Then he sank back again. Even if this were so, it was too late now. Everything was too late—from that awful night when he had become engaged to Cecilia Cricklander.
She had put the announcement into the paper not quite three weeks after the accident. What could Halcyone have thought of him and his unspeakable baseness? Now she could have nothing but loathing and contempt in her heart, wherever she was—and what right had he to have broken the beliefs and shattered the happiness of that pure, young soul?
He remembered his old master’s words about a man’s honor towards women. It was true then that it was regulated, not by the woman’s feelings or anguish, but by the man’s inclination and whether or no the world should hold him responsible. And he realized that this latter reason was the force which now prevented his breaking his engagement with Mrs. Cricklander. He had behaved with supreme selfishness in the beginning, and afterwards with a weakness which would always make him writhe when he thought of it.
His self-respect was receiving a crushing blow. He clasped his thin hands and his head sank forward upon his breast in utter dejection; he closed his eyes as if to shut out too painful pictures. And when he opened them again it was darker, and the moon made misty shadows through the trees, and out of them he seemed to see Halcyone’s face quite close to him. It was tender and pitiful and full of love. The hallucination was so startlingly vivid that he almost fancied her lips moved, and she whispered: “Courage, beloved.” Then he knew that he was dreaming, and that he was gazing into space—alone.
Mrs. Cricklander, at Carlsbad, was not altogether pleased to receive the news of her fiance’s accession to fortune. She realized that John Derringham was not the sort of man to give up his will to any woman unless the woman had entirely the whip hand, as she would have had if he had been dependent upon her for the financial aid wherewith to obtain his ambitions. She would have practically no hold over him now, and, when he was well, he was so attractive that she might even grow to care too deeply for him for her own welfare. To allow herself to become in love with a husband who was answerable to her for his very food and lodging, and whom she could punish and keep in bondage when she pleased, was quite a different matter to experiencing that emotion towards an imperious, independent creature going his own way, and even, perhaps, compelling her to conform to his.
“How stupid of the old man, Mr. Scroope, to have married so late!” she said to herself, as usual finding everyone wrong who in any way interfered with her wishes.
John Derringham’s letters—only two a week she received from him—were his usual masterpieces of style, and in them he employed his skill to say everything—and nothing.