The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 28.

Isle of Bute.

The morning would have brought annihilation to the countess’ new-fledged hopes, had not Murray been the first to meet her as she came from her chamber.

While walking on the cliffs at some distance from the castle to observe the weather, he met Wallace and Edwin. They had already been across the valley to the haven, and ordered a boat round, to convey them back to Gourock. “Postpone your flight, for pity’s sake!” cried Murray, “if you would not, by discourtesy, destroy what your gallantry has preserved!” He then told them that Lady Mar was preparing a feast in the glen, behind the castle; “and if you do not stay to partake it,” added he, “we may expect all the witches in the isle will be bribed to sink us before we reach the shore.”

After this the general meeting of the morning was not less cordial than the separation of the night before; and when Lady Mar withdrew to give orders for her rural banquet, that time was seized by the earl for the arrangement of matters of more consequence. In a private conversation with Murray the preceding evening he had learned that, just before the party left Dumbarton, a letter had been sent to Helen at St. Filan’s, informing her of the taking of the castle, and of the safety of her friends. This having satisfied the earl he did not advert to her at all in his present discourse with Wallace, but rather avoided encumbering his occupied mind with anything but the one great theme.

While the earl and his friends were marshaling armies, taking towns, and storming castles, the countess, intent on other conquests, was meaning to beguile and destroy that manly spirit by soft delights, which a continuance in war’s rugged scenes, she thought, was too likely to render invulnerable.

When her lord and his guests were summoned to the feast, she met them at the mouth of the glen. Having tried the effect of splendor, she now left all to the power of her natural charms, and appeared simply clad in her favorite green. Moraig, the pretty grandchild of the steward, walked beside her, like the fairy queen of the scene, so gayly was she decorated in all the flowers of spring. “Here is the lady of my elfin revels, holding her little king in her arms!” As the countess spoke, Moraig held up the infant to Lady Mar, dressed like herself, in a tissue gathered from the field. The sweet babe laughed and crowed, and made a spring to leap into Wallace’s arms. The chief took him, and with an affectionate smile, pressed his little cheek to his.

Though he had felt the repugnance of a delicate mind, and the shuddering of a man who held his person consecrated to the memory of the only woman he had ever loved; though he had felt these sentiments mingle into an abhorrence of the countess, when she allowed her head to drop on his breast in the citadel; charging her to himself with anything designedly immodest), he had certainly avoided her; yet since the wreck, the danger she had escaped, the general joy of all meeting again, had wiped away even the remembrance of his former cause of dislike; and he now sat by her as by a sister, fondling her child, although at every sweet caress it reminded him of what might have been his-of hopes lost to him forever.

The repast over, the piper of the adjacent cottages appeared; and, placing himself on a projecting rock, at the carol of his merry instrument the young peasants of both sexes jocundly came forward and began to dance. At this sight Edwin seized the little hand of Moraig, while Lord Andrew called a pretty lass from amongst the rustics, and joined the group. The happy earl, with many a hearty laugh, enjoyed the jollity of his people; and while the steward stood at his lord’s back describing whose sons and daughters passed before him in the reel, Mar remembered their parents-their fathers, once his companions in the chase or on the wave; and their mothers, the pretty maidens he used to pursue over the hills in the merry time of shealing.

Lady Mar watched the countenance of Wallace as he looked upon the joyous group; it was placid, and a soft complacency illumined his eye. How different was the expression in hers, had he marked it! All within her was in tumult, and the characters were but too legibly imprinted on her face. But he did not look on her; for the child, whom the perfume of the flowers overpowered, began to cry. He rose, and having resigned it to the nurse, turned into a narrow vista of trees, where he walked slowly on, unconscious whither he went.

Lady Mar, with an eager, though almost aimless haste, followed him with a light step till she saw him turn out of the vista, and then she lost sight of him. To walk with him undisturbed in so deep a seclusion; to improve the impression which she was sure she had made upon his heart; to teach him which she was sure she had made upon his heart; to teach him to forget his Marion, in the hope of one day possessing her-all these thoughts ran in this vain woman’s head; and, inwardly rejoicing that the shattered health of her husband promised her a ready freedom to become the wife of the man to whom she would gladly belong, in honor or in dishonor, she hastened forward as if the accomplishment of her wishes depended on this meeting. Peeping through the trees, she saw him standing with folded arms, looking intently into the bosom of a large lake; but the place was so thickly surrounded with willows, she could only perceive him at intervals, when the wind tossed aside the branches.

Having stood for some time, he walked on. Several times she essayed to emerge, and join him; but a sudden awe of him, a conviction of that saintly purity which would shrink from the guilty vows she was meditating to pour into his ear, a recollection of the ejaculation with which he had accosted her before hovering figure, when she haunted his footsteps on the banks of the Cart; these thoughts made her pause. He might again mistake her for the same dear object. This image it was not her interest to recall. And to approach near him, to unveil her heat to him, and to be repulsed-there was madness in the idea, and she retreated.

She had no sooner returned to the scene of festivity than she repented of having allowed what she deemed an idle alarm of overstrained delicacy to drive her from the lake. She would have hastened back, had not two or three aged female peasants almost instantly engaged her, in spite of her struggles for extrication, to listen to long stories respecting her lord’s youth. She remained thus an unwilling auditor, and by the side of the dancers for nearly an hour, before Wallace reappeared. But then she sprung toward him as if a spell were broken.

“Where, truant, have you been?”

“In a beautiful solitude,” returned he, “amongst a luxuriant grove of willows.”

“Ah!” cried she, “it is called Glenshealeach, and a sad scene was acted there! About ten years ago, a lady of this island drowned herself in the lake they hang over, because the man she loved despised her.”

“Unhappy woman!” observed Wallace.

“Then you would have pitied her?” rejoined Lady Mar.

“He cannot be a man that would not pity a woman under such circumstances.”

“Then you would not have consigned her to such a fate?”

Wallace was startled by the peculiar tone in which this simple question was asked. It recalled the action in the citadel, and, unconsciously turning a penetrating look on her, his eyes met hers. He need not have heard further to have learned more. She hastily looked down, and colored; and he, wishing to misunderstand a language so disgraceful to herself, so dishonoring to her husband, gave some trifling answer; then making a slight observation about the earl, he advanced to him. Lord Mar was become tired with so gala a scene, and, taking the arm of Wallace, they returned together into the house.

Edwin soon followed with Murray, gladly arriving in time enough to see their little pinnacle draw up under the castle and throw out her moorings. The countess, too, descried its streamers, and hastening into the room where she knew the chiefs were yet assembled, though the wearied earl had retired to repose, inquired the reason of that boat having drawn so near the castle.

“That it may take us from it, fair aunt,” replied Murray.

The countess fixed her eyes with an unequivocal expression upon Wallace. “My gratitude is ever due to your kindness, noble lady,” said he, still wishing to be blind to what he could not perceive, “and that we may ever deserve it, we must keep the enemy from your doors.”

“Yes,” added Murray, “and to keep a more insidious foe from our own! Edwin and I feel it rather dangerous to bask too long in these sunny bowers.”

“But surely your chief is not afraid,” said she, casting a soft glance at Wallace.

“Yet, nevertheless, I must fly,” returned he, bowing to her.

“That you positively shall not,” added she, with a fluttering joy at her heart, thinking she was about to succeed; “you stir not this night, else I shall brand you all as a band of cowards.”

“Call us by every name in the poltroon’s calendar,” cried Murray, seeing by the countenance of Wallace that his resolution was not to be moved; “yet I must gallop off from your black-eyed Judith, as if chased by the ghost of Holofernes himself.”

“So, dear aunt,” rejoined Edwin, smiling, “if you do not mean to play Circe to our Ulysses, give us leave to go!”

Lady Mar started, confused she knew not how, as he innocently uttered these words. The animated boy snatched a kiss from her hand, when he ceased speaking, and darted after Murray, who had disappeared, to give some speeding directions respecting the boat.

Left thus alone with the object of her every wish, in the moment when she thought she was going to lose him, perhaps, forever, she forgot all prudence, all reserve; and laying her hand on her arm, as with a respectful bow he was also moving away, she arrested his steps. She held him fast, but her agitation prevented her speaking; she trembled violently, and weeping, dropped her head upon his shoulder. He was motionless. Her tears redoubled. He felt the embarrassment of his situation; and at last extricating his tongue, which surprise and shame for her had chained, in a gentle voice he inquired the cause of her uneasiness. “If for the safety of your nephews-”

“No, no,” cried she, interrupting him, “read my fate in that of the lady of Glenshealeach!”

Again he was silent; astonished, fearful of too promptly understanding so disgraceful a truth, he found no words in which to answer her, and her emotions became so uncontrolled, that he expected she would swoon in his arms.

“Cruel, cruel Wallace!” at last cried she, clinging to him, for he had once or twice attempted to disengage himself, and reseat her on the bench; “your heart is steeled, or it would understand mine. It would at least pity the wretchedness it has created. But I am despised, and I can yet find the watery grave from which you rescued me.”

To dissemble longer would have been folly. Wallace, now resolutely seating her, though with gentleness, addressed her: “Your husband, Lady Mar, is my friend; had I even a heart to give a woman, not one sigh should arise in it to his dishonor. But I am lost to all warmer affections than that of friendship. I may regard man as my brother, woman as my sister; but never more can I look on female form with love.”

Lady Mar’s tears now flowed in a more tempered current.

“But were it otherwise,” cried she, “only tell me, that had I not been bound with chains, which my kinsmen forced upon me-had I not been made the property of a man who, however estimable, was of too paternal years for me to love; ah! tell me, if these tears should now flow in vain?”

Wallace seemed to hesitate what to answer.

Wrought up to agony, she threw herself on his breast, exclaiming, “Answer! but drive me not to despair. I never loved man before-and now to be scorned! Oh, kill me, too, dear Wallace, but tell me not that you never could have loved me.”

Wallace was alarmed at her vehemence. “Lady Mar,” returned he, “I am incapable of saying anything to you that is inimical to your duty to the best of men. I will even forget this distressing conversation, and continue through life to revere, equal with himself, the wife of my friend.”

“And I am to be stabbed with this?” she replied, in a voice of indignant anguish.

“You are to be healed with it, Lady Mar,” returned he, “for it is not a man like the rest of his sex that now addresses you, but a being whose heart is petrified to marble. I could feel no throb of yours; I should be insensible to all your charms, were I even vile enough to see no evil in trampling upon your husband’s rights. Yes, were virtue lost to me, still memory would speak, still would she urge, that the chaste and last kiss, imprinted by my wife on these lips, should live there in unblemished sanctity, till I again meet her angel embraces in the world to come!”

The countess, awed by his solemnity, but not put from her suit, exclaimed: “What she was, I would be to thee-thy consoler, thine adorer. Time may set me free. Oh! till then, only give me leave to love thee, and I shall be happy!”

“You dishonor yourself, lady,” returned he, “by these petitions, and for what? You plunge your soul in guilty wishes-you sacrifice your peace, and your self-esteem, to a phantom; for I repeat, I am dead to woman; and the voice of love sounds like the funeral knell of her who will never breathe it to me again.” He arose as he spoke, and the countess, pierced to the heart, and almost despairing of now retaining any part in its esteem, was devising what next to say, when Murray came into the room.

Wallace instantly observed that his countenance was troubled. “What has happened?” inquired he.

“A messenger from the mainland, with bad news from Ayr.”

“Of private or public import?” asked Wallace.

“Of both. There has been a horrid massacre, in which the heads of many noble families have fallen.” As he spoke, the paleness of his countenance revealed to his friend that part of the information he had found himself unable to communicate.

“I comprehend my loss,” cried Wallace; “Sir Ronald Crawford is sacrificed! Bring the messenger in.”

Murray withdrew; and Wallace, seating himself, remained with a fixed and stern countenance, gazing on the ground. Lady Mar durst not breathe for fear of disturbing the horrid stillness which seemed to lock up his grief and indignation.

Lord Andrew re-entered with a stranger, Wallace rose to meet him, and seeing Lady mar-“Countess,” said he, “these bloody recitals are not for your ears;” and waving her to withdraw, she left the room.

“This gallant stranger,” said Murray, “is Sir John Graham. He has just left that new theater of Southron perfidy.”

“I have hastened hither,” cried the knight, “to call your victorious arm to take a signal vengeance on the murderers of your grandfather. He, and eighteen other Scottish chiefs, have been treacherously put to death in the Barns of Ayr.”

Graham then gave a brief narration of the direful circumstance. He and his father, Lord Dundaff, having crossed the south coast of Scotland on their way homeward, stopped to rest at Ayr. They arrived there the very day that Lord Aymer de Valence had entered it, a fugitive from Dumbarton Castle. Much as that earl wished to keep the success of Wallace a secret from the inhabitants of Ayr, he found it impossible. Two or three fugitive soldiers whispered the hard fighting they had endured; and in half an hour after the arrival of the English earl, every one knew that the recovery of Scotland was begun. Elated with this intelligence, the Scots went, under night, from house to house, congratulating each other on so miraculous an interference in their favor; and many stole to Sir Ronald Crawford, to felicitate the venerable knight on his glorious grandson.

The good old man listened with meek joy to their animated eulogiums on Wallace; and when Lord Dundaff, in offering his congratulations with the rest, said, “But while all Scotland lay in vassalage, where did he imbibe this spirit, to tread down tyrants?” The venerable patriarch replied, “He was always a noble boy. In infancy, he became the defender of every child he saw oppressed by boys of greater power; he was even the champion of the brute creation, and no poor animal was ever attempted to be tortured near him. The old looked on him for comfort, the young for protection. From infancy to manhood, he has been a benefactor; and though the cruelty of our enemies have widowed his youthful years-though he should go childless to the grave, the brightness of his virtues will now spread more glories around the name of Wallace than a thousand posterities.” Other ears than those of Dandaff heard this honest exultation.

The next morning this venerable old man, and other chiefs of similar consequence, were summoned by Sir Richard Arnuf, the governor, to his palace, there to deliver in a schedule of their estates; “that quiet possession,” the governor said, “might be granted to them, under the great seal of Lord Aymer de Valence, the deputy-warden of Scotland.”

The gray-headed knight, not being so active as his compeers of more juvenile years, happened to be the last who went to this tiger’s den. Wrapped in his plaid, his silver hair covered with a blue bonnet, and leaning on his staff, he was walking along attended by two domestics, when Sir John Graham met him at the gate of the palace. He smiled on him as he passed, and whispered-“It will not be long before my Wallace makes even the forms of vassalage unnecessary; and then these failing limbs may sit undisturbed at home, under the fig-tree and vine of his planting!”

“God grant it!” returned Graham; and he saw Sir Ronald admitted within the interior gate. The servants were ordered to remain without. Sir John walked there some time, expecting the reappearance of the knight, whom he intended to assist in leading home; but after an hour, finding no signs of egress from the palace, and thinking his father might be wondering at his delay, he turned his steps toward his own lodgings. While passing along he met several Southron detachments hurrying across the streets. In the midst of some of these companies he saw one or two Scottish men of rank, strangers to him, but who, by certain indications, seemed to be prisoners. He did not go far before he met a chieftain in these painful circumstances whom he knew; but as he was hastening toward him, the noble Scot raised his manacled hand and turned away his head. This was a warning to the young knight, who darted into an obscure alley which led to the gardens of his father’s lodgings, and was hurrying forward when he met one of his own servants running in quest of him.

Panting with haste, he informed his master that a party of armed men had come, under De Valence’s warrant, to seize Lord Dundaff and bear him to prison; to lie there with others who were charged with having taken part in a conspiracy with the grandfather of the insurgent Wallace.

The officer of the band who took Lord Dundaff told him, in the most insulting language, that “Sir Ronald, his ringleader, with eighteen nobles, his accomplices, had already suffered the punishment of their crime, and were lying headless trunks in the judgment hall.”

“Haste, therefore,” repeated the man; “my lord bids you haste to Sir William Wallace, and require his hand to avenge his kinsman’s blood, and to free his countrymen from prison! These are your father’s commands; he directed me to seek you and give them to you.”

Alarmed for the life of his father, Graham hesitated how to act on the moment. To leave him seemed to abandon him to the death the others had received; and yet, only by obeying him could he have any hopes of averting his threatened fate. Once seeing the path he ought to pursue, he struck immediately into it; and giving his signet to the servant, to assure Lord Dundaff of his obedience, he mounted a horse, which had been brought to the town end for that purpose, and setting off full speed, allowed nothing to stay him, till he reached Dumbarton Castle. There, hearing that Wallace had gone to Bute, he threw himself into a boat, and plying every oar, reached that island in a shorter space of time than the voyage had ever before been completed.

Being now conducted into the presence of the chief, he narrated his dismal tale with a simplicity and pathos which would have instantly drawn the retributive sword of Wallace, had he had no kinsman to avenge, no friend to release from the Southron dungeons. But as the case stood, his bleeding grandfather lay before his eyes; and the ax hung over the heads of the most virtuous nobles of his country.

He heard the chieftain to an end, without speaking or altering the stern attention of his countenance. But at the close, with an augmented suffusion of blood in his face, and his brows denouncing some tremendous fate, he rose. “Sir John Graham,” said he, “I attend you.”

“Whither?” demanded Murray.

“To Ayr,” answered Wallace; “this moment I will set out for Dumbarton, to bring away the sinews of my strength. God will be our speed! and then this arm shall show how I loved that good old man.”

“Your men,” interrupted Graham, “are already awaiting you on the opposite shore. I presumed to command for you. For on entering Dumbarton, and finding you were absent, after having briefly recounted my errand to Lord Lennox, I dared to interpret your mind, and to order Sir Alexander Scrymgeour, and Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, with all your own force, to follow me to the coast of Renfrew.”

“Thank you, my friend!” cried Wallace, grasping his hand; “may I ever have such interpreters! I cannot stay to bid your uncle farewell,” said he, to Lord Andrew; “remain, to tell him to bless me with his prayers; and then, dear Murray, follow me to Ayr.”

Ignorant of what the stranger had imparted, at the sight of the chiefs approaching from the castle gate, Edward hastened with the news, that all was ready for embarkation. He was hurrying out his information, when the altered countenance of his general checked him. He looked at the stranger; his features were agitated and severe. He turned toward his cousin, all there was grave and distressed. Again he glanced at Wallace; no word was spoken, but every look threatened, and Edwin saw him leap into the boat, followed by the stranger. The astonished boy, though unnoticed, would not be left behind, and stepping in also, sat down beside his chief.

“I shall follow you in a hour,” exclaimed Murray. The seamen pushed off; then giving loose to their swelling sail, in less than ten minutes, the light vessel was wafted out of the little harbor, and turning a point, those in the castle saw it no more.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59