The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 43.

The Carse of Stirling.

Daybreak gleamed over the sky before the wondering spectators of the late extraordinary scene had dispersed to their quarters.

De Warenne was so well convinced by what had dropped from De Valence, of his having been the assassin, that when they met at sunrise to take horse for the borders, he made him no other salutation than an exclamation of surprise, “not to find him under an arrest for the last night’s work!”

“The wily Scot knew better,” replied De Valence, “than so to expose the reputation of the lady. He knew that she received the wound in his arms, and he durst not seize me, for fear I should proclaim it.”

“He cannot fear that,” replied De Warenne, “for he has proclaimed it himself. He has told every particular of his meeting with Lady Helen in the chapel, even her sheltering him with her arms; so there is nothing for you to declare but your own infamy. For infamous I must call it, Lord Aymer; and nothing but the respect I owe my country, prevents me pointing the eyes of the indignant Scots to you; nothing but the stigma your exposure would bring upon the English name, could make me conceal the dead.”

De Valence laughed at this speech of De Warenne’s. “Why, my lord warden,” said he, “have you been taking lessons of this doughty Scot, that you talk thus? It was not with such sentiments you overthrew the princes of Wales, and made the kings of Ireland fly before you! You would tell another story were your own interest in question; and I can tell you that any vengeance is not satisfied, I will yet see the brightness of those eyes on which the proud daughter of Mar hangs so fondly, extinguished in death. Maid, or wife, Helen shall be torn from his arms, and if I cannot make her a virgin bride, she shall at least be mine as his widow; for I swear not to be disappointed.”

“Shame, De Valence! I should blush to owe my courage to rivalry, or my perseverance in the field to a licentious passion! You know what you have confessed to me were once your designs on Helen Mar.”

“Every man according to his nature!” returned De Valence; and shrugging his shoulders, he mounted his horse.

The cavalcade of Southrons now appeared. They were met on the Carse by the regent, who, not regarding the smart of a closing wound, advanced at the head of ten thousand men to see his prisoners over the borders. By Helen’s desire, Lord Mar had informed Wallace what had been the threats of De Valence, and that she suspected him to be the assassin. But this suspicion was put beyond a doubt by the evidence of the dagger, which Edwin had found in the chapel; its hilt was enameled with the martlets of De Valence.

At sight of it a general indignation filled the Scottish chiefs, and assembling round their regent, with one breath they demanded that the false earl should be detained and punished as became the honor of nations, for so execrable a breach of all laws, human and divine. Wallace replied that he believed the attack to have been instigated by a personal motive, and therefore, as he was the object, not the state of Scotland, he should merely acquaint the earl that his villainy was known, and let the shame of disgrace be his punishment.

“Ah,” observed Lord Bothwell, “men who trample on conscience soon get over shame.”

“True,” replied Wallace, “but I suit my actions to my mind, not to my enemy’s; and if he cannot feel dishonor, I will not so far disparage myself as to think one so base worthy my resentment.”

While he was quieting the reawakened indignation of his nobles, whose blood began to boil afresh at sight of the assassin, the Southron lords, conducted by Lord Mar, approached. When that nobleman drew near, Wallace’s first inquiry was for Lady Helen. The earl informed him he had received intelligence of her having slept without fever, and that she was not awake when the messenger came off with his good tidings. That all was likely to be well with her was comfort to Wallace; and, with an unruffled brow, riding up to the squadron of Southrons which was headed by De Warenne and De Valence, he immediately approached the latter, and drawing out the dagger, held it toward him: “The next time, sir earl,” said he, “that you draw this dagger, let it be with a more knightly aim than assassination!”

De Valence, surprised, took it in confusion, and without answer; but his countenance told the state of his mind. He was humbled by the man he hated; and while a sense of the disgrace he had incurred tore his proud soul, he had not dignity enough to acknowledge the generosity of his enemy in again giving him a life which his treachery had so often forfeited. Having taken the dagger, he wreaked the exasperated vengeance of his malice upon the senseless steel, and breaking it asunder, threw the pieces into the air; while turning from Wallace with an affected disdain, he exclaimed to the shivered weapon, “You shall not betray me again!”

“Nor you betray our honors, Lord de Valence,” exclaimed Earl de Warenne; “and therefore, though the nobleness of the William Wallace leaves you at large after this outrage on his person, we will assent our innocence of connivance with the deed; and, as lord warden of this realm, I order you under arrest till we pass the Scottish lines.”

“’Tis well,” cried Hilton, “that such is your determination, my lord, else no honest man could have continued in the same company with one who has so tarnished the English name.”

“No!” cried his brother baron, venerable Blenkinsopp, reining up his steed; “I would forfeit house and lands first.”

De Valence, with an ironical smile, looked toward the squadron, which approached to obey De Warenne, and haughtily answered, “Though it be dishonor to march with me out of Scotland, the proudest of you all will deem it an honor to be allowed to return with me hither. I have an eye on those who stand with cap in hand to rebellion. And for you, Sir William Wallace,” added he, turning to him, who was also curbing his impatient charger, “I hold no terms with a rebel; and deem all honor that would rid my sovereign and the earth of such lowborn arrogance.”

Before Wallace could answer he saw De Valence struck from his horse by the Lochaberax of Edwin. Indignant at the insult offered to his beloved commander, he had suddenly raised his arm, and aiming a blow with all his strength, the earl was immediately stunned and precipitated to the ground.

At sight of the fall of the Southron chief, the Scottish troops, aware of there being some misunderstanding between their regent and the English lords, uttered a shout. Wallace, to prevent accidents, sent instantly to the lines, to appease the tumult, and throwing himself off his horse, hastened to the prostrate earl. A fearful pause reigned throughout the Southron ranks. They did not know but that the enraged Scots would now fall on them, and, in spite of their regent, exterminate them on the spot. The troops were running forward when Wallace’s messengers arrived and checked them, and himself, calling to Edwin, stopped his further chastisement of the recovering earl.

“Edwin, you have done wrong,” cried he; “give me that weapon which you have sullied by raising it against a prisoner totally in our power.”

With a vivid blush the noble boy resigned the weapon to his general; yet, with an unappeased glance on the prostrate De Valence, he exclaimed, “But have you not granted life twice to this prisoner? and has he not, in return, raised his hand against his life and Lady Helen? You pardon him again! and in the moment of your clemency, he insults the Lord Regent of Scotland in the face of both nations! I could not hear this and live without making him feel that you have those about you who will not forgive such crimes.”

“Edwin,” returned Wallace, “had not the lord regent power to punish? And if he see right to hold his hand, those who strike for him invade his dignity. I should be unworthy the honor of protecting a brave nation, did I stoop to tread on every reptile that stings me in my path. Leave Lord de Valence to the sentence his commander has pronounced, and as an expiation for your having offended both military and moral law this day, you must remain at Stirling till I return into Scotland.”

De Valence, hardly awake from the stupor which the blow of the battle-ax had occasioned (for indignation had given to the young warrior the strength of manhood), was raised from the ground; and soon after coming to himself and being made sensible of what had happened, he was taken, foaming with rage and mortification, into the center of the Southron lines.

Alarmed at the confusion he saw at a distance, Lord Montgomery ordered his litter round from the rear to the front, and hearing all that had passed, joined with De Warenne in pleading for the abashed Edwin.

“His youth and zeal,” cried Montgomery, “are sufficient to excuse the intemperance of the deed.”

“No!” interrupted Edwin; “I have offended and I will explate. Only, my honored lord,” said he, approaching Wallace, while he checked the emotion which would have flowed from his eyes, “when I am absent, sometimes remember that it was Edwin’s love which hurried him to this disgrace.”

“My dear Edwin,” returned Wallace, “there are many impetuous spirits in Scotland who need the lesson I now enforce upon you; and they will be brought to maintain the law of honor when they see that their regent spares not its slightest violation, even when committed by his best beloved friend. Farewell till we meet again!”

Edwin kissed Wallace’s hand in silence-it was not wet with his tears-and drawing his bonnet hastily over his eyes, he retired into the rear of Lord Mar’s party. That nobleman soon after took leave of the regent, who, placing himself at the head of his legions, the trumpets blew the signal of march. Edwin, at the sound which a few minutes before he would have greeted with so much joy, felt his grief-swollen heart give way; he sobbed aloud, and striking his heel on the side of his horse, galloped to a distance, to bide from all eyes the violence of his regrets. The trampling of the departing troops rolled over the ground like receding thunder. Edwin at last stole a look toward the plain; he beheld a vast cloud of dust, but no more the squadrons of his friend.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59