Two days passed drearily
away to Helen. She could not expect tidings from her cousin in so short a
time. No more happy dreams cheered her lonely hours; and anxiety to learn
what might be the condition of the Earl and Countess, so possessed her,
that visions of affright now disturbed both her waking and sleeping
senses. Fancy showed them in irons, and in a dungeon; and sometimes she
started in horror, thinking that perhaps at that moment, the assassins
steel was raised against the life of her father.
On the morning of the third
day, when she was chiding herself for such rebellious despondence, her
female attendant entered to say, that a friar was come to conduct her
where she would see messengers from Lady Mar. Helen lingered not a moment,
but giving her hand to the good father, was led by him into the library,
where the prior was standing between two men in military habits. One wore
English armour, with his visor closed; the other, a knight, was in
tartans. The Scot presented her with a signet, set in gold. Helen looked
on it, and immediately recognised the same that her stepmother always
The Scottish knight was
preparing to address her, when the prior interrupted him, and taking Lady
Helens hand, made her seat herself. "Compose yourself for a few
minutes," said he; "this transitory life hourly brings forward
events to teach us to be calm, and to resign our wishes and our wills to
the Lord of all things."
Helen looked fearfully in his face. "Some evil
tidings are to be told me." The blood left her lips, it seemed
leaving her heart also. The prior, full of compassion, hesitated to speak.
The Scot abruptly answered her: "Be not alarmed, lady, your
parents have fallen into humane hands. I am sent, under the command of
this noble Southron knight, to conduct you to them."
"Then my father lives! They are safe!" cried
she, in a transport of joy, and bursting into tears.
"He yet lives," returned the officer;
"but his wounds opening afresh, and the fatigues of his journey, have
so exhausted him, that Lord Aymer de Valence has granted the prayers of
the Countess, and we come to take you to receive his last blessing."
"A cry of anguish burst from the heart of Lady
Helen; and falling into the arms of the prior, she found refuge from woe
in a merciful insensibility. The pitying exertions of the venerable
father, at last recalled her to recollection, and to sorrow. She rose from
the bench on which he had laid her, and begged permission to retire for a
few minutes: tears choked her further utterance; and being led out by the
friar, she once more re-entered her cell.
Lady Helen passed the moments she had requested, in
those duties which alone can give comfort to the afflicted, when all that
is visible bids us despair ;and rising from her knees, with that holy
fortitude which none but the devout can know, she took her mantle and
veil, and throwing them over her, sent her attendant to the prior, to say,
she was ready to set out on her journey, and wished to receive his parting
benediction. The venerable father, followed by Halbert, obeyed her
summons. On seeing the poor old harper, Helens heart lost some of its
newly acquired composure. She held out her hand to him; he pressed it to
his lips: "Farewell, sweetest lady! May
the prayers of the dear saint, to whose remains your
pious care gave a holy grave, draw down upon your own head consolation and
peace!" The old man sobbed; and the tears of Lady Helen, as he bent
upon her hand, dropped upon his silver hair "May heaven hear you,
good Halbert! And cease not venerable man, to pray for me; for I go into
the hour of trial?
"All that dwell in this house, my daughter;" rejoined the
prior, "shall put up orisons for your comfort, and for the soul of
the departing Earl?" Observing that her grief augmented at these
words, he proceeded in a yet more soothing voice: "Regret not that he
goes before you, for what is death but entrance into life? It is the
narrow gate, which shuts us from this dark world, to usher us into
another, of everlasting light and happiness. Weep not, then, dear child of
the church, that your earthly parents precede you to the heavenly Father;
rather say with the Virgin Saint Bride: How long, O Lord, am I to be
banished thy presence? How long endure the prison of my body, before I am
admitted to the freedOm of paradise, to the bliss of thy saints
Helen raised her eyes, yet shining in tears, and with a divine smile
pressing the crucifix to her breast: "You do indeed arm me, my
father! This is my strength!"
"And one that will never fail thee!" exclaimed he. She
dropped upon one knee before him. He crossed his hands over her headhe
looked up to heavenhis bosom heavedhis lips movedthen pausing a
moment-" Go," said he, "and may the angels which guard
innocence, minister to your sorrows, and lead you into peace!"
Helen bowed, and breathing inwardly a devout response, rose, and
followed the prior out of the cell. At the end of the cloister she again
bade farewell to Halbert. Before the great gates stood the knights with
their attendants. She once more kissed the crucifix held by the prior, and
giving her hand to the Scot, was placed by him on a horse richly caparisoned.
He sprung on another himself: while the English officer, who was already
mounted, drawing up to her, she pulled down her veil; and all bowing to
the holy brotherhood at the porch, rode off at a gentle pace.
A long stretch of woods,
which spread before the monastery, and screened the back of Bothwell
castle from being discernible on that side of the Clyde, lay before them.
Through this green labyrinth they pursued their way, till they crossed the
exclaimed the Scot to his companion; "we must push on." The
English knight nodded, and set his spurs into his steed. The whole troop
now fell into a rapid trot. The banks of the Aven opened into a hundred
beautiful seclusions, which, intersecting the deep sides of the river with
umbrageous shades, and green hillocks, seemed to shut it from the world.
Helen in vain looked for the distant towers of Dumbarton castle, marking
the horizon: no horizon appeared, but ranges of rocks and wooded
A sweet breeze played
through the valley, and revived her harassed frame. She put aside her veil
to enjoy its freshnessand saw that the knights turned their
horses' beads into one of the obscurest mountain defiles. She started at
its depth, and at the gloom which involved its extremity. "It is our
nearest path," said the Scot: Helen made no reply, but turning her
steed also, followed him; there being room for only one at a time to ride
along the narrow margin of the river that flowed at its base. The
Englishman, whose voice she had not yet heard; and his attendants,
followed likewise in file; and with difficulty the horses could make their
way through the thicket which interlaced the, pathway; so confined,
indeed; that it rather seemed a cleft made by an earthquake in the
mountain, than a road for the use of man.
When they had been employed
for an hour in breaking their way through this trackless glen, they came
to a wider space, where other and broader ravines opened before them. The
Scot, taking a pass to the right, raised his bugle, and blew so sudden a
blast that the horse on which Lady Helen sat took fright, and began to
plunge and rear, to the evident hazard of throwing her into the stream,
Some of the dismounted men, seeing her danger, seized the horse by the
bridle; while the English knight, extricating her from the saddle, carried
her through some clustering bushes, into a cave, and laid her at the feet
of an armed man.
Terrified at this
extraordinary action, she started up with a piercing shriek, but was at
that moment enveloped in the arms of the stranger; while a loud shout of
exultation resounded from the Scot who stood at the entrance. It was
echoed from without. There was horror in every sound. "Blessed
Virgin, protect me !" cried she, striving to break from, the fierce
grasp that held her. "Where am I ?" looking wildly at the two
men who bad brought her: "Why am I not taken to my father?"
She received no answer; and
both the Scot and the Englishman left the place. The stranger still held
her locked in a gripe that seemed of iron. In vain she struggled, in vain
she shrieked, in vain she called on earth and heaven for assistance; she
was held, and still be kept silence. Exhausted with terror, and fruitless
attempts for release, she put her hands together, and in a calmer tone
exclaimed, "If you have honour or humanity in your heart, release me!
I am an unprotected woman, praying for your mercy; withhold it not, for
the sake of heaven, and your own soul !"
"Kneel to me then,
thou syren!" cried the warrior, with fierceness. As he spoke, he
threw the tender knees of Lady Helen upon the rocky floor. His voice
echoed terribly in her ears; but obeying him, "Free me," cried
she, "for the sake of my dying father!"
"Never, till I have
had my revenge !"
At this dreadful
denunciation she shuddered to the soul, but yet she spoke: "Surely I
am mistaken for some one else! Oh, how can I have offended any man, to
incur so cruel an outrage?"
The warrior burst into a
satanic laugh, and throwing up his visor, "Behold me, Helen !"
cried he, grasping her clasped hands with a horrible force. "My hour
the sight of the dreadful face of Soulis, she comprehended all her danger,
and with supernatural strength wresting her hands from his hold, she burst
through the bushes out of the cave. Her betrayers stood at the entrance,
and catching her in their arms, brought her back to their lord. But it was
an insensible form they now laid before him: overcome with horror her
senses had fled. Short was this suspension from misery; water was thrown
on her face, and she awoke to recollection, lying on the bosom of her
enemy. Again she struggled, again her cries echoed from side to side of
the cavern. "Peace!" cried the monster: "you cannot escape;
you are now mine for ever! Twice you refused to be my wife: you dared to
despise my love and my power: now you shall feel my hatred and my
"Kill me !" cried
the distracted Helen; "kill me, and I will bless you!"
"That would be a poor
vengeance, cried he: "you must be humbled, proud minion, you must
learn to fawn on me for a smile; to woo, as my slave, for one of those
caresses you spurned to receive as my wife." As he spoke, he strained
her to his breast, with the contending expressions of passion and revenge
glaring in his eyes. Helen shrieked at the pollution of his lips; and as
he more fiercely held her, her hand struck against the hilt of his dagger.
In a moment she drew it; and armed -with the strength of outraged
innocence, unwitting whether it gave death or not, only hoping it would
release her, she struck it into his side. All was the action of an
instant. While, as instantaneously he caught her wrist, and exclaiming,
"Damnable traitress!" dashed her from him, stunned and
motionless, to the ground.
The weapon had not
penetrated far. But the sight of his blood, drawn by the hand of a woman,
incensed the raging Soulis. He called aloud on Macgregor. The two men, who
yet stood without the cave, re-entered. They started when they saw a
dagger in his hand, and Helen, lying apparently lifeless, with blood
sprinkled on her garments.
Macgregor, who had
personated the Scottish knight, in a tremulous voice asked why he had
killed the lady?
"Here!" cried he, throwing open his vest; "this wound, that
beautiful fiend you so piteously look upon, aimed at my life!"
"My Lord;" said
the other man, who had heard her shrieks, "I expected different
treatment for the Earl of Mars daughter."
returned Soulis, "when you brought a woman into these wilds to me,
you had no right to expect I should use her otherwise than as I pleased,
and you, as the servile minister of my pleasures."
"This language, Lord
Soulis!" rejoined the man much agitated: "but you mistook meI
meant not to reproach."
"Tis well you did
not;" and turning from him with contempt, he listened to Macgregor;
who, stooping towards the inanimate Helen, observed that her pulse beat.
"Fool!" returned Soulis, "did you think I would so rashly
throw away what I have been at such pains to gain? Call your wife: she
knows how to teach these minions submission to my will."
The man obeyed; and while
his companion by the command of Soulis, bound a fillet round the bleeding
forehead of Helen, cut by the flints: the chief brought two chains, and
fastening them to her wrists and ankles, exclaimed with bridal triumph,
while he locked them on: "There, my haughty damsel! flatter not
thyself that the arms of Soulis shall: be thine only fetters."
Macgregors wife entered,
and promised to obey all her lords instructions. When she was left
alone with the breathless body of Helen, water, and a few cordial drops,
which she poured into the unhappy ladys mouth, soon recalled her
wretched senses. On opening her eyes, the sight of one of her own sex
inspired her with some hope; but attempting to stretch out her hands in
supplication, she was horror-struck at finding them fastened, and at the
clink of the chains which bound her. "Why am I thus?" demanded
she of the woman; but suddenly recollecting having attempted to pierce
Soulis with his own dagger, and now supposing she had slain him, she
added, "Is Lord Soulis killed?"
"No," replied the
woman; "my husband says he is but slightly hurt; and surely your fair
face belies your heart, if you could intend the death of so brave and
loving a lord !"
"You then belong to
him ?" cried the wretched Helen, wringing her hands. "What will
be my unhappy fate!
Virgin of heaven, take me
cried the woman, "that you should pray against being the favourite
lady of our noble chief! Many are the scores around Hermitage castle, who
would come hither on their hands and knees to arrive at that
cried Lady Helen, in anguish of spirit: "It can visit me no more,
till I am restored to my father, till I am released from the power of
Soulis. Give me liberty," continued she, wildly grasping the arm of
the woman. "Assist me to escape, and half the wealth of the Earl of
Mar shall be your reward."
"Alas !" returned
the woman; "my Lord would burn me on the spot, and murder my husband,
did he think I ever listened to such a project. No, lady, you never will
see your father more; for none who so enter my Lords Hermitage, ever
wish to come out again."
cried Helen, in augmented horror. "Oh, Father of mercy! never let me
live to enter those accursed walls!"
"They are frightful
enough, to be sure," returned the woman; "but you, gentle lady,
will be princess there; and in all things commanding the kingly heart of
its lord, have rather cause to bless than to curse the castle of Soulis."
"Himself, and all that
bears his name, are accursed to me:" returned Helen: "his love
is my abomination, his hatred my dread. Pity me, kind creature; and if you
have a daughter whose honour is dear to your prayers, think you see her in
me, and have compassion on me. My life is in your hands; for I swear
before the throne of Almighty Purity, that Soulis shall see me die, rather
"Poor young soul
!" cried the woman, looking at her frantic gestures with
commiseration; "I would pity you if I durst; but I repeat, my life,
and my husbands, and my children, who are now near Hermitage, would all
be sacrificed to the rage of Lord Soulis. You must be content to submit to
his will." Helen closed her bands over her face in mute despair, and
the woman went on: "And as for the matter of your making such
lamentations about your father, if he be as little your friend as your
mother is, you have not much cause to grieve on that score."
Helen started. "My
mother! what of her !Speak! tell me! It was indeed her signet that
betrayed me into these horrors. She cannot have consentedOh, no! some
villains !speak! tell me what you would say of Lady Mar?"
Regardless of the terrible
emotion which now shook the frame of her auditor, the woman coolly
replied, she had heard from her husband, who was the confidential servant
of Lord Soulis, that it was to Lady Mar he owed the knowledge of Helen
being at Bothwell. The Countess had written a letter to her cousin, Lord
Buchan; who being a sworn friend of England, was then with Lord de Valence
at Dumbarton. In this epistle, she intimated "her wish, that Lord
Buchan would devise a plan to surprise Bothwell castle the ensuing day, to
prevent the departure of its armed vassals, then preparing to march to the
support of the outlaw Sir William Wallace, who, with his band of robbers,
was lurking about the caverns of the Cartlane craigs."
When this letter arrived,
Lord Soulis was at dinner with the other lords; and Buchan laying it
before De Valence, they all consulted what was best to be done. Lady Mar
begged her cousin not to appear in the affair himself, that she might
escape the suspicions of her lord; who, she strongly declared, was not
arming his vassals for any disloyal disposition towards the King of
England, but solely at the instigations of Wallace; to whom he
romantically considered himself bound by the ties of gratitude. As she
gave the information, she hoped that no attainder would fall upon her
husband. And to keep the transaction as close as possible, she proposed
that the Lord Soulis, who she understood was then at Dumbarton, should
take the command of two or three thousand troops, and, marching to
Bothwell next morning, seize the few hundred armed Scots who were there,
ready to proceed to the mountains. She ended by saying, that her
daughter-in-law was in the castle; which she hoped would be an inducement
to Soulis to ensure the Earl of Mars safety for the sake of her hand as
The greatest part of Lady
Mars injunctions could not be attended to, as Lord de Valence, as well
as Soulis, was made privy to the secret. The English nobleman declared,
that he should not do his duty to his King, if he did not head the force
that went to quell so dangerous a conspiracy; and Soulis, eager to go at
any rate. joyfully accepted the honour of being his companion. Lord Buchan
was easily persuaded to the seizure of the Earls person; as De Valence
flattered him, that the King would endow him with the Mar estates, which
must now be confiscated. Helen groaned in the latter part of this
narration; but the woman, without noticing it, proceeded to relate how,
when the party had executed their design at Bothwell castle, she was to
have been taken by Soulis to his castle near Glasgow. But on that wily
Scot not finding her, he conceived the suspicion that Lord de Valence had
prevailed on the Countess to give her up to him. He observed, that the
woman who could be induced to betray her daughter to one man, would easily
be bribed to repeat the crime to another; and under this impression he
accused the English nobleman of treachery. De Valence denied it
vehemently; a quarrel ensued; and Soulis departed with a few of his
followers, giving out that he was retiring in high indignation to Dunglass.
But the fact was, he lurked about in Bothwell wood; and from its recesses,
saw Cressinghams lieutenant march by, to take possession of the castle
in the Kings name. A deserter from this troop, fell in with Lord Souliss
company; and flying to him for protection, a long private conversation
took place between them. At this
period, one of the spies who had been left by that chief in quest of news,
returned with a female tenant of St. Fillan's, whom he had seduced from
her home. She told Lord Soulis all he wanted to know; informing him, that
a beautiful young lady, who could be no other than Lady Helen Mar, was
concealed in that convent.
On this information, he conversed a long
time with the stranger from Cressinghams detachment. And determining on
carrying off Helen immediately to Hermitage; that the distance of
Teviotdale might render a rescue less probable, he laid his plan
accordingly. "In consequence," continued the woman, "my
husband, and the stranger; the one habited as a Scottish, and the other as
an English knight, (for my lord being ever on some wild prank. has always
a chest of strange dresses with him,) set out for St. Fillans; taking
with them the signet which your mother bad sent with her letter to the
Earl her cousin. They hoped such a pledge of their truth, would ensure
them credit. You know the tale they invented; and its success proves my
lord to be no bad contriver."