At noon next day Murray received a message from Wallace, desiring him to acquaint the Earl of Mar that he was coming to the citadel to offer the palace of Snawdoun to the ladies of Mar, and to request the earl to take charge of the illustrous prisoners he was bringing to the castle.
Each member of the family hastened to prepare for an interview which excited different expectations in each different breast. Lady Mar, well satisfied that Helen and Wallace had never met, and clinging to the vague words of Murray, that he had sent to give her liberty, called forth every art of the tiringroom to embellish her still fine person. Lady Ruthven, with the respectable eagerness of a chaste matron, in prospect of seeing the man who had so often been the preserver of her brother, and who had so lately delivered her husband from a loathsome dungeon, was the first who joined the earl in the great gallery. Lady Mar soon after entered like Juno, in all her plumage of majesty and beauty.
But the trumpet of Wallace had sounded in the gates before the trembling Helen could leave her apartment. It was the herald of his approach, and she sunk breathless into a seat. She was now going to see for the first time the man for whose woes she had so often wept; the man who had incurred them all for objects dear to her. He whom she had mourned as one stricken in sorrows, and feared for, as an outlaw doomed to suffering and to death, was now to appear before her, not in the garb of woe, which excuses the sympathy its wearer excites, but arrayed as a conqueror, as the champion of Scotland, giving laws to her oppressors, and entering in triumph, over fields of their slain!
Awful as this picture was to the timidity of her gentle nature, it alone did not occasion that inexpressible sensation which seemed to check the pulses of her heart. Was she, or was she not, to recognize in his train the young and noble Bruce? Was she to be assured that he still existed? Or, by seeking him everywhere in vain, ascertain that he, who could not break his word, had perished, lonely and unknown?
While these ideas thronged into her mind, the platform below was filling with the triumphant Scots; and, her door suddenly opening, Edwin entered in delighted haste. “Come, cousin!” cried he, “Sir William Wallace has almost finished his business in the great hall. He has made my uncle governor of this place, and has committed nearly a thousand prisoners of rank to his care. If you be not expeditious, you will allow him to enter the gallery before you.”
Hardly observing her face, from the happy emotions which dazzled his own eyes, he seized her hand, and hurried her to the gallery.
Only her aunt and step-mother were yet there. Lady Ruthven sat composedly, on a tapestried bench, awaiting the arrival of the company. But Lady Mar was near the door, listening impatiently to the voices beneath. At sight of Helen, she drew back; but she smiled exultingly when she saw that all the splendour of beauty she had so lately beheld and dreaded was flown. Her unadorned garments gave no particular attraction to the simple lines of her form; the effulgence of her complexion was gone; her cheek was pale, and the tremulous motion of her step deprived her of the elastic grace which was usually the charm of her nymph-like figure.
Triumph now sat in the eyes of the countess; and, with an air of authority, she waved Helen to take a seat beside Lady Ruthven. But Helen, fearful of what might be her emotion when the train should enter, had just placed herself behind her aunt, when the steps of many a mailed foot sounded upon the oaken floor of the outward gallery. The next moment the great doors of the huge screen opened, and a crowd of knights in armor flashed upon her eyes. A strange dimness overspread her faculties, and nothing appeared to her but an indistinct throng approaching. She would have given worlds to have been removed from the spot, but was unable to stir; and on recovering her senses, she beheld Lady Mar (who, exclaiming, “Ever my preserver!” had hastened forward), now leaning on the bosom of one of the chiefs: his head was bent as if answering her in a low voice. By the golden locks, which hung down upon the jeweled tresses of the countess, and obscured his face, she judged it must indeed be the deliverer of her father, the knight of her dream. But where was he, who had delivered herself from a worse fate than death? Where was the dweller of her daily thoughts, the bright apparition of her unslumbering pillow?
Helen’s sight, now clearing to as keen a vision as before it had been dulled and indistinct, with a timid and anxious gaze glanced from face to face of the chieftains around; but all were strange. Then withdrawing her eyes with a sad conviction that their search was indeed in vain; in the very moment of that despair, they were arrested by a glimpse of the features of Wallace. He had raised his head; he shook back his clustering hair, and her secret was revealed. In that god-like countenance she recognized the object of her devoted wishes! and with a gasp of overwhelming surprise, she must have fallen from her seat, had not Lady Ruthven, hearing a sound like the sigh of death, turned round, and caught her in her arms. The cry of her aunt drew every eye to the spot. Wallace immediately relinquished the countess to her husband, and moved toward the beautiful and senseless form that lay on the bosom of Lady Ruthven. The earl and his agitated wife followed.
“What ails my Helen?” asked the affectionate father.
“I know not,” replied his sister; “she sat behind me, and I knew nothing of her disorder till she fell as you see.”
Murray instantly supposed that she had discovered the unknown knight; and looking from countenance to countenance, amongst the train, to try if he could discern the envied cause of such emotions, he read in no face an answering feeling with that of Helen’s; and turning away from his unavailing scrutiny, on hearing her draw a deep sigh, his eyes fixed themselves on her, as if they would have read her soul. Wallace, who, in the pale form before him, saw, not only the woman whom he had preserved with a brother’s care, but the compassionate saint, who had given a hallowed grave to the remains of an angel, pure as herself, now hung over her with anxiety so eloquent in every feature that the countess would willingly at that moment have stabbed her in every vein.
Lady Ruthven had sprinkled her niece with water; and as she began to revive, Wallace motioned to his chieftains to withdraw; her eyes opened slowly; but recollection returning with every reawakened sense, she dimly perceived a press of people around her, and fearful of again encountering that face, which declared the Bruce of her secret meditations and the Wallace of her declared veneration were one, she buried her blushes in the bosom of her father. In that short point of time, images of past, present, and to come, rushed before her; and without confessing to herself why she thought it necessary to make the vow, her soul seemed to swear on the sacred altar of a parent’s heart, never more to think on either idea. Separate, it was sweet to muse on her own deliverer; it was delightful to dwell on the virtues of her father’s preserver. But when she saw both characters blended in one, her feelings seemed sacrilege; and she wished even to bury her gratitude, where no eye but Heaven’s could see its depth and fervor.
Trembling at what might be the consequences of this scene, Lady mar determined to hint to Wallace that Helen loved some unknown knight; and bending to her daughter, said in a low voice, yet loud enough for him to hear, “Retire, my child; you will be better in your own room, whether pleasure or disappointment about the person you wished to discover in Sir William’s train have occasioned these emotions.”
Helen recovered herself at this indelicate remark; and raising her head with that modest dignity which only belongs to the purest mind, gently but firmly said, “I obey you, madam; and he whom I have seen will be too generous, not to pardon the effects of so unexpected a weight of gratitude.” As she spoke, her turning eye met the fixed gaze of Wallace. His countenance became agitated, and dropping on his knee beside her; “Gracious lady;” cried he, “mine is the right of gratitude; but it is dear land precious to me; a debt that my life will not be able to repay. I was ignorant of all your goodness, when we parted in the hermit’s cave. But the spirit of an angel like yourself, Lady Helen, will whisper to you all her widowed husband’s thanks.” He pressed her hand fervently between his, and rising, left the room.
Helen looked on with an immovable eye, in which the heroic vow of her soul spoke in every beam; but as he arose, even then she felt its frailty, for her spirit seemed leaving her; and as he disappeared from the door, her world seemed shut from her eyes. Not to think of him was impossible; how to think of him was in her own power. Her heart felt as if suddenly made a desert. But heroism was there. She had looked upon the Heaven-dedicated Wallace; on the widowed mourner of Marion; the saint and the hero; the being of another world! and as such she would regard him, till in the realms of purity she might acknowledge the brother of her soul!
A sacred inspiration seemed to illuminate her features, and to brace with the vigor of immortality those limbs which before had sunk under her. She forgot she was still of earth, while a holy love, like that of the dove in Paradise, sat brooding on her heart.
Lady Mar gazed on her without understanding the ethereal meaning of those looks. Judging from her own impassioned feelings, she could only resolve the resplendent beauty which shone from the now animated face and form of Helen into the rapture of finding herself beloved. Had she not heard Wallace declare himself to be the unknown knight who had rescued Helen? She had heard him devote his life to her, and was not his heart included in that dedication? She had then heard that love vowed to another, which she would have sacrificed her soul to win!
Murray too was confounded; but his reflections were far different from those of Lady Mar. He saw his newly self-discerned passion smothered in its first breath. At the moment in which he found that he loved his cousin above all of women’s mold, an unappealable voice in his bosom made him crush every fond desire. That heart which, with the chaste transports of a sister, had throbbed so entrancingly against his, was then another’s! was become the captive of Wallace’s virtues; of the only man who, his judgment would have said, deserves Helen Mar! But when he clasped her glowing beauties in his arms only the night before, his enraptured soul then believed that the tender smile he saw on her lips was meant as the sweet earnest of the happier moment, when he might hold her there forever! That dream was now past. “Well! be it so!” said he to himself, “if this too daring passion must be clipped on the wing, I have at least the consolation that it soared like the bird of Jove! But, loveliest of created beings,” thought he, looking on Helen with an expression which, had she met it, would have told her all that was passing in his soul, “if I am not to be thy love, I will be thy friend-and live for thee and Wallace!”
Believing that she had read her sentence in what she thought the triumphant glances of a happy passion, Lady Mar turned from her daughter-in-law with such a hatred kindling in her heart, she durst not trust her eyes to the inspection of the bystanders; but her tongue could not be restrained beyond the moment in which the object of her jealousy left the room. As the door closed upon Helen, who retired leaning on the arms of her aunt and Edwin, the countess turned to her lord; his eyes were looking with doting fondness toward the point where she withdrew. This sight augmented the angry tumults in the breast of his wife; and with a bitter smile she said, “So, my lord, you find the icy bosom of your Helen can be thawed!”
“How do you mean, Joanna?” returned the earl, doubting her words and looks; “you surely cannot blame our daughter for being sensible of gratitude.”
“I blame all young women,” replied she, “who give themselves airs of unnatural coldness; and then, when the proof comes, behave in a manner so extraordinary, so indelicately, I must say.”
“My Lady Mar!” ejaculated the earl, with an amazed look, “what am I to think of you from this? How has my daughter behaved indelicately? She did not lay her head on Sir William Wallace’s bosom and weep there till he replaced her on her natural pillow, mine. Have a care, madam, that I do not see more in this spleen than would be honorable to you for me to discover.”
Fearing nothing so much as that her husband should really suspect the passion which possessed her, and so remove her from the side of Wallace, she presently recalled her former duplicity, and with a surprised and uncomprehending air replied, “I do not understand what you mean, Donald.” Then turning to Lord Ruthven, who stood uneasily viewing this scene, “How,” cried she, “can my lord discover spleen in my maternal anxiety respecting the daughter of the husband I love and honor above all the earth? But men do not properly estimate female reserve. Any woman would say with me, that to faint at the sight of Sir William Wallace was declaring an emotion not to be revealed before so large a company! a something from which men might not draw the most agreeable inferences.”
“It only declared surprise, madam,” cried Murray, “the surprise of a modest and ingenuous mind that did not expect to recognize its mountain friend in the person of the protector of Scotland.”
Lady mar put up her lip, and turning to the still silent Lord Ruthven, again addressed him. “Stepmothers, my lord,” said she, have hard duties to perform; and when we think we fulfill them best, our suspicious husband comes with a magician’s wand, and turns all our good to evil.”
“Array your good in a less equivocal garb, my dear Joanna,” answered the Earl of Mar, rather ashamed of the hasty words which indeed the suspicion of a moment had drawn from his lips; “judge my child by her usual conduct, not by an accidental appearance of inconsistency, and I shall ever be grateful for your solicitude. But in this instance, though she might betray the weakness of an enfeebled constitution, it was certainly not the frailty of a love-sick heart.”
“Judge me by your own rule, dear Donald,” cried his wife, blandishly kissing his forehead, “and you will not again wither the mother of your boy with such a look as I just now received!”
Glad to see this reconciliation, Lord Ruthven made a sign to Murray, and they withdrew together.
Meanwhile, the honest earl surrendering his whole heart to the wiles of his wife, poured into her not inattentive ear all his wishes for Helen: all the hopes to which her late meeting with Wallace, and their present recognition, had given birth. “I had rather have that man my son,” said he, “than see my beloved daughter placed on an imperial throne.”
“I do not doubt it,” thought Lady Mar; “for there are many emperors, but only one William Wallace!” However, her sentiments she confined to herself: neither assenting nor dissenting, but answering so as to secure the confidence by which she hoped to traverse his designs.
According to the inconsistency of the wild passion that possessed her, one moment she saw nothing but despair before her, and in the next it seemed impossible that Wallace should in heart be proof against her tenderness and charms. She remembered Murray’s words: that he was sent to set her free, and that recollection reawakened every hope. Sir William had placed Lord Mar in a post as dangerous as honorable. Should the Southrons return in any force into Scotland, Stirling must be one of the first places they would attack. The earl was brave, but his wounds had robbed him of much of his martial vigor. Might she not then be indeed set free? And might not Wallace, on such an event, mean to repay her for all those sighs he now sought to repress from ideas of a virtue which she could admire, but had not the courage to imitate?
These wicked meditations passed even at the side of her husband, and, with a view to further every wish of her intoxicated imagination, she determined to spare no exertion to secure the support of her own family, which, when agreeing in one point, was the most powerful of any in the kingdom. Her father, the Earl of Strathearn, was now a misanthrope recluse in the Orkneys; she therefore did not calculate on his assistance, but she resolved on requesting Wallace to put the names of her cousins, Athol and Badenoch, into the exchange of prisoners, for by their means she expected to accomplish all she hoped. On Mar’s probable speedy death she so long thought that she regarded it as a certainty, and so pressed forward to the fulfillment of her love and ambition with as much eagerness as if he were already in his grave.
She recollected that Wallace had not this time thrown her from his bosom, when in the transports of her joy she cast herself upon it; he only gently whispered, “Beware, lady, there are those present who may think my services too richly paid.” With these words he had relinquished her to her husband. But in them she saw nothing inimical to her wishes; it was a caution, not a reproof, and had not his warmer address to Helen conjured up all the fiends of jealousy, she would have been perfectly satisfied with these grounds of hope-slippery though they were, like the sands of the sea.
Eager, therefore, to break away from Lord Mar’s projects relating to his daughter, at the first decent opportunity she said: “We will consider more of this, Donald. I now resign you to the duties of your office, and shall pay mine to her, whose interest is our own.”
Lord Mar pressed her hand to his lips, and they parted.
Prior to Wallace’s visit to the citadel, which was to be at an early hour the same morning, a list of the noble prisoners was put into his hand. Edwin pointed to the name of Lord Montgomery.
“That,” said he, “is the name of the person you already esteem; but how will you regard him when I tell you who he was?”
Wallace turned on him an inquiring look.
“You have often spoken to me of Sir Gilbert Hambledon-”
“And this be he!” interrupted Wallace.
Edwin recounted the manner of the earl discovering himself, and how he came to bear that title. Wallace listened in silence and when his young friend ended, sighed heavily, “I will thank him,” was all he said; and rising, he proceeded to the chamber of Montgomery. Even at that early hour it was filled with his officers come to inquire after their late commander’s health. Wallace advanced to the couch, and the Southrons drew back. The expression of his countenance told the earl that he now knew him.
“Noblest of Englishmen!” cried Wallace, in a low voice, “I come to express a gratitude to you, as lasting as the memory of the action which gave it birth. Your generous conduct to all that was dearest to me on earth was that night in the garden of Ellerslie witnessed by myself. I was in the tree above your head, and nothing but a conviction that I should embarrass the honor of my wife’s protector could at that moment have prevented my springing from my covert and declaring my gratitude on the spot.
“Receive my thanks now, inadequate as they are to express what I feel. But you offered me your heart on the field of Cambus–Kenneth; I will take that as a generous intimation how I may best acknowledge my debt. Receive then my never-dying friendship, the eternal gratitude of my immortal spirit.”
The answer of Montgomery could not but refer to the same subject, and by presenting the tender form of his wife and her devoted love, almost visibly again before her widowed husband, nearly forced open the fountain of tears which he had buried deep in his heart; and rising suddenly, for fear his emotions might betray themselves, he warmly pressed the hand of his English friend, and left the room.
In the course of the same day the Southron nobles were transported into the citadel, and the family of Mar removed from the fortress, to take up their residence in the palace of Snawdoun.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59