Mrs. Cricklander was burning with rage and a sense of impotency. She felt her words and all her arts of pleasing were being nullified, and that she was up against an odious situation in which her strongest weapons were powerless. It made her nervous and very cross. She particularly resented not being able to ascertain the cause of the change in him, and felt personally aggrieved at his still being a wretched wreck hobbling with a stick. He ought to have got quite well by now—it was perfectly ridiculous. What if, after all, he would not be worth while? But the indomitable part of her character made her tenacious. She felt it was a different matter, throwing away what she had won, to having to relinquish something that she knew she had never really gained. She would make one more determined effort, and then, if he would not give her love, he should be made to feel his bondage, she would extort from him to the last ounce, her pound of flesh.
“John, darling,” she said, slipping her hand into his, under the rug as they drove, “this beautiful place makes me feel so romantic. I wish you would make love to me. You sit there looking like Dante with a beard, as cold as ice.”
“I am very sorry,” he answered, startled from a reverie. “I know I am a failure in such sort of ways. What do you want me to say?”
This was not promising, and her annoyance increased.
“I want you to tell me you love me—over and over again,” she whispered, controlling her voice.
“Women always ask these questions,” he said to gain time. “They never take anything for granted as men do.”
“No!” she flashed. “Not when a man’s actions point to the possibility of several other interpretations of his sentiments—then they want words to console them. But you give me neither.”
“I am not a demonstrative person,” he responded. “I will do all I can to make you happy, but do not ask me for impossibilities. You will have to put up with me as I am.”
“I shall decide that!” And she snatched away her hand angrily, and then controlled herself—the moment had not yet come. He should not have freedom, which now she felt he craved; he should remain tied until he had at all events paid the last price of humiliation. So for the rest of that day and those that followed she behaved with maddening capriciousness, keeping him waiting for every meal and every appointment—changing her mind as to what she would do—lavishing caresses upon him which made him wince, and then treating him with mocking coldness; but all with such extreme cleverness that she never once gave him the chance to bring things to an open rupture. She was beginning really to enjoy herself in this new game—it required even more skill to torture and hold than to attract and keep at arm’s length. But at last John Derringham could bear no more.
They had continuous lunches and dinners with the gay party of Americans who had been of the company on the first evening, and there was never a moment’s peace. A life in public was as the breath of Cecilia Cricklander’s nostrils, and she did not consider the wishes of her betrothed. In fact, but for spoken sympathy over his shattered condition and inability to walk much, she did not consider him at all, and exacted his attendance on all occasions, whether too fatiguing for him or not.