Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/227

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A Study in Temptations.
211
 

To whatever end his thoughts were tending (and the way was broad), they were diverted, for the moment at least, by the potman, who, moved by compassion, or following his invariable custom in dealing with mourners, came out to tell him that there was a private room within, where he would find a fire, writing materials, and the daily papers. Jenyns, to his own amazement, but as the potman had foreseen, acted on the hint and followed him into a small, musty room which barely atoned for its stale odour, its dismal light, and oppressive warmth, by being empty. The potman poked the fire, smoothed out the Sportsman, stirred the ink with the one quill in the pen-tray, and, while thus exercising his hands, had his eyes and his wits concentrated on the mysterious and melancholy wayfarer.

The interest Jenyns had created in the minds of the grave-diggers, was slight compared with the sensation he had unconsciously produced among the patrons of the "Jolly Nell." (The original sign had been the "Jolly Knell," but this having been repudiated by the present proprietor—an Irishman—as Dutch spelling, the K was painted out.) Jenyns's bearing, appearance and expression were so unusual, and his features so handsome, that had the same gossips met him under the most commonplace conditions, they would still have paused to guess his calling, or to wonder what path lay before him. On this occasion, however, the despair on his countenance, the possible romance connected with it, and the unlikeness between himself and the mean—almost abject—circumstances of the funeral, gave him a prominence far greater, than if he had buried his dead with every elegant sign of still more elegant grief.