Page images

buret 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 a chimney-piece with a great piece of heavy architecture, where the monstery of heraldry, embodied by the art of some Northumbrian chisel, grinned and ramped in red freestone, 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, 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, after 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. 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 Btand out of the way, and make room for Sir

* Now called Don Juan.

Hildebrand and the young squires,—some to close round the table, and be in the way,—some to open, some to shut a pair of folding-doors, which divided the hall from a sort of gallery, as I afterward 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.

If Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone was in no hurry to greet his nephew, of whose arrival he must have been informed for some time, he had important avocations to allege in excuse. "Had seen thee sooner, lad," he exclaimed, after a rough shake of the hand, and a hearty welcome to Osbaldistone Hall, " but had to see the hounds kennelled first. Thou art welcome to the Hall, lad—here is thy cousin Percie,—thy cousin Thornie,—and thy cousin John,—your cousin Dick, — your cousin Wiltred, and, — stay, where's Rashleigh?—ay, here's Rashleigh— take thy long body aside, Thornie, and let's see thy brother a bit—your cousin Rashleigh. So, thy father has thought on the old Hall, and old Sir Hildebrand at last—better late than never.— Thou art welcome, lad, and there's enough.— Where's my little Die?—ay, here she comes— this is my niece Die, my wife's brother's daughter—the prettiest girl in our dales, be the other who she may—and so now let's to the sirloin."

To gain some idea of the person who held this language, you must suppose, my dear Tresham, a man, aged about sixty, in a hunting suit, which had once been richly laced, a splendour that had been tarnished by many a November and December storm. Sir Hildebrand, notwithstanding the abruptness of his present manner, had, at one peiod of life, known courts and camps; had held a commission in the army which encamped on Hounslow Heath previous to the Revolution, and, recommended perhaps by his religion, had been knighted about the same period by the unfortunate and ill advised James II. But his dreams of further preferment, if ever he had entertained any, had died away at the crisis which drove his patron from the throne, and since that period he had spent a sequestered life upon his native domains. Notwithstanding his rusticity, however, Sir Hildebrand retained much of the exterior of a gentleman, and appeared among his sons as the remains of a Corinthian pillar, defaced and overgrown with moss and lichen, might have looked, if contrasted with the rough, unhewn masses of upright stones in Stonehenge, or any other Druidical temple. The sons were indeed heavy unadorned blocks as the eye would desire to look upon. Tall, stout, and comely, all and each of the five eldest seemed to want alike the Promethean fire of intellect, and the exterior grace and manner which, in the polished world, sometimes supply mental deficiency. Their most valuable moral quality seemed to be the good humour and content which was expressed in their heavy features, and their only pretence to accomplishment was their dexterity in the field sports, for which alone they lived. The strong Gyas, and the strong Cloanthus, are not less distinguished by the poet, than the strong

Percival, the strong Thorncliff, the strong John, Richard, Wilfred Osbaldistones were by outward appearance.

But, as if to indemnify herself for a uniformity so uncommon in her productions, Dame Nature had rendered Rashleigh Osbaldistone a striking contrast in person and manner, and, as I afterwards learned, in temper and talents, not only to his brothers, but to most men whom I have hitherto met with. When Percie, Thornie, and Co. had respectively nodded, grinned, and presented their shoulder rather than their hand, as their father named them to their new kinsman, Rashleigh stepped forward and welcomed me to Osbaldistone Hall, with the air and manner of a man of this world. His appearance was not in itself prepossessing. He was of low stature, whereas all his brethren seemed to be descendants of Anak; and while they were handsomely formed, Rashleigh, though strong in person, was bull-necked and cross-made, and, from some early injury in his youth, had an imperfection in his gait, so much resembling an absolute halt, that many alleged that it formed the obstacle to his taking orders; the church of Rome, as is well known, admitting none to the clerical profession who labours under any personal deformity. Others, however, ascribed this unsightly defect to a mere awkward habit, and contended that it did not amount to a personal disqualification from holy orders.

The features of Rashleigh were such, as, having looked upon, we in vain wish to banish from our memory, to which they recur as objects of painful curiosity, although we dwell upon them with a feeling of dislike, and even of disgust. It was not the actual plainness of his face, taken separately from the meaning, which made this strong impression. His features were, indeed, irregular, but they were by no means vulgar; and his keen dark eyes, and shaggy eyebrows, redeemed his face from the charge of common-place ugliness. But there was in those eyes an expression of art and design, and, on provocation, a ferocity tempered with caution, which nature had made obvious to the most ordinary physiognomist, perhaps with the same intention that she has given a rattle to the poisonous snake. As if to compensate him for these disadvantages of exterior, Rashleigh Osbaldistone was possessed of a voice the most soft, mellow, and rich in its tones that I ever heard, and was at no loss for language of every sort suited to so fine an organ.



It was the dreadful fire that broke out at the druggist's stores in Castle Street; crammed with combustibles, and as closely crammed on every side with buildings, whose every room contained a family. The best of it was that it was not yet eleven o'clock; the watch were all awake; the police on the alert; the military in the neighbourhood, so near the Castle; and the families in the street were not retired to rest. All was life, though it was the hour of repose; and all


« PreviousContinue »