Before the sun rose, every brave Scot within a few hours’ march of Stirling, was on the Carse; and Lord Andrew Murray and his veteran Clydesdale men were already resting on their arms in view of the city walls. The messengers of Wallace had hastened with the speed of the winds, east and west; and the noon of the day saw him at the head of thirty thousand men determined to fight or to die for their country.
The surrounding landscape shone in the brightness of midsummer; for it was the eve of St. Magdalen; and sky and earth bore witness to the luxuriant month of July. The heavens were clear, the waters of the Forth danced in the sunbeams, and the flower-enameled green of the extended plain stretched its beautiful borders to the deepening woods. All nature smiled; all seemed in harmony and peace but the breast of man. He who was made lord of this paradise awoke to disturb its repose, to disfigure its loveliness! As the thronging legions poured upon the plain, the sheep which had been feeding there, fled scared to the hills; the plover and heath-fowl which nestled in the brakes, rose affrighted from their infant broods, and flew in screaming multitudes far over the receding valleys. The peace of Scotland was again broken, and its flocks and herds were to share its misery.
When the conspiring lords appeared on the Carse, and Mar communicated to them the lately discovered treason, they so well affected surprise at the contents of the scroll, that Wallace might not have suspected their connection with it, had not Lord Athol declared it altogether a forgery of some wanton persons, and then added with bitterness, “to gather an army on such authority is ridiculous.” While he spoke, Wallace regarded him with a look which pierced him to the center; and the blood rushing into his guilty heart, for once in his life he trembled before the eye of man. “Whoever be the degenerate Scot, to whom this writing is addressed,” said Wallace, “his baseness cannot betray us further. The troops of Scotland are ready to meet the enemy; and woe to the man who that day deserts his country!” “Amen!” cried Lord Mar. “Amen!” sounded from every lip; for when the conscience embraces treason against its earthly rulers, allegiance to its heavenly King is abandoned with ease; and the words and oaths of the traitor are equally unstable.
Badenoch’s eye followed that of Wallace, and his suspicions fixed where the regent’s fell. For the honor of his blood, he forbore to accuse the earl; but for the same reason he determined to watch his proceedings. However, the hypocrisy of Athol baffled even the penetration of his brother, and on his retiring from the ground to call forth his men for the expedition, in an affected chafe he complained to Badenoch of the stigma cast upon their house by the regent’s implied charge.
“But,” said he, “he shall see the honor of the Cummin, emblazoned in blood on the sands of the Forth! His towering pride heeds not where it strikes; and this comes of raising men of low estate to rule over princes!”
“His birth is noble if not royal,” replied Badenoch; “and before this, the posterity of kings have not disdained to recover their rights by the sword of a brave subject.”
“True,” answered Athol; “but is it customary for princes to allow that subject to sit on their throne? It is nonsense to talk of Wallace having refused a coronation. He laughs at the name; but see you not that he openly affects supreme power; that he rules the nobles of the land like a despot? His word, his nod is sufficient! — Go here! go there! — as if he were absolute, and there was no voice in Scotland but his own! Look at the brave Mack Callan-more, the lord of the west of Scotland from sea to sea; he stands unbonneted before this mighty Wallace with a more abject homage than ever he paid to the house of Alexander! Can you behold this, Lord Badenoch, and not find the royal blood of your descent boil in your veins? Does not every look of your wife, the sister of a king, and your own right stamped upon your soul, reproach you? He is greater by your strength. Humble him, my brother; be faithful to Scotland, but humble its proud dictator!”
Lord Badenoch replied to this rough exhortation with the tranquillity belonging to his nature —“I see not the least foundations for any of your charges against Sir William Wallace. He has delivered Scotland, and the people are grateful. The nation with one voice made him their regent; and he fulfills the duties of his office — but with a modesty, Lord Athol, which, I must affirm, I never saw equaled. I dissent from you in all that you have said — and I confess I did fear the blandishing arguments of the faithless Cospatrick had persuaded you to embrace his pernicious treason. You deny it — that is well. Prove your innocence at this juncture in the field against Scotland’s enemies; and John of Badenoch will then see no impending cloud to darken the honor of the name of Cummin!”
The brothers immediately separated; and Athol calling his cousin Buchan arranged a new device to counteract the vigilance of the regent. One of their means was to baffle his measures by stimulating the less treasonable but yet discontented chiefs to thwart him in every motion. At the head of this last class was John Stewart, Earl of Bute. During the whole of the preceding year he had been in Norway, and the first object he met on his return to Scotland was the triumphal entry of Wallace into Stirling. Aware of the consequence Stewart’s name would attach to any cause, Athol had gained his ear before he was introduced to the regent; and then so poisoned his mind against Wallace that all that was well in him he deemed ill, and ever spoke of his bravery with coldness, and of his patriotism with disgust. He believed him a hypocrite, and as such despised and abhorred him.
While Athol marshaled his rebellious ranks, some to follow his broad treason in the face of day, and others to lurk behind, and delude the intrusted council left in Stirling; Wallace led forth his loyal chiefs to take their stations at the heads of their different clans. Sir Alexander Scrymgeour, with the proudest expectations for Scotland, unfurled his golden standard to the sun. The Lords Loch-awe and Bothwell, with others, rode on the right of the regent. Lord Andrew Murray, with the brave Sir John Graham, and a bevy of young knights, kept the ground on his left. Wallace looked around; Edwin was far away, and he felt but half appointed when wanting his youthful swordbearer. That faithful friend did not even know of the threatened hostility; for to have intimated to Lord Ruthven a danger he could not assist to repel, would have inflamed his disorder by anxiety, and perhaps hurried him to dissolution.
As the regent moved forward with these private affections checkering his public cares, his heralds blew the trumpets of his approach, and a hundred embattled clans appeared in the midst of the plain, awaiting their valiant leaders. Each chief advanced to the head of his line, and stood to hear the charge of Wallace.
“Brave Scots!” cried he, “treachery has admitted the enemy whom resolute patriotism had driven from our borders. Be steady in your fidelity to Scotland, and He who hath hitherto protected the just cause, will nerve your arms to lay invasion and its base coadjutors again in the dust.”
The cheers of anticipated victory burst from the soldiers, mingled with the clangor of their striking shields at the inspiring voice of their leader. Wallace waved his truncheon (round which the plan of his array was wrapped) to the chiefs to fall back toward their legions; and while some appeared to linger, Athol, armed cap-a-pie, and spurring his roan into the area before the regent, demanded, in a haughty tone, “Which of the chiefs now in the field is to lead the vanguard?”
“The Regent of Scotland,” replied Wallace, for once asserting the majesty of his station, “and you, Lord Athol, with the Lord Buchan, are to defend your country under the command of the brave head of your house, the princely Badenoch.”
“I stir not from this spot,” returned Athol, fiercely striking his lance into its rest, “till I see the honor of my country established in the eye of the world by a leader worthy of her rank being placed in her vanguard.”
“What he says,” cried Buchan, “I second.” “And in the same spirit, chieftain of Ellerslie,” exclaimed Lord Bute, “do I offer to Scotland myself and my people. Another must lead the van, or I retire from her standard.”
“Speak on!” cried Wallace, more surprised than confounded by this extraordinary attack.
“What these illustrious chiefs have uttered, is the voice of us all!” was the general exclamation from a band of warriors who now thronged around the incendiary nobles.
“Your reign is over, proud chieftain,” rejoined Athol; “the Scottish ranks are no longer to be cajoled by your affected moderation. We see the tyrant in your insidious smile, we feel him in the despotism of your decrees. To be thus ridden by a man of vulgar blood; to present him as the head of our nation to the King of England, is beneath the dignity of our country, is an insult to our nobles; and therefore, in the power of her consequence, I speak, and again demand of you to yield the vanguard to one more worthy of the station. Before God and St. Magdalen I swear,” added he, holding up his sword to the heavens, “I will not stir an inch this day toward the enemy unless a Cummin or a Stewart lead our army.”
“And is this your resolution also, Lord Bute?” said Wallace, looking on Stewart. “It is,” was the reply; “a foe like Edward ought to be met as becomes a great and independent kingdom. We go in the array of an unanimous nation to repel him; not as a band of insurgents, headed by a general who, however brave, was yet drawn from the common ranks of the people. I therefore demand to follow a more illustrious leader to the field.”
“The eagles have long enough followed their owl in peacock’s feathers,” cried Buchan; “and being tired of the game, I, like the rest, soar upward again!”
“Resign that baton!” cried Athol; “give peace to a more honorable leader!” repeated he, supposed that he had intimidated Wallace; but Wallace, raising the visor of his helmet, which he had closed on his last commands to his generals, looked on Athol with all the majesty of his truly royal soul in his eyes: “Earl,” said he, “the voices of the three estates of Scotland declared me their regent, and God ratified the election by the victories with which he crowned me. If in aught I have betrayed my trust, led the powers which raised me be my accusers. Four pitched battles have I fought and gained for this country. Twice I beat the representatives of King Edward on the plains of Scotland; and a few months ago I made him fly before me over the fields of Northumberland! What then has befallen me, that my arm is to be too short to meet this man? Has the oil of the Lord, with which the saint of Dunkeld anointed my brows, lost its virtue, that I should shrink before any king in Christendom? I neither tremble at the name of Edward, nor will I so disgrace my own (which never man who bore it ever degraded by swearing fealty to a foreign prince), as to abandon at such a crisis the power with which Scotland has invested me. Whoever chooses to leave the cause of their country, let them go; and so manifest themselves of noble blood! I remain, and I lead the vanguard! Scotsmen, to your duty.”
As he spoke with a voice of unanswerable command, several chiefs fell back into their ranks. But some made a retrograde motion toward the town. Lord Bute hardly knew what to think, so was he startled by the appeal of the accused regent, and the noble frankness with which he maintained his rights. He stood frowning as Wallace turned to him, and said, “Do you, my lord, adhere to these violent men? or am I to consider a chief who, though hostile to me, was generous in his ire, still faithful to Scotland, in spite of his prejudice against her leader? Will you fight her battles?”
“I shall never desert them,” replied Stewart; “’tis truth I seek; therefore be it to you. Wallace, this day according to your conscience!” Wallace bowed his head, and presented him the truncheon around which his line of battle was wrapped. On opening it he found that he was appointed to command the third division; Badenoch and Bothwell to the first and second; and Wallace himself to the vanguard.
When the scouts arrived, they informed the regent that the English army had advanced near to the boundary of Linlithgow, and from the rapidity of their march, must be on the Carron the same evening. On this intelligence, Wallace put his troops to their speed and before the sun had declined far toward the west, he was within view of Falkirk. But just as he had crossed the Carron, and the Southron banners appeared in sight, Lord Athol, at the head of his rebellious colleagues, rode up to him. Stewart kept his appointed station and Badenoch, doing the same, ashamed of his brother’s disorder, called after him to keep his line. Regardless of all check, the obstinate chief galloped on, and extending his bold accomplices across the path of the regent, demanded of him, on the penalty of his life, “that moment to relinquish his pretensions to the vanguard.”
“I am not come here,” replied Wallace indignantly, “to betray my country! I know you, Lord Athol: and your conduct and mine will this day prove who is most worthy the confidence of Scotland.”
“This day,” cried Athol, “shall see you lay down the power you have usurped.”
“It shall see me maintain it, to your confusion,” replied Wallace, “and were you not surrounded by Scots of too tried a worth for me to suspect their being influenced by your rebellious example, I would this moment make you feel the arm of justice. But the foe is in sight; do your duty now, sir earl, and for the sake of the house to which you belong, even this intemperate conduct shall be forgotten.”
At this instant, Sir John Graham, hastening forward, exclaimed:
“The Southrons are bearing down upon us!”
Athol glanced at their distant host and turning on Wallace with a sarcastic smile, “My actions,” cried he, “shall indeed decide the day!” and striking his spurs furiously into his horse, he rejoined Lord Badenoch’s legion.
Edward did indeed advance in a most terrible array. Above a hundred thousand men swelled his numerous ranks; and with these were united all from the Lothians and Teviotdale, whom the influence of the faithless March and the vindictive Soulis could bring into the field. With this augmented host, and a determination to conquer or to die, the Southrons marched rapidly forward.
Wallace had drawn himself up on the ascent of the hill of Falkirk, and advantageously planted his archers on a covering eminence flanked by the legions of Badenoch. Lord Athol, who knew the integrity of his brother, and who cared not in so great a cause (for such his ambition termed it) how he removed an adversary from Edward, and a censor from himself, gave a ridding order to one of his emissaries. Accordingly, in the moment when the trumpet of Wallace sounded the charge, and the arrows from the hill darkened the air, the virtuous Badenoch was stabbed through the back to the very heart. Athol had placed himself near, to watch his purpose; but in the instant the deed was done, he threw himself on the perpetrator, and wounding him in the same vital part, exclaimed, holding up his dagger, “Behold the weapon that has slain the assassin, hired by Sir William Wallace! Thus it is, that his ambition would rob Scotland of her native princes. Let us fly from his steel to the shield of a king and a hero.”
The men had seen their leader fall; they doubted not the words of his brother; and with a shout exclaiming, “Whither you lead we follow!” all at once turned toward him. “Seize the traitor’s artillery!” At this command they mounted the hill and the archers, little expecting an assault from their countrymen, were either instantly cut down, or hurried away prisoners by Athol and Buchan; who now, at the head of the whole division of the Cummins, galloped toward the Southrons; and with loud cries of “Long live King Edward!” threw themselves en masse into their arms. The squadrons which followed Stewart not knowing but they might be hurried into similar desertion, hesitated in the charge he had commanded them to make; and, while thus undecisive, some obeyed in broken ranks; and others lingered. The enemy advanced briskly up, surrounded the division, and on their first onset slew its leader. His faithful Brandanes,41 seeing their beloved commander trampled to the earth by an overwhelming foe, fell into confusion, and communicating their dismay to their comrades, the whole division sunk under the shock of the Southrons, as if touched by a spell.
41 Brandanes was the distinguished appellation of the military followers of the chiefs of Bute.
Meanwhile Bothwell and his legions were fiercely engaged with the Earl of Lincoln amid the swamps of a deep morass; but being involved by reciprocal impetuousity, equal peril engulfed them both. The firm battalion of the vanguard; alone remaining unbroken, stood before the pressing and now victorious thousands of Edward without receding a step. The archers being lost by the treachery of the Cummins, all hope lay on the strength of the spear and sword; and Wallace, standing immovable as the rock of Stirling, saw rank after rank of his dauntless infantry mowed down by the Southron arrows; while, fast as they fell, their comrades closed over them, and still presented the same impenetrable front of steady valor against the heavy charges of the enemy’s horse. The King of England, indignant at this pause in his conquering onset, accompanied by his natural brother, the valiant Frere de Briagny, and a squadron of resolute knights, in fury threw themselves toward the Scottish pikesmen. Wallace descried the jeweled crest of Edward amidst the cloud of battle there, and rushing forward, hand to hand engaged the king. Edward knew his adversary, not so much by his snow white plume as by the prowess of his arm. Twice did the heavy claymore of Wallace strike fire from the steely helmet of the monarch; but at the third stroke the glittering diadem fell in shivers to the ground; and the royal blood of Edward followed the blow. He reeled; and another stroke would have settled the freedom of Scotland forever, had not the strong arm of Frere de Briagny passed between Wallace and the king. The combat thickened; blow followed blow; blood gushed at each fall of the sword; and the hacked armor showed in every aperture a grisly wound. A hundred weapons seemed directed against the breast of the Regent of Scotland, when, raising his sword with a determined stroke, it cleft the visor and vest of De Briagny, who fell lifeless to the ground. The cry that issued from the Southron troops at this sight again nerved the vengeful Edward, and ordering the signal for his reserve to advance, he renewed the attack; and assaulting Wallace, with all the fury of his heart in his eyes and arms, he tore the earth with the trampling of disappointed vengeance, when he found the invincible phalanx still stood firm.
“I will reach him yet!” cried he; and turning to De Valence, he commanded that the new artillery should be called into action.
On this order, a blast of trumpets in the Southron army blew; and the answering war-wolves it had summoned sent forth showers of red-hot stones into the midst of the Scottish battalions. At the same moment the English reserve, charging round the hill, attacked them in the flank, and accomplished what the fiery torrent had begun. The field was heaped with dead; the brooks which flowed down the heights ran with blood; but no confusion was there-no, not even in the mind of Wallace; though, with amazement and horror, he beheld the saltire of Annandale, the banner of Bruce, leading onward the last exterminating division! Scot now contended with Scot, brother with brother. Those valiant spirits, who had left their country twenty years before to accompany their chief to the Holy Land, now re-entered Scotland to wound her in her vital part; to wrest from her her liberties; to make her mourn in ashes, that she had been the mother of such matricides. A horrid mingling of tartans with tartans, in the direful grasp of reciprocal death; a tremendous rushing of the flaming artillery, which swept the Scottish ranks like blasting lightning, for a moment seemed to make the reason of their leader stagger. Arrows, winged with fire, flashed through the air; and sticking in men and beasts, drove them against each other in maddening pain. Twice was the horse of Wallace shot under him; and on every side were his closest friends wounded and dispersed. But his terrific horror at the scene passed away the moment of its perception; and though the Southron and the Bruce pressed on him in overwhelming numbers, his few remaining ranks obeyed his call; and with a presence of mind and military skill that was exhaustless, he maintained the fight till darkness parted the combatants. When Edward gave command for his troops to rest till morning, Wallace, with the remnant of his faithful band slowly recrossed the Carron, that they also might repose till dawn should renew the conflict.
Lonely was the sound of his bugle, as sitting on a fragment of the druidical ruins of Dunipacis, he blew its melancholy blast to summon his chiefs around him. Its penetrating voice pierced the hills, but no answering note came upon his ear. A direful conviction seized upon his heart. But they might have fled far distant! he blushed as the thought crossed him, and hopeless again, dropped the horn, which he had raised to blow a second summons. At this instant he saw a shadow darken the moonlight ruins, and Scrymgeour, who had gladly heard his commander’s bugle, hastened forward.
“What has been the fate of this dismal day?” asked Wallace, looking onward, as if he expected others to come up. “Where are my friends? — Where Graham, Badenoch and Bothwell? — Where all, brave Scrymgeour, that I do not know see?” He rose from his seat at sight of an advancing group. It approached near and laid the dead body of a warrior down before him. “Thus,” cried one of the supporters, in stifled sounds, “has my father proved his love for Scotland!” It was Murray who spoke; it was the Earl of Bothwell that lay a breathless corpse at his feet!
“Grievous has been the havoc of Scot on Scot!” cried the intrepid Graham, who had seconded the arm of Murray in the contest for his father’s body. “Your steadiness, Sir William Wallace, would have retrieved the day but for the murderer of his country; that Bruce, for whom you refused to be our king, thus destroys her bravest sons. Their blood be on his head!” continued the young chief, extending his martial arms toward heaven. “Power of Justice, hear! and let his days be troubled, and his death covered with dishonor!”
“My brave friend!” replied Wallace, “his deeds will avenge themselves, he needs not further malediction. Let us rather bless the remains of him who is gone before us thus in glory to his heavenly rest! Ah! better is it thus to be laid in the bed of honor, than, by surviving, witness the calamities which the double treason of this day will bring upon our martyred country! Murray, my friend!” cried he to Lord Andrew, “we must not let the brave dead perish in vain! Their monument shall yet be Scotland’s liberties. Fear not that we are forsaken because of these traitors; but remember our time is in the hand of the God of justice and mercy!”
Tears were coursing each other in mute woe down the cheeks of the affectionate son. He could not for some time answer Wallace, but he grasped his hand, and at last rapidly articulated, “Others may have fallen, but not mortally like him. Life may yet be preserved in some of our brave companions. Leave me, then, to mourn my dead alone! and seek ye them.”
Wallace saw that filial tenderness yearned for the moment when it might unburden its grief unchecked by observation. He arose, and making a sign to his friends, withdrew toward his men. Having sent a detachment to guard the sacred inclosure of Dunipacis, he dispatched Graham on the dangerous duty of gathering a reinforcement for the morning. Then sending Scrymgeour, with a resolute band, across the Carron, to bring in the wounded (for Edward had encamped his army about a mile south of the field of action), he took his lonely course along the northern bank toward a shallow ford near which he supposed the squadrons of Lord Loch-awe must have fought, and where he hoped to gain accounts of him from some straggling survivor of his clan. When he arrived at a point where the river is narrowest, and winds its dark stream beneath impending heights, he blew the Campbell pibroch; the notes reverberated from rock to rock, but, unanswered, died away in distant echoes. Still he could not relinquish hope, and pursuing the path, emerged upon an open glade. The unobstructed rays of the moon illumined every object. Across the river, at some distance from the bank, a division of the Southron tents whitened the deep shadows of the bordering woods; and before them, on the blood-stained plain, he thought he descried a solitary warrior. Wallace stopped. The man approached the margin of the stream, and looked toward the Scottish chief. The visor of Wallace being up, discovered his heroic countenance bright in the moonbeams; and the majesty of his mien seemed to declare him to the Southron knight to be no other than the Regent of Scotland.
“Who art thou?” cried the warrior, with a voice of command, that better became his lips than it was adapted to the man whom he addressed.
“The enemy of England!” cried the chief.
“Thou art Wallace!” was the immediate reply; “none else dare answer the Lord of Carrick and of Annandale with such haughty boldness.”
“Every Scot in this land,” returned Wallace, inflamed with an indignation he did not attempt to repress, “would thus answer Bruce, not only in reference to England, but to himself! to that Bruce, who, not satisfied with having abandoned his people to their enemies, has stolen a base fratricide to slay his brethren in their home! To have met them on the plain of Stanmore, would have been a deed his posterity might have bewailed; but what horror, what shame will be theirs, when they know that he came to ruin his own rights, to stab his people, in the very bosom of his country! I come from gazing on the murdered body of the virtuous Earl of Bothwell! The Lords Bute and Fyfe, and perhaps Loch-awe, have fallen beneath the Southron sword, and your unnatural arm; and yet do you demand what Scot would dare to tell you, that he holds the Earl of Carrick and his coadjutors as his most mortal foes?”
“Ambitious man! Dost thou flatter thyself with belief that I am to be deceived by thy pompous declamation? I know the motive of all this pretended patriotism, I am well informed of the aim of all this vaunted prowess; and I came, not to fight the battles of King Edward, but to punish the proud usurper of the rights of Bruce. I have gained my point. My brave followers slew the Lord of Bothwell; my brave followers made the hitherto invincible Sir William Wallace retreat! I came in the power of my birthright; and, as your lawful king, I command you, this hour, to lay your rebel sword at my feet. Obey, proud knight, or to-morrow puts you into Edward’s hand, and, without appeal, you die the death of a traitor.”
“Unhappy prince,” cried Wallace, now suspecting that Bruce had been deceived; “is it over the necks of your most loyal subjects that you would mount your throne? How have you been mistaken! How have you strengthened the hands of your enemy, and weakened your own by this day’s action! The cause is now probably lost forever; and from whom are we to date its ruin but from him to whom the nation looked as to its appointed deliverer? From him, whose once honored name will now be regarded with exaggeration?”
“Burden not my name, rash young man,” replied Bruce, “with the charges belonging to your own mad ambition. Who disturbed the peace in which Scotland reposed after the battle of Dunbar, but William Wallace? Who raised the country in arms, but William Wallace? Who stole from me my birthright, and fastened the people’s love on himself, but William Wallace? Who affected to repel a crown that he might the more certainly fix it on his head, but William Wallace? And who dares now taunt me with his errors and mishaps, but the same traitor to his lawful sovereign?”
“Shall I answer thee, Lord of Carrick,” replied Wallace, “with a similar appeal? Who, when the Southron tyrant preferred a false claim to the supremacy of this realm, subscribed to the falsehood; and by that action did all in his power to make a free people slaves? Who, when the brand of cruelty swept this kingdom from shore to shore, lay indolent in the usurper’s court, and heard of these oppressions without a sigh? Who, horror on horror! brought an army into his own inheritance, to slay his brethren and to lay it desolate before his mortal foe? Thy heart will tell thee, Bruce, who is this man; and if honor yet remain in that iron region, thou wilt not disbelieve the asseverations of an honest Scot, who proclaims that it was to save them whom thou didst abandon, that he appeared in the armies of Scotland. It was to supply the place of thy desertion that he assumed the rule, with which a grateful people, rescued from bondage, invested him.”
“Bold chieftain!” exclaimed Bruce, “is it thus you continue to brave your offended prince? But in pity to your youth, in admiration of a prowess which would have been godlike had it been exerted for your sovereign, and not used as a bait to satisfy an ambition wild as it is towering, I would expostulate with you; I would even deign to tell you that, in granting the supremacy of Edward, the royal Bruce submits not to the mere wish of a despot, but to the necessity of the times. This is not an area of so great loyalty that any sovereign may venture to contend against such an imperial arm as Edward’s. And would you — a boy in years, a novice in politics, and though brave, and till this day successful — would you pretend to prolong a war with the dictator of kingdoms? Can rational discrimination be united with the valor you possess and you not perceive the unequal contest between a weak state, deprived of its head and agitated by intestine commotions, and a mighty nation conducted by the ablest and most martial monarch of his age — a man who is not only determined to maintain his pretensions to Scotland, but is master of every resourse, either for protracting war or pushing it with vigor? If the love of your country be indeed your motive for perseverance, your obstinacy tends only to lengthen her misery. But if — as I believe is the case — you carry your views to private aggrandizement, reflect on their probable issue. Should Edward, by a miracle, withdraw his armies, and an intoxicated people elevate their minion to the throne, the lords of Scotland would reject the bold invasion and, with the noble vengeance of insulted greatness, hurl from his height the proud usurper of their rights and mine.”
“To usurp any man’s rights, and least of all, my king’s” replied Wallace, “never came within the range of my thoughts. Though lowly born, Lord Carrick, I am not so base as to require assumption to give me dignity. I saw my country made a garrison of Edward’s, I beheld its people outraged in every relation that is dear to man. Who heard their cry? Where was Bruce? Where the nobles of Scotland, that none arose to extinguish her burning villages, to shelter the mother and the child, to rescue purity from violation, to defend the bleeding father and his son? The shrieks of despair resounded through the land and none appeared! The hand of violence fell on my own house! the wife of my bosom was stabbed to the heart by a magistrate of the usurper! I then drew the sword! — I took pity on those who suffered as I had suffered! I espoused their cause, and never will I forsake it till life forsakes me. Therefore, that I became champion of Scotland, Lord of Carrick, blame not my ambition, but rather the supineness of the nobility, and chiefly yourself — you who, uniting personal merit to dignity of descent, had deserted to occupy! Had the Scots, from the time of Baliol’s abdication, possessed such a leader as yourself (for what is the necessity of the times but the pusillanimity of those who ought to contend with Edward?) by your valor and their union you must have surmounted every difficulty under which we struggle, and have closed the contest with success and honor. If you now start from your guilty delusion, it may not be too late to rescue Scotland from the perils which surround her. Listen then to my voice, prince of the blood of Alexander! forswear the tyrant who has cajoled you to this abandonment of your country, and resolve to be her deliverer. The bravest of the Scots are ready to acknowledge you their lord, to reign as your forefathers did, untrammeled by any foreign yoke. Exchange, then a base vassalage, for freedom and a throne! Awake to yourself, noble Bruce, and behold what it is I propose! Heaven itself cannot set a more glorious prize before the eyes of virtue or ambition, than to join in one object, the acquisition of royalty with the maintenance of national independence! Such is my last appeal to you. For myself, as I am well convinced that the real welfare of my country can never subsist with the sacrifice of her liberties, I am determined, as far as in me lies, to prolong, not her miseries, but her integrity, by preserving her from the contamination of slavery. But, should mysterious fate decree her fall, may that power which knows the vice and horrors which accompany a tyrant’s reign, terminate the existence of a people who can no longer preserve their lives but by receiving laws from usurpation!”
The truth and gallantry of these sentiments struck the awakened mind of Bruce with the force of conviction. Another auditor was nigh, who also lost not a syllable; “and the flame was conveyed from the breast of one hero to that of the other.”
Lord Carrick secretly repented of all that he had done; but being too proud to acknowledge so much, he briefly answered: “Wallace, your words have made an impression on me, that may one day still more brighten the glory of your fame. Be silent respecting this conference; be faithful to the principles you have declared, and ere long you shall hear royally of Bruce.” As he spoke, he turned away and was lost among the trees.
Wallace stood for some minutes musing on what had passed, when, hearing a footstep behind him, he turned round, and beheld approaching him a young and graceful form, habited in a white hacqueton wrought in gold, with golden spurs on his feet, and a helmet of the same costly metal on his head, crested with white feathers. Had the scene been in Palestine, he might have mistaken him for the host’s guardian angel in arms. But the moment the eyes of Wallace fell on him, the stranger hastened forward, and threw himself on one knee before him, with so noble a grace that the chief was lost in wonder what this beautiful apparition could mean. The youth, after an agitated pause, bowing his head, exclaimed:
“Pardon this intrusion, bravest of men! I come to offer you my heart, my life! To wash out, by your side, in the blood of the enemies of Scotland, the stigma which now dishonors the name of Bruce!”
“And who are you, noble youth?” cried Wallace, raising him from the ground. “Surely my prayers are at last answered; and I hear these sentiments from one of Alexander’s race!”
“I am indeed of his blood,” replied he; “and it must now be my study to prove my descent by deeds worthy of my ancestor. I am Robert Bruce, the eldest son of the Earl of Carrick and Annandale. Grieving over the slaughter that his valor had made of his own people (although, till you taught him otherwise, he believed they fought to maintain the usurpation of an ambitious subject), he walked out in melancholy. I followed at a distance; and I heard, unseen, all that has passed between you and him. He has retired to his tent; and, unknown to him, I hastened across the Carron, to avow my loyalty to virtue, to declare my determination to live for Scotland, or to die for her; and to follow the arms of Sir William Wallace, till he plants my father in the throne of his ancestors.”
“I take you at your word, brave prince!” replied the regent; “and this night shall give you an opportunity to redeem to Scotland, what your father’s sword has this day wrested from her. What I mean to do must be effected in the course of a few hours. That done, it will be prudent for you to return to the Carrick camp; and there take the most effectual means to persuade your father to throw himself at once into the arms of Scotland. The whole nation will then rally round their king; and as his weapon of war, I shall rejoice to fulfill the commission with which God has intrusted me!” He then briefly unfolded to the eagerly listening Bruce (whose aspiring spirit, inflamed by the fervor of youth, and winged by natural courage, saw the glory alone of the enterprise), an attack which he meant to make on the camp of Edward, while his victorious troops slept in fancied security.
He had sent Sir John Graham to Stirling, to call out its garrison; Ker he had dispatched on a similar errand; and expecting that by this time some of the troops would be arrived on the southern extremity of the carse, he threw his plaid over the prince’s splendid garb to conceal him from notice; then returning to the few who lay on the northern bank of the river, he asked one of the young Gordons to lend him his armor, saying he had use for it, and to seek another suit in the heap that had been collected from the buried dead. The brave Scot cheerfully acquiesced; and, Wallace retiring amongst the trees with his royal companion, Bruce soon covered his gay hacqueton with this rough mail; and placing the Scottish bonnet on his head, put a large stone into the golden helmet, and sunk it in the waters of the Carron. Being thus completely armed like one of the youthful clansmen in the ranks (and such disguise was necessary), Wallace put the trusty claymore of his country into its prince’s hand; and clasping him with a hero’s warmth to his heart —
“Now it is,” cried he, “that William Wallace lives anew since he has seen this hour!”
On re-emerging from the wood, they met Sir John Graham, who had just arrived with five hundred fugitives from Lord Bute’s slaughtered division, whom he had rallied on the carse. He informed his friend that the Earl of Mar was within half a mile of the Carron, with three thousand more; and, that he would soon be joined by other re-enforcements to a similar amount. While Graham yet spoke, a squadron of armed men approached from the Forth side. Wallace, advancing toward them, beheld the Bishop of Dunkeld, in his sacerdotal robes, at their head, but with a corselet on his breast, and instead of his crosier he carried a drawn sword. “We come to you, champion of Scotland,” cried the prelate, “with the prayers and the arms of the church. The sword of th44e Levites of old smote the enemies of Israel; and in the same faith, that the God of Justice will go before us this night, we come to fight for Scotland’s liberties.”
His followers were the younger brethren of the monastery of Cambus–Kenneth, and others from the neighboring convents, altogether making a stout and well-appointed legion.
“With this handful,” cried Wallace, “Heaven may find a David, who shall yet strike yon Goliath on the forehead!”
Lord Mar and Lord Lennox now came up; and Wallace, marshaling his train, found that he had nearly ten thousand men. He gave to each leader his plan of attack; and having placed Bruce with Graham in the van, before he took his station at its head, he retired to the ruins near Dunipacis, to visit the mourning solitude of Murray. He found the pious son sitting silent and motionless by the side of his dead parent. Without rousing the violence of grief by any reference to the sight before him, Wallace briefly communicated his project. Lord Andrew started to his feet. “I will share all the peril with you! I shall again grapple with the foe that has thus bereaved me! This dark mantle,” cried he, turning toward the breathless corpse, and throwing his plaid over it, “will shroud thy hallowed remains till I return. I go where thou wouldst direct me. Oh, my father!” exclaimed he, in a burst of grief, “the trumpet shall sound, and thou wilt not hear! But I go to take vengeance for thy blood!” So saying, he sprung from the place, and accompanying Wallace to the plain, took his station in the silent but swiftly moving army.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53