The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-Fourth.

Ay, Pedro — Come you here with mask and lantern.

Ladder of ropes and other moonshine tools —

Why, youngster, thou mayst cheat the old Duenna,

Flatter the waiting-woman, bribe the valet;

But know, that I her father play the Gryphon,

Tameless and sleepless, proof to fraud or bribe,

And guard the hidden, treasure of her beauty.

The Spanish Father.

The tenor of our tale carries us back to the Castle of Lochleven, where we take up the order of events on the same remarkable day on which Dryfesdale had been dismissed from the castle. It was past noon, the usual hour of dinner, yet no preparations seemed made for the Queen’s entertainment. Mary herself had retired into her own apartment, where she was closely engaged in writing. Her attendants were together in the presence-chamber, and much disposed to speculate on the delay of the dinner; for it may be recollected that their breakfast had been interrupted. “I believe in my conscience,” said the page, “that having found the poisoning scheme miscarry, by having gone to the wrong merchant for their deadly wares, they are now about to try how famine will work upon us.”

Lady Fleming was somewhat alarmed at this surmise, but comforted herself by observing that the chimney of the kitchen had reeked that whole day in a manner which contradicted the supposition. — Catherine Seyton presently exclaimed, “They were bearing the dishes across the court, marshalled by the Lady Lochleven herself, dressed out in her highest and stiffest ruff, with her partlet and sleeves of cyprus, and her huge old-fashioned farthingale of crimson velvet.”

“I believe on my word,” said the page, approaching the window also, “it was in that very farthingale that she captivated the heart of gentle King Jamie, which procured our poor Queen her precious bargain of a brother.”

“That may hardly be, Master Roland,” answered the Lady Fleming, who was a great recorder of the changes of fashion, “since the farthingales came first in when the Queen Regent went to Saint Andrews, after the battle of Pinkie, and were then called Vertugardins —”

She would have proceeded farther in this important discussion, but was interrupted by the entrance of the Lady of Lochleven, who preceded the servants bearing the dishes, and formally discharged the duty of tasting each of them. Lady Fleming regretted, in courtly phrase, that the Lady of Lochleven should have undertaken so troublesome an office.”

“After the strange incident of this day, madam,” said the Lady, “it is necessary for my honour and that of my son, that I partake whatever is offered to my involuntary guest. Please to inform the Lady Mary that I attend her commands.”

“Her Majesty,” replied Lady Fleming, with due emphasis on the word, “shall be informed that the Lady Lochleven waits.”

Mary appeared instantly, and addressed her hostess with courtesy, which even approached to something more cordial. “This is nobly done, Lady Lochleven,” she said; “for though we ourselves apprehend no danger under your roof, our ladies have been much alarmed by this morning’s chance, and our meal will be the more cheerful for your presence and assurance. Please you to sit down.”

The Lady Lochleven obeyed the Queen’s commands, and Roland performed the office of carver and attendant as usual. But, notwithstanding what the Queen had said, the meal was silent and unsocial; and every effort which Mary made to excite some conversation, died away under the solemn and chill replies of the Lady of Lochleven. At length it became plain that the Queen, who had considered these advances as a condescension on her part, and who piqued herself justly on her powers of pleasing, became offended at the repulsive conduct of her hostess. After looking with a significant glance at Lady Fleming and Catherine, she slightly shrugged her shoulders, and remained silent. A pause ensued, at the end of which the Lady Douglas spoke:—“I perceive, madam, I am a check on the mirth of this fair company. I pray you to excuse me — I am a widow — alone here in a most perilous charge —— deserted by my grandson — betrayed by my servant — I am little worthy of the grace you do me in offering me a seat at your table, where I am aware that wit and pastime are usually expected from the guests.”

“If the Lady Lochleven is serious,” said the Queen, “we wonder by what simplicity she expects our present meals to be seasoned with mirth. If she is a widow, she lives honoured and uncontrolled, at the head of her late husband’s household. But I know at least of one widowed woman in the world, before whom the words desertion and betrayal ought never to be mentioned, since no one has been made so bitterly acquainted with their import.”

“I meant not, madam, to remind you of your misfortunes, by the mention of mine,” answered the Lady Lochleven, and there was again a deep silence.

Mary at length addressed Lady Fleming. “We can commit no deadly sins here, ma bonne, where we are so well warded and looked to; but if we could, this Carthusian silence might be useful as a kind of penance. If thou hast adjusted my wimple amiss, my Fleming, or if Catherine hath made a wry stitch in her broidery, when she was thinking of something else than her work, or if Roland Graeme hath missed a wild-duck on the wing, and broke a quarrel-pane 35 of glass in the turret window, as chanced to him a week since, now is the time to think on your sins and to repent of them.”

“Madam, I speak with all reverence,” said the Lady Lochleven; “but I am old, and claim the privilege of age. Methinks your followers might find fitter subjects for repentance than the trifles you mention, and so mention — once more, I crave your pardon — as if you jested with sin and repentance both.”

“You have been our taster, Lady Lochleven,” said the Queen, “I perceive you would eke out your duty with that of our Father Confessor — and since you choose that our conversation should be serious, may I ask you why the Regent’s promise — since your son so styles himself — has not been kept to me in that respect? From time to time this promise has been renewed, and as constantly broken. Methinks those who pretend themselves to so much gravity and sanctity, should not debar from others the religious succours which their consciences require.”

“Madam, the Earl of Murray was indeed weak enough,” said the Lady Lochleven, “to give so far way to your unhappy prejudices, and a religioner of the Pope presented himself on his part at our town of Kinross. But the Douglass is Lord of his own castle, and will not permit his threshold to be darkened, no not for a single moment, by an emissary belonging to the Bishop of Rome.”

“Methinks it were well, then,” said Mary, “that my Lord Regent would send me where there is less scruple and more charity.”

“In this, madam,” answered the Lady Lochleven, “you mistake the nature both of charity and of religion. Charity giveth to those who are in delirium the medicaments which may avail their health, but refuses those enticing cates and liquors which please the palate, but augment the disease.”

“This your charity, Lady Lochleven, is pure cruelty, under the hypocritical disguise of friendly care. I am oppressed amongst you as if you meant the destruction both of my body and soul; but Heaven will not endure such iniquity for ever, and they who are the most active agents in it may speedily expect their reward.”

At this moment Randal entered the apartment, with a look so much perturbed, that the Lady Fleming uttered a faint scream, the Queen was obviously startled, and the Lady of Lochleven, though too bold and proud to evince any marked signs of alarm, asked hastily what was the matter?

“Dryfesdale has been slain, madam,” was the reply; “murdered as soon as he gained the dry land by young Master Henry Seyton.”

It was now Catherine’s turn to start and grow pale —“Has the murderer of the Douglas’s vassal escaped?” was the Lady’s hasty question.

“There was none to challenge him but old Keltie, and the carrier Auchtermuchty,” replied Randal; “unlikely men to stay one of the frackest 36 youths in Scotland of his years, and who was sure to have friends and partakers at no great distance.”

“Was the deed completed?” said the Lady.

“Done, and done thoroughly,” said Randal; “a Seyton seldom strikes twice — But the body was not despoiled, and your honour’s packet goes forward to Edinburgh by Auchtermuchty, who leaves Keltie-Bridge early tomorrow — marry, he has drunk two bottles of aquavitae to put the fright out of his head, and now sleeps them off beside his cart-avers.” 37

There was a pause when this fatal tale was told. The Queen and Lady Douglas looked on each other, as if each thought how she could best turn the incident to her own advantage in the controversy, which was continually kept alive betwixt them — Catherine Seyton kept her kerchief at her eyes and wept.

“You see, madam, the bloody maxims and practice of the deluded Papists,” said Lady Lochleven.

“Nay, madam,” replied the Queen, “say rather you see the deserved judgment of Heaven upon a Calvinistical poisoner.”

“Dryfesdale was not of the Church of Geneva, or of Scotland,” said the Lady of Lochleven, hastily.

“He was a heretic, however,” replied Mary; “there is but one true and unerring guide; the others lead alike into error.”

“Well, madam, I trust it will reconcile you to your retreat, that this deed shows the temper of those who might wish you at liberty. Blood-thirsty tyrants, and cruel men-quellers are they all, from the Clan-Ranald and Clan-Tosach in the north, to the Ferniherst and Buccleuch in the south — the murdering Seytons in the east, and —”

“Methinks, madam, you forget that I am a Seyton?” said Catherine, withdrawing her kerchief from her face, which was now coloured with indignation.

“If I had forgot it, fair mistress, your forward bearing would have reminded me,” said Lady Lochleven.

“If my brother has slain the villain that would have poisoned his Sovereign, and his sister,” said Catherine, “I am only so far sorry that he should have spared the hangman his proper task. For aught farther, had it been the best Douglas in the land, he would have been honoured in falling by the Seyton’s sword.”

“Farewell, gay mistress,” said the Lady of Lochleven, rising to withdraw; “it is such maidens as you, who make giddy-fashioned revellers and deadly brawlers. Boys must needs rise, forsooth, in the grace of some sprightly damsel, who thinks to dance through life as through a French galliard.” She then made her reverence to the Queen, and added, “Do you also, madam, fare you well, till curfew time, when I will make, perchance, more bold than welcome in attending upon your supper board. — Come with me, Randal, and tell me more of this cruel fact.”

“’Tis an extraordinary chance,” said the Queen, when she had departed; “and, villain as he was, I would this man had been spared time for repentance. We will cause something to be done for his soul, if we ever attain our liberty, and the Church will permit such grace to a heretic. — But, tell me, Catherine, ma mignóne — this brother of thine, who is so frack, as the fellow called him, bears he the same wonderful likeness to thee as formerly?”

“If your Grace means in temper, you know whether I am so frack as the serving-man spoke him.”

“Nay, thou art prompt enough in all reasonable conscience,” replied the Queen; “but thou art my own darling notwithstanding — But I meant, is this thy twin-brother as like thee in form and features as formerly? I remember thy dear mother alleged it as a reason for destining thee to the veil, that, were ye both to go at large, thou wouldst surely get the credit of some of thy brother’s mad pranks.”

“I believe, madam,” said Catherine, “there are some unusually simple people even yet, who can hardly distinguish betwixt us, especially when, for diversion’s sake, my brother hath taken a female dress,”— and as she spoke, she gave a quick glance at Roland Graeme, to whom this conversation conveyed a ray of light, welcome as ever streamed into the dungeon of a captive through the door which opened to give him freedom.

“He must be a handsome cavalier this brother of thine, if he be so like you,” replied Mary. “He was in France, I think, for these late years, so that I saw him not at Holyrood.”

“His looks, madam, have never been much found fault with,” answered Catherine Seyton; “but I would he had less of that angry and heady spirit which evil times have encouraged amongst our young nobles. God knows, I grudge not his life in your Grace’s quarrel; and love him for the willingness with which he labours for your rescue. But wherefore should he brawl with an old ruffianly serving-man, and stain at once his name with such a broil, and his hands with the blood of an old and ignoble wretch?”

“Nay, be patient, Catherine; I will not have thee traduce my gallant young knight. With Henry for my knight, and Roland Graeme for my trusty squire, methinks I am like a princess of romance, who may shortly set at defiance the dungeons and the weapons of all wicked sorcerers. — But my head aches with the agitation of the day. Take me La Mer Des Histoires, and resume where we left off on Wednesday. — Our Lady help thy head, girl, or rather may she help thy heart! — I asked thee for the Sea of Histories, and thou hast brought La Cronique d’Amour.”

Once embarked upon the Sea of Histories, the Queen continued her labours with her needle, while Lady Fleming and Catherine read to her alternately for two hours.

As to Roland Graeme, it is probable that he continued in secret intent upon the Chronicle of Love, notwithstanding the censure which the Queen seemed to pass upon that branch of study. He now remembered a thousand circumstances of voice and manner, which, had his own prepossession been less, must surely have discriminated the brother from the sister; and he felt ashamed, that, having as it were by heart every particular of Catherine’s gestures, words, and manners, he should have thought her, notwithstanding her spirits and levity, capable of assuming the bold step, loud tones, and forward assurance, which accorded well enough with her brother’s hasty and masculine character. He endeavoured repeatedly to catch a glance of Catherine’s eye, that he might judge how she was disposed to look upon him since he had made the discovery, but he was unsuccessful; for Catherine, when she was not reading herself, seemed to take so much interest in the exploits of the Teutonic knights against the Heathens of Esthonia and Livonia, that he could not surprise her eye even for a second. But when, closing the book, the Queen commanded their attendance in the garden, Mary, perhaps of set purpose, (for Roland’s anxiety could not escape so practised an observer,) afforded him a favourable opportunity of accosting his mistress. The Queen commanded them to a little distance, while she engaged Lady Fleming in a particular and private conversation; the subject whereof we learn, from another authority, to have been the comparative excellence of the high standing ruff and the falling band. Roland must have been duller, and more sheepish than ever was youthful lover, if he had not endeavoured to avail himself of this opportunity.

“I have been longing this whole evening to ask of you, fair Catherine,” said the page, “how foolish and unapprehensive you must have thought me, in being capable to mistake betwixt your brother and you?”

“The circumstance does indeed little honour to my rustic manners,” said Catherine, “since those of a wild young man were so readily mistaken for mine. But I shall grow wiser in time; and with that view I am determined not to think of your follies, but to correct my own.”

“It will be the lighter subject of meditation of the two,” said Roland.

“I know not that,” said Catherine, very gravely; “I fear we have been both unpardonably foolish.”

“I have been mad,” said Roland, “unpardonably mad. But you, lovely Catherine —”

“I,” said Catherine, in the same tone of unusual gravity, “have too long suffered you to use such expressions towards me — I fear I can permit it no longer, and I blame myself for the pain it may give you.”

“And what can have happened so suddenly to change our relation to each other, or alter, with such sudden cruelty, your whole deportment to me?”

“I can hardly tell,” replied Catherine, “unless it is that the events of the day have impressed on my mind the necessity of our observing more distance to each other. A chance similar to that which betrayed to you the existence of my brother, may make known to Henry the terms you have used to me; and, alas! his whole conduct, as well as his deed, this day, makes me too justly apprehensive of the consequences.”

“Fear nothing for that, fair Catherine,” answered the page; “I am well able to protect myself against risks of that nature.”

“That is to say,” replied she, “that you would fight with my twin-brother to show your regard for his sister? I have heard the Queen say, in her sad hours, that men are, in love or in hate, the most selfish animals of creation; and your carelessness in this matter looks very like it. But be not so much abashed — you are no worse than others.”

“You do me injustice, Catherine,” replied the page, “I thought but of being threatened with a sword, and did not remember in whose hand your fancy had placed it. If your brother stood before me, with his drawn weapon in his hand, so like as he is to you in word, person, and favour, he might shed my life’s blood ere I could find in my heart to resist him to his injury.”

“Alas!” said she, “it is not my brother alone. But you remember only the singular circumstances in which we have met in equality, and I may say in intimacy. You think not, that whenever I re-enter my father’s house, there is a gulf between us you may not pass, but with peril of your life. — Your only known relative is of wild and singular habits, of a hostile and broken clan 38 — the rest of your lineage unknown — forgive me that I speak what is the undeniable truth.”

“Love, my beautiful Catherine, despises genealogies,” answered Roland Graeme.

“Love may, but so will not the Lord Seyton,” rejoined the damsel.

“The Queen, thy mistress and mine, she will intercede. Oh! drive me not from you at the moment I thought myself most happy! — and if I shall aid her deliverance, said not yourself that you and she would become my debtors?”

“All Scotland will become your debtors,” said Catherine; “but for the active effects you might hope from our gratitude, you must remember I am wholly subjected to my father; and the poor Queen is, for a long time, more likely to be dependant on the pleasure of the nobles of her party, than possessed of power to control them.”

“Be it so,” replied Roland; “my deeds shall control prejudice itself — it is a bustling world, and I will have my share. The Knight of Avenel, high as he now stands, rose from as obscure an origin as mine.”

“Ay!” said Catherine, “there spoke the doughty knight of romance, that will cut his way to the imprisoned princess, through fiends and fiery dragons!”

“But if I can set the princess at large, and procure her the freedom of her own choice,” said the page, “where, dearest Catherine, will that choice alight?”

“Release the princess from duresse, and she will tell you,” said the damsel; and breaking off the conversation abruptly, she joined the Queen so suddenly, that Mary exclaimed, half aloud —

“No more tidings of evil import — no dissension, I trust, in my limited household?”— Then looking on Catherine’s blushing cheek, and Roland’s expanded brow and glancing eye —“No — no,” she said, “I see all is well — Ma petite mignone, go to my apartment and fetch me down — let me see — ay, fetch my pomander box.”

And having thus disposed of her attendant in the manner best qualified to hide her confusion, the Queen added, speaking apart to Roland, “I should at least have two grateful subjects of Catherine and you; for what sovereign but Mary would aid true love so willingly? — Ay, you lay your hand on your sword — your petite flamberge à rien there — Well, short time will show if all the good be true that is protested to us — I hear them toll curfew from Kinross. To our chamber — this old dame hath promised to be with us again at our evening meal. Were it not for the hope of speedy deliverance, her presence would drive me distracted. But I will be patient.”

“I profess,” said Catherine, who just then entered, “I would I could be Henry, with all a man’s privileges, for one moment — I long to throw my plate at that confect of pride and formality, and ill-nature.”

The Lady Fleming reprimanded her young companion for this explosion of impatience; the Queen laughed, and they went to the presence-chamber, where almost immediately entered supper, and the Lady of the castle. The Queen, strong in her prudent resolutions, endured her presence with great fortitude and equanimity, until her patience was disturbed by a new form, which had hitherto made no part of the ceremonial of the castle. When the other attendant had retired, Randal entered, bearing the keys of the castle fastened upon a chain, and, announcing that the watch was set, and the gates locked, delivered the keys with all reverence to the Lady of Lochleven.

The Queen and her ladies exchanged with each other a look of disappointment, anger, and vexation; and Mary said aloud, “We cannot regret the smallness of our court, when we see our hostess discharge in person so many of its offices. In addition to her charges of principal steward of our household and grand almoner, she has to-night done duty as captain of our guard.”

“And will continue to do so in future, madam,” answered the Lady Lochleven, with much gravity; “the history of Scotland may teach me how ill the duty is performed, which is done by an accredited deputy — We have heard, madam, of favourites of later date, and as little merit, as Oliver Sinclair.” 39

“Oh, madam,” replied the Queen, “my father had his female as well as his male favourites — there were the Ladies Sandilands and Olifaunt, 40 and some others, methinks; but their names cannot survive in the memory of so grave a person as you.”

The Lady Lochleven looked as if she could have slain the Queen on the spot, but commanded her temper and retired from the apartment, bearing in her hand the ponderous bunch of keys.

“Now God be praised for that woman’s youthful frailty!” said the Queen. “Had she not that weak point in her character, I might waste my words on her in vain — But that stain is the very reverse of what is said of the witch’s mark — I can make her feel there, though she is otherwise insensible all over. — But how say you, girls — here is a new difficulty — How are these keys to be come by? — there is no deceiving or bribing this dragon, I trow.”

“May I crave to know,” said Roland, “whether, if your Grace were beyond the walls of the castle, you could find means of conveyance to the firm land, and protection when you are there?”

“Trust us for that, Roland,” said the Queen; “for to that point our scheme is indifferent well laid.”

“Then if your Grace will permit me to speak my mind, I think I could be of some use in this matter.”

“As how, my good youth? — speak on,” said the Queen, “and fearlessly.”

“My patron the Knight of Avenel used to compel the youth educated in his household to learn the use of axe and hammer, and working in wood and iron — he used to speak of old northern champions, who forged their own weapons, and of the Highland Captain, Donald nan Ord, or Donald of the Hammer, whom he himself knew, and who used to work at the anvil with a sledge-hammer in each hand. Some said he praised this art, because he was himself of churl’s blood. However, I gained some practice in it, as the Lady Catherine Seyton partly knows; for since we were here, I wrought her a silver brooch.”

“Ay,” replied Catharine, “but you should tell her Grace that your workmanship was so indifferent that it broke to pieces next day, and I flung it away.”

“Believe her not, Roland,” said the Queen; “she wept when it was broken, and put the fragments into her bosom. But for your scheme — could your skill avail to forge a second set of keys?”

“No, madam, because I know not the wards. But I am convinced I could make a set so like that hateful bunch which the Lady bore off even now, that could they be exchanged against them by any means, she would never dream she was possessed of the wrong.”

“And the good dame, thank Heaven, is somewhat blind,” said the Queen; “but then for a forge, my boy, and the means of labouring unobserved?”

“The armourer’s forge, at which I used sometimes to work with him, is the round vault at the bottom of the turret — he was dismissed with the warder for being supposed too much attached to George Douglas. The people are accustomed to see me work there, and I warrant I shall find some excuse that will pass current with them for putting bellows and anvil to work.”

“The scheme has a promising face,” said the Queen; “about it, my lad, with all speed, and beware the nature of your work is not discovered.”

“Nay, I will take the liberty to draw the bolt against chance visitors, so that I will have time to put away what I am working upon, before I undo the door.”

“Will not that of itself attract suspicion, in a place where it is so current already?” said Catherine.

“Not a whit,” replied Roland; “Gregory the armourer, and every good hammerman, locks himself in when he is about some master piece of craft. Besides, something must be risked.”

“Part we then to-night,” said the Queen, “and God bless you my children! — If Mary’s head ever rises above water, you shall all rise along with her.”

35 Diamond-shaped; literally, formed like the head of a quarrel, or arrow for the crossbow.

36 Boldest — most forward.

37 Cart-horses.

38 A broken clan was one who had no chief able to find security for their good behaviour — a clan of outlaws; And the Graemes of the Debateable Land were in that condition.

39 A favourite, and said to be an unworthy one, of James V.

40 The names of these ladies, and a third frail favourite of James, are preserved in an epigram too gaillard for quotation.

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