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   Chapter 3 No.3

Halcyone By Elinor Glyn Characters: 15956

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


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 Athené, 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!

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