Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XIX. A Song Without Words
Whilst the repairs were going on in the house behind the school, the old caretaker still lived there. Egremont found that she had in truth nowhere else to go, and as it was desirable that someone should remain upon the premises, he engaged her to do so until the Grails entered into possession.
As soon as painters, plasterers, and paperhangers were out of the way, Grail and Thyrza went to the house to decide what furniture it would be necessary to buy. The outlay was to be as little as possible, for indeed there was but little money to spend. Mrs. Butterfield--that was the old woman's name--admitted them, but without speaking; when Gilbert made some kindly-meant remark about its being disagreeable for her to live in such a strong odour of paint, she muttered inarticulately and withdrew into the kitchen. Thyrza presently peeped into that room. The old woman was sitting on a low stool by the fire, her knees up to her chin, her grizzled hair unkempt; she looked so remarkably like a witch, and, on Thyrza's appearance, turned with a gaze of such extreme malignity, that the girl drew back in fear.
'I suppose she takes it ill that the old state of things has been disturbed,' Gilbert said. 'Mr. Egremont tells me he has found that she is to have a small weekly allowance from the chapel people, so I don't suppose she'll fall into want, and we know be wouldn't send her off to starve; that isn't his way.'
The removal of such things as were to be brought from Walnut Tree Walk, and the housing of the new furniture, would take only a couple of days. This was to be done immediately before the wedding; then Lydia and Mrs. Grail would live in the house whilst the husband and wife were away.
Egremont found that the large school-room would be ready sooner than he had anticipated. When it was cleaned out, there was nothing to do save to fix shelves, a small counter, and two long tables. For some time he had been making extensive purchases of books, for the most part from a secondhand dealer, who warehoused his volumes for him till the library should be prepared to receive them. He had drawn up, too, a skeleton catalogue, but this could not be proceeded with before the books were in some sort of order upon the shelves. He was nervously impatient to reach this stage. Since his last visit to Eastbourne he had seen no friends in civilised London, and now that he had no longer lectures to write, his state of mind grew ever more unsatisfactory. Loneliness, though to so great an extent self-imposed, weighed upon him intolerably. He believed that he was going through the dreariest time of his life.
How often he thought with envy of the little parlour in Walnut Tree Walk! To toil oneself weary through a long day in a candle factory, and then come back to the evening meal, with the certainty that a sweet young face would be there to meet one with its smile, sweet lips to give affectionate welcome--that would be better than this life which he led. He wished to go there again, but feared to do so without invitation. The memory of his evening there made drawing-rooms distasteful to him.
He had a letter from Mrs. Ormonde, in which a brief mention was made of Thyrza's visit. He replied:
'Why do you not tell me more of the impression made upon you by Miss Trent? It was a favourable one, of course, as you kept her with you over the Sunday. You do not mention whether Annabel saw her. She is very fond of music; it would have been a kindness to ask Annabel to play to her. But I have Miss Newthorpe's promise that she and her father will come and see the library as soon as it is open; then at all events they will make the acquaintance of Mrs. Grail.
'She interests me very much, as you gather from my way of writing about her. I hope she will come to think of me as a friend. It will be delightful to watch her mind grow. I am sure she has faculties of a very delicate kind; I believe she will soon be able to appreciate literature. Has she not a strange personal charm, and is it not impossible to think of her becoming anything but a beautiful-natured woman? You too, now that you know her, will continue to be her friend--I earnestly hope so. If she could be for a little time with you now and then, how it would help to develop the possibilities that are in her!'
To the letter of which this was part, Mrs. Ormonde quickly responded:
'With regard to Miss Trent,' she said, 'I beg you not to indulge your idealistic habits of thought immoderately. I found her a pretty and interesting girl, and it is not unlikely that she may make a good wife for such a man as Mr. Grail--himself, clearly, quite enough of an idealist to dispense with the more solid housewifely virtues in his life-mate. But I add this, Walter: It certainly would not be advisable to fill her head too suddenly with a kind of thought to which she has hitherto been a stranger. If I had influence with Mr. Grail, I should hint to him that he is going to marry a very young wife, and that, under the circumstances, the balance of character to be found in sober domestic occupation will, for some time, be what she most needs to aim at. You see, I am not an idealist, and I think commonplace domestic happiness of more account than aspirations which might not improbably endanger it. Forgive me for these remarks, which you will say have a slight odour of the kitchen, or, at best, of the store-room. Never mind; both are places without which the study could not exist.'
Egremont bit his lips over this; for the first time he was dissatisfied with Mrs. Ormonde. He wondered on what terms she had received Thyrza. He had imagined the girl as treated with every indulgence at The Chestnuts, but the tone of this letter made him fear lest Mrs. Ormonde had deemed it a duty to refrain from too much kindness. It was very unlike her; what had she observed that made her so disagreeably prudent all at once?
It added to his mental malaise. What change was befalling his life? Was he about to find himself actually sundered from the friends he had made in the sphere which his birth gave him no claim to enter? It all meant that he was reverting to the condition wherein he was born. His attempt to become a member of Society (with a capital) was proving itself a failure. Very well, he would find his friends in the working world. When he needed society of an evening, he would find it with Gilbert Grail and his wife. He would pursue his work more earnestly than ever; he would get his club founded, as soon as the library was ready for a rallying-place; he would seek diligently for the working men of hopeful character, and by force of sincerity win their confidence. Let the wealthy and refined people go their way.
And at this point he veritably experienced a great relief. For two days he went about almost joyously. His task was renewed before him, and his energy at the same time had taken new life. Doubt, he said to himself, was once more vanquished--perchance finally.
Then came another letter from Mrs. Ormonde, asking him to come and drink the air of these delicious spring days by the shore. He replied that it was impossible to leave London. That very day he had despatched seven packing-cases full of volumes to the library, and he was going to begin the work of setting the books on the shelves.
That was a Monday; a week remained before Thyrza's marriage-day. Thyrza had not been to the new house since she went with Gilbert to see about the furniture. Her curiosity was satisfied; her interest in the place had strangely lessened. More than that: in walking by herself she never chose that direction, whereas formerly she had always liked to do so. It seemed as if she had some reason for avoiding sight of the building.
This Monday her mind changed again. She frequently went to meet her sister at the dinner-hour, and to-day, having set forth somewhat too early, she went round by way of Brook Street. No positive desire impelled her; it was rather as if her feet took that turning independently of her thoughts. On drawing near to the library she was surprised to see a van standing before the door; two men were carrying a wooden box into the building. She crossed to the opposite side of the way, and went forwards slowly. The men came out, mounted to the box-seat of the van, and drove away.
That must be a delivery of books. Who was there to receive them?
She crossed the street again, and approached the library door. She walked past it, stopped, came back. She tried the handle, and the door opened. There was no harm in looking in.
Amid a number of packing-oases stood Egremont. His head was uncovered, and he had a screw-driver in his hand, as if about to open the chests. At sight of Thyrza he came forward with a look of delight and shook hands with her.
'So you have discovered what I'm about. I didn't wish anyone to know. You see, the shelves are all ready, and I couldn't resist the temptation of having books brought. Will you keep the secret?'
'I won't say a word, sir.'
Warmth on Thyrza's cheeks answered the pleasure in his eyes as he looked at her. Perhaps neither had fully felt how glad it would make them to meet again. When Thyrza had given her assurance, Egremont's face showed that he was going to say something in a different tone.
'Miss Trent, will you speak to me in future as you do to your friends? I want very much to be one of your friends, if you will let me.'
Thyrza kept her eyes upon the ground. She could not find the fitting words for reply. He continued:
'Grail is my friend, and we always talk as friends should. Won't you cease to think of me as a stranger?'
'I don't think of you in that way, Mr. Egremont.'
'Then let us shake hands again in the new way.'
Thyrza gave hers. She just met his eyes for a moment her own had a smile of intense happiness.
'Yes, keep this a secret,' Egremont went on, quickly resuming his ordinary voice. 'I'll surprise Grail in a few days, by bringing him in. Now, how am I to get this lid off? How tremendously firm it is! I suppose I ought to have got the men to do it, but I brought a screw-driver in my pocket, thinking it would be easy enough. Ah, there's a beginning! I ought to have a hammer.'
'Shall I go and ask Mrs. Butterfield if she has one?'
'Oh no, I'll go myself.'
'I'll run--it won't take me a minute!'
She went out by the door that led into the house. In the dark passage she was startled by coming in contact with someone.
'Oh, who is that?'
A muttered reply informed her that it was the old woman. They went forward into the nearest room. There was a disagreeable smile on Mrs. Butterfield's thin lips.
'If you please, have you got a hammer?' Thyrza asked. 'Mr. Egremont wants one.'
The old woman went apart, and returned with a hammer which was used for breaking coals.
'Oh, could you just wipe it?' Thyrza said. 'The handle's so very black.'
It was done, ungraciously enough, and Thyrza hastened back. Egremont was standing as she had left him.
'Ah, now I can manage! Thank you.'
With absorbed interest Thyrza watched the process.
'I saw them bringing the last box in,' she said; 'that's why I came to look.'
'That was a risk I foresaw--that someone would notice the cart. But perhaps you are the only one.'
'I hope so--as you don't want any one to know.'
She paused, then added:
'I was going to meet Lyddy--my sister. I don't go to work myself now, Mr. Egremont. Perhaps Gilbert has told you?'
'No, he hasn't mentioned it. But I am glad to hear it.'
'I don't much like my sister going alone, but she doesn't really mind.'
'I hope I shall soon know your sister.'
He had suspended the work, and stood with one foot upon the case. Thyrza reflected, then said:
'I hope you will like her, Mr. Egremont.'
'I am sure I shall. I know that you are very fond of your sister.'
'Yes.' Her voice faltered a little. 'I couldn't have gone to live away from her.'
Egremont bent to his task again, and speedily raised the lid. There was a covering of newspapers, and then the books were revealed.
'Now,' he said, 'it shall be your hand that puts the first on the shelf.'
He took out the first volume of a copy of Gibbon, and walked with it to the wall.
'This shall be its place, and there it shall always stay.'
'Will you tell me what the book is about, Mr. Egremont?' Thyrza asked, timidly taking it from him. 'I should like to remember it.'
He told her, as well as he could. Thyrza stood in thought for a moment, then just opened the pages. Egremont watched her.
'I wonder whether I shall ever be able to read that?' she said, in an under-voice.
'Oh yes, I'm sure you will.'
'And I've to stand it here?'
'Just there. You shall put all the volumes in their place, one after the other. There are eight of them.'
He brought them altogether, and one by one she took them from him. Then they went back to the case again, and there was a short silence.
'Gilbert's going to take me to a concert to-night, Mr. Egremont,' Thyrza said, looking at him shyly.
'Is he? You'll enjoy that. What concert?'
'It's at a place called St. James's Hall.'
'Oh yes! You'll hear admirable music.'
'I've never been to a concert before. But when I was at Eastbourne I heard a lady play the piano. I did enjoy that!'
'Was it Miss Newthorpe?' he asked, looking at her without a smile.
'Yes, that was her name.'
She met his look. Walter half turned away, then bent down to the books again.
'I know her,' he said. 'She plays well.'
He took a couple of volumes, and went with them to the shelves, where he placed them, without thought, next to the Gibbon. But in a moment he noticed the title, and moved them to another place. He had become absent. Thyrza, remaining by the case, followed his movements with her eyes. As he came back, he asked:
'Did you like Mrs. Ormonde?'
'Yes. She was very kind to me.'
To him it seemed an inadequate reply, and strengthened his fear that Mrs. Ormonde had not shown all the warmth he would have desired. Yet, as it proved, she had asked Annabel to play for Thyrza. Thyrza, too, felt that she ought to say more, but all at once she found a difficulty in speaking. Her thoughts had strayed.
'I think I must go now,' she said, 'or I shall miss my sister.'
'In that case, I won't delay you. I shall open one or two more of these boxes, then go somewhere for lunch. Good-bye!'
Thyrza said good-bye rather hurriedly, and without raising her face.
It happened that just then Mr. Bower was coming along Brook Street. He did not usually leave the works at mid-day, but to-day an exceptional occasion took him to Paradise Street in the dinner-hour. Thyrza came forth from the library just as he neared the corner; she did not see him, but Bower at once observed her. There was nothing singular in her having been there; possibly the furnishing of the house had begun. In passing the windows of the future library, Bower looked up at them with curiosity. Egremont stood there, gazing into the street. He recognised Bower, nodded, and drew back.
Bower did not care to overtake Thyrza. He avoided her by crossing the street. She in the meantime was not going straight to meet her sister; after walking slowly for a little distance, she turned in a direction the opposite of that she ought to have taken. Then she stopped to look into a shop-window.
A clock showed her that by this time Lydia would be at home. Yet still she walked away from her own street. She said to herself that five-and-twenty minutes must pass before Gilbert would leave the house to return to his work. The way in which she now was would bring her by a long compass into Kennington Road. Rain threatened, and she had no umbrella; none the less, she went on.
At home they awaited her in surprise at her unpunctuality. Mrs. Grail could not say when she had left the house. All the morning Thyrza had sat upstairs by herself. Just when Gilbert was on the point of departure, the missing one appeared.
'Where have you been, child?' cried Lydia. 'Why, it's begun to rain; you're all wet!'
'I went further than I meant to,' Thyrza replied, throwing off her hat, and at once taking a seat at the table. 'I hope you didn't wait for me. I forgot the time.'
'That was with thinking of the concert to-night,' said Gilbert, laughing.
'I shouldn't wonder,' assented Lydia.
Thyrza smiled, but offered no further excuse. Gilbert and Lydia left the room and the house together. Their directions were opposite, but Gilbert went a few steps Lydia's way.
'I want you to alter your mind and go with us to-night,' he said.
'No, really! It isn't worth the expense, Gilbert. I don't care so much for music.'
'The expense is only a shilling. And Thyrza won't be quite happy without you. I want her to enjoy herself without any reserve. You'll come?'
'All right. Be ready both of you by half-past six.'
They nodded a good-bye to each other.
Thyrza was making believe to eat her dinner. Mrs. Grail saw what a pretence it was.
'Was there ever such an excitable child!' she said, affectionately. 'Now do eat something more, dear! I shall tell Gilbert he must never let you know beforehand when he's going to take you anywhere.'
But Thyrza had no appetite. She helped the old lady to clear the table, then ran upstairs.
It was an unspeakable relief to be alone. She had never known such a painful feeling of guilt as whilst she sat with Gilbert and Lydia regarding her. Yet why? Her secret, she tried to assure herself, was quite innocent, trivial indeed. But why had she been unable to come straight home? What had held her away, as forcibly as if a hand had lain upon her?
She moved aimlessly about the room. It was true that these last two days she had agitated herself with anticipation of the concert, but it was something quite different which now put confusion into her thought, and every now and then actually caught her breath. She did not feel well. She wished Liddy could have remained at home with her this afternoon, for she had a need of companionship, of a sort of help. There was Mrs. Grail; but no, she had rather not be with Mrs. Grail just now.
On the table were a few articles of clothing which Lydia and she had made during the last fortnight, things she was going to take away with her. This morning she had given them a few finishing touches of needlework, now they could be put away. She went to the chest of drawers. Of the two small drawers at the top, one was hers, one was Lydia's; the two long ones below were divided in the same way. She drew one out and turned over the linen. How some young lady about to be married--Miss Paula Tyrrell, suppose--would have viewed with pitying astonishment the outfit with which Thyrza was more than content. But Thyrza had never viewed marriage as an opportunity of enriching her wardrobe.
Having put her things away, she opened another drawer, and looked over some of Lydia's belongings. She stroked them lightly, and returned each carefully to its place, saying to herself, 'Lyddy wants such and such a thing. She'll have more money to spend on herself soon. And she shall have a really nice present on her next birthday. Gilbert 'll give me money to buy it.'
Then she went to the mantel-piece, and played idly with a little ornament that stood there. The trouble had been lighter for a few minutes, now it weighed again. Her heart beat irregularly. She leaned her elbows on the mantel-piece, and covered her face with her hands. There was a strange heat in her blood, her breath was hot.
Was it raining still? No, the pavement had dried, and there was no very dark cloud in the sky. She could not sit here all through the afternoon. A short walk would perhaps remove the headache which had begun to trouble her.
She descended the stairs very lightly, and hastened almost on tip-toe along the passage; the front door she closed as softly as possible behind her, and went in the direction away from Mrs. Grail's parlour window. To be sure she was free to leave the house as often as she pleased, but for some vague reason she wished just now not to be observed. Perhaps Gilbert would think that she went about too much; but she could not, she could not, sit in the room.
Without express purpose, she again walked towards Brook Street. No, she was not going to the library again; Mr. Egremont might still be there, and it would seem so strange of her. But she went to a point whence she could see the building, and for some minutes stood looking at it. Was he still within--Mr. Egremont? Those books would take him a long time to put on the shelves. As she looked someone came out from the door; Mr. Egremont himself. She turned and almost ran in her desire to escape his notice.
He was going home. Even whilst hurrying, she tried to imagine how he was going to spend his evening. From Gilbert's description she had made a picture of his room in Great Russell Street. Did he sit there all the evening among his books, reading, writing? Not always, of course. He was a gentleman, he had friends to go and see, people who lived in large houses, very grand people. He talked with ladies, with such as Miss Newthorpe. (Thyrza did not trouble to notice where she was. Her feet hurried her on, her head throbbed. She was thinking, thinking.)
Such as Miss Newthorpe. Yes, he knew that lady; knew her very well, as was evident from the way in which he spoke of her. Of what did they talk, when they met? No doubt she had often played to him, and when she played he would look at her, and she was very beautiful.
She would not think of Miss Newthorpe. Somehow she did not feel to her in the same way as hitherto.
When she was married, she would of course see him very often--Mr. Egremont. He would be at the library constantly, no doubt. Perhaps he would come sometimes and sit in their room. And when he began his lectures in the room upstairs, would it not be possible for her to hear him? She would so like to, just once. She could at all events creep softly up and listen at the door. How beautiful his lectures must be! Gilbert could never speak strongly enough in praise of them. They would be a little hard to understand, perhaps; but then she was going to read books more than ever, and get knowledge.
She was in the part of Lambeth Walk farthest from her own street, having come there by chance, for she had observed nothing on the way. She did not wish to go home yet. One end of Paradise Street joins the Walk, and into that she turned. If only there were a chance of Totty Nancarrow's being at home! But Totty was very regular at work. Still, an inquiry at the door would be no harm.
Little Jack Bunce was standing in the open doorway; he had a rueful countenance, marked with recent tears.
'Do you know whether Miss Nancarrow's in?' Thyrza asked of the little fellow.
He regarded her, and nodded silently.
'Really? She's really in?'
'Yes, she's up in her room,' was the grave answer.
Thyrza ran upstairs. A tap at the door, and Totty's voice-- unmistakable--gave admission. The girl sat sewing; on the bed lay a child, asleep.
Totty, looking delighted at Thyrza's coming, held up her finger to impose quietness. Thyrza took the only other chair there was, and drew it near to her friend.
'That's Nelly Bunce,' Totty said in a low voice, nodding to the bed. 'Just when I was going back to work, what did the child do but tumble head over heels half down stairs, running after me. It's a wonder she don't kill herself. I don't think there's no more harm done except a big bump on the back of the head, but Mrs. Ladds wasn't in, and I didn't like to go and leave the little thing; she cried herself to sleep. So there's half a day lost!
Thyrza kept silence. She had felt that she would like to talk with Totty, yet now she could find nothing to say.
'How's things going on?' Totty asked, smiling.
'Very well, I think.'
'So the day's coming, Thyrza.'
Thyrza played with the ends of a small boa which was about her neck. She had no reply. Her tongue refused to utter a sound.
'What's the matter?'
Thyrza's hand fell, she touched the sewing that was on Totty's lap. Then she touched Totty's hand.
'Will you tell me about--about Mr. Ackroyd?'
Totty drew in her lips, knitted her brows, then bent to bite off an end of cotton.
'What is there to tell?' she asked.
'Is he doing as he promised?'
'As far as I know,' said the other, in a voice which affected indifference.
'And do you think he'll keep right till Christmas?'
'That's a good deal more than I can say, or anybody else.'
'But you'll do your best to make him?'
'I don't know that I shall bother much. It's his own lookout. I shall know what he means if he goes wrong again.'
'You hope he'll keep his promise?' Thyrza said, bending a little nearer, and dropping her eyes as soon as she had spoken.
'H'm. Yes. Perhaps I do,' said Totty, putting her head on one side. And forthwith she began to hum a tune, which however, she checked the next moment, remembering Nelly.
'But you speak in a queer way, Totty.'
'So do you, Thyrza. What are you bothering about?'
Again she searched Thyrza's face, this time with something very curious in her gaze, a kind of suspicion one would have said.
'I--I like to know about you,' Thyrza said, with embarrassment.
'I've told you all there is to tell.'
'But you haven't told me really whether--Do you,' she sank her voice still lower, 'do you love him, Totty?'
A singular flush came and went upon the other girl's face. She herself was little disposed to use sentimental words, and it was the first time that Thyrza had done so to her. The coarseness she heard from certain of her companions did not abash her, but this word of Thyrza's seemed to do so strangely. She looked up in a moment. Thyrza's face was agitated.
'What does that matter?' Totty said, in a rather hard voice. And she added, drawing herself up awkwardly, 'You've made your own choice, Thyrza.'
For an instant surprise held Thyrza mute; then she exclaimed:
'But, Totty, you don't think--? I was thinking of you, dear; only of you. You never supposed I--Oh, say you didn't think that, Totty!'
Totty relaxed her muscles a little. She smiled, shook her head, laughed uneasily.
'I meant, dear,' Thyrza continued, 'that I hope you do love him, as you're going to marry him. I hope you love him very much, and I hope he loves you. I'm sorry I said that. I thought you wouldn't mind.'
'I don't mind at all, old dear. If you must know--I like him pretty well.'
'But it ought to be more than that--it ought, Totty--much more than that, dear--'
She was trembling. Totty looked at her in surprise, coldly.
'Don't go on like that,' she said. 'There, you've woke the child, of course! Now there'll be two of you crying. See which can make most noise. Now, Nelly! Well, I call this nice!
At the sound of the child's voice, Thyrza at once restrained herself and rose from her chair. Totty managed to quieten her little charge, whom she took upon her lap. She did not look at Thyrza.
'Good-bye, Totty!' said the latter, holding out her hand.
'Good-bye!' Totty returned, but without appearing to notice the hand offered. 'I hope you'll be better before next Monday, Thyrza.'
'You're unkind to-day, Totty. I wish I hadn't come in.'
There was no reply to this, so Thyrza said another farewell and left the house.
She got back to her room, and, hopeless of otherwise passing the time till Lydia's return, lay down on the bed. Perhaps she could close her eyes for half an hour. But when she had turned restlessly from one side to the other, there came a knock at the door. She knew it must be Mrs. Grail, and made no answer. But the knock was repeated, and the door opened. Mrs. Grail looked in, and, seeing Thyrza, came to the bedside.
'Aren't you well, my dear?' she asked, gently.
Thyrza made pretence of having just awoke.
'I thought I'd try and sleep a little,' she replied, holding her face with one hand. 'No, I don't feel quite well.'
'Lie quiet, then. I won't disturb you. Come down as soon as you'd like some tea.'
It was a weary time till Lydia returned, although she came back nearly half an hour earlier than usual. Thyrza still lay on the bed. When they had exchanged a few words, the latter said:
'I don't think I can go to-night, Lyddy. My head's bad.'
'Oh, what a pity! Can't we do something to make it better?'
Thyrza turned her face away.
'I'd altered my mind,' Lydia continued. 'I meant to go with you.'
'Really? You'll go with us?'
Thyrza felt that this would lessen the strange reluctance with which through the afternoon she had thought of the concert. She at once rose, and consented more cheerfully to try if a cup of tea would help her. She bathed her forehead, smoothed her hair, and went down.
It was not long before Gilbert entered, he too having come away earlier from work. In order to get a seat in the gallery of the concert hall, they must be soon at the doors. Thyrza declared that she felt much better. Her heavy eyes gave little assurance of this, but something of her eagerness had returned, and for the time she had indeed succeeded in subduing the torment within.
An omnibus took the three into Piccadilly. They were not too early at the hall, for the accustomed crowd had already begun to assemble. Thyrza locked her arm in her sister's, Gilbert standing behind them. He whispered a word now and then to one or the other, but Thyrza kept silence; her cheeks were flushed; she inspected all the faces about her. At length, admission was gained and seats secured.
Thyrza sat between the other two, but she still kept her hold on Lydia's arm, until the latter said laughingly:
'You're not afraid of losing me now. I expect we shall be dreadfully hot here soon.'
She withdrew her hand. Gilbert began to talk to her. Had it not been for the circumstances, he must have observed a difference in Thyrza's manner to him. She scarcely ever met his look, and when she spoke it was with none of the usual spontaneity. But she seemed to be absorbed in observation of the people who had begun to seat themselves in other parts of the hall. The toilettes were a wonder to her. Lydia, too, they interested very much; she frequently whispered a comment on such as seemed to her 'nice' or the contrary. She could not help trying to think how Thyrza would look if 'dressed like a lady.'
Thyrza started, so perceptibly that Lydia asked her what was the matter.
'Nothing,' she answered, moving as if to seat herself more comfortably. But henceforth her eyes were fixed in one direction, on a point down in the body of the hall. She no longer replied to the remarks of either of her companions. The flush remained warm upon her cheeks.
'Thyrza!' whispered Gilbert, when the musicians were in their places, and the preliminary twanging and screeching of instruments under correction had begun. 'There's Mr. Egremont!'
'Is he? Where?'
'Do you see that tall lady in the red cloak? No, more to the left; there's a bald man on the other side of him.'
'Yes, I see him.'
She waited a moment, then repeated the news to Lydia, with singular indifference. Then she began to gaze in quite other directions. The instrumental uproar continued.
'Oh dear!' said Lydia, with a wry face. I'm sure that kind of music won't do your head any good. Is it still better?'
'I think so--yes, yes.'
'Grandad doesn't take anything like that time to tune his fiddle,' the other whispered, conscious that she was daring in her criticism.
Thyrza, on an impulse, conveyed the remark to Gilbert, who laughed silently.
The concert began. Thyrza's eyes had again fixed themselves on that point down below, and during the first piece they did not once move. Her breathing was quick. The heart in her bosom seemed to swell, as always when some great emotion possessed her, and with difficulty she kept her vision unclouded. Lydia often looked at her, so did Gilbert; she was unconscious of it.
'Did you like that?' Gilbert asked her when the piece was over.
'Yes, very much.'
She had leaned back. Lydia sought her hand; she received a pressure in return, but the other hand did not remain, as she expected it would.
Gilbert himself was not much disposed to speak. He, too, was moved in the secret places of his being--moved to that ominous tumult of conflicting joy and pain which in the finer natures comes of music intensely heard. He had been at concerts before, but had little anticipated that he would ever attend one in such a mood as was his to-night. It seemed to him that he had not yet realised his happiness, that in his most rapturous moments he had rated it but poorly, unimaginatively. The strong wings of that glorious wordless song bore him into a finer air, where his faculties of mind and heart grew unconditioned. If it were possible to go back into the world endowed as in these moments! To the greatest man has come the same transfiguration, the same woe of foreseen return to limits. But one thing was real and would not fail him. She who sat by him was his--his now and for ever. Why had he yet loved her so little?
The second piece began. Again Thyrza looked down into the hall. After a while there came a piece of vocal music. The singer was not of much reputation, but to Thyrza her voice seemed more than human. In the interval which followed she whispered to Lydia:
'I shall never pretend to sing again.'
Egremont had risen in his place, and was looking about him. Thyrza was yet in some doubt whether he was alone. But he had not yet spoken to that lady next to him, and now, on sitting down, he did not speak. He must be without companion.