The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Ninth.

Pray God she prove not masculine ere long!

King Henry VI.

Dismissed from the old man’s garden, Roland Graeme found that a grassy paddock, in which sauntered two cows, the property of the gardener, still separated him from the village. He paced through it, lost in meditation upon the words of the Abbot. Father Ambrosius had, with success enough, exerted over him that powerful influence which the guardians and instructors of our childhood possess over our more mature youth. And yet, when Roland looked back upon what the father had said, he could not but suspect that he had rather sought to evade entering into the controversy betwixt the churches, than to repel the objections and satisfy the doubts which the lectures of Henderson had excited. “For this he had no time,” said the page to himself, “neither have I now calmness and learning sufficient to judge upon points of such magnitude. Besides, it were base to quit my faith while the wind of fortune sets against it, unless I were so placed, that my conversion, should it take place, were free as light from the imputation of self-interest. I was bred a Catholic — bred in the faith of Bruce and Wallace — I will hold that faith till time and reason shall convince me that it errs. I will serve this poor Queen as a subject should serve an imprisoned and wronged sovereign — they who placed me in her service have to blame themselves — who sent me hither, a gentleman trained in the paths of loyalty and honour, when they should have sought out some truckling, cogging, double-dealing knave, who would have been at once the observant page of the Queen, and the obsequious spy of her enemies. Since I must choose betwixt aiding and betraying her, I will decide as becomes her servant and her subject; but Catherine Seyton — Catherine Seyton, beloved by Douglas and holding me on or off as the intervals of her leisure or caprice will permit — how shall I deal with the coquette? — By heaven, when I next have an opportunity, she shall render me some reason for her conduct, or I will break with her for ever!”

As he formed this doughty resolution, he crossed the stile which led out of the little enclosure, and was almost immediately greeted by Dr. Luke Lundin.

“Ha! my most excellent young friend,” said the Doctor, “from whence come you? — but I note the place. — Yes, neighbour Blinkhoolie’s garden is a pleasant rendezvous, and you are of the age when lads look after a bonny lass with one eye, and a dainty plum with another. But hey! you look subtriste and melancholic — I fear the maiden has proved cruel, or the plums unripe; and surely I think neighbour Blinkhoolie’s damsons can scarcely have been well preserved throughout the winter — he spares the saccharine juice on his confects. But courage, man, there are more Kates in Kinross; and for the immature fruit, a glass of my double distilled aqua mirabilis — probatum est.”

The page darted an ireful glance at the facetious physician; but presently recollecting that the name Kate, which had provoked his displeasure, was probably but introduced for the sake of alliteration, he suppressed his wrath, and only asked if the wains had been heard of?

“Why, I have been seeking for you this hour, to tell you that the stuff is in your boat, and that the boat waits your pleasure. Auchtermuchty had only fallen into company with an idle knave like himself, and a stoup of aquavitae between them. Your boatmen lie on their oars, and there have already been made two wefts from the warder’s turret to intimate that those in the castle are impatient for your return. Yet there is time for you to take a slight repast; and, as your friend and physician, I hold it unfit you should face the water-breeze with an empty stomach.”

Roland Graeme had nothing for it but to return, with such cheer as he might, to the place where his boat was moored on the beach, and resisted all offer of refreshment, although the Doctor promised that he should prelude the collation with a gentle appetizer — a decoction of herbs, gathered and distilled by himself. Indeed, as Roland had not forgotten the contents of his morning cup, it is possible that the recollection induced him to stand firm in his refusal of all food, to which such an unpalatable preface was the preliminary. As they passed towards the boat, (for the ceremonious politeness of the worthy Chamberlain would not permit the page to go thither without attendance,) Roland Graeme, amidst a group who seemed to be assembled around a party of wandering musicians, distinguished, as he thought, the dress of Catherine Seyton. He shook himself clear from his attendant, and at one spring was in the midst of the crowd, and at the side of the damsel. “Catherine,” he whispered, “is it well for you to be still here? — will you not return to the castle?”

“To the devil with your Catherines and your castles!” answered the maiden, snappishly; “have you not had time enough already to get rid of your follies? Begone! I desire not your farther company, and there will be danger in thrusting it upon me.”

“Nay — but if there be danger, fairest Catherine,” replied Roland; “why will you not allow me to stay and share it with you?”

“Intruding fool,” said the maiden, “the danger is all on thine own side — the risk in, in plain terms, that I strike thee on the mouth with the hilt of my dagger.” So saying, she turned haughtily from him, and moved through the crowd, who gave way in some astonishment at the masculine activity with which she forced her way among them.

As Roland, though much irritated, prepared to follow, he was grappled on the other side by Doctor Luke Lundin, who reminded him of the loaded boat, of the two wefts, or signals with the flag, which had been made from the tower, of the danger of the cold breeze to an empty stomach, and of the vanity of spending more time upon coy wenches and sour plums. Roland was thus, in a manner, dragged back to his boat, and obliged to launch her forth upon his return to Lochleven Castle.

That little voyage was speedily accomplished, and the page was greeted at the landing-place by the severe and caustic welcome of old Dryfesdale. “So, young gallant, you are come at last, after a delay of six hours, and after two signals from the castle? But, I warrant, some idle junketing hath occupied you too deeply to think of your service or your duty. Where is the note of the plate and household stuff? — Pray Heaven it hath not been diminished under the sleeveless care of so young a gad-about!”

“Diminished under my care, Sir Steward!” retorted the page angrily; “say so in earnest, and by Heaven your gray hair shall hardly protect your saucy tongue!”

“A truce with your swaggering, young esquire,” returned the steward; “we have bolts and dungeons for brawlers. Go to my lady, and swagger before her, if thou darest — she will give thee proper cause of offence, for she has waited for thee long and impatiently.”

“And where then is the Lady of Lochleven?” said the page; “for I conceive it is of her thou speakest.”

“Ay — of whom else?” replied Dryfesdale; “or who besides the Lady of Lochleven hath a right to command in this castle?”

“The Lady of Lochleven is thy mistress,” said Roland Graeme; “but mine is the Queen of Scotland.”

The steward looked at him fixedly for a moment, with an air in which suspicion and dislike were ill concealed by an affectation of contempt. “The bragging cock-chicken,” he said, “will betray himself by his rash crowing. I have marked thy altered manner in the chapel of late — ay, and your changing of glances at meal-time with a certain idle damsel, who, like thyself, laughs at all gravity and goodness. There is something about you, my master, which should be looked to. But, if you would know whether the Lady of Lochleven, or that other lady, hath a right to command thy service, thou wilt find them together in the Lady Mary’s ante-room.”

Roland hastened thither, not unwilling to escape from the ill-natured penetration of the old man, and marvelling at the same time what peculiarity could have occasioned the Lady of Lochleven’s being in the Queen’s apartment at this time of the afternoon, so much contrary to her usual wont. His acuteness instantly penetrated the meaning. “She wishes,” he concluded, “to see the meeting betwixt the Queen and me on my return, that she may form a guess whether there is any private intelligence or understanding betwixt us — I must be guarded.”

With this resolution he entered the parlour, where the Queen, seated in her chair, with the Lady Fleming leaning upon the back of it, had already kept the Lady of Lochleven standing in her presence for the space of nearly an hour, to the manifest increase of her very visible bad humour. Roland Graeme, on entering the apartment, made a deep obeisance to the Queen, and another to the Lady, and then stood still as if to await their farther question. Speaking almost together, the Lady Lochleven said, “So, young man, you are returned at length?”

And then stopped indignantly short, while the Queen went on without regarding her —“Roland, you are welcome home to us — you have proved the true dove and not the raven — Yet I am sure I could have forgiven you, if, once dismissed, from this water-circled ark of ours, you had never again returned to us. I trust you have brought back an olive-branch, for our kind and worthy hostess has chafed herself much on account of your long absence, and we never needed more some symbol of peace and reconciliation.”

“I grieve I should have been detained, madam,” answered the page; “but from the delay of the person intrusted with the matters for which I was sent, I did not receive them till late in the day.”

“See you there now,” said the Queen to the Lady Lochleven; “we could not persuade you, our dearest hostess, that your household goods were in all safe keeping and surety. True it is, that we can excuse your anxiety, considering that these august apartments are so scantily furnished, that we have not been able to offer you even the relief of a stool during the long time you have afforded us the pleasure of your society.”

“The will, madam,” said the lady, “the will to offer such accommodation was more wanting than the means.”

“What!” said the Queen, looking round, and affecting surprise, “there are then stools in this apartment — one, two — no less than four, including the broken one — a royal garniture! — We observed them not — will it please your ladyship to sit?”

“No, madam, I will soon relieve you of my presence,” replied the Lady Lochleven; “and while with you, my aged limbs can still better brook fatigue, than my mind stoop to accept of constrained courtesy.”

“Nay, Lady of Lochleven, if you take it so deeply,” said the Queen, rising and motioning to her own vacant chair, “I would rather you assumed my seat — you are not the first of your family who has done so.”

The Lady of Lochleven curtsied a negative, but seemed with much difficulty to suppress the angry answer which rose to her lips.

During this sharp conversation, the page’s attention had been almost entirely occupied by the entrance of Catherine Seyton, who came from the inner apartment, in the usual dress in which she attended upon the Queen, and with nothing in her manner which marked either the hurry or confusion incident to a hasty change of disguise, or the conscious fear of detection in a perilous enterprise. Roland Graeme ventured to make her an obeisance as she entered, but she returned it with an air of the utmost indifference, which, in his opinion, was extremely inconsistent with the circumstances in which they stood towards each other. —“Surely,” he thought, “she cannot in reason expect to bully me out of the belief due to mine own eyes, as she tried to do concerning the apparition in the hostelry of Saint Michael’s — I will try if I cannot make her feel that this will be but a vain task, and that confidence in me is the wiser and safer course to pursue.”

These thoughts had passed rapidly through his mind, when the Queen, having finished her altercation with the Lady of the castle, again addressed him —“What of the revels at Kinross, Roland Graeme? Methought they were gay, if I may judge from some faint sounds of mirth and distant music, which found their way so far as these grated windows, and died when they entered them, as all that is mirthful must — But thou lookest as sad as if thou hadst come from a conventicle of the Huguenots!”

“And so perchance he hath, madam,” replied the Lady of Lochleven, at whom this side-shaft was lanched. “I trust, amid yonder idle fooleries, there wanted not some pouring forth of doctrine to a better purpose than that vain mirth, which, blazing and vanishing like the crackling of dry thorns, leaves to the fools who love it nothing but dust and ashes.”

“Mary Fleming,” said the Queen, turning round and drawing her mantle about her, “I would that we had the chimney-grate supplied with a fagot or two of these same thorns which the Lady of Lochleven describes so well. Methinks the damp air from the lake, which stagnates in these vaulted rooms, renders them deadly cold.”

“Your Grace’s pleasure shall be obeyed,” said the Lady of Lochleven; “yet may I presume to remind you that we are now in summer?”

“I thank you for the information, my good lady,” said the Queen; “for prisoners better learn their calender from the mouth of their jailor, than from any change they themselves feel in the seasons. — Once more, Roland Graeme, what of the revels?”

“They were gay, madam,” said the page, “but of the usual sort, and little worth your Highness’s ear.”

“Oh, you know not,” said the Queen, “how very indulgent my ear has become to all that speaks of freedom and the pleasures of the free. Methinks I would rather have seen the gay villagers dance their ring round the Maypole, than have witnessed the most stately masques within the precincts of a palace. The absence of stone-wall — the sense that the green turf is under the foot which may tread it free and unrestrained, is worth all that art or splendour can add to more courtly revels.”

“I trust,” said the Lady Lochleven, addressing the page in her turn, “there were amongst these follies none of the riots or disturbances to which they so naturally lead?”

Roland gave a slight glance to Catherine Seyton, as if to bespeak her attention, as he replied — “I witnessed no offence, madam, worthy of marking — none indeed of any kind, save that a bold damsel made her hand somewhat too familiar with the cheek of a player-man, and ran some hazard of being ducked in the lake.”

As he uttered these words he cast a hasty glance at Catherine; but she sustained, with the utmost serenity of manner and countenance, the hint which he had deemed could not have been thrown out before her without exciting some fear and confusion.

“I will cumber your Grace no longer with my presence,” said the Lady Lochleven, “unless you have aught to command me.”

“Nought, our good hostess,” answered the Queen, “unless it be to pray you, that on another occasion you deem it not needful to postpone your better employment to wait so long upon us.”

“May it please you,” added the Lady Lochleven, “to command this your gentleman to attend us, that I may receive some account of these matters which have been sent hither for your Grace’s use?”

“We may not refuse what you are pleased to require, madam,” answered the Queen. “Go with the lady, Roland, if our commands be indeed necessary to thy doing so. We will hear tomorrow the history of thy Kinross pleasures. For this night we dismiss thy attendance.”

Roland Graeme went with the Lady of Lochleven, who failed not to ask him many questions concerning what had passed at the sports, to which he rendered such answers as were most likely to lull asleep any suspicions which she might entertain of his disposition to favour Queen Mary, taking especial care to avoid all allusion to the apparition of Magdalen Graeme, and of the Abbot Ambrosius. At length, after undergoing a long and somewhat close examination, he was dismissed with such expressions, as, coming from the reserved and stern Lady of Lochleven, might seem to express a degree of favour and countenance.

His first care was to obtain some refreshment, which was more cheerfully afforded him by a good-natured pantler than by Dryfesdale, who was, on this occasion, much disposed to abide by the fashion of Pudding-burn House, where

They who came not the first call.

Gat no more meat till the next meal.

When Roland Graeme had finished his repast, having his dismissal from the Queen for the evening, and being little inclined for such society as the castle afforded, he stole into the garden, in which he had permission to spend his leisure time, when it pleased him. In this place, the ingenuity of the contriver and disposer of the walks had exerted itself to make the most of little space, and by screens, both of stone ornamented with rude sculpture, and hedges of living green, had endeavoured to give as much intricacy and variety as the confined limits of the garden would admit.

Here the young man walked sadly, considering the events of the day, and comparing what had dropped from the Abbot with what he had himself noticed of the demeanour of George Douglas. “It must be so,” was the painful but inevitable conclusion at which he arrived. “It must be by his aid that she is thus enabled, like a phantom, to transport herself from place to place, and to appear at pleasure on the mainland or on the islet. — It must be so,” he repeated once more; “with him she holds a close, secret, and intimate correspondence, altogether inconsistent with the eye of favour which she has sometimes cast upon me, and destructive to the hopes which she must have known these glances have necessarily inspired.” And yet (for love will hope where reason despairs) the thought rushed on his mind, that it was possible she only encouraged Douglas’s passion so far as might serve her mistress’s interest, and that she was of too frank, noble, and candid a nature, to hold out to himself hopes which she meant not to fulfil. Lost in these various conjectures, he seated himself upon a bank of turf which commanded a view of the lake on the one side, and on the other of that front of the castle along which the Queen’s apartments were situated.

The sun had now for some time set, and the twilight of May was rapidly fading into a serene night. On the lake, the expanded water rose and fell, with the slightest and softest influence of a southern breeze, which scarcely dimpled the surface over which it passed. In the distance was still seen the dim outline of the island of Saint Serf, once visited by many a sandalled pilgrim, as the blessed spot trodden by a man of God — now neglected or violated, as the refuge of lazy priests, who had with justice been compelled to give place to the sheep and the heifers of a Protestant baron.

As Roland gazed on the dark speck, amid the lighter blue of the waters which surrounded it, the mazes of polemical discussion again stretched themselves before the eye of the mind. Had these men justly suffered their exile as licentious drones, the robbers, at once, and disgrace, of the busy hive? or had the hand of avarice and rapine expelled from the temple, not the ribalds who polluted, but the faithful priests who served the shrine in honour and fidelity? The arguments of Henderson, in this contemplative hour, rose with double force before him; and could scarcely be parried by the appeal which the Abbot Ambrosius had made from his understanding to his feelings — an appeal which he had felt more forcibly amid the bustle of stirring life, than now when his reflections were more undisturbed. It required an effort to divert his mind from this embarrassing topic; and he found that he best succeeded by turning his eyes to the front of the tower, watching where a twinkling light still streamed from the casement of Catherine Seyton’s apartment, obscured by times for a moment as the shadow of the fair inhabitant passed betwixt the taper and the window. At length the light was removed or extinguished, and that object of speculation was also withdrawn from the eyes of the meditative lover. Dare I confess the fact, without injuring his character for ever as a hero of romance? These eyes gradually became heavy; speculative doubts on the subject of religious controversy, and anxious conjectures concerning the state of his mistress’s affections, became confusedly blended together in his musings; the fatigues of a busy day prevailed over the harassing subjects of contemplation which occupied his mind, and he fell fast asleep.

Sound were his slumbers, until they were suddenly dispelled by the iron tongue of the castle-bell, which sent its deep and sullen sounds wide over the bosom of the lake, and awakened the echoes of Bennarty, the hill which descends steeply on its southern bank. Roland started up, for this bell was always tolled at ten o’clock, as the signal for locking the castle gates, and placing the keys under the charge of the seneschal. He therefore hastened to the wicket by which the garden communicated with the building, and had the mortification, just as he reached it, to hear the bolt leave its sheath with a discordant crash, and enter the stone groove of the door-lintel. “Hold, hold,” cried the page, “and let me in ere you lock the wicket.” The voice of Dryfesdale replied from within, in his usual tone of embittered sullenness, “The hour is passed, fair master — you like not the inside of these walls — even make it a complete holiday, and spend the night as well as the day out of bounds.”

“Open the door,” exclaimed the indignant page, “or by Saint Giles I will make thy gold chain smoke for it!”

“Make no alarm here,” retorted the impenetrable Dryfesdale, “but keep thy sinful oaths and silly threats for those that regard them — I do mine office, and carry the keys to the seneschal. — Adieu, my young master! the cool night air will advantage your hot blood.”

The steward was right in what he said; for the cooling breeze was very necessary to appease the feverish fit of anger which Roland experienced, nor did the remedy succeed for some time. At length, after some hasty turns made through the garden, exhausting his passion in vain vows of vengeance, Roland Graeme began to be sensible that his situation ought rather to be held as matter of laughter than of serious resentment. To one bred a sportsman, a night spent in the open air had in it little of hardship, and the poor malice of the steward seemed more worthy of his contempt than his anger. “I would to God,” he said, “that the grim old man may always have contented himself with such sportive revenge. He often looks as he were capable of doing us a darker turn.” Returning, therefore, to the turf-seat which he had formerly occupied, and which was partially sheltered by a trim fence of green holly, he drew his mantle around him, stretched himself at length on the verdant settle, and endeavoured to resume that sleep which the castle bell had interrupted to so little purpose.

Sleep, like other earthly blessings, is niggard of its favours when most courted. The more Roland invoked her aid, the farther she fled from his eyelids. He had been completely awakened, first, by the sounds of the bell, and then by his own aroused vivacity of temper, and he found it difficult again to compose himself to slumber. At length, when his mind — was wearied out with a maze of unpleasing meditation, he succeeded in coaxing himself into a broken slumber. This was again dispelled by the voices of two persons who were walking in the garden, the sound of whose conversation, after mingling for some time in the page’s dreams, at length succeeded in awaking him thoroughly. He raised himself from his reclining posture in the utmost astonishment, which the circumstance of hearing two persons at that late hour conversing on the outside of the watchfully guarded Castle of Lochloven, was so well calculated to excite. His first thought was of supernatural beings; his next, upon some attempt on the part of Queen Mary’s friends and followers; his last was, that George of Douglas, possessed of the keys, and having the means of ingress and egress at pleasure, was availing himself of his office to hold a rendezvous with Catherine Seyton in the castle garden. He was confirmed in this opinion by the tone of the voice, which asked in a low whisper, “whether all was ready?”

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