Bardolph.—The sheriff, with a monstrous watch, is at the door. Henry IV. First Part.
I found out with some difficulty the apartment which was destined for my accommodation; and having secured myself the necessary good-will and attention from my uncle’s domestics, by using the means they were most capable of comprehending, I secluded myself there for the remainder of the evening, conjecturing, from the fair way in which I had left my new relatives, as well as from the distant noise which continued to echo from the stone-hall (as their banqueting-room was called), that they were not likely to be fitting company for a sober man.
“What could my father mean by sending me to be an inmate in this strange family?” was my first and most natural reflection. My uncle, it was plain, received me as one who was to make some stay with him, and his rude hospitality rendered him as indifferent as King Hal to the number of those who fed at his cost. But it was plain my presence or absence would be of as little importance in his eyes as that of one of his blue-coated serving-men. My cousins were mere cubs, in whose company I might, if I liked it, unlearn whatever decent manners, or elegant accomplishments, I had acquired, but where I could attain no information beyond what regarded worming dogs, rowelling horses, and following foxes. I could only imagine one reason, which was probably the true one. My father considered the life which was led at Osbaldistone Hall as the natural and inevitable pursuits of all country gentlemen, and he was desirous, by giving me an opportunity of seeing that with which he knew I should be disgusted, to reconcile me, if possible, to take an active share in his own business. In the meantime, he would take Rashleigh Osbaldistone into the counting-house. But he had an hundred modes of providing for him, and that advantageously, whenever he chose to get rid of him. So that, although I did feel a certain qualm of conscience at having been the means of introducing Rashleigh, being such as he was described by Miss Vernon, into my father’s business—perhaps into his confidence—I subdued it by the reflection that my father was complete master of his own affairs—a man not to be imposed upon, or influenced by any one—and that all I knew to the young gentleman’s prejudice was through the medium of a singular and giddy girl, whose communications were made with an injudicious frankness, which might warrant me in supposing her conclusions had been hastily or inaccurately formed. Then my mind naturally turned to Miss Vernon herself; her extreme beauty; her very peculiar situation, relying solely upon her reflections, and her own spirit, for guidance and protection; and her whole character offering that variety and spirit which piques our curiosity, and engages our attention in spite of ourselves. I had sense enough to consider the neighbourhood of this singular young lady, and the chance of our being thrown into very close and frequent intercourse, as adding to the dangers, while it relieved the dulness, of Osbaldistone Hall; but I could not, with the fullest exertion of my prudence, prevail upon myself to regret excessively this new and particular hazard to which I was to be exposed. This scruple I also settled as young men settle most difficulties of the kind—I would be very cautious, always on my guard, consider Miss Vernon rather as a companion than an intimate; and all would do well enough. With these reflections I fell asleep, Miss Vernon, of course, forming the last subject of my contemplation.
Whether I dreamed of her or not, I cannot satisfy you, for I was tired and slept soundly. But she was the first person I thought of in the morning, when waked at dawn by the cheerful notes of the hunting horn. To start up, and direct my horse to be saddled, was my first movement; and in a few minutes I was in the court-yard, where men, dogs, and horses, were in full preparation. My uncle, who, perhaps, was not entitled to expect a very alert sportsman in his nephew, bred as he had been in foreign parts, seemed rather surprised to see me, and I thought his morning salutation wanted something of the hearty and hospitable tone which distinguished his first welcome. “Art there, lad?—ay, youth’s aye rathe—but look to thysell—mind the old song, lad—
He that gallops his horse on Blackstone edge
May chance to catch a fall.”
I believe there are few young men, and those very sturdy moralists, who would not rather be taxed with some moral peccadillo than with want of knowledge in horsemanship. As I was by no means deficient either in skill or courage, I resented my uncle’s insinuation accordingly, and assured him he would find me up with the hounds.
“I doubtna, lad,” was his reply; “thou’rt a rank rider, I’se warrant thee—but take heed. Thy father sent thee here to me to be bitted, and I doubt I must ride thee on the curb, or we’ll hae some one to ride thee on the halter, if I takena the better heed.”
As this speech was totally unintelligible to me—as, besides, it did not seem to be delivered for my use, or benefit, but was spoken as it were aside, and as if expressing aloud something which was passing through the mind of my much-honoured uncle, I concluded it must either refer to my desertion of the bottle on the preceding evening, or that my uncle’s morning hours being a little discomposed by the revels of the night before, his temper had suffered in proportion. I only made the passing reflection, that if he played the ungracious landlord, I would remain the shorter while his guest, and then hastened to salute Miss Vernon, who advanced cordially to meet me. Some show of greeting also passed between my cousins and me; but as I saw them maliciously bent upon criticising my dress and accoutrements, from the cap to the stirrup-irons, and sneering at whatever had a new or foreign appearance, I exempted myself from the task of paying them much attention; and assuming, in requital of their grins and whispers, an air of the utmost indifference and contempt, I attached myself to Miss Vernon, as the only person in the party whom I could regard as a suitable companion. By her side, therefore, we sallied forth to the destined cover, which was a dingle or copse on the side of an extensive common. As we rode thither, I observed to Diana, “that I did not see my cousin Rashleigh in the field;” to which she replied,—“O no—he’s a mighty hunter, but it’s after the fashion of Nimrod, and his game is man.”
The dogs now brushed into the cover, with the appropriate encouragement from the hunters—all was business, bustle, and activity. My cousins were soon too much interested in the business of the morning to take any further notice of me, unless that I overheard Dickon the horse-jockey whisper to Wilfred the fool—“Look thou, an our French cousin be nat off a’ first burst.”
To which Wilfred answered, “Like enow, for he has a queer outlandish binding on’s castor.”
Thorncliff, however, who in his rude way seemed not absolutely insensible to the beauty of his kinswoman, appeared determined to keep us company more closely than his brothers,—perhaps to watch what passed betwixt Miss Vernon and me—perhaps to enjoy my expected mishaps in the chase. In the last particular he was disappointed. After beating in vain for the greater part of the morning, a fox was at length found, who led us a chase of two hours, in the course of which, notwithstanding the ill-omened French binding upon my hat, I sustained my character as a horseman to the admiration of my uncle and Miss Vernon, and the secret disappointment of those who expected me to disgrace it. Reynard, however, proved too wily for his pursuers, and the hounds were at fault. I could at this time observe in Miss Vernon’s manner an impatience of the close attendance which we received from Thorncliff Osbaldistone; and, as that active-spirited young lady never hesitated at taking the readiest means to gratify any wish of the moment, she said to him, in a tone of reproach—“I wonder, Thornie, what keeps you dangling at my horse’s crupper all this morning, when you know the earths above Woolverton-mill are not stopt.”
“I know no such an thing then, Miss Die, for the miller swore himself as black as night, that he stopt them at twelve o’clock midnight that was.”
“O fie upon you, Thornie! would you trust to a miller’s word?—and these earths, too, where we lost the fox three times this season! and you on your grey mare, that can gallop there and back in ten minutes!”
“Well, Miss Die, I’se go to Woolverton then, and if the earths are not stopt, I’se raddle Dick the miller’s bones for him.”
“Do, my dear Thornie; horsewhip the rascal to purpose—via—fly away, and about it;”—Thorncliff went off at the gallop—“or get horsewhipt yourself, which will serve my purpose just as well.—I must teach them all discipline and obedience to the word of command. I am raising a regiment, you must know. Thornie shall be my sergeant-major, Dickon my riding-master, and Wilfred, with his deep dub-a-dub tones, that speak but three syllables at a time, my kettle-drummer.”
“Rashleigh shall be my scout-master.” “And will you find no employment for me, most lovely colonel?”
“You shall have the choice of being pay-master, or plunder-master, to the corps. But see how the dogs puzzle about there. Come, Mr. Frank, the scent’s cold; they won’t recover it there this while; follow me, I have a view to show you.”
And in fact, she cantered up to the top of a gentle hill, commanding an extensive prospect. Casting her eyes around, to see that no one was near us, she drew up her horse beneath a few birch-trees, which screened us from the rest of the hunting-field—“Do you see yon peaked, brown, heathy hill, having something like a whitish speck upon the side?”
“Terminating that long ridge of broken moorish uplands?—I see it distinctly.”
“That whitish speck is a rock called Hawkesmore-crag, and Hawkesmore-crag is in Scotland.”
“Indeed! I did not think we had been so near Scotland.”
“It is so, I assure you, and your horse will carry you there in two hours.”
“I shall hardly give him the trouble; why, the distance must be eighteen miles as the crow flies.”
“You may have my mare, if you think her less blown—I say, that in two hours you may be in Scotland.”
“And I say, that I have so little desire to be there, that if my horse’s head were over the Border, I would not give his tail the trouble of following. What should I do in Scotland?”
“Provide for your safety, if I must speak plainly. Do you understand me now, Mr. Frank?”
“Not a whit; you are more and more oracular.”
“Then, on my word, you either mistrust me most unjustly, and are a better dissembler than Rashleigh Osbaldistone himself, or you know nothing of what is imputed to you; and then no wonder you stare at me in that grave manner, which I can scarce see without laughing.”
“Upon my word of honour, Miss Vernon,” said I, with an impatient feeling of her childish disposition to mirth, “I have not the most distant conception of what you mean. I am happy to afford you any subject of amusement, but I am quite ignorant in what it consists.”
“Nay, there’s no sound jest after all,” said the young lady, composing herself; “only one looks so very ridiculous when he is fairly perplexed. But the matter is serious enough. Do you know one Moray, or Morris, or some such name?”
“Not that I can at present recollect.”
“Think a moment. Did you not lately travel with somebody of such a name?”
“The only man with whom I travelled for any length of time was a fellow whose soul seemed to lie in his portmanteau.”
“Then it was like the soul of the licentiate Pedro Garcias, which lay among the ducats in his leathern purse. That man has been robbed, and he has lodged an information against you, as connected with the violence done to him.”
“You jest, Miss Vernon!”
“I do not, I assure you—the thing is an absolute fact.”
“And do you,” said I, with strong indignation, which I did not attempt to suppress, “do you suppose me capable of meriting such a charge?”
“You would call me out for it, I suppose, had I the advantage of being a man—You may do so as it is, if you like it—I can shoot flying, as well as leap a five-barred gate.”
“And are colonel of a regiment of horse besides,” replied I, reflecting how idle it was to be angry with her—“But do explain the present jest to me.”
“There’s no jest whatever,” said Diana; “you are accused of robbing this man, and my uncle believes it as well as I did.”
“Upon my honour, I am greatly obliged to my friends for their good opinion!”
“Now do not, if you can help it, snort, and stare, and snuff the wind, and look so exceedingly like a startled horse—There’s no such offence as you suppose—you are not charged with any petty larceny or vulgar felony—by no means. This fellow was carrying money from Government, both specie and bills, to pay the troops in the north; and it is said he has been also robbed of some despatches of great consequence.”
“And so it is high treason, then, and not simple robbery, of which I am accused!”
“Certainly—which, you know, has been in all ages accounted the crime of a gentleman. You will find plenty in this country, and one not far from your elbow, who think it a merit to distress the Hanoverian government by every means possible.”
“Neither my politics nor my morals, Miss Vernon, are of a description so accommodating.”
“I really begin to believe that you are a Presbyterian and Hanoverian in good earnest. But what do you propose to do?”
“Instantly to refute this atrocious calumny.—Before whom,” I asked, “was this extraordinary accusation laid.”
“Before old Squire Inglewood, who had sufficient unwillingness to receive it. He sent tidings to my uncle, I suppose, that he might smuggle you away into Scotland, out of reach of the warrant. But my uncle is sensible that his religion and old predilections render him obnoxious to Government, and that, were he caught playing booty, he would be disarmed, and probably dismounted (which would be the worse evil of the two), as a Jacobite, papist, and suspected person.” *
* On occasions of public alarm, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, the horses of the Catholics were often seized upon, as they were always supposed to be on the eve of rising in rebellion.
“I can conceive that, sooner than lose his hunters, he would give up his nephew.”
“His nephew, nieces, sons—daughters, if he had them, and whole generation,” said Diana;—“therefore trust not to him, even for a single moment, but make the best of your way before they can serve the warrant.”
“That I shall certainly do; but it shall be to the house of this Squire Inglewood—Which way does it lie?”
“About five miles off, in the low ground, behind yonder plantations—you may see the tower of the clock-house.”
“I will be there in a few minutes,” said I, putting my horse in motion.
“And I will go with you, and show you the way,” said Diana, putting her palfrey also to the trot.
“Do not think of it, Miss Vernon,” I replied. “It is not—permit me the freedom of a friend—it is not proper, scarcely even delicate, in you to go with me on such an errand as I am now upon.”
“I understand your meaning,” said Miss Vernon, a slight blush crossing her haughty brow;—“it is plainly spoken;” and after a moment’s pause she added, “and I believe kindly meant.”
“It is indeed, Miss Vernon. Can you think me insensible of the interest you show me, or ungrateful for it?” said I, with even more earnestness than I could have wished to express. “Yours is meant for true kindness, shown best at the hour of need. But I must not, for your own sake—for the chance of misconstruction—suffer you to pursue the dictates of your generosity; this is so public an occasion—it is almost like venturing into an open court of justice.”
“And if it were not almost, but altogether entering into an open court of justice, do you think I would not go there if I thought it right, and wished to protect a friend? You have no one to stand by you—you are a stranger; and here, in the outskirts of the kingdom, country justices do odd things. My uncle has no desire to embroil himself in your affair; Rashleigh is absent, and were he here, there is no knowing which side he might take; the rest are all more stupid and brutal one than another. I will go with you, and I do not fear being able to serve you. I am no fine lady, to be terrified to death with law-books, hard words, or big wigs.”
“But my dear Miss Vernon”—
“But my dear Mr. Francis, be patient and quiet, and let me take my own way; for when I take the bit between my teeth, there is no bridle will stop me.”
Flattered with the interest so lovely a creature seemed to take in my fate, yet vexed at the ridiculous appearance I should make, by carrying a girl of eighteen along with me as an advocate, and seriously concerned for the misconstruction to which her motives might be exposed, I endeavoured to combat her resolution to accompany me to Squire Inglewood’s. The self-willed girl told me roundly, that my dissuasions were absolutely in vain; that she was a true Vernon, whom no consideration, not even that of being able to do but little to assist him, should induce to abandon a friend in distress; and that all I could say on the subject might be very well for pretty, well-educated, well-behaved misses from a town boarding-school, but did not apply to her, who was accustomed to mind nobody’s opinion but her own.
While she spoke thus, we were advancing hastily towards Inglewood Place, while, as if to divert me from the task of further remonstrance, she drew a ludicrous picture of the magistrate and his clerk.—Inglewood was—according to her description—a white-washed Jacobite; that is, one who, having been long a non-juror, like most of the other gentlemen of the country, had lately qualified himself to act as a justice, by taking the oaths to Government. “He had done so,” she said, “in compliance with the urgent request of most of his brother squires, who saw, with regret, that the palladium of silvan sport, the game-laws, were likely to fall into disuse for want of a magistrate who would enforce them; the nearest acting justice being the Mayor of Newcastle, and he, as being rather inclined to the consumption of the game when properly dressed, than to its preservation when alive, was more partial, of course, to the cause of the poacher than of the sportsman. Resolving, therefore, that it was expedient some one of their number should sacrifice the scruples of Jacobitical loyalty to the good of the community, the Northumbrian country gentlemen imposed the duty on Inglewood, who, being very inert in most of his feelings and sentiments, might, they thought, comply with any political creed without much repugnance. Having thus procured the body of justice, they proceeded,” continued Miss Vernon, “to attach to it a clerk, by way of soul, to direct and animate its movements. Accordingly they got a sharp Newcastle attorney, called Jobson, who, to vary my metaphor, finds it a good thing enough to retail justice at the sign of Squire Inglewood, and, as his own emoluments depend on the quantity of business which he transacts, he hooks in his principal for a great deal more employment in the justice line than the honest squire had ever bargained for; so that no apple-wife within the circuit of ten miles can settle her account with a costermonger without an audience of the reluctant Justice and his alert clerk, Mr. Joseph Jobson. But the most ridiculous scenes occur when affairs come before him, like our business of to-day, having any colouring of politics. Mr. Joseph Jobson (for which, no doubt, he has his own very sufficient reasons) is a prodigious zealot for the Protestant religion, and a great friend to the present establishment in church and state. Now, his principal, retaining a sort of instinctive attachment to the opinions which he professed openly until he relaxed his political creed with the patriotic view of enforcing the law against unauthorized destroyers of black-game, grouse, partridges, and hares, is peculiarly embarrassed when the zeal of his assistant involves him in judicial proceedings connected with his earlier faith; and, instead of seconding his zeal, he seldom fails to oppose to it a double dose of indolence and lack of exertion. And this inactivity does not by any means arise from actual stupidity. On the contrary, for one whose principal delight is in eating and drinking, he is an alert, joyous, and lively old soul, which makes his assumed dulness the more diverting. So you may see Jobson on such occasions, like a bit of a broken down blood-tit condemned to drag an overloaded cart, puffing, strutting, and spluttering, to get the Justice put in motion, while, though the wheels groan, creak, and revolve slowly, the great and preponderating weight of the vehicle fairly frustrates the efforts of the willing quadruped, and prevents its being brought into a state of actual progression. Nay more, the unfortunate pony, I understand, has been heard to complain that this same car of justice, which he finds it so hard to put in motion on some occasions, can on others run fast enough down hill of its own accord, dragging his reluctant self backwards along with it, when anything can be done of service to Squire Inglewood’s quondam friends. And then Mr. Jobson talks big about reporting his principal to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if it were not for his particular regard and friendship for Mr. Inglewood and his family.”
As Miss Vernon concluded this whimsical description, we found ourselves in front of Inglewood Place, a handsome, though old-fashioned building, which showed the consequence of the family.