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.