MoboReader > Literature > The Young Visiters or, Mr. Salteena's Plan

   Chapter 6 No.6

The Young Visiters or, Mr. Salteena's Plan By Daisy Ashford Characters: 21530

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


When the Young Lovell was admitted to the inner cell, a fine smile of friendship came over the monk's hard face. He loved this young lord for his open features, his frank voice, his deeds of arms and his great courage. He stretched forward his hand towards the Young Lovell, but, in his faded scarlet cloak, and with his pierced cap in his hands the young lord went down upon his knees and wished to confess himself.

The monk Francis blessed him very lovingly, but said that he did not wish to hear a confession, and that the Young Lovell should seek a holier man. But he was ready to hear the Young Lovell's true story, and to take counsel with him as to how all things might be turned to the greater glory of the Most High. He observed with concern the saddened and blank eyes of his friend, his faded clothes, in which he appeared like a figure in a painted missal that the dampness of a cell had rendered dim. And he was determined, if he could, to render aid to his friend, for twice already he had befriended the young man, once after the battle of Kenchie's Burn, and he had done it since. For indeed, when he had had time, he had gone to the township of Castle Lovell, and had talked with the lawyer Stone and with the witch called Meg of the Foul Tyke. With the Decies he had not talked, but he had heard him on that day in the Great Hall and knew him for a false knave. He had observed, too, that the stories of the lawyer Stone and of the old women did not in all things tally. One talked of the naked witch as having black hair and six paps; the other said she was most fair and had no deformity. The lawyer placed the witches' fire to the left of the large rock called Bondale that was before the chapel, and the old woman said it was to the right, with the wind from the east, so that if it had been a real fire there must be the marks of burning upon it.

The monk had asked his questions very cunningly, rather as a religious anxious for information as to the ways of sinners, in order that he might the better detect and punish them, than as one desiring to sift their answers. But he was very certain that they were evil liars, and he was sure that, were they brought before the Bishop's courts in Durham, he would be able to bring their perjuries to light. So he was very certain that the lording had been taken by Gib Elliott and held for ransom, and well he knew that no one in the Castle would ransom him, so that it was small wonder if they had heard nothing of it. The Decies and his confederates would conceal any news they had from Elliott, and perhaps slay his messenger or keep him jailed that the outlaw might be angered and slay the Young Lovell. So that it was with a great cheerfulness that now he offered to have brought to his friend, food and clean linen and hot, scented water, and a serving man to wash his feet; for he thought he must be come from far after having fared ill enough.

But the Young Lovell would have none of these things, neither would he be persuaded to rise from his knees; but, being there, he said a long prayer to Our Lord that hung from the crucifix and appeared in an agony. And the monk sat himself at the foot of the box of straw covered with a rug that was his bed and again marvelled at the face of his friend. For the long, brown hair was blanched by the sun, the closed eyes were sunken, the lids gone bluish, the lips parched as if with desire. And so, whilst the lording prayed, the monk sat on the bed foot. Then he heard a rustle of wings and, on the sill of the glassless window, he saw a blue dove and, in the sunlight without, a fair woman that peered in at that window and smiled-all white and with the sunlight upon her.

The monk got down from the bed foot, to reprove her courteously, for no woman should be seen there between the church and the monk's cells. But then he considered that it might be a penitent of one of the other monks, and when he looked towards the window again, the woman and the dove alike had vanished from the view of that window, and he judged he had better let the matter be. And so he sat down upon the bed foot.

The Young Lovell groaned several times in his praying, and most he had groaned when that fair woman had looked in at the cell. His breathing made a heavy sound in the silent room. And then he cried out in a great, lamentable voice:

"I have been with a fairy woman! Three months long I have looked upon the whiteness of a fairy woman! Who shall absolve me?"

The monk slipped down from the bed.

"Ah misericordia!" he cried out and: "Jesu pity us!"

His face went pale even to the edges of his lips and, involuntarily, he moved backwards away from that sinner until he crouched against the wall. Then they were silent a longtime and the large flies buzzed in at the window and out.

Then the monk took his courage to himself again.

"But if you truly repent," he said quickly, "lording, and my friend, and sinner, you may be pardoned."

And since the young lord still kept silence he asked many swift questions: What sort of woman was this? Where was her bower? How had she entertained him and he her? Had he eaten of fruits from her dishes? Had he done deeds of dishonesty with a willing heart? How did he know her for a fairy woman? Had he partaken of magic rites; sprinkled the blood of newborn babies; taken gifts of gold; witnessed a black mass; gathered fernseed?

The monk asked all these questions with a breathless speed that they might the more quickly be affirmed or denied. And at last the young lord cried out as if in an agony:

"All that is a child's tale! All that is a weary folly! It was not like that...."

And then he cried again:

"I say I looked upon this woman, clothed in the white of foam and the gold of sun.... I looked but spoke no word.... Three months went by and I knew not of the wheeling of the stars, or the moon in her course, nor the changes of the weather.... I had seen Sathanas and Leviathan and Herod's daughter in the chapel...."

The monk now came more near him and with a calmer eye regarded him. He had known of knights and poor men, too, that had had visions born of fastings, vigils, hot suns and the despair of heaven. For himself he had desired none of these visions, for to each, as he saw it, God gives his vocation. But some that had seen such visions had been accounted holy and had taken religious habits; others, truly had been deemed accursed and burned or set in chains; and yet again others had proved later true knights of God, had fought with Saracens and the heathen, and at their deaths had been accounted saints. And he looked upon his friend whom he had loved, and he considered how tarnished and stained he was with the air and with fasting. And he remembered how, in the tents before and after Kenchie's Burn, they had talked together. Then it had seemed to him, from the way Young Lovell spoke, that it was as if it were more fitting that he, the monk, should be a rough soldier, and that the esquire and lord's son a churchman.

For the Young Lovell had talked always of high, fine and stainless chivalry, of the Mother of God as the Mystic Rose, of the Tower of Ivory, and of the dish that had the most holy blood of God. Of none of these things had Sir Hugh Ridley that was afterwards the monk Francis, heard tell, when he had been a knight of the world. He had considered rather his forbear Widdrington that fought upon his stumps at Chevy Chase as the very perfect Knight; and, rather than of the death of King Arthur of Bretagne, he was accustomed to sing:

"Then they were come to Hutton Ha'!

They ride that proper place about,

But the Laird he was the wiser man

For he had left na' geir without."

But this young Master of Lovell, who had lain in those tents, had travelled far and seen our father of Rome and the courts of France and the envoys of Mahound. Therefore, he might well have other knowledges. And certain it was that the monk Francis had never heard him speak otherwise than decorously of the lords set over him, charitably of the poor, firmly of his vassals and bondsmen and with yearning and love for Our Lady, St. Katharine, Archangel Michael, St. Margaret and of our blessed Lord and Saviour and St. Cuthbert.

And, remembering all these things, the monk Francis considered that too much fasting and too much learning might have made this lording mad. And he deemed it his duty rather to bring his mind back to regaining of his lands so that he might prove a valiant soldier in the cause of the Bishop Palatine and Almighty God.

Therefore he said now:

"Tell me truly, ah gentle lording and my son, what it was that befell you. So I may the better judge."

And when the monk heard first how the young man had watched his harness within the chapel, that alone seemed to him a proof of a midsummer madness such as a reasonable confessor should have persuaded him against. And he gained in this conviction the more when he heard how Behemoth, Leviathan, Mahound, Helen of Troy, the Witch of Endor and Syrians in strange robes had visited the young man and had tempted him there in the darkness. All these things were strange to the good and simple monk whose knowledge of sorceries ended at crooked old women and the White Lady of Spindleston. He knew not more than half the names of the Young Lovell's hobgoblins.

Then he marked how the young man spoke of a woman's face that looked in on him in the chapel and seemed to tempt him, and the monk considered that that might happen to any man, for had he not, a minute gone, seen a woman, fair enough to tempt any man to follow her, looking into his cell. For he remembered her as the fairest woman he had ever seen, with dark and serious eyes; though she smiled mockingly too, which was what, in the life of this world, this monk had asked of women. And he had yet to learn that the desire to follow after a fair woman was, in a gallant lording, any mortal sin, else Hell must be fuller than the kind Lord Jesus would have it Who died to save us therefrom.

Thus all things hardened this monk in the conceit that the Young Lovell suffered more from over fasting than from any cardinal sin, and when it came to the story of the very fair woman sitting upon a white horse amidmost of doves and sparrows and great bright flowers, though it gave him some pause to think that this had lasted for ninety days, yet it abashed him very little.

Then the Young Lovell was done with his tale. The monk asked him first of all:

"Now tell me truly, my gentle son; how can you tell this lady from one of the kind saints or from the angelic host?"

"In truth I could not tell you that," the young lording said, "it is only that I know it."

"And if yo

u spake no word with her," the monk asked further, "how may you know that her thoughts were wicked? Had you not fasted long? Had you dwelt especially upon lewd thoughts before that time? Should you not have been, if any poor mortal may be, in a degree of as much grace as we may attain to?"

"It is true," the Young Lovell said, "that I had done my best, but we are all so black with sin as against any true and perfect knights...."

The monk would not let him finish this speech.

"Hear now me, Young Lovell," he said, "and what my reading of these matters is. I am not thy confessor, but until a better shall come I order you to believe what I say and that is your duty as a Christian man. And I bid you believe that this lady was from heaven itself, and if not one of the saints then one of the blessed angels of God. And how I read that is this: Firstly, is it not written that the hosts of heaven shall be clad in white raiment, with the glory of the sun about them and the light of the dawnstar upon their faces? And as for the doves, is it not written that those fowls of the air are the symbol of innocence, it being said: 'Be ye wise as the serpent and free of guile as the dove'? For the sparrows we have the words of our Lord God His well-loved Son, that the Almighty had them in His especial keeping, and many such may well flutter about the fair courts of heaven. So that if you had seen serpents that are horrible monsters you need not have been abashed, yet you saw only doves and sparrows. And for the white horse, it was upon such a beast that the blessed Katharine, the spouse of Our Lord, rode to the confrontation of the forty thousand doctors. It may well have been that most happy and gracious Lady; though if you did not mark that she had a wheel, which as I think is the symbol of that saint, perhaps it was not she. Or again it may have been. For without doubt the blessed saints in heaven are relieved of the labours of bearing what were their symbols here on earth. And indeed that is most likely. And for the great flowers, what should they be but the blessed flowers of paradise itself. And that they should be in that place is in nowise wonderful. Are we to think that, having been once set around by those blossoms like the jewels of Our Lady's diadem, any one of the hosts of heaven would willingly go without them? Not so, but assuredly our Lord God will let them have the company and stay of such flowers, Who hath promised to those bright beings an eternity of such bliss as shall surpass mortal imaginations....'

The monk had spoken these words with a tone nearly minatory and full of exhortation. But now he approached the Young Lovell and set his arms around his shoulder and spoke soft and in a loving fashion.

"My beloved son in religion whom I should hold as a brother if I were of this world," he said, "I cannot say if you were pure in heart at that season, yet I hope you were. If you were you may take great pride and be very thankful. If you were in a state of sin then consider this for a warning and amend very much your ways. And it may well be that the hosts of heaven who are all round us and watch very attentively that which we do on earth-that they are and have been concerned to see how that you regard too little the needs of the Church that is militant here in earth, forgetting it in the too frequent contemplation of the Church Triumphant that is in heaven. For I think that your tales of chaste knights of Brittany and the pursuers of the Holy Grail are rather glimpses vouchsafed to us of how it shall be with the Church Triumphant than of anything that can be until that day. In these North parts the times are very evil and we have more need of a great lord and one ready to be a strong protector than of ten Sir Galahads seeking mysteries, though that too may be a very excellent thing in its time and place. Yet I would rather see you Warden of these Marches, since the one that we have, though an earl pious and generous enough, turns rather his thoughts in fear to the King in London Town than in love and homage to the Prince Bishop that is set above us. And I make no doubt that it was to exhort you to this that that angel or that saint came down. And, in token, you have, for the time being, lost your lands to very godless people who have sought to dispossess you by having recourse to the courts temporal upon a false charge. You say to me that ever since you saw that lady's face this world has seemed as a mirror and an unreality to you so that you cannot cease from sighing and longing. I will tell you that those very same words were written of Gudruna, Saint, Queen and Martyr of these parts. Being an evil and lascivious queen she had in sleep a vision of the joys of paradise and so she said that she never ceased from sighing for them all the days of her life. Yet nevertheless that did not hinder her from waging war against the heathen and winning a great part of this kingdom from Heathenesse, so that she converted forty thousand souls. And, for the fact that three months have passed, I will have you remember the case of the founder of this monastery-blessed Wulfric. For walking in the fields here, Our Lady came to him and so he remained upon his knees by the space of forty and nine days in a swoon or trance, being fed by such as passed by or as gradually flocked there to see that wonder. And so, being restored to himself, he said that Our Lady had but just gone from him, having staid, as he thought, but a very short while. And that is explained by this, that to the dwellers in heaven and in the sight of God, even as marriage is not, so time is not, it being written that in His courts one day is as a thousand years. So it may well be that that angel-and by that I think it may have been rather an angel than a saint-having no knowledge of time and none either of the necessity of mankind for shelter or food-for the heavenly host have no need of either-so this fair, pretty angel in staying ninety days before you may have thought it was but the space of a minute, for it is only God that is all-wise. Yet may God, observing these things from where He sate in Heaven, and desiring neither to abash the angel nor to starve and slay you, have conveyed nourishment to you by the hands of other angels and have rendered mild the winds. And now I think of it, in these last ninety days, there has been very little or no rain at all so that the hay harvest and fenaison is a month before its time and all men have marked this for a marvel. So I read these wonders, and so I command you to regard them until you come upon a man more holy, to interpret them otherwise. And for that, if I be wrong, we shall very soon know it, for I will have you go with me-as soon as I shall have arranged certain matters of this monastery-to the Prince Bishop himself in Durham. And there, if he do not find me at fault, we will devise with him how best you may again be set in your inheritance. For I will tell you this. A fortnight gone I had speech with that gracious prince for a space of two days touching the affairs of the diocese, and he said that he would very well that you should be set back in your lands. And I ask you this: If such a mighty prince and wise and reverend servant of God shall say that, commending you, what would it be in you but a very stiff-necked perseverance in humility and the conviction of sin to gainsay him, a prince palatine that hath spent many years in the city of Rome before the face of the pope himself?"

The Young Lovell sighed deeply. In all those long speeches he had heard rather the voice of a friend that sought to enhearten him than that of a ghostly pastor and comforter. And at last he said:

"For what you say, father, of my retaking my Castle I will do it very willingly, and so I will administer my lands that, with the grace of God, it shall be to His greater glory, if so I may. And for what you have bidden me believe I will seek to believe it, but strong within me is the thought of what before was in my mind that I may not change it all of a piece. Nevertheless, by prayer and fasting I may come to it."

The monk, who had observed his penitent's face to light up at the mention of his Castle, said quickly:

"Why, I think you have fasted enough," and so he bade the lay brother to bring there quickly wine and meat, and hot water to wash with, and clean linen if they had any good enough. And so he bade the young lord lay off the heavier of his garments and unbrace his clothes, for it was hot weather. And so food and a table were brought and the lay brother washed the feet of the lord, whilst he reclined upon the bed-foot. Whilst he ate, little by little the religious brought the Young Lovell to talk of how he should have arms and money for his men-at-arms and other costs.

And the Young Lovell saw that he had still in his cap his string of great pearls and this he pledged to the monk Francis for the sum of two hundred pounds.

Of this sum, one hundred pounds the monk Francis had of the funds of the monastery, and he could just make it with the twenty-eight pounds that John Harbottle had paid him. This hundred pounds the Young Lovell should take with him upon his adventure to Durham and the other hundred should remain with the good monk. And this should pay for the keep of thirty men for a fortnight, at the rate of fourpence a man, and that would be seven pounds. And the men should have arms from the armourer of the monastery and from the men-at-arms there until they came to arms of their own. And if they should return those arms unbroken and unharmed the Lord Lovell should pay for their hire at the rate of one shilling the man per week, and all that should be matter of account out of the hundred pounds that remained.

So the monk Francis bargained for the good of his monastery, for he held it against his conscience to give these things for less. Moreover, he perceived that in talking of these things the Young Lovell appeared to come back to life. Then the Young Lovell told this news to his men-at-arms who stood before the door.

Afterwards the Young Lovell bought of the knight of the monastery, Sir Nicholas Ewelme, some light armour for his horse; and for himself he bought a light helmet, a breastpiece and an axe, which were not very fair, but sufficient to make the journey to Durham. And all these things having taken many hours, it was decided that they should put off their departure until the next day at dawn when the Young Lovell should take with him ten of his men-at-arms. By that evening, the news of his being at the monastery having spread, more than twenty more of his men, with an esquire called Armstrong, came there and entered his employment.

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