When Wallace approached his tent, he found not only the captains of his own army, but the followers of Soulis and the chieftains of Lothian. He looked on this range of his enemies with a fearless eye, and passing through the crowd, took his station beside the embassadors, on the platform of the tent. The venerable Hilton turned away with tears on his veteran cheeks as the chief advanced, and Le de Spencer came forward to speak. Wallace, with a dignified action, requested his leave for a few minutes, and then addressing the congregated warriors unfolded to them the offer of Edward to him, and his reply.
“And now,” added he, “the embassador of England is at liberty to declare his master’s alternative.”
Le de Spencer again advanced; but the acclamations with which the followers of Wallace acknowledged the nobleness of his answer, excited such an opposite clamor on the side of the Soulis party, that Le de Spencer was obliged to mount a war carriage which stood near, and to vociferate long and loudly for silence before he could be heard. But the first words which caught the ears of his audience acted like a spell, and seemed to hold them in breathless attention.
“Since Sir William Wallace rejects the grace of his liege lord, Edward King of England offered to him this once, and never to be again repeated: thus saith the king in his clemency to the earls, barons, knights, and commonalty of Scotland! To every one of them, chief and vassal, excepting the aforesaid incorrigible rebel, he, the royal Edward, grants an amnesty of all their past treasons against his sacred person and rule, provided that within twenty-four hours after they hear the words of this proclamation they acknowledge their disloyalty, with repentance, and laying down their arms, swear eternal fealty to their only lawful ruler, Edward, the lord of the whole island from sea to sea.” Le de Spencer then proclaimed the King of England to be now on the borders with an army of a hundred thousand men, ready to march with fire and sword into the heart of the kingdom, and put to the rack all of every sex, age, and condition, who should venture to dispute his rights. “Yield,” added he, “while you may yet not only grasp the mercy extended to you, but the rewards and the honors he is ready to bestow. Adhere to that unhappy man, and by to-morrow’s sunset your offended king will be on these hills, and mercy shall be no more! Death is the doom of Sir William Wallace, and a similar fate to every Scot who after this hour dares to give him food, shelter, or succor. He is the prisoner of King Edward, and thus I demand him at your hands!”
Wallace spoke not, but with an unmoved countenance looked around upon the assembly. Edwin precipitated himself into his arms. Bothwell’s full soul then forced utterance from his laboring breast:
“Tell your sovereign,” cried he, “that he mistakes. We are the conquerors who ought to dictate terms of peace! Wallace is our invincible leader, our redeemer from slavery, the earthly hope in whom we trust, and it is not in the power of men nor devils to bribe us to betray our benefactor. Away to your king and tell him that Andrew Murray, and every honest Scot, is ready to live or to die by the side of Sir William Wallace.”
“And by this good sword I swear the same!” cried Ruthven.
“And so do I!” rejoined Scrymgeour, “or may the standard of Scotland be my winding-sheet!”
“Or may the Clyde swallow us up, quick!” exclaimed Lockhart of Lee, shaking his mailed hand at the embassadors.
But not another chief spoke for Wallace. Even Sinclair was intimidated, and like others who wished him well, he feared to utter his sentiments. But most, oh! shame to Scotland and to man, cast up their bonnets and cried aloud, “Long live Kind Edward, the only legitimate Lord of Scotland!” At this outcry, which was echoed even by some in whom he had confided, while it pealed around him like a burst of thunder, Wallace threw out his arms, as if he would yet protect Scotland from herself. “Oh! desolate people,” exclaimed he, in a voice of piercing woe, “too credulous of fair speeches, and not aware of the calamities which are coming upon you! Call to remembrance the miseries you have suffered, and start, before it be too late, from this last snare of your oppressor! Have I yet to tell ye that his embrace is death? Oh! look yet to Heaven and ye shall find a rescue!” Bruce seemed to rise at that moment in pale but gallant apparition before his soul.57
57 This speech is almost verbatim from one of our old historians.
“Seize that rebellious man,” cried Soulis to his marshals. “In the name of the King of England I command you.”
“And in the name of the King of kings I denounce death on him who attempts it!” exclaimed Bothwell, throwing himself between Wallace and the men; “put forth a hostile hand toward him, and this bugle shall call a thousand resolute swords to lay this platform in blood!”
Soulis, followed by his knights, pressed forward to execute his treason himself. Scrymgeour, Ruthven, Lockhart, and Ker rushed before their friend. Edwin, starting forward, drew his sword, and the clash of steel was heard. Bothwell and Soulis grappled together, the falchion of Ruthven gleamed amidst a hundred swords, and blood flowed around. The voice, the arm of Wallace, in vain sought to enforce peace; he was not heard, he was not felt in the dreadful warfare; Ker fell with a gasp at his feet, and breathed no more. At such a sight the soul-struck Wallace wrung his hands, and exclaimed in bitter anguish, “Oh, my country! was it for these horrors that my Marion died? that I became a homeless wretch, and passed my days and nights in fields of carnage? Venerable Mar, dear and valiant Graham! is this the consummation for which you fell?” At that moment Bothwell having disabled Soulis, would have blown his bugle to call up his men to a general conflict, but Wallace snatched the horn from his hand, and springing upon the very war-carriage which Le de Spencer had proclaimed Edward’s embassy, he drew forth his sword, and stretching the mighty arm that held it over the throng, with more than mortal energy he exclaimed, “Peace! men of Scotland, and for the last time hear the voice of William Wallace.” A dead silence immediately ensued, and he proceeded: “If you have aught of nobleness within ye, if a delusion more fell than witchcraft have not blinded your senses, look beyond this field of horror, and behold your country free. Edward, in these apparent demands, sues for peace. Did we not drive his armies into the sea? And were we resolved, he never could cross our borders more. What is it then you do, when you again put your necks under his yoke? Did he not seek to bribe me to betray you? And yet, when I refuse to purchase life and the world’s rewards in such baseness, you — you forget that you are free-born Scots, that you are the victors, and he the vanquished; and you give, not sell, your birthright to the demands of a tyrant! You yield yourselves to his extortions, his oppressions, his revenge! Think not he will spare the people he would have sold to purchase his bitterest enemy, or allow them to live unmanacled who possess the power of resistance. On the day in which you are in his hands you will feel that you have exchanged honor for disgrace, liberty for bondage, life for death! Me you abhor, and may God in your extremest hour forget that injustice, and pardon the faithful blood you have shed this day! I draw this sword for you no more. But there yet lives a prince, a descendant of the royal heroes of Scotland, whom Providence may conduct to be your preserver. Reject the proposals of Edward, dare to defend the freedom you now possess, and that prince will soon appear to crown your patriotism with glory and happiness!”
“We acknowledge no prince but King Edward of England!” cried Buchan. “His countenance our glory, his presence our happiness!”
The exclamation was reiterated by a most disgraceful majority on the ground. Wallace was transfixed.
“Then,” cried Le de Spencer in the first pause of the tumult, “to every man, woman, and child throughout the realm of Scotland, excepting Sir William Wallace, I proclaim, in the name of King Edward, pardon and peace.”
At these words several hundred Scottish chieftains dropped on their knees before Le de Spencer, and murmured their vows of fealty. Indignant, grieved, Wallace took his helmet from his head, and throwing his sword into the hand of Bothwell, “That weapon,” cried he, “which I wrested from this very King Edward, and with which I twice drove him from our borders, I give it to you. In your hands it may again serve Scotland, I relinquish a soldier’s name, on the spot where I humbled England three times in one day, where I now see my victorious country deliver herself, bound, into the grasp of the vanquished! I go without sword or buckler from this dishonored field, and what Scot, my public or private enemy, will dare to strike the unguarded head of William Wallace?” As he spoke, he threw his shield and helmet to the ground, and leaping from the war-carriage, took his course, with a fearless and dignified step, through the parting ranks of his enemies, who, awe-struck, or kept in check by a suspicion that others might not second the attack they would have made on him, durst not lift an arm or breathe a word as he passed.
Wallace had adopted this manner of leaving the ground, in hopes, if it were possible, to awaken the least spark of honor in the breasts of his persecutors, to prevent the bloodshed which must ensue between his friends and them, should they attempt to seize him. Edwin and Bothwell immediately followed him; but Lockhart and Scrymgeour remained to take charge of the remains of the faithful Ker, and to observe the tendency of the tumult which began to murmur amongst the lower orders of the bystanders.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59