I hear a voice you cannot hear,|
Which says, I must not stay;
I see a hand you cannot see,
Which beckons me awry.
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?”
“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 naïveté 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.