Indifferent, but indifferent--pshaw, he doth it not
Like one who is his craft's master--ne'er the less
I have seen a clown confer a bloody coxcomb
On one who was a master of defence.
With the first gray peep of dawn, Halbert Glendinning arose and
hastened to dress himself, girded on his weapon, and took a cross-bow
in his hand, as if his usual sport had been his sole object. He groped
his way down the dark and winding staircase, and undid, with as little
noise as possible, the fastenings of the inner door, and of the
exterior iron grate. At length he stood free in the court-yard, and
looking up to the tower, saw a signal made with a handkerchief from
the window. Nothing doubting that it was his antagonist, he paused,
expecting him. But it was Mary Avenel, who glided like a spirit from
under the low and rugged portal.
Halbert was much surprised, and felt, he knew not why, like one caught
in the act of a meditated trespass. The presence of Mary Avenel had till
that moment never given him pain. She spoke, too, in a tone where sorrow
seemed to mingle with reproach, while she asked him with emphasis,
"What he was about to do?"
He showed his cross-bow, and was about to express the pretext he had
meditated, when Mary interrupted him.
"Not so, Halbert--that evasion were unworthy of one whose word has
hitherto been truth. You meditate not the destruction of the deer--your
hand and your heart are aimed at other game--you seek to do battle with
"And wherefore should I quarrel with our guest?" answered Halbert,
"There are, indeed, many reasons why you should not," replied the
maiden, "nor is there one of avail wherefore you should--yet
nevertheless, such a quarrel you are now searching after."
"Why should you suppose so, Mary?" said Halbert, endeavouring to hide
his conscious purpose--"he is my mother's guest--he is protected by
the Abbot and the community, who are our masters--he is of high degree
also,--and wherefore should you think that I can, or dare, resent a
hasty word, which he has perchance thrown out against me more from the
wantonness of his wit, than the purpose of his heart?"
"Alas!" answered the maiden, "the very asking that question puts your
resolution beyond a doubt. Since your childhood you were ever daring,
seeking danger rather than avoiding it--delighting in whatever had the
air of adventure and of courage: and it is not from fear that you will
now blench from your purpose--Oh, let it then be from pity!--from
pity, Halbert, to your aged mother, whom your death or victory will
alike deprive of the comfort and stay of her age."
"She has my brother Edward," said Halbert, turning suddenly from her.
"She has indeed," said Mary Avenel, "the calm, the noble-minded, the
considerate Edward, who has thy courage, Halbert, without thy fiery
rashness,--thy generous spirit, with more of reason to guide it. He
would not have heard his mother, would not have heard his adopted
sister, beseech him in vain not to ruin himself, and tear up their
future hopes of happiness and protection."
Halbert's heart swelled as he replied to this reproach. "Well--what
avails it speaking?--you have him that is better than me--wiser, more
considerate--braver, for aught I know--you are provided with a
protector, and need care no more for me."
Again he turned to depart, but Mary Avenel laid her hand on his arm so
gently that he scarce felt her hold, yet felt that it was impossible
for him to strike it off. There he stood, one foot advanced to leave
the court-yard, but so little determined on departure, that he
resembled a traveller arrested by the spell of a magician, and unable
either to quit the attitude of motion, or to proceed on his course.
Mary Avenel availed herself of his state of suspense. "Hear me," she
said, "hear me, Halbert!--I am an orphan, and even Heaven hears the
orphan--I have been the companion of your infancy, and if _you_
will not hear me for an instant, from whom may Mary Avenel claim so
poor a boon?"
"I hear you," said Halbert Glendinning, "but be brief, dear Mary--you
mistake the nature of my business--it is but a morning of summer sport
which we propose."
"Say not thus," said the maiden, interrupting him, "say not thus to me
--others thou mayst deceive, but me thou canst not--There has been
that in me from the earliest youth, which fraud flies from, and which
imposture cannot deceive. For what fate has given me such a power I
know not; but bred an ignorant maiden, in this sequestered valley,
mine eyes can too often see what man would most willingly hide--I can
judge of the dark purpose, though it is hid under the smiling brow,
and a glance of the eye says more to me than oaths and protestations
do to others."
"Then," said Halbert, "if thou canst so read the human heart,--say,
dear Mary--what dost thou see in mine?--tell me that--say that what
thou seest--what thou readest in this bosom, does not offend thee--say
but _that_, and thou shalt be the guide of my actions, and mould
me now and henceforward to honour or to dishonour at thy own free
Mary Avenel became first red, and then deadly pale, as Halbert
Glendinning spoke. But when, turning round at the close of his
address, he took her hand, she gently withdrew it, and replied, "I
cannot read the heart, Halbert, and I would not of my will know aught
of yours, save what beseems us both--I only can judge of signs, words,
and actions of little outward import, more truly than those around me,
as my eyes, thou knowest, have seen objects not presented to those of
"Let them gaze then on one whom they shall never see more," said
Halbert, once more turning from her, and rushing out of the court-yard
without again looking back.
Mary Avenel gave a faint scream, and clasped both her hands firmly on
her forehead and eyes. She had been a minute in this attitude, when
she was thus greeted by a voice from behind: "Generously done, my most
clement Discretion, to hide those brilliant eyes from the far inferior
beams which even now begin to gild the eastern horizon--Certes, peril
there were that Phoebus, outshone in splendour, might in very
shamefacedness turn back his ear, and rather leave the world in
darkness, than incur the disgrace of such an encounter--Credit me,
But as Sir Piercie Shafton (the reader will readily set down these
flowers of eloquence to the proper owner) attempted to take Mary
Avenel's hand, in order to proceed in his speech, she shook him
abruptly off, and regarding him with an eye which evinced terror and
agitation, rushed past him into the tower.
The knight stood looking after her with a countenance in which
contempt was strongly mingled with mortification. "By my knighthood!"
he ejaculated, "I have thrown away upon this rude rustic Phidel? a
speech, which the proudest beauty at the court of Felicia (so let me
call the Elysium from which I am banished!) might have termed the very
matins of Cupid. Hard and inexorable was the fate that sent thee
thither, Piercie Shafton, to waste thy wit upon country wenches, and
thy valour upon hob-nailed clowns! But that insult--that affront--had
it been offered to me by the lowest plebeian, he must have died for it
by my hand, in respect the enormity of the offence doth countervail
the inequality of him by whom it is given. I trust I shall find this
clownish roisterer not less willing to deal in blows than in taunts."
While he held this conversation with himself, Sir Piercie Shafton was
hastening to the little tuft of birch-trees which had been assigned as
the place of meeting. He greeted his antagonist with a courtly
salutation, followed by this commentary: "I pray you to observe, that
I doff my hat to you, though so much my inferior in rank, without
derogation on my part, inasmuch as my having so far honoured you in
receiving and admitting your defiance, doth, in the judgment of the
best martialists, in some sort and for the time, raise you to a level
with me--an honour which you may and ought to account cheaply
purchased, even with the loss of your life, if such should chance to
be the issue of this duello."
"For which condescension," said Halbert, "I have to thank the token
which I presented to you."
The knight changed colour, and grinded his teeth with rage--"Draw your
weapon!" said he to Glendinning.
"Not in this spot," answered the youth; "we should be liable to
interruption--Follow me, and I will bring you to a place where we
shall encounter no such risk."
He proceeded to walk up the glen, resolving that their place of combat
should be in the entrance of the Corri-nan-shian; both because the
spot, lying under the reputation of being haunted, was very little
frequented, and also because he regarded it as a place which to him
might be termed fated, and which he therefore resolved should witness
his death or victory. They walked up the glen for some time in
silence, like honourable enemies who did not wish to contend with
words, and who had nothing friendly to exchange with each other.
Silence, however, was always an irksome state with Sir Piercie and,
moreover, his anger was usually a hasty and short-lived passion. As,
therefore, he went forth, in his own idea, in all love and honour
towards his antagonist, he saw not any cause for submitting longer to
the painful restraint of positive silence. He began by complimenting
Halbert on the alert activity with which he surmounted the obstacles
and impediments of the way.
"Trust me," said he, "worthy rustic, we have not a lighter or a firmer
step in our courtlike revels, and if duly set forth by a silk hose,
and trained unto that stately exercise, your leg would make an
indifferent good show in a pavin or a galliard. And I doubt nothing,"
he added, "that you have availed yourself of some opportunity to
improve yourself in the art of fence, which is more akin than dancing
to our present purpose?"
"I know nothing more of fencing," said Halbert, "than hath been taught
me by an old shepherd of ours, called Martin, and at whiles a lesson
from Christie of the Clinthill--for the rest, I must trust to good
sword, strong arm, and sound heart."
"Marry and I am glad of it, young Audacity, (I will call you my
Audacity, and you will call me your Condescension, while we are on
these terms of unnatural equality,) I am glad of your ignorance with
all my heart. For we martialists proportion the punishments which we
inflict upon our opposites, to the length and hazard of the efforts
wherewith they oppose themselves to us. And I see not why you, being
but a tyro, may not be held sufficiently punished for your
outrecuidance, and orgillous presumption, by the loss of an ear, an
eye, or even a finger, accompanied by some flesh-wound of depth and
severity, suited to your error--whereas, had you been able to stand
more effectually on your defence, I see not how less than your life
could have atoned sufficiently for your presumption."
"Now, by God and Our Lady," said Halbert, unable any longer to
restrain himself, "thou art thyself over-presumptuous, who speakest
thus daringly of the issue of a combat which is not yet even
begun--Are you a god, that you already dispose of my life and limbs?
or are you a judge in the justice-air, telling at your ease and
without risk, how the head and quarters of a condemned criminal are to
be disposed of?"
"Not so, O thou,--whom I have well permitted to call thyself my
Audacity. I, thy Condescension, am neither a god to judge the issue
of the combat before it is fought, nor a judge to dispose at my ease
and in safety of the limbs and head of a condemned criminal; but I am
an indifferent good master of fence, being the first pupil of the
first master of the first school of fence that our royal England
affords, the said master being no other than the truly noble, and
all-unutterably skilful Vincentio Saviola, from whom I learned the
firm step, quick eye, and nimble hand--of which qualities thou, O my
most rustical Audacity, art full like to reap the fruits so soon as we
shall find a piece of ground fitting for such experiments."
They had now reached the gorge of the ravine, where Halbert had at
first intended to stop; but when he observed the narrowness of the
level ground, he began to consider that it was only by superior
agility that he could expect to make up his deficiency in the science,
as it was called, of defence. He found no spot which afforded
sufficient room to traverse for this purpose, until he gained the
well-known fountain, by whose margin, and in front of the huge rock
from which it sprung, was an amphitheatre of level turf, of small
space indeed, compared with the great height of the cliffs with which
it was surrounded on every point save that from which the rivulet
issued forth, yet large enough for their present purpose.
When they had reached this spot of ground, fitted well by its gloom
and sequestered situation to be a scene of mortal strife, both were
surprised to observe that a grave was dug close by the foot of the
rock with great neatness and regularity, the green turf being laid
down upon the one side, and the earth thrown out in a heap upon the
other. A mattock and shovel lay by the verge of the grave.
Sir Piercie Shafton bent his eye with unusual seriousness upon Halbert
Glendinning, as he asked him sternly, "Does this bode treason, young
man? And have you purpose to set upon me here as in an emboscata or
place of vantage?"
"Not on my part, by Heaven!" answered the youth: "I told no one of our
purpose, nor would I for the throne of Scotland take odds against a
"I believe thou wouldst not, mine Audacity," said the knight, resuming
the affected manner which was become a second nature to him;
"nevertheless this fosse is curiously well shaped, and might be the
masterpiece of Nature's last bed-maker, I would say the
sexton--Wherefore, let us be thankful to chance or some unknown
friend, who hath thus provided for one of us the decencies of
sepulture, and let us proceed to determine which shall have the
advantage of enjoying this place of undisturbed slumber."
So saying, he stripped off his doublet and cloak, which he folded up
with great care, and deposited upon a large stone, while Halbert
Glendinning, not without some emotion, followed his example. Their
vicinity to the favourite haunt of the White Lady led him to form
conjectures concerning the incident of the grave--"It must have been
her work!" he thought: "the Spirit foresaw and has provided for the
fatal event of the combat--I must return from this place a homicide,
or I must remain here for ever!"
The bridge seemed now broken down behind him, and the chance of coming
off honourably without killing or being killed, (the hope of which
issue has cheered the sinking heart of many a duellist,) seemed now
altogether to be removed. Yet the very desperation of his situation
gave him, on an instant's reflection, both firmness and courage, and
presented to him one sole alternative, conquest, namely, or death.
"As we are here," said Sir Piercie Shafton, "unaccompanied by any
patrons or seconds, it were well you should pass your hands over my
sides, as I shall over yours; not that I suspect you to use any quaint
device of privy armour, but in order to comply with the ancient and
laudable custom practised on all such occasions."
While complying with his antagonist's humour, Halbert Glendinning went
through this ceremony, Sir Piercie Shafton did not fail to solicit his
attention to the quality and fineness of his wrought and embroidered
shirt--"In this very shirt," said he, "O mine Audacity!--I say in this
very garment, in which I am now to combat a Scottish rustic like
thyself, it was my envied lot to lead the winning party at that
wonderous match at ballon, made betwixt the divine Astrophel, (our
matchless Sidney,) and the right honourable my very good lord of
Oxford. All the beauties of Felicia (by which name I distinguish our
beloved England) stood in the gallery, waving their kerchiefs at each
turn of the game, and cheering the winners by their plaudits. After
which noble sport we were refreshed by a suitable banquet, whereat it
pleased the noble Urania (being the unmatched Countess of Pembroke) to
accommodate me with her fan for the cooling my somewhat too much
inflamed visage, to requite which courtesy, I said, casting my
features into a smiling, yet melancholy fashion, O divinest Urania!
receive again that too fatal gift, which not like the Zephyr cooleth,
but like the hot breath of the Sirocco, heateth yet more that which is
already inflamed. Whereupon, looking upon me somewhat scornfully, yet
not so but what the experienced courtier might perceive a certain cast
of approbative affection----"
Here the knight was interrupted by Halbert, who had waited with
courteous patience for some little time, till he found, that far from
drawing to a close, Sir Piercie seemed rather inclined to wax prolix
in his reminiscences.
"Sir Knight," said the youth, "if this matter be not very much to the
purpose, we will, if you object not, proceed to that which we have in
hand. You should have abidden in England had you desired to waste
time in words, for here we spend it in blows."
"I crave your pardon, most rusticated Audacity," answered Sir Piercie;
"truly I become oblivious of every thing beside, when the
recollections of the divine court of Felicia press upon my wakened
memory, even as a saint is dazzled when he bethinks him of the
beatific vision. Ah, felicitous Feliciana! delicate nurse of the
fair, chosen abode of the wise, the birth-place and cradle of
nobility, the temple of courtesy, the fane of sprightly chivalry--Ah,
heavenly court, or rather courtly heaven! cheered with dances, lulled
asleep with harmony, wakened with sprightly sports and tourneys,
decored with silks and tissues, glittering with diamonds and jewels,
standing on end with double-piled velvets, satins, and satinettas!"
"The token, Sir Knight, the token!" exclaimed Halbert Glendinning,
who, impatient of Sir Piercie's interminable oratory, reminded him of
the ground of their quarrel, as the best way to compel him to the
purpose of their meeting.
And he judged right; for Sir Piercie Shafton no sooner heard him
speak, than he exclaimed, "Thy death-hour has struck--betake thee to
Both swords were unsheathed, and the combatants commenced their
engagement. Halbert became immediately aware, that, as he had
expected, he was far inferior to his adversary in the use of his
weapon. Sir Piercie Shafton had taken no more than his own share of
real merit, when he termed himself an absolutely good fencer; and
Glendinning soon found that he should have great difficulty in
escaping with life and honour from such a master of the sword. The
English knight was master of all the mystery of the _stoccata,
imbrocata, punto-reverso, incartata_, and so forth, which the
Italian masters of defence had lately introduced into general
practice. But Glendinning, on his part, was no novice in the
principles of the art, according to the old Scottish fashion, and
possessed the first of all qualities, a steady and collected mind. At
first, being desirous to try the skill, and become acquainted with the
play of his enemy, he stood on his defence, keeping his foot, hand,
eye, and body, in perfect unison, and holding his sword short, and
with the point towards his antagonist's face, so that Sir Piercie, in
order to assail him, was obliged to make actual passes, and could not
avail himself of his skill in making feints; while, on the other hand,
Halbert was prompt to parry these attacks, either by shifting his
ground or with the sword. The consequence was, that after two or three
sharp attempts on the part of Sir Piercie, which were evaded or
disconcerted by the address of his opponent, he began to assume the
defensive in his turn, fearful of giving some advantage by being
repeatedly the assailant. But Halbert was too cautious to press on a
swordsman whose dexterity had already more than once placed him within
a hair's breadth of death, which he had only escaped by uncommon
watchfulness and agility.
When each had made a feint or two, there was a pause in the conflict,
both as if by one assent dropping their swords' point, and looking on
each other for a moment without speaking. At length Halbert
Glendinning, who felt perhaps more uneasy on account of his family
than he had done before he had displayed his own courage, and proved
the strength of his antagonist, could not help saying, "Is the subject
of our quarrel, Sir Knight, so mortal, that one of our two bodies must
needs fill up that grave? or may we with honour, having proved
ourselves against each other, sheathe our swords and depart friends?"
"Valiant and most rustical Audacity," said the Southron knight, "to no
man on earth could you have put a question on the code of honour, who
was more capable of rendering you a reason. Let us pause for the space
of one venue, until I give you my opinion on this dependence,
[Footnote: _Dependence_--A phrase among the brethren of the sword
for an existing quarrel.] for certain it is, that brave men should not
run upon their fate like brute and furious wild beasts, but should
slay each other deliberately, decently, and with reason. Therefore,
if we coolly examine the state of our dependence, we may the better
apprehend whether the sisters three have doomed one of us to expiate
the same with his blood--Dost thou understand me?"
"I have heard Father Eustace," said Halbert, after a moment's
recollection, "speak of the three furies, with their thread and their
"Enough--enough,"--interrupted Sir Piercie Shafton, crimsoning with
a new fit of rage, "the thread of thy life is spun!"
And with these words he attacked with the utmost ferocity the Scottish
youth, who had but just time to throw himself into a posture of
defence. But the rash fury of the assailant, as frequently happens,
disappointed its own purpose; for, as he made a desperate thrust,
Halbert Glendinning avoided it, and ere the knight could recover his
weapon, requited him (to use his own language) with a resolute
stoccata, which passed through his body, and Sir Piercie Shafton fell
to the ground.
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