Night having passed over the sleepless heads of the inhabitants of Bothwell Castle, as soon as the sun arose, the Earl of Mar was carried from his chamber, and laid on a couch in the state apartment. His lady had not yet left the room of his daughter, by whose side she had lain the whole night in hopes of infecting her with the fears which possessed himself.
Helen replied that she could see no reason for such direful apprehension, if her father, instead of joining Wallace in person, would, when he had sent him succors, retire with his family into the Highlands, and there await the issue of the contest. “It is too late to retreat, dear madam,” continued she; “the first blow against the public enemy was struck in defense of Lord Mar; and would you have my father act so base a part, as to abandon his preserver to the wrath such generous assistance has provoked?”
“Alas, my child!” answered the countess, “what great service will he have done to me or to your father, if he deliver him from one danger, only to plunge him into another? Edward’s power in this country is too great to be resisted now. Have not most of our barons sworn fealty to him? and are not the potent families of the Cummin, the Soulis, and the March, all in his interest? You may perhaps say, that most of these are my relations, and that I may turn them which way I will; but if I have no influence with a husband, it would be madness to expect it over more distant kindred. How, then, with such a host against him, can your infatuated father venture, without despair, to support the man who breaks the peace with England?”
“Who can despair, honored lady,” returned Helen, “in so just a cause? Let us rather believe with our good King David, that ‘Honor must hope always; for no real evil can befall the virtuous, either in this world or in the next!’ Were I a man, the justice that leads on the brave Wallace would nerve my arm with the strength of a host. Besides, look at our country; God’s gift of freedom is stamped upon it. Our mountains are his seal. Plains are the proper territories of tyranny; there the armies of a usurper may extend themselves with ease; leaving no corner unoccupied in which patriotism might shelter or treason hide. But mountains, glens, morasses, lakes, set bounds to conquest; and amidst these stands the impregnable seat of liberty. To such a fortress, to the deep defiles of Loch Katrine, or to the cloud-curtained heights of Corryarraick, I would have my father retire. In safety he may there watch the footsteps of our mountain-goddess, till, led by her immortal champion, she plants her standard again upon the hills of Scotland.”
The complexion of the animated Helen shone with a radiant glow. Her heart panted with a foretaste of the delight she would feel when all her generous wishes should be fulfilled; and pressing the now completed banner to her breast, with an enthusiasm she believed prophetic, her lips moved, though her voice did not utter the inexpressible rapture of her heart.
Lady Mar looked at her. “It is well, romantic girl, that you are of my own powerless sex; had it been otherwise, your rash-headed disobedience might have made me rue the day I became your father’s wife.”
“Sex,” returned Helen, mildly, “could not have altered my sense of duty. Whether man or woman, I would obey you in all things consistent with my duty to a higher power; but when that commands, then by the ordinance of Heaven, we must ‘leave father and mother, and cleave unto it.’”
“And what, O foolish Helen, do you call a higher duty than that of a child to a parent, or a husband to his wife?”
“Duty of any kind,” respectfully answered the young daughter of Mar, “cannot be transgressed with innocence. Nor would it be any relinquishing of duty to you, should my father leave you to take up arms in the assertion of his country’s rights. Her rights are your safety; and therefore, in defending them, a husband or a son best shows his sense of domestic, as well as of public duty.”
“Who taught you this sophistry, Helen? Not your heart, for it would start at the idea of your father’s blood.”
Helen turned pale. “Perhaps, madam, had not the preservation of my father’s blood occasioned such malignity from the English, that nothing but an armed force can deliver his preserver, I, too, might be content to see Scotland in slavery. But now, to wish my father to shrink behind the excuse of far-strained family duties, and to abandon Sir William Wallace to the blood hounds who hunt his life, would be to devote his name of Mar to infamy, and deservedly bring a curse upon his offspring.”
“Then it is to preserve Sir William Wallace you are thus anxious. Your spirit of freedom is now disallowed, and all this mighty gathering is for him. My husband, his vassals, your cousin, and, in short, the sequestration of the estates of Mar and Bothwell, are all to be put to the hazard on account of a frantic outlaw, to whom, since the loss of his wife, I should suppose, death would be preferable to any gratitude we can pay him.”
Lady Helen, at this ungrateful language, inwardly thanked Heaven that she inherited no part of the blood which animated so unfeeling a heart. “That he is an outlaw, Lady Mar, springs from us. That death is the preferable comforter of his sorrows, also, he owes to us; for was it not for my father’s sake that his wife fell, and that he himself was driven into the wilds? I do not, then, blush for making his preservation my first prayer; and that he may achieve the freedom of Scotland, is my second.”
“We shall see whose prayers will be answered first,” resumed Lady Mar, rising coldly from her seat. “My saints are perhaps nearer than yours, and before the close of this day you will have reason to repent such extravagant opinions. I do not understand them.”
“Till now, you never disapproved them.”
“I allowed them in your infancy,” replied the countess, “because I thought they went no further than a minstrel’s song; but since they are become so dangerous, I rue the hour in which I complied with the entreaties of Sir Richard Maitland, and permitted you and your sister to remain at Thirlestane, to imbibe these romantic ideas from the wizard of Ercildown.11 Had not Sir Richard been your own mother’s father, I would not have been so easily prevailed on; and thus am I rewarded for my indulgence.”
11 Few personages are so renowned in tradition as Thomas of Ercildown, usually called the Rhymer. He was a poet and a sage, and believed by his contemporaries to be a prophet. He was born at Ercildown, a village on the Leeder (or Lauder), where the ruins of his paternal castle, called Learmont Tower, still remain.-(1809.)
“I hope, honored madam,” said Helen, still wishing to soften the displeasure of her step-mother, “I hope you will never be ill-rewarded for that indulgence, either by my grandfather, my sister, or myself. Isabella, in the quiet of Thirlestane, has no chance of giving you the offense that I do; and I am forced to offend you, because I cannot disobey my conscience.” A tear stood in the eye of Lady Helen. “Cannot you, dear Lady Mar,” continued she, forcing a smile, “pardon the daughter of your early friend, my mother, who loved you as a sister? Cannot you forgive her Helen for revering justice even more than your favor?”
More influenced by the sweet humility of her daughter-in-law than by the ingenuous eloquence with which she maintained her sentiments, or with the appeal to the memory of the first Lady Mar, the countess relaxed the frigid air she had assumed, and kissing her, with many renewed injunctions to bless the hand that might put a final stop to so ruinous an enthusiasm in her family, she quitted the room.
As soon as Helen was alone, she forgot the narrow-minded arguments of the countess; and calling to recollection the generous permission with which her father had endowed her the night before, she wrapped herself in her mantle, and, attended by her page, proceeded to the armory. The armorer was already there, having just given out arms for three hundred men, who, by the earl’s orders were to assemble by noon on Bothwell Moor.
Helen told the man she came for the best suit of armor in his custody-“one of the most excellent proof.”
He drew from an oaken chest a coat of black mail, studded with gold. Helen admired its strength and beauty. “It is the richest in all Scotland,” answered he; “and was worn by our great Canmore in all his victories.”
“Then it is worthy its destination. Bring it, with its helmet and sword, to my apartment.”
The armorer took it up; and, accompanied by the page carrying the lighter parts, followed her into the western tower.
When Helen was again alone, it being yet very early in the morning, she employed herself in pluming the casque, and forming the scarf she meant should adorn her present. Thus time flew, till the sand-glass told her it was the eighth hour. But ere she had finished her task, she was roused from the profound stillness in which that part of the castle lay, by the doleful lament of the troop returning from Ellerslie.
She dropped the half-formed scarf from her hand; and listened, without daring to draw her breath, to the deep-toned lamentations. She thought that she had never before heard the dirge of her country so piercing, so thrillingly awful. Her head fell on the armor and scarf. “Sweet lady,” sighed she to herself, “who is it that dares thus invade thy duties? But my gratitude-gratitude to the once-loved lord, will not offend thy pure spirit!” Again the mournful wailings rose on the air; and with a convulsion of feelings she could not restrain, she threw herself on her knees, and leaning her head on the newly-adorned helmet, wept profusely.
Murray entered the room unobserved. “Helen! my dear cousin!” cried he. She started, and rising, apologized for her tears by owning the truth. He now told her, that the body of the deceased lady was deposited in the chapel of the castle; and that the priests from the adjacent priory only awaited her presence to consign it, with the church’s rites, to its tomb.
Helen retired for a few minutes to recover herself; and then re-entering, covered with a black veil, was led by her cousin to the awful scene.
The bier lay before the altar. The prior of St. Fillan, in his holy vestments, stood at its head; a band of monks were ranged on each side. The maids of Lady Helen, in mourning garments, met their mistress at the portal. They had wrapped the beautiful corpse in the shroud prepared for it; and now having laid it, strewed with flowers, upon the bier, they advanced to their trembling lady, expecting her to approve their services. Helen drew near-she bowed to the priests. One of the women put her hand on the pall, to uncover the once lovely face of the murdered Marion. Lady Helen hastily resisted the woman’s motion, by laying her hand also upon the pall. The chill of death struck through the velvet to her touch. She turned pale; and waving her hand to the prior to begin, the bier was lowered by the priests into the tomb beneath. As it descended, Helen sunk upon her knees, and the anthem for departed souls was raised. The pealing notes, as they rose and swelled, seemed to bear up the spirit of the sainted Marion to its native heaven; and the tears which now flowed from the eyes of Helen, as they mingled with her pious aspirations, seemed the balm of paradise descending upon her soul.
When all was over, the venerable Halbert, who had concealed his overwhelming sorrow behind a pillar, threw himself on the cold stone which now closed the last chamber of his mistress. With faint cries, he gave way to the woe that shook his aged bosom, and called on death to lay him low with her. The women of Lady Helen again chanted forth their melancholy wailings for the dead; and unable longer to bear the scene, she grasped the arm of her cousin, and with difficulty walked from the chapel.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59