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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Shoulders Of Atlas: A Novel - Chapter 19
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The Shoulders Of Atlas: A Novel - Chapter 19 Post by :merled Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2318

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The Shoulders Of Atlas: A Novel - Chapter 19

Chapter XIX

Henry, after the revelation which Sylvia had made to him, became more puzzled than ever. He had thought that her secret anxiety would be alleviated by the confidence she had made him, but it did not seem to be. On the contrary, she went about with a more troubled air than before. Even Horace and Rose, in the midst of their love-dream, noticed it.

One day Henry, coming suddenly into the sitting-room, found Rose on her knees beside Sylvia, weeping bitterly. Sylvia was looking over the girl's head with a terrible, set expression, as if she were looking at her own indomitable will. For the first time Henry lost sight of the fact that Sylvia was a woman. He seemed to see her as a separate human soul, sexless and free, intent upon her own ends, which might be entirely distinct from his, and utterly unknown to him.

Rose turned her tear-wet face towards him. "Oh, Uncle Henry," she sobbed, "Aunt Sylvia is worrying over something, and she won't tell me."

"Nonsense," said Henry.

"Yes, she is. Horace and I both know she is. She won't tell me what it is. She goes about all the time with such a dreadful face, and she won't tell me. Oh, Aunt Sylvia, is it because you don't want me to marry Horace?"

Sylvia spoke, hardly moving her thin lips. "I have nothing whatever against your marriage," she said. "I did think at first that you were better off as you were, but now I don't feel so."

"But you act so." Rose stumbled to her feet and ran sobbing out of the room.

Henry turned to his wife, who sat like a statue. "Sylvia, you ought to be ashamed of yourself," he said, in a bewildered tone. "Here you are taking all the pleasure out of that poor child's little love-affair, going about as you do."

"There are other things besides love-affairs," said Sylvia, in a strange, monotonous tone, almost as if she were deaf and dumb, and had no knowledge of inflections. "There are affairs between the soul and its Maker that are more important than love betwixt men and women."

Sylvia did not look at Henry. She still gazed straight ahead, with that expression of awful self-review. The thought crossed Henry's mind that she was more like some terrible doll with a mechanical speech than a living woman. He went up to her and took her hands. They were lying stiffly on her lap, in the midst of soft white cambric and lace--some bridal lingerie which she was making for Rose. "Look here, Sylvia," said Henry, "you don't mean that you are fretting about--what you told me?"

"No," said Sylvia, in her strange voice.

"Then what--?"

Sylvia shook off his hands and rose to her feet. Her scissors dropped with a thud. She kept the fluffy white mass over her arm. Henry picked up the scissors. "Here are your scissors," said he.

Sylvia paid no attention. She was looking at him with stern, angry eyes.

"What I have to bear I have to bear," said she. "It is nothing whatever to you. It is nothing whatever to any of you. I want to be let alone. If you don't like to see my face, don't look at it. None of you have any call to look at it. I am doing what I think is right, and I want to be let alone."

She went out of the room, leaving Henry standing with her scissors in his hand.

After supper that night he could not bear to remain with Sylvia, sewing steadily upon Rose's wedding finery, and still wearing that terrible look on her face. Rose and Horace were in the parlor. Henry went down to Sidney Meeks's for comfort.

"Something is on my wife's mind," he told Sidney, when the two men were alone in the pleasant, untidy room.

"Do you think she feels badly about the love-affair?"

"She says that isn't it," replied Henry, gloomily, "but she goes about with a face like grim death, and I don't know what to make of it."

"She'll tell finally."

"I don't know whether she will or not."

"Women always do."

"I don't know whether she will or not."

"She will."

Henry remained with Meeks until quite late. Sylvia sewed and sewed by her sitting-room lamp. Her face never relaxed. She could hear the hum of voices across the hall.

After awhile the door of the parlor was flung violently open, and she heard Horace's rushing step upon the stair. Then Rose came in, all pale and tearful.

"I have told him I couldn't marry him, Aunt Sylvia," she said.

Sylvia looked at her. "Why not?" she asked, harshly.

"I can't marry him and have you feel so dreadfully about it."

"Who said I felt dreadfully about it?"

"Nobody said so; but you look so dreadfully."

"I can't help my looks. They have nothing whatever to do with your love-affairs."

"You say that just to pacify me, I know," said Rose, pitifully.

"You don't know. Do you mean to say that you have dismissed him?"

"Yes, and he is horribly angry with me," moaned Rose.

"I should think he would be. What right have you to dismiss a man to please another woman, who is hardly any relation to you? I should think he would be mad. What did he do?"

"He just slammed the door and ran."

Sylvia laid her work on the table and started out of the room with an angry stride.

"Where are you going?" asked Rose, feebly, but she got no reply.

Soon Sylvia re-entered the room, and she had Horace by the arm. He looked stern and bewildered. Sylvia gave him a push towards Rose.

"Now look at here, both of you," she said. "Once for all, I have got nothing to say against your getting married. I am worrying about something, and it is nobody's business what it is. I am doing right. I am doing what I know is right, and I ain't going to let myself be persuaded I ain't. I have done all I could for Rose, and I am going to do more. I have nothing against your getting married. Now I am going into the parlor to finish this work. The lamp in there is better. You can settle it betwixt you."

Sylvia went out, a long line of fine lace trailing in her wake. Horace stood still where she had left him. Rose looked at him timidly.

"I didn't know she felt so," she ventured, at last, in a small voice.

Horace said nothing. Rose went to him, put her hand through his arm, and laid her cheek against his unresponsive shoulder. "I did think it would about kill her if it went on," she whispered. "I think I was mistaken."

"And you didn't mind in the least how much I was hurt, as long as she wasn't," said Horace.

"Yes, I did."

"I must say it did not have that appearance."

Rose wept softly against his rough coat-sleeve. "I wanted to do what was right, and she looked so dreadfully; and I didn't want to be selfish," she sobbed.

Horace looked down at her, and his face softened. "Oh Rose," he said, "you are all alike, you women. When it comes to a question of right or wrong, you will all lay your best-beloved on the altar of sacrifice. Your logic is all wrong, dear. You want to do right so much that the dust of virtue gets into your eyes of love and blinds them. I should come first with you, before your aunt Sylvia, and your own truth and happiness should come first; but you wanted to lay them all at her feet--or, rather, at the feet of your conscience."

"I only wanted to do what was right," Rose sobbed again.

"I know you did, dear." Horace put his arm around Rose. He drew her to a chair, sat down, and took her on his knee. He looked at her almost comically, in return for her glance of piteous appeal.

"Don't laugh at me," she whispered.

Horace kissed her. "I am not laughing at you, but at the eternal feminine, dear," he said. "There is something very funny about the eternal feminine. It is so earnest on the wrong tack, and hurts itself and others so cruelly, and gets no thanks for it."

"I don't know what you mean. I don't like your talking so to me, Horace. I only meant to do what was right."

"I won't talk so any more, darling."

"I don't think I have much of the eternal feminine about me, Horace."

"Of course not, sweetheart."

"I love you, anyway," Rose whispered, and put up her face to be kissed again, "and I didn't want to hurt you. I only wanted to do my duty."

"Of course you did, sweetheart. But now you think your duty is to marry me, don't you?"

Rose laughed, and there was something angelic and innocent about that laugh of the young girl. Horace kissed her again, then both started. "She is talking to herself in there," whispered Rose. "Horace, what do you suppose it is about? Poor Aunt Sylvia must be worrying horribly about something. What do you think it is?"

"I don't know, darling," replied Horace, soberly.

They both heard that lamentable murmur of a voice in the other room, but the doors were closed and not a word could be understood.

Sylvia was sewing rapidly, setting the most delicate and dainty stitches, and all the time she was talking carrying on a horrible argument, as if against some invisible dissenter.

"Ain't I doing everything I can?" demanded Sylvia. "Ain't I, I'd like to know? Ain't I bought everything I could for her? Ain't I making her wedding-clothes by hand, when my eyes are hurting me all the time? Ain't I set myself aside and given her up, when God knows I love her better than if she was my own child? Ain't I doing everything? What call have I to blame myself? Only to-day I've bought a lot of silver for her, and I'm going to buy a lot more. After the underclothes are done I'm going about the table linen, though she don't need it. I ain't using a mite of her aunt Abrahama's. I'm saving it all for her. I'm saving everything for her. I've made my will and left all her aunt's property to her. What have I done? I'm doing right; I tell you I'm doing right. I know I'm doing right. Anybody that says I ain't, lies. They lie, I say. I'm doing right. I--"

Henry opened the door. He had just returned from Sidney Meeks's. Sylvia was sewing quietly.

Henry looked around the room. "Why, who were you talking to?" he asked.

"Nobody," replied Sylvia, taking another stitch.

"I thought I heard you talking."

"How could I be talking when there ain't anybody here to talk to?"

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Chapter XXIt was not quite a year afterwards that the wedding-day of Rose and Horace was set. It was July, shortly after the beginning of the summer vacation. The summer was very cool, and the country looked like June rather than July. Even the roses were not gone.The wedding was to be in the evening, and all day long women worked decorating the house. Rose had insisted on being married in the old White homestead. She was to have quite a large wedding, and people from New York and Boston crowded the hotel. Miss Hart was obliged to engage three extra
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Chapter XVIIIHenry looked more and more disturbed as they went down the street. "I declare, I don't know what Sylvia will say," he remarked, moodily."You mean about the pretty little love-affair?" said Meeks, walking along fanning himself with his hat."Yes, she'll be dreadful upset.""Upset; why?""It beats me to know why. Who ever does know the why of a woman?""What in creation is the fellow, anyhow?" said Meeks, with a laugh. "Are all the women going daft over him? He isn't half bad looking, and he's a good sort, but I'm hanged if I can see why he should upset every woman
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