Chapter I I
"I am very much distressed about it all," murmured Mrs. Baxter.
She was a small, delicate-looking old lady, very true to type indeed, with the silvery hair of the devout widow crowned with an exquisite lace cap, in a filmy black dress, with a complexion of precious china, kind shortsighted blue eyes, and white blue-veined hands busy now upon needlework. She bore about with her always an atmosphere of piety, humble, tender, and sincere, but as persistent as the gentle sandalwood aroma which breathed from her dress. Her theory of the universe, as the girl who watched her now was beginning to find out, was impregnable and unapproachable. Events which conflicted with it were either not events, or they were so exceptional as to be negligible. If she were hard pressed she emitted a pathetic peevishness that rendered further argument impossible.
The room in which she sat reflected perfectly her personality. In spite of the early Victorian date of the furniture, there was in its arrangement and selection a taste so exquisite as to deprive it of even a suspicion of Philistinism. Somehow the rosewood table on which the September morning sun fell with serene beauty did not conflict as it ought to have done with the Tudor paneling of the room. A tapestry screen veiled the door into the hall, and soft curtains of velvety gold hung on either side of the tall, modern windows leading to the garden. For the rest, the furniture was charming and suitable—low chairs, a tapestry couch, a multitude of little leather-covered books on every table, and two low carved bookshelves on either side of the door filled with poetry and devotion.
The girl who sat upright with her hands on her lap was of another type altogether—of that type of which it is impossible to predicate anything except that it makes itself felt in every company. Any respectable astrologer would have had no difficulty in assigning her birth to the sign of the Scorpion. In outward appearance she was not remarkable, though extremely pleasing, and it was a pleasingness that grew upon acquaintance. Her beauty, such as it was, was based upon a good foundation: upon regular features, a slightly cleft rounded chin, a quantity of dark coiled hair, and large, steady, serene brown eyes. Her hands were not small, but beautifully shaped; her figure slender, well made, and always at its ease in any attitude. In fact, she had an air of repose, strength, and all-round competence; and, contrasted with the other, she resembled a well-bred sheep-dog eyeing an Angora cat.
They were talking now about Laurie Baxter.
"Dear Laurie is so impetuous and sensitive," murmured his mother, drawing her needle softly through the silk, and then patting her material, "and it is all terribly sad."
This was undeniable, and Maggie said nothing, though her lips opened as if for speech. Then she closed them again, and sat watching the twinkling fire of logs upon the hearth. Then once more Mrs. Baxter took up the tale.
"When I first heard of the poor girl's death," she said, "it seemed to me so providential....