On the evening of the fatal day in which the sun of William Wallace had set forever on his country, the Earl of Gloucester was imparting to the Warden of the Tower his last directions respecting the sacred remains, when the door of the chamber suddenly opened, and a file of soldiers entered. A man in armor, with his visor closed, was in the midst of them. The captain of the band told the warden that the person before him had behaved in a most seditious manner. He first demanded admittance into the Tower; then, on the sentinel making answer that in consequence of the recent execution of the Scottish chief, orders had been given “to allow no strangers to approach the gates till the following morning,” he, the prisoner, burst into a passionate emotion, uttering such threats against the King of England, that the captain thought it his duty to have him seized and brought before the warden.
On the entrance of the soldiers, Gloucester had retired into the shadow of the room. He turned round on hearing these particulars. When the captain ceased speaking, the stranger fearlessly threw up his visor and exclaimed:
“Take me, not to our warden alone, but to your king; let me pierce his conscience with his infamy — would it were to stab him ere I die!”
In this frantic adjuration, Gloucester discovered the gallant Bruce. And hastening toward him to prevent his apparently determined exposure of himself, with a few words he dismissed the officer and his guard; and then, turning to the warden, “Sir Edward,” said he, “this stranger is not less my friend than he that was Sir William Wallace!”
“Then far be it from me, earl, to denounce him to our enraged monarch. I have seen enough of noble blood shed already. And though we, the subjects of King Edward, may not call your late friend a martyr, yet we must think his country honored in so steady a patriot, and may surely wish we had many the like in our own!” With these words the worthy old knight bowed and withdrew.
Bruce, who had hardly heard the observation of the warden, on his departure turned upon the earl, and, with a bursting heart, exclaimed:
“Tell me, is it true? Am I so lost a wretch as to be deprived of my best, my dearest friend? And is it true, as I am told, that every infernal rigor of the sentence has been executed on that brave and breathless body! Answer me to the fact, that I may speedily take my course!”
Alarmed at the direful expression of his countenance, with a quivering lip, but in silence, Gloucester laid his hand upon his arm. Bruce too well understood what he durst not speak, and, shaking it off, frantically:
“I have no friend!” cried he. “Wallace! my dauntless, my only Wallace, thou art rifled from me! And shall I have fellowship with these? No, all mankind are my enemies, and soon will I leave their detested sojourn!”
Gloucester attempted to interrupt him; but he broke out afresh and with redoubled violence:
“And you, earl,” cried he, “lived in this realm, and suffered such a sacrilege on God’s most perfect work! Ungrateful, worthless man! fill up the measure of your baseness; deliver me to Edward, and let me brave him to his face. Oh! let me die, covered with the blood of thy enemies, my murdered Wallace! my more than brother, that shall be the royal robe thy Bruce will bring to thee!”
Gloucester stood in dignified forbearance under the invectives and stormy grief of the Scottish prince; but when exhausted nature seemed to take rest in momentary silence, he approached him. Bruce cast on him a lurid glance of suspicion.
“Leave me!” cried he; “I hate the whole world, and you the worst in it; for you might have saved him, and you did not — you might have preserved his sacred limbs from being made the gazing-stock of traitors, and you did not. Away from me, apt son of a tyrant, lest I tear you in piecemeal!”
“By the heroic spirit of him whom this outrage on me dishonors, hear my answer, Bruce! And, if not on this spot, let me then exculpate myself by the side of his body, yet uninvaded by a sacrilegious touch.”
“How?” interrupted Bruce. Gloucester continued:
“All that was mortal in our friend now lies in a distant chamber of this quadrangle. When I could not prevail on Edward, either by entreaty or reproaches, to remit the last gloomy vengeance of tyrants, I determined to wrest its object from his hands. A notorious murderer died yesterday under the torture. After the inanimate corpse of our friend was brought into this house, to be conveyed to the scene of its last horrors, by the assistance of the warden the malefactor’s body was conveyed here also, and placed on the traitor’s sledge, in the stead of his who was no traitor, and on that murderer most justly fell the rigor of so dreadful a sentence.”
The whole aspect of Bruce changed during this explanation, which was followed by a brief account from Gloucester of their friend’s heroic suffering and death.
“Can you pardon my reproaches to you?” cried the prince, stretching out his hand. “Forgive, generous Gloucester, the distraction of a severely wounded spirit!”
This pardon was immediately accorded; and Bruce impetuously added:
“Lead me to these dear remains, that with redoubled certainty I may strike his murderer’s heart! I came to succor him. I now stay to die — but not unrevenged!”
“I will lead you,” returned the earl, “where you shall learn a different lesson. His soul will speak to you by the lips of his bride, now watching by those sacred relics. Feeble is now her lamp of life; but a saint’s vigilance keeps it burning, till it may expire in the grave with him she so chastely loved.”
A few words gave Bruce to understand that he meant Lady Helen Mar; and with a deepened grief when he heard in what an awful hour their hands were plighted, he followed his conductor through the quadrangle.
When Gloucester gently opened the door, which contained the remains of the bravest and the best, Bruce stood for a moment on the threshold. At the further end of the apartment, lighted by a solitary taper, lay the body of Wallace on a bier, covered with a soldier’s cloak. Kneeling by its side, with her head on its bosom, was Helen. Her hair hung disordered over her shoulders, and shrouded with its dark locks the marble features of her beloved. Bruce scarcely breathed. He attempted to advance, but he staggered and fell against the wall. She looked up at the noise; but her momentary alarm ceased when she saw Gloucester. He spoke in a tender voice.
“Be not agitated, lady; but here is the Earl of Carrick.”
“Nothing can agitate me more,” replied she, turning mournfully toward the prince; who, raised from his momentary dizziness, beheld her regarding him with the look of one already an inhabitant of the grave. “Helen!” faintly articulated Bruce; “I come to share your sorrows, and to avenge them.”
“Avenge them!” repeated she, after a pause; “is there aught in vengeance that can awaken life in these cold veins again? Let the murderers live in the world they have made a desert by the destruction of its brightest glory, and then our home will be his tomb!” Again she bent her head upon Wallace’s cold breast; and seemed to forget that she had been spoken to — that Bruce was present.
“May I not look upon him?” cried he, grasping her hand. “Oh! Helen, show me that heroic face from whose beams my heart first caught the fire of virtue!” She moved; and the clay-hued features of all that was ever perfect in manly beauty met his sight. But the bright eyes were shut; the radiance of his smile was dimmed in death, yet still that smile was there. Bruce precipitated his lips to his, and sinking on his knees, remained in a silence only broken by his sighs.
It was an awful and heart-breaking pause, for the voice which in all scenes of weal or woe had ever mingled sweetly with theirs, was silent. Helen, who had not wept since the tremendous hour of the morning, now burst into an agony of tears; and the vehemence of her feelings tearing so delicate a frame (now rendered weak unto death by a consuming sickness, which her late exertions and present griefs had made seize on her very vitals), seemed to threaten the immediate extinction of her being. Bruce, aroused by her smothered cries, as she lay almost expiring, upheld by Gloucester, hurried to her side. By degrees she recovered to life and observance; but finding herself removed from the bier, she sprang wildly toward it. Bruce caught her arm to support her tottering steps. She looked steadfastly at him, and then at the motionless body. “He is there,” cried she, “and yet he speaks not! He soothes not my grief — I weep, and he does not comfort me! And there he lies! O! Bruce, can this be possible? Do I really see him dead? And what is death?” added she, grasping the cold hand of Wallace to her heart. “Didst thou not tell me, when this hand pressed mine and blessed me, that it was only a translation from grief to joy? And is it not so, Bruce? Behold how we mourn and he is happy! I will obey thee, my immortal Wallace!” cried she, casting her arms about him; “I will obey thee, and weep no more!”
She was silent and calm. And Bruce, kneeling on the opposite side of his friend, listened, without interrupting him, to the arguments which Gloucester adduced to persuade him to abstain from discovering himself to Edward, or even uttering resentment against him till he could do both as became the man for whom Wallace had sacrificed so much, even till he was King of Scotland. “To that end,” said Gloucester, “did this gallant chieftain live. For, in restoring you to the people of Scotland, he believed he was setting a seal to their liberties and their peace. To that end did he die, and in the direful moment, uttered prayers for your establishment. Think then of this, and let him not look down from his heavenly dwelling and see that Bruce despises the country for which he bled; that the now only hope of Scotland has sacrificed himself in a moment of inconsiderate revenge to the cruel hand which broke his dauntless heart!”
Bruce did not oppose this counsel; and as the fumes of passion passed away, leaving a manly sorrow to steady his determination of revenge, he listened with approbation, and finally resolved, whatever violence he might do his nature, not to allow Edward the last triumph of finding him in his power.
The earl’s next essay was with Helen. He feared that a rumor of the stranger’s indignation at the late execution, and that the Earl of Gloucester had taken him in charge, might, when associated with the fact of the widow of Sir William Wallace still remaining under his protection, awaken some dangerous suspicion and direct investigations, too likely to discover the imposition he had put on the executioners of the last clause in his royal father’s most iniquitous sentence. He therefore explained his new alarm to Helen, and conjured her, if she would yet preserve the hallowed remains before her from any chance of violence (which her lingering near them might induce by attracting notice to her movements), she must consent to immediately leave the kingdom. The valiant and ever faithful heart of Wallace should be her companion; and an English captain, who had partaken of his clemency at Berwick, be her trusty conductor to her native land. To meet every objection, he added, “Bruce shall be protected by me with strict fidelity till some safe opportunity may offer for his bearing to Scotland the sacred corpse that must ever be considered the most precious relic in his country.”
“As Heaven wills the trials of my heart,” returned she, “so let it be!” and bending her aching head on the dear pillow of her rest — the bosom which, though cold and deserted by its heavenly inhabitant, was still the bosom of her Wallace! the ravaged temple rendered sacred by the footsteps of a god! For, had not virtue, and the soul of Wallace, dwelt there? and where virtue is, there abides the Spirit of the Holy One! With these thoughts, she passed the remainder of the night in vigils; and they were not less devoutly shared by the chastened heart of the Prince of Scotland.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59