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Chapter XI

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« on: November 27, 2022, 11:00:11 am »


GERTRUDE MARVELL was sitting alone at the Maumsey breakfast-table, in the pale light of a December day. All around her were letters and newspapers, to which she was giving an attention entirely denied to her meal. She opened them one after another, with a frown or a look of satisfaction, classifying them in heaps as she read, and occasionally remembering her coffee or her toast. The parlourmaid waited on her, but knew very well---and resented the knowledge---that Miss Marvell was scarcely aware of her existence, or her presence in the room.

But presently the lady at the table asked---"Is Miss Blanchflower getting up?"

"She will be down directly, Miss."

Gertrude's eyebrows rose, unconsciously. She herself was never late for an 8.30 breakfast, and never went to bed till long after midnight. The ways of Delia, who varied between too little sleep and the long nights of fatigue, seemed to her self-indulgent.

After her letters had been put aside and the ordinary newspapers, she took up a new number of the Tocsin. The first page was entirely given up to an article headed "HOW LONG?" She read it with care, her delicate mouth tightening a little. She herself had suggested the lines of it a few days before, to the Editor, and her hints had been partially carried out. It gave a scathing account of Sir Wilfrid's course on the Suffrage question---of his earlier coquettings with the woman's cause, his defection and "treachery," the bitter and ingenious hostility with which he was now pursuing the Bill before the House of Commons. "An amiable, white-haired nonentity for the rest of the world---who only mention him to marvel that such a man was ever admitted to an English Cabinet---to us he is the 'smiler with the knife,' the assassin of the hopes of women, the reptile in the path. The Bill is weakening every day in the House, and on the night of the second reading it will receive its coup de grāce from the hand of Sir Wilfrid Lang. Women of England---how long?"

Gertrude pushed the newspaper aside in discontent. Her critical sense was beginning to weary of the shrieking note. And the descent from the "assassin of the hopes of women" to "the reptile in the path" struck her as a silly bathos.

Suddenly a reverie---a waking dream---fell upon her, a visionary succession of sights and sounds. A dying sunset---and a rising wind, sighing through dense trees---old walls---the light from a kitchen window---voices in the distance---the barking of a dog. . . .

"Oh, Gertrude!---how late I am!"

Delia entered hurriedly, with an anxious air. "I should have been down long ago, but Weston had one of her attacks, and I have been looking after her."

Weston was Delia's maid, who had been her constant companion for ten years. She was a delicate nervous woman, liable to occasional onsets of mysterious pain, which terrified both herself and her mistress, and had hitherto puzzled the doctor.

Gertrude received the news with a passing concern.

"Better send for France, if you are worried. But I expect it will be soon over."

"I don't know. It seems worse than usual. The man in Paris threatened an operation. And here we are---going up to London in a fortnight!"

"Well, you need only send her to the Brownmouth hospital, or leave her here with France and a good nurse."

"She has the most absurd terror of hospitals, and I certainly couldn't leave her," said Delia, with a furrowed brow.

"You certainly couldn't stay behind!" Gertrude looked up pleasantly.

"Of course I want to come---" said Delia slowly.

"Why, darling, how could we do without you? You don't know how you're wanted. Whenever I go up to town, it's the same---'When's she coming?' Of course they understood you must be here for a while, but the heart of things---the things that concern us---is London."

"What did you hear yesterday?" asked Delia, helping herself to some very cold coffee. Nothing was ever kept warm for her, the owner of the house; everything was always kept warm for Gertrude. Yet the fact arose from no Sybaritic tendency whatever on Gertrude's part. Food, clothing, sleep---no religious ascetic could have been more sparing than she, in her demands upon them. She took them as they came---well or ill supplied; too pre-occupied to be either grateful or discontented. And what she neglected for herself, she equally neglected for other people.

"What did I hear?" repeated Gertrude. "Well, of course, everything is rushing on. There is to be a raid on Parliament as soon as the session begins---and a deputation to Downing Street. A number of new plans and devices are being discussed. And there seemed to me to be more volunteers than ever for 'special service.'"

She looked up quietly and her eyes met Delia's;---in hers a steely ardour, in Delia's a certain trouble.

"Well, we want some cheering up," said the girl, rather wearily. "Those last two meetings were---pretty depressing!---and so were the by-elections."

She was thinking of the two open-air meetings at Brownmouth and Frimpton. There had been no violence offered to the speakers, as in the Latchford case; the police had seen to that. Her guardian had made no appearance at either, satisfied, no doubt, after enquiry, that she was not likely to come to harm. But the evidence of public disapproval could scarcely have been more chilling---more nearly complete. Both her speaking, and that of Gertrude and Paul Lathrop, seemed to her to have dropped dead in exhausted air. An audience of boys and girls---an accompaniment of faint jeers, testifying rather to boredom than hostility---a sense of blank waste and futility when all was over:---her recollection had little else to shew.

Gertrude interrupted her thought. "My dear Delia!---what you want is to get out of this backwater, and back into the main stream. Even I get stale here. But in those great London meetings---there one catches on again!---one realises again---what it all means! Why not come up with me next week, even if the flat's not ready? I can't have you running down like this! Let's hurry up and get to London."

The speaker had risen, and standing behind Delia, she laid her hand on the waves of the girl's beautiful hair. Delia looked up.

"Very well. Yes, I'll come. I've been getting depressed. I'll come---at least if Weston's all right."


"I'm afraid, Miss Blanchflower, this is a very serious business!"

Dr. France was the speaker. He stood with his back to the fire, and his hands behind him, surveying Delia with a look of absent thoughtfulness; the look of a man of science on the track of a problem.

Delia's aspect was one of pale consternation. She had just heard that the only hope of the woman, now wrestling upstairs with agonies of pain, lay in a critical and dangerous operation, for which at least a fortnight's preliminary treatment would be necessary. A nurse was to be sent for at once, and the only question to be decided was where and by whom the thing was to be done.

"We can move her," said France meditatively; "though I'd rather not. And of course a hospital is the best place."

"She won't go! Her mother died in a hospital, and Weston thinks she was neglected."

"Absurd! I assure you," said France warmly. "Nobody is neglected in hospitals."

"But one can't persuade her---and if she's forced against her will, it'll give her no chance!" said Delia in distress. "No, it must be here. You say we can get a good man from Brownmouth?"

They discussed the possibilities of an operation at Maumsey.

Insensibly the doctor's tone during the conversation grew more friendly, as it proceeded. A convinced opponent of "feminism" in all its forms, he had thought of Delia hitherto as merely a wrong-headed, foolish girl, and could hardly bring himself to be civil at all to her chaperon, who in his eyes belonged to a criminal society, and was almost certainly at that very moment engaged in criminal practices. But Delia, absorbed in the distresses of someone she cared for, all heart and eager sympathy, her loveliness lending that charm to all she said and looked which plainer women must so frequently do without, was a very mollifying and ingratiating spectacle. France began to think her---misled and unbalanced of course---but sound at bottom. He ended by promising to make all arrangements himself, and to go in that very afternoon to see the great man at Brownmouth.

When Delia returned to her maid's room, the morphia which had been administered was beginning to take effect, and Weston, an elderly woman with a patient, pleasing face, lay comparatively at rest, her tremulous look expressing at once the keenness of the suffering past, and the bliss of respite.

Delia bent over her, dim-eyed. "Dear Weston---we've arranged it all---it's going to be done here. You'll be at home---and I shall look after you."

Weston put out a clammy hand and faintly pressed Delia's warm fingers---

"But you were going to London, Miss. I don't want to put you out so."

"I shan't go till you're out of the wood, so go to sleep---and don't worry."


"Delia!---for Heaven's sake be reasonable. Leave Weston to France, and a couple of good nurses. She'll be perfectly looked after. You'll put out all our plans---you'll risk everything!"

Gertrude Marvell had risen from her seat in front of a crowded desk. The secretary who generally worked with her in the old gun room, now become a militant office, had disappeared in obedience to a signal from her chief. Anger and annoyance were plainly visible on Gertrude's small chiselled features.

Delia shook her head. "I can't!" she said. "I've promised. Weston has pulled me through two bad illnesses---once when I had pneumonia in Paris---and once after a fall out riding. I dare say I shouldn't be here at all, but for her. If she's going to have a fight for her life---and Doctor France doesn't promise she'll get through---I shall stand by her."

Gertrude grew a little sallower than usual as her black eyes fastened themselves on the girl before her who had hitherto seemed so ductile in her hands. It was not so much the incident itself that alarmed her as a certain new tone in Delia's voice.

"I thought we had agreed---that nothing---nothing---was to come before the Cause!" she said quietly, but insistently.

Delia's laugh was embarrassed. "I never promised to desert Weston, Gertrude. I couldn't---any more than I could desert you."

"We shall want every hand---every ounce of help that can be got---through January and February. You undertook to do some office work, to help in the organisation of the processions to Parliament, to speak at a number of meetings---"

Delia interrupted. "As soon as Weston is out of danger, I'll go---of course I'll go!---about a month from now, perhaps less. You will have the flat, Gertrude, all the same, and as much money as I can scrape together---after the operation's paid for. I don't matter a tenth part as much as you, you know I don't; I haven't been at all a success at these meetings lately!" There was a certain young bitterness in the tone.

"Well, of course you know what people will say."

"That I'm shirking---giving in? Well, you can contradict it."

Delia turned from the window beside which she was standing to look at Gertrude. A pale December sunshine shone on the girl's half-seen face, and on the lines of her black dress.

A threatening sense of change, mingled with a masterful desire to break down the resistance offered, awoke in Gertrude. But she restrained the dictatorial instinct. Instead, she sat down beside the desk again, and covered her face with her hand. "If I couldn't contradict it---if I couldn't be sure of you---I might as well kill myself," she said with sudden and volcanic passion, though in a voice scarcely raised above its ordinary note.

Delia came to her impulsively, knelt down and put her arms round her. "You know you can be sure of me!" she said reproachfully.

Gertrude held her away from her. Her eyes examined the lovely face so close to her. "On the contrary! You are being influenced against me."

Delia laughed. "By whom, please?"

"By the man who has you in his power---under our abominable laws."

"By my guardian?---by Mark Winnington? Really! Gertrude! Considering that I had a fresh quarrel with him only last week---on your account---at Monk Lawrence---"

Gertrude released herself by a sudden movement. "When were you at Monk Lawrence?"

"Why, that afternoon, when you were in town. I missed my train at Latchford, and took a motor home." There was some consciousness in the girl's look and tone which did not escape her companion. She was evidently aware that her silence on the incident might appear strange to Gertrude. However, she frankly described her adventure, Daunt's surliness, and Winnington's appearance.

"He arrived in the nick of time, and made Daunt let me in. Then, while we were going round, he began to talk about your speech, and wanted to make me say I was sorry for it. And I wouldn't! And then---well, he thought very poorly of me---and we parted---coolly. We've scarcely met since. And that's all."

"What speech?" Gertrude was sitting erect now, with queerly bright eyes.

"The speech about Sir Wilfrid---at Latchford."

"What else does he expect?"

"I don't know. But---well, I may as well say, Gertrude---to you, though I wouldn't say it to him---that I---I didn't much admire that speech either!"

Delia was now sitting on the floor with her hands round her knees, looking up. The slight stiffening of her face shewed that it had been an effort to say what she had said.

"So you think that Lang ought to be approached with 'bated breath and whispering humbleness'---just as he is on the point of trampling us and our cause into the dirt?"

"No---certainly not! But why hasn't he as good a right to his opinion as we to ours---without being threatened with personal violence?"

Gertrude drew a long breath of amazement. "I don't quite see, Delia, why you ever joined the 'Daughters'---or why you stay with them."

"That's not fair!"---protested Delia, the colour flooding in her cheeks. "As for burning stupid villas---that are empty and insured---or boathouses---or piers---or tea-pavilions, to keep the country in mind of us,---that's one thing. But threatening persons with violence---that's---somehow---another thing. And as to villas and piers even---to be quite honest---I sometimes wonder, Gertrude!---I declare, I'm beginning to wonder! And why shouldn't one take up one's policy from time to time and look at it, all round, with a free mind? We haven't been doing particularly well lately."

Gertrude laughed---a dry, embittered sound---as she pushed the Tocsin from her. "Oh well, of course, if you're going to desert us in the worst of the fight, and to follow your guardian's lead---"

"But I'm not!" cried Delia, springing to her feet. "Try me. Haven't I promised---a hundred things? Didn't I say all you expected me to say at Latchford? And, on the whole"---her voice dragged a little---"the empty houses and the cricket pavilions---still seem to me fair game. It's only---as to the good it does. Of course---if it were Monk Lawrence---"

"Well---if it were Monk Lawrence?"

"I should think that a crime! I told you so before."


Delia looked at her friend with a contracted brow. "Because---it's a national possession! Lang's only the temporary owner---the trustee. We've no right to destroy what belongs to England."

Gertrude laughed again---as she rose from the tea-table. "Well, as long as women are slaves, I don't see what England matters to them. However, don't trouble yourself. Monk Lawrence is all right. And Mr. Winnington's a charmer---we all know that."

Delia flushed angrily. But Gertrude, having gathered up her papers, quietly departed, leaving her final shaft to work.

Delia went back to her own sitting-room, but was too excited, too tremulous indeed, to settle to her letters. She had never yet found herself in direct collision with Gertrude, impetuous as her own temper was. Their friendship had now lasted nearly three years. She looked back to their West Indian acquaintance, that first year of adoration, of long-continued emotion,---mind and heart growing and blossoming together. Gertrude, during that year, had not only aroused her pupil's intelligence; she had taught a motherless girl what the love of women may be for each other. To make Gertrude happy, to be approved by her, to watch her, to sit at her feet---the girl of nineteen had asked nothing more. Gertrude's accomplishments, her coolness, her self-reliance, the delicate precision of her small features and frame, the grace of her quiet movements, her cold sincerity, the unyielding scorns, the passionate loves and hates that were gradually to be discovered below the even dryness of her manner,---by these Delia had been captured; by these, indeed, she was still held. Gertrude was to her everything that she herself was not. And when her father had insisted on separating her from her friend, her wild resentment and her girlish longing for the forbidden had only increased Gertrude's charm tenfold.

The eighteen months of their separation, too, had coincided with the rise of that violent episode in the feminist movement which was represented by the founding and organisation of the "Daughters" society. Gertrude, though not one of the first contrivers and instigators of it, had been among the earliest of its converts. Its initial successes had been the subject of all her letters to Delia; Delia had walked on air to read them. At last the world was moving, was rushing---and it seemed that Gertrude was in the van. Women were at last coming to their own; forcing men to acknowledge them as equals and comrades; and able to win victory, not by the old whining and wheedling, but by their own strength. The intoxication of it filled the girl's days and nights. She thought endlessly of processions and raids, of street-preaching, or Hyde Park meetings. Gertrude went to prison for a few days as the result of a raid on Downing Street. Delia, in one dull hotel after another, wearily following her father from "cure" to "cure," dreamed hungrily and enviously of Gertrude's more heroic fate. Everything in those days was haloed for her---the Movement, its first violent acts, what Gertrude did, and what Gertrude thought---she saw it all transfigured and aflame.

And now, since her father's death, they had been four months together---she and her friend---in the closest intimacy, sharing---or so Delia supposed---every thought and every prospect. Delia for the greater part of that time had been all glad submission and unquestioning response. It was quite natural---absolutely right---that Gertrude should command her house, her money, her daily life. She only waited for Gertrude's orders; it would be her pride to carry them out. Until---

What had happened? The girl, standing motionless beside her window, confessed to herself, as she had not been willing to confess to Gertrude, that something had happened---some change of climate and temperature in her own life.

In the first place, the Movement was not prospering. Why deny it? Who could deny it? Its first successes were long past; its uses as advertisement were exhausted; the old violences and audacities, as they were repeated, fell dead. The cause of Woman Suffrage had certainly not advanced. Check after check had been inflicted on it. The number of its supporters in the House of Commons had gone down and down. By-elections were only adding constantly to the number of its opponents.

"Well, what then?"---said the stalwarts of the party---"More outrages, more arson, more violence! We must win at last!" And, meanwhile, blowing through England like a steadily increasing gale, could be felt the force of public anger, public condemnation.

Delia since her return to England had felt the chill of it, for the first time, on her own nerves and conscience. For the first time she had winced---morally---even while she mocked at her own shrinking.

Was that Gertrude pacing outside? The day was dark and stormy. But Gertrude, who rarely took a walk for pleasure, scarcely ever missed the exercise which was necessary to keep her in health. Her slight figure, wrapped in a fur cape, paced a sheltered walk. Her shoulders were bent, her eyes on the ground. Suddenly it struck Delia that she had begun to stoop, that she looked older and thinner than usual.

"She is killing herself!"---thought the girl in a sudden anguish---"killing herself with work and anxiety. And yet she always says she is so strong. What can I do? There is nobody that matters to her---nobody!---but me!"

And she recalled all she knew---it was very little---of Gertrude's personal history. She had been unhappy at home. Her mother, a widow, had never been able to get on with  her elder daughter, while petting and spoiling her only son and her younger girl, who was ten years Gertrude's junior. Gertrude had been left a small sum of money by a woman friend, and had spent it in going to a west-country university and taking honours in history. She never spoke now of either her mother or her sister. Her sister was married, but Gertrude held no communication with her or her children. Delia had always felt it impossible to ask questions about her, and believed, with a thrilled sense of mystery, that some tragic incident or experience had separated the two sisters. Her brother also, it seemed, was as dead to her. But on all such personal matters Gertrude's silence was insuperable, and Delia knew no more of them than on the first day of their meeting.

Indomitable figure! Worn with effort and struggle---worn above all with hating. Delia looked at it with a sob in her throat. Surely, surely, the great passion, the great uplifting faith they had felt in common, was vital, was true! Only, somehow, after the large dreams and hopes of the early days, to come down to this perpetual campaign of petty law-breaking, and futile outrage, to these odious meetings and shrieking newspapers, was to be---well, discouraged!---heart-wearied.

"Only, she is not wearied, or discouraged!" thought Delia despairingly. "And why am I?"

Was it hatefully true---after all---that she was being influenced---drawn away?

The girl flushed, breathing quick. She must master herself!---get rid of this foolish obsession of Winnington's presence and voice---of a pair of grave, kind eyes---a look now perplexed, now sternly bright---a personality, limited no doubt, not very accessible to what Gertrude called "ideas," not quick to catch the last new thing, but honest, noble, tender, through and through.

Absurd! She was holding her own with him; she would hold her own. That very day she must grapple with him afresh. She had sent him a note that morning, and he had replied in a message that he would ride over to luncheon.

For the question of money was urgent. Delia was already overdrawn. Yet supplies were wanted for the newly rented flat, for Weston's operation, for Gertrude's expenses in London---for a hundred things.

She paced up and down, imagining the conversation, framing eloquent defences for her conduct, and again, from time to time, meanly, shamefacedly reminding herself of Winnington's benefit under the will. If she was a nuisance, she was at least a fairly profitable nuisance.


Winnington duly arrived at luncheon. The two ladies appeared to him as usual---Gertrude Marvell self-possessed and quietly gay, ready to handle politics or books, on so light a note, that Winnington's acute recollection of her, as the haranguing Fury on the Latchford waggon, began to seem absurd even to himself. Delia also, lovely, restless, with bursts of talk and more significant bursts of silence, produced on him her normal effect---as of a creature made for all delightful uses, and somehow jangled and out of tune.

After luncheon, she led the way to her own sitting-room. "I am afraid I must talk business," she said abruptly as she closed the door and stood confronting him. "I am overdrawn, Mr. Winnington, and I must have some more money."

Winnington laid down his cigarette, and looked at her in open-mouthed amazement.

"Overdrawn!---but---we agreed---"

"I know. You gave me what you thought was ample. Well, I have spent it, and there is nothing left to pay house bills, or servants with, or---or anything."

Her pale defiance gave him at once a hint of the truth. "I fear I must ask what it has been spent on," he said, after a pause.

"Certainly. I gave five hundred pounds of it in one cheque to Miss Marvell. Of course you will guess how it has been spent."

Winnington took up his cigarette again, and smoked it thoughtfully. His colour was, perhaps, a little higher than usual.

"I am sorry you have done that. It makes it rather awkward both for you and for me. Perhaps I had better explain. The lawyers have been settling the debts on your father's estate. That took a considerable sum. A mortgage has been paid off, according to directions in Sir Robert's will. And some of the death duties have been paid. For the moment there is no money at all in the trust account. I hope to have replenished it by the New Year, when I understood you would want fresh funds."

He sat on the arm of a chair and looked at her quietly.

Delia made no attempt at explanation or argument. After a short silence, she said---"What will you do?"

"I must, of course, lend you some of my own."

Delia flushed violently. "That is surely absurd, Mr. Winnington! My father left a large sum!"

"As his trustee I can only repeat that until some further securities are realised---which may take a little time---I have no money. But you must have money---servants and tradesmen can't go unpaid. I will give you, therefore, a cheque on my own bank---to replace that five hundred pounds."

He drew his cheque book from his breast pocket. Delia was stormily walking up and down. It struck him sharply, first that she was wholly taken by surprise; and next that shock and emotion play finely with such a face as hers. He had never seen her so splendid. His own pulses ran.

"This---this is not at all what I want, Mr. Winnington! I want my own money---my father's money! Why should I distress and inconvenience you?"

"I have tried to explain."

"Then let the lawyers find it somehow. Aren't they there to do such things?"

"I assure you this is simplest. I happen"---he smiled---"to have enough in the bank. Alice and I can manage quite well till January!"

The mention of Mrs. Matheson was quite intolerable in Delia's ears. She turned upon him---"I can't accept it! You oughtn't to ask it."

"I think you must accept it," he said with decision. "But the important question with me is---the further question---am I not really bound to restore this money to your father's estate?"

Delia stared at him bewildered. "What do you mean?"

"Your father made me his trustee in order that I might protect his money---from uses of which he disapproved---and protect you, if I could, from actions and companions he dreaded. This five hundred pounds has gone---where he expressly wished it not to go. It seems to me that I am liable, and that I ought to repay."

Delia gasped. "I never heard anything so absurd!"

"I will consider it," he said gravely. "It is a case of conscience. Meanwhile"---he began to write the cheque---"here is the money. Only, let me warn you, dear Miss Delia,---if this were repeated, I might find myself embarrassed. I am not a rich man!"

Silence. He finished writing the cheque, and handed it to her. Delia pushed it away, and it dropped on the table between them.

"It is simply tyranny---monstrous tyranny---that I should be coerced like this!" she said, choking. "You must feel it so yourself! Put yourself in my place, Mr. Winnington."

"I think---I am first bound---to try and put myself in your father's place," he said with vivacity. "Where has that money gone, Miss Delia?"

He rose, and in his turn began to pace the little room. "It has been proved, in evidence, that a great deal of this outrage is paid outrage---that it could not be carried on without money---however madly and fanatically devoted, however personally disinterested the organisers of it may be---such as Miss Marvell. You have, therefore, taken your father's money to provide for this payment---payment for all that his soul most abhorred. His will was his last painful effort to prevent this being done. And yet---you have done it!" He looked at her steadily.

"One may seem to do evil"---she panted---"but we have a faith, a cause, which justifies it!"

He shook his head sadly.

Delia sat very still, tormented by a score of harassing thoughts. If she could not provide money for the "Daughters," what particular use could she be to Gertrude, or Gertrude's Committee? She could speak, and walk in processions, and break up meetings. But so could hundreds of others. It was her fortune---she knew it---that had made her so important in Gertrude's eyes. It had always been assumed between them that a little daring and a little adroitness would break through the meshes of her father's will. And how difficult it was turning out to be!

At that moment, an idea occurred to her. Her face, responsive as a wave to the wind, relaxed. Its sullenness disappeared in sudden brightness---in something like triumph. She raised her eyes. Their tremulous, half whimsical look set Winnington wondering what she could be going to say next.

"You seem to have beaten me," she said, with a little nod---"or you think you have."

"I have no thoughts that you mightn't know," was the quiet reply.

"You want me to promise not to do it again?"

"If you mean to keep it."

As he stood by the fire, looking down upon her rather sternly---she yet perceived in his grey eyes something of that expression she had seen there at their first meeting---as though the heart of a good man tried to speak to her. The same expression---and yet different; with something added and interfused, which moved her strangely.

"Odd as it may seem, I will keep it!" she said. "Yet without giving up any earlier purpose, or promise, whatever." Each word was emphasised.

His face changed.

"I won't worry you in any such way again," she added hastily and proudly.

Some other words were on her lips, but she checked them. She held out her hand for the cheque, and the smile with which she accepted it, after her preceding passion, puzzled him.

She locked up the cheque in a drawer of her writing-table. Winnington's horse passed the window, and he rose to go. She accompanied him to the hall door and waved a light farewell. Winnington's response was ceremonious. A sure instinct told him to shew no further softness. His dilemma was getting worse and worse, and Lady Tonbridge had been no use to him whatever.

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