For hours he cudgelled his brains to know why she desired Cornelia not to wear black, and when the light broke in on him he laughed like a jolly youth for an instant. The reason why was in a web so complicated, that, to have divined what hung on Cornelia’s wearing of black, showed a rare sagacity and perception of character on the little lady’s part. As thus:—Sir Twickenham Pryme is the most sensitive of men to ridicule and vulgar tattle: he has continued to visit the house, learning by degrees to prefer me, but still too chivalrous to withdraw his claim to Cornelia, notwithstanding that he has seen indications of her not too absolute devotion towards him:—I have let him become aware that I have broken with Captain Gambier (whose income is eight hundred a year merely), for the sake of a higher attachment: now, since the catastrophe, he can with ease make it appear to the world that I was his choice from the first, seeing that Cornelia will assuredly make no manner of objection:—but, if she, with foolish sentimental persistence, assumes the garb of sorrow, then Sir Twickenham’s ears will tingle; he will retire altogether; he will not dare to place himself in a position which will lend a colour to the gossip, that jilted by one sister, he flew for consolation to the other; jilted, too, for the mere memory of a dead man! an additional insult!
Exquisite intricacy! Wilfrid worked through all the intervolutions, and nearly forgot his wretchedness in admiration of his sister’s mental endowments. He was the more willing to magnify them, inasmuch as he thereby strengthened his hope that liberty would follow the speaking of the talismanic name of Eltham to Lady Charlotte, alone. He had come to look upon her as the real barrier between himself and Emilia.
“I think we have brains,” he said softly, on his pillow, upon a review of the beggared aspect of his family; and he went to sleep with a smile on his face.
A sharp breath of air had passed along the dews, and all the young green of the fresh season shone in white jewels. The sky, set with very dim distant stars, was in grey light round a small brilliant moon. Every space of earth lifted clear to her; the woodland listened; and in the bright silence the nightingales sang loud.
Emilia and Tracy Runningbrook were threading their way toward a lane over which great oak branches intervolved; thence under larches all with glittering sleeves, and among spiky brambles, with the purple leaf and the crimson frosted. The frost on the edges of the brown-leaved bracken gave a faint colour. Here and there, intense silver dazzled their eyes. As they advanced amid the icy hush, so hard and instant was the ring of the earth under them, their steps sounded as if expected.
“This night seems made for me!” said Emilia.
Tracy had no knowledge of the object of the expedition. He was her squire simply; had pitched on a sudden into an enamoured condition, and walked beside her, caring little whither he was led, so that she left him not.