There are few more melancholy sensations than those with which we regard scenes of past pleasure when altered and deserted. In my ride to Osbaldistone Hall, I passed the same objects which I had seen in company with Miss Vernon on the day of our memorable ride from Inglewood Place. Her spirit seemed to keep me company on the way; and when I approached the spot where I had first seen her, I almost listened for the cry of the hounds and the notes of the horn, and strained my eye on the vacant space, as if to descry the fair huntress again descend like an apparition from the hill. But all was silent, and all was solitary. When I reached the Hall, the closed doors and windows, the grass-grown pavement, the courts, which were now so silent, presented a strong contrast to the gay and bustling scene I had so often seen them exhibit, when the merry hunters were going forth to their morning sport, or returning to the daily festival. The joyous bark of the fox-hounds as they were uncoupled, the cries of the huntsmen, the clang of the horses' hoofs, the loud laugh of the old knight at the head of his strong and numerous descendants, were all silenced now and for ever.
While I gazed round the scene of solitude and emptiness, I was inexpressibly affected, even by recollecting those whom, when alive, I had no reason to regard with affection. But the thought that so many youths of goodly presence, warm with life, health, and confidence, were within so short a time cold in the grave, by various, yet all violent and unexpected modes of death, afforded a picture of mortality at which the mind trembled. It was little consolation to me, that I returned a proprietor to the halls which I had left almost like a fugitive. My mind was not habituated to regard the scenes around as my property, and I felt myself an usurper, at least an intruding stranger, and could hardly divest myself of the idea, that some of the bulky forms of my deceased kinsmen were, like the gigantic spectres of a romance, to appear in the gateway, and dispute my entrance.
While I was engaged in these sad thoughts, my follower Andrew, whose feelings were of a very different nature, exerted himself in thundering alternately on every door in the building, calling, at the same time, for admittance, in a tone so loud as to intimate, that _he,_ at least, was fully sensible of his newly acquired importance, as squire of the body to the new lord of the manor. At length, timidly and reluctantly, Anthony Syddall, my uncle's aged butler and major-domo, presented himself at a lower window, well fenced with iron bars, and inquired our business.
``We are come to tak your charge aff your hand, my auld friend,'' said Andrew Fairservice; ``ye may gie up your keys as sune as ye like---ilka dog has his day. I'll tak the plate and napery aff your hand. Ye hae had your ain time o't, Mr. Syddall; but ilka bean has its black, and ilka path has its puddle; and it will just set you henceforth to sit at the board-end, as weel as it did Andrew lang syne.''
Checking with some difficulty the forwardness of my follower, I explained to Syddall the nature of my right, and the title I had to demand admittance into the Hall, as into my own property. The old man seemed much agitated and distressed, and testified manifest reluctance to give me entrance, although it was couched in a humble and submissive tone. I allowed for the agitation of natural feelings, which really did the old man honour; but continued peremptory in my demand of admittance, explaining to him that his refusal would oblige me to apply for Mr. Inglewood's warrant, and a constable.
``We are come from Mr. Justice Inglewood's this morning,'' said Andrew, to enforce the menace;---``and I saw Archie Rutledge, the constable, as I came up by;---the country's no to be lawless as it has been, Mr. Syddall, letting rebels and papists gang on as they best listed.''
The threat of the law sounded dreadful in the old man's ears, conscious as he was of the suspicion under which he himself lay, from his religion and his devotion to Sir Hildebrand and his sons. He undid, with fear and trembling, one of the postern entrances, which was secured with many a bolt and bar, and humbly hoped that I would excuse him for fidelity in the discharge of his duty.---I reassured him, and told him I had the better opinion of him for his caution.
``Sae have not I,'' said Andrew; ``Syddall is an auld sneck-drawer; he wadna be looking as white as a sheet, and his knees knocking thegither, unless it were for something mair than he's like to tell us.''
``Lord forgive you, Mr. Fairservice,'' replied the butler, ``to say such things of an old friend and fellow-servant!---Where''--- following me humbly along the passage---``where would it be your honour's pleasure to have a fire lighted? I fear me you will find the house very dull and dreary---But perhaps you mean to ride back to Inglewood Place to dinner?''
``Light a fire in the library,'' I replied.
``In the library!'' answered the old man;---``nobody has sat there this many a day, and the room smokes, for the daws have built in the chimney this spring, and there were no young men about the Hall to pull them down.''
``Our ain reekes better than other folk's fire,'' said Andrew. ``His honour likes the library;---he's nane o' your Papishers, that delight in blinded ignorance, Mr. Syddall.''
Very reluctantly as it appeared to me, the butler led the way to the library, and, contrary to what he had given me to expect, the interior of the apartment looked as if it had been lately arranged, and made more comfortable than usual. There was a fire in the grate, which burned clearly, notwithstanding what Syddall had reported of the vent. Taking up the tongs, as if to arrange the wood, but rather perhaps to conceal his own confusion, the butler observed, ``it was burning clear now, but had smoked woundily in the morning.''
Wishing to be alone, till I recovered myself from the first painful sensations which everything around me recalled, I desired old Syddall to call the land-steward, who lived at about a quarter of a mile from the Hall. He departed with obvious reluctance. I next ordered Andrew to procure the attendance of a couple of stout fellows upon whom he could rely, the population around being Papists, and Sir Rashleigh, who was capable of any desperate enterprise, being in the neighbourhood. Andrew Fairservice undertook this task with great cheerfulness, and promised to bring me up from Trinlay-Knowe, ``twa true-blue Presbyterians like himself, that would face and out-face baith the Pope, the Devil, and the Pretender---and blythe will I be o' their company mysell, for the very last night that I was at Osbaldistone Hall, the blight be on ilka blossom in my bit yard, if I didna see that very picture'' (pointing to the full-length portrait of Miss Vernon's grandfather) ``walking by moonlight in the garden! I tauld your honour I was fleyed wi' a bogle that night, but ye wadna listen to me---I aye thought there was witchcraft and deevilry amang the Papishers, but I ne'er saw't wi' bodily een till that awfu' night.''
``Get along, sir,'' said I, ``and bring the fellows you talk of; and see they have more sense than yourself, and are not frightened at their own shadow.''
``I hae been counted as gude a man as my neighbours ere now,'' said Andrew, petulantly; ``but I dinna pretend to deal wi' evil spirits.'' And so he made his exit, as Wardlaw the land-steward made his appearance.
He was a man of sense and honesty, without whose careful management my uncle would have found it difficult to have maintained himself a housekeeper so long as he did. He examined the nature of my right of possession carefully, and admitted it candidly. To any one else the succession would have been a poor one, so much was the land encumbered with debt and mortgage. Most of these, however, were already vested in my father's person, and he was in a train of acquiring the rest; his large gains by the recent rise of the funds having made it a matter of ease and convenience for him to pay off the debt which affected his patrimony.
I transacted much necessary business with Mr. Wardlaw, and detained him to dine with me. We preferred taking our repast in the library, although Syddall strongly recommended our removing to the stone-hall, which he had put in order for the occasion. Meantime Andrew made his appearance with his true-blue recruits, whom he recommended in the highest terms, as ``sober decent men, weel founded in doctrinal points, and, above all, as bold as lions.'' I ordered them something to drink, and they left the room. I observed old Syddall shake his head as they went out, and insisted upon knowing the reason.
``I maybe cannot expect,'' he said, ``that your honour should put confidence in what I say, but it is Heaven's truth for all that---Ambrose Wingfield is as honest a man as lives, but if there is a false knave in the country, it is his brother Lancie; ---the whole country knows him to be a spy for Clerk Jobson on the poor gentlemen that have been in trouble---But he's a dissenter, and I suppose that's enough now-a-days.''
Having thus far given vent to his feelings,---to which, however, I was little disposed to pay attention,---and having placed the wine on the table, the old butler left the apartment.
Mr. Wardlaw having remained with me until the evening was somewhat advanced, at length bundled up his papers, and removed himself to his own habitation, leaving me in that confused state of mind in which we can hardly say whether we desire company or solitude. I had not, however, the choice betwixt them; for I was left alone in the room of all others most calculated to inspire me with melancholy reflections.
As twilight was darkening the apartment, Andrew had the sagacity to advance his head at the door,---not to ask if I wished for lights, but to recommend them as a measure of precaution against the bogles which still haunted his imagination. I rejected his proffer somewhat peevishly, trimmed the wood-fire, and placing myself in one of the large leathern chairs which flanked the old Gothic chimney, I watched unconsciously the bickering of the blaze which I had fostered. ``And this,'' said I alone, ``is the progress and the issue of human wishes! Nursed by the merest trifles, they are first kindled by fancy---nay, are fed upon the vapour of hope, till they consume the substance which they inflame; and man, and his hopes, passions, and desires, sink into a worthless heap of embers and ashes!''
There was a deep sigh from the opposite side of the room, which seemed to reply to my reflections. I started up in amazement ---Diana Vernon stood before me, resting on the arm of a figure so strongly resembling that of the portrait so often mentioned, that I looked hastily at the frame, expecting to see it empty. My first idea was, either that I had gone suddenly distracted, or that the spirits of the dead had arisen and been placed before me. A second glance convinced me of my being in my senses, and that the forms which stood before me were real and substantial. It was Diana herself, though paler and thinner than her former self; and it was no tenant of the grave who stood beside her, but Vaughan, or rather Sir Frederick Vernon, in a dress made to imitate that of his ancestor, to whose picture his countenance possessed a family resemblance. He was the first that spoke, for Diana kept her eyes fast fixed on the ground, and astonishment actually riveted my tongue to the roof of my mouth.
``We are your suppliants, Mr. Osbaldistone,'' he said, ``and we claim the refuge and protection of your roof till we can pursue a journey where dungeons and death gape for me at every step.''
``Surely,'' I articulated with great difficulty---``Miss Vernon cannot suppose---you, sir, cannot believe, that I have forgot your interference in my difficulties, or that I am capable of betraying any one, much less you?''
``I know it,'' said Sir Frederick; ``yet it is with the most inexpressible reluctance that I impose on you a confidence, disagreeable perhaps---certainly dangerous---and which I would have specially wished to have conferred on some one else. But my fate, which has chased me through a life of perils and escapes, is now pressing me hard, and I have no alternative.''
At this moment the door opened, and the voice of the officious Andrew was heard---``A'm bringin' in the caunles---Ye can light them gin ye like---Can do is easy carried about wi' ane.''
I ran to the door, which, as I hoped, I reached in time to prevent his observing who were in the apartment, I turned him out with hasty violence, shut the door after him, and locked it---then instantly remembering his two companions below, knowing his talkative humour, and recollecting Syddall's remark, that one of them was supposed to be a spy, I followed him as fast as I could to the servants' hall, in which they were assembled. Andrew's tongue was loud as I opened the door, but my unexpected appearance silenced him.
``What is the matter with you, you fool?'' said I; ``you stare and look wild, as if you had seen a ghost.''
``N---n---no---nothing,'' said Andrew.---``but your worship was pleased to be hasty.''
``Because you disturbed me out of a sound sleep, you fool. Syddall tells me he cannot find beds for these good fellows tonight, and Mr. Wardlaw thinks there will be no occasion to detain them. Here is a crown-piece for them to drink my health, and thanks for their good-will. You will leave the Hall immediately, my good lads.''
The men thanked me for my bounty, took the silver, and withdrew, apparently unsuspicious and contented. I watched their departure until I was sure they could have no further intercourse that night with honest Andrew. And so instantly had I followed on his heels, that I thought he could not have had time to speak two words with them before I interrupted him. But it is wonderful what mischief may be done by only two words. On this occasion they cost two lives.
Having made these arrangements, the best which occurred to me upon the pressure of the moment, to secure privacy for my guests, I returned to report my proceedings, and added, that I had desired Syddall to answer every summons, concluding that it was by his connivance they had been secreted in the Hall. Diana raised her eyes to thank me for the caution.
``You now understand my mystery,'' she said;---``you know, doubtless, how near and dear that relative is, who has so often found shelter here; and will be no longer surprised that Rashleigh, having such a secret at his command, should rule me with a rod of iron.''
Her father added, ``that it was their intention to trouble me with their presence as short a time as was possible.''
I entreated the fugitives to waive every consideration but what affected their safety, and to rely on my utmost exertions to promote it. This led to an explanation of the circumstances under which they stood.
``I always suspected Rashleigh Osbaldistone,'' said Sir Frederick; ``but his conduct towards my unprotected child, which with difficulty I wrung from her, and his treachery in your father's affairs, made me hate and despise him. In our last interview I concealed not my sentiments, as I should in prudence have attempted to do; and in resentment of the scorn with which I treated him, he added treachery and apostasy to his catalogue of crimes. I at that time fondly hoped that his defection would be of little consequence. The Earl of Mar had a gallant army in Scotland, and Lord Derwentwater, with Forster, Kenmure, Winterton, and others, were assembling forces on the Border. As my connections with these English nobility and gentry were extensive, it was judged proper that I should accompany a detachment of Highlanders, who, under Brigadier MacIntosh of Borlum, crossed the Firth of Forth, traversed the low country of Scotland, and united themselves on the Borders with the English insurgents. My daughter accompanied me through the perils and fatigues of a march so long and difficult.''
``And she will never leave her dear father!'' exclaimed Miss Vernon, clinging fondly to his arm.
``I had hardly joined our English friends, when I became sensible that our cause was lost. Our numbers diminished instead of increasing, nor were we joined by any except of our own persuasion. The Tories of the High Church remained in general undecided, and at length we were cooped up by a superior force in the little town of Preston. We defended ourselves resolutely for one day. On the next, the hearts of our leaders failed, and they resolved to surrender at discretion. To yield myself up on such terms, were to have laid my head on the block. About twenty or thirty gentlemen were of my mind: we mounted our horses, and placed my daughter, who insisted on sharing my fate, in the centre of our little party. My companions, struck with her courage and filial piety, declared that they would die rather than leave her behind. We rode in a body down a street called Fishergate, which leads to a marshy ground or meadow, extending to the river Ribble, through which one of our party promised to show us a good ford. This marsh had not been strongly invested by the enemy, so that we had only an affair with a patrol of Honeywood's dragoons, whom we dispersed and cut to pieces. We crossed the river, gained the high road to Liverpool, and then dispersed to seek several places of concealment and safety. My fortune led me to Wales, where there are many gentlemen of my religious and political opinions. I could not, however, find a safe opportunity of escaping by sea, and found myself obliged again to draw towards the North. A well-tried friend has appointed to meet me in this neighbourhood, and guide me to a seaport on the Solway, where a sloop is prepared to carry me from my native country for ever. As Osbaldistone Hall was for the present uninhabited, and under the charge of old Syddall, who had been our confidant on former occasions, we drew to it as to a place of known and secure refuge. I resumed a dress which had been used with good effect to scare the superstitious rustics, or domestics, who chanced at any time to see me; and we expected from time to time to hear by Syddall of the arrival of our friendly guide, when your sudden coming hither, and occupying this apartment, laid us under the necessity of submitting to your mercy.''
Thus ended Sir Fredericks story, whose tale sounded to me like one told in a vision; and I could hardly bring myself to believe that I saw his daughter's form once more before me in flesh and blood, though with diminished beauty and sunk spirits. The buoyant vivacity with which she had resisted every touch of adversity, had now assumed the air of composed and submissive, but dauntless resolution and constancy. Her father, though aware and jealous of the effect of her praises on my mind, could not forbear expatiating upon them.
``She has endured trials,'' he said, ``which might have dignified the history of a martyr;---she has faced danger and death in various shapes;---she has undergone toil and privation, from which men of the strongest frame would have shrunk;---she has spent the day in darkness, and the night in vigil, and has never breathed a murmur of weakness or complaint. In a word, Mr. Osbaldistone,'' he concluded, ``she is a worthy offering to that God, to whom'' (crossing himself) ``I shall dedicate her, as all that is left dear or precious to Frederick Vernon.''
There was a silence after these words, of which I well understood the mournful import. The father of Diana was still as anxious to destroy my hopes of being united to her now as he had shown himself during our brief meeting in Scotland.
``We will now,'' said he to his daughter, ``intrude no farther on Mr. Osbaldistone's time, since we have acquainted him with the circumstances of the miserable guests who claim his protection.''
I requested them to stay, and offered myself to leave the apartment. Sir Frederick observed, that my doing so could not but excite my attendant's suspicion; and that the place of their retreat was in every respect commodious, and furnished by Syddall with all they could possibly want. ``We might perhaps have even contrived to remain there, concealed from your observation; but it would have been unjust to decline the most absolute reliance on your honour.''
``You have done me but justice,'' I replied.---``To you, Sir Frederick, I am but little known; but Miss Vernon, I am sure, will bear me witness that''------
``I do not want my daughter's evidence,'' he said, politely, but yet with an air calculated to prevent my addressing myself to Diana, ``since I am prepared to believe all that is worthy of Mr. Francis Osbaldistone. Permit us now to retire; we must take repose when we can, since we are absolutely uncertain when we may be called upon to renew our perilous journey.''
He drew his daughter's arm within his, and with a profound reverence, disappeared with her behind the tapestry.
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