This being the seasons of harvest in the northern counties of England, Wallace carried his reapers, not to lay their sickle to the field, but, with their swords, to open themselves a way into the Southron granaries.
The careful victor, meanwhile, provided for the wants of his friends on the other side of the Esk. The plunder of Percy’s camp was dispatched to them; which being abundant in all kinds of provisions, was more than sufficient to keep them in ample store till they could reach Stirling. From that point, the released chiefs had promised their regent they would disperse to their separate estates, collect recruits, and reduce the distracted state of the country into some composed order. Wallace had disclosed his wish, and mode of effecting this renovation of public happiness, before he left Stirling. It contained a plan of military organization, by which each youth, able to bear arms, should not only be instructed in the dexterous use of the weapons of war, but in the duties of subordination, and above all, have the nature of the rights for which he was to contend explained to him.
“They only require to be thoroughly known, to be regarded as inestimable,” added he; “but while we raise around us the best bulwark of any nation, a brave and well-disciplined people; while we teach them to defend their liberties, let us see that they deserve them. Let them be men, contending for virtuous independence; not savages, fighting for licentious unrestraint. We must have our youth of both sexes, in towns and villages, from the castle to the cot, taught the saving truths of Christianity. From that root will branch all that is needful to make them useful members of the state-virtuous and happy. And, while war is in our hands, let us in all things prepare for peace, that the sword may gently bend into the sickle, the dirk to the pruning-hook.”
There was an expansive providence in all this, a concentrating plan of public weal, which few of the nobles had ever even glanced at, as a design conceivable for Scotland. There were many of these warrior chiefs who could not even understand it.
“Ah! my lords,” replied he to their warlike objections, “deceive not yourselves with the belief that by the mere force of arms, a nation can render itself great and secure. Industry, temperance, and discipline amongst the people; with moderation and justice in the higher orders, are the only aliments of independence. They bring you riches and power, which make it the interest of those who might have been your enemies to court your friendship.”
The graver council at Stirling had received his plan with enthusiasm. And when, on the day of his parting with the released chiefs on the banks of the Esk, with all the generous modesty of his nature, he submitted his design to them, rather to obtain their approbation as friends, than to enforce it with the authority of a regent; when they saw him, thus coming down from the dictatorship to which his unrivaled talents had raised him, to equal himself still with them, all were struck with admiration, and Lord Badenoch could not but mentally exclaim, “The royal qualities of this man can well afford this expense of humility. Bend as he will, he has only to speak, to show his superiority over all, and to be sovereign again.”
There was a power in the unostentatious virtues of Wallace, which, declaring themselves rather in their effects than by display, subdued the princely spirit of Badenoch; and, while the proud chief recollected how he had contemned the pretensions of Bruce, and could not brook the elevation of Baliol; how his soul was in arms when, after he had been persuaded to acknowledge the supremacy of Edward, the throne was given to one of his rivals; he wondered at himself to find that his very heart bowed before the gentle and comprehensive wisdom of an untitled regent.
Athol alone, of the group, seemed insensible to the benefits his country was deriving from its resistless protector; but he expressed his dissent from the general sentiment with no more visible sign than a cold silence.
When the messenger from Wallace arrived on the banks of the Esk with so large a booty, and the news of his complete victory over the gallant Percy, the exultation of the Scottish nobles knew no bounds.
On Badenoch opening the regent’s dispatches, he found they repeated his wish for his brave coadjutors to proceed to the execution of the plan they had sanctioned with their approbation; they were to march directly for Stirling, and on their way dispense the superabundance of the plunder amongst the perishing inhabitants of the land. He then informed the earl, that while the guard he had left him with would escort the liberated Scots beyond the Forth, the remainder of the troops should be thus disposed: Lord Andrew Murray was to remain chief in command in Clydesdale; Sir Eustace Maxwell, to give up the wardship of Douglas to Sir John Monteith; and then advance into Annandale, to assist Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, who must now have begun the reduction of the castles in the west of that province. At the close of this account, Wallace added, that himself, with his brave band, were going to traverse the English counties to the Tees’ mouth; and should Heaven bless his arms, he would send the produce round by the Berwick fleet, to replenish the exhausted stores of the Highlands. “Next year,” continued he, “I trust they will have ample harvests of their own.”
And what Wallace said he hoped to do, he did.
The Southrons’ country was panic-struck at the defeat of Percy, his beaten army, flying in all directions before the conquering legions, gave such dreadful and hyperbolical accounts of their might, and of the giant prowess of their leader, that as soon as ever the Scottish spears were seen rising the summit of any hill, or even gleaming along the horizon, every village was deserted, every cot left without inhabitant; and corn, and cattle, and every kind of property fell into the hands of the Scots.
Lord Precy lay immovable with wounds in his castle at Alnwick;36 and his hopeless state, by intimidating his followers, contradicted the orders he gave, to face the marauding enemy. Several times they attempted to obey, but as often showed their inability. They collected under arms; but the moment their foe appeared, they fled within the castle walls, or buried themselves in deep obscurities amongst the surrounding hills. Not a sheaf in the fields of Northumberland did the Scots leave, to knead into bread for its earl; not a head of cattle to smoke upon his board. The country was sacked from sea to sea. But far different was its appearance from that of the trampled valleys of Scotland. There, fire had burned up the soil; the hand of violence had leveled the husbandman’s cottage; had buried his implements in the ruins; had sacrificed himself on its smoking ashes! There, the fatherless babe wept its unavailing wants, and at its side sat the distracted widow, wringing her hands in speechless misery; for there lay her murdered husband-here, her perishing child!
36 This famous castle, of so many heroic generations, is still the princely residence of the head of the house of Percy.
With such sights the heart of Wallace had been pierced, when he passed through the lowland counties of his country; nay, as he scoured the highland districts of the Grampians, even there had he met the foot of barbarian man, and cruel desolation. For thus it was that the Southron garrisons had provisional themselves; by robbing the poor of their bread; and, when they resisted, firing their dwellings, and punishing the refractory with death.
But not so the generous enmity of Sir William Wallace. His commission was, not to destroy, but to save; and though he carried his victorious army to feed on the Southron plains, and sent the harvests of England to restore the wasted fields of Scotland, yet he did no more. No fire blasted his path; no innocent blood cried against him from the ground! When the impetuous zeal of his soldiers, flushed with victory, and in the heat of vengeance, would have laid several hamlets in ashes, he seized the brand from the destroying party, and throwing it into an adjoining brook: “Show yourselves worthy the advantages you have gained,” cried he, “by the moderation with which you use them. Consider yourselves as the soldiers of the all powerful God, who alone has conducted you to victory; for, with a few, has he not enabled us to subdue a host? Behave as becomes your high destiny; and debase not yourselves by imitating the hirelings of ambition, who receive, as the wages of their valor, the base privilege to ravage and to murder.
“I wish you to distinguish between a spirit of reprisal, in what I do, and that of retaliation, which actuates your present violence. What our enemies had robbed us of, as far as they can restore, I take again. Their bread shall feed our famishing country; their wool clothe its nakedness. But blood for blood, unless the murderer could be made to bleed, is a doctrine abhorrent to God and to humanity. What justice is there in destroying the habitations and lives of a set of harmless people, because the like cruelty has been committed by a lawless army of their countrymen, upon our unoffending brethren? Your hearts may make the answer. But if they are hardened against the pleadings of humanity, let prudence show your interest in leaving those men alive, and with their means unimpaired, who will produce other harvests, if need be, to fill our scantier granaries.
“Thus I reason with you, and I hope many are convinced; but they who are insensible to argument must fear authority, and I declare that every man who inflicts injury on the houses, or on the persons of the quietest peasantry of this land, shall be punished as a traitor to the state.”
According to the different dispositions of men, this reasoning prevailed. And from the end of September (the time when Wallace first entered Northumberland), to the month of November, when (having scoured the counties of England, even to the gates of York) he returned to Scotland, not an offense was committed which could occasion his merciful spirit regret. It was on All Saints Day when he again approached the Esk; and so great was his spoil that his return seemed more like some vast caravan moving the merchandise of half the world, than the march of an army which had so lately passed that river, a famishing, though valourous host.
The outposts of Carlaveroch soon informed Maxwell the lord regent was in sight. At the joyful intelligence a double smoke streamed from every watch-hill in Annandale; and Sir Eustace had hardly appeared on the Solway bank, to meet his triumphant chief, when the eager speed of the rough knight of Torthorald brought him there also. Wallace, as his proud charger plunged into the ford, and the heavy wagons groaned after him, was welcomed to the shore by the shouts, not only of the soldiers which had followed Maxwell and Kirkpatrick, but by the people who came in crowds to hail their preserver. The squalid hue of famine had left every face, and each smiling countenance, beaming with health, security, and gratitude, told Wallace more emphatically than a thousand tongues, the wisdom of the means he had used to regenerate his country.
Maxwell had prepared the fortress of Lochmaben, once the residence of Bruce, for the reception of the regent. And thither Wallace was conducted, in prouder triumph than ever followed the chariot-wheels of Caesar. Blessings were the clarions that preceeded him; and hosts of people, whom he had saved when ready to perish, were voluntary actors in his pageant.
When he arrived in sight of the two capacious lochs, which spread like lucid wings on each side of the castle, he turned to Graham. “What pity,” said he, “that the rightful owner of his truly regal dwelling does not act as becomes his blood! He might now be entering its gates as king, and Scotland find rest under its lawful monarch.”
“But he prefers being a parasite in the court of a tyrant,” replied Sir John; “and from such a school, Scotland would reject its king.”
“But he has a son,” replied Wallace; “a brave and generous son! I am told by Lord Montgomery, who knew him in Guienne, that a nobler spirit does not exist. On his brows, my dear Graham, we must hope one day to see the crown.”
“Then only as your heir, my lord regent,” interrupted Maxwell; “for while you live, I can answer for it that no Scot will acknowledge any other ruler.”
“I will first eat my own sword,” cried Kirkpatrick.
At this moment the portcullis of the gate was raised, and Maxwell falling back to make way for the regent, Wallace had not time to answer a sentiment, now so familiar to him by hearing it from every grateful heart, that he hardly remarked its tendency, a fact the more easily to be believed, from the ambition of such reward never receiving acceptance in his well-principled mind.
Ever pressing toward establishing the happiness of his country, he hastened over the splendid repast that was prepared for him; and dispensing with the ceremonials with which the zeal of Maxwell sought to display his respect for the virtues and station of his commander, he retired with Graham to write dispatches, and to apportion shares of the spoil to the necessities of the provinces. In these duties, his wakeful eye was kept open the greatest part of the night. They for whom he labored slept securely! That thought was rest to him. But they closed not their eyes without praying for the sweet repose of their benefactor. And he found it; not in sleep, but in that peace of heart which the world cannot give.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59