The Professor received them graciously. He was seated in his library, which now was a most comfortable room surrounded with bookcases in which lived all his rare editions of loved books. Nothing could be more fascinating than Mrs. Cricklander’s manner to him—a mixture of deference and friendly familiarity, as though he would appreciate the fact of a tacit understanding between them that she too had a right in John Derringham’s friends. She had been so reassured by finding that Mr. Carlyon was unmarried and lived alone, that a glow of real warmth towards the Professor emanated from her, while the conviction grew that it was nothing but the influence of Cora Lutworth which had even momentarily cooled her whilom ardent friend.
Mr. Carlyon’s imperturbable countenance gave no hint of what he thought of her, although John Derringham watched him furtively and anxiously. He listened to their conversation when he could, and it jarred upon him twice when the lady of his choice altogether missed the point of Cheiron’s subtle remarks. She whom he had always considered so understanding!
Of Halcyone there was no sign and no mention, and for some reason which he could not explain John Derringham felt glad.
It seemed an eternity before Mrs. Cricklander got up to go, having been unable to persuade Mr. Carlyon to return with them to luncheon. He had a slight cold, he said, and meant to remain in his warm library.
“Mr. Derringham says you are called Cheiron,” Mrs. Cricklander announced laughingly. “How ridiculous to find in you any likeness to that old ferryman of the piercing eye. I see no resemblance but in the beard.”
“So John relegates me to the post of ferryman to the dead already, does he!” Mr. Carlyon responded. “I had hoped he still allowed me my horse’s hoofs and my cave—I have been deceiving myself all these years, evidently.”
A blank look grew in Mrs. Cricklander’s eye. What had caves and horse’s hoofs to do with the case? She had better turn the conversation at once, or she might be out of her depth, she felt; and this she did with her usual skill, but not before the Professor’s left eyebrow had run up into his forehead, and his wise old eyes beneath had met and then instantly averted themselves from those of John Derringham.
All the way back to the house Mrs. Cricklander had the satisfaction of listening to a much more advanced admiration of herself than she had hoped to obtain so soon, and arrived in the best of restored humors—for John Derringham had clenched his teeth as he left the orchard house, and had told himself that he would not be influenced or put off by any of these trifling things, and that it was some vixenish turn of Fate to have allowed these currents of disillusion about a woman who was so eminently suitable to reach him through the medium of his old friend.