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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSandra Belloni - Book 7 - Chapter 53. Alderman's Bouquet
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Sandra Belloni - Book 7 - Chapter 53. Alderman's Bouquet Post by :rthur Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :1764

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Sandra Belloni - Book 7 - Chapter 53. Alderman's Bouquet

BOOK VII CHAPTER LIII. ALDERMAN'S BOUQUET

A minute after his parting with Emilia, Wilfrid swung round in the street and walked back at great strides. "What a fool I was not to see that she was acting indifference!" he cried. "Let me have two seconds with her!" But how that was to be contrived his diplomatic brain refused to say. "And what a stiff, formal fellow I was all the time!" He considered that he had not uttered a sentence in any way pointed to touch her heart. "She must think I am still determined to marry that woman."

Wilfrid had taken his stand on the opposite side of the street, and beheld a male figure in the dusk, that went up to the house and then stood back scanning the windows. Wounded by his audacious irreverence toward the walls behind which his beloved was sheltered, Wilfrid crossed and stared at the intruder. It proved to be Braintop.

"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 desire, and for that he wooed a damsel passing jauntily with a jug in her hand, first telling her that he knew her name was Mary, at which singular piece of divination she betrayed much natural astonishment. But a fine round silver coin and an urgent request for an envelope, told her as plainly as a blank confession that this was a lover. She informed him that she lived three streets off, where there were shops. "Well, then," said Wilfrid, "bring me the envelope here, and you'll have another opportunity of looking down the area."

"Think of yourself," replied she, saucily; but proved a diligent messenger. Then Wilfrid wrote on a fresh slip:

"When I said 'Free,' I meant free in heart and without a single chain to keep me from you. From any moment that you please, I am free. This is written in the dark."

He closed the envelope, and wrote Emilia's name and the address as black as his pencil could achieve it, and with a smart double-knock he deposited the missive in the box. From his station opposite he guessed the instant when it was taken out, and from that judged when she would be reading it. Or perhaps she would not read it till she was alone? "That must be her bedroom," he said, looking for a light in one of the upper windows; but the voice of a fellow who went by with: "I should keep that to myself, if I was you," warned him to be more discreet.

"Well, here I am. I can't leave the street," quoth Wilfrid, to the stock of philosophy at his disposal. He burned with rage to think of how he might be exhibiting himself before Powys and his sister.

It was half-past nine when a carriage drove up to the door. Into this Mr. Powys presently handed Georgiana and Emilia. Braintop followed the ladies, and then the coachman received his instructions and drove away. Forthwith Wilfrid started in pursuit. He calculated that if his wind held till he could jump into a light cab, his legitimate prey Braintop might be caught. For, "they can't be taking him to any party with them!" he chose to think, and it was a fair calculation that they were simply conducting Braintop part of his way home. The run was pretty swift. Wilfrid's blood was fired by the pace, until, forgetting the traitor Braintop, up rose Truth from the bottom of the well in him, and he felt that his sole desire was to see Emilia once more--but once! that night. Running hard, in the midst of obstacles, and with eye and mind fined on one object, disasters befell him. He knocked apples off a stall, and heard vehement hallooing behind: he came into collision with a gentleman of middle age courting digestion as he walked from his trusty dinner at home to his rubber at the Club: finally he rushed full tilt against a pot-boy who was bringing all his pots broadside to the flow of the street. "By Jove! is this what they drink?" he gasped, and dabbed with his handkerchief at the beer-splashes, breathlessly hailing the looked-for cab, and, with hot brow and straightened-out forefinger, telling the driver to keep that carriage in sight. The pot-boy had to be satisfied on his master's account, and then on his own, and away shot Wilfrid, wet with beer from throat to knee--to his chief protesting sense, nothing but an exhalation of beer! "Is this what they drink?" he groaned, thinking lamentably of the tastes of the populace. All idea of going near Emilia was now abandoned. An outward application of beer quenched his frenzy. She seemed as an unattainable star seen from the depths of foul pits. "Stop!" he cried from the window.

"Here we are, sir," said the cabman.

The carriage had drawn up, and a footman's alarum awakened one of the houses. The wretched cabman had likewise drawn up right under the windows of the carriage. Wilfrid could have pulled the trigger of a pistol at his forehead that moment. He saw that Miss Ford had recognized him, and he at once bowed elegantly. She dropped the window, and said, "You are in evening dress, I think; we will take you in with us."

Wilfrid hoped eagerly he might be allowed to hand them to the door, and made three skips across the mire. Emilia had her hands gathered away from the chances of seizure. In wild rage he began protesting that he could not possibly enter, when Georgiana said, "I wish to speak to you," and put feminine pressure upon him. He was almost on the verge of the word "beer," by way of despairing explanation, when the door closed behind him.

"Permit me to say a word to your recent companion. He is my father's clerk. I had to see him on urgent business; that is why I took this liberty," he said, and retreated.

Braintop was still there, quietly posted, performing upon his head with a pocket hair-brush.

Wilfrid put Braintop's back to the light, and said, "Is my shirt soiled?"

After a short inspection, Braintop pronounced that it was, "just a little."

"Do you smell anything?" said Wilfrid, and hung with frightful suspense on the verdict. "A fellow upset beer on me."

"It is beer!" sniffed Braintop.

"What on earth shall I do?" was the rejoinder; and Wilfrid tried to remember whether he had felt any sacred joy in touching Emilia's dress as they went up the steps to the door.

Braintop fumbled in the breast-pocket of his coat. "I happen to have," he said, rather shamefacedly.

"What is it?"

"Mrs. Chump gave it to me to-day. She always makes me accept something: I can't refuse. It's this:--the remains of some scent she insisted on my taking, in a bottle."

Wilfrid plucked at the stopper with a reckless desperation, saturated his handkerchief, and worked at his breast as if he were driving a lusty dagger into it.

"What scent is it?" he asked hurriedly.

"Alderman's Bouquet, sir."

"Of all the detestable!---" Wilfrid had no time for more, owing to fresh arrivals. He hastened in, with his smiling, wary face, half trusting that there might after all be purification in Alderman's Bouquet, and promising heaven due gratitude if Emilia's senses discerned not the curse on him. In the hall a gust from the great opening contention between Alderman's Bouquet and bad beer, stifled his sickly hope. Frantic, but under perfect self-command outwardly, he glanced to right and left, for the suggestion of a means of escape. They were seven steps up the stairs before his wits prompted him to say to Georgiana, "I have just heard very serious news from home. I fear--"

"What?--or, pardon me: does it call you away?" she asked, and Emilia gave him a steady look.

"I fear I cannot remain here. Will you excuse me?"

His face spoke plainly now of mental torture repressed. Georgiana put her hand out in full sympathy, and Emilia said, in her deep whisper, "Let me hear to-morrow." Then they bowed. Wilfrid was in the street again.

"Thank God, I've seen her!" was his first thought, overhearing "What did she think of me?" as he sighed with relief at his escape. For, lo! the Branciani dress was not on her shoulders, and therefore he might imagine what he pleased:--that she had arrayed herself so during the day to delight his eyes; or that, he having seen her in it, she had determined none others should. Though feeling utterly humiliated, he was yet happy. Driving to the station, he perceived starlight overhead, and blessed it; while his hand waved busily to conduct a current of fresh, oblivious air to his nostrils. The quiet heavens seemed all crowding to look down on the quiet circle of the firs, where Emilia's harp had first been heard by him, and they took her music, charming his blood with imagined harmonies, as he looked up to them. Thus all the way to Brookfield his fancy soared, plucked at from below by Alderman's Bouquet.

The Philosopher, up to this point rigidly excluded, rushes forward to the footlights to explain in a note, that Wilfrid, thus setting a perfume to contend with a stench, instead of wasting for time, change of raiment, and the broad lusty airs of heaven to blow him fresh again, symbolizes the vice of Sentimentalism, and what it is always doing. Enough!

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BOOK VII CHAPTER LIV. THE EXPLOSION AT BROOKFIELD"Let me hear to-morrow." Wilfrid repeated Emilia's petition in the tone she had used, and sent a delight through his veins even with that clumsy effort of imitation. He walked from the railway to Brookfield through the circle of firs, thinking of some serious tale of home to invent for her ears to-morrow. Whatever it was, he was able to conclude it--"But all's right now." He noticed that the dwarf pine, under whose spreading head his darling sat when he saw her first, had been cut down. Its absence gave him an ominous chill.
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BOOK VII CHAPTER LII. A FRESH DUETT BETWEEN WILFRID AND EMILIA"Don't blame yourself, my Wilfrid." Emilia spoke thus, full of pity for him, and in her adorable, deep-fluted tones, after the effective stop he had come to. The 'my Wilfrid' made the owner of the name quiver with satisfaction. He breathed: "You have forgiven me?" "That I have. And there was indeed no blame. My voice has gone. Yes, but I do not think it your fault." "It was! it is!" groaned Wilfrid. "But, has your voice gone?" He leaned nearer to her, drawing largely on the claim his incredulity had
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