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

“Friendship is constant in all other things,
Save in the office and affairs of love.”
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

“I SHOULD think if we are going to give our dance at all, it ought to be soon,” says Dulce, with a shrug and a somewhat listless little yawn.

“So we ought,” says Dicky Browne, briskly. It seems the most natural thing in the world that he should use the first person plural, and that he should appear to be the chief promoter of the dance in question. “We’ve been talking of it a considerable lot, you know,” he goes on, confidentially, “and they will all think it a dodge on your part if you don’t give it within the next fortnight.”

“A dodge!” says Miss Blount, very justly incensed. “What dodge?”

“Well, look here,” says Dicky “there once was a fellow

He breaks off at this interesting juncture, and, fixing his glass in his best eye, stares at a figure coming slowly towards them from the house. They all follow his gaze, and find themselves criticising the approaching form in a vague, surprised fashion.

“Great hat! look at Julia!” says Dicky, at last, giving way to speech that will not be repressed. The exclamation is quite in keeping with the scene. Julia, in a head gear of the style usually described as a Rubens, of the very largest description, comes simpering up to them, filled with the belief that now, if ever, she is looking her very best. “Great” is the word for it. She is indeed all that.

“My dear Julia, where have you been!” says Dulce, ignoring the hat.

“Searching every room in the house for that last book of Ouida’s,” says Julia, promptly, who has in reality been posing before a mirror in her own room, crowned with a Rubens. “I’m always losing my things, you know and my way; my boat, for example, and my train, and my umbrella.” She is plainly impressed with the belief that she is saying something smart, and looks conscious of it.

“Why don’t you add your temper,” says Dicky Browne, with a mild smile which rather spoils the effect of her would-be smartness.

“We were talking about our ball,” says Dulce, somewhat quickly. “Dicky seems to think that we shall lose caste in the neighborhood if we put it off much longer.”

“You’ll create ill feeling,” says Mr. Browne. “The Stanley girls have new gowns, and they want to show them. They’ll say nasty things about you.”

“That’s your second hint on that subject,” says Sir Mark. “Get it out, Dicky, you are dying to say something. What was it you were going to say a few minutes ago about some fellow who ?”

“Who for seven years was going to give a ball, and was asked everywhere on the strength of it. His friends hoped against hope, don’t you see, but nothing ever came of it. At the end of the seven years he was as far off it as ever.”

“And what did his friends do to him then,” asks Julia, who is one of those people who always want more than enough.

“Deponent sayeth not,” says Mr. Browne. “Perhaps it was too dark a tale for publication. I suppose they either smote him between the joints of his harness till he died, or else they fell upon him in a body and rent him in pieces.”

“What nonsense you can talk at times,” says Mrs. Beaufort, mindful of his speech of a few moments ago.

“Not I,” says Dicky Browne.

It is about four o’clock, and already the shadows are lengthening upon the grass, the soft, cool grass upon which they are all sitting beneath the shade of the huge chestnut trees, that fling their branches in all directions, some east, some west, some heavenwards.

A little breeze is blowing towards them sweet essences of pinewood and dark fir. Above in the clear sky the fleecy clouds assume each moment a new form a yet more tender color now pale blue, now gray, now a soft pink that verges upon crimson. Down far in the hollows a white mist is floating away, away, to the ocean, and there, too, can be seen (playing hide and seek amongst the great trunks of the giant elms) the flitting forms of the children dancing fantastically to and fro.

The scent of dying meadow-sweet is on the air, and the hush and the calm of evening.

“Dulce, command us to have tea out here,” says Sir Mark, removing his cigarette from his lips for a moment.

“Dear Dulce, yes; that will be sweet,” says Portia, who is very silent and very pale and very beautiful to-day.

“Dicky, go and tell some one to bring tea here directly,” says Dulce; “and say they are to bring peaches for Portia, because she loves them, and say anything else you like for yourself.”

“Thanks; Curacao will do me very nicely,” says Dicky, with all the promptitude that distinguishes him.

“And Maraschino,” suggests Sir Mark, in the mildest tone.

“And just a suspicion of brandy,” puts in Roger, almost affectionately. Overpowered by their amiability and their suggestions, Dicky turns towards the house.

“I fly,” he says. “Think of me till my return.”

“Do tell them to hurry, Dicky,” says Dulce, anxiously. “They are always so slow. And tell them to bring lots of cake.”

“You shall have it all in a couple of shakes,” says Mr. Browne, encouragingly, if vulgarly.

“What’s that?” asks Dulce, meaning reproof. “It isn’t English, is it? How soon will it be?”

“Oh half a jiff,” returns he, totally unabashed.

Presently tea is brought, and they are all happy, notably Dicky, who walks round and into the cakes with unceasing fervor.

“By-the-by, I wonder Stephen hasn’t been here to-day,” says Julia, addressing no one in particular.

“Something better to do, perhaps,” says Portia.

“Yes where can he be?” says Dulce, waking into sudden animation. “‘Something better to do?’ Why, what could that be?”

“Writing sonnets to your eyebrow,” answers Roger in an unpleasant tone.

“How clever you are!” retorts she, in a tone even more unpleasant, letting her white lids fall until they half-conceal the scorn in her eyes. Only half!

“He is such a jail bird I beg his pardon, a town bird,” says Sir Mark, lazily, “that I didn’t think anything could keep him in the country so long. Yet, he doesn’t look bored. He bears the solitary confinement very well.”

“There is shooting, isn’t there?” suggests Portia.

“Any amount of it,” says Dicky; “but that don’t solve the mystery. He couldn’t shoot a haystack flying, not if his life depended on it. It’s suicide to go out with him! He’d as soon shoot you or me as anything else. I always say the grouse ought to love him; because I don’t believe he knows the barrel of his gun from the stock.”

“How perfectly dreadful!” exclaims Julia, who always takes everything au grand serieux.

“There is other game in the country besides grouse,” says Roger, in a peculiar tone.

“I dare say he can’t bear to leave that dear old house now he has got into it,” says Dulce; “it is so lovely, so quaint, so

“Now, is it?” asks Dicky Browne, meditatively. “I’ve seen nicer, I think. I always feel, when there, as if everything, ceilings, roof and all were coming down on my unfortunate head.”

“But it is so old, so picturesque; a perfect dream, I think,” says Dulce, rather affectedly.

“It isn’t half a bad place, but not to be compared to The Moors, surely,” says Sir Mark, gently, looking with some reproof at Dulce reproof the spoiled child resents The Moors is Roger’s home. “I think The Moors one of the most beautiful places in England.”

“And one of the draughtiest,” says Miss Blount, ungraciously. “I was there once. It was a year ago. It occurred to me, I remember, that the sun had forgotten it; indeed, I had but one thought all the time I stayed.”

“And that was?” asks Roger, defiantly.

“How to get away from it again as soon as possible.”

“I am sorry my old home found such disfavor in your sight,” says Roger, so quietly that remorse wakes within her breast, bringing with it, however, no good result, rather adding fuel to the flame that has been burning brightly since breakfast time. His rebuke is so abominably mild that it brings Miss Blount to the very verge of open wrath.

“I think Stephen such a dear fellow,” says Julia, at this critical juncture. “So er well read, and that.”

“Yes; though, I think, I have known better,” says Sir Mark, looking at Dulce.

“Poor Mr. Gower,” says that young lady, airily; “everyone seems determined to decry him. What has he done to everybody, and why should comparisons be drawn? There may be better people, and there may be worse; but I like him.”

“Lucky he,” says Roger, with a faint but distinct sneer, his temper forsaking him; “I could almost wish that I were he.”

“I could almost wish it, too,” says Dulce, with cruel frankness.

“Thank you.” Roger, by this time, is in a very respectable passion, though nobody but he and Dulce have heard the last three sentences. “Perhaps,” he says, deliberately, “it will be my most generous course to resign in favor of

“More tea, Portia?” interrupts Dulce, very quickly, in a tone that trembles ever so slightly.

“No, thank you. But, Dulce, I want you near me. Come and sit here.”

There is anxiety, mixed with entreaty, in her tone. She has noticed the anger in Roger’s face, and the defiance in Dulce’s soft eyes, and she is grieved and sorry for them both.

But, Dulce, who is in a very bad mood indeed, will take no notice of either the entreaty or the grief.

“How can I?” she says, with a slow lifting of her brows. “Who will give anybody any tea, if I go away from this? And ” Here she pauses, and her eyes fix themselves upon a break in the belt of firs, low down, at the end of the lawn. “Ah,” she says, with a swift blush, “you see I shall be wanted at my post for a little while longer, because here is Mr. Gower, at last!”

The “at last” is intolerably flattering, though it is a question if the new comer hears it. He is crossing over the soft grass; his hat is in his hand; his eyes dark and smiling. He looks glad, expectant, happy.

“What superfluous surprise,” says Roger to Dulce, with even a broader sneer than his last. “He always is here, isn’t he!”

“Yes; isn’t it good of him to come,” says Miss Blount, with a suspicious dulness Stephen has not yet come quite close to them. “We are always so wretchedly stupid here, and he is so charming, and so good to look at, and always in such a perfect temper!” As she finishes her sentence she turns her large eyes full on her fiance.

Roger, muttering something untranslatable between his teeth, moves away, and then Gower comes up, and Dulce gives him her hand and her prettiest smile, and presently he sinks upon the grass at her feet, and lies there in a graceful position that enables him to gaze without trouble upon her piquante face. He is undeniably handsome, and is very clean-limbed, and has something peculiar about his smile that takes women as a rule.

“How d’ye do?” he says to Roger presently, when that young man comes within range, bestowing upon him a little nod. Whereon Roger says the same to him in a tone of the utmost bonhommie, which, if hypocritical, is certainly very well done, after which conversation once more flows smoothly onwards.

“What were you doing all day?” asks Dulce of the knight at her feet, throwing even kinder feeling than usual into her tone, as she becomes aware that Roger’s eyes are fixed upon her.

“Wishing myself here,” replies Gower, with a readiness that bespeaks truth.

“What a simple thing to say,” murmurs Dulce, with a half-smile, glancing at him from under her long lashes. “But how difficult to believe. After all,” with a wilful touch of coquetry, “I don’t believe you ever do mean anything you say.”

“Don’t you,” says Gower, with an eagerness that might be born of either passion or amusement. “You wrong me then. And some day some day, perhaps, I shall be able to prove to you that what I say I mean.” Then, probably, the recollection of many things comes to him, and the quick, warm light dies out of his eyes, and it is with an utter change of tone and manner he speaks next.

“Now, tell me what you were doing all day?” he says, lightly.

“Not very much; the hours dragged a little, I think. Just now, as you came to us, we were discussing ” it is almost on her lips the word “you,” but she suppresses it in time, and goes on easily “a dance we must give as soon as possible.”

“An undertaking down here, I suppose?” says Gower, doubtfully; “yet a change, after all. And, of course, you are fond of dancing?” with a passing glance, that is almost a caress, at her lithe, svelte figure.

“Yes, very; but I don’t care about having a ball here.” She says this with a sigh; then she pauses, and a shade saddens her face.

“But why?” asks he, surprised.

“There are many reasons many. And you might not understand,” she says, rather confusedly. She turns her face away from his, and in doing so meets Portia’s eyes. She has evidently been listening to what Dulce has just said, and now gives back her cousin’s gaze as though against her will. After a moment she slowly averts her face, as if seeking to hide the pallor that is rendering even her lips white.

“Both my evening suits are unwearable,” says Dicky Browne, mournfully. “I shall have to run up to town to get some fresh things.” He says this deprecatingly, as though utterly assured of the fact that every one will miss him horribly.

“You won’t be long away, Dicky, will you?” says Roger, tearfully; at which Dulce, forgetful for the instant of the late feud, laughs aloud.

“I can’t think what’s the matter with me,” says Dicky, still mournful; “my clothes don’t last any time. A month seems to put ’em out of shape, and make ’em unwearable.”

“No wonder,” says Sir Mark, “when you get them made by a fellow out of the swim altogether. Where does he live? Cheapside or Westbourne Grove?”

“No; the Strand,” says Mr. Browne, to whom shame is unknown, “if you mean Jerry.”

“Dicky employs Jerry because his name is Browne,” says Roger. “He’s a hanger-on of the family, and is popularly supposed to be a poor relation, a sort of country cousin. Dicky proudly supports him in spite or public opinion. It is very noble of him.”

“The governor sent me to him when I was a young chap for punishment, I think,” says Dicky, mildly, “and I don’t like to give him up now. He is such a fetching old thing, and so conversational, and takes such an interest in my nether limbs.”

“Who are you talking of in such laudatory terms?” asks Dulce, curiously, raising her head at this moment.

“Of Jerry my tailor,” says Dicky, confidentially.

“Ah! A good man, but er tiresome,” says Julia, vaguely, with a cleverly suppressed yawn; she is evidently under the impression that they are discussing Jeremy Taylor, not the gentleman in the Strand.

Is he good?” asks Dicky, somewhat at sea. “A capital fellow to make trousers, I know, but for his morality I can’t vouch.”

“I am speaking of the divine, Jeremy Taylor,” says Julia, very justly shocked at what she believes to be levity on the part of Dicky. “He didn’t make trousers, he only made maxims!”

“Poor soul!” says Mr. Browne, with heartfelt pity in his tone, to whom Jeremy Taylor is a revelation, and a sad one. “Did he die of ’em?”

Of this frivolous remark Julia deigns to take no notice. And, indeed, they are all too accustomed to Mr. Browne’s eccentricities of style to spend time trying to unravel them.

“You haven’t yet explained to me the important business that kept you at home all day,” Dulce is saying to Mr. Gower. She is leaning slightly forward, and is looking down into his eyes.

“Tenants and a steward, and such like abominations,” he says, rather absently. Then, his glance wandering to her little white, slender fingers, that are idly trifling with her fan, “By-the-by,” he goes on, “the steward Mayne, you know can write with both hands. Odd, isn’t it? Just as well with his left as with his right.”

“A rather useless accomplishment, I should think.”

“I don’t know. It occurred to me we should all learn how to do it, in case we should break our arms, or our legs, or anything.”

“What on earth would our legs have to do with it,” says Miss Blount, with a gay little laugh, which he echoes.

“Oh? well, in case we should sprain our right wrists, then. When Mayne went away I tried if I could make use of my left hand, and succeeded rather well. Look here, you hold your hand like this.”

“It sounds difficult,” says Dulce, doubtfully.

“It isn’t though, really. Will you try?” Taking a pencil and an envelope from his pocket, he lays the latter on her knee, and hands her the former. “Now let me hold your hand just at first to guide you, and you will soon see how simple it is. Only practice is required.”

“It will take a good deal of practice and a good deal of guidance, I shouldn’t wonder,” says Miss Blount, smiling.

“That will be my gain,” returns he in a low tone. As he speaks he lays his hand on hers, and directs the pencil; so the lesson begins; and so it continues uninterrupted for several minutes; Dulce is getting on quite smoothly; Mr. Gower is plainly interested in a very high degree, when Roger, coming up to them, lays his hand lightly upon Dulce’s shoulder. He is still passionately angry, and almost unable to control himself. To see Dulce’s fingers clasped by those of Gower, however innocently, has fired his wrath, and driven him to open expression of his displeasure.

“If you have forgotten how to write, Dulce,” he says in a low, strained voice, “I daresay it will be possible to find a master to re-instruct you. In the meantime, why trouble Gower?”

“Does it trouble you, Mr. Gower?” asks she, sweetly, looking straight at Stephen and ignoring Roger.

“Need I answer that?” responds he, flushing warmly, and in his turn ignoring Dare.

“Then you need not worry yourself to get me a master, Roger,” says Dulce, still quite sweetly. “It is very good of you to wish to take such trouble about me, but you see I have got one already.”

“Not a master a slave!” says Gower, impulsively. There’s such evident and earnest meaning in his tone that she colors violently, and, with a rather open manifestation of shrinking, withdraws her hand from his clasp; the pencil falls to the ground, but Roger has turned aside, and this last act on her part is unseen by him.

“Is anything the matter with Roger?” says Gower, slowly.

“What should be the matter with him?” asks she, coldly.

“Do you remember what we were reading yesterday? Do you remember even one particular line? It comes to me now. ‘So loving jealous.’ You recollect?”

“No; and even if I did, what has it to do with Roger?”

Nothing perhaps.” There is a small fine smile around his lips that incenses her, she scarcely knows why.

“Then what does your quotation mean?”

“Nothing, too, no doubt. Shall we go on with our lesson?”

“No, I am tired of it,” she says, petulantly. “I like nothing, I think, for very long.” She has grown somewhat restless, and her eyes are wistful. They are following Roger, who has thrown himself at Portia’s feet.

“Are your friendships, too, short-lived?” asks Gower, biting his lips. You can see that he is lounging on the grass, and at this moment, having raised his hand, it falls again, by chance upon her instep.

Remorse and regret have been companions of her bosom for the past minute, now they quicken into extreme anger. Pushing back the garden chair on which she has been sitting, she stands up and confronts the stricken Gower with indignant eyes.

“Don’t do that again,” she says, with trembling lips. Her whole attitude voice and expression are undeniably childish, yet she frightens Gower nearly out of his wits.

“I beg your pardon,” he stammers, eagerly, growing quite white. “I must insist on your understanding I did not mean it. How could you think it? I

At this instant Roger laughs. The laugh comes to Dulce as she stands before Gower grieved and angry and repentant, and her whole face changes. The grief and the repentance vanish, the very anger fades into weariness.

“Yes, I believe you I was foolish it doesn’t matter,” she says, heavily; and then she sinks into her seat again, and taking a small volume of selected poetry from a rustic table at her elbow, throws it into his lap.

“Read me something,” she says, gently.

“What shall I select?” asks Stephen, puzzled by the sudden change in her manner, but anxious to please her.

“Anything. It hardly matters; they are all pretty,” she says, disconnectedly, and so indifferently that he is fairly piqued; his reading being one of his strongest points; and taking up the book, he opens it at random, and begins to read in a low, sweet, rhyming voice that certainly carries its own charm.

Dulce, in spite of herself, is by degrees drawn to listen to it; yet though the words so softly spoken attract her and chain her attention, there is always a line of discontent around her lovely mouth, and a certain angry petulance within her eyes, and in the gesture with which she furls and unfurls her huge black fan.

Dicky Browne, who has confiscated all the cake, and is therefore free to go where he lists, has drawn near to her, and, under cover of a cigarette, is pretending to be absorbed in the poetry. Gower has fallen now upon Gray’s Elegy in a Churchyard, and is getting through it most effectively. All the others have grown silent, either touched by the beauty of the dying daylight, or the tender lines that are falling on the air. When at length Stephen finishes the poem, and his voice ceases to break the stillness of the coming eve, no one stirs, and an utter calm ensues. It is broken by the irrepressible Julia.

“What a charming thing that is,” she says, alluding, they presume, to the Elegy. She pauses here, but no one takes her up or seems to care to continue the praise of what is almost beyond it. But Julia is not easily discouraged.

“One can almost see the gaunt trees,” she says, sentimentally, “and the ivied walls of the old church, and the meadows beyond, and the tinkling of the tiny bells, and the soft white sheep as they move perpetually onward in the far, far distance.”

She sighs, as though overcome by the perfect picture she has so kindly drawn for their benefit.

“I wish to goodness she would move on herself,” says Dicky Browne. “It is enough to make poor Gray turn in his grave.”

“I think she describes rather prettily, and quite as if she meant it,” says Portia, softly.

“Not a bit of it,” growls Dicky; “she don’t mean it; she couldn’t; It’s all put on regular plaster! She doesn’t feel it; she knows as much about poetry as I do.”

“You underrate yourself, my darling boy,” says Roger, fondly.

“Oh! you get out,” says Mr. Brown, most ungratefully.

“I think to be able to read really well is an intense charm,” goes on Julia, glancing sweetly at Stephen. “If one had only some one to give one a kindly hint now and then about the correct intonation and emphasis and that, it would be a regular study, of course. I really have half a mind to go in for it.”

“So glad she has at last arrived at a just appreciation of her own powers,” says Dicky, sotto voce. “I should think she has just half a mind and no more, to do anything with.”

He is hushed up; and then Stephen goes on again, choosing passages from Shakespeare this time, for a change, while silence once more reigns.

Roger is looking sulky and unkindly critical. Sir Mark has been guilty of a small yawn or two. Julia, in spite of the most heroic efforts to the contrary, is openly and disgracefully sleepy. Portia’s eyes are full of tears. Dicky Browne, who is tired of not hearing his own voice, and whose only belief in the divine William is that he gave him “a jolly lot of trouble in his schooldays,” is aweary, and is only waiting an opportunity to cut in and make himself heard, in spite of all opposition.

It comes the opportunity and Dicky seizes it. Mr. Gower is at his very best. He has thrown his whole soul into his voice, and is even himself wrapt up in the piece he has before him.

“‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,’” his voice rings out clear and full of melancholy prophecy; it is a voice that should have impressed any right-minded individual, but Dicky’s mind is below par.

“I should think he’d lie considerably more uneasy without it,” he says, cheerfully. “He’d feel like being scalped, wouldn’t he? And get dreaming about Comanches and tomahawks and Fenimore Cooper, eh?”

For once Dicky scores. The men have grown tired of Mr. Gower’s performance, and hail the interruption with delight. Roger turns on his side, and laughs aloud. This attention, so unprecedented on his part, fills Dicky’s soul with rapture. He instantly bestows upon his supporter a smile rich with gratitude; yet perhaps it is not Mr. Browne’s wit alone that has called forth such open manifestation of mirth from Roger. There is, I think, just the faintest touch of malice in his merriment.

And then the faithless Dulce laughs too; the most musical, ringing little laugh in the world, but none the less galling for all its sweetness. It is the last straw. Mr. Gower, suppressing a very natural inclination, lays the book down gently on the grass beside him (he would have given anything to be able to fling it far from him), and makes some casual remark about the excessive beauty of the evening.

And, indeed, it is beautiful; all down the Western slope of the fir-crowned hill, the fading rays of light still wander, though even now in the clear heavens the evening star has risen, and is shining calm and clear as a soul entered on its eternal rest.

“Will you not read us something else?” says Dulce, feeling a little ashamed of herself.

“Some other time,” returns he.

“Dicky rather took the sentiment out of it,” says Roger, still maliciously mirthful. “I hardly think he and the Swan of Avon would be congenial souls.”

“Well, I don’t know,” says Sir Mark, lazily. “We have been taught that extremes meet, you see.”

“Dicky, how can you stand their impertinence?” asks Dulce, gaily. “Assert yourself, I entreat you.”

“There is such a thing as silent contempt,” says Mr. Browne, untouched by their darts. “There is also a passage somewhere that alludes to an ‘unlettered small-knowing soul;’ I do not desire to quote it in this company. Let us return to the immortal Bill.”

But they are all laughing still, and in the face of laughter, it is difficult to get back to tragedy. And so no one encourages Gower to continue his work, and this, in despite of the fact that the light growing as it is toward the gloaming, seems in keeping with dismal tales and softly-mouthed miseries.

Every moment the evening star grows brighter, gaining glory as the day declines. The mist has died away into the ocean, the breeze has sunk to slumber, only the song of many birds hymning themselves to roost amongst the quiet thickets disturbs the tranquility of the air.

Dead leaves that speak of Autumn and coming dissolution float toward the loiterers on the lawn, and, sinking at their feet, preach to them a lesson of the life that lasts not, and of that other life that in all its splendor may yet dawn upon them.

A soft and sullen roar from the ocean makes the silence felt. The sea, clothed round with raiment of white waves, and rich with sparkling life, dashing itself along the beach, breathes a monotonous murmur that wafts itself inland and falls with vague music upon the listening ear. Thoughts arise within the breast, born of the sweet solemnity of the hour, and the sadness that belongs to all life but in this changeable world nothing lasts, and presently seeing something in the lawn below that puzzles her sight, Julia says, quickly: “What are the moving forms I see down there?”

“Only the children undulating,” says Mr. Browne, promptly.

“What?” says Sir Mark.

“I have said!” returns Dicky.

“There is surely something besides children,” says Portia, trying to pierce the gathering darkness. “See, what is that coming towards us now?”

They all peer eagerly in the direction of the firs, from between which a flying mass may be seen emerging, and approaching rapidly to where they are all seated.

“It is only Jacky on his fact,” says Mr. Browne, at length after a careful examination of this moving form.

“On what?” asks Roger, curiously.

“His fact,” repeats Dicky, unmoved.

“What’s that?” asks Jacky’s mamma, somewhat anxiously if a careless, it must be to her credit said, that Julia is a very kindly mother, and is now rather upset by Mr. Browne’s mysterious declaration.

“You ought to know; you gave it to him,” declares he. “He’s sitting on it anyhow.”

“Really, Dicky, we must ask you to explain yourself,” says Sir Mark, with dignity.

“Why, it’s only a donkey,” says Dulce, “and Jacky is riding him.”

“Just so,” says Mr. Browne, equably; “and a very large donkey, too; I always call them facts because they are stubborn things. At least, that one is, because I rode it yesterday at least I tried to and it behaved very ill indeed. It’s it’s a very nasty animal, and painfully unamiable.”

“What did it do to you?” asks Julia, who is again in secret fear about her first born, who every moment draws more near.

“Well, I got on him, incited thereto by Jacky and the Boodie, and when I had beaten him unceasingly for a full quarter of an hour, in the vain hope of persuading him to undertake even a gentle walk, he turned treacherously to the right, and squeezed my best leg against the garden wall. I bore it heroically, because I knew the Boodie was regarding me sternly, but I could have wept bitterly; I don’t know if all walls are the same, but the garden wall hurts very much.”

“I wonder where Dicky gets all his stories,” says Dulce, admiringly.

“He evolves them out of his inner consciousness,” replies Sir Mark.

Meantime, Jacky draws nearer and nearer. He advances on the donkey and on them, at a furious pace. Surely, never was a lazy ass so ridden before! Perhaps those watching him are under the impression that when closer to them he will guide his steed to their right or to their left, or at least steer clear of them in some way, but if so they are mistaken.

Jacky is in his element. He gallops wildly up to them, with arms and legs flying north and south, and his cap many miles behind. That hidden sense that tells the young and artless one that the real meaning of all fun is to take some one by surprise and frighten the life out of him, is full upon him now.

“Out of my way,” he shrieks, in frenzied accents almost, as he bears down upon them. “Out of my way, I say, or he’ll kill you; I can’t pull him in. He is running away with me!”

With this the wily young hypocrite gives the donkey a final kick with his right heel, and dashes ungallantly into the very midst of them.

The confusion that follows is all his heart can desire. Great indeed is the rout. Camp chairs are scattered broadcast; shawls strew the lawn; Julia flies to the right, Dulce to the left; Portia instinctively finds refuge behind Dicky Browne, who shows great gallantry on this memorable occasion, and devotes himself to the service of the frail and weak. Indeed, it is on record, that, in the height of his zeal, he encircled Portia’s waist with his arm, and cried aloud to the foe to “come on,” as he waited for victory or death.

Jacky flies past, and is presently seen urging on his wild career in the little glade that leads to the wood. Once more they breathe, and order is restored, to Gower’s deep regret, as he has managed, in the melee, to seize hold of Dulce’s hand, and in an abstracted fashion has held it ever since.

“That boy deserves a sound whipping,” says Sir Mark, indignantly, who is, nevertheless, a sworn friend of the graceless Jacky.

“You hear, Julia; you are to whip him at once?” says Roger.

“Whip him!” says Mrs. Beaufort, resentfully. “Indeed I shall not. I never whipped one of them in my life, and I never shall.”

“You’d be afraid,” says Dicky Browne. “You should see Julia when the Boodie attacks her; she literally goes into her boots, and stays there. It is, indeed, a pitiable exhibition. By-the-by, does anybody want dinner; because, if so, he may as well go and dress. It is quite half-past six.”