Mrs. Cricklander awaited Mr. Hanbury-Green’s coming quite impatiently. She felt she wanted a little warmth and humanity after the chilling week she had passed with her betrothed. What she meant to do with this latter she had not yet made up her mind—the justice of an affair never bothered her, and her complete unconsciousness of having committed any wrong often averted her action’s immediate consequence. That Mr. Hanbury-Green should suffer, or that John Derringham should suffer, mattered to her not one jot. She was really and truly under the impression that only her personal comfort, pleasure and feelings were of any importance in the world. Her brain always guarded these things, and, when they were not in any jeopardy or fear of being inconvenienced, then she was capable of numbers of kind and generous actions. And, if she had ever been reproached about her colossal selfishness, she would have looked up astonished, and replied:
“Well, who is nearer to oneself than oneself?”
Common sense like this is not to be controverted.
It would only be when she was growing old that she would feel the loneliness of knowing that, apart from the passion which she had inspired because of her sex and her beauty, not a single human being had ever loved her. For the present she was Venus Victrix, a glorious creature, the desired of men—and that was enough.
Mr. Hanbury-Green was a forceful person, unhampered by any of the instincts of a gentleman, and therefore armed with a number of weapons for winning his battles. He had determined to rise to the top upon the wave of class hatred which he had been clever enough to create, and he neither knew nor cared to what state of devastation he might bring the country. He was a fitting mate in every way for Cecilia Cricklander, and completely equipped to play with her at her own game.
So, when they met in her sitting-room in the Florentine hotel, each experienced a pleasurable emotion.
His was tempered—or augmented—by a blunt and sufficiently brutal passion, which only the ideal of circumspect outward conduct which dominates the non-conformist lower middle classes, from which he had sprung, kept him from demonstrating, by seizing his desired prize in his arms.
He was frankly in love, and meant to leave no stone unturned to oust John Derringham from his position as fiance of the lady—John Derringham, whom he hated from the innermost core of his heart!
Mrs. Cricklander fenced with him admirably. She did not need Arabella’s coachings in her dealings with him; he was quite uncultured, and infinitely more appreciated what her old father had been used to call her “horse sense” than he would have done her finest rhapsody upon Nietzsche. Mrs. Cricklander had indeed with him that delightful sense of rest and ceasing from toil that being herself gave. She felt she could launch forth into as free a naturalness as if she had been selling little pigs’ feet in her grandfather’s original shop. And all to a man who was rising—rising in that great country of England, where some day he might play a role no less than Tallien’s, and she could be “Notre dame de Thermidor.”