She was a woman of chaste blood, which spoke to her as shyly as a girl’s, now that it was in tumult: so indeed that, pressing her heart, she thought youth to have come back, and feasted on the exultation we have when, at an odd hour, we fancy we have cheated time. The sensation of youth and strength seemed to set a seal of lawfulness and naturalness, hitherto wanting, on her feeling for Wilfrid. “I can help him,” she thought. “I know where he fails, and what he can do. I can give him position, and be worth as much as any woman can be to a man.” Thus she justified the direction taken by the new force in her.
Two days later Wilfrid received a letter from Lady Charlotte, saying that she, with a chaperon, had started to join her brother at the yacht-station, according to appointment. Amazed and utterly discomfited, he looked about for an escape; but his father, whose plea of sickness had kept him from pursuing Emilia, petulantly insisted that he should go down to Lady Charlotte. Adela was ready to go. There were numbers either going or now on the spot, and the net was around him. Cornelia held back, declaring that her place was by her father’s side. Fine Shades were still too dominant at Brookfield for anyone to tell her why she stayed.
With anguish so deep that he could not act indifference, Wilfrid went on his miserable expedition—first setting a watch over Mr. Pericles, the which, in connection with the electric telegraph, was to enable him to join that gentleman speedily, whithersoever he might journey. He was not one to be deceived by the Greek’s mask in running down daily to Brookfield. A manoeuvre like that was poor; and besides, he had seen the sallow eyes give a twinkle more than once.
Now, on the Besworth night, Georgiana Ford had studied her brother Merthyr’s face when Emilia’s voice called for Wilfrid. Her heart was touched; and, in the midst of some little invidious wonder at the power of a girl to throw her attraction upon such a man, she thought, as she hoped, that probably it was due to the girl’s Italian blood. Merthyr was not unwilling to speak of her, and say what he feared and desired for Emilia’s sake; and Georgiana read, by this mark of confidence, how sincerely she was loved and trusted by him. “One never can have more than half of a man’s heart,” she thought—adding, “It’s our duty to deserve that, nevertheless.”
She was mystified. Say that Merthyr loved a girl, whom he certainly distinguished with some visible affection, what sort of man must he be that was preferred to Merthyr? And this set Georgiana at work thinking of Wilfrid. “He has at times the air of a student. He is one who trusts his own light too exclusively. Is he godless?” She concluded: “He is a soldier, and an officer with brains—a good class:” Rare also. Altogether, though Emilia did not elevate herself in this lady’s mind by choosing Wilfrid when she might have had Merthyr, the rivalry of the two men helped to dignify the one of whom she thought least. Might she have had Merthyr? Georgiana would not believe it—that is to say, she shut the doors and shot the bolts, the knocking outside went on.