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Chapter 5

  • The morning was a brighter one than London usually indulges in and the su_ade its way into Feather's bedroom to the revealing of its coral pink glo_nd comfort. She had always liked her bedroom and had usually wakened in it t_he sense of luxuriousness it is possible a pet cat feels when it wakens t_tretch itself on a cushion with its saucer of cream awaiting it.
  • But she did not awaken either to a sense of brightness or luxury this morning.
  • She had slept it was true, but once or twice when the pillow had slipped asid_he had found herself disturbed by the far-off sound of the wailing of som_ittle animal which had caused her automatically and really scarcel_onsciously to replace the pillow. It had only happened at long interval_ecause it is Nature that an exhausted baby falls asleep when it is worn out.
  • Robin had probably slept almost as much as her mother.
  • Feather staring at the pinkness around her reached at last, with th_ssistance of a certain physical consciousness, a sort of spiritles_ntention.
  • "She's asleep now," she murmured. "I hope she won't waken for a long time. _eel faint. I shall have to find something to eat—if it's only biscuits." The_he lay and tried to remember what Cook had said about her not starving. "Sh_aid there were a few things left in the pantry and closets. Perhaps there'_ome condensed milk. How do you mix it up? If she cries I might go and giv_er some. It wouldn't be so awful now it's daylight."
  • She felt shaky when she got out of bed and stood on her feet. She had not ha_ maid in her girlhood so she could dress herself, much as she detested to d_t. After she had begun however she could not help becoming rather intereste_ecause the dress she had worn the day before had become crushed and she pu_n a fresh one she had not worn at all. It was thin and soft also, and blac_as quite startlingly becoming to her. She would wear this one when Lor_oombe came, after she wrote to him. It was silly of her not to have writte_efore though she knew he had left town after the funeral. Letters would b_orwarded.
  • "It will be quite bright in the dining-room now," she said to encourag_erself. "And Tonson once said that the only places the sun came into belo_tairs were the pantry and kitchen and it only stayed about an hour early i_he morning. I must get there as soon as I can."
  • When she had so dressed herself that the reflection the mirror gave back t_er was of the nature of a slight physical stimulant she opened her bedroo_oor and faced exploration of the deserted house below with a quaking sense o_he proportions of the inevitable. She got down the narrow stairs casting _rightened glance at the emptiness of the drawing-rooms which seemed to star_t her as she passed them. There was sun in the dining-room and when sh_pened the sideboard she found some wine in decanters and some biscuits an_ven a few nuts and some raisins and oranges. She put them on the table an_at down and ate some of them and began to feel a little less shaky.
  • If she had been allowed time to sit longer and digest and reflect she migh_ave reached the point of deciding on what she would write to Lord Coombe. Sh_ad not the pen of a ready writer and it must be thought over. But just whe_he was beginning to be conscious of the pleasant warmth of the sun whic_hone on her shoulders from the window, she was almost startled our of he_hair by hearing again stealing down the staircase from the upper regions tha_aint wail like a little cat's.
  • "Just the moment—the very MOMENT I begin to feel a little quieted—and try t_hink—she begins again!" she cried out. "It's worse then ANYTHING!"
  • Large crystal tears ran down her face and upon the polished table.
  • "I suppose she would starve to death if I didn't give her some food—and the_I_  should be blamed! People would be horrid about it. I've got nothing t_at myself."
  • She must at any rate manage to stop the crying before she could write t_oombe. She would be obliged to go down into the pantry and look for som_ondensed milk. The creature had no teeth but perhaps she could mumble _iscuit or a few raisins. If she could be made to swallow a little port win_t might make her sleepy. The sun was paying its brief morning visit to th_itchen and pantry when she reached there, but a few cockroaches scuttled awa_efore her and made her utter a hysterical little scream. But there WAS som_ondensed milk and there was a little warm water in a kettle became the fir_as not quite out. She imperfectly mixed a decoction and filled a bottle whic_ught not to have been downstairs but had been brought and left there b_ouisa as a result of tender moments with Edward.
  • When she put the bottle and some biscuits and scraps of cold ham on a tra_ecause she could not carry them all in her hands, her sense of outrage an_espair made her almost sob.
  • "I am just like a servant—carrying trays upstairs," she wept. "I—I might b_dward—or—or Louisa." And her woe increased when she added in the dining-roo_he port wine and nuts and raisins and macaroons as viands which MIGHT someho_dd to infant diet and induce sleep. She was not sure of course—but she kne_hey sucked things and liked sweets.
  • A baby left unattended to scream itself to sleep and awakening to screa_tself to sleep again, does not present to a resentful observer the flowerlik_loom and beauty of infancy. When Feather carried her tray into the Nigh_ursery and found herself confronting the disordered crib on which he_ffspring lay she felt the child horrible to look at. Its face was disfigure_nd its eyes almost closed. She trembled all over as she put the bottle to it_outh and saw the fiercely hungry clutch of its hands. It was old enough t_lutch, and clutch it did, and suck furiously and starvingly—even thoug_ctually forced to stop once or twice at first to give vent to a thwarte_emnant of a scream.
  • Feather had only seen it as downy whiteness and perfume in Louisa's arms or i_ts carriage. It had been a singularly vivid and brilliant-eyed baby at who_eople looked as they passed.
  • "Who will give her a bath?" wailed Feather. "Who will change her clothes?
  • Someone must! Could a woman by the day do it? Cook said I could get a woman b_he day."
  • And then she remembered that one got servants from agencies. And where wer_he agencies? And even a woman "by the day" would demand wages and food t_at.
  • And then the front door bell rang.
  • What could she do—what could she do? Go downstairs and open the door hersel_nd let everyone know! Let the ringer go on ringing until he was tired an_ent away? She was indeed hard driven, even though the wail had ceased a_obin clutched her bottle to her breast and fed with frenzy. Let them g_way—let them! And then came the wild thought that it might be Something—th_omething which must happen when things were at their worst! And if it ha_ome and the house seemed to be empty! She did not walk down the stairs, sh_an. Her heart beat until she reached the door out of breath and when sh_pened it stood their panting.
  • The people who waited upon the steps were strangers. They were very nic_ooking and quite young—a man and a woman very perfectly dressed. The man too_ piece of paper out of his pocketbook and handed it to her with an agreeabl_pologetic courtesy.
  • "I hope we have not called early enough to disturb you," he said. "We waite_ntil eleven but we are obliged to catch a train at half past. It is an 'orde_o view' from Carson & Bayle." He added this because Feather was staring a_he paper.
  • Carson & Bayle were the agents they had rented the house from. It was Carson &
  • Bayle's collector Robert had met on the threshold and sworn at two days befor_e had been taken ill. They were letting the house over her head and she woul_e turned out into the street?
  • The young man and woman finding themselves gazing at this exquisitely prett_reature in exquisite mourning, felt themselves appallingly embarrassed. Sh_as plainly the widow Carson had spoken of. But why did she open the doo_erself? And why did she look as if she did not understand? Indignatio_gainst Carson & Bayle began to stir the young man.
  • "Beg pardon! So sorry! I am afraid we ought not to have come," he protested.
  • "Agents ought to know better. They said you were giving up the house at onc_nd we were afraid someone might take it."
  • Feather held the "order to view" in her hand and snared at them quit_elplessly.
  • "There—are no—no servants to show it to you," she said. "If you could wait—_ew days—perhaps—"
  • She was so lovely and Madame Helene's filmy black creation was in itself suc_n appeal, that the amiable young strangers gave up at once.
  • "Oh, certainly—certainly! Do excuse us! Carson and Bayle ought not to have—!
  • We are so sorry. Good morning, GOOD morning," they gave forth in discomfite_ympathy and politeness, and really quite scurried away.
  • Having shut the door on their retreat Feather stood shivering.
  • "I am going to be turned out of the house! I shall have to live in th_treet!" she thought. "Where shall I keep my clothes if I live in the street!"
  • Even she knew that she was thinking idiotically. Of course if everything wa_aken from you and sold, you would have no clothes at all, and wardrobes an_rawers and closets would not matter. The realization that scarcely anythin_n the house had been paid for came home to her with a ghastly shock. Sh_taggered upstairs to the first drawing-room in which there was a silly prett_ittle buhl writing table.
  • She felt even more senseless when she sank into a chair before it and drew _heet of note-paper towards her. Her thoughts would not connect themselve_ith each other and she could not imagine what she ought to say in her lette_o Coombe. In fact she seemed to have no thoughts at all. She could onl_emember the things which had happened, and she actually found she could writ_othing else. There seemed nothing else in the world.
  • "Dear Lord Coombe," trailed tremulously over the page—"The house is quit_mpty. The servants have gone away. I have no money. And there is not an_ood. And I am going to be turned out into the street—and the baby is cryin_ecause it is hungry."
  • She stopped there, knowing it was not what she ought to say. And as sh_topped and looked at the words she began herself to wail somewhat as Robi_ad wailed in the dark when she would not listen or go to her. It was like _eggar's letter—a beggar's! Telling him that she had no money and no food—an_ould be turned out for unpaid rent. And that the baby was crying because i_as starving!
  • "It's a beggar's letter—just a beggar's," she cried out aloud to the empt_oom. "And it's tru-ue!" Robin's wail itself had not been more hopeless tha_ers was as she dropped her head and let it lie on the buhl table.
  • She was not however even to be allowed to let it lie there, for the nex_nstant there fell on her startled ear quite echoing through the house anothe_ing at the doorbell and two steely raps on the smart brass knocker. It wa_erely because she did not know what else to do, having just lost her wit_ntirely that she got up and trailed down the staircase again.
  • When she opened the door, Lord Coombe—the apotheosis of exquisite fitness i_orm and perfect appointment as also of perfect expression—was standing on th_hreshold.