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When Arabella Clinker and her mother were settled together at Wendover,
a strange peace seemed to fall upon the place. John Derringham was
conscious of it upstairs as he lay in his Louis XV bed. By the time he
was allowed to be carried to a sofa in the sitting-room which had been
arranged for him, July had well set in.
He had parted from his Cecilia with suitable things said upon either
side. Even in his misery and abasement, John Derringham was too assured
a spirit and too much a man of the world to have any hesitation or
awkwardness. Mrs. Cricklander had been all that was sympathetic. She
looked superbly full of vigor and the joy of life as she came to say
"John, darling," she purred, "you will do everything you are told to by
the doctors while I am away, won't you?" and she caressed his forehead
with her soft hand. "So that I may not have to worry as dreadfully as I
have been doing, when I come back. It has made me quite ill--that is why
I must go to Carlsbad. You will be good now; so that I may find you as
strong and handsome as ever on my return." Then she bent and kissed him.
He promised faithfully, and she never saw the whimsical gleam in his
eyes, because for the moment having gained her end her faculties had
resumed their normal condition, which was not one of superlative
sensitiveness. Like everything else in her utilitarian equipment, fine
perceptions were only assumed when the magnitude of the goal in view
demanded their presence. And even then they merely went as far as
sentinels to warn or encourage her in the progress of her aims, never
wasting themselves upon irrelevant objects.
When her scented presence had left the room, John Derringham clasped his
hands behind his head, and, before he was aware of it, his lips had
murmured "Thank God!"
And then Nemesis fell upon him--his schoolboy sensation of
recreation-time at hand left him, and a blank sense of failure and
hopeless bondage took its place.
Surely he had bartered his soul for a very inadequate mess of pottage.
And where would he sink to under this scorpion whip? Where would go all
his fine aspirations which, even in spite of all the juggling of
political life, still lived in his aims. Halcyone would have understood.
"Oh! my love!" he cried. "My tender love!"
Then that part of him which was strong reasserted itself. He would not
give way to this repining, the thing was done and he must make the best
of it. He asked for some volumes from the library. He would read, and he
sent the faithful and adoring Brome to request Miss Clinker to send him
up the third and fourth volume of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire." He often turned to Gibbon when he was at war with things. The
perfect balance of the English soothed him--and he felt he would read of
Julian, for whom in his heart he felt a sympathy.
Arabella brought the volumes herself, and placed them on his table, and
then went to settle some roses in a vase before she left the room.
A thin slip of paper fell out of one of the books as he opened it, and
he read it absently while he turned the pages.
On the top was a date in pencil, and in a methodical fashion there was
written in red ink:
"Notes for the instruction of M. E.," and then underneath, "Subjects to
be talked of at dinner to-night--Was there cause for Julian's apostasy?
What appealed most to Julian in the old religions--etc., etc."
For a second the words conveyed no meaning to his brain, and for
something to say, he said aloud to Arabella: "This is your writing, I
think, Miss Clinker. I see you have a taste for our friend Gibbon, too,"
and then, observing the troubled confusion of Arabella's honest face, a
sudden flash came over him of memory. He recollected distinctly that
upon the Sunday before his accident, they had talked at lunch of Julian
the Apostate, and Mrs. Cricklander had turned the conversation, and then
had referred to the subject again at dinner with an astonishing array of
facts, surprising him by her erudition.
He looked down at the slip again--yes, the date was right, and the
red-ink heading was evidently a stereotyped one; probably Arabella kept
a supply of these papers ready, being a methodical creature. And the
questions!--were they for her own education? But no--Arabella was a
cultivated person and would not require such things, and, on that
particular Sunday, had never opened the door of her lips at either meal.
"She prompts Cecilia," in a flash he thought, with a wild sense of
bitter mirth. "No wonder she can reel off statistics as she does.
'Subjects to be talked of at dinner'--forsooth!"
And Arabella stood there, her kind plain face crimson, and her brown
eyes blinking pitifully behind her glasses.
She was too fine to say anything, it would make the situation impossibly
difficult if she invented an explanation. So she just blinked--and
finally, after placing the fresh flowers by Mr. Derringham's bed, she
left the room by the door beyond.
When she had gone it was as if a curtain were raised upon John
Derringham's understanding. Countless circumstances came back to him
when his _fianc�e's_ apparent learning had aroused his admiration, and
with a twinge he remembered Cheiron's maliciously amused eyes which had
met his during her visit to the orchard house, when she had become a
little at sea in some of her conversation. The whole thing then was a
colossal bluff--Arabella was the brain! Arabella was the erudite,
cultured person and his admirable Cecilia played the r�le of extremely
clever parrot! He laughed with bitter cynical merriment until he shook
in his bed.
And he, poor fool, had been taken in by it all--he and a number of
others. He was in company at all events! Then he saw another aspect, and
almost admired the woman for her audacity. What nerve to play such a
game, and so successfully! The determination--the application it
required--and the force of character!
But the gall of it when she should be his wife! He saw pictures of
himself trembling with apprehension at some important function in case
mistakes should occur. He would have to play the part of Arabella, and
write out the notes for the subjects to be "talked of at dinner!"
He lay there, and groaned with rage and disgust.
He could not--he would not go through with it!
But next day the irony of fate fell upon him with heavy hand. He
received the news that Joseph Scroope, his maternal uncle, was dead, not
having produced an heir, so he knew that he would inherit a comfortable
fortune from him.
The noose had, indeed, tightened round his neck,--he could not now
release himself from his engagement to Cecilia Cricklander. Some
instincts of a gentleman still remained with him in full measure. The
hideous, hideous mockery of it all. If he had waited, he would now have
been free to seek his darling, his pure star, Halcyone, in all honor. He
could have taken her dear, tender hand, and led her proudly to the seat
by his side--and crowned her with whatever laurels her sweet spirit
would have inspired him to gain. And it was all too late! too late!
He reviewed the whole chain of events, and perceived how it had been his
own doing--what had happened in each step--and this knowledge added to
the bitterness of his pain. It was from now onward that his nights were
often agony. Every movement, every word of Halcyone came back to him,
from the old days of long ago when she had given him the oak leaf, to
the moment of her looking into his eyes, with all her soul in hers, as
she had answered his passionate question. "Afraid? How should I be
afraid--since you are my lord and I am your love? Do not we belong to
And in spite of the peace Mrs. Cricklander's absence caused in the
atmosphere, John Derringham grew more unutterably wretched as time went
His cup seemed to be filling from all sides. The Government was going
out in disaster, and, instead of being able to stand by his colleagues
and fight, and perhaps avert catastrophe by his brilliant speeches and
biting wit, he was chained like a log to a sofa and was completely
It was no wonder his convalescence was slow, and that Arabella grew
anxious about him. She felt that some of Mrs. Cricklander's wrath and
disgust because of this state of things would fall upon her head.
His ankle was a great deal better now, it was five weeks since the
accident, and in a day or two he hoped to leave for London. Mrs.
Cricklander would be obliged to take an after-cure at the highly
situated castle of an Austrian Prince, an old friend of hers--where the
air was most bracing, she wrote. For her strict instructions to Arabella
before she left, after telling her she might have her mother to keep her
company, and so earning the good creature's deep gratitude, had been:
"You must keep me informed of every slightest turn in Mr.
Derringham--because, until he is perfectly well and amusing again, I
simply can't come back to England. His tragic face bores me to death.
Really, men are too tiresome when there is the slightest thing the
matter with them."
And Arabella had faithfully carried out her instructions.
In common honesty she could not inform her employer that John Derringham
was perfectly well or amusing!
Poor Miss Clinker's happy summer with her mother was being a good deal
dimmed by her unassuaged sympathy and commiseration.
"Of course, he is grieving for that sweet and distinguished girl, Miss
Halcyone La Sarthe," she told herself--and with the old maid's hungering
for romance, which even the highest education cannot quite crush from
the female breast, she longed to know what had parted them.
Mr. Carlyon had gone abroad, she had ascertained that, and La Sarthe
Chase was still closed.
The night before John Derringham left for London, he hobbled down to
dinner on crutches. He was not to try and use his foot for some weeks
still, but the cut on his head was mended now. It was a glorious July
evening, the roses were not over on the terrace, and every aspect of
nature was gorgeously beautiful and peaceful.
They did not delay long over their repast, and there was still twilight
when Mrs. and Miss Clinker left their invalid alone with his wine. A
letter was in his pocket, arrived by the evening post from Mrs.
Cricklander, which he had not yet opened. It would contain her
reflections upon his changed conditions of fortune, of which he had,
when he learned of its full magnitude, duly informed her.
He was alternately raging with misery now, or perfectly numb and, as he
sat there a shattered wreck of his former _insouciant_ self, gaunt and
haggard and pitifully thin, some of his friends would hardly have
He felt it was his duty to read the missive presently, but he told
himself the lights were too dim, and taking a cigar he hobbled out upon
the terrace. His return to public life would now be too late to help to
avert disaster, he must just stand aside in these last weeks of the
session and see the shipwreck. An unspeakable bitterness invaded his
spirit. The moon was rising when he got outside, one day beyond its
full. It seemed like a golden ball in the twilight of opal tints, before
it should rise in its silver majesty to supreme command of the night.
Nature was in one of her most sensuously divine moods. The summer and
fulfillment had come.
John Derringham sat down in a comfortable chair and gazed in front of
There had been moonlight, too, when he had spent those exquisite hours
with his love, now six weeks ago--a young half moon. Could it be only
six weeks? A lifetime of anguish appeared to have rolled between. And
where was she? Then, for the first time, the crust of his
self-absorption seemed to crumble, and he thought with new stabs of pain
how she, too, must have suffered. He began to picture her waiting by the
gate--she would be brave and quiet. And then, as the day passed--what
had she done? He could not imagine, but she must have suffered
intolerably. When could she have heard of the accident, since the next
day she had been taken away? Why had she gone? That was unlike her, to
have given in to any force which could separate them. And if he had
known this step also was unconsciously caused by his own action in
having his letter to Cheiron posted from London, it would have tortured
him the more. Another thought came, and he started forward in his chair.
Was it possible that she had written to him, and that the letter had got
mislaid, among the prodigious quantity which accumulated in those first
days of his unconsciousness?
Then he sank back again. Even if this were so, it was too late now.
Everything was too late--from that awful night when he had become
engaged to Cecilia Cricklander.
She had put the announcement into the paper not quite three weeks after
the accident. What could Halcyone have thought of him and his
unspeakable baseness? Now she could have nothing but loathing and
contempt in her heart, wherever she was--and what right had he to have
broken the beliefs and shattered the happiness of that pure, young soul?
He remembered his old master's words about a man's honor towards women.
It was true then that it was regulated, not by the woman's feelings or
anguish, but by the man's inclination and whether or no the world should
hold him responsible. And he realized that this latter reason was the
force which now prevented his breaking his engagement with Mrs.
Cricklander. He had behaved with supreme selfishness in the beginning,
and afterwards with a weakness which would always make him writhe when
he thought of it.
His self-respect was receiving a crushing blow. He clasped his thin
hands and his head sank forward upon his breast in utter dejection; he
closed his eyes as if to shut out too painful pictures. And when he
opened them again it was darker, and the moon made misty shadows through
the trees, and out of them he seemed to see Halcyone's face quite close
to him. It was tender and pitiful and full of love. The hallucination
was so startlingly vivid that he almost fancied her lips moved, and she
whispered: "Courage, beloved." Then he knew that he was dreaming, and
that he was gazing into space--alone.
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