“I am the only protector of my sister’s reputation,” said Wilfrid, “and, by heaven! if you have cast her over to be the common talk, you shall meet me.”
The captain turned to his horse, saying, “Oh! Well!” Being mounted, he observed: “My dear Pole, you might have sung out all you had to say. Go to your sister, and if she complains of my behaviour, I’ll meet you. Oh, yes! I’ll meet you; I have no objection to excitement. You’re in the hands of an infernally clever woman, who does me the honour to wish to see my blood on the carpet, I believe; but if this is her scheme, it’s not worthy of her ability. She began pretty well. She arranged the preliminaries capitally. Why, look here,” he relinquished his ordinary drawl; “I’ll tell you something, which you may put down in my favour or not—just as you like. That woman did her best to compromise your sister with me on board the yacht. I can’t tell you how, and won’t. Of course, I wouldn’t if I could; but I have sense enough to admire a very charming person, and I did the only honourable thing in my power. It’s your sister, my good fellow, who gave me my dismissal. We had a little common sense conversation—in which she shines. I envy the man that marries her, but she denies me such luck. There! if you want to shoot me for my share in that transaction, I’ll give you your chance: and if you do, my dear Pole, either you must be a tremendous fool, or that woman’s ten times cleverer than I thought. You know where to find me. Good night.”
The captain gave heel to his horse, hearing no more.
Adela confirmed to Wilfrid what Gambier had spoken; and that it was she who had given him his dismissal. She called him by his name, “Augustus,” in a kindly tone, remarking, that Lady Charlotte had persecuted him dreadfully. “Poor Augustus! his entire reputation for evil is owing to her black paint-brush. There is no man so easily ‘hooked,’ as Mrs. Bayruffle would say, as he, though he has but eight hundred a year: barely enough to live on. It would have been cruel of me to keep him, for if he is in love, it’s with Emilia.”
Wilfrid here took upon himself to reproach her for a certain negligence of worldly interests. She laughed and blushed with humorous satisfaction; and, on second thoughts, he changed his opinion, telling her that he wished he could win his freedom as she had done.
“Wilfrid,” she said suddenly, “will you persuade Cornelia not to wear black?”
“Yes, if you wish it,” he replied.
“You will, positively? Then listen, dear. I don’t like the prospect of your alliance with Lady Charlotte.”
Wilfrid could not repress a despondent shrug.
“But you can get released,” she cried; and ultimately counselled him: “Mention the name of Lord Eltham before her once, when you are alone. Watch the result. Only, don’t be clumsy. But I need not tell you that.”