Next morning, instead of coming as usual directly to their acknowledged protector, the Lothian chieftains were seen at different parts of the camp, closely conversing in groups; and when any of Wallace’s officers approached, they separated, or withdrew to a greater distance. This strange conduct Wallace attributed to its right source, and thought of Bruce with a sigh, when he contemplated the variable substance of these men’s minds. However, he was so convinced that nothing but the proclamation of Bruce, and that prince’s personal exertions, could preserve his country from falling again into the snare from which he had just snatched it, that he was preparing to set out for Perthshire with such persuasions, when Ker hastily entered his tent. He was followed by the Lord Soulis, Lord Buchan, and several other chiefs of equally hostile intentions. Soulis did not hesitate to declare his errand.
“We come, Sir William Wallace, by the command of the regent, and the assembled abthanes of Scotland, to take these brave troops, which have performed such good service to their country, from the power of a man who, we have every reason to believe, means to turn their arms against the liberties of the realm. Without a pardon from the state; without the signature of the regent; in contempt of court, which, having found you guilty of high treason, had in mercy delayed to pronounce the sentence on your crime, you have presumed to place yourself at the head of the national troops, and to take to yourself the merit of a victory won by their prowess alone! Your designs are known, and the authority you have despised is now roused to punish. You are to accompany us this day to Stirling. We have brought a guard of four thousand men to compel your obedience.”
Before the indignant spirit of Wallace could utter the answer his wrongs dictated, Bothwell, who at sight of the regent’s troops had hastened to his general’s tent, entered, followed by his chieftains: “Were your guard forty thousand, instead of four,” cried he, “they should not force our commander from us — they should not extinguish the glory of Scotland beneath the traitorous devices of hell-engendered envy and murderous cowardice.”
Soulis turned on him with eyes of fire, and laid his hand on his sword.
“Ay, cowardice!” reiterated Bothwell; “the midnight ravisher, the slanderer of virtue, the betrayer of his country, knows in his heart that he fears to draw aught but the assassin’s steel. He dreads the scepter of honor: Wallace must fall, that vice and her votaries may reign in Scotland. A thousand brave Scots lie under these sods, and a thousand yet survive who may share their graves; but they never will relinquish their invincible leader into the hands of traitors!”
The clamors of the citadel of Stirling now resounded through the tent of Wallace. Invectives, accusations, threatenings, reproaches, and revilings, joined in one turbulent uproar. Again swords were drawn; and Wallace, in attempting to beat down the weapons of Soulis and Buchan, aimed at Bothwell’s heart, must have received the point of Soulis’ in his own body, had he not grasped the blade, and wrenching it out of the chief’s hand, broke it into shivers: “Such be the fate of every sword which Scot draws against Scot!” cried he. “Put up your weapons, my friends. The arm of Wallace is not shrunk, that he could not defend himself, did he think that violence were necessary. Hear my determination, once and forever!” added he. “I acknowledge no authority in Scotland but the laws. The present regent and his abthanes outrage them in every ordinance, and I should indeed be a traitor to my country did I submit to such men’s behests. I shall not obey their summons to Stirling; neither will I permit a hostile arm to be raised in this camp against their delegates, unless the violence begins with them. This is my answer.” Uttering these words he motioned Bothwell to follow him, and left the tent.
Crossing a rude plank-bridge, which then lay over the Eske, he met Lord Ruthven, accompanied by Edwin and Lord Sinclair. The latter came to inform Wallace that embassadors from Edward awaited his presence at Roslyn.
“They came to offer peace to our distracted country,” cried Sinclair.
“Then,” answered Wallace, “I shall not delay going where I may hear the terms.” Horses were brought; and, during their short ride, to prevent the impassioned representations of the still raging Bothwell, Wallace communicated, to his not less indignant friends, the particulars of the scene he had left. “These contentions must be terminated,” added he; “and with God’s blessing, a few days and they shall be so!”
“Heaven grant it!” returned Sinclair, thinking he referred to the proposed negotiation. “If Edward’s offers be at all reasonable, I would urge you to accept them; otherwise invasion from without, and civil commotion within, will probably make a desert of poor Scotland.”
Ruthven interrupted him: “Despair not, my lord! Whatever be the fate of this embassy, let us remember that it is our steadiest friend who decides, and that his arm is still with us to repel invasion, to chastise treason!”
Edwin’s eyes turned with a direful expression upon Wallace, while he lowly murmured: “Treason! hydra treason!”
Wallace understood him, and answered: “Grievous are the alternatives, my friends, which your love for me would persuade you even to welcome. But that which I shall choose will, I trust, indeed lay the land at peace, or point its hostilities to the only aim against which a true Scot ought to direct his sword at this crisis!”
Being arrived at the gate of Roslyn, Wallace, regardless of those ceremonials which often delay the business they pretend to dignify, entered at once into the hall where the embassadors sat. Baron Hilton was one, and Le de Spencer (father of the young and violent envoy of that name) was the other. At sight of the Scottish chief they rose; and the good baron, believing he came on a propitious errand, smiling, said, “Sir William Wallace, it is your private ear I am commanded to seek.” While speaking, he looked on Sinclair and the other lords.”
“These chiefs are as myself,” replied Wallace; “but I will not impede your embassy by crossing the wishes of your master in a trifle.” He then turned to his friends: “Indulge the monarch of England in making me the first acquainted with that which can only be a message to the whole nation.”
The chiefs withdrew; and Hilton, without further parley, opened the mission. He said that King Edward, more than ever impressed with the wondrous military talents of Sir William Wallace, and solicitous to make a friend of so heroic an enemy, had sent him an offer of grace, which, if he contemned, must be the last. He offered him a theater whereon he might display his peerless endowments to the admiration of the world — the kingdom of Ireland, with its yet unreaped fields of glory, and all the ample riches of its abundant provinces, should be his! Edward only required, in return for this royal gift, that he should abandon the cause of Scotland, swear fealty to him for Ireland, and resign into his hands one whom he had proscribed as the most ungrateful of traitors. In double acknowledgment for the latter sacrifice Wallace need only send to England a list of those Scottish lords against whom he bore resentment, and their fates should be ordered according to his dictates. Edward concluded his offers by inviting him immediately to London, to be invested with his new sovereignty; and Hilton ended his address by showing him the madness of abiding in a country where almost every chief, secretly or openly, carried a dagger against his life; and therefore he exhorted him no longer to contend for a nation so unworthy of freedom, that it bore with impatience the only man who had the courage to maintain its independence by virtue alone.
Wallace replied calmly, and without hesitation:
“To this message an honest man can make but one reply. As well might your sovereign exact of me to dethrone the angels of heaven, as to require me to subscribe to his proposals. They do but mock me; and aware of my rejection, they are thus delivered, to throw the whole blame of this cruelly-persecuting war upon me. Edward knows that as a knight, a true Scot, and a man, I should dishonor myself to accept even life, ay, or the lives of all my kindred, upon these terms.”
Hilton interrupted him by declaring the sincerity of Edward; and, contrasting it with the ingratitude of the people whom he had served, he conjured him, with every persuasive of rhetoric, every entreaty dictated by a mind that revered the very firmness he strove to shake, to relinquish his faithless country, and become the friend of a king ready to receive him with open arms. Wallace shook his head; and with an incredulous smile which spoke his thoughts of Edward, while his eyes beamed kindness upon Hilton, he answered:
“Can the man who would bribe me to betray a friend, be faithful in friendship? But that is not the weight with me. I was not brought up in those schools, my good baron, which teach that sound policy or true self-interest can be separated from virtue. When I was a boy, my father often repeated to me this proverb:
“Dico tibi verum, honestas, optima rerum, Nunquam servili sub nexu vivitur fili.”56
56 This saying of the parental teacher of Wallace is recorded. It means, “Know of a certainty that virtue, the best of possessions, never can exist under the bond of servility.”
I learned it then; I have since made it the standard of my actions, and I answer your monarch in a word. Were all my countrymen to resign their claims to the liberty which is their right, I alone would declare the independence of my country; and by God’s assistance, while I live, acknowledge no other master than the laws of St. David, and the legitimate heir of his blood!”
The glow of resolute patriotism which overspread his countenance while he spoke was reflected by a fluctuating color on that of Hilton.
“Noble chief!” cried he; “I admire while I regret; I revere the virtue which I am even now constrained to denounce. These principles, bravest of men, might have suited the simple ages of Greece and Rome; a Phocion or a Fabricius might have uttered the like, and compelled the homage of their enemies; but in these days, such magnanimity is considered frenzy, and ruin is its consequence.”
“And shall a Christian,” cried Wallace, reddening with the flush of honest shame, “deem the virtue which even heathens practiced with veneration, of too pure a nature to be exercised by men taught by Christ himself? There is blasphemy in the idea, and I can hear no more.”
Hilton, in confusion, excused his argument by declaring that it proceeded from his observations on the conduct of men.
“And shall we,” replied Wallace, “follow a multitude to do evil? I act to one Being alone. Edward must acknowledge HIS supremacy, and by that know that my soul is above all price!”
“Am I answered?” said Hilton, and then hastily interrupting himself, he added, in a voice even of supplication; “your fate rests on your reply! Oh! noblest of warriors, consider only for the day!”
“Not for a moment,” said Wallace; “I am sensible of your kindness; but my answer to Edward has been pronounced.”
Baron Hilton turned sorrowfully away, and Le de Spencer rose.
“Sir William Wallace, my part of the embassy must be delivered to you in the assembly of your chieftains.”
“In the congregation of my camp?” returned he; and opening the door of the ante-room, in which his friends stood, he sent Edwin to summon his chiefs to the platform before the council tent.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53