Wallace entered on the Carse of Stirling, that scene of his many victories, and beheld its northern horizon white with tents. Officers appointed for the purpose had apprised the thanes of Wallace having left Berwick; and knowing by the same means all his movements, an armed cavalcade met him near the Carron, to hold his followers in awe, and to conduct him without opposition to Stirling. In case it should be insufficient to quail their spirit, or to intimidate him who had never yet been made to fear by mortal man, the regent had summoned all the vassals of the various seigniories of Cummin, and planted them in battle array before the walls of Stirling. But whether they were friends or foes was equally indifferent to Wallace; for, strong in integrity, he went serenely forward to his trial; and, though inwardly marveling at such a panoply of war, being called out to induce him to comply with so simple an act of obedience to the laws, he met the heralds of the regent with as much ease as if they had been coming to congratulate him on the capitulation of Berwick, the ratification of which he brought in his hand.
By his order his faithful followers (who took a pride in obeying with the most scrupulous exactness the injunctions of their now deposed commander) encamped under Sir Alexander Scrymgeour to the northwest of the castle, near Ballockgeich. It was then night. In the morning, at an early hour, Wallace was summoned before the council in the citadel.
On his re-entrance into that room which he had left, the dictator of the kingdom, when every knee bent and every head bowed to his supreme mandate, he found not one who even greeted his appearance with the commonest ceremony of courtesy. Badenoch, the regent, sat upon the throne, with evident symptoms of being yet an invalid. The Lords Athol and Buchan, and the numerous chiefs of the clans of Cummin, were seated on his right: on his left were arranged the Earls of Fife and Lorn, Lord Soulis, and every Scottish baron of power who at any time bad shown himself hostile to Wallace. Others, who were of easy faith to a tale of malice, sat with them; and the rest of the assembly was filled up with men of better families than personal fame, and whose names swelled a list without adding any true importance to the side on which they appeared. A few, and those a very few, who still respected Wallace, were present; not because they were sent for (great care having been taken not to summon his friends), but in consequence of a rumor of the charge having reached them: and these were, the Lords Lennox and Loch-awe, with Kirkpatrick, and two or three chieftains from the western Highlands. None of them had arrived till within a few minutes of the council being opened, and Wallace was entering at one door as they appeared at the other.
At sight of him a low whisper buzzed through the hail, and a marshal took the plumed bonnet from his hand, which, out of respect to the nobility of Scotland, he had raised from his head at his entrance. A herald meanwhile proclaimed, in a loud voice, “Sir William Wallace! you are charged with treason; and, by an ordinance of Fergus the First, you must stand covered before the representative of the majesty of Scotland until that loyalty be proved, which would again restore you to a seat amongst her faithful barons.”
Wallace, with the same equanimity as that with which he would have mounted the regal chair, bowed his head to marshal in token of acquiescence. But Edwin, whose indignation was reawakened at this exclusion of his friend from the privilege of his birth, said something so warm to the marshal that Wallace, in a low voice, was obliged to check his vehemence by a declaration, that, however obsolete the custom, and revived in his case only, it was his determination to submit himself in every respect to whatever was exacted of him by the laws of his country.
On Loch-awe and Lennox observing him stand thus before the bonneted and seated chiefs (a stretch of magisterial prerogative which had not been exercised on a Scottish knight for many a century), they took off their caps and bowing to Wallace, refused to occupy their places on the benches while the defender of Scotland stood. Kirkpatrick drew eagerly toward him, and throwing down his casque and sword at his feet, cried in a loud voice, “Lie there till the only true man in all this land commands me to take ye up in his defense. He alone had courage to look the Southrons in the face, and to drive their king over the borders, while his present accusers skulked in their chains!” Wallace regarded this ebullition from the heart of the honest veteran with a look that was eloquent to all. He would have animatedly praised such an instance of fearless gratitude expressed to another, and when it was directed to himself, his ingenuous soul showed approbation in every feature of his beaming countenance.
“Is it thus, presumptuous Knight of Ellerslie,” cried Soulis, “that by your looks you dare encourage contumely to the lord regent and his peers?”
Wallace did not deign him an answer, but turning calmly toward the throne, “Representative of my king!” said he, “in duty to the power whose authority you wear, I have obeyed your summons, and I here await the appearance of the accuser who has had the hardihood to brand the name of William Wallace with disloyalty to prince or people.”
The regent was embarrassed. He did not suffer his eyes to meet those of Wallace, but looked down in manifest confusion during this address; and then, without reply, turned to Lord Athol, and called on him to open the charge. Athol required not a second summons; he rose immediately, and, in a bold and positive manner, accused Wallace of having been won over by Philip of France to sell those rights of supremacy to him which, with a feigned patriotism, his sword had wrested from the grasp of England. For this treachery, Philip was to endow him with the sovereignty of Scotland; and, as a pledge of the compact, he had invested him with the principality of Gascony in France. “This is the groundwork of his treason,” continued Athol; “but the superstructure is to be cemented with our blood. I have seen a list, in his own handwriting, of those chiefs whose lives are to pave his way to the throne.”
At this point of the charge Edwin sprung forward; but Wallace, perceiving the intent of his movement, caught him by the arm, and, by a look, reminded him of his recently repeated engagement to keep silent.
“Produce the list,” cried Lord Lennox. “No evidence that does not bring proof to our eyes ought to have any weight with us against the man who had bled in every vein for Scotland.”
“It shall be brought to your eyes,” returned Athol; “that, and other damning proofs, shall convince this credulous country of its abused confidence.”
“I see these damning proofs now!” cried Kirkpatrick, who had frowningly listened to Athol; “the abusers of my country’s confidence betray themselves at this moment by their eagerness to impeach her friends; and I pray Heaven, that before they mislead others into so black a conspiracy, the lie in their throats may choke its inventors!”
“We all know,” cried Athol, turning on Kirkpatrick, “to whom you belong. You were brought with this shameless grant to mangle the body of the slain Cressingham; a deed which brought a stigma on the Scottish name never to be erased by the disgrace of its perpetrators. For this savage triumph did you sell yourself to Sir William Wallace; and a bloody champion you are, always ready for your secretly murderous master!”
“Hear you this, and bear it?” cried Kirkpatrick and Edwin in one breath, and grasping their daggers, Edwin’s flashed in his hand.
“Seize them!” cried Athol; “my life is threatened by his myrmidons.”
Marshals instantly approached; but Wallace, who had hitherto stood in silent dignity, turned to them with that tone of justice which had ever commanded from his lips, and bade them forbear:
“Touch these knights at your peril, marshals!” said he; “no man in this chamber is above the laws, and they protect every Scot who resents unjust aspersions upon his own character, or irrelevant and prejudicing attacks on that of an arraigned friend. It is before the majesty of the laws that I now stand; but were injury to usurp its place, not all the lords in Scotland should detain me a moment in a scene so unworthy of my country.”
The marshals retreated, for they had been accustomed to regard with implicit deference the opinion of Sir William Wallace on the laws; and though he now stood in the light of their violator, yet memory bore testimony that he had always read them aright, and, to this hour, had ever appeared to make them the guide of his actions.
Athol saw that none in the assembly had courage to enforce this act of violence, and blazing with fury, he poured his whole wrath upon Wallace. “Imperious, arrogant traitor!” cried he; “this presumption only deepens our impression of your guilt! Demean yourself with more reverence to this august court, or expect to be sentenced on the proof which such insolence amply gives; we require no other to proclaim your domineering spirit, and at once to condemn you as the premeditated tyrant of land.”
“Lord Athol,” replied Wallace, “what is just I would say in the face of all the courts in Christendom. It is not in the power of man to make me silent when I see the laws of country outraged and my countrymen oppressed. Though I may submit my own cheek to the blow, I will not permit theirs to share the stroke. I have answered you, earl, to this point and am ready to hear you to the end.”
Athol resumed. “I am not your only accuser, proudly-confident man; you shall see one whose truth cannot be doubted, and whose first glance will bow that haughty spirit, and cover that bold front with the livery of shame! My lord,” cried he, turning to the regent, “I shall bring a most illustrious witness before you; one who will prove on oath that it was the intention of this arch-hypocrite, this angler for women’s hearts, this perverter of men’s understandings, before another moon to bury deep in blood the very people whom he now insidiously affects to protect! But to open your and the nation’s eyes at once, to overwhelm him with his fate, I now call forth the evidence.”
The marshals opened a door in the side of the hall, and led a lady forward, habited in regal splendor, and covered from head to foot with a veil of so transparent a texture, that her costly apparel and majestic contour were distinctly seen through it. She was conducted to a chair on an elevated platform a few paces from where Wallace stood. On her being seated the regent rose, and in a tremulous voice addressed her:
“Joanna, Countess of Strathearn and Mar, Princess of the Orkneys, we adjure thee by thy princely dignity, and in the name of the King of kings, to bear a just witness to the truth or falsehood, of the charges of treason and conspiracy now brought against Sir William Wallace.”
The name of his accuser made Wallace start; and the sight of her unblushing face, for she threw aside her veil the moment she was addressed, overspread his cheek with a tinge of that shame for her which she was now too hardened in determined crime to feel herself. Edwin gazed at her in speechless horror; while she, casting a glance at Wallace, in which the full purpose of her soul was declared, turned with a softened though majestic air, to the regent, and spoke:
“My lord,” said she, “you see before you a woman, who never knew what it was to feel a self-reproachful pang till an evil hour brought her to receive an obligation from that insidious treacherous man. But as my first passion has ever been the love of my country, I will prove it to this good assembly by making a confession of what was once my heart’s weakness; and by that candor, I trust they will fully honor the rest of my narrative.”
A Clamor of approbation resounded through the hall. Lennox and Loch-awe looked on each other with amazement. Kirkpatrick, recollecting the scenes at Dumbarton, exclaimed —“Jezebel!”— but the ejaculation was lost in the general burst of applause; and the countess opening a folded paper which she held in her hand, in a calm, collected voice, but with a flushing cheek, resumed:
“I shall read my further deposition. I have written it, that my memory might not err, and that my country may be unquestionably satisfied of the accuracy of every syllable I utter.”
She paused an instant, drew a quick breath, and proceeded reading from the paper, thus: (But as occasion occurred for particularly pointing its contents, she turned her tutored eye upon the object, to look a signet on her mischief.)
“I am not to tell you, my lord, that Sir William Wallace twice released the late Earl of Mar and myself from Southron captivity. Our deliverer was what you see him: fraught with attractions, which he too successfully directed against the peace of a young woman married to a man of paternal years. While to all the rest of the world, he seemed to consecrate himself to the memory of his ill-fated wife, to me alone he unveiled his straying heart. I revered my nuptial vow too sincerely to listen to him with the complacency he wished; but, I blush to own, that his tears, his agonies of love, his manly graces, and the virtues I believed he possessed (for well he knows to feign!), cooperating with my gratitude, at last wrought such a change in my breast that — I became wretched. No guilty wish was there; but an admiration of him, a pity which undermined my health, and left me miserable! I forbade him to approach me. I tried to wrest him from my memory; and nearly had succeeded, when I was informed by my late husband’s nephew —(the youth who now stands beside Sir William Wallace)— that he was returned under an assumed name from France. Then I feared that all my inward struggles were to recommence. I had once conquered myself; for abhorring the estrangement of my thoughts from my wedded lord, when he died I only yearned to appease my conscience; and in penance for my involuntary crime, I refused Sir William Wallace my hand. His return to Scotland filled me with tumults, which only they who would sacrifice all they prize to a sense of duty, can know. Edwin Ruthven left me at Huntingtower; and, that very evening, while walking alone in the garden, I was surprised by the sudden approach of an armed man. He threw a scarf over my head, to prevent my screams, but I fainted with terror. He then took me from the garden by the way he had entered, and placing me on a horse before him, carried me whither I know not; but on my recovery I found myself in a chamber, with a woman standing beside me, and the same warrior. His visor was so closed that I could not see his face. On my expressing alarm at my situation, he addressed me in French, telling me he had provided a man to carry an excuse to Huntingtower, to prevent pursuit; and then he put a letter into my hand, which, he said, he brought from Sir William Wallace. Anxious to know the purpose of this act, and believing that a man who had sworn to me devoted love could not premeditate a more serious outrage, I broke the seal and, nearly as I can recollect, read to this effect:
“That his passion was so imperious, he had determined to make me his in spite of those sentiments of female delicacy which, while they tortured him, rendered me dearer in his eyes. He told me, that as he had often read in my blushes the sympathy which my too severe virtue made me conceal, he would now wrest me from my cheerless widowhood; and having nothing in reality to reproach myself with, compel me to be happy. His friend, the only confidant of his love, had brought me to a spot whence I could not fly; there I should remain, till he, Wallace, could leave the army for a few days, and throwing himself on my compassion and tenderness, he received as the most faithful of lovers, the fondest of husbands.
“This letter,” continued the countess, “was followed by many others; and suffice it to say, that the latent affection in my heart, and his subduing love, were too powerful in his cause. How his letters were conveyed I know not; but they were duly presented to me by the woman who attended me. At last the knight who had brought me to the place, and who wore green armor, and a green plume, reappeared.”
“Prodigious villain!” broke from the lips of Edwin.
The countess turned her eye on him for a moment and then resumed: “He was the warrior who had borne me from Huntingtower, and from that hour until the period I now speak of, I had never seen him. He put another packet into my hand, desiring me to peruse it with attention, and return Sir William Wallace a verbal answer by him. Yes! was all he required. I retired to open it; and what was my horror, when I read a perfect development of the treasons for which he is now brought to account! By some mistake of my character, he had conceived me to be ambitious; and knowing himself to be the master of my heart, he fancied himself lord of my conscience also. He wrote, that until he saw me, he had no other end in his exertions for Scotland than her rescue from a foreign yoke; ‘but,’ added he, ‘from the moment in which I first beheld my adored Joanna, I aspired to place a crown on her brow!” Be then told me, that he did not deem the time of its presentation to him on the Carse of Stirling a safe juncture for its acceptance; neither was he tempted to run the risk of maintaining an unsteady throne when I was not free to partake it; but since the death of Lord Mar, every wish, every hope was re-awakened; and then he determined to become a king. Philip of France had made secret articles with him to that end. He was to hold Scotland of him. While to make the surrender of his country’s independence sure to Philip, and its scepter to himself and his posterity, he attempted to persuade me there would be no crime in destroying the chiefs whose names he enrolled in this list. The pope, he added, would absolve me from a transgression dictated by connubial duty; and, on our bridal day, he proposed the deed should be done. He would invite all the lords to a feast; and poison, or dagger, should lay them at his feet.
“So impious a proposal restored me to myself. My love at once turned to the most decided abhorrence; and hastening to the Knight of the Green Plume, I told him to carry my resolution to his master, that I would never see him more till I should appear as his accuser before the tribunal of his country. The knight tried to dissuade me from my purpose, but in vain, and at last, becoming alarmed at the punishment which might overtake himself as the agent of such treason, he confessed to me that the scene of his first appearance at Linlithgow was devised by Wallace, who, unknown to all others, had brought him from France to assist him in the scheme he durst not confide to Scotland’s friends. If I would guarantee his life, he offered to take me from the place where I was then confined, and convey me safe to Stirling. All else that he asked was, that I would allow him to be the bearer of the casket which contained Sir William Wallace’s letters, and suffer my eyes to be blindfolded during the first part of our journey. This I consented to; but the murderous list I had undesignedly put into my bosom. My bead was again wrapped in a thick veil, and we set out. It was very dark; and we traveled long and swiftly till we came to a wood. There was neither moon nor stars to point out any habitation. But being overcome with fatigue, my conductor persuaded me to dismount and take rest. I slept beneath the trees. In the morning, when I awoke, I in vain looked round for the knight and called him; he was gone; and I saw him no more. I then explored my way to Stirling, to warn my country of its danger — to unmask to the world the direst hypocrite that ever prostituted the name of virtue.”
The countess ceased; and a hundred voices broke out at once, pouring invectives on the traitorous ambition of Sir William Wallace, and invoking the regent to pass some signal condemnation on so monstrous a crime. In vain Kirkpatrick thundered forth his indignant soul; he was unheard in the tumult; but going up to the countess, he accused her to her face of falsehood, and charged her with a design from some really treasonable motive to destroy the only sure hope of her country.
“And will you not speak?” cried Edwin in agony of spirit grasping Wallace’s arm; “will you not speak before these ungrateful men shall dare to brand your ever-honored name with infamy! Make yourself be heard, my noblest friend! Confute that wicked woman, who too surely has proved what I suspected — that this self-concealing knight came to be a traitor.”
“I will speak, my Edwin,” returned Wallace, “at the proper moment; but not in this tumult of my enemies. Rely on it, your friend will submit to no unjust decree.”
“Where is this Knight of the Green Plume?” cried Lennox, almost startled in his opinion of Wallace by the consistency of the countess’ narrative. “No mark of dishonor shall be passed on Sir William Wallace without the strictest scrutiny. Let the mysterious stranger be found, and confronted with Lady Strathearn.”
Notwithstanding the earl’s insisting on impartial justice, she perceived the doubt in his countenance, and eager to maintain her advantage, replied —“The knight, I fear, has fled beyond our search; but that I may not want a witness to corroborate the love I once bore this arch-hypocrite, and, consequently, the sacrifice I make to loyalty in thus unveiling him to the world, I call upon you, Lord Lennox, to say whether you did not observe at Dumbarton Castle the state of my too grateful heart?”
Lennox, who well remembered her conduct in the citadel of that fortress, hesitated to answer, aware that his reply might substantiate a guilt which he now feared would be but too strongly manifest. Every ear hung on his answer. Wallace saw what was passing in his mind; and determined to all men to show what was in their hearts toward the earl and said, “Do not hesitate, my lord; speak all that you know or think of me. Could the deeds of my life be written on yon blue vault,” added he, pointing to the heavens, “and my breast be laid open for men to scan. I should be content; for then Scotland would know me as my Creator knows me; and the evidence which now makes even friendship doubt, would meet the reception due to calumny.”
Lord Lennox felt the last remark, and stung with remorse for having for a moment credited anything against the frank spirit which gave him this permission, he replied, “To Lady Strathearn’s questions I must answer, that at Dumbarton I did perceive her preference to Sir William Wallace; but I never saw anything in him to warrant the idea that it was reciprocal. And yet, were it even so, that bears nothing to the point of the countess’ accusation; and, notwithstanding her princely rank, and the deference all would pay to the widow of Lord Mar, as true Scots, we cannot relinquish to a single witness our faith in a man who has so eminently served his country.”
“No,” cried Loch-awe; “if the Knight of the Green Plume be above ground, he shall be brought before this tribunal. He alone can be the traitor; and to destroy us by exciting suspicions against our best defender, he has wrought with his own false pen this device to deceive the patriotic widow of the Earl of Mar.”
“No, no,” interrupted she; “I read the whole in his own — to me too well known — handwriting; and this list of the chiefs, condemned by yon, indeed, traitor! to die, shall fully evince his guilt. Even your name, too generous earl, is in the horrid catalogue.” While she spoke, she rose eagerly, to hand to him the scroll.
“Let me now speak, or stab me to the heart!” hastily whispered Edwin to his friend. Wallace did not withhold him, for he guessed what would be the remark of his ardent soul. “Hear that woman!” cried the vehement youth to the regent, “and say whether she now speaks the language of one who had ever loved the virtues of Sir William Wallace? Were she innocent of malice toward the deliverer of Scotland, would she not have rejoiced in Loch-awe’s suggestion, that the Green Knight is the traitor? Or, if that scroll she has now given into the regent’s hand be too nicely forged for her to detect its not being indeed the handwriting of the noblest of men, would she not have shown some sorrow at the guilt of one she professes once to have loved? — of one who saved herself, her husband, and her child from perishing! But here her malice has overstepped her art; and after having promoted the success of her tale by so mingling insignificant truths with falsehoods of capital import — tbat in acknowledging the one we seem to grant the other — she falls into her own snare! Even a beardless boy can now discern that, however vile the Green Knight may be, she shares his wickedness!”
While Edwin spoke, Lady Stathearn’s countenance underwent a thousand changes. Twice she attempted to rise and interrupt him, but Sir Roger Kirkpatrick having fixed his eyes on her with a menacing determination to prevent her, she found herself obliged to remain quiescent. Full of a newly-excited fear that Wallace had confided to her nephew the last scene in his tent, she started up as he seemed to pause, and with assumed mildness, again addressing the regent, said — that before this apparently ingenuous defense could mislead impartial minds, she thought it just to inform the council of the infatuated attachment of Edwin Ruthven to the accused; for she had ample cause to assert that the boy was so bewitched by his commander — who had flattered his youthful vanity by loading him with distinctions only due to approved valor in manhood — that he was ready at any time to sacrifice every consideration of truth, reason, and duty, to please Sir William Wallace.
“Such may be in a boy,” observed Lord Loch-awe, interrupting her “but as I know no occasion in which it is possible for Sir William Wallace to falsify the truth, I call upon him, in justice to himself and to his country, to reply to three questions!” Wallace bowed to the venerable earl, and he proceeded: “Sir William Wallace, are you guilty of the charge brought against you, of a design to mount the throne of Scotland by means of the King of France?”
Wallace replied, “I never designed to mount the throne of Scotland, either by my own means or by any other man’s.”
Loch-awe proceeded: “Was this scroll, containing the names of certain Scottish chiefs noted down for assassination, written by you, or under your connivance?”
“I never saw the scroll, nor heard of the scroll, until this hour. And harder than death is the pang at my heart when a Scottish chief finds it necessary to ask me such a question regarding a people, to save even the least of whom he has often seen me risk my life!”
“Another question,” replied Loch-awe, “and then, bravest of men, if your country acquits you not in thought and deed, Campbell of Loch-awe sits no more amongst its judges! What is your knowledge of the Knight of the Green Plume, that, in preference to any Scottish friend, you should intrust him with your wishes respecting the Countess of Strathearn?”
Wallace’s answer was brief: “I never had any wishes respecting the wife or the widow of my friend the Earl of Mar that I did not impart to every chief in the camp, and those wishes went no further than for her safety. As to love, that is a passion I shall know no more; and Lady Strathearn alone can say what is the end she aims at, by attributing feelings to me with regard to her which I never conceived, and words which I never uttered. Like this passion, with which she says she inspired me,” added he, turning his eyes steadfastly on her face, “was the Knight of the Green Plume! You are all acquainted with the manner of his introduction to me at Linlithgow. By the account that he then gave of himself, you all know as much of him as I did, till on the night that he left me at Berwick and then I found him, like this story of Lady Strathearn, all a fable.”
“What is his proper title? Name him, on your knighthood!” exclaimed Buchan; “for he shall yet be dragged forth to support the veracity of my illustrious kinswoman, and to fully unmask his insidious accomplice!”
“Your kinswoman, Earl Buchan,” replied Wallace, “can best answer your question.”
Lord Athol approached the regent, and whispered something in his ear. This unworthy representative of the generous Bruce, immediate rose from his seat. “Sir William Wallace,” said he, “you have replied to the questions of Lord Loch-awe, but where are your witnesses to prove that what you have spoken is the truth?”
Wallace was struck with surprise at this address from a man who, whatever might be demanded of him in the fulfillment of his office, he believed could not be otherwise than his friend because, from the confidence reposed in him both by Bruce and himself, he must be fully aware of the impossibility of these allegations being true. But Wallace’s astonishment was only for a moment; he now saw with an eye that pierced through the souls of the whole assembly, and, with collected firmness, he replied; “My witnesses are in the bosom of every Scotsman.”
“I cannot find them in mine,” interrupted Athol.
“Nor in mine!” was echoed from various parts of the hall.
“Invalidate the facts brought against you by legal evidence, not a mere rhetorical appeal, Sir William Wallace,” added the regent, “else the sentence of the law must be passed on so tacit an acknowledgment of guilt.”
AAcknowledgment of guilt!” cried Wallace, with a flush of god-like indignation suffusing his noble brow. “If any one of the chiefs who have just spoken knew the beat of an honest heart, they would not have declared that they heard no voice proclaim the integrity of William Wallace. Let them look out on yon carse, where they saw me refuse that crown, offered by themselves, which my accuser alleges I would yet obtain by their blood. Let them remember the banks of the Clyde, where I rejected the Scottish throne offered me by Edward! Let these facts bear witness for me; and, if they be insufficient, look on Scotland, now, for the third time, rescued by my arm from the grasp of a usurper! That scroll locks the door of the kingdom upon her enemies.” As he spoke he threw the capitulation of Berwick on the table. It struck a pause into the minds of the lords; they gazed with pallid countenances, and without a word, on the parchment where it lay, while he proceeded: “If my actions that you see, do not convince you of my integrity, then believe the unsupported evidence of words, the tale of a woman, whose mystery, were it not for the memory of the honorable man whose name she once bore, I would publicly unravel — believe her! and leave Wallace naught of his country to remember, but that he has served it, and that it is unjust!”
“Noblest of Scots!” cried Loch-awe, coming toward him, “did your accuser come in the shape of an angel of light, still we believe your life in preference to her testimony, for God himself speaks on your side. ‘My servants,’ he declares, ‘shall be known by their fruits!’ And have not yours been peace to Scotland and good-will to men?”
“They are the serpent-folds of his hypocrisy!” cried-Athol, alarmed at the awe-struck looks of the assembly.
“They are the baits by which he cheats fools!” re-echoed Soulis.
“They are snares, which shall catch us no more!” was now the general acclamation; and in proportion to the transitory respect which had made them bow, but for a moment, to virtue, they now vociferated their center both of Wallace and this his last achievement. Inflamed with rage at the manifest determination to misjudge his commander, and maddened at the contumely with which their envy affected to treat him, Kirkpatrick threw off all restraint, and with the bitterness of his reproaches still more incensed the jealousy of the nobles and augmented the tumult. Lennox, vainly attempting to make himself heard, drew toward Wallace, hoping, by that movement to at least show on whose side he thought justice lay. At this moment, while the uproar raged with redoubled clamor — the one party denouncing the Cummins as the source of this conspiracy against the life of Wallace; the other demanding that sentence should instantly be passed upon him as a traitor — the door burst open and Bothwell, covered with dust, and followed by a throng of armed knights, rushed into the center of the hall.
“Who is it ye arraign?” cried the young chief, looking indignantly around him. “Is it not your deliverer you would destroy? The Romans could not accuse the guilty Manlius in sight of the capitol he had preserved, but you, worse than heathens, bring your benefactor to the scene of his victories, and there condemn him for serving you too well! Has he not plucked you this third time out of the furnace that would have consumed you? And yet in this hour, you would sacrifice him to the disappointed passions of a woman! Falsest of thy sex!” cried he, turning to the countess, who shrunk before the penetrating eyes of Andrew Murray; “do I not know thee? Have I not read thine unfeminine, thy vindictive heart? You would destroy the man you could not seduce! Wallace!” cried he, “speak. Would not this woman have persuaded you to disgrace the name of Mar? When my uncle died, did she not urge you to intrigue for that crown which she knew you had so loyally declined?”
“My errand here,” answered Wallace, “is to defend myself, not to accuse others. I have shown that I am innocent, and my judges will not look on the proofs. They obey not the laws in their judgment, and whatever may be the decree, I shall not acknowledge its authority.”
As he spoke he turned away, and walked with a firm step out of the hall.
His disappearance gave the signal for a tumult more threatening to the welfare of the state, than if the armies of Edward had been in the midst of them. It was brother against brother, friend against friend. The Lords Lennox, Bothwell, and Loch-awe, were vehement against the unfairness with which Sir William Wallace bad been treated; Kirkpatrick declared that no arguments could be used with men so devoid of reason, and words of reproach and reviling passing on all sides, swords were fiercely drawn. The Countess of Strathearn seeing herself neglected by even her friends in the strife, and fearful that the party of Wallace might at last gain the ascendancy, and that herself, then without her traitor corslet on her breast, might meet their hasty vengeance, rose abruptly, and giving her hand to a herald, hurried out of the assembly.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53