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The Scottish Chiefs
Vol 2: Chapter 35 - Banks of the Eske

A VAGUE suspicion of the Regent, and his thanes; and yet a panic-struck pusillanimity, which shrunk from supporting that Wallace whom those thanes chose to abandon, carried the spirit of slavery, from the platform before the council-tent, to the chieftains who thronged the ranks of Ruthven; and even to the perversion of some few who had followed the golden-haired standard of Bothwell. The brave troops of Lanark (which the desperate battle of Dalkeith, had reduced to not more than sixty men,) alone remained unmoved:—so catching is the quailing spirit of doubt, abjectness, and fearful submission.

In the moment when the indignant Ruthven, saw his Perthshire legions rolling off towards the trumpet of Le de Spencer, Scrymgeour placed himself at the head of the men of Lanark. Unfurling the banner of Scotland, he marched, with a steady step to the tent of Bothwell; whither he did not doubt that Wallace had retired. He found him assuaging the impassioned grief of Edwin; and striving to moderate the vehement wrath of the faithful Murray. "Pour not out the energy of your soul, upon these worthless men!" said he; "leave them to the fates they seek; the fates they have incurred, by the innocent blood shed this day! The few brave hearts, who yet remain loyal to their country, are insufficient to stem, at this spot, the torrent of corruption. Retire beyond the Forth, my friend. Rally all true Scots around Hunting-tower. Let the royal inmate proclaim himself; and, at the foot of the Grampians, lock the gates of the Highlands upon our enemies. From those bulwarks, he will issue in strength, and Scotland may again, be free!"

"Free, but never more honoured!" cried Edwin "never more beloved by me! Ungrateful, treacherous, base land;" added he, starting on his feet, and raising his clasped hands, with the vehement adjuration of an indignant spirit; "Oh, that the salt sea would engulf thee at once; that thy name, and thy ingratitude, could be no more remembered!—I will never wear a sword for her again."—"Edwin!" ejaculated Wallace, in a reproachful, yet tender tone. "Exhort me not to forgive my country!" returned he: "Tell me, to take my deadliest foe to my breast; to pardon the assassin who strikes his steel into my heart; and I will obey you: but to pardon Scotland, for the injury she has done to you; for the disgrace, with which her self-debasement stains this cheek; I never, never can!—I abhor these sons of Lucifer! Think not, noblest of masters, dearest of friends;" cried he, throwing himself at Wallace’s feet, "that I will ever shine in the light of those envious stars, which have displaced the sun! No, tibi soli [Since this period, tibi soli is one of the mottos borne by the house of Ruthven.] shall henceforth be the impresse on my shield: to thee alone will I ever turn; and till your beams restore your country, and revive me, the springing laurels of Edwin Ruthven shall wither where they grew!" Wallace folded him to his heart; a tear stood in his eye? while he said in a low voice, "if thou art mine, thou art Scotland’s. Me, she rejects.—Mysterious Heaven wills, that I should quit my post:—but for thee, Edwin, as a relic of the fond love I yet bear this wretched country, abide by her; bear with her, cherish her, defend her for my sake: and if Bruce lives, he will be to thee a second Wallace, a friend, a brother!" Edwin listened, wept and sobbed, but his heart was fixed:—unable to speak, he broke from his friend’s arms, and hurried into an interior apartment; to subdue his emotions, by pouring them forth to God.

Ruthven joined in determined opinion with Bothwell, that if ever a civil war could be sanctified, this was the time; and in spite of all that Wallace could urge against the madness of contending for his supremacy over a nation which would not yield him obedience, still they remained firm in their resolution. Bruce, they hardly dared hope could recover; and to relinquish the guiding hand of their best approved leader, at this crisis, was a sacrifice, they said, no earthly power should compel them to make. "So far from it," cried Lord Bothwell dropping on his knees, and grasping the cross hilt of his sword in both hands, "I swear by the blood of the crucified Lord of this ungrateful world, that should Bruce die, I will obey no other King of Scotland than William Wallace!" Wallace turned ashy pale; as he listened to this vow. At that moment Scrymgeour entered, followed by the Lanark veterans; and all kneeling down, repeated the oath of Bothwell; then starting up, called on the outraged chief, by the unburied corse of his murdered Ker, to lead them forth, and avenge them of his enemies.

When the agitation of his soul would allow him to speak to this faithful group, Wallace stretched his hands over them, and with such tears, as a father would shed, who looks on the children he is to behold no more; he said, in a subdued and faltering voice, "God will avenge our murdered friend; my sword is sheathed for ever. May that holy Being, who is the true and best King of the virtuous, always be present with you! I feel your love, and I appreciate it. But, Bothwell, Ruthven, Lockhart, Scrymgeour; my faithful l,anark followers; leave me awhile, to compose my scattered thoughts. Let me pass this night alone; and tomorrow you shall know the resolution of your grateful Wallace!"

The shades of evening were closing in, and the men of Lanark, first obtaining his permission to keep guard before the wood which skirted the tent, respectively kissing his hand, withdrew. Ruthven called Edwin from the recess, whither he had retired to unburden his grief; but as soon as he heard that it was the resolution of his friends to preserve the authority of Wallace, or to perish in the contest; the gloom passed from his fair brow, a smile of triumph parted his lips, and he exclaimed, "All will be well again! We shall force this deluded nation to recognise her safety, and her honour!"

While the determined chiefs held discourse so congenial with the wishes of the youthful knight, Wallace sat almost silent. He seemed revolving some momentous idea: he frequently turned his eyes on the speakers, with a fixed regard, which appeared rather full of a grave sorrow, than demonstrative of any sympathy in the subjects of their discussion. On Edwin, he at times looked with penetrating tenderness; and when the bell from the neighbouring convent sounded the hour of rest, he stretched out his hand to him with a smile, which he wished should speak of comfort as well as of affection; but the soul, spoke more eloquently than he had intended: his smile was mournful; and the attempt to render it otherwise, like a transient light over a dark sepulchre, only the more distinctly showed the gloom and melancholy within. "And am I too to leave you?" said Edwin.—"Yes, my brother;" replied Wallace; "I have much to do with my own thoughts, this night. We separate now, to meet more gladly hereafter. I must have solitude, to arrange my plans. To-morrow you shall know them. Meanwhile farewell!"—As he spoke, he pressed the affectionate youth to his breast, and warmly grasping the hands of his three other friends, bade them an earnest adieu.

Bothwell lingered a moment at the tent door, and looking back; "Let your first plan be, that to-morrow, you lead us to Lord Soulis’s quarters, to teach the traitor what it is to be a Scot and a man!"—"My plans shall be the serving of my brave colleagues," replied Wallace; and whether they be executed on this, or the other side of the Forth, you shall find, my long-tried Bothwell, that Scotland’s peace, and the honour of her best sons, are the dearest considerations of your friend."

When the door closed, and Wallace was left alone, he stood for awhile in the midst of the tent, listening to the departing steps of his friends. When the last sound, died on his ear; "I shall hear them no more!" cried he; and throwing himself into a seat, he remained for an hour in a trance of grievous thoughts. Melancholy remembrances, and prospects dire for Scotland, pressed upon his surcharged heart. "It is to God alone, I must confide my country!" cried he; "his mercy will pity its madness, and forgive its deep transgressions. My duty is, to remove the object of ruin, far from the power of any longer exciting jealousy or awakening zeal." With these words, he took a pen in his hand to write to Bruce.

He briefly narrated the events which compelled him, if he would avoid the grief of having occasioned a civil war, to quit his country for ever. The general hostility of the nobles; the unresisting acquiescence of the people, in measures which menaced his life, and sacrificed the freedom for which he had so long fought, convinced him, he said, that his warlike commission was now closed. He was summoned by Heaven, to exchange the field for the cloister: and to the monastery at Chartres, he was now hastening to dedicate the remainder of his days to the peace of a future world. He then exhorted Bruce, to confide in the Lords Ruthven and Bothwell, as his soul would commune with his spirit, for that he would find them true unto death. He counselled him, as the leading measure to circumvent the treason of Scotland’s enemies, to go immediately to Kilchum Castle, where he knew resources would be; for Loch-awe, who retired thither on the last approach of De Warenne, meaning to call out his vassals for that emergency, needed it not then; for the battle of Dalkeith was fought and gained, before they could leave their heights; and the victor did not want them afterwards. To use those brave and simple-hearted men, for his establishment on the throne of his kingdom, Wallace advised Bruce. And so, amidst the natural fortresses of the Highlands, he might recover his health, collect his friends, and openly proclaim himself. "Then," added he, "when Scotland is your own, let its bulwarks, be its mountains, and its people’s arms. Dismantle, and raze to the ground the castles of those base chiefs, who have only embattled them, to betray and enslave their country." Though, intent on these political suggestions, he ceased not to remember his own brave engines of war; and he earnestly conjured his Prince, that he would wear the valiant Kirkpatrick as a buckler on his heart; that he would place Scrymgeour, with his Lanark veterans, and the faithful Grimsby, next him as his body guard; and that he would love, and cherish the brave and tender Edwin, for his sake. "When my Prince and friend receives this:" added he, "Wallace shall have bidden an eternal farewell to Scotland: but his heart will be amidst its hills. My King, and the friends most dear to me, will still be there! The earthly part of my beloved wife rests within its bosom! But I go to rejoin her soul: to meet it in the vigils of days consecrated wholly to the blessed Being, in whose presence she rejoices for ever. This is no sad destiny, my dear Bruce. Our Almighty Captain recalls me, from dividing with you the glory of maintaining the liberty of Scotland; but he brings me closer to himself: I leave the plains of Gilgal, to tread with his angel, the courts of my God. Mourn not, then, my absence; for my prayers will be with you, till we are again united in the only place where you can fully know me as I am—thine, and Scotland’s never-dying friend! Start not at the bold epithet. My body may sink into the grave; but the affections of my immortal spirit, are eternal as its essence; and, in earth, or in heaven, I am ever yours.

"Should the endearing Helen—my heart’s sister—be near your couch, when you read this, tell her, that Wallace, in idea, presses her virgin cheek with a brother’s farewell; and from his inmost soul he blesses her."

Messages of respectful adieus, he sent to Isabella, Lady Ruthven, and the sage of Ercildown: and then kneeling down, in that posture, he wrote his last invocations, for the prosperity and happiness of Bruce.

This letter finished, with a more tranquil mind, he addressed Lord Ruthven; detailing to him his reasons for leaving such faithful friends so clandestinely: and after mentioning his purpose of proceeding to France, he ended with those expressions of gratitude, which the worthy chief so well deserved; and exhorting him to transfer his public zeal for him, to the magnanimous and royal Brace; closed the letter, with begging him, for the sake of his friend, his King, and his country, to return immediately with all his followers to Hunting-tower, and there to rally round their prince. His letter to Scrymgeour, spoke nearly the same language. But when he began to write to Bothwell; to bid him that farewell, which his heart foreboded would be for ever in this world; to part from this, his steady companion in arms, his dauntless champion! he lost some of his composure; and his hand-writing testified the emotion of his mind. How then was he shaken, when he addressed the young and devoted Edwin, the brother of his soul! He dropped the pen from his hand. At that moment, he felt all he was going to relinquish, and he exclaimed, "Oh! Scotland! my ungrateful country; what is it you do? Is it thus that you repay your most faithful servants? Is it not enough that the wife of my bosom, the companion of my youth, should be torn from me by your enemies; but your hand must wrest from my bereaved heart, its every other solace? You snatch from me my friends; you would deprive me of my life. To preserve you from that crime I embitter the cup of death; I go far from the tombs of my fathers; from the grave of my Marion, where I had fondly hoped to rest!" His head sunk on his arm; his heart gave way under the pressure of accumulated regrets, and floods of tears poured from his eyes. Deep and frequent were his sighs,—but none answered him. Friendship was far distant; and where was that gentle being who would have soothed his sorrow on her bosom? She it was he lamented. "Dreary, dreary solitude!" cried he, looking around him, with an aghast perception of all that he had lost: "how have I been mocked, for these three long years! What is renown? what the loud acclaim of admiring throngs? what the bended knees of worshipping gratefulness, but breath and vapour! It seems to shelter the mountain’s top; the blast comes; it rolls from its sides; and the lonely hill is left to all the storm! So stand I, my Marion, when bereft of thee. In weal or woe, thy smiles, thy warm embrace, were mine; my head reclined on that faithful breast, and still I found my home, my heaven. But now, desolate and alone, ruin is around me. Destruction waits on all who would steal one pang from the racked heart of William Wallace! even pity is no more for me. Take me, then, O! Power of Mercy !" cried he, stretching forth his hands, "take me to thyself!"

At these words, a peal of thunder burst on his ear, and seemed to roll over his tent, till passing off towards the west, it died away in long and solemn reverberation. Wallace rose from his knee, on which he had sunk at this awful response to his Heaven-directed adjuration: "Thou callest me, my Father!" cried he, with a holy confidence dilating his soul: "I go from the world, to thee!—I come, and before thy altars, shall know no human weakness."

In a paroxysm of sacred enthusiasm, he rushed from the tent: and reckless whither he went, struck into the depths of Roslyn woods. With the steps of the wind, he pierced their remotest thickets. He reached their boundary; it was traversed by a rapid stream; but that did not stop his course; he sprang over it; and, ascending its moon-lit bank, was startled by the sound of his name. Grimsby, attended by a youth, stood before him. The veteran expressed amazement at meeting his master alone at this hour, unhelmeted, and unarmed, and in so dangerous a direction. "The road:" said he, "between this and Stirling, is beset with your enemies." instead of noticing this information, Wallace inquired what news he brought from Hunting-tower. "The worst," said he. "By this time the royal Bruce is no more!" Wallace gasped convulsively, and fell against a tree. Grimsby paused. in a few minutes the heart-struck chief was able to speak: "Listen not to my groans for unhappy Scotland!" cried he; "show me all that is in this last phial of wrath."

Grimsby informed him, that Bruce being so far recovered as to have left his sick chamber for the family apartment, while he was sitting with the ladies a letter was brought to Lady Helen. She opened it, read a few lines, and fell senseless into the arms of her sister. Brace snatched up the packet; but not a word did he speak, till he had perused it to the end. It was from the Countess Strathearn, written in the triumph of revenge, cruelly exulting in, what she termed, the demonstration of Wallace’s guilt: congratulating herself on having been the primary means of discovering it, and boasting that his once adoring Scotland now held him in such detestation as to have doomed him to die. It was this denunciation which had struck to the soul of Helen; and while the anxious Lady Ruthven removed her inanimate form into another room, Bruce read the barbarous triumphs of this disappointed woman. "No power on earth can save him now," continued she; "your doating heart must yield him, Helen, to another rest than your bridal chamber. His iron breast has met with others as adamantine as his own. A hypocrite! he feels not pity, he knows no beat of human sympathies; and, like a rock he falls, unpitied, undeplored, undeplored by all but you, lost, self-deluded girl! My noble lord, the princely De Warenne, informs me, that William Wallace would be burnt as a double traitor, in England! and a price is now set upon his head in Scotland! hence, there is safety for him no more. Those his base-born heart, has outraged, shall be avenged:—and his cries for mercy! who will answer? No voice on earth! None will dare support the man, whom friends, and enemies, abandon to destruction!"

"Yes:" cried Bruce, starting from his seat, "I will support him, thou damned traitress! Bruce will declare himself!—Bruce will throw himself before his friend, and in his breast receive every arrow meant for that godlike heart! Yes," cried he, glancing on the terrified looks of Isabella, who believed that his delirium was returned, "I would snatch him in these arms, from their murderous flames, did all the fiends of hell guard their infernal fire!" Not a word more did he utter, but darting from the apartment, was soon seen before the barbican-gate, armed from head to foot. Grimsby stood there, to whom he called to bring him a horse, "For that the Light of Scotland was in danger." Grimsby, who understood by that term, his beloved master was in peril, instantly obeyed; and Bruce, as instantly mounting, struck his rowels into the horse, and was out of sight, ere Grimsby could reach his stirrup to follow.

But that faithful soldier speeded after him like the wind, and came in view of Bruce just as he was leaping a chasm in the mountain path. The horse struck his heel against a loose stone, and, it giving way, he fell headlong into the deep ravine. At the moment of his disappearance, Grimsby rushed towards the spot, and saw the animal struggling in the agonies of death at the bottom. Bruce lay insensible, amongst some bushes which grew nearer the top. With difficulty the honest Englishman got him dragged to the surface of the hill; and finding all attempts to recover him, ineffectual, he laid him on his own beast, and so carried him slowly back to the castle. The assiduities of the sage of Ercildown, restored him to life, but not to recollection. "The fever returned on him, with a delirium, so hopeless of recovery," continued Grimsby, "that the Lady Helen, who again seems like an inspired angel amongst us, has sent me, with this youth, to implore you to come to Hunting-tower; and there embattle yourself against your own, and your Prince’s enemies."

"Send me," cried Walter Hay, grasping Wallace’s hand, "send me back to Lady Helen, and let me tell her, that our benefactor, the best guardian of our country, will not abandon us! Should you depart, Scotland’s genius will go with you! again she must sink, again she will be in ruins. De Valence will regain possession of my dear Lady, and you will not be near to save her."

"Grimsby, Walter, my friends!" cried Wallace in an agitated voice; "I do not abandon Scotland: she drives me from her. Would she have allowed me, I would have borne her in my arms, until my latest gasp; but it must not be so. I resign her into the Almighty hands, to which I commit myself: they will also preserve the Lady Helen from violence. I cannot forego my trust, for the Bruce also! If he live, he will protect her for my sake; and should he die, Bothwell and Ruthven, will cherish her for their own."—"But you will return with us to Hunting-tower," cried Grimsby. "Disguised in these peasant’s garments, which we have brought for the purpose, you may pass through the legions of the Regent, with perfect security."—"Let me implore you, if not for your own sake, for ours!—Pity our desolation, and save yourself for them who can know no safety when you are gone!" Walter clung to his arm, while uttering this supplication. Wallace looked tenderly upon him :—"I would save myself; and I will, please God," said he; "but by no means unworthy of myself. I go, but not under any disguise. Openly have I defended Scotland, and openly will I pass through her lands. The chalice of Heaven, consecrated me the champion of my country, and no Scot dare lift a hostile hand against this anointed head." The soul of Wallace swelled high, but devoutly, while uttering this.

"Whither you go," cried Grimsby, "let me follow you, in joy or in sorrow!"—"And me too, my benefactor!" rejoined Walter; "and when you look on us, think not that Scotland is altogether ungrateful!"

"My faithful friends;" returned he, "whither I go, I must go alone. And as a proof of your love, grant me your obedience this once.—Rest amongst these thickets, till morning. At sunrise, repair to our camp: there you will know my destination. But till Bruce proclaims himself at the head of his country’s armies, for my sake never reveal to mortal man, that he who lies debilitated by sickness at Hunting-tower, is other than Sir Thomas de Longueville."—. "Rest we cannot," replied Grimsby; "but still we will obey our master. You command me to adhere to Bruce; to serve him till the hour of his death! I will—but should he die, then I may seek you; and be again your faithful servant? "—"You will find me before the cross of Christ;" returned Wallace, "with saints my fellow-soldiers, and God my only King! Till then, Grimsby, farewell. Walter, carry my fidelity to your mistress. She will share my thoughts, with the Blessed Virgin of Heaven; for in all my prayers shall her name be remembered."

Grimsby and Walter, struck by the holy solemnity of his manner, fell on their knees before him. Wallace raised his hands: "Bless, Oh, Father of Light!" cried he; "bless this unhappy land, when Wallace is no more; and let his memory be lost in the virtues and prosperity of Robert Bruce!"

Grimsby sank on the earth, and gave way to a burst of manly sorrow. Walter hid his weeping face in the folds of his master’s mantle, which had fallen from his shoulders to the ground. Lost in grief, no thought seemed to exist in the young man’s heart, but the resolution to live only for his persecuted benefactor; and to express this vow with all the energy of determined devotedness, he looked up to seek the face of Wallace—but Wallace had disappeared— and all that remained to the breaking hearts of his faithful servants, was the tartan plaid which they had clasped in their arms. [The parallel scene to this in the interesting Lay of Blind Harrie, is one of the finest in the poem. Here, he may indeed be called the Homer of Scotland; but his hero was nobler than either Greek or Trojan—a truly Christian hero !—(1809.)]

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