Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Delia Blanchflower by Mrs. Humphry Ward

Part 7 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

He was certain that her mind was fixed on the division ahead--the
scene in the House of Commons--and on the terror of what the
"Daughters"--Gertrude perhaps in the van--might be planning and
plotting in revenge for it. His own feeling was one of vast relief that
the strain would be so soon over, and his own tongue loosed. Monk
Lawrence was safe enough! And as for any other attempt at vengeance, he
dismissed the notion with impatient scorn.

But meanwhile he said not a word that could have jarred on any
conviction or grief of Delia's. Sometimes indeed they touched the great
subject itself--the "movement" in its broad and arguable aspects;
though it seemed to him that Delia could not bear it for long. Mind and
heart were too sore; and her weary reasonableness made him long for the
prophetic furies of the autumn. But always she felt herself enwrapped
by a tenderness, a chivalry that never failed. Only between her and
it--between her and him--as she lay awake through broken nights, some
barrier rose--dark and impassable. She knew it for the barrier of her
own unconquered fear.

Chapter XIX

On this same Sunday night before the date fixed for the Suffrage
debate, 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

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

"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-sitting-room. 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 said 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 1000. 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 could not help treating them in the
old defiant 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. 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 scarce-crow 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. Her mother had not sufficient subtlety of
perception to see that the indifference was now assumed, to hide the
quiver of nerves, irreparably injured by excitement and overstrain.

"Well, all I know is, it's against nature to suppose that women can
fight men." Mrs. Marvell's remarks were rather like the emergence of
scattered spars from a choppy sea.

"We shall fight them," said Gertrude, sourly--"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!" protested 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 sleep, 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

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 waiting
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

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. There is 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

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

"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 emphasized 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

"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."

"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

"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--a delicate blue-eyed creature--whom she saw in the

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 today."

"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

"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 daresay 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 daresay I shall be by here again
tonight. Can the children find their way home alone?"

"Well, they're not idiots, Sir! Good-night to you. I've got to get
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 tonight."

* * * * *

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

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. And now there was no one left but Liza and
Mrs. Cresson--of whom, for different reasons, the three little girls
were equally afraid. And 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--the 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.

Chapter XX

"Take me home!--take me home quick! I want to talk to you. Not
now--not here!"

The car flew along. Mark barely looked at Delia. His face was set and
pale. As for her, while they ran through the village and along the
country road between it and Maumsey, her mind had time to adjust itself
to that flashing resolution which had broken down a hundred scruples
and swept away a hundred fears, in that moment on the hill when she had
met his eyes, and the look in them. What must he think of her? An
assignation with that man, on the very first afternoon when his tender
watchfulness left her for an hour! No, it could not be borne that he
should read her so! She must clear herself! And thought, leaping
beacon-like from point to point told her, at last, that for Gertrude
too, she had chosen wrongly. Thank Heaven, there was still time! What
could a girl do, all alone--groping in such a darkness? Better after
all lay the case before Mark's judgment, Mark's tenderness, and trust
him with it all. Trust her own power too--see what a girl could do with
the man who loved her!

The car stopped at the Abbey door, and Winnington, still absolutely
silent, helped her to alight. She led the way, past the drawing-room
where Lady Tonbridge sat rather anxiously expecting her, to that bare
room on the ground floor, the little gun-room, which Gertrude Marvell
had made her office, and where many signs of her occupation still
remained--a calendar on the wall marking the "glorious" dates of the
League--a flashlight photograph of the first raid on Parliament some
years before--a faded badge, and scattered piles of newspapers. A
couple of deal tables and two chairs were all the furniture the room
contained, in addition to the cupboards, painted in stone-colour, which
covered the walls.

Delia closed the door, and threw off her furs. Then, with a gesture of
complete abandonment, she went up to Winnington, holding out her

"Oh, Mark, Mark, I want you to help me!"

He took her hands, but without pressing them. His face, frowning and
flushed, with a little quivering of the nostrils, began to terrify

"Oh, Mark,--dear Mr. Mark--I went to see Mr. Lathrop--because--because
I was in great trouble--and I thought he could help me."

He dropped the hands.

"You went to _him_--instead of to me? How long have you been with him?
Did you write to him to arrange it?"

"No, no--we met by accident. Mark, it's not myself--it's a fear I
have--a dreadful, dreadful fear!"

She came close to him, piteously, just murmuring--

"It's Monk Lawrence!--and Gertrude!"

He started, and looked at her keenly--

"You know something I don't know?"

"Oh yes, I do, I do!" she said, wringing her hands. "I ought to have
told you long ago. But I've been afraid of what you might do--I've been
afraid for Gertrude. Can't you see, Mark? I've been trying to make Mr.
Lathrop keep watch--enquire--so that they wouldn't dare. I've told
Gertrude that I know--I've written to people--I've done all I could.
And this afternoon I felt I must go there and see for myself, what
precautions had been taken--and I met Mr. Lathrop--"

She gave a rapid account of their visit to the house,--of its complete
desertion--of the strange behaviour of the niece--and of the growing
alarm in her own mind.

"There's something--there's some plot. Perhaps that woman's in it.
Perhaps Gertrude's got hold of her--or Miss Andrews. Anyway, if that
house can be left quite alone--ever--they'll get at it--that I'm sure
of. Why did she take the children away? Wasn't that strange?"

Then she put her hands on the heart that fluttered so--and tried to

"But of course till the Bill's thrown out, there can be no danger, can
there? There _can't_ be any!" she repeated, as though appealing to him
to reassure her.

"I don't understand yet," he said gravely. "Why do you suspect Miss
Marvell, or a plot at all? There was no such idea in your mind when we
went over the house together?"

"No, none!--or at least not seriously--there was nothing, really, to go
on"--she assured him eagerly. "But just after--you remember Mr.
Lathrop's coming--that day--?--when you scolded me?"

He could not help smiling a little--rather bitterly.

"I remember you said you couldn't explain. Of course I thought it was
something connected with Miss Marvell, or your Society--but--"

"I'm going to explain"--she said, trying hard for composure. "I'm going
to tell it all in order."

And sitting down, her head resting on her hand, with Winnington
standing before her, she told the whole story of the preceding
weeks--the alternations of fear and relief--Lathrop's
suspicions--Gertrude's denials--the last interview between them.

As for the man looking down upon her beautiful bowed head, his heart
melted within him as he listened. The sting remained that she should
have asked anyone else than he to help her--above all that she should
have humbled herself to ask it of such a man as Lathrop. Anxiety
remained, for Monk Lawrence itself, and still more for what might be
said of her complicity. But all that was further implied in her
confession, her drooping sweetness, her passionate appeal to him--the
beauty of her true character, its innocence, its faith, its
loyalty--began to flood him with a feeling that presently burst its

She wound up with most touching entreaties to him, to save and shield
her friend--to go himself to Gertrude and warn her--to go to the
police--without disclosing names, of course--and insist that the house
should be constantly patrolled.

He scarcely heard a word of this. When she paused--there was silence a
moment. Then she heard her name--very low--


She looked up, and with a long breath she rose, as though drawn
invisibly. He held out his arms, and she threw hers round his neck,
hiding her face against the life that beat for her.

"Oh, forgive me!"--she murmured, after a little, childishly pressing
her lips to his--"forgive me--for everything!"

The tears were in his eyes.

"You've gone through all this!--alone!" he said to her, as he bent over
her. "But never again, Delia--never again!"

She was the first to release herself--putting tears away.

"Now then--what can we do?"

He resumed at once his ordinary manner and voice.

"We can do a great deal. I have the car here. I shall go straight back
to Monk Lawrence, and see Daunt to-night. That woman's behaviour must
be reported--and explained. An hour--an hour and a half?--since you
were there?"--he took out his watch--"He's probably home by now--it's
quite dark--he'd scarcely risk being away after dark. Dearest, go and
rest!--I shall come back later--after dinner. Put it out of your mind."

She went towards the hall with him hand in hand. Suddenly there was a
confused sound of shouting outside. Lady Tonbridge opened the
drawing-room door with a scared face--

"What is it? There are people running up the drive. They're shouting

Winnington rushed to the front door, Delia with him. With his first
glance at the hill-side, he understood the meaning of the cries--of the
crowd approaching.

"My God!--_too late_!"

For high on that wooded slope, a blaze was spreading to the skies--a
blaze that grew with every second--illuminating with its flare the
woods around it, the chimneys of the old house, the quiet stretches of
the hill.

"Monk Lawrence is afire, Muster Winnington!" panted one of Winnington's
own labourers who had outstripped the rest. "They're asking for you to
come! They've telephoned to Latchford for the engines, and to
Brownmouth and Wanchester too. They say it's burning like tow--there
must be petrol in it, or summat. It's the women they say!--spite of Mr.
Daunt and the perlice!"

Then he noticed Delia standing beside Winnington on the steps, and held
his tongue, scowling.

Winnington's car was still standing at the steps. He set it going in a

"My cloak!" said Delia, looking round her--"And tell them to bring the

"Delia, you're not going?" cried Madeleine, throwing a restraining arm
about her.

"But of course I am!" said the girl amazed. "Not with him--because I
should be in his way."

Various persons ran to do her bidding. Winnington already in his place,
with a labourer beside him, and two more in the seat behind him,
beckoned to her.

"Why should you come, dearest! It will only break your heart. We'll do
all that can be done, and I'll send back messages."

She shook her head.

"I shall come! But don't think of me. I won't run any risks."

There was no time to argue with her. The little car sped away, and with
it the miscellaneous crowd who had rushed to find Winnington, as the
natural head of the Maumsey community, and the only magistrate within

Delia and Madeleine were left standing on the steps, amid a group of
frightened and chattering servants--gazing in despairing rage at the
ever-spreading horror on the slope of the down, at the sudden leaps of
flame, the vast showers of sparks drifting over the woods, the red
glare on the low hanging clouds. The garnered beauty of four centuries,
one of England's noblest heirlooms, was going down in ruin, at the
bidding of a handful of women, hurling themselves in disappointed fury
on a community that would not give them their way.

Sharp-toothed remorse had hold on Delia. If she had only gone to
Wilmington earlier! "My fault!--my fault!"

When the car came quickly round, she and Lady Tonbridge got into it. As
they rushed through the roads, lit on their way by that blaze in the
heart of the hills, of which the roaring began to reach their ears,
Delia sat speechless, and death-like, reconstructing the past days and
hours. Not yet two hours since she had left the house--left it
untouched. At that very moment, Gertrude or Gertrude's agents must have
been within it. The whole thing had been a plot--the children taken
away--the house left deserted. Very likely Daunt's summons to his dying
son had been also part of it. And as to the niece--what more probable
than that Gertrude had laid hands on her months before, guided perhaps
by the local knowledge of Marion Andrews,--and had placed her as spy
and agent in the doomed house till the time should be ripe? The blind
and fanatical devotions which Gertrude was able to excite when she set
herself to it, was only too well known to Delia.

Where was Gertrude herself? For Delia was certain that she had not
merely done this act by deputy.

In the village, every person who had not gone rushing up the hill was
standing at the doors, pale and terror-stricken, watching the glare
overhead. The blinds of Miss Toogood's little house were drawn close.
And as Delia passed, angry looks and mutterings pursued her.

The car mounted the hill. Suddenly a huge noise and hooting behind
them. They drew into the hedge, to let the Latchford fire-engine
thunder past, a fine new motor engine, just purchased and equipped.

"There'll be three or four more directly, Miss"--shouted one of her
own garden lads, mounting on the step of the car. "But they say there's
no hope. It was fired in three places, and there was petrol used."

At the gate, the police--looking askance especially at Miss
Blanchflower--would have turned them back. But Delia asked for
Winnington, and they were at last admitted into the circle outside the
courtyard, where beyond reach of the sparks, and falling fragments, the
crowd of spectators was gathered. People made way for her, but Lady
Tonbridge noticed that nobody spoke to her, though as soon as she
appeared all the angry or excited attention that the crowd could spare
from the fire was given to her. Delia was not aware of it. She stood a
little in front of the crowd, with her veil thrown back, her hands
clasped in front of her, an image of rapt despair. Her face, like all
the faces in the crowd, was made lurid--fantastic--by the glare of the
flames; and every now and then, as though unconsciously, she brushed
away the mist of tears from her eyes.

"Aye she's sorry now!"--said a stout farmer, bitterly, to his
neighbour--"now that she's led them as is even younger than herself
into trouble. My girl's in prison all along of her--and that woman as
they do say is at the bottom of this business."

The speaker was Kitty Foster's father. Kitty had just been sentenced to
six months' imprisonment for the burning of a cricket pavilion in the
Midlands, and her relations were sitting in shame and grief for her.

"Whoever 'tis as did it 'ull have a job to get away"--said the man he
addressed. "They've got a lot o' police out. Where's 'Liza Daunt, I
say? They're searching for her everywhere. Daunt's just come upon the
engine from Latchford--saw the fire from the train. He says he's been
tricked--a put-up job he says. There wasn't nothing wrong with his son,
he says, when he got to Portsmouth. If they do catch 'em, the police
will have to guard 'em safe. It won't do to let the crowd get at 'em.
They're fair mad. Oh, Lord!--it's caught another roof!"

And a groan rose from the fast-thickening multitude, as another wall
fell amid a shower of sparks and ashes, and the flames, licking up and
up, caught the high-pitched roof of the great hall, and ran along the
stone letters of the parapet, which spelt out the motto--"Except the
Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." The fantastic
letters themselves, which had been lifted to their places before the
death of Shakespeare, seemed to dance in the flame like living and
tormented things.

Meanwhile in the courtyard, and on the side lawns, scores of persons
were busy removing furniture, pictures and tapestries. Winnington was
leading and organising the rescue parties, now inside, now outside the
house. And near him, under his orders, worked Paul Lathrop, in his
shirt sleeves, superhumanly active, and superhumanly strong--grinding
his teeth with rage sometimes, as the fire defeated one effort after
another to check it. Daunt, also was there, pouring out incoherent
confidences to the police, and distracted by the growing certainty that
his niece had been one of the chief authors of the plot. His children
naturally had been his first thought. But the Rector, who had just been
round to enquire for them at Mrs. Cresson's cottage, came back
breathless, shouting "all safe!"--and Daunt rushed off to help the
firemen; while Amberley reported to Susy the pitiable misery of Lily,
the little cripple, who had been shrieking for her father in wild
outbursts of crying, refusing to believe that he was not in the fire.
Susy, who loved the child, would have gladly gone to find her, and take
her home to the Rectory for the night. But, impossible to leave her
post at Delia's side, and this blazing spectacle that held the
darkness! Two village women, said the Rector, were in charge of the

"No chance!" said Lathrop, bitterly, pausing for a moment beside
Winnington, while they both took breath--the sweat pouring from their
smoke-blackened faces.

"If one could get to the top of that window with the big hose--one
could reach the roof better"--panted Winnington, pointing to the still
intact double oriel which ran up through two stories of the building,
to the east of the doorway.

"I see!" Lathrop dashed away. And in a few seconds he and a fireman
could be seen climbing from a ladder upon a ledge, a carved
string-course, which connected the eastern and western oriels above the
main doorway. They crawled along the ledge like flies, clinging to
every projection, every stem of ivy, the fireman dragging the hose.

The crowd watched, all eyes. Winnington, after a rapid look or two,
turned away with the thought--"That fellow's done some rock-climbing in
his day!"

But against such a doom as had now gripped Monk Lawrence, nothing
availed. Lathrop and his companion had barely scaled the parapet of the
window when a huge central crash sent its resounding din circling round
the leafless woods, and the two climbing figures disappeared from view
amid a fresh rush of smoke and flame.

The great western chimney-stack had fallen. When the cloud of smoke
drifted away, a gaping cavity of fire was seen just behind the two men;
it could only be a matter of minutes before the wall and roof
immediately behind them came down upon them. The firemen shouted to
them from below. A long ladder was brought and run up to within twenty
feet of them. Lathrop climbed down to it over the scorched face of the
oriel, his life in jeopardy at every step. Then steadying himself on
the ladder,--and grasping a projection in the wall, he called to the
man above, to drop upon his shoulders. It was done, by a miracle--and
both holding on, the man above by the projections of the wall and
Lathrop by the ladder, descended, till the two were within reach of

A thin roar of cheers rose from the environing throng, scarcely audible
amid the greater roar of the flames. Lathrop, wearied, depressed, with
bleeding hands, came back to Winnington's side. Winnington looked
round. For the first time Lathrop saw through Mark's grey eyes the
generous heart within--unveiled.

"Splendid! Are you hurt?"

"Only scorched and scratched. Give me another job!"

"Come along then."

And thenceforward the two worked side by side, like brothers, in the
desperate attempt to save at least the Great Hall, and the beautiful
rooms adjoining; the Porch Room, with its Chatham memorials; the
library too, with its stores of seventeenth-century books, its busts,
and its portraits. But the flames rushed on and on, with a fiendish and
astounding rapidity. Fragments of news ran back to the onlookers. The
main staircase had been steeped in petrol--and sacks full of shavings
had been stored in the panelled spaces underneath it. Fire-lighters
heaped together had been found in the Red Parlour--to be dragged out by
the firemen--but again too late!--for the fire was already gnawing at
the room, like a wild prowling beast. A back staircase too had been
kindled with paraffin--the smell of it was everywhere. And thus urged,
a very demon of fire seemed to have seized on the beautiful place.
There was a will and a passion of destruction in the flames that
nothing could withstand. As the diamond-paned windows fell into
nothing-ness, the rooms behind shewed for a brief space; carved roofs,
stately fireplaces, gleaming for a last moment, before Time knew them
no more, and all that remained of them was the last vision of their
antique beauty, stamped on the aching memories of those who watched.

"Why did you let her come!" said France vehemently in Lady Tonbridge's
ear, with his eyes on Delia. "It's enough to kill her. She must know
who's done it!"

Lady Tonbridge shook her head despairingly, and both gazed, without
daring to speak to her, on the girl beside them. Madeleine had taken
one cold hand. France was torn with pity for her--but what comfort was
there to give! Her tears had dried. But there was something now in her
uncontrollable restlessness as she moved ghost-like along the front of
the spectators, pressing as near to the house as the police would
permit, scanning every patch of light or shadow, which suggested to
those who followed her, possession by some torturing fear--some terror
of worse still to come.

Meanwhile the police were thinking not only of the house, but still
more of its destroyers. They had a large number of men on the spot, and
a quick-witted inspector in charge. It was evident from many traces
that the incendiaries had only left the place a very short time before
the outbreak of the fire; they could not be far away. Scouts were flung
out on all the roads; search parties were in all the woods; every
railway station had been warned.

On the northern side, the famous Loggia, built by an Italianate owner
of the house, in the first half of the sixteenth century--a series of
open arches, with twisted marble pillars--ran along the house from
front to rear. It was approached on the south by a beautiful staircase,
of which the terra-cotta balustrading had been copied from a famous
villa on Como, and a similar staircase gave access to it from the
garden to the north. The fight for the Great Hall which the Loggia
adjoined, was being followed with agonised anxiety by the crowds. The
Red Parlour, with all its carvings and mouldings had gone, the porch
room was a furnace of fire, with black spars and beams hanging in
ragged ruin across it. The Great Hall seemed already tottering, and in
its fall, the Loggia too must go.

Then, as every eye hung upon the work of the firemen and the play of
the water, into the still empty space of the Loggia, and illumined by
the glare of the flames, there emerged with quiet step, the figure of a
woman. She came forward: she stood with crossed arms looking at the
crowd. And at the same moment, behind her, there appeared the form of a
child, a little fair-haired girl, hobbling on a crutch, in desperate
haste, and wailing--"Father!"

Delia saw them, and with one wild movement she was through the cordon
of police, and running for the house.

Winnington, at the head of his salvage corps, perceived her, and ran

"Delia!--go back!--go back!"

"Gertrude!" she said, gasping--and pointed to the Loggia. And he had
hardly looked where all the world was looking, when a part of the roof
of the Hall at the back, fell suddenly outwards and northwards, in a
blaze of flame. Charred rafters stood out, hanging in mid air, and the
flames leapt on triumphant. At the same moment, evidently startled by
some sound behind her, the woman turned, and saw what the crowd
saw--the child, limping on its crutch, coming towards her, calling

Her own cry rang out, as she ran towards the cripple, waving her back.
And as she did so, came another thundering fall, another upward rush of
flame, as a fresh portion of the roof fell eastwards, covering the
Loggia and blotting out the figures of both woman and child.

With difficulty the police kept back the mad rush of the crowd. The
firemen swarmed to the spot.

But the child was buried deep under flaming ruin, where her father,
Daunt, who had rushed to save her, was only restrained by main force
from plunging after her, to his death. The woman they brought
out--alive. France, Delia and Winnington were beside her.

"Stand back!" shouted the mild old Rector--transformed into a
prophet-figure, his white hair streaming--as the multitude swayed
against the cordon of police. "Stand back! all of you--and pray--for
this woman!"

In a dead silence, men, shivering, took off their hats, and women

"Gertrude!" Delia called, in her anguish, as she knelt beside the
charred frame, over which France who was kneeling on the other side had
thrown his coat.

The dark eyes opened in the blackened face, the scorched lips unlocked.
A shudder ran through the dying frame.

"The child!--the child!"

And with that cry to heaven,--that protesting cry of an amazed and
conquered soul--Gertrude Marvell passed away.

* * * * *

Thus ended the First Act of Delia's life. When three weeks later, after
a marriage at which no one was present except the persons to be
married, Lady Tonbridge, and Dr. France, Winnington took his wife far
from these scenes to lands of summer and of rest, he carried with him a
Delia ineffaceably marked by this tragedy of her youth. Children, as
they come, will sometime re-kindle the natural joy in a face so lovely.
And till that time arrives Winnington's tenderness will be the
master-light of all her day. But there are sounds once heard that live
for ever in the mind. And in Delia's there will reverberate till death
that wail of a fierce and childless woman--that last cry of nature in
one who had defied nature--of womanhood in one who had renounced the
ways of womanhood: "_the child--the child_!"

Not long after the destruction of Monk Lawrence and the marriage of
Delia, Paul Lathrop left the Maumsey neighbourhood. His debts had been
paid by some unknown friend or friends, and he fell back into London
literary life, where he maintained a precarious but--to himself--not
unpleasant existence.

Miss Jackson, the science-mistress, went to Vancouver, married the
owner of a lumber camp, and so tamed her soul. Miss Toogood lived on,
rarely employed, and seldom going outside the tiny back parlour, with
its pictures of Winchester and Mr. Keble. But Lady Tonbridge and Delia
do their best to lighten the mild melancholy which grows upon her with
age; and a little red-haired niece who came to live with her, keeps her
old aunt's nerves alive and alert by various harmless vices--among them
an incorrigible interest in the Maumsey and Latchford youth. Marion
Andrews and Eliza Daunt disappeared together. They were not captured on
that terrible night when Gertrude Marvell, convinced that she could not
escape, and perhaps not much caring to escape, came back to look on the
ruin she had so long and carefully prepared, and perished in the heart
of it--not alone.

But such desperate happenings as the destruction of Monk Lawrence, to
whatever particular calamities they may lead, are but a backward ripple
on the vast and ceaseless tide of human efforts towards a new and
nobler order. Delia must still wrestle all her life with the meaning of
that imperious call to women which this century has sounded; and of
those further stages, upwards and onwards, to which the human spirit,
in Man or Woman, is perennially urged by the revealing forces that
breathe through human destiny. Two days after the death of Gertrude
Marvell, the immediate cause on which she and her fellows had wrought
such havoc, went down in Parliament to long and bitter eclipse. But the
end is not yet. And for that riddle of the Sphinx to which Gertrude and
her fellows gave the answer of a futile violence, generations more
patient and more wise, will yet find the fitting key.


Book of the day: