Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/374

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A Study in Temptations.

"But I really mean it today," she said. This guileless and unconscious admission of the usual insincerity of her self-depreciation made them both laugh. It was Sophia's saving grace that she could, at times, survey herself from a distance. When she was not the first, she would at least be the second, to mock at her own extravagancies. But it may be that she carried this self-ridicule to excess, and saw her actions in a ludicrous light when they were rather sad than funny. Thus she had gradually lost all belief in her own earnestness. Sometimes it seemed that her love for Wrath was a jest, that life and death were alike jests, that the world itself was the Creator's big joke with mankind. Everything was so grotesque, so badly rehearsed. The curtain went up too soon and came down too late; parts were mumbled, or shouted, or gabbled, or left unspoken; cues were disregarded; heroes were knock-kneed, and heroines had thick ankles; fools made mirth with such a solemn air, and the wise were solemn so foolishly; men and women seemed not themselves, but their caricatures; it was all wildly comic, farcical, unnatural, and inartistic. The only sad part was, that one ached from laughing till one cried at the pain. But this, too, was a joke.

There was something inhuman, almost cruel, in Sophia's humour which made Wrath unhappy—all but fearful. Men, moreover, do not like their wives to have too clear a perception of the ludicrous—it is a masculine theory that laughter must be on the male side only. A man knows when laughter is a spoil-sport; he can postpone it when necessary. But a woman will laugh—if she know how—at the right