The Rainbow (Chapter 7, page 1 of 11)


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Chapter 7

During the first year of her marriage, before Ursula was
born, Anna Brangwen and her husband went to visit her mother's
friend, the Baron Skrebensky. The latter had kept a slight
connection with Anna's mother, and had always preserved some
officious interest in the young girl, because she was a pure
Pole.

When Baron Skrebensky was about forty years old, his wife
died, and left him raving, disconsolate. Lydia had visited him
then, taking Anna with her. It was when the girl was fourteen
years old. Since then she had not seen him. She remembered him
as a small sharp clergyman who cried and talked and terrified
her, whilst her mother was most strangely consoling, in a
foreign language.

The little Baron never quite approved of Anna, because she
spoke no Polish. Still, he considered himself in some way her
guardian, on Lensky's behalf, and he presented her with some
old, heavy Russian jewellery, the least valuable of his wife's
relics. Then he lapsed out of the Brangwen's life again, though
he lived only about thirty miles away.

Three years later came the startling news that he had married
a young English girl of good family. Everybody marvelled. Then
came a copy of "The History of the Parish of Briswell, by
Rudolph, Baron Skrebensky, Vicar of Briswell." It was a curious
book, incoherent, full of interesting exhumations. It was
dedicated: "To my wife, Millicent Maud Pearse, in whom I embrace
the generous spirit of England."

"If he embraces no more than the spirit of England," said Tom
Brangwen, "it's a bad look-out for him."

But paying a formal visit with his wife, he found the new
Baroness a little, creamy-skinned, insidious thing with
red-brown hair and a mouth that one must always watch, because
it curved back continually in an incomprehensible, strange laugh
that exposed her rather prominent teeth. She was not beautiful,
yet Tom Brangwen was immediately under her spell. She seemed to
snuggle like a kitten within his warmth, whilst she was at the
same time elusive and ironical, suggesting the fine steel of her
claws.

The Baron was almost dotingly courteous and attentive to her.
She, almost mockingly, yet quite happy, let him dote. Curious
little thing she was, she had the soft, creamy, elusive beauty
of a ferret. Tom Brangwen was quite at a loss, at her mercy, and
she laughed, a little breathlessly, as if tempted to cruelty.
She did put fine torments on the elderly Baron.

When some months later she bore a son, the Baron Skrebensky
was loud with delight.

Gradually she gathered a circle of acquaintances in the
county. For she was of good family, half Venetian, educated in
Dresden. The little foreign vicar attained to a social status
which almost satisfied his maddened pride.

Therefore the Brangwens were surprised when the invitation
came for Anna and her young husband to pay a visit to Briswell
vicarage. For the Skrebenskys were now moderately well off,
Millicent Skrebensky having some fortune of her own.

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