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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXV - THINGS UNUTTERABLE
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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXV - THINGS UNUTTERABLE Post by :msingathi Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :994

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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXV - THINGS UNUTTERABLE

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

'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

'Where is Hepburn?' said he. 'He ought to be here!'

Phoebe looked at Nancy, Nancy at Phoebe. It was the latter who

'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

'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

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'

'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

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

'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

'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.

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Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXVI - MYSTERIOUS TIDINGS Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXVI - MYSTERIOUS TIDINGS

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXVI - MYSTERIOUS TIDINGS
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' herout; sometimes she's for one thing, sometimes she's for another.''She bid me come and see her,' said Kester. 'Only this mornin', atmissus' buryin', she telled me to come.'So Phoebe went off to inform Sylvia that Kester was there; andreturned with the desire that he would walk into the parlour. Aninstant after he was gone, Phoebe heard him return, and carefullyshut the two doors of communication between the kitchen andsitting-room.Sylvia was in the latter

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXIV - A RECKLESS RECRUIT Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXIV - A RECKLESS RECRUIT

Sylvia's Lovers - Chapter XXXIV - A RECKLESS RECRUIT
She lay across a chair, her arms helplessly stretched out, her faceunseen. Every now and then a thrill ran through her body: she wastalking to herself all the time with incessant low incontinence ofwords.Philip stood near her, motionless: he did not know whether she wasconscious of his presence; in fact, he knew nothing but that he andshe were sundered for ever; he could only take in that one idea, andit 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; herglazed eyes fell upon Philip