The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Fifth.

And when love’s torch hath set the heart in flame,

Comes Seignor Reason, with his saws and cautions,

Giving such aid as the old gray-beard Sexton,

Who from the church-vault drags the crazy engine,

To ply its dribbling ineffectual streamlet

Against a conflagration.

Old play.

In a musing mood, Roland Graeme upon the ensuing morning betook himself to the battlements of the Castle, as a spot where he might indulge the course of his thick-coming fancies with least chance of interruption. But his place of retirement was in the present case ill chosen, for he was presently joined by Mr. Elias Henderson.

“I sought you, young man,” said the preacher, “having to speak of something which concerns you nearly.”

The page had no pretence for avoiding the conference which the chaplain thus offered, though he felt that it might prove an embarrassing one.

“In teaching thee, as far as my feeble knowledge hath permitted, thy duty towards God,” said the chaplain, “there are particulars of your duty towards man, upon which I was unwilling long or much to insist. You are here in the service of a lady, honourable as touching her birth, deserving of all compassion as respects her misfortunes, and garnished with even but too many of those outward qualities which win men’s regard and affection. Have you ever considered your regard to this Lady Mary of Scotland, in its true light and bearing?”

“I trust, reverend sir,” replied Roland Graeme, “that I am well aware of the duties a servant in my condition owes to his royal mistress, especially in her lowly and distressed condition.”

“True,” answered the preacher; “but it is even that honest feeling which may, in the Lady Mary’s case, carry thee into great crime and treachery.”

“How so, reverend sir?” replied the page; “I profess I understand you not.”

“I speak to you not of the crimes of this ill-advised lady,” said the preacher; “they are not subjects for the ears of her sworn servant. But it is enough to say, that this unhappy person hath rejected more offers of grace, and more hopes of glory, than ever were held out to earthly princes; and that she is now, her day of favour being passed, sequestered in this lonely castle, for the common weal of the people of Scotland, and it may be for the benefit of her own soul.”

“Reverend sir,” said Roland, somewhat impatiently, “I am but too well aware that my unfortunate mistress is imprisoned, since I have the misfortune to share in her restraint myself — of which, to speak sooth, I am heartily weary.”

“It is even of that which I am about to speak,” said the chaplain, mildly; “but, first, my good Roland, look forth on the pleasant prospect of yonder cultivated plain. You see, where the smoke arises, yonder village standing half hidden by the trees, and you know it to be the dwelling-place of peace and industry. From space to space, each by the side of its own stream, you see the gray towers of barons, with cottages interspersed; and you know that they also, with their household, are now living in unity; the lance hung upon the wall, and the sword resting in its sheath. You see, too, more than one fair church, where the pure waters of life are offered to the thirsty, and where the hungry are refreshed with spiritual food. — What would he deserve, who should bring fire and slaughter into so fair and happy a scene — who should bare the swords of the gentry and turn them against each other — who should give tower and cottage to the flames, and slake the embers with the blood of the indwellers? — What would he deserve who should lift up again that ancient Dagon of Superstition, whom the worthies of the time have beaten down, and who should once more make the churches of God the high places of Baal?”

“You have limned a frightful picture, reverend sir,” said Roland Graeme; “yet I guess not whom you would charge with the purpose of effecting a change so horrible.”

“God forbid,” replied the preacher, “that I should say to thee, Thou art the man. — Yet beware, Roland Graeme, that thou, in serving thy mistress, hold fast the still higher service which thou owest to the peace of thy country, and the prosperity of her inhabitants; else, Roland Graeme, thou mayest be the very man upon whose head will fall the curses and assured punishment due to such work. If thou art won by the song of these sirens to aid that unhappy lady’s escape from this place of penitence and security, it is over with the peace of Scotland’s cottages, and with the prosperity of her palaces — and the babe unborn shall curse the name of the man who gave inlet to the disorder which will follow the war betwixt the mother and the son.”

“I know of no such plan, reverend sir,” answered the page, “and therefore can aid none such. — My duty towards the Queen has been simply that of an attendant; it is a task, of which, at times, I would willingly have been freed; nevertheless —”

“It is to prepare thee for the enjoyment of something more of liberty,” said the preacher, “that I have endeavoured to impress upon you the deep responsibility under which your office must be discharged. George Douglas hath told the Lady Lochleven that you are weary of this service, and my intercession hath partly determined her good ladyship, that, as your discharge cannot be granted, you shall, instead, be employed in certain commissions on the mainland, which have hitherto been discharged by other persons of confidence. Wherefore, come with me to the lady, for even today such duty will be imposed on you.”

“I trust you will hold me excused, reverend sir,” said the page, who felt that an increase of confidence on the part of the Lady of the Castle and her family would render his situation in a moral view doubly embarrassing, “one cannot serve two masters — and I much fear that my mistress will not hold me excused for taking employment under another.”

“Fear not that,” said the preacher; “her consent shall be asked and obtained. I fear she will yield it but too easily, as hoping to avail herself of your agency to maintain correspondence with her friends, as those falsely call themselves, who would make her name the watchword for civil war.”

“And thus,” said the page, “I shall be exposed to suspicion on all sides; for my mistress will consider me as a spy placed on her by her enemies, seeing me so far trusted by them; and the Lady Lochleven will never cease to suspect the possibility of my betraying her, because circumstances put it into my power to do so — I would rather remain as I am.”

There followed a pause of one or two minutes, during which Henderson looked steadily in Roland’s countenance, as if desirous to ascertain whether there was not more in the answer than the precise words seemed to imply. He failed in this point, however; for Roland, bred a page from childhood, knew how to assume a sullen pettish cast of countenance, well enough calculated to hide all internal emotions.

“I understand thee not, Roland,” said the preacher, “or rather thou thinkest on this matter more deeply than I apprehended to be in thy nature. Methought, the delight of going on shore with thy bow, or thy gun, or thy angling-rod, would have borne away all other feelings.”

“And so it would,” replied Roland, who perceived the danger of suffering Henderson’s half-raised suspicions to become fully awake — “I would have thought of nothing but the gun and the oar, and the wild water-fowl that tempt me by sailing among the sedges yonder so far out of flight-shot, had you not spoken of my going on shore as what was to occasion burning of town and tower, the downfall of the evangele, and the upsetting of the mass.”

“Follow me, then,” said Henderson, “and we will seek the Lady Lochleven.”

They found her at breakfast with her grandson George Douglas. —“Peace be with your ladyship!” said the preacher, bowing to his patroness; “Roland Graeme awaits your order.”

“Young man,” said the lady, “our chaplain hath warranted for thy fidelity, and we are determined to give you certain errands to do for us in our town of Kinross.”

“Not by my advice,” said Douglas, coldly.

“I said not that it was,” answered the lady, something sharply. “The mother of thy father may, I should think, be old enough to judge for herself in a matter so simple. — Thou wilt take the skiff, Roland, and two of my people, whom Dryfesdale or Randal will order out, and fetch off certain stuff of plate and hangings, which should last night be lodged at Kinross by the wains from Edinburgh.”

“And give this packet,” said George Douglas, “to a servant of ours, whom you will find in waiting there. — It is the report to my father,” he added, looking towards his grandmother, who acquiesced by bending her head.

“I have already mentioned to Master Henderson,” said Roland Graeme, “that as my duty requires my attendance on the Queen, her Grace’s permission for my journey ought to be obtained before I can undertake your commission.”

“Look to it, my son,” said the old lady, “the scruple of the youth is honourable.”

“Craving your pardon, madam, I have no wish to force myself on her presence thus early,” said. Douglas, in an indifferent tone; “it might displease her, and were no way agreeable to me.”

“And I,” said the Lady Lochleven, “although her temper hath been more gentle of late, have no will to undergo, without necessity, the rancour of her wit.”

“Under your permission, madam,” said the chaplain, “I will myself render your request to the Queen. During my long residence in this house she hath not deigned to see me in private, or to hear my doctrine; yet so may Heaven prosper my labours, as love for her soul, and desire to bring her into the right path, was my chief desire for coming hither.”

“Take care, Master Henderson,” said Douglas, in a tone which seemed almost sarcastic, “lest you rush hastily on an adventure to which you have no vocation — you are learned, and know the adage, Ne accesseris in consilium nisi vocatus. — Who hath required this at your hand?”

“The Master to whose service I am called,” answered the preacher, looking upward — “He who hath commanded me to be earnest in season and out of season.”

“Your acquaintance hath not been much, I think, with courts or princes,” continued the young Esquire.

“No, sir,” replied Henderson, “but like my Master Knox, I see nothing frightful in the fair face of a pretty lady.”

“My son,” said the Lady of Lochleven, “quench not the good man’s zeal — let him do the errand to this unhappy Princess.”

“With more willingness than I would do it myself,” said George Douglas. Yet something in his manner appeared to contradict his words.

The minister went accordingly, followed by Roland Graeme, and, demanding an audience of the imprisoned Princess, was admitted. He found her with her ladies engaged in the daily task of embroidery. The Queen received him with that courtesy, which, in ordinary cases, she used towards all who approached her, and the clergyman, in opening his commission, was obviously somewhat more embarrassed than he had expected to be. —“The good Lady of Lochleven — may it please your Grace —”

He made a short pause, during which Mary said, with a smile, “My Grace would, in truth, be well pleased, were the Lady Lochleven our good lady — But go on — what is the will of the good Lady of Lochleven?”

“She desires, madam,” said the chaplain, “that your Grace will permit this young gentleman, your page, Roland Graeme, to pass to Kinross, to look after some household stuff and hangings, sent hither for the better furnishing your Grace’s apartments.”

“The Lady of Lochleven,” said the Queen, “uses needless ceremony, in requesting our permission for that which stands within her own pleasure. We well know that this young gentleman’s attendance on us had not been so long permitted, were he not thought to be more at the command of that good lady than at ours. — But we cheerfully yield consent that he shall go on her errand — with our will we would doom no living creature to the captivity which we ourselves must suffer.”

“Ay, madam,” answered the preacher, “and it is doubtless natural for humanity to quarrel with its prison-house. Yet there have been those, who have found, that time spent in the house of temporal captivity may be so employed as to redeem us from spiritual slavery.”

“I apprehend your meaning, sir,” replied the Queen, “but I have heard your apostle — I have heard Master John Knox; and were I to be perverted, I would willingly resign to the ablest and most powerful of heresiarchs, the poor honour he might acquire by overcoming my faith and my hope.”

“Madam,” said the preacher, “it is not to the talents or skill of the husbandman that God gives the increase — the words which were offered in vain by him whom you justly call our apostle, during the bustle and gaiety of a court, may yet find better acceptance during the leisure for reflection which this place affords. God knows, lady, that I speak in singleness of heart, as one who would as soon compare himself to the immortal angels, as to the holy man whom you have named. Yet would you but condescend to apply to their noblest use, those talents and that learning which all allow you to be possessed of — would you afford us but the slightest hope that you would hear and regard what can be urged against the blinded superstition and idolatry in which you are brought up, sure am I, that the most powerfully-gifted of my brethren, that even John Knox himself, would hasten hither, and account the rescue of your single soul from the nets of Romish error —”

“I am obliged to you and to them for their charity,” said Mary; “but as I have at present but one presence-chamber, I would reluctantly see it converted into a Huguenot synod.”

“At least, madam, be not thus obstinately blinded in your errors! Hear one who has hungered and thirsted, watched and prayed, to undertake the good work of your conversion, and who would be content to die the instant that a work so advantageous for yourself and so beneficial to Scotland were accomplished — Yes, lady, could I but shake the remaining pillar of the heathen temple in this land — and that permit me to term your faith in the delusions of Rome — I could be content to die overwhelmed in the ruins!”

“I will not insult your zeal, sir,” replied Mary, “by saying you are more likely to make sport for the Philistines than to overwhelm them — your charity claims my thanks, for it is warmly expressed and may be truly purposed — But believe as well of me as I am willing to do of you, and think that I may be as anxious to recall you to the ancient and only road, as you are to teach me your new by-ways to paradise.”

“Then, madam, if such be your generous purpose,” said Henderson, eagerly, “— what hinders that we should dedicate some part of that time, unhappily now too much at your Grace’s disposal, to discuss a question so weighty? You, by report of all men, are both learned and witty; and I, though without such advantages, am strong in my cause as in a tower of defence. Why should we not spend some space in endeavouring to discover which of us hath the wrong side in this important matter?”

“Nay,” said Queen Mary, “I never alleged my force was strong enough to accept of a combat en champ clos, with a scholar and a polemic. Besides, the match is not equal. You, sir, might retire when you felt the battle go against you, while I am tied to the stake, and have no permission to say the debate wearies me. — I would be alone.”

She curtsied low to him as she uttered these words; and Henderson, whose zeal was indeed ardent, but did not extend to the neglect of delicacy, bowed in return, and prepared to withdraw.

“I would,” he said, “that my earnest wish, my most zealous prayer, could procure to your Grace any blessing or comfort, but especially that in which alone blessing or comfort is, as easily as the slightest intimation of your wish will remove me from your presence.”

He was in the act of departing, when Mary said to him with much courtesy, “Do me no injury in your thoughts, good sir; it may be, that if my time here be protracted longer — as surely I hope it will not, trusting that either my rebel subjects will repent of their disloyalty, or that my faithful lieges will obtain the upper hand — but if my time be here protracted, it may be I shall have no displeasure in hearing one who seems so reasonable and compassionate as yourself, and I may hazard your contempt by endeavouring to recollect and repeat the reasons which schoolmen and councils give for the faith that is in me — although I fear that, God help me! my Latin has deserted me with my other possessions. This must, however, be for another day. Meanwhile, sir, let the Lady of Lochleven employ my page as she lists — I will not afford suspicion by speaking a word to him before he goes. — Roland Graeme, my friend, lose not an opportunity of amusing thyself — dance, sing, run, and leap — all may be done merrily on the mainland; but he must have more than quicksilver in his veins who would frolic here.”

“Alas! madam,” said the preacher, “to what is it you exhort the youth, while time passes, and eternity summons? Can our salvation be insured by idle mirth, or our good work wrought out without fear and trembling?”

“I cannot fear or tremble,” replied the Queen; “to Mary Stewart such emotions are unknown. But if weeping and sorrow on my part will atone for the boy’s enjoying an hour of boyish pleasure, be assured the penance shall be duly paid.”

“Nay, but, gracious lady,” said the preacher, “in this you greatly err; — our tears and our sorrows are all too little for our own faults and follies, nor can we transfer them, as your church falsely teaches, to the benefit of others.”

“May I pray you, sir,” answered the Queen, “with as little offence as such a prayer may import, to transfer yourself elsewhere? We are sick at heart, and may not now be disposed with farther controversy — and thou, Roland, take this little purse;” (then, turning to the divine, she said, showing its contents,) “Look, reverend sir — it contains only these two or three gold testoons, a coin which, though bearing my own poor features, I have ever found more active against me than on my side, just as my subjects take arms against me, with my own name for their summons and signal. — Take this purse, that thou mayest want no means of amusement. Fail not — fail not to bring met back news from Kinross; only let it be such as, without suspicion or offence, may be told in the presence of this reverend gentleman, or of the good Lady Lochleven herself.”

The last hint was too irresistible to be withstood; and Henderson withdrew, half mortified, half pleased, with his reception; for Mary, from long habit, and the address which was natural to her, had learned, in an extraordinary degree, the art of evading discourse which was disagreeable to her feelings or prejudices, without affronting those by whom it was proffered.

Roland Graeme retired with the chaplain, at a signal from his lady; but it did not escape him, that as he left the room, stepping backwards, and making the deep obeisance due to royalty, Catherine Seyton held up her slender forefinger, with a gesture which he alone could witness, and which seemed to say, “Remember what has passed betwixt us.”

The young page had now his last charge from the Lady of Lochleven. “There are revels,” she said, “this day at the village — my son’s authority is, as yet, unable to prevent these continued workings of the ancient leaven of folly which the Romish priests have kneaded into the very souls of the Scottish peasantry. I do not command thee to abstain from them — that would be only to lay a snare for thy folly, or to teach thee falsehood; but enjoy these vanities with moderation, and mark them as something thou must soon learn to renounce and contemn. Our chamberlain at Kinross, Luke Lundin — Doctor, as he foolishly calleth himself — will acquaint thee what is to be done in the matter about which thou goest. Remember thou art trusted — show thyself, therefore, worthy of trust.”

When we recollect that Roland Graeme was not yet nineteen, and that he had spent his whole life in the solitary Castle of Avenel, excepting the few hours he had passed in Edinburgh, and his late residence at Lochleven, (the latter period having very little served to enlarge his acquaintance with the gay world.) we cannot wonder that his heart beat, high with hope and curiosity, at the prospect of partaking the sport even of a country wake. He hastened to his little cabin, and turned over the wardrobe with which (in every respect becoming his station) he had been supplied from Edinburgh, probably by order of the Earl of Murray. By the Queen’s command he had hitherto waited upon her in mourning, or at least in sad-coloured raiment. Her condition, she said, admitted of nothing more gay. But now he selected the gayest dress his wardrobe afforded; composed of scarlet slashed with black satin, the royal colours of Scotland — combed his long curled hair — disposed his chain and medal round a beaver hat of the newest block; and with the gay falchion which had reached him in so mysterious a manner, hung by his side in an embroidered belt, his apparel, added to his natural frank mien and handsome figure, formed a most commendable and pleasing specimen of the young gallant of the period. He sought to make his parting reverence to the Queen and her ladies, but old Dryfesdale hurried him to the boat.

“We will have no private audiences,” he said, “my master; since you are to be trusted with somewhat, we will try at least to save thee from the temptation of opportunity. God help thee, child,” he added, with a glance of contempt at his gay clothes, “an the bear-ward be yonder from Saint Andrews, have a care thou go not near him.”

“And wherefore, I pray you?” said Roland.

“Lest he take thee for one of his runaway jackanapes,” answered the steward, smiling sourly.

“I wear not my clothes at thy cost,” said Roland indignantly.

“Nor at thine own either, my son” replied the steward, “else would thy garb more nearly resemble thy merit and thy station.”

Roland Graeme suppressed with difficulty the repartee which arose to his lips, and, wrapping his scarlet mantle around him, threw himself into the boat, which two rowers, themselves urged by curiosity to see the revels, pulled stoutly towards the west end of the lake. As they put off, Roland thought he could discover the face of Catherine Seyton, though carefully withdrawn from observation, peeping from a loophole to view his departure. He pulled off his hat, and held it up as a token that he saw and wished her adieu. A white kerchief waved for a second across the window, and for the rest of the little voyage, the thoughts of Catherine Seyton disputed ground in his breast with the expectations excited by the approaching revel. As they drew nearer and nearer the shore, the sounds of mirth and music, the laugh, the halloo, and the shout, came thicker upon the ear, and in a trice the boat was moored, and Roland Graeme hastened in quest of the chamberlain, that, being informed what time he had at his own disposal, he might lay it out to the best advantage.

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