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Chapter 10

In the wide pile, by others heeded not,
Hers was one sacred solitary spot,
Whose gloomy aisles and bending shelves contain
For moral hunger food, and cures for moral pain.
Anonymous.

The library at Osbaldistone Hall was a gloomy room, whose antique oaken
shelves bent beneath the weight of the ponderous folios so dear to the
seventeenth century, from which, under favour be it spoken, we have
distilled matter for our quartos and octavos, and which, once more
subjected to the alembic, may, should our sons be yet more frivolous than
ourselves, be still farther reduced into duodecimos and pamphlets. The
collection was chiefly of the classics, as well foreign as ancient
history, and, above all, divinity. It was in wretched order. The priests,
who in succession had acted as chaplains at the Hall, were, for many
years, the only persons who entered its precincts, until Rashleigh's
thirst for reading had led him to disturb the venerable spiders, who had
muffled the fronts of the presses with their tapestry. His destination
for the church rendered his conduct less absurd in his father's eyes,
than if any of his other descendants had betrayed so strange a
propensity, and Sir Hildebrand acquiesced in the library receiving some
repairs, so as to fit it for a sitting-room. Still an air of
dilapidation, as obvious as it was uncomfortable, pervaded the large
apartment, and announced the neglect from which the knowledge which its
walls contained had not been able to exempt it. The tattered tapestry,
the worm-eaten shelves, the huge and clumsy, yet tottering, tables,
desks, and chairs, the rusty grate, seldom gladdened by either sea-coal
or faggots, intimated the contempt of the lords of Osbaldistone Hall for
learning, and for the volumes which record its treasures.

"You think this place somewhat disconsolate, I suppose?" said Diana, as I
glanced my eye round the forlorn apartment; "but to me it seems like a
little paradise, for I call it my own, and fear no intrusion. Rashleigh
was joint proprietor with me, while we were friends."

"And are you no longer so?" was my natural question. Her fore-finger
immediately touched her dimpled chin, with an arch look of prohibition.

"We are still _allies,_" she continued, "bound, like other confederate
powers, by circumstances of mutual interest; but I am afraid, as will
happen in other cases, the treaty of alliance has survived the amicable
dispositions in which it had its origin. At any rate, we live less
together; and when he comes through that door there, I vanish through
this door here; and so, having made the discovery that we two were one
too many for this apartment, as large as it seems, Rashleigh, whose
occasions frequently call him elsewhere, has generously made a cession of
his rights in my favour; so that I now endeavour to prosecute alone the
studies in which he used formerly to be my guide."

"And what are those studies, if I may presume to ask?"

"Indeed you may, without the least fear of seeing my fore-finger raised
to my chin. Science and history are my principal favourites; but I also
study poetry and the classics."

"And the classics? Do you read them in the original?"

"Unquestionably. Rashleigh, who is no contemptible scholar, taught me
Greek and Latin, as well as most of the languages of modern Europe. I
assure you there has been some pains taken in my education, although I
can neither sew a tucker, nor work cross-stitch, nor make a pudding,
nor--as the vicar's fat wife, with as much truth as elegance, good-will,
and politeness, was pleased to say in my behalf--do any other useful
thing in the varsal world."

"And was this selection of studies Rashleigh's choice, or your own, Miss
Vernon?" I asked.

"Um!" said she, as if hesitating to answer my question,--"It's not worth
while lifting my finger about, after all. Why, partly his and partly
mine. As I learned out of doors to ride a horse, and bridle and saddle
him in cue of necessity, and to clear a five-barred gate, and fire a gun
without winking, and all other of those masculine accomplishments that my
brute cousins run mad after, I wanted, like my rational cousin, to read
Greek and Latin within doors, and make my complete approach to the tree
of knowledge, which you men-scholars would engross to yourselves, in
revenge, I suppose, for our common mother's share in the great original
transgression."

"And Rashleigh indulged your propensity to learning?"

"Why, he wished to have me for his scholar, and he could but teach me
that which he knew himself--he was not likely to instruct me in the
mysteries of washing lace-ruffles, or hemming cambric handkerchiefs, I
suppose."

"I admit the temptation of getting such a scholar, and have no doubt that
it made a weighty consideration on the tutor's part."

"Oh, if you begin to investigate Rashleigh's motives, my finger touches
my chin once more. I can only be frank where my own are inquired into.
But to resume--he has resigned the library in my favour, and never enters
without leave had and obtained; and so I have taken the liberty to make
it the place of deposit for some of my own goods and chattels, as you may
see by looking round you."

"I beg pardon, Miss Vernon, but I really see nothing around these walls
which I can distinguish as likely to claim you as mistress."

"That is, I suppose, because you neither see a shepherd or shepherdess
wrought in worsted, and handsomely framed in black ebony, or a stuffed
parrot,--or a breeding-cage, full of canary birds,--or a housewife-case,
broidered with tarnished silver,--or a toilet-table with a nest of
japanned boxes, with as many angles as Christmas minced-pies,--or a
broken-backed spinet,--or a lute with three strings,--or rock-work,--or
shell-work,--or needle-work, or work of any kind,--or a lap-dog with a
litter of blind puppies--None of these treasures do I possess," she
continued, after a pause, in order to recover the breath she had lost in
enumerating them--"But there stands the sword of my ancestor Sir Richard
Vernon, slain at Shrewsbury, and sorely slandered by a sad fellow called
Will Shakspeare, whose Lancastrian partialities, and a certain knack at
embodying them, has turned history upside down, or rather inside
out;--and by that redoubted weapon hangs the mail of the still older
Vernon, squire to the Black Prince, whose fate is the reverse of his
descendant's, since he is more indebted to the bard who took the trouble
to celebrate him, for good-will than for talents,--

Amiddes the route you may discern one
Brave knight, with pipes on shield, ycleped Vernon
Like a borne fiend along the plain he thundered,
Prest to be carving throtes, while others plundered.

"Then there is a model of a new martingale, which I invented myself--a
great improvement on the Duke of Newcastle's; and there are the hood and
bells of my falcon Cheviot, who spitted himself on a heron's bill at
Horsely-moss--poor Cheviot, there is not a bird on the perches below, but
are kites and riflers compared to him; and there is my own light
fowling-piece, with an improved firelock; with twenty other treasures,
each more valuable than another--And there, that speaks for itself."

She pointed to the carved oak frame of a full-length portrait by Vandyke,
on which were inscribed, in Gothic letters, the words _Vernon semper
viret._ I looked at her for explanation. "Do you not know," said she,
with some surprise, "our motto--the Vernon motto, where,

Like the solemn vice iniquity,
We moralise two meanings in one word

And do you not know our cognisance, the pipes?" pointing to the armorial
bearings sculptured on the oaken scutcheon, around which the legend was
displayed.

"Pipes!--they look more like penny-whistles--But, pray, do not be angry
with my ignorance," I continued, observing the colour mount to her
cheeks, "I can mean no affront to your armorial bearings, for I do not
even know my own."

"You an Osbaldistone, and confess so much!" she exclaimed. "Why, Percie,
Thornie, John, Dickon--Wilfred himself, might be your instructor. Even
ignorance itself is a plummet over you."

"With shame I confess it, my dear Miss Vernon, the mysteries couched
under the grim hieroglyphics of heraldry are to me as unintelligible as
those of the pyramids of Egypt."

"What! is it possible?--Why, even my uncle reads Gwillym sometimes of a
winter night--Not know the figures of heraldry!--of what could your
father be thinking?"

"Of the figures of arithmetic," I answered; "the most insignificant unit
of which he holds more highly than all the blazonry of chivalry. But,
though I am ignorant to this inexpressible degree, I have knowledge and
taste enough to admire that splendid picture, in which I think I can
discover a family likeness to you. What ease and dignity in the
attitude!--what richness of colouring--what breadth and depth of shade!"

"Is it really a fine painting?" she asked.

"I have seen many works of the renowned artist," I replied, "but never
beheld one more to my liking!"

"Well, I know as little of pictures as you do of heraldry," replied Miss
Vernon; "yet I have the advantage of you, because I have always admired
the painting without understanding its value."

"While I have neglected pipes and tabors, and all the whimsical
combinations of chivalry, still I am informed that they floated in the
fields of ancient fame. But you will allow their exterior appearance is
not so peculiarly interesting to the uninformed spectator as that of a
fine painting.--Who is the person here represented?"

"My grandfather. He shared the misfortunes of Charles I., and, I am sorry
to add, the excesses of his son. Our patrimonial estate was greatly
impaired by his prodigality, and was altogether lost by his successor, my
unfortunate father. But peace be with them who have got it!--it was lost
in the cause of loyalty."

"Your father, I presume, suffered in the political dissensions of the
period?"

"He did indeed;--he lost his all. And hence is his child a dependent
orphan--eating the bread of others--subjected to their caprices, and
compelled to study their inclinations; yet prouder of having had such a
father, than if, playing a more prudent but less upright part, he had
left me possessor of all the rich and fair baronies which his family once
possessed."

As she thus spoke, the entrance of the servants with dinner cut off all
conversation but that of a general nature.

When our hasty meal was concluded, and the wine placed on the table, the
domestic informed us, "that Mr. Rashleigh had desired to be told when our
dinner was removed."

"Tell him," said Miss Vernon, "we shall be happy to see him if he will
step this way--place another wineglass and chair, and leave the room.--
You must retire with him when he goes away," she continued, addressing
herself to me; "even _my_ liberality cannot spare a gentleman above eight
hours out of the twenty-four; and I think we have been together for at
least that length of time."

"The old scythe-man has moved so rapidly," I answered, "that I could not
count his strides."

"Hush!" said Miss Vernon, "here comes Rashleigh;" and she drew off her
chair, to which I had approached mine rather closely, so as to place a
greater distance between us. A modest tap at the door,--a gentle manner
of opening when invited to enter,--a studied softness and humility of
step and deportment, announced that the education of Rashleigh
Osbaldistone at the College of St. Omers accorded well with the ideas I
entertained of the manners of an accomplished Jesuit. I need not add,
that, as a sound Protestant, these ideas were not the most favourable.
"Why should you use the ceremony of knocking," said Miss Vernon, "when
you knew that I was not alone?"

This was spoken with a burst of impatience, as if she had felt that
Rashleigh's air of caution and reserve covered some insinuation of
impertinent suspicion. "You have taught me the form of knocking at this
door so perfectly, my fair cousin," answered Rashleigh, without change of
voice or manner, "that habit has become a second nature."

"I prize sincerity more than courtesy, sir, and you know I do," was Miss
Vernon's reply.

"Courtesy is a gallant gay, a courtier by name and by profession,"
replied Rashleigh, "and therefore most fit for a lady's bower."

"But Sincerity is the true knight," retorted Miss Vernon, "and therefore
much more welcome, cousin. But to end a debate not over amusing to your
stranger kinsman, sit down, Rashleigh, and give Mr. Francis Osbaldistone
your countenance to his glass of wine. I have done the honours of the
dinner, for the credit of Osbaldistone Hall."

Rashleigh sate down, and filled his glass, glancing his eye from Diana to
me, with an embarrassment which his utmost efforts could not entirely
disguise. I thought he appeared to be uncertain concerning the extent of
confidence she might have reposed in me, and hastened to lead the
conversation into a channel which should sweep away his suspicion that
Diana might have betrayed any secrets which rested between them. "Miss
Vernon," I said, "Mr. Rashleigh, has recommended me to return my thanks
to you for my speedy disengagement from the ridiculous accusation of
Morris; and, unjustly fearing my gratitude might not be warm enough to
remind me of this duty, she has put my curiosity on its side, by
referring me to you for an account, or rather explanation, of the events
of the day."

"Indeed?" answered Rashleigh; "I should have thought" (looking keenly at
Miss Vernon) "that the lady herself might have stood interpreter;" and
his eye, reverting from her face, sought mine, as if to search, from the
expression of my features, whether Diana's communication had been as
narrowly limited as my words had intimated. Miss Vernon retorted his
inquisitorial glance with one of decided scorn; while I, uncertain
whether to deprecate or resent his obvious suspicion, replied, "If it is
your pleasure, Mr. Rashleigh, as it has been Miss Vernon's, to leave me
in ignorance, I must necessarily submit; but, pray, do not withhold your
information from me on the ground of imagining that I have already
obtained any on the subject. For I tell you, as a man of honour, I am as
ignorant as that picture of anything relating to the events I have
witnessed to-day, excepting that I understand from Miss Vernon, that you
have been kindly active in my favour."

"Miss Vernon has overrated my humble efforts," said Rashleigh, "though I
claim full credit for my zeal. The truth is, that as I galloped back to
get some one of our family to join me in becoming your bail, which was
the most obvious, or, indeed, I may say, the only way of serving you
which occurred to my stupidity, I met the man Cawmil--Colville--Campbell,
or whatsoever they call him. I had understood from Morris that he was
present when the robbery took place, and had the good fortune to prevail
on him (with some difficulty, I confess) to tender his evidence in your
exculpation--which I presume was the means of your being released from an
unpleasant situation."

"Indeed?--I am much your debtor for procuring such a seasonable evidence
in my behalf. But I cannot see why (having been, as he said, a
fellow-sufferer with Morris) it should have required much trouble to
persuade him to step forth and bear evidence, whether to convict the
actual robber, or free an innocent person."

"You do not know the genius of that man's country, sir," answered
Rashleigh;--"discretion, prudence, and foresight, are their leading
qualities; these are only modified by a narrow-spirited, but yet ardent
patriotism, which forms as it were the outmost of the concentric bulwarks
with which a Scotchman fortifies himself against all the attacks of a
generous philanthropical principle. Surmount this mound, you find an
inner and still dearer barrier--the love of his province, his village,
or, most probably, his clan; storm this second obstacle, you have a
third--his attachment to his own family--his father, mother, sons,
daughters, uncles, aunts, and cousins, to the ninth generation. It is
within these limits that a Scotchman's social affection expands itself,
never reaching those which are outermost, till all means of discharging
itself in the interior circles have been exhausted. It is within these
circles that his heart throbs, each pulsation being fainter and fainter,
till, beyond the widest boundary, it is almost unfelt. And what is worst
of all, could you surmount all these concentric outworks, you have an
inner citadel, deeper, higher, and more efficient than them all--a
Scotchman's love for himself."

"All this is extremely eloquent and metaphorical, Rashleigh," said Miss
Vernon, who listened with unrepressed impatience; "there are only two
objections to it: first, it is _not_ true; secondly, if true, it is
nothing to the purpose."

"It _is_ true, my fairest Diana," returned Rashleigh; "and moreover, it
is most instantly to the purpose. It is true, because you cannot deny
that I know the country and people intimately, and the character is drawn
from deep and accurate consideration--and it is to the purpose, because
it answers Mr. Francis Osbaldistone's question, and shows why this same
wary Scotchman, considering our kinsman to be neither his countryman, nor
a Campbell, nor his cousin in any of the inextricable combinations by
which they extend their pedigree; and, above all, seeing no prospect of
personal advantage, but, on the contrary, much hazard of loss of time and
delay of business"--

"With other inconveniences, perhaps, of a nature yet more formidable,"
interrupted Miss Vernon.

"Of which, doubtless, there might be many," said Rashleigh, continuing in
the same tone--"In short, my theory shows why this man, hoping for no
advantage, and afraid of some inconvenience, might require a degree of
persuasion ere he could be prevailed on to give his testimony in favour
of Mr. Osbaldistone."

"It seems surprising to me," I observed, "that during the glance I cast
over the declaration, or whatever it is termed, of Mr. Morris, he should
never have mentioned that Campbell was in his company when he met the
marauders."

"I understood from Campbell, that he had taken his solemn promise not to
mention that circumstance," replied Rashleigh: "his reason for exacting
such an engagement you may guess from what I have hinted--he wished to
get back to his own country, undelayed and unembarrassed by any of the
judicial inquiries which he would have been under the necessity of
attending, had the fact of his being present at the robbery taken air
while he was on this side of the Border. But let him once be as distant
as the Forth, Morris will, I warrant you, come forth with all he knows
about him, and, it may be, a good deal more. Besides, Campbell is a very
extensive dealer in cattle, and has often occasion to send great droves
into Northumberland; and, when driving such a trade, he would be a great
fool to embroil himself with our Northumbrian thieves, than whom no men
who live are more vindictive."

"I dare be sworn of that," said Miss Vernon, with a tone which implied
something more than a simple acquiescence in the proposition.

"Still," said I, resuming the subject, "allowing the force of the reasons
which Campbell might have for desiring that Morris should be silent with
regard to his promise when the robbery was committed, I cannot yet see
how he could attain such an influence over the man, as to make him
suppress his evidence in that particular, at the manifest risk of
subjecting his story to discredit."

Rashleigh agreed with me, that it was very extraordinary, and seemed to
regret that he had not questioned the Scotchman more closely on that
subject, which he allowed looked extremely mysterious. "But," he asked,
immediately after this acquiescence, "are you very sure the circumstance
of Morris's being accompanied by Campbell is really not alluded to in his
examination?"

"I read the paper over hastily," said I; "but it is my strong impression
that no such circumstance is mentioned;--at least, it must have been
touched on very slightly, since it failed to catch my attention."

"True, true," answered Rashleigh, forming his own inference while he
adopted my words; "I incline to think with you, that the circumstance
must in reality have been mentioned, but so slightly that it failed to
attract your attention. And then, as to Campbell's interest with Morris,
I incline to suppose that it must have been gained by playing upon his
fears. This chicken-hearted fellow, Morris, is bound, I understand, for
Scotland, destined for some little employment under Government; and,
possessing the courage of the wrathful dove, or most magnanimous mouse,
he may have been afraid to encounter the ill-will of such a kill-cow as
Campbell, whose very appearance would be enough to fright him out of his
little wits. You observed that Mr. Campbell has at times a keen and
animated manner--something of a martial cast in his tone and bearing."

"I own," I replied, "that his expression struck me as being occasionally
fierce and sinister, and little adapted to his peaceable professions. Has
he served in the army?"

"Yes--no--not, strictly speaking, _served;_ but he has been, I believe,
like most of his countrymen, trained to arms. Indeed, among the hills,
they carry them from boyhood to the grave. So, if you know anything of
your fellow-traveller, you will easily judge, that, going to such a
country, he will take cue to avoid a quarrel, if he can help it, with any
of the natives. But, come, I see you decline your wine--and I too am a
degenerate Osbaldistone, so far as respects the circulation of the
bottle. If you will go to my room, I will hold you a hand at piquet."

We rose to take leave of Miss Vernon, who had from time to time
suppressed, apparently with difficulty, a strong temptation to break in
upon Rashleigh's details. As we were about to leave the room, the
smothered fire broke forth.

"Mr. Osbaldistone," she said, "your own observation will enable you to
verify the justice, or injustice, of Rashleigh's suggestions concerning
such individuals as Mr. Campbell and Mr. Morris. But, in slandering
Scotland, he has borne false witness against a whole country; and I
request you will allow no weight to his evidence."

"Perhaps," I answered, "I may find it somewhat difficult to obey your
injunction, Miss Vernon; for I must own I was bred up with no very
favourable idea of our northern neighbours."

"Distrust that part of your education, sir," she replied, "and let the
daughter of a Scotchwoman pray you to respect the land which gave her
parent birth, until your own observation has proved them to be unworthy
of your good opinion. Preserve your hatred and contempt for
dissimulation, baseness, and falsehood, wheresoever they are to be met
with. You will find enough of all without leaving England.--Adieu,
gentlemen, I wish you good evening."

And she signed to the door, with the manner of a princess dismissing her
train.

We retired to Rashleigh's apartment, where a servant brought us coffee
and cards. I had formed my resolution to press Rashleigh no farther on
the events of the day. A mystery, and, as I thought, not of a favourable
complexion, appeared to hang over his conduct; but to ascertain if my
suspicions were just, it was necessary to throw him off his guard. We cut
for the deal, and were soon earnestly engaged in our play. I thought I
perceived in this trifling for amusement (for the stake which Rashleigh
proposed was a mere trifle) something of a fierce and ambitious temper.
He seemed perfectly to understand the beautiful game at which he played,
but preferred, as it were on principle, the risking bold and precarious
strokes to the ordinary rules of play; and neglecting the minor and
better-balanced chances of the game, he hazarded everything for the
chance of piqueing, repiqueing, or capoting his adversary. So soon as the
intervention of a game or two at piquet, like the music between the acts
of a drama, had completely interrupted our previous course of
conversation, Rashleigh appeared to tire of the game, and the cards were
superseded by discourse, in which he assumed the lead.

More learned than soundly wise--better acquainted with men's minds than
with the moral principles that ought to regulate them, he had still
powers of conversation which I have rarely seen equalled, never excelled.
Of this his manner implied some consciousness; at least, it appeared to
me that he had studied hard to improve his natural advantages of a
melodious voice, fluent and happy expression, apt language, and fervid
imagination. He was never loud, never overbearing, never so much occupied
with his own thoughts as to outrun either the patience or the
comprehension of those he conversed with. His ideas succeeded each other
with the gentle but unintermitting flow of a plentiful and bounteous
spring; while I have heard those of others, who aimed at distinction in
conversation, rush along like the turbid gush from the sluice of a
mill-pond, as hurried, and as easily exhausted. It was late at night ere
I could part from a companion so fascinating; and, when I gained my own
apartment, it cost me no small effort to recall to my mind the character
of Rashleigh, such as I had pictured him previous to this
_tete-a-tete._

So effectual, my dear Tresham, does the sense of being pleased and amused
blunt our faculties of perception and discrimination of character, that I
can only compare it to the taste of certain fruits, at once luscious and
poignant, which renders our palate totally unfit for relishing or
distinguishing the viands which are subsequently subjected to its
criticism.

Sir Walter Scott