The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Study in Temptations/Chapter 8



MISS ELIZA BELLARMINE, all this time, was sitting in front of the looking-glass in her bedroom, wondering whether her eyes showed the effects of weeping. She wept so seldom that when she did, her face for some time afterwards would be irresistibly suggestive of the beach after a storm.

"It is hard," she said, staring at herself, "that one woman should have so much, and another, nothing. Who could blame Wrath?"

From which the intelligent reader will at once gather, that the learned and austere Miss Bellarmine had bestowed her heart on one who had never sought it: on one who she had just learnt was the husband—and the devoted husband—of another woman. So strange is the feminine mind, that while she had quailed under the gossip which associated Wrath and Sophia in a more than charitable alliance, her position did not seem quite desperate. He would arise one day, assert his higher self, and cast about him for chaste society, coupled with moderate charms. But now—O heavy fate!—this could not be: he had married the daughter of Heth. Eliza had not the temperament of those who consume with idleness and call it hopeless passion; her love was wholesome and honest, and worked for good, not evil. She was only too well aware that she had no smallest claim on Wrath's consideration: he had given her no encouragement—indeed, it would have been hard to find a man who had less of the drawing room gallant in his manner with any woman. So marked was his deficiency in the elegant art of disrespectful attentions that many fashionable ladies declared they could not endure the rude monster, and were he not supposed to be wonderfully clever (although they could see nothing in his pictures), they would never even notice the wretch. Eliza, therefore, like many of us in unhappy circumstances, had only her own foolishness to blame, and that she knew this was not the least bitter of her several pangs. But already she had put Wrath out of her heart for all time.

"Never, never, never, never!"

This was her solemn incantation, and lo! even as she spoke the only romance of her dull life shivered, sobbed, and vanished. She could have cut off her hand with the same unhesitating precision had it seemed necessary. But such triumphs, whether over the will or the body, are not cheaply won: decisive moments are not realized by time, and what is done in sixty ticks of the clock the soul must remember or regret for eternity.

Eliza, having mastered a great situation in her life, was only conscious that she felt much older and very tired. She bathed her eyes, ordered herself some tea, and sat down to read Arckenholz on Christina of Sweden—four portentous volumes which she had chosen from Sir Benjamin's library as light, yet useful reading. And although it might have been more dramatic if she had indulged instead on a long soliloquy on the hollowness of life, the injustice of God, and so on, there are those who might think it was more heroic to blow her despised nose and study a tedious historian.

Half an hour later when Eliza entered the drawing- room she discovered Wrath and Lady Hyde-Bassett playing chess, and Sophia (who hated games of every description), engaged in a most animated conversation with De Boys Mauden. No one seemed to notice her entrance except Margaret, who gave her a swift smile and indicated with her eyes a new book on the side-table, as much as to say, "That will interest you more than either of these men." Eliza sighed, but drifted towards the volume. Literature was still her friend.

"How I should like to paint her as St. Martha," said Wrath, in a low voice, to Lady Hyde-Bassett; "she has just that expression of kind, yet terrible energy St. Martha must have had!"

"How a love affair would improve her!" said Margaret; "every woman should have at least one love affair."

"But she is a nice creature," said Wrath. "I am very fond of her. She is a good but inaccessible angel."

"I am going to marry her to Claverhouse Digges," said her ladyship, confidently, "I shall arrange it all next autumn!"

Artistic chess is a game beyond the petty restrictions of science.