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

“I would that I were low laid in my grave.”
KING JOHN.

“Proteus, I love thee in my heart of hearts.”
TWO 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 elms.

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

“The sweetest joy, the wildest woe, is love;
The taint of earth, the odor of the skies
Is in it.”

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 coming morn.

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

“Kiss 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 an oath.

“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 forget it?

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 have fled.

And yet the world grows brighter. The early morn springs forth and glads the air.

“But, nor Orient morn,
Nor fragrant zephyr, nor Arabian climes,
Nor gilded ceilings can relieve the soul
Pining in thraldom.”

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 together.”

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.