For a day or two the paralyzed terrors of the people, and the tumults in the citadel, seemed portentous of immediate ruin. A large detachment from the royal army had entered Scotland by the marine gate of Berwick; and, headed by De Warenne, was advancing rapidly toward Edinburgh. Not a soldier belonging to the regent remained on the carse; and the distant chiefs to whom he sent for aid refused it, alleging that the discovery of Wallace’s patriotism having been a delusion, had made them suspect all men; and, now locking themselves within their own castles, each true Scot would there securely view a struggle in which they could feel no personal interest.
Seeing the danger of the realm, and hearing from the Lords Ruthven and Bothwell that their troops would follow no other leader than Sir William Wallace, and hopeless of any prompt decision from amongst the contusion of the council, Badenoch yielded a stern assent to the only apparent means of saving his sinking country. He turned ashy pale, while his silence granted to Lord Loch-awe the necessity of imploring Sir William Wallace to again stretch out his arm in their behalf. With this embassy the venerable chief had returned exultingly to Ballochgeich; and the so lately branded Wallace, branded as the intended betrayer of Scotland, was solicited by his very accusers to assume the trust of their sole defense!
“Such is the triumph of virtue!” whispered Edwin to his friend, as he vaulted on his horse.
A luminous smile from Wallace acknowledged that he felt the tribute and, looking up to Heaven ere he placed his helmet on his head, he said:
“Thence comes my power! and the satisfaction it brings, whether attended by man’s applause or his blame, he cannot take from me. I now, perhaps for the last time, arm this head for Scotland. May the God in whom I trust again crown it with victory, and forever after bind the brows of our rightful sovereign with peace!”
While Wallace pursued his march, the regent was quite at a stand, confounded at the turn which events had taken, and hardly knowing whether to make another essay to collect forces for the support of their former leader, or to follow the refractory counsels of his lords, and await in inactivity the issue of the expected battle. He knew not bow to act, but a letter from Lady Strathearn decided him.
Though partly triumphant in her charges, yet the accusations of Bothwell had disconcerted her; and though the restoration of Wallace to his undisputed authority in the state; seemed to her next to impossible, still she resolved to take another step, to confirm her influence over the discontented of her country, and most likely to insure the vengeance she panted to bring upon her victim’s head. To this end, on the very evening that she retreated in terror from the council hall, she set forward to the borders; and, easily passing thence to the English camp (then pitched at Alnwick), was soon admitted to the castle, where De Warenne lodged. She was too well taught in the school of vanity not to have remarked the admiration with which that earl had regarded her while he was a prisoner in Stirling; and, hoping that he might not be able to withstand the persuasion of her charms, she opened her mission with no less art than effect. De Warren was made to believe, that on the strength of a passion Wallace had conceived for her, and which she treated with disdain, he had repented of his former refusal of the crown of Scotland; and, misled by a hope that she would not repeat her rejection of his hand could it present her a scepter, he was now attempting to compass that dignity by the most complicated intrigues. She then related how, at her instigation, the regent had deposed him from his military command, and she ended with saying, that impelled by loyalty to Edward (whom her better reason now recognized as the lawful sovereign of her country), she had come to exhort that monarch to renew his invasion of the kingdom.
Intoxicated with her beauty, and enraptured, by a manner which seemed to tell him that a softer sentiment than usual had made her select him as the embassador to the king, De Warenne greedily drank in all her words; and ere he allowed this, to him, romantic conference to break up, he had thrown himself at her feet, and implored her, by every impassioned argument, to grant him the privilege of presenting her to Edward as his intended bride. De Warenne was in the meridian of life; and being fraught with a power at court beyond most of his peers, she determined to accept his hand and wield its high influence to the destruction of Wallace, even should she be compelled in the act to precipitate her country in his fall. De Warenne drew from her a half-reluctant consent; and, while he poured forth the transports of a happy lover, he was not so much enamored of the fine person of Lady Strathearn as to be altogether insensible to the advantages which his alliance with her would give to Edward in his Scottish pretensions. And as it would consequently increase his own importance with that monarch, he lost no time in communicating the circumstances to him. Edward suspected something in this sudden attachment of the countess, which, should it transpire, might cool the ardor of his officer for uniting so useful an agent to his cause; therefore, having highly approved De Warenne’s conduct in affair, to hasten the nuptials, he proposed being present at their solemnization that very evening. The solemn vows which Lady Strathearn then pledged at the altar to be pronounced by her with no holy awe of the marriage contract; but rather as those alone by which she swore to complete her revenge on Wallace, and, by depriving him of life, prevent the climax to her misery, of seeing him (what she believed he intended to become) the husband of Helen Mar.
The day after she became De Warenne’s wife, she accompanied him by sea to Berwick; and from that place she dispatched messengers to the regent, and to other nobles, her kinsmen, fraught with promises, which Edward, in the event of success had solemnly pledged himself to ratify. Her embassador arrived at Stirling the day succeeding that in which Wallace and his troops had marched from Ballochgeich. The letters brought were eagerly opened by Badenoch and his chieftains, and they found their contents to this effect. She announced to them her marriage with the lord warden, who was returned into Scotland with every power for the final subjugation of the country; and therefore she besought the regent and his council, not to raise a hostile arm against him if they would not merely escape the indignation of a great king, but insure his favor. She cast out hints to Badenoch, as if Edward meant to reward his acquiescence with the crown of Scotland; and with similar baits, proportioned to the views of all her other kinsmen, she smoothed their anger against that monarch’s former insults persuading them to at least remain inactive during the last struggle of their country.
Meanwhile Wallace, taking his course along the banks of the Forth, when the night drew near, encamped his little army at the base of the craigs, east of Edinburgh Castle. His march having been long and rapid, the men were much fatigued, and hardly were laid upon their heather beds before they fell asleep. Wallace had learned from his scouts that the main body of the Southrons had approached within a few miles of Dalkeith. Thither he hoped to go next morning, and there, he trusted, strike the conclusive blow for Scotland, by the destruction of a division which he understood comprised the flower of the English army. With these expectations he gladly saw his troops lying in that repose which would rebrace their strength for the combat, and, as the hours of night stole on while his possessed mind waked for all around, he was pleased to see his ever-watchful Edwin sink down in a profound sleep.
It was Wallace’s custom, once at least in the night, to go himself the rounds of his posts, to see that all was safe. The air was serene and he walked out on this duty. He passed from line to line, from station to station, and all was in order. One post alone remained to be visited, and that was a point of observation on the craigs near Arthur’s Seat. As he proceeded along a lonely defile between the rocks which overhang the ascent of the mountain, he was startled by the indistinct sight of a figure amongst the rolling vapors of the night, seated on a towering cliff directly in the way he was to go. The broad light of the moon, breaking from behind the clouds, shone full upon the spot, and discovered a majestic form in gray robes, leaning on a harp; while his face, mournfully gazing upward, was rendered venerable by a long white beard that mingled with the floating mist. Wallace paused, and stopping some distance from this extraordinary apparition, looked on it in silence. The strings of the harp seemed softly touched, but it was only the sighing of a transitory breeze passing over them. The vibration ceased, but, in the next moment the hand of the master indeed struck the chords, and with so full and melancholy a sound that Wallace for a few minutes was riveted to the ground; then moving forward with a breathless caution, not to disturb the nocturnal bard, he gently approached. He was, however, descried! The venerable figure clasped his hands, and in a voice of mournful solemnity exclaimed:
“Art thou come, doomed of Heaven, to hear thy sad coronach?” Wallace started at this salutation. The bard, with the same emotion, continued; “No choral hymns hallow thy bleeding corpse — wolves howl thy requiem — eagles scream over thy desolate grave! Fly, chieftain, fly!”
“What, venerable father of the harp,” cried Wallace, interrupting the awful pause, “thus addresses one whom he must mistake for some other warrior?”
“Can the spirit of inspiration mistake its object?” demanded the bard. “Can he whose eyes have been opened be blind to Sir William Wallace — to the blood which clogs his mounting footsteps?”
“And what or who am I to understand art thou?” replied Wallace. “Who is the saint whose holy charity would anticipate the obsequies of a man who yet may be destined to a long pilgrimage?”
“Who I am,” resumed the bard, “will be sthown to thee when thou hast passed yon starry firmament. But the galaxy streams with blood; the bugle of death is alone heard; and thy lacerated breast heaves in vain against the hoofs of opposing squadrons. They charge — Scotland falls! Look not on me, champion of thy country! Sold by thine enemies — betrayed by thy friends! It was not the seer of St. Anton who gave thee these wounds — that heart’s blood was not drawn by me: a woman’s hand in mail, ten thousand armed warriors strike the mortal steel — he sinks, he falls! Red is the blood of Eske! Thy vital stream hath dyed it. Fly, bravest of the brave, and live! Stay, and perish!” With a shriek of horror, and throwing his aged arms extended toward the heavens, while his gray beard mingled in the rising blast, the seer rushed from sight. Wallace saw the misty rocks alone, and was left in awful solitude.
For a few minutes he stood in profound silence. His very soul seemed deprived of power to answer so terrible a denunciation, with even a questioning thought. He had heard the destruction of Scotland declared, and himself sentenced to perish if he did not escape the general ruin by flying from her side! This terrible decree of fate, so disastrously corroborated by the extremity of Bruce, and the divisions in the kingdom, had been sounded in his ear, had been pronounced by one of those sages of his country, on whom the spirit of prophecy, it was believed, yet descended, with all the horrors of a woe-denouncing prophet. Could he then doubt its truth? He did not doubt; he believed the midnight voice he had heard. But recovering from the first shock of such a doom, and remembering that it still left the choice to himself, between dishonored life or glorious death, he resolved to show his respect to the oracle by manifesting a persevering obedience to the eternal voice which gave those agents utterance: and while he bowed to the warning, he vowed to be the last who should fall from the side of his devoted country. “If devoted,” cried he, “then our fates shall be the same. My fall from thee shall be into my grave. Scotland may have struck the breast the breast that shielded her, yet, Father of Mercies, forgive her blindness, and grant me still permission a little longer to oppose my heart between her and this fearful doom!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12