The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 13.

Banks of the Clyde.

Two days passed drearily away to Helen. She could no expect tidings from her cousin in so short a time. No more happy dreams cheered her lonely hours; and anxiety to learn what might be the condition of the earl and countess so possessed her that visions of affright now disturbed both her waking and sleeping senses. Fancy showed them in irons and in a dungeon, and sometimes she started in horror, thinking that perhaps at that moment the assassin’s steel was raised against the life of her father.

On the morning of the third day, when she was chiding herself for such rebellious despondence, her female attendant entered to say, that a friar was come to conduct her where she would see messengers from Lady mar. Helen lingered not a moment, but giving her hand to the good father, was led by him into the library, where the prior was standing between two men in military habits. One wore English armor, with his visor closed; the other, a knight, was in tartans. The Scot presented her with a signet, set in gold. Helen looked on it, and immediately recognized the same that her stepmother always used.

The Scottish knight was preparing to address her, when the prior interrupted him, and taking Lady Helen’s hand, made her seat herself. “Compose yourself for a few minutes,” said he; “this transitory life hourly brings forward events to teach us to be calm, and to resign our wishes and our wills to the Lord of all things.”

Helen looked fearfully in his face. “Some evil tidings are to be told me.” The blood left her lips; it seemed leaving her heart also. The prior, full of compassion, hesitated to speak. The Scot abruptly answered her:

“Be not alarmed, lady, your parents have fallen into humane hands. I am sent, under the command of this noble Southron knight, to conduct you to them.”

“Then my father lives! They are safe!” cried she, in a transport of joy, and bursting into tears.

“He yet lives,” returned the officer; “but his wounds opening afresh, and the fatigues of his journey, have so exhausted him that Lord Aymer de Valence has granted the prayers of the countess, and we come to take you to receive his last blessing.”

A cry of anguish burst from the heart of Lady Helen, and falling into the arms of the prior, she found refuge from woe in a merciful insensibility. The pitying exertions of the venerable father at last recalled her to recollection and to sorrow. She rose from the bench on which he had laid her, and begged permission to retire for a few minutes; tears choked her further utterance, and, being led out by the friar, she once more reentered her cell.

Lady Helen passed the moments she had requested in those duties which alone can give comfort to the afflicted, when all that is visible bids us despair; and rising from her knees, with that holy fortitude which none but the devout can know, she took her mantle and veil, and throwing them over her, sent her attendant to the prior, to say she was ready to set out on her journey, and wished to receive his parting benediction. The venerable father, followed by Halbert, obeyed her summons. On seeing the poor old harper, Helen’s heart lost some of its newly-acquired composure. She held out her hand to him; he pressed it to his lips. “Farewell, sweetest lady! May the prayers of the dear saint, to whose remains your pious care gave a holy grave, draw down upon your own head consolation and peace!” The old man sobbed; and the tears of Lady Helen, as he bent upon her hand, dropped upon his silver hair. “May Heaven hear you, good Halbert! And cease not, venerable man, to pray for me; for I go into the hour of trial.”

“All that dwell in this house, my daughter,” rejoined the prior, “shall put up orisons for your comfort, and for the soul of the departing earl.” Observing that her grief augmented at these words, he proceeded in a yet more soothing voice: “Regret not that he goes before you, for what is death but entrance into life? It is the narrow gate, which shuts us from this dark world, to usher us into another, of everlasting light and happiness. Weep not, then, dear child of the church, that your earthly parents precede you to the Heavenly Father; rather say, with the Virgin Saint Bride, ‘How long, O Lord, am I to be banished thy presence? How long endure the prison of my body, before I am admitted to the freedom of Paradise, to the bliss of thy saints above?’”

Helen raised her eyes, yet shining in tears, and with a divine smile pressing the crucifix to her breast, “You do indeed arm me, my father! This is my strength!”

“And one that will never fail thee!” exclaimed he. She dropped upon one knee before him. He crossed his hands over her head-he looked up to heaven-his bosom heaved-his lips moved-then pausing a moment-“Go,” said he, “and may the angels which guard innocence minister to your sorrows, and lead you into peace!”

Helen bowed, and breathing inwardly a devout response, rose and followed the prior out of the cell. At the end of the cloister she again bade farewell to Halbert. Before the great gates stood the knights with their attendants. She once more kissed the crucifix held by the prior, and giving her hand to the Scot, was placed by him on a horse richly caparisoned. He sprung on another himself, while the English officer, who was already mounted, drawing up to her, she pulled down her veil, and all bowing to the holy brotherhood at the porch, rode off at a gentle pace.

A long stretch of wood, which spread before the monastery, and screened the back of Bothwell Castle from being discernible on that side of the Clyde, lay before them. Through this green labyrinth they pursued their way, till they crossed the river.

“Time wears!” exclaimed the Scot to his companion; “we must push on.” The English knight nodded, and set his spurs into his steed. The whole troop now fell into a rapid trot. The banks of the Avon opened into a hundred beautiful seclusions, which, intersecting the deep sides of the river with umbrageous shades and green hillocks, seemed to shut it from the world. Helen in vain looked for the distant towers of Dumbarton Castle marking the horizon; no horizon appeared, but ranges of rocks and wooded precipices.

A sweet breeze played through the valley and revived her harassed frame. She put aside her veil to enjoy its freshness, and saw that the knights turned their horses’ heads into one of the obscurest mountain defiles. She started at its depth, and at the gloom which involved its extremity. “It is our nearest path,” said the Scot. Helen made no reply, but turning her steed also, followed him, there being room for only one at a time to ride along the narrow margin of the river that flowed at its base. The Englishman, whose voice she had not yet heard, and his attendants, followed likewise in file; and with difficulty the horses could make their way through the thicket which interlaced the pathway, so confined, indeed, that it rather seemed a cleft made by an earthquake in the mountain than a road for the use of man.

When they had been employed for an hour in breaking their way through this trackless glen, they came to a wider space, where other and broader ravines opened before them. The Scot, taking a pass to the right, raised his bugle, and blew so sudden a blast that the horse on which Lady Helen sat took fright, and began to plunge and rear, to the evident hazard of throwing her into the stream. Some of the dismounted men, seeing her danger, seized the horse by the bridle; while the English knight extricating her from the saddle, carried her through some clustering bushes into a cave, and laid her at the feet of an armed man.

Terrified at this extraordinary action, she started up with a piercing shriek, but was at that moment enveloped in the arms of the stranger, while a loud shout of exhultation resounded from the Scot who stood at the entrance. It was echoed from without. There was horror in every sound. “Blessed Virgin, protect me!” she cried, striving to break from the fierce grasp that held her. “Where am I?” looking wildly at the two men who had brought her: “Why am I not taken to my father?”

She received no answer, and both the Scot and the Englishman left the place. The stranger still held her locked in a gripe that seemed of iron. In vain she struggled, in vain she shrieked, in vain she called on earth and Heaven, for assistance; she was held, and still he kept silence. Exhausted with terror and fruitless attempt for release, she put her hands together, and in a calmer tone exclaimed: “If you have honor or humanity in your heart, release me! I am an unprotected woman, praying for your mercy; withhold it not, for the sake of Heaven and your own soul.”

“Kneel to me then, thou siren!” cried the warrior, with fierceness. As he spoke he threw the tender knees of Lady Helen upon the rocky floor. His voice echoed terribly in her ears, but obeying him, “Free me,” cried she, “for the sake of my dying father!”

“Never, till I have had my revenge!”

At this dreadful denunciation she shuddered to the soul, but yet she spoke: “Surely I am mistaken for some one else! Oh, how can I have offended any man to incur so cruel an outrage?”

The warrior burst into a satanic laugh, and, throwing up his visor, “Behold me, Helen!” cried he, grasping her clasped hands with a horrible force, “My hour is come!”

At the sight of the dreadful face of Soulis she comprehended all her danger, and with supernatural strength, wresting her hands from his hold, she burst through the bushes out of the cave. Her betrayers stood at the entrance, and catching her in their arms, brought her back to their lord. But it was an insensible form they now laid before him; overcome with horror her senses had fled. Short was this suspension from misery; water was thrown on her face, and she awoke to recollection, lying on the bosom of her enemy. Again she struggled, again her cries echoed from side to side of the cavern. “Peace!” cried the monster; “you cannot escape; you are now mine forever! Twice you refused to be my wife; you dared to despise my love and my power; now you shall feel my hatred and my revenge!”

“Kill me!” cried the distracted Helen; “kill me and I will bless you!”

“That would be a poor vengeance,” cried he; “you must be humbled, proud minion, you must learn to fawn on me for a smile; to woo, as my slave, for one of those caresses you spurned to receive as my wife.” As he spoke, he strained her to his breast, with the contending expressions of passion and revenge glaring in his eyes. Helen shrieked at the pollution of his lips; and as he more fiercely held her, her hand struck against the hilt of his dagger. In a moment she drew it, and armed with the strength of outraged innocence, unwitting whether it gave death or not, only hoping it would release her, she struck it into his side. All was the action of an instant while, as instantaneously, he caught her wrist, and exclaiming, “Damnable traitress!” dashed her from him, stunned and motionless to the ground.

The weapon had not penetrated far. But the sight of his blood, drawn by the hand of a woman, incensed the raging Soulis. He called aloud on Macgregor. The two men, who yet stood without the cave, re-entered. They started when they saw a dagger in his hand, and Helen, lying apparently lifeless, with blood sprinkled on her garments.

Macgregor, who had personated the Scottish knight, in a tremulous voice asked why he had killed the lady?

Soulis frowned: “Here!” cried he, throwing open his vest: “this wound, that beautiful fiend you so piteously look upon, aimed at my life!”

“My lord,” said the other man, who had heard her shrieks, “I expected different treatment for the Earl of Mar’s daughter.”

“Base Scot!” returned Soulis, “when you brought a woman into these wilds to me, you had no right to expect that I should use her otherwise than as I pleased, and you, as the servile minister of my pleasures.”

“This language, Lord Soulis!” rejoined the man, much agitated; “but you mistook me-I meant not to reproach.”

“’Tis well you did not;” and turning from him with contempt, he listened to Macgregor, who, stooping toward the inanimate Helen, observed that her pulse beat. “Fool!” returned Soulis, “did you think I would so rashly throw away what I have been at such pains to gain? Call your wife; she knows how to teach these minions submission to my will.”

The man obeyed; and while his companion, by the command of Soulis, bound a fillet round the bleeding forehead of Helen, cut by the flints, the chief brought two chains, and fastening them to her wrists and ankles, exclaimed, with brutal triumph, while he locked them on: “There, my haughty damsel, flatter not thyself that the arms of Soulis shall be thine only fetters.”

Macgregor’s wife entered, and promised to obey all her lord’s injunctions. When she was left alone with the breathless body of Helen, water, and a few cordial drops, which she poured into the unhappy lady’s mouth, soon recalled her wretched senses. On opening her eyes, the sight of one of her own sex inspired her with some hope; but attempting to stretch out her hands in supplication, she was horror-struck at finding them fastened, and at the clink of the chains which bound her. “Why am I thus?” demanded she of the woman; but suddenly recollecting having attempted to pierce Soulis with his own dagger, and now supposing she had slain him, she added, “Is Lord Soulis killed?”

“No,” replied the woman; “my husband says he is but slightly hurt; and surely your fair face belies your heart, if you could intend the death of so brave and loving a lord!”

“You then belong to him?” cried the wretched Helen, wringing her hands. “What will be my unhappy fate! Virgin of heaven, take me to thyself!”

“Heaven forbid!” cried the woman, “that you should pray against being the favorite lady of our noble chief! Many are the scores around Hermitage Castle who would come hither on their hands and knees to arrive at that happiness.”

“Happiness!” cried Lady Helen, in anguish of spirit; “it can visit me no more till I am restored to my father, till I am released from the power of Soulis. Give me liberty,” continued she, wildly grasping the arm of the woman. “Assist me to escape, and half the wealth of the Earl of Mar shall be your reward.”

“Alas!” returned the woman, “my lord would burn me on the spot, and murder my husband, did he think I even listened to such a project. No, lady; you never will see your father more; for none who enter my lord’s Hermitage ever wish to come out again.”

“The Hermitage!” cried Helen, in augmented horror. “Oh, Father of mercy! never let me live to enter those accursed walls!”

“They are frightful enough, to be sure,” returned the woman; “but you, gentle lady, will be princess there; and in all things commanding the kingly heart of its lord, have rather cause to bless than to curse the castle of Soulis.”

“Himself, and all that bear his name, are accused to me,” returned Helen; “his love is my abomination, his hatred my dread. Pity me, kind creature; and if you have a daughter whose honor is dear to your prayers, think you see her in me, and have compassion on me. My life is in your hands; for I swear before the throne of Almighty Purity, that Soulis shall see me die rather than dishonored!”

“Poor young soul!” cried the woman, looking at her frantic gestures with commiseration; “I would pity you if I durst; but I repeat, my life, and my husband’s, and my children, who are now near Hermitage, would all be sacrificed to the rage of Lord Soulis. You must be content to submit to his will.” Helen closed her hands over her face in mute despair, and the woman went on: “And as for the matter of your making such lamentations about your father, if he be as little your friend as your mother is you have not much cause to grieve on that score.”

Helen started. “My mother! what of her? Speak! tell me! It is indeed her signet that betrayed me into these horrors. She cannot have consented! Oh, no! some villians-speak! tell me what you would say of Lady Mar?”

Regardless of the terrible emotion which now shook the frame of her auditor, the woman coolly replied, she had heard from her husband, who was the confidential servant of Lord Soulis, that it was to Lady mar he owed the knowledge of Helen being at Bothwell. The countess had written a letter to her cousin, Lord Buchan, who being a sworn friend of England, she intimated with Lord de Valence at Dumbarton. In this epistle she intimated her wish that Lord Buchan would devise a plan to surprise Bothwell Castle the ensuing day, to prevent the departure of its armed vassals, then preparing to march to the support of the outlaw Sir William Wallace, who, with his band of robbers, was lurking about the caverns of the Cartlane Craigs.

When this letter arrived, Lord Soulis was at dinner with the other lords; and Buchan, laying it before De Valence, they all consulted what was best to be done. Lady Mar begged her cousin not to appear in the affair himself, that she might escape the suspicions of her lord; who, she strongly declared, was not arming his vassals from any disloyal disposition toward the king of England, but solely at the instigations of Wallace, to whom he romantically considered himself bound by the ties of gratitude. As she gave this information, she hoped that no attainder would fall upon her husband. And to keep the transaction as close as possible, she proposed that the Lord Soulis, who she understood was then at Dumbarton, should take the command of two or three thousand troops, and marching to Bothwell next morning, seize the few hundred armed Scots who were there ready to proceed to the mountains. She ended by saying that her daughter-in-law was in the castle, which she hoped would be an inducement to Soulis to insure the Earl of Mar’s safety for the sake of her hand as his reward.

The greatest part of Lady Mar’s injunctions could not be attended to, as Lord de Valence, as well as Soulis, was made privy to the secret. The English nobleman declared that he should not do his duty to his king if he did not head the force that went to quell so dangerous a conspiracy; and Soulis, eager to go at any rate, joyfully accepted the honor of being his companion. Lord Buchan was easily persuaded to the seizure of the earl’s person, as De Valence flattered him that the king would endow him with the Mar estates, which must now be confiscated. Helen groaned at the latter part of the narrative, but the woman, without noticing it, proceeded to relate how, when the party had executed their design at Bothwell Castle, she was to have been taken by Soulis to his castle near Glasgow; but on that wily Scot not finding her, he conceived the suspicion that Lord de Valence had prevailed on the countess to give her up to him. He observed, that the woman who could be induced to betray her daughter to one man, would easily be bribed to repeat the crime to another, and under this impression, he accused the English nobleman of treachery. De Valence denied it vehemently so quarrel ensued, and Soulis departed with a few of his followers, giving out that he was retiring in high indignation to Dunglass. But the fact was, he lurked about in Bothwell wood; and from its recesses saw Cressingham’s lieutenant march by to take possession of the castle in the king’s name.

A deserter from this troop fell in with Lord Soulis’ company, and flying to him for protection, a long private conversation took place between them. At this period, one of the spies who had been left by that chief in quest of news, returned with a female tenant of St. Fillan’s, whom he had seduced from her home. She told Lord Soulis all he wanted to know; informing him that a beautiful young lady, who could be no other than Lady Helen Mar, was concealed in that convent.

On this information he conversed a long time with the stranger from Cressingham’s detachment. And determining on carrying off Helen immediately to Hermitage, that the distance of Teviotdale might render a rescue less probable, he laid the plan accordingly. “In consequence,” continued the woman, “my husband and the stranger, the one habited as a Scottish and the other as an English knight (for my lord being ever on some wild prank, has always a chest of strange dresses with him), set out for St. Fillan’s, taking with them the signet which your mother had sent with her letter to the earl her cousin. They hoped such a pledge of their truth would insure them credit. You know the tale they invented; and its success proves my lord to be no bad contriver.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24