Meanwhile the Lady Helen had retired to her own apartments. Lord Mar’s banner being brought to her from the armory, she sat down to weave into its silken texture the amber locks of the Scottish chief. Admiring their softness and beauty, while her needle flew, she pictured to herself the fine countenance they had once adorned.
The duller extremities of the hair, which a sadder liquid than that which now dropped from her eyes and rendered stiff and difficult to entwine with the warp of the silk, seemed to adhere to her fingers. Helen almost shrunk from the touch. “Unhappy lady!” she sighed to herself; “what a pang must have rent her heart, when the stroke of so cruel a death tore her from such a husband! and how must he have loved her, when for her sake he thus forswears all future joys but those which camps and victories may yield! Ah! what would I give to be my cousin Murray, to bear this pennon at his side! What would I give to reconcile so admirable a being to happiness again-to weep his griefs, or smile him into comfort! To be that man’s friend, would be a higher honor than to be Edward’s queen.”
Her heart was thus discoursing with itself when a page opened the door for her cousin, who begged admittance. She had just fastened the flowing charge into its azure field, and while embroidering the motto, gladly assented.
“You know not, my good old man,” said the gallant Murray to Halbert, as he conducted him across the galleries, “what a noble mind is contained in that lovely young creature. I was brought up with her, and to the sweet contagion of her taste do I owe that love of true glory which carries me to the side of Sir William Wallace. The virtuous only can awaken any interest in her heart; and in these degenerate days long might have been its sleep had not the history which my uncle recounted of your brave master aroused her attention, and filled her with an admiration equal to my own. I know she rejoices in my present destination. And to prevent her hearing from your own lips all you have now told me of the mild as well as heroic virtues of my intended commander-all you have said of the heroism of his wife-would be depriving her of a mournful pleasure, only to be appreciated by a heart such as hers.”
The gray-haired bard of Ellerslie, who had ever received the dearest reward of his songs in the smiles of its mistress, did not require persuasion to appear before the gentle lady of Mar, or to recite in her ears the story of the departed loveliness, fairer than poet ever feigned.
Helen rose as he and her cousin appeared. Murray approved the execution of her work; and Halbert, with a full heart, took the pennon in his hand. “Ah! little did my dear lady think,” exclaimed he, “that one of these loved locks would ever be suspended on a staff to lead men to battle! What changes have a few days made! She, the gentlest of women, laid in a bloody grave; and he, the most benevolent of human beings, wielding an exterminating sword!
“You speak of her grave, venerable man,” inquired Helen; “had you, then, an opportunity of performing the rites of sepulture to her remains?”
“No, madam,” replied he; “after the worthy English soldier now in this castle, assisted me to place her precious body in my lord’s oratory, I had no opportunity of returning to give her a more holy grave.”
“Alas!” cried Helen; “then her sacred relics have been consumed in the burning house!”
“I hope not,” rejoined Halbert; “the chapel I speak of is at some distance from the main building. It was excavated in the rock by Sir Ronald Crawford, who gave the name of Ellerslie to this estate, in compliment to Sir William’s place of birth in Renfrewshire, and bestowed it on the bridal pair. Since then, the Ellerslie of Clydesdale has been as dear to my master as that of the Carth; and well it might be, for it was not only the home of all his wedded joys, but under its roof his mother, the Lady Margaret Crawford, drew her first breath. Ah! woe is me! that happy house is now, like herself, reduced to cold, cold ashes! She married Sir Malcolm Wallace, and he is gone too! Both the parents of my honored master died in the bloom of their lives; and a grievous task will it be to whoever is to tell the good Sir Ronald that the last sweet flower of Ellerslie is now cut down! that the noblest branch of his own stem is torn from the soil to which he had transplanted it, and cast far away into the waste wilderness!”10
10 The Ellerslie in Renfrewshire here referred to, and which was the birthplace of William Wallace, and the hereditary property of his father, Sir Malcolm Wallace, was situated in the abbey parish of Paisley, three miles west of the won of Paisley, and nine from Glasgow. A large old oak, still called Wallace’s Oak, stands close to the road from Paisley to Leith, and within a short distance from it once stood the manor of Ellerslie. The venerable name is now corrupted into Elderslie, and the estate has become the property of Archibald Spiers, Esq., M. P. for Renfrewshire. For this topographical account, I am indebted to a Renfrewshire gentleman.-(1809.)
The tears of the venerable harper bore testimony to his inward resolve, that this messenger should not be himself. Lady Helen, who had fallen into a reverie during the latter part of his speech, now spoke, and with something of eagerness.
“Then we shall hope,” rejoined she, “that the oratory has not only escaped the flames, but perhaps the access of the English soldiers? Would it not comfort your lord to have that sweet victim entombed according to the rites of the church?”
“Surely my lady; but how can that be done? He thinks her remains were lost in the conflagration of Ellerslie; and for fear of precipitating him into the new dangers which might have menaced him had he sought to bring away her body, I did not disprove his mistake.”
“But her body shall be brought away,” rejoined Lady Helen; “it shall have holy burial.”
“To effect this, command my services,” exclaimed Murray.
Helen thanked him for an assistance which would render the completion of her design easy. The English soldier as guide, and a troop from Bothwell, must accompany him.
“Alas! my young lord,” interposed Halbert, “suppose you should meet some of the English still loitering there?”
“And what of that, my honest Halbert? would not I and my trusty band make them clear the way? Is it not to give comfort to the deliverer of my uncle, that I seek the glen? and shall anything in mortal shape make Andrew Murray turn his back? No, Halbert! I was not born on St. Andrew’s day for naught; and by his bright cross I swear either to lay Lady Wallace in the tomb of my ancestors, or leave my bones to bleach on the grave of hers.”
Helen loved the resolution of her cousin; and believing that the now ravaged Ellerslie had no attractions to hold marauders amongst its ruins, she dismissed Lord Andrew to make his preparations, and turned herself to prefer her suit accordingly to her father.
Ere Halbert withdrew, he respectfully put her hand to his lips. “Good-night,” continued she, “ere you see me again, I trust the earthly part of the angel now in paradise will be safe within these towers.” He poured a thousand blessings on her head, and almost thought that he saw in her beautiful form one of heaven’s inhabitants sent to bear away his dear mistress to her divine abode.
On entering her father’s apartment, Lady Helen found him alone. She repeated to him the substance of her conversation with Wallace’s faithful servant; “and my wish is,” continued she, “to have the murdered lady’s remains entombed in the cemetery of this castle.”
The earl approved her request, with expressions of satisfaction at the filial affection which so lively a gratitude to his preserver evinced.
“May I, then, my dear father,” returned she, “have your permission to pay our debt of gratitude to Sir William Wallace to the utmost of our power?”
“You are at liberty, my noble child, to do as you please. My vassals, my coffers, are all at your command.”
Helen kissed his hand. “May I have what I please from the Bothwell armory?”
“Command even there,” said the earl; “your uncle Bothwell is too true a Scot to grudge a sword in so pious a cause.”
Helen threw her arms about her father’s neck, thanking him tenderly, and with a beating heart retired to prosecute her plans. Murray, who met her in the anteroom, informed her that fifty men, the sturdiest in the glen, awaited her orders; while she, telling her cousin of the earl’s approval, took the sacred banner in her hand, and followed him to the gallery in the hall.
The moment she appeared, a shout of joy bade her welcome. Murray waved his hands in token of silence; while she, smiling with the benignity that spoke her angel errand, spoke with agitation:
“My brave friends!” said she, “I thank you for the ardor with which, by this night’s enterprise, you assist me to pay, in part, the everlasting tribute due to the man who preserved to me the blessing of a father.
“With that spirit, then,” returned she, “I address ye with greater confidence. Who amongst you will shrink from following this standard to the field for Scotland’s honor? Who will refuse to make himself the especial guardian of the life of Sir William Wallace? and who, in the moment of peril, will not stand by him to the last?
“None are her,” cried a young man, advancing before his fellows, “who would not gladly die in his defense.”
“We swear it,” burst from every lip at once.
She bowed her head, and said, “Return from Ellerslie to-morrow, with the bier of its sainted mistress, I will then bestow upon every man in this band a war-bonnet plumed with my colors; and this banner shall then lead you to the side of Sir William Wallace. In the shock of battle look at its golden ensign, and remember that God not only armeth the patriot’s hand, but shieldeth his heart. In this faith, be ye the bucklers which Heaven sends to guard the life of Wallace; and, so honored, exult in your station, and expect the future gratitude of Scotland.”
“Wallace and Lady Helen! to death or liberty!” was the animated response to this exhortation; and smiling and crossing her hands over her bosom, in token of thanks of them and to Heaven, she retired in the midst of their acclamations. Murray, ready armed for his expedition, met her at the door. Restored to his usual vivacity by the spirit-moving emotions which the present scene awakened in his heart, he forgot the horror which had aroused his zeal, in the glory of some anticipated victory; and giving her a gay salutation, led her back to her apartments, where the English soldier awaited her commands. Lady Helen, with a gentle grace, commended his noble resentment of Heselrigge’s violence.
“Lands in Mar shall be yours,” added she, “or a post of honor in the little army the earl is now going to raise. Speak but the word, and you shall find, worthy Englishman, that neither a Scotsman, nor his daughter, know what it is to be ungrateful.”
The blood mounted into the soldier’s cheek. “I thank you, sweetest lady, for this generous offer; but, as I am an Englishman, I dare not accept it. My arms are due to my own country; and whether I am tied to it by lands or possessions, or have naught but my English blood and my oath to my king to bind me, still I should be equally unwarranted in breaking these bonds. I left Heselrigge because he dishonored my country; and for me to forswear her, would be to make myself infamous. Hence, all I ask is, that after I have this night obeyed your gracious commands, in leading your men to Ellerslie, the Earl of Mar will allow me instantly to depart for the nearest port.”
Lady Helen replied that she revered his sentiments too sincerely to insult them by any persuasions to the contrary; and taking a diamond clasp from her bosom, she put it into his hand; “Wear it in remembrance of your virtue, and of Helen Mar’s gratitude.”
The man kissed it respectfully, and bowing, swore to preserve so distinguishing a gift to the latest hour of his existence.
Helen retired to her chamber to finish her task; and Murray, bidding her good-night, repaired to the earl’s apartments, to take his final orders before he and his troop set out for the ruins of Ellerslie.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59