“Oh!” Emilia breathed inward deeply, scarce noticing the ‘if’ that followed; nodding quick assent to the stipulation before she heard the nature of it. It was, that she should continue in England.
“Your word,” said Wilfrid; and she pledged it, and did not think she was granting much in the prospect of what she gained.
“You will, then?” said he.
“Yes, I will.”
“On your honour?”
These reiterated questions were simply pretexts for steps nearer to the answering lips.
“And I may see you?” he went on.
“Wherever you are staying? And sometimes alone? Alone!—”
“Not if you do not know that I am to be respected,” said Emilia, huddled in the passionate fold of his arms. He released her instantly, and was departing, wounded; but his heart counselled wiser proceedings.
“To know that you are in England, breathing the same air with me, near me! is enough. Since we are to meet on those terms, let it be so. Let me only see you till some lucky shot puts me out of your way.”
This ‘some lucky shot,’ which is commonly pointed at themselves by the sentimental lovers, with the object of hitting the very centre of the hearts of obdurate damsels, glanced off Emilia’s, which was beginning to throb with a comprehension of all that was involved in the word she had given.
“I have your promise?” he repeated: and she bent her head.
“Not,” he resumed, taking jealousy to counsel, now that he had advanced a step: “Not that I would detain you against your will! I can’t expect to make such a figure at the end of the piece as your Count Branciani—who, by the way, served his friends oddly, however well he may have served his country.”
“His friends?” She frowned.
“Did he not betray the conspirators? He handed in names, now and then.”
“Oh!” she cried, “you understand us no better than an Austrian. He handed in names—yes he was obliged to lull suspicion. Two or three of the least implicated volunteered to be betrayed by him; they went and confessed, and put the Government on a wrong track. Count Branciani made a dish of traitors—not true men—to satisfy the Austrian ogre. No one knew the head of the plot till that night of the spy. Do you not see?—he weeded the conspiracy!”
“Poor fellow!” Wilfrid answered, with a contracted mouth: “I pity him for being cut off from his handsome wife.”
“I pity her for having to live,” said Emilia.
And so their duett dropped to a finish. He liked her phrase better than his own, and being denied any privileges, and feeling stupefied by a position which both enticed and stung him, he remarked that he presumed he must not detain her any longer; whereupon she gave him her hand. He clutched the ready hand reproachfully.
“Good-bye,” said she.
“You are the first to say it,” he complained.