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The Scottish Chiefs
Vol 2: Chapter 37 - Hunting-Tower

LORD Ruthven was yet musing, in fearful anxiety, on Wallace’s solemn adieu; and the confirmation, which the recitals of Grimsby and Hay had brought of his determined exile; when he was struck with new consternation, by the flight of his son. A billet, which Edwin had left with Scrymgeour, who guessed not its contents, told his father, that he was gone to seek their friend; and to unite himself for ever to his fortunes.

Bothwell, not less eager to preserve Wallace to the world; with an intent to persuade him, to at least abandon his monastic project; set off direct for France, hoping to arrive before his friend, and engage the French monarch to assist in preventing so grievous a sacrifice. Ruthven, meanwhile, fearful that the unarmed Wallace, and the self-regardless Edwin, might fall into the hands of the venal wretches, now widely dispersed to seize the chief and his adherents, sent out the Lanark veterans in divers disguises, to pursue the roads it was probable he might take; and, finding him, guard him safely to the coast. Till Ruthven should receive accounts of their success, he forbore to forward the letter which Wallace had left for Bruce; or to increase the solicitude of the already anxious inhabitants of Hunting-tower, with any intimation of what had happened. But on the fourth day, Scrymgeour and his party returned, with the horrible narrative of Lumloch.

After the murder of his youthful friend, Wallace had been loaded with irons: and conveyed, so unresistingly that he seemed in a stupor, on board a vessel, to be carried without loss of time to the Tower of London. Sir John Monteith, though he never ventured into his sight, attended as the accuser, who, to put a vizard on cruelty, was to swear away his victim’s life. The honor and grief of Ruthven, at these tidings, were unutterable: and Scrymgeour, to turn the tide of the bereaved father’s thoughts, to the inspiring recollection of the early glory of his son, proceeded to narrate,—that he found the beauteous remains in the hovel, but bedecked with flowers by the village girls. They were weeping over it, and lamenting the pitiless heart which could slay such youth and loveliness. To bury him in so obscure a spot, Scrymgeour would not allow; and he had sent Stephen Ireland with the sacred corse to Dumbarton, with orders to see him entombed in the chapel of that fortress.—"It is done;" continued the worthy knight, "and those towers he so bravely scaled, will stand for ever the monument of Edwin Ruthven." [Since this little tale of Edwin’s fate has been recalled to memory, these towers have often been revisited, as his noble monument: and many a warmhearted schoolboy has shed a tear over his young mate in years.—.-(1820.)] —"Scrymgeour," said the stricken father, "the shafts fall thick upon us, but we must fulfil our duty." Cautious of inflicting too heavy a blow on the fortitude of his wife and of Helen, he commanded Grimsby, and Hay, to withhold from everybody at Hunting-tower, the tidings of its young Lord’s fate; but he believed it his duty, not to delay the letter of Wallace to Bruce, and the dreadful information to him, of Monteith’s treachery. Ruthven ended his short epistle to his wife, by saying he should soon follow his messenger; but that at present, he could not bring himself to entirely abandon the Lowlands, to even a temporary empire of the seditious chiefs.

On Grimsby’s arrival at Hunting-tower, he was conducted immediately to Bruce. Some cheering symptoms having appeared that morning, he had just exchanged his bed for a couch, when Grimsby entered the room. The countenance of the honest Southron, was the harbinger of his news. Lady Helen started from her seat; and Bruce stretching out his arm, eagerly caught the packets the soldier presented. Isabella inquired if all were well with Sir William Wallace. But ere he could make an answer, Lady Ruthven ran breathless into the room, holding out the opened letter brought by Hay to her. Bruce had just read the first line of his, which announced the captivity of Wallace; and, with a groan, that pierced through the souls of every one present, he made an attempt to spring from the couch ; but in the act he reeled, and fell back in a fearful, but mute mental agony. The apprehensive heart of Helen, guessed some direful explanation; she looked with speechless inquiry upon her aunt and Grimsby. Isabella and Ercildown hastened to Bruce; and Lady Ruthven, being too much appalled in her own feelings, to think for a moment on the aghast Helen, hurriedly read to her from Lord Ruthven’s letter, the brief but decisive account of Wallace’s dangerous situation—his seizure, and conveyance to the Tower of England. Helen listened without a word: her heart seemed locked within her; her brain was on fire; and gazing fixedly on the floor while she listened, all else that was transacted around her passed unnoticed.

The pangs of a convulsion fit, did not long shackle the determined Bruce. The energy of his spirit, struggling to gain the side of Wallace in this his extremest need (for he well knew Edward’s implacable soul), roused him from his worse than swoon.—With his extended arms dashing away the restoratives with which both Isabella and Ercildown hung over him, he would have leaped on the floor, had not the latter held him down. "Withhold me not !" cried he; "this is not the time for sickness and indulgence. My friend is in the fangs of the tyrant, and shall I lie here?—No, not for all the empires in the globe, will I be detained another hour."

Isabella, affrighted at the furies which raged in his eyes, but yet more terrified at the perils attendant on his desperate resolution, threw herself at his feet, and implored him to stay for her sake. "No," cried Bruce, not for thy life, Isabella, which is dearer to me than my own! not to save this ungrateful country from the doom it merits! would I linger one moment, from the side of him, who has fought, bled, and suffered for me and mine—who is now treated with ignominy, and sentenced to die, for my delinquency !—Had I consented to proclaim myself on my landing, secure with Bruce the King, envy would have feared to strike! but I must first win a fame like his!— And while I lay here, they tore him from the vain and impotent Bruce!—But, Almighty pardoner of my sins !" cried he with vehemence" grant me strength to wrest him from their gripe, and I will go barefoot to Palestine, to utter all my gratitude!"

Isabella sunk weeping into the arms of her aunt. And the venerable Ercildown, wishing to curb an impetuosity which could only involve its generous agent in a ruin deeper than that it sought to revenge, with more zeal than judgment, urged to the Prince, the danger into which such boundless resentment would precipitate his own person. At this intimation, the impassioned Bruce, stung to the soul, that such an argument could be expected to have weight with him, solemnly bent his knee, and clasping his sword, vowed before Heaven "either to release Wallace, or—"to share his fate!" he would have added; but Isabella, watchful of his words, suddenly interrupted him, by throwing herself wildly on his neck, and exclaiming— "Oh! say not so! Rather swear to pluck the tyrant from his throne; that the sceptre of my Bruce may bless England, as it will yet do this unhappy land! "—"She says right!" ejaculated Ercildown, in a prophetic transport; "and the sceptre of Bruce, in the hands of his offspring, shall bless the united countries, to the latest generations! The walls of separation shall then be thrown down, and England and Scotland be one people."

[Spottiswood insists very much on this prediction of Ercildown’s, which was verified in James the First of England, in the ninth degree from Bruce.

By a most extraordinary coincidence, the author of this work was revising it, and in this very page, and at this very passage, just as the guns were firing, which proclaimed the coronation of King William IV., on the 8th of September, 1831.—Though several miles distant from the royal scene, she heard them, and fervently united her response—"Long live the anointed descendant of the Bruce and Plantagenet!"—(1831.)]

Bruce looked steadfastly on the sage: "Then if thy voice utter holy verity, it will not again deny my call, to wield the power that Heaven bestows! I follow my fate! To-morrow’s dawn sees me in the path to snatch my best treasure, my counsellor, my guide, from the judgment of his enemies—or woe to England; woe to all Scotland born, who have breathed one hostile word against his sacred life!—Helen, dost thou hear me?" cried he: "Wilt thou not assist me, to persuade thy too timid sister, that her Bruce’s honour, his happiness, lives in the preservation of his friend? Speak to her, counsel her, sweet Helen; and, please the Almighty arm of Heaven, I will reward thy tenderness with the return of Wallace!"

Helen gazed intently on him while he spoke. She smiled when he ended, but she did not answer; and there was a wild vacancy in the smile, that seemed to say she knew not what had been spoken, and that her thoughts were far away. Without further regarding him, or any present, she arose and left the room. At this moment of fearful abstraction, her whole soul was bent, with an intensity that touched on madness, on the execution of a project, which had rushed into her mind in the moment she heard of Wallace’s deathful captivity and destination.

The approach of night favoured her design. Hurrying to her chamber, she dismissed her maids with the prompt excuse that she was ill, and desired not to be disturbed till morning; then bolting the door, she quickly habited herself in the page’s clothes, which she had so carefully preserved, as the dear memorial of her happy days in France; and dropping from her window into the pleasance beneath, ran swiftly through its woody precincts towards Dundee.

Before she arrived at the suburbs of Perth, her tender feet became so blistered, she found the necessity of stopping at the first cottage. But her perturbed spirits rendered it impossible for her to take rest; and she answered the hospitable offer of its humble owner, with a request that he would go into the town, and immediately purchase a horse, to carry her that night to Dundee. She put her purse into the man’s hand; who without further discussion obeyed. When the animal was brought, and the honest Scot returned her the purse with its remaining contents, she divided them with him; and turning from his thanks, mounted the horse, and rode away.

About an hour before dawn, she arrived within view of the ships lying in the harbour at Dundee. At this sight, she threw herself off the panting animal, and leaving it to rest and liberty, hastened to the beach. A gentle breeze blew freshly from the north-west; and several vessels were heaving their anchors, to get under weigh. "Are any;" demanded she, "bound for the Tower of London?"—"None;" were the replies. Despair was now in her heart and gesture. But suddenly recollecting, that in dressing herself for flight, she had not taken off the jewels she usually wore, she exclaimed with renovated hope, "Will not gold tempt some one to carry me thither?" A rough Norwegian sailor jumped from the side of the nearest vessel, and readily answered in the affirmative. "My life;" rejoined she, "or a necklace of pearls, shall be yours, in the moment you land me at the Tower of London." The man, seeing the youth and agitation of the seeming boy, doubted his power to perform so magnificent a promise, and was half inclined to retract his assent; but Helen, pointing to a jewel on her finger, as a proof that she did not speak of things beyond her reach, he no longer hesitated ;and pledging his word, that, wind and tide in his favour, he would land her at the Tower stairs;—she, as if all happiness must meet her at that point, sprang into his vessel. The sails were unfurled: the voices of the men chanted forth their cheering responses, on clearing the harbour; and Helen, throwing herself along the floor of her little cabin, in that prostration of body and soul, silently breathed her thanks to God, for being indeed launched on the ocean, whose waves, she trusted, would soon convey her to Wallace. To soothe, to serve,—.to die, or to compass the release of him who had sacrificed more than his life for her father’s preservation—for him who had saved herself from worse than death.

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