Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/361

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A Study in Temptations.
345
 

employed on the estate. She opened this door and found herself face to face with the head-gardener.

"How unlucky!" she exclaimed. "I had just come in to steal some strawberries. Please don't give me any of them, because that would not be the same thing! "And, laughing gaily, she sauntered up the path. The gardener stroked his beard and stared after her. Had not his wife kept him awake the whole of the preceding night, with her "firm beliefs" and "dying breaths" on the subject of Miss Sophia Jenyns? And now she was hankering after strawberries. He whistled.

Sophia, meanwhile, went on her way, rejoicing that she had been able to make such a plausible excuse for entering the grounds by a back-door. She hugged the elusive hope that Wrath had not yet seen her nonsensical letter, and she was now wondering how she could get round to the studio, where, perhaps, if the Fates were kind, she would find the envelope with its seal unbroken. She glanced at the big clock which smiled from the archway of the stable-yard: it was exactly nine. They would all be at the breakfast-table: she could cross the lawn without the smallest risk of meeting either Wrath, or Margaret, or Eliza Bellarmine. Sophia caught up her skirt and ran. Once started, she did not seem able to stop; she had only a frantic notion that she was chasing her own head. The chase ended, however, when she reached the studio window. Her limbs grew heavy and her sight dim; she stumbled over the threshold, and groped her way to the mantel-piece. The letter was gone. She tore off her veil and stared helplessly about the room. Then something