Then of a sudden, close she pressed her soft cheek against my shoulder as we walked, and whispered, as though she could keep silent no longer, and yet as if she swooned for shame in breaking silence: “Harry, Harry, I liked the way you thrust them aside when they were rude with you, to do me a service, and Harry, you are stronger, and—and—than them all.”
Then I knew with such a shock of joy, that I wonder I lived, that the child loved me, but I knew at the same time as never I had known it before, my love for her.
“Mistress Mary,” I said, “I but did my duty and my service, which you can always count upon, and I did no more than others would have done. Sir Humphrey Hyde—”
But she flung away from me at that with a sudden movement of amazement and indignation and hurt, which cut me to the quick. “Yes,” she said, “yes, Master Wingfield, truly I believe that Sir Humphrey Hyde would do me any service that came in his way, and truly he is a brave lad. I have a great esteem for Humphrey—I have a greater esteem for Humphrey than for all the rest—and I care not if you know it, Master Wingfield.”
So saying she called to the bearers of her chair, and would have a slave assist her to it instead of me, and rode in silence the rest of the way, I following, walking my horse, who pulled hard at his bits.
It was dawn before we were abed, but I for one had no sleep, being strained to such a pitch of rapture and pain by what I had discovered. The will I had not, to take the joy which I seemed to see before me like some brimming cup of the gods, but not yet, in the first surprise of knowing it offered me, the will to avoid the looking upon it, and the tasting of it in dreams. Over and over I said to myself, and every time with a new strengthening of resolution, that Mary Cavendish should not love me, and that in some way I would force her to obey me in that as in other things, never doubting that I could do so. Well I knew that she could not wed a convict, nor could I clear myself unless at the expense of her sister Catherine, and sure I was that she would not purchase love itself at such a cost as that. There remained nothing but to turn her fancy from me, and that seemed to me an easy task, she being but a child, and having, I reasoned, but little more than a childish first love for me, which, as every one knows, doth readily burn itself out by its excess of wick, and lack of substantial fuel. And yet, as I lay on my bed with the red dawn at the windows, and the birds calling outside, and the scent of the opening blossoms entering invisible, such pangs of joy and ecstasy beyond anything which I had ever known on earth overwhelmed me that I could not resist them. Knowing well that in the end I should prove my strength, for the time I gave myself to that advance of man before the spur of love, which I doubt not is after the same