The tables turn again.
After several minutes of silence had gone by, Henry slowly opened his eyes and smiled across at her, sitting comfortably in that chair with her diary in her lap and fast asleep. He had told her that even the small beer was quite potent, but he had not refilled his pitcher with small beer this time, but with the more robust brew. She had consumed two tankards of that as she had sat there drawing and writing. Fortunately, she had thought him to be asleep. Two mugs of that beer were enough to drive anyone into a deep sleep at the end of the day.
He smiled as he watched her, and thought about what he had sensed and learned of her again. She had been just as affected by their first meeting as he had. What was there about what had happened between them to have caused her to return to the scene of their memorable first meeting? She had also dared to return even as scantily clad as she had earlier been and had relaxed even more carelessly in the chair opposite him, as she had single mindedly concentrated on drawing him rather than upon protecting her modesty (believing him to be asleep) and then of writing something. She had paid him an immense compliment by returning as she had. He would draw her again after that.
He listened for some moments to be sure that she was indeed asleep, and not feigning it, as he had, when he had first seen the dog become attentive to something outside of the door, just before she entered again. He slowly unwound himself from the chair. He picked up his book and turned to see what she had done. He knew that she had seen those other drawings that he had done, and was curious to see what she had done of him in turn. He was pleasantly surprised and had to smile. She had been gentle with him, and they were as cleverly done as any of his own drawings. He turned the page and then read what she had written as she had seemingly forgotten that he was there. She had believed that he had been asleep, else she would not have sat as carelessly as she had. He moved a candle closer to his chair, lit another one, and read:
’What is love? A question posed by a gentleman
It is perhaps informative first to decide what love is not. Love is not cruel, nor does it seek any unfair advantage or hurt those caught up in its tender moments. Love is many things, not just one thing fired up by the urge or desire of that moment, as some—caught up in another, lesser passion—mistakenly assume.
Love, gives. It does not demand. Love, proper love,is learned in childhood—from example. It is best known as the fiercely protective love a mother shows for her children, blind to all personal danger to herself. It also exists in some families in a slightly different form, as a protective love—sister to sister, and between brother and sister. However, the more satisfying love can be that between a gentleman and a maid of like mind and similar station, and whose interests march together in harmony of their similar characters.
Love is slow, tolerant, and patient, yet there is also an urgent volition to it at its birth, seeking recognition, and then expression.
Its urgent and impatient fire may be felt and known in that first moment of meeting with another special person. It shapes us and makes us God’s true creation as well as part of his greater plan. I believe we might, all of us, be immortal gods, but for that flaw he presented us with, in giving Adam his Eve, to feel the first stirrings of desire, or perhaps giving Eve her Adam, to discover together that meaning of what the church so mistakenly describes as the original sin. There is no sin in true love. God would not be so capricious.′
He felt breathless with such honesty staring him in the face. He did not need to ask what had sparked such an outpouring from her. He took a fast look across at her, still asleep. So she had felt it too, just as he had. It had been obvious to both of them, even though they had been careful not to speak of it in such a charged setting—so late at night in such an out of the way place, and with them both so relatively ill dressed and alone. She also expressed herself well.
’Love is not conditional. It does not seek to injure, but seeks to forgive—to heal, to comfort, to build, to move forward, ever growing. Love is kind and encompasses all things. It is infectious. Love engenders love—gives birth to love.
True love never dies. It seeks no recompense. Love is selfless, not selfish.
Love is unique to each person and thing, and is its own gentle reward, though it is surely rewarded by being recognized and returned in kind. However, to answer another question that I post for myself; is it better to love, or to be loved? Were I obliged to choose one or the other I must choose the former. It is better to love, to feel love and to know love, even if it is not returned.
How glad I am that I am not immortal and thus, like those unfeeling gods, might be shielded from that most human of emotions—the pain of love and loving. That is what makes us human. As the bard so eloquently intoned, “Better to have loved, and lost, than never to have loved.”
He was quite surprised at how touching it was, and re-read it several times. She had initialed it as she had done for each of her drawings of him, with a C and an inverted W as she had explained it, perhaps as a parody of her own tumultuous past which turned her life upside down and brought her here.
He smiled and sat back, deep in thought. His life had changed that evening. He knew what they both had felt and had seen develop between them. Yet here she was again, no more able to stay away from him than he had wanted to be away from her, even after such a brief meeting. She would be unlikely to awaken easily after drinking that beer, and he would also have a lot to think about before Lethe—the river of gentle oblivion—sleep, gathered him to her bosom. He sat and thought for some time, and then giving in to impulse, he picked up his pencil and began to draw once more.
As he drew, he thought about what he had read of her innermost thoughts. Might he write some follow-on verses about A Vision of Beauty, which she had certainly been? Should he write about a simple kiss that he had felt drawn to take from her, but then had been freely given? He still felt the excitement of that. He would make sure that his sketchbook was out of the way so that she could not see what he had drawn of her so revealingly and candidly after that, in his strange mood concerning her, and take offense. Should he perhaps respond to her dissertation on love as he perceived it? No. That might prove to be dangerous and would allow her to see even deeper into his character.
He put his book quietly to the floor, stood up, and reached across to refill the tankard once more, and then drained it. The sound of beer sloshing into the container had not disturbed her. Nor did the noise as he carefully made up the dying fire, lifting coal, a piece at a time with tongs from the scuttle, and placing it carefully upon the red coals, where it soon blazed into flame. The room would certainly be warm when he returned.
He looked down at her and reminisced to himself, with only the dog as a conscious audience. The dog was used to it. Henry often spoke to him, telling him all of his troubles.
“I wonder if you might know how greatly you set my mostly ordered world into turmoil, or disturb my usually unflappable composure, Miss Wakefield? You have quite disordered my views on many things in just a brief time and have shown me to be wrong on quite a few things. Who might ever have thought that I might suddenly encounter such a vision as you in my own home, so unexpectedly, and so late at night? I feared I had entered the wrong house. I have never met one such as you, so delightfully flustered at first, and then with such a rapid recovery to become so well composed and so able to deal with one such as me.”
He carefully moved an unruly lock of hair from her face, only to see it drop back again. “Mistress of your own fate, and mine too if I am not careful, though I discover that I have already surrendered. I am already your slave.” He smiled down upon her. “So what am I to do with you now, I wonder? I suppose I cannot leave you here with me in the dangerous mood I am in and you so lightly and revealingly dressed, and both of us found tomorrow as we are, and you so . . . temptingly and maddeningly revealed with all of your womanly temptations. I doubt I could plead love, but something more basic. No one would believe that I could have resisted you, and I would rather not put my resolution to the test. I doubt I would easily survive that test of my already suspect moral character. What would Mrs. Forster say? What would my sister say? What would you say, or even do? Whatever it might be I would deserve it!” He shook his head and sighed. “What would I say? Let us not tempt fate too far, or I would not survive the repercussions. You will need my protection, and to be guarded from what I feel strongly for you at this moment. Good God! Have we only just met? I feel as though I know you, and yet we have barely shared two or three hours together, but what hours those were, and what memories I now have!”
He took the diary from her hand, hoping she would not wake up to find him standing over her as he had been before, and placed it upon the table beside her. He wanted to see what she might have written in that too, but recognized that he should not betray her privacy quite so far. He knelt on the floor beside the chair as he slid his arm around her. She did not move but continued to breathe from the depths of sleep as her head lolled back—not surprising, considering how much of that stronger beer she had consumed—and then he pulled her forward to sit up as he slid his arm further behind her, placing her arms over his shoulders, as he spoke softly to her reassuringly about what he was doing. Then as he pulled her closer to him, he slid his other arm beneath her warm legs as he lifted her into his arms, with her arms around his neck and her head snuggled warmly and comfortingly into his chest. Her arms tightened where he had placed them around his neck now and she sighed as she snuggled closer into him, and then seemed to raise her face a little, as though to invite a kiss. He felt alarmed at the sudden mood beginning to creep over him and realized that he had better get her back to the security of her room as soon as he could.
He wondered what she would think when she awoke after last remembering being in the library, with him supposedly asleep across from her. He walked across the floor and moved the library door open with his foot with her cradled in his arms, followed by the dog.