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   Chapter 4 No.4

Halcyone By Elinor Glyn Characters: 8958

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

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:

"Mr. Carlyon."

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.

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