Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXXVIII. The Truth
Mrs. Ormonde was successful, but success did not bring her unmixed content. She was persuaded that what she had done was wholly prudent, that in years to come she would look back on this chapter of her life with satisfaction. Yet for the present she could not get rid of a shapeless misgiving. This little centre of trouble in the mind was easily enough accounted for. Granted that Thyrza could live quite well without Walter Egremont, it was none the less true that, in losing him, she lost a certainty of happiness--and does happiness grow on every thicket, that one can afford to pass it lightly? The fear lest Egremont should reap misery from such a marriage, and cause misery in turn, was no longer seriously to be entertained; it could not now have justified interference, had there been nothing else that did so. Mrs. Ormonde could not rob Thyrza thus without grieving.
But it was the happiness of two against that of one; and, however monstrous the dogma that one should be sacrificed even to a million, such a consideration is wont to have weight with us when we are arguing with our conscience and getting somewhat the worst of it. Mrs. Ormonde felt sure that Annabel Newthorpe would not now reject Walter if he again offered himself; many things had given proof of that. Annabel knew that Thyrza had thoroughly outlived her trouble; she knew, moreover, that Egremont had never in reality compromised himself in regard to her. In her eyes, then, the latter was rather the victim of misfortune than himself culpable. If Walter eventually --of course, some time must pass--again sought to win her, without doubt he would tell her everything, and Annabel would find nothing in the story to make a perpetual barrier between them. The marriage which Mrs. Ormonde so strongly desired would still come about.
On the other hand, in spite of arguments that seemed irresistible, she could not dismiss the question: Does Thyrza know anything of Egremont's by-gone passion? That she could know anything of the compact which had run its two years, was of course impossible; but Walter's persistence in urging that, if once she had learnt his love for her, that, together with the circumstances of her life, would make sufficient ground for hope--this persistence had impressed Mrs. Ormonde. In a second long conversation the subject had been gone over, point by point, for a second time. 'If harm come,' Mrs. Ormonde said to herself, 'I am indeed to blame, for, though his wishes oppose it, I had but to show doubt and he would have taken the manly part and have gone to Thyrza.' She did not seek to defend herself by saying--as she might well have done--that throughout he encouraged her in her resistance. He was of firmer substance than two years ago, yet had not become, nor ever would, a vigorously independent man. In her hands the decision had lain--and the affair was decided.
On Tuesday, the day after Egremont's departure for the North of England, she was still thinking these thoughts. At four o'clock in the afternoon, having seen her children come in from the garden and gather for tea, she went with a book to spend an hour in the arbour where she had had that fateful conversation with Walter on the summer night. As she drew near to the covered spot, it seemed to her that there was a footfall behind on the grass. She turned her head, and with surprise saw Thyrza.
With something more than surprise. As she looked in Thyrza's face, that slight uneasiness in her mind changed to a dark misgiving, and from that to the certainty of fear. Thyrza had never regarded her thus; and she herself had never seen features so passionately woe-stricken. The book fell from her hand; she could not utter a greeting.
'I want to speak to you, Mrs. Ormonde.'
'Come in here, Thyrza. Why have you come? What has happened?'
She drew back under the shelter of leaf-twined trellis, and Thyrza followed. Mrs. Ormonde met the searching eyes, and compassion helped her to self-command. She could not doubt what the first words spoken would be, yet the mystery of the scene was inscrutable to her.
'I want to ask you about Mr. Egremont,' Thyrza said, resting her trembling hand on the little rustic table. 'I want to know where he is.'
Prepared as she had been, the words, really spoken, struck Mrs. Ormonde with new consternation. The voice was not Thyrza's; it had no sweetness, but was like the voice of one who had suffered long exhaustion, who speaks with difficulty.
'Yes, I will tell you where he is, Thyrza,' the other replied, her own accents shaken with sympathy. 'Why do you wish to hear of Mr. Egremont?'
'I think you needn't ask me that, Mrs. Ormonde.'
'Yes, I must ask. I can't understand why you should come like this, Thyrza. I can't understand what has happened to make this change in you since I saw you last.'
'Mrs. Ormonde, you do understand! Why should you pretend with me? You know that I have been waiting--waiting since Saturday.'
Thyrza spoke as if there were no mystery in her having attached a hope to that particular day. All but distraught as she was, she made no distinction between the mere fact of her abiding love, which she could not conceive that Mrs. Ormonde was ignorant of, and the incident of her having surprised a secret.
'Since Saturday?' Mrs. Ormonde repeated. 'What did you wait for on Saturday?'
She had a wretched suspicion. From Egremont alone that information could have come to Thyrza. Had he played detestably false, having by some means, at the height of his passion, communicated with the girl? But the thought could only pass through her mind; it would not bear the light of reason for a moment. Impossible for him to speak and act so during these past days, knowing that his dishonesty was certain of being discovered. Impossible to attach such suspicion to him at all.
'I expected to see him,' Thyrza replied. 'I knew he was to come in two years. I have waited all the time; and now he has not come. I heard----'
She checked herself, and looked at the trellis at the back of the summer-house. She understood now that it was needful to explain her knowledge.
'You heard, Thyrza----?'
'That night that he was here. I had walked to look at your house. I was going home again when he passed me--he didn't see me--and went into the garden. I couldn't go back at once; I had to sit down and rest. It was on the other side of the leaves.' She pointed. 'I sat down there without knowing he would be here and I should hear him talking to you. I heard all you said--about the two years. I have been waiting for him to come.'
Mrs. Ormonde could not reply; what words would express what she felt in learning this? Thyrza's eyes were still fixed upon her.
'I want you to tell me where he is, Mrs. Ormonde.'
It was a summons that could not be avoided.
'Sit here, Thyrza. I will tell you. Sit down and let me speak to you.'
'No, no! Tell me now! Why not? Why should I sit down? What is there to say?'
The words were not weakly complaining, but of passionate insistence. Thyrza believed that Mrs. Ormonde was preparing to elude her, was shaping excuses. Her eyes watched the other's every movement keenly, with fear and hostility. She felt within reach of her desire, yet held back by this woman from attaining it. Every instant of silence heightened the maddening tumult of her heart and brain. She had suffered so terribly since Saturday. It seemed as if her gentleness, her patience, were converted into their opposites, which now ruled her tyrannously.
'Mr. Egremont is not in London,' Mrs. Ormonde said at last. She dreaded the result of any word she might say. She was asking herself whether Walter ought not to be summoned back at once. Was it too late for that?
'Not in London? Then where? You saw him on Saturday?'
'Yes, I saw him.'
'And you would not tell him where I was, Mrs. Ormonde? You spoke like you did that night. You persuaded him not to come to me--when I was waiting. I forgave you for what you said before, but now you have done something that I shall never forgive----'
'There's nothing you can say will make me forgive you! Your kindness to me hasn't been kindness at all. It was all to separate me from him. What have you told him about me? You have said I don't think of him any more. You made him believe I wasn't fit for him. And now you will refuse to tell me where he is.'
Mrs. Ormonde took the girl's hands forcibly in her own, and held them against her breast. She was pale and overcome with emotion.
'Thyrza, you don't know what you are saying! Do force yourself to be calmer, so that you can listen to me.'
'Don't hold my hands, Mrs. Ormonde! I have loved you, but I can't pretend to, now that you have done this against me. I will listen to you, but how shall I believe what you say? I didn't think one woman could be so cruel to another as you have been to me. You don't know what it means, to wait as I have waited; if you knew, you'd never have done this; you wouldn't have had the heart to do this to me.'
'My poor child, think, think--how could I know that you were waiting? You forget that you have only just told me your secret for the first time. I have seen you always so full of life and gladness, and how was I to dream of this sudden change?'
Thyrza listened, and, as if imperfectly comprehending, examined the speaker's face in silence.
'I am not the cruel woman you call me,' Mrs. Ormonde went on. 'I had no idea that your happiness depended upon meeting with Mr. Egremont again.'
'You had no idea of that?' Thyrza asked, slowly, wonderingly. 'You say that you didn't know I loved him?'
'Not that you still loved him. Two years ago--I knew it was so then. But I fancied----'
'You thought I had forgotten all about him? How could you think that? Is it possible to love any one and forget so soon, and live as if nothing had happened? That cannot be true, Mrs. Ormonde. I know you wished me to forget him. And that is what you told him when you saw him on Saturday! You said I thought no more of him, and that it was better he shouldn't see me! Oh, what right had you to say that? Where is he now? You say you arc not cruel; let me know where I can find him.'
There was but one answer to make, yet Mrs. Ormonde dreaded to utter it. The girl's state was such that it might be fatal to tell her the truth. Passion such as this, nursed to this through two years in a heart which could affect calm, must be very near madness. Yet what help but to tell the truth? Unless she feigned that Egremont's failure to come on Saturday was her fault, in the sense Thyrza believed, and then send for him, that this terrible mischief might be undone?
If only she could have time to reflect. Whatever she did now, in this agitation, she might bitterly repent. Only under stress of the direst necessity could she summon Egremont back; there was something repugnant to her instinct, something impossible, in the thought of undoing all she had done. Egremont's position would be ignoble. Impossible to retrace her steps!
'I have no wish to prevent you from seeing him, Thyrza,' she said, making her resolve even as she spoke. 'He is not in London now, but he will be back before long, I think.'
'Is he in England?'
'Yes; in the North. He has gone to see friends. You don't know that he has been in America during these two years?'
Something was gained if Thyrza could be brought to listen with interest to details.
'In America? But he came back at the time. How could you refuse to keep your promise? What did he say to you? How could he go away again and let you break your word to him in that way?'
Mrs. Ormonde said, as gently as she could:
'I didn't break my word, Thyrza. I gave him your address. He had it on Friday night.'
She, whose nature it was to trust implicitly, now dreaded a deceit in every word. She gazed at Mrs. Ormonde, without change of countenance.
'And,' she said, slowly, 'you persuaded him not to come.'
Mrs. Ormonde paused before replying.
'Thyrza, is all your faith in me at an end? Cannot I speak to you like I used to, and be sure that you trust my kindness to you, that you trust my love?'
'Your love?' Thyrza repeated, more coldly than she had spoken yet. 'And you persuaded him not to come to me.'
'It is true, I did.'
Mrs. Ormonde had never spoken to any one with a feeling of humiliation like this which made her bend her head. Thyrza still looked at her, but no longer with hostility. She gazed with wonder, with doubt.
'Why did you do that to me, Mrs. Ormonde?'
There was heart-breaking pathos in the simple words. Tears rushed to the listener's eyes.
'My child, if I had known the truth, I should have said not a word to prevent his going. I did not know that you still loved him, hard as it is for you to believe that. I was deceived by your face. I have watched you month after month, and, as I knew nothing of your reason for hope, I thought you had found comfort in other things. Cannot you believe me, Thyrza?'
'And you told him that?'
'Yes, I told him what I thought was the truth. Thyrza, I have been cruel to you, but I had no thought that I was so.'
Thyrza asked, after a silence:
'But you told him where I was living?'
'I told him; he asked me, and I told him, as I had promised I would.'
Thyrza stood in deep thought. Mrs. Ormonde again took her hands.
'Dear, come and sit down. You are worn out with your trouble. Don't repel me, Thyrza. I have done you a great wrong, and I know you cannot feel to me as you did; but I am not so hard-hearted that your suffering does not pierce me through. Only sit here and rest.'
She allowed herself to be led to the seat. Her eyes rested on the ground for a while, then strayed to the leaves about her, which were golden with the sunlight they intercepted, then turned again to Mrs. Ormonde's face.
'He knew where I lived. How could you be sure he wouldn't come to me?'
Mrs. Ormonde sunk her eyes and made no reply.
'Did he promise you that he would never come?'
'He made me no promise, Thyrza.'
'No promise? Then how do you know that he won't come?'
A gleam shot to her eyes. But upon the moments of hope followed a revival of suspicion.
'You say you can't prevent me from seeing him. Tell me where he is --the place. You won't tell me?'
'And if I did, how would it help you?'
'Cannot I go there? Or can't I write and say that I wish to speak to him.'
'Thyrza, I asked no promise from him that he wouldn't go to you. I don't think you would really try to see him, knowing that he has your address.'
'You asked no promise, Mrs. Ormonde, but you persuaded him! You spoke as you did two years ago. You told him I could never make a fit wife for him, that he couldn't be happy with me, nor I with him.'
'No; I did not speak as I did two years ago. I know you much better than I did then, and I told him all that I have since learnt. No one could speak in higher words of a woman than I did of you, and I spoke from my heart, for I love you, Thyrza, and your praise is dear to me.'
That fixed, half-conscious gaze of the blue eyes was hard to bear, so unutterably piteous was it, so wofully it revealed the mind's anguish. Mrs. Ormonde waited for some reply, but none came.
'You do not doubt this, Thyrza?'
Still no answer.
'Suppose I give you the address, do you feel able to write, before he has----?'
There was a change in the listener's face. Mrs. Ormonde sprang to her, and saved her from falling. Nature had been tried at last beyond its powers.
Mrs. Ormonde could not leave the unconscious form; her voice would not be beard if she called for help. But the fainting fit lasted a long time. Thyrza lay as one who is dead; her features calm, all the disfiguring anguish passed from her beauty. Her companion had a moment of terror. She was on the point of hastening to the house, when a sign of revival cheeked her. She supported Thyrza in her arms.
'Thank you, Mrs. Ormonde,' was the latter's first whisper, the tone as gentle and grateful as it was always wont to be.
'Can you sit alone for a minute, dear, while I fetch something?'
'I am well, quite well again, thank you.'
Mrs. Ormonde went and speedily returned. Thyrza was sitting with her eyes closed. They spoke only broken words. But at length Mrs. Ormonde said:
'You must come into the house now, Thyrza. You shall be quite alone; you must lie down.'
'No, I can't stay here, Mrs. Ormonde. I must go back before it gets too late. I must go to the station.'
Even had Thyrza's condition allowed of this, her friend would have dreaded to lose sight of her now, to let her travel to London and thereafter be alone. After trying every appeal, she refused to allow her to go.
'You must stay here for the night, Thyrza. You must. I have much more to say to you. But first you must rest. Come with me.'
Her will was the stronger. Thyrza at length suffered herself to be taken into the house, and to a room where she could have perfect quietness. Mrs. Ormonde alone waited upon her, brought her food, did everything to soothe body and mind. By sunset, the weary one was lying with her head on the pillow. On a table within her reach was a bell, whose sound would at once summon her attendant from the next room.
At ten o'clock Mrs. Ormonde entered silently. Three nights of watching, and the effects of all she had endured this afternoon, were weighing heavily on Thyrza's eyelids, though as yet she could not sleep. Foreseeing this, Mrs. Ormonde had brought a draught, which would be the good ally of Nature striving for repose. Thyrza asked no question, but drank what was offered like a child.
'Now you will soon rest, dear. I must not ask you to kiss me, Thyrza?'
The lips were offered. They were cold, for passion lay dead upon them. She did not speak, but sank back with a sigh and closed her eyes.
Again at midnight Mrs. Ormonde entered. The small taper which burnt in the room showed faintly the sleeping face. Standing by the bed, she felt her heart so wrung with sorrow that she wept.
In the morning Thyrza declared that she did not suffer. She rose and sat by the open window. She fancied she could hear the sea.
'You said you had more to tell me, Mrs. Ormonde,' she began, when the latter sat silently by her.
'To speak with you and to try to help you, my child, that was all.'
'But you told me very little yesterday. I am not sure that I understood. You need not be afraid to tell me any. thing. I can bear anything.'
'Will you ask me what you wish to know, Thyrza?'
'You say you persuaded him--and yet that you said good of me.'
The other waited.
'Didn't he come from America, to see me?'
'You mean that he came because he thought it was right to. I understand. And when you told him that I was not thinking of him, he --he felt himself free?'
'Do you think--is it likely that he will ever wish to see me now?'
'If he knew that you had suffered because he did not come, he would be with you in a few hours.'
Thyrza gazed thoughtfully.
'And he would ask me to marry him?'
'Doubtless he would.'
'So when you persuaded him not to see me, he was glad to know that he need not come?'
It was a former question repeated in another way. Mrs. Ormonde kept silence. It was several minutes before Thyrza spoke again.
'I don't know whether you will tell me, but did he think of any one else as well as of me when he came back to England?'
'I am not sure, Thyrza.'
'Will you tell me what friends he has gone to see?'
'Their name is Newthorpe.'
'Miss Newthorpe--the same I once saw here?'
'What is Miss Newthorpe's name, Mrs. Ormonde?'
Thyrza moved her lips as if they felt parched. She asked nothing further, seemed indeed to forget that she had been conversing. She watched the waving branches of a tree in the garden.
Mrs. Ormonde had followed the working of the girl's mind with intense observation. She knew not whether to fear or to be glad of the strange tranquillity that had succeeded upon such uncontrolled vehemence. What she seemed to gather from Thyrza's words she scarcely ventured to believe. It was a satisfaction to her that she had avoided naming Egremont's address, yet a satisfaction that caused her some shame. Indeed, it was the sense of shame that perhaps distressed her most in Thyrza's presence. Egremont's perishable love, her own prudential forecasts and schemings, were stamped poor, worldly, ignoble, in comparison with this sacred and extinguishable ardour. As a woman she felt herself rebuked by the ideal of womanly fidelity; she was made to feel the inferiority of her nature to that which fate had chosen for this supreme martyrdom. In her glances at Thyrza's face she felt, with new force, how spiritual was its beauty. For in soulless features, however regular and attractive, suffering reveals the flesh; this girl, stricken with deadly pallor, led the thoughts to the purest ideals of womanhood transfigured by woe in the pictures of old time.
'I will go by the train at twelve o'clock,' Thyrza said, moving at length.
'I want you to stay with me till to-morrow--just till tomorrow morning, Thyrza. If my presence pains you, I will keep away. But stay till to-morrow.'
'If you wish it, Mrs. Ormonde.'
'Will you go out? Into the garden? To the shore?'
'I had rather stay here.'
She kept her place by the window through the whole day, as she had sat in her own room in London. She could not have borne to see the waves white on the beach and the blue horizon; the sea that she had loved so, that she had called her friend, would break her heart with its song of memories. She must not think of anything now, only, if it might be, put her soul to sleep and let the sobbing waters of oblivion bear it onwards through the desolate hours. She had no pain; her faculties were numbed; her will had spent itself.
Mrs. Ormonde brought her meals, speaking only a word of gentleness. In the evening Thyrza said to her:
'Will you stay a few minutes?'
She sat down and took Thyrza's hand. The latter continued:
'I shall be glad if they would give me the sewing to do again, and the work at the Home. Do you think they will, Mrs. Ormonde?'
'Don't you wish to go on with your lessons?'
'No. I can't stay there if I don't earn enough to pay for everything. I shall try to keep on with the singing.'
It was perhaps wiser to yield every point for the present.
'It shall be as you wish, Thyrza,' Mrs. Ormonde replied.
After a pause:
'Mrs. Emerson will wonder where I am. Will you write to her, so that I needn't explain when I get back to-morrow?'
'I have just had an anxious letter from her, and I have already answered it.'
Thyrza withdrew her hand gently.
'I was wrong when I spoke in that way to you yesterday, Mrs. Ormonde,' she said, meeting the other's eyes. 'You haven't done me harm intentionally; I know that now. But if you had let him come to me, I don't think he would have been sorry--afterwards--when he knew I loved him. I don't think any one will love him more. I was very different two years ago, and he thinks of me as I was then. Perhaps, if he had seen me now, and spoken to me--I know I am still without education, and I am not a lady, but I could have worked very hard, so that he shouldn't be ashamed of me.'
Mrs. Ormonde turned her face away and sobbed.
'I won't speak of it again,' Thyrza said. 'You couldn't help it. And he didn't really wish to come, so it was better. I am very sorry for what I said to you, Mrs. Ormonde.'
But the other could not bear it. She kissed Thyrza's hands, her tears falling upon them, and went away.