Vol 2: Chapter
15 - The Bishop's Palace
THE second matin-bell
sounded from the abbey, before the eyes of Wallace opened from the deep
sleep which had sealed them. A bath refreshed him from every toil: then
renewing the stain on his face and hands, with the juice of a nut which he
carried about him; and, once more covering his martial figure, and golden
hair; with the minstrel’s cassock and cowl, he rejoined his friend.
Bruce had previously
affected to consider the senachie as
still disordered by his last night’s excess; and ordering him from his
presence for at least a day, commanded that the travelling minstrel should
be summoned to supply his place.
table was spread when Wallace entered, and several servants were in
attendance. Bruce hastily rose, and would have embraced him; so did his
comforted heart spring to meet his friend; but before these people, it
would have been more than imprudent; and hailing him, with only one of his
love-beaming looks, he made a sign to him to take his place at a board
near his own. To prevent suspicion in the attendants (some of whom might
be spies of Edward’s), during the repast he discoursed with Wallace on
subjects relative to northern literature; repeating, indeed, many passages
apposite to his own heroic sentiments, from Ossian, and other Scottish
The meal finished; and
Wallace, to maintain his assumed character while the servants were
removing the table, was tuning his harp when the Earl of Gloucester
entered the room. The Earl told Bruce, the King had required the
attendance of the border minstrel; and that after searching over the
castle, the royal seneschal had at last discovered he was in the keep with
him. On this being intimated to Gloucester, he chose rather to come
himself to demand the harper from his friend, than to subject him to the
insolence of the royal servants. The King desired to hear the Triumph,
with which the minstrel had so much pleased the Queen. Bruce turned pale
at this message; and was opening his mouth to utter a denial, when
Wallace, who read in his countenance what he was going to say, and aware
of the consequences, immediately spoke: "If my Lord Bruce will grant
permission, I should wish to comply with the King of England’s
request."—"Minstrel !" replied Bruce, casting on him a
powerful expression of what was passing in his mind; "you know not,
perhaps, that the King of England is at enmity with me; and cannot
mean well to any one who has been my guest, or servant! The Earl of
Gloucester will excuse your attendance in the presence."
"Not for my life, or
the minstrel’s!" replied the Earl; "the King would suspect
some mystery; and this innocent man might fall into peril. But as it is,
his Majesty merely wishes to hear him play and sing; and I pledge myself,
he shall return in safety."
Further opposition would
only have courted danger; and with as good a grace as he could assume,
Bruce gave his consent. A page, who followed Gloucester, took up the harp:
and with a glance at his friend, which spoke the fearless mind with which
he ventured into the power of his enemy, Wallace accompanied Gloucester
out of the room.
The Earl moved swiftly
forward; and leading him through a double line of guards, the
folding-doors of the royal apartment were thrown open by two knights in
waiting, and Wallace found himself in the presence. Perforated with the
wounds which the chief’s own hand had given him, the King lay upon a
couch, overhung with a crimson-velvet canopy, with long golden fringes
which swept the floor. His crown stood on a cushion at his head; and his
Queen, the blooming Margaret of France, sat full of smiles, at his feet.
The young Countess of Gloucester occupied a seat by her side.
The Countess, who, from
indisposition, had not been at Court the preceding day, fixed her eyes on
the minstrel as he advanced into the middle of the room; where the page,
by Gloucester’s orders, planted the harp. She observed the manner of his
obeisance to the King, and Queen, and to herself; and the Queen whispering
her with a smile, said, while he was taking his station at the harp,
"Have your British troubadours usually such an air as that? Am I
right, or am I wrong ?"—"Quite right," replied the
Countess in as low a voice: "I suppose he has sung of kings and
heroes, till he cannot help assuming their step and demeanour !"—"But
how did he come by those eyes?" answered the Queen: "If singing
of Reuther’s ‘beamy gaze’ have so richly endowed his own; by getting
him to teach me his art, I may warble myself into a complexion as fair as
any northern beauty !"—"But then, his must not be the subject
of your song," whispered the Countess with a laugh; "for
methinks it is rather of the Ethiop hue!"
During this short dialogue,
which was heard by none but the two ladies, Edward was speaking with
Gloucester, and Wallace leaned upon his harp.
"That is enough;"
said the King to his son-in-law; "now let me hear him play."
The Earl gave the word; and
Wallace, striking the chords with the master hand of genius, called forth
such strains, and uttered such tones from his full and richly modulated
voice, that the King listened with wonder, and the Queen and Countess
scarcely allowed themselves to breathe. He sung the parting of Reuther and
his bride, and their souls seemed to pant upon his notes; he changed his
measure, and their bosoms heaved with the enthusiasm which spoke from his
lips and hand; for he urged the hero to battle, he described the conflict,
he mourned the slain, he sung the glorious triumph :—as the last sweep
of the harp rolled its lofty diapason on the ear of the King, the monarch
deigned to pronounce him unequalled in his art. Excess of delight so
agitated the more delicate frames of the ladies, that, while they poured
their encomiums on the minstrel, they wiped the glistening tears from
their cheeks. The Queen approached him, laid her hand upon the harp, and
touching the strings with a light finger, said with a sweet smile —"You
must remain with the King’s musicians, and teach me how to charm as you
do !" Wallace replied to this innocent speech, with a smile sweet as
her own, and bowed.
The Countess drew near.
Though not much older than the youthful Queen, she had been married twice;
and being therefore more acquainted with the proprieties of life, her
compliments were uttered in a form more befitting her rank, and the
supposed quality of the man to whom the Queen continued to pour forth her
less considerate praises.
Edward desired Gloucester
to bring the minstrel closer to him. Wallace approached the royal couch.
Edward looked at him from head to foot, before he spoke. Wallace bore this
eagle gaze, with an undisturbed countenance: he neither withdrew his eye
from the King, nor did he allow a conqueror’s fire to emit from its
"Who are you ?"
at length demanded Edward; who, surprised at the noble mien, and unabashed
carriage of the minstrel, conceived some suspicions of his quality.
Wallace saw what was passing in the King’s mind; and determining, by a
frank reply to uproot his doubts, mildly but fearlessly answered, "A
Scot."—"Indeed!" said the King, satisfied that no
incendiary would dare thus to proclaim himself: "And how durst you,
being of that outlawed nation, venture into my court? Feared you not to
fall a sacrifice to my indignation against the mad leader of your
rebellious countrymen ?"—"I fear nothing on earth,"
replied Wallace. "This garb is privileged; none who respect that
sacred law, dare commit violence on a minstrel; and against them who
regard no law but that of their own wills, I have this weapon to defend
me." As Wallace spoke, he pointed to a dirk, which stuck in his
girdle. "You are a bold man, and an honest man, I believe,"
replied the King; "and, as my Queen desires it, I order your
enrolment in my travelling train of musicians. You may leave the
"Then follow me to my
apartment;" cried the Queen, "Countess, you will accompany me,
to see me take my first lesson."
A page took up the harp;
and Wallace, bowing his head to the King, was conducted by Gloucester to
the anteroom of the Queen’s apartments. The Earl there told him, that
when dismissed by the Queen, a page he would leave should show him the way
back to Lord Carrick.
The royal Margaret herself,
opened the door, so eager was she to admit her teacher; and placing
herself at the harp, she attempted a passage of "The Triumph,"
which had particularly struck her, but she played wrong. Wallace was asked
to set her right; he obeyed. She was quick; he clear in his explanations;
and in less than half an hour, he made her execute the whole movement in a
manner that delighted her. "Why, minstrel;" cried she, looking
him up in his face, "either your harp is enchanted, or you are a
magician. I have studied three long years, to play the lute, and could
never bring forth any tone that did not make me ready to stop my own ears.
And now, Countess;" cried she, again touching a few chords, "did
you ever hear anything so entrancing ?"
returned the Countess, "all your former instructors have been
novices, and this Scot alone knows the art to which they pretended."—"Do
you hear what the Countess says?" exclaimed the Queen, affecting to
whisper him; "she will not allow of any spiritual agency, in my
wonderfully awakened talent. If you can contradict her, do; for I want
very much to believe in fairies, magicians, and all the enchanting
Wallace, with a respectful
smile, answered, "I know of no spirit that has interposed in your
Majesty’s favour, but that of your own genius; and it is more efficient
than the agency of all fairy-land." The Queen looked at him very
gravely, and said, "If you really think there are no such things as
fairies and enchantments, for so your words would imply, then every body
in your country must have genius; for they seem to be excellent in
everything.— Your warriors are so peerlessly brave :—all, excepting
these Scottish lords, who are such favourites with the King! I wonder what
he can see in their uncouth faces, or find in their rough indelicate
conversation, to admire. If it had not been for their besetting my
gracious Edward, I am sure he never would have suspected any ill of the
noble Bruce !"—"Queen Margaret!" cried the Countess of
Gloucester, giving her a look of respectful reprehension; "had not
the minstrel better retire?" The Queen blushed, and recollected that
she was giving too free a vent to her sentiments; but she would not suffer
Wallace to withdraw.
"I have yet to ask
you;" resumed she, "—the warriors of Scotland being so
resistless, and their minstrels so perfect in their art,—whether all the
ladies can be so very beautiful as the Lady Helen Mar?"
The eagerness with which
Wallace grasped at any tidings of her, who was so prime an object of his
enterprise; at once disturbed the composure of his air; and, had the
penetrating eyes of the Countess been then directed towards him, she might
have drawn some dangerous conclusions from the start he gave at the
mention of her name, and from the heightened colour, which, in spite of
his exertions to suppress all evident emotion, maintained its station on
his cheek. "But perhaps you have never seen her?" added the
Queen. Wallace replied, neither denying nor affirming her question;
"I have heard many praise her beauty, but more her virtues."—"Well,
I am sorry," continued her Majesty, "since you sing so sweetly
of female charms, that you have not seen this wonder of Scottish ladies.
You have now little chance of that good fortune, for Earl De Valence has
taken her abroad; intending to marry her, amidst all the state with which
my Lord has invested him."—"Is it to Guienne, he has taken
her?" inquired Wallace :—"Yes;" replied the Queen, rather
pleased than offended, at the minstrel’s ignorance of court ceremony in
thus familiarly presuming to put a question to her: she continued to
answer; "while so near Scotland, he could not win her to forget her
native country and her father’s danger; who, it seems, was dying when De
Valence carried her away. And to prevent bloodshed between the Earl and
Soulis, who is also madly in love with her, my ever gracious Edward gave
the English Lord a high post in Guienne; and thither they are gone."
Before Wallace could reply
to some remark, which the Queen laughingly added to her information, the
Countess thought it proper to give her gay mother-in-law a more decisive
reminder of decorum; and rising, she whispered something, which covered
the youthful Margaret with blushes. Her Majesty rose directly, and pushing
away the harp, hurryingly said, "You may leave the room;" and
turning her back to Wallace, walked away through an opposite door.
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