During the repast, the countess often fixed her unrestrained gaze on the manly yet youthful countenance of the heroic Wallace. His plumed helmet was now laid aside; and the heavy corselet unbuckled from his breast, disclosing the symmetry of his fine form, left its graceful movements to be displayed with advantage by the flexible folds of his simple tartan vest. Was it the formidable Wallace she looked on, bathed in the blood of Heselrigge, and breathing vengeance against the adherents of the tyrant Edward! It was, then, the enemy of her kinsmen of the house of Cummin! It was the man for whom her husband had embraced so many dangers! It was the man whom she had denounced to one of those kinsmen, and whom she had betrayed to the hazard of an ignominious death! But where now was the fierce rebel-the ruiner of her peace-the outlaw whom she had wished in his grave?
The last idea was distraction. She could have fallen at his feet, and bathing them with her tears, have implored his pity and forgiveness. Even as the wish sprung in her mind, she asked herself-“Did he know all, could he pardon such a weight of injuries?” She cast her eyes with a wild expression upon his face. The mildness of heaven was there; and the peace, too, she might have thought, had not his eye carried a chastened sadness in its look, which told that something dire and sorrowful was buried deep within. It was a look that dissolved the soul which gazed on it. The countess felt her heart throb violently. At that moment Wallace addressed a few words to her but she knew not what they were; her soul was in tumults, and a mist passed over her sight, which, for a moment, seemed to wrap all her senses in a trance.
The unconscious object of these emotions bowed to her inarticulate reply, supposing that the mingling voices of others had made him hear hers indistinctly.
Lady Mar found her situation so strange, and her agitation so inexplicable, that feeling it impossible to remain longer without giving way to a burst of tears, she rose from her seat, and forcing a smile with her courtesy to the company, left the room.
On gaining the upper apartment, she threw herself upon the nearest couch, and striking her breast, exclaimed: “What is this within me? How does my soul seem to pour itself out to this man! Oh! how does it extend itself, as if it would absorb his, even at my eyes! Only twelve hours-hardly twelve hours, have I seen this William Wallace, and yet my very being is now lost in his!”
While thus speaking, she covered her face with her handkerchief, but no tears now started to be wiped away. The fire in her veins dried the source, and with burning blushes she rose from her seat. “Fatal, fatal hour! Why didst thou come here, too infatuating Wallace, to rob me of my peace? Oh! why did I ever look on that face?-or rather, blessed saints!” cried she, clasping her hands in wild passion, “why did I ever shackle this hand?-why did I ever render such a sacrifice necessary? Wallace is now free; had I been free? But wretch, wretch, wretch; I could tear out this betrayed heart! I could trample on that of the infatuated husband that made me such a slave!” She gasped for breath, and again seating herself, reclined her beating temples against the couch.
She was now silent; but thoughts not less intense, not less fraught with self-reproach and anguish, occupied her mind. Should this god of her idolatry ever discover that it was her information which had sent Earl de Valence’s men to surround him in the mountains; should he ever learn that at Bothwell she had betrayed the cause on which he had set his life, she felt that moment would be her last. For, now, to sate her eyes with gazing on him, to hear the sound of his voice, to receive his smiles, seemed to her a joy she could only surrender with her existence. What then was the prospect of so soon losing him, even to crown himself with honor, but to her a living death?
TO defer his departure was all her study-all her hope; and fearful that his restless valor might urge him to accompany Murray in his intended convoy of Helen to the Tweed, she determined to persuade her nephew to set off without the knowledge of his general. She did not allow that it was the youthful beauty, and more lovely mind of her daughter-in-law, which she feared; even to herself she cloaked her alarm under the plausible excuse of care for the chieftain’s safety. Composed by this mental arrangement, her disturbed features became smooth, and with even a sedate air she received her lord and his brave friends, when they soon after entered the chamber.
But the object of her wishes did not appear. Wallace had taken Lord Lennox to view the dispositions of the fortress. Ill satisfied as she was with his prolonged absence, she did not fail to turn it to advantage; and while her lord and his friends were examining a draft of Scotland (which Wallace had sketched after she left the banqueting-room), she took Lord Andrew aside, to converse with him on the subject now nearest to her heart.
“It certainly belongs to me alone, her kinsman and friend, to protect Helen to the Tweed, if there she must go,” returned Murray; “but, my good lady, I cannot comprehend why I am to lead my fair cousin such a pilgrimage. She is not afraid of heroes! you are safe in Dumbarton, and why not bring her here also?”
“Not for worlds!” exclaimed the countess, thrown off her guard. Murray looked at her with surprise. It recalled her to self-possession, and she resumed: “So lovely a creature in this castle would be a dangerous magnet. You must have known that it was the hope of obtaining her which attracted the Lord Soulis and Earl de Valence to Bothwell. The whole castle rung with the quarrel of these two lords upon her account, when you so fortunately effected her escape. Should it be known that she is here, the same fierce desire of obtaining her would give double incitement to De Valence to recover the place; and the consequences, who can answer for?”
By this argument Murray was persuaded to relinquish the idea of conveying Helen to Dumbarton; but remembering what Wallace had said respecting the safety of a religious sanctuary, he advised that she should be left at St. Fillan’s till the cause of Scotland might be more firmly established. “Send a messenger to inform her of the rescue of Dumbarton, and of your and my uncle’s health,” continued he, “and that will be sufficient to make her happy.”
That she was not to be thrown in Wallace’s way satisfied Lady Mar; and indifferent whether Helen’s seclusion were under the Elidon tree or the Holyrood, she approved Murray’s decision. Relieved from apprehension, her face became again dressed in smiles, and, with a bounding step, she rose to welcome the re-entrance of Wallace with the Earl of Lennox.
Absorbed in one thought, every charm she possessed was directed to the same point. She played finely on the lute and sung with all the grace of her country. What gentle heart was not to be affected by music? She determined it should be once of the spells by which she meant to attract Wallace. She took up one of the lutes (which with other musical instruments decorated the apartments of the luxurious De Valence), and touching it with exquisite delicacy, breathed the most pathetic air her memory could dictate.
“If on the heath she moved, her breast was whiter than the down of Cana; If on the sea-beat shore, than the foam of the rolling ocean. Her eyes were two stars of light. Her face was Heaven’s bow in-showers; Her dark hair flowed around it, like the streaming clouds, Thou wert the dweller of souls, white-handed Strinadona!”
Wallace rose from his chair, which had been placed near her. She had deigned that these tender words of the bard of Morven should suggest to her hearer the observation of her own resembling beauties. But he saw in them only the lovely dweller of his own soul; and walking toward a window, stood there with his eyes fixed on the descending sun. “So hath set all my joys. So is life to me, a world without a sun-cold, cold, and charmless!”
The countess vainly believed that some sensibility advantageous to her new passion had caused the agitation with which she saw him depart from her side; and, intoxicated with the idea, she ran through many a melodious descant, till toughing on the first strains of Thusa ha measg na reultan mor, she saw Wallace start from his contemplative position, and with a pale countenance leave the room. There was something in this abruptness which excited the alarm of the Earl of Lennox, who had also been listening to the songs; he rose instantly, and overtaking the chief at the threshold, inquired what was the matter? “Nothing,” answered Wallace, forcing a smile, in which the agony of his mind was too truly imprinted; “but music displeased me.” With this reply he disappeared. The excuse seemed strange but it was true; for she whose notes were to him sweeter than the thrush-whose angel strains used to greet his morning and evening hours-was silent in the grave! He should no more see her white hand upon the lute; he should no more behold that bosom, brighter than foam upon the wave, to him? A soulless sound, or a direful knell, to recall the remembrance of all he had lost.
Such were his thoughts when the words of Thusa ha measg rung from Lady Mar’s voice. Those were the strains which Halbert used to breathe from his heart to call Marion to her nightly slumbers-those were the strains with which that faithful servant had announced that she slept to wake no more!
What wonder, then, that Wallace fled from the apartment, and buried himself, and his aroused grief, amid the distant solitudes of the beacon-hill!
While looking over the shoulder of his uncle, on the station which Stirling held amid the Ochil hills, Edwin had at intervals cast a side-long glance upon the changing complexion of his commander; and no sooner did he see him hurry from the room, than fearful of some disaster having befallen the garrison (which Wallace did not choose immediately to mention), he also stole out of the apartment.
After seeking the object of his anxiety for a long time, without avail, he was returning on his steps, when, attracted by the splendor of the moon silvering the beacon-hill, he ascended, to once at least tread that acclivity in light which he had so miraculously passed in darkness. Scarce a zephyr fanned the sleeping air. He moved on with a flying step, till a deep sigh arrested him. He stopped and listened: it was repeated again and again. He gently drew near, and saw a human figure reclining on the ground. The head of the apparent mourner was unbonneted, and the brightness of the moon shone on his polished forehead. Edwin thought the sound of those sighs was the same he had often heard from the object of his search. He walked forward. Again the figure sighed; but with a depth so full of piercing woe, that Edwin hesitated.
A cloud had passed over the moon; but, sailing off again, displayed to the anxious boy that he had indeed drawn very near his friend. “Who goes there?” exclaimed Wallace, starting on his feet.
“Your Edwin,” returned the youth. “I feared something wrong had happened, when I saw you look so sad, and leave the room abruptly.”
Wallace pressed his hand in silence. “Then some evil has befallen you?” inquired Edwin, in an agitated voice; “you do not speak!”
Wallace seated himself on a stone, and leaned his head upon the hilt of his sword. “No new evil has befallen me, Edwin; but there is such a thing as remembrance, that stabs deeper than the dagger’s point.”
“What remembrance can wound you, my general? The Abbott of St. Colomba has often told me that memory is a balm to every ill with the good; and have not you been good to all? The benefactor, the preserver of thousands! Surely, if man can be happy, it must be Sir William Wallace!”
“And so I am, my Edwin, when I contemplate the end. But, in the interval, with all thy sweet philosophy, is it not written here ‘that man was made to mourn?’” He put his hand on his heart; and then, after a short pause, resumed: “Doubly I mourn, doubly am I bereaved, for, had it not been for an enemy, more fell than he who beguiled Adam of Paradise, I might have been a father; I might have lived to have gloried in a son like thee; I might have seen my wedded angel clasp such a blessing to her bosom; but now, both are cold in clay! These are the recollections which sometimes draw tears down thy leader’s cheeks. And do not believe, brother of my soul,” said he, pressing the now weeping Edwin to his breast, “that they disgrace his manhood. The Son of God wept over the tomb of his friend; and shall I deny a few tears, dropped in stealth, over the grave of my wife and child?”
Edwin sobbed aloud. “No son could love you dearer than I do. Ah, let my duty, my affection, teach you to forget you have lost a child. I will replace all to you but your Marion; and her, the pitying Son of Mary will restore to you in the kingdom of heaven.”
Wallace looked steadfastly at the young preacher. “‘Out of the mouths of babes we shall hear wisdom!’ Thine, dear Edwin, I will lay to heart. Thou shalt comfort me when my hermit-soul shuts out all the world besides.”
“Then I am indeed your brother!” cried the happy youth; “admit me but to your heart, and no fraternal, no filial tie, shall be more strongly linked than mine.”
“What tender affections I can spare from those resplendent regions,” answered Wallace, pointing to the skies, “are thine. The fervors of my once ardent soul are Scotland’s, or I die. But thou art too young, my brother,” added he, interrupting himself, “to understand all his feelings, all the seeming contradictions, of my contending heart.”
“Not so,” answered Edwin, with a modest blush; “what was Lady Marion’s, you now devote to Scotland. The blaze of those affections which were hers, would consume your being, did you not pour it forth on your country. Were you not a patriot, grief would prey upon your life.”
“You have read me, Edwin,” replied Wallace; “and that you may never love to idolatry, learn this also. Though Scotland lay in ruins, I was happy; I felt no captivity while in Marion’s arms; even oppression was forgotten when she made the sufferer’s tears cease to flow. She absorbed my thoughts, my wishes, my life!-and she was wrested from me, that I might feel myself a slave, that the iron might enter into my soul, with which I was to pull down tyranny, and free my country. Mark the sacrifice, young man,” cried Wallace, starting on his feet; “it now even smokes, and the flames are here inextinguishable.” He struck his hand upon his breast. “Never love as I have loved, and you will be a patriot, without needing to taste my bitter cup!”
Edwin trembled; his tears were checked. “I can love no one better than I do you, my general! and is there any crime in that?”
Wallace in a moment recovered from the transient wildness which had possessed him. “None, my Edwin,” replied he; “the affections are never criminal but when by their excess they blind us to other duties. The offense of mine is judged, and I bow to the penalty. When that is paid, then may my ashes sleep in rescued Scotland! Then may the God of victory and of mercy grant that the seraph spirits of my wife and infant may meet my pardoned soul in paradise.” Edwin wept afresh. “Cease, dear boy!” said he; “these presages are very comforting; they whisper that the path of glory leads thy brother to his home.” As he spoke he took the arm of the silent Edwin (whose sensibility locked up the powers of speech), and putting it through his, they descended the hill together.
On the open ground before the great tower they were met by Murray. “I come to seek you,” cried he. “We have had woe on woe in the citadel since you left it.”
“Nothing very calamitous,” returned Wallace, “if we may guess by the merry aspect of the messenger.”
“Only a little whirlwind of my aunt’s, in which we have had airs and showers enough to wet us through and blow us dry again.”
The conduct of the lady had been even more extravagant than her nephew chose to describe. After the knight’s departure, when the chiefs entered into conversation respecting his future plans, and Lennox mentioned that when his men should arrive (for whom he had that evening dispatched Ker), it was Wallace’s intention to march immediately for Stirling, whither, it could hardly be doubted, Aymer de Valence had fled, “I shall be left here,” continued the earl, “to assist you, Lord Mar, in the severer duties attendant on being governor of this place.”
No sooner did these words reach the ears of the countess than, struck with despair, she hastened toward her husband, and earnestly exclaimed, “You will not suffer this!”
“No,” returned the earl, mistaking her meaning; “not being able to perform the duties attendant on the responsibilities station with which Wallace would honor me, I shall relinquish it altogether to Lord Lennox, and be amply satisfied in finding myself under his protection.”
“Ah, where is protection without Sir William Wallace?” cried she. “If he go, our enemies will return. Who then will repel them from these walls? Who will defend your wife and only son from falling again into the hands of our doubly incensed foes?”
Mar observed Lord Lennox color at this imputation on his bravery, and shocked at the affront which his unreflecting wife seemed to give so gallant a chief, he hastily replied, “Though this wounded arm cannot boast, yet the Earl of Lennox is an able representative of our commander.”
“I will die, madam,” interrupted Lennox, “before anything hostile approaches you or your children.”
She attended slightly to this pledge, and again addressed her lord with fresh arguments for the detention of Wallace. Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, impatient under all this foolery, as he justly deemed it, abruptly said, “Be assured, fair lady, Israel’s Samson was not brought into the world his duty better than allow himself to be tied to any nursery girdle in Christendom.”
The brave old earl was offended with this roughness, but ere he could so express himself, the object darted her own severe retort on Kirkpatrick, and then, turning to her husband, with an hysterical sob, exclaimed, “It is well seen what will be my fate when Wallace is gone! Would he have stood by and beheld me thus insulted?”
Distressed with shame at her conduct, and anxious to remove her fears, Lord Mar softly whispered her, and threw his arm about her waist. She thrust him from her. “You care not what may become of me, and my heart disdains your blandishments.”
Lennox rose in silence, and walked to the other end of the chamber. Sir Roger Kirkpatrick followed him, muttering, pretty audibly, his thanks to St. Andrew that he had never been yoked with a wife. Scrymgeour and Murray tried to allay the storm in her bosom by circumstantially detailing how the fortress must be equally safe under the care of Lennox as of Wallace. But they discoursed in vain; she was obstinate, and at last left the room in a passion of tears.
On the return of Wallace, Lord Lennox advanced to meet him. “What shall we do?” said he. “Without you have the witchcraft of Hercules, and can be in two places at once, I fear we must either leave the rest of Scotland to fight for itself, or never restore peace to this castle!”
Wallace smiled, but before he could answer, Lady Mar, having heard his voice ascending the stairs, suddenly entered the room. She held her infant in her arms. Her air was composed, but her eyes yet shone in tears. At this sight Lord Lennox, sufficiently disgusted with the lady, taking Murray by the arm, withdrew with him from the apartment.
She approached Wallace: “You are come, my deliverer, to speak comfort to the mother of this poor babe. My cruel lord here, and the Earl of Lennox, say you mean to abandon us in this castle?”
“It cannot be abandoned,” returned the chief, “while they are in it. But if so warlike a scene alarms you, would not a religious sanctuary-”
“Not for worlds!” cried she, interrupting him; “what altar is held sacred by the enemies of our country! O! wonder not, then,” added she, putting her face to that of her child, “that I should wish this innocent babe never to be from under the wing of such a protector.”
“But that is impossible, Joanna,” rejoined the earl; “Sir William Wallace has duties to perform superior to that of keeping watch over any private family. His presence is wanted in the field, and we should be traitors to the cause did we detain him.”
“Unfeeling Mar,” cried she, bursting into tears, “thus to echo the words of the barbarian Kirkpatrick; thus to condemn us to die! You will see another tragedy: your own wife and child seized by the returning Southrons, and laid bleeding at your feet!”
Wallace walked from her much agitated.
“Rather inhuman, Joanna,” whispered Lord Mar to her in an angry voice, “to make such a reference to the presence of our protector! I cannot stay to listen to a pertinacity as insulting to the rest of our brave leaders as it is oppressive to Sir William Wallace. Edwin, you will come for me when your aunt consents to be guided by right reason.” While yet speaking he entered the passage that led to his own apartment.
Lady Mar sat a few minutes silent. She was not to be warned from her determination by the displeasure of a husband whom she now regarded with the impatience of a bondwoman toward her taskmaster; and only solicitous to compass the detention of Sir William Wallace, she resolved, if he would not remain at the castle, to persuade him to conduct her himself to her husband’s territories in the Isle of Bute. She could contrive to make the journey occupy more than one day, and for holding him longer she would trust to chance and her own inventions. With these resolutions she looked up. Edwin was speaking to Wallace. “What does he tell you?” said she; “that my lord has left me in displeasure? Alas! he comprehends not a mother’s anxiety for her sole remaining child. One of my sweet twins, my dear daughter, died on my being brought a prisoner to this horrid fortress, and to lose this also would be more than I could bear. Look at this babe,” cried she, holding it up to him; “let it plead to you for its life! Guard it, noble Wallace, whatever may become of me!”
The appeal of a mother made instant way to Sir William’s heart; even her weaknesses, did they point to anxiety respecting her offspring, were sacred with him. “What would you have me do, madam? If you fear to remain here, tell me where you think you would be safer, and I will be your conductor?”
She paused to repress the triumph with which this proposal filled her, and then, with downcast eyes, replied: “In the seagirt Bute stands Rothsay, a rude, but strong castle of my lord’s. It possesses nothing to attract the notice of the enemy, and there I might remain in perfect safety. Lord Mar may keep his station here until a general victory sends you, noble Wallace, to restore my child to its father.”
Wallace bowed his assent to her proposal; and Edwin, remembering the earl’s injunction, inquired if he might inform him of what was decided. When he left the room, Lady mar rose, and suddenly putting her son into the arms of Wallace, rose, and said: “Let his sweet caresses thank you.” Wallace trembled as he pressed its little mouth to his; and, mistranslating this emotion, she dropped her face upon the infant’s, and in affecting to kiss it, rested her head upon the bosom of the chief. There was something in this action more than maternal; it surprised and disconcerted Wallace. “Madam,” said he, drawing back, and relinquishing the child. “I do not require any thanks for serving the wife and son of Lord Mar.”
At that moment the earl entered. Lady mar flattered herself that the repelling action of Wallace, and his cold answer, had arisen from the expectation of this entrance; yet blushing with something like disappointment, she hastily uttered a few agitated words, to inform her husband that Bute was to be her future sanctuary.
Lord Mar approved it, and declared his determination to accompany her. “In my state, I can be of little use here,” said he; “my family will require protection, even in that seclusion; and therefore, leaving Lord Lennox sole governor of Dumbarton, I shall unquestionably attend them to Rothsay myself.”
This arrangement would break in upon the lonely conversations she had meditated to have with Wallace and therefore the countess objected to the proposal. But none of her arguments being admitted by her lord, and as Wallace did not support them by a word, she was obliged to make a merit of necessity, and consent to her husband being their companion.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59