Now let us sit in conclave. That these weeds
Be rooted from the vineyard of the church.
That these foul tares be severed from the wheat,
We are, I trust, agreed.--Yet how to do this,
Nor hurt the wholesome crop and tender vine-plants,
Craves good advisement.
The vesper service in the Monastery Church of Saint Mary's was now
over. The Abbot had disrobed himself of his magnificent vestures of
ceremony, and resumed his ordinary habit, which was a black gown, worn
over a white cassock, with a narrow scapulary; a decent and venerable
dress, which was calculated to set off to advantage the portly mien of
In quiet times no one could have filled the state of a mitred Abbot,
for such was his dignity, more respectably than this worthy prelate.
He had, no doubt, many of those habits of self-indulgence which men
are apt to acquire who live for themselves alone. He was vain,
moreover; and when boldly confronted, had sometimes shown symptoms of
timidity, not very consistent with the high claims which he preferred
as an eminent member of the church, or with the punctual deference
which he exacted from his religious brethren, and all who were placed
under his command. But he was hospitable, charitable, and by no means
of himself disposed to proceed with severity against any one. In
short, he would in other times have slumbered out his term of
preferment with as much credit as any other "purple Abbot," who lived
easily, but at the same time decorously--slept soundly, and did not
disquiet himself with dreams.
But the wide alarm spread through the whole Church of Rome by the
progress of the reformed doctrines, sorely disturbed the repose of
Abbot Boniface, and opened to him a wide field of duties and cares
which he had never so much as dreamed of. There were opinions to be
combated and refuted--practices to be inquired into--heretics to be
detected and punished--the fallen off to be reclaimed--the wavering to
be confirmed--scandal to be removed from the clergy, and the vigour of
discipline to be re-established. Post upon post arrived at the
Monastery of Saint Mary's--horses reeking, and riders exhausted--this
from the Privy Council, that from the Primate of Scotland, and this
other again from the Queen Mother, exhorting, approving, condemning,
requesting advice upon this subject, and requiring information upon
These missives Abbot Boniface received with an important air of
helplessness, or a helpless air of importance,--whichever the reader
may please to term it, evincing at once gratified vanity, and profound
trouble of mind. The sharp-witted Primate of Saint Andrews had
foreseen the deficiencies of the Abbot of St. Mary's, and endeavoured
to provide for them by getting admitted into his Monastery as
Sub-Prior a brother Cistercian, a man of parts and knowledge, devoted
to the service of the Catholic Church, and very capable not only to
advise the Abbot on occasions of difficulty, but to make him sensible
of his duty in case he should, from good-nature or timidity, be
disposed to shrink from it.
Father Eustace played the same part in the Monastery as the old
general who, in foreign armies, is placed at the elbow of the Prince
of the Blood, who nominally commands in chief, on condition of
attempting nothing without the advice of his dry-nurse; and he shared
the fate of all such dry-nurses, being heartily disliked as well as
feared by his principal. Still, however, the Primate's intention was
fully answered. Father Eustace became the constant theme and often the
bugbear of the worthy Abbot, who hardly dared to turn himself in his
bed without, considering what Father Eustace would think of it. In
every case of difficulty, Father Eustace was summoned, and his opinion
asked; and no sooner was the embarrassment removed, than the Abbot's
next thought was how to get rid of his adviser. In every letter which
he wrote to those in power, he recommended Father Eustace to some high
church preferment, a bishopric or an abbey; and as they dropped one
after another, and were otherwise conferred, he began to think, as he
confessed to the Sacristan in the bitterness of his spirit, that the
Monastery of St. Mary's had got a life-rent lease of their Sub-Prior.
Yet more indignant he would have been, had he suspected that Father
Eustace's ambition was fixed upon his own mitre, which, from some
attacks of an apoplectic nature, deemed by the Abbot's friends to be
more serious than by himself, it was supposed might be shortly vacant.
But the confidence which, like other dignitaries, he reposed in his
own health, prevented Abbot Boniface from imagining that it held any
concatenation, with the motions of Father Eustace.
The necessity under which he found himself of consulting with his
grand adviser, in cases of real difficulty, rendered the worthy Abbot
particularly desirous of doing without him in all ordinary cases of
administration, though not without considering what Father Eustace
would have said of the matter. He scorned, therefore, to give a hint
to the Sub-Prior of the bold stroke by which he had dispatched Brother
Philip to Glendearg; but when the vespers came without his
reappearance he became a little uneasy, the more as other matters
weighed upon his mind. The feud with the warder or keeper of the
bridge threatened to be attended with bad consequences, as the man's
quarrel was taken up by the martial baron under whom he served; and
pressing letters of an unpleasant tendency had just arrived from the
Primate. Like a gouty man, who catches hold of his crutch while he
curses the infirmity that induces him to use if, the Abbot, however
reluctant, found himself obliged to require Eustace's presence, after
the service was over, in his house, or rather palace, which was
attached to, and made part of, the Monastery.
Abbot Boniface was seated in his high-backed chair, the grotesque
carved back of which terminated in a mitre, before a fire where two or
three large logs were reduced to one red glowing mass of charcoal. At
his elbow, on an oaken stand, stood the remains of a roasted capon, on
which his reverence had made his evening meal, flanked by a goodly
stoup of Bordeaux of excellent flavour. He was gazing indolently on
the fire, partly engaged in meditation on his past and present
fortunes, partly occupied by endeavouring to trace towers and steeples
in the red embers.
"Yes," thought the Abbot to himself, "in that red perspective I could
fancy to myself the peaceful towers of Dundrennan, where I passed my
life ere I was called to pomp and to trouble. A quiet brotherhood we
were, regular in our domestic duties; and when the frailties of
humanity prevailed over us, we confessed, and were absolved by each
other, and the most formidable part of the penance was the jest of the
convent on the culprit. I can almost fancy that I see the cloister
garden, and the pear-trees which I grafted with my own hands. And for
what have I changed all this, but to be overwhelmed with business
which concerns me not, to be called My Lord Abbot, and to be tutored
by Father Eustace? I would these towers were the Abbey of
Aberbrothwick, and Father Eustace the Abbot,--or I would he were in
the fire on any terms, so I were rid of him! The Primate says our Holy
Father, the Pope hath an adviser--I am sure he could not live a week
with such a one as mine. Then there is no learning what Father Eustace
thinks till you confess your own difficulties--No hint will bring
forth his opinion--he is like a miser, who will not unbuckle his purse
to bestow a farthing, until the wretch who needs it has owned his
excess of poverty, and wrung out the boon by importunity. And thus I
am dishonoured in the eyes of my religious brethren, who behold me
treated like a child which hath no sense of its own--I will bear it no
longer!--Brother Bennet,"--(a lay brother answered to his call)--"
tell Father Eustace that I need not his presence."
"I came to say to your reverence, that the holy father is entering
even now from the cloisters."
"Be it so," said the Abbot, "he is welcome,--remove these things--or
rather, place a trencher, the holy father may be a little hungry--yet,
no--remove them, for there is no good fellowship in him--Let the stoup
of wine remain, however, and place another cup."
The lay brother obeyed these contradictory commands in the way he
judged most seemly--he removed the carcass of the half-sacked capon,
and placed two goblets beside the stoup of Bourdeaux. At the same
instant entered Father Eustace.
He was a thin, sharp-faced, slight-made little man, whose keen grey
eyes seemed almost to look through the person to whom he addressed
himself. His body was emaciated not only with the fasts which he
observed with rigid punctuality, but also by the active and unwearied
exercise of his sharp and piercing intellect;--
A fiery soul, which working out its way,
Fretted the puny body to decay,
And o'er-informed the tenement of clay.
He turned with conventual reverence to the Lord Abbot; and as they
stood together, it was scarce possible to see a more complete
difference of form and expression. The good-natured rosy face and
laughing eye of the Abbot, which even his present anxiety could not
greatly ruffle, was a wonderful contrast to the thin pallid cheek and
quick penetrating glance of the monk, in which an eager and keen
spirit glanced through eyes to which it seemed to give supernatural
The Abbot opened the conversation by motioning to his monk to take a
stool, and inviting to a cup of wine. The courtesy was declined with
respect, yet not without a remark, that the vesper service was past.
"For the stomach's sake, brother," said the Abbot, colouring a
little--"You know the text."
"It is a dangerous one," answered the monk, "to handle alone, or at
late hours. Out off from human society, the juice of the grape becomes
a perilous companion of solitude, and therefore I ever shun it."
Abbot Boniface had poured himself out a goblet which might hold about
half an English pint; but, either struck with the truth of the
observation, or ashamed to act in direct opposition to it, he suffered
it to remain untasted before him, and immediately changed the subject.
"The Primate hath written to us," said he, "to make strict search
within our bounds after the heretical persons denounced in this list,
who have withdrawn themselves from the justice which their opinions
deserve. It is deemed probable that they will attempt to retire to
England by our Borders, and the Primate requireth me to watch with
vigilance, and what not."
"Assuredly," said the monk, "the magistrate should not bear the sword
in vain--those be they that turn the world upside down--and doubtless
your reverend wisdom will with due diligence second the exertions of
the Right Reverend Father in God, being in the peremptory defence of
the Holy Church."
"Ay, but how is this to be done?" answered the Abbot; "Saint Mary aid
us! The Primate writes to me as if I were a temporal baron--a man
under command, having soldiers under him! He says, send forth--scour
the country--guard the passes--Truly these men do not travel as those
who would give their lives for nothing--the last who went south passed
the dry-march at the Riding-burn with an escort of thirty spears, as
our reverend brother the Abbot of Kelso did write unto us. How are
cowls and scapularies to stop the way?"
"Your bailiff is accounted a good man at arms, holy father," said
Eustace; "your vassals are obliged to rise for the defence of the Holy
Kirk--it is the tenure on which they hold their lands--if they will
not come forth for the Church which gives them bread, let their
possessions be given to others."
"We shall not be wanting," said the Abbot, collecting himself with
importance, "to do whatever may advantage Holy Kirk--thyself shall
hear the charge to our Bailiff and our officials--but here again is
our controversy with the warden of the bridge and the Baron of
Meigallot--Saint Mary! vexations do so multiply upon the House, and
upon the generation, that a man wots not where to turn to! Thou didst
say, Father Eustace, thou wouldst look into our evidents touching this
free passage for the pilgrims?"
"I have looked into the Chartulary of the House, holy father," said
Eustace, "and therein I find a written and formal grant of all duties
and customs payable at the drawbridge of Brigton, not only by
ecclesiastics of this foundation, but by every pilgrim truly designed
to accomplish his vows at this House, to the Abbot Allford, and the
monks of the House of Saint Mary in Kennaquhair, from that time and
for ever. The deed is dated on Saint Bridget's Even, in the year of
Redemption, 1137, and bears the sign and seal of the granter, Charles
of Meigallot, great-great-grandfather of this baron, and purports to
be granted for the safety of his own soul, and for the weal of the
souls of his father and mother, and of all his predecessors and
successors, being Barons of Meigallot."
"But he alleges," said the Abbot, "that the bridge-wards have been in
possession of these dues, and have rendered them available for more
than fifty years--and the baron threatens violence--meanwhile, the
journey of the pilgrims is interrupted, to the prejudice of their own
souls and the diminution of the revenues of Saint Mary. The Sacristan
advised us to put on a boat; but the warden, whom thou knowest to be a
godless man, has sworn the devil tear him, but that if they put on a
boat on the laird's stream, he will rive her board from board--and
then some say we should compound the claim for a small sum in silver."
Here the Abbot paused a moment for a reply, but receiving none, he
added, "But what thinkest thou, Father Eustace? why art thou silent?"
"Because I am surprised at the question which the Lord Abbot of Saint
Mary's asks at the youngest of his brethren."
"Youngest in time of your abode with us, Brother Eustace," said the
Abbot, "not youngest in years, or I think in experience. Sub-Prior
also of this convent."
"I am astonished," continued Eustace, "that the Abbot of this
venerable house should ask of any one whether he can alienate the
patrimony of our holy and divine patroness, or give up to an
unconscientious, and perhaps, a heretic baron, the rights conferred on
this church by his devout progenitor. Popes and councils alike
prohibit it--the honour of the living, and the weal of departed souls,
alike forbid it--it may not be. To force, if he dare use it, we must
surrender; but never by our consent should we see the goods of the
church plundered, with as little scruple as he would drive off a herd
of English beeves. Rouse yourself, Reverend father, and doubt nothing
but that the good cause shall prevail. Whet the spiritual sword, and
direct it against the wicked who would usurp our holy rights. Whet the
temporal sword, if it be necessary, and stir up the courage and zeal
of your loyal vassals."
The Abbot sighed deeply. "All this," he said, "is soon spoken by him
who hath to act it not; but--" He was interrupted by the entrance of
Bennet rather hastily. "The mule on which the Sacristan had set out in
the morning had returned," he said, "to the convent stable all over
wet, and with the saddle turned round beneath her belly."
"Sancta Maria!" said the Abbot, "our dear brother hath perished by the
"It may not be," said Eustace, hastily--"let the bell be tolled--cause
the brethren to get torches--alarm the village--hurry down to the
river--I myself will be the foremost."
The real Abbot stood astonished and agape, when at once he beheld his
office filled, and saw all which he ought to have ordered, going
forward at the dictates of the youngest monk in the convent. But ere
the orders of Eustace, which nobody dreamed of disputing, were carried
into execution, the necessity was prevented by the sudden apparition
of the Sacristan, whose supposed danger excited all the alarm.
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