“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.”