Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXVII. Found
Mrs. Ormonde waited anxiously for Annabel's first letter from London. Neither of them had spoken of Egremont after Annabel's visit with the news from Paula. The girl gave no sign of trouble; she appeared to continue her preparations with the same enjoyment as before. It was doubtful whether, in writing, she would make any reference to Egremont, but Mrs. Ormonde hoped there would be some word.
The letter came five days after Annabel's arrival in London, and was short. It mentioned visits to the Academy and the Grosvenor, made a few comments, spoke of this and that old acquaintance reseen; then came a concluding paragraph:
'Father called at Mr. Egremont's two days ago, but did not see him. He learnt that Mr. Egremont had been at home for one day, but was gone out of town again. My aunt, as I gather from a chance word, takes the least charitable view; I fear that was to be expected. We, however, know the truth--do we not? It is sad, but not shameful. I have no means of hearing anything about the library. I believe father has been to Lambeth, but he and I do not speak on the subject. Paula, for some reason, avoids me.'
It was one of several letters that arrived that morning. After opening two appeals from charitable institutions, Mrs. Ormonde found an envelope which, from the handwriting upon it, she judged to be a similar communication from a private source. The address was laboriously scrawled, and ill-spelt; the postage stamp was badly affixed; there were finger-marks on the back. Such envelopes generally came from the parents of children who had been in the Home, and frequently--dirtiness announced such cases--made appeal for temporary assistance. The present missive, however, was misleading; its contents proved to be these:
'Madam,--We have a young girl with us as lies very bad. She come to us not more than three week ago and asked for ployment, and me and my husband wasn't unwilling for to give her a chance, seeing she looked respectable, though we thought it wasn't unlikely as there might be something wrong, because of her looks and her clothing, which wasn't neither of them like the girl out of work, and then it's true she couldn't give no reference. And now she's had fainting fits, and lies very bad, having broke two dishes with falling, and which of course she couldn't help, and we don't say as she could. My husband told me as I ought for to look in her pocket, and which I did, and there I found a envelope as had wrote your name and address on it. So I take the liberty of writing, and which I am not much of a scholar, because she do lie very bad, and if so be she has friends, they had ought to know. I do what I can for her, but I have the customers to tend to, because we keep a coffee-shop, which you'll find it at Number seventeen, Bank Street, off the Caledonian Road. And I beg to end. From yours obedient,
There could be little doubt who this young girl was. Bad spelling and worse writing rendered the letter difficult to translate into English, but from the first sentence Mrs. Ormonde thought of Thyrza Trent. The description would apply to Thyrza, and Thyrza might by some chance have kept in her pocket the address which, as Mrs. Ormonde knew, Bunce had given her when she brought Bessie to Eastbourne.
Her first emotion was of joy. This was quickly succeeded by doubts and fears in plenty, for it was difficult to explain Thyrza's taking such a step as this letter suggested. But the course to be pursued was clear. She took the first train to London.
Caledonian Road is a great channel of traffic running directly north from King's Cross to Holloway. It is doubtful whether London can show any thoroughfare of importance more offensive to eye and ear and nostril. You stand at the entrance to it, and gaze into a region of supreme ugliness; every house front is marked with meanness and inveterate grime; every shop seems breaking forth with mould or dry-rot; the people who walk here appear one and all to be employed in labour that soils body and spirit. Journey on the top of a tram-car from King's Cross to Holloway, and civilisation has taught you its ultimate achievement in ignoble hideousness. You look off into narrow side-channels where unconscious degradation has made its inexpugnable home, and sits veiled with refuse. You pass above lines of railway, which cleave the region with black-breathing fissure. You see the pavements half occupied with the paltriest and most sordid wares; the sign of the pawnbroker is on every hand; the public-houses look and reek more intolerably than in other places. The population is dense, the poverty is undisguised. All this northward-bearing tract, between Camden Town on the one hand and Islington on the other, is the valley of the shadow of vilest servitude. Its public monument is a cyclopean prison: save for the desert around the Great Northern Goods Depot, its only open ground is a malodorous cattle-market. In comparison, Lambeth is picturesque and venerable, St. Giles's is romantic, Hoxton is clean and suggestive of domesticity, Whitechapel is full of poetry, Limehouse is sweet with sea-breathings.
Hither Mrs. Ormonde drove from Victoria Station. The neighbourhood was unknown to her save by name. On entering the Caledonian Road, her cabman had to make inquiries for Bank Street, which he at length found not far from the prison. He drew up before a small coffee-shop, on the window whereof was pasted this advertisement: 'Dine here! Best quality. Largest quantity! Lowest price.' Over the door was the name 'Gandle.'
Mrs. Ormonde bade the driver wait, and entered. It was the dinner-hour of this part of the world. Every available place was occupied by men, some in their shirt-sleeves, who were doing ample justice to the fare set before them by Mrs. Gandle and her daughter. Beyond the space assigned to the public was a partition of wood, four feet high, with a door in the middle; this concealed the kitchen, whence came clouds of steam, and the sound of frying, and odours manifold. At the entrance of a lady--a lady without qualification--such of the feeders as happened to look from their plates stared in wonderment. It was an embarrassing position. Mrs. Ormonde walked quickly down the narrow gangway, and to the door in the partition. A young woman was just coming forth, with steaming plates on a tray.
'Can I see Mrs. Gandle?' the visitor asked.
The girl cried out: 'Mother, you're wanted!' and pushed past, with grins bestowed on either side.
Above the partition appeared a face like a harvest moon.
'I have come in reply to your letter,' Mrs. Ormonde said, 'the letter about the girl who is ill.'
'Oh, you've come, have you, mum!' was the reply, in a voice at once respectful and surprised. 'Would you be so good as step inside, mum? Please push the door.'
Mrs. Ormonde was relieved to pass into the privacy of the kitchen. It was a room of some ten feet square, insufferably hot, very dirty, a factory for the production of human fodder. On a side table stood a great red dripping mass, whence Mrs. Gandle severed portions to be supplied as roast beef. Vessels on the range held a green substance which was called cabbage, and yellow lumps doled forth as potatoes. Before the fire, bacon and sausages were frizzling; above it was spluttering a beef-steak. On a sink in one corner were piled eating utensils which awaited the wipe of a very loathsome rag hanging hard by. Other objects lay about in indescribable confusion.
Mrs. Gandle was a very stout woman, with bare arms. She perspired freely, and was not a little disconcerted by the appearance of her visitor. Her moon-face had a simple and not disagreeable look.
'You won't mind me a-getting on with my work the whiles I talk, mum?' she said. 'The men's tied to time, most of em, and I've often lost a customer by keepin' him waitin'. They're not too sweet-tempered in these parts. I was born and bred in Peckham myself, and only come here when I married my second husband, which he's a plumber by trade. I can't so much as ask you for to sit down, mum. You see, we have to 'conomise room, as my husband says. But I can talk and work, both; only I've got to keep one ear open--'
A shrill voice cried from the shop:
'Two beefs, 'taters an' greens! One steak-pie, 'taters! Two cups o' tea!'
'Right!' cried Mrs. Gandle, and proceeded to execute the orders.
'What is this poor girl's name?' Mrs. Ormonde asked. 'You didn't mention it.'
'Well, mum, she calls herself Mary Wood. Do you know any one o' that name?'
'I think not.'
'Now come along, 'Lizabeth!' screamed the woman of a sudden, at the top of her voice. 'Don't stand a-talkin' there! Two beefs, 'taters and greens.'
'That's right, Mrs. Gandle!' roared some man. 'You give it her. It's the usial Bow-bells with her an' Sandy Dick 'ere!'
There was laughter, and 'Lizabeth came running for her orders. Mrs. Gandle, with endless interruptions, proceeded thus:
'Between you and me, mum, I don't believe as that is her name. But she give it at first, and she's stuck to it. No, I don't think she's worse to-day, though she talked a lot in the night. Yes, we've had a doctor. She wouldn't have me send for nobody, and said as there was nothing ailed her, but then it come as she couldn't stand on her feet. She's a littlish girl, may be seventeen or eighteen, with yellow-like hair. I haven't knowed well what to do; I thought I'd ought to send her to the 'orspital, but then I found the henvelope in her pocket, an' we thought we'd just wait a day to see if anybody answered us. And I didn't like to act heartless with her, neither; she's a motherless thing, so she says, an' only wants for to earn her keep and her sleep; an' I don't think there's no harm in her, s'far as I can see. She come into the shop last night was three weeks, just after eleven o'clock, and she says, 'If you please, mum,' she says, speakin' very nice, 'can you give me a bed for sevenpence?' 'Why, I don't know about that,' says I, 'I haven't a bedroom as I let usial under a shilling.' Then she was for goin' straight away, without another word. And she was so quiet like, it took me as I couldn't send her off without asking her something about herself. And she said she hadn't got no 'ome in London, and only sevenpence in her pocket, and as how she wanted to find work. And she must have walked about a deal, she looked that dead beat.
'Well, I just went in and spoke a word to Mr. Gandle. It's true as we wanted someone to help me 'an 'Lizabeth; we've wanted someone bad for a long time. And this young girl wouldn't be amiss, we thought, for waitin' in the shop; the men likes to see a noo face, you know, mum, an' all the more if it's a good-looking 'un. If she'd been a orn'ary lookin' girl, of course I couldn't have not so much as thought of it, as things was. She told me plain an' straightforward as she couldn't say who she was and where she come from. And it was something in her way o' speakin', a kind o' quietness like, as you don't hoften get in young girls nowadays. They're so for'ard, as their parents ain't got the same 'old on 'em as they had when I was young. I shouldn't wonder if you've noticed the same thing with your servants, mum. An' so I said as I'd let her have a bed for sevenpence; and if you'd a' seen how thankful she looked. She wasn't the kind to go an' sleep anywhere, an' goodness only knows what might a' come to her at that hour o' the night. And the next mornin' she did look that white an' poorly, when I met her a-comin' down the stairs. 'Well,' says I, 'an' what about breakfast, eh?' She went a bit red like, an' said as it didn't matter; she'd go out an' find work. 'Well, look here now,' says I, 'suppose you wash up them things there to pay for a cup o' tea and two slices?' An' then she looked at me thankful again, an' says as it was kind o' me. Well, of course, you may say as it isn't everybody 'ud a' took her in for sevenpence, but then, as I was a-sayin', we did want somebody to help me an' 'Lizabeth, an' I don't take much to myself for what I did.'
'You acted well and kindly, Mrs. Gandle,' said Mrs. Ormonde.
So the long story went on. The girl had been only too glad to stay as general servant, and worked well, worked as hard as any one could expect, Mrs. Gandle said. But she was far from well, and every day, after the first week, her strength fell off. At length she had a fainting fit, falling with two dishes in her hands. Her work had to be lightened. But the fainting was several times repeated, and, now three days ago, illness it was impossible to struggle against kept her to her bed.
'Well, I begged an' I prayed of her as she'd tell me where she belonged, and where her friends was. But she could only cry an' say as she'd go away, and wouldn't be a burden. 'Don't talk silly, child,' I kep' sayin'. 'How can you go away in this state? Unless you're goin' to your friends?' But she said no, as she hadn't no friends to go to. An' she cried so, it fair went to my heart, the poor thing! An' I begun to be that afraid as she'd die. I am that glad as you've come, mum. If you don't mind waitin' another ten minutes, the worst o' this 'll be over, an' then I can leave 'Lizabeth to it, and go upstairs with you.'
'Is she conscious at present?'
'She was, a little while ago. It is the nights is worst, of course. Last night she talked an' talked: it's easy to see she has some trouble on her mind. I haven't got nobody as can sit with her when we have the shop full. But I was with her up to three o'clock this morning; then 'Lizabeth took my place till the shop was opened for the early corfee. I don't think she's no worse, and the doctor he don't think so. He's a clever man, I believe; at all events he has that name, as I may say, and he lives just round here in Winter Street, a house with green-painted railing, and ''Spensary' wrote up on the window'
'Will he call again to-day?'
'I don't suppose as he would, but he's sure to be at 'ome in an hour, and, if you'd like, mum, I'd just send 'Lizabeth round.'
'Thank you; I think I'll go and see him.'
At last the burden of the dinner-hour was over, and 'Lizabeth could be left alone for a little. Mrs. Gandle washed her hands, in a perfunctory way, and guided her visitor to a dark flight of stairs. They ascended. On the top floor the woman stopped and whispered:
'That's the room. Should I just look in first, mum?'
Mrs. Gandle entered and came forth again.
'She seems to me to be asleep, mum. She lays very still, and her eyes is shut.'
'I'll go in. I shall sit with her for an hour and then go to see the doctor.'
Mrs. Ormonde passed in. It was a mean little room, not as tidy as it might have been. and far from as clean. There on the low pillow was a pale face, with golden hair disordered about the brow; a face so wasted that it was not easy in the first moment to identify it with that which had been so wonderful in its spell-bound beauty by the sea-shore. But it was Thyrza.
Her eyes were only half closed, and it was not a natural sleep that held her. Mrs. Ormonde examined her for several moments, then just touched her forehead. Thyrza stirred and muttered something, but gave no sign of consciousness.
The hour went by very slowly. The traffic in the street was incessant and noisy; two men, who were selling coals from a cart, for a long time vied with each other in the utterance of roars drawn out in afflicting cadence. Mrs. Ormonde now sat by the bed, regarding Thyrza, now went to the window and looked at the grimy houses opposite. The prescribed interval had almost elapsed, when Thyrza suddenly raised herself and said with distinctness:
'You promised me, Lyddy; you know you promised!'
Mrs. Ormonde was standing at the foot of the bed. She drew nearer, and, as the sick girl regarded her, asked:
'Do you know me, Thyrza?'
Thyrza fell back, fear-stricken. She spoke a few disconnected words, then her eyes half-closed again, and the lethargy returned upon her.
In a few minutes Mrs. Ormonde left the room and sought her acquaintance in the cooking department. Mrs. Gandle gave her the exact address of the medical man, and she found the house without difficulty.
She had to wait for a quarter of an hour in a bare, dusty, drug-smelling ante-chamber, where also sat a woman who coughed without ceasing, and a boy who had a formidable bandage athwart his face. The practitioner, when he presented himself, failed to inspire her with confidence. He expressed himself so ambiguously about Thyrza's condition and gave on the whole such scanty proof of intelligence that Mrs. Ormonde felt it unsafe to leave him in charge of a case such as this. She easily obtained his permission to summon a doctor with whom she was acquainted.
She drove to the latter's abode, and was fortunate enough to find him at luncheon. She was on terms of intimacy with the family, and accepted very willingly an invitation to join them at their meal. But the doctor could not get to Caledonian Road before the evening. Having made an appointment with him for seven o'clock, she next drove to the east side of Regent's Park, where, in a street of small houses, she knocked at a door and made inquiries for 'Mrs. Emerson.' This lady was at home, the servant said. Mrs. Ormonde went up the first floor and entered a sitting-room.
Its one occupant was a young woman, probably of six-and-twenty, who sat in out-of-doors attire. Her look suggested that she had come home too weary even to take her bonnet off before resting. She had the air of an educated person; her dress, which was plain and decent in the same rather depressing way as the appointment of her room, put it beyond doubt that she spent her days in some one of the manifold kinds of teaching; a roll upon her lap plainly consisted of music. She could not lay claim to good looks, save in the sense that her features were impressed with agreeable womanliness; the smile which followed speedily upon her expression of surprise when Mrs. Ormonde appeared, was natural, homely, and sweet. She threw the roll away, and sprang up with a joyous exclamation:
'To think that you should come just on this day and at this time, Mrs. Ormonde! It's just by chance that I'm at home. I've only this moment come back from Notting Hill, where I found a pupil too unwell to have her lesson. And in half an hour I have to go to St. John's Wood. Just by a chance that I'm here. How vexed I should have been if I'd heard of you coming whilst I was away! Isn't it annoying for people to call whilst one's away? I mean, of course, people one really wants to see.'
'Certainly, things don't often happen so well. I'm in town on very doleful business, and have come to see if you can help me.'
'Help you? How? I do hope I can.'
'Have you still your spare room?'
'Then I may perhaps ask you to let me have it in a few days. I must tell you how it is. A poor girl, in whom I have a great interest, has fallen ill in very dreary lodgings. I don't think it would be possible to move her at present; I don't in fact yet know the nature of her illness exactly, and, of course, if it's anything to be afraid of, I shouldn't bring her. But that is scarcely likely; I fancy she will want only careful nursing. Dr. Lambe is going to see her this evening, and he's just promised me to send a nurse from some institution where he has to call. If we can safely move her presently, may I bring her here?'
'Of course you may, Mrs. Ormonde! I'll get everything ready to night. Will you come up and tell me of anything you'd like me to do?'
'Not now. You look tired, and must rest before you go out again. I'll come and see you again to-morrow.'
'To-morrow? Let me see; I shall be here at twelve, but only for a few minutes; then I shan't be home again till half-past nine. Could you come after then, Mrs. Ormonde?'
'Yes. But what a long day that is! I hope you're not often so late?'
'Oh, I don't mind it a bit,' said the other, cheerfully. 'It's a pupil at Seven Oaks, piano and singing. Indeed I'm very glad. The more the better. They keep me out of mischief.'
Mrs. Ormonde smiled moderately in reply to the laugh with which Mrs. Emerson completed her jest.
'How is your husband?'
'Still far from well. I'm so sorry he isn't in now. I think he's-- no, I'm not quite sure where he is; he had to go somewhere on business.'
'He is able to get to business again?' Mrs. Ormonde asked, without looking at the other.
'Not to his regular business. Oh no, that wouldn't be safe yet. He begins to look better, but he's very weak still. It must be very hard for a man of his age to be compelled to guard against all sorts of little things that other people think nothing of, mustn't it?'
'Yes, it must be trying,' Mrs. Ormonde replied, quietly.
Mr. Emerson was a young gentleman of leisurely habits and precarious income. Mrs. Ormonde suspected, and with reason, that he nurtured a feeble constitution at the expense of his wife's labour; he was seldom at home, and the persons interested in Mrs. Emerson had a difficulty in making his nearer acquaintance.
'And I can't think there's another man in the world who would bear it so uncomplainingly. But you know,' she added, laughing again, 'that I'm very proud of my husband. I always make you smile at me, Mrs. Ormonde. But now, I am so very, very sorry, but I'm obliged to go. I manage to catch a 'bus just at the top of the street; if I missed it, I should be half an hour late, and these are very particular people. Oh, I've such a laughable story to tell you about them, but it must wait till to-morrow, Harold says I tell it so well; he's sure I could write a novel if I tried. I think I will try some day; I believe people make a great deal of money out of novels, don't they, Mrs. Ormonde?'
'I have heard of one or two who tried to, but didn't.'
'I do hope the poor girl will soon be well enough to come. I'll get the room thoroughly in order to-night.'
They left the house together. Mrs. Emerson ran in the direction of the omnibus she wished to catch; the other shortly found a vehicle, and drove back again to Bank Street, Caledonian Road.
Thyrza still lay in the same condition. In a little more than half an hour came the trained nurse of Dr. Lambe's sending, and forthwith the sick-room was got into a more tolerable condition, Mrs. Ormonde procuring whatever the nurse desired. Much private talk passed downstairs between Mrs. Gandle and 'Lizabeth, who were greatly astonished at the fuss made over the girl they had supposed friendless.
'Now let this be a lesson to you, 'Lizabeth.' said the good woman, several times. 'It ain't often as you'll lose by doin' a bit o' kindness, and the chance always is as it'll be paid back to you more than you'd never think. Any one can see as this Mrs. Ormonde's a real lady, and when it comes to settlin' up, you'll see if she doesn't know how to behave like a lady.'
Mrs. Ormonde took a room at a private hotel near King's Cross, whither her travelling bag was brought from Victoria. She avoided the part of the town in which acquaintances might hear of her, for her business had to be kept secret. A necessary letter despatched to Mrs. Mapper at The Chestnuts, she went once more to Bank Street and met her friend Dr. Lambe.
She told him, in general terms, all she knew of the circumstances which might have led to Thyrza's illness. At first she had been in doubt whether or not to go to Lambeth and see Lydia Trent, but on the whole it seemed better to take no steps in that direction for the present. Should the case be declared dangerous, Lydia of course must be sent for, but that was a dark possibility from which her thoughts willingly averted themselves. The sister could doubtless throw some light on Thyrza's strange calamity. What did the child's 'You know you promised me' mean? But that would be no aid to the physician, upon whom for the present most depended. Nor did Dr. Lambe exhibit much curiosity. He seemed quickly to gather all it was really necessary for him to know, and, though he admitted that the disorder was likely to be troublesome, he gave an assurance that there was no occasion for alarm.
'You are not associated in her mind with anything distressing?' he asked of Mrs. Ormonde.
'I believe, the opposite.'
'Good. Then be by her side as often as you can, so that she may recognise you as soon as possible.' He added with a smile: 'I needn't inform Mrs. Ormonde how to behave when she is recognised!'
They were at a little distance from the bed, and both looked at the unconscious face.
'A very beautiful girl,' the doctor murmured.
'But you should see her in health.'
'No. I am a trifle susceptible. Well, well, we shall have her through it, no doubt.'
We have to jest a little in the presence of suffering, or how should we live our lives?
The recognition came late on the following afternoon. Thyrza had lain for a time with eyes open, watching the movements of the nurse, but seemingly with no desire to speak. Then Mrs. Ormonde came in. The watchful look at once turned upon her; for a moment that former fear showed itself, and Thyrza made an effort to rise from the pillow. Her strength was too far wasted. But as Mrs. Ormonde drew near, she was plainly known.
'Thyrza, you know me now?'
'Mrs. Ormonde,' was whispered, still with look of alarm and troubled inability to comprehend.
'You have been ill, dear, and I have come to sit with you,' the other went on, in a soothing voice. 'Shall I stay?'
There was no answer for a little, then Thyrza, with sudden revival of memory like a light kindled in her eyes, said painfully:
'Lyddy?--does Lyddy know?'
'Not yet. Do you wish her to?
'No!--Don't tell Lyddy!--I shall be better--'
'No one shall know, Thyrza. Don't speak now. I am going to sit by you.'
Much mental disturbance was evident on the pale face for some time after this, but Thyrza did not speak again, and presently she appeared to sleep. Mrs. Ormonde left the house at midnight and was back again before nine the next morning. Thyrza had been perfectly conscious since daybreak, and had several times asked for the absent friend. She smiled when Mrs. Ormonde came at length and kissed her forehead.
'Better this morning?'
'Much better, I think, Mrs. Ormonde. But I can't lift my arm--it's so heavy.'
The doctor came late in the morning. He was agreeably surprised at the course things were taking. But Thyrza was forbidden to speak, and for much of the day she relapsed into an apathetic, scarcely conscious state. Mrs. Ormonde had preferred not to leave her the evening before, and had explained by telegram her failure to keep her appointment with Mrs. Emerson. To-night she visited her friends by Regent's Park. On looking in at the eating-house before going to her hotel for the night, she found the patient feverish and excited.
'She has been asking for you ever since you went away,' whispered the nurse.
Thyrza inquired anxiously, as if the thought were newly come to her:
'How did you know where I was, Mrs. Ormonde?'
'Mrs. Gandle found my name and address in your pocket, and wrote to me.'
'In my pocket? Why should she look in my pocket?'
'She was anxious to have a friend come to you, Thyrza.'
'Does any one else know? Lyddy doesn't--nor anybody?'
'Yes, it was in my pocket. I kept it from that time when I went to-- to--oh, I can't remember!'
'To Eastbourne, dear.'
The only way of quieting her was for Mrs. Ormonde to sit holding her hand. It was nearly dawn when the fit of fever was allayed and sleep came.
A week passed before it was possible to think of removing her from these miserable quarters to the other room which awaited her. Mrs. Ormonde's presence had doubtless been a great aid to the sufferer in her struggle with intermittent fever and mental pain. As Thyrza recovered her power of continuous thought, she showed less disposition to talk; the trouble which still hung above her seemed to impose silence. She was never quite still save when Mrs. Ormonde sat by her, but at those times she generally kept her face averted, closing her eyes if either of her nurses seemed to watch her. She asked no questions. Mrs. Gandle came up occasionally, and to her Thyrza spoke very gently and gratefully. She asked to see 'Lizabeth, and that damsel made an elaborate toilette for the ceremony of introduction to the transformed sickroom.
'I don't believe as she's a workin' girl at all,' 'Lizabeth remarked mysteriously to her mother, afterwards. 'She's Mrs. Ormind's daughter, as has runned away from her 'ome, an' that's the truth of it.'
'Don't be silly, 'Lizabeth! Why, there ain't no more likeness than in that there cabbage!'
'I don't care. That's what I think, an' think it I always shall, choose what!'
'You always was obstinit!'
'Dessay I was, an' it's good as some people is. It wouldn't do for us all to think the same way; it 'ud spoil our appetites.'
One day of the week Mrs. Ormonde spent at Eastbourne. During her absence from home no letter had come from Egremont; she expected daily to hear from Mrs. Mapper that he had called at The Chestnuts, but nothing was seen of him. She preferred to keep silence, though her anxiety was constant. Out of the disparaging rumours which had found ready credence in the circle of the Tyrrells, and the facts which she had under her own eyes, it was not difficult for her to construct a story whereby this catastrophe could be explained without attributing anything more than misfortune to either Egremont or Thyrza. Her suppositions came very near to the truth. A natural, inevitable, error was that she imagined a scene of mutual declaration between the two. She could only conjecture that in some way they had frequently met, with the result which, the characters of both being understood, might have been foreseen. Possibly Egremont had thrown aside every consideration and had asked Thyrza to abandon Grail for his sake; in that case, it might be that Thyrza had fled from what she regarded as dishonourable selfishness, unable to keep her promise to Grail, alike unable to find her own happiness at his expense.
This was supposing the best. But, as a woman who knew the world, she could not altogether deny approach to fears which, in speaking with Annabel, she would not glance at. It was unlike Egremont to pass through a crisis such as this without having recourse to her sympathy, which had so long been to him as that of a mother. Perhaps he could not speak to her.
In any case, the immediate future was full of difficulties. It was a simple matter to take Thyrza to the Emersons' lodgings and get her restored to health, but what must then become of her? The best hope was that even yet she might marry Grail. Between the latter and Egremont doubtless everything was at an end; all the better, if there remained a possibility of Thyrza's forgetting this trial and some day fulfilling her promise. But in the meantime--a period, perhaps, of years--what must be done? The sisters might of course live together as hitherto and earn their living in the accustomed way, but Mrs. Ormonde understood too well the dangers of an attempt to patch together old and new. There was no foreseeing the effect of her sufferings on Thyrza's character; in spite of idealisms, suffering more often does harm than good.
In fact, she must become acquainted with the truth of the case before she could reasonably advise or help. It had seemed wise as yet to keep the discovery of Thyrza a secret, even though by disclosing it she might have alleviated others' pain. When Lydia should at length be told, perhaps difficulties would in one way or another be lessened.
Mrs. Ormonde at length spoke to the invalid of the plan for removing her. Thyrza made no reply, but, when her friend went on to speak of the people in whose care she would be, averted her eyes as if in trouble. Mrs. Ormonde was silent for a while, then asked:
'Would you like your sister to come, when you are in the other house?'
Thyrza shook her head. She would have spoken, but instead sobbed.
'But she must be in dreadful trouble, Thyrza.'
'Will you write to her, please, Mrs. Ormonde? Don't tell her where I am, but say that I am well again. I can't see her yet--not till I have begun to work again. Do you think I can soon go and find work?'
'Do you wish, then, to live by yourself?' Mrs. Ormonde asked, hoping that the conversation might lead Thyrza to reveal her story.
'Yes, I must live by myself. I mustn't see any one for a long time. I can earn as much as I need. If I can't find anything else, Mrs. Gandle will let me stay with her.'
There was silence. Then she turned her face to Mrs. Ormonde, and, with drooping eyelids, asked in a low voice:
'Do you know why I left home, Mrs. Ormonde?'
'No, I don't, Thyrza,' the other replied gently. 'I have not seen any of your friends. I think very likely you are the only one that could tell me the truth.'
'Lyddy knows,' was spoken presently, after the shedding of a few quiet tears. 'I left a letter for her. Besides, she knew before-- knew that--'
The voice faltered and ceased.
'Can you tell me what it was, Thyrza?'
'I didn't do anything wrong, Mrs. Ormonde. But I was going to be married--do you remember about Mr. Grail?'
'I couldn't marry him--I didn't love him.'
She turned her face upon the pillow. Mrs. Ormonde touched her with kind hand, and, when she saw that the girl could tell no more, tried to soothe her.
'I understand now, Thyrza. I know it must have been a great trouble that drove you to this. I will do nothing that you don't wish. But we must let Lyddy know that you are in safety. Suppose you write a letter and tell her that you have been ill, but that you are quite well again, and with friends. You needn't put any address on it, and you had better not mention my name. It will be enough for the present to relieve her mind.'
'Yes, I'll do that, Mrs. Ormonde, if I can write.'
'You will be able to, very soon. It would frighten Lyddy, if the letter came to her written in a strange hand.'
Mrs. Ormonde made up her mind not to let it be known that she was in communication with Thyrza. Much was still dubious, but clearly it would be the wise course to avoid the possibility of Egremont's discovering Thyrza's place of abode. For the sake of the long future, a little more must be borne in the present. She had more than Thyrza's interests to keep in mind. Egremont's happiness was also at stake, and that, after all, was the first concern with her. By prudent management, perhaps the lives of both could be saved from this seeming wreck, and sped upon their several ways--ways surely very diverse.
But Thyrza was troubled with desire to ask something. When tears had heightened the relief of having told as much as she might, she asked timidly:
'Do you know if Mr. Grail has gone to the library--Mr. Egremont's library?'
'I have not heard. Could he go after this happening, Thyrza?'
'Yes,' she replied eagerly, 'he would go just the same. Why shouldn't he? It wouldn't prevent that, just because I didn't marry him. He would go and live there with Mrs. Grail, his mother. I said, when I wrote to Lyddy, that he'd go to the library just the same. There was no reason why he shouldn't, Mrs. Ormonde.'
She grew so agitated that Mrs. Ormonde, whilst asking herself what further light this threw on the matter, endeavoured to remove her trouble.
'Then no doubt he has gone, Thyrza. We shall hear all about it very soon.'
'You think he really has? We were to have been away for a week, and then have gone to live at the library. Haven't you heard anything from--'
'From whom, dear?'
'Anything from Mr. Egremont? He was beginning to put the books on the shelves--I was told about that. It was all ready for Gilbert to go and begin. Haven't you heard about it, Mrs. Ormonde?'
'I've been away from home, you see. No doubt there are letters for me.'
'I shall be so glad when I know, Mrs. Ormonde. You'll tell me, when you've heard, won't you, please? I've been thinking about it a long time--before I was ill, and again since I got my thoughts back. I want to be sure of that, more than anything. I'm sure he must have gone. Mr. Egremont was going away somewhere, and when he came back of course he would be told about--about me, and he wouldn't let that make any difference to Gilbert. And then I told Lyddy in the letter that I should come back some day. I'm quite sure it wouldn't keep him from going to the library.'
Mrs. Ormonde was herself very desirous of knowing what turn things had taken in Lambeth. She had no ready means of inquiry. But doubtless Mr. Newthorpe would have intelligence; it was only too certain that the affair was being discussed to its minutest details among the people who knew Egremont. She determined to see Mr. Newthorpe as soon as Thyrza was transported to the house by Regent's Park.
This took place on the following day, with care which could not have been exceeded had the invalid been a person as important and precious as even the late Miss Paula Tyrrell. Mrs. Gandle was adequately recompensed; her conviction that Mrs. Ormonde was a real lady suffered no shock under this most delicate of tests. Mrs. Ormonde bade farewell to Bank Street and Caledonian Road with a great hope that duty or necessity might never lead her thither again.
Thyrza still, of course, needed the nurse's attendance, and accommodation was found for that person under the same roof. When the party arrived, at mid-day, Mrs. Emerson was at home by appointment. She assisted in carrying the invalid upstairs, where a bright warm room was in readiness--as pleasant a change after the garret in Bank Street as any one could have desired.