A helpless sense of bitterness mastered him, and destroyed the loveliness and peace of the view. Everything fine and great in his thoughts and aims seemed tarnished. To what stage of degradation would his utter disillusion finally bring him! Of course, when Cecilia Cricklander should once be his wife, he would not permit her to lead this life of continuous racket—or, if she insisted upon it, she should indulge in it only when she went abroad alone. He would not endure it in his home. And what sort of home would it be? He was even doubtful about that now. Since she had so often carelessly thrown off her mask, he no longer felt sure that she would even come up to the mark of what had hitherto seemed her chief charm, her power of being a clever and accomplished hostess. He could picture the scenes which would take place between them when their wishes clashed! The contemplation of the future was perfectly ghastly. He remembered, with a cynical laugh, how in the beginning, before that fateful Good Friday when the Professor first planted ruffling thoughts in his mind, and before the spell of Halcyone had fallen upon him, he had thought that one of the compensations for having to take a rich wife he had found in Cecilia. She would be his intellectual companion during the rather rare moments he would be able to spare for her from his work. He would be able to live with a woman cultured in all branches which interested him, capable of discussing with him any book or any thought, polished in brain and in methods. He had imagined them, when alone together, spending their time in a delightful and intellectual communion of ideas, which would make the tie of marriage seem as almost a pleasure. And what was the reality?—An absolute emptiness, and the knowledge that, unless Arabella Clinker continued her ministrations, he himself would have to play her part! He actually regretted his accession to fortune. But for it he could have broken off the engagement with decency, but now his hands were tied. Only Cecilia could release him, and she did not seem to have the slightest intention of doing so.
He savagely clenched his white teeth when he remembered the ridiculous waiting lackey he had been made to turn into in the last week. Then he looked up and tried to take interest in the quaint gateway through which he was passing and on up to the unique town and the square where is the ancient Podesta’s palace, now the hotel. But he was in a mood of rasping cynicism—even the exquisite evening sunlight seemed to mock at him.
His highly trained eye took in the wonderful old-world beauty around him with some sense of unconscious satisfaction, but the saintly calm of the place made no impression upon him. Santa Fina and her flowers could not soften or bring peace to his galled soul. The knowledge that the whole situation was the result of his own doings kept his bitterness always at white heat. The expression of his thin, haggard face was sardonic, and the groups of simple children, accustomed to ask any stranger for stamps for their collections—a queer habit of the place—turned away from him when once they had looked into his eyes.