The second matin bell sounded from the abbey before the eyes of Wallace opened from the deep sleep which had sealed them. A bath refreshed him from every toil, then renewing the stain on his face and hands with the juice of a nut which he carried about him, and once more covering his martial figure and golden hair with the minstrel’s cassock and cowl, he rejoined his friend.
Bruce had previously affected to consider the senachie as still disordered by his last night’s excess, and ordering him from his presence for at least a day, commanded that the traveling minstrel should be summoned to supply his place.
The table was spread when Wallace entered, and several servants were in attendance. Bruce hastily rose and would have embraced him, so did his comforted heart spring to meet his friend; but before these people it would have been more than imprudent, and hailing him with only one of his love-beaming looks, he made a sign to him to take his place at a board near his own. To prevent suspicioin in the attendants (some of whom might be spies of Edward’s), during the repast he discoursed with Wallace on subjects relative to northern literature, repeating many passages apposite to his own heroic sentiments, from Ossian and other Scottish bards.
The meal finished, Wallace, to maintain his assumed character while the servants were removing the table, was tuning his harp when the Earl of Gloucester entered the room. The earl told Bruce the king had required the attendance of the border minstrel, and that after searching over the castle, the royal seneschal had at last discovered he was in the keep with him. On this being intimated to Gloucester, he chose rather to come himself to demand the harper from his friend, than to subject him to the insolence of the royal servants. The king desired to hear “The Triumph,” with which the minstrel had so much pleased the queen. Bruce turned pale at this message; and was opening his mouth to utter a denial, when Wallace, who read in his countenance what he was going to say, and aware of the consequences, immediately spoke:
“If my lord Bruce will grant permission, I should wish to comply with the King of England’s request.”
“Minstrel!” replied Bruce, casting on him a powerful expression of what was passing in his mind, “you know not, perhaps that the King of England is at enmity with me, and cannot mean well to any one who has been my guest, or servant! The Earl of Gloucester will excuse your attendance in the presence.”
“Not for my life or the minstrel’s!” replied the earl; “the king would suspect some mystery, and this innocent man might fall into peril. But as it is, his majesty merely wishes to hear him play and sing, and I pledge myself he shall return in safety.”
Further opposition would only have courted danger, and with as good a grace as he could assume, Bruce gave his consent. A page who followed Gloucester took up the harp, and with a glance at his friend, which spoke the fearless mind with which he ventured into the power of his enemy, Wallace accompanied Gloucester out of the room.
The earl moved swiftly forward, and leading him through a double line of guards, the folding-doors of the royal apartment were thrown open by two knights in waiting, and Wallace found himself in the royal presence. Perforated with wounds which the chief’s own hand had given him, the king lay upon a couch overhung with a crimson-velvet canopy, with long golden fringes which swept the floor. His crown stood on a cushion at his head, and his queen, the blooming Margaret of France, sat full of smiles at his feet. The young Countess of Gloucester occupied a seat by her side.
The countess, who from indisposition had not been at court the preceding day, fixed her eyes on the minstrel as he advanced into the middle of the room, where the page, by Gloucester’s orders, planted the harp. She observed the manner of his obeisance to the king and queen, and to herself, and the queen whispering her with a smile, said, while he was taking his station at the harp, “Have your British troubadours usually such an air as that? Am I right, or am I wrong?”
“Quite right,” replied the countess in as low a voice; “I suppose he has sung of kings and heroes till he cannot help assuming their step and demeanor!”
“But how did he come by those eyes?” answered the queen. “If singing of Reuther’s ‘beamy gaze’ have so richly endowed his own, by getting him to teach me his art, I may warble myself into a complexion as fair as any northern beauty!”
“But then his must not be the subject of your song,” whispered the countess with a laugh, “for methinks it is rather of the Ethiop hue!”
During this short dialogue, which was heard by none but the two ladies, Edward was speaking with Gloucester, and Wallace leaned upon his harp.
“That is enough,” said the king to his son-in-law; “now let me hear him play.”
The earl gave the word, and Wallace, striking the chords with the master hand of genius, called forth such strains and uttered such tones from his full and richly-modulated voice, that the king listened with wonder, and the queen and countess scarcely allowed themselves to breathe. He sung the parting of Reuther and his bride, and their souls seemed to pant upon his notes; he changed his measure, and their bosoms heaved with the enthusiasm which spoke from his lips and hand, for he urged the hero to battle, he described the conflict, he mourned the slain, he sung the glorious triumph; as the last sweep of the harp rolled its lofty diapason on the ear of the king, the monarch deigned to pronounce him unequaled in his art. Excess of delight so agitated the more delicate frames of the ladies, that while they poured their encomiums on the minstrel, they wiped the glistening tears form their cheeks. The queen approached him, laid her hand upon the harp, and touching the strings with a light finger, said with a sweet smile, “You must remain with the king’s musicians, and teach me how to charm as you do!” Wallace replied to this innocent speech with a smile sweet as her own, and bowed.
The countess drew near. Though not much older than the youthful queen, she had been married twice, and being therefore more acquainted with the proprieties of life, her compliments were uttered in a form more befitting her rank, and the supposed quality of the man to whom the queen continued to pour forth her less considerate praises.
Edward desired Gloucester to bring the minstrel closer to him. Wallace approached the royal couch. Edward looked at him from head to foot before he spoke. Wallace bore his eagle gaze with an undisturbed countenance; he neither withdrew his eye from the king, nor did he allow a conqueror’s fire to emit from its glance.
“Who are you?” at length demanded Edward, who, surprised at the noble mien and unabashed carriage of the minstrel, conceived some suspicions of his quality.
Wallace saw what was passing in the king’s mind, and determining by a frank reply to uproot his doubts, mildly but fearlessly answered:
“Indeed!” said the king, satisfied that no incendiary would dare thus to proclaim himself. “And how durst you, being of that outlawed nation, venture into my court? Feared you not to fall a sacrifice to my indignation against the mad leader of your rebellious countrymen?”
“I fear nothing on earth,” replied Wallace. “This garb is privileged, none who respect that sacred law dare commit violence on a minstrel, and against them who regard no law but that of their own wills, I have this weapon to defend me.” As Wallace spoke he pointed to a dirk stuck in his girdle.
“You are a bold man, and an honest man, I believe,” replied the king; “and as my queen desires it, I order your enrollment in my traveling train of musicians. You may leave the presence.”
“Then follow me to my apartment,” cried the queen; “countess, you will accompany me, to see me take my first lesson.”
A page took up the harp; and Wallace, bowing his head to the king, was conducted by Gloucester to the anteroom of the queen’s apartments. The earl there told him, that when dismissed by the queen, a page he would leave would show him the way back to Lord Carrick.
The royal Margaret herself opened the door, so eager was she to admit her teacher; and placing herself at the harp, she attempted a passage of “The Triumph,” which had particularly struck her, but she played wrong. Wallace was asked to set her right; he obeyed. She was quick — he clear in his explanations; and in less than half an hour he made her execute the whole movement in a manner that delighted her.
“Why, minstrel,” cried she, looking up in his face, “either your harp is enchanted, or you are a magician. I have studied three long years to play the lute, and could never bring forth any tone that did not make me ready to stop my own ears. And now, countess,” cried she, again touching a few chords, “did you ever hear anything so enchanting?”
“I suppose,” returned the countess, “all your former instructors have been novices, and this Scot alone knows the art to which they pretended.”
“Do you hear what the countess says?” exclaimed the queen, affecting to whisper to him; “she will not allow of any spiritual agency in my wonderfully-awakened talent. If you can contradict her, do; for I want very much to believe in fairies, magicians, and all the enchanting world!”
Wallace, with a respectful smile, answered, “I know of now spirit that has interposed in your majesty’s favor but that of your own genius; and it is more efficient than the agency of all fairy-land.”
The queen looked at him very gravely, and said, “If you really think there are no such things as fairies and enchantments, for so your words would imply, then everybody in your country must have genius, for they seem to be excellent in everything. Your warriors are so peerlessly brave — all, excepting these Scottish lords who are such favorites with the king! I wonder what he can see in their uncouth faces, or find in their rough indelicate conversation to admire. If it had not been for their besetting my gracious Edward, I am sure he never would have suspected ill of the noble Bruce!”
“Queen Margaret!” cried the Countess of Gloucester, giving her a look of respectful reprehension; “had not the minstrel better retire?”
The queen blushed, and recollected that she was giving too free a vent to her sentiments; but she could not suffer Wallace to withdraw.
“I have yet to ask you,” resumed she —“the warriors of Scotland being so resistless, and their minstrels so perfect in their art — whether all the ladies can be so beautiful as the Lady Helen Mar?”
The eagerness with which Wallace grasped at any tidings of her who was so prime an object of his enterprise at once disturbed the composure of his air, and had the penetrating eyes of the countess been then directed toward him, she might have drawn some dangerous conclusions from the start he gave at the mention of her name, and from the heightened color which, in spite of his exertions to suppress all evident emotion, maintained its station on his cheek.
“But, perhaps you have never seen her?” added the queen.
Wallace replied, neither denying nor affirming her question: “I have heard many praise her beauty, but more her virtues.”
“Well, I am sorry,” continued her majesty, “since you sing so sweetly of female charms, that you have not seen this wonder of Scottish ladies. You have now little chance of that good fortune, for Earl de Valence has taken her abroad, intending to marry her amidst all the state with which my lord has invested him.”
“Is it to Guienne he has taken her?” inquired Wallace.
“Yes,” replied the queen, rather pleased than offended at the minstrel’s ignorance of court ceremony in thus familiarly presuming to put a question to her. She continued to answer: “While so near Scotland he could not win her to forget her native country and her father’s danger, who it seems was dying when De Valence carried her away. And, to prevent bloodshed between the earl and Soulis, who is also madly in love with her, my ever-gracious Edward gave the English lord a high post in Guienne, and thither they are gone.”
Before Wallace could reply to some remark which the queen laughingly added to her information, the countess thought it proper to give her gay mother-in-law a more decisive reminder of decorum, and, rising, she whispered something which covered the youthful Margaret in blushes. Her majesty rose directly, and pushing away the harp, hurryingly said: “You may leave the room;” and turning her back to Wallace, walked away through an opposite door.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59