Thus did Lady Helen commune with her own strangely-affected heart; sometimes doubting the evidence of her eyes; then, convinced of their fidelity, striving to allay the tumults in her mind. She seldom appeared from her own rooms. And such retirement was not questioned, her father being altogether engaged at the citadel, the countess absorbed in her own speculations, and Lady Ruthven alone interrupted the solitude of her niece by frequent visits. Little suspecting the cause of Helen’s prolonged indisposition, she generally selected Wallace for the subject of conversation. She descanted with enthusiasm on the rare perfection of his character; told her all that Edwin had related of his actions from the taking of Dumbarton to the present moment; and then bade Helen remark the miracle of such wisdom, valor, and goodness being found in one so young and handsome.
“So, my child,” added she, “depend on it; before he was Lady Marion’s husband he must have heard sighs enough from the fairest in our land to have turned the wits of half the male world. There is something in his very look, did you meet him on the heath without better barg than a shepherd’s plaid, sufficient to declare him the noblest of men; and, methinks, would excuse the gentlest lady in the land for leaving hall and bower to share his sheep-cote. But, alas!” and then the playful expression of her countenance altered, “he is now for none on earth!”
With these words she turned the subject to the confidential hours he passed with the young adopted brother of his heart. Every fond emotion seemed then centered in his wife and child. When Lady Ruthven repeated his pathetic words to Edwin, she wept; she even sobbed, and paused to recover; while the deep and silent tears which flowed from the heart to the eyes of Lady Helen bathed the side of the couch on which she leaned. “Alas!” cried Lady Ruthven, “that a man, so formed to grace every relation in life-so noble a creature in all respects-so fond of a husband-so full of parental tenderness-that he should be deprived of the wife on whom he doted; that he should be cut off from all hope of posterity; that when he shall die, nothing will be left of William Wallace-breaks my heart!”
“Ah, my aunt,” cried Helen, raising her head with animation, “will he not leave behind him the liberty of Scotland? That is an offspring worthy of his god-like soul.”
“True, my dear Helen; but had you ever been a parent, you would know that no achievements, however great, can heal the wound made in a father’s heart by the loss of a beloved child. And though Sir William Wallace never saw the infant, ready to bless his arms, yet it perished in the bosom of its mother; and that circumstance must redouble his affliction; horribly does it enhance the cruelty of the deed!”
“He has in all things been a direful sacrifice,” returned Helen; “and with God alone dwells the power to wipe the tears from his heart.”
“They flow not from his eyes,” answered her aunt; “but deep, deep is the grief that, my Edwin says, is settled there.”
While Lady Ruthven was uttering these words, shouts in the street made her pause; and soon recognizing the name of Wallace sounding from the lips of the rejoicing multitude, she turned to Helen: “Here comes our deliverer!” cried she, taking her by the hand; “we have not seen him since the first day of our liberty. It will do you good, as it will me, to look on his beneficent face!”
She obeyed the impulse of her aunt’s arm, and reached the window just as he passed into the courtyard. Helen’s soul seemed rushing from her eyes. “Ah! it is indeed he!” thought she; “no dream, no illusion, but his very self.”
He looked up; but not on her side of the building; it was to the window of Lady Mar; and as he bowed, he smiled. All the charms of that smile struck upon the soul of Helen; and, hastily retreating, she sunk breathless into a seat.
“O, no! that man cannot be born for the isolated state I have just lamented. He is not to be forever cut off from communicating that happiness to which he would give so much enchantment!” Lady Ruthven ejaculated this with fervor, her matron cheeks flushing with a sudden and more forcible admiration of the person and mien of Wallace. “There was something in that smile, Helen, which tells me all is not chilled within. And, indeed, how should it be otherwise? That generous interest in the happiness of all, which seems to flow in a tide of universal love, cannot spring from a source incapable of dispensing the softer screams of it again.”
Helen, whose well-poised soul was not affected by the agitation of her body (agitation she was determined to conquer), calmly answered: “Such a hope little agrees with all you have been telling me of his conversation with Edwin. Sir William Wallace will never love woman more; and even to name the idea seems an offense against the sacredness of his sorrow.”
“Blame me not, Helen,” returned Lady Ruthven, “that I forgot probability, in grasping at possibility which might give me such a nephew as Sir William Wallace, and you a husband worthy of your merits! I had always, in my own mind, fixed on the unknown knight for your future lord; and now that I find that he and the deliverer of Scotland are one, I am not to be looked grave at for wishing to reward him with the most precious heart that ever beat in a female breast.”
“No more of this, if you love me, my dear aunt!” returned Helen; “it neither can nor ought to be. I revere the memory of Lady Marion too much not to be agitated by the subject; so, no more!”-she was agitated. But at that instant Edwin throwing open the door, put an end to the conversation.
He came to apprise his mother that Sir William Wallace was in the state apartments, come purposely to pay his respects to her, not having even been introduced to her when the sudden illness of her niece in the castle had made them part so abruptly.
“I will not interrupt his introduction now,” said Helen, with a faint smile; “a few days’ retirement will strengthen me, and then I shall see our protector as I ought.”
“I will stay with you,” cried Edwin, “and I dare say Sir William Wallace will have no objection to be speedily joined by my mother; for, as I came along, I met my aunt Mar hastening through the gallery; and, between ourselves, my sweet coz, I do not think my noble friend quite likes a private conference with your fair stepmother.”
Lady Ruthven had withdrawn before he made this observation.
“Why, Edwin?-surely she would not do anything ungracious to one to whom she owes so great a weight of obligations?” When Helen asked this, she remembered the spleen Lady Mar once cherished against Wallace; and she feared it might now be revived.
“Ungracious! O, no! the reverse of that; but her gratitude is full of absurdity. I will not repeat the fooleries with which she sought to detain him at Bute. And that some new fancy respecting him is now about to menace his patience. I am convinced; for, on my way hither, I met her hurrying along, and as she passed me she exclaimed, ‘Is Lord Buchan arrived?’ I answered. ‘Yes.’ ‘Ah, then he proclaimed him king?’ cried she; and into the great gallery she darted.”
“You do not mean to say,” demanded Helen, turning her eyes with an expression which seemed confident of his answer, “that Sir William Wallace has accepted the crown of Scotland?”
“Certainly not,” replied Edwin; “but as certainly it has been offered to him, and he has refused it.”
“I could have sworn it!” returned Helen, rising from her chair; “all is loyal, all is great and consistent there, Edwin!”
“He is, indeed, the perfect exemplar of all nobleness,” rejoined the youth; “and I believe I shall even love you better, my dear cousin, because you seem to have so clear an apprehension of his real character.” He then proceeded, with all the animation of the most zealous affection, to narrate to Helen the particulars of the late scene on the Carse of Stirling. And while he deepened still more the profound impression the virtues of Wallace had made on her heart, he reopened its more tender sympathies by repeating, with even minuter accuracy than he had done to his mother, details of those hours which he passed with him in retirement. He spoke of the beacon-hill; of moonlight walks in the camp, when all but the sentinels and his general and himself were sunk in sleep.
These were the seasons when the suppressed feelings of Wallace would by fits break from his lips, and at last pour themselves out, unrestrainedly, to the ear of sympathy. As the young narrator described all the endearing qualities of his friend, the cheerful heroism with which he quelled every tender remembrance to do his duty in the day-“for it is only in the night,” said Edwin, “that my general remembers Ellerslie”-Helen’s tears again stole silently down her cheeks. Edwin perceived them, and throwing his arms gently around her. “Weep not, my sweet cousin,” said he; “for, with all his sorrow, I never saw true happiness till I beheld it in the eyes and heard it in the voice of Sir William Wallace. He has talked to me of the joy he should experience in giving liberty to Scotland, and establishing her peace, till his enthusiastic soul, grasping hope, as if it were possession, he has looked on me with a consciousness of enjoyment which seemed to say that all bliss was summed up in a patriot’s breast.
“And at other times, when, after a conversation on his beloved Marion, a few natural regrets would pass his lips, and my tears tell how deep was my sympathy, then he would turn to comfort me; then he would show me the world beyond this-that world which is the aim of all his deeds, the end of all his travails-and, lost in the rapturous idea of meeting his Marion there, a foretaste of all would seem to seize his soul: and were I then called upon to point out the most enviable felicity on earth, I should say it is that of Sir William Wallace. It is this enthusiasm in all he believes and feels that makes him what he is. It is this eternal spirit of hope, infused into him by Heaven itself, that makes him rise from sorrow, like the sun from a cloud, brighter, and with more ardent beams. It is this that bathes his lips in the smiles of Paradise, that throws a divine luster over his eyes, and makes all dream of love and happiness that look upon him.”
Edwin paused. “Is it not so, my cousin?”
Helen raised her thoughtful face. “He is not a being of this earth, Edwin. We must learn to imitate him, as well as to-” She hesitated, then added, “As well as to revere him, I do before the altars of the saints. But not to worship,” said she, interrupting herself; “that would be a crime. To look on him as a glorious example of patient suffering-of invincible courage in the behalf of truth and mercy! This is the end of my reverence for him, and this sentiment, my dear Edwin, you partake.”
“It possesses me wholly,” cried the energetic youth; “I have no thought, no wish, nor ever move or speak, but with the intent to be like him. He calls me his brother! and I will be so in soul, though I cannot in blood; and then, my dear Helen, you shall have two Sir William Wallaces to love!”
“Sweetest, sweetest boy!” cried Helen, putting her quivering lips to his forehead; “you will then always remember that Helen so dearly loves Scotland as to be jealous, above all earthly things, for the lord regent’s safety. Be his guardian angel. Beware of treason in man and woman, friend and kindred. It lurks, my cousin, under the most specious forms; and, as one, mark Lord Buchan; in short, have a care of all whom any of the house of Cummin may introduce. Watch over your general’s life in the private hour. It is not the public field I fear for him; his valiant arm will there be his own guard! But, in the unreserved day of confidence, envy will point its dagger; and then, be as eyes to his too trusting soul-as a shield to his too confidently exposed breast!”
As she spoke she strove to conceal her too eloquent face in the silken ringlets of her hair.
“I will be all this,” cried Edwin, who saw nothing in her tender solicitude but the ingenuous affection which glowed in his own heart; “and I will be your eyes, too, my cousin; for when I am absent with Sir William Wallace I shall consider myself your representative, and so will send you regular dispatches of all that happens to him.”
Thanks would have been a poor means of imparting what she felt at this assurance; and, rising from her seat, with some of Wallace’s own resigned and enthusiastic expression in her face, she pressed Edwin’s hand to her heart; then bowing her head to him, in token of gratitude, withdrew into an inner apartment.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59