The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Tenth.

Here we stand —

Woundless and well, may Heaven’s high name be bless’d for’t!

As erst, ere treason couch’d a lance against us.

Decker.

No sooner was the Sub-Prior hurried into the refectory by his rejoicing companions, than the first person on whom he fixed his eye proved to be Christie of the Clinthill. He was seated in the chimney-corner, fettered and guarded, his features drawn into that air of sulky and turbid resolution with which those hardened in guilt are accustomed to view the approach of punishment. But as the Sub-Prior drew near to him, his face assumed a more wild and startled expression, while he exclaimed —“The devil! the devil himself, brings the dead back upon the living.”

“Nay,” said a monk to him, “say rather that Our Lady foils the attempts of the wicked on her faithful servants — our dear brother lives and moves.”

“Lives and moves!” said the ruffian, rising and shuffling towards the Sub-Prior as well as his chains would permit; “nay, then, I will never trust ashen shaft and steel point more — It is even so,” he added, as he gazed on the Sub-Prior with astonishment; “neither wem nor wound — not as much as a rent in his frock!”

“And whence should my wound have come?” said Father Eustace.

“From the good lance that never failed me before,” replied Christie of the Clinthill.

“Heaven absolve thee for thy purpose!” said the Sub-Prior; “wouldst thou have slain a servant of the altar?”

“To choose!” answered Christie; “the Fifemen say, an the whole pack of ye were slain, there were more lost at Flodden.”

“Villain! art thou heretic as well as murderer?”

“Not I, by Saint Giles,” replied the rider; “I listened blithely enough to the Laird of Monance, when he told me ye were all cheats and knaves; but when he would have had me go hear one Wiseheart, a gospeller as they call him, he might as well have persuaded the wild colt that had flung one rider to kneel down and help another into the saddle.”

“There is some goodness about him yet,” said the Sacristan to the Abbot, who at that moment entered —“He refused to hear a heretic preacher.”

“The better for him in the next world,” answered the Abbot. “Prepare for death, my son — we deliver thee over to the secular arm of our bailie, for execution on the Gallow-hill by peep of light.”

“Amen!” said the ruffian; “’tis the end I must have come by sooner or later — and what care I whether I feed the crows at Saint Mary’s or at Carlisle?”

“Let me implore your reverend patience for an instant,” said the Sub-Prior; “until I shall inquire —”

“What!” exclaimed the Abbot, observing him for the first time —“Our dear brother restored to us when his life was unhoped for! — nay, kneel not to a sinner like me — stand up — thou hast my blessing. When this villain came to the gate, accused by his own evil conscience, and crying out he had murdered thee, I thought that the pillar of our main aisle had fallen — no more shall a life so precious be exposed to such risks as occur in this border country; no longer shall one beloved and rescued of Heaven hold so low a station in the church as that of a poor Sub-Prior — I will write by express to the Primate for thy speedy removal and advancement.”

“Nay, but let me understand,” said the Sub-Prior; “did this soldier say he had slain me?”

“That he had transfixed you,” answered the Abbot, “in full career with his lance — but it seems he had taken an indifferent aim. But no sooner didst thou fall to the ground mortally gored, as he deemed, with his weapon, than our blessed Patroness appeared to him, as he averred —”

“I averred no such thing,” said the prisoner; “I said a woman in white interrupted me, as I was about to examine the priest’s cassock, for they are usually well lined — she had a bulrush in her hand, with one touch of which she struck me from my horse, as I might strike down a child of four years old with an iron mace — and then, like a singing fiend as she was, she sung to me.

‘Thank the holly-bush

That nods on thy brow;

Or with this slender rush

I had strangled thee now.’

I gathered myself up with fear and difficulty, threw myself on my horse, and came hither like a fool to get myself hanged for a rogue.”

“Thou seest, honoured brother,” said the Abbot to the Sub-Prior, “in what favour thou art with our blessed Patroness, that she herself becomes the guardian of thy paths — Not since the days of our blessed founder hath she shown such grace to any one. All unworthy were we to hold spiritual superiority over thee, and we pray thee to prepare for thy speedy removal to Aberbrothwick.”

“Alas! my lord and father,” said the Sub-Prior, “your words pierce my very soul. Under the seal of confession will I presently tell thee why I conceive myself rather the baffled sport of a spirit of another sort, than the protected favourite of the heavenly powers. But first let me ask this unhappy man a question or two.”

“Do as ye list,” replied the Abbot —“but you shall not convince me that it is fitting you remain in this inferior office in the convent of Saint Mary.”

“I would ask of this poor man,” said Father Eustace, “for what purpose he nourished the thought of putting to death one who never did him evil?”

“Ay! but thou didst menace me with evil,” said the ruffian, “and no one but a fool is menaced twice. Dost thou not remember what you said touching the Primate and Lord James, and the black pool of Jedwood? Didst thou think me fool enough to wait till thou hadst betrayed me to the sack and the fork! There were small wisdom in that, methinks — as little as in coming hither to tell my own misdeeds — I think the devil was in me when I took this road — I might have remembered the proverb, ‘Never Friar forgot feud.’”

“And it was solely for that — for that only hasty word of mine, uttered in a moment of impatience, and forgotten ere it was well spoken?” said Father Eustace.

“Ay! for that, and — for the love of thy gold crucifix,” said Christie of the Clinthill.

“Gracious Heaven! and could the yellow metal — the glittering earth — so far overcome every sense of what is thereby represented? — Father Abbot, I pray, as a dear boon, you will deliver this guilty person to my mercy.”

“Nay, brother,” interposed the Sacristan, “to your doom, if you will, not to your mercy — Remember, we are not all equally favoured by our blessed Lady, nor is it likely that every frock in the Convent will serve as a coat of proof when a lance is couched against it.”

“For that very reason,” said the Sub-Prior, “I would not that for my worthless self the community were to fall at feud with Julian of Avenel, this man’s master.”

“Our Lady forbid!” said the Sacristan, “he is a second Julian the Apostate.”

“With our reverend father the Abbot’s permission, then,” said Father Eustace, “I desire this man be freed from his chains, and suffered to depart uninjured — and here, friend,” he added, giving him the golden crucifix, “is the image for which thou wert willing to stain thy hands with murder. View it well, and may it inspire thee with other and better thoughts than those which referred to it as a piece of bullion! Part with it, nevertheless, if thy necessities require, and get thee one of such coarse substance that Mammon shall have no share in any of the reflections to which it gives rise. It was the bequest of a dear friend to me; but dearer service can it never do than that of winning a soul to Heaven.”

The Borderer, now freed from his chains, stood gazing alternately on the Sub-Prior, and on the golden crucifix. “By Saint Giles,” said he, “I understand ye not! — An ye give me gold for couching my lance at thee, what would you give me to level it at a heretic?”

“The Church,” said the Sub-Prior, “will try the effect of her spiritual censures to bring these stray sheep into the fold, ere she employ the edge of the sword of Saint Peter.”

“Ay, but,” said the ruffian, “they say the Primate recommends a little strangling and burning in aid of both censure and of sword. But fare ye weel, I owe you a life, and it may be I will not forget my debt.”

The bailie now came bustling in, dressed in his blue coat and bandaliers, and attended by two or three halberdiers. “I have been a thought too late in waiting upon your reverend lordship. I am grown somewhat fatter since the field of Pinkie, and my leathern coat slips not on so soon as it was wont; but the dungeon is ready, and though, as I said, I have been somewhat late —”

Here his intended prisoner walked gravely up to the officer’s nose, to his great amazement.

“You have been indeed somewhat late, bailie,” said he, “and I am greatly obligated to your buff-coat, and to the time you took to put it on. If the secular arm had arrived some quarter of an hour sooner, I had been out of the reach of spiritual grace; but as it is, I wish you good even, and a safe riddance out of your garment of durance, in which you have much the air of a hog in armour.”

Wroth was the bailie at this comparison, and exclaimed in ire —“An it were not for the presence of the venerable Lord Abbot, thou knave —”

“Nay, an thou wouldst try conclusions,” said Christie of the Clinthill, “I will meet thee at day-break by Saint Mary’s Well.”

“Hardened wretch!” said Father Eustace, “art thou but this instant delivered from death, and dost thou so soon morse thoughts of slaughter?”

“I will meet with thee ere it be long, thou knave,” said the bailie, “and teach thee thine Oremus.”

“I will meet thy cattle in a moonlight night before that day,” said he of the Clinthill.

“I will have thee by the neck one misty morning, thou strong thief,” answered the secular officer of the Church.

“Thou art thyself as strong a thief as ever rode,” retorted Christie; “and if the worms were once feasting on that fat carcass of thine I might well hope to have thine office, by favour of these reverend men.”

“A cast of their office, and a cast of mine,” answered the bailie; “a cord and a confessor, that is all thou wilt have from us.”

“Sirs,” said the Sub-Prior, observing that his brethren began to take more interest than was exactly decorous in this wrangling betwixt justice and iniquity, “I pray you both to depart — Master Bailie, retire with your halberdiers, and trouble not the man whom we have dismissed. — And thou, Christie, or whatever be thy name, take thy departure, and remember thou owest thy life to the Lord Abbot’s clemency.”

“Nay, as to that,” answered Christie, “I judge that I owe it to your own; but impute it to whom ye list, I owe a life among ye, and there is an end.” And whistling as he went, he left the apartment, seeming as if he held the life which he had forfeited not worthy further thanks.

“Obstinate even to brutality!” said Father Eustace; “and yet who knows but some better ore may lie under so rude an exterior?”

“Save a thief from the gallows,” said the Sacristan —“you know the rest of the proverb; and admitting, as may Heaven grant, that our lives and limbs are safe from this outrageous knave, who shall insure our meal and our malt, our herds and our flocks?”

“Marry, that will I, my brethren,” said an aged monk. “Ah, brethren, you little know what may be made of a repentant robber. In Abbot Ingilram’s days — ay, and I remember them as it were yesterday — the freebooters were the best welcome men that came to Saint Mary’s. Ay, they paid tithe of every drove that they brought over from the South, and because they were something lightly come by, I have known them make the tithe a seventh — that is, if their confessor knew his business — ay, when we saw from the tower a score of fat bullocks, or a drove of sheep, coming down the valley, with two or three stout men-at-arms behind them with their glittering steel caps, and their black-jacks, and their long lances, the good Lord Abbot Ingilram was wont to say — he was a merry man — there come the tithes of the spoilers of the Egyptians! Ay, and I have seen the famous John the Armstrang — a fair man he was and a goodly, the more pity that hemp was ever heckled for him — I have seen him come into the Abbey-church with nine tassels of gold in his bonnet, and every tassel made of nine English nobles, and he would go from chapel to chapel, and from image to image, and from altar to altar, on his knees — and leave here a tassel, and there a noble, till there was as little gold on his bonnet as on my hood — you will find no such Border thieves now!”

“No, truly, Brother Nicolas,” answered the Abbot; “they are more apt to take any gold the Church has left, than to bequeath or bestow any — and for cattle, beshrew me if I think they care whether beeves have fed on the meadows of Lanercost Abbey or of Saint Mary’s!”

“There is no good thing left in them,” said Father Nicolas; “they are clean naught — Ah, the thieves that I have seen! — such proper men! and as pitiful as proper, and as pious as pitiful!”

“It skills not talking of it, Brother Nicolas,” said the Abbot; “and I will now dismiss you, my brethren, holding your meeting upon this our inquisition concerning the danger of our reverend Sub-Prior, instead of the attendance on the lauds this evening — Yet let the bells be duly rung for the edification of the laymen without, and also that the novices may give due reverence. — And now, benedicite, brethren! The cellarer will bestow on each a grace-cup and a morsel as ye pass the buttery, for ye have been turmoiled and anxious, and dangerous it is to fall asleep in such case with empty stomach.”

Gratias agimus quam maximas, Domine reverendissime,” replied the brethren, departing in their due order.

But the Sub-Prior remained behind, and falling on his knees before the Abbot, as he was about to withdraw, craved him to hear under the seal of confession the adventures of the day. The reverend Lord Abbot yawned, and would have alleged fatigue; but to Father Eustace, of all men, he was ashamed to show indifference in his religious duties. The confession, therefore, proceeded, in which Father Eustace told all the extraordinary circumstances which had befallen him during the journey. And being questioned by the Abbot, whether he was not conscious of any secret sin, through which he might have been subjected for a time to the delusions of evil spirits, the Sub-Prior admitted, with frank avowal, that he thought he might have deserved such penance for having judged with unfraternal rigour of the report of Father Philip the Sacristan.

“Heaven,” said the penitent, “may have been willing to convince me, not only that he can at pleasure open a communication betwixt us and beings of a different, and, as we word it, supernatural class, but also to punish our pride of superior wisdom, or superior courage, or superior learning.”

It is well said that virtue is its own reward; and I question if duty was ever more completely recompensed, than by the audience which the reverend Abbot so unwillingly yielded to the confession of the Sub-Prior. To find the object of his fear shall we say, or of his envy, or of both, accusing himself of the very error with which he had so tacitly charged him, was a corroboration of the Abbot’s judgment, a soothing of his pride, and an allaying of his fears. The sense of triumph, however, rather increased than diminished his natural good-humour; and so far was Abbot Boniface from being disposed to tyrannize over his Sub-Prior in consequence of this discovery, that in his exhortation he hovered somewhat ludicrously betwixt the natural expression of his own gratified vanity, and his timid reluctance to hurt the feelings of Father Eustace.

“My brother,” said he, ex cathedra, “it cannot have escaped your judicious observation, that we have often declined our own judgment in favour of your opinion, even about those matters which most nearly concerned the community. Nevertheless, grieved would we be, could you think that we did this, either because we deemed our own opinion less pregnant, or our wit more shallow, than that of our brethren. For it was done exclusively to give our younger brethren, such as your much esteemed self, my dearest brother, that courage which is necessary to a free deliverance of your opinion — we ofttimes setting apart our proper judgment, that our inferiors, and especially our dear brother the Sub-Prior, may be comforted and encouraged in proposing valiantly his own thoughts. Which our deference and humility may, in some sort, have produced in your mind, most reverend brother, that self-opinion of parts and knowledge, which hath led unfortunately to your over-estimating your own faculties, and thereby subjecting yourself, as is but too visible, to the japes and mockeries of evil spirits. For it is assured that Heaven always holdeth us in the least esteem when we deem of ourselves most highly, and also, on the other hand, it may be that we have somewhat departed from what became our high seat in this Abbey, in suffering ourselves to be too much guided, and even, as it were, controlled, by the voice of our inferior. Wherefore,” continued the Lord Abbot, “in both of us such faults shall and must be amended — you hereafter presuming less upon your gifts and carnal wisdom, and I taking heed not so easily to relinquish mine own opinion for that of one lower in place and in office. Nevertheless, we would not that we should thereby lose the high advantage which we have derived, and may yet derive, from your wise counsels, which hath been so often recommended to us by our most reverend Primate. Wherefore, on affairs of high moment, we will call you to our presence in private, and listen to your opinion, which, if it shall agree with our own, we will deliver to the Chapter as emanating directly from ourselves; thus sparing you, dearest brother, that seeming victory which is so apt to engender spiritual pride, and avoiding ourselves the temptation of falling into that modest facility of opinion, whereby our office is lessened and our person (were that of consequence) rendered less important in the eyes of the community over which we preside.”

Notwithstanding the high notions which, as a rigid Catholic, Father Eustace entertained of the sacrament of confession, as his Church calls it, there was some danger that a sense of the ridiculous might have stolen on him, when he heard his Superior, with such simple cunning, lay out a little plan for availing himself of the Sub-Prior’s wisdom and experience, while he should take the whole credit to himself. Yet his conscience immediately told him he was right.

“I should have thought more,” he reflected, “of the spiritual Superior, and less of the individual. I should have spread my mantle over the frailties of my spiritual father, and done what I might to support his character, and, of course, to extend his utility among the brethren, as well as with others. The Abbot cannot be humbled, but what the community must be humbled in his person. Her boast is, that over all her children, especially over those called to places of distinction, she can diffuse those gifts which are necessary to render them illustrious.”

Actuated by these sentiments, Father Eustace frankly assented to the charge which his Superior, even in that moment of authority, had rather intimated than made, and signified his humble acquiescence in any mode of communicating his counsel which might be most agreeable to the Lord Abbot, and might best remove from himself all temptation to glory in his own wisdom. He then prayed the reverend Father to assign him such penance as might best suit his offence, intimating, at the same time, that he had already fasted the whole day.

“And it is that I complain of,” answered the Abbot, instead of giving him credit for his abstinence; “it is these very penances, fasts, and vigils, of which we complain; as tending only to generate airs and fumes of vanity, which, ascending from the stomach into the head, do but puff us up with vain-glory and self-opinion. It is meet and beseeming that novices should undergo fasts and vigils; for some part of every community must fast, and young stomachs may best endure it. Besides, in them it abates wicked thoughts, and the desire of worldly delights. But, reverend brother, for those to fast who are dead and mortified to the world, as I and thou, is work of supererogation, and is but the matter of spiritual pride. Wherefore, I enjoin thee, most reverend brother, go to the buttery and drink two cups at least of good wine, eating withal a comfortable morsel, such as may best suit thy taste and stomach. And in respect that thine opinion of thy own wisdom hath at times made thee less conformable to, and companionable with, the weaker and less learned brethren, I enjoin thee, during the said repast, to choose for thy companion, our reverend brother Nicolas, and without interruption or impatience, to listen for a stricken hour to his narration, concerning those things which befel in the times of our venerable predecessor, Abbot Ingilram, on whose soul may Heaven have mercy! And for such holy exercises as may farther advantage your soul, and expiate the faults whereof you have contritely and humbly avowed yourself guilty, we will ponder upon that matter, and announce our will unto you the next morning.”

It was remarkable, that after this memorable evening, the feelings of the worthy Abbot towards his adviser were much more kindly and friendly than when he deemed the Sub-Prior the impeccable and infallible person, in whose garment of virtue and wisdom no flaw was to be discerned. It seemed as if this avowal of his own imperfections had recommended Father Eustace to the friendship of the Superior, although at the same time this increase of benevolence was attended with some circumstances, which, to a man of the Sub-Prior’s natural elevation of mind and temper, were more grievous than even undergoing the legends of the dull and verbose Father Nicolas. For instance, the Abbot seldom mentioned him to the other monks, without designing him our beloved Brother Eustace, poor man! — and now and then he used to warn the younger brethren against the snares of vainglory and spiritual pride, which Satan sets for the more rigidly righteous, with such looks and demonstrations as did all but expressly designate the Sub-Prior as one who had fallen at one time under such delusions. Upon these occasions, it required all the votive obedience of a monk, all the philosophical discipline of the schools, and all the patience of a Christian, to enable Father Eustace to endure the pompous and patronizing parade of his honest, but somewhat thick-headed Superior. He began himself to be desirous of leaving the Monastery, or at least he manifestly declined to interfere with its affairs, in that marked and authoritative manner, which he had at first practised.

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