He found himself listening for some of her parrot-utterances, as a detached spectator, and taking a sort of ugly pleasure in recognizing which were the phrases of Arabella. The man upon her left hand was intelligent, and was gazing at her with the rapt attention beauty always commands, and she was uttering her finest platitudes.
And once John Derringham leant back in his chair, when no one was observing him, and laughed aloud. The supreme mockery of it all! And in five weeks from this night this woman would be his wife!
His wife! Ye gods!
They had no tete-a-tete words before the party broke up, and had hardly exchanged a sentence when, as the last guest was saying farewell, Arabella, too, retired from the sitting-room.
So they were alone.
“Cecilia,” he said, coming up quite close to her, “we started rather badly to-night—at least let us be friends.” And he held out his hand. “Believe me, I wish to do all that I can to please you, but I am afraid I make a very indifferent sort of lover. Forgive me,”
“Oh, you are well enough, I suppose,” she said. “No man values what he has won—it is only the winning of it that is any fun. I understand the feeling myself. Don’t let us talk heroics.”
John Derringham smiled.
“Certainly not,” he said.
And then she put up her face and let him kiss her, which he did with some sickening revolt in his heart. Even her physical beauty had no more any effect upon him—he would as soon have kissed Arabella.
So she sailed from the room again, with her mouth shut like a vice, and her handsome eyes glancing at him over her shoulder.
Next day, after having kept him waiting for an hour to take her out, she decided they should spend what remained of the morning at the Bargello. And, when they got there, she did her best to be a charming companion, and pressed him to lean upon her instead of his stick. But to his awakened understanding what was even probably true in her talk and comprehension of the gems of art, seemed false and affected, and he was only conscious of one continual jar as she spoke.
A thousand little trifles, never remarked before, now appeared to loom large in his vision. At last they came to the galleries above, to the collection of the Della Robbias, and Mrs. Cricklander rhapsodized over them, mixing them up with delightful unconcern. They were all just bits of cheap-looking crockery to her eye, and it was impossibly difficult to distinguish which was Luca’s, Andrea’s, or Giovanni’s; and, security having made her careless, she committed several blunders.