The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-First.

Indifferent, but indifferent — pshaw, he doth it not

Like one who is his craft’s master — ne’er the less

I have seen a clown confer a bloody coxcomb

On one who was a master of defence.

Old play.

With the first gray peep of dawn, Halbert Glendinning arose and hastened to dress himself, girded on his weapon, and took a cross-bow in his hand, as if his usual sport had been his sole object. He groped his way down the dark and winding staircase, and undid, with as little noise as possible, the fastenings of the inner door, and of the exterior iron grate. At length he stood free in the court-yard, and looking up to the tower, saw a signal made with a handkerchief from the window. Nothing doubting that it was his antagonist, he paused, expecting him. But it was Mary Avenel, who glided like a spirit from under the low and rugged portal.

Halbert was much surprised, and felt, he knew not why, like one caught in the act of a meditated trespass. The presence of Mary Avenel had till that moment never given him pain. She spoke, too, in a tone where sorrow seemed to mingle with reproach, while she asked him with emphasis, “What he was about to do?”

He showed his cross-bow, and was about to express the pretext he had meditated, when Mary interrupted him.

“Not so, Halbert — that evasion were unworthy of one whose word has hitherto been truth. You meditate not the destruction of the deer — your hand and your heart are aimed at other game — you seek to do battle with this stranger.”

“And wherefore should I quarrel with our guest?” answered Halbert, blushing deeply.

“There are, indeed, many reasons why you should not,” replied the maiden, “nor is there one of avail wherefore you should — yet nevertheless, such a quarrel you are now searching after.”

“Why should you suppose so, Mary?” said Halbert, endeavouring to hide his conscious purpose —“he is my mother’s guest — he is protected by the Abbot and the community, who are our masters — he is of high degree also — and wherefore should you think that I can, or dare, resent a hasty word, which he has perchance thrown out against me more from the wantonness of his wit, than the purpose of his heart?”

“Alas!” answered the maiden, “the very asking that question puts your resolution beyond a doubt. Since your childhood you were ever daring, seeking danger rather than avoiding it — delighting in whatever had the air of adventure and of courage: and it is not from fear that you will now blench from your purpose — Oh, let it then be from pity! — from pity, Halbert, to your aged mother, whom your death or victory will alike deprive of the comfort and stay of her age.”

“She has my brother Edward,” said Halbert, turning suddenly from her.

“She has indeed,” said Mary Avenel, “the calm, the noble-minded, the considerate Edward, who has thy courage, Halbert, without thy fiery rashness — thy generous spirit, with more of reason to guide it. He would not have heard his mother, would not have heard his adopted sister, beseech him in vain not to ruin himself, and tear up their future hopes of happiness and protection.”

Halbert’s heart swelled as he replied to this reproach. “Well — what avails it speaking? — you have him that is better than me — wiser, more considerate — braver, for aught I know — you are provided with a protector, and need care no more for me.”

Again he turned to depart, but Mary Avenel laid her hand on his arm so gently that he scarce felt her hold, yet felt that it was impossible for him to strike it off. There he stood, one foot advanced to leave the court-yard, but so little determined on departure, that he resembled a traveller arrested by the spell of a magician, and unable either to quit the attitude of motion, or to proceed on his course.

Mary Avenel availed herself of his state of suspense. “Hear me,” she said, “hear me, Halbert! — I am an orphan, and even Heaven hears the orphan — I have been the companion of your infancy, and if you will not hear me for an instant, from whom may Mary Avenel claim so poor a boon?”

“I hear you,” said Halbert Glendinning, “but be brief, dear Mary — you mistake the nature of my business — it is but a morning of summer sport which we propose.”

“Say not thus,” said the maiden, interrupting him, “say not thus to me — others thou mayst deceive, but me thou canst not — There has been that in me from the earliest youth, which fraud flies from, and which imposture cannot deceive. For what fate has given me such a power I know not; but bred an ignorant maiden, in this sequestered valley, mine eyes can too often see what man would most willingly hide — I can judge of the dark purpose, though it is hid under the smiling brow, and a glance of the eye says more to me than oaths and protestations do to others.”

“Then,” said Halbert, “if thou canst so read the human heart — say, dear Mary — what dost thou see in mine? — tell me that — say that what thou seest — what thou readest in this bosom, does not offend thee — say but that, and thou shalt be the guide of my actions, and mould me now and henceforward to honour or to dishonour at thy own free will!”

Mary Avenel became first red, and then deadly pale, as Halbert Glendinning spoke. But when, turning round at the close of his address, he took her hand, she gently withdrew it, and replied, “I cannot read the heart, Halbert, and I would not of my will know aught of yours, save what beseems us both — I only can judge of signs, words, and actions of little outward import, more truly than those around me, as my eyes, thou knowest, have seen objects not presented to those of others.”

“Let them gaze then on one whom they shall never see more,” said Halbert, once more turning from her, and rushing out of the court-yard without again looking back.

Mary Avenel gave a faint scream, and clasped both her hands firmly on her forehead and eyes. She had been a minute in this attitude, when she was thus greeted by a voice from behind: “Generously done, my most clement Discretion, to hide those brilliant eyes from the far inferior beams which even now begin to gild the eastern horizon — Certes, peril there were that Phoebus, outshone in splendour, might in very shamefacedness turn back his ear, and rather leave the world in darkness, than incur the disgrace of such an encounter — Credit me, lovely Discretion —”

But as Sir Piercie Shafton (the reader will readily set down these flowers of eloquence to the proper owner) attempted to take Mary Avenel’s hand, in order to proceed in his speech, she shook him abruptly off, and regarding him with an eye which evinced terror and agitation, rushed past him into the tower.

The knight stood looking after her with a countenance in which contempt was strongly mingled with mortification. “By my knighthood!” he ejaculated, “I have thrown away upon this rude rustic Phidel? a speech, which the proudest beauty at the court of Felicia (so let me call the Elysium from which I am banished!) might have termed the very matins of Cupid. Hard and inexorable was the fate that sent thee thither, Piercie Shafton, to waste thy wit upon country wenches, and thy valour upon hob-nailed clowns! But that insult — that affront — had it been offered to me by the lowest plebeian, he must have died for it by my hand, in respect the enormity of the offence doth countervail the inequality of him by whom it is given. I trust I shall find this clownish roisterer not less willing to deal in blows than in taunts.”

While he held this conversation with himself, Sir Piercie Shafton was hastening to the little tuft of birch-trees which had been assigned as the place of meeting. He greeted his antagonist with a courtly salutation, followed by this commentary: “I pray you to observe, that I doff my hat to you, though so much my inferior in rank, without derogation on my part, inasmuch as my having so far honoured you in receiving and admitting your defiance, doth, in the judgment of the best martialists, in some sort and for the time, raise you to a level with me — an honour which you may and ought to account cheaply purchased, even with the loss of your life, if such should chance to be the issue of this duello.”

“For which condescension,” said Halbert, “I have to thank the token which I presented to you.”

The knight changed colour, and grinded his teeth with rage —“Draw your weapon!” said he to Glendinning.

“Not in this spot,” answered the youth; “we should be liable to interruption — Follow me, and I will bring you to a place where we shall encounter no such risk.”

He proceeded to walk up the glen, resolving that their place of combat should be in the entrance of the Corri-nan-shian; both because the spot, lying under the reputation of being haunted, was very little frequented, and also because he regarded it as a place which to him might be termed fated, and which he therefore resolved should witness his death or victory. They walked up the glen for some time in silence, like honourable enemies who did not wish to contend with words, and who had nothing friendly to exchange with each other. Silence, however, was always an irksome state with Sir Piercie and, moreover, his anger was usually a hasty and short-lived passion. As, therefore, he went forth, in his own idea, in all love and honour towards his antagonist, he saw not any cause for submitting longer to the painful restraint of positive silence. He began by complimenting Halbert on the alert activity with which he surmounted the obstacles and impediments of the way.

“Trust me,” said he, “worthy rustic, we have not a lighter or a firmer step in our courtlike revels, and if duly set forth by a silk hose, and trained unto that stately exercise, your leg would make an indifferent good show in a pavin or a galliard. And I doubt nothing,” he added, “that you have availed yourself of some opportunity to improve yourself in the art of fence, which is more akin than dancing to our present purpose?”

“I know nothing more of fencing,” said Halbert, “than hath been taught me by an old shepherd of ours, called Martin, and at whiles a lesson from Christie of the Clinthill — for the rest, I must trust to good sword, strong arm, and sound heart.”

“Marry and I am glad of it, young Audacity, (I will call you my Audacity, and you will call me your Condescension, while we are on these terms of unnatural equality,) I am glad of your ignorance with all my heart. For we martialists proportion the punishments which we inflict upon our opposites, to the length and hazard of the efforts wherewith they oppose themselves to us. And I see not why you, being but a tyro, may not be held sufficiently punished for your outrecuidance, and orgillous presumption, by the loss of an ear, an eye, or even a finger, accompanied by some flesh-wound of depth and severity, suited to your error — whereas, had you been able to stand more effectually on your defence, I see not how less than your life could have atoned sufficiently for your presumption.”

“Now, by God and Our Lady,” said Halbert, unable any longer to restrain himself, “thou art thyself over-presumptuous, who speakest thus daringly of the issue of a combat which is not yet even begun — Are you a god, that you already dispose of my life and limbs? or are you a judge in the justice-air, telling at your ease and without risk, how the head and quarters of a condemned criminal are to be disposed of?”

“Not so, O thou — whom I have well permitted to call thyself my Audacity. I, thy Condescension, am neither a god to judge the issue of the combat before it is fought, nor a judge to dispose at my ease and in safety of the limbs and head of a condemned criminal; but I am an indifferent good master of fence, being the first pupil of the first master of the first school of fence that our royal England affords, the said master being no other than the truly noble, and all-unutterably skilful Vincentio Saviola, from whom I learned the firm step, quick eye, and nimble hand — of which qualities thou, O my most rustical Audacity, art full like to reap the fruits so soon as we shall find a piece of ground fitting for such experiments.”

They had now reached the gorge of the ravine, where Halbert had at first intended to stop; but when he observed the narrowness of the level ground, he began to consider that it was only by superior agility that he could expect to make up his deficiency in the science, as it was called, of defence. He found no spot which afforded sufficient room to traverse for this purpose, until he gained the well-known fountain, by whose margin, and in front of the huge rock from which it sprung, was an amphitheatre of level turf, of small space indeed, compared with the great height of the cliffs with which it was surrounded on every point save that from which the rivulet issued forth, yet large enough for their present purpose.

When they had reached this spot of ground, fitted well by its gloom and sequestered situation to be a scene of mortal strife, both were surprised to observe that a grave was dug close by the foot of the rock with great neatness and regularity, the green turf being laid down upon the one side, and the earth thrown out in a heap upon the other. A mattock and shovel lay by the verge of the grave.

Sir Piercie Shafton bent his eye with unusual seriousness upon Halbert Glendinning, as he asked him sternly, “Does this bode treason, young man? And have you purpose to set upon me here as in an emboscata or place of vantage?”

“Not on my part, by Heaven!” answered the youth: “I told no one of our purpose, nor would I for the throne of Scotland take odds against a single arm.”

“I believe thou wouldst not, mine Audacity,” said the knight, resuming the affected manner which was become a second nature to him; “nevertheless this fosse is curiously well shaped, and might be the masterpiece of Nature’s last bed-maker, I would say the sexton — Wherefore, let us be thankful to chance or some unknown friend, who hath thus provided for one of us the decencies of sepulture, and let us proceed to determine which shall have the advantage of enjoying this place of undisturbed slumber.”

So saying, he stripped off his doublet and cloak, which he folded up with great care, and deposited upon a large stone, while Halbert Glendinning, not without some emotion, followed his example. Their vicinity to the favourite haunt of the White Lady led him to form conjectures concerning the incident of the grave —“It must have been her work!” he thought: “the Spirit foresaw and has provided for the fatal event of the combat — I must return from this place a homicide, or I must remain here for ever!”

The bridge seemed now broken down behind him, and the chance of coming off honourably without killing or being killed, (the hope of which issue has cheered the sinking heart of many a duellist,) seemed now altogether to be removed. Yet the very desperation of his situation gave him, on an instant’s reflection, both firmness and courage, and presented to him one sole alternative, conquest, namely, or death.

“As we are here,” said Sir Piercie Shafton, “unaccompanied by any patrons or seconds, it were well you should pass your hands over my sides, as I shall over yours; not that I suspect you to use any quaint device of privy armour, but in order to comply with the ancient and laudable custom practised on all such occasions.”

While complying with his antagonist’s humour, Halbert Glendinning went through this ceremony, Sir Piercie Shafton did not fail to solicit his attention to the quality and fineness of his wrought and embroidered shirt —“In this very shirt,” said he, “O mine Audacity! — I say in this very garment, in which I am now to combat a Scottish rustic like thyself, it was my envied lot to lead the winning party at that wonderous match at ballon, made betwixt the divine Astrophel, (our matchless Sidney,) and the right honourable my very good lord of Oxford. All the beauties of Felicia (by which name I distinguish our beloved England) stood in the gallery, waving their kerchiefs at each turn of the game, and cheering the winners by their plaudits. After which noble sport we were refreshed by a suitable banquet, whereat it pleased the noble Urania (being the unmatched Countess of Pembroke) to accommodate me with her fan for the cooling my somewhat too much inflamed visage, to requite which courtesy, I said, casting my features into a smiling, yet melancholy fashion, O divinest Urania! receive again that too fatal gift, which not like the Zephyr cooleth, but like the hot breath of the Sirocco, heateth yet more that which is already inflamed. Whereupon, looking upon me somewhat scornfully, yet not so but what the experienced courtier might perceive a certain cast of approbative affection ——”

Here the knight was interrupted by Halbert, who had waited with courteous patience for some little time, till he found, that far from drawing to a close, Sir Piercie seemed rather inclined to wax prolix in his reminiscences.

“Sir Knight,” said the youth, “if this matter be not very much to the purpose, we will, if you object not, proceed to that which we have in hand. You should have abidden in England had you desired to waste time in words, for here we spend it in blows.”

“I crave your pardon, most rusticated Audacity,” answered Sir Piercie; “truly I become oblivious of every thing beside, when the recollections of the divine court of Felicia press upon my wakened memory, even as a saint is dazzled when he bethinks him of the beatific vision. Ah, felicitous Feliciana! delicate nurse of the fair, chosen abode of the wise, the birth-place and cradle of nobility, the temple of courtesy, the fane of sprightly chivalry — Ah, heavenly court, or rather courtly heaven! cheered with dances, lulled asleep with harmony, wakened with sprightly sports and tourneys, decored with silks and tissues, glittering with diamonds and jewels, standing on end with double-piled velvets, satins, and satinettas!”

“The token, Sir Knight, the token!” exclaimed Halbert Glendinning, who, impatient of Sir Piercie’s interminable oratory, reminded him of the ground of their quarrel, as the best way to compel him to the purpose of their meeting.

And he judged right; for Sir Piercie Shafton no sooner heard him speak, than he exclaimed, “Thy death-hour has struck — betake thee to thy sword — Via!”

Both swords were unsheathed, and the combatants commenced their engagement. Halbert became immediately aware, that, as he had expected, he was far inferior to his adversary in the use of his weapon. Sir Piercie Shafton had taken no more than his own share of real merit, when he termed himself an absolutely good fencer; and Glendinning soon found that he should have great difficulty in escaping with life and honour from such a master of the sword. The English knight was master of all the mystery of the stoccata, imbrocata, punto-reverso, incartata, and so forth, which the Italian masters of defence had lately introduced into general practice. But Glendinning, on his part, was no novice in the principles of the art, according to the old Scottish fashion, and possessed the first of all qualities, a steady and collected mind. At first, being desirous to try the skill, and become acquainted with the play of his enemy, he stood on his defence, keeping his foot, hand, eye, and body, in perfect unison, and holding his sword short, and with the point towards his antagonist’s face, so that Sir Piercie, in order to assail him, was obliged to make actual passes, and could not avail himself of his skill in making feints; while, on the other hand, Halbert was prompt to parry these attacks, either by shifting his ground or with the sword. The consequence was, that after two or three sharp attempts on the part of Sir Piercie, which were evaded or disconcerted by the address of his opponent, he began to assume the defensive in his turn, fearful of giving some advantage by being repeatedly the assailant. But Halbert was too cautious to press on a swordsman whose dexterity had already more than once placed him within a hair’s breadth of death, which he had only escaped by uncommon watchfulness and agility.

When each had made a feint or two, there was a pause in the conflict, both as if by one assent dropping their swords’ point, and looking on each other for a moment without speaking. At length Halbert Glendinning, who felt perhaps more uneasy on account of his family than he had done before he had displayed his own courage, and proved the strength of his antagonist, could not help saying, “Is the subject of our quarrel, Sir Knight, so mortal, that one of our two bodies must needs fill up that grave? or may we with honour, having proved ourselves against each other, sheathe our swords and depart friends?”

“Valiant and most rustical Audacity,” said the Southron knight, “to no man on earth could you have put a question on the code of honour, who was more capable of rendering you a reason. Let us pause for the space of one venue, until I give you my opinion on this dependence, 51 for certain it is, that brave men should not run upon their fate like brute and furious wild beasts, but should slay each other deliberately, decently, and with reason. Therefore, if we coolly examine the state of our dependence, we may the better apprehend whether the sisters three have doomed one of us to expiate the same with his blood — Dost thou understand me?”

“I have heard Father Eustace,” said Halbert, after a moment’s recollection, “speak of the three furies, with their thread and their shears.”

“Enough — enough,”— interrupted Sir Piercie Shafton, crimsoning with a new fit of rage, “the thread of thy life is spun!”

And with these words he attacked with the utmost ferocity the Scottish youth, who had but just time to throw himself into a posture of defence. But the rash fury of the assailant, as frequently happens, disappointed its own purpose; for, as he made a desperate thrust, Halbert Glendinning avoided it, and ere the knight could recover his weapon, requited him (to use his own language) with a resolute stoccata, which passed through his body, and Sir Piercie Shafton fell to the ground.

51 Dependence — A phrase among the brethren of the sword for an existing quarrel.

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