The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 86.

Highgate.

The tidings of the dreadful vengeance which Edward had taken against the Scottish nation, by pouring all his wrath upon the head of Wallace, struck like the lightning of heaven through the souls of men. None of either country, but those in the confidence of Gloucester, knew that Heaven had snatched him from the dishonor of so vile a death. The English turned, blushing, from each other, and ventured not to breathe the name of a man whose virtues seemed to have found a sanctuary for his fame in every honest heart. But when the news reached Scotland, the indignation was general. All envyings, all strifes were forgotten, in unqualified resentment of the deed. There was not a man, even amongst the late refractory chiefs, excepting the Cummins, and their coadjutors Soulis and Monteith, who really had believed that Edward seriously meant to sentence the Scottish patriot to a severer fate than what he had pronounced against his rebellious vassal, the exiled Baliol. The execution of Wallace, whose offense could only be that of having served his country too faithfully, was therefore so unexpected, that on the first promulgation of it, so great an abhorrence of the perpetrator was excited in every breast, that the whole country rose as one man, threatening to march instantly to London, and sacrifice the tyrant on his throne.

At this crisis, when the mountains of the north seemed heaving from their base, to overwhelm the blood-stained fields of England, every heart which secretly rejoiced in the late sanguinary event quailed within its possessor, as it tremblingly anticipated the consequences of the fall of Wallace. At this instant, when the furies armed every clan in Scotland, breathing forth revenge like a consuming fire before them, John Cummin, the regent, stood aghast. He foresaw his own downfall, in this reawakened enthusiasm respecting the man whom his treachery had been the first means of betraying to his enemies. Baffled in the aim of his ambition by the very means he had taken to effect it, Cummin saw no alternative, but to throw himself at once upon the bounty of England; and, to this purpose, he bethought him of the only chance of preserving the power of past events, that this tempest of the soul — excited by remorse in some, and gratitude in others — could only be maintained to any conclusive injury to England, by a royal hand, and that that hand was expected to be Bruce’s, he determined at once, that the prince to whom he had sworn fealty, and to whom he owed his present elevation, should follow the fate of his friend. By the spies which he constantly kept round Huntingtower, he was apprised that Bruce had set off toward London in a vessel from Dundee. On these grounds, he sent a dispatch to King Edward, informing him that destiny had established him supreme lord of Scotland; for not its second and its last hope had put himself into his hands. With this intelligence, he gave a particular account of all Bruce’s proceedings, from the time of his meeting Wallace in France, to his present following the chief to London. He then craved his majesty’s pardon for having been betrayed into a union with such conspirators; and repeating his hope that the restitution he now made, in thus showing the royal hand where to find its last opponent, would give full conviction of his penitence and duty. He closed his letter by urging the king to take instant and effectual measures to disable Bruce from disturbing the quiet of Scotland, or ever again disputing his regal claims!

Gloucester happened to be in the presence when this epistle was delivered in and read by his majesty. On the suit of his daughter, Edwin had been reconciled to his son-in-law; but when he showed him the contents of Cummin’s letter, with a suspicious smile he said in a loud voice, “In case you should know this new rebel’s lurking-place, presume not to leave this room till he is brought before me. See to your obedience, Ralph, or your head shall follow Wallace’s.”

The king instantly withdrew, and the earl, aware that search would be made through all his houses, sought in his own mind for some expedient to apprise Bruce of his danger. To write in the presence=chamber was impossible; to deliver a message in a whisper would be hazardous — for most of the surrounding courtiers, seeing the frown with which the king had left the apartment, marked the commands he gave the marshal: “Be sure that the Earl of Gloucester quits not this room till I return.”

In the confusion of his thoughts, the earl turned his eye on Lord Montgomery, who had only arrived that very morning from an embassy to Spain. He had heard with unutterable horror the fate of Wallace; and extending his interest in him to those whom he loved, had arranged with Gloucester to accompany him that very evening to pledge his friendship to Bruce. To Montgomery, then, as to the only man acquainted with his secret, he turned; and taking his spurs off his feet, and pulling out a purse of gold, he said aloud, and with as easy an air as he could assume, “Here, my Lord Montgomery, as you are going directly to Highgate, I will thank you to call at my lodge; put these spurs and this purse into the hands of the groom we spoke of; tell him they do not fit me, and he will know what use to make of them.” He then turned negligently on his heel, and Montgomery quitted the apartment.

The apprehension of this young lord was not less quick than the invention of his friend. He guessed that the Scottish prince was betrayed; and to render his escape the less likely to be traced (the ground being wet, and liable to retain impression), before he went to the lodge he dismounted in the adjoining wood, and with his own hands reversed the iron on the feet of the animal he had provided for Bruce. He then proceeded to the house, and found the object of his mission disguised as a Carmelite, and in the chapel paying his vesper adorations to the Almighty Being on whom his whole dependence hung. Uninfluenced by the robes he wore, his was the devotion of the soul; and not unaptly at such an hour came one to deliver him from a danger which, unknown to himself, was then within a few minutes of seizing its prey.

Montgomery entered; and being instantly recognized by Bruce, the ingenuous prince, never doubting a noble heart, stretched out his hand to him. “I take it,” returned the earl, “only to give it a parting grasp. Behold these spurs and purse sent to you by Gloucester. You know their use. Without further observation follow me.” Montgomery was thus abrupt, because as he left the palace he had heard the marshal give orders for different military detachments to search every residence of Gloucester for the Earl of Carrick; and he did not doubt that the party dispatched to Highgate were now mounting the hill.

Bruce, throwing off his cassock and cowl, again appeared in his martial garb, and after bending his knee for a moment on the chancel-stone which covered the remains of Wallace, he followed his friend from the chapel, and thence through a solitary path to the park, to the center of the wood. Montgomery pointed to the horse. Bruce grasped the hand of his faithful conductor. “I go, Montgomery,” said he, “to my kingdom. But its crown shall never clasp my brows till the remains of Wallace return to their country. And whether peace or the sword restore them to Scotland, still shall a king’s, a brother’s friendship unite my heart to Gloucester and to you.” While speaking he vaulted into his saddle, and receiving the cordial blessings of Montgomery, touched his good steed with his pointed rowels, and was out of sight in an instant.

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