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Chapter 7


Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
Cleanse the foul bosom of the perilous stuff
That weighs upon the heart.
MACBETH.

What betwixt cold and fright the afflicted Sacristan stood before his
Superior, propped on the friendly arm of the convent miller, drenched
with water, and scarce able to utter a syllable.

After various attempts to speak, the first words he uttered were,

"Swim we merrily--the moon shines bright."

"Swim we merrily!" retorted the Abbot, indignantly; "a merry night
have ye chosen for swimming, and a becoming salutation to your
Superior!"

"Our brother is bewildered," said Eustace;--"speak, Father Philip, how
is it with you?"

"Good luck to your fishing,"

continued the Sacristan, making a most dolorous attempt at the tune of
his strange companion.

"Good luck to your fishing!" repeated the Abbot, still more surprised
than displeased; "by my halidome he is drunken with wine, and comes to
our presence with his jolly catches in his throat! If bread and water
can cure this folly--"

"With your pardon, venerable father," said the Sub-Prior, "of water
our brother has had enough; and methinks, the confusion of his eye, is
rather that of terror, than of aught unbecoming his profession. Where
did you find him, Hob Miller?"

"An it please your reverence, I did but go to shut the sluice of the
mill--and as I was going to shut the sluice, I heard something groan
near to me; but judging it was one of Giles Fletcher's hogs--for so
please you he never shuts his gate--I caught up my lever, and was
about--Saint Mary forgive me!--to strike where I heard the sound,
when, as the saints would have it, I heard the second groan just like
that of a living man. So I called up my knaves, and found the Father
Sacristan lying wet and senseless under the wall of our kiln. So soon
as we brought him to himself a bit, he prayed to be brought to your
reverence, but I doubt me his wits have gone a bell-wavering by the
road. It was but now that he spoke in somewhat better form."

"Well!" said Brother Eustace, "thou hast done well, Hob Miller; only
begone now, and remember a second time to pause, ere you strike in the
dark."

"Please your reverence, it shall be a lesson to me," said the miller,
"not to mistake a holy man for a hog again, so long as I live." And,
making a bow, with profound humility, the miller withdrew.

"And now that this churl is gone, Father Philip," said Eustace, "wilt
thou tell our venerable Superior what ails thee? art thou _vino
gravatus,_ man? if so we will have thee to thy cell."

"Water! water! not wine," muttered the exhausted Sacristan.

"Nay," said the monk, "if that be thy complaint, wine may perhaps
cure thee;" and he reached him a cup, which the patient drank off to his
great benefit.

"And now," said the Abbot, "let his garments be changed, or rather let
him be carried to the infirmary; for it will prejudice our health,
should we hear his narrative while he stands there, steaming like a
rising hoar-frost."

"I will hear his adventure," said Eustace, "and report it to your
reverence." And, accordingly, he attended the Sacristan to his cell. In
about half an hour he returned to the Abbot.

"How is it with Father Philip?" said the Abbot; "and through what
came he into such a state?"

"He comes from Glendearg, reverend sir," said Eustace; "and for the
rest, he telleth such a legend, as has not been heard in this
Monastery for many a long day." He then gave the Abbot the outlines of
the Sacristan's adventures in the homeward journey, and added, that
for some time he was inclined to think his brain was infirm, seeing he
had sung, laughed, and wept all in the same breath.

"A wonderful thing it is to us," said the Abbot, "that Satan has been
permitted to put forth his hand thus far on one of our sacred brethren!"

"True," said Father Eustace; "but for every text there is a
paraphrase; and I have my suspicions, that if the drenching of Father
Philip cometh of the Evil one, yet it may not have been altogether
without his own personal fault."

"How!" said the Father Abbot; "I will not believe that thou makest
doubt that Satan, in former days, hath been permitted to afflict
saints and holy men, even as he afflicted the pious Job?"

"God forbid I should make question of it," said the monk, crossing
himself; "yet, where there is an exposition of the Sacristan's tale,
which is less than miraculous, I hold it safe to consider it at least,
if not to abide by it. Now, this Hob the Miller hath a buxom daughter.
Suppose--I say only suppose--that our Sacristan met her at the ford on
her return from her uncle's on the other side, for there she hath this
evening been--suppose, that, in courtesy, and to save her stripping
hose and shoon, the Sacristan brought her across behind him-suppose he
carried his familiarities farther than the maiden was willing to
admit; and we may easily suppose, farther, that this wetting was the
result of it."

"And this legend invented to deceive us!" said the Superior, reddening
with wrath; "but most strictly shall it be sifted and inquired into;
it is not upon us that Father Philip must hope to pass the result of
his own evil practices for doings of Satan. To-morrow cite the wench
to appear before us--we will examine, and we will punish."

"Under your reverence's favour," said Eustace, "that were but poor
policy. As things now stand with us, the heretics catch hold of each
flying report which tends to the scandal of our clergy. We must abate
the evil, not only by strengthening discipline, but also by
suppressing and stifling the voice of scandal. If my conjectures are
true, the miller's daughter will be silent for her own sake; and your
reverence's authority may also impose silence on her father, and on
the Sacristan. If he is again found to afford room for throwing
dishonour on his order, he can be punished with severity, but at the
same time with secrecy. For what say the Decretals! Facinora ostendi
dum punientur, flagitia autem abscondi debent."

A sentence of Latin, as Eustace had before observed, had often much
influence on the Abbot, because he understood it not fluently, and was
ashamed to acknowledge his ignorance. On these terms they parted for
the night.

The next day, Abbot Boniface strictly interrogated Philip on the real
cause of his disaster of the previous night. But the Sacristan stood
firm to his story; nor was he found to vary from any point of it,
although the answers he returned were in some degree incoherent, owing
to his intermingling with them ever and anon snatches of the strange
damsel's song, which had made such deep impression on his imagination,
that he could not prevent himself from imitating it repeatedly in the
course of his examination. The Abbot had compassion with the
Sacristan's involuntary frailty, to which something supernatural
seemed annexed, and finally became of opinion, that Father Eustace's
more natural explanation was rather plausible than just. And, indeed,
although we have recorded the adventure as we find it written down, we
cannot forbear to add that there was a schism on the subject in the
convent, and that several of the brethren pretended to have good
reason for thinking that the miller's black-eyed daughter was at the
bottom of the affair after all. Whichever way it might be interpreted,
all agreed that it had too ludicrous a sound to be permitted to get
abroad, and therefore the Sacristan was charged, on his vow of
obedience, to say no more of his ducking; an injunction which, having
once eased his mind by telling his story, it may be well conjectured
that he joyfully obeyed.

The attention of Father Eustace was much less forcibly arrested by the
marvellous tale of the Sacristan's danger, and his escape, than by the
mention of the volume which he had brought with him from the Tower of
Glendearg. A copy of the Scriptures, translated into the vulgar
tongue, had found its way even into the proper territory of the
church, and had been discovered in one of the most hidden and
sequestered recesses of the Halidome of Saint Mary's.

He anxiously requested to see the volume. In this the Sacristan was
unable to gratify him, for he had lost it, as far as he recollected,
when the supernatural being, as he conceived her to be, took her
departure from him. Father Eustace went down to the spot in person,
and searched all around it, in hopes of recovering the volume in
question; but his labour was in vain. He returned to the Abbot, and
reported that it must have fallen into the river or the mill-stream;
"for I will hardly believe," he said, "that Father Philip's musical
friend would fly off with a copy of the Holy Scriptures."

"Being," said the Abbot, "as it is, an heretical translation, it may
be thought that Satan may have power over it."

"Ay!" said Father Eustace, "it is indeed his chiefest magazine of
artillery, when he inspireth presumptuous and daring men to set forth
their own opinions and expositions of Holy Writ. But though thus
abused, the Scriptures are the source of our salvation, and are no
more to be reckoned unholy, because of these rash men's proceedings,
than a powerful medicine is to be contemned, or held poisonous,
because bold and evil leeches have employed it to the prejudice of
their patients. With the permission of your reverence, I would that
this matter were looked into more closely. I will myself visit the
Tower of Glendearg ere I am many hours older, and we shall see if any
spectre or white woman of the wild will venture to interrupt my
journey or return. Have I your reverend permission and your blessing?"
he added, but in a tone that appeared to set no great store by either.

"Thou hast both, my brother," said the Abbot; but no sooner had
Eustace left the apartment, than Boniface could not help breaking on
the willing ear of the Sacristan his sincere wish, that any spirit,
black, white, or gray, would read the adviser such a lesson, as to
cure him of his presumption in esteeming himself wiser than the whole
community.

"I wish him no worse lesson," said the Sacristan, "than to go swimming
merrily down the river with a ghost behind, and Kelpies, night-crows,
and mud-eels, all waiting to have a snatch at him.

Merrily swim we, the moon shines bright!
Good luck to your fishing, whom watch you to-night?"

"Brother Philip," said the Abbot, "we exhort thee to say thy prayers,
compose thyself, and banish that foolish chant from thy mind;--it is
but a deception of the devil's."

"I will essay, reverend Father," said the Sacristan, "but the tune
hangs by my memory like a bur in a beggar's rags; it mingles with the
psalter--the very bells of the convent seem to repeat the words, and
jingle to the tune; and were you to put me to death at this very
moment, it is my belief I should die singing it--'Now swim we
merrily'--it is as it were a spell upon me."

He then again began to warble

"Good luck to your fishing."

And checking himself in the strain with difficulty, he exclaimed, "It
is too certain--I am but a lost priest! Swim we merrily--I shall sing
it at the very mass--Wo is me! I shall sing all the remainder of my
life, and yet never be able to change the tune!"

The honest Abbot replied, "he knew many a good fellow in the same
condition;" and concluded the remark with "ho! ho! ho!" for his
reverence, as the reader may partly have observed, was one of those
dull folks who love a quiet joke.

The Sacristan, well acquainted with his Superior's humour, endeavoured
to join in the laugh, but his unfortunate canticle came again across
his imagination, and interrupted the hilarity of his customary echo.

"By the rood, Brother Philip," said the Abbot, much moved, "you become
altogether intolerable! and I am convinced that such a spell could not
subsist over a person of religion, and in a religious house, unless he
were under mortal sin. Wherefore, say the seven penitentiary
psalms--make diligent use of thy scourge and hair-cloth--refrain for
three days from all food, save bread and water--I myself will shrive
thee, and we will see if this singing devil may be driven out of thee;
at least I think Father Eustace himself could devise no better
exorcism."

The Sacristan sighed deeply, but knew remonstrance was vain. He
retired therefore to his cell, to try how far psalmody might be able
to drive off the sounds of the syren tune which haunted his memory.

Meanwhile, Father Eustace proceeded to the drawbridge, in his way to
the lonely valley of Glendearg. In a brief conversation with the
churlish warder, he had the address to render him more tractable in
the controversy betwixt him and the convent. He reminded him that his
father had been a vassal under the community; that his brother was
childless; and that their possession would revert to the church on his
death, and might be either granted to himself the warder, or to some
greater favourite of the Abbot, as matters chanced to stand betwixt
them at the time. The Sub-Prior suggested to him also, the necessary
connexion of interests betwixt the Monastery and the office which
this man enjoyed. He listened with temper to his rude and churlish
answers; and by keeping his own interest firm pitched in his view, he
had the satisfaction to find that Peter gradually softened his tone,
and consented to let every pilgrim who travelled upon foot pass free
of exaction until Pentocost next; they who travelled on horseback or
otherwise, contenting to pay the ordinary custom. Having thus
accommodated a matter in which the weal of the convent was so deeply
interested, Father Eustace proceeded on his journey.

Sir Walter Scott