The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirtieth.

In some breasts passion lies conceal’d and silent,

Like war’s swart powder in a castle vault,

Until occasion, like the linstock, lights it:

Then comes at once the lightning — and the thunder,

And distant echoes tell that all is rent asunder.

Old play.

Roland Graeme, availing himself of a breach in the holly screen, and of the assistance of the full moon, which was now arisen, had a perfect opportunity, himself unobserved, to reconnoitre the persons and the motions of those by whom his rest had been thus unexpectedly disturbed; and his observations confirmed his jealous apprehensions. They stood together in close and earnest conversation within four yards of the place of his retreat, and he could easily recognize the tall form and deep voice of Douglas, and the no less remarkable dress and tone of the page at the hostelry of Saint Michael’s.

“I have been at the door of the page’s apartment,” said Douglas, “but he is not there, or he will not answer. It is fast bolted on the inside, as is the custom, and we cannot pass through it — and what his silence may bode I know not.”

“You have trusted him too far,” said the other; “a feather-headed cox-comb, upon whose changeable mind and hot brain there is no making an abiding impression.”

“It was not I who was willing to trust him,” said Douglas, “but I was assured he would prove friendly when called upon — for ——” Here he spoke so low that Roland lost the tenor of his words, which was the more provoking, as he was fully aware that he was himself the subject of their conversation.

“Nay,” replied the stranger, more aloud, “I have on my side put him off with fair words, which make fools vain — but now, if you distrust him at the push, deal with him with your dagger, and so make open passage.”

“That were too rash,” said Douglas; “and besides, as I told you, the door of his apartment is shut and bolted. I will essay again to waken him.”

Graeme instantly comprehended, that the ladies, having been somehow made aware of his being in the garden, had secured the door of the outer room in which he usually slept, as a sort of sentinel upon that only access to the Queen’s apartments. But then, how came Catherine Seyton to be abroad, if the Queen and the other lady were still within their chambers, and the access to them locked and bolted? —“I will be instantly at the bottom of these mysteries,” he said, “and then thank Mistress Catherine, if this be really she, for the kind use which she exhorted Douglas to make of his dagger — they seek me, as I comprehend, and they shall not seek me in vain.”

Douglas had by this time re-entered the castle by the wicket, which was now open. The stranger stood alone in the garden walk, his arms folded on his breast, and his eyes cast impatiently up to the moon, as if accusing her of betraying him by the magnificence of her lustre. In a moment Roland Graeme stood before him —“A goodly night,” he said, “Mistress Catherine, for a young lady to stray forth in disguise, and to meet with men in an orchard!”

“Hush!” said the stranger page, “hush, thou foolish patch, and tell us in a word if thou art friend or foe.”

“How should I be friend to one who deceives me by fair words, and who would have Douglas deal with me with his poniard?” replied Roland.

“The fiend receive George of Douglas and thee too, thou born madcap and sworn marplot!” said the other; “we shall be discovered, and then death is the word.”

“Catherine,” said the page, “you have dealt falsely and cruelly with me, and the moment of explanation is now come — neither it nor you shall escape me.”

“Madman!” said the stranger, “I am neither Kate nor Catherine — the moon shines bright enough surely to know the hart from the hind.”

“That shift shall not serve you, fair mistress,” said the page, laying hold on the lap of the stranger’s cloak; “this time, at least, I will know with whom I deal.”

“Unhand me,” said she, endeavouring to extricate herself from his grasp; and in a tone where anger seemed to contend with a desire to laugh, “use you so little discretion towards a daughter of Seyton?”

But as Roland, encouraged perhaps by her risibility to suppose his violence was not unpardonably offensive, kept hold on her mantle, she said, in a sterner tone of unmixed resentment — “Madman! let me go! — there is life and death in this moment — I would not willingly hurt thee, and yet beware!”

As she spoke she made a sudden effort to escape, and, in doing so, a pistol, which she carried in her hand or about her person, went off.

This warlike sound instantly awakened the well-warded castle. The warder blew his horn, and began to toll the castle bell, crying out at the same time, “Fie, treason! treason! cry all! cry all!”

The apparition of Catherine Seyton, which the page had let loose in the first moment of astonishment, vanished in darkness; but the plash of oars was heard, and, in a second or two, five or six harquebuses and a falconet were fired from the battlements of the castle successively, as if levelled at some object on the water. Confounded with these incidents, no way for Catherine’s protection (supposing her to be in the boat which he had heard put from the shore) occurred to Roland, save to have recourse to George of Douglas. He hastened for this purpose towards the apartment of the Queen, whence he heard loud voices and much trampling of feet. When he entered, he found himself added to a confused and astonished group, which, assembled in that apartment, stood gazing upon each other. At the upper end of the room stood the Queen, equipped as for a journey, and — attended not only by the Lady Fleming, but by the omnipresent Catherine Seyton, dressed in the habit of her own sex, and bearing in her hand the casket in which Mary kept such jewels as she had been permitted to retain. At the other end of the hall was the Lady of Lochleven, hastily dressed, as one startled from slumber by the sudden alarm, and surrounded by domestics, some bearing torches, others holding naked swords, partisans, pistols, or such other weapons as they had caught up in the hurry of a night alarm. Betwixt these two parties stood George of Douglas, his arms folded on his breast, his eyes bent on the ground, like a criminal who knows not how to deny, yet continues unwilling to avow, the guilt in which he has been detected.

“Speak, George of Douglas,” said the Lady of Lochleven; “speak, and clear the horrid suspicion which rests on thy name. Say, ‘A Douglas was never faithless to his trust, and I am a Douglas.’ Say this, my dearest son, and it is all I ask thee to say to clear thy name, even under, such a foul charge. Say it was but the wile of these unhappy women, and this false boy, which plotted an escape so fatal to Scotland — so destructive to thy father’s house.”

“Madam,” said old Dryfesdale the steward, “this much do I say for this silly page, that he could not be accessary to unlocking the doors, since I myself this night bolted him out of the castle. Whoever limned this night-piece, the lad’s share in it seems to have been small.”

“Thou liest, Dryfesdale,” said the Lady, “and wouldst throw the blame on thy master’s house, to save the worthless life of a gipsy boy.”

“His death were more desirable to me than his life,” answered the steward, sullenly; “but the truth is the truth.”

At these words Douglas raised his head, drew up his figure to its full height, and spoke boldly and sedately, as one whose resolution was taken. “Let no life be endangered for me. I alone ——”

“Douglas,” said the Queen, interrupting him, “art thou mad? Speak not, I charge you.”

“Madam,” he replied, bowing with the deepest respect, “gladly would I obey your commands, but they must have a victim, and let it be the true one. — Yes, madam,” he continued, addressing the Lady of Lochleven, “I alone am guilty in this matter. If the word of a Douglas has yet any weight with you, believe me that this boy is innocent; and on your conscience I charge you, do him no wrong; nor let the Queen suffer hardship for embracing the opportunity of freedom which sincere loyalty — which a sentiment yet deeper — offered to her acceptance. Yes! I had planned the escape of the most beautiful, the most persecuted of women; and far from regretting that I, for a while, deceived the malice of her enemies, I glory in it, and am most willing to yield up life itself in her cause.”

“Now may God have compassion on my age,” said the Lady of Lochleven, “and enable me to bear this load of affliction! O Princess, born in a luckless hour, when will you cease to be the instrument of seduction and of ruin to all who approach you? O ancient house of Lochleven, famed so long for birth and honour, evil was the hour which brought the deceiver under thy roof!”

“Say not so, madam,” replied her grandson; “the old honours of the Douglas line will be outshone, when one of its descendants dies for the most injured of queens — for the most lovely of women.”

“Douglas,” said the Queen, “must I at this moment — ay, even at this moment, when I may lose a faithful subject for ever, chide thee for forgetting what is due to me as thy Queen?”

“Wretched boy,” said the distracted Lady of Lochleven, “hast thou fallen even thus far into the snare of this Moabitish woman? — hast thou bartered thy name, thy allegiance, thy knightly oath, thy duty to thy parents, thy country, and thy God, for a feigned tear, or a sickly smile, from lips which flattered the infirm Francis — lured to death the idiot Darnley — read luscious poetry with the minion Chastelar — mingled in the lays of love which were sung by the beggar Rizzio — and which were joined in rapture to those of the foul and licentious Bothwell?”

“Blaspheme not, madam!” said Douglas; —“nor you, fair Queen, and virtuous as fair, chide at this moment the presumption of thy vassal! — Think not that the mere devotion of a subject could have moved me to the part I have been performing. Well you deserve that each of your lieges should die for you; but I have done more — have done that to which love alone could compel a Douglas — I have dissembled. Farewell, then, Queen of all hearts, and Empress of that of Douglas! — When you are freed from this vile bondage — as freed you shall be, if justice remains in Heaven — and when you load with honours and titles the happy man who shall deliver you, cast one thought on him whose heart would have despised every reward for a kiss of your hand — cast one thought on his fidelity, and drop one tear on his grave.” And throwing himself at her feet, he seized her hand, and pressed it to his lips.

“This before my face!” exclaimed the Lady of Lochleven —“wilt thou court thy adulterous paramour before the eyes of a parent? — Tear them asunder, and put him under strict ward! Seize him, upon your lives!” she added, seeing that her attendants looked at each other with hesitation.

“They are doubtful,” said Mary. “Save thyself, Douglas, I command thee!”

He started up from the floor, and only exclaiming, “My life or death are yours, and at your disposal!”— drew his sword, and broke through those who stood betwixt him and the door. The enthusiasm of his onset was too sudden and too lively to have been opposed by any thing short of the most decided opposition; and as he was both loved and feared by his father’s vassals, none of them would offer him actual injury.

The Lady of Lochleven stood astonished at his sudden escape —“Am I surrounded,” she said, “by traitors? Upon him, villains! — pursue, stab, cut him down.”

“He cannot leave the island, madam,” said Dryfesdale, interfering; “I have the key of the boat-chain.”

But two or three voices of those who pursued from curiosity, or command of their mistress, exclaimed from below, that he had cast himself into the lake.

“Brave Douglas still!” exclaimed the Queen —“Oh, true and noble heart, that prefers death to imprisonment!”

“Fire upon him!” said the Lady of Lochleven; “if there be here a true servant of his father, let him shoot the runagate dead, and let the lake cover our shame!”

The report of a gun or two was heard, but they were probably shot rather to obey the Lady, than with any purpose of hitting the mark; and Randal immediately entering, said that Master George had been taken up by a boat from the castle, which lay at a little distance.

“Man a barge, and pursue them!” said the Lady.

“It were quite vain,” said Randal; “by this time they are half way to shore, and a cloud has come over the moon.”

“And has the traitor then escaped?” said the Lady, pressing her hands against her forehead with a gesture of despair; “the honour of our house is for ever gone, and all will be deemed accomplices in this base treachery.”

“Lady of Lochleven,” said Mary, advancing towards her, “you have this night cut off my fairest hopes — You have turned my expected freedom into bondage, and dashed away the cup of joy in the very instant I was advancing it to my lips — and yet I feel for your sorrow the pity that you deny to mine — Gladly would I comfort you if I might; but as I may not, I would at least part from you in charity.”

“Away, proud woman!” said the Lady; “who ever knew so well as thou to deal the deepest wounds under the pretence of kindness and courtesy? — Who, since the great traitor, could ever so betray with a kiss?”

“Lady Douglas of Lochleven,” said the Queen, “in this moment thou canst not offend me — no, not even by thy coarse and unwomanly language, held to me in the presence of menials and armed retainers. I have this night owed so much to one member of the house of Lochleven, as to cancel whatever its mistress can do or say in the wildness of her passion.”

“We are bounden to you, Princess,” said Lady Lochleven, putting a strong constraint on herself, and passing from her tone of violence to that of bitter irony; “our poor house hath been but seldom graced with royal smiles, and will hardly, with my choice, exchange their rough honesty for such court-honour as Mary of Scotland has now to bestow.”

“They,” replied Mary, “who knew so well how to take, may think themselves excused from the obligation implied in receiving. And that I have now little to offer, is the fault of the Douglasses and their allies.”

“Fear nothing, madam,” replied the Lady of Lochleven, in the same bitter tone, “you retain an exchequer which neither your own prodigality can drain, nor your offended country deprive you of. While you have fair words and delusive smiles at command, you need no other bribes to lure youth to folly.”

The Queen cast not an ungratified glance on a large mirror, which, hanging on one side of the apartment, and illuminated by the torch-light, reflected her beautiful face and person. “Our hostess grows complaisant,” she said, “my Fleming; we had not thought that grief and captivity had left us so well stored with that sort of wealth which ladies prize most dearly.”

“Your Grace will drive this severe woman frantic,” said Fleming, in a low tone. “On my knees I implore you to remember she is already dreadfully offended, and that we are in her power.”

“I will not spare her, Fleming,” answered the Queen; “it is against my nature. She returned my honest sympathy with insult and abuse, and I will gall her in return — if her words are too blunt for answer, let her use her poniard if she dare!”

“The Lady Lochleven,” said the Lady Fleming aloud, “would surely do well now to withdraw, and to leave her Grace to repose.”

“Ay,” replied the Lady, “or to leave her Grace, and her Grace’s minions, to think what silly fly they may next wrap their meshes about. My eldest son is a widower — were he not more worthy the flattering hopes with which you have seduced his brother? — True, the yoke of marriage has been already thrice fitted on — but the church of Rome calls it a sacrament, and its votaries may deem it one in which they cannot too often participate.”

“And the votaries of the church of Geneva,” replied Mary, colouring with indignation, “as they deem marriage no sacrament, are said at times to dispense with the holy ceremony.”— Then, as if afraid of the consequences of this home allusion to the errors of Lady Lochleven’s early life, the Queen added, “Come, my Fleming, we grace her too much by this altercation; we will to our sleeping apartment. If she would disturb us again to-night, she must cause the door to be forced.” So saying, she retired to her bed-room, followed by her two women.

Lady Lochleven, stunned as it were by this last sarcasm, and not the less deeply incensed that she had drawn it upon herself, remained like a statue on the spot which she had occupied when she received an affront so flagrant. Dryfesdale and Randal endeavoured to rouse her to recollection by questions.

“What is your honourable Ladyship’s pleasure in the premises?”

“Shall we not double the sentinels, and place one upon the boats and another in the garden?” said Randal.

“Would you that despatches were sent to Sir William at Edinburgh, to acquaint him with what has happened?” demanded Dryfesdale; “and ought not the place of Kinross to be alarmed, lest there be force upon the shores of the lake?”

“Do all as thou wilt,” said the Lady, collecting herself, and about to depart. “Thou hast the name of a good soldier, Dryfesdale, take all precautions. — Sacred Heaven! that I should be thus openly insulted!”

“Would it be your pleasure,” said Dryfesdale, hesitating, “that this person — this Lady — be more severely restrained?”

“No, vassal!” answered the Lady, indignantly, “my revenge stoops not to so low a gratification. But I will have more worthy vengeance, or the tomb of my ancestors shall cover my shame!”

“And you shall have it, madam,” replied Dryfesdale —“ere two suns go down, you shall term yourself amply revenged.”

The Lady made no answer — perhaps did not hear his words, as she presently left the apartment. By the command of Dryfesdale, the rest of the attendants were dismissed, some to do the duty of guard, others to their repose. The steward himself remained after they had all departed; and Roland Graeme, who was alone in the apartment, was surprised to see the old soldier advance towards him with an air of greater cordiality than he had ever before assumed to him, but which sat ill on his scowling features.

“Youth,” he said, “I have done thee some wrong — it is thine own fault, for thy behaviour hath seemed as light to me as the feather thou wearest in thy hat; and surely thy fantastic apparel, and idle humour of mirth and folly, have made me construe thee something harshly. But I saw this night from my casement, (as I looked out to see how thou hadst disposed of thyself in the garden,) I saw, I say, the true efforts which thou didst make to detain the companion of the perfidy of him who is no longer worthy to be called by his father’s name, but must be cut off from his house like a rotten branch. I was just about to come to thy assistance when the pistol went off; and the warder (a false knave, whom I suspect to be bribed for the nonce) saw himself forced to give the alarm, which, perchance, till then he had wilfully withheld. To atone, therefore, for my injustice towards you, I would willingly render you a courtesy, if you would accept of it from my hands.”

“May I first crave to know what it is?” replied the page.

“Simply to carry the news of this discovery to Holyrood, where thou mayest do thyself much grace, as well with the Earl of Morton and the Regent himself, as with Sir William Douglas, seeing thou hast seen the matter from end to end, and borne faithful part therein. The making thine own fortune will be thus lodged in thine own hand, when I trust thou wilt estrange thyself from foolish vanities, and learn to walk in this world as one who thinks upon the next.”

“Sir Steward,” said Roland Graeme, “I thank you for your courtesy, but I may not do your errand. I pass that I am the Queen’s sworn servant, and may not be of counsel against her. But, setting this apart, methinks it were a bad road to Sir William of Lochleven’s favour, to be the first to tell him of his son’s defection — neither would the Regent be over well pleased to hear the infidelity of his vassal, nor Morton to learn the falsehood of his kinsman.”

“Um!” said the steward, making that inarticulate sound which expresses surprise mingled with displeasure. “Nay, then, even fly where ye list; for, giddy-pated as ye may be, you know how to bear you in the world.”

“I will show you my esteem is less selfish than ye think for,” said the page; “for I hold truth and mirth to be better than gravity and cunning — ay, and in the end to be a match for them. — You never loved me less, Sir Steward, than you do at this moment. I know you will give me no real confidence, and I am resolved to accept no false protestations as current coin. Resume your old course — suspect me as much and watch me as closely as you will, I bid you defiance — you have met with your match.”

“By Heaven, young man,” said the steward, with a look of bitter malignity, “if thou darest to attempt any treachery towards the House of Lochleven, thy head shall blacken in the sun from the warder’s turret!”

“He cannot commit treachery who refuses trust,” said the page; “and for my head, it stands as securely on my shoulders, as on any turret that ever mason built.”

“Farewell, thou prating and speckled pie,” said Dryfesdale, “that art so vain of thine idle tongue and variegated coat! Beware trap and lime-twig.”

“And fare thee well, thou hoarse old raven,” answered the page; “thy solemn flight, sable hue, and deep croak, are no charms against bird-bolt or hail-shot, and that thou mayst find — it is open war betwixt us, each for the cause of our mistress, and God show the right!”

“Amen, and defend his own people!” said the steward. “I will let my mistress know what addition thou hast made to this mess of traitors. Good night, Monsieur Featherpate.”

“Good-night, Seignior Sowersby,” replied the page; and, when the old man departed, he betook himself to rest.

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