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

“For aught that ever I could read,

Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Midsummer Night’s Dream.

WHEN dinner comes Dulce is wonderfully silent. That is the misfortune of being a rather talkative person, when you want to be silent you can’t, without attracting universal attention. Every one now stares at Dulce secretly, and speculates about what Stephen may, or may not, have said to her.

She says yes and no quite correctly to everything, but nothing more, and seems to find no comfort in her dinner which is rather a good one. This last sign of depression appears to Dicky Browne a very serious one, and he watches her with the gloomiest doubts as he sees dish after dish offered her, only to be rejected.

This strange fit of silence, however, is plainly not to be put down to ill temper. She is kindly, nay, even affectionate, in her manner to all around, except, indeed, to Roger, whom she openly avoids, and whose repeated attempts at conversation she returns with her eyes on the table-cloth, and a general air about her of saying anything she does say to him under protest.

To Roger this changed demeanor is maddening; from it he instantly draws the very blackest conclusions; and, in fact, so impressed is he by it that later on, in the drawing-room, when he finds his tenderest glances and softest advances still met with coldness and resistance, and when his solitary effort at explanation is nervously, but remorselessly, repulsed, he caves in altogether, and, quitting the drawing-room, makes his way to the deserted library, where, with a view to effacing himself for the remainder of the evening, he flings himself into an arm-chair, and gives himself up a prey to evil forebodings.

Thus a quarter of an hour goes by, when the door of the library is opened by Dulce. Roger, sitting with his back to it, does not see her enter, or, indeed, heed her entrance, so wrapt is he in his unhappy musings. Not until she has lightly and timidly touched his shoulder does he start, and, looking round, become aware of her presence.

“It is I,” she says, in a very sweet little voice, that brings Roger to his feet and the end of his musings in no time.

“Dulce! What has happened?” he asks, anxiously, alluding to her late strange behavior. “Why won’t you speak to me?”

“I don’t know,” says Dulce, faintly, hanging her head.

What can I have done? Ever since you went away with Stephen, down to the Beeches to-day, your manner toward me has been utterly changed. Dont don’t say you have been persuaded by him to name your wedding day!” He speaks excitedly, as one might who is at last giving words to a fear that has been haunting him for long.

“So far from it,” says Miss Blount, with slow solemnity, “that he sought an opportunity to-day to formally release me from my promise to him!”

“He has released you?” Words are too poor to express Roger’s profound astonishment.

“Yes; on one condition.”

“A condition! What a Jew! Yes; well, go on ?”

“I can’t go on,” says Dulce, growing crimson. “I can’t, indeed,” putting up her hands as she sees him about to protest; “it is of no use asking me. I neither can or will tell you about that condition, ever.”

“Give me even a hint,” says Roger, coaxingly.

“No, no, NO! The rack wouldn’t make me tell it,” returns she, with a stern shake of her red-brown head, but with very pathetic eyes.

“But what can it be,” exclaims Roger, fairly puzzled.

That I shall go to my grave without divulging,” replies she, heroically.

Well, no matter, says Roger, after a minutes reflection, resolved to take things philosophically. You are free, that is the great point. And now now, Dulce, you will marry me?”

At this Miss Blount grows visibly affected (as they say of ladies in the dock), and dropping into the nearest chair, lets her hands fall loosely clasped upon her knees, and so remains, the very picture of woe.

“I can’t do that, either,” she says at last, without raising her afflicted lids.

“But why?” impatiently. “What is to prevent you? unless, indeed,” suspiciously, “you really don’t care about it.”

“It isn’t that, indeed,” says Dulce, earnestly, letting her eyes, suffused with tears, meet his for a moment.

“Then what is it? You say he has released you, and that you have therefore regained your liberty, and yet yet Dulce, do be rational and give me an explanation. At least, say why you will not be my wife.”

“If I told that I should tell you the condition, too,” says poor Dulce, in a stifled tone, feeling sorely put to it, “and nothing would induce me to do that. I told you before I wouldn’t.”

“You needn’t,” says Roger, softly. “I see it now. And anything more sneaking So he has given you your liberty, but has taken good care you sha’n’t be happy in it. I never heard of a lower transaction. I

“Oh! how did you find it out?” exclaims Dulce, blushing again generously.

“I don’t know,” replies he, most untruthfully, “I guessed it, I think; it was so like him. You did you agree to his condition, Dulce?”

“Yes,” says Dulce.

“You gave him your word?”

“Yes.”

“Then he’ll keep you to it, be sure of that. What a pity you did not take time to consider what you would do.”

“I considered this quite quickly,” says Dulce: “I said to myself that nothing could be worse than marrying a man I did not love.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” says Roger, warmly. “Nothing could be worse than marrying Gower.”

“And then I thought that perhaps he might relent; and then, besides I didn’t know what to do, because,” here two large tears fall down her cheeks and break upon her clasped hands, “because, you see, you had not asked me to marry you, and I thought that perhaps you never might ask me, and that so my promise meant very little.”

“How could you have thought that?” says Roger, deeply grieved.

“Well, you hadn’t said a word, you know,” murmurs she, sorrowfully.

“How could I?” groans Dare. “When you were going of your own free will, and my folly, to marry another fellow.”

“There was very little free will about it,” whispers she, tearfully.

“Well, I’m sure I don’t know what’s going to be done now,” says Mr. Dare, despairingly, sinking into a chair near the table, and letting his head fall in a distracting fashion into his hands.

He seems lost in thought, sunk in a very slough of despond, out of which it seems impossible to him he can ever be extricated. He has turned away his face, lest he shall see the little disconsolate figure in the other arm-chair, that looked so many degrees too large for it.

To gaze at Dulce is to bring on a state of feeling even more keenly miserable than the present one. She is looking particularly pretty to-night, her late encounter with Stephen, and her perplexity, and the anxiety about telling it all to Roger, having added a wistfulness to her expression that heightens every charm she possesses. She is dressed in a white gown of Indian muslin made high to the throat, but with short sleeves, and has in her hair a diamond star, that once belonged to her mother.

Her hands are folded in her lap, and she is gazing with a very troubled stare at the bright fire. Presently, as though the thoughts in which she has been indulging have proved too much for her, she flings up her head impatiently, and, rising softly, goes to the back of Roger’s chair and leans over it.

“Roger,” she says, in a little anxious whisper, that trembles ever so lightly, “you are not angry with me, are you?”

Impulsively, as she asks this, she raises one of her soft, naked arms and lays it round his neck. In every action of Dulce’s there is something so childlike and loving, that it appeals straight to the heart. The touch of her cool, sweet flesh, as it brushes against his cheek, sends a strange thrill through Roger a thrill hitherto unknown to him. He turns his face to hers; their eyes meet; and then, in a moment, he has risen, and he has her in his arms, and has laid his lips on hers; and they have given each other a long, long kiss, a kiss of youth and love!

“Angry with you my darling!” says Roger, at length, in a low tone, when he has collected his scattered senses a little. He is gazing at her with the most infinite tenderness, and Dulce, with her head pressed close against his heart, feels with a keen sense of relief that she can defy Stephen, the world, cruel Fate, all! and that her dearest dream of happiness is at last fulfilled.

When they have asked each other innumerable questions about different matters that would concern the uninitiated world but little, but are fraught with the utmost importance to them, they grow happily silent; and, sitting hand in hand, look dreamily into the glowing embers of the fire. Trifles light as air rise before them, and strengthen them in the belief at which they have just arrived, that they have been devoted to each other for years. All the old hasty words and angry looks are now to be regarded as vague expressions of a love suppressed, because fearful of a disdainful reception.

Presently, after a rather prolonged pause, Dulce, drawing a deep but happy sigh, turns to him, and says, tenderly, though somewhat regretfully:

“Ah! if only you had not stolen those chocolate creams!”

“I didn’t steal them,” protested Roger, as indignantly as a man can whose arm is fondly clasped around the beloved of his heart.

“Well, of course, I mean if you hadn’t eaten them,” says Dulce, sadly.

“But, my life, I never saw them!” exclaims poor Roger, vehemently; “I swear I didn’t.”

“Well, then, if I hadn’t said you did,” says Dulce, mournfully.

“Ah! that indeed,” says Mr. Dare, with corresponding gloom. “If you hadn’t all might now be well; as it is Do you know I have never since seen one of those loathsome sweets without feeling positively murderous, and shall hate chocolate to my dying day.”

“It was a pity we fought about such a trifle,” murmurs she, shaking her head.

“Was it?” Turning to her, he lifts her face with his hand and gazes intently into her eyes. Whatever he sees in those clear depths seem to satisfy him and make glad his heart. “After all, I don’t believe it was,” he says.

“Not a pity we quarreled, and and lost each other?” Considering the extremely close proximity to each other at this moment, the allusion to the loss they are supposed to have sustained is not very affecting.

“No. Though we were rather in a hole now,” says Mr. Dare, rather at a loss for a word. “I am very glad we fought.”

“Oh, Roger!”

“Aren’t you?”

“How can you ask me such a heartless question?”

“Don’t you see what it has done for us? Has it not taught us that” very tenderly this “we love each other?” His tone alone would have brought her round to view anything in his light. “And somehow,” he goes on, after a necessary pause “I mean,” with an effort that speaks volumes for his sense of propriety, “Gower will give in, and absolve you from your promise. He may as well, you know, when he sees the game is up.”

“But when will he see that?”

“He evidently saw it to-day.”

“Well, he was very far from giving in to-day, or even dreaming of granting absolution.”

“Well, we must make him see it even more clearly,” says Roger, desperately.

“But how?” dejectedly.

“By making violent love to me all day long, and by letting me make it to you. It will wear him out,” says Mr. Dare confidently. “He won’t be able to stand it. Would would you much mind trying to make violent love to me?”

“Mind it?” says Dulce, enthusiastically, plainly determined to render herself up a willing (very willing) sacrifice upon the altar of the present necessity. “I should like it!”

This naïve speech brings Roger, if possible, a little closer to her.

“I think I must have been utterly without intellect in the old days, not to have seen then what a darling you are.”

“Oh, no,” says Dulce, meekly, which might mean that, in her opinion, either he is not without intellect, or she is not a darling.

“I was abominable to you then,” persists Roger, with the deepest self-abasement. “I wonder you can look with patience at me now. I was a perfect bear to you!”

Indeed you were not,” says Dulce, slipping her arm round his neck. “You couldn’t have been, because I am sure I loved you even then; and besides,” with a little soft, coaxing smile, “I won’t listen to you at all if you call my own boy bad names.”

Rapture; and a prolonged pause.

“What shall we do if that wretched beggar won’t relent and let me marry you?” says Roger, presently.

“Only bear it, I suppose,” with profoundest resignation; it is so profound that it strikes Mr. Dare as being philosophical, and displeases him accordingly.

You don’t seem to care much,” he says, in an offended tone, getting up and standing with his back to the mantelpiece, and his face turned to her, as though determined to keep an eye on her.

“I don’t care?” reproachfully.

“Not to any very great extent, I think; and of course it is not to be wondered at. I’m not much, I allow, and perhaps there are others

“Now that is not at all a pretty speech,” interrupts Dulce, sweetly; “so you sha’n’t finish it. Come here directly and give me a little kiss, and don’t be cross.”

This decides everything. He comes here directly, and gives her a little kiss, and isn’t a bit cross.

“Why shouldn’t you defy him and marry me?” says Roger, defiantly. “What right has he to extort such a promise from you? Once we were man and wife he would be powerless.”

“But there is my word I swore to him,” returns she, earnestly. “I cannot forget that. It was an understanding, a bargain.”

“Well, but,” begins he again; and then he sees something in the little, pale, but determined face gazing pathetically up into his that deters him from further argument. She will be quite true to her word once pledged, he knows that; and though the knowledge is bitter to him, yet he respects her so highly for it, that he vows to himself he will no longer strive to tempt her from her sense of right. Lifting one of her hands, he lays it upon his lips, as though to keep himself by her dear touch from further speech.

“Never mind,” he says, caressing her soft fingers tenderly. “We may be able to baffle him yet, and even if not, we can be happy together in spite of him. Can we not. I know I can.” Drawing her closer to him, he whispers gently,

“A smile of thine shall make my bliss!”

After a while it occurs to them that they ought to return to the drawing-room and the prosaic humdrumedness of everyday life. It is wonderful how paltry everything has become in their sight, how it is dwarfed and stunted by comparison with the great light of love that is surrounding them. All outside this mist seems lost in a dull haze, seems pale, expressionless.

Opening the library-door with slow, reluctant fingers, they almost stumble against a figure crouching near the lintel. This figure starts into nervous life at their appearance, and, muttering something inaudible in a heavy indistinct tone, shuffles away from them, and is lost to sight round a corner of the corridor.

“Surely that was old Gregory,” says Dulce, after a surprised pause.

“So it was,” returns Roger, “and, as usual, as drunk as a fiddler.”

“Isn’t it dreadful of him?” says Dulce. “Do you know, Roger, his manner is so strange of late, that I verily believe that man is going mad.”

“Well, he won’t have far to go, at any rate,” says Mr. Dare, cheerfully. “He has been on the road, I should say, a considerable time.”