No eye closed that night in the monastery of Falkirk. The Earl of Mar awaked about the twelfth hour, and sent to call Lord Ruthven, Sir William Wallace, and his nephews, to attend him. As they approached, the priests, who had just anointed his dying head with the sacred unction, drew back. The countess and Lady Ruthven supported his pillow. He smiled as he heard the advancing steps of those so dear to him. “I send for you,” said he, “to give you the blessing of a true Scot and a Christian! May all who are here in thy blessed presence, Redeemer of mankind!” cried he, looking up with a supernatural brightness in his eye, “die as I do, rather than survive to see Scotland enslaved! But oh! may they rather long live under that liberty, perpetuated, which Wallace has again given to his country; peaceful will then be their last moments on earth, and full of joy their entrance into heaven!” His eyes closed as the concluding word died upon his tongue. Lady Ruthven looked intently on him; she bent her face to his, but he breathed no more; and, with a feeble cry, she fell back in a swoon.
The soul of the veteran earl was indeed fled. The countess was taken, shrieking, out of the apartment; but Wallace, Edwin, and Murray remained, kneeling over the body, and when they concluded, the priests throwing over it a cloud of incense, the mourners withdrew, and separated to their chambers.
By daybreak, Wallace met Murray by appointment in the cloisters. The remains of his beloved father had been brought from Dunipacis to the convent, and Murray now prepare to take them to Bothwell Castle, there to be interred in the cemetery of his ancestors. Wallace, who had approved his design, entered with him into the solitary court-yard, where the war-carriage stood which was to convey the deceased earl to Clydesdale. Four soldiers of his clan brought the corpse of their Lord from a cell, and laid him on his martial bier. His bed was the sweet heather of Falkirk, spread by the hands of his son. As Wallace laid the venerable chief’s sword and helmet on his bier, he covered the whole with the flag he had torn from the standard of England in the last victory. “None other shroud is worthy of thy virtues!” cried he. “Dying for Scotland, thus let the memorial of her glory be the witness of thine!”
“Oh! my friend,” answered Murray, looking on his chief with a smile, which beamed the fairer shining through sorrow, “thy gracious spirit can divest even death of its gloom. My father yet lives in his fame!”
“And in a better existence, too!” gently replied Wallace; “else the earth’s fame were an empty shroud-it could not comfort.”
The solemn procession, with Murray at its head, departed toward the valleys of Clydesdale, and Wallace returned to his chamber. Two hours before noon he was summoned by the tolling of the chapel bell. The Earl of Bute and his dearer friend were to be laid in their last bed. With a spirit that did not murmur, he saw the earth closed over both graves; but at Graham’s he lingered; and when the funeral stone shut even the sod that covered him from his eyes, with his sword’s point he drew on the surface these memorable words:
“Mente manuque potens, et Walli fidus Achates. Conditus hic Gramus, bello interfectus ab Anglis.”42
42 These lines may be translated thus:
Here lies The powerful in mind and body, the friend of Wallace; Graham, faithful unto death! slain in battle by the English.
While he yet leaned on the stone, which gently gave way to the registering pen of friendship, to be more deeply engraved afterward, a monk approached him, attended by a shepherd boy. At the sound of steps, Wallace looked up.
“This young man,” said the father, “brings dispatches to the lord regent.”
Wallace rose, and the youth presented his packet. Withdrawing to a little distance, he broke the seal, and read to this effect:
“My father and myself are in the Castle of Durham, and both under an arrest. We are to remain so till our arrival in London renders its sovereign, in his own opinion, more secure: when there, you shall hear from me again. Meanwhile, be on your guard: the gold of Edward has found its way into your councils. Beware of them who, with patriotism in their mouths, are purchased to betray you and their country into the hands of the enemy! Truest, noblest, best of Scots, farewell! — I must not write more explicitly.
“P.S. — The messenger who takes this is a simple border shepherd: he knows not whence comes the packet, hence he cannot bring an answer.”
Wallace closed the letter; and putting gold into the shepherd’s hand, left the chapel. In passing through the cloisters he met Ruthven, just returned from Stirling, whither he had gone to inform the chiefs of the council of the regent’s arrival. “When I summoned them to the council-hall,” continued Lord Ruthven, “and told them you had not only defeated Edward on the Carron, but in so doing had gained a double victory, over a foreign usurper and domestic traitors!-instead of the usual open-hearted gratulations on such a communication, a low whisper murmured through the hall; and the young Badenoch, unworthy of his patriotic father, rising from his seat, gave utterance to so many invectives against you, our country’s soul, and arm! I should deem it treason even to repeat them. Suffice it to say, that out of five hundred chiefs and chieftains who were present, not one of those parasites who used to fawn on you a week ago, and make the love of honest men seem doubtful, now breathes one word for Sir William Wallace. But this ingratitude, vile as it is, I bore with patience till Badenoch, growing in insolency, declared that late last night dispatches had arrived from the King of France to the regent, and that he (in right of his birth, assuming to himself that dignity) had put their bearer, Sir Alexander Ramsay, under confinement, for having persisted to dispute his authority to withhold them from you.”
Wallace, who had listened in silence, drew a deep sigh as Ruthven concluded; and, in that profound breath, exclaimed —“God must be our fortress still; must save Scotland from this gangrene in her heart! Ramsay shall be released; but I must first meet these violent men. And it must be alone, my lord,” continued he; “you, and our coadjutors, may wait my return at the city gates; but the sword of Edward, if need be, shall defend me against his gold.” As he spoke, he laid his hand on the jeweled weapon which hung at his side, and which he had wrested from that monarch in the last conflict.
Aware that this treason, aimed at him, would strike his country, unless timely warded off, he took his resolution; and requesting Ruthven not to communicate to any one what had passed, he mounted his horse, and struck into the road to Stirling. He took the plume from his crest, and closing his visor, enveloped himself in his plaid, that the people might not know him as he went along. But casting away his cloak, and unclasping his helmet at the door of the keep, he entered the council-hall, openly and abruptly. By an instantaneous impulse of respect, which even the base pay to virtue, almost every man arose at his appearance. He bowed to the assembly, and walked, with a composed yet severe air, up to his station at the head of the room. Young Badenoch stood there; and as Wallace approached he fiercely grasped his sword. “Proud upstart!” cried he, “betrayer of my father! set a foot further toward this chair, and the chastisement of every arm in this council shall fall on you for your presumption!”
“It is not in the arms of thousands to put me from my right,” replied Wallace, calmly putting forth his hand and drawing the regent’s chair toward him.
“Will ye bear this?” cried Badenoch, stamping with his foot, and plucking forth his sword; “is the man to exist who thus braves the assembled lords of Scotland?” While speaking, he made a desperate lunge at the regent’s breast; Wallace caught the blade in his hand, and wrenching it from his intemperate adversary, broke it into shivers, and cast the pieces at his feet; then, turning resolutely toward the chiefs, who stood appalled, and looking on each other, he said, “I, your duly elected regent, left you only a few days ago, to repel the enemy whom the treason of Lord March would have introduced into these very walls. Many brave chiefs followed me to that field! and more, whom I see now, loaded me as I passed with benedictions. Portentous was the day of Falkirk to Scotland. Then did the mighty fall, and the heads of counsel perish. But treason was the parricide! The late Lord Badenoch stood his ground like a true Scot; but Athol and Buchan deserted to Edward.” While speaking, he turned toward the furious son of Badenoch, who, gnashing his teeth in impotent rage, stood listening to the inflaming whispers of Macdougal of Lorn. “Young chief,” cried he, “from their treachery date the fate of your brave father, and the whole of our grievous loss of that day; but the wide destruction has been avenged! more than chief for chief have perished in the Southron ranks, and thousands of the lowlier sort now swell the banks of Carron. Edward himself fell, wounded by my arm, and was born by his flying squadrons over the wastes of Northumberland. Thus have I returned to you with my duties achieved in a manner worthy of your regent! What, then, means the arrest of my embassador? what this silence when the representative of your power is insulted to your face?
“They mean,” cried Badenoch, “that my words are the utterance of their sentiments.” “They mean,” cried Lorn, “that the prowess of the haughty boaster, whom their intoxicated gratitude raised from the dust, shall not avail him against the indignation of a nation over which he dares to arrogate a right.”
“Mean they what they will,” returned Wallace, “they cannot dispossess me of the rights with which assembled Scotland invested me on the plains of Stirling. And again I demand, by what authority do you and they presume to imprison my officer, and withhold from me the papers sent by the King of France to the Regent of Scotland?”
“By the authority that we will maintain,” replied Badenoch; “by the right of my royal blood, and by the sword of every brave Scot, who spurns at the name of Wallace!”
“And as a proof that we speak not more than we act,” cried Lorn, making assign to the chiefs, “you are our prisoner!”
Many weapons were instantly unsheathed; and their bearers, hurrying to the side of Badenoch and Lorn, attempted to lay hands on Wallace; but he, drawing the sword of Edward, with a sweep of his valiant arm that made the glittering blade seem a brand of fire, set his back against the wall, and exclaimed:
“He that first makes a stroke at me shall find his death on this Southron steel! This sword I made the puissant arm of the usurper yield to me; and this sword shall defend the Regent of Scotland against his ungrateful countrymen!”
The chieftains who pressed on him recoiled at these words, but their leaders, Badenoch and Lorn, waved them forward, with vehement exhortations.
“Desist, young men!” continued he, “provoke me not beyond my bearing. With a single blast of my bugle I could surround this building with a band of warriors, who at sight of their chief being thus assaulted, would lay this tumult in blood. Let me pass, or abide the consequence!”
“Through my breast, then,” exclaimed Badenoch; “for, with my consent, you pass not here but on your bier. What is in the arm of a single man,” cried he to the lords, “that ye cannot fall on him at once, and cut him down?”
“I would not hurt a son of the virtuous Badenoch,” returned Wallace; “but his life be on your hands,” said he, turning to the chiefs, “if one of you point a sword to impede my passage.”
“And wilt thou dare it, usurper of my powers and honors?” cried Badenoch. “Lorn, stand by your friend-all here who are true to the Cummin and Macdougal, hem in the tyrant.”
Many a traitor hand now drew forth its dagger, and the intemperate Badenoch, drunk with choler and mad ambition, snatching a sword from one of his accomplices, made another violent plunge at Wallace, but its metal flew in splinters on the guard-stroke of the regent, and left Badenoch at his mercy. “Defend me, chieftains, or I am slain!” cried he. But Wallace did not let his hand follow its advantage; with the dignity of conscious desert, he turned from the vanquished, and casting the enraged Lorn from him, who had thrown himself in his way, he exclaimed: “Scots, that arm will wither which dares to point its steel on me.” The pressing crowd, struck in astonishment, parted before him as they could have done in the path of a thunderbolt, and unimpeded, he passed to the door.
That their regent had entered the keep was soon rumored through the city; and when he appeared from the gate he was hailed by the acclamations of the people. He found his empire again in the hearts of the lowly, they whom he had restored to their cottages, knelt to him in the streets, and called for blessings on his name; while they-oh! blasting touch of envy!-whom he had restored to castles, and elevated from a state of vassalage to the power of princes, they raised against him that very power to lay him in the dust.
Now it was, that when surrounded by the grateful citizens of Stirling (whom it would have been as easy for him to have inflamed to the massacre of Badenoch and his council, as to have lifted his bugle to his lips), that he blew the summons for his captains. Every man in the keep flew to arms, expecting that Wallace was returning upon them with the host he had threatened. In a few minutes the Lord Ruthven, with his brave followers, entered the inner ballium gate. Wallace smiled proudly as they drew near. “My lords,” said he, “you come to witness the last act of my delegated power! Sir Alexander Scrymgeour, enter into that hall, which was once the seat of council, and tell the violent men who fill it, that for the peace of Scotland, which I value more than my life, I allow them to stand unpunished of their offense against me. But the outrage they have committed on the freedom of one of her bravest sons I will not pardon, unless he be immediately set at liberty; let them deliver to you Sir Alexander Ramsay, and then I permit them to hear my final decision. IF they refuse obedience, they are all my prisoners, and, but for my pity on their blindness, should perish by the laws.”
Eager to open the prison door for his friend Ramsay, and little suspecting to what he was calling the insurgents, Scrymgeour hastened to obey. Lorn and Badenoch gave him a very rough reception, uttering such rebellious defiance of the regent that the brave standard-bearer lost all patience, and denounced the immediate deaths of the whole refractory assembly. “The courtyard,” cried he, “is armed with thousands of the regent’s followers, his foot is on your necks, obey, or this will be a more grievous day for Scotland than even that of Falkirk; for the Castle of Stirling will run with Scottish blood!” At this menace Badenoch became more enraged, and Scrymgeour, seeing no chance of prevailing by argument, sent a messenger to privately tell Wallace the result. The regent immediately placed himself at the head of twenty men, and, re-entering the keep, went directly to the warder, whom he ordered, on his allegiance to the laws, to deliver Sir Alexander Ramsay into his hands. He was obeyed, and returned with his recovered chieftain to the platform. When Scrymgeour was apprised of the knight’s release, he turned to Badenoch, with whom he was still contending in furious debate, and demanded:
“Will you or will you not attend me to the regent? He of you all,” added he, addressing the chieftains, “who in this simple duty disobeys, shall receive from him the severer doom.”
Badenoch and Lorn, affecting to deride this menace, replied, they would not for an empire do the usurper the homage of a moment’s voluntary attention; but if any of their followers chose to view the mockery, they were at liberty. A very few, and those of the least turbulent spirits went forth. They began to fear having embarked in a desperate cause; and, by their present acquiescence, were willing to deprecate the wrath of Wallace, while thus assured of not exciting the resentment of Badenoch.
When Wallace looked around him and saw the space before the keep filled with armed men and citizens, he ascended an elevated piece of ground, which rose a little to the left, and waving his hand in token that he intended to speak, a profound silence took place of the buzz of admiration, gratitude, and discontent. He then addressed the people:
“Brother soldiers! friends! And-am I so to distinguish Scots?-enemies!”
At this word, a loud cry of “Perish all who are the enemies of our glorious regent!” penetrated to the inmost chambers of the citadel.
Believing that the few of his partisans who had ventured out, were falling under the vengeance of Wallace, Badenoch, with a brandished weapon, and followed by the rest, sallied toward the door, but there he stopped, for he saw his friends standing unmolested.
Wallace proceeded; and, with calm dignity, announced the hatred that was now poured upon him by a large part of that nobility who had been so eager to invest him with the high office he then held.
“Though they have broken their oaths,” cried he, “I have fulfilled mine! They vowed to me all lawful obedience; I swore to free Scotland or to die. Every castle in this realm is restored to its ancient lord; every fortress is filled with a native garrison; the sea is covered with our ships, and the kingdom, one in itself, sits secure behind her well-defended bulwarks. Such have I, through the strength of the Almighty arm, made Scotland! Beloved by a grateful people, I could wield half her power to the destruction of the rest; but I would not pluck one stone out of the building I have raised. To-day I deliver up my commission, since its design is accomplished. I resign the regency.”
As he spoke, he took off his helmet, and stood uncovered before the people.
“No, no!” seemed the voice from every lip; “we will acknowledge no other power, we will obey no other leader!”
Wallace expressed his sense of their attachment, but repeating to them that he had fulfilled the end of his office, by setting them free, he explained that his retaining it was no longer necessary. “Should I remain your regent,” continued he, “the country would be involved in ruinous dissensions. The majority of your nobles now find a vice in the virtue they once extolled; and seeing its power, no longer needful, seek to destroy my upholders with myself. I therefore remove the cause of contention. I quit the regency; and I bequeath your liberty to the care of your chiefs. But should it be again in danger, remember, that while life breathes in this heart, the spirit of William Wallace will be with you still!”
With these words he descended the mound, and mounted his horse, amidst the cries and tears of the populace. They clung to his garments as he rode along; and the women, with their children, throwing themselves on their knees in his path, implored him not to leave them to the inroads of a ravager; not to abandon them to the tyranny of their own lords; who, unrestrained by a king, or a regent like himself, would soon subvert his good laws, and reign despots over every district in the country. Wallace answered their entreaties with the language of encouragement; adding, that he was not their prince, to lawfully maintain a disputed power over the legitimate chiefs of the land. “But,” he said, “a rightful sovereign may yet be yielded to your prayers; and to procure that blessing, daughters of Scotland, night and day invoke the Giver of every good gift.”
When Wallace and his weeping train separated, at the foot of Falkirk Hill, he was met by his veterans of Lanark; who, having heard of what had passed in the citadel, advanced to him with one voice, to declare that they never would fight under any other commander. “Wherever you are, my faithful friends,” returned he, “you shall still obey my word.” When he entered the monastery, the opposition that was made to his resignation of the regency, by the Bishop of Dunkeld, Lord Loch-awe, and others, was so vehement, so persuasive, that had not Wallace been steadily principled not to involve his country in domestic war, he must have yielded to the affectionate eloquence of their pleading. But showing to them the public danger attendant on his provoking the wild ambition of the Cummins, and their multitudinous adherents, his arguments, which the sober judgment of his friends saw conclusive, at last ended the debate. He then rose, saying, “I have yet to perform my vow to our lamented Mar. I shall seek his daughter; and then, my brave companions, you shall hear of me, and, I trust, see me again!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59