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Steig

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On a rainy day, Sylvester finds a magic pebble that can make wishes come true. But when a lion frightens him on his way home, Sylvester makes a wish that brings unexpected results.
How Sylvester is eventually reunited with his loving family and restored to his true self makes a story that is beautifully tender and filled with magic. Illustrated with William Steig’s glowing pictures, this is a modern classic beloved by children everywhere.
Selected as one of the 100 Best Books of the Century by the National Education Association.

Download Sylvester and the Magic Pebble –


Steig

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Download Sylvester and the Magic Pebble –


Steig

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The Dowager had taken a great fancy to young Mr Orde, but she would have found it difficult under any circumstances to have persuaded him to attend a dress-party at which he would have been obliged, as he phrased it, to do the pretty to a lot of fashionable strangers. Such affairs, he told Phoebe firmly, were not in his line: he was never more glad of a lame leg.
So Tom went off on the fateful night to be choked by the new gas-lighting at Drury Lane; and Phoebe was escorted by the Dowager, shortly after ten o’clock, to the Castlereagh mansion.
The Dowager saw immediately how close to the brink of social disaster Phoebe had approached, and her keen eyes snapped dangerously as they marked the various dames who dared to look coldly at her granddaughter. These ladies should shortly be made to regret their insolence: one might have chosen to retire a little from the world of fashion, but one was not yet quite without power in that world! She saw, with satisfaction, that Phoebe’s chin was up; and, with relief, that her hand was soon solicited for the country-dance that was then forming.
Phoebe’s partner, a young gentleman very conscious of his first longtailed coat and satin knee-breeches, was shy, and in striving to set him at his ease Phoebe forgot her own nervousness, and smiled, and chatted with all the unconcern that her grandmother could have wished her to show. It was when she was halfway down the second set that she saw Sylvester, and felt her heart bump against her ribs.
He was talking to his hostess, in a knot of persons by the door. He was laughing, tossing a retort over his shoulder to some friend, shaking hands with another: in spirits, she thought hopefully. He glanced round the ballroom, but cursorily; their eyes did not meet. She wondered if he would presently look for her, and hardly knew which would be the sterner trial: to be ignored by him, or to be obliged to face him.
The next dance was a waltz. She did not think that Sylvester had yet seen her, but as the fiddlers struck up he came across the floor to where she sat beside the Dowager, and said: ‘How do you do, ma’am? I am charged with all kinds of messages for you from my mother. You will like to know that I left her well – wonderfully well! Miss Marlow, may I have the honour?’
As she rose to her feet she looked fleetingly up at him, and again felt that sickening thud of the heart. His lips smiled, but there was a glitter in his eyes that was strange to her, and frightening, and the suggestion of a quiver about his up-cut nostrils.
He led her on to the floor, and into the dance. She hoped he could not feel the flurry of her pulses, and forced herself to speak. ‘I did not know you had returned to town, Duke.’
‘Didn’t you? I came back from Chance yesterday, on purpose to attend this party. I am glad you are here – and admire your courage.’
She knew that her hand was trembling in his light clasp, but she tried to rally herself. ‘Oh, I am not now so shy as I was used to be!’
‘Obviously you are not. You must allow me to offer you my compliments, and to felicitate you on having made so notable a hit.’
‘I cannot imagine what you mean!’
‘Oh, I think you can! You have written a romance that has set the ton by the ears: a feat indeed! Very clever, Miss Marlow, but could you find no better name for me than Ugolino?’
‘You are mistaken – quite mistaken!’ she stammered.
‘Don’t lie to me! Believe me, your face betrays you! Did you suppose I should not guess the truth? I am not a fool, and I have a tolerably good memory. Or did you think I should not read your book? If that was so you have been unfortunate. I might not have read it had my mother not desired me to do so. She wished – not unnaturally – to know what I had done to arouse such enmity, whom it was I had so bitterly offended. I was quite unable to answer the first of her questions. The second, I must confess, found me equally at a loss until I had read your book. I could have answered it then, of course, had I chosen to do so.’
‘Oh, I am sorry, I am sorry!’ she whispered, in an anguished tone.
‘Don’t hang your head! Do you wish the whole room to know what I am saying to you?’
She raised it. ‘I tried to alter it. It was too late. I ought never to have done it. I didn’t know – never dreamed – Oh, how can I explain to you? What can I say?’
‘Oh, there is a great deal you might say, but it is quite unnecessary to do so! There is only one thing I am curious to know, for tax my memory as I may I cannot find the answer. What did I do, Miss Marlow, to deserve to be set in the pillory?’
‘Nothing, nothing!’
‘Nothing? I am aware that you took me in dislike at our first meeting; you have told me that I did not recognise you when we met for the second time. Was that all your reason for making me the model for your villain? Did you, for such small cause, put yourself to the labour of discovering the affairs of my family so that you might publish a spiteful travesty of them to the world?’
‘No! Had I known – oh, how can you think I would have written it if I had known you had a nephew – were his guardian? I had not the least suspicion of it! It was coincidence: I chose you for Ugolino because – because of the way your eyebrows slant, and because I thought you arrogant! I never dreamed then the book would be published!’
‘Doing it rather too brown, are you not? You can’t really suppose I shall swallow quite so unlikely a story!’
She looked up, and saw that while he talked to her, between his teeth, he was smiling still. The sensation of moving through a nightmare threatened to overpower her. She said faintly: ‘It’s true, whatever you believe. When I found out – about Edmund – I was ready to sink!’
‘But not ready to stop the publication of this sad coincidence.’
‘I couldn’t do so! They would not even let me alter it! The book was already bound, Duke! When I reached London it was the first thing I did. I went immediately to the publishers – indeed, indeed, I did!’
‘And, of course, it never occurred to you that if I were warned I might prove more successful than you in arresting publication,’ he said affably.
‘No. Could you have done so?’ she asked wonderingly.
‘Oh, that is much better!’ he approved, his eyes glinting down at her. ‘That innocent stare is excellent: you should cultivate it!’
She flushed vividly. ‘Please say no more! Not here – not now! I can’t answer you. It was wrong of me – inexcusable! I – I bitterly regret it!’
‘Why, yes, I imagine you might well! How many people have cut you tonight?’
‘Not for that reason!’ she answered hotly. ‘You know I didn’t mean that! Do you think I am not fully sensible of your kindness, when you found us – Tom and me – and did so much for us?’
‘Oh, don’t give that a thought!’ he replied. ‘What a stupid thing to say! – You didn’t, of course.’
She winced. ‘Oh, stop, stop! I never meant to do you an injury! I might as easily have made you the model for my hero!’
‘Ought I to be grateful? Is it beyond your comprehension that to discover myself figuring in a novel – and, if you will forgive me, such a novel! – in any guise is an experience I find nauseating? You might have endowed me with every virtue imaginable, but I should still have considered it a piece of intolerable impertinence!’
She was beginning to feel as physically sick as she had so often felt when rated by her stepmother. ‘Take me back to my grandmother!’ she begged. ‘I don’t know why you asked me to dance with you! Could you not have chosen another occasion to say what you wished to me?’
‘Easily, but why should I? I shall restore you to Lady Ingham when the music ceases: not before! You are ungrateful, Sparrow: you shouldn’t be, you know!’
‘Don’t call me that!’ she said sharply, stung by his tone.
‘No, it doesn’t suit you,’ he agreed. ‘What will you have me call you? Jay?’
‘Let me go! You may ignore me – you need not insult me!’
> His clasp on her hand tightened unkindly. ‘You may be thankful I haven’t ignored you. Do you know what would have happened had I done so? Do you know how many pairs of eyes were watching to see just what I should do? I asked you to dance because if I had not, every suspicion that you are indeed the author of that book would have been confirmed, and you would have found yourself, by tomorrow, a social outcast. You would have been well served, and I own I was strongly tempted. But I should think myself as contemptible as your villainous Count if I stooped to such a paltry revenge! You may be sure of my support, Miss Marlow. What I may choose to say to you you will have to learn to accept with a good grace. I’ll call in Green Street tomorrow to take you driving in the Park: that ought to convince the doubters!’
It was too much. She wrenched herself out of his hold, heedless alike of her surroundings and the consequences, and hurried off the floor to her grandmother’s side, so blinded by the tears she was unable to keep back that she blundered into several couples, and did not see how everyone was staring, first at her, and then at Sylvester, left ridiculously alone in the middle of the ballroom floor, his face white with fury.
Nineteen
Lady Ingham was indisposed; Sir Henry Halford had said that on no account must her ladyship be agitated; her ladyship was not receiving visitors today. Miss Marlow was indisposed too and was laid down on the sofa in the Small Parlour; Miss Marlow was not receiving visitors today.
These melancholy tidings, delivered by Horwich in a voice of sepulchral gloom, daunted one of the two callers standing on the steps of the house in Green Street, but left the other unmoved. ‘Her ladyship will receive me,’ said Mrs Newbury briskly. ‘Very proper of you to warn me, however, Horwich! I shall take care not to agitate her.’
‘I could not take it on myself to answer for her ladyship, madam. I will enquire.’
‘Quite unnecessary! Is her ladyship in her dressing-room? I will go up, then.’
Emboldened by the success achieved by this bright-eyed lady the second caller said firmly: ‘Miss Marlow will receive me! Be so good as to take my card up to her!’
Mrs Newbury ran up the stairs, and having tapped on the dressing-room door peeped in, saying softly: ‘Dear Lady Ingham, may I come in? I am persuaded you won’t be vexed with me – say you are not!’
The blinds had been drawn halfway across the two windows; a strong aroma of aromatic vinegar pervaded the air; and a gaunt figure advanced, hissing that her ladyship must not be disturbed.
‘Is that you, Georgiana?’ faintly demanded the Dowager from the sofa. ‘I am too unwell to see anyone, but I suppose you mean to come in whatever I say. No one cares how soon I am driven into my grave! Set a chair for Mrs Newbury, Muker, and go away!’
The grim handmaid disapprovingly obeyed this order; and Georgiana, her eyes becoming accustomed to the gloom, trod over to the sofa, and sat down by it, saying coaxingly: ‘I have not come to tease you, ma’am – only to help you, if I can!’
‘No one can help me,’ said the sufferer, with awful resignation. ‘I need not ask if it is all over town!’
‘Well, I should think it would be,’ said Georgiana candidly. ‘Charlotte Retford came to see me this morning, and I must own she said that people are talking. She described to me what happened last night, and – oh, I thought I must come to see you, because even if Phoebe did write that book I can’t but like her still, and, whatever Lion may say about not meddling, if I can help her I will!’
‘I imagine no one can now doubt that she wrote it,’ said the Dowager. ‘When I think of all I did for her last night, even convincing Sally Jersey that the whole thing was a hum, set about by that pea-goose, Ianthe Rayne – Where are my salts?’
‘Why did she write it, ma’am?’ asked Georgiana. ‘One would say she must detest Sylvester, but that she doesn’t!’
The Dowager, between sniffs at her vinaigrette, enlightened her. After that she took a sip of hartshorn and water, and lay back with closed eyes. Mrs Newbury sat wrapped in meditation for a few minutes, but presently said: ‘I shouldn’t think that Sylvester will betray her, whatever she may have said to him.’
‘She betrayed herself! Leaving him in the middle of the floor as she did! I did my best, Georgiana, but what was the use of saying she was faint when there was Sylvester, looking like a devil? I will never forgive him, never! To overset her there! Heaven knows I don’t excuse the child, but what he did was wicked! And I can’t even take comfort from the reflection that she made a laughing-stock of him, because she ruined herself in doing it!’ said the Dowager.
‘He must have been very angry,’ said Georgiana, frowning. ‘Too angry to consider what might be the consequence of dashing her down in public. For it was not at all like him, you know, ma’am. Nothing disgusts him more than a want of conduct! I wonder if Lion was right after all?’
‘Very unlikely!’ snapped the Dowager.
‘Well, that’s what I thought,’ agreed the Major’s fond spouse. ‘He said it was a case between them. In fact, he laid me a bet, because I wouldn’t allow it to be so. I know just how Sylvester behaves when he starts one of his à suivie flirtations, and it was not at all like that. Can it be that he had formed a serious attachment?’
The Dowager blew her nose. ‘I thought it as good as settled!’ she disclosed. ‘The wish of my heart, Georgie! Everything in such excellent train, and all shattered at a blow! Dare I suppose that his affections will reanimate towards her? No! They will not!’
Georgiana, with the sapient Lion’s comments in mind, was glad that Lady Ingham had supplied the answer to her own question. ‘Dished!’ had said the Major. ‘Pity! Nice little gal, I thought. Won’t pop the question to her now, of course. Couldn’t have found a surer way to drive him off than by making him ridiculous.’
‘What to do I don’t know!’ said the Dowager. ‘It is of no use to tell me she should brave it out: she ain’t the sort of girl who could carry it off. Besides, she’ll be refused vouchers for Almack’s. I shan’t even try for them: nothing would delight that odious Burrell creature more than to be able to give me a setdown!’
‘No, that won’t do,’ said Georgiana. ‘I have a better scheme, ma’am: that’s why I came! Take her to Paris!’
‘Take her to Paris?’ repeated the Dowager.
‘Yes, ma’am, to Paris!’ said Georgiana. ‘Do but consider! Phoebe can’t remain mewed up within doors, and to send her home would be worse than anything, because it would be to abandon every hope of re-establishing her presently. Paris would be the very thing! Everyone knows that you have had some thought of removing there. Why, I heard you talking of it myself, to Lady Sefton!’
‘Everyone may know it, but everyone would also know why I had gone there.’
‘That can’t be helped, dear ma’am. At least they will know that you have not cast Phoebe off. And you know how quickly the most shocking scandals are forgotten!’
‘This one won’t be.’
‘Yes, it will. I promise you I shall be busy while you are away, and you know that no one can be more valuable than I in this affair, because I am Sylvester’s cousin, and what I say of him will be believed rather than what Ianthe says. I shall set it about that the scene last night was the outcome of a quarrel which began before Sylvester went away to Chance, and had nothing to do with The Lost Heir. I shall say that that was why he went to Chance: what could be more likely? And,’ said Georgiana, in a voice of profound wisdom, ‘I shall tell it all in the strictest confidence! To one person, or perhaps two, just to make sure of the story’s spreading.’
There was a short silence. The Dowager broke it. ‘Pull the blinds back!’ she commanded. ‘What does Muker mean by leaving us to sit in the dark, stupid woman? You’re a flightly, ramshackle creature, Georgie, but one thing I’ll allow! You have a good heart! But will anyone believe Phoebe didn’t write that book?’
‘They must be made to, even
if I have to say I too know who is the real author! If Sylvester had taken it in good part – made a joke of it, as though he didn’t care a button, and had been in the secret the whole time – it wouldn’t have signified a scrap, because he was the only person unkindly used in the book, and if he hadn’t taken it in snuff all the others whom Phoebe dug her quill into must have followed his example.’
‘Don’t talk to me of Sylvester!’ said the Dowager, with loathing. ‘If I hadn’t set my heart on his marrying Phoebe I should be in transports over her book! For she hit him off to the life, Georgie! If he ain’t smarting still I don’t know him! Oh, drat the boy! He might have spared a thought for me before he provoked my granddaughter to enact a Cheltenham tragedy in the middle of a ballroom!’
Perceiving that slow, unaccustomed tears were trickling down her ladyship’s cheeks, Georgiana overcame a desire to retort in defence of Sylvester, and made haste to soothe her, and to turn her thoughts towards Paris.
‘Yes, but it’s useless to think of it,’ said the Dowager, dabbing at her eyes. ‘I cannot go without some gentleman to escort me! Poor Ingham would turn in his grave! Don’t talk to me of couriers! I won’t have strangers about me. And I am a wretched traveller, always seasick, and as for depending on Muker, she, you may lay your life, will be in the sullens, because she don’t want to go to France!’
Georgiana was rather daunted by this. After having her suggestion that the present Lord Ingham might escort his parent spurned she was at a loss, and could only say that it seemed a pity if the scheme must fail after all.