Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXXIII. The Heart and its Secret
Thyrza was not to be a boarder with the Emersons, nor did Mrs. Ormonde request them to make a friend of her. Nothing more was proposed than that she should rent from them their spare room, which was tolerably spacious and could be used both as bed-chamber and parlour. Her meals were to be supplied to her by the landlady of the house. The only stipulation with the Emersons was that she should receive her singing-lessons in their sitting-room, where there was a piano.
Thyrza herself specially desired of Mrs. Ormonde that she might live as much alone as possible. She declared that it would be no hardship whatever to her to be without companionship. Her day's occupation would be chiefly sewing, for Mrs. Ormonde had made arrangements that she should have regular employment for her needle from a certain charitable 'Home' at Hampstead. For this work she received payment, which--Mrs. Ormonde made it appear--would suffice to discharge her obligations to the Emersons and her landlady. Moreover, two days of the week she was to spend at the said Home, where certain, not too exacting, duties were assigned to her.
All this was very neatly contrived, and Mrs. Ormonde felt rather proud of her success in so far meeting the requirements of a very difficult case. A competent judge had reported so favourably of Thyrza's voice, that there was a strong probability of its some day enabling her to earn a living--should that be necessary--in one of the many paths which our musical time opens to those thus happily endowed; no stress was laid on that, however, for it was far from desirable that Thyrza should be nursed into expectation of a golden future. Mrs. Ormonde had determined that, if her exertion would accomplish it, Thyrza should yet have as large a share of happiness as a sober hope may claim for a girl of passionate instincts, of rare beauty, and, it might be, of latent genius. To be sure, such claim cannot be extravagant. The happy people of the world are the dull, unimaginative beings from whom the gods, in their kindness, have veiled all vision of the rising and the setting day, of sea-limits, and of the stars of the night, whose ears are thickened against the voice of music, whose thought finds nowhere mystery. Thyrza Trent was not of those. What joys were to be hers she must pluck out of the fire, and there are but few of her kind whom in the end the fire does not consume.
But for the present things seemed to be set going on a smooth track. And to be sure, though she had thought it better to ask no such kindness, Mrs. Ormonde knew that her friend Clara Emerson would very shortly make a companion of Thyrza. It was Clara's nature to make a friend of any 'nice' person who gave a sign of readiness for friendly intercourse; the fact of Thyrza's being untaught, and a needle-plier, would make no difference to her when she had discovered the girl's sweetness of disposition.
Thyrza wondered much at the way in which her singing-master proceeded with her instruction. She had looked forward to learning new songs, and she was allowed to sing nothing but mere uninteresting scales of notes. A timid question at length elicited one or two abrupt remarks which humbled, but at the same time informed, her. The teacher, like most of his kind, was a poor creature of routine, unburdened by imagination; he had only a larynx to deal with, and was at no pains to realise that the fountain of its notes was a soul. To be sure, that was a thought which he was not accustomed to have forced upon him.
Humbled and informed, Thyrza took her lessons with faultless patience, and with the hopeful zeal which makes light of every difficulty. She felt her voice improving, and when she sang to herself the old songs she was no longer satisfied with the old degree of accuracy. A world of which she had had no suspicion was opening to her; music began to mean something quite different from the bird-warble which was all that she had known. Moreover, she began to have an inkling of the value of her voice. Mrs. Ormonde had scarcely with a word commended her singing, and had spoken of the lessons as something that might be useful, with no more emphasis. The master, of course, had only praise or blame for the individual exercise. But there was someone in the house who felt bound by no considerations of prudence; Clara, hearing Thyrza's notes, was entranced by them, and of course took the first opportunity of saying so.
'You really think I have a good voice?' Thyrza asked once, when they had grown accustomed to each other.
'You have a splendid voice, Miss Trent!' replied Clara, who delighted in bestowing praise.
'Do you think I shall really be able to sing some day--I mean, to people?'
'Why not? I fancy people will be only too anxious to get you to sing.'
'In--in places like St. James's Hall?' Thyrza asked, her ears tingling at her audacity.
'Some day, I've no doubt whatever.'
Thyrza sewed, as a rule, for six hours a day, save of course on the days when she went to the Home. For her leisure she had found so much occupation that she seldom went to bed before midnight. In her walk to the omnibus which took her to Hampstead, she had to pass a second-hand book-shop, and it became her habit to put aside sixpence a week--more she could not--for the purchasing of books. With no one to guide her choice, and restricted as she was in the matter of price, she sometimes made strange acquisitions. She avoided story books, and bought only such as seemed to her to contain solid matter --history by preference, having learned from Gilbert that history was the best thing to study. Over these accumulating volumes she spent many a laborious hour. At first it was very hard to keep awake much after ten o'clock; eyelids would grow so heavy, and the coil of golden hair (she no longer wore the long plait with the blue ribbon) seemed such a burden on the brain. But she strove with her drowsiness, and, like other students, soon made the grand discovery that, the fit once over, one is wider awake than ever. What hard, hard things she read! 'Tytler's Universal History,' in one fat little small-typed volume, very much spoilt by rain, she made a vade-mecum; the 'Annals of the Orient, of Greece, of Rome'--with difficulty not easily estimated she worked her way through them. An English Dictionary became a necessity; she had to wait three weeks before she had money enough to purchase the cheapest she could find. At the very beginning of Tytler were such terrible words: chronological, and epitome, and disquisitions, and exemplification.
'If I had someone to ask, what time it would save me! Wouldn't he help me? Wouldn't he be glad to tell me what long words mean?'
Never mind, she would do it by herself. She had brains. Poor Gilbert had so often said that she could learn anything in time. So the lamp burned on till midnight. Compendious old Tytler! In his grave it should have given him both joy and sorrow that so sweet a face grew paler over his long hard words.
Had she not her reward before her? Two years; in one way it would be all too short a time. Not an hour must be lost. And when the two years had come full circle, and some morning she was told that someone wished to see her, and she went down into the sitting-room, and he, he stood before her, then she would say, 'This and this I have done, thus hard have I striven, for your sake, because I love you better than my own soul!'
That secret: no one must suspect it; no, not even Lyddy. After a hard night's work she would wake up feeling yet weary, her brain dull, and a strange pain at her heart--the pain that came so often; but, whilst her thoughts were struggling to consciousness, she felt that there was some joy beyond the present pain. And, behold! with sense of the new day came ever renewed hope. She rose, and a bright angel circled her with protecting, comforting arms. Dark or sunny, for her the morning had its golden rays.
How near he sometimes might be to her! She knew nothing of Egremont's having left England; Lydia did not, and would scarcely have mentioned the name even if she had known. Thyrza thought of himself as always very near. There was a possibility that she might by chance see him. It would have been very dear to her to see him at a distance, but she dreaded lest he should see her. That would spoil all. No, it was a sacred compact. Two years--two whole years-- had to be lived through, and then no one could say a word against their meeting.
She would be able to sing to him then. If her voice proved good enough for her to sing in a concert, like the concert at St. James's Hall, would he not be proud of her? Artist's soul that she had, she never gave it a thought that, if she became his wife, he might prefer that she should not sing in public. She imagined herself before a great hall of people, singing, yet singing in truth to one only. But all the others must hear and praise, that he might have joy of her power.
Yet there would be the hour, also, for singing to him alone--they two alone together. Would not her song be then the most glorious? Not with her own voice, but with the voice of very love, would she utter her hymn of gladness and worship. And he would praise her in few words--more with looks than with words. And again she would say: 'So I can sing, and no one can sing like me; but only because I sing for you, and with my soul I love you!'
She could not often be sorrowful, and never for long together, even in thinking of the past. Yes, one day there was of unbroken grief, the day on which she received, through Mrs. Ormonde as always, the letter wherein Lydia told her of Mr. Boddy's death. On that day she shed bitter tears. Lydia spared her all that was most painful. She said that the old man had fallen insensible by the Pooles' house, had been taken in by them, and had died. She said that just before the end he uttered Thyrza's name. And Thyrza had thought too seldom of Mr. Boddy, to whom she and her sister owed so much. Had she hastened his death--she now asked herself--by bringing upon him a great grief? The common remorse, the common vain longings, assailed her. Even in the old days she had somewhat slighted him; she had never shown him such love and care as Lydia always did. And the poor old man was buried, with so much of her past.
Only one little shadow there was that fell upon her at times when she thought of Egremont. What was that question of Mrs. Ormonde's-- a question asked in the overheard conversation? 'Have you altogether forgotten Annabel?' And Walter's reply had shown that he did once love someone named Annabel. He had asked her to marry him, and she --strange beyond thought!--had refused him. Thyrza believed-- she could not be quite sure, but she believed--that she had heard Mrs. Ormonde address Miss Newthorpe by that name. She remembered Miss Newthorpe very distinctly, her refined beauty, her delightful playing; strangely, too, she had associated Egremont with that lady in the thoughts she had after her return from Eastbourne. If that were Annabel, did there remain no fear? If he had once loved her, might not the love revive? He and she would meet--doubtless, would meet. Her beauty, her accomplishments, would be present, and was there no danger to the newer love if that memory were frequently brought back?
If he had not loved Annabel, be she who she might! If this love for herself had been his first love, how thankful she would have been! The love she gave him was her first; never had she loved Gilbert Grail, though she had thought her friendship for him deserved the dearer name. Her first love, truly, and would it not he her last?
Very often, when she had sat down to her hook, thoughts of this kind would come and distract her. What to her were the kings of old Eastern lands, the conquests of Rome, the long chronicles dense with forgotten battle and woe? So easily she could have yielded to her former habits, and have passed hour after hour in reverie. What-- she wondered now--had she dreamed of in those far-off days? Was it not foresight of the mystery one day to rule her life? Had she not visioned these sorrows and these priceless joys, when as yet unable to understand them? Indeed, sometimes there seemed no break between then and now. She longed unconsciously for what was now come, that was all. Everything had befallen so naturally, so inevitably, step by step, a rising from vision to vision.
Would the future perfect her life's progress?
But Lydia was not forgotten. To her she wrote long letters, telling all that she might tell. The one thing of which she would most gladly have spoken to her sister must never be touched upon. For in one respect Lydia was against her--fixedly against her; she had come to know that too well. Lydia bitterly resented Egremont's coming between her sister and Gilbert; she hoped his name would never again be spoken, and that all remembrance of him would pass away. This made no difference to Thyrza's love. When she met Lydia it was always with the same passionate joy. Their meetings took place in a private room at the hotel Mrs. Ormonde always used. Lydia never made any inquiry; whatever she might tell about herself, Thyrza had to tell unasked. It would have made a great difference had there been no secret to keep beyond that comparatively unimportant one of where Thyrza was living. But Thyrza resolved to breathe no word till the two years were gone by. Would it, then, make a coldness between her and her sister? It should not; her happiness should not have that great flaw.
When the spring came, Thyrza knew a falling off in her health. The pain at her heart gave her more trouble, and she had days of such physical weakness that she could do little work. With the reviving year her passion became a yearning of such intensity that it seemed to exhaust her frame. For all her endeavours it was seldom during these weeks that she could give attention to her books; even her voice failed for a time, and when she resumed the suspended lessons, she terrified her teacher by fainting just as he was taking leave of her. Mrs. Ormonde came, and there was a very grave conversation between her and Dr. Lambe, who was again attending Thyrza. It was declared that the latter had been over-exerting herself; work of all kind was prohibited for a season. And when a week or two brought about little, if any, improvement, Thyrza was taken to Eastbourne, to her old quarters in Mrs. Guest's house.
There Lydia spent two days with her.
The elder sister could not give herself to full enjoyment of these days. Much as she delighted to be with Thyrza, there was always one and the same drawback to her pleasure in the meetings. Thyrza was so unfeignedly cheerful that Lydia could by no effort get rid of her suspicion that she was being deceived. She shrank from reopening the subject, because it was so disagreeable to her to pronounce Egremont's name; because, too, she could not betray doubt without offending Thyrza. It was hard to distrust Thyrza, yet how account for the girl's most strange apparent happiness? Even now, though under troubled health, her sister's spirits were good. Far more easily Lydia could have suspected Mrs. Ormonde of some duplicity, yet here she was checked by instincts of gratitude, and by a sense of shame. Mrs. Ormonde did not certainly impress her as likely to be deceitful. Still, though she would not specify accusation, Lydia felt, was convinced indeed, that something very material was being kept from her. It was a cruel interference with the completeness of her sympathy in all the conversation between Thyrza and herself.
'So you are friends again with Mary Bower,' Thyrza said, soon after they had met. 'Do you go and have tea with her on Sundays sometimes?'
'No, she comes to me.'
'And you go to chapel?' Thyrza laughed, seeing Lydia look down.
'Poor Lyddy, what a trial it always was to you! Do you mind it so much now?'
They were sitting on the beach. Lydia picked up pebbles and threw them away.
'I don't think about it as I used to, Thyrza,' she replied, quietly, after a short pause. 'I go now because I like to go.'
'Do you, dear?' Thyrza said, doubtfully, feeling there was a change and not understanding it. 'You always liked the singing, you know.'
'Yes, I like the singing. But there's more than that. I like it all now.'
'Do you?' said Thyrza, in yet a more uncertain voice.
Lydia looked up and smiled brightly.
'We won't talk about it now, dearest. Some day we will, though--a good long talk. When we are again together. If we ever shall be together again, Thyrza.'
'I think so, Lyddy. I hope so. At all events, we shall see each other very often.'
'Very often? Not always together?'
Thyrza was silent, but said presently:
'Perhaps. We can't tell, Lyddy.'
'But you don't think we shall. You don't hope we shall.' Thyrza did not speak.
'No,' Lydia went on, very sadly, 'that's all over and gone. There's something between us, and now there always will be, always. It's very hard for me to lose you like this.'
'Don't speak about it now, Lyddy,' her sister murmured. 'It isn't true that there'll always be something between us. You'll see. But don't speak about it now, dear.'
Lydia brightened, and found other subjects, Then Thyrza said:
'You never told me, Lyddy, what it was that first made you break off with Mary. You know you never would tell me. Is it still a secret?'
'No. I can tell you if you like.'
'It was because Mary spoke against Mr. Ackroyd. I still don't think that she ought to have spoken as she did, and Mary owns she was unkind; but I understand better now what she meant.'
'What was it she said?'
'It was about his having no religion, and that, because he had none, he did things he couldn't have done if he'd felt in the right way.'
'Yes, I understand,' Thyrza mused. She added: 'He's still not married?'
'Why not?--Lyddy, I don't believe they ever will be married.'
'And I don't either, dear.'
Thyrza looked quickly at her sister. Lydia was again playing with pebbles, not quite smiling, but nearly.
'You don't. Then what has happened? Won't you tell me?'
'I don't think they suit each other.'
'But there's something else, I'm sure there is. You said, 'And I don't either,' in such a queer way. How do you know they don't suit each other?'
'Since grandad's death, you know, I've often been to Mrs. Poole's. She tells me things sometimes. You mustn't think I ever ask, Thyrza. You know that isn't my way. But Mrs. Poole often speaks about her brother. Only two days ago, she told me he wasn't going to marry Totty.'
'Really? And I don't think you'd have said a word about it if I hadn't made you. It's broken off for good?'
'I believe it is.'
Neither spoke for a while. Then Thyrza said:
'I suppose you see Mr. Ackroyd sometimes at the house?'
'Sometimes,' the other replied, heedlessly.
'Does he talk to you, Lyddy?'
'A little. Just a little, sometimes.'
'But why has he broken off with Totty? What does Totty say about it?'
'I believe she was the first to ask him to break off. I met her a week ago, and she looked very jolly, as if something good had happened to her. I suppose she's glad to be free again.'
'How queer it all is, Lyddy! Now you might mention things like this in your letters. If there's anything else of the same kind happens, remember you tell me.'
'I don't see how there can be. Unless they begin over again.'
'Well, mind you tell me if they do--and if they don't.'
On the second day of Lydia's visit, they heard from The Chestnuts that Bessie Bunce was dead. She had died suddenly, and just when she seemed to be in better health than for years.
Thyrza, speaking of the event with Lydia, said gravely:
'I can't feel sorry. It's a good thing to die like that, with no pain and no looking forward.'
'Oh, do you think so, Thyrza? There's something dreadful in the suddenness to me.'
'To me it's just the opposite. I'm afraid of death. I don't think I could sit by anybody that was dying. I hope, I hope I may die in that way!'
Lydia was shocked, and wondered grieving.