But it seemed to me that Bartram-Haugh was to be to me a vale of tears; or rather, in my sad pilgrimage, that valley of the shadow of death through which poor Christian fared alone and in the dark.
One day Milly ran into the parlour, pale, with wet cheeks, and, without saying a word, threw her arms about my neck, and burst into a paroxysm of weeping.
‘What is it, Milly—what’s the matter, dear—what is it?’ I cried aghast, but returning her close embrace heartily.
‘Oh! Maud—Maud darling, he’s going to send me away.’
’Away, dear! where away? And leave me alone in this dreadful solitude, where he knows I shall die of fear and grief without you? Oh! no—no, it must be a mistake.’
’I’m going to France, Maud—I’m going away. Mrs. Jolks is going to London, day ar’ter to-morrow, and I’m to go wi’ her; and an old French lady, he says, from the school will meet me there, and bring me the rest o’ the way.’
‘Oh—ho—ho—ho—ho—o—o—o!’ cried poor Milly, hugging me closer still, with her head buried in my shoulder, and swaying me about like a wrestler, in her agony.
‘I never wor away from home afore, except that little bit wi’ you over there at Elverston; and you wor wi’ me then, Maud; an’ I love ye—better than Bartram—better than a’; an’ I think I’ll die, Maud, if they take me away.’
I was just as wild in my woe as poor Milly; and it was not until we had wept together for a full hour—sometimes standing—sometimes walking up and down the room—sometimes sitting and getting up in turns to fall on one another’s necks,—that Milly, plucking her handkerchief from her pocket, drew a note from it at the same time, which, as it fell upon the floor, she at once recollected to be one from Uncle Silas to me.
It was to this effect:—
’I wish to apprise my dear niece and ward of my plans. Milly proceeds to an admirable French school, as a pensionnaire, and leaves this on Thursday next. If after three months’ trial she finds it in any way objectionable, she returns to us. If, on the contrary, she finds it in all respects the charming residence it has been presented to me, you, on the expiration of that period, join her there, until the temporary complication of my affairs shall have been so far adjusted as to enable me to receive you once more at Bartram. Hoping for happier days, and wishing to assure you that three months is the extreme limit of your separation from my poor Milly, I have written this, feeling alas! unequal to seeing you at present. ’Bartram, Tuesday.
’P.S.—I can have no objection to your apprising Monica Knollys of these arrangements. You will understand, of course, not a copy of this letter, but its substance.’
Over this document, scanning it as lawyers do a new Act of Parliament, we took comfort. After all, it was limited; a separation not to exceed three months, possibly much shorter. On the whole, too, I pleased myself with thinking Uncle Silas’s note, though peremptory, was kind.