The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Study in Temptations/Chapter 15
De Boys stood waiting at the cross-roads when Sophia appeared in sight. He hastened to meet her, his countenance showing the decent, temperate, and subdued enthusiasm which befitted the pioneer of a great philosophical experiment. Sophia, most unreasonably, thought his manner cold — not that she would have seen him otherwise. The Ideal was founded on ice — eternal, Arctic.
"We are fortunate in our day," she said, in a quaking voice; "it is delightful walking. But I am rather tired. Is there any place where I can rest?"
De Boys looked about him; it was obviously impossible that she could rest on the ground, and on either side of them were high hedges.
"If you can manage to go on a little further," he said, "we may find a cottage — or something! But I am afraid we have not much time. The train "
"But there are lots of trains," said Sophia, wearily, "and there is no hurry."
"Will you take my arm?" said De Boys. "We shall not meet any one, and if we do-"
She shrank back; the only arm she ever permitted herself to rest on, was Wrath's. "Oh, no!" she said, "I hate taking people's arms!"
The young man coloured, and, in an aggrieved tone, murmured an apology.
"I do not wish to take a gloomy view of things," she said, with a certain severity, "nor do I want to be disagreeable, but I hope we are acting wisely. I hope we are not doing wrong!"
"I hope not," he said, with appalling seriousness.
She shivered, although it was a warm morning.
"Of course," he went on, "I obeyed your instructions, because a woman's tact is generally acknowledged to be the best in such matters. But I will not conceal from you that I could wish it might have been arranged a little more openly: I mean, without giving it this clandestine air which — which is not altogether pleasant. It looks too much like running away — and running away is low! Your note was most characteristic: it reminded me of our first meeting. Do you remember it? when you told me that you only saw the honeysuckle!"
He glanced at her sideways and thought she was not looking so much like Jane as usual. But she was still lovely — he could forgive her a great deal. Such is the magnanimity of the wise gander in his judgment of the endearing, if inconsequential, goose.
"Do not think," he said, " that I fail to appreciate your courage. You are only too dauntless! You do not see the dangers which would appal a — a more ordinary mortal. Oddly enough, after you had left the drawing-room last night Wrath said he had hoped to paint you as Alcestis — the ideal, courageous woman, you know, who died in her husband's stead." "Oh!" said Sophia, faintly, "what — what else did he say?"
"He did not say anything else," said Mauden.
"How did he look when he said it?"
"He was looking at your photograph," said De Boys. His thoughts had wandered to the time when he had last walked on a country road at that hour in the morning. Jane had been with him then. How long ago it seemed! Did it seem so long to Jane? Was she, like all women, fickle? Had she forgotten him, in the pomp and circumstance of her new position? He drew a deep sigh.
"I mean," said Sophia, "was Wrath looking happy, or tired, or interested, or anything?"
"I think he was rather sleepy," said De Boys, "or at least I was. . . . Did I ever tell you how much you remind me of a Miss Shannon? She is Lady Jane Shannon now. But at one time I knew her very well."
"Really?" said Sophia. "You must tell me about her. . . . I suppose it would be considered a compliment to — to be asked to sit for Alcestis?"
"Undoubtedly," said De Boys — "undoubtedly. . . .Yes, as I was saying, you bear the most extraordinary resemblance to Jane. But while your hair is black, hers is a kind of russet gold———"
"Russet gold ? How lovely ! and so fashionable. . . . What did Margaret say when Wrath said he intended to paint me?"
"I don't think she said anything. . . . I wish you could know Ja — Lady Jane. She has so much originality. I am sure you would become great friends." " Ye — es. . . . I suppose Margaret looked as though he ought to have asked her to be Alcestis?"
But De Boys did not hear: he was wondering whether Jane and Sophia really could become great friends. Would Jane quite grasp the Before-the-Fall Ideal ? Would there be any difficulty in explaining———
"Of course," said Sophia, suddenly, "women must feel flattered when Wrath wants to paint them. To begin with, he is a very handsome man."
"Very handsome indeed!" sighed Mauden. He was thinking of Jane.
"He gives one such an idea of power," said Sophia ; " the moment you see him you feel ' Here is some one to trust.' "
"Jane is the sort of girl, you know," said De Boys, " that — that you meet once and never forget. It is not merely because she is beautiful. Her beauty — which is very great — is her least charm."
"Indeed! I can well believe it. It is only within the last two years that I have realized how very handsome Wrath is. Is it not absurd ? when I have been with him ever since I was born ! But if you — care — for people, and, of course, I — care for him "
"Naturally," said Mauden; "and it is very singular, but if you love people, you don't know what you love them for until you lose them. And then———"
"Don't say until you lose them," faltered Sophia, "that sounds so — awful!"
"It does, doesn't it?" said Mauden;" the sense of loss, of being, as it were, eternally separated, is very terrible. And death is not the only veil : sometimes our own folly . . . and when we have only our own folly to blame it — it is so hopeless and so much harder to bear than———" Where was his fluency ? his command of language? Could it be that as thoughts became real, words grew meaningless?
"We — that is Jane and I — grew up together," he went on; "we are not related, but it always seemed as though we were. I don't mean to say that we were like brother and sister, but———"
"I understand," said Sophia, eagerly," it is the same with Wrath and myself. It is true that I have never regarded him as my father, but, as you say, a sort of relationship——— "
"Have you left him any word — any explanation?" said De Boys, in a low voice.
"I wrote him a letter," said Sophia. "Not exactly the sort of letter one would write to a guardian, you know, but nicer ! Do you think he will consider me ungrateful not to have"
"I am afraid he may," said Mauden.
"I cannot tell you how generous he has always been," she said. "I would not like him to think me ungrateful. . . . Mr. Mauden."
"If you don't mind," she said, weakly, "I think I won't go to London to-day."
The young man tried not to look indecently thankful.
"But," he said, "you cannot go back alone. And your letter?"
"Luckily," she answered," I did not mention your name in the letter. I can explain all that. He won't be angry with me." She burst into tears. "He has never been angry with me in his life! I wish now he had given me one or two good shakes. I am so wicked ! He has brought me up very badly — every- body says it!"
"Don't cry," said Mauden.
"I can't help it. . . . And I feel so ill. I haven't had any breakfast. I am not fit to be alone. My father was just the same : he killed himself; he never would think things over, and I am just like him; Wrath has always said so."
Mauden did not feel in a mood to gainsay Wrath's opinion. In fact, his reverence and admiration for Wrath's saintliness and long-suffering were increasing every moment.
"Suppose," he said, "we both go back to him and make a clean breast of it?"
"Oh, no!" said Sophia, "you mustn't come. I would not have Margaret know a word about it for the world."
"I must see you safely within the gates, at all events," said Mauden, with firmness. She had already turned and was walking at a rapid pace. Her fatigue was no longer apparent.
"You are not to come with me," she said, with her eyes fixed in the direction of The Cloisters.
"Pardon me," said De Boys, "but I must."
"I insist," said Miss Jenyns,"on returning alone. I will not be made ridiculous!"
He halted, took off his hat, and waited until she had advanced some yards in front of him. At this discreet distance, he followed.
"I will write to you," she called over her shoulder; "but I have made a great mistake. I shall be extremely ill after this" He bowed again, but still followed.
"Do you wish," she said, at last, "to compromise me?"
"I cannot leave you unprotected," said Mauden, getting pale. He, too, had a temper.
"I came here alone, and I presume I can return alone. Please do not make me angry."
Matters were at this unhappy stage when they heard the rumble of wheels. Presently a grocer's cart appeared at the far end of the road.
"I will ask this man to drive me back," said Sophia. Then she gave Mauden a fiery glance. "We shall be the talk of the county!"
"Possibly, too, of London," he observed.
"You should not have exposed me to this," she went on; "it was unkind. Consumption is in my family, and it is well known that consumptives are not responsible for their conduct!" She hailed the grocer with a royal gesture.
"I have walked too far," she said, when he stopped, "will you kindly take me to The Cloisters?"
When she found herself actually seated in the cart, her customary good-humour returned. She lifted her veil and flung an artless smile to heaven.
"How my husband will laugh when I tell him!" she said.
Even months afterwards, Mauden was unable to explain her motive in making this astounding remark at that particular moment. When, however, in later years he confided the whole episode — together, of course, with every other episode of his bachelor career — to the wife of his bosom, (who, for the present, shall be nameless), she explained it without an instant's hesitation.
"She referred to her husband," said the lady, "entirely for the benefit of the grocer's man! She was not even thinking of you!"
At which he could only look incredulous. But he was nevertheless impressed by the truth of her assertion.