At Stornley the following letter from Emilia hit its mark:—
Dear Mr. Wilfrid,
“It is time for me to see you. Come when you have read this letter. I cannot tell you how I am, because my heart feels beating in another body. Pray come; come now. Come on a swift horse. The thought of you galloping to me goes through me like a flame that hums. You will come, I know. It is time. If I write foolishly, do forgive me. I can only make sure of the spelling, and I cannot please you on paper, only when I see you.”
The signature of ‘Emilia Alessandra Belloni’ was given with her wonted proud flourish.
Wilfrid stared at the writing. “What! all this time she has been thinking the same thing!” Her constancy did not swim before him in alluring colours. He regarded it as a species of folly. Disgust had left him. The pool of Memory would have had to be stirred to remind him of the pipe-smoke in her hair. “You are sure to please me when you see me?” he murmured. “You are very confident, young lady!” So much had her charm faded. And then he thought kindly of her, and that a meeting would not be good for her, and that she ought to go to Italy and follow her profession. “If she grows famous,” whispered coxcombry, “why then oneself will take a little of the praises given to her.” And that seemed eminently satisfactory. Men think in this way when you have loved them, ladies. All men? No; only the coxcombs; but it is to these that you give your fresh affection. They are, as it were, the band of the regiment of adorers, marching ahead, while we sober working soldiers follow to their music. “If she grows famous, why then I can bear in mind that her heart was once in my possession: and it may return to its old owner, perchance.” Wilfrid indulged in a pleasant little dream of her singing at the Opera-house, and he, tied to a ferocious, detested wife, how softly and luxuriously would he then be sighing for the old time! It was partly good seed in his nature, and an apprehension of her force of soul, that kept him from a thought of evil to her. Passion does not inspire dark appetite. Dainty innocence does, I am told. Things are tested by the emotions they provoke. Wilfrid knew that there was no trifling with Emilia, so he put the letter by, commenting thus “she’s right, she doesn’t spell badly.” Behind, which, to those who have caught the springs of his character, volumes may be seen.
He put the letter by. Two days later, at noon, the card of Captain Gambier was brought to him in the billiard-room,—on it was written: “Miss Belloni waits on horseback to see you.” Wilfrid thought “Waits!” and the impossibility of escape gave him a notion of her power.
“So, you are letting that go on,” said Lady Charlotte, when she heard that Emilia and the captain were in company.
“There is no fear for her whatever.”
“There is always fear when a man gives every minute of his time to that kind of business,” retorted her ladyship.