John Derringham made a point of slipping away on the Easter Tuesday afternoon; he determined to drink tea with the Misses La Sarthe. He went to his room with important letters to write, and then sneaked down again like a truant schoolboy, and when he got safely out of sight, struck obliquely across the park to the one vulnerable spot in the haw-haw, and after fumbling a good deal, from his side, managed to get the spikes out and to climb down, and repeat the operation upon the other side. There was no water here, it was on rather higher ground, and he was soon striding up the beech avenue towards the house.
“It would be an extremely awkward place to get over in the dark,” he thought, and then he was conscious that Halcyone was far in the distance in front of him, almost entering the house.
So she would be in, then—that was good.
He had never permitted his mind to dwell upon her for an instant, after the Sunday walk. He made himself tell himself that she was a charming child whom he felt great pity for, on account of her lonely life. That he himself took a special interest in her he would not have admitted for a second to his innermost thought. He had now definitely made up his mind to propose to Cecilia Cricklander, and was only awaiting a suitable occasion to put this intention into effect.
Numbers of moments had come—and passed—but he was always able to find good and sufficient fault with them. And once or twice, when Fate itself seemed to arrange things for him, he had a sudden sensation as of a swimmer fighting with the tide, and he had battled to the shore again, and was still free!
But it must come, of course, and before he left for London at the end of the week. Private news had reached him that the Government must soon go out, and he felt this thing must be an accomplished fact before then, for the hand he meant to play.
But meanwhile it was only Tuesday, and he was nearing the battered and nail-bestudded front door of La Sarthe Chase. William said the ladies were at home, and he was shown into the Italian parlor forthwith.
It had not changed in the slightest degree in the seven years since he had seen it first, nor had the two ancient spinsters themselves. They were most graciously glad to receive him, and gave him tea out of the thinnest china cups, and at last Miss Roberta said:
“Our great-niece Halcyone will be coming down in a moment, Mr. Derringham. She has grown up into a very tall girl. You will hardly recognize her, I expect.”
And at that instant Halcyone opened the door and said a quiet word of welcome. And if her heart beat rather faster than usual under her simple serge bodice, nothing of any emotion showed in her tranquil face.
She took her tea and sat down in a chair rather in the shadows and aloof.
Miss La Sarthe monopolized the conversation. She had no intention of relinquishing the pleasure of this rare guest, so while Miss Roberta got in a few sentences, Halcyone hardly spoke a word, and if she had really been a coquette, calculating her actions, she could not have piqued John Derringham more.