The marshals with difficulty interrupted the mortal attack which the enemies and friends of Wallace made on each other; several of the Cummins were maimed, Lord Athol himself was severely wounded by Kirkpatrick, but the teacherous regent glad1y saw that none on his side were hurt unto death. With horrid menaces the two parties separated, the one to the regent’s apartments, the other to the camp of Wal1ace.
Lord Bothwell found him encircled by his veterans, in whose breasts he was trying to allay the storm raging there against the injustice of the regent and the ingratitude of the Scottish lords. At sight of the young and ardent Bothwell, their clamor to be led instantly to revenge the indignity offered to their general redoubled, and Murray, not less incensed, turning to them exclaimed:
“Yes, my friends, keep quiet for a few hours, and then, what honor commands we will do!” At this assurance they retired to their quarters, and Bothwell turned with Wallace into his tent.
“Before you utter a word concerning the present scenes,” cried Wallace, “tell me how is the hope of Scotland? the only earthly stiller of these horrid tumults!”
“Alas!” replied Bothwell. “After regaining, by a valor worthy of his destiny, every fortress north of the Forth, his last and greatest achievement was making himself master of Scone; but in storming its walls a fragment of stone falling heavily, terribly rent the muscles of his breast, and now — woe to Scotland! — he lies at Huntingtower reduced to infant weakness. All this you would have known had you received his letters; but villainy must have been widely at work, for none of yours have reached his hands.
This intelligence respecting Bruce was a more mortal blow to Wallace than all he had just sustained in his own person. He remained silent, but his mind was thronged with thoughts. Was Scotland to be indeed lost? Was all that he had suffered and achieved to have been done in vain? and should he be fated to behold her again made a sacrifice to the jealous rivalry of her selfish and contending nobles?
Bothwell continued to speak of the prince, and added, that it was with reluctance he had left him, even to share the anticipated success at Berwick. But Bruce, impatient to learn the issue of the siege (as still no letters arrived from that quarter), had dispatched him back to the borders. At Dunfermline he was stricken with horror by the information that treason had been alleged against Wallace, and turning his steps westward, he flew to give that support to his friend’s innocence which the malignity of his enemies might render needful.
“The moment I heard how you were beset,” continued Bothwell, “I dispatched a messenger to Lord Ruthven, warning him not to alarm Bruce with such tidings, but to send hither all the spare forces in Perthshire, to maintain you in your rights.”
“No force, my dear Bothwell, must be used so hold me in a power which now would only keep alive a spirit of discord in my country. If I dare apply the words of my Divine Master, I would say, I came not to bring a sword but peace to the people of Scotland! Then, if they are weary of me, let me go. Bruce will recover, they will rally round his standard, and all be well.”
“Oh, Wallace! Wallace!” cried Bothwell, “the scene I have this day witnessed is enough to make a traitor of me. I could forswear my insensible country — I could immolate its ungrateful chieftains on those very lands which your generous arm restored to these worthless men!” He threw himself into a seat, and leaned his burning forehead against his hand.
“Cousin, you declare my sentiments,” rejoined Edwin; “my soul can never again associate with these sons of Envy. I cannot recognize a countryman in any one of them; and, should Sir William Wallace quit a land so unworthy of his virtues, where he goes I will go — his asylum shall be my country, and Edwin Ruthven will forget that he ever was a Scot.”
“Never,” cried Wallace, turning on him one of those looks which struck conviction into the heart. “Is man more just than God? Though a thousand of your countrymen offend you by their crimes, yet while there remains one honest Scot, for his sake and his posterity it is your duty to be a patriot. A nation is one great family, and every individual in it is as much bound to promote the general good as a brother or a father to maintain the welfare of his nearest kindred. And it the transgression of one son be no arouse for the omission of another, in like manner, the ruin these turbulent lords would bring upon Scotland is no excuse for your desertion of your interest. I would not leave the helm of my country did she not thrust me from it; but though cast by her into the waves, would you not blush for your friend should he wish her other than a peaceful haven?” Edwin spoke not, but putting the hand of Wallace to his lips, left the tent.
“Oh!” cried Bothwell, looking after him, “that the breast of woman had but half that boy’s tenderness! And yet all of that dangerous sex are not like this hyena-hearted Lady Strathearn. Tell me, try friend, did she not, when she disappeared so strangely from Huntingtower, fly to you? I now suspect, from certain remembrances, that she and the Green Knight are one aid the same person. Acknowledge it, and I will unmask her at once to the court she has deceived.”
“She has deceived no one,” replied Wallace. “Before she spoke, the members of that court were determined to brand me with guilt, and her charge merely supplied the place of others which they would have devised against me. Whatever she may be, my dear Bothwell, for the sake of whose name she once bore, let us not expose her to open shame. Her love or her hatred are alike indifferent to me now, for I neither of them do I owe that innate malice of my countrymen which has only made her calumny the occasion of manifesting their resolution to make me infamous. But that, my friend, is beyond her compass. I have done my duty to Scotland, and that conviction must live in every honest heart — ay, and with dishonest too — for did they not fear my integrity, they would not have thought it necessary to deprive me of power. Heaven shield our prince! I dread that Badenoch’s next shaft may be at him!”
“No,” cried Bothwell, “all is leveled at his best friend. In a low voice, I taxed the regent with disloyalty for permitting this outrage on you, and his basely envious answer was: ‘Wallace’s removal is Bruce’s security; who will acknowledge him when they know that this man is his dictator?’”
Wallace sighed at this reply, which only confirmed him in his resolution, and he told Bothwell that he saw no alternative, if he wished to still the agitations of his country, and preserve its prince from premature discovery, but to indeed remove the subject of all these contentions from their sight.
“Attempt it not!” exclaimed Bothwell; “propose but a step toward that end, and you will determine me to avenge my country, at the peril of my own life, on all in that accursed assembly who have menaced yours!” In short, the young earl’s denunciations were so earnest against the lords in Stirling, that Wallace, thinking it dangerous to exasperate him further, consented to remain in his camp till the arrival of Ruthven should bring him the advantage of his counsel.
The issue showed that Bothwell was not mistaken. The majority of the Scottish nobles envied Wallace his glory, and hated him for that virtue which drew the eyes of the people to compare him with their selfish courses. The regent, hoping to become the first in Bruce’s favor, was not less urgent to ruin the man who so deservedly stood the highest in that prince’s esteem. He had therefore entered warmly into the project of Lady Strathearn. But when, during a select conference between them, previous to her open charge of Wallace, she named Sir Thomas de Longueville as one of his foreign emissaries, Cummin observed:
“If you would have your accusation succeed, do not mention that knight at all. He is my friend. He is now ill near Perth, and must know nothing of this affair till it be over. Should he live, he will nobly thank you for your forbearance; should he die, I will repay you as becomes your nearest kinsman.”
All were thus united in one determined effort to hurl Wallace from his station in the state. But when they believed that done, they quarreled amongst themselves in deciding who was to fill the great military office, which his prowess had now rendered a post rather of honor than of danger.
In the midst of these feuds Sir Simon Fraser abruptly appeared in the council-hall. His countenance proclaimed his tidings. Lennox and Loch-awe (who had duly attended, in hopes of bringing over some of the more pliable chiefs to embrace the cause of justice) listened with something like exultation to his suddenly disastrous information. When the English governor at Berwick learned the removal of Wallace from his command and the consequent consternation of the Scottish troops, instead of surrendering at sunset as was expected, he sallied out at the head of the whole garrison, and attacking the Scots by surprise, gave them a total defeat. Every outpost around the town was retaken by the Southrons, the army of Fraser was cut to pieces or put to flight, and himself now arriving at Stirling, smarting with many a wound but more under his dishonor, to show to the Regent of Scotland the evil of having superseded the only man whom the enemy feared. The council stood in silence, staring on each other; and, to add to their dismay, Fraser had hardly completed his narration, before a messenger from Tiviotdale arrived to inform the regent that King Edward was himself within a few miles of the Cheviots; and, from the recovered position of Berwick, must have even now poured his thousands over those hills upon the plains beneath. While all the citadel was indecision, tumult, and alarm, Lennox hastened to Wallace’s camp with the news.
Lord Ruthven and the Perthshire chiefs were already there. They had arrived early in the morning, but with unpromising tidings of Bruce. The state of his wound had induced a constant delirium. But still Wallace clung to the hope that his country was not doomed to perish — that its prince’s recovery was only protracted. In the midst of this anxiety, Lennox entered; and relating what he had just heard, turned the whole current of the auditor’s ideas. Wallace started from his seat. His hand mechanically caught up his sword, which lay upon the table. Lennox gazed at him with animated veneration. “There is not a man in the citadel,” cried he, “who does not appear at his wits’ end, and incapable of facing this often-beaten foe. Will you, Wallace, again condescend to save a country that has treated you so ungratefully?”
“I would die in its trenches!” cried the chief, with a generous forgiveness of all his injuries suffusing his magnanimous heart.
Lord Loch-awe soon after appeared, and corroborating the testimony of Lennox added, that on the regent’s sending word to the troops on the south of Stirling, that in consequence of the treason of Sir William Wallace the supreme command was taken from him, and they must immediately march out under the orders of Sir Simon Fraser, to face a new incursion of the enemy, they began to murmur among themselves, saying that since Wallace was found to be a traitor, they knew not whom to trust; but certainly it should not be a beaten general. With these whisperings, they slid away from their standards; and when Loch-awe left them they were dispersed on all sides, like an already discomfited army.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59