THEY proceeded in silence through
the curvings of the dell till it opened into a hazardous path along the
top of a far-extending cliff, which overhung and clasped in the western
side of a deep loch. As they mounted the pending wall of this immense
amphitheatre, Helen watched the sublime uprise of the king of light,
issuing from behind the opposite citadel of rocks, and borne aloft on a
throne of clouds that swam in floating gold. The herbage on the cliffs
glittered with liquid emeralds, as his beams kissed their summits; and the
lake beneath sparkled like a sea of molten diamonds. All nature seemed to
rejoice at the presence of this magnificent emblem of the Most High. Helen’s
heart swelled with devotion, and its sacred voice breathed from her lips.
she, "O Sun, art thou! The resplendent image of the Giver of all
Good. Thy cheering beams, like his all-cheering Spirit, pervade the soul,
and drive thence the despondency of cold and darkness. But bright as thou
art, how does the similitude fade before godlike man, the true image of
his Maker. How far do his protecting arms extend over the desolate!. How
mighty is the power of his benevolence, to dispense succour, to administer
As she thus mused, her eyes
fell on the noble mien of the knight, who, with his spear in his hand, and
wrapped in his dark mantle of mingled greens, led the way, with a
graceful, but rapid step, along the shelving declivity. Turning suddenly
to the left, he struck into a defile between two prodigious craggy
mountains; whose brown cheeks trickling with ten thousand rills, seemed to
weep over the deep gloom of the valley beneath. Scattered fragments of
rock from the cliffs above, covered with their huge and almost impassable
masses the surface of the ground. Not an herb was to be seen; all was
black, barren, and terrific. On entering this horrid pass, Helen would
have shuddered, had she not placed implicit confidence in her conductor.
As they advanced, the vale
gradually narrowed, and at last shut them within an immense chasm, which
seemed to have been cleft at its towering summit, to admit a few beams of
light to the desert below. A dark river flowed along, amid which the bases
of the mountains showed their union, by the mingling of many a rugged
cliff, projecting upwards in a variety of strange and hideous forms. The
men who carried Helen, with some difficulty found a safe footing. However,
after frequent rests, and unremitted caution, they at last extricated
themselves from the most intricate path; and more lightly followed their
chief, into a less gloomy part of this chaos of nature. The knight
stopped, and approaching the bier, told Helen they had arrived at the end
of their journey.
"In the heart of that
cliff," said he, "is the hermit’s cell; a desolate shelter,
but a safe one. Old age and poverty, hold no temptations to the enemies of
As he spoke, the venerable
man, who had heard voices beneath, appeared on the rock; and while his
tall and majestic figure, clad in grey, moved forward, and his silver
beard flowed from his saintly countenance upon the air, he seemed the bard
of Morven, issuing from his cave of shells, to bid a hero’s welcome to
the young and warlike Oscar.
"Bless thee, my
son," cried he, as he descended: "what good or evil accident
hath returned thee so soon to these solitudes?"
The knight briefly related
the circumstances of Helen’s rescue, and that he had brought her to
share his asylum.
The hermit took her by the
hand, and graciously promised her every service in his power. He then
preceded the knight, whose firmer arm supported her up the rock, to the
outer apartment of the cell.
A sacred awe struck her, as
she entered this place, dedicated wholly to God. She bowed, and crossed
herself. The hermit, observing her devotion, blessed her, and bade her
welcome to the abode of peace.
said he, "has one son of persecuted Scotland found a refuge. There is
nought alluring in these wilds, to attract the spoiler. The green herb is
all the food they afford, and the limpid water their best beverage."
"Ah ! "returned
Helen, with grateful animation, "would to Heaven, that all who love
the freedom of Scotland, were now within this glen! The herb, and the
stream, would be
luxuries, when tasted in liberty and hope. My father, his friend—"
she stopped, recollecting that she had almost betrayed the secrecy she
meant to maintain, and looking down, remained in confused silence. The
knight gazed at her; and much wished to penetrate what she concealed: but
delicacy forbade him to urge her again. He spoke not; but the hermit,
ignorant of her reluctance to reveal her family, resumed:-
"I do not wonder, gentle lady,
that you speak in terms which tell me, even your tender sex feels the
tyranny of Edward. Who, in Scotland, is exempt? The whole country groans
beneath his oppressions: and the cruelty of his agents makes its rivulets
run with blood. Six months ago I was abbot of Scone. Because I refused to
betray my trust, and resign the archives of the kingdom lodged there,
Edward, the rebel-anointed of the Lord! the profaner of the sanctuary!
sent his emissaries to sack the convent; to tear the holy pillar of Jacob
from its shrine; and to wrest from my grasp the records I refused to
deliver. All was done as the usurper commanded. Most of my brethren were
slain. Myself; and the remainder, were tuned out upon the waste. We
retired to the monastery of Cambus-kenneth: but there, oppression found
us. Cressingham, having seized on other religious houses, determined to
swell his hoards with the plunder of that also. In the dead of night the
attack was made. My brethren fled; I knew not wither to go. But determined
to fly far from the tracts of our ravagers, I took my course over the
hills; and finding the valley of stones fit for my purpose, for two months
have lived alone in this wilderness."
Scotland!" ejaculated Helen. Her eyes had followed the chief; who
during this narrative, leaned thoughtfully against the entrance of the
cave. His eyes were cast upwards, with an expression that made her heart
utter the exclamation which had escaped her. The knight turned, and
approached her: "You hear from the lips of my venerable friend,"
said he, "a direful story: happy then am I, gentle lady, that you
and he have found a refuge, though a rough one. I must now tear myself
from this tranquillity, to seek scenes more befitting a younger son of the
country he deplores."
Helen felt unable to answer. But the abbot
spoke: "And am I not to see you again?"
"That is as Heaven wills,"
replied he; "but as it is unlikely on this side the grave, my best
pledge of friendship is this lady. To you she may reveal, what she has
withheld from me; but in either case, she is secure in your
"Rely on my faith, my son; and may the Almighty’s
shield hang on your steps !"
The knight turned to Helen: "Farewell, sweet
lady!" said he. She trembled at the words, and hardly conscious of
what she did, held out her hand to him. He took it, and drew it towards
his lips, but checking himself, he only pressed it, while in a mournful
voice he added, "In your prayer, sometimes remember the most desolate
of men !"
A mist seemed to pass over the eyes of Lady Helen.
She felt as if on the point of losing something most precious to her:
"My prayers for my own presenter, and for my father’s;" cried
she, in an agitated voice, "shall ever be mingled. And, if ever it be
safe to remember me—should Heaven indeed arm the patriot's hand—then
my father may be proud to know and to thank the brave deliverer of his
The knight paused, and looked with animation upon
her: "Then your father is in arms, and against the tyrant! Tell me
where, and you see before you a man who is ready to join him, and to lay
down his life in the just cause!"
At this vehement declaration, Lady Helen’s
full heart overflowed, and she burst into tears. He drew towards her, and
in a moderated voice continued: "My men, though few, are brave. They
are devoted to their country, and are willing for her sake to follow me to
victory or to death. As I am a knight, I am sworn to defend the cause of
right; and where shall I so justly find it, as on the side of bleeding,
wasted Scotland? How shall I so well pursue my career, as in the defence
of her injured Sons? Speak, gentle lady! trust me with your noble father’s
name, and he shall not have cause to blame the confidence you repose in a
true though wandering Scot!"
"My father;" replied Helen, weeping
afresh, "is not where your generous services can reach him. Two brave
chiefs, one a kinsman of my own, and the other his friend, are now
colleagued to free him. If they fall, my whole house falls in blood! and
to add another victim to the destiny, which in that case will overwhelm me—the
thought, is beyond my strength." Faint with agitation, and the
horrible images, which reawakened her direst fears, she stopped; and then
added in a suppressed voice, "Farewell !"
"Not till you hear me further,"
replied he: "I repeat, I have now a scanty number of followers; but I
leave these mountains to gather more. Tell me, then, where I may join
these chiefs you speak of: give me a pledge that I come from you; and,
whoever may be your father, as he is a true Scot, I will compass his
release, or perish in the attempt:"
"Alas! generous stranger," cried
she, "to what would you persuade me? You know not the peril that you
"Nothing is perilous to me;" replied he,
with a heroic smile, "that is to serve my country. I have no
interest, no joy but in her. Give me then the only happiness of which
I am now capable, and send me to serve her, by freeing one of her
Helen hesitated. The tumult
of her mind dried her tears. She looked up, with all these inward
agitations painted on her cheeks. His beaming eyes were full of patriotic
ardour; and his fine countenance, composed into a heavenly calmness by the
sublime sentiments which occupied his soul, made him appear to her not as
a man, but as an angel from the armed host of heaven.
"Fear not lady,"
said the hermit, "that you would plunge your deliverer, into any
extraordinary danger, by involving him in, what you might call, rebellion
against the usurper. He is already a proscribed man."
repeated she; "wretched indeed is my country, when her noblest
spirits are denied the right to live !—when every step they take, to
regain what has been torn from them, only involves them in deeper
"No country is wretched, sweet
lady;" returned the knight, "till, by a dastardly acquiescence,
it consents to its own slavery. Bonds, and death, are the utmost of our
enemy’s malice; the one is beyond his power to inflict, when a man is
determined to die or to live free; and for the other, which of us will
think that ruin, which leads to the blessed freedom of paradise?"
Helen looked on the chief
as she used to look on her cousin, when expressions of virtuous enthusiasm
burst from his lips; but now it was rather with the gaze of admiring awe,
than the exultation of one youthful mind sympathising with another:
"You would teach confidence to despair herself," retuned she;
"again I hope; for God does not create in vain! You shall know my
father; but first, generous stranger, let me apprise you of every danger
with which that knowledge is surrounded. He is hemmed in by enemies. Alas,
how closely are they connected with him! Not the English only, but the
most powerful of his own countrymen, are leagued against him. They sold my
father to captivity, and, perhaps, to death; and I, wretched I, was the
price. To free him, the noblest of Scottish knights is now engaged; but
such hosts impede him, that hope hardly dares hover over his tremendous
"Then;" cried the
stranger, "let my arm be second to his in the great achievement. My
heart yearns to meet a brother in arms, who feels for Scotland what I do;
and with such a coadjutor, I dare promise your father liberty; and that
the power of England shall be shaken."
heart beat violently, at these words. "I would not defer the union of
two such minds. Go then to the Cartlane craigs. But, alas! how can I
direct you ?" cried she: "the passes are beset with English; and
I know not whether at this moment the brave Wallace survives, to be again
the deliverer of my father!"
Helen paused. The
recollection of all that Wallace had suffered for the sake of her father,
and of the mortal extremity in which Ker had left him, rose like a
dreadful train of apparitions before her. A pale horror overspread her
countenance; and lost in these remembrances, the did not remark the start,
and rushing colour of the knight, as she pronounced the name of Wallace.
"If Wallace ever had
the happiness of serving any who belonged to you;" returned the
knight, "he has at least one source of pleasure in that remembrance.
Tell me what he can further do? Only say, where is that father whom you
say he once preserved, and I will hasten to yield my feeble aid to repeat
Helen, "I cannot but repeat my fears that the bravest of men no
longer exists. Two days before I was betrayed into the hands of the
traitor from whom you rescued me, a messenger from Cartlane craigs
informed my cousin that the gallant Wallace was surrounded; and if my
father did not send forces to relieve him, he must inevitably perish. No
forces could my father send; he was then made a prisoner by the English;
his retainers shared the same fate; and none but my cousin escaped, to
accompany the honest Scot back to his master. My cousin set forth with a
few followers to join him—a few against thousands."
"They are in arms for
their country, lady;" returned the knight: "and a thousand
invisible angels guard them: fear not for them! But for your father; name
to me the place of his confinement, and as I have not the besiegers of
Cartlane craigs to encounter, I engage, with God’s help, and the arms of
my men (who never yet shrunk from sword or spear), to set the brave Earl
Helen, remembering that she had not yet mentioned her father’s rank, and
gazing at him with astonishment: "Do you know his name—is the
misfortune of my father already so far spread?"
"Rather say his
virtue, lady," answered the knight; "no man who watches over the
destiny of our devoted country, can be ignorant of her friends, or of the
sufferers who bear injury for her sake. I know that the Earl of Mar has
made himself a generous sacrifice, but I am yet to learn the circumstances
from you. Speak without reserve, that I may seek the accomplishment of my
vow, and restore to Scotland its best friend!"
"Thou brother in heart
to the generous Wallace!" exclaimed Lady Helen, "my voice is
feeble to thank thee." The hermit, who had listened in silent
interest, now fearing the consequence of so much emotion, presented her
with a cup of water and a little fruit, to refresh herself, before she
satisfied the inquiries of the knight. She put the cup to her lips, to
gratify the benevolence of her host; but her anxious spirit was too much
occupied in the concerns dearest to her heart, to feel any wants of the
body; and turning to the knight, she briefly related what had been the
design of her father with regard to Sir William Wallace; how he had been
seized at Bothwell, and sent with his family a prisoner to Dumbarton
thither:" continued she. "If Heaven have yet spared the lives of
Wallace and my cousin Andrew Murray, you will meet them before its walls.
Meanwhile, I shall seek the protection of my father’s sister; and in her
castle near the Forth, abide in safety. But, noble stranger, one bond I
must lay upon you: should you come up with my cousin, do not discover that
you have met with me. He is precipitate in resentment; and his hatred is
so hot against Soulis my betrayer, that should he know the outrage I have
sustained, he would, I fear, run himself and the general cause into
danger, by seeking an immediate revenge."
The stranger readily passed
his word to Helen, that he would never mention her name to any of her
family, until she herself should give him leave. "But when your
father is restored to his rights," continued he, "in his
presence I hope to claim my acquaintance with his admirable
Helen blushed at this
compliment :—it was not more than any man in his situation might have
said, but it confused her; and hardly knowing what were her thoughts, she
answered "His personal freedom may be effected! and God grant such a
reward to your prowess! But his other rights; what can recover them? His
estates sequestrated, his vassals in bonds; all power of the Earl of Mar
will be annihilated; and from some obscure refuge like this must he utter
his thanks to his daughter’s preserver."
"Not so, lady:"
replied he: "the sword is now raised in Scotland, that cannot be laid
down, till it be broken, or have conquered. All have suffered by Edward;
the powerful, banished into other countries, that their wealth might
reward foreign mercenaries; the poor, driven into the waste, that the
meanest Southron might share the spoil! Where all have suffered, all must
be ready to avenge; and when a whole people take up arms to regain their
rights, what force can prevent restitution? God is with them!"
"So I felt,"
returned Helen, "while I had not yet seen the horrors of the contest.
While my father commanded in Bothwell castle, and was sending out
auxiliaries to the patriot chief, I too felt nothing but the inspiration
which led them on, and saw nothing but the victory which must crown so
just a cause. But now, when all whom my father commanded, are slain or
carried away by the enemy; when he is himself a prisoner, and awaiting the
sentence of the tyrant he opposed; when the gallant Wallace, instead of
being able to hasten to his rescue, is besieged by a numberless host; hope
almost dies within me; and I fear, that whoever may be fated to free
Scotland, my beloved father, and those belonging to him, are first to be
made a sacrifice."
She turned pale as she
spoke; and the stranger resumed: "No, lady: if there be that virtue
in Scotland, which can alone deserve freedom, it will be achieved. I am an
inconsiderable man: but relying on the God of Justice, I promise you your
father’s liberty! and let his freedom be a pledge to you for that of
your country. I now go to rouse a few brave spirits to arms. Remember, the
battle is not to the strong, nor victory with a multitude of hosts! The
banner [At a time when Achaius king of Scots, and Hungus king of the Picts,
were fiercely driven by Athelstan king of Northumberland into East
Lothian; full of terrors of what the next morning might bring forth,
Hungus fell into a sleep, and beheld a vision, which, tradition tells, was
verified the ensuing day by the appearance of the cross of St. Andrew held
out to him from the heavens, and waving him to victory. Under this banner
he conquered the Northumberland forces; and slaying their leader, the
scene of the battle has henceforth been called Athelstanford. -(1809)] of
St. Andrew was once held from the heavens, over a little baud of Scots,
while they discomfited a thousand enemies—the same arm leads me on: and,
if need be, I despair not to see it again, like the flaming pillar before
the Israelites, consuming the enemies of liberty, even in the fulness of
While he yet spoke, the
hermit re-entered from the inner cell, supporting a youth on his arm. At
sight. of the knight, who held out his hand to him, he dropped on his
knees, and burst into tears. "Do you then leave me?" cried he!
"am I not to serve my preserver?"
Helen rose in strange
surprise: there was something in the feelings of the boy, that was
infectious; and ’while her own heart beat violently, she looked first
on his emaciated figure, and then at the noble contour of the knight,
"where every god had seemed to set his seal." His beaming
eyes appeared the very fountains of consolation; his cheek was bright
with generous emotions; and turning from the suppliant boy, to Helen;
"Rise," said he to the youth, "and behold in this lady
the object of the service to which I appoint you. You will soon, I
hope, be sufficiently recovered, to attend upon her wishes as you would
upon mine. Be her servant and her guard; and
when we meet again,
as she will then be under the protection of her father, if you do not
prefer so gentle a service before the
rougher one of war, I will resume, you to myself."
The youth, who had
obeyed the knight and risen, bowed respectfully; and Helen, uttering
some incoherent words of thanks, to hide her agitation turned away. The
hermit exclaimed, "Again, my son, I beseech Heaven to bless thee!"
"And may its
guardian care shield all here!" replied the knight. Helen looked up
to bid him a last farewell— but he was gone. The hermit had left the
cell with him; and the youth also had disappeared into the inner cave.
Being left alone, she threw herself down before the altar; and giving way
to a burst of tears, inwardly implored protection for that brave knight’s
life; and by his means to grant safety to Wallace, and freedom to her
As she prayed, her emotion
subsided; and a holy confidence elevating her mind, she remained in an
ecstasy of hope, till a solemn voice from behind her called her from this
"Blessed are they which put
their trust in God !"
She calmly rose, and
perceived the hermit; who, on entering, had observed her devout position,
and the spontaneous benediction broke from his lips: "Daughter,"
said he, leading her to a seat; "this hero will prevail; for the
Power before whose altar you have just knelt, has declared, ‘My might is
with them who obey my laws, and put their trust in me!’ You speak highly
of the young and valiant Sir William Wallace, but I cannot conceive that
he can be better formed for great and heroic deeds than this chief.
Suppose them, then, to be equal; when they have met, with two such
leaders, what may not a few determined Scots perform?"
Helen sympathised with the
cheering prognostications of the hermit; and wishing to learn the name of
this rival of a character she had regarded as unparalleled, she asked with
a blush, by what title she must call the knight who had undertaken so
hazardous an enterprise for her.