She carried it to the light and scrutinized the postmark. It was “London,” and posted that very morning early!
For a moment all was a blank, and she found herself grasping the back of Cheiron’s big chair to prevent herself from falling.
John had been in London at the moment when she was waiting by the tree! What mystery was here?
At first the feeling was one of passionate relief. There had been no accident, then; he had been obliged to go—there would be some explanation forthcoming. Perhaps he had even written to her, too—and she gave a bound forward, as though to run back to La Sarthe Chase. But then she recollected the evening postman did not come to the house, and they got no letters as Cheiron did, who was on the road. Hers could not be there until the morning—she must wait patiently and see.
With consummate self-control she made her voice sound natural as she said, “Oh, I am so late, Mrs. Porrit. I must go,” and, bidding the woman a gracious good evening, walked rapidly to the house. A telegram might have come for her, and she had been out all day. What if her aunts had opened it!
This thought made her quicken her pace so that at last she arrived at the terrace breathless with running; and having deposited her bag in safety, she came out again from the secret passage and got hastily to the house.
But there was no sign of a telegram in the hall, and she mounted to find Priscilla in her room, which she discovered to be in great disorder, her few clothes lying about on every available space.
“Oh, my lamb, where have you been?” the elderly woman exclaimed. “At four o’clock who should come in a fly from the Applewood station but your step-father’s wife! She was staying at Upminster, and says she thought she would come over and see you—and now it’s settled that we go back with her to London to-morrow. Think of it, my lamb! You and me to see the world!” Then she cried in fear: “My precious, what is it?”
For Halcyone, overwrought and overcome, had staggered to a chair and, falling into it, had buried her face in her hands.
Mrs. James Anderton was seated in the Italian parlor with the two ancient hostesses when Halcyone at last came into their midst. They had evidently exhausted all possible topics of conversation and were extremely glad of an interruption.
Miss La Sarthe had been growing more and more annoyed at her great-niece’s lengthy absence, while Miss Roberta felt so nervous she would like to have sniffed at her vinaigrette, but, alas! the stern eye of her sister was upon her and she dared not.
Mrs. James Anderton—good, worthy woman—had not passed an agreeable afternoon either. She felt herself hopelessly out of tune with the two old ladies, whose exquisitely reserved polished manners disconcerted her.
She had been made to feel—most delicately, it is true, but still unmistakably—that she had committed a breach of taste in thus descending upon La Sarthe Chase unannounced. And instead of the sensation of complacent importance which she usually enjoyed when among her own friends and acquaintances, she was experiencing a depressed sense of being a very small personage indeed.