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The Head of the House of Coombe   By: (1849-1924)

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THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE OF COOMBE

BY

FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT

NEW YORK

CHAPTER I

The history of the circumstances about to be related began many years ago or so it seems in these days. It began, at least, years before the world being rocked to and fro revealed in the pause between each of its heavings some startling suggestion of a new arrangement of its kaleidoscopic particles, and then immediately a re arrangement, and another and another until all belief in a permanency of design seemed lost, and the inhabitants of the earth waited, helplessly gazing at changing stars and colours in a degree of mental chaos.

Its opening incidents may be dated from a period when people still had reason to believe in permanency and had indeed many of them sometimes through ingenuousness, sometimes through stupidity of type acquired a singular confidence in the importance and stability of their possessions, desires, ambitions and forms of conviction.

London at the time, in common with other great capitals, felt itself rather final though priding itself on being much more fluid and adaptable than it had been fifty years previously. In speaking of itself it at least dealt with fixed customs, and conditions and established facts connected with them which gave rise to brilliant or dull witticisms.

One of these, heard not infrequently, was to the effect that in London one might live under an umbrella if one lived under it in the right neighbourhood and on the right side of the street, which axiom is the reason that a certain child through the first six years of her life sat on certain days staring out of a window in a small, dingy room on the top floor of a slice of a house on a narrow but highly fashionable London street and looked on at the passing of motors, carriages and people in the dull afternoon grayness.

The room was exalted above its station by being called The Day Nursery and another room equally dingy and uninviting was known as The Night Nursery. The slice of a house was inhabited by the very pretty Mrs. Gareth Lawless, its inordinate rent being reluctantly paid by her apparently with the assistance of those "ravens" who are expected to supply the truly deserving. The rent was inordinate only from the standpoint of one regarding it soberly in connection with the character of the house itself which was a gaudy little kennel crowded between two comparatively stately mansions. On one side lived an inordinately rich South African millionaire, and on the other an inordinately exalted person of title, which facts combined to form sufficient grounds for a certain inordinateness of rent.

Mrs. Gareth Lawless was also, it may be stated, of the fibre which must live on the right side of the street or dissolve into nothingness since as nearly nothingness as an embodied entity can achieve had Nature seemingly created her at the outset. So light and airy was the fair, slim, physical presentation of her being to the earthly vision, and so almost impalpably diaphanous the texture and form of mind and character to be observed by human perception, that among such friends and enemies as so slight a thing could claim she was prettily known as "Feather". Her real name, "Amabel", was not half as charming and whimsical in its appropriateness. "Feather" she adored being called and as it was the fashion among the amazing if amusing circle in which she spent her life, to call its acquaintances fantastic pet names selected from among the world of birds, beasts and fishes or inanimate objects "Feather" she floated through her curious existence. And it so happened that she was the mother of the child who so often stared out of the window of the dingy and comfortless Day Nursery, too much a child to be more than vaguely conscious in a chaotic way that a certain feeling which at times raged within her and made her little body hot and restless was founded on something like actual hate for a special man who had certainly taken no deliberate steps to cause her detestation... Continue reading book >>




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