AT noon next day, Murray
received a message from Wallace, desiring him to acquaint the Earl of Mar
that he was coming to the citadel, to offer the palace of Snawdoun to the
ladies of Mar; and to request the Earl, to take charge of the illustrious
prisoners he was bringing to the castle.
Each member of the family
hastened to prepare for an interview, which excited different expectations
in each different breast. Lady Mar, well satisfied that Helen and Wallace
had never met; and clinging to the vague words of Murray, that he had sent
to give her liberty; called forth every art of the tyring-room, to
embellish her still fine person. Lady Ruthven, with the respectable
eagerness of a chaste matron, in prospect of seeing the man who had so
often been the preserver of her brother, and who had so lately delivered
her husband from a loathsome dungeon, was the first who joined the earl in
the great gallery. Lady Mar soon after entered like Juno, in all her
plumage of majesty and beauty.
But the trumpet of Wallace
had sounded in the gates, before the trembling Helen could leave her
apartment. It was the herald of his approach; and she sunk breathless into
a seat. She was now going to see for the first time the man. whose woes
she had so often wept; the man who had incurred them all, for objects dear
to her. He whom she had mourned, as one stricken in sorrows; and feared
for, as an outlaw doomed to suffering and to death; was now to appear
before her, not in the garb of woe, which excuses the sympathy its wearer
excites, but arrayed as a conqueror; as the champion of Scotland, giving
laws to her oppressors; and entering in triumph, over fields of their
Awful as this picture was,
to the timidity of her gentle nature, it alone did not occasion that
inexpressible sensation, which seemed to check the pulses of her heart.
Was she, or was she not, to recognise in his train, the young and noble
Bruce? Was she to be assured, that he still existed? Or, by seeking him
everywhere in vain, be ascertained that he, who could not break his word,
had perished, lonely, and unknown?
While these ideas thronged
into her mind, the platform below was filling with the triumphant Scots;
and, her door suddenly opening, Edwin entered in delighted haste :—
"Come, cousin !" cried he; "Sir William Wallace has almost
finished his business in the great hall. He has made my uncle governor of
this place, and has committed nearly a thousand prisoners of rank to his
care. If you be not expeditious, you will allow him to enter the gallery
Hardly observing her face,
from the happy emotions which dazzled his own eyes, he seized her hand,
and hurried her to the gallery.
Only her aunt and
step-mother were yet there. Lady Ruthven sat composedly, on a tapestried
bench, awaiting the arrival of the company. But Lady Mar was near the
door, listening impatiently to the voices beneath. At sight of Helen, she
drew back; but she smiled exultingly, when she saw, that all the splendour
of beauty she had so lately beheld and dreaded, was flown. Her unadorned
garments, gave no particular attraction to the simple lines of her form:
the effulgence of her complexion was gone; her cheek was pale; and the
tremulous motion of her step, deprived her of the elastic grace which was
usually the charm of her nymph-like figure.
Triumph now sat in the eyes
of the Countess; and, with an air of authority, she waved Helen to take a
seat beside Lady Ruthven. But Helen, fearful of what might be her emotion
when the train should enter, had just placed herself behind her aunt, when
the steps of many a mailed foot sounded upon the oaken floor of the
outward gallery. The next moment the great doors of the huge screen
opened, and a crowd of knights in armour, flashed upon her eyes. A strange
dimness overspread her faculties, and nothing appeared to her, but an
indistinct throng approaching. She would have given worlds to have been
removed from the spot, but was unable to stir; and on recovering her
senses, she beheld Lady Mar, (who, exclaiming, "Ever my
preserver!" had hastened forward,) now leaning on the bosom of one of
the chiefs :.—his head was bent, as if answering her in a low voice. By
the golden locks, which hung down upon the jewelled tresses of the
Countess, and obscured his face, she judged it must indeed be the
deliverer of her father, the knight of her dream. But where was he, who
had delivered herself, from a worse fate than death? Where was the dweller
of her daily thoughts, the bright apparition of her unslumbering pillow?
Helen’s sight, now
clearing to as keen a vision as before it had been dulled and indistinct,
with a timid and anxious gaze glanced from face to face of the chieftains
around; but all were strange. Then withdrawing her eyes with a sad
conviction that their search was indeed in vain; in the very moment of
that despair, they were arrested by a glimpse of the features of Wallace.
He had raised his head; he shook back his clustering hair, and her secret
was revealed. In that god-like countenance, she recognised the object of
her devoted wishes! and with a gasp of overwhelming surprise, she must
have fallen from her seat, had not Lady Ruthven, hearing a sound like the
sigh of death, turned round, and caught her in her arms. The cry of her
aunt, drew every eye to
the spot. Wallace immediately relinquished the Countess to her husband,
and moved towards the beautiful and senseless form that lay on the bosom
of Lady Ruthven. The Earl and his agitated wife, followed.
"What ails my
Helen?" asked the affectionate father.
"I know not,"
replied his sister; she sat behind me, and I knew nothing of her disorder,
till she fell as you see?
Murray instantly supposed
that she had discovered the unknown knight; and looking from countenance
to countenance, amongst the train, to try if he could discern the envied
cause of such emotions; he read in no face an answering feeling with that
of Helen’s; and turning away from his unavailing scrutiny, on hearing
her draw a deep sigh, his eyes fixed themselves on her, as if they would
have read her soul. Wallace, who, in the pale form before him, saw, not
only the woman, whom he had preserved with a brother’s care; but the
compassionate saint, who had given a hallowed grave to the remains of an
angel, pure as herself; now hung over her with an anxiety so eloquent
every feature, that the Countess would willingly at that moment
have stabbed her in every vein.
Lady Ruthven had sprinkled
her niece with water ; and as she began to revive, Wallace motioned to his
chieftains to withdraw. Her eyes opened slowly; but recollection returning
with every reawakened sense, she dimly perceived a press of people around
her, and fearful of again encountering that face, which declared the Bruce
of her secret meditations, and the Wallace of her declared veneration,
were one; she buried her blushes in the bosom of her father. In that short
point of time, images of past, present, and to come, rushed before her;
and without confessing to herself, why she thought it necessary to make
the vow, her soul seemed to swear on the sacred altar of a parent’s
heart, never more to think on either idea. Separate,
it was sweet to muse on her own deliverer; it was delightful to dwell on
the virtues of her father’s preserver. But when she saw both characters
blended in one, her feelings seemed sacrilege; and she wished even to bury
her gratitude, where no eye but Heaven’s could see its depth and fervour.
Trembling at what might be
the consequences of this scene, Lady Mar determined to hint to Wallace,
that Helen loved some unknown knight; and bending to her daughter, said in
a low voice, yet loud enough for him to hear, "Retire, my child; you
will be better in your own room, whether pleasure or disappointment about
the person you wished to discover in Sir William’s train, have
occasioned these emotions."
Helen recovered herself at
this indelicate remark; and raising her head, with that modest dignity
which only belongs to the purest mind, gently but firmly said, "I
obey you, madam; and he whom I have seen, will be too generous, not to
pardon the effects of so unexpected a weight of gratitude." As she
spoke, her turning eye met the fixed gaze of Wallace. His countenance
became agitated: and dropping on his knee beside her; "Gracious
lady;" cried he, "mine is the weight of gratitude; but it is
dear and precious to me; a debt that my life will not be able to repay. I
was ignorant of all your goodness, when we parted in the hermit’s cave.
But the spirit of an angel like yourself, Lady Helen, will whisper to you,
all her widowed husband’s thanks." He pressed her hand fervently
between his, and rising, left the room.
Helen looked on him with an
immoveable eye, in which the heroic vow of her soul spoke in every beam;
but as he arose, even then she felt its frailty; for her spirit seemed
leaving her; and as he disappeared from the door, her world seemed shut
from her eyes. Not to think of him was impossible; how to think of him was
in her own power. Her
heart felt as if suddenly made a desert. But heroism was there. She had
looked upon the Heaven-dedicated Wallace; on the widowed mourner of
Marion; the saint and the hero; the being of another world! and as such,
she would regard him; till in the realms of purity, she might acknowledge
the brother of her soul!
A sacred inspiration seemed
to illuminate her features; and to brace with the vigour of immortality,
those limbs which before had sunk under her. She forgot she was still of
earth, while a holy love, like that of the dove in Paradise, sat brooding
on her heart.
Lady Mar gazed on her without
understanding the ethereal meaning of those looks. Judging from her own
impassioned feelings, she could only resolve the resplendent beauty, which
shone from the now animated face and form of Helen, into the rapture of
finding herself beloved. Had she not heard Wallace declare himself to be
the unknown knight who had rescued Helen? she had heard him devote his
life to her: and was not his heart included in that dedication? She had
then heard that love vowed to another, which she would have sacrificed her
soul to win!
Murray too was confounded; but his
reflections were far different from those of Lady Mar. He saw his newly
self-discerned passion, smothered in its first breath. At the moment in
which he found, that he loved his cousin above all of woman’s mould, an
unappealable voice in his bosom bade him crush every fond desire. That
heart, which, with the chaste transports of a sister, had throbbed so
entrancingly against his, was then another’s! was become the captive of
Wallace’s virtues; of the only man, who, his judgment would have said,
deserves Helen Mar !—But when he clasped her glowing beauties in his
arms only the night before, his enraptured soul then believed that the
tender smile he saw on her lips, was meant as the sweet earnest of the
happier moment, when he might hold her there for ever! That dream was now
past.—"Well! be it so!" said he to himself; "if this too
daring passion must be clipt on the wing, I have at least the consolation,
that it soared like the bird of Jove !—But, loveliest of created
beings," thought he, looking on Helen with an expression which, had
she met it, would have told her all that was passing in his soul; "if
I am not to be thy love; I will be thy friend—and live for thee and
Believing that she had read
her sentence, in what she thought the triumphant glances of a happy
passion; Lady Mar turned from her daughter-in-law, with such a hatred
kindling in her heart, she durst not trust her eyes to the inspection of
the bystanders. But her tongue could not be restrained, beyond the moment
in which the object of her jealousy left the room. As the door closed upon
Helen, who retired leaning on the arms of her aunt and Edwin; the Countess
turned to her lord; his eyes were looking with doting fondness towards the
point where she withdrew. This sight augmented the angry tumults in the
breast of his wife; and with a bitter smile, she said, "So, my Lord,
you find the icy bosom of your Helen can be thawed!"
"How do you mean,
Joanna?" returned the Earl, doubting her words and looks; "you
surely cannot blame our daughter, for being sensible of gratitude."
"I blame all young
women;" replied she, "who give themselves airs of unnatural
coldness; and then, when the proof comes, behave in a manner so
extraordinary, so indelicately, I must say."
"My Lady Mar!"
ejaculated the Earl, with an amazed look; "what am I to think of you,
from this! How has my daughter behaved indelicately? She did not lay her
head on Sir William Wallace’s bosom and weep there, till he
replaced her on her natural pillow, mine. Have a care, Madam, that I do
not see more in this spleen, than would be honourable to you, for me to
Fearing nothing so much, as that her
husband should really suspect the passion which possessed her and so
remove her from the side of Wallace; she presently recalled her former
duplicity, and with a surprised, and uncomprehending air, replied, "I
do not understand what you mean, Donald." Then turning to Lord
Ruthven, who stood uneasily viewing this scene, "How! cried she,
"can my Lord discover spleen, in my maternal anxiety respecting the
daughter of the husband I love and honour above all the earth? But men do
not properly estimate female reserve. Any woman would say with me, that to
faint at the sight of Sir William Wallace, was declaring an emotion not to
be revealed before so large a company! a something, from which men might
not draw the most, agreeable inferences."
"It only declared
surprise, Madam," cried Murray, "the surprise of a modest and
ingenuous mind that did not expect to recognise its mountain fiend, in the
person of the protector of Scotland."
Lady Mar put up her lip,
and turning to the still silent Lord Ruthven, again addressed him.
"Step-mothers, my Lord," said she, "have hard duties to
perform; and when we think we fulfil them best, our suspicious husband
comes with a magician’s wand, and turns all our good to evil."
"Array your good in a
less equivocal garb, my dear Joanna," answered the Earl of Mar,
rather ashamed of the hasty words which indeed the suspicion of a moment
had drawn from his lips; "judge my child, by her usual conduct; not
by an accidental appearance of inconsistency; and I shall ever be grateful
for your solicitude. But in this instance, though she might betray the
weakness of an enfeebled constitution, it was certainly not the frailty of
a love-sick heart."
"Judge me by your own
rule, dear Donald," cried his wife, blandishingly kissing his
forehead; "and you will not again wither the mother of your boy, with
such a look as I just now received!"
Glad to see this
reconciliation, Lord Ruthven made a sign to Murray, and they withdrew
Meanwhile, the honest Earl
surrendering his whole heart to the wiles of his wife, poured into her not
inattentive ear, all his wishes for Helen; all the hopes to which her late
meeting with Wallace, and their present recognition, had given birth.—"I
had rather have that man my son," said he, "than see my beloved
daughter placed on an imperial throne."
"I do not doubt
it," thought Lady Mar; "for there are many emperors, but only
one William Wallace !" However her sentiments she confined to
herself; neither assenting nor dissenting, but answering so as to secure
the confidence by which she hoped to traverse his designs.
According to the
inconsistency of the wild passion that possessed her, one moment she saw
nothing but despair before her; and in the next, it seemed impossible that
Wallace should in heart be proof against her tenderness and charms. She
remembered Murray’s words, that he was sent to set her free! and that
recollection reawakened. every hope. Sir William had placed Lord Mar in a
post as dangerous as honourable. Should the Southrons return in any force
into Scotland, Stirling must be one of the first places they would attack.
The Earl was brave, but his wounds had robbed him of much of his martial
vigour: might she not then be indeed set free? And might not Wallace, on
such an event, mean to repay her for all those sighs, he now sought to
repress from ideas of a virtue,—which she could admire, but had not
courage to imitate?
These wicked meditations,
passed even at the side of her husband; and with a view to further every
wish of her intoxicated imagination, she determined to spare no exertion
to secure the support of her own family; which, when agreeing in one
point, was the most powerful of any in the kingdom. Her father, the Earl
of Strathearn, was now a misanthropic recluse in the Orkneys; she
therefore did not calculate on his assistance; but she resolved on
requesting Wallace to put the names of her cousins, Athol, and Badenoch,
into the exchange of prisoners; for by their means she expected to
accomplish all she hoped. On Mar’s probable speedy death, she so long
thought, that she regarded it as a certainty; and so pressed forward to
the fulfilment of her love and ambition, with as much eagerness as if he
were already in his grave.
She recollected, that
Wallace had not this time thrown her from his bosom, when in the
transports of her joy she cast herself upon it; he only gently whispered,
"Beware, lady! there are present, who may think my services too
richly paid!" With these words he had relinquished her to her
husband. But in them she saw nothing inimical to her wishes; it was a
caution, not a reproof; and had not his warmer address to Helen, conjured
up all the fiends of jealousy, she would have been perfectly satisfied
with these grounds of hope—slippery though they were, like the sands of
Eager, therefore, to break away from
Lord Mar’s projects relating to his daughter; at the first decent
opportunity, she said—"We will consider more of this, Donald, I now
resign you to the duties of your office, and shall pay mine to her, whose
interest is our own."
Lord Mar pressed her hand
to his lips, and they parted.
Prior to Wallace’s visit to the
citadel, which was to be at an early hour the same morning, a list of the
noble prisoners was put into his hand. Edwin pointed to the name of
Lord Montgomery. "That;" said he, "is the name of a person
you already esteem: but how will you regard him, when I tell you who he
Wallace turned on him an
"You have often spoken
to me of Sir Gilbert Hambledon—"
"And this is he
!" interrupted Wallace.
Edwin recounted the manner
of the Earl discovering himself, and how he came to bear that title.
Wallace listened in silence; and when his young friend ended, sighed
heavily. "I will thank him;" was all he said; and rising, he
proceeded to the chamber of Montgomery. Even at that early hour, it was
filled with his officers, come to inquire after their late commander’s
health. Wallace advanced to the couch, and the Southrons drew back. The
expression in his countenance, told the Earl that he now knew him.
Englishmen!" cried Wallace, in a low voice, "I come to express a
gratitude to you, as lasting as the memory of the action which gave it
birth. Your generous conduct to all that was dearest to me on earth, was
that night in the garden of Ellerslie, witnessed by myself. I was in the
tree above your head; and nothing but a conviction that I should embarrass
the honour of my wife’s protector, could at that moment have prevented
my springing from my covert, and declaring my gratitude on the spot.
"Receive my thanks
now, inadequate as they are, to express what I feel. But you offered me
your heart on the field of Cambus-Kenneth: I will take that as a generous
intimation, how I may best acknowledge my debt. Receive then my
never-dying friendship, the eternal gratitude of my immortal spirit!"
The answer of Montgomery
could not but refer to the same subject; and by presenting the tender form
of his wife, and her devoted love, almost visibly again before her widowed
husband, nearly forced open the fountain of tears which he had buried deep
in his heart; and rising suddenly, for fear his emotions might betray
themselves, he warmly pressed the hand of his English friend, and left the
In the course of the same day, the Southron
nobles were transported into the citadel; and the family of Mar removed
from the fortress, to take up their residence in the palace of Snawdoun.