When Wallace was left alone with Edwin, the happy youth (after expressing delight that Murray then held his headquarters in Bothwell Castle) took from his bosom two packets; one from Lord Mar, the other from the countess. “My dear cousin,” said he, “has sent you many blessings; but I could not persuade her to register even one on paper while my aunt wrote all this. Almost ever since her own recovery, Helen has confined herself to my uncle’s sick chamber, now totally deserted by the fair countess, who seems to have forgotten all duties in the adulation of the audience-hall.”
Wallace remarked on the indisposition of Mar, and the attention of his daughter, with tenderness. And Edwin, with the unrestrained vivacity of happy friendship, proceeded sportively to describe the regal style which the countess had affected, and the absurd group with which she had welcomed the Earls Badenoch and Athol to their native country. “Indeed,” continued he, “I cannot guess what vain idea has taken possession of her; but when I went to Snawdoun, to receive her commands for you, I found her seated on a kind of throne, with ladies standing in her presence, and our younger chieftains thronging the gallery, as if she were the regent himself. Helen entered for a moment, but, amazed, started back, never before having witnessed the morning courts of stepmother.”
But Edwin did not relate to his friend all that had passed in the succeeding conference between him and his gentle cousin.
Blushing for her father’s wife, Helen would have retired immediately to her own apartments, but Edwin drew her into one of Lady Mar’s rooms, and seating her beside him, began to speak of his anticipated meeting with Wallace. He held her hand in his. “My dearest cousin,” said he, “will not this tender hand, which has suffered so much for our brave friend, write him one word of kind remembrance? Our queen here will send him volumes.”
“Then he would hardly have time to attend to one of mine,” replied Helen, with a smile. “Besides, he requires no new assurance to convince him that Helen Mar can never cease to remember her benefactor with the most grateful thoughts.”
“And is this all I am to say to him, Helen?”
“All, my Edwin.”
“What! not one word of the life you have led since he quitted Stirling? Shall I not tell him that, when this lovely arm no longer wore the livery of its heroism in his behalf, instead of your appearing at the gay assemblies of the countess, you remained immured within your oratory? Shall I not tell him that since the sickness of my uncle you have sat days and nights by his couch-side, listening to the dispatches from the borders-subscribing, with smiles and tears, to his praises of our matchless regent? Shall I not tell him of the sweet maid who lives here the life of a nun for him? Or, must I entertain him with the pomps and vanities of my most unsaintly aunt?”
Helen had in vain attempted to stop him, while, with an arch glance at her mantling blushes, he half whispered these insidious questions. “Ah, my sweet cousin, there is something more at the bottom of that beating heart than you will allow your faithful Edwin to peep into.”
Helen’s heart did beat violently, both before and after this remark; but conscious, whatever might be there, of the determined purpose of her soul, she turned on him a steady look. “Edwin,” said she, “there is nothing in my heart that you may not see. That it reveres Sir William Wallace beyond all other men, I do not deny. But class not my deep veneration with a sentiment which may be jested on! He has spoken to me the language of friendship-you know what it is to be his friend-and having tasted of heaven, I cannot stoop to earth. What pleasure can I find in pageants?-what interest in the admiration of men? Is not his esteem of a value that puts to naught the homages of all else in the world? Do me then justice, my Edwin! believe me, I am no gloomy, no sighing, recluse. I am happy with my thoughts, and thrice happy at the side of my father’s couch; for there I meet the image of the most exemplary of human beings, and there I perform the duties of a child to a parent deserving all my love and honor.”
“Ah, Helen! Helen!” cried Edwin; “dare I speak the wish of my heart! But you and Sir William Wallace would frown on me, and I may not!”
“Then, never utter it!” exclaimed Helen, turning pale, and trembling from head to foot; too well guessing, by the generous glow in his countenance, what would have been that wish.
At this instant the door opened, and Lady Mar appeared. Both rose at her entrance. She bowed her head coldly to Helen. To Edwin she graciously extended her hand. “Why, my dear nephew, did you not come into the audience-hall?”
Edwin answered, smiling, that as he “did not know the Governor of Stirling’s lady lived in the state of a queen, he hoped he should be excused for mistaking lords and ladies in waiting for company; and for that reason, having retired till he could bid her adieu in a less public scene.”
Lady mar, with much stateliness, replied, “Perhaps it is necessary to remind you, Edwin, that I am more than Lord Mar’s wife. I am not only heiress to the sovereignty of the northern isles, but, like Badenoch, am of the blood of the Scottish kings.”
To conceal an irrepressible laugh at this proud folly in a woman, otherwise of shrewd understanding, Edwin turned toward the window; but not before the countess had observed the ridicule which played on his lips. Vexed, but afraid to reprimand one who might so soon resent it, by speaking of her disparagingly to Wallace, she unburdened the swelling of her anger upon the unoffending Helen. Not doubting that she felt as Edwin did, and fancying that she saw the same expression in her countenance. “Lady Helen,” cried she, “I request an explanation of that look of derision which I now see on your face. I wish to know whether the intoxication of your vanity dare impel you to despise claims which may one day be established to your confusion.”
This attack surprised Helen, who, absorbed in other meditations, had scarcely heard her mother’s words to Edwin. “I neither deride you, Lady Mar, nor despise the claims of your kinsman, Badenoch. But since you have condescended to speak to me on the subject, I must, out of respect to yourself, and duty to my father, frankly say, that the assumption of honors not legally in your possession may excite ridicule on him, and even trouble to our cause.”
Provoked at the just reasoning of this reply and at being misapprehended with regard to the object with whom she hoped to share all the reflected splendors of a throne, Lady Mar answered, rather inconsiderately, “Your father is an old man, and has outlived every noble emulation. He neither understands my actions, nor shall he control them.” Struck dumb by this unexpected declaration, Helen suffered her to proceed. “And as to Lord Badenoch giving me the rank to which my birth entitled me, that is a foolish dream-I look to a greater hand.”
“What!” inquired Edwin, with a playful bow, “does my highness aunt expect my uncle to die, and that Bruce will come hither to lay the crown of Scotland at her feet?”
“I expect nothing of Bruce, nor of your uncle,” returned she, with a haughty rearing of her head; “but I look for respect from the daughter of Lord Mar, and from the friend of Sir William Wallace.”
She rose from her chair, and presenting Edwin with a packet for Wallace, told Helen she might retire to her own room.
“To my father’s I will, madam,” returned she.
Lady Mar colored at this reproof, and, turning to Edwin, more gently said, “You know that the dignity of his situation must be maintained; and while others attend his couch, I must his reputation.”
“I have often heard that ‘Fame is better than life!’” replied Edwin, still smiling; “and I thank Lady mar for showing me how differently people may translate the same lesson. Adieu, dear Helen!” said he, touching her mantling cheek with his lips.
“Farewell,” returned she, “may good angels guard you!”
The substance of the latter part of this scene Edwin did relate to Wallace. He smiled at the vain follies of the countess, and broke the seal of her letter. It was in the same style with her conversation; at one moment declaring herself his disinterested friend, in the next, uttering wild professions of neverending attachment. She deplored the sacrifice which had been made of her, when quite a child, to the doting passion of Lord Mar; and complained of his want of sympathy with any of her feelings. Then picturing the happiness which must result from the reciprocal love of congenial hearts, she ventured to show how truly hers would unite with Wallace’s. The conclusion of this strange epistle told him that the devoted gratitude of all her relations of the house of Cummin was ready, at any moment, to relinquish their claims on the crown, to place it on brows so worthy to wear it.
The words of this letter were so artfully and so persuasively penned, that had not Edwin described the inebriated vanity of Lady Mar, Wallace might have believed that she was ambitious only for him, and that could she share his heart, his throne would be a secondary object. To establish this deception in his mind, she added, “I live here as at the head of a court, and fools around me think I take pleasure in it; but did they look into my actions, they would see that I serve while I seem to reign. I am working in the hearts of men for your advancement.”
But whether this were her real motive or not, it was the same to Wallace; he felt that she would always be, were she even free, not merely the last object in his thoughts, but the first in his aversion. Therefore, hastily running over her letter, he recurred to a second perusal of Lord Mar’s. In this he found satisfactory details of the success of his dispositions. Lord Lochawe had possessed himself of the western coast of Scotland, from the Mull of Kintyre, to the furthest mountains of Glenmore. There the victorious Lord Ruthven had met him, having completed the recovery of the Highlands, by a range of conquests from the Spey to the Murray frith and Inverness-shire. Lord Bothwell, also, as his colleague, had brought from the shore of Ross and the hills of Caithness, every Southron banner which had disgraced their embattled towers.
Graham was sent for by Wallace to hear these pleasant tidings.
“Ah!” cried Edwin, in triumph, “not a spot north of the Forth now remains, that does not acknowledge the supremacy of the Scottish lion!”
“Nor south of it either,” returned Graham; “from the Mull of Galloway to my gallant father’s government on the Tweed; from the Cheviots to the Northern Ocean, all now is our own. The door is locked against England, and Scotland must prove unfaithful to herself before the Southrons can again set feet on her borders.”
The more private accounts were not less gratifying to Wallace; for he found that his plans for disciplining and bringing the people into order were everywhere adopted, and that in consequence, alarm and penury had given way to peace and abundance. To witness the success of his comprehensive designs, and to settle a dispute between Lord Ruthven and the Earl of Athol, relative to the government of Perth, Lord Mar strongly urged him (since he had driven the enemy so many hundred miles into their own country) to repair immediately to the scene of controversy. “Go,” added the earl, “through the Lothians, and across the Queens ferry, directly into Perthshire. I would not have you come to Stirling, lest it should be supposed that you are influenced in your judgment either my myself or my wife. But I think there cannot be a question that Lord Ruthven’s services to the great cause invest him with a claim which his opponent does not possess. Lord Athol has none beyond that of superior rank; but being the near relation of my wife, I believe she is anxious for his elevation. Therefore come not near us, if you would avoid female importunity, and spare me the pain of hearing what I must condemn.”
Wallace now recollected a passage in Lady Mar’s letter which, though not speaking out, insinuated how she expected he would decide. She said: “As your interest is mine, my noble friend, all that belongs to me is yours. My kindred are not withheld in the gift my devoted heart bestows on you. Use them as your own; make them bulwarks around your power, the creatures of your will, the instruments of your benevolence, the defenders of your rights.”
Well pleased to avoid another rencounter with this lady’s love and ambition, Wallace sent off the substance of these dispatches to Murray; and next morning, taking a tender leave of the venerable Gregory and his family, with Edwin and Sir John Graham, he set off for the Frith of Forth.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59