It being Lady Ruthven’s wish that the remains of her brother should be entombed with his ancestors, preparations were made for the mournful cavalcade to set forth toward Braemar Castle. The countess, hoping that Wallace might be induced to accompany them, did not long object to this proposal, which Lady Ruthven had enforced with tears. Had any one seen the tow, and been called upon to judge, by their deportment, of the relationship in which each lady stood to the deceased, he must have decided that the sister was the widow. At the moment of her husband’s death, Lady Mar had felt a shock; she had long looked for this event, as to the seal of her happiness; it was the sight of mortality that appalled her. The man she doted on, nay, even herself, must one day lie as the object now before her-dead!-insensible to all earthly joys, or pains! but awake, perhaps, fearfully awake, to the judgments of another world! This conviction caused her shrieks, when she saw Lord Mar expire. Every obstacle between her and Wallace she now believed removed. Her husband was dead; Helen was carried away by a man devotedly enamored of her; and most probably was at that time his wife. The specters of conscience passed from her eyes; she no longer thought of death and judgment; and, under a pretense that her feelings could not bear the sight of her husband’s bier, she determined to seclude herself in her own chamber, till the freshness of Wallace’s grief for his friend should have passed away. But when she heard, from the indignant Edwin, of the rebellious conduct of the young Lord Badenoch, and that the regent had abdicated, her consternation superseded all caution. “I will soon humble that proud boy,” exclaimed she; “and let him know, that in opposing the elevation of Sir William Wallace, he treads down his own interest. You are beloved by the regent, Edwin!” cried she, interrupting herself, and clasping his hand with earnestness; “teach his enthusiastic heart the true interests of his country! I am the first woman of the house of Cummin; and is not that family the most powerful43 in the kingdom? By the adherence of one branch to Edward, the battle of Falkirk was lost; by the rebellion of another, the regent of Scotland is obliged to relinquish that dignity? It is in my power to move the whole race at my will; and if Wallace would mingle his blood with theirs, would espouse me (an overture which the love I bear my country impels me to make), every nerve would then be strained to promote the elevation of their nearest kinswoman. Wallace would reign in Scotland, and the whole land lie at peace.”
43 The family of Cummin was so powerful and numerous, that an incredible number of chieftains of that name attended the first parliament which Robert I. Held at Dunstaffnage Castle. The relationship between the heiress of Stratheaarn and that family was very near, her paternal grandmother having been the daughter of a Lord Badenoch. —(1809.)
Edwin eyed her with astonishment while she spoke. All her late conduct to his cousin Helen, to his uncle, and to Wallace, was now explained; and he saw in her flushed cheek, that it was not the patriot who desired this match, but the enamored woman.
“You do not answer,” said she; “have you any apprehension that Sir William Wallace would reject the hand which would give him a crown? which would dispense happiness to many thousand people?”
“No,” replied he; “I believe that, much as he is devoted to the memory of her, whom alone he can ever love, could he purchase true happiness to Scotland by the sacrifice, he would espouse any virtuous woman who could bring him so blessed a dowry. But in your case, my honored aunt, I can see no probability of such a consequence. In the first place, I know, that now the virtuous Earl of Badenoch is no more, he neither respects nor fears the Cummins; and that he would scorn to purchase a crown or even the people’s happiness, by baseness in himself. To rise by their means, who, you have seen, will at any time immolate all that is sacred to man to their own caprice, or fancied interests, would be unworthy of him; therefore, I am sure, if you wish to marry Sir William Wallace, you must not urge the use he may make of the Cummins as an argument. He need not stoop to cajole the men he may command. Did he not drive the one-half of their clan, with the English host to boot, to seek any shelter from his vengeance? And for them in the citadel, had he chosen to give the word, they would now be all numbered with the dust! Aunt! he has a Divine Master, whose example he follows, though in deep humility! He lays down his power; it is not taken from him. Earthly crowns are dross to him who looks for a heavenly one. Therefore, honored lady, believe it no longer necessary to wound your delicacy, by offering him a hand, which cannot produce the good you meditate!”
The complexion of the countess varied a thousand times during this answer. Her reason assented to many parts of it; but the passion she could not acknowledge to her nephew, urged her to persist. “You may be right, Edwin,” she replied; “but still, as there is nothing very repugnant in me, the project is surely worth trying! At any rate, even setting the Cummins aside, a marriage with the daughter of Strathearn, by allying your noble friend to every illustrious house in the kingdom, would make his interest theirs, and all must unit in retaining to him the regency. Scotland will be wrecked should he leave the helm; and, sweet Edwin, though your young heart is yet unacquainted with the strange inconsistencies of the tenderest passion, I must whisper you that your friend will never be happy till he again live in the bosom of domestic affection.”
“Ah! but where is he to find it?” cried Edwin. “what will ever restore his Marion to his arms?”
“I,” cried she-“I will be more than ever Marion was to him! She knew not-O! she could not-the boundless love that fills my heart for him!” Edwin’s blushes at this wild declaration told her how far she had betrayed herself. She attempted to palliate what she could no longer conceal, and, covering her face with her hand, exclaimed, “You, who love Sir William Wallace, cannot be surprised that all who adore human excellence should participate in that sentiment. How could I see him, the benefactor of my family, the blessing to all Scotland, and not love him?”
“True,” replied Edwin; “but not as a wife would love her husband! You were married. And was it possible you could feel thus when my uncle lived? So strong a passion cannot have grown in your breast since he died; for surely, love should not enter a widow’s heart at the side of an unburied husband!”
“Edwin!” replied she, “you, who never felt the throbs of this tyrant, judge with a severity you will one day regret. When you love, and struggle with a passion that drinks your very life, you will pity Joanna of Mar, and forgive her!”
“I pity you now, aunt,” replied he; “but you bewilder me. I cannot understand the possibility of a virtuous married woman suffering any passion of this kind to get such domination over her as to cause her one guilty sigh; for guilty must every wish be that militates against the duty of her marriage vow. Surely, love comes not in a whirlwind, to seize the soul at once; but grows by degrees, according to the development of the virtues of the object, and the freedom we give ourselves in their contemplation-and, if it be virtue that you love in Sir William Wallace, had you not virtue in your noble husband?”
The countess perceived by the remarks of Edwin than he was deeper read in the human heart than she had suspected; that he was neither ignorant of the feelings of the passion, nor of what ought to be its source; and therefore, with a deep blush, she replied:
“Think for a moment before you condemn me. I acknowledge every good quality that your uncle possessed-but oh! Edwin, he had frailties that you know not of-frailties that reduced me to be, what the world never saw, the most unhappy of women.”
Edwin turned pale at this charge against his uncle; and, while he forbore to draw aside the veil which covered the sacred dead, little did he think that the artful woman meant a frailty to which she had equally shared, and the consequences of which dangerous vanity had constrained her to become his wife. She proceeded:
“I married your uncle when I was a girl, and knew not that I had a heart. I saw Wallace; his virtues stole me from myself, and I found — In short, Edwin, your uncle became of too advanced an age to sympathize with my younger heart. How could I, then, defend myself against the more congenial soul of your friend? He was reserved during Mar’s life! but he did not repulse me with unkindness. I therefore hope; and do you, my Edwin, gently influence him in my favor, and I will forever bless you.”
“Aunt,” answered he, looking at her attentively, “can you, without displeasure, hear me speak a few, perhaps ungrateful, truths?”
“Say what you will,” said she, trembling; “only be my advocate with the noblest of human beings, and I can take naught amiss.”
“Lady Mar,” resumed he, “I answer you with unqualified sincerity, because I love you, and venerate the memory of my uncle, whose frailties, whatever they might be, were visible to you alone. I answer you with sincerity, because I would spare you much future pain, and Sir William Wallace a task that would pierce him to the soul. You confess that he already knows you love him-that he has received such demonstrations with coldness. Recollect what it is you love him for, and then judge if he could do otherwise. Could he approve affections which a wife transferred to him from her husband, and that husband his friend?”
“Ah! but he is now dead!” interrupted she; “that obstacle is removed.”
“But the other, which you raised yourself!” replied Edwin; “while a wife, you showed to Sir William Wallace that you could not only indulge yourself in wishes hostile to your nuptial faith, but divulge them to him. Ah! my aunt, what could you look for as the consequence of this? My uncle yet lived when you did this! And that act, were you youthful as Hebe, and more tender than ever was fabled the queen of love, I am sure, the virtue of Wallace would never pardon. He never could pledge his faith to one whose passions had so far silenced her sense of duty; and did he even love you, he would not, for the empire of the world, repose his honor in such keeping.”
“Edwin!” cired she, at last summoning power to speak, for during the latter part of this address she had sat gasping from unutterable disappointment and rage; “are you not afraid to breathe all this to me? I have given you my confidence and do you abuse it? Do you stab me, when I ask you to heal?”
“No, my dear aunt,” replied he; “I speak the truth to you, ungrateful as it is, to prevent you hearing it in perhaps a more painful form from Wallace himself.”
“Oh, no!” cried she, with contemptuous haughtiness; “he is a man, and he knows how to pardon the excesses of love! Look around you, foolish boy, and see how many of our proudest lords have united their fates with women who not only loved them while their husbands lived, but left their homes and children to join their lovers! And what is there in me, a princess of the crowns of Scotland and of Norway-a woman who has had the nobles of both kingdoms at her feet, and frowned upon them all-that I should now be contemned? Is the ingrate for whom alone I ever felt a wish of love-is he to despise me for my passion? You mistake, Edwin; you know not the heart of man.”
“Not of the common race of men, perhaps,” replied he; “but certainly that of Sir William Wallace. Purity and he are too sincerely one for personal vanity to blind his eyes to the deformity of the passion you describe. And mean as I am when compared with him, I must aver that, were a married woman to love me, and seek to excuse her frailty, I should see alone her contempt of the principles which are the only impregnable bulwarks of innocence, and shrink from her as I would from pollution.”
“Then you declare yourself my enemy, Edwin?”
“No,” replied he; “I speak to you as a son; but if you are determined to avow to Sir William Wallace what you have revealed to me, I shall not even observe on what has passed, but leave you, unhappy lady, to the pangs I would have spared you.”
He rose. Lady Mar wrung her hands in a paroxysm of conviction that what he said was true.
“Then, Edwin, I must despair?”
He looked at her with pity.
“Could you abhor the dereliction that your soul has thus made from duty, and leave him, whom your unwidowed wishes now pursue, to seek you; then I should say that you might be happy; for penitence appeases God, and shall it not find grace with man?”
“Blessed Edwin,” cried she, falling on his neck, and kissing him; “whisper but my penitence to Wallace; teach him to think I hate myself. Oh, make me that in his eyes which you would wish, and I will adore you on my knees?”
The door opened at this moment, and Lord Ruthven entered. The tears she was profusely shedding on the bosom of his son, he attributed to some conversation she might be holding respecting her deceased lord, and taking her hand, he told her he came to propose her immediate removal from the scene of so many horrors.
“My dear sister,” said he, “I will attend you as far as Perth. After that, Edwin shall be your guard to Braemar, and my Janet will stay with you there till time has softened your griefs.”
Lady Mar looked at him.
“And where will be Sir William Wallace?”
“Here,” answered Ruthven. “Some considerations, consequent to his receiving the French dispatches, will hold him some time longer south of the Forth.”
Lady Mar shook her head doubtfully, and reminded him that the chiefs in the citadel had withheld the dispatches.
Lord Ruthven then informed her that, unknown to Wallace, Lord Loch-awe had summoned the most powerful of his friends then near Stirling, and attended by them, was carried on a littler into the citadel. It entered the council-hall, and from that bed of honorable wounds, he threatened the assembly with instant vengeance from his troops without, unless they would immediately swear fealty to Wallace, and compel Badenoch to give up the French dispatches. Violent tumults were the consequence; but Loch-awe’s litter being guarded by a double rank of armed chieftains, and the keep being hemmed round by his men prepared to put to the sword every Scot hostile to the proposition of their lord, the insurgents at last complied, and forced Badenoch to relinquish the royal packet. This effected, Loch-awe and his train returned to the monastery. Wallace refused to resume the dignity he had resigned, the reinvestment of which had been extorted from the lords in the citadel.
“No,” said he to Loch-awe; “it is indeed time that I should sink into shades where I cannot be found, since I am become a word of contention amongst my countrymen.”
“He was not to be shaken,” continued Ruthven; “but seeing matter in the French dispatches that ought to be answered without delay, he yet remains a few days at Falkirk.”
“Then we will await him here,” cried the countess.
“That cannot be,” answered Ruthven, “it would be against ecclesiastical law to detain the sacred dead so long from the grave. Wallace will doubtless visit Braemar, therefore I advise that to-morrow you leave Falkirk.”
Edwin seconded this counsel; and fearing to make further opposition, she silently acquiesced. But her spirit was not so quiescent. At night when she went to her cell, her ever wakeful fancy aroused a thousand images of alarm. She remembered the vow that Wallace had made to seek Helen. He had already given up the regency — an office which might have detained him from such a pursuit; and might not a passion softer than indignation against the ungrateful chieftains have dictated this act? “Should he love Helen, what is there not to fear?” cried she; “and should he meet her, I am undone?” Racked by jealousy, and goaded by contradicting expectations, she rose from her bed and paced the room in wild disorder. One moment she strained her mind to recollect every gracious look or word from him, and then her imagination glowed with anticipated delight. Again she thought of his address to Helen, of his vow in her favor, and she was driven to despair. All Edwin’s kind admonitions were forgotten; passion alone was awake; and forgetful of her rank and sex, and of her situation, she determined to see Wallace, and appeal to his heart for the last time. She knew that he slept in an apartment at the other end of the monastery; and that she might pass thither unobserved, she glided into an opposite cell belonging to a sick monk, and stealing away his cloak, threw it over her, and hurried along the cloisters.
The chapel doors were open. In passing, she saw the bier of her lord awaiting the hour of its removal, surrounded by priests, singing anthems for the repose of his soul. No tender recollections, no remorse, knocked at the heart of Lady mar as she sped along. Abandoned all to thoughts of Wallace, she felt not that she had a soul; she acknowledged not that she had a hope, but what centered in the smiles of the man she was hastening to seek.
His door was fastened with a latch; she gently opened it, and found herself in his chamber. She trembled — she scarcely breathed; she looked around; she approached his bed — but he was not there. Disappointment palsied her heart, and she sunk upon a chair. “Am I betrayed?” said she to herself: “Has that youthful hypocrite warned him hence?” And then again she thought, “But how should Edwin guess that I should venture here? Oh, no, my cruel stars alone are against me!”
She now determined to await his return, and nearly three hours she had passed there, enduring all the torments of guilt and misery; but he appeared not. At last, hearing the matinbell, she started up, fearful that her maids might discover her absence. Compelled by some regard to reputation, with an unwilling mind she left the shrine of her idolatry, and once more crossed the cloisters. While again drawing toward the chapel, she saw Wallace himself issue from the door, supporting on his bosom the fainting head of Lady Ruthven. Edwin followed them. Lady Mar pulled the monk’s cowl over her face and withdrew behind a pillar. “Ah!” thought she, “absenting myself from my duty, I fled from thee!” She listened with breathless attention to what might be said.
Lord Ruthven met them at that instant. “This night’s watching by the bier of her brother,” said Wallace, “has worn out your gentle lady; we strove to support her through these sad vigils, but at last she sunk.” What Ruthven said in reply, when he took his wife in his arms, the countess could not hear; but Wallace answered, “I have not seen her.”
“I left her late in the evening drowned in tears,” replied Ruthven, in a more elevated tone, “I therefore suppose that in secret she offers those prayers for her deceased husband, which my tender Janet pours over his grave.”
“Such tears,” replied Wallace, “are Heaven’s own balm; I know they purify the heart whence they flow. Yes; and the prayers we breathe for those we love, unite our souls the closer to theirs. Look up, dear Lady Ruthven,” said he, as she began to revive, “look up and hear how you may, while still on earth, retain the society of your beloved brother! Seek his spirit at the footstool of God. ’Tis thus I live, sister of my most venerated friend! My soul is ever on the wing of heaven, whether in the solitary hour, in joy, or in sorrow, for theeere my treasure lives!”
“Wallace! Wallace” cried Lady Ruthven, looking on his animated countenance with wondering rapture; “and art thou a man of earth and of the sword? Oh! rather say, an angel; lent us here a little while to teach us to live and to die!”
A glowing blush passed over the pale but benign cheek of Wallace.
“I am a soldier of Him who was, indeed, brought into the world to show us, by his life and death, how to be virtuous and happy. Know me, by my life, to be his follower; and David himself wore not a more glorious title!”
Lady mar, while she contemplated the matchless form before her, exclaimed to herself, “Why is it animated by as faultless a soul? Oh, Wallace! wert thou less excellent, I might hope; but hell is in my heart, and heaven in thine!”
She tore her eyes from a view which blasted while it charmed her, and rushed from the cloisters.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59