The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Sixteenth.

Youth! thou wear’st to manhood now,

Darker lip and darker brow,

Statelier step, more pensive mien,

In thy face and gate are seen:

Thou must now brook midnight watches,

Take thy food and sport by snatches;

For the gambol and the jest,

Thou wert wont to love the best,

Graver follies must thou follow,

But as senseless, false, and hollow.

Life, a poem.

Young Roland Graeme now trotted gaily forward in the train of Sir Halbert Glendinning. He was relieved from his most galling apprehension — the encounter of the scorn and taunt which might possibly hail his immediate return to the Castle of Avenel. “There will be a change ere they see me again,” he thought to himself; “I shall wear the coat of plate, instead of the green jerkin, and the steel morion for the bonnet and feather. They will be bold that may venture to break a gibe on the man-at-arms for the follies of the page; and I trust, that ere we return I shall have done something more worthy of note than hallooing a hound after a deer, or scrambling a crag for a kite’s nest.” He could not, indeed, help marvelling that his grandmother, with all her religious prejudices, leaning, it would seem, to the other side, had consented so readily to his re-entering the service of the House of Avenel; and yet more, at the mysterious joy with which she took leave of him at the Abbey.

“Heaven,” said the dame, as she kissed her young relation, and bade him farewell, “works its own work, even by the hands of those of our enemies who think themselves the strongest and the wisest. Thou, my child, be ready to act upon the call of thy religion and country; and remember, each earthly bond which thou canst form is, compared to the ties which bind thee to them, like the loose flax to the twisted cable. Thou hast not forgot the face or form of the damsel Catherine Seyton?”

Roland would have replied in the negative, but the word seemed to stick in his throat and Magdalen continued her exhortations.

“Thou must not forget her, my son; and here I intrust thee with a token, which I trust thou wilt speedily find an opportunity of delivering with care and secrecy into her own hand.”

She put here into Roland’s hand a very small packet, of which she again enjoined him to take the strictest care, and to suffer it to be seen by no one save Catherine Seyton, who, she again (very unnecessarily) reminded him, was the young lady he had met on the preceding day. She then bestowed on him her solemn benediction, and bade God speed him.

There was something in her manner and her conduct which implied mystery; but Roland Graeme was not of an age or temper to waste much time in endeavoring to decipher her meaning. All that was obvious to his perception in the present journey, promised pleasure and novelty. He rejoiced that he was travelling towards Edinburgh, in order to assume the character of a man, and lay aside that of a boy. He was delighted to think that he would have an opportunity of rejoining Catherine Seyton, whose bright eyes and lively manners had made so favourable an impression on his imagination; and, as an experienced, yet high-spirited youth, entering for the first time upon active life, his heart bounded at the thought, that he was about to see all those scenes of courtly splendour and warlike adventures, of which the followers of Sir Halbert used to boast on their occasional visits to Avenel, to the wonderment and envy of those who, like Roland, knew courts and camps only by hearsay, and were condemned to the solitary sports and almost monastic seclusion of Avenel, surrounded by its lonely lake, and embossed among its pathless mountains. “They shall mention my name,” he said to himself, “if the risk of my life can purchase me opportunities of distinction, and Catherine Seyton’s saucy eye shall rest with more respect on the distinguished soldier, than that with which she laughed to scorn the raw and inexperienced page.”— There was wanting but one accessary to complete the sense of rapturous excitation, and he possessed it by being once more mounted on the back of a fiery and active horse, instead of plodding along on foot, as had been the case during the preceding days.

Impelled by the liveliness of his own spirits, which so many circumstances tended naturally to exalt, Roland Graeme’s voice and his laughter were soon distinguished amid the trampling of the horses of the retinue, and more than once attracted the attention of the leader, who remarked with satisfaction, that the youth replied with good-humoured raillery to such of the train as jested with him on his dismissal and return to the service of the House of Avenel.

“I thought the holly-branch in your bonnet had been blighted, Master Roland?” said one of the men-at-arms.

“Only pinched with half an hour’s frost; you see it flourishes as green as ever.”

“It is too grave a plant to flourish on so hot a soil as that headpiece of thine, Master Roland Graeme,” retorted the other, who was an old equerry of Sir Halbert Glendinning.

“If it will not flourish alone,” said Roland, “I will mix it with the laurel and the myrtle — and I will carry them so near the sky, that it shall make amends for their stinted growth.”

Thus speaking, he dashed his spurs into his horse’s sides, and, checking him at the same time, compelled him to execute a lofty caracole. Sir Halbert Glendinning looked at the demeanour of his new attendant with that sort of melancholy pleasure with which those who have long followed the pursuits of life, and are sensible of their vanity, regard the gay, young, and buoyant spirits to whom existence, as yet, is only hope and promise.

In the meanwhile, Adam Woodcock, the falconer, stripped of his masquing habit, and attired, according to his rank and calling, in a green jerkin, with a hawking-bag on the one side, and a short hanger on the other, a glove on his left hand which reached half way up his arm, and a bonnet and feather upon his head, came after the party as fast as his active little galloway-nag could trot, and immediately entered into parley with Roland Graeme.

“So, my youngster, you are once more under shadow of the holly-branch?”

“And in case to repay you, my good friend,” answered Roland, “your ten groats of silver.”

“Which, but an hour since,” said the falconer, “you had nearly paid me with ten inches of steel. On my faith, it is written in the book of our destiny, that I must brook your dagger after all.”

“Nay, speak not of that, my good friend,” said the youth, “I would rather have broached my own bosom than yours; but who could have known you in the mumming dress you wore?”

“Yes,” the falconer resumed — for both as a poet and actor he had his own professional share of self-conceit — “I think I was as good a Howleglas as ever played part at a Shrovetide revelry, and not a much worse Abbot of Unreason. I defy the Old Enemy to unmask me when I choose to keep my vizard on. What the devil brought the Knight on us before we had the game out? You would have heard me hollo my own new ballad with a voice should have reached to Berwick. But I pray you, Master Roland, be less free of cold steel on slight occasions; since, but for the stuffing of my reverend doublet, I had only left the kirk to take my place in the kirkyard.”

“Nay, spare me that feud,” said Roland Graeme, “we shall have no time to fight it out; for, by our lord’s command, I am bound for Edinburgh.”

“I know it,” said Adam Woodcock, “and even therefore we shall have time to solder up this rent by the way, for Sir Halbert has appointed me your companion and guide.”

“Ay? and with what purpose?” said the page.

“That,” said the falconer, “is a question I cannot answer; but I know, that be the food of the eyases washed or unwashed, and, indeed, whatever becomes of perch and mew, I am to go with you to Edinburgh, and see you safely delivered to the Regent at Holyrood.”

“How, to the Regent?” said Roland, in surprise.

“Ay, by my faith, to the Regent,” replied Woodcock; “I promise you, that if you are not to enter his service, at least you are to wait upon him in the character of a retainer of our Knight of Avenel.”

“I know no right,” said the youth, “which the Knight of Avenel hath to transfer my service, supposing that I owe it to himself.”

“Hush, hush!” said the falconer; “that is a question I advise no one to stir in until he has the mountain or the lake, or the march of another kingdom, which is better than either, betwixt him and his feudal superior.”

“But Sir Halbert Glendinning,” said the youth, “is not my feudal superior; nor has he aught of authority —”

“I pray you, my son, to rein your tongue,” answered Adam Woodcock; “my lord’s displeasure, if you provoke it, will be worse to appease than my lady’s. The touch of his least finger were heavier than her hardest blow. And, by my faith, he is a man of steel, as true and as pure, but as hard and as pitiless. You remember the Cock of Capperlaw, whom he hanged over his gate for a mere mistake — a poor yoke of oxen taken in Scotland, when he thought he was taking them in English land? I loved the Cock of Capperlaw; the Kerrs had not an honester man in their clan, and they have had men that might have been a pattern to the Border — men that would not have lifted under twenty cows at once, and would have held themselves dishonoured if they had taken a drift of sheep, or the like, but always managed their raids in full credit and honour. — But see, his worship halts, and we are close by the bridge. Ride up — ride up — we must have his last instructions.”

It was as Adam Woodcock said. In the hollow way descending towards the bridge, which was still in the guardianship of Peter Bridgeward, as he was called, though he was now very old, Sir Halbert Glendinning halted his retinue, and beckoned to Woodcock and Graeme to advance to the head of the train.

“Woodcock,” said he, “thou knowest to whom thou art to conduct this youth. And thou, young man, obey discreetly and with diligence the orders that shall be given thee. Curb thy vain and peevish temper. Be just, true, and faithful; and there is in thee that which may raise thee many a degree above thy present station. Neither shalt thou — always supposing thine efforts to be fair and honest — want the protection and countenance of Avenel.”

Leaving them in front of the bridge, the centre tower of which now began to cast a prolonged shade upon the river, the Knight of Avenel turned to the left, without crossing the river, and pursued his way towards the chain of hills within whose recesses are situated the Lake and Castle of Avenel. There remained behind, the falconer, Roland Graeme, and a domestic of the Knight, of inferior rank, who was left with them to look after their horses while on the road, to carry their baggage, and to attend to their convenience.

So soon as the more numerous body of riders had turned off to pursue their journey westward, those whose route lay across the river, and was directed towards the north, summoned the Bridgeward, and demanded a free passage.

“I will not lower the bridge,” answered Peter, in a voice querulous with age and ill-humour. —“Come Papist, come Protestant, ye are all the same. The Papist threatened us with Purgatory, and fleeched us with pardons — the Protestant mints at us with his sword, and cuttles us with the liberty of conscience; but never a one of either says, ‘Peter, there is your penny.’ I am well tired of all this, and for no man shall the bridge fall that pays me not ready money; and I would have you know I care as little for Geneva as for Rome — as little for homilies as for pardons; and the silver pennies are the only passports I will hear of.”

“Here is a proper old chuff!” said Woodcock to his companion; then raising his voice, he exclaimed, “Hark thee, dog — Bridgeward, villain, dost thou think we have refused thy namesake Peter’s pence to Rome, to pay thine at the bridge of Kennaquhair? Let thy bridge down instantly to the followers of the house of Avenel, or by the hand of my father, and that handled many a bridle rein, for he was a bluff Yorkshireman — I say, by my father’s hand, our Knight will blow thee out of thy solan-goose’s nest there in the middle of the water, with the light falconet which we are bringing southward from Edinburgh tomorrow.”

The Bridgeward heard, and muttered, “A plague on falcon and falconet, on cannon and demicannon, and all the barking bull-dogs whom they halloo against stone and lime in these our days! It was a merry time when there was little besides handy blows, and it may be a flight of arrows that harmed an ashler wall as little as so many hailstones. But we must jouk and let the jaw gang by.” Comforting himself in his state of diminished consequence with this pithy old proverb, Peter Bridgeward lowered the drawbridge, and permitted them to pass over. At the sight of his white hair, albeit it discovered a visage equally peevish through age and misfortune, Roland was inclined to give him an alms, but Adam Woodcock prevented him. “E’en let him pay the penalty of his former churlishness and greed,” he said; “the wolf, when he has lost his teeth, should be treated no better than a cur.”

Leaving the Bridgeward to lament the alteration of times, which sent domineering soldiers and feudal retainers to his place of passage, instead of peaceful pilgrims, and reduced him to become the oppressed, instead of playing the extortioner, the travellers turned them northward; and Adam Woodcock, well acquainted with that part of the country, proposed to cut short a considerable portion of the road, by traversing the little vale of Glendearg, so famous for the adventures which befell therein during the earlier part of the Benedictine’s manuscript. With these, and with the thousand commentaries, representations, and misrepresentations, to which they had given rise, Roland Graeme was, of course, well acquainted; for in the Castle of Avenel, as well as in other great establishments, the inmates talked of nothing so often, or with such pleasure, as of the private affairs of their lord and lady. But while Roland was viewing with interest these haunted scenes, in which things were said to have passed beyond the ordinary laws of nature, Adam Woodcock was still regretting in his secret soul the unfinished revel and the unsung ballad, and kept every now and then, breaking out with some such verses as these:—

“The Friars of Fail drank berry-brown ale,

The best that e’er was tasted;

The Monks of Melrose made gude kale

On Fridays, when they fasted.

Saint Monance’ sister.

The gray priest kist her —

Fiend save the company!

Sing hay trix, trim-go-trix.

Under the greenwood tree.”

“By my hand, friend Woodcock,” said the page, “though I know you for a hardy gospeller, that fear neither saint nor devil, yet, if I were you, I would not sing your profane songs in this valley of Glendearg, considering what has happened here before our time.”

“A straw for your wandering spirits!” said Adam Woodcock; “I mind them no more than an earn cares for a string of wild-geese — they have all fled since the pulpits were filled with honest men, and the people’s ears with sound doctrine. Nay, I have a touch at them in my ballad, an I had but had the good luck to have it sung to end;” and again he set off in the same key:

From haunted spring and grassy ring,

Troop goblin, elf, and fairy;

And the kelpie must flit from the black bog-pit,

And the brownie must not tarry;

To Limbo-lake,

Their way they take,

With scarce the pith to flee.

Sing hay trix, trim-go-trix,

Under the greenwood tree.

“I think,” he added, “that could Sir Halbert’s patience have stretched till we came that length, he would have had a hearty laugh, and that is what he seldom enjoys.”

“If it be all true that men tell of his early life,” said Roland, “he has less right to laugh at goblins than most men.”

“Ay, if it be all true,” answered Adam Woodcock; “but who can ensure us of that? Moreover, these were but tales the monks used to gull us simple laymen withal; they knew that fairies and hobgoblins brought aves and paternosters into repute; but, now we have given up worship of images in wood and stone, methinks it were no time to be afraid of bubbles in the water, or shadows in the air.”

“However,” said Roland Graeme, “as the Catholics say they do not worship wood or stone, but only as emblems of the holy saints, and not as things holy in themselves ——”

“Pshaw! pshaw!” answered the falconer; “a rush for their prating. They told us another story when these baptized idols of theirs brought pike-staves and sandalled shoon from all the four winds, and whillied the old women out of their corn and their candle ends, and their butter, bacon, wool, and cheese, and when not so much as a gray groat escaped tithing.”

Roland Graeme had been long taught, by necessity, to consider his form of religion as a profound secret, and to say nothing whatever in its defence when assailed, lest he should draw on himself the suspicion of belonging to the unpopular and exploded church. He therefore suffered Adam Woodcock to triumph without farther opposition, marvelling in his own mind whether any of the goblins, formerly such active agents, would avenge his rude raillery before they left the valley of Glendearg. But no such consequences followed. They passed the night quietly in a cottage in the glen, and the next day resumed their route to Edinburgh.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00