So she stood on the threshold of his darkened room, and at that vision his adoration became an agony and he lay with his face hidden in his arms, waiting for the touch of her hand that never came, until he slept.
Christine became his mother. Every morning at nine o’clock she turned the key of the pretentious mansion where James Stonehouse had set up practice for the twentieth time in his career, and called out, “Hallo, Robert!” in her clear, cool voice, and Robert, standing at the top of the stairs in his night-shirt, called back, “Hallo, Christine!” very joyously because he knew it annoyed Edith, his father’s new wife, listening jealously from behind her bedroom door.
And then Christine scrubbed his ears, and sometimes, when there were no servants, a circumstance which coincided exactly with a periodical financial crisis, she scrubbed the floors. Robert’s first hatred had changed rapidly to the love he would have given his mother had she lived. There was no romance about it. Christine was not omnipotent as his mother had become. He knew that she, too, was often terribly unhappy, and their helplessness in the face of a common danger gave them a sort of equality. But she was good to him, and her faithfulness was the one sure thing in his convulsed and rocking world. He clung to her as a drowning man clings to a floating spar, and his father’s, “I wish to God, Christine, you’d get out and leave us alone,” or, “I won’t have you in my house. You’re poisoning my son’s mind against me,” reiterated regularly at the climax of one of the hideous rows which devastated the household, was like a blow in the pit of the stomach, turning him sick and faint with fear.
But Christine never went. Or if she went she came back again. As James Stonehouse said in a burst of savage humour, “Kick Christine out of the front door and she’ll come in at the back.” Every morning, no matter what had happened the night before, there was the quiet, resolute scratch of her latch-key in the lock, and when James Stonehouse, sullen and menacing, brushed rudely against her in the hall, she went on steadily up the stairs to where Robert waited for her, and they fell into each other’s arms like two sorrowful comrades. Ever afterwards he could conjure her up at will as he saw her then. She was like a porcelain marquise over whom an intangible permanent shadow had been thrown.
He knew dimly that she had “people” who disapproved of her devotion, and that over and over again, by some new mysterious sacrifice, she had staved off disaster. He knew that she had been his father’s friend all her life and that his mother and she had loved one another. There was some bond between these three that could not be broken, and he, too, was involved—fastened on as an afterthought, as it were, but so firmly that there could be no escape. Because of it Christine loved him. He knew that he was not always a very lovable little boy.