When they were arrived within a short distance from Paris, Wallace wrote a few lines to King Philip, informing him who were the companions of his journey, and that he would rest near the Abbey of St. Genevieve until he should receive his majesty’s greetings to Bruce; also the queen’s granted protection for the daughter of the Earl of Mar. Grimsby was the bearer of this letter. He soon returned with an escort of honor, accompanied by Prince Louis himself. At sight of Wallace he flew into his arms, and after embracing him again and again with all the unchecked ardor of youthful gratitude, he presented to him a packet from the king.
It expressed the satisfaction of Philip at the near prospect of his seeing the man whom he had so long admired, and whose valor had wrought him such service as the preservation of his son. He then added that he had other matters to thank him for when they should meet, and subjects to discuss which would be much elucidated by the presence of Bruce. “According to your request,” continued he, “the name of neither shall be made public at my court. My own family only know who are to be my illustrious guests. The queen is impatient to bid them welcome, and no less eager to greet the Lady Helen Mar with her friendship and protection.”
A beautiful palfrey, superbly caparisoned, and tossing its fair neck amid the pride of its gorgeous chamfraine, was led forward by a page. Two ladies, also, bearing rich apparel for Helen, appeared in the train. When their errand was made known to Wallace, he communicated it to Helen. Her delicacy indeed wished to lay aside her page’s apparel before she was presented to the queen; but she had been so happy while she wore it!
“Days have passed with me in these garments,” said she to herself, “which may never occur again!”
The laddies were conducted to her. They delivered a gracious message from their royal mistress, and opened the caskets. Helen sighed; she could urge nothing in opposition to their embassy, and reluctantly assented to the change they were to make in her appearance. She stood mute while they disarrayed her of her humble guise, and clothed her in the robes of France. During their attendance, in the adulatory strains of the court, they broke out in encomiums on the graces of her person; but to all this she turned an inattentive ear — her mind was absorbed in what she had enjoyed, in the splendid penance she might now undergo.
One of the women was throwing the page’s clothes carelessly into a bag, when Helen perceiving her, with ill-concealed eagerness, cried:
“Take care of that suit, it is more precious to me than gold or jewels.”
“Indeed!” answered the attendant, more respectfully folding it; “it does not seem of very rich silk.”
“Probably not,” returned Helen, “but it is valuable to me, and wherever I lodge, I will thank you to put it into my apartment.”
A mirror was now presented that she might see herself. She started at the load of jewels with which they had adorned her, and while tears filled her eyes, she mildly said:
“I am a mourner, and these ornaments must not be worn by me.”
The ladies obeyed her wish to have them taken off, and with thoughts divided between her father and her father’s friend, she was conducted toward the palfrey. Wallace approached her, and Bruce flew forward, with his usual haste, to assist her; but it was no longer the beautiful little page that met his view, the confidential and frank glance of a youthful brother — it was a lovely woman arrayed in all the charms of female apparel, trembling and blushing, as she again appeared as a woman before the eyes of the man she loved. Wallace sighed as he touched her hand, for there was something in her air which seemed to say, “I am not what I was a few minutes ago.” It was the aspect of the world’s austerity, the decorum of rank and situation — but not of the heart — that had never been absent from the conduct of Helen; had she been in the wilds of Africa, with no other companion than Wallace, still would those chaste reserves which lived in her soul have been there the guardian of her actions, for modesty was as much the attribute of her person, as magnanimity the character of her mind.
Her more distant air at this time was the effect of reflections while in the abbey where he had lodged her. She saw that the frank intercourse between them was to be interrupted by the forms of a court, and her manner insensibly assumed the demeanor she was so soon to wear. Bruce looked at her with delighted wonder. He had before admired her as beautiful, he now gazed on her as transcendently so. He checked himself in his swift step — he paused to look on her and Wallace, and contemplating them with sentiments of unmingled admiration, this exclamation unconsciously escaped him:
He could not but wish to see two such perfectly amiable and perfectly beautiful beings united as closely by the bonds of the altar as he believed they were in heart, and he longed for the hour when he might endow them with those proofs of his fraternal love which should class them with the first of Scottish princes.
“But how,” thought he, “can I ever sufficiently reward thee, Wallace, for what thou hast done for me and mine? Thy services are beyond all price; thy soul is above even empires. Then how can I show thee all that is in my heart for thee?”
While he thus apostrophized his friend, Wallace and Helen advanced toward him. Bruce held out his hand to her with a cordial smile.
“Lady Helen, we are still to be the same! Robes of no kind must ever separate the affections born in our pilgrimage!”
She put her hand into his with a glow of delight.
“While Sir William Wallace allows me to call him brother,” answered she, “that will ever be a sanction to our friendship; but courts are formal places, and I now go to one.”
“And I will soon remove you to another,” replied he, “where”— he hesitated — looked at Wallace and then resumed: “where every wish of my sister Helen’s heart shall be gratified, or I be no king.”
Helen blushed deeply and hastened toward the palfrey. Wallace placed her on the embroidered saddle, and Prince Louis preceding the cavalcade, it moved on.
As Bruce vaulted into his seat he said something to his friend of the perfectly feminine beauty of Helen.
“But her soul is fairer!” returned Wallace.
The Prince of Scotland, with a gay but tender smile, softly whispered:
“Fair, doubly fair to you!”
Wallace drew a deep sigh.
“I never knew but one woman who resembled her, and she did indeed excel all of created mold. From infancy to manhood I read every thought of her angelic heart; I became the purer by the study, and I loved my model with an idolatrous adoration. There was my error! But those sympathies, those hours are past. My heart will never throb as it has throbbed; never rejoice as it has rejoiced; for she who lived but for me, who doubled all my joys, is gone! Oh, my prince, though blessed with friendship, there are times when I feel that I am solitary!”
Bruce looked at him with some surprise.
“Solitary, Wallace! can you ever be solitary, and near Helen of Mar?”
“Perhaps more so then than at any other time; for her beauties, her excellences, remind me of what were once mine, and recall every regret. Oh, Bruce! thou canst not comprehend my loss! To mingle thought with thought, and soul with soul, for years; and then, after blending our very beings, and feeling as if indeed made one, to be separated — and by a stroke of violence! This was a trial of the spirit which, but for Heaven’s mercy, would have crushed me. I live, but still my heart will mourn, mourn her I have lost — and mourn that my rebellious nature will not be more resigned to the judgments of its God.”
“And is love so constant, so tenacious?” exclaimed Bruce; “is it to consume your youth, Wallace? Is it to wed such a heart as yours to the tomb? Ah! am I not to hope that the throne of my children may be upheld by a race of thine?”
Wallace shook his head, but with a placid firmness replied:
“Your throne and your children’s, if they follow your example, will be upheld by Heaven; but should they pervert themselves, a host of mortal supports would not be sufficient to stay their downfall.”
In discourse like this, the youthful Prince of Scotland caught a clearer view of the inmost thoughts of his friend than he had been able to discern before; for war, or Bruce’s own interests, having particularly engaged them in all their former conversations, Wallace had never been induced to glance at the private circumstances of his history. While Bruce sighed in tender pity for the captivated heart of Helen, he the more deeply revered, more intensely loved, his suffering and heroic friend.
A few hours brought the royal escort to the Louvre; and through a train of nobles, Helen was led by Prince Louis into the regal saloon. The Scottish chiefs followed. The queen and the Count D’Evereux received Bruce and Helen, while De Valois conducted Wallace to the king, who had retired for the purpose of this conference to his closet.
At sight of the armor which he had sent to the preserver of his son, Philip instantly recognized the Scottish hero, and rising from his seat, hastened forward and clasped him in his arms. “Wonder not, august chief,” exclaimed he, “at the weakness exhibited in these eyes! It is the tribute of nature to a virtue which loads even kings with benefits. You have saved my son’s life; you have preserved from taint the honor of my sister!” Philip then proceeded to inform his auditor that he had heard from a confessor of Queen Margaret’s, just arrived from England, all that had lately happened at Edward’s court; and of Wallace’s letter, to clear the innocence of that injured princess. “She is perfectly reinstated in the king’s confidence,” added Philip, “but I can never pardon the infamy with which he would have overwhelmed her; nay, it has already dishonored her, for the blasting effects of slander no time nor labor can erase. I yield to the prayers of my too gentle sister, not to openly resent this wrong, but in private he shall feel a brother’s indignation. I do not declare war against him, but ask what you will, bravest of men, and were it to place the crown of Scotland on your head, demand it of me, and by my concealed agency it shall be effected.”
The reply of Wallace was simple. He claimed no merit in the justice he had done the Queen of England; neither in his rescue of Prince Louis, but as a proof of King Philip’s friendship, he gladly embraced his offered services with regard to Scotland.
“Not,” added he, “to send troops into that country against England. Scotland is now free of its Southron invaders; all I require is that you will use your royal influence with Edward to allow it to remain so. Pledge your faith, most gracious monarch, with my master the royally descended Bruce, who is now in your palace. He will soon assume the crown that is his right; and with such an ally as France to hold the ambition of Edward in check, we may certainly hope that the bloody feuds between Scotland and England may at last be laid to rest.”
Wallace explained to Philip the dispositions of the Scots, the nature of Bruce’s claims, and the transcendent virtues of his youthful character. The monarch took fire at the speaker’s enthusiasm, and, giving him his hand, exclaimed:
“Wallace, I know not what manner of man you are! You seem born to dictate to kings, while you put aside as things of no moment the crowns offered to yourself. You are young and, marveling, I would say without ambition, did I not know that your deeds and your virtues have set you above all earthly titles. But to convince me that you do not disdain the gratitude we pay, at least accept a name in my country; and know, that the armor you wear, the coronet around your helmet, invest you with the rank of a prince of France, and the title of Count of Gascony.”
To have refused this mark of the monarch’s esteem would have been an act of churlish pride foreign from the character of Wallace. He graciously accepted the offered distinction, and bowing his head, allowed the king to throw the brilliant collar of Gascony over his neck.
This act was performed by Philip with all the emotions of disinterested esteem. But when he had proposed it to his brother D’Evereux, as the only way he could devise of rewarding Wallace for the preservation of his son, and the honor of their sister, he was obliged to urge in support of his wish, the desire he had to take the first opportunity of being revenged on Edward by the reseizure of Guienne. To have Sir William Wallace lord of Gascony would then be of the greatest advantage as no doubt could be entertained of his arms soon restoring the sister province to the French monarchy. In such a case, Philip promised to bestow Guienne on his brother D’Evereux.
To attach this new count to France was now all the wish of Philip, and he closed the conference with every expression of friendship which man could deliver to man. Wallace lost not the opportunity of pleading for the abdicated King of Scots; and Philip, eager as well to evince his resentment to Edward as to oblige Wallace, promised to send immediate orders to Normandy that De Valence should leave Chateau Galliard, and Baliol be attended with his former state.
The king then led his guest into the royal saloon, where they found the queen seated between Bruce and Helen. At sight of the Scottish chief her majesty rose. Philip led him up to her; and Wallace, bending his knee, put the fair hand extended to his lips.
“Welcome,” said she, “bravest of knights; receive a mother’s thanks.” Tears of gratitude stood in her eyes. She clasped the hand of her son and his together, and added, “Louis, wherever our Count of Gascony advises you to pledge this hand, give it.”
“Then it will follow mine!” cried the king, putting his into that of Bruce; “You are Wallace’s acknowledged sovereign, young prince, and you shall ever find brothers in me and my son! Sweet lady,” added he, turning to the glowing Helen, “thanks to your charms for having drawn this friend of mankind to bless our shores!”
The court knew Wallace merely as Count of Gascony; and, to preserve an equal concealment, Bruce assumed the name of the young De Longueville, whom Prince Louis had, in fact, allowed to leave him on the road to Paris to retire to Chartres, there to pass a year of mourning within its penitential monastery. Only two persons ever came to the Louvre who could recognize Bruce to be other than he seemed, and they were, John Cummin, the elder twin brother of the present Regent of Scotland, and James Lord Douglas. The former had remained in France, out of dislike to his brother’s proceedings, and as Bruce knew him in Guienne, and believed him to be a blunt, well-meaning young man, he saw no danger in trusting him. The brave son of William Douglas was altogether of a nobler mettle, and both Wallace and his prince rejoiced at the prospect of receiving him to their friendship.
Philip opened the affair to the two lords; and having declared his designs in favor of Bruce, conducted them into t he queen’s room, and pointing where he stood, “There,” cried he, “is the King of Scotland.”
Douglas and Cummin would have bent their knees to their young monarch, but Bruce hastily caught their hands, and prevented them:
“My friends,” said he, “regard me as your fellow-soldier only, till you see me on the throne of my fathers. Till then, that is our prince,” added he, looking on Wallace; “he is my leader, my counselor, my example! And, if you love me, he must be yours.”
Douglas and Cummin turned toward Wallace at these words. Royalty did indeed sit on his brow, but with a tempered majesty which spoke only in love and honor. From the resplendent countenance of Bruce it smiled and threatened, for the blaze of his impassioned nature was not yet subdued. The queen looked from one to the other. The divinely composed air of Wallace seemed to her the celestial port of some heaven-descended being, lent awhile to earth to guide the steps of the Prince of Scotland. She had read, in Homer’s song, of the deity of wisdom assuming the form of Mentor to protect the son of Ulysses, and had it not been for the youth of the Scottish chief, she would have said, here is the realization of the tale.
Helen had eyes for none but Wallace. Nobles, princes, kings, were all involved in one uninteresting mass to her when he was present. Yet she smiled on Douglas when she heard him express his gratitude to the champion of Scotland for the services he had done a country for which his own father had died. Cummin, when he paid his respects to Wallace, told him that he did so with double pleasure, since he had two unquestionable evidences of his unequaled merit — the confidence of his father, the Lord Badenoch, and the hatred of his brother, the present usurper of that title.
The king soon after led his guests to the council-room, where a secret cabinet was to be held, to settle the future bonds between the two kingdoms; and Helen, looking long after the departing figure of Wallace, with a pensive step followed the queen to her apartment.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12