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Chapter VIII

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« on: November 26, 2022, 02:34:33 am »

THE whole of Maumsey and its neighbourhood had indeed been thrown into excitement by certain placards on the walls announcing three public meetings to be held---a fortnight later---by the "Daughters of Revolt"---at Latchford, Brownmouth, and Frimpton. Latchford was but fifteen miles from Maumsey, and  frequent trains ran between them. Brownmouth and Frimpton, also, were within easy distance by rail, and the Maumseyites were accustomed to shop at either. So that a wide country-side felt itself challenged---invaded; at a moment when a series of startling outrages---destruction of some of the nation's noblest pictures, in the National Gallery and elsewhere, defacement of churches, personal attacks on Ministers---by the members of various militant societies, especially "The League of Revolt," had converted an already incensed public opinion into something none the less ugly, none the less alarming, because it had as yet found no organised expression. The police were kept hard at work protecting open-air meetings, on the Brownmouth and Frimpton beaches, from an angry populace who desired to break them up; every unknown woman who approached a village, or strolled into a village church, was immediately noticed, immediately reported on, by hungry eyes and tongues alert for catastrophe; and every empty house had become an anxiety to its owners.

And of course the sting of the outrage lay in the two names which blazed in the largest of black print from the centre of the placards. "The meeting will be addressed by Gertrude Marvell (D.R.), Delia Blanchflower (D.R.), and Paul Lathrop."

Within barely two months of her father's death, this young lady to be speaking on public platforms, in the district where she was still a newcomer and a stranger, and flaunting in the black and orange of this unspeakable society!---such was the thought of all quiet folk for miles round. The tide of callers which had set in towards Maumsey Abbey ceased to flow; neighbours who had been already introduced to her, old friends of her grandparents, passed Delia on the road with either the stiffest of bows or no notice at all. The labourers stared at her, and their wives, those deepest well-heads of Conservatism in the country, were loud in reprobation. Their astonishment that "them as calls theirselves ladies" should be found burning and breaking, was always, in Winnington's ears, a touching thing, and a humbling. "Violence and arson," they seemed to say, "are good enough for the likes of us---you'd expect it of us. But you---the glorified, the superfine---who have your meals brought you regular, more food than you can eat, and more clothes than you can wear---you!"

So that, underlying the country women's talk, and under the varnish of our modern life, one caught the accents and the shape of an old hierarchical world; and the man of sympathy winced anew under the perennial submission and disadvantage of the poor.

Meanwhile Delia's life was one long excitement. The more she realised the disapproval of her neighbours, the more convinced she was that she was on the right road. She straightened her girlish back; she set her firm red mouth. Every morning brought reams of letters and reports from London, for Gertrude Marvell was an important member of the "Daughters" organisation, and must be kept informed. The reading of them maintained a constant ferment in Delia. In any struggle of women against men, just as in any oppression of women by men, there is an element of fever, of madness, which poisons life. And in this element Delia's spirit lived, for this brief hour of her youth. Led by the perpetual influence of the older mind and imagination at her side, she was overshadowed with the sense of women's wrongs, haunted by their grievances, burnt up by a flame of revolt against fate, against society, above all, against men, conceived as the age-long and irrational barrier in the path of women. It was irrational, and therefore no rational methods were any good. Nothing but waspishly stinging and hurting this great Man-Beast, nothing but defiance of all rules and decorums, nothing but force---of the womanish kind---answering to force, of the masculine kind, could be any use. Argument was foolish. They---the Suffragists---had already stuffed the world with argument; which only generated argument. To smash and break and burn, in more senses than one, remained the only course, witness Nottingham Castle, and the Hyde Park railings. And if a woman's life dashed itself to pieces in the process, well, what matter? The cause would only be advanced.

One evening, not long after the tea-party at Bridge End, a group of persons, coming from different quarters, converged quietly, in the autumn dusk, on Maumsey Abbey. Marion Andrews walked in front, with a Miss Foster, the daughter of one of the larger farmers in the neighbourhood; and a short limping woman, clinging to the arm of a vigorously built girl, the science mistress of the small but ancient Grammar School of the village, came behind. They talked in low voices, and any shrewd bystander would have perceived the mood of agitated expectancy in which they approached the house.

"It's wonderful!"--said little Miss Toogood, the lame dressmaker, as they turned a corner of the shrubbery, and the rambling south front rose before them,---"wonderful!---when you think of the people that used to live here! Why, old Lady Blanchflower looked upon you and me, Miss Jackson, as no better than earwigs! I sent her a packet of our leaflets once by post. Well---she never used to give me any work, so she couldn't take it away. But she got Mrs. David Jones at Thring Farm to take away hers, and Mrs. Willy Smith, the Vet.'s wife, you remember?--and two or three more. So I nearly starved one winter; but I'm a tough one, and I got through. And now there's one of us sits in the old lady's place! Isn't that a sign of the times?"

"But, of course!" said her companion, whose face expressed a kind of gloomy ardour. "We're winning. We must win---some time!"

The cheerfulness of the words was oddly robbed of its effect by the tragic look of the speaker. Miss Toogood's hand pressed her arm. "I'm always so sorry"---murmured the dressmaker---"for those others---those women---who haven't lived to see what we're going to see, aren't you?"

"Yes," assented the other, adding---with the same emotional emphasis---"But they've all helped---every woman's helped! They've all played their parts."

"Well, I don't know about Lady Blanchflower!" laughed Miss Toogood, happily.

"What did she matter? The Antis are like the bits of stick you put into a hive. All they do is to stir up the bees."

Meanwhile Marion Andrews was mostly silent, glancing restlessly however from side to side, as though she expected some spy, some enemy---her mother?---to emerge upon them from the shadows of the shrubbery. Her companion, Kitty Foster, a rather pretty girl with flaming red hair, the daughter of a substantial farmer on the further side of the village, chattered unceasingly, especially about the window-breaking raid in which she had been concerned, the figure she had cut at the police court, the things she had said to the magistrate, and the annoyance she had felt when her father paid her fine.

"They led me a life when they got me home. And mother's been so ill since, I had to promise I'd stay quiet till Christmas anyway. But then I'm off! It's fine to feel you're doing something real---something hot and strong---so that people can't help taking notice of you. That's what I say to father, when he shouts at me---'We're not going to ask you now any more---we've asked long enough---we're going to make you do what we want.'"

And the girl threw back her head excitedly. Marion vaguely assented, and the talk beside her rambled on, now violent, now egotistical, till they reached the Maumsey door.

------
 
"Now that we've got women like you with us---it can't be long---it can't be long!" repeated Miss Toogood, clasping her hands, as she looked first at Delia, and then at the distant figure of Miss Marvell, who in the further drawing-room, and through an archway, could be seen talking with Marion Andrews.

Delia's brows puckered. "I'm afraid it will be long," she said, with a kind of weary passion. "The forces against us are so strong. But we must just go on---and on---straight ahead."

She sat erect on her chair, very straight and slim, in her black dress, her hands, with their long fingers, tightly pressed together on her knee. Miss Toogood thought she had never seen anyone so handsome, or so---so splendid! All that was romantic in the little dressmaker's soul rose to appreciate Delia Blanchflower. So young and so self-sacrificing---and looking like a picture of Saint Cecilia that hung in Miss Toogood's back room! The Movement was indeed wonderful! How it broke down class barriers, and knit all women together! As her eyes fell on the picture of Lady Blanchflower, in a high cap and mittens, over the mantelpiece, Miss Toogood felt a sense of personal triumph over the barbarous and ignorant past.

"What I mind most is the apathy of people---the people down here. It's really terrible!" said the science mistress, in her melancholy voice. "Sometimes I hardly know how to bear it. One thinks of all that's going on in London---and in the big towns up north---and here---it's like a vault. Everyone's really against us. Why, the poor people---the labourers' wives---they're the worst of any!"

"Oh no!---we're getting on---we're getting on!" said Miss Toogood, hastily. "You're too despondent, Miss Jackson, if you'll excuse me---you are indeed. Now I'm never downhearted, or if I am, I say to myself---'It's all right somewhere!---somewhere that you can't see.' And I think of a poem my father was fond of---'If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars---It may be, in yon smoke concealed---Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers---And, but for you, possess the field!' That's by a man called Arthur Clough---Miss Blanchflower---and it's a grand poem!"

Her pale blue eyes shone in their wrinkled sockets. Delia remembered a recent visit to Miss Toogood's tiny parlour behind the front room where she saw her few customers and tried them on. She recollected the books which the back parlour contained. Miss Toogood's father had been a bookseller---evidently a reading bookseller---in Winchester, and in the deformed and twisted frame of his daughter some of his soul, his affections and interests, survived.

"Yes, but what are you going to give us to do, Miss Blanchflower?" said Kitty Foster, impatiently---"I don't care what I do! And the more it makes the men mad, the better!"

She drew herself up affectedly. She was a strapping girl, with a huge vanity and a parrot's brain. A year before this date a "disappointment" had greatly embittered her, and the processions and the crowded London meetings, and the window-breaking riots into which she had been led while staying with a friend, had been the solace and relief of a personal rancour and misery she might else have found intolerable.

"I can't do anything---not anything public"---said Miss Jackson, with emphasis---"or I should lose my post. Oh the slavery it is! and the pittance they pay us---compared with the men. Every man in the Boys' school gets 120 and over---and we're thought lucky to get 80. And I'll be bound we work more hours in the week than they do. It's hard!"

"That'll soon be mended," said Miss Toogood hopefully. "Look at Norway! As soon as the women got the vote---why, the women's salaries in public offices were put up at once."

The strong, honest face of the teacher refused to smile. "Well, it isn't always so, Miss Toogood. I know they say that in New Zealand and Colorado---where we've got the vote---salaries aren't equal by any manner of means."

The dressmaker's withered cheek flushed red.

"'They say'"---she repeated scornfully. "That's one of the Anti dodges---just picking out the things that suit 'em, and forgetting all the rest. Don't you look at the depressing things---I never do! Look at what helps us! There's a lot o' things said---and there's a lot of things ain't true---You've got to pick and choose---you can't take 'em as they come. No one can."

Miss Jackson looked puzzled and unconvinced; but could think of no reply.

The two persons in the distance appeared in the archway between the drawing-rooms, Gertrude Marvell leading. Everyone looked towards her; everybody listened for what she would say. She took Delia's chair, Delia instinctively yielding it, and then---her dark eyes measuring and probing them all while she talked, she gave the little group its orders.

Kitty Foster was to be one of the band of girl-sellers of the Tocsin, in Latchford, the day of the meeting. The town was to be sown with it from end to end, and just before the meeting, groups of sellers, in the "Daughters'" black and orange, were to appear in every corner of the square where the open-air meeting was to be held.

"But we'll put you beside the speaker's waggon. You're so tall, and your hair is enough to advertise anything!" With a grim little smile, she stretched out a hand and touched Kitty Foster's hair.

"Yes, isn't it splendid!" said Delia ardently.

Kitty flushed and bridled. Her people in the farmhouse at home thought her hair ugly, and frankly told her so. It was nice to be admired by Miss Blanchflower and her friend. Ladies who lived in a big house, with pictures and fine furniture, and everything handsome, must know better than farm-people who never saw anything but their cattle and their fields.

"And you"---the clear authoritative voice addressed Miss Toogood---"can you take round notices?"

The speaker looked doubtfully at the woman's lame foot and stick.

Miss Toogood replied that she would be at Latchford by mid-day, and would take round notices till she dropped.

The teacher, who could do nothing public, was invited to come to Maumsey in the evening, and address envelopes. Miss Marvell had lately imported a Secretary, who had set up her quarters in the old gun room on the ground floor, and had already filled it with correspondence, and stacked it with the literature of the "Daughters."

Miss Jackson eagerly promised her help.

Nothing was apportioned to Marion Andrews. She sat silent, following the words and gestures of that spare figure in the grey cloth dress, in whom they all recognised their chief. There was a feverish brooding in her look, as though she was doubly conscious---both of the scene before her, and of something only present to the mind.

"You know why we are holding these meetings"---said Gertrude Marvell, presently.

No one answered. They waited for her.

"It is a meeting of denunciation," she said sharply. "You know in the Land League days in Ireland they used to hold meetings to denounce a landlord---for evictions---and that landlord went afterwards in fear---scorned---and cursed---and boycotted. Well, that's what we're going to do with Ministers in their own localities where they live! We can't boycott yet---we haven't the power. But we can denounce---we can set people on---we can hold a man up---we can make his life a burden to him. And that's what we're going to do---with Sir Wilfrid Lang. He's one of this brutal Cabinet that keeps women in prison and tortures them there; one of the strongest of them. His speeches have turned votes against us in the House of Commons, time after time. We mean to be even with Sir Wilfrid Lang!"

She spoke quite quietly---almost under her breath; but her slender fingers interlocked, and a steady glow had overflowed her pale cheeks.

A tremor passed through all her listeners--a tremor of excitement.

"What can we do?" said Miss Toogood at last, in a low voice. Her eyes stared out of her kind old face, which had grown white. "Ah, leave that to us!" said Miss Marvell, in another voice, the dry organising voice, which was her usual one. And dropping all emotion and excitement, she began rapidly to question three out of the four women as to the neighbourhood, the opinions of individuals and classes, the strength in it of the old Suffrage societies, the presence or absence of propaganda. They answered her eagerly. They all felt themselves keyed to a higher note since she had entered the room. They had got to business; they felt themselves a power, the rank and file of an "army with banners," under direction. Even Delia, clearly, was in the same relation towards this woman whom the outer world only know as her---presumably---paid companion. She was questioned, put right, instructed with the rest of them. Only no one noticed that Marion Andrews took little or no part in the conversation.

An autumn wind raged outside, and the first of those dead regiments of leaves which would soon be choking the lanes were pattering against the windows. Inside, the fire leapt as the daylight faded, helped by a couple of lamps, for Maumsey knew no electricity, and Delia, under Gertrude's prompting, had declared against the expense of putting it in. In the dim illumination the faces of the six women emerged, typical all of them of the forces behind the revolutionary wing of the woman's movement. Enthusiasms of youth and age---hardships of body and spirit---rancour and generous hope---sore heart and untrained mind---fanatical brain and dreaming ignorance---love unsatisfied, and energies unused---they wore all there, and all hanging upon, conditioned by, something called "the vote," conceived as the only means to a new heaven and a new earth.

------

When Delia had herself dismissed her guests into the darkness of the October evening, she returned thoughtfully to where Gertrude Marvell was standing by the drawing-room fire, reading a letter.

"You gave them all something to do except that Miss Andrews, Gertrude? I wonder why you left her out?"

"Oh, I had a talk with her before."

The tone was absent, and the speaker went on reading her letter.

"When you took her into the back drawing-room?"

The slightest possible flicker passed through Gertrude's drooped eyelids. "She was telling me a lot about her home-life---poor oppressed thing!"

Delia asked no more. But she felt a vague discomfort.

Presently Gertrude put down her letter, and turned towards her. "May I have that cheque, dear---before post-time? If you really meant it?"

"Certainly." Delia went to her writing-table, opened a drawer and took out her cheque-book.

A laugh---conscious and unsteady---accompanied the dipping of her pen into the ink.

"I wonder what he'll say?"

"Who?"

"Mr. Winnington---when I send him all the bills to be paid."

"Isn't he there to pay the bills?"

Delia's face shewed a little impatience.

"You're so busy, dear, that I am afraid you forget all I tell you about my own affairs. But I did tell you that my guardian had trustingly paid eight hundred pounds into the bank to last me till the New Year, for house and other expenses---without asking me to promise anything either!"

"Well now, you are going to let us have five hundred pounds. Is there any difficulty?"

"None except that the ordinary bills I don't pay, and can't pay, will now all go in to my guardian, who will of course be curious to know what I have done with the money. Naturally there'll be a row."

"Oh, a row!" said Gertrude Marvell, indifferently. "It's your own money, Delia. Spend it as you like!"

"I intend to," said Delia. "Still---I do rather wish I'd given him notice. He may think it a mean trick."

"Do you care what he thinks?"

"Not---much," said Delia slowly. "All the same, Gertrude"---she threw her head back---"he is an awfully good sort."

Gertrude shrugged her shoulders. "I dare say. But you and I are at war with him and his like, and can't stop to consider that kind of thing. Also your father arranged that he should be well paid for his trouble."

Delia turned back to the writing-table, and wrote the cheque.

"Thank you, dearest," said Gertrude Marvell, giving a light kiss to the hand that offered the cheque. "It shall go to headquarters this evening---and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you've financed all the three by-election campaigns that are coming---or nearly."

------

Gertrude had gone away to her own sitting-room and Delia was left alone. She hung over the fire, in an excited reverie, her pulses rushing; and presently she took a letter from the handbag on her wrist, and read it for the second time by the light of the blaze she had kindled in the grate.

"I will be at the Crown Inn at least half an hour before the meeting. We have got a capital waggon for you to speak from, and chosen the place where it is to stand. I am afraid we may have some rough customers to deal with. But the police have been strongly warned---that I have found out---though I don't know by whom---and there will be plenty of them. My one regret is that I cannot be in the crowd, so as both to see and hear you. I must of course stick to the waggon. What a day for us all down here!---for our little down-trodden band! You come to us as our Joan of Arc, leading us on a holy war. You shame us into action, and to fight with you is itself victory. When I think of how you looked and how you talked the other night! Do you know that you have a face 'to launch a thousand ships'? No, I am convinced you never think of it---you never take your own beauty into consideration. And you won't imagine that I am talking in this way from any of the usual motives. Your personal charm, if I may say so, is merely an item in our balance sheet; your money---I understand you have money---is another. You bring your beauty and your money in your hand, and throw them into the great conflagration of the Cause---just as the women did in Savonarola's day. You fling them away---if need be---for an idea. And because of it, all the lovers of ideas and all the dreamers of great dreams will be your slaves and servants. Understand!---you are going to be loved and followed, as no ordinary woman, even with your beauty, is ever loved and followed. Your footsteps may be on the rocks and flints---I promise you no easy, nor royal road. There may be blood on the path! But a cloud of witnesses will be all about you---some living and some dead; you will be carried in the hearts of innumerable men and women---women above all; and if you stand firm, if your soul rises to the height of your call, you will be worshipped, as the saints were worshipped.

"Only let nothing bar your path. Winnington is a good fellow, but a thickheaded Philistine all the same. You spoke to me about him with compunction. Have no compunctions. Go straight forward. Women have got to shew themselves ruthless, and hard, and cunning, like men---if they are to fight men.
  "Yours faithfully,
    "Paul Lathrop."

Delia's thoughts danced and flamed, like the pile of blazing wood before her. What a singular being was this Paul Lathrop! He had paid them four or five visits already; and they had taken tea with him once in his queer hermitage under the southern slope of the Monk Lawrence hill---a one-storey thatched cottage, mostly built by Lathrop himself with the help of two labourers, standing amid a network of ponds, stocked with trout in all stages. Inside, the roughly plastered walls were lined with books---chiefly modern poets, with French and Russian novels, and with unframed sketches by some of the ultra-clever follows, who often, it seemed, would come down to spend Sunday with Lathrop, and talk and smoke till dawn put out the lights.

She found him interesting---certainly interesting. His outer man---heavy mouth and lantern cheeks---dreamy blue eyes, and fair hair---together with the clumsy power in his form and gait, were not without a certain curious attraction. And his story---as Gertrude Marvell told it---could be forgiven by the romantic. All the same, his letter had offended Delia greatly. She had given him no encouragement to write in such a tone---so fervid, so emotional, so intimate; and she would shew him---plainly---that it offended her.

Nevertheless the phrases of the letter ran in her mind; until her discomfort and resentment were lost in something else.

She could not quiet her conscience about that cheque! Not indeed as to giving it to the "Daughters." She would have given everything she possessed to them, keeping the merest pittance for herself, if fate and domestic tyranny had allowed. No!---but it hurt her---unreasonably, foolishly hurt her---that she must prepare herself again to face the look of troubled amazement in Mark Winnington's eyes, without being able to justify herself to herself so convincingly as she would have liked to do.

"I am simply giving my own money to a cause I adore!" said one voice in the mind.

"It is not legally yours---it is legally his," said another. "You should have warned him. You have got hold of it under false presences."

"Quibbles! It is mine---equitably," replied the first. "He and I are at war. And I have warned him."

"At war?" Her tiresome conscience kicked again. Why, not a day had passed since her settlement at Maumsey, without some proof, small or great, of Winnington's consideration and care for her. She knew---guiltily knew---that he was overwhelmed by the business of the executorship and the estate, and had been forced to put aside some of his own favourite occupations to attend to it.

"Well!---my father made it worth his while!"

But her cheek reddened, with a kind of shame, as the thought passed through her mind. Even in this short time and because of the daily contact which their business relations required, she was beginning to know Winnington, to realise something of his life and character. And as for the love borne him in the neighbourhood---it was really preposterous---bad for any man! Delia pitied herself, not only because she was Winnington's ward against her will, but because of the silent force of public opinion that upheld him, and must necessarily condemn her.

So he had once been engaged? Lady Tonbridge had told her so. To a gentle, saintly person, of course!---a person to suit him. Delia could not help a movement of half-petulant curiosity---and then an involuntary thrill. Many women since had been in love with him. Lady Tonbridge had said as much. And he---with no one! But he had a great many women friends? No doubt!---with that manner, and that charm. Delia resented the women friends. She would have been quite ready indeed to enrol herself among them---to worship with the rest---from afar; were it not for ideas, and principles, and honesty of soul! As it was, she despised the worship of which she was told, as something blind and overdone. It was not the greatest men---not the best men---who were so easily and universally beloved.

What did he really think of her? Did he ever guess that there was something else in her than this obstinacy, this troublesomeness with which she was forced to meet him? She was sorry for herself, much more than for him; because she must so chill and mislead a man who ought to understand her.

Looking up she saw a dim reflection of her own beauty in the glass above the mantelpiece. "No, I am not either a minx, or a wild-cat!"---she thought, as though she were angrily arguing with someone. "I could be as attractive, as 'feminine,' as silly as anyone else, if I chose! I could have lovers---of course---just like other girls---if it weren't----"

For what? At that moment she hardly knew. And why were her eyes filling with tears? She dashed them indignantly away.

But for the first time, this cause, this public cause to which she was pledged presented itself to her as a sacrifice to be offered, a noble burden to be borne, rather than as something which expressed the natural and spontaneous impulse of her life.

Which meant that, already, since her recapture by this English world, since what was hearsay had begun to be experience, the values of things had slightly and imperceptibly changed.

------

The days ran on. One evening, just before the first of the "Daughters'" meetings, which was to be held at Latchford, Winnington appeared in Lady Tonbridge's drawing-room to ask for a cup of tea on his way to a public dinner in Wanchester.

He seemed pre-occupied and worried; and she fed him before questioning him. But at last she said---"You couldn't prevail on her to give up any of these performances?"

"Miss Delia? Not one. But it's only the Latchford one that matters. Have you been talking to her?"

He looked at her a little plaintively, as though he could have reminded her that she had promised him a friend's assistance. "Of course! But I might as well talk to this table. She won't really make friends---nor will Miss Marvell allow her. It's the same, I find, with everyone else. However, I'm bound to say the neighbourhood is just now in the mood that it doesn't much want to make friends!"

"I know," said Winnington, with a sigh---relapsing into silence.

"Is she taking an interest in the property---the cottages?"

He shook his head. "I'm sure she meant to. But it seems to be all dropped."

"Provoking!" said Madeleine, drily, "considering how you've been slaving to please her!"

Winnington interrupted---not without annoyance. "How can she think of anything else when she's once deep in this campaign? One must blame the people who led her into it."

"Oh! I don't know!" said Lady Tonbridge, protesting. "She's a very clever young woman, with a strong will of her own."

"Captured just at the impressionable moment!" cried Winnington---"when a girl will do anything---believe anything---for the person she loves!"

"Well, the prescription should be easy---at her age. Change the person! But then comes the question: Is she loveable? Speak the truth, Mr. Guardian!"

Winnington began a rather eager assent. Watch her with the servants, the gardeners, the animals! Then you perceived what should be the girl's natural charm and sweetness---

"H'm. Does she shew any of it to you?"

Winnington laughed.

"You forget--I am always there as the obstacle in the path. But if it weren't for the sinister influence---in the background----"

And again he went off at score; describing various small incidents that had touched or pleased him, as throwing light upon what he vowed was the real Delia.

Madeleine listened, watching him attentively the while. When he took his leave and she was alone, she sat thinking for some time, and then going to a cupboard in her writing-table, which held her diaries of past years, she rummaged till she found one bearing a date fifteen years old. She turned up the entry for the sixteenth of May:

"She died last night. This morning, at early service, Mark was there. We walked home together. I doubt whether he will ever marry---now. He is not one of those men who are hurried by the mere emotion and unbearableness of grief into a fresh emotion of love. But what a lover---what a husband lost!"

She closed the book, and stood with it in her hand---pondering.

------

As he left her house and turned towards the station, Winnington passed a lady to whom he bowed, recognising her as Miss Andrews.

"Hope you've got an umbrella!" he said to her cheerily, as he passed. "The rain's coming!"

She smiled, pleased like all the world to be addressed with that Winningtonian manner which somehow implied that the person addressed was, for the moment at any rate, his chiefest concern. Immediately after meeting him she turned from the village street, and began to mount a lane leading to the slope on which Monk Lawrence stood. Her expression as she walked along, sometimes with moving lips, had grown animated and sarcastic. Here were two men, a dead father and a live guardian, trying to coerce one simple girl---and apparently not making much of a job of it. She gloried in what she had been told or perceived of Delia Blanchflower's wilfulness, which seemed to her mother and her brother the Captain so monstrous. Only---could one entirely trust anybody like Delia Blanchflower---so prosperous---and so good-looking?

Miss Andrews mounted the hill, passed through a wood that ran along its crest, and took a footpath, leading past the edge of a railway cutting, from which the wonderful old house could be plainly seen. She paused several times to look at it, wrapped in a kind of day-dream, which gave a growing sombreness to her harsh and melancholy features. Beyond the footpath a swing gate opened into a private path leading to the house.

She opened the gate, and walked a little way up the path, in the fast gathering darkness. But she was suddenly arrested by the appearance of a figure in the far distance, black against the pale greys of the house. It was a policeman on his beat---she caught one of the gleams of a lantern.

Instantly she turned back, groped her way again through the wood, and into a side road leading to her brother's house.

She found her mother lying on the sofa in the drawing-room, the remains of a rather luxurious tea beside her---her outdoor clothes lying untidily about the room.

"Where have you been?" said Mrs. Andrews fretfully. "There were several letters I wanted written before post."

"I wanted a little air. That linen business took me all the morning."

For it was the rule in the Andrews' household that the house linen should be gone through every six months with a view to repairs and renewals. It was a tedious business. Mrs. Andrews' nerves did not allow her to undertake it. It fell, therefore, and had always fallen to the only daughter, who was not made for housewifery tasks, and detested the half-yearly linen day accordingly.

Her tone displeased her mother. "There you are---grumbling again, Marion! What else have you to do, I should like to know, than your home duties?"

Marion made no reply. What was the use of replying? But her black eyes, as she helped herself wearily to some very cold tea, took note of her mother's attitude. It was only the week before that Dr. France had expressed himself rather pointedly to the effect that more exercise and some fresh interests in life "would be good for Mrs. Andrews."

Mrs. Andrews returned to the ladies' paper she was reading. The fashion plates for the week were unusually attractive. Marion observed her unseen.

Suddenly the daughter said---"I must ask you for that five pounds, mother. Bill promised it me. My underclothing is literally in rags. I've done my best, and it's past mending. And I must have another decent dress."

"There you are,---clamouring for money again"---said her mother, bouncing up on the sofa---"when you know how hard-pressed Bill is. He's got another instalment to pay for the motor the end of this week."

"Yes---the motor you made him get!"---said Marion, as though the words burst from her.

"And why shouldn't he, pray! The money's his---and mine. It was high time we got rid of that rattle-trap. It jolted me to pieces."

"You said a little while ago it would do very well for another year. Anyway, Bill promised me something for clothes this month---and he also said that he'd pay my School of Art fees, at Wanchester, and give me a third season ticket. Is that all done with too?"

The girl sat erect, her face with its sparkling eyes expressing mingled humiliation and bitterness.

"Oh well, really I can't stand these constant disputes!" said Mrs. Andrews, rising angrily from the sofa. "You'd better go to your brother. If he likes to waste his money, he can, of course. But I've got none to spare." She paused at the door---"As for your underclothing, I dare say I could find you something of mine you could make do for a bit. Now do be sensible!---and don't make a scene with Bill!"

She closed the door. Marion walked to the side window of the drawing-room, and stood looking at the wooded slope of the hill, with Monk Lawrence in the distance.

Her heart burned within her. She was thirty-four. She had never had any money of her own---she had never been allowed any education that would fit her to earn. She was absolutely dependent on her mother and brother. Bill was kind enough, though careless, and often selfish. But her mother rubbed her dependence into her at every turn---"And yet I earn my clothes and my keep---every penny of them!" she thought fiercely.

A year before this date she had been staying in London with a cousin who sometimes took pity on her and gave her a change of scene. They had gone together for curiosity's sake to a "militant" meeting in London. A lady, slight in figure, with dark eyes and hair, had spoken on the "economic independence of women"--as the only path to the woman's goal of "equal rights" with men. She had spoken with passion, and Marion's sore heart had leapt to answer her.

That lady was Gertrude Marvell. Marion had written to her, and there had been a brief acquaintance, enough to kindle the long-repressed will and passion of the girl's stormy nature. She had returned home, to read, in secret, everything that she could find on the militant movement. The sheer violence of it appealed to her like water to the thirsty. War, war!---on a rotten state of society, and the economic slavery of women!

And now her first awakener, her appointed leader, her idol, had appeared in this dead country-side, with orders to give, and tasks to impose. And she should be obeyed---to the letter!

The girl's heavy eyes kindled to a mad intensity, as she stood looking at the hill-side, now almost dark, except for that distant light which she knew as the electric lamp still lit at sunset, even in Sir Wilfrid's absence, over the stately doorway of Monk Lawrence.

But she was not going to the Latchford meeting. "Don't give yourself away. Don't be seen with the others. Keep out of notice. There are more important things for you to do---presently. Wait!"

The words echoed in her ears. She waited; exulting in the thought that no one, not even Miss Blanchflower, knew as much as she; and that neither her mother nor her brother had as yet any idea of her connection with the "Daughters." Her "silly Suffrage opinions" were laughed at by them both---good-humouredly by Bill. Of the rest, they knew nothing.

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