The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-Sixth.

He mounted himself on a coal-black steed,

And her on a freckled gray,

With a bugelet horn hung down from his side,

And roundly they rode away.

Old ballad.

The influence of the free air, the rushing of the horses over high and low, the ringing of the bridles, the excitation at once arising from a sense of freedom and of rapid motion, gradually dispelled the confused and dejected sort of stupefaction by which Queen Mary was at first overwhelmed. She could not at last conceal the change of her feelings to the person who rode at her rein, and who she doubted not was the Father Ambrosius; for Seyton, with all the heady impetuosity of a youth, proud, and justly so, of his first successful adventure, assumed all the bustle and importance of commander of the little party, which escorted, in the language of the time, the Fortune of Scotland. He now led the van, now checked his bounding steed till the rear had come up, exhorted the leaders to keep a steady, though rapid pace, and commanded those who were hindmost of the party to use their spurs, and allow no interval to take place in their line of march; and anon he was beside the Queen, or her ladies, inquiring how they brooked the hasty journey, and whether they had any commands for him. But while Seyton thus busied himself in the general cause with some advantage to the regular order of the march, and a good deal of personal ostentation, the horseman who rode beside the Queen gave her his full and undivided attention, as if he had been waiting upon some superior being. When the road was rugged and dangerous, he abandoned almost entirely the care of his own horse, and kept his hand constantly upon the Queen’s bridle; if a river or larger brook traversed their course, his left arm retained her in the saddle, while his right held her palfrey’s rein.

“I had not thought, reverend Father,” said the Queen, when they reached the other bank, “that the convent bred such good horsemen.”— The person she addressed sighed, but made no other answer. —“I know not how it is,” said Queen Mary, “but either the sense of freedom, or the pleasure of my favourite exercise, from which I have been so long debarred, or both combined, seem to have given wings to me — no fish ever shot through the water, no bird through the air, with the hurried feeling of liberty and rapture with which I sweep through, this night-wind, and over these wolds. Nay, such is the magic of feeling myself once more in the saddle, that I could almost swear I am at this moment mounted on my own favourite Rosabelle, who was never matched in Scotland for swiftness, for ease of motion, and for sureness of foot.”

“And if the horse which bears so dear a burden could speak,” answered the deep voice of the melancholy George of Douglas, “would she not reply, who but Rosabelle ought at such an emergence as this to serve her beloved mistress, or who but Douglas ought to hold her bridle-rein?”

Queen Mary started; she foresaw at once all the evils like to arise to herself and him from the deep enthusiastic passion of this youth; but her feelings as a woman, grateful at once and compassionate, prevented her assuming the dignity of a Queen, and she endeavoured to continue the conversation in an indifferent tone.

“Methought,” she said, “I heard that, at the division of my spoils, Rosabelle had become the property of Lord Morton’s paramour and ladye-love Alice.”

“The noble palfrey had indeed been destined to so base a lot,” answered Douglas; “she was kept under four keys, and under the charge of a numerous crew of grooms and domestics — but Queen Mary needed Rosabelle, and Rosabelle is here.”

“And was it well, Douglas,” said Queen Mary, “when such fearful risks of various kinds must needs be encountered, that you should augment their perils to yourself for a subject of so little moment as a palfrey?”

“Do you call that of little moment,” answered Douglas, “which has afforded you a moment’s pleasure? — Did you not start with joy when I first said you were mounted on Rosabelle? — And to purchase you that pleasure, though it were to last no longer than the flash of lightning doth, would not Douglas have risked his life a thousand times?”

“Oh, peace, Douglas, peace,” said the Queen, “this is unfitting language; and, besides, I would speak,” said she, recollecting herself, “with the Abbot of Saint Mary’s — Nay, Douglas, I will not let you quit my rein in displeasure.”

“Displeasure, lady!” answered Douglas: “alas! sorrow is all that I can feel for your well-warranted contempt — I should be as soon displeased with Heaven for refusing the wildest wish which mortal can form.”

“Abide by my rein, however,” said Mary, “there is room for my Lord Abbot on the other side; and, besides, I doubt if his assistance would be so useful to Rosabelle and me as yours has been, should the road again require it.”

The Abbot came up on the other side, and she immediately opened a conversation with him on the topic of the state of parties, and the plan fittest for her to pursue inconsequence of her deliverance. In this conversation Douglas took little share, and never but when directly applied to by the Queen, while, as before, his attention seemed entirely engrossed by the care of Mary’s personal safety. She learned, however, she had a new obligation to him, since, by his contrivance, the Abbot, whom he had furnished with the family pass-word, was introduced into the castle as one of the garrison.

Long before daybreak they ended their hasty and perilous journey before the gates of Niddrie, a castle in West Lothian, belonging to Lord Seyton. When the Queen was about to alight, Henry Seyton, preventing Douglas, received her in his arms, and, kneeling down, prayed her Majesty to enter the house of his father, her faithful servant.

“Your Grace,” he added, “may repose yourself here in perfect safety — it is already garrisoned with good men for your protection; and I have sent a post to my father, whose instant arrival, at the head of five hundred men, may be looked for. Do not dismay yourself, therefore, should your sleep be broken by the trampling of horse; but only think that here are some scores more of the saucy Seytons come to attend you.”

“And by better friends than the Saucy Seytons, a Scottish Queen cannot be guarded,” replied Mary. “Rosabelle went fleet as the summer breeze, and well-nigh as easy; but it is long since I have been a traveller, and I feel that repose will be welcome. — Catherine, ma mignone, you must sleep in my apartment to-night, and bid me welcome to your noble father’s castle. — Thanks, thanks to all my kind deliverers — thanks, and a good night is all I can now offer; but if I climb once more to the upper side of Fortune’s wheel, I will not have her bandage. Mary Stewart will keep her eyes open, and distinguish her friends. — Seyton, I need scarcely recommend the venerable Abbot, the Douglas, and my page, to your honour able care and hospitality.”

Henry Seyton bowed, and Catherine and Lady Fleming attended the Queen to her apartment; where, acknowledging to them that she should have found it difficult in that moment to keep her promise of holding her eyes open, she resigned herself to repose, and awakened not till the morning was advanced.

Mary’s first feeling when she awoke, was the doubt of her freedom; and the impulse prompted her to start from bed, and hastily throwing her mantle over her shoulders, to look out at the casement of her apartment. Oh, sight of joy! instead of the crystal sheet of Lochleven, unaltered save by the influence of the wind, a landscape of wood and moorland lay before her, and the park around the castle was occupied by the troops of her most faithful and most favourite nobles.

“Rise, rise, Catherine,” cried the enraptured Princess; “arise and come hither! — here are swords and spears in true hands, and glittering armour on loyal breasts. Here are banners, my girl, floating in the wind, as lightly as summer clouds — Great God! what pleasure to my weary eyes to trace their devices — thine own brave father’s — the princely Hamilton’s — the faithful Fleming’s — See — see — they have caught a glimpse of me, and throng towards the window!”

She flung the casement open, and with her bare head, from which the tresses flew back loose and dishevelled, her fair arm slenderly veiled by her mantle, returned by motion and sign the exulting shouts of the warriors, which echoed for many a furlong around. When the first burst of ecstatic joy was over, she recollected how lightly she was dressed, and, putting her hands to her face, which was covered with blushes at the recollection, withdrew abruptly from the window. The cause of her retreat was easily conjectured, and increased the general enthusiasm for a Princess, who had forgotten her rank in her haste to acknowledge the services of her subjects. The unadorned beauties of the lovely woman, too, moved the military spectators more than the highest display of her regal state might; and what might have seemed too free in her mode of appearing before them, was more than atoned for by the enthusiasm of the moment and by the delicacy evinced in her hasty retreat. Often as the shouts died away, as often were they renewed, till wood and hill rung again; and many a deep path was made that morning on the cross of the sword, that the hand should not part with the weapon, till Mary Stewart was restored to her rights. But what are promises, what the hopes of mortals? In ten days, these gallant and devoted votaries were slain, were captives, or had fled.

Mary flung herself into the nearest seat, and still blushing, yet half smiling, exclaimed, “Ma mignone, what will they think of me? — to show myself to them with my bare feet hastily thrust into the slippers — only this loose mantle about me — my hair loose on my shoulders — my arms and neck so bare — Oh, the best they can suppose is, that her abode in yonder dungeon has turned their Queen’s brain! But my rebel subjects saw me exposed when I was in the depth of affliction, why should I hold colder ceremony with these faithful and loyal men? — Call Fleming, however — I trust she has not forgotten the little mail with my apparel — We must be as brave as we can, mignóne.”

“Nay, madam, our good Lady Fleming was in no case to remember any thing.”

“You jest, Catherine,” said the Queen, somewhat offended; “it is not in her nature surely, to forget her duty so far as to leave us without a change of apparel?”

“Roland Graeme, madam, took care of that,” answered Catherine; “for he threw the mail, with your highness’s clothes and jewels, into the boat, ere he ran back to lock the gate — I never saw so awkward a page as that youth — the packet well-nigh fell on my head.”

“He shall make thy heart amends, my girl,” said Queen Mary, laughing, “for that and all other offences given. But call Fleming, and let us put ourselves into apparel to meet our faithful lords.”

Such had been the preparations, and such was the skill of Lady Fleming, that the Queen appeared before her assembled nobles in such attire as became, though it could not enhance, her natural dignity. With the most winning courtesy, she expressed to each individual her grateful thanks, and dignified not only every noble, but many of the lesser barons by her particular attention.

“And whither now, my lords?” she said; “what way do your counsels determine for us?”

“To Draphane Castle,” replied Lord Arbroath, “if your Majesty is so pleased; and thence to Dunbarton, to place your Grace’s person in safety, after which we long to prove if these traitors will abide us in the field.”

“And when do we journey?”

“We propose,” said Lord Seyton, “if your Grace’s fatigue will permit, to take horse after the morning’s meal.”

“Your pleasure, my Lords, is mine,” replied the Queen; “we will rule our journey by your wisdom now, and hope hereafter to have the advantage of governing by it our kingdom. — You will permit my ladies and me, my good lords, to break our fasts along with you — We must be half soldiers ourselves, and set state apart.”

Low bowed many a helmeted head at this gracious proffer, when the Queen, glancing her eyes through the assembled leaders, missed both Douglas and Roland Graeme, and inquired for them in a whisper to Catherine Seyton.

“They are in yonder oratory, madam, sad enough,” replied Catherine; and the Queen observed that her favourite’s eyes were red with weeping.

“This must not be,” said the Queen. “Keep the company amused — I will seek them, and introduce them myself.”

She went into the oratory, where the first she met was George Douglas, standing, or rather reclining, in the recess of a window, his back rested against the wall, and his arms folded on his breast. At the sight of the Queen he started, and his countenance showed, for an instant, an expression of intense delight, which was instantly exchanged for his usual deep melancholy.

“What means this?” she said; “Douglas, why does the first deviser and bold executor of the happy scheme for our freedom, shun the company of his fellow-nobles, and of the Sovereign whom he has obliged?”

“Madam,” replied Douglas, “those whom you grace with your presence bring followers to aid your cause, wealth to support your state — can offer you halls in which to feast, and impregnable castles for your defence. I am a houseless and landless man — disinherited by my mother, and laid under her malediction — disowned by my name and kindred — who bring nothing to your standard but a single sword, and the poor life of its owner.”

“Do you mean to upbraid me, Douglas,” replied the Queen, “by showing what you have lost for my sake?”

“God forbid, madam!” interrupted the young man, eagerly; “were it to do again, and had I ten times as much rank and wealth, and twenty times as many friends to lose, my losses would be overpaid by the first step you made, as a free princess, upon the soil of your native kingdom.”

“And what then ails you, that you will not rejoice with those who rejoice upon the same joyful occasion?” said the Queen.

“Madam,” replied the youth,” though exheridated and disowned, I am yet a Douglas: with most of yonder nobles my family have been in feud for ages — a cold reception amongst them, were an insult, and a kind one yet more humiliating.”

“For shame, Douglas,” replied the Queen, “shake off this unmanly gloom! — I can make thee match for the best of them in title and fortune, and, believe me, I will. — Go then amongst them, I command you.”

“That word,” said Douglas, “is enough — I go. This only let me say, that not for wealth or title would I have done that which I have done — Mary Stewart will not, and the Queen cannot, reward me.”

So saying, he left the oratory, mingled with the nobles, and placed himself at the bottom of the table. The Queen looked after him, and put her kerchief to her eyes.

“Now, Our Lady pity me,” she said, “for no sooner are my prison cares ended, than those which beset me as a woman and a Queen again thicken around me. — Happy Elizabeth! to whom political interest is every thing, and whose heart never betrays thy head. — And now must I seek this other boy, if I would prevent daggers-drawing betwixt him and the young Seyton.”

Roland Graeme was in the same oratory, but at such a distance from Douglas, that he could not overhear what passed betwixt the Queen and him. He also was moody and thoughtful, but cleared his brow at the Queen’s question, “How now, Roland? you are negligent in your attendance this morning. Are you so much overcome with your night’s ride?”

“Not so, gracious madam,” answered Graeme; “but I am told the page of Lochleven is not the page of Niddrie Castle; and so Master Henry Seyton hath in a manner been pleased to supersede my attendance.”

“Now, Heaven forgive me,” said the Queen, “how soon these cock-chickens begin to spar! — with children and boys, at least, I may be a queen. — I will have you friends. — Some one send me Henry Seyton hither.” As she spoke the last words aloud, the youth whom she had named entered the apartment. “Come hither,” she said, “Henry Seyton — I will have you give your hand to this youth, who so well aided in the plan of my escape.”

“Willingly, madam,” answered Seyton, “so that the youth will grant me, as a boon, that he touch not the hand of another Seyton whom he knows of. My hand has passed current for hers with him before now — and to win my friendship, he must give up thoughts of my sister’s love.”

“Henry Seyton,” said the Queen, “does it become you to add any condition to my command?”

“Madam,” said Henry, “I am the servant of your Grace’s throne, son to the most loyal man in Scotland. Our goods, our castles, our blood, are yours: Our honour is in our own keeping. I could say more, but —”

“Nay, speak on, rude boy,” said the Queen; “what avails it that I am released from Lochleven, if I am thus enthralled under the yoke of my pretended deliverers, and prevented from doing justice to one who has deserved as well of me as yourself?”

“Be not in this distemperature for me, sovereign Lady,” said Roland; “this young gentleman, being the faithful servant of your Grace, and the brother of Catherine Seyton, bears that about him which will charm down my passion at the hottest.”

“I warn thee once more,” said Henry Seyton, haughtily, “that you make no speech which may infer that the daughter of Lord Seyton can be aught to thee beyond what she is to every churl’s blood in Scotland.”

The Queen was again about to interfere, for Roland’s complexion rose, and it became somewhat questionable how long his love for Catherine would suppress the natural fire of his temper. But the interposition of another person, hitherto unseen, prevented Mary’s interference, There was in the oratory a separate shrine, enclosed with a high screen of pierced oak, within which was placed an image of Saint Bennet, of peculiar sanctity. From this recess, in which she had been probably engaged in her devotions, issued suddenly Magdalen Graeme, and addressed Henry Seyton, in reply to his last offensive expressions — “And of what clay, then, are they moulded these Seytons, that the blood of the Graemes may not aspire to mingle with theirs? Know, proud boy, that when I call this youth my daughter’s child, I affirm his descent from Malise Earl of Strathern, called Malise with the Bright Brand; and I trow the blood of your house springs from no higher source.”

“Good mother,” said Seyton, “methinks your sanctity should make you superior to these worldly vanities; and indeed it seems to have rendered you somewhat oblivious touching them, since, to be of gentle descent, the father’s name and lineage must be as well qualified as the mother’s.”

“And if I say he comes of the blood of Avenel by the father’s side,” replied Magdalen Graeme, “name I not blood as richly coloured as thine own?”

“Of Avenel?” said the Queen; “is my page descended of Avenel?”

“Ay, gracious Princess, and the last male heir of that ancient house — Julian Avenel was his father, who fell in battle against the Southron.”

“I have heard the tale of sorrow,” said the Queen; “it was thy daughter, then, who followed that unfortunate baron to the field, and died on his body? Alas! how many ways does woman’s affection find to work out her own misery! The tale has oft been told and sung in hall and bower — And thou, Roland, art that child of misfortune, who was left among the dead and dying? Henry Seyton, he is thine equal in blood and birth.”

“Scarcely so,” said Henry Seyton, “even were he legitimate; but if the tale be told and sung aright, Julian Avenel was a false knight, and his leman a frail and credulous maiden.”

“Now, by Heaven, thou liest!” said Roland Graeme, and laid his hand on his sword. The entrance of Lord Seyton, however, prevented violence.

“Save me, my lord,” said the Queen, “and separate these wild and untamed spirits.”

“How, Henry,” said the Baron, “are my castle, and the Queen’s presence, no checks on thine insolence and impetuosity? — And with whom art thou brawling? — unless my eyes spell that token false, it is with the very youth who aided me so gallantly in the skirmish with the Leslies — Let me look, fair youth, at the medal which thou wearest in thy cap. By Saint Bennet, it is the same! — Henry, I command thee to forbear him, as thou lovest my blessing ——”

“And as you honour my command,” said the Queen; “good service hath he done me.”

“Ay, madam,” replied young Seyton, “as when he carried the billet enclosed in the sword-sheath to Lochleven — marry, the good youth knew no more than a pack-horse what he was carrying.”

“But I who dedicated him to this great work,” said Magdalen Graeme —“I, by whose advice and agency this just heir hath been unloosed from her thraldom — I, who spared not the last remaining hope of a falling house in this great action — I, at least, knew and counselled; and what merit may be mine, let the reward, most gracious Queen, descend upon this youth. My ministry here is ended; you are free — a sovereign Princess, at the head of a gallant army, surrounded by valiant barons — My service could avail you no farther, but might well prejudice you; your fortune now rests upon men’s hearts and men’s swords. May they prove as trusty as the faith of women!”

“You will not leave us, mother,” said the Queen —“you whose practices in our favour were so powerful, who dared so many dangers, and wore so many disguises, to blind our enemies and to confirm our friends — you will not leave us in the dawn of our reviving fortunes, ere we have time to know and to thank you?”

“You cannot know her,” answered Magdalen Graeme, “who knows not herself — there are times, when, in this woman’s frame of mine, there is the strength of him of Gath — in this overtoiled brain, the wisdom of the most sage counsellor — and again the mist is on me, and my strength is weakness, my wisdom folly. I have spoken before princes and cardinals — ay, noble Princess, even before the princes of thine own house of Lorraine; and I know not whence the words of persuasion came which flowed from my lips, and were drunk in by their ears. — And now, even when I most need words of persuasion, there is something which chokes my voice, and robs me of utterance.”

“If there be aught in my power to do thee pleasure,” said the Queen, “the barely naming it shall avail as well as all thine eloquence.”

“Sovereign Lady,” replied the enthusiast, “it shames me that at this high moment something of human frailty should cling to one, whose vows the saints have heard, whose labours in the rightful cause Heaven has prospered. But it will be thus while the living spirit is shrined in the clay of mortality — I will yield to the folly,” she said, weeping as she spoke, “and it shall be the last.” Then seizing Roland’s hand, she led him to the Queen’s feet, kneeling herself upon one knee, and causing him to kneel on both. “Mighty Princess,” she said, “look on this flower — it was found by a kindly stranger on a bloody field of battle, and long it was ere my anxious eyes saw, and my arms pressed, all that was left of my only daughter. For your sake, and for that of the holy faith we both profess, I could leave this plant, while it was yet tender, to the nurture of strangers — ay, of enemies, by whom, perchance, his blood would have been poured forth as wine, had the heretic Glendinning known that he had in his house the heir of Julian Avenel. Since then I have seen him only in a few hours of doubt and dread, and now I part with the child of my love — for ever — for ever! — Oh, for every weary step I have made in your rightful cause, in this and in foreign lands, give protection to the child whom I must no more call mine!”

“I swear to you, mother,” said the Queen, deeply affected, “that, for your sake and his own, his happiness and fortunes shall be our charge!”

“I thank you, daughter of princes,” said Magdalen, and pressed her lips, first to the Queen’s hand, then to the brow of her grandson. “And now,” she said, drying her tears, and rising with dignity, “Earth has had its own, and Heaven claims the rest. — Lioness of Scotland, go forth and conquer! and if the prayers of a devoted votaress can avail thee, they will rise in many a land, and from many a distant shrine. I will glide like a ghost from land to land, from temple to temple; and where the very name of my country is unknown, the priests shall ask who is the Queen of that distant northern land, for whom the aged pilgrim was so fervent in prayer. Farewell! Honour be thine, and earthly prosperity, if it be the will of God — if not, may the penance thou shalt do here ensure thee happiness hereafter! — Let no one speak or follow me — my resolution is taken — my vow cannot be cancelled.”

She glided from their presence as she spoke, and her last look was upon her beloved grandchild. He would have risen and followed, but the Queen and Lord Seyton interfered.

“Press not on her now,” said Lord Seyton, “if you would not lose her for ever. Many a time have we seen the sainted mother, and often at the most needful moment; but to press on her privacy, or to thwart her purpose, is a crime which she cannot pardon. I trust we shall yet see her at her need — a holy woman she is for certain, and dedicated wholly to prayer and penance; and hence the heretics hold her as one distracted, while true Catholics deem her a saint.”

“Let me then hope,” said the Queen, “that you, my lord, will aid me in the execution of her last request.”

“What! in the protection of my young second? — cheerfully — that is, in all that your majesty can think it fitting to ask of me. — Henry, give thy hand upon the instant to Roland Avenel, for so I presume he must now be called.”

“And shall be Lord of the Barony,” said the Queen, “if God prosper our rightful arms.”

“It can only be to restore it to my kind protectress, who now holds it,” said young Avenel. “I would rather be landless, all my life, than she lost a rood of ground by me.”

“Nay,” said the Queen, looking to Lord Seyton, “his mind matches his birth — Henry, thou hast not yet given thy hand.”

“It is his,” said Henry, giving it with some appearance of courtesy, but whispering Roland at the same time — “For all this, thou hast not my sister’s.”

“May it please your Grace,” said Lord Seyton, “now that these passages are over, to honour our poor meal. Time it were that our banners were reflected in the Clyde. We must to horse with as little delay as may be.”

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