Here's another chapter, for all you who kindly asked for it.
Elsie felt a sense of calm wash over her as she listened to soft tick of the clock on the wall. Listening to the rain all evening had made her more tired than usual. She yawned quietly and allowed her eyes to flutter closed as she thought back to the events of the day. She smiled to herself as she remembered the low rumble of Charles' voice as he read the poetry to her and then the feel of his warm, tender mouth pressing fully against her own...
Her memory had ended, all too soon, when a knock sounded at her door. As much as she longed to be alone with her recollections for just a little while, she was not at all disappointed in the interruption, as she recognized it to be his knock.
The smile Elsie was greeted with as she opened the door seemed to bring with it a certain warmth in the room.
"I brought some wine," Charles said, holding up the bottle. "And the book you requested."
She could not contain her smile as he presented her with the tattered leather book. While he busied himself with pouring the wine, she sat across from him and traced her fingertip across the faded and worn cover of the book.
"I think you will like this one," he said as he handed her a glass of deep red wine.
He had chosen the wine with her in mind, priding himself not only on being able to choose the best but also in knowing her so very well. He waited as she took a small sip, her mouth cupping the glass... her tongue slowly darting out to remove the excess liquid from her lips...
Elsie delighted in the exquisite taste of the wine. It was smooth and velvety and had a perfect balance of just enough sweetness to delight her tastebuds. She would have to be careful with this one, she noted, because the lightness of it would fool her into drinking more, if she were not careful.
"Wonderful," she commented with a smile.
With that, they slipped into a lazy conversation, pausing only occasionally to refill wine glasses. Elsie felt herself become drowsier with each passing moment, but she refused to let the night end so soon.
"Will you read to me?" she asked quietly, brushing her hand over the cover of Charles' book.
He nodded and smiled softly at her as she handed him the book. She marveled at the way his fingers again flipped so determinedly through the pages until he had found precisely the page he was looking for.
Blest be the day, and blest the month and year,
Season and hour and very moment blest,
The lovely land and place where first possessed
By two pure eyes I found me prisoner;
And blest the first sweet pain, the first most dear,
Which burnt my heart when Love came in as guest;
And blest the bow, the shafts which shook my breast,
And even the wounds which Love delivered there.
Blest be the words and voices which filled grove
And glen with echoes of my lady's name;
The sighs, the tears, the fierce despair of love;
And blest the sonnet-sources of my fame;
And blest that thought of thoughts which is her own,
Of her, her only, of herself alone!
Charles looked up from the page and watched as Elsie, taking in his words slowly and carefully, gently chewed on her bottom lip. She raised her head again and met his eyes with intrigue sparkling within her pools of blue.
"May I?" she asked.
"Of course," he replied, handing her the book.
His curiosity was piqued as she carefully thumbed through the text, not quite as easily as he had, yet still graceful, as she was taking extra care with the fragile pages. He knew when she had found the one she was going to share, judging by the softened expression on her face and the way her lips parted slightly as she briefly looked up to make eye contact with him before she began to read aloud.
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
"I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day"—
For these things in themselves, Belovëd, may
Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,—
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.
Her voice had sounded tired yet somehow equally strong as she read, her Scottish brogue particularly heavy with emotion.
"Beautiful..." Charles said, wondering if she had assumed he meant the sonnet rather than her lovely flushed face as she read it.
Elsie yawned as she handed the book back to him.
"I think perhaps I should allow you to get some rest," he suggested with a smile.
"No, please stay," she said, not wanting to see him go. "One more?"
"One more," he agreed.
He seemed to find his page even more quickly this time, as if he had been intentionally saving this one for last.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Charles looked up to Elsie's bright smile.
"That's one of my favorites," she said sleepily.
"Mine too," he agreed as he closed the book slowly. "It always makes me think of you..."
"How so?" she asked.
"She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies..." he quoted. "The perfect description of Elsie Hughes, I think."
She dropped her head slightly as her cheeks flushed red and a smile curved onto her lips. He rose from his chair and stepped before her.
"I want you to keep this."
Her eyes widened as he handed her the book.
"I couldn't possibly," she began, hesitant to take it from him.
"Please," he urged, tracing his thumb over her chin. "I can think of no better use for it."
She allowed him to place the book in her hands, and she held it close to her as if for fear that it might break.
"Then promise me you'll read to me again from it."
"I will if you promise the same," he replied with a grin.
Elsie nodded, still clutching the book to her chest.
"It sounds like a perfect excuse to see you again soon," he teased before leaning down and placing a warm, lingering kiss onto her cheek. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," she replied in a whisper.
Elsie stood and sighed peacefully. She smiled softly to herself as she cradled the book in her arms and imagined that the book itself were somehow a part of Charles that she would keep and cherish with her always, a medium of their unspoken words and enduring devotion.
The first poem used here was Sonnet 61 by Francesco Petrarch, the second was Sonnet 14 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the third was She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron.