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Cora was being more than exasperating, Mrs. Cricklander thought, as they
went through the park. Not content with Lord Freynault, who was plainly
devoted to her, she kept every now and then looking back at John
Derringham with some lively sally, and although he was being
particularly agreeable to herself, he responded to Miss Lutworth's
piquant attacks with a too ready zeal.
Mrs. Cricklander grew more and more certain that her hold over him had
lessened in these last two days, and every force in her indomitable
personality stiffened with determination to win him at all costs.
The Professor received them graciously. He was seated in his library,
which now was a most comfortable room surrounded with bookcases in which
lived all his rare editions of loved books. Nothing could be more
fascinating than Mrs. Cricklander's manner to him--a mixture of
deference and friendly familiarity, as though he would appreciate the
fact of a tacit understanding between them that she too had a right in
John Derringham's friends. She had been so reassured by finding that Mr.
Carlyon was unmarried and lived alone, that a glow of real warmth
towards the Professor emanated from her, while the conviction grew that
it was nothing but the influence of Cora Lutworth which had even
momentarily cooled her whilom ardent friend.
Mr. Carlyon's imperturbable countenance gave no hint of what he thought
of her, although John Derringham watched him furtively and anxiously. He
listened to their conversation when he could, and it jarred upon him
twice when the lady of his choice altogether missed the point of
Cheiron's subtle remarks. She whom he had always considered so
Of Halcyone there was no sign and no mention, and for some reason which
he could not explain John Derringham felt glad.
It seemed an eternity before Mrs. Cricklander got up to go, having been
unable to persuade Mr. Carlyon to return with them to luncheon. He had a
slight cold, he said, and meant to remain in his warm library.
"Mr. Derringham says you are called Cheiron," Mrs. Cricklander announced
laughingly. "How ridiculous to find in you any likeness to that old
ferryman of the piercing eye. I see no resemblance but in the beard."
"So John relegates me to the post of ferryman to the dead already, does
he!" Mr. Carlyon responded. "I had hoped he still allowed me my horse's
hoofs and my cave--I have been deceiving myself all these years,
A blank look grew in Mrs. Cricklander's eye. What had caves and horse's
hoofs to do with the case? She had better turn the conversation at once,
or she might be out of her depth, she felt; and this she did with her
usual skill, but not before the Professor's left eyebrow had run up into
his forehead, and his wise old eyes beneath had met and then instantly
averted themselves from those of John Derringham.
All the way back to the house Mrs. Cricklander had the satisfaction of
listening to a much more advanced admiration of herself than she had
hoped to obtain so soon, and arrived in the best of restored humors--for
John Derringham had clenched his teeth as he left the orchard house, and
had told himself that he would not be influenced or put off by any of
these trifling things, and that it was some vixenish turn of Fate to
have allowed these currents of disillusion about a woman who was so
eminently suitable to reach him through the medium of his old friend.
A strange thing happened to Halcyone that morning. She had made up her
mind to keep away from her usual visit to Cheiron on the Monday and
Tuesday when John Derringham had announced he might bring over his
hostess to see the Professor. She did not wish to cause complications
with her aunts by making Mrs. Cricklander's acquaintance, and underneath
she had some strange reluctance herself. Her unerring instincts warned
her that this woman might in some way trouble her life, but she thought
Saturday would be perfectly safe and was preparing to start, when some
vague longing came over her to see her goddess. She had felt less serene
since the day before, and John Derringham and his words and looks
absorbed her thoughts. The home of Aphrodite was now in a chest in the
long gallery, of which she kept the key, and as this old room was always
empty--none of the servants, not even Priscilla, caring about visiting
it--haunted, it was, they said--she had plenty of time to spend what
hours she liked with her treasure without having to do so by stealth, as
in the beginning. For any place indoors she loved the long gallery
better than any other place. The broken window panes had been mended
when the turn for the better came for the whole house, and now she
herself kept it all dusted and tidy and used it as a sitting-room and
work-room as well; and, above all, it was the temple of the goddess
wherein was her shrine.
This day when Aphrodite was uncovered from her blue silk wrappings, her
whole expression seemed to be one of appeal; however Halcyone would hold
her, in high or low light, the eyes appeared to be asking her something.
"What is it, sweet mother and friend?" she said. "Do you not want me to
leave you to-day? If so, indeed I will not. What are you telling me with
those beautiful, sad eyes? That something is coming into my existence
that you promised me always, and that it will cause me sorrow, and I
must pause?"--and she shivered slightly and laid her cheek against the
marble cheek. "I am not afraid, and I want whatever it must be, since it
is life." Then she put the head back, and started upon her walk. But
first one thing and then another delayed her, until last of all she sat
down under the oak near the gap in the hedge and asked herself if all
these things could be chance. And here she took to dreaming and watching
the young rabbits come out of their holes, and to wondering what Fate
held in store for her in the immediate future. What was going to be her
life? That nothing but good could happen she always knew, because since
the very beginning God--the same personal kindly force that she had
always worshiped, unaltered by her deep learning, unweakened by any
theological dissertations--was there manifesting the whole year round
His wonderful love for the world.
And so she sat until the clock of the church at Sarthe-under-Crum struck
one, and she started up, realizing that she was too late now to go on to
Cheiron's and would only just have time to return for lunch with her
aunts. She must go instead in the afternoon. So she walked briskly to
the house, with a strange feeling of relief and joy, which she was quite
unable to account for in any explicable way.
Nothing delayed her on her second attempt to reach the orchard house,
and she found Cheiron placidly smoking while he read a volume of Lucian.
She was quite aware what that meant. When the Professor was in an amused
and cynical humor he always read Lucian, and although he knew every word
by heart, it still caused him complete satisfaction, plainly to be
discerned by the upward raising of the left penthouse brow.
Halcyone sat down and smiled sympathetically while she tried to detect
which volume it was, that she might have some clew to the cause of her
Professor's mood. But he carefully closed the book, so that she could
not see--it was the Judgment of Paris in the dialogue of the gods--and
she was unable to have her curiosity gratified.
"Something has entertained you, Cheiron?" she said.
"I have had the visit of two goddesses," he answered, chuckling. "Our
friend John Derringham brought them. He wanted to show them off and get
my opinion, I think."
"And did you give him one?" she asked. "I suppose not!"
"He went away with his teeth shut--" and Mr. Carlyon's smile deepened as
he stroked his white beard.
Halcyone laughed. She seldom asked questions herself. If the Professor
wished to tell her anything about the ladies he would do so--she was
dying to hear! Presently a set of disjointed sentences flowed from her
master's lips between his puffs of smoke.
"Girl--worth something--showy--honest--sure of
herself--clever--pretty--on her own roots--not a graft."
"Girl"--who was the girl? Halcyone wondered. But Cheiron continued his
"Woman--beautiful--determined--thick--roots of the commonest--grafting
of the best--octopean, tenacious--dangerous--my poor devil of a John!"
"And did you give the apple to either, Cheiron?" Halcyone asked with a
gleam of fine humor in her wise eyes. "Or, one of the trio being absent,
did you feel yourself excused?"
Mr. Carlyon glanced at her sharply, and then broke into a smile.
"Young woman, I do not think I have ever allowed you to read the
Judgment of Paris," he said. "Wherefore your question is ill-timed and
Then they laughed together. How well they knew one another!--not only
over things Greek. And presently they began their reading. They were in
the middle of Symonds' "Renaissance," and so forgot the outer world.
But after Halcyone had gone in the dusk through the park, the Professor
sat in the firelight for a while, and did not ring for lights. He was
musing deeply, and his thoughts ran something in this line:
"John must dree his weird. Nothing anyone could say has ever influenced
him. If he marries this woman she will eat his soul; having only a sham
one of her own, she will devour his. She'll do very well to adorn the
London house and feed his friends. He'll find her out in less than a
year--it will kill his inspirations. Well, Zeus and all the gods cannot
help a man in his folly. But my business is to see that he does not
ensnare the heart of my little girl. If he had waited he could have
found her--the one woman with a soul."
* * * * *
Miss Roberta had, unfortunately, a bad attack of rheumatism on Easter
Sunday, augmented by a cold, and Halcyone stayed at home to rub her poor
knee with hot oil, so she did not see the Wendover party, several of
whom came to church. Miss La Sarthe occupied the family pew alone, and
was the source of much amusement and delight to the smart inhabitants of
the outer world.
"Isn't she just too sweet, Cis?" whispered Miss Lutworth into Mrs.
Cricklander's ear. "Can't we get Mr. Derringham to take us over there
But when the subject was broached later at luncheon by his hostess, John
Derringham threw cold water upon the idea. He had stayed behind for a
few minutes to renew his acquaintance with the ancient lady, and had
given her his arm down the short church path, and placed her with
extreme deference in the Shetland pony shay, to the absolute enchantment
of Miss Lutworth, who, with Lord Freynault, stood upon the mound of an
old forgotten grave, the better to see. It was in the earlier days of
motor-cars, and Mrs. Cricklander's fine open Charron created the
greatest excitement as it waited by the lych-gate. The two Shetlands
cocked their ears and showed various signs of nervous interest, and
William had all he could do to hold the minute creatures. But Miss La
Sarthe behaved with unimpaired dignity, never once glancing in the
direction of the great green monster. She got in, assisted by the
respectful churchwarden, and allowed John Derringham to wrap the rug
round her knees, and then carefully adjusted the ring of her
turquoise-studded whip handle.
"Good day, Goddard," she said with benign condescension to the
churchwarden. "And see that Betsy Hodges' child with the whooping-cough
gets some of Hester's syrup and is not brought to church again next
Sunday." And she nodded a gracious dismissal. Then, turning to John
Derringham, she gave him two fingers, while she said with some show of
haughty friendliness: "My sister and I will be very pleased to see you
if you are staying in this neighborhood, Mr. Derringham, and care to
take tea with us one day."
"I shall be more than delighted," he replied, as he bowed with homage
and stood aside, because William's face betrayed his anxiety over the
Miss La Sarthe turned her head with its pork-pie hat and floating veil,
and said with superb tranquillity, "You may drive on now, William." And
they rolled off between a lane of respectful, curtseying rustics.
Mrs. Cricklander and Lady Maulevrier had already entered the motor and
were surveying the scene with amused interest, while Miss Lutworth and
Lord Freynault, chaperoned by Arabella Clinker, were preparing to walk.
It was not more than a mile across the park, and it was a glorious day.
John Derringham joined them.
"I think I will come with you, too," he said. "You take my place, Sir
Tedbury. It is only fair you should drive one way."
And so it was arranged, not altogether to the satisfaction of the
hostess, who would have preferred to have walked also. However, there
was nothing to be done, and so they were whizzed off, while with the
tail of her eye Cecilia Cricklander perceived that Lord Freynault had
been displaced from Cora's side and was now stalking behind the other
pair, beside Arabella Clinker.
"What an extraordinary sight that was," she said to Sir Tedbury Delvine
as they went along. "I thought no villagers curtsied any more now in
England. That very funny-looking old lady might have been a royalty!"
"It is because she has never had a doubt but that she is--or something
higher--complete owner of all these souls," he returned, "that they have
not yet begun to doubt it either. They and their forebears have bobbed
to the La Sarthe for hundreds of years, and they will go on doing it if
this holder of the name lives to be ninety-nine. They would never do so
to any new-comer, though, I expect."
"But I am told they have not a penny left, and have sold every acre of
the land except the park. Is it not wonderful, Kitty?" Mrs. Cricklander
went on, turning to Lady Maulevrier. "I am dying to know them. I hope
they will call."
But Sir Tedbury had already chanced to have talked the matter over with
John Derringham, because he himself was most anxious to see La Sarthe
Chase, which was of deep historical interest, and had incidentally been
made aware by that gentleman of the old ladies' views, so he hastily
turned the conversation, rather awkwardly, to other things. And a wonder
grew in Mrs. Cricklander's mind.
That anyone should not be enchanted to receive her beautiful and
sought-after self could not enter her brain, but there was evidently
some bar between the acquaintance of herself and her nearest neighbors,
and Arabella should be set to find out of what it consisted.
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