Wallace having issued from his subterranean journey, made direct to Sunderland, where he arrived about sunrise. A vessel belonging to France (which, since the marriage of Margaret with Edward, had been in amity with England as well as Scotland) rode there, waiting a favorable wind. Wallace secured a passage in her; and, going on board, wrote his promised letter to Edward. It ran thus:
“This testament is to assure Edward, King of England, upon the word of a knight, that Queen Margaret, his wife, is in every respect guiltless of the crimes alleged against her by the Lord Soulis, and sworn to by the Baroness de Pontoise. I came to the court of Durham on an errand connected with my country; and that I might be unknown, I assumed the disguise of a minstrel. By accident I encountered Sir Piers Gaveston, and, ignorant that I was other than I seemed, he introduced me at the royal banquet. It was there I first saw her majesty. And I never had that honor but three times; and the third and last in her apartments, to which your majesty’s self saw me withdraw. The Countess of Gloucester was present the whole time, and to her highness I appeal. The queen saw in me only a minstrel; on my art alone as a musician was her favor bestowed; and by expressing it with an ingenuous warmth which none other than an innocent heart would have dared to display, she has thus exposed herself to the animadversions of libertinism, and to the false representations of a terror-struck, because worthless, friend.
“I have escaped the snare which the queen’s enemies laid for me; and for her sake, for the sake of truth, and your own peace, King Edward, I declare before the Searcher of all hearts, and before the world, in whose esteem I hope to live and die — that your wife is innocent! And should I ever meet the man, who, after this declaration, dares to unite her name with mine in a tale of infamy — by the power of truth, I swear that I will make him write a recantation with his blood. Pure as a virgin’s chastity is, and shall ever be, the honor of William Wallace.”
This letter was inclosed in one to the Earl of Gloucester, and having dispatched his packet to Durham, the Scottish chief gladly saw a brisk wind blow up from the north-west. The ship weighed anchor, cleared the harbor, and, under a fair sky, swiftly cut the waves toward the Gallic shores. But ere she reached them, the warlike star of Wallace directed to his little bark the terrific sails of the Red Reaver, a formidable pirate who then infested the Gallic seas, swept their commerce, and insulted their navy. He attacked the French vessel, but it carried a greater than Caesar and his fortunes; Wallace and his destiny were there, and the enemy struck to the Scottish chief. The Red Reaver (so surnamed because of his red sails and sanguinary deeds) was killed in the action; but his younger brother, Thomas de Longueville, was found alive with in the captive ship, and a yet greater prize! Prince Louis, of France, who having been out the day before on a sailing-party, had been descried, and seized as an invaluable booty by the Red Reaver.
Adverse winds for some time prevented Wallace from reaching port with his capture; but on the fourth day after the victory, he cast anchor in the harbor of Havre. The indisposition of the prince from a wound he had received in his own conflict with the Reaver, made it necessary to apprise King Philip of the accident. In answer to Wallace’s dispatches on this subject, the grateful monarch added to the proffers of personal friendship, which had been the substance of his majesty’s embassy to Scotland, a pressing invitation that the Scottish chief would accompany the prince to Paris, and there receive a public mark of royal gratitude, which, with due honor, should record this service done to France to future ages. Meanwhile Philip sent the chief a suit of armor, with a request that he would wear it in remembrance of France and his own heroism. But nothing could tempt Wallace to turn aside from his duty. Impatient to pursue his journey toward the spot where he hoped to meet Bruce, he wrote a respectful excuse to the king; but arraying himself in the monarch’s martial present (to assure his majesty by the evidence of his son that his royal wish had been so far obeyed), he went to the prince to bid him farewell. Louis was preparing for their departure, all three together, with young De Longueville (whose pardon Wallace had obtained from the king on account of the youth’s abhorrence of the service which his brother had compelled him to adopt), and the two young men, from different feelings, expressed their disappointment when they found that their benefactor was going to leave them. Wallace gave his highness a packet for the king, containing a brief statement of his vow to Lord Mar, and a promise, that when he had fulfilled it, Philip should see him at Paris. The royal cavalcade then separated from the deliverer of its prince; and Wallace, mounting a richly-barbed Arabian, which had accompanied his splendid armor, took the road to Rouen.
Meanwhile, events not less momentous took place at Durham. The instant Wallace had followed the Earl of Gloucester from the apartment in the castle, it was entered by Sir Piers Gaveston. He demanded the minstrel. Bruce replied, he knew not where he was. Gaveston, eager to convince the king that he was no accomplice with the suspected person, put the question a second time, and in a tone which he meant should intimidate the Scottish prince —“Where is the minstrel?”
“I know not,” replied Bruce.
“And will you dare to tell me, earl,” asked his interrogator, “that within this quarter of an hour he has not been in this tower? — nay, in this very room? The guards in your antechamber have told me that he was; and can Lord Carrick stoop to utter a falsehood to screen an wandering beggar?”
While he was speaking, Bruce stood eying him with increasing scorn. Gaveston paused.
“You expect me to answer you!” said the prince. “Out of respect to myself I will, for such is the unsullied honor of Robert Bruce, that even the air shall not be tainted with slander against his truth, without being repurified by its confutation. Gaveston, you have known me five years; two of them we passed together in the jousts of Flanders, and yet you believe me capable of falsehood! Know then, unworthy of the esteem I have bestowed on you, that neither to save mean or great, would I deviate from the strict line of truth. The man you seek may have been in this tower, in this room, as you present are, and as little am I bound to know where he now is, as whither you go when you relieve me from an inquisition which I hold myself accountable to no man to answer.”
“’Tis well,” cried Gaveston; “and I am to carry this haughty message to the king?”
“If you deliver it as a message,” answered Bruce, “you will prove that they who are ready to suspect falsehood, find its utterance easy. My reply is to you. When King Edward speaks to me, I shall find the answer that is due to him.”
“These attempts to provoke me into a private quarrel,” cried Gaveston, “will not succeed. I am not to be so foiled in my duty. I must seek the man through your apartments.”
“By whose authority?” demanded Bruce.
“By my own, as the loyal subject of my outraged monarch. He bade me bring the traitor before him; and thus I obey.”
While speaking, Gaveston beckoned to his attendants to follow him to the door whence Wallace had disappeared. Bruce threw himself before it.
“I must forget the duty I owe to myself, before I allow you, or any other man, to invade my privacy. I have already given you the answer that becomes Robert Bruce; and in respect to your knighthood, instead of compelling I request you to withdraw.”
Gaveston hesitated; but he knew the determined character of his opponent, and therefore, with no very good grace, muttering that he should hear of it from a more powerful quarter, he left the room.
And certainly his threats were not in this instance vain; for prompt was the arrival of a marshal and his officers to force Bruce before the king.
“Robert Bruce, Earl of Cleveland, Carrick and Annandale, I come to summon you into the presence of your liege lord, Edward of England.”
“The Earl of Cleveland obeys,” replied Bruce; and, with a fearless step, he walked out before the marshal.
When he entered the presence-chamber, Sir Piers Gaveston stood beside the royal couch, as if prepared to be his accuser. The king sat supported by pillows, paler with the mortifications of jealousy and baffled authority than from the effects of his wounds.
“Robert Bruce!” cried he, the moment his eyes fell on him; but the sight of his mourning habit made a stroke upon his heart that sent out evidence of remorse in large globules on his forehead; he paused, wiped his face with his handkerchief, and resumed: “Are you not afraid, presumptuous young man, thus to provoke your sovereign? Are you not afraid that I shall make that audacious head answer for the man whom you thus dare to screen from my just revenge?”
Bruce felt all the injuries he had suffered from this proud king rush at once upon his memory; and, without changing his position or lowering the lofty expression of his looks, he firmly answered: “The judgment of a just king I cannot fear; the sentence of an unjust one I despise.”
“This to his majesty’s face!” exclaimed Soulis.
“Insolence — rebellion — chastisement-even death!” were the words which murmured round the room at the honest reply.
Edward had too much good sense to echo any one of them; but turning to Bruce, with a sensation of shame he would gladly have repressed, he said that, in consideration of his youth, he would pardon him what had passed, and reinstate him in all the late Earl of Carrick’s honors, if he would immediately declare where he had hidden the offending minstrel.
“I have not hidden him,” cried Bruce; “nor do I know where he is; but had that been confided to me, as I know him to be an innocent man, no power on earth should have wrenched him from me!”
“Self-sufficient boy!” exclaimed Earl Buchan, with a laugh of contempt; “do you flatter yourself that he would trust such a novice as you are with secrets of this nature?”
Bruce turned on him an eye of fire.
“Buchan,” replied he, “I will answer you on other ground. Meanwhile, remember that the secrets of good men are open to every virtuous heart; those of the wicked they would be glad to conceal from themselves.”
“Robert Bruce,” cried the king, “before I came this northern journey I ever found you one of the most devoted of my servants, the gentlest youth in my court; and how do I see you at this moment? Braving my nobles to my face! How is it that until now this spirit never broke forth?”
“Because,” answered the prince, “until now I have never seen the virtuous friend whom you call upon me to betray.”
“Then you confess,” cried the king, “that he was an instigator to rebellion?”
“I avow,” answered Bruce, “that I never knew what true loyalty was till he taught it me; I never knew the nature of real chastity till he explained it to me; nor comprehended what virtue might be till he allowed me to see in himself incorruptible fidelity, bravery undaunted, and a purity of heart not to be contaminated! And this is the man on whom these lords would fasten a charge of treason and adultery! But out of the filthy depths of their own breast arise the streams from which they would blacked his fairness.”
“Your vindication,” cried the king, “confirms his guilt. You admit that he is not a minstrel in reality. Wherefore, then, did he steal in ambuscade into my palace, but to betray either my honor or my life — perhaps both?”
“His errand here was to see me.”
“Rash boy!” cried Edward; “then you acknowledge yourself a premeditated conspirator against me?”
Soulis now whispered in the king’s ear, but so low that Bruce did not hear him.
“Penetrate further, my liege; this may be only a false confession to shield the queen’s character. She who has once betrayed her duty, finds it easy to reward such handsome advocates.”
The scarlet of inextinguishable wrath now burned on the face of Edward. “I will confront them,” returned he; “surprise them into betraying each other.”
By his immediate orders the queen was brought in. She leaned on the Countess of Gloucester.
“Jane,” cried the king, “leave that woman; let her impudence sustain her.”
“Rather her innocence, my lord,” said the countess, bowing, and hesitating to go.
“Leave her to that,” returned the incensed husband, “and she would grovel on the earth like her own base passions. But stand before me she shall, and without other support than the devils within her.”
“For pity!” cried the queen, extending her clasped hands toward Edward, and bursting into tears; “have mercy on me, for I am innocent!”
“Prove it then,” cried the king, “by agreeing with this confidant of your minstrel, and at once tell me by what name you addressed him when you allured him to my court? Is he French, Spanish, or English?”
“By the Virgin’s holy purity, I swear!” cried the queen, sinking on her knees, “that I never allured him to this court; I never beheld him till I saw him at the bishop’s banquet; and for his name, I know it not.”
“Oh, vilest of the vile!” cried the king, fiercely grasping his couch; “and didst thou become a wanton at a glance? From my sight this moment, or I shall blast thee!”
The queen dropped senseless into the arms of the Earl of Gloucester, who at that moment entered from seeing Wallace through the cavern. At sight of him, Bruce knew that his friend was safe; and fearless for himself when the cause of outraged innocence was at stake, he suddenly exclaimed:
“By one word, King Edward, I will confirm the blamelessness of this injured queen. Listen to me, not as a monarch and an enemy, but with the unbiased judgment of man with man; and then ask your own brave heart if it would be possible for Sir William Wallace to be a seducer.”
Every mouth was dumb at the enunciation of that name. None dared open a lip in accusation; and the king himself, thunderstruck alike with the boldness of the conqueror venturing within the grasp of his revenge and at the daringness of Bruce in thus declaring his connection with him, for a few minutes he knew not what to answer; only he had received conviction of his wife’s innocence! He was too well acquainted with the history and uniform conduct of Wallace to doubt his honor in this transaction; and though a transient fancy of the queen’s might have had existence, yet he had now no suspicion of her actions. “Bruce,” said he, “your honesty has saved the Queen of England. Though Wallace is my enemy, I know him to be of an integrity which neither man nor woman can shake; and therefore,” added he, turning to the lords, “I declare before all who have heard me so fiercely arraign my injured wife, that I believe her innocent of every offense against me. And whoever, after this, mentions one word of what has passed in these investigations, or even whispers that they have been held, shall be punished as guilty of high treason.”
Bruce was then ordered to be reconducted to the round-tower; and the rest of the lords withdrawing by command, the king was left with Gloucester, his daughter Jane, and the now reviving queen to make his peace with her, even on his knees.
Burce was more closely immured than ever. Not even his senachie was allowed to approach him; and double guards were kept constantly around his prison. On the fourth day of his seclusion an extra row of iron bars was put across his windows. He asked the captain of the party the reason for this new rivet on his captivity; but he received no answer. His own recollection, however, solved the doubt; for he could not but see that his own declaration respecting his friendship with Wallace had increased the alarm of Edward respecting their political views. One of the warders, on having the same inquiry put to him which Bruce had addressed to his superior, in a rough tone replied:
“He had best not ask questions, lest he should hear that his majesty had determined to keep him under Bishop Beck’s padlock for life.”
Bruce was not to be deprived of hope by a single evidence, and smiling, said:
“There are more ways of getting out of a tyrant’s prison, than by the doors and windows!”
“Why, you would not eat through the walls?” cried the man.
“Certainly,” replied Bruce, “if I have no other way, and through the guards too.”
“We’ll see to that,” answered the man.
“And feel it too, my sturdy jailer,” returned the prince; “so look to yourself.”
Bruce threw himself recklessly into a chair as he spoke; while the man, eying him askance, and remembering how strangely the minstrel had disappeared, began to think that some people born in Scotland inherited from nature a necromantic power of executing whatever they determined.
Though careless in his manner of treating the warder’s information, Bruce thought of it with anxiety; and lost in reflections, checkered with hope and doubt of his ever effecting an escape, he remained immovable on the spot where the man had left him, till another sentinel brought in a lamp. He set it down in silence, and withdrew; Bruce then heard the bolts on the outside of his chamber pushed into their guards. “There they go,” said he to himself; “and those are to be the morning and evening sounds to which I am to listen all my days! At least Edward would have it so. Such is the gratitude he shows to the man who restored to him his wife; who restored to him the consciousness of possessing that honor unsullied which is so dear to every married man! Well, Edward, kindness might bind generous minds even to forget their rights; but thanks to you, neither in my own person, nor for any of my name, do I owe you aught, but to behold me King of Scotland; and please God, that you shall, if the prayers of faith may burst these double-steeled gates, and set me free!”
While invocations to the Power in which he confided, and resolutions respecting the consequences of his hoped-for liberty, by turns occupied his mind, he heard the tread of a foot in the adjoining passage. He listened breathless; for no living creature, he thought, could be in that quarter of the building, as he had suffered none to enter it since Wallace had disappeared by that way. He half rose from his couch, as the door at which he had seen him last gently opened. He started up, and Gloucester, with a lantern in his hand, stood before him. The earl put his finger on his lip, and taking Bruce by the hand, led him, as he had done Wallace, down into the vault which leads to Fincklay Abbey.
When safe in that subterraneous cloister, the earl replied to the impatient gratitude of Bruce (who saw that the generous Gloucester meant he should follow the steps of his friend) by giving him a succinct account of his motives for changing his first determination, and now giving him liberty. He had not visited Bruce since the escape of Wallace, that he might not excite any new suspicion in Edward; and the tower being fast locked at every usual avenue, he had now entered it from the Fincklay side. He then proceeded to inform Bruce, that after his magnanimous forgetfulness of his own safety to insure that of the queen had produced a reconciliation between her and her husband, Buchan, Soulis, and Athol, with one or two English lords, joined the next day to persuade the king that Bruce’s avowal respecting Wallace had been merely an invention of his own to screen some baser friend and royal mistress. They succeeded in reawakening doubts in Edward, who, sending for Gloucester, said to him, “Unless I could hear from Wallace’s own lips (and in my case the thing is impossible), that he has been here, and that my wife is guiltless of this foul stain, I must ever remain in horrible suspense. These base Scots, ever fertile in maddening suggestions, have made me even more suspect that Bruce had other reasons for his apparently generous risk of himself, than a love of justice.”
While these ideas floated in the mind of Edward, Bruce had been more closely immured. And Gloucester having received the promised letter from Wallace, determined to lay it before the king. Accordingly, one morning the earl, gliding unobserved into the presence-chamber before Edward was brought in, laid the letter under his majesty’s cushion. As Gloucester expected, the moment the king saw the superscription, he knew the hand; and hastily breaking the seal, read the letter twice over to himself without speaking a word. But the clouds which had hung on his countenance all passed away; and with a smile reaching the packet to Gloucester, he commanded him to read aloud “that silencer of all doubts respecting the honor of Margaret of France and England.” Gloucester obeyed; and the astonished nobles, looking on each other, one and all assented to the credit that ought to be given to Wallace’s word, and deeply regretted having ever joined in a suspicion against her majesty. Thus, then, all appeared amicably settled. But the embers of discord still glowed. The three Scottish lords, afraid lest Bruce might be again taken into favor, labored to show that his friendship with Wallace, pointed to his throwing off the English yoke, and independently assuming the Scottish crown. Edward required no arguments to convince him of the probability of this; and he readily complied with Bishop Beck’s request to allow him to hold the royal youth his prisoner. But when the Cummins won this victory over Bruce, they gained nothing for themselves. During the king’s vain inquiries respecting the manner in which Wallace’s letter had been conveyed to the apartment, they had ventured to throw hints of Bruce having been the agent, by some secret means, and that however innocent the queen might be, he certainly evinced, by such solicitude for her exculpation, a more than usual interest in her person. These latter innuendoes the king crushed in the first whisper. “I have done enough with Robert Bruce,” said he. “He is condemned a prisoner for life, and a mere suspicion shall never provoke me to give sentence for his death.” Irritated by this reply, and the contemptuous glance with which it was accompanied, the vindictive triumvirate turned from the king to the court; and having failed in accomplishing the destruction of Bruce and his more renowned friend, they determined at least to make a wreck of their moral fame. The guilt of Wallace and the queen, and the participation of Bruce, was now whispered through every circle, and credited in proportion to the evil disposition of the hearers.
Once of his pages at last brought to the ears of the kings the stories which these lords so basely circulated; and sending for them, he gave them so severe a reprimand, that, retiring from his presence with stifled wrath, they agreed to accept the invitation of young Lord Badenoch, return to their country, and support him in the regency. Next morning Edward was informed they had secretly left Durham; and fearing that Bruce might also make his escape, a consultation was held between the king and Beck of so threatening a complexion, that Gloucester no longer hesitated to run all risks, but immediately to give the Scottish prince his liberty.
Having led him to safety through the vaulted passage, they parted in the cemetery of Fincklay; Gloucester, to walk back to Durham by the banks of the Wear; and Bruce, to mount the horse the good earl had left tied to a tree, to convey him to Hartlepool. There he embarked for Normandy.
When he arrived at Caen, he made no delay, but taking a rapid course across the country toward Rouen, on the second evening of his traveling, having pursued his route without sleep, he felt himself so overcome with fatigue, that, in the midst of a vast and dreary plain, he found it necessary to stop for rest at the first habitation he might find. It happened to be the abode of one of those poor, but pious matrons, who, attaching themselves to some neighboring order of charity, live alone in desert places for the purpose of succoring distressed travelers. Here Bruce found the widow’s cruse, and a pallet to repose his weary limbs.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53