While Wallace, accompanied by his brave friends, was thus carrying all before him from the Grampian to the Cheviot Hills, Bruce was rapidly recovering. His eager wishes seemed to heal his wounds, and on the tenth day after the departure of Wallace, he left the couch which had been beguiled of its irksomeness by the smiling attentions of the tender Isabella. The ensuing Sabbath beheld him still more restored, and having imparted his intentions to the Lords Ruthven and Douglas, who were both with him, the next morning he joyfully buckled on his armor. Isabella, when she saw him thus clad, started, and the roses left her cheek. “I am armed to be your guide to Huntingtower,” said he, with a look that showed her he read her thoughts. He then called for pen and ink, to write to Wallace. The reassured Isabella, rejoicing in the glad beams of his brightening eyes, held the standish. As he dipped his pen, he looked at her with a grateful tenderness that thrilled her soul, and made her bend her blushing face to hide emotions which whispered bliss in every beat of her happy heart. Thus, with a spirit wrapped in felicity, for victory hailed him from without, and love seemed to woo him to the dearest transports within, he wrote the following letter to Wallace:
“I am now well, my best friend! This day I attend my lovely nurse, with her venerable guardian, to Huntingtower. Eastward of Perth, almost every castle of consequence is yet filled by the Southrons, whom the folly of James Cummin allowed to reoccupy the places whence you had so lately driven them. I go to root them out; to emulate in the north, what you are now doing in the south! You shall see me again when the banks of the Spey are as free as you have made the Forth. In all this I am yet Thomas de Longueville. Isabella, the sweet soother of my hours, knows me as no other; for would she not despise the unfamed Bruce? To deserve and win her love as De Longueville, and to marry her as King of Scotland, is the fond hope of your friend and brother, Robert ——. God speed me, and I shall send you dispatches of my proceedings.”
Wallace had just made a successful attack upon the outworks of Berwick, when this letter was put into his hand. He was surrounded by his chieftains; and having read it, he informed them that Sir Thomas de Longueville was going to the Spey to rid its castles of the enemy.
“The hopes of his enterprising spirit,” continued Wallace, “are so seconded by his determination, I doubt not that what he promises, God and the justice of our cause will perform; and we may soon expect to hear Scotland has no enemies in her Highlands.”
But in this hope Wallace was disappointed. Day after day passed, and no tidings from the north. He became anxious; Bothwell and Edwin too began to share his uneasiness. Continued successes against Berwick had assured them a speedy surrender, when unexpected succors being thrown in by sea, the confidence of the garrison became re-excited, and the ramparts appeared doubly manned. Wallace saw that the only alternative was to surprise and take possession of the ships, and turn the siege into a blockade. Still trusting that Bruce would be prosperous in the Highlands, he calculated on full leisure to await the fall of Berwick on this plan; and so much blood might be spared. Intent and execution were twin-born in the breast of Wallace. By a masterly stroke he effected his design on the shipping; and having closed the Southrons within their walls, he dispatched Lord Bothwell to Huntingtower, to learn the state of military operations there, and above all to bring back tidings of the prince’s health.
On the evening of the very day in which Murray left Berwick, a desperate sully was made by the garrison; but they were beaten back with such effect, that Wallace gained possession of one of their most commanding towers. The contest did not end till night; and after passing a brief while in the council-tent listening to the suggestions of his friends relative to the use that might be made of the new acquisition, he retired to his own quarters at a late hour. At these momentous periods he never seemed to need sleep; and sitting at his table setting the dispositions for the succeeding day, he marked not the time till the flame of his exhausted lamp expired in the socket. He replenished it and had again resumed his military labors, when the curtain which covered the door of his tent was drawn aside, and an armed man entered. Wallace looked up, and seeing that it was the Knight of the Green Plume, asked if anything had occurred from the town.
“Nothing,” replied the knight, in an agitated voice, and seating himself beside Wallace.
“Any evil tidings from Perthshire?” demanded Wallace, who now hardly doubted that ill news had arrived of Bruce.
“None,” was the knight’s reply; “but I am come to fulfill my promise to you, to unite myself forever heart and soul to your destiny, or you behold me this night for the last time.”
Surprised at this address, and the emotion which shook the frame of the unknown warrior, Wallace answered him with expressions of esteem, and added:
“If it depend on me to unite so brave a man to my friendship forever, only speak the word, declare your name, and I am ready to seal the compact.”
“My name,” declared the knight, “will indeed put these protestations to the proof. I have fought by your side, Sir William Wallace; I would have died at any moment to have spared that breast a wound, and yet I dread to raise my visor to show you who I am. A look will make me live or blast me.”
“Your language confounds me, noble knight,” replied Wallace. “I know of no man living, save the base violators of Lady Helen Mar’s liberty, who need tremble before my eyes. It is not possible that either of these men is before me; and whoever you are, whatever you may have been, brave chief, your deeds have proved you worthy of a soldier’s friendship, and I pledge you mine.”
The knight was silent. He took Wallace’s hand — he grasped it; the arms that held it did indeed tremble. Wallace again spoke.
“What is the meaning of this? I have a power to benefit, but none to injure.”
“To benefit and to injure!” cried the knight, in a transport of emotion; “you have my life in your hands. Oh! grant it, as you value your own happiness and honor! Look on me and say whether I am to live or die.”
As the warrior spoke, he cast himself impetuously on his knees, and threw open his visor. Wallace saw a fine but flushed face. It was much overshadowed by the helmet.
“My friend,” said he, attempting to raise him by the hand which clasped his, your words are mysteries to me; and so little right can I have to the power you ascribe to me, that although it seems to me as if I had seen your features before, yet-”
“You forget me!” cried the knight, starting on his feet, and throwing off his helmet to the ground; “again look on this face and stab me at once by a second declaration that I am remembered no more!”
The countenance of Wallace now showed that he too well remembered it. He was pale and aghast.
“Lady Mar,” cried he, “not expecting to see you under a warrior’s casque — you will pardon me, that when so appareled I should not immediately recognize the widow of my friend.”
She gasped for articulation.
“And it is thus,” cried she, “you answer the sacrifices I have made for you? For you I have committed an outrage on my nature; I have put on me this abhorrent steel; I have braved the dangers of many a hard-fought day, and all to guard your life! to convince you of a love unexampled in woman! and thus you recognize her who has risked honor and life for you — with coldness and reproach!”
“With neither, Lady Mar,” returned he, “I am grateful for the generous motives of your conduct; but for the sake of the fair fame you confess you have endangered, in respect to the memory of him whose name you bear, I cannot but wish that so hazardous an instance of interest in me had been left undone.”
“If that is all,” returned she, drawing toward him, “it is in your power to ward from me every stigma! Who will dare to cast one reflection on my fair fame when you bear testimony to my purity? Who will asperse the name of Mar when you displace it with that of Wallace? Make me yours, dearest of men,” cried she, clasping his hands, “and you will receive one to your heart who never knew how to love before, who will be to you what your heart who never knew how to love before, who will be to you what woman never yet was, and who will endow you with territories nearly equal to those of the King of Scotland. My father is no more; and now, as Countess of Strathearn and Princess of the Orkneys, I have it in my power to earn and Princess of the Orkneys, I have it in my power to bring a sovereignty to your head, and the fondest of wives to your bosom.” As she vehemently spoke, and clung to Wallace, as if she had already a right to seek comfort within his arms, her tears and violent agitations so disconcerted him that for a few moments he could not find a reply. This short endurance of her passion aroused her almost drooping hopes, and intoxicated with so rapturous an illusion, she threw off the little restraint in which the awe of Wallace’s coldness had confined her, and flinging herself on his breast, poured forth all her love and fond ambitions for him. In vain he attempted to interrupt her, to raise her with gentleness from her indecorous situation; she had no perception but the idea which had now taken possession of her heart, and whispering to him softly, said: “Be but my husband, Wallace, and all rights shall perish before my love and your aggrandizement. In these arms, you shall bless the day you first saw Joanna of Strathearn!”
The prowess of the Knight of the Green Plume, the respect he owed to the widow of the Earl of Mar, the tenderness he ever felt for all of womankind, were all forgotten in the disgusting blandishments of this disgrace to her sex. She wooed to be his wife, but not with the chaste appeal of the widow of Mahlon. “Let me find favor in thy sight, for thou hast comforted me! Spread thy garment over me, and let me be thy wife!” said the fair Moabitess who in a strange land cast herself at the feet of her deceased husband’s friend. She was answered, “I will do all that thou requirest, for thou art a virtuous woman!” But neither the actions nor the words of Lady Mar bore witness that she deserved this appellation. The were the dictates of a passion impure as it was intemperate. Blinded by its fumes, she forgot the nature of the heart she sought to pervert to sympathy with hers. She saw not that every look and movement on her part filled Wallace with aversion, and not until he forcibly broke from her did she doubt the success of her fond caresses.
“Lady mar,” said he, “I must repeat that I am not ungrateful for the proofs of regard you have bestowed on me; but such excess of attachment is lavished upon a man that is a bankrupt in love. I am cold as monumental marble to every touch of that passion to which I was once but too entirely devoted. Bereaved of the object, I am punished; thus is my heart doomed to solitude on earth for having made an idol of the angel that was sent to cheer my path to Heaven.” Wallace said even more than this. He remonstrated with her on the shipwreck she was making of her own happiness, in adhering thus tenaciously to a man who could only regard her with the general sentiment of esteem. He urged her beauty and yet youthful years, and how many would be eager to win her love, and to marry her with honor. While he continued to speak to her with the tender consideration of a brother, she, who knew no gradations in the affections of the heart, doubted his words, and believed that a latent fire glowed in his breast which her art might yet blow into a flame. She threw herself upon her knees, she wept, she implored his pity, she wound her arms around his, and bathed his hands with her tears, but still he continued to urge her, by every argument of female delicacy, to relinquish her ill-directed love, to return to her domains before her absence could be generally known. She looked up to read his countenance. A friend’s anxiety, nay, authority, was there, but no glow of passion; all was calm and determined. Her beauty, then, had been shown to a man without eyes, her tender eloquence poured on an ear that was deaf, her blandishments lavished on a block of marble! In a paroxysm of despair she dashed the hand she held far from her, and standing proudly on her feet —“Hear me, thou man of stone!” cried she, “and answer me on your life and honor, for both depend on your reply; is Joanna of Strathearn to be your wife?”
“Cease to urge me, unhappy lady,” returned Wallace; “you already know the decision of this ever-widowed heart.”
Lady Mar looked steadfastly at him.
“Then receive my last determination!” and drawing near him with a desperate and portentous countenance, as if she meant to whisper in his ear, she suddenly plucked St. Louis’ dagger from his girdle and struck it into his breast. He caught the hand which grasped the hilt. Her eyes glared with the fury of a maniac, and, with a horrid laugh, she exclaimed: “I have slain thee, insolent triumpher in my love and agonies! Thou shalt not now deride me in the arms of thy minion; for, I know that it is not for the dead Marion you have trampled on my heart but for the living Helen!”
As she spoke, he moved her hold from the dagger, and drew the weapon from the wound. A torrent of blood flowed over his vest, and stained the hand that grasped hers. She turned of a deadly paleness, but a demoniac joy still gleamed in her eyes.
“Lady Mar,” cried he, while he thrust the thickness of his scarf into the wound, “I pardon this outrage. Go in peace, I shall never breathe to man nor woman the occurrences of this night. Only remember, that with regard to Lady Helen, my wishes are as pure as her own innocence.”
“So they may be now, vainly boasting, immaculate Wallace!” answered she, with bitter derision; “men are saints when their passions are satisfied. Think not to impose on her who knows how this vestal Helen followed you in page’s attire, and without one stigma being cast upon her maiden delicacy. I am not to learn the days and nights she passed alone with you in the woods of Normandy? Did you not follow her to France? Did you not tear her from the arms of Lord Aymer de Valence? and now, relinquishing her yourself, you leave a dishonored bride to cheat the vows of some honester man! Wallace, I know you, and as I have been fool enough to love you beyond all woman’s love, I swear by the powers of heaven and hell to make you feel the weight of woman’s hatred!”
Her denunciation had no effect on Wallace; but her slander against her unoffending daughter-in-law agitated him with an indignation that almost dispossessed him of himself. In hurried and vehement words, be denied all that she had alleged against Helen, and appealed to the whole court of France to witness her spotless innocence. Lady Mar exulted in this emotion, though every sentence, by the interest it displayed in its object, seemed to establish the truth of a suspicion which she at first only uttered from the vague workings of her revenge. Triumphing in the belief that he bad found another as frail as herself, and yet maddened that another should have been preferred before her, her jealous pride blazed into redoubled flame.
“Swear,” cried she, “till I see the blood of that false heart forced to my feet, and still I shall believe the base daughter of Mar a wanton. I go, not to proclaim her dishonor to the world, but to deprive her of her lover; to yield the rebel Wallace into the hands of justice! When on the scaffold, proud exulter in those by me now detested beauties, remember that it was Joanna Strathearn who laid thy matchless head upon the block; who consigned those limbs, of Heaven’s own statuary, to decorate the spires of Scotland! Remember that my curse pursues you, here and hereafter!”
A livid fire seemed to dart from her scornful eyes, her countenance was torn as by some internal fiend, and, with the last malediction thundering from her tongue, she darted from his sight.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12