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Chapter V

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« on: November 25, 2022, 02:57:10 am »

AS Winnington advanced with outstretched hand to greet her, Delia was conscious of a striking physical presence, and of an eye fixed upon her at once kind and penetrating.

"How are you? You've been through a terrible time! Are you at all rested? I'm afraid it has been a long, long strain."

He held her hand in both his, asking gentle questions about her father's illness, interrogating her looks the while with a frank concern and sympathy.

Delia was taken by surprise. For the first time that day she was reminded of what was really the truth. She was tired---morally and physically. But Gertrude Marvell never recognised anything of the kind; and in her presence Delia rarely confessed any such weakness even to herself.

As it was, her eyes and mouth wavered a little under Winnington's look. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I shall soon be rested."

They sat down. Delia was conscious---unwillingly conscious---of a nervous agitation she did her best to check. For Winnington also it was clearly an awkward moment. He began at once to talk of his old recollections of her parents, of her mother's beauty, of her father's reputation as the most dashing soldier on the North-West Frontier, in the days when they first met in India.

"But his health was even then very poor. I suppose it was that made him leave the army?"

"Yes---and then Parliament," said Delia. "He was ordered a warm climate for the winter. But he could never have lived without working. His Governorship just suited him."

She spoke with charming softness, beguiled from her insensibly by Winnington's own manner. At the back of Winnington's mind, as they talked, ran perpetual ejaculations---the ejaculations of the natural man in the presence of so much beauty. But his conversation with her flowed the while with an even gentleness which never for a moment affected intimacy, and was touched here and there with a note of deference, even of ceremony, which disarmed his companion.

"I never came across your father down here--oddly enough," he said presently. "He had left Sandhurst before I went to Eton; and then there was Oxford, and then the Bar. My little place belonged then to a cousin, and I had hardly ever seen it. But of course I knew your grandmother---everybody did. She was a great centre---a great figure. She has left her mark here. Don't you find it so?"

"Yes. Everybody seems to remember her."

But, in a moment, the girl before him had changed and stiffened. It seemed to Winnington, as to Mrs. France, that she pulled herself up, reacting against something that threatened her. The expression in her eyes put something between them.

"Perhaps you know"---she said---"that my grandmother didn't always get on with my mother?"

He wondered why she had reminded him of that old family jar, which gossip had spread abroad. Did it really rankle in her mind? Odd, that it should!

"Was that so?" he laughed. "Oh, Lady Blanchflower had her veins of unreason. One had to know where to have her."

"She took Greeks for barbarians---my father used to say," said Delia, a little grimly. "But she was very good to me---and so I was fond of her."

"And she of you. But there are still tales going about---do you mind?---of the dances you led her. It took weeks and months, they say, before you and she arrived at an armed truce---after a most appalling state of war! There's an old gardener here---retired now---who remembers you quite well. He told me yesterday that you used to be very friendly with him, and you said to him once---'I like Granny!---she's the master of me!'"

The laughter in Winnington's eyes again kindled hers.

"I was a handful---I know." There was a pause. Then she added---"And I'm afraid---I've gone on being a handful!" Gesture and tone shewed that she spoke deliberately.

"Most people of spirit are---till they come to handle themselves," he replied, also with a slight change of tone.

"But that's just what women are never allowed to do, Mr. Winnington!" She turned suddenly red, and fronted him. "There's always some man who claims to manage them and their affairs. We're always in leading-strings---nobody ever admits we're grown up. Why can't we be allowed---like men---to stumble along our own way? If we make mistakes, let's pay for them! But let us at some time in our lives---at least---feel ourselves free beings!"

There was no mistaking the purport of these words. They referred clearly to her father's will, and her own position. After a moment's thought, Winnington bent forward.

"I think I understand what you mean," he said gravely. "And I sympathise with it more than you imagine."

Delia looked up impetuously---"Then, why, Mr. Winnington, did you consent to be my guardian?"

"Because---quite honestly---because I thought I could be of more use to you perhaps than the Court of Chancery; and because your father's letter to me was one very difficult to put aside."

"How could anyone in my father's state of health really judge reasonably?" cried Delia. "I dare say it sounds shocking to you, Mr. Winnington, but I can't help putting it to myself like this---Papa was always able to contrive his own life as he chose. In his Governorship he was a small king. He tried a good many experiments. Everybody deferred to him. Everybody was glad to help him. Then when his money came and the estate, nobody fettered him with conditions; nobody interfered with him. Grandpapa and he didn't agree in a lot of things. Papa was a Liberal; and Grandpapa was an awfully hot Conservative. But Grandpapa didn't appoint a trustee, or tie up the estates---or anything of that kind. It is simply and solely because I am a woman that these things are done! I am not to be allowed my opinions, in my life, though Papa was quite free to work for his in his life! This is the kind of thing we call tyranny,---this is the kind of thing that's driving women into revolt!"

Delia had risen. She stood in what Gertrude Marvell would have called her "Pythian" attitude, hands behind her, head thrown back, delivering her prophetic soul. Winnington, as he surveyed her, was equally conscious of her beauty and her absurdity. But he kept cool, or rather the natural faculty which had given him so much authority and success in life rose with a kind of zest to its new and unaccustomed task.

"May I perhaps suggest---that your father was fifty-two when he succeeded to this estate---and that you are twenty-one?"

"Nearly twenty-two," she interrupted, hastily.

"Nearly twenty-two," repealed Winnington. "And I assure you, that what with 'People's Budgets,' and prowling Chancellors, and all the new turns of the screw that the Treasury is for ever putting on, inheriting an estate nowadays is no simple matter. Your father thought of that. He wished to provide someone to help you."

"I could have found lawyers to help me."

"Of course you could. But my experience is that solicitors are good servants but bad masters. It wants a good deal of practical knowledge to direct them, so that you get what you want. I have gone a little way into the business of the estate this morning with Mr. Masham, and in town, with the Morton Manners people. I see already some complications which will take me a deal of time and thought to straighten out. And I am a lawyer, and if you will let me say so, just double your age."

He smiled at her, but Delia's countenance did not relax. Her mouth was scornful.

"I dare say that's quite true, Mr. Winnington. But of course you know it was not on that account---or at any rate not chiefly on that account---that my father left things as he did. He wished"---she spoke clearly and slowly---"simply to prevent my helping the Suffrage movement in the way I think best."

Winnington too had risen, and was standing with one hand on the mantelpiece. His brow was slightly furrowed, not frowning exactly, but rather with the expression of one trying to bring his mind into as close touch as possible with another mind.

"I must of course agree with you. That is evidently one of the objects of the will, though by no means---I think---the only one. And as to that, should you not ask yourself---had not your father a right, even a duty, to look after the disposal of his money as he thought best? Surely it was his responsibility---especially as he was old, and you were young."

Delia had begun to feel impatient---to resent the very mildness of his tone. She felt as though she were an insubordinate child, being gently reasoned with.

"No, I don't admit it!" she said passionately. "It was tampering with the right of the next generation!"

"Might you not say the same of the whole---or almost the whole of our system of inheritance?" he argued. "I should put it---that the old are always trying to preserve and protect something they know is more precious to them than it can be to the young---something as to which, with the experience of life behind them, they believe they are wiser than the young. Ought the young to resent it?"

"Yes," persisted Delia. "Yes! They should be left to make their own experiments."

"They have life wherewith to make them! But the dead----" He paused. But Delia felt and quivered under the unspoken appeal; and also under the quick touch of something more personal---more intimate---in his manner, expressing, it seemed, some deep feeling of his own. He, in turn, perceived that she had grown very pale; he guessed even that she was suddenly not very far from tears. He seemed to realise the weeks, perhaps months, of conflict through which the girl had just passed. He was sincerely sorry for her---sincerely drawn to her.

Delia broke the silence. "It is no good, I think, discussing this any more---is it? There's the will, and the question is"---she faced him boldly---"how are you and I going to get on, Mr. Winnington?"

Winnington's seriousness broke up. He threw her a smiling look, and with his hands in his pockets began to pace the room reflectively.

"I really believe we can pull it off, if we look at it coolly," he said at last, pausing in front of her. "I am no bigot on the Suffrage question---frankly I have not yet made up my mind upon it. All that I am clear about---as your father was clear---is that outrage and violence are wrong---in any cause. I cannot believe that we shan't agree there!"

He looked at her keenly. Delia was silent. Her face betrayed nothing, though her eyes met his steadily.

"And in regard to that, there is of course one thing that troubles me"---he resumed---"one thing in which I beg you to take my advice----"

Delia breathed quick. "Gertrude Marvell?" she said. "Of course I knew that was coming!"

"Yes. That we must settle, I think." He kept his eyes upon her. "You can hardly know that she is mentioned by name in your father's last letter---the letter to me---as the one person whose companionship he dreaded for you---the one person he hoped you would consent to part from."

Delia had turned white.

"No---I didn't know."

"For that reason, and for others, I do entreat you"---he went on, earnestly---"not to keep her here. Miss Marvell may be all that you believe her. I have nothing to say against her,---except this. I am told by those who know that she is already quite notorious in the militant movement. She has been in prison, and she has made extremely violent speeches, advocating what Miss Marvell calls 'war,' and what plain people call---crime. That she should live with you here would not only prejudice your future, and divide you from people who should be your natural friends; it would be an open disrespect to your father's memory."

There was silence. Then Delia said, evidently mastering her excitement with difficulty---"I can't help it. She must stay with me. Nobody need know---about my father. Her name is not mentioned in the will."

"No. That is true. But his letter to me as your guardian and trustee ought to be regarded equitably as part of the will; and I do not see how it would be possible for me to acquiesce in something so directly contrary to his last wishes. I beg you to look at it from my point of view----"

"I do"---said Delia, flushing again. "But my letter warned you----"

"Yes---but I felt on receiving it that you could not possibly be aware of the full strength of your father's feeling. Let me read you his words."

He took an envelope from his pocket, observing her. Delia hastily interposed.

"Don't, Mr. Winnington!---I'm sure I know."

"It is really my duty to read it to you," he said, courteously but firmly.

She endured it. The only sign of agitation she shewed was the trembling of her hands on the back of the chair she leant upon. And when he returned it to his pocket, she considered for a moment or two, before she said, breathing unevenly, and stumbling a little---

"That makes no difference, Mr. Winnington. I expect you think me a monster. All the same I loved my father in my own way. But I am not going to barter away my freedom for anything or anyone. I am not part of my father, I am myself. And he is not here to be injured or hurt by anything I do. I intend to stick to Gertrude Marvell---and she to me."

And having delivered her ultimatum, she stood like a young goddess, expectant and defiant.

Winnington's manner changed. He straightened himself, with a slight shake of his broad shoulders, and went to look out of the window at the end of the room. Delia was left to contemplate the back of a very tall man in a serge suit and to rate herself for the thrill---or the trepidation---she could not help feeling. What would he say when he spoke again? She was angry with herself that she could not quite truthfully say that she did not care.

When he returned, she divined another man. The tone was as courteous as ever, but the first relation between them had disappeared; or rather it had become a business relation, a relation of affairs.

"You will of course understand---that I cannot acquiesce in that arrangement?"

Delia's uncomfortable sense of humour found vent in a laugh---as civil however as she could make it.

"I do understand. But I don't quite see what you can do, Mr. Winnington!"

He smiled---quite pleasantly.

"Nor do I---just yet. But of course Miss Marvell will not expect that your father's estate should provide her with the salary that would naturally fall to a chaperon whom your guardian could approve?"

"I shall see to that. We shall not trouble you," said Delia, rather fiercely.

"And I shall ask to see Miss Marvell before I go this morning---that I may point out to her the impropriety of remaining here against your father's express wishes."

Delia nodded. "All right--but it won't do any good."

He made no reply, except to turn immediately to the subject of her place of residence and her allowance. "It is, I believe, understood that you will live mainly here---at Maumsey."

"On the contrary!---I wish to spend a great part of the winter in London."

"With Miss Marvell?"

"Certainly."

"I cannot, I am afraid, let you expect that I shall provide the money."

"It is my own money!"

"Not legally. I hate insisting on these things; but perhaps you ought to know that the whole of your father's property---everything that he left behind him---is in trust."

"Which means"---cried Delia, quivering again---"that I am really a pauper!---that I own nothing but my clothes---barely those!"

He felt himself a brute. "Can I really keep this up!" he thought. Aloud, he said---"If you would only make it a little easy for your trustee, he would be only too thankful to follow out your wishes!"

Delia made no reply, and Winnington took another turn up and down before he paused in front of her with the words:---

"Can't we come to a compact? If I agree to London---say for six or seven weeks---is there no promise you can make me in return?"

With an inward laugh Delia remembered Gertrude's injunction to "keep something to bargain with." "I don't know"---she said reluctantly. "What sort of promise do you want?"

"I want one equal to the concession you ask me to make," he said gravely. "In my eyes nothing could be more unfitting than that you should be staying in London---during a time of particularly violent agitation---under the chaperonage of Miss Marvell, who is already committed to this agitation. If I agree to such a direct contradiction of your father's wishes, I must at least have your assurance that you will do nothing violent or illegal, either down here or in London, and that in this house above all you will take some pains to respect Sir Robert's wishes. That I am sure you will promise me?"

She could not deny the charm of his direct appealing look, and she hesitated. "I was going to have a drawing-room meeting here as soon as possible"---she said slowly.

"On behalf of the 'Daughters of Revolt'?"

She silently assented.

"I may feel sure---may I not?---that you will give it up?"

"It is a matter of conscience with us"---she said proudly---"to spread our message wherever we go."

"I don't think I can allow you a conscience all to yourself," he said smiling. "Consider how I shall be straining mine---in agreeing to the London plan!"

"Very well"---the words came out reluctantly. "If you insist---and if London is agreed upon---I will give it up."

"Thank you," he said quietly. "And you will take part in no acts of violence, either here or in London? It seems strange to use such words to you. I hate to use them. But with the news in this week's papers I can't help it. You will promise?"

There was a short silence.

"I will join in nothing militant down here," said Delia at last. "I have already told Miss Marvell so."

"Or in London?"

She straightened herself.

"I promise nothing about London."

Guardian and ward looked straight into each other's faces for a few moments. Delia's resistance had stirred a passion---a tremor---in her pulses, she had never known in her struggle with her father. Winnington was clearly debating with himself, and Delia seemed to see the thoughts coursing through the grey eyes that looked at her, seriously indeed, yet not without suggesting a man's humorous spirit behind them.

"Very well"---he said---"we will talk of London later.---Now may we just sit down and run through the household arrangements and expenses here---before I see Miss Marvell. I want to know exactly what you want doing to this house, and how we can fix you up comfortably."

Delia assented. Winnington produced a note-book and pencil. Through his companion's mind was running meanwhile an animated debate.

"I'm not bound to tell him of those other meetings I have promised? 'Yes, you are!' No,---I'm not. They're not to be here---and if I once begin asking his leave for things---there'll be no end to it. I mean to shew him---once for all---that I am of age, and my own mistress. He can't starve me---or beat me!"

Her face broke into suppressed laughter as she bent it over the figures that Winnington was presenting to her.

------

"Well, I am rather disappointed that you don't want to do more to the house," said Winnington, as he rose and put up his note-book. "I thought it might have been an occupation for the autumn and winter. But at least we can decide on the essential things, and the work can be done while you are in town. I am glad you like the servants Mrs. Bird has found for you. Now I am going off to the Bank to settle everything about the opening of your account, and the quarterly cheque we have agreed on shall be paid in to-morrow."

"Very well." But instantly through the girl's mind there shot up the qualifying thought. "He may say how it is to be spent---but I have made no promise!"

He approached her to take his leave.

"My sister comes home to-night. Will you try the new car and have tea with us on Thursday?" Delia assented. "And before I go I should like to say a word about some of the neighbours."

He tried to give her a survey of the land. Lady Tonbridge, of course, would be calling upon her directly. She was actually in the village---in the tiniest bandbox of a house. Her husband's brutality had at last---two years before this date---forced her to leave him, with her girl of fifteen. "A miserable story---better taken for granted. She is the pluckiest woman alive!" Then the Amberleys---the Rector, his wife and daughter Susy were pleasant people---"Susy is a particular friend of mine. It'll be jolly if you like her."

"Oh no, she won't take to me!" said Delia with decision.

"Why not?"

But Delia only shook her head, a little contemptuously.

"We shall see," said Winnington. "Well, good night. Remember, anything I can do for you---here I am."

His eyes smiled, but Delia was perfectly conscious that the eager cordiality, the touch of something like tenderness, which had entered into his earlier manner, had disappeared. She realised, and with a moment's soreness, that she had offended his sense of right---of what a daughter's feeling should be towards a dead father, at any rate, in the first hours of bereavement, when the recollections of death and suffering are still fresh.

"I can't help it," she thought stubbornly. "It's all part of the price one pays."

But when he was gone, she stood a long time by the window without moving, thinking about the hour which had just passed. The impression left upon her by Winnington's personality was uncomfortably strong. She knew now that, in spite of her bravado, she had dreaded to find it so, and the reality had more than confirmed the anticipation. She was committed to a struggle with a man whom she must respect, and could not help liking; whose only wish was to help and protect her. And beside the man's energetic and fruitful maturity, she became, as it were, the spectator of her own youth and stumbling
inexperience.

But these misgivings did not last long. A passionate conviction, a fanatical affection, came to her aid, and her doubts were impatiently dismissed.

------

Winnington found Miss Blanchflower's chaperon in a little sitting-room on the ground floor already appropriated to her, surrounded with a vast litter of letters and newspapers which she hastily pushed aside as he entered. He had a long interview with her, and as he afterwards confessed to Lady Tonbridge, he had rarely put his best powers forward to so little purpose. Miss Marvell did not attempt to deny that she was coming to live at Maumsey in defiance of the wishes of Delia's father and guardian, and of the public opinion of those who were to be henceforward Delia's friends and neighbours.

"But Delia has asked me to live with her. She is twenty-one, and women are not now the mere chattels they once were. Both she and I have wills of our own. You will of course give me no salary. I require none. But I don't see how you're going to turn me out of Delia's house, if Delia wishes me to stay."

And Winnington must needs acknowledge, at least to himself, that he did not see either.

He put the lady however through a cross-examination as to her connection with militancy which would have embarrassed or intimidated most women; but Gertrude Marvell, a slight and graceful figure, sitting erect on the edge of her chair, bore it with perfect equanimity, apparently frank, and quite unashamed. Certainly she belonged to the "Daughters of Revolt," the record of her imprisonment was there to shew it; and so did Delia. The aim of both their lives was to obtain the parliamentary vote for women, and in her opinion and that of many others, the time for constitutional action---"for that nonsense"---as she scornfully put it, had long gone by. As to what she intended to do, or advise Delia to do, that was her own affair. One did not give away one's plans to the enemy. But she realised, of course, that it would be unkind to Delia to plunge her into possible trouble, or to run the risk herself of arrest or imprisonment during the early days of Delia's mourning; and of her own accord she graciously offered the assurance that neither she nor Delia would commit any illegality during the two months or so that they might be settled at Maumsey. As to what might happen later, she, like Delia, declined to give any assurances. The parliamentary situation was becoming desperate, and any action whatever on the part of women which might serve to prod the sluggish mind of England before another general election, was in her view not only legitimate but essential.

"Of course I know what your conscience says on the matter," she said, with her steady eyes on Winnington. "But---excuse me for saying so---your conscience is not my affair."

Winnington rose, and prepared to take his leave. If he felt nonplussed, he managed not to shew it.

"Very well. For the present I acquiesce. But you will scarcely wonder, Miss Marvell, after this interview between us, if you find yourself henceforward under observation. You are here in defiance of Miss Blanchflower's legal guardian. I protest against your influence over her; and I disapprove of your presence here. I shall do my best to protect her from you."

She nodded. "There, of course, you will be in your right."

And rising, she turned to the open window and the bright garden outside, with a smiling remark on the decorative value of begonias, as though nothing had happened.

Winnington's temperament did not allow him to answer a woman uncivilly under any circumstances. But they parted as duellists part before the fray. Miss Marvell acknowledged his "Good afternoon" with a pleasant bow, keeping her hands the while in the pockets of her serge jacket, and she remained standing till Winnington had left the room.

"Now for Lady Tonbridge!" thought Winnington as he rode away. "If she don't help me out, I'm done!"

At the gate of Maumsey he stopped to speak to the lodge-keeper, and as he did so, a man opened the gate, and came in. With a careless nod to Winnington he took his way up the drive. Winnington looked after him in some astonishment.

"What on earth can that fellow be doing here?"

He scented mischief; little suspecting however that a note from Gertrude Marvell lay in the pocket of the man's shabby overcoat, together with that copy of the Tocsin which Delia's sharp eyes had detected the week before in the hands of its owner.

Meanwhile as he drove homeward, instead of the details of county business, the position of Delia Blanchflower, her personality, her loveliness, her defiance of him, absorbed his mind completely. He began to foresee the realities of the struggle before him, and the sheer dramatic interest of it held him, as though someone presented the case, and bade him watch how it worked out.

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