When lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray —
Julian Avenel saw with surprise the demeanour of the reverend stranger. “Beshrew me,” he said, “these new-fashioned religioners have fast-days, I warrant me — the old ones used to confer these blessings chiefly on the laity.”
“We acknowledge no such rule,” said the preacher —“We hold that our faith consists not in using or abstaining from special meats on special days; and in fasting we rend our hearts, and not our garments.”
“The better — the better for yourselves, and the worse for Tom Tailor,” said the Baron; “but come, sit down, or, if thou needs must e’en give us a cast of thy office, mutter thy charm.”
“Sir Baron,” said the preacher, “I am in a strange land, where neither mine office nor my doctrine are known, and where, it would seem, both are greatly misunderstood. It is my duty so to bear me, that in my person, however unworthy, my Master’s dignity may be respected, and that sin may take not confidence from relaxation of the bonds of discipline.”
“Ho la! halt there,” said the Baron; “thou wert sent hither for thy safety, but not, I think, to preach to me, or control me. What is it thou wouldst have, Sir Preacher? Remember thou speakest to one somewhat short of patience, who loves a short health and a long draught.”
“In a word, then,” said Henry Warden, “that lady —”
“How?” said the Baron, starting —“what of her? — what hast thou to say of that dame?”
“Is she thy house-dame?” said the preacher, after a moment’s pause, in which, he seemed to seek for the best mode of expressing what he had to say —“Is she, in brief, thy wife?”
The unfortunate young woman pressed both her hands on her face, as if to hide it, but the deep blush which crimsoned her brow and neck, showed that her cheeks were also glowing; and the bursting tears, which found their way betwixt her slender fingers, bore witness to her sorrow, as well as to her shame.
“Now, by my father’s ashes!” said the Baron, rising and spurning from him his footstool with such violence, that it hit the wall on the opposite side of the apartment — then instantly constraining himself, he muttered, “What need to run myself into trouble for a fool’s word?”— then resuming his seat, he answered coldly and scornfully —“No, Sir Priest or Sir Preacher, Catherine is not my wife — Cease thy whimpering, thou foolish wench — she is not my wife, but she is handfasted with me, and that makes her as honest a woman.”
“Handfasted?”— repeated Warden.
“Knowest thou not that rite, holy man?” said Avenel, in the same tone of derision; “then I will tell thee. We Border-men are more wary than your inland clowns of Fife and Lothian — no jump in the dark for us — no clenching the fetters around our wrists till we know how they will wear with us — we take our wives, like our horses, upon trial. When we are handfasted, as we term it, we are man and wife for a year and day — that space gone by, each may choose another mate, or, at their pleasure, may call the priest to marry them for life — and this we call handfasting.” 62
“Then,” said the preacher, “I tell thee, noble Baron, in brotherly love to thy soul, it is a custom licentious, gross, and corrupted, and, if persisted in, dangerous, yea, damnable. It binds thee to the frailer being while she is the object of desire — it relieves thee when she is most the subject of pity — it gives all to brutal sense, and nothing to generous and gentle affection. I say to thee, that he who can meditate the breach of such an engagement, abandoning the deluded woman and the helpless offspring, is worse than the birds of prey; for of them the males remain with their mates until the nestlings can take wing. Above all, I say it is contrary to the pure Christian doctrine, which assigns woman to man as the partner of his labour, the soother of his evil, his helpmate in peril, his friend in affliction; not as the toy of his looser hours, or as a flower, which, once cropped, he may throw aside at pleasure.”
“Now, by the Saints, a most virtuous homily!” said the Baron; “quaintly conceived and curiously pronounced, and to a well-chosen congregation. Hark ye, Sir Gospeller! trow ye to have a fool in hand? Know I not that your sect rose by bluff Harry Tudor, merely because ye aided him to change his Kate; and wherefore should I not use the same Christian liberty with mine? Tush, man! bless the good food, and meddle not with what concerns thee not — thou hast no gull in Julian Avenel.”
“He hath gulled and cheated himself,” said the preacher, “should he even incline to do that poor sharer of his domestic cares the imperfect justice that remains to him. Can he now raise her to the rank of a pure and uncontaminated matron? — Can he deprive his child of the misery of owing birth to a mother who has erred? He can indeed give them both the rank, the state of married wife and of lawful son; but, in public opinion, their names will be smirched and sullied with a stain which his tardy efforts cannot entirely efface. Yet render it to them, Baron of Avenel, render to them this late and imperfect justice. Bid me bind you together for ever, and celebrate the day of your bridal, not with feasting or wassail, but with sorrow for past sin, and the resolution to commence a better life. Happy then will have the chance been that has drawn me to this castle, though I come driven by calamity, and unknowing where my course is bound, like a leaf travelling on the north wind.”
The plain, and even coarse features, of the zealous speaker, were warmed at once and ennobled by the dignity of his enthusiasm; and the wild Baron, lawless as he was, and accustomed to spurn at the control whether of religious or moral law, felt, for the first time perhaps in his life, that he was under subjection to a mind superior to his own. He sat mute and suspended in his deliberations, hesitating betwixt anger and shame, yet borne down by the weight of the just rebuke thus boldly fulminated against him.
The unfortunate young woman, conceiving hopes from her tyrant’s silence and apparent indecision, forgot both her fear and shame in her timid expectation that Avenel would relent; and fixing upon him her anxious and beseeching eyes, gradually drew near and nearer to his seat, till at length, laying a trembling hand on his cloak, she ventured to utter, “O noble Julian, listen to the good man!”
The speech and the motion were ill-timed, and wrought on that proud and wayward spirit the reverse of her wishes.
The fierce Baron started up in a fury, exclaiming, “What! thou foolish callet, art thou confederate with this strolling vagabond, whom thou hast seen beard me in my own hall! Hence with thee, and think that I ana proof both to male and female hypocrisy!”
The poor girl started back, astounded at his voice of thunder and looks of fury, and, turning pale as death, endeavoured to obey his orders, and tottered towards the door. Her limbs failed in the attempt, and she fell on the stone floor in a manner which her situation might have rendered fatal — The blood gushed from her face. — Halbert Glendinning brooked not a sight so brutal, but, uttering a deep imprecation, started from his seat, and laid his hand on his sword, under the strong impulse of passing it through the body of the cruel and hard-hearted ruffian. But Christie of the Clinthill, guessing his intention, threw his arms around him, and prevented him from stirring to execute his purpose.
The impulse to such an act of violence was indeed but momentary, as it instantly appeared that Avenel himself, shocked at the effects of his violence, was lifting up and endeavouring to soothe in his own way the terrified Catherine.
“Peace,” he said, “prithee, peace, thou silly minion — why, Kate, though I listen not to this tramping preacher, I said not what might happen an thou dost bear me a stout boy. There — there — dry thy tears — Call thy women. — So ho! — where be these queans? — Christie — Rowley — Hutcheon — drag them hither by the hair of the head!”
A half dozen of startled wild-looking females rushed into the room, and bore out her who might be either termed their mistress or their companion. She showed little sign of life, except by groaning faintly and keeping her hand on her side.
No sooner had this luckless female been conveyed from the apartment, than the Baron, advancing to the table, filled and drank a deep goblet of wine; then, putting an obvious restraint on his passions, turned to the preacher, who stood horror-struck at the scene he had witnessed, and said, “You have borne too hard on us, Sir Preacher — but coming with the commendations which you have brought me, I doubt not but your meaning was good. But we are a wilder folk than you inland men of Fife and Lothian. Be advised, therefore, by me — Spur not an unbroken horse — put not your ploughshare too deep into new land — Preach to us spiritual liberty, and we will hearken to you. — But we will give no way to spiritual bondage. — Sit, therefore, down, and pledge me in old sack, and we will talk over these matters.”
“It is from spiritual bondage,” said the preacher, in the same tone of admonitory reproof, “that I came to deliver you — it is from a bondage more fearful than than that of the heaviest earthly gyves — it is from your own evil passions.”
“Sit down,” said Avenel, fiercely; “sit down while the play is good — else by my father’s crest and my mother’s honour! ——”
“Now,” whispered Christie of the Clinthill to Halbert, “if he refuse to sit down, I would not give a gray groat for his head.”
“Lord Baron,” said Warden, “thou hast placed me in extremity. But if the question be, whether I am to hide the light which I am commanded to show forth, or to lose the light of this world, my choice is made. I say to thee, like the Holy Baptist to Herod, it is not lawful for thee to have this woman; and I say it though bonds and death be the consequence, counting my life as nothing in comparison of the ministry to which I am called.”
Julian Avenel, enraged at the firmness of this reply, flung from his right hand the cup in which he was about to drink to his guest, and from the other cast off the hawk, which flew wildly through the apartment. His first motion was to lay hand upon his dagger. But, changing his resolution, he exclaimed, “To the dungeon with this insolent stroller! — I will hear no man speak a word for him —— Look to the falcon, Christie, thou fool — an she escape, I will despatch you after her every man — Away with that hypocritical dreamer — drag him hence if he resist!”
He was obeyed in both points. Christie of the Clinthill arrested the hawk’s flight, by putting his foot on her jesses, and so holding her fast, while Henry Warden was led off, without having shown the slightest symptoms of terror, by two of the Baron’s satellites. Julian Avenel walked the apartment for a short time in sullen silence, and despatching one of his attendants with a whispered message, which probably related to the health of the unfortunate Catherine, he said aloud, “These rash and meddling priests — By Heaven! they make us worse than we would be without them.”63
The answer which he presently received seemed somewhat to pacify his angry mood, and he took his place at the board, commanding his retinue to the like. All sat down in silence, and began the repast.
During the meal Christie in vain attempted to engage his youthful companion in carousal, or, at least, in conversation. Halbert Glendinning pleaded fatigue, and expressed himself unwilling to take any liquor stronger than the heather ale, which was at that time frequently used at meals. Thus every effort at jovialty died away, until the Baron, striking his hand against the table, as if impatient of the long unbroken silence, cried out aloud, “What, ho! my masters — are ye Border-riders, and sit as mute over your meal as a mess of monks and friars? — Some one sing, if no one list to speak. Much eaten without either mirth or music is ill of digestion. — Louis,” he added, speaking to one of the youngest of his followers, “thou art ready enough to sing when no one bids thee.”
The young man looked first at his master, then up to the arched roof of the hall, then drank off the horn of ale, or wine, which stood beside him, and with a rough, yet not unmelodious voice, sung the following ditty to the ancient air of “Blue bonnets over the Border.”
March, march, Ettrick and Teviotdale,
Why the deil dinna ye march forward in order?
March, march, Eskdale and Liddesdale,
All the Blue Bonnets are bound for the Border
Many a banner spread,
Flutters above your head,
Many a crest that is famous in story;
Mount and make ready then,
Sons of the mountain glen,
Fight for the Queen and the old Scottish glory!
Come from the hills where the hirsels are grazing,
Come from the glen of the buck and the roe;
Come to the crag where the beacon is blazing,
Come with the buckler, the lance, and the bow.
Trumpets are sounding,
War-steeds are bounding,
Stand to your arms then, and march in good order;
England shall many a day
Tell of the bloody fray,
When the Blue Bonnets came over the Border!
The song, rude as it was, had in it that warlike character which at any other time would have roused Halbert’s spirit; but at present the charm of minstrelsy had no effect upon him. He made it his request to Christie to suffer him to retire to rest, a request with which that worthy person, seeing no chance of making a favourable impression on his intended proselyte in his present humour, was at length pleased to comply. But no Sergeant Kite, who ever practised the profession of recruiting, was more attentive that his object should not escape him, than was Christie of the Clinthill. He indeed conducted Halbert Glendinning to a small apartment overlooking the lake, which was accommodated with a truckle bed. But before quitting him, Christie took special care to give a look to the bars which crossed the outside of the window, and when he left the apartment, he failed not to give the key a double turn; circumstances which convinced young Glendinning that there was no intention of suffering him to depart from the Castle of Avenel at his own time and pleasure. He judged it, however, most prudent to let these alarming symptoms pass without observation.
No sooner did he find himself in undisturbed solitude, than he ran rapidly over the events of the day in his recollection, and to his surprise found that his own precarious fate, and even the death of Piercie Shafton, made less impression on him than the singularly bold and determined conduct of his companion, Henry Warden. Providence, which suits its instruments to the end they are to achieve, had awakened in the cause of Reformation in Scotland, a body of preachers of more energy than refinement, bold in spirit, and strong in faith, contemners of whatever stood betwixt them and their principal object, and seeking the advancement of the great cause in which they laboured by the roughest road, provided it were the shortest. The soft breeze may wave the willow, but it requires the voice of the tempest to agitate the boughs of the oak; and, accordingly, to milder hearers, and in a less rude age, their manners would have been ill-adapted, but they were singularly successful in their mission to the rude people to whom it was addressed.
Owing to these reasons, Halbert Glendinning, who had resisted and repelled the arguments of the preacher, was forcibly struck by the firmness of his demeanour in the dispute with Julian Avenel. It might be discourteous, and most certainly it was incautious, to choose such a place and such an audience, for upbraiding with his transgressions a baron, whom both manners and situation placed in full possession of independent power. But the conduct of the preacher was uncompromising, firm, manly, and obviously grounded upon the deepest conviction which duty and principle could afford; and Glendinning, who had viewed the conduct of Avenel with the deepest abhorrence, was proportionally interested in the brave old man, who had ventured life rather than withhold the censure due to guilt. This pitch of virtue seemed to him to be in religion what was demanded by chivalry of her votaries in war; an absolute surrender of all selfish feelings, and a combination of every energy proper to the human mind, to discharge the task which duty demanded.
Halbert was at the period when youth was most open to generous emotions, and knows best how to appreciate them in others, and he felt, although he hardly knew why, that, whether catholic or heretic, the safety of this man deeply interested him. Curiosity mingled with the feeling, and led him to wonder what the nature of those doctrines could be, which stole their votary so completely from himself, and devoted him to chains or to death as their sworn champion. He had indeed been told of saints and martyrs of former days, who had braved for their religious faith the extremity of death and torture. But their spirit of enthusiastic devotion had long slept in the ease and indolent habits of their successors, and their adventures, like those of knights-errant, were rather read for amusement than for edification. A new impulse had been necessary to rekindle the energies of religious zeal, and that impulse was now operating in favour of a purer religion, with one of whose steadiest votaries the youth had now met for the first time.
The sense that he himself was a prisoner, under the power of this savage chieftain, by no means diminished Halbert’s interest in the fate of his fellow sufferer, while he determined at the same time so far to emulate his fortitude, that neither threats nor suffering should compel him to enter into the service of such a master. The possibility of escape next occurred to him, and though with little hope of effecting it in that way, Glendinning proceeded to examine more particularly the window of the apartment. The apartment was situated in the first story of the castle; and was not so far from the rock, on which it was founded, but that an active and bold man might with little assistance descend to a shelf of rock which was immediately below the window, and from thence either leap or drop himself down into the lake which lay before his eye, clear and blue in the placid light of a full summer’s moon. —“Were I once placed on that ledge,” thought Glendinning, “Julian Avenel and Christie had seen the last of me.” The size of the window favoured such an attempt, but the stanchions or iron bars seemed to form an insurmountable obstacle.
While Halbert Glendinning gazed from the window with that eagerness of hope which was prompted by the energy of his character and his determination not to yield to circumstances, his ear caught some sounds from below, and listening with more attention, he could distinguish the voice of the preacher engaged in his solitary devotions. To open a correspondence with him became immediately his object, and failing to do so by less marked sounds, he at length ventured to speak, and was answered from beneath —“Is it thou, my son?” The voice of the prisoner now sounded more distinctly than when it was first heard, for Warden had approached the small aperture, which, serving his prison for a window, opened just betwixt the wall and the rock, and admitted a scanty portion of light through a wall of immense thickness. This soupirait being placed exactly under Halbert’s window, the contiguity permitted the prisoners to converse in a low tone, when Halbert declared his intention to escape, and the possibility he saw of achieving his purpose, but for the iron stanchions of the window —“Prove thy strength, my son, in the name of God” said the preacher. Halbert obeyed him more in despair than hope, but to his great astonishment, and somewhat to his terror, the bar parted asunder near the bottom, and the longer part being easily bent outwards, and not secured with lead in the upper socket, dropt out into Halbert’s hand. He immediately whispered, but as energetically as a whisper could be expressed —“By Heaven, the bar has given way in my hand!”
“Thank Heaven, my son, instead of swearing by it,” answered Warden from his dungeon.
With little effort Halbert Glendinning forced himself through the opening thus wonderfully effected, and using his leathern sword-belt as a rope to assist him, let himself safely drop on the shelf of rock upon which the preacher’s window opened. But through this no passage could be effected, being scarce larger than a loop-hole for musketry, and apparently constructed for that purpose.
“Are there no means by which I can assist your escape, my father?” said Halbert.
“There are none, my son,” answered the preacher; “but if thou wilt ensure my safety, that may be in thy power.”
“I will labour earnestly for it,” said the youth.
“Take then a letter which I will presently write, for I have the means of light and writing materials in my scrip — Hasten towards Edinburgh, and on the way thou wilt meet a body of horse marching southwards — Give this to their leader, and acquaint him of the state in which thou hast left me. It may hap that thy doing so will advantage thyself.”
In a minute or two the light of a taper gleamed through the shot-hole, and very shortly after, the preacher, with the assistance of his staff, pushed a billet to Glendinning through the window.
“God bless thee, my son,” said the old man, “and complete the marvellous work which he has begun.”
“Amen!” answered Halbert, with solemnity, and proceeded on his enterprise.
He hesitated a moment whether he should attempt to descend to the edge of the water; but the steepness of the rock, and darkness of the night, rendered the enterprise too dangerous. He clasped his hands above his head and boldly sprung from the precipice, shooting himself forward into the air as far as he could for fear of sunken rocks, and alighted on the lake, head foremost, with such force as sunk him for a minute below the surface. But strong, long-breathed, and accustomed to such exercise, Halbert, even though encumbered with his sword, dived and rose like a seafowl, and swam across the lake in the northern direction. When he landed and looked back on the castle, he could observe that the alarm had been given, for lights glanced from window to window, and he heard the drawbridge lowered, and the tread of horses’ feet upon the causeway. But, little alarmed for the consequence of a pursuit during the darkness, he wrung the water from his dress, and, plunging into the moors, directed his course to the north-east by the assistance of the polar star
62 This custom of handfasting actually prevailed in the upland days. It arose partly from the want of priests. While the convents subsisted, monks were detached on regular circuits through the wilder districts, to marry those who had lived in this species of connexion. A practice of the same kind existed in the Isle of Portland.
63 If it were necessary to name a prototype for this brutal, licentious and cruel Border chief, in an age which showed but too many such, the Laird of Black Ormiston might be selected for that purpose. He was a friend and confidant of Bothwell, and an agent in Henry Darnley’s murder. At his last stage, he was, like other great offenders, a seeming penitent; and, as his confession bears, divers gentlemen and servants being in the chamber, he said, “For God’s sake, sit down and pray for me, for I have been a great sinner otherwise,” (that is, besides his share in Darnley’s death,) “for the which God is this day punishing me; for of all men on the earth, I have been one of the proudest, and most high-minded, and most unclean of my body. But specially I have shed the innocent blood of one Michael Hunter with my own hands. Alas, therefore! because the said Michael, having me lying on my back, having a fork in his hand, might have slain me if he had pleased, and did it not, which of all things grieves me most in conscience. Also, in a rage, I hanged a poor man for a horse — with many other wicked deeds, for whilk I ask my God mercy. It is not marvel I have been wicked, considering the wicked company that ever I have been in, but specially within the seven years by-past, in which I never saw two good men or one good deed, but all kind of wickedness, and yet God would not suffer me to be lost.”— See the whole confession in the State Trials.
Another worthy of the Borders, called Geordy Bourne, of somewhat subordinate rank, was a similar picture of profligacy. He had fallen into the hands of Sir Robert Carey, then Warden of the English East Marches, who gives the following account of his prisoner’s confession:—
“When all things were quiet, and the watch set at night, after supper, about ten of the clock, I took one of my men’s liveries, and put it about me, and took two other of my servants with me in their liveries; and we three, as the Warden’s men, came to the Provost Marshal’s where Bourne was, and were let into his chamber. We sate down by him, and told him that we were desirous to see him, because we heard he was stout and valiant, and true to his friend, and that we were sorry our master could not be moved to save his life. He voluntarily of himself said, that he had lived long enough to do so many villanies as he had done; and withal told us, that he had lain with above forty men’s wives, what in England what in Scotland; and that he had killed seven Englishmen with his own hands, cruelly murdering them; and that he had spent his whole time in whoring, drinking, stealing, and taking deep revenge for slight offences. He seemed to be very penitent, and much desired a minister for the comfort of his soul. We promised him to let our master know his desire, who, we knew would promptly grant it. We took leave of him; and presently I took order that Mr Selby, a very honest preacher, should go to him, and not stir from him till his execution the next morning; for after I had heard his own confession, I was resolved no conditions should save his life, and so took order, that at the gates opening the next morning, he should be carried to execution, which accordingly was performed.”— Memoirs of Sir Robert Carey, Earl of Monmouth.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00