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It was so warm and charming an April day that Mrs. Cricklander and some
of her friends were out of doors before luncheon, walking up and down
the broad terrace walk that flanked Wendover's southern side.
It was a Georgian house, spacious and comfortable, but not especially
beautiful. Mrs. Cricklander was a woman of enormous ability--she had a
perfect talent for discovering just the right people to work for her
pleasure and benefit, while being without a single inspiration herself.
If she engaged a professional adviser to furnish her house, and decorate
it, you could be sure he was of the best and that his services had been
measured and balanced beforehand, and that he had been generously paid
whatever he had obtained by bargaining for it, and that the agreement
was signed and every penny of the cost entered in a little book. It was
so with everything that touched her life. She had a definite idea of
what she wanted, although she did not always want the same thing for
long; but while she did, she went about getting it in a sensible,
practical way, secured it, paid for it,--and then often threw it away.
She had felt she wanted Vincent Cricklander because he belonged to one
of the old families in New York and played polo well, and, being a great
heiress though of no pretensions to birth, she wished to have an
undisputed entry into the inner circle of her own country. He fulfilled
her requirements for quite three years, and then she felt she was
"through" with America, and wanted fresh fields for her efforts. Paris
was too easy, Berlin doubtful, Vienna and Petersburg impossible to
conquer, but London would hold out everything that she could wish for.
Only, it must be the very best of London, not the part of its society
that anyone can struggle and push and pay to get into, but the real
thing. She was "quite finished" with Vincent Cricklander, too, at this
period; to see him play polo no longer gave her any thrill. So one
morning at their lunch, on a rare occasion when they chanced to be
alone, she told him so, and asked him practically how much he would take
to let her divorce him.
But Vincent Cricklander was a gentleman, and, what is more, an American
gentleman, which means of a chivalry towards women unknown in other
"I do not want any of your money, Cis," he said. "I will be quite glad
to go, if it will make you happier. We'll phone T.V. Ryan this afternoon
and let him think out a scheme so that it can be done without a scandal
of any sort. My mother has old-fashioned ideas, and I would hate to pain
the poor dear lady."
It took nearly two years, but the divorce was completed at last, and
Cecilia Cricklander found herself perfectly free and with all the keen
scent of the hunter for the chase dilating her fine nostrils as she
stood upon the deck of the great ocean liner bound for Liverpool.
She was a very beautiful woman and refined in every point, with
exquisite feet and hands, pure, brilliant, fair coloring and a superb
figure, and even a fairly sweet voice. Her education had been a good
deal neglected because she was too spoilt by a doting father to profit
by the instruction he provided for her. She felt this keenly directly
she began to go out into the world, and immediately commenced to remedy
the defect. For her, from the very beginning, life appeared in the light
of a game. Fate was an adversary from whom she meant to win all the
stakes, and it behooved a clever woman not to overlook a single card
that might be of use to her in her play. She was quite aware of her own
limitations, and her own forces and advantages. She knew she was
beautiful and charming; she knew she was kind and generous and extremely
"cute," as her old father said. She knew that literature and art did not
interest her one atom in themselves, that most music bored her, and that
she had a rather imperfect memory; but during her brief visits to
England, when she was making up her mind that this country would be the
field for her next exertions, she had decided that to be beautiful and
charming was not just enough; there were numbers of other Americans who
were both, and they were all one as successful and sought after as the
other. She must be something beyond this--a real Queen. To beauty and
wealth and charm she must add culture as well. She must be able to talk
to the prime minister upon his pet foibles, she must be able to quote
erudite passages from all the cleverest books of the day to the
brilliant politicians and diplomats and men of polished brain who made
up the society over which she wished to rule. And how was this to be
done? She thought it all out, and during her two years of living quietly
to obtain her divorce without a breath of scandal, she had hit upon and
put into practice an admirable plan.
She searched for and found a poor, very plain and highly cultivated
English gentlewoman, one who had been governess in a foreign Royal
family and was now trying to support an aged mother by giving private
lessons. Arabella Clinker was this treasure's name--Miss Arabella
Clinker, aged forty-two, and as ugly as it is possible for a thoroughly
nice woman to be.
Mrs. Cricklander made no mysteries about what she required Miss
Clinker's companionship for. She explained minutely that should any
special dinner-party or _rencontre_ with any great person be in view,
Miss Clinker must do a sort of preparatory cramming for her, as boys are
prepared for examinations.
"You must make it your business, when I give you the names of the people
I am to meet, to post me up in what they are likely to talk about. You
must read all the papers in the morning with the political speeches in
them, and then give me a quick _r�sum�_; if it should be any diplomat or
great artist or one of those delightful Englishmen who knows everything,
then you must suggest some suitable authors to speak of that they will
like, and I have quite enough sense myself to turn the conversation off
any that I should not know about. In this way you will soon learn what I
require of you, and I shall learn a great deal and gradually can launch
out into much more difficult things."
Arabella Clinker had a sense of humor, and she adored her mother and
wished to give her a comfortable old age. Mrs. Cricklander's terms for
this unique position were according to her accustomed liberality.
"I like to give splendid prices for things, and then I expect them to be
splendidly done," she said.
Miss Clinker had promised to do her best, and their partnership had
lasted for nearly three years with the most satisfactory results to both
of them. Their only difficulty was Mrs. Cricklander's defective memory.
She _could not_ learn anything by heart, and if she were at all tired
had to keep herself tremendously in hand to make no mistakes. But the
three years of constant trying had enabled her to talk upon most
subjects in a shibboleth of the world which imposed upon everyone. Her
real talent which called for the greatest admiration was the way in
which she manipulated what she knew, and skimmed a fresh subject. She
would do so with such admirable skill and wording as to give the
impression that she was acquainted with its profoundest depths; and then
when she was safely over the chasm the first moment she was free she
would rush to Arabella for the salient points, doggedly repeat them over
and over, and on the next occasion come out with them to the same
person, convincing him more than ever of her thorough knowledge of the
subject. But her memory was her misfortune, for if Miss Clinker
instructed her, for instance, in all the different peculiarities of the
styles of Keats and Shelley, a week after she would have forgotten which
was which--because both bored her to distraction--and she would have to
be reminded again. One awful moment came when, rhapsodizing upon the
sensibility of Keats' character, she said to Sir Tedbury Delvine, the
finest litterateur of his time, that there must have come moments during
Keats' latter years when he must have felt as his own "Prometheus
Unbound"! But, seeing her mistake immediately by her listener's blank
face, she regained her ground with a skill and a flow of words which
made Sir Tedbury Delvine doubt whether his own ears had heard aright.
"Arabella," Mrs. Cricklander said when next morning she lay smoking in
her old-rose silk bed, while she went through her usual lessons for the
day, "you must give me just a point each about those wretched old two,
so that I will remember them again. I must have a sort of keynote.
Shelley's would do with that horrible statue of him drowned, at Oxford,
that would connect his chain--but what for Keats?"
So at last Miss Clinker invented a plan, almost Pythagorean in its way,
and it proved very helpful to her patroness.
When she went on light, amusing excursions to Egypt and such places, she
allowed Arabella to remain with her mother, and these were months of
pure happiness to Miss Clinker.
It had not taken Mrs. Cricklander long to conquer London with her money,
and her looks, and her triumphant belief in herself. At the end of two
years, when John Derringham was first presented to her, she had almost
reached the summit of her ambitions. To become his wife she had decided
would place her there. For was he not certain to climb to the top of the
tree, as well as being the most brilliant and most sought after young
man in all England. Of love--the love that recks not of place or gain
but just gives its being to the loved one--to such emotion she was
happily a complete stranger. John Derringham attracted her greatly, and
until now had successfully evaded all her snares and had remained beyond
the thrall of her will. To have got him to come for this whole week of
Easter was a triumph and exulted her accordingly. She particularly
affected politicians, and her house in Grosvenor Square was a
meeting-place for both parties, provided the members of each were of the
most distinguished type. And there were not more than two or three
people out of all her acquaintances, besides Arabella, who smiled a
little over her brilliant culture.
By all this it can be seen that Mrs. Cricklander was a wonderful
character--tenacious, indomitable, full of nerve and deserving of the
greatest respect in consequence.
The only thing the least vulgar about her was her soul--if she had
one--and it is not the business of society to look into such things.
Scrutiny of the sort is left for creatures like the Professor, Cheiron,
who have nothing else to do--but his impressions upon this subject must
come in their proper place.
Meanwhile, John Derringham had joined the party on the terrace, and was
joyously acclaimed, and then minutely questioned as to the cause of his
lengthy absence. He had not been to church--that was certain. He had not
been out of the park, because the lodges were not in the direction from
which he had been seen advancing. Where had he been, then? All alone? He
would not give any account of himself, as was his way, and presently his
hostess drew him on ahead and down the terrace steps. She wanted to
point out to him some improvements which she contemplated. The garden
must be the most beautiful in the country--and he knew so much about
gardens, he could tell her exactly which style would suit the house
John Derringham was in a bad temper. That unaccountable sense of a
discordant note with himself still stayed with him. He unconsciously,
during his walk, had dwelt upon the Professor's information as to the
view of the old ladies of The Chase, and then Halcyone's silence and
stiffness. He felt excluded from the place which he recollected he had
held in the child's regard. His memory had jumped the brief glimpse of
her during her fledgling period, and had gone back with distinct
vividness to the summer morning in the tree, almost seven years ago.
He answered with a carelessness which was not altogether pleasing to
Cecilia Cricklander. She saw instantly that her favorite guest was
ruffled by something. Although never fine, she was quick at observing
all the moods of her pawns, and had brought the faculty of watching for
signs from castles, knights and kings to a science. John Derringham must
be humored and cajoled by a proof of her great understanding of him--he
must be left in silence for a minute, and then she would pause and look
over the balustrade, so that he might see her handsome profile and take
in the exquisite simplicity of her perfect dress. She knew these things
pleased him. She would look a little sad, too, and far away.
It had its effect.
"What are you dreaming about, fair ch�telaine?" he asked after a while.
"Your charming mouth has its corners drooped."
"I was wondering--" and then she stopped.
"Yes?" asked John Derringham. "You were wondering what?"
"I was wondering if one could ever get you to really take an interest in
anything but your politics, and your England's advancement? How good it
would be if one could interest you for a moment in anything else."
He leaned upon the balustrade beside her.
"You are talking nonsense," he said. "You know very well that you
interest me every time I see you--and it is growing upon me. That was
not the only thing revolving in your clever mind."
"Yes, indeed," and she looked down.
"Well, then, I am interested in your garden. What do you think of doing?
She explained an elaborate plan, and quoted the names of famous
gardeners and their styles, with her accustomed erudition. For had not
Arabella got them up for her only that morning, as she smoked her
seventh cigarette in bed? She inclined to French things, and she thought
that this particular part--a mere rough bit of the park--could very well
be laid out as a _Petit Trianon_. She could procure copies of the plans
of Mique, and even have a _Temple d'Amour_.
"I love to create," she said. "The place would not have amused me if
everything had been complete, and if you will help me I shall be so
"Of course I will," he said. "The _Temple d'Amour_ would look quite well
up upon that rising ground, and you could have a small winding lake dug
to complete the illusion. Nothing is impossible, and I suppose you can
get permission from the old Wendover who lives in Rome to do what you
"I should like to have been able to take the park of the next place, La
Sarthe Chase, too--that impassable haw-haw and the boarded-up gate
irritate me. The boards have been put since I came to look over
everything last autumn. I did instruct the agent, Martin, in Applewood
to offer a large price for it, but he assured me it would be quite
useless; it belongs, it appears, to the most ridiculous old ladies, who
are almost starving, but would rather die than be sensible."
Suddenly John Derringham was conscious that his sympathies had shifted
to the Misses La Sarthe, and he could not imagine why.
"You told me, I think," she went on, "that you knew this neighborhood.
Do you happen to be aware of any bait I could hold out to them?"
"No, I do not," he said. "That sort of pride is foolish, if you like;
but there it is--part of an inheritance of the spirit which in the past
has made England great. They are wonderful old ladies. I dined with them
once long ago."
"I must really go over and see them one day. Perhaps I could persuade
them to my view."
The flicker of a smile came into the eyes of John Derringham, and she
noticed it at once. It angered her, and deepened the pretty pink in her
"You think they would not be pleased to see me?" she flashed.
"They are ridiculously old-fashioned," he said. "Not your type at all."
"But I love curiosities," she returned, smiling now. "I am not
absolutely set upon any type. All human beings are a delightful study.
If you know them, you must bring them to see me then some day."
But at this John Derringham laughed outright.
"If you could picture them, you would laugh, too," he said. "There is
someone, though, whom I do want you to know, who lives close here--my
old Oxford professor of Greek, Arnold Carlyon. He is a study who will
repay you. The most whimsical cynic, as well as one of the greatest
scholars I have ever come across in my life. I promised him to-day that
I would persuade you to let me take you to see him."
"How enchanting," she replied with enthusiasm. "And we must make him
come here. When shall we go? To-morrow?"
"No, I said Monday or Tuesday--with your permission," and he bent over
her with caressing homage.
"Of course--when you will. That, then, is where you were this morning.
But how did you get back through the park?" she asked. "There is no
opening at that side whatever. It is all blocked by the wicked La Sarthe
"I came round the edge," he said, and felt annoyed--he hated lying--"and
then turned upwards. I wanted to see the boundaries."
"I hate boundaries," she laughed. "I always want to overstep them."
"There is the chance of being caught in snares."
"Which adds to the excitement," and she allowed her radiant eyes to seek
his with a challenge.
He was not slow to take it up.
"Enchantress," he whispered softly, "it is you whose charm lays snares
for men. You have no fear of falling into them yourself."
She rippled a low laugh of satisfaction. And, having tamed her lion, she
now suggested it was time to go in to luncheon.
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