Wallace, having separated from the Prince Royal of France, pursued his solitary way toward the capital of Normandy, till night overtook him ere he was aware. Clouds so obscured the sky, that not a star was visible; and his horse, terrified at the impenetrable darkness, and the difficulties of the path, which lay over a barren and stony moor, suddenly stopped. This aroused Wallace from a long fit of musing to look around him; but on which side lay the road to Rouen, he could form no guess. To pass the night in so exposed a spot might be dangerous, and spurring the animal, he determined to push onward.
He had ridden nearly another hour, when the dead silence of the scene was broken by the roll of distant thunder. Then forked lightning shooting from the horizon showed a line of country unmarked by any vestige of human habitation. Still he proceeded. The storm approached, till, breaking in peals over his head, it discharged such sheets of livid fire at his feet that the horse reared, and plunging amidst the blaze, flashed the light of his rider’s armor on the eyes of a troop of horsemen, who also stood under the tempest, gazing with affright at the scene. Wallace, by the same transitory illumination, saw the travelers, as they seemed to start back at his appearance; and, mistaking their apprehension, he called to them, that his well-managed, though terrified steed, would do theirs no harm. One of them advanced and respectfully inquired of him the way to Rouen. Wallace replied that he was a stranger in this part of the country, and was also seeking that city. While he was yet speaking the thunder became more tremendous, and the lightning rolled in volumes along the ground, the horses of the troop became restive, and one of them threw its rider. Cries of lamentation, mingling with the groans of the fallen person, excited the compassion of Wallace. He rode toward the spot from when the latter proceeded, and asked the nearest bystander (for several had alighted) whether the unfortunate man was much hurt. The answer returned was full of alarm for the sufferer, and anxiety to obtain some place of shelter, for rain began to fall. In a few minutes it increased to torrents, and the lightning ceasing, deepened the horrors of the scene by preventing the likelihood of discovering any human abode. The men gathered round their fallen companion bewailing the prospect of his perishing under these inclemencies; but Wallace cheered them by saying he would seek a shelter for their friend, and blow his bugle when he had found one. With the word he turned his horse, and as he galloped along, called aloud on any Christian man who might live near, to open his doors to a dying traveler! After riding about in all directions, he saw a glimmering light for a moment, and then all was darkness; but again he called aloud for charity! and a shrill female voice answered, “I am a lone woman, with already one poor traveler in my house; but, for the Virgin’s sake, I will open my door to you, whatever you may be.” The good woman relighted her lamp, which the rain had extinguished; and, on her unlatching the door, Wallace briefly related what had happened, entreating her permission to bring the unfortunate person into the cottage. She readily consented; and giving him a lantern to guide his way, he blew his bugle, which was instantly answered by so glad and loud a shout that it assured him his companions could not be far distant, and that he must have made many a useless circuit before he had stopped at this charitable door.
The men directed him through the darkness by their voices, for the lantern threw its beams but a very little way, and, arriving at their side, by his assistance the bruised traveler was brought to the cottage. It was a poor hovel; but the good woman had spread a clean wooden coverlet over her own bed, in the inner chamber, and thither Wallace carried the invalid. He seemed in great pain, but his kind conductor answered their hostess’ inquiries respecting him, with a belief that no bones were broken.
“But yet,” cried she, “sad may be the effects of internal bruises on so emaciated a frame. I will venture to disturb my other guest, who sleeps in the loft, and bring down a decoction that I keep there. It is made from simple herbs, and I am sure will be of service.”
The old woman having shown to the attendants where they might put their horses under shelter of a shed which projected from the cottage, ascended a few steps to the chamber above. Meanwhile, the Scottish chief, assisted by one of the men, disengaged the sufferer from his wet garments, and covered him with the blankets of the bed. Recovered to recollection by the comparative comfort of his bodily feelings, the stranger opened his eyes. He fixed them on Wallace, then looked around, and turned to Wallace again.
“Generous knight!” cried he, “I have nothing but thanks to offer for this kindness. You seem to be of the highest rank, and yet have succored one who the world abjures!”
The knight returned a courteous answer, and the invalid, in a paroxysm of emotion, added:
“Can it be possible that a prince of France has dared to act contrary to his peers?”
Wallace, not apprehending what had given rise to this question, supposed the stranger’s wits were disordered, and looked with that inquiry toward the attendant. Just at that moment a step, more active than that of their aged hostess, sounded above, and an exclamation of surprise followed it, in a voice that startled Wallace. He turned hastily round, and a young man sprung from the cottage stairs into the apartment — joy danced in every feature, and the ejaculation, “Wallace!”—“Bruce!” burst at once from the hearts of the two friends as they rushed into each other’s arms. All else present was lost to them in the delight of meeting after so perilous a separation — a delight not confined for its object to their individual selves, each saw in the other the hope of Scotland; and when they embraced, it was not merely with the ardor of friendship, but with that of patriotism, rejoicing in the preservation of its chief dependence.
While the chiefs spoke freely in their native tongue, before a people who could not be supposed to understand them, the aged stranger on the bed reiterated his moans. Wallace, in a few words, telling Bruce the manner of his reencounter with the sick man, and his belief that he was disordered in his mind, drew toward the bed, and offered him some of the decoction which the woman now brought. The invalid drank it, and gazed earnestly, first on Wallace and then on Bruce. “Pierre, withdraw,” cried he to his personal attendant. The man obeyed. “Sit down by me, noble friends,” said he to the Scottish chiefs, “and read a lesson, which I pray ye lay to your hearts!” Bruce glanced a look at Wallace that declared he was of his opinion. Wallace drew a stool, while his friend seated himself on the bed. The old woman, perceiving something extraordinary in the countenance of the bruised stranger, thought he was going to reveal some secret heavy on his mind, and also withdrew.
“You think my intellects are injured,” returned he, turning to Wallace, “because I addressed you as one of the house of Philip! Those jeweled lilies round your helmet led me into the error; I never before saw them granted to other than a prince of the blood. But think not, brave man, I respect you less, since I have discovered that you are not of the race of Philip — that you are other than a prince! Look on me — at this emaciated form — and behold the reverses of all earthly grandeur! This palsied hand once held a scepter — these hollow temples were once bound with a crown! He that used to be followed as the source of honor, as the fountain of prosperity — with suppliants at his feet, and flatterers at his side — would now be left to solitude were it not for these few faithful servants, who, in spite of all changes, have preserved their allegiance to the end. Look on me, chiefs, and behold him who was the King of Scots!”
At this declaration, both Wallace and Bruce, struck with surprise and compassion at meeting their ancient enemy reduced to such abject misery, with one impulse bowed their heads to him with an air of reverence. The action penetrated the heart of Baliol. For when at the meeting and mutual exclamation of the two friends, he recognized in whose presence he lay, he fearfully remembered that, by his base submissions, turning the scale of judgment in his favor, he had defrauded the grandsire of the very Bruce now before him of a fair decision on his rights to the crown! And when he looked on Wallace, who had preserved him from the effects of his accident, and brought him to a shelter from the raging terrors of the night, his conscience doubly smote him! for, from the hour of his elevation to that of his downfall, he had ever persecuted the family of Wallace; and, at the hour which was the crisis of her fate, had denied them the right of drawing their swords in defense of Scotland. He, her king, had resigned her into the hands of an usurper; but Wallace, the injured Wallace, had arisen, like a star of light on the deep darkness of her captivity, and Scotland was once more free. In the tempest, the exiled monarch had started at the blaze of the unknown knight’s jeweled panoply; at the declaration of his name he shrunk before the brightness of his glory! and, falling back on the bed, he groaned aloud. To these young men, so strangely brought before him, and both of whom he had wronged, he determined immediately to reveal himself, and see whether they were equally resentful of injuries as those he had served had proved ungrateful for benefits received. He spoke; and when, instead of seeing the pair rise in indignation on his pronouncing his name, they bowed their heads and sat in respectful silence, his desolate heart expanded at once to admit the long-estranged emotion, and he burst into tears. He caught the hand of Bruce, who sat nearest to him, and, stretching out the other to Wallace, exclaimed, “I have not deserved this goodness from either of you. Perhaps you two are the only men now living whom I ever greatly injured; and you, excepting my four poor attendants, are, perhaps, the only men living who would compassionate my misfortunes!”
“These are lessons, king,” returned Wallace, with reverence, “to fit you for a better crown. And never in my eyes did the descendant of Alexander seem so worthy of his blood!”
The grateful monarch pressed his hand. Bruce continued to gaze on him with a thousand awful thoughts occupying his mind. Baliol read in his expressive countenance the reflections which chained his tongue.
“Behold, how low is laid the proud rival of your grandfather!” exclaimed he, turning to Bruce. “I compassed a throne I could not fill. I mistook the robes, the homage, for the kingly dignity. I bartered the liberties of my country for a crown I knew not how to wear, and the insidious trafficker not only reclaimed it, but repaid me with a prison. There I expiated my crime against the upright Bruce! Not one of all the Scottish lords who crowded Edward’s court came to beguile a moment of sorrow from their captive monarch. Lonely I lived, for the tyrant even deprived me of the comfort of seeing my fellow-prisoner, Lord Douglas — he whom attachment to my true interests had betrayed to an English prison. I never saw him after the day of his being put into the Tower until that of his death.” Wallace interrupted the afflicted Baliol with an exclamation of surprise. “Yes,” added he, “I myself closed his eyes. At that awful hour he had petitioned to see me, and the boon was granted. I went to him, and then, with his dying breath, he spoke truths to me, which were indeed messengers from Heaven! They taught me what I was, and what I might be. He died. Edward was then in Flanders, and you, brave Wallace, being triumphant in Scotland, and laying such a stress in your negotiations for the return of Douglas, the Southron cabinet agreed to conceal his death, and, by making his name an instrument to excite your hopes and fears, turn your anxiety for him to their own advantage.”
A deep scarlet kindled over the face of Bruce. “With what a race have I been so long connected! What mean subterfuges, what dastardly deceits, for the leaders of a great nation to adopt! Oh, king!” exclaimed he, turning to Baliol, “if you have errors to atone for, what then must be the penalty of my sin, for holding so long with an enemy as vile as he is ambitious! Scotland! Scotland! I must weep tears of blood for this!” He rose in agitation. Baliol followed him with his eyes.
“Amiable Bruce! you too severely arraign a fault that was venial in you. Your father gave himself to Edward, and his son accompanied the tribute.”
Bruce vehemently answered, “If King Edward ever said that, he uttered a falsehood. My father loved him, confided in him, and the ingrate betrayed him! His fidelity was no gift of himself, in acknowledgment of inferiority; it was the pledge of a friendship exchanged on equal terms on the fields of Palestine. And well did King Edward know that he had no right over either my father or me; for in the moment he doubted our attachment, he was aware of having forfeited it. He knew he had no legal claim on us; and forgetting every law, human and divine, he made us prisoners. But my father found liberty in the grave, and I am ready to take a sure revenge in —” he would have added “Scotland,” but he forbore to give the last blow to the unhappy Baliol, by showing him that his kingdom had indeed passed from him, and that the man was before him who might be destined to wield his scepter. Bruce paused, and sat down in generous confusion.
“Hesitate not,” said Baliol, “to say where you will take your revenge! I know that the brave Wallace has laid open the way. Had I possessed such a leader of my troops, I should not now be a mendicant in this hovel; I should not be a creature to be pitied and despised. Wear him, Bruce — wear him in your heart’s core. He gives the throne he might have filled.”
“Make not that a subject of praise,” cried Wallace, “which if I had left undone, would have stamped me a traitor. I have only performed my duty; and may the Holy Anointer of the hearts of kings guide Bruce to his kingdom, and keep him there in peace and honor!”
Baliol rose in his bed at these words: “Bruce,” said he, “approach me near.” He obeyed. The feeble monarch turned to Wallace: “You have supported what was my kingdom through its last struggles for liberty; put forth your hand and support its exiled sovereign in his last legal act.” Wallace raised the king, so as to enable him to assume a kneeling posture. Dizzy with the exertion, for a moment he rested on the shoulder of the chief; and then looking up, he met the eyes of Bruce gazing on him with compassionate interest. The unhappy monarch stretched out his arms to Heaven: “May God pardon the injuries which my fatal ambition did to you and yours — the miseries I brought upon my country; and let your reign redeem my errors! May the spirit of wisdom bless you, my son!” His hands were now laid, with pious fervor, on the head of Bruce, who sunk on his knees before him. “Whatever rights I had to the crown of Scotland, by the worthlessness of my reign they are forfeited; and I resign all unto you, even to the participation of the mere title of king. It has been as the ghost of my former self, as an accusing spirit to me, but, I trust, an angel of light to you, it will conduct your people into all happiness!” Exhausted by his feelings, he sunk back into the arms of Wallace. Bruce, rising from his knees, poured a little of the herb-balsam into the king’s mouth, and he revived. As Wallace laid him back on his pillows, he gazed wistfully at him, and grasping his hand, said in a low voice: “How did I throw a blessing from me! But in those days, when I rejected your services at Dunbar, I knew not the Almighty arm which brought the boy of Ellerslie to save his country! I scorned the patriot flame that spoke your mission, and the mercy of Heaven departed from me!”47
47 This renunciation of Baliol’s in favor of Bruce is an historical fact, and it was made in France.
Memory was now busy with the thoughts of Bruce. He remembered his father’s weak, if not criminal devotion at that time to the interests of Edward; he remembered his heart-wrung death; and looking at the desolate old age of another of Edward’s victims, his brave soul melted to pity and regret, and he retired into a distant part of the room, to shed, unobserved, the tears he could not restrain. Wallace soon after saw the eyes of the exhausted king close in sleep; and cautious of awakening him, he did not stir; but leaning against the thick oaken frame of the bed, was soon lost in as deep a repose.
After some time of complete stillness (for the old dame and the attendants were at rest in the outer chamber), Bruce, whose low sighs were echoed by the wind alone, which swept in gusts by the little casement, looked toward the abdicated monarch’s couch. He slept profoundly, yet frequently started, as if disturbed by troubled dreams. Wallace moved not on his hard pillow; and the serenity of perfect peace rested upon all his features.
“How tranquil is the sleep of the virtuous!” thought Bruce, as he contemplated the difference between his state and that of Baliol; “there lies an accusing conscience; here rests one of the most faultless of created beings. It is, it is the sleep of innocence! Come, ye slanderers,” continued he, mentally calling on those he had left at Edward’s court, “and tell me if an adulterer could look thus when he sleeps! Is there one trace of irregular passion about that placid mouth? Does one of those heavenly-composed features bear testimony to emotions which leave marks even when subdued? No, virtue has set up her throne in that breast, and well may kings come to bow to it!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59