The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Sixth.

Thou hast each secret of the household, Francis.

I dare be sworn thou hast been in the buttery,

Steeping thy curious humour in fat ale,

And in thy butler’s tattle — ay, or chatting

With the glib waiting-woman o’er her comfits —

These bear the key to each domestic mystery.

Old play.

Upon the morrow succeeding the scene we have described, the disgraced favourite left the castle; and at breakfast-time the cautious old steward and Mrs. Lilias sat in the apartment of the latter personage, holding grave converse on the important event of the day, sweetened by a small treat of comfits, to which the providence of Mr. Wingate had added a little flask of racy canary.

“He is gone at last,” said the abigail, sipping her glass; “and here is to his good journey.”

“Amen,” answered the steward, gravely; “I wish the poor deserted lad no ill.”

“And he is gone like a wild-duck, as he came,” continued Mrs. Lilias; “no lowering of drawbridges, or pacing along causeways, for him. My master has pushed off in the boat which they call the little Herod, (more shame to them for giving the name of a Christian to wood and iron,) and has rowed himself by himself to the farther side of the loch, and off and away with himself, and left all his finery strewed about his room. I wonder who is to clean his trumpery out after him — though the things are worth lifting, too.”

“Doubtless, Mistress Lilias,” answered the master of the household, “in the which case, I am free to think, they will not long cumber the floor.”

“And now tell me, Master Wingate,” continued the damsel, “do not the very cockles of your heart rejoice at the house being rid of this upstart whelp, that flung us all into shadow?”

“Why, Mistress Lilias,” replied Wingate, “as to rejoicing — those who have lived as long in great families as has been my lot, will be in no hurry to rejoice at any thing. And for Roland Graeme, though he may be a good riddance in the main, yet what says the very sooth proverb, ‘Seldom comes a better.’”

“Seldom comes a better, indeed!” echoed Mrs. Lilias. “I say, never can come a worse, or one half so bad. He might have been the ruin of our poor dear mistress,” (here she used her kerchief,) “body and soul, and estate too; for she spent more coin on his apparel than on any four servants about the house.”

“Mistress Lilias,” said the sage steward, “I do opine that our mistress requireth not this pity at your hands, being in all respects competent to take care of her own body, soul, and estate into the bargain.”

“You would not mayhap have said so,” answered the waiting-woman, “had you seen how like Lot’s wife she looked when young master took his leave. My mistress is a good lady, and a virtuous, and a well-doing lady, and a well-spoken of — but I would not Sir Halbert had seen her last evening for two and a plack.”

“Oh, foy! foy! foy!” reiterated the steward; “servants should hear and see, and say nothing. Besides that, my lady is utterly devoted to Sir Halbert, as well she may, being, as he is, the most renowned knight in these parts.”

“Well, well,” said the abigail, “I mean no more harm; but they that seek least renown abroad, are most apt to find quiet at home, that’s all; and my Lady’s lonesome situation is to be considered, that made her fain to take up with the first beggar’s brat that a dog brought her out of the loch.”

“And, therefore,” said the steward, “I say, rejoice not too much, or too hastily, Mistress Lilias; for if your Lady wished a favourite to pass away the time, depend upon it, the time will not pass lighter now that he is gone. So she will have another favourite to choose for herself; and be assured, if she wishes such a toy, she will not lack one.”

“And where should she choose one, but among her own tried and faithful servants,” said Mrs. Lilias, “who have broken her bread, and drunk her drink, for so many years? I have known many a lady as high as she is, that never thought either of a friend or favourite beyond their own waiting-woman — always having a proper respect, at the same time, for their old and faithful master of the household, Master Wingate.”

“Truly, Mistress Lilias,” replied the steward, “I do partly see the mark at which you shoot, but I doubt your bolt will fall short. Matters being with our Lady as it likes you to suppose, it will neither be your crimped pinners, Mrs. Lilias, (speaking of them with due respect,) nor my silver hair, or golden chain, that will fill up the void which Roland Graeme must needs leave in our Lady’s leisure. There will be a learned young divine with some new doctrine — a learned leech with some new drug — a bold cavalier, who will not be refused the favour of wearing her colours at a running at the ring — a cunning harper that could harp the heart out of woman’s breast, as they say Signer David Rizzio did to our poor Queen; — these are the sort of folk who supply the loss of a well-favoured favourite, and not an old steward, or a middle-aged waiting-woman.”

“Well,” replied Lilias, “you have experience, Master Wingate, and truly I would my master would leave off his picking hither and thither, and look better after the affairs of his household. There will be a papestrie among us next, for what should I see among master’s clothes but a string of gold beads! I promise you, aves and credos both! — I seized on them like a falcon.”

“I doubt it not, I doubt it not,” said the steward, sagaciously nodding his head; “I have often noticed that the boy had strange observances which savoured of popery, and that he was very jealous to conceal them. But you will find the Catholic under the Presbyterian cloak as often as the knave under the Friar’s hood — what then? we are all mortal — Right proper beads they are,” he added, looking attentively at them, “and may weigh four ounces of fine gold.”

“And I will have them melted down presently,” she said, “before they be the misguiding of some poor blinded soul.”

“Very cautious, indeed, Mistress Lilias,” said the steward, nodding his head in assent.

“I will have them made,” said Mrs. Lilias, “into a pair of shoe-buckles; I would not wear the Pope’s trinkets, or whatever has once borne the shape of them, one inch above my instep, were they diamonds instead of gold. — But this is what has come of Father Ambrose coming about the castle, as demure as a cat that is about to steal cream.”

“Father Ambrose is our master’s brother,” said the steward gravely.

“Very true, Master Wingate,” answered the Dame; “but is that a good reason why he should pervert the king’s liege subjects to papistrie?”

“Heaven forbid, Mistress Lilias,” answered the sententious major-domo; “but yet there are worse folk than the Papists.”

“I wonder where they are to be found,” said the waiting-woman, with some asperity; “but I believe, Master Wingate, if one were to speak to you about the devil himself, you would say there were worse people than Satan.”

“Assuredly I might say so,” replied the steward, “supposing that I saw Satan standing at my elbow.”

The waiting-woman started, and having exclaimed, “God bless us I” added, “I wonder, Master Wingate, you can take pleasure in frightening one thus.”

“Nay, Mistress Lilias, I had no such purpose,” was the reply; “but look you here — the Papists are but put down for the present, but who knows how long this word present will last? There are two great Popish earls in the north of England, that abominate the very word reformation; I mean the Northumberland and Westmoreland Earls, men of power enough to shake any throne in Christendom. Then, though our Scottish king be, God bless him, a true Protestant, yet he is but a boy; and here is his mother that was our queen — I trust there is no harm to say, God bless her too — and she is a Catholic; and many begin to think she has had but hard measure, such as the Hamiltons in the west, and some of our Border clans here, and the Gordons in the north, who are all wishing to see a new world; and if such a new world should chance to come up, it is like that the Queen will take back her own crown, and that the mass and the cross will come up, and then down go pulpits, Geneva-gowns, and black silk skull-caps.”

“And have you, Master Jasper Wingate, who have heard the word, and listened unto pure and precious Mr. Henry Warden, have you, I say, the patience to speak, or but to think, of popery coming down on us like a storm, or of the woman Mary again making the royal seat of Scotland a throne of abomination? No marvel that you are so civil to the cowled monk, Father Ambrose, when he comes hither with his downcast eyes that he never raises to my Lady’s face, and with his low sweet-toned voice, and his benedicites, and his benisons; and who so ready to take them kindly as Master Wingate?”

“Mistress Lilias,” replied the butler, with an air which was intended to close the debate, “there are reasons for all things. If I received Father Ambrose debonairly, and suffered him to steal a word now arid then with this same Roland Graeme, it was not that I cared a brass bodle for his benison or malison either, but only because I respected my master’s blood. And who can answer, if Mary come in again, whether he may not be as stout a tree to lean to as ever his brother hath proved to us? For down goes the Earl of Murray when the Queen comes by her own again; and good is his luck if he can keep the head on his own shoulders. And down goes our Knight, with the Earl, his patron; and who so like to mount into his empty saddle as this same Father Ambrose? The Pope of Rome can so soon dispense with his vows, and then we should have Sir Edward the soldier, instead of Ambrose the priest.”

Anger and astonishment kept Mrs. Lilias silent — while her old friend, in his self-complacent manner, was making known to her his political speculations. At length her resentment found utterance in words of great ire and scorn. “What, Master Wingate! have you eaten my mistress’s bread, to say nothing of my master’s, so many years, that you could live to think of her being dispossessed of her own Castle of Avenel, by a wretched monk, who is not a drop’s blood to her in the way of relation? I, that am but a woman, would try first whether my rock or his cowl was the better metal. Shame on you, Master Wingate! I If I had not held you as so old an acquaintance, this should have gone to my Lady’s ears though I had been called pickthank and tale-pyet for my pains, as when I told of Roland Graeme shooting the wild swan.”

Master Wingate was somewhat dismayed at perceiving, that the details which he had given of his far-sighted political views had produced on his hearer rather suspicion of his fidelity, than admiration of his wisdom, and endeavoured, as hastily as possible, to apologize and to explain, although internally extremely offended at the unreasonable view, as he deemed it, which it had pleased Mistress Lilias Bradbourne to take of his expressions; and mentally convinced that her disapprobation of his sentiments arose solely out of the consideration, that though Father Ambrose, supposing him to become the master of the castle, would certainly require the services of a steward, yet those of a waiting-woman would, in the supposed circumstances, be altogether superfluous.

After his explanation had been received as explanations usually are, the two friends separated; Lilias to attend the silver whistle which called her to her mistress’s chamber, and the sapient major-domo to the duties of his own department. They parted with less than their usual degree of reverence and regard; for the steward felt that his worldly wisdom was rebuked by the more disinterested attachment of the waiting-woman, and Mistress Lilias Bradbourne was compelled to consider her old friend as something little better than a time-server.

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