The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Eighth.

He is at liberty, I have ventured for him!

——————————————— if the law

Find and condemn me for’t, some living wenches,

Some honest-hearted maids will sing my dirge,

And tell to memory my death was noble,

Dying almost a martyr.

The two noble kinsmen.

The Sub-Prior of Saint Mary’s, in taking his departure from the spence which Sir Piercie Shafton was confined, and in which some preparations were made for his passing the night as the room which might be most conveniently guarded, left more than one perplexed person behind him. There was connected with this chamber, and opening into it, a small outshot, or projecting part of the building, occupied by a sleeping apartment, which upon ordinary occasions, was that of Mary Avenel, and which, in the unusual number of guests who had come to the tower on the former evening, had also accommodated Mysie Happer, the Miller’s daughter; for anciently, as well as in the present day, a Scottish house was always rather too narrow and limited for the extent of the owner’s hospitality, and some shift and contrivance was necessary, upon any unusual occasion, to ensure the accommodation of all the guests.

The fatal news of Halbert Glendinning’s death had thrown all former arrangements into confusion. Mary Avenel, whose case required immediate attention, had been transported into the apartment hitherto occupied by Halbert and his brother, as the latter proposed to watch all night, in order to prevent the escape of the prisoner. Poor Mysie had been altogether overlooked, and had naturally enough betaken herself to the little apartment which she had hitherto occupied, ignorant that the spence, through which lay the only access to it, was to be the sleeping chamber of Sir Piercie Shafton. The measures taken for securing him there had been so sudden, that she was not aware of it, until she found that the other females had been removed from the spence by the Sub-Prior’s direction, and having once missed the opportunity of retreating along with them, bashfulness, and the high respect which she was taught to bear to the monks, prevented her venturing forth alone, and intruding herself on the presence of Father Eustace, while in secret conference with the Southron. There appeared no remedy but to wait till their interview was over; and, as the door was thin, and did not shut very closely, she could hear every word that passed betwixt them.

It thus happened, that without any intended intrusion on her part, she became privy to the whole conversation of the Sub-Prior and the English knight, and could also observe from the window of her little retreat, that more than one of the young men summoned by Edward arrived successively at the tower. These circumstances led her to entertain most serious apprehension that the life of Sir Piercie Shafton was in great and instant peril.

Woman is naturally compassionate, and not less willingly so when youth and fair features are on the side of him who claims her sympathy. The handsome presence, elaborate dress and address, of Sir Piercie Shafton, which had failed to make any favorable impression on the grave and lofty character of Mary Avenel, had completely dazzled and bewildered the poor Maid of the Mill. The knight had perceived this result, and, flattered by seeing that his merit was not universally underrated, he had bestowed on Mysie a good deal more of his courtesy than in his opinion her rank warranted. It was not cast away, but received with a devout sense of his condescension, and with gratitude for his personal notice, which, joined to her fears for his safety, and the natural tenderness of her disposition, began to make wild work in her heart.

“To be sure it was very wrong in him to slay Halbert Glendinning,” (it was thus she argued the case with herself,) “but then he was a gentleman born, and a soldier, and so gentle and courteous withal, that she was sure the quarrel had been all of young Glendinning’s own seeking; for it was well known that both these lads were so taken up with that Mary Avenel, that they never looked at another lass in the Halidome, more than if they were of a different degree. And then Halbert’s dress was as clownish as his manners were haughty; and this poor young gentleman, (who was habited like any prince,) banished from his own land, was first drawn into a quarrel by a rude brangler, and then persecuted and like to be put to death by his kin and allies.”

Mysie wept bitterly at the thought, and then her heart rising against such cruelty and oppression to a defenceless stranger, who dressed with so much skill, and spoke with so much grace, she began to consider whether she could not render him some assistance in this extremity.

Her mind was now entirely altered from its original purpose. At first her only anxiety had been to find the means of escaping from the interior apartment, without being noticed by any one; but now she began to think that Heaven had placed her there for the safety and protection of the persecuted stranger. She was of a simple and affectionate, but at the same time an alert and enterprising character, possessing more than female strength of body, and more than female courage, though with feelings as capable of being bewildered with gallantry of dress and language, as a fine gentleman of any generation would have desired to exercise his talents upon. “I will save him,” she thought, “that is the first thing to be resolved — and then I wonder what he will say to the poor Miller’s maiden, that has done for him what all the dainty dames in London or Holyrood would have been afraid to venture upon.”

Prudence began to pull her sleeve as she indulged speculations so hazardous, and hinted to her that the warmer Sir Piercie Shafton’s gratitude might prove, it was the more likely to be fraught with danger to his benefactress. Alas! poor Prudence, thou mayest say with our moral teacher,

“I preach for ever, but I preach in vain.”

The Miller’s maiden, while you pour your warning into her unwilling bosom, has glanced her eye on the small mirror by which she has placed her little lamp, and it returns to her a countenance and eyes, pretty and sparkling at all times, but ennobled at present with the energy of expression proper to those who have dared to form, and stand prepared to execute, deeds of generous audacity. “Will these features — will these eyes, joined to the benefit I am about to confer upon Sir Piercie Shafton, do nothing towards removing the distance of rank between us?”

Such was the question which female vanity asked of fancy; and though even fancy dared not answer in a ready affirmative, a middle conclusion was adopted —“Let me first succour the gallant youth, and trust to fortune for the rest.”

Banishing, therefore, from her mind every thing that was personal to herself, the rash but generous girl turned her whole thoughts to the means of executing this enterprise.

The difficulties which interposed were of no ordinary nature. The vengeance of the men of that country, in cases of deadly feud, that is, in cases of a quarrel excited by the slaughter of any of their relations, was one of their most marked characteristics; and Edward, however gentle in other respects, was so fond of his brother, that there could be no doubt that he would be as signal in his revenge as the customs of the country authorized. There were to be passed the inner door of the apartment, the two gates of the tower itself, and the gate of the court-yard, ere the prisoner was at liberty; and then a guide and means of flight were to be provided, otherwise ultimate escape was impossible. But where the will of woman is strongly bent on the accomplishment of such a purpose, her wit is seldom baffled by difficulties, however embarrassing.

The Sub-Prior had not long left the apartment, ere Mysie had devised a scheme for Sir Piercie Shafton’s freedom, daring, indeed, but likely to be successful, if dexterously conducted. It was necessary, however, that she should remain where she was till so late an hour, that all in the tower should have betaken themselves to repose, excepting those whose duty made them watchers. The interval she employed in observing the movements of the person in whose service she was thus boldly a volunteer.

She could hear Sir Piercie Shafton pace the floor to and fro, in reflection doubtless on his own untoward fate and precarious situation. By and by she heard him making a rustling among his trunks, which, agreeable to the order of the Sub-Prior, had been placed in the apartment to which he was confined, and which he was probably amusing more melancholy thoughts by examining and arranging. Then she could hear him resume his walk through the room, and, as if his spirits had been somewhat relieved and elevated by the survey of his wardrobe, she could distinguish that at one turn he half recited a sonnet, at another half whistled a galliard, and at the third hummed a saraband. At length she could understand that he extended himself on the temporary couch which had been allotted to him, after muttering his prayers hastily, and in a short time she concluded he must be fast asleep.

She employed the moment which intervened in considering her enterprise under every different aspect; and dangerous as it was, the steady review which she took of the various perils accompanying her purpose, furnished her with plausible devices for obviating them. Love and generous compassion, which give singly such powerful impulse to the female heart, were in this case united, and championed her to the last extremity of hazard.

It was an hour past midnight. All in the tower slept sound but those who had undertaken to guard the English prisoner; or if sorrow and suffering drove sleep from the bed of Dame Glendinning and her foster-daughter, they were too much wrapt in their own griefs to attend to external sounds. The means of striking light were at hand in the small apartment, and thus the Miller’s maiden was enabled to light and trim a small lamp. With a trembling step and throbbing heart, she undid the door which separated her from the apartment in which the Southron knight was confined, and almost flinched from her fixed purpose, when she found herself in the same room with the sleeping prisoner. She scarcely trusted herself to look upon him, as he lay wrapped in his cloak, and fast asleep upon the pallet bed, but turned her eyes away while she gently pulled his mantle with no more force than was just equal to awaken him. He moved not until she had twitched his cloak a second and a third time, and then at length looking up, was about to make an exclamation in the suddenness of his surprise.

Mysie’s bashfulness was conquered by her fear. She placed her fingers on her lips, in token that he must observe the most strict silence, and then pointed to the door to intimate that it was watched.

Sir Piercie Shafton now collected himself and sat upright on his couch. He gazed with surprise on the graceful figure of the young woman who stood before him; her well-formed person, her flowing hair, and the outline of her features, showed dimly, and yet to advantage, by the partial and feeble light which she held in her hand. The romantic imagination of the gallant would soon have coined some compliment proper for the occasion, but Mysie left him not time.

“I come,” she said, “to save your life, which is else in great peril — if you answer me, speak as low as you can, for they have sentinelled your door with armed men.”

“Comeliest of miller’s daughters,” answered Sir Piercie, who by this time was sitting upright on his couch, “dread nothing for my safety. Credit me, that, as in very truth, I have not spilled the red puddle (which these villagios call the blood) of their most uncivil relation, so I am under no apprehension whatever for the issue of this restraint, seeing that it cannot but be harmless to me. Natheless, to thee, O most Molendinar beauty, I return the thanks which thy courtesy may justly claim.”

“Nay, but, Sir Knight,” answered the maiden, in a whisper as low as it was tremulous, “I deserve no thanks unless you will act by my counsel. Edward Glendinning hath sent for Dan of the Howlet-hirst, and young Adie of Aikenshaw, and they are come with three men more, and with bow, and jack, and spear, and I heard them say to each other, and to Edward, as they alighted in the court, that they would have amends for the death of their kinsman, if the monk’s cowl should smoke for it — And the vassals are so wilful now, that the Abbot himself dare not control them, for fear they turn heretics, and refuse to pay their feu-duties.”

“In faith,” said Sir Piercie Shafton, “it may be a shrewd temptation, and perchance the monks may rid themselves of trouble and cumber, by handing me over the march to Sir John Foster or Lord Hundson, the English wardens, and so make peace with their vassals and with England at once. Fairest Molinara, I will for once walk by thy rede, and if thou dost contrive to extricate me from this vile kennel, I will so celebrate thy wit and beauty, that the Baker’s nymph of Raphael d’Urbino shall seem but a gipsey in comparison of my Molinara.”

“I pray you, then, be silent,” said the Miller’s daughter; “for if your speech betrays that you are awake, my scheme fails utterly, and it is Heaven’s mercy and Our Lady’s that we are not already overheard and discovered.”

“I am silent,” replied the Southron, “even as the starless night — but yet — if this contrivance of thine should endanger thy safety, fair and no less kind than fair damsel, it were utterly unworthy of me to accept it at thy hand.”

“Do not think of me,” said Mysie, hastily; “I am safe — I will take thought for myself, if I once saw you out of this dangerous dwelling — if you would provide yourself with any part of your apparel or goods, lose no time.”

The knight did, however, lose some time, ere he could settle in his own mind what to take and what to abandon of his wardrobe, each article of which seemed endeared to him by recollection of the feasts and revels at which it had been exhibited. For some little while Mysie left him to make his selections at leisure, for she herself had also some preparations to make for flight. But when, returning from the chamber into which she had retired, with a small bundle in her hand, she found him still indecisive, she insisted in plain terms, that he should either make up his baggage for the enterprise, or give it up entirely. Thus urged, the disconsolate knight hastily made up a few clothes into a bundle, regarded his trunk-mails with a mute expression of parting sorrow, and intimated his readiness to wait upon his kind guide.

She led the way to the door of the apartment, having first carefully extinguished her lamp, and motioning to the knight to stand close behind her, tapped once or twice at the door. She was at length answered by Edward Glendinning, who demanded to know who knocked within, and what was desired.

“Speak low,” said Mysie Happer, “or you will awaken the English knight. It is I, Mysie Happer, who knock — I wish to get out — you have locked me up — and I was obliged to wait till the Southron slept.”

“Locked you up!” replied Edward, in surprise.

“Yes,” answered the Miller’s daughter, “you have locked me up into this room — I was in Mary Avenel’s sleeping apartment.”

“And can you not remain there till morning,” replied Edward, “since it has so chanced?”

“What!” said the Miller’s daughter, in a tone of offended delicacy, “I remain here a moment longer than I can get out without discovery! — I would not, for all the Halidome of St. Mary’s, remain a minute longer in the neighbourhood of a man’s apartment than I can help it — For whom, or for what do you hold me? I promise you my father’s daughter has been better brought up than to put in peril her good name.”

“Come forth then, and get to thy chamber in silence,” said Edward. So saying, he undid the bolt. The staircase without was in utter darkness, as Mysie had before ascertained. So soon as she stept out, she took hold of Edward as if to support herself, thus interposing her person betwixt him and Sir Piercie Shaffcon, by whom she was closely followed. Thus screened from observation, the Englishman slipped past on tiptoe, unshod and in silence, while the damsel complained to Edward that she wanted a light.

“I cannot get you a light,” said he, “for I cannot leave this post; but there is a fire below.”

“I will sit below till morning,” said the Maid of the Mill; and, tripping down stairs, heard Edward bolt and bar the door of the now tenantless apartment with vain caution.

At the foot of the stair which she descended, she found the object of her care waiting her farther directions. She recommended to him the most absolute silence, which, for once in his life, he seemed not unwilling to observe, conducted him, with as much caution as if he were walking on cracked ice, to a dark recess, used for depositing wood, and instructed him to ensconce himself behind the fagots. She herself lighted her lamp once more at the kitchen fire, and took her distaff and spindle, that she might not seem to be unemployed, in case any one came into the apartment.

From time to time, however, she stole towards the window on tiptoe, to catch the first glance of the dawn, for the farther prosecution of her adventurous project. At length she saw, to her great joy, the first peep of the morning brighten upon the gray clouds of the east, and, clasping her hands together, thanked Our Lady for the sight, and implored protection during the remainder of her enterprise. Ere she had finished her prayer, she started at feeling a man’s arm across her shoulder, while a rough voice spoke in her ear —“What! menseful Mysie of the Mill so soon at her prayers? — now, benison on the bonny eyes that open so early! — I’ll have a kiss for good morrow’s sake.”

Dan of the Howlet-hirst, for he was the gallant who paid Mysie this compliment, suited the action with the word, and the action, as is usual in such cases of rustic gallantry, was rewarded with a cuff, which Dan received as a fine gentleman receives a tap with a fan, but which, delivered by the energetic arm of the Miller’s maiden, would have certainly astonished a less robust gallant.

“How now, Sir Coxcomb!” said she, “and must you be away from your guard over the English knight, to plague quiet folks with your horse-tricks!”

“Truly you are mistaken, pretty Mysie,” said the clown, “for I have not yet relieved Edward at his post; and were it not a shame to let him stay any longer, by my faith, I could find it in my heart not to quit you these two hours.”

“Oh, you have hours and hours enough to see any one,” said Mysie; “but you must think of the distress of the household even now, and get Edward to sleep for a while, for he has kept watch this whole night.”

“I will have another kiss first,” answered Dan of the Howlet-hirst.

But Mysie was now on her guard, and, conscious of the vicinity of the wood-hole, offered such strenuous resistance, that the swain cursed the nymph’s bad humour with very unpastoral phrase and emphasis, and ran up stairs to relieve the guard of his comrade. Stealing to the door, she heard the new sentinel hold a brief conversation with Edward, after which the latter withdrew, and the former entered upon the duties of his watch.

Mysie suffered him to walk there a little while undisturbed, until the dawning became more general, by which time she supposed he might have digested her coyness, and then presenting herself before the watchful sentinel, demanded of him “the keys of the outer tower, and of the courtyard gate.”

“And for what purpose?” answered the warder.

“To milk the cows, and drive them out to their pasture,” said Mysie; “you would not have the poor beasts kept in the byre a’ morning, and the family in such distress, that there is na ane fit to do a turn but the byre-woman and myself?”

“And where is the byre-woman?” said Dan.

“Sitting with me in the kitchen, in case these distressed folks want any thing.”

“There are the keys, then, Mysie Dorts,” said the sentinel.

“Many thanks, Dan Ne’er-do-weel,” answered the Maid of the Mill, and escaped down stairs in a moment.

To hasten to the wood-hole, and there to robe the English knight in a short gown and petticoat, which she had provided for the purpose, was the work of another moment. She then undid the gates of the tower, and made towards the byre, or cow-house, which stood in one corner of the courtyard. Sir Piercie Shafton remonstrated against the delay which this would occasion.

“Fair and generous Molinara,” he said, “had we not better undo the outward gate, and make the best of our way hence, even like a pair of sea-mews who make towards shelter of the rocks as the storm waxes high?”

“We must drive out the cows first,” said Mysie, “for a sin it were to spoil the poor widow’s cattle, both for her sake and the poor beasts’ own; and I have no mind any one shall leave the tower in a hurry to follow us. Besides, you must have your horse, for you will need a fleet one ere all be done.”

So saying, she locked and double-locked both the inward and outward door of the tower, proceeded to the cow-house, turned out the cattle, and, giving the knight his own horse to lead, drove them before her out at the court-yard gate, intending to return for her own palfrey. But the noise attending the first operation caught the wakeful attention of Edward, who, starting to the bartizan, called to know what the matter was.

Mysie answered with great readiness, that “she was driving out the cows, for that they would be spoiled for want of looking to.”

“I thank thee, kind maiden,” said Edward —“and yet,” he added, after a moment’s pause, “what damsel is that thou hast with thee?”

Mysie was about to answer, when Sir Piercie Shafton, who apparently did not desire that the great work of his liberation should be executed without the interposition of his own ingenuity, exclaimed from beneath, “I am she, O most bucolical juvenal, under whose charge are placed the milky mothers of the herd.”

“Hell and darkness!” exclaimed Edward, in a transport of fury and astonishment, “it is Piercie Shafton — What! treason! treason! — ho! — Dan — Jasper — Martin — the villain escapes!”

“To horse! to horse!” cried Mysie, and in an instant mounted behind the knight, who was already in the saddle.

Edward caught up a cross-bow, and let fly a bolt, which whistled so near Mysie’s ear, that she called to her companion — “Spur — spur, Sir Knight! — the next will not miss us. — Had it been Halbert instead of Edward who bent that bow, we had been dead.”

The knight pressed his horse, which dashed past the cows, and down the knoll on which the tower was situated. Then taking the road down the valley, the gallant animal, reckless of its double burden, soon conveyed them out of hearing of the tumult and alarm with which their departure filled the Tower of Glendearg.

Thus it strangely happened, that two men were flying in different directions at the same time, each accused of being the other’s murderer.

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