“How do you do, sir!—no! that can’t be the house,” stammered Braintop, with a very earnest scrutiny.
“What house? what do you want?” enquired Wilfrid.
“Jenkinson,” was the name that won the honour of rescuing Braintop from this dilemma.
“No; it is Lady Gosstre’s house: Miss Belloni is living there; and stop: you know her. Just wait, and take in two or three words from me, and notice particularly how she is looking, and the dress she wears. You can say—say that Mrs. Chump sent you to enquire after Miss Belloni’s health.”
Wilfrid tore a leaf from his pocket-book, and wrote:
“I can be free to-morrow. One word! I shall expect it, with your name in full.”
But even in the red heat of passion his born diplomacy withheld his own signature. It was not difficult to override Braintop’s scruples about presenting himself, and Wilfrid paced a sentinel measure awaiting the reply. “Free to-morrow,” he repeated, with a glance at his watch under a lamp: and thus he soliloquized: “What a time that fellow is! Yes, I can be free to-morrow if I will. I wonder what the deuce Gambier had to do in Monmouthshire. If he has been playing with my sister’s reputation, he shall have short shrift. That fellow Braintop sees her now—my little Emilia! my bird! She won’t have changed her dress till she has dined. If she changes it before she goes out—by Jove, if she wears it to-night before all those people, that’ll mean ‘Good-bye’ to me: ‘Addio, caro,’ as those olive women say, with their damned cold languor, when they have given you up. She’s not one of them! Good God! she came into the room looking like a little Empress. I’ll swear her hand trembled when I went, though! My sisters shall see her in that dress. She must have a clever lady’s maid to have done that knot to her back hair. She’s getting as full of art as any of them—Oh! lovely little darling! And when she smiles and holds out her hand! What is it—what is it about her? Her upper lip isn’t perfectly cut, there’s some fault with her nose, but I never saw such a mouth, or such a face. ‘Free to-morrow?’ Good God! she’ll think I mean I’m free to take a walk!”
At this view of the ghastly shortcoming of his letter as regards distinctness, and the prosaic misinterpretation it was open to, Wilfrid called his inventive wits to aid, and ran swiftly to the end of the street. He had become—as like unto a lunatic as resemblance can approach identity. Commanding the length of the pavement for an instant, to be sure that no Braintop was in sight, he ran down a lateral street, but the stationer’s shop he was in search of beamed nowhere visible for him, and he returned at the same pace to experience despair at the thought that he might have missed Braintop issuing forth, for whom he scoured the immediate neighbourhood, and overhauled not a few quiet gentlemen of all ages. “An envelope!” That was the object of his