Awed, but not intimidated by the prophecy of the seer, Wallace next day drew up his army in order for the new battle near a convent of Cistercian monks on the narrow plain of Dalkeith. The two rivers Eske, flowing on each side of the little phalanx, formed a temporary barrier between it and the pressing legions of De Warenne. The earl’s troops seemed countless, while the Southron lords who led them on, being elated by the representations which the Countess of Strathearn had given to them of the disunited state of the Scottish army, and the consequent dismay which had seized their hitherto all-conquering commander, bore down upon the Scots with an impetuosity which threatened their universal destruction. Deceived by the blandishing falsehoods of his bride, De Warenne had entirely changed his former opinion of his brave opponent, and by her sophistries having brought his mind to adopt stratagems of intimidation unworthy of his nobleness (so contagious is baseness, in too fond a contact with the unprincipled!), he placed himself on an adjoining height, intending from that commanding post to dispense his orders and behold his victory.
“Soldiers!” cried he, “the rebel’s hour is come. The sentence of Heaven is gone forth against him. Charge resolutely, and he and his host are yours!”
The sky was obscured; an awful stillness reigned through the air, and the spirits of the mighty dead seemed leaning from the clouds, to witness this last struggle of their sons. Fate did indeed hover over the opposing armies. She descended on the head of Wallace, and dictated from amidst his waving plumes. She pointed his spear, she wielded his flaming sword, she charged with him in the dreadful shock of battle. De Warenne saw his foremost thousands fall. He heard the shouts of the Scots, the cries of his men, and the plains of Stirling rose to his remembrance. He hastily ordered the knights around him to bear his wife from the field; and descending the field to lead forward himself, was met and almost overwhelmed by his flying troops; horses without riders, men without shield or sword, but all in dismay, rushed past him. He called to them, he waved the royal standard, he urged, he reproached, he rallied, and led them back again. The fight recommenced. Long and bloody was the conflict. De Warenne fought for conquest and to recover a lost reputation. Wallace contended for his country, and to show himself always worthy of her latest blessing “before he should go hence and be no more seen.”
The issue declared for Scotland. But the ground was covered with the slain, and Wallace chased a wounded foe with troops which dropped as they pursued. At sight of the melancholy state of his intrepid soldiers, he tried to check their ardor, but in vain.
“It is for Wallace that we conquer!” cried they; “and we die, or prove him the only captain in this ungrateful country.”
Night compelled them to halt, and while they rested on their arms, Wallace was satisfied that he had destroyed the power of De Warenne. As he leaned on his sword, and stood with Edwin near the watch-fire, over which that youthful hero kept a guard, he contemplated with generous forbearance the terrified Southrons as they fled precipitately by the foot of the hill toward the Tweed. Wallace now told his friend the history of his adventure with the seer of the craigs, and finding within himself how much the brightness of true religion excludes the glooms of superstition, he added, “The proof of the Divine Spirit in prophecy is its completion. Hence let the false seer I met last night warn you, my Edwin, by my example, how you give credit to any prediction that might slacken the sinews of duty. God can speak but one language. He is not a man, that he should repent; neither a mortal, that he should change his purpose. This prophet of Baal beguiled me into a credence of his denunciation; but not to adopt the conduct his offered alternative would have persuaded me to pursue. I now see that he was a traitor in both, and henceforth shall read my fate in the oracles of God alone. Obeying them, my Edwin, we need not fear the curses of our enemy, nor the lying of suborned soothsayers.”
The splendor of this victory struck to the souls of the council at Stirling, but with no touch of remorse. Scotland being again rescued from the vengeance of her implacable foe, the disaffected lords in the citadel affected to spurn at her preservation, declaring to the regent that they would rather bear the yoke of the veriest tyrant in the world than owe a moment of freedom to the man who (they pretended to believe) had conspired against their lives. And they had a weighty reason for this decision: though De Warenne was beaten, his wife was a victor. She had made Edward triumphant in the venal hearts of her kinsmen; gold and her persuasions, with promises of future honors from the King of England, had sealed them entirely his. All but the regent was ready to commit everything into the hands of Edward. The rising favor of these other lords with the court of England induced him to recollect that he might rule as the unrivaled friend of Bruce, should that prince live; or, in case of his death, he might have it in his own power to assume the Scottish throne untrammeled. These thoughts made him fluctuate, and his country found him as undetermined in treason as unstable in fidelity.
Immediately on the victory at Dalkeith, Kirkpatrick (eager to be the first communicator of such welcome news to Lennox, who had planted himself as a watch at Stirling) withdrew secretly from Wallace’s camp, and, hoping to move the gratitude of the refractory lords, entered full of honest joy into the midst of their council.
He proclaimed the success of his commander. His answer was accusations and insults. All that had been charged against the too-fortunate Wallace, was re-urged with added acrimony. Treachery to the state, hypocrisy in morals, fanaticism in religion — no stigma was too extravagant, too contradictory, to be affixed to his name. They who had been hurt in the fray in the hall, pointed to their still smarting wounds, and called upon Lennox to say if they did not plead against so dangerous a man?
“Dangerous to your crimes, and ruinous to your ambition!” cried Kirkpatrick; for so help me God, I believe that an honester man than William Wallace lives not in Scotland! And that ye know, and his virtues overtopping your littleness, ye would uproot the greatness which ye cannot equal.”
This speech, which a burst of indignation had wrested from him, brought down the wrath of the whole party upon himself. Lord Athol, yet stung with his old wound, furiously struck him; Kirkpatrick drew his sword, and the two chiefs commenced a furious combat, each determined on the extirpation of the other. Gasping with almost the last breathings of life, neither could be torn from their desperate revenge, till many were hurt in attempting to separate them; and then the two were carried off insensible, and covered with wounds.
When this sad news was transmitted to Sir William Wallace, it found him on the banks of the Eske, just returned from the citadel of Berwick, where, once more master of that fortress, he had dictated the terms of a conqueror and a patriot.
In the scene of his former victories, the romantic shades of Hawthorndean, he now pitched his triumphant camp; and from its verdant bounds dispatched the requisite orders to the garrisoned castles on the borders. While employed in this duty, his heart was wrung by an account of the newly-aroused storm in the citadel of Stirling; but as some equivalent, the chieftains of Mid–Lothian poured in on him on every side; and, acknowledging him their protector, he again found himself the idol of gratitude, and the almost deified object of trust. At such a moment, when the one voice they were disclaiming all participation in the insurgent proceedings at Stirling, another messenger arrived from Lord Lennox, to conjure him, if he would avoid open violence or secret treachery, to march his victorious troops immediately to that city, and seize the assembled abthanes55 at once as traitors to their country. “Resume the regency,” added he; “which you only know how to conduct; and crush a treason which, increasing hourly, now walks openly in the day, threatening all that is virtuous, or faithful to you.”
55 Abthanes, which means the great lords, was a title of pre-eminence given to the higher order of chiefs.
He did not hesitate to decide against this counsel, for, in following it, it could not be one adversary he must strike, but thousands. “I am only a brother to my countrymen,” said he to himself, “and have no right to force them to their duty. When their king appears, then these rebellious heads may be made to bow.” While he mused upon the letter of Lennox, Ruthven entered the recess of the tent, whither he had retired to read it.
“I bring you better news of our friends at Huntingtower,” cried the good lord. “Here is a packet from Douglas, and another from my wife.”
Wallace gladly read them, and found that Bruce was relieved from his delirium; but so weak, that his friends dared not hazard a relapse by imparting to him any idea of the proceedings at Stirling. All he knew was, that Wallace was victorious in arms, and panting for his recovery to render such success really beneficial to his country! Helen and Isabella, with the sage of Ercildown, were the prince’s unwearied attendants; and though his life was yet in extreme peril, it was to be hoped that their attentions, and his own constitution, would finally cure the wound, and conquer its attendant fever. Comforted with these tidings, Wallace declared his intentions of visiting his suffering friend as soon as he could establish any principle in the minds of his followers to induce them to bear, even for a little time, with the insolence of the abthanes. “I will then,” said he, “watch by the side of our beloved Bruce till his recovered health allows him to proclaim himself king; and with that act I trust all these feuds will be forever laid to sleep!” Ruthven participated in these hopes, and the friends returned into the council-tent. But all there was changed. Most of the Lothian chieftains had also received messages from their friends in Stirling. Allegations against Wallace; arguments to prove “the policy of submitting themselves and their properties to the protection of a great and generous king, though a foreigner, rather than to risk all by attaching themselves to the fortunes of a private person, who made their services the ladder of his ambition,” were the contents of their packets; and they had been sufficient to shake the easy faith to which they were addressed. On the reentrance of Wallace, the chieftains, stole suspicious glances at each other, and, without a word, glided severally out of the tent.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59