The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 88.

Stirling.

The word of Bruce was as irreversible as his spirit was determined. No temptation of indulgence could seduce him from the one, no mischance of adversity could subdue the other. The standard of liberty had been raised by him on the Carse of Gowrie, and he carried it in his victorious arm from east to west, from the most northern point of Sutherland to the walls of Stirling; but there, the garrison which the treason of the late regent had admitted into the citadel gave a momentary check to his career. The English governor hesitated to surrender on the terms proposed, and while his first flag of truce was yet in the tent of the Scottish monarch, a second arrived to break off the negotiation. Whatever were the reasons for this abrupt determination, Bruce paid him not the compliment of asking a wherefore, but advancing his troops to the Southron outposts, drove them in with great loss; and, approaching the lower works of the town by the road of Ballochgeich, so alarmed the governor as to induce him to send forth several squadrons of horse to stop his progress.

Vain was the attempt. They shrunk before the resolute prince and his enthusiastic followers. The governor dispatched others, and at last marched himself out to their support. No force seemed able to withstand the pressing valor of the Scots. The Southron saw himself in the midst of his slain, and deserted by half of his surviving troops. A surrender, both of himself and his fainting companions, was now his only recourse. His herald sounded a parley. The generous victor, in the midst of triumph, listened to the offered capitulation. It was not to include the citadel of Stirling.

Bruce stopped the herald at this clause, and at once demanded the unconditional surrender of both the town and citadel. The governor, being aware that in his present state there was no alternative, and knowing the noble nature of the prince who made the requisition, yielded to necessity, and resigned the whole into his hands.

Next morning Bruce entered Stirling as a conqueror, with the whole of his kingdom at his feet; for, from the Solway Frith to the Northern Ocean, no Scottish town or castle owned a foreign master. The acclamations of a rescued people rent the skies; and, while prayers and blessings poured on him from above, below, and around, he did indeed feel himself a king, and that he had returned to the land of his forefathers. While he sat on his proud war-horse, in front of the great gates of the citadel, now thrown wide asunder to admit its rightful sovereign, his noble prisoners came forward. They bent their knees before him; and delivering their swords, received in return, his gracious assurance of mercy. At this moment all Scottish hearts and wishes seemed riveted on their youthful monarch. Dismounting from his steed, he raised his helmet from his head, as the souls of his enemies, he raised his helmet from his head, as the Bishop of Dunkeld, followed by all the ecclesiastics in the town, came forward to wait upon the triumph of their king.

The beautiful anthem of the virgins of Israel on the conquests of David, was chanted forth by the nuns who in this heaven-hallowed hour, like the spirits of the blest, revisited the world to give the chosen of their land, “All hail.”

The words, the scene, smote the heart of Bothwell; he turned aside and wept. Where were now the buoyant feelings with which he had followed the similar triumph of Wallace into these gates? “Buried, thou martyred hero, in thy bloody grave!” New men and new services seemed to have worn out remembrance of the past; but in the memories of even this joyous crowd, Wallace lived, though like a bright light which had passed through their path, and was gone never more to return.

On entering the citadel, Bruce was informed by Mowbray, the English governor, that he would find a lady there in a frightful state of mental derangement, and who might need his protection. A question or two from the victorious monarch told him that this was the Countess of Strathearn. On the revolted abthanes having betrayed Wallace and his country to England, the joy and ambition of the countess knew no bounds; and hoping to eventually persuade Edward to adjudge to her the crown, she made it apparent to the English king how useful would be her services to Scotland; while with a plenary though secret mission, she took her course through her native land, to discover who were inimical to the foreign interest, and who, likely to promote her own; after this circuit, she fixed her mimic court at Stirling, and living there in real magnificence, exercised the functions of a vice-queen. At this period intelligence arrived, which the governor thought would fill her with exultation; and hastening to declare it, he proclaimed to her, that the King of England’s authority was now firmly established in Scotland, for that on the twenty-third of August Sir William Wallace had been executed in London, according to all the forms of law, upon the Tower Hill!

On the full declaration of this event, she fell senseless on the floor. It was not until the next morning that she recovered to perfect animation, and then her ravings were horrible and violent. She accused herself of the murder of Sir William Wallace. She seemed to hear him upbraid her with his fate: and her shrieks and tremendous ejaculations so fearfully presented the scene of his death before the eyes of her attendants, that her women fled and none others of that sex would afterward venture to approach her. In these fearful moments the dreadful confession of all her premeditated guilt, of her infuriate and disappointed passion for Wallace, and her vowed revenge, were revealed, under circumstances so shocking, that the English governor declared to the King of Scots, while he conducted him toward her apartment, that he would rather wear out his life in a rayless dungeon, then endure one hour of her agonies.

There was a dead silence in her chamber as they approached the door. Mowbray cautiously opened it, and discovered the object of their visit. She was seated at the further end of the room on the floor, enveloped in a mass of scarlet velvet she had drawn off her bed; her hands clasped her knees, and she bent forward, with her eyes fixed on the door at which they entered. Her once dazzling beauty was now transformed to a haggard glare — the terrible lightning which gleamed on the face of Satan, when he sat brooding on the burning marl of Tartarus.

She remained motionless as they advanced. But when Bruce stopped directly before her, contemplating with horror the woman whom he regarded as one of the murderers of his most beloved friend, she sprung at once upon him, and clinging to him, with shrieks buried her head in his bosom. “Save me! save me!” cried she. “Mar drags me down to hell; I burn there, and yet I die not!” Then bursting from Bruce, with an imprecation that froze his blood, she flew to the other side of the chamber, crying aloud, “Thou hast torn out my heart! Fiend, I took thee for Wallace — but I murdered him!” Her agonies, her yells, her attempts at self-violence, were now so dreadful, that Bruce, raising her bleeding from the hearth on which she had furiously dashed her head, put her into the arms of the men who attended her, and then, with an awful sense of Divine retribution, left the apartment.

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