The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twentieth.

I hope you’ll give me cause to think you noble.

And do me right with your sword, sir, as becomes

One gentleman of honour to another;

All this is fair, sir — let us make no days on’t,

I’ll lead your way.

Love’s pilgrimage.

The look and sign of warning which the Sub-Prior gave to Halbert Glendinning as they parted, went to his heart; for although he had profited much less than Edward by the good man’s instructions, he had a sincere reverence for his person; and even the short time he had for deliberation tended to show him he was embarked in a perilous adventure. The nature of the provocation which he had given to Sir Piercie Shafton he could not even conjecture; but he saw that it was of a mortal quality, and he was now to abide the consequences.

That he might not force these consequences forward by any premature renewal of their quarrel, he resolved to walk apart for an hour, and consider on what terms he was to meet this haughty foreigner. The time seemed propitious for his doing so without having the appearance of wilfully shunning the stranger, as all the members of the little household were dispersing either to perform such tasks as had been interrupted by the arrival of the dignitaries, or to put in order what had been deranged by their visit.

Leaving the tower, therefore, and descending, unobserved as he thought, the knoll on which it stood, Halbert gained the little piece of level ground which extended betwixt the descent of the hill, and the first sweep made by the brook after washing the foot of the eminence on which the tower was situated, where a few straggling birch and oak-trees served to secure him from observation. But scarcely had he reached the spot, when he was surprised to feel a smart tap upon the shoulder, and, turning around, he perceived he had been closely followed by Sir Piercie Shafton. When, whether from our state of animal spirits, want of confidence in the justice of our cause, or any other motive, our own courage happens to be in a wavering condition, nothing tends so much altogether to disconcert us, as a great appearance of promptitude on the part of our antagonist. Halbert Glendinning, both morally and constitutionally intrepid, was nevertheless somewhat troubled at seeing the stranger, whose resentment he had provoked, appear at once before him, and with an aspect which boded hostility. But though his heart might beat somewhat thicker, he was too high-spirited to exhibit any external signs of emotion. —“What is your pleasure, Sir Piercie?” he said to the English knight, enduring without apparent discomposure all the terrors which his antagonist had summoned into his aspect.

“What is my pleasure!” answered Sir Piercie; “a goodly question after the part you have acted towards me! — Young man, I know not what infatuation has led thee to place thyself in direct and insolent opposition to one who is a guest of thy liege-lord the Abbot, and who, even from the courtesy due to thy mother’s roof, had a right to remain there without meeting insult. Neither do I ask, or care, by what means thou hast become possessed of the fatal secret by which thou hast dared to offer me open shame. But I must now tell thee, that the possession of it has cost thee thy life.”

“Not, I trust, if my hand and sword can defend it,” replied Halbert, boldly.

“True,” said the Englishman, “I mean not to deprive thee of thy fair chance of self-defence. I am only sorry to think, that, young and country-bred as thou art, it can but little avail thee. But thou must be well aware, that in this quarrel I shall use no terms of quarter.”

“Rely on it, proud man,” answered the youth, “that I shall ask none; and although thou speakest as if I lay already at thy feet, trust me, that as I am determined never to ask thy mercy, so I am not fearful of needing it.”

“Thou wilt, then,” said the knight, “do nothing to avert the certain fate which thou hast provoked with such wantonness?”

“And how were that to be purchased?” replied Halbert Glendinning, more with the wish of obtaining some farther insight into the terms on which he stood with this stranger, than to make him the submission which he might require.

“Explain to me instantly,” said Sir Piercie, “without equivocation or delay, by what means thou wert enabled to wound my honour so deeply — and shouldst thou point out to me by so doing an enemy more worthy of my resentment, I will permit thine own obscure insignificance to draw a veil over thine insolence.”

“This is too high a flight,” said Glendinning, fiercely, “for thine own presumption to soar without being checked. Thou hast come to my father’s house, as well as I can guess, a fugitive and an exile, and thy first greeting to its inhabitants has been that of contempt and injury. By what means I have been able to retort that contempt, let thine own conscience tell thee. Enough for me that I stand on the privilege of a free Scotchman, and will brook no insult unreturned, and no injury unrequited.”

“It is well, then,” said Sir Piercie Shafton; “we will dispute this matter tomorrow morning with our swords. Let the time be daybreak, and do thou assign the place. We will go forth as if to strike a deer.”

“Content,” replied Halbert Glendinning: “I will guide thee to a spot where an hundred men might fight and fall without any chance of interruption.”

“It is well,” answered Sir Piercie Shafton. “Here then we part. — Many will say, that in thus indulging the right of a gentleman to the son of a clod-breaking peasant, I derogate from my sphere, even as the blessed sun would derogate should he condescend to compare and match his golden beams with the twinkle of a pale, blinking, expiring, gross-fed taper. But no consideration of rank shall prevent my avenging the insult thou hast offered me. We bear a smooth face, observe me, Sir Villagio, before the worshipful inmates of yonder cabin, and tomorrow we try conclusions with our swords.” So saying, he turned away towards the tower.

It may not be unworthy of notice, that in the last speech only, had Sir Piercie used some of those flowers of rhetoric which characterized the usual style of his conversation. Apparently, a sense of wounded honour, and the deep desire of vindicating his injured feelings, had proved too strong for the fantastic affectation of his acquired habits. Indeed, such is usually the influence of energy of mind, when called forth and exerted, that Sir Piercie Shafton had never appeared in the eyes of his youthful antagonist half so much deserving of esteem and respect as in this brief dialogue, by which they exchanged mutual defiance. As he followed him slowly to the tower, he could not help thinking to himself, that, had the English knight always displayed this superior tone of bearing and feeling, he would not probably have felt so earnestly disposed to take offence at his hand. Mortal offence, however, had been exchanged, and the matter was to be put to mortal arbitrement.

The family met at the evening meal, when Sir Piercie Shafton extended the benignity of his countenance and the graces of his conversation far more generally over the party than he had hitherto condescended to do. The greater part of his attention was, of course, still engrossed by his divine inimitable Discretion, as he chose to term Mary Avenel; but, nevertheless there were interjectional flourishes to the Maid of the Mill, under the title of Comely Damsel, and to the Dame, under that of Worthy Matron. Nay, lest he should fail to excite their admiration by the graces of his rhetoric, he generously, and without solicitation, added those of his voice; and after regretting bitterly the absence of his viol-degamba, he regaled them with a song, “which,” said he, “the inimitable Astrophel, whom mortals call Philip Sidney, composed in the nonage of his muse, to show the world what they are to expect from his riper years, and which will one day see the light in that not-to-be-paralleled perfection of human wit, which he has addressed to his sister, the matchless Parthenope, whom men call Countess of Pembroke; a work,” he continued, “whereof his friendship hath permitted me, though unworthy, to be an occasional partaker, and whereof I may well say, that the deep afflictive tale which awakeneth our sorrows, is so relieved with brilliant similitudes, dulcet descriptions, pleasant poems, and engaging interludes, that they seem as the stars of the firmament, beautifying the dusky robe of night. And though I wot well how much the lovely and quaint language will suffer by my widowed voice, widowed in that it is no longer matched by my beloved viol-degamba, I will essay to give you a taste of the ravishing sweetness of the poesy of the unto-be-imitated Astrophel.”

So saying, he sung without mercy or remorse about five hundred verses, of which the two first and the four last may suffice for a specimen —

“What tongue can her perfections tell,

On whose each part all pens may dwell.

Of whose high praise arid praiseful bliss,

Goodness the pen. Heaven paper is;

The ink immortal fame doth send,

As I began so I must end.”

As Sir Piercie Shafton always sung with his eyes half shut, it was not until, agreeably to the promise of poetry, he had fairly made an end, that looking round, he discovered that the greater part of his audience had, in the meanwhile, yielded to the charms of repose. Mary Avenel, indeed, from a natural sense of politeness, had contrived to keep awake through all the perplexities of the divine Astrophel; but Mysie was transported in dreams back to the dusty atmosphere of her father’s mill. Edward himself, who had given his attention for some time, had at length fallen fast asleep; and the good dame’s nose, could its tones have been put in regulation, might have supplied the bass of the lamented viol-degamba. Halbert, however, who had no temptation to give way to the charms of slumber, remained awake with his eyes fixed on the songster; not that he was better entertained with the words, or more ravished with the execution, than the rest of the company, but rather because he admired, or perhaps envied, the composure, which could thus spend the evening in interminable madrigals, when the next morning was to be devoted to deadly combat. Yet it struck his natural acuteness of observation, that the eye of the gallant cavalier did now and then, furtively as it were, seek a glance of his countenance, as if to discover how he was taking the exhibition of his antagonist’s composure and serenity of mind.

He shall read nothing in my countenance, thought Halbert, proudly, that can make him think my indifference less than his own.

And taking from the shelf a bag full of miscellaneous matters collected for the purpose, he began with great industry to dress hooks, and had finished half-a-dozen of flies (we are enabled, for the benefit of those who admire the antiquities of the gentle art of angling, to state that they were brown hackles) by the time that Sir Piercie had arrived at the conclusion of his long-winded strophes of the divine Astrophel. So that he also testified a magnanimous contempt of that which tomorrow should bring forth.

As it now waxed late, the family of Glendearg separated for the evening; Sir Piercie first saying to the dame, that “her son Albert —”

“Halbert,” said Elspeth, with emphasis, “Halbert, after his goodsire, Halbert Brydone.”

“Well, then, I have prayed your son, Halbert, that we may strive tomorrow, with the sun’s earliness, to wake a stag from his lair, that I may see whether he be as prompt at that sport as fame bespeaks him.”

“Alas! sir,” answered Dame Elspeth, “he is but too prompt, an you talk of promptitude, at any thing that has steel at one end of it, and mischief at the other. But he is at your honourable disposal, and I trust you will teach him how obedience is due to our venerable father and lord, the Abbot, and prevail with him to take the bow-bearer’s place in fee; for, as the two worthy monks said, it will be a great help to a widow-woman.”

“Trust me, good dame,” replied Sir Piercie, “it is my purpose so to indoctrinate him. touching his conduct and bearing towards his betters, that he shall not lightly depart from the reverence due to them. — We meet, then, beneath the birch-trees in the plain,” he said, looking to Halbert, “so soon as the eye of day hath opened its lids.”— Halbert answered with a sign of acquiescence, and the knight proceeded, “And now, having wished to my fairest Discretion those pleasant dreams which wave their pinions around the couch of sleeping beauty, and to this comely damsel the bounties of Morpheus, and to all others the common good-night, I will crave you leave to depart to my place of rest, though I may say with the poet,

‘Ah rest! — no rest but change of place and posture:

Ah sleep! — no sleep but worn-out Nature’s swooning;

Ah bed! — no bed but cushion fill’d with stones:

Rest, sleep, nor bed, await not on an exile.’”

With a delicate obeisance he left the room, evading Dame Glendinning, who hastened to assure him he would find his accommodations for repose much more agreeable than they had been the night before, there having been store of warm coverlets, and a soft feather-bed, sent up from the Abbey. But the good knight probably thought that the grace and effect of his exit would be diminished, if he were recalled from his heroics to discuss such sublunary and domestic topics, and therefore hastened away without waiting to hear her out.

“A pleasant gentleman,” said Dame Glendinning; “but I will warrant him an humorous 50 — And sings a sweet song, though it is somewhat of the longest. — Well, I make mine avow he is goodly company — I wonder when he will go away.”

Having thus expressed her respect for her guest, not without intimation that she was heartily tired of his company, the good dame gave the signal for the family to disperse, and laid her injunctions on Halbert to attend Sir Piercie Shafton at daybreak, as he required.

When stretched on his pallet by his brother’s side, Halbert had no small cause to envy the sound sleep which instantly settled on the eyes of Edward, but refused him any share of its influence. He saw now too well what the spirit had darkly indicated, that, in granting the boon which he had asked so unadvisedly, she had contributed more to his harm than his good. He was now sensible, too late, of the various dangers and inconveniences with which his dearest friends were threatened, alike by his discomfiture or his success in the approaching duel. If he fell, he might say personally, “good-night all.” But it was not the less certain that he should leave a dreadful legacy of distress and embarrassment to his mother and family — an anticipation which by no means tended to render the front of death, in itself a grisly object, more agreeable to his imagination. The vengeance of the Abbot, his conscience told him, was sure to descend on his mother and brother, or could only be averted by the generosity of the victor — And Mary Avenel — he should have shown himself, if he succumbed in the present combat, as inefficient in protecting her, as he had been unnecessarily active in bringing disaster on her, and on the house in which she had been protected from infancy. And to this view of the case were to be added all those imbittered and anxious feelings with which the bravest men, even in a better or less doubtful quarrel, regard the issue of a dubious conflict, the first time when it has been their fate to engage in an affair of that nature.

But however disconsolate the prospect seemed in the event of his being conquered, Halbert could expect from victory little more than the safety of his own life, and the gratification of his wounded pride. To his friends — to his mother and brother — especially to Mary Avenel — the consequences of his triumph would be more certain destruction than the contingency of his defeat and death. If the English knight survived, he might in courtesy extend his protection to them; but if he fell, nothing was likely to screen them from the vindictive measures which the Abbot and convent would surely adopt against the violation of the peace of the Halidome, and the slaughter of a protected guest by one of their own vassals, within whose house they had lodged him for shelter. These thoughts, in which neither view of the case augured aught short of ruin to his family, and that ruin entirely brought on by his own rashness, were thorns in Halbert Glendinning’s pillow, and deprived his soul of peace and his eyes of slumber.

There appeared no middle course, saving one which was marked by degradation, and which, even if he stooped to it, was by no means free of danger. He might indeed confess to the English knight the strange circumstances which led to his presenting him with that token which the White Lady (in her displeasure as it now seemed) had given him, that he might offer it to Sir Piercie Shafton. But to this avowal his pride could not stoop, and reason, who is wonderfully ready to be of counsel with pride on such occasions, offered many arguments to show it would be useless as well as mean so far to degrade himself. “If I tell a tale so wonderful,” thought he, “shall I not either be stigmatized as a liar, or punished as a wizard? — Were Sir Piercie Shafton generous, noble, and benevolent, as the champions of whom we hear in romance, I might indeed gain his ear, and, without demeaning myself, escape from the situation in which I am placed. But as he is, or at least seems to be, self-conceited, arrogant, vain, and presumptuous — I should but humble myself in vain — and I will not humble myself!” he said, starting out of bed, grasping his broadsword, and brandishing it in the light of the moon, which streamed through the deep niche that served them as a window; when, to his extreme surprise and terror, an airy form stood in the moonlight, but intercepted not the reflection on the floor. Dimly as it was expressed, the sound of the voice soon made him sensible he saw the White Lady.

At no time had her presence seemed so terrific to him; for when he had invoked her, it was with the expectation of the apparition, and the determination to abide the issue. But now she had come uncalled, and her presence impressed him with a sense of approaching misfortune, and with the hideous apprehension that he had associated himself with a demon, over whose motions he had no control, and of whose powers and quality he had no certain knowledge. He remained, therefore, in mere terror, gazing on the apparition, which chanted or recited in cadence the following lines —

“He whose heart for vengeance sued,

Must not shrink from shedding blood

The knot that thou hast tied with word,

Thou must loose by edge of sword.”

“Avaunt thee, false Spirit!” said Halbert Glendinning; “I have bought thy advice too dearly already — Begone in the name of God!”

The Spirit laughed; and the cold unnatural sound of her laughter had something in it more fearful than the usually melancholy tones of her voice. She then replied —

“You have summon’d me once — you have summoned me twice,

And without e’er a summons I come to you thrice;

Unask’d for, unsued for, you came to my glen;

Unsued and unask’d I am with you again.”

Halbert Glendinning gave way for a moment to terror, and called on his brother, “Edward! waken, waken, for Our Lady’s sake!”

Edward awaked accordingly, and asked what he wanted.

“Look out,” said Halbert, “look up! seest thou no one in the room?”

“No, upon my good word,” said Edward, looking out.

“What! seest thou nothing in the moonshine upon the floor there?”

“No, nothing,” answered Edward, “save thyself resting on thy naked sword. I tell thee, Halbert, thou shouldst trust more to thy spiritual arms, and less to those of steel and iron. For this many a night hast thou started and moaned, and cried out of fighting, and of spectres, and of goblins — thy sleep hath not refreshed thee — thy waking hath been a dream. — Credit me, dear Halbert, say the Pater and Credo, resign thyself to the protection of God, and thou wilt sleep sound and wake in comfort.”

“It may be,” said Halbert slowly, and having his eye still bent on the female form which to him seemed distinctly visible — “it may be. But tell me, dear Edward, seest thou no one on the chamber floor but me?”

“No one,” answered Edward, raising himself on his elbow; “dear brother, lay aside thy weapon, say thy prayers, and lay thee down to rest.”

While he thus spoke, the Spirit smiled at Halbert as if in scorn; her wan cheek faded in the wan moonlight even before the smile had passed away, and Halbert himself no longer beheld the vision to which he had so anxiously solicited his brother’s attention. “May God preserve my wits!” he said, as, laying aside his weapon, he again threw himself on his bed.

“Amen! my dearest brother,” answered Edward; “but we must not provoke that Heaven in our wantonness which we invoke in our misery. — Be not angry with me, my dear brother — I know not why you have totally of late estranged yourself from me — It is true, I am neither so athletic in body, nor so alert in courage, as you have been from your infancy; yet, till lately, you have not absolutely cast off my society — Believe me, I have wept in secret, though I forbore to intrude myself on your privacy. The time has been — when you held me not so cheap; and — when, if I could not follow the game so closely, or mark it so truly as you, I could fill up our intervals of pastime with pleasant tales of the olden times, which I had read or heard, and which excited even your attention as we sate and ate our provision by some pleasant spring — but now I have, though I know not why, lost thy regard and affection. — Nay, toss not thy arms about thee thus wildly,” said the younger brother; “from thy strange dreams, I fear some touch of fever hath affected thy blood — let me draw closer around thee thy mantle.”

“Forbear,” said Halbert —“your care is needless — your complaints are without reason — your fears on my account are in vain.”

“Nay, but hear me, brother,” said Edward. “Your speech in sleep, and now even your waking dreams, are of beings which belong not to this world, or to our race — Our good Father Eustace says, that howbeit we may not do well to receive all idle tales of goblins and spectres, yet there is warrant from holy Scripture to believe, that the fiends haunt waste and solitary places; and that those who frequent such wildernesses alone, are the prey, or the sport, of these wandering demons. And therefore, I pray thee, brother, let me go with you when you go next up the glen, where, as you well know, there be places of evil reputation — Thou carest not for my escort; but, Halbert, such dangers are more safely encountered by the wise in judgment, than by the bold in bosom; and though I have small cause to boast of my own wisdom, yet I have that which ariseth from the written knowledge of elder times.”

There was a moment during this discourse, when Halbert had well-nigh come to the resolution of disburdening his own breast, by intrusting Edward with all that weighed upon it. But when his brother reminded him that this was the morning of a high holiday, and that, setting aside all other business or pleasure, he ought to go to the Monastery and shrive himself before Father Eustace, who would that day occupy the confessional, pride stepped in and confirmed his wavering resolution. “I will not avow,” he thought, “a tale so extraordinary, that I may be considered as an impostor or something worse — I will not fly from this Englishman, whose arm and sword may be no better than my own. My fathers have faced his betters, were he as much distinguished in battle as he is by his quaint discourse.”

Pride, which has been said to save man, and woman too, from falling, has yet a stronger influence on the mind when it embraces the cause of passion, and seldom fails to render it victorious over conscience and reason. Halbert, once determined, though not to the better course, at length slept soundly, and was only awakened by the dawn of day.

50 Humorous — full of whims — thus Shakspeare, “Humorous as winter.”— The vulgar word humorsome comes nearest to the meaning.

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