She laid down the letter and stirred her tea absently, her mind full of snow-capped sierras, and clear blue air, and peach forests, and all the wonders of that wonderland. And Emmy stirred her tea, too, in an absent manner, but her mind was filled with the most terrible thoughts wherewith a woman’s mind can be haunted.
Septimus had never seen a woman faint before. At first he thought Emmy was dead, and rubbed agonized hands together like a fly. When he realized what had happened, he produced a large jack-knife which he always carried in his trousers pocket—for the purpose, he explained, of sharpening pencils—and offered it to Zora with the vague idea that the first aid to fainting women consisted in cutting their stay-laces. Zora rebuked him for futility, and bade him ring the bell for the maid.
It was all very sudden. The scene had been one that of late had grown so familiar: Zora and Septimus poring over world itineraries, the latter full of ineffectual suggestion and irrelevant reminiscence, and Emmy reading by the fire. On this occasion it was the Globe newspaper which Septimus, who had spent the day in London on an unexecuted errand to his publisher, had brought back with him. Evening papers being luxuries in Nunsmere, he had hidden it carefully from Wiggleswick, in order to present it to the ladies. Suddenly there was a rustle and a slither by the fire-place, and Emmy, in a dead faint, hung over the arm of the chair. In her hand she grasped the outer sheet of the paper. The inner sheet, according to the untidy ways of women with newspapers, lay discarded on the floor.
With Septimus’s help Zora and the maid carried her to the sofa; they opened the window and gave her smelling salts. Septimus anxiously desired to be assured that she was not dying, and Zora thanked heaven that her mother had gone to bed. Presently Emmy recovered consciousness.
“I must have fainted,” she said in a whisper.
“Yes, dear,” said Zora, kneeling by her side. “Are you better?”
Emmy stared past Zora at something unseen and terrifying.
“It was foolish. The heat, I suppose. Mr. Sypher’s burning board.” She turned an appealing glance to Septimus. “Did I say anything silly?”
When he told her that she had slipped over the arm of the chair without a word, she looked relieved and closed her eyes. As soon as she had revived sufficiently she allowed herself to be led up-stairs; but before going she pressed Septimus’s hand with feverish significance.
Even to so inexperienced a mind as his the glance and the hand-shake conveyed a sense of trust, suggested dimly a reason for the fainting fit. Once more he stood alone and perplexed in the little drawing-room. Once more he passed his long fingers through his Struwel Peter hair and looked about the room for inspiration. Finding none, he mechanically gathered up the two parts of the newspaper, with a man’s instinct for tidiness in printed matter, and smoothed out the crumples that Emmy’s hand had made on the outer sheet. Whilst doing so, a paragraph met his eye, causing him to stare helplessly at the paper.