Page images
PDF
EPUB

gift, and he had vowed never to part with it: but that he would give him the most valuable ring in Venice, and find it out by proclamation. On this Portia affected to be affronted, and left the court, saying: 'You teach me, sir, how a beggar should be answered.' 'Dear Bassanio, said Antonio, let him have the ring; let my love and the great service he has done for me be valued against your wife's displeasure.' Bassanio, ashamed to appear so ungrateful, yielded, and sent Gratiano after Portia with the ring; and then the clerk Nerissa, who had also given Gratiano a ring, begged it of him, and Gratiano-not choosing to be outdone in generosity by his lord-gave it to her. And there was laughing among those ladies to think, when they got home, how they would tax their husbands with giving away their rings, and swear that they had given them as a present to some woman.

Portia, when she returned, was in that happy temper of mind which never fails to attend the consciousness of having performed a good action ; her cheerful spirits enjoyed everything she saw : the moon never seemed to shine so bright before ; and when that pleasant moon was hid behind a cloud, then a light which she saw from her house at Belmont as well pleased her charmed fancy, and she said to Nerissa : "That light we see is burning in my hall; how far that little candle throws its beams, so shines a good deed in a naughty world :' and hearing the sound of music from her house, she said : “Methinks that music sounds much sweeter than by day.' And now Portia and Nerissa entered the house, and dressing themselves in their own apparel, they awaited the arrival of their husbands, who soon followed them with Antonio; and Bassanio presenting his dear friend to the Lady Portia, the congratulations and welcomings, of that lady were hardly over, when they perceived Nerissa and her husband quarrelling in a corner of the

room.

A quarrel already!' said Portia ; 'what is the matter?

Gratiano replied : 'Lady, it is about a paltry gilt ring that Nerissa gave me, with words upon it like the poetry on a cutler's knife—“Love me and leave me not.'

What does the poetry or the value of the ring signify?' said Nerissa ; ‘you swore to me, when I gave

it to you, that you would keep it till the hour of death ; and now you say you gave it to the lawyer's clerk. I know you gave it to a woman !!

* By this hand,' replied Gratiano, 'I gave it to a youth, a kind of boy, a little scrubbed boy no higher than yourself; he was clerk to the young counsellor that by his wise pleading saved Antonio's life: this prating boy begged it for a fee, and I could not for my life deny him.'

Portia said : “You were to blame, Gratiano, to part with your wife's first gift. I gave my Lord Bassanio a ring, and I am sure he would not part with it for all the world.' Gratiano, in excuse for his fault, now said : • My Lord Bassanio gave his ring away to the counsellor, and then the boy, his clerk, that took some pains in writing, begged my ring.'

Portia, hearing this, seemed very angry, and reproached Bassanio for giving away her ring; and she said Nerissa had taught her what to believe, and that she knew some woman had the ring. Bassanio was very unhappy to have so offended his dear lady, and he said with great earnestness : 'No, by my honour, no woman had it, but a civil doctor, who refused three thousand ducats of me, and begged the ring, which, when I denied him, he went displeased away. What could I do, sweet Portia ? I was so beset with shame for my seeming ingratitude, that I was forced to send the ring after him. Pardon me, good lady; had you been there, I think you would have begged the ring of me to give the worthy doctor.'

“Ah,' said Antonio, 'I am the unhappy cause of these quarrels !

Portia bade Antonio not to grieve at that, for that he was welcome notwithstanding; and then Antonio said : 'I once did lend my body for Bassanio's sake; and but for him to whom your husband gave the ring, I should have now been dead. I dare be bound again, my soul upon the forfeit, your lord will never more break his faith with you.'

Then you shall be his surety,' said Portia ; 'give him this ring, and bid him keep it better than the other.'

When Bassanio looked at this ring, he was strangely surprised to find that it was the same he gave away ; and then Portia told him how she was the young counsellor, and Nerissa was her clerk; and Bassanio found, to his unspeakable wonder and delight, that it was by the noble courage and wisdom of his wife that Antonio's life was saved.

And Portia again welcomed Antonio, and gave him letters which by some chance had fallen into her hands, containing an account of Antonio's ships, that were supposed lost, being safely arrived in the harbour. So these tragical beginnings of this rich merchant's story were all forgotten in the unexpected good-fortune which ensued, and there was leisure to laugh at the comical adventure of the rings, and the husbands that did not know their own wives ; Gratiano merrily declaring, in a sort of rhyming speech, that

• While he lived, he'd fear no other thing
So sore, as keeping safe Nerissa’s ring.'

THE PRIVATE OF THE BUFFS.

Some Sikhs and a private of the Buffs, having remained behind with the grog-carts, fell into the hands of the Chinese. On the next morning, they were brought before the authorities, and commanded to kneel down and bow to the ground. The Sikhs obeyed; but the English soldier, declaring he would not prostrate himself before any Chinaman alive, was immediately knocked upon the head, and his body thrown on a dunghill.'

1.
Last night, among his fellows rough,

He jested, quaffed, and swore
A drunken private of the Buffs,

Who never looked before.
Today, beneath the foeman's frown,

He stands in Elgin's* place-
Ambassador from Britain's crown,

And type of all her race.

2.
Poor, reckless, rude, low-born, untaught,

Bewildered and alone
A heart with English instinct fraught,

He yet can call his own.

* Lord Elgin was then commander-in-chief of the British forces in China.

Ay, tear his body limb from limb,

Bring cord, or axe, or flame;
He only knows, that not through him

Shall England come to shame.

3. Low Kentish * hop-fields round him seemed

Like dreams to come and go;
Bright leagues of cherry-blossom gleamed

One sheet of living snow;
The smoke above his father's door

In gray soft eddyings hung:
Must he then watch it rise no more,
Doomed by himself so young?

4. Yes ; honour calls ! with strength like steel,

He put the vision by-
Let dusky Indians whine and kneel,

An English lad must die.
And thus, with eyes that would not shrink,

With knees to man unbent, Unfaltering on its dreadful brink,

To his red grave he went.

5. Vain, mightiest fleet of iron framed

Vain those all-shattering guns,
Unless proud England keep unstained

The strong heart of her sons.
So let his name through Europe ring-

A man of mean estate,
Who died as firm as Sparta's king,

Because his soul was great.

* The Buffs, or West Kent Regiment.

« PreviousContinue »