And as she sat there in dumb, silent, hideous agony which crushed for the moment belief and hope, a canary from the aviary beyond set up a trilling song. She listened for a second; it seemed to hurt her more. The poor bird was in captivity, as was her soul. And then, while the little songster went on, undismayed by its cage, a reaction set in. If the soft-feathered creature could sing there beyond the bars, what right had she to doubt God for one second? No—there should never be any disbelief. It was only the winter, after all. She was too young to die like the tree which had been there for some hundreds of years, She would be as brave as the bird, and those forces of nature which she had loved and trusted so long, would comfort her.
She sat there for a quarter of an hour saying her prayers and stilling the pain in her heart—and then she got up and deliberately went back to the dining-room, where the family were all assembled now.
They chaffed about everything, and were boisterous and jovial as usual, and when she asked if she might go and see her old master, should Mrs. Anderton not wish especially for her company that morning, her stepfather offered to drive her there in his phaeton on his way to the city.
“She grows upon one, Lu,” he said to his wife, when Halcyone had gone up to put on her hat. “She is like some quiet, soothing book; she is a kind of comfort—but she looks confoundedly pale to-day. Take her to the play to-night, or ask some young fellows in to dinner, to cheer her up.”
The drive did Halcyone good, and, to the astonishment of Cheiron who had also read the news, she walked into his sitting-room with perfect calm. He himself was raging with indignation and disgust.
But, when he looked into her deep eyes, his astonishment turned to pain, for the expression in them as they burned from her lifeless face was so pure, so pitiful and so tragic, that it left him without words for the moment.
At last he said—when she had greeted him:
“I have been thinking, Halcyone, that I have not had a trip abroad for a long time, but I am too old now to care about going alone. Do you think that your aunts and these step-relations of yours would spare you to accompany me, my dear?”
And Halcyone had to turn away to the window to hide the tears which suddenly welled up; he was so kind and understanding always—her dear old master!
“Yes, I am sure they would,” she said in a very low voice. “How good of you. And if we could start at once—that would be nice, would it not? I suppose they would not let me go without Priscilla, though,” she added; “would that matter?”
“Not at all,” said the Professor.
They neither of them mentioned John Derringham’s engagement. They talked long about the possibilities of their foreign journey, and Cheiron felt himself repaid when he began to observe a look of returning life creep into her white face.