This letter came enclosed in one to my uncle, from the proper authority in the convent; and as there was neither address within, nor post-mark without, I was as much in the dark as ever as to poor Milly’s whereabouts.
Pencilled across the envelope of this letter, in my uncle’s hand, were the words, ‘Let me have your answer when sealed, and I will transmit it.—S.R.’
When, accordingly, some days later, I did place my letter to Milly in my uncle’s hands, he told me the reason of his reserves on the subject.
’I thought it best, dear Maud, not to plague you with a secret, and Milly’s present address is one. It will in a few weeks become the rallying-point of our diverse routes, when you shall meet her, and I join you both. Nobody, until the storm shall have blown over, must know where I am to be found, except my lawyer; and I think you would prefer ignorance to the trouble of keeping a secret on which so much may depend.’
This being reasonable, and even considerate, I acquiesced.
In that interval there reached me such a charming, gay, and affectionate letter—a very long letter, too—though the writer was scarcely seven miles away, from dear Cousin Monica, full of pleasant gossip, and rose-coloured and golden castles in the air, and the kindest interest in poor Milly, and the warmest affection for me.
One other incident varied that interval, if possible more pleasantly than those. It was the announcement, in a Liverpool paper, of the departure of the Seamew, bound for Melbourne; and among the passengers were reported ‘Dudley Ruthyn, Esquire, of Bartram-H., and Mrs. D. Ruthyn.’
And now I began to breathe freely, I plainly saw the end of my probation approaching: a short excursion to France, a happy meeting with Milly, and then a delightful residence with Cousin Monica for the remainder of my nonage.
You will say then that my spirits and my serenity were quite restored. Not quite. How marvellously lie our anxieties, in filmy layers, one over the other! Take away that which has lain on the upper surface for so long—the care of cares—the only one, as it seemed to you, between your soul and the radiance of Heaven—and straight you find a new stratum there. As physical science tells us no fluid is without its skin, so does it seem with this fine medium of the soul, and these successive films of care that form upon its surface on mere contact with the upper air and light.
What was my new trouble? A very fantastic one, you will say—the illusion of a self-tormentor. It was the face of Uncle Silas which haunted me. Notwithstanding the old pale smile, there was a shrinking grimness, and the always-averted look.
Sometimes I fancied his mind was disordered. I could not account for the eerie lights and shadows that flickered on his face, except so. There was a look of shame and fear of me, amazing as that seems, in the sheen of his peaked smile.