“You are not a bore—you are a darling,” she murmured, patting his hand. “And if only I were allowed to stay with you—night and day—and nurse you like Brome, I should be perfectly happy. But these snatched scraps—John, darling, I can’t bear it!”
He wondered if she were lying. He half thought so, but she looked so beautiful, it enabled him to return her caresses with some tepid warmth.
“It is too sweet of you, Cecilia,” he said, as he kissed her. He had not yet used one word of intimate endearment—she had never been his darling, his sweet and his own, like Halcyone.
After she had gone again, all details having been settled for her departure upon the Monday, he almost felt that he hated her. For, when she was in this apparently loving mood, it seemed as if her bonds tightened round his throat and strangled him to death. “Octopus arms” he remembered Cheiron had called them.
When Mrs. Cricklander got back to her own favorite long seat out on the terrace, she sat down, and settling the pillows under her head, she let her thoughts ticket her advantages gained, in her usual concrete fashion.
“He is absolutely mine, body and soul. He does not love me—we shall have the jolliest time seeing who will win presently—but I have got the dollars, so there is no doubt of the result—and what fun it will be! It does not matter what I do now, he cannot break away from me. He has let me see plainly that my money has influenced him—and, although Englishmen are fools, in his class they are ridiculously honorable. I’ve got him!” and she laughed aloud. “It is all safe, he will not break the bargain!”
So she wrote an interesting note to Mr. Hanbury-Green with a pencil on one of the blocks which she kept lying about for any sudden use—and then strolled into the house for an envelope.
And, as John Derringham lay in the darkened room upstairs, he presently heard her joyous voice as she played tennis with his secretary, and the reflection he made was:
“Good Lord, how thankful I should be that at least I do not love her!”
Then he clenched his hands, and his aching thoughts escaped the iron control under which since his engagement he had tried always to keep them, and they went back to Halcyone. He saw again with agonizing clearness her little tender face, when her soft, true eyes had melted into his as she whispered of love.
“This is what God means in everything.” Well, God had very little to do with himself and Cecilia Cricklander!
And then he suddenly seemed to see the brutishness of men. Here was he—a refined, honorable gentleman—in a few weeks going to play false to his every instinct, and take this woman whom he was growing to despise—and perhaps dislike—into his arms and into his life, in that most intimate relationship which, he realized now, should only be undertaken when passionate calls of tenderest love imperatively forced it. She would have the right to be with him day—and night. She might be the mother of his children—and he would have to watch her instincts, which he surely would have daily grown to loathe, coming out in them. And all because money had failed him in his own resources and was necessary to his ambitions, and this necessity, working with an appeal to his senses when fired with wine, had brought about the situation.