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- Thyrza - 122/122 -


'Yes.'

Mrs. Ormonde bore the picture away. In a few minutes Egremont took his leave, and went to the hotel to which he had sent his travelling-bag from Brighton. It was long before he slept. He was thinking of a night a little more than a year ago, when he had walked by the shore and held debate with himself. . . .

On the following evening, shortly before sunset, Annabel and he walked on the short dry grass of the Down that rises to Beachy Head. There had been another day of supreme tranquillity, of blurred sunshine, of soothing autumnal warmth. And this was the crowning hour. The mist had drifted from the land and the sea; as the two continued their ascent, the view became lovelier. They regarded it, but spoke of other things.

'I have no wish to go back to America,' Egremont was saying, 'but, if I do, I shall very likely settle there for good. I don't think I am ideally adapted to a pursuit of that kind, but habit makes it quite tolerable.'

'What should you do if you remained in England?' Annabel asked, her voice implying no more than friendly interest.

'I might say that I don't know, but it wouldn't be true. I know well enough I should live the life of a student, and of a man who looks on contemporary things with an artistic interest, though he lacks the artistic power to use his observations. In time I should marry. I should have pleasure in my house, should make it as beautiful as might be, should gather a very few friends about me. I should not become morbid; the danger of that is over. Every opportunity I saw of helping those less fortunate than myself I should gladly seize; it is not impossible that I might seek opportunities, that I might found some institution--of quite commonplace aims, be assured. For instance, I should like to see other Homes like Mrs. Ormonde's; many women could conduct them, if the means were supplied. And so on.'

'Yes, that is all very reasonable. It lies with yourself to decide whether you might not have a breezier existence in America.'

'True. But not with myself to decide whether I remain here or go back again. I ask you to help me in determining that.'

Annabel stood as one who reflects gravely yet collectedly. Egremont fixed his eyes upon her, until she looked at him then his gaze questioned silently.

'Let us understand each other,' said Annabel. 'Do you say this because of anything that has been in the past?'

'Not _because_ of it; in continuance of it.'

'Yet we are both very different from what we were when that happened.'

'Both, I think. I do not speak now as I did then, yet the wish I have is far more real.'

They were more than half-way up the ascent; it was after sunset, and the mood of the season was changing.

The plain of Pevensey lay like a vision of fairyland, the colouring indescribably delicate, unreal; bands of dark green alternated with the palest and most translucent emeralds. The long stretch of the coast was a faint outline, yet so clear that every tongue of sand, every smallest headland was distinguishable. The sky that rested on the eastern semicircle of horizon was rather neutral tint than blue, and in it hung long clouds of the colour of faded daffodils. A glance overhead gave the reason of this wondrous effect of light; there, and away to the west, brooded a vast black storm-cloud, ragged at the edge, yet seeming motionless; the western sea was very night, its gloom intensified by one slip of silver shimmer, wherein a sail was revealed. The hillside immediately in front of those who stood here was so deeply shadowed that its contrast threw the vision of unearthly light into distance immeasurable. A wind was rising, but, though its low whistling sound was very audible, it seemed to be in the upper air; here scarcely a breath was felt.

Annabel said:

'Have you seen Thyrza's portrait?

'Yes.'

She raised her eyes; they were sad, compassionate, yet smiled.

'She could not have lived. But you are conscious now of what that face means?'

'I know nothing of her history from the day when I last saw her, except the mere outward circumstances.'

'Nor do I. But I saw her once, here, and I have seen her portrait. The crisis of your life was there. There was your one great opportunity, and you let it pass. She could not have lived; but that is no matter. You were tried, Mr. Egremont, and found Wanting.'

'Her love for me did not continue. It was already too late at the end of those two years.

'Was it?'

'What secret knowledge have you?'

'None whatever, as you mean it. But it was not too late.'

They were silent. And as they stood thus the sky was again transformed. A steady yet soft wind from the northwest was propelling the great black cloud seaward, over to France; it moved in a solid mass, its ragged edges little by little broken off, its bulk detached from the night which lay behind it. And in the sky which it disclosed rose as it were a pale dawn, the restored twilight. Thereamid glimmered the pole-star.

Eastward on the coast, at the far end of Pevensey Bay, the lights of Hastings began to twinkle; out at sea was visible a single gleam, appearing and disappearing, the lightship on the Sovereign Shoals.

Annabel continued speaking:

'We have both missed something, something that will never again he offered us. When you asked me to be your wife, four years ago at Ullswater, I did not love you. I admired you; I liked you; it would have been very possible to me to marry you. But I had my ideal of love, and I hoped to give my husband something more than I felt for you at that time. A year after, I loved you. I suffered when you were suffering. I was envious of the love you gave to another woman, and I said to myself that the moment I hoped for had come only in vain. Since then I have changed more than I changed in those twelve months. I am not in love with you now; I can talk of these things without a flutter of the pulse. Is it not true?'

She held her hand to him, baring the wrist. Egremont retained the hand in both his own.

'I can tell you, you see,' she went on, 'what I know to be the truth, that you missed the great opportunity of your life when you abandoned Thyrza. Her love would have made of you what mine never could, even though she herself had been taken from you very soon. I can tell you the mere truth, you see. Dare you still ask for me?'

'I don't ask, Annabel. I have your hand and I keep it.'

'You may. I don't think I should ever give it to any other man.'

The night was thickening about them.

'Shall we go up to the Head?' Egremont asked.

'No higher.'

She said it with a significant look, and he understood her.


Thyrza - 122/122

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