The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Eighth.

Yes, it is he whose eyes look’d on thy childhood,

And watch’d with trembling hope thy dawn of youth,

That now, with these same eyeballs dimm’d with age,

And dimmer yet with tears, sees thy dishonour.

Old play.

At the entrance of the principal, or indeed, so to speak, the only street in Kinross, the damsel, whose steps were pursued by Roland Graeme, cast a glance behind her, as if to be certain he had not lost trace of her and then plunged down a very narrow lane which ran betwixt two rows of poor and ruinous cottages. She paused for a second at the door of one of those miserable tenements, again cast her eye up the lane towards Roland, then lifted the latch, opened the door, and disappeared from his view.

With whatever haste the page followed her example, the difficulty which he found in discovering the trick of the latch, which did not work quite in the usual manner, and in pushing open the door, which did not yield to his first effort, delayed for a minute or two his entrance into the cottage. A dark and smoky passage led, as usual, betwixt the exterior wall of the house, and the hallan, or clay wall, which served as a partition betwixt it and the interior. At the end of this passage, and through the partition, was a door leading into the ben, or inner chamber of the cottage, and when Roland Graeme’s hand was upon the latch of this door, a female voice pronounced, “Benedictus qui veniat in nomine Domini, damnandus qui in nomine inimici.” On entering the apartment, he perceived the figure which the chamberlain had pointed out to him as Mother Nicneven, seated beside the lowly hearth. But there was no other person in the room. Roland Graeme gazed around in surprise at the disappearance of Catherine Seyton, without paying much regard to the supposed sorceress, until she attracted and riveted his regard by the tone in which she asked him —“What seekest thou here?”

“I seek,” said the page, with much embarrassment; “I seek —”

But his answer was cut short, when the old woman, drawing her huge gray eyebrows sternly together, with a frown which knitted her brow into a thousand wrinkles, arose, and erecting herself up to her full natural size, tore the kerchief from her head, and seizing Roland by the arm, made two strides across the floor of the apartment to a small window through which the light fell full on her face, and showed the astonished youth the countenance of Magdalen Graeme. —“Yes, Roland,” she said, “thine eyes deceive thee not; they show thee truly the features of her whom thou hast thyself deceived, whose wine thou hast turned into gall, her bread of joyfulness into bitter poison, her hope into the blackest despair — it is she who now demands of thee, what seekest thou here? — She whose heaviest sin towards Heaven hath been, that she loved thee even better than the weal of the whole church, and could not without reluctance surrender thee even in the cause of God — she now asks you, what seekest thou here?”

While she spoke, she kept her broad black eye riveted on the youth’s face, with the expression with which the eagle regards his prey ere he tears it to pieces. Roland felt himself at the moment incapable either of reply or evasion. This extraordinary enthusiast had preserved over him in some measure the ascendency which she had acquired during his childhood; and, besides, he knew the violence of her passions and her impatience of contradiction, and was sensible that almost any reply which he could make, was likely to throw her into an ecstasy of rage. He was therefore silent; and Magdalen Graeme proceeded with increasing enthusiasm in her apostrophe —“Once more, what seek’st thou, false boy? — seek’st thou the honour thou hast renounced, the faith thou hast abandoned, the hopes thou hast destroyed? — Or didst thou seek me, the sole protectress of thy youth, the only parent whom thou hast known, that thou mayest trample on my gray hairs, even as thou hast already trampled on the best wishes of my heart?”

“Pardon me, mother,” said Roland Graeme; “but, in truth and reason, I deserve not your blame. I have been treated amongst you — even by yourself, my revered parent, as well as by others — as one who lacked the common attributes of free-will and human reason, or was at least deemed unfit to exercise them. A land of enchantment have I been led into, and spells have been cast around me — every one has met me in disguise — every one has spoken to me in parables — I have been like one who walks in a weary and bewildering dream; and now you blame me that I have not the sense, and judgment, and steadiness of a waking, and a disenchanted, and a reasonable man, who knows what he is doing, and wherefore he does it. If one must walk with masks and spectres, who waft themselves from place to place as it were in vision rather than reality, it might shake the soundest faith and turn the wisest head. I sought, since I must needs avow my folly, the same Catherine Seyton with whom you made me first acquainted, and whom I most strangely find in this village of Kinross, gayest among the revellers, when I had but just left her in the well-guarded castle of Lochleven, the sad attendant of an imprisoned Queen-I sought her, and in her place I find you, my mother, more strangely disguised than even she is.”

“And what hadst thou to do with Catherine Seyton?” said the matron, sternly; “is this a time or a world to follow maidens, or to dance around a Maypole? When the trumpet summons every true-hearted Scotsman around the standard of the true sovereign, shalt thou be found loitering in a lady’s bower?”

“No, by Heaven, nor imprisoned in the rugged walls of an island castle!” answered Roland Graeme: “I would the blast were to sound even now, for I fear that nothing less loud will dispel the chimerical visions by which I am surrounded.”

“Doubt not that it will be winded,” said the matron, “and that so fearfully loud, that Scotland will never hear the like until the last and loudest blast of all shall announce to mountain and to valley that time is no more. Meanwhile, be thou but brave and constant — Serve God and honour thy sovereign — Abide by thy religion — I cannot — I will not — I dare not ask thee the truth of the terrible surmises I have heard touching thy falling away — perfect not that accursed sacrifice — and yet, even at this late hour, thou mayest be what I have hoped for the son of my dearest hope — what say I? the son of my hope — thou shalt be the hope of Scotland, her boast and her honour! — Even thy wildest and most foolish wishes may perchance be fulfilled — I might blush to mingle meaner motives with the noble guerdon I hold out to thee — It shames me, being such as I am, to mention the idle passions of youth, save with contempt and the purpose of censure. But we must bribe children to wholesome medicine by the offer of cates, and youth to honourable achievement with the promise of pleasure. Mark me, therefore, Roland. The love of Catherine Seyton will follow him only who shall achieve the freedom of her mistress; and believe, it may be one day in thine own power to be that happy lover. Cast, therefore, away doubt and fear, and prepare to do what religion calls for, what thy country demands of thee, what thy duty as a subject and as a servant alike require at your hand; and be assured, even the idlest or wildest wishes of thy heart will be most readily attained by following the call of thy duty.”

As she ceased speaking, a double knock was heard against the inner door. The matron hastily adjusting her muffler, and resuming her chair by the hearth, demanded who was there.

Salve in nomine sancto,” was answered from without.

Salvete et vos,” answered Magdalen Graeme.

And a man entered in the ordinary dress of a nobleman’s retainer, wearing at his girdle a sword and buckler —“I sought you,” said he, “my mother, and him whom I see with you.” Then addressing himself to Roland Graeme, he said to him, “Hast thou not a packet from George Douglas?”

“I have,” said the page, suddenly recollecting that which had been committed to his charge in the morning, “but I may not deliver it to any one without some token that they have a right to ask it.”

“You say well,” replied the serving-man, and whispered into his ear, “The packet which I ask is the report to his father — will this token suffice?”

“It will,” replied the page, and taking the packet from his bosom, gave it to the man.

“I will return presently,” said the serving-man, and left the cottage.

Roland had now sufficiently recovered his surprise to accost his relative in turn, and request to know the reason why he found her in so precarious a disguise, and a place so dangerous —“You cannot be ignorant,” he said, “of the hatred that the Lady of Lochleven bears to those of your — that is of our religion — your present disguise lays you open to suspicion of a different kind, but inferring no less hazard; and whether as a Catholic, or as a sorceress, or as a friend to the unfortunate Queen, you are in equal danger, if apprehended within the bounds of the Douglas; and in the chamberlain who administers their authority, you have, for his own reasons, an enemy, and a bitter one.”

“I know it,” said the matron, her eyes kindling with triumph; “I know that, vain of his school-craft, and carnal wisdom, Luke Lundin views with jealousy and hatred the blessings which the saints have conferred on my prayers, and on the holy relics, before the touch, nay, before the bare presence of which, disease and death have so often been known to retreat. — I know he would rend and tear me; but there is a chain and a muzzle on the ban dog that shall restrain his fury, and the Master’s servant shall not be offended by him until the Master’s work is wrought. When that hour comes, let the shadows of the evening descend on me in thunder and in tempest; the time shall be welcome that relieves my eyes from seeing guilt, and my ears from listening to blasphemy. Do thou but be constant — play thy part as I have played and will play mine, and my release shall be like that of a blessed martyr whose ascent to heaven angels hail with psalm and song, while earth pursues him with hiss and with execration.”

As she concluded, the serving-man again entered the cottage, and said, “All is well! the time holds for tomorrow night.”

“What time? what holds?” exclaimed Roland Graeme; “I trust I have given the Douglas’s packet to no wrong —”

“Content yourself, young man,” answered the serving-man; “thou hast my word and token.”

“I know not if the token be right,” said the page; “and I care not much for the word of a stranger.”

“What,” said the matron, “although thou mayest have given a packet delivered to thy charge by one of the Queen’s rebels into the hand of a loyal subject — there were no great mistake in that, thou hot-brained boy!”

“By Saint Andrew, there were foul mistake, though,” answered the page; “it is the very spirit of my duty, in this first stage of chivalry, to be faithful to my trust; and had the devil given me a message to discharge, I would not (so I had plighted my faith to the contrary) betray his counsel to an angel of light.”

“Now, by the love I once bore thee,” said the matron, “I could slay thee with mine own hand, when I hear thee talk of a dearer faith being due to rebels and heretics, than thou owest to thy church and thy prince!”

“Be patient, my good sister,” said the serving-man; “I will give him such reasons as shall counterbalance the scruples which beset him —— the spirit is honourable, though now it may be mistimed and misplaced. — Follow me, young man.”

“Ere I go to call this stranger to a reckoning,” said the page to the matron, “is there nothing I can do for your comfort and safety?”

“Nothing,” she replied, “nothing, save what will lead more to thine own honour; — the saints who have protected me thus far, will lend me succour as I need it. Tread the path of glory that is before thee, and only think of me as the creature on earth who will be most delighted to hear of thy fame. — Follow the stranger — he hath tidings for you that you little expect.”

The stranger remained on the threshold as if waiting for Roland, and as soon as he saw him put himself in motion, he moved on before at a quick pace. Diving still deeper down the lane, Roland perceived that it was now bordered by buildings upon the one side only, and that the other was fenced by a high old wall, over which some trees extended their branches. Descending a good way farther, they came to a small door in the wall. Roland’s guide paused, looked around an instant to see if any one were within sight, then taking a key from his pocket, opened the door and entered, making a sign to Roland Graeme to follow him. He did so, and the stranger locked the door carefully on the inside. During this operation the page had a moment to look around, and perceived that he was in a small orchard very trimly kept.

The stranger led him through an alley or two, shaded by trees loaded with summer-fruit, into a pleached arbour, where, taking the turf-seat which was on the one side, he motioned to Roland to occupy that which was opposite to him, and, after a momentary silence, opened the conversation as follows: “You have asked a better warrant than the word of a mere stranger, to satisfy you that I have the authority of George of Douglas for possessing myself of the packet intrusted to your charge.”

“It is precisely the point on which I demand reckoning of you,” said Roland. “I fear I have acted hastily; if so, I must redeem my error as I best may.”

“You hold me then as a perfect stranger?” said the man. “Look at my face more attentively, and see if the features do not resemble those of a man much known to you formerly.”

Roland gazed attentively; but the ideas recalled to his mind were so inconsistent with the mean and servile dress of the person before him, that he did not venture to express the opinion which he was irresistibly induced to form.

“Yes, my son,” said the stranger, observing his embarrassment, “you do indeed see before you the unfortunate Father Ambrosius, who once accounted his ministry crowned in your preservation from the snares of heresy, but who is now condemned to lament thee as a castaway!”

Roland Graeme’s kindness of heart was at least equal to his vivacity of temper — he could not bear to see his ancient and honoured master and spiritual guide in a situation which inferred a change of fortune so melancholy, but throwing himself at his feet, grasped his knees and wept aloud.

“What mean these tears, my son?” said the Abbot; “if they are shed for your own sins and follies, surely they are gracious showers, and may avail thee much — but weep not, if they fall on my account. You indeed see the Superior of the community of Saint Mary’s in the dress of a poor sworder, who gives his master the use of his blade and buckler, and, if needful, of his life, for a coarse livery coat and four marks by the year. But such a garb suits the time, and, in the period of the church militant, as well becomes her prelates, as staff, mitre, and crosier, in the days of the church’s triumph.”

“By what fate,” said the page —“and yet why,” added he, checking himself, “need I ask? Catherine Seyton in some sort prepared me for this. But that the change should be so absolute — the destruction so complete!”—

“Yes, my son,” said the Abbot Ambrosius, “thine own eyes beheld, in my unworthy elevation to the Abbot’s stall, the last especial act of holy solemnity which shall be seen in the church of Saint Mary’s, until it shall please Heaven to turn back the captivity of the church. For the present, the shepherd is smitten — ay, well-nigh to the earth — the flock are scattered, and the shrines of saints and martyrs, and pious benefactors to the church, are given to the owls of night, and the satyrs of the desert.”

“And your brother, the Knight of Avenel — could he do nothing for your protection?”

“He himself hath fallen under the suspicion of the ruling powers,” said the Abbot, “who are as unjust to their friends as they are cruel to their enemies. I could not grieve at it, did I hope it might estrange him from his cause; but I know the soul of Halbert, and I rather fear it will drive him to prove his fidelity to their unhappy cause, by some deed which may be yet more destructive to the church, and more offensive to Heaven. Enough of this; and now to the business of our meeting. — I trust you will hold it sufficient if I pass my word to you that the packet of which you were lately the bearer, was designed for my hands by George of Douglas?”

“Then,” said the page, “is George of Douglas ——”

“A true friend to his Queen, Roland; and will soon, I trust, have his eyes opened to the errors of his (miscalled) church.”

“But what is he to his father, and what to the Lady of Lochleven, who has been as a mother to him?” said the page impatiently.

“The best friend to both, in time and through eternity,” said the Abbot, “if he shall prove the happy instrument for redeeming the evil they have wrought, and are still working.”

“Still,” said the page, “I like not that good service which begins in breach of trust.”

“I blame not thy scruples, my son,” said the Abbot; “but the time which has wrenched asunder the allegiance of Christians to the church, and of subjects to their king, has dissolved all the lesser bonds of society; and, in such days, mere human ties must no more restrain our progress, than the brambles and briers which catch hold of his garments, should delay the path of a pilgrim who travels to pay his vows.”

“But, my father,”— said the youth, and then stopt short in a hesitating manner.

“Speak on, my son,” said the Abbot; “speak without fear.”

“Let me not offend you then,” said Roland, “when I say, that it is even this which our adversaries charge against us; when they say that, shaping the means according to the end, we are willing to commit great moral evil in order that we may work out eventual good.”

“The heretics have played their usual arts on you, my son,” said the Abbot; “they would willingly deprive us of the power of acting wisely and secretly, though their possession of superior force forbids our contending with them on terms of equality. They have reduced us to a state of exhausted weakness, and now would fain proscribe the means by which weakness, through all the range of nature, supplies the lack of strength and defends itself against its potent enemies. As well might the hound say to the hare, use not these wily turns to escape me, but contend with me in pitched battle, as the armed and powerful heretic demand of the down-trodden and oppressed Catholic to lay aside the wisdom of the serpent, by which alone they may again hope to raise up the Jerusalem over which they weep, and which it is their duty to rebuild — But more of this hereafter. And now, my son, I command thee on thy faith to tell me truly and particularly what has chanced to thee since we parted, and what is the present state of thy conscience. Thy relation, our sister Magdalen, is a woman of excellent gifts, blessed with a zeal which neither doubt nor danger can quench; but yet it is not a zeal altogether according to knowledge; wherefore, my son, I would willingly be myself thy interrogator, and thy counsellor, in these days of darkness and stratagem.”

With the respect which he owed to his first instructor, Roland Graeme went rapidly through the events which the reader is acquainted with; and while he disguised not from the prelate the impression which had been made on his mind by the arguments of the preacher Henderson, he accidentally and almost involuntarily gave his Father Confessor to understand the influence which Catherine Seyton had acquired over his mind.

“It is with joy I discover, my dearest son,” replied the Abbot, “that I have arrived in time to arrest thee on the verge of the precipice to which thou wert approaching. These doubts of which you complain, are the weeds which naturally grow up in a strong soil, and require the careful hand of the husbandman to eradicate them. Thou must study a little volume, which I will impart to thee in fitting time, in which, by Our Lady’s grace, I have placed in somewhat a clearer light than heretofore, the points debated betwixt us and these heretics, who sow among the wheat the same tares which were formerly privily mingled with the good seed by the Albigenses and the Lollards. But it is not by reason alone that you must hope to conquer these insinuations of the enemy: It is sometimes by timely resistance, but oftener by timely flight. You must shut your ears against the arguments of the heresiarch, when circumstances permit you not to withdraw the foot from his company. Anchor your thoughts upon the service of Our Lady, while he is expending in vain his heretical sophistry. Are you unable to maintain your attention on heavenly objects — think rather on thine own earthly pleasures, than tempt Providence and the Saints by giving an attentive ear to the erring doctrine — think of thy hawk, thy hound, thine angling rod, thy sword and buckler — think even of Catherine Seyton, rather than give thy soul to the lessons of the tempter. Alas! my son, believe not that, worn out with woes, and bent more by affliction than by years, I have forgotten the effect of beauty over the heart of youth. Even in the watches of the night, broken by thoughts of an imprisoned Queen, a distracted kingdom, a church laid waste and ruinous, come other thoughts than these suggest, and feelings which belonged to an earlier and happier course of life. Be it so — we must bear our load as we may: and not in vain are these passions implanted in our breast, since, as now in thy case, they may come in aid of resolutions founded upon higher grounds. Yet beware, my son — this Catherine Seyton is the daughter of one of Scotland’s proudest, as well as most worthy barons; and thy state may not suffer thee, as yet, to aspire so high. But thus it is — Heaven works its purposes through human folly; and Douglas’s ambitious affection, as well as thine, shall contribute alike to the desired end.”

“How, my father,” said the page, “my suspicions are then true! — Douglas loves ——”

“He does; and with a love as much misplaced as thine own; but beware of him — cross him not — thwart him not.”

“Let him not cross or thwart me,” said the page; “for I will not yield him an inch of way, had he in his body the soul of every Douglas that has lived since the time of the Dark Gray Man.” 31

“Nay, have patience, idle boy, and reflect that your suit can never interfere with his. — But a truce with these vanities, and let us better employ the little space which still remains to us to spend together. To thy knees, my son, and resume the long-interrupted duty of confession, that, happen what may, the hour may find in thee a faithful Catholic, relieved from the guilt of his sins by authority of the Holy Church. Could I but tell thee, Roland, the joy with which I see thee once more put thy knee to its best and fittest use! Quid dicis, mi fili?

Culpas meas” answered the youth; and according to the ritual of the Catholic Church, he confessed and received absolution, to which was annexed the condition of performing certain enjoined penances.

When this religious ceremony was ended, an old man, in the dress of a peasant of the better order, approached the arbour, and greeted the Abbot. —“I have waited the conclusion of your devotions,” he said, “to tell you the youth is sought after by the chamberlain, and it were well he should appear without delay. Holy Saint Francis, if the halberdiers were to seek him here, they might sorely wrong my garden-plot — they are in office, and reck not where they tread, were each step on jessamine and clovegilly-flowers.”

“We will speed him forth, my brother,” said the Abbot; “but alas! is it possible that such trifles should live in your mind at a crisis so awful as that which is now impending?”

“Reverend father,” answered the proprietor of the garden, for such he was, “how oft shall I pray you to keep your high counsel for high minds like your own? What have you required of me, that I have not granted unresistingly, though with an aching heart?”

“I would require of you to be yourself, my brother,” said the Abbot Ambrosius; “to remember what you were, and to what your early vows have bound you.”

“I tell thee, Father Ambrosius,” replied the gardener, “the patience of the best saint that ever said pater-noster, would be exhausted by the trials to which you have put mine — What I have been, it skills not to speak at present-no one knows better than yourself, father, what I renounced, in hopes to find ease and quiet during the remainder of my days — and no one better knows how my retreat has been invaded, my fruit-trees broken, my flower-beds trodden down, my quiet frightened away, and my very sleep driven from my bed, since ever this poor Queen, God bless her, hath been sent to Lochleven. — I blame her not; being a prisoner, it is natural she should wish to get out from so vile a hold, where there is scarcely any place even for a tolerable garden, and where the water-mists, as I am told, blight all the early blossoms — I say, I cannot blame her for endeavouring for her freedom; but why I should be drawn into the scheme — why my harmless arbours, that I planted with my own hands, should become places of privy conspiracy-why my little quay, which I built for my own fishing boat, should have become a haven for secret embarkations — in short, why I should be dragged into matters where both heading and hanging are like to be the issue, I profess to you, reverend father, I am totally ignorant.”

“My brother,” answered the Abbot, “you are wise, and ought to know —”

“I am not — I am not — I am not wise,” replied the horticulturist, pettishly, and stopping his ears with his fingers —“I was never called wise but when men wanted to engage me in some action of notorious folly.”

“But, my good brother,” said the Abbot —

“I am not good neither,” said the peevish gardener; “I am neither good nor wise — Had I been wise, you would not have been admitted here; and were I good, methinks I should send you elsewhere to hatch plots for destroying the quiet of the country. What signifies disputing about queen or king — when men may sit at peace — sub umbra vitis sui? and so would I do, after the precept of Holy Writ, were I, as you term me, wise or good. But such as I am, my neck is in the yoke, and you make me draw what weight you list. — Follow me, youngster. This reverend father, who makes in his jackman’s dress nearly as reverend a figure as I myself, will agree with me in one thing at least, and that is, that you have been long enough here.”

“Follow the good father, Roland,” said the Abbot, “and remember my words — a day is approaching that will try the temper of all true Scotsmen — may thy heart prove faithful as the steel of thy blade!”

The page bowed in silence, and they parted; the gardener, notwithstanding his advanced age, walking on before him very briskly, and muttering as he went, partly to himself, partly to his companion, after the manner of old men of weakened intellects —“When I was great,” thus ran his maundering, “and had my mule and my ambling palfrey at command, I warrant you I could have as well flown through the air as have walked at this pace. I had my gout and my rheumatics, and an hundred things besides, that hung fetters on my heels; and, now, thanks to Our Lady, and honest labour, I can walk with any good man of my age in the kingdom of Fife — Fy upon it, that experience should be so long in coming!”

As he was thus muttering, his eye fell upon the branch of a pear-tree which drooped down for want of support, and at once forgetting his haste, the old man stopped and set seriously about binding it up. Roland Graeme had both readiness, neatness of hand, and good nature in abundance; he immediately lent his aid, and in a minute or two the bough was supported, and tied up in a way perfectly satisfactory to the old man, who looked at it with great complaisance. “They are bergamots,” he said, “and if you will come ashore in autumn, you shall taste of them — the like are not in Lochleven Castle — the garden there is a poor pin-fold, and the gardener, Hugh Houkham, hath little skill of his craft — so come ashore, Master Page, in autumn, when you would eat pears. But what am I thinking of — ere that time come, they may have given thee sour pears for plums. Take an old man’s advice, youth, one who hath seen many days, and sat in higher places than thou canst hope for — bend thy sword into a pruning-hook, and make a dibble of thy dagger — thy days shall be the longer, and thy health the better for it — and come to aid me in my garden, and I will teach thee the real French fashion of imping, which the Southron call graffing. Do this, and do it without loss of time, for there is a whirlwind coming over the land, and only those shall escape who lie too much beneath the storm to have their boughs broken by it.”

So saying, he dismissed Roland Graeme, through a different door from that by which he had entered, signed a cross, and pronounced a benedicite as they parted, and then, still muttering to himself, retired into the garden, and locked the door on the inside.

31 By an ancient, though improbable tradition, the Douglasses are said to have derived their name from a champion who had greatly distinguished himself in an action. When the king demanded by whom the battle had been won, the attendants are said to have answered, “Sholto Douglas, sir;” which is said to mean, “Yonder dark gray man.” But the name is undoubtedly territorial, and taken from Douglas river and vale.

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