The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/The Sinner's Comedy/Chapter 9

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IX.

For Sacheverell the sun had not set for a fortnight; for Anna, there had been magic in the moon. They had seen each other every day: they had been for several strolls into the country. She always walked with him to his hotel or till they were in sight of it, and he invariably walked back with her again to her studio. The childishness of the performance caused them endless merriment. They also read together: once or twice they managed to finish a whole paragraph. For some reason, however, she never touched her picture. "I can always paint," she said; " I have been painting all my life. I have not always had you—nor can I have you always." He had told her that he loved her; she had made answer that men were very fickle: that Love was the Eternal Lie, and the man who told it the prettiest was the best poet. She, herself, was not, as the phrase goes, in love with him, but she was under his influence. Sacheverell's dreamy, speculative mind was especially delightful to her, a woman who had never found leisure for dreaming, and to whom the high sphere of speculative thought was an undiscovered country. There was a gentleness, too, in his character, a resignation to the will of God—or of anybody—which seemed divinely meek to her more rebellious nature. When she told him the long story of her short life, of her husband, of Kilcoursie, she forgot all her past unhappiness in the fact that he, in the Present, was listening and understanding.

"Talking to you," she said to him, "is only thinking to myself—made easier."

That evening he was to meet Mrs. Molle at Paddington, whence they would leave for Tenchester. He could not see Anna for at least ten days.

"It will be strange to-morrow and to-morrow," she said, "not to have you with me."

"And I——" said Sacheverell.

"Will you miss me?"

"You know I will."

"I am so glad. . . . I ought not—it's hateful—but I want you—to be miserable." She opened a cardboard box which stood in a corner of the room, and produced an unconsidered trifle in the shape of some ribbons and feathers. She put it on her head, and in so doing managed to brush some tears from her eyelashes.

"Do you like my new hat?" she said. This was her way of changing the subject.

"Is that bow meant to stick up?"

"Of course; flat bows are hideous. Nothing would induce me to alter it. Nothing. . . . Perhaps you will like it better when you get used to it."

"Perhaps."

"Why don't you like it now?"

"I do," he said.

She smiled with happiness. "I love nice clothes. I could live in a garret and sleep on the floor and eat bread and apples, or bread without the apples—but I must have pretty gowns."

"You are very beautiful in anything," he said.

"If you think so," she answered, as gravely, "it

will make me beautiful!"

"Anna," he said, quickly, "if we could be together always!"

"Together—always," she repeated.

"Just think of it—you with your painting and me—who knows? I might finish my book. We might go to Mount Athos."

"On Mount Athos," said Anna, "there would be no philosophy—but a fiddle and some picturesque rags."

"I am afraid we must not drop philosophy," he said.

"In that case," said Anna, "we must drop Mount Athos and take an attic. It would have to be an attic—we should be so poor. But we would work and work and work. Between us we might accomplish something! Would the days ever be long enough? I would do the cooking. I can make an omelette and a beef-steak pie — but I have forgotten most of the pie. Do you mind?"

He laughed. "Should we be able to afford beef- steak?"

"We should be called The Dean and his minx," said Anna. "What would Eleanor say?"

"Suppose we went down and resigned the Deanery together," he suggested. "But are you—crying?"

"No, it is only the light—it is a little strong for my eyes. I—I have been using them too much lately. Ten whole days to wait—before I can see you again. It seems such a long time. So many things can happen in ten days. . . . I will work at the picture, but — sometimes I think it will never be finished. Whenever I see hope something happens. I — I heard to-day," she went on, "from my husband. He is in money difficulties again. The thirty pounds I sent him to pay some bills with he has used for something else. So he wants another thirty. That means I must accept Stock's offer for the black and whites. I am getting so tired—and worried. I am strong really—very strong. I ought to be able to work nine hours a day—but I can't."

"And I can do nothing to help you?" said Sacheverell. "Must I see you toiling like this for that man? Am I powerless? a log? a stone?"

"I shall be all right," she said, "if you write to me every day. You have given me so much courage that nothing seems too hard for me."

Their farewell was in silence.


Her letters for the next week were full of humour—of hope—of plans for the future. "Seventy-two more hours and then I shall see you. I am so glad, that I feel almost afraid to think of it." So she wrote in the morning. That same night she sent another note to say she had received word that her husband was lying seriously ill—at the point of death—alone in his lodgings. "I must go to him," she wound up. "I will do what I can. He has no friend in the world. The very sight of him stifles me. I would sooner house with a rattlesnake than go near him. But he is ill. I have no choice in the matter."

Sacheverell, who knew the horrors of her married life as no one else knew them, read her letter and felt it was her death warrant. He was staring at it when Eleanor rushed into the study waving the Pall Mall Gazette.

"The Bishop of Gaunt is dead," she panted, and looked the rest. He neither heard nor saw her.

"George is not so ill as I expected," Anna next wrote; "he is certainly weak, but there is nothing really serious the matter with him. I cannot help thinking—well, perhaps you can guess. Still, as I am here, I will not leave him till he is convalescent. I am not feeling very well. My eyes pain me. I am obliged to work at night when he is asleep. Of course, it is a strain. I hope to be out of the house on Saturday." The note was dated Thursday. On Sunday morning Sacheverell received the following:—


"14, Carbury Street,

"Tottenham Court Road.

"Dear Sir,—My wife desires me to say that she has been unable to finish the drawings she promised you. She is not well enough to write herself, but she hopes to be able to do so in a few days.

"Yours very truly,

"George Christian."


During the four months that followed—months of such dull madness that it seemed sanity—Sacheverell managed to hear both directly and indirectly how she was. Not that inquiries were necessary—he knew by a strange instinct her good days and her bad days. He also knew that she would never recover.

"At one time you thought you would like to be a Bishop," said Eleanor; "now you have got your wish you don't seem to care a bit."

"I believe I am called a Bishop," he answered, with a strange smile. "Poor Doddridge!"

Doddridge was his predecessor.