Castle Dangerous, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Tenth.

When the nightengale singes, the wodes waxes grene,

Lef, and gras, and blosme, springeth in April I wene,

And love is to myne herte gone with one speare so kene.

Night and day my blood hyt drynkes, mine herte deth me fane.

MSS. Hail. Quoted by Warton.

Sir Aymer De Valance had no sooner followed his archer to the convent of Saint Bride, than he summoned the abbot to his presence, who came with the air of a man who loves his ease, and who is suddenly called from the couch where he has consigned himself to a comfortable repose, at the summons of one whom he does not think it safe to disobey, and to whom he would not disguise his sense of peevishness, if he durst.

“It is a late ride,” he said, “which has brought your worthy honour hither from the castle. May I be informed of the cause, after the arrangement so recently gone into with the governor?”

“It is my hope,” replied the knight, “that you, Father Abbot, are not already conscious of it; suspicions are afloat, and I myself have this night seen something to confirm them, that some of the obstinate rebels of this country are again setting afoot dangerous practices, to the peril of the garrison; and I come, father, to see whether, in requital of many favours received from the English monarch, you will not merit his bounty and protection, by contributing to the discovery of the designs of his enemies.”

“Assuredly so,” answered Father Jerome, in an agitated voice. “Most unquestionably my information should stand at your command; that is, if I knew any thing the communication of which could be of advantage to you.”

“Father Abbot,” replied the English knight, “although it is rash to make myself responsible for a North-country man in these times, yet I own I do consider you as one who has ever been faithfully subject to the King of England, and I willingly hope that you will still continue so.”

“And a fine encouragement I have!” said the abbot; “to be called out of my bed at midnight, in this raw weather, to undergo the examination of a knight, who is the youngest, perhaps, of his own honourable rank, and who will not tell me the subject of the interrogatories, but detains me on this cold pavement, till, according to the opinion of Celsus, the podagra which lurks in my feet may be driven into my stomach, and then good-night to abbacy and examinations from henceforward.”

“Good father,” said the young man, “the spirit of the times must teach thee patience; recollect that I can feel no pleasure in this duty, and that if an insurrection should take place, the rebels, who are sufficiently displeased with thee for acknowledging the English monarch, would hang thee from thine own steeple to feed the crows; or that, if thou hast secured thy peace by some private compact with the insurgents, the English governor, who will sooner or later gain the advantage, will not fail to treat thee as a rebel to his sovereign.”

“It may appear to you, my noble son,” answered the abbot, obviously discomposed, “that I am hung up, in this case, on the horns of the dilemma which you have stated; nevertheless, I protest to you, that if any one accuses me of conspiring with the rebels against the King of England, I am ready, provided you give me time to swallow a potion recommended by Celsus in my perilous case, to answer with the most perfect sincerity every question which you can put to me upon that subject.” So saying, he called upon a monk who had attended at his levee, and giving him a large key, whispered something in his ear. The cup which the monk brought was of such capacity as proved Celsus’s draught required to be administered in considerable quantity, and a strong smell which it spread through the apartment, accredited the knight’s suspicion that the medicine chiefly consisted of what were then termed distilled waters, a preparation known in the monasteries for some time before that comfortable secret had reached the laity in general. The abbot, neither overawed by the strength nor by the quantity of the potion, took it off with what he himself would have called a feeling of solace and pleasance, and his voice became much more composed; he signified himself as comforted extraordinarily by the medicine, and willing to proceed to answer any questions which could be put to him by his gallant young friend.

“At present,” said the knight, “you are aware, father, that strangers travelling through this country, must be the first objects of our suspicions and enquiries. What is, for example, your own opinion of the youth termed Augustine, the son, or calling himself so, of a person called Bertram the minstrel, who has resided for some days in your convent?”

The abbot heard the question with eyes expressive of surprise at the quarter from which it came.

“Assuredly,” said he, “I think of him as a youth who, from any thing I have seen, is of that excellent disposition, both with respect to loyalty and religion, which I should have expected, were I to judge from the estimable person who committed him to my care.”

With this the abbot bowed to the knight, as if he had conceived that this repartee gave him a silencing advantage in any question which could follow upon that subject; and he was probably, therefore, surprised when Sir Aymer replied as follows:

“It is very true, Father Abbot, that I myself did recommend this stripling to you as a youth of a harmless disposition, and with respect to whom it would be unnecessary to exercise the strict vigilance extended to others in similar circumstances; but the evidence which seemed to me to vouch for this young man’s innocence, has not appeared so satisfactory to my superior and commander; and it is by his orders that I now make farther enquiries of you. You must think they are of consequence, since we again trouble you, and at so unwonted an hour.”

“I can only protest by my order, and by the veil of Saint Bride,” replied the abbot, the spirit of Celsus appearing to fail his pupil, “that whatever evil may be in this matter, is totally unknown to me — nor could it be extorted from me by racks or implements of torture. Whatever signs of disloyalty may have been evinced by this young man, I have witnessed none of them, although I have been strictly attentive to his behaviour.”

“In what respect?” said the knight —“and what is the result of your observation?”

“My answer,” said the abbot of Saint Bride, “shall be sincere and downright. The youth condescended upon payment of a certain number of gold crowns, not by any means to repay the hospitality of the church of Saint Bride, but merely”—

“Nay, father,” interrupted the knight, “you may cut that short, since the governor and I well understand the terms upon which the monks of Saint Bride exercise their hospitality. In what manner, it is more necessary to ask, was it received by this boy?”

“With the utmost gentleness and moderation, noble sir,” answered the abbot; “indeed it appeared to me, at first, that he might be a troublesome guest, since the amount of his benevolence to the convent was such as to encourage, and, in some degree, to authorise, his demanding accommodation of a kind superior to what we had to bestow.”

“In which case,” said Sir Aymer, “you would have had the discomfort of returning some part of the money you have received?”

“That,” replied the abbot, “would have been a mode of settlement contrary to our vows. What is paid to the treasury of Saint Bridget, cannot, agreeably to our rule, be on any account restored. But, noble knight, there was no occasion for this; a crust of white bread and a draught of milk were diet sufficient to nourish this poor youth for a day, and it was my own anxiety for his health that dictated the furnishing of his cell with a softer bed and coverlet than are quite consistent with the rules of our order.”

“Now hearken to what I say, Sir Abbot, and answer me truly,” said the Knight of Valence —“What communication has this youth held with the inmates of your convent, or with those beyond your house? Search your memory concerning this, and let me have a distinct answer, for your guest’s safety and your own depend upon it.”

“As I am a Christian man,” said the abbot, “I have observed nothing which could give ground for your worship’s suspicions. The boy Augustine, unlike those whom I have observed who have been educated in the world, showed a marked preference to the company of such sisters as the house of Saint Bride contains, rather than for that of the monks, my brethren, although there are among them pleasant and conversible men.”

“Scandal,” said the young knight, “might find a reason for that preference.”

“Not in the case of the sisters of Saint Bridget,” said the abbot, “most of whom have been either sorely misused by time, or their comeliness destroyed by some mishap previously to their being received into the seclusion of the house.”

This observation the good father made with some internal movement of mirth, which was apparently excited at the idea of the sisterhood of Saint Bridget becoming attractive to any one by dint of their personal beauty, in which, as it happened, they were all notably, and almost ludicrously, deficient. The English knight, to whom the sisterhood were well known, felt also inclined to smile at this conversation.

“I acquit,” he said, “the pious sisterhood of charming, otherwise than by their kind wishes, and attention to the wants of the suffering stranger.”

“Sister Beatrice,” continued the father, resuming his gravity, “is indeed blessed with a winning gift of making comfits and syllabubs; but, on minute enquiry, I do not find that the youth has tasted any of them. Neither is sister Ursula so hard-favoured by nature, as from the effects of an accident; but your honour knows that when a woman is ugly, the men do not trouble themselves about the cause of her hard favour. I will go, with your leave, and see in what state the youth now is, and summon him, before you.”

“I request you to do so, father, for the affair is instant: and I earnestly advise you to watch, in the closest manner, this Augustine’s behaviour: you cannot be too particular. I will wait your return, and either carry the boy to the castle, or leave him here, as circumstances may seem to require.”

The abbot bowed, promised his utmost exertions, and hobbled out of the room to wait on the youth Augustine in his cell, anxious to favour, if possible, the wishes of De Valence, whom he looked upon as rendered by circumstances his military patron.

He remained long absent, and Sir Aymer began to be of opinion that the delay was suspicious, when the abbot returned with perplexity and discomposure in his countenance.

“I crave your pardon for keeping your worship waiting,” said Jerome, with much anxiety; “but I have myself been detained and vexed by unnecessary formalities and scruples on the part of this peevish boy. In the first place, hearing my foot approaching his bedroom, my youth, instead of undoing the door, which would have been but proper respect to my place, on the contrary draws a strong bolt on the inside; and this fastening, forsooth, has been placed on his chamber by Ursula’s command, that his slumbers might be suitably respected. I intimated to him as I best could, that he must attend you without delay, and prepare to accompany you to the Castle of Douglas; but he would not answer a single word, save recommending to me patience, to which I was fain to have recourse, as well as your archer, whom I found standing sentinel before the door of the cell, and contenting himself with the assurance of the sisters that there was no other passage by which Augustine could make his escape. At length the door opens, and my young master presents himself fully arrayed for his journey. The truth is, I think some fresh attack of his malady has affected the youth; he may perhaps be disturbed with some touch of hypochondria, or black choler, a species of dotage of the mind, which is sometimes found concomitant with and symptomatic of this disorder; but he is at present composed, and if your worship chooses to see him, he is at your command.”

“Call him hither,” said the knight. And a considerable space of time again elapsed ere the eloquence of the abbot, half chiding and half soothing, prevailed on the lady, in her adopted character, to approach, the parlour, in which at last she made her appearance, with a countenance on which the marks of tears might still be discovered, and a pettish sullenness, like that of a boy, or, with reverence, that of a girl, who is determined upon taking her own way in any matter, and equally resolved to give no reason for her doing so. Her hurried levee had not prevented her attending closely to all the mufflings and disguisings by which her pilgrim’s dress was arranged, so as to alter her appearance, and effectually disguise her sex. But as civility prevented her wearing her large slouched hat, she necessarily exposed her countenance more than in the open air; and though the knight beheld a most lovely set of features, yet they were not such as were inconsistent with the character she had adopted, and which she had resolved upon maintaining to the last. She had, accordingly, mustered up a degree of courage which was not natural to her, and which she perhaps supported by hopes which her situation hardly admitted. So soon as she found herself in the same apartment with De Valence, she assumed a style of manners, bolder and more determined than she had hitherto displayed.

“Your worship,” she said, addressing him even before he spoke, “is a knight of England, and possessed, doubtless, of the virtues which become that noble station. I am an unfortunate lad, obliged, by reasons which I am under the necessity of keeping secret, to travel in a dangerous country, where I am suspected, without any just cause, of becoming accessory to plots and conspiracies which are contrary to my own interest, and which my very soul abhors; and which I might safely abjure, by imprecating upon myself all the curses of our religion and renouncing all its promises, if I were accessory to such designs, in thought, word, or deed. Nevertheless, you, who will not believe my solemn protestations, are about to proceed against me as a guilty person, and in so doing I must warn you, Sir Knight, that you will commit a great and cruel injustice.”

“I shall endeavour to avoid that,” said the knight, “by referring the duty to Sir John de Walton, the governor, who will decide what is to be done; in this case, my only duty will be to place you in his hands at Douglas Castle.”

“Must you do this?” said Augustine.

“Certainly,” replied the knight, “or be answerable for neglecting my duty.”

“But if I become bound to answer your loss with a large sum of money, a large tract of land”—

“No treasure, no land — supposing such at your disposal,” answered the knight, “can atone for disgrace; and, besides, boy, how should I trust to your warrant, were my avarice such as would induce me to listen to such proposals?”

“I must then prepare to attend you instantly to the Castle of Douglas and the presence of Sir John de Walton?” replied Augustine.

“Young man,” answered De Valence, “there is no remedy, since if you delay me longer, I must carry you thither by force.”

“What will be the consequence to my father?” said the youth.

“That,” replied the knight, “will depend exactly on the nature of your confession and his; something you both have to say, as is evident from the terms of the letter Sir John de Walton conveyed to you; and I assure you, you were better to speak it out at once than to risk the consequences of more delay. I can admit of no more trifling; and, believe me, that your fate will be entirely ruled by your own frankness and candour.”

“I must prepare, then, to travel at your command,” said the youth. “But this cruel disease still hangs around me, and Abbot Jerome, whose leech-craft is famous, will himself assure you that I cannot travel without danger of my life; and that while I was residing in this convent, I declined every opportunity of exercise which was offered me by the kindness of the garrison at Hazelside, lest I might by mishap bring the contagion among your men.”

“The youth says right,” said the abbot; “the archers and men-at-arms have more than once sent to invite this lad to join in some of their military games, or to amuse them, perhaps, with some of his minstrelsy; but he has uniformly declined doing so; and, according to my belief, it is the effects of this disorder which have prevented his accepting an indulgence so natural to his age, and in so dull a place as the convent of Saint Bride must needs seem to a youth bred up in the world.”

“Do you then hold, reverend father,” said Sir Aymer, “that there is real danger in carrying this youth to the castle to-night, as I proposed?”

“I conceive such danger,” replied the abbot, “to exist, not only as it may occasion the relapse of the poor youth himself, but as particularly likely, no preparations having been made, to introduce the infection among your honourable garrison; for it is in these relapses, more than in the first violence of the malady, that it has been found most contagious.”

“Then,” said the knight, “you must be content, my friend, to give a share of your room to an archer, by way of sentinel.”

“I cannot object,” said Augustine, “provided my unfortunate vicinity does not endanger the health of the poor soldier.”

“He will be as ready to do his duty,” said the abbot, “without the door of the apartment as within it; and if the youth should sleep soundly, which the presence of a guard in his chamber might prevent, he is the more likely to answer your purpose on the morrow.”

“Let it be so,” said Sir Aymer; “so you are sure that you do not minister any facility of escape.”’

“The apartment,” said the monk, “hath no other entrance than that which is guarded by the archer; but, to content you, I shall secure the door in your presence.”

“So be it, then,” said the Knight of Valence; “this done, I myself will lie down without doffing my mail-shirt, and snatch a sleep till the ruddy dawn calls me again to duty, when you, Augustine, will hold yourself ready to attend me to our Castle of Douglas.”

The bells of the convent summoned the inhabitants and inmates of Saint Bride to morning prayers at the first peep of day. When this duty was over, the knight demanded his prisoner. The abbot marshalled him to the door of Augustine’s chamber. The sentinel who was stationed there, armed with a brown-bill, or species of partisan, reported that he had heard no motion in the apartment during the whole night. The abbot tapped at the door, but received no answer. He knocked again louder, but the silence was unbroken from within.

“What means this?” said the reverend ruler of the convent of Saint Bride; “my young patient has certainly fallen into a syncope or swoon!”

“I wish, Father Abbot,” said the knight, “that he may not have made his escape instead, an accident which both you and I may be required to answer, since, according to our strict duty, we ought to have kept sight of him, and detained him in close custody until daybreak.”

“I trust your worship,” said the abbot, “only anticipates a misfortune which I cannot think possible.”

“We shall speedily see,” said the knight; and raising his voice, he called aloud, so as to be heard within, “Bring crow-bars and levers, and burst me that door into splinters without an instant’s delay.”

The loudness of his voice, and the stern tone in which he spoke, soon brought around him the brethren of the house, and two or three soldiers of his own party, who were already busy in caparisoning their horses. The displeasure of the young knight was manifested by his flushed features, and the abrupt manner in which he again repeated his commands for breaking open the door. This was speedily performed, though it required the application of considerable strength, and as the shattered remains fell crashing into the apartment, De Valence sprung, and the abbot hobbled, into the cell of the prisoner, which, to the fulfilment of their worst suspicions, they found empty.

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