arms, as Nancy gave it to her after putting on its out-of-door attire.
With it in her arms she was protected, and the whole current of her thoughts was changed. The infant was wailing and suffering with its teething, and the mother's heart was so occupied in soothing and consoling her moaning child, that the dangerous quay-side and the bridge were passed almost before she was aware; nor did she notice the eager curiosity and respectful attention of those she met who recognized her even through the heavy veil which formed part of the draping mourning provided for her by Hester and Coulson, in the first unconscious days after her mother's death.
Though public opinion as yet reserved its verdict upon Philip's disappearance—warned possibly by Kinraid's story against hasty decisions and judgments in such times as those of war and general disturbance—yet every one agreed that no more pitiful fate could have befallen Philip's wife.
Marked out by her striking beauty as an object of admiring interest even in those days when she sate in girlhood's smiling peace by her mother at the Market Cross—her father had lost his life in a popular cause, and ignominious as the manner of his death might be, he was looked upon as a martyr to his zeal in avenging the wrongs of his townsmen; Sylvia had married amongst them too, and her quiet daily life was well known to them; and now her husband had been carried off from her side just on the very day when she needed his comfort most.
For the general opinion was that Philip had been 'carried off'—in seaport towns such occurrences were not uncommon in those days—either by land-crimps or water-crimps.
So Sylvia was treated with silent reverence, as one sorely afflicted, by all the unheeded people she met in her faltering walk to Jeremiah Foster's.
She had calculated her time so as to fall in with him at his dinner hour, even though it obliged her to go to his own house rather than to the bank where he and his brother spent all the business hours of the day.
Sylvia was so nearly exhausted by the length of her walk and the weight of her baby, that all she could do when the door was opened was to totter into the nearest seat, sit down, and begin to cry.
In an instant kind hands were about her, loosening her heavy cloak, offering to relieve her of her child, who clung to her all the more firmly, and some one was pressing a glass of wine against her lips.
'No, sir, I cannot take it! wine allays gives me th' headache; if I might have just a drink o' water. Thank you, ma'am' (to the respectable-looking old servant), 'I'm well enough now; and perhaps, sir, I might speak a word with yo', for it's that I've come for.'
'It's a pity, Sylvia Hepburn, as thee didst not come to me at the bank, for it's been a long toil for thee all this way in the heat, with thy child. But if there's aught I can do or say for thee, thou hast but to name it, I am sure. Martha! wilt thou relieve her of her child while she comes with me into the parlour?'
But the wilful little Bella stoutly refused to go to any one, and Sylvia was not willing to part with her, tired though she was.
So the baby was carried into the parlour, and much of her after-life depended on this trivial fact.
Once installed in the easy-chair, and face to face with Jeremiah, Sylvia did not know how to begin.
Jeremiah saw this, and kindly gave her time to recover herself, by pulling out his great gold watch, and letting the seal dangle before the child's eyes, almost within reach of the child's eager little fingers.
'She favours you a deal,' said he, at last. 'More than her father,' he went on, purposely introducing Philip's name, so as to break the ice; for he rightly conjectured she had come to speak to him about something connected with her husband.
Still Sylvia said nothing; she was choking down tears and shyness, and unwillingness to take as confidant a man of whom she knew so little, on such slight ground (as she now felt it to be) as the little kindly speech with which she had been dismissed from that house the last time that she entered it.
'It's no use keeping yo', sir,' she broke out at last. 'It's about Philip as I comed to speak. Do yo' know any thing whatsomever about him? He niver had a chance o' saying anything, I know; but maybe he's written?'
'Not a line, my poor young woman!' said Jeremiah, hastily putting an end to that vain idea.
'Then he's either dead or gone away for iver,' she whispered. 'I mun be both feyther and mother to my child.'
'Oh! thee must not give it up,' replied he. 'Many a one is carried off to the wars, or to the tenders o' men-o'-war; and then they turn out to be unfit for service, and are sent home. Philip 'll come back before the year's out; thee'll see that.'
'No; he'll niver come back. And I'm not sure as I should iver wish him t' come back, if I could but know what was gone wi' him. Yo' see, sir, though I were sore set again' him, I shouldn't like harm to happen him.'
'There is something behind all this that I do not understand. Can thee tell me what it is?'
'I must, sir, if yo're to help me wi' your counsel; and I came up here to ask for it.'
Another long pause, during which Jeremiah made a feint of playing with the child, who danced and shouted with tantalized impatience at not being able to obtain possession of the seal, and at length stretched out her soft round little arms to go to the owner of the coveted possession. Surprise at this action roused Sylvia, and she made some comment upon it.
'I niver knew her t' go to any one afore. I hope she'll not be troublesome to yo', sir?'
The old man, who had often longed for a child of his own in days gone by, was highly pleased by this mark of baby's confidence, and almost forgot, in trying to strengthen her regard by all the winning wiles in his power, how her poor mother was still lingering over some painful story which she could not bring herself to tell.
'I'm afeared of speaking wrong again' any one, sir. And mother were so fond o' Philip; but he kept something from me as would ha' made me a different woman, and some one else, happen, a different man. I were troth-plighted wi' Kinraid the specksioneer, him as was cousin to th' Corneys o' Moss Brow, and comed back lieutenant i' t' navy last Tuesday three weeks, after ivery one had thought him dead and gone these three years.'
'Well?' said Jeremiah, with interest; although his attention appeared to be divided between the mother's story and the eager playfulness of the baby on his knee.
'Philip knew he were alive; he'd seen him taken by t' press-gang, and Charley had sent a message to me by Philip.'
Her white face was reddening, her eyes flashing at this point of her story.
'And he niver told me a word on it, not when he saw me like to break my heart in thinking as Kinraid were dead; he kept it a' to hissel'; and watched me cry, and niver said a word to comfort me wi' t' truth. It would ha' been a great comfort, sir, only t' have had his message if I'd niver ha' been to see him again. But Philip niver let on to any one, as I iver heared on, that he'd seen Charley that morning as t' press-gang took him. Yo' know about feyther's death, and how friendless mother and me was left? and so I married him; for he were a good friend to us then, and I were dazed like wi' sorrow, and could see naught else to do for mother. He were allays very tender and good to her, for sure.'
Again a long pause of silent recollection, broken by one or two deep sighs.
'If I go on, sir, now, I mun ask yo' to promise as yo'll niver tell. I do so need some one to tell me what I ought to do, and I were led here, like, else I would ha' died wi' it all within my teeth. Yo'll promise, sir?'
Jeremiah Foster looked in her face, and seeing the wistful, eager look, he was touched almost against his judgment into giving the promise required; she went on.
'Upon a Tuesday morning, three weeks ago, I think, tho' for t' matter o' time it might ha' been three years, Kinraid come home; come back for t' claim me as his wife, and I were wed to Philip! I met him i' t' road at first; and I couldn't tell him theere. He followed me into t' house—Philip's house, sir, behind t' shop—and somehow I told him all, how I were a wedded wife to another. Then he up and said I'd a false heart—me false, sir, as had eaten my daily bread in bitterness, and had wept t' nights through, all for sorrow and mourning for his death! Then he said as Philip knowed all t' time he were alive and coming back for me; and I couldn't believe it, and I called Philip, and he come, and a' that Charley had said were true; and yet I were Philip's wife! So I took a mighty oath, and I said as I'd niver hold Philip to be my lawful husband again, nor iver forgive him for t' evil he'd wrought us, but hold him as a stranger and one as had done me a heavy wrong.'
She stopped speaking; her story seemed to her to end there. But her listener said, after a pause,
'It were a cruel wrong, I grant thee that; but thy oath were a sin, and thy words were evil, my poor lass. What happened next?'
'I don't justly remember,' she said, wearily. 'Kinraid went away, and mother cried out; and I went to her. She were asleep, I thought, so I lay down by her, to wish I were dead, and to think on what would come on my child if I died; and Philip came in softly, and I made as if I were asleep; and that's t' very last as I've iver seen or heared of him.'
Jeremiah Foster groaned as she ended her story. Then he pulled himself up, and said, in a cheerful tone of voice,
'He'll come back, Sylvia Hepburn. He'll think better of it: never fear!'
'I fear his coming back!' said she. 'That's what I'm feared on; I would wish as I knew on his well-doing i' some other place; but him and me can niver live together again.'
'Nay,' pleaded Jeremiah. 'Thee art sorry what thee said; thee were sore put about, or thee wouldn't have said it.'
He was trying to be a peace-maker, and to heal over conjugal differences; but he did not go deep enough.
'I'm not sorry,' said she, slowly. 'I were too deeply wronged to be "put about"; that would go off wi' a night's sleep. It's only the thought of mother (she's dead and happy, and knows nought of all this, I trust) that comes between me and hating Philip. I'm not sorry for what I said.'
Jeremiah had never met with any one so frank and undisguised in expressions of wrong feeling, and he scarcely knew what to say.
He looked extremely grieved, and not a little shocked. So pretty and delicate a young creature to use such strong relentless language!
She seemed to read his thoughts, for she made answer to them.
'I dare say you think I'm very wicked, sir, not to be sorry. Perhaps I am. I can't think o' that for remembering how I've suffered; and he knew how miserable I was, and might ha' cleared my misery away wi' a word; and he held his peace, and now it's too late! I'm sick o' men and their cruel, deceitful ways. I wish I were dead.'
She was crying before she had ended this speech, and seeing her tears, the child began to cry too, stretching out its little arms to go back to its mother. The hard stony look on her face melted away into the softest, tenderest love as she clasped the little one to her, and tried to soothe its frightened sobs.
A bright thought came into the old man's mind.
He had been taking a complete dislike to her till her pretty way with her baby showed him that she had a heart of flesh within her.
'Poor little one!' said he, 'thy mother had need love thee, for she's deprived thee of thy father's love. Thou'rt half-way to being an orphan; yet I cannot call thee one of the fatherless to whom God will be a father. Thou'rt a desolate babe, thou may'st well cry; thine earthly parents have forsaken thee, and I know not if the Lord will take thee up.'
Sylvia looked up at him affrighted; holding her baby tighter to her, she exclaimed.
'Don't speak so, sir! it's cursing, sir! I haven't forsaken her! Oh, sir! those are awful sayings.'
'Thee hast sworn never to forgive thy husband, nor to live with him again. Dost thee know that by the law of the land, he may claim his child; and then thou wilt have to forsake it, or to be forsworn? Poor little maiden!' continued he, once more luring the baby to him with the temptation of the watch and chain.
Sylvia thought for a while before speaking. Then she said,
'I cannot tell what ways to take. Whiles I think my head is crazed. It were a cruel turn he did me!'
'It was. I couldn't have thought him guilty of such baseness.'
This acquiescence, which was perfectly honest on Jeremiah's part, almost took Sylvia by surprise. Why might she not hate one who had been both cruel and base in his treatment of her? And yet she recoiled from the application of such hard terms by another to Philip, by a cool-judging and indifferent person, as she esteemed Jeremiah to be. From some inscrutable turn in her thoughts, she began to defend him, or at least to palliate the harsh judgment which she herself had been the first to pronounce.
'He were so tender to mother; she were dearly fond on him; he niver spared aught he could do for her, else I would niver ha' married him.'
'He was a good and kind-hearted lad from the time he was fifteen. And I never found him out in any falsehood, no more did my brother.'
'But it were all the same as a lie,' said Sylvia, swiftly changing her ground, 'to leave me to think as Charley were dead, when he knowed all t' time he were alive.'
'It was. It was a self-seeking lie; putting thee to pain to get his own ends. And the end of it has been that he is driven forth like Cain.'
'I niver told him to go, sir.'
'But thy words sent him forth, Sylvia.'
'I cannot unsay them, sir; and I believe as I should say them again.'
But she said this as one who rather hopes for a contradiction.
All Jeremiah replied, however, was, 'Poor wee child!' in a pitiful tone, addressed to the baby.
Sylvia's eyes filled with tears.
'Oh, sir, I'll do anything as iver yo' can tell me for her. That's what I came for t' ask yo'. I know I mun not stay theere, and Philip gone away; and I dunnot know what to do: and I'll do aught, only I must keep her wi' me. Whativer can I do, sir?'
Jeremiah thought it over for a minute or two. Then he replied,
'I must have time to think. I must talk it over with brother John.'
'But you've given me yo'r word, sir!' exclaimed she.
'I have given thee my word never to tell any one of what has passed between thee and thy husband, but I must take counsel with my brother as to what is to be done with thee and thy child, now that thy husband has left the shop.'
This was said so gravely as almost to be a reproach, and he got up, as a sign that the interview was ended.
He gave the baby back to its mother; but not without a solemn blessing, so solemn that, to Sylvia's superstitious and excited mind, it undid the terrors of what she had esteemed to be a curse.
'The Lord bless thee and keep thee! The Lord make His face to shine upon thee!'
All the way down the hill-side, Sylvia kept kissing the child, and whispering to its unconscious ears,—
'I'll love thee for both, my treasure, I will. I'll hap thee round wi' my love, so as thou shall niver need a feyther's.'
Hester had been prevented by her mother's indisposition from taking Philip's letter to the Fosters, to hold a consultation with them over its contents.
Alice Rose was slowly failing, and the long days which she had to spend alone told much upon her spirits, and consequently upon her health.
All this came out in the conversation which ensued after reading Hepburn's letter in the little parlour at the bank on the day after Sylvia had had her confidential interview with Jeremiah Foster.
He was a true man of honour, and never so much as alluded to her visit to him; but what she had then told him influenced him very much in the formation of the project which he proposed to his brother and Hester.
He recommended her remaining where she was, living still in the house behind the shop; for he thought within himself that she might have exaggerated the effect of her words upon Philip; that, after all, it might have been some cause totally disconnected with them, which had blotted out her husband's place among the men of Monkshaven; and that it would be so much easier for both to resume their natural relations, both towards each other and towards the world, if Sylvia remained where her husband had left her—in an expectant attitude, so to speak.
Jeremiah Foster questioned Hester straitly about her letter: whether she had made known its contents to any one. No, not to any one. Neither to her mother nor to William Coulson? No, to neither.
She looked at him as she replied to his inquiries, and he looked at her, each wondering if the other could be in the least aware that a conjugal quarrel might be at the root of the dilemma in which they were placed by Hepburn's disappearance.
But neither Hester, who had witnessed the misunderstanding between the husband and wife on the evening, before the morning on which Philip went away, nor Jeremiah Foster, who had learnt from Sylvia the true reason of her husband's disappearance, gave the slightest reason to the other to think that they each supposed they had a clue to the reason of Hepburn's sudden departure.
What Jeremiah Foster, after a night's consideration, had to propose was this; that Hester and her mother should come and occupy the house in the market-place, conjointly with Sylvia and her child. Hester's interest in the shop was by this time acknowledged. Jeremiah had made over to her so much of his share in the business, that she had a right to be considered as a kind of partner; and she had long been the superintendent of that department of goods which were exclusively devoted to women. So her daily presence was requisite for more reasons than one.
Yet her mother's health and spirits were such as to render it unadvisable that the old woman should be too much left alone; and Sylvia's devotion to her own mother seemed to point her out as the very person who could be a gentle and tender companion to Alice Rose during those hours when her own daughter would necessarily be engaged in the shop.
Many desirable objects seemed to be gained by this removal of Alice: an occupation was provided for Sylvia, which would detain her in the place where her husband had left her, and where (Jeremiah Foster fairly expected in spite of his letter) he was likely to come back to find her; and Alice Rose, the early love of one of the brothers, the old friend of the other, would be well cared for, and under her daughter's immediate supervision during the whole of the time that she was occupied in the shop.
Philip's share of the business, augmented by the money which he had put in from the legacy of his old Cumberland uncle, would bring in profits enough to support Sylvia and her child in ease and comfort until that time, which they all anticipated, when he should return from his mysterious wandering—mysterious, whether his going forth had been voluntary or involuntary.
Thus far was settled; and Jeremiah Foster went to tell Sylvia of the plan.
She was too much a child, too entirely unaccustomed to any independence of action, to do anything but leave herself in his hands. Her very confession, made to him the day before, when she sought his counsel, seemed to place her at his disposal. Otherwise, she had had notions of the possibility of a free country life once more—how provided for and arranged she hardly knew; but Haytersbank was to let, and Kester disengaged, and it had just seemed possible that she might have to return to her early home, and to her old life. She knew that it would take much money to stock the farm again, and that her hands were tied from much useful activity by the love and care she owed to her baby. But still, somehow, she hoped and she fancied, till Jeremiah Foster's measured words and carefully-arranged plan made her silently relinquish her green, breezy vision.
Hester, too, had her own private rebellion—hushed into submission by her gentle piety. If Sylvia had been able to make Philip happy, Hester could have felt lovingly and almost gratefully towards her; but Sylvia had failed in this.
Philip had been made unhappy, and was driven forth a wanderer into the wide world—never to come back! And his last words to Hester, the postscript of his letter, containing the very pith of it, was to ask her to take charge and care of the wife whose want of love towards him had uprooted him from the place where he was valued and honoured.
It cost Hester many a struggle and many a self-reproach before she could make herself feel what she saw all along—that in everything Philip treated her like a sister. But even a sister might well be indignant if she saw her brother's love disregarded and slighted, and his life embittered by the thoughtless conduct of a wife! Still Hester fought against herself, and for Philip's sake she sought to see the good in Sylvia, and she strove to love her as well as to take care of her.
With the baby, of course, the case was different. Without thought or struggle, or reason, every one loved the little girl. Coulson and his buxom wife, who were childless, were never weary of making much of her. Hester's happiest hours were spent with that little child. Jeremiah Foster almost looked upon her as his own from the day when she honoured him by yielding to the temptation of the chain and seal, and coming to his knee; not a customer to the shop but knew the smiling child's sad history, and many a country-woman would save a rosy-cheeked apple from out her store that autumn to bring it on next market-day for 'Philip Hepburn's baby, as had lost its father, bless it.'
Even stern Alice Rose was graciously inclined towards the little Bella; and though her idea of the number of the elect was growing narrower and narrower every day, she would have been loth to exclude the innocent little child, that stroked her wrinkled cheeks so softly every night in return for her blessing, from the few that should be saved. Nay, for the child's sake, she relented towards the mother; and strove to have Sylvia rescued from the many castaways with fervent prayer, or, as she phrased it, 'wrestling with the Lord'.
Alice had a sort of instinct that the little child, so tenderly loved by, so fondly loving, the mother whose ewe-lamb she was, could not be even in heaven without yearning for the creature she had loved best on earth; and the old woman believed that this was the principal reason for her prayers for Sylvia; but unconsciously to herself, Alice Rose was touched by the filial attentions she constantly received from the young mother, whom she believed to be foredoomed to condemnation.
Sylvia rarely went to church or chapel, nor did she read her Bible; for though she spoke little of her ignorance, and would fain, for her child's sake, have remedied it now it was too late, she had lost what little fluency of reading she had ever had, and could only make out her words with much spelling and difficulty. So the taking her Bible in hand would have been a mere form; though of this Alice Rose knew nothing.
No one knew much of what was passing in Sylvia; she did not know herself. Sometimes in the nights she would waken, crying, with a terrible sense of desolation; every one who loved her, or whom she had loved, had vanished out of her life; every one but her child, who lay in her arms, warm and soft.
But then Jeremiah Foster's words came upon her; words that she had taken for cursing at the time; and she would so gladly have had some clue by which to penetrate the darkness of the unknown region from whence both blessing and cursing came, and to know if she had indeed done something which should cause her sin to be visited on that soft, sweet, innocent darling.
If any one would teach her to read! If any one would explain to her the hard words she heard in church or chapel, so that she might find out the meaning of sin and godliness!—words that had only passed over the surface of her mind till now! For her child's sake she should like to do the will of God, if she only knew what that was, and how to be worked out in her daily life.
But there was no one she dared confess her ignorance to and ask information from. Jeremiah Foster had spoken as if her child, sweet little merry Bella, with a loving word and a kiss for every one, was to suffer heavily for the just and true words her wronged and indignant mother had spoken. Alice always spoke as if there were no hope for her; and blamed her, nevertheless, for not using the means of grace that it was not in her power to avail herself of.
And Hester, that Sylvia would fain have loved for her uniform gentleness and patience with all around her, seemed so cold in her unruffled and undemonstrative behaviour; and moreover, Sylvia felt that Hester blamed her perpetual silence regarding Philip's absence without knowing how bitter a cause Sylvia had for casting him off.
The only person who seemed to have pity upon her was Kester; and his pity was shown in looks rather than words; for when he came to see her, which he did from time to time, by a kind of mutual tacit consent, they spoke but little of former days.
He was still lodging with his sister, widow Dobson, working at odd jobs, some of which took him into the country for weeks at a time. But on his returns to Monkshaven he was sure to come and see her and the little Bella; indeed, when his employment was in the immediate neighbourhood of the town, he never allowed a week to pass away without a visit.
There was not much conversation between him and Sylvia at such times. They skimmed over the surface of the small events in which both took an interest; only now and then a sudden glance, a checked speech, told each that there were deeps not forgotten, although they were never mentioned.
Twice Sylvia—below her breath—had asked Kester, just as she was holding the door open for his departure, if anything had ever been heard of Kinraid since his one night's visit to Monkshaven: each time (and there was an interval of some months between the inquiries) the answer had been simply, no.
To no one else would Sylvia ever have named his name. But indeed she had not the chance, had she wished it ever so much, of asking any questions about him from any one likely to know. The Corneys had left Moss Brow at Martinmas, and gone many miles away towards Horncastle. Bessy Corney, it is true was married and left behind in the neighbourhood; but with her Sylvia had never been intimate; and what girlish friendship there might have been between them had cooled very much at the time of Kinraid's supposed death three years before.
One day before Christmas in this year, 1798, Sylvia was called into the shop by Coulson, who, with his assistant, was busy undoing the bales of winter goods supplied to them from the West Riding, and other places. He was looking at a fine Irish poplin dress-piece when Sylvia answered to his call.
'Here! do you know this again?' asked he, in the cheerful tone of one sure of giving pleasure.
'No! have I iver seen it afore?'
'Not this, but one for all t' world like it.'
She did not rouse up to much interest, but looked at it as if trying to recollect where she could have seen its like.
'My missus had one on at th' party at John Foster's last March, and yo' admired it a deal. And Philip, he thought o' nothing but how he could get yo' just such another, and he set a vast o' folk agait for to meet wi' its marrow; and what he did just the very day afore he went away so mysterious was to write through Dawson Brothers, o' Wakefield, to Dublin, and order that one should be woven for yo'. Jemima had to cut a bit off hers for to give him t' exact colour.'
Sylvia did not say anything but that it was very pretty, in a low voice, and then she quickly left the shop, much to Coulson's displeasure.
All the afternoon she was unusually quiet and depressed.
Alice Rose, sitting helpless in her chair, watched her with keen eyes.
At length, after one of Sylvia's deep, unconscious sighs, the old woman spoke:
'It's religion as must comfort thee, child, as it's done many a one afore thee.'
'How?' said Sylvia, looking up, startled to find herself an object of notice.
'How?' (The answer was not quite so ready as the precept had been.) 'Read thy Bible, and thou wilt learn.'
'But I cannot read,' said Sylvia, too desperate any longer to conceal her ignorance.
'Not read! and thee Philip's wife as was such a great scholar! Of a surety the ways o' this life are crooked! There was our Hester, as can read as well as any minister, and Philip passes over her to go and choose a young lass as cannot read her Bible.'
'Was Philip and Hester——'
Sylvia paused, for though a new curiosity had dawned upon her, she did not know how to word her question.
'Many a time and oft have I seen Hester take comfort in her Bible when Philip was following after thee. She knew where to go for consolation.'
'I'd fain read,' said Sylvia, humbly, 'if anybody would learn me; for perhaps it might do me good; I'm noane so happy.'
Her eyes, as she looked up at Alice's stern countenance, were full of tears.
The old woman saw it, and was touched, although she did not immediately show her sympathy. But she took her own time, and made no reply.
The next day, however, she bade Sylvia come to her, and then and there, as if her pupil had been a little child, she began to teach Sylvia to read the first chapter of Genesis; for all other reading but the Scriptures was as vanity to her, and she would not condescend to the weakness of other books. Sylvia was now, as ever, slow at book-learning; but she was meek and desirous to be taught, and her willingness in this respect pleased Alice, and drew her singularly towards one who, from being a pupil, might become a convert.
All this time Sylvia never lost the curiosity that had been excited by the few words Alice had let drop about Hester and Philip, and by degrees she approached the subject again, and had the idea then started confirmed by Alice, who had no scruple in using the past experience of her own, of her daughter's, or of any one's life, as an instrument to prove the vanity of setting the heart on anything earthly.
This knowledge, unsuspected before, sank deep into Sylvia's thoughts, and gave her a strange interest in Hester—poor Hester, whose life she had so crossed and blighted, even by the very blighting of her own. She gave Hester her own former passionate feelings for Kinraid, and wondered how she herself should have felt towards any one who had come between her and him, and wiled his love away. When she remembered Hester's unfailing sweetness and kindness towards herself from the very first, she could better bear the comparative coldness of her present behaviour.
She tried, indeed, hard to win back the favour she had lost; but the very means she took were blunders, and only made it seem to her as if she could never again do right in Hester's eyes.
For instance, she begged her to accept and wear the pretty poplin gown which had been Philip's especial choice; feeling within herself as if she should never wish to put it on, and as if the best thing she could do with it was to offer it to Hester. But Hester rejected the proffered gift with as much hardness of manner as she was capable of assuming; and Sylvia had to carry it upstairs and lay it by for the little daughter, who, Hester said, might perhaps learn to value things that her father had given especial thought to.
Yet Sylvia went on trying to win Hester to like her once more; it was one of her great labours, and learning to read from Hester's mother was another.
Alice, indeed, in her solemn way, was becoming quite fond of Sylvia; if she could not read or write, she had a deftness and gentleness of motion, a capacity for the household matters which fell into her department, that had a great effect on the old woman, and for her dear mother's sake Sylvia had a stock of patient love ready in her heart for all the aged and infirm that fell in her way. She never thought of seeking them out, as she knew that Hester did; but then she looked up to Hester as some one very remarkable for her goodness. If only she could have liked her!
Hester tried to do all she could for Sylvia; Philip had told her to take care of his wife and child; but she had the conviction that Sylvia had so materially failed in her duties as to have made her husband an exile from his home—a penniless wanderer, wifeless and childless, in some strange country, whose very aspect was friendless, while the cause of all lived on in the comfortable home where he had placed her, wanting for nothing—an object of interest and regard to many friends—with a lovely little child to give her joy for the present, and hope for the future; while he, the poor outcast, might even lie dead by the wayside. How could Hester love Sylvia?
Yet they were frequent companions that ensuing spring. Hester was not well; and the doctors said that the constant occupation in the shop was too much for her, and that she must, for a time at least, take daily walks into the country.
Sylvia used to beg to accompany her; she and the little girl often went with Hester up the valley of the river to some of the nestling farms that were hidden in the more sheltered nooks—for Hester was bidden to drink milk warm from the cow; and to go into the familiar haunts about a farm was one of the few things in which Sylvia seemed to take much pleasure. She would let little Bella toddle about while Hester sate and rested: and she herself would beg to milk the cow destined to give the invalid her draught.
One May evening the three had been out on some such expedition; the country side still looked gray and bare, though the leaves were showing on the willow and blackthorn and sloe, and by the tinkling runnels, making hidden music along the copse side, the pale delicate primrose buds were showing amid their fresh, green, crinkled leaves. The larks had been singing all the afternoon, but were now dropping down into their nests in the pasture fields; the air had just the sharpness in it which goes along with a cloudless evening sky at that time of the year.
But Hester walked homewards slowly and languidly, speaking no word. Sylvia noticed this at first without venturing to speak, for Hester was one who disliked having her ailments noticed. But after a while Hester stood still in a sort of weary dreamy abstraction; and Sylvia said to her,
'I'm afeared yo're sadly tired. Maybe we've been too far.'
Hester almost started.
'No!' said she, 'it's only my headache which is worse to-night. It has been bad all day; but since I came out it has felt just as if there were great guns booming, till I could almost pray 'em to be quiet. I am so weary o' th' sound.'
She stepped out quickly towards home after she had said this, as if she wished for neither pity nor comment on what she had said.
Far away, over sea and land, over sunny sea again, great guns were booming on that 7th of May, 1799.
The Mediterranean came up with a long roar on a beach glittering white with snowy sand, and the fragments of innumerable sea-shells, delicate and shining as porcelain. Looking at that shore from the sea, a long ridge of upland ground, beginning from an inland depth, stretched far away into the ocean on the right, till it ended in a great mountainous bluff, crowned with the white buildings of a convent sloping rapidly down into the blue water at its base.
In the clear eastern air, the different characters of the foliage that clothed the sides of that sea-washed mountain might be discerned from a long distance by the naked eye; the silver gray of the olive-trees near its summit; the heavy green and bossy forms of the sycamores lower down; broken here and there by a solitary terebinth or ilex tree, of a deeper green and a wider spread; till the eye fell below on the maritime plain, edged with the white seaboard and the sandy hillocks; with here and there feathery palm-trees, either isolated or in groups—motionless and distinct against the hot purple air.
Look again; a little to the left on the sea-shore there are the white walls of a fortified town, glittering in sunlight, or black in shadow.
The fortifications themselves run out into the sea, forming a port and a haven against the wild Levantine storms; and a lighthouse rises out of the waves to guide mariners into safety.
Beyond this walled city, and far away to the left still, there is the same wide plain shut in by the distant rising ground, till the upland circuit comes closing in to the north, and the great white rocks meet the deep tideless ocean with its intensity of blue colour.
Above, the sky is literally purple with heat; and the pitiless light smites the gazer's weary eye as it comes back from the white shore. Nor does the plain country in that land offer the refuge and rest of our own soft green. The limestone rock underlies the vegetation, and gives a glittering, ashen hue to all the bare patches, and even to the cultivated parts which are burnt up early in the year. In spring-time alone does the country look rich and fruitful; then the corn-fields of the plain show their capability of bearing, 'some fifty, some an hundred fold'; down by the brook Kishon, flowing not far from the base of the mountainous promontory to the south, there grow the broad green fig-trees, cool and fresh to look upon; the orchards are full of glossy-leaved cherry-trees; the tall amaryllis puts forth crimson and yellow glories in the fields, rivalling the pomp of King Solomon; the daisies and the hyacinths spread their myriad flowers; the anemones, scarlet as blood, run hither and thither over the ground like dazzling flames of fire.
A spicy odour lingers in the heated air; it comes from the multitude of aromatic flowers that blossom in the early spring. Later on they will have withered and faded, and the corn will have been gathered, and the deep green of the eastern foliage will have assumed a kind of gray-bleached tint.
Even now in May, the hot sparkle of the everlasting sea, the terribly clear outline of all objects, whether near or distant, the fierce sun right overhead, the dazzling air around, were inexpressibly wearying to the English eyes that kept their skilled watch, day and night, on the strongly-fortified coast-town that lay out a little to the northward of where the British ships were anchored.
They had kept up a flanking fire for many days in aid of those besieged in St Jean d'Acre; and at intervals had listened, impatient, to the sound of the heavy siege guns, or the sharper rattle of the French musketry.
In the morning, on the 7th of May, a man at the masthead of the Tigre sang out that he saw ships in the offing; and in reply to the signal that was hastily run up, he saw the distant vessels hoist friendly flags. That May morning was a busy time. The besieged Turks took heart of grace; the French outside, under the command of their great general, made hasty preparations for a more vigorous assault than all many, both vigorous and bloody, that had gone before (for the siege was now at its fifty-first day), in hopes of carrying the town by storm before the reinforcement coming by sea could arrive; and Sir Sidney Smith, aware of Buonaparte's desperate intention, ordered all the men, both sailors and marines, that could be spared from the necessity of keeping up a continual flanking fire from the ships upon the French, to land, and assist the Turks and the British forces already there in the defence of the old historic city.
Lieutenant Kinraid, who had shared his captain's daring adventure off the coast of France three years before, who had been a prisoner with him and Westley Wright, in the Temple at Paris, and had escaped with them, and, through Sir Sidney's earnest recommendation, been promoted from being a warrant officer to the rank of lieutenant, received on this day the honour from his admiral of being appointed to an especial post of danger. His heart was like a war-horse, and said, Ha, ha! as the boat bounded over the waves that were to land him under the ancient machicolated walls where the Crusaders made their last stand in the Holy Land. Not that Kinraid knew or cared one jot about those gallant knights of old: all he knew was, that the French, under Boney, were trying to take the town from the Turks, and that his admiral said they must not, and so they should not.
He and his men landed on that sandy shore, and entered the town by the water-port gate; he was singing to himself his own country song,—
Weel may the keel row, the keel row, &C.
and his men, with sailors' aptitude for music, caught up the air, and joined in the burden with inarticulate sounds.
So, with merry hearts, they threaded the narrow streets of Acre, hemmed in on either side by the white walls of Turkish houses, with small grated openings high up, above all chance of peeping intrusion.
Here and there they met an ample-robed and turbaned Turk going along with as much haste as his stately self-possession would allow. But the majority of the male inhabitants were gathered together to defend the breach, where the French guns thundered out far above the heads of the sailors.