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Chapter 10


She dwelt unnoticed and alone,
Beside the springs of Dove:
A maid whom there was none to praise,
And very few to love.
WORDSWORTH.


In the course of their journey the travellers spoke little to each
other. Magdalen Graeme chanted, from time to time, in a low voice, a
part of some one of those beautiful old Latin hymns which belong to
the Catholic service, muttered an Ave or a Credo, and so passed on,
lost in devotional contemplation. The meditations of her grandson were
more bent on mundane matters; and many a time, as a moor-fowl arose
from the heath, and shot along the moor, uttering his bold crow of
defiance, he thought of the jolly Adam Woodcock, and his trusty
goss-hawk; or, as they passed a thicket where the low trees and bushes
were intermingled with tall fern, furze, and broom, so as to form a
thick and intricate cover, his dreams were of a roebuck and a brace of
gaze-hounds. But frequently his mind returned to the benevolent and
kind mistress whom he had left behind him, offended justly, and
unreconciled by any effort of his.

"My step would be lighter," he thought, "and so would my heart, could
I but have returned to see her for one instant, and to say, Lady, the
orphan boy was wild, but not ungrateful!"

Travelling in these divers moods, about the hour of noon they reached
a small straggling village, in which, as usual, were seen one or two
of those predominating towers, or peel houses, which, for reasons of
defence elsewhere detailed, were at that time to be found in every
Border hamlet. A brook flowed beside the village, and watered the
valley in which it stood. There was also a mansion at the end of the
village, and a little way separated from it, much dilapidated, and in
very bad order, but appearing to have been the abode of persons of
some consideration. The situation was agreeable, being an angle formed
by the stream, bearing three or four large sycamore trees, which were
in full leaf, and served to relieve the dark appearance of the
mansion, which was built of a deep red stone. The house itself was a
large one, but was now obviously too big for the inmates; several
windows were built up, especially those which opened from the lower
story; others were blockaded in a less substantial manner. The court
before the door, which had once been defended with a species of low
outer-wall, now ruinous, was paved, but the stones were completely
covered with long gray nettles, thistles, and other weeds, which,
shooting up betwixt the flags, had displaced many of them from their
level. Even matters demanding more peremptory attention had been left
neglected, in a manner which argued sloth or poverty in the extreme.
The stream, undermining a part of the bank near an angle of the
ruinous wall, had brought it down, with a corner turret, the ruins of
which lay in the bed of the river. The current, interrupted by the
ruins which it had overthrown, and turned yet nearer to the site of
the tower, had greatly enlarged the breach it had made, and was in the
process of undermining the ground on which the house itself stood,
unless it were speedily protected by sufficient bulwarks.

All this attracted Roland Graeme's observation, as they approached the
dwelling by a winding path, which gave them, at intervals, a view of
it from different points.

"If we go to yonder house," he said to his mother, "I trust it is but
for a short visit. It looks as if two rainy days from the north-west
would send the whole into the brook."

"You see but with the eyes of the body," said the old woman; "God will
defend his own, though it be forsaken and despised of men. Better to
dwell on the sand, under his law, than fly to the rock of human
trust."

As she thus spoke, they entered the court before the old mansion, and
Roland could observe that the front of it had formerly been
considerably ornamented with carved work, in the same dark-coloured
freestone of which it was built. But all these ornaments had been
broken down and destroyed, and only the shattered vestiges of niches
and entablatures now strewed the place which they had once occupied.
The larger entrance in front was walled up, but a little footpath,
which, from its appearance, seemed to be rarely trodden, led to a
small wicket, defended by a door well clenched with iron-headed nails,
at which Magdalen Graeme knocked three times, pausing betwixt each
knock, until she heard an answering tap from within. At the last
knock, the wicket was opened by a pale thin female, who said,
"_Benedicti qui venient in nomine Domini_." They entered, and the
portress hastily shut behind them the wicket, and made fast the
massive fastenings by which it was secured.

The female led the way through a narrow entrance, into a vestibule of
some extent, paved with stone, and having benches of the same solid
material ranged around. At the upper end was an oriel window, but some
of the intervals formed by the stone shafts and mullions were blocked
up, so that the apartment was very gloomy.

Here they stopped, and the mistress of the mansion, for such she was,
embraced Magdalen Graeme, and greeting her by the title of sister,
kissed her with much solemnity, on either side of the face.

"The blessing of Our Lady be upon you, my sister," were her next
words; and they left no doubt upon Roland's mind respecting the
religion of their hostess, even if he could have suspected his
venerable and zealous guide of resting elsewhere than in the
habitation of an orthodox Catholic. They spoke together a few words
in private, during which he had leisure to remark more particularly
the appearance of his grandmother's friend.

Her age might be betwixt fifty and sixty; her looks had a mixture of
melancholy and unhappiness that bordered on discontent, and obscured
the remains of beauty which age had still left on her features. Her
dress was of the plainest and most ordinary description, of a dark
colour, and, like Magdalen Graeme's, something approaching to a
religious habit. Strict neatness and cleanliness of person, seemed to
intimate, that if poor, she was not reduced to squalid or heart-broken
distress, and that she was still sufficiently attached to life to
retain a taste for its decencies, if not its elegancies. Her manner,
as well as her features and appearance, argued an original condition
and education far above the meanness of her present appearance. In
short, the whole figure was such as to excite the idea, "That female
must have had a history worth knowing." While Roland Graeme was making
this very reflection, the whispers of the two females ceased, and the
mistress of the mansion, approaching him, looked on his face and
person with much attention, and, as it seemed, some interest.

"This, then," she said, addressing his relative, "is the child of
thine unhappy daughter, sister Magdalen; and him, the only shoot from
your ancient tree, you are willing to devote to the Good Cause?"

"Yes, by the rood," answered Magdalen Graeme, in her usual tone of
resolved determination, "to the good cause I devote him, flesh and
fell, sinew and limb, body and soul."

"Thou art a happy woman, sister Magdalen," answered her companion,
"that, lifted so high above human affection and human feeling, thou
canst bind such a victim to the horns of the altar. Had I been called
to make such a sacrifice--to plunge a youth so young and fair into the
plots and bloodthirsty dealings of the time, not the patriarch
Abraham, when he led Isaac up the mountain, would have rendered more
melancholy obedience."

She then continued to look at Roland with a mournful aspect of
compassion, until the intentness of her gaze occasioned his colour to
rise, and he was about to move out of its influence, when he was
stopped by his grand-mother with one hand, while with the other she
divided the hair upon his forehead, which was now crimson with
bashfulness, while she added, with a mixture of proud affection and
firm resolution,--"Ay, look at him well, my sister, for on a fairer
face thine eye never rested. I too, when I first saw him, after a long
separation, felt as the worldly feel, and was half shaken in my
purpose. But no wind can tear a leaf from the withered tree which has
long been stripped of its foliage, and no mere human casualty can
awaken the mortal feelings which have long slept in the calm of
devotion."

While the old woman thus spoke, her manner gave the lie to her
assertions, for the tears rose to her eyes while she added, "But the
fairer and the more spotless the victim, is it not, my sister, the
more worthy of acceptance?"

She seemed glad to escape from the sensations which agitated her, and
instantly added, "He will escape, my sister--there will be a ram
caught in the thicket, and the hand of our revolted brethren shall not
be on the youthfull Joseph. Heaven can defend its own rights, even by
means of babes and sucklings, of women and beardless boys."

"Heaven hath left us," said the other female; "for our sins and our
fathers' the succours of the blessed Saints have abandoned this
accursed land. We may win the crown of Martyrdom, but not that of
earthly triumph. One, too, whose prudence was at this deep crisis so
indispensable, has been called to a better world. The Abbot Eustatius
is no more."

"May his soul have mercy!" said Magdalen Graeme, "and may Heaven, too,
have mercy upon us, who linger behind in this bloody land! His loss is
indeed a perilous blow to our enterprise; for who remains behind
possessing his far-fetched experience, his self-devoted zeal, his
consummate wisdom, and his undaunted courage! He hath fallen with the
church's standard in his hand, but God will raise up another to lift
the blessed banner. Whom have the Chapter elected in his room?"

"It is rumoured no one of the few remaining brethren dare accept the
office. The heretics have sworn that they will permit no future
election, and will heavily punish any attempt to create a new Abbot of
Saint Mary's. _Conjuraverunt inter se principes, dicentes,
Projiciamus laqueos ejus_."

"_Quousque, Domine!_"--ejaculated Magdalen; "this, my sister,
were indeed a perilous and fatal breach in our band; but I am firm in
my belief, that another will arise in the place of him so untimely
removed. Where is thy daughter Catharine?"

"In the parlour," answered the matron, "but"--She looked at Roland
Graeme, and muttered something in the ear of her friend.

"Fear it not," answered Magdalen Graeme, "it is both lawful and
necessary--fear nothing from him--I would he were as well grounded in
the faith by which alone comes safety, as he is free from thought,
deed, or speech of villany. Therein is the heretics' discipline to be
commended, my sister, that they train up their youth in strong
morality, and choke up every inlet to youthful folly."

"It is but a cleansing the outside of the cup," answered her friend,
"a whitening of the sepulchre; but he shall see Catharine, since you,
sister, judge it safe and meet.--Follow us, youth," she added, and led
the way from the apartment--with her friend. These were the only words
which the matron had addressed to Roland Graeme, who obeyed them in
silence. As they paced through several winding passages and waste
apartments with a very slow step, the young page had leisure to make
some reflections on his situation,--reflections of a nature which his
ardent temper considered as specially disagreeable. It seemed he had
now got two mistresses, or tutoresses, instead of one, both elderly
women, and both, it would seem, in league to direct his motions
according to their own pleasure, and for the accomplishment of plans
to which he was no party. This, he thought, was too much; arguing
reasonably enough, that whatever right his grandmother and
benefactress had to guide his motions, she was neither entitled to
transfer her authority or divide it with another, who seemed to
assume, without ceremony, the same tone of absolute command over him.

"But it shall not long continue thus," thought Roland; "I will not be
all my life the slave of a woman's whistle, to go when she bids, and
come when she calls. No, by Saint Andrew! the hand that can hold the
lance is above the control of the distaff. I will leave them the
slipp'd collar in their hands on the first opportunity, and let them
execute their own devices by their own proper force. It may save them
both from peril, for I guess what they meditate is not likely to prove
either safe or easy--the Earl of Murray and his heresy are too well
rooted to be grubbed up by two old women."

As he thus resolved, they entered a low room, in which a third female
was seated. This apartment was the first he had observed in the
mansion which was furnished with moveable seats, and with a wooden
table, over which was laid a piece of tapestry. A carpet was spread on
the floor, there was a grate in the chimney, and, in brief, the
apartment had the air of being habitable and inhabited.

But Roland's eyes found better employment than to make observations on
the accommodations of the chamber; for this second female inhabitant
of the mansion seemed something very different from any thing he had
yet seen there. At his first entry, she had greeted with a silent and
low obeisance the two aged matrons, then glancing her eyes towards
Roland, she adjusted a veil which hung back over her shoulders, so as
to bring it over her face; an operation which she performed with much
modesty, but without either affected haste or embarrassed timidity.

During this manoeuvre Roland had time to observe, that the face was
that of a girl apparently not much past sixteen, and that the eyes
were at once soft and brilliant. To these very favourable observations
was added the certainty that the fair object to whom they referred
possessed an excellent shape, bordering perhaps on _enbonpoint_,
and therefore rather that of a Hebe than of a Sylph, but beautifully
formed, and shown to great advantage by the close jacket and petticoat
which she wore after a foreign fashion, the last not quite long enough
to conceal a very pretty foot, which rested on a bar of the table at
which she sate; her round arms and taper fingers very busily employed
in repairing--the piece of tapestry which was spread on it, which
exhibited several deplorable fissures, enough to demand the utmost
skill of the most expert seamstress.

It is to be remarked, that it was by stolen glances that Roland Graeme
contrived to ascertain these interesting particulars; and he thought
he could once or twice, notwithstanding the texture of the veil,
detect the damsel in the act of taking similar cognizance of his own
person. The matrons in the meanwhile continued their separate
conversation, eyeing from time to time the young people, in a manner
which left Roland in no doubt that they were the subject of their
conversation. At length he distinctly heard Magdalen Graeme say these
words--"Nay, my sister, we must give them opportunity to speak
together, and to become acquainted; they must be personally known to
each other, or how shall they be able to execute what they are
intrusted with?"

It seemed as if the matron, not fully satisfied with her friend's
reasoning, continued to offer some objections; but they were borne
down by her more dictatorial friend.

"It must be so," she said, "my dear sister; let us therefore go forth
on the balcony, to finish our conversation.--And do you," she said,
addressing Roland and the girl, "become acquainted with each other."

With this she stepped up to the young woman, and raising her veil,
discovered features which, whatever might be their ordinary
complexion, were now covered with a universal blush.

"_Licitum sit,_" said Magdalen, looking at the other matron.

"_Vix licitum,_" replied the other, with reluctant and hesitating
acquiescence; and again adjusting the veil of the blushing girl, she
dropped it so as to shade, though not to conceal her countenance, and
whispered to her, in a tone loud enough for the page to hear,
"Remember, Catharine, who thou art, and for what destined."

The matron then retreated with Magdalen Graeme through one of the
casements of the apartment, that opened on a large broad balcony,
which, with its ponderous balustrade, had once run along the whole
south front of the building which faced the brook, and formed a
pleasant and commodious walk in the open air. It was now in some
places deprived of the balustrade, in others broken and narrowed; but,
ruinous as it was, could still be used as a pleasant promenade. Here
then walked the two ancient dames, busied in their private
conversation; yet not so much so, but that Roland could observe the
matrons, as their thin forms darkened the casement in passing or
repassing before it, dart a glance into the apartment, to see how
matters were going on there.

Sir Walter Scott