The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Fourth.

Amid their cups that freely flow’d,

Their revelry and mirth,

A youthful lord tax’d Valentine

With base and doubtful birth.

Valentine and Orson.

When Roland Graeme was a youth about seventeen years of age, he chanced one summer morning to descend to the mew in which Sir Halbert Glendinning kept his hawks, in order to superintend the training of an eyas, or young hawk, which he himself, at the imminent risk of neck and limbs, had taken from the celebrated eyry in the neighborhood, called Gledscraig. As he was by no means satisfied with the attention which had been bestowed on his favourite bird, he was not slack in testifying his displeasure to the falconer’s lad, whose duty it was to have attended upon it.

“What, ho! sir knave,” exclaimed Roland, “is it thus you feed the eyas with unwashed meat, as if you were gorging the foul brancher of a worthless hoodie-crow? by the mass, and thou hast neglected its castings also for these two days! Think’st thou I ventured my neck to bring the bird down from the crag, that thou shouldst spoil him by thy neglect?” And to add force to his remonstrances, he conferred a cuff or two on the negligent attendant of the hawks, who, shouting rather louder than was necessary under all the circumstances, brought the master falconer to his assistance.

Adam Woodcock, the falconer of Avenel, was an Englishman by birth, but so long in the service of Glendinning, that he had lost much of his notional attachment in that which he had formed to his master. He was a favourite in his department, jealous and conceited of his skill, as masters of the game usually are; for the rest of his character he was a jester and a parcel poet, (qualities which by no means abated his natural conceit,) a jolly fellow, who, though a sound Protestant, loved a flagon of ale better than a long sermon, a stout man of his hands when need required, true to his master, and a little presuming on his interest with him.

Adam Woodcock, such as we have described him, by no means relished the freedom used by young Graeme, in chastising his assistant. “Hey, hey, my Lady’s page,” said he, stepping between his own boy and Roland, “fair and softly, an it like your gilt jacket — hands off is fair play — if my boy has done amiss, I can beat him myself, and then you may keep your hands soft.”

“I will beat him and thee too,” answered Roland, without hesitation, “an you look not better after your business. See how the bird is cast away between you. I found the careless lurdane feeding him with unwashed flesh, and she an eyas.” 4

“Go to,” said the falconer, “thou art but an eyas thyself, child Roland. — What knowest thou of feeding? I say that the eyas should have her meat unwashed, until she becomes a brancher —’twere the ready way to give her the frounce, to wash her meat sooner, and so knows every one who knows a gled from a falcon.”

“It is thine own laziness, thou false English blood, that dost nothing but drink and sleep,” retorted the page, “and leaves that lither lad to do the work, which he minds as little as thou.”

“And am I so idle then,” said the falconer, “that have three cast of hawks to look after, at perch and mew, and to fly them in the field to boot? — and is my Lady’s page so busy a man that he must take me up short? — and am I of false English blood? — I marvel what blood thou art — neither Englander nor Scot — fish nor flesh — a bastard from the Debateable Land, without either kith, kin, or ally! — Marry, out upon thee, foul kite, that would fain be a tercel gentle!”

The reply to this sarcasm was a box on the ear, so well applied, that it overthrew the falconer into the cistern in which water was kept for the benefit of the hawks. Up started Adam Woodcock, his wrath no way appeased by the cold immersion, and seizing on a truncheon which stood by, would have soon requited the injury he had received, had not Roland laid his hand on his poniard, and sworn by all that was sacred, that if he offered a stroke towards him, he would sheath the blade in his bowels. The noise was now so great, that more than one of the household came in, and amongst others the major-domo, a grave personage, already mentioned, whose gold chain and white wand intimated his authority. At the appearance of this dignitary, the strife was for the present appeased. He embraced, however, so favourable an opportunity, to read Roland Graeme a shrewd lecture on the impropriety of his deportment to his fellow-menials, and to assure him, that, should he communicate this fray to his master, (who, though now on one of his frequent expeditions, was speedily expected to return,) which but for respect to his Lady he would most certainly do, the residence of the culprit in the Castle of Avenel would be but of brief duration. “But, however,” added the prudent master of the household, “I will report the matter first to my Lady.”

“Very just, very right, Master Wingate,” exclaimed several voices together; “my Lady will consider if daggers, are to be drawn on us for every idle word, and whether we are to live in a well-ordered household, where there is the fear of God, or amidst drawn dirks and sharp knives.”

The object of this general resentment darted an angry glance around him, and suppressing with difficulty the desire which urged him to reply in furious or in contemptuous language, returned his dagger into his scabbard, looked disdainfully around upon the assembled menials, turned short upon his heel, and pushing aside those who stood betwixt him and the door, left the apartment.

“This will be no tree for my nest,” said the falconer, “if this cock-sparrow is to crow over us as he seems to do.”

“He struck me with his switch yesterday,” said one of the grooms, “because the tail of his worship’s gelding was not trimmed altogether so as suited his humour.”

“And I promise you,” said the laundress, “my young master will stick nothing to call an honest woman slut and quean, if there be but a speck of soot upon his band-collar.”

“If Master Wingate do not his errand to my Lady,” was the general result, “there will be no tarrying in the same house with Roland Graeme.”

The master of the household heard them all for some time, and then, motioning for universal silence, he addressed them with all the dignity of Malvolio himself. —“My masters — not forgetting you, my mistresses — do not think the worse of me that I proceed with as much care as haste in this matter. Our master is a gallant knight, and will have his sway at home and abroad, in wood and field, in hall and bower, as the saying is. Our Lady, my benison upon her, is also a noble person of long descent, and rightful heir of this place and barony, and she also loves her will; as for that matter, show me the woman who doth not. Now, she hath favoured, doth favour, and will favour, this jack-an-ape — for what good part about him I know not, save that as one noble lady will love a messan dog, and another a screaming popinjay, and a third a Barbary ape, so doth it please our noble dame to set her affections upon this stray elf of a page, for nought that I can think of, save that she — was the cause of his being saved (the more’s the pity) from drowning.” And here Master Wingate made a pause.

“I would have been his caution for a gray groat against salt water or fresh,” said Roland’s adversary, the falconer; “marry, if he crack not a rope for stabbing or for snatching, I will be content never to hood hawk again.”

“Peace, Adam Woodcock,” said Wingate, waving his hand; “I prithee, peace man — Now, my Lady liking this springald, as aforesaid, differs therein from my Lord, who loves never a bone in his skin. Now, is it for me to stir up strife betwixt them, and put as’twere my finger betwixt the bark and the tree, on account of a pragmatical youngster, whom, nevertheless, I would willingly see whipped forth of the barony? Have patience, and this boil will break without our meddling. I have been in service since I wore a beard on my chin, till now that that beard is turned gray, and I have seldom known any one better themselves, even by taking the lady’s part against the lord’s; but never one who did not dirk himself, if he took the lord’s against the lady’s.”

“And so,” said Lilias, “we are to be crowed over, every one of us, men and women, cock and hen, by this little upstart? — I will try titles with him first, I promise you. — I fancy, Master Wingate, for as wise as you look, you will be pleased to tell what you have seen today, if my lady commands you?”

“To speak the truth when my lady commands me,” answered the prudential major-domo, “is in some measure my duty, Mistress Lilias; always providing for and excepting those cases in which it cannot be spoken without breeding mischief and inconvenience to myself or my fellow-servants; for the tongue of a tale-bearer breaketh bones as well as Jeddart-staff.” 5

“But this imp of Satan is none of your friends or fellow-servants,” said Lilias; “and I trust you mean not to stand up for him against the whole family besides?”

“Credit me, Mrs. Lilias,” replied the senior, “should I see the time fitting, I would, with right good-will give him a lick with the rough side of my tongue.”

“Enough said, Master Wingate,” answered Lilias; “then trust me his song shall soon be laid. If my mistress does not ask me what is the matter below stairs before she be ten minutes of time older, she is no born woman, and my name is not Lilias Bradbourne.”

In pursuance of her plan, Mistress Lilias failed not to present herself before her mistress with all the exterior of one who is possessed of an important secret — that is, she had the corners of her mouth turned down, her eyes raised up, her lips pressed as fast together as if they had been sewed up, to prevent her babbling, and an air of prim mystical importance diffused over her whole person and demeanour, which seemed to intimate, “I know something which I am resolved not to tell you!”

Lilias had rightly read her mistress’s temper, who, wise and good as she was, was yet a daughter of grandame Eve, and could not witness this mysterious bearing on the part of her waiting-woman without longing to ascertain the secret cause. For a space, Mrs. Lilias was obdurate to all inquiries, sighed, turned her eyes up higher yet to heaven, hoped for the best, but had nothing particular to communicate. All this, as was most natural and proper, only stimulated the Lady’s curiosity; neither was her importunity to be parried with — “Thank God, I am no makebate — no tale-bearer — thank God, I never envied any one’s favour, or was anxious to propale their misdemeanour-only, thank God, there has been no bloodshed and murder in the house — that is all.”

“Bloodshed and murder!” exclaimed the Lady, “what does the quean mean? — if you speak not plain out, you shall have something you will scarce be thankful for.”

“Nay, my Lady,” answered Lilias, eager to disburden her mind, or, in, Chaucer’s phrase, to “unbuckle her mail,” “if you bid me speak out the truth, you must not be moved with what might displease you — Roland Graeme has dirked Adam Woodstock — that is all.”

“Good Heaven!” said the Lady, turning pale as ashes, “is the man slain?”

“No, madam,” replied Lilias, “but slain he would have been, if there had not been ready help; but may be, it is your Ladyship’s pleasure that this young esquire shall poniard the servants, as well as switch and baton them.”

“Go to, minion,” said the Lady, “you are saucy-tell the master of the household to attend me instantly.”

Lilias hastened to seek out Mr. Wingate, and hurry him to his lady’s presence, speaking as a word in season to him on the way, “I have set the stone a-trowling, look that you do not let it stand still.”

The steward, too prudential a person to commit himself otherwise, answered by a sly look and a nod of intelligence, and presently after stood in the presence of the Lady of Avenel, with a look of great respect for his lady, partly real, partly affected, and an air of great sagacity, which inferred no ordinary conceit of himself.

“How is this, Wingate,” said the Lady, “and what rule do you keep in the castle, that the domestics of Sir Halbert Glendinning draw the dagger on each other, as in a cavern of thieves and murderers? — is the wounded man much hurt? and what — what hath become of the unhappy boy?”

“There is no one wounded as yet, madam,” replied he of the golden chain; “it passes my poor skill to say how many may be wounded before Pasche, 6 if some rule be not taken with this youth — not but the youth is a fair youth,” he added, correcting himself, “and able at his exercise; but somewhat too ready with the ends of his fingers, the butt of his riding-switch, and the point of his dagger.”

“And whose fault is that,” said the Lady, “but yours, who should have taught him better discipline, than to brawl or to draw his dagger.”

“If it please your Ladyship so to impose the blame on me,” answered the steward, “it is my part, doubtless, to bear it — only I submit to your consideration, that unless I nailed his weapon to the scabbard, I could no more keep it still, than I could fix quicksilver, which defied even the skill of Raymond Lullius.”

“Tell me not of Raymond Lullius,” said the Lady, losing patience, “but send me the chaplain hither. You grow all of you too wise for me, during your lord’s long and repeated absences. I would to God his affairs would permit him to remain at home and rule his own household, for it passes my wit and skill!”

“God forbid, my Lady!” said the old domestic, “that you should sincerely think what you are now pleased to say: your old servants might well hope, that after so many years’ duty, you would do their service more justice than to distrust their gray hairs, because they cannot rule the peevish humour of a green head, which the owner carries, it may be, a brace of inches higher than becomes him.”

“Leave me,” said the Lady; “Sir Halbert’s return must now be expected daily, and he will look into these matters himself — leave me, I say, Wingate, without saying more of it. I know you are honest, and I believe the boy is petulant; and yet I think it is my favour which hath set all of you against him.”

The steward bowed and retired, after having been silenced in a second attempt to explain the motives on which he acted.

The chaplain arrived; but neither from him did the Lady receive much comfort. On the contrary, she found him disposed, in plain terms, to lay to the door of her indulgence all the disturbances which the fiery temper of Roland Graeme had already occasioned, or might hereafter occasion, in the family. “I would,” he said, “honoured Lady, that you had deigned to be ruled by me in the outset of this matter, sith it is easy to stem evil in the fountain, but hard to struggle against it in the stream. You, honoured madam, (a word which I do not use according to the vain forms of this world, but because I have ever loved and honoured you as an honourable and elect lady,)— you, I say, madam, have been pleased, contrary to my poor but earnest counsel, to raise this boy from his station, into one approaching to your own.”

“What mean you, reverend sir?” said the Lady; “I have made this youth a page — is there aught in my doing so that does not become my character and quality?”

“I dispute not, madam,” said the pertinacious preacher, “your benevolent purpose in taking charge of this youth, or your title to give him this idle character of page, if such was your pleasure; though what the education of a boy in the train of a female can tend to, save to ingraft foppery and effeminacy on conceit and arrogance, it passes my knowledge to discover. But I blame you more directly for having taken little care to guard him against the perils of his condition, or to tame and humble a spirit naturally haughty, overbearing, and impatient. You have brought into your bower a lion’s cub; delighted with the beauty of his fur, and the grace of his gambols, you have bound him with no fetters befitting the fierceness of his disposition. You have let him grow up as unawed as if he had been still a tenant of the forest, and now you are surprised, and call out for assistance, when he begins to ramp, rend, and tear, according to his proper nature.”

“Mr. Warden,” said the Lady, considerably offended, “you are my husband’s ancient friend, and I believe your love sincere to him and to his household. Yet let me say, that when I asked you for counsel, I expected not this asperity of rebuke. If I have done wrong in loving this poor orphan lad more than others of his class, I scarce think the error merited such severe censure; and if stricter discipline were required to keep his fiery temper in order, it ought, I think, to be considered, that I am a woman, and that if I have erred in this matter, it becomes a friend’s part rather to aid than to rebuke me. I would these evils were taken order with before my lord’s return. He loves not domestic discord or domestic brawls; and I would not willingly that he thought such could arise from one whom I favoured — What do you counsel me to do?”

“Dismiss this youth from your service, madam,” replied the preacher.

“You cannot bid me do so,” said the Lady; “you cannot, as a Christian and a man of humanity, bid me turn away an unprotected creature against whom my favour, my injudicious favour if you will, has reared up so many enemies.”

“It is not necessary you should altogether abandon him, though you dismiss him to another service, or to a calling better suiting his station and character,” said the preacher; “elsewhere he maybe an useful and profitable member of the commonweal — here he is but a makebate, and a stumbling-block of offence. The youth has snatches of sense and of intelligence, though he lacks industry. I will myself give him letters commendatory to Olearius Schinderhausen, a learned professor at the famous university of Leyden, where they lack an under-janitor — where, besides gratis instruction, if God give him the grace to seek it, he will enjoy five merks by the year, and the professor’s cast-off suit, which he disparts with biennially.”

“This will never do, good Mr. Warden,” said the Lady, scarce able to suppress a smile; “we will think more at large upon this matter. In the meanwhile, I trust to your remonstrances with this wild boy and with the family, for restraining these violent and unseemly jealousies and bursts of passion; and I entreat you to press on him and them their duty in this respect towards God, and towards their master.”

“You shall be obeyed, madam,” said Warden. “On the next Thursday I exhort the family, and will, with God’s blessing, so wrestle with the demon of wrath and violence, which hath entered into my little flock, that I trust to hound the wolf out of the fold, as if he were chased away with bandogs.”

This was the part of the conference from which Mr. Warden derived the greatest pleasure. The pulpit was at that time the same powerful engine for affecting popular feeling which the press has since become, and he had been no unsuccessful preacher, as we have already seen. It followed as a natural consequence, that he rather over-estimated the powers of his own oratory, and, like some of his brethren about the period, was glad of an opportunity to handle any matters of importance, whether public or private, the discussion of which could be dragged into his discourse. In that rude age the delicacy was unknown which prescribed time and place to personal exhortations; and as the court-preacher often addressed the King individually, and dictated to him the conduct he ought to observe in matters of state, so the nobleman himself, or any of his retainers, were, in the chapel of the feudal castle, often incensed or appalled, as the case might be, by the discussion of their private faults in the evening exercise, and by spiritual censures directed against them, specifically, personally, and by name. The sermon, by means of which Henry Warden purposed to restore concord and good order to the Castle of Avenel, bore for text the well-known words, “He who striketh with the sword shall perish by the sword,” and was a singular mixture of good sense and powerful oratory with pedantry and bad taste. He enlarged a good deal on the word striketh, which he assured his hearers comprehended blows given with the point as well as with the edge, and more generally, shooting with hand-gun, cross-bow, or long-bow, thrusting with a lance, or doing any thing whatever by which death might be occasioned to the adversary. In the same manner, he proved satisfactorily, that the word sword comprehended all descriptions, whether backsword or basket-hilt, cut-and-thrust or rapier, falchion, or scimitar. “But if,” he continued, with still greater animation, “the text includeth in its anathema those who strike with any of those weapons which man hath devised for the exercise of his open hostility, still more doth it comprehend such as from their form and size are devised rather for the gratification of privy malice by treachery, than for the destruction of an enemy prepared and standing upon his defence. Such,” he proceeded, looking sternly at the place where the page was seated on a cushion at the feet of his mistress, and wearing in his crimson belt a gay dagger with a gilded hilt — “such, more especially, I hold to be those implements of death, which, in our modern and fantastic times, are worn not only by thieves and cut-throats, to whom they most properly belong, but even by those who attend upon women, and wait in the chambers of honourable ladies. Yes, my friends — every species of this unhappy weapon, framed for all evil and for no good, is comprehended under this deadly denunciation, whether it be a stillet, which we have borrowed from the treacherous Italian, or a dirk, which is borne by the savage Highlandman, or a whinger, which is carried by our own Border thieves and cut-throats, or a dudgeon-dagger, all are alike engines invented by the devil himself, for ready implements of deadly wrath, sudden to execute, and difficult to be parried. Even the common sword-and-buckler brawler despises the use of such a treacherous and malignant instrument, which is therefore fit to be used, not by men or soldiers, but by those who, trained under female discipline, become themselves effeminate hermaphrodites, having female spite and female cowardice added to the infirmities and evil passions of their masculine nature.”

The effect which this oration produced upon the assembled congregation of Avenel cannot very easily be described. The lady seemed at once embarrassed and offended; the menials could hardly contain, under an affectation of deep attention, the joy with which they heard the chaplain launch his thunders at the head of the unpopular favourite, and the weapon which they considered as a badge of affectation and finery. Mrs. Lilias crested and drew up her head with all the deep-felt pride of gratified resentment; while the steward, observing a strict neutrality of aspect, fixed his eyes upon an old scutcheon on the opposite side of the wall, which he seemed to examine with the utmost accuracy, more willing, perhaps, to incur the censure of being inattentive to the sermon, than that of seeming to listen with marked approbation to what appeared so distasteful to his mistress.

The unfortunate subject of the harangue, whom nature had endowed with passions which had hitherto found no effectual restraint, could not disguise the resentment which he felt at being thus directly held up to the scorn, as well as the censure, of the assembled inhabitants of the little world in which he lived. His brow grew red, his lip grew pale, he set his teeth, he clenched his hand, and then with mechanical readiness grasped the weapon of which the clergyman had given so hideous a character; and at length, as the preacher heightened the colouring of his invective, he felt his rage become so ungovernable, that, fearful of being hurried into some deed of desperate violence, he rose up, traversed the chapel with hasty steps, and left the congregation.

The preacher was surprised into a sudden pause, while the fiery youth shot across him like a flash of lightning, regarding him as he passed, as if he had wished to dart from his eyes the same power of blighting and of consuming. But no sooner had he crossed the chapel, and shut with violence behind him the door of the vaulted entrance by which it communicated with the castle, than the impropriety of his conduct supplied Warden with one of those happier subjects for eloquence, of which he knew how to take advantage for making a suitable impression on his hearers. He paused for an instant, and then pronounced, in a slow and solemn voice, the deep anathema: “He hath gone out from us because he was not of us — the sick man hath been offended at the wholesome bitter of the medicine — the wounded patient hath flinched from the friendly knife of the surgeon — the sheep hath fled from the sheepfold and delivered himself to the wolf, because he could not assume the quiet and humble conduct demanded of us by the great Shepherd. Ah! my brethren, beware of wrath — beware of pride — beware of the deadly and destroying sin which so often shows itself to our frail eyes in the garments of light! What is our earthly honour? Pride, and pride only — What our earthly gifts and graces? Pride and vanity. Voyagers speak of Indian men who deck themselves with shells, and anoint themselves with pigments, and boast of their attire as we do of our miserable carnal advantages — Pride could draw down the morning-star from Heaven even to the verge of the pit — Pride and self-opinion kindled the flaming sword which waves us off from Paradise — Pride made Adam mortal, and a weary wanderer on the face of the earth, which he had else been at this day the immortal lord of — Pride brought amongst us sin, and doubles every sin it has brought. It is the outpost which the devil and the flesh most stubbornly maintain against the assaults of grace; and until it be subdued, and its barriers levelled with the very earth, there is more hope of a fool than of the sinner. Rend, then, from your bosoms this accursed shoot of the fatal apple; tear it up by the roots, though it be twisted with the chords of your life. Profit by the example of the miserable sinner that has passed from us, and embrace the means of grace while it is called today ’ere your conscience is seared as with a fire-brand, and your ears deafened like those of the adder, and your heart hardened like the nether mill-stone. Up, then, and be doing — wrestle and overcome; resist, and the enemy shall flee from you — Watch and pray, lest ye fall into temptation, and let the stumbling of others be your warning and your example. Above all, rely not on yourselves, for such self-confidence is even the worst symptom of the disorder itself. The Pharisee, perhaps, deemed himself humble while he stooped in the Temple, and thanked God that he was not as other men, and even as the publican. But while his knees touched the marble pavement, his head was as high as the topmost pinnacle of the Temple. Do not, therefore, deceive yourselves, and offer false coin, where the purest you can present is but as dross — think not that such — will pass the assay of Omnipotent Wisdom. Yet shrink not from the task, because, as is my bounden duty, I do not disguise from you its difficulties. Self-searching can do much — Meditation can do much — Grace can do all.”

And he concluded with a touching and animating exhortation to his hearers to seek divine grace, which is perfected in human wakness.

The audience did not listen to this address without being considerably affected; though it might be doubted whether the feelings of triumph, excited by the disgraceful retreat of the favourite page, did not greatly qualify in the minds of many the exhortations of the preacher to charity and to humility. And, in fact, the expression of their countenances much resembled the satisfied triumphant air of a set of children, who, having just seen a companion punished for a fault in which they had no share, con their task with double glee, both because they themselves are out of the scrape, and because the culprit is in it.

With very different feelings did the Lady of Avenel seek her own apartment. She felt angry at Warden having made a domestic matter, in which she took a personal interest, the subject of such public discussion. But this she knew the good man claimed as a branch of his Christian liberty as a preacher, and also that it was vindicated by the universal custom of his brethren. But the self-willed conduct of her protegé afforded her yet deeper concern. That he had broken through in so remarkable a degree, not only the respect due to her presence, but that which was paid to religious admonition in those days with such peculiar reverence, argued a spirit as untameable as his enemies had represented him to possess. And yet so far as he had been under her own eye, she had seen no more of that fiery spirit than appeared to her to become his years and his vivacity. This opinion might be founded in some degree on partiality; in some degree, too, it might be owing to the kindness and indulgence which she had always extended to him; but still she thought it impossible that she could be totally mistaken in the estimate she had formed of his character. The extreme of violence is scarce consistent with a course of continued hypocrisy, (although Lilias charitably hinted, that in some instances they were happily united,) and there fore she could not exactly trust the report of others against her own experience and observation. The thoughts of this orphan boy clung to her heartstrings with a fondness for which she herself was unable to account. He seemed to have been sent to her by Heaven, to fill up those intervals of languor and vacuity which deprived her of much enjoyment. Perhaps he was not less dear to her, because she well saw that he was a favourite with no one else, and because she felt, that to give him up was to afford the judgment of her husband and others a triumph over her own; a circumstance not quite indifferent to the best of spouses of either sex.

In short, the Lady of Avenel formed the internal resolution, that she would not desert her page while her page could be rationally protected; and, with a view of ascertaining how far this might be done, she caused him to be summoned to her presence.

4 There is a difference amongst authorities how long the nestling hawk should be fed with flesh which has previously been washed.

5 A species of battle-axe, so called as being in especial use in that ancient burgh, whose armorial bearing still represent an armed horseman brandishing such a weapon.

6 Easter.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/abbot/chapter4.html

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