The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Third.

’Tis when the wound is stiffening with the cold.

The warrior first feels pain —’tis when the heat

And fiery fever of his soul is pass’d,

The sinner feels remorse.

Old play.

The feelings of compunction with which Halbert Glendinning was visited upon this painful occasion, were deeper than belonged to an age and country in which human life was held so cheap. They fell far short certainly of those which might have afflicted a mind regulated by better religious precepts, and more strictly trained under social laws; but still they were deep and severely felt, and divided in Halbert’s heart even the regret with which he parted from Mary Avenel and the tower of his fathers.

The old traveller walked silently by his side for some time, and then addressed him. —“My son, it has been said that sorrow must speak or die — Why art thou so much cast down? — Tell me thy unhappy tale, and it may be that my gray head may devise counsel and aid for your young life.”

“Alas!” said Halbert Glendinning, “can you wonder why I am cast down? — I am at this instant a fugitive from my father’s house, from my mother, and from my friends, and I bear on my head the blood of a man who injured me but in idle words, which I have thus bloodily requited. My heart now tells me I have done evil — it were harder than these rocks if it could bear unmoved the thought, that I have sent this man to a long account, unhousled and unshrieved.”

“Pause there, my son,” said the traveller. “That thou hast defaced God’s image in thy neighbour’s person — that thou hast sent dust to dust in idle wrath or idler pride, is indeed a sin of the deepest dye — that thou hast cut short the space which Heaven might have allowed him for repentance, makes it yet more deadly — but for all this there is balm in Gilead.”

“I understand you not, father,” said Halbert, struck by the solemn tone which was assumed by his companion.

The old man proceeded. “Thou hast slain thine enemy — it was a cruel deed: thou hast cut him off perchance in his sins — it is a fearful aggravation. Do yet by my counsel, and in lieu of him whom thou hast perchance consigned to the kingdom of Satan, let thine efforts wrest another subject from the reign of the Evil One.”

“I understand you, father,” said Halbert; “thou wouldst have me atone for my rashness by doing service to the soul of my adversary — But how may this be? I have no money to purchase masses, and gladly would I go barefoot to the Holy Land to free his spirit from purgatory, only that —”

“My son,” said the old man, interrupting him, “the sinner for whose redemption I entreat you to labour, is not the dead but the living. It is not for the soul of thine enemy I would exhort thee to pray — that has already had its final doom from a Judge as merciful as he is just; nor, wert thou to coin that rock into ducats, and obtain a mass for each one, would it avail the departed spirit. Where the tree hath fallen, it must lie. But the sapling, which hath in it yet the vigour and juice of life, may be bended to the point to which it ought to incline.”

“Art thou a priest, father?” said the young man, “or by what commission dost thou talk of such high matters?”

“By that of my Almighty Master,” said the traveller, “under whose banner I am an enlisted soldier.”

Halbert’s acquaintance with religious matters was no deeper than could be derived from the Archbishop of Saint Andrew’s Catechism, and the pamphlet called the Twapennie Faith, both which were industriously circulated and recommended by the monks of Saint Mary’s. Yet, however indifferent and superficial a theologian, he began to suspect that he was now in company with one of the gospellers, or heretics, before whose influence the ancient system of religion now tottered to the very foundation. Bred up, as may well be presumed, in a holy horror against these formidable sectaries, the youth’s first feelings were those of a loyal and devoted church vassal. “Old man,” he said, “wert thou able to make good with thy hand the words that thy tongue hath spoken against our Holy Mother Church, we should have tried upon this moor which of our creeds hath the better champion.”

“Nay,” said the stranger, “if thou art a true soldier of Rome, thou wilt not pause from thy purpose because thou hast the odds of years and of strength on thy side. Hearken to me, my son. I have showed thee how to make thy peace with Heaven, and thou hast rejected my proffer. I will now show thee how thou shalt make thy reconciliation with the powers of this world. Take this gray head from the frail body which supports it, and carry it to the chair of proud Abbot Boniface; and when thou tellest him thou hast slain Piercie Shafton, and his ire rises at the deed, lay the head of Henry Warden at his foot, and thou shalt have praise instead of censure.”

Halbert Glendinning stepped back in surprise. “What! are you that Henry Warden so famous among the heretics, that even Knox’s name is scarce more frequently in their mouths? Art thou he, and darest thou to approach the Halidome of Saint Mary’s?”

“I am Henry Warden, of a surety,” said the old man, “far unworthy to be named in the same breath with Knox, but yet willing to venture on whatever dangers my master’s service may call me to.”

“Hearken to me, then,” said Halbert; “to slay thee, I have no heart — to make thee prisoner, were equally to bring thy blood on my head — to leave thee in this wild without a guide, were little better. I will conduct thee, as I promised, in safety to the Castle of Avenel; but breathe not, while we are on the journey, a word against the doctrines of the holy church of which I am an unworthy — but though an ignorant, a zealous member. — When thou art there arrived, beware of thyself — there is a high price upon thy head, and Julian Avenel loves the glance of gold bonnet-pieces.” 52

“Yet thou sayest not,” answered the Protestant preacher, for such he was, “that for lucre he would sell the blood of his guest?”

“Not if thou comest an invited stranger, relying on his faith,” said the youth; “evil as Julian may be, he dare not break the rites of hospitality; for, loose as we on these marches may be in all other ties, these are respected amongst us even to idolatry, and his nearest relations would think it incumbent on them to spill his blood themselves, to efface the disgrace such treason would bring upon their name and lineage. But if thou goest self-invited, and without assurance of safety, I promise thee thy risk is great.”

“I am in God’s hand,” answered the preacher; “it is on His errand that I traverse these wilds amidst dangers of every kind; while I am useful for my master’s service, they shall not prevail against me, and when, like the barren fig-tree, I can no longer produce fruit, what imports it when or by whom the axe is laid to the root?”

“Your courage and devotion,” said Glendinning, “are worthy of a better cause.”

“That,” said Warden, “cannot be — mine is the very best.”

They continued their journey in silence, Halbert Glendinning tracing with the utmost accuracy the mazes of the dangerous and intricate morasses and hills which divided the Halidome from the barony of Avenel. From time to time he was obliged to stop, in order to assist his companion to cross the black intervals of quaking bog, called in the Scottish dialect hags, by which the firmer parts of the morass were intersected.

“Courage, old man,” said Halbert, as he saw his companion almost exhausted with fatigue, “we shall soon be upon hard ground. And yet soft as this moss is, I have seen the merry falconers go through it as light as deer when the quarry was upon the flight.”

“True, my son,” answered Warden, “for so I will still call you, though you term me no longer father; and even so doth headlong youth pursue its pleasures, without regard to the mire and the peril of the paths through which they are hurried.”

“I have already told thee,” answered Halbert Glendinning, sternly, “that I will hear nothing from thee that savours of doctrine.”

“Nay, but, my son,” answered Warden, “thy spiritual father himself would surely not dispute the truth of what I have now spoken for your edification!”

Glendinning stoutly replied, “I know not how that may be — but I wot well it is the fashion of your brotherhood to bait your hook with fair discourse, and to hold yourselves up as angels of light, that you may the better extend the kingdom of darkness.”

“May God,” replied the preacher, “pardon those who have thus reported of his servants! I will not offend thee, my son, by being instant out of season — thou speakest but as thou art taught — yet sure I trust that so goodly a youth will be still rescued, like a brand from the burning.”

While he thus spoke, the verge of the morass was attained, and their path lay on the declivity. Green-sward it was, and, viewed from a distance, chequered with its narrow and verdant line the dark-brown heath which it traversed, though the distinction was not so easily traced when they were walking on it. 53 The old man pursued his journey with comparative ease; and, unwilling again to awaken the jealous zeal of his young companion for the Roman faith, he discoursed on other matters. The tone of his conversation was still grave, moral, and instructive. He had travelled much, and knew both the language and manners of other countries, concerning which Halbert Glendinning, already anticipating the possibility of being obliged to leave Scotland for the deed he had done, was naturally and anxiously desirous of information. By degrees he was more attracted by the charms of the stranger’s conversation than repelled by the dread of his dangerous character as a heretic, and Halbert had called him father more than once, ere the turrets of Avenel Castle came in view.

The situation of this ancient fortress was remarkable. It occupied a small rocky islet in a mountain lake, or tarn, as such a piece of water is called in Westmoreland. The lake might be about a mile in circumference, surrounded by hills of considerable height, which, except where old trees and brushwood occupied the ravines that divided them from each other, were bare and heathy. The surprise of the spectator was chiefly excited by finding a piece of water situated in that high and mountainous region, and the landscape around had features which might rather be termed wild, than either romantic or sublime; yet the scene was not without its charms. Under the burning sun of summer, the clear azure of the deep unruffled lake refreshed the eye, and impressed the mind with a pleasing feeling of deep solitude. In winter, when the snow lay on the mountains around, these dazzling masses appeared to ascend far beyond their wonted and natural height, while the lake, which stretched beneath, and filled their bosom with all its frozen waves, lay like the surface of a darkened and broken mirror around the black and rocky islet, and the walls of the gray castle with which it was crowned.

As the castle occupied, either with its principal buildings, or with its flanking and outward walls, every projecting point of rock, which served as its site, it seemed as completely surrounded by water as the nest of a wild swan, save where a narrow causeway extended betwixt the islet and the shore. But the fortress was larger in appearance than in reality; and of the buildings which it actually contained, many had become ruinous and uninhabitable. In the times of the grandeur of the Avenel family, these had been occupied by a considerable garrison of followers and retainers, but they were now in a great measure deserted; and Julian Avenel would probably have fixed his habitation in a residence better suited to his diminished fortunes, had it not been for the great security which the situation of the old castle afforded to a man of his precarious and perilous mode of life. Indeed, in this respect, the spot could scarce have been more happily chosen, for it could be rendered almost completely inaccessible at the pleasure of the inhabitant. The distance betwixt the nearest shore and the islet was not indeed above an hundred yards; but then the causeway which connected them was extremely narrow, and completely divided by two cuts, one in the mid-way between the islet and shore, and another close under the outward gate of the castle. These formed a formidable, and almost insurmountable interruption to any hostile approach. Each was defended by a drawbridge, one of which, being that nearest to the castle, was regularly raised at all times during the day, and both were lifted at night. 54

The situation of Julian Avenel, engaged in a variety of feuds, and a party to almost every dark and mysterious transaction which was on foot in that wild and military frontier, required all these precautions for his security. His own ambiguous and doubtful course of policy had increased these dangers; for as he made professions to both parties in the state, and occasionally united more actively with either the one or the other, as chanced best to serve his immediate purpose, he could not be said to have either firm allies and protectors, or determined enemies. His life was a life of expedients and of peril; and while, in pursuit of his interest, he made all the doubles which he thought necessary to attain his object, he often overran his prey, and missed that which he might have gained by observing a straighter course.

52 A gold coin of James V., the most beautiful of the Scottish series; so called because the effigy of the sovereignty is represented wearing a bonnet.

53 This sort of path, visible when looked at from a distance, but not to be seen when you are upon it, is called on the Border by the significant name of a Blind-road.

54 It is in vain to search near Melrose for any such castle as is here described. The lakes at the head of the Yarrow, and those at the rise of the water of Ale, present no object of the kind. But in Vetholm Loch, (a romantic sheet of water, in the dry march, as it is called,) there are the remains of a fortress called Lochside Tower, which, like the supposed Castle of Avenel, is built upon an island, and connected with the land by a causeway. It is much smaller than the Castle of Avenel is described, consisting only of a single *inous tower

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