The few chieftains who had remained on their estates during the suspense before the battle, from a belief that if the issue proved unfavorable they should be safest amongst their native glens, now came with numerous trains to greet the return of their victorious regent. The ladies brought forth their most splendid apparel; and the houses of Stirling were hung with tapestry to hail with due respect the benefactor of the land.
At last the hour arrived when a messenger, whom Lord Mar had sent out for the purpose, returned on full speed with information that the regent was passing the Carron. At these tidings the animated old earl called out his retinue, mounted his coal-black steed, and ordered a sumptuous charger to be caparisoned with housings wrought in gold by the hands of Lady Mar and her ladies. The horse was intended to meet Wallace and to bring him into the city. Edwin led it forward. In the rear of the Earls Mar and Badenoch came all the chieftains of the country, in gallant array. Their ladies, on splendid palfreys, followed the superb car of the Countess of Mar; and, preceding the multitudes of Stirling, left the town a desert. Not a living being seemed now within its walls except the Southron prisoners, who had assembled on the top of the citadel to view the return of their conqueror.
Helen remained in Snawdoun, believing that she was the only soul left in that vast palace. She sat musing on the extraordinary fate of Wallace, a few months ago a despised outlaw, at this moment the idol of the nation! And then turned to herself — the wooed of many a gallant heart, and now devoted to one, whom, like the sun, she must ever contemplate with admiration, while he should pass on above her sphere, unconscious of the devotion which filled her soul.
The distant murmur of the populace thronging out of the streets toward the Carse, gradually subsided; and at last she was left in profound silence. “He must be near,” thought she, “he whose smile is more precious to me than the adulation of all the world besides, now smiles upon every one! All look upon him, all hear him, but I-and I-ah, Wallace, did Marion love thee dearer?” As her devoted heart demanded this question, her tender and delicate soul shrunk within herself, and deeply blushing, she hid her face in her hands. A pause of a few minutes-and a sound as if the skies were rent, tore the air; a noise, like the distant roar of the sea, succeeded; and soon after, the shouts of an approaching multitude shook the palace to its foundations. Helen started on her feet; the tumult of voices augmented; the sound of coming squadrons thundered over the ground. At this instant every bell in the city began its peals, and the door of Helen’s room suddenly opened — Lady Ruthven hurried in. “Helen,” cried she, “I would not disturb you before; but as you were to be absent, I would not make one in Lady Mar’s train; and I come to enjoy with you the return of our beloved regent!”
Helen did not speak, but her eloquent countenance amply told her aunt what were the emotions of her heart; and Lady Ruthven taking her hand, attempted to draw her toward an oriel window which opened to a view of the High Street; but Helen, shrinking from the movement, begged to be excused. “I hear enough,” said she, “my dear aunt; sights like these overcome me; let me remain where I am.”
Lady Ruthven was going to remonstrate, when the loud huzzas of the people and soldiers, accompanied by acclamations of “Long live victorious Wallace, our prince and king!” struck Helen back into her seat, and Lady Ruthven darting toward the window, cried aloud, “He comes, Helen, he comes! His bonnet off his noble brow. Oh! how princely does he look! — and now he bows. Ah, they shower flowers upon him from the houses on each side of the street; how sweetly he smiles and bows to the ladies as they lean from their windows! Come, Helen, come, if you would see the perfection of majesty and modesty united in one!”
Helen did not move; but Lady Ruthven stretching out her arm, in a moment had drawn her within view of Wallace. She saw him attended as a conqueror and a king; but with the eyes of a benefactor and a brother he looked on all around. The very memory of war seemed to vanish before his presence, for all there was love and gentleness. Helen drew a quick sigh, and closing her eyes, dropped against the arras. She now heard the buzz of many voices, the rolling peal of acclamations, but she distinguished nothing; her senses were in tumults; and had not Lady Ruthven seen her disorder, she would have fallen motionless to the floor. The good matron was not so forgetful of the feelings of a virtuous youthful heart, not to have discovered something of what was passing in that of her niece. From the moment in which she had suspected that Wallace had made a serious impression there, she dropped all trifling with his name. And now that she saw the distressing effects of that impression, with revulsed feelings she took the fainting Helen in her arms, and laying her on a couch, by the aid of volatiles restored her to recollection. Seeing she recovered, she made no observation on this emotion, and Helen leaned her head and wept upon the bosom of her aunt. Lady Ruthven’s tears silently mingled with hers; but she said within herself, “Wallace cannot be always insensible to so much excellence!”
As the acclaiming populace passed the palace on their way to the citadel, whither they were escorting their regent, Helen remained quiet in her leaning position; but when the noise died away into hoarse murmurs, she raised her head, and glancing on the tear-bathed face of her affectionate aunt, said, with a forced smile, “My more than mother, fear me not! I am grateful to Sir William Wallace; I venerate him as the Southrons do their St. George, but I need not your tender pity.” As she spoke, her beautiful lip quivered, but her voice was steady.
“My sweetest Helen,” replied Lady Ruthven, “how can I pity her for whom I hope everything.”
“Hope nothing for me,” returned Helen, understanding by her looks what her tongue had left unsaid, “but to see me a vestal here, and a saint in heaven.”
“What can my Helen mean?” replied Lady Ruthven; “who would talk of being a vestal with such a heart in view as that of the Regent of Scotland? and that it will be yours, does not his eloquent gratitude declare?”
“No, my aunt,” answered Helen, casting down her eyes; “gratitude is eloquent where love would be silent. I am not so sacrilegious as to wish that Sir William Wallace should transfer that heart to me, which the blood of Marion forever purchased. No; should these people compel him to be their king, I will retire to some monastery, and forever devote myself to God and to prayers for my country.”
The holy composure which spread over the countenance and figure of Helen, as she uttered this, seemed to extend itself to the before eager mind of Lady Ruthven; she pressed her tenderly in her arms, and kissing her: “Gentlest of human beings!” cried she, “whatever be thy lot, it must be happy.”
“Whatever it be,” answered Helen, “I know that there is an Almighty reason for it; I shall understand it in the world to come, and I cheerfully acquiesce in this.”
“Oh! that the ears of Wallace could hear thee!” cried Lady Ruthven.
“They will, some time, my gracious aunt,” answered she, with an angelic smile.
“When? where, dearest?” asked Lady Ruthven, hoping that she began to have fairer anticipations for herself. Helen answered not; but pointing to the sky, rose from her seat with an air as if she were really going to ascend to those regions which seemed best fitted to receive her pure spirit. Lady Ruthven gazed on her in speechless admiration; and without a word, or an impeding motion, felt Helen softly kiss her hand, and with another seraphic smile, glide gently from her into her closet, and close the door.
Far different were the emotions which agitated the bosoms of every person present at the entry of Sir William Wallace. All but himself regarded it as the triumph of the King of Scotland. And while some of the nobles exulted in their future monarch, the major part felt the demon of envy so possess their souls, that they who, before his arrival, were ready to worship his name, now looked on the empire to which he seemed borne on the hearts of the people, with a rancorous jealousy, which from that moment vowed his humiliation, or the fall of Scotland. The very tongues which in general acclaim, called loudest, “Long live our king!” belonged to those who, in the secret recesses of their souls, swore to work his ruin, and to make these full-blown honors the means of his destruction. He had in vain tried to check what his moderate desires deemed the extravagant gratitude of the people; but finding his efforts only excited still louder demonstrations of their love, and knowing himself immovable in his resolution to remain a subject of the crown, he rode on composedly toward the citadel.
Those ladies who had not retired from the cavalcade to hail their regent a second time from their windows, preceded him in Lady Mar’s train to the hall, where she had caused a sumptuous feast to be spread to greet his arrival. Two seats were placed under a canopy of cloth of gold, at the head of the board. The countess stood there in all the splendor of her ideal rank, and would have seated Wallace in the royal chair on her right hand, but he drew back.
“I am only a guest in this citadel,” returned he; “and it would ill become me to take the place of the master of the banquet.”
As he spoke, he looked on Lord Mar, who, understanding the language of his eyes, which never said the thing he would not, without a word took the kingly seat, and so disappointed the countess. By this refusal she still found herself as no more than the Governor of Stirling’s wife, when she had hoped a compliance with her cunning arrangement would have hinted to all that she was to be the future queen of their acknowledged sovereign. They knew Wallace, saw his unshaken resolution in this apparently slight action; but others who read his design in their own ambition, translated it differently, and deemed it only an artful rejection of the appendages of royalty, to excite the impatience of the people to crown him in reality.
As the ladies took their seats at the board, Edwin, who stood by the chair of his beloved lord, whispered:
“Our Helen is not here.”
Lady Mar overheard the name of Helen, but she could not distinguish Wallace’s reply; and fearing that some second assignation of more happy termination than that of the chapel might be designed, she determined that if Edwin were to be the bearer of a secret correspondence between the man she loved and the daughter she hated, to deprive them speedily of so ready an assistant.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59