Helen’s fleet steps carried her in a few minutes through the intervening dungeons to the door which would restore to her eyes the being with whose life her existence seemed blended. The bolts had yielded to her hands. The iron latch now gave way; and the ponderous oak, grating dismally on its hinges, she looked forward, and beheld the object of all her solicitude leaning along a couch; a stone table was before him, at which he seemed writing. He raised his head at the sound. The peace of virtue was in his eyes, and a smile on his lips, as if he had expected some angel visitant.
The first glance at his pale, but heavenly countenance struck to the heart of Helen; veneration, anguish, shame, all rushed on her at once. She was in his presence! but how might he turn from consolations he had not sought! The intemperate passion of her step-mother now glared before her; his contempt of the countess’ unsolicited advances appeared ready to be extended to her rash daughter-in-law; and with an irrepressible cry, which seemed to breathe out her life, Helen would have fled, but her failing limbs bent under her, and she fell senseless into the dungeon. Wallace started from his reclining position. He thought his senses must deceive him — and yet the shriek was Lady Helen’s. He had heard the same cry on the Pentland Hills; in the chamber of Chateau Galliard! He rose agitated; he approached the prostrate youth, and bending to the inanimate form, took off the Norman hat; he parted the heavy locks which fell over her brow, and recognized the features of her who alone had ever shared his meditations with his Marion. He sprinkled water on her face and hands; he touched her cheek; it was ashy cold, and the chill struck to his heart. “Helen!” exclaimed he; “Helen, awake! Speak to thy friend!”
Still she was motionless. “Dead!” cried he, with increased emotion. His eye and his heart in a moment discerned and understood the rapid emaciation of those lovely features — now fearing the worst; “Gone so soon!” repeated he, “gone to tell my Marion that her Wallace comes. Blessed angel!” cried he, clasping her to his breast, with an energy of which he was not aware, “take me, take me with thee!” The pressure, the voice, roused the dormant life of Helen. With a torturing sigh she unsealed her eyes from the death-like load that oppressed them, and found herself in the arms of Wallace.
All her wandering senses, which from the first promulgation of his danger had been kept in a bewildered state, now rallied; and, in recovered sanity, smote her to the soul. Though still overwhelmed with grief at the fate which threatened to tear him from her and life, she now wondered how she could ever have so trampled on the retreating modesty of her nature, as to have brought herself thus into his presence; and in a voice of horror, of despair, believing that she had forever destroyed herself in his opinion, she exclaimed: “O! Wallace! how came I here? I am lost — and innocently; but God — the pure God — can read the soul!”
She lay in hopeless misery on his breast, with her eyes again closed, almost unconscious of the support on which she leaned.
“Lady Helen,” returned he, “was it other than Wallace you sought in these dungeons? I dared to think that the Parent we both adore had sent you hither to be His harbinger of consolation!” Recalled to self-possession by the kindness of these words, Helen turned her head on his bosom, and in a burst of grateful tears, hardly articulated:
“And will you not abhor me for this act of madness? But I was not myself. And yet, where should I live but at the feet of my benefactor?”
The steadfast soul of Wallace was subdued by this language, and the manner of its utterance. It was the disinterested dictates of a pure though agitated spirit, which he now was convinced did most exclusively love him, but with the passion of an angel; and the tears of a sympathy which spoke their kindred natures stole from his eyes as he bent his cheek on her head. She felt them; and rejoicing in such an assurance that she yet possessed his esteem, a blessed calm diffused itself over her mind, and raising herself, with a look of virtuous confidence, she exclaimed:
“Then you do understand me, Wallace? you pardon me this apparent forgetfulness of my sex; and you recognize a true sister in Helen Mar? I may administer to that noble heart, till —” she paused, turning deathly pale, and then clasping his hand in both hers, in bitter agony added, “till we meet in heaven!”
“And blissful, dearest saint, will be our union there,” replied he, “where soul meets soul, unencumbered of these earthly fetters; and mingles with each other, even as thy tender teardrops now glide into mine! But there, my Helen, we shall never weep. No heart will be left unsatisfied; no spirit will mourn in unrequited love, for that happy region is the abode of love — of love without the defilements or the disquietudes of mortality, for there it is an everlasting, pure enjoyment. It is a full, diffusive tenderness, which, penetrating all hearts, unites the whole in one spirit of boundless love in the bosom of our God! Who, the source of all love, as John the beloved disciple saith, ‘so loved a lost world, that he sent his only Son to redeem it from its sins, and to bring it to eternal blessedness!’”
“Ah!” cried Helen, throwing herself on her knees in holy enthusiasm; “join then your prayers with mine, most revered of friends, that I may be admitted into such blessedness! Petition our God to forgive me, and do you forgive me, that I have sometimes envied the love you bear your Marion! But now I love her so entirely, that to be her and your ministering spirit in Paradise would amply satisfy my soul.”
“O! Helen,” cried Wallace, grasping her uplifted hands in his, and clasping them to his heart, “thy soul and Marion’s are indeed one, and as one I love ye!”
This unlooked-for declaration almost overpowered Helen in its flood of happiness; and, with a smile, which seemed to picture the very heavens opening before her, she turned her eyes from him to a crucifix which stood on a table, and bowing her head on its pedestal, was lost in the devotion of rapturous gratitude.
At this juncture, when, perhaps, the purest bliss that ever descended on woman’s heart now glowed in that of Helen, the Earl of Gloucester entered. His were not visits of consolation, for he knew that his friend, who had built his heroism on the rock of Christianity, did not require the comfortings of any mortal hand. At sight of him Wallace pointing to the kneeling Helen, beckoned him into the inner cell, where his straw pallet lay; and there, in a low voice, declared who she was, and requested the earl to use his authority to allow her to remain with him to the last.
“After that,” said he, “I rely on you, generous Gloucester, to convey safely back to her country a being who seems to have nothing of earth about her but the terrestrial body which enshrines her angelic soul!”
The sound of a voice speaking with Wallace roused Helen from her happy trance. Alarmed that it might be the fatal emissaries of the tyrant, come prematurely to summon him to his last hour, she started on her feet. “Where are you, Wallace?” cried she, looking distractedly around her; “I must be with you even in death!”
Hearing her fearful cry, he hastened into the dungeon, and relieved her immediate terror by naming the Earl of Gloucester, who followed him. The conviction that Wallace was under mortal sentence, which the heaven-sent impression of his eternal bliss had just almost obliterated, now glared upon her with redoubled horrors. This world again rose before her in the person of Gloucester. It reminded her that she and Wallace were not yet passed into the hereafter, whose anticipated reunion had wrapt her in such sweet elysium. He had yet the bitter cup of death to drink to the dregs; and all of human weakness again writhed within her bosom. “And is there no hope?” faltered she, looking earnestly on the disturbed face of Gloucester, who had bowed with a pitying respect to her as he approached her. And then, while he seemed hesitating for an answer, she more firmly, but imploringly resumed: “Oh, let me seek your king? once he was a crusade prince! The cross was then on his breast, and the love of Him who came to redeem lost man, nay, even his direst enemies, from death unto life, must have been then in your king’s heart. Oh, if once there, it cannot be wholly extinguished now! Let me, gracious earl, but recall to him that he was then beloved by a queen who to this day is the glory of her sex. On that spot of holy contest she preserved his life from an assassin’s poison, by daring the sacrifice of her own! But she lived to bless him, and to be blessed herself! While Sir William Wallace, also a Christian knight, anointed by virtue and his cause, hath only done for his own country and its trampled land what King Edward then did for Christendom in Palestine. And he was roused to the defense, by a deed worse than ever infidel inflicted! The wife of his bosom — who had all of angel about her, but that of her mortal body — was stabbed by a murderous Southron governor in Scotland, because she would not betray her husband to his desolating brand! I would relate this on my knees, to your royal Edward, and call on the spirit of his sainted queen to enforce my suit, by the memory of her love and her devotedness.”
Helen, who had risen in her energy of speech and supplication, suddenly paused, clasped her hands, and stood with upward eyes, looking as if she beheld the beatified object of her invocation.
“Dearest sister of my soul!” cried Wallace, who had forborne to interrupt her, taking her clasped hands in his, “thy knees shall never bend to any less than to the blessed Lord of all mankind, for me! Did He will my longer pilgrimage on this earth, of which my spirit is already weary, it would not be in the power of any human tyrant to hold me in these bonds. And, for Edward! believe, that not all thy tender eloquence could make one impression, where a long obdurate ambition hath set so deep a seal. I am content to go, my sister — and angels whisper me,” (and his voice became subdued, though still calm, while he added, in a lowered tone, like that angel whisper) “that thy bridal bed will be in William Wallace’s grave!” She spoke not, but at this assurance turned her tearful eyes upon him, with a beam of delight; with such delight, the vestal consigns herself to the cloister; with such delight, the widowed mourner lays her head to rest on the tomb of him she loved. But with such delight none are acquainted who know not what it is to be wedded to the soul of a beloved being, when the body which was once its vestment lies moldering in the earth.
Gloucester contemplated this chaste union of two spotless hearts, with an admiration almost amounting to devotion. “Noble lady,” said he, “the message that I came to impart to Sir William Wallace bears with it a show of hope; and, I trust that your gentle spirit will yet be as persuasive as consolatory. A deputation has just arrived from our border-counties, headed by the good Barons de Hilton and De Blenkinsopp, praying the royal mercy for their gallant foe, who had been most generous to them, they set forth, in their extremity. And the king was listening to them, with what temper I know not, when a private embassy, as opportunely, made its appearance from France, on the same errand; in short, to negotiate with Edward for the safety of our friend, as a prince of that realm. I left the embassadors,” continued the earl, turning to Wallace, “in debate with his majesty; and he has at length granted a suspension — nay, has even promised a repeal of the horrible injustice that was to be completed to-morrow, if you can be brought to accord with certain proposals, now to be laid before you. Accept them, and Edward will comply with all King Philip’s demands in your behalf.”
“Then you will accept them!” cried Helen, in a tumult of suspense. The communication of Gloucester had made no change in the equable pulse of Wallace; and he replied, with a look of tender pity upon her animated countenance. “The proposals of Edward are too likely to be snares for that honor which I would bear with me uncontaminated to the grave. Therefore, dearest consoler of my last hours, do not give way to hopes which a greater King than Edward may command me to disappoint.” Helen bowed her head in silence. The color again faded from her cheek, and despair once more seized on her heart.
Gloucester resumed; and, after narrating some particulars concerning the conference between the king and the embassadors, he suggested the impracticality of secretly retaining Lady Helen, for any length of time, in the state dungeon. “I dare not,” continued he, “be privy to her presence here, and yet conceal it from the king. I know not what messengers he may send to impart his conditions to you; and should she be discovered, Edward, doubly incensed, would tear her from you; and, as an accessory, so involve me in his displeasure, that I should be disabled from serving either of you further. Were I so to honor his feelings as a man as to mention it to him, I do not believe that he would oppose her wishes; but how to reveal such a circumstance with any regard to her fair fame, I know not; for all are not sufficiently virtuous to believe her spotless innocence.”
Helen hastily interrupted Gloucester, and with firmness said, “When I entered these walls, the world and I parted forever. The good or the evil opinion of the impure in heart can never affect me — they shall never see me more. The innocent will judge me by themselves, and by the end of my race. I came to minister with a sister’s duty to my own and my father’s preserver; and while he abides here, I will never consent to leave his feet. When he goes hence, if it be to bless mankind again, I shall find the longest life too short to pour forth all my gratitude; and for that purpose I will dedicate myself in some nunnery of my native land. But should he be taken from a world so unworthy of him, soon, very soon, I shall cease to feel its aspersions in the grave.”
“No aspersions which I can avert, dearest Helen,” cried Wallace, “shall ever tarnish the fame of one whose purity can only be transcended by her who is now made perfect in heaven! Consent, noblest of women, to wear, for the few days I may yet linger here, a name which thy sister angel has sanctified to me. Give me a legal right to call you mine, and Edward himself will not then dare to divide what God has joined together!”
Helen paused — even her heart seemed to cease its pulsation in the awful moment. Did she hear aright? and was she indeed going to invade the rights of the wife she had so often vowed to regard as the sole object of Wallace’s dearest wishes? Oh, no; it was not the lover that shone in his luminous eyes; it was not the mistress that glowed in her bosom. Words might be breathed; but no change would be wrought in the souls of them who were already separated from the earth. With these thoughts Helen turned toward Wallace; she attempted to answer, but the words died on the seraphic smile which beamed upon her lips, and she dropped her head upon his breast.
Gloucester, who saw no other means of insuring to his friend the comfort of her society, was rejoiced at this mutual resolution. He had longed to propose it; but considering the peculiarities of their situation, knew not how to do so without seeming to mock their sensibility and fate. It was now near midnight; and having read the consent of Helen in the tender emotion which denied her speech, without further delay he quitted the apartment to summon the confessor of the warden to unite their hands.
On his re-entrance, he found Helen sitting, dissolved in tears, with her hand clasped in his friend’s. The sacred rite was soon performed which endowed her with all the claims upon Wallace which her devoted heart had so long contemplated with resigned hopelessness — to be his helpmate on earth, his partner in the tomb, his dear companion in heaven! With the last benediction she threw herself on her knees before him, and put his hand to her lips in eloquent silence. Gloucester, with a look of kind farewell, withdrew with the priest.
“Thou noble daughter of the noblest Scot!” said Wallace, raising her from the ground, “this bosom is thy place, and not my feet. Long it will not be given me to hold thee here; but even in the hours of years of our separation my spirit will hover near thee, to bear thine to our everlasting home.”
The heart of Helen alternatively beat violently, and stopped, as if the vital current were suddenly impeded. Hope and fear agitated her by turns; but clinging to the flattering ideas which the arrival of the embassadors had excited, she timidly breathed a hope that, by the present interferences of King Philip, Edward might not be found inexorable.
“Disturb not the holy composure of your soul by such an expectation,” returned Wallace; “I know my adversary too well to anticipate his relinquishing the object of his vengeance but at a price more infamous than the most ignoble death. Therefore, best beloved of all on earth! look for no deliverance for thy Wallace but what passes through the grave; and to me, dearest Helen, its gates are on golden hinges turning; for all is light and bliss which shines on me from within their courts!”
Helen’s thoughts, in the idea of his being torn from her, could not wrest themselves from the dire images of his execution; she shuddered, and in faltering accents replied, “Ah! could we glide from sleep into so blessed a death, I would hail it even for thee! But the threatened horrors, should they fall on thy sacred head, will in that hour, I trust, also divorce my soul from this grievous world!”
“Not so, my Helen,” returned he, “keep not thy dear eyes forever fixed on the gloomy appendages of death. The scaffold and the grave have naught to do with the immortal soul; it cannot be wounded by the one nor confined by the other. And is not the soul thy full and perfect Wallace? It is that which now speaks to thee — which will cherish thy beloved idea forever. Lament not, then, how soon this body, its mere apparel, is laid down in the dust. But rejoice still in my existence, which, through Him who ‘led captivity captive,’ will never know a pause? Comfort then thy heart, my soul’s dear sister, and sojourn a little while on this earth to bear witness for thy Wallace to the friends he loves.”
Helen, who felt the import of his words in her heart, gently bowed her head, and he proceeded:
“As the first who stemmed with me the torrent which, with God’s help, we so often laid into a calm, I mention to you my faithful men of Lanark. Many of them bled and died in the contest; and to their orphans, with the children of those who yet survive, I consign all of the world’s wealth that yet belongs to William Wallace; Ellerslie and its estates are theirs.59 To Bruce, my sovereign and my friend — the loved companion of the hour in which I freed you, my Helen, from the arms of violence! to him I bequeath this heart, knit to him by bonds more dear than even loyalty. Bear it to him; and when he is summoned to his heavenly throne, then let his heart and mine fill up one urn. To Lord Ruthven, to Bothwell, to Lockhart, to Scrymgeour, and to Kirkpatrick I give my prayers and blessings.”
59 This bequest of Wallace is a fact.
Here Wallace paused. Helen had listened to him with a holy attention, which hardly allowed a sigh to breathe from her steadfast heart. She spoke, but the voice was scarcely audible.
“And what for him who loves you dearer than life — for Edwin? He cannot be forgotten!”
Wallace started at this; then she was ignorant of the death of that too-faithful friend! In a hurrying accent he replied, “Never forgotten! Oh, Helen. I asked for him life; and Heaven gave him long life, even forever and ever!”
Helen’s eyes met his, with a look of inquiry:
“That would mean he is gone before you?”
The countenance of Wallace answered her.
“Happy Edwin!” cried she, and the tears rained over her cheeks as she bent her head on her arms. Wallace continued —
“He laid down his life to preserve mine in the hovel of Lumloch. The false Monteith could get no Scot to lay hands on their true defender; and even the foreign ruffians he brought to the task might have spared the noble boy, but an arrow from the traitor himself pierced his heart. Contention was then no more, and I resigned myself, to follow him.”
“What a desert does the world become!” exclaimed Helen; then turning on Wallace with a saint-like smile, she added, “I would hardly now withhold you. You will bear him Helen’s love, and tell him how soon I shall be with you. If your Father would not allow my heart to break, in his mercy he may take my soul in the prayers which I shall hourly breathe to him!”
“Thou hast been lent to me as my sweet consolation here, my Helen,” replied he, “and the Almighty dispenser of that comfort will not long banish you from the object of your innocent wishes.”
While they thus poured into each other’s bosoms the ineffable balm of friendship’s purest tenderness, the eyes of Wallace insensibly closed. “Your gentle influence,” gently murmured he, “brings that sleep to my eyelids which has not visited them since I first entered these walls. Like my Marion, Helen, thy presence brings healing on its wings.”
“Sleep, then,” replied she, “and Marion’s angel spirit will keep watch with mine.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59