The very last shred of glamour about her had long fallen from John Derringham’s eyes, and indeed things seemed to him more bald than they really were. His proud spirit chafed from morning to night—chafed hopelessly against the knowledge that his own action had bound him as no ordinary bond of an engagement could. His whole personality appeared to be changing; he was taciturn or cynically caustic, casting jibes at all manner of things he had once held sacred. But after a week of abject misery, he refused to bear any more, and when Mrs. Cricklander grew tired of Florence, and decided to move on to Venice, he announced his intention of taking a few days’ tour by himself. He wished to see the country round, he said, and especially make an excursion to San Gimignano—that gem of all Italy for its atmosphere of the past.
“Oh! I am thoroughly tired of these moldy places,” Mrs. Cricklander announced. “The Maulevriers are in Venice, and we can have a delightful time at the Lido; the new hotel is quite good—you had much better come on with me now. Moping alone cannot benefit anyone. You really ought to cheer up and get quite well, John.”
But he was firm, and after some bickerings she was obliged to decide to go to Venice alone with Arabella, and let her fiance depart in his motor early the next morning.
Their parting was characteristic.
“Good night, Cecilia,” John Derringham said. No matter how capricious she could be, he always treated her with ceremonious politeness. “I am leaving so very early to-morrow, we had better say good-by now. I hope my going does not really inconvenience you at all. I want a little rest from your friends, and, when I join you at Venice again, I hope you will let me see more of yourself.”
She put up her face, and kissed him with all the girlish rippling smiles she had used for his seduction in the beginning.
“Why, certainly,” she said. “We will be regular old Darbys-and-Joans; so don’t you forget while you are away that you belong to me, and I am not going to give you up to anything or anybody—so long as I want you myself!”
And John Derringham had gone to his room feeling more chained than ever, and more bitterly resentful against fate.
As soon as he left her, she sat down at her writing-table and wrote out a telegram to be sent off the first thing the next day. It contained only three words, and was not signed.
But the recipient of it, Mr. Hanbury-Green, read it with wild emotion when he received it in his rooms in London—and immediately made arrangements to set off to Florence at once.
“I’ll beat him yet!” he said to himself, and he romantically kissed the pink paper. For, “You may come” was what he had read.
An hour or so before sunset the next day John Derringham in his motor was climbing the steep roads which lead to San Gimignano, the city of beautiful towers, which still stands, a record of things mediaeval, untouched by the modernizing hand of men.