What gars ye gaunt, my merrymen a’? What gars ye look sae dreary? What gars ye hing your head sae sair In the castle of Balwearie? Old Scotch Ballad.
The next morning chanced to be Sunday, a day peculiarly hard to be got rid of at Osbaldistone Hall; for after the formal religious service of the morning had been performed, at which all the family regularly attended, it was hard to say upon which individual, Rashleigh and Miss Vernon excepted, the fiend of ennui descended with the most abundant outpouring of his spirit. To speak of my yesterday’s embarrassment amused Sir Hildebrand for several minutes, and he congratulated me on my deliverance from Morpeth or Hexham jail, as he would have done if I had fallen in attempting to clear a five-barred gate, and got up without hurting myself.
“Hast had a lucky turn, lad; but do na be over venturous again. What, man! the king’s road is free to all men, be they Whigs, be they Tories.”
“On my word, sir, I am innocent of interrupting it; and it is the most provoking thing on earth, that every person will take it for granted that I am accessory to a crime which I despise and detest, and which would, moreover, deservedly forfeit my life to the laws of my country.”
“Well, well, lad; even so be it; I ask no questions—no man bound to tell on himsell—that’s fair play, or the devil’s in’t.”
Rashleigh here came to my assistance; but I could not help thinking that his arguments were calculated rather as hints to his father to put on a show of acquiescence in my declaration of innocence, than fully to establish it.
“In your own house, my dear sir—and your own nephew—you will not surely persist in hurting his feelings by seeming to discredit what he is so strongly interested in affirming. No doubt, you are fully deserving of all his confidence, and I am sure, were there anything you could do to assist him in this strange affair, he would have recourse to your goodness. But my cousin Frank has been dismissed as an innocent man, and no one is entitled to suppose him otherwise. For my part, I have not the least doubt of his innocence; and our family honour, I conceive, requires that we should maintain it with tongue and sword against the whole country.”
“Rashleigh,” said his father, looking fixedly at him, “thou art a sly loon—thou hast ever been too cunning for me, and too cunning for most folks. Have a care thou provena too cunning for thysell—two faces under one hood is no true heraldry. And since we talk of heraldry, I’ll go and read Gwillym.”
This resolution he intimated with a yawn, resistless as that of the Goddess in the Dunciad, which was responsively echoed by his giant sons, as they dispersed in quest of the pastimes to which their minds severally inclined them—Percie to discuss a pot of March beer with the steward in the buttery,—Thorncliff to cut a pair of cudgels, and fix them in their wicker hilts,—John to dress May-flies,—Dickon to play at pitch and toss by himself, his right hand against his left,—and Wilfred to bite his thumbs and hum himself into a slumber which should last till dinner-time, if possible. Miss Vernon had retired to the library.
Rashleigh and I were left alone in the old hall, from which the servants, with their usual bustle and awkwardness, had at length contrived to hurry the remains of our substantial breakfast. I took the opportunity to upbraid him with the manner in which he had spoken of my affair to his father, which I frankly stated was highly offensive to me, as it seemed rather to exhort Sir Hildebrand to conceal his suspicions, than to root them out.
“Why, what can I do, my dear friend?” replied Rashleigh “my father’s disposition is so tenacious of suspicions of all kinds, when once they take root (which, to do him justice, does not easily happen), that I have always found it the best way to silence him upon such subjects, instead of arguing with him. Thus I get the better of the weeds which I cannot eradicate, by cutting them over as often as they appear, until at length they die away of themselves. There is neither wisdom nor profit in disputing with such a mind as Sir Hildebrand’s, which hardens itself against conviction, and believes in its own inspirations as firmly as we good Catholics do in those of the Holy Father of Rome.”
“It is very hard, though, that I should live in the house of a man, and he a near relation too, who will persist in believing me guilty of a highway robbery.”
“My father’s foolish opinion, if one may give that epithet to any opinion of a father’s, does not affect your real innocence; and as to the disgrace of the fact, depend on it, that, considered in all its bearings, political as well as moral, Sir Hildebrand regards it as a meritorious action—a weakening of the enemy—a spoiling of the Amalekites; and you will stand the higher in his regard for your supposed accession to it.”
“I desire no man’s regard, Mr. Rashleigh, on such terms as must sink me in my own; and I think these injurious suspicions will afford a very good reason for quitting Osbaldistone Hall, which I shall do whenever I can communicate on the subject with my father.”
The dark countenance of Rashleigh, though little accustomed to betray its master’s feelings, exhibited a suppressed smile, which he instantly chastened by a sigh. “You are a happy man, Frank—you go and come, as the wind bloweth where it listeth. With your address, taste, and talents, you will soon find circles where they will be more valued, than amid the dull inmates of this mansion; while I—” he paused.
“And what is there in your lot that can make you or any one envy mine,—an outcast, as I may almost term myself, from my father’s house and favour?”
“Ay, but,” answered Rashleigh, “consider the gratified sense of independence which you must have attained by a very temporary sacrifice,—for such I am sure yours will prove to be; consider the power of acting as a free agent, of cultivating your own talents in the way to which your taste determines you, and in which you are well qualified to distinguish yourself. Fame and freedom are cheaply purchased by a few weeks’ residence in the North, even though your place of exile be Osbaldistone Hall. A second Ovid in Thrace, you have not his reasons for writing Tristia.”
“I do not know,” said I, blushing as became a young scribbler, “how you should be so well acquainted with my truant studies.”
“There was an emissary of your father’s here some time since, a young coxcomb, one Twineall, who informed me concerning your secret sacrifices to the muses, and added, that some of your verses had been greatly admired by the best judges.”
Tresham, I believe you are guiltless of having ever essayed to build the lofty rhyme; but you must have known in your day many an apprentice and fellow-craft, if not some of the master-masons, in the temple of Apollo. Vanity is their universal foible, from him who decorated the shades of Twickenham, to the veriest scribbler whom he has lashed in his Dunciad. I had my own share of this common failing, and without considering how little likely this young fellow Twineall was, by taste and habits, either to be acquainted with one or two little pieces of poetry, which I had at times insinuated into Button’s coffee-house, or to report the opinion of the critics who frequented that resort of wit and literature, I almost instantly gorged the bait; which Rashleigh perceiving, improved his opportunity by a diffident, yet apparently very anxious request to be permitted to see some of my manuscript productions.
“You shall give me an evening in my own apartment,” he continued; “for I must soon lose the charms of literary society for the drudgery of commerce, and the coarse every-day avocations of the world. I repeat it, that my compliance with my father’s wishes for the advantage of my family, is indeed a sacrifice, especially considering the calm and peaceful profession to which my education destined me.”
I was vain, but not a fool, and this hypocrisy was too strong for me to swallow. “You would not persuade me,” I replied, “that you really regret to exchange the situation of an obscure Catholic priest, with all its privations, for wealth and society, and the pleasures of the world?”
Rashleigh saw that he had coloured his affectation of moderation too highly, and, after a second’s pause, during which, I suppose, he calculated the degree of candour which it was necessary to use with me (that being a quality of which he was never needlessly profuse), he answered, with a smile—“At my age, to be condemned, as you say, to wealth and the world, does not, indeed, sound so alarming as perhaps it ought to do. But, with pardon be it spoken, you have mistaken my destination—a Catholic priest, if you will, but not an obscure one. No, sir,—Rashleigh Osbaldistone will be more obscure, should he rise to be the richest citizen in London, than he might have been as a member of a church, whose ministers, as some one says, ‘set their sandall’d feet on princes.’ My family interest at a certain exiled court is high, and the weight which that court ought to possess, and does possess, at Rome is yet higher—my talents not altogether inferior to the education I have received. In sober judgment, I might have looked forward to high eminence in the church—in the dream of fancy, to the very highest. Why might not”—(he added, laughing, for it was part of his manner to keep much of his discourse apparently betwixt jest and earnest)—“why might not Cardinal Osbaldistone have swayed the fortunes of empires, well-born and well-connected, as well as the low-born Mazarin, or Alberoni, the son of an Italian gardener?”
“Nay, I can give you no reason to the contrary; but in your place I should not much regret losing the chance of such precarious and invidious elevation.”
“Neither would I,” he replied, “were I sure that my present establishment was more certain; but that must depend upon circumstances which I can only learn by experience—the disposition of your father, for example.”
“Confess the truth without finesse, Rashleigh; you would willingly know something of him from me?”
“Since, like Die Vernon, you make a point of following the banner of the good knight Sincerity, I reply—certainly.”
“Well, then, you will find in my father a man who has followed the paths of thriving more for the exercise they afforded to his talents, than for the love of the gold with which they are strewed. His active mind would have been happy in any situation which gave it scope for exertion, though that exertion had been its sole reward. But his wealth has accumulated, because, moderate and frugal in his habits, no new sources of expense have occurred to dispose of his increasing income. He is a man who hates dissimulation in others; never practises it himself; and is peculiarly alert in discovering motives through the colouring of language. Himself silent by habit, he is readily disgusted by great talkers; the rather, that the circumstances by which he is most interested, afford no great scope for conversation. He is severely strict in the duties of religion; but you have no reason to fear his interference with yours, for he regards toleration as a sacred principle of political economy. But if you have any Jacobitical partialities, as is naturally to be supposed, you will do well to suppress them in his presence, as well as the least tendency to the highflying or Tory principles; for he holds both in utter detestation. For the rest, his word is his own bond, and must be the law of all who act under him. He will fail in his duty to no one, and will permit no one to fail towards him; to cultivate his favour, you must execute his commands, instead of echoing his sentiments. His greatest failings arise out of prejudices connected with his own profession, or rather his exclusive devotion to it, which makes him see little worthy of praise or attention, unless it be in some measure connected with commerce.”
“O rare-painted portrait!” exclaimed Rashleigh, when I was silent—“Vandyke was a dauber to you, Frank. I see thy sire before me in all his strength and weakness; loving and honouring the King as a sort of lord mayor of the empire, or chief of the board of trade—venerating the Commons, for the acts regulating the export trade—and respecting the Peers, because the Lord Chancellor sits on a woolsack.”
“Mine was a likeness, Rashleigh; yours is a caricature. But in return for the carte du pays which I have unfolded to you, give me some lights on the geography of the unknown lands”—
“On which you are wrecked,” said Rashleigh. “It is not worth while; it is no Isle of Calypso, umbrageous with shade and intricate with silvan labyrinth—but a bare ragged Northumbrian moor, with as little to interest curiosity as to delight the eye; you may descry it in all its nakedness in half an hour’s survey, as well as if I were to lay it down before you by line and compass.”
“O, but something there is, worthy a more attentive survey—What say you to Miss Vernon? Does not she form an interesting object in the landscape, were all round as rude as Iceland’s coast?”
I could plainly perceive that Rashleigh disliked the topic now presented to him; but my frank communication had given me the advantageous title to make inquiries in my turn. Rashleigh felt this, and found himself obliged to follow my lead, however difficult he might find it to play his cards successfully. “I have known less of Miss Vernon,” he said, “for some time, than I was wont to do formerly. In early age I was her tutor; but as she advanced towards womanhood, my various avocations,—the gravity of the profession to which I was destined,—the peculiar nature of her engagements,—our mutual situation, in short, rendered a close and constant intimacy dangerous and improper. I believe Miss Vernon might consider my reserve as unkindness, but it was my duty; I felt as much as she seemed to do, when compelled to give way to prudence. But where was the safety in cultivating an intimacy with a beautiful and susceptible girl, whose heart, you are aware, must be given either to the cloister or to a betrothed husband?”
“The cloister or a betrothed husband?” I echoed—“Is that the alternative destined for Miss Vernon?”
“It is indeed,” said Rashleigh, with a sigh. “I need not, I suppose, caution you against the danger of cultivating too closely the friendship of Miss Vernon;—you are a man of the world, and know how far you can indulge yourself in her society with safety to yourself, and justice to her. But I warn you, that, considering her ardent temper, you must let your experience keep guard over her as well as yourself, for the specimen of yesterday may serve to show her extreme thoughtlessness and neglect of decorum.”
There was something, I was sensible, of truth, as well as good sense, in all this; it seemed to be given as a friendly warning, and I had no right to take it amiss; yet I felt I could with pleasure have run Rashleigh Osbaldistone through the body all the time he was speaking.
“The deuce take his insolence!” was my internal meditation. “Would he wish me to infer that Miss Vernon had fallen in love with that hatchet-face of his, and become degraded so low as to require his shyness to cure her of an imprudent passion? I will have his meaning from him,” was my resolution, “if I should drag it out with cart-ropes.”
For this purpose, I placed my temper under as accurate a guard as I could, and observed, “That, for a lady of her good sense and acquired accomplishments, it was to be regretted that Miss Vernon’s manners were rather blunt and rustic.”
“Frank and unreserved, at least, to the extreme,” replied Rashleigh: “yet, trust me, she has an excellent heart. To tell you the truth, should she continue her extreme aversion to the cloister, and to her destined husband, and should my own labours in the mine of Plutus promise to secure me a decent independence, I shall think of reviewing our acquaintance and sharing it with Miss Vernon.”
“With all his fine voice, and well-turned periods,” thought I, “this same Rashleigh Osbaldistone is the ugliest and most conceited coxcomb I ever met with!”
“But,” continued Rashleigh, as if thinking aloud, “I should not like to supplant Thorncliff.”
“Supplant Thorncliff!—Is your brother Thorncliff,” I inquired, with great surprise, “the destined husband of Diana Vernon?”
“Why, ay, her father’s commands, and a certain family-contract, destined her to marry one of Sir Hildebrand’s sons. A dispensation has been obtained from Rome to Diana Vernon to marry Blank Osbaldistone, Esq., son of Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone, of Osbaldistone Hall, Bart., and so forth; and it only remains to pitch upon the happy man whose name shall fill the gap in the manuscript. Now, as Percie is seldom sober, my father pitched on Thorncliff, as the second prop of the family, and therefore most proper to carry on the line of the Osbaldistones.”
“The young lady,” said I, forcing myself to assume an air of pleasantry, which, I believe, became me extremely ill, “would perhaps have been inclined to look a little lower on the family-tree, for the branch to which she was desirous of clinging.”
“I cannot say,” he replied. “There is room for little choice in our family; Dick is a gambler, John a boor, and Wilfred an ass. I believe my father really made the best selection for poor Die, after all.”
“The present company,” said I, “being always excepted.”
“Oh, my destination to the church placed me out of the question; otherwise I will not affect to say, that, qualified by my education both to instruct and guide Miss Vernon, I might not have been a more creditable choice than any of my elders.”
“And so thought the young lady, doubtless?”
“You are not to suppose so,” answered Rashleigh, with an affectation of denial which was contrived to convey the strongest affirmation the case admitted of: “friendship—only friendship—formed the tie betwixt us, and the tender affection of an opening mind to its only instructor—Love came not near us—I told you I was wise in time.”
I felt little inclination to pursue this conversation any farther, and shaking myself clear of Rashleigh, withdrew to my own apartment, which I recollect I traversed with much vehemence of agitation, repeating aloud the expressions which had most offended me.—“Susceptible—ardent—tender affection—Love—Diana Vernon, the most beautiful creature I ever beheld, in love with him, the bandy-legged, bull-necked, limping scoundrel! Richard the Third in all but his hump-back!—And yet the opportunities he must have had during his cursed course of lectures; and the fellow’s flowing and easy strain of sentiment; and her extreme seclusion from every one who spoke and acted with common sense; ay, and her obvious pique at him, mixed with admiration of his talents, which looked as like the result of neglected attachment as anything else—Well, and what is it to me, that I should storm and rage at it? Is Diana Vernon the first pretty girl that has loved and married an ugly fellow? And if she were free of every Osbaldistone of them, what concern is it of mine?—a Catholic—a Jacobite—a termagant into the boot—for me to look that way were utter madness.”
By throwing such reflections on the flame of my displeasure, I subdued it into a sort of smouldering heart-burning, and appeared at the dinner-table in as sulky a humour as could well be imagined.