This is very unpolished. It is represented here much as it was in my head when Denby first popped into my head. Please to excuse the lack of paragraphs – apparently I had not yet learned that new-fangled trick.
“Don’t let them make a zombie out of you,” he said, touching her hand. “They’ll try – but don’t let them do it. It would be…a shame.”
She opened her mouth to make some snide remark to him about minding his own business, and not knowing anything about anything, but two very remarkable things happened just then that prevented her from saying a word. The first was that some villainously intrepid child had managed to steal from Rupert the key to the glass cabinet, and was at that moment reaching in to grab and destroy a moderately valuable glass sculpture, and Rupert and party were all engrossed in the trepidations and coaxing of the child back to a safe field, and the shop was in a state of mild chaos. The second, building upon the first, was that in the neglected and private shadow of the back of the building, where the older, less impressive collection was kept, Lord Jerome Stephen Denby, whose pedigree was known by nearly everybody in the world except for the shy, rebellious young woman in front of him, bent down and kissed, on the lips, and very gently, she that had screamed at him from the first day of their odd meeting. He had meant it as a passing fancy of his, to put a memorable end to a very strange and perplexing acquaintance, but found, instead, in the kiss, a strange lingering sensation. It lingered with him after he pulled away from her, and saw the utter honesty of her reaction on her face, aflush with confusion, youthful mock-indignation, and raw and lovely pleasure. It lingered after he, mixed in confusion and pleasure himself, backed quietly away from her, not realizing that his eyes had not left that loveliness on her face, and continued not leaving it until he was well into the middle of the street, and was with him still when he walked down the street towards the dock, and remained engrained in him long after it had left waking memory, as he stood on the deck of the ship, watching the sun recede behind the golden undulation of the shimmering diamonds of the seas. The thoughts of the mostly honorable Lord Denby at that time were primarily of the quiet contemplator that he was, and that he would hardly ever admit to – enjoying the beauty of scene before him, the grandeur and scale of such breathtaking wonder – while all at once, he thought how much more lovely it would be if it were deeper and more soulful, like a pair of eyes looking up at one from under a surprised veil of eyelashes, and jolting himself as he heard a gentle waft of laughter from one of the rooms, and he turned, expecting – what? – but finding a shut lattice and the sound of more laughter and soft music. Hardly a man to linger in vagaries, Jerome Denby soon after retired to his cabin. It had been a long day. I scarcely need tell you what he dreamed of, and that he did not remember the reason why the next day entire, he spent an unaccountably long time examining the eyes of the women around him, and finding them sadly lacking in what he himself didn’t know what.
It would be years before Jerome Denby would come back again into the life of the strange, surprisingly lovely creature he had kissed that day in the shop. We will then, leave him to his seas, and his adventures, and instead turn to the (and some would say the adjective is a dubious one, at best) quieter, more sedate life of the young woman, at precisely the moment when Lord Denby the Elder bent down to kiss her farewell.
She could hear the cries of the child, and turned her head ever so slightly in their direction, because it was safety there, and her heart was beating most queerly in her chest. It must be the heat, she told herself – but did not linger to think about its source.
The insufferable man! How dare he call her a zombie! And how dare he still stand there, that insufferable smirk on his face, that stupid expression. At any moment, she could give a shout, and he would be thrashed out of the store, Rupert come to her rescue.
But they remained in their stalemate, unlike any other she had ever felt, and she thought, ridiculously, that he actually might be moving closer to her. And suddenly, the store erupted in cries of dismay and instead of feeling disturbed, as she ought, she felt a sudden distance from it, and turned her eyes upwards towards him.
His eyes, she found, were a dark, dark shade of blue, with surprising flecks in them, of indeterminate color – it might have been green, or it might have been yellow, but it was very odd – violet? They shut too soon for her to tell, and then, she felt too much for her to care.
She had never been kissed before – Rupert, while he was an agreeable enough fellow (and that’s how she thought of him, in her mind – as a “fellow”, not realizing in conscious thought that that word was reserved as a diminutive, a dismissal, that when it came down to it, deeper parts of her knew that Rupert was not enough of a man for her – but that can come later), had never made very positive overtures to her. He was always off on his sailing and his rugby, and his cricket and tea, and politics – so fair and well rounded, that he summarily neglected her, and left her where he thought she was happiest (to his credit, poor fellow) – in the library, studying strange cultures and far off places, until her head was so full of grander, more important things, that she hardly had time to think of a man so wrapped up in small things – except as a friendly smile and an arm to hold onto when she was obliged to go out into company. Rupert, in his own mind, thought there would be time enough for all that, anyhow. An Englishman’s Englishman, proper to the T, and thoroughly demonstrative of his type in being undemonstrative to hers – so that when she felt the warm breath and the strong lips, and the mouth, and the arms and the hardness of the chest and arms beneath her fingertips, the roughness of his cheek and the low, musky, guttural smell of that Denby man (because her mind had been equally quick to categorize him), it was a fair shock to her, at her own, sudden and wholly unexpected reaction. She kissed him back, and forgave him (she had done so already – but now it was all colluded out with herself) all of the uncouth and unforgivably straightforward things he had said to her, about her, and at the same time, felt furious at his liberty, and did not want him to stop. When he pulled away, she took a faint step forward, and her eyes flew up straight to gaze into his, and she saw the flecks again. Her eyes were full of the flecks, and cheeks flushed, mouth curved up in a drunken smile, that while she would never be called beautiful (poor Rupert thought she was tolerable, and sweet-tempered) by most people, suddenly she became quite, quite lovely out of sheer and startling happiness.
The flecked eyes looked at her, and she sensed a sudden rolling uneasiness behind them – as if he could not himself get a grasp of what he had just done. The face had frozen into a strange, bemused expression, wholly lost in itself, and she felt as though she would reach out to him and ask him was he feeling alright?, but he soon stepped backwards, her hearing came back, and the world started to turn again. She heard the voices suddenly subside into relieved hushes as the boy was corralled back into where he belonged, and she herself snapped to attention. When she had gathered a tolerable amount of her faculties, she saw that Mr. Denby had made his way to the door, that same strange expression in his eyes, and was looking straight at her, whilst making his way out of the shop. The others did not seem to notice. She kept her eyes on him as he walked down the street, and further and further away. He turned back two and a half times, she recalled – and then disappeared from view as he turned the side to go back to the docks.
That moment cemented in her mind firmly the names of the two men she had really spoken to in her life, apart from her family. Rupert would always be The Fellow, and Denby, the Man. In public, the latter was always preceded by “Insufferable”, but in private, she dropped the length and waste of adjectives, and mentally referred to him as “The Man”.