“Permit me to say a word to your recent companion. He is my father’s clerk. I had to see him on urgent business; that is why I took this liberty,” he said, and retreated.
Braintop was still there, quietly posted, performing upon his head with a pocket hair-brush.
Wilfrid put Braintop’s back to the light, and said, “Is my shirt soiled?”
After a short inspection, Braintop pronounced that it was, “just a little.”
“Do you smell anything?” said Wilfrid, and hung with frightful suspense on the verdict. “A fellow upset beer on me.”
“It is beer!” sniffed Braintop.
“What on earth shall I do?” was the rejoinder; and Wilfrid tried to remember whether he had felt any sacred joy in touching Emilia’s dress as they went up the steps to the door.
Braintop fumbled in the breast-pocket of his coat. “I happen to have,” he said, rather shamefacedly.
“What is it?”
“Mrs. Chump gave it to me to-day. She always makes me accept something: I can’t refuse. It’s this:—the remains of some scent she insisted on my taking, in a bottle.”
Wilfrid plucked at the stopper with a reckless desperation, saturated his handkerchief, and worked at his breast as if he were driving a lusty dagger into it.
“What scent is it?” he asked hurriedly.
“Alderman’s Bouquet, sir.”
“Of all the detestable!—–” Wilfrid had no time for more, owing to fresh arrivals. He hastened in, with his smiling, wary face, half trusting that there might after all be purification in Alderman’s Bouquet, and promising heaven due gratitude if Emilia’s senses discerned not the curse on him. In the hall a gust from the great opening contention between Alderman’s Bouquet and bad beer, stifled his sickly hope. Frantic, but under perfect self-command outwardly, he glanced to right and left, for the suggestion of a means of escape. They were seven steps up the stairs before his wits prompted him to say to Georgiana, “I have just heard very serious news from home. I fear—”
“What?—or, pardon me: does it call you away?” she asked, and Emilia gave him a steady look.
“I fear I cannot remain here. Will you excuse me?”
His face spoke plainly now of mental torture repressed. Georgiana put her hand out in full sympathy, and Emilia said, in her deep whisper, “Let me hear to-morrow.” Then they bowed. Wilfrid was in the street again.
“Thank God, I’ve seen her!” was his first thought, overhearing “What did she think of me?” as he sighed with relief at his escape. For, lo! the Branciani dress was not on her shoulders, and therefore he might imagine what he pleased:—that she had arrayed herself so during the day to delight his eyes; or that, he having seen her in it, she had determined none others should. Though feeling utterly humiliated, he was yet happy. Driving to the station, he perceived starlight overhead, and blessed it; while his hand waved busily to conduct a current of fresh, oblivious air to his nostrils. The quiet heavens seemed all crowding to look down on the quiet circle of the firs, where Emilia’s harp had first been heard by him, and they took her music, charming his blood with imagined harmonies, as he looked up to them. Thus all the way to Brookfield his fancy soared, plucked at from below by Alderman’s Bouquet.