The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Eighteenth.

I give thee eighteenpence a-day,

And my bow shall thou bear,

And over all the north country,

I make thee the chief rydere.

And I thirteenpence a-day, quoth the queen,

By God and by my faye,

Come fetch thy payment when thou wilt,

No man shall say thee nay.

William of Cloudesley.

The manners of the age did not permit the inhabitants of Glendearg to partake of the collation which was placed in the spence of that ancient tower, before the Lord Abbot and his attendants, and Sir Piercie Shafton. Dame Glendinning was excluded, both by inferiority of rank and by sex, for (though it was a rule often neglected) the Superior of Saint Mary’s was debarred from taking his meals in female society. To Mary Avenel the latter, and to Edward Glendinning the former, incapacity attached; but it pleased his lordship to require their presence in the apartment, and to say sundry kind words to them upon the ready and hospitable reception which they had afforded him.

The smoking haunch now stood upon the table; a napkin, white as snow, was, with due reverence, tucked under the chin of the Abbot by the Refectioner; and nought was wanting to commence the repast, save the presence of Sir Piercie Shafton, who at length appeared, glittering like the sun, in a carnation-velvet doublet, slashed and puffed out with cloth of silver, his hat of the newest block, surrounded by a hatband of goldsmith’s work, while around his neck he wore a collar of gold, set with rubies and topazes so rich, that it vindicated his anxiety for the safety of his baggage from being founded upon his love of mere finery. This gorgeous collar or chain, resembling those worn by the knights of the highest orders of chivalry, fell down on his breast, and terminated in a medallion.

“We waited for Sir Piercie Shafton,” said the Abbot, hastily assuming his place in the great chair which the Kitchener advanced to the table with ready hand.

“I pray your pardon, reverend father, and my good lord,” replied that pink of courtesy; “I did but wait to cast my riding slough, and to transmew myself into some civil form meeter for this worshipful company.”

“I cannot but praise your gallantry, Sir Knight,” said the Abbot, “and your prudence, also, for choosing the fitting time to appear thus adorned. Certes, had that goodly chain been visible in some part of your late progress, there was risk that the lawful owner might have parted company therewith.”

“This chain, said your reverence?” answered Sir Piercie; “surely it is but a toy, a trifle, a slight thing which shows but poorly with this doublet — marry, when I wear that of the murrey-coloured double-piled Genoa velvet, puffed out with ciprus, the gems, being relieved and set off by the darker and more grave ground of the stuff, show like stars giving a lustre through dark clouds.”

“I nothing doubt it,” said the Abbot, “but I pray you to sit down at the board.”

But Sir Piercie had now got into his element, and was not easily interrupted —“I own,” he continued, “that slight as the toy is, it might perchance have had some captivation for Julian — Santa Maria!” said he, interrupting himself; “what was I about to say, and my fair and beauteous Protection, or shall I rather term her my Discretion, here in presence! — Indiscreet hath it been in your Affability, O most lovely Discretion, to suffer a stray word to have broke out of the penfold of his mouth, that might overleap the fence of civility, and trespass on the manor of decorum.”

“Marry!” said the Abbot, somewhat impatiently, “the greatest discretion that I can see in the matter is, to eat our victuals being hot — Father Eustace, say the Benedicite, and cut up the haunch.”

The Sub-Prior readily obeyed the first part of the Abbot’s injunction, but paused upon the second —“It is Friday, most reverend,” he said in Latin, desirous that the hint should escape, if possible, the ears of the stranger.

“We are travellers,” said the Abbot, in reply, “and viatoribus licitum est — You know the canon — a traveller must eat what food his hard fate sets before him. I grant you all a dispensation to eat flesh this day, conditionally that you, brethren, say the Confiteor at curfew time, that the knight give alms to his ability, and that all and each of you fast from flesh on such day within the next month that shall seem most convenient — wherefore fall to and eat your food with cheerful countenances, and you, Father Refectioner, da mixtus.”

While the Abbot was thus stating the conditions on which his indulgence was granted, he had already half finished a slice of the noble haunch, and now washed it down with a flagon of Rhenish, modestly tempered with water.

“Well is it said,” he observed, as he required from the Refectioner another slice, “that virtue is its own reward; for though this is but humble fare, and hastily prepared, and eaten in a poor chamber, I do not remember me of having had such an appetite since I was a simple brother in the Abbey of Dundrennan, and was wont to labour in the garden from morning until nones, when our Abbot struck the Cymbalum. Then would I enter keen with hunger, parched with thirst, (da mihi vinum quaeso, et merum sit,) and partake with appetite of whatever was set before us, according to our rule; feast or fast day, caritas or penitentia, was the same to me. I had no stomach complaints then, which now crave both the aid of wine and choice cookery, to render my food acceptable to my palate, and easy of digestion.”

“It may be, holy father,” said the Sub-Prior, “an occasional ride to the extremity of Saint Mary’s patrimony, may have the same happy effect on your health as the air of the garden at Dundrennan.”

“Perchance, with our patroness’s blessing, such progresses may advantage us,” said the Abbot; “having an especial eye that our venison is carefully killed by some woodsman that is master of his craft.”

“If the Lord Abbot will permit me,” said the Kitchener, “I think the best way to assure his lordship on that important point, would be to retain as a yeoman-pricker, or deputy-ranger, the eldest son of this good woman, Dame Glendinning, who is here to wait upon us. I should know by mine office what belongs to killing of game, and I can safely pronounce, that never saw I, or any other coquinarius, a bolt so justly shot. It has cloven the very heart of the buck.”

“What speak you to us of one good shot, father?” said Sir Piercie; “I would advise you that such no more maketh a shooter, than doth one swallow make a summer — I have seen this springald of whom you speak, and if his hand can send forth his shafts as boldly as his tongue doth utter presumptuous speeches, I will own him as good an archer as Robin Hood.”

“Marry,” said the Abbot, “and it is fitting we know the truth of this matter from the dame herself; for ill advised were we to give way to any rashness in this matter, whereby the bounties which Heaven and our patroness provide might be unskilfully mangled, and rendered unfit for worthy men’s use. — Stand forth, therefore, dame Glendinning, and tell to us, as thy liege lord and spiritual Superior, using plainness and truth, without either fear or favour, as being a matter wherein we are deeply interested, Doth this son of thine use his bow as well as the Father Kitchener avers to us?”

“So please your noble fatherhood,” answered Dame Glendinning with a deep curtsy, “I should know somewhat of archery to my cost, seeing my husband — God assoilzie him! — was slain in the field of Pinkie with an arrow-shot, while he was fighting under the Kirk’s banner, as became a liege vassal of the Halidome. He was a valiant man, please your reverence, and an honest; and saving that he loved a bit of venison, and shifted for his living at a time as Border-men will sometimes do, I wot not of sin that he did. And yet, though I have paid for mass after mass to the matter of a forty shilling, besides a quarter of wheat and four firlocks of rye, I can have no assurance yet that he has been delivered from purgatory.”

“Dame,” said the Lord Abbot, “this shall be looked into heedfully; and since thy husband fell, as thou sayest, in the Kirk’s quarrel, and under her banner, rely upon it that we will have him out of purgatory forthwith — that is, always provided he be there. — But it is not of thy husband whom we now devise to speak, but of thy son; not of a shot Scotsman, but of a shot deer — Wherefore, I say, answer me to the point, is thy son a practised archer, ay or no?”

“Alack! my reverend lord,” replied the widow, “and my croft would be better tilled, if I could answer your reverence that he is not. — Practised archer! — marry, holy sir, I would he would practise something else — cross-bow and long-bow, hand-gun and hack-but, falconet and saker, he can shoot with them all. And if it would please this right honourable gentleman, our guest, to hold out his hat at the distance of a hundred yards, our Halbert shall send shaft, bolt, or bullet through it, (so that right honourable gentleman swerve not, but hold out steady,) and I will forfeit a quarter of barley if he touch but a knot of his ribands. I have seen our old Martin do as much, and so has our right reverend the Sub-Prior, if he be pleased to remember it.”

“I am not like to forget it, dame,” said Father Eustace; “for I knew not which most to admire, the composure of the young marksman, or the steadiness of the old mark. Yet I presume not to advise Sir Piercie Shafton to subject his valuable beaver, and yet more valuable person, to such a risk, unless it should be his own special pleasure.”

“Be assured it is not,” said Sir Piercie Shafton, something hastily; “be well assured, holy father, that it is not. I dispute not the lad’s qualities, for which your reverence vouches. But bows are but wood, strings are but flax, or the silk-worm excrement at best; archers are but men, fingers may slip, eyes may dazzle, the blindest may hit the butt, the best marker may shoot a bow’s length beside. Therefore will we try no perilous experiments.”

“Be that as you will, Sir Piercie,” said the Abbot; “meantime we will name this youth bow-bearer in the forest granted to us by good King David, that the chase might recreate our wearied spirits, the flesh of the dear improve our poor commons, and the hides cover the books of our library; thus tending at once to the sustenance of body and soul.”

“Kneel down, woman, kneel down,” said the Refectioner and the Kitchener, with one voice, to Dame Glendinning, “and kiss his lordship’s hand, for the grace which he has granted to thy son.”

They then, as if they had been chanting the service and the responses, set off in a sort of duetto, enumerating the advantages of the situation.

“A green gown and a pair of leathern galligaskins every Pentecost,” said the Kitchener.

“Four marks by the year at Candlemas,” answered the Refectioner.

“A hogshead of ale at Martlemas, of the double strike, and single ale at pleasure, as he shall agree with the Cellarer —”

“Who is a reasonable man,” said the Abbot, “and will encourage an active servant of the convent.”

“A mess of broth and a dole of mutton or beef, at the Kitchener’s, on each high holiday,” resumed the Kitchener.

“The gang of two cows and a palfrey on our Lady’s meadow.” answered his brother officer.

“An ox-hide to make buskins of yearly, because of the brambles,” echoed the Kitchener.

“And various other perquisites, quae nunc praescribere longum,” said the Abbot, summing, with his own lordly voice, the advantages attached to the office of conventional bow-bearer.

Dame Glendinning was all this while on her knees, her head mechanically turning from the one church officer to the other, which, as they stood one on each side of her, had much the appearance of a figure moved by clock-work, and so soon as they were silent, most devotedly did she kiss the munificent hand of the Abbot. Conscious, however, of Halbert’s intractability in some points, she could not help qualifying her grateful and reiterated thanks for the Abbot’s bountiful proffer, with a hope that Halbert would see his wisdom, and accept of it.

“How,” said the Abbot, bending his brows, “accept of it? — Woman, is thy son in his right wits?”

Elspeth, stunned by the tone in which this question was asked, was altogether unable to reply to it. Indeed, any answer she might have made could hardly have been heard, as it pleased the two office-bearers of the Abbot’s table again to recommence their alternate dialogue.

“Refuse!” said the Kitchener.

“Refuse!” answered the Refectioner, echoing the other’s word in a tone of still louder astonishment.

“Refuse four marks by the year!” said the one.

“Ale and beer — broth and mutton — cow’s grass and palfrey’s!” shouted the Kitchener.

“Gown and galligaskins!” responded the Refectioner.

“A moment’s patience, my brethren,” answered the Sub-Prior, “and let us not be thus astonished before cause is afforded of our amazement. This good dame best knoweth the temper and spirit of her son — this much I can say, that it lieth not towards letters or learning, of which I have in vain endeavoured to instil into him some tincture. Nevertheless, he is a youth of no common spirit, but much like those (in my weak judgment) whom God raises up among a people when he meaneth that their deliverance shall be wrought out with strength of hand and valour of heart. Such men we have seen marked with a waywardness, and even an obstinacy of character, which hath appeared intractability and stupidity to those among whom they walked and were conversant, until the very opportunity hath arrived in, which it was the will of Providence that they should be the fitting instrument of great things.”

“Now, in good time hast thou spoken, Father Eustace,” said the Abbot; “and we will see this swankie before we decide upon the means of employing him. — How say you, Sir Piercie Shafton, is it not the court fashion to suit the man to the office, and not the office to the man?”

“So please your reverence and lordship,” answered the Northumbrian knight, “I do partly, that is, in some sort, subscribe to what your wisdom hath delivered — Nevertheless, under reverence of the Sub-Prior, we do not look for gallant leaders and national deliverers in the hovels of the mean common people. Credit me, that if there be some flashes of martial spirit about this young person, which I am not called upon to dispute, (though I have seldom seen that presumption and arrogance were made good upon the upshot by deed and action,) yet still these will prove insufficient to distinguish him, save in his own limited and lowly sphere — even as the glowworm, which makes a goodly show among the grass of the field, would be of little avail if deposited in a beacon-grate.”

“Now, in good time,” said the Sub-Prior, “and here comes the young huntsman to speak for himself;” for, being placed opposite to the window, he could observe Halbert as he ascended the little mound on which the tower was situated.

“Summon him to our presence,” said the Lord Abbot; and with an obedient start the two attendant monks went off with emulous alertness. Dame Glendinning sprung away at the same moment, partly to gain an instant to recommend obedience to her son, partly to prevail with him to change his apparel before coming in presence of the Abbot. But the Kitchener and Refectioner, both speaking at once, had already seized each an arm, and were leading Halbert in triumph into the apartment, so that she could only ejaculate, “His will be done; but an he had but had on him his Sunday’s hose!”

Limited and humble as this desire was, the fates did not grant it, for Halbert Glendinning was hurried into the presence of the Lord Abbot and his party, without a word of explanation, and without a moment’s time being allowed to assume his holiday hose, which, in the language of the time, implied both breeches and stockings.

Yet, though thus suddenly presented amid the centre of all eyes, there was something in Halbert’s appearance which commanded a certain degree of respect from the company into which he was so unceremoniously intruded, and the greater part of whom were disposed to consider him with hauteur if not with absolute contempt. But his appearance and reception we must devote to another chapter.

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