The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Third.

Give me a morsel on the greensward rather,

Coarse as you will the cooking — Let the fresh spring

Bubble beside my napkin — and the free birds

Twittering and chirping, hop from bough to bough,

To claim the crumbs I leave for perquisites —

Your prison feasts I like not.

The Woodsman, a drama.

A recess in the vestibule was enlightened by a small window, at which Roland Graeme stationed himself to mark the departure of the lords. He could see their followers mustering on horseback under their respective banners — the western sun glancing on their corslets and steel-caps as they moved to and fro, mounted or dismounted, at intervals. On the narrow space betwixt the castle and the water, the Lords Ruthven and Lindesay were already moving slowly to their boats, accompanied by the Lady of Lochleven, her grandson, and their principal attendants. They took a ceremonious leave of each other, as Roland could discern by their gestures, and the boats put oft from their landing-place; the boatmen stretched to their oars, and they speedily diminished upon the eye of the idle gazer, who had no better employment than to watch their motions. Such seemed also the occupation of the Lady Lochleven and George Douglas, who, returning from the landing-place, looked frequently back to the boats, and at length stopped as if to observe their progress under the window at which Roland Graeme was stationed. — As they gazed on the lake, he could hear the lady distinctly say, “And she has bent her mind to save her life at the expense of her kingdom?”

“Her life, madam!” replied her son; “I know not who would dare to attempt it in the castle of my father. Had I dreamt that it was with such purpose that Lindesay insisted on bringing his followers hither, neither he nor they should have passed the iron gate of Lochleven castle.”

“I speak not of private slaughter, my son, but of open trial, condemnation, and execution; for with such she has been threatened, and to such threats she has given way. Had she not more of the false Gusian blood than of the royal race of Scotland in her veins, she had bidden them defiance to their teeth — But it is all of the same complexion, and meanness is the natural companion of profligacy. — I am discharged, forsooth, from intruding on her gracious presence this evening. Go thou, my son, and render the usual service of the meal to this unqueened Queen.”

“So please you, lady mother,” said Douglas,” I care not greatly to approach her presence.”

“Thou art right, my son; and therefore I trust thy prudence, even because I have noted thy caution. She is like an isle on the ocean, surrounded with shelves and quicksands; its verdure fair and inviting to the eye, but the wreck of many a goodly vessel which hath approached it too rashly. But for thee, my son, I fear nought; and we may not, with our honour, suffer her to eat without the attendance of one of us. She may die by the judgment of Heaven, or the fiend may have power over her in her despair; and then we would be touched in honour to show that in our house, and at our table, she had had all fair play and fitting usage.”

Here Roland was interrupted by a smart tap on the shoulders, reminding him sharply of Adam Woodcock’s adventure of the preceding evening. He turned round, almost expecting to see the page of Saint Michael’s hostelry. He saw, indeed, Catherine Seyton; but she was in female attire, differing, no doubt, a great deal in shape and materials from that which she had worn when they first met, and becoming her birth as the daughter of a great baron, and her rank as the attendant on a princess. “So, fair page,” said she, “eaves-dropping is one of your page-like qualities, I presume.”

“Fair sister,” answered Roland, in the same tone, “if some friends of mine be as well acquainted with the rest of our mystery as they are with the arts of swearing, swaggering, and switching, they need ask no page in Christendom for farther insight into his vocation.”

“Unless that pretty speech infer that you have yourself had the discipline of the switch since we last met, the probability whereof I nothing doubt, I profess, fair page, I am at a loss to conjecture your meaning. But there is no time to debate it now — they come with the evening meal. Be pleased, Sir Page, to do your duty.”

Four servants entered bearing dishes, preceded by the same stern old steward whom Roland had already seen, and followed by George Douglas, already mentioned as the grandson of the Lady of Lochleven, and who, acting as seneschal, represented, upon this occasion, his father, the Lord of the Castle. He entered with his arms folded on his bosom, and his looks bent on the ground. With the assistance of Roland Graeme, a table was suitably covered in the next or middle apartment, on which the domestics placed their burdens with great reverence, the steward and Douglas bending low when they had seen the table properly adorned, as if their royal prisoner had sat at the board in question. The door opened, and Douglas, raising his eyes hastily, cast them again on the earth, when he perceived it was only the Lady Mary Fleming who entered.

“Her Grace,” she said, “will not eat to-night.”

“Let us hope she may be otherwise persuaded,” said Douglas; “meanwhile, madam, please to see our duty performed.”

A servant presented bread and salt on a silver plate, and the old steward carved for Douglas a small morsel in succession from each of the dishes presented, which he tasted, as was then the custom at the tables of princes, to which death was often suspected to find its way in the disguise of food.

“The Queen will not then come forth to-night?” said Douglas.

“She has so determined,” replied the lady.

“Our farther attendance then is unnecessary — we leave you to your supper, fair ladies, and wish you good even.”

He retired slowly as he came, and with the same air of deep dejection, and was followed by the attendants belonging to the castle. The two ladies sate down to their meal, and Roland Graeme, with ready alacrity, prepared to wait upon them. Catherine Seyton whispered to her companion, who replied with the question spoken in a low tone, but looking at the page —“Is he of gentle blood and well nurtured?”

The answer which she received seemed satisfactory, for she said to Roland, “Sit down, young gentleman, and eat with your sisters in captivity.”

“Permit me rather to perform my duty in attending them,” said Roland, anxious to show he was possessed of the high tone of deference prescribed by the rules of chivalry towards the fair sex, and especially to dames and maidens of quality.

“You will find, Sir Page,” said Catherine, “you will have little time allowed you for your meal; waste it not in ceremony, or you may rue your politeness ere tomorrow morning.”

“Your speech is too free, maiden,” said the elder lady; “the modesty of the youth may teach you more fitting fashions towards one whom today you have seen for the first time.”

Catherine Seyton cast down her eyes, but not till she had given a single glance of inexpressible archness towards Roland, whom her more grave companion now addressed in a tone of protection.

“Regard her not, young gentleman — she knows little of the world, save the forms of a country nunnery — take thy place at the board-end, and refresh thyself after thy journey.”

Roland Graeme obeyed willingly, as it was the first food he had that day tasted; for Lindesay and his followers seemed regardless of human wants. Yet, notwithstanding the sharpness of his appetite, a natural gallantry of disposition, the desire of showing himself a well-nurtured gentleman, in all courtesies towards the fair sex, and, for aught I know, the pleasure of assisting Catherine Seyton, kept his attention awake, during the meal, to all those nameless acts of duty and service which gallants of that age were accustomed to render. He carved with neatness and decorum, and selected duly whatever was most delicate to place before the ladies. Ere they could form a wish, he sprung from the table, ready to comply with it — poured wine — tempered it with water — removed the exchanged trenchers, and performed the whole honours of the table, with an air at once of cheerful diligence, profound respect, and graceful promptitude.

When he observed that they had finished eating, he hastened to offer to the elder lady the silver ewer, basin, and napkin, with the ceremony and gravity which he would have used towards Mary herself. He next, with the same decorum, having supplied the basin with fair water, presented it to Catherine Seyton. Apparently, she was determined to disturb his self-possession, if possible; for, while in the act of bathing her hands, she contrived, as it were by accident, to flirt some drops of water upon the face of the assiduous assistant. But if such was her mischievous purpose she was completely disappointed; for Roland Graeme, internally piquing himself on his self-command, neither laughed nor was discomposed; and all that the maiden gained by her frolic was a severe rebuke from her companion, taxing her with mal-address and indecorum. Catherine replied not, but sat pouting, something in the humour of a spoilt child, who watches the opportunity of wreaking upon some one or other its resentment for a deserved reprimand.

The Lady Mary Fleming, in the mean-while, was naturally well pleased with the exact and reverent observance of the page, and said to Catherine, after a favourable glance at Roland Graeme — “You might well say, Catherine, our companion in captivity was well born and gentle nurtured. I would not make him vain by my praise, but his services enable us to dispense with those which George Douglas condescends not to afford us, save when the Queen is herself in presence.”

“Umph! I think hardly,” answered Catherine. “George Douglas is one of the most handsome gallants in Scotland, and ’tis pleasure to see him even still, when the gloom of Lochleven Castle has shed the same melancholy over him, that it has done over every thing else. When he was at Holyrood who would have said the young sprightly George Douglas would have been contented to play the locksman here in Lochleven, with no gayer amusement than that of turning the key on two or three helpless women? — a strange office for a Knight of the Bleeding Heart — why does he not leave it to his father or his brothers?”

“Perhaps, like us, he has no choice,” answered the Lady Fleming. “But, Catherine, thou hast used thy brief space at court well, to remember what George Douglas was then.”

“I used mine eyes, which I suppose was what I was designed to do, and they were worth using there. When I was at the nunnery, they were very useless appurtenances; and now I am at Lochleven, they are good for nothing, save to look over that eternal work of embroidery.”

“You speak thus, when you have been but a few brief hours amongst us — was this the maiden who would live and die in a dungeon, might she but have permission to wait on her gracious Queen?”

“Nay, if you chide in earnest, my jest is ended,” said Catherine Seyton. “I would not yield in attachment to my poor god-mother, to the gravest dame that ever had wise saws upon her tongue, and a double-starched ruff around her throat — you know I would not, Dame Mary Fleming, and it is putting shame on me to say otherwise.”

“She will challenge the other court lady,” thought Roland Graeme; “she will to a certainty fling down her glove, and if Dame Mary Fleming hath but the soul to lift it, we may have a combat in the lists!”— but the answer of Lady Mary Fleming was such as turns away wrath.

“Thou art a good child,” she said, “my Catherine, and a faithful; but Heaven pity him who shall have one day a creature so beautiful to delight him, and a thing so mischievous to torment him — thou art fit to drive twenty husbands stark mad.”

“Nay,” said Catherine, resuming the full career of her careless good-humour, “he must be half-witted beforehand, that gives me such an opportunity. But I am glad you are not angry with me in sincerity,” casting herself as she spoke into the arms of her friend, and continuing, with a tone of apologetic fondness, while she kissed her on either side of the face; “you know, my dear Fleming, that I have to contend with both my father’s lofty pride, and with my mother’s high spirit — God bless them! they have left me these good qualities, having small portion to give besides, as times go — and so I am wilful and saucy; but let me remain only a week in this castle, and oh, my dear Fleming, my spirit will be as chastised and humble as thine own.”

Dame Mary Fleming’s sense of dignity, and love of form, could not resist this affectionate appeal. She kissed Catherine Seyton in her turn affectionately; while, answering the last part of her speech, she said, “Now Our Lady forbid, dear Catherine, that you should lose aught that is beseeming of what becomes so well your light heart and lively humour. Keep but your sharp wit on this side of madness, and it cannot but be a blessing to us. But let me go, mad wench — I hear her Grace touch her silver call.” And, extricating herself from Catherine’s grasp, she went towards the door of Queen Mary’s apartment, from which was heard the low tone of a silver whistle, which, now only used by the boatswains in the navy, was then, for want of bells, the ordinary mode by which ladies, even of the very highest rank, summoned their domestics. When she had made two or three steps towards the door, however, she turned back, and advancing to the young couple whom she left together, she said, in a very serious though a low tone, “I trust it is impossible that we can, any of us, or in any circumstances, forget, that, few as we are, we form the household of the Queen of Scotland; and that, in her calamity, all boyish mirth and childish jesting can only serve to give a great triumph to her enemies, who have already found their account in objecting to her the lightness of every idle folly, that the young and the gay practised in her court.” So saying, she left the apartment.

Catherine Seyton seemed much struck with this remonstrance — She suffered herself to drop into the seat which she had quitted when she went to embrace Dame Mary Fleming, and for some time rested her brow upon her hands; while Roland Graeme looked at her earnestly, with a mixture of emotions which perhaps he himself could neither have analysed nor explained. As she raised her face slowly from the posture to which a momentary feeling of self-rebuke had depressed it, her eyes encountered those of Roland, and became gradually animated with their usual spirit of malicious drollery, which not unnaturally excited a similar expression in those of the equally volatile page. They sat for the space of two minutes, each looking at the other with great seriousness on their features, and much mirth in their eyes, until at length Catherine was the first to break silence.

“May I pray you, fair sir,” she began, very demurely, “to tell me what you see in my face to arouse looks so extremely sagacious and knowing as those with which it is your worship’s pleasure to honour me? It would seem as if there were some wonderful confidence and intimacy betwixt us, fair sir, if one is to judge from your extremely cunning looks; and so help me, Our Lady, as I never saw you but twice in my life before.”

“And where were those happy occasions,” said Roland, “if I may be bold enough to ask the question?”

“At the nunnery of St. Catherine’s,” said the damsel, “in the first instance; and, in the second, during five minutes of a certain raid or foray which it was your pleasure to make into the lodging of my lord and father, Lord Seyton, from which, to my surprise, as probably to your own, you returned with a token of friendship and favour, instead of broken bones, which were the more probable reward of your intrusion, considering the prompt ire of the house of Seyton. I am deeply mortified,” she added, ironically, “that your recollection should require refreshment on a subject so important; and that my memory should be stronger than yours on such an occasion, is truly humiliating.”

“Your own, memory is not so exactly correct, fair mistress,” answered the page, “seeing you have forgotten meeting the third, in the hostelrie of St. Michael’s, when it pleased you to lay your switch across the face of my comrade, in order, I warrant, to show that, in the house of Seyton, neither the prompt ire of its descendants, nor the use of the doublet and hose, are subject to Salique law, or confined to the use of the males.”

“Fair sir,” answered Catherine, looking at him with great steadiness, and some surprise, “unless your fair wits have forsaken you, I am at a loss what to conjecture of your meaning.”

“By my troth, fair mistress,” answered Roland, “and were I as wise a warlock as Michael Scott, I could scarce riddle the dream you read me. Did I not see you last night in the hostelrie of St. Michael’s? — Did you not bring me this sword, with command not to draw it save at the command of my native and rightful Sovereign? And have I not done as you required me? Or is the sword a piece of lath — my word a bulrush — my memory a dream — and my eyes good for nought — espials which corbies might pick out of my head?”

“And if your eyes serve you not more truly on other occasions than in your vision of St. Michael,” said Catherine, “I know not, the pain apart, that the corbies would do you any great injury in the deprivation — But hark, the bell — hush, for God’s sake, we are interrupted. —”

The damsel was right; for no sooner had the dull toll of the castle bell begun to resound through the vaulted apartment, than the door of the vestibule flew open, and the steward, with his severe countenance, his gold chain, and his white rod, entered the apartment, followed by the same train of domestics who had placed the dinner on the table, and who now, with the same ceremonious formality, began to remove it.

The steward remained motionless as some old picture, while the domestics did their office; and when it was accomplished, every thing removed from the table, and the board itself taken from its tressels and disposed against the wall, he said aloud, without addressing any one in particular, and somewhat in the tone of a herald reading a proclamation, “My noble lady, Dame Margaret Erskine, by marriage Douglas, lets the Lady Mary of Scotland and her attendants to wit, that a servant of the true evangele, her reverend chaplain, will to-night, as usual, expound, lecture, and catechise, according to the forms of the congregation of gospellers.”

“Hark you, my friend, Mr. Dryfesdale,” said Catherine, “I understand this announcement is a nightly form of yours. Now, I pray you to remark, that the Lady Fleming and I— for I trust your insolent invitation concerns us only — have chosen Saint Peter’s pathway to Heaven, so I see no one whom your godly exhortation, catechise, or lecture, can benefit, excepting this poor page, who, being in Satan’s hand as well as yourself, had better worship with you than remain to cumber our better-advised devotions.”

The page was well-nigh giving a round denial to the assertions which this speech implied, when, remembering what had passed betwixt him and the Regent, and seeing Catherine’s finger raised in a monitory fashion, he felt himself, as on former occasions at the Castle of Avenel, obliged to submit to the task of dissimulation, and followed Dryfesdale down to the castle chapel, where he assisted in the devotions of the evening.

The chaplain was named Elias Henderson. He was a man in the prime of life, and possessed of good natural parts, carefully improved by the best education which those times afforded. To these qualities were added a faculty of close and terse reasoning; and, at intervals, a flow of happy illustration and natural eloquence. The religious faith of Roland Graeme, as we have already had opportunity to observe, rested on no secure basis, but was entertained rather in obedience to his grandmother’s behests, and his secret desire to contradict the chaplain of Avenel Castle, than from any fixed or steady reliance which he placed on the Romish creed. His ideas had been of late considerably enlarged by the scenes he had passed through; and feeling that there was shame in not understanding something of those political disputes betwixt the professors of the ancient and the reformed faith, he listened with more attention than it had hitherto been in his nature to yield on such occasions, to an animated discussion of some of the principal points of difference betwixt the churches. So passed away the first day in the Castle of Lochleven; and those which followed it were, for some time, of a very monotonous and uniform tenor.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29