The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Seventh.

See on yon verdant lawn, the gathering crowd

Thickens amain; the buxom nymphs advance,

Usher’d by jolly clowns; distinctions cease,

Lost in the common joy, and the bold slave

Leans on his wealthy master unreproved.

Rural Games. — Somervillle.

The re-appearance of the dignified Chamberlain on the street of the village was eagerly hailed by the revellers, as a pledge that the play, or dramatic representation, which had been postponed owing to his absence, was now full surely to commence. Any thing like an approach to this most interesting of all amusements, was of recent origin in Scotland, and engaged public attention in proportion. All other sports were discontinued. The dance around the Maypole was arrested — the ring broken up and dispersed, while the dancers, each leading his partner by the hand, tripped, off to the silvan theatre. A truce was in like manner achieved betwixt a huge brown bear and certain mastiffs, who were tugging and pulling at his shaggy coat, under the mediation of the bear-ward and half a dozen butchers and yeomen, who, by dint of staving and tailing, as it was technically termed, separated the unfortunate animals, whose fury had for an hour past been their chief amusement. The itinerant minstrel found himself deserted by the audience he had collected, even in the most interesting passage of the romance which he recited, and just as he was sending about his boy, with bonnet in hand, to collect their oblations. He indignantly stopped short in the midst of Rosewal and Lilian, and, replacing his three-stringed fiddle, or rebeck, in its leathern case, followed the crowd, with no good-will, to the exhibition which had superseded his own. The juggler had ceased his exertions of emitting flame and smoke, and was content to respire in the manner of ordinary mortals, rather than to play gratuitously the part of a fiery dragon. In short, all other sports were suspended, so eagerly did the revellers throng towards the place of representation.

They would err greatly, who should regulate their ideas of this dramatic exhibition upon those derived from a modern theatre; for the rude shows of Thespis were far less different from those exhibited by Euripides on the stage of Athens, with all its magnificent decorations and pomp of dresses and of scenery. In the present case, there were no scenes, no stage, no machinery, no pit, box, and gallery, no box-lobby; and, what might in poor Scotland be some consolation for other negations, there was no taking of money at the door. As in the devices of the magnanimous Bottom, the actors had a greensward plot for a stage, and a hawthorn bush for a greenroom and tiring-house; the spectators being accommodated with seats on the artificial bank which had been raised around three-fourths of the playground, the remainder being left open for the entrance and exit of the performers. Here sate the uncritical audience, the Chamberlain in the centre, as the person highest in office, all alive to enjoyment and admiration, and all therefore dead to criticism.

The characters which appeared and disappeared before the amused and interested audience, were those which fill the earlier stage in all nations — old men, cheated by their wives and daughters, pillaged by their sons, and imposed on by their domestics, a braggadocia captain, a knavish pardoner or quaestionary, a country bumpkin and a wanton city dame. Amid all these, and more acceptable than almost the whole put together, was the all-licensed fool, the Gracioso of the Spanish drama, who, with his cap fashioned into the resemblance of a coxcomb, and his bauble, a truncheon terminated by a carved figure wearing a fool’s cap, in his hand, went, came, and returned, mingling in every scene of the piece, and interrupting the business, without having any share himself in the action, and ever and anon transferring his gibes from the actors on the stage to the audience who sate around, prompt to applaud the whole.

The wit of the piece, which was not of the most polished kind, was chiefly directed against the superstitious practices of the Catholic religion; and the stage artillery had on this occasion been levelled by no less a person than Doctor Lundin, who had not only commanded the manager of the entertainment to select one of the numerous satires which had been written against the Papists, (several of which were cast in a dramatic form,) but had even, like the Prince of Denmark, caused them to insert, or according to his own phrase, to infuse here and there, a few pleasantries of his own penning, on the same inexhaustible subject, hoping thereby to mollify the rigour of the Lady of Lochleven towards pastimes of this description. He failed not to jog Roland’s elbow, who was sitting in state behind him, and recommend to his particular attention those favourite passages. As for the page, to whom, the very idea of such an exhibition, simple as it was, was entirely new, he beheld it with the undiminished and ecstatic delight with which men of all ranks look for the first time on dramatic representation, and laughed, shouted, and clapped his hands as the performance proceeded. An incident at length took place, which effectually broke off his interest in the business of the scene.

One of the principal personages in the comic part of the drama was, as we have already said, a quaestionary or pardoner, one of those itinerants who hawked about from place to place relics, real or pretended, with which he excited the devotion at once, and the charity of the populace, and generally deceived both the one and the other. The hypocrisy, impudence, and profligacy of these clerical wanderers, had made them the subject of satire from the time of Chaucer down to that of Heywood. Their present representative failed not to follow the same line of humour, exhibiting pig’s bones for relics, and boasting the virtues of small tin crosses, which had been shaken in the holy porringer at Loretto, and of cockleshells, which had been brought from the shrine of Saint James of Compostella, all which he disposed of to the devout Catholics at nearly as high a price as antiquaries are now willing to pay for baubles of similar intrinsic value. At length the pardoner pulled from his scrip a small phial of clear water, of which he vaunted the quality in the following verses:—

Listneth, gode people, everiche one

For in the londe of Babylone,

Far eastward I wot it lyeth,

And is the first londe the sonne espieth,

Ther, as he cometh fro out the sé;

In this ilk londe, as thinketh me,

Right as holie legendes tell.

Snottreth from a roke a well,

And falleth into ane bath of ston,

Where chaste Susanne, in times long gon,

Wax wont to wash her bodie and lim

Mickle vertue hath that streme,

As ye shall se er that ye pas,

Ensample by this little glas —

Through nightés cold and dayés hote

Hiderward I have it brought;

Hath a wife made slip or side,

Or a maiden stepp’d aside,

Putteth this water under her nese,

Wold she nold she, she shall snese.

The jest, as the reader skilful in the antique language of the drama must at once perceive, turned on the same pivot as in the old minstrel tales of the Drinking Horn of King Arthur, and the Mantle made Amiss. But the audience were neither learned nor critical enough to challenge its want of originality. The potent relic was, after such grimace and buffoonery as befitted the subject, presented successively to each of the female personages of the drama, not one of whom sustained the supposed test of discretion; but, to the infinite delight of the audience, sneezed much louder and longer than perhaps they themselves had counted on. The jest seemed at last worn threadbare, and the pardoner was passing on to some new pleasantry, when the jester or clown of the drama, possessing himself secretly of the phial which contained the wondrous liquor, applied it suddenly to the nose of a young woman, who, with her black silk muffler, or screen drawn over her face, was sitting in the foremost rank of the spectators, intent apparently upon the business of the stage. The contents of the phial, well calculated to sustain the credit of the pardoner’s legend, set the damsel a-sneezing violently, an admission of frailty which was received with shouts of rapture by the audience. These were soon, however, renewed at the expense of the jester himself, when the insulted maiden extricated, ere the paroxysm was well over, one hand from the folds of her mantle, and bestowed on the wag a buffet, which made him reel fully his own length from the pardoner, and then acknowledge the favour by instant prostration.

No one pities a jester overcome in his vocation, and the clown met with little sympathy, when, rising from the ground, and whimpering forth his complaints of harsh treatment, he invoked the assistance and sympathy of the audience. But the Chamberlain, feeling his own dignity insulted, ordered two of his halberdiers to bring the culprit before him. When these official persons first approached the virago, she threw herself into an attitude of firm defiance, as if determined to resist their authority; and from the sample of strength and spirit which she had already displayed, they showed no alacrity at executing their commission. But on half a minute’s reflection, the damsel changed totally her attitude and manner, folded her cloak around her arms in modest and maiden-like fashion, and walked of her own accord to the presence of the great man, followed and guarded by the two manful satellites. As she moved across the vacant space, and more especially as she stood at the footstool of the Doctor’s judgment-seat, the maiden discovered that lightness and elasticity of step, and natural grace of manner, which connoisseurs in female beauty know to be seldom divided from it. Moreover, her neat russet-coloured jacket, and short petticoat of the same colour, displayed a handsome form and a pretty leg. Her features were concealed by the screen; but the Doctor, whose gravity did not prevent his pretensions to be a connoisseur of the school we have hinted at, saw enough to judge favourably of the piece by the sample.

He began, however, with considerable austerity of manner. —“And how now, saucy quean!” said the medical man of office; “what have you to say why I should not order you to be ducked in the loch, for lifting your hand to the man in my presence?”

“Marry,” replied the culprit, “because I judge that your honour will not think the cold bath necessary for my complaints.”

“A pestilent jade,” said the Doctor, whispering to Roland Graeme; “and I’ll warrant her a good one — her voice is as sweet as sirup. — But, my pretty maiden,” said he, “you show us wonderful little of that countenance of yours — be pleased to throw aside your muffler.”

“I trust your honour will excuse me till we are more private,” answered the maiden; “for I have acquaintance, and I should like ill to be known in the country as the poor girl whom that scurvy knave put his jest upon.”

“Fear nothing for thy good name, my sweet little modicum of candied manna,” replied the Doctor, “for I protest to you, as I am Chamberlain of Lochleven, Kinross, and so forth, that the chaste Susanna herself could not have snuffed that elixir without sternutation, being in truth a curious distillation of rectified acetum, or vinegar of the sun, prepared by mine own hands — Wherefore, as thou sayest thou wilt come to me in private, and express thy contrition for the offence whereof thou hast been guilty, I command that all for the present go forward as if no such interruption of the prescribed course had taken place.”

The damsel curtsied and tripped back to her place. The play proceeded, but it no longer attracted the attention of Roland Graeme.

The voice, the figure, and what the veil permitted to be seen of the neck and tresses of the village damsel, bore so strong a resemblance to those of Catherine Seyton, that he felt like one bewildered in the mazes of a changeful and stupifying dream. The memorable scene of the hostelrie rushed on his recollection, with all its doubtful and marvellous circumstances. Were the tales of enchantment which he had read in romances realized in this extraordinary girl? Could she transport herself from the walled and guarded Castle of Lochleven, moated with its broad lake, (towards which he cast back a look as if to ascertain it was still in existence,) and watched with such scrupulous care as the safety of a nation demanded? — Could she surmount all these obstacles, and make such careless and dangerous use of her liberty, as to engage herself publicly in a quarrel in a village fair? Roland was unable to determine whether the exertions which it must have cost her to gain her freedom or the use to which she had put it, rendered her the most unaccountable creature.

Lost in these meditations, he kept his gaze fixed on the subject of them; and in every casual motion, discovered, or thought he discovered, something which reminded him still more strongly of Catherine Seyton. It occurred to him more than once, indeed, that he might be deceiving himself by exaggerating some casual likeness into absolute identity. But then the meeting at the hostelrie of Saint Michael’s returned to his mind, and it seemed in the highest degree improbable, that, under such various circumstances, mere imagination should twice have found opportunity to play him the selfsame trick. This time, however, he determined to have his doubts resolved, and for this purpose he sate during the rest of the play like a greyhound in the slip, ready to spring upon the hare the instant that she was started. The damsel, whom he watched attentively lest she should escape in the crowd when the spectacle was closed, sate as if perfectly unconscious that she was observed. But the worthy Doctor marked the direction of his eyes, and magnanimously suppressed his own inclination to become the Theseus to this Hippolyta, in deference to the rights of hospitality, which enjoined him to forbear interference with the pleasurable pursuits of his young friend. He passed one or two formal gibes upon the fixed attention which the page paid to the unknown, and upon his own jealousy; adding, however, that if both were to be presented to the patient at once, he had little doubt she would think the younger man the sounder prescription. “I fear me,” he added, “we shall have no news of the knave Auchtermuchty for some time, since the vermin whom I sent after him seem to have proved corbie-messengers. So you have an hour or two on your hands, Master Page; and as the minstrels are beginning to strike up, now the play is ended, why, an you incline for a dance, yonder is the green, and there sits your partner — I trust you will hold me perfect in my diagnostics, since I see with half an eye what disease you are sick of, and have administered a pleasing remedy.

Discernit sapiens res (as Chambers hath it) quas confundit asellus.”

The page hardly heard the end of the learned adage, or the charge which the Chamberlain gave him to be within reach, in case of the wains arriving suddenly, and sooner than expected — so eager he was at once to shake himself free of his learned associate, and to satisfy his curiosity regarding the unknown damsel. Yet in the haste with which he made towards her he found time to reflect, that, in order to secure an opportunity of conversing with her in private, he must not alarm her at first accosting her. He therefore composed his manner and gait, and advancing with becoming self-confidence before three or four country-fellows who were intent on the same design, but knew not so well how to put their request into shape, he acquainted her that he, as the deputy of the venerable Chamberlain, requested the honour of her hand as a partner.

“The venerable Chamberlain,” said the damsel frankly, reaching the page her hand, “does very well to exercise this part of his privilege by deputy; and I suppose the laws of the revels leave me no choice but to accept of his faithful delegate.”

“Provided, fair damsel,” said the page, “his choice of a delegate is not altogether distasteful to you.”

“Of that, fair sir,” replied the maiden, “I will tell you more when we have danced the first measure.”

Catherine Seyton had admirable skill in gestic lore, and was sometimes called on to dance for the amusement of her royal mistress. Roland Graeme had often been a spectator of her skill, and sometimes, at the Queen’s command, Catherine’s partner on such occasions. He was, therefore, perfectly acquainted with Catherine’s mode of dancing; and observed that his present partner, in grace, in agility, in quickness of ear, and precision of execution, exactly resembled her, save that the Scottish jig, which he now danced with her, required a more violent and rapid motion, and more rustic agility, than the stately pavens, lavoltas, and courantoes, which he had seen her execute in the chamber of Queen Mary. The active duties of the dance left him little time for reflection, and none for conversation; but when their pas de deux was finished, amidst the acclamations of the villagers, who had seldom witnessed such an exhibition, he took an opportunity, when they yielded up the green to another couple, to use the privilege of a partner and enter into conversation with the mysterious maiden, whom he still held by the hand.

“Fair partner, may I not crave the name of her who has graced me thus far?”

“You may,” said the maiden; “but it is a question whether I shall answer you.”

“And why?” asked Roland.

“Because nobody gives anything for nothing — and you can tell me nothing in return which I care to hear.”

“Could I not tell you my name and lineage, in exchange for yours?” returned Roland.

“No!” answered the maiden, “for you know little of either.”

“How?” said the page, somewhat angrily.

“Wrath you not for the matter,” said the damsel; “I will show you in an instant that I know more of you than you do of yourself.”

“Indeed,” answered Graeme; “for whom then do you take me?”

“For the wild falcon,” answered she, “whom a dog brought in his mouth to a certain castle, when he was but an unfledged eyas — for the hawk whom men dare not fly, lest he should check at game, and pounce on carrion — whom folk must keep hooded till he has the proper light of his eyes, and can discover good from evil.”

“Well — be it so,” replied Roland Graeme; “I guess at a part of your parable, fair mistress mine — and perhaps I know as much of you as you do of me, and can well dispense with the information which you are so niggard in giving.”

“Prove that,” said the maiden, “and I will give you credit for more penetration than I judged you to be gifted withal.”

“It shall be proved instantly,” said Roland Graeme. “The first letter of your name is S, and the last N.”

“Admirable,” said his partner, “guess on.”

“It pleases you today,” continued Roland, “to wear the snood and kirtle, and perhaps you may be seen tomorrow in hat and feather, hose and doublet.”

“In the clout! in the clout! you have hit the very white,” said the damsel, suppressing a great inclination to laugh.

“You can switch men’s eyes out of their heads, as well as the heart out of their bosoms.”

These last words were uttered in a low and tender tone, which, to Roland’s great mortification, and somewhat to his displeasure, was so far from allaying, that it greatly increased, his partner’s disposition to laughter. She could scarce compose herself while she replied, “If you had thought my hand so formidable,” extricating it from his hold, “you would not have grasped it so hard; but I perceive you know me so fully, that there is no occasion to show you my face.”

“Fair Catherine,” said the page, “he were unworthy ever to have seen you, far less to have dwelt so long in the same service, and under the same roof with you, who could mistake your air, your gesture, your step in walking or in dancing, the turn of your neck, the symmetry of your form — none could be so dull as not to recognize you by so many proofs; but for me, I could swear even to that tress of hair that escapes from under your muffler.”

“And to the face, of course, which that muffler covers,” said the maiden, removing her veil, and in an instant endeavouring to replace it. She showed the features of Catherine; but an unusual degree of petulant impatience inflamed them, when, from some awkwardness in her management of the muffler, she was unable again to adjust it with that dexterity which was a principal accomplishment of the coquettes of the time.

“The fiend rive the rag to tatters!” said the damsel, as the veil fluttered about her shoulders, with an accent so earnest and decided, that it made the page start. He looked again at the damsel’s face, but the information which his eyes received, was to the same purport as before. He assisted her to adjust her muffler, and both were for an instant silent. The damsel spoke first, for Roland Graeme was overwhelmed with surprise at the contrarieties which Catherine Seyton seemed to include in her person and character.

“You are surprised,” said the damsel to him, “at what you see and hear — But the times which make females men, are least of all fitted for men to become women; yet you yourself are in danger of such a change.”

“I in danger of becoming effeminate!” said the page.

“Yes, you, for all the boldness of your reply,” said the damsel. “When you should hold fast your religion, because it is assailed on all sides by rebels, traitors, and heretics, you let it glide out of your breast like water grasped in the hand. If you are driven from the faith of your fathers from fear of a traitor, is not that womanish? — If you are cajoled by the cunning arguments of a trumpeter of heresy, or the praises of a puritanic old woman, is not that womanish? — If you are bribed by the hope of spoil and preferment, is not that womanish? — And when you wonder at my venting a threat or an execration, should you not wonder at yourself, who, pretending to a gentle name and aspiring to knighthood, can be at the same time cowardly, silly, and self-interested!”

“I would that a man would bring such a charge,” said the page; “he should see, ere his life was a minute older, whether he had cause to term me coward or no.”

“Beware of such big words,” answered the maiden; “you said but anon that I sometimes wear hose and doublet.”

“But remain still Catharine Seyton, wear what you list,” said the page, endeavouring again to possess himself of her hand.

“You indeed are pleased to call me so,” replied the maiden, evading his intention, “but I have many other names besides.”

“And will you not reply to that,” said the page, “by which you are distinguished beyond every other maiden in Scotland?”

The damsel, unallured by his praises, still kept aloof, and sung with gaiety a verse from an old ballad,

“Oh, some do call me Jack, sweet love,

And some do call me Gill;

But when I ride to Holyrood,

My name is Wilful Will.”

“Wilful Will” exclaimed the page, impatiently; “say rather Will o’ the Wisp — Jack with the Lantern — for never was such a deceitful or wandering meteor!”

“If I be such,” replied the maiden, “I ask no fools to follow me — If they do so, it is at their own pleasure, and must be on their own proper peril.”

“Nay, but, dearest Catherine,” said Roland Graeme, “be for one instant serious.”

“If you will call me your dearest Catherine, when I have given you so many names to choose upon,” replied the damsel, “I would ask you how, supposing me for two or three hours of my life escaped from yonder tower, you have the cruelty to ask me to be serious during the only merry moments I have seen perhaps for months?”

“Ay, but, fair Catherine, there are moments of deep and true feeling, which are worth ten thousand years of the liveliest mirth; and such was that of yesterday, when you so nearly —”

“So nearly what?” demanded the damsel, hastily.

“When you approached your lips so near to the sign you had traced on my forehead.”

“Mother of Heaven!” exclaimed she, in a yet fiercer tone, and with a more masculine manner than she had yet exhibited,-“Catherine Seyton approach her lips to a man’s brow, and thou that man! — vassal, thou liest!”

The page stood astonished; but, conceiving he had alarmed the damsel’s delicacy by alluding to the enthusiasm of a moment, and the manner in which she had expressed it, he endeavoured to falter forth an apology. His excuses, though he was unable to give them any regular shape, were accepted by his companion, who had indeed suppressed her indignation after its first explosion —“Speak no more on’t,” she said. “And now let us part; our conversation may attract more notice than is convenient for either of us.”

“Nay, but allow me at least to follow you to some sequestered place.”

“You dare not,” replied the maiden.

“How,” said the youth, “dare not? where is it you dare go, where I dare not follow?”

“You fear a Will o’ the Wisp,” said the damsel; “how would you face a fiery dragon, with an enchantress mounted on its back?”

“Like Sir Eger, Sir Grime, or Sir Greysteil,” said the page; “but be there such toys to be seen here?”

“I go to Mother Nicneven’s,” answered the maid; “and she is witch enough to rein the horned devil, with a red silk thread for a bridle, and a rowan-tree switch for a whip.”

“I will follow you,” said the page.

“Let it be at some distance,” said the maiden.

And wrapping her mantle round her with more success than on her former attempt, she mingled with the throng, and walked towards the village, heedfully followed by Roland Graeme at some distance, and under every precaution which he could use to prevent his purpose from being observed.

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