Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/161

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The Sinner's Comedy.
145
 

an idea of drapery about his elegant legs. He wore the self-satisfied air of the criticised turned critic; his general expression conveyed that life was one long struggle with his own fastidiousness—that he practised toleration as the saints did self-denial. Mr. Digby Vallence was a gentleman of some fame, who had translated Theocritus out of honesty into English, discovered a humourist in Jeremy Taylor, damned Rousseau, and, in his leisure, bred canaries. His celebrated paradox, "There is nothing so natural as Art," was perhaps even more famous than he.

"You have never told us," he said, addressing the Dean, "what you think of Mrs. Prentice."

The Dean, who sat in the corner, had a fine, expressive face which suggested his mobile disposition. The type was too unusual to strike a thoughtless observer as anything more than severe; women, without exception, called him odd-looking, and were silent. He did not appeal to them—to begin with, he betrayed no desire to appeal to them. An unpardonable insult. The melancholy which clouded his countenance was neither gentle nor resigned; on the contrary, rather fierce and self-mocking. This fierceness was intensified by a pair of heavy eyebrows and very piercing brown eyes. ("One can never lie to Sacheverell with any degree of comfort," said the plaintive Vallence.) He was tall and well-made, although he stooped a little and looked some years older than he really was. In point of fact he was forty. But a man's age depends on his history. His history had been dull, grey, and unromantic—an even saunter into success which only seemed to him a crueller name for failure. "Sacheverell promised to