WHEN Wallace was left alone
with Edwin, the happy youth (after expressing delight that Murray then
held his head-quarters in Bothwell castle) took from his bosom two
packets; one from Lord Mar, the other from the Countess. "My dear
cousin," said he, "has sent you many blessings; but I could not
persuade her to register even one on paper, while my aunt wrote all this.
Almost ever since her own recovery, Helen has confined herself to my uncle’s
sick chamber; now totally deserted by the fair Countess, who seems to have
forgotten all duties, in the adulation of the audience-hall."
Wallace remarked on the
indisposition of Mar, and the attention of his daughter, with tenderness.
And Edwin, with the unrestrained vivacity of happy friendship, proceeded
sportively to describe the regal style which the Countess had affected;
and the absurd pomp with which she had welcomed the Earls Badenoch and
Athol to their native country. "Indeed," continued he, "I
cannot guess what vain idea has taken possession of her; but when I went
to Snawdoun, to receive her commands for you, I found her seated on a kind
of throne, with ladies standing in her presence, and our younger
chieftains thronging the gallery, as if she were the Regent herself. Helen
entered for a moment, but, amazed, started back; never before having
witnessed the morning courts of her stepmother."
But Edwin did not relate to
his friend, all that had passed in the succeeding conference between him
and his gentle cousin.
Blushing for her father’s
wife, Helen would have retired immediately to her own apartments, but
Edwin drew her into one of Lady Mar’s rooms; and seating her beside him,
began to speak of his anticipated meeting with Wallace. He held her hand
in his :—"My dearest cousin," said he, "will not this
tender hand, which has suffered so much for our brave friend, write him
one word of kind remembrance? Our queen here, will send him volumes."
"Then he would hardly
have time to attend to one of mine," replied Helen, with a smile:
"besides, he requires no new assurances, to convince him, that Helen
Mar can never cease to remember her benefactor, with the most grateful
"And is this all I am
to say to him, Helen?"
"All, my Edwin."
" What! not one word
of the life you have led since he quitted Stirling? Shall I not tell him,
that when this lovely arm no longer wore the livery of its heroism in his
behalf, instead of your appearing at the gay assemblies of the Countess,
you remained immured within your oratory? Shall I not tell him, that since
the sickness of my uncle, you have sat days and nights by his couch-side,
listening to the despatches from the borders ;—subscribing with smiles,
and tears, to his praises of our matchless Regent? Shall I not tell him,
of the sweet maid who lives here the life of a nun, for him? Or, must I
entertain him with the pomps and vanities of my most unsaintly aunt?"
Helen had in vain attempted
to stop him, while with an arch glance at her mantling blushes, he
half-whispered these insidious questions. "Ah, my sweet cousin, there
is something more at the bottom of that beating heart, than you will allow
your faithful Edwin to peep into!"
Helen’s heart did beat
violently, both before and after this remark; but conscious, whatever
might be there, of the determined purpose of her soul, she turned on him a
steady look. "Edwin," said she, "there is nothing in my
heart that you may not see. That it reveres Sir William Wallace, beyond
all other men, I do not deny. But class not my deep veneration, with a
sentiment which may be jested on! He has spoken to me the language of
friendship: you know what it is to be his friend :—and having tasted of
heaven, I cannot stoop to earth. What pleasure can I find in pageants—what
interest in the admiration of men? Is not he a brighter object, than I can
anywhere look upon? Is not his esteem of a value, that puts to nought the
homages of all else in the world? Do me then justice, my Edwin! believe
me, I am no gloomy, no sighing recluse. I am happy with my thoughts; and
thrice happy at the side of my father’s couch; for there I meet the
image of the most exemplary of human beings; and there I perform the
duties of a child, to a parent deserving all my love and honour."
Helen!" cried Edwin; "dare I speak the wish of my heart! But you
and Sir William Wallace would frown on me, and I may not !"
utter it!" exclaimed Helen, turning pale, and trembling from head to
foot; too well guessing, by the generous glow in his countenance, what
would have been that wish.
At this instant the
door opened, and Lady Mar appeared. Both rose at her entrance. She bowed
her head coldly to Helen. To Edwin, she graciously extended her hand:
"Why, my dear nephew, did you not come into the audience-hall ?"
Edwin answered, smiling,
that as he "did not know the governor of Stirling’s lady, lived in
the state of a queen, he hoped he should be excused for mistaking lords
and ladies in waiting, for company; and for that reason, having retired,
till he could bid her adieu in a less public scene."
Lady Mar, with much stateliness
replied, "Perhaps it is necessary
to remind you, Edwin, that I am more than Lord Mar’s wife. I am not only
heiress to the sovereignty of the northern isles, but, like Lord Badenoch,
am of the blood of the Scottish kings. Rely on it, I do not degenerate;
and that I affect no state, to which I may not pretend."
To conceal an irrepressible
laugh at this proud folly, in a woman, otherwise of shrewd understanding;
Edwin turned towards the window; but not before the Countess had observed
the ridicule which played on his lips. Vexed, but afraid to reprimand one
who might so soon resent it, by speaking of her disparagingly to Wallace,
she unburdened the swelling of her anger upon the unoffending Helen. Not
doubting that she felt as Edwin did, and fancying that she saw the same
expression in her countenance; "Lady Helen;" cried she, "I
request an explanation of that look of derision, which I now see on your
face. I wish to know whether the intoxication of your vanity, dare impel
you to despise claims, which may one day be established to your
This attack surprised
Helen, who, absorbed in other meditations, had scarcely heard her mother’s
words to Edwin. "I neither deride you, Lady Mar, nor despise the
claims of your kinsman Badenoch. But since you have condescended to speak
to me on the subject, I must, out of respect to yourself, and duty to my
father, frankly say, that the assumption of honours not legally in your
possession, may excite ridicule on him; and even trouble to our
Provoked at the just
reasoning of this reply; and at being misapprehended, with regard to the
object with whom she hoped to share all the reflected splendours of a
throne, Lady Mar answered, rather inconsiderately, "Your father is an
old man, and has outlived every noble emulation. He neither understands my
actions, nor shall he control them." Struck dumb by this unexpected
suffered her to proceed. "And as to Lord Badenoch giving me the rank
to which my birth entitles me, that is a foolish dream—I look to a
"What! inquired Edwin,
with a playful bow, "does my Highness aunt, expect my uncle to die,
and that Bruce will come hither to lay the crown of Scotland at her
"I expect nothing of
Bruce, nor of your uncle;" returned she, with a haughty rearing of
her head: "but I look for respect from the daughter of Lord Mar, and
from the friend of Sir William Wallace?"
She rose from her chair;
and presenting Edwin with a packet for Wallace, told Helen she might
retire to her own room.
"To my father’s, I
will, madam," returned she.
Lady Mar, coloured at this
reproof and turning to Edwin, more gently said, "You know that the
dignity of his situation, must be maintained: and while others attend his
couch, I must his reputation."
"I have often heard, that ‘Fame
is better than life!’" replied Edwin, still smilingly; "and I
thank Lady Mar, for showing me how differently people may translate the
same lesson. Adieu, dear Helen !" said he, touching her mantling
cheek with his lips. "Farewell," returned she: "may good
angels guard you !"
The substance of the latter part of
this scene, Edwin did relate to Wallace. He smiled at the vain follies of
the Countess, and broke the seal of her letter. It was in the same style
with her conversations; at one moment declaring herself his disinterested
friend; in the next, uttering wild professions of never-ending attachment.
She deplored the sacrifice which had been made of her, when quite a child,
to the doting passion of Lord Mar; and complained of his want of sympathy
with any of her feelings. Then picturing the happiness which must result
from the reciprocal love of congenial
hearts, she ventured to show how truly hers would unite with Wallace’s.
The conclusion of this strange epistle, told him that the devoted
gratitude of all her relations of the house of Cummin, was ready, at any
moment, to relinquish their claims on the crown, to place it on brows so
worthy to wear it.
The words of this letter
were so artfully, and so persuasively, penned, that had not Edwin
described the inebriated vanity of Lady Mar, Wallace might have believed,
that she was ambitious only for him; and that could she share his heart,
his throne would be a secondary object To establish this deception in his
mind, she added—"I live here as at the head of a court, and fools
around me think I take pleasure in it ;—but did they look into my
actions, they would see that I serve, while I seem to reign. I am working
in the hearts of men, for your advancement."
But whether this were her real
motive or not, it was the same to Wallace; he felt that she would always
be, were she even free, not merely the last object in his thoughts; but
the first in his aversion. Therefore hastily running over her letter, he
recurred to a second perusal of Lord Mar’s. In this he found
satisfactory details of the success of his dispositions. Lord Loch-awe had
possessed himself of the western coast of Scotland, from the Mull of
Kintyre, to the furthest mountains of Glenmore. There the victorious Lord
Ruthven had met him; having completed the recovery of the Highlands, by a
range of conquests from the Spey to the Murray-frith, and Inverness-shire.
Lord Bothwell, also, as his colleague, had brought from the shore of Ross,
and the hills of Caithness, every Southron banner, which had disgraced
their embattled towers.
Graham was sent for by
Wallace, to hear these pleasant tidings.
cried Edwin, in triumph, "not a spot north of the
Forth, now remains, that does not acknowledge the supremacy of the
Scottish lion !"
"Nor south of it
either!" returned Graham: "from the Mull of Galloway, to my
gallant father’s government on the Tweed; from the Cheviots, to the
northern ocean, all now is our own. The door is locked against England;
and Scotland must prove unfaithful to herself, before the Southroris can
again set foot on her borders."
The more private accounts,
were not less gratifying to Wallace; for he found, that his plans for
disciplining, and bringing the people into order, were everywhere adopted;
and that in consequence, alarm and penury had given way to peace and
abundance. To witness the success of his comprehensive designs, and to
settle a dispute between Lord Ruthven, and the Earl of Athol, relative to
the government of Perth, Lord Mar strongly urged him (since he had driven
the enemy so many hundred miles into their own country) to repair
immediately to the scene of controversy. "Go," added the Earl,
"through the Lothians, and across the Queensferry, directly into
Perthshire. I would not have you come to Stirling, lest it should be
supposed that you are influenced in your judgment, either by myself or my
wife. But I think there cannot be a question, that Lord Ruthven’s
services to the great cause, invest him with an aim which his opponent
does not possess. Lord Athol as none, beyond that of superior rank; but
being the near relation of my wife, I believe she is anxious for his
elevation. Therefore, come not near us, if you would avoid female
importunity, and spare me the pain of hearing, what I must condemn?"
Wallace now recollected a
passage in Lady Mar’s letter, which, though not speaking out, insinuated
how she expected he would decide: she said,—"As your interest is
mine, my noble friend, all that belongs to me, is yours :—my kindred,
are not withheld, in the gift my devoted heart bestows on you. Use them as
your own; make them
bulwarks around your power, the creatures of your will, the instruments of
your benevolence, the defenders of your rights."
Well pleased to avoid
another rencontre with this lady’s love and ambition, Wallace sent off
the substance of these despatches to Murray; and next morning, taking a
tender leave of the venerable Gregory and his family; with Edwin, and Sir
John Graham, he set off for the Frith of Forth.