“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!
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: