The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/The Sinner's Comedy/Chapter 11

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XI.

Two days later, Sacheverell received a letter from Mrs. Grimmage.


"Sir,—Mrs. Christian died suddenly this morning. She sent for me, poor dear lady. I am too upset to write more. My lord, your obedient,

"E. Grimmage."


"Have you got bad news, Peter?" said Mrs. Molle. They were sitting at the luncheon-table. He had already told her of Anna's illness, and she had guessed the rest—or enough. As the woman was dying (by a Special Providence), she viewed the situation with complacency. "Is it bad news?" she repeated.

"I expected it," he said, briefly, and left the room.

The blow had fallen: he could weep—a little. The heart-breaking anxiety, the terrible despair of the past four months vanished like evil spirits: he felt and believed that she was with him: that they were together as they had never been when life seemed fairest. And, as he looked into the Past, he saw how they both—by silent agreement—had left the end unimagined. With them each day had been but a beginning.

And now it was finished.


When Sacheverell entered the chamber of death he saw Anna lying on the bed, her hands folded on her breast, her eyes closed as though she were resting them. Such beauty and such peace were beyond all words or tears. He knelt down by the bedside. . . .

He was next conscious of another presence in the room. He looked up, and saw Sir Richard Kilcoursie.

Kilcoursie was the first to speak. "I have just returned," he said, catching his breath, "from my honeymoon. . . . Some one called Grimmage sent me word. . . . I loved her," he added, fiercely, "I loved her. I never knew how much. Do you think she knows? She looks so still. She was always out of my reach, and now—for ever. . . . I was never good enough. There was no one like her. No one."

Sacheverell bowed his head.

They heard the sound of sobbing behind them. It was Mrs. Grimmage.

"Doesn't she look beautiful?" she said, wiping her eyes. "I have never seen nothing to equal it. . . . We did all we could. We might have saved her if she'd have given in sooner. But she never would give in. She kept on saying, 'I shall soon be all right again,' and she wouldn't have the doctor in till this last week or two. She worked herself to death—and starved, if the truth was known. It's my firm belief that she only had a dinner when I reg'lar sat down and made her. I don't believe in them lunches she used to say she had at the Studio. . . . And that husband of hers was always nagging for money, and she gave it till there was next to nothing left but bare rent. I have been putting two and two together, and that's my conclusion. It's cruel hard, it is. She might ha'eat me out of house and home, poor dear, for less than the asking. It's a life thrown away, that's what it is. Clean thrown away. And that husband of hers, with his three changes of air a year and a hot lunch every day of his life—he flourishes, he does. He's upstairs now—taking on. You never see'd such antics. Reg'lar high-strikes. He's fit to bust hisself crying. But he's got just enough sense to stop before the bust comes. Let him howl. That's what I say. Let him howl! . . . There ain't no use trying to understand Providence. To take her and leave him."

"I could not wish her back," said Sacheverell. He bent over and kissed Anna's marble brow—marble-cold and more radiant than the lilies on her breast—and then passed out of the room. Her spirit followed him: he left Kilcoursie gazing at her dead body.

When he reached home it was late in the evening. But he sat down to work at his sermon for the following Sunday. And he worked well; writing had not been so easy to him for months—for months it had been a painful labour.

Eleanor watched him curiously. His calmness seemed to her a little unfeeling. She had always given him credit for a certain amount of heart. She could only compare his position to her own when the Major died, and she had been distracted. Her prostrate condition had been the talk of every tea-party in Ballincollig for weeks. If Peter had been in love with that extraordinary artist-woman, he certainly had a very singular way of showing it.

"Will you preach to-morrow, as usual?" she ventured to say.

"Of course," he said, without looking up from his paper. "Shall I not live as she would have me live—working?"

But the future, as he saw it, was dim. . . .

Some years afterwards the Bishop of Gaunt confided his brief love-story to a friend.

"But why," said the friend, "since the husband had forfeited every right to be considered, why didn't you punch his head and bear the woman off in triumph?"

"To tell the truth," said Sacheverell, "I was tempted to some such decisive measure—sorely tempted."

"If you had succumbed," said the friend, drily, "she would have recovered."

"Don't say so," said Sacheverell, putting out his hand; "think I know it."

The friend, who was a psychologist, went home with more material for his great work on Impulse and Reason.


If the gods have no sense of humour they must weep a great deal.