“Who discover that the lady is not steel,” said Wilfrid. “Need she, in any case, wear so much there?”
He pointed, flittingly as it were, with his little finger to the slope of her neck.
She turned her wrist, touching the spot: “Here? You have seen, then, that it is something worn?”
There followed a delicious interplay of eyes. Who would have thought that hers could be sweet and mean so much?
“It is something worn, then? And thrown aside for me only, Charlotte?”
“For him who loves me,” she said.
“For him who loves me,” she repeated.
“Then it is for me!”
She had moved back, showing a harder figure, or the “I love you, love you!” would have sounded with force. It came, though not so vehemently as might have been, to the appeal of a soft fixed look.
“Yes, I love you, Charlotte; you know that I do.”
“You love me?”
“I love you! Dead, inanimate Charlotte, I love you!”
She threw out her hand as one would throw a bone to a dog.
“My living, breathing, noble Charlotte,” he cried, a little bewitched, “I love you with all my heart!”
It surprised him that her features should be gradually expressing less delight.
“With all your heart?”
“Could I give you a part?”
“It is done, sometimes,” she said, mock-sadly. Then, in her original voice: “Good. I never credited that story of you and the girl Emilia. I suppose what people say is a lie?”
Her eyes, in perfect accordance with the tone she had adopted, set a quiet watch on him.
“Who says it?” he thundered, just as she anticipated.
“It’s not true?”
“Not true!—how can it be true?”
“You never loved Emilia Belloni?—don’t love her now?—do not love her now? If you have ever said that you love Emilia Belloni, recant, and you are forgiven; and then go, for I think I hear Georgiana below. Quick! I am not acting. It’s earnest. The word, if you please, as you are a gentleman. Tell me, because I have heard tales. I have been perplexed about you. I am sure you’re a manly fellow, who would never have played tricks with a girl you were bound to protect; but you might have—pardon the slang—spooned,—who knows? You might have been in love with her downright. No harm, even if a trifle foolish; but in the present case, set my mind at rest. Quick! There are both my hands. Take them, press them, and speak.”
The two hands were taken, but his voice was not so much at command. No image of Emilia rose in his mind to reproach him with the casting over of his heart’s dear mistress, but a blind struggle went on. It seemed that he could do what he dared not utter. The folly of lips more loyal than the spirit touched his lively perception; and as the hot inward struggle, masked behind his softly-playing eyes, had reduced his personal consciousness so that if he spoke from his feeling there was a chance of his figuring feebly, he put on his ever-ready other self:—