Wilfrid caught her as she slipped from her saddle. His heart was in a tumult; stirred both ways: stirred with wrath and with love. He clasped her tightly.
“Am I?—am I?” he breathed.
“My lover!” Emilia murmured.
He was her slave again.
For, here was something absolutely his own. His own from the roots; from the first growth of sensation. Something with the bloom on it: to which no other finger could point and say: “There is my mark.”
(And, ladies, if you will consent to be likened to a fruit, you must bear with these observations, and really deserve the stigma. If you will smile on men, because they adore you as vegetable products, take what ensues.)
Lady Charlotte did no more than double the time she had asked for. The party were soon at a quiet canter up the lanes; but entering a broad furzy common with bramble-plots and oak-shaws, the Amazon flew ahead. Emilia’s eyes were so taken with her, that she failed to observe a tiny red-flowing runlet in the clay, with yellow-ridged banks almost baked to brick. Over it she was borne, but at the expense of a shaking that caused her to rely on her hold of the reins, ignorant of the notions of a horse outstripped. Wilfrid looked to see that the jump had been accomplished, and was satisfied. Gambier was pressing his hack to keep a respectable second.
Lady Charlotte spun round suddenly, crying, “Catch the mare!” and galloped back to Emilia, who was deposited on a bush of bramble. Dismounting promptly, the lady said: “My child, you’re not hurt?”
“Not a bit.” Emilia blinked.
“Not a bit,” was half whispered.
“That’s brave. Now jump on your feet. Tell me why you rode over to us this morning. Quick. Don’t hesitate.”
“Because I want Wilfrid to see his sister Cornelia,” came the answer, with the required absence of indecision.
Emilia ran straightway to meet Wilfrid approaching; and as both her hands, according to her fashion, were stretched out to him to assure him of her safety and take his clasp, forgetful of the instincts derived from riding-habits, her feet became entangled; she trod herself down, falling plump forward and looking foolish—perhaps for the first time in her life plainly feeling so.
“Up! little woman,” said Lady Charlotte, supporting her elbow.
“Now, Sir Wilfrid, we part here; and don’t spoil her courage, now she has had a spill, by any ‘assiduous attentions’ and precautions. She’s sure to take as many as are needed. If Captain Gambler thinks I require an escort, he may offer.”
The captain, taken by surprise, bowed, and flowed in ardent commonplace. Wilfrid did not look of a wholesome colour.
“Do you return?” he stammered; not without a certain aspect of righteous reproach.
“Yes. You will ride over to us again, probably, in a day or two? Captain Gambler will see me safe from the savage admirers that crowd this country, if I interpreted him rightly.”