Wallace, having planted an adequate force in charge of the prisoners, went to the two Southron commanders to pay them the courtesy he thought due to their bravery and rank, before he retired with his victorious followers toward Roslyn Castle. He entered their tent alone. At sight of the warrior who had given them so signal a defeat, the generals rose. Neville, who had received a slight wound in one of his arms, stretched out the other to Wallace. “Sir William Wallace,” said he, “that you were obliged to declare a name so deservedly renowned, before the troops I led, could be made to relinquish one step of their hard-earned advantage, was an acknowledgment in their favor almost equivalent to a victory.”
Sir John Segrave, who stood leaning on his sword with a disturbed countenance, interrupted him. “The fate of this day cannot be attributed to any earthly name or hand. I believe my sovereign will allow the zeal with which I have served him; and yet thirty thousand as brave men as ever crossed the marshes, have fallen before a handful of Scots. Three victories, won over Edward’s troops in one day, are not events of a commonplace nature. God alone has been our vanquisher.”
“I acknowledge it,” cried Wallace; “and that He is on the side of justice, let the return of St. Matthias’ Day ever remind your countrymen!”
When Segrave gave the victory to the Lord of Hosts, he did it more from jealousy of what might be Edward’s opinion of his conduct, when compared with Neville’s, than from any intention to imply that the cause of Scotland was justly Heaven-defended. Such are the impious inconsistencies of unprincipled men! He frowned at the reply of Wallace, and turned gloomily away. Neville returned a respectful answer, and their conqueror soon after left them.
Edwin, with the Knight of the Green Plume (who had indeed approved his valor by many a brave deed performed at his commander’s side), awaited Wallace’s return from his prisoners’ tent. Ruthven came up with Wallace before he joined them, and told him that Bruce was safe under the care of the sage of Ercildown, and that the regent, who had been wounded in the beginning of the day, was also in Roslyn Castle. Wallace then called Edwin to him, giving him orders that all of the survivors who had suffered in these three desperate battles, should be collected from amongst the slain, and carried into the neighboring castles of Hawthorndean, Brunston, and Dalkeith. The rest of the soldiers were commanded to take their refreshment still under arms. These duties performed, Wallace turned with the eagerness of friendship and loyalty to see how Bruce fared.
The moon shone brightly as his party rode forward. Wallace ascended the steep acclivity on which Roslyn Castle stands. In crossing the drawbridge which divides its rocky peninsula from the main land, he looked around and sighed. The scene reminded him of Ellerslie. A deep shadow lay on the woods beneath; and the pensile branches of the now leafless trees bending to meet the flood, seemed mourning the deaths which now polluted its stream. The water lay in profound repose at the base of these beautiful craigs, as if peace longed to become an inhabitant of so lovely a scene.
At the gate of the castle its aged master, the Lord Sinclair, met Wallace, to bid him welcome.
“Blessed be the saint of this day,” exclaimed he, “for thus bringing our best defender, even as by a miracle, to snatch us as a brand from the fire! My gates, like my heart, open to receive the true Regent of Scotland.”
“I have only done a Scotchman’s duty, venerable Sinclair,” replied Wallace, “and must not arrogate a title which Scotland has transferred to other hands.”
“Not Scotland, but rebellion,” replied the old chief. “It was rebellion against the just gratitude of the nation that invested the Black Cummin with the regency; and only some similar infatuation has bestowed the same title on his brother. What did he not lose till you, Scotland’s true champion, have reappeared to rescue her again from bondage?”
“The present Lord Badenoch is an honest and a brave man,” replied Wallace; “and as I obey the power which gave him his authority, I am ready, by fidelity to him, to serve Scotland with as vigorous a zeal as ever; so, noble Sinclair, when our rulers cast not trammels on our virtue, we must obey them as the vicegerents of Heaven.”
Wallace then asked to be conducted to his wounded friend, Sir Thomas de Longueville, for Sinclair was ignorant of the real rank of his guest. Eager to oblige him, his noble host immediately led the way through a gallery, and opening the door of an apartment, discovered to him Bruce, lying on a couch; and a venerable figure, whose silver beard and sweeping robes, announced him to be the sage of Ercildown, was bathing the wounded chief’s temples with balsams. A young creature, beautiful as a ministering seraph, also hung over the prostrate chief. She held a golden casket in her hand, out of which the sage drew the unctions he applied.
At the sound of Wallace’s voice, who spoke in a suppressed tone to Ruthven while entering the chamber, the wounded prince started on his arm to greet his friend; but he as instantly fell back. Wallace hastened forward. When Bruce recovered from the swoon into which the suddenness of his attempt to rise had thrown him, he felt a hand grasping his; he guessed to whom it belonged, and gently pressed it, smiled; a moment afterward he opened his eyes, and in a low voice, articulated from his wounded lips:
“My dear Wallace, you are victorious?”
“Completely so, my prince and king,” returned he, in the same tone; “all is now plain before you; speak but the word, and render Scotland happy!”
“Not yet; oh, not yet!” whispered he. “My more than brother, allow Bruce to be himself again before he is known in the land of his fathers! This cruel wound in my head must heal first, and then I may again share your dangers and your glory! Oh, Wallace, not a Southron must taint our native lands when my name is proclaimed in Scotland!”53
53 It is a curious circumstance, that when the body of Bruce was discovered a few years ago in the abbey of Dunfermline, his head retained all its teeth excepting two in front, evidently originally injured by a stroke of violence. Beside this, the evidence remained in the bone of the chest of the fact of its having been cut open after his death, for the heart to be taken out, according to his dying command, to be sent to the Holy Land.
Wallace saw that his prince was not in a state to bear argument, and as all had retired far from the couch when he approached it, in gratitude for this propriety (for it had left him and his friend free to converse unobserved), he turned toward the other inmates of the chamber. The sage advanced to him, and recognizing in Wallace’s now manly form the fine youth he had seen with Sir Ronald Crawford at the claiming of the crown, he saluted him with a paternal affection, tempering the sublime feelings with which even he approached the resistless champion of his country, and then beckoning the beautiful girl who had so compassionately hung over the couch of Bruce, she drew near the sage. He took her hand: “Sir William Wallace,” said he, “this sweet child is the youngest daughter of the brave Mar, who died in the field of glory on the Carron. Her grandfather, the stalwart knight of Thirlestane, fell a few weeks ago, defending his castle, and I am almost all that is left to her, though she has, or had a sister, of whom we can learn no tidings.” Isabella, for it was she, covered her face to conceal her emotions.
“Dear lady,” said Wallace, “these venerable heroes were both known to and beloved by me. And now that Heaven has resumed them to itself, as the last act of friendship that I, perhaps, may be fated to pay to their offspring, I shall convey you to that sister whose matchless heart yearns to receive so dear a consolation.”
To disengage Isabella’s thoughts from the afflicting remembrances, now bathing her fair cheeks with tears, Ercildown put a cup, of the mingled juice of herbs, into her hand, and commissioned her to give it to their invalid. Wallace now learned that his friend’s wound was not only in the head, accompanied by a severe concussion, but that it must be many days before he could remove him from his bed without danger. Anxious to release him from even the scarcely breathed whispers of his martial companions, who stood at some distance from his couch, Wallace immediately proposed leaving him to rest, and beckoning the chiefs, they followed him out of the apartment.
On the following morning he was aroused at daybreak by the abrupt entrance of Andrew Lord Bothwell into his tent. The well-known sounds of his voice made Wallace start from his pillow, and extend his arms to receive him.
“Murray! My brave, invaluable Murray!” cried he, “thou art welcome once more to the side of thy brother in arms. Thee and thine must ever be first in my heart!”
The young Lord Bothwell returned his warm embrace in silent eloquence; but sitting down by Wallace’s couch, he grasped his hand, and pressing it to his breast, said, “I feel a happiness here which I have never known since the day of Falkirk. You quitted us, Wallace, and all good seemed gone with you, or buried in my father’s grave. But you return! You bring conquest and peace with you, you restore our Helen to her family, you bless us with yourself! And shall you not see again the gay Andrew Murray? It must be so, my friend, melancholy is not my climate, and I shall now live in your beams.”
“Dear Murray!” returned Wallace, “this generous enthusiasm can only be equaled by my joy in all that makes you and Scotland happy.”
He then proceeded to confide to him all that related to Bruce; and to describe the minutiae of those plans for his establishment, which had only been hinted in his letters from France. Bothwell entered with ardor into these designs, and regretted that the difficulty he found in persuading the veterans of Lanark to follow him to any field where they did not expect to find their beloved Wallace, had deprived him of the participation of the late danger and new glory of his friend.
“To compensate for that privation,” replied Wallace, “while our prince is disabled from pursuing victory in his own person, we must not allow our present advantages to lose their expected effects. You shall accompany me through the Lowlands, where we must recover the places which the ill-fortune of James Cummin has lost.”
Murray gladly embraced this opportunity of again sharing the field with Wallace, and the chiefs joined Bruce. Bothwell was presented to his young sovereign, and Douglas entering, the discourse turned on their different posts of duty. Wallace suggested to his royal friend, that as his restoration to health could not be so speedy as the cause required, it would be necessary not to await that event, but begin the recovery of the border counties before Edward could reinforce their garrisons. Bruce sighed; but with a generous glow suffusing his pale face, said:
“Go, my friend! Bless Scotland which way you will, and let my ready acquiescence convince future ages, that I love my country beyond my own fame; for her sake I relinquish to you the whole glory of delivering her out of the hands of the tyrant who has so long usurped my rights. Men may say when they hear this, that I do not merit the crown you will put upon my head; that I have lain on a couch while you fought for me; but I will bear all obloquy rather than deserve its slightest charge, by withholding you an hour from the great work of Scotland’s peace.”
“It is not for the breath of men, my dear prince,” returned Wallace, “that either you or I act. It is sufficient for us that we effect their good, and whether the agent be one or the other, the end is the same. Our deeds and intentions have one great Judge, and He will award the only true glory.”
Such were the principles which filled the hearts of these two friends, worthy of each other, and alike honorable to the country that gave them birth. Gordon had won their confidence, and watched by his prince’s pillow.
Though the wounded John Cummin remained possessed of the title of regent, Wallace was virtually endowed with the authority. Whatever he suggested was acted upon as by a decree — all eyes looked to him as to the cynosure by which every order of men in Scotland were to shape their course. The jealousies which had driven him from his former supreme seat, seemed to have died with their prime instigator, the late regent; and no chief of any consequence, excepting Soulis and Athol, who had retired in disgust to their castles, breathed a word of opposition to the general gratitude.
Wallace having dictated his terms and sent his prisoners to England, commenced the march that was to clear the Lowlands of the foe. His own valiant band, headed by Scrymgeour and Lockhart of Lee,54 rushed toward his standard, with a zeal that rendered each individual a host in himself. The fame of his new victories, seconded by the enthusiasm of the people and the determination of the troops, soon made him master of all the lately lost fortresses.
54 The crusading ancestor of this Lockhart was the bringer of the famous Lee penny from the Holy Land, and from his sprung the three brave branches of the name — Lockhart of Lee, Lockhart of Carnwarth, and Lockhart of Drydean.
Hardly four weeks were consumed in these conquests, and not a rood of land remained south of the Tay in the possession of England, excepting Berwick. Before that often-disputed stronghold, Wallace drew up his forces to commence a regular siege. The governor, intimidated by the powerful works which he saw the Scottish chief forming against the town, dispatched a messenger to Edward with the tidings; not only praying for succors, but to inform him that if he continued to refuse the peace for which the Scots fought, he would find it necessary to begin the conquest of the kingdom anew.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59