They went along none the less merrily for the sound to Djezzar Pacha's garden, where the old Turk sate on his carpet, beneath the shade of a great terebinth tree, listening to the interpreter, who made known to him the meaning of the eager speeches of Sir Sidney Smith and the colonel of the marines.
As soon as the admiral saw the gallant sailors of H.M.S. Tigre, he interrupted the council of war without much ceremony, and going to Kinraid, he despatched them, as before arranged, to the North Ravelin, showing them the way with rapid, clear directions.
Out of respect to him, they had kept silent while in the strange, desolate garden; but once more in the streets, the old Newcastle song rose up again till the men were, perforce, silenced by the haste with which they went to the post of danger.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon. For many a day these very men had been swearing at the terrific heat at this hour—even when at sea, fanned by the soft breeze; but now, in the midst of hot smoke, with former carnage tainting the air, and with the rush and whizz of death perpetually whistling in their ears, they were uncomplaining and light-hearted. Many an old joke, and some new ones, came brave and hearty, on their cheerful voices, even though the speaker was veiled from sight in great clouds of smoke, cloven only by the bright flames of death.
A sudden message came; as many of the crew of the Tigre as were under Lieutenant Kinraid's command were to go down to the Mole, to assist the new reinforcements (seen by the sailor from the masthead at day-dawn), under command of Hassan Bey, to land at the Mole, where Sir Sidney then was.
Off they went, almost as bright and thoughtless as before, though two of their number lay silent for ever at the North Ravelin—silenced in that one little half-hour. And one went along with the rest, swearing lustily at his ill-luck in having his right arm broken, but ready to do good business with his left.
They helped the Turkish troops to land more with good-will than tenderness; and then, led by Sir Sidney, they went under the shelter of English guns to the fatal breach, so often assailed, so gallantly defended, but never so fiercely contested as on this burning afternoon. The ruins of the massive wall that here had been broken down by the French, were used by them as stepping stones to get on a level with the besieged, and so to escape the heavy stones which the latter hurled down; nay, even the dead bodies of the morning's comrades were made into ghastly stairs.
When Djezzar Pacha heard that the British sailors were defending the breach, headed by Sir Sidney Smith, he left his station in the palace garden, gathered up his robes in haste, and hurried to the breach; where, with his own hands, and with right hearty good-will, he pulled the sailors down from the post of danger, saying that if he lost his English friends he lost all!
But little recked the crew of the Tigre of the one old man—Pacha or otherwise—who tried to hold them back from the fight; they were up and at the French assailants clambering over the breach in an instant; and so they went on, as if it were some game at play instead of a deadly combat, until Kinraid and his men were called off by Sir Sidney, as the reinforcement of Turkish troops under Hassan Bey were now sufficient for the defence of that old breach in the walls, which was no longer the principal object of the French attack; for the besiegers had made a new and more formidable breach by their incessant fire, knocking down whole streets of the city walls.
'Fight your best Kinraid!' said Sir Sidney; 'for there's Boney on yonder hill looking at you.'
And sure enough, on a rising ground, called Richard Coeur de Lion's Mount, there was a half-circle of French generals, on horseback, all deferentially attending to the motions, and apparently to the words, of a little man in their centre; at whose bidding the aide-de-camp galloped swift with messages to the more distant French camp.
The two ravelins which Kinraid and his men had to occupy, for the purpose of sending a flanking fire upon the enemy, were not ten yards from that enemy's van.
But at length there was a sudden rush of the French to that part of the wall where they imagined they could enter unopposed.
Surprised at this movement, Kinraid ventured out of the shelter of the ravelin to ascertain the cause; he, safe and untouched during that long afternoon of carnage, fell now, under a stray musket-shot, and lay helpless and exposed upon the ground undiscerned by his men, who were recalled to help in the hot reception which had been planned for the French; who, descending the city walls into the Pacha's garden, were attacked with sabre and dagger, and lay headless corpses under the flowering rose-bushes, and by the fountain side.
Kinraid lay beyond the ravelins, many yards outside the city walls.
He was utterly helpless, for the shot had broken his leg. Dead bodies of Frenchmen lay strewn around him; no Englishman had ventured out so far.
All the wounded men that he could see were French; and many of these, furious with pain, gnashed their teeth at him, and cursed him aloud, till he thought that his best course was to assume the semblance of death; for some among these men were still capable of dragging themselves up to him, and by concentrating all their failing energies into one blow, put him to a speedy end.
The outlying pickets of the French army were within easy rifle shot; and his uniform, although less conspicuous in colour than that of the marines, by whose sides he had been fighting, would make him a sure mark if he so much as moved his arm. Yet how he longed to turn, if ever so slightly, so that the cruel slanting sun might not beat full into his aching eyes. Fever, too, was coming upon him; the pain in his leg was every moment growing more severe; the terrible thirst of the wounded, added to the heat and fatigue of the day, made his lips and tongue feel baked and dry, and his whole throat seemed parched and wooden. Thoughts of other days, of cool Greenland seas, where ice abounded, of grassy English homes, began to make the past more real than the present.
With a great effort he brought his wandering senses back; he knew where he was now, and could weigh the chances of his life, which were but small; the unwonted tears came to his eyes as he thought of the newly-made wife in her English home, who might never know how he died thinking of her.
Suddenly he saw a party of English marines advance, under shelter of the ravelin, to pick up the wounded, and bear them within the walls for surgical help. They were so near he could see their faces, could hear them speak; yet he durst not make any sign to them when he lay within range of the French picket's fire.
For one moment he could not resist raising his head, to give himself a chance for life; before the unclean creatures that infest a camp came round in the darkness of the night to strip and insult the dead bodies, and to put to death such as had yet the breath of life within them. But the setting sun came full into his face, and he saw nothing of what he longed to see.
He fell back in despair; he lay there to die.
That strong clear sunbeam had wrought his salvation.
He had been recognized as men are recognized when they stand in the red glare of a house on fire; the same despair of help, of hopeless farewell to life, stamped on their faces in blood-red light.
One man left his fellows, and came running forwards, forwards in among the enemy's wounded, within range of their guns; he bent down over Kinraid; he seemed to understand without a word; he lifted him up, carrying him like a child; and with the vehement energy that is more from the force of will than the strength of body, he bore him back to within the shelter of the ravelin—not without many shots being aimed at them, one of which hit Kinraid in the fleshy part of his arm.
Kinraid was racked with agony from his dangling broken leg, and his very life seemed leaving him; yet he remembered afterwards how the marine recalled his fellows, and how, in the pause before they returned, his face became like one formerly known to the sick senses of Kinraid; yet it was too like a dream, too utterly improbable to be real.
Yet the few words this man said, as he stood breathless and alone by the fainting Kinraid, fitted in well with the belief conjured up by his personal appearance. He panted out,—
'I niver thought you'd ha' kept true to her!'
And then the others came up; and while they were making a sling of their belts, Kinraid fainted utterly away, and the next time that he was fully conscious, he was lying in his berth in the Tigre, with the ship surgeon setting his leg. After that he was too feverish for several days to collect his senses. When he could first remember, and form a judgment upon his recollections, he called the man especially charged to attend upon him, and bade him go and make inquiry in every possible manner for a marine named Philip Hepburn, and, when he was found, to entreat him to come and see Kinraid.
The sailor was away the greater part of the day, and returned unsuccessful in his search; he had been from ship to ship, hither and thither; he had questioned all the marines he had met with, no one knew anything of any Philip Hepburn.
Kinraid passed a miserably feverish night, and when the doctor exclaimed the next morning at his retrogression, he told him, with some irritation, of the ill-success of his servant; he accused the man of stupidity, and wished fervently that he were able to go himself.
Partly to soothe him, the doctor promised that he would undertake the search for Hepburn, and he engaged faithfully to follow all Kinraid's eager directions; not to be satisfied with men's careless words, but to look over muster-rolls and ships' books.
He, too, brought the same answer, however unwillingly given.
He had set out upon the search so confident of success, that he felt doubly discomfited by failure. However, he had persuaded himself that the lieutenant had been partially delirious from the effects of his wound, and the power of the sun shining down just where he lay. There had, indeed, been slight symptoms of Kinraid's having received a sun-stroke; and the doctor dwelt largely on these in his endeavour to persuade his patient that it was his imagination which had endued a stranger with the lineaments of some former friend.
Kinraid threw his arms out of bed with impatience at all this plausible talk, which was even more irritating than the fact that Hepburn was still undiscovered.
'The man was no friend of mine; I was like to have killed him when last I saw him. He was a shopkeeper in a country town in England. I had seen little enough of him; but enough to make me able to swear to him anywhere, even in a marine's uniform, and in this sweltering country.'
'Faces once seen, especially in excitement, are apt to return upon the memory in cases of fever,' quoth the doctor, sententiously.
The attendant sailor, reinstalled to some complacency by the failure of another in the search in which he himself had been unsuccessful, now put in his explanation.
'Maybe it was a spirit. It's not th' first time as I've heared of a spirit coming upon earth to save a man's life i' time o' need. My father had an uncle, a west-country grazier. He was a-coming over Dartmoor in Devonshire one moonlight night with a power o' money as he'd got for his sheep at t' fair. It were stowed i' leather bags under th' seat o' th' gig. It were a rough kind o' road, both as a road and in character, for there'd been many robberies there of late, and th' great rocks stood convenient for hiding-places. All at once father's uncle feels as if some one were sitting beside him on th' empty seat; and he turns his head and looks, and there he sees his brother sitting—his brother as had been dead twelve year and more. So he turns his head back again, eyes right, and never say a word, but wonders what it all means. All of a sudden two fellows come out upo' th' white road from some black shadow, and they looked, and they let th' gig go past, father's uncle driving hard, I'll warrant him. But for all that he heard one say to t' other, "By——, there's two on 'em!" Straight on he drove faster than ever, till he saw th' far lights of some town or other. I forget its name, though I've heared it many a time; and then he drew a long breath, and turned his head to look at his brother, and ask him how he'd managed to come out of his grave i' Barum churchyard, and th' seat was as empty as it had been when he set out; and then he knew that it were a spirit come to help him against th' men who thought to rob him, and would likely enough ha' murdered him.'
Kinraid had kept quiet through this story. But when the sailor began to draw the moral, and to say, 'And I think I may make bold to say, sir, as th' marine who carried you out o' th' Frenchy's gun-shot was just a spirit come to help you,' he exclaimed impatiently, swearing a great oath as he did so, 'It was no spirit, I tell you; and I was in my full senses. It was a man named Philip Hepburn. He said words to me, or over me, as none but himself would have said. Yet we hated each other like poison; and I can't make out why he should be there and putting himself in danger to save me. But so it was; and as you can't find him, let me hear no more of your nonsense. It was him, and not my fancy, doctor. It was flesh and blood, and not a spirit, Jack. So get along with you, and leave me quiet.'
All this time Stephen Freeman lay friendless, sick, and shattered, on board the Thesus.
He had been about his duty close to some shells that were placed on her deck; a gay young midshipman was thoughtlessly striving to get the fusee out of one of these by a mallet and spike-nail that lay close at hand; and a fearful explosion ensued, in which the poor marine, cleaning his bayonet near, was shockingly burnt and disfigured, the very skin of all the lower part of his face being utterly destroyed by gunpowder. They said it was a mercy that his eyes were spared; but he could hardly feel anything to be a mercy, as he lay tossing in agony, burnt by the explosion, wounded by splinters, and feeling that he was disabled for life, if life itself were preserved. Of all that suffered by that fearful accident (and they were many) none was so forsaken, so hopeless, so desolate, as the Philip Hepburn about whom such anxious inquiries were being made at that very time.
It was a little later on in that same summer that Mrs. Brunton came to visit her sister Bessy.
Bessy was married to a tolerably well-to-do farmer who lived at an almost equal distance between Monkshaven and Hartswell; but from old habit and convenience the latter was regarded as the Dawsons' market-town; so Bessy seldom or never saw her old friends in Monkshaven.
But Mrs. Brunton was far too flourishing a person not to speak out her wishes, and have her own way. She had no notion, she said, of coming such a long journey only to see Bessy and her husband, and not to have a sight of her former acquaintances at Monkshaven. She might have added, that her new bonnet and cloak would be as good as lost if it was not displayed among those who, knowing her as Molly Corney, and being less fortunate in matrimony than she was, would look upon it with wondering admiration, if not with envy.
So one day farmer Dawson's market-cart deposited Mrs. Brunton in all her bravery at the shop in the market-place, over which Hepburn and Coulson's names still flourished in joint partnership.
After a few words of brisk recognition to Coulson and Hester, Mrs Brunton passed on into the parlour and greeted Sylvia with boisterous heartiness.
It was now four years and more since the friends had met; and each secretly wondered how they had ever come to be friends. Sylvia had a country, raw, spiritless look to Mrs. Brunton's eye; Molly was loud and talkative, and altogether distasteful to Sylvia, trained in daily companionship with Hester to appreciate soft slow speech, and grave thoughtful ways.
However, they kept up the forms of their old friendship, though their hearts had drifted far apart. They sat hand in hand while each looked at the other with eyes inquisitive as to the changes which time had made. Molly was the first to speak.
'Well, to be sure! how thin and pale yo've grown, Sylvia! Matrimony hasn't agreed wi' yo' as well as it's done wi me. Brunton is allays saying (yo' know what a man he is for his joke) that if he'd ha' known how many yards o' silk I should ha' ta'en for a gown, he'd ha' thought twice afore he'd ha' married me. Why, I've gained a matter o' thirty pound o' flesh sin' I were married!'
'Yo' do look brave and hearty!' said Sylvia, putting her sense of her companion's capacious size and high colour into the prettiest words she could.
'Eh! Sylvia! but I know what it is,' said Molly, shaking her head. 'It's just because o' that husband o' thine as has gone and left thee; thou's pining after him, and he's not worth it. Brunton said, when he heared on it—I mind he was smoking at t' time, and he took his pipe out of his mouth, and shook out t' ashes as grave as any judge—"The man," says he, "as can desert a wife like Sylvia Robson as was, deserves hanging!" That's what he says! Eh! Sylvia, but speakin' o' hanging I was so grieved for yo' when I heared of yo'r poor feyther! Such an end for a decent man to come to! Many a one come an' called on me o' purpose to hear all I could tell 'em about him!'
'Please don't speak on it!' said Sylvia, trembling all over.
'Well, poor creature, I wunnot. It is hard on thee, I grant. But to give t' devil his due, it were good i' Hepburn to marry thee, and so soon after there was a' that talk about thy feyther. Many a man would ha' drawn back, choose howiver far they'd gone. I'm noane so sure about Charley Kinraid. Eh, Sylvia! only think on his being alive after all. I doubt if our Bessy would ha' wed Frank Dawson if she'd known as he wasn't drowned. But it's as well she did, for Dawson's a man o' property, and has getten twelve cows in his cow-house, beside three right down good horses; and Kinraid were allays a fellow wi' two strings to his bow. I've allays said and do maintain, that he went on pretty strong wi' yo', Sylvie; and I will say I think he cared more for yo' than for our Bessy, though it were only yesterday at e'en she were standing out that he liked her better than yo'. Yo'll ha' heared on his grand marriage?'
'No!' said Sylvia, with eager painful curiosity.
'No! It was in all t' papers! I wonder as yo' didn't see it. Wait a minute! I cut it out o' t' Gentleman's Magazine, as Brunton bought o' purpose, and put it i' my pocket-book when I were a-coming here: I know I've got it somewheere.'
She took out her smart crimson pocket-book, and rummaged in the pocket until she produced a little crumpled bit of printed paper, from which she read aloud,
'On January the third, at St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, Charles Kinraid, Esq., lieutenant Royal Navy, to Miss Clarinda Jackson, with a fortune of 10,000l.'
'Theere!' said she, triumphantly, 'it's something as Brunton says, to be cousin to that.'
'Would yo' let me see it?' said Sylvia, timidly.
Mrs. Brunton graciously consented; and Sylvia brought her newly acquired reading-knowledge, hitherto principally exercised on the Old Testament, to bear on these words.
There was nothing wonderful in them, nothing that she might not have expected; and yet the surprise turned her giddy for a moment or two. She never thought of seeing him again, never. But to think of his caring for another woman as much as he had done for her, nay, perhaps more!
The idea was irresistibly forced upon her that Philip would not have acted so; it would have taken long years before he could have been induced to put another on the throne she had once occupied. For the first time in her life she seemed to recognize the real nature of Philip's love.
But she said nothing but 'Thank yo',' when she gave the scrap of paper back to Molly Brunton. And the latter continued giving her information about Kinraid's marriage.
'He were down in t' west, Plymouth or somewheere, when he met wi' her. She's no feyther; he'd been in t' sugar-baking business; but from what Kinraid wrote to old Turner, th' uncle as brought him up at Cullercoats, she's had t' best of edications: can play on t' instrument and dance t' shawl dance; and Kinraid had all her money settled on her, though she said she'd rayther give it all to him, which I must say, being his cousin, was very pretty on her. He's left her now, having to go off in t' Tigre, as is his ship, to t' Mediterranean seas; and she's written to offer to come and see old Turner, and make friends with his relations, and Brunton is going to gi'e me a crimson satin as soon as we know for certain when she's coming, for we're sure to be asked out to Cullercoats.'
'I wonder if she's very pretty?' asked Sylvia, faintly, in the first pause in this torrent of talk.
'Oh! she's a perfect beauty, as I understand. There was a traveller as come to our shop as had been at York, and knew some of her cousins theere that were in t' grocery line—her mother was a York lady—and they said she was just a picture of a woman, and iver so many gentlemen had been wantin' to marry her, but she just waited for Charley Kinraid, yo' see!'
'Well, I hope they'll be happy; I'm sure I do!' said Sylvia.
'That's just luck. Some folks is happy i' marriage, and some isn't. It's just luck, and there's no forecasting it. Men is such unaccountable animals, there's no prophesyin' upon 'em. Who'd ha' thought of yo'r husband, him as was so slow and sure—steady Philip, as we lasses used to ca' him—makin' a moonlight flittin', and leavin' yo' to be a widow bewitched?'
'He didn't go at night,' said Sylvia, taking the words 'moonlight flitting' in their literal sense.
'No! Well, I only said "moonlight flittin'" just because it come uppermost and I knowed no better. Tell me all about it, Sylvie, for I can't mak' it out from what Bessy says. Had he and yo' had words?—but in course yo' had.'
At this moment Hester came into the room; and Sylvia joyfully availed herself of the pretext for breaking off the conversation that had reached this painful and awkward point. She detained Hester in the room for fear lest Mrs. Brunton should repeat her inquiry as to how it all happened that Philip had gone away; but the presence of a third person seemed as though it would be but little restraint upon the inquisitive Molly, who repeatedly bore down upon the same questions till she nearly drove Sylvia distracted, between her astonishment at the news of Kinraid's marriage; her wish to be alone and quiet, so as to realize the full meaning of that piece of intelligence; her desire to retain Hester in the conversation; her efforts to prevent Molly's recurrence to the circumstances of Philip's disappearance, and the longing—more vehement every minute—for her visitor to go away and leave her in peace. She became so disturbed with all these thoughts and feelings that she hardly knew what she was saying, and assented or dissented to speeches without there being either any reason or truth in her words.
Mrs. Brunton had arranged to remain with Sylvia while the horse rested, and had no compunction about the length of her visit. She expected to be asked to tea, as Sylvia found out at last, and this she felt would be the worst of all, as Alice Rose was not one to tolerate the coarse, careless talk of such a woman as Mrs. Brunton without uplifting her voice in many a testimony against it. Sylvia sate holding Hester's gown tight in order to prevent her leaving the room, and trying to arrange her little plans so that too much discordance should not arise to the surface. Just then the door opened, and little Bella came in from the kitchen in all the pretty, sturdy dignity of two years old, Alice following her with careful steps, and protecting, outstretched arms, a slow smile softening the sternness of her grave face; for the child was the unconscious darling of the household, and all eyes softened into love as they looked on her. She made straight for her mother with something grasped in her little dimpled fist; but half-way across the room she seemed to have become suddenly aware of the presence of a stranger, and she stopped short, fixing her serious eyes full on Mrs. Brunton, as if to take in her appearance, nay, as if to penetrate down into her very real self, and then, stretching out her disengaged hand, the baby spoke out the words that had been hovering about her mother's lips for an hour past.
'Do away!' said Bella, decisively.
'What a perfect love!' said Mrs. Brunton, half in real admiration, half in patronage. As she spoke, she got up and went towards the child, as if to take her up.
'Do away! do away!' cried Bella, in shrill affright at this movement.
'Dunnot,' said Sylvia; 'she's shy; she doesn't know strangers.'
But Mrs. Brunton had grasped the struggling, kicking child by this time, and her reward for this was a vehement little slap in the face.
'Yo' naughty little spoilt thing!' said she, setting Bella down in a hurry. 'Yo' deserve a good whipping, yo' do, and if yo' were mine yo' should have it.'
Sylvia had no need to stand up for the baby who had run to her arms, and was soothing herself with sobbing on her mother's breast; for Alice took up the defence.
'The child said, as plain as words could say, "go away," and if thou wouldst follow thine own will instead of heeding her wish, thou mun put up with the wilfulness of the old Adam, of which it seems to me thee hast getten thy share at thirty as well as little Bella at two.'
'Thirty!' said Mrs. Brunton, now fairly affronted. 'Thirty! why, Sylvia, yo' know I'm but two years older than yo'; speak to that woman an' tell her as I'm only four-and-twenty. Thirty, indeed!'
'Molly's but four-and-twenty,' said Sylvia, in a pacificatory tone.
'Whether she be twenty, or thirty, or forty, is alike to me,' said Alice. 'I meant no harm. I meant but for t' say as her angry words to the child bespoke her to be one of the foolish. I know not who she is, nor what her age may be.'
'She's an old friend of mine,' said Sylvia. 'She's Mrs. Brunton now, but when I knowed her she was Molly Corney.'
'Ay! and yo' were Sylvia Robson, and as bonny and light-hearted a lass as any in a' t' Riding, though now yo're a poor widow bewitched, left wi' a child as I mustn't speak a word about, an' living wi' folk as talk about t' old Adam as if he wasn't dead and done wi' long ago! It's a change, Sylvia, as makes my heart ache for yo', to think on them old days when yo' were so thought on yo' might have had any man, as Brunton often says; it were a great mistake as yo' iver took up wi' yon man as has run away. But seven year '11 soon be past fro' t' time he went off, and yo'll only be six-and-twenty then; and there'll be a chance of a better husband for yo' after all, so keep up yo'r heart, Sylvia.'
Molly Brunton had put as much venom as she knew how into this speech, meaning it as a vengeful payment for the supposition of her being thirty, even more than for the reproof for her angry words about the child. She thought that Alice Rose must be either mother or aunt to Philip, from the serious cast of countenance that was remarkable in both; and she rather exulted in the allusion to a happier second marriage for Sylvia, with which she had concluded her speech. It roused Alice, however, as effectually as if she had been really a blood relation to Philip; but for a different reason. She was not slow to detect the intentional offensiveness to herself in what had been said; she was indignant at Sylvia for suffering the words spoken to pass unanswered; but in truth they were too much in keeping with Molly Brunton's character to make as much impression on Sylvia as they did on a stranger; and besides, she felt as if the less reply Molly received, the less likely would it be that she would go on in the same strain. So she coaxed and chattered to her child and behaved like a little coward in trying to draw out of the conversation, while at the same time listening attentively.
'As for Sylvia Hepburn as was Sylvia Robson, she knows my mind,' said Alice, in grim indignation. 'She's humbling herself now, I trust and pray, but she was light-minded and full of vanity when Philip married her, and it might ha' been a lift towards her salvation in one way; but it pleased the Lord to work in a different way, and she mun wear her sackcloth and ashes in patience. So I'll say naught more about her. But for him as is absent, as thee hast spoken on so lightly and reproachfully, I'd have thee to know he were one of a different kind to any thee ever knew, I reckon. If he were led away by a pretty face to slight one as was fitter for him, and who had loved him as the apple of her eye, it's him as is suffering for it, inasmuch as he's a wanderer from his home, and an outcast from wife and child.'
To the surprise of all, Molly's words of reply were cut short even when they were on her lips, by Sylvia. Pale, fire-eyed, and excited, with Philip's child on one arm, and the other stretched out, she said,—
'Noane can tell—noane know. No one shall speak a judgment 'twixt Philip and me. He acted cruel and wrong by me. But I've said my words to him hissel', and I'm noane going to make any plaint to others; only them as knows should judge. And it's not fitting, it's not' (almost sobbing), 'to go on wi' talk like this afore me.'
The two—for Hester, who was aware that her presence had only been desired by Sylvia as a check to an unpleasant tete-a-tete conversation, had slipped back to her business as soon as her mother came in—the two looked with surprise at Sylvia; her words, her whole manner, belonged to a phase of her character which seldom came uppermost, and which had not been perceived by either of them before.
Alice Rose, though astonished, rather approved of Sylvia's speech; it showed that she had more serious thought and feeling on the subject than the old woman had given her credit for; her general silence respecting her husband's disappearance had led Alice to think that she was too childish to have received any deep impression from the event. Molly Brunton gave vent to her opinion on Sylvia's speech in the following words:—
'Hoighty-toighty! That tells tales, lass. If yo' treated steady Philip to many such looks an' speeches as yo'n given us now, it's easy t' see why he took hisself off. Why, Sylvia, I niver saw it in yo' when yo' was a girl; yo're grown into a regular little vixen, theere wheere yo' stand!'
Indeed she did look defiant, with the swift colour flushing her cheeks to crimson on its return, and the fire in her eyes not yet died away. But at Molly's jesting words she sank back into her usual look and manner, only saying quietly,—
'It's for noane to say whether I'm vixen or not, as doesn't know th' past things as is buried in my heart. But I cannot hold them as my friends as go on talking on either my husband or me before my very face. What he was, I know; and what I am, I reckon he knows. And now I'll go hurry tea, for yo'll be needing it, Molly!'
The last clause of this speech was meant to make peace; but Molly was in twenty minds as to whether she should accept the olive-branch or not. Her temper, however, was of that obtuse kind which is not easily ruffled; her mind, stagnant in itself, enjoyed excitement from without; and her appetite was invariably good, so she stayed, in spite of the inevitable tete-a-tete with Alice. The latter, however, refused to be drawn into conversation again; replying to Mrs. Brunton's speeches with a curt yes or no, when, indeed, she replied at all.
When all were gathered at tea, Sylvia was quite calm again; rather paler than usual, and very attentive and subduced in her behaviour to Alice; she would evidently fain have been silent, but as Molly was her own especial guest, that could not be, so all her endeavours went towards steering the conversation away from any awkward points. But each of the four, let alone little Bella, was thankful when the market-cart drew up at the shop door, that was to take Mrs. Brunton back to her sister's house.
When she was fairly off, Alice Rose opened her mouth in strong condemnation; winding up with—
'And if aught in my words gave thee cause for offence, Sylvia, it was because my heart rose within me at the kind of talk thee and she had been having about Philip; and her evil and light-minded counsel to thee about waiting seven years, and then wedding another.'
Hard as these words may seem when repeated, there was something of a nearer approach to an apology in Mrs. Rose's manner than Sylvia had ever seen in it before. She was silent for a few moments, then she said,—
'I ha' often thought of telling yo' and Hester, special-like, when yo've been so kind to my little Bella, that Philip an' me could niver come together again; no, not if he came home this very night——'
She would have gone on speaking, but Hester interrupted her with a low cry of dismay.
'Hush thee, Hester. It's no business o' thine. Sylvia Hepburn, thou'rt speaking like a silly child.'
'No. I'm speaking like a woman; like a woman as finds out she's been cheated by men as she trusted, and as has no help for it. I'm noane going to say any more about it. It's me as has been wronged, and as has to bear it: only I thought I'd tell yo' both this much, that yo' might know somewhat why he went away, and how I said my last word about it.'
So indeed it seemed. To all questions and remonstrances from Alice, Sylvia turned a deaf ear. She averted her face from Hester's sad, wistful looks; only when they were parting for the night, at the top of the little staircase, she turned, and putting her arms round Hester's neck she laid her head on her neck, and whispered,—
'Poor Hester—poor, poor Hester! if yo' an' he had but been married together, what a deal o' sorrow would ha' been spared to us all!'
Hester pushed her away as she finished these words; looked searchingly into her face, her eyes, and then followed Sylvia into her room, where Bella lay sleeping, shut the door, and almost knelt down at Sylvia's feet, clasping her, and hiding her face in the folds of the other's gown.
'Sylvia, Sylvia,' she murmured, 'some one has told you—I thought no one knew—it's no sin—it's done away with now—indeed it is—it was long ago—before yo' were married; but I cannot forget. It was a shame, perhaps, to have thought on it iver, when he niver thought o' me; but I niver believed as any one could ha' found it out. I'm just fit to sink into t' ground, what wi' my sorrow and my shame.'
Hester was stopped by her own rising sobs, immediately she was in Sylvia's arms. Sylvia was sitting on the ground holding her, and soothing her with caresses and broken words.
'I'm allays saying t' wrong things,' said she. 'It seems as if I were all upset to-day; and indeed I am;' she added, alluding to the news of Kinraid's marriage she had yet to think upon.
'But it wasn't yo', Hester: it were nothing yo' iver said, or did, or looked, for that matter. It were yo'r mother as let it out.'
'Oh, mother! mother!' wailed out Hester; 'I niver thought as any one but God would ha' known that I had iver for a day thought on his being more to me than a brother.'
Sylvia made no reply, only went on stroking Hester's smooth brown hair, off which her cap had fallen. Sylvia was thinking how strange life was, and how love seemed to go all at cross purposes; and was losing herself in bewilderment at the mystery of the world; she was almost startled when Hester rose up, and taking Sylvia's hands in both of hers, and looking solemnly at her, said,—
'Sylvia, yo' know what has been my trouble and my shame, and I'm sure yo're sorry for me—for I will humble myself to yo', and own that for many months before yo' were married, I felt my disappointment like a heavy burden laid on me by day and by night; but now I ask yo', if yo've any pity for me for what I went through, or if yo've any love for me because of yo'r dead mother's love for me, or because of any fellowship, or daily breadliness between us two,—put the hard thoughts of Philip away from out yo'r heart; he may ha' done yo' wrong, anyway yo' think that he has; I niver knew him aught but kind and good; but if he comes back from wheriver in th' wide world he's gone to (and there's not a night but I pray God to keep him, and send him safe back), yo' put away the memory of past injury, and forgive it all, and be, what yo' can be, Sylvia, if you've a mind to, just the kind, good wife he ought to have.'
'I cannot; yo' know nothing about it, Hester.'
'Tell me, then,' pleaded Hester.
'No!' said Sylvia, after a moment's hesitation; 'I'd do a deal for yo', I would, but I daren't forgive Philip, even if I could; I took a great oath again' him. Ay, yo' may look shocked at me, but it's him as yo' ought for to be shocked at if yo' knew all. I said I'd niver forgive him; I shall keep to my word.'
'I think I'd better pray for his death, then,' said Hester, hopelessly, and almost bitterly, loosing her hold of Sylvia's hands.
'If it weren't for baby theere, I could think as it were my death as 'ud be best. Them as one thinks t' most on, forgets one soonest.'
It was Kinraid to whom she was alluding; but Hester did not understand her; and after standing for a moment in silence, she kissed her, and left her for the night.
AN UNEXPECTED MESSENGER
After this agitation, and these partial confidences, no more was said on the subject of Philip for many weeks. They avoided even the slightest allusion to him; and none of them knew how seldom or how often he might be present in the minds of the others.
One day the little Bella was unusually fractious with some slight childish indisposition, and Sylvia was obliged to have recourse to a never-failing piece of amusement; namely, to take the child into the shop, when the number of new, bright-coloured articles was sure to beguile the little girl out of her fretfulness. She was walking along the high terrace of the counter, kept steady by her mother's hand, when Mr. Dawson's market-cart once more stopped before the door. But it was not Mrs. Brunton who alighted now; it was a very smartly-dressed, very pretty young lady, who put one dainty foot before the other with care, as if descending from such a primitive vehicle were a new occurrence in her life. Then she looked up at the names above the shop-door, and after ascertaining that this was indeed the place she desired to find, she came in blushing.
'Is Mrs. Hepburn at home?' she asked of Hester, whose position in the shop brought her forwards to receive the customers, while Sylvia drew Bella out of sight behind some great bales of red flannel.
'Can I see her?' the sweet, south-country voice went on, still addressing Hester. Sylvia heard the inquiry, and came forwards, with a little rustic awkwardness, feeling both shy and curious.
'Will yo' please walk this way, ma'am?' said she, leading her visitor back into her own dominion of the parlour, and leaving Bella to Hester's willing care.
'You don't know me!' said the pretty young lady, joyously. 'But I think you knew my husband. I am Mrs. Kinraid!'
A sob of surprise rose to Sylvia's lips—she choked it down, however, and tried to conceal any emotion she might feel, in placing a chair for her visitor, and trying to make her feel welcome, although, if the truth must be told, Sylvia was wondering all the time why her visitor came, and how soon she would go.
'You knew Captain Kinraid, did you not?' said the young lady, with innocent inquiry; to which Sylvia's lips formed the answer, 'Yes,' but no clear sound issued therefrom.
'But I know your husband knew the captain; is he at home yet? Can I speak to him? I do so want to see him.'
Sylvia was utterly bewildered; Mrs. Kinraid, this pretty, joyous, prosperous little bird of a woman, Philip, Charley's wife, what could they have in common? what could they know of each other? All she could say in answer to Mrs. Kinraid's eager questions, and still more eager looks, was, that her husband was from home, had been long from home: she did not know where he was, she did not know when he would come back.
Mrs. Kinraid's face fell a little, partly from her own real disappointment, partly out of sympathy with the hopeless, indifferent tone of Sylvia's replies.
'Mrs. Dawson told me he had gone away rather suddenly a year ago, but I thought he might be come home by now. I am expecting the captain early next month. Oh! how I should have liked to see Mr. Hepburn, and to thank him for saving the captain's life!'
'What do yo' mean?' asked Sylvia, stirred out of all assumed indifference. 'The captain! is that' (not 'Charley', she could not use that familiar name to the pretty young wife before her) 'yo'r husband?'
'Yes, you knew him, didn't you? when he used to be staying with Mr Corney, his uncle?'
'Yes, I knew him; but I don't understand. Will yo' please to tell me all about it, ma'am?' said Sylvia, faintly.
'I thought your husband would have told you all about it; I hardly know where to begin. You know my husband is a sailor?'
Sylvia nodded assent, listening greedily, her heart beating thick all the time.
'And he's now a Commander in the Royal Navy, all earned by his own bravery! Oh! I am so proud of him!'
So could Sylvia have been if she had been his wife; as it was, she thought how often she had felt sure that he would be a great man some day.
'And he has been at the siege of Acre.'
Sylvia looked perplexed at these strange words, and Mrs. Kinraid caught the look.
'St Jean d'Acre, you know—though it's fine saying "you know", when I didn't know a bit about it myself till the captain's ship was ordered there, though I was the head girl at Miss Dobbin's in the geography class—Acre is a seaport town, not far from Jaffa, which is the modern name for Joppa, where St Paul went to long ago; you've read of that, I'm sure, and Mount Carmel, where the prophet Elijah was once, all in Palestine, you know, only the Turks have got it now?'
'But I don't understand yet,' said Sylvia, plaintively; 'I daresay it's all very true about St Paul, but please, ma'am, will yo' tell me about yo'r husband and mine—have they met again?'
'Yes, at Acre, I tell you,' said Mrs. Kinraid, with pretty petulance. 'The Turks held the town, and the French wanted to take it; and we, that is the British Fleet, wouldn't let them. So Sir Sidney Smith, a commodore and a great friend of the captain's, landed in order to fight the French; and the captain and many of the sailors landed with him; and it was burning hot; and the poor captain was wounded, and lay a-dying of pain and thirst within the enemy's—that is the French—fire; so that they were ready to shoot any one of his own side who came near him. They thought he was dead himself, you see, as he was very near; and would have been too, if your husband had not come out of shelter, and taken him up in his arms or on his back (I couldn't make out which), and carried him safe within the walls.'
'It couldn't have been Philip,' said Sylvia, dubiously.
'But it was. The captain says so; and he's not a man to be mistaken. I thought I'd got his letter with me; and I would have read you a part of it, but I left it at Mrs. Dawson's in my desk; and I can't send it to you,' blushing as she remembered certain passages in which 'the captain' wrote very much like a lover, 'or else I would. But you may be quite sure it was your husband that ventured into all that danger to save his old friend's life, or the captain would not have said so.'
'But they weren't—they weren't—not to call great friends.'
'I wish I'd got the letter here; I can't think how I could be so stupid; I think I can almost remember the very words, though—I've read them over so often. He says, "Just as I gave up all hope, I saw one Philip Hepburn, a man whom I had known at Monkshaven, and whom I had some reason to remember well"—(I'm sure he says so—"remember well"), "he saw me too, and came at the risk of his life to where I lay. I fully expected he would be shot down; and I shut my eyes not to see the end of my last chance. The shot rained about him, and I think he was hit; but he took me up and carried me under cover." I'm sure he says that, I've read it over so often; and he goes on and says how he hunted for Mr. Hepburn all through the ships, as soon as ever he could; but he could hear nothing of him, either alive or dead. Don't go so white, for pity's sake!' said she, suddenly startled by Sylvia's blanching colour. 'You see, because he couldn't find him alive is no reason for giving him up as dead; because his name wasn't to be found on any of the ships' books; so the captain thinks he must have been known by a different name to his real one. Only he says he should like to have seen him to have thanked him; and he says he would give a deal to know what has become of him; and as I was staying two days at Mrs. Dawson's, I told them I must come over to Monkshaven, if only for five minutes, just to hear if your good husband was come home, and to shake his hands, that helped to save my own dear captain.'
'I don't think it could have been Philip,' reiterated Sylvia.
'Why not?' asked her visitor; 'you say you don't know where he is; why mightn't he have been there where the captain says he was?'
'But he wasn't a sailor, nor yet a soldier.'
'Oh! but he was. I think somewhere the captain calls him a marine; that's neither one nor the other, but a little of both. He'll be coming home some day soon; and then you'll see!'
Alice Rose came in at this minute, and Mrs. Kinraid jumped to the conclusion that she was Sylvia's mother, and in her overflowing gratitude and friendliness to all the family of him who had 'saved the captain' she went forward, and shook the old woman's hand in that pleasant confiding way that wins all hearts.
'Here's your daughter, ma'am!' said she to the half-astonished, half-pleased Alice. 'I'm Mrs. Kinraid, the wife of the captain that used to be in these parts, and I'm come to bring her news of her husband, and she don't half believe me, though it's all to his credit, I'm sure.'
Alice looked so perplexed that Sylvia felt herself bound to explain.
'She says he's either a soldier or a sailor, and a long way off at some place named in t' Bible.'
'Philip Hepburn led away to be a soldier!' said she, 'who had once been a Quaker?'
'Yes, and a very brave one too, and one that it would do my heart good to look upon,' exclaimed Mrs. Kinraid. 'He's been saving my husband's life in the Holy Land, where Jerusalem is, you know.'
'Nay!' said Alice, a little scornfully. 'I can forgive Sylvia for not being over keen to credit thy news. Her man of peace becoming a man of war; and suffered to enter Jerusalem, which is a heavenly and a typical city at this time; while me, as is one of the elect, is obliged to go on dwelling in Monkshaven, just like any other body.'
'Nay, but,' said Mrs. Kinraid, gently, seeing she was touching on delicate ground, 'I did not say he had gone to Jerusalem, but my husband saw him in those parts, and he was doing his duty like a brave, good man; ay, and more than his duty; and, you may take my word for it, he'll be at home some day soon, and all I beg is that you'll let the captain and me know, for I'm sure if we can, we'll both come and pay our respects to him. And I'm very glad I've seen you,' said she, rising to go, and putting out her hand to shake that of Sylvia; 'for, besides being Hepburn's wife, I'm pretty sure I've heard the captain speak of you; and if ever you come to Bristol I hope you'll come and see us on Clifton Downs.'
She went away, leaving Sylvia almost stunned by the new ideas presented to her. Philip a soldier! Philip in a battle, risking his life. Most strange of all, Charley and Philip once more meeting together, not as rivals or as foes, but as saviour and saved! Add to all this the conviction, strengthened by every word that happy, loving wife had uttered, that Kinraid's old, passionate love for herself had faded away and vanished utterly: its very existence apparently blotted out of his memory. She had torn up her love for him by the roots, but she felt as if she could never forget that it had been.
Hester brought back Bella to her mother. She had not liked to interrupt the conversation with the strange lady before; and now she found her mother in an obvious state of excitement; Sylvia quieter than usual.
'That was Kinraid's wife, Hester! Him that was th' specksioneer as made such a noise about t' place at the time of Darley's death. He's now a captain—a navy captain, according to what she says. And she'd fain have us believe that Philip is abiding in all manner of Scripture places; places as has been long done away with, but the similitude whereof is in the heavens, where the elect shall one day see them. And she says Philip is there, and a soldier, and that he saved her husband's life, and is coming home soon. I wonder what John and Jeremiah 'll say to his soldiering then? It'll noane be to their taste, I'm thinking.'
This was all very unintelligible to Hester, and she would dearly have liked to question Sylvia; but Sylvia sate a little apart, with Bella on her knee, her cheek resting on her child's golden curls, and her eyes fixed and almost trance-like, as if she were seeing things not present.
So Hester had to be content with asking her mother as many elucidatory questions as she could; and after all did not gain a very clear idea of what had really been said by Mrs. Kinraid, as her mother was more full of the apparent injustice of Philip's being allowed the privilege of treading on holy ground—if, indeed, that holy ground existed on this side heaven, which she was inclined to dispute—than to confine herself to the repetition of words, or narration of facts.
Suddenly Sylvia roused herself to a sense of Hester's deep interest and balked inquiries, and she went over the ground rapidly.
'Yo'r mother says right—she is his wife. And he's away fighting; and got too near t' French as was shooting and firing all round him; and just then, according to her story, Philip saw him, and went straight into t' midst o' t' shots, and fetched him out o' danger. That's what she says, and upholds.'
'And why should it not be?' asked Hester, her cheek flushing.
But Sylvia only shook her head, and said,
'I cannot tell. It may be so. But they'd little cause to be friends, and it seems all so strange—Philip a soldier, and them meeting theere after all!'
Hester laid the story of Philip's bravery to her heart—she fully believed in it. Sylvia pondered it more deeply still; the causes for her disbelief, or, at any rate, for her wonder, were unknown to Hester! Many a time she sank to sleep with the picture of the event narrated by Mrs. Kinraid as present to her mind as her imagination or experience could make it: first one figure prominent, then another. Many a morning she wakened up, her heart beating wildly, why, she knew not, till she shuddered at the remembrance of the scenes that had passed in her dreams: scenes that might be acted in reality that very day; for Philip might come back, and then?
And where was Philip all this time, these many weeks, these heavily passing months?
THE BEDESMAN OF ST SEPULCHRE
Philip lay long ill on board the hospital ship. If his heart had been light, he might have rallied sooner; but he was so depressed he did not care to live. His shattered jaw-bone, his burnt and blackened face, his many injuries of body, were torture to both his physical frame, and his sick, weary heart. No more chance for him, if indeed there ever had been any, of returning gay and gallant, and thus regaining his wife's love. This had been his poor, foolish vision in the first hour of his enlistment; and the vain dream had recurred more than once in the feverish stage of excitement which the new scenes into which he had been hurried as a recruit had called forth. But that was all over now. He knew that it was the most unlikely thing in the world to have come to pass; and yet those were happy days when he could think of it as barely possible. Now all he could look forward to was disfigurement, feebleness, and the bare pittance that keeps pensioners from absolute want.
Those around him were kind enough to him in their fashion, and attended to his bodily requirements; but they had no notion of listening to any revelations of unhappiness, if Philip had been the man to make confidences of that kind. As it was, he lay very still in his berth, seldom asking for anything, and always saying he was better, when the ship-surgeon came round with his daily inquiries. But he did not care to rally, and was rather sorry to find that his case was considered so interesting in a surgical point of view, that he was likely to receive a good deal more than the average amount of attention. Perhaps it was owing to this that he recovered at all. The doctors said it was the heat that made him languid, for that his wounds and burns were all doing well at last; and by-and-by they told him they had ordered him 'home'. His pulse sank under the surgeon's finger at the mention of the word; but he did not say a word. He was too indifferent to life and the world to have a will; otherwise they might have kept their pet patient a little longer where he was.
Slowly passing from ship to ship as occasion served; resting here and there in garrison hospitals, Philip at length reached Portsmouth on the evening of a September day in 1799. The transport-ship in which he was, was loaded with wounded and invalided soldiers and sailors; all who could manage it in any way struggled on deck to catch the first view of the white coasts of England. One man lifted his arm, took off his cap, and feebly waved it aloft, crying, 'Old England for ever!' in a faint shrill voice, and then burst into tears and sobbed aloud. Others tried to pipe up 'Rule Britannia', while more sate, weak and motionless, looking towards the shores that once, not so long ago, they never thought to see again. Philip was one of these; his place a little apart from the other men. He was muffled up in a great military cloak that had been given him by one of his officers; he felt the September breeze chill after his sojourn in a warmer climate, and in his shattered state of health.
As the ship came in sight of Portsmouth harbour, the signal flags ran up the ropes; the beloved Union Jack floated triumphantly over all. Return signals were made from the harbour; on board all became bustle and preparation for landing; while on shore there was the evident movement of expectation, and men in uniform were seen pressing their way to the front, as if to them belonged the right of reception. They were the men from the barrack hospital, that had been signalled for, come down with ambulance litters and other marks of forethought for the sick and wounded, who were returning to the country for which they had fought and suffered.
With a dash and a great rocking swing the vessel came up to her appointed place, and was safely moored. Philip sat still, almost as if he had no part in the cries of welcome, the bustling care, the loud directions that cut the air around him, and pierced his nerves through and through. But one in authority gave the order; and Philip, disciplined to obedience, rose to find his knapsack and leave the ship. Passive as he seemed to be, he had his likings for particular comrades; there was one especially, a man as different from Philip as well could be, to whom the latter had always attached himself; a merry fellow from Somersetshire, who was almost always cheerful and bright, though Philip had overheard the doctors say he would never be the man he was before he had that shot through the side. This marine would often sit making his fellows laugh, and laughing himself at his own good-humoured jokes, till so terrible a fit of coughing came on that those around him feared he would die in the paroxysm. After one of these fits he had gasped out some words, which led Philip to question him a little; and it turned out that in the quiet little village of Potterne, far inland, nestled beneath the high stretches of Salisbury Plain, he had a wife and a child, a little girl, just the same age even to a week as Philip's own little Bella. It was this that drew Philip towards the man; and this that made Philip wait and go ashore along with the poor consumptive marine.
The litters had moved off towards the hospital, the sergeant in charge had given his words of command to the remaining invalids, who tried to obey them to the best of their power, falling into something like military order for their march; but soon, very soon, the weakest broke step, and lagged behind; and felt as if the rough welcomes and rude expressions of sympathy from the crowd around were almost too much for them. Philip and his companion were about midway, when suddenly a young woman with a child in her arms forced herself through the people, between the soldiers who kept pressing on either side, and threw herself on the neck of Philip's friend.
'Oh, Jem!' she sobbed, 'I've walked all the road from Potterne. I've never stopped but for food and rest for Nelly, and now I've got you once again, I've got you once again, bless God for it!'
She did not seem to see the deadly change that had come over her husband since she parted with him a ruddy young labourer; she had got him once again, as she phrased it, and that was enough for her; she kissed his face, his hands, his very coat, nor would she be repulsed from walking beside him and holding his hand, while her little girl ran along scared by the voices and the strange faces, and clinging to her mammy's gown.
Jem coughed, poor fellow! he coughed his churchyard cough; and Philip bitterly envied him—envied his life, envied his approaching death; for was he not wrapped round with that woman's tender love, and is not such love stronger than death? Philip had felt as if his own heart was grown numb, and as though it had changed to a cold heavy stone. But at the contrast of this man's lot to his own, he felt that he had yet the power of suffering left to him.
The road they had to go was full of people, kept off in some measure by the guard of soldiers. All sorts of kindly speeches, and many a curious question, were addressed to the poor invalids as they walked along. Philip's jaw, and the lower part of his face, were bandaged up; his cap was slouched down; he held his cloak about him, and shivered within its folds.
They came to a standstill from some slight obstacle at the corner of a street. Down the causeway of this street a naval officer with a lady on his arm was walking briskly, with a step that told of health and a light heart. He stayed his progress though, when he saw the convoy of maimed and wounded men; he said something, of which Philip only caught the words, 'same uniform,' 'for his sake,' to the young lady, whose cheek blanched a little, but whose eyes kindled. Then leaving her for an instant, he pressed forward; he was close to Philip,—poor sad Philip absorbed in his own thoughts,—so absorbed that he noticed nothing till he heard a voice at his ear, having the Northumbrian burr, the Newcastle inflections which he knew of old, and that were to him like the sick memory of a deadly illness; and then he turned his muffled face to the speaker, though he knew well enough who it was, and averted his eyes after one sight of the handsome, happy man,—the man whose life he had saved once, and would save again, at the risk of his own, but whom, for all that, he prayed that he might never meet more on earth.
'Here, my fine fellow, take this,' forcing a crown piece into Philip's hand. 'I wish it were more; I'd give you a pound if I had it with me.'
Philip muttered something, and held out the coin to Captain Kinraid, of course in vain; nor was there time to urge it back upon the giver, for the obstacle to their progress was suddenly removed, the crowd pressed upon the captain and his wife, the procession moved on, and Philip along with it, holding the piece in his hand, and longing to throw it far away. Indeed he was on the point of dropping it, hoping to do so unperceived, when he bethought him of giving it to Jem's wife, the footsore woman, limping happily along by her husband's side. They thanked him, and spoke in his praise more than he could well bear. It was no credit to him to give that away which burned his fingers as long as he kept it.
Philip knew that the injuries he had received in the explosion on board the Theseus would oblige him to leave the service. He also believed that they would entitle him to a pension. But he had little interest in his future life; he was without hope, and in a depressed state of health. He remained for some little time stationary, and then went through all the forms of dismissal on account of wounds received in service, and was turned out loose upon the world, uncertain where to go, indifferent as to what became of him.
It was fine, warm October weather as he turned his back upon the coast, and set off on his walk northwards. Green leaves were yet upon the trees; the hedges were one flush of foliage and the wild rough-flavoured fruits of different kinds; the fields were tawny with the uncleared-off stubble, or emerald green with the growth of the aftermath. The roadside cottage gardens were gay with hollyhocks and Michaelmas daisies and marigolds, and the bright panes of the windows glittered through a veil of China roses.
The war was a popular one, and, as a natural consequence, soldiers and sailors were heroes everywhere. Philip's long drooping form, his arm hung in a sling, his face scarred and blackened, his jaw bound up with a black silk handkerchief; these marks of active service were reverenced by the rustic cottagers as though they had been crowns and sceptres. Many a hard-handed labourer left his seat by the chimney corner, and came to his door to have a look at one who had been fighting the French, and pushed forward to have a grasp of the stranger's hand as he gave back the empty cup into the good wife's keeping, for the kind homely women were ever ready with milk or homebrewed to slake the feverish traveller's thirst when he stopped at their doors and asked for a drink of water.
At the village public-house he had had a welcome of a more interested character, for the landlord knew full well that his circle of customers would be large that night, if it was only known that he had within his doors a soldier or a sailor who had seen service. The rustic politicians would gather round Philip, and smoke and drink, and then question and discuss till they were drouthy again; and in their sturdy obtuse minds they set down the extra glass and the supernumerary pipe to the score of patriotism.
Altogether human nature turned its sunny side out to Philip just now; and not before he needed the warmth of brotherly kindness to cheer his shivering soul. Day after day he drifted northwards, making but the slow progress of a feeble man, and yet this short daily walk tired him so much that he longed for rest—for the morning to come when he needed not to feel that in the course of an hour or two he must be up and away.
He was toiling on with this longing at his heart when he saw that he was drawing near a stately city, with a great old cathedral in the centre keeping solemn guard. This place might be yet two or three miles distant; he was on a rising ground looking down upon it. A labouring man passing by, observed his pallid looks and his languid attitude, and told him for his comfort, that if he turned down a lane to the left a few steps farther on, he would find himself at the Hospital of St Sepulchre, where bread and beer were given to all comers, and where he might sit him down and rest awhile on the old stone benches within the shadow of the gateway. Obeying these directions, Philip came upon a building which dated from the time of Henry the Fifth. Some knight who had fought in the French wars of that time, and had survived his battles and come home to his old halls, had been stirred up by his conscience, or by what was equivalent in those days, his confessor, to build and endow a hospital for twelve decayed soldiers, and a chapel wherein they were to attend the daily masses he ordained to be said till the end of all time (which eternity lasted rather more than a century, pretty well for an eternity bespoken by a man), for his soul and the souls of those whom he had slain. There was a large division of the quadrangular building set apart for the priest who was to say these masses; and to watch over the well-being of the bedesmen. In process of years the origin and primary purpose of the hospital had been forgotten by all excepting the local antiquaries; and the place itself came to be regarded as a very pleasant quaint set of almshouses; and the warden's office (he who should have said or sung his daily masses was now called the warden, and read daily prayers and preached a sermon on Sundays) an agreeable sinecure.
Another legacy of old Sir Simon Bray was that of a small croft of land, the rent or profits of which were to go towards giving to all who asked for it a manchet of bread and a cup of good beer. This beer was, so Sir Simon ordained, to be made after a certain receipt which he left, in which ground ivy took the place of hops. But the receipt, as well as the masses, was modernized according to the progress of time.
Philip stood under a great broad stone archway; the back-door into the warden's house was on the right side; a kind of buttery-hatch was placed by the porter's door on the opposite side. After some consideration, Philip knocked at the closed shutter, and the signal seemed to be well understood. He heard a movement within; the hatch was drawn aside, and his bread and beer were handed to him by a pleasant-looking old man, who proved himself not at all disinclined for conversation.
'You may sit down on yonder bench,' said he. 'Nay, man! sit i' the sun, for it's a chilly place, this, and then you can look through the grate and watch th' old fellows toddling about in th' quad.'
Philip sat down where the warm October sun slanted upon him, and looked through the iron railing at the peaceful sight.
A great square of velvet lawn, intersected diagonally with broad flag-paved walks, the same kind of walk going all round the quadrangle; low two-storied brick houses, tinted gray and yellow by age, and in many places almost covered with vines, Virginian creepers, and monthly roses; before each house a little plot of garden ground, bright with flowers, and evidently tended with the utmost care; on the farther side the massive chapel; here and there an old or infirm man sunning himself, or leisurely doing a bit of gardening, or talking to one of his comrades—the place looked as if care and want, and even sorrow, were locked out and excluded by the ponderous gate through which Philip was gazing.
'It's a nice enough place, bean't it?' said the porter, interpreting Philip's looks pretty accurately. 'Leastways, for them as likes it. I've got a bit weary on it myself; it's so far from th' world, as a man may say; not a decent public within a mile and a half, where one can hear a bit o' news of an evening.'
'I think I could make myself very content here,' replied Philip. 'That's to say, if one were easy in one's mind.'
'Ay, ay, my man. That's it everywhere. Why, I don't think that I could enjoy myself—not even at th' White Hart, where they give you as good a glass of ale for twopence as anywhere i' th' four kingdoms—I couldn't, to say, flavour my ale even there, if my old woman lay a-dying; which is a sign as it's the heart, and not the ale, as makes the drink.'
Just then the warden's back-door opened, and out came the warden himself, dressed in full clerical costume.
He was going into the neighbouring city, but he stopped to speak to Philip, the wounded soldier; and all the more readily because his old faded uniform told the warden's experienced eye that he had belonged to the Marines.
'I hope you enjoy the victual provided for you by the founder of St Sepulchre,' said he, kindly. 'You look but poorly, my good fellow, and as if a slice of good cold meat would help your bread down.'
'Thank you, sir!' said Philip. 'I'm not hungry, only weary, and glad of a draught of beer.'
'You've been in the Marines, I see. Where have you been serving?'
'I was at the siege of Acre, last May, sir.'
'At Acre! Were you, indeed? Then perhaps you know my boy Harry? He was in the——th.'
'It was my company,' said Philip, warming up a little. Looking back upon his soldier's life, it seemed to him to have many charms, because it was so full of small daily interests.
'Then, did you know my son, Lieutenant Pennington?'
'It was he that gave me this cloak, sir, when they were sending me back to England. I had been his servant for a short time before I was wounded by the explosion on board the Theseus, and he said I should feel the cold of the voyage. He's very kind; and I've heard say he promises to be a first-rate officer.'
'You shall have a slice of roast beef, whether you want it or not,' said the warden, ringing the bell at his own back-door. 'I recognize the cloak now—the young scamp! How soon he has made it shabby, though,' he continued, taking up a corner where there was an immense tear not too well botched up. 'And so you were on board the Theseus at the time of the explosion? Bring some cold meat here for the good man—or stay! Come in with me, and then you can tell Mrs. Pennington and the young ladies all you know about Harry,—and the siege,—and the explosion.'
So Philip was ushered into the warden's house and made to eat roast beef almost against his will; and he was questioned and cross-questioned by three eager ladies, all at the same time, as it seemed to him. He had given all possible details on the subjects about which they were curious; and was beginning to consider how he could best make his retreat, when the younger Miss Pennington went up to her father—who had all this time stood, with his hat on, holding his coat-tails over his arms, with his back to the fire. He bent his ear down a very little to hear some whispered suggestion of his daughter's, nodded his head, and then went on questioning Philip, with kindly inquisitiveness and patronage, as the rich do question the poor.
'And where are you going to now?'
Philip did not answer directly. He wondered in his own mind where he was going. At length he said,
'Northwards, I believe. But perhaps I shall never reach there.'
'Haven't you friends? Aren't you going to them?'
There was again a pause; a cloud came over Philip's countenance. He said,
'No! I'm not going to my friends. I don't know that I've got any left.'
They interpreted his looks and this speech to mean that he had either lost his friends by death, or offended them by enlisting.
The warden went on,
'I ask, because we've got a cottage vacant in the mead. Old Dobson, who was with General Wolfe at the taking of Quebec, died a fortnight ago. With such injuries as yours, I fear you'll never be able to work again. But we require strict testimonials as to character,' he added, with as penetrating a look as he could summon up at Philip.
Philip looked unmoved, either by the offer of the cottage, or the illusion to the possibility of his character not being satisfactory. He was grateful enough in reality, but too heavy at heart to care very much what became of him.
The warden and his family, who were accustomed to consider a settlement at St Sepulchre's as the sum of all good to a worn-out soldier, were a little annoyed at Philip's cool way of receiving the proposition. The warden went on to name the contingent advantages.
'Besides the cottage, you would have a load of wood for firing on All Saints', on Christmas, and on Candlemas days—a blue gown and suit of clothes to match every Michaelmas, and a shilling a day to keep yourself in all other things. Your dinner you would have with the other men, in hall.'
'The warden himself goes into hall every day, and sees that everything is comfortable, and says grace,' added the warden's lady.
'I know I seem stupid,' said Philip, almost humbly, 'not to be more grateful, for it's far beyond what I iver expected or thought for again, and it's a great temptation, for I'm just worn out with fatigue. Several times I've thought I must lie down under a hedge, and just die for very weariness. But once I had a wife and a child up in the north,' he stopped.
'And are they dead?' asked one of the young ladies in a soft sympathizing tone. Her eyes met Philip's, full of dumb woe. He tried to speak; he wanted to explain more fully, yet not to reveal the truth.
'Well!' said the warden, thinking he perceived the real state of things, 'what I propose is this. You shall go into old Dobson's house at once, as a kind of probationary bedesman. I'll write to Harry, and get your character from him. Stephen Freeman I think you said your name was? Before I can receive his reply you'll have been able to tell how you'd like the kind of life; and at any rate you'll have the rest you seem to require in the meantime. You see, I take Harry's having given you that cloak as a kind of character,' added he, smiling kindly. 'Of course you'll have to conform to rules just like all the rest,—chapel at eight, dinner at twelve, lights out at nine; but I'll tell you the remainder of our regulations as we walk across quad to your new quarters.'
And thus Philip, almost in spite of himself, became installed in a bedesman's house at St Sepulchre.
A FABLE AT FAULT
Philip took possession of the two rooms which had belonged to the dead Sergeant Dobson. They were furnished sufficiently for every comfort by the trustees of the hospital. Some little fragments of ornament, some small articles picked up in distant countries, a few tattered books, remained in the rooms as legacies from their former occupant.
At first the repose of the life and the place was inexpressibly grateful to Philip. He had always shrunk from encountering strangers, and displaying his blackened and scarred countenance to them, even where such disfigurement was most regarded as a mark of honour. In St Sepulchre's he met none but the same set day after day, and when he had once told the tale of how it happened and submitted to their gaze, it was over for ever, if he so minded. The slight employment his garden gave him—there was a kitchen-garden behind each house, as well as the flower-plot in front—and the daily arrangement of his parlour and chamber were, at the beginning of his time of occupation, as much bodily labour as he could manage. There was something stately and utterly removed from all Philip's previous existence in the forms observed at every day's dinner, when the twelve bedesmen met in the large quaint hall, and the warden came in his college-cap and gown to say the long Latin grace which wound up with something very like a prayer for the soul of Sir Simon Bray. It took some time to get a reply to ship letters in those times when no one could exactly say where the fleet might be found.
And before Dr Pennington had received the excellent character of Stephen Freeman, which his son gladly sent in answer to his father's inquiries, Philip had become restless and uneasy in the midst of all this peace and comfort.
Sitting alone over his fire in the long winter evenings, the scenes of his past life rose before him; his childhood; his aunt Robson's care of him; his first going to Foster's shop in Monkshaven; Haytersbank Farm, and the spelling lessons in the bright warm kitchen there; Kinraid's appearance; the miserable night of the Corneys' party; the farewell he had witnessed on Monkshaven sands; the press-gang, and all the long consequences of that act of concealment; poor Daniel Robson's trial and execution; his own marriage; his child's birth; and then he came to that last day at Monkshaven: and he went over and over again the torturing details, the looks of contempt and anger, the words of loathing indignation, till he almost brought himself, out of his extreme sympathy with Sylvia, to believe that he was indeed the wretch she had considered him to be.
He forgot his own excuses for having acted as he had done; though these excuses had at one time seemed to him to wear the garb of reasons. After long thought and bitter memory came some wonder. What was Sylvia doing now? Where was she? What was his child like—his child as well as hers? And then he remembered the poor footsore wife and the little girl she carried in her arms, that was just the age of Bella; he wished he had noticed that child more, that a clear vision of it might rise up when he wanted to picture Bella.
One night he had gone round this mill-wheel circle of ideas till he was weary to the very marrow of his bones. To shake off the monotonous impression he rose to look for a book amongst the old tattered volumes, hoping that he might find something that would sufficiently lay hold of him to change the current of his thoughts. There was an old volume of Peregrine Pickle; a book of sermons; half an army list of 1774, and the Seven Champions of Christendom. Philip took up this last, which he had never seen before. In it he read how Sir Guy, Earl of Warwick, went to fight the Paynim in his own country, and was away for seven long years; and when he came back his own wife Phillis, the countess in her castle, did not know the poor travel-worn hermit, who came daily to seek his dole of bread at her hands along with many beggars and much poor. But at last, when he lay a-dying in his cave in the rock, he sent for her by a secret sign known but to them twain. And she came with great speed, for she knew it was her lord who had sent for her; and they had many sweet and holy words together before he gave up the ghost, his head lying on her bosom.
The old story known to most people from their childhood was all new and fresh to Philip. He did not quite believe in the truth of it, because the fictitious nature of the histories of some of the other Champions of Christendom was too patent. But he could not help thinking that this one might be true; and that Guy and Phillis might have been as real flesh and blood, long, long ago, as he and Sylvia had even been. The old room, the quiet moonlit quadrangle into which the cross-barred casement looked, the quaint aspect of everything that he had seen for weeks and weeks; all this predisposed Philip to dwell upon the story he had just been reading as a faithful legend of two lovers whose bones were long since dust. He thought that if he could thus see Sylvia, himself unknown, unseen—could live at her gates, so to speak, and gaze upon her and his child—some day too, when he lay a-dying, he might send for her, and in soft words of mutual forgiveness breathe his life away in her arms. Or perhaps—and so he lost himself, and from thinking, passed on to dreaming. All night long Guy and Phillis, Sylvia and his child, passed in and out of his visions; it was impossible to make the fragments of his dreams cohere; but the impression made upon him by them was not the less strong for this. He felt as if he were called to Monkshaven, wanted at Monkshaven, and to Monkshaven he resolved to go; although when his reason overtook his feeling, he knew perfectly how unwise it was to leave a home of peace and tranquillity and surrounding friendliness, to go to a place where nothing but want and wretchedness awaited him unless he made himself known; and if he did, a deeper want, a more woeful wretchedness, would in all probability be his portion.
In the small oblong of looking-glass hung against the wall, Philip caught the reflection of his own face, and laughed scornfully at the sight. The thin hair lay upon his temples in the flakes that betoken long ill-health; his eyes were the same as ever, and they had always been considered the best feature in his face; but they were sunk in their orbits, and looked hollow and gloomy. As for the lower part of his face, blackened, contracted, drawn away from his teeth, the outline entirely changed by the breakage of his jaw-bone, he was indeed a fool if he thought himself fit to go forth to win back that love which Sylvia had forsworn. As a hermit and a beggar, he must return to Monkshaven, and fall perforce into the same position which Guy of Warwick had only assumed. But still he should see his Phillis, and might feast his sad hopeless eyes from time to time with the sight of his child. His small pension of sixpence a day would keep him from absolute want of necessaries.
So that very day he went to the warden and told him he thought of giving up his share in the bequest of Sir Simon Bray. Such a relinquishment had never occurred before in all the warden's experience; and he was very much inclined to be offended.
'I must say that for a man not to be satisfied as a bedesman of St Sepulchre's argues a very wrong state of mind, and a very ungrateful heart.'
'I'm sure, sir, it's not from any ingratitude, for I can hardly feel thankful to you and to Sir Simon, and to madam, and the young ladies, and all my comrades in the hospital, and I niver expect to be either so comfortable or so peaceful again, but——'
'But? What can you have to say against the place, then? Not but what there are always plenty of applicants for every vacancy; only I thought I was doing a kindness to a man out of Harry's company. And you'll not see Harry either; he's got his leave in March!'
'I'm very sorry. I should like to have seen the lieutenant again. But I cannot rest any longer so far away from—people I once knew.'
'Ten to one they're dead, or removed, or something or other by this time; and it'll serve you right if they are. Mind! no one can be chosen twice to be a bedesman of St Sepulchre's.'
The warden turned away; and Philip, uneasy at staying, disheartened at leaving, went to make his few preparations for setting out once more on his journey northwards. He had to give notice of his change of residence to the local distributor of pensions; and one or two farewells had to be taken, with more than usual sadness at the necessity; for Philip, under his name of Stephen Freeman, had attached some of the older bedesmen a good deal to him, from his unselfishness, his willingness to read to them, and to render them many little services, and, perhaps, as much as anything, by his habitual silence, which made him a convenient recipient of all their garrulousness. So before the time for his departure came, he had the opportunity of one more interview with the warden, of a more friendly character than that in which he gave up his bedesmanship. And so far it was well; and Philip turned his back upon St Sepulchre's with his sore heart partly healed by his four months' residence there.
He was stronger, too, in body, more capable of the day-after-day walks that were required of him. He had saved some money from his allowance as bedesman and from his pension, and might occasionally have taken an outside place on a coach, had it not been that he shrank from the first look of every stranger upon his disfigured face. Yet the gentle, wistful eyes, and the white and faultless teeth always did away with the first impression as soon as people became a little acquainted with his appearance.
It was February when Philip left St Sepulchre's. It was the first week in April when he began to recognize the familiar objects between York and Monkshaven. And now he began to hang back, and to question the wisdom of what he had done—just as the warden had prophesied that he would. The last night of his two hundred mile walk he slept at the little inn at which he had been enlisted nearly two years before. It was by no intention of his that he rested at that identical place. Night was drawing on; and, in making, as he thought, a short cut, he had missed his way, and was fain to seek shelter where he might find it. But it brought him very straight face to face with his life at that time, and ever since. His mad, wild hopes—half the result of intoxication, as he now knew—all dead and gone; the career then freshly opening shut up against him now; his youthful strength and health changed into premature infirmity, and the home and the love that should have opened wide its doors to console him for all, why in two years Death might have been busy, and taken away from him his last feeble chance of the faint happiness of seeing his beloved without being seen or known of her. All that night and all the next day, the fear of Sylvia's possible death overclouded his heart. It was strange that he had hardly ever thought of this before; so strange, that now, when the terror came, it took possession of him, and he could almost have sworn that she must be lying dead in Monkshaven churchyard. Or was it little Bella, that blooming, lovely babe, whom he was never to see again? There was the tolling of mournful bells in the distant air to his disturbed fancy, and the cry of the happy birds, the plaintive bleating of the new-dropped lambs, were all omens of evil import to him.
As well as he could, he found his way back to Monkshaven, over the wild heights and moors he had crossed on that black day of misery; why he should have chosen that path he could not tell—it was as if he were led, and had no free will of his own.
The soft clear evening was drawing on, and his heart beat thick, and then stopped, only to start again with fresh violence. There he was, at the top of the long, steep lane that was in some parts a literal staircase leading down from the hill-top into the High Street, through the very entry up which he had passed when he shrank away from his former and his then present life. There he stood, looking down once more at the numerous irregular roofs, the many stacks of chimneys below him, seeking out that which had once been his own dwelling—who dwelt there now?
The yellower gleams grew narrower; the evening shadows broader, and Philip crept down the lane a weary, woeful man. At every gap in the close-packed buildings he heard the merry music of a band, the cheerful sound of excited voices. Still he descended slowly, scarcely wondering what it could be, for it was not associated in his mind with the one pervading thought of Sylvia.
When he came to the angle of junction between the lane and the High Street, he seemed plunged all at once into the very centre of the bustle, and he drew himself up into a corner of deep shadow, from whence he could look out upon the street.
A circus was making its grand entry into Monkshaven, with all the pomp of colour and of noise that it could muster. Trumpeters in parti-coloured clothes rode first, blaring out triumphant discord. Next came a gold-and-scarlet chariot drawn by six piebald horses, and the windings of this team through the tortuous narrow street were pretty enough to look upon. In the chariot sate kings and queens, heroes and heroines, or what were meant for such; all the little boys and girls running alongside of the chariot envied them; but they themselves were very much tired, and shivering with cold in their heroic pomp of classic clothing. All this Philip might have seen; did see, in fact; but heeded not one jot. Almost opposite to him, not ten yards apart, standing on the raised step at the well-known shop door, was Sylvia, holding a child, a merry dancing child, up in her arms to see the show. She too, Sylvia, was laughing for pleasure, and for sympathy with pleasure. She held the little Bella aloft that the child might see the gaudy procession the better and the longer, looking at it herself with red lips apart and white teeth glancing through; then she turned to speak to some one behind her—Coulson, as Philip saw the moment afterwards; his answer made her laugh once again. Philip saw it all; her bonny careless looks, her pretty matronly form, her evident ease of mind and prosperous outward circumstances. The years that he had spent in gloomy sorrow, amongst wild scenes, on land or by sea, his life in frequent peril of a bloody end, had gone by with her like sunny days; all the more sunny because he was not there. So bitterly thought the poor disabled marine, as, weary and despairing, he stood in the cold shadow and looked upon the home that should have been his haven, the wife that should have welcomed him, the child that should have been his comfort. He had banished himself from his home; his wife had forsworn him; his child was blossoming into intelligence unwitting of any father. Wife, and child, and home, were all doing well without him; what madness had tempted him thither? an hour ago, like a fanciful fool, he had thought she might be dead—dead with sad penitence for her cruel words at her heart—with mournful wonder at the unaccounted-for absence of her child's father preying on her spirits, and in some measure causing the death he had apprehended. But to look at her there where she stood, it did not seem as if she had had an hour's painful thought in all her blooming life.
Ay! go in to the warm hearth, mother and child, now the gay cavalcade has gone out of sight, and the chill of night has succeeded to the sun's setting. Husband and father, steal out into the cold dark street, and seek some poor cheap lodging where you may rest your weary bones, and cheat your more weary heart into forgetfulness in sleep. The pretty story of the Countess Phillis, who mourned for her husband's absence so long, is a fable of old times; or rather say Earl Guy never wedded his wife, knowing that one she loved better than him was alive all the time she had believed him to be dead.
A few days before that on which Philip arrived at Monkshaven, Kester had come to pay Sylvia a visit. As the earliest friend she had, and also as one who knew the real secrets of her life, Sylvia always gave him the warm welcome, the cordial words, and the sweet looks in which the old man delighted. He had a sort of delicacy of his own which kept him from going to see her too often, even when he was stationary at Monkshaven; but he looked forward to the times when he allowed himself this pleasure as a child at school looks forward to its holidays. The time of his service at Haytersbank had, on the whole, been the happiest in all his long monotonous years of daily labour. Sylvia's father had always treated him with the rough kindness of fellowship; Sylvia's mother had never stinted him in his meat or grudged him his share of the best that was going; and once, when he was ill for a few days in the loft above the cow-house, she had made him possets, and nursed him with the same tenderness which he remembered his mother showing to him when he was a little child, but which he had never experienced since then. He had known Sylvia herself, as bud, and sweet promise of blossom; and just as she was opening into the full-blown rose, and, if she had been happy and prosperous, might have passed out of the narrow circle of Kester's interests, one sorrow after another came down upon her pretty innocent head, and Kester's period of service to Daniel Robson, her father, was tragically cut short. All this made Sylvia the great centre of the faithful herdsman's affection; and Bella, who reminded him of what Sylvia was when first Kester knew her, only occupied the second place in his heart, although to the child he was much more demonstrative of his regard than to the mother.