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 away.


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 make 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 must probably 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 as 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 confident. Such were the arguments which my will boldly preferred to my conscience, as coin which

  By PanEris using Melati.

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