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Chapter 9

  • On the afternoon of the day upon which this occurred, Coombe was standing i_eather's drawing-room with a cup of tea in his hand and wearing the look of _an who is given up to reflection.
  • "I saw Mrs. Muir today for the first time for several years," he said after _ilence. "She is in London with the boy."
  • "Is she as handsome as ever?"
  • "Quite. Hers is not the beauty that disappears. It is line and bearing and _ort of splendid grace and harmony."
  • "What is the boy like?"
  • Coombe reflected again before he answered.
  • "He is—amazing. One so seldom sees anything approaching physical perfectio_hat it strikes one a sort of blow when one comes upon it suddenly face t_ace."
  • "Is he as beautiful as all that?"
  • "The Greeks used to make statues of bodies like his. They often called the_ods—but not always. The Creative Intention plainly was that all human being_hould be beautiful and he is the expression of it."
  • Feather was pretending to embroider a pink flower on a bit of gauze and sh_miled vaguely.
  • "I don't know what you mean," she admitted with no abasement of spirit, "bu_f ever there was any Intention of that kind it has not been carried out." He_mile broke into a little laugh as she stuck her needle into her work. "I'_hinking of Henry," she let drop in addition.
  • "So was I, it happened," answered Coombe after a second or so of pause.
  • Henry was the next of kin who was—to Coombe's great objection—his hei_resumptive, and was universally admitted to be a repulsive sort of perso_oth physically and morally. He had brought into the world a weakly an_ickety framework and had from mere boyhood devoted himself to a life whic_ould have undermined a Hercules. A relative may so easily present the aspec_f an unfortunate incident over which one has no control. This was the cas_ith Henry. His character and appearance were such that even his connectio_ith an important heritage was not enough to induce respectable persons t_ccept him in any form. But if Coombe remained without issue Henry would b_he Head of the House.
  • "How is his cough?" inquired Feather.
  • "Frightful. He is an emaciated wreck and he has no physical cause fo_emaining alive."
  • Feather made three or four stitches.
  • "Does Mrs. Muir know?" she said.
  • "If Mrs. Muir is conscious of his miserable existence, that is all," h_nswered. "She is not the woman to inquire. Of course she cannot help knowin_hat—when he is done with—her boy takes his place in the line of succession."
  • "Oh, yes, she'd know that," put in Feather.
  • It was Coombe who smiled now—very faintly.
  • "You have a mistaken view of her," he said.
  • "You admire her very much," Feather bridled. The figure of this big Scotc_reature with her "line" and her "splendid grace and harmony" was enough t_ake one bridle.
  • "She doesn't admire me," said Coombe. "She is not proud of me as a connection.
  • She doesn't really want the position for the boy, in her heart of hearts."
  • "Doesn't want it!" Feather's exclamation was a little jeer only because sh_ould not have dared a big one.
  • "She is Scotch Early Victorian in some things and extremely advanced i_thers," he went on. "She has strong ideas of her own as to how he shall b_rought up. She's rather Greek in her feeling for his being as perfec_hysically and mentally as she can help him to be. She believes things. It wa_he who said what you did not understand—about the Creative Intention."
  • "I suppose she is religious," Feather said. "Scotch people often are but thei_eligion isn't usually like that. Creative Intention's a new name for God, _uppose. I ought to know all about God. I've heard enough about Him. My fathe_as not a clergyman but he was very miserable, and it made him so religiou_hat he was ALMOST one. We were every one of us christened and catechized an_onfirmed and all that. So God's rather an old story."
  • "Queer how old—from Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand," sai_oombe. "It's an ancient search—that for the Idea—whether it takes form i_etal or wood or stone."
  • "Well," said Feather, holding her bit of gauze away from her the better t_riticize the pink flower. "As ALMOST a clergyman's daughter I must say tha_f there is one tiling God didn't do, it was to fill the world with beautifu_eople and things as if it was only to be happy in. It was made to-to try u_y suffering and-that sort of thing. It's a-a-what d'ye call it? Somethin_eginning with P."
  • "Probation," suggested Coombe regarding her with an expression of speculativ_nterest. Her airy bringing forth of her glib time-worn little scraps o_rthodoxy—as one who fished them out of a bag of long-discarded remnants o_ubbish—was so true to type that it almost fascinated him for a moment.
  • "Yes. That's it—probation," she answered. "I knew it began with a P. It means
  • 'thorny paths' and 'seas of blood' and, if you are religious, you 'tread the_ith bleeding feet—' or swim them as the people do in hymns. And you prais_nd glorify all the time you're doing it. Of course, I'm not religious mysel_nd I can't say I think it's pleasant—but I do KNOW! Every body beautiful an_erfect indeed! That's not religion—it's being irreligious. Good gracious, think of the cripples and lepers and hunchbacks!"
  • "And the idea is that God made them all—by way of entertaining himself?" h_ut it to her quietly.
  • "Well, who else did?" said Feather cheerfully.
  • "I don't know," he said. "Certain things I heard Mrs. Muir say suggested t_ne that it might be interesting to think it out."
  • "Did she talk to you about God at afternoon tea?" said Feather.
  • "It's the kind of thing a religious Scotch woman might do."
  • "No, she did not talk to me. Perhaps that was her mistake. She might hav_eformed me. She never says more to me than civility demands. And it was no_t tea. I accidentally dropped in on the Bethunes and found an Oriental ha_een lecturing there. Mrs. Muir was talking to him and I heard her. The ma_eemed to be a scholar and a deep thinker and as they talked a group of u_tood and listened or asked questions."
  • "How funny!" said Feather.
  • "It was not funny at all. It was astonishingly calm and serious—and logical.
  • The logic was the new note. I had never thought of reason in that connection."
  • "Reason has nothing to do with it. You must have faith. You must just believ_hat you're told not think at all. Thinking is wickedness—unless you thin_hat you hear preached." Feather was even a trifle delicately smug as sh_attled off her orthodoxy—but she laughed after she had done with it. "But i_UST have been funny—a Turk or a Hindoo in a turban and a thing like a te_own and Mrs. Muir in her Edinburgh looking clothes talking about God."
  • "You are quite out of it," Coombe did not smile at all as he said it. "Th_riental was as physically beautiful as Donal Muir is. And Mrs. Muir—no othe_oman in the room compared with her. Perhaps people who think grow beautiful."
  • Feather was not often alluring or coquettish in her manner to Coombe but sh_ilted her head prettily and looked down at her flower through lovely lashes.
  • " _I_  don't think," she said. "And I am not so bad looking."
  • "No," he answered coldly. "You are not. At times you look like a young angel."
  • "If Mrs. Muir is like that," she said after a brief pause, "I should like t_now what she thinks of me?"
  • "No, you would not—neither should I—if she thinks at all," was his answer.
  • "But you remember you said you did not mind that sort of thing."
  • "I don't. Why should I? It can't harm me." Her hint of a pout made her mout_ntrancing. "But, if she thinks good looks are the result of religiousness _hould like to let her see Robin—and compare her with her boy. I saw Robin i_he park last week and she's a perfect beauty."
  • "Last week?" said Coombe.
  • "She doesn't need anyone but Andrews. I should bore her to death if I went an_at in the Nursery and stared at her. No one does that sort of thing in thes_ays. But I should like to see Mrs. Muir to see the two children together!"
  • "That could not easily be arranged, I am afraid," he said.
  • "Why not?"
  • His answer was politely deliberate.
  • "She greatly disapproves of me, I have told you. She is not proud of th_elationship."
  • "She does not like ME you mean?"
  • "Excuse me. I mean exactly what I said in telling you that she has her ow_ery strong views of the boy's training and surroundings. They may b_idiculous but that sort of thing need not trouble you."
  • Feather held up her hand and actually laughed.
  • "If Robin meets him in ten years from now-THAT for her very strong views o_is training and surroundings!"
  • And she snapped her fingers.
  • Mrs. Muir's distaste for her son's unavoidable connection the man he migh_ucceed had a firm foundation. She had been brought up in a Scottish Mans_here her father dominated as an omnipotent and almost divine authority. As _hild of imagination she had not been happy but she had been obedient. In he_irlhood she had varied from type through her marriage with a young man wh_as a dreamer, an advanced thinker, an impassioned Greek scholar and a love_f beauty. After he had from her terrors of damnation, they had bee_rofoundly happy. They were young and at ease and they read and though_ogether ardently. They explored new creeds and cults and sometimes foun_hemselves talking nonsense and sometimes discovering untrodden paths o_isdom. They were youthful enough to be solemn about things at times, an_lever enough to laugh at their solemnity when they awakened to it. Helen Mui_eft the reverent gloom of the life at the Manse far behind despite he_espect for certain meanings they beclouded.
  • "I live in a new structure," she said to her husband, "but it is built on _oundation which is like a solid subterranean chamber. I don't use th_ubterranean chamber or go into it. I don't want to. But now and the_choes—almost noises—make themselves heard in it. Sometimes I find I hav_istened in spite of myself."
  • She had always been rather grave about her little son and when her husband'_arly death left him and his dignified but not large estate in her care sh_ealized that there lay in her hands the power to direct a life as she chose, in as far as was humanly possible. The pure blood and healthy tendencies of _ong and fine ancestry expressing themselves in the boy's splendid body an_nusual beauty had set the minds of two imaginative people working from th_irst. One of Muir's deepest interests was the study of development of th_ace. It was he who had planted in her mind that daringly fearless thought o_ human perfection as to the Intention of the Creative Cause. They used t_ook at the child as he lay asleep and note the beauty of him—his hands, hi_eet, his torso, the tint and texture and line of him.
  • "This is what was MEANT—in the plan for every human being—How could there b_camping and inefficiency in Creation. It is we ourselves who have scamped an_een incomplete in our thought and life. Here he is. Look at him. But he wil_nly develop as he is—if living does not warp him." This was what his fathe_aid. His mother was at her gravest as she looked down at the little god i_he crib.
  • "It's as if some power had thrust a casket of loose jewels into our hands an_aid, 'It is for you to see that not one is lost'," she murmured. Then th_ooked up and smiled.
  • "Are we being solemn—over a baby?" she said.
  • "Perhaps," he was always even readier to smile than she was. "I've an idea, however, that there's enough to be solemn about—not too solemn, but jus_olemn enough. You are a beautiful thing, Fair Helen! Why shouldn't he be lik_ou? Neither of us will forget what we have just said."
  • Through her darkest hours of young bereavement she remembered the words man_imes and felt as if they were a sort of light she might hold in her hand a_he trod the paths of the "Afterwards" which were in the days before her. Sh_ived with Donal at Braemarnie and lived FOR him without neglecting her dut_f being the head of a household and an estate and also a good and graciou_eighbour to things and people. She kept watch over every jewel in his casket, great and small. He was so much a part of her religion that sometimes sh_ealized that the echoes from the subterranean chamber were perhaps making he_ little strict but she tried to keep guard over herself.
  • He was handsome and radiant with glowing health and vitality. He was _riendly, rejoicing creature and as full of the joy of life as a scamperin_oor pony. He was clever enough but not too clever and he was friends with th_orld. Braemarnie was picturesquely ancient and beautiful. It would be a hom_f sufficient ease and luxury to be a pleasure but no burden. Life in it coul_e perfect and also supply freedom. Coombe Court and Coombe Keep were huge an_astellated and demanded great things. Even if the Head of the House had bee_ man to like and be proud of—the accession of a beautiful young Marquis woul_ouse the hounds of war, so to speak, and set them racing upon his track. Eve_he totally unalluring "Henry" had been beset with temptations from hi_arliest years. That he promptly succumbed to the first only brought fort_thers. It did not seem fair that a creature so different, a splendid fearles_hing, should be dragged from his hills and moors and fair heather and made t_reathe the foul scent of things, of whose poison he could know nothing. Sh_as not an ignorant childish woman. In her fine aloof way she had learned muc_n her stays in London with her husband and in their explorings of foreig_ities.
  • This was the reason for her views of her boy's training and surroundings. Sh_ad not asked questions about Coombe himself, but it had not been necessary.
  • Once or twice she had seen Feather by chance. In spite of herself she ha_eard about Henry. Now and then he was furbished up and appeared briefly a_oombe Court or at The Keep. It was always briefly because he inevitably bega_o verge on misbehaving himself after twenty-four hours had passed. On hi_ast visit to Coombe House in town, where he had turned up without invitation, he had become so frightfully drunk that he had been barely rescued from th_rifling faux pas of attempting to kiss a very young royal princess. Ther_ere quite definite objections to Henry.
  • Helen Muir was NOT proud of the Coombe relationship and with unvaried an_esourceful good breeding kept herself and her boy from all chance of bein_rawn into anything approaching an intimacy. Donal knew nothing of hi_rospects. There would be time enough for that when he was older, but, in th_eantime, there should be no intercourse if it could be avoided.
  • She had smiled at herself when the "echo" had prompted her to the hint of _uaint caution in connection with his little boy flame of delight in th_trange child he had made friends with. But it HAD been a flame and, thoug_he, had smiled, she sat very still by the window later that night and she ha_elt a touch of weight on her heart as she thought it over. There wer_onderful years when one could give one's children all the things they wanted, she was saying to herself—the desires of their child hearts, the joy of thei_hild bodies, their little raptures of delight. Those were divine years. The_ere so safe then. Donal was living through those years now. He did not kno_hat any happiness could be taken from him. He was hers and she was his. I_ould be horrible if there were anything one could not let him keep—in thi_arly unshadowed time!
  • She was looking out at the Spring night with all its stars lit and gleamin_ver the Park which she could see from her window. Suddenly she left her chai_nd rang for Nanny.
  • "Nanny," she said when the old nurse came, "tell me something about the littl_irl Donal plays with in the Square gardens."
  • "She's a bonny thing and finely dressed, ma'am," was the woman's carefu_nswer, "but I don't make friends with strange nurses and I don't think muc_f hers. She's a young dawdler who sits novel reading and if Master Donal wer_ young pickpocket with the measles, the child would be playing with him jus_he same as far as I can see. The young woman sits under a tree and reads an_he pretty little thing may do what she likes. I keep my eye on them, however, and they're in no mischief. Master Donal reads out of his picture books an_hows himself off before her grandly and she laughs and looks up to him as i_e were a king. Every lad child likes a woman child to look up to him. It'_retty to see the pair of them. They're daft about each other. Just wee thing_n love at first sight."
  • "Donal has known very few girls. Those plain little things at the Manse are too dull for him," his mother said slowly.
  • "This one's not plain and she's not dull," Nanny answered. "My word! but she'_ike a bit of witch fire dancing—with her colour and her big silk curls in _eap. Donal stares at her like a young man at a beauty. I wish, ma'am, we kne_ore of her forbears."
  • "I must see her," Mrs. Muir said. "Tomorrow I'll go with you both to th_ardens."
  • Therefore the following day Donal pranced proudly up the path to his trystin_lace and with him walked a tall lady at whom people looked as she passed. Sh_as fair like Donal and had a small head softly swathed with lovely folds o_air. Also her eyes were very clear and calm. Donal was plainly proud an_appy to be with her and was indeed prancing though his prance was broken b_alking steps at intervals.
  • Robin was waiting behind the lilac bushes and her nurse was already deep i_he mystery of Lady Audley.
  • "There she is!" cried Donal, and he ran to her. "My mother has come with me.
  • She wants to see you, too," and he pulled her forward by her hand. "This i_obin, Mother! This is Robin." He panted with elation and stood holding hi_rize as if she might get away before he had displayed her; his eyes lifted t_is tall mother's were those of an exultant owner.
  • Robin had no desire to run away. To adore anything which belonged to Donal wa_nly nature. And this tall, fair, wonderful person was a Mother. No wonde_onal talked of her so much. The child could only look up at her as Donal did.
  • So they stood hand in hand like little worshippers before a deity.
  • Andrews' sister in her pride had attired the small creature like a flower o_pring. Her exquisiteness and her physical brilliancy gave Mrs. Muir somethin_ot unlike a slight shock. Oh! no wonder—since she was like that. She stoope_nd kissed the round cheek delicately.
  • "Donal wanted me to see his little friend," she said. "I always want to se_is playmates. Shall we walk round the Garden together and you shall show m_here you play and tell me all about it."
  • She took the small hand and they walked slowly. Robin was at first too muc_wed to talk but as Donal was not awed at all and continued his prancing an_he Mother lady said pretty things about the flowers and the grass and th_irds and even about the pony at Braemarnie, she began now and then to brea_nto a little hop herself and presently into sudden ripples of laughter like _ird's brief bubble of song. The tall lady's hand was not like Andrews, or th_and of Andrews' sister. It did not pull or jerk and it had a lovely feeling.
  • The sensation she did not know was happiness again welled up within her. Jus_ne walk round the Garden and then the tall lady sat down on a seat to watc_hem play. It was wonderful. She did not read or work. She sat and watche_hem as if she wanted to do that more than anything else. Donal kept callin_ut to her and making her smile: he ran backwards and forwards to her to as_uestions and tell her what they were "making up" to play. When they gathere_eaves to prick stars and circles on, they did them on the seat on which sh_at and she helped them with new designs. Several times, in the midst of he_lay, Robin stopped and stood still a moment with a sort of puzzle_xpression. It was because she did not feel like Robin. Two people—a big bo_nd a lady—letting her play and talk to them as if they liked her and ha_ime!
  • The truth was that Mrs. Muir's eyes followed Robin more than they followe_onal. Their clear deeps yearned over her. Such a glowing vital little thing!
  • No wonder! No wonder! And as she grew older she would be more vivid an_ompelling with every year. And Donal was of her kind. His strength, hi_eauty, his fearless happiness-claiming temperament. How could one—wit_ignity and delicacy—find out why she had this obvious air of belonging t_obody? Donal was an exact little lad. He had had foundation for his curiou_craps of her story. No mother—no playthings or books—no one had ever kisse_er! And she dressed and soignee like this! Who was the Lady Downstairs?
  • A victoria was driving past the Gardens. It was going slowly because the tw_eople in it wished to look at the spring budding out of hyacinths and tulips.
  • Suddenly one of the pair—a sweetly-hued figure whose early season attire wa_yacinth-like itself—spoke to the coachman.
  • "Stop here!" she said. "I want to get out."
  • As the victoria drew up near a gate she made a light gesture.
  • "What do you think, Starling," she laughed. "The very woman we are talkin_bout is sitting in the Gardens there. I know her perfectly though I only sa_er portrait at the Academy years ago. Yes, there she is. Mrs. Muir, yo_now." She clapped her hands and her laugh became a delighted giggle. "And m_obin is playing on the grass near her—with a boy! What a joke! It must be TH_oy! And I wanted to see the pair together. Coombe said couldn't be done. An_ore than anything I want to speak to HER. Let's get out."
  • They got out and this was why Helen Muir, turning her eyes a moment from Robi_hose hand she was holding, saw two women coming towards her with eviden_ntention. At least one of them had evident intention. She was the one whos_ight attire produced the effect of being made of hyacinth petals.
  • Because Mrs. Muir's glance turned towards her, Robin's turned also. Sh_tarted a little and leaned against Mrs. Muir's knee, her eyes growing ver_arge and round indeed and filling with a sudden worshipping light.
  • "It is—" she ecstatically sighed or rather gasped, "the Lady Downstairs!"
  • Feather floated near to the seat and paused smiling.
  • "Where is your nurse, Robin?" she said.
  • Robin being always dazzled by the sight of her did not of course shine.
  • "She is reading under the tree," she answered tremulously.
  • "She is only a few yards away," said Mrs. Muir. "She knows Robin is playin_ith my boy and that I am watching them. Robin is your little girl?" amiably.
  • "Yes. So kind of you to let her play with your boy. Don't let her bore you. _m Mrs. Gareth-Lawless."
  • There was a little silence—a delicate little silence.
  • "I recognized you as Mrs. Muir at once," said Feather, unperturbed and smilin_rilliantly, "I saw your portrait at the Grosvenor."
  • "Yes," said Mrs. Muir gently. She had risen and was beautifully tall,—"th_ine" was perfect, and she looked with a gracious calm into Feather's eyes.
  • Donal, allured by the hyacinth petal colours, drew near. Robin made a_nconscious little catch at his plaid and whispered something.
  • "Is this Donal?" Feather said.
  • "ARE you the Lady Downstairs, please?" Donal put in politely, because h_anted so to know.
  • Feather's pretty smile ended in the prettiest of outright laughs.
  • Her maid had told her Andrews' story of the name.
  • "Yes, I believe that's what she calls me. It's a nice name for a mother, isn'_t?"
  • Donal took a quick step forward.
  • "ARE you her mother?" he asked eagerly.
  • "Of course I am."
  • Donal quite flushed with excitement.
  • "She doesn't KNOW," he said.
  • He turned on Robin.
  • "She's your Mother! You thought you hadn't one! She's your Mother!"
  • "But I am the Lady Downstairs, too." Feather was immensely amused. She was no_ubtle enough to know why she felt a perverse kind of pleasure in seeing th_cotch woman standing so still, and that it led her into a touch of vulgarity.
  • "I wanted very much to see your boy," she said.
  • "Yes," still gently from Mrs. Muir.
  • "Because of Coombe, you know. We are such old friends. How queer that the tw_ittle things have made friends, too. I didn't know. I am so glad I caught _limpse of you and that I had seen the portrait. GOOD morning. Goodbye, children."
  • While she strayed airily away they all watched her. She picked up her friend, the Starling, who, not feeling concerned or needed, had paused to look a_affodils. The children watched her until her victoria drove away, the chiffo_uffles of her flowerlike parasol fluttering in the air.
  • Mrs. Muir had sat down again and Donal and Robin leaned against her. They sa_he was not laughing any more but they did not know that her eyes ha_omething like grief in them.
  • "She's her Mother!" Donal cried. "She's lovely, too. But she's—her MOTHER!" and his voice and face were equally puzzled.
  • Robin's little hand delicately touched Mrs. Muir.
  • "IS—she?" she faltered.
  • Helen Muir took her in her arms and held her quite close. She kissed her.
  • "Yes, she is, my lamb," she said. "She's your mother."
  • She was clear as to what she must do for Donal's sake. It was the only saf_nd sane course. But—at this age—the child WAS a lamb and she could not hel_olding her close for a moment. Her little body was deliciously soft and war_nd the big silk curls all in a heap were a fragrance against her breast.