The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-Fifth.

And when he came to broken briggs,

He slacked his bow and swam;

And when he came to grass growing,

Set down his feet and ran.

Gil Morrice.

We return to Halbert Glendinning, who, as our readers may remember, took the high road to Edinburgh. His intercourse with the preacher, Henry Warden, from whom he received a letter at the moment of his deliverance, had been so brief, that he had not even learned the name of the nobleman to whose care he was recommended. Something like a name had been spoken indeed, but he had only comprehended that he was to meet the chief advancing towards the south, at the head of a party of horse. When day dawned on his journey he was in the same uncertainty. A better scholar would have been informed by the address of the letter, but Halbert had not so far profited by Father Eustace’s lessons as to be able to decipher it. His mother-wit taught him that he must not, in such uncertain times, be too hasty in asking information of any one; and when, after a long day’s journey, night surprised him near a little village, he began to be dubious and anxious concerning the issue of his journey.

In a poor country, hospitality is generally exercised freely, and Halbert, when he requested a night’s quarters, did nothing either degrading or extraordinary. The old woman, to whom he made this request, granted it the more readily, that she thought she saw some resemblance between Halbert and her son Saunders, who had been killed in one of the frays so common in the time. It is true, Saunders was a short square-made fellow, with red hair and a freckled face, and somewhat bandy-legged, whereas the stranger was of a brown complexion, tall, and remarkably well-made. Nevertheless, the widow was clear that there existed a general resemblance betwixt her guest and Saunders, and kindly pressed him to share of her evening cheer. A pedlar, a man of about forty years old, was also her guest, who talked with great feeling of the misery of pursuing such a profession as his in the time of war and tumult.

“We think much of knights and soldiers,” said he; “but the pedder-coffe who travels the land has need of more courage than them all. I am sure he maun face mair risk, God help him. Here have I come this length, trusting the godly Earl of Murray would be on his march to the Borders, for he was to have guestened with the Baron of Avenel; and instead of that comes news that he has gone westlandways about some tuilzie in Ayrshire. And what to do I wot not; for if I go to the south without a safeguard, the next bonny rider I meet might ease me of sack and pack, and maybe of my life to boot; and then, if I try to strike across the moors, I may be as ill off before I can join myself to that good Lord’s company.”

No one was quicker at catching a hint than Halbert Glendinning. He said he himself had a desire to go westward. The pedlar looked at him with a very doubtful air, when the old dame, who perhaps thought her young guest resembled the umquhile Saunders, not only in his looks, but in a certain pretty turn to sleight-of-hand, which the defunct was supposed to have possessed, tipped him the wink, and assured the pedlar he need have no doubt that her young cousin was a true man.

“Cousin!” said the pedlar, “I thought you said this youth had been a stranger.”

“Ill hearing makes ill rehearsing,” said the landlady; “he is a stranger to me by eye-sight, but that does not make him a stranger to me by blood, more especially seeing his likeness to my son Saunders, poor bairn.”

The pedlar’s scruples and jealousies being thus removed, or at least silenced, the travellers agreed that they would proceed in company together the next morning by daybreak, the pedlar acting as a guide to Glendinning, and the youth as a guard to the pedlar, until they should fall in with Murray’s detachment of horse. It would appear that the lady never doubted what was to be the event of this compact, for, taking Glendinning aside, she charged him, “to be moderate with the puir body, but at all events, not to forget to take a piece of black say, to make the auld wife a new rokelay.” Halbert laughed and took his leave.

It did not a little appal the pedlar, when, in the midst of a black heath, the young man told him the nature of the commission with which their hostess had charged him. He took heart, however, upon seeing the open, frank, and friendly demeanor of the youth, and vented his exclamations on the ungrateful old traitress. “I gave her,” he said, “yesterday-e’en nae farther gane, a yard of that very black say, to make her a couvre-chef; but I see it is ill done to teach the cat the way to the kirn.”

Thus set at ease on the intentions of his companion (for in those happy days the worst was always to be expected from a stranger), the pedlar acted as Halbert’s guide over moss and moor, over hill and many a dale, in such a direction as might best lead them towards the route of Murray’s party. At length they arrived upon the side of an eminence, which commanded a distant prospect over a tract of savage and desolate moorland, marshy and waste — an alternate change of shingly hill and level morass, only varied by blue stagnant pools of water. A road scarcely marked winded like a serpent through the wilderness, and the pedlar, pointing to it, said —“The road from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Here we must wait, and if Murray and his train be not already passed by, we shall soon see trace of them, unless some new purpose shall have altered their resolution; for in these blessed days no man, were he the nearest the throne, as the Earl of Murray may be, knows when he lays his head on his pillow at night where it is to lie upon the following even.”

They paused accordingly and sat down, the pedlar cautiously using for a seat the box which contained his treasures, and not concealing from his companion that he wore under his cloak a pistolet hanging at his belt in case of need. He was courteous, however, and offered Halbert a share of the provisions which he carried about him for refreshment. They were of the coarsest kind — oat-bread baked in cakes, oatmeal slaked with cold water, an onion or two, and a morsel of smoked ham completed the feast. But such as it was, no Scotsman of the time, had his rank been much higher than that of Glendinning, would have refused to share in it, especially as the pedlar produced, with a mysterious air, a tup’s horn, which he carried slung from his shoulders, and which, when its contents were examined, produced to each party a clam-shell-full of excellent usquebaugh — a liquor strange to Halbert, for the strong waters known in the south of Scotland came from France, and in fact such were but rarely used. The pedlar recommended it as excellent, said he had procured it in his last visit to the braes of Doune, where he had securely traded under the safe-conduct of the Laird of Buchanan. He also set an example to Halbert, by devoutly emptying the cup “to the speedy downfall of Anti-Christ.”

Their conviviality was scarce ended, ere a rising dust was seen on the road of which they commanded the prospect, and half a score of horsemen were dimly descried advancing at considerable speed, their casques glancing, and the points of their spears twinkling as they caught a glimpse of the sun.

“These,” said the pedlar, “must be the out-scourers of Murray’s party; let us lie down in the peat-hag, and keep ourselves out of sight.”

“And why so?” said Halbert; “let us rather go down and make a signal to them.”

“God forbid!” replied the pedlar; “do you ken so ill the customs of our Scottish nation? That plump of spears that are spurring on so fast are doubtless commanded by some wild kinsman of Morton, or some such daring fear-nothing as neither regards God nor man. It is their business, if they meet with any enemies, to pick quarrels and clear the way of them; and the chief knows nothing of what happens, coming up with his more discreet and moderate friends, it may be a full mile in the rear. Were we to go near these lads of the laird’s belt, your letter would do you little good, and my pack would do me muckle black ill; they would tirl every steek of claithes from our back, fling us into a moss-hag with a stone at our heels, naked as the hour that brought us into this cumbered and sinful world, and neither Murray nor any other man ever the wiser. But if he did come to ken of it, what might he help it? — it would be accounted a mere mistake, and there were all the moan made. O credit me, youth, that when men draw cold steel on each other in their native country, they neither can nor may dwell deeply on the offences of those whose swords are useful to them.”

They suffered, therefore, the vanguard, as it might be termed, of the Earl of Murray’s host to pass forward; and it was not long until a denser cloud of dust began to arise to the northward.

“Now,” said the pedlar, “let us hurry down the hill; for to tell the truth,” said he, dragging Halbert along earnestly, “a Scottish noble’s march is like a serpent — the head is furnished with fangs, and the tail hath its sting; the only harmless point of access is the main body.”

“I will hasten as fast as you,” said the youth; “but tell me why the rearward of such an army should be as dangerous as the van?”

“Because, as the vanguard consists of their picked wild desperates, resolute for mischief, such as neither fear God nor regard their fellow-creatures, but understand themselves bound to hurry from the road whatever is displeasing to themselves, so the rear-guard consists of misproud serving-men, who, being in charge of the baggage, take care to amend by their exactions upon travelling-merchants and others, their own thefts on their master’s property. You will hear the advanced enfans perdus, as the French call them, and so they are indeed, namely, children of the fall, singing unclean and fulsome ballads of sin and harlotrie. And then will come on the middle-ward, when you will hear the canticles and psalms sung by the reforming nobles, and the gentry, and honest and pious clergy, by whom they are accompanied. And last of all, you will find in the rear a legend of godless lackies, palfreniers, and horse-boys, talking of nothing but dicing, drinking, and drabbing.”

As the pedlar spoke, they had reached the side of the high-road, and Murray’s main body was in sight, consisting of about three hundred horse, marching with great regularity, and in a closely compacted body. Some of the troopers wore the liveries of their masters, but this was not common. Most of them were dressed in such colours as chance dictated. But the majority, being clad in blue cloth, and the whole armed with cuirass and back-plate, with sleeves of mail, gauntlets, and poldroons, and either mailed hose or strong jack-boots, they had something of a uniform appearance.

Many of the leaders were clad in complete armour, and all in a certain half-military dress, which no man of quality in those disturbed times ever felt himself sufficiently safe to abandon.

The foremost of this party immediately rode up to the pedlar and to Halbert Glendinning, and demanded of them who they were. The pedlar told his story, the young Glendinning exhibited his letter, which a gentleman carried to Murray. In an instant after, the word “Halt!” was given through the squadron, and at once the onward heavy tramp, which seemed the most distinctive attribute of the body, ceased, and was heard no more. The command was announced that the troop should halt here for an hour to refresh themselves and their horses. The pedlar was assured of safe protection, and accommodated with the use of a baggage horse. But at the same time he was ordered into the rear; a command which he reluctantly obeyed, and not without wringing pathetically the hand of Halbert as he separated from him.

The young heir of Glendearg was in the meanwhile conducted to a plot of ground more raised, and therefore drier than the rest of the moor. Here a carpet was flung on the ground by way of table-cloth, and around it sat the leaders of the party, partaking of an entertainment as coarse, with relation to their rank, as that which Glendinning had so lately shared. Murray himself rose as he came forward, and advanced a step to meet him.

This celebrated person had in his appearance, as well as in his mind, much of the admirable qualities of James V. his father. Had not the stain of illegitimacy rested upon his birth, he would have filled the Scottish throne with as much honour as any of the Stewart race. But History, while she acknowledges his high talents, and much that was princely, nay, royal, in his conduct, cannot forget that ambition led him farther than honour or loyalty warranted. Brave amongst the bravest, fair in presence and in favour, skilful to manage the most intricate affairs, to attach to himself those who were doubtful, to stun and overwhelm, by the suddenness and intrepidity of his enterprises, those who were resolute in resistance, he attained, and as to personal merit certainly deserved, the highest place in the kingdom. But he abused, under the influence of strong temptation, the opportunities which his sister Mary’s misfortunes and imprudence threw in his way; he supplanted his sovereign and benefactress in her power, and his history affords us one of those mixed characters, in which principle was so often sacrificed to policy, that we must condemn the statesman while we pity and regret the individual. Many events in his life gave likelihood to the charge that he himself aimed at the crown; and it is too true, that he countenanced the fatal expedient of establishing an English, that is a foreign and a hostile interest, in the councils of Scotland. But his death may be received as an atonement for his offences, and may serve to show how much more safe is the person of a real patriot, than that of the mere head of a faction, who is accounted answerable for the offences of his meanest attendants.

When Murray approached, the young rustic was naturally abashed at the dignity of his presence. The commanding form and the countenance to which high and important thoughts were familiar, the features which bore the resemblance of Scotland’s long line of kings, were well calculated to impress awe and reverence. His dress had little to distinguish him from the high-born nobles and barons by whom he was attended. A buff-coat, richly embroidered with silken lace, supplied the place of armour; and a massive gold chain, with its medal, hung round his neck. His black velvet bonnet was decorated with a string of large and fair pearls, and with a small tufted feather; a long heavy sword was girt to his side, as the familiar companion of his hand. He wore gilded spurs on his boots, and these completed his equipment.

“This letter,” he said, “is from the godly preacher of the word, Henry Warden, young man? is it not so?” Halbert answered in the affirmative. “And he writes to us, it would seem, in some strait, and refers us to you for the circumstances. Let us know, I pray you, how things stand with him.”

In some perturbation Halbert Glendinning gave an account of the circumstances which had accompanied the preacher’s imprisonment. When he came to the discussion of the handfasting engagement, he was struck with the ominous and displeased expression of Murray’s brows, and, contrary to all prudential and politic rule, seeing something was wrong, yet not well aware what that something was, had almost stopped short in his narrative.

“What ails the fool?” said the Earl, drawing his dark-red eyebrows together, while the same dusky glow kindled on his brow —“Hast thou not learned to tell a true tale without stammering?”

“So please you,” answered Halbert, with considerable address, “I have never before spoken in such a presence.”

“He seems a modest youth,” said Murray, turning to his next attendant, “and yet one who in a good cause will neither fear friend nor foe. — Speak on, friend, and speak freely.”

Halbert then gave an account of the quarrel betwixt Julian Avenel and the preacher, which the Earl, biting his lip the while, compelled himself to listen to as a thing of indifference. At first he appeared even to take the part of the Baron.

“Henry Warden,” he said, “is too hot in his zeal. The law both of God and man maketh allowance for certain alliances, though not strictly formal, and the issue of such may succeed.”

This general declaration he expressed, accompanying it with a glance around upon the few followers who were present at this interview. The most of them answered —“There is no contravening that;” but one or two looked on the ground, and were silent. Murray then turned again to Glendinning, commanding him to say what next chanced, and not to omit any particular. When he mentioned the manner in which Julian had cast from him his concubine, Murray drew a deep breath, set his teeth hard, and laid his hand on the hilt of his dagger. Casting his eyes once more around the circle, which was now augmented by one or two of the reformed preachers, he seemed to devour his rage in silence, and again commanded Halbert to proceed. When he came to describe how Warden had been dragged to a dungeon, the Earl seemed to have found the point at which he might give vent to his own resentment, secure of the sympathy and approbation of all who were present. “Judge you,” he said, looking to those around him, “judge you, my peers, and noble gentlemen of Scotland, betwixt me and this Julian Avenel — he hath broken his own word, and hath violated my safe-conduct — and judge you also, my reverend brethren, he hath put his hand forth upon a preacher of the gospel, and perchance may sell his blood to the worshippers of Anti-Christ!”

“Let him die the death of a traitor,” said the secular chiefs, “and let his tongue be struck through with the hangman’s fiery iron to avenge his perjury!”

“Let him go down to his place with Baal’s priests,” said the preachers, “and be his ashes cast into Tophet!”

Murray heard them with the smile of expected revenge; yet it is probable that the brutal treatment of the female, whose circumstances somewhat resembled those of the Earl’s own mother, had its share in the grim smile which curled his sun-burnt cheek and its haughty lip. To Halbert Glendinning, when his narrative was finished, he spoke with great kindness.

“He is a bold and gallant youth,” said he to those around, “and formed of the stuff which becomes a bustling time. There are periods when men’s spirits shine bravely through them. I will know something more of him.”

He questioned him more particularly concerning the Baron of Avenel’s probable forces — the strength of his castle — the dispositions of his next heir, and this brought necessarily forward the sad history of his brother’s daughter, Mary Avenel, which was told with an embarrassment that did not escape Murray.

“Ha! Julian Avenel,” he said, “and do you provoke my resentment, when you have so much more reason to deprecate my justice! I knew Walter Avenel, a true Scotsman and a good soldier. Our sister, the Queen, must right his daughter; and were her land restored, she would be a fitting bride to some brave man who may better merit our favour than the traitor Julian.”— Then looking at Halbert, he said, “Art thou of gentle blood, young man?”

Halbert, with a faltering and uncertain voice, began to speak of his distant pretensions to claim a descent from the ancient Glendonwynes of Galloway, when Murray interrupted him with a smile.

“Nay — nay — leave pedigrees to bards and heralds. In our days, each, man is the son of his own deeds. The glorious light of reformation hath shone alike on prince and peasant; and peasant as well as prince may be illustrated by fighting in its defence. It is a stirring world, where all may advance themselves who have stout hearts and strong arms. Tell me frankly why thou hast left thy father’s house.”

Halbert Glendinning made a frank confession of his duel with Piercie Shafton, and mentioned his supposed death.

“By my hand,” said Murray, “thou art a bold sparrow-hawk, to match thee so early with such a kite as Piercie Shafton. Queen Elizabeth would give her glove filled with gold crowns to know that meddling coxcomb to be under the sod. — Would she not, Morton?”

“Ay, by my word, and esteem her glove a better gift than the crowns,” replied Morton, “which few Border lads like this fellow will esteem just valuation.”

“But what shall we do with this young homicide?” said Murray; “what will our preachers say?”

“Tell them of Moses and of Benaiah,” said Morton; “it is but the smiting of an Egyptian when all is said out.”

“Let it be so,” said Murray, laughing; “but we will bury the tale, as the prophet did the body, in the sand. I will take care of this swankie. — Be near to us, Glendinning, since that is thy name. We retain thee as a squire of our household. The master of our horse will see thee fully equipped and armed.”

During the expedition which he was now engaged in, Murray found several opportunities of putting Glendinning’s courage and presence of mind to the test, and he began to rise so rapidly in his esteem, that those who knew the Earl considered the youth’s fortune as certain. One step only was wanting to raise him to a still higher degree of confidence and favour — it was the abjuration of the Popish religion. The ministers who attended upon Murray and formed his chief support amongst the people, found an easy convert in Halbert Glendinning, who, from his earliest days, had never felt much devotion towards the Catholic faith, and who listened eagerly to more reasonable views of religion. By thus adopting the faith of his master, he rose higher in his favour, and was constantly about his person during his prolonged stay in the west of Scotland, which the intractability of those whom the Earl had to deal with, protracted from day to day, and week to week.

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