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   Chapter 2 No.2

Halcyone By Elinor Glyn Characters: 23274

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


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.

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