Thus, the day the visitors left, Mr. Hanbury-Green among them, the invalid was experiencing a sense of exasperating neglect. He felt extremely miserable. Life, and all he held good in it, seemed to be over for him, and his financial position was absolutely desperate—quite beyond any question of marriage it threatened to swamp his actual career. He felt impotent and beaten, lying there like a log unable to move.
Mrs. Cricklander sent him another little note in the afternoon. Arabella had reported that the patient was restless, and this might mean one of two things—either that he was becoming impatient to see her, or that he was growing restive and bored with bed. In either case it was the moment to strike—and to strike quickly.
“The doctors have said you may have a taste of champagne to-night,” she wrote, which was quite untrue, but a small fib like this could not count when such large issues were at stake. “And so I propose, if you will let me and will have me for your guest, to come and dine with you to celebrate the event. Say if I may. Cecilia.”
And he had eagerly scribbled in pencil, “Yes.”
So she came, and was all in white with just a red rose in her dress, and she was solicitous about his comfort—had he enough pillows?—and she spoke so graciously to the nurse who arranged things before she went to her supper.
She, Cecilia, would be his nurse, she whispered—just for to-night! and then her own personal footman brought in an exquisite little dinner upon a table which he set near the bed, all noiselessly—it had been arranged outside—and she would select just the tenderest morsels for John Derringham, or some turtle soup?—He was not hungry!—Well, never mind, she would feed him!—and he must be good and let her pet him as she felt inclined.
She was looking quite extraordinarily beautiful, with all the light of triumph in her sparkling eyes, and she sat down upon the bed and actually pretended that if he were disobedient she would put pieces into his mouth!
John Derringham was a man—and, although he felt very ill and feeble, after she had made him drink some champagne, the seduction of her began to go to his head. Stimulant of any kind was the last thing he should have had, and would have caused the nurse a shock of horror if she had known. How it all came about he could not tell, what she said or he said he could never remember, only the one thing which stood out was that as the time for the nurse’s return arrived, he knew that Cecilia Cricklander was kissing him with apparent passion, which he felt in some measure he was returning, and that she was murmuring: “And we shall be married, darling John, as soon as you are well.”
He must have said something definite, he supposed.
But, at that moment, the nurse was heard in the next room and his fiancee—yes, his fiancee—got up and, when the woman came in in her stiff nurse’s dress, slightly apologetic that she had been so long, she was greeted by this speech from the lady of the house: