“That is one of Mr. Derringham’s pet theories,” Cora laughed. “He held forth one night, when I was staying at Wendover at Easter, about it—and it was such fun. Cis did not really understand a single thing of the classical allusions he was making—but she got through. I watch her with delight. Men are sweetly simple bats, though, aren’t they? Any woman can take them in—” and Cora laughed again joyously. “I have sat sometimes in fits to hear Cis keeping a whole group of your best politicians enthralled, and not one seeing she is just repeating parrot sentences. You have only to be rich and beautiful and look into a man’s eyes and flatter him, and you can make him believe you are what you please. Now Freynie thinks I am absolutely perfect when I am really being a horrid little capricious minx—don’t you, Freynie, dear!” and she leaned over and looked at her betrothed with sweet and tender eyes—and Lord Freynault got up and moved his chair round, so that the four were in a circle.
“What preposterous thing is Cora telling you?” he laughed, with an adoring glance at her sparkling face. “But I am getting jealous, and shall take her away because I want to talk to her all to myself!”
And, when they had settled that the two girls should meet at tea the following day in Cora’s sitting-room at Claridge’s, where she was staying with a friend, the newly engaged pair went off together beaming with joy and affection.
And Halcyone gazed after them with a wistful look in her sad eyes, which stabbed the old Professor’s heart.
She was remembering the morning under their tree, when she and her lover had sat and made their plans, and he had asked her if she had any fear at the thought of giving him her future.
It was only three weeks ago. Surely everything was a dream. How much he had seemed to love her. And then unconsciously she started to her feet, and strode away among the trees, forgetful of her companion—and Cheiron sat and watched her, knowing she would come back and it was better to let her overcome alone the agony which was convulsing her.
Yes, John Derringham had seemed to love her—not seemed—no—it was real—he had loved her. And she would never believe but that he loved her still. This was only a wicked turn of those bad forces which she knew were abroad in the world. Had she not seen evil once in a man’s face crouching in the bracken, as he set a trap for some poor hare one dark and starry night? And she had passed on, and then, when she thought he would be gone, she had returned and loosened the spring before it could do any harm. That poacher had evil forces round him. They were there always for the unwary, and had fastened upon John. She would never doubt his love, and she herself could never change, and she would pour upon him all her tender thoughts, and call to the night winds to help her to do her duty.
So presently she remembered Cheiron, and turned round to see him far away still, sitting quietly beneath a giant elm stroking his long, silver beard.