“Was she not even sympathetic?” asked Theodora, and again there was that catch in her breath.
“Yes, she was sympathetic,” he continued, “but this was not enough for the prince; he wanted her to be wounded, too.”
“How very, very cruel of him,” said Theodora.
“But men are cruel, and the prince was only a man, you know, although he was in a green forest with a lovely princess.”
“And what happened?” asked Theodora.
“Well, the watch-dog slept on, so that a friendly zephyr could come, and it whispered to the prince: ’At the end of all these allees, which lead into the future, there is only one thing, and that is Love; he bars their gates. As soon as you start down one, no matter which, you will find him, and when he sees your princess he will shoot an arrow at her, too.’”
“Oh, then the princess of course never went down an allee,” said Theodora—and she smiled radiantly to hide how her heart was beating—“did she?”
“The end of the story I do not know,” said Lord Bracondale; “the fairy who told it to me would not say what happened to them, only that the prince was wounded, deeply wounded, with Love’s arrow. Aren’t you sorry for the prince, beautiful princess?”
Theodora opened her blue parasol, although no ray of sunshine fell upon her there. She was going through the first moment of this sort in her life. She was quite unaccustomed to fencing, or to any intercourse with men—especially men of his world. She understood this story had himself and herself for hero and heroine; she felt she must continue the badinage—anything to keep the tone as light as it could be, with all these new emotions flooding her being and making her heart beat. It was almost pain she experienced, the sensation was so intense, and Hector read of these things in her eyes and was content. So he let his voice grow softer still, and almost whispered again:
“And aren’t you sorry for the prince—beautiful princess?”
“I am sorry for any one who suffers,” said Theodora, gently, “even in a fairy story.”
And as he looked at her he thought to himself, here was a rare thing, a beautiful woman with a tender heart. He knew she would be gentle and kind to the meanest of God’s creatures. And again the vision of her at Bracondale came to him—his mother would grow to love her perhaps even more than Morella Winmarleigh! How she would glorify everything commonplace with those tender ways of hers! To look at her was like looking up into the vast, pure sky, with the light of heaven beyond. And yet he lay on the grass at her feet with his mind full of thoughts and plans and desires to drag this angel down from her high heaven—into his arms!
Because he was a man, you see, and the time of his awakening was not yet.
Man is a hunter—a hunter always. He may be a poor thing and hunt only a few puny aims, or he may be a strong man and choose big game. But he is hunting, hunting—something—always.