Emilia was about to put her hand over to him, but the prompt impulse was checked by a simultaneous feminine warning within. She smiled, saying: “‘I forgive’ seems such a strange thing for me to say;” and to convey any further meaning that might comfort him, better than words could do, she held on her smile. The smile was of the acceptedly feigned, conventional character; a polished Surface: belonging to the passage of the discourse, and not to the emotions. Wilfrid’s swelling passion slipped on it. Sensitively he discerned an ease in its formation and disappearance that shot a first doubt through him, whether he really maintained his empire in her heart. If he did not reign there, why had she sent for him? He attributed the unheated smile to a defect in her manner, that was always chargeable with something, as he remembered. He began systematically to account for his acts: but the man was so constituted that as he laid them out for pardon, he himself condemned them most; and looking back at his weakness and double play, he broke through his phrases to cry without premeditation: “Can you have loved me then?”
Emilia’s cheeks tingled: “Don’t speak of that night in Devon,” she replied.
“Ah!” sighed he. “I did not mean then. Then you must have hated me.”
“No; for, what did I say? I said that you would come to me—nothing more. I hated that woman. You? Oh, no!”
“You loved me, then?”
“Did I not offer to work for you, if you were poor? And—I can’t remember what I said. Please, do not speak of that night.”
“Emilia! as a man of honour, I was bound—”
She lifted her hands: “Oh! be silent, and let that night die.”
“I may speak of that night when you drove home from Penarvon Castle, and a robber? You have forgotten him, perhaps! What did he steal? not what he came for, but something dearer to him than anything he possesses. How can I say—? Dear to me? If it were dipped in my heart’s blood!—”
Emilia was far from being carried away by the recollection of the scene; but remembering what her emotion had then been, she wondered at her coolness now.
“I may speak of Wilming Weir?” he insinuated.
Her bosom rose softly and heavily. As if throwing off some cloak of enchantment that clogged her spirit! “I was telling you of this dress,” she said: “I mean, of Countess Branciani. She thought her husband was the Austrian spy who had betrayed them, and she said, “He is not worthy to live. Everybody knew that she had loved him. I have seen his portrait and hers. I never saw faces that looked so fond of life. She had that Italian beauty which is to any other like the difference between velvet and silk.”
“Oh! do I require to be told the difference?” Wilfrid’s heart throbbed.
“She,” pursued Emilia, “she loved him still, I believe, but her country was her religion. There was known to be a great conspiracy, and no one knew the leader of it. All true Italians trusted Countess Branciani, though she visited the Austrian Governor’s house—a General with some name on the teeth. One night she said to him, ’You have a spy who betrays you.’ The General never suspected Countess Branciani. Women are devils of cleverness sometimes.