“I would that I were
low laid in my grave.”
“Proteus, I love thee
in my heart of hearts.”
GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
THE last guest has departed.
Portia has wished “good-night” to a very
sleepy Dulce, and has gone upstairs to her own room.
In the corridor where she sleeps, Fabian sleeps too,
and as she passes his door lightly and on tip-toe,
she finds that his door is half open, and, hesitating,
wonders, with a quick pang at her heart, why this should
be the case.
Summoning courage she advances softly
over his threshold, and then sees that the bed within
is unoccupied, that to-night, at least, its master
is unknown to it.
A shade darkens her face; stepping
back on to the corridor she thinks deeply for a moment,
and then, laying her candle on a bracket near, she
goes noiselessly down the stairs again, across the
silent halls, and, opening the hall door, steps out
into the coming dawn.
Over the gravel, over the grass, through
the quiet pleasaunce she goes unswervingly, past the
dark green laurels into the flower garden, and close
to the murmuring streamlet to where a little patch
of moss-grown sward can be seen, surrounded by aged
Here she finds him!
He is asleep! He is lying on
his back, with his arms behind his tired head, and
his beautiful face uplifted to the heavens. Upon
his long dark lashes lie signs of bitter tears.
Who shall tell what thoughts had been
his before kind sleep fell upon his lids and drove
him into soothing slumber
sweetest joy, the wildest woe, is love;
taint of earth, the odor of the skies
So sings Bailey. More of wild
woe than joy must have been in Fabian’s heart
before oblivion came to him. Was he thinking of
her of Portia? For many days his heart
has been “darkened by her shadow,” and
to-night when all his world was abroad,
and he alone was excluded from prostrating himself
at her shrine terrible despair had come
to lodge with him, and grief, and passionate protest.
Stooping over him, Portia gazes on
him long and earnestly, and then, as no dew lies upon
the grass, she sits down beside him, and taking her
knees into her embrace, stays there silent but close
to him, her eyes fixed upon the “patient stars,”
that are at last growing pale with thought of the
The whole scene is full of fantastic
beauty the dawning day; the man lying full
length upon the soft green moss in an attitude suggestive
of death; the girl, calm, passionless, clad in her
white clinging gown, with her arms crossed, and her
pale, upturned face beautiful as the dawn itself.
The light is breaking through the
skies; the stars are dying out one by one. On
the crest of the hill, and through the giant firs,
soft beams are coming; and young Apollo, leaping into
life, sends out a crimson ray from the far East.
Below, the ocean is at rest wrapt
in sullen sleep. “The singing of the soft
blue waves is hushed, or heard no more.”
And no sound comes to disturb the unearthly solemnity
of the hour. Only a little breeze comes from
the south, soft and gentle, and full of tenderest love
that is as the
of morn, waking the lands.”
He stirs! His eyes open.
He turns restlessly, and then a waking dream is his.
But is it a dream? He is looking into Portia’s
eyes, and she she does not turn from him,
but in a calm, curious fashion returns his gaze, as
one might to whom hope and passion are as things forgotten.
No word escapes him. He does
not even change his position, but lies, looking up
at her in silent wonder. Presently he lifts his
hand, and slowly covers it with one of hers lying
on the grass near his head.
She does not draw it away everything
seems forgotten there is only for her at
this moment the pale dawn, and the sweet calm, and
the solitude and the love so fraught with pain that
overfills her soul!
He draws her hand nearer to him still
nearer until her bare soft arm (chilled
by the early day) is lying upon his lips. There
he lets it rest, as though he would fain drink into
his thirsty heart all the tender sweetness of it.
And yet she says nothing, only
sits silent there beside him, her other arm resting
on her knees, and her eyes fixed immovably on his.
Oh! the rapture and the agony of the
moment a rapture that will never come again,
an agony that must be theirs for ever.
“My life! my love!” he
murmurs at last, the words passing his lips as if
they were one faint sigh, but yet not so faint but
she may hear them.
She sighs, too; and a smile, fine
and delicate, parts her lips, and into her eyes comes
a strange fond gleam, born of passion and nearness
and the sweetness of loving and living.
The day is deepening. More rosy
grows the sky, more fragrant the early breeze.
Her love is at her feet, her arm upon his lips; and
on the fair naked arm his breath is coming and going
quickly, unevenly the feel of it makes
glad her very soul!
Then comes the struggle. Oh!
the sweetness, the perfectness of life if spent alone
with the beloved. To sacrifice all things to
go away to some far distant spot with him to
know each opening hour will be their very own:
they two, with all the world forgotten and well lost what
bliss could equal it?
Her arm trembles in his embrace; almost
she turns to give herself into his keeping for ever,
when a sound, breaking the great stillness, changes
the face of all things.
Was it a twig snapping, or the rush
of the brooklet beyond? or the clear first notes of
an awakening bird? She never knows. But all
at once remembrance returns to her, and knowledge
and wisdom is with her again.
To live with a stained life, however
dear; to feel his shame day by day; to distrust a
later action because of a former one; to draw miserable
and degrading conclusions from a sin gone by. No!
Her lips quiver. Her heart dies
within her. She turns her eyes to the fast reddening
sky, and, with her gaze thus fixed on heaven, registers
“As she may not marry him whom
she loves, never will she be wife to living man!”
And this is her comfort and her curse,
that in her heart, until her dying day will nestle
her sullied love. Hidden away and wept over in
secret, and lamented bitterly at times, but dearer
far, for all that, than anything the earth can offer.
Gently very gently without
looking at him, she draws her arm from his touch and
rises to her feet. He, too, rises, and stands
before her silently as one might who awaits his doom.
“To hear with eyes belongs to
Love’s rare wit.” He seems to know
all that is now passing in her soul, her weakness her
longing her love her strength her
oath her grief; it is all laid bare to him.
And she herself; she is standing before
him, her rich satin gown trailing on the green grass,
her face pale, her eyes large and mournful. Her
soft white neck gleams like snow in the growing light;
upon it the strings of pearls rise and fall tumultuously.
How strange how white she seems like
a vision from fairy, or dreamland. Shall he ever
Laying his hand upon her shoulders, he looks steadily into
her eyes; and then, after a long pause
“There should be proof,” he says, sadly.
And she says,
“Yes, there should be proof,”
in a tone from which all feeling, and hope, and happiness
And yet the world grows brighter.
The early morn springs forth and glads the air.
nor Orient morn,
fragrant zephyr, nor Arabian climes,
gilded ceilings can relieve the soul
A long pause follows her sentence,
that to him has savored of death. Then he speaks:
“Let me raise your gown,”
he says, with heart-broken gentleness, “the
dew of morning is on the grass.”
He lifts her train as he says this,
and lays it across the bare and lovely arm that had
been his for some blessed minutes. As he sees
it, and remembers everything all that might
have been, and all that has been, and all that
is a dry sob chokes his voice and,
stooping, he presses his lips passionately to her
smooth, cool flesh.
At this she bursts into bitter weeping;
and, letting her glimmering white gown fall once again
in its straight, cold folds around her, gives way
to uncontrollable sorrow.
“Must there be grief for you,
too, my own sweetheart?” says Fabian; and then
he lays his arms around her and draws her to him, and
holds her close to his heart until her sobs die away
through pure exhaustion. But he never bends his
head to hers, or seeks to press his lips to those that
are sweet and dear beyond expression but
that never can be his. Even at this supreme moment
he strives to spare her a passing pang.
“Were she to kiss me now,”
he tells himself, “out of the depths of her
heart, when the cold, passionless morning came to her
she would regret it,” and so he refrains from
the embrace he would have sold his best to gain.
“I wish there might be death,
soon,” says Portia, and then she looks
upon the awakening land so full of beauty, and growing
light, and promise of all good.
The great sun, climbing up aloft,
strikes upon her gaze, and the swaying trees, and
the music of all things that live comes to her ears,
and with them all comes, too, a terrible sense of
desolation that overwhelms her.
“How can the world be so fair?”
she says. “How can it smile, and grow,
and brighten into life, when there is no life for
She breaks down.
“For us?” he finishes
for her, slowly; and there is great joy in the blending
of her name with his. “Yes, I know; it is
what you would have said. Forgive me, my best
beloved; but I am glad in the thought that we grieve
His tone is full of sadness; a sadness
without hope. They are standing hand in hand,
and are looking into each other’s eyes.
“It is for the last time,” she says, in
a broken voice.
And he says:
“Yes, for the very last time.”
He never tries to combat her resolution to
slay the foe that is desolating his life and hers.
He submits to cruel fate without a murmur.
“Put your face to mine,”
she says, so faintly that he can hardly hear
her; and then once more he holds her in his arms, and
presses her against his heart.
How long she lies there neither of
them ever knows; but presently, with a sigh, she comes
back to the sad present, and lifts her head, and looks
mournfully upon the quiet earth.
And even as she looks the day breaks
at last with a rush, and the red sunshine, coming
up from the unknown, floods all the world with beauty.