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Chapter XII

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« on: November 27, 2022, 11:35:54 pm »


ONE of the first days of the New Year rose clear and frosty. When the young housemaid who had temporarily replaced Weston as Delia's maid drew back her curtains at half-past seven, Delia caught a vision of an opaline sky with a few fading stars. A strewing of snow lay on the ground, and the bare black trees rose, vividly separate, on the white stretches of grass. Her window looked to the north along the bases of the low range of hills which shut in the valley and the village. A patch of paler colour on the purple slope of the hills marked the long front of Monk Lawrence.

As she sleepily roused herself, she saw her bed littered with dark objects---two leather boxes of some size, and a number of miscellaneous cases---and when the maid had left the room, she lay still, looking at them. They were the signs and symbols of an enquiry she had lately been conducting into her possessions, which seemed to her to have yielded very satisfactory  results. They represented in the main the contents of a certain cupboard in the wall of her bedroom where Lady Blanchflower had always kept her jewels, and where, in consequence, Weston had so far locked away all that Delia possessed. Here were all her own girlish ornaments---costly things which her father had given her at intervals during the three or four years since her coming out; here were her mother's jewels, which Sir Robert had sent to his bankers after his wife's death, and had never seen again during his lifetime; and here were also a number of family  jewels which had belonged to Delia's grandmother, and had remained, after Lady Blanchflower's death, in the custody of the family lawyers, till Delia, to whom they had been left by will, had appeared to claim them.

Delia had always known that she possessed a quantity of valuable things, and had hitherto felt but small interest in them. Gertrude's influence and her own idealism had bred in her contempt for gauds. It was the worst of breeding to wear anything for its mere money value; and nothing whatever should be worn that wasn't in itself beautiful. Lady Blanchflower's taste had been, in Delia's eyes, abominable; and her diamonds---tiaras, pendants and the rest---had absolutely nothing to recommend them but their sheer brute cost. After a few glances at them, the girl had shut them up and forgotten them. But they were diamonds, and they must be worth some thousands.

It was this idea which had flashed upon her during her last talk with Winnington, and she had been brooding over it and pondering it ever since. Winnington himself was away. He and his sister had been spending Christmas with some cousins in the midlands. Meanwhile Delia recognised that his relation to her had been somewhat strained. His letters to her on various points of business had been more formal than usual; and though he had sent her a pocket Keats for a Christmas present, it had arrived accompanied merely by his "kind regards" and she had felt unreasonably aggrieved, and much inclined to send it back.

His cheque meanwhile for £500 had gone into Delia's bank. No help for it---considering all the Christmas bills which had been pouring in! But she panted for the time when she could return it. As for his threat of permanently refunding the money out of his own pocket, she remembered it with soreness of spirit. Too bad!

Well, there they lay, on the counterpane all round her---the means of checkmating her guardian. For while she was rummaging in the wall-safe, the night before, suddenly the fire had gone down, and the room had sunk to freezing point. Delia, brought up in warm climates, had jumped shivering into bed, and there, heaped round with the contents of the cupboard, had examined a few more cases, till sleep and cold overpowered her.

In the grey morning light she opened some of the cases again. Vulgar and ugly, if you like---but undeniably, absurdly worth money! Her dark eyes caught the sparkle of the jewels running through her fingers. These tasteless things---mercifully---were her own---her very own. Winnington had nothing to say to them! She could wear them---or give them---or sell them, as she pleased.

She was alternately exultant, and strangely full of a fluttering anxiety. The thought of returning Winnington's cheque was sweet to her. But her disputes with him had begun to cost her more than she had ever imagined they could or would. And the particular way out, which, a few weeks before, she had so impatiently desired---that he should resign the guardianship, and leave her to battle with the Court of Chancery as best she could---was no longer so attractive to her. To be cherished and cared for by Mark Winnington---no woman yet but had found it delightful. Insensibly Delia had grown accustomed to it---to his comings and goings, his business ways, abrupt sometimes, even peremptory, but informed always by a kindness, a selflessness that amazed her. Everyone wanted his help or advice, and he must refuse now---as he had never refused before---because his time and thoughts were so much taken up with his ward's affairs. Delia knew that she was envied; and knew also that the neighbours thought her an ungrateful, unmanageable hoyden, totally unworthy of such devotion.

She sat up in bed, dreaming, her hands round her knees. No, she didn't want Winnington to give her up! Especially since she had found this easy way out. Why should there be any more friction between them at all? All that he gave her henceforward should be religiously spent on the normal and necessary things. She would keep accounts if he liked, like any good little girl, and shew them up. Let him do with the trust fund exactly what he pleased. For a long time at any rate, she could be independent of it. Why had she never thought of such a device before?

But how to realise the jewels? In all business affairs, Delia was the merest child. She had been brought up in the midst of large expenditure, of which she had been quite unconscious. All pre-occupation with money had seemed to her mean and pettifogging. Have it!---and spend it on what you want. But wants must be governed by ideas---by ethical standards. To waste money on personal luxury, on eating, drinking, clothes, or any form of mere display, in such a world as Gertrude Marvell had unveiled to her, seemed to Delia contemptible and idiotic. One must have some nice clothes---some beauty in one's surroundings---and the means of living as one wished to live. Otherwise, to fume and fret about money, to be coveting instead of giving, buying and bargaining instead of thinking---or debating---was degrading. She loathed shopping. It was the drug which put women's minds to sleep.

Who would help her? She pondered. She would tell no one till it was done; not even Gertrude, whose cold, changed manner to her hurt the girl's proud sense to think of.

"I must do it properly---I won't be cheated!" The London lawyers? No! The local solicitor, Mr. Masham? No! Her vanity was far too keenly conscious of their real opinion of her, through all their politeness.

Lady Tonbridge? No! She was Mark Winnington's intimate friend---and a constitutional Suffragist. At the notion of consulting her---on the means of providing funds for "militancy"---Delia sprang out of bed, and went to her dressing, dissolved in laughter.

And presently---sobered again, and soft-eyed---she was stealing along the passage to Weston's door for a word with the trained nurse who was now in charge. Just a week now---to the critical day.

---

"Is Miss Marvell in? Ask if she will see Mr. Lathrop for a few minutes?"

Paul Lathrop, left to himself, looked round Delia's drawing-room. It set his teeth on edge. What pictures---what furniture! A certain mellowness born of sheer time, no doubt---but with all its ugly ingredients still repulsively visible. Why didn't the heiress burn everything and begin again? Was all her money to be spent on burning other people's property, when her own was so desperately in need of the purging process---or on dreary meetings and unreadable newspapers? Lathrop was already tired of these delights; his essentially Hedonist temper was re-asserting itself. The "movement" had excited and interested him for a time; had provided besides easy devices for annoying stupid people. He had been eager to speak and write for it, had persuaded himself that he really cared.

But now candour---and he was generally candid with himself---made him confess that but for Delia Blanchflower he would already have cut his connection with the whole thing. He thought with a mixture of irony and discomfort of his "high-falutin'" letter to her.

"And here I am---hanging round her"---he said to himself, as he strolled about the room, peering through his eye-glass at its common vases, and trivial knick-knacks--"just because Blaydes bothers me. I might as well cry for the moon. But she's worth watching, by Jove. One gets copy out of her, if nothing else! I vow I can't understand why my dithyrambs move her so little---she's dithyrambic enough herself!"

The door opened. He quickly pulled himself together. Gertrude Marvell came in, and as she gave him an absent greeting, he was vaguely struck by some change in her aspect, as Delia had long been. She had always seemed to him a cold, half-human being, in all ordinary matters. But now she was paler, thinner, more remote than ever. "Nerves strained---probably sleepless---" he said to himself. "It's the pace they will live at---it kills them all."

This kind of comment ran at the back of his brain, while he plunged into the "business"---which was his pretence for calling. Gertrude, as a District Organiser of the League of Revolt, had entrusted him with the running of various meetings in small places along the coast, for which it humiliated him to remember that he had agreed to be paid. For at his very first call upon them, Miss Marvell had divined his impecunious state, and pounced upon him as an agent---unknown, he thought, to Miss Blanchflower. He came now to report what had been done, and to ask if the meetings should be continued.

Gertrude Marvell shook her head. "I have had some letters about your meetings. I doubt whether they have been worth while." Miss Marvell's manner was that of an employer to an employee.

Lathrop's vanity winced. "May I know what was wrong with them?"

Gertrude Marvell considered. Her gesture, unconsciously judicial, annoyed Lathrop still further. "Too much argument, I hear,---and too little feeling. Our people wanted more about the women in prison. And it was thought that you apologised too much for the outrages."

The last word emerged quite simply, as the only fitting one.

Lathrop laughed,---rather angrily. "You must be aware, Miss Marvell, that the public thinks they want defence."

"Not from us!" she said, with energy. "No one speaking for us must ever apologise for militant acts. It takes all the heart out of our people. Justify them---glory in them---as much as you like."

There was a pause.

"Then you have no more work for me?" said Lathrop at last.

"We need not, I think, trouble you again. Your cheque will of course be sent from head-quarters."

"That doesn't matter," said Lathrop hastily.

The reflection crossed his mind that there is an insolence of women far more odious than the insolence of men. "After all they are our inferiors! It doesn't do to let them command us," he thought furiously.

He rose to take his leave. "You are going up to London?"

"I am going. Miss Blanchflower stays behind, because her maid is ill."

He stood hesitating. Gertrude lifted her eyebrows as though he puzzled her. She never had liked him, and by now all her instincts were hostile to him. His clumsy figure and slovenly dress offended her, and the touch of something grandiose in his heavy brow, and reddish-gold hair, seemed to her merely theatrical. Her information was that he had been no use as a campaigner. Why on earth did he keep her waiting?

"I suppose you have heard some of the talk going about?" he said at last, shooting out the words.

"What talk?"

"They're very anxious about Monk Lawrence---after your speech. And there are absurd stories. Women have been seen---at night---and so on."

Gertrude laughed. "The more panic the better---for us."

"Yes---so long as it stops there. But if anything happened to that place, the whole neighbourhood would turn detective---myself included." He looked at her steadily.

She leant one thin hand on a table behind her. "No one of course would have a better chance than you. You are so near."

Their eyes crossed. "By George!" he thought---"you're in it. I believe to God you're in it."

And at that moment he felt that he hated the willowy, intangible creature who had just treated him with contempt.

But as they coldly touched hands, the door opened again, and Delia appeared. "Oh, I didn't mean to interrupt"---she said, retreating.

"Come in, come in!" said Gertrude. "We have finished our business---and Mr. Lathrop I am sure will excuse me---I must get some letters off by post." And with the curtest of bows she disappeared.

"I brought you a book, Miss Blanchflower," Lathrop nervously began, diving into a large and sagging pocket. "You said you wanted to see Madame de Noailles' second volume."

He brought out "Les Éblouissements," and laid it on the table beside her. Delia thanked him, and then, all in a moment, as she stood beside him, a thought struck her. She turned her great eyes full upon him, and he saw the colour rushing into her cheeks.

"Mr. Lathrop!"

"Yes."

"Mr. Lathrop---I---I dreadfully want some practical advice. And I don't know whom to ask."

The soreness of his wounded self-love vanished in a moment. "What can I do for you?" he asked eagerly. And at once his own personality seemed to expand, to throw off the shadow of something ignoble it had worn in Gertrude's presence. For Delia, looking at him, was attracted by him. The shabby clothes made no impression upon her, but the blue eyes did. And the childishness which still survived in her, beneath all her intellectualisms, came impulsively to the surface.

"Mr. Lathrop, do you---do you know anything about jewellery?"

"Jewellery? Nothing!--except that I have dabbled in pretty things of that sort as I have dabbled in most things. I once did some designing for a man who set up---in Bond Street---to imitate Lalique. Why do you ask? I suppose you have heaps of jewels?"

"Too many. I want to sell some jewels."

"Sell?---But---" He looked at her in astonishment.

She reddened still more deeply, but spoke with a frank charm. "You thought I was rich? Well, of course I ought to be. My father was rich. But at present I have nothing of my own---nothing! It is all in trust---and I can't get at it. But I must have some money! Wait here a moment!"

She ran out of the room. When she came back she was carrying a miscellaneous armful of jewellers' cases. She threw them down on the sofa. "They are all hideous---but I am sure they're worth a great deal of money."

And she opened them with hasty fingers before his astonished eyes. In his restless existence he had accumulated various odd veins of knowledge, and he knew something of the jewellery trade of London. He had not only drawn designs, he had speculated---unluckily---in "De Beers." For a short time diamonds had been an obsession with him, then Burmah rubies. He had made money out of neither; it was not in his horoscope to make money out of anything. However there was the result---a certain amount of desultory information.

He took up one piece after another, presently drawing a magnifying glass out of his pocket to examine them the better. "Well, if you want money"---he said at last, putting down a rivière which had belonged to Delia's mother---"That alone will give you some thousands!"

Delia's eyes danced with satisfaction---then darkened. "That was Mamma's. Papa bought it at Constantinople---from an old Turkish Governor---who had robbed a province---spent the loot in Paris on his wives---and then had to disgorge half his fortune---to the Sultan---who got wind of it. Papa bought it a great bargain, and was awfully proud of it. But after Mamma died, he sent it to the bank, and never thought of it again. I couldn't wear it, of course---I was too young."

"How much money do you want?"

"Oh, a few thousands," said Delia vaguely. "Five hundred pounds, first of all."

"And who will sell them for you?"

She frowned in perplexity. "I--I don't know."

"You don't wish to ask Mr. Winnington?"

"Certainly not! They have nothing to do with him. They are my own personal property," she added proudly.

"Still he might object. Ought you not to ask him?"

"I shall not tell him!" She straightened her shoulders. "He has far too much bother on my account already."

"Of course, if I could do anything for you---I should be delighted. But I don't know why you should trust me. You don't know anything about me!" He laughed uncomfortably.

Delia laughed too---in some confusion. It seemed to him she suddenly realised she had done something unusual. "It is very kind of you to suggest it"---she said, hesitating.

"Not at all. It would amuse me. I have some threads I can pick up still---in Bond Street. Let me advise you to concentrate on that rivière. If you really feel inclined to trust me, I will take it to a man I know; he will shew it to ------" he named a famous firm. "In a few days---well, give me a week---and I undertake to bring you proposals. If you accept them, I will collect the money for you at once---or I will return you the necklace, if you don't."

Delia clasped her hands. "A week! You think it might all be finished in a week?"

"Certainly---thereabouts. These things"---he touched the diamonds---"are practically money."

Delia sat ruminating, with a bright excited face. Then a serious expression returned. She looked up. "Mr. Lathrop, this ought to be a matter of business between us---if you do me so great a service."

"You mean, I ought to take a commission?" he said calmly. "I shall do nothing of the kind."

"It is more than I ought to accept!" she cried. "Let your kindness----include what I wish."

He shook his fair hair impatiently. "Why should you take away all my pleasure in the little adventure?"

She looked embarrassed. He went on---"Besides we are comrades---we have stood together in the fight. I expect this is for the Cause! If so, I ought to be angry that you even suggested it!"

"Don't be angry!" she said gravely. "I meant nothing unkind. Well, I thank you very much---and there are the diamonds."

She gave him the case, with a quiet deliberate movement, as if to emphasise her trust in him. The simplicity with which it was done pricked him uncomfortably. "I'm no thief!"---he thought angrily. "She's safe enough with me. All the same, if she knew---she wouldn't speak to me---she wouldn't admit me into her house. She doesn't know---and I am a cad!"

"You can't the least understand what it means to be allowed to do you a service!" he said with emotion.

But the tone evidently displeased her. She once more formally thanked him; then sprang up and began to put the cases on the sofa together. As she did so, steps on the gravel outside were heard through the low casement window. Delia turned with a start, and saw Mark Winnington approaching the front door.

"Don't say anything please!" she said urgently. "This has nothing to do with my guardian."

And opening the door of a lacquer cabinet, she hurriedly packed the jewellery inside with all the speed she could. Her flushed cheek shewed her humiliated by the action.

---

Winnington stood in the doorway, silent and waiting. After a hasty greeting to the newcomer, Delia was nervously bidding Lathrop good-bye.

"In a week!" he said, under his breath, as she gave him her hand.

"A week!" she repeated, evidently impatient for him to be gone. He exchanged a curt bow with Winnington, and the door closed on him.

There was a short silence. Winnington remained standing, hat in hand. He was in riding dress---a commanding figure, his lean face reddened, and the waves of his grizzled hair slightly loosened, by a buffeting wind. Delia, stealing a glance at him, divined a coming remonstrance, and awaited it with a strange mixture of fear and pleasure. They had not met for ten days; and she stammered out some New Year's wishes. She hoped that he and Mrs. Matheson had enjoyed their visit.

But without any reply to her politeness, he said abruptly---"Were you arranging some business with Mr. Lathrop?"

She supposed he was thinking of the militant campaign. "Yes," she said eagerly. "Yes, I was arranging some business."

Winnington's eyes examined her. "Miss Delia, what do you know about that man?---except that story---which I understand Miss Marvell told you."

"Nothing---nothing at all! Except---except that he speaks at our meetings, and generally gets us into hot water. He has a lot of interesting books---and drawings---in his cottage; and he has lent me Madame de Noailles' poems. Won't you sit down? I hope you and Mrs. Matheson have had a good time? We have been to church---at least I have---and given away lots of coals and plum-puddings---at least I have. Gertrude thought me a fool. We have had the choir up to sing carols in the servants' hall, and given them a sovereign---at least I did. And I don't want any more Christmas---for a long, long time!"

And with that, she dropped into a chair opposite Winnington, who sat now twirling his hat and studying the ground.

"I agree with you," he said drily when she paused. "I felt when I was away that I had better be here. And I feel it now doubly."

"Because?"

"Because---if my absence has led to your developing any further acquaintance with the gentleman who has just left the room, when I might have prevented it, I regret it deeply."

Delia's cheeks had gone crimson again. "You knew perfectly well, Mr. Winnington, that we had made acquaintance with Mr. Lathrop! We never concealed it!"

"I knew, of course, that you were both members of the League, and that you had spoken at meetings together. I regretted it---exceedingly---and I asked you---in vain---to put an end to it. But when I find him paying a morning call here---and lending you books---that is a very different matter!"

Delia broke out---"You really are too Early-Victorian, Mr. Winnington!---and I can't help being rude. Do you suppose you can ever turn me into a bread-and-butter miss? I have looked after myself for years---you don't understand!" She faced him indignantly.

Winnington laughed. "All right---so long as the Early-Victorians may have their say. And my say about Mr. Lathrop is---again that he is not a fit companion for you, or any young girl,---that he is a man of blemished character---both in morals and business. Ask anybody in this neighbourhood!"

He had spoken with firm emphasis, his eyes sparkling.

"Everybody in the neighbourhood believes anything bad, about him---and us!" cried Delia.

"Don't, for Heaven's sake, couple yourself and this man---together!" said Winnington, flushing with anger. "I knew nothing about him, when you first arrived here. Mr. Lathrop didn't matter twopence to me before. Now he does matter."

"Why?" Delia's eyes were held to his, fascinated.

"Simply because I care---I care a great deal---what happens to you," he said quietly, after a pause. "Naturally, I must care."

Delia looked away, and began twisting her black sash into knots. "Bankruptcy---is not exactly a crime."

"Oh, so you knew that farther fact about him? But of course---it is the rest that matters. Since we spoke of this before, I have seen the judge who tried the case in which this man figured. I hate speaking of it in your presence, but you force me. He told me it was one of the worst he had ever known---a case for which there was no defence or excuse whatever."

"Why must I believe it?" cried Delia impetuously. "It's a man's judgement! The woman may have been---Gertrude says she was---horribly unhappy and ill-treated. Yet nothing could be proved---enough to free her. Wait till we have women judges---and women lawyers---then you'll see!"

He laughed indignantly---though not at all inclined to laugh. And what seemed to him her stubborn perversity drove him to despair.

"In this case, if there had been a woman judge, I am inclined to think it would have been a good deal worse for the people concerned. At least I hope so. Don't try to make me believe, Miss Delia, that women are going to forgive treachery and wickedness more easily than men!"

"Oh, 'treachery'!"---she murmured, protesting. His look both intimidated and drew her. Winnington came nearer to her, and suddenly he laid his hand on both of hers. Looking up, she was conscious of a look that was half raillery, half tenderness.

"My dear child!---I must call you that---though you are so clever---and so---so determined to have your own way. Look here! I'm going to plead my rights. I've done a good deal for you the last three months---perhaps you hardly know all that has been done. I've been your watch-dog---put it at that. Well, now give the watch-dog, give the Early-Victorian, his bone! Promise me that you will have no more dealings with Mr. Lathrop. Send him back his books---and say 'Not at home!'"

She was really distressed. "I can't, Mr. Winnington!---I'm so sorry!---but I can't."

"Why can't you?" He still held her.

A score of thoughts flew hither and thither in her brain. She had asked a great favour of Lathrop---she had actually put the jewels into his hands! How could she recall her action? And when he had done her such a service, if he succeeded in doing it---how was she to turn round on him, and cut him the very next moment?

Nor could she make up her mind to confess to Winnington what she had done. She was bent on her scheme. If she disclosed it now, everything might be upset. "I really can't!" she repeated gravely, releasing her hands.

Winnington rose, and began to pace the drawing-room. Delia watched him---quivering---an exquisite vision herself, in the half lights of the room.

When he paused at last to speak, she saw a new expression in his eyes. "I shall have to think this over, Miss Blanchflower---perhaps to reconsider my whole position."

She was startled, but she kept her composure. "You mean---you may have---after all---to give me up?"

He forced a very chilly smile. "You remember---you asked me to give you up. Now if it were only one subject---however important---on which we disagreed, I might still do my best, though the responsibility of all you make me connive at is certainly heavy. But if you are entirely to set at defiance not only my advice and wishes as to this illegal society to which you belong, and as to the violent action into which I understand you may be led when you go to town, but, also, in such a matter as we have just been discussing---then, indeed, I see no place for me. I must think it over. A guardian appointed by the Court might be more effective---might influence you more."

"I told you I was a handful," said Delia, trying to laugh. But her voice sounded hollow in her own ears.

He offered no reply---merely repeating "I must think it over!"---and resolutely changing the subject, he made a little perfunctory conversation on a few matters of business---and was gone.

After his departure, Delia sat motionless for half an hour at least, staring at the fire. Then suddenly she sprang up, went to the writing-table, and sat down to write---

"Dear Mr. Mark,---Don't give me up! You don't know. Trust me a little! I am not such a fiend as you think. I am grateful---I am indeed. I wish to goodness I could shew it. Perhaps I shall some day. I hadn't time to tell you about poor Weston---who's to have an operation---and that I'm not going to town with Gertrude---not for some weeks at any rate. I shall be alone here, looking after Weston. So I can't disgrace or worry you for a good while anyway. And you needn't fret about Mr. Lathrop---you needn't really! I can't explain--not just yet--but it's all right. Mayn't I come and help with some of your cripple children? or the school? or something? If Susy Amberley can do it, I suppose I can---I'd like to. May I sign myself---though I am a handful---
           "Yours affectionately,
                 "Delia Blanchflower."

She sat staring at the paper, trembling under a stress of feeling she could not understand---the large tears in her eyes.

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