Commonplaces continued to be Wilfrid’s refuge, for sentiment was surging mightily within him. The commonplaces concerning father, sisters, health, weather, sickened him when uttered, so much that for a time he was unobservant of Emilia’s ready exchange of them. To a compliment on her appearance, she said: “You like this dress? I will tell you the history of it. I call it the Branciani dress. Mr. Powys designed it for me. The Countess Branciani was his friend. She used always to dress in this colour; just in this style. She also was dark. And she imagined that her husband favoured the Austrians. She believed he was an Austrian spy. It was impossible for her not to hate him—”
“Her husband!” quoth Wilfrid. The unexpected richness that had come upon her beauty and the coolness of her prattle at such an interview amazed and mortified him.
“She supposed him to be an Austrian spy!”
“Still he was her husband!”
Emilia gave her features a moment’s play, but she had not full command of them, and the spark of scorn they emitted was very slight.
“Ah!” his tone had fallen into a depth, “how I thank you for the honour you have done me in desiring to see me once before you leave England! I know that I have not merited it.”
More he said on this theme, blaming himself emphatically, until, startled by the commonplaces he was uttering, he stopped short; and the stopping was effective, if the speech was not. Where was the tongue of his passion? He almost asked it of himself. Where was Hippogriff? He who had burned to see her, he saw her now, fair as a vision, and yet in the flesh! Why was he as good as tongue-tied in her presence when he had such fires to pour forth?