THUS did Helen commune with
her own strangely affected heart: sometimes doubting the evidence of her
eyes; then, convinced of their fidelity, striving to allay the tumults in
her mind. She seldom appeared from her own rooms. And such retirement was
not questioned, her father being altogether engaged at the citadel; the
Countess, absorbed in her own speculations; and Lady Ruthven alone,
interrupted the solitude of her niece, by frequent visits. Little
suspecting the cause of Helen’s prolonged indisposition, she generally
selected Wallace for the subject of conversation. She descanted with
enthusiasm on the rare perfection of his character; told her, all that
Edwin had related of his actions, from the taking of Dumbarton, to the
present moment; and then bade Helen remark the miracle; of such wisdom,
valour, and goodness, being found in one so young and handsome.
"So, my child,"
added she, "depend on it, before he was Lady Marion’s husband, he
must have heard sighs enough, from the fairest in our land, to have turned
the wits of half the male world. There is something in his very look, did
you meet him on the heath, without better garb than a shepherd’s plaid,
sufficient to declare him the noblest of men ;—and, methinks, would
excuse the gentlest [Gentlest is
here used in the Scottish and old English sense; meaning the noblest blood.—(1800.)]
lady in the land, for leaving hail and bower to share his sheep-cote. But,
alas!" and then the playful expression of her countenance altered;
"he is now for none on earth!"
With these words she turned
the subject, to the confidential hours he passed with the young adopted
brother of his heart. Every fond emotion seemed then centered in his wife
and child. When Lady Ruthven repeated his pathetic words to Edwin, she
wept; she even sobbed, and paused to recover; while the deep and silent
tears, which flowed from the heart to the eyes of Lady Helen, bathed the
side of the couch on which she leaned.
"Alas !" cried
Lady Ruthven, "that a man, so formed to grace every relation in life;
so noble a creature, in all respects; so fond a husband, so full of
parental tenderness; that he should be deprived of the wife on whom he
doted; that he should be cut off from all hope of posterity:—that, when
he shall die, nothing will be left of William Wallace—breaks my
"Ah, my aunt;"
cried Helen, raising her head with animation, "will he not leave
behind him the liberty of Scotland. That is an offspring, worthy of his
"True, my dear Helen;
but had you ever been a parent, you would know that no achievements,
however great, can heal the wound made in a father’s heart, by the loss
of a beloved child. And though Sir William Wallace never saw the infant,
ready to bless his arms, yet it perished in the bosom of its mother; and
that circumstance must redouble his affliction: horribly, does it enhance
the cruelty of the deed !"
"He has in all things
been a direful sacrifice;" returned Helen: "and with God alone
dwells the power to wipe the tears from his heart."
"They flow not from
his eyes," answered her aunt ; "but deep, deep is the grief,
that, my Edwin says is settled there."
While Lady Ruthven was
uttering these words, shouts in the streets made her pause; and soon
recognising the name of Wallace, sounding from the lips of the rejoicing
multitude, she turned to Helen: "Here comes our deliverer !"
cried she; taking her by the hand; "we have not seen him, since the
first day of our liberty. It will do you good, as it will me, to look on
his beneficent face !"
She obeyed the impulse of
her aunt’s arm, and reached the window just as he passed into the
court-yard. Helen’s soul seemed rushing from her eyes. "Ah! it is
indeed. he !" thought she; "no dream, no illusion, but his very
He looked up; but not on
her side of the building; it was to the window of Lady Mar; and as he
bowed,. he smiled. All the charms of that smile struck upon the soul of
Helen; and hastily retreating, she sunk breathless into a seat.
"O, no! that man
cannot be born for the isolated state I have just lamented. He is not to
be for ever cut off from communicating that happiness, to which he would
give so much enchantment !" Lady Ruthven calculated this with fervour;
her matron cheeks, flushing with a sudden and more forcible admiration of
the person and mien of Wallace. "There was something in that smile,
Helen, which tells me, all is not chilled within. And, indeed, how should
it be otherwise? That generous interest in the happiness of all, which
seems to flow in a tide of universal love, cannot spring from a source
incapable of dispensing the softer streams of it again."
Helen, whose well-poised
soul was not affected by the agitations of her body, (agitations, she was
determined to conquer,) calmly answered—"Such a hope, little agrees
with all you have been telling me of his conversations with Edwin. Sir
William Wallace will never love woman more; and even to name the idea,
seems an offence against the sacredness of his sorrow."
"Blame me not,
Helen;" returned Lady Ruthven, "that I forgot probability, in
grasping at a possibility which might give me such a nephew as Sir William
Wallace, and you a husband worthy of your merits! I had always, in my own
mind, fixed on the unknown knight, for your future lord; and now, that I
find he, and the deliverer of Scotland are one, I am not to be looked
grave at, for wishing to reward him with the most precious heart that ever
beat in a female breast."
"No more of this, if
you love me, my dear aunt!" returned Helen; "it neither can nor
ought to be. I revere the memory of Lady Marion too much, not to be
agitated by the subject; so, no more !"—she was agitated. But at
that instant Edwin, throwing open the door, put an end to the
He came to apprise his
mother, that Sir William Wallace was in the state apartments: come
purposely to pay his respects to her; not having even been introduced to
her, when the sudden illness of her niece in the castle had made them part
"I will not interrupt
his introduction now," said Helen, with, a faint smile; "a few
days’ retirement, will strengthen me, add then, I shall see our
protector as I ought"
"I will stay with
you;" cried Edwin, "and I dare say Sir William Wallace will have
no objection to be speedily joined by my mother ; for, as I came along, I
met my aunt Mar hastening through the gallery: and, between ourselves, my
sweet coz, I do not think, my noble friend quite likes a private
conference with your fair step-mother."
Lady Ruthven had withdrawn,
before he made this observation.
"Why, Edwin ? surely
she would not do anything ungracious to one, to whom she owes so great a
weight of obligations?" When Helen asked this, she remembered the
spleen Lady Mar once cherished against Wallace; and she feared it might
now have revived.
"Ungracious! O, no!
the reverse of that; but her gratitude is full of absurdity. I will not
repeat the fooleries with which she sought to detain him at Bute. And that
some new fancy respecting him, is now about to menace his patience, I am
convinced; for, in my way hither, I met her hurrying along, and as she
passed me, she exclaimed, ‘Is Lord Buchan arrived?’ I answered, ‘Yes.'
‘Ah, then he proclaimed him king!’ cried she; and into the great
gallery she darted."
"You do not mean to say,
demanded Helen, her eyes with an expression, which seemed confident of his
answer, "that Sir William Wallace has accepted the crown of
replied Edwin; "but, as certainly, it has been offered to him, and he
has refused it."
"I could have sworn it
!" returned Helen,. rising from her chair; "all is loyal, all is
great, and consistent there, Edwin!"
"He is indeed the
perfect exemplar of all nobleness," rejoined the youth; "and I
believe, I shall even love you better, my dear cousin, because you seem to
have so clear an apprehension of his real character? He then proceeded,
with all the animation of the most zealous affection, to narrate to Helen
the particulars of the late scene on the Carse of Stirling. And while he
deepened still more the profound impression the virtues of Wallace had
made on her heart, he reopened its more tender sympathies, by repeating,
with even minuter accuracy than he had done to his mother, details of
those hours which he passed with him in retirement. He spoke of the
beacon-hill; of moonlight
walks in the camp, when all but the sentinels, and his general and
himself, were sunk in sleep.
These were the seasons when the
suppressed feelings of Wallace would, by fits, break from his lips; and,
at last, pour themselves out, unrestrainedly, to the ear of sympathy. As
the young narrator described all the endearing qualities of his friend;
the cheerful heroism with which he quelled every tender remembrance, to do
his duty in the day,—"for it is only in the night," said
Edwin, "that my general remembers Ellerslie ;" Helen’s tears
again stole silently down her cheeks: Edwin perceived them, and throwing
his arms gently around her, "Weep not, my sweet cousin," said
he, "for with all his sorrow, I never saw true happiness, till I
beheld it in the eyes, and heard it in the voice of Sir William Wallace.
He has talked to me of the joy he should experience in giving liberty to
Scotland, and establishing her peace,—till his enthusiastic soul,
grasping hope, as if it were possession, he has looked on me with a
consciousness of enjoyment which seemed to say, that all bliss was summed
up in a patriot’s breast.
"And at other times, when after
a conversation, on his beloved Marion, a few natural regrets would pass
his lips, and my tears tell how deep was my sympathy, then he would turn
to comfort me; then he would show me the world beyond this—that world,
which is the aim of all his deeds, the end of all his travails; and, lost
in the rapturous ideas of meeting his Marion there, a foretaste of all
would seem to seize his soul: and were I then called upon to point out the
most enviable felicity on earth, I should say it is that of Sir William
Wallace. It is this enthusiasm in all he believes and feels, that makes
him what he is. It is this eternal spirit of hope, infused into him by
Heaven itself, that makes him rise from sorrow, like the sun from a
cloud, brighter, and with more ardent beams. It is this that bathes his
lips in the smiles of Paradise; that throws a divine lustre over his eyes,
and makes all dream of love and happiness that look upon him."
Edwin paused:—"Is it not so,
my cousin ?"
Helen raised her thoughtful face.—"
He is not a being of this earth, Edwin. We must learn to imitate him, as
well as to—" She hesitated, and then added, "as well as to
revere him. I do revere him, with such a sentiment as fills my heart, when
I bend before the altars of the saints. But not to worship," said
she, interrupting herself: "that would be a crime. To look on him, as
a glorious example of patient suffering; of invincible courage in the
behalf of truth and mercy! This is the end of my reverence of him; and
this sentiment, my dear Edwin, you partake."
"It possesses me
wholly," cried the, energetic youth; "I have no thought, no
wish, nor ever move, or speak, but with the intent to be like him. He
calls me his brother! and I will be so in soul, though I cannot in blood;
and then, my dear Helen, you shall have two Sir William Wallaces, to love
"Sweetest, sweetest boy !"
cried Helen, putting her quivering lips to his forehead, "you will
then always remember, that Helen so dearly loves Scotland, as to be
jealous, above all earthly things, for the Lord Regent’s safety. Be his
guardian angel. Beware of treason, in man, and woman, friend, and kindred.
It lurks, my cousin, under the most specious forms; and, as one, mark Lord
Buchan: in short, have a care of all, whom any of the house of Cummin may
introduce. Watch over your general’s life, in the private hour. It is
not the public field, I fear for him; his valiant arm will there be his
own guard! But, in the unreserved day of confidence, envy will point its
dagger ; and then, be as eyes to his too trusting soul, as a shield to his
too confidently exposed breast I"
As she spoke, she strove to
conceal her too eloquent face, in the silken ringlets of her hair.
"I will be all
this;" cried Edwin, who saw nothing in her tender solicitude, but the
ingenuous affection which "glowed in his own heart; "and I will
be your eyes, too, my cousin: for when I am absent with Sir William
Wallace, I shall consider myself your representative; and so will send you
regular despatches of all that happens to him."
Thanks would have been a
poor means of imparting what she felt at this assurance; and rising from
her seat, with some of Wallace’s own resigned and enthusiastic
expression in her face, she pressed Edwin’s hand to her heart; then
bowing her head to him, in token of gratitude, withdrew into an inner