They proceeded in silence through the curvings of the dell till it opened into a hazardous path along the top of a far-extending cliff, which overhung and clasped in the western side of a deep loch. As they mounted the pending wall of this immense amphitheater, Helen watched the sublime uprise of the king of light issuing from behind the opposite citadel of rocks, and borne aloft on a throne of clouds that swam in floating gold. The herbage on the cliffs glittered with liquid emeralds, as his beams kissed their summits; and the lake beneath sparkled like a sea of molten diamonds. All nature seemed to rejoice at the presence of this magnificent emblem of the Most High. Helen’s heart swelled with devotion, and its sacred voice breathed from her lips.
“Such,” thought she, “O sun, art thou! The resplendent image of the Giver of all Good. Thy cheering beams, like his all-cheering Spirit, pervade the soul, and drive thence the despondency of cold and darkness. But bright as thou art, how does the similitude fade before godlike man, the true image of his Maker. How far do his protecting arms extend over the desolate! How mighty is the power of his benevolence to dispense succor, to administer consolation!”
As she thus mused her eyes fell on the noble mien of the knight, who, with his spear in his hand, and wrapped in his dark mantle of mingled greens, led the way, with a graceful but rapid step, along the shelving declivity. Turning suddenly to the left, he struck into a defile between two prodigious craggy mountains, whose brown cheeks, trickling with ten thousand mountains, whose brown cheeks, trickling with ten thousand rills, seemed to weep over the deep gloom of the valley beneath. Scattered fragments of rock from the cliffs above covered with their huge and almost impassable masses the surface of the ground. Not an herb was to be seen; all was black, barren, and terrific. On entering this horrid pass, Helen would have shuddered, had she not placed implicit confidence in her conductor.
As they advanced, the vale gradually narrowed, and at last shut them within an immense chasm, which seemed to have been cleft at its towering summit, to admit a few beams of light to the desert below. A dark river flowed along, amid which the bases of the mountains showed their union by the mingling of many a rugged cliff, projecting upward in a variety of strange and hideous forms. The men who carried Helen, with some difficulty found a safe footing. However, after frequent rests, and unremitted caution, they at last extricated themselves from the most intricate path, and more lightly followed their chief into a less gloomy part of this chaos of nature. The knight stopped, and approaching the bier, told Helen they had arrived at the end of their journey.
“In the heart of that cliff,” said he, “is the hermit’s cell; a desolate shelter, but a safe one. Old age and poverty hold no temptations to the enemies of Scotland.”
As he spoke the venerable man, who had heard voices beneath, appeared on the rock; and while his tall and majestic figure, clad in gray, moved forward, and his silver beard flowed from his saintly countenance upon the air, he seemed the bard of Morven, issuing from his cave of shells to bid a hero’s welcome to the young and warlike Oscar.
“Bless thee, my son,” cried he, as he descended; “what good or evil accident hath returned thee so soon to these solitudes?”
The knight briefly related the circumstances of Helen’s rescue, and that he had brought her to share his asylum.
The hermit took her by the hand, and graciously promised her every service in his power. He then preceded the knight, whose firmer arm supported her up the rock, to the outer apartment of the cell.
A sacred awe struck her as she entered this place, dedicated wholly to God. She bowed, and crossed herself. The hermit, observing her devotion, blessed her, and bade her welcome to the abode of peace.
“Here, daughter,” said he, “has one son of persecuted Scotland found a refuge. There is naught alluring in these wilds to attract the spoiler. The green herb is all the food they afford, and the limpid water their best beverage.”
“Ah!” returned Helen, with grateful animation, “would to Heaven that all who love the freedom of Scotland were now within this glen! The herb and the stream would be luxuries when tasted in liberty and hope. My father, his friend-” she stopped, recollecting that she had almost betrayed the secrecy she meant to maintain, and looking down, remained in confused silence. The knight gazed at her, and much wished to penetrate what she concealed, but delicacy forbade him to urge her again. He spoke not; but the hermit, ignorant of her reluctance to reveal her family, resumed:
“I do not wonder, gentle lady, that you speak in terms which tell me even your tender sex feels the tyranny of Edward. Who in Scotland is exempt? The whole country groans beneath his oppressions, and the cruelty of his agents makes its rivulets run with blood. Six months ago I was Abbot of Scone. Because I refused to betray my trust, and resign the archives of the kingdom lodged there, Edward, the rebel-anointed of the Lord! the profaner of the sanctuary! sent his emissaries to sack the convent, to tear the holy pillow of Jacob from its shrine, and to wrest from my grasp the records I refused to deliver. All was done as the usurper commanded. Most of my brethren were slain. Myself and the remainder were turned out upon the waste. We retired to the Monastery of Cambuskenneth; but there oppression found us. Cressingham, having seized on other religious houses, determined to swell his hoards with the plunder of that also. In the dead of night the attack was made. My brethren fled; I knew not whither to go; but, determined to fly far from the tracts of our ravagers, I took my course over the hills, and finding the valley of stones fit for my purpose, for two months have lived alone in this wilderness.”
“Unhappy Scotland!” ejaculated Helen. Her eyes had followed the chief, who, during this narrative, leaned thoughtfully against the entrance of the cave. His eyes were cast upward with an expression that made her heart utter the exclamation which had escaped her.
The knight turned and approached her. “You hear from the lips of my venerable friend,” said he, “a direful story; happy then am I, gentle lady, that you and he have found a refuge, though a rough one. I must now tear myself from this tranquillity to seek scenes more befitting a younger son of the country he deplores.”
Helen felt unable to answer. But the abbot spoke; “And am I not to see you again?”
“That is as Heaven wills,” replied he; “but as it is unlikely on this side the grave, my best pledge of friendship is this lady. To you she may reveal what she had withheld from me; but in either case, she is secure in your goodness.”
“Rely on my faith, my son; and may the Almighty’s shield hang on your steps!”
The knight turned to Helen. “Farewell, sweet lady!” said he. She trembled at the words, and, hardly conscious of what she did, held out her hand to him. He took it, and drew it toward his lips, but checking himself, he only pressed it, while in a mournful voice he added, “in your prayer, sometimes remember the most desolate of men!”
A mist seemed to pass over the eyes of Lady Helen. She felt as if on the point of losing something most precious to her. “My prayers for my own preserver, and for my father’s,” cried she, in an agitated voice, “shall ever be mingled. And, if ever it be safe to remember me-should Heaven indeed arm the patriot’s hand-then my father may be proud to know and to thank the brave deliverer of his child.”
The knight paused, and looked with animation upon her. “Then your father is in arms, and against the tyrant! Tell me where, and you see before you a man who is ready to join him, and to lay down his life in the just cause!”
At this vehement declaration, Lady Helen’s full heart overflowed, and she burst into tears. He drew toward her, and in a moderated voice continued: “My men, though few, are brave. They are devoted to their country, and are willing for her sake to follow me to victory or to death. As I am a knight, I am sworn to defend the cause of right; and where shall I so justly find it, as on the side of bleeding, wasted Scotland? How shall I so well pursue my career as in the defense of her injured sons? Speak, gentle lady! trust me with your noble father’s name, and he shall not have cause to blame the confidence you repose in a true though wandering Scot!”
“My father,” replied Helen, weeping afresh, “is not where your generous services can reach him. Two brave chiefs, one a kinsman of my own, and the other his friend, are now colleagued to free him. If they fail, my whole house falls in blood! and to add another victim to the destiny which in that case will overwhelm me-the thought is beyond my strength.” Faint with agitation, and the horrible images which reawakened her direst fears, she stopped; and then added in a suppressed voice, “Farewell!”
“Not till you hear me further,” replied he. “I repeat I have now a scanty number of followers; but I leave these mountains to gather more. Tell me, then, where I may join these chiefs you speak of. Give me a pledge that I come from you; and whoever may be your father, as he is a true Scot, I will compass his release, or perish in the attempt.”
“Alas! generous stranger,” cried she, “to what would you persuade me? You know not the peril that you seek!”
“Nothing is perilous to me,” replied he, with an heroic smile, “that is to serve my country. I have no interest, no joy but in her. Give me, then, the only happiness of which I am now capable, and send me to serve her, by freeing one of her defenders!”
Helen hesitated. The tumult of her mind dried her tears. She looked up, with all these inward agitations painted on her cheeks. His beaming eyes were full of patriotic ardor; and his fine countenance, composed into a heavenly calmness by the sublime sentiments which occupied his soul, made him appear to her not a as man, but as an angel from the armed host of heaven.
“Fear not, lady,” said the hermit, “that you would plunge your deliverer into any extraordinary danger by involving him in what you might call rebellion against the usurper. He is already a proscribed man.”
“Proscribed!” repeated she; “wretched indeed is my country when her noblest spirits are denied the right to live!-when every step they take to regain what has been torn from them, only involves them in deeper ruin!”
“No country is wretched, sweet lady,” returned the knight, “till, by a dastardly acquiescence, it consents to its own slavery. Bonds, and death, are the utmost of our enemy’s malice; the one is beyond his power to inflict, when a man is determined to die or to live free; and for the other, which of us will think that ruin, which leads to the blessed freedom of paradise?”
Helen looked on the chief as she used to look on her cousin, when expressions of virtuous enthusiasm burst from his lips; but now it was rather with the gaze of admiring awe than the exhultation of one youthful mind sympathizing with another. “You would teach confidence to Despair herself,” returned she; “again I hope; for God does not create in vain! You shall know every danger with which that knowledge is surrounded. He is hemmed in by enemies. Alas, how closely are they connected with him! Not the English only, but the most powerful of his countrymen are leagues against him. They sold my father to captivity, and, perhaps, to death; and I, wretched I, was the price. To free him, the noblest of Scottish knights is now engaged; but such hosts impede him, that hope hardly dares hover over his tremendous path.”
“Then,” cried the stranger, “let my arm be second to his in the great achievement. My heart yearns to meet a brother in arms who feels for Scotland what I do; and with such a coadjutor, I dare promise your father liberty, and that the power of England shall be shaken.”
Helen’s heart beat violently at these words. “I would not defer the union of two such minds. Go, then, to the Cartlane Craigs. But, alas! how can I direct you?” cried she. “The passes are beset with English; and I know not whether at this moment the brave Wallace survives, to be again the deliverer of my father!”
Helen paused. The recollection of all that Wallace had suffered for the sake of her father, and of the mortal extremity in which Ker had left him, rose like a dreadful train of apparitions before her. A pale horror overspread her countenance; and lost in these remembrances, she did not remark the start, and rushing color of the knight, as she pronounced the name of Wallace.
“If Wallace ever had the happiness of serving any who belonged to you,” returned the knight, “he has at least one source of pleasure in that remembrance. Tell me what he can further do. Only say, where is that father whom you say he once preserved, and I will hasten to yield my feeble aid to repeat the service!”
“Alas!” replied Helen, “I cannot but repeat my fears that the bravest of men no longer exists. Two days before I was betrayed into the hands of the traitor from whom you rescued me, a messenger from Cartlane Craigs informed my cousin that the gallant Wallace was surrounded; and if my father did not send forces to relieve him, he must inevitably perish. No forces could my father send; he was then made a prisoner by the English; his retainers shared the same fate, and none but my cousin escaped, to accompany the honest Scotch back to his master. My cousin set forth with a few followers to join him-a few against thousands.”
“They are in arms for their country, lady,” returned the knight; “and a thousand invisible angels guard them; fear not for them! But for your father; name to me the place of his confinement, and as I have not the besiegers of Cartlane Craigs to encounter. I engage, with God’s help, and the arms of my men (who never yet shrunk from sword or spear), to set the brave earl free!”
“How!” exclaimed Helen, remembering that she had not yet mentioned her father’s rank, and gazing at him with astonishment; “do you know his name-is the misfortune of my father already so far spread?”
“Rather say his virtue, lady,” answered the knight; “no man who watches over the destiny of our devoted country can be ignorant of her friends, or of the sufferers who bear injury for her sake. I know that the Earl of Mar has made himself a generous sacrifice, but I am yet to learn the circumstances from you. Speak without reserve, that I may seek the accomplishment of my vow, and restore to Scotland its best friend!”
“Thou brother in heart to the generous Wallace!” exclaimed Lady Helen, “my voice is too feeble to thank thee.” The hermit, who had listened in silent interest, now, fearing the consequence of so much emotion, presented her with a cup of water and a little fruit, to refresh herself, before she satisfied the inquiries of the knight. She put the cup to her lips, to gratify the benevolence of her host, but her anxious spirit was too much occupied in the concerns dearest to her heart, to feel any wants of the body; and turning to the knight, she briefly related what had been the design of her father with regard to Sir William Wallace; how he had been seized at Bothwell, and sent with his family a prisoner to Dumbarton Castle.
“Proceed then thither,” continued she. “If Heaven have yet spared the lives of Wallace and my cousin, Andrew Murray, you will meet them before its walls. Meanwhile I shall seek the protection of my father’s sister, and in her castle near the Forth abide in safety. But, noble stranger, one bond I must lay upon you; should you come up with my cousin, do not discover that you have met with me. He is precipitate in resentment; and his hatred is so hot against Soulis, my betrayer, that should he know the outrage I have sustained he would, I fear, run himself and the general cause into danger by seeking an immediate revenge.”
The stranger readily passed his word to Helen that he would never mention her name to any of her family until she herself should give him leave. “But when your father is restored to his rights,” continued he, “in his presence I hope to claim my acquaintance with his admirable daughter.”
Helen blushed at this compliment-it was not more than any man in his situation might have said, but it confused her; and hardly knowing what were her thoughts, she answered-“His personal freedom may be effected, and God grant such a regard to your prowess! But his other rights, what can recover them? His estates sequestrated, his vassals in bonds, all power of the Earl of Mar will be annihilated; and from some obscure refuge like this, must he utter his thanks to his daughter’s preserver.”
“Not so, lady,” replied he; “the sword is now raised in Scotland, that cannot be laid down till it be broken or has conquered. All have suffered by Edward; the powerful banished into other countries, that their wealth might reward foreign mercenaries; the poor driven into the waste, that the meanest Southron might share the spoil! Where all have suffered, all must be ready to avenge; and when a whole people take up arms to regain their rights, what force can prevent restitution? God is with them!”
“So I felt,” returned Helen, “while I have not yet seen the horrors of the contest. While my father commanded in Bothwell Castle, and was sending out auxiliaries to the patriot chief, I too felt nothing but the inspiration which led them on, and saw nothing but the victory which must crown so just a cause. But now, when all whom my father commanded are slain or carried away by the enemy, when he is himself a prisoner, and awaiting the sentence of the tyrant he opposed, when the gallant Wallace, instead of being able to hasten to his rescue, is besieged by a numberless host, hope almost dies within me, and I fear that whoever may be fated to free Scotland, my beloved father, and those belonging to him are first to be made a sacrifice.”
She turned pale as she spoke, and the stranger resumed. “No, lady, if there be that virtue in Scotland which can alone deserve freedom, it will be achieved. I am an inconsiderable man, but relying on the God of Justice, I promise you your father’s liberty; and let his freedom be a pledge to you for that of your country. I now go to rouse a few brave spirits to arms. Remember the battle is not to the strong, nor victory with a multitude of hosts! The banner16 of St. Andrew was once held from the heavens, over a little band of Scots, while they discomfited a thousand enemies-the same arm leads me on; and, if need be, I despair not to see it again, like the flaming pillar before the Israelites, consuming the enemies of liberty, even in the fullness of their might.”
16 At a time when Achaius King of Scotts, and Hungus King of Picts, were fiercely driven by Athelstan King of Northumberland into East Lothian, full of terrors of what the next morning might bring forth, Hungus fell into a sleep, and beheld a vision, which, tradition tells, was verified the ensuing day by the appearance of the cross of St. Andrew held out to him from the heavens, and waving him to victory. Under this banner he conquered the Northumberland forces, and slaying their leader, the scene of the battle has henceforth been called Atheistanford.-(1809.)
While he yet spoke, the hermit re-entered from the inner cell, supporting a youth on his arm. At sight of the knight, who held out his hand to him, he dropped on his knees and burst into tears. “Do you then leave me?” cried he; “am I not to serve my preserver?”
Helen rose in strange surprise; there was something in the feelings of the boy that was infectious; and while her own heart beat violently, she looked first on his emaciated figure, and then at the noble contour of the knight, “where every god had seemed to set his seal.” His beaming eyes appeared the very fountains of consolation; his cheek was bright with generous emotions; and turning from the supplant boy to Helen. “Rise,” said he to the youth, “and behold in this lady the object of the service to which I appoint you. You will soon, I hope, be sufficiently recovered to attend upon her wishes as you would upon mine. Be her servant and her guard; and when we meet again, as she will then be under the protection of her father, if you do not prefer so gentle a service before the rougher one of war, I will resume you to myself.”
The youth, who had obeyed the knight and risen, bowed respectfully; and Helen, uttering some incoherent words of thanks, to hide her agitation turned away. The hermit exclaimed, “Again, my son, I beseech Heaven to bless thee!”
“And may its guardian care shield all here!” replied the knight. Helen looked up to bid him a last farewell-but he was gone. The hermit had left the cell with him, and the youth also had disappeared into the inner cave. Being left alone, she threw herself down before the altar, and giving way to a burst of tears, inwardly implored protection for that brave knight’s life; and by his means to grant safety to Wallace, and freedom to her father!
As she prayed, her emotion subsided and a holy confidence elevating her mind, she remained in an ecstasy of hope, till a solemn voice from behind her called her from this happy trance.
“Blessed are they which put their trust in God!”
She calmly rose, and perceived the hermit; who, on entering, had observed her devout position, and the spontaneous benediction broke from his lips. “Daughter,” said he, leading her to a seat, “this hero will prevail; for the Power before whose altar you have just knelt, has declared, ‘My might is with them who obey my laws, and put their trust in me!’ You speak highly of the young and valiant Sir William Wallace, but I cannot conceive that he can be better formed for great and heroic deeds than this chief. Suppose them, then, to be equal, when they have met, with two such leaders, what may not a few determined Scots perform?”
Helen sympathized with the cheering prognostications of the hermit; and wishing to learn the name of this rival of a character she had regarded as unparalleled, she asked, with a blush, by what title she must call the knight who had undertaken so hazardous an enterprise for her.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53