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The Scottish Chiefs
Vol 2: Chapter 19 - The Widwo's Cell

77

THE entrance of the old woman, about an hour after sunrise, awakened Wallace; but Baliol continued to sleep. On the chief’s opening his eyes, Bruce, with a smile, stretched out his hand to him. Wallace rose, and whispering the widow, to abide by her guest till they should return; the twain went forth to enjoy the mutual confidence of friendship. A wood opened its umbrageous arms at a little distance; and thither, over the dew-bespangled grass, they bent their way. The birds sang from tree to tree; and Wallace, seating himself under an overhanging beech, which canopied a narrow winding of the river Seine, listened, with mingled pain and satisfaction, to the communications which Bruce had to impart relative to the recent scenes at Durham.

"So rapid had been the events;" observed the Scottish Prince, when he concluded his narrative, "that all appears to me a troubled vision :—and blest, indeed, was the awaking of last night, when your voice, sounding from the room below that in which I slept, called me to embrace my best friend; as became the son of my ancestors-free; and ready to renew the brightness of their name!"

The discourse next turned on their future plans. Wallace, narrating his adventure with the Red Reaver; and the acknowledgments of Philip for the rescue of his son; proposed, that the favour he should ask in return (the King of France being earnest to bestow on him some especial mark of gratitude), should be his interference with Edward; to grant the Scots a peaceable retention of their rights. "In that case, my Prince," said he, "you will take possession of your kingdom, with the olive-branch in your hand." Bruce smiled, but shook his head; "And what then will Robert Bruce be? A king, to be sure! but a king without a name !—Who won me my kingdom? Who accomplished this peace?. Was it not William Wallace? Can I then consent to mount the throne of my ancestors, so poor, so inconsiderable a creature? I am not jealous of your fame, Wallace; I glory in it; for you are more to me than the light to my eyes :—but I would prove my right to the crown, by deeds worthy of a sovereign. Till I have shown myself in the field against Scotland’s enemies, I cannot consent to be restored to my inheritance, even by you."

"And is it in war alone," returned Wallace, "that you can show deeds worthy of a sovereign? Think a moment, my honoured Prince, and then scorn your objection. Look on the annals of history; nay, on the daily occurrences of the world; and see, how many are brave and complete generals; how few, wise legislators; how few, such efficient rulers, as to procure obedience to the laws, and so give happiness to their people. This is the commission of a king: to be the representative on earth, of the Father who is in heaven. Here is exercise for courage, for enterprise, for fortitude, for every virtue which elevates the character of man: this is the godlike jurisdiction of a sovereign. To go to the field, to lead his people to scenes of carnage, is often a duty in kings; but it is one of those necessities, which, more than the trifling circumstances of sustaining nature by sleep and food, reminds the conqueror of the degraded state of mortality. [Alexander the Great, one day said to his friend Hephaestion, that "the business of eating and drinking, compelled him to remember, and with a sense of abasement, his mortal nature, although he was the son of Ammon."] The one, shows the weakness of the body; the other, the corruption of the soul. For, how far must man have fallen beneath his former heavenly nature, before he can delight in the destruction of his fellow-men! Lament not, then, brave and virtuous Prince, that I have kept your hands from the stains of blood. Show yourself beyond the vulgar apprehension of what is fame; and, conscious of the powers with which the Creator has endowed you, assume your throne with the dignity that is their due. Whether it be to the cabinet, or to the field, that He calls you to act,—obey; and rely on it, a name greater than that of the hero of Macedon, will await Robert King of Scots !"—"You almost persuade me;" returned Bruce: "but let us see Philip, and then I will decide."

As morning was now advanced, the friends turned towards the cottage; intending to see Baliol safe; and then proceed together to Guienne, to the rescue of Lady Helen. That accomplished, they would visit Paris, and hear its monarch’s determination.

On entering the humble mansion, they found Baliol awake, and anxiously inquiring of the widow, what was become of the two knights. At sight of them, he stretched out his hands to both, and said, he should be able to travel in a few hours. Wallace proposed sending to Rouen for a litter, to carry him the more easily thither. "No;" cried Baliol with a frown; "Rouen shall never see me again within its walls. It was coming from thence, that I lost my way last night; and though my poor servants would gladly have returned with me, sooner than see me perish in the storm; yet rather would I have been found dead on the road, a reproach to the kings who have betrayed me, than have taken an hour’s shelter in that inhospitable city."

While the friends took the simple breakfast prepared for them by the widow, Baliol related, that in consequence of the interference of Philip le Bel with Edward, he had been released from the Tower of London, and sent to France, but under an oath never to leave that country. Philip gave the exiled king the castle of Galliard for a residence; where, for some time, he enjoyed the shadow of royalty; having still a sort of court, composed of his own noble followers, some of whom were now with him; and the barons of the neighbourhood. Philip allowed him guards and a splendid table. But on the peace being signed between France and England; in order that Edward might give up his ally the Earl of Flanders, to his offended liege lord; the French monarch consented to relinquish the cause of Baliol; and, though he should continue to grant him a shelter in his dominions, he removed from him all the appendages of a king.

"Accordingly;" continued Baliol, "the guard was taken from my gates; my establishment reduced to that of a private nobleman; and no longer having it in my power to gratify the avidity, or to flatter the ambition of those who came about me, I was soon left nearly alone. All but the poor old lieges, whom you see, and who had been faithful to me through every change of my life, instantly deserted the forlorn Baliol. In vain I remonstrated with Philip; either my letters never reached him, or he disdained to answer the man whose claims he had abandoned. Things were in this state, when the other day an English lord found it convenient to bring his suite to my castle. I received him with hospitality; but soon found that what I gave in courtesy, he seized as a right. In the true spirit of his master Edward, he treated me more like the keeper of an hostel, than a generous host. And, on my attempting to plead with him for a Scottish lady, whom his turbulent passions have forced from her country, and reduced to a pitiable state of illness, he derided my arguments; sarcastically telling me, that—had I taken care of my kingdom, the door would not have been left open for him to steal its fairest prize—"

Wallace interrupted him—"Heaven grant you may be speaking of Lord de Valence, and Lady Helen Mar !" "I am," replied Baliol: "they are now at Galliard; and as her illness seems a lingering one, De Valence declared to me his intentions of continuing there. He seized upon the best apartments; and carried himself with so much haughtiness, that, provoked beyond endurance, I ordered my horse, and, accompanied by my honest courtiers, rode to Rouen, to obtain redress from the governor. But the unworthy Frenchman advised me to go back, and by flattering De Valence, try to regain the favour of Edward. I retired in indignation, determining to assert my own rights in my own castle; but the storm overtook me; and being forsaken by false friends, I am saved by generous enemies."

Wallace explained his errand respecting Lady Helen; and anxiously inquired of Baliol, whether he meant to return to Galliard? "Immediately;" replied he: "go with me, and if the lady consent, (which I do not doubt, for she scorns his prayers for her hand, and passes night and day in tears;) I engage to assist in her escape."

Baliol then advised, they should not all return to the castle together. The sight of two knights of their appearance, accompanying his host, being likely to alarm De Valence. "The quietest way," continued the deposed king, "is the surest. Follow me at a short distance; and towards the shadows of evening, knock at the gates, and request a night’s entertainment. I will grant it; and then your happy destiny, ever fortunate Wallace, must do the rest."

This scheme being approved, a litter of hurdles was formed for the invalid monarch, and the old woman’s pallet spread upon it: "I will return it to you, my good widow," said Baliol; "and with proofs of my gratitude." The two friends assisted the King to rise. When he set his foot to the floor, he felt so surprisingly better, that he thought he could ride the journey. Wallace overruled this wish; and with Bruce, supported his emaciated figure towards the door. The widow stood, to see her guests depart. As Baliol mounted the litter, he slid a piece of gold into her hand. Wallace saw not what the King had given, and gave a purse as his reward. Bruce had nought to bestow. He had left Durham with little, and that little was expended. "My good widow," said he, "I am poor in everything but gratitude. In lieu of gold, you must accept my prayers !"—"May they, sweet youth," replied she, "return on your own head; giving you bread from the barren land, and water out of the sterile rock !"—"And have you no blessing for me, mother?" asked Wallace, turning round, and regarding her with an impressive look; "some spirit, you wist not of, speaks in your words."— "Then it must be a good spirit:" answered she; "for all around me betokens gladness. The Scripture saith, ‘Be kind to the wayfaring man, for many have so entertained angels, unawares!’ Yesterday, at this time, I was the poorest of all the daughters of charity. Last night, I opened my doors in the storm; you enter, and give me riches; he follows, and endows me with his prayers! Am I not, then, greatly favoured by Him who dispenseth to all who trust in Him. His mercy, and your goodness shall not be hidden; for, from this day forth, I will light a fire each night, in a part of my house whence it may be seen on every side from a great distance. Like you, princely knight, whose gold will make it burn, it shall shine afar; and give light and comfort to all who approach it."— "And when you look on it," said Wallace, "tell your beads for me. I am a son of war; and it may blaze, when my vital spark is expiring." The widow paused, gazed on him steadily, and then burst into tears. "Is it possible," cried she, "that beautiful face may be laid in dust, that youthful form lie cold in clay,—and these aged limbs survive, to light a beacon to your memory !—and it shall arise! it shall burn like a holy flame, an incense to Heaven, for the soul of him who has succoured the feeble, and made the widow’s heart to sing for joy !" Wallace pressed the old woman’s withered hand: Bruce did the same. She saw them mount their horses; and when they disappeared from her eyes, she returned into her cottage and wept.


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