So stands the Thracian herdsman with his spear Full in the gap, and hopes the hunted bear; And hears him in the rustling wood, and sees His course at distance by the bending trees, And thinks—Here comes my mortal enemy, And either he must fall in fight, or I. Palamon and Arcite.
I took the route towards the college, as recommended by Mr. Jarvie, less with the intention of seeking for any object of interest or amusement, than to arrange my own ideas, and meditate on my future conduct. I wandered from one quadrangle of old-fashioned buildings to another, and from thence to the College-yards, or walking ground, where, pleased with the solitude of the place, most of the students being engaged in their classes, I took several turns, pondering on the waywardness of my own destiny.
I could not doubt, from the circumstances attending my first meeting with this person Campbell, that he was engaged in some strangely desperate courses; and the reluctance with which Mr. Jarvie alluded to his person or pursuits, as well as all the scene of the preceding night, tended to confirm these suspicions. Yet to this man Diana Vernon had not, it would seem, hesitated to address herself in my behalf; and the conduct of the magistrate himself towards him showed an odd mixture of kindness, and even respect, with pity and censure. Something there must be uncommon in Campbell’s situation and character; and what was still more extraordinary, it seemed that his fate was doomed to have influence over, and connection with, my own. I resolved to bring Mr. Jarvie to close quarters on the first proper opportunity, and learn as much as was possible on the subject of this mysterious person, in order that I might judge whether it was possible for me, without prejudice to my reputation, to hold that degree of farther correspondence with him to which he seemed to invite.
While I was musing on these subjects, my attention was attracted by three persons who appeared at the upper end of the walk through which I was sauntering, seemingly engaged in very earnest conversation. That intuitive impression which announces to us the approach of whomsoever we love or hate with intense vehemence, long before a more indifferent eye can recognise their persons, flashed upon my mind the sure conviction that the midmost of these three men was Rashleigh Osbaldistone. To address him was my first impulse;—my second was, to watch him until he was alone, or at least to reconnoitre his companions before confronting him. The party was still at such distance, and engaged in such deep discourse, that I had time to step unobserved to the other side of a small hedge, which imperfectly screened the alley in which I was walking. It was at this period the fashion of the young and gay to wear, in their morning walks, a scarlet cloak, often laced and embroidered, above their other dress, and it was the trick of the time for gallants occasionally to dispose it so as to muffle a part of the face. The imitating this fashion, with the degree of shelter which I received from the hedge, enabled me to meet my cousin, unobserved by him or the others, except perhaps as a passing stranger. I was not a little startled at recognising in his companions that very Morris on whose account I had been summoned before Justice Inglewood, and Mr. MacVittie the merchant, from whose starched and severe aspect I had recoiled on the preceding day.
A more ominous conjunction to my own affairs, and those of my father, could scarce have been formed. I remembered Morris’s false accusation against me, which he might be as easily induced to renew as he had been intimidated to withdraw; I recollected the inauspicious influence of MacVittie over my father’s affairs, testified by the imprisonment of Owen;—and I now saw both these men combined with one, whose talent for mischief I deemed little inferior to those of the great author of all ill, and my abhorrence of whom almost amounted to dread.
When they had passed me for some paces, I turned and followed them unobserved. At the end of the walk they separated, Morris and MacVittie leaving the gardens, and Rashleigh returning alone through the walks. I was now determined to confront him, and demand reparation for the injuries he had done my father, though in what form redress was likely to be rendered remained to be known. This, however, I trusted to chance; and flinging back the cloak in which I was muffled, I passed through a gap of the low hedge, and presented myself before Rashleigh, as, in a deep reverie, he paced down the avenue.
Rashleigh was no man to be surprised or thrown off his guard by sudden occurrences. Yet he did not find me thus close to him, wearing undoubtedly in my face the marks of that indignation which was glowing in my bosom, without visibly starting at an apparition so sudden and menacing.
“You are well met, sir,” was my commencement; “I was about to take a long and doubtful journey in quest of you.”
“You know little of him you sought then,” replied Rashleigh, with his usual undaunted composure. “I am easily found by my friends—still more easily by my foes;—your manner compels me to ask in which class I must rank Mr. Francis Osbaldistone?”
“In that of your foes, sir,” I answered—“in that of your mortal foes, unless you instantly do justice to your benefactor, my father, by accounting for his property.”
“And to whom, Mr. Osbaldistone,” answered Rashleigh, “am I, a member of your father’s commercial establishment, to be compelled to give any account of my proceedings in those concerns, which are in every respect identified with my own?—Surely not to a young gentleman whose exquisite taste for literature would render such discussions disgusting and unintelligible.”
“Your sneer, sir, is no answer; I will not part with you until I have full satisfaction concerning the fraud you meditate—you shall go with me before a magistrate.”
“Be it so,” said Rashleigh, and made a step or two as if to accompany me; then pausing, proceeded—“Were I inclined to do so as you would have me, you should soon feel which of us had most reason to dread the presence of a magistrate. But I have no wish to accelerate your fate. Go, young man! amuse yourself in your world of poetical imaginations, and leave the business of life to those who understand and can conduct it.”
His intention, I believe, was to provoke me, and he succeeded. “Mr. Osbaldistone,” I said, “this tone of calm insolence shall not avail you. You ought to be aware that the name we both bear never submitted to insult, and shall not in my person be exposed to it.”
“You remind me,” said Rashleigh, with one of his blackest looks, “that it was dishonoured in my person!—and you remind me also by whom! Do you think I have forgotten the evening at Osbaldistone Hall when you cheaply and with impunity played the bully at my expense? For that insult—never to be washed out but by blood!—for the various times you have crossed my path, and always to my prejudice—for the persevering folly with which you seek to traverse schemes, the importance of which you neither know nor are capable of estimating,—for all these, sir, you owe me a long account, for which there shall come an early day of reckoning.”
“Let it come when it will,” I replied, “I shall be willing and ready to meet it. Yet you seem to have forgotten the heaviest article—that I had the pleasure to aid Miss Vernon’s good sense and virtuous feeling in extricating her from your infamous toils.”
I think his dark eyes flashed actual fire at this home-taunt, and yet his voice retained the same calm expressive tone with which he had hitherto conducted the conversation.
“I had other views with respect to you, young man,” was his answer: “less hazardous for you, and more suitable to my present character and former education. But I see you will draw on yourself the personal chastisement your boyish insolence so well merits. Follow me to a more remote spot, where we are less likely to be interrupted.”
I followed him accordingly, keeping a strict eye on his motions, for I believed him capable of the very worst actions. We reached an open spot in a sort of wilderness, laid out in the Dutch taste, with clipped hedges, and one or two statues. I was on my guard, and it was well with me that I was so; for Rashleigh’s sword was out and at my breast ere I could throw down my cloak, or get my weapon unsheathed, so that I only saved my life by springing a pace or two backwards. He had some advantage in the difference of our weapons; for his sword, as I recollect, was longer than mine, and had one of those bayonet or three-cornered blades which are now generally worn; whereas mine was what we then called a Saxon blade—narrow, flat, and two-edged, and scarcely so manageable as that of my enemy. In other respects we were pretty equally matched: for what advantage I might possess in superior address and agility, was fully counterbalanced by Rashleigh’s great strength and coolness. He fought, indeed, more like a fiend than a man—with concentrated spite and desire of blood, only allayed by that cool consideration which made his worst actions appear yet worse from the air of deliberate premeditation which seemed to accompany them. His obvious malignity of purpose never for a moment threw him off his guard, and he exhausted every feint and stratagem proper to the science of defence; while, at the same time, he meditated the most desperate catastrophe to our rencounter.
On my part, the combat was at first sustained with more moderation. My passions, though hasty, were not malevolent; and the walk of two or three minutes’ space gave me time to reflect that Rashleigh was my father’s nephew, the son of an uncle, who after his fashion had been kind to me, and that his falling by my hand could not but occasion much family distress. My first resolution, therefore, was to attempt to disarm my antagonist—a manoeuvre in which, confiding in my superiority of skill and practice, I anticipated little difficulty. I found, however, I had met my match; and one or two foils which I received, and from the consequences of which I narrowly escaped, obliged me to observe more caution in my mode of fighting. By degrees I became exasperated at the rancour with which Rashleigh sought my life, and returned his passes with an inveteracy resembling in some degree his own; so that the combat had all the appearance of being destined to have a tragic issue. That issue had nearly taken place at my expense. My foot slipped in a full lounge which I made at my adversary, and I could not so far recover myself as completely to parry the thrust with which my pass was repaid. Yet it took but partial effect, running through my waistcoat, grazing my ribs, and passing through my coat behind. The hilt of Rashleigh’s sword, so great was the vigour of his thrust, struck against my breast with such force as to give me great pain, and confirm me in the momentary belief that I was mortally wounded. Eager for revenge, I grappled with my enemy, seizing with my left hand the hilt of his sword, and shortening my own with the purpose of running him through the body. Our death-grapple was interrupted by a man who forcibly threw himself between us, and pushing us separate from each other, exclaimed, in a loud and commanding voice, “What! the sons of those fathers who sucked the same breast shedding each others bluid as it were strangers’!—By the hand of my father, I will cleave to the brisket the first man that mints another stroke!”
I looked up in astonishment. The speaker was no other than Campbell. He had a basket-hilted broadsword drawn in his hand, which he made to whistle around his head as he spoke, as if for the purpose of enforcing his mediation. Rashleigh and I stared in silence at this unexpected intruder, who proceeded to exhort us alternately:—“Do you, Maister Francis, opine that ye will re-establish your father’s credit by cutting your kinsman’s thrapple, or getting your ain sneckit instead thereof in the College-yards of Glasgow?—Or do you, Mr Rashleigh, think men will trust their lives and fortunes wi’ ane, that, when in point of trust and in point of confidence wi’ a great political interest, gangs about brawling like a drunken gillie?—Nay, never look gash or grim at me, man—if ye’re angry, ye ken how to turn the buckle o’ your belt behind you.”
“You presume on my present situation,” replied Rashleigh, “or you would have hardly dared to interfere where my honour is concerned.”
“Hout! tout! tout!—Presume? And what for should it be presuming?—Ye may be the richer man, Mr. Osbaldistone, as is maist likely; and ye may be the mair learned man, whilk I dispute not: but I reckon ye are neither a prettier man nor a better gentleman than mysell—and it will be news to me when I hear ye are as gude. And dare too? Muckle daring there’s about it—I trow, here I stand, that hae slashed as het a haggis as ony o’ the twa o’ ye, and thought nae muckle o’ my morning’s wark when it was dune. If my foot were on the heather as it’s on the causeway, or this pickle gravel, that’s little better, I hae been waur mistrysted than if I were set to gie ye baith your ser’ing o’t.”
Rashleigh had by this time recovered his temper completely. “My kinsman,” he said, “will acknowledge he forced this quarrel on me. It was none of my seeking. I am glad we are interrupted before I chastised his forwardness more severely.”
“Are ye hurt, lad?” inquired Campbell of me, with some appearance of interest.
“A very slight scratch,” I answered, “which my kind cousin would not long have boasted of had not you come between us.”
“In troth, and that’s true, Maister Rashleigh,” said Campbell; “for the cauld iron and your best bluid were like to hae become acquaint when I mastered Mr. Frank’s right hand. But never look like a sow playing upon a trump for the luve of that, man—come and walk wi’ me. I hae news to tell ye, and ye’ll cool and come to yourself, like MacGibbon’s crowdy, when he set it out at the window-bole.”
“Pardon me, sir,” said I. “Your intentions have seemed friendly to me on more occasions than one; but I must not, and will not, quit sight of this person until he yields up to me those means of doing justice to my father’s engagements, of which he has treacherously possessed himself.”
“Ye’re daft, man,” replied Campbell; “it will serve ye naething to follow us e’enow; ye hae just enow o’ ae man—wad ye bring twa on your head, and might bide quiet?”
“Twenty,” I replied, “if it be necessary.”
I laid my hand on Rashleigh’s collar, who made no resistance, but said, with a sort of scornful smile, “You hear him, MacGregor! he rushes on his fate—will it be my fault if he falls into it?—The warrants are by this time ready, and all is prepared.”
The Scotchman was obviously embarrassed. He looked around, and before, and behind him, and then said—“The ne’er a bit will I yield my consent to his being ill-guided for standing up for the father that got him—and I gie God’s malison and mine to a’ sort o’ magistrates, justices, bailies., sheriffs, sheriff-officers, constables, and sic-like black cattle, that hae been the plagues o’ puir auld Scotland this hunder year.—it was a merry warld when every man held his ain gear wi’ his ain grip, and when the country side wasna fashed wi’ warrants and poindings and apprizings, and a’ that cheatry craft. And ance mair I say it, my conscience winna see this puir thoughtless lad ill-guided, and especially wi’ that sort o’ trade. I wad rather ye fell till’t again, and fought it out like douce honest men.”
“Your conscience, MacGregor!” said Rashleigh; “you forget how long you and I have known each other.”
“Yes, my conscience,” reiterated Campbell, or MacGregor, or whatever was his name; “I hae such a thing about me, Maister Osbaldistone; and therein it may weel chance that I hae the better o’ you. As to our knowledge of each other,—if ye ken what I am, ye ken what usage it was made me what I am; and, whatever you may think, I would not change states with the proudest of the oppressors that hae driven me to tak the heather-bush for a beild. What you are, Maister Rashleigh, and what excuse ye hae for being what you are, is between your ain heart and the lang day.—And now, Maister Francis, let go his collar; for he says truly, that ye are in mair danger from a magistrate than he is, and were your cause as straight as an arrow, he wad find a way to put you wrang—So let go his craig, as I was saying.”
He seconded his words with an effort so sudden and unexpected, that he freed Rashleigh from my hold, and securing me, notwithstanding my struggles, in his own Herculean gripe, he called out—“Take the bent, Mr. Rashleigh—Make ae pair o’ legs worth twa pair o’ hands; ye hae dune that before now.”
“You may thank this gentleman, kinsman,” said Rashleigh, “if I leave any part of my debt to you unpaid; and if I quit you now, it is only in the hope we shall soon meet again without the possibility of interruption.”
He took up his sword, wiped it, sheathed it, and was lost among the bushes.
The Scotchman, partly by force, partly by remonstrance, prevented my following him; indeed I began to be of opinion my doing so would be to little purpose.
“As I live by bread,” said Campbell, when, after one or two struggles in which he used much forbearance towards me, he perceived me inclined to stand quiet, “I never saw sae daft a callant! I wad hae gien the best man in the country the breadth o’ his back gin he had gien me sic a kemping as ye hae dune. What wad ye do?—Wad ye follow the wolf to his den? I tell ye, man, he has the auld trap set for ye—He has got the collector-creature Morris to bring up a’ the auld story again, and ye maun look for nae help frae me here, as ye got at Justice Inglewood’s;—it isna good for my health to come in the gate o’ the whigamore bailie bodies. Now gang your ways hame, like a gude bairn—jouk and let the jaw gae by—Keep out o’ sight o’ Rashleigh, and Morris, and that MacVittie animal—Mind the Clachan of Aberfoil, as I said before, and by the word of a gentleman, I wunna see ye wranged. But keep a calm sough till we meet again—I maun gae and get Rashleigh out o’ the town afore waur comes o’t, for the neb o’ him’s never out o’ mischief—Mind the Clachan of Aberfoil.”
He turned upon his heel, and left me to meditate on the singular events which had befallen me. My first care was to adjust my dress and reassume my cloak, disposing it so as to conceal the blood which flowed down my right side. I had scarcely accomplished this, when, the classes of the college being dismissed, the gardens began to be filled with parties of the students. I therefore left them as soon as possible; and in my way towards Mr. Jarvie’s, whose dinner hour was now approaching, I stopped at a small unpretending shop, the sign of which intimated the indweller to be Christopher Neilson, surgeon and apothecary. I requested of a little boy who was pounding some stuff in a mortar, that he would procure me an audience of this learned pharmacopolist. He opened the door of the back shop, where I found a lively elderly man, who shook his head incredulously at some idle account I gave him of having been wounded accidentally by the button breaking off my antagonist’s foil while I was engaged in a fencing match. When he had applied some lint and somewhat else he thought proper to the trifling wound I had received, he observed—“There never was button on the foil that made this hurt. Ah! young blood! young blood!—But we surgeons are a secret generation—If it werena for hot blood and ill blood, what wad become of the twa learned faculties?”
With which moral reflection he dismissed me; and I experienced very little pain or inconvenience afterwards from the scratch I had received.