Read CHAPTER XI of Portia or By Passions Rocked , free online book, by "The Duchess", on ReadCentral.com.

“There’s something in a flying horse.”
PETER BELL.

“For of fortunes sharpe adversité,
The worst kind of infortune is this,
A man that hath been in prospérité
And it remember, whan it passed is!”

CHAUCER.

“WHERE are you going, Uncle Christopher?” asks Dulce, as Sir Christopher enters the small drawing-room, booted and spurred for a long journey.

Portia, in the distance, bending over an easel; Julia is forming some miraculous flower, that never yet was seen by land or sea, on a coarse towel, with some crewel wools; the Boodie is lying on her little fat stomach, drawing diligently with a slate and pencil; Dulce, charmingly idle, is leaning back in a lounging chair, doing nothing.

“To Warminster,” says Sir Christopher “What shall I bring you girls from that sleepy little town?”

“Something sweet,” says Dulce, going up to him, and laying her soft arms lovingly round his neck.

“Like yourself,” says Sir Christopher.

“Now that is sarcasm,” says Miss Dulce, patting his fresh old cheek very fondly. “I meant chocolates, or burnt almonds, or even everton toffy, if all things fail.”

“And what shall I bring the others?” asks Sir Christopher, laughing; “you have a sweet tooth, you naughty child, perhaps they haven’t.”

I have,” says Portia, turning round on her seat. “Bring us as much as ever you can.”

“Burnt almonds are my chief delight,” murmurs Julia, affectedly and somewhat absently, being sick with grief, because she cannot reconcile it to her conscience that the stem of an arum lily should be peacock blue.

“Bring some crackers,” says the Boodie, suddenly warming into life, and so far condescending to notice Sir Christopher as to roll round her portly person until she lies prone upon her back. From this dignified position she eyes Sir Christopher magisterially. “Real crackers, mind,” she says severely, “that will say c-r-r-rack, and show fire! those last you brought” contemptuously “were a humbug!”

“Elizabeth!” exclaims her mother in a would-be shocked tone (the Boodie rejoices in that lengthy name), “what are you saying?”

“The truth,” says the Boodie, unflinchingly; “the last he brought were a reg’lar swindle ask Jacky; why they wouldn’t go off even if you stamped on ’em.”

She so plainly by the severity of her glance conveys to every one the impression that she believes Sir Christopher on that last unfortunate occasion had purposely bought for them crackers beneath notice, that the poor old gentleman, though innocent of offence, feels himself growing warm beneath her relentless gaze.

“It wasn’t my fault, my dear,” he says, apologetically; “I quite meant them to go off. I did, indeed.”

“Perhaps so. Take care, however, it doesn’t occur again,” says the Boodie, with so careful, though unconscious, an imitation of her mother’s manner when addressing her maid, that they all laugh, whereupon she rolls back again to her former position, and takes no further notice of them.

Just at this moment Fabian enters the room.

“Going to drive to Warminster?” he asks his uncle.

“Yes.”

“Not Bess, I hope?” alluding to a very objectionable young mare in the stables.

“Yes,” says Sir Christopher again. “Why not?”

“She is utterly unsafe. About the worst thing in chestnuts I ever met. I took her out myself the other day rode her straight from this to Grange; and I confess, I should not care to do it again. Take one of the other horses, and let that beast lie quiet until you can get rid of her.”

“Nonsense!” says Sir Christopher, scornfully; “I wouldn’t part with her for any money. She is the greatest beauty this side of the county.”

“Her beauty is her one point; for the rest, she is vindictive and ill-mannered.”

“Don’t do anything foolish, dearest,” says Dulce, with her eyes large and frightened. “Do listen to Fabian.”

“And let myself be conquered by a pettish chestnut, at my age,” says Sir Christopher, lightly he had been a famous horseman in his day. “My dear child, you don’t understand, and there are moments when Fabian romances. To satisfy you, however, I shall take George with me.”

“‘Wilful man must have his way,’” quotes Fabian, with a slight shrug. “Before I go out, shall I look over those accounts with Slyme?”

“Where are you going?”

“To the warren, with the others, to have a few shots at the rabbits; they overrun the place.”

“Very good. Just ask Slyme about the accounts. By-the-by, he gets more irregular daily.”

“More drunk, do you mean?” says Fabian. There are moments when his manner is both cold and uncompromising.

Portia regards him curiously.

“Yes! yes! Just so,” says Sir Christopher, hastily. “But for the melancholy story that attaches itself to him and that, of course, is some excuse for him I really should not feel myself justified in keeping him here much longer.”

“What story?” asks Portia.

“Oh! well; it all lies in a nutshell. It is an old story, too; one has so often heard it. A bad son dissipated in perpetual hot water. A devoted father. Then, one day, a very bad story comes, and the son has to fly the country. And then, some time afterward, news comes of his death. Slyme never saw him again. He broods over that, I think; at least, he has never been the same man since the son, Matthew, left England. It was all a very unhappy business.”

“For the father, perhaps. For the son, he had more than ordinary luck to die as soon as he did,” says Fabian. He does not speak at all bitterly. Only hopelessly, and without heart or feeling.

“Nobody knows how old Gregory got him out of the country so cleverly,” says Sir Christopher. “It was a marvel how he managed to elude the grasp of the law.”

“He satisfied the one principal creditor, I suppose?” says Fabian, indifferently.

“Oh! impossible,” says Sir Christopher. “It came to hundreds, you know; and he hadn’t a farthing. Well, good-by; I’m off. Expect me and the bon-bons about dinner-hour.”

He nods to Portia and Julia, who smile at him in return, and, kissing Dulce, quits the room.

Fabian, following him, goes on to the library; and, having desired one of the men to send the secretary, Slyme, to him, sits down at one of the tables and turns over leisurely the pages of accounts that lie there.

After a brief examination, he tells himself impatiently that they are somewhat muddled, or have, at least, been attended to in a most slovenly manner. He has just discovered a serious mistake in the row of figures that adorns the end of the second page, when the door opens slowly, and Gregory Slyme comes in.

“Wait one moment, Slyme,” says Fabian, without looking up from the figures before him. A moment passes in utter silence. Then Fabian, still with his eyes upon the account, says, somewhat sharply: “Why, it is altogether wrong. It has been attended to with extreme carelessness. Did you, yourself, see to this matter of Younge’s?”

He waits, apparently for an answer but none comes. Lifting his eyes he fixes them scrutinizingly on the old man before him, and having fixed them, lets them rest there in displeased surprise.

Slyme, beneath this steady gaze, grows visibly uneasy. His eyes shift uncomfortably from one object in the room to another; his limbs are unsteady; the hand resting on the table near him is shaking. His face betrays vacancy mixed with a cunning desire to hide from observation the heaviness and sluggishness that is overpowering him.

“Speak,” says Fabian, sternly and remorselessly; “you can frame an answer, I suppose.”

The old man mutters something that is almost unintelligible, so thick and husky are his tones. His eyes grow more restless; mechanically, and as though unconscious of the act, he leans his body stupidly against the book-case near him.

“You are drunk,” says Fabian, with slow scorn “leave the room.”

Having said this he turns again to his papers, as though from this moment contemptuously unaware of the other’s presence.

Slyme attempts an explanation:

“You wrong me, sir,” he says, in a thick uncertain voice “I I am ill ; my head is bad at times I

“That will do,” says Fabian, such ineffable disgust in his whole manner as makes the miserable, besotted old wretch before him actually cower. “No more lies. I have spoken to you already twice this week and ; do you know what hour it is? twelve o’clock! you begin your day early.”

“I assure you, sir,” begins Slyme again. But Fabian will not listen:

“Go,” he says, briefly, with a disdainful motion of the hand, and in a tone not to be disobeyed. Slyme moves towards the door in his usual slouching fashion, but, as he reaches it, pauses, and for one instant lifts his heavy eyes, and lets them rest upon the young man at the distant table.

This one instant reveals his thoughts. In his glance there is fear, distrust, and, above and beyond all, a malignant and undying hatred such a hatred as might project itself from the eyes of the traitor upon his victim. There is, too, upon Slyme’s face a contortion of the muscles, that it would be sacrilege to call a smile, that is revengeful, and somehow suggests the possibility that this man, however impotent he may now appear, has, in some strange fashion, acquired a hidden and terrible power over the young man, who a moment since had treated him with such scorn and contumely.

The old secretary’s countenance for this fateful moment is one brilliant, if wicked phantasmagoria, in which the ghosts of long sustained thoughts appear and disappear, going from fear and its brother, hatred, to lasting revenge. Then all vanish; the usual soddened look returns to the man’s face; he opens the door, and once more, instead of the evil genius he looked a second ago, a broken-down, drunken old creature crosses the threshold, shambles over the hall, and is lost presently amongst the many passages.

Meantime, ennui is reigning triumphantly in the drawing-room, more conspicuously in the case of Dulce.

“Hey-day,” she says, with a little, idle yawn; “how I do wish everybody would not go out shooting, all at once. I think they might take it by turns. But all men are selfish; they never consider how lonely we may be.”

“Why should one miss them?” says Julia, who in her soul considers every moment unoccupied by the society of a man (that is a possible lover) as time misspent.

“I don’t know,” says Dulce, candidly; “I am only sure of this, that I want them always.”

Portia says nothing.

“Well, certainly, at times they are amusing,” says Mrs. Beaufort, as though just awaking to the fact that now and again one can find a man with some wit or humor in him “and I honestly confess” with a little laugh and a great assumption of candor “that I wish even Stephen Gower would drop in now and help us to pass away an hour or two.”

Even Stephen Gower!” repeats Dulce. “Julia, what has that poor young man done to you, that you should speak thus meanly of him? Even, what an unkind word!”

“I don’t believe I quite meant it, do you know,” says Julia, relenting. “I like Stephen Gower very much. By-the-by, what do you think of him? I never yet heard you express an opinion, good or bad, about him. Do it now.”

Leaning back in her chair, Dulce slowly and thoughtfully raises her arms in the air, with her fingers tipping each other, until presently they fall indolently behind her head, where she lets them lie.

“Well, let me see,” she says, lazily, “I think, perhaps, like Chaucer’s man, he is a ‘veray parfit gentil knight.’”

Portia lifts her eyes from her painting and turns them slowly upon her cousin; she regards her very silently for a moment or two, and then she smiles, and leaning forward, opens her lips.

“‘And of his port as meke as is a mayde,’” she says, mischievously, purposely choosing the same poet for her quotation that Dulce had taken for hers.

Miss Blount laughs.

“You, too, are severe upon our neighbor,” she says, defending him more from obstinacy than from real desire to see justice done. “I confess he is at times a trifle too mild, but not effeminate, surely?”

“He is very handsome,” says Portia, evasively.

“He has a charming mouth,” says Dulce.

“I think you ought only to look at Roger’s mouth,” says Julia, prudishly, whereupon Dulce shrugs her shoulders, impatiently, and, turning, devotes herself for the next ten minutes to the small artist lying at her feet an attention received by the imperturbable Boodie with the most exasperating unconcern.

The afternoon wanes; day is sinking to its rest. Behind the tall dark firs “the great gold sun-god, blazing through the sky” may still be seen, but now he grows aweary, and would fain give place to his sister, the pale moon.

“The sweet keen smell the sighing sound” of coming night is on the air. The restless ocean is rolling inland with a monotonous roar; there is scarcely sufficient breeze to ruffle the leaves of the huge chestnut that stands near one corner of the old house, not far from the balcony outside the drawing-room windows, where Mrs. Beaufort and the two girls are sitting.

The children are playing somewhere in the distance. Their sweet and merry voices come up to the balcony now and then, and mingle with the breath of descending night.

And now from beneath the fir trees two figures emerge, and come towards the stone steps where their hostess is sitting.

“Are you clean?” asks Dulce, with a charming smile, leaning over the railings to see them better as they draw closer.

“To confess a horrid truth, I don’t believe we are,” says Stephen Gower, glancing up at her, and regarding his rough shooting coat somewhat ruefully. “Will that admission exclude us from Paradise?”

“Dulce,” says Dicky Browne, who is the second of the two figures, “I’m worn out. I’ve been walking all day, a thing I very seldom do; I have been firing off an unlimited number of cartridges, without, I am bound to confess I am, as experience has doubtless taught you, a remarkably truthful person without any very brilliant consequences, and I feel that very little more fatigue will be my death. Have compassion on us. We faint, we die; show mercy and give us some tea and some cake. You’re awfully hungry, Gower, aren’t you?”

“Well, not very,” says Mr. Gower, too occupied in his contemplation of Dulce’s charming face to be quite alive to what is so plainly expected of him.

“Oh, nonsense! He is tremendously hungry,” says Dicky Browne. “Let us up, Dulce, and we will sit out there on the balcony, and won’t soil anything. Except gore, there isn’t much staining about us.”

“But that is worse than anything,” says Dulce with a shudder. “However, come up, and if you keep very far away, I daresay I shan’t mind much.”

“Hard conditions,” says Gower, in a lower tone.

So tea is got for them again, and the children, who always seem to feel when plum-cake is to be had, come trooping noisily up the steps to join, uninvited, in the festivities.

Great content follows, and, indeed, all is peace until something said by the Boodie creates a confusion that sweeps calm to the winds. She has ensconced herself on Mr. Gower’s knee, without saying so much as “by your leave” or “with your leave,” and now, raising one soft little dimpled hand to his chin, turns his face towards her own, and for a full minute regards him with silent curiosity.

“Well, is your Highness satisfied?” says Gower, feeling amused.

The Boodie takes no notice of this enquiry. She puckers up her smooth brows as if puzzled, and then says, slowly

“I don’t believe one word of it!”

“Of what?” says Gower. Everybody by this time is looking at the Boodie, and the Boodie is steadfastly regarding Stephen Gower.

“It wasn’t true what she said,” goes on the Boodie, meditatively, “because you have hair on your lip. Girls don’t have hair on their lips do they?”

“Not as a general rule,” says Dicky Browne. “There have been noble exceptions, but unhappily they are rare. Miss Gaunt is perhaps the only girl down here who can boast of hirsute adornment, and the growth upon her upper lip is not to be despised. But then she belongs to the higher and more powerful class of females, in fact, as Wordsworth so touchingly expresses it, she

’Wears upon her forehead clear
The freedom of a mountaineer.’

I always mildly think Wordsworth must have been acquainted with Miss Gaunt.”

“Go on,” says Stephen to the Boodie, who is still lost in thought. “You have not yet told me what it is you disbelieve.”

“It was something Portia said,” returns the Boodie, composedly.

“That I said! surely you are mistaken, darling,” says Portia.

“No, I am not,” persists the Boodie, in an unmoved tone.

“Stephen,” again turning his face to hers, “are you ’meke’?”

At this word all the truth becomes at once known to Portia and Dulce. The Boodie had been in the room when they were discussing Stephen with her mother. She had heard everything. She is a little pitcher she has long ears. Can nothing be done to stop her further speech?

“He is a very nice boy, but I’m not prepared to go as far as calling him meek,” says Dicky Browne, who begins to scent mischief in the air. “Who applied that word to him?”

“I think it is time all you children ran away to nurse,” says Julia, in answer to an agonized glance from both girls.

“It was Portia,” says the Boodie to Dicky Browne, in her sweet innocent treble. “Dulce said first he was a ‘knight,’ and then Portia said he was a ‘meek maid.’ She said something, too, about ‘port,’ but I don’t think she meant Uncle Christopher’s port; I think she meant Stephen’s.”

Deadly silence follows this bombshell. As Mr. Gower, only the day before, had been reading the “Canterbury Tales” for them in his very best old English style, it is impossible to believe the two quotations from them, used in the morning, are not now alive in his memory.

Gower colors, and looks questioningly at Dulce. His expression is not altogether one of chagrin. The child had said she (Dulce) had called him a knight “a veray parfit gentil knight” it must have been. There is comfort, and even gladness in this thought; so much comfort, that he even feels inclined to forgive Portia for comparing him to a “mayde.” Still, some awkwardness is naturally felt by all except the Boodie, who yawns indifferently, and finally follows the other children up to the nursery and every one is vainly trying to think of some commonplace remark, that, when uttered, shall have the effect of restoring conversation once more into a safe channel, when an interruption occurs that puts chagrin and awkwardness out of their minds for the rest of the evening.

First upon the air the reports of two guns being fired off quickly, one after the other; then the quick flinty sound of a horse’s galloping hoofs.

Nearer they came, and still nearer, with that mad haste belonging to them, that suggests unmanageable fury in the brute beast; and as all on the balcony rise simultaneously and press forward to see what may be coming, Bess and the dog-cart turn the corner near the chestnut tree, and dash onwards towards the lower lawn.

Sir Christopher, grim and as full of rage as the animal in whose power he now finds himself, is still holding the reins but more for form’s sake than anything else, as he has no control whatever over the infuriated chestnut, that, with reddened nostrils, and foam-covered flanks, is rushing madly down the green slope.

A sudden rise in the velvet lawn, causing the dog-cart to sway rather much to one side, unseats the groom, who is flung somewhat heavily to the ground. Being fortunately, however, unhurt, he rises hastily, and runs frantically after the mare, as though in foolish hope, that he may yet overtake her and be of some service to his master. With a smothered exclamation, Gower and Dicky Browne dash down the balcony steps to join him in his vain pursuit.

Vain, indeed! At the lower end, by the long lawn, runs a river, small, but swift, and turbulent, that flows for two miles through park, and waving field, and glowing valley, to throw itself finally into the arms of the thirsty ocean.

Towards this the horse is rushing madly. Once on its bank, who shall tell what next may happen. There will be a mad bound a crash a cry, perhaps, that will pierce through all other sounds and then and Sir Christopher .

As these thoughts force themselves upon the girls, they shudder, and involuntarily move closer to each other. Dulce covers her face with her hands, as though to shut out some dreadful sight, and a low dry sob escapes her. Portia, deadly pale, but calm and wide-eyed, is clinging to the balcony rails, and is gazing in speechless fear at the chestnut, that every instant is bringing nearer to the fateful goal. Julia, from time to time, emits short little shrieks of terror, she being the sort of person who, in moments of peril, would be always safe to scream.

Onward flies the mare. Sir Christopher (as yet bolt upright in his seat, and apparently, from the back view they can get of him, still so possessed with rage as to be unconscious of fear) is trying hopelessly to manage her.

Nearer and nearer to the brink of the stream they draw; now they are within a few yards of it; soon help will be of little use, and the panting groom and the two young men who are following him will only be in time to witness more closely the disaster. All seems, indeed, hopeless, when a man, springing from behind the thick laurel hedge that grows on the right, rushes forward, and, seizing Bess by the head by sheer force of mind and body, forces her upon her haunches.

“It is Fabian!” says Portia, in a voice sharp with fear. “Dulce! Dulce!” there is positive agony in her tone.

Dulce, letting her hands fall from her face, looks up. Julia forgets to scream; all three watch with intensest anxiety the scene being enacted below.

And now ensues a struggle between man and beast; a struggle sharp but short. The beast, frightened, or, perhaps, with fury exhausted, it may be, compelled against its will to acknowledge the superior power of mind over matter gives way, and after a good deal of prancing stands tolerably quiet, though still trembling from excitement and violent temper.

By this time the groom, with Gower and Dicky Browne, have joined them.

“Get out Sir Christopher,” says the groom, in an agitated voice, the swift run having added to his anxiety.

“Not a bit of it,” says Sir Christopher, indignantly, “I’ll take her back to the stables, or

“Get down at once,” says Fabian, in a quick, decided tone. “Don’t delay, she is dangerous still and may bolt again at any moment. Besides, you have had enough of it, surely!”

“I’m not going to be conquered by any mare born,” says the old Baronet, obstinacy setting it at this point; “what d’ye think I bred her for, eh? To be made a laughing-stock for the county, I suppose, eh? Nothing of the sort. She shall own me as master if I die for it. Here, get out of my way all you boys

It is plain Sir Christopher is as yet undaunted, though, in truth, there is danger still; the chestnut is flinging up her head in an uncertain, frightened fashion, scattering angry foam as she does so, and her eyes are showing more white than is seemly.

Fabian, who is still holding the bridle with both hands, looks at his uncle, earnestly, almost, it might be said, curiously.

“If you are bent on taking this brute round yourself, of course, I shall go with you,” he says, indifferently. “Hold her head, George, for a moment.”

Even as he speaks the mare moves uneasily, and, as the groom approaches, throws up her head impatiently, and in so doing touches Fabian’s right arm somewhat roughly. In spite of his self-control he winces perceptibly.

“You are hurt,” says Sir Christopher, anxiously. “How? where?”

“This arm,” says Fabian, touching the injured part lightly. “A mere scratch, no doubt, but it hurts. Nevertheless, if you persist, I daresay I shall be able to hold her in check with the other.”

“Here, George, lead her home,” says Sir Christopher, hurriedly, throwing the reins he still holds to the groom, and hastily descending from the dog-cart. “To drive, indeed, with an injured arm! stuff and nonsense!” he says, severely. “Some people have no sense, eh? though I must say I believe that poor brute is maligned. But for those shots fired off just as I was entering the gates nothing would have happened.”

“Roger and Sir Mark discharging their guns, I daresay,” says Stephen; “awkward, they should have chosen just that moment to do it.”

“Fate!” says Dicky Browne, solemnly.

Meantime, Fabian has turned away and gone quickly in the direction of the house. Dulce, running down the balcony steps, goes up to him with a very white little face.

“Darling, how brave you were. I thought something dreadful was going to happen to you. It was a horrid moment. If that wicked Bess had persisted she might have thrown you down and killed you.”

“Well, she didn’t, you see,” says Fabian, lightly but he shrinks a little from her embrace, and moves so that she cannot touch his right arm. His eyes are fixed upon the balcony above, where Portia still stands, pale as an early snowdrop and thoroughly unnerved. There is, however, about her a certain calm, that is part of her nature, and that, perhaps, in her very greatest emergency, and in her bitterest hour of need, would still be hers.

At this moment, however, Fabian so far wrongs her as to attribute this inborn quietude to coldness and indifference. He turns again to Dulce.

“Take that terrified look off your face,” he says, somewhat languidly, with a smile that is faintly bitter. “You should show more self-control. Take example by your cousin; see how composed she can be, and how sensible.”

He smiles again, and indicates Portia by a glance. For an instant his eyes meet hers. Is he wrong in thinking she is even a shade paler now than she was a moment since? He is not sure; and he has not time given him to make the thought a certainty, as Miss Vibart, turning slowly, goes towards one of the drawing-room windows, and presently is lost to sight.

There was something in her eyes, in the hurried glance he got at them, that saddens Fabian. Almost forgetful of Dulce’s presence, he walks away from her, and, having gained the house, goes moodily up the stairs towards his own room.

His soul is disquieted; an agony of unrest, that even in his first days of despair had not visited him, is on him now; a longing, a craving, for what he knows (ah! the deep grief of that!) can never be obtained.

Why had her soft eyes looked so reproachful a while ago? Why had she turned so quickly away from him when he had spoken those few harsh words, for which he hates himself now?

Her pallor returns to him, and the fear in her large eyes. Surely he should have taken note of them first, and not of the calmness and seeming coldness and her utter composure.

And then a strange soft light comes into his face, as he remembers how sweet she looked standing there, half leaning over the balcony, and looking down on him unworthy, pale, but full of beauty.

It may be that other women have been lovely in his eyes, but, surely, none have reached her standard. One, indeed, in the past years had appeared to him (though he had not loved her) as nearly perfect as a woman can be; but, now comparing her with Portia, as he has often done of late, she the former beauty had paled in comparison.

He has been reading some old book of late, and now, thinking of both women, a description in it of some ancient queen and one of her court comes to him as being applicable to the train of thought in which he is indulging.

“One, amongst other purposes, said unto them of late, that she (the queen) ’excelleth as far the duchess as the golden sun excelleth the silver moon,’ which appeareth in the gravity of her face. Thus say they that have seen them both.”

As he reaches the corridor, and gains the threshold of his own room, a light step behind him, causing him to turn, he finds himself looking once again into Portia’s eyes.

She is very pale still, and there is something pathetic about her mouth. Slowly she comes up to him, without uttering a word, until she is so close to him that she can touch him, if she will. Then she speaks:

“You wronged me just now,” she says, in a low voice: “you had an evil thought about me! But not now, I think,” regarding him earnestly. “You have gone over it all again in your own mind, and you understand now you misjudged me.”

“You are quite right in all you say; I did misjudge you. I have discovered my error. You will forgive me?”

“I suppose so.” She is looking down now, and is tapping the ground impatiently with her foot.

“You ought,” says Fabian, quietly. “To misjudge one’s neighbor is one of the commonest failings of mankind.”

There is meaning in his tone. She acknowledges unwillingly the fact that she comprehends this meaning by a sign, silent but perceptible: she colors deeply, and, still looking down, continues her tattoo upon the oaken flooring of the corridor.

“You are not very humble,” she says at length, “even now, when you have had to demand my pardon.”

“Am I not?” says Fabian, with a partly suppressed sigh. “I should be. Forgive me that, too, and ” He pauses to draw his breath quickly, as if in pain. At this she lifts her head, and something she sees in his expression tells her the truth.

“You are hurt,” she says, hastily, going nearer to him. “Where? how?”

There is deep, unrestrained anxiety in her tone.

“My arm,” confesses Fabian, who is, indeed, suffering greatly, laying his left hand upon his right arm, high up above the elbow.

“Is it a sprain or a bruise?”

“A little of both, perhaps. I came up-stairs just now to ring for Parkins to help me off with my coat, and do something for me.”

“Parkins!” says Portia, with fine contempt; “of what use is a man in a case like this. Why not ask Dulce

“Oh! it is really nothing; and you saw how frightened she was already. I had pity on her nerves.”

“Then let me be Parkins for a few minutes,” says Portia, with a little smile. “I used to be of great use to George” (her brother, Colonel Vibart) “occasionally when he came to grief at football, or in the hunting field. Let me see if my hand has lost its cunning.”

“You won’t like it,” says Blount, hesitating; “it will look nasty, you know, and there will be blood, I think, and perhaps it will be better for me to

“This is my sitting-room,” interrupts Portia, calmly, throwing open a door on the opposite side of the corridor. “Come in here, and let me see what has happened to you.”

Fabian follows her obediently. It all seems to him something like a dream, that this girl, usually so listless, should now brighten into life, and grow energetic and anxious for his sake.

With gentle fingers she helps him to take off his coat, and, in a business-like, very matter-of-fact fashion, unfastens the gold link at his wrist, and, though paling a little as she sees the blood upon his sleeve, resolutely rolls it up and lays bare the injured arm.

It is looking dark and swollen, and the skin has been knocked off it in several places. The flesh has been a good deal bruised, and altogether the wound is an ugly one without being in any way serious. In spite of her efforts to the contrary, she blanches perceptibly, and shudders, and lets her lids droop rather heavily over her eyes.

“You are unfit for this sort of work,” says Fabian, angry with himself, as he marks her agitation. “It was unpardonable of me even to permit you to attempt it.” He moves back from her, and tries his shirt sleeve once more over his injured arm.

“Ah! do not touch it,” says Portia, hastily; “the sleeve will only rub against it and make it worse.”

Involuntarily she lays her hand on his to prevent his covering the wound, and looks at him with a glance full of sympathy and entreaty. So standing, with her eyes large and dark with pity, and her soft white hand trembling upon his, she seems to him so far

“Beyond all women, womanly,
He dreads to think how he should fare
Who came so near as to despair!”

A pang desolates his heart. Alas! is not despair the only portion that can be meted out for him! The joy and the gladness of living, and the one great treasure of all the heart’s love that beautifies and refines all it touches, can never be his; never for him, while this shadow rests upon him, will there be home or “hearthstone,” or that deeper, more perfected sense of fellowship that exists between two souls only.

And this girl, with her hand on his, and

“With eyes like open lotus flowers
Bright in the morning rain.”

looking straight up at him, with gentlest concern in her regard, how might it have been with him and her, if life had flowed in a pleasant stream, and no turbulent waves had come to disturb its calm and musical ripple?

How short have been his days of grace, how long must be his years of misery; just in the very opening of his life, in the silken morning of his youth, the blow had fallen, deadening his sky, and rendering all things gray.

In what a very little space, indeed, lie all our happy moments; even the most successful of us can count them one by one, as it might be, on the fingers of one hand; and how tardy, how wearying, are those where sorrow, and trouble, and despair hold their own.

Ce qui nous charme s’en va, et ce qui fait peine reste. La rose vit une heure, et cyprès cent ans.”

Portia has gone into an inner room, and now returns with a basin and a sponge. Very gently (and as though afraid each movement may increase his pain) she bathes his arm, glancing up at him every now and then to see if, indeed, she is adding to or decreasing his agony.

If the truth be told, I believe he feels no agony at all, so glad he is to know her touch, and see her face. When she has sponged his arm with excessive tenderness, she brings a cambric handkerchief, and, tearing it into strips, winds it round and round the torn flesh.

“Perhaps that will do until Dr. Bland can see it,” she says hopefully. “At least tell me you are in less pain now, and that I have done you some small good.”

“Small!” says Fabian.

“Ah! well,” she says, lightly, “then I suppose I have succeeded, but you must promise me, nevertheless, that you will have a doctor to look at you.”

Her tone is still exquisitely kind; but there is now a studied indifference about it that hurts him keenly. Perhaps in his surprise at this sudden change of manner he overlooks the fact that the difference is studied!

“I have given you too much trouble,” he says, stupidly, in a leaden sort of way. “But, as you say, you have been successful, I feel hardly any pain now.”

“Then I suppose I may dismiss you,” she says, with a frugal little smile, just glancing at the half opened door. The nervousness, the sympathy is over, and she remembers how lost to social consideration is the man to whose comfort she has been contributing for the past twenty minutes.

“I have taken up too much of your time already,” he says in a frozen tone, and then he turns and goes toward the door. But, after a moment’s reflection, he faces round again abruptly, and comes up to her, and stands before her with set lips and eyes aflame. His nostrils are dilated, there is intense mental pressure discernible in every line of his face.

“I do not mistake you,” he says, with slow vehemence; “I am not such a dullard that I should count your bare charity as friendship. You have succoured me, as you would, of your grace, no doubt have succoured the vilest criminal that walks the earth, were he in death or pain.”

She has grown very pale, and is rather frightened, if her eyes speak truly.

“Now that the reaction has set in,” he goes on, bitterly, “you believe you have demeaned yourself in that you have assisted one who

“You are saying what is not true,” she says, in a low but clear voice; speaking slowly, and with difficulty, because her lips are white and dry.

“Am I?” exclaims he, passionately. “Say, if you can, that you believe me innocent of all guilt, and I will believe you!”

He pauses she is silent. A terrible moment ensues, fraught with agony for Fabian, and still she makes no sign. Her hands, tightly clasped, are hanging before her; her head is turned aside; her eyes persistently seek the floor. As if every nerve in her body is strung to excess, she stands so motionless that she might almost be a statue cut in marble.

Her silence is painfully eloquent. Fabian, in an excess of passion, tears off the cambric bandages from his arm, and flings them at her feet.

“I will have none of your charity,” he says, with pale lips, and, throwing wide the door, strides down the corridor, and is soon beyond recall.

When the last echo of his feet has died away Portia rouses herself, and, moving towards a low chair near the fireplace, sinks into it, and presses her hands convulsively against her heart.

Now that she is at last alone, the excitement of the last hour begins to tell upon her. Her cheeks and lips, that up to this have been positively bloodless, now grow dyed with richest crimson, that is certainly not of this earth earthy, as it gives no promise of health or youthful strength. She leans back in her chair as if exhausted; and, in truth, in the fair shell that harbors her soul but very little power remains to battle with the varied thoughts that rise within her.

Scene by scene the events of the last hour spread themselves before her: the maddened brute rushing violently over the soft, smooth lawn to where the treacherous stream awaits him, running gently between its damp green banks Sir Christopher’s danger Fabian’s unexpected interference the short, but terrible fear for him and then the sudden fall from the extreme agony of suspense to comparative calm.

And yet, perhaps, all this does not haunt her so much as one or two other things, that, in reality, were of little moment. That time, for instance, when he Fabian stood beneath the balcony, and when he, with a glance, a half-spoken word, accused her of coldness and indifference. He had condemned her all too willingly. But this was only fair, no doubt. Had not she, in her innermost heart, condemned him, unheard, unquestioned.

And what was it he had said to Dulce? “Take example by your cousin; see how sensible she can be,” or something like that. Sensible! When this terrible pain was tugging at her heart strings, and prolonged nervousness had made speech impossible.

And why had he said “your cousin,” instead of “our cousin?” Was it that he did not care to claim kinship with her, or because because he did not count himself worthy to

Again she raises her hand, and presses it with undue force against her left side. She is unhappy and alone, and full of a vague uncertainty.

“Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows,” and all the shadows of her grief seem now to hem her in, and encompass her on every side. The old troublesome pain in her heart, that drove her from the dissipations of town life to seek a shelter in the quiet country, returns to her again. At this moment the pain of which I speak grows almost past endurance. A faint, gray pallor supersedes the vivid carmine of a while ago. She sighs with evident difficulty, and sinks back heavily amongst her cushions.