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Chapter XVI

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« on: November 29, 2022, 10:30:06 pm »

 
"SO I mustn't argue any more?" said Lady Tonbridge, looking at Delia, who was seated by her guest's fire, and wore the weary aspect of one who had already been argued with a good deal.

Madeleine's tone was one of suppressed exasperation. Exasperation rather with the general nature of things than with Delia. It was difficult to be angry with one whose perversity made her so evidently wretched. But as to the "intolerable woman" who had got the girl's conscience---and Winnington's happiness---in her power, Lady Tonbridge's feelings were at a white heat. How to reason with Delia, without handling Gertrude Marvell as she deserved---there was the difficulty.

In any case, Delia was unshakeable. If Weston were really out of danger---Dr. France was to bring over the Brownmouth specialist on Monday---then that very afternoon Delia must and would go to London to join Gertrude Marvell. And the following day Parliament would re-assemble under the menace of raids and stone-throwings, to which the Tocsin had been for weeks past summoning "The Daughters of Revolt," throughout the country, in terms of passionate violence. In those proceedings Delia had apparently determined to take her part. As to this, Lady Tonbridge had not been able to move her in the least.

The case for Winnington seemed indeed for the moment desperate. After his scene with Delia he had left the Abbey immediately, and Lady Tonbridge, though certain that something important---and disastrous---had happened, would have known nothing, but for a sudden confession from Delia, as the two ladies sat together in the drawing-room after dinner. Delia had abruptly laid down her book, with which she was clearly only trifling---in order to say---"I think I had better tell you at once that my guardian asked me to marry him, this afternoon, and I refused."

Since this earthquake-shock, Madeleine Tonbridge could imagine nothing more unsatisfactory than the conversations between them which had begun in the drawing-room, and lingered on till, now, at nearly midnight, sheer weariness on both sides had brought them to an end. When Madeleine had at last thrown up argument as hopeless, Delia with a face of carven wax, and so handsome through it all that Lady Tonbridge could have beaten her for sheer vexation, had said a quiet good-night and departed.

But she was in love with him, the foolish, obstinate child!---wildly, absorbingly in love with him! The fact was tragically evident, in everything she said, and everything she left unsaid.

The struggle lay then between her loyalty to her friend, the passionate loyalty of woman to woman, so newly and strangely developed by the Suffrage movement, and Winnington's advancing influence,---the influence of a man equipped surely with all the means of victory---character, strength, charm---over the girl's heart and imagination. He must conquer!

And yet Madeleine Tonbridge, staring into the ashes of a dwindling fire, had never persuaded herself---incorrigible optimist that she was---to so little purpose.

What was there at the back of the girl's mind? Something more than appeared; though what appeared was bad enough. One seemed at times to catch a glimpse of some cloaked and brooding Horror, in the dim background of the girl's consciousness, and overshadowing it. What more likely indeed, with this wild campaign sweeping through the country? She probably knew or suspected things that her moral sense condemned, to which she was nevertheless committed.

"We shall end by proving all that the enemy says of us; we shall give our chance away for a generation!"

---

"Do for Heaven's sake keep the young lady at home!"

The speaker was Dr. France. After seeing his patient, dismissing the specialist, and spending half an hour tête-à-tête with Delia, he came down to see Lady Tonbridge in a state that in anyone else would have been a state of agitation. In him all that appeared was a certain hawkish glitter in the eye, and a tendency to pull and pinch a scarcely existing moustache. But Madeleine, who knew him well, understood that he was just as much at feud with the radical absurdity of things as she was.

"No one can keep her at home. Delia is of age," she said, rising to meet him, with a face as serious as his own.

"If she gets into prison, and hunger-strikes, she'll injure herself! She's extraordinarily run down with this business of Weston's. I don't believe she could stand the sheer excitement of what she proposes to do."

"She's told you?"

"Quite enough. If she once goes up to town---if she once gets into that woman's clutches, no one can tell what will happen. Oh, you women!---you women!" The doctor walked tigerishly up and down the room. "That some of the cleverest and wisest of you can stoop to dabbling in a business like this! Upon my word it's an eye-opener!---it pulls one up. And you think you can drive men by such antics! The more you smash and burn, the more firmly goes down the male foot---yes, and the female too!"

And the doctor, with a glare, and a male foot as firm as he could make it, came to a stop beside Lady Tonbridge---who looked at him coolly.

"Excellent!---but no concern of mine. I'm not a militant. But I want the vote just as much as Delia does!" said Lady Tonbridge stoutly. "Don't forget that."

"No, you don't---you don't! Excuse me. You are a reasonable woman."

"Half the reasonable women in England want the vote. Why shouldn't I have a vote---as well as you?"

"Because, my dear lady"---the doctor smote the table with his hand for emphasis---"because the parliamentary vote means the government of men by men---without which we go to pieces. And you propose now to make it include the government of men by women---which is absurd!---and if you try it, will only break up the only real government that exists, or can exist!"

"Oh!---'physical force,'" said Madeleine contemptuously, with her nose in the air.

"Well---did I---did you---make the physical difference between men and women? Can we unmake it?"

"We are governed by public opinion---not by force."

"Are we? Look at South Africa---look at Ulster---look at the labour-troubles that have been, and are to be. And then you women come along with your claim to the vote! What are you doing but breaking up all the social values---weakening all the foundations of the social edifice! Woe!---to you women especially---when you teach men to despise the vote:--when men come to know that behind the paper currency of a vote, which may be a man's or a woman's, there is nothing but an opinion---bad or good! At present, I tell you, the great conventions of democracy hold because there is reality of bone and muscle behind them! Break down that reality---and sooner or later we come back to force again---through bloodshed and anarchy!"

"Inevitable---all the same!" cried Madeleine. "Why did you ever let us taste education?---if you are to deny us for ever political equality?"

"Use your education, my dear Madam!" said the doctor indignantly. "Are there not many roads to political equality?---many forms of government within government, that may be tried, before you insist on ruining us by doing men's work in the men's way? Hasn't it taken more than a hundred years to settle that Irish question, which began with the Union? Is it a hundred years yet since it was a hanging matter to steal a handkerchief off a hedge? Can't you give us a hundred years for the Woman Question? Sixty years only, since the higher education of women began! Isn't the science of government developing every day? What's all this federalist talk but a way out for women? Women have got, you say, to be fitted into government---I agree! I agree! But don't rush it! Claim everything---what you like!---except only that sovereign vote, which controls, and must control, the male force of an Empire!"

"Jove's thunder!" scoffed Lady Tonbridge. "Well---my dear old friend!---you and I shan't agree---you know that. Now what can I do for Delia?"

"Nothing," said France gloomily. "Unless some one goes up to watch over her."

"Her guardian will go," said Madeleine quietly, after a pause.

They eyed each other.

"You're sure?" said France.

"Quite sure--though I've not said a word to him---nor he to me."

"All right, then---she's worth it! By George, she's got the makings of something splendid in her. I tell you she's had as much to do as any of us with saving the life of that woman upstairs. Courage?---tenderness?---'not 'arf!'"

The slangy turn shewed the speaker's desire to get rid of his own feelings. He had, at any rate, soon smothered them, and he and Lady Tonbridge, their chairs drawn close, fell into a very confidential discussion. France was one of those country doctors, not rare fortunately in England, in whom a whole neighbourhood confides, whom a whole neighbourhood loves; all the more if a man betrays a fair allowance of those gnarls and twists of character, of strong prejudices, and harmless manias, which enable the common herd to take him to their bosoms. Dr. France was a frenzied stamp-collector, a player---indifferent---on the cornet, and a person who could never be trusted to deal faithfully and on C.O.S. principles with tramps and "undesirables." Such things temper the majesty of virtue, and make even the good human.

He had known and prescribed for Winnington since he was a boy in knickers; he was particularly attached to Lady Tonbridge. What he and Madeleine talked about is not of great importance to this narrative; but it is certain that France left the house in much concern for a man he loved, and a girl who, in the teeth of his hottest beliefs, had managed to touch his feelings.

Delia spent the day in packing. Winnington made no sign. In the afternoon---it was a wet Saturday afternoon---Lady Tonbridge sitting in the drawing-room saw the science mistress of the Dame Perrott School coming up the drive. Madeleine know her as a "Daughter," and could not help scowling at her---unseen.

She was at once admitted, however, and spent a short time with Delia in the Library.

And when Miss Jackson closed the Library door behind her on her way out of the house, Delia broke the seal of a letter which had been given into her hands:---

"I am very sorry, my dear Delia, you should have taken these silly reports so much to heart. You had better dismiss them from your mind. I have given no such orders as you suppose---nor has the Central Office. The plan you found referred to something quite different---I really can't remember what. I can't of course be responsible for all the 'Daughters' in England, but I have much more important business to think of just now than the nonsense Mr. Lathrop seems to have been stuffing you with. As to W---- L----, it would only be worth while to strike at him, if our affairs go wrong---through him. At present, I am extraordinarily hopeful. We are winning every day. People see that we are in earnest, and mean to succeed---at whatever cost.

"I am glad you are coming up on Monday. I moved into the flat yesterday. You will find it anything but a comfortable or restful place,---but that you will be prepared for. Our people are amazing!---and we shall get into the House on Tuesday, or know the reason why.

"For the money you sent, and the money you promise---best thanks. Everybody is giving. It is the spirit of the Crusader, 'Dieu le veult!'

"Your affectionate G.M." 

Delia read and re-read it. It was the first time Gertrude had deliberately tried to deceive her, and the girl's heart was sore. Even now, she was not to be trusted---"now that I am risking everything---everything!" And with the letter on her lap, she sat and thought of Winnington's face, as he had turned to look at her, before leaving the drawing-room the night before.

---

The day passed drearily. The hills and trees were wrapped in damp fog, and though the days were lengthening fast, the evening closed like November. Madeleine thought with joy of getting back to her tiny house and her Nora. Nora, who was not yet out, seemed to have been enjoying a huge success in the large cousinly party with whom she had been spending the Christmas holidays. "But it's an odd place, Mummy. In the morning we 'rag'; and the rest of the day we talk religion. Everybody is either Buddhist or 'Bahai'---if that's the right way to spell it. It sounds odd, but it seems to be a very good way of getting on with young men."

Heavens! What did it matter how you played the old game, or with what counters, so long as it was played?

And as Lady Tonbridge watched the figure of Delia gliding through the house, wrapped in an estranging silence, things ancient and traditional returned upon her in flood, and nothing in the world seemed worth having but young love and happy marriage!---if you could get them! She---and her heart knew its bitterness---had made the great throw and lost.

---

Sunday passed in the same isolation. But on Sunday afternoon Delia took the motor out alone, and gave no reason either before or after.

"If she's gone out to meet that man, it's a scandal!" thought  Madeleine wrathfully, and could hardly bring herself to be civil when the girl returned---pale, wearied, and quite uncommunicative. But she was very touching in a mute, dignified way, all the evening, and Madeleine relented fast. And, as they sat in the fire-lit drawing-room, when the curtains were drawn, Delia suddenly brought a stool close to Lady Tonbridge's side, and, sitting at her feet, held up appealing arms. Madeleine, with a rush of motherliness, gathered her close; and the beautiful head lay, very quiet, on her breast. But when she would have entreated, or argued, again, Delia implored her---"Don't---don't talk!--it's no good. Just let me stay."

Late that night, all being ready for departure, Delia went in to say good night, and good-bye, to Weston.

"You'll be downstairs and as strong as a horse, when I come back," she said gaily, stroking the patient's emaciated fingers.

Weston shook her head.

"I don't think I shall ever be good for much, Miss Delia. But"--and her voice suddenly broke--"I believe I'd go through it all again---just to know---what---you could be---to a poor thing---like me."

"Weston!"---said Delia softly---"if you talk like that---and if you dare to cry, Nurse will turn me out. You're going to get quite well, but whether you're well or ill, here you stay, Miss Rosina Weston!---and I'm going to look after you. Polly hasn't packed my things half badly." Polly was the under-housemaid, whom Delia was taking to town.

"She wouldn't be worth her salt, if she hadn't," said Weston tartly. "But she can't do your hair, Miss---and it's no good saying she can."

"Then I'll do it myself. I'll make some sort of a glorious mess of it, and set the fashion." But her thought said---"If I go to prison, they'll cut it off. Poor Weston!"

Weston moved uneasily---"Miss Delia?"

"Yes."

"Don't you go getting yourself into trouble. Now don't you!" And with tears in her eyes, the ghostly creature pressed the girl's hand to her lips. Delia stooped and kissed her. But she made no reply. Instead she began to talk of the new bed-rest which had just been provided for Weston, and on which the patient professed herself wonderfully comfortable. "It's better than the one we had at Meran---for Papa." Her voice dropped. She sat at the foot of Weston's bed, looking absently into some scene of the past.

"Nothing ever gave him ease---your poor Papa!" said Weston pitifully. "He did suffer! But don't you go thinking about it this time of night, Miss Delia, or you won't sleep."

Delia said good night, and went away. But she did think of her father---with a curious intensity. And when she fell fitfully asleep, she dreamt that she saw him standing beside her in some open foreign place, and that he looked at her in silence, steadily and coldly. And she stretched out her hands, in a rush of grief---"Kiss me, father! I was unkind!---horribly---horribly unkind!"

With the pain of it, she woke suddenly, and the visualising sense seemed still to perceive in the darkness the white head and soldierly form. She half rose, gasping. Then, as though a photographic shutter were let down, the image passed from the brain, and she lay with heaving breast trying to find her way back into what we call reality. But it was a reality even more wretched than those recollections to which her dream had recalled her. For it was held and possessed, now by Winnington, and now by the threatening vision of Monk Lawrence, spectral amid the red ruin of fire. She had stopped the motor that day at the foot of the hill on which the house stood, and using Winnington's name had made a call on the cripple child. Daunt had received her with a somewhat gruff civility, and was not communicative about the house and its defence. But she gathered---without herself broaching the subject---that he was scornfully confident of his power to protect it against "them creeping women," and she had come home comforted. The cripple child had clung to her silently; and on coming away, Delia had felt a small wet kiss upon her hand. A touching creature!---with her wide blue eyes, and delicate drawn face.

---

On Monday morning the doctors came early. They gave a favourable verdict, and Delia at once decided on an afternoon train.

All the morning, Lady Tonbridge hovered round her, loth to take her own departure, and trying every now and then to re-open the subject of London, to make the girl promise to send for her---to consult Winnington, if any trouble arose.

But Delia would not allow any discussion. "I shall be with Gertrude---she'll tell me what to do," was all she would say.

Lady Tonbridge was dropped at her own door by Delia, on her  way to the station. Nora was there to welcome her, but not all their joy in recovering each other could repair Madeleine's cheerfulness. She stood, looking after the retreating car with such a face that Nora exclaimed---

"Mother, what is the matter!"

"I'm watching the tumbril out of sight," said Lady Tonbridge incoherently. "Shall we ever see her again?"

That, however, was someone else's affair.

Delia took her own and her housemaid's tickets for London, saw her companion established, and then, preferring to be alone, stepped into an empty carriage herself. She had hardly disposed her various packages, and the train was within two minutes of starting, when a tall man came quickly along the platform, inspecting the carriages as he passed. Delia did not see him till he was actually at her window. In another moment he had opened and closed the door, and had thrown down his newspapers and overcoat on the seat. The train was just starting, and Delia, crimson, found herself mechanically shaking hands with Mark Winnington.

"You're going up to town?" She stammered it. "I didn't know---"

"I shall be in town for a few days. Are you quite comfortable? A foot-warmer?" For the day was cold and frosty, with a bitter east wind.

"I'm quite warm, thank you."

The train ran out of the station, and they were soon in the open country. Delia leant back in her seat, silent, conscious of her own hurrying pulses, but determined to control them. She would have liked to be indignant---to protest that she was being persecuted and coerced. But the recollection of their last meeting, and the sheer, inconvenient, shameful joy of his presence there, opposite, interposed.

Winnington himself was quite cool; there were no signs whatever of any intention to renew their Friday's conversation. His manner and tone were just as usual. Some business at the Home Office, connected with his County Council work, called him to town. He should be staying at his Club in St. James's Street. Alice Matheson also would be in town.

"Shall we join for a theatre, one night?" he asked her.

She felt suddenly angered. Was she never to be believed, never to be taken seriously? "To-morrow, Mr. Mark, is the meeting of Parliament."

"That I am aware of."

"The day after, I shall probably be in prison!"

She fronted him bravely, though, as he saw, with an effort. He paused a moment, but shewed no astonishment. "I hope not. I think not," he said quietly.

Delia took up the evening paper she had just bought at the station, opened it, and looked at the middle page. "There are our plans," she said defiantly, handing it to him.

"Thank you. I have already seen it."

But he again read through attentively the paragraph to which she pointed him. It was headed "Militant Plans for To-Morrow." A procession of five hundred women was to march on the Houses of Parliament, at the moment of the King's Speech. "We insist"---said the Manifesto issued from the offices of the League of Revolt---"upon our right of access to the King, or failing His Majesty, to the Prime Minister. We mean business and we shall be armed."

Winnington pointed to the word "armed." "With stones---I presume?"

"Well, not revolvers, I hope!" said Delia. "I should certainly shoot myself."

Tension broke up in slightly hysterical laughter. She was already in better spirits. There was something exciting---exhilarating even---in the duel between herself and Winnington, which was implied in the conversation. His journey up to town, the look in his grey eyes meant---"I shall prevent you from doing what you are intending to do." But he could not prevent it. If he was the breakwater, she was the storm-wave, driven by the gale---by a wind from afar, of which she felt herself the sport, and sometimes the victim---without its changing her purpose in the least.

"Only I shall not refuse food!" she thought. "I shall spare him that. I shall serve my sentence. It won't be long."

But afterwards? Would she then be free? Free to follow Gertrude or not, according to her judgement? Would she have "purged" her promise---paid her shot---recovered the governance of herself?

Her thoughts discussed the future, when, all in a moment, Winnington watching her from behind his Times saw a pale startled look. It seemed to be caused by something in the landscape. He turned his eyes to the window and saw that they were passing an old manor house, with a gabled front, standing above the line, among trees. What could that have had to do with the sudden contraction of the beautiful brow, the sudden look of terror---or distress? The house had a certain resemblance to Monk Lawrence. Had it reminded her of that speech in the Latchford market-place, from which he was certain she had recoiled, no less than he?

---

"You'll let me take you to the flat? I've been over it once, but I should like to see it's in order."

She hesitated, but how could she refuse? He put her into a taxi, having already despatched her maid with the luggage in another, and they started.

"I expect you'll find a lot of queer people there!" she said, trying to laugh. "At least you'll think them queer."

"I shall like to see the people you are working with," he said gravely.

Half-way to Westminster, he turned to her. "Miss Delia!---it's my plain duty to tell you---again---and to keep on telling you, even though it makes you angry, and even though I have no power to stop you, that in taking part in these doings to-morrow, you are doing a wrong thing, a grievously wrong thing! If I were only an ordinary friend, I should try to dissuade you with all my might. But I represent your father---and you know what he would have felt."

He saw her lips tremble. But she spoke calmly: "Yes,---I know. But it can't be helped. We can't agree, Mr. Mark, and it's no good my trying to explain, any more---just yet!"---she added, in a lower tone.

"'Just yet'? What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that some time,---perhaps some time soon---I shall be ready to argue the whole thing with you---what's right and what's wrong. Now I can't argue---I'm not free to. Don't you see?---'Ours not to make reply,---ours but to do, or die.'" Her smile flashed out. "There's not going to be any dying about it, however---you know that as well as I do." Then with a touch of mockery she bent towards him. "You won't persuade me, Mr. Mark, that you take us seriously! But I'm not angry at that---I'm not angry---at anything!"

And her face, as he scanned it, melted---changed---became all soft sadness, and deprecating appeal. Never had she seemed to him so fascinating. Never had he felt himself so powerless. He thought, despairingly---"If I had her to myself, I could take her in my arms, and make her give way!"

But here were the first signs of arrival---a narrow Westminster street---a towering group of flats. The taxi stopped, and Winnington jumped out.

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