The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Fourth.

I’ll walk on tiptoe; arm my eye with caution,

My heart with courage, and my hand with weapon,

Like him who ventures on a lion’s den.

Old play.

When, issuing from the gorge of a pass which terminated upon the lake, the travellers came in sight of the ancient castle of Avenel, the old man looked with earnest attention upon the scene before him. The castle was, as we have said, in many places ruinous, as was evident, even at this distance, by the broken, rugged, and irregular outline of the walls and of the towers. In others it seemed more entire, and a pillar of dark smoke, which ascended from the chimneys of the donjon, and spread its long dusky pennon through the clear ether, indicated that it was inhabited. But no corn-fields or enclosed pasture-grounds on the side of the lake showed that provident attention to comfort and subsistence which usually appeared near the houses of the greater, and even of the lesser barons. There were no cottages with their patches of infield, and their crofts and gardens, surrounded by rows of massive sycamores; no church with its simple tower in the valley; no herds of sheep among the hills; no cattle on the lower ground; nothing which intimated the occasional prosecution of the arts of peace and of industry. It was plain that the inhabitants, whether few or numerous, must be considered as the garrison of the castle, living within its defended precincts, and subsisting by means which were other than peaceful.

Probably it was with this conviction that the old man, gazing on the castle, muttered to himself, “Lapis offensionis et petra scandali!” and then, turning to Halbert Glendinning, he added, “We may say of yonder fort as King James did of another fastness in this province, that he who built it was a thief in his heart.” 55

“But it was not so,” answered Glendinning; “yonder castle was built by the old lords of Avenel, men as much beloved in peace as they were respected in war. They were the bulwark of the frontiers against foreigners, and the protectors of the natives from domestic oppression. The present usurper of their inheritance no more resembles them, than the night-prowling owl resembles a falcon, because she builds on the same rock.”

“This Julian Avenel, then, holds no high place in the love and regard of his neighbours?” said Warden.

“So little,” answered Halbert, “that besides the jack-men and riders with whom he has associated himself, and of whom he has many at his disposal, I know of few who voluntarily associate with him. He has been more than once outlawed both by England and Scotland, his lands declared forfeited, and his head set at a price. But in these unquiet times, a man so daring as Julian Avenel has ever found some friends willing to protect him against the penalties of the law, on condition of his secret services.”

“You describe a dangerous man,” replied Warden.

“You may have experience of that,” replied the youth, “if you deal not the more warily — though it may be that he also has forsaken the community of the church, and gone astray in the path of heresy.”

“What your blindness terms the path of heresy,” answered the reformer, “is indeed the straight and narrow way, wherein he who walks turns not aside, whether for worldly wealth or for worldly passions. Would to God this man were moved by no other and no worse spirit than that which prompts my poor endeavours to extend the kingdom of Heaven! This Baron of Avenel is personally unknown to me, is not of our congregation or of our counsel; yet I bear to him charges touching my safety, from those whom he must fear if he does not respect them, and upon that assurance I will venture upon his hold — I am now sufficiently refreshed by these few minutes of repose.”

“Take then this advice for your safety,” said Halbert, “and believe that it is founded upon the usage of this country and its inhabitants. If you can better shift for yourself, go not to the Castle of Avenel — if you do risk going thither, obtain from him, if possible, his safe conduct, and beware that he swears it by the Black Rood — And lastly, observe whether he eats with you at the board, or pledges you in the cup; for if he gives you not these signs of welcome, his thoughts are evil towards you.”

“Alas!” said the preacher, “I have no better earthly refuge for the present than these frowning towers, but I go thither trusting to aid which is not of this earth — But thou, good youth, needest thou trust thyself in this dangerous den?”

“I,” answered Halbert, “am in no danger. I am well known to Christie of the Clinthill, the henchman of this Julian Avenel; and, what is a yet better protection, I have nothing either to provoke malice or to tempt plunder.”

The tramp of a steed, which clattered along the shingly banks of the loch, was now heard behind them; and, when they looked back, a rider was visible, his steel cap and the point of his long lance glancing in the setting sun, as he rode rapidly towards them.

Halbert Glendinning soon recognized Christie of the Clinthill, and made his companion aware that the henchman of Julian Avenel was approaching.

“Ha, youngling!” said Christie to Halbert, as he came up to them, “thou hast made good my word at last, and come to take service with my noble master, hast thou not? Thou shalt find a good friend and a true; and ere Saint Barnaby come round again, thou shalt know every pass betwixt Millburn Plain and Netherby, as if thou hadst been born with a jack on thy back, and a lance in thy hand. — What old carle hast thou with thee? — He is not of the brotherhood of Saint Mary’s — at least he has not the buist 56 of these black cattle.”

“He is a wayfaring man,” said Halbert, “who has concerns with Julian of Avenel. For myself, I intend to go to Edinburgh to see the court and the Queen, and when I return hither we will talk of your proffer. Meantime, as thou hast often invited me to the castle, I crave hospitality there to-night for myself and my companion.”

“For thyself and welcome, young comrade,” replied Christie; “but we harbour no pilgrims, nor aught that looks like a pilgrim.”

“So please you,” said Warden, “I have letters of commendation to thy master from a sure friend, whom he will right willingly oblige in higher matters than in affording me a brief protection. — And I am no pilgrim, but renounce the same, with all its superstitious observances.” He offered his letters to the horseman, who shook his head.

“These,” he said, “are matters for my master, and it will be well if he can read them himself; for me, sword and lance are my book and psalter, and have been since I was twelve years old. But I will guide you to the castle, and the Baron of Avenel will himself judge of your errand.”

By this time the party had reached the causeway, along which Christie advanced at a trot, intimating his presence to the warders within the castle by a shrill and peculiar whistle. At this signal the farther drawbridge was lowered. The horseman passed it, and disappeared under the gloomy portal which was beyond it.

Glendinning and his companion advancing more leisurely along the rugged causeway, stood at length under the same gateway, over which frowned, in dark red freestone, the ancient armorial bearings of the house of Avenel, which represented a female figure shrouded and muffled, which occupied the whole field. The cause of their assuming so singular a device was uncertain, but the figure was generally supposed to represent the mysterious being called the White Lady of Avenel. 57 The sight of this mouldering shield awakened in the mind of Halbert the strange circumstances which had connected his fate with that of Mary Avenel, and with the doings of the spiritual being who was attached to her house, and whom he saw here, represented in stone, as he had before seen her effigy upon the seal-ring of Walter Avenel, which, with other trinkets formerly mentioned, had been saved from pillage, and brought to Glendearg, when Mary’s mother was driven from her habitation.

“You sigh, my son,” said the old man, observing the impression made on his youthful companion’s countenance, but mistaking the cause; “if you fear to enter, we may yet return.”

“That can ye not,” said Christie of the Clinthill, who emerged at that instant from the side-door under the archway. “Look yonder, and choose whether you will return skimming the water like a wild-duck, or winging the air like a plover.”

They looked, and saw that the drawbridge which they had just crossed was again raised, and now interposed its planks betwixt the setting sun and the portal of the castle, deepening the gloom of the arch under which they stood. Christie laughed and bid them follow him, saying, by way of encouragement, in Halbert’s ear, “Answer boldly and readily to whatever the Baron asks you. Never stop to pick your words, and above all show no fear of him — the devil is not so black as he is painted.”

As he spoke thus, he introduced them into the large stone hall, at the upper end of which blazed a huge fire of wood. The long oaken table, which, as usual, occupied the midst of the apartment, was covered with rude preparations for the evening meal of the Baron and his chief domestics, five or six of whom, strong, athletic, savage-looking men, paced up and down the lower end of the hall, which rang to the jarring clang of their long swords that clashed as they moved, and to the heavy tramp of their high-heeled jack-boots. Iron jacks, or coats of buff, formed the principal part of their dress, and steel-bonnets, or large slouched hats with Spanish plumes drooping backwards, were their head attire.

The Baron of Avenel was one of those tall, muscular, martial figures, which are the favourite subjects of Salvator Rosa. He wore a cloak which had been once gaily trimmed, but which, by long wear and frequent exposure to the weather, was now faded in its colours. Thrown negligently about his tall person, it partly hid, and partly showed, a short doublet of buff, under which was in some places visible that light shirt of mail which was called a secret, because worn instead of more ostensible armour to protect against private assassination. A leathern belt sustained a large and heavy sword on one side, and on the other that gay poniard which had once called Sir Piercie Shafton master, of which the hatchments and gildings were already much defaced, either by rough usage or neglect.

Notwithstanding the rudeness of his apparel, Julian Avenel’s manner and countenance had far more elevation than those of the attendants who surrounded him. He might be fifty or upwards, for his dark hair was mingled with gray, but age had neither tamed the fire of his eye nor the enterprise of his disposition. His countenance had been handsome, for beauty was an attribute of the family; but the lines were roughened by fatigue and exposure to the weather, and rendered coarse by the habitual indulgence of violent passions.

He seemed in deep and moody reflection, and was pacing at a distance from his dependents along the upper end of the hall, sometimes stopping from time to time to caress and feed a gos-hawk, which sat upon his wrist, with its jesses (i. e. the leathern straps fixed to its legs) wrapt around his hand. The bird, which seemed not insensible to its master’s attention, answered his caresses by ruffling forward its feathers, and pecking playfully at his finger. At such intervals the Baron smiled, but instantly resumed the darksome air of sullen meditation. He did not even deign to look upon an object, which few could have passed and repassed so often without bestowing on it a transient glance.

This was a woman of exceeding beauty, rather gaily than richly attired, who sat on a low seat close by the huge hall chimney. The gold chains round her neck and arms — the gay gown of green which swept the floor — the silver embroidered girdle, with its bunch of keys, depending in house-wifely pride by a silver chain — the yellow silken couvrechef (Scottice, curch) which was disposed around her head, and partly concealed her dark profusion of hair — above all, the circumstance so delicately touched in the old ballad, that “the girdle was too short,” the “gown of green all too strait,” for the wearer’s present shape, would have intimated the Baron’s lady. But then the lowly seat — the expression of deep melancholy, which was changed into a timid smile whenever she saw the least chance of catching the eye of Julian Avenel — the subdued look of grief, and the starting tear for which that constrained smile was again exchanged when she saw herself entirely disregarded — these were not the attributes of a wife, or they were those of a dejected and afflicted female, who had yielded her love on less than legitimate terms.

Julian Avenel, as we have said, continued to pace the hall without paying any of that mute attention which is rendered to almost every female either by affection or courtesy. He seemed totally unconscious of her presence, or of that of his attendants, and was only roused from his own dark reflections by the notice he paid to the falcon, to which, however, the lady seemed to attend, as if studying to find either an opportunity of speaking to the Baron, or of finding something enigmatical in the expressions which he used to the bird. All this the strangers had time enough to remark; for no sooner had they entered the apartment than their usher, Christie of the Clinthill, after exchanging a significant glance with the menials or troopers at the lower end of the apartment, signed to Halbert Glendinning and to his companion to stand still near the door, while he himself, advancing nearer the table, placed himself in such a situation as to catch the Baron’s observation when he should be disposed to look around, but without presuming to intrude himself on his master’s notice. Indeed, the look of this man, naturally bold, hardy, and audacious, seemed totally changed when he was in presence of his master, and resembled the dejected and cowering manner of a quarrelsome dog when rebuked by his owner, or when he finds himself obliged to deprecate the violence of a superior adversary of his own species.

In spite of the novelty of his own situation, and every painful feeling connected with it, Halbert felt his curiosity interested in the female, who sate by the chimney unnoticed and unregarded. He marked with what keen and trembling solicitude she watched the broken words of Julian, and how her glance stole towards him, ready to be averted upon the slightest chance of his perceiving himself to be watched.

Meantime he went on with his dalliance with his feathered favourite, now giving, now withholding, the morsel with which he was about to feed the bird, and so exciting its appetite and gratifying it by turns. “What! more yet? — thou foul kite, thou wouldst never have done — give thee part thou wilt have all — Ay, prune thy feathers, and prink thyself gay — much thou wilt make of it now — dost think I know thee not? — dost think I see not that all that ruffling and pluming of wing and feathers is not for thy master, but to try what thou canst make of him, thou greedy gled? — well — there — take it then, and rejoice thyself — little boon goes far with thee, and with all thy sex — and so it should.”

He ceased to look on the bird, and again traversed the apartment. Then taking another small piece of raw meat from the trencher, on which it was placed ready cut for his use, he began once again to tempt and tease the bird, by offering and withdrawing it, until he awakened its wild and bold disposition. “What! struggling, fluttering, aiming at me with beak and single? 58 So la! So la! wouldst mount? wouldst fly? the jesses are round thy clutches, fool — thou canst neither stir nor soar but by my will — Beware thou come to reclaim, wench, else I will wring thy head off one of these days — Well, have it then, and well fare thou with it. — So ho, Jenkin!” One of the attendants stepped forward —” Take the foul gled hence to the mew — or, stay; leave her, but look well to her casting and to her bathing — we will see her fly tomorrow. — How now, Christie, so soon returned?”

Christie advanced to his master, and gave an account of himself and his journey, in the way in which a police-officer holds communication with his magistrate, that is, as much by signs as by words.

“Noble sir,” said that worthy satellite, “the Laird of — ” he named no place, but pointed with his finger in a south-western direction — ” may not ride with you the day he purposed, because the Lord Warden has threatened that he will —”

Here another blank, intelligibly enough made up by the speaker touching his own neck with his left fore-finger, and leaning his head a little to one side.

“Cowardly caitiff!” said Julian; “by Heaven! the whole world turns sheer naught — it is not worth a brave man’s living in-ye may ride a day and night, and never see a feather wave or hear a horse prance — the spirit of our fathers is dead amongst us — the very brutes are degenerated — the cattle we bring at our life’s risk are mere carrion — our hawks are riflers 59 — our hounds are turnspits and trindle-tails — our men are women — and our women are —”

He looked at the female for the first time, and stopped short in the midst of what he was about to say, though there was something so contemptuous in the glance, that the blank might have been thus filled up —“Our women are such as she is.”

He said it not, however, and as if desirous of attracting his attention at all risks, and in whatever manner, she rose and came forward to him, but with a timorousness ill-disguised by affected gaiety. —“Our women, Julian — what would you say of the women?”

“Nothing,” answered Julian Avenel, “at least nothing but that they are kind-hearted wenches like thyself, Kate.” The female coloured deeply, and returned to her seat. —“And what strangers hast thou brought with thee, Christie, that stand yonder like two stone statues?” said the Baron.

“The taller,” answered Christie, “is, so please you, a young fellow called Halbert Glendinning, the eldest son of the old widow at Glendearg.”

“What brings him here?” said the Baron; “hath he any message from Mary Avenel?”

“Not as I think,” said Christie; “the youth is roving the country — he was always a wild slip, for I have known him since he was the height of my sword.”

“What qualities hath he?” said the Baron.

“All manner of qualities,” answered his follower —“he can strike a buck, track a deer, fly a hawk, halloo to a hound — he shoots in the long and crossbow to a hair’s breadth — wields a lance or sword like myself nearly — backs a horse manfully and fairly — I wot not what more a man need to do to make him a gallant companion.”

“And who,” said the Baron, “is the old miser 60 who stands beside him?”

“Some cast of a priest as I fancy — he says he is charged with letters to you.”

“Bid them come forward,” said the Baron; and no sooner had they approached him more nearly, than, struck by the fine form and strength displayed by Halbert Glendinning, he addressed him thus: “I am told, young Swankie, that you are roaming the world to seek your fortune — if you will serve Julian Avenel, you may find it without going farther.”

“So please you,” answered Glendinning, “something has chanced to me that makes it better I should leave this land, and I am bound for Edinburgh.”

“What! — thou hast stricken some of the king’s deer, I warrant — or lightened the meadows of Saint Mary’s of some of their beeves — or thou hast taken a moonlight leap over the border?”

“No, sir,” said Halbert, “my case is entirely different.”

“Then I warrant thee,” said the Baron, “thou hast stabbed some brother churl in a fray about a wench — thou art a likely lad to wrangle in such a cause.”

Ineffably disgusted at his tone and manner, Halbert Glendinning remained silent, while the thought darted across his mind, what would Julian Avenel have said, had he known the quarrel of which he spoke so lightly, had arisen on account of his own brother’s daughter! “But be thy cause of flight what it will,” said Julian, in continuation, “dost thou think the law or its emissaries can follow thee into this island, or arrest thee under the standard of Avenel? — Look at the depth of the lake, the strength of the walls, the length of the causeway — look at my men, and think if they are likely to see a comrade injured, or if I, their master, am a man to desert a faithful follower, in good or evil. I tell thee it shall be an eternal day of truce betwixt thee and justice, as they call it, from the instant thou hast put my colours into thy cap — thou shalt ride by the Warden’s nose as thou wouldst pass an old market-woman, and ne’er a cur which follows him shall dare to bay at thee!”

“I thank you for your offers, noble sir,” replied Halbert, “but I must answer in brief, that I cannot profit by them — my fortunes lead me elsewhere.”

“Thou art a self-willed fool for thy pains,” said Julian, turning from him; and signing Christie to approach, he whispered in his ear, “there is promise in that young fellow’s looks, Christie, and we want men of limbs and sinews so compacted — those thou hast brought to me of late are the mere refuse of mankind, wretches scarce worth the arrow that ends them: this youngster is limbed like Saint George. Ply him with wine and wassail — let the wenches weave their meshes about him like spiders — thou understandest?” Christie gave a sagacious nod of intelligence, and fell back to a respectful distance from his master. —“And thou, old man,” said the Baron, turning to the elder traveller, “hast thou been roaming the world after fortune too? — it seems not she has fallen into thy way.”

“So please you,” replied Warden, “I were perhaps more to be pitied than I am now, had I indeed met with that fortune, which, like others, I have sought in my greener days.”

“Nay, understand me, friend,” said the Baron; “if thou art satisfied with thy buckram gown and long staff, I also am well content thou shouldst be as poor and contemptible as is good for the health of thy body and soul — All I care to know of thee is, the cause which hath brought thee to my castle, where few crows of thy kind care to settle. Thou art, I warrant thee, some ejected monk of a suppressed convent, paying in his old days the price of the luxurious idleness in which he spent his youth. — Ay, or it may be some pilgrim with a budget of lies from Saint James of Compostella, or Our Lady of Loretto; or thou mayest be some pardoner with his budget of relics from Rome, forgiving sins at a penny a-dozen, and one to the tale. — Ay, I guess why I find thee in this boy’s company, and doubtless thou wouldst have such a strapping lad as he to carry thy wallet, and relieve thy lazy shoulders; but by the mass I will cross thy cunning. I make my vow to sun and moon, I will not see a proper lad so misleard as to run the country with an old knave like Simmie and his brother. 61 Away with thee!” he added, rising in wrath, and speaking so fast as to give no opportunity of answer, being probably determined to terrify the elder guest into an abrupt flight —“Away with thee, with thy clouted coat, scrip, and scallop-shell, or, by the name of Avenel, I will have them loose the hounds on thee.”

Warden waited with the greatest patience until Julian Avenel, astonished that the threats and violence of his language made no impression on him, paused in a sort of wonder, and said in a less imperious tone, “Why the fiend dost thou not answer me?”

“When you have done speaking,” said Warden, in the same composed manner, “it will be full time to reply.”

“Say on man, in the devil’s name — but take heed — beg not here — were it but for the rinds of cheese, the refuse of the rats, or a morsel that my dogs would turn from — neither a grain of meal, nor the nineteenth part of a gray groat, will I give to any feigned limmer of thy coat,”

“It may be,” answered Warden, “that you would have less quarrel with my coat if you knew what it covers, I am neither a friar nor mendicant, and would be right glad to hear thy testimony against these foul deceivers of God’s church, and usurpers of his rights over the Christian flock, were it given in Christian charity.”

“And who or what art thou, then,” said Avenel, “that thou comest to this Border land, and art neither monk, nor soldier, nor broken man?”

“I am an humble teacher of the holy word,” answered Warden. “This letter from a most noble person will speak why I am here at this present time.”

He delivered the letter to the Baron, who regarded the seal with some surprise, and then looked on the letter itself, which seemed to excite still more. He then fixed his eyes on the stranger, and said, in a menacing tone, “I think thou darest not betray me or deceive me?”

“I am not the man to attempt either,” was the concise reply.

Julian Avenel carried the letter to the window, where he perused, or at least attempted to peruse it more than once, often looking from the paper and gazing on the stranger who had delivered it, as if he meant to read the purport of the missive in the face of the messenger. Julian at length called to the female — “Catherine, bestir thee, and fetch me presently that letter which I bade thee keep ready at hand in thy casket, having no sure lockfast place of my own.”

Catherine went with the readiness of one willing to be employed; and as she walked, the situation which requires a wider gown and a longer girdle, and in which woman claims from man a double portion of the most anxious care, was still more visible than before. She soon returned with the paper, and was rewarded with a cold —“I thank thee, wench; thou art a careful secretary.”

This second paper he also perused and reperused more than once, and still, as he read it, bent from time to time a wary and observant eye upon Henry Warden. This examination and re-examination, though both the man and the place were dangerous, the preacher endured with the most composed and steady countenance, seeming, under the eagle, or rather the vulture eye of the baron, as unmoved as under the gaze of an ordinary and peaceful peasant. At length Julian Avenel folded both papers, and having put them into the pocket of his cloak, cleared his brow, and, coming forward, addressed his female companion. “Catherine,” said he, “I have done this good man injustice, when I mistook him for one of the drones of Rome. He is a preacher, Catherine — a preacher of the — the new doctrine of the Lords of the Congregation.”

“The doctrine of the blessed Scriptures,” said the preacher, “purified from the devices of men.”

“Sayest thou?” said Julian Avenel —“Well, thou mayest call it what thou lists; but to me it is recommended, because it flings off all those sottish dreams about saints and angels and devils, and unhorses lazy monks that have ridden us so long, and spur-galled us so hard. No more masses and corpse-gifts — no more tithes and offerings to make men poor — no more prayers or psalms to make men cowards-no more christenings and penances, and confessions and marriages.”

“So please you,” said Henry Warden, “it is against the corruptions, not against the fundamental doctrines, of the church, which we desire to renovate, and not to abolish.”

“Prithee, peace, man,” said the Baron; “we of the laity care not what you set up, so you pull merrily down what stands in our way. Specially it suits well with us of the Southland fells; for it is our profession to turn the world upside down, and we live ever the blithest life when the downer side is uppermost.”

Warden would have replied; but the Baron allowed him not time, striking the table with the hilt of his dagger, and crying out — “Ha! you loitering knaves, bring our supper-meal quickly. See you not this holy man is exhausted for lack of food? heard ye ever of priest or preacher that devoured not his five meals a-day?”

The attendants bustled to and fro, and speedily brought in several large smoking platters filled with huge pieces of beef, boiled and roasted, but without any variety whatsoever; without vegetables, and almost without bread, though there was at the upper end a few oat-cakes in a basket. Julian Avenel made a sort of apology to Warden.

“You have been commended to our care, Sir Preacher, since that is your style, by a person whom we highly honour.”

“I am assured,” said Warden, “that the most noble Lord —”

“Prithee, peace, man,” said Avenel; “what need of naming names, so we understand each other? I meant but to speak in reference to your safety and comfort, of which he desires us to be chary. Now, for your safety, look at my walls and water. But touching your comfort, we have no corn of our own, and the meal-girnels of the south are less easily transported than their beeves, seeing they have no legs to walk upon. But what though? a stoup of wine thou shalt have, and of the best — thou shalt sit betwixt Catherine and me at the board-end. — And, Christie, do thou look to the young springald, and call to the cellarer for a flagon of the best.”

The Baron took his wonted place at the upper end of the board; his Catherine sate down, and courteously pointed to a seat betwixt them for their reverend guest. But notwithstanding the influence both of hunger and fatigue, Henry Warden retained his standing posture.

55 It was of Lochwood, the hereditary fortress of the Johnstones of Aunandale, a strong castle situated in the centre of a quaking bog, that James VI. made this remark.

56 Buist — The brand, or mark, set upon sheep or cattle, by their owners.

57 There is an ancient English family, I believe, which bears, or did bear, a ghost or spirit passant sable in a field argent. This seems to have been a device of a punning or canting herald.

58 In the kindly language of hawking, as Lady Juliana Berners terms it, hawks’ talons are called their singles

59 So called when they only caught their prey by the feathers.

60 Miser, used in the sense in which it often occurs in Spenser, and which is indeed its literal import —“wretched old man.”

61 Two quaestionarii, or begging friars, whose accoutrements and roguery make the subject of an old Scottish satirical poem

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