The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 39.

Stirling Castle and Council Hall.

The countess’ chivalric tribute from the window gave Wallace reason to anticipate her company in his visit to Lady Ruthven; and on finding the room vacant, he dispatched Edwin for his mother, that he might not be distressed by the unchecked advances of a woman whom, as the wife of Lord Mar, he was obliged to see, and whose weakness he pitied, as she belonged to a sex for which, in consideration of the felicity once bestowed on him by woman, he felt a peculiar tenderness. Respect the countess he could not; nor, indeed, could he feel any gratitude for a preference which seemed to him to have no foundations in the only true basis of love-the virtues of the object. For, as she acted against every moral law, against his declared sentiments, it was evident that she placed little value on his esteem; and therefore he despised, while he pitied, a human creature ungovernably yielding herself to the sway of her passions.

In the midst of thoughts so little to her advantage, Lady Mar entered the room. Wallace turned to meet her; while she, hastening toward him, and dropping on one knee, exclaimed, “Let me be the first woman in Scotland to acknowledge its king!”

Wallace put forth both his hands to raise her; and smiling, replied, “Lady Mar, you would do me an honor I can never claim.”

“How?” cried she, starting up. “What, then, was that cry I heard? Did they not call you ‘prince,’ and ‘sovereign?’ Did not my Lord Buchan-”

Confused, disappointed, overpowered, she left the sentence unfinished, sunk on a seat, and burst into tears. At that moment she saw her anticipated crown fall from her head, and having united the gaining of Wallace with his acquisition of this dignity, all her hopes seemed again the sport of winds. She felt as if Wallace had eluded her power, for it was by the ambition-serving acts of her kinsman that she had meant to bind him to her love; and now all was rejected, and she wept in despair. He gazed at her with amazement. What these emotions and his elevation had to do with each other, he could not guess; but, recollecting her manner of mentioning Lord Buchan’s name, he answered, “Lord Buchan I have just seen. He and Lord March came upon the carse at the time I went thither to meet my gallant countrymen; and these two noblemen, though so lately the friends of Edward, united with the rest in proclaiming me regent.”

This word dried the tears of Lady Mar. She saw the shadow of royalty behind it; and summoning artifice, to conceal the joy of her heart, she calmly said, “Do not too severely condemn this weakness; it is not that of vain wishes for your aggrandizement. You are the same to Joanna Mar whether as a monarch or a private man, so long as you possess that supremacy in all, excellence which first gained her esteem. It is for Scotland’s sake alone that I wish you to be her king. You have taught me to forget all selfish desires-to respect myself,” cried she; “and, from this hour I conjure you to wipe from your memory all my folly-all my love-”

With the last word her bosom heaved tumultuously, and she rose in agitation. Wallace now gazed on her with redoubled wonder. She saw it; and hearing a foot in the passage, turned, and grasping his hand, said in a soft and hurried tone, “Forgive, that which is entwined with my heart should cost me some pangs to wrest thence again. Only respect me and I am comforted.” Wallace in silence pressed her hand, and the door opened.

Lady Ruthven entered. The countess, whose present aim was to throw the virtue of Wallace off its guard, and to take that by sap, which she found resisted open attack, with a penitential air disappeared by another passage. Edwin’s gentle mother was followed by the same youth who had brought Helen’s packet to Berwick. It was Walter Hay, anxious to be recognized by his benefactor, to whom his recovered health had rendered his person strange. Wallace received him with kindness, and told him to bear his grateful respects to his lady for her care of her charge. Lord Ruthven with others soon entered; and at the appointed hour they attended their chief to the citadel.

The council-hall was already filled with the lords who had brought their clans to the Scottish standard. On the entrance of Wallace they rose; and Mar coming forward, followed by the heralds and other officers of ceremony, saluted him with the due forms of regent, and led him to the throne. Wallace ascended; but it was only to take thence a packet which had been deposited for him on its cushion, and coming down again, he laid the parchment on the council-table.

“I can do all things best,” said he, “when I am upon a level with my friends.” He then broke the seal of the packet. It was from the Prince of Wales, agreeing to Wallace’s proposed exchange of prisoners, but denouncing him as the instigator of the rebellion, and threatening him with a future judgment from his incensed king for the mischief he had wrought in the realm of Scotland. The letter was finished with a demand that the town and citadel of Berwick should be surrendered to England, as a gauge for the quiet of the borders till Edward should return.

Kirkpatrick scoffed at the audacious menace of the young prince. “He should come amongst us, like a man,” cried he; “and we would soon show him who it is that works mischief in Scotland! Ay, even on his back, we would write the chastisement due to the offender.”

“Be not angry with him, my friend,” returned Wallace; “these threats are words of course from the son of Edward. Did he not fear both our rights and our arms, he would not so readily accord with our propositions. You see every Scottish prisoner is to be on the borders by a certain day; and to satisfy that impatient valor (which I, your friend, would never check, but when it loses itself in a furor too nearly resembling that of our enemies), I intend to make your prowess once again the theme of their discourse. You will retake your castles in Annandale!”

“Give me but the means to recover those stout gates of our country,” cried Kirkpatrick, “and I will warrant you to keep the keys in my hand till doomsday.”

Wallace resumed: “Three thousand men are at your command. When the prisoners pass each other on the Cheviots, the armistice will terminate. You may then fall back upon Annandale, and that night, light your own fires in Torthorald! Send the expelled garrison into Northumberland, and show this haughty prince that we know how to replenish his depopulated towns!”

“But first I will set my mark on them!” cried Kirkpatrick, with one of those laughs which ever preluded some savage proposal.

“I can guess it would be no gentle one,” returned Wallace. “Why, brave knight, will you ever sully the fair field of your fame with an ensanguined tide?”

“It is the fashion of the times,” replied Kirkpatrick, roughly, “You only, my victorious general, who, perhaps, had most cause to go with the stream, have chosen a path of your own. But look around! see our burns, which the Southrons made run with Scottish blood; our hillocks, swollen with the cairns of our slain; the highways blocked up with the graves of the murdered; our lands filled with maimed clansmen, who purchased life of our ruthless tyrants, by the loss of eyes and limbs! And, shall we talk of gentle methods, with the perpetrators of these horrors? Sir William Wallace, you would make women of us!”

“Shame, shame, Kirkpatrick!” resounded from every voice, “you insult the regent!”

Kirkpatrick stood, proudly frowning, with his left hand on the hilt of his sword. Wallace, by a motion, hushed the tumult, and spoke: “No true chief of Scotland can offer me greater respect, than frankly to trust me with his sentiments.”

“Though we disagree in some points,” cried Kirkpatrick, “I am ready to die for him at any time, for I believe a trustier Scot treads not the earth; but I repeat, why, by this mincing mercy, seek to turn our soldiers into women?”

“I seek to make them men,” replied Wallace; “to be aware that they fight with fellow-creatures, with whom they may one day be friends; and not like the furious savages of old Scandinavia, drink the blood of eternal enmity. I would neither have my chieftains set examples of cruelty, nor degrade themselves by imitating the barbarities of our enemies. That Scotland bleeds every pore is true; but let peace be our aim, and we shall heal all her wounds.”

“Then I am not to cut off the ears of the freebooters in Annandale?” cried Kirkpatrick, with a good-humored smile. “Have it as you will, my general, only you must new christen me to wash the war-stain from my hand. The rite of my infancy was performed as became a soldier’s son; my fount was my father’s helmet and the first pap I sucked lay on the point of his sword.”

“You have not shamed your nurse!” cried Murray.

“Nor will I,” answered Kirkpatrick, “while the arm that slew Cressingham remains unwithered.”

While he spoke, Ker entered to ask permission to introduce a messenger from Earl de Warenne. Wallace gave consent. It was Sir Hugh le de Spencer, a near kinsman of the Earl of Hereford, the tumultory constable of England. He was the envoy who had brought the Prince of Wales’ dispatches to Stirling. Wallace was standing when he entered, and so were the chieftains, but at his appearance they sat down. Wallace retained his position.

“I come,” cried the Southron knight, “from the lord warden of Scotland, who, like my prince, too greatly condescends to do otherwise than command, where now he treats; I come to the leader of this rebellion, William Wallace, to receive an answer to the terms granted by the clemency of my master, the son of his liege lord, to this misled kingdom.”

“Sir Knight,” replied Sir William Wallace, “when the Southron lords delegate a messenger to me, who knows how to respect the representative of the nation to which he is sent, and the agents of his own country, I shall give them my reply. You may withdraw.”

The Southron stood, resolute to remain where he was; “Do you know, proud Scot,” cried he, “to whom you dare address this imperious language? I am the nephew of the lord high constable of England.”

“It is a pity,” cried Murray, looking coolly up from the table, “that he is not here to take his kinsman into custody.”

Le de Spencer fiercely half drew his sword; “Sir, this insult-”

“Must be put up with,” cried Wallace, interrupting him, and motioning Edwin to lay his hand on the sword; “you have insulted the nation to which you were sent on a peaceful errand; and having thus invited the resentment of every chief here present, you cannot justly complain against their indignation. But in consideration of your youth, and probable ignorance of what becomes the character of an embassador, I grant you the protection your behavior has forfeited. Sir Alexander Scrymgeour,” said he, turning to him, “you will guard Sir Hugh le de Spencer to the Earl de Warenne, and tell that nobleman I am ready to answer any proper messenger.”

The young Southron, frowning, followed Scrymgeour from the hall, and Wallace, turning to Murray, “My friend,” said he, “it is not well to stimulate insolence by repartee. This young man’s speech, though an insult to the nation, was directed to me, and by me only it ought to have been answered, and that seriously. The haughty spirit of this man should have been quelled, not incensed; and, had you proceeded one word further, you would have given him an apparently just cause of complaint against you, and of that, my friend, I am most sensibly jealous. It is not policy nor virtue to be rigorous to the extent of justice.”

“I know,” returned Murray, blushing, “that my wits are too many for me; ever throwing me, like Phaeton’s horses, into the midst of some fiery mischief. But pardon me now, and I promise to rein them close, when next I see this prancing knight.”

“Bravo, my Lord Andrew!” cried Kirkpatrick, in an affected whisper, “I am not always to be bird alone, under the whip of our regent; you have had a few stripes, and now look a little of my feather!”

“Like as a swan to a vulture, good Roger,” answered Murray.

Wallace attended not to this tilting of humor between the chieftains, but engaged himself in close discourse with the elder nobles at the higher end of the hall. In half an hour Scrymgeour returned, and with him Baron Hilton. He brought an apology from De Warenne, for the behavior of his embassador; and added his persuasions to the demands of England, that the regent would surrender Berwick, not only as a pledge for the Scots keeping the truce on the borders, but as a proof of his confidence in Prince Edward.

Wallace answered, that he had no reason to show extraordinary confidence in one who manifested, by such a requisition, that he had no faith in Scotland; and therefore, neither as a proof of confidence, nor as a gauge of her word, should Scotland, a victorious power, surrender the eastern door of her kingdom in the vanquished. Wallace declared himself ready to dismiss the English prisoners to the frontiers, and to maintain the armistice till they had reached the south side of the Cheviots. “But,” added he, “my word must be my bond, for by the honor of Scotland I will give no other.”

“Then,” answered Baron Hilton, with an honest flush passing over his cheek, as if ashamed of what he had next to say, “I am constrained to lay before you the last instructions of the Prince of Wales to Earl de Warenne.”

He took a royally sealed roll of vellum from his breast, and read aloud:

“Thus saith Edward, Prince of Wales, to Earl de Warenne, Lord Warden of Scotland. If that arch-rebel, William Wallace, who now assumeth to himself the rule of all our royal father’s hereditary dominions north of the Cheviots, refuseth to give unto us the whole possession of the town and citadel of Berwick-upon-Tweed, as a pledge of his faith, to keep the armistice on the borders from sea to sea: we command you to tell him, that we shall detain under the ward of our good lieutenant of the Tower in London, the person of William the Lord Douglas, as a close captive, until our prisoners, now in Scotland, arrive safely at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This mark of supremacy over a rebellious people we owe as a pledge of their homage to our royal father; and as a tribute of our gratitude to him for having allowed us to treat at all with so undutiful a part of his dominions.

“(Signed)

Edward, P.W.”

“Baron,” cried Wallace, “it would be beneath the dignity of Scotland, to retaliate this act with the like conduct. The exchange of prisoners shall yet be made, and the armistice held sacred on the borders. But, as I hold the door of war open in the interior of the country, before the Earl de Warenne leaves this citadel (and it shall be on the day assigned), please the Almighty Lord of Justice, the Southron usurpers of all our castles on the eastern shore shall be our hostages for the safety of Lord Douglas.”

“And this is my answer, noble Wallace?”

“It is; and you see no more of me till that which I have said is done.”

Baron Hilton withdrew. And Wallace, turning to his peers, rapidly made dispositions for a sweeping march from frith to frith; and having sent those who were to accompany him to prepare for departure next day at dawn, he retired with the Lords Mar and Bothwell to arrange affairs relative to the prisoners.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24