The Monastery, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Ninth.

For since they rode among our doors

With splent on spauld and rusty spurs,

There grows no fruit into our furs;

Thus said John Up-on-land.

Dannatyne MS.

The Scottish laws, which were as wisely and judiciously made as they were carelessly and ineffectually executed, had in vain endeavoured to restrain the damage done to agriculture, by the chiefs and landed proprietors retaining in their service what were called jack-men, from the jack, or doublet, quilted with iron which they wore as defensive armour. These military retainers conducted themselves with great insolence towards the industrious part of the community — lived in a great measure by plunder, and were ready to execute any commands of their master, however unlawful. In adopting this mode of life, men resigned the quiet hopes and regular labours of industry, for an unsettled, precarious, and dangerous trade, which yet had such charms for those once accustomed to it, that they became incapable of following any other. Hence the complaint of John Upland, a fictitious character, representing a countryman, into whose mouth the poets of the day put their general satires upon men and manners.

They ride about in such a rage,

By forest, frith, and field,

With buckler, bow, and brand.

Lo! where they ride out through the rye!

The Devil mot save the company,

Quoth John Up-on-land.

Christie of the Clinthill, the horseman who now arrived at the little Tower of Glendearg, was one of the hopeful company of whom the poet complains, as was indicated by his “splent on spauld,” (iron-plates on his shoulder,) his rusted spurs, and his long lance. An iron skull-cap, none of the brightest, bore for distinction a sprig of the holly, which was Avenel’s badge. A long two-edged straight sword, having a handle made of polished oak, hung down by his side. The meagre condition of his horse, and the wild and emaciated look of the rider, showed their occupation could not be accounted an easy or a thriving one. He saluted Dame Glendinning with little courtesy, and the monk with less; for the growing, disrespect to the religious orders had not failed to extend itself among a class of men of such disorderly habits, although it may be supposed they were tolerably indifferent alike to the new or the ancient doctrines.

“So, our lady is dead, Dame Glendinning?” said the jack-man; “my master has sent you even now a fat bullock for her mart — it may serve for her funeral. I have left him in the upper cleugh, as he is somewhat kenspeckle, 27 and is marked both with cut and birn — the sooner the skin is off, and he is in saultfat, the less like you are to have trouble — you understand me? Let me have a peck of corn for my horse, and beef and beer for myself, for I must go on to the Monastery — though I think this monk hero might do mine errand.”

“Thine errand, rude man!” said the Sub-Prior, knitting his brows —

“For God’s sake” cried poor Dame Glendinning, terrified at the idea of a quarrel between them — “O Christie! —— it is the Sub-Prior — O reverend sir, it is Christie of the Clinthill, the laird’s chief jack-man; ye know that little havings can be expected from the like o’ them.”

“Are you a retainer of the Laird of Avenel?” said the monk, addressing himself to the horseman, “and do you speak thus rudely to a Brother of Saint Mary’s, to whom thy master is so much beholden?”

“He means to be yet more beholden to your house, Sir Monk,” answered the fellow; “for hearing his sister-inlaw, the widow of Walter of Avenel, was on her death-bed, he sent me to say to the Father Abbot and the brethren, that he will hold the funeral-feast at their convent, and invites himself thereto, with a score of horse and some friends, and to abide there for three days and three nights — having horse-meat and men’s-meat at the charge of the community; of which his intention he sends due notice, that fitting preparation may be timeously made.”

“Friend,” said the Sub-Prior, “believe not that I will do to the Father Abbot the indignity of delivering such an errand. — Think’st thou the goods of the church were bestowed upon her by holy princes and pious nobles, now dead and gone, to be consumed in revelry by every profligate layman who numbers in his train more followers than he can support by honest means, or by his own incomings? Tell thy master, from the Sub-Prior of Saint Mary’s, that the Primate hath issued his commands to us that we submit no longer to this compulsory exaction of hospitality on slight or false pretences. Our lands and goods were given to relieve pilgrims and pious persons, not to feast bands of rude soldiers.”

“This to me!” said the angry spearman, “this to me and to my master — Look to yourself then, Sir Priest, and try if Ave and Credo will keep bullocks from wandering, and hay-stacks from burning.”

“Dost thou menace the Holy Church’s patrimony with waste and fire-raising,” said the Sub-Prior, “and that in the face of the sun? I call on all who hear me to bear witness to the words this ruffian has spoken. Remember how the Lord James drowned such as you by scores in the black pool at Jeddart.-To him and to the Primate will I complain.” The soldier shifted the position of his lance, and brought it down to a level with the monk’s body.

Dame Glendinning began to shriek for assistance. “Tibb Tacket! Martin! where be ye all? — Christie, for the love of God, consider he is a man of Holy Kirk!”

“I care not for his spear,” said the Sub-Prior; “if I am slain in defending the rights and privileges of my community, the Primate will know how to take vengeance.”

“Let him look to himself,” said Christie, but at the same time depositing his lance against the wall of the tower; “if the Fife men spoke true who came hither with the Governor in the last raid, Norman Leslie has him at feud, and is like to set him hard. We know Norman a true bloodhound, who will never quit the slot. But I had no design to offend the holy father,” he added, thinking perhaps he had gone a little too far; “I am a rude man, bred to lance and stirrup, and not used to deal with book-learned men and priests; and I am willing to ask his forgiveness — and his blessing, if I have said aught amiss.”

“For God’s sake! your reverence,” said the widow of Glendearg apart to the Sub-Prior, “bestow on him your forgiveness — how shall we poor folk sleep in security in the dark nights, if the convent is at feud with such men as he is?”

“You are right, dame,” said the Sub-Prior, “your safety should, and must be, in the first instance consulted. — Soldier, I forgive thee, and may God bless thee and send thee honesty.”

Christie of the Clinthill made an unwilling inclination with his head, and muttered apart, “that is as much as to say, God send thee starvation, But now to my master’s demand, Sir Priest? What answer am I to return?”

“That the body of the widow of Walter of Avenel,” answered the Father, “shall be interred as becomes her rank, and in the tomb of her valiant husband. For your master’s proffered visit of three days, with such a company and retinue, I have no authority to reply to it; you must intimate your Chief’s purpose to the Reverend Lord Abbot.”

“That will cost me a farther ride,” said the man, “but it is all in the day’s work. — How now, my lad,” said he to Halbert, who was handling the long lance which he had laid aside; “how do you like such a plaything? — will you go with me and be a moss-trooper?”

“The Saints in their mercy forbid!” said the poor mother; and then, afraid of having displeased Christie by the vivacity of her exclamation, she followed it up by explaining, that since Simon’s death she could not look on a spear or a bow, or any implement of destruction without trembling.

“Pshaw!” answered Christie, “thou shouldst take another husband, dame, and drive such follies out of thy thoughts — what sayst thou to such a strapping lad as I? Why, this old tower of thine is fensible enough, and there is no want of clenchs, and crags, and bogs, and thickets, if one was set hard; a man might bide here and keep his half-score of lads, and as many geldings, and live on what he could lay his hand on, and be kind to thee, old wench.”

“Alas! Master Christie,” said the matron, “that you should talk to a lone woman in such a fashion, and death in the house besides!”

“Lone woman! — why, that is the very reason thou shouldst take a mate. Thy old friend is dead, why, good — choose thou another of somewhat tougher frame, and that will not die of the pip like a young chicken. — Better still — Come, dame, let me have something to eat, and we will talk more of this.”

Dame Elspeth, though she well knew the character of the man, whom in fact she both disliked and feared, could not help simpering at the personal address which he thought proper to make to her. She whispered to the Sub-Prior, “ony thing just to keep him quiet,” and went into the tower to set before the soldier the food he desired, trusting betwixt good cheer and the power of her own charms, to keep Christie of the Clinthill so well amused, that the altercation betwixt him and the holy father should not be renewed.

The Sub-Prior was equally unwilling to hazard any unnecessary rupture between the community and such a person as Julian of Avenel. He was sensible that moderation, as well as firmness, was necessary to support the tottering cause of the Church of Rome; and that, contrary to former times, the quarrels betwixt the clergy and laity had, in the present, usually terminated to the advantage of the latter. He resolved, therefore, to avoid farther strife by withdrawing, but failed not, in the first place, to possess himself of the volume which the Sacristan carried off the evening before, and which had been returned to the glen in such a marvellous manner.

Edward, the younger of Dame Elspeth’s boys, made great objections to the book’s being removed, in which Mary would probably have joined, but that she was now in her little sleeping-chamber with Tibb, who was exerting her simple skill to console the young lady for her mother’s death. But the younger Glendinning stood up in defence of her property, and, with a positiveness which had hitherto made no part of his character, declared, that now the kind lady was dead, the book was Mary’s, and no one but Mary should have it.

“But if it is not a fit book for Mary to read, my dear boy,” said the father, gently, “you would not wish it to remain with her?”

“The lady read it,” answered the young champion of property; “and so it could not be wrong — it shall not be taken away. — I wonder where Halbert is? — listening to the bravading tales of gay Christie, I reckon — he is always wishing for fighting, and now he is out of the way.”

“Why, Edward, you would not fight with me, who am both a priest and old man?”

“If you were as good a priest as the Pope,” said the boy, “and as old as the hills to boot, you shall not carry away Mary’s book without her leave. I will do battle for it.”

“But see you, my love,” said the monk, amused with the resolute friendship manifested by the boy, “I do not take it; I only borrow it; and I leave in its place my own gay missal, as a pledge I will bring it again.”

Edward opened the missal with eager curiosity, and glanced at the pictures with which it was illustrated. “Saint George and the dragon — Halbert will like that; and Saint Michael brandishing his sword over the head of the Wicked One — and that will do for Halbert too. And see the Saint John leading his lamb in the wilderness, with his little cross made of reeds, and his scrip and staff — that shall be my favourite; and where shall we find one for poor Mary? — here is a beautiful woman weeping and lamenting herself.”

“This is Saint Mary Magdalen repenting of her sins, my dear boy,” said the father.

“That will not suit our Mary; for she commits no faults, and is never angry with us, but when we do something wrong.”

“Then,” said the father, “I will show you a Mary, who will protect her and you, and all good children. See how fairly she is represented, with her gown covered with golden stars.”

The boy was lost in wonder at the portrait of the Virgin, which the Sub-Prior turned up to him.

“This,” he said, “is really like our sweet Mary; and I think I will let you take away the black book, that has no such goodly shows in it, and leave this for Mary instead. But you must promise to bring back the book, good father — for now I think upon it, Mary may like that best which was her mother’s.”

“I will certainly return,” said the monk, evading his answer, “and perhaps I may teach you to write and read such beautiful letters as you see there written, and to paint them blue, green, and yellow, and to blazon them with gold.”

“Ay, and to make such figures as these blessed Saints, and especially these two Marys?” said the boy.

“With their blessing,” said the Sub-Prior, “I can teach you that art too, so far as I am myself capable of showing, and you of learning it.” “Then,” said Edward, “will I paint Mary’s picture — and remember you are to bring back the black book; that you must promise me.”

The Sub-Prior, anxious to get rid of the boy’s pertinacity, and to set forward on his return to the convent, without having any further interview with Christie the galloper, answered by giving the promise Edward required, mounted his mule, and set forth on his return homeward.

The November day was well spent ere the Sub-Prior resumed his journey; for the difficulty of the road, and the various delays which he had met with at the tower, had detained him longer than he proposed. A chill easterly wind was sighing among the withered leaves, and stripping them from the hold they had yet retained on the parent trees.

“Even so,” said the monk, “our prospects in this vale of time grow more disconsolate as the stream of years passes on. Little have I gained by my journey, saving the certainty that heresy is busy among us with more than his usual activity, and that the spirit of insulting religious orders, and plundering the Church’s property, so general in the eastern districts of Scotland, has now come nearer home.”

The tread of a horse which came up behind him, interrupted his reverie, and he soon saw he was mounted by the same wild rider whom he had left at the tower.

“Good even, my son, and benedicite,” said the Sub-Prior as he passed; but the rude soldier scarce acknowledged the greeting, by bending his head; and dashing the spurs into his horse, went on at a pace which soon left the monk and his mule far behind. And there, thought the Sub-Prior, goes another plague of the times — a fellow whose birth designed him to cultivate the earth, but who is perverted by the unhallowed and unchristian divisions of the country, into a daring and dissolute robber. The barons of Scotland are now turned masterful thieves and ruffians, oppressing the poor by violence, and wasting the Church, by extorting free-quarters from abbeys and priories, without either shame or reason. I fear me I shall be too late to counsel the Abbot to make a stand against these daring sorners 28 — I must make haste.” He struck his mule with his riding wand accordingly; but, instead of mending her pace, the animal suddenly started from the path, and the rider’s utmost efforts could not force her forward.

“Art thou, too, infected with the spirit of the times?” said the Sub-Prior; “thou wert wont to be ready and serviceable, and art now as restive as any wild jack-man or stubborn heretic of them all.”

While he was contending with the startled animal, a voice, like that of a female, chanted in his ear, or at least very close to it,

“Good evening-. Sir Priest, and so late as you ride,

With your mule so fair, and your mantle so wide;

But ride you through valley, or ride you o’er hill.

There is one that has warrant to wait on you still.

Back, back,

The volume black!

I have a warrant to carry it back.”

The Sub-Prior looked around, but neither bush nor brake was near which could conceal an ambushed songstress. “May Our Lady have mercy on me!” he said; “I trust my senses have not forsaken me — yet how my thoughts should arrange themselves into rhymes which I despise, and music which I care not for, or why there should be the sound of a female voice in ears, in which its melody has been so long indifferent, baffles my comprehension, and almost realizes the vision of Philip the Sacristan. Come, good mule, betake thee to the path, and let us hence while our judgment serves us.”

But the mule stood as if it had been rooted to the spot, backed from the point to which it was pressed by its rider, and by her ears laid close into her neck, and her eyes almost starting from their sockets, testified that she was under great terror.

While the Sub-Prior, by alternate threats and soothing, endeavoured to reclaim the wayward animal to her duty, the wild musical voice was again heard close beside him.

“What, ho! Sub-Prior, and came you but here

To conjure a book from a dead woman’s bier?

Sain you, and save you, be wary and wise,

Ride back with the book, or you’ll pay for your prize.

Back, back.

There’s death in the track!

In the name of my master I bid thee bear back.”

“In the name of my Master,” said the astonished monk, “that name before which all things created tremble, I conjure thee to say what thou art that hauntest me thus?”

The same voice replied,

“That which is neither ill nor well.

That which belongs not to Heaven nor to hell,

A wreath of the mist, a bubble of the stream,

‘Twixt a waking thought and a sleeping dream;

A form that men spy

With the half-shut eye.

In the beams of the setting sun, am I.”

“This is more than simple fantasy,” said the Sub-Prior, rousing himself; though, notwithstanding the natural hardihood of his temper, the sensible presence of a supernatural being so near him, failed not to make his blood run cold, and his hair bristle. “I charge thee,” he said aloud, “be thine errand what it will, to depart and trouble me no more! False spirit, thou canst not appal any save those who do the work negligently.” The voice immediately answered:

“Vainly, Sir Prior. wouldst thou bar me my right!

Like the star when it shoots, I can dart through the night;

I can dance on the torrent and ride on the air,

And travel the world with the bonny night-mare.

Again, again,

At the crook of the glen,

Where bickers the burnie, I’ll meet thee again.”

The road was now apparently left open; for the mule collected herself, and changed from her posture of terror to one which promised advance, although a profuse perspiration, and general trembling of the joints, indicated the bodily terror she had undergone.

“I used to doubt the existence of Cabalists and Rosicrucians,” thought the Sub-Prior, “but, by my Holy Order, I know no longer what to say! — My pulse beats temperately — my hand is cool — I am fasting from everything but sin, and possessed of my ordinary faculties — Either some fiend is permitted to bewilder me, or the tales of Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and others who treat of occult philosophy, are not without foundation. — At the crook of the glen? I could have desired to avoid a second meeting, but I am on the service of the Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against me.”

He moved around accordingly, but with precaution, and not without fear; for he neither knew the manner in which, or the place where his journey might be next interrupted by his invisible attendant. He descended the glen without interruption for about a mile farther, when, just at the spot where the brook approached the steep hill, with a winding so abrupt as to leave scarcely room for a horse to pass, the mule was again visited with the same symptoms of terror which had before interrupted her course. Better acquainted than before with the cause of her restiveness, the Priest employed no effort to make her proceed, but addressed himself to the object, which he doubted not was the same that had formerly interrupted him, in the words of solemn exorcism prescribed by the Church of Rome on such occasions.

In reply to his demand, the voice again sung —

“Men of good are bold as sackless,29

Men of rude are wild and reckless,

Lie thou still

In the nook of the hill.

For those be before thee that wish thee ill.”

While the Sub-Prior listened, with his head turned in the direction from which the sounds seemed to come, he felt as if something rushed against him; and ere he could discover the cause, he was pushed from his saddle with gentle but irresistible force. Before he reached the ground his senses were gone, and he lay long in a state of insensibility; for the sunset had not ceased to gild the top of the distant hill when he fell — and when he again became conscious of existence, the pale moon was gleaming on the landscape. He awakened in a state of terror, from which, for a few minutes, he found it difficult to shake himself free. At length he sate upon the grass, and became sensible, by repeated exertion, that the only personal injury which he had sustained was the numbness arising from extreme cold. The motion of something near him made the blood again run to his heart, and by a sudden effort he started up, and, looking around, saw to his relief that the noise was occasioned by the footsteps of his own mule. The peaceable animal had remained quietly beside her master during his trance, browsing on the grass which grew plentifully in that sequestered nook.

With some exertion he collected himself, remounted the animal, and meditating upon his wild adventure, descended the glen till its junction with the broader valley through which the Tweed winds. The drawbridge was readily dropped at his first summons; and so much had he won upon the heart of the churlish warden, that Peter appeared himself with a lantern to show the Sub-Prior his way over the perilous pass.

“By my sooth, sir,” he said, holding the light up to Father Eustace’s face, “you look sorely travelled and deadly pale — but a little matter serves to weary out you men of the cell. I now who speak to you — I have ridden — before I was perched up here on this pillar betwixt wind and water — it may be thirty Scots miles before I broke my fast, and have had the red of a bramble rose in my cheek all the while — But will you taste some food, or a cup of distilled waters?”

“I may not,” said Father Eustace, “being under a vow; but I thank you for your kindness, and pray you to give what I may not accept to the next poor pilgrim who comes hither pale and fainting, for so it shall be the better both with him here, and with you hereafter.”

“By my faith, and I will do so,” said Peter Bridge-Ward, “even for thy sake — It is strange now, how this Sub-Prior gets round one’s heart more than the rest of these cowled gentry, that think of nothing but quaffing and stuffing! — Wife, I say — wife, we will give a cup of distilled waters and a crust of bread unto the next pilgrim that comes over; and ye may keep for 30 the purpose the grunds of the last greybeard, and the ill-baked bannock which the bairns couldna eat.”

While Peter issued these charitable, and, at the same time, prudent injunctions, the Sub-Prior, whose mild interference had awakened the Bridge-Ward to such an act of unwonted generosity, was pacing onward to the Monastery. In the way, he had to commune with and subdue his own rebellious heart, an enemy, he was sensible, more formidable than any which the external powers of Satan could place in his way.

Father Eustace had indeed strong temptation to suppress the extraordinary incident which had befallen him, which he was the more reluctant to confess, because he had passed so severe a judgment upon Father Philip, who, as he was not unwilling to allow, had, on his return from Glendearg, encountered obstacles somewhat similar to his own. Of this the Sub-Prior was the more convinced, when, feeling in his bosom for the Book which he had brought off from the Tower of Glendearg, he found it was amissing, which he could only account for by supposing it had been stolen from him during his trance.

“If I confess this strange visitation,” thought the Sub-Prior, “I become the ridicule of all my brethren — I whom the Primate sent hither to be a watch, as it were, and a check upon their follies. I give the Abbot an advantage over me which I shall never again recover, and Heaven only knows how he may abuse it, in his foolish simplicity, to the dishonour and loss of Holy Kirk. — But then, if I make not true confession of my shame, with what face can I again presume to admonish or restrain others? — Avow, proud heart,” continued he, addressing himself, “that the weal of Holy Church interests thee less in this matter than thine own humiliation — Yes, Heaven has punished thee even in that point in which thou didst deem thyself most strong, in thy spiritual pride and thy carnal wisdom. Thou hast laughed at and derided the inexperience of thy brethren — stoop thyself in turn to their derision — tell what they may not believe — affirm that which they will ascribe to idle fear, or perhaps to idle falsehood — sustain the disgrace of a silly visionary, or a wilful deceiver. — Be it so, I will do my duty, and make ample confession to my Superior. If the discharge of this duty destroys my usefulness in this house, God and Our Lady will send me where I can better serve them.”

There was no little merit in the resolution thus piously and generously formed by Father Eustace. To men of any rank the esteem of their order is naturally most dear; but in the monastic establishment, cut off, as the brethren are, from other objects of ambition, as well as from all exterior friendship and relationship, the place which they hold in the opinion of each other is all in all.

But the consciousness how much he should rejoice the Abbot and most of the other monks of Saint Mary’s, who were impatient of the unauthorized, yet irresistible control, which he was wont to exercise in the affairs of the convent, by a confession which would put him in a ludicrous, or perhaps even in a criminal point of view, could not weigh with Father Eustace in comparison with the task which his belief enjoined.

As, strong in his feelings of duty, he approached the exterior gate of the Monastery, he was surprised to see torches gleaming, and men assembled around it, some on horseback, some on foot, while several of the monks, distinguished through the night by their white scapularies, were making themselves busy among the crowd. The Sub-Prior was received with a unanimous shout of joy, which at once made him sensible that he had himself been the object of their anxiety.

“There he is! there he is! God be thanked — there he is, hale and fear!” exclaimed the vassals; while the monks exclaimed, “Te Deum laudamus — the blood of thy servants is precious in thy sight!”

“What is the matter, children? what is the matter, my brethren?” said Father Eustace, dismounting at the gate.

“Nay, brother, if thou know’st not, we will not tell thee till thou art in the refectory,” answered the monks; “suffice it that the Lord Abbot had ordered these, our zealous and faithful vassals, instantly to set forth to guard thee from imminent peril — Ye may ungirth your horses, children, and dismiss; and tomorrow, each who was at this rendezvous may send to the convent kitchen for a quarter of a yard of roast beef, and a black-jack full of double ale.” 31

The vassals dispersed with joyful acclamation, and the monks, with equal jubilee, conducted the Sub-Prior into the refectory.

27 Kenspeckle>I> — that which is easily recognized by the eye.

28 To sorne, in Scotland, is to exact free quarters against the will of the landlord. It is declared equivalent to theft, by a statute passed in the year 1445. The great chieftains oppressed the monasteries very much by exactions of this nature. The community of Aberbrothwick complained of an Earl of Angus, I think, who was in the regular habit of visiting them once a year, with a train of a thousand horse, and abiding till the whole winter provisions of the convent were exhausted.

29 Sackless — Innocent.

30 An old-fashioned name for an earthen jar for holding spirits.

31 It was one of the few reminiscences of Old Parr, or Henry Jenkins, I forget which, that, at some convent in the veteran’s neighbourhood, the community, before the dissolution, used to dole out roast-beef in the measure of feet and yards.

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