At this view of the ghastly shortcoming of his letter as regards distinctness, and the prosaic misinterpretation it was open to, Wilfrid called his inventive wits to aid, and ran swiftly to the end of the street. He had become—as like unto a lunatic as resemblance can approach identity. Commanding the length of the pavement for an instant, to be sure that no Braintop was in sight, he ran down a lateral street, but the stationer’s shop he was in search of beamed nowhere visible for him, and he returned at the same pace to experience despair at the thought that he might have missed Braintop issuing forth, for whom he scoured the immediate neighbourhood, and overhauled not a few quiet gentlemen of all ages. “An envelope!” That was the object of his desire, and for that he wooed a damsel passing jauntily with a jug in her hand, first telling her that he knew her name was Mary, at which singular piece of divination she betrayed much natural astonishment. But a fine round silver coin and an urgent request for an envelope, told her as plainly as a blank confession that this was a lover. She informed him that she lived three streets off, where there were shops. “Well, then,” said Wilfrid, “bring me the envelope here, and you’ll have another opportunity of looking down the area.”
“Think of yourself,” replied she, saucily; but proved a diligent messenger. Then Wilfrid wrote on a fresh slip:
“When I said “Free,” I meant free in heart and without a single chain to keep me from you. From any moment that you please, I am free. This is written in the dark.”
He closed the envelope, and wrote Emilia’s name and the address as black as his pencil could achieve it, and with a smart double-knock he deposited the missive in the box. From his station opposite he guessed the instant when it was taken out, and from that judged when she would be reading it. Or perhaps she would not read it till she was alone? “That must be her bedroom,” he said, looking for a light in one of the upper windows; but the voice of a fellow who went by with: “I should keep that to myself, if I was you,” warned him to be more discreet.