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Chapter 17

I hear a voice you cannot hear,
Which says, I must not stay;
I see a hand you cannot see,
Which beckons me awry.
Tickell.

I have already told you, Tresham, if you deign to bear it in remembrance,
that my evening visits to the library had seldom been made except by
appointment, and under the sanction of old Dame Martha's presence. This,
however, was entirely a tacit conventional arrangement of my own
instituting. Of late, as the embarrassments of our relative situation had
increased, Miss Vernon and I had never met in the evening at all. She had
therefore no reason to suppose that I was likely to seek a renewal of
these interviews, and especially without some previous notice or
appointment betwixt us, that Martha might, as usual, be placed upon duty;
but, on the other hand, this cautionary provision was a matter of
understanding, not of express enactment. The library was open to me, as
to the other members of the family, at all hours of the day and night,
and I could not be accused of intrusion, however suddenly and
unexpectedly I might made my appearance in it. My belief was strong, that
in this apartment Miss Vernon occasionally received Vaughan, or some
other person, by whose opinion she was accustomed to regulate her
conduct, and that at the times when she could do so with least chance of
interruption. The lights which gleamed in the library at unusual
hours--the passing shadows which I had myself remarked--the footsteps
which might be traced in the morning-dew from the turret-door to the
postern-gate in the garden--sounds and sights which some of the servants,
and Andrew Fairservice in particular, had observed, and accounted for in
their own way,--all tended to show that the place was visited by some one
different from the ordinary inmates of the hall. Connected as this
visitant probably must be with the fates of Diana Vernon, I did not
hesitate to form a plan of discovering who or what he was,--how far his
influence was likely to produce good or evil consequences to her on whom
he acted;--above all, though I endeavoured to persuade myself that this
was a mere subordinate consideration, I desired to know by what means
this person had acquired or maintained his influence over Diana, and
whether he ruled over her by fear or by affection. The proof that this
jealous curiosity was uppermost in my mind, arose from my imagination
always ascribing Miss Vernon's conduct to the influence of some one
individual agent, although, for aught I knew about the matter, her
advisers might be as numerous am Legion. I remarked this over and over to
myself; but I found that my mind still settled back in my original
conviction, that one single individual, of the masculine sex, and in all
probability young and handsome, was at the bottom of Miss Vernon's
conduct; and it was with a burning desire of discovering, or rather of
detecting, such a rival, that I stationed myself in the garden to watch
the moment when the lights should appear in the library windows.

So eager, however, was my impatience, that I commenced my watch for a
phenomenon, which could not appear until darkness, a full hour before the
daylight disappeared, on a July evening. It was Sabbath, and all the
walks were still and solitary. I walked up and down for some time,
enjoying the refreshing coolness of a summer evening, and meditating on
the probable consequences of my enterprise. The fresh and balmy air of
the garden, impregnated with fragrance, produced its usual sedative
effects on my over-heated and feverish blood. As these took place, the
turmoil of my mind began proportionally to abate, and I was led to
question the right I had to interfere with Miss Vernon's secrets, or with
those of my uncle's family. What was it to me whom my uncle might choose
to conceal in his house, where I was myself a guest only by tolerance?
And what title had I to pry into the affairs of Miss Vernon, fraught, as
she had avowed them to be, with mystery, into which she desired no
scrutiny?

Passion and self-will were ready with their answers to these questions.
In detecting this secret, I was in all probability about to do service to
Sir Hildebrand, who was probably ignorant of the intrigues carried on in
his family--and a still more important service to Miss Vernon, whose
frank simplicity of character exposed her to so many risks in maintaining
a private correspondence, perhaps with a person of doubtful or dangerous
character. If I seemed to intrude myself on her confidence, it was with
the generous and disinterested (yes, I even ventured to call it the
_disinterested_) intention of guiding, defending, and protecting her
against craft--against malice,--above all, against the secret counsellor
whom she had chosen for her confidant. Such were the arguments which my
will boldly preferred to my conscience, as coin which ought to be
current, and which conscience, like a grumbling shopkeeper, was contented
to accept, rather than come to an open breach with a customer, though
more than doubting that the tender was spurious.

While I paced the green alleys, debating these things _pro_ and _con,_ I
suddenly alighted upon Andrew Fairservice, perched up like a statue by a
range of bee-hives, in an attitude of devout contemplation--one eye,
however, watching the motions of the little irritable citizens, who were
settling in their straw-thatched mansion for the evening, and the other
fixed on a book of devotion, which much attrition had deprived of its
corners, and worn into an oval shape; a circumstance which, with the
close print and dingy colour of the volume in question, gave it an air of
most respectable antiquity.

"I was e'en taking a spell o' worthy Mess John Quackleben's Flower of a
Sweet Savour sawn on the Middenstead of this World," said Andrew, closing
his book at my appearance, and putting his horn spectacles, by way of
mark, at the place where he had been reading.

"And the bees, I observe, were dividing your attention, Andrew, with the
learned author?"

"They are a contumacious generation," replied the gardener; "they hae sax
days in the week to hive on, and yet it's a common observe that they will
aye swarm on the Sabbath-day, and keep folk at hame frae hearing the
word--But there's nae preaching at Graneagain chapel the e'en--that's aye
ae mercy."

"You might have gone to the parish church as I did, Andrew, and heard an
excellent discourse."

"Clauts o' cauld parritch--clauts o' cauld parritch," replied Andrew,
with a most supercilious sneer,--"gude aneueh for dogs, begging your
honour's pardon--Ay! I might nae doubt hae heard the curate linking awa
at it in his white sark yonder, and the musicians playing on whistles,
mair like a penny-wedding than a sermon--and to the boot of that, I might
hae gaen to even-song, and heard Daddie Docharty mumbling his
mass--muckle the better I wad hae been o' that!"

"Docharty!" said I (this was the name of an old priest, an Irishman, I
think, who sometimes officiated at Osbaldistone Hall)--"I thought Father
Vaughan had been at the Hall. He was here yesterday."

"Ay," replied Andrew; "but he left it yestreen, to gang to Greystock, or
some o' thae west-country haulds. There's an unco stir among them a'
e'enow. They are as busy as my bees are--God sain them! that I suld even
the puir things to the like o' papists. Ye see this is the second swarm,
and whiles they will swarm off in the afternoon. The first swarm set off
sune in the morning.--But I am thinking they are settled in their skeps
for the night; sae I wuss your honour good-night, and grace, and muckle
o't."

So saying, Andrew retreated, but often cast a parting glance upon the
_skeps,_ as he called the bee-hives.

I had indirectly gained from him an important piece of information, that
Father Vaughan, namely, was not supposed to be at the Hall. If,
therefore, there appeared light in the windows of the library this
evening, it either could not be his, or he was observing a very secret
and suspicious line of conduct. I waited with impatience the time of
sunset and of twilight. It had hardly arrived, ere a gleam from the
windows of the library was seen, dimly distinguishable amidst the still
enduring light of the evening. I marked its first glimpse, however, as
speedily as the benighted sailor descries the first distant twinkle of
the lighthouse which marks his course. The feelings of doubt and
propriety, which had hitherto contended with my curiosity and jealousy,
vanished when an opportunity of gratifying the former was presented to
me. I re-entered the house, and avoiding the more frequented apartments
with the consciousness of one who wishes to keep his purpose secret, I
reached the door of the library--hesitated for a moment as my hand was
upon the latch--heard a suppressed step within--opened the door--and
found Miss Vernon alone.

Diana appeared surprised,--whether at my sudden entrance, or from some
other cause, I could not guess; but there was in her appearance a degree
of flutter, which I had never before remarked, and which I knew could
only be produced by unusual emotion. Yet she was calm in a moment; and
such is the force of conscience, that I, who studied to surprise her,
seemed myself the surprised, and was certainly the embarrassed person.

"Has anything happened?" said Miss Vernon--"has any one arrived at the
Hall?"

"No one that I know of," I answered, in some confusion; "I only sought
the Orlando."

"It lies there," said Miss Vernon, pointing to the table. In removing one
or two books to get at that which I pretended to seek, I was, in truth,
meditating to make a handsome retreat from an investigation to which I
felt my assurance inadequate, when I perceived a man's glove lying upon
the table. My eyes encountered those of Miss Vernon, who blushed deeply.

"It is one of my relics," she said with hesitation, replying not to my
words but to my looks; "it is one of the gloves of my grandfather, the
original of the superb Vandyke which you admire."

As if she thought something more than her bare assertion was necessary to
prove her statement true, she opened a drawer of the large oaken table,
and taking out another glove, threw it towards me.--When a temper
naturally ingenuous stoops to equivocate, or to dissemble, the anxious
pain with which the unwonted task is laboured, often induces the hearer
to doubt the authenticity of the tale. I cast a hasty glance on both
gloves, and then replied gravely--"The gloves resemble each other,
doubtless, in form and embroidery; but they cannot form a pair, since
they both belong to the right hand."

She bit her lip with anger, and again coloured deeply.

"You do right to expose me," she replied, with bitterness: "some friends
would have only judged from what I said, that I chose to give no
particular explanation of a circumstance which calls for none--at least
to a stranger. You have judged better, and have made me feel, not only
the meanness of duplicity, but my own inadequacy to sustain the task of a
dissembler. I now tell you distinctly, that that glove is not the fellow,
as you have acutely discerned, to the one which I just now produced;--it
belongs to a friend yet dearer to me than the original of Vandyke's
picture--a friend by whose counsels I have been, and will be,
guided--whom I honour--whom I"--she paused.

I was irritated at her manner, and filled up the blank in my own way--
"Whom she _loves_, Miss Vernon would say."

"And if I do say so," she replied haughtily, "by whom shall my affection
be called to account?"


[Illustration: Die Vernon and Frank in Library--234]


"Not by me, Miss Vernon, assuredly--I entreat you to hold me acquitted of
such presumption.--_But,_" I continued, with some emphasis, for I was now
piqued in return, "I hope Miss Vernon will pardon a friend, from whom she
seems disposed to withdraw the title, for observing"--

"Observe nothing, sir," she interrupted with some vehemence, except that
I will neither be doubted nor questioned. There does not exist one by
whom I will be either interrogated or judged; and if you sought this
unusual time of presenting yourself in order to spy upon my privacy, the
friendship or interest with which you pretend to regard me, is a poor
excuse for your uncivil curiosity."

"I relieve you of my presence," said I, with pride equal to her own; for
my temper has ever been a stranger to stooping, even in cases where my
feelings were most deeply interested--"I relieve you of my presence. I
awake from a pleasant, but a most delusive dream; and--but we understand
each other."

I had reached the door of the apartment, when Miss Vernon, whose
movements were sometimes so rapid as to seem almost instinctive, overtook
me, and, catching hold of my arm, stopped me with that air of authority
which she could so whimsically assume, and which, from the _naivete_ and
simplicity of her manner, had an effect so peculiarly interesting.

"Stop, Mr. Frank," she said, "you are not to leave me in that way
neither; I am not so amply provided with friends, that I can afford to
throw away even the ungrateful and the selfish. Mark what I say, Mr.
Francis Osbaldistone. You shall know nothing of this mysterious glove,"
and she held it up as she spoke--"nothing--no, not a single iota more
than you know already; and yet I will not permit it to be a gauntlet of
strife and defiance betwixt us. My time here," she said, sinking into a
tone somewhat softer, "must necessarily be very short; yours must be
still shorter: we are soon to part never to meet again; do not let us
quarrel, or make any mysterious miseries the pretext for farther
embittering the few hours we shall ever pass together on this side of
eternity."

I do not know, Tresham, by what witchery this fascinating creature
obtained such complete management over a temper which I cannot at all
times manage myself. I had determined on entering the library, to seek a
complete explanation with Miss Vernon. I had found that she refused it
with indignant defiance, and avowed to my face the preference of a rival;
for what other construction could I put on her declared preference of her
mysterious confidant? And yet, while I was on the point of leaving the
apartment, and breaking with her for ever, it cost her but a change of
look and tone, from that of real and haughty resentment to that of kind
and playful despotism, again shaded off into melancholy and serious
feeling, to lead me back to my seat, her willing subject, on her own hard
terms.

"What does this avail?" said I, as I sate down. "What can this avail,
Miss Vernon? Why should I witness embarrassments which I cannot relieve,
and mysteries which I offend you even by attempting to penetrate?
Inexperienced as you are in the world, you must still be aware that a
beautiful young woman can have but one male friend. Even in a male friend
I will be jealous of a confidence shared with a third party unknown and
concealed; but with _you,_ Miss Vernon"--

"You are, of course, jealous, in all the tenses and moods of that amiable
passion? But, my good friend, you have all this time spoke nothing but
the paltry gossip which simpletons repeat from play-books and romances,
till they give mere cant a real and powerful influence over their minds.
Boys and girls prate themselves into love; and when their love is like to
fall asleep, they prate and tease themselves into jealousy. But you and
I, Frank, are rational beings, and neither silly nor idle enough to talk
ourselves into any other relation than that of plain honest disinterested
friendship. Any other union is as far out of our reach as if I were man,
or you woman--To speak truth," she added, after a moment's hesitation,
"even though I am so complaisant to the decorum of my sex as to blush a
little at my own plain dealing, we cannot marry if we would; and we ought
not if we could."

And certainly, Tresham, she did blush most angelically, as she made this
cruel declaration. I was about to attack both her positions, entirely
forgetting those very suspicions which had been confirmed in the course
of the evening, but she proceeded with a cold firmness which approached
to severity--"What I say is sober and indisputable truth, on which I will
neither hear question nor explanation. We are therefore friends, Mr.
Osbaldistone--are we not?" She held out her hand, and taking mine,
added--"And nothing to each other now, or henceforward, except as
friends."

She let go my hand. I sunk it and my head at once, fairly _overcrowed,_
as Spenser would have termed it, by the mingled kindness and firmness of
her manner. She hastened to change the subject.

"Here is a letter," she said, "directed for you, Mr. Osbaldistone, very
duly and distinctly; but which, notwithstanding the caution of the person
who wrote and addressed it, might perhaps never have reached your hands,
had it not fallen into the possession of a certain Pacolet, or enchanted
dwarf of mine, whom, like all distressed damsels of romance, I retain in
my secret service."

I opened the letter and glanced over the contents. The unfolded sheet of
paper dropped from my hands, with the involuntary exclamation of
"Gracious Heaven! my folly and disobedience have ruined my father!"

Miss Vernon rose with looks of real and affectionate alarm--"You grow
pale--you are ill--shall I bring you a glass of water? Be a man, Mr.
Osbaldistone, and a firm one. Is your father--is he no more?"

"He lives," said I, "thank God! but to what distress and difficulty"--

"If that be all, despair not, May I read this letter?" she said, taking
it up.

I assented, hardly knowing what I said. She read it with great attention.

"Who is this Mr. Tresham, who signs the letter?"

"My father's partner"--(your own good father, Will)--"but he is little in
the habit of acting personally in the business of the house."

"He writes here," said Miss Vernon, "of various letters sent to you
previously."

"I have received none of them," I replied.

"And it appears," she continued, "that Rashleigh, who has taken the full
management of affairs during your father's absence in Holland, has some
time since left London for Scotland, with effects and remittances to take
up large bills granted by your father to persons in that country, and
that he has not since been heard of."

"It is but too true."

"And here has been," she added, looking at the letter, "a head-clerk, or
some such person,--Owenson--Owen--despatched to Glasgow, to find out
Rashleigh, if possible, and you are entreated to repair to the same
place, and assist him in his researches."

"It is even so, and I must depart instantly."

"Stay but one moment," said Miss Vernon. "It seems to me that the worst
which can come of this matter, will be the loss of a certain sum of
money;--and can that bring tears into your eyes? For shame, Mr.
Osbaldistone!"

"You do me injustice, Miss Vernon," I answered. "I grieve not for the
loss of the money, but for the effect which I know it will produce on the
spirits and health of my father, to whom mercantile credit is as honour;
and who, if declared insolvent, would sink into the grave, oppressed by a
sense of grief, remorse, and despair, like that of a soldier convicted of
cowardice or a man of honour who had lost his rank and character in
society. All this I might have prevented by a trifling sacrifice of the
foolish pride and indolence which recoiled from sharing the labours of
his honourable and useful profession. Good Heaven! how shall I redeem the
consequences of my error?"

"By instantly repairing to Glasgow, as you are conjured to do by the
friend who writes this letter."

"But if Rashleigh," said I, "has really formed this base and
unconscientious scheme of plundering his benefactor, what prospect is
there that I can find means of frustrating a plan so deeply laid?'

"The prospect," she replied, "indeed, may be uncertain; but, on the other
hand, there is no possibility of your doing any service to your father by
remaining here. Remember, had you been on the post destined for you, this
disaster could not have happened: hasten to that which is now pointed
out, and it may possibly be retrieved.--Yet stay--do not leave this room
until I return."

She left me in confusion and amazement; amid which, however, I could
find a lucid interval to admire the firmness, composure, and presence of
mind which Miss Vernon seemed to possess on every crisis, however sudden.

In a few minutes she returned with a sheet of paper in her hand, folded
and sealed like a letter, but without address. "I trust you," she said,
"with this proof of my friendship, because I have the most perfect
confidence in your honour. If I understand the nature of your distress
rightly, the funds in Rashleigh's possession must be recovered by a
certain day--the 12th of September, I think is named--in order that they
may be applied to pay the bills in question; and, consequently, that if
adequate funds be provided before that period, your father's credit is
safe from the apprehended calamity."

"Certainly--I so understand Mr. Tresham"--I looked at your father's
letter again, and added, "There cannot be a doubt of it."

"Well," said Diana, "in that case my little Pacolet may be of use to you.
You have heard of a spell contained in a letter. Take this packet; do not
open it until other and ordinary means have failed. If you succeed by
your own exertions, I trust to your honour for destroying it without
opening or suffering it to be opened;--but if not, you may break the seal
within ten days of the fated day, and you will find directions which may
possibly be of service to you. Adieu, Frank; we never meet more--but
sometimes think of your friend Die Vernon."

She extended her hand, but I clasped her to my bosom. She sighed as she
extricated herself from the embrace which she permitted--escaped to the
door which led to her own apartment--and I saw her no more.

END OF VOLUME ONE.

Sir Walter Scott