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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

For hero worship was necessary to Sibyl


All

intimacy was difficult to his solitary nature. It was alien while it was courteously welcomed. It was the natural instinct of hers. She had to learn to suppress her tenderness--or, at any rate, its expression--a hard lesson for an over-demonstrative nature, not long out of its teens. But Sibyl learned even that for his sake. And there her knowledge stopped. It never reached beyond his wishes to his mind. She was merged entirely in her love of her husband, but if he had been unworthy of the exalted pedestal on which she had placed him, she would not have discovered it.

'It might just as well have been Doll.' Mr. Loftus thought occasionally, half amused, when he had the barbarity to try a platitude of the first water upon her--one of Doll's best, such as the young man, after diving into the recesses of his being, could produce, and found she received it with as much interest as the thoughts for which he had dug deep. For hero-worship was necessary to Sibyl, but not a hero--only that she should consider him one. The sham was to her the same as the real. She saw no difference. Like many another woman, she would have adored an ass's ears, wondering at the blindness of the rest of mankind. But if the truth about those ears had been forced upon her, rubbed into her, tattooed upon her, her entire belief in human nature would have fallen with the fall of one fellow-creature. The heights and depths of human nature had never awed her, nor its great forces

moved her to reverence or compassion. She was of the stuff out of which the female cynic, as well as the female devotee, is made.

Mr. Loftus did not marvel at an adoration which has been the birthright of his fortunate sex since the world began, but his perennial wonder at the enigma of feminine human nature had a new element added to it--that of amusement. She played with his tools, as a robin perches on a spade, thinking it is stuck in the earth for that purpose, and for the turning up of worms.

The struggles, the despair, the hope and the aspiration, through which his youth had climbed, and out of which it had forged its tools, were not a part of Sibyl's youth. She liked the tools now that they were made, and desired them for her own small uses. She was naturally drawn to those of deeper convictions and larger faiths. She liked the luxury of being moved by them, stirred by them, lifted beyond herself by a power outside of herself. She loved to nibble the edge of their hard-earned bread and feel that she, too, was of them, and make believe that she had helped to grind the flour; and to make believe with Sibyl was the same thing as to believe. Her insolvent nature clung to the rich one, ostensibly because it was sympathetic, but really because it was rich.

This unconscious audacity was a novel source of entertainment to Mr. Loftus, a bubbling wayside spring which he had hardly hoped to meet with on the dry highroad of married life. It is greatly to be feared that his conscience, usually a tender one, was hardly as watchful as it should have been on this subject. It certainly had lapses when Sibyl conversed with him seriously, especially when she coupled his feelings with her own on the greatest subjects, never doubting that they were identical. But after a short time he dared not speak to her of anything really dear to him. She had a gift for making sacred things common by touching them, and age had not tarnished reverence in Mr. Loftus's soul, though it had tarnished many things which youth holds in reverence. He talked to her, instead, on subjects which he had not much at heart, and that did quite as well.


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