Though burning with stifled passions, Earl de Valence accepted the invitation of Lady Mar. He hoped to see Helen, to gain her ear for a few minutes; and, above all, to find some opportunity during the entertainment of taking his meditated revenge on Wallace. The dagger seemed the surest way; for could he render the blow effectual, he should not only destroy the rival of his wishes, but, by ridding his monarch of a powerful foe, deserve every honor at the royal hands. Love and ambition again swelled his breast; and with recovered spirits, and a glow on his countenance, which reawakened hope had planted there, he accompanied De Warenne to the palace.
The hall for the feast was arrayed with feudal grandeur. The seats at the table, spread for the knights of both countries, were covered with highly-wrought stuffs; while the emblazoned banners and other armorial trophies of the nobles being hung aloft according to the degree of the owner, each knight saw his precedence, and where to take his place. The most costly means, with the royally attired peacock served up in silver and gold dishes, and wine of the rarest quality, sparkled on the board. During the repast, two choice minstrels were seated in the gallery above, to sing the friendship of King Alfred of England with Gregory the Great of Caledonia. The squires and other military attendants of the nobles present, were placed at tables in the lower part of the hall, and served with courteous hospitality.
Resentful, alike at his captivity and thwarted passion, De Valence had hitherto refused to show himself beyond the ramparts of the citadel; he was therefore surprised, on entering the hall of Snawdoun with De Warenne, to see such regal pomp; and at the command of the woman who had so lately been his prisoner at Dumbarton, and whom (because she resembled an English lady who had rejected him) he had treated with the most rigorous contempt. Forgetting these indignities, in the pride of displaying her present consequence, Lady Mar came forward to receive her illustrious guests. Her dress corresponded with the magnificence of the banquet, a robe of cloth of Baudkins enriched, while it displayed, the beauties of her person; her wimple blazed with jewels, and a superb carkanet emitted its various rays from her bosom.35
35 Cloth of Baudkins was one of the richest stuffs worn in the thirteenth century. It is said to have been composed of silk interwoven with gold. The carkanet was a large broad necklace of precious stones of all colors, set in various shapes, and fastened by gold links into each other.
De Warenne followed her with his eyes as she moved from him. With an unconscious sigh, he whispered to De Valence, “What a land is this, where all the women are fair, and the men all brave!”
“I wish that it, and all its men and women, were in perdition!” returned De valence, in a fierce tone. Lady Ruthven, entering with the wives and daughters of the neighboring chieftains, checked the further expression of his wrath, and his eyes sought amongst them, but in vain, for Helen.
The chieftains of the Scottish army, with the Lords Buchan and March, were assembled around the countess at the moment a shout from the populace without announced the arrival of the regent. His noble figure was now disencumbered of armor; and with no more sumptuous garb than the simple plaid of his country, he appeared effulgent in manly beauty and the glory of his recent deeds. De Valence frowned heavily as he looked on him, and thanked his fortunate stars that Helen was absent from sharing the admiration which seemed to animate every breast. The eyes of Lady Mar at once told the impassioned De Valence, too well read in the like expressions, what were her sentiments toward the young regent; and the blushes and eager civilities of the ladies around displayed how much they were struck with the now fully discerned and unequaled graces of his person. Lady mar forgot all in him. And, indeed, so much did he seem the idol of every heart, that, from the two venerable lords of Loch-awe and Bothwell to the youngest man in company, all ears hung on his words, all eyes upon his countenance.
The entertainment was conducted with every regard to that chivalric courtesy which a noble conqueror always pays to the vanquished. Indeed, from the wit and pleasantry which passed from the opposite sides of the tables, and in which the ever-gay Murray was the leader, it rather appeared a convivial meeting of friends than an assemblage of mortal foes. During the banquet the bards sung legends of the Scottish worthies who had brought honor to their nation in days of old; and as the board was cleared, they struck at once into a full chorus. Wallace caught the sound of his own name, accompanied with epithets of extravagant praise; he rose hastily from his chair, and with his hand motioned them to cease. They obeyed; but Lady mar remonstrating with him, he smilingly said, it was an ill omen to sing a warrior’s actions till he were incapable of performing more; and therefore he begged she would excuse him from hearkening to his.
“Then let us change their strains to a dance,” replied the countess.
“A hall! a hall!” cried Murray, springing from his seat, delighted with the proposal.
“I have no objection,” answered Wallace; and putting the hand she presented to him into that of Lord de Warenne, he added, “I am not of a sufficiently gay temperament to grace the change; but this earl may not have the same reason for declining so fair a challenge!”
Lady Mar colored with mortification, for she had thought that Wallace would not venture to refuse before so many; but following the impulse of De Warenne’s arm, she proceeded to the other end of the hall, where, by Murray’s quick arrangement, the younger lords of both countries had already singled out ladies, and were marshaled for the dance.
As the hours moved on, the spirits of Wallace subsided from their usual cheering tone into a sadness which he thought might be noticed; and wishing to escape observation (for he could not explain to those gay ones why scenes like these ever made him sorrowful), and whispering to Mar that he would go for an hour to visit Montgomery, he withdrew, unnoticed by all but his watchful enemy.
De Valence, who hovered about his steps, had heard him inquire of Lady Ruthven why Helen was not present! He was within hearing of this whisper also, and, with a Satanic joy, the dagger shook in his hand. He knew that Wallace had many a solitary place to pass between Snawdoun and the citadel; and the company being too pleasantly absorbed to mark who entered or disappeared, he took an opportunity, and stole out after him.
But for once the impetuous fury of hatred met a temporary disappointment. While De Valence was cowering like a thief under the eaves of the houses, and prowling along the lonely paths to the citadel; while he started at every noise, as if it came to apprehend him for his meditated deed, or rushed forward at the sight of any solitary passenger, whom his eager vengeance almost mistook for Wallace–Wallace himself had taken a different track.
As he walked through the illuminated archways, which led from the hall, he perceived a darkened passage. Hoping by that avenue to quit the palace, unobserved, he immediately struck into it; for he was aware, that should he go the usual way, the crowd at the gate would recognize him, and he could not escape their acclamations. He followed the passage for a considerable time, and at last was stopped by a door. It yielded to his hand, and he found himself at the entrance of a large building. He advanced, and passing a high screen of carved oak, by a dim light, which gleamed from waxen tapers on the altar, he perceived it to be the chapel.
“A happy transition,” said he to himself, “from the jubilant scene I have now left; from the grievous scenes I have lately shared! Here, gracious God,” thought he, “may I, unseen by any other eye, pour out my heart to thee. And here, before thy footstool, will I declare thanksgiving for thy mercies; and with my tears wash from my soul the blood I have been compelled to shed!”
While advancing toward the altar, he was startled by a voice proceeding from the quarter whither he was going, and with low and gently-breathed fervor, uttering these words: “Defend him, Heavenly Father! Defend him day and night, from the devices of this wicked man; and, above all, during these hours of revelry and confidence, guard his unshielded breast from treachery and death.” The voice faltered, and added with greater agitation, “Ah, unhappy me, that I should pluck peril on the head of William Wallace!” A figure, which had been hidden by the rails of the altar, with these words rose, and stretching forth her clasped hands, exclaimed, “But Thou, who knowest I had no blame in this, wilt not afflict me by his danger! Thou wilt deliver him, O God, out of the hand of this cruel foe!”
Wallace was not more astonished at hearing that some one in whom he trusted, was his secret enemy, than at seeing Lady Helen in that place at that hour, and addressing Heaven for him. There was something so celestial in the maid, as she stood in her white robes, true emblems of her own innocence, before the divine footstool, that, although her prayers were delivered with a pathos which told they sprung from a heart more than commonly interested in their object, yet every word and look breathed so eloquently the virgin purity of her soul, the hallowed purpose of her petitions, that Wallace, drawn by the sympathy with which kindred virtues ever attract spirit to spirit, did not hesitate to discover himself. He stepped from the shadow which involved him. The pale light of the tapers shone upon his advancing figure. Helen’s eyes fell upon him as she turned round. She was transfixed and silent. He moved forward. “Lady Helen,” said he, in a respectful and even tender voice. At the sound, a fearful rushing of shame seemed to overwhelm her faculties; for she knew not how long he might have been in the church, and that he had not heard her beseech Heaven to make him less the object of her thoughts. She sunk on her knees beside the altar, and covered her face with her hands.
The action, the confusion might have betrayed her secret to Wallace. But he only thought of her pious invocations for his safety; he only remembered that it was she who had given a holy grave to the only woman he could ever love; and, full of gratitude, as a pilgrim would approach a saint, he drew near to her. “Holiest of earthly maids,” said he, kneeling down beside her, “in this lonely hour, in the sacred presence of Almighty Purity, receive my soul’s thanks for the prayers I have this moment heard you breathe for me. They are more precious to me, Lady Helen, than the generous plaudits of my country; they are a greater reward to me than would have been the crown with which Scotland sought to endow me, for do they not give me what all the world cannot-the protection of Heaven?”
“I would pray for it,” softly answered Helen, but not venturing to look up.
“The prayer of meek goodness, we know, ‘availeth much.’ Continue, then, to offer up that incense for me,” added he, “and I shall march forth to-morrow with redoubled strength; for I shall think, holy maid, that I have yet a Marion to pray for me on earth as well as one in heaven.”
Lady Helen’s heart beat at these words, but it was with no unhallowed emotion. She withdrew her hands from her face and, clasping them, looked up. “Marion will indeed echo all my prayers, and He who reads my heart will, I trust, grant them. They are for your life, Sir William Wallace,” added she, turning to him with agitation, “for it is menaced.”
“I will inquire by whom,” answered he, “when I have first paid my duty at this altar for guarding it so long. And dare I, daughter of goodness, to ask you to unite the voice of your daughter of goodness, to ask you to unite the voice of your gentle spirit with the secret one of mine? I would beseech Heaven for pardon on my own transgressions; I would ask of its mercy to establish the liberty of Scotland. Pray with me, Lady Helen, and the invocations our souls utter will meet the promise of Him who said: ‘Where two or three are joined together in prayer, there am I in the midst of them.’”
Helen looked on him with a holy smile; and pressing the crucifix which she held to her lips, bowed her head on it in mute assent. Wallace threw himself prostrate on the steps of the altar; and the fervor of his sighs alone breathed to his companion the deep devotion of his soul. How the time passed he knew not, so was he absorbed in the communion which his spirit held in heaven with the most gracious of beings. But the bell of the palace striking the matin hour, reminded him he was yet on earth; and looking up his eyes met those of Helen. His devotional rosary hung on his arm; he kissed it. “Wear this, holy maid,” said he, “in remembrance of this hour!” She bowed her fair neck, and he put the consecrated chain over it. “Let it bear witness to a friendship,” added he, clasping her hands in his, “which will be cemented by eternal ties in heaven.”
Helen bent her face upon his hands; he felt the sacred tears of so pure a compact upon them; and while he looked up, as if he thought the spirit of his Marion hovered near, to bless a communion so remote from all infringement of the sentiment he had dedicated forever to her, Helen raised her head-and, with a terrible shriek, throwing her arms around the body of Wallace, he, that moment, felt an assassin’s steel in his back, and she fell senseless on his breast. He started on his feet; a dagger fell from his wound to the ground, but the hand which had struck the blow he could nowhere see. To search further was then impossible, for Helen lay on his bosom like dead. Not doubting that she had seen his assailant, and fainted from alarm, he was laying her on the steps of the altar, that he might bring some water from the basin of the chapel to recover her, when he saw that her arm was not only stained with his blood, but streaming with her own. The dagger had gashed it in reaching him.
“Execrable villain!” cried he, turning cold at the sight, and instantly comprehending that it was to defend him she had thrown her arms around him, he exclaimed, in a voice of agony, “Are two of the most matchless women the earth ever saw to die for me!” Trembling with alarm, and with renewed grief-for the terrible scene of Ellerslie was now brought in all its horrors before him-he tore off her veil to staunch the blood; but the cut was too wide for his surgery; and, losing every other consideration in fears for her life, he again took her in his arms, and bore her out of the chapel. He hastened through the dark passage, and almost flying along the lighted galleries, entered the hall. The noisy fright of the servants, as he broke through their ranks at the door, alarmed the revelers; and turning round, what was their astonishment to behold the regent, pale and streaming with blood, bearing in his arms a lady apparently lifeless, and covered with the same dreadful hue!
Mar instantly recognized his daughter, and rushed toward her with a cry of horror. Wallace sunk, with his breathless load, upon the nearest bench; and, while her head rested on his bosom, ordered surgery to be brought. Lady Mar gazed on the spectacle with a benumbed dismay. None present durst ask a question, till a priest drawing near, unwrapped the arm of Helen, and discovered its deep wound.
“Who has done this?” cried her father, to Wallace, with all the anguish of a parent in his countenance.
“I know not,” replied he; “but I believe, some villain who aimed at my life.”
“Where is Lord de Valence?” exclaimed Mar, suddenly recollecting his menaces against Wallace.
“I am here,” replied he, in a composed voice; “would you have me seek the assassin?”
“No, no,” cried the earl, ashamed of his suspicion; “but here has been some foul work-and my daughter is slain.”
“Oh, not so!” cried Murray, who had hurried toward the dreadful group, and knelt at her side. “She will not die-so much excellence cannot die.” A stifled groan from Wallace, accompanied by a look, told Murray that he had known the death of similar excellence. With this unanswerable appeal, the young chieftain dropped his head on the other hand of Helen; and, could any one have seen his face buried as it was in her robes, they would have beheld tears of agony drawn from that every-gay heart.
The wound was closed by the aid of another surgical priest, who had followed the former into the hall, and Helen sighed convulsively. At this intimation of recovery, the priest made all, excepting those who supported her, stand back. But, as Lady Mar lingered near Wallace, she saw the paleness of his countenance turn to a deadly hue, and his eyes closing, he sunk back on the bench. Her shrieks now resounded through the hall, and, falling into hysterics, she was taken into the gallery; while the more collected Lady Ruthven remained to attend the victims before her.
At the instant Wallace fell, De Valence, losing all self-command, caught hold of De Warenne’s arm, and whispering, “I thought it was sure-long live King Edward!” rushed out of the hall. These words revealed to De Warenne who was the assassin; and though struck to the soul with the turpitude of the deed, he thought the honor of England would not allow him to accuse the perpetrator, and he remained silent.
The inanimate form of Wallace was now drawn from under that of Helen; and, in the act, discovered the tapestry-seat clotted with blood, and the regent’s back bathed in the same vital stream. Having found his wound, the priests laid him on the ground; and were administering their balsams, when Helen opened her eyes. Her mind was too strongly possessed with the horror which had entered it before she became insensible, to lose the consciousness of her fears; and immediately looking around with an aghast countenance, her sight met the outstretched body of Wallace. “Oh! is it so?” cried she, throwing herself into the bosom of her father. He understood what she meant. “He lives, my child! but he is wounded like yourself. Have courage; revive, for his sake and for mine!”
“Helen! Helen! dear Helen!” cried Murray, clinging to her hand; “while you live, what that loves you can die?”
While these acclamations surrounded her couch, Edwin, in speechless apprehension, supported the insensible head of Wallace; and De Warenne, inwardly execrating the perfidy of De Valence, knelt down to assist the good friars in their office.
A few minutes longer, and the staunched blood refluxing to the chieftain’s heart, he too opened his eyes; and instantly turning on his arm-“What has happened to me? Where is Lady Helen?” demanded he.
At his voice, which aroused Helen, who, believing that he was indeed dead, was relapsing into her former state; she could only press her father’s hand to her lips, as if he had given the life she so valued, and bursting into a shower of relieving tears, breathed out her rapturous thanks to God. Her low murmurs reached the ears of Wallace.
The dimness having left his eyes, and the blood (the extreme loss of which, from his great agitation, had alone caused him to swoon), being stopped by an embalmed bandage, he seemed to feel no impediment from his wound; and rising, hastened to the side of Helen. Lord Mar softly whispered his daughter-“Sir William Wallace is at your feet, my dearest child; look on him, and tell him that you live.”
“I am well, my father,” returned she, in a faltering voice; “and may it indeed please the Almighty to preserve him!”
“I, too, am alive and well,” answered Wallace; “but thanks to God, and to you, blessed lady, that I am so! Had not that lovely arm received the greater part of the dagger, it must have reached my heart.”
An exclamation of horror at what might have been burst from the lips of Edwin. Helen could have re-echoed it, but she now held her feelings under too severe a rein to allow them so to speak.
“Thanks to the Protector of the just,” cried she, “for your preservation! Who raised my eyes to see the assassin! His cloak was held before his face, and I could not discern it; but I saw a dagger aimed at the bank of Sir William Wallace! How I caught it I cannot tell, for I seemed to die on the instant.”
Lady Mar having recovered, re-entered the hall just as Wallace had knelt down beside Helen. Maddened with the sight of the man on whom her soul doted, in such a position before her rival, she advanced hastily; and in a voice, which she vainly attempted to render composed and gentle, sternly addressed her daughter-in-law: “Alarmed as I have been by your apparent danger, I cannot but be uneasy at the attendant circumstances; tell me, therefore, and satisfy this anxious company, how it happened that you should be with the regent, when we supposed you an invalid in your room, and were told he was gone to the citadel?”
A crimson blush overspread the cheeks of Helen at this question, for it was delivered in a tone which insinuated that something more than accident had occasioned their meeting, but as innocence dictated, she answered, “I was in the chapel at prayers; Sir William Wallace entered with the same design; and at the moment he desired me to mingle mine with his, this assassin appeared and (she repeated) I saw his dagger raised against our protector, and I saw no more.”
There was not a heart present that did not give credence to this account, but the polluted one of Lady Mar. Jealousy almost laid it bare. She smiled incredulously, and turning to the company, “Our noble friends will accept my apology, if in so delicate an investigation, I should beg that my family alone may be present.”
Wallace perceived the tendency of her words, and not doubting the impression they might make on the minds of men ignorant of the virtues of Lady Helen, he instantly rose. “For once,” cried he, “I must counteract a lady’s orders. It is my wish, lords, that you will not leave this place till I explain how I came to disturb the devotions of Lady Helen. Wearied with festivities, in which my alienated heart can so little share, I thought to pass an hour with Lord Montgomery in the citadel; and in seeking to avoid the crowded avenues of the palace, I entered the chapel. To my surprise, I found Lady Helen there, I heard her pray for the happiness of Scotland, for the safety of her defenders; and my mind being in a frame to join in such petitions, I apologized for my unintentional intrusion, and begged permission to mingle my devotions with hers. Nay, impressed and privileged by the sacredness of the place, I presumed still further, and before the altar of purity poured forth my gratitude for the duties she had paid to the remains of my murdered wife. It was at this moment that the assassin appeared. I heard Lady Helen scream, I felt her fall on my breast, and at that instant the dagger entered my back.
“This is the history of our meeting; and the assassin, whomsoever he may be, and how long soever he was in the church, before he sought to perpetrate the deed-were he to speak, and capable of uttering truth, could declare no other.”
“But where is he to be found?” intemperately and suspiciously demanded Lady mar.
“If his testimony be necessary to validate mine,” returned Wallace, with dignity, “I believe the Lady Helen can point to his name.”
“Name him, Helen; name him, my dear cousin,” cried Murray, “that I may have some link with thee. O! let me avenge this deed! Tell me his name! and so yield to me all that thou canst now bestow on Andrew Murray!”
There was something in the tone of Murray’s voice that penetrated to the heart of Helen. “I cannot name him whom I suspect to any but Sir William Wallace; and I would not do it to him,” replied she, “were it not to warn him against future danger. I did not see the assassin’s face, therefore, how dare I set you to take vengeance on one who perchance may be innocent? I forgive him, my blood, since Heaven has spared to Scotland its protector.”
“If he be a Southron,” cried Baron Hilton, coming forward, “name him, gracious lady, and I will answer for it, that were he the son of a king, he would meet death from our monarch for this unknightly outrage.”
“I thank your zeal, brave chief,” replied she; “but I would not abandon to certain death even a wicked man. May he repent! I will name him to Sir William Wallace alone; and when he knows his secret enemy, the vigilance of his own honor, I trust, will be his guard. Meanwhile, my father, I would withdraw.” Then whispering to him, she was lifted in his arms and Murray’s and carried from the hall.
As she moved away her eyes met those of Wallace. He arose; but she waved her hand to him, with an expression in her countenance of an adieu so firm, yet so tender, that feeling as if he were parting from a beloved sister, who had just risked her life for him, and whom he might never see again, he uttered not a word to any that were present, but leaning on Edwin, left the hall by an opposite door.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59