Day succeeded day in the execution of these beneficial designs. When fulfilled, the royal halls of Lochmaben did not long detain him who knew no satisfaction but when going about doing good. While he was thus employed, raising with the quickness of magic, by the hands of his soldiers, the lately ruined hamlets into well-built villages-while the gray smoke curled from a thousand russet cottages which now spotted the sides of the snow-clad hills-while all the lowlands, whithersoever he directed his steps, breathed of comfort and abundance-he felt like the father of a large family, in the midst of a happy and vast home, where every eye turned on him with reverence, every lip with gratitude.
He had hardly gone the circuit of these now cheerful valleys, when an embassy from England, which had first touched at Lochmaben, overtook him at the Tower of Lammington. The ambassadors were Edmund, Earl of Arundel (a nobleman who had married the only sister of De Warenne), and Anthony Beck, Bishop of Durham.
At the moment their splendid cavalcade, escorted by a party from Sir Eustace Maxwell, entered the gate of Lammington, Wallace was in the hourly expectation of Edwin, and hearing the trampling of horses, he hastened into the courtyard, attended by Gregory’s grandchildren. One was in his arms, two others held by his plaid, and a third played with the sword he had unbuckled from his side. It was a clear frosty day, and the keenness of the air brightened the complexion of Wallace, while it deepened the roses of his infant companions. The leader of the Scottish escort immediately proclaimed to the embassadors that this was the regent. At the sight of so uncourtly a scene the haughty prelate of Durham drew back.
“This man will not understand his own interest,” said he, in a disdainful whisper, to Lord Arundel.
“I am inclined to think his estimation of it will be beyond ours.” As the earl made this reply, the officer of Maxwell informed Wallace of the names and errand of the illustrious strangers. At the mention of a Southron, the elder children ran screaming into the house, leaving the youngest, who continued on the breast of Wallace.
The bishop drew near.
“We come, Sir William Wallace,” cried the prelate, in a tone whose lordly pitch lowered when his surprised eye saw the princely dignity which shone over the countenance of the man whose domestic appearance, when descried at a distance, had excited his contempt; “we come from the King of England, with a message for your private ear.”
“And I hope, gallant chief,” joined Lord Arundel, “what we have to impart will give peace to both nations, and establish in honor the most generous as well as the bravest of enemies.”
Wallace bowed to the earl’s compliment (he knew by his title that he must be the brother of De Warenne), and, resigning the child into the arms of Graham, with a graceful welcome he conducted the Southron lords into the hall.
Lord Arundel, looking around, said, “Are we alone, Sir William?”
“Perfectly,” he replied, “and I am ready to receive any proposals for peace which the rights of Scotland will allow her to accept.”
The earl drew from his bosom a gold casket, and laying it on a table before him, addressed the regent:—“Sir William Wallace, I come to you, not with the denunciation of an implacable liege lord, whom a rash vassal has offended, but in the grace of the most generous of monarchs, anxious to convert a brave insurgent into the loyal friend. My lord the king having heard by letters from my brother-in-law, the Earl de Warenne, of the honorable manner with which you treated the English whom the fate of battle threw into your power, his majesty, instead of sending over from Flanders a mighty army to overwhelm this rebellious kingdom, has deputed me, even as an embassador, to reason with the rashness he is ready to pardon. Also, with this diadem,” continued the earl, drawing a circlet of jewels from the casket, “which my brave sovereign tore from the brows of a Saracen prince, on the ramparts of Acre, he sends the assurance of his regard for the heroic virtues of his enemy. And to these jewels, he will add a more efficient crown, if Sir William Wallace will awake from this trance of false enthusiasm, and acknowledge, as he is in duty bound to do, the supremacy of England over this country. Speak but the word, noblest of Scots,” added the earl, “and the bishop of Durham has orders from the generous Edward immediately to anoint you king of Scotland-that done, my royal master will support you in your throne against every man who may dare in dispute your authority.”
At these words Wallace rose from his seat. “My lord,” said he, “since I took up arms for injured Scotland, I have been used to look into the hearts of men; I therefore estimate with every due respect the compliment which this message of your king pays to my virtues. Had he thought that I deserved the confidence of Scotland, he would not have insulted me with offering a price for my allegiance. To be even a crowned vassal of King Edward is far beneath my ambition. Take back the Saracen’s diadem; it shall never dishonor the brows of him who has sworn by the cross to maintain the independence of Scotland, or to lay down his life in the struggle!”
“Weigh well, brave sir,” resumed the earl, “the consequences of this answer. Edward will soon be in England; he will march hither himself; not at the head of such armies as you have discomfited, but with countless legions; and when he falls upon any country in indignation, the places of its cities are known no more.”
“Better for a brave people so to perish,” replied Wallace, “than to exist in dishonor.”
“What dishonor, noble Scot, can accrue from acknowledging the supremacy of your liege lord; or to what can the proudest ambition in Scotland extend beyond that of possessing its throne?”
“I am not such a slave,” cried Wallace, “as to prefer what men might call aggrandizement before the higher destiny of preserving to my country its birthright, independence. To be the guardian of her laws, and of the individual right of every man born on Scottish ground, is my ambition. Ill should I perform the one duty, were I to wrong the posterity of Alexander by invading their throne; and horrible would be my treason against the other, could I sell my confiding country for a name and a bauble into the grasp of a usurper.”
“Brand not with so unjust an epithet the munificent Edward!” interrupted Lord Arundel; “let your own noble nature be a witness of his. Put from you all the prejudice which the ill conduct of his officers have excited, and you must perceive that in accepting his terms you will best repay your country’s confidence by giving it peace.”
“So great would be my damning sin in such an acceptance,” cried Wallace, “that I should be abhorred by God and man. You talk of noble minds, earl; look into your own, and will it not tell you that in the moment a people bring themselves to put the command of their actions, and with that, their consciences, into the hands of a usurper (and that Edward is one in Scotland our annals and his tyrannies declare), they sell their birthright and become unworthy the name of men? In that deed they abjure the gift with which God had intrusted them; and justly, the angels of his host depart from them. You know the sacred axiom, Virtue is better than life! By that we are commanded to preserve the one at the expense of the other; and we are ready to obey. Neither the threats nor the blandishments of Edward have power to shake the resolves of those who draw the sword of the Lord and of Gideon!”
“Rebellious man!” exclaimed Beck, who had listened impatiently; and whose haughty spirit could ill brook such towering language being directed to his sovereign; “since you dare quote Scripture to sanction crime, hear my embassage. To meet the possibility of this flagitious obstinacy, I came armed with the thunder of the church, and the indignation of a justly incensed monarch. Accept his most gracious offers, delivered to you by the Earl of Arundel. Here is the cross, to receive your oath of fealty,” cried he, stretching it forth, as if he thought his commands were irrestible; “but beware! keep it with a truer faith than did the traitor Baliol, or expect the malediction of Heaven, the exterminating vengeance of your liege lord!”
Wallace was not discomposed by this attack from the stormy prelate. “My Lord of Durham,” replied he with his usual tranquil air, “had your sovereign sent me such proposals as became a just king, and were possible for an honest Scot to admit, he should have found me ready to have treated him with the respect due to his rank and honor; but when he demands the sacrifice of my integrity; when he asks me to sign a deed that would again spread this renovated land with devastation, were I to consider the glozing language of his embassy as grace and nobleness. I should belie my own truth, which tramples alike on his menaces and his pretended claims. And I ask you, priest of Heaven! is he a god greater than Jehovah, that I should fear him?”
“And durst thou presume, audacious rebel!” exclaimed Beck “that the light of Israel deign, to shine on a barbarian nation in arms against a hero of the cross? Reprobate that thou art, answer to thine own condemnation? Does not the church declare the claims of Edward to be just! and who dare gainsay her decrees?”
“The voice of Him you pretend to serve! He is no respecter of persons; he raises the poor from the dust; and by his arm the tyrant and his host are plunged into the whelming waves! Bishop, I know in whom I trust. Is the minister greater than his lord, that I should believe the word of a synod against the declared will of God? Neither anathema nor armed thousands shall make me acknowledge the supremacy of Edward. He may conquer the body, but the soul of a patriot he can never subdue.”
“Then,” cried Beck, suddenly rising, black with choler, and stretching his crosier over the head of Wallace, “as the rod of Moses shed plagues, miseries, and death over the land of Egypt, I invoke the like judgments to fall on this rebellious land, on its blasphemous leader! And thus I leave it my curse.”
Wallace smiled as the terrific words fell from the lips of this demon in sacred guise. Lord Arundel observed him. “You despise this malediction, Sir William Wallace! I thought more piety had dwelt with so much military nobleness!”
“I should not regard the curses of a congregated world,” replied Wallace, “when my conscience as loudly proclaims that God is on my side. And is he not omniscient, that he should be swayed by the prejudices of men? Does he not read the heart? Is he not master of all causes? And shall I shrink when I know that I hold his commission? Shall I not regard those anathemas even as the artillery with which the adversary would drive me from my post? But did the clouds rain fire, and the earth open beneath me, I would not stir; for I know who planted me here; and as long as he wills me to stand, neither men nor devils can move me hence.”
“Thou art incorrigible!” cried Beck.
“I would say, firm,” rejoined Arundel, overawed by the majesty of virtue, “could I regard, as he does, the cause he has espoused. But, as it is, noble Wallace,” continued he, “I must regret your infatuation; and instead of the peace I thought to leave with you, hurl war, never-ending, extirpating war, upon the head of this devoted nation!” As he spoke, he threw his lance37 against the opposite wall, in which it stuck and stood shivering; then taking up the casket, with its splendid contents, he replaced it in his bosom.
37 To throw a spear was an ancient mode of denouncing war.
Beck had turned away in wrath from the table, and advancing with a magisterial step to the door, he threw it open; as if he thought, that longer to breathe the same air with the person he had excommunicated, would infect him with his own curses. On opening the door, a group of Scots, who waited in the antechamber, hastened forward. At the sight of the prelate they raised their bonnets, and hesitated to pass. He stood on the threshold, proudly neglectful of their respect. In the next minute, Wallace appeared with Lord Arundel.
“Brave knight,” said the earl, “the adieus of a man, as sensible of your private worth as he regrets the errors of your public opinion, abide with you.”
“Were Edward sensible to virtue, like his brave subjects,” replied the chief, “I should not fear that another drop of blood need be shed in Scotland to convince him of his present injustice. Farewell, noble earl; the generous candor of yourself and of your brother-in-law will ever live in the remembrance of William Wallace.”
While he yet spoke, a youth broke from the group before them, and rushing toward the regent, threw himself with a cry of joy at his feet. “My Edwin, my brother!” exclaimed Wallace; and immediately raising him, clasped him in his arms. The throng of Scots who had accompanied their young leader from Stirling, now crowded about the chief; some kneeling and kissing his garments; others ejaculating, with uplifting hands, their thanks at seeing their protector in safety, and with redoubled glory.
“You forgive me, my master and friend?” cried Edwin, forgetting, in the happy agitation of his mind, the presence of the English embassadors.
“It was only as a master I condemned you, my brother,” returned Wallace; “every proof of your affection must render you dearer to me; and had it been exerted against an offender not so totally in my power, you would not have met my reprimand. But ever remember that the persons of prisoners are inviolable, for they lie on the bosom of mercy; and who that has honor would take them thence?”
Lord Arundel, who had lingered to observe this short but animated scene, now ventured to interrupt it: “May I ask, noble Wallace,” said he, “if this interesting youth be the brave young Ruthven, who distinguished himself at Dumbarton, and who, De Warenne told me, incurred a severe though just sentence from you, in consequence of his attack upon one whom, as a soldier, I blush to name?”
“It is the same,” replied Wallace; “the valor and fidelity of such as he are as sinews to my arms, and bring a more grateful empire to my heart than all the crowns which may be in the power of Edward to bestow.”
“I have often seen the homage of the body,” said the earl; “but here I see that of the soul; and were I a king, I should envy Sir William Wallace!”
“This speech is that of a courtier or a traitor!” suddenly exclaimed Beck, turning with a threatening brow on Lord Arundel. “Beware, earl! for what has now been said must be repeated to the royal Edward; and he will judge whether flattery to this proud rebel be consistent with your allegiance.”
“Every word that has been uttered in this conference I will myself deliver to King Edward,” replied Lord Arundel; “he shall know the man on whom he may be forced by justice to denounce the sentence of rebellion; and when the pruissance of his royal arm lays this kingdom at his feet, the virtues of Sir William Wallace may then find the clemency he now contemns!”
Beck did not condescend to listen to the latter part of this explanation; but proceeding to the court-yard, had mounted his horse before his worthier colleague appeared from the hall. Taking a gracious leave of Sir John Graham, who attended him to the door, the earl exclaimed, “What miracle is before me? Not the mighty mover only of this wide insurrection is in the bloom of manhood, but all his general that I have seen appear in the very morning of youth! And you conquer our veterans; by long experience, and hairs grown gray in camps and battles!”
“Then by our morning judge what our day may be,” replied Graham; “and show your monarch that as surely as the night of death will in some hour close upon prince and peasant, this land shall never again be overshadowed by his darkness.”
“Listen not to their bold treasons!” cried Beck; and setting spurs to his horse, in no very clerical style he galloped out of the gates. Arundel made some courteous reply to Graham; then, bowing to the rest of the Scottish officers who stood around, turned his steed, and followed by his escort, pursued the steps of the bishop along the snow-covered banks of the Clyde.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59