She looked so very sylph-like as she sat there, bending her graceful head. Her eyes were all in shadow and seemed to gleam as things of mystery from under her dark brows, while the pure lines of her temples and the plaiting of her soft thick hair made him think of some virgin goddess.
But she never spoke.
At last John Derringham began to grow exasperated, and plunged into temptation, which he did not admit that he ought to have avoided.
“I am so very much interested in this wonderful old house,” he said, addressing Miss La Sarthe. “That row of bay windows is in a long gallery, I suppose? Would it be a great impertinence if I asked to see it?”
“We shall be pleased for you to do so,” the old lady returned, without much warmth. “It is very cold and draughty, my sister and I have not entered it for many years, but Halcyone, I believe, goes there sometimes; she will show it to you if you wish.”
Halcyone rose, ready at once to obey her aunts, and led the way towards the door.
“We had better go up the great staircase and along through Sir Timothy’s rooms. The staircase which leads directly to it from the hall is not quite safe,” she said. “Except for me,” she added, when they were outside the door. “Then, I know exactly where to put my feet!”
“I would follow you blindly,” said John Derringham, “but we will go which way you will. Only, you are such a strange, silent little old friend now—I am afraid of you!”
Halcyone was rather ahead, leading the way, and she turned and paused while he came up close beside her.
Her eyes were quite startled.
“You afraid of me!” she said.
“Yes—you seem so nymph-like and elusive. I do not know if I am really looking at an ordinary earth-maiden, or whether you will melt away.”
“I am quite real,” and she smiled, “but now you must notice these two rooms a little that we shall pass through. They are very ghostly I think; they were the Sir Timothy’s who went to fetch James I from Scotland. I am glad they are not mine, but the long gallery I love; it is my sitting-room—my very own—and in it I keep something which matters to me more than anything else in the world.” Then she went on, with a divine shyness which thrilled her companion: “And—I do not know why—but I think I will show it to you.”
“Yes, please do that,” he responded eagerly, “and do not let us stop to look at the ghostly apartments—where you sit interests me far more.”
So they went rapidly through Sir Timothy’s rooms, with the great state bed where had slept his royal master, so the tale ran, and on down some uneven steps, and through a small door, and there found themselves in the long, narrow room, with its bays along the southern side, and one splendid mullioned casement at the end with coats-of-arms emblazoned upon each division. And through this, which looked west, there poured the lowered afternoon sun with a broad shaft of glorious light.