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Then there was a sound on the stairs. Lydia came into the room, and with her Thyrza.
Lydia smiled, and tried to draw attention from her sister by lamenting their lateness at the meal.
'We were afraid you'd have gone away again,' she said to Gilbert.
'I don't think I shall go to work this morning,' he replied quietly.
She became silent. Thyrza had drawn a chair to the table. One saw that she had risen with difficulty--that she with difficulty sat upright.
Gilbert, without speaking, went and sat by her. Lydia was dreading questions, but she did injustice to the delicacy of his mind. Mrs. Grail just said: 'You're very pale still, dear,' and nothing more.
The meal was made as short as possible. Then Lydia helped Mrs. Grail to take the things to the kitchen. Thyrza, before coming down, had asked to be left alone with Gilbert for a few minutes.
Grail was at the window, watching the rain. He heard Thyrza approaching him, and turned.
'Gilbert,' she said, without raising her eyes, 'I'm behaving very unkindly to you. Will you forgive me?'
'How are you behaving unkindly, Thyrza?' he asked, with gently expressed surprise.
'I've been keeping away from you. I couldn't help it. I don't feel myself.'
'You are ill, Thyrza. Am I to forgive you for that?'
'Yes, I am ill. Gilbert, is it too late to ask you? Will you put it off for a week, one week?'
He let a minute pass before replying. Seeing that she trembled as she stood, he led her to a chair, the chair in which she always sat.
'Dear,' he said at length, 'I will do whatever you wish.'
'I shall be better by then, I think. But I'll go with you to buy the things just the same.'
'We can leave that for a few days,' he said absently.
'It wouldn't make any difference to you at the library?'
'None, I am sure, I will write and tell Mr. Egremont. He will be very sorry to hear of your illness.'
She stood up, and looked at the clock.
'I've made you late for your work.'
'I shan't go to-day.'
'You won't go?' she asked.
'I can't, Thyrza. I'm too uneasy about you.'
'Don't be that, Gilbert, I promise you to try and get better.'
Another silence, then he asked
'Will you stay here this morning?'
She just raised her face; fear and entreaty were on the features.
'I only came down for breakfast, to ask you that, and--and to tell you I was so sorry.'
'To be sure,' he replied at once. 'You are not well enough to be up. Lyddy will stay with you?'
'Yes, she is going to stay. I'll come and see you again, if I feel able.'
She offered her hand. He took it, held it a little, then said:
'Thyrza, is there anything on your mind, anything you don't wish to tell me just now, but in a day or two perhaps?'
'No, Gilbert, no! If you'll forgive me for behaving unkindly.'
'Dear, how can there be any forgiving, so long as I love you? There must be blame before there is need of forgiveness, and I love you too well to think a reproachful thought.'
She bent her head and sobbed.
'Thyrza, is it any happiness to you to know that I love you?'
'Yes, it is. You are very good. I know I am making you suffer.'
'But I shall see the old face again, before long?'
'Soon. I shall be myself again soon.'
She left him and went upstairs. A minute or two after. Lydia knocked at the door.
'Thyrza has gone up?' she asked.
'Yes. Come here, Lydia!'
He spoke with abruptness. Lydia drew near.
'You know that she has asked me to put off our marriage for a week?'
'I didn't know that she was going to ask you now, I thought perhaps she wished it.'
'I can't ask you to betray your sister's secrets, but--Lyddy, you won't keep anything from me that I _ought_ to know?'
He paused, then went on again with a shaking voice.
'There are some things that I _ought_ to know, if--You know that, Lyddy? You owe love to your sister first, but you owe something to me as well. There are some things you would have no right to keep from me. You might be doing both her and me the greatest wrong.'
Lydia could not face him. She tried to speak, but uttered only a meaningless word.
'Thyrza is ill,' he pursued. 'I can't ask her, as I feel I ought to, what has made her ill. Tell me this, as you are a good and a truthful girl. If I marry Thyrza, shall I be taking advantage of her weakness? Does she wish me to free her?'
'She doesn't! Indeed, Gilbert, she doesn't! You are her very best friend. All her life depends upon you. You won't break it off? Perhaps she will even be well enough by the end of the week, Remember how young she is, and how often she has strange fancies.'
'You tell me solemnly that Thyrza still wishes to be my wife?'
'She does. She wishes to be your wife, Gilbert.'
To Lydia her sister's fate hung in the balance. What she uttered was verbally true. Before rising, Thyrza had said: 'I will marry him.' In the possible breaking of this bond Lydia saw such a terrible danger that her instincts of absolute sincerity for once were overridden. If she spoke falsely, it was to save her sister. Thyrza once married, the face of life would be altered for her; this sudden passionate love would fall like a brief flame. Lydia had decided upon a bold step. As soon as it was possible, she would go and see Mr. Egremont, see him herself, and, if he had any heart or any honour, prevail with him that Thyrza might be spared temptation. But the marriage must first be over, and must be brought about at all costs.
In her life she had never spoken an untruth for her own advantage. Now, as she spoke, the sense that her course was chosen gave her courage. She looked Gilbert at length boldly in the face. His confidence in her was so great that, his own desires aiding, he believed her to the full. Thyrza's suffering, he said to himself, had not the grave meaning he had feared; it was something that must be sacred from his search.
So much power was there in Lydia's word, uttered for her sister's saving.
All day long it rained. Gilbert did not go from the house. He wrestled with hope, which was still only to be held by persistent effort. Sunshine would have aided him, but all day he looked upon a gloomy, wet street. At dinner-time he had all but made up his mind to go to work; the thought, however, was too hateful to him. And he felt it would be hard to meet men's faces. Perhaps there would be comfort by the morrow.
Thyrza did in fact come down for tea. She spoke only a few words, but she seemed stronger than in the morning. Lydia had a brighter face too. They went up again together after the meal.
Another night passed. Lydia slept. She believed that the worst was over, and that there might after all be no postponement of the marriage. For Thyrza had become very quiet; she seemed worn out with struggle, and resigned. Her sleep, she said, had been good. Yet her eyelids were swollen; no doubt she had cried in the night.
Lydia had no intention of leaving home. Gilbert had gone to work, reassured by her report the last thing on the previous evening.
There was no more speech between the sisters on the subject of their thoughts. Through the morning Thyrza lay so still that Lydia, thinking her asleep, now and then stepped lightly and bent over her. Each time, however, she found the sad eyes gazing fixedly upwards. Thyrza just turned them to her, but without change of expression.
'Don't look at me like that, dear,' Lydia said once. 'It's as if you didn't know me.'
The reply was a brief smile.
Thyrza got up in the afternoon. About five o'clock, when Lydia was
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