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It is possible that, if his revolver had been lying quite near, the
morning John Derringham awoke to the remembrance that he was more or
less an engaged man, he would have shot himself, so utterly wretched and
debased did he feel. But no such weapon was there, and he lay in his
splendid gilt bed and groaned aloud as he covered his eyes with his
The light hurt him--he was giddy, and his head swam. Surely, among other
things in the half-indistinct nightmare of the preceding evening, he
must have had too much champagne.
From the moment, now over a week ago, that he had been allowed to sit up
in bed, and more or less distinct thought had come back to him, he had
been a prey to hideous anxiety and grief. Halcyone was gone from
him--had been snatched away by Fate, who, with relentless
vindictiveness, had filled his cup. For the first letters that he
opened, marked from his lawyers so urgently that they had been given to
him before the bandages were off his head, contained the gravest news of
his financial position. The chief mortgagee intended to foreclose in the
course of the next three months, unless an arrangement could be come to
at once, which appeared impossible.
He was actually at bay. Thus, although in his first moments of
consciousness, he had intended to go directly he was well and demand his
love openly and chance the rest, this news made that course now quite
out of the question. He could not condemn her to wretched poverty and
tie a millstone round both their necks. The doctors had absolutely
forbidden him to read or even know of any more letters--the official
ones the secretary could deal with--but he became so restless with
anxiety that Arabella Clinker was persuaded to bring them up and at
least let him glance at the addresses.
There was one from Cheiron, which he insisted upon opening--a brief dry
line of commiseration for his accident, with no mention of Halcyone in
it. The complete ignoring of his letter to announce their marriage cut
him deeply. He realized Mr. Carlyon guessed that the accident had
happened before that event could take place, and his silence about it
showed what he thought. John Derringham quivered with discomfort, he
hated to feel the whip of his old master's contempt. And he could not
explain matters or justify himself--there was nothing to be said. The
Professor, of course, knew of Halcyone's whereabouts--but, after his
broad hint of his want of sympathy about their relations, John
Derringham felt he could not open the subject with him again. This
channel for the assuagement of his anxieties was closed. The immense
pile of the rest of his correspondence was at last sorted. He knew most
of the writings, and the few he was doubtful about he opened--but none
were from his love. So he gave them all back to Arabella, and turned his
face from the light physically exhausted and with a storm of pain in his
Mrs. Cricklander had carefully gone through each post as it came, and
longed to destroy one or two suspicious-looking communications she saw
in the same female handwriting--from his old friend Lady Durend, if she
had known!--but she dared not, and indeed was not really much disturbed.
She had laid her own plans with too great a nicety and felt perfectly
sure of the ultimate result of their action. Arabella was each day sent
up with the subtlest messages to the poor invalid, which her honor made
her unwillingly repeat truthfully.
Cecilia Cricklander was an angel of sweet, watchful care, it seemed, and
John Derringham really felt deeply grateful to her.
Then the moment came when she decided she would see him.
"I will go this afternoon at tea-time, Arabella, if you can assure me
there won't be any horrid smell of carbolic or nasty drugs about--I know
there always are when people have cuts to be dressed, and I really could
not stand it. It would give me one of my bad attacks of nerves."
And Miss Clinker was reluctantly obliged to assure her employer that
those days were passed, and that Mr. Derringham now only looked a pale,
but very interesting invalid, as he lay there with a black silk
handkerchief tied round his head.
"Then I'll go," said Mrs. Cricklander--and, instead of sending the
message with her daily flowers, she wrote a tiny note.
I can't bear it any longer--I must come!
Arabella Clinker watched his face as he read this, and saw a flush grow
in his ivory-pale skin.
"Oh! Poor Mr. Derringham!" she thought, "it isn't fair! How can he hold
out against her when he is so weak--what ought I to do? If I only knew
what is my loyal course!"
Arabella was perfectly aware how the reports of his rapid recovery had
been circulated--and guessed the reason--and all her kind woman's heart
was touched as she watched him lying there in splints, as pitiful and
helpless as a baby. To pretend that he was making a quick return to
health was so very far from the truth. She, herself, saw little change
for the better from day to day; indeed, his large, proud eyes seemed to
grow more anxious and haggard as the time went on.
Mrs. Cricklander donned her most suitably ravishing tea-gown, one of
subdued simplicity--and, like a beautiful summer flower, she swept into
the invalid's room when the lowered sun blinds made the light restful
and the June roses filled the air with scent. It was the end of the
month and glorious weather was over the land.
Nothing could have been more exquisite than Cecilia's sympathy. Indeed,
she did feel a good deal moved, and was a superb actress at all times.
She only stayed a very short while, not to tire him, and John
Derringham, left alone, was conscious that he had been soothed and
pleased, and she departed leaving the impression that her love for him
was only kept within bounds by fear for his health!
She had suffered _so_ during all the days! she told him, she could
hardly eat or sleep. And then to be debarred from nursing him!--the
cruelty of it! Why the doctors should have thought her presence would be
more disturbing than Arabella's, she could not think! And here she
looked down, and her white hand, with its perfectly kept nails, lying
upon the coverlet so near him, John Derringham lifted it in his feeble
grasp and touched it with his lips. He was so grateful for her
kindness--and affected by her beauty; he could not do less, he felt.
And after that, with a deliciously girlish and confused gasp, Mrs.
Cricklander had hastily quitted the room.
It was not until the second day that she came again--and he had begun to
wish for her.
This time she was bright and amusing, and assumed airs of authority over
him, and was careful never to sit so that her hand might be in reach,
while she used every one of her many arts of tantalization and enjoyed
herself as only she knew how to do.
It was perfectly divine to have him there to play upon like a violin and
to know it was only a question of time before she would secure him for
After this, she had visitors in the house and did not come for three
days, and John Derringham felt a little peevish and aggrieved. It
rained, too, and his head ached still with the slightest exertion.
He now began to put all thoughts of Halcyone away from him, as far as he
was able. It was too late to do anything--she must think him base, as
she had never sent him one word. This caused him restless anguish. What
was the meaning of it all? Could she have learned in the light of the
world that it was not a very great position he had offered her, and so
despised him in consequence? What aspect of it might they not have put
into her head--these people she was with--this step-mother of whom he
had never heard? In all cases Fate had parted them, and he must cut the
pain of it from his life or it would destroy him. It never occurred to
him to reflect upon the possible agony she might be suffering, his poor
little wood-nymph, all alone. The fact of his own unhappiness filled his
mind to the exclusion of any other thought for the time. In his dire
physical weakness Cecilia Cricklander's gracious beauty seemed to
augment, and Halcyone's sylph-like charm to grow of less potent force.
For Love had not done all that he would yet do with John Derringham's
That underneath, if he could have chosen between the two women, he would
have hesitated for a second was not the case; only physical weakness,
and circumstance and propinquity were working for the one and against
the other--and so it would appear was Fate.
Thus, the day the visitors left, Mr. Hanbury-Green among them, the
invalid was experiencing a sense of exasperating neglect. He felt
extremely miserable. Life, and all he held good in it, seemed to be over
for him, and his financial position was absolutely desperate--quite
beyond any question of marriage it threatened to swamp his actual
career. He felt impotent and beaten, lying there like a log unable to
Mrs. Cricklander sent him another little note in the afternoon. Arabella
had reported that the patient was restless, and this might mean one of
two things--either that he was becoming impatient to see her, or that he
was growing restive and bored with bed. In either case it was the moment
to strike--and to strike quickly.
"The doctors have said you may have a taste of champagne to-night," she
wrote, which was quite untrue, but a small fib like this could not count
when such large issues were at stake. "And so I propose, if you will let
me and will have me for your guest, to come and dine with you to
celebrate the event. Say if I may. Cecilia."
And he had eagerly scribbled in pencil, "Yes."
So she came, and was all in white with just a red rose in her dress, and
she was solicitous about his comfort--had he enough pillows?--and she
spoke so graciously to the nurse who arranged things before she went to
She, Cecilia, would be his nurse, she whispered--just for to-night! and
then her own personal footman brought in an exquisite little dinner upon
a table which he set near the bed, all noiselessly--it had been arranged
outside--and she would select just the tenderest morsels for John
Derringham, or some turtle soup?--He was not hungry!--Well, never mind,
she would feed him!--and he must be good and let her pet him as she felt
She was looking quite extraordinarily beautiful, with all the light of
triumph in her sparkling eyes, and she sat down upon the bed and
actually pretended that if he were disobedient she would put pieces into
John Derringham was a man--and, although he felt very ill and feeble,
after she had made him drink some champagne, the seduction of her began
to go to his head. Stimulant of any kind was the last thing he should
have had, and would have caused the nurse a shock of horror if she had
known. How it all came about he could not tell, what she said or he said
he could never remember, only the one thing which stood out was that as
the time for the nurse's return arrived, he knew that Cecilia
Cricklander was kissing him with apparent passion, which he felt in some
measure he was returning, and that she was murmuring: "And we shall be
married, darling John, as soon as you are well."
He must have said something definite, he supposed.
But, at that moment, the nurse was heard in the next room and his
_fianc�e_--yes, his _fianc�e_--got up and, when the woman came in in her
stiff nurse's dress, slightly apologetic that she had been so long, she
was greeted by this speech from the lady of the house:
"Ah, Nurse Brome, you have been so good to Mr. Derringham, you must be
the first to wish us happiness and share our news. We are going to be
married as soon as ever you get him well--so you must hasten that, like
the clever woman you are!"
And she had laughed, a soft laugh of triumph, which even in his
light-headed state had seemed to John Derringham as the mocking of some
Then she had left him quickly, while the footman carried the table from
the room--and after that he remembered nothing more, he had fallen into
a feverish sleep. But the next morning, when he awoke, he knew captivity
had indeed tumbled upon him, and that he was chained hand and foot.
And all the day his temperature went up again, and he was not allowed to
see even Arabella of the kind heart, who would have come and condoled
with him, and even wept over him if she had dared, so moved did the good
creature feel at his fate.
It was only upon the third day, when telegrams of congratulation began
to pour in upon him by the dozen, that he knew anything about the
announcement that had appeared in the _Morning Post_.
Yes, he was caught and chained at last, and for the next week had moods
of gnashing his teeth, and feeling the most degraded of men, alternating
with hours of trying to persuade himself that it was the best thing
which could have happened to him.
Mrs. Cricklander, now that she had gained her end, wisely left him for a
day or two in peace to the care of Arabella and the nurses, drawing the
net closer each hour by her public parade of her position as his
_fianc�e_. She wrote the most exquisite and womanly letter to thank her
many friends for their kind congratulations--and lamented, now that the
truth being known would not matter, that John had had a slight relapse,
and was not quite so well.
But, of course, she was taking every care of him, and so he soon would
be his old exuberant self!
Thus the period of John Derringham's purgatory began.
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