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Chapter 16

It happened one day about noon, going to my boat, I was exceedingly
surprised with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which
was very plain to be seen on the sand.
Robinson Crusoe.

With the blended feelings of interest and jealousy which were engendered
by Miss Vernon's singular situation, my observations of her looks and
actions became acutely sharpened, and that to a degree which,
notwithstanding my efforts to conceal it, could not escape her
penetration. The sense that she was observed, or, more properly speaking,
that she was watched by my looks, seemed to give Diana a mixture of
embarrassment, pain, and pettishness. At times it seemed that she sought
an opportunity of resenting a conduct which she could not but feel as
offensive, considering the frankness with which she had mentioned the
difficulties that surrounded her. At other times she seemed prepared to
expostulate upon the subject. But either her courage failed, or some
other sentiment impeded her seeking an _e'claircissement._ Her
displeasure evaporated in repartee, and her expostulations died on her
lips. We stood in a singular relation to each other,--spending, and by
mutual choice, much of our time in close society with each other, yet
disguising our mutual sentiments, and jealous of, or offended by, each
other's actions. There was betwixt us intimacy without confidence;--on
one side, love without hope or purpose, and curiosity without any
rational or justifiable motive; and on the other, embarrassment and
doubt, occasionally mingled with displeasure. Yet I believe that this
agitation of the passions (such is the nature of the human bosom), as it
continued by a thousand irritating and interesting, though petty
circumstances, to render Miss Vernon and me the constant objects of each
other's thoughts, tended, upon the whole, to increase the attachment with
which we were naturally disposed to regard each other. But although my
vanity early discovered that my presence at Osbaldistone Hall had given
Diana some additional reason for disliking the cloister, I could by no
means confide in an affection which seemed completely subordinate to the
mysteries of her singular situation. Miss Vernon was of a character far
too formed and determined, to permit her love for me to overpower either
her sense of duty or of prudence, and she gave me a proof of this in a
conversation which we had together about this period.

We were sitting together in the library. Miss Vernon, in turning over a
copy of the Orlando Furioso, which belonged to me, shook a piece of
writing paper from between the leaves. I hastened to lift it, but she
prevented me.--"It is verse," she said, on glancing at the paper; and
then unfolding it, but as if to wait my answer before proceeding--"May I
take the liberty?--Nay, nay, if you blush and stammer, I must do violence
to your modesty, and suppose that permission is granted."

"It is not worthy your perusal--a scrap of a translation--My dear Miss
Vernon, it would be too severe a trial, that you, who understand the
original so well, should sit in judgment."

"Mine honest friend," replied Diana, "do not, if you will be guided by my
advice, bait your hook with too much humility; for, ten to one, it will
not catch a single compliment. You know I belong to the unpopular family
of Tell-truths, and would not flatter Apollo for his lyre."

She proceeded to read the first stanza, which was nearly to the following
purpose:--

"Ladies, and knights, and arms, and love's fair flame,
Deeds of emprize and courtesy, I sing;
What time the Moors from sultry Africk came,
Led on by Agramant, their youthful king--
He whom revenge and hasty ire did bring
O'er the broad wave, in France to waste and war;
Such ills from old Trojano's death did spring,
Which to avenge he came from realms afar,
And menaced Christian Charles, the Roman Emperor.
Of dauntless Roland, too, my strain shall sound,
In import never known in prose or rhyme,
How He, the chief, of judgment deemed profound,
For luckless love was crazed upon a time"--

"There is a great deal of it," said she, glancing along the paper, and
interrupting the sweetest sounds which mortal ears can drink in,--those
of a youthful poet's verses, namely, read by the lips which are dearest
to him.

"Much more than ought to engage your attention, Miss Vernon," I replied,
something mortified; and I took the verses from her unreluctant hand--
"And yet," I continued, "shut up as I am in this retired situation, I
have felt sometimes I could not amuse myself better than by carrying
on--merely for my own amusement, you will of course understand--the
version of this fascinating author, which I began some months since when
I was on the banks of the Garonne."

"The question would only be," said Diana, gravely, "whether you could not
spend your time to better purpose?"

"You mean in original composition?" said I, greatly flattered--"But, to
say truth, my genius rather lies in finding words and rhymes than ideas;
and therefore I am happy to use those which Ariosto has prepared to my
hand. However, Miss Vernon, with the encouragement you give"--

"Pardon me, Frank--it is encouragement not of my giving, but of your
taking. I meant neither original composition nor translation, since I
think you might employ your time to far better purpose than in either.
You are mortified," she continued, "and I am sorry to be the cause."

"Not mortified,--certainly not mortified," said I, with the best grace I
could muster, and it was but indifferently assumed; "I am too much
obliged by the interest you take in me."

"Nay, but," resumed the relentless Diana, "there is both mortification
and a little grain of anger in that constrained tone of voice; do not be
angry if I probe your feelings to the bottom--perhaps what I am about to
say will affect them still more."

I felt the childishness of my own conduct, and the superior manliness of
Miss Vernon's, and assured her, that she need not fear my wincing under
criticism which I knew to be kindly meant.

"That was honestly meant and said," she replied; "I knew full well that
the fiend of poetical irritability flew away with the little preluding
cough which ushered in the declaration. And now I must be serious--Have
you heard from your father lately?"

"Not a word," I replied; "he has not honoured me with a single line
during the several months of my residence here."

"That is strange!--you are a singular race, you bold Osbaldistones. Then
you are not aware that he has gone to Holland, to arrange some pressing
affairs which required his own immediate presence?"

"I never heard a word of it until this moment."

"And farther, it must be news to you, and I presume scarcely the most
agreeable, that he has left Rashleigh in the almost uncontrolled
management of his affairs until his return."

I started, and could not suppress my surprise and apprehension.

"You have reason for alarm," said Miss Vernon, very gravely; "and were I
you, I would endeavour to meet and obviate the dangers which arise from
so undesirable an arrangement."

"And how is it possible for me to do so?"

"Everything is possible for him who possesses courage and activity," she
said, with a look resembling one of those heroines of the age of
chivalry, whose encouragement was wont to give champions double valour at
the hour of need; "and to the timid and hesitating, everything is
impossible, because it seems so."

"And what would you advise, Miss Vernon?" I replied, wishing, yet
dreading, to hear her answer.

She paused a moment, then answered firmly--"That you instantly leave
Osbaldistone Hall, and return to London. You have perhaps already," she
continued, in a softer tone, "been here too long; that fault was not
yours. Every succeeding moment you waste here will be a crime. Yes, a
crime: for I tell you plainly, that if Rashleigh long manages your
father's affairs, you may consider his ruin as consummated."

"How is this possible?"

"Ask no questions," she said; "but believe me, Rashleigh's views extend
far beyond the possession or increase of commercial wealth: he will only
make the command of Mr. Osbaldistone's revenues and property the means of
putting in motion his own ambitious and extensive schemes. While your
father was in Britain this was impossible; during his absence, Rashleigh
will possess many opportunities, and he will not neglect to use them."

"But how can I, in disgrace with my father, and divested of all control
over his affairs, prevent this danger by my mere presence in London?"

"That presence alone will do much. Your claim to interfere is a part of
your birthright, and it is inalienable. You will have the countenance,
doubtless, of your father's head-clerk, and confidential friends and
partners. Above all, Rashleigh's schemes are of a nature that"--(she
stopped abruptly, as if fearful of saying too much)--"are, in short," she
resumed, "of the nature of all selfish and unconscientious plans, which
are speedily abandoned as soon as those who frame them perceive their
arts are discovered and watched. Therefore, in the language of your
favourite poet--

To horse! to horse! Urge doubts to those that fear."

A feeling, irresistible in its impulse, induced me to reply--"Ah! Diana,
can _you_ give me advice to leave Osbaldistone Hall?--then indeed I have
already been a resident here too long!"

Miss Vernon coloured, but proceeded with great firmness--"Indeed, I do
give you this advice--not only to quit Osbaldistone Hall, but never to
return to it more. You have only one friend to regret here," she
continued, forcing a smile, "and she has been long accustomed to
sacrifice her friendships and her comforts to the welfare of others.
In the world you will meet a hundred whose friendship will be
as disinterested--more useful--less encumbered by untoward
circumstances--less influenced by evil tongues and evil times."

"Never!" I exclaimed, "never!--the world can afford me nothing to repay
what I must leave behind me." Here I took her hand, and pressed it to my
lips.

"This is folly!" she exclaimed--"this is madness!" and she struggled to
withdraw her hand from my grasp, but not so stubbornly as actually to
succeed until I had held it for nearly a minute. "Hear me, sir!" she
said, "and curb this unmanly burst of passion. I am, by a solemn
contract, the bride of Heaven, unless I could prefer being wedded to
villany in the person of Rashleigh Osbaldistone, or brutality in that of
his brother. I am, therefore, the bride of Heaven,--betrothed to the
convent from the cradle. To me, therefore, these raptures are
misapplied--they only serve to prove a farther necessity for your
departure, and that without delay." At these words she broke suddenly
off, and said, but in a suppressed tone of voice, "Leave me
instantly--we will meet here again, but it must be for the last time."

My eyes followed the direction of hers as she spoke, and I thought I saw
the tapestry shake, which covered the door of the secret passage from
Rashleigh's room to the library. I conceived we were observed, and turned
an inquiring glance on Miss Vernon.

"It is nothing," said she, faintly; "a rat behind the arras."

"Dead for a ducat," would have been my reply, had I dared to give way to
the feelings which rose indignant at the idea of being subjected to an
eaves-dropper on such an occasion. Prudence, and the necessity of
suppressing my passion, and obeying Diana's reiterated command of "Leave
me! leave me!" came in time to prevent my rash action. I left the
apartment in a wild whirl and giddiness of mind, which I in vain
attempted to compose when I returned to my own.

A chaos of thoughts intruded themselves on me at once, passing hastily
through my brain, intercepting and overshadowing each other, and
resembling those fogs which in mountainous countries are wont to descend
in obscure volumes, and disfigure or obliterate the usual marks by which
the traveller steers his course through the wilds. The dark and undefined
idea of danger arising to my father from the machinations of such a man
as Rashleigh Osbaldistone--the half declaration of love that I had
offered to Miss Vernon's acceptance--the acknowledged difficulties of her
situation, bound by a previous contract to sacrifice herself to a
cloister or to an ill-assorted marriage,--all pressed themselves at once
upon my recollection, while my judgment was unable deliberately to
consider any of them in their just light and bearings. But chiefly and
above all the rest, I was perplexed by the manner in which Miss Vernon
had received my tender of affection, and by her manner, which,
fluctuating betwixt sympathy and firmness, seemed to intimate that I
possessed an interest in her bosom, but not of force sufficient to
counterbalance the obstacles to her avowing a mutual affection. The
glance of fear, rather than surprise, with which she had watched the
motion of the tapestry over the concealed door, implied an apprehension
of danger which I could not but suppose well grounded; for Diana Vernon
was little subject to the nervous emotions of her sex, and totally unapt
to fear without actual and rational cause. Of what nature could those
mysteries be, with which she was surrounded as with an enchanter's spell,
and which seemed continually to exert an active influence over her
thoughts and actions, though their agents were never visible? On this
subject of doubt my mind finally rested, as if glad to shake itself free
from investigating the propriety or prudence of my own conduct, by
transferring the inquiry to what concerned Miss Vernon. I will be
resolved, I concluded, ere I leave Osbaldistone Hall, concerning the
light in which I must in future regard this fascinating being, over whose
life frankness and mystery seem to have divided their reign,--the former
inspiring her words and sentiments--the latter spreading in misty
influence over all her actions.

Joined to the obvious interests which arose from curiosity and anxious
passion, there mingled in my feelings a strong, though unavowed and
undefined, infusion of jealousy. This sentiment, which springs up with
love as naturally as the tares with the wheat, was excited by the degree
of influence which Diana appeared to concede to those unseen beings by
whom her actions were limited. The more I reflected upon her character,
the more I was internally though unwillingly convinced, that she was
formed to set at defiance all control, excepting that which arose from
affection; and I felt a strong, bitter, and gnawing suspicion, that such
was the foundation of that influence by which she was overawed.

These tormenting doubts strengthened my desire to penetrate into the
secret of Miss Vernon's conduct, and in the prosecution of this sage
adventure, I formed a resolution, of which, if you are not weary of these
details, you will find the result in the next chapter.


Sir Walter Scott