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Chapter XIX

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« on: December 01, 2022, 09:47:41 am »


ON this same Sunday night before the Suffrage crisis, a slender woman, in a veil and a waterproof, opened the gate of a small house in the Brixton Road. It was about nine o'clock in the evening. The pavements were wet with rain, and a gusty wind was shrieking through the smutty almond and alder trees along the road which had ventured to put out their poor blossoms and leaves in the teeth of this February gale.

The woman stood and looked at the house after shutting the gate, as though uncertain whether she had found what she was looking for. But the number 453 on the dingy door could be still made out by the light of the street opposite, and she mounted the steps.

A slatternly maid opened the door, and on being asked whether Mrs. Marvell was at home, pointed curtly to a dimly lighted staircase, and disappeared.

Gertrude Marvell groped her way upstairs. The house smelt repulsively of stale food and gas mingled, and the wailing wind from outside seemed to pursue the visitor with its voice as she mounted. On the second-floor landing, she knocked at the door of the front room.

After an interval, some shuffling steps came to the door, and it was cautiously opened. "What's your business, please?"

"It's me---Gertrude. Are you alone?"

A sound of astonishment. The door was opened, and a woman appeared. Her untidy, brown hair, touched with grey, fell back from a handsome peevish face of an aquiline type. A delicate mouth, relaxed and bloodless, seemed to make a fretful appeal to the spectator, and the dark circles under the eyes shewed violet on a smooth and pallid skin. She was dressed in a faded tea-gown much betrimmed, covered up with a dingy white shawl.

"Well, Gertrude---so you've come---at last!"--she said, after a moment, in a tone of resentment.

"If you can put me up for the night---I can stay. I've brought no luggage."

"That doesn't matter. There's a stretcher bed. Come in." Gertrude Marvell entered, and her mother closed the door.

"Well, mother---how are you?"

The daughter offered her cheek, which the elder woman kissed. Then Mrs. Marvell said bitterly---"Well, I don't suppose, Gertrude, it much matters to you how I am."

Gertrude took off her wet waterproof and hat, and sitting down by the fire, looked round her mother's bed-sittingroom. There was a tray on the table with the remains of a meal. There were also a large number of women's hats, some trimmed, some untrimmed, some in process of trimming, lying about the room, on the different articles of furniture. There was a tiny dog in a basket, which barked shrilly and feebly as Gertrude approached the fire, and there were various cheap illustrated papers and a couple of sixpenny novels to be seen emerging from the litter here and there. For the rest, the furniture was of a squalid lodging-house type. On the chimney-piece, however, was a bunch of daffodils, the only fresh and pleasing object in the room.

To Gertrude it was as though she had seen it all before. Behind the room, there stretched a succession of its ghostly fellows---the rooms of her childhood. In those rooms she could remember her mother as a young and comely woman, but always with the same slovenly dress, and the same untidy---though then abundant and beautiful---hair. And as she half shut her eyes she seemed also to see her younger sister coming in and out---malicious, secretive---with her small turn-up nose, pouting lips, and under-hung chin.

She made no reply to her mother's complaining remark. But while she held her cold hands to the blaze that Mrs. Marvell stirred up, her eyes took careful note of her mother's aspect. "Much as usual," was her inward comment. "Whatever happens, she'll outlive me."

"You've been going on with the millinery?" She pointed to the hats. "I hope you've been making it pay."

"It provides me with a few shillings now and then," said Mrs. Marvell, sitting heavily down on the other side of the fire---"which Winnie generally gets out of me!" she added sharply. "I am a miserable pauper now, as I always have been."

Gertrude's look was unmoved. Her mother had, she knew, all that her father had left behind him---no great sum, but enough for a solitary woman to live on.

"Well, anyway, you must be glad of it as an occupation. I wish I could help you. But I haven't really a farthing of my own, beyond the interest on my thousand pounds. I handle a great  deal of money, but it all goes to the League, and I never let them pay me more than my bare expenses. Now then, tell me all about everybody!" And she lay back in the dilapidated basket-chair that had been offered her, and prepared herself to listen.

---

The family chronicle was done. It was as depressing as usual, and Gertrude made but little comment upon it. When it was finished Mrs. Marvell rose, and put the kettle on the fire, and got out a couple of fresh cups and saucers from a cupboard. As she did so, she looked round at her visitor.

"And you're as deep in that militant business as ever?"

Gertrude made a negligent sign of assent.

"Well, you'll never get any good of it." The mother's pale cheek flushed. It excited her to have this chance of speaking her mind to her clever and notorious daughter, whom in many ways she secretly envied, while heartily disapproving her acts and opinions.

Gertrude shrugged her shoulders. "What's the good of arguing?"

"Well, it's true"--said the mother, persisting. "Every new thing you do turns more people against you. Winnie's a Suffragist--but she says you've spoilt all their game!"

Gertrude's eyes shone; she despised her mother's opinion, and her sister's still more, and yet once again in their neighbourhood, once again in the old environment, she must needs treat them in the old sneering, brow-beating way.

"And you think, I suppose, that Winnie knows a good deal about it?"

"Well, she knows what everybody's saying---in the trams---and the trains---everywhere. The Bill hasn't a chance, they say. Hundreds of them that used to be for you have turned over."

"Let them!"

The contemptuous tone irritated Mrs. Marvell. But at the same time she could not help admiring her eldest daughter, as she sat there in the fire-light, her quiet, well-cut dress, her delicate hands and feet. It was true, indeed, she was a scarecrow for thinness, and looked years older---"somehow gone to pieces"---thought the mother, vaguely, and with a queer, sudden pang.

"And you're going on with it?"

"What? Militancy? Of course we are---more than ever!"

"Why, the men laugh at you, Gertrude!"

"They won't laugh---by the time we've done," said Gertrude, with apparent indifference. But a subtler observer than Mrs. Marvell would have seen that the indifference was now an effort---which scarcely hid the quiver of nerves, irreparably injured by excitement and over-strain.

"Well, all I know is, it's against Nature to suppose that women can fight men." Mrs. Marvell's remarks, as she went to and fro with her tea-things, were rather like the emergence of scattered spars from a choppy sea.

"We shall fight them," said Gertrude, smiling---"And what's more, we shall beat them."

"All the same, we've got to live with them!" cried her mother, suddenly flushing, as old memories swept across her.

"Yes,---on our terms---not theirs!"

"I do believe, Gertrude, you hate the very sight of a man!"

Gertrude smiled again; then suddenly shivered, as though the cold wind outside had swept through the room.

"And so would you--if you knew what I do!"

"Well, I do know a good bit!" protected Mrs. Marvell. "And I'm a married woman,---worse luck! and you're not. But you'll never see it any other way than your own, Gertie. You got a kink in you when you were quite a girl. Last week I was talking about you to a woman I know---and I said 'It's the girls ruined by the bad men that make Gertrude so mad,'---and she said 'She don't ever think of the boys that are ruined by the bad women!---Has she ever had a son?---not she!' And she just cried and cried. I suppose she was thinking of something."

Gertrude rose. "Look here, mother. Can I go to bed? I'm awfully tired."

"Wait a bit. I'll make the bed."

Gertrude sat down by the fire again. Her exhaustion was evident, and she made no attempt to help her mother. Mrs. Marvell let down the chair-bed, drew it near the fire, and found some bed-clothes. Then she produced night-things of her own, and helped Gertrude undress. When her daughter was in bed, she made some tea and dry toast, and Gertrude let them be forced on her. When she had finished, the mother suddenly stooped and kissed her.

"Where are you going to now, Gertrude? Are you staying on with that lady in Hamptonshire?"

"Can't tell you my plans just yet," said Gertrude sleepily---"but you'll know next week."

The lights were put out. Both women tried to rest, and Gertrude was soon heavily asleep.

But as soon as it was light, Mrs. Marvell heard her moving, the splash of water, and the lighting of the fire. Presently Gertrude came to her side fully dressed---"There, mother, I've made you a cup of tea! And now in a few minutes I shall be off."

Mrs. Marvell sat up and drank the tea. "I didn't think you'd go in such a hurry," she said fretfully.

"I must. My day's so full. Well now, look here, mother, I want you to know if anything were to happen to me, my thousand pounds would come to you first, and then to Winnie and her children. And it's my wish, that neither my brother nor Henry shall touch a farthing of it. I've made a will, and that's the address of my solicitors, who're keeping it." She handed her mother an envelope.

Mrs. Marvell put down her tea, and put her handkerchief to her eyes. "I believe you're up to something dreadful, Gertrude,---which you won't tell me."

"Nonsense!" said Gertrude, not however unkindly. "But we mayn't see each other for a good while. There!---I'll open the windows--that'll make you feel more cheerful." And she drew up the blinds to the dull February day, and opened a window. "I'll telephone to Winnie, as I go past the Post Office, to come and spend the day with you---and I'll send up the servant to do your room. Now don't fret."

"I'm a lonely old woman, Gertrude---and I wish I was dead!"

Gertrude frowned. "You should try and read something, mother---better than these trashy novels. When I've time, I'll send you a parcel of books---I've got a good many. And don't you let your work go---it's good for you. Now good-bye."

The two women kissed---Mrs. Marvell embracing her daughter with a sudden fierceness of emotion to which Gertrude submitted, almost for the first time in her life. Then her mother pushed her away---

"Good-bye, Gertrude---you'd better go!"

Gertrude went out noiselessly, closing the door behind her with a lingering movement, unlike her. In the tiny hall below, she found the "general" at work, and sent her up to Mrs. Marvell. Then she went out into the grey February morning, and the little girl of the landlady standing on the steps saw her enter one of the eastward-bound trams.

---

Monday afternoon came. Winnington had been called away to Wanchester by urgent county business; against his will, for there had been some bad rioting the day before at Latchford, and he would rather have gone to help his brother magistrates. But there was no help for it. Lady Tonbridge was at the little Georgian house, shutting it up for six months. Delia was left alone in the Abbey, consumed with a restless excitement she had done her best to hide from her companions. She suddenly made up her mind that she would go and see for herself, and by herself, what was happening at Monk Lawrence. She set out unobserved and on foot, and had soon climbed the hill and reached the wood-walk along its crest where she had once met Lathrop. Half-way through, she came on two persons whom she at once recognised as the science mistress, Miss Jackson, and Miss Toogood. They were walking slowly, and, as it seemed to Delia, sadly; the little dressmaker limping painfully, with her head thrown back and a face of fixed and tragic distress.

When they saw Delia, they stopped in agitation. "Oh, Miss Blanchflower!---"

Delia, who knew that Miss Jackson had been in town hoping for work at the Central Office of the League of Revolt, divined at once that she had been disappointed.

"They couldn't find you anything?"

The teacher shook her head.

"And the Governors have given me a month's salary here in lieu of notice. I've left the school, Miss Blanchflower! I was in the Square, you know, that day---and at the Police Court afterwards. That was what did it. And I have my old mother to keep."

A pair of haggard eyes met Delia's.

"Oh, but I'll help!" cried Delia---"You must let me help!---won't you?"

"Thank you---but I've got a few savings," said the teacher quietly. "It isn't that so much. It's---well, Miss Toogood feels it too. She was in town---she saw everything. And she knows what I mean. We're disheartened---that's what it is!"

"With the movement?" said Delia, after a moment.

"It seemed so splendid when we talked of it down here---and---it was---so horrible!" Her voice dropped.

"So horrible!" echoed Miss Toogood drearily. "It wasn't what we meant, somehow. And yet we'd read about it. But to see those young women beating men's faces---well, it did for me!"

"The police were rough too!" cried Miss Jackson. "But you couldn't wonder at it, Miss Blanchflower, could you?"

Delia looked into the speaker's frank, troubled face. "You and I felt the same," she said in a choked voice. "It was ugly---and it was absurd."

She walked back with them a little way, comforting them as best she could. And her sympathy, her sweetness did---strangely---comfort them. When she left them, they walked on, talking tenderly of her, counting on her good fortune, if there was none for them.

---

At the end of the walk, towards Monk Lawrence, another figure emerged from the distance. Delia started, then gathered all her wits; for it was Lathrop.

He hurried towards her, breathless, cutting all preliminaries---"I was coming to find you. I arrived this morning. I never got your letters---but that's too long a story. I was coming to tell you now---there's something wrong! I have just been to the house, and there is no one there."

"What do you mean?"

"No one. I went to Daunt's rooms. Everything locked. The house absolutely dark---everywhere. And I know that he has had the strictest orders!"

Without a word, she began to run, and he beside her. When she slackened, he told her that while in London he had made the most skilful enquiries he could devise as to the plot he believed to be on foot. But---like Delia's own---they had been quite fruitless. Those persons who had shared suspicion with him in December were now convinced that the thing was dropped. All that he had ascertained was that Miss Marvell was in town, apparently recovered, and Miss Andrews with her.

"Well--and were you pleased with your Raid?" he asked her, half mockingly, as he opened the gate of Monk Lawrence for her.

She resented the question, and the tone of it, remembering
his first grandiloquent letter to her.

"You ought to be," she said drily. "It was the kind of thing you recommended."

"In that letter I wrote you! I ought to have apologised to you for that letter long ago. I am afraid it was an exercise. Oh, I felt it, I suppose, when I wrote it." There was a touch of something insolent in his voice.

She made no reply. If it had not been for the necessity which yoked them, she would not have spent another minute in his company, so repellent to her had he become---both in the inner and the outer man. She tried only to think of him as an ally in a desperate campaign.

They hastened up the Monk Lawrence drive. The house stood still and peaceful in the February afternoon. The rooks from the rookery behind were swirling about and over the roofs, filling the air with monotonous sound which only emphasised the silence below. A sheet of snowdrops lay white in the courtyard, where a child's go-cart, upset, held the very middle of the stately approach to the house.

Delia went to the front door, and rang the bell---repeatedly. Not a sound, except the dim echoes of the bell itself from some region far inside.

"No good!" said Lathrop. "Now come to the back." They went round to the low addition at the back of the house, where Daunt and his family had now lived for many months. Here also there was nobody. The door was locked. The blinds were drawn down. Impossible to see into the rooms, and neither calling nor knocking produced any response.

Lathrop stood thinking. "Absolutely against orders! I know---for Daunt himself told me---that he had promised Lang never to leave the house without putting some deputy he could trust in charge. He has gone and left no deputy---or the deputy he did leave has deserted."

"But where are the police?" said Delia, bewildered; "there's always been one man here---sometimes two."

"I can explain that. You know the strike that's going on at the Latchford brickfields? There were some ugly doings yesterday---and I hear the rioting began again this morning. I expect to-day the Chief Constable's drawn in all the local men he can, till he gets help."

Delia looked round her. "What's the nearest house---or cottage?"

"The Gardeners' cottages, beyond the kitchen garden. Only one of them occupied now, I believe. Daunt used to live there before he moved into the house. Let's go there!"

They ran on. The walled kitchen garden was locked, but they found a way round it to where three creeper-grown cottages stood in a pleasant lonely space girdled by beech-woods. One only was inhabited, but from that the smoke was going up, and a babble of children's voices emerged.

Lathrop knocked. There was a sudden sound, and then a silence within. In a minute however the door was opened, and a strapping, black-eyed young woman stood on the threshold, looking both sulky and astonished.

"Are you Daunt's niece?" said Lathrop.

"I am, Sir. What do you want with him?"

"Why isn't he at Monk Lawrence?" asked Lathrop roughly. "He told me himself he was not to leave the house unguarded."

"Well, Sir, I don't know, I'm sure, what business it is of yours!" said the woman, flushing with anger. "He got bad news of his son, whose ship arrived at Portsmouth yesterday, and the young man said to be dying, on board. So he went off this afternoon. I've only left it for ten minutes and I'm going back directly. Mrs. Cresson here had asked the children to tea, and I brought them over. And I'll thank you, Sir, not to go spying on honest people!"

And she would have slammed the door in his face, but that Delia came forward.

"We had no intention of spying upon you, Miss Daunt---indeed we hadn't. But I am Miss Blanchflower, who came here before Christmas, with Mr. Winnington, and I should have been glad to see Mr. Daunt and the children. Lily!---don't you remember me?"---and she smiled at the crippled child---her blue-eyed little friend---whom she saw in the background.

But the child, who seemed to have been crying violently, did not come forward. And the other two, who had their fingers in their mouths, were equally silent and shrinking. In the distance an old woman sat motionless in her chair by the fire, taking no notice apparently of what was going on.

The young woman appeared for a moment confused or excited. "Well, I'm sorry, Miss, but my uncle won't be back till after dark. And I wouldn't advise you to come in, Miss,"---she hurriedly drew the door close behind her---"the doctor thinks two of the children have got whooping-cough---and I didn't send them to school to-day."

"Well, just understand, Miss Daunt, if that's your name," said Lathrop, with emphasis---"that till you return to the house, we shall stay there. We shall walk up and down there, till you come back. You know well enough there are people about, who would gladly do an injury to the house, and that it's not safe to leave it. Monk Lawrence is not Sir Wilfrid Lang's property only. It belongs to the whole nation, and there are plenty of people that'll know the reason why, if any harm comes to it."

"Oh, very well. Have it your own way, Sir! I'll come---I'll come---fast enough," and the speaker, with a curious, half-mocking look at Lathrop, flounced back into the cottage, and shut the door. They waited. There were sounds of lowered voices, and crying children. Then Miss Daunt emerged defiantly, and they all three walked back to Monk Lawrence.

The keeper's niece unlocked the door leading to Daunt's rooms. But she stood sulkily in the entry.

"Now I hope you're satisfied, Sir. I don't know, I'm sure, why you should come meddling in other people's affairs. And I dare say you'll say something against me to my uncle!"

"Well, anyway, you keep watch!" was the stern reply. "I take my rounds often this way, as your uncle knows. I dare say I shall be by here again to-night. Can the children find their way home alone?"

"Well, they're not idiots, Sir! Good night to you. I've got to g et supper." And brusquely shutting the door in their faces, she went inside. They perceived immediately afterwards that she had lit a light in the kitchen.

"Well, so far, all right," said Lathrop, as he and Delia withdrew. "But the whole thing's rather---queer. You know that old woman, Mrs. Cresson, is not all there, and quite helpless."

He pondered it as they walked back through the wood, his eyes on the ground. Delia shared his undefined anxiety. She suggested that he should go back to the house in an hour or so, to see if Daunt had returned, and complain of his niece's breach of rules.

Lathrop agreed. "How do we know who or what that girl is?"---he said slowly---"that she mayn't have been got hold of?"

The same terror grew in Delia. She walked on beside him, absorbed in speculation and discussion, till, without noticing, she had reached the farther gate of the wood-walk. Outside the gate ran the Wanchester road, climbing the down, amid the woods. To reach the field path leading to the Abbey, Delia must cross it.

She and Lathrop emerged from the wood still talking in low voices, and stood beside the gate. A small car, with one man driving it, was descending the long hill. But Delia had her back to it.

It came nearer. She turned, and saw Winnington approaching her---saw the look on his face. For a moment she wavered. Then with a bow and a hasty "Good evening," she left Lathrop, and stepped into the road, holding up her hand to stop the car.

"How lucky!" she said, clearly and gaily,---"just as it's going to rain! Will you take me home?"

Winnington, without a word, made room for her beside him. The two men exchanged a slight greeting---and the car passed.

Lathrop walked quickly back in the direction of Monk Lawrence. His vanity was hugely pleased. "By George!---that was one to me! It's quite evident she hasn't taken him into her confidence---doesn't want magistrates interfering---no doubt. And meanwhile she appeals to me---she depends on me. Whatever happens---she'll have to be grateful to me. That fellow with his wry face can't stop it. What a vision she made just now under the wood---`belle dame sans merci!'---hating my company---and yet compelled to it. It would make a sonnet, I think---I'll try it to-night."

---

Meanwhile in the dark corridors of Monk Lawrence a woman groping met another woman. The two dim figures exchanged some whispered words. Then one of them returned to the back regions. Lathrop, passing by, noticed smoke rising from the Daunts' chimney, and was reassured. But in an hour or so he would return to look for Daunt himself.

He had no sooner descended the hill to his own cottage, in the fast gathering dusk, than Eliza Daunt emerged. She left the light burning in the keeper's kitchen, and some cold supper on the table. Then, with a laugh which was half a sob of excitement, she ran down the path leading to the garden cottages.

She was met by a clamour of rebellious children, as she opened Mrs. Cresson's door. "Where's Daddy, 'Liza?---where's Daddy? Why can't we go home? We want our Daddy!"

"Hold your noise!" said Eliza roughly---"or it'll be the worse for you. Daddy won't be home for a couple of hours yet, and I promised Fred Cresson I'd get Mrs. Cresson's tea for her. Lily, stop crying---and get the tray!"

The crippled child, red-eyed, unwillingly obeyed. Neither she nor her sisters could understand why they had been brought over to tea with Mrs. Cresson, of whose queer half-imbecile ways they were all terrified. Their father had gone off in a great hurry---because of the telegram which had come. And Fred had bicycled down to Latchford to see somebody about a gardener's place, taking the dog with him. Now there was no one left but Eliza and Mrs. Cresson---of whom, for different reasons, the three little girls were equally afraid. Lily's heart especially was sore for her father. She knew very well they were all doing what was forbidden. But she dared not complain. They had found Cousin 'Liza a hard woman.

---

After Eliza Daunt had left Daunt's kitchen, for the space of half an hour a deep and brooding quiet settled on Monk Lawrence. The old house held that in its womb which must soon crash to light; but for this last brief space, all was peace. The twilight of a clear February evening mellowed the grey walls and the moss-grown roofs; the house spoke its last message---its murmured story, as the long yoke-fellow of human life---to the tranquil air; and the pigeons crooned about it, little knowing.

Presently from the same door which had seen Eliza Daunt depart, a woman cautiously emerged. She was in dark clothes, closely veiled. With noiseless step, she passed round the back of the house, pausing a moment to look at the side door on the north side which had been lately strengthened by Sir Wilfrid's orders. Then she gained the shelter of the close-grown shrubbery, and turning round she stood a few seconds motionless, gazing at the house. In spite of her quiet movements, she was trembling from head to foot---with excitement, not fear.

"It's beautiful," she was saying to herself---"and precious---and I've destroyed it." Then--with a fierce leap in the blood---"Beauty! And what about the beauty that men destroy? Let them pay!"

But as she stood there a sudden disabling storm of thought---misgiving---argument---swept through her brain. She seemed to hear on all sides voices in the air---the voices of friends and foes, of applause and execration---Delia's voice among them! And at the mere imagination of it, a shiver of anger ran through her. She thought of Delia now only as of one who had deserted and disobeyed.

But with the illusion of the ear, there came also an illusion of vision. The months of her recent life rose before her, in one hurrying spectacle of scenes and faces, and the spectacle aroused in her but one idea---one sickening impression---of crushing and superhuman effort. What labour!---what toil! She shuddered under it. Then, suddenly, her mind ran back to the early years before, beyond the days of "war"---sordid, unceasing war---when there had been time to love, to weep, to pity, to enjoy; before wrath breeding wrath, and violence begetting violence, had driven out the Spirits of Tenderness and Hope. She seemed to see, to feel them---the sad Exiles!---fleeing along desert ways; and her bitter heart cried out to them---for the only---last time. For in the great names of Love and Justice, she had let Hate loose within her, and like the lion-cub nurtured in the house, it had grown to be the soul's master and gaoler; a "doom" holding the citadels of life, and working itself out to the appointed end.

But the tumult in which she stood began to unnerve her. By a last exercise of will she was able to pull herself together.

Rapidly, as one well used to them, she made her way through the shrubbery paths; round the walled garden, and behind the gardeners' cottages. She heard the children in Mrs. Cresson's cottage as she passed, Lily still fretfully crying, and the old woman's voice scolding. Poor children!---they would be horribly frightened---but nothing worse.

The thick overgrown wood of fir and beech behind the cottages received her, swallowed up the slight insignificant form. In the wood there was still light enough to let her grope her way along the path, till at the end, against an opening to the sky, she saw the outlines of a keeper's hut. Then she knew that she was worn out, and must rest. She pushed the door ajar, and sat crouching on the threshold, while the schemes and plottings of the preceding weeks ran disjointedly through memory.

Marion was safe by now---she had had an hour's start. And Eliza too had gone. Nothing could be better than the arrangements made for those two.

But she herself was not going---not yet. Her limbs failed her; and beyond the sheltering woods, she seemed to become electrically aware of hostile persons, of nets drawn round her, cutting off escape. As to that, she felt the most supreme indifference to what might happen to her. The indifference, indeed, passed presently into a strange and stinging temptation to go back---back to the dark house!---to see with her own eyes what her hands had done. She resisted it with difficulty. . . . Suddenly, a sound from the distance---beyond the cottages---as of a slight explosion. She started, and throwing back her veil, she sat motionless in the doorway of the hut, her face making a dim white patch upon the darkness.

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