Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/230

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214
A Study in Temptations.
 

"I cannot," said a sorrowful voice. Jenyns rubbed his eyes, and burst out laughing.

"Oh, is it only you, Wrath?" he said. "What a fool I am; I thought you were the devil."

The man he addressed, and who had followed him into the room unperceived, was of middle height and extraordinarily thin: his features and form looked misty and ill-defined, as though he stood behind a cloud and were trying to pierce through it.

"Would you have your wife live again that she may die again?" he said, quietly—"that you may bury her again?"

"No, no," muttered Jenyns—"no, no, not this again. A jump from the window or a prick at my throat would settle my mind for ever. If there is a hereafter I would know it, and if there isn't—well, I could not feel the disappointment. Clay has no illusions to lose. You see," he added, "I have not called up the devil for nothing!"

Jenyns's idea of religion—picked from street-corners and Ingersoll—began and ended with the doctrine of Eternal Punishment. When he was happy and thought himself an enlightened believer in the possibility of a Supreme Reason, he forgot it; when he was in trouble, he could think of nothing else. Sometimes it filled him with panic, sometimes with desperation: more often than all with a longing to be in the Place of Torment—to know the worst, to put an end to the torturing suspense and doubt.

"If the devil can answer your curses," said Wrath, "why not try whether God will answer prayers?"

"Cursing is quick," said Jenyns, " and prayers are