As soon as Murray found her within his arms, he clasped her insensible form to his breast, and carrying her up the steps, drew the bolt of the door. It opened to his pressure, and discovered a large monastic cell, into which the daylight shone through one long narrow window. A straw pallet, an altar, and a marble basin, were the furniture. The cell was solitary the owner being then at mass in the chapel of the monastery. Murray laid down his death-like burden on the monk’s bed. He then ventured (believing, as it was to restore so pure a being to life, it could not be sacrilege) to throw some of the holy water upon his cousin’s face; and by means of a little chalice, which stood upon the altar, he poured some into her mouth. At last opening her eyes, she recognized the figure of her young kinsman leaning over her. The almost paralyzed Halbert stood at her feet. “Blessed Virgin! am I yet safe, and with my dear Andrew! Oh! I feared you were slain!” cried she, bursting into tears.
“Thank God, we are both safe,” answered he; “comfort yourself, my beloved cousin! you are now on holy ground; this is the cell of the prior of St. Fillan. None but the hand of an infidel dare wrest you from this sanctuary.”
“But my father, and Lady Mar?” And again her tears flowed.
“The countess, my gracious lady,” answered Halbert, “since you could not be found in the castle, is allowed to accompany your father to Dumbarton Castle, there to be treated with every respect, until De Valence receives further orders from King Edward.”
“But for Wallace!” cried she, “ah, where are now the succors that were to be sent to him! And without succors, how can he, or you, dearest Andrew, rescue my father from this tyranny!”
“Do not despair,” replied Murray; “look but at the banner you held fast, even while insensible; your own hands have engraven my answer-God armeth the patriot! Convinced of that, can you still fear for you father? I will join Wallace to-morrow. Your own fifty warriors await me at the bottom of Cartlane Craigs; and if any treachery should be meditated against my uncle, that moment we will make the towers of Dumbarton shake to their foundation.”
Helen’s reply was a deep sigh: she though it might be Heaven’s will that her father, like the good Lord Douglas, should fall a victim to royal revenge; and so sad were her forebodings, that she hardly dared to hope what the sanguine disposition of her cousin promised. Grimsby now came forward; and unloosing an iron box from under his arm, put it into the hands of Lord Murray.
“This fatal treasure,” said he, “was committed to my care by the earl, your uncle, to deliver to the prior of St. Fillan’s.”
“What does it contain?” demanded Murray; “I never saw it before.”
“I know not its contents,” returned the soldier; “it belongs to Sir William Wallace.”
“Indeed!” ejaculated Helen. “If it be treasure, why was it not rather sent to him!”
“But how, honest soldier,” asked Murray, “did you escape with it, and Halbert, too! I am at a loss to conjecture, but by miracle.”
He replied, that as soon as the English, and their Scottish partisans under Lord Soulis, had surprised the castle, he saw that his only chance of safety was to throw off the bonnet and plaid, and mix amongst the numerous soldiers who had taken possession of the gates. His armor, and his language, showed he was their countryman; and they easily believed that he had joined the plunderers as a volunteer from the army, which at a greater distance beleaguered the castle. The story of his desertion from the Lanark garrison had not yet reached those of Glasgow and Dumbarton; and one or two men, who had known him in former expeditions, readily reported that he had been drafted into the present one. Their recognition warranted his truth; and he had no difficulty, after the carnage in the state apartment, to make his way to the bed-chamber where Lord Aymer de Valence had ordered Lord Mar to be carried. He found the earl alone, and lost in grief. He knew not but that his nephew, and even his daughter and wife, had fallen beneath the impetuous swords of the enemy. Astonished at seeing the soldier walking at large, he expressed his surprise with some suspicions. But Grimsby told him the strategem he had used, and assured him Lord Andrew had not been seen since the onset. This information inspired the earl with a hope that his nephew might have escaped: and when the soldier also said, that he had seen the countess led by Lord Soulis across the hall toward the Lady Helen’s apartments, while he overheard him promising them every respect, the earl seemed comforted. “But how,” inquired he of Grimsby, “has this hard fate befallen us? Have you learned how De Valence knew that I meant to take up arms for my country?”
When the soldier was relating this part of the conference, Murray interrupted him with the same demand.
“On that head I cannot fully satisfy you,” replied he; “I could only gather from the soldiers that a sealed packet had been delivered to Lor Aymer de Valence late last night at Dumbarton Castle. Soulis was then there; and he immediately set off to Glasgow, for the followers he had left in that town. Early this morning he joined De Valence and his legions on Bothwell Moor. The consequences there you know. But they do not end at Bothwell. The gallant Wallace-”
At that name, so mentioned, the heart of Helen grew cold.
“What of him?” exclaimed Murray.
“No personal harm yet happened to Sir William Wallace,” replied Grimsby; “but at the same moment in which De Valence gave orders for his troops to march on Bothwell, he sent others to intercept that persecuted knight’s escape from the Cartlane Craigs.”
“That accursed sealed packet,” cried Murray, “has been the traitor! Some villian in Bothwell Castle must have written it. Whence else could have come the double information? And if so,” added he, with tremendous emphasis, “may the blast of slavery ever pursue him and his posterity!”
Helen shuddered, as the amen to this frightful malediction was echoed by the voices of Halbert and the soldier. The latter continued:
“When I informed Lord Mar of these measures against Wallace, he expressed a hope that your first detachment to his assistance might, with yourself, perhaps, at its head, elude their vigilance, and join his friend. This discourse reminded him of the iron box. ‘It is in that closet,’ said his lordship, pointing to an opposite door; you will find it beneath the little altar, before which I pay my daily duties to the allwise Dispenser of the fates of men; else where would be my confidence now? Take it thence, and buckle it to your side.”
“I obeyed, and he then proceeded: ‘There are two passages in this house which lead to the sanctuary. The one nearest to us is the safest for you. A staircase from the closet you have just left will lead you directly into the chapel. When there hasten to the image of the Virgin, and slip aside the marble tablet on the back of the pedestal: it will admit you to a flight of steps; descend them, and at the bottom you will find a door, that will convey you into a range of cellars. Lift up the largest flag-stone in the second, and you will be conducted through a dark vault to an iron door; draw the bolt, and remain in the cell it will open to you till the owner enters. He is the prior of St. Fillan’s and a Murray. Give him this golden cross, which he well knows, as a mark you come from me; and say it is my request that he assist you to gain the sea-shore. As for the iron box, tell him to preserve it as he would his life; and never to give it up, but to myself, my children, or to Sir William Wallace, it’s rightful master.’”
“Alas!” cried Halbert, “that he had never been its owner! that he had never brought it to Ellerslie, to draw down misery on his head! Ill-omened trust! whatever it contains, its presence carried blood and sorrow in its train. Wherever it has been deposited war and murder have followed: I trust my dear master will never see it more!”
“He may indeed never see it more!” murmured Helen, in a low voice. “Where are now my proud anticipations of freedom to Scotland? Alas, Andrew,” said she, taking his hand, and weeping over it. “I have been too presumptuous; my father is a prisoner, and Sir William Wallace is lost!”
“Cease, my dear Helen,” cried he, “cease to distress yourself! These are merely the vicissitudes of the great contention we are engaged in. We must expect occasional disappointments, or look for miracles every day. Such disasters are sent as lessons to teach us precaution, proptitude and patience-these are the soldier’s graces, my sweet cousin, and depend on it, I will pay them due obedience.”
“But why,” asked Helen, taking comfort from the unsubdued spirits of her cousin, “why, my good soldier, did not my dear father take advantage of this sanctuary?”
“I urged the earl to accompany me,” returned Grimsby; “but he said such a proceeding would leave his wife and babes in unprotected captivity. ‘No,’ added he, ‘I will await my fate; for the God of those who trust in him knows that I do not fear!’
“Having received such peremptory orders from the earl, I took my leave; and entering the chapel by the way he directed, was agreeably surprised to find the worthy Halbert, whom, never having seen since the funeral obsequies, I supposed had fallen during the carnage in the state-chamber. He was still kneeling by the tomb of his buried mistress. I did not take long to warn him of his danger, and desired him to follow me. We descended together beneath the holy statue, and were just emerging into the cellars when you, sir, met us at the entrance.
“It was while we were yet in the chapel that I heard De Valence and Soulis at high words in the courtyard. The former, in a loud voice, gave orders that, as Lady Helen Mar could nowhere be found, the earl and countess, with their two infant children, should not be separated, but be conveyed as his prisoners to Dumbarton Castle.”
“That is a comfort,” cried Helen; “my father will then be consoled by the presence of his wife.”
“But very different would have been the case, madam, had you appeared,” rejoined the soldier. “One of Lord de Valence’s men told me, that Lord Soulis intended to have taken you and the countess to Dunglass Castle, near Glasgow, while the sick earl was to have been carried alone to Dumbarton, and detained in solitary confinement. Lord Soulis was in so dreadful a rage, when you could not be found, that he accused the English commander of having leagued with Lady Mar to deceived him. In the midst of this contention we descended into the vaults.”
Helen shuddered at the thought of how near she was to falling into the hands of so fierce a spirit. In his character, he united every quality which could render power formidable; combining prodigious bodily strength with cruelty, dissimulation, and treachery. He was feared by the common people as a sorcerer; and avoided by the virtuous of his own rank, as an enemy to all public law, and the violator of every private tie. Helen Mar had twice refused his hand: first, during the contest for the kingdom, when his pretended claim to the crown was disallowed. She was then a mere child, hardly more than fourteen; but she rejected him with abhorrence. Though stung to the quick at being denied the objects both of his love and ambition at the same moment, he did not hesitate at another period to renew his offer to her. At the fall of Dunbar, when he again founded his uprise on the ruins of his country, as soon as he had repeated his oaths of fidelity to Edward, he hastened to Thirlestane, to throw himself a second time at the feet of Lady Helen. Her ripened judgment confirmed her youthful dislike of his ruffian qualities, and again he was rejected.
“By the powers of hell,” exclaimed he, when the project of surprising Bothwell was imparted to him, “if I once get that proud minion into my grasp, she shall be mine as I will, and learn to beg for even a look from the man who has humbled her!”
Helen knew not half the afflictions with which his resentful heart had meditated to subdue and torture her; and therefore, though she shrunk at the sound of a name so generally infamous, yet, not aware of all the evils she had escaped, she replied with languor, though with gratitude, to the almost rapturous congratulations of her cousin on her timely flight.
At this period the door of the cell opened, and the prior entered from the cloisters-he started on seeing his room filled with strangers. Murray took off his helmet, and approached him. On recognizing the son of his patron, the prior inquired his commands; and expressed some surprise that such a company, and above all, a lady, could have passed the convent-gate without his previous notice.
Murray pointed to the recess behind the altar; and then explained to the good priest the necessity which had compelled them to thus seek the protection of St. Fillan. “Lady Helen,” continued he, “must share your care until Heaven empowers the Earl of Mar to reclaim his daughter, and adequately reward this holy church.”
The soldier then presented the cross, with the iron box; repeating the message that confided them also to his keeping.
The prior listened to these recitals with sorrowful attention. He had not heard the noise of armed men advancing to the castle; but knowing that the earl was making warlike preparations, he had no suspicion that these were other than the Bothwell soldiers. He took the box, and laying it on the altar, pressed the cross to his lips. “The Earl of Mar shall find that fidelity here which his faith in the church merits. That mysterious chest, to which you tell me so terrible a denunciation is annexed, shall be preserved sacred as the relics of St. Fillan.”
Halbert groaned heavily at these words, but he did not speak. The father looked at him attentively, and then proceeded: “But for you, virtuous Southron, I will give you a pilgrim’s habit. Travel in that privileged garb to Montrose; and there a brother of the church, the prior of Aberbrothick, will, by a letter from me, convey you in a vessel to Normandy; thence you may safely find your way to Guienne.”
The soldier bowed his head; and the priest, turning to Lady Helen, told her that a cell should be appointed for her, and some pious woman brought from the adjoining hamlet to pay her due attendance.
“As for this venerable man,” continued he, “his silver hairs already proclaim him near his heavenly country! He had best put on the cowl of the holy brotherhood, and, in the arms of religion, repose securely, till he passes through the sleep of death to wake in everlasting life!”
Tears started into the eyes of Halbert. “I thank you, reverend father; I have indeed drawn near the end of my pilgrimage-too old to serve my dear master in fields of blood and hardship, I will at least devote my last hours to uniting my prayers with his, and all good souls, for the repose of his sainted lady. I accept your invitation thankfully; and, considering it a call from Heaven to give me rest, I welcome the day that marks the poor harper of Ellerslie with the sacred tonsure.”
The sound of approaching trumpets, and, soon after, the clattering of horses and the clang of armor, made an instantaneous silence in the cell. Helen looked fearfully at her cousin, and grasped his hand; Murray clasped his sword with a firmer hold. “I will protect you with my life.” He spoke in a low tone, but he soldier heard him: “There is no cause of alarm,” rejoined he; “Lord de Valence is only marching by on his way to Dumbarton.”
“Alas, my poor father!” cried Helen, covering her face with her hands.
The venerable prior, pitying her affliction, knelt down by her. “My daughter, be comforted,” said he; “they dare not commit any violence on the earl. King Edward too well understands his own interest to allow even a long imprisonment to so popular a nobleman.” This assurance, assisted by the consolations of a firm trust in God, caused her to raise her head with a meek smile. He continued to speak of the impregnable hopes of the Christian who founds his confidence on Omnipotence; and while his words spread a serenity through her soul, that seemed the ministration of a descended saint, she closed her hands over her breast, and silently invoked the protection of the Almighty Jehovah for her suffering parent.
The prior, seeing her composed, recommended leaving her to rest. And Helen, comforted by holy meditations, allowing her cousin to depart, he led Murray and his companions into the convent library.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59