Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXX. Movements
'We are going first of all to the Pilkingtons', in Warwickshire,' said Annabel, talking with Mrs. Ormonde at the latter's hotel in the last week of July. 'Mr. Lanyard--the poet, you know--will be there; I am curious to see him. Father remembers him a 'scrubby starveling'--to use his phrase--a reviewer of novels for some literary paper. He has just married Lady Emily Quell--you heard of it? How paltry it is for people to laugh and sneer whenever a poor man marries a rich woman. I know nothing of him except from his poetry, but that convinces me that he is above sordid motives.'
'Then you do still retain some of your idealism, Bell?'
'All that I ever had, I hope. Why? You have feared for me?'
'Yes, I know,' Annabel answered, rather absently, letting her eyes stray. 'Never mind. You had something particular to say to me, Mrs. Ormonde.'
'Yes, I have a good-bye for you from an old acquaintance.'
Annabel's complexion had not borne the season as well as those of women whose whole and sole preoccupation it is to combat Nature in the matter of their personal appearance. Her tint was, as they say, a little fatigued. Fatigued, too, were her eyes, which seemed ever looking for something lost; that gaze she had in sitting by Ullswater with 'Sesame and Lilies' on her lap would not be easily recovered. Her beauty was of rarer quality and infinitely more suggestive than on that day something more than a year ago; to the modern mind nothing is complete that has not an element of morbidity. At Mrs. Ormonde's words she turned with grave interest.
'Where, then, is he going?' she asked, just smiling.
'To a small manufacturing town in Pennsylvania. His firm has just opened works there, and he has it in view to prepare himself for superintending them.'
'You are serious?'
'Quite. I think it was chiefly my persuasion that decided him. I have no doubt that in a year or two he will thank me, though he is not very ardent about it at present.'
'But surely he--No, I think you are right.'
'I have not advised him to become an American,' Mrs. Ormonde continued, smiling, when Annabel abandoned an apparent intention of saying more. 'No doubt he will come to England now and then, and probably, with his disposition, he will some day make his home here again. I hardly expect to see him for some two years.'
'I hope it is right. I think it is.'
Annabel paused a little, then made an unforced transition to other matters. She rose to leave before long. Whilst her hand was in Mrs. Ormonde's, she asked:
'May I know anything more than father told me?'
She had said it with a little difficulty, but without confusion of face.
'What did your father tell you?'
'Only that she is in your care, and that you think her voice can be cultivated, so as to serve her.'
'Yes, I will tell you more than that, dear. He is absolutely without bond as regards her. They have never met since her flight from home, and, more, she has no suspicion that he ever took an interest in her save as Mr. Grail's future wife.'
'She does not know that?'
'She has no idea of it. They have never exchanged a more than friendly word. He believed, when absent from England, that she was already married, and of his movements since then she is wholly ignorant.'
She listened with frank surprise; her face showed nothing more than that.
'But,' she said, hesitatingly, 'I cannot quite understand. He holds himself quite without responsibility? He leaves England without troubling about her future?'
'Not at all. He knows I have her in my care. She being my ward, I have a perfect right to demand that the child's fate shall not be trifled with, that she shall be allowed to grow older and wiser before any one asks her to take an irrevocable step--say for the space of two years. Mr. Egremont grants my right, and I have never yet had real grounds for doubting his honour.'
'I never doubted it, even on seeming grounds,' said Annabel, quietly.
'You are justified, Bell. Well, as you asked me, I thought it better to tell you thus much. He leaves England morally as free as if he had never heard her name.'
'One more question. How do you know that she has no assurance of his--affection?'
'He has himself told me that there has been not a word of that between them. The only other possible source was her sister, who has seen her. I did not see Lydia before the interview, because it was repugnant to me to do so; their love for each other is something very sacred, and a stranger had no right to come between them before they met. But I subsequently saw Lydia in London. She soon spoke to me very freely, and I found that she almost hated me because she thought I was planning to marry her sister to Mr. Egremont. I also found out--I am old, you know, Bell, and can be very deceitful-- that Lydia, no more than her sister, suspects serious feeling on his part. She scorned the suggestion of such a possibility. It is her greatest hope that Thyrza may yet marry Mr. Grail.'
'And what can you tell me of Thyrza herself?'
'She has been ill, but seems now in very fair health, The day she spent with Lydia evidently did her a vast amount of good. That natural affection is an invaluable resource to her, and, if I am not mistaken, it will be the means of recovering happiness for me. She is quiet, but not seriously depressed--sometimes she is even bright. The singing lessons have begun, and she enjoys them; I think a new interest has been given her.'
'Then I hope a very sad beautiful face will no longer haunt me.'
Thus did two ladies transact the most weighty part of their business after shaking hands for good-bye--an analogy to the proverbial postscript, perhaps.
The same evening there was a dinner-party at the Tyrrells'. Mr. Newthorpe had, as usual, kept to his own room. Annabel went thither to sit with him for a while after the visitors were gone.
He had a poem that he wished to read to her; there was generally some scrap of prose or verse waiting for her when she went into the study. To-night Annabel could not give the usual attention. Mr. Newthorpe noticed this, and, laying the book aside, made one or two inquiries about the company of the evening. She replied briefly, then, after hesitation, asked:
'Do you very much want to go to the Pilkingtons', father?'
He regarded her with amazement.
'I? Since when have I had a passionate desire to camp in strangers' houses and eat strange flesh?'
'Then you do not greatly care about it--even for the sake of meeting Mr. Lanyard?'
'Lanyard? Great Heavens! The fellow has done some fine things, but spiritual converse with him is quite enough for me.'
'Then will you please to discover all at once that you are really not so well as you thought, and that, after your season's dancing and theatre-going, you feel obliged to get hack either to Eastbourne or Ullswater as soon as possible?'
'The fact is, Bell, I haven't felt by any means up to the mark these last few days.'
'Dear father, don't say that! I am wrong to speak lightly of such things.'
'I only say it because you ask me to, sweet-and-twenty. In truth I feel very comfortable, but I shall be far more sure of remaining so at Eastbourne than at the Pilkingtons'.'
'Eastbourne, you think?'
'Nay, as you please, Bell.'
'Yes, Eastbourne again.' She came to her father and took his hands. 'I'm tired, tired, tired of it all, dear; tired and weary unutterably! If ever we come to London again, let us tell nobody, and take quiet rooms in some shabby quarter, and go to the National Gallery, and to the marbles at the Museum, and all places where we are sure of never meeting a soul who belongs to the fashionable world. If we go to a concert, we'll sit in the gallery, among people who come because they really want to hear music--'
'Eheu! The stairs are portentous, Bell!'
'Never mind the stairs! Nay then, we won't go to public concerts at all, but I will play for you and myself, beginning when we like, and leaving off when we like, and using imagination--thank goodness, we both have some!--to make up for the defects. We'll go back to our books--oh! you have never left them; but I, poor sinner that I am --! Give me my Dante, and let me feel him between my hands! Where is Virgil?
Heu! fuge crudeles terras, fuge litus avarum.
Is it quoted right? Is it apropos?'
'Savonarola's word of fate.'
'Then mine too! How have you been so patient with me? A London season--and I still have Homer to read! Still have Sophocles for an unknown land! My father, I have gone far, very far, astray, and you did not so much as rebuke me.'
'My dearest, it is infinitely better to hear you rebuke yourself. Nor that, either. A chapter in your education was lacking; now you can go on smoothly.'
'Now read the poem over again, father. I can hear it now.'
Paula came to the house next morning. She and Annabel had seen very little of each other throughout the season, but, on the last two or three occasions of their meeting, Paula had betrayed a sort of timid desire to speak with more intimacy than was her wont. Annabel was not eager in response, hut, in spite of that letter which you remember, she had always judged her cousin with much tolerance, and a suspicion that Paula Dalmaine was not quite so happy a person as Paula Tyrrell had been, inclined her to speak with gentleness. They were alone together this morning in the drawing-room.
'So you're going to the Pilkingtons',' Paula said, when she had fluttered about a good deal.
'No. We have changed our minds. We go back to Eastbourne.'
'Ah! How's that, Bell?'
'We are a little tired of society, and father needs quietness again. Where do you go?'
'To Scotland, with the Scalpers. Lord Glenroich is going down with us. He's promised to teach me to shoot.'
Paula spoke of these arrangements with less gusto than might have been expected of her. She was fidgety and absent. Suddenly she asked:
'What has become of Mr. Egremont, Bell?'
'He has either gone, or is just going, to America, to live there, I believe, for some time.'
'Oh, indeed!--with anybody, I wonder?'
'He has not told me anything of his affairs, Paula.'
'Then you have seen him?'
'No, I haven't.'
'Don't be cross with me, Bell. I don't mean anything. I only wanted to know something true about him; I can hear lies enough whenever I choose.'
It was pathetic enough, because, for once, evidently sincere. Annabel smiled and made no reply. Then, with abrupt change of subject, Paula remarked:
'I think I shall come and see you at Eastbourne, if you'll let me.'
'I shall be glad.'
'No, you won't exactly be glad, Bell--but, of course, I know you couldn't say you'll be sorry. Still, I shall come, for a day or two, all by myself.'
'Come, and heartily welcome, Paula.'
'Well now, that does sound a little different, I don't often hear people speak like that.'
She nodded a careless good-bye, and at once left the house. She went straight home. Mr. Dalmaine was absent at luncheon-time; Paula ate nothing and talked fretfully to the servant about the provision that was made for her--though she never took the least trouble to see that her domestic concerns went properly. She idled about the drawing-room till three o'clock. A visitor came; her instructions were: 'Not at home.' At half-past three she ordered a hansom to be summoned, instead of her own carriage, and, having dressed with nervous rapidity, she ran downstairs and entered the vehicle. 'Drive to the British Museum,' she spoke up to the cabman through the trap.
But just as the horse was starting, it stopped again. Looking about her in annoyance, she found that her husband had bidden the driver pull up, and that he was standing by the wheel.
'Where are you going?' he asked, smilingly.
'To see a friend. Why do you stop me when I'm in a hurry? Tell him to drive on at once.'
She was obeyed, and, as the vehicle rolled on, she leaned back, suffering a little from palpitation. It was a long drive to Great Russell Street, and once or twice she all but altered her direction to the man. However, she was on the pavement by the Museum gates at last. When the cab had driven away, she crossed the street. She went to the house where Egremont had his rooms.
'Yes, Mr. Egremont was at home.'
'Then please to give him this card, and ask if he is at liberty.'
She was guided up to the first floor; she entered a room, and found Egremont standing in the midst of packing-cases. He affected to be in no way surprised at the visit, and shook hands naturally.
'You find me in a state of disorder, Mrs. Dalmaine,' he said. 'Pray excuse it; I start on a long journey to-morrow morning.'
Paula murmured phrases. She was hot, and wished in her heart that she had not done this crazy thing; really she could not quite say why she had done it.
'So you're going to America again, Mr. Egremont?'
'I heard so. I knew you wouldn't come to say good-bye to me, so I came to you.'
She was looking about for signs of female occupation; none whatever were discoverable.
'You are kind.'
'I won't stay, of course. You are very busy--'
'I hope you will let me give you a cup of tea?'
'Oh no, thank you. It was only just to speak a word--and to ask you to forget some very bad behaviour of mine. You know what I mean, of course. I was ashamed of myself, but I couldn't help it. I'm so glad I came just in time to see you; I should have been awfully vexed if I--if I couldn't have asked you to forgive me.'
'I have nothing whatever to forgive, but I think it very kind of you to have come.'
'You'll come back again--some day?'
'Very likely, I think.'
'Then I'll say good-bye.'
He looked into her face, and saw how pretty and sweet it was, and felt sorry for her--he did not know why. Their hands held together a moment or two.
'There's no--no message I can deliver for you, Mr. Egremont? I'm to be trusted--I am, indeed.'
'I'm very sure you are, Miss Tyrrell--Oh, pardon me!'
'No, no! I shan't forgive you.' She was laughing, yet almost crying at the same time. 'You must ask me to do something for you, in return for that. How strange that did seem! It was like having been dead and coming to life again, wasn't it?'
'I have no message whatever for anybody, Mrs. Dalmaine; thank you very much.'
'Good-bye, then. No, no, don't come down. Good-bye!'
She drove back home.
She had been sitting for an hour in her boudoir, when Dalmaine came in. He smiled, but looked rather grim for all that. Seating himself opposite her, he asked:
'Paula, what was your business in Great Russell Street this afternoon?'
She trembled, but returned his gaze scornfully.
'So you followed me?'
'I followed you. It is not exactly usual, I believe, for young married ladies to visit men in their rooms; if I have misunderstood the social rules in this matter, you will of course correct me.'
Mr. Dalmaine was to the core a politician. He was fond of Paula in a way, but he had discovered since his marriage that she had a certain individuality very distinct from his own, and till this was crushed he could not be satisfied. It was his home policy, at present, to crush Paula's will. He practised upon her the faculties which he would have liked to use in terrorising a people. Since she had given up talking politics, her drawing-room had been full of people whom Dalmaine regarded with contempt--mere butterflies of the season. She had aggressively emphasised the difference between his social tastes and hers. He bore with it temporarily, till he could elaborate a plan of campaign. Now the plan had formed itself in most unhoped completeness, and he was happy.
'What did you want with that fellow?' he asked, coldly.
'Mr. Egremont is going to America, and I wanted to say good-bye to him. He was my friend long before I knew you.'
She rose, and would have gone; but he stopped her with a gentle hand.
'Paula, this is very unsatisfactory.'
'What do you want? What am I to do?'
'To sit down and listen. As I have such very grave grounds for distrusting you, I can only pursue one course. I must claim your entire obedience to certain commands I am now going to detail. Refusal will, of course, drive me to the most painful extremities.'
'What do you want?'
'To-morrow you were to give your last dinner-party. You will at once send a notice to all your guests that you are ill and cannot receive them.'
'Absurd! How can I do such a thing?'
'You will do it. We spoke of going to Scotland with the Scalpers. Instead of that, you accompany me to Manchester when Parliament rises, and you live with me there in retirement whilst I am occupied with my study of the factory questions which immediately interest me.'
Paula was silent.
'These are my commands. The alternative to obedience is--you know what. Pray let me know your decision.'
'Why do you behave to me in this way? What have I done to be treated like this?'
'Pray do not ask me. I wait for your answer.'
'I can only give in to you, and you're coward enough to take advantage of it.'
'You undertake to obey me?'
'I want to go to my room. Can I do so without asking?'
'You are mistress of my house, Paula, as long as you obey me in essential matters.'
Paula disappeared, and Mr. Dalmaine sat reflecting with much self-approbation on the firmness and suavity he had displayed.