on lamp its line of quivering light Shoots from my lady’s bower; But why should Beauty’s lamp be bright At midnight’s lonely hour? OLD BALLAD.
The mode of life at Osbaldistone Hall was too uniform to admit of description. Diana Vernon and I enjoyed much of our time in our mutual studies; the rest of the family killed theirs in such sports and pastimes as suited the seasons, in which we also took a share. My uncle was a man of habits, and by habit became so much accustomed to my presence and mode of life, that, upon the whole, he was rather fond of me than otherwise. I might probably have risen yet higher in his good graces, had I employed the same arts for that purpose which were used by Rashleigh, who, availing himself of his father’s disinclination to business, had gradually insinuated himself into the management of his property. But although I readily gave my uncle the advantage of my pen and my arithmetic so often as he desired to correspond with a neighbour, or settle with a tenant, and was, in so far, a more useful inmate in his family than any of his sons, yet I was not willing to oblige Sir Hildebrand by relieving him entirely from the management of his own affairs; so that, while the good knight admitted that nevoy Frank was a steady, handy lad, he seldom failed to remark in the same breath, that he did not think he should ha’ missed Rashleigh so much as he was like to do.
As it is particularly unpleasant to reside in a family where we are at variance with any part of it, I made some efforts to overcome the ill-will which my cousins entertained against me. I exchanged my laced hat for a jockey-cap, and made some progress in their opinion; I broke a young colt in a manner which carried me further into their good graces. A bet or two opportunely lost to Dickon, and an extra health pledged with Percie, placed me on an easy and familiar footing with all the young squires, except Thorncliff.
I have already noticed the dislike entertained against me by this young fellow, who, as he had rather more sense, had also a much worse temper, than any of his brethren. Sullen, dogged, and quarrelsome, he regarded my residence at Osbaldistone Hall as an intrusion, and viewed with envious and jealous eyes my intimacy with Diana Vernon, whom the effect proposed to be given to a certain family-compact assigned to him as an intended spouse. That he loved her, could scarcely be said, at least without much misapplication of the word; but he regarded her as something appropriated to himself, and resented internally the interference which he knew not how to prevent or interrupt. I attempted a tone of conciliation towards Thorncliff on several occasions; but he rejected my advances with a manner about as gracious as that of a growling mastiff, when the animal shuns and resents a stranger’s attempts to caress him. I therefore abandoned him to his ill-humour, and gave myself no further trouble about the matter.
Such was the footing upon which I stood with the family at Osbaldistone Hall; but I ought to mention another of its inmates with whom I occasionally held some discourse. This was Andrew Fairservice, the gardener who (since he had discovered that I was a Protestant) rarely suffered me to pass him without proffering his Scotch mull for a social pinch. There were several advantages attending this courtesy. In the first place, it was made at no expense, for I never took snuff; and secondly, it afforded an excellent apology to Andrew (who was not particularly fond of hard labour) for laying aside his spade for several minutes. But, above all, these brief interviews gave Andrew an opportunity of venting the news he had collected, or the satirical remarks which his shrewd northern humour suggested.
“I am saying, sir,” he said to me one evening, with a face obviously charged with intelligence, “I hae been down at the Trinlay-knowe.”
“Well, Andrew, and I suppose you heard some news at the alehouse?”
“Na, sir; I never gang to the yillhouse—that is unless ony neighbour was to gie me a pint, or the like o’ that; but to gang there on ane’s ain coat-tail, is a waste o’ precious time and hard-won siller.—But I was doun at the Trinlay-knowe, as I was saying, about a wee bit business o’ my ain wi’ Mattie Simpson, that wants a forpit or twa o’ peers that will never be missed in the Ha’-house—and when we were at the thrangest o’ our bargain, wha suld come in but Pate Macready the travelling merchant?”
“Pedlar, I suppose you mean?”
“E’en as your honour likes to ca’ him; but it’s a creditable calling and a gainfu’, and has been lang in use wi’ our folk. Pate’s a far-awa cousin o’ mine, and we were blythe to meet wi’ ane anither.”
“And you went and had a jug of ale together, I suppose, Andrew?—For Heaven’s sake, cut short your story.”
“Bide a wee—bide a wee; you southrons are aye in sic a hurry, and this is something concerns yourself, an ye wad tak patience to hear’t—Yill?—deil a drap o’ yill did Pate offer me; but Mattie gae us baith a drap skimmed milk, and ane o’ her thick ait jannocks, that was as wat and raw as a divot. O for the bonnie girdle cakes o’ the north!—and sae we sat doun and took out our clavers.”
“I wish you would take them out just now. Pray, tell me the news, if you have got any worth telling, for I can’t stop here all night.”
“Than, if ye maun hae’t, the folk in Lunnun are a’ clean wud about this bit job in the north here.”
“Clean wood! what’s that?”
“Ou, just real daft—neither to haud nor to bind—a’ hirdy-girdy—clean through ither—the deil’s ower Jock Wabster.”
“But what does all this mean? or what business have I with the devil or Jack Webster?”
“Umph!” said Andrew, looking extremely knowing, “it’s just because—just that the dirdum’s a’ about yon man’s pokmanty.”
“Whose portmanteau? or what do you mean?”
“Ou, just the man Morris’s, that he said he lost yonder: but if it’s no your honour’s affair, as little is it mine; and I mauna lose this gracious evening.”
And, as if suddenly seized with a violent fit of industry, Andrew began to labour most diligently.
My attention, as the crafty knave had foreseen, was now arrested, and unwilling, at the same time, to acknowledge any particular interest in that affair, by asking direct questions, I stood waiting till the spirit of voluntary communication should again prompt him to resume his story. Andrew dug on manfully, and spoke at intervals, but nothing to the purpose of Mr. Macready’s news; and I stood and listened, cursing him in my heart, and desirous at the same time to see how long his humour of contradiction would prevail over his desire of speaking upon the subject which was obviously uppermost in his mind.
“Am trenching up the sparry-grass, and am gaun to saw some Misegun beans; they winna want them to their swine’s flesh, I’se warrant—muckle gude may it do them. And siclike dung as the grieve has gien me!—it should be wheat-strae, or aiten at the warst o’t, and it’s pease dirt, as fizzenless as chuckie-stanes. But the huntsman guides a’ as he likes about the stable-yard, and he’s selled the best o’ the litter, I’se warrant. But, howsoever, we mauna lose a turn o’ this Saturday at e’en, for the wather’s sair broken, and if there’s a fair day in seven, Sunday’s sure to come and lick it up—Howsomever, I’m no denying that it may settle, if it be Heaven’s will, till Monday morning,—and what’s the use o’ my breaking my back at this rate?—I think, I’ll e’en awa’ hame, for yon’s the curfew, as they ca’ their jowing-in bell.”
Accordingly, applying both his hands to his spade, he pitched it upright in the trench which he had been digging and, looking at me with the air of superiority of one who knows himself possessed of important information, which he may communicate or refuse at his pleasure, pulled down the sleeves of his shirt, and walked slowly towards his coat, which lay carefully folded up upon a neighbouring garden-seat.
“I must pay the penalty of having interrupted the tiresome rascal,” thought I to myself, “and even gratify Mr. Fairservice by taking his communication on his own terms.” Then raising my voice, I addressed him,—“And after all, Andrew, what are these London news you had from your kinsman, the travelling merchant?”
“The pedlar, your honour means?” retorted Andrew—“but ca’ him what ye wull, they’re a great convenience in a country-side that’s scant o’ borough-towns like this Northumberland—That’s no the case, now, in Scotland;—there’s the kingdom of Fife, frae Culross to the East Nuik, it’s just like a great combined city—sae mony royal boroughs yoked on end to end, like ropes of ingans, with their hie-streets and their booths, nae doubt, and their kraemes, and houses of stane and lime and fore-stairs—Kirkcaldy, the sell o’t, is langer than ony town in England.”
“I daresay it is all very splendid and very fine—but you were talking of the London news a little while ago, Andrew.”
“Ay,” replied Andrew; “but I dinna think your honour cared to hear about them—Howsoever” (he continued, grinning a ghastly smile), “Pate Macready does say, that they are sair mistrysted yonder in their Parliament House about this rubbery o’ Mr. Morris, or whatever they ca’ the chiel.”
“In the House of Parliament, Andrew!—how came they to mention it there?”
“Ou, that’s just what I said to Pate; if it like your honour, I’ll tell you the very words; it’s no worth making a lie for the matter—‘Pate,’ said I, ‘what ado had the lords and lairds and gentles at Lunnun wi’ the carle and his walise?—When we had a Scotch Parliament, Pate,’ says I (and deil rax their thrapples that reft us o’t!) ‘they sate dousely down and made laws for a haill country and kinrick, and never fashed their beards about things that were competent to the judge ordinar o’ the bounds; but I think,’ said I, ‘that if ae kailwife pou’d aff her neighbour’s mutch they wad hae the twasome o’ them into the Parliament House o’ Lunnun. It’s just,’ said I, ‘amaist as silly as our auld daft laird here and his gomerils o’ sons, wi’ his huntsmen and his hounds, and his hunting cattle and horns, riding haill days after a bit beast that winna weigh sax punds when they hae catched it.’”
“You argued most admirably, Andrew,” said I, willing to encourage him to get into the marrow of his intelligence; “and what said Pate?”
“Ou,” he said, “what better could be expected of a wheen pock-pudding English folk?—But as to the robbery, it’s like that when they’re a’ at the thrang o’ their Whig and Tory wark, and ca’ing ane anither, like unhanged blackguards—up gets ae lang-tongued chield, and he says, that a’ the north of England were rank Jacobites (and, quietly, he wasna far wrang maybe), and that they had levied amaist open war, and a king’s messenger had been stoppit and rubbit on the highway, and that the best bluid o’ Northumberland had been at the doing o’t—and mickle gowd ta’en aff him, and mony valuable papers; and that there was nae redress to be gotten by remeed of law for the first justice o’ the peace that the rubbit man gaed to, he had fund the twa loons that did the deed birling and drinking wi’ him, wha but they; and the justice took the word o’ the tane for the compearance o’ the tither; and that they e’en gae him leg-bail, and the honest man that had lost his siller was fain to leave the country for fear that waur had come of it.”
“Can this be really true?” said I.
“Pate swears it’s as true as that his ellwand is a yard lang—(and so it is, just bating an inch, that it may meet the English measure)—And when the chield had said his warst, there was a terrible cry for names, and out comes he wi’ this man Morris’s name, and your uncle’s, and Squire Inglewood’s, and other folk’s beside” (looking sly at me)—“And then another dragon o’ a chield got up on the other side, and said, wad they accuse the best gentleman in the land on the oath of a broken coward?—for it’s like that Morris had been drummed out o’ the army for rinning awa in Flanders; and he said, it was like the story had been made up between the minister and him or ever he had left Lunnun; and that, if there was to be a search-warrant granted, he thought the siller wad be fund some gate near to St. James’s Palace. Aweel, they trailed up Morris to their bar, as they ca’t, to see what he could say to the job; but the folk that were again him, gae him sic an awfu’ throughgaun about his rinnin’ awa, and about a’ the ill he had ever dune or said for a’ the forepart o’ his life, that Patie says he looked mair like ane dead than living; and they cou’dna get a word o’ sense out o’ him, for downright fright at their growling and routing. He maun be a saft sap, wi’ a head nae better than a fozy frosted turnip—it wad hae ta’en a hantle o’ them to scaur Andrew Fairservice out o’ his tale.”
“And how did it all end, Andrew? did your friend happen to learn?”
“Ou, ay; for as his walk is in this country, Pate put aff his journey for the space of a week or thereby, because it wad be acceptable to his customers to bring down the news. It’s just a’ gaed aft like moonshine in water. The fallow that began it drew in his horns, and said, that though he believed the man had been rubbit, yet he acknowledged he might hae been mista’en about the particulars. And then the other chield got up, and said, he caredna whether Morris was rubbed or no, provided it wasna to become a stain on ony gentleman’s honour and reputation, especially in the north of England; for, said he before them, I come frae the north mysell, and I carena a boddle wha kens it. And this is what they ca’ explaining—the tane gies up a bit, and the tither gies up a bit, and a’ friends again. Aweel, after the Commons’ Parliament had tuggit, and rived, and rugged at Morris and his rubbery till they were tired o’t, the Lords’ Parliament they behoved to hae their spell o’t. In puir auld Scotland’s Parliament they a’ sate thegither, cheek by choul, and than they didna need to hae the same blethers twice ower again. But till’t their lordships went wi’ as muckle teeth and gude-will, as if the matter had been a’ speck and span new. Forbye, there was something said about ane Campbell, that suld hae been concerned in the rubbery, mair or less, and that he suld hae had a warrant frae the Duke of Argyle, as a testimonial o’ his character. And this put MacCallum More’s beard in a bleize, as gude reason there was; and he gat up wi’ an unco bang, and garr’d them a’ look about them, and wad ram it even doun their throats, there was never ane o’ the Campbells but was as wight, wise, warlike, and worthy trust, as auld Sir John the Graeme. Now, if your honour’s sure ye arena a drap’s bluid a-kin to a Campbell, as I am nane mysell, sae far as I can count my kin, or hae had it counted to me, I’ll gie ye my mind on that matter.”
“You may be assured I have no connection whatever with any gentleman of the name.”
“Ou, than we may speak it quietly amang oursells. There’s baith gude and bad o’ the Campbells, like other names, But this MacCallum More has an unco sway and say baith, amang the grit folk at Lunnun even now; for he canna preceesely be said to belang to ony o’ the twa sides o’ them, sae deil any o’ them likes to quarrel wi’ him; sae they e’en voted Morris’s tale a fause calumnious libel, as they ca’t, and if he hadna gien them leg-bail, he was likely to hae ta’en the air on the pillory for leasing-making.”
So speaking, honest Andrew collected his dibbles, spades, and hoes, and threw them into a wheel-barrow,—leisurely, however, and allowing me full time to put any further questions which might occur to me before he trundled them off to the tool-house, there to repose during the ensuing day. I thought it best to speak out at once, lest this meddling fellow should suppose there were more weighty reasons for my silence than actually existed.
“I should like to see this countryman of yours, Andrew and to hear his news from himself directly. You have probably heard that I had some trouble from the impertinent folly of this man Morris” (Andrew grinned a most significant grin), “and I should wish to see your cousin the merchant, to ask him the particulars of what he heard in London, if it could be done without much trouble.”
“Naething mair easy,” Andrew observed; “he had but to hint to his cousin that I wanted a pair or twa o’ hose, and he wad be wi’ me as fast as he could lay leg to the grund.”
“O yes, assure him I shall be a customer; and as the night is, as you say, settled and fair, I shall walk in the garden until he comes; the moon will soon rise over the fells. You may bring him to the little back-gate; and I shall have pleasure, in the meanwhile, in looking on the bushes and evergreens by the bright frosty moonlight.”
“Vara right, vara right—that’s what I hae aften said; a kail-blade, or a colliflour, glances sae glegly by moonlight, it’s like a leddy in her diamonds.”
So saying, off went Andrew Fairservice with great glee. He had to walk about two miles, a labour he undertook with the greatest pleasure, in order to secure to his kinsman the sale of some articles of his trade, though it is probable he would not have given him sixpence to treat him to a quart of ale. “The good will of an Englishman would have displayed itself in a manner exactly the reverse of Andrew’s,” thought I, as I paced along the smooth-cut velvet walks, which, embowered with high, hedges of yew and of holly, intersected the ancient garden of Osbaldistone Hall.
As I turned to retrace my steps, it was natural that I should lift up my eyes to the windows of the old library; which, small in size, but several in number, stretched along the second story of that side of the house which now faced me. Light glanced from their casements. I was not surprised at this, for I knew Miss Vernon often sat there of an evening, though from motives of delicacy I put a strong restraint upon myself, and never sought to join her at a time when I knew, all the rest of the family being engaged for the evening, our interviews must necessarily have been strictly tete-a’-tete. In the mornings we usually read together in the same room; but then it often happened that one or other of our cousins entered to seek some parchment duodecimo that could be converted into a fishing-book, despite its gildings and illumination, or to tell us of some “sport toward,” or from mere want of knowing where else to dispose of themselves. In short, in the mornings the library was a sort of public room, where man and woman might meet as on neutral ground. In the evening it was very different and bred in a country where much attention is paid, or was at least then paid, to biense’ance, I was desirous to think for Miss Vernon concerning those points of propriety where her experience did not afford her the means of thinking for herself. I made her therefore comprehend, as delicately as I could, that when we had evening lessons, the presence of a third party was proper.
Miss Vernon first laughed, then blushed, and was disposed to be displeased; and then, suddenly checking herself, said, “I believe you are very right; and when I feel inclined to be a very busy scholar, I will bribe old Martha with a cup of tea to sit by me and be my screen.”
Martha, the old housekeeper, partook of the taste of the family at the Hall. A toast and tankard would have pleased her better than all the tea in China. However, as the use of this beverage was then confined to the higher ranks, Martha felt some vanity in being asked to partake of it; and by dint of a great deal of sugar, many words scarce less sweet, and abundance of toast and butter, she was sometimes prevailed upon to give us her countenance. On other occasions, the servants almost unanimously shunned the library after nightfall, because it was their foolish pleasure to believe that it lay on the haunted side of the house. The more timorous had seen sights and heard sounds there when all the rest of the house was quiet; and even the young squires were far from having any wish to enter these formidable precincts after nightfall without necessity.
That the library had at one time been a favourite resource of Rashleigh—that a private door out of one side of it communicated with the sequestered and remote apartment which he chose for himself, rather increased than disarmed the terrors which the household had for the dreaded library of Osbaldistone Hall. His extensive information as to what passed in the world—his profound knowledge of science of every kind—a few physical experiments which he occasionally showed off, were, in a house of so much ignorance and bigotry, esteemed good reasons for supposing him endowed with powers over the spiritual world. He understood Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; and, therefore, according to the apprehension, and in the phrase of his brother Wilfred, needed not to care “for ghaist or bar-ghaist, devil or dobbie.” Yea, the servants persisted that they had heard him hold conversations in the library, when every varsal soul in the family were gone to bed; and that he spent the night in watching for bogles, and the morning in sleeping in his bed, when he should have been heading the hounds like a true Osbaldistone.
All these absurd rumours I had heard in broken hints and imperfect sentences, from which I was left to draw the inference; and, as easily may be supposed, I laughed them to scorn. But the extreme solitude to which this chamber of evil fame was committed every night after curfew time, was an additional reason why I should not intrude on Miss Vernon when she chose to sit there in the evening.
To resume what I was saying,—I was not surprised to see a glimmering of light from the library windows: but I was a little struck when I distinctly perceived the shadows of two persons pass along and intercept the light from the first of the windows, throwing the casement for a moment into shade. “It must be old Martha,” thought I, “whom Diana has engaged to be her companion for the evening; or I must have been mistaken, and taken Diana’s shadow for a second person. No, by Heaven! it appears on the second window,—two figures distinctly traced; and now it is lost again—it is seen on the third—on the fourth—the darkened forms of two persons distinctly seen in each window as they pass along the room, betwixt the windows and the lights. Whom can Diana have got for a companion?”—The passage of the shadows between the lights and the casements was twice repeated, as if to satisfy me that my observation served me truly; after which the lights were extinguished, and the shades, of course, were seen no more.
Trifling as this circumstance was, it occupied my mind for a considerable time. I did not allow myself to suppose that my friendship for Miss Vernon had any directly selfish view; yet it is incredible the displeasure I felt at the idea of her admitting any one to private interviews, at a time, and in a place, where, for her own sake, I had been at some trouble to show her that it was improper for me to meet with her.
“Silly, romping, incorrigible girl!” said I to myself, “on whom all good advice and delicacy are thrown away! I have been cheated by the simplicity of her manner, which I suppose she can assume just as she could a straw bonnet, were it the fashion, for the mere sake of celebrity. I suppose, notwithstanding the excellence of her understanding, the society of half a dozen of clowns to play at whisk and swabbers would give her more pleasure than if Ariosto himself were to awake from the dead.”
This reflection came the more powerfully across my mind, because, having mustered up courage to show to Diana my version of the first books of Ariosto, I had requested her to invite Martha to a tea-party in the library that evening, to which arrangement Miss Vernon had refused her consent, alleging some apology which I thought frivolous at the time. I had not long speculated on this disagreeable subject, when the back garden-door opened, and the figures of Andrew and his country-man—bending under his pack—crossed the moonlight alley, and called my attention elsewhere.
I found Mr. Macready, as I expected, a tough, sagacious, long-headed Scotchman, and a collector of news both from choice and profession. He was able to give me a distinct account of what had passed in the House of Commons and House of Lords on the affair of Morris, which, it appears, had been made by both parties a touchstone to ascertain the temper of the Parliament. It appeared also, that, as I had learned from Andrew, by second hand, the ministry had proved too weak to support a story involving the character of men of rank and importance, and resting upon the credit of a person of such indifferent fame as Morris, who was, moreover, confused and contradictory in his mode of telling the story. Macready was even able to supply me with a copy of a printed journal, or News-Letter, seldom extending beyond the capital, in which the substance of the debate was mentioned; and with a copy of the Duke of Argyle’s speech, printed upon a broadside, of which he had purchased several from the hawkers, because, he said, it would be a saleable article on the north of the Tweed. The first was a meagre statement, full of blanks and asterisks, and which added little or nothing to the information I had from the Scotchman; and the Duke’s speech, though spirited and eloquent, contained chiefly a panegyric on his country, his family, and his clan, with a few compliments, equally sincere, perhaps, though less glowing, which he took so favourable an opportunity of paying to himself. I could not learn whether my own reputation had been directly implicated, although I perceived that the honour of my uncle’s family had been impeached, and that this person Campbell, stated by Morris to have been the most active robber of the two by whom he was assailed, was said by him to have appeared in the behalf of a Mr. Osbaldistone, and by the connivance of the Justice procured his liberation. In this particular, Morris’s story jumped with my own suspicions, which had attached to Campbell from the moment I saw him appear at Justice Inglewood’s. Vexed upon the whole, as well as perplexed, with this extraordinary story, I dismissed the two Scotchmen, after making some purchases from Macready, and a small compliment to Fairservice, and retired to my own apartment to consider what I ought to do in defence of my character thus publicly attacked.