Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXIV. The End of the Dream
Gilbert did not go to work next morning. Though Lydia had disguised her sister's strange condition as well as she could, he knew that something was being kept from him, and his mind, ever ready to doubt the reality of the happiness that had been granted him, was at length so beset with fears that he could no longer pay attention to the day's business. He rose at the usual time, but with a word at his mother's door made known his intention not to go out till after breakfast. Having lit a fire in the parlour, he sat down and tried to read.
He had purposed working till Saturday. To-night and to-morrow night (Thursday and Friday) Thyrza and he were to go and purchase such articles of furniture and the like as would be needed for the new house (the list was long since carefully made out, and the places of purchase decided upon), and these would be taken in by Mrs. Butterfield. On Saturday afternoon the contents of Gilbert's own room were to be removed; on that and the following night he would sleep under the new roof, and by Monday morning would have things in sufficient order to allow of Mrs. Grail and Lydia coming, for these two were to keep each other company whilst he and his wife were away. By this scheme he might work on to the end of the week, and suffer no loss of wages.
But Gilbert was not a machine, unhappily for himself. Even had nothing external occurred to trouble the order he had planned, his own mood would probably have rendered steady work impossible now that he could positively count on his fingers the days before his marriage day--before the day which would make him a free man. It was hard to believe that two such blessings could descend upon a mortal at once. It seemed to him that the very hours, as they went by, looked on him with faces of mysterious menace, foretelling a dread successor. Since Monday he had with difficulty accomplished his tasks; each time he hastened home it was with unreasoning fear lest something bad come to pass in his absence. And now it was no longer only apprehension. Thyrza was changing under his eyes. She was physically ill, and he knew that some agitation possessed her mind. She shrank from him.
The glimmer of early morning at the parlour window was cold and threatening. A faint ray of sunlight showed itself, only to fade upon a low, rain-charged sky. The sounds of labour recommencing were as wearisome to him as they always are to one who has watched through an unending night. The house itself seemed unnaturally silent.
Mrs. Grail came in at length, and looked at him anxiously. Her own eyes lacked the refreshment of sleep.
'I didn't feel able to go, mother,' he said. 'I want to hear how Thyrza is as soon as possible. Perhaps you can go up presently?'
She murmured an assent, and began to lay the table.
In a few minutes she ascended very quietly and listened at the girls' door. Her report was that she could hear no sound; they must both be sleeping.
An hour went by. Mother and son made no pretence of conversing. Gilbert kept an open book before him. Rain had begun to fall, and the sky darkened as the minutes ticked themselves away by the clock on the mantel-piece.
Then there was a sound on the stairs. Lydia came into the room, and with her Thyrza.
Lydia smiled, and tried to draw attention from her sister by lamenting their lateness at the meal.
'We were afraid you'd have gone away again,' she said to Gilbert.
'I don't think I shall go to work this morning,' he replied quietly.
She became silent. Thyrza had drawn a chair to the table. One saw that she had risen with difficulty--that she with difficulty sat upright.
Gilbert, without speaking, went and sat by her. Lydia was dreading questions, but she did injustice to the delicacy of his mind. Mrs. Grail just said: 'You're very pale still, dear,' and nothing more.
The meal was made as short as possible. Then Lydia helped Mrs. Grail to take the things to the kitchen. Thyrza, before coming down, had asked to be left alone with Gilbert for a few minutes.
Grail was at the window, watching the rain. He heard Thyrza approaching him, and turned.
'Gilbert,' she said, without raising her eyes, 'I'm behaving very unkindly to you. Will you forgive me?'
'How are you behaving unkindly, Thyrza?' he asked, with gently expressed surprise.
'I've been keeping away from you. I couldn't help it. I don't feel myself.'
'You are ill, Thyrza. Am I to forgive you for that?'
'Yes, I am ill. Gilbert, is it too late to ask you? Will you put it off for a week, one week?'
He let a minute pass before replying. Seeing that she trembled as she stood, he led her to a chair, the chair in which she always sat.
'Dear,' he said at length, 'I will do whatever you wish.'
'I shall be better by then, I think. But I'll go with you to buy the things just the same.'
'We can leave that for a few days,' he said absently.
'It wouldn't make any difference to you at the library?'
'None, I am sure, I will write and tell Mr. Egremont. He will be very sorry to hear of your illness.'
She stood up, and looked at the clock.
'I've made you late for your work.'
'I shan't go to-day.'
'You won't go?' she asked.
'I can't, Thyrza. I'm too uneasy about you.'
'Don't be that, Gilbert, I promise you to try and get better.'
Another silence, then he asked
'Will you stay here this morning?'
She just raised her face; fear and entreaty were on the features.
'I only came down for breakfast, to ask you that, and--and to tell you I was so sorry.'
'To be sure,' he replied at once. 'You are not well enough to be up. Lyddy will stay with you?'
'Yes, she is going to stay. I'll come and see you again, if I feel able.'
She offered her hand. He took it, held it a little, then said:
'Thyrza, is there anything on your mind, anything you don't wish to tell me just now, but in a day or two perhaps?'
'No, Gilbert, no! If you'll forgive me for behaving unkindly.'
'Dear, how can there be any forgiving, so long as I love you? There must be blame before there is need of forgiveness, and I love you too well to think a reproachful thought.'
She bent her head and sobbed.
'Thyrza, is it any happiness to you to know that I love you?'
'Yes, it is. You are very good. I know I am making you suffer.'
'But I shall see the old face again, before long?'
'Soon. I shall be myself again soon.'
She left him and went upstairs. A minute or two after. Lydia knocked at the door.
'Thyrza has gone up?' she asked.
'Yes. Come here, Lydia!'
He spoke with abruptness. Lydia drew near.
'You know that she has asked me to put off our marriage for a week?'
'I didn't know that she was going to ask you now, I thought perhaps she wished it.'
'I can't ask you to betray your sister's secrets, but--Lyddy, you won't keep anything from me that I ought to know?'
He paused, then went on again with a shaking voice.
'There are some things that I ought to know, if--You know that, Lyddy? You owe love to your sister first, but you owe something to me as well. There are some things you would have no right to keep from me. You might be doing both her and me the greatest wrong.'
Lydia could not face him. She tried to speak, but uttered only a meaningless word.
'Thyrza is ill,' he pursued. 'I can't ask her, as I feel I ought to, what has made her ill. Tell me this, as you are a good and a truthful girl. If I marry Thyrza, shall I be taking advantage of her weakness? Does she wish me to free her?'
'She doesn't! Indeed, Gilbert, she doesn't! You are her very best friend. All her life depends upon you. You won't break it off? Perhaps she will even be well enough by the end of the week, Remember how young she is, and how often she has strange fancies.'
'You tell me solemnly that Thyrza still wishes to be my wife?'
'She does. She wishes to be your wife, Gilbert.'
To Lydia her sister's fate hung in the balance. What she uttered was verbally true. Before rising, Thyrza had said: 'I will marry him.' In the possible breaking of this bond Lydia saw such a terrible danger that her instincts of absolute sincerity for once were overridden. If she spoke falsely, it was to save her sister. Thyrza once married, the face of life would be altered for her; this sudden passionate love would fall like a brief flame. Lydia had decided upon a bold step. As soon as it was possible, she would go and see Mr. Egremont, see him herself, and, if he had any heart or any honour, prevail with him that Thyrza might be spared temptation. But the marriage must first be over, and must be brought about at all costs.
In her life she had never spoken an untruth for her own advantage. Now, as she spoke, the sense that her course was chosen gave her courage. She looked Gilbert at length boldly in the face. His confidence in her was so great that, his own desires aiding, he believed her to the full. Thyrza's suffering, he said to himself, had not the grave meaning he had feared; it was something that must be sacred from his search.
So much power was there in Lydia's word, uttered for her sister's saving.
All day long it rained. Gilbert did not go from the house. He wrestled with hope, which was still only to be held by persistent effort. Sunshine would have aided him, but all day he looked upon a gloomy, wet street. At dinner-time he had all but made up his mind to go to work; the thought, however, was too hateful to him. And he felt it would be hard to meet men's faces. Perhaps there would be comfort by the morrow.
Thyrza did in fact come down for tea. She spoke only a few words, but she seemed stronger than in the morning. Lydia had a brighter face too. They went up again together after the meal.
Another night passed. Lydia slept. She believed that the worst was over, and that there might after all be no postponement of the marriage. For Thyrza had become very quiet; she seemed worn out with struggle, and resigned. Her sleep, she said, had been good. Yet her eyelids were swollen; no doubt she had cried in the night.
Lydia had no intention of leaving home. Gilbert had gone to work, reassured by her report the last thing on the previous evening.
There was no more speech between the sisters on the subject of their thoughts. Through the morning Thyrza lay so still that Lydia, thinking her asleep, now and then stepped lightly and bent over her. Each time, however, she found the sad eyes gazing fixedly upwards. Thyrza just turned them to her, but without change of expression.
'Don't look at me like that, dear,' Lydia said once. 'It's as if you didn't know me.'
The reply was a brief smile.
Thyrza got up in the afternoon. About five o'clock, when Lydia was making tea, Mrs. Jarmey came with a message. She said Mr. Boddy had sent word that he wished to see Lydia particularly; he begged she would come during the evening.
'Who brought the message?' Lydia asked, going outside the door to speak with the landlady.
'A little boy,' was the answer. 'I never see him before, as I know.'
Lydia was disturbed. It might only mean that the old man was anxious at not having seen her for five or six days, or that he was ill; but the fact of his living in the Bowers' house suggested another explanation. An answer was required; she sent back word that she would come.
'I shan't be more than half an hour away at the very longest,' she said, when she reluctantly prepared to go out after tea. 'Wouldn't you like to go downstairs just for that time, dear?'
'No, Lyddy, I'll stay.'
Thyrza had left her chair, and stood with her hand resting on the mantel-piece. She did not turn her head.
'How funny you look with your hair like that!'
Thyrza had declined to have her hair braided, and had coiled it herself in a new way. She made no reply.
'Good-bye, pet!' Lydia said, coming near.
Thyrza did not move. She was looking downwards at the fire. Lydia touched her; she started, and, with a steady gaze, said, 'Good-bye, Lyddy!'
'I do wish I hadn't to go. But I shall be very quick.'
They kissed each other, and Lydia hastened on her errand.
Her absence did not last much longer than the time she had set. Mr. Boddy had heard from Mrs. Bower all the story about Egremont. He gave no faith to it, but wished to warn Lydia that such gossip was afloat, and to receive from her an authoritative denial. She declared it to be false from beginning to end. Without a moment's hesitation she did this, having determined that there was no middle course. She denied that Thyrza had been to the library. Whoever originated the story had done so in malice. She enjoined upon him to contradict it without reserve.
She felt as if she were being hunted by merciless beasts. To escape them, any means were justifiable. Of the Bowers she thought with bitter hatred. No wrong to herself could have excited all her fiercest emotions as did this attack upon her sister. Running homewards, she felt the will and the strength to take the life of her enemy. She had entered the Bowers' house, and left it, by the private door; it was well that she had met no one.
She remembered that Thyrza must not discover her excitement, and went up the stairs slowly, regaining breath, trying to smooth her face. A fable to account for Mr. Boddy's summons was ready on her tongue. She entered, and found an empty room.
So Thyrza had gone down to Mrs. Grail after all. That was good. The poor girl was making a brave struggle, and would conquer herself yet. If only Bower's gossip could be kept from Gilbert, But there was still a long time till Monday, still two whole days, and Bower, determined as he evidently was to work mischief, would not neglect the supreme opportunity. It would have been better if Gilbert had not returned to work.
She took off her things.
What was that lying on the table? An envelope, a dirty one which had been in the drawer for a long time; on it was written 'Lyddy.' It was Thyrza's writing. Lydia opened it. Inside was a rough piece of white paper, torn off a sheet in which something had been wrapped. It was written upon, and the writing said this:
'I have gone away. I can't marry Gilbert, and I can't tell him the truth. Remember your promise. Some day I shall come back to you, when everything is different. Remember your promise, so that Gilbert can go to the library just the same. No harm will come to me. Good-bye, my dear, dear sister. If you love me you will say you know nothing, so that it will be all right for Gilbert. Good-bye, Lyddy, darling.'
Crushing the paper in her hand, Lydia, just as she was, ran out into the street. It was not yet dark. Instinctively, after one glance towards Kennington Road, she took the opposite way and made for Newport Street. Thyrza would communicate with Totty Nancarrow, if with any one at all; she would not go there at once, but Totty must be won over to aid in discovering the child and bringing her back.
It rained, not heavily, but enough to dew Lydia's hair in a few minutes. Little she thought of that. Thyrza wandering alone-- straying off into some far part of London; Thyrza, ill as she was-- with at most a few pence to procure lodging for this one night-- alone among what dangers! The thought was fire in her brain.
She was in Paradise Street, and someone stood in her way, speaking.
'Lydia! Where ever are you going like that?'
It was Mary Bower. Lydia glared at her.
'How dare you speak to me! I hate you!'
And with a wild gesture, almost a blow at the girl, she rushed on.
Totty had just come in from work. Lydia scarcely waited for a reply to her knock before she burst into the room.
'Totty! Will you help me? Thyrza has left me--gone away. I was out for half an hour. She left a note for me, to say good-bye. Help me to find her! Do you know anything? Can you think where she'd go?'
Totty was on her knees, lighting a fire. In her amazement she made no effort to rise. A lighted piece of paper was in her hand; forgetting it, she let the flame creep on till it burnt her fingers. Then she stood up.
'What does she say in the note?' she asked with deliberation.
Lydia opened her hand and spread out the crumpled paper. She was going to read aloud, but checked herself and looked at the other piteously.
'You know all about it, don't you? Thyrza told you?'
'I suppose I know pretty well,' Totty replied, in the same deliberate and distant way.
'Has she said anything to you about going away?'
'I don't know as she has.'
'Then look what she's written.'
Totty hesitated, then said:
'Thank you, I'd rather not. It's not my business. If I was you, I'd speak to Mr. Ackroyd. I know nothing about Thyrza.'
'To Mr. Ackroyd?' exclaimed Lydia. 'But I'm sure she won't see him. It's you'll hear from her, if anybody does. Can't you think of any place she'd be likely to go? Hasn't she never said anything in talking? You wouldn't keep it back, just because you don't like me? It's my sister--she's all I have; you know she can't look out for herself like you and me could. And she's been ill since Monday. Won't you help me if you can, just because I'm in trouble?'
'I'd help you if I could,' replied the other, not unmoved by the appeal, but still distant. 'I'm quite sure Thyrza won't let me know where she is. If you take my advice you'll see Mr. Ackroyd.'
In her agitation Lydia could not reflect upon the complicated details of the case. She never doubted that Totty knew the truth; in this, we know, Luke had unintentionally deceived her. Perhaps the advice to consult Ackroyd was good; perhaps he had learned something more since Wednesday night, something that Totty also knew but did not care to communicate herself.
'I'll try and find him,' Lydia said. 'But if you do hear any thing you wouldn't keep it from me?'
'You'll hear just as soon as I do,' was the reply.
Lydia turned away, feeling that the girl's coldness was a cruelty, wondering at it. She herself could not have behaved so to one in dire need.
She was going away, but Totty stopped her.
'You can't go back like that, in the rain. Take my umbrella.'
'What do I care for the rain!' Lydia cried. 'I must find Thyrza. I thought you pretended to be her friend.'
She hastened into the street. Not many yards from the door she met the man she desired to see. Ackroyd was coming to ask for Totty, for the first time since Tuesday night. Lydia drew him to the opposite side of the way, and hurriedly told him, showing him the scrap of paper.
'I've been to Totty,' she added. 'She didn't seem to wish to help me; she spoke as if she didn't care, and said I'd better ask you. Do you know anything more?'
He was mute at first. His mind naturally turned to one thought. Then he said, speaking slowly:
'I know nothing more, except that lots of people have heard Bower's story. Does Grail know?'
'Not unless he has heard since this morning.'
'I haven't seen much of him to-day, but I noticed he looked very queer.'
'That's because Thyrza asked him to put off the wedding for a week. I never thought she'd leave me. We talked about everything that night after I left you. I pretended I'd found it out myself; I durstn't let her know that other people had noticed anything. She had a dreadful night, but she seemed better since.'
'And did she tell you--everything?'
'Everything! She said he'd never spoken a word to her that he shouldn't. I'm sure it was the truth; Thyrza wouldn't have deceived me like that. He's gone away, somewhere out of London.'
Luke stopped her. He looked closely at her through the dusk, and said in a low voice:
'He's gone away? Did she tell you he was going away?'
'Yes. He said good-bye to her, and hoped she would be happy.'
'But, Lydia--if he's gone away--and now she's gone--'
Lydia understood him.
'Oh! Don't think that!' she said, her eyes full of fear. 'No, no! I'm sure that isn't true! He'd never said a word to her. He hadn't given her to think he cared for her. She cried because he didn't.'
'But if she's so mad with love of him,' Luke said, dropping his eyes, 'who knows what she might do? You'd never have thought she could leave you like this.'
The rain was falling more heavily. As Lydia stood, unable to utter any argument against him, Ackroyd saw that her hair was quite wet.
'You mustn't stand out here,' he said. 'Come round into Paradise Street with me, and I'll get you something of my sister's to go home in. Poor girl! You came out like this as soon as you'd found she was gone? Come quick, or you'll get your death.'
She accompanied him without speaking. Her mind was working on the suggestion he had uttered. Against her will he compelled her to step into the house whilst he procured a hat and a garment for her. He took care that no one saw her, and when she was clad, he went out with her, carrying an umbrella for her protection.
'Don't come with me,' she said.
'Yes, you must let me. I was going to try and see you tonight, Lydia, to ask what--'
'And I wanted to see you. I felt I must tell you how well everything seemed to be going. Oh, and now--How shall I tell Gilbert? How shall I tell him? What ought I to do, Mr. Ackroyd? Thyrza made me promise faithful I wouldn't tell her secret. She says that, in the note. I'm sure she hasn't gone--gone to him. She couldn't marry Gilbert, and yet she doesn't want him to lose the library. That's why she's gone; I know it is. She believes I shall keep my promise. But what must I do? How can I pretend I don't know anything?'
'I don't think you can.'
'I didn't care for anything as long as it helped her. Mr. Boddy sent for me just now--that was why I had to go out. Mrs. Bower had been telling him. I said it was all a lie from beginning to end. Didn't I do right, Mr. Ackroyd? I'd say and do anything for Thyrza. But how can I keep it from Gilbert flow?'
'You can't, Lydia. He's bound to hear from somebody. And if you feel so sure that she hasn't gone--'
'She hasn't She hasn't! You promised me you wouldn't think harm of her.'
'Indeed I won't. But Grail's bound to know. I can't see that you'll make it a bit better by denying.'
'But my promise to Thyrza! The last thing she ever asked of me. And Gilbert 'll refuse the place; I know he will!'
'Yes, he will. There's no man could take it after this. I m right down sorry for poor Grail.'
They were in Walnut Tree Walk by this time.
'Don't come any farther,' Lydia said. 'Thank you for being so kind to me. Here, take these things of your sister's; you can just carry them back--or I'll leave them, if you like.'
'No, you shan't have that trouble. If Gilbert's home you ought to tell him now. He'll go to the police station, and ask them to help to find her. Let me know at once If you hear anything. She may come back.'
'No, she won't.'
'Run into the house at once.'
The parlour door opened as she entered the passage. Gilbert came out.
'Where has Thyrza gone to?' he asked, after examining her for an instant.
She could not speak, and could not stir from the place. Her hope had been to have time before she saw him.
'Lydia. where has Thyrza gone?'
She stepped into the room. The piece of paper was still crushed within her hand; she held it closer still.
'She's gone away, Gilbert. I don't know where. I had to go out, and when I came back she was gone. Perhaps she'll come back.'
Mrs. Grail was in the background. She was supporting herself by a chair; her face gave proof of some agitation just experienced. Gilbert was very pale, but when Lydia ended he seemed to master himself and spoke with an unnatural calm.
'Have you heard anything,' he asked, 'of a calumny the Bowers have been spreading, about your sister and Mr. Egremont?'
'Yes. I have heard it.'
'When did it first come to your knowledge?'
'On Wednesday night. Mr. Ackroyd told me.'
'And did Thyrza hear of it?'
'No, Gilbert. I think not.'
He moved in surprise.
'You say she has gone? What makes you think she has left us?'
To hide anything now was worse than useless. Without speaking, she held to him the scrap of paper. He, having read, turned to his mother.
'Will you let us be alone, mother?'
The poor old woman went with bowed head from the room. Gilbert's voice dropped to a lower note.
'Lydia, as you have shown me this, you must have decided that you cannot keep the promise which is spoken of here.'
'I can't keep it, Gilbert, because you might think worse of Thyrza if I do.'
'Think worse? Then you suppose I believe what is said about her-- about Thyrza?'
'I can't think you believe what Mr. Bower wishes people to, but you can't know how little she's been to blame.'
He was silent, then said:
'I came home a few minutes ago, thinking that what Bunce has just told was a mere lie, set afloat by someone who wished us harm. I thought Thyrza knew of the lie, and that it had made her ill--that she could not bring herself to speak to me of it. But I see there's something more.'
She stood before him like one guilty. His calmness was terrible to her. She seemed to feel in herself all the anguish which he was repressing. He continued:
'You told me yesterday morning that Thyrza still wished to marry me. This note shows me why you said that, and in what sense you meant it. I don't blame you, Lydia; you were loyal to your sister. But I must ask you something else now, and your answer must be the simple truth. Does Thyrza love Mr. Egremont?'
She said it with failing voice, and, as soon as she had spoken, burst into tears.
'Oh, I have broken the promise I made to my dear one! The last thing she asked, and perhaps I shall never see her again! What could I do, Gilbert? If I kept it back, you'd have thought there was something worse. She seems to have behaved cruel to you, but you don't know what she's gone through. She's so ill; she'll go somewhere and die, and I shall never hear her speak to me again! I've been unkind to her so often; she doesn't know how I love her! Gilbert, help me to find her! I can't live without my sister. Don't be angry with her, Gilbert; she's suffered dreadful; if you only knew! She tried so hard. Her last thought was about you, and how she could spare you. Forgive her, and bring her back to me. What shall we do to find her? Oh, I can't lose her, my little sister, my dear one!'
One would have thought Gilbert had no grief of his own, so anxiously did he try to comfort her.
'Lyddy,' he said, when she could listen to him, 'you are my sister, and will always be. If I could think unkindly of Thyrza now, I should show that I was never worthy of her. Don't hurt me by saying such things. We will find her; have no fear, we will find her.'
'And you'll do as she wished? You'll still go to the library?'
'I can't think of myself yet, Lyddy. You must have her back again, and there'll be time enough to think of trifles.'
'But let me tell you all I know, Gilbert. He doesn't love her; you mustn't think that. There's never been a word between them. She went to help him with the books, and so it came on her.'
'It's true, then,' he said gravely, 'that they met there?'
'He didn't encourage her. She told me again and again he didn't. She went on Wednesday morning, and he never came. That was on purpose, I'm sure.'
'But why wasn't I told about the books?'
'He wanted to surprise you. And now he's gone away, Gilbert. He told her he wouldn't be back till after her marriage.'
'He's gone away?'
She raised her face, and continued eagerly:
'You see why he went, don't you? I had hard thoughts of him at first, but now I know I was wrong. You think so much of him; you know he wouldn't be so cowardly and wicked. Thyrza told me the solemn truth; I would die rather than doubt her word. You must believe her, Gilbert. It's all so hard! She couldn't help it. And you mustn't think harm of him!'
He said under his breath:
'I must try not to.'
She sat down, overcome, yielding herself to voiceless misery. It was a long time before Gilbert spoke.
'Do you know where he is gone to, Lyddy?'
'No, I don't.'
Again silence. Then he moved, and looked at the clock.
'Will you sit with my mother? This is a great blow to her as well, and it is hard to bear at her age. I will go out and see what I can do. Don't fear, we'll find her. You shall soon have her back. Do you feel able to sit with mother?
'Yes, I will, Gilbert.'
'Thank you. It will be kindness. I don't think I shall be very late.'
In passing her, he just touched her hand.
In the meanwhile, Ackroyd had returned to Newport Street. He sent up word by the landlady that he wished to see Totty. The latter sent a reply to him that perhaps she would be coming out in about an hour, but could not be certain.
He waited, standing in the rain, over against the house. Perhaps twenty minutes passed; then he saw the girl come forth.
'We can't talk here,' Luke said, joining her. 'Will you come under the archway yonder?'
'I don't see that we've got so much to talk about,' Totty answered, indifferently.
'Yes, I've several things to ask you.'
'All right. But I can't wait out in the cold for long.'
They went in the direction away from Paradise Street, and found shelter under a black vault of the railway. A train roared above their heads as they entered.
'I've just seen Lydia Trent,' he began. 'Did you expect that anything of this kind would happen?'
'I've told you already that I have nothing to do with Thyrza and her goings on. I told Lydia she'd better go to you if she wanted to find her sister. I hope you told her all you know.'
'What do you mean by that? How should I be able to help her to find Thyrza?'
'Oh, don't bother me!' Totty exclaimed, with impatience. 'I'm sick of it. If you've brought me out to talk in this way, you might as well have let it alone.'
'What are you driving at, Totty? I tell you I don't understand you. Speak plainly, if you please. You think that I know where Thyrza is?'
'I suppose you're as likely to as anybody.'
'Why? Confound it, why?'
She shrugged her shoulders, and turned away. He pressed his question with growing impatience.
'Why, what did you come telling me the other night?' cried Totty at length. 'It was like your impudence.'
'What did I tell you? I didn't tell you anything. I asked if you knew of something, and you said you did. I don't see how I was impudent. After hearing Bower's tale it was likely I should come and speak to you about it.'
'Bower's tale? What tale?'
'You don't know that Bower's found it all out, and is telling everybody?'
'Found all what out? I haven't been to the shop for a week. What do you mean?'
Ackroyd checked some impulsive words, and recommenced gravely:
'Look here, Totty. Will you please tell me in plain words what you supposed I was asking you about on Tuesday night?'
'All right. It's nothing to me. You'd found out somehow that Thyrza was foolish enough to want to have you instead of Mr. Grail, and so you was so kind as to come and tell me. I quite understood; there's no need of saying 'I beg your pardon.' You may go your way, and I go mine.'
'And you mean to say you believed that! Well, I don't wonder at you being in the sulks. And that's why you send Lydia to me to ask about Thyrza? By the Lord, if I ever heard the like of that! Well, I've got a fair lot of cheek, but I couldn't quite manage that.'
'Then what did you mean?' she cried angrily.
'Why, nothing at all. But what did you mean by saying you knew all about it?'
'About as much as you did,' she answered coldly.
'H'm. Then we both meant nothing. I'll say good. night, Totty.'
'No you won't. You'll please to tell me what you did mean!'
He was about to answer lightly, but altered his intention and said:
'I can't do that. It's not my business.'
'As you please. I shall go and ask Mrs. Bower what's going on.'
'I can't prevent you. But listen here, Totty. If you repeat what they tell you--if you repeat it once--you're not the girl I thought you. It's more than half a cursed lie, and you can't tell one half the story without meaning the other.'
'I shall know what to think when I've heard it, Mr. Ackroyd. And as to repeating, I shall do as I think fit.'
'Look here! When you've heard that story, you'll just go and say to everybody that ever mentions it to you that it's a lie from beginning to end. You understand me?'
'I shall do as I please.'
'No, you'll do as I please!'
'Indeed! And who made you my master, Mr. Ackroyd?'
'I've nothing more to say, but you've heard me. And you'll do it, because your own heart 'll tell you it's the right thing to do. I don't often use words like that, but I mean it to-night. Good-bye!'
She allowed him to walk away.