The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Ninth.

Kneel with me — swear it —’tis not in words I trust,

Save when they’re fenced with an appeal to Heaven.

Old play

After passing the night in that sound sleep for which agitation and fatigue had prepared him, Roland was awakened by the fresh morning air, and by the beams of the rising sun. His first feeling was that of surprise; for, instead of looking forth from a turret window on the Lake of Avenel, which was the prospect his former apartment afforded, an unlatticed aperture gave him the view of the demolished garden of the banished anchorite. He sat up on his couch of leaves, and arranged in his memory, not without wonder, the singular events of the preceding day, which appeared the more surprising the more he considered them. He had lost the protectress of his youth, and, in the same day, he had recovered the guide and guardian of his childhood. The former deprivation he felt ought to be matter of unceasing regret, and it seemed as if the latter could hardly be the subject of unmixed self-congratulation. He remembered this person, who had stood to him in the relation of a mother, as equally affectionate in her attention, and absolute in her authority. A singular mixture of love and fear attended upon his early remembrances as they were connected with her; and the fear that she might desire to resume the same absolute control over his motions — a fear which her conduct of yesterday did not tend much to dissipate — weighed heavily against the joy of this second meeting.

“She cannot mean,” said his rising pride, “to lead and direct me as a pupil, when I am at the age of judging of my own actions? — this she cannot mean, or meaning it, will feel herself strangely deceived.”

A sense of gratitude towards the person against whom his heart thus rebelled, checked his course of feeling. He resisted the thoughts which involuntarily arose in his mind, as he would have resisted an actual instigation of the foul fiend; and, to aid him in his struggle, he felt for his beads. But, in his hasty departure from the Castle of Avenel, he had forgotten and left them behind him.

“This is yet worse,” he said; “but two things I learned of her under the most deadly charge of secrecy — to tell my beads, and to conceal that I did so; and I have kept my word till now; and when she shall ask me for the rosary, I must say I have forgotten it! Do I deserve she should believe me when. I say I have kept the secret of my faith, when I set so light by its symbol?”

He paced the floor in anxious agitation. In fact, his attachment to his faith was of a nature very different from that which animated the enthusiastic matron, but which, notwithstanding, it would have been his last thought to relinquish.

The early charges impressed on him by his grandmother, had been instilled into a mind and memory of a character peculiarly tenacious. Child as he was, he was proud of the confidence reposed in his discretion, and resolved to show that it had not been rashly intrusted to him. At the same time, his resolution was no more than that of a child, and must, necessarily, have gradually faded away under the operation both of precept and example, during his residence at the Castle of Avenel, but for the exhortations of Father Ambrose, who, in his lay estate, had been called Edward Glendinning. This zealous monk had been apprized, by an unsigned letter placed in his hand by a pilgrim, that a child educated in the Catholic faith was now in the Castle of Avenel, perilously situated, (so was the scroll expressed,) as ever the three children who were cast into the fiery furnace of persecution. The letter threw upon Father Ambrose the fault, should this solitary lamb, unwillingly left within the demesnes of the prowling wolf, become his final prey. There needed no farther exhortation to the monk than the idea that a soul might be endangered, and that a Catholic might become an apostate; and he made his visits more frequent than usual to the castle of Avenel, lest, through want of the private encouragement and instruction which he always found some opportunity of dispensing, the church should lose a proselyte, and, according to the Romish creed, the devil acquire a soul.

Still these interviews were rare; and though they encouraged the solitary boy to keep his secret and hold fast his religion, they were neither frequent nor long enough to inspire him with any thing beyond a blind attachment to the observances which the priest recommended. He adhered to the forms of his religion rather because he felt it would be dishonourable to change that of his fathers, than from any rational conviction or sincere belief of its mysterious doctrines. It was a principal part of the distinction which, in his own opinion, singled him out from those with whom he lived, and gave him an additional, though an internal and concealed reason, for contemning those of the household who showed an undisguised dislike of him, and for hardening himself against the instructions of the chaplain, Henry Warden.

“The fanatic preacher,” he thought within himself, during some one of the chaplain’s frequent discourses against the Church of Rome, “he little knows whose ears are receiving his profane doctrine, and with what contempt and abhorrence they hear his blasphemies against the holy religion by which kings have been crowned, and for which martyrs have died!”

But in such proud feelings of defiance of heresy, as it was termed, and of its professors, which associated the Catholic religion with a sense of generous independence, and that of the Protestants with the subjugation of his mind and temper to the direction of Mr. Warden, began and ended the faith of Roland Graeme, who, independently of the pride of singularity, sought not to understand, and had no one to expound to him, the peculiarities of the tenets which he professed. His regret, therefore, at missing the rosary which had been conveyed to him through the hands of Father Ambrose, was rather the shame of a soldier who has dropped his cockade, or badge of service, than that of a zealous votary who had forgotten a visible symbol of his religion.

His thoughts on the subject, however, were mortifying, and the more so from apprehension that his negligence must reach the ears of his relative. He felt it could be no one but her who had secretly transmitted these beads to Father Ambrose for his use, and that his carelessness was but an indifferent requital of her kindness.

“Nor will she omit to ask me about them,” said he to himself; “for hers is a zeal which age cannot quell; and if she has not quitted her wont, my answer will not fail to incense her.”

While he thus communed with himself, Magdalen Graeme entered the apartment. “The blessing of the morning on your youthful head, my son,” she said, with a solemnity of expression which thrilled the youth to the heart, so sad and earnest did the benediction flow from her lips, in a tone where devotion was blended with affection. “And thou hast started thus early from thy couch to catch the first breath of the dawn? But it is not well, my Roland. Enjoy slumber while thou canst; the time is not far behind when the waking eye must be thy portion, as well as mine.”

She uttered these words with an affectionate and anxious tone, which showed, that devotional as were the habitual exercises of her mind, the thoughts of her nursling yet bound her to earth with the cords of human affection and passion.

But she abode not long in a mood which she probably regarded as a momentary dereliction of her imaginary high calling —“Come,” she said, “youth, up and be doing — It is time that we leave this place.”

“And whither do we go?” said the young man; “or what is the object of our journey?”

The matron stepped back, and gazed on him with surprise, not unmingled with displeasure.

“To what purpose such a question?” she said; “is it not enough that I lead the way? Hast thou lived with heretics till thou hast learned to instal the vanity of thine own private judgment in place of due honour and obedience?”

“The time,” thought Roland Graeme within himself, “is already come, when I must establish my freedom, or be a willing thrall for ever — I feel that I must speedily look to it.”

She instantly fulfilled his foreboding, by recurring to the theme by which her thoughts seemed most constantly engrossed, although, when she pleased, no one could so perfectly disguise her religion.

“Thy beads, my son — hast thou told thy beads?”

Roland Graeme coloured high; he felt the storm was approaching, but scorned to avert it by a falsehood.

“I have forgotten my rosary,” he said, “at the Castle of Avenel.”

“Forgotten thy rosary!” she exclaimed; “false both to religion and to natural duty, hast thou lost what was sent so far, and at such risk, a token of the truest affection, that should have been, every bead of it, as dear to thee as thine eyeballs?”

“I am grieved it should have so chanced, mother,” replied the youth, “and much did I value the token, as coming from you. For what remains, I trust to win gold enough, when I push my way in the world; and till then, beads of black oak, or a rosary of nuts, must serve the turn.”

“Hear him!” said his grandmother; “young as he is, he hath learned already the lessons of the devil’s school! The rosary, consecrated by the Holy Father himself, and sanctified by his blessing, is but a few knobs of gold, whose value may be replaced by the wages of his profane labour, and whose virtue may be supplied by a string of hazel-nuts! — This is heresy — So Henry Warden, the wolf who ravages the flock of the Shepherd, hath taught thee to speak and to think.”

“Mother,” said Roland Graeme, “I am no heretic; I believe and I pray according to the rules of our church — This misfortune I regret, but I cannot amend it.”

“Thou canst repent it, though,” replied his spiritual directress, “repent it in dust and ashes, atone for it by fasting, prayer, and penance, instead of looking on me with a countenance as light as if thou hadst lost but a button from thy cap.”

“Mother,” said Roland, “be appeased; I will remember my fault in the next confession which I have space and opportunity to make, and will do whatever the priest may require of me in atonement. For the heaviest fault I can do no more. — But, mother,” he added, after a moment’s pause, “let me not incur your farther displeasure, if I ask whither our journey is bound, and what is its object. I am no longer a child, but a man, and at my own disposal, with down upon my chin, and a sword by my side — I will go to the end of the world with you to do your pleasure; but I owe it to myself to inquire the purpose and direction of our travels.”

“You owe it to yourself, ungrateful boy?” replied his relative, passion rapidly supplying the colour which age had long chased from her features — “to yourself you owe nothing — you can owe nothing — to me you owe every thing — your life when an infant — your support while a child — the means of instruction, and the hopes of honour — and, sooner than thou shouldst abandon the noble cause to which I have devoted thee, would I see thee lie a corpse at my feet!”

Roland was alarmed at the vehement agitation with which she spoke, and which threatened to overpower her aged frame; and he hastened to reply — “I forget nothing of what I owe to you, my dearest mother — show me how my blood can testify my gratitude, and you shall judge if I spare it. But blindfold obedience has in it as little merit as reason.”

“Saints and angels!” replied Magdalen, “and do I hear these words from the child of my hopes, the nursling by whose bed I have kneeled, and for whose weal I have wearied every saint in heaven with prayers? Roland, by obedience only canst thou show thy affection and thy gratitude. What avails it that you might perchance adopt the course I propose to thee, were it to be fully explained? Thou wouldst not then follow my command, but thine own judgment; thou wouldst not do the will of Heaven, communicated through thy best friend, to whom thou owest thine all; but thou wouldst observe the blinded dictates of thine own imperfect reason. Hear me, Roland! a lot calls thee — solicits thee — demands thee — the proudest to which man can be destined, and it uses the voice of thine earliest, thy best, thine only friend — Wilt thou resist it? Then go thy way — leave me here — my hopes on earth are gone and withered — I will kneel me down before yonder profaned altar, and when the raging heretics return, they shall dye it with the blood of a martyr.”

“But, my dearest mother,” said Roland Graeme, whose early recollections of her violence were formidably renewed by these wild expressions of reckless passion, “I will not forsake you — I will abide with you — worlds shall not force me from your side — I will protect — I will defend you — I will live with you, and die for you!”

“One word, my son, were worth all these — say only, ‘I will obey you.’”

“Doubt it not, mother,” replied the youth, “I will, and that with all my heart; only ——”

“Nay, I receive no qualifications of thy promise,” said Magdalen Graeme, catching at the word, “the obedience which I require is absolute; and a blessing on thee, thou darling memory of my beloved child, that thou hast power to make a promise so hard to human pride! Trust me well, that in the design in which thou dost embark, thou hast for thy partners the mighty and the valiant, the power of the church, and the pride of the noble. Succeed or fail, live or die, thy name shall be among those with whom success or failure is alike glorious, death or life alike desirable. Forward, then, forward! life is short, and our plan is laborious — Angels, saints, and the whole blessed host of heaven, have their eyes even now on this barren and blighted land of Scotland — What say I? on Scotland? their eye is on us, Roland — on the frail woman, on the inexperienced youth, who, amidst the ruins which sacrilege hath made in the holy place, devote themselves to God’s cause, and that of their lawful Sovereign. Amen, so be it! The blessed eyes of saints and martyrs, which see our resolve, shall witness the execution; or their ears, which hear our vow, shall hear our death-groan, drawn in the sacred cause!”

While thus speaking, she held Roland Graeme firmly with one hand, while she pointed upward with the other, to leave him, as it were, no means of protest against the obtestation to which he was thus made a party. When she had finished her appeal to Heaven, she left him no leisure for farther hesitation, or for asking any explanation of her purpose; but passing with the same ready transition as formerly, to the solicitous attentions of an anxious parent, overwhelmed him with questions concerning his residence in the Castle of Avenel, and the qualities and accomplishments he had acquired.

“It is well,” she said, when she had exhausted her inquiries, “my gay goss-hawk10 hath been well trained, and will soar high; but those who bred him will have cause to fear as well as to wonder at his flight. — Let us now,” she said, “to our morning meal, and care not though it be a scanty one. A few hours’ walk will bring us to more friendly quarters.”

They broke their fast accordingly, on such fragments as remained of their yesterday’s provision, and immediately set out on their farther journey. Magdalen Graeme led the way, with a firm and active step much beyond her years, and Roland Graeme followed, pensive and anxious, and far from satisfied with the state of dependence to which he seemed again to be reduced.

“Am I for ever,” he said to himself, “to be devoured with the desire of independence and free agency, and yet to be for ever led on, by circumstances, to follow the will of others?”

10 The comparison is taken from some beautiful verses in an old ballad, entitled Fause Foodrage, published in the “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.” A deposed queen, to preserve her infant son from the traitors who have slain his father, exchanges him with the female offspring of a faithful friend, and goes on to direct the education of the children, and the private signals by which the parents are to hear news each of her own offspring.

“And you shall learn my gay goss-hawk

Right well to breast a steed;

And so will I your turtle dow,

As well to write and read.

And ye shall learn my gay goss-hawk

To wield both bow and brand;

And so will I your turtle dow,

To lay gowd with her hand.

At kirk or market when we meet,

We’ll dare make no avow,

But, ‘Dame, how does my gay goss-hawk?’

‘Madame, how does my dow?’”

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