Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 11

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.

Sir Walter Scott