Letter from Sylvia to Michael, written a few hours before Arthur's death. 18 April 1907
[No original available]
Egerton House, Berkhamsted.
18 [April 1907]
Darling son Michael,
I hope your cold is not bad – get it well quite quickly for my sake.
Here are some silkworm eggs from Papa Gibbs – I don’t know what you do with them, but I’ve no doubt Mary will know. I have just been for a drive with Aunt Trixie and it was cold.
George is just going to Mr. Timson to have his knickerbockers mended, but they look almost too bad to mend. What a pity it is that you all have to wear things – how much better if you could go about like Mowgli – then perhaps you would never have any colds.
Goodbye now darling – write to me soon.
There is nothing more moving to me, or more admirable, in the whole of this melancholy record, than these two letters from Sylvia to Michael, the second written within a few hours of Arthur’s death, which took place on the following day. Both are written very strongly, in ink, without a single word altered or scratched out except Mowgli – a difficult word in any case. Nothing of the misery and despair she was racked with was allowed to reach her children. There is a stoicism in this which fully matches Arthur’s.
Papa Gibbs: the local chemist, so-called by Michael.
At what time on April 19th Arthur died, or in what exact circumstances – nearly lucid, or, as seems more probable, at the end of a long period of unconsciousness, and in whose presence – I don’t know. Morphia had evidently been given freely towards the end, both to induce sleep and to relieve pain.
It must have been very shortly after Michael received Sylvia’s letter at 16 Royal Crescent that first Jack, and then I, was summoned to Grannie’s bedroom on what is technically called the mezzanine floor at the top of the first flight of stairs, and by her told the news, which she had perhaps just had by telegram. She told us very simply, without circumlocution or excessive emotion, sitting up in bed with (I think) a lace nightcap on; and I believe the meaning of her words penetrated pretty clearly to one’s immature brain, though not of course their full and permanent significance.
It was, as I remember it, a dull and windy day, and I recollect wandering up to the night nursery and staring out of the window for long minutes in vague wretchedness and gloom, at the grey sea and the distant Gull lightship on the Goodwins.
“A boys will is the wind’s will,” and as likely as not I was digging on the sands as usual next morning. But for the moment I think it was born in on me that a disastrous thing had overcome us.
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