I must not forget two kind letters from Lady Knollys, who was detained away, and delighted to hear that I enjoyed my quiet life; and promised to apply, in person, to Uncle Silas, for permission to visit me.
She was to be for the Christmas at Elverston, and that was only six miles away from Bartram-Haugh, so I had the excitement of a pleasant look forward.
She also said that she would include poor Milly in her invitation; and a vision of Captain Oakley rose before me, with his handsome gaze turned in wonder on poor Milly, for whom I had begun to feel myself responsible.
AN ARRIVAL AT DEAD OF NIGHT
I have sometimes been asked why I wear an odd little turquois ring—which to the uninstructed eye appears quite valueless and altogether an unworthy companion of those jewels which flash insultingly beside it. It is a little keepsake, of which I became possessed about this time.
‘Come, lass, what name shall I give you?’ cried Milly, one morning, bursting into my room in a state of alarming hilarity.
‘My own, Milly.’
‘No, but you must have a nickname, like every one else.’
‘Don’t mind it, Milly.’
‘Yes, but I will. Shall I call you Mrs. Bustle?’
‘You shall do no such thing.’
‘But you must have a name.’
‘I refuse a name.’
‘But I’ll give you one, lass.’
‘And I won’t have it.’
‘But you can’t help me christening you.’
‘I can decline answering.’
‘But I’ll make you,’ said Milly, growing very red.
Perhaps there was something provoking in my tone, for I certainly was very much disgusted at Milly’s relapse into barbarism.
‘You can’t,’ I retorted quietly.
‘See if I don’t, and I’ll give ye one twice as ugly.’
I smiled, I fear, disdainfully.
‘And I think you’re a minx, and a slut, and a fool,’ she broke out, flushing scarlet.
I smiled in the same unchristian way.
‘And I’d give ye a smack o’ the cheek as soon as look at you.’
And she gave her dress a great slap, and drew near me, in her wrath. I really thought she was about tendering the ordeal of single combat.
I made her, however, a paralysing courtesy, and, with immense dignity, sailed out of the room, and into Uncle Silas’s study, where it happened we were to breakfast that morning, and for several subsequent ones.
During the meal we maintained the most dignified reserve; and I don’t think either so much as looked at the other.
We had no walk together that day.
I was sitting in the evening, quite alone, when Milly entered the room. Her eyes were red, and she looked very sullen.
‘I want your hand, cousin,’ she said, at the same time taking it by the wrist, and administering with it a sudden slap on her plump cheek, which made the room ring, and my fingers tingle; and before I had recovered from my surprise, she had vanished.