Beginning, Section II
Eliza sat unbelieving and watched him go. He traversed the room in a few strides, and it appeared his momentum would carry him through the door and on through the rest of the house without a pause, but in that she was wrong. He halted briefly in the doorway, gripping the solid wood of the door until his knuckles were white, but still he faced away from her. She could see his shoulders rise and fall with each breath, and she longed to go after him, but she strongly suspected that he would be gone if she tried. She remained, therefore, firmly planted on the bench.
"It feels rather as though I were trying to trap some timid beast," she thought. "If I move forward, he will bolt, but if I am patient and still, he might return. I know! He reminds me of Chloe, the cat, when I found her wild in the lane!" These thoughts, though they could not suppress the seriousness of her goal, yet allowed a look of amusement to creep into her face. Her eyes sparkled with laughter, and a smile tugged at her mouth.
Christopher turned then and, obviously feeling himself the victim of some cruel joke, flushed to the roots of his hair and removed himself from the room, violently closing the door behind him.
In a flash, Eliza was on her feet and in pursuit, but by the time she left the room, a resounding thud informed her that her cousin had not treated the main door any more kindly than the other. She continued to follow, dashing through Delaford's main floor until she reached the main entrance. Through the leaded glass at either side of the door, she could just make out a dark figure walking swiftly to the right. He was going to the stables, then. Obviously, since he had taken the main door, he was more interested in a swift exit from the house than in a direct route to the stables. She breathed a sigh of relief; she might yet have a chance to catch him. Turning swiftly, she made for the back of the house and the servants' entrance, deftly avoiding some servants as she sped along, and deftly cannoning into many others.
"Excuse me. Oh, excuse me. Oh, I'm sorry. Pardon me. No, it's my fault. Excuse me. Oh!" The last object she struck didn't move aside as swiftly as the others, for it was at least twice as large, and blocked the doorway completely. Eliza felt as though she might scream with impatience as it shifted repeatedly from foot to foot in an extremely slow attempt to turn itself around. Biting her tongue, she remembered her manners and greeted the figure cheerfully.
"Good morning, Mrs. Blount."
"Ah -- good morning -- Miss Eliza," replied the cook, breathless from her exertion. "And what -- brings you -- to this part -- of the house?"
"I am going for a walk out of doors." Eliza struggled to keep her eyes on Mrs. Blount; they were continually straying to the door behind her, a door she could not reach until she had successfully skirted the rather fleshy obstacle. "To the stables," she added with a pointed glance, hoping that the affable woman would apprehend her plight, but the cook, though good-natured, was as slow in thought as she was in person.
"It is good to see you, miss." She took one of Eliza's hands in her own and patted it affectionately. "I don't suppose you're back here after some strawberry tarts as you used to when you was a young lass? Ah, I well remember the time not long since when you and young master Christopher would slink into the kitchen and pull all the currants from the buns before tea." She waggled her finger knowingly.
"No, Mrs. Blount. Christopher and I have, I hope, learned enough patience to keep us from such antics lately." She prayed that she had learned enough patience to last through this conversation, for it did not seem that the cook was in any danger of moving soon. Lost in a sea of nostalgia, she appeared to be willing to go on for hours more.
"And then there was the time you wandered in and convinced me to fill your apron with raisins for you. Before the hour was up, you was back again asking me to fill it again. 'Land sakes!' says I. 'What need have you for more than what I give you before?' I says. And then you looks up at me with them big blue eyes of yours and says, 'Mrs. Blount,' you says, 'I got the first lot to feed to Christopher, and now I'm back to fetch some for myself.'" The cook, wheezing with laughter at this remembrance, stepped forward from the doorway to allow another of the servants access to the kitchen garden, and Eliza used this opportunity to shift her position relative to the woman.
Now within sight of her goal, she laid her hand upon the latch and spoke quickly. "It was so nice to talk with you again, and maybe one day we'll sit and talk about the times when I was little, but I must go, I really must go!" As the door closed behind her, Eliza could see a look of surprise cross the woman's face. "I shall have to make a trip to the kitchen to apologize later," she thought, "but at this moment, something far more important claims my attention and my efforts."
She lifted her skirts then and ran as fast as her legs would allow toward the stables, her hair slipping from its bonds and streaming out behind her as she went. She had nearly arrived, when Christopher exited the stables astride a muscular bay. Whether he would have remained had he turned and seen his cousin not far distant, or heard her shouting his name, cannot be determined. He did not turn, but struck out immediately at a gallop for the distant woods.
Eliza ran after him a short distance, but, knowing such effort to be futile, she soon stopped, and in her frustration let her skirts drop. "Oh bother!" she exclaimed. "He must have had that horse prepared for him ahead of time." She considered the possibility of riding out after him, but even if she had had a horse prepared already, there was still the necessity of returning indoors to change into riding clothes.
As her thoughts turned to horses and riding, an unpleasant smell assaulted her nostrils. She looked down in horror to find that, of all places, she had stopped where the horses had been earlier. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stepped aside to survey the damage, and in moving, she dragged the hems of both her petticoat and her skirt across the foul stuff.
"Oooh, Christopher!" she flung out tearfully as she stamped her foot, this time choosing a patch of clean grass to vent her frustrations. She glared once more toward the woods, vainly hoping that a horse and rider would appear just at that moment, before stomping into the house.
She chose to use the main entrance this time; she did not want to chance on Mrs. Blount again, and the servants who would meet her here were trained at least to act as though nothing she did were out of the ordinary. She felt sure that she would be the subject of some gossip later that night around the servants' table, but as long as she was able to progress to her room unmolested, she was unconcerned.
Once in her room, she allowed Polly, a girl of fifteen who served as her personal maid, to exchange her soiled garments for clean and to carry off the reminders of the morning's frustration to be washed. Once the girl was gone, however, her barely concealed tears gave way to convulsed sobs, and she fell forward on her bed in anguish.
3 Christopher reentered Delaford feeling much refreshed physically if not mentally or spiritually. There had been nothing to shoot at; nevertheless, he had ridden hard into the woods and had fired off his hunting rifle repeatedly. With each beat of the horse's hooves - with each shot fired into the trees - he had felt a little of the strain leave his body, had expended a little of the energy that had built up since that morning at the pianoforte.
He had been gone for hours, however, and was now regretting the sacrifice of dinner to his exertion. Upon examining his watch, he requested of the servant who had assisted him indoors that tea be sent to his room as soon as it was prepared. Although feeling himself much improved, he was not yet prepared to face his cousin across a tea tray or to have her hand so close to his as she presented him with his cup. No, it was much better that he pour out his own tea.
As he rounded the top of the stairs and entered the corridor where his room and Tom's and Eliza's were located, he dimly registered a small figure walking toward him along the opposite wall. At first, he thought it might be Eliza, and was ready to turn and flee, but it became obvious before long that the girl was dark rather than fair and was wearing the plain garments of a maidservant. He had just turned away from her and was on the point of entering his own room when she addressed him.
"Oh sir, please sir. Won't you please come and convince Miss Eliza to take her tea? She ain't been down since nigh on eleven, and crying the whole time, she was. And not a bite's touched her lips neither."
Christopher could see that the girl was crying as well in her distress, and he modulated his voice accordingly. "Was no dinner sent up to her, that she might eat in her own room?" he asked gently.
"Oh, I brought her up a tray with my own hands what Mrs. Blount prepared special for her, but all untouched. And she said - Mrs. Blount, that is - as she saw Eliza running out for the stables this morning not long before she run up to her room." Here, Polly began wringing her hands nervously. "Since we sees you out riding soon after, we thought - Mrs. Blount thought - as you might know why she's shut herself up in her room all day, you know, seeing as how she was probably out to the stables after you." The poor girl, feeling as though she had just accused the young master of something horrible - she knew not what - looked steadily at her toes in embarrassment.
"I see," said Christopher slowly, with a heavy sigh. "Yes, I think I can persuade her to eat something. Will you see that tea for two is brought to my room, then? I will take it over to her room as soon as I have changed." He gestured to his dirty clothes. Polly, obviously relieved, curtsied and turned back toward the servants' staircase.
"I shall see what can be accomplished," he murmured.
Nowhere in his room could Christopher find repose. While waiting for tea to be brought, he had tried sitting in the chair, but he felt too confined, too stifled. He had flung himself down upon the bed, but his body refused to relax, his limbs would not settle. He had stared into the empty irons of the fireplace, but even resting his head upon the marble mantel failed to cool the fever of his brow. Now, he stood staring out the window and regretting the selfishness that had taken him out of doors for hours without a thought for Eliza or how she might have felt.
She was laughing at you as you left the room. The unpleasant reminder struck him like a blow to the gut. He reeled away from the window, wishing hopelessly that that moment would not forever remain imprinted upon his mind. It was that moment which had propelled him toward the stables, where he knew a horse was prepared for him. It was that moment which had kept him from the house until only real, physical hunger had insisted that he return.
Polly said that she had been following you. But that didn't fit in with the facts. If she had been in pursuit, wouldn't she have caught up with him at the stables? Yet why was she even now in her room - crying, if what Polly said was true - refusing to descend?
More importantly, given the circumstances, was he really the right person to persuade her to leave her room?
Christopher threw back his head and took the cup of tea in one draught. The scalding liquid burned everywhere it touched -- his mouth, tongue, throat - but he welcomed the pain, wincing only slightly as he set the cup back on the tray Polly had left in his room. He required the tea to fortify him for what he now saw he must do, and the momentary pain it brought he considered adequate punishment for the thoughts he had entertained, the course he had nearly taken.
Was he the proper person to go after Eliza, to comfort her in her distress? Any doubts on that score - and he had had doubts - could only have been born of his own fear and selfishness. The realization that he had thought to leave the woman he professed to love in her sorrow without being willing to sacrifice himself - all of himself - in order to end it mortified him. And the alternatives he had proposed! Was he so determined to spare his own feelings and his own pride that he could not see that they were foolish?
"Perhaps it would be better if her uncle were to go to her?" How thoughtless to presume that his father would have permitted this to continue all day without at least trying his influence! Naturally, he had been to her room four or five times, but she had refused to respond to his entreaties. Mrs. Hoyt, Mrs. Blount, Polly - they had all tried what powers of persuasion they owned, but to no avail. Still she remained, and still she lay abed crying, as each family member and servant had attested, and as Polly once more recounted to Christopher when she had brought the tea.
There remained, then, two possibilities. If Eliza were upset for some reason other than their encounter in the music room that morning, then no one had a greater ability to soothe, to ease the hurt, than a favored cousin; he could claim at least that much, he reminded himself with a grimace. But if he were the cause of her despondency, then it fell on his shoulders to repair the damage he had caused. These two possibilities then, each with the same cure, now faced him. He must go to Eliza's room and aid her in any way he could, regardless of the cost to himself.
Mustering his courage, he sat a few moments more, the fingers of his left hand clenched in a deathlike grip around the carved wooden arm of the chair. He could find no selfish motivation for doing what he was about to do - his every instinct was to flee - and so he offered up a silent prayer that he might be able to keep another's best interests ahead of his own. Abruptly he rose, took up the tray, and left the room before fear once again enveloped him and strangled his resolve.
After only a few seconds of contemplation, he discarded the idea of knocking and entered instead without warning. She lay prostrate on the bed, her unbound hair spread about her on the coverlet. From her tranquil attitude, and the even rise and fall of her back, she appeared to be asleep, and Christopher, unwilling to disturb her slumber, prepared himself to sit and wait. As he set the tray upon a table, however, the saucers and cups rattled, betraying his presence, and a muffled voice from the figure stretched out on the bed called out, "You can take those things back to the kitchen, Polly. I told you before that I will not eat." The sob that broke her words mid-sentence tore at his heart and spurred him to action.
Careful that his footsteps remain silent, he made his way to her side, his emotions confused as he gazed upon her. Some consoling instinct within him drew his hand to her hair, loose and tangled as it lay across the bed. He had not seen it thus for years - ever since she had begun to wear it up -- and his hand trembled as he began, ever so gently, to smooth it. He could sense the tension leaving her body as she allowed herself to be comforted. For a few minutes she lay peacefully, permitting him to continue. Her breathing slowed and became regular, and only occasionally did a sob involuntarily escape her lips.
Then she lifted her head. His every fear was realized as her eyes grew wide, and she scrambled to the corner of her bed farthest from him.
Christopher must certainly have loved Eliza, for her appearance at that moment was hardly to sort to attract a man. Her eyes were red and swollen and her face blotchy beneath the tears that poured afresh down her cheeks. Her hair hung limp and dull about her shoulders, and despite Christopher's best efforts, was still matted in some spots, wildly chaotic in others. Her gown was crumpled and creased from the hours she had spent in bed. Her expression, too, was hardly encouraging, for her eyes were not friendly, and her mouth was pinched shut. Her lips quivered constantly, the corners of her mouth twitching over and over, as she fixed him with a look of sorrow and reproach.
"Just go! Go away!"
"Eliza, I - " Determined, he moved around to the other side of the bed just as she flung herself face downward again. He placed one hand tentatively on her shoulder, and she decisively removed it. That was one question answered. Her reason for crying certainly centered on him in some way, but he was at a loss to understand why merely leaving the music room suddenly had prompted such a violent response. The thought crossed his mind that perhaps she was - that she had expected - but, no. He could not dare to hope, especially when she ordered him from her room and steadfastly refused to look at him with any sort of kindness.
"I'm sorry, Eliza. Won't you believe that I'm sorry and I want to make things right?" He strode across the room and took a seat on the pale blue chaise. He was not at this point quite sure what he was apologizing for, but he had no doubts of his own honesty. She was crying, he felt himself responsible, and he was sorry that he had brought her suffering, however inadvertently.
She was willing to grant him this concession, especially since an explanation seemed forthcoming. She again rose from the bed, wiping at her eyes, and walked stiffly to a chair; Christopher could not help noticing that she chose the one farthest from him. They sat facing one another for a few minutes across the tea tray, his eyes confused and uncomfortable, hers wary and expectant.
Christopher stood next and poured out a cup of tea for her. He took care not to stand too close as he placed it in her hand with a bow. She pushed it away, protesting that she wished nothing. His first reaction was, of course, to remind her that she had had nothing at all since breakfast, but as that had served no useful purpose for the others who had been here ahead of him, he chose a different approach altogether.
"Eliza, your hands are as cold as ice. Just hold the cup - you don't have to drink any -- and it will warm you a little." Either she granted the force of his argument, or she had not the energy to oppose him, for she accepted the cup, cradling it in her hands.
He returned to his chair, painfully feeling with each footstep the distance she had placed between them, and even more painfully acknowledging the distance she now kept him from her heart. He would bridge that gap if he could, but he did not know how to begin.
He poured out another cup for himself and selected a sandwich, noting thoughtfully that it was one of Eliza's favorites. In fact, everything Polly had brought up on the tray had been chosen with the thought of tempting his cousin to eat. He bit into it, relishing the flavor of the cold roast beef as he chewed. Eliza watched him as he finished, and he noted with approval that she absentmindedly took two sips of her tea.
Now, he realized, the moment had come for him to apologize to her. He had put it off as long as he could, and still found himself no nearer to understanding what it was he needed to apologize for. Mentally, he replayed the events of that morning, wincing with each recollection of his own foolish behavior, and ultimately concluded that it must be his manners that were at fault. He could hardly comprehend that his leaving without explanation would set her to crying all day - if he had gone directly to the stables from the breakfast table, she surely would not have been this upset - but as he could find no other thing to ask forgiveness for, he put forth his best effort and awaited her reaction.
"Eliza, I'm sorry I left you so abruptly this morning, truly I am. If I had known then how upset you would be, I would never have gone. Please believe me, I can assure you that rudeness was the farthest thing from my mind."
Eliza sat up straight in the chair, her face becoming more animated with each word he spoke. "But - but, I am not upset about that! I would never cry about that!"
Christopher was becoming more confused with each passing moment. He set down his cup and leaned toward her. "What then? What have I done?"
"It's not so much the fact that you left as it is the reason that you left. I had thought --" Eliza struggled to find the words to express the desolation she had felt, the sense of losing importance in her cousin's heart, when he had refused to confide in her. "I had thought that you would tell me anything, that after all these years I was the natural recipient for all your secret hopes and fears. When you wouldn't tell - to know that I would have told you had it been me - to know that you walked away -- " Here, her words again dissolved into tears, and she could not even explain to her own heart the depth of the pain she felt.
Christopher, upon hearing her words, felt his heart sink. He had sworn to himself that he would assuage her grief no matter the cost, and he had, in fact, owned that the cost might be his own heart, but he had anticipated something much less. In desperation, he made a final attempt to spare himself the torture of revealing his heart to one so wholly unprepared for such a revelation. Pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead for a moment, he let out a great sigh and began. "Eliza, you know I have always shared my secrets, my private thoughts with you." She nodded mutely. "Do you not understand that until now my hopes have always been easy to share because they involved toys I wished to receive and places I desired to go, and - and mischief I planned to accomplish?" She smiled weakly, remembering the pranks they had unleashed on the servants not too many years before. "My fears - my fears then were all of punishment or of performance, but now, when they all center upon my future - not just the near future, but the whole of my life - I find myself more reticent, more inclined to keep my thoughts to myself."
"But at what cost?" she retorted. "You cannot continue to wander the house brooding. Life is meant to be lived, not pondered upon, Christopher, and if you can't confide in me, you - " her voice sank so that he had to strain to hear the next words " --you should find someone you would rather share your thoughts with." Tears flowed freely down her cheeks as she stood and walked to the window.
"But don't you understand that there is no one I would rather confide in than you?" He crossed the room after her, and another few steps would have placed him at her side, had she not turned to confront him.
The afternoon sun shone behind her, setting her hair aglow. The aura it created around her small form made it look yet smaller and more childlike. Her eyes, placed as they were in shadow, lost their reddened appearance, and had he first seen her now, he could not have been persuaded to believe she had been crying were it not for the gleam of the sun illuminating the course of a solitary tear down her cheek. In a voice of extreme sadness, she replied, "Why won't you, then?"
He stopped where he was, and she turned back to the window, the same heartrending expression upon her face. It had come to this, then. Her peace of mind could be purchased only at the price of his own. "Well," he thought bitterly, "you have long wondered what her response would be, and now you will have a chance to know." His legs threatened to collapse beneath him, but he stood his ground, desperately trying to form the words that would seal his fate with her forever.
"Eliza?" His voice suffered from the strain and came out as a raspy, high-pitched whisper. He cleared his throat and began again. "Eliza?"
"Yes, Christopher," she replied without turning her head.
"Eliza, I have not spoken to you of late about my hopes and fears because of late my hopes and fears have largely been centered on you."
She turned then, and fixed his eyes with her own, attempting to divine his thoughts, his feelings. "In what fashion?" she asked guardedly.
Christopher trusted his legs no longer, and sat down gingerly upon the edge of the bed. "You think of me as a cousin, a brother, a friend, do you not?"
"I think of you as all those things, Christopher. You need not fear that I will ever change in the way I perceive you. That you are my cousin, no man could deny. That you are a friend, you have long proven; not even the events of this day could alter my desire for your company. That you are my brother, you have shown me by every attention in your power, and I feel I could not ask for a better family that the one that took me in as an infant."
"But Eliza --" His lips took on a grim line as he willed himself to meet her eyes, "Would it be asking too much - could you possibly think of me as - as - your husband?"
A cloud, passing by, eclipsed the sun and the room fell into shadow. Neither spoke. One minute passed. Two. Eliza kept her eyes fixed on his, but he managed to meet her gaze purely through force of will. His will, although much stronger than he himself had anticipated, could endure only for so long under her scrutiny, and she had yet to speak the one word - "Yes" - upon which he had hung all his desire. At the end of five minutes, he would have dropped his gaze in mortification, but her eyes faltered before his. They fell, then glanced nervously about the room before she turned again to the window, her face yet unreadable. Staring absentmindedly at the yew arbor she let her first words drop into the silence of the room as she might drop stones into the pond. One by one they fell, bringing with them nothing of comfort or elucidation.
"I think it shall rain."
Her right hand, pale, pressed against the glass. She stood awkwardly, allowing her arm to drop, her fingers curling gently as they slid down the smooth pane until, touching wood, they tightened fiercely upon the sill. Christopher gripped the edge of the mattress as he watched. Questions flooded his mind, threatening to drown him in their intensity. What had her response to do with his proposal? Was she so insulted that she had chosen to change the subject rather than give him an answer? Was she buying herself time to craft a response? Had he merely dreamed that he had asked her to...
"Could you repeat yourself, Christopher?"
He was wrenched mercilessly from his thoughts back to the present. He half-expected to find her eyes focused again on him, but still she faced the window, still she gripped the sill. "You will forgive me, Eliza. I - I do not think I am able to - to -" His voice was taut with strain, and he lowered it, hoping to lessen its stridency. "Please, do not ask that of me."
"Then I was not imagining. You - you said -"
"Perhaps it would be better if I went."
"Leave? Now? Oh, Christopher! You wouldn't!" She turned again, and her countenance, though not smiling, seemed flushed with energy - radiant and resolute. It was at that moment that Christopher found himself capable of hope.
Her first object was to pour out two cups of tea, and this she accomplished without once lifting her face to his, though as he grasped the cup, the brush of her fingers against his drew from him a sharp intake of breath, and he was forced to close his eyes a moment to slow the spinning of the room. When he opened them again, she had drawn up a chair to face him and was beginning to sit. She assumed her usual attitude of curling her legs up beneath her, but while the pose before had seemed to suggest ease and lack of formality, it now spoke more of a need for protection, particularly as she next drew an embroidered pillow into her lap as though erecting a barrier against the rest of the room.
"Christopher," she began uncertainly, "do you remember the summer we spent with Grandpapa Williams at Lark's Haven?" Lark's Haven was the country house of their mutual grandfather and had been the setting for several of their visits to him, but none had been so memorable as the time they had been allowed to spend five months, encompassing all of summer. It had been soon after the death of Christopher's mother, and all the children had been sent there for a holiday while Mr. Brandon attended to business and managed a solitary recovery from his loss. Though the children mourned considerably the loss of mother and aunt, at twelve and seven it must be expected that they would take full advantage of the absence of mother, father, and elder sister. Mr. Williams was elderly and infirm, and the governess and tutor were not inclined to impose upon three grieving children who had found the sunshine of freedom when they most needed it.
Christopher nodded. It was impossible that he should forget such a summer.
"I remember," Eliza continued, "how you watched me in the carriage as we arrived. My eyes and Tom's were straining for the first glimpse of Lark's Haven, but I don't think you ever saw it until we left the carriage. All you could think was that it would have been my home and that there I would have grown up had my mother and father lived. You had convinced yourself that I would feel..." She sat back, musing for a moment. "I don't really know what you thought I would feel."
Christopher shifted his position nervously and drank from his cup. By now, the tea was cold, so he placed the cup and saucer on the night table. His voice was thoughtful, barely above a murmur. "I expected you to feel what I would have felt. Had we visited Lark's Haven before then, I would not have been concerned, but since Grandpapa had always come to visit us, and since Mamma had always thought much as I had - that the visit might be a painful one for you -- we never made the trip."
"I could not be expected to remember my mother and father or my home. It may sound harsh, but I never missed them; Delaford is the only place I have ever considered as home. I am not at all as complicated than you think me, Christopher. You have a habit of attributing more complex motives and sentiments to me than I can even comprehend. At times, it overwhelms me."
His head reeled with the new information. Was it possible - could she be telling him that he had misunderstood? And what had he misunderstood: that she loved him, that she didn't love him? "I will keep that in mind, but Eliza --"
"Another memory I have of that summer is of that afternoon when Tom found the trunk full of old clothes in the spare room. You and I were playing chase on the lawn and he came up behind us dressed in a surplice. At least he had made it up to look like a surplice, and I thought it a convincing job. Do you remember, Christopher, how he made us stand out on the lawn? You had to dress up in your best suit, and hat, and I had to choose my best frock. We even persuaded Grace to put up my hair and weave roses into it." Her eyes danced at the recollection; Christopher merely nodded faintly; nothing more was possible. "Oh, what a joke it seemed then to stand out there and recite the vows from Grandpapa's prayer book." Eliza seemed ready to laugh, then suddenly became pensive. "I realized something that day."
What was it? What did you realize? His heart yearned for the answer, but fear sealed his lips, and the question remained unasked.
"I knew then that it was you I would marry when I grew up." She paused and sank back in her chair to allow the full import of her words to sink in.
Christopher would have burst out smiling, had not the shock of her revelation taken him so completely by surprise. "Do you mean," he began earnestly, then swallowed hard. She nodded, and he again found himself incapable of speech.
"You must understand, Christopher, that when I was seven, the thought of marrying you was much like a fairy tale's dream ending. I thought of you as the handsome prince while I was Cinderella - a child's story, nothing more. Until today, I had never considered it in any other light, and even half an hour ago, I would have declared that naturally we should marry someday and then put the thought out of my mind. You have far outstripped me, Christopher. You feel as Romeo felt for Juliet --"
"Meilanion for Atalanta*, more like."
"Yes, like them as well. I am ashamed when I consider that my love for you - yes, I will call it love - should have progressed so little in nine years, but place your faith in me, Christopher."
When she spoke his name, she endowed the syllables with such tenderness and affection that he was moved to show her his appreciation more fully than his eyes and his bearing had yet achieved. Giving up willingly his seat upon the bed, he took his place at her feet, the place he had frequented so many times before. But circumstances had changed, and where he had once spent hours attending to her sweet voice, he now knelt, showering her hand with such a rain of kisses as might convince even a fool that he had indeed taken its owner at her word and rested all his faith gratefully in her.
"Stop, Christopher," she pleaded. "It is too much." He did as he was bid, but retained his hold upon her hand. Looking up at his beloved, he saw that she was again crying, but now she smiled through her tears. "I don't deserve such affection - not yet. But I will, Christopher, I will."
Words were spent for a time, and Christopher continued at her feet in silence for another half an hour. Such a silence, charged as it was with shared emotion, could not be oppressive; they spent the time agreeably in probing each his own heart, and any newfound awareness, passed directly from soul to soul through their steadfast gaze, expressed immediately to one what the other had discovered as powers of speech alone could never have accomplished.
It can be imagined what Christopher felt when, as he stood to go, Eliza's fingers closed still tighter on his own and refused to give up their prize. He released them one by one with light kisses upon their delicate tips, and softly murmured his love. She blushed and answered him in turn, and he moved for the door before emotion overpowered good sense and made parting impossible.
*Author's note: I got this reference from The Winning of Atalanta, a tale from Greek mythology. I found of all the references I sought, it best summed up Christopher's feelings toward Eliza at this point. If you are unacquainted with this story, Meilanion wins Atalanta's heart through patience and faith in her own love rather than grasping for it immediately as Romeo does with Juliet.