Halcyone watched him, and her prejudice slept.
The silence had lasted quite five minutes when he allowed his natural good manners, which he was quite aware he had kept in abeyance in regard to her, to come uppermost.
“The Professor has been telling me how wonderfully you work with him,” he said; “we under him at Oxford were not half so diligent it seems. I wonder what good it will be to you at all.”
“If a thing gives pleasure, it is good,” she answered gravely. “I wanted to learn Greek because I had a book when I was little which told me about those splendid heroes, and I thought I could read more about them when I am grown up if I knew it—than if I did not.”
“There is something in that. What was the book?” he asked.
Her steady eyes looked straight into his as she replied: “It was Kingsley’s ‘Heroes’ and if only I were a boy I would be like Perseus and go and kill the Gorgon and rescue Andromeda from the sea monster. Pallas Athene said some fine things to him—do you remember?—when she asked him the question of which sort of man he would be.”
“No, I don’t remember,” said John Derringham. “You must tell me now.”
Then Halcyone began in a soft dream voice while her eyes widened and darkened with that strange look as though she saw into another and vaster world. “’I am Pallas Athene and I know the thoughts of all men’s hearts, and discern their manhood or their baseness. And from the souls of clay I turn away; and they are blest, but not by me. They fatten at ease like sheep in the pasture and eat what they did not sow, like oxen in the stall. They grow and spread like the gourd along the ground, but like the gourd they give no shade to the traveler and when they are ripe death gathers them, and they go down unloved into hell, and their name vanishes out of the land.’”
She paused a second and John Derringham was astonished at himself because he was conscious of experiencing a thrill of deep interest.
“Yes?” he said—and her voice went on:
“’But to the souls of fire I give more fire and to those who are manful I give a might more than man’s. These are the heroes, the sons of the Immortals who are blest but not like the souls of clay, for I drive them forth by strange paths, Perseus, that they may fight the Titans and monsters, the enemies of gods and men. Through doubt and need and danger and battle I drive them, and some of them are slain in the flower of youth, no man knows when or where, and some of them win noble names and a fair and green old age—but what will be their latter end, I know not, and none, save Zeus, the father of gods and men—Tell me, now, Perseus, which of these two sorts of men seem to you more blest?’”
It was as if she asked him a personal question and unconsciously he answered:
“I should reply as Perseus did. Tell me his words.”
“’Better to die in the flower of youth on the chance of winning a noble name than to live at ease like the sheep and die unloved and unrenowned.’”