The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Sixth.

Why, what an intricate impeach is this!

I think you all have drank of Circe’s cup.

If here you housed him, here he would have been;

If he were mad, he would not plead so coldly.

Comedy of Errors.

The course of our story, leaving for the present Halbert Glendinning to the guidance of his courage and his fortune, returns to the Tower of Glendearg, where matters in the meanwhile fell out, with which it is most fitting that the reader should be acquainted.

The meal was prepared at noontide with all the care which Elspeth and Tibb, assisted by the various accommodations which had been supplied from the Monastery, could bestow on it. Their dialogue ran on as usual in the intervals of their labour, partly as between mistress and servant, partly as maintained by gossips of nearly equal quality.

“Look to the minced meat, Tibb,” said Elspeth; “and turn the broach even, thou good-for-nothing Simmie — thy wits are harrying birds’ nests, child. — Weel, Tibb, this is a fasheous job, this Sir Piercie lying leaguer with us up here, and wha kens for how lang?”

“A fasheous job indeed,” answered her faithful attendant, “and little good did the name ever bring to fair Scotland. Ye may have your hands fuller of them than they are yet. Mony a sair heart have the Piercies given to Scots wife and bairns with their pricking on the Borders. There was Hotspur and many more of that bloody kindred, have sate in our skirts since Malcolm’s time, as Martin says!”

“Martin should keep a well-scrapit tongue in his head,” said Elspeth, “and not slander the kin of any body that quarters at Glendearg; forby, that Sir Piercie Shafton is much respected with the holy fathers of the community, and they will make up to us ony fasherie that we may have with him, either by good word or good deed, I’se warrant them. He is a considerate lord the Lord Abbot.”

“And weel he likes a saft seat to his hinder end,” said Tibb; “I have seen a belted baron sit on a bare bench, and find nae fault. But an ye are pleased, mistress, I am pleased.”

“Now, in good time, here comes Mysie of the Mill. — And where hae ye been, lass for a’s gane wrang without you?” said Elspeth.

“I just gaed a blink up the burn,” said Mysie, “for the young lady has been down on her bed, and is no just that weel — So I gaed a gliff up the burn.”

“To see the young lads come hame frae the sport, I will warrant you,” said Elspeth. “Ay, ay, Tibb, that’s the way the young folk guide us, Tibbie — leave us to do the wark, and out to the play themsells.”

“Ne’er a bit of that, mistress,” said the Maid of the Mill, stripping her round pretty arms, and looking actively and good-humouredly round for some duty that she could discharge, “but just — I thought ye might like to ken if they were coming back, just to get the dinner forward.”

“And saw ye ought of them then?” demanded Elspeth.

“Not the least tokening,” said Mysie, “though I got to the head of a knowe, and though the English knight’s beautiful white feather could have been seen over all the bushes in the Shaw.”

“The knight’s white feather!” said Dame Glendinning; “ye are a silly hempie — my Halbert’s high head will be seen farther than his feather, let it be as white as it like, I trow.”

Mysie made no answer, but began to knead dough for wastel-cake with all despatch, observing that Sir Piercie had partaken of that dainty, and commended it upon the preceding day. And presently, in order to place on the fire the girdle, or iron plate on which these cates were to be baked, she displaced a stew-pan in which one of Tibb’s delicacies were submitted to the action of the kitchen fire. Tibb muttered betwixt her teeth —“And it is the broth for my sick bairn, that maun make room for the dainty Southron’s wastel-bread. It was a blithe time in Wight Wallace’s day, or good King Robert’s, when the pock-puddings gat naething here but hard straiks and bloody crowns. But we will see how it will a’ end.”

Elspeth did not think it proper to notice these discontented expressions of Tibbie, but they sunk into her mind; for she was apt to consider her as a sort of authority in matters of war and policy, with which her former experience as bower-woman at Avenel Castle made her better acquainted than were the peaceful inhabitants of Halidome. She only spoke, however, to express her surprise that the hunters did not return.

“An they come not back the sooner,” said Tibb, “they will fare the waur, for the meat will be roasted to a cinder — and there is poor Simmie that can turn the spit nae langer: the bairn is melting like an icicle in warm water — Gang awa, bairn, and take a mouthful of the caller air, and I will turn the broach till ye come back.”

“Rin up to the bartizan at the tower-head, callant,” said Dame Glendinning, “the air will be callerer there than ony gate else, and bring us word if our Halbert and the gentleman are coming down the glen.”

The boy lingered long enough to allow his substitute, Tibb Tacket, heartily to tire of her own generosity, and of his cricket-stool by the side of a huge fire. He at length returned with the news that he had seen nobody. The matter was not so remarkable as far as Halbert Glendinning was concerned, for, patient alike of want and of fatigue, it was no uncommon circumstance for him to remain in the wilds till curfew time. But nobody had given Sir Piercie Shafton credit for being so keen a sportsman, and the idea of an Englishman preferring the chase to his dinner was altogether inconsistent with their preconceptions of the national character. Amidst wondering and conjecturing, the usual dinner-hour passed long away; and the inmates of the tower, taking a hasty meal themselves, adjourned their more solemn preparations until the hunters’ return at night, since it seemed now certain that their sport had either carried them to a greater distance, or engaged them for a longer time than had been expected.

About four hours after noon, arrived, not the expected sportsmen, but an unlooked for visitant, the Sub-Prior from the Monastery. The scene of the preceding day had dwelt on the mind of Father Eustace, who was of that keen and penetrating cast of mind which loves not to leave unascertained whatever of mysterious is subjected to its inquiry. His kindness was interested in the family of Glendearg, which he had now known for a long time; and besides, the community was interested in the preservation of the peace betwixt Sir Piercie Shafton and his youthful host, since whatever might draw public attention on the former, could not fail to be prejudicial to the Monastery, which was already threatened by the hand of power. He found the family assembled, all but Mary Avenel, and was informed that Halbert Glendinning had accompanied the stranger on a day’s sport. So far was well. They had not returned; but when did youth and sport conceive themselves bound by set hours? and the circumstance excited no alarm in his mind.

While he was conversing with Edward Glendinning touching his progress in the studies he had pointed out to him, they were startled by a shriek from Mary Avenel’s apartment, which drew the whole family thither in headlong haste. They found her in a swoon in the arms of old Martin, who was bitterly accusing himself of having killed her; so indeed it seemed, for her pale features and closed eyes argued rather a dead corpse than a living person. The whole family were instantly in tumult. Snatching her from Martin’s arms with the eagerness of affectionate terror, Edward bore her to the casement, that she might receive the influence of the open air; the Sub-Prior, who, like many of his profession, had some knowledge of medicine, hastened to prescribe the readiest remedies which occurred to him, and the terrified females contended with, and impeded each other, in their rival efforts to be useful.

“It has been ane of her weary ghaists,” said Dame Glendinning.

“It’s just a trembling on her spirits, as her blessed mother used to have,” said Tibb.

“It’s some ill news has come ower her,” said the miller’s maiden; while burnt feathers, cold water, and all the usual means of restoring suspended animation, were employed alternately, and with little effect.

At length a new assistant, who had joined the group unobserved, tendered his aid in the following terms:—“How is this, my most fair Discretion? What cause hath moved the ruby current of life to rush back to the citadel of the heart, leaving pale those features in which it should have delighted to meander for ever? — Let me approach her,” he said,”— with this sovereign essence, distilled by the fair hands of the divine Urania, and powerful to recall fugitive life, even if it were trembling on the verge of departure.”

Thus speaking, Sir Piercie Shafton knelt down, and most gracefully presented to the nostrils of Mary Avenel a silver pouncet-box, exquisitely chased, containing a sponge dipt in the essence which he recommmended so highly. Yes, gentle reader, it was Sir Piercie Shafton himself who thus unexpectedly proffered his good offices! his cheeks, indeed, very pale, and some part of his dress stained with blood, but not otherwise appearing different from what he was on the preceding evening. But no sooner had Mary Avenel opened her eyes, and fixed them on the figure of the officious courtier, than she screamed faintly, and exclaimed — “Secure the murderer!”

Those present stood aghast with astonishment, and none more so than the Euphuist, who found himself so suddenly and so strangely accused by the patient whom he was endeavouring to succour, and who repelled his attempts to yield her assistance with all the energy of abhorrence. “Take him away!” she exclaimed —“take away the murderer!”

“Now, by my knighthood,” answered Sir Piercie, “your lovely faculties either of mind or body are, O my most fair Discretion, obnubilated by some strange hallucination. For either your eyes do not discern that it is Piercie Shafton, your most devoted Affability, who now stands before you, or else, your eyes discerning truly, your mind hath most erroneously concluded that he hath been guilty of some delict or violence to which his hand is a stranger. No murder, O most scornful Discretion, hath been this day done, saving but that which your angry glances are now performing on your most devoted captive.”

He was here interrupted by the Sub-Prior, who had, in the meantime, been speaking with Martin apart, and had received from him an account of the circumstances, which, suddenly communicated to Mary Avenel, had thrown her into this state. “Sir Knight,” said the Sub-Prior, in a very solemn tone, yet with some hesitation, “circumstances have been communicated to us of a nature so extraordinary, that, reluctant as I am to exercise such authority over a guest of our venerable community, I am constrained to request from you an explanation of them. You left this tower early in the morning, accompanied by a youth, Halbert Glendinning, the eldest son of this good dame, and you return hither without him. Where, and at what hour, did you part company from him?”

The English knight paused for a moment, and then replied — “I marvel that your reverence employs so grave a tone to enforce so light a question. I parted with the villagio whom you call Halbert Glendinning some hour or twain after sunrise.”

“And at what place, I pray you?” said the monk.

“In a deep ravine, where a fountain rises at the base of a huge rock; an earth-born Titan, which heaveth up its gray head, even as —”

“Spare us farther description,” said the Sub-Prior; “we know the spot. But that youth hath not since been heard of, and it will fall on you to account for him.”

“My bairn! my bairn!” exclaimed Dame Glendinning. “Yes, holy father, make the villain account for my bairn!”

“I swear, good woman, by bread and by water — which are the props of our life —”

“Swear by wine and wastel-bread, for these are the props of thy life, thou greedy Southron!” said Dame Glendinning — “a base belly-god, to come here to eat the best, and practise on our lives that give it to him!”

“I tell thee, woman,” said Sir Piercie Shafton, “I did but go with thy son to the hunting.”

“A black hunting it has been to him, poor bairn,” replied Tibb; “and sae I said it wad prove since I first saw the false Southron snout of thee. Little good comes of a Piercie’s hunting, from Chevy Chase till now.”

“Be silent, woman,” said the Sub-Prior, “and rail not upon the English knight; we do not yet know of any thing beyond suspicion.”

“We will have his heart’s blood!” said Dame Glendinning; and, seconded by the faithful Tibbie, she made such a sudden onslaught on the unlucky Euphuist, as must have terminated in something serious, had not the monk, aided by Mysie Happer, interposed to protect him from their fury. Edward had left the apartment the instant the disturbance broke out, and now entered, sword in hand, followed by Martin and Jasper, the one having a hunting spear in his hand, the other a cross-bow.

“Keep the door,” he said to his two attendants; “shoot him or stab him without mercy, should he attempt to break forth; if he offers an escape, by Heaven he shall die!”

“How now, Edward,” said the Sub-Prior; “how is this that you so far forget yourself? meditating violence to a guest, and in my presence, who represent your liege lord?”

Edward stepped forward with his drawn sword in his hand. “Pardon me, reverend father,” he said, “but in this matter the voice of nature speaks louder and stronger than yours. I turn my sword’s point against this proud man, and I demand of him the blood of my brother — the blood of my father’s son — of the heir of our name! If he denies to give me a true account of him, he shall not deny me vengeance.”

Embarrassed as he was, Sir Piercie Shafton showed no personal fear. “Put up thy sword,” he said, “young man; not in the same day does Piercie Shafton contend with two peasants.”

“Hear him! he confesses the deed, holy father,” said Edward.

“Be patient, my son,” said the Sub-Prior, endeavouring to soothe the feelings which he could not otherwise control, “be patient — thou wilt attain the ends of justice better through my means than thine own violence — And you, women, be silent — Tibb, remove your mistress and Mary Avenel.”

While Tibb, with the assistance of the other females of the household, bore the poor mother and Mary Avenel into separate apartments, and while Edward, still keeping his sword in his hand, hastily traversed the room, as if to prevent the possibility of Sir Piercie Shafton’s escape, the Sub-Prior insisted upon knowing from the perplexed knight the particulars which he knew respecting Halbert Glendinning. His situation became extremely embarrassing, for what he might with safety have told of the issue of their combat was so revolting to his pride, that he could not bring himself to enter into the detail; and of Halbert’s actual fate he knew, as the reader is well aware, absolutely nothing.

The father in the meanwhile pressed him with remonstrances, and prayed him to observe, he would greatly prejudice himself by declining to give a full account of the transactions of the day. “You cannot deny,” he said, “that yesterday you seemed to take the most violent offence at this unfortunate youth; and that you suppressed your resentment so suddenly as to impress us all with surprise. Last night you proposed to him this day’s hunting party, and you set out together by break of day. You parted, you said, at the fountain near the rock, about an hour or twain after sunrise, and it appears that before you parted you had been at strife together.”

“I said not so,” replied the knight. “Here is a coil indeed about the absence of a rustical bondsman, who, I dare say, hath gone off (if he be gone) to join the next rascally band of freebooters! Ye ask me, a knight of the Piercie’s lineage, to account for such an insignificant fugitive, and I answer — let me know the price of his head, and I will pay it to your convent treasurer.”

“You admit, then, that you have slain my brother?” said Edward, interfering once more; “I will presently show you at what price we Scots rate the lives of our friends.”

“Peace, Edward, peace — I entreat — I command thee,” said the Sub-Prior. “And you, Sir Knight, think better of us than to suppose you may spend Scottish blood, and reckon for it as for wine spilt in a drunken revel. This youth was no bondsman — thou well knowest, that in thine own land thou hadst not dared to lift thy sword against the meanest subject of England, but her laws would have called thee to answer for the deed. Do not hope it will be otherwise here, for you will but deceive yourself.”

“You drive me beyond my patience,” said the Euphuist, “even as the over-driven ox is urged into madness! — What can I tell you of a young fellow whom I have not seen since the second hour after sunrise?”

“But can you explain in what circumstances you parted with him?” said the monk.

“What are the circumstances, in the devil’s name, which you desire should be explained? — for although I protest against this constraint as alike unworthy and inhospitable, yet would I willingly end this fray, provided that by words it may be ended,” said the knight.

“If these end it not,” said Edward, “blows shall, and that full speedily.”

“Peace, impatient boy!” said the Sub-Prior; “and do you, Sir Piercie Shafton, acquaint me why the ground is bloody by the verge of the fountain in Corri-nan-shian, where, as you say yourself, you parted from Halbert Glendinning?”

Resolute not to avow his defeat if possibly he could avoid it, the knight answered in a haughty tone, that he supposed it was no unusual thing to find the turf bloody where hunters had slain a deer.

“And did you bury your game as well as kill it?” said the monk. “We must know from you who is the tenant of that grave, that newly-made grave, beside the very fountain whose margin is so deeply crimsoned with blood? — thou seest thou canst not evade me; therefore be ingenuous, and tell us the fate of this unhappy youth, whose body is doubtless lying under that bloody turf.”

“If it be,” said Sir Piercie, “they must have buried him alive; for I swear to thee, reverend father, that this rustic juvenal parted from me in perfect health. Let the grave be searched, and if his body be found, then deal with me as ye list.”

“It is not my sphere to determine thy fate, Sir Knight, but that of the Lord Abbot, and the right reverend Chapter. It is but my duty to collect such information as may best possess their wisdom with the matters which have chanced.”

“Might I presume so far, reverend father,” said the knight, “I should wish to know the author and evidence of all these suspicions, so unfoundedly urged against me?”

“It is soon told,” said the Sub-Prior; “nor do I wish to disguise it, if it can avail you in your defence. This maiden, Mary Avenel, apprehending that you nourished malice against her foster-brother under a friendly brow, did advisedly send up the old man, Martin Tacket, to follow your footsteps and to prevent mischief. But it seems that your evil passions had outrun precaution: for when he came to the spot, guided by your footsteps upon the dew, he found but the bloody turf and the new covered grave; and after long and vain search through the wilds after Halbert and yourself, he brought back the sorrowful news to her who had sent him.”

“Saw he not my doublet, I pray you?” said Sir Piercie; “for when I came to myself, I found that I was wrapped in my cloak, but without my under garment as your reverence may observe.”

So saying, he opened his cloak, forgetting, with his characteristical inconsistency, that he showed his shirt stained with blood.

“How! cruel man,” said the monk, when he observed this confirmation of his suspicions; “wilt thou deny the guilt, even while thou bearest on thy person the blood thou hast shed? — Wilt thou longer deny that thy rash hand has robbed a mother of a son, our community of a vassal, the Queen of Scotland of a liege subject? and what canst thou expect, but that, at the least, we deliver thee up to England, as undeserving our farther protection?”

“By the Saints!” said the knight, now driven to extremity, “if this blood be the witness against me, it is but rebel blood, since this morning at sunrise it flowed within my own veins.”

“How were that possible, Sir Piercie Shafton,” said the monk, “since I see no wound from whence it can have flowed?”

“That,” said the knight, “is the most mysterious part of the transaction — See here!”

So saying, he undid his shirt collar, and, opening his bosom, showed the spot through — which Halbert’s sword had passed, but already cicatrized, and bearing the appearance of a wound lately healed.

“This exhausts my patience, Sir Knight,” said the Sub-Prior, “and is adding insult to violence and injury. Do you hold me for a child or an idiot, that you pretend to make me believe that the fresh blood with which your shirt is stained, flowed from a wound which has been healed for weeks or months? Unhappy mocker, thinkest thou thus to blind us? Too well do we know that it is the blood of your victim, wrestling with you in the desperate and mortal struggle, which has thus dyed your apparel.”

The knight, after a moment’s recollection, said in reply, “I will be open with you, my father — bid these men stand out of ear-shot, and I will tell you all I know of this mysterious business; and muse not, good father, though it may pass thy wit to expound it, for I avouch to you it is too dark for mine own.”

The monk commanded Edward and the two men to withdraw, assuring the former that his conference with the prisoner should be brief, and giving him permission to keep watch at the door of the apartment; without which allowance he might, perhaps, have had some difficulty in procuring his absence. Edward had no sooner left the chamber, than he despatched messengers to one or two families of the Halidome, with whose sons his brother and he sometimes associated, to tell them that Halbert Glendinning had been murdered by an Englishman, and to require them to repair to the Tower of Glendearg without delay. The duty of revenge in such cases was held so sacred, that he had no reason to doubt they would instantly come with such assistance as would ensure the detention of the prisoner. He then locked the doors of the tower, both inner and outer, and also the gate of the court-yard. Having taken these precautions, he made a hasty visit to the females of the family, exhausting himself in efforts to console them, and in protestations that he would have vengeance for his murdered brother.

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