The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Fifth.

— In the wild storm,

The seaman hews his mast down, and the merchant

Heaves to the billows wares he once deem’d precious;

So prince and peer, ‘mid popular contentions,

Cast off their favourites.

Old play.

It was some time ere Roland Graeme appeared. The messenger (his old friend Lilias) had at first attempted to open the door of his little apartment with the charitable purpose, doubtless, of enjoying the confusion, and marking the demeanour of the culprit. But an oblong bit of iron, ycleped a bolt, was passed across the door on the inside, and prevented her benign intentions. Lilias knocked and called at intervals. “Roland — Roland Graeme — Master Roland Graeme” (an emphasis on the word Master,) “will you be pleased to undo the door? — What ails you? — are you at your prayers in private, to complete the devotion which you left unfinished in public? — Surely we must have a screened seat for you in the chapel, that your gentility may be free from the eyes of common folks!” Still no whisper was heard in reply. “Well, master Roland,” said the waiting-maid, “I must tell my mistress, that if she would have an answer, she must either come herself, or send those on errand to you who can beat the door down.”

“What says your Lady?” answered the page from within.

“Marry, open the door, and you shall hear,” answered the waiting-maid. “I trow it becomes my Lady’s message to be listened to face to face; and I will not for your idle pleasure, whistle it through a key-hole.”

“Your mistress’s name,” said the page, opening the door, “is too fair a cover for your impertinence — What says my Lady?”

“That you will be pleased to come to her directly, in the withdrawing-room,” answered Lilias. “I presume she has some directions for you concerning the forms to be observed in leaving chapel in future.”

“Say to my Lady, that I will directly wait on her,” answered the page; and returning into his apartment, he once more locked the door in the face of the waiting-maid.

“Rare courtesy!” muttered Lilias; and, returning to her mistress, acquainted her that Roland Graeme would wait on her when it suited his convenience.

“What, is that his addition, or your own phrase, Lilias?” said the Lady, coolly.

“Nay, madam,” replied the attendant, not directly answering the question, “he looked as if he could have said much more impertinent things than that, if I had been willing to hear them. — But here he comes to answer for himself.”

Roland Graeme entered the apartment with a loftier mien, and somewhat a higher colour than his wont; there was embarrassment in his manner, but it was neither that of fear nor of penitence.

“Young man,” said the Lady, “what trow you I am to think of your conduct this day?”

“If it has offended you, madam, I am deeply grieved,” replied the youth.

“To have offended me alone,” replied the Lady, “were but little — You have been guilty of conduct which will highly offend your master — of violence to your fellow-servants, and of disrespect to God himself, in the person of his ambassador.”

“Permit me again to reply,” said the page, “that if I have offended my only mistress, friend, and benefactress, it includes the sum of my guilt, and deserves the sum of my penitence — Sir Halbert Glendinning calls me not servant, nor do I call him master — he is not entitled to blame me for chastising an insolent groom — nor do I fear the wrath of Heaven for treating with scorn the unauthorized interference of a meddling preacher.”

The Lady of Avenel had before this seen symptoms in her favourite of boyish petulance, and of impatience of censure or reproof. But his present demeanour was of a graver and more determined character, and she was for a moment at a loss how she should treat the youth, who seemed to have at once assumed the character not only of a man, but of a bold and determined one. She paused an instant, arid then assuming the dignity which was natural to her, she said, “Is it to me, Roland, that you hold this language? Is it for the purpose of making me repent the favour I have shown you, that you declare yourself independent both of an earthly and a Heavenly master? Have you forgotten what you were, and to what the loss of my protection would speedily again reduce you?”

“Lady,” said the page, “I have forgot nothing, I remember but too much. I know, that but for you, I should have perished in yon blue waves,” pointing, as he spoke, to the lake, which was seen through the window, agitated by the western wind. “Your goodness has gone farther, madam — you have protected me against the malice of others, and against my own folly. You are free, if you are willing, to abandon the orphan you have reared. You have left nothing undone by him, and he complains of nothing. And yet, Lady, do not think I have been ungrateful — I have endured something on my part, which I would have borne for the sake of no one but my benefactress.”

“For my sake!” said the Lady; “and what is it that I can have subjected you to endure, which can be remembered with other feelings than those of thanks and gratitude?”

“You are too just, madam, to require me to be thankful for the cold neglect with which your husband has uniformly treated me — neglect not unmingled with fixed aversion. You are too just, madam, to require me to be grateful for the constant and unceasing marks of scorn and malevolence with which I have been treated by others, or for such a homily as that with which your reverend chaplain has, at my expense, this very day regaled the assembled household.”

“Heard mortal ears the like of this!” said the waiting-maid, with her hands expanded and her eyes turned up to heaven; “he speaks as if he were son of an earl, or of a belted knight the least penny!”

The page glanced on her a look of supreme contempt, but vouchsafed no other answer. His mistress, who began to feel herself seriously offended, and yet sorry for the youth’s folly, took up the same tone.

“Indeed, Roland, you forget yourself so strangely,” said she, “that you will tempt me to take serious measures to lower you in your own opinion by reducing you to your proper station in society.”

“And that,” added Lilias, “would be best done by turning him out the same beggar’s brat that your ladyship took him in.”

“Lilias speaks too rudely,” continued the Lady, “but she has spoken the truth, young man; nor do I think I ought to spare that pride which hath so completely turned your head. You have been tricked up with fine garments, and treated like the son of a gentleman, until you have forgot the fountain of your churlish blood.”

“Craving your pardon, most honourable madam, Lilias hath not spoken truth, nor does your ladyship know aught of my descent, which should entitle you to treat it with such decided scorn. I am no beggar’s brat — my grandmother begged from no one, here nor elsewhere — she would have perished sooner on the bare moor. We were harried out and driven from our home — a chance which has happed elsewhere, and to others. Avenel Castle, with its lake and its towers, was not at all times able to protect its inhabitants from want and desolation.”

“Hear but his assurance!” said Lilias, “he upbraids my Lady with the distresses of her family!”

“It had indeed been a theme more gratefully spared,” said the Lady, affected nevertheless with the allusion.

“It was necessary, madam, for my vindication,” said the page, “or I had not even hinted at a word that might give you pain. But believe, honoured Lady, I am of no churl’s blood. My proper descent I know not; but my only relation has said, and my heart has echoed it back and attested the truth, that I am sprung of gentle blood, and deserve gentle usage.”

“And upon an assurance so vague as this,” said the Lady, “do you propose to expect all the regard, all the privileges, befitting high rank and distinguished birth, and become a contender for concessions which are only due to the noble? Go to, sir, know yourself, or the master of the household shall make you know you are liable to the scourge as a malapert boy. You have tasted too little the discipline fit for your age and station.”

“The master of the household shall taste of my dagger, ere I taste of his discipline,” said the page, giving way to his restrained passion. “Lady, I have been too long the vassal of a pantoufle, and the slave of a silver whistle. You must henceforth find some other to answer your call; and let him be of birth and spirit mean enough to brook the scorn of your menials, and to call a church vassal his master.”

“I have deserved this insult,” said the Lady, colouring deeply, “for so long enduring and fostering your petulance. Begone, sir. Leave this castle to-night — I will send you the means of subsistence till you find some honest mode of support, though I fear your imaginary grandeur will be above all others, save those of rapine and violence. Begone, sir, and see my face no more.”

The page threw himself at her feet in an agony of sorrow. “My dear and honoured mistress,” he said, but was unable to bring out another syllable.

“Arise, sir,” said the Lady, “and let go my mantle — hypocrisy is a poor cloak for ingratitude.”

“I am incapable of either, madam,” said the page, springing up with the hasty start of passion which belonged to his rapid and impetuous temper. “Think not I meant to implore permission to reside here; it has been long my determination to leave Avenel, and I will never forgive myself for having permitted you to say the word begone, ere I said, ‘I leave you.’ I did but kneel to ask your forgiveness for an ill-considered word used in the height of displeasure, but which ill became my mouth, as addressed to you. Other grace I asked not — you have done much for me — but I repeat, that you better know what you yourself have done, than what I have suffered.”

“Roland,” said the Lady, somewhat appeased, and relenting towards her favourite, “you had me to appeal to when you were aggrieved. You were neither called upon to suffer wrong, nor entitled to resent it, when you were under my protection.”

“And what,” said the youth, “if I sustained wrong from those you loved and favoured, was I to disturb your peace with idle tale-bearings and eternal complaints? No, madam; I have borne my own burden in silence, and without disturbing you with murmurs; and the respect with which you accuse me of wanting, furnishes the only reason why I have neither appealed to you, nor taken vengeance at my own hand in a manner far more effectual. It is well, however, that we part. I was not born to be a stipendiary, favoured by his mistress, until ruined by the calumnies of others. May Heaven multiply its choicest blessings on your honoured head; and, for your sake, upon all that are dear to you!”

He was about to leave the apartment, when the Lady called upon him to return. He stood still, while she thus addressed him: “It was not my intention, nor would it be just, even in the height of my displeasure, to dismiss you without the means of support; take this purse of gold.”

“Forgive me, Lady,” said the boy, “and let me go hence with the consciousness that I have not been degraded to the point of accepting alms. If my poor services can be placed against the expense of my apparel and my maintenance, I only remain debtor to you for my life, and that alone is a debt which I can never repay; put up then that purse, and only say, instead, that you do not part from me in anger.”

“No, not in anger,” said the Lady, “in sorrow rather for your wilfulness; but take the gold, you cannot but need it.”

“May God evermore bless you for the kind tone and the kind word! but the gold I cannot take. I am able of body, and do not lack friends so wholly as you may think; for the time may come that I may yet show myself more thankful than by mere words.” He threw himself on his knees, kissed the hand which she did not withdraw, and then, hastily left the apartment.

Lilias, for a moment or two, kept her eye fixed on her mistress, who looked so unusually pale, that she seemed about to faint; but the Lady instantly recovered herself, and declining the assistance which her attendant offered her, walked to her own apartment.

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