Owing to the multiplicity of affairs which engaged Wallace’s attention after the capture of Stirling, the ladies of Mar had not seen him since his first visit to the citadel. The countess passed this time in writing her dispatches to the numerous lords of her house, both in Scotland and in England; and by her subtle arguments she completely persuaded her husband of the cogency of putting the names of Lord Athol and Lord Badenoch into the list of noble prisoners he should request.
When this was proposed to Wallace, he recollected the conduct of Athol at Montrose; and, being alone with Lord Mar, he made some objections against inviting him back into the country. But the earl, who was prepared by his wife to overcome every obstacle in the way of her kinsman’s return, answered, “That he believed, from the representations he had received of the private opinions both of Badenoch and Athol, that their treason was more against Baliol than the kingdom; and that now that prince was irretrievably removed, he understood they would be glad to take a part in its recovery.”
“That may be the case with the Earl of Badenoch,” replied Wallace, “but something less friendly to Scotland must be in the breast of the man who could betray Lord Douglas into the hands of his enemies.”
“So I should have thought,” replied the earl, “had not the earnestness with which my wife pleads his cause convinced me she knows more of his mind than she chooses to intrust me with, and therefore I suppose his conduct to Douglas arose from personal pique.”
Though these explanations did not at all raise the absent lords in his esteem, yet to appear hostile to the return of Lady Mar’s relations would be a violence to her, which, in proportion as Wallace shrunk from the guilty affection she was so eager to lavish upon him, he was averse to committing; wishing, by showing her every proper consideration, to lead her to apprehend the turpitude of her conduct; by convincing her that his abhorrence of her advances had its origin in principle, rather than from personal repugnance to herself; and so she might see the foulness of her crime, and be recalled to virtue. He was therefore not displeased to have this opportunity of obliging her; and, as he hoped that amongst so many warm friends a few cool ones could not do much injury, he gave in the names of Badenoch and Athol, with those of Lord Douglas, Sir William Maitland (the only son of the venerable knight of Thirlestane), Sir John Monteith, and many other brave Scots.
For these, the Earls de Warenne, De Valence, and Montgomery, the Barons Hilton and Blenkinsopp, and others of note, were to exchanged. Those of lesser consequence, man for man, were to be returned for Scots of the same degree.
In arranging preliminaries to effect the speedy return of the Scots from England (who must be known to have arrived on the borders, before the English would be permitted to cross them); in writing dispatches on this subject, and on others of equal moment, had passed the time between the surrender of Stirling and the hour when Wallace was called to the plain, to receive the offered homage of his grateful country.
Impatient to behold again the object of her fond machinations, Lady Mar hastened to the window of her apartment, when the shouts in the streets informed her of the approach of Wallace. The loud huzzas, accompanied by the acclamations of “Our protector and prince!” seemed already to bind her brows with her anticipated diadem, and for a moment, vanity lost the image of love in the purple with which she enveloped it.
Her ambitious vision was disturbed by the crowd rushing forward; the gates were thronged with people of every age and sex, and Wallace himself appeared on his white charger, with his helmet off, bowing and smiling upon the populace. There was a mild effulgence in his eye; a divine benevolence in his countenance, as his parted lips showed the brightness of his smile, which seemed to speak of happiness within, of joy to all around. She hastily snatched a chaplet of flowers form her head, and threw it from the window. Wallace looked up; his brow and his smile were then directed to her! but they were altered. The moment he met the congratulation of her eager eyes, he remembered what would have been the soft welcome of his Marion’s under the like circumstance! But that tender eye was closed-that ear was shut, to whom he would have wished these plaudits to have given rapture-and they were now as nothing to him. The countess saw not what was passing in his mind, but kissing her hand to him, disappeared from the window when he entered the palace.
Another eye beside Lady Mar’s had witnessed the triumphant entry of Wallace. Triumphant in the true sense of the word; for he came a victor over the hearts of men; he came, not attended by his captives won in the war, but by the people he had blessed, by throngs calling him preserver, father, friend, and prince! By every title which can inspire the soul of man with the happy consciousness of fulfilling his embassy here below.
Helen was this witness. She had passed the long interval, since she had seen Wallace, in the state of one in a dream. The glance had been so transient, that every succeeding hour seemed to lessen the evidence of her senses that she had really beheld him. It appeared impossible to her that the man whom her thoughts had hitherto dwelt on as the widowed husband of Marion, as the hero whom sorrow had wholly dedicated to patriotism and to Heaven, should ever awaken in her breast feelings which would seem to break like a sacrilegious host upon the holy consecration of his. Once she had contemplated this idea with the pensive impressions of one leaning over the grave of a hero; and she could then turn as if emerging from the glooms of sepulchral monuments to upper day, to the image of her unknown knight! she could then blamelessly recollect the matchless graces of his figure! the noble soul that breathed from his every word and action; the sweet, though thoughtful, serenity that sat on his brow! “There,” whispered she to herself, “are the lofty meditations of a royal mind, devising the freedom of his people. When that is effected, how will the perfect sunshine break out from that face! Ah! how blest must Scotland be under his reign, when all will be light, virtue, and joy!” Bliss hovered like an angel over the image of this imaginary Bruce; while sorrow, in mourning weeds, seemed ever dropping tears, when any circumstance recalled that of the real Wallace.
Such was the state of Helen’s thoughts, when in the moment beholding the chief Ellerslie in the citadel she recognized, in his expected melancholy form, the resplendent countenance of him whom she supposed the prince of Scotland. That two images so opposite should at once unite; that in one bosom should be mingled all the virtues she had believed peculiar to each, struck her with overwhelming amazement. But when she recovered from her short swoon, and found Wallace at her feet; when she felt that all the devotion her heart had hitherto paid to the simple idea of virtue alone would now be attracted to that glorious mortal, in whom all human excellence appeared summed up, she trembled under an emotion that seemed to rob her of herself, and place a new principle of being within her.
All was so extraordinary, so unlooked for, so bewildering, that from the moment in which she had retired in such a paroxysm of highly-wrought feelings from her first interview in the gallery with him, she became altogether like a person in a trance; and hardly answering her aunt, when she then led her up the stairs, only complained she was ill, and threw herself upon a couch.
At the very time that her heart told her in a language she could not misunderstand, that she irrevocably loved this too glorious, too amiable Wallace, it as powerfully denounced to her, that she had devoted herself to one who must ever be to her as a being of air. No word of sympathy would ever whisper felicity to her heart; no-the flame that was within her (which she found would be immortal as the vestal fires which resemble its purity) must burn there unknown; hidden, but not smothered.
“Were this a canonized saint,” cried she, as she laid her throbbing head upon her pillow, “how gladly should I feel these emotions! For, could I not fall down and worship him? Could I not think it a world of bliss, to live forever within the influence of his virtues; looking at him, listening to him, rejoicing in his praises, happy in his happiness! Yes, though I were a peasant girl, and he not know that Helen Mar even existed! And I may live thus,” said she; “and I may steal some portion of the rare lot that was Lady Marion’s-to die for such a man! Ah! could I be in Edwin’s place and wait upon his smiles! But that may not be; I am a woman, and formed to suffer in silence and seclusion. But even at a distance, brave Wallace, my spirit shall watch over you in the form of this Edwin; I will teach him a double care of the light of Scotland. And my prayers, also, shall follow you; so that when we meet in heaven, the Blessed Virgin shall say with what hosts of angels her intercessions, through my vigils have surrounded thee!”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53