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- The Head of the House of Coombe - 65/65 -


she'll think I did it. She'll never know.' There,"--he hesitated a moment--"there was a kind of mad shame in it. As if I'd BETRAYED your littleness and your belief, though I was too young to know what betraying was."

Just as she had looked at him before, "as if he could give her everything," she was looking at him now. In what other way could she look while he gave her this wonderful soothing, binding softly all the old wounds with unconscious, natural touch because he had really been all her child being had been irradiated and warmed by. There was no pose in his manner--no sentimental or flirtatious youth's affecting of a picturesque attitude. It was real and he told her this thing because he must for his own relief.

"Did you cry?" he said. "Did my little chap's conceit make too much of it? I suppose I ought to hope it did."

Robin put her hand softly against her heart.

"No," she answered. "I was only a baby, but I think it KILLED something--here."

He caught a big hard breath.

"Oh!" he said and for a few seconds simply sat and gazed at her.

"But it came to life again?" he said afterwards.

"I don't know. I don't know what it was. Perhaps it could only live in a very little creature. But it was killed."

"I say!" broke from him. "It was like wringing a canary's neck when it was singing in the sun!"

A sudden swelling of the music of a new dance swept in to them and he rose and stood up before her.

"Thank you for giving me my chance to tell you," he said. "This was the apology. You have been kind to listen."

"I wanted to listen," Robin said. "I am glad I didn't live a long time and grow old and die without your telling me. When I saw you tonight I almost said aloud, 'He's come back!'"

"I'm glad I came. It's queer how one can live a thing over again. There have been all the years between for us both. For me there's been all a lad's life--tutors and Eton and Oxford and people and lots of travel and amusement. But the minute I set eyes on you near the door something must have begun to drag me back. I'll own I've never liked to let myself dwell on that memory. It wasn't a good thing because it had a trick of taking me back in a fiendish way to the little chap with his heart bursting in the railway carriage--and the betrayal feeling. It's morbid to let yourself grouse over what can't be undone. So you faded away. But when I danced past you somehow I knew I'd come on SOMETHING. It made me restless. I couldn't keep my eyes away decently. Then all at once I KNEW! I couldn't tell you what the effect was. There you were again--I was as much obliged to tell you as I should have been if I'd found you at Braemarnie when I got there that night. Conventions had nothing to do with it. It would not have mattered even if you'd obviously thought I was a fool. You might have thought so, you know."

"No, I mightn't," answered Robin. "There have been no Eton and Oxford and amusements for me. This is my first party."

She rose as he had done and they stood for a second or so with their eyes resting on each other's--each with a young smile quivering into life which neither was conscious of. It was she who first wakened and came back. He saw a tiny pulse flutter in her throat and she lifted her hand with a delicate gesture.

"This dance was Lord Halwyn's and we've sat it out. We must go back to the ball room."

"I--suppose--we must," he answered with slow reluctance--but he could scarcely drag his eyes away from hers--even though he obeyed, and they turned and went.

In the shining ball room the music rose and fell and swelled again into ecstasy as he took her white young lightness in his arm and they swayed and darted and swooped like things of the air--while the old Duchess and Lord Coombe looked on almost unseeing and talked in murmurs of Sarajevo.

THE END

PUBLISHERS' NOTE

The inflexible limitations of magazine space necessitated the omission--in its serial form--of so large a portion of THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE OF COOMBE as to eliminate much of the charm of characterization and the creation of atmosphere and background which add so greatly to the power and picturesqueness of the author's work.

These values having been unavoidably lost in a greatly compressed version, it is the publishers' desire to produce the story in its entirety, and, as during its writing it developed into what might be regarded as two novels--so distinctly does it deal with two epochs--it has been decided to present it to its public as two separate books. The first, THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE OF COOMBE, deals with social life in London during the evolutionary period between the late Victorian years and the reign of Edward VII and that of his successor, previous to the Great War. It brings Lord Coombe and Donal, Feather and her girl Robin to the summer of 1914. It ends with the ending of a world which can never again be the same. The second novel, ROBIN, to be published later continues the story of the same characters, facing existence, however, in a world transformed by tragedy, and in which new aspects of character, new social, economic, and spiritual possibilities are to be confronted, rising to the surface of life as from the depths of unknown seas. Readers of THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE OF COOMBE will follow the story of Robin with intensified interest.


The Head of the House of Coombe - 65/65

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