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An hour or so before sunset the next day John Derringham in his motor
was climbing the steep roads which lead to San Gimignano, the city of
beautiful towers, which still stands, a record of things medi�val,
untouched by the modernizing hand of men.
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.
He left his motor at the hotel and wandered into the square where the
remains of the palazzos of the two great Guelph and Ghibelline families,
the Ardinghelli and the Salvucci, frown at one another not fifty yards
apart--shorn of their splendors, but the Salvucci still with two towers
from which to hurl destruction at their enemies.
John Derringham looked up at the balcony whence Dante had spoken, and
round to the Cathedral and the picturesque square. The few people who
passed seemed not in tune with his thoughts, so calm and saintly was the
type of their faces--all in keeping with a place where a house of the
sixteenth century is considered so aggressively modern as not to be of
any interest. It was too late for him now to go into the Cathedral;
nothing but the fortress battlements were possible, and he hobbled
there, desiring to see the sunset from its superb elevation.
The gate-keeper, homely and simple, opened to him courteously, and he
went in to the first little courtyard, with its fig tree in the middle
and old grass-grown well surrounded by olives and lilac bushes; and then
he climbed the open stairs to the bastion, from whose battlements there
is to be obtained the most perfect view imaginable of the country, the
like of which Benozzo Gozzoli loved to paint.
It has not changed in the least since those days, except that the tiles
of the roofs, which are now dark gray with age, were then red and
brilliant. But the cypress trees still surround the monasteries, and the
high hills are still crowned with castellos, while the fields make a
patchwork of different crops of olives and vines and grain.
John Derringham mounted the stairs with his head down, musing bitterly,
so that, until he reached the top, he was not aware that a slender
girl's figure was seated upon the old stone bench which runs round the
wall. Her hat lay upon the seat beside her, while she gazed out over the
beautiful world. He paused with a wildly beating heart in which joy and
agony fought for mastery, but, as she turned to see who this stranger
could be, thus breaking in upon her solitude, his voice, hoarse with
emotion, said aloud her name:
She started to her feet, and then sank back upon the bench again
unsteadily, and he came forward to her side. They both realized that
they were alone here in the sunset--alone upon this summit of the world.
He sat down beside her and then he buried his face in his hands, letting
his cap fall; and all the pent-up misery and anguish of the past weeks
seemed to vibrate in his voice as he murmured:
"Ah, God!--my love!"
Her soft eyes melted upon him in deepest tenderness and sorrow. To see
him so pale and shattered, so changed from the splendid lover she had
But he was there--beside her--and what mattered anything else? She
longed to comfort him and tend him with fond care. Had he been the
veriest outcast he would ever have found boundless welcome and solace
waiting for him in her loving heart.
"John!" she whispered, and put out gentle fingers and caressed his hair.
He shivered and let his hands fall from his haggard face.
"Darling," he said, "I am not worthy to touch the hem of your garment.
Why do you not turn from such a weakling and brute?"
"Hush! Hush," she exclaimed, aghast. "You must not speak so of yourself.
I love you always, as you know, and I cannot hear him whom I love
And now he looked into her eyes while he took her slender hand, and
there he saw the same wells of purity and devotion brimming with divine
faith and tenderness that he had last seen glistening with happy love.
He folded her to his heart; the passionate emotion each was feeling was
too deep, too sacred for words; and then their eyes streamed with
They sat thus close for some seconds. The thirst and hunger of all these
days of rack and anguish must be assuaged before either could talk. But
at last she drew a little back and looked up into his face.
"John," she said softly, "I read in an English paper a week ago that
your wedding was fixed for the seventh of October--my birthday. Is it
He clasped his hands in agony.
"It can never now be so," he said. "I cannot, I will not go through with
it. Oh, Halcyone, my darling one, you would pity me, although you would
despise me, if you knew--"
"I could never despise you," she answered, nestling once more in his
arms. "John, for me nothing you could do would make any difference--you
would still be my love; and if you were weak I would make you strong,
and if cold and hungry, I would feed and comfort you, and if wicked, I
would only see you good."
"Oh, my dear, my dear," he said, "you were always as an angel of
sweetness. Listen to the whole degrading story, and tell me then of that
which I must do."
She took one of his hands and held it in both of hers; and it was as if
some stream of comfort flowed to him through their soft warm touch and
enabled him to begin his ugly task.
He told her the whole thing from the beginning. Of his ambitions, and
how they held chief place in his life, and how he had meant to marry
Cecilia Cricklander as an aid to their advancement. He glossed over
nothing of his own baseness, but went on to show how, from the moment he
had seen her upon that Good Friday at the orchard house, his
determination about Cecilia Cricklander had begun to waver, until the
night under the tree when passion overcame every barrier and he knew he
must possess her--Halcyone--for his wife.
He made no excuse for himself; he continued the plain tale of how, his
ambitions still holding him, he had selfishly tried to keep both joy and
them, by asking her--she who was so infinitely above him--to descend to
the invidious position of a secret wife.
She knew the rest until it came to the cause of his accident, and, when
she heard it occurred because of his haste to get to her before she
should reach the house, she gave a little moan of anguish and leaned her
head against his breast.
So the story went on--of his agonized thoughts and fever and fears--of
his comprehension that she had been taken from him, and of the utter
hopelessness of his financial position, and the whole outlook, until he
came to the night of his engagement; and here he paused.
"Do not try to tell me any of this part, John, my dear lover," she said.
"I know the standard of honor in a man is that he must never give away
the absent woman, and I understand--you need not put anything into
words. I knew you were unhappy and coerced. I never for a moment have
doubted your love. You were surrounded with strong and cruel forces, and
all my tenderness could not reach you quite, to protect you as it should
have done, because I was so full of foolish anguish myself. Dearest, now
only tell me the end and the facts that I must know."
He held her close to him in thankfulness, and then went on to speak of
the shame and degradation he had suffered for his weakness; the
drawn-out days of aching wonder at her silence, and finally the news of
his Uncle Joseph Scroope's death and the fortune that would come to him,
and how this fact had tied and bound his hands.
"But it has grown to such a pass," he said, "that I had come to
breaking-point, and now I can never go back to her again. I have found
you, my one dear love, and I will never leave you more."
Halcyone shook her head sadly, and asked him to listen to her side. And
when he knew that her leaving La Sarthe Chase had been brought about
because of his letter to Cheiron having been posted from London, so that
she hoped to find him there, it added to his pain to feel that, even in
this small turn of events, his action had been the motive force.
But, as she went on, her pure and exquisite love and perfect faith
shining through it all seemed to draw his soul out of the mire in which
it had lain. And at last they knew each other's stories and were face to
face with the fateful moment of to-day, and he exclaimed gladly:
"My darling, now nothing else matters--we will never, never part again."
Then, as he looked into her eyes, he saw that not gladness but a solemn
depth of shadow grew there, and he clasped both her hands. A cold agony
chilled his whole being. What, O God, was she going to say?
"John," she whispered, all the tenderness of the angels in her gentle
voice as she leaned and kissed the silver threads in his dark hair.
"John, do you remember, long ago when we spoke of Jason and Medea, and
you asked me the question then, Must he keep his word to her even if she
were a witch?--and I told you that was not the point at all: it was not
because she was or was not a witch, but because it was _his
word?_"--Here her voice broke, and he could hear the tears in it, and he
wildly kissed her hands. Then she went on:
"Oh, my dear lover, it is the same question now. _You cannot break your
word._ Nothing but misfortune could follow. It is a hard law, but I know
it is true, and it is fate. We put in action the force which brings all
that we receive, and we who have courage pay the price without
flinching, and, above and beyond all momentary pleasure or pain, we must
be true to ourselves."
"I cannot, I cannot!" he groaned in agony. "How can you condemn me to
such a fate?--tied to this woman whose every influence is degrading to
me; parted from you whom I adore--I would rather be dead. It is not
fair--not just, if you only knew!"
Then he continued wildly. "Ah, God--and it is all because I forgot the
meaning of your dear and sacred, pledge with me that I must always be
good and true! If I could suffer alone--my darling, my soul!--then I
would go without a word back to hell, if you sent me. But you,
too--think, Halcyone! Can you bear your life? You who are so young,
separated for evermore from love and me. Oh! my own, my own--"
Here he stopped his mad rush of words--her face was so white and
grave--and he let her draw herself from him, and put her hands upon his
shoulders, while her eyes, with tender stars of purity melting in their
depths, gazed into his.
"John," she said, "do not try to weaken me. All Nature, who is my
friend, and the night-winds and their voices, and that dear God Who
never deserts me, tell me that for no present good must we lower
ourselves now. Nothing can ever hurt me. Go back and do that which being
a gentleman entails upon you to do--and leave the rest to God. This is
the winter of our souls, but it will not last forever. The spring is at
hand, if you will only trust, and believe with me that first we on our
side must be ready to pay the price."
Then she bent forward and kissed him as an angel might have done, and,
without speaking more, rose and prepared to walk towards the stairway
which descended to the lower court.
He followed her, and she turned before she began to descend the steps,
while she pointed to the beautiful country.
"Look at the vines, all heavy with grapes," she said, "and the fields
shorn of their corn, and the olives shimmering in the sunset; and then,
dear lover, you will know that all things have their sequence, and our
time of joy will come. Ah! sweetheart, it is not farewell for ever; it
is only that we must wait for our spring."
"Halcyone," he said, while his proud eyes again filled with tears, "you
have the absolute worship of my being. You have taught me, as ever, the
truth. Go, my darling, and I will do as you wish, and will try to make
myself more worthy of your noble soul. God keep you until we meet
She did not speak; she only looked at him with a divine look of love and
faith, and he watched her as she went down, it seemed, out of the very
heart of the setting sun and into the shadows beneath, and so
disappeared from his adoring eyes in a peaceful purple twilight.
Then he returned to the old stone seat and leaning forward gazed out
over the exquisite scene.
A great hush had fallen upon his torn heart. And thus he stayed
motionless until the night fell.
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