“Present mirth hath
What’s to come is still unsure.”
“JULIA is coming to-day,”
says Dulce, looking at them all, with the tea-pot
poised in her hand. It is evident that this sudden
announcement has hitherto been forgotten. “I
heard from her this morning,” she says, half
apologetically, “but never thought of telling
you until now. She will be here in time for dinner,
and she is bringing the children with her.”
“Only the children?” says
Roger, the others are all singularly dumb.
“Yes. The ayah has
gone home. Of course she will bring a nurse of
some sort, but not Singa.”
“For even small mercies we should
be thankful,” says Roger.
“Who is Julia?” asks Portia, idly.
“’Who is Julia?
What is she
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair, and wise is she,
The heavens such grace ’”
“Oh, that will do,” says
Dicky Browne, turning impatiently to Roger, who has
just delivered himself of the above stanza.
“Don’t be severe,”
says Dulce, reprovingly; “extravagant praise
is always false, and as to the swains, that is what
she wants them to do, only they won’t.”
“Now, who is severe?” says Roger triumphantly.
“As yet, you have hardly described her,”
“Let me do it,” entreats
Mr. Browne, airily, “I feel in the very vein
for that sort of thing. She is quite a thing to
dream of; and she is much too preciously utter, and
quite too awfully too-too!”
“That’s obsolete now,”
says Dulce, “quite out of the market altogether.
Too-too has been superseded, you should tell Portia
she is very-very!”
“Odious,” says Roger,
in a careful aside as though determined to think Miss
Blount’s speech unfinished.
“She is like Barbauld’s
Spring,” put in Sir Mark, lazily, coming
up to have his cup refilled. “She is the
’sweet daughter of a rough and stormy sire.’
Do any of you remember old Charley Blount?”
Plainly, nobody does. Everybody
looks at everybody else, as though they should
have known him, but nothing comes of it.
“Well, he was just the funniest
old thing,” says Sir Mark, laughing, at some
absurd recollection. “Well, he is gone now,
’I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat
And the breeches, and all that,
Were so queer.’
“And bless me, what a temper
he had,” says Sir Mark, laughing again at his
quotation. “His clothes and his temper were
old Blount’s principal features. Hideous
old monster he was too.”
“Is she hideous?” ask Portia.
“N-o. She is well enough;
she isn’t a bit like him, if we forget the clothes
and temper. She says her mother was very beautiful.”
“I never knew a woman whose
mother wasn’t beautiful, once the mother was
dead,” says Roger. “Sort of thing
they tell you the moment they get the chance.”
Five o’clock has struck some
time ago. Evening is coming on apace. On
the dry, smooth-shaven lawn, outside, the shadows are
lengthening, stretching themselves indolently as though
weary from all the hide-and-seek they have been playing,
since early dawn, in the nooks and corners of the
quaint old garden.
June has not yet quite departed; its
soft, fresh glory still gilds the edge of the lake,
and lends a deeper splendor to the golden firs that
down below are nodding to the evening breeze; it is
the happiest time of all the year, for
“What is so rare as
a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then heaven tries the earth, if it be in
And over it softly her warm ear lays.”
“Well, the mother is dead and
gone now, this many a year,” says Sir Mark,
“and the old fellow went nearly out of his mind
when Julia married Beaufort.”
“Oh! she is married?” says Portia.
“Dear Portia, didn’t I
tell you she had children?” says Dulce,
reproachfully. “She married an Indian Nabob
with an aristocratic name and a lac of rupees,
as she believed, but there was a flaw somewhere, and er how
was it Dicky?”
“Simplest thing out,”
says Dicky. “He had a lack of rupees, indeed,
as she found out when he died. It is only the
difference of one letter after all, and that can’t
count for much.”
“Her father, old Charley, left
her everything, so she isn’t badly off now,”
says Sir Mark, “but the Nabob was a sell.”
“I wonder if Portia will like
her,” says Dulce, meditatively, laying her elbows
on the table and letting her chin sink into her palms.
“Tell me something about her
personally,” entreats Portia, turning to her
with some show of interest.
“What can I tell you? She
is pretty in her own way, and she agrees with everyone,
and she never means a word she says; and, when she
appears most earnest, that is the time not to believe
in her; and she is very agreeable as a rule, and she
is Fabian’s pet aversion.”
("Not now,” says Portia to herself).
“I don’t think there is
anything else I can tell you,” continues Dulce,
with a little nod.
“I wonder you have her,”
says Miss Vibart, disagreeably impressed by this description.
“Why, she is our cousin!
And, of course, she can come whenever she wishes she
knows that,” says Dulce. “It is not
with her, as with you, you know. You are a joy,
she is a duty. But the children are so
“How many of them?” asks
Portia, who knows a few things she prefers to children.
“Three. Pussy, Jacky, and
the Boodie. The Boodie is nothing short of perfection.”
“That is the one solitary point
on which Dulce and I agree,” says Roger.
“We both adore the Boodie. Wait till you
see her; she is all gold hair, and blue eyes, and
creamy skin, and her nose is a fortune in itself.
I can’t think where Julia found her.”
“Fabian is so fond of her,”
says Dulce, whose thoughts never wander very far from
the brother for whose ruined life she grieves incessantly,
day after day.
“How old is she?” asks
Portia “this little beauty you speak
of this harmony in blue and gold?”
“Five, I think. She is
not in the least like her mother, who goes in for
aesthetics, with a face like a French doll, and who
will love you forever, if you will only tell a lie,
and say you think she resembles Ellen Terry.”
“With a soul given entirely
to French bonnets and Louis Quinze shoes, she would
be thought ultra-mundane,” says Sir Mark, who
is trying to make Dulce’s little toy terrier,
Gilly, stand on his hind legs, in search of cake.
“My goodness! what a long word,”
says Dicky Browne, who is now eating bread and butter,
because he has finished the cake. “Does
it mean anything edible? Because if so, I don’t
quite follow you; no one could masticate Julia!”
“I hope she will be in a good
temper when she comes,” says Roger. “Last
time she terrified us all into fits.”
“If the children have behaved
nicely in the train, and if anyone has taken any notice
of her, she will be charming,” says Dulce, moodily.
“If not, she will be the other thing.”
“And the other thing isn’t
nice,” puts in Dicky, in his pleasantest tone.
“Then what shall we do with
her just at first?” says Miss Blount, who is
evidently in fear of breakers ahead.
“Look here,” says Mr.
Browne, who couldn’t hold his tongue to save
his life, “I’ll tell you the first thing
to say to any fellow who arrives at your house.
Don’t go worrying him about the health of his
sister, and his cousins, and his aunts, but just ask
him if he will have a B. and S. He will, you
know and and there you are.
He won’t forget it to you afterwards.”
Sir Mark laughs. Portia unfurls
her fan, and smiles faintly behind it.
“Julia isn’t a fellow,
and I’m sure she wouldn’t like brandy,”
says Dulce, who is feeling a little hopeless as she
contemplates the coming of this new guest.
“The more fool she,” says
Dicky. “Try Madeira, then. She has
a tenderness for Madeira; and tell her her hat is
lovely. That’ll fetch her.”
“Come and sit here, Dicky,”
says Portia, motioning to the footstool near her.
“Your advice is not to be surpassed.”
“It’s not so bad,”
says Mr. Browne, comfortably settling himself on the
cushion at her feet, just as Fabian enters the room;
“but I’m sorry she won’t entertain
the brandy idea. That never fails. It’s
friendly, homely, you know, and that.”
“Dicky says if you drink rum
and new milk every morning before breakfast, you will
live forever,” says Dulce, thoughtfully.
“What a miserable idea,”
says Fabian, in his usual soft voice, that has yet
something stern about it. “It suggests the
Wandering Jew, and other horrors. Who would live
“I would,” says
Dicky, with a sentimental glance at Portia, “if
I might only remain here.”
“Get up, Dicky, and don’t
make an ass of yourself,” says Sir Mark, a little
sharply for him, considering his natural laziness,
and his tendency to let all things slide. As
a rule he makes indolence his god, and sacrifices
everything to it. Now, some superior influence
compels him to make this speech, and to regard Dicky
with a glance that bespeaks disfavor. Fabian
is standing somewhat apart, his eyes as usual fixed
upon the flickering shadows and the touch of green
in the ocean beyond, but with his mind many leagues
away. Yet now he turns, and looks with wonder
at Sir Mark, as though astonished at his tone, and
Sir Mark looks at him. There is a certain amount
of longing, and hope, and affection, in Sir Mark’s
“At all events she will be in
time for our ball,” says Roger, “and,
besides that, there will be another element of amusement.
Stephen Gower is coming back to the Fens at last.
She can get up a little flirtation with him, and as
he is a right-down good sort. I daresay, if I
gave him the right cue, he would take her off our
hands for a little while.”
“Is your friend coming?”
says Dulce, with some surprise. “You never
told us. And that pretty place is to have a master
at last? I am rather glad, do you know; especially
as he is a friend, too, of Fabian’s.”
“I have no friends,” says
Fabian, suddenly, with a small frown.
“Oh yes, you have, whether you
like it or not,” says Gore, quickly. “I
can swear to one at least. My dear fellow, this
is one of your bad days; come with me; a walk through
the evening dews will restore you to reason once more.”
He passes his arm through Fabian’s,
and leads him down the balcony steps into the dew-steeped
gardens. A moan from the sea comes up to greet
them as they go. No other sound disturbs the
calm of the evening air.
“I think Fabian has the most
perfect face I ever saw,” says Roger, suddenly.
But Portia makes no reply. She is watching Fabian’s
figure as it disappears in the dusk. Dulce, however,
turns quickly, and looks at Roger, a strange gleam
in her great, blue eyes.