The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/The Sinner's Comedy/Chapter 7

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VII.

That night, Sacheverell received a letter from his sister.


"My dear Peter," it ran—"As it is so much more agreeable here than it is in town or at home just at present, Carlotta insists on my remaining another fortnight. I think this is a splendid opportunity to have the dining-room whitewashed and the drawing-room papered. The paint in my bedroom, too, would be none the worse for a fresh coat. As you are in town, perhaps you had better go straight on to Tenchester and remain there to look after the workmen. They need incessant watching. Get somebody to inspect the drains. I am so dreadfully afraid of typhoid—one hears such awful things—and now Frank is coming home I want to be quite sure that the house is healthy. I have been thinking that you might as well move into the back bedroom and let him have yours. There is such a nice wall there to hang his trophies on. We shall never get them all into the drawing-room. Would you like the smaller lion's skin for your study? It is so dark there that no one will be able to see that it is torn.

"Mrs. Prentice is flirting desperately with Sir Richard. She will, no doubt, marry him. They are pretty certain to ask us to St. Simon's-in-the-Close. She and I have seen a great deal of each other

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lately. All the Havilands are useful people to know. Lord Middlehurst has a tremendous lot of influence. He might do something for one of the boys. I want Lionel to get a secretaryship; he has his father's charm of manner. Darling Percy! But it does not do to think of him. By the bye, don't forget to have all the lamps thoroughly overhauled.

"Can you make up a parcel of your old clothes (under-things, of course) and send them to me here? I have promised them to the under-gardener. He is so grateful to me, poor creature. I am sure the little change down here did you good. You don't rest sufficiently. I cannot get you to be idle. Why you should take all this trouble about that extraordinary Cunningham Legge I cannot imagine. Such waste of time, too, for a man with your responsibilities. Your friends (particularly the nobodies and those who have nothing on earth to do) seem to think that you have nothing to do but to fetch and carry for them. I wonder why you put up with it. I would not for one moment.

"I don't wish to worry you, but I think you ought to stir yourself about 'The Metaphysic of Religion.' By the time you have finished it all your ideas will be old-fashioned. You don't seem to have any ambition. I am quite sick of telling people that you hope to publish it soon. I am sure they think it will end like that tiresome old Casaubon's 'Key to all the Mythologies.' Mr. Vallence hinted something of the sort at lunch to-day. Why do you trouble with all these committee meetings and things? Other Deans don't do it. I was trying to remember yesterday how many people you buried last year. I really think you might drop the burying. It means a whole afternoon every time. When do those awful Divinity students begin work? It seems to me you take far too great pains with them. They are not worth it. Still, as they pay very well, you can't give them up just at present.

"If Lord Middlehurst puts Lionel up for the Junior Devonshire, the entrance fee won't be more than fifty. I forget the exact amount—but it will be such a good thing for him. In one way it is rather an awkward expense just now. I was rather hoping that you and I could manage a little run to Bellagio later on. I need a rest fully as much as you do. There's the dinner-gong.

"Your affectionate sister,

"E. Molle.

"P.S.—I want some money for a few bills. Better send a blank cheque."


He read this through and laughed; it reminded him of so many others in the same strain. At one time it would have filled him with bitterness, but now—could he not see Anna on the morrow? He sat down to write: he had a few ideas. This was the first:— Thoughts, when the mind is thrall to some strong emotion, come in a sort of rhythm: it may be said that we think in a rough kind of blank verse. He paused, then wrote rapidly on another slip of paper:—


She seemed a flower—heiress to all the beauty,

All the grace and fragrance of each flower

Sprung since the world began.


He read it critically,—frowned,—smiled. It was, at least, spontaneous; he could grant that. He read it again—She seemed. Ah! why had the word seem occurred to him? There was an example of the mind unconsciously hedging. He wanted the Truth, not the Semblance. It might be that the real Anna was plain-featured and ordinary: a little, dumpish woman: sallow, somewhat shrewish. Oh, that a man's eyes should be such traitors to his perception! He remembered that he had suffered the same harassing doubts in the case of Mrs. Prentice. "Adgnosco veteris vestigia flammæ" he murmured, and passed a sleepless night.

On the morrow, when he called at the Studio he made no excuse for his visit. He went as a matter of course; it seemed, indeed, the only thing to do.

As for Anna—she expected him, and wore a useless but adorable silk pinafore. The colour was pink: it pleased him to call it rose-jacynth. He decided, for all time, that she was lovely. And he was not mistaken.