Halcyone raised her head, while a strange look grew in her wide eyes, almost of fear. It was as though he had put into words some unspoken, unadmitted thought.
“Yes,” she said very softly, “I feel there is—but that is not all peace; that must be gloriously terrible, because it would mean life.”
He looked at her fully now; there was not an atom of coquetry or challenge; her face was pale and exquisite in its simple intentness. He turned to the goddess again, and almost chaunted:
“Oh! Aphrodite of the divine lips and soulful eyes, what mystery do you hold for us mortals? What do you promise us? What do you make us pay? Is the good worth the anguish? Is the fulfillment a cup worth draining—without counting the cost?”
“What does she answer you?” whispered Halcyone. “Does she say that to live and fulfill destiny as the beautiful year does is the only good? It is wiser not to question and weigh the worth, for even though we would not drink, perhaps we cannot escape—since there is Fate.”
John Derringham pulled himself together with an effort. He felt he was drifting into wonderland, where the paths were too tenderly sweet and flowered for him to dare to linger, for there he might find and quaff of the poison cup. So he said in a voice which he strove to bring back to earth:
“Where did you get the beautiful thing? She is of untold value, of course you know?”
Halcyone took the marble into her hands lovingly.
“She came to me out of the night,” she said. “Some day I might tell you how—but not to-day. I must put her back again. No one knows but Cheiron and me—and now—you—that she is in existence, and no one else must ever know.”
He did not speak; he watched her while she wrapped the head in its folds of silk.
“Aphrodite never had so true a priestess, nor one so pure,” he thought, and a strange feeling of sadness came over him, and he thanked her rather abruptly for showing him her treasure, and they went silently back through Sir Timothy’s rooms, and down the stair; and in the Italian parlor he said good-by at once, and left.
The wind had got up and blew freshly in his face. There would be a gale before morning. It suited his mood. He struck across the park, but instead of making for the haw-haw, he turned into Cheiron’s little gate. He wanted understanding company, he wanted to talk cynical philosophy, and he wanted the stimulus of his old master’s biting wit.
But when he got there, he found Cheiron very taciturn—contributing little more than a growl now and then, while he smoked his long pipe and played with his beard. So at last he got up to go.
“I have made up my mind to marry Mrs. Cricklander, Master,” he said.
“I supposed so,” the Professor replied dryly. “A man always has to convince himself he is doing a fine thing when he gives himself up to be hanged.”