« PreviousContinue »
immense paved room. A single sentinel stood at the end, near to an iron grating, or small portcullis : there, then, was Wallace! Forgetting her disguise and situation, in the frantic eagerness of her pursuit, she hastily advanced to the man : “Let me pass to Sir William Wallace,” cried she, “and treasures shall be your reward.” “Whose treasures, my pretty page?” demanded the soldier; “I dare not, were it at the suit of the Countess of Gloucester herself.” “Oh!” cried Helen, “ for the sake of a greater than any countess in the land, take this jewelled bracelet, and let me pass !”
The man, misapprehending the words of this adjuration, at sight of the diamonds, supposing the page must come from the good queen, no longer demurred. Putting the bracelet into his bosom, he whispered Helen that, as he granted this permission at the risk of his life, she must conceal herself in the interior chamber of the prisoner’s dungeon should any person from the warden visit him during their interview. She readily promised this; and he informed her that, when through this door, she must cross two other apartments, the bolts to the entrances of which she must withdraw; and then, at the extremity of a long passage, a door, fastened by a latch, would admit her to Sir William Wallace. With these words, the soldier removed the massy bars, and Helen entered.
THE TOWER OF LONDON.
(From “The Scottish Chiefs.”) 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 of 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's 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 Hill; in the chamber of Château Galliard! He arose 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, “Oh, 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 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, turned deadly pale, and then clasping his hands 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 tear-drops 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 I now love her so entirely, that to be hers and your ministering spirit in Paradise would amply satisfy my soul.” “Oh! 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 the 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 wrapped 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 in 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 more 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 direct enemies — from death unto life, must have been then in your king's heart. Oh, if once there, it can not 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 his trampled land what King Edward then did for Christendom in Palestine. And he was roused to the defence 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 those 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 lowerered 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