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- Thyrza - 20/122 -


There is a curious pomposity about him, too, which grates upon me. I shouldn't have been at all sorry if he had been the seceder; he's bored terribly, I know, yet he naturally feels bound to keep his place. But I'm very sorry that Ackroyd has gone; he has brains, and I wanted to get to know him. I shall not give him up; I must persuade him to come and have a talk with me.'

'What of Mr. Grail?'

'Ah, Grail is faithful. Yes, Grail is the man of them all; that I am sure of. I am going to ask him to stay after the lecture to-morrow. I haven't spoken privately with him yet. But I think I can begin now to establish nearer relations with two or three of them. I have been lecturing for just a couple of months; they ought to know something of me by this time, On the whole, I think I am succeeding. But if there is one of them on whom I found great hopes, it is Grail. The first time I saw him, I knew what a distinction there was between him and the others. He seems to be a friend of Ackroyd's, too; I must try to get at Ackroyd by means of him.'

'Is he--Grail, I mean--a married man?'

'I really don't know. Yet I should think so. I shouldn't be surprised if he were unhappily married. Certainly there is some great trouble in his life. Sometimes he looks terribly worn, quite ill.'

'And Mr. Bunce?' she asked, with a look of peculiar interest.

'Poor Bunce is also a good deal of a mystery to me. He, too, always looks more or less miserable, and I'm afraid his interest is not very absorbing. Still, he takes notes, and now and then even puts an intelligent question.'

'He has not attacked you on the subject of religion yet.

'Oh, no! We still have that question to fight out. But of course I must know him very well before I approach it. I think he bears me goodwill; I caught him looking at me with a curious sort of cordiality the other night.'

'I must have that little girl of his down again,' Mrs. Ormonde said. 'I wonder whether she still reads that insufferable publication. By-the-by, I found you had told them the story at Ullswater.'

'Yes. It came up _a propos_ of my scheme.'

A gong sounded down below.

'Twelve o'clock' remarked Mrs. Ormonde. 'My birds are going to their dinner--poor little town sparrows! We'll let them get settled, then go and have a peep at them--shall we?'

'Yes, I should like to see them--and,' he added pleasantly, 'to see the look on your face when you watch them.'

'I have much to thank them for, Walter,' she said, earnestly. 'They brighten many an hour when I should be unhappy.'

Presently Mrs. Ormonde led the way downstairs and to the rear of the house. A room formerly devoted to billiards had been converted into a homely but very bright refectory; it was hung round with cheerful pictures, and before each of the two windows stood a large aquarium, full of water-plants and fishes. At the table were seated seven little girls, of ages from eight to thirteen, all poorly clad, yet all looking remarkably joyous, and eating with much evidence of appetite. At the head of the table was a woman of middle age and motherly aspect--Mrs. Mapper. She had the superintendence of the convalescents whom the lady of the house received and sent back to their homes in London better physically and morally than they had ever been in their lives before. The children did not notice that Mrs. Ormonde and her companion had entered; they were chatting gaily over their meal. Now and then one of them drew a gentle word of correction from Mrs. Mapper, but on the whole they needed no rebuke. Those who had been longest in the house speedily instructed new arrivals in the behaviour they had learned to deem becoming. A girl waited at table. On that subject Mrs. Ormonde had amusing stories to relate; how more than one servant had regretfully but firmly declined to wait upon little ragamuffins (female, too), and how one in particular had explained that she made no objection to doing it only because she regarded it as a religious penance.

Egremont had his pleasure in regarding her face, nobly beautiful as she moved her eyes from one to another of her poor little pensioners. She had said at first that it would be impossible ever again to live in this house, when she quitted it for a time after her husband's death. How could she pass through the barren rooms, how dwell within sight and sound of the treacherous waves which had taken her dearest? It was a royal thought which converted the sad dwelling into a home for those whose reawakening laughter would chide despondency from beneath the roof; whose happiness would ease the heavy heart and make memory a sacred solace. She had her abounding reward, and such as only the greatly loving may attain to.

They withdrew without having excited attention; Mrs. Mapper saw them, but Mrs. Ormonde made sign to her to say nothing.

'Two are upstairs, I'm sorry to say,' she remarked as they went back to the drawing-room. 'They have obstinate colds; I keep them under the bed-clothes. The difficulty these poor things have in getting rid of a cold! With many of them I believe such a condition is chronic; it goes on, I suppose, until they die of it.'

They talked together till luncheon time. Egremont led the conversation back to Ullswater, where Mrs. Ormonde had just spent a fortnight.

'I think I must go and see them at Christmas,' he said, 'if they don't come south.'

The other considered.

'Don't go so soon,' she said at length.

'So soon? It will be six mortal months.'

'Be advised.'

Egremont sighed and left the subject.

'Tell me what you have been doing of late,' Mrs. Ormonde resumed, 'apart from your lectures.'

'Very little of which any account can be rendered. I read a good deal, and occasionally come across an acquaintance.'

'Have you seen the Tyrrells since they returned?'

'No. I had an invitation to dine with them the other day, but excused myself.'

'On what grounds?'

'I mean to see less of people in general.'

Mrs. Ormonde regarded him.

'I hope,' she said, 'that you will pursue no such idea. You mean, of course, that your Lambeth work is to be absorbing. Let it be so, but don't fall into the mistake of making it your burden. You are not one of those who can work in solitude.'

'I am getting a distaste for ordinary society.'

'Then I beg of you to resist the mood. Go into society freely. You are in danger as soon as you begin to neglect it.'

'I, individually?'

'Yes.' She smiled at the deprecating look he turned on her. 'Let me be your moral physician. Already I notice that you fall short of perfect health: the refusal of that invitation is a symptom. Pray give faith to what I say; if any one knows you, I think it is I.'

He kept silence. Mrs. Ormonde continued:

'I hear that the Tyrrells have made the acquaintance of Mr. Dalmaine. Paula mentions him in a letter.'

'Ha! With enthusiasm probably?'

'No. They met him somewhere in Switzerland. He gave them the benefit of his experience on the education question.'

'Of course. Well, I am prejudiced against the man, as you know.'

'He is a force. It looks as if we should hear a good deal of him in the future.'

'Doubtless. The incarnate ideal of British philistinism is sure to have a career before him.'

The lady laughed.

Early in the afternoon Egremont took leave of his friend and returned to London. It was his habit when in England, to run down to Eastbourne in this way about once a month.

Since the death of his father, his home had been represented by rooms in Great Russell Street. He chose them on account of their proximity to the British Museum; at that time he believed himself destined to produce some monumental work of erudition: the subject had not defined itself, but his thoughts were then busy with the origins of Christianity, and it seemed to him that a study of certain Oriental literatures would be fruitful of results. Characteristically, he must establish himself at the very doors of the great Library. His Oriental researches, as we know, were speedily abandoned, but the rooms in Great Russell Street still kept their tenant. They were far from an ideal abode, indifferently furnished, with draughty doors and smoky chimneys, and the rent was exorbitant; the landlady, who speedily gauged her lodger's character, had already made a small competency out of him. Even during long absences abroad Egremont retained the domicile; at each return he said to himself that he must really find quarters at once more reputable and more homelike, but the thought of removing his books, of dealing with new people, deterred him from the actual step. In fact, was indifferent as to where or how he lived; all he asked was the possibility of privacy. The ugliness of his surroundings did not trouble him, for he paid no attention to them. Some day he would have a beautiful home, but what use in thinking of


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