The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Seventh.

When I hae a saxpence under my thumb,

Then I get credit in ilka town;

But when I am puir they bid me gae by —

Oh, poverty parts good company!

Old song.

While the departure of the page afforded subject for the conversation which we have detailed in our last chapter, the late favourite was far advanced on his solitary journey, without well knowing what was its object, or what was likely to be its end. He had rowed the skiff in which he left the castle, to the side of the lake most distant from the village, with the desire of escaping from the notice of the inhabitants. His pride whispered, that he would be in his discarded state, only the subject of their wonder and compassion; and his generosity told him, that any mark of sympathy which his situation should excite, might be unfavourably reported at the castle. A trifling incident convinced him he had little to fear for his friends on the latter score. He was met by a young man some years older than himself, who had on former occasions been but too happy to be permitted to share in his sports in the subordinate character of his assistant. Ralph Fisher approached to greet him, with all the alacrity of an humble friend.

“What, Master Roland, abroad on this side, and without either hawk or hound?”

“Hawk or hound,” said Roland, “I will never perhaps hollo to again. I have been dismissed — that is, I have left the castle.”

Ralph was surprised. “What! you are to pass into the Knight’s service, and take the black jack and the lance?”

“Indeed,” replied Roland Graeme, “I am not — I am now leaving the service of Avenel for ever.”

“And whither are you going, then?” said the young peasant.

“Nay, that is a question which it craves time to answer — I have that matter to determine yet,” replied the disgraced favourite.

“Nay, nay,” said Ralph, “I warrant you it is the same to you which way you go — my Lady would not dismiss you till she had put some lining into the pouches of your doublet.”

“Sordid slave!” said Roland Graeme, “dost thou think I would have accepted a boon from one who was giving me over a prey to detraction and to ruin, at the instigation of a canting priest and a meddling serving-woman? The bread that I had bought with such an alms would have choked me at the first mouthful.”

Ralph looked at his quondam friend with an air of wonder not unmixed with contempt. “Well,” he said, at length, “no occasion for passion — each man knows his own stomach best — but, were I on a black moor at this time of day, not knowing whither I was going, I should be glad to have a broad piece or two in my pouch, come by them as I could. — But perhaps you will go with me to my father’s — that is, for a night, for tomorrow we expect my uncle Menelaus and all his folk; but, as I said, for one night ——”

The cold-blooded limitation of the offered shelter to one night only, and that tendered most unwillingly, offended the pride of the discarded favourite.

“I would rather sleep on the fresh heather, as I have done many a night on less occasion,” said Roland Graeme, “than in the smoky garret of your father, that smells of peat smoke and usquebaugh like a Highlander’s plaid.”

“You may choose, my master, if you are so nice,” replied Ralph Fisher; “you may be glad to smell a peat-fire, and usquebaugh too, if you journey long in the fashion you propose. You might have said God-a-mercy for your proffer, though — it is not every one that will put themselves in the way of ill-will by harbouring a discarded serving-man.”

“Ralph,” said Roland Graeme, “I would pray you to remember that I have switched you before now, and this is the same riding-wand which you have tasted.”

Ralph, who was a thickset clownish figure, arrived at his full strength, and conscious of the most complete personal superiority, laughed contemptuously at the threats of the slight-made stripling.

“It may be the same wand,” he said, “but not the same hand; and that is as good rhyme as if it were in a ballad. Look you, my Lady’s page that was, when your switch was up, it was no fear of you, but of your betters, that kept mine down — and I wot not what hinders me from clearing old scores with this hazel rung, and showing you it was your Lady’s livery-coat which I spared, and not your flesh and blood, Master Roland.”

In the midst of his rage, Roland Graeme was just wise enough to see, that by continuing this altercation, he would subject himself to very rude treatment from the boor, who was so much older and stronger than himself; and while his antagonist, with a sort of jeering laugh of defiance, seemed to provoke the contest, he felt the full bitterness of his own degraded condition, and burst into a passion of tears, which he in vain endeavoured to conceal with both his hands.

Even the rough churl was moved with the distress of his quondam companion.

“Nay, Master Roland,” he said, “I did but as ’twere jest with thee — I would not harm thee, man, were it but for old acquaintance sake. But ever look to a man’s inches ere you talk of switching — why, thine arm, man, is but like a spindle compared to mine. — But hark, I hear old Adam Woodcock hollowing to his hawk — Come along, man, we will have a merry afternoon, and go jollily to my father’s in spite of the peat-smoke and usquebaugh to boot. Maybe we may put you into some honest way of winning your bread, though it’s hard to come by in these broken times.”

The unfortunate page made no answer, nor did he withdraw his hands from his face, and Fisher continued in what he imagined a suitable tone of comfort.

“Why, man, when you were my Lady’s minion, men held you proud, and some thought you a Papist, and I wot not what; and so, now that you have no one to bear you out, you must be companionable and hearty, and wait on the minister’s examinations, and put these things out of folk’s head; and if he says you are in fault, you must jouk your head to the stream; and if a gentleman, or a gentleman’s gentleman, give you a rough word, or a light blow, you must only say, thank you for dusting my doublet, or the like, as I have done by you. — But hark to Woodcock’s whistle again. Come, and I will teach you all the trick on’t as we go on.”

“I thank you,” said Roland Graeme, endeavouring to assume an air of indifference and of superiority; “but I have another path before me, and were it otherwise, I could not tread in yours.”

“Very true, Master Roland,” replied the clown; “and every man knows his own matters best, and so I will not keep you from the path, as you say. Give us a grip of your hand, man, for auld lang syne. — What! not clap palms ere we part? — well, so be it — a wilful man will have his way, and so farewell, and the blessing of the morning to you.”

“Good-morrow — good-morrow,” said Roland, hastily; and the clown walked lightly off, whistling as he went, and glad, apparently, to be rid of an acquaintance, whose claims might be troublesome, and who had no longer the means to be serviceable to him.

Roland Graeme compelled himself to walk on while they were within sight of each other that his former intimate might not augur any vacillation of purpose, or uncertainty of object, from his remaining on the same spot; but the effort was a painful one. He seemed stunned, as it were, and giddy; the earth on which he stood felt as if unsound, and quaking under his feet like the surface of a bog; and he had once or twice nearly fallen, though the path he trode was of firm greensward. He kept resolutely moving forward, in spite of the internal agitation to which these symptoms belonged, until the distant form of his acquaintance disappeared behind the slope of a hill, when his heart failed at once; and, sitting down on the turf, remote from human ken, he gave way to the natural expressions of wounded pride, grief, and fear, and wept with unrestrained profusion and unqualified bitterness.

When the first violent paroxysm of his feelings had subsided, the deserted and friendless youth felt that mental relief which usually follows such discharges of sorrow. The tears continued to chase each other down his cheeks, but they were no longer accompanied by the same sense of desolation; an afflicting yet milder sentiment was awakened in his mind, by the recollection of his benefactress, of the unwearied kindness which had attached her to him, in spite of many acts of provoking petulance, now recollected as offences of a deep dye, which had protected him against the machinations of others, as well as against the consequences of his own folly, and would have continued to do so, had not the excess of his presumption compelled her to withdraw her protection.

“Whatever indignity I have borne,” he said, “has been the just reward of my own ingratitude. And have I done well to accept the hospitality, the more than maternal kindness, of my protectress, yet to detain from her the knowledge of my religion? — but she shall know that a Catholic has as much gratitude as a Puritan — that I have been thoughtless, but not wicked — that in my wildest moments I have loved, respected, and honoured her — and that the orphan boy might indeed be heedless, but was never ungrateful!”

He turned, as these thoughts passed through his mind, and began hastily to retread his footsteps towards the castle. But he checked the first eagerness of his repentant haste, when he reflected on the scorn and contempt with which the family were likely to see the return of the fugitive, humbled, as they must necessarily suppose him, into a supplicant, who requested pardon for his fault, and permission to return to his service. He slackened his pace, but he stood not still.

“I care not,” he resolutely determined; “let them wink, point, nod, sneer, speak of the conceit which is humbled, of the pride which has had a fall — I care not; it is a penance due to my folly, and I will endure it with patience. But if she also, my benefactress, if she also should think me sordid and weak-spirited enough to beg, not for her pardon alone, but for a renewal of the advantages which I derived from her favour — her suspicion of my meanness I cannot — I will not brook.”

He stood still, and his pride rallying with constitutional obstinacy against his more just feeling, urged that he would incur the scorn of the Lady of Avenel, rather than obtain her favour, by following the course which the first ardour of his repentant feelings had dictated to him.

“If I had but some plausible pretext,” he thought, “some ostensible reason for my return, some excuse to allege which might show I came not as a degraded supplicant, or a discarded menial, I might go thither — but as I am, I cannot — my heart would leap from its place and burst.”

As these thoughts swept through his mind, something passed in the air so near him as to dazzle his eyes, and almost to brush the plume in his cap. He looked up — it was the favourite falcon of Sir Halbert, which, flying around his head, seemed to claim his attention, as that of a well-known friend. Roland extended his arm, and gave the accustomed whoop, and the falcon instantly settled on his wrist, and began to prune itself, glancing at the youth from time to time an acute and brilliant beam of its hazel eye, which seemed to ask why he caressed it not with his usual fondness.

“Ah, Diamond!” he said, as if the bird understood him, “thou and I must be strangers henceforward. Many a gallant stoop have I seen thee make, and many a brave heron strike down; but that is all gone and over, and there is no hawking more for me!”

“And why not, Master Roland,” said Adam Woodcock the falconer, who came at that instant from behind a few alder bushes which had concealed him from view, “why should there be no more hawking for you? Why, man, what were our life without our sports? — thou know’st the jolly old song —

“And rather would Allan in dungeon lie,

Than live at large where the falcon cannot fly;

And Allan would rather lie in Sexton’s pound,

Than live where he followed not the merry hawk and hound.”

The voice of the falconer was hearty and friendly, and the tone in which he half-sung half-recited his rude ballad, implied honest frankness and cordiality. But remembrance of their quarrel, and its consequences, embarrassed Roland, and prevented his reply. The falconer saw his hesitation, and guessed the cause.

“What now,” said he, “Master Roland? do you, who are half an Englishman, think that I, who am a whole one, would keep up anger against you, and you in distress? That were like some of the Scots, (my master’s reverence always excepted,) who can be fair and false, and wait their time, and keep their mind, as they say, to themselves, and touch pot and flagon with you, and hunt and hawk with you, and, after all, when time serves, pay off some old feud with the point of the dagger. Canny Yorkshire has no memory for such old sores. Why, man, an you had hit me a rough blow, maybe I would rather have taken it from you, than a rough word from another; for you have a good notion of falconry, though you stand up for washing the meat for the eyases. So give us your hand, man, and bear no malice.”

Roland, though he felt his proud blood rebel at the familiarity of honest Adam’s address, could not resist its downright frankness. Covering his face with the one hand, he held out the other to the falconer, and returned with readiness his friendly grasp.

“Why, this is hearty now,” said Woodcock; “I always said you had a kind heart, though you have a spice of the devil in your disposition, that is certain. I came this way with the falcon on purpose to find you, and yon half-bred lubbard told me which way you took flight. You ever thought too much of that kestril-kite, Master Roland, and he knows nought of sport after all, but what he caught from you. I saw how it had been betwixt you, and I sent him out of my company with a wanion — I would rather have a rifler on my perch than a false knave at my elbow — and now, Master Roland, tell me what way wing ye?”

“That is as God pleases,” replied the page, with a sigh which he could not suppress.

“Nay, man, never droop a feather for being cast off,” said the falconer; “who knows but you may soar the better and fairer flight for all this yet? — Look at Diamond there, ’tis a noble bird, and shows gallantly with his hood, and bells, and jesses; but there is many a wild falcon in Norway that would not change properties with him — And that is what I would say of you. You are no longer my Lady’s page, and you will not clothe so fair, or feed so well, or sleep so soft, or show so gallant — What of all that? if you are not her page, you are your own man, and may go where you will, without minding whoop or whistle. The worst is the loss of the sport, but who knows what you may come to? They say that Sir Halbert himself, I speak with reverence, was once glad to be the Abbot’s forester, and now he has hounds and hawks of his own, and Adam Woodcock for a falconer to the boot.”

“You are right, and say well, Adam,” answered the youth, the blood mantling in his cheeks, “the falcon will soar higher without his bells than with them, though the bells be made of silver.”

“That is cheerily spoken,” replied the falconer; “and whither now?”

“I thought of going to the Abbey of Kennaquhair,” answered Roland Graeme, “to ask the counsel of Father Ambrose.”

“And joy go with you,” said the falconer, “though it is likely you may find the old monks in some sorrow; they say the commons are threatening to turn them out of their cells, and make a devil’s mass of it in the old church, thinking they have forborne that sport too long; and troth I am clear of the same opinion.”

“Then will Father Ambrose be the better of having a friend beside him!” said the page, manfully.

“Ay, but, my young fearnought,” replied the falconer, “the friend will scarce be the better of being beside Father Ambrose — he may come by the redder’s lick, and that is ever the worst of the battle.”

“I care not for that,” said the page, “the dread of a lick should not hold me back; but I fear I may bring trouble between the brothers by visiting Father Ambrose. I will tarry to-night at Saint Cuthbert’s cell, where the old priest will give me a night’s shelter; and I will send to Father Ambrose to ask his advice before I go down to the convent.”

“By Our Lady,” said the falconer, “and that is a likely plan — and now,” he continued, exchanging his frankness of manner for a sort of awkward embarrassment, as if he had somewhat to say that he had no ready means to bring out —“and now, you wot well that I wear a pouch for my hawk’s meat, 7 and so forth; but wot you what it is lined with, Master Roland?”

“With leather, to be sure,” replied Roland, somewhat surprised at the hesitation with which Adam Woodcock asked a question apparently so simple.

“With leather, lad?” said Woodcock; “ay, and with silver to the boot of that. See here,” he said, showing a secret slit in the lining of his bag of office —“here they are, thirty good Harry groats as ever were struck in bluff old Hal’s time, and ten of them are right heartily at your service; and now the murder is out.”

Roland’s first idea was to refuse his assistance; but he recollected the vows of humility which he had just taken upon him, and it occurred that this was the opportunity to put his new-formed resolution to the test. Assuming a strong command of himself, he answered Adam Woodcock with as much frankness as his nature permitted him to wear, in doing what was so contrary to his inclinations, that he accepted thankfully of his kind offer, while, to soothe his own reviving pride, he could not help adding, “he hoped soon to requite the obligation.”

“That as you list — that as you list, young man,” said the falconer, with glee, counting out and delivering to his young friend the supply he had so generously offered, and then adding, with great cheerfulness — “Now you may go through the world; for he that can back a horse, wind a horn, hollow a greyhound, fly a hawk, and play at sword and buckler, with a whole pair of shoes, a green jacket, and ten lily-white groats in his pouch, may bid Father Care hang himself in his own jesses. Farewell, and God be with you!”

So saying, and as if desirous to avoid the thanks of his companion, he turned hastily round, and left Roland Graeme to pursue his journey alone.

7 This same hag, like every thing belonging to falconry, was esteemed an honourable distinction, and worn often by the nobility and gentry. One of the Sommervilles of Camnethan was called Sir John with the red bag, because it was his wont to wear his hawking pouch covered with satin of that colour.

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