About the hour of twilight on the tenth day after Bruce had cast his last look on the capital of England — that scene of his long captivity under the spell of delusion, that theater of his family’s disgrace, of his own eternal regrets — he crossed the little stream which marked the oft-contended barrier-land of the two kingdoms. He there checked the headlong speed of his horse, and having alighted to give it breath, walked by its side, musing on the different feelings with which he now entered Scotland, from the buoyant emotions with which he had sprung on its shore at the beginning of the year. These thoughts, as full of sorrow as of hope, had not occupied him long when he espied a man, in the Red Cummin’s colors, speeding toward the south. He guessed him to be some new messenger of the regent to Edward, and throwing himself before the horse, caught it by the bridle, then coolly commanded its rider to deliver to him the dispatches which he carried to the King of England. The man refused, and, striking his spurs into his beast, tried to trample down his assailant. But Bruce was not to be put from his aim. The manner of the Scot convinced him that his suspicions were right, and putting forth his nervous arm, with one action he pulled the messenger from his saddle and laid him prostrate on the ground. Again he demanded the papers. “I am your prince,” cried he, “and by the allegiance you owe to Robert Bruce, I command you to deliver them into my hands. Life shall be your reward, immediate death the punishment of your obstinacy.”
In such an extremity the man did not hesitate, and taking from his bosom a sealed packet, immediately resigned it. Bruce ordered him to stand before him till he had read the contents. Trembling with terror of this formidable freebooter (for he placed no belief in the declaration that he was the Prince of Scotland), the man obeyed, and Bruce, breaking his seals, found, as he expected a long epistle from the regent, urging the sanguinary aim of his communications. He reiterated his arguments for the expediency of speedily putting Robert Bruce to death; he represented the danger that there was in delay, lest a man so royally descended and so popular as he had become (since it was now publicly understood that he had already fought his country’s battles under the name of Sir Thomas de Longueville) should find means of replacing himself at the head of so many zealots in his favor. These circumstances so propitious to ambition, and now adding person revenge to his former boldness and policy, would at this juncture (should he arrive in Scotland) turn its growing commotions to the most decisive uses against the English power. The regent concluded with saying, “that the Lords Loch-awe, Douglas, and Ruthven were come down from the Highlands with a multitudinous army, to drive out the Southron garrisons, and to repossess themselves of the fortresses of Stirling and Edinburgh. That Lord Bothwell had returned from France with the real Sir Thomas de Longueville, a knight of great valiancy. And that Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, after having massacred half the English castellans in the border counties, was now lying at Torthorald ready to commence his murderous reprisals through the coasts of Galloway. For himself, Cummin told the kind he had secretly removed to the Franciscan monastery at Dumfries, where he should most anxiously await his majesty’s pardon and commands.”
Bruce closed the packet. To prevent his discovery being betrayed ere he was ready to act, he laid his sword upon the shoulder of the man: “You are my prisoner,” said he; “but fear not. I only mean to hold you in safety till your master has answered for his treason.” The messenger thought, whoever this imperious stranger might be, that he saw a truth in his eyes which ratified this assurance; and without opposition, he walked before him till they stopped at Torthorald.
Night had closed in when Bruce sounded his bugle under the walls. Kirkpatrick answered from the embrasure over the barbican-gate with a demand of who desired admittance.
“’Tis the avenger of Sir William Wallace,” was the reply. The gates flew open at the words; and Kirkpatrick, standing in the archway amid a blaze of torches, received his guest with a brave welcome.
Bruce spoke no more till he entered the banqueting-hall. Three other knights were seated by the table. He turned to Kirkpatrick. “My valiant friend,” said he, “order your servants to take charge of yon Scot,” pointing to the messenger of Cummin; “and till I command his release, let him be treated with the lenity which shall ever belong to a prisoner of Robert Bruce!” As he spoke he threw up his visor; and Kirkpatrick, who had heard that the supposed De Longueville was his rightful prince, now recognized the well-known features of the brave foreigner in the stranger before him. Not doubting the verity of his words, he bent his knee with the homage due to his king; and in the action was immediately followed by Sir Eustace Maxwell, Sir James Lindsay, and Adam Fleming, who were the other knights present.
“I come,” cried the prince, “in the spirit of my heart’s sovereign and friend, the now immortal Wallace, to live or to die with you in the defense of my country’s liberties. With such assistance as yours, his invincible coadjutors, and with the blessing of Heaven on our arms, I hope to redeem Scotland from the disgrace which her late horrible submission to the tyrant has fastened on her name. The transgressions of my house have been grievous; but that last deadly sin of my people called for an expiation awful indeed! And it came in the moment of guilt! in their crime they receive punishment. They broke from their side the arms which alone had rescued them from their enemies! I now come to save them from themselves. Their having permitted the sacrifice of the rights of my family was the first injury committed on the constitution, and it prepared a path for the ensuing tyranny which seized upon the kingdom. But, by resuming these rights, which is now my firm purpose, I open to you a way to recover our hereditary independence. The direful scene just acted on the Tower Hill of London, that horrible climax of Scottish treason! must convince every reasonable mind that all the late misfortunes of our country have proceeded from the base jealousies of its nobles. There, then, let them die; and may the grave of Wallace be the tomb of dissension! Seeing where their own true interests point, surely the brave chieftains of this land will rally round their lawful prince, who here declares he knows no medium between death and victory!”
The spirit with which this address was pronounced, the magnanimity it conveyed, assisted by the graces of his youth, and noble deportment, struck the hearts of its auditors, and aroused in double vigor the principles of resentment to which the first tidings of their heroic countryman’s fate had given birth. Kirkpatrick needed no other stimulus than his almost idolatrous memory of Wallace, and he listened with an answering ardor to Bruce’s exhortation. The prince next disclosed to his now zealously-pledged friends the particulars of the Red Cummin’s treachery. “He now lies at Dumfries!” cried Kirkpatrick; “thither, then, let us go, and confront him with his treason. When falsehood is to be confounded, it is best to grapple with the sorceress in the moment of detection; should we hesitate, she may elude our grasp.”
Dumfries was only a few miles distant, and they might reach its convent before the first matins. Fatigue was not felt by Bruce when in pursuit of a great object; and, after a slight refreshment, he and his four determined friends took horse.
As they had anticipated, the midnight bell was ringing for prayers when the troop stopped at the Franciscan gate. Lindsay, having been in the Holy Land during the late public struggles, alleged business with the abbot, and desired to see him. On the father’s bidding the party welcome, Bruce stepped forward and addressed him: “Reverend sir, I come from London. I have an affair to settle with Lord Badenoch; and I know by his letters to King Edward, that he is secretly lodged in this convent. I therefore command to be conducted to him.” This peremptory requisition, with the superior air of the person who made it, did not leave the abbot room to doubt that he was some illustrious messenger from the King of England, and with hardly a demur, he left the other knights in the cloisters of the church while he led the noble Southron (as he thought) to his kinsman.
The treacherous regent had just retired from the refectory to his own apartment, as the abbot conducted the stranger into his presence. Badenoch started frowningly from his seat at such unusual intrusion. Bruce’s visor was closed; and the ecclesiastic, perceiving the regent’s displeasure, dispersed it by announcing the visitant as a messenger from King Edward. “Then leave us together,” returned he, unwilling that even this, his convenient kinsman, should know the extent of his treason against his country. The abbot had hardly closed the door, when Bruce, whose indignant soul burned to utter his full contempt of the wretch before him, hastily advanced to speak; but the cautious Badenoch, fearful that the father might yet be within hearing, put his finger to his lips. Bruce paused, and listened gloomily to the departing steps of the abbot. When they were no more heard, with one hand raising his visor, and the other grasping the scroll of detection: “Thus, basest of the base race of Cummin!” exclaimed he, “you may for a moment elude the universal shame which awaits your crimes.”
At sight of the fate, on hearing the words of Bruce, the unmanly coward uttered a cry of terror, and rushed toward the door.
“You pass not here,” continued the prince, “till I have laid open all your guilt; till I have laid open all your guilt; till I have pronounced you the doom due to a treacherous friend and traitorous subject.”
“Infatuated Bruce!” exclaimed Badenoch, assuming an air of insulted friendship, not that he found escape impossible; “what false tongue has persuaded you to arraign one who has ever been but too faithfully the adherent of your desperate fortunes? I have labored in secret, day and night, in your service, and thus am I repaid.”
Bruce smiled disdainfully at this poor attempt to deceive him; and, as he stood with his back against the door, he opened the murderous packet, and read from it all its contents. Cummin turned pale and red at each sentence; and at last, Bruce closing it:
“Now, then, faithful adherent of Robert Bruce!” cried he, “say what the man deserves who, in these blood-red lines, petitions the death of his lawful prince! Oh! thou arch-regicide! Doth not my very look kill thee?”
Badenoch, his complexion turning of a livid hue, and his voice faltering, attempted to deny the letter having been his handwriting, or that he had any concern in the former embassy to Edward; then, finding that these falsehoods only irritated Bruce to higher indignation, and fearful of being immediately sacrificed to his just resentment, he threw himself on his knees, and confessing each transaction, implored his life in pity to the natural desire of self-preservation which, alone, had precipitated him to so ungrateful a proceeding.
“Oh!” added he, “even this danger I have incurred upon your account! For your ultimate advantage did I bring on my head the perils which now fill me with dismay! Love alone for you made me hasten the execution of William Wallace, that insidious friend, who would have crept from your bosom into your throne. And then, fear of your mistaking the motives of so good a service, betrayed me to throw myself into the arms of Edward!”
“Bury thyself and crimes, thou foulest traitor, deep in the depths of hell!” cried the prince, starting away with a tremendous gesture! “Out of my sight forever, that I may not pollute these hands with thy monstrous blood!” Till this moment Bruce was ignorant that Badenoch had been the instigator in the murder of Wallace; and forgetting all his own person wrongs in this more mighty injury, with tumultuous horror, he turned from the coward to avoid the self-blame of stabbing an unarmed wretch at his feet. But at that moment Cummin, who believed his doom only suspended, rose from his knee, and drawing his dirk from under his plaid, struck it into the back of the prince. Bruce turned on him with the quickness of thought. “Hah!” exclaimed he, seizing him by the throat, “then take thy fate! This accursed deed hath removed the only barrier between vengeance and thee — thus remember William Wallace!”
As the prince spoke he plunged his dagger into the breast of the traitor. Cummin uttered a fearful cry, and rolled down at his feet murmuring imprecations.
Bruce fled from the spot. It was the first time his arm had drawn blood except in the field of battle, and he felt as if the base tide had contaminated his hand. In the cloisters he was encountered by his friends. A few words informed them of what had happened.
“Is he dead?” inquired Kirkpatrick.
“I can hardly doubt it,” answered Bruce.
“Such a matter,” returned the veteran, “must not be left to conjecture; I will secure him!”61 And running forward, he found the wounded regent crawling from the door of the cell. Throwing himself upon him without noise, he stabbed him to the heart.
61 In memory of this circumstance, the crest of the family of Kirkpatrick is a hand grasping a dagger distilling gouts of blood; the motto, “I mak sikkar.”
Before the catastrophe was known in the convent, Bruce and his friends had left it some time, and were far on their road to Lochmaben. They arrived before sunrise, and once more an inmate of his paternal castle, he thence dispatched Fleming to Lord Ruthven, with a transcript of his designs.
In the same packed he inclosed a letter for the Lady Isabella. It contained this brave resolution — that, in his present return to Scotland, he did not consider himself merely as Robert Bruce, come to reclaim the throne of his ancestors, but as the executor of the last dying will of Sir William Wallace, which was — that Bruce should confirm the independence of Scotland, or fall, as Wallace had done, invincible at his post. “Till that freedom is accomplished,” continued the virtuous prince, “I will never shake the steadfast purpose of my soul by even once glance at thy life-endearing beauties. I am Wallace’s soldier, Isabella, as he was Heaven’s! and, while my captain looks on me from above, shall I not approve myself worthy his example? I wooed you as a knight, I will win you as a king; and on the day when no hostile Southron breathes in Scotland I will demand my sweetest reward, my beloved bride, of her noble uncle. You shall come to me as the angel of peace, and in one hour we will receive the nuptial benediction and the vows of our people!”
The purport of the prince’s letter to Ruthven was well adapted to the strain of the foregoing. He then announced his intention of proceeding immediately to the plain of Stirling; and there, putting himself at the head of his loyal Scots, declare himself their lawful sovereign, and proclaim to the world that he acknowledged no legal superior but the Great Being whose vicegerent he was. From that center of his kingdom he would make excursions to its furthest extremities, and, with God’s will, either drive his enemies from the country, or perish with the sword in his hand, as became the descendant of William the Lion, as became the friend of William Wallace!
Ruthven lay encamped on the Carse of Gowrie when this letter was delivered to him. He read it aloud to his assembled chieftains, and, with waving bonnets, they hailed the approach of their valiant prince. Bothwell alone, whose soul-devoted attachment to Wallace could not be superseded by any other affection allowed his bonnet to remain inactive in his hand; but with the ferver of true loyalty he thanked God for thus bringing the sovereign whom his friend loved to bind in one the contending interests of his country — to wrest from the hand of that friend’s assassin the scepter for which he had dyed them so deep in blood.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59