Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXIX. Together Again
Lydia held desperately to hope through the days and the nights. From all others Thyrza might hide away, but could she persist in cruelty to her sister? Surely in some way a message, if only a message, would be delivered; at least there would come a word to relieve this unendurable suspense. Every added day of silence was an added fear.
Unable to associate with acquaintances to whom Thyrza's name had become an unfailing source of vulgar gossip, she changed her place of work. Work had still to be done, be her heart ever so sore; the meals must be earned, though now they were eaten in solitude. And she worked harder than ever, for it was her dread that at any moment she might hear of Thyrza in distress or danger, and she must have money laid by for such an emergency. All means of inquiry were used, save that of going to the police-court and having the event made public through the newspapers. Neither Lydia nor Gilbert could bear to do that, even after they felt assured that the child was somewhere wandering alone.
Totty Nancarrow was an active ally in the search, though Lydia did not know it. Totty, as soon as that unfortunate game of cross-purposes with Luke Ackroyd had come to an end, experienced a revival of all her kindness for Thyrza. Privately she was of opinion that no faith whatever should be given to Egremont's self-defence. In concert with Ackroyd, she even planned an elaborate scheme for tracking Egremont in his goings hither and thither. They discovered that he was very seldom at his rooms in Great Russell Street, but their resources did not allow them to keep a watch upon him when he was away from town, which appeared to be very frequently the case. Circumstances of a darkly suggestive kind they accumulated in abundance, and for weeks constantly believed themselves on the point of discovering something. Bunce was taken into their confidence, but he, poor fellow, had occupation enough for his leisure at home, since Bessie was at Eastbourne. Little Nelly Bunce often fretted in vain for the attentions of 'Miss Nanco,' upon whom she had begun to feel a claim. 'Miss Nanco,' for the nonce a female detective, had little time for nursing.
And Gilbert Grail was once more going to his daily labour, not at the same factory, however, for he too could not mix with men who knew him. About a fortnight after the day on which he should have been married, he got a place at candle-works in Battersea. He could not leave the house in Walnut Tree Walk, for he, as persistently as Lydia, clung to the hope that Thyrza might reappear in her home some night. To go away would be to say good-bye for ever to that dream which had so glorified a few months of his life, and in spite of all he could not do that.
In comparison with his own, the suffering of others seemed trifling. When his mother went about in silence, bending more than she had done, all interest in the things of life and in her studies of Swedenborg at an end, he thought that much of it was due to her wish to show sympathy with him. When Lydia sat through an hour with her face hidden in her hands, he knew that the day had been very dark and weary with her, but said in himself that a sister's love was little compared with such as his. He would not reason on what had happened, save when to do so with Lydia brought him comfort; alone, he brooded over his hope. It was the only way to save himself from madness.
On the day after seeing Egremont he received a long letter from him. Egremont wrote from his heart, and with a force of sincerity which must have swept away any doubts, had such still lingered with the reader. The inevitable antagonism of the personal interview was a pain in his memory; if the intercourse of friendship was for ever at an end for them, he could not bear to part in this way, with hesitating words, with doubts and reticences. 'In your bitter misery,' he said, 'you may accuse me of affecting sympathy which I do not feel, and may scorn my expressions of grief as a cheap way of saving my self-respect. I will not compare my suffering with yours, but none the less it is intense. This is the first great sorrow of my life, and I do not think a keener one will ever befall me. Keep this letter by you; do not be content to read it once and throw it aside, for I have spoken to you out of my deepest feeling, and in time you will do me more justice than you can now.' And further on: 'As to that which has parted us, there must be no ambiguity, no pretence of superhuman generosity. I should lie if I said that I do not wish to find Thyrza for my own sake. If I find her, I shall ask her to be my wife. I wanted to say this when we spoke together, but could not; neither was I calm enough to express this rightly, nor you rightly to hear it.'
Gilbert allowed a day or two to go by, then made answer. He wrote briefly, but enough to show Egremont that the man's natural nobility could triumph over his natural resentment. It was a moving letter, its pathos lying in the fact that its writer shunned all attempt to be pathetic. 'Now that I know the truth,' he said, 'I can only ask your pardon for the thoughts I had of you; you have not wronged me, and I can have no ill-feeling against you. If Thyrza is ever your wife, I hope your happiness may be hers. As for the other things, do not reproach yourself. You wished to befriend me, and I think I was not unworthy of it. Few things in life turn out as we desire; to have done one's best with a good intention is much to look back upon --very few have more.'
Gilbert did not show this letter to Lydia, nor had he told her of what he had learnt in the conversation with Egremont. The fear would have seemed more intolerable if he had uttered it. But the hope which supported him was proof against even such a danger as this. To his mind there was something unnatural in a union between Egremont and Thyrza; try as be would, he could not realise it as having come to pass. The two were parted by so vast a social distinction, and, let Nature say what it will, the artificialities of life are wont to prevail. He could imagine an unpermitted bond between them, with the necessary end in Thyrza's sacrifice to the world's injustice; but their marriage appeared to him among the things so unlikely as to be in practice impossible. Of course the wish was father to the thought. But he reasoned upon the hope which would not abandon him. Thyrza had again and again proved the extreme sensitiveness of her nature; she could not bear to inflict pain. He remembered how she had once come back after saying good-night, because it seemed to her that she had spoken with insufficient kindness. The instance was typical. And now, though tempted by every motive that can tempt a woman, she had abandoned herself to unimagined trials rather than seek her own welfare at another's expense. To fulfil her promise had been beyond her power, but, if there must be suffering, she would share it. And now, in that wretched exile, he knew that self-pity could not absorb her. She would think of him constantly, and of such thought would come compassion and repentance. Those feelings might bring her back. If only she came back, it was enough. She could not undo what she had done, but neither could she forbid him to live with eyes on the future.
Reasoning so, he did his daily work and lived waiting.
Then came the day which put a term to the mere blank of desolation, and excited new hopes, new fears. Thyrza's letter arrived. It was delivered in the afternoon, and Lydia found it pushed under her door when she returned from work. She listened for Gilbert's coming home, then ran down to the sitting-room, and, without speaking, put the letter into his hand. Mrs. Grail was present.
'I knew it had come,' she said, in her low voice, which of late had begun to quaver with the feebleness of age. 'Mrs. Jarmey brought it here to show me, because she guessed who it was from.'
Gilbert said very few words, and when he returned the letter, Lydia went upstairs with it, to nurse the treasure in solitude. It lay on her lap, and again and again she read it through. Every word she probed for meanings, every stroke of the pen she dwelt on as possibly revealing something. 'I have been poorly, dear, but I am quite well again now.' That sentence was the one her eye always turned to. The writing was not quite the same as Thyrza's used to be; it showed weakness, she thought. She had foreseen this, that Thyrza would fall ill; in fear of that she had deprived herself of all save the barest necessaries, that she might save a little money. But strangers had tended her sister, and with her gladness at receiving news mingled jealousy of the hands that had been preferred to her own. Only now the bitterness of separation seemed to be tasted to the full.
At half-past nine she went downstairs again, knowing that she would find Gilbert alone. He was sitting unoccupied, as always now in the evenings, for his books gathered dust on the unregarded shelves. Seeing that she had the letter with her, he held out his hand for it in silence.
'There's one thing I'm afraid of,' Lydia began, when she had glanced at him once or twice. 'Do you think it's friends of his that she's with?'
He shook his head.
'He would have told me if he'd found her.'
'Are you quite sure?'
'Yes, I am sure. He wouldn't have said where she was, very likely, but he'd tell us that she was found.'
Gilbert had reason to think of Lydia as a great power on his side. The girl was now implacable against Egremont. She had ceased to utter her thoughts about him, since she knew that they pained her friend, but in her heart she kept a determined enmity. The fact of Thyrza's love in no way influenced her: her imagination was not strong enough to enable her to put herself in Thyrza's place and see Egremont as her sister saw him. With the narrowness of view which is common enough in good and warm-hearted women, she could only regard him as the disturber of happiness, the ruin of Thyrza's prospects. Lydia was not ambitious; she had never been enthusiastic about Gilbert's promotion to the librarianship, and doubtless it would have pleased her just as well for Thyrza to marry Grail if the latter had had no thought of quitting his familiar work. Consequently it was no difficulty to her to leave altogether out of sight Egremont's purposed benefits to Gilbert. She no longer believed that he was innocent of designs in his intercourse with Thyrza. This change was a natural enough consequence of Lydia's character, just as it had been perfectly natural for her to think and speak as she had done under the first shock of her sister's flight. Since then she had suffered terribly, and the suffering turned her against him who was the plain cause of it.
'What is the post-mark on the envelope?' Gilbert asked, Lydia continuing to brood over her jealousies and dreads.
The stamp was 'Charing Cross.' Small help derivable from that.
'She doesn't even say whether she'll write again,' Lydia murmured.
Gilbert said presently: 'I shall write to Mr. Egremont, and tell him that we have heard.'
'Oh no!' Lydia protested, indignantly. 'Why should you tell him? You mustn't do that, Gilbert; I don't want him to know.'
'I promised him, Lyddy. Of course I shouldn't tell him where she was, if we knew, but I promised to let him hear if we had any news.'
'Then I don't see why you promised such a thing. It doesn't concern him.'
Gilbert was troubled by this persistence. Lydia spoke with earnest disapproval. He could not do as he wished in defiance of her, yet he must certainly keep his promise to Egremont.
'You must remember,' he said gently, 'that he has reason to be anxious, as well as we.'
'What have we to do with that?' she replied, stubbornly. 'He has no right to think anything about her.'
'I mean, Lyddy, that he is troubled because of our trouble. All I want to do is to tell him that a letter has come from Thyrza, without address, and that she says she has found friends. Won't you consent to that?'
After a short silence, Lydia replied:
'I won't say any more, Gilbert. As you like.'
'No, that's not enough. I must have your full agreement. It's either right or wrong to do it, and you must make up your mind clearly.'
'I shouldn't wonder if he knows,' she said briefly.
'He doesn't know. I shall not distrust him again. He would have told me.'
'Then you had better write.'
'You see that I ought to?'
'Yes, as you promised. But I can't see why you did.'
This form of consent had to suffice, feminine as it was. But Gilbert knew Lydia well by this time, and no trifling fault could touch his deep affection and respect for her.
She was very lonely in these days, Lydia. Of her own sex, she had now no friend, unless it were poor old Mrs. Grail. By changing her place of employment, she had lost even the satisfaction of being among familiar faces, and her new work-mates thought her dull. The jokes and gossip of each morning were things of the past; she plied her needle every moment of the working day, her thoughts fixed on one unchanging subject. Yes, for she could not really think even of Ackroyd; he was always, it is true, a presence in her mind, but there was no more pondering about him. Every stitch at the lining of a hat meant a fraction of a coin, and each day's result was to have earned something towards the money saved for Thyrza's assistance.
With Mary Bower she spoke no longer, not even formal words. That insult on the miserable night had been a blow Mary could not soon forgive, for it came just at the moment when, having heard her parents' talk about Thyrza, she was sincerely anxious to reunite herself to her former friend and be what comfort to her she might. So now, whenever Lydia went to see Mr. Boddy, she gave a private signal at the side door, and the old man descended to admit her. Then, Totty Nancarrow. Strangely, Lydia could now have been almost friends with Totty; she did not know why. She met her by chance occasionally, and nodded, or at most spoke a brief greeting, yet each time she would have liked to stop and talk a little. Totty had been Thyrza's close friend; that formerly had been a source of jealous feeling, now it seemed to have become an attraction. Totty gave looks that were not unkind, but did not make advances; she was a little ashamed of the way she had behaved when Lydia came to her for help.
Lydia did not think it necessary to tell Gilbert that she too wanted to let someone know that there was news from Thyrza. After leaving the parlour, she ran out to a little shop in Kennington Road and purchased a sheet of note-paper and an envelope. Writing a letter was by no means a simple thing to Lyddy; it was after midnight before she had schemed the sentences--or rather, the one long hyper-Attic sentence--in which she should convey her intelligence to Ackroyd. Several things were to be considered in this composition. First, it must be as brief as possible; then, it must be very formal in its mode of address. Both these necessities came of the consideration that the letter would of course be shown to Totty Nancarrow, and Totty must have no cause of complaint. 'Dear Mr. Ackroyd'--that was written, but might it stand? It meant so much, so much. But how else to begin? Did not everybody begin letters in that way? She really could not say 'Dear Sir.' Then--for the letter must be finished, the hour was getting so late--'Yours truly, Lydia Trent.' Surely that was commonplace enough. Yes, but to say 'yours;' that too meant so much. Was she not indeed his? And might not Totty suspect something in that 'yours?' You see that Lyddy was made a very philosopher by love; she had acquired all at once the power of seeing through the outward show of things, of perceiving what really lies below our conventional forms. Well, the letter had to stand; she had no second sheet of note-paper, and she had no more time, for the weary eyes and hands must get their rest for to-morrow's toil. She closed the envelope and addressed it; then, the ink being dry, she put the written name just for an instant to her lips. Totty could not divine that, and it was not so great a wrong. Perhaps Lydia would not have done it, but that the great burden upon her was for the moment lightened, and she longed to tell someone how thankful she was.
Would he reply by letter? Or would he make an opportunity of seeing her? Since the forming of that sudden intimacy under the pressure of misery, he and she had not seen each other often. They always spoke if they met, and Lydia was very grateful to him for the invariable kindness of his voice and his look, but of course it was not to be expected, not to be desired, that they should sustain the habit of conversing together as close friends. Ackroyd had evidently remembered that it was unwise; perhaps he had reported the matter to Totty, with the result that Totty had pronounced a quiet opinion, which it was only becoming in him to respect.
He wrote back; the letter came as speedily as could have been expected. 'Dear Miss Trent,' and 'Yours truly'--even as she had written. How can one write such words and mean nothing by them? But he said, 'Believe me, yours truly;' ah, she would never have ventured upon that! To be sure, it meant nothing, nothing; but she liked that 'Believe me.' He said he was very glad indeed that Thyrza had written, and he hoped earnestly that more satisfactory news would come before long. Very short. Lydia put away the note with that she had received from the same writer one sad morning in the work-room. How long ago that seemed!
More than a month of summer went by, and Lydia waited still for another word from her sister. After each day's disappointment, she closed her eyes saying, 'It will come to-morrow.' During the hours she spent at home the only event that interested her was the passing of the postman. She watched constantly from the window at the times when letters were delivered, and if, a rare chance, the man in uniform stopped at the door below, she sprang to the top of the stairs and hung there breathless, to see if someone would come up. No, the letter was never for her. On coming home from work she always threw open her door eagerly, for perhaps she would see the white envelope lying on the floor again. The defeat of hope always made the whole room seem barren and cold. Sunday was of all days in the week the longest and gloomiest; on that day there was no postman.
But at length came the evening when, looking down by mere dull habit as she opened her room door, behold the white envelope lay there. She could not believe that at last it was really in her hand. As she took the letter out, there fell from it a light slip of paper; with surprise she saw that it was a post-office order. This time a full address stood at the head of the page.
'Eastbourne!' she uttered. 'Then she is with Mrs. Ormonde, and Mrs. Ormonde is his friend.'
Hastily her eyes sought the sense of what was written. Thyrza said that she was well, but could not live longer without seeing her sister. Lydia was to come by as early a train as possible on the following morning; money was enclosed to provide for her expenses. No news could be sent, but in a few hours they would talk to each other. Finally, the address was to be kept a secret, to be kept even from Gilbert; she depended upon Lydia to obey her in this. A postscript added: 'You will easily find the house. I would come to the station and meet every train, but I couldn't bear to see you there first.'
Lydia had deep misgivings, but they did not occupy her mind for long. She was going to see Thyrza; that, as she realised it, rang a peal of joy in her ears and made her forget all else. But the money she would not use; she had enough to pay her fare, and in any case she would somehow have obtained it rather than spend this, which came she knew not from whom. It might be that Thyrza had earned it, but perhaps it was given to her by an enemy--under this name Lydia had come to think of Egremont.
She told Gilbert in private. The concealment from him of Thyrza's address he seemed to accept as something quite natural. He drew a sigh of relief, and, as Lydia left him, gave her a look whose meaning was not hard to understand.
The new day did come at last, and at last Lydia was in the train; she had remembered that by which Thyrza went with Bessie, and she took the same. A strange feeling she had as, instead of going to the work-room, she set off through the sunshine to the railway station; a holiday feeling, had she known what holiday meant. That she was going for the first time to the sea-side was nothing; her anticipation was only of Thyrza's look and Thyrza's first kiss. Why were all the other people who went by the same train so joyous and so full of hope? Were they too going to meet someone very dear to them?
She had copied the address on to a piece of paper, which she kept inside her glove; impossible that she should forget, but even impossibilities must be provided for. When she descended at Eastbourne, she was so agitated and so perplexed by the novelty of the experience that with difficulty she found her way into the street. She hurried on a little way, then remembered that the first thing was to ask a direction. On inquiring from a woman who stood in a shop-door, she at once had her course clearly indicated. Forwards then, as quickly as she could walk. How astonishingly clean the streets were! What great green trees grew everywhere! How bright and hot was the sunshine!--Yes, this turn; but to make quite sure she would ask again. A policeman, in an unfamiliar uniform, reassured her. Now a turn to the right--and of a sudden everything ceased; there seemed to be nothing but blue sky before her. Ah, that was the sea, then; its breath came with wondrous sweetness on her heated face. But what was the sea to her! Along here to the left again. She must be very near now. Again she asked, and in so uncertain a voice that she had to repeat her question before it was understood. Number so-and-so; why, it was just over yonder; the cottage that seemed to be built of some glistening white stone. And so she stood at the door.
A child opened, and, without questioning, laughed and said, 'Come in, please.' She found herself at once in a comfortable kitchen. The child pointed to an inner door, which, in the same moment, softly opened.
So it had come at last. Once again they were heart to heart, Lydia cried as though something dreadful had befallen her; Thyrza sobbed once or twice, but she had shed so many tears for misery that none would come at the bidding of joy.
They were in a little room which looked through a diamond-paned lattice upon the flat beach which lies at this side of Eastbourne. In front was a black, tar-smeared house of wood for the keeping of fishers' nets, and fishing boats lay about it. When Lydia's emotion had spent itself, Thyrza drew her to the window, threw back the lattice, and said 'Look!'
'I can't look at anything but you, dearest,' was the answer.
'But let us look together, just for a minute, then we shall come fresh again to each other's faces. The sea, Lyddy! I love it; it seems to me the best friend I ever had.'
'You're very pale still, darling. You've been ill, and you wouldn't send for me. How cruel that was of you, Thyrza! You might have got so bad you couldn't send; you might have died before I could know anything. Dear, you don't love me as I love you. I couldn't have given you that pain, no, not for any one, not for any one in the world. Oh, why didn't you let me go away with you? I'd have gone anywhere; I'd have done anything you asked me. Are you sure you're well again? Do you feel strong?--What is it?'
Thyrza had let herself sink upon a chair, and her face, which had indeed been strangely colourless, was for a moment touched with pain. But she laughed.
'It's only with exciting myself so, Lyddy. I haven't stood or sat still a minute since I got up. Oh, I'm as well as ever I was, better than ever I was in my life. Don't I look happy? I only wanted you; that was the only thing. I never felt so well and happy.'
Somebody knocked at the door.
'That's something for you to eat after your journey,' said Thyrza. 'It's too early for dinner yet, but you must have just a mouthful.'
She went out and came back with a tray, on which was milk and cake.
Lydia shook her head.
'I can't eat, Thyrza. I want you to tell me everything.'
'I shan't tell you anything at all till you've had a glass of milk. Let me take your things off. You're going to stay with me to-night, you know. Sit still, and let me take them off. Dear, good old Lyddy! Oh, will you do my hair for me tomorrow morning? Think of doing my hair again! Poor old Lyddy, you always did cry when you were glad, and never for anything else. Shall I sit on your lap, like I used to do after I'd been naughty, years and years ago? Oh, years and years; you don't know how old I am, Lyddy. You don't think you're still older than me, do you? No, that's all altered. Mrs. Guest here asked me how old I was the other day, and I wouldn't tell her, because the truth wasn't true. I was so ill, Lyddy dear; I did think I should die, and I should have wished to, but for you. I couldn't send for you: I was ashamed to. I'd behaved too bad to you and to everybody. But people were kind, much kinder than they'd need have been. Some day I'll go and see Mrs. Gandle and tell her I haven't forgotten her kindness. You shall go with me, Lyddy. But no, no; you wouldn't like. We'll forget all about that,'
'Where was that, Thyrza?'
'A place where I got work. Do you know where the Caledonian Road is?'
Lydia tightened her embrace, as if shame and hardship still threatened her dear one and she would guard her from them.
'But how did you get better? What happened then?'
'When I was very bad, Mrs. Gandle one night looked in my pocket to see if I'd anything about me to show where I belonged. And she found that bit of paper with Mrs. Ormonde's name and address. But wait, Lyddy; I've something to say. Did you do as I asked, about not telling any one where I was?'
'I didn't tell any one, Thyrza. Nobody knew where I was going. I mean, of course I told Gilbert that I was going to you, but not where you were.'
Thyrza, after a short pause, asked very quietly:
'How is Gilbert, Lyddy?'
'He seems pretty well, dear.'
'Has he--has he felt it very hard?'
She kept her eyes veiled, and pressed her head closer to Lydia's shoulder.
'He's had a great deal to go through, dear.'
The touch of severity in Lydia's voice came of her thoughts turning to Egremont. But Thyrza felt herself judged and rebuked; she trembled.
'What is he doing?' she asked, in a voice barely audible.
'He goes to work, as usual. It's a new place.'
'Poor Gilbert Oh, I'm sorry for him! He never deserved this of me. Lyddy,' she added in a whisper, 'it makes you so cruel to other people when you love anyone.'
Lydia found no answer. She was gazing through the open window, but saw nothing of sea or sky. She, then, did not know what it was to love? Well, love is of many kinds.
'But I was going to say something, Lyddy,' Thyrza pursued, when a kiss upon her hair assured her that from one at all events there was no need to ask forgiveness. 'It's Mrs. Ormonde that has done everything for me, and she doesn't want anybody to know--nobody except you. She's very kind, but--she's a little hard in some things, and she thinks--I can't quite explain it all. Will you promise not to tell any one when you go back?'
'But are you going to stay here, Thyrza?'
'No, dear; I'm going to London. Mrs. Ormonde is going to send me to some friends of hers. I'm not allowed to tell you where it is, and you won't be able to come and see me there; but we shall see each other somewhere sometimes. You'll keep it secret?'
'Then we're going to be parted always?' Lydia asked, slowly.
'No, no; not always, dear sister. Just for a time; oh, not long. I told Mrs. Ormonde that I knew you'd do as I asked.'
'Thyrza,' said the other gravely, 'I broke the other promise. I showed Gilbert the letter you left for me, and I told him all you'd told me.'
'Yes,' Thyrza uttered mechanically.
'It couldn't be helped. People had begun to talk, and Gilbert had heard about--about the library, you know. Mrs. Bower got to know somehow.'
'Lyddy, I told you all the truth; I told you every word of the truth!'
'I'm sure you did, Thyrza--all you knew.'
'Everything! What did people say about me? No, I don't want to hear; don't tell me. That's all over now. And you couldn't help telling Gilbert; I understand how it was. But will you promise me this other thing, Lyddy?'
She raised herself, and looked solemnly into her sister's face.
'It'll mean more to me than you think, if you refuse, or if you break your promise. I don't think you would do me harm, Lyddy?'
The answer was long in coming. At last Lydia made inquiry:
'Why does Mrs. Ormonde want to hide you?'
Thyrza grew agitated.
'She means it for my good. She believes she's doing the best. She's been kind to me, and I can't say a word against her. I think I ought to do as she wants. She seems to like me, only--I can't tell you how it is, Lyddy; I can't tell any one; no, not even you!'
'Don't worry yourself so, dearest.'
'Lyddy, you might promise me!' Thyrza went on, shaken with emotion, one would have said, with fear. 'I've done wrong to you and to Gilbert, but do try and forgive me. Why are you so quiet? Haven't you love enough for me to do just this?'
She stood up, flushed and with wild eyes.
'Be quiet, Thyrza dearest!' pleaded her sister.
'Then answer me, Lyddy I Promise me!'
'I want to know one thing first. Have you seen Mr. Egremont?'
'I haven't spoken to him since that night when I said good-bye to him by the river. Can't you believe me?'
'I don't think you'd tell me an untruth.'
'If I'd spoken to him, Lyddy, I'd tell you at once; I would! I'd tell you everything!'
'I must say what I mean, Thyrza; it's no good doing anything else. Tell me this: does Mrs. Ormonde want you to marry him?'
Thyrza laughed strangely. Then she exclaimed:
'She doesn't! She wouldn't hear of such a thing, not for the world! She wants to be kind to me in her own way, but not that; not that! How you distrust me! Are you against me, then? What are you thinking about? I hoped you would be kind to me in everything. You don't look like my Lyddy now.'
'It's because I don't understand you,' said the other, in a subdued voice, her eyes on the ground. 'You're not open with me, Thyrza. If it's true that Mrs. Ormonde thinks in that way, why do you--'
She broke off.
'I can't talk about it! It's very hard to bear. We shall never be what we were to each other, Thyrza. Something's come between us, and it always will be between us. You must take your own way, dear. Yes, I promise, and there's an end of it.'
Thyrza sprang forward.
'What is it you're afraid of?' she pleaded. 'Why do you speak like this? What are you thinking?'
'I think that Mr. Egremont 'll know where you are.'
'Lyddy, he won't know! I give you my solemn word he won't know.'
'Do you write to him? Perhaps you meant that, when you said you hadn't spoken to him?'
'I meant what I said, that I've neither written nor spoken, nor him to me. He won't know where I am; I shall have nothing to do with him in any way. But of course if you refuse to believe me, what's the use of saying it!'
There was a strange intonation in Thyrza's voice as she added these words. She looked and spoke with a certain pride, which Lydia had never before remarked in her. Lydia mused a little, then said:
'I don't doubt the truth of your words, Thyrza. I promise not to tell any one anything about you, and I'll keep my promise. But can't you tell me what you're going to do?'
'I don't really know myself. Mrs. Ormonde took me to her house the day before yesterday, and there was a lady there that I had to sing to. I think she wanted to see what sort of a voice I had. She played a sound on the piano, and asked me to sing the same, if I could. She seemed satisfied, I thought, though she didn't say anything. Then Mrs. Ormonde brought me back in her carriage, but she didn't say anything about the singing. She's very strange in some things, you know.'
Lydia asked presently:
'Then was it Mrs. Ormonde gave you this money?'
And she took the post-office order from her pocket.
'What! you didn't use it?'
'No; I had enough of my own. Please give it back.'
'Oh, Lyddy, how proud you are! You never would take any help from anybody, and yet you went on so about grandad when he made bother. Oh, how is poor grandad?'
'The same as usual, dear.'
'And you go to work every day just the same? My poor Lyddy!'
The contention was over, and the tenderness came back.
'Speak something for me to Gilbert, Lyddy! Say I--what can I say? I do feel for him; I can never forget his goodness as long as I live. Tell him to forget all about me, How wrong I was ever to say that I loved him!'
Then again, in a whisper:
'What about Mr. Ackroyd, dearest?'
'The same. They're not married yet. I dare say they will be soon.'
They spent long hours together by the ebb and flow of the tide. Lydia almost forgot her troubles now and then. As for Thyrza, she seemed to drink ecstasy from the live air.
'It's a good friend to me,' she said several times, looking out upon the grey old deep. 'It's made me well again, Lyddy. I shall always love the sound of it, and the salt taste on my lips!'