The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 71.

The Camp.

Next morning Wallace was recalled from the confusion into which his nocturnal visitor had thrown his mind by the entrance of Ker, who came, as usual, with the reports of the night. In the course of the communication he mentioned, that about three hours before sunrise, the Knight of the Green Plume had left the camp with his dispatches for Sterling. Wallace was scarcely surprised at this ready falsehood of Lady Mar’s, and, not intending to betray her, he merely said, “Long ere be appears again I hope we shall have good tidings from our friend in the north.”

But day succeeded day, and notwithstanding Bothweil’s embassy, no accounts arrived. The countess had left an emissary in the Scottish camp, who did as she had done before — intercepted all messengers from Perthshire.

Indeed, from the first of her flight to Wallace to the hour of her qoitting him, she had never halted in her purpose from any regard to honor. Previous to her stealing from Huntingtower, she had bribed the senesehal to say that on the morning of her disappearance, he had met a knight, near Saint Concal’s Well, coming to the castle; who told him that the Countess of Mar was gone on a secret mission to Norway, and she therefore had commanded him, by that knight, to enjoin her sister-in-law, for the sake of the cause most dear to them all, not to acquaint Lord Ruthven, or any of their friends, with her departure, till she should return with happy news for Scotland. The man added, that after declaring this, the knight rode hastily away. But this precaution, which did indeed impose on the innocent credulty of her husband’s sister and his daughter, failed to satisfy the countess herself.

Fearful that Helen might communicate her flight to Wallace, and so excite his suspicion of her not being far from him, from the moment of her joining him at Linlithgow she intercepted every letter from Huntingtower: and when Bruce went to that castle, she continued the practice with double vigilance, being jealous of what might be said of Helen by this Sir Thomas de Longueville, in whom the master of her fate seemed so unreservedly to confide. To this end, even after she left the camp, all packets from Perthshire were conveyed to her by the spy she had stationed near Wallace; while all which were sent from him to Huntingtower were stopped by the treacherous seneschal, and thrown into the flames. No letters, however, ever came from Helen; a few bore Lord Ruthven’s superscription, and all the rest were addressed by Sir Thomas de Longueville to Wallace. She broke the seals of this correspondence, but she looked in vain on their contents. Bruce and his friend, as well as Ruthven, wrote in a cipher, and only one passage, which the former had by chance written in the common character, could she ever make out. It ran thus:

“I have just returned to Huntingtower, after the capture of Kinfouns. Lady Helen sits by me on one side, Isabella on the other. Isabella smiles on me, like the spirit of happiness. Helen’s look is not less gracious, for I tell her I am writing to Sir William Wallace. She smiles, hut it is with such a smile as that with which a saint would relinquish to Heaven the dearest object of its love. ‘Helen,’ said I, ‘what shall I say from you to our friend?’ ‘That I pray for him.’ ‘That you think of him?’ ‘That I pray for him,’ repeated she, more emphatically; ‘that is the way I always think of my preserver.’ Her manner checked me, my dear Wallace, but I would give worlds that you could bring your heart to make this sweet vestal smile as I do her sister!”

Lady Mar crushed the registered wish in her hand; and though she was never able to decipher a word or more of Bruce’s numerous letters (many of which, could she have read them, contained complaints of that silence she had so cruelly occasioned), she took and destroyed them all.

She had ever shunned the penetrating eyes of young Lord Bothwell, and to have him on the spot when she should discover herself to Wallace, she thought would only invite discomfiture. Affecting to share the general anxiety respecting the failure of communications from the north, she it was who suggested the propriety of sending some one of peculiar trust to make inquiries. By covert insinuations, she easily induced Ker to propose Bothwell to Wallace, and, on the very night that her machinations had prevailed, to dispatch him on this embassy; impatient, yet doubting and agitated, she went to declare herself to the man for whom she had thus sunk herself in shame and falsehood.

Though Wallace heard the denunciation with which she left his presence, yet he did not conceive it was more than the evanescent rage of disappointed passion; and, anticipating persecutions rather from her love than her revenge, he was relieved, and not alarmed, by the intelligence that the Knight of the Green Plume had really taken his departure. More delicate of Lady Mar’s honor than she was of her own, when he met Edwin at the works, he silently acquiesced in his belief also, that their late companion was gone with dispatches to the regent, who was now removed to Stirling.

After frequent sallies from the garrison, in which the Southrons were always beaten back with great loss, the lines of circumvallation were at last finished, and Wallace hourly anticipated the surrender of the enemy. Reduced for want of provisions, and seeing all succors cut off by the seizure of the fleet, the inhabitants, detesting their new rulers, collected in bands; and lying in wait for the soldiers of the garrison, murdered them secretly, and in great numbers. But here the evil did not end; for by the punishments which the governor thought proper to inflict by lots on the guilty, or the guiltless (he not being able to discover who were actually the assassins), the distress of the town was augmented to a horrible degree. Such a state of things could not be long maintained. Aware that should he continue in the fortress, his troops must assuredly perish, either by insurrection within, or from the enemy without, the Southron commander determined no longer to wait the appearance of a relief which might never arrive; and to stop the internal confusion, be sent a flag of truce to Wallace, accepting and signing his offered terms of capitulation. By this deed, he engaged to open the gates at sunset, but begged the interval between noon and that hour, to allow him time to settle the animosity between his men and the people before he should surrender his brave followers entirely into the hands of the Scots.

Having dispatched his assent to this request of the governor’s, Wallace retired to his own tent. That he had effected his purpose without the carnage which must have ensued had he again stormed the place, gratified his humanity; and congratulating himself on such a termination of the siege, he turned with more than usual cheerfulness toward a herald, who brought him a packet from the north. The man withdrew, and Wallace broke the seal; but what was his astonishment to find it a citation for himself to repair immediately to Stirling, “to answer,” it said,

“certain charges brought against him, by an authority too illustrious to be set aside without examination!” He had hardly read this extraordinary mandate when Sir Simon Fraser, his second in command, entered, and~, with consternation in his looks, put an open letter into his hand. It ran as follows:

“Sir Simon Fraser — Allegations of treason against the liberties of Scotland having been preferred against Sir William Wallace, until he clears himself of these charges to the thanes of Scotland here assembled, you, Sir Simon Fraser, are directed to assume, in his stead, the command of the forces which form the blockade of Berwick, and, as the first act of your duty, you are ordered to send the accused toward Stirling under a strong guard, within an hour after you receive this dispatch.

“(Signed)

John Cummin,

“Earl of Badenoch, Lord Regent of Scotland.

“Stirling Castle.”

Wallace returned the letter to Fraser with an undisturbed countenance. “I have received a similar order from the regent,” said he; “and though I cannot guess the source whence these accusations spring, I fear not to meet them, and shall require no guard to speed me forward to the scene of my defense. I am ready to go, my friend, and happy to resign the brave garrison, that has just surrendered, to your honor and lenity.” Fraser answered that he should be emulous to follow his example in all things, and to abide by his agreements with the Southron governor. He then retired to prepare the army for the departure of their commander, and, much against his feelings, to call out the escort that was to attend the calumniated chief Stirling.

When the marshal of the army read to the officers and men the orders of the regent, a speechless consternation seized on one part of the troops, and as violent an indignation agitated the other to tumult. The veterans, who had followed the chief of Ellerslie from the first hour of his appearing as a patriot in arms, could not brook this aspersion upon their leader’s honor; and had it not been for the vehement exhortations of the no less incensed, though more moderate, Scrymgeour and Lockhart, they would have risen in instant revolt. Though persuaded to sheathe their half-drawn swords, they could not be withheld from immediately quitting the field, and marching directly to Wallace’s tent. He was conversing with Edwin when they arrived; and, in some measure, he had broken the shock to him of so dishonoring a charge on his friend, by his being the first to communicate it. While Edwin strove to guess who could be the inventor of so dire a falsehood against the truest of Scots, he awakened an alarm in Wallace for Bruce, which could not be excited for himself, by suggesting that perhaps some intimation had been given to the most ambitious of the thanes, respecting the arrival of their rightful prince. “And yet,” returned Wallace, “I cannot altogether suppose that; for even their desires of self-aggrandizement could not torture my share in Bruce’s restoration to his country into anything like treason our friend’s rights are too undisputed for that; and all I should dread, by a premature discovery of his being in Scotland, would be secret machinations against his life. There are men in this land who might attempt it; and it is our duty, my dear Edwin, to suffer death upon the rack, rather than betray our knowledge of him. “But,” added he, with a smile, “we need not disturb ourselves with such thoughts — the regent is in our prince’s confidence; and did this accusation relate to him, he would not, on such a plea, have arraigned me as a traitor.”

Edwin again revolved in his mind the nature of the charge and who the villain could be who had made it; and, at last suddenly recollecting the Knight of the Green Plume, he asked if it were not possible that he, a stranger who had so sedulously kept himself from being known, might be the traitor?

“I must confess to you,” continued Edwin, “that this knight, who ever appeared to dislike your closest friends, seems to me the most probable instigator of this mischief; and is, perhaps, the author of the strange failure of communication between you and Bruce! Accounts have not arrived, ever since Bothwell went; and that is more than natural. Though brave in his deeds, this unknown way prove only the more subtle spy and agent of our enemies.”

Wallace changed color at these suggestions, but merely replied:

“A few hours will decide your suspicion, for I shall lose no time in confronting my accuser.”

“I go with you,” said Edwin; “never while I live, will I consent to lose sight of you again!”

It was at this moment that the tumultuous approach of the Lanark veterans was heard from without. The whole band rushed into the tent; and Stephen Ireland, who was foremost, raising his voice above the rest, exclaimed:

“They are the traitors, my lord, who accuse you! It is determined, by our corrupted thanes, that Scotland shall be sacrificed, and you are to be made the first victim. Think they, then, that we will obey such parricides? Lead us on, thou only worthy of the name of regent, and we will hurl these usurpers from their thrones.”

This demand was reiterated by every man present — was echoed by hundreds who surrounded the tent. The Bothwell men and Ramsay’s followers joined the men of Lanark, and the mutiny against the orders of the regent became general. Wallace walked out into the open field, and mounting his horse, rode forth amongst them. At sight of him the air resounded with acclamations, unceasingly proclaiming him their only leader, but, stretching out his arm to them, in token of silence, they became profoundly still.

“My friends and brother soldiers,” cried he. “as you value the honor of William Wallace, as you have hitherto done this moment yield him implicit obedience.”

“Forever!” shouted the Bothwel1 men.

“We never will obey any other!” rejoined his faithful Lanark followers, and, with an increased uproar, they demanded to be led to Stirling.

His extended hand again stilled the storm, and he resumed:

“You shall go with me to Stirling, but as my friends only: never as the enemies of the Regent of Scotland. I am charged with treason; it is his duty to try me by the laws of my country; it is mine to submit to the inquisition. I fear it not, and I invite you to accompany me; not to brand me with infamy, by passing between my now darkened honor and the light of justice — not to avenge an iniquitous sentence denounced on a guiltless man — but to witness my acquittal; and in that my triumph over them, who, through my breast would strike at what is greater than I.”

At this mild persuasive every upraised sword dropped before him, and Wallace, turning his horse into the path which led toward Stirling, his men, with a silent determination to share the fate of their master, fell into regular marching order, and followed him. Edwin rode by his side, equally wondering at the unaffected composure with which he sustained such a weight of insult, and at the men who could be so unjust as to lay it upon him.

At the west of the camp, the detachment appointed to guard Wallace in his arrest came up with him. It was with difficulty that Fraser could find an officer who would command it; and he who did at last consent, appeared before his prisoner with downcast eyes; seeming rather the culprit than the guard. Wallace, observing his confusion, said a few gracious words to him; and the officer, more overcome by this than be could have been with reproaches, burst into tears and retired into the rear of his men.

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