Patricia McKillip’s The Bell at Sealey Head is one of the more recent books I’ve read, but the romance of Judd Cauley and Gwyneth Blair instantly became one of my favorites. It develops out of deep friendship and suitability, the cheerful, grateful companionship of kindred spirits. They proceed carefully, not wanting to ruin an excellent friendship with misunderstandings and bruised emotions, but upon discovering their love for each other, they are modest, humble, and exceedingly delighted. They manage to be practical about it without losing the romance, the sweetness, and the poetry of their feelings. Oh of course they are in love, deeply so, but they don’t go mooning over each other like Daria and Raven Sproule do towards Mr. Dow and Lady Eglantyne, respectively
He didn’t answer. She looked into his eyes, saw moonlight reflected in them. She swallowed suddenly, hearing the air between them speak, the night itself, the running tide.
“Miss Blair,” Judd said finally, huskily.
“Please call me Gwyneth.” Her voice sounded strange, oddly breathless. “You used to. When we were children.”
She felt the sound of it run through her. “Yes. That’s better. What did you ask me?”
He put down his ale mug in a patch of wild iris. “To come for a walk with me along the cliff to look at the waves.”
“Yes,” she answered softly. “That’s what I thought I heard.”
They came back sometime later, windblown and damp and hungry.
Well, most of them time they don’t. But look even at that passage above. For all that they are suddenly caught up in each others’ eyes (which is quite natural, mind you), they remain direct and honest, addressing each other as equals. They’re still nervous, of course. As well as they know each other, and as reasonably confident as Judd is that Gwyneth probably returns his affections, it still takes some courage for him to ask her for a walk along oversea cliffs. (An excellent idea for a date, by the way.)
Also, I love the way McKillip leaves the details of their moonlit walk to our imaginations. What words they said, what thoughts they had, are beautiful secrets for them only. The reader is not permitted to be a voyeur, and he doesn’t need to be. We know this young man and young woman well enough to guess, and well enough to be certain that all was good.
They both have a gratifying sense of humor. The modest yet witty kind that smiles through the eyes at the other person. The playful way they deliver their jokes often escapes those around them, making their wit a kind of code between them. They court each other in plain sight for some time without very many people really taking notice. And they’re perfectly fine with that. They don’t need attention. They don’t want a fuss. They just want to delight in each others’ warm, intelligent, approachable company.
Judd came finally, laden with plates, forks, napkins.
“How clever of you to find us chairs, Miss Blair!”
“Wasn’t it? And how brave of you, Mr. Cauley, to battle the mob to forage for us.”
“That,” Judd said, “is to make you admire me so much that you might even dance with me.”
I’m a clumsy dancer at best, when I have the good fortune (and courage) to dance at all, but when the time comes that I beg the future lady of my heart for the Dance of Serious Intent, I hope I’ll have a line like that on hand.