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"Oh, it has been a jolly time, though it didn't last long. It will have to do for me for life. So good-bye. I shall never, never forget; and remain, with dearest love,
"Your ever faithful and most affectionate friend,
"P.S. — When it has all blown over and settled again, if it ever does, I shall come back to Paris, perhaps, and see you again some day."
The good Taffy pondered deeply over this letter— read it half a dozen times at least; and then he kissed it, and put it back into its envelope and locked it up.
He knew what very deep anguish underlay this somewhat trivial expression of her sorrow.
He guessed how Trilby, so childishly impulsive and demonstrative in the ordinary intercourse of friendship, would be more reticent than most women in such a case as this.
He wrote to her warmly, affectionately, at great length, and sent the letter as she had told him.
The Laird also wrote a long letter full of tenderly worded friendship and sincere regard. Both expressed their hope and belief that they would soon see her again, when the first bitterness of her grief would be over, and that the old pleasant relations would be renewed.
And then, feeling wretched, they went and silently lunched together at the Cafe de l'Odeon, where the omelets were good and the wine wasn't blue.
Late that evening they sat together in the studio, reading. They found they could not talk to each other very readily without Little Billee to listenthree's company sometimes and two's none!
Suddenly there was a tremendous getting up the dark stairs outside in a violent hurry, and Little Billee burst into the room like a small whirlwind—haggard, out of breath, almost speechless at first with excitement.
"Trilby! where is she?.. . what's become of her? . . . She's run away ... oh! She's written me such a letter! . . . We were to have been married ... at the Embassy . . . my mother . . . she's been meddling; and that cursed old ass . . . that beast . . . my uncle! . . . They've been here! I know all about it. . . . Why didn't you stick up for her? . . ."
"I did ... as well as I could. Sandy couldn't stand it, and eat."
"You stuck up for her . . . you—why, you agreed with my mother that she oughtn't to marry me—you —you false friend—you. . . . Why, she's an angelfar too good for the likes of me . . . you know she is. As ... as for her social position and all that, what degrading rot! Her father was as much a gentleman as mine . . . besides . . . what the devil do I care for her father? . . . it's her I want—her—her—her, I tell you ... I can't live without her ... I must have her back—I must have her back ... do you hear? We were to have lived together at Barbizon ... all our lives—and I was to have painted stunning pictures . . . like those other fellows there. Who cares for their social position, I should like to know ... or that of their wives? Damn social position! . . . we've often said so—over and over again. An artist's life should be away from the world—above all that meanness and paltriness ... all in his work. Social position, indeed! Over and over again we've said what fetid, bestial rot it all was—a thing to make one sick and shut one's self away from the world. . . . Why say one thing and act another? . . . Love comes before all—love levels all—love and art . . . and beauty—• before such beauty as Trilby's rank doesn't exist. Such rank as mine, too! Good God! I'll never paint another stroke till I've got her back . . . never, never, I tell you—I can't—I won't! . . ."
And so the poor boy went on, tearing and raving about in his rampage, knocking over chairs and easels, stammering and shrieking, mad with excitement.
They tried to reason with him, to make him listen, to point out that it was not her social position alone that unfitted her to be his wife and the mother of his children, etc.
It was no good. He grew more and more uncontrollable, became almost unintelligible, he stammered so—a pitiable sight and pitiable to hear.
"Oh! oh! good heavens! are you so precious immaculate, you two, that you should throw stones at poor Trilby! What a shame, what a hideous shame it is that there should be one law for the woman and another for the man! . . . poor weak women—poor, soft, affectionate things that beasts of men are always running after and pestering and ruining and trampling underfoot . . . Oh! oh! it makes me sick — it makes me sick!" And finally he gasped and screamed and fell down in a fit on the floor.
The doctor was sent for; Taffy went in a cab to the Hotel de Lille et d'Albion to fetch his mother; and poor Little Billee, quite unconscious, was undressed by Sandy and Madame Vinard and put into the Laird's bed.
The doctor came, and not long after Mrs. Bagot and her daughter. It was a serious case. Another doctor was called in. Beds were got and made up in the studio for the two grief-stricken ladies, and thus closed the eve of what was to have been poor Little Billee's wedding-day, it seems.
Little Billee's attack appears to have been a kind of epileptic seizure. It ended in brain-fever and other complications — a long and tedious illness. It was many weeks before he was out of danger, and his convalescence was long and tedious too.
His nature seemed changed. He lay languid and listless—never even mentioned Trilby, except once to ask if she had come back, and if any one knew where she was, and if she had been written to.
She had not, it appears. Mrs. Bagot had thought it was better not, and Taffy and the Laird agreed with her that no good could come of writing.
Mrs. Bagot felt bitterly against the woman who had been the cause-of all this trouble, and bitterly against herself for her injustice. It was an unhappypy time for everybody.
There was more unhappiness still to come.
One day in February Madame Angele Boisse called on Taffy and the Laird in the temporary studio where they worked. She was in terrible tribulation.
Trilby's little brother had died of scarlet - fever and was buried, and Trilby had left her hidingplace the day after the funeral and had never come back, and this was a week ago. She and Jeannot had been living at a village called Vibraye, in la Sarthe, lodging with some poor people she knew—
LA SCEUR DE LITREBIL1