Those were sad days for Scotland. The people seemed crushed and almost in despair, but they were still unconquered. They had no King, no leader. But in this dark hour a man arose who became their leader, and although he never wore the crown, he was the King of every true Scotsman's heart. This man was Sir William Wallace.
Wallace was not one of the great nobles. He was only the younger son of a country gentleman. But he loved Scotland with all his heart and soul, and he hated the English who had brought so much sorrow and trouble on his dear land.
At the time when John Baliol was driven from the throne, Wallace was very young. He was indeed little more than a boy, but he was far taller than most men, and was very strong and handsome. He had a great deal of brown, wavy hair, and his eyes were bright and clear. Far and wide he was known as a gallant fighter, and there were few who could stand against the blows of his sword. Yet although he was so big, and strong, and fierce in battle, he was very kind and generous. He gave nearly all his money to poor people, and those who were in need never came to him in vain.
When every one else was in despair, when every one else had yielded to Edward, Wallace alone would not yield, and would not quite despair. But his heart was full of hot anger against the English, and he longed to free his country from them.
Wallace had hated the English all his life, and he had his first fight with them when he was quite a boy. One day he had been out fishing and had caught a good many fish. On his way home he met some Englishmen.
"What have you in that basket?" asked one of them.
"Fish," replied Wallace.
"Fish? Where did you get them?"
"I caught them."
"Give them to me," said one of the Englishmen. "What need have beggarly Scotsmen of fish?"
"No," said Wallace, "I will give you some if you ask nicely, but I won't give them all to you."
"What insolence," cried the Englishman, drawing his sword. "Give them to me at once!"
Wallace had only his fishing rod with which to defend himself, but he was very strong, and with it he gave the Englishman such a blow on the head that he fell dead. Wallace then seized the dead man's sword, and he used it so well that the others soon ran away. Then Wallace went home quietly with his fish.
The English Governor was very angry when he heard of what Wallace had done. He sent soldiers to take him prisoner. But kind friends warned Wallace, and he escaped into the mountains. There he lived until the matter was forgotten, and it was safe to return home again.
Wallace had many adventures with the English, and as he always got the best of the fighting, they soon began to fear him. But he did not spend all his time in fighting.
One Sunday, as he was going to church, he met a beautiful lady. She too was going to church, and was dressed in her best clothes. She looked so lovely that Wallace could not help looking at her, and when he could no longer see her he kept thinking about her. He soon found out that she was the daughter of a gentleman called Hugh Braidfute, and not long afterwards they were married.
William Wallace and his beautiful young wife were very happy together. They were so happy that perhaps he began to think a little less about Scotland and the sad state of the country. But one bright spring day Wallace and his friends were walking through the town. It was the Scottish custom to dress in bright green in spring time. Wallace and his friends were all finely dressed in green, and he wore a jewelled dagger at his belt. As they walked some Englishmen began to jeer and laugh at them.
"What business have Scotsmen with such fine clothes?" they said.
"You are so grand we thought you must be from the court of France."
"What right have you to wear such a fine dagger?"
So they went on, jeering and tormenting until a quarrel broke out. Swords were drawn, and blows fell thick and fast. In the fight Wallace killed a man, and when at last the Englishmen had been driven back, he and his friends fled to his house.
Wallace knocked at the door, which was quickly opened by his wife. As fast as possible he told her all that had happened. Then Wallace, knowing that it would not be safe long to stay there, for the Governor would certainly send to look for him, said a sad farewell. He and his friends stole out by a back way, and fled to the woods beyond, while Lady Wallace barred the doors and the windows, and made ready to fight the Governor, should he come.
She had not long to wait. Soon a body of horsemen came clattering down the street, led by the Governor, who was called Hazelrigg. They battered and banged at the door, and at last broke it open. Then they poured into the house. But Wallace was not there. High and low they hunted. He was nowhere to be found.
Then Lady Wallace was dragged before the Governor. "Where is your traitor husband?" he asked.
But brave and beautiful Lady Wallace stood silent. She would not tell.
Mad with anger, Hazelrigg drew his sword and pierced her to the heart. She fell to the ground dead. Never again would Wallace see her lovely, merry face. Then Hazelrigg killed all the servants and friends of Wallace he could find, and set fire to his house. He proclaimed him a traitor and an outlaw. An outlaw means a man whom the laws no longer protect. Any one might kill him without fear of being punished. The Governor, indeed, promised a large sum of money to any one who would bring Wallace to him, alive or dead.
In the darkness of the night a brave woman, who had loved Wallace and his beautiful wife, crept out from the silent and deserted ruins of their house. Down the still streets and lanes she crept till she reached the wood. Through the woodland paths she hurried until she came to the secret cave, where she knew that Wallace and his friends would be hiding. There she threw herself on her knees before him, sobbing out the dreadful story.
As he listened, Wallace, who feared no danger, covered his face with his hands and wept. His great friend, Sir John the Graham, was with him, and seeing his master in such sorrow, both he and his men wept too.
But Wallace soon rose. Dashing the tears from his eyes, "Let us be men," he cried. "Tears are but useless pain. They cannot bring her back who was so blyth and bonny. But hear me, Graham," he added fiercely, drawing his sword, "this blade I will never sheathe until I have avenged her death. For her dear sake ten thousand shall die."
Back to the town marched Wallace and his men. Straight to the Governor's house they went. Fierce wrath gave Wallace double strength, and setting his shoulder to the door he burst it open. Up the stairs he sprang and entered the Governor's bedroom. There he lay, quietly sleeping, having finished his cruel day's work. As Wallace rushed in he started up, "Who makes so much noise there?" he cried.
" 'Tis I, Wallace, the man whom you have sought for all day," and as he spoke Wallace clove the Governor's head, cutting through flesh and bone to the shoulder.
Very soon the whole town was in a stir. The news of the Governor's death spread fast. The English fought fiercely to avenge their master, but the people of the town rose to a man to help Wallace. When morning dawned hundreds of Englishmen lay dead in the streets, and Wallace was master of the town.