Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXXVI. Thyrza Waits
'I can't promise, Mrs. Emerson, that my sister will come down and have tea with you. Please don't make any preparations; it's only perhaps.'
Thyrza had looked into the sitting-room to say this late in the evening.
'Oh, but she must!' Clara pleaded. 'Why not, dear? Won't you let me see her at all, then?'
Thyrza closed the door, which she had been holding open, and advanced into the room. She wore a dress of light hue, and had some flowers in her girdle. The past year had added a trifle to her stature; it could not add to her natural grace, but her manner of entering showed that diffidence had been overcome by habit. There was very little now to distinguish her from the young lady who has always walked on carpets.
'You won't mind if I ask you to come up to my room instead, Mrs. Emerson?' she said, standing before the sofa on which Clara sat sewing. 'I don't know that it will be necessary, but, if it should be----'
'Oh, I will gladly come. It's only that I didn't like to think of not making her acquaintance at all.'
'There's no reason why I shouldn't explain it to you,' Thyrza said, holding her hands together. 'My sister has never been with any except working people, and it is quite natural that she should feel a little afraid of meeting strangers. I'm sure she needn't be; but of course I must do what she wishes.'
'But, my dear, surely nobody in the world could be afraid of us! And, as you say, I feel certain that your sister needn't be afraid of any one. I'll come up and see her, and we'll talk a little, and she'll get used to me.'
'Yes. I am so glad she is coming!'
'I'm sure you are. And how well you look to-night, dear! It's so seldom you have any colour in your cheeks. There now! If I was another sort of person, you'd go away thinking I'd said that on purpose to hurt you.'
'How could I?' Thyrza uttered in surprise. 'What sort of people would have that thought?'
'Oh, very many that I know.'
'Surely not, Mrs. Emerson! But it's quite true; my cheeks feel a little hot to-night. They generally do when I've been making myself very happy about anything.'
'But you're always so happy.'
'Not more than you are,' Thyrza replied, laughing.
'Well, I think you show it more. When I'm happiest, I sit very quiet, and look very dull. Now you sing, and your eyes get so bright and large, you don't know how large your eyes look sometimes.'
Thyrza laughed and shook her head.
'I sing too much,' she said. 'If I don't mind I shall be hurting my voice. But it's late; I must be off to bed. And I know I shan't sleep all night. To tell the truth, it isn't often I sleep more than three or four hours. Good-night, Mrs. Emerson!
'Good-night, happy girl!'
She went away, laughing in pure, liquid notes. Her light step could not be heard as she ran up the stairs.
It wanted but a week of the day to which Thyrza's life had pointed for two years. That day of the month had stood long since marked upon her calendar; and now the long months had annihilated themselves; it wanted but seven days.
External changes of some importance had come to her of late. Since her admission to Mr. Redfern's choir she no longer wrought with her needle. More than that, every other day there came a lady who read with her and taught her. The time of weary toil without assistance was over. She had never been able to seek help of Mrs. Emerson; it was repugnant to her to speak of what she was doing in secret. To tell of her efforts would have seemed to Thyrza like half revealing her motives, so closely connected in her own mind were the endeavour and its hope. Mrs. Ormonde had known, but hitherto had offered no direct assistance.
To the latter Thyrza's relation was a strange one. As her mind matured, as her dreaming gave way more frequently to conscious reflection, she often asked herself how, knowing Mrs. Ormonde's thoughts, she could accept from her so much and repay her with such sincere affection. Told to her of another, she could with difficulty have believed it. Yet the simple truth remained that she had never shrunk from Mrs. Ormonde's offers of kindness, had never felt humiliated in receiving anything at her hands. This could not have been but for the sincerity of affection on Mrs. Ormonde's side. A dialogue such as that which Thyrza had overheard at Eastbourne would have inspired hatred in a nature less pure than hers. She had wondered, had at times thought that Mrs. Ormonde misjudged her; yet such was the simple candour of her mind that, instead of fostering evil, that secret knowledge had wrought upon her in the most beneficial way. 'She thinks that I am no fit wife for him; but that isn't all. She thinks of me, too, and believes that he could not make me happy. Though speaking in private, she did not say a word that could truly offend me. I know her to be good. I remember what she was by my bedside when I was ill; and I have seen numberless things that prove how impossible it is for her to deceive any one who puts trust in her.' And from that Thyrza derived both comfort and guidance. 'I will not fear her. Perhaps she has acted in the wisest and kindest way. To him who loves me two years will be nothing: and cannot I use the time to prove to her that I am worthy to be his wife? If his love is still the same--how can it not be?--and my worthiness is put beyond doubt, she can have no further reason for opposing our marriage; nay, she will be glad in my happiness and in his. She shall see that I can bear trial, that I can work quietly and perseveringly, above all that I am faithful.'
And time made the affection between them stronger. Thyrza believed that Mrs. Ormonde's opposition to the marriage was weakening; when at length, as the time drew to an end, menial work was put aside and she was encouraged to spend her days in improving her mind, it seemed to her a declaration that she was found fit for a higher standing than that to which she was born. The joy which filled her became almost too great to bear. She no longer strove to conceal it in Mrs. Ormonde's presence. There was a touching little scene between them on the afternoon before the concert at which Thyrza was to sing for the first time, Mrs. Ormonde came to Thyrza's room unannounced; the latter was laying out the dress she was to wear in the evening--a simple white dress, but far more beautiful than any she had ever put on. Seeing her friend enter, she turned, looked in her face, and burst into tears. When she could utter words, they were a passionate expression of gratitude. Mrs. Ormonde believed in that moment that her two years' anxiety had found its end.
Very shortly after came the permission for Lydia to visit her. It was new assurance that Mrs. Ormonde was reconciled to what she had tried to prevent. A week, and there would come another visitor, one who was more to her even than her sister.
In looking back, the time seemed very brief, for, whatever change had been made in her, the love which was her life's life had known no shadow of change. Had it perhaps strengthened? It was hard to believe that she could love more than in that day of her darkest misery, when it had seemed that she must die of longing for him to whom she had given her soul. Yet she was stronger now, her life was richer in a multitude of ways, and every gain she had achieved paid tribute to her life's motive. Her singing she valued most as a way of uttering the emotion she must not speak of to anyone; in music she could ease herself of passion, yet fear no surprisal of her secret. Nothing was a joy save in reference to that one end that was before her. If she felt happy in a piece of knowledge attained, it was because she would so soon speak of it to him, and hear him praise her for it. Everything and all people about her seemed to conspire for her happiness. Even the bodily pain which had often tried her so was no longer troublesome, or very seldom indeed. Mrs. Emerson might well call her 'happy girl.'
In him she could imagine no change. His face was as present to her as if she had seen him an hour ago, and she never asked herself whether two years would have made any alteration even in his appearance. His voice was the voice in which he had spoken to Mrs. Ormonde, when he uttered the golden words that said he loved her. He would speak now in the same way, with those inflections which she knew so well, dearer music than any she had learnt or could learn. In the beginning she had known a few fears; time then was so long-- so long before her; but what had she to do with fear now? Was be not Walter Egremont, the man of all men--the good, wise, steadfast? She had heard much praise of him in the old days, but never praise enough. No one knew him well enough; no one the half as well as she did. Should she not know him who dwelt in her heart?
His life had always been strange to her, but by ceaseless imagining she had pictured it to herself so completely that she believed she could follow him day by day. Gilbert Grail had told her that he dwelt in a room full of books, near the British Museum, which also was full of books. Most of his time was spent in study; she understood what that meant. He did not give lectures now; that had come miserably to an end. He had a few friends, one or two men like himself, who thought and talked of high and wonderful things, and one or two ladies, of course--Mrs. Ormonde, and, perhaps, Miss Newthorpe. But probably Miss Newthorpe was married now. And, indeed, he did not care much to talk with ladies. He would go occasionally out of London, as he used to; perhaps would go abroad. If he crossed the sea, he must think much of her, for the sea always brings thoughts of those one loves. And so he lived, only wishing for the time to go by.
Lydia's visit was on Sunday. She was to come immediately after dinner; and, perhaps, though it remained uncertain--for she had not ventured to speak of it in her letter--they would have tea with the Emersons.
Concerning Thyrza's sister Mrs. Emerson had much curiosity, but she was not ill-bred. She made no attempt to get a glimpse of Lydia as the latter went upstairs to Thyrza's room. Thyrza stood just within her open door. She had put a flower in her hair for the welcoming.
'So this is where you have lived all this time,' Lydia said, looking about the room. 'How pretty it is, Thyrza! But of course it's a lady's room.'
The other stood with her hands together before her, and, a little timidly, said:
'Do I look like a lady? Suppose you didn't know me, Lyddy, should you think I was a lady?'
'Of course I should,' her sister answered, though in a way which showed that she did not care to dwell on the subject.
Still, Thyrza laughed with pleasure.
'And do you think I love my sister a bit the less?'
'Of course I don't.'
Lydia was not quite at her ease.
'I'm not at all sure of that. Take your things off and sit down in that chair, and talk to me as if we were in the old room at home. I must see our room again, Lyddy. I must see it before long.'
Lydia always had to overcome feelings of suspicion and remoteness at the beginning of her meetings with Thyrza; time had not changed her in this respect; she still feared that something was being concealed from her. And to-day it was long before she grew sufficiently accustomed to the room to talk with freedom. Thyrza lost all hope of persuading her to have tea with the Emersons. She was obliged to broach the subject, however, and it excited no less opposition than she had looked for. Lydia shrank from the thought. Yet, when Thyrza ceased to urge, and even exerted herself to make her sister forget all about it, Lydia said all at once:
'Do you always have tea with them on Sundays?'
'Yes. But it doesn't make the least difference. I have it here by myself other days, and I can do just as I like about it. Don't trouble, dear.'
'There won't be anybody except those two?'
'Oh no. There never is.'
Lydia changed her mind. Much as she disliked meeting strangers and sitting at their table, she felt a wish to see these people with whom Thyrza lived, that she might form her own opinion of them. Thyrza, much delighted, ran down at once to tell Mrs. Emerson.
Having made up her mind to face the trial, Lydia went through it as might have been expected, sensibly and becomingly. Clara made much of her; Mr. Emerson--at home for once--was languidly polite. After tea Thyrza was asked to sing, but she excused herself as having no voice to-day. Her real reason was that she could only sing 'week-day' songs, and, though not certain, she thought it just possible that Lydia might dislike that kind of thing on Sunday. However, the good Lyddy had not quite reached that pass.
The sisters went upstairs again. Lydia had found Mrs. Emerson very different from her expectation, and was feeling a relief. She talked naturally once more. A subject of much interest to both was the approaching marriage of Totty Nancarrow.
'But is it quite certain this time, Lyddy?'
'Oh, quite, dear. The names are up in the registry office.'
Lydia knew nothing of Totty's fortune, nor did any one else in Lambeth. To this day Totty and her husband have kept that a secret.
'Well, what a girl Totty is!' Thyrza exclaimed. 'And she used to declare that she wouldn't be married on any account. Of course I always knew that was all nonsense. I shall go and see her some day, Lyddy, before long.'
Lydia noticed the frequency with which Thyrza spoke of shortly seeing old places and old friends. It puzzled her, but she asked for no explanation. Perhaps all these mysteries would be at an end in time.
Thyrza found it very hard to part to-night. She found numberless excuses for detaining Lydia from moment to moment, when it was really time for her to go. She was agitated, and as if with some great joy.
'Next Sunday, at the same time, Lyddy!' she repeated again and again.
'But is there any fear of me forgetting it, dearest?' urged her sister.
'No, no! But I am so glad for you to come here. You like coming? I don't think I shall write to you in the week; but of course you'll write, if there's anything. I might send a line; but no, I don't think I shall. It'll be such a short time till Sunday, won't it? Does the week go quickly with you? Oh, we must say good-bye; it's getting too late. Good-bye, my own, my dearest, my old Lyddy! Think of me every hour--I'm always the same to you, whatever kind of dress I wear; you know that, don't you? Good-bye, dear Lyddy!'
She clung to Lydia and kissed her. They went downstairs together, then, before opening the door, again embraced and kissed each other silently.
When a few yards away, Lydia turned. Thyrza stood on the door-step; light from within the house shone on her golden hair and just made her face visible. She was kissing her hand. . . .
It was Saturday. The week had been neither long nor short; Thyrza could not distinguish the days in looking back upon them. She had not lived in time, but in the eternity of a rapturous anticipation. Her daily duties had been performed as usual, but with as little consciousness as if she had done all in sleep. She rose, and it was Saturday morning.
What time to-day? That he would let one day pass had never occurred to her as a possibility. But perhaps he would be at Eastbourne in the morning, and in that case she must wait many hours. Happily, she had nothing to attend to; today she could not even have pretended to live her wonted life.
Mrs. Emerson would be out till evening. No one would come upstairs to disturb about trifles.
She pretended to breakfast, then sat down by the window. She was fearful now, not for the event, but of her own courage when the time came. Could she stand before him? In what words could she speak to him? Yet she must not let him doubt what her two years had been. Would it be right to tell him that he came not unexpected, to confess that she had heard him when he spoke to Mrs. Ormonde? Not at once, not to-day. He must know, but not to-day.
How short a time, two years; how long, how endlessly long each hour on this day of waiting!
For the morning passed, and he did not come. He was at Eastbourne; he had not even asked Mrs. Ormonde to keep her word till the very day came.
Her dinner was brought up, and was sent down again untouched. She sat still at the window. Every wheel that approached made her heart leap; its dull rumbling into the distance sickened her with disappointment. But most likely he would walk to the house, and then she would not know till the servant came up to tell her.
Why had she not thought to get a railway-guide, that she might know all the trains from Eastbourne? She could not now go out to purchase one; he would come in her absence.
It drew to evening. Thyrza knew neither hunger nor thirst; she did not even feel weary. Dread was creeping upon her. She fought with it resolutely. She would be no traitor to herself, to him her other self. He might very well leave it till evening, to make sure of her being at home.
Her mind racked her with absurd doubts. Had she mistaken? Was this the day?
Pale and cold as marble, whilst the evening twilight died upon her face. She did not move. Better to sit so still that she forgot impatience, perchance forgot time. The vehicles in the street were fewer now; her heart-throbs as each drew near were the more violent. Nor would the inward pulse recover its quietness when there was silence. She heard it always; she felt it as an unceasing pain.
Why should she rise and light the lamp? If he did not come, what matter if she sat in darkness and pain for ever?
And the long summer evening did in truth become night. The street grew yet more quiet. She saw the moon, very clear and beautiful.
There sounded a loud double-knock at the street door. She sprang up and stood listening. It was a visitor to the Emersons. Even when assured of that, something in her would not believe it, hoped against conviction. But at length she went back to her chair. No tears; but the pain harder to bear than ever.
She awoke at very early morning; she was lying on her bed, fully clad. There was a dread in her mind at waking, and in a few moments she recognised it. Lydia was coming to-day. Would it be possible to sit and talk with her?
Only by clinging with stern determination to the last hope. Something had rendered it impossible for him to come yesterday, and to-day he was not likely to come; no, not to-day. But there was always the morrow. By refusing to think of anything but the morrow she might bear Lydia's presence.
Sunday, Monday; and now it was Tuesday at dawn. Thyrza had but one thought in her mind. Mrs. Ormonde was treacherous. She had broken her promise. He was wishing to come to her, and knew not where she was--Lydia would not tell him. Lydia too was pitiless.
She had sat still in her room since Sunday night. She had pleaded illness to avoid all visits and all occupation. Whether really ill or no, she could not say. Yes, there was the pain, but she had become so used to that. She only knew that the days and the nights were endless, that she no longer needed to eat, that the sunlight was burdensome to her eyes.
Clara had been troublesome with her solicitude; it had needed an almost angry word to secure privacy.
At mid-day Thyrza took up the railway-guide which she had procured and sought for something in its pages. Then she began to attire herself for going out. She looked into her purse. In a few minutes she went quietly down the stairs, as if for an ordinary walk, and left the house.