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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
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,
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
Then he returned to his pipe and his Aristotle.
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