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The Scottish Chiefs
Vol 2: Chapter 38 - The Thames


ON the evening of the fourteenth day from the one in which Helen had embarked, the little ship of Dundee entered on the bright bosom of the Nore. While she sat on the deck, watching the progress of the vessel with an eager spirit, which would gladly have taken wings to have flown to the object of her voyage, she first saw the majestic waters of the Thames. But it was a tyrannous flood to her, and she marked not the diverging shores crowned with palaces; her eyes looked over every stately home, to seek the black summits of the Tower. At a certain point, the captain of the vessel spoke through his trumpet, to summon a pilot from the land. In a few minutes he was obeyed. The Englishman took the helm. Helen was reclined on a coil of ropes near him. He entered into conversation with the Norwegian; and she listened in speechless attention to a recital, which bound up her every sense in that of hearing. The captain had made some unprincipled jest on the present troubles of Scotland, now his adopted country from his commercial interests; and, he added with a laugh, "that he thought any ruler the right one who gave him a free course for traffic." In answer to this remark, and with an observation not very flattering to the Norwegian’s estimation of right and wrong, the Englishman mentioned the capture of the once renowned champion of Scotland. Even the enemy who recounted the particulars, showed a ruth in the recital, which shamed the, man who had benefited by the patriotism he affected to despise, and for which Sir William Wallace was now likely to shed his blood.

"I was present:" continued the pilot, "when the brave Scot was put on the raft, which carried him through the traitor’s gate into the Tower. His hands and feet were bound with iron; but his head, owing to faintness from the wounds he had received at Lumloch, was so bent down on his breast, as he reclined on the float, that I could not then see his face. There was a great pause: for none of us, when he did appear in sight, could shout over the downfall of so merciful a conqueror. Many were spectators of this scene, whose lives he had spared on the fields of Scotland; and my brother was amongst them. However, that I might have a distinct view of the man who has so long held our warlike monarch in dread, I went to Westminster-hall on the day appointed for his trial. The great judges of the land, and almost all the lords besides, were there; and a very grand spectacle they made. But when the hall door was opened, and the dauntless prisoner appeared, then it was that I saw true majesty; King Edward on his throne, never looked with such a royal air. His very chains seemed given to be graced by him, as he moved through the parting crowd with the step of one who had been used to have all his accusers at his feet. Though pale with loss of blood, and his countenance bore traces of the suffering occasioned by the state of his yet unhealed wounds, his head was now erect, and he looked with undisturbed dignity on all around. The Earl of Gloucester, whose life and liberty he had granted at Berwick, sat on the right of the Lord Chancellor. Bishop Beck, the Lords de Valence and Soulis, with one Monteith (who it seems was the man that betrayed him into our hands,) charged him with high treason against the life of King Edward, and the peace of his Majesty’s realms of England and Scotland. Grievous were the accusations brought against him; and bitter the revilings with which he was denounced as a traitor too mischievous to deserve any show of mercy. The Earl of Gloucester at last rose indignantly, and, in energetic and respectful terms, called on Sir William Wallace, by the reverence in which he held the tribunal of future ages, to answer for himself!

" ‘On this adjuration, brave earl!’ replied he, ‘I will speak!‘—O! men of Scotland, what a voice was that! In it was all honesty and nobleness! and a murmur arose from some who feared its power, which Gloucester was obliged to check, by exclaiming aloud with a stern countenance,— ‘Silence, while Sir William Wallace answers. He who disobeys, sergeant-at-arms, take into custody!’ A pause succeeded; and the chieftain, with the godlike majesty of truth, denied the possibility of being a traitor, where he never had owed allegiance. But with a matchless fearlessness, he avowed the facts alleged against him, which told the havoc he had made of the English on the Scottish plains, and the devastations he had afterwards wrought in the lands of England. ‘It was a son; cried he, ‘defending the orphans of his father, from the steel and rapine of a treacherous friend! It was the sword of restitution, gathering, on that false friend’s fields, the harvests he had ravaged from theirs!’ He spoke more, and nobly, too nobly for them who heard him. They rose to a man, to silence what they could not confute;—and the sentence of death was pronounced on him;—the cruel death of a traitor! [The words of such a sentence are too horrible to be registered here. I read them (when it was in the possession of the late Sir Frederick Eden) in the original death-warrant of the Duke of Norfolk, signed by Queen Elizabeth; and their sanguinary import, would be too dreadful for humanity to credit their execution, did we not know that it has been done.—May every human heart pray to Heaven, and urge on man, that so demoniac an act, shall be erased from every judicial code that bears the name of Christian! —(1815.)] The Earl of Gloucester turned pale on his seat; but the countenance of Wallace was unmoved. As he was led forth, I followed; and saw the young Le de Spencer, with several other reprobate gallants of our court, ready to receive him. With shameful mockery they threw laurels on his head, and, with torrents of derision, told him—it was meet they should so salute the champion of Scotland! [In the tradition of this circumstance, it is said, that in scorn they crowned him with a wreath of laurel; but, for obvious reasons, I have a little changed the narrative.—(1809.) ] Wallace glanced on them a look, which spoke pity, rather than contempt; and, with a serene countenance, he followed the warden towards the Tower. The hirelings of his accusers loaded him with invectives as he passed along; but the populace, who beheld his noble mien, with those individuals who bad heard of, while many had felt, his generous virtues, deplored and wept his sentence. Tomorrow, at sunrise, he dies."

Helen’s face being overshadowed by the low brim of her hat, the agony of her mind could not have been read in her countenance, had the good Sonthron been sufficiently uninterested in his story to regard the sympathy of others; but as soon as he had uttered the last dreadful words, "tomorrow, at sunrise, he dies!" she started from her seat; her horror-struck senses apprehended nothing further, and turning to the Norwegian, "Captain," cried.she, "I must reach the Tower this night! "—"Impossible," was the reply: "the tide will not take us till to-morrow at noon?"—"Then the waves shall!" cried she, and frantically rushing towards the ship’s side, she would have thrown herself into the water, had not the pilot caught her arm. "Boy!" said he, "are you mad? your action, your looks—"—" No," interrupted she, wringing her hands; "but in the Tower I must be this night, or—Oh! God of mercy, end my misery !" The unutterable anguish of her voice, countenance, and gesture excited a suspicion in the Englishman, that this youth was connected with the Scottish chief; and not choosing to hint his surmise to the unfeeling Norwegian, in a different tone he exhorted Helen to composure, and offered her his own boat, which was then towed at the side of the vessel, to take her to the Tower. Helen grasped the pilot’s rough hand, and in a paroxysm of gratitude pressed it to her lips; then forgetful of her engagements with the insensible man who stood unmoved by his side, sprang into the boat. The Norwegian followed her, and in a threatening tone demanded his hire. She now recollected it; and putting her hand into her vest, gave him the string of pearls which had been her necklace, He was satisfied, and the boat pushed off.

The cross, the cherished memorial of her hallowed meeting with Wallace in the chapel of Snawdown, and which always hung suspended on her bosom, was now in her hand, and pressed close to her heart. The rowers plied their oars; and her eyes, with a gaze, as if they would pierce the horizon, looked intently onward, while the men laboured through the tide. Even to see the walls, which contained Wallace, seemed to promise her a degree of comfort, she dared hardly hope herself fated to enjoy. At last the awful battlements of England’s state prison, rose before her. She could not mistake them. "That is the Tower," said one of the rowers. A shriek escaped her; and instantly covering her face with her hands, she tried to shut from her sight those very walls she had so long sought amongst the clouds. They imprisoned Wallace! He groaned within their confines! and their presence paralysed her heart.

"Shall I die, before I reach thee, Wallace?" was the question her almost flitting soul uttered, as she, trembling, yet with swift steps, ascended the stone stairs which led from the water’s edge to the entrance of the Tower. She flew through the different courts, to the one in which stood the prison of Wallace. One of the boatmen, being barge-man to the governor of the Tower, as a privileged person conducted her unmolested through every ward, till she reached the place of her destination. There she dismissed him, with a ring from her finger as his reward; and passing a body of soldiers, who kept guard before a large porch that led to the dungeons, she entered, and found herself in an immense paved room. A single sentinel stood at the end, near to an iron grating, or small portcullis: there, then, was Wallace! Forgetting her disguise and situation, in the frantic eagerness of her pursuit, she hastily advanced to the man:—"Let me pass to Sir William Wallace," cried she, "and treasures shall be your reward!" "Whose treasures? my pretty page," demanded the soldier: "I dare not, were it at the suit of the Countess of Gloucester herself."—"O!" cried Helen; " for the sake of a greater than any countess in the land, take this jewelled bracelet, and let me pass!"

The man, misapprehending the words of this adjuration, at sight of the diamonds, supposing the page must come from the good queen, no longer demurred. Putting the bracelet into his bosom, he whispered Helen, that as he granted this permission at the risk of his life, she must conceal herself in the interior chamber of the prisoner’s dungeon, should any person from the warden visit him during their interview. She readily promised this: and he informed her that, when through this door, she must cross two other apartments, the bolts to the entrances of which she must undraw; and then, at the extremity of a long passage, a door, fastened by a latch, would admit her to Sir William Wallace. With these words, the soldier removed the massy bars, and Helen entered.


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