“Sir,” quoth the Lawyer, “not to flatter ye,|
You have as good and fair a battery
As heart could wish, and need not shame
The proudest man alive to claim.”
“Rashleigh,” said Miss Vernon, without giving him time to ask any question, “you have heard of Mr. Francis Osbaldistone’s affair, and you have been talking to the Justice about it?”
“Certainly,” said Rashleigh, composedly—“it has been my business here.— I have been endeavouring,” he said, with a bow to me, “to render my cousin what service I can. But I am sorry to meet him here.”
“As a friend and relation, Mr. Osbaldistone, you ought to have been sorry to have met me anywhere else, at a time when the charge of my reputation required me to be on this spot as soon as possible.”
“True; but judging from what my father said, I should have supposed a short retreat into Scotland—just till matters should be smoothed over in a quiet way”—
I answered with warmth, “That I had no prudential measures to observe, and desired to have nothing smoothed over;—on the contrary, I was come to inquire into a rascally calumny, which I was determined to probe to the bottom.”
“Mr. Francis Osbaldistone is an innocent man, Rashleigh,” said Miss Vernon, “and he demands an investigation of the charge against him, and I intend to support him in it.”
“You do, my pretty cousin?—I should think, now, Mr. Francis Osbaldistone was likely to be as effectually, and rather more delicately, supported by my presence than by yours.”
“Oh, certainly; but two heads are better than one, you know.”
“Especially such a head as yours, my pretty Die,” advancing and taking her hand with a familiar fondness, which made me think him fifty times uglier than nature had made him. She led him, however, a few steps aside; they conversed in an under voice, and she appeared to insist upon some request which he was unwilling or unable to comply with. I never saw so strong a contrast betwixt the expression of two faces. Miss Vernon’s, from being earnest, became angry; her eyes and cheeks became more animated, her colour mounted, she clenched her little hand, and stamping on the ground with her tiny foot, seemed to listen with a mixture of contempt and indignation to the apologies, which, from his look of civil deference, his composed and respectful smile, his body rather drawing back than advanced, and other signs of look and person, I concluded him to be pouring out at her feet. At length she flung away from him, with “I will have it so.”
“It is not in my power—there is no possibility of it.—Would you think it, Mr. Osbaldistone?” said he, addressing me—
“You are not mad?” said she, interrupting him.
“Would you think it?” said he, without attending to her hint—“Miss Vernon insists, not only that I know your innocence (of which, indeed, it is impossible for any one to be more convinced), but that I must also be acquainted with the real perpetrators of the outrage on this fellow—if indeed such an outrage has been committed. Is this reasonable, Mr. Osbaldistone?”
“I will not allow any appeal to Mr. Osbaldistone, Rashleigh,” said the young lady; “he does not know, as I do, the incredible extent and accuracy of your information on all points.”
“As I am a gentleman, you do me more honour than I deserve.”
“Justice, Rashleigh—only justice:—and it is only justice which I expect at your hands.”
“You are a tyrant, Diana,” he answered, with a sort of sigh—“a capricious tyrant, and rule your friends with a rod of iron. Still, however, it shall be as you desire. But you ought not to be here—you know you ought not;—you must return with me.”
Then turning from Diana, who seemed to stand undecided, he came up to me in the most friendly manner, and said, “Do not doubt my interest in what regards you, Mr. Osbaldistone. If I leave you just at this moment, it is only to act for your advantage. But you must use your influence with your cousin to return; her presence cannot serve you, and must prejudice herself.”
“I assure you, sir,” I replied, “you cannot be more convinced of this than I; I have urged Miss Vernon’s return as anxiously as she would permit me to do.”
“I have thought on it,” said Miss Vernon after a pause, “and I will not go till I see you safe out of the hands of the Philistines. Cousin Rashleigh, I dare say, means well; but he and I know each other well. Rashleigh, I will not go;—I know,” she added, in a more soothing tone, “my being here will give you more motive for speed and exertion.”
“Stay then, rash, obstinate girl,” said Rashleigh; “you know but too well to whom you trust;” and hastening out of the hall, we heard his horse’s feet a minute afterwards in rapid motion.
“Thank Heaven he is gone!” said Diana. “And now let us seek out the Justice.”
“Had we not better call a servant?”
“Oh, by no means; I know the way to his den—we must burst on him suddenly—follow me.”
I did follow her accordingly, as she tripped up a few gloomy steps, traversed a twilight passage, and entered a sort of ante-room, hung round with old maps, architectural elevations, and genealogical trees. A pair of folding-doors opened from this into Mr. Inglewood’s sitting apartment, from which was heard the fag-end of an old ditty, chanted by a voice which had been in its day fit for a jolly bottle-song.
“O, in Skipton-in-Craven|
Is never a haven,
But many a day foul weather;
And he that would say
A pretty girl nay,
I wish for his cravat a tether.”
“Heyday!” said Miss Vernon, “the genial Justice must have dined already—I did not think it had been so late.”
It was even so. Mr. Inglewood’s appetite having been sharpened by his official investigations, he had antedated his meridian repast, having dined at twelve instead of one o’clock, then the general dining hour in England. The various occurrences of the morning occasioned our arriving some time after this hour, to the Justice the most important of the four-and-twenty, and he had not neglected the interval.
“Stay you here,” said Diana. “I know the house, and I will call a servant; your sudden appearance might startle the old gentleman even to choking;” and she escaped from me, leaving me uncertain whether I ought to advance or retreat. It was impossible for me not to hear some part of what passed within the dinner apartment, and particularly several apologies for declining to sing, expressed in a dejected croaking voice, the tones of which, I conceived, were not entirely new to me.
“Not sing, sir? by our Lady! but you must—What! you have cracked my silver-mounted cocoa-nut of sack, and tell me that you cannot sing!—Sir, sack will make a cat sing, and speak too; so up with a merry stave, or trundle yourself out of my doors!—Do you think you are to take up all my valuable time with your d—d declarations, and then tell me you cannot sing?”
“Your worship is perfectly in rule,” said another voice, which, from its pert conceited accent, might be that of the cleric, “and the party must be conformable; he hath canet written on his face in court hand.”
“Up with it then,” said the Justice, “or by St. Christopher, you shall crack the cocoa-nut full of salt-and-water, according to the statute for such effect made and provided.”
Thus exhorted and threatened, my quondam fellow-traveller, for I could no longer doubt that he was the recusant in question, uplifted, with a voice similar to that of a criminal singing his last psalm on the scaffold, a most doleful stave to the following effect:—
“Good people all, I pray give ear,|
A woeful story you shall hear,
’Tis of a robber as stout as ever
Bade a true man stand and deliver.
With his foodle doo fa loodle loo.
“This knave, most worthy of a cord,
“These honest men did at Brentford dine,
I question if the honest men, whose misfortune is commemorated in this pathetic ditty, were more startled at the appearance of the bold thief than the songster was at mine; for, tired of waiting for some one to announce me, and finding my situation as a listener rather awkward, I presented myself to the company just as my friend Mr. Morris, for such, it seems, was his name, was uplifting the fifth stave of his doleful ballad. The high tone with which the tune started died away in a quaver of consternation on finding himself so near one whose character he supposed to be little less suspicious than that of the hero of his madrigal, and he remained silent, with a mouth gaping as if I had brought the Gorgon’s head in my hand.
The Justice, whose eyes had closed under the influence of the somniferous lullaby of the song, started up in his chair as it suddenly ceased, and stared with wonder at the unexpected addition which the company had received while his organs of sight were in abeyance. The clerk, as I conjectured him to be from his appearance, was also commoved; for, sitting opposite to Mr. Morris, that honest gentleman’s terror communicated itself to him, though he wotted not why.
I broke the silence of surprise occasioned by my abrupt entrance.—“My name, Mr. Inglewood, is Francis Osbaldistone; I understand that some scoundrel has brought a complaint before you, charging me with being concerned in a loss which he says he has sustained.”
“Sir,” said the Justice, somewhat peevishly, “these are matters I never enter upon after dinner;—there is a time for everything, and a justice of peace must eat as well as other folks.”
The goodly person of Mr. Inglewood, by the way, seemed by no means to have suffered by any fasts, whether in the service of the law or of religion.
“I beg pardon for an ill-timed visit, sir; but as my reputation is concerned, and as the dinner appears to be concluded”—
“It is not concluded, sir,” replied the magistrate; “man requires digestion as well as food, and I protest I cannot have benefit from my victuals unless I am allowed two hours of quiet leisure, intermixed with harmless mirth, and a moderate circulation of the bottle.”
“If your honour will forgive me,” said Mr. Jobson, who had produced and arranged his writing implements in the brief space that our conversation afforded; “as this is a case of felony, and the gentleman seems something impatient, the charge is contra pacem domini regis”—
“D—n dominie regis!” said the impatient Justice—“I hope it’s no treason to say so; but it’s enough to made one mad to be worried in this way. Have I a moment of my life quiet for warrants, orders, directions, acts, bails, bonds, and recognisances?—I pronounce to you, Mr. Jobson, that I shall send you and the justiceship to the devil one of these days.”
“Your honour will consider the dignity of the office one of the quorum and custos rotulorum, an office of which Sir Edward Coke wisely saith, The whole Christian world hath not the like of it, so it be duly executed.”
“Well,” said the Justice, partly reconciled by this eulogium on the dignity of his situation, and gulping down the rest of his dissatisfaction in a huge bumper of claret, “let us to this gear then, and get rid of it as fast as we can.—Here you, sir—you, Morris—you, knight of the sorrowful countenance—is this Mr. Francis Osbaldistone the gentleman whom you charge with being art and part of felony?”
“I, sir?” replied Morris, whose scattered wits had hardly yet reassembled themselves; “I charge nothing—I say nothing against the gentleman,”
“Then we dismiss your complaint, sir, that’s all, and a good riddance— Push about the bottle—Mr. Osbaldistone, help yourself.”
Jobson, however, was determined that Morris should not back out of the scrape so easily. “What do you mean, Mr. Morris?—Here is your own declaration—the ink scarce dried—and you would retract it in this scandalous manner!”
“How do I know,” whispered the other in a tremulous tone, “how many rogues are in the house to back him? I have read of such things in Johnson’s Lives of the Highwaymen. I protest the door opens”—
And it did open, and Diana Vernon entered—“You keep fine order here, Justice—not a servant to be seen or heard of.”
“Ah!” said the Justice, starting up with an alacrity which showed that he was not so engrossed by his devotions to Themis or Comus, as to forget what was due to beauty—“Ah, ha! Die Vernon, the heath-bell of Cheviot, and the blossom of the Border, come to see how the old bachelor keeps house? Art welcome, girl, as flowers in May.”
“A fine, open, hospitable house you do keep, Justice, that must be allowed—not a soul to answer a visitor.”
“Ah, the knaves! they reckoned themselves secure of me for a couple of hours—But why did you not come earlier?—Your cousin Rashleigh dined here, and ran away like a poltroon after the first bottle was out—But you have not dined—we’ll have something nice and ladylike—sweet and pretty like yourself, tossed up in a trice.”
“I may eat a crust in the ante-room before I set out,” answered Miss Vernon—“I have had a long ride this morning; but I can’t stay long, Justice—I came with my cousin, Frank Osbaldistone, there, and I must show him the way back again to the Hall, or he’ll lose himself in the wolds.”
“Whew! sits the wind in that quarter?” inquired the Justice—
“She showed him the way, she showed him the way,|
She showed him the way to woo.
What! no luck for old fellows, then, my sweet bud of the wilderness?”
“None whatever, Squire Inglewood; but if you will be a good kind Justice, and despatch young Frank’s business, and let us canter home again, I’ll bring my uncle to dine with you next week, and we’ll expect merry doings.”
“And you shall find them, my pearl of the Tyne—Zookers, lass, I never envy these young fellows their rides and scampers, unless when you come across me. But I must not keep you just now, I suppose?—I am quite satisfied with Mr. Francis Osbaldistone’s explanation—here has been some mistake, which can be cleared at greater leisure.”
“Pardon me, sir,” said I; “but I have not heard the nature of the accusation yet.”
“Yes, sir,” said the clerk, who, at the appearance of Miss Vernon, had given up the matter in despair, but who picked up courage to press farther investigation on finding himself supported from a quarter whence assuredly he expected no backing—“Yes, sir, and Dalton saith, That he who is apprehended as a felon shall not be discharged upon any man’s discretion, but shall be held either to bail or commitment, paying to the clerk of the peace the usual fees for recognisance or commitment.”
The Justice, thus goaded on, gave me at length a few words of explanation.
It seems the tricks which I had played to this man Morris had made a strong impression on his imagination; for I found they had been arrayed against me in his evidence, with all the exaggerations which a timorous and heated imagination could suggest. It appeared also, that on the day he parted from me, he had been stopped on a solitary spot and eased of his beloved travelling-companion, the portmanteau, by two men, well mounted and armed, having their faces covered with vizards.
One of them, he conceived, had much of my shape and air, and in a whispering conversation which took place betwixt the freebooters, he heard the other apply to him the name of Osbaldistone. The declaration farther set forth, that upon inquiring into the principles of the family so named, he, the said declarant, was informed that they were of the worst description, the family, in all its members, having been Papists and Jacobites, as he was given to understand by the dissenting clergyman at whose house he stopped after his rencontre, since the days of William the Conqueror.
Upon all and each of these weighty reasons, he charged me with being accessory to the felony committed upon his person; he, the said declarant, then travelling in the special employment of Government, and having charge of certain important papers, and also a large sum in specie, to be paid over, according to his instructions, to certain persons of official trust and importance in Scotland.
Having heard this extraordinary accusation, I replied to it, that the circumstances on which it was founded were such as could warrant no justice, or magistrate, in any attempt on my personal liberty. I admitted that I had practised a little upon the terrors of Mr. Morris, while we travelled together, but in such trifling particulars as could have excited apprehension in no one who was one whit less timorous and jealous than himself. But I added, that I had never seen him since we parted, and if that which he feared had really come upon him, I was in nowise accessory to an action so unworthy of my character and station in life. That one of the robbers was called Osbaldistone, or that such a name was mentioned in the course of the conversation betwixt them, was a trifling circumstance, to which no weight was due. And concerning the disaffection alleged against me, I was willing to prove, to the satisfaction of the Justice, the clerk, and even the witness himself, that I was of the same persuasion as his friend the dissenting clergyman; had been educated as a good subject in the principles of the Revolution, and as such now demanded the personal protection of the laws which had been assured by that great event.
The Justice fidgeted, took snuff, and seemed considerably embarrassed, while Mr. Attorney Jobson, with all the volubility of his profession, ran over the statute of the 34 Edward III., by which justices of the peace are allowed to arrest all those whom they find by indictment or suspicion, and to put them into prison. The rogue even turned my own admissions against me, alleging, “that since I had confessedly, upon my own showing, assumed the bearing or deportment of a robber or malefactor, I had voluntarily subjected myself to the suspicions of which I complained, and brought myself within the compass of the act, having wilfully clothed my conduct with all the colour and livery of guilt.”
I combated both his arguments and his jargon with much indignation and scorn, and observed, “That I should, if necessary, produce the bail of my relations, which I conceived could not be refused, without subjecting the magistrate in a misdemeanour.”
“Pardon me, my good sir—pardon me,” said the insatiable clerk; “this is a case in which neither bail nor mainprize can be received, the felon who is liable to be committed on heavy grounds of suspicion, not being replevisable under the statute of the 3d of King Edward, there being in that act an express exception of such as be charged of commandment, or force, and aid of felony done;” and he hinted that his worship would do well to remember that such were no way replevisable by common writ, nor without writ.
At this period of the conversation a servant entered, and delivered a letter to Mr. Jobson. He had no sooner run it hastily over, than he exclaimed, with the air of one who wished to appear much vexed at the interruption, and felt the consequence attached to a man of multifarious avocations—“Good God!—why, at this rate, I shall have neither time to attend to the public concerns nor my own—no rest—no quiet—I wish to Heaven another gentleman in our line would settle here!”
“God forbid!” said the Justice in a tone of sotto-voce deprecation; “some of us have enough of one of the tribe.”
“This is a matter of life and death, if your worship pleases.”
“In God’s name! no more justice business, I hope,” said the alarmed magistrate.
“No—no,” replied Mr. Jobson, very consequentially; “old Gaffer Rutledge of Grime’s-hill is subpoenaed for the next world; he has sent an express for Dr. Kill-down to put in bail—another for me to arrange his worldly affairs.”
“Away with you, then,” said Mr. Inglewood, hastily; “his may not be a replevisable case under the statute, you know, or Mr. Justice Death may not like the doctor for a main pernor, or bailsman.”
“And yet,” said Jobson, lingering as he moved towards the door, “if my presence here be necessary—I could make out the warrant for committal in a moment, and the constable is below—And you have heard,” he said, lowering his voice, “Mr. Rashleigh’s opinion”—the rest was lost in a whisper.
The Justice replied aloud, “I tell thee no, man, no—we’ll do nought till thou return, man; ’tis but a four-mile ride—Come, push the bottle, Mr. Morris—Don’t be cast down, Mr. Osbaldistone—And you, my rose of the wilderness—one cup of claret to refresh the bloom of your cheeks.”
Diana started, as if from a reverie, in which she appeared to have been plunged while we held this discussion. “No, Justice—I should be afraid of transferring the bloom to a part of my face where it would show to little advantage; but I will pledge you in a cooler beverage;” and filling a glass with water, she drank it hastily, while her hurried manner belied her assumed gaiety.
I had not much leisure to make remarks upon her demeanour, however, being full of vexation at the interference of fresh obstacles to an instant examination of the disgraceful and impertinent charge which was brought against me. But there was no moving the Justice to take the matter up in absence of his clerk, an incident which gave him apparently as much pleasure as a holiday to a schoolboy. He persisted in his endeavours to inspire jollity into a company, the individuals of which, whether considered with reference to each other, or to their respective situations, were by no means inclined to mirth. “Come, Master Morris, you’re not the first man that’s been robbed, I trow—grieving ne’er brought back loss, man. And you, Mr. Frank Osbaldistone, are not the first bully-boy that has said stand to a true man. There was Jack Winterfield, in my young days, kept the best company in the land—at horse-races and cock-fights who but he—hand and glove was I with Jack. Push the bottle, Mr. Morris, it’s dry talking—Many quart bumpers have I cracked, and thrown many a merry main with poor Jack—good family—ready wit—quick eye—as honest a fellow, barring the deed he died for—we’ll drink to his memory, gentlemen—Poor Jack Winterfield—And since we talk of him, and of those sort of things, and since that d—d clerk of mine has taken his gibberish elsewhere, and since we’re snug among ourselves, Mr. Osbaldistone, if you will have my best advice, I would take up this matter—the law’s hard—very severe—hanged poor Jack Winterfield at York, despite family connections and great interest, all for easing a fat west-country grazier of the price of a few beasts—Now, here is honest Mr. Morris, has been frightened, and so forth—D—n it, man, let the poor fellow have back his portmanteau, and end the frolic at once.”
Morris’s eyes brightened up at this suggestion, and he began to hesitate forth an assurance that he thirsted for no man’s blood, when I cut the proposed accommodation short, by resenting the Justice’s suggestion as an insult, that went directly to suppose me guilty of the very crime which I had come to his house with the express intention of disavowing. We were in this awkward predicament when a servant, opening the door, announced, “A strange gentleman to wait upon his honour;” and the party whom he thus described entered the room without farther ceremony.