If this was love, I didn't think much of it. Misery was my main feeling, only shot through with rays of heaven when I happened to glimpse a starched elbow from a doorway, a tuft of raven hair outside a window heading towards the makeshift stables, or a well-polished boot travelling past the kitchen.
My days continued as usual, but Jasper was always on the edge of my consciousness, like an itch I couldn’t scratch. I could not help but think of him in the morning when I tidied the breakfast things and saw the cup from which he had drunk. I could not help but think of him in the afternoon when I saw a book he'd been reading left spread-eagled on the sofa. I could not help but think of him in the evening when I smelt his strange and exotic cigar smoke wafting through the house.
He invaded the very air I breathed. I felt his presence drifting through the house like spores from a dandelion, and I couldn’t get ahold of my mind whenever I was in the same room as him. My vision seemed cloudy and smeared, as though I was peering at him through the upstairs windows, which still needed a good clean.
Throughout the next week he didn’t speak to me other than a forced “thank you” whenever I cleared his plate or poured his coffee. This was not too surprising, seeing as I was a servant and Jasper had classed me with the lowliest of worms. I saw him wince each time Sebastian addressed a friendly comment to me and my ensuing reply was not in keeping with my position.
As for our afternoon lessons, I could see these pained Jasper dreadfully. Why are you teaching her to read? his grimaces seemed to say, she is a housemaid and will stay that way. Why make her think she is anything else?
I learned to look sideways, so I could watch without being watched. A quick eye swivel putting down toast and I could see he looked slightly tired, did the town rooster wake him at four o'clock this morning as it had done to me? Or a downwards glance while pouring coffee would show me his nails were bitten ragged, was he nervous about something? If I stood slightly closer - but not too close! - on the pretense of brushing away crumbs, I could inhale his subtle odour of spice and smoke.
I yearned for there to be some sign that he was similarly affected. Apart from his hand shaking on the newspaper the first evening, I had never seen him anything but composed. Although at times bordering on the sarcastic, he seemed to have a ready wit and Sebastian enjoyed his company, and not just for the sport of goading him about his airs and graces. In fact, half the time I don't even think he knew he was being goaded as he refused to believe that anyone else's opinion could be superior to his own.
Such is the madness of love. Jasper's shortcomings only served to make me love him even more. The unbearable sting of some pompous comment was conjured into a sweet rush of affection by my forgiving nature. The curl of a disdainful lip transformed into an adorable quirk. I could see what he was, but I loved his imperfections nonetheless. A sarcastic eyebrow arch could sway my mind for many hours.
Until now I had held myself to be a sound judge of character. When one's face is marked by the pox, you can easily see through people who don't wish to delve deeper than the ugly casing. I knew Jasper to be one of them but any thought I had about his personal shortcomings glanced like a hammer blow off my steadfast heart every time I saw his angelic face. It was like he had me under a kind of spell, and it was bewildering. I had never experienced anything like it before.
My one fear, and it was my greatest, was that he would somehow discover how I felt. I sensed keenly that this knowledge in his hands would be my shameful undoing, no matter how much I told myself otherwise. So I strove my hardest to keep my feelings hidden. And I almost succeeded.