It was vain trying to induce my cousin to be more explicit.
’I hope to see you at Elverston in a very few days. I will shame Silas into letting you come. I don’t like his reluctance.’
’But don’t you think he must know that Milly would require some little outfit before her visit?’
’Well, I can’t say. I hope that is all; but be it what it may, I’ll make him let you come, and immediately, too.’ After she had gone, I experienced a repetition of those undefined doubts which had tortured me for some time after my conversation with Dr. Bryerly. I had truly said, however, I was well enough contented with my mode of life here, for I had been trained at Knowl to a solitude very nearly as profound.
IN WHICH I MAKE ANOTHER COUSIN’S ACQUAINTANCE
My correspondence about this time was not very extensive. About once a fortnight a letter from honest Mrs. Rusk conveyed to me how the dogs and ponies were, in queer English, oddly spelt; some village gossip, a critique upon Doctor Clay’s or the Curate’s last sermon, and some severities generally upon the Dissenters’ doings, with loves to Mary Quince, and all good wishes to me. Sometimes a welcome letter from cheerful Cousin Monica; and now, to vary the series, a copy of complimentary verses, without a signature, very adoring—very like Byron, I then fancied, and now, I must confess, rather vapid. Could I doubt from whom they came?
I had received, about a month after my arrival, a copy of verses in the same hand, in a plaintive ballad style, of the soldierly sort, in which the writer said, that as living his sole object was to please me, so dying I should be his latest thought; and some more poetic impieties, asking only in return that when the storm of battle had swept over, I should ’shed a tear’ on seeing ‘the oak lie, where it fell.’ Of course, about this lugubrious pun, there could be no misconception. The Captain was unmistakably indicated; and I was so moved that I could no longer retain my secret; but walking with Milly that day, confided the little romance to that unsophisticated listener, under the chestnut trees. The lines were so amorously dejected, and yet so heroically redolent of blood and gunpowder, that Milly and I agreed that the writer must be on the verge of a sanguinary campaign.
It was not easy to get at Uncle Silas’s ‘Times’ or ‘Morning Post,’ which we fancied would explain these horrible allusions; but Milly bethought her of a sergeant in the militia, resident in Feltram, who knew the destination and quarters of every regiment in the service; and circuitously, from this authority, we learned, to my infinite relief, that Captain Oakley’s regiment had still two years to sojourn in England.
I was summoned one evening by old L’Amour, to my uncle’s room. I remember his appearance that evening so well, as he lay back in his chair; the pillow; the white glare of his strange eye; his feeble, painful smile.