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.