Glen Discovery in GlenLyon
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Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott vol i Chapter eleventh

Project Gutenberg's Rob Roy, Complete, by Sir Walter Scott

  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.”v “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.


  Drunk?--and speak parrot?--and squabble?--swagger?--
Swear?--and discourse fustian with one's own shadow?

I have already told you, my dear Tresham, what probably was no news to you, that my principal fault was an unconquerable pitch of pride, which exposed me to frequent mortification. I had not even whispered to myself that I loved Diana Vernon; yet no sooner did I hear Rashleigh talk of her as a prize which he might stoop to carry off, or neglect, at his pleasure, than every step which the poor girl had taken, in the innocence and openness of her heart, to form a sort of friendship with me, seemed in my eyes the most insulting coquetry.--“Soh! she would secure me as a _pis aller,_ I suppose, in case Mr. Rashleigh Osbaldistone should not take compassion upon her! But I will satisfy her that I am not a person to be trepanned in that manner--I will make her sensible that I see through her arts, and that I scorn them.”

I did not reflect for a moment, that all this indignation, which I had no right whatever to entertain, proved that I was anything but indifferent to Miss Vernon's charms; and I sate down to table in high ill-humour with her and all the daughters of Eve.

Miss Vernon heard me, with surprise, return ungracious answers to one or two playful strokes of satire which she threw out with her usual freedom of speech; but, having no suspicion that offence was meant, she only replied to my rude repartees with jests somewhat similar, but polished by her good temper, though pointed by her wit. At length she perceived I was really out of humour, and answered one of my rude speeches thus:--

“They say, Mr. Frank, that one may gather sense from fools--I heard cousin Wilfred refuse to play any longer at cudgels the other day with cousin Thornie, because cousin Thornie got angry, and struck harder than the rules of amicable combat, it seems, permitted. 'Were I to break your head in good earnest,' quoth honest Wilfred, 'I care not how angry you are, for I should do it so much the more easily but it's hard I should get raps over the costard, and only pay you back in make-believes'--Do you understand the moral of this, Frank?”

“I have never felt myself under the necessity, madam, of studying how to extract the slender portion of sense with which this family season their conversation.”

“Necessity! and madam!--You surprise me, Mr. Osbaldistone.”

“I am unfortunate in doing so.”

“Am I to suppose that this capricious tone is serious? or is it only assumed, to make your good-humour more valuable?”

“You have a right to the attention of so many gentlemen in this family, Miss Vernon, that it cannot be worth your while to inquire into the cause of my stupidity and bad spirits.”

“What!” she said, “am I to understand, then, that you have deserted my faction, and gone over to the enemy?”

Then, looking across the table, and observing that Rashleigh, who was seated opposite, was watching us with a singular expression of interest on his harsh features, she continued--

  “Horrible thought!--Ay, now I see 'tis true,
For the grim-visaged Rashleigh smiles on me,
And points at thee for his!--


Well, thank Heaven, and the unprotected state which has taught me endurance, I do not take offence easily; and that I may not be forced to quarrel, whether I like it or no, I have the honour, earlier than usual, to wish you a happy digestion of your dinner and your bad humour.”

And she left the table accordingly.

Upon Miss Vernon's departure, I found myself very little satisfied with my own conduct. I had hurled back offered kindness, of which circumstances had but lately pointed out the honest sincerity, and I had but just stopped short of insulting the beautiful, and, as she had said with some emphasis, the unprotected being by whom it was proffered. My conduct seemed brutal in my own eyes. To combat or drown these painful reflections, I applied myself more frequently than usual to the wine which circulated on the table.

The agitated state of my feelings combined with my habits of temperance to give rapid effect to the beverage. Habitual topers, I believe, acquire the power of soaking themselves with a quantity of liquor that does little more than muddy those intellects which in their sober state are none of the clearest; but men who are strangers to the vice of drunkenness as a habit, are more powerfully acted upon by intoxicating liquors. My spirits, once aroused, became extravagant; I talked a great deal, argued upon what I knew nothing of, told stories of which I forgot the point, then laughed immoderately at my own forgetfulness; I accepted several bets without having the least judgment; I challenged the giant John to wrestle with me, although he had kept the ring at Hexham for a year, and I never tried so much as a single fall.

My uncle had the goodness to interpose and prevent this consummation of drunken folly, which, I suppose, would have otherwise ended in my neck being broken.

It has even been reported by maligners, that I sung a song while under this vinous influence; but, as I remember nothing of it, and never attempted to turn a tune in all my life before or since, I would willingly hope there is no actual foundation for the calumny. I was absurd enough without this exaggeration. Without positively losing my senses, I speedily lost all command of my temper, and my impetuous passions whirled me onward at their pleasure. I had sate down sulky and discontented, and disposed to be silent--the wine rendered me loquacious, disputatious, and quarrelsome. I contradicted whatever was asserted, and attacked, without any respect to my uncle's table, both his politics and his religion. The affected moderation of Rashleigh, which he well knew how to qualify with irritating ingredients, was even more provoking to me than the noisy and bullying language of his obstreperous brothers. My uncle, to do him justice, endeavoured to bring us to order; but his authority was lost amidst the tumult of wine and passion. At length, frantic at some real or supposed injurious insinuation, I actually struck Rashleigh with my fist. No Stoic philosopher, superior to his own passion and that of others, could have received an insult with a higher degree of scorn. What he himself did not think it apparently worth while to resent, Thorncliff resented for him. Swords were drawn, and we exchanged one or two passes, when the other brothers separated us by main force; and I shall never forget the diabolical sneer which writhed Rashleigh's wayward features, as I was forced from the apartment by the main strength of two of these youthful Titans. They secured me in my apartment by locking the door, and I heard them, to my inexpressible rage, laugh heartily as they descended the stairs. I essayed in my fury to break out; but the window-grates, and the strength of a door clenched with iron, resisted my efforts. At length I threw myself on my bed, and fell asleep amidst vows of dire revenge to be taken in the ensuing day.

But with the morning cool repentance came. I felt, in the keenest manner, the violence and absurdity of my conduct, and was obliged to confess that wine and passion had lowered my intellects even below those of Wilfred Osbaldistone, whom I held in so much contempt. My uncomfortable reflections were by no means soothed by meditating the necessity of an apology for my improper behaviour, and recollecting that Miss Vernon must be a witness of my submission. The impropriety and unkindness of my conduct to her personally, added not a little to these galling considerations, and for this I could not even plead the miserable excuse of intoxication.

Under all these aggravating feelings of shame and degradation, I descended to the breakfast hall, like a criminal to receive sentence. It chanced that a hard frost had rendered it impossible to take out the hounds, so that I had the additional mortification to meet the family, excepting only Rashleigh and Miss Vernon, in full divan, surrounding the cold venison pasty and chine of beef. They were in high glee as I entered, and I could easily imagine that the jests were furnished at my expense. In fact, what I was disposed to consider with serious pain, was regarded as an excellent good joke by my uncle, and the greater part of my cousins. Sir Hildebrand, while he rallied me on the exploits of the preceding evening, swore he thought a young fellow had better be thrice drunk in one day, than sneak sober to bed like a Presbyterian, and leave a batch of honest fellows, and a double quart of claret. And to back this consolatory speech, he poured out a large bumper of brandy, exhorting me to swallow “a hair of the dog that had bit me.”

“Never mind these lads laughing, nevoy,” he continued; “they would have been all as great milksops as yourself, had I not nursed them, as one may say, on the toast and tankard.”

Ill-nature was not the fault of my cousins in general; they saw I was vexed and hurt at the recollections of the preceding evening, and endeavoured, with clumsy kindness, to remove the painful impression they had made on me. Thorncliff alone looked sullen and unreconciled. This young man had never liked me from the beginning; and in the marks of attention occasionally shown me by his brothers, awkward as they were, he alone had never joined. If it was true, of which, however, I began to have my doubts, that he was considered by the family, or regarded himself, as the destined husband of Miss Vernon, a sentiment of jealousy might have sprung up in his mind from the marked predilection which it was that young lady's pleasure to show for one whom Thorncliff might, perhaps, think likely to become a dangerous rival.

Rashleigh at last entered, his visage as dark as mourning weed--brooding, I could not but doubt, over the unjustifiable and disgraceful insult I had offered to him. I had already settled in my own mind how I was to behave on the occasion, and had schooled myself to believe, that true honour consisted not in defending, but in apologising for, an injury so much disproportioned to any provocation I might have to allege.

I therefore hastened to meet Rashleigh, and to express myself in the highest degree sorry for the violence with which I had acted on the preceding evening. “No circumstances,” I said, “could have wrung from me a single word of apology, save my own consciousness of the impropriety of my behaviour. I hoped my cousin would accept of my regrets so sincerely offered, and consider how much of my misconduct was owing to the excessive hospitality of Osbaldistone Hall.”

“He shall be friends with thee, lad,” cried the honest knight, in the full effusion of his heart; “or d--n me, if I call him son more!--Why, Rashie, dost stand there like a log? _Sorry for it_ is all a gentleman can say, if he happens to do anything awry, especially over his claret. I served in Hounslow, and should know something, I think, of affairs of honour. Let me hear no more of this, and we'll go in a body and rummage out the badger in Birkenwood-bank.”

Rashleigh's face resembled, as I have already noticed, no other countenance that I ever saw. But this singularity lay not only in the features, but in the mode of changing their expression. Other countenances, in altering from grief to joy, or from anger to satisfaction, pass through some brief interval, ere the expression of the predominant passion supersedes entirely that of its predecessor. There is a sort of twilight, like that between the clearing up of the darkness and the rising of the sun, while the swollen muscles subside, the dark eye clears, the forehead relaxes and expands itself, and the whole countenance loses its sterner shades, and becomes serene and placid. Rashleigh's face exhibited none of these gradations, but changed almost instantaneously from the expression of one passion to that of the contrary. I can compare it to nothing but the sudden shifting of a scene in the theatre, where, at the whistle of the prompter, a cavern disappears, and a grove arises.

My attention was strongly arrested by this peculiarity on the present occasion. At Rashleigh's first entrance, “black he stood as night!” With the same inflexible countenance he heard my excuse and his father's exhortation; and it was not until Sir Hildebrand had done speaking, that the cloud cleared away at once, and he expressed, in the kindest and most civil terms, his perfect satisfaction with the very handsome apology I had offered.

“Indeed,” he said, “I have so poor a brain myself, when I impose on it the least burden beyond my usual three glasses, that I have only, like honest Cassio, a very vague recollection of the confusion of last night--remember a mass of things, but nothing distinctly--a quarrel, but nothing wherefore--So, my dear Cousin,” he continued, shaking me kindly by the hand, “conceive how much I am relieved by finding that I have to receive an apology, instead of having to make one--I will not have a word said upon the subject more; I should be very foolish to institute any scrutiny into an account, when the balance, which I expected to be against me, has been so unexpectedly and agreeably struck in my favour. You see, Mr. Osbaldistone, I am practising the language of Lombard Street, and qualifying myself for my new calling.”

As I was about to answer, and raised my eyes for the purpose, they encountered those of Miss Vernon, who, having entered the room unobserved during the conversation, had given it her close attention. Abashed and confounded, I fixed my eyes on the ground, and made my escape to the breakfast-table, where I herded among my busy cousins.

My uncle, that the events of the preceding day might not pass out of our memory without a practical moral lesson, took occasion to give Rashleigh and me his serious advice to correct our milksop habits, as he termed them, and gradually to inure our brains to bear a gentlemanlike quantity of liquor, without brawls or breaking of heads. He recommended that we should begin piddling with a regular quart of claret per day, which, with the aid of March beer and brandy, made a handsome competence for a beginner in the art of toping. And for our encouragement, he assured us that he had known many a man who had lived to our years without having drunk a pint of wine at a sitting, who yet, by falling into honest company, and following hearty example, had afterwards been numbered among the best good fellows of the time, and could carry off their six bottles under their belt quietly and comfortably, without brawling or babbling, and be neither sick nor sorry the next morning.

Sage as this advice was, and comfortable as was the prospect it held out to me, I profited but little by the exhortation--partly, perhaps, because, as often as I raised my eyes from the table, I observed Miss Vernon's looks fixed on me, in which I thought I could read grave compassion blended with regret and displeasure. I began to consider how I should seek a scene of explanation and apology with her also, when she gave me to understand she was determined to save me the trouble of soliciting an interview. “Cousin Francis,” she said, addressing me by the same title she used to give to the other Osbaldistones, although I had, properly speaking, no title to be called her kinsman, “I have encountered this morning a difficult passage in the Divina Comme'dia of Dante; will you have the goodness to step to the library and give me your assistance? and when you have unearthed for me the meaning of the obscure Florentine, we will join the rest at Birkenwood-bank, and see their luck at unearthing the badger.”

I signified, of course, my readiness to wait upon her. Rashleigh made an offer to accompany us. “I am something better skilled,” he said, “at tracking the sense of Dante through the metaphors and elisions of his wild and gloomy poem, than at hunting the poor inoffensive hermit yonder out of his cave.”

“Pardon me, Rashleigh,” said Miss Vernon, “but as you are to occupy Mr. Francis's place in the counting-house, you must surrender to him the charge of your pupil's education at Osbaldistone Hall. We shall call you in, however, if there is any occasion; so pray do not look so grave upon it. Besides, it is a shame to you not to understand field-sports--What will you do should our uncle in Crane-Alley ask you the signs by which you track a badger?”

“Ay, true, Die,--true,” said Sir Hildebrand, with a sigh, “I misdoubt Rashleigh will be found short at the leap when he is put to the trial. An he would ha' learned useful knowledge like his brothers, he was bred up where it grew, I wuss; but French antics, and book-learning, with the new turnips, and the rats, and the Hanoverians, ha' changed the world that I ha' known in Old England--But come along with us, Rashie, and carry my hunting-staff, man; thy cousin lacks none of thy company as now, and I wonna ha' Die crossed--It's ne'er be said there was but one woman in Osbaldistone Hall, and she died for lack of her will.”

Rashleigh followed his father, as he commanded, not, however, ere he had whispered to Diana, “I suppose I must in discretion bring the courtier, Ceremony, in my company, and knock when I approach the door of the library?”

“No, no, Rashleigh,” said Miss Vernon; “dismiss from your company the false archimage Dissimulation, and it will better ensure your free access to our classical consultations.”

So saying, she led the way to the library, and I followed--like a criminal, I was going to say, to execution; but, as I bethink me, I have used the simile once, if not twice before. Without any simile at all, then, I followed, with a sense of awkward and conscious embarrassment, which I would have given a great deal to shake off. I thought it a degrading and unworthy feeling to attend one on such an occasion, having breathed the air of the Continent long enough to have imbibed the notion that lightness, gallantry, and something approaching to well-bred self-assurance, should distinguish the gentleman whom a fair lady selects for her companion in a _tete-a-tete._

My English feelings, however, were too many for my French education, and I made, I believe, a very pitiful figure, when Miss Vernon, seating herself majestically in a huge elbow-chair in the library, like a judge about to hear a cause of importance, signed to me to take a chair opposite to her (which I did, much like the poor fellow who is going to be tried), and entered upon conversation in a tone of bitter irony.

Go to voli chapters 13 & 14