And feed upon the shadow of perfection

And why not death, rather than live in torment?
To die is to be banished from myself;
And Sylvia is myself: banished from her
Is self from self; a deadly banishment!
What light is light, if Sylvia be not seen?
What joy is joy, if Sylvia be not by?
Unless it be to think that she is by,
And feed upon the shadow of perfection.
SHAKSPEARE.

While yet half-slept, and wholly unrefreshed, after our long and rapid
journey by train, we donned our uniforms, with sword-belt and
sabretashe, duly reported ourselves to the colonel, who welcomed us
back, and within an hour I found myself established in my old quarters,
and once more falling into the every-day routine of barrack-life, just
as if I had never left Maidstone, and as if my visit to Calderwood and
my engagement with Louisa were all a dream. But I had her pearl ring,
and the lock of jetty hair, which I had cut from her beautiful head in
jest—a gift in solemn earnest now—and I lost no time in procuring a
locket suitable for it, and which I might wear at my neck.

Again I had parades to attend, troop, guard, and stable duties to
perform; but amid these, and all the bustle of Maidstone, the most
tiresome and bustling cavalry barrack in the British empire, my heart
and thoughts were ever with Louisa Loftus, amid the old woods of
Calderwood Glen.

“War is not yet declared against Russia,” said the colonel, the first
evening parade after we joined; “but I have it in confidence from
head-quarters that it will be ere long, and that we shall form part of
the army of the East.”

“Ah, and are there—haw—any infantry to accompany us?” asked Berkeley.

“I should think so,” replied the colonel, laughing at so odd a question,
which, as Berkeley asked it elsewhere, caused some amusement at
Maidstone, as showing either his ideas of war, or of the strange
individualism of the two branches of the service.

“The guards are already under orders, and embark at Southampton in a few
weeks,” resumed the colonel; “and we shall have tough work in getting
ready for departure by the time our turn comes—though I am glad to say
the lancers are in high order and discipline, and fit for anything.”

Our colonel spoke with pride and confidence; and under his orders, I
felt that, with equal confidence, I could really go anywhere or face
anything. I had served under him in India, and he had ever been in my
eyes the model of a British cavalry officer, and of an English
gentleman.

“There is no example of human beauty more perfectly picturesque than a
very handsome man of middle age; not even the same man in his youth,”
writes one of the most graceful female pens of the present day. Most
soothing this to all good-looking fellows, who approach that grand
climacteric; and the idea that she is correct always occurred to me when
I saw Colonel Beverley, for a handsomer man, though his moustache was
becomingly grizzled, never drew a sword, and all the regiment admired
and esteemed him.

In addition to sword and pistols, our corps was armed with the lance,
which the famous Count de Montecuculi of old declared to be “la Reine
des armes pour la cavalerie,” and the adoption of which was vainly urged
by the great Marechal Saxe in his “Reveries;” but it was introduced into
the British army after the peace of 1815. The only regiment armed in
this fashion which previously existed in our service was the British
Uhlans, composed of French emigrants, formed out of the remains of the
lancers of the French Royalist army. They were all destroyed in the
ill-fated expedition to Quiberon, in 1796.

When charging cavalry the bannerofes attached to our lances are
extremely useful in scaring the horses—after which the rider becomes an
easy prey; and the extreme length of the weapon renders it more
effective than the sword when charging a square of infantry; while, in
addition to this, it is a weapon of great show, as all must admit who
have seen a lancer corps, some six hundred strong, riding with all their
red and white swallow-tailed banneroles fluttering in the wind.

We had in our ranks more G. C.[*] men, perhaps, than any other corps in
the service; and, with the exception of one or two of those wealthy
parvenus, like Berkeley, who are to be found in many regiments, but more
especially in the cavalry, and whom I shall simply describe as
yaw-yawing, cold, but fashionable, solemn and unimpressionable military
snobs, the officers of the lancers were unquestionably gentlemen by
birth, breeding, and education, and formed altogether, at mess, on
parade, in the ball-room, or on duty, a class of society far superior in
tone and bearing to any I have ever had the fortune to be among; and
unless it be those of whom I have hinted, every face and name come
pleasantly back to memory now, when I think of my fine regiment as it
prepared for the army of the East.

[*]Good Conduct Ring. We have four regiments of lancers—the 9th, 12th,
16th, and 17th.

We practised daily with our pistols and six-barrelled revolvers; the
sword-blades and lance-heads were pointed and edged anew. Some of our
mess actually tried bivouacking in the fields at night, to test their
hardihood; but, as they were invariably taken for gipsies or
housebreakers by the rural police, laughter on the one hand, and useless
discomfort on the other, cured them of these pranks.

To be ready for anything and everything, and to make his lancers more
active horsemen, Colonel Beverley had us all drilled to dismounting on
the off-side, a practice which increases the skill of the men, and the
steadiness of the horses, and which is simply done by reversing all the
motions of dismounting, after the rider has well secured the lance, the
reins, and mane in the right hand, while the left grasps the sword, and
lays it across the front of the saddle, with the point to the right. He
then dismounts on the off-side, with his lance at the carry in the right
hand.

I remember, too, that he was careful in having the men cautioned against
giving way to the weight of the lance when mounted, as this occasions
bad consequences on long marches; hence it is very requisite to measure
the stirrup leathers frequently, and let the men ride with the lance
slung on the left arm. These items may seem trivial; but a day came
when his instructions and precautions proved of inestimable value, and
that was when we—_the Six Hundred_—made our ever-memorable charge into
the Valley of Death!

A cheque for a handsome sum came from my good old uncle, Sir Nigel, and
it proved most seasonable, as we were beset by London Jews and army
contractors, and I had, as the phrase goes, “no end” of unexpected
things to provide—a few to wit:—

A brace of revolving six-chambered pistols, with spring ramrods, as the
papers said, “the most complete and effective ever offered to the
British public.” A full Crimean outfit, comprising a waterproof cape
and hood, camp-boots, ground-sheet, folding bedstead, mattress, and pair
of blankets, a canteen for self and a friend, sponging-bath, bucket, and
basin, brush-case, lantern, and havresack, all dog-cheap at thirty
guineas, with a pair of bullock-trunks and slings at eight guineas more.
Then there was a portable patent tent, weighing only ten pounds; an
india-rubber boat, and heaven only knows how much more rubbish, all of
which made a terrible hole in my cheque, and all of which were left
behind at Varna, where, doubtless, some enterprising follower of the
Prophet would make them his lawful spoil.

Amid those prosy preparations the month of February slipped away, and
the twenty-eight days of that month seemed like so many years to me, as
I never heard of Louisa Loftus; but, on the first of March, Pitblado
handed me a little packet which had come by the mail from London.

It contained a morocco case with a coloured photograph—a photograph of
Louisa!

It was done in the best style of a good London artist, and my heart
bounded with joy as I gazed on it, studying every feature. The reader
would deem me mad, perhaps, maudlin certainly, if I related all the
extravagances of which I was guilty on receipt of this souvenir, this
minor work of art, with which I was forced to content me, until a
miniature—one of Thorburn’s best—which I was resolved to procure, should
follow.

Was she in London, or had she merely written to the artist (whose name
was on the case) to send me a copy of her miniature, which she knew well
I would prize, even as I prized life or health?

On the same day that this dear memorial came I was gazetted to my troop
in the regiment, by purchase, Captain B——, whose ill health rendered him
totally unfit for foreign service, retiring by the sale of his
commission; and though my heart was full of gratitude to my uncle, I
verily believe that I thought more of Louisa’s miniature than of my
promotion. Both, however, seemed ominous of a happy future. They made a
fortunate coincidence. The same mail had brought them from London, and
I seemed to tread on air, and committed so many extravagances, and
played so many pranks that night at mess, that my old friends, Jack
Studhome and Fred Wilford, had to take what they termed “the strong
hand” with me, and march me off to my quarters.

In answer to my letter of thanks, I received a long and rambling one
from Sir Nigel, whose literary efforts were frequently a curious medley.

The hunt, the county pack, the next meets were, of course, referred to
first, and then came his private troubles. The black-faced sheep had
been leaping the fences and eating in the stackyard of the home-farm;
the Highland goats had been eating the yews in the avenue, and poisoning
themselves; the deer had been overthrowing the beescaps on the lawn, and
the patent powder to fatten the pheasants had been mislaid by old
Pitblado, and was eaten by the rooks instead. Lieutenant James’s famous
horse-blister had been applied without effect to his favourite hunter,
Dunearn, and my old friend Splinterbar had gone dead lame—£300 gone to
the dogs!

He had just had a notice of “augmentation, modification, and locality of
stipend (whatever the deuce it might all mean) before the Tiend Court,”
served on him by a —— Edinburgh writer to the signet, at the instance of
the parish minister, whom he disliked as a sour Sabbatarian, and whom he
had advised in his next sermon to expound and explain how “Jeshurun
waxed fat and kicked.”

Not a word about Louisa! I read on with growing impatience:—

“I have just procured a lot of that stuff the English call
mangel-wurzel, consisting of white globes and long yellows, to plant in
belts about the thickets where the deer are; they are better for feeding
at this time than the best of Swedish turnips, and for drawing the deer
from the cover, for a quiet shot.

“Cora is working all kinds of comforters, cuffs, and muffetees for you
to wear in the Crimea. I asked her to write for me; but she excused
herself, so I have to act as my own secretary. I don’t know what has
come over the girl of late.




“General Rammerscales, the gouty old tiger-hunter, has gone to his place
at the Bridge-of-Allan; and our friend the M.P., like a true Scottish
one, is shieing at his Parliamentary duties, when he can’t get upon a
committee that pays, and takes especial good care never to be in the
House when Scottish interests are on the tapis, unless whipped in when
the Lord Advocate has some party or private end in view.

“Old Binns and Pitblado send you their remembrance. Why did your man
Willie give the two sovereigns I gave him to his father? The old fellow
is well enough off in his cottage, and lives like the son of an Irish
king. He shot a magnificent silver pheasant before the Chillingham
party left (they are gone then!) and Lady Louisa got the wings for her
pork-pie hat.

“Cora seems pining to join the Chillinghams, who, as you, of course,
know, have been for a month past at their place near Canterbury. She is
in low spirits, poor girl, and goes south in a week, when I shall,
perhaps, accompany her. Lady Louisa has written to her thrice since
they left. She says that Mr. Berkeley has been frequently visiting
them; but never mentions you. What is the meaning of that?”

I paused on reading this, for it embodied a vast deal for reflection!
That the Loftuses should be at Chillingham Park unknown to me was not
strange; neither was it strange that, situated as we were, poor Louisa
should not mention me in her letters to Cora; but that Berkeley should
be their frequent visitor, and omit to mention, or conceal that
circumstance from me, was certainly startling!

Berkeley! So this accounted for what the mess had remarked—his frequent
absences from that agreeable board, from parades, and the used-up
condition of his private horses. Was there any sly game afoot? So far
as he was concerned, could I doubt it? His reserve to me declared that
there was; and this game had been played for a month, with or without
success, how was I to learn? Ha! thought I, if they knew about Miss
Auriol, his unfortunate mistress! But noble morality is frequently very
opaque—and my pay and expectations were but moonshine, when opposed to
his solid thousands per annum.

I was sorry to hear that Cora was coming so far south as Canterbury; for
much as I loved and esteemed my cousin, I felt that I should rather
avoid her now. I resume the letter.

“How does your affair with la belle Louisa progress—eh? Well, I hope;
though I think, with Thackeray, that ’every man ought to be in love a
few times in his life, and have a smart attack of the fever. You are
the better after it is over.’

“So we are to have hostilities at last! I was in Edinburgh yesterday,
anent the programme of the spring meeting at Musselburgh, and heard war
declared by Britain against Russia. It was proclaimed at the market
cross by the Rothesay, Albany, and Islay heralds, attended by the
Kintyre, Unicorn, and Ormond pursuivants, all in their tabards, and a
strong guard of Highlanders, with bayonets fixed, and colours flying. It
was a quaint and picturesque sight, that did your old uncle’s heart
good, and set him thinking; for the same trumpets had many a time in the
same place proclaimed war against England in the days of old.”

So ended my uncle’s rambling letter, which certainly had the effect of
setting me to think too, and with a heart full of sudden trouble,
anxiety, and irritation.