These preliminaries of lasting friendship being arranged, and sworn to by Philip, Wallace dispatched a messenger to Scotland, to Lord Ruthven, at Huntingtower, informing him of the present happy dispositions with regard to Scotland. He made particular inquiries respecting the state of the public mind; and declared his intention not to introduce Bruce amongst the cabals of his chieftains until he knew exactly how they were all disposed. Some weeks passed before a reply to this letter arrived. During the time, the health of Helen, which had been much impaired by the sufferings inflicted on her by De Valence, gradually recovered, and her beauty became as much the admiration of the French nobles as her meek dignity was of their respect. A new scene of royalty presented itself in this gay court to Wallace, for all was pageant and chivalric gallantry; but it had no other effect on him than that of exciting those benevolent affections which rejoiced in the innocent gayeties of his fellow-beings. His gravity was not that of a cynic. Though hilarity never awakened his mind to buoyant mirth, yet he loved to see it in others, and smiled when others laughed.
With a natural superiority, which looked over these court pastimes to objects of greater moment, Bruce merely endured them; but it was with an urbanity congenial with his friend’s, and while the princes of France were treading the giddy mazes of the dance, or tilting at each other in the mimic war of the tournament, the Prince of Scotland, who excelled in all these exercises, left the field of gallantry undisputed, and moved an uninterested spectator in the splendid scene, talking with Wallace or with Helen on events which yet lay in fate, and whose theater would be the field of his native land. So accustomed had the friends now been to share their thoughts with Lady Helen, that they imparted to her their plans, and listened with pleasure to her timid yet judicious remarks. Her soul was inspired with the same zeal for Scotland which animated their own breasts; like Bruce’s it was ardent; but, like Wallace’s, it was tempered with a moderation which, giving her foresight, freed her opinion from the hazard of rashness. What he possessed by the suggestions of genius, or had acquired by experience, she learned from love. It taught her to be careful for the safety of Wallace; and while she saw that his life must often be put in peril for Scotland, her watchful spirit, with an eagle’s ken, perceived and gave warning where his exposure might incur danger without adequate advantage.
The winds of this season of the year being violent and often adverse. Wallace’s messenger did not arrive at his destined port in Scotland till the middle of November, and the January of 1299 had commenced before his returning bark entered the mouth of the Seine.
Wallace was alone, with Grimsby, opening the door, announced Sir Edwin Ruthven. In a moment the friends were locked in each other’s arms. Edwin, straining Wallace to his heart, reproached him in affectionate terms for having left him behind; but while he spoke, joy shone through the tears which hung on his eyelids, and with the smiles of fraternal love, again and again he kissed his friend’s hand, and pressed it to his bosom. Wallace answered his glad emotions with similar demonstrations of affection, and when the agitations of their meeting were subdued, he learned from Edwin that he had left the messenger at some distance on the road, so impatient was he to embrace his friend again, and to congratulate his dear cousin on her escape.
Edwin answered the anxious inquiries of Wallace respecting his country, by informing him that Badenoch, having arrogated to himself the supreme power in Scotland, had determined to take every advantage of the last victory gained over King Edward. In this resolution he was supported by the Lords Athol, Buchan, and Soulis, who were returned, full of indignation from the Court of Durham. Edward removed to London; and Badenoch, soon hearing that he was preparing other armies for the subjugation of Scotland, sent embassadors to the Vatican to solicit the Pope’s interference. Flattered by this appeal, Boniface wrote a letter to Edward, exhorting him to refrain from Further oppressing a country over which he had no lawful power. Edward’s answer was full of artifice and falsehood, every good principle, and declaring his determination to consolidate Great Britain into one kingdom, or to make the northern part one universal grave.49 Wallace sighed as he listened.
49 Both these curious letters are extant in Hollingshed.
“Ah! my dear Edwin,” said he, “how just is the observation, that the almost total neglect of truth and justice, which the generality of statesmen discover in their transactions with each other, is an unaccountable to reason as it is dishonorable and ruinous! It is one source of the misery of the human race — a misery in which millions are involved, without any compensation; for it seldom happens that this dishonesty contributes ultimately even to the interests of the princes who thus basely sacrifice their integrity to their ambition. But proceed, my friend.”
“The speedy consequence of this correspondence,” Edwin continued, “was a renewal of hostilities against Scotland. Badenoch took Sir Simon Fraser as his colleague in military duty, and a stout resistance for a little while was made on the borders; but Berwick soon became the prey of Lord Percy, and the brave Lord Dundaff was killed defending the citadel. Many other places fell, and battles were fought, in which the English were everywhere victorious; for,” added Edwin, “none of your generals would draw a sword under the command of Badenoch; and, alarmed at these disasters, the Bishop of Dunkeld is gone to Rome, to entreat the Pope to order your return. The Southrons are advancing into Scotland in every direction. They have landed again on the eastern coast; they have possessed themselves of all the border counties; and without your Heaven-anointed arm to avert the blow, our country must be irretrievably lost.”
Edwin had brought letters from Ruthven and the young Earl of Bothwell, which none particularly narrated these ruinous events, to enforce every argument to Wallace for his return. They gave it as their opinion, however, that he must revisit Scotland under an assumed name. Did he come openly, the jealousy of the Scottish lords would be reawakened, and the worst of them might put a finishing stroke to their country by taking him off by assassination or poison. Ruthven and Bothwell, therefore, entreated that, as it was his wisdom as well as his valor their country required, he would hasten to Scotland, and condescend to serve her unrecognized till Bruce should be established on the throne.
While Edwin was conducted to the apartments of Lady Helen, Wallace took these letters to his prince. On Bruce being informed of the circumstances in which his country lay, and of the wishes of its most virtuous chiefs for his accession to the crown, he assented to the prudence of their advice with regard to Wallace. “But,” added he, “our fortunes must be in every respect, as far as we can mold them, the same. While you are to serve Scotland under a cloud, so will I. At the moment Bruce is proclaimed King of Scotland, Wallace shall be declared its bravest friend. We will go together — as brothers, if you will!” continued he. “I am already considered by the French nobility as Thomas de Longueville; you may personate the Red Reaver; Scotland does not yet know that he was slain; and the reputation of his valor and a certain nobleness in his wild warfare having placed him, in the estimation of our shores, rather in the light of one of their own island sea-kings than in that of his real character — a gallant, though fierce pirate — the aid of his name would bring no evil odor to our joint appearance. But were you to wear the title you bear here, a quarrel might ensue between Philip and Edward, which I perceive the former is not willing should occur openly. Edward must deem it a breach of their amity did his brother-in-law permit a French prince to appear in arms against him in Scotland; but the Reaver being considered in England as outlawed by France, no surprise can be excited that he and his brother should fight against Philip’s ally. We will, then, assume their characters; and I shall have the satisfaction of serving for Scotland before I claim her as my own. When we again drive Edward over the boarders, on that day we will throw off our visors, and Sir William Wallace shall place the crown on my head.”
Wallace could not but approve the dignity of mind which these sentiments displayed. In the same situation they would have been his own; and he sought not, from any motive of policy, to dissuade Bruce from a delicacy of conduct which drew him closer to his heart. Sympathy of tastes is a pleasant attraction; but congeniality of principles is the cement of souls. This Wallace felt in his new-born friendship with Bruce; and though his regard for him had none of that fostering tenderness with which he loved to contemplate the blooming virtues of the youthful Edwin, yet it breathed every endearment arising from a perfect equality in heart and mind. It was the true fraternal tie; and while he talked with him on the fulfillment of their enterprise, he inwardly thanked Heaven for blessing him so abundantly. He had found a son in Edwin; a brother, and a tender sister in the noble Bruce and lovely Helen.
Bruce received Edwin with a welcome which convinced the before anxious youth that he met a friend, rather than a rival, in the heart of Wallace. And every preliminary being settled by the three friends respecting their immediate return to Scotland, they repaired to Philip, to inform him of Lord Ruthven’s dispatches and their consequent resolutions.
The king liked all they said, excepting their request to be permitted to take an early leave of his court. He urged them to wait the return of a second embassador he had sent to England. Immediately on Wallace’s arrival, Philip had dispatched a request to the English king, that he would grant the Scots the peace which was their right. Not receiving any answer, he sent another messenger with a more categorical demand. The persevered hostilities of Edward against Scotland explained the delay; but the king yet hoped for a favorable reply, and made such entreaties to Bruce and his friend to remain in Paris till it should arrive, that they at last granted a reluctant consent.
At the end of a week, the embassador returned with a conciliatory letter to Philip; but, affirming Edward’s right to Scotland, declared his determination never to lay down his arms till he had again brought the whole realm under his scepter.
Wallace and his royal friend now saw no reason for lingering in France; and having visited the young De Longueville at Chartres, they apprised him of their intention to still further borrow his name. “We will not disgrace it,” cried Bruce; “I promised to return it to you, a theme for your country’s minstrels.” When the friends rose to depart, the brave and youthful penitent grasped their hands: “You go, valiant Scots, to cover with a double glory, in the field of honor, a name which my unhappy brother Guy dyed deep in his own country’s blood! The tears I weep before this cross for his and my transgressions have obtained me mercy; and your design is an earnest to me from Him who hung on this sacred tree, that my brother also is forgiven.”
At an early hour next day, Wallace and Bruce took leave of the French king. The queen kissed Helen affectionately, and whispered, while she tied a jeweled collar round her neck, that when she returned, she hoped to add to it the coronet of Gascony. Helen’s only reply was a sigh, and her eyes turned unconsciously on Wallace. He was clad in a plain suit of black armor, with a red plume in his helmet — the ensign of the Reaver, whose name he had assumed. All of his former habit that he now wore about him, was the sword which he had taken from Edward. At the moment Helen looked toward Wallace, Prince Louis was placing a cross-hilted dagger in his girdle. “My deliverer,” said he, “wear this for the sake of the descendant of St. Louis. It accompanied that holy king through all his wars in Palestine. It twice saved him from the assassin’s steel; and I pray Heaven it may prove as faithful to you.”50
50 The author was shown the dagger of Wallace by a friend. It was of very strong but simple workmanship, and could be used as a knife as well as a weapon.
Soon after this, Douglas and Cummin entered, to pay their parting respects to the king; and that over, Wallace taking Helen by the hand, led her forth, followed by Bruce and his friends.
At Havre, they embarked for the Frith of Tay; and a favorable gate driving them through the straits of Calais, they launched out into the wide ocean.
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