The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-Fourth.

It is not texts will do it — Church artillery

Are silenced soon by real ordnance,

And canons are but vain opposed to cannon.

Go, coin your crosier, melt your church plate down

Bid the starved soldier banquet in your halls,

And quaff your long-saved hogsheads — Turn them out

Thus primed with your good cheer, to guard your wall,

And they will venture for’t. —

Old play.

The Abbot received his counsellor with a tremulous eagerness of welcome, which announced to the Sub-Prior an extreme agitation of spirits, and the utmost need of good counsel. There was neither mazer-dish nor standing-cup upon the little table, at the elbow of his huge chair of state; his beads alone lay there, and it seemed as if he had been telling them in his extremity of distress. Beside the beads was placed the mitre of the Abbot, of an antique form, and blazing with precious stones, and the rich and highly-embossed crosier rested against the same table.

The Sacristan and old Father Nicholas had followed the Sub-Prior into the Abbot’s apartment, perhaps with the hope of learning something of the important matter which seemed to be in hand. — They were not mistaken; for, after having ushered in the Sub-Prior, and being themselves in the act of retiring, the Abbot made them a signal to remain.

“My brethren,” he said, “it is well known to you with what painful zeal we have overseen the weighty affairs of this house committed to our unworthy hand — your bread hath been given to you, and your water hath been sure — I have not wasted the revenues of the Convent on vain pleasures, as hunting or hawking, or in change of rich cope or alb, or in feasting idle bards and jesters, saving those who, according to old wont, were received in time of Christmas and Easter. Neither have I enriched either mine own relations nor strange women, at the expense of the Patrimony.”

“There hath not been such a Lord Abbot,” said Father Nicholas, “to my knowledge, since the days of Abbot Ingelram, who ——”

At that portentous word, which always preluded a long story, the Abbot broke in.

“May God have mercy on his soul! — we talk not of him now. — What I would know of ye, my brethren, is, whether I have, in your mind, faithfully discharged the duties of mine office?”

“There has never been subject of complaint,” answered the Sub-Prior.

The Sacristan, more diffuse, enumerated the various acts of indulgence and kindness which the mild government of Abbot Boniface had conferred on the brotherhood of Saint Mary’s — the indulgentiae — the gratias — the biberes-the weekly mess of boiled almonds — the enlarged accommodation of the refectory — the better arrangement of the cellarage — the improvement of the revenue of the Monastery — the diminution of the privations of the brethren.

“You might have added, my brother,” said the Abbot, listening with melancholy acquiescence to the detail of his own merits, “that I caused to be built that curious screen, which secureth the cloisters from the north-east wind. — But all these things avail nothing — As we read in holy Maccabee, Capta est civitas per voluntatem Dei. It hath cost me no little thought, no common toil, to keep these weighty matters in such order as you have seen them — there was both barn and binn to be kept full — Infirmary, dormitory, guest-hall, and refectory, to be looked to — processions to be made, confessions to be heard, strangers to be entertained, veniae to be granted or refused; and I warrant me, when every one of you was asleep in your cell, the Abbot hath lain awake for a full hour by the bell, thinking how these matters might be ordered seemly and suitably.”

“May we ask, reverend my lord,” said the Sub-Prior, “what additional care has now been thrown upon you, since your discourse seems to point that way?”

“Marry, this it is,” said the Abbot. “The talk is not now of biberes,69 or of caritas, or of boiled almonds, but of an English band coming against us from Hexham, commanded by Sir John Foster; nor is it of the screening us from the east wind, but how to escape Lord James Stewart, who cometh to lay waste and destroy with his heretic soldiers.”

“I thought that purpose had been broken by the feud between Semple and the Kennedies,” said the Sub-Prior, hastily.

“They have accorded that matter at the expense of the church as usual,” said the Abbot; “the Earl of Cassilis is to have the teind-sheaves of his lands, which were given to the house of Crossraguel, and he has stricken hands with Stewart, who is now called Murray. — Principes convenerunt unum adversus Dominum. — There are the letters.”

The Sub-Prior took the letters, which had come by an express messenger from the Primate of Scotland, who still laboured to uphold the tottering fabric of the system under which he was at length buried, and, stepping towards the lamp, read them with an air of deep and settled attention — the Sacristan and Father Nicholas looked as helplessly at each other, as the denizens of the poultry-yard when the hawk soars over it. The Abbot seemed bowed down with the extremity of sorrowful apprehension, but kept his eye timorously fixed on the Sub-Prior, as if striving to catch some comfort from the expression of his countenance. When at length he beheld that, after a second intent perusal of the letters, he remained still silent and full of thought, he asked him in an anxious tone, “What is to be done?”

“Our duty must be done,” answered the Sub-Prior, “and the rest is in the hands of God.”

“Our duty — our duty?” answered the Abbot, impatiently; “doubtless we are to do our duty; but what is that duty? or how will it serve us? — Will bell, book, and candle, drive back the English heretics? or will Murray care for psalms and antiphonars? or can I fight for the Halidome, like Judas Maccabeus, against those profane Nicanors? or send the Sacristan against this new Holofernes, to bring back his head in a basket?”

“True, my Lord Abbot,” said the Sub-Prior, “we cannot fight with carnal weapons, it is alike contrary to our habit and vow; but we can die for our Convent and for our Order. Besides, we can arm those who will and can fight. The English are but few in number, trusting, as it would seem, that they will be joined by Murray, whose march has been interrupted. If Foster, with his Cumberland and Hexham bandits, ventures to march into Scotland, to pillage and despoil our House, we will levy our vassals, and, I trust, shall be found strong enough to give him battle.”

“In the blessed name of Our Lady,” said the Abbot, “think you that I am Petrus Eremita, to go forth the leader of an host?”

“Nay,” said the Sub-Prior, “let some man skilled in war lead our people — there is Julian Avenel, an approved soldier.”

“But a scoffer, a debauched person, and, in brief, a man of Belial,” quoth the Abbot.

“Still,” said the monk, “we must use his ministry in that to which he has been brought up. We can guerdon him richly, and indeed I already know the price of his service. The English, it is expected, will presently set forth, hoping here to seize upon Piercie Shafton, whose refuge being taken with us, they make the pretext of this unheard-of inroad.”

“Is it even so?” said the Abbot; “I never judged that his body of satin and his brain of feathers boded us much good.”

“Yet we must have his assistance, if possible,” said the Sub-Prior; “he may interest in our behalf the great Piercie, of whose friendship he boasts, and that good and faithful Lord may break Foster’s purpose. I will despatch the jackman after him with all speed. — Chiefly, however, I trust to the military spirit of the land, which will not suffer peace to be easily broken on the frontier. Credit me, my lord, it will bring to our side the hands of many, whose hearts may have gone astray after strange doctrines. The great chiefs and barons will be ashamed to let the vassals of peaceful monks fight unaided against the old enemies of Scotland.”

“It may be,” said the Abbot, “that Foster will wait for Murray, whose purpose hitherward is but delayed for a short space.”

“By the rood, he will not,” said the Sub-Prior; “we know this Sir John Foster — a pestilent heretic, he will long to destroy the church — born a Borderer, he will thirst to plunder her of her wealth — a Border-warden, he will be eager to ride in Scotland. There are too many causes to urge him on. If he joins with Murray, he will have at best but an auxiliary’s share of the spoil — if he comes hither before him, he will reckon on the whole harvest of depredation as his own. Julian Avenel also has, as I have heard, some spite against Sir John Foster; they will fight, when they meet, with double determination. — Sacristan, send for our bailiff. — Where is the roll of fencible men liable to do suit and service to the Halidome? — Send off to the Baron of Meigallot; he can raise threescore horse and better — Say to him the Monastery will compound with him for the customs of his bridge, which have been in controversy, if he will show himself a friend at such a point. — And now, my lord, let us compute our possible numbers, and those of the enemy, that human blood be not spilled in vain — Let us therefore calculate ——”

“My brain is dizzied with the emergency,” said the poor Abbot —“I am not, I think, more a coward than others, so far as my own person is concerned; but speak to me of marching and collecting soldiers, and calculating forces, and you may as well tell of it to the youngest novice of a nunnery. But my resolution is taken. — Brethren,” he said, rising up, and coming forward with that dignity which his comely person enabled him to assume, “hear for the last time the voice of your Abbot Boniface. I have done for you the best that I could; in quieter times I had perhaps done better, for it was for quiet that I sought the cloister, which has been to me a place of turmoil, as much as if I had sate in the receipt of custom, or ridden forth as leader of an armed host. But now matters turn worse and worse, and I, as I grow old, am less able to struggle with them. Also, it becomes me not to hold a place, whereof the duties, through my default or misfortune, may be but imperfectly filled by me. Wherefore I have resolved to demit this mine high office, so that the order of these matters may presently devolve upon Father Eustatius here present, our well-beloved Sub-Prior; and I now rejoice that he hath not been provided according to his merits elsewhere, seeing that I well hope he will succeed to the mitre and staff which it is my present purpose to lay down.”

“In the name of Our Lady, do nothing hastily, my lord!” said Father Nicholas —“I do remember that when the worthy Abbot Ingelram, being in his ninetieth year — for I warrant you he could remember when Benedict the Thirteenth was deposed — and being ill at ease and bed-rid, the brethren rounded in his ear that he were better resign his office. And what said he, being a pleasant man? marry, that while he could crook his little finger he would keep hold of the crosier with it.”

The Sacristan also strongly remonstrated against the resolution of his Superior, and set down the insufficiency he pleaded to the native modesty of his disposition. The Abbot listened in downcast silence; even flattery could not win his ear.

Father Eustace took a nobler tone with his disconcerted and dejected Superior. “My Lord Abbot,” he said, “if I have been silent concerning the virtues with which you have governed this house, do not think that I am unaware of them. I know that no man ever brought to your high office a more sincere wish to do well to all mankind; and if your rule has not been marked with the bold lines which sometimes distinguished your spiritual predecessors, their faults have equally been strangers to your character.”

“I did not believe,” said the Abbot, turning his looks to Father Eustace with some surprise, “that you, father, of all men, would have done me this justice.”

“In your absence,” said the Sub-Prior, “I have even done it more fully. Do not lose the good opinion which all men entertain of you, by renouncing your office when your care is most needed.”

“But, my brother,” said the Abbot, “I leave a more able in my place.”

“That you do not,” said Eustace; “because it is not necessary you should resign, in order to possess the use of whatever experience or talent I may be accounted master of. I have been long enough in this profession to know that the individual qualities which any of us may have, are not his own, but the property of the Community, and only so far useful when they promote the general advantage. If you care not in person, my lord, to deal with this troublesome matter, let me implore you to go instantly to Edinburgh, and make what friends you can in our behalf, while I in your absence will, as Sub-Prior, do my duty in defence of the Halidome. If I succeed, may the honour and praise be yours, and if I fail, let the disgrace and shame be mine own.”

The Abbot mused for a space, and then replied — “No, Father Eustatius, you shall not conquer me by your generosity. In times like these, this house must have a stronger pilotage than my weak hands afford; and he who steers the vessel must be chief of the crew. Shame were it to accept the praise of other men’s labours; and, in my poor mind, all the praise which can be bestowed on him who undertakes a task so perilous and perplexing, is a meed beneath his merits. Misfortune to him would deprive him of an iota of it! Assume, therefore, your authority to-night, and proceed in the preparations you judge necessary. Let the Chapter be summoned tomorrow after we have heard mass, and all shall be ordered as I have told you. Benedicite, my brethren! — peace be with you! May the new Abbot-expectant sleep as sound as he who is about to resign his mitre.”

They retired, affected even to tears. The good Abbot had shown a point of his character to which they were strangers. Even Father Eustace had held his spiritual Superior hitherto as a good-humoured, indolent, self-indulgent man, whose chief merit was the absence of gross faults; so that this sacrifice of power to a sense of duty, even if a little alloyed by the meaner motives of fear and apprehended difficulties, raised him considerably in the Sub-Prior’s estimation. He even felt an aversion to profit by the resignation of the Abbot Boniface, and in a manner to rise on his ruins; but this sentiment did not long contend with those which led him to recollect higher considerations. It could not be denied that Boniface was entirely unfit for his situation in the present crisis; and the Sub-Prior felt that he himself, acting merely as a delegate, could not well take the decisive measures which the time required; the weal of the Community therefore demanded his elevation. If, besides, there crept in a feeling of a high dignity obtained, and the native exultation of a haughty spirit called to contend with the imminent dangers attached to a post of such distinction, these sentiments were so cunningly blended and amalgamated with others of a more disinterested nature, that, as the Sub-Prior himself was unconscious of their agency, we, who have a regard for him, are not solicitous to detect it.

The Abbot elect carried himself with more dignity than formerly, when giving such directions as the pressing circumstances of the times required; and those who approached him could perceive an unusual kindling of his falcon eye, and an unusual flush upon his pale and faded cheek. With briefness and precision he wrote and dictated various letters to different barons, acquainting them with the meditated invasion of the Halidome by the English, and conjuring them to lend aid and assistance as in a common cause. The temptation of advantage was held out to those whom he judged less sensible of the cause of honour, and all were urged by the motives of patriotism and ancient animosity to the English. The time had been when no such exhortations would have been necessary. But so essential was Elizabeth’s aid to the reformed party in Scotland, and so strong was that party almost every where, that there was reason to believe a great many would observe neutrality on the present occasion, even if they did not go the length of uniting with the English against the Catholics.

When Father Eustace considered the number of the immediate vassals of the church whose aid he might legally command, his heart sunk at the thoughts of ranking them under the banner of the fierce and profligate Julian Avenel.

“Were the young enthusiast Halbert Glendinning to be found,” thought Father Eustace in his anxiety, “I would have risked the battle under his leading, young as he is, and with better hope of God’s blessing. But the bailiff is now too infirm, nor know I a chief of name whom I might trust in this important matter better than this Avenel.”— He touched a bell which stood on the table, and commanded Christie of the Clinthill to be brought before him. —“Thou owest me a life,” said he to that person on his entrance, “and I may do thee another good turn if thou be’st sincere with me.”

Christie had already drained two standing-cups of wine, which would, on another occasion, have added to the insolence of his familiarity. But at present there was something in the augmented dignity of manner of Father Eustace, which imposed a restraint on him. Yet his answers partook of his usual character of undaunted assurance. He professed himself willing to return a true answer to all inquiries.

“Has the Baron (so styled) of Avenel any friendship with Sir John Foster, Warden of the West Marches of England?”

“Such friendship as is between the wild-cat and the terrier,” replied the rider.

“Will he do battle with him should they meet?”

“As surely,” answered Christie, “as ever cock fought on Shrovetide-even.”

“And would he fight with Foster in the Church’s quarrel?”

“On any quarrel, or upon no quarrel whatever,” replied the jackman.

“We will then write to him, letting him know, that if upon occasion of an apprehended incursion by Sir John Foster, he will join his force with ours, he shall lead our men, and be gratified for doing so to the extent of his wish. — Yet one word more — Thou didst say thou couldst find out where the English knight Piercie Shafton has this day fled to?”

“That I can, and bring him back too, by fair means or force, as best likes your reverence.”

“No force must be used upon him. Within what time wilt thou find him out?”

“Within thirty hours, so he have not crossed the Lothian firth — If it is to do you a pleasure, I will set off directly, and wind him as a sleuth-dog tracks the moss-trooper,” answered Christie.

“Bring him hither then, and thou wilt deserve good at our hands, which I may soon have free means of bestowing on thee.”

“Thanks to your reverence, I put myself in your reverence’s hands. We of the spear and snaffle walk something recklessly through life; but if a man were worse than he is, your reverence knows he must live, and that’s not to be done without shifting, I trow.”

“Peace, sir, and begone on thine errand — thou shalt have a letter from us to Sir Piercie.”

Christie made two steps towards the door; then turning back and hesitating, like one who would make an impertinent pleasantry if he dared, he asked what he was to do with the wench Mysie Happer whom the Southron knight had carried off with him.

“Am I to bring her hither, please your reverence?”

“Hither, you malapert knave?” said the churchman; “remember you to whom you speak?”

“No offence meant,” replied Christie; “but if such is not your will, I would carry her to Avenel Castle, where a well-favoured wench was never unwelcome.

“Bring the unfortunate girl to her father’s and break no scurril jests here,” said the Sub-Prior —“See that thou guide her in all safety and honour.”

“In safety, surely,” said the rider, “and in such honour as her outbreak has left her. — I bid your reverence farewell, I must be on horse before cock-crow.”

“What, in the dark! — how knowest thou which way to go?”

“I tracked the knight’s horse-tread as far as near to the ford, as we rode along together,” said Christie, “and I observed the track turn to the north-ward. He is for Edinburgh, I will warrant you — so soon as daylight comes I will be on the road again. It is a kenspeckle hoof-mark, for the shoe was made by old Eckie of Cannobie — I would swear to the curve of the caulker.” So saying, he departed.

“Hateful necessity,” said Father Eustace, looking after him, “that obliges us to use such implements as these! But assailed as we are on all sides, and by all conditions of men, what alternative is left us? — But now let me to my most needful task.”

The Abbot elect accordingly sate down to write letters, arrange orders, and take upon him the whole charge of an institution which tottered to its fall, with the same spirit of proud and devoted fortitude wherewith the commander of a fortress, reduced nearly to the last extremity, calculates what means remain to him to protract the fatal hour of successful storm. In the meanwhile Abbot Boniface, having given a few natural sighs to the downfall of the pre-eminence he had so long enjoyed amongst his brethren, fell fast asleep, leaving the whole cares and toils of office to his assistant and [Chapter ending is missing in the original]

69 The biberes, caritas, and boiled almonds, of which Abbot Boniface speaks, were special occasions for enjoying luxuries, afforded to the monks by grants from different sovereigns, or from other benefactors to the convent. There is one of these charters called De Pitancia Centum Librarum By this charter, which is very curious, our Robert Bruce, on the 10th January, and in the twelfth year of his reign, assigns, out of the customs of Berwick, and failing them, out of the customs of Edinburgh or Haddington, the sum of one hundred pounds, at the half-yearly terms of Pentecost and Saint Martin’s in winter, to the abbot and community of the monks of Melrose. The precise purpose of this annuity is to furnish to each of the monks of the said monastery, while placed at food in the refectory, an extra mess of rice boiled with milk, or of almonds, or peas, or other pulse of that kind which could be procured in the country. This addition to their commons is to be entitled the King’s Mess. And it is declared, that although any monk should, from some honest apology, want appetite or inclination to eat of the king’s mess, his share should, nevertheless, be placed on the table with those of his brethren, and afterwards carried to the gate and given to the poor. “Neither is it our pleasure,” continues the bountiful sovereign, “that the dinner, which is or ought to be served up to the said monks according to their ancient rule, should be diminished in quantity, or rendered inferior in quality, on account of this our mess, so furnished as aforesaid.” It is, moreover, provided, that the abbot, with the consent of the most sage of his brethren, shall name a prudent and decent monk for receiving, directing, and expending, all matters concerning this annuity for the benefit of the community, agreeably to the royal desire and intention, rendering a faithful account thereof to the abbot and superiors of the same convent. And the same charter declares the king’s farther pleasure, that the said men of religion should be bound yearly and for ever, in acknowledgment of the above donation, to clothe fifteen poor men at the feast of Saint Martin in winter, and to feed them on the same day, delivering to each of them four ells of large or broad, or six ells of narrow cloth, and to each also a new pair of shoes or sandals, according to their order; and if the said monks shall fail in their engagements or any of them, it is the king’s will that the fault shall be redeemed by a double performance of what has been omitted, to be executed at the sight of the chief forester of Ettrick for the time being, and before the return of Saint Martin’s day succeeding that on which the omission has taken place.

Of this charter, respecting the pittance of 100_l assigned to furnish the monks of Melrose with a daily mess of boiled rice, almonds, or other pulse, to mend their commons, the antiquarian reader will be pleased, doubtless, to see the original.

Carta regis roberti i. abbati et conventui de melross.

Carta de Pitancia Centum Librarum.

Robertus Dei gracia Rex Scottorum omnibus probis hominibus tocius terre sue Salutem. Sciatis nos pro salute anime nostre et pro salute animarum antecessorum et suocessorum nostrorum Regum Scocie Dedisse Concessisse et hac presenti Carta nostra confirmasse Deo et Beate Marie virgini et Religiosis viris Abbati et Conventui de Melross et eorum successoribus in perpetuum Centum Libras Sterlingorum Annui Redditus singulis annis percipiendas de firmis nostris Burgi Berwici super. Twedam ad terminos Pentecostis et Sancti Martini in hyeme pro equali portione vel de nova Custuma nostra Burgi predicti si firme nostre predicte ad dictam summam pecunie sufficere non poterunt vel de nova Custuma nostra Burgorum nostrorum de Edenburg et de Hadington Si firme nostre et Custuma nostra ville Berwici aliquo casu contingente ad hoc forte non sufficiant. Ita quod dicta summa pecunie Centum Librarum eis annuatim integre et absque contradictione aliqua plenarie persolvatur pre cunctis aliis quibuscunque assignacionibus per nos factis seu faciendis ad inveniendum in perpetunm singulis diebus cuilibet monacho monasterii predicti comedenti in Refectorio unum sufficiens ferculum risarum factarum cum lacte, amigdalarum vel pisarum sive aliorum ciborum consimilis condicionis inventornm in patria et illud ferculum ferculum Regis vocabitur in eternum. Et si aliquis monachus ex aliqua causa honesta de dicto ferculo comedere noluerit vel refici non poterit non minus attamen sibi de dicto ferculo ministretur et ad portam pro pauperibus deportetur. Nec volumus quod occasione ferculi nostri predicti prandium dicti Conventus de quo antiquitus communiter eis deserviri sive ministrari solebat in aliquo pejoretur seu diminuatur. Volum us insuper et ordinamus quod Abbas ejusdem monasterii qui pro tempore fuerit de cousensu saniorum de Conventu specialiter constituat unum monachum providum et discretum ad recipiendum ordinandum et expendendum totam summam pecunie memorate pro utilitate conventus secundum votum et intencionem mentis nostre superius annotatum et ad reddendum fidele compotum coram Abbate et Maioribus de Conventu singulis annis de pecunia sic recepta. Et volumus quod dicti religiosi teneantur annuatim in perpetuum pro predicta donacione nostra ad perpetuam nostri memoriam vestire quindecim pauperes ad festum Sancti Martini in hieme et eosdem cibare eodem die liberando eorum cuilibet quatuor ulnas panni grossi et lati vel sex ulnas panni stricti et eorum cuilibet unum novum par sotularium de ordine suo. Et si dicti religiosi in premissis vel aliquo premissorum aliquo anno defecerint volumus quod illud quod minus perimpletum fuerit dupplicetur diebus magis necessariis per visum capitalis forestarii nostri de Selkirk, qui pro tempore fuerit. Et quod dicta dupplicatio fiat ante natale domini proximo sequens festum Sancti Martini predictum. In cujus rei testimonium presenti Carte nostre sigillum nostrum precipimus apponi. Testibus venerabilibus in Christo patribus Willielmo, Johanne, Willielmo et David Sancti Andree, Glasguensis, Dunkeldensis et Moraviensis ecclesiarum dei gracia episcopis Bernardo Abbate de Abirbrothock Cancellario, Duncano, Malisio, et Hugone de Fyf de Strathin et de Ross, Comitibus Waltero Senescallo Scocie, Jacobo domini de Duglas et Alexandro Fraser Camerario nostro Socie militibus. Apud Abirbrothock, decimo die Januarij. Anno Regni nostri vicesimo.

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