Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/272

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256
A Study in Temptations.
 

Her country house, known as "The Cloisters, near St. Albans," was, as it were, a home of rest for the most eminent in science, politics, art, and literature of her day, for, from her intimate knowledge of one genius, she never committed the error of making them seem common, by entertaining more than one—of his particular sphere—at a time. The distinguished person, therefore, who accepted her hospitality, never laboured under the unspeakable apprehension of encountering either his nearest match, or worse, his horrid better.

Now while Miss Sophia Jenyns, of the Parnassus, was gathering honeysuckle, her ladyship was reading "The Logic of Hegel." The room in which she sat was large, and breathed a sweet odour of peace and good housewifery. Its furniture, hangings, and decoration, though rich, were of a modest and even severe character, forasmuch as the cushions, coverings, footstools, screens, lampshades, photographs, and gew-gaws appurtenant to a modern boudoir were comfortable and pleasing by their absence.

"Man is evil by nature" she read, "and it is an error to imagine that he could ever be otherwise. To such extent as man is and acts like a creature of nature to that extent his whole position and behaviour is wrong. Nature is for man only the starting point which he must transform to something better. The theological doctrine of Original Sin is a profound truth."

She sighed, and looked up from her book to gaze into a small silver-framed mirror which stood on the table by her side. Her complexion was pale, her eyes brown, and her hair prematurely grey. Some of her lady friends said they believed she thought she looked like Marie Antoinette. Her years were thirty-five,