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Chapter 5

How melts my beating heart as I behold
Each lovely nymph, our island's boast and pride,
Push on the generous steed, that sweeps along
O'er rough, o'er smooth, nor heeds the steepy hill,
Nor falters in the extended vale below!
The Chase.

I approached my native north, for such I esteemed it, with that
enthusiasm which romantic and wild scenery inspires in the lovers of
nature. No longer interrupted by the babble of my companion, I could now
remark the difference which the country exhibited from that through which
I had hitherto travelled. The streams now more properly deserved the
name, for, instead of slumbering stagnant among reeds and willows, they
brawled along beneath the shade of natural copsewood; were now hurried
down declivities, and now purled more leisurely, but still in active
motion, through little lonely valleys, which, opening on the road from
time to time, seemed to invite the traveller to explore their recesses.
The Cheviots rose before me in frowning majesty; not, indeed, with the
sublime variety of rock and cliff which characterizes mountains of the
primary class but huge, round-headed, and clothed with a dark robe of
russet, gaining, by their extent and desolate appearance, an influence
upon the imagination, as a desert district possessing a character of its
own.

The abode of my fathers, which I was now approaching, was situated in a
glen, or narrow valley, which ran up among those hills. Extensive
estates, which once belonged to the family of Osbaldistone, had been long
dissipated by the misfortunes or misconduct of my ancestors; but enough
was still attached to the old mansion, to give my uncle the title of a
man of large property. This he employed (as I was given to understand by
some inquiries which I made on the road) in maintaining the prodigal
hospitality of a northern squire of the period, which he deemed essential
to his family dignity.

From the summit of an eminence I had already had a distant view of
Osbaldistone Hall, a large and antiquated edifice, peeping out from a
Druidical grove of huge oaks; and I was directing my course towards it,
as straightly and as speedily as the windings of a very indifferent road
would permit, when my horse, tired as he was, pricked up his ears at the
enlivening notes of a pack of hounds in full cry, cheered by the
occasional bursts of a French horn, which in those days was a constant
accompaniment to the chase. I made no doubt that the pack was my uncle's,
and drew up my horse with the purpose of suffering the hunters to pass
without notice, aware that a hunting-field was not the proper scene to
introduce myself to a keen sportsman, and determined when they had passed
on, to proceed to the mansion-house at my own pace, and there to await
the return of the proprietor from his sport. I paused, therefore, on a
rising ground, and, not unmoved by the sense of interest which that
species of silvan sport is so much calculated to inspire (although my
mind was not at the moment very accessible to impressions of this
nature), I expected with some eagerness the appearance of the huntsmen.

The fox, hard run, and nearly spent, first made his appearance from the
copse which clothed the right-hand side of the valley. His drooping
brush, his soiled appearance, and jaded trot, proclaimed his fate
impending; and the carrion crow, which hovered over him, already
considered poor Reynard as soon to be his prey. He crossed the stream
which divides the little valley, and was dragging himself up a ravine on
the other side of its wild banks, when the headmost hounds, followed by
the rest of the pack in full cry, burst from the coppice, followed by the
huntsman and three or four riders. The dogs pursued the trace of Reynard
with unerring instinct; and the hunters followed with reckless haste,
regardless of the broken and difficult nature of the ground. They were
tall, stout young men, well mounted, and dressed in green and red, the
uniform of a sporting association, formed under the auspices of old Sir
Hildebrand Osbaldistone.--"My cousins!" thought I, as they swept past me.
The next reflection was, what is my reception likely to be among these
worthy successors of Nimrod? and how improbable is it that I, knowing
little or nothing of rural sports, shall find myself at ease, or happy,
in my uncle's family. A vision that passed me interrupted these
reflections.

It was a young lady, the loveliness of whose very striking features was
enhanced by the animation of the chase and the glow of the exercise,
mounted on a beautiful horse, jet black, unless where he was flecked by
spots of the snow-white foam which embossed his bridle. She wore, what
was then somewhat unusual, a coat, vest, and hat, resembling those of a
man, which fashion has since called a riding habit. The mode had been
introduced while I was in France, and was perfectly new to me. Her long
black hair streamed on the breeze, having in the hurry of the chase
escaped from the ribbon which bound it. Some very broken ground, through
which she guided her horse with the most admirable address and presence
of mind, retarded her course, and brought her closer to me than any of
the other riders had passed. I had, therefore, a full view of her
uncommonly fine face and person, to which an inexpressible charm was
added by the wild gaiety of the scene, and the romance of her singular
dress and unexpected appearance. As she passed me, her horse made, in his
impetuosity, an irregular movement, just while, coming once more upon
open ground, she was again putting him to his speed. It served as an
apology for me to ride close up to her, as if to her assistance. There
was, however, no cause for alarm; it was not a stumble, nor a false step;
and, if it had, the fair Amazon had too much self-possession to have been
deranged by it. She thanked my good intentions, however, by a smile, and
I felt encouraged to put my horse to the same pace, and to keep in her
immediate neighbourhood. The clamour of "Whoop! dead! dead!"--and the
corresponding flourish of the French horn, soon announced to us that
there was no more occasion for haste, since the chase was at a close. One
of the young men whom we had seen approached us, waving the brush of the
fox in triumph, as if to upbraid my fair companion,

"I see," she replied,--"I see; but make no noise about it: if Phoebe,"
she said, patting the neck of the beautiful animal on which she rode,
"had not got among the cliffs, you would have had little cause for
boasting."

They met as she spoke, and I observed them both look at me, and converse
a moment in an under-tone, the young lady apparently pressing the
sportsman to do something which he declined shyly, and with a sort of
sheepish sullenness. She instantly turned her horse's head towards me,
saying,--"Well, well, Thornie, if you won't, I must, that's all.--Sir,"
she continued, addressing me, "I have been endeavouring to persuade this
cultivated young gentleman to make inquiry of you whether, in the course
of your travels in these parts, you have heard anything of a friend of
ours, one Mr. Francis Osbaldistone, who has been for some days expected
at Osbaldistone Hall?"

I was too happy to acknowledge myself to be the party inquired after, and
to express my thanks for the obliging inquiries of the young lady.

"In that case, sir," she rejoined, "as my kinsman's politeness seems to
be still slumbering, you will permit me (though I suppose it is highly
improper) to stand mistress of ceremonies, and to present to you young
Squire Thorncliff Osbaldistone, your cousin, and Die Vernon, who has also
the honour to be your accomplished cousin's poor kinswoman."

There was a mixture of boldness, satire, and simplicity in the manner in
which Miss Vernon pronounced these words. My knowledge of life was
sufficient to enable me to take up a corresponding tone as I expressed my
gratitude to her for her condescension, and my extreme pleasure at having
met with them. To say the truth, the compliment was so expressed, that
the lady might easily appropriate the greater share of it, for Thorncliff
seemed an arrant country bumpkin, awkward, shy, and somewhat sulky
withal. He shook hands with me, however, and then intimated his intention
of leaving me that he might help the huntsman and his brothers to couple
up the hounds,--a purpose which he rather communicated by way of
information to Miss Vernon than as apology to me.

"There he goes," said the young lady, following him with eyes in which
disdain was admirably painted--"the prince of grooms and cock-fighters,
and blackguard horse-coursers. But there is not one of them to mend
another.--Have you read Markham?" said Miss Vernon.

"Read whom, ma'am?--I do not even remember the author's name."

"O lud! on what a strand are you wrecked!" replied the young lady. "A
poor forlorn and ignorant stranger, unacquainted with the very Alcoran of
the savage tribe whom you are come to reside among--Never to have heard
of Markham, the most celebrated author on farriery! then I fear you are
equally a stranger to the more modern names of Gibson and Bartlett?"

"I am, indeed, Miss Vernon."

"And do you not blush to own it?" said Miss Vernon. "Why, we must
forswear your alliance. Then, I suppose, you can neither give a ball, nor
a mash, nor a horn!"

"I confess I trust all these matters to an ostler, or to my groom."

"Incredible carelessness!--And you cannot shoe a horse, or cut his mane
and tail; or worm a dog, or crop his ears, or cut his dew-claws; or
reclaim a hawk, or give him his casting-stones, or direct his diet when
he is sealed; or"--

"To sum up my insignificance in one word," replied I, "I am profoundly
ignorant in all these rural accomplishments."

"Then, in the name of Heaven, Mr. Francis Osbaldistone, what _can_ you
do?"

"Very little to the purpose, Miss Vernon; something, however, I can
pretend to--When my groom has dressed my horse I can ride him, and when
my hawk is in the field, I can fly him."

"Can you do this?" said the young lady, putting her horse to a canter.

There was a sort of rude overgrown fence crossed the path before us, with
a gate composed of pieces of wood rough from the forest; I was about to
move forward to open it, when Miss Vernon cleared the obstruction at a
flying leap. I was bound in point of honour to follow, and was in a
moment again at her side. "There are hopes of you yet," she said. "I was
afraid you had been a very degenerate Osbaldistone. But what on earth
brings you to Cub-Castle?--for so the neighbours have christened this
hunting-hall of ours. You might have stayed away, I suppose, if you
would?"

I felt I was by this time on a very intimate footing with my beautiful
apparition, and therefore replied, in a confidential under-tone--"Indeed,
my dear Miss Vernon, I might have considered it as a sacrifice to be a
temporary resident in Osbaldistone Hall, the inmates being such as you
describe them; but I am convinced there is one exception that will make
amends for all deficiencies."

"O, you mean Rashleigh?" said Miss Vernon.

"Indeed I do not; I was thinking--forgive me--of some person much nearer
me."

"I suppose it would be proper not to understand your civility?--But that
is not my way--I don't make a courtesy for it because I am sitting on
horseback. But, seriously, I deserve your exception, for I am the only
conversable being about the Hall, except the old priest and Rashleigh."

"And who is Rashleigh, for Heaven's sake?"

"Rashleigh is one who would fain have every one like him for his own
sake. He is Sir Hildebrand's youngest son--about your own age, but not
so--not well looking, in short. But nature has given him a mouthful of
common sense, and the priest has added a bushelful of learning; he is
what we call a very clever man in this country, where clever men are
scarce. Bred to the church, but in no hurry to take orders."

"To the Catholic Church?"

"The Catholic Church? what Church else?" said the young lady. "But I
forgot--they told me you are a heretic. Is that true, Mr. Osbaldistone?"

"I must not deny the charge."

"And yet you have been abroad, and in Catholic countries?"

"For nearly four years."

"You have seen convents?"

"Often; but I have not seen much in them which recommended the Catholic
religion."

"Are not the inhabitants happy?"

"Some are unquestionably so, whom either a profound sense of devotion, or
an experience of the persecutions and misfortunes of the world, or a
natural apathy of temper, has led into retirement. Those who have adopted
a life of seclusion from sudden and overstrained enthusiasm, or in hasty
resentment of some disappointment or mortification, are very miserable.
The quickness of sensation soon returns, and like the wilder animals in a
menagerie, they are restless under confinement, while others muse or
fatten in cells of no larger dimensions than theirs."

"And what," continued Miss Vernon, "becomes of those victims who are
condemned to a convent by the will of others? what do they resemble?
especially, what do they resemble, if they are born to enjoy life, and
feel its blessings?"

"They are like imprisoned singing-birds," replied I, "condemned to wear
out their lives in confinement, which they try to beguile by the exercise
of accomplishments which would have adorned society had they been left at
large."

"I shall be," returned Miss Vernon--"that is," said she, correcting
herself--"I should be rather like the wild hawk, who, barred the free
exercise of his soar through heaven, will dash himself to pieces against
the bars of his cage. But to return to Rashleigh," said she, in a more
lively tone, "you will think him the pleasantest man you ever saw in your
life, Mr. Osbaldistone,--that is, for a week at least. If he could find
out a blind mistress, never man would be so secure of conquest; but the
eye breaks the spell that enchants the ear.--But here we are in the court
of the old hall, which looks as wild and old-fashioned as any of its
inmates. There is no great toilette kept at Osbaldistone Hall, you must
know; but I must take off these things, they are so unpleasantly
warm,--and the hat hurts my forehead, too," continued the lively girl,
taking it off, and shaking down a profusion of sable ringlets, which,
half laughing, half blushing, she separated with her white slender
fingers, in order to clear them away from her beautiful face and
piercing hazel eyes. If there was any coquetry in the action, it was
well disguised by the careless indifference of her manner. I could not
help saying, "that, judging of the family from what I saw, I should
suppose the toilette a very unnecessary care."

"That's very politely said--though, perhaps, I ought not to understand in
what sense it was meant," replied Miss Vernon; "but you will see a better
apology for a little negligence when you meet the Orsons you are to live
amongst, whose forms no toilette could improve. But, as I said before,
the old dinner-bell will clang, or rather clank, in a few minutes--it
cracked of its own accord on the day of the landing of King Willie, and
my uncle, respecting its prophetic talent, would never permit it to be
mended. So do you hold my palfrey, like a duteous knight, until I send
some more humble squire to relieve you of the charge."

She threw me the rein as if we had been acquainted from our childhood,
jumped from her saddle, tripped across the courtyard, and entered at a
side-door, leaving me in admiration of her beauty, and astonished with
the over-frankness of her manners, which seemed the more extraordinary at
a time when the dictates of politeness, flowing from the court of the
Grand Monarque Louis XIV., prescribed to the fair sex an unusual severity
of decorum. I was left awkwardly enough stationed in the centre of the
court of the old hall, mounted on one horse, and holding another in my
hand.

The building afforded little to interest a stranger, had I been disposed
to consider it attentively; the sides of the quadrangle were of various
architecture, and with their stone-shafted latticed windows, projecting
turrets, and massive architraves, resembled the inside of a convent, or
of one of the older and less splendid colleges of Oxford. I called for a
domestic, but was for some time totally unattended to; which was the more
provoking, as I could perceive I was the object of curiosity to several
servants, both male and female, from different parts of the building, who
popped out their heads and withdrew them, like rabbits in a warren,
before I could make a direct appeal to the attention of any individual.
The return of the huntsmen and hounds relieved me from my embarrassment,
and with some difficulty I got one down to relieve me of the charge of
the horses, and another stupid boor to guide me to the presence of Sir
Hildebrand. This service he performed with much such grace and good-will,
as a peasant who is compelled to act as guide to a hostile patrol; and in
the same manner I was obliged to guard against his deserting me in the
labyrinth of low vaulted passages which conducted to "Stun Hall," as he
called it, where I was to be introduced to the gracious presence of my
uncle.

We did, however, at length reach a long vaulted room, floored with stone,
where a range of oaken tables, of a weight and size too massive ever to
be moved aside, were already covered for dinner. This venerable
apartment, which had witnessed the feasts of several generations of the
Osbaldistone family, bore also evidence of their success in field sports.
Huge antlers of deer, which might have been trophies of the hunting of
Chevy Chace, were ranged around the walls, interspersed with the stuffed
skins of badgers, otters, martins, and other animals of the chase. Amidst
some remnants of old armour, which had, perhaps, served against the
Scotch, hung the more valued weapons of silvan war, cross-bows, guns of
various device and construction, nets, fishing-rods, otter-spears,
hunting-poles, with many other singular devices, and engines for taking
or killing game. A few old pictures, dimmed with smoke, and stained with
March beer, hung on the walls, representing knights and ladies, honoured,
doubtless, and renowned in their day; those frowning fearfully from huge
bushes of wig and of beard; and these looking delightfully with all their
might at the roses which they brandished in their hands.

I had just time to give a glance at these matters, when about twelve
blue-coated servants burst into the hall with much tumult and talk, each
rather employed in directing his comrades than in discharging his own
duty. Some brought blocks and billets to the fire, which roared, blazed,
and ascended, half in smoke, half in flame, up a huge tunnel, with an
opening wide enough to accommodate a stone seat within its ample vault,
and which was fronted, by way of chimney-piece, with a huge piece of
heavy architecture, where the monsters of heraldry, embodied by the art
of some Northumbrian chisel, grinned and ramped in red free-stone, now
japanned by the smoke of centuries. Others of these old-fashioned
serving-men bore huge smoking dishes, loaded with substantial fare;
others brought in cups, flagons, bottles, yea barrels of liquor. All
tramped, kicked, plunged, shouldered, and jostled, doing as little
service with as much tumult as could well be imagined. At length, while
the dinner was, after various efforts, in the act of being arranged upon
the board, "the clamour much of men and dogs," the cracking of whips,
calculated for the intimidation of the latter, voices loud and high,
steps which, impressed by the heavy-heeled boots of the period, clattered
like those in the statue of the _Festin de Pierre,_* announced the
arrival of those for whose benefit the preparations were made.

* Now called Don Juan.

The hubbub among the servants rather increased than diminished as this
crisis approached. Some called to make haste,--others to take
time,--some exhorted to stand out of the way, and make room for Sir
Hildebrand and the young squires,--some to close round the table and be
_in_ the way,--some bawled to open, some to shut, a pair of
folding-doors which divided the hall from a sort of gallery, as I
afterwards learned, or withdrawing-room, fitted up with black wainscot.
Opened the doors were at length, and in rushed curs and men,--eight
dogs, the domestic chaplain, the village doctor, my six cousins, and my
uncle.

Sir Walter Scott