Bright was the summer of 1296. The war which had desolated Scotland was then at an end. Ambition seemed satiated; and the vanquished, after having passed under the yoke of their enemy, concluded they might wear their chains in peace. Such were the hopes of those Scottish noblemen who, early in the preceding spring, had signed the bond of submission to a ruthless conqueror, purchasing life at the price of all that makes life estimable-liberty and honor.
Prior to this act of vassalage, Edward I., King of England, had entered Scotland at the head of an immense army. He seized Berwick by stratagem; laid the country in ashes; and, on the field of Dunbar, forced the Scottish king and his nobles to acknowledge him their liege lord.
But while the courts of Edward, or of his representatives, were crowded by the humbled Scots, the spirit of one brave man remained unsubdued. Disgusted alike at the facility with which the sovereign of a warlike nation could resign his people and his crown into the hands of a treacherous invader, and at the pusillanimity of the nobles who had ratified the sacrifice, William Wallace retired to the glen of Ellerslie. Withdrawn from the world, he hoped to avoid the sight of oppressions he could not redress, and the endurance of injuries beyond his power to avenge.
Thus checked at the opening of life in the career of glory that was his passion-secluded in the bloom of manhood from the social haunts of men-he repressed the eager aspirations of his mind, and strove to acquire that resignation to inevitable evils which alone could reconcile him to forego the promises of his youth, and enable him to view with patience a humiliation of Scotland, which blighted her honor, menaced her existence, and consigned her sons to degradation or obscurity. The latter was the choice of Wallace. Too noble to bend his spirit to the usurper, too honest to affect submission, he resigned himself to the only way left of maintaining the independence of a true Scot; and giving up the world at once, all the ambitions of youth became extinguished in his breast, since nothing was preserved in his country to sanctify their fires. Scotland seemed proud of her chains. Not to share in such debasement, appeared all that was now in his power; and within the shades of Ellerslie he found a retreat and a home, whose sweets beguiling him of every care, made him sometimes forget the wrongs of his country in the tranquil enjoyments of wedded love.
During the happy mouths of the preceding autumn, while Scotland was yet free, and the path of honorable distinction still open before her young nobility, Wallace married Marion Braidfoot, the beautiful heiress of Lammington. Nearly of the same age, and brought up from childhood together, reciprocal affection had grown with their growth; and sympathy of tastes and virtues, and mutual tenderness, made them so entirely one, that when at the age of twenty-two the enraptured lover was allowed to pledge that faith publicly at the altar, which he had so often vowed in secret to his Marion, he clasped her to his heart, and softly whispered: “Dearer than life! part of my being! blessed is this union, that mingles thy soul with mine, now, and forever!”
Edward’s invasion of Scotland broke in upon their innocent joys. Wallace threw aside the wedding garment for the cuirass and the sword. But he was not permitted long to use either-Scotland submitted to her enemies; and he had no alternative but to bow to her oppressors, or to become an exile from man, amid the deep glens of his country.
The tower of Ellerslie was henceforth the lonely abode of himself and his bride. The neighboring nobles avoided him, because the principles he declared were a tacit reproach on their proceedings; and in the course of a short time, as he forbore to seek them, they even forgot that he was in existence. Indeed, all occasions of mixing with society he now rejected. The hunting-spear with which he had delighted to follow the flying roebuck from glade to glade, the arrows with which he used to bring down the heavy ptarmigan or the towering eagle, all were laid aside. Scottish liberty was no more; and Wallace would have blushed to have shown himself to the free-born deer of his native hills, in communion of sports with the spoilers of his country. Had he pursued his once favorite exercises, he must have mingled with the English, now garrisoned in every town, and who passed their hours of leisure in the chase.
Being resigned to bury his youth-since its strength could no longer be serviceable to his country-books, his harp, and the sweet converse of his tender Marion, became the occupations of his days. Ellerslie was his hermitage; and there, closed from the world, with an angel his companion, he might have forgotten Edward was lord in Scotland, had not that which was without his little paradise made a way to its gates, and showed him the slavery of the nobles and the wretchedness of the people. In these cases, his generous hand gave succor where it could not bring redress. Those whom the lawless plunderer had driven from their houses or stripped of their covering, found shelter, clothing, and food at the house of Sir William Wallace.
Ellerslie was the refuge of the friendless, and the comfort of the unhappy. Wherever Lady Wallace moved-whether looking out from her window on the accidental passenger, or taking her morning or moonlight walks through the glen, leaning on the arm of her husband-she had the rapture of hearing his steps greeted and followed by the blessings of the poor destitute, and the prayers of them who were ready to perish. It was then that this happy woman would raise her husband’s hands to her lips, and in silent adoration, thank God for blessing her with a being made so truly in his own image.
Several months of this blissful and uninterrupted solitude had elapsed, when Lady Wallace saw a chieftain at her gate. He inquired for its master-requested a private conference-and retired with him into a remote room. They remained together for an hour. Wallace then came forth, and ordering his horse, with four followers, to be in readiness, said he meant to accompany his guest to Douglas Castle. When he embraced his wife at parting, he told her that as Douglas was only a few miles distant, he should be at home again before the moon rose.
She passed the tedious hours of his absence with tranquillity, till the appointed signal of his return appeared from behind the summits of the opposite mountains. So bright were its beams, that Marion did not need any other light to show her the stealing sands of her hour-glass, as they numbered the prolonged hours of her husband’s stay. She dismissed her servants to their rest; all, excepting Halbert, the gray-haired harper of Wallace; and he, like herself, was too unaccustomed to the absence of his master to find sleep visit his eyes while Ellerslie was bereft of its joy and its guard.
As the night advanced, Lady Wallace sat in the window of her bed-chamber, which looked toward the west. She watched the winding pathway that led from Lanark down the opposite heights, eager to catch a glimpse of the waving plumes of her husband when he should emerge from behind the hill, and pass under the thicket which overhung the road. How often, as a cloud obscured for an instant the moon’s light, and threw a transitory shade across the path, did her heart bound with the thought that her watching was at an end! It was he whom she had seen start from the abrupt rock! They were the folds of his tartan that darkened the white cliff! But the moon again rolled through her train of clouds and threw her light around. Where then was her Wallace? Alas! it was only a shadow she had seen! the hill was still lonely, and he whom she sought was yet far away! Overcome with watching, expectation, and disappointment, unable to say whence arose her fears, she sat down again to look; but her eyes were blinded with tears, and in a voice interrupted by sighs she exclaimed, “Not yet, not yet! Ah, my Wallace, what evil hath betided thee?”
Trembling with a nameless terror, she knew not what to dread. She believed that all hostile recounters had ceased, when Scotland no longer contended with Edward. The nobles, without remonstrance, had surrendered their castles into the hands of the usurper; and the peasantry, following the example of their lords, had allowed their homes to be ravaged without lifting an arm in their defense. Opposition being over, nothing could then threaten her husband from the enemy; and was not the person who had taken him from Ellerslie a friend?
Before Wallace’s departure he had spoken to Marion alone; he told her that the stranger was Sir John Monteith, the youngest son of the brave Walter Lord Monteith,1 who had been treacherously put to death by the English in the early part of the foregoing year. This young man was bequeathed by his dying father to the particular charge of his friend William Lord Douglas, at that time governor of Berwick. After the fall of that place and the captivity of its defender, Sir Jon Monteith had retired to Douglas Castle, in the vicinity of Lanark, and was now the sole master of that princely residence: James Douglas, the only son of its veteran lord, being still at Paris, whither he had been dispatched, before the defeat at Dunbar, to negotiate a league between the French monarch and the then King of Scots.
1 Walter Stewart, the father of Sir John Monteith, assumed the name and earldom of Monteith in right of his wife, the daughter and heiress of the preceding earl. When his wife died he married an Englishwoman of rank, who, finding him ardently attached to the liberties of his country, cut him off by poison, and was rewarded by the enemies of Scotland for this murder with the hand of a British nobleman.-(1809.)
Informed of the privacy in which Wallace wished to live, Monteith had never ventured to disturb it until this day; but knowing the steady honor of his old school-companion, he came to entreat him, by the respect he entertained for the brave Douglas, and by his love for his country, that he would not refuse to accompany him to the brave exile’s castle.
“I have a secret to disclose to you,” said he, “which cannot be divulged on any other spot.”
Unwilling to deny so small a favor, Wallace, as has been said before, consented; and accordingly was conducted by Monteith toward Douglas.
While descending the heights which led to the castle, Monteith kept a profound silence; and when crossing the drawbridge toward it, he put his finger to his lips, in token to the servants for equal caution. This was explained as they entered the gate and looked around. It was guarded by English soldiers. Wallace would have drawn back; but Monteith laid his hand on his arm, and whispered, “For your country!” At these words, a spell to the ear of Wallace, he proceeded; and his attendants followed into the courtyard.
The sun was just setting as Monteith led his friend into the absent earl’s room. Its glowing reflection on the distant hills reminded Wallace of the stretch he had to retread to reach his home before midnight; and thinking of his anxious Marion, he awaited with impatience the development of the object of his journey.
Monteith closed the door, looked fearfully around for some time; then, trembling at every step, approached Wallace. When drawn quite near, in a low voice he said, “You must swear upon the cross that you will keep inviolate the secret I am going to reveal.”
Wallace put aside the hilt of the sword which Monteith presented to receive his oath. “No,” said he, with a smile; “in these times I will not bind my conscience on subjects I do not know. If you dare trust the word of a Scotsman and a friend, speak out; and if the matter be honest, my honor is your pledge.”
“You will not swear?”
“Then I must not trust you.”
“Then our business is at an end,” returned Wallace, rising, “and I may return home.”
“Stop!” cried Monteith. “Forgive me, my old companion, that I have dared to hesitate. These are, indeed, times of such treason to honor, that I do not wonder you should be careful how you swear; but the nature of the confidence reposed in me will. I hope, convince you that I ought not to share it rashly. Of any one but you, whose truth stands unsullied, amidst the faithlessness of the best, I would exact oaths on oaths; but your words is given, and on that I rely. Await me here.”
Monteith unlocked a door which had been concealed by the tapestry, and after a short absence re-entered with a small iron box. He set it on the table near his friend, then went to the great door, which he had before so carefully closed, tried that the bolts were secure, and returned, with a still more pallid countenance, toward the table. Wallace, surprised at so much actions, awaited with wonder the promised explanation. Monteith sat down with his hand on the box, and fixing his eyes on it, began:
“I am going to mention a name, which you may hear with patience, since its power is no more. The successful rival of Bruce, and the enemy of your family, is now a prisoner in the Tower of London.”
“Yes,” answered Monteith; “and his present sufferings will, perhaps, avenge to you his vindictive resentment of the injury he received from Sir Ronald Crawford.”
“My grandfather never injured him, nor any man!” interrupted Wallace: “Sir Ronald Crawford was as incapable of injustice as of flattering the minions of his country’s enemy. But Baliol is fallen, and I forgive him.”
“Did you witness his degradation,” returned Monteith, “you would even pity him.”
“I always pity the wicked,” continued Wallace; “and as you seem ignorant of the cause of his enmity against Sir Ronald and myself, in justice to the character of that most venerable of men, I will explain it. I first saw Baliol four years ago, when I accompanied my grandfather to witness the arbitration of the King of Scotland between the two contending claimants for the Scottish crown. Sir Ronald came on the part of Bruce. I was deemed too young to have a voice in the council; but I was old enough to understand what was passing there, and to perceive, that it was the price for which he sold his country. However, as Scotland acknowledged him sovereign, and as Bruce submitted, my grandfather silently acquiesced. But Baliol did not forget former opposition. His behavior to Sir Ronald and myself at the beginning of this year, when, according to the privilege of our birth, we appeared in the field against the public enemy, fully demonstrated what was the injury Baliol complains of, and how unjustly he drove us from the standard of Scotland. ‘None,’ said he, ‘shall serve under me, who presumed to declare themselves the friends of Bruce.’ Poor weak man. The purchased vassal of England; yet so vain of his ideal throne, he hated all who had opposed his elevation, even while his own treachery sapped its foundation! Edward having made use of him, all these sacrifices of honor and of conscience are insufficient to retain his favor; and Baliol is removed from his kingdom to an English prison! Can I feel anything so honoring as indignation against a wretch so abject? No! I do indeed pity him. And now that I have cleared my grandfather’s name of such calumny, I am ready to hear you further.”
Monteith, after remarking on the well-known honor of Sir Ronald Crawford, resumed.
“During the massacre at the capture of Berwick, Lord Douglas, wounded, and nearly insensible, was taken by a trusty band of Scots out of the citadel and town. I followed him to Dunbar, and witnessed with him that dreadful day’s conflict, which completed the triumph of the English. When the few nobles who survived the battle dispersed, Douglas took the road to Forfar, hoping to meet King Baliol there, and to concert with him new plans of resistance. When we arrived, we found his majesty in close conversation with the Earl of Athol, who had persuaded him the disaster at Dunbar was decisive, and that if he wished to save his life, he must immediately go to the King of England, then at Montrose, and surrender himself to his mercy.2
2 This treacherous Scot, who persuaded Baliol to his ruin, was John Cummin of Strathbogie, Earl of Athol in right of his wife, the heiress of that earldom.-(1809.)
“Douglas tried to alter Baliol’s resolution, but without effect. The king could not return any reasonable answers to the arguments which were offered to induce him to remain, but continued to repeat, with groans and tears. ‘It is my fate.’ Athol sat knitting his black brows during this conversation; and at last throwing out some sullen remarks to Lord Douglas on exhorting the king to defy his liege lord, he abruptly left the room.
“As soon as he was gone, Baliol rose from his seat with a very anxious countenance, and taking my patron into an adjoining room, they continued there a few minutes, and then reentered. Doublas brought with him this iron box. ‘Monteith,’ said he, ‘I confide this to your care.’ Putting the box under my arm and concealing it with my cloak-‘Carry it,’ continued he, ‘directly to my castle in Lanarkshire. I will rejoin you there, in four-and-twenty hours after your arrival. Meanwhile, by your affection for me and fidelity to your king, breathe not a word of what has passed.’
“‘Look on that, and be faithful!’ said Baliol, putting this ruby ring on my finger. I withdrew, with the haste his look dictated; and as I crossed the outward hall, was met by Athol. He eyed me sternly, and inquired whither I was going. I replied, ‘To Douglas, to prepare for the coming of its lord.’ The hall was full of armed men in Athol’s colors. Not one of the remnant who had followed my patron from the bloody field of Dunbar was visible. Athol looked round on his myrmidons: ‘Here,’ cried he, ‘see that you speed this fellow on his journey. We shall provide lodgings for his master.’ I foresaw danger to Lord Douglas, but I durst not attempt to warn him of it; and, to secure my charge, which a return to the room might have hazarded, I hastened into the courtyard, and being permitted to mount my horse, set off at full speed.
“On arriving at this place, I remembered the secret closet, and carefully deposited the box within it. A week passed, without any tidings of Lord Douglas. At last a pilgrim appeared at the gate, and requested to see me alone; fearing nothing from a man in so sacred a habit, I admitted him. Presenting me with a packet which had been intrusted to him by Lord Douglas, he told me my patron had been forcibly carried on board a vessel at Montrose, to be conveyed with the unhappy Baliol to the Tower of London. Douglas, on this outrage, sent to the monastery at Aberbrothick, and under the pretense of making a religious confession before he sailed, begged a visit from the sub-prior. ‘I am that prior,’ continued the pilgrim; ‘and having been born on the Douglas lands, he well knew the claim he had to my fidelity. He gave me this packet, and conjured me to lose no time in conveying it to you. The task was difficult; and, as in these calamitous seasons we hardly know whom to trust, I determined to execute it myself.’
“I inquired whether Lord Douglas had actually sailed. ‘Yes,’ replied the father; ‘I stood on the beach till the ship disappeared.’”
A half-stifled groan burst from the indignant breast of Wallace. It interrupted Monteith for an instant, but without noticing it he proceeded:
“Not only the brave Douglas was then wrested from his country, with our king, but also that holy pillar of Jacob3 which prophets have declared to be the palladium of Scotland!”
3 The tradition respecting this stone is as follows: Hiber, or Iber, the Phoenician, who came from the Holy Land to inhabit the coast of Spain, brought this sacred relic along with him. From Spain he transplanted it with the colony he sent to people the south of Ireland; and from Ireland it was brought into Scotland by the great Fergus, the son of Ferchard. He placed it in Argyleshire; but MacAlpine removed it to Scone, and fixed it in the royal chair in which all the succeeding kings of Scotland were inaugurated. Edward I. of England caused it to be carried to Westminster Abbey, where it now stands. The tradition is, that empire abides where it stays.-(1809.)
“What!” inquired Wallace, with a yet darker frown, “has Baliol robbed Scotland of that trophy of one of her best kings? Is the sacred gift of Fergus to be made the spoil of a coward?”
“Baliol is not the robber,” rejoined Monteith; “the halloed pillar was taken from Scone by the command of the King of England, and, with the sackings of Iona, was carried on board the same vessel with the betrayed Douglas. The archives of the kingdom have also been torn from their sanctuary, and were thrown by Edward’s own hands into the fire.”
“Tyrant!” murmured Wallace, “thou mayest fill the cup too full.”
“His depredations,” continued Monteith, “the good monk told me, have been wide as destructive. He has not left a parchment, either of public records or of private annals, in any of the monasteries or castles round Montrose; all have been searched and plundered. And besides, the faithless Earl of March and Lord Sculis are such parricides of their country, as to have performed the like robberies, in his name, from the eastern shores of the Highlands to the furthiest of the Western Isles.”
“Do the traitors think,” cried Wallace, “that by robbing Scotland of her annals and of that stone they really deprive her of her palladium? Scotland’s history is in the memories of her sons; her palladium is in their hearts; and Edward may one day find that she remembers the victory of Largs,4 and needs not talismans to give her freedom.”
4 This battle was fought by Alexander III, on the 1st of August, 1263, against Acho, King of Norway. That monarch invaded Scotland with a large army, and drew up his forces before Largs, a town in Ayrshire. He met with a great defeat, and, covered with disgrace, retired to his own country. Wallace’s father signalized himself on that field.-(1809.)
“Alas! not in our time!” answered Monteith. “The spear is at our breasts, and we must submit. You see this castle is full of Edward’s soldiers. Every house is a garrison for England-but more of this by and by; I have yet to tell you the contents of the packet which the monk brought. It contained two others. One directed to Sir James Douglas, at Paris, and the other to me. I read as follows:
“‘Athol has persuaded Baliol to his ruin, and betrayed me into the hands of Edward. I shall see Scotland no more. Send the inclosed to my son at Paris; it will inform him what is the last wish of William Douglas for his country. The iron box I confided to you, guard as your life, until you can deposit it with my son. But should he remain abroad, and you ever be in extremity, commit the box in strict charge to the worthiest Scot you know; and tell him that it will be at the peril of his soul, who dares to open it, till Scotland be again free! When that hour comes, then let the man by whose valor God restores her rights, receive the box as his own; for by him only it is to be opened. Douglas.’”
Monteith finished reading the letter, and remained silent. Wallace, who had listened to it with increasing indignation against the enemies of Scotland, spoke first: “Tell me in what I can assist you: or how serve these last wishes of the imprisoned Douglas.”
Monteith replied by reading over again this sentence-”‘Should my son remain abroad, and you ever be in extremity, commit the box in strict charge to the worthiest Scot you know.’ I am in that extremity now. Edward determined on desolation, when he placed English governors throughout our towns; and the rapacious Heselrigge, his representative in Lanark, not backward to execute the despot’s will, has just issued an order, for the houses of all the absent chiefs to be searched for records and secret correspondence. Two or three, in the neighborhood have already gone through this ordeal; but the even has proved that it was not papers they sought, but plunder, and an excuse for dismantling the castles, or occupying them with English officers.
“The soldiers you saw were sent, by daybreak this morning, to guard this castle until Heselrigge could in person be present at the examination. This ceremony is to take place to-morrow; and as Lord Douglas is considered a traitor to Edward, I am told the place will be sacked to its walls. In such an extremity, to you, noble Wallace, as to the worthiest Scot I know, I apply to take charge of this box. Within the remote cliffs of Ellerslie it must be safe; and when James Douglas arrives from Paris, to him you will resign it. Meanwhile, as I cannot resist the plunderers, after delivering the keys of the state apartments to Heselrigge to-morrow, I shall submit to necessity, and beg his permission to retire to my lodge on Ben Venu.”
Wallace made no difficulty in granting Monteith’s request; and, there being two iron rings on each side of his charge, the young chief took off his leathern belt, and putting it through them, swung the box easily under his left arm, while covering it with his plaid.
Monteith’s eyes now brightened-the paleness left his cheek-and with a firmer step, as if suddenly relieved of a heavy load, he called a servant to prepare Sir William Wallace’s attendants.
While Wallace shook him by the hand, Monteith, in a low and solemn voice, exhorted him to caution respecting the box. “Remember,” added he, “the penalty that hangs over him who looks into it.”
“Be not afraid,” answered Wallace; “even the outside shall never be seen by other eyes than my own, unless the same circumstance which now induces you, mortal extremity, should force me to confide it to safer hands.”
“Beware of that!” exclaimed Monteith; “for who is there that would adhere to the prohibition as I have done-as you will do? and besides, as I have no doubt it contains holy relics, who knows what new calamities a sacrilegious look might bring upon our already devoted country?”
“Relics or no relics,” replied Wallace, “it would be an equal sin against good faith to invade what is forbidden: but from the weight I am rather inclined to suspect it contains gold; probably a treasure, with which the sordid Baliol thinks to compensate the hero who may free his country from all the miseries a traitor king and a treacherous usurper have brought upon it.”
“A treasure!” repeated Monteith; “I never thought of that;-it is indeed heavy!-and, as we are responsible for the contents of the box, I wish we were certain of what it contains; let us consider that!”
“It is no consideration of ours,” returned Wallace. “With what is in the box we have no concern; all we have to do is, to preserve the contents unviolated by even our own eyes; and to that, as you have now transferred the charge to me, I pledge myself-farewell.”
“But why this haste?” rejoined Monteith, “indeed, I wish I had thought-stay only a little.”
“I thank you,” returned Wallace, proceeding to the courtyard; “but it is now dark, and I promised to be at home before the moon rises. If you wish me to serve you further, I shall be happy to see you at Ellerslie to-morrow. My Marion will have pleasure in entertaining, for days or weeks, the friend of her husband.”
While Wallace spoke, he advanced to his horse, to which he was lighted by the servants of the castle. A few English soldiers lingered about in idle curiosity. As he put his foot in the stirrup, he held the sword in his hand, which he had unbuckled from his side to leave space for his charge. Monteith, whose dread of detection was ever awake, whispered: “Your loosened weapon may excite suspicion!” Fear incurred what it sought to avoid. He hastily pulled aside Wallace’s plaid to throw it over the glittering hilt of the sword, and thus exposed the iron box. The light of the torches striking upon the polished rivets, displayed it to all lookers on, but no remark was made. Wallace, not observing what was done, again shook hands with Monteith, and calling his servants about him, galloped away. A murmur was heard, as if of some intention to follow him; but deeming it prudent to leave the open and direct road, because of the English marauders who swarmed there, he was presently lost amid the thick shades of Clydesdale.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53