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Title: The Penance of Portia James
Author: Tasma
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607651.TXT
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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The Penance of Portia James
Tasma



Chapter I



PORTIA JAMES had been as good as her word, and, notwithstanding the
fact that she had danced the evening before--Portia loved dancing--
until the grey dawn was actually creeping into the gas-lit rooms, she
was standing only five hours later, that is to say at eight o'clock
the same morning, on the steps of Burlington House, waiting with a few
other enthusiasts until the doors should be opened. To face the
unsparing morning light after having made what is suggestively called
a night of it, is not an experiment that can be entered upon
becomingly after the freshness of youth is past. Portia, however, was
still of an age to stand this test--and, what is more, to come out of
it triumphantly. It was her first season in London. She had abundant
health; pleasure and admiration seemed to act upon her as stimulants,
and though she had never slept so little or lived (in the sense that
living may be measured by keenness of sensation) so much as hitherto,
she had never looked fresher, younger, rosier, or more generally
blooming, than upon this particular June morning, as she stood waiting
with the thick catalogue in her hand, a confident Peri, outside the
gates of the particular Paradise she had flown from her bed at that
early hour to enter.

Youth and the morning were ever well mated. Did not the Greeks, those
wonderful pantheists, recognise this truth when they invoked the
ever--young Aurora to coax their world into waking life with the aid
of her rosy finger-tips? A certain young artist, who was hardly as yet
out of the rapin stage, and who had seen Portia a few evenings before
in the glory of full décolleté with rounded bust and arms emerging
from old-rose satin--or something equally vague and charming as
regarded its hue--and who had thought on that occasion of Byron's
lines upon the score of beauty,

"Mellowed to that tender light.
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies,"

found himself inclined at the present moment to alter his opinion. He
had reached the Academy a little before Portia, and had watched her
unobserved as she mounted the steps. His eye, accustomed to transfer
to an imaginary canvas all that it encountered, took in every detail
of her appearance at a glance. The misty background of the London
atmosphere, which looked as though at least two of the well-known
Egyptian plagues, to wit, the reign of darkness and the rain of blood,
were struggling for supremacy over it--the simple explanation thereof
being that the sun's rays were striving to penetrate a threatening
fog--gave the indefiniteness of outline that stamps an impressionest
picture to her silhouette, as she walked. Nevertheless, Harry
Tolhurst, with the divination that comes of artistic training, was
aware, as I have said, of all the details of it. Portia had a figure
that might have inspired a Swinburnian rhapsody, and Harry did full
justice to this in his mind as she walked up the steps in a tailor-
made Scotch tweed that sat closely, but not tightly, round her
exquisite form. Her bright head was covered with one of those patulous
splashes of black lace that serve as a substratum for a garland of
flowers. Perhaps it was not quite in keeping with the tailor-made
dress, but it harmonised wonderfully well with the face that it
framed; and this mention of her face brings me to the most difficult
part of my description, for the face is supposed by most to be the
crucial test or criterion by which beauty is to be gauged. Portia, it
must be owned at once, did not possess what might be called,
objectively speaking, a beautiful face. It was a face that did not
focus well, as the photographers say, and those of her acquaintances
who had only seen her photograph were agreeably surprised when they
encountered the original. In the photographs the face was deprived of
the very qualities that constituted its principal charm--namely,
softness of colouring and mobility of expression. What is the
loveliest landscape under a grey sky compared with the same landscape
when the clouds and the sunlight sweep across it, revealing a thousand
unsuspected charms? Portia in her photographs was the landscape on a
sunless day. Portia in her own person was the landscape on a day of
April showers, of summer storms, of autumn moons, of all that makes
inanimate nature live and vibrate with human passion. To certain
people, therefore--to those who could awake corresponding phases in
her--she was subjectively beautiful; and for the fact that her eyes--
of the warm hazel that accompanies chestnut hair--were too wide apart;
that her nose was too short, or her mouth too large, they cared not
one whit. Her eyes, as some of them had discovered to their cost,
could "thoroughly undo" them betimes--and what could the most
beautiful eyes of the most beautiful houri in an Eastern Paradise do
more?--and this without malice prepense on her part, for if Portia was
a coquette she was not a deliberate one. It was for this reason that
her conquests were so serious and so lasting. Men took her seriously
in spite of themselves, and none, I fear took her more seriously than
Harry Tolhurst. Indeed, it would have been at variance with his nature
to take her in any other way, for though his vocation was that of an
artist, and although he loved his vocation, his actual bias was
towards the austerity and self--renunciation of a therapeutist, in the
religious application of the term. Even as regarded his art, he aimed
at giving it a transcendental significance, and nothing irritated him
more than the French point of view respecting art and literature,
which disdains to take account of the subject that inspires, and makes
cleverness of execution on the one hand, and perfection of literary
form on the other, its sole criterion of praise or blame.

Yet this very young man--the very, in this instance, does not point
to extreme youth, for Harry was approaching the thirties--was led to
take an interest in Miss James, in the first instance, for the
entirely carnal reason that she had so charming a figure. It was as he
told himself, a legitimate and artistic interest; for the pictures
that he painted, and, far beyond these, those he dreamed of painting,
necessitated the frequent study of the feminine outline. He had first
been struck by Portia's figure as she rode past him in the park, the
great clump of chestnut hair that could not be thrust under her hat
lending a certain Lady-Godiva-like association of ideas to the
picture; and he kept the vision of it in his mind until he was
introduced to her by chance at a Joachim concert, at which she was
present with some special friends of his, seated, as it happened, in
his close neighbourhood. He never forgot the harmonies he had heard on
that occasion. For ever after they seemed to blend themselves with the
vision of Portia in her summer dress, as she listened to the heart-
searching music with her eyes down, so completely under the spell
that, when she raised them at the close, there were unconscious tears
quivering on the lashes. He had thought then that such a tribute far
exceeded the clamorous applause that filled the hall, and had envied
the Master his power. But Portia's eyes were just as speaking without
the tear-drops, and, before the concert was over, Harry's ambition to
change places with Herr Joachim had passed away.

All that had passed between them, nevertheless, on that occasion
might have been proclaimed on the housetops. So likewise might the
conversation that followed upon their chance meeting at the house of a
mutual friend. This, however, proves nothing. The Chinese, it is said,
make the same word do duty for a hundred different meanings, according
to the key in which they utter it; and even commonplace English
phrases put on quite a new significance when they are pronounced with
a certain inflexion that differentiates them from their compeers.
Still, the fact remains that Portia and her admirer said nothing that
might not have been taken down by a shorthand reporter and printed in
a manual for daily use in crowded drawing-rooms. Even when she
declared one day that it was her firm intention to go to the Academy
one of these mornings before the doors were opened, Harry did not
venture to do more than take silent note of the same. They were not
upon terms that warranted his offering himself as a guide, but he
treasured the announcement in his heart, and thenceforth, for eight
successive mornings, the policeman on duty at the doors of Burlington
House was not more punctual in his attendance than he. On the ninth he
had his reward. Portia, alone and unattended (this sequence of words
is sanctioned by custom, though for my part I have always thought two
of them were de trop), made her appearance in the courtyard, her face
bright with its morning bloom, not quite like that of Shakespeare's
schoolboy, and the exhilaration consequent upon having successfully
achieved her escapade. She was so far from being blasée (we greatly
need an English equivalent for this word) that she had actually
derived an immense amount of enjoyment from her solitary drive down
Knightsbridge and Piccadilly in a hansom; the heavily-branched,
thickly-leaved trees in the Park looming through the mist at an
immeasurable distance, the sloping green sward with the fat, unshorn
sheep scattered over its bountiful surface, the mighty clubs, still
and solemn as temples at that early hour--even to the opening shops
and the unaccustomed aspect of the passers-by, all more or less
hurrying on their way to set the work-a-day world going--everything
she saw upon this matutinal drive was a source of admiration or
amusement to her. The muffled influence upon sight and sound of the
embryo fog exercised a mysterious charm upon her imagination. Indeed,
if it had not been that, in common with most of us, she did not like
to withdraw her hand from the plough after she had put it thereto, I
believe she would have forsworn the Academy that morning, and
exchanged the long rows of mute pictures within its walls for the
living, breathing pictures outside. As it was, and fortunately, or
perhaps unfortunately for Harry, she did nothing of the kind. She
dismissed her hansom--bestowing, in violation of feminine canons, a
tip upon the driver for the utterly inadequate motive that his horse
was black and shiny, and that she had derived a certain amount of
pleasure from the contemplation of his vigorous action as he trotted
down Piccadilly--and made her way up the steps of Burlington House.



Chapter II



TO say that Portia was surprised when, upon reaching the top, she
recognised Harry Tolhurst in the tall, square, and somewhat grave-
looking young man who took off his hat as he approached her, would not
be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Perhaps it
would be safer to assume that, if his presence did not strike her as
owing its cause to an entirely miraculous coincidence, his absence
would not have appeared especially surprising to her either.

In any case, she thought it advisable to feign a slight surprise, and
to greet him with a "What, you here!" and an almost imperceptible
elevation of the eyebrows (which latter, coming under the heading of
"pencilled," were one of her strong points), as though he were the
last person whom she could have expected, under the circumstances, to
encounter.

"I always come at this time when I come at all," he replied, thinking
doubtless of the eight successive mornings during which he had done
the pied de grue on the steps of the Academy before the doors were
opened.

"Oh, then you must know all the pictures by heart," said Portia,
cordially, "and you can take me straight to those I am supposed to
admire. I have a catalogue here; but it was my brother who marked it."

Harry laughed, and his companion echoed the laugh. She delivered up
the book to him, for which he had extended his hand, without
accompanying the gesture by a spoken request. She was conscious of
enjoying the sense of unrestraint the early morning meeting seemed to
bring with it. It amused her to watch his face as he scanned the
catalogue. The brother to whom she had referred, who was actually her
step-brother, and some seven-and-twenty years older than herself, had
brought his own unaided judgment to bear upon his selection of the
pictures that were to guide his little sister's taste; and the result
seemed to furnish a certain amount of inward amusement to her friend,
which was plainly reflected in his face. The Philistine point of view
is indeed a never-failing source of mirth to the adept, when it does
not irritate him--a fact, however, which does not prevent certain
cliques of artists from demolishing certain other opposing cliques.
For it is not only doctors who differ, as the saying has it, for the
confusion of the uninitiated, but apostles of every calling and every
pretension under the sun. Otherwise, where would be the point in
Pilate's famous question?

Portia was in no wise offended by her friend's amused expression.
Truth to tell, she would have liked to see it upon his face a little
oftener. Its habitual cast was set in too severe a mould. He had
excessively dark, deep--set eyes, and their normal aspect was of those
of a man who broods. The complexion was sallow, and would have
suggested liver to the materially disposed. The mouth was in a great
measure concealed under a drooping black moustache; but its lines, as
far as could be seen, were indicative of a somewhat cheerless
disposition of mind. One could almost imagine that the sable-coloured
eyes and hair had given their hue to the temperament. When this
chronic gloom gave way to a rare smile, the effect was like that of
intense sunlight against the background of an inky sky, which, as
everyone knows, has an irradiating effect upon the landscape. Harry's
smile was almost a revelation to Portia. Her appreciation of it
inclined her to see the pictures under his guidance with quite a new
zest; and, the doors being opened, they passed in together upon the
easy footing of a pair of old friends, instead of that of two young
people who were hovering upon the brink of a flirtation. The catalogue
remained in Harry's hands, definitely closed.

"But you might mark a fresh lot," said Portia, pleadingly. "I'm sure
to mix up the pictures you show me with those my brother wanted me to
see. Don't you think any of them were worth marking, then?"

"Not any that I have seen so far," said Harry, frankly. Whereat they
both laughed again.

"Poor Wilmer," said Portia. (Wilmer, originally a baptismal name, had
become the prefix by which her elder brother's name of plain James had
become converted into that of Wilmer-James.) "As long as I remember
him--even when we were living in the bush out in Australia, you know--
he used to talk about Claudes and Ruysdaels as though he knew all
about them. I had the profoundest belief in his knowledge until we
came home; but I have lost faith in so many things since then."

"He has a kind of a picture-gallery, hasn't he?" said Harry, in tones
that were alike doubtful and encouraging.

"Yes; he has a kind of a one," repeated Portia, briskly; then with a
wicked look in her eyes, "principally old masters."

"Old masters!" Harry's tone was distinctly sceptical. "All his own
selection, I suppose?"

"Yes, all!" Here Portia's voice betrayed the triumph she felt.
"Ruysdaels and Claudes--those are his favourites. He went over to the
Hotel Dieu last week for a sale, and he brought back a Claude about
that big"--(there were vestiges of colonial looseness of expression in
Portia's conversation that occasionally disconcerted her hearers)--
"just about, I should think"--she indicated a space of some half-yard
square with her hands as she spoke. "I was told that the thing to
admire in it was a kind of coppery glow; and I could see that,"
doubtfully; "but then I could see nothing else. Would you admire such
a picture, do you think?"

"I should like to see it first," said Harry guardedly. He was
thinking that a private view, under Portia's guidance, of the
remarkable gallery of the "old-master"-bitten Australian would be a
charming sequel to their walk round the Academy this morning.

"Would you? I'm sure Wilmer would be delighted to show it you, then,"
declared Portia, innocently. "But now let us set to work. I wonder if
I shall have the courage to tell you what pictures I like. You can
always tell me why I shouldn't and mustn't."

"I dare say you should and must most of the time. I have a great
belief in your natural instincts as regards art--"

"Like Wilmer," she interrupted him. "Only it's not art, but wine. He
will insist on making me taste his old 'cru'--doesn't that sound
learned?--and the Australian wines he gets from his Yarraman vines. He
says wine should be judged by a pure, unvitiated palate; and somehow--
it's very funny--but I do generally manage to guess right."

All this time Harry had been leading her through rooms Nos. 1 and 2,
with never a pause on the way. Portia was vaguely aware of canvases
bright with brilliant sea-shores, and green rivers whereon white-robed
damsels were afloat in greener boats. She would have liked to stop
before some of these, but he led her on relentlessly until he brought
her up before a portrait by Herkomer, which he bade her look at and
tell him what she thought of it. Portia, was interested at once.

"But then there is something to be said for the model," she observed,
after she had admired it with unaffected heartiness. "One would say
there was such a straightforward soul looking through those eyes,
wouldn't one? That must make it much easier, I should think, for an
artist."

"Much easier," assented Harry. "A true portrait-painter finds himself
in the position of a kind of involuntary Father Confessor. But I
wasn't thinking so much of the expression as the work."

And thereupon he entered into considerations of drawing, and
colouring, and technique, which, being all new to Portia, gave her the
sensation of being led to the threshold of some vast unexplored
region, peopled with ideal presentments of all the persons and objects
she encountered in her everyday life.

"Oh, how I wish I had been born an artist," she said
enthusiastically, after nearly two hours--she had forgotten all about
the limits of her leave of absence by this time--had been spent in
going from picture to picture at Harry's bidding. "You must find your
life very full and happy always."

"Indeed I don't. It is the life of a Sisyphus, for the most part.
What, are you going away already? Well, there is just one little
painting I should like you to see before you go. I won't give you any
opinion about it. I want to know whether you like it yourself."

His voice sounded nervous and hurried, and Portia was perfectly aware
that the picture she was expected to be honest about was his own. She
hoped in her heart she would like it. Without establishing the
standard laid down in the novels of the Flowery Empire for the
regulation of the affections which makes Passion dependent upon the
proficiency in classic lore of the adored object, she could not help
feeling that she would like Mr. Tolhurst better if his work appealed
to her sympathies. But when she finally found herself confronted with
it, she was obliged to admit that the first impression was one of
bewilderment and non-comprehension. Harry had chosen for his theme the
hackneyed subject--old as the seasons, and young as spring-time--of
the Madonna and Child. To Portia, who had never seen Munkacsy's
"Christ before Pilate," nor "The Last Supper" of Uhde, with its
wondrous stamp of mystic realism, there was something so unaccustomed
in the modern treatment of the theme that she was aghast. The Madonna
was a young woman in flesh and blood like herself--of a commoner
type--"only so much handsomer," she added mentally--and the expression
in her dark eyes was rather one of wistful pride than of confident
glorification. She had working fingers, and the hands which held the
child on her lap had evidently known manual labour. Portia could not
appreciate the conscientious execution of the Jewish garb in white and
blue, for all her interest was centered upon the manner in which the
faces had been treated. The picture of the child--a realistic
presentment of an eighteen-months-old infant, with curiously solemn,
prominent blue eyes--seemed to arrest her attention. After a long and
puzzled pause, she turned her face towards her companion. Harry had
never seen it look so grave before.

"Well?" he said interrogatively--there had been many people in front
of the picture when they had first approached it, but now the place
was vacant--"what do you make of it?"

"I can hardly say," answered Portia--her voice had a little tremor in
it. "I am going through such a curious experience. How or where I
cannot say--but I have seen something like that picture before. I have
seen it or I have dreamed it. Don't you know what it is to meet a face
in the street that recalls some other face? you cannot tell whose? Or
to have the impression of a dream when you wake in the morning that
you can never, never lay hold of? That is how I feel in front of your
picture. It makes me almost fancy that I have stood here with you
before, and that I know what you are going to say. I am afraid it
prevents me from looking at it properly... It is very good, though,
isn't it!"--she added hurriedly and demurely.

For all reply Harry was rude enough to laugh. He laughed so genuinely
and with such thorough enjoyment that Portia, somewhat abashed,
laughed too. What was more, he did not even excuse himself for his
laughter. But it was impossible to be offended by it, for the reason
that it conveyed a subtle assurance that whatever she had said to move
it, far from being displeasing to him, was something that had only
drawn him closer to her. In an instant, however, he had become grave
again. "You ask me if it is very good--well, no. To give you my candid
opinion, I think it is very bad. I am sorry I exposed it, as the
French call it. But what you say about your being reminded of
something you have seen before is a puzzle to me. I believe you are
one of the most truthful persons I ever met--no, I don't jump at
conclusions--but I have watched you as you looked at the pictures, and
I am sure of what I say--yet you can't have seen anything like this
before. The picture has never been out of my studio."

"I can't account for it either," said Portia, plaintively; "but the
feeling is there, all the same. And what is the most uncomfortable, it
suggests something unhappy. How I wish I could explain it. Do you
believe in spirits and all that kind of thing?"

"Believe there are things undreamed of in our philosophy? Of course I
do. Everyone who thinks at all must believe that much."

"Then you think an impression like this one of mine may have
something in it?"

She put the question anxiously, for the vague foreboding that had
come upon her as her eyes first encountered the picture seemed to gain
in consistence as she looked more closely into it. The prominent blue
orbs of the child, with their unabashed infant gaze, threatened to
haunt her in the days to come.

"What can it mean?" she said again, without waiting for Harry's
reply. No one could give a satisfactory solution of the mystery, which
was, after all, entirely a subjective one. But as she parted from her
companion at the outer gate of Burlington House, in the midst of the
later fashionable throng, her erst-while joyousness seemed to have
departed from her. He reproached himself with having allowed her to
over-tire herself.

"You went at the pictures with all the zeal of a neophyte," he said,
"and I never thought of holding you back. You should have told me you
were getting tired."

"Oh, but I wasn't indeed," she assured him eagerly. "I did enjoy
seeing them so much, until--" she stopped short, and gave vent to her
emotion in a half-hysterical little laugh. "I'm afraid you must think
me so awfully silly--"

"What, I? Think you silly! Oh, my dear Miss James!"

He stopped suddenly; annoyed at the weakness of his own disclaimer.
Yet what was he to do? The very longing that beset him to say so much
more than he had any warrant for saying seemed, in biblical phrase, to
place a bridle on his tongue and check his utterance; and the parting
between the two was so formal that no one could have suspected that he
was actually carrying away a corner of Portia's heart that morning,
leaving Heaven knows how large a share of his own behind him in
exchange.



Chapter III



HURRYING back to Waratah Lodge, whereby the Kensington abode of
Wilmer James, standing in its own quarter of an acre of garden, was
known, Portia found there would be only time to get into later-day
trim before luncheon. Her room, overlooking a riotous rose-bud, was a
pleasant place to fritter away the time in. There were mirrors in
white-enamel frames that multiplied her figure in all manner of
unconsciously-becoming poses, and a square, low, Liberty-draped couch
that might have inclined the most prosaic to maiden meditation of a
pleasantly-dreamy description. The porcelain blues and whites of
carpet and curtains--the yellow fever of decoration had not as yet
broken out in every household--were suggestive of coolness and
cleanliness. A white, pagoda-shaped cage, containing two budgery-
guards, that Portia had brought all the way from her bush-home--a cage
large enough to allow the love-sick Hebraic-looking little birds to
play at pursuing each other through space after a period of unlimited
fondling--stood upon a table near the window. The bed in the corner,
under its soft concealment of blue and white crinkly curtains, became
an unobtrusive appendage to the rest of the furniture in a room of
such ample dimensions. The pretty trifles that are set forth in the
West End shops every succeeding season, with a view to exciting a
conflagration in the pockets of those whose money is popularly
supposed to "burn" therein, were not wanting in Portia's room. The
"chastest" china set--(will not the eighteenth-century use of this
adjective, which, according to dictionary authorities, should only be
applied to a rosière or a word, be something of a stumbling-block to
philologists of the future?)--the chastest china-set, I say, adorned
her five-o'clock tea-table. There was a minature cuckoo-clock on the
draped mantle-piece, and white and gold book-shelves bore a
heterogeneous assemblage of the latest novels, poems, and nondescript
specimens of the generally talked-about order of literature. Portia's
tastes were nothing if not eclectic, and when she found the time to
read, which was not very often, she could take up with equal
appreciation a chapter of Aurora Leigh or the latest delightfully
extravagant American absurdity. I have no desire to furnish in this
connection a complete catalogue of all her possessions, but the one
object in her room that she would not have allowed us to overlook was
her writing-table, made to order in celebration of her twenty-first
birthday, by her brother's command--a munificent gift, for he had
himself discovered (and knew what he had paid for it) the authentic
Wouvermans enshrined in the lid. For the further protection of the
precious memento, Wilmer had designed a square cover, like an inverted
box, which was placed over the writing-table when it was not in use,
and which gave it very much the appearance of a Singer's sewing--
machine. This, indeed, was the normal aspect it presented, for Portia
found it easier to scribble off her correspondence at an unassuming
white--enamel-painted table, whereon her buvard, in old-stamped
leather, found its resting-place. On the day of her return from the
Academy, however, her eyes were instantly attracted to the writing-
table by the sight of a magnificent bunch of flowers lying upon the
sewing-machine lid, made up of all manner of blooms in season and out
of season. But it was not the costly charm of speckled orchids or
scentless camellias that attracted her gaze. It was the sight of an
assemblage of yellow-beaded mimosa--branches, with blossoms of such an
amazing quality of thick fluffiness that the almond-scent they
scattered around them seemed to permeate all the air. As she beheld
these flowers, Portia's face gathered a new and singular expression.
The charming London room, with its wealth of so-called art equipments,
its Bond Street bibelots and veiled London atmosphere, all melted
away. She was riding across the far-away Australian plains on a Spring
day in September, and around and above her the dark wattle-trees were
shining in their gold-spangled robes. She could see again the vision
of a man's face next to hers, moving up and down with the horse's
trot--the reddish beard and moustache concealing lips that had a
curious trick of appearing to be for ever engaged in the action of
tasting, when he was not making use of them in speech; the sanguine
hue of the hairy cheeks, and the blue eyes set, as the French express
it, à fleur de téte. She could see herself, a "mere slip of a girl,"
with a massive plait hanging down her back, the end trailing over the
saddle, listening to the man's words as he sought to make her
understand that, child as she was at that time, she was yet the one
maid in all the world for him. She had believed what he had said then,
and she was fain to believe it now. She had imagined in those days
that the exultant sense of being a power in the world, of carrying
some potent magic about with her, that this first wooing had brought
with it (as, indeed, a first wooing brings in every case), was the
going-out of her heart in response to the appeal she had heard. With
the wattle-blooms for sole witnesses she had allowed the face so near
her to come yet nearer still. The horse's flanks were rubbing against
each other, and an arm had pressed itself close around the body of her
little holland habit, as they went at a walking pace. The red-bearded
face had been on a level with her own now--John Morrisson, truth to
tell, was a head and shoulders taller than she, but women ride higher
than men--and the ever-tasting lips had been suffered at last to feed
upon her own. She had even allowed him to pull up the little gauze
veil that protected her against the Australian sun and the Australian
flies, and this first kiss had been understood to signify the seal of
her betrothal. Well, she had been young enough then, in all
conscience, to make so solemn an engagement; but John, who was at
least twenty years older, had held her to it. He was her step-
brother's partner, but neither of the men had as yet developed the
Midas-like faculty they afterwards acquired of turning all they
touched into gold. Portia's engagement--she was only sixteen--was
nevertheless interpreted as a serious obligation by the head of the
house, and nothing but her own passionate pleading that she should not
be married until she was twenty-one had saved her from becoming that
saddest of sacramental victims, a child wife. The following year the
great silver discovery had been made. John Morrisson was credited with
the first preception of the marvellous possibilities concealed under a
strip of Queensland bush, but Wilmer James had been the one to
secretly test the ore, and to bring the wondrous discovery to a head.
To wake and find ourselves famous is, perhaps, a more frequent
experience in these days of rapid reputations than to wake and find
ourselves millionaires. This, was, however, the wonderful fate that
befell Portia's brother and his partner. Within a couple of years of
the discovery, they were rich in the eternally-quoted Johnsonian sense
of the word. Wilmer had brought his wife and step-sister to England.
John had remained to superintend the carrying on of the great silver-
mine operations, or, in Australian parlance, to "boss the concern." It
was understood that he should not appear upon the horizon--Portia's
horizon, that was to say--until she had completed her twenty-first
year. She was within eighteen months of it at the time of her sailing.

The period of European travelling that followed, during which Wilmer
had struck out wildly in the direction of Claudes and Ruysdaels, the
furnishing of the Kensington house, and the first experience of a real
London season--all these had represented a dream of delight to Portia.
Why did the dream seem to be checked by a rude awakening this morning,
as she looked at the wattle-blooms that greeted her so unexpectedly,
and read in their golden blobs the mute message that John Morrisson
had come home? Come home! Come, then, to claim his promise. Come for
her! The recollection of the free and happy experience of her morning
among the pictures rushed into her mind, and with it, and against it,
and mingled in some incomprehensible way with the image of John
himself, the vision of the picture of Harry's Madonna and Child
flashed through her brain. Had the picture, then, brought her a
presentiment of her approaching fate? What possible network of
disconnected ideas could have entangled the Madonna and her Child and
John Morrisson in the same meshes! "I should go mad if I were to
attempt to make sense of it," said Portia--I am not sure that in her
thoughts, for she spoke to herself, she did not say, to "make head or
tail of it"--and thereupon she made her way towards the flowers with a
gait quite unlike the one that had been remarked by Harry Tolhurst on
the steps of the Academy only a few hours previously. She was holding
the flowers up to her face--wattle-blossoms were, in any case,
objectively lovely, no matter through what channel they reached her--
when the door was opened from outside, after it had been smartly
tapped upon, by someone who did not even wait for her to say "Come
in."

Portia turned her head with the dignity of an offended queen, but her
lips relaxed into a smile as she recognised the large Teutonic face of
her sister--in-law, with grey frisettes surmounting her forehead and
the fixed red upon the high cheek-bones that advancing years, rather
than the rouge-pot, had placed there. Mrs. James had found favour in
her lord's sight some thirty years previously, at a period when youth
had condoned the unattested mould of her features. She had been
engaged in the task of bringing up the daughters of a neighbouring
squatter in guttural German-English and the belief that Goethe was the
light of the world, when Mr. James married her, so to speak, off hand.
Eligible brides were rare upon the Lachlan in those days. Mrs. James
proved herself as good a Haus-frau as she had been a worshipper of
Goethe, and when, some fifteen years later, her husband's orphaned
step-sister was sent up to him from Melbourne for protection, she took
the little creature to her heart in the place of the child she would
fain have borne him, and brought her up with tender care according to
her lights. Mr. James did not understand German, and I fear Portia's
knowledge of it did not extend very far beyond the "Ach Gotts," "Gott
in Himmels," and "So's," that she heard her step-sister utter a
hundred times a day. Since her sudden accession to wealth Mrs. James
had resuscitated a legend that had been almost forgotten during her
active existence of squatter's helpmate in the Australian wilds--a
legend whereby the stock whence she came was adelig, and she herself,
as well as her sisters, cousins, and aunts, were adelig likewise.
Portia heard for the first time of her step-sister's uncle--a
Rittmeister von something--who had married the daughter of a Graf. It
had been always understood that they should see these great people
when they came to Europe; but beyond a visit to a stuffy pension,
conducted by the Rittmeister's widowed daughter, nothing had come of
it. Mrs. James had explained that no one who was not adelig was
allowed to become an inmate of the establishment, and Portia had
noticed that a coronet was insinuated into all the crochet-worked
antimacassars that encumbered the sad-looking reception-room. On the
other hand, the furniture was terribly threadbare, and there was a
pungent aroma of biersuppe from the kitchen, which, coupled with an
utter absence of ventilation in the sitting-room, inspired Portia
(though she did not say so to her step-mother) with a prévention--
prejudice, perhaps, would be too strong a word--against all that was
adelig in the German sense. In England, in the beautiful Kensington
mansion, Mrs. James gave the reins to her fancy in another direction.
She had always been economical in her dress--in Germany she had
clothed herself in her youthful days upon eighty-five marks a year.
But now she developed a truly Oriental imagination as regarded the
trailing glories of her attire. She would array her portly body in
robes that the Queen of Sheba might have worn, and, the silver mine
being apparently inexhaustible, she cultivated a taste for old lace as
a pendant to her husband's taste for old masters, with at least a like
success.

Her hasty entrance into Portia's room this morning was with the
obvious motive, first, of imparting some startling piece of news, and,
secondly, dazzling her vision by her appearance in a gorgeous gown of
peacock blue, with a trimming that looked like the encrusted bands of
jewels that adorned the gowns of Byzantine empresses. But there was a
kind heart under the glittering adornments. Beholding a certain
distressful look in Portia's eyes, after the smile had died out of
them, Mrs. James plumped down into a chair, with a gesture not quite
consistent with her mediaeval magnificence, and said, with deep-voiced
sympathy--

"Ach meine Liebe! wherefore art thou sad?"

"I'm not sad," said Portia, hastily; she put the flowers away from
her as she spoke; then, with a sudden, inconsistent change of
demeanour, she turned her face towards the elder woman. Her eyes were
full of tears. "Oh, Emma! what shall I do!" she cried in a choked
voice.

"Liebchen! Herzchen!" the incrusted trimming, with its aggressive
irregularities, forbade the warm-hearted Emma from pressing the young
girl's head to her heart, but she stood up and kissed her and led her
to the confessional couch, and taking the cold young hands into her
own, which were of an uncompromisingly beefy hue, but warm and
sympathising withal, she said: "Now! you will bore out your heart to
me, Liebchen," and so waited for her to speak.

To put a dramatic sentiment into fitting words with a large, fat,
expectant face looking anxiously into yours, is not always an easy
matter. Portia felt a strong inclination to laugh, though at heart she
was in no laughing mood. She compromised matters by covering her face
with her disengaged hand, as she murmured weakly: "I don't like the
thought of leaving you and Wilmer, Emma. This year has flown by so,
and you see there--I have my summons."

She nodded in the direction of the magnificent flowers scattered over
the cover of the writing-table. The wattle-blossoms lay with their
rich yellow down uppermost, and Emma knew just what they signified.

"Ach! he is so fond of you," she whispered; the idea that Portia was
casting about for a possible means of gaining time, and deferring the
fulfilment of her promise (she dared not think yet of breaking it
altogether), never seemed to occur to her. "He will be by us to-day at
lunch"--prepositions had never been able to take their relative places
in the English sense in Emma's brain.

"At lunch!" repeated Portia, in tones that savoured more of terror
than of rapture. "Then you have seen him already. What does he look
like? What did he say?"

"He said, 'I got not away until I have seen her, Now, it was to tell
you he waits below, I must run so rash into you room awhile ago. Ach!
how white you look then, my treasure. Gott in Himmel! one would say
you were even disposing yourself to faint."

"Nonsense! I never fainted in my life." Portia's tone had taken a
sudden resolve, but the fact that the blood had fled from her cheeks,
leaving them, for an instant, of an unnatural whiteness, was
incontestable. "He is below, you say. I will go to him at once. Is he
alone?"

Mrs. James nodded signficantly. "In the library--there awaits he
alone your coming. Now--"

But Portia was gone before she could say more. The black-lace,
flowered-wreathed hat was thrown aside, and she was running swiftly
down the broad, heavily-carpeted stairs. A sudden and desperate
resolution had seized her while her sister-in-law had been talking.
Alas! that our "high resolves" should be so difficult of execution. By
the time her fingers were on the handle of the library door, her
courage was oozing out at the tips of them. After all, what possible
pretext could she advance for becoming a renegade from her word! Had
she not come to Europe in the character of an engaged girl? Did not
everyone who had seen the parting on the mail-steamer between herself
and John Morrisson know she was his affianced wife? Had her brother,
her sister-in-law, the very servants who had come home with them, her
Australian friends, any doubt that she belonged to him prospectively?
Had not their English friends--everybody indeed, excepting recent and
casual acquaintances, like Harry Tolhurst for instance--been apprised
of the fact? Moreover, in what were her relations with her betrothed,
or the world in general, changed since she had seen him last? Was it
only that the eternal reproach levelled by Hamlet at her sex might
have been addressed to her individually? Was she frail, and fickle,
and false by nature, that after hardly eighteen months' separation
from the man to whom she had pledged herself, she should feel--without
any assignable motive--that she would have been beholden to him for
staying away yet longer? Under the influence of a flood of similar
reflections, Portia slowly turned the handle of the library door, and
entered, as one walking in her sleep, into the presence of John
Morrisson.



Chapter IV



WHATEVER Portia might have contemplated saying, before she entered
the room, the mere physical power to utter it was taken from her ere
she was well inside, for she had hardly had time to close the door
after her, when she found herself enveloped in so close an embrace
that she was literally deprived of breath. She was conscious of being
kissed with hungry, devouring kisses, upon forehead, lips and neck,
until she was fain to plant her two small hands against the great
shoulders that overshadowed her and push them away (after the fashion
in which the man of Thessaly jumped into the quick-set hedge) that is
to say, with all her "might and main."

"How can you?" she cried, flushing and panting. "How cruel of you!
You hurt me so, and you frighten me so!"

"My darling, my darling!" he said, releasing her. "Haven't we a two
years' score to settle?"

He held her at arm's length from him, half-seated upon the edge of
the library table, and scanned with eager scrutiny her face and
figure. She had a kind of helpless sense that he was appraising her--
taking in her points, indeed, as she had seen him do upon the station
when he was judging a young horse that had been recently run in. (His
judgment as regarded a horse or a sheep was that of an expert.) His
lips had not lost their old trick of tasting (with nothing tangible
before them to taste), while he was thinking. Portia reflected that he
was bigger and burlier than when she had last seen him. There were
people who even now would have considered him a handsome man, in a
Henry VIII. or William Rufus kind of way. She had never been aware
before of the curious hue--a sort of opaque blue--of his globular
eyes. She made these observations half-unconsciously to herself as she
stood in his powerful grasp. The somewhat rough handling she had
experienced had produced a singular feeling of lassitude, and though--
as she had declared to her sister-in-law a few moments back--she had
never fainted in her life, and was not in the least what is called an
hysterical subject, she felt now as though to creep into a dark room,
and there lie down and cry herself to sleep, would be an untold
relief.

She uttered, nevertheless, no protest while her lover was
contemplating her, remaining passive until he made a movement as
though to draw her towards him again. This she resisted.

"You're a lot prettier than you used to be," was his verdict, when
she had finally suffered him to pass his arm around her waist, as she
stood by his side, with her back supported against the table. "You
were pretty enough out in the bush, but you're bewitchingly pretty
now. I expect you've had no end of fellows after you in London. Come
now, tell me all about it!"

"There's nothing to tell," said Portia, gravely. Her voice sounded
like a funeral knell in her own ears. "We were travelling, as you
know, until quite lately, and we don't know nearly as many people here
as we did in Melbourne. How was it"--with a forced attempt to resume
her natural manner--"you were able to come home so much sooner than
you expected, Mr. Morrisson?"

"Don't you Mr. Morrisson me," said John, turning her face towards his
own for another kiss; "or I'll make you pay a double forfeit every
time. Well, you were asking about the coming home. I wasn't due for
six weeks, was I?"

"No, not for six whole weeks," she replied with a sigh. This was a
form of assent that was open to two interpretations. It might, from
one point of view, have been construed in the most unflattering sense
to the person to whom it was given. John elected (as he would have
said himself) to give it the contrary signification.

"Six whole weeks!" he repeated, "that's a devil of a time to a man in
love, Portia, and I've been in love with you now for over five years.
I've been working like a demon to square up accounts and get home.
Thank the Lord, that time's over, and now we can get fixed up as soon
as you please."

She was silent. The numbness of despair was creeping over her, and
curiously enough, as the prospect of losing her liberty loomed in
terrible proximity before her mental gaze, the obtrusive vision of
Harry Tolhurst's Madonna and Child coupled itself in her mind with her
impending destiny. She could see once more the wistful eyes of the
Virgin-mother looking out from their frame of strong black hair, and
the unabashed gaze that marked the intent blue orbs of the Child. The
impression of the whole was as strong as though it had been actually
photographed on her brain, and she was so overcome by it that for a
moment she almost forgot the actual business on hand, as the
commercial people say--a business, nevertheless, that was of mighty
import to herself.

And here I must put in a word in behalf of Portia's apparently
helpless and weak-minded course of action, two epithets which
certainly do not apply to her character, however much her conduct may
appear deserving of them. If her approaching marriage was actually
becoming in her eyes the prototype of the sword which the wretched
Damocles saw--as the juvenile story-books tell us--"suspended over his
head by a single hair," why did she consent to dally under the same?
She was still her own mistress, in the sense that she had not been
through the dread ceremony which obliges a woman to swear eternal love
and constancy and obedience to inconstant man, and might reasonably be
supposed to have been able to withdraw her word. Against this
supposition, however, there is more than one argument to be advanced,
of which I will only mention those that had most weight with Portia
herself. In the first place, it was now, as John Morrisson himself had
reminded her, more than five years since she had given him her troth.
He had never, as she firmly believed, looked with eyes of longing in
the direction of any other woman whatsoever since. Not that Portia
thought very much of this accredited warrant of a sole and exclusive
passion. Despite her varied reading, she had retained, as regarded
many vexed questions an artless mind, and believed that people--men
especially--did many things in books that they would never dream of
doing in real life, and that, on the whole, exo-connubial affections
were mainly to be met with in romances. In her own innocent eyes she
was more than half married to John already, and this feeling assisted
the aforementioned one of her belief in his enduring love, to hold her
bound to him. What assurance could she give herself if now, at the end
of his five years' probation, she should drive him away for no other
reason than a want of fidelity on her own part--what assurance could
she have that the same contingency might not occur the next time she
should lose (or fancy she lost) her heart to somebody else? It was not
as though she had given way to a sudden engouement and repented of it
a week later, for she had known John almost as long as she could
remember. She had been rather in awe of him as a little girl, and even
to the time when he had in a measure appropriated her, while she was
yet in short frocks. And she was not (no, certainly she was not) in
love with anybody else. That Harry Tolhurst's deep-set black eyes and
dreamy gentleness of manner should contrast themselves in her
imagination with the ardent eyes and vehement caresses of her
betrothed was, she hoped, attributable mainly to the fact that his
picture of the Madonna haunted her so persistently. In any case, she
had no reason, save one that would appear like a mere feminine
caprice, to urge for sending John away at the present moment. The most
she could hope to do was to gain time, and how could she answer for it
that when she had been allowed to accustom herself again to him she
might not be quite ready and willing to be married to him? Wilmer's
heart, for one, was set upon the match; more than ever perhaps since
the wonderful episode of the great silver-mine discovery. Moreover,
ways of behaving that were disconcerting in a lover might not matter
so much in a husband. And as long as the wedding-day was not actually
fixed there would be time to reason with herself and to bring herself
ultimately into a more befitting frame of mind. Very possibly she was
too confused just now to make her thoughts worth heeding seriously.
All these are not, it may be said, arguments of a very forcible kind,
but they had the effect of keeping Portia standing with her back
against the table and her lover's arm round her waist.

"Why, yes!" he said again; "there's nothing to stand in the way of
our being married straight off--as soon as you please. What's the use
of bothering about a trousseau? You'll never have anything prettier,
to my mind, than what you've got on now; and you shall buy all the
best in the London shops afterwards, if you've a mind to. My word, my
pet, but you'll show 'em the way! I was thinking how we'd show you off
in the Park this morning as I was coming up in the train from
Plymouth. What sort of a mount have you got--eh?"

"Oh! not bad!" Portia's interest was readily aroused in equine
matters, as John knew of old. "A big bay, with black points--very
nearly a thoroughbred. He's only a livery-stable horse, but Wilmer
made it a condition with the keeper that no one should ride him but
me."

She did not say I, as, doubtless, she ought to have said; but
Portia's education, such as it was, had been finished in the bush, and
John was the last person in the world to notice the slip.

"We'll have something better than that for you before long," he
said, drawing her yet closer to his side. "Do you remember the little
chestnut filly I was going to break in for you? She's grown into the
prettiest mare you ever set your eyes on. A regular picture. I was
offered a couple of hundred for her down the day before we started by
a fellow who wanted to enter her for the Maiden Plate. She's worth a
lot more than that, though. Well, I've brought her home for you.
She'll be up in town this week. And jump!--good God, you should see
her jump! You've not had any cross--country riding, I suppose?"

"No! but I should like it of all things," with a pretty flush of
anticipation rising in her cheeks. "There are no kangaroo in England,
are there?"

"None that I ever heard of, excepting at the Zoo. But fox-hunting's
about as good a sport as you can find. Wait till next season comes
round, and we've got the filly fit--you'll take the shine out of some
of them, I expect!"

"I remember the filly you mean quite well now," declared Portia. She
had been apparently musing deeply for the space of half a minute. "You
won the Oaks with her mother. Oh! by the bye" (with an air of awakened
interest), "what became of John, the trainer? Do you remember when his
wife was bitten by the snake, and you cut the place out with your
pocket--knife--and she died of something else, after all, poor woman,
the same year?"

Launched upon this retrospective tide, Portia had been looking into
a still recent past and had therefore failed to take note of the
change that came over her lover's face as she made mention of John,
the trainer. It was an ugly change, for it set an ugly expression upon
it. Whatever chain of associations the name might have suggested, the
links thereof had evidently chafed John Morrisson's soul in bygone
days. He did not speak for an instant, but his lips continued to work
with the tasting movement Portia knew so well. Like the men she had
read of in the novels, he was unconsciously gnawing his moustache.
Quite unsuspectingly, however, she continued to perform the feat known
in figurative French as that of putting her pieds dans le plat.

"And the daughter he was so proud of," she went on, ruminating; "the
one who had had such a 'rare bringing up'? I left the station before
she came up, and I never went back to it afterwards. Did she reach him
all right? He was so solitary after his wife died. I hope she is
keeping house for him now."

Still no answer! Portia looked round in surprise. John had released
her waist from the pressure of his encircling arm, and had actually
turned his back upon her. He was looking, or pretending to look in his
pocket-book for something that it was apparently imperative he would
find at this particular moment, and none other. In the process of
looking he had bent his head upon his chest, and Portia could see that
the blood had mounted to his temples in a warm red flame.

"You don't tell me!" she said, half vexed.

"Tell you what?" he answered, roughly; "you're asking me a lot of
questions about people I haven't come across for the Lord knows how
long. I've been up in the north of Queensland, you know; and let me
see, when I did stop at the station on one occasion, the Willets--
father and daughter--had left."

"Oh, dear! I'm sorry," said Portia, simply; "it was John Willet who
first taught me to ride, I believe, and he was never tired of talking
of his 'little lass' in the old country. We were about of an age--she
and I--he used to say."

All this time John was still continuing to turn over the contents of
his pocket-book, unheeding, to all appearance, of Portia's
reflections: she, therefore held her peace, and carried them on
mutely. She was thinking now of a time anterior even to the one when
she had first known him--a time at which she had been alternately
fondled and scolded by Emma, as she trotted bare-legged about the yard
and garden that surrounded the Paradinyah homestead. The station and
all its appurtenances had represented to to her in those days what the
duck-pond represented to Andersen's Ugly Duckling--a vast region, with
unlimited resources for the arousing of interest and amusement of
every imaginable description. She was made familiar with the
draughting of cattle, the shearing of sheep, and the branding of
calves and horses, almost as soon as she could run alone, and to her
infant imagination these were the events round which the whole world
revolved. As a matter of fact, her own world revolved around them; for
what conception has a six-year-old brain of other than a subjective
universe? One of her clearest recollections was of the first time she
had ridden into the township for the letters with John Willet, mounted
on an old mare of such amazing girth that her little feet dangling
down from the saddle had hardly reached to the animal's ribs. Portia
was, however, a practiced rider even at that time--for she would
gallop her own pony barebacked through the scrub, mounted for the most
part à califourchon like a Sioux chief. She had a miniature stock-
whip, which she learned to crack in quite a professional way. It was
not until she had come home for the holidays after the first year that
she had been sent, protesting and weeping, to a Melbourne boarding-
school, that John Morrisson, a newly--arrived inmate of the Paradinyah
homestead, had appeared on her horizon. It was he who had brought
money into the concern, and she had grown up with a kind of a vague
belief that they were all under great obligations to him, and that
Wilmer would inevitably have "gone broke" but for his timely
intervention. Of her own parents, dead within a twelve-month of each
other, when she was barely five years old, she retained but the most
shadowy of recollections. Her father, as she knew, had married young,
and Wilmer had been his only son. The mother had died at the birth.
After five--and-twenty years of a widower's existence, spent in roving
about the world, he had drifted to Australia, purchased a bush
property for his son, and finally contracted a second marriage in
Melbourne, with a girl some thirty years younger than himself. Portia
knew little about her mother. She had gathered, however, that she was
beautiful, though of insignificant extraction--not "adelig," as Emma
said, with a pitying shake of the head. All her own understanding of
family ties, all that she had ever known of family love and tenderness
and authority, she owed to her step-brother and his wife. Enveloped in
a moral atmosphere at once bracing and tender from her childhood
upwards, it had never occurred to her to regret that she was not only
orphaned, but sisterless and brotherless as well, in the ordinary
acceptation of the phrase. She never doubted that she had had as large
share of love and care as falls to the lot of the most loved and
looked-after of children, and that Wilmer and Emma only "wanted her
good." This conviction, that she held as firmly as--more firmly maybe
than--the Articles set forth in the Creed in her Church of England
Prayer-book, might have explained in a great measure the attitude of
passive acceptance of her fate that had marked her engagement with
John Morrisson. Even the request she had proffered to be allowed to
wait until she was of age before the marriage was consummated was the
result of an inspiration so bold and unprecedented that she was unable
to account for it to herself. Thinking over the past this morning,
with the future in the guise of her returned lover standing
mysteriously taciturn by her side, Portia was thunderstruck to find
that the vision of the Madonna's effigy seemed to blend itself with
those distant scenes, almost as determinedly as it had blended itself
with the impression of vague terror provoked awhile ago by John's
suggestion that she should marry him without delay. What magic made
her perpetually embroil in her mind matters so wide apart in reality!
Why, out of all the pictures she had seen that morning, did this one
alone rise like a spectre before her, and spread its blurred hues over
whatever passage in her life she might happen to pass under review? In
olden times people would have declared there was some deadly
witchcraft in the painting. Why did the Madonna's eyes, above all,
haunt her as though they had some special message for her that none
else in the world could understand? These thoughts, begot, as she
would fain have believed, "of nothing but vain fantasy," continued
nevertheless to run riot through her brain, until she was suddenly
brought back (like a witness in the Supreme Court) to the "facts of
the case" by John's triumphant voice.

"By George! I thought I'd lost it. See here, my pet, what I've
brought you from the mine--quite close to it, that's to say. No--you
shan't have it till you've given me a kiss first."

He had seated himself quite upon the edge of the table by this time,
and was holding her close to his knee like a child. She kissed him
timidly on the cheek, in such evident terror of fresh demonstrations
on his part that he forbore for once to press his advantage.

"You know you're going to be a rich woman, don't you, dear? I expect
you'll have money enough to get as many gimcracks as you've a fancy
for. Still, here's a thing I want you to wear for my sake. It's sui
generis--it is. I found it myself up in Queensland, and I got it set
round with diamonds in Sydney. I guess its about the right size for
you--ain't it?"

As he spoke, he unfolded, from a triple wrapping of soft tissue-
paper, a ring composed of a gold band upon which was mounted a
magnificent opal encircled by a setting of splendidly flashing
brilliants. This he passed over the third finger of Portia's left
hand--holding it aloft as he did so to admire the effect.

"Isn't it a stunner?" he said. "But look here, darling, let me just
twist it round--this way--to make believe it's your wedding-ring, and
we're man and wife!"

"No, no!" cried Portia, hastily withdrawing her hand, "it's much too
pretty as it is. I love opals; I wonder what fool it was who first
thought of calling them unlucky!"

"Unlucky, are they? By Jove, if I thought there were anything in it,
I'd throw the ring out of the window this moment."

"Not for worlds!" she protested, closing her fingers tightly upon her
treasure, while John seized her hand and feigned to wrench them open.
Finally and matter was compromised by her allowing him to kiss them
all in succession, a pastime which was only put an end to by the
timely intervention of the gong clanging forth its summons to lunch.



Chapter V



THE breakfast-room in the Jameses' Kensington abode wherein they
chose to take their mid-day meal, opened upon a conservatory that
Wilmer had consecrated entirely to Australian trees and flowers. The
half acrid, half aromatic, perfume of blue gum and peppermint
saplings, that by-and--by would shoot up like Jack's beanstalk until
nothing short of a cathedral dome would have sufficed to shelter their
exuberant growth, was wafted therefrom into the apartment. Miniature
Murray pines, with their rich green bombé surfaces, fern-trees from
Tasmania, set in humid moss-grown beds, over which an artificial
water-course trickled perpetually--more wonderful still, flowering
specimens of the scarlet waratah and infoliated grass-tree blossom
from Mount Wellington, set against a background of brilliantly--
flowering creepers from New South Wales, made of this conservatory a
place for an exiled Australian to dream in. John was loud in his
praises of it, as he sat down to the exquisitely appointed table
facing his betrothed, while Mr. and Mrs. James formally installed
themselves at the head and foot of the same.

To hold up the assembled party to the eyes of English readers as
thoroughly typical Australians, would be as unjust a proceeding as was
that of Dumas père when he declared that all the inhabitants of
Antwerp were roux because he had encountered two red headed girls on
his way to the hotel. No one is thoroughly typical unless he be a
savage or a peasant. Portia and her relatives retained their own
underlying individualities none the less that they had been influenced
in their outward bearing and modes of expressing themselves by a long
sojourn in the back blocks of Victoria, in daily contact with all
sorts and conditions of men--broken-down gentlemen, English yokels,
bush-hands, and the like. After all, the moulding of character by
outward influences alone is not a work to be achieved in one
generation, or what would become of the theory of heredity, upon which
everything is supposed to depend, more or less, in our present
scientific age? If these people strike the English reader, therefore,
as differing in certain respects from those he is accustomed to meet
in his daily walk through life, let him remember that the differences
which will strike him most are the merely superficial ones resulting
from an occasional departure from the conventional rules of speech and
behaviour that guide his own outward conduct, and that in all the main
essentials they are, au fond, neither more like him nor more unlike
him than though chance had willed that they should be born and brought
up on the selfsame patch of earth as himself. A difference in the
vocabulary of the native-born Australian, or long resident in
Australia, of the not too highly-educated order, as well as a
difference in his tone of voice and enunciation, from that of a person
belonging to a corresponding class in England, is one of those facts,
however, which "nobody can deny." I am not going to enter in this
connection upon a disquisition respecting the relative merits of what
Mrs. James would have called "höfisch" English, and the English that
has been coined out of entirely new conditions by pioneers and
backwoodsmen. Suffice it to say, there is a difference, and Portia was
never more sensible of it than when she returned, as on the present
occasion, from moving among a London society crowd, into the Anglo-
Australian social atmosphere of the Kensington house. Her sister-in--
law's unconscious colonial slang, grafted on to a German mode of
speech and pronunciation which she had never been able to forswear,
struck her as being funnier than she had ever been aware of before.
And when she heard Emma gravely accusing her London visitors of
"pooting on zide," she was fain to invent a reason, which had not the
remotest connection with the actual one, for breaking into an
unadvised laugh.

"Might fancy yourself on the Plains again, mightn't you?" said Wilmer
to his guest, as they sat down to lunch--he had placed him just where
John could obtain a full view of the most flourishing of the
eucalyptus saplings through the artistically-opened Liberty portières
that closed the conservatory--"always barring the mosquitoes and the
flies."

Wilmer James was what is called dapper in figure; light of build,
though of a fair middle height. He was clean-shaven, and not unlike a
squireen as represented in some delicately tinted engraving of seventy
or eighty years back. His morning suit had something of a sporting
cut, and he wore a monocle in his left eye. This, however, was a habit
of very recent adoption, and practice had not as yet made him perfect
in it. His hat had never been known to sit otherwise than a little
tilted to one side on his head. He had been a well-known figure upon
Australian race-courses for years, and none would have been more
astonished than the people with whom he had horsey relations (of a
strictly honourable kind as far as he himself was concerned) had they
known to what extravagant lengths he would go when an opportunity for
backing his judgment--in the purchase of some pseudo "old master"--
came in his way. If humanity is not typical, as we have just essayed
to show, neither is it consistent. The most adverse tastes are
frequently to be met with in one and the same individual. There seems,
it is true, to be little apparent connection between a love of horse-
racing and a passion for Claudes and Ruysdaels, which last, to be
properly followed up, would necessitate a long and arduous
apprenticeship in old-world picture--galleries and museums. And yet it
is a fact that Wilmer James would spend hundreds and thousands upon a
sombre-tinted canvas, of which the original hues had become merged
into blackened greens and blues, provided it bore either of the above-
mentioned great names. What was more, he thoroughly believed that he
had provided himself with an inexhaustible fund of artistic pleasure
when he succeeded in acquiring one or other of these mendacious works
of art, to which the certainty that only he himself and a few of the
initiated were capable of tasting it gave an added savour. This idée
fixe, however, as it certainly was, had the advantage of being an
entirely harmless one, and, excepting for the fact that he became a
"mark" for picture-dealers, who occasionally "let him in" to an
enormous extent, was in no way detrimental to the piece of mind of his
family. It is to be wished as much might be said of the weaknesses of
every nouveau riche who has become "dammed to Fame" in latter years.

Though John admired his host's Australian gully, as Wilmer called his
conservatory, as unreservedly as could be wished, he was still better
pleased to let his eyes rest upon the face just opposite him, that
occasionally intercepted his view of the eucalyptus tree. Portia was
conscious of his glance, and was feeling sadly ill at ease under it.
As with his first greeting of her, so now in the air of proprietorship
with which he publicly regarded her, there was something that made her
long to "turn and flee." It is Sir Walter Scott, I think, who has
condensed into a single sentence words of so much purport, when he
speaks in one of his romances of two lovers restored to each other,
who manifest their joy by all the "endearments that mutual love at
once suggests and sanctions." Where such manifestations spring from a
one-sided sentiment, as was the case, I fear, with John and Portia,
they are apt to be more terrifying than reassuring to the non--or
wrong-sided one. Portia was grateful when Wilmer created a diversion
by asking John what he thought of the English salmon (served with a
wonderful Pistachio sauce) that he was engaged in eating.

"It beats the Murray perch, old man, doesn't it?" he said. "Here's to
your return to the old country. Thomas, fill Mr. Morrisson's glass
with champagne. And Miss Portia's too! Emma, are you ready?"

The toast was acknowledged by a shake of the hands on the part of the
recipient with all the company in turn.

"And now I'll propose the Little Wonder," he said gravely; "and long
may she prosper!"

The "Little Wonder" thus caressingly alluded to was the huge silver
mine twelve thousand miles away, which, night and day, in heat and
smoke, and steam and turmoil, yielded up the ore that was moulded into
the mighty ingots, that, in their turn, became metamorphosed into the
shining coins, which, to crown the sequence, filled the Kensington
mansion with exotic trees and old masters, at the will and pleasure of
its master.

"I'll have to go and look after things a bit next year, I expect,"
continued John, after the second toast had been duly drunk. "The
manager's all right enough; but there's no eye like the master's."

"How'll that suit you, Portia, eh?" asked her brother, looking across
at her with a smile, which was suddenly contracted by the unexpected
falling out of his monocle. "She's dead nuts on London," he added,
addressing himself to John, as he picked it up and readjusted it
methodically in his left eye. "It was getting about time you came to
look after her, I tell you. Why, last night she was waltzing up to all
hours. Emma couldn't drag her away; and this morning she was off all
by herself, if you'll believe me, before anybody in the house was up.
Come now, Miss, give us a full, true, unvarnished account of your
proceedings since breakfast. Why, she's blushing--upon my soul, she's
blushing! Things look promising for you, John. You'd better
crossexamine her on the spot, if you'll take my advice."

"Why, you know where I went; and so does Emma," protested Portia,
feeling it impossible to be playful under her brother's inopportune
badinage; with the consciousness, too, that her cheeks were burning
visibly, and that there was something more oppressive than ever in her
lover's way of looking at her. "I went to the Academy. I always said I
would go some morning as soon as the doors were opened."

"And you did gif her your gatalogue, Wilmer," put in his wife,
reproachfully, whether with the intention of coming to Portia's
rescue, or of reminding her husband that he had been aider and abettor
in the transaction, was not clear.

"So I did; but I never thought she'd make use of it."

"Well! and who did you meet? How many of your beaux of last night did
you drop across?"

"None," said Portia, immensely relieved to be saved from the
necessity of telling a lie--an accomplishment in which she was
miserably deficient; "but I wonder why you selected those particular
pictures you marked in the catalogue. I saw ever so many I liked much
better."

The stratagem succeeded. She had carried the war into the enemy's
camp. Wilmer, who had been actuated by no other aim than that of
making her feel as uncomfortable as possible, found it incumbent upon
him now to defend his self-assumed claim to the character of art-
critic without delay.

"What do you know about pictures? There's a lot of modern rubbish I
wouldn't give a sixpence for. The ones I marked had an old master
touch about them that made them a little better than the rest; but I
wouldn't have 'em in my collection at any price. We'll take a turn
through the gallery when lunch is over, if John's agreeable."

"Just as you like," assented John; "but I don't pretend to know
anything about pictures. Living pictures are the only ones to my
taste."

He looked at Portia as he said this, but encountered no responsive
glance, and the conversation took a more general turn. Everyone had
something to ask about John's experiences on his homeward voyage. Mrs.
James, who was wielding a huge feather-fan of barbaric magnificence,
was interested to learn whether Mrs. So-and-so or Miss So-and-so had
been considered the best-dressed woman on board. Portia wanted to know
what John had thought of the earthly paradise of Ceylon, with its
brilliant fringe of palm--trees standing like sentinels clad in green
uniforms upon the surf-wreathed yellow coast. Also--and this was a
melting reminiscence--whether he had seen among the little bronze-hued
boys who dived under the ship at Aden, to the chorus of "à la mer" and
"ab a dibe," the especial one whose leg had been bitten off by a
shark. Wilmer asked to be informed as to the best day's run they had
made, whether John had been lucky in the sweeps, and whether there had
been much high play on board, When he had replied categorically to all
these questions the party adjourned to the conservatory, where Mrs.
James selected a cabbage-tree palm as the most becoming background for
her gown of peacock-blue, and Wilmer offered his friend a cigar, with
the remark, "and I'd just like to know what you think of it by--and-
bye." A footman, in blue and silver--Mrs. James would have had him
bewigged and bepowdered as well, if she had only had carte blanche in
the matter--brought in coffee and liqueurs (this custom had only been
in vogue since the Jameses' return from the Continent), and while the
men smoked and talked, and the words "coupons, shares, Little Wonder,
mining-plant, lode, and pyrites," frequently recurring, made their
conversation as unintelligible as it was uninteresting to their
feminine hearers, Mrs. James leant back in her lounge of gilt
wickerwork, against a gold-embroidered cushion, and Portia gave
herself up to a day-dream under the shadow of a spreading fern-tree.
From her seat she could see through the curtain-wreathed archway into
the room they had just left, where the silver-blue footman was engaged
in removing the dishes. Only yesterday she had taken an almost
childish pleasure in the reflection that there were so many lovely
things to look at now in her daily surroundings. Yesterday it would
have been entertainment enough only to sit under the ferns, with a
book upon her lap and the vista of the table, like a scene upon the
stage, with its carpet of exquisite flowers, its fruit-laden dishes,
and crystal glasses to meet her eyes when she raised them abstractedly
from the page. To-day her horizon seemed to be all dulled and
contracted. Everyone about her--John with his heated face, Wilmer with
his still unfamiliar monocle, even poor, good Emma, in her peacock
gown--no longer appeared the same. Life this morning, as she drove
down Piccadilly in the dimly--looming fog, had seemed so full of
wondrous possibilities. Now, it seemed to be all narrowed down to the
prospect of perpetual imprisonment in a gorgeous mansion such as this,
with a husband in whom there was nothing to awaken the vague rapture
that love and marriage, as she would fain have imagined them, should
have inspired.

"What do I want, after all?" she reflected; "and why has my world
been out of joint since I came back from the Academy? Can it be that
my only objection to John is that he is not new enough for me? Did I
want marriage, if I had been free to marry, to mean some wonderful
change that would have lifted me out of all my old associations? And
in what direction, and to what end! Why should one always imagine
there must be something in the unknown so infinitely beyond what we
have within our reach?"

It was a perplexing question, and one that has been turned over in
thousands of brains many thousands of times, since the day when
slowly--developing man evolved his first ideal. Portia was spared the
necessity of seeking for a solution of it at the present moment
(though it was sure to haunt her later) by a general move towards the
picture-gallery, whither her brother, triumphantly maintaining the
monocle tightly screwed in his left eye, now led the way.

A person professing to be a connoisseur, and finding himself in
presence of an unknown collection of works of art, with no real
knowledge to fall back upon, presents a pitiable spectacle enough. In
the present instance, however, there was no exposure of the kind to be
feared. In the first place, because Wilmer, in his naïve and
stupendous ignorance, was entirely of good faith, and took himself in
even where he failed to take in others; and in the second, because
nobody in the party that now accompanied him cared a rush for his
Claudes, or for the value that he might think fit to set upon them.
John eyed with scant respect the dimensions of the gallery, lighted
from above, and in the eighteen or twenty sombre paintings that lined
its opposite walls saw nothing that called forth his interest or
admiration.

"But just wait till I show you this, old man!" Wilmer said
enthusiastically, leading him up to an easel standing apart, upon
which was displayed the coppery-skied Claude that Portia had so
graphically but ungrammatically described to Harry.

"How's that for Hi! eh?"

"A landscape?" said John, dubiously, feeling that it was absolutely
necessary he should say something.

"A landscape! why, what else would you take it for? You wouldn't
suppose I gave a cool" (here he whispered something in his partner's
ear that made John lift his eyebrows high with surprise). "I did,
indeed; and a wonderful bargain I consider it. Look at the colour in
that sky; look at the sunset glow on those branches; look at the
reflection in that water--just look at it, I say! Some people wouldn't
have known it for a Claude; but I spotted it at once."

"I suppose there are points about it," began John, doubtfully.

"Such bease!" murmured Mrs. James, with emphasis, after she had made
an elaborate feint of examining it more closely.

"It's peaceful enough," assented John, catching at the phrase, "if
that's all you want in a picture; but I'd look a long time at two
hundred and eighty pounds before I spent it on that."

"There's the picture I dislike the least," said Portia, and as she
moved away towards what happened to be the only genuine Ruysdael in
the collection, representing the corner of a dark forest with a glade
of surpassing softness in the foreground, John came up and stood by
her side.

"I haven't got any eyes for pictures to-day," he said; "I've only
one thing in my head, and I mean to say it straight out. Wilmer, here,
and Mrs. James will be my witnesses. Will you, Portia James, put your
hand in mine and say, 'This day week, or this day fortnight, or this
day month'--not a day later than a month, though--'I will take you,
John Morrisson, for my wedded husband.' Say it now," he said eagerly,
as his lips pressed themselves together in their accustomed tasting
mould. "Make her say it, Wilmer, here in your presence and Emma's"--he
had referred to his friend's wife by her Christian name in the pure
agitation of the moment, or perhaps he was thinking of her only in her
relation to her husband as his natural ally; "it's been pretty rough
upon me to have to wait for my happiness all these years. But you
can't say I haven't kept my word. There's our engagement ring on her
finger,"--he continued, drawing Portia's cold and unresisting hand
into his own, and crushing it with unconscious force as he turned to
Wilmer--"the new one."

Now, whether it was the difficulty of maintaining the monocle
exactly in its proper place, or a result of the effort to look at the
ring with the unoccupied and available eye in the meantime, it is
impossible to say. But it is certain that the look which Portia
directed at her brother, the mute appeal written in those speaking
eyes of hers, was entirely lost upon him, otherwise this chapter of
her life's history might never have been written. As it was, there was
nothing in the fact of John's having had recourse to him, to urge his
betrothed to a speedy marriage, that struck Wilmer as being in the
least extraordinary or irregular. Without the smallest doubt in his
own mind that the match was all that was desirable for his sister, and
quite convinced that she was entirely content with it herself, he
thought he had noticed a tendency on her part to prolong her lover's
time of probation beyond all reasonable limits. It must be remembered
that though Portia was, in point of fact, a child at the time when she
had dutifully promised to marry John Morrisson, all the years that had
elapsed since then were counted as years that he had accorded her
magnanimously and generously. It was time that this state of things
should come to an end. It was only, Wilmer reflected, in the days of
the patriarchs that a man could afford to throw away seven-year
periods of his life in dangling after one woman. As regarded his own
marriage, he had come, and seen, and conquered the unresisting Emma
all in five weeks. He therefore adjusted his monocle with a fine stage
effect, and said, magisterially, "Right you are, old man! Now, Portia,
my dear, there's been shilly-shallying and dilly-dallying enough. When
are you going to let our friend John lead you to the altar? One
week"--he raised his hand as though he were conducting a sale, and
brought it down with an imaginary auctioneer's hammer between each
pause--"two weeks, three weeks--going, going, three weeks--four weeks,
going--what, not gone? Oh, that'll never do; four weeks, four weeks--
going--five weeks--gone! You made a sign--that meant gone! What! you
didn't know it? Nonsense--anyhow it's a settled matter. Come, Emma,
kiss her--kiss them both, and leave them to settle the matter between
themselves."



Chapter VI



"IS Mrs. Morris at home?--and if so, will you give her my card, and
ask her whether I may say a few words to her?"

It was Harry Tolhurst who spoke, proffering his soft-voiced request
to a woman with the hard exterior of a sixth-rate lodging-house-
keeper, standing in an aggressive "What's your business?" attitude
just within the narrow entrance of a dingy-looking three-storey house
in a by-street off Notting Hill. Harry looked more like the "Chevalier
de la Triste Figure" than ever; he wore a mourning-band round his tall
hat, and carried a pair of black gloves in his hand.

"She's in," the woman said, in nasally-suspicious tones, as she took
the card he handed her, with a manner as ungracious as her accents.

"Oh; then I'll wait inside a moment, if you'll allow me," he said
courteously.

It was necessary to take the initiative, for the woman had made a
gesture as of shutting the half-opened house-door in his face. Now,
however, she backed before him sullenly, and, opening the door of a
musty room upon the corridor--of the flyblown-paper-flowers and bead-
basket order--informed him grudgingly that she would carry his card
"hupstairs."

He laid his hat and gloves upon the dusty table, and remained
standing as he awaited Mrs. Morris's advent. The room was as repellent
as its mistress; the undusted glazed leather arm-chair, with its
antimacassars in torn crochet-work slipping from the back and arms,
seemed the most uninviting resting-place in the world. There was a
green-gauze-enshrined, ill-looking mirror on the mantlepiece that,
like the mirrors shipped off to remote colonial townships (where
mechanical as well as moral failures are not unfrequently to be
encountered), distorted all that it reflected.

"What pains people are at to make their lives ugly," Harry thought
within himself; it is "curious that man should be the most inartistic
animal in existence! There is a shaping of the means to the end in the
construction of every other living creature that spins, or weaves, or
builds itself a habitation, out of which harmony and beauty spring, as
a matter of course. It is only human life that encumbers itself with
hideous and useless superfluities."

It might be imagined from the tenor of the foregoing reflection that
Harry's mind was like that of the Psalmist, to wit, a "kingdom"
wherein none but decorous subjects were given their liberty of
action--or, in other words, that his reflections were always of a
purely abstract or professional nature. This, however, was far from
being the case, especially this morning, when he had so many closer
interests to think of, that if the crude cheerlessness of the room had
not literally jumped, in French parlance, at his eyes, he would hardly
have known whether he was standing there or in the equally cheerless
passage outside.

So many objects of interest, yet room for such an absorbing one
besides! Ever since he had led Portia from picture to picture in the
rooms of Burlington House to take final and formal leave of her among
the unheeding crowd in Piccadilly, her sweet eyes had intercepted
themselves between himself and his work. Sometimes he thought of her
as Undine, endowed with an embryonic soul, that was still awaiting the
influence that was to transform it into a steadfast one. Sometimes as
Una, walking in her virginal innocence through a world beset by beasts
of prey in human guise. He was convinced that she was entirely
sincere, intelligent, confiding, and joy-loving. What a mind hers
would be to open! From the little he had seen of her surroundings, he
was sure that she must have been brought up in intellectual darkness,
and doubtless, spiritual darkness too. Yet how easy it was to arouse
her interest and sympathy in subjects that the majority of the women
he talked to cared nothing about. Singularly enough, as he owned to
himself, Portia was in no wise his ideal. His ideal, whom he had never
as yet found incarnate, was a dreamy-eyed woman of a mystic bias,
heroic and religious, and world-renouncing. That Portia should have
taken such a hold upon his imagination, notwithstanding her complete
divergence from this type, only seemed to him a stronger proof of the
reality of the sentiment she had inspired in him, as the fact that
nations continue to believe in revealed religions, despite the
miracles and contradictions that must be accepted along with them,
seems in the eyes of religious votaries a proof of the Heaven-inspired
reality of the same. It was some three or four weeks now since that
happy morning at the Academy when Harry had been rewarded for a week's
attente by having Portia to himself for a whole two hours for the
first time since he had met her. He had haunted the Burlington House
approaches vainly since; had lost hours in the Park at the fashionable
moments of the day; had grudged the three days' absence entailed by
the funeral of a distant relative, who had left him a little sum of
money; and had finally invented a pretext for ringing at the door of
the Kensington mansion, "The family was in Paris," the man had
replied, "but they were expected back shortly." And Harry had actually
found himself pondering uneasily upon the motives that could have
taken Portia and her belongings to Paris in the full flush of the
season, when everybody with money is sure to be entertaining or being
entertained, the first being often only a preliminary means of
ensuring the second. There was, then, Portia's absence to ponder over,
and this was a subject that, latent or active, was seldom out of his
mind; and there was the immediate execution of some artistic work to
undertake, which formed, indeed, the object of his visit to the dingy
lodging-house this morning. Mrs. Morris was the only person who could
help him in the latter respect, and he waited with some impatience for
her to descend from the regions the landlady had designated as
"hupstairs."

The door was opened at last, and a young woman with a pale face and
black hair, carrying a baby in her arms, came into the room. She had
large dark eyes, that seemed to possess a naturally dramatic intensity
of expression--or was it that some brooding care sate behind them?--
and her dress betokened an utter carelessness as to the impression she
produced upon her callers. It consisted of a collarless outdoor
jacket, that looked as though it might have been costly and handsome
before it had done duty for house and nursing attire, and a limp black
skirt that dragged the floor all round her as she walked. The child
upon her arm in no way resembled her. Its eyes were of a curious thick
shade of blue, that had an air of being never fully pierced by the
light, and the bright auburn hair stuck out in scant locks from the
large head. Harry held out his hand to the mother as to an old
acquaintance, and placed one of the shiny leather chairs in readiness
for her. She accepted it with a murmured "Thank you," and seated
herself listlessly, with the baby held against her breast.

"I've had some trouble in finding you out," Harry told her. "I went
to your old quarters first; you don't seem to have gained by the
change."

"It's cheaper here," she replied indifferently. "Well, Mr. Tolhurst,
I said 'No' last time you came, you remember; but I'll say 'Yes' now,
if you want me."

"I do want you," Harry replied; he could not refrain from a feeling
of pity for the evident desolation he found her in. "I'll give you
double what you had before, but I don't want the baby this time."

"Not the baby!" Her face fell. "I must bring him along anyhow. I
couldn't come without him."

"Bring him by all means. There's a woman at the studio who'll look
after him. I should like you to come to-morrow if you will, nine
o'clock sharp; and"--he hesitated, as though in fear of offending
her--"if you want a little advance, I wish you would tell me."

The kindly, cordial manner in which these words were uttered wrought
an instant change in her face. Her mouth lost its weary, half-defiant
expression, and trembled into pathetic curves, like that of a child on
the point of crying. The tears gathered slowly in her eyes, veiling
the sad expression of strained expectation they had worn hitherto. She
placed her hand hastily before them, while Harry said, in a voice of
genuine pity:

"I wish you would let me help you. You would be doing me the greatest
favor if you would. Are you in want of money? Have you not heard
lately from your husband? You were expecting him from America the last
time I saw you. He hasn't turned up, then, yet? But he has written to
you, I suppose?"

"No! oh no! not for ever so long!" The words were scarcely audible
for the sobs--the uncontrollable outburst of some long pent-up grief--
that shook her frame as she spoke.

"And have you no friends here, none of his or yours, that can help
you?"

"Not one I could go to," she said, with her handkerchief pressed to
her face. She was weeping more quietly now. If the jilted hero of
Locksley Hall declared, with some reason, that woman's emotions are
less poignant than men's, he might have added that it was because, in
the majority of cases, they know the relief of having "a good cry," an
outlet debarred, for the most part, to the sterner sex.

"That is a pity," Harry said gravely; "but you mustn't lose heart so
soon. If you want to earn money, I can find you plenty of work as a
model. The Madonna was the best advertisement you could have.
Meanwhile, you should move out of these wretched rooms. I will give
you the address of some better ones to-morrow--not too dear; and then
we must have proper inquiries made about your husband. I suppose you
have written always?"

"Written, and written, and written," she said despairingly. "What's
the use if he doesn't choose to answer?"

A vengeful look flashed across her face; a look that would have
better befitted the outraged Queen Athalie than the wistful-eyed
Madonna in the Academy. Harry noticed it, and said softly:

"If I am to help you, Mrs. Morris, I think you should trust me
altogether. It is very painful for you to speak about, I know; but I
don't see how we can set to work till we know what ground we are
treading on. Have you any reason to think your husband has deserted
you?"

He said it gently, but firmly, looking down upon her compassionately
as he spoke.

"I haven't any reason," she said despondently; "but I do think so
sometimes, all the same."

Her eyes, still moist with tears, were looking up into his as though
they were pleading for reassurance against her own worst terrors.
Harry could see now how grief had worn and lined her face in the past
few weeks. It was a young face, hardly more than a girl's; but
motherhood and heartbreak had set their seal upon it, and the girl's
look could never more return into it. The dark, almost Oriental eyes
and clear pallor of the skin had been the special qualities that had
made Harry seek her out as a model for her study of the Madonna and
Child as she stood in the midst of a crowd, waiting for an omnibus at
Oxford Circus. The vehicles seemed to fill in rapid succession, and
each time she made an attempt to push her way forward, with her infant
in her arms, he had seen her pushed back by some rudely elbowing
aspirant. He had stood watching the scene for a few moments before he
came to her assistance. It was difficult to say to what class she
belonged. The face was undeniably handsome, the features, regular and
well-formed; yet the subtle, indefinable suggestion conveyed in the
lines of the mouth was rather of Bank Holiday than of Lady's Mile
associations. The figure was youthful and of middle height; the
dress--an artist, accustomed to study hues and textures almost daily,
is undesignedly an appraiser of dress--was rich in material, and well-
made, but bore the appearance of having been lived and travelled and
slept in. Harry had taken in all these details before coming to her
aid. As the next Bayswater omnibus rolled up, the evening being a
rarely beautiful one, such as a capricious clerk of the weather will
sometimes ordain in the middle of February, he helped her to mount
upon the top, and, with his Madonna still in his mind, seated himself
beside her upon a double seat in front that they had all to
themselves.

He did not know Portia in those days, but he was not moved by any
other motive than a professional one in his accosting the young woman
he had just encountered. He spoke to her as it is allowable to speak
to a neighbour on the top of a 'bus. (What a curious record some of
these fragmentary conversations would make, to be sure! What transient
sympathies, that never have scope to ripen, they might betray! What
first-chapters of three--volume popular novels they might furnish!) He
asked her where she wished to be set down, and discovered by a curious
coincidence that it was in the self-same spot as himself; looked with
interest at her sleeping baby, and addressed her the familiar
questions that chance acquaintances on an omnibus will also
occasionally ask each other: questions that he felt intuitively would
not be resented by her, though he would have hesitated to frame them
in most cases. "Was that her own baby?" and "Did she live in London?"
and "Was her husband with her?" and ainsi de suite.

He did not ask these questions categorically; they found their raison
d'être after the prescribed remarks had been "passed"--as Mrs. Morris
herself would have called it, according to omnibus etiquette--between
her and himself. The fineness of the evening, the astonishing mildness
of the atmosphere for February, the redness of the sunset, the
probability of a change on the morrow, the snowstorm of the preceding
Sunday--all the old stock-subjects received their full and rightful
share of consideration before more intimate topics were discussed.
Harry found that his companion's voice corresponded to the Bank
Holiday contour of her mouth. But if the intonation did not speak of
Newnham or Girton, the timbre was pleasant and unaffected. He learned
that she had been to boarding-school at Brixton, but had travelled
much since. She had been to Australia, and had stopped at the Cape on
her way, and now she had just come from America, whence she was daily
expecting her husband to join her. She had come in advance to see an
old aunt in Clapham, who had brought her up, and who had telegraphed
for her; but when she reached England she learned that the aunt had
died, and now she found herself all alone in London with her child.

And then Harry had returned the confidence by telling her, in his
soft, refined voice, as much as it was necessary that she should know
about himself, before leading up to the question he had it in his mind
to ask her. He explained that he painted pictures for his living, and
that it was very hard work, but that it was the only work he cared
about doing. He entered into the difficulty of finding faces to paint
that corresponded to the ideas ("ideals" he abstained from saying,
lest she should fail to understand him) that he had in his mind, and
told her how much he had been struck by the fitness of her face for
the study of a Madonna he was contemplating. She had looked half-
pleased and half-frightened, and had said, "Oh my! what, me a Madonna!
Go away with you!" But he had insisted, and had assured her that he
would be more grateful than he could say if she would let him put her
into his picture, and her baby too; adding that if she liked to earn a
little extra money to spend, the obligation of sitting still with her
child on her lap for eighteenpence an hour was a comparatively easy
way of doing so. "And you'll put him in the picture, too?" she had
asked, raising the child to her face and covering him with kisses.
"That's what I think the most of."

"Of course; why, we couldn't do without him. Let me look at his
face, will you, a moment?"

She turned it round to him with all a mother's pride, pushing the
cap back from the baby's forehead with eager fingers. Harry gazed
curiously into the small face, which Time's fingers had not as yet
shaped into any definite mould. "He isn't like you," he said, in an
unconsciously regretful tone.

"No; he takes after his father." It was impossible to say whether
she was glad or grieved at the resemblance.

"He has fine eyes, though," said Harry; he could see that she was
greedy of admiration for her first-born; "are they like his father's
too?"

"The very image of them," with a sigh; "and you should see how he
twists them about when he's looking after me. It's that pitiful, as if
he was saying, 'What 'ud become of me without my mother, I'd like to
know?'"

Harry remembered that his inspection of the baby on this occasion had
led to his treating his subject in a more novel and unconventional way
than he had originally intended. People were beginning now to speak of
his picture; his rendering of the eyes of the Infant, especially were
made an occasion for the exercise of polemics in the art, and would-be
art, world, that had brought it into prompt notice. Some critics saw
in these eyes only the mechanical mediums for the transmission of
light without comprehension that the great French painter Deschamps
sets in the heads of his realistic infants of a tender age. Others
declared that what the former critics called a vacant gaze was in
reality an expression charged with a mystic significance, and that
"illimitable possibilities" lay behind the somewhat opaque blue orbs
with the glareous whites. Two camps were formed, and the Daily
Telegraph made a fresh harvest out of letters headed "Modern Treatment
of Religious Subjects," to which Mrs. Nicklebys innumerable
contributed.

The picture had been begun in February, and Harry had worked at it
unceasingly until it was sufficiently advanced to be sent to the
Academy, under the appellation of "A Study for the Virgin and Child."
He had not exchanged much conversation with his model, being loth to
lose the benefit of an abstracted, half-wisful expression that she
wore when she was silent. He thought of all these things now, as she
looked up towards him for help and counsel. Perhaps, if the vision of
Portia had not been so ever-present in his mind, it would have been
hard to resist answering the appeal by one of those demonstrations of
sympathy that a man is so prompted to make when a young and pretty
woman seeks consolation at his hands. But, besides the fact that he
cherished Portia's image so closely, Harry had strongly-rooted
principles as regarded the treatment of his models. He therefore
replied to the glance by the formal words, "I assure you, my dear Mrs.
Morris, I am most anxious to do everything in my power to help you. At
nine o'clock to--morrow, then--and I shall hope to be able to advise
you about your course then. I have an appointment to keep now; but if
you will think over the matter to-day, and tell me as much of your
case as may be necessary to enable me to help you, I will see what can
be done, I promise you;" and without waiting for her to thank him he
departed.



Chapter VII



PORTIA'S wedding-day was fast approaching. The last free Wednesday
had come and gone, and now she was clinging to the last Thursday in
the week that she might still call her own. Although the whole party
had made a hurried visit to Paris, where alone, from Mrs. James's
point of view, "a going-away bonnet" worthy of the occasion could be
found; and though the chestnut filly had arrived from Plymouth and had
proved herself all and more than a daughter of the winner of the Oaks
might be expected to be, there were yet unnumbered hours in the day--
hours that recurred in the dead watches of the night--when our heroine
pondered distractedly over the coming great change in her life. "How I
wish," she would think to herself at these times, "I had done like
those Trappists we saw in the south of France, who say to each other
over and over again, 'Brother, think of Death.' If I had only kept
saying to myself, 'It's no use, I've got to be married--It's no use,
I've got to be married,' I suppose it would have seemed as easy and
natural to go to the altar when the time came, as it must seem to them
to sink into the grave that they have been digging for themselves for
so long. But I have always put away the thought of the inevitable. It
seemed so far off--as far as to be grown-up seems when one is a child;
and now the time has really come, and I don't feel more ready to meet
my fate than if the marriage had been only this minute arranged."

If Portia, however, was in no bridal frame of mind, the same cannot
be said of John. If he could have reversed the Joshuan miracle, and
sent the sun coursing round the heavens, in accordance with
Israelitish cosmogony, in double-quick time, he would certainly have
done so during the weeks that intervened between his arrival in London
and his wedding-day. There were moments when Portia felt an
inexplicable physical shrinking in his presence, as though he were
literally hungering to devour her bodily, and were whetting his lips
in anticipation of the feast. She would entreat the good-natured Emma
to accompany her whenever she went out with him, though her sister-in-
law was not particularly well fitted either actually or metaphorically
for playing the part of bodkin; and had she been brought up upon the
system of the typical convent-bred jeune fille, instead of upon that
of an Australian bush maiden who had been allowed to run wild during
the greater portion of her life, she could not have maintained a more
demure demeanour when she found herself for a few instants alone with
him. She felt herself indeed at these times not unlike Andersen's Ice-
maiden. But John had ardency enough to melt the snows on the frosty
Caucasus itself. The best means she could find for leading him away
from the topic of his all-absorbing love for her, was to talk about
their future plans. They were to return to London after a tour in
Norway, where Portia, to whom even English twilights were a matter of
constant surprise and delight, was to behold a sun-illumined night.
After which they were to instal themselves temporarily in a private
apartment at a West-End hotel. John declared that once they were
married he would never let her out of his sight. "I'll stick to you
like your shadow, my darling," he said; "there'll never have been such
spoons in this world as you and me."

Portia on these occasions would maintain a dead silence. Sometimes,
like a slowly-fading picture in a dissolving view, a dim presentment
of Harry's Madonna and Child would shape itself before her gaze as she
listened. But the impression was growing fainter and fainter, and the
unaccountable dread of renewing it prevented her from going to the
Academy to see the actual picture again.

Never, in the course of her eighteen years of thinking life--for
before the age of three the impressions upon a child's mind efface
each other like the scrolls on a palimpsest--never had Portia felt so
awfully alone as during the few weeks that preceded her wedding-day.
With brother, sister, and lover all trying to heap fresh proofs of
their tenderness upon her; with newly-made friends running in and out
daily with a thousand offers of service and sympathy, she had a
sensation of completest isolation. There was no one to whom she could
speak of what she really felt, no one to whom she could turn for
reassurance against her own forebodings. Never had she such a full
understanding of the truth that money cannot buy peace of mind. As she
drove from shop to shop with her sister and her betrothed, to inspect
the dainty adornments they deemed necessary for her, it seemed to her
that she was only buying the chains with which she would be loaded on
her marriage-day. "Why cannot I speak out?" she would ask herself
despairingly, as she lay reviewing her position in feverish unrest in
the night-time. "Here I am, in the midst of the people who profess to
be the fondest of me in the world, and I cannot say to them--and to
John first of all--'Only show your love by making a little sacrifice.
Give me just a little more time to get used to you.'"

But when the morning came, her courage would fail her afresh. How
could she find it in her heart to hurl such a bombshell into the midst
of all their pleasant anticipations! Moreover, if it was simply a
matter of getting used to John, would not the wisest way of achieving
it be to let him marry her at the appointed time! In one sense she had
been more used to him years ago than she was now, so that the
probability of her accustoming herself in the way she desired, seemed
to be in inverse ratio to the time she was given to do it in.
Curiously enough she had felt used to Harry within two minutes of her
meeting him in front of the closed Academy doors. How could one
account for such perplexing contradictions! And how, above all, could
one help feeling as one did!

There was one friend, and one only, to whom Portia felt she could
have made plenary confession at this time; but that was a friend who
was not at present within her reach. Upon the journey home in the P.
and O. boat Ismail, a lady returning from Egypt had joined the steamer
at Port Said, whom Portia had felt at once to be unlike anybody she
had seen before. Mrs. James had not been pleasantly impressed by her.
"Ach! she would topsy-turvy us all," she said; "she has no gommon-
sense!" But certain people, and Portia among them, believed that she
was endowed with uncommon sense, and of such an exceptional kind, that
the most ordinary matters in the world seemed to show themselves under
a novel and interesting aspect in her company. Instead of looking at
things through everybody else's glasses, she looked at them through
her own--Anna Ross's--glasses; and though the view inclined her, no
doubt to adopt the benevolently ironical standpoint that Renan
declares to be the only one compatible with philosophy and culture,
she did not adopt it outwardly or aggressively, but kept it for
herself and a few of the initiated. She had taken a liking to Portia--
such as solitary women with male brains will sometimes take for a
charming young girl who has a naïve and unbounded, withal a timid
admiration for them--had made her sit with her on the forecastle when
she chose to retreat thither for a quiet smoke upon sleepy afternoons
in the Mediterranean, and had listened with a half-smiling, half
sphinx-like demeanour to the young girl's tales of her life in the
Australian bush, as one would listen to the prattle of a favourite
child. She had made Portia promise to write to her from time to time,
and the latter had done so at least once in two months since they had
parted at Plymouth. The address that had been given her was that of a
street in Paris where Anna had her atelier, and where she received
communications addressed indifferently to "Monsieur" or "Mademoiselle
Ross, artiste-peintre." Portia had tried to see her friend during her
hurried visit to Paris, but Miss Ross was out of town. She had
therefore been fain to content herself by leaving a short letter for
her, in which she informed Anna of her approaching marriage. To this
communication she had received no answer, and the longing to write
again, and to se répandre in the true significance of the word, in a
letter that none but Anna could read, was checked by the fear that it
would not arrive at its destination. Meanwhile, the days went
relentlessly by, until the fatal morning arrived. It is a mistake to
suppose that the time which seems to pass the most quickly is
invariably that which is occupied by the most agreeable sensations. To
Portia her last week of grace seemed to travel with the swiftness of a
gathering storm; and, by way of intensifying the morbid tension of
mind from which she was suffering, she chose for her nightly reading
that most appalling psychological study of Hugo's, called Le dernier
jour d'un condamné. She felt in every nerve and fibre each line of the
hideous narrative, and the opening phrase of one of the concluding
chapters, "Eh bien donc, ayons courage avec la mort. Prenons cette
horrible idée à deux mains, et considérons-la en face. Demandons-lui
compte de ce qu'elle est, &c.," seemed, by the substitution of the
words "mon sort" for "la mort," to meet her case so exactly, that the
altar would assume in her imagination the very shape and substance of
the sinister machine on the Place de Grève, with "les deux bras rouges
avec leur triangle noir au bout." Small wonder if, when the morning of
the wedding--day actually arrived, her heart failed her, and she would
fain have begged once more for a reprieve.

But the time for reprieves was past. If she had been actually in the
hands of the gendarmes, who laid pitiless hands upon Victor Hugo's
condemned man as he grovelled in the last abasement of sick terror at
the commissaire's feet, she could not have felt more powerless to free
herself. The gendarmes, in her case, were represented by Emma and her
brother and her friends (the clergyman who was to perform the ceremony
might take the place of the bourreau), all of whom had her in their
grasp to-day. She had felt hitherto as though a door of escape might
still be opened to her on the last morning; but now she knew, as the
condemned man in the cart had known, that the thing that loomed before
her was the Reality.

They were hardly suitable reflections these for the typical bride
whom the sun shines on--and the sun did shine on this late July
morning, with the veiled intensity that only a London sun can manifest
upon occasion. Portia sat by the open window with a loose wrap thrown
over her shoulders, a cataract of descending hair falling below her
hips. The pallor that her night-watches had set upon her cheeks was
visible in the morning light; but to a face so fair as hers, with
youth and health painted on the lips and sparkling in the eyes,
paleness is not an unbecoming attribute. She was tired of thinking
now. The less she thought, she told herself, the better. She laid her
head down upon her hands, resting them in their turn on the window-
sill, while a line in The Light of Asia that Anna had given her to
read, "Who shall shut out Fate?" recurred to her mind. Her fate was
lying in waiting for her outside this peaceful room, with the rose-bed
in the garden that she had grown so fond of. It would be upon her in
another moment, and even while she was pondering she heard a sudden
knock at the door.

She started. It was as though she had herself summoned her destiny.
"Come in," she said tremblingly; but it was only the maid, who brought
her a letter that had come by the first post. Portia took it
listlessly into her hands. The writing--a queer, cramped, lopsided
writing enough--was familiar to her as Anna Ross's. "At last!" she
said, as, dismissing the maid, she shook back her cloudy mantle of
hair, and set herself to discover what her friend had to say to her
about the great event impending. As she read, the listlessness
disappeared, and a strange, eager look gathered in her eyes. What Anna
had written was as follows:

"You don't expect me, my dear little girl, to add banal
congratulations to those that have doubtless been heaped upon you
already. What concerns me solely in the news you have given me is, how
far your immediate happiness may be affected by it. Of your future
happiness, despite what silly people may tell you to the contrary, you
can know nothing, nor I either; but the readjustment of your actual
life in the way you propose must affect it at the present moment for
weal or for woe, and I am anxious beyond expression to hear that it is
for weal. One man's meat is, as you know, another man's poison. From
my own point of view, marriage, as it is at present understood, is the
most foolish and suicidal step a woman can take. Why should we bind
ourselves to belie for the remainder of our natural lives our real
natures, our real selves, as expressed in the new instincts,
promptings, or desires we may feel? Why, in short, should the union of
a man and woman, which is meaningless and worth nothing without mutual
inclination, be made the occasion of vows and oaths, and so-called
binding ceremonies, which are not binding at all when the inclination
is gone? The entire system upon which marriage is based is an outrage
to common sense. It is one of the few contracts that must necessarily
be entered into in the dark, and, at the same time, the one of all
others that it is the hardest to cancel. If, at least, the law which
regulated marriage had allowed for the laws which govern our being,
and had made of it an engagement of a specified duration renewable at
pleasure, there might be something to be said in mitigation of it. As
it stands at present, I hold it in abhorrence, as one of the
cumbersome contrivances by which man, who has systematized war and
rapine, and oppression and persecution, has further burdened our
existence upon earth; and I always feel more prompted to send a
cypress branch than an orange wreath to an expectant bride.

"But this 'sortie,' dear child, must not discompose you. Though you
do not tell me so, it can be for no other reason than the one that you
love John Morrisson--at least, in the present--that you are going to
be married to him. Therefore, I hope you may be as happy as you would
be were you spared the marriage ceremony altogether. You are full
young (you look so, at least) to forfeit your liberty. Perhaps you
will be shocked when I tell you I think every woman should see
something of life before settling down, if to settle down at all is
consistent with her nature. You have not had that advantage; and,
seeing that at twenty-one you are legally your own mistress, it is a
pity you did not give yourself time to come and take up your quarters
here with me for a space, where you could have looked into the heart
of things a little more than you have been accustomed to do hitherto.
Remember this, anyhow. If now, or at any other time, you need a
refuge, a place where you will be absolutely free to think, to say, to
do whatever you please and how you please--to live, in fact, your own
life, just as your instincts may lead you--come to me. You will find
my arms, my hearth, and my home--such as it is--open to you. It is not
even necessary to write beforehand. I have given your name to the
concierge, who has orders to deliver you the key of my studio at any
time you may appear upon the scene (I keep no servant). Tell me when
you expect to be married, and whether I cannot persuade you to come to
me beforehand."

Portia read this letter twice. The effort of deciphering Anna's
handwriting seemed to drive the meaning home. It was a letter as
unsuitable to the occasion as her own thoughts had been, and for this
reason it appealed strongly to her sympathies. The arguments against
marriage, which are familiar to most people who have read the pour and
the contre as set forth by Mrs. Lynn Linton on the one hand, and Mrs.
Mona Caird on the other, were all new and startling to her. In her
present frame of mind, they seemed to bear a wonderful stamp of truth
as well. How such a letter would have affected her if it had been
Harry Tolhurst, or someone with the self--same eyes and voice, to whom
she was expected to swear love and allegiance that morning, she did
not stop to ask herself. She went to her writing-table, the Wouvermans
table, which Wilmer had caused to be stocked with every imaginable
adjunct and extracted therefrom a telegram form, upon which she
scribbled the words: "Thanks; but too late. Must be married this
morning.--Portia," and addressing it to Miss Ross, 317 Rue de
Vaugirard, rang the bell and requested that it should be carried
forthwith to the nearest telegraph office. To Emma, who came in a few
moments later, clad in a dressing-gown of pale green satin, shrouded
in diaphonous lace, and who melted into "Achs!" and "Gottlobs!"
innumerable over the Braut, she made no mention of her letter. Was it
in obedience to some mysterious presentiment that she had never even
revealed Anna's whereabouts to her relatives either, the fact remains
that as soon as she was alone, after reading the communication a third
time and thus entirely mastering its meaning, she struck a match, and
holding the letter to the flame watched it consume slowly in the open
grate into which she had thrown it, until it had curled into black
shreds. Her last hope of succour, at the eleventh hour, died out of
her heart; the door of escape had remained closed, and she prepared,
as the history-books tell us of queenly victims upon the scaffold, to
meet her fate with resignation and fortitude.



Chapter VIII



WHO that has ever watched a group of nursery-maids and errand-boys
assembled in the neighbourhood of a house with a striped awning, where
a wedding is impending, can deny imagination to the poorer classes?
Well might one put the question to them, "What went ye out for to
see?" since the reward of their long and patient dawdling on the
pavement is often little more than a transient glimpse of a lace-or
cashmere-enveloped figure, which, for all they can really see of it,
might equally well represent a Mussulman lady (I wonder why a
Mussulwoman is never heard of?) wrapped in her disguising "feredje,"
as an English bride. Among the scenes of London life in the season
that Tissot has painted so well, a fashionable wedding, looked at from
the point of view of the crowd outside, might form an amusing and
characteristic subject. The picture should be made to represent the
covered awning, bright with buff and scarlet stripes, which, while it
conceals everything worth seeing from the beholder, presents
nevertheless such an irresistible attraction to the loiterers on the
pavement. As regards their own share in the show, it is certainly a
case in which a very little is made to go a very long way--as little,
maybe, as a fleeting view of the bride's silk-encased ankles as she
mounts quickly into the carriage, or of the exterior surface of her
bridal bouquet after she is seated inside. But as imagination, as
Shakespeare has told us, "bodies forth the form of things unknown,"
even such vague indications as those conveyed by the ankles and the
bouquet send the nursery-maids and errand-boys on their way rejoicing;
and to have their imaginations stimulated in the same direction they
will lie in wait for the next wedding-party with equal pertinacity,
and be as thankful as ever for the same small mercies as those that
have just fallen to their share.

In the bridal party which left the door of the Kensington mansion on
Portia's wedding-day, there was nothing, however, to appeal to the
imagination of passing nursemaids and errand-boys. There was no
awning, which serves on these occasions as a rallying-flag for the
crowd; there were no favours; and there was no throwing of rice or
flinging of white--satin slippers. Having obtained the one great
concession he had pleaded for, John had yielded upon every other point
to the wishes of his bride. Indeed, he showed almost as great a desire
to have the marriage ceremony conducted quietly and privately as
herself. Though she had been obliged to give way as regarded the
"going-away bonnet," Portia had remained firm upon other points. There
was nothing to betray the bride in her appearance as she came down
stairs on her wedding morning arrayed in just the same clothes as she
might have worn to drive into Regent Street on a round of morning
shopping. The tailor-made frock was packed away. There were
associations bound up with it that would make it hard for her to wear
it again for many a long day. But her bridal array was none the less
as demure in its way as the far-famed Jenny Wren's, upon the memorable
occasion when she promised Cock Robin to "always wear her brown gown,
and never dress too fine." It was in one of those indefinable hues
that French artistes call feuille morte--a hue that may embrace a
chromatic scale of colour ranging from vivid scarlet to palest gold,
if the term be literally applied, but which, from the tailleuse stand-
point signifies a shade as near the one preferred by the modest Jenny
as possible. In this soft, dead-leaf setting, which brought into
relief the warm tints in her hair and eyes (when you looked into them
closely, Portia's eyes were not unlike a certain variety of jasper),
with her pale cheeks, and the red line of her half parted lips, the
bride looked pretty enough. She possessed one of those entirely supple
figures which no dressmaker's craft can simulate, and even the
conventionally made gown went into unexpectedly classic curves upon
it.

Mrs. James, meanwhile, did not fall short in her self-adopted rôle
of unconscious foil upon the occasion. Dead-leaf or dead anything else
was not for her at her sister-in-law's wedding. She had never been an
upholder of the self-effacing theory in any of its applications. Her
gown was distinctly of the voyant order, and, what was more, she meant
it to be so. There is an even stronger adjective than voyant in the
word criard, which implies an association of ideas in dress that the
English may feel, but which they have never been able to put into
words. Mrs. James's dress was both voyant and criard, and to carry out
the French train of comparisons, the colors swore as well. She wore a
bonnet wreathed with apple-blossoms that would have been an exquisite
work of art anywhere removed from the immediate neighbourhood of her
head; a visite crusted with coruscating beads that flashed parti-
coloured rays around her as she walked; and a train of sapphire velvet
with salmon-coloured satin trimmings, that had been originally made,
against her own better judgment, by a theatrical faiseuse in Paris as
a theatre or dinner-dress. Thus attired, and carrying quite
gratuitously a terracotta parasol with lace flounces, Emma mounted
with her sister-in-law into the closed brougham which was to drive
them to Kensington Church hard by. Very little was said on the way.
Mrs. James found frequent occasion to apply a gold-topped scent-bottle
to her nostrils, and to offer the same to her companon, sitting, "like
rare pale Marguerite," in abstracted, silence by her side. Of the two,
her emotion, was, perhaps, at this moment the keenest. Portia had
fought her battle. She had been fighting it night and day for weeks
past. There were scars left behind, of which the pain might be divined
by a certain set look in the eyes, as well as by the compressed lines
around her red lips. But this morning she had capitulated; she had
laid down her arms once and forever. Perhaps, after all, there was a
certain sense of relief in knowing that the struggle was at an end;
such a relief as the vanquished may feel, perchance, when they open
the gates they have defended so long and so wearily to the
beleaguering enemy. Whatever might betide, she must make the best of
it now. And how many women there are, after all, she reflected, who go
through life, and get a good deal of happiness out of it too, without
any share in the thing we call Love. Perhaps there was only a fixed
quantity of it in the universe, as there is of health and prosperity
and other good things, and it fell to the lot of none but the favoured
few to enjoy it. At any rate, it was a thing one could do without.

Farther in her reflections Portia was unable to go, for the brougham
had drawn up before the church door, and Wilmer, in a frock-coat and
white waist-coat (he had as nearly as possible slung his racing-
glasses across it), his left eye screwed up painfully behind his
eyeglass, was waiting to assist them to descend. And now John came out
to meet them from the porch, and seized a hand of each. His thick red
beard had been cut and trimmed in Renaissance fashion, and he looked
more like a jovial Henri de Navarre or Henry VIII. than ever. The
impalpable substance he was tasting must have had more relish than
ever this morning, for to Portia it seemed that his lips worked
unceasingly. "I must break him of that habit when we are married," she
thought; and this, it is to be feared, was the reflection that was
uppermost in her mind as she walked up the nave by his side. Of order
in the wedding party there was none. The little group of four stood
before the altar in a line, so that in the eyes of an indifferent
observer they might have been undergoing marriage indiscriminately,
and Wilmer had to be twice reminded that it was his duty to give away
"this woman," under which designation he had somehow never thought of
his sister. The only person who, mindful of etiquette, wept in her
handkerchief was Emma, and even this was done in an obviously
perfunctory manner. The clergyman, who had been bidden to the feast
that was to precede the departure of the wedded pair, fixed to take
place at five the same afternoon walked home with Mr. James. Emma had
insisted upon abandoning the brougham to Mr. and Mrs. Morrisson, and
had driven off in serene and unwitnessed triumph in a hansom. Thus it
was that Portia found herself for a few minutes alone with her husband
as they drove back to the house. Her husband! This big, red-bearded
man with whom she had just walked down the nave--her husband! The idea
was so unnatural that it seemed almost grotesque. Never had she felt
him so complete a stranger to her as at this moment. Far more of a
stranger, indeed, than when the only tie that had bound her to him was
that of a close and early friendship. She wondered now whether she
could have been under the vague impression that the fact of standing
before the altar and repeating the formula set forth in a particular
part of her prayerbook, must of necessity operate an immediate
miracle, and inspire her with wifely sentiment for him. If she had
been under any such illusion it vanished now, as John took his seat by
her side in his newly assumed character of her legal lord and master.
And by her side he would be "to--morrow, and to-morrow, and to-
morrow," and so on through all the morrows to come, "to the last
syllable of recorded time." Day and night he would be by her side, and
she--God forgive her!--would have asked no greater boon of Heaven than
to see him depart upon his wedding journey alone.

Another fatal discovery she made during this homeward drive was that
the more loudly John proclaimed his happiness, the less she felt
inclined to share in it herself. To have to sympathise with him for
loving her, when it seemed so impossible to love him in return, was a
hard task. It was like being called upon to act in real earnest the
unsatisfactory part of the guest at the Barmecide's Feast, who, while
seated before an empty board, is constrained to praise the exquisite
flavours of the imaginary dishes his host continues to press upon him.
And with what genuine conviction John played the part of the host! How
terribly in earnest he was! How completely he believed that what to
her was Dead Sea fruit was, in point of fact, real nectar and
ambrosia! What royal dishes, served up at what a never-ending
Agapemone, he seemed to behold; while, to her, the table was bare
indeed, and the prospect little better than one of slow starvation! He
had taken her hand--the ungloved one, upon which the first fetter, in
the shape of the broad wedding-ring, had just been placed--almost as
soon as he entered the carriage, and was placing it close over his
heart.

"Just feel how it beats, deary," he said; "I never thought of you,
Portia, through all the years I've loved you, but it used to beat like
that. It used to beat sometimes fit to burst. And to think I've got
you to myself at last! Yes," he repeated, in tones of husky triumph,
"all to myself. There's no one can part us now. Neither God nor devil
can take you from me now!"

He uttered the reckless words without any blasphemous intent--in the
mere wild jubilation of his mood. But the blear-eyed Fates--or
whichever of the three grim old women it may be whose office it is to
avenge the outraged gods--had already taken due note of them. Even
science has not been able to dispel the instinctive dread implanted in
the breast of man, from the savage to the sage, the dread of exciting
the jealousy of the powers that be by defiant boasts of a happiness
beyond the measure allotted to mortals. But John was intoxicated with
his newborn bliss, as one drunk with new wine, and he did not count
the meaning of his words.

Portia, in her present calm and sad disposition of mind, was
frightened at their vehemence. By some unaccountable freak of fancy
they seemed to conjure up once more the picture of Harry's Madonna to
her spiritual vision. She had thought the noonday spectre had been
finally laid to rest; but here it was again confronting her, with the
same dark enigmatic expression in its haunting eyes as when she had
first stood in front of it at the Academy by Harry's side. To free her
mind from the oppression of it, she raised her eyes timidly towards
her husband. What an exultant look there was in his face! And how his
lips, that the close, square cut of beard and moustache had almost
disclosed entirely, seemed to relish the impalpable delicacies they
were tasting! It made her almost feel like Little Red Riding-Hood in
presence of the wolf to watch them--only John had not a wolf-face
though just now, it must be owned, there was something in it that
recalled a hungry wolf's expression.

"We shall not be in Norway more than a fortnight, nor away more than
three weeks in all, I suppose, John?" she questioned timidly.

She had forced herself to pronounce his name; but it was uttered
almost under her breath. He heard it, nevertheless, and turned a
rapturous face towards her.

"We won't be in a hurry to get back, I promise you, my pet," he
said. "It's a stupid arrangement that we've got to stick on there at
Emma's until five o'clock this afternoon. I tell you what: we'll go
away as soon as lunch is over. We can go for a drive or something till
it's time for our train."

"Oh, but I can't," protested his wife, her heart sinking at the
prospect. "I left all kinds of things to do to the last, and I shall
have to be up in my room putting by and packing up to the last
moment."

"I'll come and help you, then; it'll help to pass the time."

"No!" she said, wondering at the decision of her own voice; "that
cannot be. You must sit and smoke with Wilmer until I come to call
you."

"Those are my orders, eh!" he said laughingly. "You're going to
begin to boss me already, are you? Now you'll just see what you gain
by that."

"Oh, oh, my best going-away bonnet!" shrieked Portia, covering her
face with her hands; and at this moment the brougham came to an
opportune standstill at the door of the Kensington mansion.

I am not going to enter into details respecting the glories of the
"breakfast-lunch" (as Mrs. James called it) that followed. It is a
sorry task to describe not-to-be tasted dishes, almost as sorry as to
assist at the Barmecide's Feast afore-mentioned. Everyone can imagine
for himself the perfection of Wilmer's old port--about which, perhaps,
his judgment was surer (though not in his own opinion) than with
regard to his "old masters." Everyone may likewise take it for granted
that the chicken mayonnaise, the Cingalese curry, and the pâté de foie
gras in aspic were all that they ought to have been. Mrs. James, like
Todgers's, could do it when she chose, and, with a perpetual silver-
mine in Queensland to fall back upon, it was not hard for her to
emulate Mrs. Todgers when she did choose. Although there was no one
but the clergyman to be impressed by them, the wedding-cake was
wreathed with as brave a show of costly orchids and out-of-season
blooms as though all London had been there to applaud. Nothing,
indeed, that the proceeds of the silver-mine could procure to heighten
the effect had been forgotten; and as nobody was to suspect that, in
the case of at least one of those who sat down to the banquet, the
traditional dinner of herbs would have been far preferable if the
traditional compensating element had been there as well, it followed
that, on the surface, all appeared to go as "merrily as a marriage
bell." Mr. Benson, the clergyman, to whom Australians of Wilmer's type
were a new experience, sat on the right hand of the gorgeous sapphire-
velvet-and-salmon-silk-arrayed mistress of the house, with the newly-
married couple opposite to him. Upon these he made his reflections
between the intervals of tasting Wilmer's Australian wine, or
listening to his opinions concerning Imperial Federation from an
antipodean point of view. The bride appeared to him to be somewhat too
refined for her surroundings; and what a curiously far--away look
those strange brown eyes of hers, with the warm, rust-colored motes in
the iris, seemed to wear! What a singular contrast they presented to
the prominent eyes of the man who had just been made her husband--
wherein the love of good cheer was perhaps a little too plainly
written! Then the host was not quite like any one he had ever met
before. Nevertheless, Wilmer's conversation was interesting to him. He
knew all about the State school organisation in the various Australian
colonies, could tell of the origin and growth of the eight-hours'
system all over Australia, and, as long as he abstained from talking
of Claudes and Ruysdaels, was an intelligent companion enough. He even
possessed a certain glibness in speech-making, and, after he had
successfully wedged his eyeglass into its place, stood up before the
little party of four (a much harder thing than to stand up before a
party of forty) and drank to the health of the newly-married couple,
"whose union," he declared, "had cemented ties that had first been
formed in the forest primeval, and that were now more firmly knit than
ever in the midst of civilisation."

John, without rising from his seat, responded by declaring that he
had never been much of a fist at speech-making. But his friend Wilmer
might make his mind easy about one thing. He knew he was the luckiest
chap in the world, and he hoped they would never regret giving him
Portia for his wife. He meant to do all a man could do to prove
himself deserving of his happiness. His flow of speech failing him at
this point, Wilmer rapped the table and said "Hear, hear," and the
clergyman came to the rescue by proposing the health of the hostess,
coupled with that of the bride. After this ceremony Portia was free to
make her escape upstairs, where she hoped to spend the last few hours
of her liberty in mournful, unhampered solitude.



Chapter IX



THE next episode in the strange, eventful history of our heroine is
of so curious and unprecedented a nature, that it is necessary to bear
in mind the often-proved truth that Fact is stranger than Fiction, to
make it in any way possible of belief. It concerns an event that could
only have been brought about by one of those fortuitous combinations
of circumstances that we have agreed to call by the name of Chance; as
though every event, no matter of how trivial a kind, were not the
result of a long and intricate chain of antecedent causes, whose first
links (if, indeed, there be any first in the matter at all) are lost
in primeval chaos. Hitherto the narrative of Portia's life has run
smoothly enough. Her quiet school-days in Melbourne; her happy,
healthy existence in the Bush; her dogs and her horses; her sudden
leap into richer surroundings; her journey to Europe; her travels on
the Continent, where the first step to knowledge, in the perception
that she was woefully ignorant, was primarily taken; her London balls
and innocent flirtations, and finally her marriage with a man round
whose feet she had played as a child--in all these smooth though
varied experiences there has been nothing that could come under the
heading of strange or eventful. It is only from the time when we mount
with her into that pretty room of hers upstairs, where we witnessed a
few weeks back the scene of her discovery of John's flowers--fraught
with so mighty a significance--that there is aught in her career to
justify the use of the words. To have been married somewhat against
the grain was neither strange nor eventful, for, if not in England, in
other countries at least, marriages of this kind are frequent enough.
The unprecedented part of her history has still, therefore, to come;
only, in order to show how such a thing as befel her could be
possible, it will be necessary to say a few words about her immediate
entourage.

The house, then, that the Jameses inhabited communicated at the
back, by means of a garden gate, of which the cook kept the key, with
an alley that gave free access to Kensington High Street It was a
means of egress and ingress that was only utilised by the servants,
and its existence might almost have remained unsuspected by the
masters for all the use they made of it. The existence of this door
and this alley of communication is a necessary point to bear in mind.
Another matter upon which it is needful to insist is the relation in
which Portia stood to the domestics. From the blue--and-silver
"Jeames" to the scullery-maid who came from the orphanage, one and all
adored her. To have addressed them in any other than the natural
friendly give-and-take voice in which she had been wont to chat from
her childhood upwards with the station hands on Wilmer's run, would
have been impossible to her. Hence, everyone in the house rendered her
prompt and willing service. There was only one, however, who could by
any means aspire to the rôle of confidante in the sense in which we
see that important function filled on the French stage by the lady
whose duty it is to play "second fiddle" to the distracted heroine,
and to receive the outpouring of her sombre confidences; and this was
not an English servant at all, but a girl--she might still by courtesy
be called a girl--who, some twelve or fifteen years older than her
mistress, had been her first and only nurse. Her position in the
Kensington house was ostensibly that of Portia's maid; but our
heroine, notwithstanding the affection she cherished for nurse Eliza,
was accustomed to do for herself, in the best sense of this familiar
un-Websterian phrase, and beyond an occasional brushing and combing of
her young mistress's resplendent locks, Eliza found little to do but
to brush her riding-habit and put in her frillings. Being, however, of
a conscientious turn of mind, she employed her leisure in checking the
transactions of the cook with the tradespeople, and was consequently a
thorn in the side of all the personnel, from the butler downwards.
That this woman would have gone through fire and water--not only
metaphorically but actually--to save her, Portia entertained not the
smallest doubt. Eliza had had a love disappointment, but, instead of
being soured by it, she had turned the pent-up flood of her affections
in the direction of her charge, and the little girl had felt herself
borne along upon it, as upon a smooth, strong current, until she grew
to womanhood. Why she did not confide in her nurse during the
troublous time that preceded her union with John Morrisson it would be
hard to say. I am afraid it was for the reason that, though she could
make sure of Eliza's unbounded love and devotion, she did not feel so
certain of her wisdom; and here it may be said she was mistaken. Real
affection is wonderfully clairvoyant, and singleness of purpose and
goodness of heart will often dictate the proper thing to be said and
done more surely than the most cultivated intellect. However this may
be, Portia never disclosed her secret; and though she pined in
thought, as she did not at the same time wear an outward green and
yellow melancholy, it was not easy to divine her trouble. Eliza opined
that her young mistress could have no aversion to Mr. John, after she
had kept company with him for all these years; and though in her own
heart she considered him too red and too rough to be a suitable match
for her young lady, she would no more have thought of finding fault
with the arrangement, than of cavilling at Mr. James's choice of "old
masters," or of criticising Mrs. James's taste in dress. It was an
understood thing that, when Portia had a house of her own, nurse Eliza
should go to her in the elastic capacity of confidential servant; and
with this prospect in view, and the sure hope that her mistress would
find her employment as speedily as possible, in the shape of a baby to
look after, she had witnessed the preparations for the wedding with
comparative equanimity.

Now, however, the parting hour grew near. The marriage ceremony had
been solemnised. The breakfast was over. The cake had been cut and
distributed and in a very few hours Portia's home would know her no
more. Mightily depressed by these considerations, which she had never
seemed to fully realise until now, Eliza ascended to her young
mistress's room, with red-rimmed, swollen eyes--she possessed, it may
be said, a good and not uncomely face of her own, of plebeian type--
and implored that she might be allowed to do just whatever came to
hand. In her secret heart Portia, perhaps, would rather have been left
alone. Among the little relics she still had to pack away there were
many over which she would fain have lingered before burying them, and
the associations they conjured up, for ever out of her sight. I have
alluded to her innocent flirtations. More than one was recalled to her
as she turned over the store of her girlish treasures now. Her book of
pressed flowers, wherein every faded blossom was accompanied by the
name of a place and a date, was as full of eloquent meaning to her as
though it had contained pages of burning poems. The chronicle opened
with a sprig of Australian myrtle that John had given her years ago--
and the hand in which she had inscribed the native name of the place
where he had found it, was obviously unformed and childish. But there
were other chapters in the record too. How fresh the bunch of
beautiful wildflowers from King George's Sound still looked, and how
fresh in her mind was the expression on the face of the blue-eyed
second officer of the Ismail who had gathered them for her! How
plainly he had made her understand, before she left the ship, that it
was only his sailor--poverty that prevented him from laying heart and
hand at her feet! And the Alpine edelweiss that a young English
traveller--who turned out to be a great personage at home, and who had
spoken so mysteriously and sadly about the signification of
obligations--had plucked for her!--he who had married the very plain-
looking girl with royal blood in her veins, that had been pointed out
to her in the Park as his bride! These and many others. How plainly
they proved that her heart had been still a rover--all unknown to
herself--while she was addressing her fortnightly duty epistles to her
future husband in Queensland! She would fain have pondered over these
and many other tokens of a past happy existence (how far away from her
it seemed already!) in solitude. There was yet another volume in which
neither flowers were pressed, nor names of places or dates inscribed,
and which seemed nevertheless to have more to say to her than all the
rest together, and this was none other than the prosaic Academy
catalogue that she had not yet found it in her heart to part with, and
which she had deceitfully insinuated, to prevent it from being
claimed, into one of those dainty coverings in old brocades, wherein
books in one sense can certainly be said to wear "new faces." The only
message it contained was in the underlining in violet pencil-marks of
certain paintings, statues, and engravings. Yet to Portia it furnished
a text for many a reverie. In whatever other respect nurse Eliza might
be fitted to play the rôle of confidante, it was not upon topics like
these that our heroine could unburden her mind to her. The fancies
suggested by her collection of souvenirs intimes were not of those
that can well be uttered aloud. So delicate and fleeting they were,
indeed, that she hardly even formulated them in her own mind. They
might have been embodied in a nocturne, set in a minor key, to be
deftly played in the twilight, but nothing more. However, as she could
not ask Eliza to depart in the face of her tear-swollen eyes, and with
the certain knowledge that the faithful creature would proceed to cry
them out in real earnest as soon as she was outside the door, she
busied her in wrapping up and putting by some indifferent books taken
from the book-shelf for the special purpose--a work which might have
been just as well left, she told herself, until her return. Eliza was
finding an outlet for her emotions in banging and dusting these
volumes, which required, to tell the truth, neither form of
discipline, accompanying the operation meanwhile by an occasional
sniff of distress, when she was suddenly summoned from the room. She
was away long enough to give Portia the time to take up the
interrupted train of her somewhat mournful meditations once more; and
when she returned it was with a face that bore an important hint of
something unforeseen and mysterious to be communicated.

"What has happened, Eliza?" asked her mistress, quietly. As nothing,
not even "God or devil," to quote John's words (that somehow recurred
to her memory at this moment), could un-marry her now, Portia felt
that the would-be importance expressed in her maid's face, in
connection with whatever news she might have to impart to her, was
clearly superfluous and uncalled for. Supposing the kitchen chimney to
be on fire, or the Queen to have suddenly departed this life--the two
contingencies that first suggested themselves to her imagination--she
would none the less have to leave the house as "Mrs. John Morrisson"
in another two hours: none the less be whirled away, by her husband's
side, in the night-train for Flushing, where it was arranged that they
should rest until they resumed their journey on the morrow. So she
repeated once more, in indifferent tones, "What has happened, Eliza?
Is anything wrong?"

The maid shut the door before replying, with the same elaborate air
of mystery that had marked her demeanour from the beginning. There was
something portentous in her expression. "My dear," she said--it was
only upon occasions where etiquette had to be considered that she
called her young mistress "Miss"--"there's a lady below--I won't
answer for it she's a real lady, though--who says she wants to see
you. I never set eyes on her before myself, and she's never been near
the place yet that I know of. She's all in black, and she's brought a
baby along with her. She was that eager and excited when I went down,
and out o' breath with running all the way from High Street--so she
told me. James wouldn't let her in until she told her business; but
she wouldn't, and they couldn't get her to go away neither, and so
they had to send for me."

"I don't see why I shouldn't see her," said Portia, simply; "but did
you ask her whether she could not send me a message by you?"

"That's just what I did," said the maid. "It would not have been in
human nature--not in an abigail's nature, at least--to refrain from
the temptation of making the most of the occasion." 'What is your
business, ma'am?' I said--just like that. 'Our young lady is going
away on her honeymoon this very afternoon, and can't see you,' I says.
The lady says nothing to that for a good minute or more. She seemed to
be catching her breath, like, behind her veil; for she's got a long
black veil, that thick you can't hardly see her face through it. Then
she says, in a kind of a choked voice, 'So Miss James is married!' she
says. 'Married this morning, ma'am,' says I. 'Well,' says she, holding
her throat--this way--'I hope you'll let me see her. I've got a
present for her; it's a present no one can give her but me. Perhaps
she'll take it along with her on her wedding-trip. Ask her to see me
for her own sake, if she won't see me for mine,' I says. The lady says
nothing to that for a good minute or more. She seemed to be catching
her breath, like, behind her veil; for she's got a long black veil,
that thick you can't hardly see her face through it. And with that she
outs with a pencil and a bit of paper from her pocket, hitches her
baby under her arm, and scribbles off a letter as fast as you please;
and nothing'll content her after that but we must fetch her a
henvelope from below stairs, and she must gum it down herself."

Having improved the occasion to her own satisfaction as regarded the
agreeable and stimulating task of narrating all the preliminaries in
extenso, Eliza now bethought herself of handing the letter to her
mistress. Portia took it from her with irresolute hands. What possible
reference to her own affairs could the affairs of the mysterious
visitor involve? And why should she have chosen her wedding-day of all
others as the one upon which to divulge the secret? Her cheeks were
flushed with agitated anticipation as she tore the envelope open. Was
it relief, was it disappointment, was it simple astonishment that was
painted in her face as she read: "It is Mary Willett that begs and
prays of you to see her--the daughter of John Willett, of Yarraman
Station. I would have come before, but I only just heard by chance an
hour ago that you were getting married to Mr. Morrisson. For the love
of Heaven, Miss James, let me see you alone. I won't delay you long."

Mary Willett! The girl who was to join her father at the dear old
homestead Portia had loved so well! The little lass, about whom she
had heard so much and so often from old John, as she galloped by his
side round the station fences! The person about whom she had asked,
before all others, to be informed at her first memorable interview
with her lover six weeks ago. Mary Willett in London, and in
distress--most evidently in distress! Oh, why had not she known it
before? Of course she would see her, of course she would help her! The
trouble whatever it might be, was clearly one that concerned poor Mary
alone. But perhaps she had felt a delicacy in speaking of it before
strangers, and had therefore purposely tried to give the impression
that it was connected with a matter concerning Portia herself. Well,
she had still two hours--three nearly--that she could call her own. It
was a pity that all questions of money settlements should have been
deferred until after her marriage, and that at this moment she should
have nothing but fifteen sovereigns and some odd silver in her
possession. Mary might need immediate help, and she must have it.
Thinking these things over in the flash of an instant, Portia turned
to the eagerly-expectant Eliza, and disappointed her cruelly by
announcing in a calm voice, "It is nothing, really nothing, Eliza;
someone who has been recommended to me. I know the name quite well;
and I ought to see her alone, I think, as she makes such a point of
it."

A drama that was destined not to go beyond the prologue--a tale
brought to an immediate and unexpected close, just as it had been
launched upon the significant opening of "Once upon a while"! This, in
other words, was the comment that Eliza, swallowing her disappointment
as best she could, was fain to pass upon the abrupt termination to the
incident so full of promise that she had witnessed. She felt irritated
with the young woman in black for having made "such a fuss all about
nothing," as she complained to herself, and her irritation was
expressed in the tart way in which she delivered the message, "that
Miss James--Mrs. Morrisson, that was to say--will be pleased to see
you if you'll step this way; but it's as well to remember" (the
addition was her own) "she hasn't a minute to spare."

Portia was standing up to receive them, as Mary, holding her baby
upon her left arm, entered the room. The deep black veil prevented her
from distinguishing at first sight the features of her visitor; but
when Eliza had beaten a reluctant retreat, and had closed the door
finally in her wake, Mary threw back her veil, and Portia uttered an
involuntary cry of surprise. The vision that had pursued her for so
long was standing there in flesh and blood before her. The dim
presentment of Harry's Madonna and Infant that had intruded itself
upon her dreams at night, that had been shadowed forth during her
solitary musings in the daytime, had become a living, breathing
reality. The one presentiment she had ever known had been suddenly and
miraculously verified. "But, oh! how could I feel, when I saw the
picture first," she asked herself in bewilderment, "that it spoke to
me of something I had vaguely seen and known already? Was it a warning
of what was to come? But, no! It was more like a groping after
something I had lost."

The answer to her question was to come sooner than she could have
anticipated. The explanation of the mystery that had haunted her so
long and so persistently was to fall upon her comprehension at last
like a thunderbolt. Before she had well-nigh recovered from the shock
of surprise that the unexpected appearance of the Madonna in the
person of Mary Willett had occasioned her, the latter had made a rapid
step forward, and was thrusting the baby--a solemn-eyed baby that
neither cried nor laughed--into her arms.

"Take him," she was saying hysterically, as Portia mechanically
stretched out her arms for the child, "take him and keep him. Oh! it's
no time for compliments. Miss James; if you'd been through what I
have, you wouldn't stop to make compliments either. Take him and look
at him well. He's John Morrisson's child, if you want to know. He's
nobody else's. He's my present to John Morrisson and his wife on their
wedding-day. You may give him a lot of children yet, but you won't
give him any that'll be more like their father. You can tell him so
from me, if you choose. Oh, my God, my God! what'll become of us all!"

The last exclamation was accompanied by a burst of unrelieving,
agonising tears. She had sunk down upon the first chair that came to
hand, and was rocking herself to and fro in a reckless abandonment of
despair, as one who had passed the point at which self-restraint and
dignity of demeanour are any longer considerations worth taking into
account.



Chapter X



AND Portia! Portia stood, with the baby in her arms (he had submitted
to the transfer, and had even let his head nestle against her shoulder
without any kind of protest), as one turned to stone. For a moment her
brain seemed to refuse to act. Overwhelming as the revelation she had
just heard had been, impossible of realization, or even of
comprehension, as it had appeared, there was yet even more behind it
than Mary herself knew. For here, with her husband's child in her
arms, with John's very eyes looking up towards her from the baby face,
with John's tasting lips repeated in the baby mouth, the haunting
signifiance of Harry's picture had finally come home to Portia's
understanding once and forever. If presentiment had had its say, there
had been a tangible association of ideas as well. How could she have
failed to see the resemblance before! Why need she have waited until
the fatal, the irretrievable step that sealed her doom had been taken
before she thought of coupling the face of the infant in the picture
with the face of the man she called her husband! Oh, fool that she had
been, and fool--a thousand times fool--to let her heart be moved by
the ready lies he had told her! He faithful and constant, serving his
time for her in the bush, as Jacob had served his seven years for his
well-beloved Rachel! He a Sir Galahad among men, as she had innocently
believed him to be! She could have found it in her heart to laugh out
loud, bitterly and scornfully, at her own utter foolishness and
credulity. Well, the awakening had come, and it was a thorough one.
All the written and spoken arguments in the world, all the proofs that
poets and philosophers had ever accumulated of the truth of the simple
statement that "men were deceivers ever," gathered in a heap before
her, could not have brought such strong, such overwhelming conviction
as the one short damnatory experience of the last few seconds. Her
brain seemed literally to reel under the shock, her knees to give way
under her. It was necessary to pull herself together, physically as
well as morally, to call her best energies up before considering what
now remained to be done. She felt as though she had leaped at one
bound from innocent, ignorant girlhood into mature and cynical
womanhood. Never could she feel the same again! Never could the world
put on the same aspect that it had worn only five minutes ago! Never
could men and women, and the relations they bore to each other, become
the same that she had fancied them only this morning! But it was not a
time for dealing with the abstract side of the question. There would
be time for that later. Anna Ross would help to achieve the work of
enlightenment in which Portia herself had taken so tremendous a step
on this her wedding morning. At the present moment it was action--not
reflection--that was needed. What if Mary Willett were secretly
married to John? God forgive her, but it would be the most acceptable
solution of the trouble that she could imagine! Her heart gave a bound
at the thought that even now she might be legally as well as morally
free. But it sank again as she reflected upon the improbability of
John's having performed such a transparently and easily detected feat
of bigamy. But time was speeding, and she would want to escape. At all
costs, and whatever should betide, escape was the first and only
consideration. Let her only try now to keep cool, and to get at the
rights of this wonderful story. With a mighty effort at self-control,
she drew near to where Mary was seated, and still holding John's child
tenderly upon her arm (it is wonderful with what an instinctive knack
of tenderness every true woman, be she maid or mother, will hold a
little baby), she laid her hand upon the sobbing girl's, and said
gently: "Tell me all about it, and how I can help you, Mary. We have
known each other in one way, haven't we, since we were quite children?
This is a trouble that concerns us both, and I must know all there is
to know before anything can be done. First of all, are you married to
John Morrisson?"

"No, no! I'm--I'm not," sobbed Mary; "that's where it is. That's why
I'm fit to drown myself, if it wasn't for the baby. Oh, my God! my
God! What is to become of me and him?"

There was no getting her to speak in her present condition. Portia
drew a chair by her side, and sate herself down, with the little one
on her knees, to reflect upon the situation. She felt as though she
were under the influence of one of those portentous dreams, such as
Jane Eyre dreamed the night before she fled from Mr. Rochester--such
as most people have dreamed when the air about them is thick with
impending disaster--a dream wherein she found herself carrying a
wailing infant in her arms, with the impossibility of either laying it
down or ridding herself of the burden. But in her sleep the dreary
nightmare had never weighed upon her with the force of her actual
impressions... And who was there to whom she could turn for help or
counsel? Who that would assist her now to put herself entirely out of
John's reach? For as long as he knew where to find her, there could be
no safety, no refuge for her. Others might laugh at her fears; they
might say that in London, in the nineteenth century, the drama whereby
the Sabine maidens became Roman spouses was one that could not well be
repeated. But Portia knew better. She knew that John considered
himself literally in the light of her legal lord and master now--of
her owner, if it came to that. She had seen it in his eyes as they
drove home together in the brougham a while ago as man and wife. She
had seen it in the avidity that marked his unresting lips. She had
heard it in the voice in which he declared that neither God nor devil
could take her from him now. Well! that might turn out to have been a
vain boast after all. She had money enough, thank Heaven! to enable
her to run away and hide herself for to-day at least, and before they
had found her she would have made up her mind as to the course of
action she should take. She would begin by putting herself under the
protection of Anna Ross, whose actual whereabouts was known to none of
them. But time pressed, and there was still so much to do. Hardly an
hour in which to lay her plans and make her escape. And there was Mary
to be thought of, and the baby. And how were they to make their way
out of the house without being seen and followed! And how should she
herself escape pursuit and recapture? The very recklessness of her
project--the danger attending it--seemed to inspire Portia with
courage. Her resolution rose as she measured the difficulty of her
enterprise. Just as the bodily frame will perform unheard-of feats
under the spur of some tremendous excitation, so, in rare crises, the
mind will act with quite a new and unwonted energy. During the
interval that Portia accorded Mary for crying tout son soúl (as the
French say)--in other words, for sobbing her very heart out--by her
side, she had arranged her plan of escape. The calm that comes of a
supreme resolution irrevocably taken was in her voice as she addressed
herself again to the latter.

"You had better tell me all, Mary," she said gently. "I am sure I
shall be able to help you. Take your little one into your arms again--
so--there. He was just going to cry, and then what should we have
done?"

"You're too g-good to me, miss," gurgled Mary, breaking down once
more; she took the child nevertheless and, Portia--with a spasm of
wonderment, wherein a thousand confused sensations of pity, revolt,
tenderness, and repulsion (the instincts of wifehood, motherhood, and
nature, arrayed against what Carlyle would have called the
artificialities of her actual existence) fought à tour de róle to get
the upper hand--saw her gather the little creature to her bosom for
nourishment. The simple operation of such sublime significance withal
had an instantly pacifying effect upon mother and child. Portia
thought of a certain line in a poem she knew by heart: 'Baby fingers,
waxen touches press me from the mother's breast,' with quite a new
understanding of its meaning. In the childless surroundings she had
been accustomed to all her life the ways of mothers and their
offspring had been as a sealed book to her. The ineffable content in
the eyes of the little one--John's very eyes--moved her with an
infinite pity. Not only were mothers and children, but a woman placed
in the circumstances in which Mary had appeared before her, equally
novel facts in her experience. She had read of such cases, certainly.
David Copperfield, for instance, was well known to her; and the
impression she had retained from her reading of that and similar works
was that a "fallen" girl (for this she knew was the approved adjective
to employ in cases so analogous to Mary's)--that a "fallen" woman must
be looked upon as a kind of moral leper, whose very skirts it would be
a contamination for an "honest woman" to touch. Now, however, that she
was drawing her experience no longer from books, but from real living
facts, the matter seemed to put on quite a different aspect. No tragic
phrases suggested themselves to her imagination; nor did they,
apparently, to Mary's. Her mental attitude (as George Eliot would have
said) was not one of anger or indignation, but rather of a great and
sorrowing pity. Mary had probably been deceived by John as she had
been deceived herself, and had believed that, Church or no Church, she
was wedded to him, in point of fact, for time and eternity.

"Tell me how this trouble came upon you, Mary," she asked once more.
"I can be going on with my preparations while you are talking."

Truth to tell, there was little time to lose. She had unstrapped an
ancient valise of small dimensions--it was one of those she had
intended to take upon her wedding-trip, with the naïve design of
concealing the fact that she was a bride--and bundling out (for she
was in a desperate hurry) all that bore her new and hated name, she
thrust into it such of her former articles of attire as might be
required for immediate use. The tailor-made suit was next disinterred
from its hiding-place--it would be just the thing to travel in--and
away with her bridal bravery; was she not going to regain her freedom?
All the time she was moving nimbly about the room, making her
necessary and speedy preparations (and perhaps marvelling a little at
her own promptitude of action in an emergency), she was encouraging
Mary to make full and open confession.

"Yes, I understand. I see how it was. Oh, what a pity! Don't be
afraid to tell the rest, Mary." With such intercalations she contrived
to extract from the unwilling lips of the weeping girl the tale of her
own ruin.

"You see, miss," she began--Portia would have been the first to
resent the employment of her new and rightful title--"I was pretty
near the only woman at Yarraman when I went out that time (after you'd
gone away, you know) to keep house for father. There was a lot of men
about the place; but father, he used to keep me pretty well by his
side when he'd be out counting the lambs in the home paddock, maybe,
or seeing to things about the place. He'd be so sorry you was gone. He
thought a lot of me, you know, miss, and he'd say, 'You wouldn't have
wanted for someone to talk to, my dear, if Miss Portia had a-been
here.' He thought no one was too good for me--poor father" (a profound
sigh accompanied these words, followed by a long pause). "Well, I
don't suppose I'd been three weeks at the station--and pretty dull I
found it, I can tell you; it was in the January, and the place so
burned up you couldn't walk over it for the cracks in the ground--it
was almost three weeks, you may say, after I'd come up that Mr.
Morrisson wrote word to say he was coming. I'd heard say you was
engaged to him, and I was curious enough to see him. I used to go up
of an evening to the verandah at the homestead after I'd taken a dip
in the water--hole--you remember, miss, the water-hole in the bed of
the creek--and let down my back-hair to dry, I was sitting that way
one evening when a gentleman comes riding up--you may guess who he
was--and seems struck of a heap, like, to see me. And that was just
how it all begun. I couldn't but think a little of him after that. It
was like as if he'd been so pleased and so astonished at finding me
there. He couldn't take his eyes off me at first. And I believed what
he told me, miss. I believed it as if it was Gospel truth. He told me
he had been engaged to you once on a while, but that you wanted to
break it off. He said I was the only person in the world that could
console him--and, miss, he spoke that soft and loving I couldn't help
believing him. Father never thought any harm. So long as Mr. Morrisson
was there he'd go off to the township, or go riding round the fences.
He was away two days and a night once, with a fire that had broken out
on the next run and partly on ours."

"And Mr. Morrisson was in charge, I suppose?" put in Portia, shaking
out the tailor-made dress, and placing it in readiness to put on.

"Yes, he was in charge," said Mary, reluctantly; "and, miss, I did
believe in him then. There was nothing I wouldn't have done for him. I
believe I'd have blacked his boots for him if he'd asked me. But he
didn't. He came down to the cottage, and he got me to go up to the
homestead and dine with him. Me and him all alone. And he told me it
was just like as if we were man and wife already, for we was to go
down to be married the very week after in Melbourne. Oh! I did believe
him, miss. He told me he only didn't speak to father because father'd
got it into his head that he was bound to marry you--and there! I
believe my head was turned. He waited on me at that dinner as if I was
a queen; he'd pour out the champagne for me with his own hands, and he
said it would be always like that. He called me Mrs. Morrisson, and he
praised me up to the skies and, oh! miss, I was a wicked, foolish
girl--but more foolish than wicked, I believe. Well! I've been
punished enough since."

"And afterwards?" asked Portia--her voice sounded dry in her own
ears. "I want to know how you came to leave your home."

"What could I do else?" cried Mary; there was helpless despair in her
accents. "Soon after, I pretended to poor father I must go down to
Melbourne to stop with a board-ship friend. Mr. Morrisson was in
Queensland. He hadn't sent for me as he promised, and I was beside
myself with terror and misery. But he came back before my baby was
born--and, if you'll believe it, miss, father found out what was the
matter--and, miss, it broke his heart. The doctors said afterwards his
heart had always been weak; but that makes no difference--it was I
killed him. Oh! I can't speak of it, miss," she covered her face with
her handkerchief and broke into a fresh wail of anguish. "I've not
been to look after the money or anything, for I feel just as though
I'd murdered him. Well, when my baby was born, Mr. Morrisson let me
know pretty clearly he'd no intention of marrying me, and I hadn't any
hold upon him. I cursed him, I did, in father's name and my own; but
he didn't care for that. He said he'd send me money as long as I gave
him no more trouble--and, perhaps, when his Queensland business was
settled up, he'd think about marrying me, after all. But I must go to
America, he said, where I wasn't known, and he'd send me money and
come to join me later. Well, I had no choice, it seemed. I went off to
San Francisco under the name of Mrs. Morris; but after I'd stayed
there eating my heart out for six weeks or more, I made up my mind to
come on home and wait for him. It seemed more home-like in London--and
I had an aunt here too; but she died before I could join her. I told
the woman I was lodging with in San Francisco to send me on my money
and my letters; but from the day I left I've never heard a word of her
or of Mr. Morrisson either until to-day, and it was only by a chance,
when I was posing--that's what they call it, miss, when you're sitting
for your portrait (not quite your portrait, you know, but to figure in
a picture under anybody else's name)--while I was posing in young Mr.
Tolhurst's studio, miss--ah! that's a gentleman and a Christian, if
you like--that I found out you was going to be married this morning,
and who to. I thought I should have died, miss, on the spot. I took up
my baby and I ran out of the house as though I were mad--Mr. Tolhurst
did think I was mad, I believe--and I ran for a cab and drove all the
way to the church thinking I'd stop the banns; but it was too late,
and I got out and ran straight here."

"But how did you find out? and who told you?" questioned Portia.
"Not Mr. Tolhurst, was it?"

She had turned her face away as she made the inquiry, feigning to be
absorbed once more in the arrangement of her wearing apparel in the
valise.

"Mr. Tolhurst? No, miss. I believe it was Providence. In the picture
he's doing of me--leastways it is me, though he's called it 'News from
the Camp,'--I've got to be sitting reading a newspaper. Many's the
time he's put a paper in my hand before; but, bless you, I never
thought o' looking at what was printed in it. But this morning, of all
mornings in the world, I must needs fix my eyes on the very lines that
told about you and Mr. Morrisson. To be married on the 27th, it said--
and there was the name of the church and all!"

She paused, and for a long time Portia made no comment. What she had
been thinking, however, might almost have been divined by her
expression as she turned her face towards Mary and said slowly:

"It was with the idea of preventing the marriage that you came to the
church, I suppose?"

The other hung her head. "Miss, I was beside myself. To have my baby
branded for base-born all his life--him that's got his father's face,
that it'ud have been a pride and a pleasure to see 'em together--it
was more than I could stand. I ought to have thought about you. Why,
when I came running on here awhile ago, well-nigh out of my mind, I
couldn't tell but what you'd have me put outside the door by the
servants. But I didn't seem to care. Oh, miss, you are a young lady!--
you was never in the way of being tempted as I was, and I don't want
to excuse myself; but I had no mother by me, and Mr. Morrisson he did
speak so fair."

She had begun to weep afresh. Tears seemed, indeed, to be the only
relief to the sense of rankling injury that she evidently carried
about with her. Portia compassionated her--and with sincerity--but, at
this moment, she was thinking more of her own case than of Mary's. If
Providence had indeed directed her eyes, as Mary had said, to that
newspaper paragraph, why could it not have happened only just one hour
earlier? She would have had no occasion to play the part of a runaway
wife then. How easily matters might still have been arranged before
the fatal "I will" had been pronounced--before her hand had traced so
unwillingly the unreal, unfamiliar signature of Portia Morrisson in
the book they had set before her. Perhaps Mary's eyes had fallen upon
the paragraph at the very instant when John had uttered aloud his
blasphemous boast. He had dared something more than Providence to take
her away from him, she remembered. In obedience to which form of power
was she going to prove to him now how vain that boast had been? "But I
cannot reason it out at this moment," she reflected hurriedly. "There
is only one thing I am clear about. I must get out of his way as fast
as ever I can."

Her little valise was packed by this time. Her wedding-ring, John's
engagement-ring, and such other costly gifts as he had bought her were
left scattered upon the table. She took her watch, her diamond
earrings, and one or two valuables. Of the fifteen sovereigns which
represented all the money she could lay her hands upon, she pressed
five upon her visitor wherewith to buy a present for the baby.

"And now, Mary," she said in a firm voice, after all these
arrangements were concluded, "I owe you a lifelong debt of gratitude.
You have saved me from taking a step I should have repented more
bitterly than I can say. I am not going away with--with Mr. Morrisson.
I don't look upon him as my husband at all. Go back to your lodgings
now and leave me your address. Mr. Morrisson shall be sent to you to-
day. He is yours, and not mine; and if the law cannot be made to
interfere (which I think it can be), we must act for ourselves. I am
going to some friends--for I must be out of the way; but I shall
contrive to hear how you are getting on, and I will see that justice
is done you. My own marriage is no marriage. Yours is the only real
one"--she stopped short--the phrases in Anna's letter suggested
themselves to her memory. Was there such a thing as real marriage at
all? "Now you had better go; you have carried out the thing you came
for."

"And--and you're not angry, miss," stammered Mary, rising with a
bewildered air. Burning resentment, a bitter desire for vengeance,
hatred towards her betrayer, a deeper hatred perhaps towards her
rival, the woman he was about to marry--all these feelings had held
her in their power as she entered the room. Now they had given way to
astonishment and gratitude. Astonishment, perhaps, was the uppermost
feeling of the two.

That a newly-married bride, on the point of starting off on her
wedding--trip with the bridegroom, should renounce her honeymoon and
her husband as easily as though they had been represented by a ball-
room partner and a round dance, was a phenomenon undreamed of in her
philosophy. What she had intended to bring about by her denunciation
she was not quite clear. Vengeance had been the sentiment that had
mainly dictated her action. She had felt on her way to the church as a
Paris vitrioleuse (if there be such a word) might feel on her way to
blast a hated rival. And here she had been received with pitying
consideration and words of gentlest sympathy. Her rival had not only
taken her by the hand and kindly invited her confidence, but had
actually ceded the place to her. It was inexplicable. Perhaps it was
education that did it. It might not be considered manners in Miss
James's world to show one's feelings upon occasions like the present
one. Nevertheless, before she went away, Mary placed her child for the
second time in Portia's arms. But the gesture that accompanied the
action was as different from the former one as the expression she now
wore on her face.

"I can't say all that's in my mind, miss," she said in trembling
tones; "but won't you give the little one a kiss as a token you've
forgiven me?"

And Portia bent her head, and pressed her pure lips against the
velvety surface of the baby cheek. Then with her own hands she
adjusted Mary's thick veil around the tear-stained face, and after
writing down her address and promising once more that she should have
redress, she prepared to take final leave of her, At the door,
however, she detained her an instant while she said, "One thing I must
ask you, Mary--to keep what has passed this morning a secret between
ourselves. You don't tell Mr. Tolhurst things. I suppose?"

"Mr. Tolhurst! Oh, no, miss. He's been a good friend to me--I'll say
that for him; but he's distant-like in his manner."

"Of course," continued Portia, "I have no right to control your
confidences. Only I couldn't bear that my name should be mentioned in
connection with anything that has happened when you are talking to--
to--outsiders, you understand?"

"Yes, I quite understand, miss--and oh, dear! if I thought it would
spoil your life, I'd undo all my morning's work this minute, and
thankfully too."

"It hasn't spoilt my life, Mary," replied Portia, gravely. "On the
contrary. And now good-bye--and take heart; things may still come
right in the end."

She turned back into the room, after watching her visitor departed
down the long corridor that led to a back staircase, whence Mary might
find her way out of the house through the kitchen regions. Whatever
might happen in the future, her appearance this morning had had at
least the effect of exorcising the ghost that had haunted Portia's
imagination so long. Never again would Harry's Madonna fix, as she had
been wont to do of late, her mournful and enigmatic gaze upon her
whenever Portia was alone with her thoughts. Henceforth her mind would
be at rest upon that point. The enigma had been solved. The ghost was
laid. "But I should have heeded the warning while there was time," she
reflected sorrowfully. "Who knows whether my new-born antipathy to
John--that I don't remember feeling in Australia, or how could I have
promised to marry him?--was not dictated by a kind of occult
influence, exercising itself through the painted effigy of the woman
who stood, and who still stands, between us? I have had an instinctive
shrinking from him lately that made me see all his actions in what I
thought must be a distorted kind of light. If he kissed me I felt it
was brutal of him. And how truly my instincts spoke, after all!"

Portia did not, however, allow her reflections to interfere with her
preparations for her departure. She had always had a tendency to dress
and pack, to do most things indeed, rouf-rouf (as the Brussels people
call doing things in a hurry), and the habit stood her in good stead
now. Not six minutes after Mary's departure, she was standing in the
tailor-made dress of grey tweed, upon her head a felt travelling hat
and covered by a gossamer veil as baffling to those who would have
penetrated its folds from the outside, as that of the Veiled Prophet
himself; her keys and her purse in an accessible pocket; her wraps and
her waterproof made into a geometrical bundle, with the aid of
Wilmer's Australian saddle-bag, that had somehow passed into her
possession; her demeanour composed, her mind as clear as though she
had been bent upon no more important mission than that of taking the
dogs for a walk. When all her arrangements were completed, she looked
at herself for an instant in the glass before tying on her veil. Her
cheeks were curiously pale, but there was such a light of fierce
excitement in her eyes, that the rusty stains that marked their
yellow--brown depths seemed to burn and glitter as though they were
reflecting some inward flame. With her veil tied closely over her
face, Portia satisfied herself that she was hardly to be recognized.
But the outline, what painters call the ar abesque of her figure might
yet betray her. She reached down from a peg a long dark cloak, the
counterpart of the one that a certain order of nursing-sisters wear,
and threw it over her shoulders. Her final step was to take a piece of
paper and a pencil, and to write, with a firm hand, the following:

"DEAREST EMMA,--I have not gone mad, and I am not going to kill
myself; but I should do one or the other, perhaps both, if I were
obliged to live with Mr. Morrisson now. I have just discovered that he
has a wife (or a mistress) and a child--the latter not a year old. If
I were to stay here I am afraid I should be forced to go away with him
all the same; so, to avoid a painful scene, I have made up my mind to
leave the house for a time, and to hide somewhere until things are
settled. Don't try to have me followed; it would be of no use--and
don't be uneasy about me. I am of age now, and can do as I please, and
you know that I am well able to take care of myself. You may just
fancy I have gone to the seaside for a week, if you like. You will
hear again from me soon--and meanwhile, with best love to Wilmer and
yourself, au revoir.

"PORTIA."

Within this missive she placed a sealed envelope addressed to John
Morrisson, Esq., inside which she had written in pencil: "If you want
an explanation of my letter to Emma, call at No. 77 Silver Street.--
PORTIA JAMES."

The signature was written with defiant clearness. Like many young
women who are not otherwise distinguished as scribes, Portia had a
signature worthy of a Minister of State. She re-read hurriedly her
letter to her sister. Yes, it would do. There was nothing in its
contents to warrant violent alarm on the part of her belongings. And
now there remained nothing more for her to do but to make her escape,
with the faithful Eliza's aid.

But this part of her project turned out, as the event proved, the
most difficult of all to carry into effect. Upon being called back
into the room, after her curiosity had been roused to a point that was
well-nigh unbearable by the distinct sound of smothered sobs
proceeding from it, nurse Eliza's face wore an air of justifiable
resentment. Her compressed lips plainly told of a slight offered, not
only to her dignity, but to her most intimate feelings--her most
tender susceptibilities. Portia saw how the case stood in a moment,
but there was no time to perform the necessary operation of smoothing
nurse Eliza down before enlisting her services. To do the latter
justice, when she was made finally aware of her young mistress's
desperate resolve, and the cause of it, her own private grievance in
connection with the matter melted away. The magnitude of the news was
so infinitely beyond anything she could have suspected or dreamed of
in her wildest moments, that it seemed to swallow up all other
considerations. Upon one point, however, nurse Eliza was obdurate. If
her young lady was bent upon going--why, she would go with her. In
vain, Portia expended herself in arguments to prove that there was no
time for her to get ready in--that the only real service she could
render was by remaining behind and guarding the room as though its
occupant were still there, until such time as it should be incumbent
upon her to betray the secret. The woman remained inflexible, until,
at length, in a moment of desperation, Portia flew to the window.

"I'll jump out of it," she cried vehemently; "and it will be you who
have killed me. I won't be hunted like an animal."

She had thrown back her veil, and stood like a tigress at bay; her
eyes seemed actually to throw out sparks of fire.

"Oh, miss," sobbed the terrified Eliza, "what are you about? Don't
you know if you was to jump out I'd be after you before you'd get to
the bottom? I'll do what you want; but you'll break my heart, you
cruel girl, that you will."

"They all seem to cry but me," said Portia to herself, as she pulled
down her veil again, and listened in secret triumph to the hysteric
sniffs of distress whereby Eliza found vent for her feelings. But
aloud she cajoled the faithful creature with honeyed words. She
promised that Eliza should be the first to hear her news. "And you
shall come and join me, dear, I am going to friends. My letters will
be addressed to you always, on the condition that you don't betray my
whereabouts. I only don't tell you where I am going, in order that you
may not have to tell a lie--you can't tell lies, you know, Eliza
dear--when they ask you where I am. And now go and see that the coast
is clear; that the door of the smoking-room is shut; that my sister is
having a nap; that the servants are out of the way, and the back-door
in the garden open. Then come and make a sign to me from the end of
the corridor. I will come out with my valise and the saddle-bag, and
in High Street I shall get into the first hansom I see."

And all these directions Eliza, in fear and trembling, carried out
au pied de la lettre. She cleared the path, as one who assists a
prisoner to escape at dead of night from his dungeon. If James or any
one of his silver-blue tribe had a fleeting glimpse of the nurse-
uniform's cloak skurrying down the garden-path--if the groom in the
coachhouse, hosing the wheels of the equipage that was to drive the
newly-married pair to the station, and pondering upon the extent of
the tip he would most probably receive from the bridegroom, caught a
transient view of a figure so like his young mistress's hurrying up
the mews, that he paused to say, "Well, I'm blowed;" there was nothing
in either of these events that need have caused the fugitive alarm.
Nevertheless, it was not when Portia had scuttled through the corridor
and down the backstairs, not when she had left the yard, the garden,
and the garden-door behind her, not even when she had received her
valise at Eliza's hand outside, and had walked undisturbed into High
Street--it was not, indeed, until she was safely ensconced in a
swift--bowling hansom, to the driver whereof she had given the order
"London Bridge Station," that her breath seemed to come freely once
more, and her heart to resume, to a certain extent, its normal
functions. She had accomplished her great coup. She had acted upon the
brave motto "to dare and to do," and she had succeeded. A curious
exhilaration seemed to take possession of her. The world was before
her, and she had her liberty. She might live her own life now, as Anna
had put it, where and how she pleased. It is generally supposed that
there is no case so curious or exceptional but that its counterpart
might be found among the thousand and one curious and exceptional
cases that occur daily in London without anybody's being the wiser for
them. Yet I doubt if, in any other quarter of that vast
conglomeration, a newly-married bride, leaving her home under similar
conditions to those which attended our heroine's departure, and
wearing a similar look of elation in her tell-tale eyes concealed
behind her gossamer veil, could have been readily encountered. And
what was our heroine thinking of, as the cab rolled on its long,
smooth course into the City? I think, if the truth must be told, the
route she intended to take to Paris was the uppermost consideration in
her mind during the first few moments of her flight. "Newhaven and
Dieppe," she concluded triumphantly. "They will never think of that;
and I shall be safe in hiding at Anna's before they have had time to
make up their minds in what direction they are to look for me."



Chapter XI



FORTUNE, or perhaps one of those powers that John in his wild
jubilation had defied, favored Portia's flight. Her hansom bowled her
in swift safety to the London Bridge station, where it deposited her
an hour before the departure of her train--which hour she spent
waiting in an obscure corner of the ladies' waiting-room, with her
veil down, and her heart, as the saying goes, in her mouth. She dared
not venture upon the platform outside, where the hurrying crowd was
running to and fro like ants about their nests; she could not even
command the resolution to make her way into the refreshment-room,
where, despite her agitation of mind, she would have been glad to
provide herself with one of the fossil Bath buns displayed upon the
counter (for violent emotion and a long hour's drive incline to
emptiness): It was in vain she told herself that no one would think of
looking for her here, and that in so far as her chances of being
recognised went, she had counteracted them effectually by merging her
identity into that of the class of average young-lady travellers, who
flit unperceived about the world with "Come like shadows, so depart"
for their apparent rule of action. Conscience, that makes cowards of
us all, made a coward of Portia. It seemed to her that everyone who
looked in her direction did so with malice prepense, having detected
the fact that she was running away from her home. Even the man who
took the tickets eyed her, as she thought, with suspicion. The more
effectually to screen herself from observation she had taken a second-
class place, and now mounted heroically into a second-class carriage
of the order known as stuffy, and dissimulated herself between a fat
French priest and a little girl on her way to school in France, who
spent her time in alternate fits of weeping and sucking oranges.

The night was a divine one. Through the window of the compartment,
which her fellow-travellers persisted in keeping closed, Portia could
see the summer landscape fading into indistinctness under the waning
twilight. By-and-by a red-gold moon swung herself slowly aloft through
the sky. What would not Portia have given to be able to stop the train
and walk about in the midst of that enchanted scene? It seemed so
redolent of calm and repose, to breathe such "bease," as Emma had said
of the coppery Claude--and "bease" appeared as far out of Portia's
reach at this instant as the moonlit landscape itself. A thousand
disquieting thoughts were succeeding each other in her brain. A woman
does not run away upon her wedding-day with just the kind of sensation
with which she might start upon a personally-conducted circular tour,
paid for by anticipation--and this was what our heroine was
discovering to her cost. At one moment she would picture the scene
that must ensue when the fact of her flight was discovered: Emma's
guttural ejaculations, Wilmer's nervous manipulation of his monocle,
John's baffled rage--she could imagine it all so vividly. At another
she would ponder upon the possible consequences of her action. She was
not at all sure that she had not placed herself under the ban of the
"law of the land"--a mysterious and vaguely-understood power--nor that
the emissary who would finally capture her might not turn out to be a
policeman. Then, what would Anna say? And how long would it be before
her hiding-place in Paris could be discovered? This last reflection
diverted her mind from dwelling upon the consternation her flight
would necessarily arouse in the home-circle. It is well known that in
cases of family separation the person who goes among fresh
surroundings has less time and less opportunity for fretting than the
friends who are left behind. Such importance, indeed, do we attach to
the considering and sustaining (to say nothing of the detaching
influence) of new surroundings, that even when the destination of the
voyager is that unknown country from whose bourne no traveller
returns, we think ourselves warranted in saying, with a shake of the
head: "Ah! it is not he who is to be pitied, poor fellow! It is those
he is leaving behind."

Portia thought of this fact in connection with her own experience.
The excitement of the journey, the having a definite object in view, a
place where she might be sure of a welcome awaiting her, made her
position a very different one from that of the friends she was leaving
in ignorance of her fate, from whose horizon she was vanishing without
leaving a trace of her passage or a clue to her possible whereabouts.
She promised herself that she would let them have news through Eliza
as soon as she could do so with safety. Mary and her baby were also
much in her thoughts. The mystery of the coincidence that had inspired
her with her first presentiment in connection with them, through Harry
Tolhurst's agency, recurred to her mind. The Madonna picture had faded
away, but the vision of the prototype of that Madonna, weeping over
her shattered life, with her baby at her breast, had taken its place.
A horror of the man she called her husband was Portia's next feeling.
"I am glad I left the opal ring he gave me where Emma will see it and
take it to him," she thought; "that and the wedding-ring will speak
more plainly than any reproaches I could have made him."

What John would do was, however, beyond her power to divine. She
pondered so much upon this question, and so many complicated problems
seemed to spring out of it as regarded the claim Mary had upon his
affection, and the extent to which it would be justifiable to force
him to marry her (if such a thing were possible) after his own
inclination towards her had died out, that she lost herself in the
labyrinth. If, as physiologists tell us, the amount of thinking we go
through increases the convolutions of our brains, and removes us still
further in the scale from our cousins the chimpanzees, Portia's brain
must have acquired many an added twist during her journey from
Newhaven over the sea. Of trouble in getting across she had none. If
railway companies and steamer agencies set out with the express
purpose of facilitating flights and elopements, they could not render
the means of accomplishing them more easy. The theory of swimming, or
writing, or of doing anything else whatsoever "made easy," is nothing
to the theory of travelling made easy as it has been actually carried
into effect by companies; and except for the fact that a traveller is
occasionally launched into eternity, without so much as a "by your
leave," through their operations, the arrangements by which they whisk
us about the world, from London to Timbuctoo, are all, so to speak,
plain sailing. "They must think the passengers are blind or deaf,"
thought Portia, "to make it necessary for a man to go on shouting,
'This way for the boat!' all the time--as if there were anywhere else
to go to, if one wanted." Arrived on board, she had the courage to
descend to the second-cass ladies' cabin, but not the courage to
remain there. The elaborate preparations that the majority of the
inmates were making for the worst, together with the ostentatious
display of unbreakable basins on the berths, was a spectacle before
which she shuddered and fled. In return for a handsome pourboire, a
French steward placed a mattress and a pillow for her on the deck, and
there, with the moon's rays casting their silvery radiance over her,
this bride of a day laid herself down to sleep. It was by no means the
first time she had slept thus, under the stars. She had known in olden
times the joys of camping-out in the Australian bush, when Wilmer had
allowed her to accompany him upon a mustering expedition to a distant
part of the run. She knew the exhilaration of waking in the cool
morning, with the vast blue dome of the far-reaching Australian sky
for her only canopy, and the wondrous chant of the native magpie, wild
and sweet as the bush itself, to usher in her morning visions. She had
built many an innocent castle-in-the--air in those far-away childish
days. But in none of them had she seen herself lying solitary under
the starlit sky on her wedding-night. Now she had no longer anything
to fear, she lifted her veil, and allowed the cool moist air--"chargé
de sels et d'aromes," as the enigmatic Verlaine has it--to wander over
her face. When a travelling 'Arry approached too near, with
inquisitive glances that spoke of "making up to her," she let it fall
again. But she was not the only lady on the deck. A palpable bride,
with her head on her lord's shoulder, sate in an obscurer patch at
some little distance from her. Portia felt a strange pang as she
looked in the direction of the newly--wedded pair. The silhouette of
the bride was vague and indefinite, yet it bore the stamp of a
serenity blissful beyond expression.

Our heroine, I may remark par parenthèse, was blessed with the
possession that comes first in the triad of good things popularly
supposed to ensure our earthly happiness. She enjoyed (and if ever the
word "enjoyed" were well applied it is in this connection)--she
enjoyed good health. Not all the thinking she had done during her
journey in the train could render her unmindful of the fact that she
had had no bun after all, stale or otherwise, at London Bridge
station, and that it was a very long time since she had assisted at
Emma's breakfast-lunch--supposed to be a bridal breakfast, too, but
more suggestive of a funeral feast of baked meats, as far as her own
feelings in partaking of it were concerned. And not all her agitation
on the score of her "escapade" could prevent her from thinking the
fresh ham sandwiches and sweet lemonade wherewith she supped on deck
very nice indeed. She lay awake notwithstanding, listening to the
swish swish and thump thump of screw and engine, until the moon was
but a pale reflection of the golden globe that had climbed so
majestically up the heavens a few hours ago. The pale dawn was
creeping up from behind the rim of the quiet ocean. Then Portia fell
asleep, and in her sleep she fancied she was walking in front of the
lions' cage at the Zoo. It was the hour at which the beasts were to be
fed, and the particular lion she was looking at was walking up and
down in wild agitation, with his eyes flaming, his tail curling, and
his mouth gaping, uttering hoarse and hungry howls; she saw the food,
a mass of raw and bleeding flesh, brought close to his cage, and, just
as he was springing upon it wildly, she saw that it was withdrawn by
the keeper. The rage of the lion thereupon was terrific to behold, and
it seemed to Portia in her dream that it was against herself that he
was raging. Under the influence of the horrible fascination exercised
upon her in her nightmare she was constrained to approach the cage,
with the full certainty of being eaten in her turn; but her terror was
so great when she discovered that the lion was turning into John that
she awoke. The boiler was letting off steam, and the lion's howls she
had heard in her dream had been suggested by its hoarse roar. Her
cheeks felt cold and clammy. The harbour of Dieppe, with the masts of
the ships at anchor, and the towers of the grey cathedral swimming in
the amber morning light, were before her. Another six hours, and she
would be in Paris with Anna.



Chapter XII



THE day-journey from Dieppe to Paris, though infinitely more
fatiguing, was not, in one sense, as trying to our heroine as her
flight of the previous night. For one thing, she had had the time to
review her position calmly; and even after sleeping over it--a process
which is supposed to be most efficacious in readjusting our mental
focus--she felt that if the thing were to do over again, she would act
in precisely the same way; now as the lives of most of us are made up
of regrets that we could not have acted differently, this was a
conclusion that could not fail to have a tranquillising effect.
Moreover, as regarded the fact of running away, the contempt that is
born of familiarity was beginning to assert its reassuring influence
upon her mind. She no longer imagined that when any of her fellow-
travellers looked her way it must necessarily be with the set purpose
of denouncing her to her relations, and was even composed enough after
a while to look through the window of the high and jolting second-
class carriage into which she had climbed, and to admire the
landscape, after an abstracted and desultory fashion, in the calm,
clear sunshine of a July day. The woods and fields, twinkling with
light, reminded her of a newly-varnished picture. The words in which
Mark Twain, in the Innocents Abroad, emphasises the refrain, "Oh,
pleasant land of France," by adding "and it is a pleasant land,"
recurred to her memory, and she felt that she could fully indorse
them. The crops were a particular source of wonder and delight. The
sloping fields of wheat, a rippling expanse of pale gold set round
with a garland of fiery poppies and sky-blue cornflowers, excited her
admiration, I fear, even more than the grey towers of Rouen Cathedral,
which also claimed her passing notice. But Portia was, as we have
seen, a Bushbred maiden, and she had not grown up in the midst of the
farming operations carried on at Yarraman Station upon the virgin soil
of Australia--so parched and dried up for the most part of the year,
that "elderly spinster soil" would have been a more applicable
designation for it--to be oblivious, when she beheld them, of the
marvels of an unbroken succession of fields of waving corn waiting in
all their ripened glory for harvesting. Then there were the trees--the
wonderful European trees--with their rich and varying liveries of
heavy summer green, to be contrasted with her recollection of the
gaunt Australian gums and the black and scraggy she--oaks she
remembered. Her reflections upon these topics were, however, more of
the nature of passing impressions than an actual exercise of her
cogitative faculties, for the part that she herself was to play in her
new surroundings was the consideration that was really uppermost in
her mind most of the time. She had wisely, but not too well, as
regarded her own comfort, taken refuge in the ladies' carriage, where
for all society she found only two religieuses and an exclusive
lady's-maid, with whom she hardly exchanged a word all the way.
Arrived at the Gare St. Lazare, she had a momentary quailing in
presence of the unfamiliar and somewhat formidable crowd that thronged
in its vicinity. In the Bush, she was fully able, in the literal sense
of the phrase, to find her way about; but to accomplish a similar
feat, in the slang acceptation of the words, and in a city like Paris,
of all others, seemed quite another matter. There were women here,
too, with that in their faces that dismayed her--she could not tell
why--and the hot colour mounted to her cheeks upon more than one
occasion as her eyes encountered behind her veil those of some
Frenchman who was trying to dévisager her (the fact that we have no
equivalent for the word in English is a proof that the habit is more
of a Continental than an insular one). It was with a sigh of relief
that she deposited herself at last, with rugs and valise, in the
petite voiture that was to drive her to the Rue Vaugirard. Was it
fancy, or had the cocher in the polished white belltopper, to whom she
had just confided herself, really intended to leer at her with
insolent meaning as she gave him the address? The idea was such a
disquieting one that she stopped him before they had rolled many yards
to inquire of him, in timid Australian-French, whether he had
understood where he was to take her. The cocher replied,
"Parfaitement," with a shrug and in a testy tone of voice, as though
he had been annoyed by her asking; but this was so much more
reassuring than his previous way of conducting himself, that Portia
began to think she must have misjudged him after all, and that her
first impression was the result of pure nervousness.

It was not the first time that our heroine had been in Paris. She had
been brought thither, as we have seen, only a fortnight ago, for the
solemn purpose of making choice of her going-away bonnet. The
difference between that mission and her actual one was not less great
than the difference between the Paris she had known then and the Paris
she was to come into contact with now. During her former visit she had
stayed at the Hôtel Continental, and had seen from her windows the
same trim and beautiful portion of the Tuileries gardens opposite, as
the deposed Queen Zara, in Daudet's Rois en Exil, saw the morning
after her hasty arrival. The Paris she had known then had been that
glittering surface of the great city which draws to itself the rich,
the young, the gay, and the pleasure-loving of all the nations upon
earth. It was the Paris of the grands boulevards, the Théâtre
Français, the Opéra, Brébants, and the Palais Royal. From her short
experience of it, Portia had gathered the impression that existence
here meant being steeped to the neck in every kind of agreeable and
delightful sensation. She had a clear remembrance of sitting under the
awning of a well-know café on the Boulevard Poissoniére with Wilmer
and John, eating sorbets, and of looking across the intensely
interesting crowd of carriages and pedestrians that streamed past her,
to the houses on the opposite side. How grandly high they rose above
the topmost boughs of the beautiful limes and chestnuts and sycamores
standing in front of them, and what a gay surface of golden letters
picked out on a soft grey background they presented to her gaze. Many
different families, people of all ranks and callings, she had been
told, dwelt in layers in these marvellous habitations, sinking in the
social scale as they rose in the architectural one; but she could
hardly realise this fact. Like the hero in Thackeray's sketch in the
little dinner at Timmins's, who imagined that the pastry-cooks' young
ladies at whose shrine, or, rather, at whose counter, he worshipped,
must be nurtured upon the most delicate of intangible dainties, upon
whiffs and emanations of creams and jellies, she could not help
connecting the mingled perfumes she was conscious of--those of the
hyacinth-laden flower-cart that passed along in front of her, of the
patchouli-scented cocolte (whom she took for a charming lady) seated
next to her, of the sauce piquante that was being fabricated in the
kitchen of a celebrated restaurant at hand--with the lives of the
dwellers in these enchanted regions. The atmosphere they lived in
harmonised with the brilliancy of their surroundings. For Portia they
were all part of a brilliant show. The whole of Paris, indeed,
presented itself to her mind, so far, in the guise of a grand
theatrical display, and the thought of living in it as Anna's guest
took no more definite shape than that of helping to swell the pageant
as she had done before, by driving to the Bois, along the Champs
Elysées, or sitting in front of the Café Riche or the Maison Doré, or
making purchases in one of those wonderful shops with the delicately-
painted ceilings, where the dame or demoiselle de magasin would serve
her with the most exquisite urbanity, and show her the loveliest
dernières creations, maintaining at the same time her own right of
pronouncing the final verdict--"Voila ce qu'il faut pour
Mademoiselle"--with an inflexible calmness of conviction against which
it would have been futile to protest.

This Paris of Portia's recollection was but a limited Paris, after
all. Nevertheless, it is the only one of which the majority of her sex
placed under similar circumstances have much knowledge. For the first
part of her drive there was nothing to dispel her illusions. The cab
drove down the asphalted Rue de Richelieu, and across the narrow and
crowded Rue St. Honoré, coming, however, to a standstill in the Rue de
Rivoli, where the driver sacré'd at having to back before a tremendous
Crichy-Odéon omnibus, with its three white classic steeds, worthy of
figuring upon a Pompeian frieze, harnessed abreast. When the omnibus
had gone on its way she found herself rattled, with much clatter,
across the stony Place de Carrousel, whence she could discern ahead of
her, to the right, the lower portion of the skeleton frame-work of the
mighty Eiffel Tower, then in process of construction. The thick mass
of foliage in the Tuileries Gardens, and the ascending perspective of
the Champs Elysées, with its double rows of trees and its moving mass
of carriages, evoked familiar memories. It was not until the cocher
had driven her across the Pont des Arts, and was whipping his horse up
the Rue de Seine in a fashion which led her to remonstrate with him in
reckless French, that her surroundings began to wear an unfamiliar
aspect. Once, and only once, had Portia crossed the river before--upon
the occasion of her accompanying Emma upon a shopping expedition to
the Bon Marché. The old part of Paris, that no Cook's tourist would be
allowed to neglect--Notre-Dame, the Tour St.--Jacques, the Pantheon,
the Luxembourg--were all unknown to her. The Quartier Latin was terra
incognita. The appearance of the Boulevard St.--Germain raised the
temporary hope that here, perhaps, the enchanted region would begin to
unfold itself once more; but, as the cab continued its jolting away up
the stony Rue de Rennes, the hope died gradually away. If she had an
objection to formulate to this part of Paris it was on the score of
its being so noisy. Omnibuses came thundering along with a rackety
sound that seemed to go through her head. Carts and carriages rattled
over the stones with an aggressive and deafening clatter. How people
carried on the business of life--above all, how they carried on any
kind of connected conversation in the midst of such a din, was a
mystery. No wonder they bawled and squalled when they spoke to each
other. And as though they did not get share enough of the noise
indoors, they seemed to carry on the greater part of their business
outside. How different were the magasins from those she remembered on
the grands boulevards. Their contents seemed to sprawl not only "all
over the shop," but all over the pavement as well. Even the mantles
and costumes were displayed upon portly wicker presentments of the
feminine form ranged in the street outside, and groceries, crockery-
ware, and market produce of all kinds overflowed upon the trottoir.

Portia was a little tired. The reaction following upon her exciting
experiences of the last four-and-twenty hours was exerting its
depressing influence. The noise, the heat, the dust, and the glare
oppressed her, and though she had remained dry-eyed as a Medusa under
all the emotions consequent upon her marriage and her subsequent
flight from her home, I will not answer for it that as the cab drew up
in front of a shabby wooden door, opening upon a paved courtyard,
wherein a fat, hard-eyed woman, white-jacketed and blue-aproned, sat
shelling peas, she did not feel a kind of unreasoning inclination to
shed a desolate tear or two.

"Mademoiselle Ross?" she inquired timidly, as she entered the yard
with her valise and her rugs, after she had submissively handed to the
cocher the five francs he claimed from her--the last that remained out
of the pound she had changed at Dieppe. She was perfectly aware that
the man had cheated her; but how was she to defend herself against
extortionate charges in an unfamiliar tongue?

"Mademoiselle Ross est sortie," said the woman, shortly. And now
there could be no longer any concealment of the humiliating fact. It
was an actual tear--just such a one as she had shed the first night it
had happened to her to sleep away from home as a little girl--that was
trembling on her lashes and forcing its way down her cheek. The house
in which Anna lived was a so-called maison de derrière, and to
Portia's unaccustomed eyes it looked sadly shabby. It was very tall--
at least five or six storeys high, she thought--and the windows upon
each storey were as large as those at a photographer's. In the centre
of the yard, in front, was a small railed-round garden, poor as
regarded its blooms, but rich in the possession of a drooping mountain
ash, with berry-hung branches that swept the ground. This tree gave
the only relieving touch, in Portia's eyes, to the dismalness of the
scene. She remembered that Anna had promised to give her the liberty
of her rooms should she appear unexpectedly upon the scene, and that
it was an understood thing that the key should be left for her with
the concierge. But the woman eyed her with such sharp curiosity, and
there was so little sympathy expressed in her hard face, that our
heroine lost countenance. It was only the desperation of her case that
emboldened her to ask as best she could at what time Mademoiselle Ross
might be expected to return.

"Ne m'a pas dit," muttered the woman, indifferently.

Then Portia bethought herself of taking a visiting-card from her
pocket and showing it, after reading which the concierge, holding up
her peas in her apron, went grudgingly into the lower room of a
building near the entrance, and returned with the key. This room, from
the cursory glance that Portia bestowed upon it, appeared to serve in
the threefold capacity of kitchen, bedroom, and dwelling-room, and to
be equally trim and tidy in all three. In handing her the key, the
woman informed her briefly, "Au quatrième première porte en face--et
tournez deux fois la clef," nodding meanwhile in the direction of the
tall, prison-like house on the other side of the court. "Au quatrième"
and "première porte en face!"--the words meant nothing to the person
to whom they were addressed. Yet rather than run the risk of again
exciting the displeasure of the concierge, who she felt for some
reason or other manifestly disliked and distrusted her, Portia made
her way unaided towards the door that had been pointed out to her,
and, finding herself at the foot of a carpetless, sombre, not over-
clean, and somewhat steep winding staircase, began to climb the same,
valiantly dragging as best she could, her valise and her rugs up with
her. Arrived at the second landing she was fain to sit down to rest.
The whole experience seemed like a hideous dream. Where, upon this
gloomy, prison-like flight of stairs, could be the door that opened
into her friend's abode? Sitting wearily on a step upon the landing,
and reflecting that there was nothing for it but to retrace her tired
steps again (only, could she dare to leave her portmanteau and her
rugs unprotected on the staircase?), Portia was just about to descend
once more, when a door behind her was opened, and a young man, wearing
corduroy trousers and a plum-coloured, close fitting jersey that sat
easily upon his well-knit figure, emerged from it. A glance was
sufficient to prove to Portia that she was in the presence of a
gentleman. The intruder would have bowed and gone past her, but
something helpless and pleading in her manner of returning the
salutation made him pause.

"Are you going higher?" he asked her in English. "Pray let me help
you up with your things."

"I am looking for Miss Ross," said Portia. She had accepted his help
as naturally as he had offered it. "I don't know where to find her
rooms. She left the key for me with her concierge"--producing it as
she spoke. "I am her friend, you know."

It seemed to her that some explanation was due for thus descending
(or rather, ascending) upon another person's abode in her absence; but
her new acquaintance seemed to regard the proceeding as perfectly en
règle.

"That is all right," he said. "She is two étages higher." And he
began to precede her up the staircase, carrying her valise and the
bundle.

"Oh, I can't think of letting you take so much trouble," protested
Portia, toiling after him.

"No trouble at all," he laughed; "I am only sorry I didn't meet you
at the bottom."

He was a young man, and he had a pleasant face: such a face as may be
seen among the crew of a University eight, or the members of a cricket
team at Lord's, with the refined jaw and well-trained muscles--facial
as well as bodily--that speak of much mental and physical training. He
apologised for going in front, on the ground of having to show his
companion the way, and it was he who placed the key, after what seemed
to Portia an interminable climb, in the door for her, when they
arrived eventually in front of Anna's room, and who gave her a
practical illustration of what the "deux fois tourner" signified. He
even carried her things unasked inside, and, seeing a huge tin water-
jug standing empty at the entrance, took it up with the remark, "They
have forgotten to leave you any water, I see," and was off and down
the stairs and out of sight before Portia, in her bewilderment, had
found any words in which to remonstrate with him. While he was away
she took a hasty glance round the apartment. The first rapid
impression it conveyed was one of new perplexity, and there had been
so much to perplex her already. It was large. Portia, in common with
her sex, was no appraiser of proportions, but it was what she would
have called a fairly big room, and it was high--higher than any of the
rooms, not excepting the picture-gallery itself, in the Kensington
mansion. There was a faded blue curtain slung across one end, behind
an opening in which she could discern a camp bedstead, a washing-
stand, and a wardrobe. The other part of the room seemed to serve as a
sitting-room and studio combined--to say nothing of eating and
cooking-room as well. There was, nevertheless, something attractive in
its general aspect. The floor was of stained wood, with Turkey carpets
and rugs scattered about it. There was a piano on one side and book-
shelves on the other. Upon a low table, in the neighbourhood of a
large easel stood a Benares vase filled with peonies in full bloom,
with petals that looked like frayed rose-colored silk. There were some
royal stuffs--Portia did not know of what description--thrown across a
low canopy. In one corner was a red crock, out of which the end of a
loaf as long as an umbrella was protruding. Against the walls were
pinned or nailed all manner of paintings, drawings, and sketches. Some
of these were charcoal studies from the nude, and to Portia, who did
not as yet know the meaning of "Academies," they conveyed a startling
and almost terrifying impression. She was still standing with the
uneasy air of one who does not know what to make of her surroundings,
when her gentleman-help returned, with the jug filled to the brim.

"They pretend it's eau sur tous les étages," he remarked
parenthetically as he set it down; "but it's humbug, one always has to
go to the première for it. Now; is there nothing else I can do for
you?"

"No, indeed; and I can't thank you enough," declared Portia,
earnestly.

She had come out upon the landing, and with her veil thrown back,
her face a little burned by the sun, and her eyes enlarged, by fatigue
and excitement, looked even more striking than of custom.

"You know Miss Ross, I suppose," she asked hesitatingly.

"I've known her since I moved into the atelier below. I have a
studio here with a friend, and we go into her rooms sometimes--he and
I--in the evening, when we're feeling down about our work."

"About your work?" repeated Portia, interrogatively.

"Yes; we get discouraged sometimes, and we make each other worse.
Then we go to Anna Ross. You may be sure of hearing the truth from
her--about that and everything else. She's great fun, too, don't you
think? Are you going to work with her?"

"Oh no; I don't think so; I can't draw even," said Portia; and,
confused by the recollection of all she had seen in her friend's room
she half extended her hand in token of farewell. "I'll tell Anna how
you came to my assistance."

"Oh, we're always assisting each other in this community," he
laughed. "Tell Miss Ross I'm expecting my friend over in a few weeks;
but that I shall be very lonely until he comes. You won't forget, will
you, to impress that fact upon her?"

"No," replied Portia, diffidently. She was conscious that she was
blushing, and both the fact and the consciousness of it were equally
annoying to her. The result of her annoyance was that she withdrew her
hand, and bestowed a stiff little bow upon her gentleman-help, as he
turned to descend the staircase, instead of the cordial hand-shake
with which she had felt impelled a moment ago to mark her sense of her
gratitude towards him.



Chapter XIII



AN hour later, after Portia had performed her ablutions with the aid
of the water brought her by her self-constituted help (it was the
famous eau de la Vanne, as pure and soft as freshly-fallen rain), and
had seated herself with a towel around her shoulders for the further
refreshment of a brushing and combing of her beautiful hair, streaming
in undulating profusion down her back, she was aware of a step coming
up the stairs with a slow pounding footfall that seemed to denote that
the owner of it was very tired, but refused to acknowledge the fact.
It must be Anna, she reflected, straightening herself expectantly upon
her chair; and Anna it was in truth. Before the friends meet, however,
it may be as well to inform the reader, in two words, who and what
this acquaintance of our heroine's was.

She was not in any case what the French call la première venue, for
in her person, as in her mind, Anna Ross possessed a strange and
strongly marked individuality. Scientific people declared her to be
simply a curious instance of atavism. Belonging to a good English
county family of the most approved, fair-skinned, conventional,
Church-and-State-respecting type, she had performed at a very early
age the feat known in equine metaphor as that of "kicking over the
traces." Not all the combined influences of family, county, Church and
State, pressing with their united force upon this one little rebel
could force her into the mould--a very bed of Procrustes in its way--
that social usage had prepared for her. Her very appearance--her
sisters were all of the blonde and lymphatic type--was a kind of
defiance hurled at her progenitors. Even in her childish days it was
impossible to look at her without thinking of an Indian squaw--if one
could imagine such a thing as an intellectual squaw--and the likeness
seemed to become more accentuated as she grew older. There was the
coarse, jet-black, heavy hair, growing low upon a narrow forehead, and
parting naturally in the middle; there was the high cheekbones and the
unmistakable aquiline nose; there were the black eyes that contracted,
all unconsciously, into a narrowing line when their owner was
interested or excited; and, to crown all, there was the swarthy, un-
English skin. The lips in repose said little. Their prevailing
expression was one of strongly exercised self-repression. They could
bend into curves that were both tender and cruel as occasion demanded.
The figure was of the supple, untrammelled order--not tall and not
daintily waisted, but flexible and muscular. It was known that on the
mother's side Anna descended in a direct line from an English officer
who had fought in the war with America, and who had contracted an
alliance à la mode du pays, with a Chocktaw or Chickasaw belle. On his
return to England he had been accompanied by a strange-eyed little
girl, to whom he had given the name and privileges of a daughter, and
who certainly resembled him sufficiently to warrant the appellation.
It had been supposed, however, at the end of several generations, of
which each succeeding one had grown fairer and more English than the
last, that the alloy of savage blood must now have had filtering
enough through English veins to prevent the risk of any such
catastrophe occurring as that known to breeders as a "throw back,"
when Anna's disconcerting identity set all these calculations at
naught. From her babyhood she remained a thorn in the side of her
family, and as soon as she reached woman's estate she left her home
for good. The pittance she received from her relatives, who strongly
condemned her course of life, was just sufficient to relieve their
consciences from the stigma of allowing her to die of starvation. She
earned, however, a little by her brush. In age she might have been
anything between five-and-twenty and five-and-thirty. The contrast of
her black hair and eyes with her sallow skin, and a certain
undefinable magnetic attraction that she possessed to a remarkable
degree, caused her to be a good deal noticed when she walked in the
streets of Paris. She wore a masculine jacket, with a dark hat and
veil, and a close-fitting short skirt in all seasons. Her hands and
feet were models. They were, indeed, the only points in connection
with her personal appearance upon which she might be said to display
the smallest symptoms of coquetry. Indifference and stolidity were the
qualities she aimed at cultivating outwardly, and she was rarely
betrayed into manifesting the least token of pleasure or surprise.

This, as she appeared to the outside world, was the young woman who
now opened the door of the studio where Portia was seated. In her
right hand she carried a paper bag that obviously contained butter. In
her left, her paint-box, a three-legged folding-stool, and an immense
bunch of freshly gathered poppies. Upon beholding her visitor her
black brows showed a transitory, almost imperceptible elevation.

"I thought it might be you," she said; "the concierge told me 'une
demoiselle' had taken the key. No," as Portia rose to greet her,
"don't speak to me till I have put the butter into water."

She swept past, and dived under a cupboard for a crock of water, into
which she tossed her butter. Then scooping up a handful of rock-salt
from a receptacle at hand, she scattered it over the contents. Her
eyes travelled over the crock containing the loaf. "Mice again!" she
said briefly; "I must give them another dose. I hate myself for doing
it, but Rousky says they're in a very low stage of development as
mice, and it's only helping them on to something better. I'm not sure,
though, I should care to be helped on in that particular way--improved
off by poison. Well!" she turned round to her visitor, "let me wish
you the bien venue," and, bending down, she kissed the young girl
gravely between the eyes. Portia would have thrown her arms about
Anna's neck, but the latter repulsed her with a firm, though kindly,
hand.

"There, sit down, my dear," seating herself at the table opposite to
her, and regarding her with attentive eyes. "You mayn't know it, but
you're much prettier than you used to be--and, good gracious! child,
why didn't you tell me you had such hair? It's marvellous. I'll make a
sketch of you like that tomorrow--An Impenitent Magdalen. No, that
wouldn't do! A Potential Magdalen. Is that better? Your hair is
wonderful--and what a colour! Simple as you stand there, as the Irish
say, you could make a fortune as a model; but I must have first
choice. By the bye, I had your telegram yesterday, so I hardly
expected you to-day. I thought your fate was sealed. I'm glad you
thought better of it at the last."

"I'm afraid you'll say I thought worse of it when you hear all," said
Portia. She essayed to speak lightly, but her lips were trembling
visibly. "I was married yesterday."

"And you've managed to get rid of your husband already! Bravo! you
must tell me how you did it. I shouldn't mind being married myself on
those terms. It's an exact illustration of what Rousky was saying the
other night. The ideals are only perfect, he said, as long as they
remain ideals. If you try to introduce facts into them you spoil them.
Monarchy without a monarch, religion without a god, and marriage
without a husband. That would be perfect! But tell me how you did it?"

"I'll tell you all," said Portia, gravely, "if you'll only be
serious, Anna. It's a thing I can't help being matter-of-fact about
myself, for I mind it so much; and then I'm matter-of-fact about most
things. I want you to help me in two ways--to hide me away first, and
then to advise me about what I'd better do next."

"Well, you must tell me first. Meanwhile, I'll make you some tea. But
don't put your hair up on any account; I want to study an effect."

She went to the broad windows and drew aside one of the curtains. The
afternoon sun came pouring through the pane, scattering gilt and
bronze over Portia's pendent locks, and framing her head in a nimbus
of amber light. "There, that'll do. Now, don't stir from where you
are, and you can talk on while I'm making the tea."

It was pleasant to Portia to watch Anna's movements as she performed
this housewifely office. Her hands were unlike any she had ever seen
before. There was a deftness and celerity in their way of going to
work that spoke of the long apprenticeship they must have had. Never
had tea tasted so delicious in all her experience as this first cup of
Anna's making. And the delicate rounds of pain de gruau spread with
the unequalled Paris butter! If Anna would only let her live
altogether upon such fare as this, she would ask for nothing better.
She felt ashamed that it should be possible for her to like it all so
well, at the very moment when she was about to unfold a tale of wrong
and error and suffering--the narrative of three wrecked lives, her own
among the number. Anna, however, obliged her to speak, and it was in
obedience to her request that she narrated from beginning to end the
chapter of her life's history that we know.



Chapter XIV



"YOU'VE done the best thing you could do under the circumstances,"
was Anna's verdict when Portia had come to an end of her story. "Even
according to benighted Catholic laws I believe you would be able to
get a divorce. And I suppose a divorce is the only solution of the
difficulty you would care about."

"The only one," said Portia, firmly. "I can see you think it was
shockingly weak-minded of me to let myself be married at all with such
a feeling as I had. But I used to care for John at one time--at least,
I always believed I did. And then, how could I have imagined he was
deceiving me?"

"I should not have waited for that to give him his congé, if I had
been you. To believe one has cared for a person at some time or
another is rather a lukewarm sentiment to start marriage upon, don't
you think? I suppose you thought if there was no great love in the
beginning, 'heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance.' Well,
you are safe out of his reach now, at any rate! You don't imagine they
would ever think of looking for you here?"

"Never! They don't even know you are in Paris. But, oh! Anna, I feel
so lost I don't know what I am going to do."

"Do! I'll find you plenty to do. Never fear. You've been nothing but
a summer insect till now. I suppose you only thought of gadding about
amusing yourself all the time you were in London."

"Not much else. There was the riding in the morning, and sometimes in
the afternoon; and Emma always liked me to go shopping or visiting
with her. And when we were not at balls, there were theatres or
concerts. It was all pleasure from morning to night."

"Well, it won't be all pleasure here, then, I can tell you," said
Anna, grimly. "At least, not that kind of pleasure--though, for the
matter of that, such a life as you have been describing would be
hateful to me."

"I was getting a little tired of it too," admitted Portia. "It was
awfully nice, but somehow it always seemed to lead to nothing."

"You may say that of existence altogether, as Rousky does," put in
Anna.

"Who is the Rousky you are always quoting?" asked Portia. "Last time
I saw you it was a Wiluski who was the oracle. You used to tell me so
much about his ideas."

"Did I?" There was a momentary inexplicable gleam in Anna's black
eyes, accompanied by an enigmatic half smile, more sardonic than
mirthful. "I had forgotten. It must be some time back. I don't know
where Wiluski is now. But to come back to you own affairs. I can't
faire des phrases--I never could; but you had better know, once for
all, that I consider your coming to me about the most gratifying
compliment you could have paid me. You are going to let me be
responsible for you for the present? I should like to teach you how to
depend upon yourself a little, so that you won't risk marrying only
for the sake of pleasing other people another time. You haven't
brought any money with you, I hope?"

"N--no; a few pounds only."

"It's more than you want. If you had come as a rich person I
shouldn't have let you stay. We don't admit riches here. We don't
tolerate the épicier element among us, excepting when we have a
picture to sell. You'll be able to earn as much money as you need."

"I earn money!" exclaimed Portia, with shame-faced pleasure in her
looks. "I never earned a penny in my life. I shouldn't know how!"

"Then it's more than time you began. You may pose for the tête
d'expression first of all, and for your hair, and your neck, and your
arms, et puis nous verrons! It's tiring work at first; but you'll get
into it. And now I must clear out a corner of the atelier for you to
sleep in to-night. To--morrow we can find a room somewhere, if you're
not comfortable. And you'll have to come to dinner with me at Clootz's
to-night. It's quite close at hand."

"Whatever you like," assented Portia. She had put herself entirely
into Anna's hands, and was perfectly content to abide by her decision
in all things; to surrender to her even that newly-found liberty which
she had deemed it so great a privilege to obtain. It was a relief
under the present circumstances to be saved from the responsibility of
thinking and acting for herself. As for measuring the distance that
separated Anna's way of living from the way in which Wilmer and Emma
lived--the way in which she herself and all the Kensington household
had lived as well--these were considerations that could have no kind
of weight with her. Portia's mind was of a plastic mould, and she was
still at a plastic age. To find herself in a luxurious English home
one day, and to have to share a single room on a Paris quatrième with
a friend the next, was a contrast of which she was more likely to see
the amusing than the inconvenient side. When she found that Anna
possessed a tub, and that the antagonistic concierge filled it nightly
with the beautiful eau de la Vanne; also that she might hire a similar
luxury for herself, all misgivings as regarded her new local were done
away with. Anna, moreover, was a woman of fertile contrivances. To see
her transform a cumbersome-looking easy-chair into a couch and wheel
it behind the faded blue curtain, whisk off an extra mattress from her
camp bedstead and place it upon the couch, unstrap Portia's rugs and
arrange the coverlet and pillows comfortably thereupon; clear out
drawers and placards for her to put her things into, set the fast-
dropping poppies in water and shake them out into the full display of
their crimson glories, wash up the cups and saucers, and sprinkle her
charcoal sketches with fixatif before putting them by in her
portfolio, was to be impressed anew with a profound sense of her neat-
handedness and orderliness. In this, at least, she showed none of the
ancestral tendencies; or possibly the military precision of the
husband of the squaw had counteracted in his descendants the
laisseraller principle of savage races as regards domestic
arrangements.

"I'm doing nothing to help you," said Portia, at last. She had been
partly gazing out of the window into the courtyard below, that looked
a terrific way down, partly watching her friend's operations in naive
and wondering admiration. "You should give me something to do, Anna."

"Oh; you must be content to fill a decorative rôle for to-day. You'll
have all your work cut out for you soon, I can tell you. Now I'm going
to do your hair for you as I like it."

And to this also Portia submitted, and gratefully And by the time the
red--gold coil was twisted in Cingalese fashion behind her head,
where, to her astonishment, Anna fixed it with a solitary silver
arrow, it was time to go to dinner.

"You needn't put on your cloak," Anna told her, and Portia, all
unconscious that her friend had designs of showing her off,
submissively did as she was ordered. Descending the four flights of
stairs and passing through the courtyard, where they did not meet a
soul, Anna conducted her through unknown streets to Clootz's.

This famous restaurant to which Portia was introduced was of a kind
much frequented by students and artists of the Quartier Latin, those
who were ranged in the category of les petites bourses. In later days
they would probably refer to Clootz's as "une gargote"; but in their
actual necessitous days--before they had, in their own vocabulary,
"arrived"--they were very glad to assemble at the small tables in the
small, smoke-filled dining--room--at one end of which the restaurateur
and his wife carried on their cooking operations in full view of the
customers--and there dine off a potage and the plat du jour, or some
similar luxury, for the not too extortionate sum of one franc or a
franc and a half, with occasional credit for the same when funds were
low. English and American artists of both sexes favoured Clootz's. The
fare, to be sure, was not very delicate, but the "portions" were more
liberal than at a Duval's, and the publicity of the cooking was a
guarantee against the harbouring of sundry dark suspicions that are
apt to trouble the appetites of the frequenters of one-franc
restaurants. Besides which, there was always the option of dining à la
carte--a person with extravagant tastes and an inordinate appetite
might spend from three to four francs at Clootz's--and for an extra
halfpenny you might have a clean cloth to cover the stained marble in
front of you. There was only room for four people at each table, and
even so the fit was rather a tight one. But anybody who was an habitué
was sure to encounter friends enough at Clootz's to make up a table of
his own; and in that case it was an advantage to make exchanges of
half-plates of petits pois or flageolets with one's neighbours, by
which means you were enabled to vary the menu, and have quite a number
of different plats for your twenty or five-and-twenty sous.

Portia had been to the Maison Doré, and had dined at the Continental
and the Grand Hotel, but she had never seen a restaurant of this kind
before. She tried not to think that it was rather "awful" (though
this, I fear, was the adjective that would have most nearly expressed
her secret feelings) as she followed her friend up the crowded room to
a table near the cooking end, where the restaurateur--a fat Alsacien,
in a white paper cap--was shaking potatoes in a frying-pan over his
stove. Seated next to Anna, she saw that people were looking round at
them in various directions, and that here and there a head would bow
recognition. The atmosphere was impregnated with cigar-smoke, and one
did not require to be a connoisseur, any more than Portia was, to feel
(as she did) that it had not the fragrance of the atmosphere she had
been accustomed to when Wilmer and his friends were smoking. Anna
acknowledged the various bows she received by stately little nods. She
had turned back her veil square across her forehead, and, sitting in
the shade, in her masculine jacket, with her jet-black hair, her
sallow skin, and the curious contour of her face, bore an odd
resemblance to the effigy of an Egyptian Pharaoh as handed down to us
in the paintings on some old-world sarcophagus. After a time Portia
became aware that somebody was bowing to her, and for an instant her
heart stood still. But it was only her "gentleman-help," seated among
a group with whom he was engaged in an apparently animated discussion.
His bow in her direction caused the others to look at her for the
first time, and, placed as she was, she could not help being conscious
that they were asking him questions about her.

Anna, meanwhile, had been giving her orders to the garçon, a
country--bred youth fresh from his pays, with a face as unlike the
cynical mask of the typical garçon as possible. Bouillon with a
powdering of fromage rapé, tête de veau à l'huile, haricots verts, and
crème suisse, composed the menu she submitted gravely to her
companion's approval. Portia declared her readiness to like whatever
Anna did. Her tastes were eclectic--a consequence, no doubt, of that
plasticity of temperament and of age already referred to, which was
one of her prominent qualities. She persuaded herself therefore, that
the better portion of the ear of a cold calf's-head, soused in oil,
and plentifully besprinkled with chopped onions, was the most
delectable diet in the world, and was only sorry she could not
honestly like the vin ordinaire, that seemed to have such a taste of
ink, which Anna continued to press upon her.

Between the intervals that followed the arrival of the "portions"
(and they were very long ones, the country-bred garçon being the only
aid that the restaurateur and his wife allowed themselves), Portia
learned a good deal respecting the company at Clootz's. Her
"gentleman-help" had had, it seemed, a landscape in the Salon. He had
colour, but was no draughtsman, and would have to "piocher" a good
deal, in Anna's opinion, before he could come to the front. The group
he was with was made up of three American artists and one Australian.
They were all in the atelier of Jean Paul Laurens, and one of them had
also had a head in the Salon, of which the Figaro had said that it had
"des qualités remarquables." Behind them, the man with the dark beard
and the girl with the delicately-cut face worked at the same studio;
you generally saw them together. The lady sitting alone reading the
Petit Journal was an American. Her line was wood-engraving.

"And does it--does it pay them?" asked Portia, timidly, though she
had hardly uttered the words before she would have liked to retract
them. To look upon art as a means to an end, when it was so evidently,
in Anna's eyes, and in those of all her friends, the be-all and end-
all itself, was, she felt, a sordid and Philistinish point of view.
But to her relief Anna answered her matter-of-fact question in just as
matter-of-fact a way.

"None of them are arrivé yet, or they wouldn't be here. Some are well
on their way, though; others have about as much as they can do to
scrape along. There are not many among those you see who have made it
pay in the sense of living by their art."

"But you have?" hazarded Portia.

"I have--nearly," said Anna, shortly; "but I've gone in for rather an
expensive atelier. Sixty pounds a year--that's what my rent comes to.
My living costs me from two to two francs fifty a day; then one has to
dress in some kind of way; and colours and studio expenses (I go to
Laurens, too, you know) are pretty heavy. I sold a little 'plein air'
this year, though--an old woman I did on the beach at Etretat--so I'm
in funds just now. But, see, there is Rousky coming."

She half rose from her place, and motioned to Portia to remove her
parasol and gloves from the place opposite to her, towards which the
young man she called Rousky was making his way. As he came closer
Portia could not refrain from casting a look of interested curiosity
in the direction of this friend and oracle of Miss Ross's. Rousky was
a man apparently under thirty years of age, with nothing in his lean
personality and bearded face to distinguish him save a pair of most
remarkable blue eyes, which might almost have been said to kindle, in
the literal sense of the word. They seemed, in contradiction to all
optical laws, to gather their light from within, and made Portia feel
for an instant as though she were in the presence of an illuminate or
a seer. His nostrils were somewhat wide, and his cheeks betrayed the
formation of the Kalmuck's skull. The general coloring was fair. The
head-covering a "beret," which he pulled off before shaking hands with
Anna and seating himself in the place pointed out to him. The
clothes--a much-worn slop-suit, flannel shirt, and carelessly--knotted
black tie.

"This is Ivan Evarchus Rousky," said Anna, at once introducing him to
her companion. "Is that right?" she laughed--"and Miss--?" She paused,
in order to give Portia time to decide by what name she would choose
to be called.

Rousky had turned his eyes like beacon-fires upon her. In obedience
to a curious impulse that she could not account for to herself, and as
though that look, like the very touch of Truth, could penetrate all
disguises, she said simply, "Portia," and went on with her dinner.
Rousky bowed, but paid no further attention to her. Anna drew a book
from her coat pocket, printed in characters which suggested nothing to
Portia's imagination save the "unknown tongues" in type, and opened it
at a passage which she asked him to read aloud for her.

"The Kreuzer Sonata!" he murmured, turning it over; his manner of
pronouncing his "the" had a careful precision that proved his
knowledge of English to be an acquirement of later years. His voice
was amazingly soft. He glanced through the pages before reading the
passage Anna had asked for, absorbing their contents, as it appeared,
in a manner peculiar to himself, for all the time he was softly
humming the refrain of "Père la Victoire" through his closed lips.
"Why did you choose that?"

"Because I've read everything else of Tolstoi's. If you don't choose
to read me the passage I showed you, give me back the book."

Her tone was imperious. He raised his head and glanced at her. She
returned his look, and they had a passage at arms, not in words, but--
mutely--with their eyes, exchanging glances that made Portia think of
keen-edged swords, and electric discharges from thunder-clouds. By-
and--by, a certain troubled expression gathered in the black depths of
Anna's eyes. She lowered them gently, and Rousky read aloud, in a
language which, despite the musical cultivation of his voice,
corresponded, to Portia's thinking, with the break-jaw complexity of
the characters, the passage that Anna had pointed out to him.

The reading was followed by a conversation in which our heroine
felt, as she owned to herself, very much "out of it." The names of
Tolstoi, Dolstoievsky, Tourguénief, and many others, about which they
spoke, were all unknown to her. To Anna and her friend they seemed to
furnish a topic for endless discussion. "Tolstoi!" said Rousky once,
with a shrug, "he is only a kind of neonomian!" Whereupon Anna
demanded that the signification of the word "neonomian," and its
applicability to Tolstoi, should be expounded to her. But to do this
it was necessary to refer to the Kreuzer Sonata once more, and to
determine just what Tolstoi had in his mind when he wrote it. When
they came to this part of their subject Rousky relapsed into French,
and Anna answered him in the same language, so that Portia,
notwithstanding the fact that she strained her ears and her brain to
the uttermost, only gleaned fragmentary bits of the conversation.
Occasionally, however, she heard things which inclined her to surmise
that perhaps, after all, it was as well that her powers of
comprehending the whole should be so limited. Her mental pabulum
hitherto had been of the milk-for-babes quality, and the kind she was
assimilating now would have been pungent fare even to seasoned
palates. Besides which, though Anna and her friend appeared very much
in earnest in what they were talking about, they did not seem to affix
any standard of right or wrong to the actions of the characters they
discussed. How they would probably have felt themselves if they had
been placed under conditions which induced them to commit a murder
like the hero of a book they were talking about was a notion, for
instance, that they discussed quite calmly. Portia was a little
shocked at this. She heard them characterise conduct as weak or
strong, but never as right or wrong. Nevertheless, she could not help
being interested in watching Rousky's eyes. He did not seem to pay any
heed to his "portion," which Anna had ordered while he was speaking,
and without consulting him (as though she knew what his preference
must be beforehand), but talked on with the curiously illuminated look
that had attracted Portia from the first. Hardly twenty-four hours
since she had left her home, and into what a strange new world she
seemed to have entered already! She could not imagine what part in it
she should find to play. There were moments when a spasm of home-
sickness overcame her, and she felt tempted to run back to England as
fast as she had run away from it. But in England she would not be her
own mistress. She had always understood that there a husband might
force his wife to live with him, and she could not be sure that even
Wilmer could protect her against a husband armed with legal rights.
There was something, too, in the utter freedom of the lives of all
these people around her that was beginning to exercise its fascination
upon her. Each one evidently did as he pleased, went where he pleased,
and lived as he pleased. There could be no Mrs. Grundy where people
did not even acknowledge the existence of that formidable abstraction.
After Rousky had finished his dinner he asked, "You will be in this
evening?"

"We shall be in," said Anna pointedly, glancing in Portia's
direction. "You can come up all the same; and you had better bring Mr.
Eames and your Polish friend with you, too."



Chapter XV



ONE is inclined to regret sometimes that after Shakespeare had drawn
his inspired picture of the seven ages of man, he did not add thereto
a similar presentment of the seven ages of woman. The first and the
last of these would have been evidently the same for both sexes, but
the intervening period--the one which marks the rise and decline of
woman's influence--the phases during which she is unconscious of her
power and uses, it, or is conscious of it and abuses it, would have
been of a very different kind, and might have marked a history as
strange and eventful as that of any man "who in his time plays many
parts." Maidenhood and wifehood and motherhood might have represented
each their separate act, fraught with at least as great a significance
as the ages of the lover, the soldier, and the justice, and writers in
succeeding ages would have had their choice of seven feminine parts to
which they might have adapted their heroines, as well as of seven
masculine parts for their heroes. In that case Portia might have found
her place in the act which corresponds to the third age in the history
of Shakspeare's man. But the act would have been subdivided, in this
instance, into many separate scenes; and to her own thinking the scene
of her life with Anna upon the quatrième of the tall house in the Rue
de Vaugirard would not assuredly have been one of the least strange.

She had been nearly a week under the shelter of her friend's roof
when we see her sitting alone, with a letter from her husband in her
hand, enclosed under cover of a missive from her faithful Eliza. Anna
had gone to market, bidding her, as she left the room, be ready to
accompany her on her return to the studio of a famous painter, where
Portia was to begin her apprenticeship to the career of a model. The
place was steeped in the calm, warm atmosphere of eight o'clock in the
morning, under an August sky; and the distant noises from outside--the
rumbling of the great omnibuses, the crashing of the carts and
carriages, the strident street-cries--among which the "Marchand d'ha--
bi-i-i-i," with the long-drawn nasal prolonging of the last syllable,
had such a dreary sound--reached her ears through the open window in a
kind of softened cadence. The hour would have been considered as still
very early in the Kensington mansion. Had it not been looked upon as
an astonishing feat on Portia's part to go to the Academy even later
in the day in that far-away time, so near as regarded the date, so
immeasurably far as regarded her own feelings, when she had met Harry
Tolhurst on the steps? Here, on the contrary, the morning seemed to be
well on--for before eight o'clock much had already been done in Anna's
atelier. The room had been done for one thing. Anna, in morning
déshabille, with a towel twisted round her head, had swept the floor,
while Portia had dusted and tidied. Then there had been the door to
open five times in succession--twice for the concierge, who brought
the water for the tubs and came up afterwards with the letters; and
then for the baker's woman, with her yard-long loaves; for the milk-
woman, who filled the can hanging to the door-handle; and for the
Auvergnat with the sooty face who brought the braise. They had
breakfasted, besides, upon their usual meal of café au lait and petits
pains, and Portia had washed up and put by the breakfast things. The
week had gone by slowly--not that the time had hung heavily on her
hands, for every hour had been charged with some new and strange
experience, but that it seemed as though untold ages had elapsed since
she had left her home. She had performed the operation known as
shaking into place quickly enough as regarded her bodily requirements,
but the adjusting of her mind to her new surroundings had not been so
easy a task. If she had had a vocation as Anna had, or passionate
convictions like some of her friends, the untrammelled existence she
was free to lead here would have been everything her heart could have
desired. But she was not by any means sure that she possessed the
necessary qualifications for the full and proper appreciation of such
a life. She had been, as Anna had said, a mere summer insect hitherto;
but her wings had been singed, and she had flown for refuge to a safe
hiding--place. Nevertheless, she was still fluttering in imagination
about the scenes she had left. She did not mean to hide for ever. She
was quite willing in the meantime to lead the life Anna had mapped out
for her: to sit and do model for her in the morning, to take long
walks with her in the afternoon, to wander about the Luxembourg
gardens--the quiet end of them--while Anna was at Laurens, to dine
with her at Clootz's, and help her make tea in the evening for the
art-students--men and women who climbed to the quatrième afterwards--
to earn her livelihood, and to do her duty, in short, in that state of
life to which Anna would please to call her; but she could not bring
herself to feel a genuine enthusiasm for such a career. She had the
consciousness that she was only resting on her oars after all, and
that by-and-by, she would be steering her way again through the
unknown seas beyond.

Anna had enclosed Portia's letters to Eliza to a London friend, who
in her turn had them dropped into various post offices in and near
London, to which Eliza addressed them in turn. They were subsequently
called for by her friend and despatched to Paris. By this means no
clue to her hiding--place was obtainable, and, before revealing it,
Portia was resolved that John should give her his written promise to
help her to untie the knot she had unwittingly helped him to tie on
their wedding morning. She had not written for the first day, in
deference to Anna's strongly-urged advice on the subject.

"Let them be anxious," she said. "It won't kill them, and they'll be
all the more ready to do what you want. You let them have a notion
where you are, and you'll never bring them to terms." Nevertheless,
Portia's own anxiety would not let her rest, and before she had been
fifty-six hours absent--fifty-six hours that had had the effect of as
many months in their influence upon John's outward appearance--Eliza
had brought her mistress a note containing the words:

"DEAREST EMMA,--I am well and biding my time, leading a very
peaceable existence in my hiding-place, and only anxious about you and
Wilmer. When you both give me your solemn assurance that my marriage
may be undone, or that, at any rate, I may go on living with you as I
did when I was unmarried, and never see John again, I will come back,
but not before. Pray, pray, tell me all about everything, and see that
my birds have their fresh bath every morning."

Portia had received a long letter in reply, wherein Emma had, as she
would have said, "bored" out her heart to her sister-in-law. She had
been inspired to recount the whole scene of the tragic discovery of
the bride's disappearance in redundant German-English--how she herself
had flown to the conservatory (Portia could not help smiling at the
metaphor in connection with the writer's proportions) where the two
gentlemen were smoking: how Wilmer thought she must have put her foot
upon a snake as she had done once in the bedroom at Yarraman, this
being the only occasion besides the actual one upon which she had run
outside with her hair in crimps. Portia smiled once more at the vision
of Emma rushing from her apartment in casual attire with pellets of
hair upon her bare temples--how Wilmer had asked if she was "off her
chump," and she had replied that she was "wholly rational"; and what a
terrible look John had in his eyes when he saw her come in dressed in
that fashion, with the wedding ring and the opal ring in one hand and
the letter for himself in the other.

It did not require Emma's assurance to make Portia believe that John
had looked terrible. Had she not seen that very look in her dreams
night after night since the evening of her flight, when she had
dreamed that he was a raging lion? The letter entered also into as
coherent a description as the writer was able to give of the scene
that had ensued between the baffled bridegroom and the relatives of
the bride. Wilmer and Emma had both upbraided him in turn, and he had
sworn that they were in a plot to rob him of his wife; that they had
nothing to do with his private concerns, and that whoever said he had
a wife or a mistress when he married uttered a lie. "And he did
stürmen and toben, mein Gott!" added Emma, with consternation in her
handwriting. He had said he would follow his wife to the end of the
world. Portia shuddered as she read this threat, But subsequent
correspondence was of a more reasoning kind. Wilmer had been very much
vexed, his wife wrote, by the scandal to which Portia's conduct had
given rise. Already a paragraph headed, "Elopement of a Bride on her
Wedding Day," had appeared in one of the papers. He was of opinion
that Portia should have put herself under her brother's protection
instead of running away and making herself a byword. "How could I?"
she thought at this point. "John would have talked him over. I had
nothing for it but to go."

Such had been the nature of the correspondence between the runaway
and her home until the sixth morning after her flight, which was
marked by the advent of a letter from John himself.

Portia trembled and turned pale as she received it from the hands of
the concierge. Sitting in the solitude of Anna's quatrième, like Dame
Malbrook on her "tour," she opened it with a heart-sinking it was vain
to struggle against. The letter that had been warm under his touch but
yesterday, was here in her hands this morning. How easily he might
have come with his letter if he had only known. Involuntarily she cast
a terrified glance at the door; nobody could enter without the key,
and Anna, who had it in her possession, would be the last to give it
up to Portia's legal lord. Angered against herself, she opened the
envelope--John wrote what is known as a commercial hand--decipherable
even when he had written, as now, under the stress of violent emotion,
and his words were clear to his wife's comprehension at once.

"I could not write before," the letter began. "You have put me into
the state of mind when a man puts a bullet into his head like nothing
at all. Why have you acted so? What satisfaction can it give you to
torture me? If you had told me what was up I could have explained
everything. I have never loved any woman but you, and I never shall,
to my dying day. Men are not like women in those ways. You think I was
fond of that girl who came and parted us just as we'd been made man
and wife! I never cared a straw for her. If you hadn't been twelve
thousand miles away, and if you hadn't sent me one or two letters that
seemed to send a kind of a chill to my heart, it would never have
happened. I wasn't so much to blame in the matter as you might think.
You would say so, too, if you knew a little more about men and the
world. But you were always the veriest sucking-dove in those ways, and
that's another reason why I was so fond of you. I treated the girl as
handsomely as I could. I've been sending her supplies to America--as
much as she could want--ever since she left. It was her own fault if
she ran away and let someone else collar the money. She could have
lived where she pleased, and made a good marriage; and as for the
brat, though I'm in no way bound to believe what she tells me, she
would have had no cause to complain. She only had to speak. What can a
man do more? You wouldn't have had me marry her, would you? There's
only one woman in the world, as you well know, I could ever marry--and
I have married her. In the eyes of God and man she's my wedded wife.
Portia! don't break my heart altogether. If you want to kill me, take
a different way of doing it. While you're hiding away I am eating my
heart out about you. You don't know what it is to feel wild about
anyone as I do about you, or you would have a little pity for me. If
you will let us know where you are, I swear that I will explain
everything to your satisfaction. The girl herself wants you to come
back. Emma says you had no money when you ran away, and she can't for
the life of her think of any friends you would have cared to go to in
England. Write, and make your own conditions. You don't suppose I
shall rest night or day till I've found you, so you had better make
your terms while you've got the right end of the stick. Don't be
afraid to trust me because of anything that's happened lately.

"What I suffered when I found you had run away from me is a lesson
that will about last me for the rest of my days. I ought to have told
you everything, but I was afraid. I thought I'd wait until we were
married and you had got to know me a little better, though it was on
the tip of my tongue to tell you when I put the opal ring--that
confounded ring that's done all the mischief--on your finger. Don't
keep your hiding-place a secret any longer. It's too rough on us all.
Wilmer wants to see us come together again, too. You shall have your
own way in everything. I care for you so much that you will always
have the whip-hand of me. Emma says you've upset all their plans for
the autumn. They can't go away till they know where you are. If you
would come back we could all make a trip together. Perhaps you would
prefer that to our Norway journey that you have knocked on the head.
Wherever you may be when this reaches you, my darling--for you are my
darling, whatever happens, and the thought of you seems to choke me
now as I write--let your heart move you to a little compassion for me.
I am so abjectly miserable without you--I was never a great hand at
letter-writing, but I could fill pages telling you of the different
visions I have had of you lately. When I sit in that greenhouse of
Wilmer's, with my eyes shut, and smell the peppermints and blue-gums,
I declare I can see you just as you were at Yarraman in the old days--
a dear little harum-scarum girl, with your hair flying over your
shoulders, tearing down the paddock with the kangaroo dogs at your
heels. Who would ever have thought you were going to turn into such a
queen of beauty and fashion then! I've been weak and I've been a fool.
I won't deny it; but if you could see into my heart you would believe
me when I say that even when I was most of a fool my heart was fullest
of you--fuller than it could hold. Now, there is God's truth for you,
Portia; and with the prayer that you will think I have been punished
enough, I sign myself your husband, who loves you better than his
life.

"JOHN MORRISSON."

Portia sat with this letter in her hand, gazing abstractedly before
her, until Anna came back, with her basket full and housewifely
triumph in her tones.

"I've been to the rôtisserie, and you shall have poulet and salad for
your lunch; what do you think of that? I met Mr. Eames and the Swedish
girl on their way to the atelier. They are raving about the new
model--an Italian girl. By the bye, Portia, what an ideal picture of
Truth one might make of you, with your hair down! A pity you're so
prejudiced still. I must show you Lefebvre's picture at the
Luxembourg. It makes me think of what Mérimée said about artists'
models, and why a femme du monde--a beautiful one--might be treated so
much more satisfactorily. But what is the matter? Have you had bad
news?"

"Bad news? No." It is doubtful whether Portia had heard aught of
Anna's words save the concluding ones. "Only I feel rather as if we
were playing at cross-questions and crooked answers with our
correspondence. I've had a letter from John, and--and he thinks I'm
jealous."

"And you're not?" Anna put this question sharply, with her straight,
black brows drawn together over her snake-like eyes. "Perhaps you
are?"

"No, indeed I'm not," Portia answered slowly. "I've been trying to
analyse my feelings ever since I've been here, and I think it's
because I don't care properly for John that the feeling of jealousy
had nothing to do with my running away. I know pretty well what made
me do it. You see, I only married him because I thought he had a kind
of sacred claim on me. I believed he had been living upon my promise
for years past. When I found that in reality he had been doing nothing
of the kind, my own obligation was gone. Don't you see? There was no
longer any necessity for me to sacrifice myself. Then Mary had prior
claims. Hers were the real ones; mine were only artificial and
conventional ones. But John would have put them first, and at home
they would have done the same; just because we had had the marriage
service said over us. I was afraid of that; I could think of nothing
better than to run away; but now, I suppose, it is nearly time to come
to an arrangement of some kind--to write and say--"

"Not to write and say where you are!" interrupted Anna. "Whatever you
think of doing, don't do that! Let all the pour parlers be carried on
by correspondence. You have everything in your favour as long as they
don't know where to find you. You can dictate your own terms. I had
hoped," she went to the table and began to unpack her basket,
continuing to talk all the time she was placing her purchases upon
plates or in jars--"I had hoped you would find interests here. I know
it is dull work sitting to me in the mornings; but that was only for
practice. If you knew what appreciation you would have, and what money
you might earn! Of course, you could get as much money as you liked if
you went back--I know that. But that is not like earning it yourself;
and would it not be tantamount to selling yourself? After all, I
believe you are hankering after the fleshpots of Egypt, if the truth
were known!"

"What, the home fleshpots! Oh, no!" said Portia, smiling. "But," she
leaned her head upon the window-sill with a gesture of discouragement,
"I feel now as I did when I was living what you called the summer
insect life. What is it to lead to?"

"What does anything lead to?" said Anna, gloomily. "A little less,
or a little more; what does it matter? Who was that Frenchman who said
of the universe that it was the work of the Devil gone mad? If you
reason about things, you may come to that conclusion as well as any
other. What you have to think about is, what each day brings. I
believe your days here would bring you a sense of independence and
power you have never known before--if you will make a little longer
trial of them. You would find a zest in life, when you realised that
you could do exactly as you liked with it, that you have no idea of
now. You are still under the influence of a multitude of conventional
ideas and prejudices. Wait until you have shaken yourself a little
more free of them before you ask what your life here will lead to."

"You have shaken yourself free of them, I suppose, Anna?" The
question seemed to rise unbidden to Portia's lips, "Are you quite
content and happy in your life?"

"Content and happy? Who is? who stops to consider whether he is or
not? 'Oui! de leur sort tous les hommes sont las!' It was Hugo who
said that. But I would as soon go to prison as go back to my old
life--rather, in fact, for there would be less pretence about it.
However, try and hold out a little longer. We're to see about your
pose this afternoon, and we can go to the Luxembourg afterwards; then
Clootz's; and we'll wind up with the Gaieté Montparnasse, if it's a
cool evening."



Chapter XVI



IF Portia had been told to mount her horse anywhere in the wilds of
Australia, and to ride in a beeline from one given point to another,
with nothing but her own bird-like instinct of locality to guide her,
she would have obeyed without the smallest hesitation. But when Anna
desired her to explore unaided the old and new streets of the Quartier
Latin, she avowed that she was afraid of the undertaking. The dangers
that might befal her in the Bush, where to lose her way, to be thrown
from her horse, or, worst of all, to be "stuck up" by a "sun-downer,"
were contingencies that pointed to the most tragic endings, seemed as
nothing compared with the formidableness of finding herself in such
unknown labyrinths as the precincts of the Sorbonne or the Odéon, with
the consciousness that she was being observed and tracked by some
casual admirer. Upon the first occasion that she had become aware that
she was followed she had never doubted that the person so following
her was a private French detective in John's employ; and when she
heard the formula, "Permettez-vous que je vous accompagne, made-
moiselle?" she had hurried on with an expression of such genuine
terror in her face that her chance adorer had been discouraged, and
had fallen behind. "That's only their way of showing their
appreciation; you needn't take any notice of it," Anna had said,
laughing, when Portia tremulously recounted her adventure. But the
sense of being noticed and pursued in any fashion, under present
circumstances, was such a terrifying one that she preferred to sit and
think, or to sit and brood, as Anna called it, alone, when the latter
was away, to venturing out by herself. Nothing could have marked more
plainly the difference between the Portia of a few weeks back and the
Portia of to-day--the Portia who had set out so gaily in the ruddily-
gathering fog by herself to visit the Academy, and the Portia who
shrank now from going unaccompanied round the corner.

"It's to do the Lorelei you'll be wanted," Anna explained to her the
same afternoon as they were walking together along the unfrequented
end of the Rue d'Assas, bordering the Luxembourg Gardens--"'and she
combed her golden hair,' you remember, don't you? Delstanche" (she
named a painter since celebrated) "thinks you must have come into the
world for the express purpose."

"I wonder why you care so much to have me pose," observed Portia,
reflectively; "you make such a point of it, Anna! And it never seems
to me that it is really earning money to make it in that way. I might
be an idiot--I should earn it all the same. It is not as though I had
to work for what I get, or as though it cost me any trouble. I feel
ashamed to be paid for just sitting still. There is nothing to do. I
only have to be--"

"You little goose!"--Anna's tones were incisive and disdainful--"that
is just the glory of it. It is not for anything grafted on to you; it
is for being you yourself that you are paid. Did you never read what
Renan says about a beautiful woman being the highest expression of the
Creator's power? That is the way you should look at it. As for not
earning what you get like any one else, that is all nonsense. One
person has a fine voice, and makes money by it. Another has brains,
and he makes money by them. You have what is better than either."

"I can't think that," said Portia, sceptically; "that is only your
way of looking at it, Anna. Besides, one has to work hard to cultivate
a voice and brains; but to pose, one has nothing to cultivate--that is
just what I complain of."

"One has to cultivate the art of keeping still--which you have not
quite acquired yet, my dear, let me tell you. I can see you are dead-
beat sometimes...But you want to know why I make such a point of
having you pose. I'm afraid it's just for the gratification of
producing you. A model like you is as rare in her way as a Patti or a
Sarah Bernhardt in hers. Then you happen to be going through an
experience that intensifies all your natural advantages. You needn't
laugh; what I am telling you is perfectly true. Any one can see you
are not thinking of yourself when you pose. I don't know what you are
thinking of, but you have a kind of abstracted look in your eyes, and
that coupled with their curious colour, makes them just like an
Undine's or a Lorelei's. And then your wonderful hair! Your hair and
your skin are exactly the kind that artists rave about, and so seldom
find."

Portia made no reply to this tirade. Perhaps her thoughts had already
been wandering in other directions. She had not forgotten to deliver
Anna the message her gentleman-help had confided to her the day of her
arrival, and there had been hardly an evening since upon which Mr.
Eames, as he was called, had not knocked at their door upon their
return from Clootz's. Sometimes he stayed an hour, sometimes longer.
He would begin the conversation by talking artistic "shop" to Anna,
and Portia would marvel at the animation they showed in discussing
"plein air" and "impressionist toiles." But after a while Rousky and
his Polish friend, or some newer interest of Anna's, would monopolise
her attention. She and her fellow--smokers would form a little group
apart, and Portia would be left to talk to Mr. Eames alone. She could
not help feeling that he was interested in her, and that he showed his
interest by trying, not obtrusively, but naively, to find out who and
what she was. She had decided with Anna that she should be called by
her mother's name of Drew, and no one among her new entourage
suspected that she was other than Miss Drew, or that she had been at
any time of her life though the marriage ceremony. She could not talk
about pictures to Mr. Eames; but they had other points in common. He
was fond of music and played with expression, though with little
science or execution. Portia also loved music, and allowed herself to
be persuaded to sing her simple ballads of "Ben Bolt" and "Robin
Adair" to please him. He seemed to take it for granted that she knew
infinitely more than was the case, and often when he was speaking to
her she was obliged to interrupt him by asking for information upon
some point that was evidently only the A B C of his theme. But she had
explained to him that she came from Australia, and, far from making
her feel "small," when she confessed her ignorance he appeared to take
a delight in placing her on the same level as himself, and implying
that she could teach him perhaps even more than he could teach her.
Her gentleman-help was the only artist, excepting Harry Tolhurst, whom
Portia had met, and she was willing now to like the whole tribe.

"Does Mr. Eames paint good pictures?" she asked of Anna, after a
long pause, with apparent inconsequence in the question, though in
reality it was the result of a long train of thought.

Anna replied with a shrug; the gesture was so natural and
appropriate that one would never have supposed that she was not to the
manner born. "He makes wonderful beginnings," she said; "perhaps he
will make good ends, too, some days. But here we are at Delstanche's.
Mind, now, you pull out that silver arrow from your hair when I tell
you."

While Portia Morrisson, alias James, alias Drew, is engaged in
putting on the attributes of the soul-and-body-alluring Lorelei, her
friend Mr. Eames has been busily engaged in making a sketch from
memory of her in his studio. He is so much engrossed in it, and there
is such a fascination in evoking the image of her charming figure
standing near the piano, that it is only when a man's step mounting
the staircase stops before his door, and a voice he recognises calls
from the landing outside, "Let me in, old fellow," that he desists
from his work. But before going to the door he has thrust his sketch,
with a heap of others, into a portfolio. Miss Drew's image on paper
must not be revealed to indifferent eyes, any more than the image of
her he is beginning to carry about in his mind. "Heart" would be,
perhaps, the more fitting word to use in this connection, though Mr.
Eames, perhaps, was not aware of it himself in his present phase.

"And you never sent me word you were coming," he said reproachfully,
a moment later, and after a grip of the hands had been exchanged
between himself and the new-comer.

"I didn't know it myself till last night, to tell the truth,"
replied Harry Tolhurst--for the young man in the ulster, with the
canvas-covered paint--box in his hand, to whom Mr. Eames had just
opened the door, was none other than Harry. "I knew I should find you
in the old place. And how are you getting on, old fellow? You got your
'Saint Bavon' into the Salon all right?"

"N--no, I didn't;" the admission was made reluctantly. "I wasn't
satisfied with it in the end."

"And you made such a splendid ébauche. You want someone to wrench
your work away from you when you've brought it up to a certain point,
I fancy. What are you at work on now?"

"Oh, I've half a dozen things in hand. I'll show them to you by-and-
by. Tell me first though--I'm awfully glad to see you--but why didn't
you give me warning? You're not looking up to the mark, by any means.
You haven't had the influenza--"

"Influenza? No. I've been rather knocked out of time by a trouble
I've been mixed up with lately, that's all. I thought I'd propose a
walking tour in Brittany, if you haven't made any plans of your own."

"Brittany be bothered! I haven't any money. Let's go to Barbizon."

"That wouldn't be any cheaper. Besides, it's no use to potter about
the forest. I want to go in for active exercise of some kind. I think
I need it."

"You look as though you did, old man! 'Pon my word, I believe you
must have had the influenza, after all--or you've been overdoing it
somehow."

"Perhaps I have been working too hard," admitted Harry; but the
admission was obviously made for the purpose of putting an end to the
cross-examination to which his friend seemed inclined to subject him.
"And how are all the Paris lot? Is Miss Ross always to the fore?"

"Rousky's to the fore," responded Mr. Eames, shortly. He paused a
moment, and continued: "There's a girl, a young lady, staying with
Anna Ross just now."

"Ah!" said Harry, indifferently.

"Yes. You'll see her to-night, I expect, at Clootz's. I should like
to know what you think of her."

"Ah!" said Harry again. "Pour cause?"

"Pour cause--if her presence accounts for the fact that I am
irresistibly drawn to Anna's studio every evening. But I'm afraid
she's not a permanent; she's only some beautiful bird of passage. With
us, and not of us."

"It's as serious as that!" said his friend smiling. Harry's smiles
were, as we have seen, extremely rare; and it would seem that they had
become more fleeting as well, for his face relapsed almost immediately
into its accustomed morne expression.

His companion, meanwhile, was already half regretting the confidences
he had made. To tell the truth, it was only the longing to find a
pretext for speaking about Portia that had prompted him to make them
at all, though perhaps he was not loth to let his friend know at the
same time that the priority of right of paying particular court to the
charming bird of passage overhead was, in a measure, bespoken. A
growing interest of a tender description will manifest itself
sometimes in an irresistible desire to speak of the adored object in
season and out of season; and until Harry appeared upon the scene,
there was no one to whom Portia's gentleman-help could unburden
himself in any degree respecting the nature of the sentiment she had
awakened in him. He did not go so far, however, as to display his
memory-sketch of her to Harry. There were a hundred congenial topics
for the newly-restored friends to talk about without entering into
their affaires de coeur, as women would have done in their place--
their own works and that of their fellow-artists being naturally the
most congenial topic of all. Harry had to be posted up in all the
latest gossip of the atelier, to be informed as to which of the band
was arrivé, who among them had "exposed" at the Salon, who had been
lucky enough to have his toile purchased by the French Government, and
a great deal more to the same effect. Occasionally, however, he would
relapse into the kind of reverie known as a "brown study" (though why
a study should be brown, while the devils of despondency are blue, is
a fact that no one has ever satisfactorily explained), and would
apparently gaze right through the "St. Bavon" that he had been
criticising in his friend's behoof, or beyond it, to some intangible
picture of his own evoking. At these moments a puzzled look would flit
across Mr. Eames's pleasant blue eyes, and turning around to place his
picture against the wall, he would hum softly--

"Elle avait des manières très bien.
"Elle était coiffée à la chien.
"Elle chantait comme une petite folle.
A Batignolles."

"Let's take a turn in the Luxembourg before dinner," he said at last.
"It seems to me you want rousing up, old man!"

"All right," assented Harry coming back to himself with an effort
from the visionary regions he had been wandering in. "But haven't you
to get ready first?"

"Ready! That won't take me long. I'm ready now."

He had been, in point of fact, peeling off his plum-coloured jersey
and dragging it over his head as he spoke, and now substituted in its
place a morning coat and artistically-knotted Lavallière tie.

A Tam-o'-Shanter completed his costume; and thus attired, with his
pipe and tobacco-pouch thrust into his pocket, he followed his friend
out of the studio.

It was an afternoon upon which the band of the Garde Républicaine had
been announced to play in the Luxembourg Gardens, and, though the
performance was drawing to a close, the crowd was still great. In the
close neighbourhood of the music all the chairs were taken, but a
throng of promenaders was circling round them, amid which the
grisettes of the Quartier Latin mustered in full force. Harry paused a
moment before joining in the round to take in the details of the
scene. It had been familiar enough to him during his last long
residence in Paris, but it came upon him now with an air of novelty.
Looked at from a surface point of view, it was a gay and enlivening
spectacle enough. What prettier setting for holiday--makers assembled
in the open air would it be possible to find than this exquisite
commingling of nature and art--this glorious profusion of trees and
lawns, and terraces and parterres, and fountains and statues, blended
into a stately and harmonious mise en scène? There, as he remembered
it, was the grotto of the monster Polyphemus, with the water still
musically coursing over the white body of the beautiful nymph Galatea.
Away in front of him were the rigid statues of the Queens of France,
ranged in stony propriety against their background of leafy green. To
his right, the descending steps of the terrace leading to a vast
parterre of flowers, worthy of framing the "stately pleasure dome" of
Kubla Khan, in the midst of which a mighty jet of water rose and fell,
lazily and without effort, as though it were dancing up and down for
its own pleasure alone. Among the crowds of listeners the streaming
ribands of the nourrices and their gold--pinned capes made a pretty
variety, while around the feet of the fat French mamans and bonnes the
little chéris and bibiches in limited number (for olive-branches in
France are a luxury not to be too recklessly indulged in) turned up
the dusty soil with their miniature wooden spades.

The band was playing the Marche Indienne as Harry and his companion
drew near, and the wild joyousness of the strain seemed to harmonise
well with the scene around them. Harry centred his attention upon the
students and the grisettes, as being the newest element that the show
could furnish him after his long severance from Quartier Latin ways.
He saw that the students walked by themselves, and the grisettes by
themselves, either in arm-in-arm couples or in affectionate clusters
of threes and fours, and whenever one group or couple passed or met
another group, a word, or a nod, or a passing "Hé, mon petit!" or
"Tiens, ma belle!" testified to the friendly relations existing
between them. Some of the grisettes--modistes, perhaps, in their own
right--wore wildflower-wreathed hats that recalled a vision of Portia
on the Academy morning to Harry's mind. Others, apparently of the
blanchisseuse order, who possessed nothing, in all probability, but
their bodies in their own right, wore no hats at all. These, however,
were always daintily coiffé, and all bore alike a certain air of trim
neatness and artistic nattiness. Few possessed pretty faces, and among
those who had lost their first freshness more than one had hard eyes
and an animal mouth. It was in vain that Harry sought to discover a
Mimi Pinson among them. He turned away from the spectacle with a grave
face, while his friend laughed, and observed:

"A page out of the Vie de Bohème. You should go to the Bal Bullier to
see the suite."

"I don't care to see it," he said, with a sigh, "when I think it's
been going on since Murger's time--and how long before?--and that it
will be going on when all these people are dead and gone. I feel like
that Duke--I forget his name--I should like to build myself a place
underground, and never come out of my hole again."

The bitterness with which Harry said these words struck painfully
upon his friend's ear. "There's something more than influenza in
this," he said to himself sagely. "Whatever the trouble that he's been
mixed up with may be, it's evident he's been pretty hard hit; it's
gone deep."

"Come on, old fellow!" he added aloud. "Don't do the King Solomon
business over again. It's very pleasant while it lasts, and where's
the use of looking 'before and after'? I wish you would tell me your
yarn. I'm as open with you myself as a child. Come on to the bench
over there, and let's have a smoke."

Now, as Fate or Chance would have it--for Fate and Chance mean much
the same thing--at the very moment when the two young men were about
to take their seats upon the empty bench on the other side of the
broad avenue, beneath one of the properest of the stone queens arrayed
in her chiselled vertugadin, Portia was crossing the same spot from
the opposite end of the garden. Her visit to the painter, Delstanche,
had not been altogether as satisfactory to herself as to Anna. She had
been made to take her hair down, and to show her neck and arms in all
their summer whiteness; and though she had done as much times out of
mind during the past week while she had been posing for Anna, to do so
on the present occasion had seemed a formidable ordeal. Anna had
upbraided her for her self-consciousness, and had declared that she
had no true feeling for art, otherwise she would have been glad to
consecrate her beautiful person to the cause; and had left her, after
thus scolding her, to go to Colla Rossi's studio, but not until she
had shown her friend how she might return through the Luxembourg
Gardens alone. Portia had sat for a long time in a secluded corner of
these, out of the way of the crowd and the band, thinking drearily of
what she should do, and only solacing herself by glancing from time to
time at the evening sky, made up of a mass of dark grey clouds,
through which the declining sun seemed to burn redly in patches and
scratches of flame. After a time she noticed that the bench she was
sitting on had another occupant. A Frenchman of the méridional type
(though, to our heroine, he was neither more nor less than a
Frenchman), with swarthy skin and piercing black eyes, was eyeing her
with undisguised admiration. She looked away in the vain effort to
appear unconscious of his glance, but the tell-tale colour mantling
over cheek and neck betrayed her. He moved a little nearer, and said
abruptly:

"Mon Dieu! mademoiselle, ne vous effrayez pas. Mais vous êtes
tellement jolie--on aurait de la peine à ne pas vous regarder, et--"

Portia did not give him time, however, to finish all his sentence. At
the first words she had jumped from her seat with the rapid movement
of a frightened bird, and was walking away, straight in front of her,
with no definite idea but to escape. She heard quick footsteps behind
her, and the same voice that had already addressed her repeated
reproachfully, "O, la cruelle!"

Notwithstanding her real alarm the solemn absurdity of this
denunciation was almost too much for Portia's gravity. But she felt
that to lose her dignity at this juncture would be fatal. She walked
on, therefore, looking neither to the right nor the left, with her
head erect; quite unmindful of the fact that two young men, new-comers
these, were about to cross her path diagonally.

"There's an illustration of the hawk and the pigeon game," Mr. Eames
said. He had taken in the situation at a glance. "It wouldn't be a bad
idea for a tableau de genre. Why"--his voice changed suddenly, and its
tones become strangely eager, "if I don't believe--no, surely--it
can't be--yes, it is--it is--it's she--it's Miss Drew!"

"That Miss Drew!" echoed Harry. It was all that in the profound
astonishment of the discovery he could find voice to say, for at this
moment Portia looked round, and a shock of mutual recognition ensued
between them.

The quality that renders a man of the world so valuable in an
emergency is, above all, his presence of mind. Having reached the
point at which nothing can any longer take him by surprise, he never
commits the blunder of losing his head, but keeps his mind clear for
action under the most startling and unforeseen circumstances. Harry
Tolhurst was not perhaps, strictly speaking, a man of the world in
this sense. The surprise of suddenly beholding the woman who had
become such a living memory to him; the woman whom he believed to be
lost to him for ever--to be married indeed, and wandering over Europe
with her husband (for Mary had disappeared since the morning when she
had rushed with her child, like one demented, from his studio, and
there had been no one to inform him of the sequel to Portia's
wedding); the astonishment of encountering her here in Paris under a
new name, a name that belonged to her neither as maid nor as wife; of
finding her transformed into a denizen of the Quartier Latin, and a
guest of the emancipated Anna; roving about the Luxembourg by herself,
and fleeing before unwelcome attentions--the shock of it was so great
that he was unable at first to command his countenance. Portia had
"gone white," as the common people say, on beholding him, and to a
casual observer it might have seemed that these two young people,
meeting by accident upon a lovely summer's evening in the brightest
place in creation, must have taken each other for ghosts, so unduly
startled did they appear. To anyone who had witnessed the exquisite
rendering of Romeo and Juliet at the Lyceum there would have been a
something, however, underlying the terror in Portia's eyes that might
have dimly recalled the expression in Juliet's face when she beheld
Romeo for the first time. Though not a man of the world, Harry was
able to divine that there was more than one cause for the emotion his
presence had aroused. That Portia wished him to appear as though he
did not recognise her was evident to him from the half--imploring
glance that followed her first uncontrollable start of surprise. It
was well for both, perhaps, that the gentleman-help was so wholly
engrossed in his own share of interest in the meeting, and that three
subjects filled his mind at this moment to the exclusion of all
others: the first being disappointment that he could not gratify his
impulse to pommel the méridional on the spot; the second, the desire
to know whether Miss Drew's sudden pallor was to be entirely ascribed
to the emotion consequent upon having been accosted, or whether his
own appearance as a rescuer could have had any share in it; and the
third the regret that he had come out in his Tam-o'-Shanter, and was
obliged to feel himself so altogether unfit an object to accompany the
perfectly dressed lady of his allegiance.

By the time he had made up his mind that none of these subjects could
be satisfactorily disposed of at the present moment, Portia had been
enabled to recover a certain degree of sang-froid, and Harry had
mastered himself sufficiently to become a party to the farce of being
formally presented to her by his friend. Under ordinary circumstances
there would have been nothing to justify Mr. Eames in doing more than
raising his hat and passing on--but Fate seemed to have willed that he
and Miss Drew should never meet save under extraordinary
circumstances. Had not they broken the ice once and for all when he
had done "porte-faix" and "water-carrier," to say nothing of all-round
gentleman-help, for her upon the first occasion of his meeting her as
she sat helpless upon the stairs outside his room? And was he going to
abandon her now, when he encountered her speeding like a fluttered
bird before the unwelcome advances of an insolent foreigner! There was
every warrant, he told himself, for stopping to speak to her--he did
not add that even had there been none at all he would probably have
done the same. But he addressed her in the soft, half-caressing,
half--protecting voice that came to him instinctively when he spoke to
a pretty woman. He asked permission to see her safe through the
Gardens ("safe" seemed an allowable adjective in the face of what he
had just witnessed), and he excused himself for being in such
ragamuffin trim; and finally he bethought himself of his friend, in
whose direction Miss Drew had studiously refrained from looking, and
begged to be allowed to introduce Mr. Harry Tolhurst, a distinguished
painter and Academician "en herbe" to her notice.

Portia bowed assent, and for one brief instant Harry's eyes
encountered her in full. Well may the eyes be called the windows of
the soul when so much can stand revealed through them in the mearest
flash of time. That Portia understood and appreciated his reticence,
that she was grateful to him beyond words for having exercised it and
that she trusted--yes, that she trusted him entirely--all this Harry
could read in that one transient glance. The knowledge that he shared
a secret with her, unknown to anybody else in the world (bewildering
as the existence of a secret of any kind undoubtedly was, and
terrifying as the revelation of a mystery of any kind in connection
with her pure young life must necessarily appear), was the greatest
possible solace to him. Just as he had parted from her in Piccadilly,
after that red-letter, radiant white-stone morning he had spent with
her at the Academy, so she appeared to him now? The very dress that
clung in its tailor-made folds round her supple, beautiful form--the
very rose-splattered hat, under whose broad rim he had last looked
into her eyes, were the same. The intensity of his recollection of her
was made clear to him as he measured the resemblance between it and
the living, breathing woman in front of him. It must have been a
prophetic intuition surely that had made him attribute the "seediness"
that his friend had detected in him to a "trouble he had been mixed up
with;" for the trouble had been none other than Portia herself, and
though the "mixing up" had not as yet occurred, it seemed likely to
take place now. But how far would she trust him?--how far would her
spoken confidences ratify the assurance of her belief in him that he
could read in her eyes? It could be nothing but a providential
interposition surely that had sent him to the very place to which she
had fled for refuge, in order that he might be at hand to help and
perhaps to save her. Anna Ross's quatrième was not perhaps the precise
ark of refuge in which he would have cared to see a sister of his own
take shelter; but Portia, in her transparent innocence, was no doubt
like Charity--fearing nothing, believing all things, and hoping all
things.

To think, however, that his friend Eames's babble concerning the
stranger overhead--the beautiful bird of passage, as he had called
her--should have had none other than Portia James for its object! How
different from the unconcerned "Ah!" with which he had greeted the
communication, would have been his manner of receiving it, if he could
have had the least idea to whom it referred. The thought that Portia
might still be free; that her marriage announcement which he had read
in the papers (would he ever forget the chill it had sent through all
his being?) was the result of some ghastly blunder, made his heart
beat high with hope. He watched with jealous eyes for the
manifestation of some particular sympathy existing between his friend
and the supposed Miss Drew; but Portia's manner reassured him. Not so
his friend's! That the gentleman-help had been, in vulgar parlance,
"bowled over" would have been clear to less jealous eyes than his.
Portia was the same, and yet not the same. She had lost the enjouement
that he remembered, which had been a great charm. But she had gained
something in its place that seemed to rivet him to her more closely
still. When he had thought of her hitherto, it had been as of Undine
before she had awakened to the possession of a soul, or as of the
little mermaid before she had acquired a pair of white human feet and
immortality by walking over knives. He could have fancied that Portia
was walking over the knives now, and that the dawn of the newly-
awakened soul was reflected in her eyes. If he had been walking by her
side in the Palace of Truth he would have spoken out his thoughts
concerning her; but as he was walking under the eyes of a third
person, and as she had chosen to appear in the character of the young
lady to whom he had been only just introduced, he maintained a
discreet silence. To feign indifference was his only refuge. Under the
actual circumstances he felt that he could not trust himself to speak.

Mr. Eames, for his own part, thought it wiser to abstain from making
any reference to the hawk-and-pigeon episode he had witnessed, but he
promised himself that he would be at hand upon the very next occasion
that it should befall Miss Drew to sit in the Luxembourg Gardens
alone.

"Miss Ross is not with you?" he said inquiringly; his tone seemed to
imply that she ought to have been. "I thought I saw you go out
together."

"She had to go to Colla Rossi's," replied Portia. "She told me to
meet her at Clootz's at six; and there is a book I promised to call
for at the atelier first on the way."

"May I get it for you?" he asked; "or may we wait for you until you
are ready, as we are going to Clootz's too?"

"Thanks," said Portia, hesitatingly; "but, indeed, I know my way so
well from the atelier now."

Though her words conveyed no absolute refusal of the offer, Harry
gathered from them that she did not wish to afficher herself in
public--the public at Clootz's--with Mr. Eames, and he rejoiced
thereat in his heart. The latter, however, did not allow himself to be
discouraged.

"I hope you will keep places for us at your table, then," he said,
"Or, if we are there first, shall we keep yours at ours? Tolhurst and
Miss Ross are old friends."

"Oh, are they?" said Portia, raising her eyes shyly towards Harry's
face as she spoke. "I must prepare Anna for the meeting. I am sure she
will be very pleased."

It was the first time she had looked in his direction, though she was
walking between the two young men as they made their way along the
gravelled terrace fronting the ancient palace, bordered by the trim
row of orange trees in green tubs. The pleasant feeling of complete
ease which she had known when she had last encountered Harry was gone.
She had herself willed that he should pass for a stranger in her eyes:
yet how could she bring herself to address him as a stranger when he
was in reality so closely bound up with all the associations that she
clung to most in her past life? She had not said to him in so many
words, like the conspirators in a burlesque, "Let us dissemble." But
her eyes had said it for her, and he had dissembled accordingly. What
could he have thought of the obligation she had thus laid upon him?
There was yet another curious sensation respecting him in her mind.
Though the feeling of being at ease in his society had disappeared,
the knowledge of the tacit understanding existing between herself and
him, the sense of the secret they were sharing together unknown to all
(for even Anna need not be told that Harry was a former acquaintance),
seemed to have brought her into closer communion with him than ever.
She remembered how she had felt in her childish days when a household
birthday was in store and a surprise was to be operated upon Emma or
Wilmer--how the person with whom she shared the secret involved in the
preparation of the surprise had assumed quite a new importance in her
life; how the interchange of a look had become an action fraught with
a mysterious significance of its own; how the idea of "we know
something" seemed to be expressed in every gesture of the person who
was in partnership in her secret, and what good friends it had made
them as long as the secret lasted. Were these the terms upon which she
would find herself placed henceforth with Harry, or was he condemning
her in his mind for having a secret at all? He had answered her look
of inquiry when Anna's name was mentioned, but his voice had sounded
formal and distant.

"I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Ross at Julian's some three years
ago," he said. "Does she go there still?"

"No; she is at Laurens' now, and she works out of doors a good deal
besides."

"Yes, she is a tremendous worker," put in Mr. Eames. "She is
serieuse, as they say at the atelier. That reminds me, Tolhurst, you
must see her old woman on the beach at Etretat. As a 'plein air' it is
capital, full of air and light. By the bye, what has become of your
Madonna? A lot of fellows here have told me about it. They say you
could never have painted such a picture if you hadn't done your time
in Paris. Where is she now?"

"Well, the picture is hanging in my studio," said Harry. "The dealers
would have none of it although the critics waged a fierce war over it.
As for my model, she left me en plan. That is one of the reasons why I
came over. I was at work upon a fresh subject with the same model, and
about a week ago she disappeared, and I have not been able to find a
trace of her so far."

"Fancy that!" said Mr. Eames, with mock solemnity, and he softly
chanted:

"'Je l' ai aimee autant que j' ai, pu
Mais j' ai pas pu lorsque j' ai su
Qu'elle me trompait avec Anatole
A Batignolles.'"

"Did you inquire at the place she lived at?" asked Portia, in a
strained and eager voice. "Could they tell you nothing of her there?"

"Nothing whatever!" The interest manifested by Miss Drew in his
friend's model surprised Mr. Eames not a little. "But she was not a
professional model. I rather think she was a deserted wife. Her
husband had sent her over from America with the promise that he would
follow her, but after she reached London she heard nothing more of
him; she was glad to earn a little money by posing, and I think she
used to ruminate over her wrongs while she was sitting for me. I have
seen her eyes flash and her lips move more than once."

"Perhaps the husband came back," said Portia, in a low voice, with
her eyes fixed upon the ground.

"I hope he did, for her sake, though not for mine. It will be a long
time before I find such a model again. I believe that must have been
the explanation of the mystery though, for they told me at the place
she lived at that a broad, red-bearded man--a swell (they were careful
to mention that he was a swell)--had been to see her the day she ran
away from the studio--the husband, without any doubt; and there had
been a scene between the newly-united couple, as it appeared. The next
morning Mrs. Morris disappeared with her baby, bag and baggage, and
left no address, but behaved ' 'and-some'--as her landlady told me--
from which I concluded that the husband is rich, and that I may look
for my model again in vain."

"What a curious story!" said Portia. She paused, and a deep roselike
flush mounted in her cheeks before she spoke again. "Do you know--did
they say--could you tell me, perhaps" (she seemed to find a difficulty
in framing her question). "whether the husband was finally reconciled
to his--wife?--whether they stayed together, I mean?"

"I don't know the sequel," said Harry. The interest Miss James took
in his unknown model, which he had attributed in the first instance to
her sole recollection of his picture (how well he remembered her
telling him of her weird impression in connection with it the first
time she had seen it standing by his side!), was beginning to puzzle
him almost as much as Mr. Eames. "I daresay I could find out, though,
if you want to be satisfied upon the point of whether they lived
happily 'ever after.' But I'm afraid they didn't, and that they never
will. She evidently had no confidence in him, and he seems to have
left her after making the scene I was told about. Whether she intended
to run after him when she left in such a hurry the next morning, or
whether she was running away from him in her turn, I have no means of
knowing. Sometimes I think she will turn up again, for, to say the
least of it, she ought to have written me a line if she had no
intention of coming back at all.
"
"It would interest me to know, if you do hear," persisted Portia, "I
have seen the picture Mr. Eames was talking about in the Academy; I
remember it very well. The child was fair and blue-eyed, and the
Madonna had strange dark eyes, with a wistful look, that seemed to see
some far-away vision of the cross. They were eyes that would haunt one
afterwards. Mary's dress was a sort of striped blue and white drapery,
was it not? And through an open space in the background you could see
a glimpse of an Eastern landscape in a kind of blinding sunlight."

"Well, if your picture impressed itself upon the memory of everyone
who saw it as thoroughly as upon Miss Drew, you have no cause to
complain, old man," said Mr. Eames; "you must have struck oil this
time, and no mistake! And this is the person who will never say a word
about pictures to me--who can't draw, she says!"

Harry turned towards her, with a gratified smile--one of his rare
smiles--lighting up his sombre eyes.

"You must have been a good many times to the Academy, I should
think."

"Only once," responded Portia, with an answering smile of quiet
triumph in her glance. An unreasoning pleasure was coursing through
her veins as she exchanged this look of secret understanding with him.
Those two little words implied so much more than any but he and she
could wot of.

"Only once!" echoed Mr. Eames, while Harry was hugging himself with
the idea that her avowal might be construed as he would fain have
construed it in his heart. "Then you have a phenomenal memory for
pictures, that is all I can say; and upon the ex pede Herculem basis
you should make a capital art critic. By the bye, Miss Ross said she
was going to initiate you into the mysteries of the Gaieté
Montparnasse to-night. It's a great institution. Those cafes chantants
on the other side of the river are the abomination of desolation in my
eyes, but the Gaieté is almost worthy of its name. You remember it,
Harry?"

"I don't think I can boast of any acquaintance with it," replied
Harry, drily, "if it is a thing to boast of at all. Miss Ross's ways
are peculiar, and tastes differ; but if the Gaieté Montparnasse is
what I imagine it to be, I don't think Miss James--Miss Drew, I mean--
will be particularly edified or amused by a visit there--a kind of
sixth-rate Paulus-and-Thérèse entertainment, I suppose?"

"Not a bit of it! It has a line of its own," laughed Mr. Eames. And
once more he hummed:

"'La morale de c'tte oraison là
C'est qu' les p'tites fill's qu'a pas d' papa
Doiv'nt jamais aller à l'école
A Batignolles.'"

The closing "Batignolles" had each time a long-drawn sonorous sound
that fell tunefully upon the ear.

"Do tell me all the song, please," said Portia.

"I will concoct an expurgated rendering of it, if you will allow me,"
he said; "but you mustn't let yourself be prejudiced by anticipation
against the Gaieté. It has its vile side, of course, if you look for
it; but you won't look for it--and there is some awfully pretty
singing. It's a great place, too, for seeing the populace. If Miss
Ross really means to go, my friend and I" (he looked at Harry for
assent) "will ask leave to accompany you. It's not a place where a
lady ought to go by herself."

"If Miss Ross is as I remember her, she does not admit that such
places exist," said Harry.

"Well, then, we'll help her to take care of Miss Drew, who does admit
it," said Mr. Eames, and, the limit of the gardens being reached by
this time, the two separated by the large iron gates that guard the
entrance to the Luxembourg Gardens on the Rue de Vaugirard side.
Portia went on her way alone. The expression that Harry read in her
eyes as she wished him "Au revoir" expressed the word Remember as
plainly as ever the voice of the murdered Charles sounding through the
ages could have uttered it. Before separating, it was arranged that
the party should meet again at Clootz's half an hour later.

"Has Miss Drew been here long?" was Harry's first question as he
turned away with his friend; there was no loop-hole of a pretext for
running after Portia, as he was longing to do; and the burden upon his
mind was only in part alleviated by finding her again under
circumstances so unexpected and mysterious.

"Six days and six nights," answered Mr. Eames sententiously; he had
lit his pipe immediately the feminine element was removed from his
path, and he was puffing it into savour as he spoke; "she dropped down
upon us from the skies. I had never heard Miss Ross mention her name
until one day, going out of the studio, I found 'a maiden sitting all
forlorn' on the staircase, with a portmanteau that a 'hamal' in
Constantinople would have looked at twice. She let me shoulder it for
her up the stairs, and that was the informal way in which we first
became acquainted."

"And I suppose you have seen a good deal of her since!" said Harry,
gloomily.

"That depends on what you call a good deal. If it were any one but
Miss Drew I might say yes. Being Miss Drew, I feel I have seen very
little of her. She is amazingly reticent too--so a good deal in any
case would only go for a little. What I'm mostly afraid of is that
she's only here as an 'oiseau sur la branche'--'a beautiful bird of
passage,' in short, as I said before. Some day she will fly away as
she came. She never says a word about herself, either," and with his
pipe between his lips Mr. Eames concluded:

"'Quand ell' s' balladait sous l' ciel bleu
Avec ses ch'veux couleur de feu
On croyait voir une auréole
A Batignolles.'

That is really the colour of her hair, you know."

"She doesn't look as though she had been used to the kind of life
Anna will induct her into," observed Harry.

"Neither has she; she has roughed it, she told me, but in a different
way. She comes from Australia, you know; that accounts for her being a
little crude sometimes; but even her crudity has a charm of its own.
You haven't told me what you think of her yet."

"Of Miss Drew!" said Harry, jesuitically. "My good fellow, I can't
form an opinion of a woman whom I've hardly seen."

"You've seen enough of her to form an opinion of her looks," I should
think.

"Of her looks. Oh! she's good-looking enough, if that's what you
mean."

"What a cold-blooded, unappreciative fellow you are. Well! you may do
the amiable to Anna Ross by-and-by if you choose, only leave the 'bird
of passage' to me."

And in the belief that his friend was totally unimpressed by the
graces that he himself saw with clearer eyes every day, he conducted
Harry, with a light heart, to Clootz's.



Chapter XVII



"A party of pleasure, a party of four.
Too few if one less, and too many if more."

THESE words occurred to Mr. Eames's mind, with a mournful sense of
their inappropriateness to the occasion, as he threaded his way
through the turmoil of the Rue de la Gaieté, towards the famous café
chantant of the same name, by Anna's side, while Harry and the
supposed Miss Drew followed at a respectful distance. Even a party of
three would be preferable, he thought, when one of the three happened
to be the right one. It was a singular fact, too, that after the
almost officious display of indifference his friend had manifested
towards the "beautiful bird of passage" to whom he had been recently
introduced, he should have contrived, nevertheless, and apparently by
accident, to fall behind with her as soon as they left the restaurant.
Though to Miss Ross one part of Paris was just the same as another,
and though he believed her capable of walking fearlessly about in such
uncanny places as the Boulevards extérieurs, regardless even of the
hideous presence of the professional rodeurs de barrières, he knew
that it was not the same with her companion. Miss Drew still shrank
involuntarily when she found herself in the noisy workmen's quarters
of the Gaieté Montparnasse, where blouses and sabots might be said to
hold the haut du pavé, for all the share of it they gave the passers-
by of gentler associations. She would retreat into the middle of the
street before the advance of some tipsy Coupeau staggering out of the
shop of a marchand de vin, and the person accompanying her at such a
time might possibly gain the inestimable privilege of having her place
her hand within his arm for protection. Mr. Eames, it is needless to
say, would fain have been that privileged person; but though Miss Ross
walked defiantly on, keeping her place on the trottoir with a grim
determination not to be pushed off it by all the voyous in Paris, and
though his presence was, as he well knew, entirely superfluous upon
the occasion, he could not pay her the questionable compliment of
leaving her to prove her independence alone. His misgivings, however,
were not allayed by perceiving, every time he glanced round in Miss
Drew's direction, that the ice was apparently broken between her new
friend and herself. He had imagined at the outset that, in accordance
with spiritualistic theories, their auras must be antagonistic, and he
had regretted the circumstance--moderately--for he would have liked
them to be friends in reason. But now another fear, and a keener, had
taken possession of his soul. To walk as they were doing just now,
with their heads inclined towards each other, they must have hit upon
some wonderfully congenial topic since they had left Clootz's, at
which place he had noticed that they had hardly exchanged a word. Now
the whole distance from Clootz's to the café was not a mile: therefore
the spontaneity of the sympathy was, to say the least of it,
disquieting.

Harry had, however, the best of reasons, though Mr. Eames was all
unaware of them, for waiving initiatory formalities when he found
himself for a few moments in the unhampered enjoyment of Miss Drew's
society. By a kind of mutual understanding, he and Portia had
successfully evaded the manoeuvres whereby her gentleman-help sought
to remain by her side as they left Clootz's. And as it is impossible
for four people to walk abreast in the evening in the Rue de la
Gaieté, it followed that, by calmly maintaining his place and ignoring
all his friend's transparent efforts to oust him from it, Harry had
all the advantage on his side, for he was enabled to fall slowly
behind with his companion. Once the others were separated from him by
ever so short a distance, he might speak without fear. In the midst of
the foreign crowd he and his companion were as much alone for all
conversational purposes as though they had been on a desert island.
They might, indeed, have shouted State secrets or talked treason in
each other's ears, had they been so inclined, without anybody's being
the wiser.

But State secrets and treason would not have had half the effect
upon Harry of the few timid words uttered, as soon as they found
themselves alone, by the girl who walked next to him. Portia plunged
recklessly and without preamble into the heart of her subject--the
most interesting one in the world to Harry; since it concerned
herself; and if he had cherished her half-confidences before, the
sensation with which he received her fuller confidences now, and the
rapture of deducing therefrom that she must in part have divined the
nature of the sentiment he had given her unsought, may be imagined by
all who have known what it is at some period of their lives to worship
"a bright particular star, and think to wed it?"

"I want to thank you," Portia began hurriedly--the people she
encountered were pushing past her, and bearing down upon her, with the
swagger that is so true an expression of the mental attitude of a
certain type of ouvrier in Pairs; but Harry was there to clear a way
for her--"I want to thank you, while I have the opportunity, for not
seeming to know me in the Luxembourg this afternoon. I am hiding for a
little. I have good reasons for it. It isn't my own fault, indeed. You
may be sure of that. Anna knows all about it. But I don't want my
friends to know I am here. I have taken my mother's name to make more
sure. If Mr. Eames had seen that you knew me, he might have asked
questions--"

She caught her breath spasmodically between each sentence, and Harry
guessed that the effort of controlling her emotion was severe. There
was something in her tones that suggested a risk of her breaking into
a sob between the pauses. To have answered her with any kind of
ceremony, or other than straight from his heart, feeling as he did at
this moment, would have been impossible to him.

"It is I who thank you for trusting me," he said earnestly; it was
necessary to speak very close in her ear in the midst of the jostling,
unyielding crowd, and this was just the moment that Mr. Eames chose
for taking observations in the rear. "I know we have only met a very
few times, but each time has counted for so much in my life. I venture
to tell you this, though I would not have dared to so soon under any
other circumstances. Only I am so grateful to you for trusting me, and
I should be so much more grateful if you would let me help you. I have
not the least idea how you are placed; but, you see, I have the
strongest motives a man can have for wanting to help you. Will you
tell me what you can of your trouble? Even after our last meeting at
the Academy I did an unwarrantable thing. I had not seen you in the
Park or anywhere else for so long. I couldn't stand it any longer. I
went to your house to inquire. You were in Paris, they said; and soon
after I saw an announcement that you were married. It was only a few
hours ago that the wonderful idea that you were still free dawned upon
me, when I came upon you, as Miss Drew, in the Luxembourg."

"I am not free!" said Portia, in low tones. "I was married the day I
ran away!"

The announcement was followed by a dead silence. Harry had received
what is called, in pugilistic lore, a staggerer. The hope that had
beat so high an instant ago went out suddenly, leaving utter blackness
behind. The "one maid, by Heaven's grace," in all the world for him
was another man's wife. It was the bride of a week that he was wooing
here in this unholy atmosphere, in the midst of the stifling crowd. Do
battle for her he would, as he had pledged himself to do, but without
hope of guerdon. She would always be more to him than any other woman
in the world, but the "bright particular star" shining overhead in
attendance upon the pale moon was not farther removed from his sphere
than she. Some men, learning what he had learned, would have given
vent to an oath under their breath. Harry said nothing. Portia, on her
side, maintained an equal silence. There was nothing to add to her
avowal. She was chewing the cud of her own weakness and folly, and
very bitter it tasted. By what right had she trampled down the holy
instinct that had rendered John's arrival a terror to her the morning
she returned from the Academy, with her mind full of Harry's picture,
and her heart full of--But she had never owned that to herself before
this evening. A little resolution--a great deal of resolution even--
for the united wills of John and Wilmer and Emma made a barrier
difficult to overcome--might she not have called it to her aid when
all her life's happiness was at stake? Oh, if Harry had only spoken
before! If, instead of looking his sympathy as he bade her good-bye in
crowded Piccadilly, he had said the simple words "I love you!" her
heart would have responded instantly. She would not have lacked the
courage to fight her battle then. She would have gone armed and strong
to the contest. But he had given her no such weapon to fight with. He
had shown her a picture that thrust itself into the foreground, and
him into the background. And she had been given no time for
resistance, hardly time for resignation, before her fate had been
sealed. And nothing but those dreary words "it might have been"--"the
saddest," as the poet has told us, "of all the sad words of tongue or
pen"--remained for her to fall back upon now.

They had been making their way along a line of cheap shops and
stalls, whence the acrid odours of pommes frites hissing in rancid
fat, of slopped--over counters at the marchands de vin, mingled with
the fumes of cigars at two for a sou, filled the air. Harry thought
bitterly that it was a fitting background for the snuffing out of his
love idyll. But, after the first sharp pang of personal
disappointment, pity for the woman by his side overcame his egoistic
suffering. It must be a dire tragedy in a young life that could drive
a bride from the bridegroom's arms on the day that consecrated their
union. And he had promised to help her. It might be that there were
wrongs to redress, or, if redress were no longer possible, to avenge.
In a few moments more the opportunity for speaking would be gone--
perhaps for ever. Mr. Eames, who had never shown himself in so
officious a light before, was looking round, and pointing ahead of him
along the street. At the Gaieté Montparnasse there would be no
possibility of exchanging a word. He hardly regretted now that the
crowd should push against them so roughly. It gave him an excuse for
loitering behind, and saying all that remained to be said. The silence
that had seemed so long had endured perhaps only a few seconds before
he was replying to her words:

"That's about as bad a piece of news as you could give me; it's no
use telling you how I feel about it. The question is, can anything be
done to help you? I suppose you didn't run away on your wedding-day
without having a reason for it!"

"I had a reason." Her voice had regained its wonted calm, and every
word fell distinctly on her hearer's understanding. "The very day I
was married, and just as I was on the point of going away with--with
my husband, a woman came with a little baby. She told me my husband
did not belong to me at all--that he belonged by rights to her. The
little baby was theirs," she said. "She was the woman whom you had put
into your picture of the Madonna. I understood, when I saw her, why it
seemed to me that I must have seen something that reminded me of that
picture when you showed it me for the first time. The eyes you had
painted--the baby's eyes, you know--are so exactly like those of--of
my husband."

"But he isn't your husband at all, thank God!" exclaimed Harry,
eagerly. "He's only a miserable impostor! He need never cross your
path again unless you choose. Why did you run away? Were you afraid to
denounce him? Did you--did you care for him?"

His voice sank as he asked the question, but Portia heard it and
understood. Her answer nevertheless was slow in coming. If she should
say Yes, she would be telling an untruth; if she said No, what must he
think of her? What would any man think of a woman who would go in cold
blood to the altar to swear eternal love to a man for whom she cared
nothing?

"I thought I cared for him," she said at last, employing the same
subterfuge as she had had recourse to in her communings with herself.
"We had been engaged almost since I was a little girl, and he had come
from Australia on purpose to marry me. Everything was changed when I
found out the truth."

"And you found it out directly you came out of the church?" insisted
Harry, in a husky, eager voice strangely unlike his usual measured
utterance, "What a Heaven-sent miracle of salvation that was!"

He took off his hat for an instant, and wiped his forehead, round
which the perspiration was pearling in thick beads.

"I was getting ready to go away upon my wedding trip with Mr.
Morrisson, when Mary came and stopped me," Portia explained; but Harry
interrupted her sharply:

"Morrisson! Is that the man's name? My model called herself Mrs.
Morris."

"Did she?" The words that came next dealt a fresh stab to her
hearer's heart. "I am afraid it would not have been so easy to stay
behind after all and denounce him, as you say I should have done. For
I don't think somehow the woman--was--was married to him at all. He
had promised to marry her, and that seems just as binding in reality.
But by law he was married to me. I was afraid they might force me to
go on being his wife if I stayed behind, so I just ran away."

"What! You ran away alone?"

"Yes, quite alone; but I knew that Anna would take me in, and that
she would hide me until we had decided what I should do. She is a very
good friend."

"Y--yes," assented Harry, doubtfully. "I am sure she means to be; but
she has her own way of interpreting social obligations. It's unusual,
to say the least of it."

"They are signing to us to come," interrupted Portia, hastily. "Let
me just say thank you once more."

"If there were only something to thank me for. Tell me, could you not
be in the Luxembourg, just where we met you to-day, at the same hour
to--morrow? I have such a great wish to be of use to you if I can."

"I will try. Only please don't let them think we have been talking
about anything out of the way now."

Her injunction did not come too soon. Mr. Eames had retraced his
steps, and was hastening towards them as she spoke.

"Miss Ross's orders are that you hurry up," he said. "I give the
message verbatim. It seems that there is a new programme on to-night.
Garçon inaugurates his latest 'Ca la fait rire,' and all the best
places are taken."

"You needn't stay longer than you like," whispered Harry to his
companion, as Mr. Eames elbowed a way for her through the crowd. "Only
make me a sign when you are tired."

She nodded. They had rejoined Anna by this time and found her
standing as though rooted to one spot, with an expression upon her
face that seemed to say not all the powers of darkness and the
Quartier Montparnasse combined should cause her to budge from it.

"How you dawdled!" she said to her friend. "We'd better make haste in
now," and she led the way through a broad, covered passage that
conducted into the body of the building. Portia found herself, as soon
as the glare of the gas and the haze of the tobacco-smoke allowed her
to take stock of her surroundings, in a small theatre of shabby
appointments. Just as she had felt upon her first introduction to
Clootz's, she felt here now. If she had dared to exercise her private
right of judgment, very more than rather awful would have most
appropriately rendered her impressions. The spectators were on a par
with the theatre--not that they were shabby, but they were dressed for
the most part in the garments in which they earned their livelihood by
the "sweat of their brow"; and the fact was patent to more than one of
her senses. Some were ambulant vendors of oranges, crevettes, and
other street delicacies. Others--the aristocracy these--belonged to
the petit-bourgeois order, and were mostly habitués of the Gaieté.
Sometimes their wives accompanied them; more frequently the wife
remained away to mind the shop. There was a scattered contingent of
grisettes--not unaccompanied--and a sprinkling of students and
artists, with or without the latter. The seats that Anna found were a
little behind the orchestra, and, having a broad ledge in front of
them, conveyed a grotesque suggestion to Portia's mind of pews in a
church. There were no prayer-books, however, only consommations of
divers kinds--bocks, mazagrans, and petits verres ranged thereupon.

"You'll have to take something," Anna explained to her as they sat
down. "Would you like to taste what absinthe is like? You need only
put your lips to it."

"Oh, please not," cried Portia, "I'll have coffee, with milk in it."
The coffee was brought in a long tumbler. It bore a very medicinal
appearance, and was accompanied by three slabs of unsweetening sugar
that seemed to have been provided to take the taste away. The party of
four was seated in a row, Portia between her two admirers. Mr. Eames,
to make up for time wasted, addressed all his conversation to her. The
orchestra was playing the waltz from Madame Angot as they entered, and
the curtain was up, displaying a tawdry stage, with faded draperies in
the background. Portia had never seen a music-hall performance of any
kind before. When an ingenuous-looking youth with an occasional twist
of the mouth that signified unutterable things came on the stage and
proceeded to sing a dozen verses with the invariable refrain of "Sije
connaissais mon papa," and when he set forth in detail the various
indulgences he would allow himself could the words of the refrain be
realized, she laughed out loud and thought the performance exceedingly
funny, without in the least comprehending the drift of it. Her naïve
enjoyment of it delighted Mr. Eames. Harry, on the contrary, looked as
John Knox might have looked when he was thundering in Mary's presence
against the French levity of her blood. The scabreux element in the
Gaieté songs, which was the salt of the entertainment to the rest of
the audience, repelled and disgusted him. Without that element they
were fade and meaningless. It distressed him to see Portia laughing in
the innocence of her heart at jokes of which the hidden meaning would
have revolted her had she been capable of understanding it. And what
an epilogue her appearance here was to her marriage! A week-old bride,
fresh from her girlhood's home, seated between two men who were both
intent upon wooing her, laughing at utterances that she should have
ignored all her life, in company with a crowd who set her down in all
likelihood as the mistress of one or of both. Allowance must be made
for Harry if he exaggerated the situation in his mind. He had
worshipped this woman next to him as the incarnation of a dream of
innocent purity, and it hurt and angered him beyond endurance to see
the white wings of his divinity smirched by contact with the gross
things of earth.

The next song pleased Portia even better. The singer was a woman,
who, though very plump, looked still very young, and who wore an
expression of artless innocence which was almost angelic. She sang of
an interview with "Monsieur le Curé," and though the air was
undeniably pretty, since Portia understood very little French, and
could follow none of the words, it was somewhat of a bewilderment to
her to see the audience laugh so boisterously at it. This was followed
by a performance which was a relief to Harry's overstrained feelings.
Like the dish of sugared rose-leaves that Eastern epicures insert in a
succession of highly-seasoned plats, it turned upon birds and
springtime--upon bucolic joys and pastoral pleasures. It was sung by
an elegantly dressed lady and had a succès d'estime. Harry expressed
his satisfaction for the first time, but relapsed into moody silence a
moment later when the far-famed Garçon made his appearence, and was
hailed with derisive shouts of welcome from the audience. Garçon's
rôle was to look like a fool, and he was dressed accordingly. He wore
a red wig, and trousers that were too short for him. His face, which
was blonde and shaven, had an expression of mingled imbecility and
ruse that was in itself a triumph of art. He could put on an air of
naiveté that was almost pathetic in its intensity, and could condense
such volumes of suggestion into a mere quivering of the eyelid that
his least gesture was the signal for a laugh. Garçon's song of the
evening had a refrain called "Ca la fait rire," and described his
wooing and wedding of a certain Josephine. It was boisterously
encored--and at the end of it Harry shot a rapid glance in the
direction of his neighbour. Portia had laughed delightedly at Garçon's
face at the outset, but now she was looking away with a grave and
somewhat terrified expression. Despite the heat, her cheeks and even
her lips were pale. Mr. Eames was affecting to be engrossed in his
programme. Garçon had souligné'd his song in a way that, even to the
comprehension of an utterly unversed and unsuspecting person like our
heroine, conveyed a hint of its turbid depths, and Portia had been
seized with a sudden misgiving.

"Haven't you had almost enough of this?" Harry said shortly to his
neighbour. "I think your friend has."

"Take her away, then," replied Miss Ross, without looking round. "I
will follow when I please."

"Miss Ross thinks you are looking tired," was his next observation,
addressed this time to Portia; he had ventured upon a free translation
of Anna's words; "and so I think you are. Won't you let me see you
home? It isn't really worth stopping in this bad air for, is it?"

"By the bye, I ought to be in too; I have no end of letters to
write," observed Mr. Eames, jumping up suddenly. "I can see Miss Drew
back, if she will let me. I know this thing from end to end. You'd
better see it out with Miss Ross, Tolhurst."

"Thanks!" said Harry, grimly; he tried to put himself in his friend's
place, and to remember that, in the ignorance in which the latter
remained of the real aspect of the case, his conduct in attempting to
monopolise Miss Drew's society must appear like that of an impertinent
interloper. And Eames had confided in him too--had hinted that he was
on the point of losing his heart to Miss Ross's friend, if he had not
lost it already. Nevertheless, Harry was loth to see the pair depart
together, and his hesitation was so apparent that Anna said
indignantly, "I won't have one of you three remain. If you do, I shall
go--and I don't want to be driven away. I will come back when I please
and as I please."

"You must let one of us stay to see you home," urged Harry,
reluctantly.

"To see me home! Poor little dear!" No reasoned refutation could have
been half so convincing as the briefly-uttered mocking rejoinder, into
which she infused all the scorn that stirred her soul. "You do look
tired, child," she observed, as Portia turned round to smile farewell
at her. "Take a cup of tea when you get back--you may give them some
too," nodding in the direction of the two young men, who stood up in
eager readiness to bear her away. "And keep the kettle on, will you? I
dare say I shall bring Rousky back with me."

The party of three did not prove much more satisfactory, after all,
than the party of four, to Mr. Eames's thinking. Harry said but
little, certainly; his presence made it impossible to talk of other
than indifferent subjects. No allusion was made to the place they had
left. Portia felt a sudden and unaccountable diffidence in referring
to it. The only thing it suggested to her mind was a dim recollection
of a childish experience she had had years ago when she had run to
pluck a beautiful rose-bough in the Yarraman garden. As she stretched
out her hand for the rose a cluster of caterpillar larvae, one moving
mass of black corruption, curled and wriggled round the stem. She had
burst into tears and run away. Besides the disgust inspired by the
larvae, there was the degradation of the poor rose to afflict her. The
tuneful singing she had heard a while ago made her think of this
experience anew. But it was not a thing to be discussed aloud. She
invited her two escorts into Anna's room--and despite the letters that
Mr. Eames had on his mind, he eagerly responded to the invitation.



Chapter XVIII



IT was under the shelter of the effigy of one of the earlier French
queens, clad in the stiff, cumbersome garments of her time, beneath
the stone presentment of which the chisel of even a French sculptor
had been unable to suggest the existence of a woman's form, that
Portia had her promised interview with Harry the next day. Early as
she had arrived at the trysting place, he was there before her. She
had recognized him from afar off, as she advanced slowly, with a step
that spoke of inward trepidation, towards the bench upon which he was
seated. In accepting his offer of help, as in promising to see him
alone, she was doing nothing for which her conscience need smite her.
Yet so unused was Portia to anything that savoured of deception, that
even this innocent cachotterie set her trembling. There was no one to
watch her here, no one to whom she need feel herself accountable for
her comings and goings. Yet there was such a startled expression in
her eyes of curious hue, those eyes that Harry knew so well and
thought of so often, that the sight of them moved him with pity. Her
manner had none of the confident buoyancy that had marked it when she
mounted the Academy steps radiant, and smiling a few weeks ago. She
wore what seemed to him a haunted look, and to reassure her he essayed
to speak of commonplace subjects in the easy tones of one who meets
unpremeditatedly a mere casual acquaintance.

"How do you do?" he shook her hand cordially.

"Isn't it a lovely afternoon for sitting out under the trees? I have
found such a pleasant seat over there. I was looking up through the
branches of the yellow leaves hidden in the green. Have you ever seen
an autumn in the Luxembourg?"

"No," she replied; she was beginning to feel a little more at her
ease now, and she took her seat by his side on the bench. "I have seen
only one autumn in Europe, but it seemed to me almost too wonderful to
be real. We have no autumn in Australia, you know. We were travelling
through Switzerland. It was the end of October, and the Alps were
covered with snow to their base. The trees--those tell Lombardy
poplars--had lost none of their leaves, but they had turned a golden
yellow all over. The weather was lovely, and the sky was a shining
blue. When I saw the golden trees growing out of the dazzling white
snow, I thought it too wonderful--I could not have believed a
landscape could ever come to to look like that."

"I know the effect you speak of," Harry said, musing. "Out of the
thousand autumn picture one sees, I have never seen that particular
combination exactly rendered. I think, though, the most gorgeous
autumn scene I ever beheld was on the shores of the Bosphorus. You
have been to Constantinople? No! Then I don't know how I am to give
you any idea in words of the riotous medley of colours you see from a
distance."

He essayed nevertheless, warming to his subject as he recalled every
marvellous detail of the brilliant panorama, bright and many-hued as a
parrot's wing. Portia listened in silence. She had forgotten for the
moment the chain that bound her. She was walking in imagination
through the enchanted scenes Harry was word-painting for her, scenes
that had not existed for her hitherto, save in the pages of the
Arabian Nights or of Lalla Rookh, the two sources whence she had
drawn, it is to be feared, her principal knowledge of an Oriental
mise-en-scène. A sense of the boundless delights the world had to
offer to two minds in entire sympathy grew upon her as she listened.
And the possibility of such joys as these had been within her reach!--
she would have had but to stretch out her hand to grasp it at the very
moment when she had deliberately and recklessly flung it away! For a
moment she could have wished that, like Anna, she had asserted her
right to do as she pleased before marriage instead of after it. The
artist band in Paris would soon be dispersing now, and each would go
his separate way without let or hindrance. Why, even if the Swedish
girls and her friend should go to Constantinople, no one would say
them nay, and on their return they would find the same atelier, the
same table at Clootz's, the same interests and associations open to
them as before. Perhaps Anna was right, after all. It was the people
themselves who spoiled the world, either by violence, or by
restrictions, or by interference with each other's movements; and it
was only those who heeded none of these things, and who went their own
ways, who could find any satisfaction in living.

Reflections of this nature brought Portia back to the actual
circumstances of her position. It was one thing to wander in fancy
with Harry against an intangible Oriental background, and quite
another to be found with Mr. Tolhurst against the actual background of
the Luxembourg Gardens. Despite Anna's "live and let live" principle,
she would not have cared to see her cross the gardens just now. Portia
felt herself, indeed, something of a traitress to her friend, for had
she not come out this afternoon to take counsel of another all unknown
to her?

"After what you said last night," she began, suddenly and
irrelevantly, as she traced unconscious patterns on the gravel-path at
her feet with the point of her parasol (many a hieroglyph drawn by the
point of a woman's parasol is the unenduring record of some paramount
passage in her life's history), "I know I need not be afraid to tell
you everything and to ask you what you think I had better do."

She paused irresolute, her eyes still fixed upon the ground. Harry,
for his part, was hanging on her every word. He could not see her
face, for she persisted in keeping her head down, but he had a view of
the lower half of her charming profile, and his imagination filled up
the remainder. He had known he loved her from the beginning; but in
accordance with the irony of Fate, he must needs be deprived of the
opportunity of avowing it until just after she had contracted marriage
with another man. Meeting her during the crisis that followed, he must
find himself in the position of her counsellor and mentor, instead of
her wooer, and must force himself to give her the very same advice
that he would have given to a cherished sister under like
circumstances. Here, at least, was his clearly defined duty, but it
was a duty that promised to be all the harder of fulfilment, that
something in Portia's manner seemed to tell him that if she had still
possessed her freedom he would not have wooed her in vain. That was a
maddening thought for a man situated as he was. Portia, in asking him
to decide for her, was surrendering herself virtually into his hands.
Her action in marrying a man she did not love simply because she had
no power to resist surrounding influences, her flight immediately
after the marriage, and her helplessness and irresolution when the
flight was accomplished--all this seemed to prove to him that she was
without the moral support known as backbone (an appropriate
designation, since it is only with the vertebrates that the faculty of
resisting our environments seems to have been evolved). He had
suspected as much before, but he did not love her the less for it. He
would have had backbone enough for both if he could have made her his
wife. He reproached himself bitterly in secret with his faint-
heartedness upon the memorable day when he had shown her his picture
of the Madonna. Perhaps that day had been the turning-point in their
lives, and he had not known how to seize it. Yet how could he have
imagined that she was about to slip out of his life for ever? They had
been such entire friends that morning--it would have seemed almost an
easy matter to say to her then, "You know I love you! do you not? and
I want you to be my wife, if you will." But he had not dared to say
it. He had allowed worldly considerations to weigh with him. He was
not so sure of making his mark then as he felt now. Portia was spoken
of as an heiress, and he had nothing but his art and his work to set
against her fortune. People would have said that he had taken undue
advantage of the first chance of winning the heiress that had fallen
in his way. He had been moved by considerations which after all would
have been reasonable enough under ordinary circumstances. Yet it
required no little effort to remember at this moment how he was
situated towards Portia, and to give her the counsel that honour and
duty demanded he should give her. "What do you think I had better do?"
she had asked, and her words echoed through his brain, and raised a
strange tumult in his heart. He felt that he had only to say, "Of
course, you must stay where you are," and in a very short time, in a
school like Anna's--under an influence like Anna's--he might persuade
her of his Heaven-sent right to become all in all to her. And, once he
had persuaded her of this, legal formalities might be deferréd for
subsequent regulation. Her relations would move Heaven and earth, or
rather the Church and the State, to have her union with him properly
ratified, and to have the other meaningless ceremony annulled. But let
her return to England now, and all their influence and power would be
employed to force her back into the unholy bonds that she had been
driven into against her will at the outset.

"You ask me what you are to do," he said at last slowly; he would not
avow that he shrank from the responsibility laid upon him. "Will you
answer me one question first? Supposing you were convinced that the
man you married most bitterly repented the sin that drove you away
from him--supposing this woman, Mrs. Morris, or whatever she calls
herself, could be spirited away, right away, no matter where--would
you still have the some horror of returning to your husband? Would you
want to separate your life from his under any circumstances? I am more
anxious then I can say to advise you for the best. I thought I must be
dreaming yesterday when I came upon you suddenly in the Luxembourg;
but afterwards, as I thought over your story in the night, the dream
seemed to turn into a nightmare. I can advise you up to a certain
point, but your own feelings are what you should consult before all.
If this obstacle had not arisen, the thought of running away would
never have entered into your head."

He made this assertion doubtfully, almost interrogatively. Portia
continued to trace patterns with the point of her parasol. The first
autumn leaves were fluttering down upon her in the soft evening
breeze.

"I had thought of doing it before," she said at last, in a scarcely
audible voice; "but never after I was once married."

Pleasant sounds were wandering to the bench where they sat. The
distant babble of children's voices, the twittering of the fearless
sparrows, the mingled cadence of falling water and rustling leaves,
all these would have made a soothing accompaniment to the beating of a
peaceful heart. But Harry's heart was far from being peaceful.
Disappointment unspeakable was causing it to ache and throb. He loved
this woman by his side. She was weak beyond all believing. She had
allowed herself to be married almost in spite of herself. There were
none of the elements of a Bride of Lammermoor in her nature.
Nevertheless he loved her. Her personality had a charm for him that
set all reasoning at defiance. Her very weakness attracted him. How
entirely she would have leaned upon him if he could have won her for
himself, to have and to hold till death parted him from her. But now
it was his bounden duty to send her away from him. The longer she
stayed with Anna, the more critical her position would become. There
were dangers around her of which she could have no understanding. Even
as it was, would not the shadow of her rash action hang like a dark
cloud over all her future life? Moreover, there was the moral aspect
of the question to be considered. Had she not taken upon herself
solemn vows in the most solemn place in the world? Harry Tolhurst
possessed what is known as the religious temperament. The fact that
the marriage rite had been actually performed was one that had great
weight with him. The evening before he had supposed for an instant
that Portia's husband had committed bigamy, in which event her own
share in the vows she had taken would have counted for nothing. But
the marriage, as he now knew, was a valid one, and the religious
service could not be gainsaid. He reviewed the case rapidly in his
mind before he said gently, but firmly:

"Then you had counted the cost! And the discovery you made after your
marriage is all we have to think of."

"Yes, I suppose so." There was something hopelesely despondent in her
manner of assent. "I thought we might arrange something here; but it
does not seem like it now. Anna wants me to stay with her at all
costs. She wants me to become a model"--Harry fancied he could detect
a slight tremor in her voice--"but I don't see my way. I feel as
though I were drifting, as though I were rudderless--if you can
understand."

"Indeed I can;" his tones were full of sympathy. "I was on board a
ship once that had lost her rudder. There is always great danger of
drifting on to the rocks. Now, if you will let me advise, I think you
ought to go home directly. Go and put yourself under your brother's
protection. You seem to have run away just to escape from a position
in which you felt yourself helpless to act. But when you go back
things will have arranged themselves, There is no risk of your being
forced to act now without due time for reflection. And you will be
safer there than here. Believe me you will. Miss Ross's home is no
place for you."

All the time he was urging her to depart, his heart was crying out to
him to bid her remain. But for the very reason that he was doing a
violence to his secret desires, his spoken words were vehement. Portia
could have no conception of the extent to which she tried him by her
reply.

"Then I know how it will all end!" she said piteously. "John cares
for me terribly" (it was the first time he had heard her speak of her
husband as John); "he will never hear of anything but my returning to
him, and he will have talked the others over by now."

To this Harry made no rejoinder until he had gathered strength
sufficient to say, "Even that would be better than following out
Anna's plan of life--I think."

"Do you think so? Oh! I wish you could hear her talk!" She paused,
and continued rapidly, without looking at him, "Unless people come
together from sheer love of each other, and only stay together just as
long as the want to do so is there, it is all wrong and unnatural, she
says. She talks about it so wonderfully sometimes; I wish you could
hear her."

"Oh! I know the free love doctrine," Harry said grimly. "Listen."
Portia raised her head in astonishment, his voice and manner were
solemn. "I am going to speak to you, if I can, as father, brother,
lover--all in one. For I want you to understand that I love you better
than myself. Do you know that if it were to any one but me you quoted
Anna's words, you would be doing a very risky thing? People might not
understand. Supposing I were to take advantage of the fact that you
are Anna's disciple to uphold her doctrine to you on my own account.
Do you know where it would lead us? It would lead, in the first place,
to my trying to compass your ruin. If love and inclination are to be
the only arbiters; if honour and duty and self--control are to have no
say in the matter at all, what is to prevent my acting upon the
impulse that moves me now? What is to prevent my entreating you to try
and care for me a little? Why should I not say, Forget all the ghastly
business of the other day, and let us begin a new life together here.
Don't look terrified" (for Portia had turned a face of pale
astonishment towards him), "I care for you too truly to say it"--his
voice was trembling with agitation. "I care for you for yourself, my
dear. That means, that I set too great a value upon your peace of
mind, and your reputation, to ever want you to fling them away for me.
There are things that count for more than love--"

He broke off suddenly. Portia's eyes were suffused. He felt that his
resolution was giving way. If she continued to look at him like that
it would abandon him altogether; or, rather, it would expend itself in
words, while, in obedience to the overmastering instinct that stirred
him, his arm would steal round her neck, and his lips would seek hers.

But Portia had lowered her eyes again. "I know why you speak like
that," she said. "You are thinking of what is to come afterwards--
after we are dead, I mean."

"Yes!" he replied. "I believe in a future, too. I think we are called
upon most often to climb the steep and thorny path to Heaven."

"But if one did not think that!" she was transfixing the withered
leaves at her feet with her parasol, and sweeping them over the
hieroglyphs on the gravel.

"If one did not think that," he repeated. But his voice changed; Anna
and Mr. Eames, walking side by side, were advancing towards them under
the trees. The dissatisfaction of the latter was apparent in his step.
It is not only the facial muscles; every muscle of the body expresses
moods--witness the difference in the outline, however distant, of a
boy on his way to be caned, and the same boy out for a holiday.

"Found at last!" said Anna, triumphantly. There was a mocking gleam
in her black eyes as Portia rose in confusion to greet her. "See, I
have a telegram for you. I dare say it's only a device on the part of
your friends to get you away."

The message delivered into Portia's hands had been through double
forms. Addressed in the first instance to the suburban post-office in
London where Anna's friend called for the letters she transmitted to
the runaway, it had been re-telegraphed by her to Paris. Portia ran
her eyes over it hurriedly. The signature which caught her eye first
was Eliza's and the message was to the following effect:

"Come back. Mary Willet run over; not expected to live. Wants you
immediately."

Portia to the profound and jealous astonishment of Mr. Eames, put
this dispatch into Harry's hands at once. She had turned pale to the
lips as she read the contents. Harry felt that some explanation was
due to the others.

"We have found out," he said hurriedly, "that we have a friend--
Miss--er--Drew and I whom we are both in Paris to assist. I suppose,"
he added, turning gravely to her, "you will go to her at once--won't
you?"

"Yes; oh, yes!" There was sharp distress in her tones. "I will leave
for England to-night."



Chapter XIX



PORTIA was not suffered to repeat the experience that attended her
flight from London, as she took her hurried departure from Paris a few
hours later. Four people saw her off at the Gare du Nord by the night
train for Calais. Mr. Eames, who sadly realised that his designation
of her as a beautiful bird of passage had been only too appropriate,
was among them. Neither he nor his friend, between whom and himself a
marked coldness had sprung up, dared to put into execution a project
that both had secretly cherished of offering to escort her to London.
Portia was conscious of a slight sense of shame as she stood at the
window of the first-class ladies' compartment to wish her friends
good-bye. She felt that to indulge in luxurious travelling was a
backsliding; besides which Anna and Rousky scorned all save third-
class fares.

Nevertheless, as the train moved smoothly off, to the satisfaction of
everybody (for the whole party, was fast relapsing into the condition
of mental vacuity that prolonged railway-station farewells engender),
she could not be indifferent to the fact that here at least she might
think over things in comfortable and cushioned solitude. The news of
Mary's accident had shocked her profoundly. It seemed as though the
mysterious message of Harry's Madonna had not been fully delivered
even yet. The final words had still to be spoken. Portia believed now
that from the first moment of beholding the picture she had recognised
the power that would henceforth control her destiny. At Mary's call
she had fled from her home; at the same call she was returning to it
now. On Mary's behoof she had put her husband away from her. What
might she not be called upon to do next! Her thoughts travelled
backwards and forwards between Anna's quairième and the rose-embowered
Kensington home. She reflected that only where a woman's affections
are fixed there can she cast her anchor. Perhaps it was the
impossibility of so fixing them that made Anna renounce all home ties
and lead a vagrant life. She had a dim suspicion that Anna dragged her
anchor from time to time, and that, despite her apparent indifference,
she was one of those whom the "howling winds," would drive devious,
tempest-tossed to the end of her days. This time there was no moonlit
landscape to mingle its fantastic glories with the dreams our heroine
was weaving. The reign of the August moon was over, and a warm
darkness covered the face of the earth. The tide of voyagers was
setting from, not towards, the English shores. Portia might have been
wandering with ghosts through an impalpable limbo for all the
communion she held with her few fellow-passengers on the journey. It
was hardly past sunrise when she arrived at Victoria Station and found
herself once again under the familiar overhung London sky. Her hair
felt dank against her temples as she drove to Kensington. The trees in
the Park looked black and drooping. Where was the radiant green,
shining behind a shimmery silver veil, that she remembered so well?
She leaned back in her cab and closed her eyes wearily. She could not
have believed that all could change so utterly above and around her,
without and within, in so short a space of time.

Portia had never so fully realised that she had put herself into the
position of an outcast as upon her return to her home at this early
hour of the day. As no one expected her, no one was up to receive her.
The cabman was obliged to hammer at the door and ring the area bell
persistently, with an oft-repeated "that'll bring 'em out!" before the
blue-and-silver footman, stripped of his distinguishing trappings,
proceeded to unlock and unchain the front door. The person to whom he
opened it scuttled past him with a short "Good morning, William!" to
her room. It annoyed her to feel sure that the first thing he would do
would be to clatter round to the servant's regions to give the news of
her return redhot. She found the door of her room locked, and it was
necessary to climb another storey to wake Nurse Eliza, who probably
kept the key. And Eliza, once awakened, would not let her go. Time had
been when Portia had crept into the faithful creature's bed upon
thundery nights at Yarraman, when the vision of the picture of devils
in Wilmer's illustrated copy of the Ingoldsby Legends, over the words:

"Then did she reek, and squeak, and shriek.

With a wild, unearthly yell."

had recurred to her with disagreeable force every time the lightning
flashed. She recognised, just as of old, the row of light little
plaits into which Eliza was wont to twist her hair, to give it a wave
the following day.

"Did you plait up your hair the day I ran away, Eliza?" were her
first words, as she sat upon the edge of her nurse's bed, after she
had roused her by lightly kissing her upon the forehead.

"Don't tell me it's you come back!" cried Eliza, joyfully but
irrelevantly. "It's too good to be true."

"You knew I would be obliged to come when you sent me that message."
Portia had flung down her hat; her chestnut hair was ruffled into
softest disorder, and her face was pale with the mingled effects of
her night journey and the excitement of her home-coming. "Poor, poor
Mary! is it as bad as you thought?"

"It's very bad, my dear," Eliza made reply, sitting up in bed and
looking gravely at her; "but it hadn't ought to have been any business
of yours. Such goings on I never saw in my life! That Mary Willet
doesn't know what shame means; and her family so respectable, too! But
there, you was always too good-hearted. Don't I remember when you used
to cry fit to break your heart every time they were going to stick a
pig at the station!"

"Oh! never mind about the pig; tell me about Mary. When did she send
for me? Where is she? How did it happen? Who says she can't live?"

"Miss, I can't tell you everything all in a minute. I only know this
much: a woman came round here from Mary Willet's lodgings yesterday,
just as I was setting out the flowers for lunch. 'Mrs. Morris'--that's
the name the hussy gave herself--'Mrs. Morris has been run over,' she
says, 'and she can't die easy, she says, without Miss James goes to
see her.' Mr. James, he said I was to telegraph straight off to the
place where I used for to send your letters; and its just a chance
they called for the telegram and sent it off to you so soon, though I
expect you weren't very far off, if the truth were known."

"Far enough to take ten hours to get back. But I must go to Mary at
once!" cried Portia, springing from the bed. "She is expected to die,
you say, and here I sit doing nothing at all. I won't disturb the
others now. Give me her address, quick, and let me go."

She had been plunging a towel into the water-jug as she spoke, and
now passed it rapidly over her face. Her hat and veil were on in an
instant. "The address, Eliza!" she repeated impatiently.

"They've been and changed you, my dear!" said the nurse, dolefully.
"You're that headstrong, one 'ud never dream you was the same. Oh, the
address!"--for Portia was stamping her foot with impatience--"it's
Latimer Road somewhere--let me see--I put it into my purse. But
wherever has my purse got to? I thought I had it under my pillow, but
you put everything out of my head, being so impatient. Stay, though; I
remember now--it's 92 A or B: I can't remember which, but 92 I'll
swear to. I couldn't forget it, 'cause 'twas the number of my cabin on
the Ismail. But won't you just give me time to get up and go along
with you? I don't like to trust you out o'my sight any more, my dear!"

"I'll send for you if I want you. Don't keep me now, Eliza dear; and
tell them all--Emma and Wilmer, I mean--that I shall be back soon."

Precipitate departures seemed to enter now into the normal order of
events in Portia's life. The tale told by the unfrocked footman would
have received no credence had it not been for the presence in the hall
of the valise and saddle-bag, which (failing a gentleman-help) it was
nobody's business to carry upstairs at this unseemly hour. The owner
of them had departed, and, judging by the manner of her former
disappearance, there was no saying when she would return. As she left
the house, Portia realised that here, too, all was changed, and that
the old, happy, unthinking existence she had led in it was a thing of
the past. Even if John should pass out of her life forever, things
could never be the same again. But would he pass out of it? As far as
practical results went, her flight to Paris had been little better
than the famous expedition of the King of Spain who went up a hill and
then came down again. She had run away irresolute, and irresolute she
returned. But meanwhile this, at least, had been gained, that John's
sin had found him out.

It was only seven o'clock still, and Portia had many steps to walk
before she encountered a cab. In Paris at this hour all the world was
astir. This was Anna's sweeping morning, and Portia could picture her
with the towel pinned square over her swarthy brow, looking like the
last of the Pharaohs, as she sternly wielded her broom. The cab
stopped at the door of a trim--looking house, with a pathway in white
flagstones leading through the little front garden. A bare-armed maid
was "hearthstoning" the flags on her knees. The blinds were up upon
the first storey, whence Portia concluded, before she descended from
the cab, that the worst was not yet to be feared. She ran up the
steps, overcome by the sick, half-sinking sensation that the
apprehension of bodily suffering to ourselves or to others is wont to
bring with it. The bare-armed maid had silently pushed open the front
door (standing ajar) for her to enter, and, in answer to the trembling
inquiry, "Mrs. Morris?" was about to lead her through the short
entrance-hall, and up the staircase at the farther end, when a man's
form was seen descending the stairs. Portia shrank back with a gesture
of dismay. The man was John: he had recognised her, and was coming
down the stairs to meet her.

Situations that we picture to ourselves as necessarily impressive
and tragic are often very tame and trite in real life. It is the
feeling which accompanies them, not the words that are uttered, which
gives them their true significance. That is why the commonplace
phrases that Ibsen puts into the mouths of his characters, at the
moment when they perform their most tragic deeds, lend such ghastly
reality to his dramas. The step from the sublime to the ridiculous is
stumbled across most easily when our nerves are most highly strung.
The slippers of Hedda Gabler's husband thrust themselves in some form
or another upon all our most dramatic experiences.

Portia shrank back as John came towards her. She was totally
unprepared for such a meeting. She had fancied that her only sensation
upon encountering her husband again would be one of righteous
indignation; but as he came towards her now she was overcome by a
sense of guiltiness on her own account that placed her at a manifest
disadvantage. What if he were to carry the war into the enemy's camp--
if, instead of waiting to be upbraided, he were to begin by upbraiding
her. He was armed with undeniable authority; he had power, if he
chose, to call her to account for her desertion of him. In any case,
he might judge that it would have been her duty to hear what he, as
well as Mary, had to say before she ran away from him. She was
touched, in spite of herself, to note how his trouble had told upon
him physically. She could not have believed that he could have changed
so much within a week. There were traces of many a sleepless night, of
many a baffled quest, of many a heartsick longing written in his face.
He had turned pale as he saw her (and the effect was the more
startling that his hue was so rubicund under its normal aspect), but
his eyes had a sterner expression than she had ever seen in them
before. In vain she raised her head with a half-defiant gesture.
Despite her certitude that she had had the best of warrants for
running away, she felt and looked liked a culprit.

The unexpectedness of his attitude disconcerted her. John in his
letters and John in the flesh seemed to be no longer one and the same
person. Judging by his written appeal, which she had not answered, she
had expected to find him wellnigh crushed to the earth under the
weight of his remorseful misery. Meeting him face to face, he looked
more like a severe judge than a penitent evil-doer. "He thinks he has
me quite in his power now," Portia said to herself; but it was not a
favourable moment for proving the contrary. The bare-armed maid had
retreated to her hearthstoning, little dreaming that the lady and
gentleman who had stared at each other in the hall were husband and
wife; but close behind John a person was descending the stairs, whom
Portia divined to be the doctor. In addition to the sedately
professional air that a medical man puts on almost unconsciously with
the coat in which he makes his morning rounds, there was a solemnity
in his demeanour that spoke of a serious case. Portia had made a
little movement forward as John descended the last step of the stairs.
Neither she nor her husband had extended a welcoming hand to each
other.

"I have come to see Mary," Portia said in strangled tones. Never
since her childhood had she been so conscious of the presence of an
aching lump in her throat. "She sent for me. Can I go to her now!"

"You had better speak to the doctor," replied John, briefly. His wife
did not see the yearning in his eyes as she turned away from him.

She waylaid the doctor as he passed through the hall, and appealed to
him in trembling anxiety:

"Is Mary Willet--Mrs. Morris," she stammered--"is the person who had
the accident able to see me? Do please tell me. Is she very
dangerously hurt?"

"Are you a friend of hers?" the doctor asked gently.

"Yes," replied Portia, firmly; "but I know she was not expected to
live yesterday. Is there any hope of saving her now?"

"I am afraid--none. The wonder is that she should be alive still. You
know how the accident happened, I suppose? No? She slipped in the
street yesterday with her child; a cart was going by at the moment.
She managed to save the child, but the wheel came into contact with
her neck, which was fatally injured. It is indeed wonderful that she
has not succumbed to it already. She is conscious and coherent still.
Everything that could be done has been done for her. I shall be back
again myself directly--but there is no possibility of saving her."

He bowed and left her. Portia turned helplessly round, intimating by
a gesture to her husband that she desired to be taken to Mary's room.
John preceded her up the staircase without a word, and passed
uninvited after her into the chamber of death, of which the door
opening on to a narrow landing was only partially closed. The blind
was up, and as Portia entered the room she became aware, like the
Physician in Andersen's tales, that Death was seated at the head of
the bed. It was the first time she had ever stood in his mighty
presence, but her feeling was more of awe than of fear.

Mary's throat was covered with bandages. But the haunting Madonna
eyes, set in a face of most ghastly pallor, looked up from the pillow
as Portia entered. The dark hair was tumbled and towsled. The left arm
was lying on the counterpane, and the hand, with the mark of dark
needle--pricks on the fore-finger, clutched tightly at the flannel
gown of the solemn-faced baby, sitting up baby-wise with wagging head,
by her side. The sight wrung Portia's heart. Mary's eyes, shining
already with the strange, flickering light of a lamp that is nearly
spent, were seeking hers, and she could read the supreme appeal that
was written in them. She walked softly to the bedside, and, with her
husband's eyes directed towards her every movement, stooped over the
pillow of the dying woman and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.
There was unspeakable longing in Mary's gaze. Her lips moved but no
sound issued from them. Portia was fain to bend low to catch the
almost inaudible words, of which the utterance was every moment
arrested by a hoarse, unnatural wheeze, like that of a child with the
croup. But the movement of the speaker's head in the direction of the
child, and the feeble attempt to draw it closer to her side, made
clear much that was left unsaid.

"My little one, Miss." The hoarse whisper seemed to drive through
Portia's brain and to penetrate to her very heart. "Please take him--
bring him up." There was a gasping intensity in the spasmodically
uttered words that rendered them doubly impressive. "His father--too--
" hoarse wheezing choked her utterance.

Portia knelt by the bedside and encircled the child with her arm.
"Mary--poor Mary," she said pitifully, and there were tears in her
voice, "he shall be safe with me--he shall indeed. I promise you--I
will keep him always, Mary dear--I will tell him about you--and--and--
is there nothing I can do for you now? I am afraid you are in great
pain." For at this moment a spasm of agony, the strain of catching at
her fast departing breath, was contracting the dying woman's face. But
Mary's message was not all spoken. The final mission of the pictured
Madonna had still to be accomplished upon earth. With the dews of
death gathering upon her forehead, she turned her gaze towards her
rival's husband, towards the man who had betrayed her, standing silent
at the foot of the bed, and petitioned him mutely to come closer to
her. As he approached the bedside, she reached out feeble fingers for
his hand, and placed it upon his child's head. Before he could
withdraw it, she had clutched at, Portia's hand, and now essayed to
unite it with John's in her dying clasp. At this moment Portia's fate
might be said to tremble in the balance. She struggled to free
herself, and had she obeyed the first strong impulse all her life's
history might have been changed. But John's hand had already closed
around hers, and as she raised her eyes in protest to his face she saw
something written there that forbade her to draw it away. Thinking
over the scene afterwards, she wondered how it was that she had come
to capitulate so promptly and so entirely. Was it because she deemed
that her husband had been punished enough? Was her heart melted by the
evidence of the mental suffering he had endured, by the traces of
hope-deferred heart-sickness, of wounded affection, of yearning
tenderness she could read in his eyes? Was it simply that she felt
once more as she had felt on her wedding morning--"Who shall shut out
fate?" and that she recognised the futility of struggling against her
destiny? Or did it occur to her that if she had thought (not only at
the eleventh hour, but when the eleventh hour was past that she might
still escape her fate by espousing Mary's cause, the pretext was
unavailing now, since it was Mary herself who had forced her to
return, and Mary's hand, already clammy with death, that was riveting
her to her husband with a force stronger than that of the grave? Was
she impelled to act as she did by her sense of the sacredness of the
charge she had undertaken? Did Mary's child forge the chain that must
bind her henceforth to John? Was it that her short insight into Anna's
life had been a disillusion, and that she was afraid of launching, as
Anna had done, upon a rudderless existence? Did the recollection of
Harry's advice to her to return, given with the full knowledge that he
ran the risk of losing her for ever, influence her decision? Was she
moved by the sudden impulse to immolate herself that has converted so
many women into nuns and nursing sisters? Was she tired out by her
night journey and her emotion, and unable to form a resolution? Was it
apathy, was it pique, was it pity, was it rewakening love, or was it a
mixture of all these together that swayed her! Whatever might have
been the motive (and even to herself it was never clear), the fact
remained that she allowed her hand to lie in John's grasp. Mary's
agony was mercifully short, but before her eyes rolled upwards in
death they were irradiated by a light that spoke more eloquently than
any words of a soul that departed in peace. Her work was done, her
mission accomplished. Her child would be the gainer by her death, and
for herself the sleep that knows no awakening was a boon.

Half an hour later Mr. and Mrs. Morrisson walked back to breakfast at
Kensington arm in arm. Wilmer and Emma welcomed them as naturally as
though they had just returned from the conventional honeymoon trip
they had contemplated. Three months afterwards, upon an afternoon of
November fog that had no crimson sunbeams captive this time, the whole
party stood upon the hurricane deck of a huge Orient liner in the
docks upon the eve of a separation. The bride and bridegroom were
leaving for Australia. A stout lady, easily recognisable as Mrs.
James, wearing a huge mantle entirely composed of the minute and
costly furs of the Australian duck-billed platypus, was holding two
embroidered handkerchiefs in readiness--one for wetting, the other for
waiving. The young married lady of the party, clad in a becoming sea-
going suit of tweed, was dividing her attentions between the stout
lady with the handkerchiefs, and a solemn--looking infant seated upon
its nurse's arm.

"Don't you think it's too cold for him on deck, Emma?" she said
anxiously. "I'll just show Eliza the cabin next to ours that we've
taken for him. I'll be back again directly."

She hurried below, followed by the maid with the child, but after
installing them in the cabin in question was stopped on her way
through the splendid dining-saloon by a gentleman crossing it from the
opposite end. The fast-gathering fog, of a dingy brown-ochre hue,
prevented her from seeing him until he was quite close to her. Then
she recognised Harry Tolhurst.

"I thought I might be allowed just to come and wish you god-speed,"
he said, holding out his hand. He had not seen her since the day when
he had urged her at all costs to return to London. "I know what you
have done, and I trust you have your reward. If I could only hear you
say--before I wish you good-bye for ever--that you have found it
already!" Tears started into Portia's eyes. She tried her utmost not
to let them fall. "Do you remember what you said," she whispered,
"about climbing the steep and thorny path to Heaven? But then, you are
sure at least that it does lead to Heaven--But see?" Her voice
changed, and its tone became placid and conventional. "Here is my
husband. Let me introduce you to Mr. Tolhurst, John." There was little
time for conversation. Harry felt that it would not be fitting for him
to intrude upon the farewell effusions of the bride and her relatives.
His last vision of Portia was standing by her husband's side close to
the bulwarks, bravely trying to smile, as the vessel moved from the
docks. The fog was not so thick but that he could see the moisture
shining in her eyes at the same instant. It was in just such an
atmosphere that she had passed out of his sight a few months ago,
after their joyous meeting at the Academy. But the fog had been rose-
stained then, and there had been hope in his heart. It was mud-
coloured to-day, and the hope was crushed and dead. If he could have
put on the Town Councillor's magic shoes that Hans Andersen writes
about, if he could have gone back to the day when he had sat with
Portia under the shadow of the stone queen in the Luxembourg Gardens,
would he have given her the same advice as he had given her then?
Would he have upheld the selfsame standard, and essayed, as he had
also done, to act up to it himself? He tried to think that he had
answered both these questions in the affirmative as he went back to
his self-imposed career of work and solitude.



THE END



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