BY ELINOR GLYN
AUTHOR OF "THE REASON WHY," "HIS HOUR," "THREE WEEKS," ETC.
TO THE MEMORY OF MY KIND FRIEND
LORD ST. HELIER
WHOSE SYMPATHY WITH MY CLASSICAL STUDIES SO GREATLY ENCOURAGED THEM
[Greek: DRASANTI PATHEIN]
"And now they are past the last blue headland and in the open sea; and there is nothing round them but the waves and the sky and the wind. But the waves are gentle and the sky is clear, and the breeze is tender and low; for these are the days when Halcyone and Ceyx build their nest and no storms ever ruffle the pleasant summer sea. And who were Halcyone and Ceyx? Halcyone was a fairy maiden, the daughter of the beach and of the wind. And she loved a sailor-boy and married him; and none on earth were so happy as they. But at last Ceyx was wrecked; and before he could swim to the shore, the billows swallowed him up. And Halcyone saw him drowning and leapt into the sea to him; but in vain. Then the Immortals took pity on them both, and changed them into two fair sea-birds, and now they build a floating nest every year and sail up and down for ever upon the pleasant seas of Greece."
THE HEROES, Kingsley.
Outside one of the park gates there was a little house. In the prosperous days of the La Sarthe it had been the land steward's—but when there was no longer any land to steward it had gone with the rest, and for several years had been uninhabited.
One day in early spring Halcyone saw smoke coming out of the chimney. This was too interesting a fact not to be investigated; she resented it, too—because a hole in the park paling had often let her into the garden and there was a particularly fine apple tree there whose fruit she had yearly enjoyed.
She crept nearer, a tall, slender shape, with mouse-colored hair waving down her back, and a scarlet cap pulled jauntily over her brow—the delightful feeling of adventure tingling in her veins. Yes, the gap was there, it had not been mended yet—she would penetrate and see for herself who this intruder could be.
She climbed through and stole along the orchard and up to the house. Signs of mending were around the windows, in the shape of a new board here and there in the shutters; but nothing further. She peeped over the low sill, and there her eyes met those of an old man seated in a shabby armchair, amid piles and piles of books. He had evidently been reading while he smoked a long, clay pipe.
He was a fine old man with a splendid presence, his gray hair was longer than is usual and a silvery beard flowed over his chest.
Halcyone at once likened him to Cheiron in the picture of him in her volume of Kingsley's "Heroes."
They stared at one another and the old man rose and came to the window.
Halcyone did not move.
"Who are you, little girl?" he said. "And what do you want?"
"I want to know who you are, and why you have come here?" she answered fearlessly. "I am Halcyone, you know."
The old man smiled.
"That ought to tell me everything," he said, gravely, "but unfortunately it does not! Who is Halcyone?"
"I live at La Sarthe Chase with the Aunts La Sarthe," she said proudly, as though La Sarthe Chase had been Windsor Castle—"and I have been accustomed to play in this garden. I don't like your being here much."
"I am sorry for that, because it suits me and I have bought it. But how would it be if I said you might come into the garden still and play? Would you forgive me then for being here?"
"I might," said Halcyone. "What are all these books for?"
"They are to read."
"I knew that—" and she frowned, beetling her delicate dark brows, "but why such a lot? You can never read them all."
The old man smiled.
"I have read most of them already," he said. "I have had plenty of time, you see."
"Yes, I dare say you are old," said Halcyone— "and what are they about? I would like to know that. My books so seldom interest me."
He handed her one through the window, but it was written in Greek and she could not read it. She frowned again as she turned over the pages.
"Perhaps there is something nice in that," she said.
"Well, won't you tell me what?"
"That would take a long time—suppose you come in and have tea with me, then we could talk comfortably."
"That sounds a good plan," she said, gravely. "Shall I climb through the window—I can quite easily—or would you like me to go round by the door?"
"The window will serve," said the old man.
And with one bound as light as a young kid, Halcyone was in the room.
There was a second armchair beyond the pile of books, and into that she nestled, crossing her knees and clasping her hands round them. "Now we can begin," she said.
"Tea or talk?" asked the old man.
"Why, talk, of course; there is no tea—"
"But if you rang that bell some might come."
Halcyone jumped up again and looked about for the bell. She was not going to ask where it was—she disliked stupid people herself. The old man watched her from under the penthouse of his eyebrows with a curious smile.
The bell was hidden in the carving of the mantelpiece, but she found it at last and gave it a lusty pull.
It seemed answered instantaneously by a strange-looking man,—a dark, extremely thin person with black, dull eyes.
The old man spoke to him in an unknown language and he retired silently.
"Who was that?" asked Halcyone.
"That is my servant,—he will bring tea."
"He is not English?"
"No—does that matter?"
"Of course not—but what country does he come from?"
"You must ask him someday."
"I want to see countries," and she stretched out her slender arms, "I want to fly away outside the park and see the world."
"You have time," said the old man.
"When I am big enough I shall run away—I get very tired of only the Aunts La Sarthe. They never understand a word I say." "What do you say?"
"I want to say all sorts of things, but if it isn't what they have heard a hundred times before, they look shocked and pained."
"You must come and say them to me then, perhaps I might understand, and in any case I should not be shocked or pained."
"They remind me of the Three Gray Sisters, although there are only two of them—one eye and one tooth between them."
"I see—there is something we can talk about at all events," said the old man. "The Three Gray Sisters are friends of yours—are they?"
"Not friends!" Haley one exclaimed emphatically. "I can't bear them, silly old things nodding there, with their ridiculous answers to Perseus, saying old things were better than new—and their day better than his—I should have thrown their eye into the sea if I had been he. Do all old people do that?—pretend their time was the best?—do you? I don't mean to."
"You are right. It is a bad habit."
"But are they better, the old things?"
The old man did not answer for a moment or two. He looked his visitor through and through with his wise gray eyes—an investigation which might have disconcerted some people, but Halcyone was unabashed.
"I know what you are doing," she said. "You are seeing the other side of my head—and I wish I could see the other side of yours, I can the Aunts' La Sarthe and Priscilla's, in a minute, but yours is different."
"I am glad of that—you might be disappointed, though, if you did see what was there."
"I always want to see," she said simply—"see everything; and sometimes I find the other side not a bit what this is—even in the birds and trees and the beetles. But you must have a huge big one."
The old man laughed.
"You and I are going to be good acquaintances," he said. "Tell me some more of Perseus. What more do you know of him?"
"I have only read 'The Heroes,'" Halcyone admitted, "but I know it by heart—and I know it is all true though my governess says it is fairy-tales and not for girls. I want to learn Greek, but they can't teach me."
"That is too bad."
"When things are put vaguely I always want to know, them—I want to know why Medusa turned into a gorgon? What was her sin?"
The old man smiled.
"I see," said Halcyone, "you won't tell me, but some day I shall know."
"Yes, some day you shall know," he said.
"They seem such great people, those Greeks; they knew everything—so the preface of my 'Heroes' says, and I want to learn the things they knew—mathematics and geometry, rather—and especially logic and metaphysics, because I want to know the meaning of words and the art of reasoning, and above everything I want to know about my own thoughts and soul." "You strange little girl," said the old man. "Have you a soul?"
"I don't know, I have something in there," and Halcyone pointed to her head—"and it talks to me like another voice, and when I am alone up a tree away from people, and all is beautiful, it seems to make it tight round here,—and go from my head into my side," and she placed her lean brown paw over her heart.
"Yes—you perhaps have a soul," said the old man, and then he added, half to himself—"What a pity."
"Why a pity?" demanded Halcyone.
"Because a woman with a soul suffers, and brings tribulation—but since you have one we may as well teach you how to keep the thing in hand."
At that moment, the dark servant brought tea, and the fine oriental china pleased Halcyone whose perceptions took in the texture of every single thing she came in contact with.
The old man seemed to go into a reverie, he was quite silent while he poured out the tea, forgetting to enquire her tastes as to cream and sugar—he drank his black—and handed Halcyone a cup of the same.
She looked at him, her inquiring eyes full of intelligence and understanding, and she realized at once that these trifles were not in his consideration for the moment. So she helped herself to what she wanted and sat down again in her armchair. She did not even rattle her teaspoon. Priscilla often made noises which irritated her when she was thinking. The old man came back to a remembrance of her presence at last.
"Little girl," he said—"would you like to come here pretty often and learn Greek, and about the Greeks?"
Halcyone bounded from her chair with joy.
"But of course I would!" she said. "And I am not stupid—not really stupid Mademoiselle says, when I want to learn things."
"No—I dare say you are not stupid," the old man said. "So it is a bargain then; I shall teach you about my friends the Greeks, and you shall teach me about the green trees, and your friends the rabbits and the beetles."
Then those instinctive good manners of Halcyone's came uppermost, inherited, like her slender shape and balanced head, from that long line of La Sarthe ancestors, and she thanked the old man with a quaint, courtly, sweetly pedantic grace. Then she got up to go—
"I like being here—and may I come again to-morrow?" she said afterwards. "I must go now or they will be disagreeable and perhaps make difficulties."
The old man watched her as she curtsied to him and vaulted through the window again, and on down the path, and through the hole in the paling, without once turning round. Then he muttered to himself:
"A woman thing who refrains from looking back!—Yes, I fear she has a soul."
Then he returned to his pipe and his Aristotle.
Halcyone struck straight across the park until she came to the beech avenue, near the top, which ran south. The place had been nobly planned by that grim old La Sarthe who raised it in the days of seventh Henry. It stood very high with its terraced garden in the center of four splendid avenues of oak, lime, beech and Spanish chestnut running east, west, north and south. And four gates in different stages of dilapidation gave entrance through a broken wall of stone to a circular drive which connected all the avenues giving access to the house, a battered, irregular erection of gray stone.
To reach the splendid front door you entered from the oak avenue and crossed the pleasance, now only an overgrown meadow where the one cow grazed in the summer.
Then you were obliged to mount three stately flights of stone steps until you reached the first terrace, which was flagged near the house and bordered with stiff flower-beds. Here you might turn and look back due west upon a view of exquisite beauty—an undulating fertile country beneath, and then in the far distance a line of dim blue hills.
But if you chanced to wish to enter your carriage unwetted on a rainy day, you were obliged to deny yourself the pleasure of passing through the entrance hall in state, and to go out at the back by stone passages into the courtyard where the circular avenue came up close to a fortified door, under the arch of which you could drive.
Everything spoke of past grandeur and present decay—only the flower-beds of the highest terrace appeared even partly cultivated; the two lower ones were a wild riot of weeds and straggling rose trees unpruned and untrained, and if you looked up at the windows in the southern wing of the house, you saw that several panes in them were missing and that the holes had been stuffed with rags.
At this time of the year the beech avenue presented an indescribably lovely sight of just opening leaves of tender green. It was a never-failing joy to Halcyone. She walked the few paces which separated her from it and turning, stood leaning against the broken gate now, drinking in every tone of the patches the lowered sun made of gold between the green. For her it was full of wood nymphs and elves. It did not contain gods and goddesses like the others. She told herself long stories about them.
The beech avenue was her favorite for the spring, the lime for the summer, the chestnut for the autumn, and the oak for the winter. She knew every tree in all four, as a huntsman knows his hounds. And when, in the great equinoctial storm of the previous year, three giant oaks lay shattered and broken, the sight had caused her deep grief, until she wove a legend about them and turned them into monsters for Perseus to subdue with Medusa's head. One, indeed, whose trunk was gnarled and twisted, became the serpent of the brazen scales who sleepeth not, guarding the Golden Fleece.
"As the tree falls so shall it lie," seemed to be the motto of La Sarthe Chase. For none were removed.
Halcyone stretched out her arms and beckoned to her fairy friends.
"Queen Mab," she called, "come and dance nearer to me—I can see your wings and I want to talk to you to-day!"
And as if in answer to this invitation, the rays of the lowered sun shifted to an opening almost at her feet, and with a cry of joy the child began to dance in the gorgeous light.
"Come follow, follow me, ye fairy elves that be," she sang softly.
And the sprites laughed with gladness, and gilded her mouse hair with gold, and lit up her eyes, and wove scarves about her with gossamer threads, and beneath her feet tall bluebells offered their heads as a carpet.
But Halcyone sprang over them, she would not have crushed the meanest weed.
"Queen Mab!" she said at last, as she sat down in the middle of the sunlight, "I have found an old gentleman—and he is Cheiron, and if one could see it in the right light, he may have a horse's body, and he is going to teach me just what Jason learnt—and then I shall tell it to you."
The rays shifted again to a path beyond, and Halcyone bounded up and went on her way.
Old William was drawing the elder Miss La Sarthe in a dilapidated basket-chair, up and down on the highest terrace. She held a minute faded pink silk parasol over her head—it had an ivory handle which folded up when she no longer needed the parasol as a shade. She wore one-buttoned gloves, of slate-colored kid, and a wrist-band of black velvet clasped with a buckle. An inverted cake-tin of weather-beaten straw, trimmed with rusty velvet, shadowed her old, tired eyes; an Indian shawl was crossed upon her thin bosom.
"Halcyone!" she called querulously. "Where have you been, child? You must have missed your tea."
And Halcyone answered:
"In the orchard."
For of what use to inform Aunt Ginevra about that enchanting visit to Cheiron! Aunt Ginevra who knew not of such beings!
"The orchard's let," grunted old William—"they do say it's sold—"
"I had rather not hear of it, William," said Miss La Sarthe frowning. "It does not concern one what occurs beyond one's gates."
Old William growled gently, and continued his laborious task—one of the wheels squeaked as it turned on the flags.
"Aunt Ginevra, you must have that oiled," said Halcyone, as she screwed up her face. "How can you bear it? You can't see the lovely spring things, with that noise."
"One does not see with one's ears, Halcyone," quavered Miss La Sarthe. "Take me in now, William."
"And she can't even see them with her eyes—poor Aunt Ginevra!" Halcyone said to herself, as she walked respectfully by the chair until it passed the front door on its way to the side. Then she bounded up the steps and through the paneled, desolate hall, taking joy in climbing the dog-gates at the turn of the stairs, which she could easily have opened—and she did not pause until she reached her own room in the battered south wing, and was soon curled up in the broad window sill, her hands clasped round her knees.
For this was a wonderful thing which had come into her life.—She had met someone who could see the other side of her head! Henceforth there would be a human voice, not only a fairy's, to converse with her. Indeed, the world was a very fair place!
Here, Priscilla found her when it was growing dark, still with the rapt expression of glad thought on her face. And the elderly woman shook her head. "That child is not canny," she muttered, while aloud she chided her for idleness and untidiness in having thrown her cap on the floor.
But Halcyone flung her arms round Priscilla's neck and laughed in her beard.
"Oh, you dear old goosie! I have been with the Immortals on the blue peaks of Olympus and there we did not wear caps!"
"Them Immortals!" said Priscilla. "Better far you were attending to things you can see. They'll be coming down and carrying you off, some of these fine nights!"
"The Immortals don't care so much about the nights, Priscilla—unless Artemis is abroad—she does—but the others like the sunlight and great white clouds and a still blue sky. I am quite safe—" and Halcyone smiled.
Priscilla began tidying up.
"Ma'm'selle's wrote to the mistresses to say she won't come back, she can't put up with the place any longer."
This sounded too good to be true! Another governess going! Surely they would see it was no use asking any more to come to La Sarthe Chase—Halcyone had never had one who could appreciate its beauties. Governesses to her were poor-spirited creatures afraid of rats, and the dark passages—and one and all resentful of the rag-stuffed panes in the long gallery. Surely with the new-found Cheiron to instruct her about those divine Greeks a fresh governess was unnecessary.
"I shall ask Aunt Ginevra to implore my stepfather not to send any more. We don't want them, do we, Priscilla?"
"That we don't, my lamb!" agreed Priscilla. "But you must learn something more useful than gods and goddesses. Your poor, dear mother in heaven would break her heart if she knew you were going to be brought up ignorant."
Halcyone raised her head haughtily.
"I shan't be ignorant—don't be afraid. I would not remain ignorant even if no other governess ever came near me. I can read by myself, and the dear old gentleman I saw to-day will direct me." And then when she perceived the look of astonishment on Priscilla's face: "Ah! That is a secret! I had not meant to tell you—but I will. The orchard cottage is inhabited and I've seen him, and he is Cheiron, and I am going to learn Greek!"
"Bless my heart!" said Priscilla. "Well, now, it is long past seven o'clock and you must dress to go down to dessert."
And all the time she was putting Halcyone into her too short white frock, and brushing her mane of hair, the child kept up a brisk conversation. Silent for hours at a time, when something suddenly interested her she could be loquacious enough.
One candle had to be lit before her toilet was completed, and then at half past seven she stole down the stairs, full of shadows, and across the hall to the great dining-room, where the Misses La Sarthe dined in state at seven o'clock, off some thin soup and one other dish, so that at half past seven the cloth had been cleared away by old William (in a black evening coat now and rather a high stock), and the shining mahogany table reflected the two candles in their superb old silver candlesticks.
At this stage, as Halcyone entered the room, it was customary for William to place the dish of apples on the table in front of Miss La Sarthe, and the dish of almonds and raisins in front of Miss Roberta. The dessert did not vary much for months—from October to late June it was the same; and only on Sundays was the almond and raisin dish allowed to be partaken of, but an apple was divided into four quarters, after being carefully peeled by Miss La Sarthe, each evening, and Miss Roberta was given two quarters and Halcyone one, while the eldest lady nibbled at the remaining piece herself.
In her day, children had always come down to dessert, and had had to be good and not greedy, or the fate of Miss Augusta Noble of that estimable book, "The Fairchild Family," would certainly fall upon them. Halcyone, from her earliest memory, had come down to dessert every night—except at one or two pleasant moments when the measles or a bad cold had kept her in bed. Half past seven o'clock, summer and winter, had meant for her the quarter of an apple, two or three strawberries or a plum—and almost always the same conversation.
Miss La Sarthe sat at the head of the table, in a green silk dress cut low upon the shoulders and trimmed with a bertha of blonde lace. Miss Roberta—sad falling off from dignity—had her thin bones covered with a habit shirt of tulle, because she was altogether a poorer creature than her sister, and felt the cold badly. Both ladies wore ringlets at the sides of their faces and little caps of ribbon and lace.
Even within Halcyone's memory, the dining-room had lost some of its adornments. The Chippendale chairs had gone, and had been replaced by four stout kitchen ones. The bits of rare china were fewer—but the portrait of the famous Timothy La Sarthe, by Holbein, still frowned from his place of honor above the chimneypiece. All the La Sarthes had been christened Timothy since that time.
The affair of the governess seemed to be troubling Miss Roberta. At intervals she had found comfort in these denizens of the outer world, and, free from the stern eye of Sister Ginevra, had been wont to chat with one and another. They never stayed long enough for her to know them well, and now this lady—the fifth within two years—had refused to return. Life seemed very dull.
"Need I have any more governesses, Aunt Ginevra?" Halcyone said. "There is an old gentleman who has bought the orchard house and he says he will teach me Greek—and I already know a number of other tiresome things."
Halcyone had not meant to tell her aunts anything about Cheiron—this new-found joy—but she reasoned after she heard of Mademoiselle's non-return that the knowledge that she would have some instructor might have weight with those in charge of her. It was worth risking at all events.
Miss La Sarthe adjusted a gold pince-nez and looked at the little girl.
"How old are you, Halcyone?" she asked.
"I was twelve on the seventh of last October, Aunt Ginevra."
"Twelve—a young gentlewoman's education is not complete at twelve years old, child—although governesses in the house are not very pleasant, I admit"—and Miss La Sarthe sighed.
"Oh, I know it isn't!" said Halcyone, "but you see, I can speak French and German quite decently, and the other things surely I might learn myself in between the old gentleman's teaching."
"But what do you know of this—this stranger?" demanded Miss La Sarthe. "You allude to someone of whom neither your Aunt Roberta nor I have ever heard."
"I met him to-day. I went into the orchard as usual, and found the house was inhabited, and I saw him and he asked me in to tea. He is a very old gentleman with a long white beard, and very, very clever. His room is full of Greek books and we had a long talk, and he was very kind and said he would teach me to read them."
This seemed to Halcyone to be sufficient in the way of credentials for anyone.
"I have heard from Hester," Miss Roberta interposed timidly, "that the orchard house has been bought by an Oxford professor—it sounds most respectable, does it not, sister?"
Miss La Sarthe looked stern:
"More than thirty-five years ago, Roberta, I told you I disapproved of Hester's chattering. I cannot conceive personally, how you can converse with servants as you do. Hester would not have dared to gossip to me!"
Poor Miss Roberta looked crushed. She had often been chided on this point before.
Halcyone would like to have reminded her elder aunt that William, who was equally a servant, had announced some such news to her that afternoon; but she remained silent. She must gain her point if she could, and to argue, she knew, was never a road to success.
"I am sure if we could get a really nice English girl," hazarded Miss Roberta, wishing to propitiate, "it might be company for us all, Ginevra—but if Mrs. Anderton insists upon sending another foreign person—"
"And of course she will," interrupted the elder lady; "people of Mrs. Anderton's class always think it is more genteel to have a smattering of foreign languages than to know their own mother tongue. We may get another German—and that I could hardly bear."
"Then do write to my stepfather, please, please," cried Halcyone. "Say I am going to be splendidly taught—lots of interesting things—and oh—I will try so hard by myself to keep up what I already know. I will practice—really, really, Aunt Ginevra—and do my German exercises and dear Aunt Roberta can talk French to me and even teach me the Italian songs that she sings so beautifully to her guitar!"
This last won the day as far as Miss Roberta was concerned. Her faded cheeks flushed pink. The trilling Italian love-songs, learnt some fifty years ago during a two years' residence in Florence, had always been her pride and joy. So she warmly seconded her niece's pleadings, and the momentous decision was come to that James Anderton should be approached upon the subject. If the child learned Greek—from a professor—and could pick up a few of Roberta's songs as an accomplishment, she might do well enough—and a governess in the house, in spite of the money paid by Mr. Anderton to keep her, was a continual gall and worry to them.
Halcyone knew very little about her stepfather. She was aware that he had married her mother when she was a very poor and sorrowful young widow, that she had had two stepsisters and a brother very close together, and then that the pretty mother had died. There was evidently something so sad connected with the whole story that Priscilla never cared much to talk about it. It was always, "your poor sainted mother in heaven," or, "your blessed pretty mother"—and with that instinctive knowledge of the feelings of other people which characterized Halcyone's point of view, she had avoided questioning her old nurse. Her stepfather, James Anderton, was a very wealthy stockbroker—she knew that, and also that a year or so after her mother's death he had married again—"a person of his own class," Miss La Sarthe had said, "far more suitable to him than poor Elaine."
Halcyone had only been six years old at her mother's death, but she kept a crisp memory of the horror of it. The crimson, crumpled-looking baby brother, in his long clothes, whose coming somehow seemed responsible for the loss of her tender angel, for a long time was viewed with resentful hatred. It was a terrible, unspeakable grief. She remembered perfectly the helpless sense of loss and loneliness.
Her mother had loved her with passionate devotion. She was conscious even then that Mabel and Ethel, the stepsisters, were as nothing in comparison to herself in her mother's regard. She had a certainty that her mother had loved her own father very much—the young, brilliant, spendthrift, last La Sarthe. And her mother had been of the family, too—a distant cousin. So she herself was La Sarthe to her finger tips—slender and pale and distinguished-looking. She remembered the last scene with her stepfather before her coming to La Sarthe Chase. It was the culmination after a year of misery and unassuaged grieving for her loss. He had come into the nursery where the three little girls were playing—Halcyone and her two stepsisters—and he had made them all stand up in his rough way, and see who could catch the pennies the best that he threw from the door. His brother, "Uncle Ted," was with him. And the two younger children, Mabel of five and Ethel of four, shouted riotously with glee and snatched the coins from one another and greedily quarreled over those which Halcyone caught with her superior skill and handed to them.
She remembered her stepfather's face—it grew heavy and sullen and he walked to the window, where his brother followed him—and she remembered their words and had pondered over them often since.
"It's the damned breeding in the brat that fairly gets me raw, Ted," Mr. Anderton had said. "Why the devil couldn't Elaine have given it to my children, too. I can't stand it—a home must be found for her elsewhere."
And soon after that, Halcyone had come with her own Priscilla to La Sarthe Chase to her great-aunts Ginevra and Roberta, in their tumble-down mansion which her father had not lived to inherit. Under family arrangements, it was the two old ladies' property for their lives.
And now the problem of what James Anderton—or rather the second Mrs. James Anderton—would do was the question of the moment. Would there be a fresh governess or would they all be left in peace without one? Mrs. James Anderton, Miss Roberta had said once, was a person who "did her duty," as people often did "in her class"—"a most worthy woman, if not quite a lady"—and she had striven to do her best by James Anderton's children—even his stepchild Halcyone.
Miss La Sarthe promised to write that night before she went to bed—but Halcyone knew it was a long process with her and that an answer could not be expected for at least a week. Therefore there was no good agitating herself too soon about the result. It was one of her principles never to worry over unnecessary things. Life was full of blessed certainties to enjoy without spoiling them by speculating over possible unpleasantnesses.
The old gentleman—Cheiron—and old William and the timid curate who came to dine on Saturday nights once a month were about the only male creatures Halcyone had ever spoken to within her recollection—their rector was a confirmed invalid and lived abroad—but Priscilla had a supreme contempt for them as a sex.
"One and all set on themselves, my lamb," she said; "even your own beautiful father had to be bowed down to and worshiped. We put up with it in him, of course; but I never did see one that didn't think of himself first. It is their selfishness that causes all the sorrow of the world to women. We needn't have lost your angel mother but for Mr. Anderton's selfishness—a kind, hard, rough man—but as selfish as a gentleman."
It seemed a more excusable defect to Priscilla in the upper class, but had no redeeming touch in the status of Mr. Anderton.
Halcyone, however, had a logical mind and reasoned with her nurse:
"If they are all selfish, Priscilla, it must be either women's fault for letting them be, or God intended them to be so. A thing can't be all unless the big force makes it."
This "big force"—this "God" was a real personality to Halcyone. She could not bear it when in church she heard the meanest acts of revenge and petty wounded vanity attributed to Him. She argued it was because the curate did not know. Having come from a town, he could not be speaking of the same wonderful God she knew in the woods and fields—the God so loving and tender in the springtime to the budding flowers, so gorgeous in the summer and autumn and so pure and cold in the winter. With all that to attend to He could not possibly stoop to punish ignorant people and harbor anger and wrath against them. He was the sunlight and the moonlight and the starlight. He was the voice which talked in the night and made her never lonely.
And all the other things of nature and the universe were gods, also—lesser ones obeying the supreme force and somehow fused with Him in a whole, being part of a scheme which He had invented to complete the felicity of the world He had created—not beings to be prayed to or solicited for favors, but just gentle, glorious, sympathetic, invisible friends. She was very much interested in Christ; He was certainly a part of God, too—but she could not understand about His dying to save the world, since the God she heard of in the church was still forever punishing and torturing human beings, or only extending mercy after His vanity had been flattered by offerings and sacrifices.
"I expect," she said to herself, coming home one Sunday after one of Mr. Miller's lengthy discourses upon God's vengeance, "when I am older and able really to understand what is written in the Bible I shall find it isn't that a bit, and it is either Mr. Miller can't see straight or he has put the stops all in the wrong places and changed the sense. In any case I shall not trouble now—the God who kept me from falling through the hole in the loft yesterday by that ray of sunlight to show the cracked board, is the one I am fond of."
It was the simple and logical view of a case which always appealed to her.
"Halcyone" her parents had called her well—their bond of love—their tangible proof of halcyon days. And always when Halcyone read her "Heroes" she felt it was her beautiful father and mother who were the real Halcyone and Ceyx, and she longed to see the blue summer sea and the pleasant isles of Greece that she might find their floating nest and see them sail away happily for ever over those gentle southern waves.
Mr. Carlyon—for such was Cheiron's real name—knocked the ashes from his long pipe next day at eleven o'clock in the morning, after his late breakfast and began to arrange his books. His mind was away in a land of classical lore; he had almost forgotten the sprite who had invaded his solitude the previous afternoon, until he heard a tap at the window, and saw her standing there—great, intelligent eyes aflame and rosy lips apart.
"May I come in, please?" her voice said. "I am afraid I am a little early, but I had something so very interesting to tell you, I had to come."
He opened wide the window and let in the May sunshine.
"The first of May and a May Queen," he told her presently, when they were seated in their two chairs. "And now begin this interesting news."
"Aunt Ginevra has promised to write to my step-father at once, and suggest that no more governesses are sent to me. Won't it be perfectly splendid if he agrees!"
"I really don't know," said Cheiron.
Halcyone's face fell.
"You promised to teach me Greek," she said simply, "and I know from my 'Heroes' that is all that I need necessarily learn from anyone to acquire the other things myself."
This seemed to Mr. Carlyon a very conclusive answer—his bent of mind found it logical.
"Very well," he said. "When shall we begin?"
"Perhaps to-morrow. To-day if you have time I would like to take you for a walk in the park—and show you some of the trees. The beeches are coming out very early this year; they have the most exquisite green just showing, and the chestnuts in some places have quite large leaves. It is damp under foot, though—do you mind that?"
"Not a bit," said Cheiron.
And so they went, creeping through the hole in the paling like two brigands on a marauding expedition.
"There used to be deer when I first came five years ago," Halcyone said. "I remember them quite well, and their sweet little fawns; but the next winter was that horribly cold one, and there was no hay to be put out to them—my Aunts La Sarthe are very poor—and some of them died, and in the summer the Long Man came and talked and talked, and Aunt Roberta had red eyes all the afternoon, as she always does when he comes, and Aunt Ginevra pretended hers were a cold in her head—and the week after a lot of men arrived and drove all the tender, beautiful creatures into corners, and took them away in carts with nets over them—the does—but the bucks had pieces of wood because their horns would have torn the nets."
Her delicate lips quivered a moment, as though at a too painful memory—then she smiled.
"But one mother doe and her fawn got away—and I knew where they were hiding, but I did not tell, of course—and now there are four of them, or perhaps five. But they are very wild and keep in the copses, and fly if they see anyone coming. They don't mind me, of course, but strangers. The mother remembers that awful day, I expect."
"No doubt," said Cheiron; "and who is the 'Long Man' you spoke of as having instigated this outrage?"
"He is the man of business, he was the bailiff once, but is a house agent now in Applewood. And whenever he comes something has to go—we all dread it. Last Michaelmas it was the Chippendale dining-room chairs—"
"I know him then—I bought my cottage from him. I suppose all this is necessary, because he seemed an honest fellow."
"Someone long ago made it necessary—it is not the Aunts' fault—" and then Halcyone stopped abruptly and pointed to the beech avenue which they were approaching now through the bracken, brown and crisp from last year, with only here and there a green shoot showing.
"Queen Mab and the elves live there in May and early June," she said. "They dance every afternoon as the sun sets, and sometimes in the dawn, too, and the early morning. You can see them if you keep quite still."
"Naturally," said Cheiron.
"Do you know, since last winter I have had a great pleasure," and Halcyone's grave, intent eyes looked up into the old gentleman's face. "There was a terrible storm in February—but can you really keep a secret?"—and then, as he nodded his head seriously, she went on. "It blew down a narrow piece of the paneling in the long gallery—it is next to my room, you know—and I heard the noise in the night and lit a candle and went to see. Some of the window panes are broken, so it is very blustery there in storms. Well, there was a door behind it—a secret door! I was so excited, but I could not keep the candle alight and it was very cold. I saw nothing was broken—only the wind had dislodged the spring. I was able to push it back and pull a little chest against it, and wait till morning. And then what do you think I found?—it led to a staircase in the thickness of the wall, which went down and down until it came to a door right below the cellar—it took me days of dodging Mademoiselle and Priscilla to carry down oil and things to help me to open it—and then it came out in a hollow archway on the second terrace, which has a stone bench in it, and is where old William keeps his tools. It is so cleverly done you could never see it; it looks just as if it was no door, but was only there for ornament. You may fancy I never told anyone! It is my secret—and yours now—and it enabled me to do what I have always longed to do—go out in the night!"
"You go out in the night all alone!" exclaimed Cheiron, almost aghast.
"But of course," said Halcyone. "You cannot think of the joy when there is a moon and stars; and some of the night creatures are such friends—they teach me wonderful things. Only the dreadful difficulty is in avoiding Priscilla—she sleeps in the dressing-room next me. I love her better than anyone else in the world, but she could never understand—she would only worry about the wet feet and clothes being spoilt. I always think it is so fortunate though, don't you, that servants—even a dear like Priscilla—sleep so soundly. Aunt Ginevra says they can't help it, every class has its peculiarity."
Mr. Carlyon was extremely interested—he wanted to hear more of these adventures.
"How do you avoid Priscilla seeing your things in the morning then?" he asked.
"I have got a pair of big gutta-percha boots—they were my father's waders once, and I found them, and have hidden them in one of the chests, and I tuck everything into them—so there are no marks. It is enchanting."
"And do you often have these nocturnal outings, you odd little girl?" Cheiron said, wonderingly.
"Not very. I have to be so careful, you see—and I only choose moonlight or starlight nights, and they are rare—but when the summer comes I hope to enjoy many more of them."
Then Mr. Carlyon's old eyes looked away into distance and seemed to see a slender shape wrapped in a spotted fawn's skin, its head crowned with leaves, joining the throng of those other early worshipers of Dionysus as they beat their weird music among the dark crags of Parnassus—searching for communion with the spiritual beyond in the only way they knew of then to reach it, through a wild ecstasy of emotion. Here was the same impulse, unconscious, instinctive. The probing of nature to discover her secrets. Here was a female thing with a soul unafraid in her pure innocence, alone in the night.
Halcyone did not interrupt his meditations, and presently they came to the broken gate close to the house.
Cheiron paused and leaned on the top bar.
"Is this the elves' home?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered gravely. "But so late in the day you cannot see them. You must wait again until the sun is setting; and I expect when it is warm they come in the moonlight, too, but I have not been able to get a fine enough night—as yet. This avenue is the most beautiful of all, because a hundred years ago the La Sarthes had a quarrel with the Wendovers, whose land just touches at the end of it, and they closed the gate, and so the turf has covered the gravel. And look at the tree—you can see the fairy ring where they dance, and I always fancy they sup under the one with the very low branch at the side—but I don't believe I should like 'marrow of mice,' should you?"
"Not at all," said Cheiron.
Then they wandered on. Halcyone led him to each of the favorite points of view, and he became acquainted with the great serpent, and so vivid was her picturing that he almost fancied he saw the Golden Fleece, nailed to the tree beyond, and heard Orpheus' exquisite melodies charming the reptile to sleep while Jason stepped over his slumbering coils.
"But I do not have Medea here," she said; "I play her part myself, and I make her different. She was too cunning and had wicked thoughts in her heart, and so the poor Heroes suffered. If she had been good and true and had not killed Absyrtus, things might have had a different ending. I never like to think of Absyrtus in any case—because, do you know, I once hated my baby brother, and would have been glad if anyone had killed him."
Her eyes became black as night with this awful recollection. "It was very long ago, you understand—when I was quite a little girl before I knew the wonderful things the wind and the flowers and the stars tell me."
Cheiron did not ask the cause of this hate; he reserved the question for a future time, and encouraged her to tell him of her discoveries in wonderland.
Some trees had strange personalities, she said. You could never guess the other side of their heads, until you knew them very well. But all had good in them, and it was wisest never even to see the bad.
"I always find if you are afraid of things they become real and hurt you, but if you are sure they are kind and true they turn gentle and love you. I am hardly ever afraid of anything now—only I do not like a thunderstorm. It seems as if God were really angry then, and were not considering sufficiently just whom He meant to hit."
Justice to her appeared to hold chief place among the virtues.
"Do you stay here all the year round?" asked Cheiron, presently, "or do you sometimes have a trip to the seaside?"
"I have never been away since I first came—I would love to see the sea," and her eyes became dreary. "I can just remember long ago with my mother, we went once—she and I alone—" then she turned to her old companion and looked up in his face.
"Had you a mother? Of course you had, but I mean one that you knew?"
The late Mrs. Carlyon had not meant anything much to her son in her lifetime, and was now a far-off memory of forty years ago, so Cheiron answered truthfully upon the subject, and Halcyone looked grave.
"When we have been friends for a long time I will tell you of my beautiful mother—and I could let you share my memory of her perhaps—but not to-day," she said.
And then she was silent for a while as they walked on. But when they were turning back towards the orchard house she suddenly began to laugh, glancing at the old gentleman with eyes full of merriment.
"It is funny," she said, "I don't even know your name! I would like to call you Cheiron—but you have a real name, of course."
"It is Arnold Carlyon, and I come from Cornwall," the old gentleman said, "but you are welcome to call me Cheiron, if you like."
Halcyone thanked him prettily.
"I wish you had his body—don't you? How we could gallop about, could we not? But I can imagine you have, easily. I always can see things I imagine, and sometimes they become realities then."
"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed Cheiron. "What would my four legs and my hoofs do in the little orchard house, and how should I sit in my armchair?"
Halcyone pealed with merry laughter; her laughs came so rarely and were like golden bells. The comic side of the picture enchanted her.
"Of course it would only do if we lived in a cave, as the real Cheiron did," she admitted. "I was silly, was not I?"
"Yes," said Mr. Carlyon, "but I don't think I mind your being so—it is nice to laugh."
She slipped her thin little hand into his for a moment, and caught hold of one of his fingers.
"I am so glad you understand that," she said. "How good it is to laugh! That is what the birds sing to me, it is no use ever to be sad, because it draws evil and fear to yourself, and even in the winter one must know there is always the beautiful spring soon coming. Don't you think God is full of love for this world?"
"I am sure he is."
"The Aunts' God isn't a very kind person," she went on. "But I expect, since you know about the Greeks, yours and mine are the same."
"Probably," said Cheiron.
Then, being assured on this point, Halcyone felt she could almost entrust him with her greatest secret.
"Do you know," she said, in the gravest voice, "I will tell you something. I have a goddess, too. I found her in the secret staircase. She is broken, even her nose a little, but she is supremely beautiful. It is just her head I have got, and I pretend she is my mother sometimes, really come back to me again. We have long talks. Some day I will show her to you. I have to keep her hidden, because Aunt Ginevra cannot bear rubbish about, and as she is broken she would want to have her thrown away."
"I shall be delighted to make her acquaintance. What do you call her?"
"That is just it," said Halcyone. "When I first found her it seemed to me I must call her Pallas Athene, because of that noble lady in Perseus—but as I looked and looked I knew she was not that; it seems she cannot be anything else but just Love—her eyes are so tender, she has many moods, and they are not often the same—but no matter how she looks you feel all the time just love, love, love—so I have not named her yet. You remember when Orpheus took his lyre and sang after Cheiron had finished his song—it was of Chaos and the making of the world, and how all things had sprung from Love—who could not live alone in the Abyss. So I know that is she—just Love."
"Aphrodite," said Cheiron.
"It is a pretty name. If that is what it means, I would call her that."
"It will do," said Cheiron.
"Aphrodite—Aphrodite," she repeated it over and over. "It must mean kind and tender, and soft and sweet, and beautiful and glorious, and making you think of noble things, and making you feel perfectly happy and warmed and comforted and blessed. Is it all that?"
"It could be—and more," said Cheiron.
"Then I will name her so."
After this there was a long silence. Mr. Carlyon would not interrupt what was evidently a serious moment to his little friend. He waited, and then presently he turned the channel of her thoughts by asking her if she thought he might call on her Aunts that afternoon.
Halcyone hesitated a second.
"We hardly ever have visitors. Aunt Ginevra has always said one must not receive what one cannot return, and they have no carriage or horses now, so they never see anyone. Aunt Roberta would, but Aunt Ginevra does not let her, and she often says in the last ten years they have quite dropped out of everything. I do not know what that means altogether, because I do not know what there was to drop out of. I have scarcely ever been beyond the park, and there do not seem to be any big houses for miles—do there?—except Wendover, but it is shut up; it has been for twenty years."
"Then you think the Misses La Sarthe might not receive me?"
"You could try, of course. You have not a carriage. If you just walked it would make it even. Shall I tell them you are coming? I had better, perhaps."
"Yes, this afternoon."
And if Halcyone had known it, she was receiving an unheard-of compliment! The hermit Carlyon—the old Oxford Professor of Greek, who had come to this out-of-the-way corner because he had been assured by the agent there would be no sort of society around him—now intended to put on a tall hat and frock coat, and make a formal call on two maiden ladies—all for the sake of a child of twelve years, with serious gray eyes—and a soul!
In her heart of hearts Miss Roberta felt fluttered as she walked across the empty hall to the Italian parlor behind her sterner sister, to receive their guest. He would come in the afternoon, Halcyone had said. That meant about three o'clock, and it behooved ladies expecting a gentleman to be at ease at some pretty fancy work when he should be announced.
The village was two miles beyond the lime lodge gates, and for the last eight years rheumatism in the knee had made the walk there out of the question for poor Miss Roberta—so even the sight of a man and a stranger was an unusual thing! She had not attempted conversation with anyone but Mr. Miller, the curate, for over eleven years. The isolation in which the inhabitants of La Sarthe Chase lived could not be more complete.
The Italian parlor had its own slightly pathetic cachet. The walls and ceiling had been painted by rather a bad artist from Florence at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the furniture was good of its kind—a strange dark orange lacquer and gilt—and here most of the treasures which had not yet been disposed of for daily bread, were hoarded in cabinets and quaint glass-topped show tables. There were a number of other priceless things about the house, the value of which the Long Man's artistic education was as yet too unfinished to appreciate. And the greatest treasure of all, as we have seen, was probably only understood by Halcyone—but more of that in its place.
At present it concerns us to know that Miss La Sarthe and her sister had reached the Italian parlor, and were seated in their respective chairs—Miss Roberta with a piece of delicate embroidery in her hands, the stitches of which her eyes—without spectacles, to receive company—were too weak adequately to perceive.
Miss La Sarthe did not condescend to any such subterfuges. She sat quite still doing nothing, looking very much as she had looked for the last forty years. Her harp stood on one side of the fireplace, and Miss Roberta's guitar hung by a faded blue ribbon from a nail at the other.
Presently old William announced:
And Cheiron, in his Sunday best, walked into the room.
Halcyone was not present. If children were wanted they were sent for. It was not seemly for them to be idling in the drawing-rooms.
But Miss Roberta felt so pleasantly nervous, that she said timidly, after they had all shaken hands:
"Ginevra, can we not tell William to ask Halcyone to come down, perhaps Mr. Carlyon might like to see her again."
And William, who had not got far from the door, was recalled and sent on the errand.
"What a very beautiful view you have from here," Mr. Carlyon said, by way of a beginning. "It is an ideal spot."
"We are glad you like it," Miss La Sarthe replied, graciously; "as my sister and I live quite retired from the world it suits us. We had much gayety here in our youth, but now we like tranquillity."
"It is, however, delightful to have a neighbor," Miss Roberta exclaimed—and then blushed at her temerity.
The elder lady frowned; Roberta had always been so sadly effusive, she felt. Men ought not to be flattered so.
Mr. Carlyon bowed, and the platitudes were continued, each felt he or she must approach the subject of Halcyone's lessons, but waited for the other to begin.
Halcyone, herself, put an end to all awkwardness after she very gently entered the room. There was no bounding or vaulting in the presence of the aunts.
"Is it not kind of Mr. Carlyon to wish to teach me Greek?" she said, including both her relatives. "I expect he has told you about it though."
The Misses La Sarthe were properly surprised and interested. Most kind they thought it and expressed their appreciation in their separate ways. They both hoped their great-niece would be diligent, and prove a worthy pupil. It was most fortunate for Halcyone, because her stepfather, Mr. James Anderton, might decide at their request not to send another governess, and, "No doubt it will be most useful to her," Miss La Sarthe continued. "In these modern days so much learning seems to be expected of people. When we were young, a little French and Italian were all that was necessary."
Then Mr. Carlyon made friends of them for life, by a happy inspiration.
"I see you are both musicians," he said, pointing to the antiquated musical instruments. "A taste of that sort is a constant pleasure."
"We used to play a good deal at one time," admitted Miss La Sarthe, without a too great show of gratification, "and my sister was quite celebrated for her Italian songs."
"Oh!" gasped Miss Roberta, blushing again.
"I hope I may have the pleasure of hearing you together some day," said the Professor, gallantly.
Both ladies smilingly acquiesced, as they depreciated their powers.
And just before their visitor got up to leave, Miss La Sarthe said with her grand air:
"We hope you find your cottage comfortable. It used to be the land steward's, before we disposed of the property we no longer required. It always used to have a very pretty garden, but no doubt it has rather fallen into decay."
"I shall do my best to repair it," Mr. Carlyon said, "but it will take some time. I and my servant have already begun to clear the weeds away, and a new gardener is coming next week."
"Oh, may I help?" exclaimed Halcyone. "I love gardening, and can dig quite well. I often help William."
"Our old butler does many useful things for us," Miss Roberta explained, with a slightly conscious air.
And then the adieus were said, Halcyon's first lesson having been arranged to begin on the morrow.
When the visitor had gone and the door was shut:
"A very worthy, cultivated gentleman, Roberta," Miss La Sarthe announced to her sister. "We must ask him to dinner the next time Mr. Miller is coming. We must show him some attention for his kindness to our great-niece; he will understand and not allow it to flatter him too much. You remember, Roberta, our Mamma always said unmarried women—of any age—cannot be too careful of les convenances, but we might ask him to dinner under the circumstances—don't you think so?"
"Oh, I am sure—yes, sister—but I wish you would not talk so of our age," Miss Roberta said, rather fretfully for her. "You were only seventy-two last November, and I shall not be sixty-nine until March—and if you remember, Aunt Agatha lived to ninety-one, and Aunt Mildred to ninety-four! So we are not so very old as yet."
"The more reason for us to be careful then," retorted the elder lady, and Miss Roberta subsided with a sigh as she took her guitar from the wall and began in her gentle old quavering voice to trill out one of her many love-songs.
The guitar had not been tuned for several days, and had run down into a pitiful flatness; Halcyone could hardly sit still, it hurt her so—but it was only when Miss Roberta had begun a second warble that either she or Miss La Sarthe noticed the jar. Then a helpless look grew in the songstress's faded eyes.
"Halcyone, dear—I think you might tune the instrument for me," she said. "I almost think the top string is not quite true, and you do it so quickly."
And grateful for the chance, the child soon had it perfectly accorded, and the concert continued.
Meanwhile Mr. Carlyon had got back to the orchard house, and had rung for some of his black tea. He was musing deeply upon events. And at last he sat at his writing-table and wrote a letter to his friend and former pupil, John Derringham, in which he described his arrival at his new home, and his outlook, and made a casual reference to the two maiden ladies in these terms:
"The park and house is still owned by two antediluvian spinsters of the name of La Sarthe—exquisite specimens of Early Victorian gentility. They are very poor and proud and narrow-minded, and they have a great-niece living with them, the most remarkable little female intelligence I have ever come across. My old habit of instruction is not to be allowed to rest, for I am going to teach the creature Greek, as a diversion. She seems to be about twelve years old, and has the makings of a wonderful character. In the summer you had better come down and pay me a visit, if you are not too busy with your potent mistress, your political ambitions."
But John Derringham did not respond to this casual invitation for many a long day. He had other potent interests beside his political ambitions—and in any case, never did anything unless he felt inclined.
Mr. Carlyon did not expect him—he knew him very well.
Thus the days passed and by the end of June even, Halcyone had learned more than the Greek alphabet; and had listened to many charming stories of that wonderful people. And the night was her friend, and numerous hours were passed in the shadow of his dark wings, as she flitted like some pale ghost about the park and the deserted, dilapidated garden.
The July of that year was very warm with peculiarly still days, and Halcyone and her master, Cheiron, spent most of their time during their hours of study, under the apple tree. They had got to a stage of complete understanding, and seemed to have fitted into each other's lives as though they had always been together.
Mr. Carlyon watched his little pupil from under the shadow of his penthouse brows with the deep speculative interest she had aroused in him from the first. He had theories upon several subjects, which she seemed to be going to show the result of in practice—and in his kindly cynic's heart she was now enshrined in a special niche.
For Halcyone he was "Cheiron," her master, who had the enchanting quality of being able to see the other side of her head. Every idea of her soul seemed to be developing under this touch of sympathy and understanding. Her heterogeneous knowledge culled from the teachings of her many changing governesses, seemed to regulate itself into distinct branches with an upward shoot for each, and Mr. Carlyon watched and encouraged them all.
It was on one glorious Saturday morning when the fairies and nymphs and gods and goddesses were presumably asleep in the sunlight, that she drew up her knees as she sat on the grass by her Professor's chair, and pushing away the Greek grammar, said, with grave eyes fixed upon his face:
"Cheiron, to-day something tells me I can show you Aphrodite. When it is cooler, about five o'clock, will you come with me to the second terrace? There I will leave you and go and fetch her, and as William and Priscilla will be at tea, I can open the secret door, and you shall see where she lives—all in the dark!"
Mr. Carlyon felt duly honored—for they had never referred to this subject since she had first mentioned it. The Professor felt it was one of deep religious solemnity to his little friend, and had waited until she herself should feel he was worthy of her complete confidence.
"She speaks to me more than ever," Halcyone continued. "I took her out in the moonlight on Thursday night, and she seemed to look more lovely than before. It has pleased her that I call her Aphrodite—it was certainly her name."
"It is settled, then," said Cheiron, "at five o'clock I will be upon the terrace."
Halcyone returned to her grammar, and silence obtained between them. Then presently Mr. Carlyon spoke.
"I am going to have a visitor for a week or perhaps more," he announced.
A startled pair of eyes looked up at him.
"That seems odd," Halcyone said. "I hope whoever it is will not be much in our way. I do not think I am glad—are you?"
"Yes, I am glad. It is someone for whom I have a great regard," and Mr. Carlyon knocked the ashes from his long pipe. "It is a young man who used to be at Oxford and to whom also I taught Greek."
"Then he will know a great deal more than I do, being older," returned Halcyone, not at all mollified by this information.
"Yes, he knows rather more than you do as yet," the Professor allowed. "Perhaps you will not like him; he can be quite disagreeable when he wishes—and he may not like you."
Halcyone's dark brows met.
"If he is someone for whom you have a regard he must be of those who count. I shall be angry then, if he dislikes me—is he coming soon?"
"On Monday, by the four o'clock train."
"Our lesson will be over—that is something. You will not want me on Tuesday, I expect?" and a note of regret grew in her voice.
"I thought you might have a holiday for a while, all pupils have holidays in the summer," the Professor returned.
"Very well," was all she said, and then was quiet for a time, thinking the matter over. She wished to hear more of this visitor who was going to interrupt their pleasant intercourse.
"Of what sort is he?" she asked presently. "A hunter like Meleager—or cunning like Theseus—or noble like Perseus, whom I love best of all?"
"He is not very Greek to look at, I am afraid, except perhaps in his length of limb," and the Professor smiled. "He is just a thin, lanky, rather distinguished young Englishman and was considered to be the most brilliant of my pupils, taking a Double First under my auspices and leaving Oxford with flying colors when I retired myself a year or two ago. He has been very lucky since, he is full of ambitions in the political line, and he has a fearless and rather caustic wit."
"I must think of him as Pericles, then, if he is occupied with the state," said Halcyone. "But how has he been lucky since? I would like to know—tell me, please, and I will try not to mind his being here."
"Yes—try—" said Mr. Carlyon. "After he took his degree he studied law and history, you know, as well as the Greek philosophy which you may come to some day—he went to London to the Temple to read for the bar. He never intended to be a practicing barrister, but everything is a means to his career. Then his luck came—he has lots of friends and relations in the great world and at one of their country houses he met the Prime Minister, who took a tremendous fancy to him, and the thing going well, the great man finally asked him to be his assistant private secretary, which post he accepted. The chief private secretary last year being made governor of a colony, John has now stepped into his shoes, and presently he will go into Parliament. He is a brilliant fellow and cares for no man—following only his own star. I shall be very glad to see him again."
Halcyone's face fell into a brown study and the Professor watching her mused to himself.
"John Derringham will find her in the way. She is not woman enough yet to attract his eye; he will only perceive she is a rather plain child—and she will certainly see the other side of his head."
As Halcyone walked back to La Sarthe Chase for her early dinner, she mused also:
"I must not feel this dislike towards Cheiron's other pupil. After all, Jason could not have the master alone—and if I do feel it then he will be able to harm me, should he dislike me, too—but if I try to like him, then he will be powerless, and when he has gone he will not have left any mark."
Mr. Carlyon felt a perceptible glow of interest as he waited at five o'clock that day upon the dilapidated stone bench in the archway where old William kept his garden tools, and while the subdued light gave him very little chance of studying minutely the walls, the general aspect certainly presented no hint of any door. However, he had not to wait or speculate long, for, with hardly a creak, two stones seemed to turn upon a pivot, and Halcyone came forth from the aperture bending her head.
"After all, I do not think you had better come in with me," she said. "It is low like this for ten yards; it will make your back ache—so I have brought her. If you will hold her, I will run out and see if all is safe; and then we can carry her to the summer house and take off her scarf."
Cheiron held out his arms to receive the precious bundle; and he could feel by its weight it was a marble head. It was enveloped in the voluminous folds of the remains of an old blue silk curtain, a relic of other days, when rich stuffs hung before the windows of La Sarthe Chase.
"I took the covering from the Spanish Chest in the long gallery," Halcyone announced. "I had played with it for years, and the color suits her—it must be the same as are her real eyes."
Then she darted out into the sunlight and returned again in a few moments—with shining face. All was safe and the momentous hour had come.
She took her goddess from Mr. Carlyon's arms, and walking with the dignity of a priestess of the Temple, she preceded her master along the tangled path.
A riot of things growing impeded each step. Roses which had degenerated into little better than wild ones, showed late red and pink blooms, honeysuckle and columbines flowered, and foxgloves raised their graceful heads.
At the end there was a broken bower at the corner of the terrace, with a superb view over the park and far beyond to the high blue hills.
This place was cleared, for Halcyone had done the necessary work herself. It was one of her outlooks upon the world and she had even carefully mended the cracked bench with a bit of board and a nail or two. The table, which was of stone, still stood firmly and was quaint and rather Greek in shape—for had not a later Timothy La Sarthe brought it from Paris in the Empire days?
Mr. Carlyon sat down and prepared himself for the solemn moment when the Goddess should be unveiled.
And when the reverent little priestess had removed the folds from the face as it lay upon the table, he started and held his breath, for he instantly realized that indeed this was the work of some glorious old Greek sculptor; none other could have created that perfect head.
And as he looked, the child slipped her hand into his and whispered softly:
"Watch her eyes; she is tender to-day and welcomes us. I was not quite sure how she would receive you."
And lo! it seemed to Mr. Carlyon as though the divine orbs softened into a smile, such was the art of those old Greeks, who marred not the marble with pupil or iris, who stooped to no trick of simulation, but left the perfect modeling to speak for itself.
The eyes of this Aphrodite conveyed volumes of love, with her nobly planned brows and temples and her softly smooth cheeks. The slight break of the nose even did not seem to spoil the perfect beauty of the whole. Her mouth, tender and rather full, seemed to smile a welcome, and the patine, unspoiled by any casts having ever been taken, gleamed as the finest of skin. It was in a wonderful state of preservation and not darkened to more than a soft cream color.
So there she lay at last! Goddess of Love still for all time. The head was broken off at the base of the slender, rounded throat.
Halcyone perceived that Cheiron was appreciating her treasure in a proper spirit and spoke not a word while he examined it minutely, turning it in all lights.
"What consummate genius!" he almost whispered at last. "You have truly a goddess here, child, and you do well to guard her as such,—Aphrodite you have named her well."
"I am glad now that I have shown her to you—at first I was a little afraid—but you understand. And now you can feel how I have my mother always with me. She tells me to hope, and that all mean things are of no importance, and that God intends us all to be as happy as is her beautiful smile."
Then Mr. Carlyon asked again for the story of the Goddess's discovery, and heard all the details of how there was a ray of light in the dark passage, coming from some cleverly contrived crack on the first terrace. Here Halcyone's foot had struck against the marble upon her original voyage of discovery, and by the other objects she encountered she supposed someone long ago, being in flight, had gradually dropped things which were heavy and of least value. There was a breastplate as well, and an iron-bound box which she had never been able to move or open.
"You might help me and we could look into it some day," she said.
Mr. Carlyon took Aphrodite into his hands and raised her head, examining every point with minute care, and now her expression appeared to change and grow sad in the different effect of light.
"I do not want her to be up upon a pillar like Artemis and Hebe, who are still in the hall," Halcyone said. "She could not talk to me then, she would be always the same. I like to hold her this way and that, and then I can see her moods and the blue silks keeps her nice and warm."
"It is a great possession," said Cheiron, "and I understand your joy in it," and he handed the head back to the child with respect.
Halcyone bent and caressed it with her soft little velvet cheek.
"See," she said. "Once I was very foolish and cried about something and the tears made this little mark," and she pointed to two small spots which did not gleam quite so much as the rest of the surface. "Tears always do silly things—I am never so foolish now." And then her young voice became dreamy and her eyes widened with a look as though she saw far beyond.
"Cheiron—all the world is made for gladness if we only do not take the ugly things with us everywhere. There is summer, as it is now, when we rest and play and all the gods come down from Olympus and dance and sing and bask in the light—and then the autumn when the colors are rich and everything prepares for winter and sleeps. But even in the cold and dark we must not be sad, because we know it is only for a time and to give us change, so that we may shout for joy when the spring comes and each year discover in it some new beauty."
Cheiron did not speak for a while, he, too, was musing.
"You are a little Epicurean," he said at last, "and presently we shall read about Epicurus' great principles and his garden where he taught and lived."
John Derringham had been at the orchard house for three or four days before there was any sign of Halcyone. She had kept away on purpose and was doing her best to repress the sense of resentment the thought of the presence of a stranger caused. Mr. Carlyon had given her some simple books upon the Renaissance which she was devouring with joy. This period seemed to give some echo of the Greek ideas she loved, and as was her habit she was visualizing everything as she read, bringing the people and the places up before her mental eyes, and regulating them into friends or acquaintances. Cheiron did not confine himself to teaching her Greek alone, but directed all her reading, taking a growing delight in her intelligent mind. Thus they had many talks upon history and the natural sciences and poetry and painting. But to hear of the famous statues and learn from pictures to know the styles of the old sculptors seemed to please her best of all.
By the fifth day, a Friday, Mr. Carlyon began to feel a desire to see his little pupil again and sent her a message by his dark, silent servant. Would she not take tea with him that afternoon? So Halcyone came. She was very quiet and subdued and crept through her gap in the hedge without any leaps or bounds.
John Derringham was stretched the whole length of his long, lean limbs under the apple tree—her apple tree! This did not produce a favorable note.
Cheiron watched the meeting with inward amusement.
"This is my little friend Halcyone La Sarthe," he said. "Halcyone, yonder Tityus in these latter days is known by the name of John Derringham—of Derringham in the County of Northampton. Make your bows to one another."
Halcyone inclined her head with dignity, but Mr. Derringham only raised himself a little and said "Good afternoon." He did not care for children, and was busy with his old master discussing other things.
"You will pour out the tea, Halcyone, for us as usual," Cheiron said. "Demetrius will bring it in a minute." And Halcyone sat down demurely upon the basket chair near the table and crossed her hands.
"I tell you I will not take their point of view," John Derringham said, continuing the conversation he had been carrying on before Halcyone arrived. "Everything in England is spoilt by this pandering to the mediocrity. A man may not make a speech but he must choose his words so that uneducated clods can grasp his meaning, he cannot advocate an idea with success unless it can appeal to the lower middle classes. It is this subservience to them which has brought us to where we are. No ideals—no lofty ends—just a means to each one's own hand. I will never pretend we are all equal, I will never appeal to anything but the highest in an audience. So they can throw me out if they will!" And he stretched out his long legs and clasped his hands under his head—so that to Halcyone he seemed seven foot tall.
"Tityus" she thought was a very apt name for him, and she wondered if he would jump if the vulture suddenly gave a gnaw at his liver!
"You are an idealist, John," said Mr. Carlyon. "All this might have been of some use as a principle of propaganda before the franchise was so low, but now the mediocrity is our master—so of what use? If you talked so you would but preach to empty benches."
"I will not do that—I will make them listen. My point is that everyone can rise if he wishes, but until he has done so in fact, there is no use in his pretending in words that he has. I would explain to them the reason of things. I could have agreed with the greatest Athenian democrats because their principle was one of sense. They had slaves to do the lowest offices who had no voice in public affairs, but here we let those who have no more education or comprehension than slaves have the same power as men who have spent their lives in studying the matter. It is all unjust, and no one has the courage to tell them to their faces they are unfitted for the task."
"It will be a grand stalking horse for your first essay in your constituency," Cheiron said with his kindly twinkle of sarcasm. He loved to encourage John Derringham to talk.
But at that moment Demetrius brought the tea and Halcyone gravely began her task.
"Do you take it black like Mr. Carlyon?" she asked of the reclining guest.
He came back to the remembrance of her presence and glancing at her, murmured:
"Oh—ah, no—that is, yes—strong, only with cream and sugar. Thanks awfully."
But Halcyone did not rise to hand it to him, so he was obliged to get up and take it from where she sat. She perceived then that though extremely thin he was lithe and well-shaped. And in spite of her unconquered prejudice, she was obliged to own she liked his steely gray hawk-like eyes and his fine, rather ascetic, clean-shaven face. He did not look at her specially. He may have taken in a small, pale visage and masses of mouse-colored hair and slender legs—but nothing struck him particularly except her feet. As his eyes dropped to the ground he caught sight of them; they were singularly perfect feet. He admired points in man or beast—and when he had returned to his old place stretched out under the apple tree, he still glanced at them now and then; they satisfied his eye.
"What have you been doing in these days, Halcyone?" Mr. Carlyon asked. "I have not seen you since Monday morning. Have you been getting into any mischief?"
Halcyone reluctantly admitted that she had not. There was, she explained, very little chance of any of an agreeable kind coming her way at La Sarthe Chase. She had been gardening with William—they had quite tidied the top terrace—and she had been reading French with Aunt Roberta, but the book was great nonsense.
Then she added that she had brought an invitation from the Aunts La Sarthe that Mr. Carlyon's guest should accompany him when he dined with them on the Saturday. It had become the custom for him to partake of this repast on the same occasions that Mr. Miller did—once a month.
John Derringham frowned under his straw hat which he had pulled over his eyes. He had not come into the country to be dragged out to bucolic dinner parties. But upon some points he knew his old master was obdurate and from his firm acceptance of the invitation this appeared to be one of them.
Then Halcyone asked politely if he would have a second cup of tea, but he refused and again addressed Cheiron, ignoring her. Their conversation now ran into philosophical questions, some of them out of her depth, but much of the subject interested her deeply and she listened absorbed.
At last there was a pause and her fresh young voice asked:
"What, then, is the aim of philosophy—is it only words, or does it bring any good?"
And both men looked at her, staggered for a moment, and John Derringham burst into a ringing laugh.
"Upon my word, I don't know," he said. "It was invented so that the Master here and I should pull each other's theories to pieces; that evidently was its aim from the beginning of time. I do not know if it has any other good."
"Everything is so very simple," said Halcyone. "To have to argue about it must be fatiguing."
"You find things simple, do you?" asked John Derringham, now complacently roused to look at her. "What are your rules of life then, let us hear, oh, Oracle!—we listen with respect!"
Halcyone reddened a little and a gleam grew in her wise eyes. She would have refused to reply, but looking at her revered master, she saw that he was awaiting her answer with an encouraging smile. So she thought a second and then said calmly, measuring her words: "Things are what we make them, they have no power in themselves; they are as inanimate as this wood—" and she touched the table with her fine brown hand. "It is we ourselves who give them activity. So it is our own faults if they are bad—they could just as easily be good. Is not that simple enough?"
"An example, please, Goddess," demanded John Derringham with a cynical smile.
"The dark is an example," she went on quietly. "People fill the dark with their own frightening images and fear it because they themselves have turned it into evil. The dark is as kind as the day."
John Derringham laughed. He was amused at this precocious wisdom and he suddenly remembered that his old master had mentioned some clever child when writing to him first about the place, two months before. This was the creature, then, who was learning Greek. She had picked up these ideas, of course, out of some book and was showing off. Children should be snubbed and kept in their places:
"Then you don't cry when your nurse leaves you at night without a candle. What a good little girl! But perhaps you take a doll to bed," he added mockingly, "or suck your thumb."
Halcyone did not answer, her eyes, benign as a goddess's, looked him through and through—and Cheiron leaned back in his chair and puffed volumes of smoke while he chuckled delightedly:
"Take care, John—you will come off second best, for Halcyone can see the other side of your head."
For some unaccountable reason, John Derringham felt annoyed; but it was too contemptible to be annoyed by a child, so he laughed as he answered condescendingly:
"There, I will not tease her. I expect she hates me already—" and he pushed his hat back from his eyes.
"No," said Halcyone. "One only hates a thing one fears; hate implies fear. I hated my last but one governess for a while—because she told lies and was mean and she had the power to keep me in. But once I reasoned about it, I grew quite indifferent and she had no effect upon me at all."
"You have not had time to reason about me," returned John Derringham, "but it is something that you don't hate me; I ought to feel pleased."
"I do not know that there is occasion for that," Halcyone remarked, "it is all a level thing which does not matter. You are Mr. Carlyon's guest and I expect will be staying some time—"
"So you will have to put up with me!" and John Derringham laughed, furious now with himself for his increasing irritation.
"I must be going," Halcyone then announced and got up from her chair—"and I will tell my aunts that they may expect you to-morrow night," she continued, addressing Mr. Carlyon.
He rose and prepared to accompany her down the garden. She bowed to John Derringham with quiet dignity as he still lay on the ground and walked on by the side of her Professor without further words.
"You don't like my old pupil, Halcyone?" Mr. Carlyon said when they got to the gap in the hedge. "Tell me, what do you see at the other side of his head?"
"Himself," was all she answered as she bounded lightly away laughing, and was soon lost to view in the copse beyond.
And Cheiron, considerably amused, returned to his prostrate guest to find him with a frown upon his face.
"I hope to goodness, Master, you won't bore me with that brat while I am here," he exclaimed, "chattering aphorisms like a parrot. I can't stand children out of their place."
"Since there will be three gentlemen, Ginevra," Miss Roberta said on Saturday morning when they sat together in the Italian parlor after breakfast, "do you not think we had better have Halcyone down to dinner to-night? I know," she added timidly, "it is not in the proper order of things, but we could make an exception."
Miss La Sarthe frowned. Roberta so often was ready to upset regulations. She was difficult to deal with. But this suggestion of hers had some point.
They would be two ladies to three of the other sex—and one of their guests appeared to be quite a young man—perhaps it might be more prudent to relax a rule, than to find themselves in an embarrassing position.
"I strongly deplore the fact of children ever being brought from their seclusion except for dessert, but as you say, Roberta, three gentlemen—and one a perfect stranger—might be too much for us. I hardly think our Mamma would have approved of our giving such an unchaperoned party, so for this once Halcyone had better come down. She can have Mr. Miller for her partner, you will be conducted by the Professor—and the new guest will take me in."
Miss Roberta bridled—the Professor was now a hero in her eyes.
"And Sister," she said, "I think we might bring six of the chairs from Sir Timothy's bed- and dressing-room just for to-night, instead of those Windsor ones. It would give the dining-room a better look, do you not think so?"
And to this also Miss La Sarthe agreed. So Miss Roberta joyfully found Halcyone out upon the second terrace and imparted to her the good news. They would arrange flowers in the epergne, she suggested—a few sweet williams and mignonette and a foxglove or two. A pretty posy fixed in sand, such as she remembered there always was in their gala days. Halcyone was enchanted at the prospect.
"Oh! dear Aunt Roberta, do let me do it all," she said. "You sit here on the bench and I will run and fetch the epergne—and we can pick what we think best. Or—don't you think just a big china bowl full of sweet peas would be prettier? The sand might show and, and—the epergne is rather stiff."
But Miss Roberta looked aggrieved. The epergne with its gold and silver fern leaves climbing up a thin stalk of glass to its top dish for fruit had always come out for dinner parties and she liked not innovations. It was indeed as much as Halcyone could do to get all the flowers of the same kind, a nasturtium and a magenta stock had with care to be smuggled away, leaving the sweet peas sole occupants of the sand. But the effect was very festive and the two carried their work into the dining-room well pleased.
The best Sevres dinner-set was had out, which that traveler Timothy had brought from Paris among other things, and the best cut glass and rat-tailed silver. Old William, assisted by Hester and Priscilla, had been busy polishing most of the day—while the cook and the "young person from the village" were contriving wonders in the vast kitchen. And punctually at seven in broad daylight, the three Misses La Sarthe, the two elder in their finest mauve silk evening dresses, awaited their guests in the Italian parlor.
Miss Roberta's heart had not fluttered like this since a county ball some forty years ago when a certain whiskered captain of a dashing cavalry regiment stationed at Upminster had whispered in her ear.
Priscilla had let down Halcyone's white muslin frock and as the tucks were rather large, it was longer than she intended, so that the child might easily have been taken for a girl of fifteen, and her perfect feet were encased in a pair of old-fashioned bronze slippers with elastics crossed up the legs of her white silk stockings. A fillet of blue silk kept back the soft cloud of her mouse-colored hair.
Mr. Miller was announced first—very nervous, as usual, and saying the wrong thing in his flurry. Then up the terrace steps could be seen advancing Mr. Carlyon and his guest. They had walked over from the cottage—and Halcyone, observing from the window, was conscious that against her will she was admiring John Derringham's arrogant, commanding walk.
"He could very well be as Theseus was after he grew proud," she said to herself.
And soon they were announced.
Mr. Carlyon was now on the most friendly terms with both old ladies, and as well as coming to the monthly dinner, sometimes dropped in to tea on Sunday afternoons, but he knew this was a real party and must be treated as such.
How agreeable it felt to be once more in the world, Miss Roberta thought, and her faded pale cheeks flushed a delicate pink.
John Derringham had been sulky as a bear at the idea of coming, but something in the quaintly pathetic refinement of the poor and splendid old house pleased him, and the aroma of untouched early-Victorian prudish grace which the ancient ladies threw around them appealed to his imagination, as any complete bit of art or nature always did. He found himself seated between Miss La Sarthe and Halcyone and quite enjoying himself. Everything was of the time from the epergne to the way the bread was cut.
Halcyone conversed with Mr. Miller, who always felt he must make nursery jokes with her and ask her the names of her dolls.
"He can't help it," she told Cheiron one day. "If he had any more intelligence God would have put him to work in some busier place."
John Derringham did not address her; he devoted himself to Miss La Sarthe.
He had absolutely no diffidence. He had been spoilt from his cradle, and by the time he had left Eton—Captain of the Oppidans—had ruled all those near him with a rod of iron, imposing his interesting enthusiastic personality upon all companies with unqualified success. Miss La Sarthe fell at once. He said exactly the right things to her and flattered her by his unfeigned interest in all she spoke of. He was studying her as he studied any rare memento of historical value.
"My great-niece reads every morning with Mr. Carlyon," she said presently. "Girls are expected to be so very clever nowadays, we are told. She already knows a little Greek. It would have been considered quite unnecessary in our day."
"And I am sure it is in this," said John Derringham. "Learned women are an awful bore. As a sex they were meant to be feminine, dainty, exquisite creatures as those I see to-night," and he bowed gallantly while Miss La Sarthe thrilled. She thoroughly approved of his appearance.
"So very much of a gentleman, Roberta," she afterwards said. "None of that thick, ill-cut look we are obliged to observe in so many of the younger people we see when we go into Upminster each year."
"And why should he look thick or ill-cut, Sister?" Miss Roberta replied. "Mr. Carlyon told me the Derringhams have been seated at Derringham since fabulous times."
Thus this last of that race was appreciated fully in at least two antiquated female hearts.
But meanwhile the cloth was being removed, and the port wine and old Madeira placed before the elder hostess.
"Our father's cellar was famous for its port," she said, "and we have a few bottles of the '47 left."
But now she felt it was only manners to turn to Mr. Carlyon upon her other hand, so John Derringham was left in silence, no obligation to talk to Halcyone making itself felt. She turned and looked at him, he interested her very much. Mr. Carlyon had quantities of books of photographs of all the famous statues in Europe and especially in Italy and Greece, but she could not find any likeness to him in any of her recollection of them. Alas! his face was not at all Greek. His nose was high and aquiline, his forehead high and broad, and there was something noble and dominating in his fearless regard. His hair even did not grow very prettily, though it was thick and dark—and there was not an ounce of superfluous flesh upon his whole person. He never for a moment suggested repose, he gave the impression of vivid, nervous force and action, a young knight going out to fight any impossible dragon with his good sword and shield—unabashed by the smoke from its flaming nostrils, undaunted by any fear of death.
Halcyone watched him, and her prejudice slept.
The silence had lasted quite five minutes when he allowed his natural good manners, which he was quite aware he had kept in abeyance in regard to her, to come uppermost.
"The Professor has been telling me how wonderfully you work with him," he said; "we under him at Oxford were not half so diligent it seems. I wonder what good it will be to you at all."
"If a thing gives pleasure, it is good," she answered gravely. "I wanted to learn Greek because I had a book when I was little which told me about those splendid heroes, and I thought I could read more about them when I am grown up if I knew it—than if I did not."
"There is something in that. What was the book?" he asked.
Her steady eyes looked straight into his as she replied: "It was Kingsley's 'Heroes' and if only I were a boy I would be like Perseus and go and kill the Gorgon and rescue Andromeda from the sea monster. Pallas Athene said some fine things to him—do you remember?—when she asked him the question of which sort of man he would be."
"No, I don't remember," said John Derringham. "You must tell me now."
Then Halcyone began in a soft dream voice while her eyes widened and darkened with that strange look as though she saw into another and vaster world. "'I am Pallas Athene and I know the thoughts of all men's hearts, and discern their manhood or their baseness. And from the souls of clay I turn away; and they are blest, but not by me. They fatten at ease like sheep in the pasture and eat what they did not sow, like oxen in the stall. They grow and spread like the gourd along the ground, but like the gourd they give no shade to the traveler and when they are ripe death gathers them, and they go down unloved into hell, and their name vanishes out of the land.'"
She paused a second and John Derringham was astonished at himself because he was conscious of experiencing a thrill of deep interest.
"Yes?" he said—and her voice went on:
"'But to the souls of fire I give more fire and to those who are manful I give a might more than man's. These are the heroes, the sons of the Immortals who are blest but not like the souls of clay, for I drive them forth by strange paths, Perseus, that they may fight the Titans and monsters, the enemies of gods and men. Through doubt and need and danger and battle I drive them, and some of them are slain in the flower of youth, no man knows when or where, and some of them win noble names and a fair and green old age—but what will be their latter end, I know not, and none, save Zeus, the father of gods and men—Tell me, now, Perseus, which of these two sorts of men seem to you more blest?'"
It was as if she asked him a personal question and unconsciously he answered:
"I should reply as Perseus did. Tell me his words."
"'Better to die in the flower of youth on the chance of winning a noble name than to live at ease like the sheep and die unloved and unrenowned.'"
He bent nearer to her and answered softly: "They are indeed fine words," and there was no mockery whatever in his eyes as he looked at her—and took in every detail of her pure childish face. "You wonderful, strange little girl—soon I too am going like Perseus to fight the Gorgons, and I shall remember this night and what you have said."
But at that moment Mr. Miller's high, cackling laugh was heard in an explosion of mirth. Mr. Carlyon had made some delightfully obvious joke for his delectation and amidst a smiling company Miss La Sarthe rose with dignity to leave the gentlemen alone with their wine.
Next morning, John Derringham sat at a late breakfast with his whilom master of Greek and discussed things in general over his bacon and tea.
It was three years since he had left Oxford, and life held out many interesting aspects for him. He was standing for the southern division of his county in the following spring when the present member was going to retire, and he was vehement in his views and clear as to the course he meant to take. He was so eloquent in his discourse and so full of that divine spark of enthusiasm, that he was always listened to, no matter how unpalatably Tory the basic principles of his utterances were. He never posed as anything but an aristocrat, and while he whimsically admitted that in the present day to be one was an enormous disadvantage for a man who wished to get on, he endeavored to palliate the misfortune by lucid explanation of what the duties of such a status were, and of the logical advantages which an appreciation of the truths of cause and effect might bring to mankind. Down in his own country he was considered the coming man. He thundered at the people and had facts and figures at his finger tips. His sublime belief in himself never wavered and like any inspired view, right or wrong, it had its strong effect.
Mr. Carlyon thought highly of him, for a number of reasons.
"If women do not make a stumbling-block for you, John, you will go far," he said as he buttered his toast.
"Women!" quoth John Derringham, and he laughed incredulously. "They matter no more to me than the flowers in the garden—enchanting in the summer time, a mere pleasure for sight and touch, but to make or mar a man's life!—not even to be considered as factors in the scheme of things."
"I am glad to hear you say so," said Mr. Carlyon dryly. "And I hope that jade, Fate, won't play you any tricks."