It was, indeed, something like a perfect relationship,—this love of Esther and Henry. Had the laws of nature permitted it, it is probable that Mike and Angel would have been forced to seek their mates elsewhere. As it was, though it was thus less than marriage, it was more than friendship—as the holy intercourse of a mother and a son is more than friendship. Freed from the perturbations of sex, it yet gained warmth and exhilaration from the unconscious presence of that stimulating difference. Though they were brother and sister, friend and friend, Henry and Esther were also man and woman. So satisfying were they to each other, that when they sat thus together, the truth must be told, that, for the time at all events, they missed no other man or woman.
“I have always you,” said Esther.
“Do I still matter, then?” said Henry. “Are you sure the old love is not growing old?”
“You know it can never grow old. There is only one Mike; but there is only one Henry too. It’s a good love to have, Harry, isn’t it? It makes one feel so much safer in the world.”
“Dear little Esther! Do you remember those old beatings, and that night you brought me the cake? Bless you!”—and Henry reached his hand across the table, and laid it so kindly on Esther’s that a hovering waiter retreated out of delicacy, mistaking the pair for lovers. It was a mistake that was often made when they were together; and they had sometimes laughed, when travelling, at the kind-hearted way passengers on the point of entering their carriage had suddenly made up their minds not to disturb the poor newly-married young things.
“And how we used to hate you once!” said Esther; “one can hardly understand it now. Do you remember how on Sunday afternoons you would insist on playing at church, and how, with a tablecloth for a surplice, you used to be the minister? How you used to storm if we poor things missed any of the responses!”
“The monstrous egoism of it all!” said Henry, laughing. “It was all got up to give me a stage, and nothing else. I didn’t care whether you enjoyed it or not. What dragons children are!”
“‘Dragons of the prime, that tare each other in their slime,’” quoted Esther. “Yes, we tore each other, and no mistake—”
“Well, I’ve made up for it since, haven’t I?” said Henry. “I hope I’m a humble enough brother of the beautiful to please you nowadays.”