Castle Dangerous, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twelfth.

Great was the astonishment of the young Knight of Valence and the reverend Father Jerome, when, upon breaking into the cell, they discovered the youthful pilgrim’s absence; and, from the garments which were left, saw every reason to think that the one-eyed novice, sister Ursula, had accompanied him in his escape from custody. A thousand thoughts thronged upon Sir Aymer, how shamefully he had suffered himself to be outwitted by the artifices of a boy and of a novice. His reverend companion in error felt no less contrition for having recommended to the knight a mild exercise of his authority. Father Jerome had obtained his preferment as abbot upon the faith of his zeal for the cause of the English monarch, with the affected interest in which he was at a loss to reconcile his proceedings of the last night. A hurried enquiry took place, from which little could be learned, save that the young pilgrim had most certainly gone off with the Lady Margaret de Hautlieu, an incident at which the females of the convent expressed surprise, mingled with a great deal of horror; while that of the males, whom the news soon reached, was qualified with a degree of wonder, which seemed to be founded upon the very different personal appearance of the two fugitives.

“Sacred Virgin,” said a nun, “who could have conceived the hopeful votaress, sister Ursula, so lately drowned in tears for her father’s untimely fate, capable of eloping with a boy scarce fourteen years old!”

“And, holy Saint Bride!” said the Abbot Jerome, “what could have made so handsome a young man lend his arm to assist such a nightmare as sister Ursula, in the commission of so great an enormity? Certainly he can neither plead temptation nor seduction, but must have gone, as the worldly phrase is — to the devil with a dish-clout.”

“I must disperse the soldiers to pursue the fugitives,” said De Valence, “unless this letter, which the pilgrim must have left behind him, shall contain some explanations respecting our mysterious prisoner.”

After viewing the contents with some surprise, he read aloud — “The undersigned, late residing in the house of Saint Bride, do you, father Jerome, the abbot of said house, to know, that finding you were disposed to treat me as a prisoner and a spy, in the sanctuary to which you had received me as a distressed person, I have resolved to use my natural liberty, with which you have no right to interfere, and therefore have withdrawn myself from your abbacy. Moreover, finding that the novice called in your convent sister Ursula (who hath, by monastic rule and discipline, a fair title to return to the world unless she is pleased, after a year’s novitiate, to profess herself sister of your order) is determined to use such privilege, I joyfully take the opportunity of her company in this her lawful resolution, as being what is in conformity to the law of God, and the precepts of Saint Bride, which gave you no authority to detain any person in your convent by force, who hath not taken upon her irrevocably the vows of the order.

“To you, Sir John de Walton, and Sir Aymer de Valence, knights of England, commanding the garrison of Douglas Dale, I have only to say, that you have acted and are acting against me under a mystery, the solution of which is comprehended in a secret known only to my faithful minstrel, Bertram of the many Lays, as whose son I have found it convenient to pass myself. But as I cannot at this time prevail upon myself personally to discover a secret which cannot well be unfolded without feelings of shame, I not only give permission to the said Bertram the minstrel, but I charge and command him that he tell to you the purpose with which I came originally to the Castle of Douglas. When this is discovered, it will only remain to express my feelings towards the two knights, in return for the pain and agony of mind which their violence and threats of further severities have occasioned me.

“And first respecting Sir Aymer de Valence, I freely and willingly forgive him for having been involved in a mistake to which I myself led the way, and I shall at all times be happy to meet with him as an acquaintance, and never to think farther of his part in these few days’ history, saving as matter of mirth and ridicule.

“But respecting Sir John de Walton, I must request of him to consider whether his conduct towards me, standing as we at present do towards each, other, is such as he himself ought to forget or I ought to forgive; and I trust he will understand me when I tell him, that all former connexions must henceforth be at an end between him and the supposed “AUGUSTINE.”

“This is madness,” said the abbot, when he had read the letter — “very midsummer madness; not unfrequently an accompaniment of this pestilential disease, and I should do well in requiring of those soldiers who shall first apprehend this youth Augustine, that they reduce his victuals immediately to water and bread, taking care that the diet do not exceed in measure what is necessary to sustain nature; nay, I should be warranted by the learned, did I recommend a sufficient intermixture of flagellation with belts, stirrup-leathers, or surcingles, and failing those, with riding-whips, switches, and the like.”

“Hush! my reverend father,” said De Valence, “a light begins to break in upon me. John de Walton, if my suspicions be true, would sooner expose his own flesh to be hewn from his bones, than have this Augustine’s finger stung by a gnat. Instead of treating this youth as a madman, I for my own part, will be contented to avow that I myself have been bewitched and fascinated; and by my honour, if I send out my attendants in quest of the fugitives, it shall be with the strict charge, that, when apprehended, they treat them with all respect, and protect them, if they object to return to this house, to any honourable place of refuge which they may desire.”

“I hope,” said the abbot, looking strangely confused, “I shall be first heard in behalf of the Church concerning this affair of an abducted nun? You see yourself, Sir Knight, that this scapegrace of a minstrel avouches neither repentance nor contrition at his share in a matter so flagitious.”

“You shall be secured an opportunity of being fully heard,” replied the knight, “if you shall find at last that you really desire one. Meantime, I must back, without a moment’s delay, to inform Sir John de Walton of the turn which affairs have taken. Farewell, reverend father. By my honour we may wish each other joy that we have escaped from a troublesome charge, which brought as much terror with it as the phantoms of a fearful dream, and is yet found capable of being dispelled by a cure as simple as that of awakening the sleeper. But, by Saint Bride! both churchmen and laymen are bound to sympathise with the unfortunate Sir John de Walton. I tell thee, father, that if this letter”— touching the missive with his finger —“is to be construed literally, as far as respects him, he is the man most to be pitied betwixt the brink of Solway and the place where we now stand. Suspend thy curiosity, most worthy churchman, lest there should be more in this matter than I myself see; so that, while thinking that I have lighted on the true explanation, I may not have to acknowledge that I have been again leading you into error. Sound to horse there! Ho?” he called out from the window of the apartment; “and let the party I brought hither prepare to scour the woods on their return.”

“By my faith!” said Father Jerome, “I am right glad that this young nut-cracker is going to leave me to my own meditation. I hate when a young person pretends to understand whatever passes, while his betters are obliged to confess that it is all a mystery to them. Such an assumption is like that of the conceited fool, sister Ursula, who pretended to read with a single eye a manuscript which I myself could not find intelligible with the assistance of my spectacles.”

This might not have quite pleased the young knight, nor was it one of those truths which the abbot would have chosen to deliver in his hearing. But the knight had shaken him by the hand, said adieu, and was already at Hazelside, issuing particular orders to little troops of the archers and others, and occasionally chiding Thomas Dickson, who, with a degree of curiosity which the English knight was not very willing to excuse, had been endeavouring to get some account of the occurrences of the night.

“Peace, fellow!” he said, “and mind thine own business, being well assured that the hour will come in which it will require all the attention thou canst give, leaving others to take care of their own affairs.”

“If I am suspected of any thing,” answered Dickson, in a tone rather dogged and surly than otherwise, “methinks it were but fair to let me know what accusation is brought against me. I need not tell you that chivalry prescribes that a knight should not attack an enemy undefied.”

“When you are a knight,” answered Sir Aymer de Valence, “it will be time enough for me to reckon with you upon the points of form due to you by the laws of chivalry. Meanwhile, you had best let me know what share you have had in playing off the martial phantom which sounded the rebellious slogan of Douglas in the town of that name?”

“I know nothing of what you speak,” answered the goodman of Hazelside.

“See then,” said the knight, “that you do not engage yourself in the affairs of other people, even if your conscience warrants that you are in no danger from your own.”

So saying, he rode off, not waiting any answer. The ideas which filled his head were to the following purpose.

“I know not how it is, but one mist seems no sooner to clear away than. we find ourselves engaged in another. I take it for granted that the disguised damsel is no other than the goddess of Walton’s private idolatry, who has cost him and me so much trouble, and some certain, degree of misunderstanding during these last weeks. By my honour! this fair lady is right lavish in the pardon which she has so frankly bestowed upon me, and if she is willing to be less complaisant to Sir John de Walton, why then — And what then? — It surely does not infer that she would receive me into that place in her affections, from which she has just expelled De Walton? Nor, if she did, could I avail myself of a change in favour of myself, at the expense of my friend and companion in arms. It were a folly even to dream of a thing so improbable. But with respect to the other business, it is worth serious consideration. Yon sexton seems to have kept company with dead bodies, until he is unfit for the society of the living; and as to that Dickson of Hazelside, as they call him, there is no attempt against the English during these endless wars, in which that man has not been concerned; had my life depended upon it, I could not have prevented myself from intimating my suspicions of him, let him take it as he lists.” So saying, the knight spurred his horse, and arriving at Douglas Castle without farther adventure, demanded in a tone of greater cordiality than he had of late used, whether he could be admitted to Sir John de Walton, having something of consequence to report to him. He was immediately ushered into an apartment, in which the governor was seated at his solitary breakfast. Considering the terms upon which they had lately stood, the governor of Douglas Dale was somewhat surprised at the easy familiarity with which De Valence now approached him.

“Some uncommon news,” said Sir John, rather gravely, “have brought me the honour of Sir Aymer de Valence’s company.”

“It is,” answered Sir Aymer, “what seems of high importance to your interest, Sir John de Walton, and therefore I were to blame if I lost a moment in communicating it.”

“I shall be proud to profit by your intelligence,” said Sir John de Walton.

“And I too,” said the young knight, “am both to lose the credit of having penetrated a mystery which blinded Sir John de Walton. At the same time, I do not wish to be thought capable of jesting with you, which might be the case were I, from misapprehension, to give a false key to this matter. With your permission, then, we will proceed thus: We go together to the place of Bertram the minstrel’s confinement. I have in my possession a scroll from the young person who was intrusted to the care of the Abbot Jerome; it is written in a delicate female hand, and gives authority to the minstrel to declare the purpose which brought them to this vale of Douglas.”

“It must be as you say,” said Sir John de Walton, “although can scarce see occasion for adding so much form to a mystery which can be expressed in such small compass.”

Accordingly the two knights, the warder leading the way, proceeded to the dungeon to which the minstrel had been removed.

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