The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-First.

Poison’d — ill fare! — dead, forsook, cast off! —

King John.

However weary Roland Graeme might be of the Castle of Lochleven — however much he might wish that the plan for Mary’s escape had been perfected, I question if he ever awoke with more pleasing feelings than on the morning after George Douglas’s plan for accomplishing her deliverance had been frustrated. In the first place, he had the clearest conviction that he had misunderstood the innuendo of the Abbot, and that the affections of Douglas were fixed, not on Catherine Seyton, but on the Queen; and in the second place, from the sort of explanation which had taken place betwixt the steward and him, he felt himself at liberty, without any breach of honour towards the family of Lochleven, to contribute his best aid to any scheme which should in future be formed for the Queen’s escape; and, independently of the good-will which he himself had to the enterprise, he knew he could find no surer road to the favour of Catherine Seyton. He now sought but an opportunity to inform her that he had dedicated himself to this task, and fortune was propitious in affording him one which was unusually favourable.

At the ordinary hour of breakfast, it was introduced by the steward with his usual forms, who, as soon as it was placed on the board in the inner apartment, said to Roland Graeme, with a glance of sarcastic import, “I leave you, my young sir, to do the office of sewer — it has been too long rendered to the Lady Mary by one belonging to the house of Douglas.”

“Were it the prime and principal who ever bore the name,” said Roland, “the office were an honour to him.”

The steward departed without replying to this bravade, otherwise than by a dark look of scorn. Graeme, thus left alone, busied himself as one engaged in a labour of love, to imitate, as well as he could, the grace and courtesy with which George of Douglas was wont to render his ceremonial service at meals to the Queen of Scotland. There was more than youthful vanity — there was a generous devotion in the feeling with which he took up the task, as a brave soldier assumes the place of a comrade who has fallen in the front of battle. “I am now,” he said, “their only champion: and, come weal, come wo, I will be, to the best of my skill and power, as faithful, as trustworthy, as brave, as any Douglas of them all could have been.”

At this moment Catherine Seyton entered alone, contrary to her custom; and not less contrary to her custom, she entered with her kerchief at her eyes. Roland Graeme approached her with beating heart and with down-cast eyes, and asked her, in a low and hesitating voice, whether the Queen were well?

“Can you suppose it?” said Catherine. “Think you her heart and body are framed of steel and iron, to endure the cruel disappointment of yester even, and the infamous taunts of yonder puritanic hag? — Would to God that I were a man, to aid her more effectually!”

“If those who carry pistols, and batons, and poniards,” said the page, “are not men, they are at least Amazons; and that is as formidable.”

“You are welcome to the flash of your wit, sir,” replied the damsel; “I am neither in spirits to enjoy, nor to reply to it.”

“Well, then,” said the page, “list to me in all serious truth. And, first, let me say, that the gear last night had been smoother, had you taken me into your counsels.”

“And so we meant; but who could have guessed that Master Page should choose to pass all night in the garden, like some moon-stricken knight in a Spanish romance — instead of being in his bed-room, when Douglas came to hold communication with him on our project.”

“And why,” said the page, “defer to so late a moment so important a confidence?”

“Because your communications with Henderson, and — with pardon — the natural impetuosity and fickleness of your disposition, made us dread to entrust you with a secret of such consequence, till the last moment.”

“And why at the last moment?” said the page, offended at this frank avowal; “why at that, or any other moment, since I had the misfortune to incur so much suspicion?”

“Nay — now you are angry again,” said Catherine; “and to serve you aright I should break off this talk; but I will be magnanimous, and answer your question. Know, then, our reason for trusting you was twofold. In the first place, we could scarce avoid it, since you slept in the room through which we had to pass. In the second place ——”

“Nay,” said the page, “you may dispense with a second reason, when the first makes your confidence in me a case of necessity.”

“Good now, hold thy peace,” said Catherine. “In the second place, as I said before, there is one foolish person among us, who believes that Roland Graeme’s heart is warm, though his head is giddy — that his blood is pure, though it boils too hastily — and that his faith and honour are true as the load-star, though his tongue sometimes is far less than discreet.”

This avowal Catherine repeated in a low tone, with her eye fixed on the floor, as if she shunned the glance of Roland while she suffered it to escape her lips —“And this single friend,” exclaimed the youth in rapture; “this only one who would do justice to the poor Roland Graeme, and whose own generous heart taught her to distinguish between follies of the brain and faults of the heart — Will you not tell me, dearest Catherine, to whom I owe my most grateful, my most heartfelt thanks?”

“Nay,” said Catherine, with her eyes still fixed on the ground, “if your own heart tell you not ——”

“Dearest Catherine!” said the page, seizing upon her hand, and kneeling on one knee.

“If your own heart, I say, tell you not,” said Catherine, gently disengaging her hand, “it is very ungrateful; for since the maternal kindness of the Lady Fleming ——”

The page started on his feet. “By Heaven, Catherine, your tongue wears as many disguises as your person! But you only mock me, cruel girl. You know the Lady Fleming has no more regard for any one, than hath the forlorn princess who is wrought into yonder piece of old figured court tapestry.”

“It may be so,” said Catherine Seyton, “but you should not speak so loud.”

“Pshaw!” answered the page, but at the same time lowering his voice, “she cares for no one but herself and the Queen. And you know, besides, there is no one of you whose opinion I value, if I have not your own. No — not that of Queen Mary herself.”

“The more shame for you, if it be so,” said Catherine, with great composure.

“Nay, but, fair Catherine,” said the page, “why will you thus damp my ardour, when I am devoting myself, body and soul, to the cause of your mistress?”

“It is because in doing so,” said Catherine, “you debase a cause so noble, by naming along with it any lower or more selfish motive. Believe me,” she said, with kindling eyes, and while the blood mantled on her cheek, “they think vilely and falsely of women — I mean of those who deserve the name — who deem that they love the gratification of their vanity, or the mean purpose of engrossing a lover’s admiration and affection, better than they love the virtue and honour of the man they may be brought to prefer. He that serves his religion, his prince, and his country, with ardour and devotion, need not plead his cause with the commonplace rant of romantic passion — the woman whom he honours with his love becomes his debtor, and her corresponding affection is engaged to repay his glorious toil.”

“You hold a glorious prize for such toil,” said the youth, bending his eyes on her with enthusiasm.

“Only a heart which knows how to value it,” said Catherine. “He that should free this injured Princess from these dungeons, and set her at liberty among her loyal and warlike nobles, whose hearts are burning to welcome her — where is the maiden in Scotland whom the love of such a hero would not honour, were she sprung from the blood royal of the land, and he the offspring of the poorest cottager that ever held a plough?”

“I am determined,” said Roland, “to take the adventure. Tell me first, however, fair Catherine, and speak it as if you were confessing to the priest — this poor Queen, I know she is unhappy — but, Catherine, do you hold her innocent? She is accused of murder.”

“Do I hold the lamb guilty, because it is assailed by the wolf?” answered Catherine; “do I hold yonder sun polluted, because an earth-damp sullies his beams?”

The page sighed and looked down. “Would my conviction were as deep as thine! But one thing is clear, that in this captivity she hath wrong — She rendered herself up, on a capitulation, and the terms have been refused her — I will embrace her quarrel to the death!”

“Will you — will you, indeed?” said Catherine, taking his hand in her turn. “Oh, be but firm in mind, as thou art bold in deed and quick in resolution; keep but thy plighted faith, and after ages shall honour thee as the saviour of Scotland!”

“But when I have toiled successfully to win that Leah, Honour, thou wilt not, my Catherine,” said the page, “condemn me to a new term of service for that Rachel, Love?”

“Of that,” said Catherine, again extricating her hand from his grasp, “we shall have full time to speak; but Honour is the elder sister, and must be won the first.”

“I may not win her,” answered the page; “but I will venture fairly for her, and man can do no more. And know, fair Catherine — for you shall see the very secret thought of my heart — that not Honour only — not only that other and fairer sister, whom you frown on me for so much as mentioning — but the stern commands of duty also, compel me to aid the Queen’s deliverance.”

“Indeed!” said Catherine; “you were wont to have doubts on that matter.”

“Ay, but her life was not then threatened,” replied Roland.

“And is it now more endangered than heretofore?” asked Catherine Seyton, in anxious terror.

“Be not alarmed,” said the page; “but you heard the terms on which your royal mistress parted with the Lady of Lochleven?”

“Too well — but too well,” said Catherine; “alas! that she cannot rule her princely resentment, and refrain from encounters like these!”

“That hath passed betwixt them,” said Roland, “for which woman never forgives woman. I saw the Lady’s brow turn pale, and then black, when, before all the menzie, and in her moment of power, the Queen humbled her to the dust by taxing her with her shame. And I heard the oath of deadly resentment and revenge which she muttered in the ear of one, who by his answer will, I judge, be but too ready an executioner of her will.”

“You terrify me,” said Catherine.

“Do not so take it — call up the masculine part of your spirit — we will counteract and defeat her plans, be they dangerous as they may. Why do you look upon me thus, and weep?”

“Alas!” said Catherine, “because you stand there before me a living and breathing man, in all the adventurous glow and enterprise of youth, yet still possessing the frolic spirits of childhood — there you stand, full alike of generous enterprise and childish recklessness; and if today, or tomorrow, or some such brief space, you lie a mangled and lifeless corpse upon the floor of these hateful dungeons, who but Catherine Seyton will be the cause of your brave and gay career being broken short as you start from the goal? Alas! she whom you have chosen to twine your wreath, may too probably have to work your shroud!”

“And be it so, Catherine,” said the page, in the full glow of youthful enthusiasm; “and do thou work my shroud! and if thou grace it with such tears as fall now at the thought, it will honour my remains more than an earl’s mantle would my living body. But shame on this faintness of heart! the time craves a firmer mood — Be a woman, Catherine, or rather be a man — thou canst be a man if thou wilt.”

Catherine dried her tears, and endeavoured to smile.

“You must not ask me,” she said, “about that which so much disturbs your mind; you shall know all in time — nay, you should know all now, but that — Hush! here comes the Queen.”

Mary entered from her apartment, paler than usual, and apparently exhausted by a sleepless night, and by the painful thoughts which had ill supplied the place of repose; yet the languor of her looks was so far from impairing her beauty, that it only substituted the frail delicacy of the lovely woman for the majestic grace of the Queen. Contrary to her wont, her toilette had been very hastily despatched, and her hair, which was usually dressed by Lady Fleming with great care, escaping from beneath the headtire, which had been hastily adjusted, fell in long and luxuriant tresses of Nature’s own curling, over a neck and bosom which were somewhat less carefully veiled than usual.

As she stepped over the threshold of her apartment, Catherine, hastily drying her tears, ran to meet her royal mistress, and having first kneeled at her feet, and kissed her hand, instantly rose, and placing herself on the other side of the Queen, seemed anxious to divide with the Lady Fleming the honour of supporting and assisting her. The page, on his part, advanced and put in order the chair of state, which she usually occupied, and having placed the cushion and footstool for her accommodation, stepped back, and stood ready for service in the place usually occupied by his predecessor, the young Seneschal. Mary’s eye rested an instant on him, and could not but remark the change of persons. Hers was not the female heart which could refuse compassion, at least, to a gallant youth who had suffered in her cause, although he had been guided in his enterprise by a too presumptuous passion; and the words “Poor Douglas!” escaped from her lips, perhaps unconsciously, as she leant herself back in her chair, and put the kerchief to her eyes.

“Yes, gracious madam,” said Catherine, assuming a cheerful manner, in order to cheer her sovereign, “our gallant Knight is indeed banished — the adventure was not reserved for him; but he has left behind him a youthful Esquire, as much devoted to your Grace’s service, and who, by me, makes you tender of his hand and sword.”

“If they may in aught avail your Grace,” said Roland Graeme, bowing profoundly.

“Alas!” said the Queen, “what needs this, Catherine? — why prepare new victims to be involved in, and overwhelmed by, my cruel fortune? — were we not better cease to struggle, and ourselves sink in the tide without farther resistance, than thus drag into destruction with us every generous heart which makes an effort in our favour? — I have had but too much of plot and intrigue around me, since I was stretched an orphan child in my very cradle, while contending nobles strove which should rule in the name of the unconscious innocent. Surely time it were that all this busy and most dangerous coil should end. Let me call my prison a convent, and my seclusion a voluntary sequestration of myself from the world and its ways.”

“Speak not thus, madam, before your faithful servants,” said Catherine, “to discourage their zeal at once, and to break their hearts. Daughter of Kings, be not in this hour so unkingly — Come, Roland, and let us, the youngest of her followers, show ourselves worthy of her cause — let us kneel before her footstool, and implore her to be her own magnanimous self.” And leading Roland Graeme to the Queen’s seat, they both kneeled down before her. Mary raised herself in her chair, and sat erect, while, extending one hand to be kissed by the page, she arranged with the other the clustering locks which shaded the bold yet lovely brow of the high-spirited Catherine.

“Alas! ma mignóne,” she said, for so in fondness she often called her young attendant, “that you should thus desperately mix with my unhappy fate the fortune of your young lives! — Are they not a lovely couple, my Fleming? and is it not heart-rending to think that I must be their ruin?”

“Not so,” said Roland Graeme, “it is we, gracious Sovereign, who will be your deliverers.”

Ex oribus parvulorum!” said the Queen, looking upward; “if it is by the mouth of these children that Heaven calls me to resume the stately thoughts which become my birth and my rights, thou wilt grant them thy protection, and to me the power of rewarding their zeal!”— Then turning to Fleming, she instantly added — “Thou knowest, my friend, whether to make those who have served me happy, was not ever Mary’s favourite pastime. When I have been rebuked by the stern preachers of the Calvinistic heresy — when I have seen the fierce countenances of my nobles averted from me, has it not been because I mixed in the harmless pleasures of the young and gay, and rather for the sake of their happiness than my own, have mingled in the masque, the song, or the dance, with the youth of my household? Well, I repent not of it — though Knox termed it sin, and Morton degradation — I was happy, because I saw happiness around me; and woe betide the wretched jealousy that can extract guilt out of the overflowings of an unguarded gaiety! — Fleming, if we are restored to our throne, shall we not have one blithesome day at a blithesome bridal, of which we must now name neither the bride nor the bridegroom? but that bridegroom shall have the barony of Blairgowrie, a fair gift even for a Queen to give, and that bride’s chaplet shall be twined with the fairest pearls that ever were found in the depths of Lochlomond; and thou thyself, Mary Fleming, the best dresser of tires that ever busked the tresses of a Queen, and who would scorn to touch those of any woman of lower rank — thou thyself shalt, for my love, twine them into the bride’s tresses. — Look, my Fleming, suppose them such clustered locks as those of our Catherine, they would not put shame upon thy skill.”

So saying, she passed her hand fondly over the head of her youthful favourite, while her more aged attendant replied despondently, “Alas! madam, your thoughts stray far from home.”

“They do, my Fleming,” said the Queen; “but is it well or kind in you to call them back? — God knows, they have kept the perch this night but too closely — Come, I will recall the gay vision, were it but to punish them. Yes, at that blithesome bridal, Mary herself shall forget the weight of sorrows, and the toil of state, and herself once more lead a measure. — At whose wedding was it that we last danced, my Fleming? I think care has troubled my memory — yet something of it I should remember — canst thou not aid me? — I know thou canst.”

“Alas! madam,” replied the lady ——

“What!” said Mary, “wilt thou not help us so far? this is a peevish adherence to thine own graver opinion, which holds our talk as folly. But thou art court-bred, and wilt well understand me when I say, the Queen commands Lady Fleming to tell her where she led the last branle.”

With a face deadly pale, and a mien as if she were about to sink into the earth, the court-bred dame, no longer daring to refuse obedience, faltered out —“Gracious Lady — if my memory err not — it was at a masque in Holyrood — at the marriage of Sebastian.”

The unhappy Queen, who had hitherto listened with a melancholy smile, provoked by the reluctance with which the Lady Fleming brought out her story, at this ill-fated word interrupted her with a shriek so wild and loud that the vaulted apartment rang, and both Roland and Catherine sprang to their feet in the utmost terror and alarm. Meantime, Mary seemed, by the train of horrible ideas thus suddenly excited, surprised not only beyond self-command, but for the moment beyond the verge of reason.

“Traitress!” she said to the Lady Fleming, “thou wouldst slay thy sovereign — Call my French guards — a moi! a moi! mes Français! — I am beset with traitors in mine own palace — they have murdered my husband — Rescue! rescue for the Queen of Scotland!” She started up from her chair — her features, late so exquisitely lovely in their paleness, now inflamed with the fury of frenzy, and resembling those of a Bellona. “We will take the field ourself,” she said; “warn the city — warn Lothian and Fife — saddle our Spanish barb, and bid French Paris see our petronel be charged! — Better to die at the head of our brave Scotsmen, like our grandfather at Flodden, than of a broken heart, like our ill-starred father!”

“Be patient — be composed, dearest Sovereign,” said Catherine: and then addressing Lady Fleming angrily, she added, “How could you say aught that reminded her of her husband?”

The word reached the ear of the unhappy Princess, who caught it up, speaking with great rapidity. “Husband! — what husband? — Not his most Christian Majesty — he is ill at ease — he cannot mount on horseback. — Not him of the Lennox — but it was the Duke of Orkney thou wouldst say.”

“For God’s love, madam, be patient!” said the Lady Fleming.

But the Queen’s excited imagination could by no entreaty be diverted from its course. “Bid him come hither to our aid,” she said, “and bring with him his lambs, as he calls them — Bowton, Hay of Talla, Black Ormiston, and his kinsman Hob — Fie! how swart they are, and how they smell of sulphur! What! closeted with Morton? Nay, if the Douglas and the Hepburn hatch the complot together, the bird, when it breaks the shell, will scare Scotland. Will it not, my Fleming?”

“She grows wilder and wilder,” said Fleming; “we have too many hearers for these strange words.”

“Roland,” said Catherine, “in the name of God, begone! You cannot aid us here — Leave us to deal with her alone — Away — away!”

She thrust him to the door of the anteroom; yet even when he had entered that apartment, and shut the door, he could still hear the Queen talk in a loud and determined tone, as if giving forth orders, until at length the voice died away in a feeble and continued lamentation.

At this crisis Catherine entered the anteroom. “Be not too anxious,” she said, “the crisis is now over; but keep the door fast — let no one enter until she is more composed.”

“In the name of God, what does this mean?” said the page; “or what was there in the Lady Fleming’s words to excite so wild a transport?”

“Oh, the Lady Fleming, the Lady Fleming,” said Catherine, repeating the words impatiently; “the Lady Fleming is a fool — she loves her mistress, yet knows so little how to express her love, that were the Queen to ask her for very poison, she would deem it a point of duty not to resist her commands. I could have torn her starched head-tire from her formal head — The Queen should have as soon had the heart out of my body, as the word Sebastian out of my lips — That that piece of weaved tapestry should be a woman, and yet not have wit enough to tell a lie!”

“And what was this story of Sebastian?” said the page. “By Heaven, Catherine, you are all riddles alike!”

“You are as great a fool as Fleming,” returned the impatient maiden; “know ye not, that on the night of Henry Darnley’s murder, and at the blowing up of the Kirk of Field, the Queen’s absence was owing to her attending on a masque at Holyrood, given by her to grace the marriage of this same Sebastian, who, himself a favoured servant, married one of her female attendants, who was near to her person?”

“By Saint Giles,” said the page, “I wonder not at her passion, but only marvel by what forgetfulness it was that she could urge the Lady Fleming with such a question.”

“I cannot account for it,” said Catherine; “but it seems as if great and violent grief and horror sometimes obscure the memory, and spread a cloud like that of an exploding cannon, over the circumstances with which they are accompanied. But I may not stay here, where I came not to moralize with your wisdom, but simply to cool my resentment against that unwise Lady Fleming, which I think hath now somewhat abated, so that I shall endure her presence without any desire to damage either her curch or vasquine. Meanwhile, keep fast that door — I would not for my life that any of these heretics saw her in the unhappy state, which, brought on her as it has been by the success of their own diabolical plottings, they would not stick to call, in their snuffling cant, the judgment of Providence.”

She left the apartment just as the latch of the outward door was raised from without. But the bolt which Roland had drawn on the inside, resisted the efforts of the person desirous to enter. “Who is there?” said Graeme aloud.

“It is I,” replied the harsh and yet slow voice of the steward Dryfesdale.

“You cannot enter now,” returned the youth.

“And wherefore?” demanded Dryfesdale, “seeing I come but to do my duty, and inquire what mean the shrieks from the apartment of the Moabitish woman. Wherefore, I say, since such is mine errand, can I not enter?”

“Simply,” replied the youth, “because the bolt is drawn, and I have no fancy to undo it. I have the right side of the door today, as you had last night.”

“Thou art ill-advised, thou malapert boy,” replied the steward, “to speak to me in such fashion; but I shall inform my Lady of thine insolence.”

“The insolence,” said the page, “is meant for thee only, in fair guerdon of thy discourtesy to me. For thy Lady’s information, I have answer more courteous — you may say that the Queen is ill at ease, and desires to be disturbed neither by visits nor messages.”

“I conjure you, in the name of God,” said the old man, with more solemnity in his tone than he had hitherto used, “to let me know if her malady really gains power on her!”

“She will have no aid at your hand, or at your Lady’s — wherefore, begone, and trouble us no more — we neither want, nor will accept of, aid at your hands.”

With this positive reply, the steward, grumbling and dissatisfied, returned down stairs.

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