The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 22.

Dumbarton Rock.

All obeyed the voice of their commander, and retired to rest. But the eyes of Edwin could not close; his eager spirit was already on the walls of Dumbarton. His rapid mind anticipated the ascent of his general and his troop. But an imagination no less just than ardent suggested the difficulties attending so small a force assailing so formidable a garrison, without some immediate knowledge of its relative situations. A sudden thought struck him. He would mount that rock alone; he would seek to ascertain the place of Lord Mar’s confinement; that not one life in Wallace’s faithful band might be lost in a vague search.

“Ah! my general,” exclaimed he, “Edwin shall be the first to spring those ramparts; he shall tread that dangerous path alone; and when he has thus proved himself no unworthy of thy confidence, he will return to lead thee and thy soldiers to a sure victory, and himself to honor by thy side!”

This fervant apostrophe, breathed to the night alone, was no sooner uttered, than he stole from the thicket into which he had cast himself to respose. He looked toward the embattled cliff; its summit stood bright in the moonlight, but deep shadows lay beneath. “God be my speed!” cried he, and wrapping himself in his plaid, so mixed its dark hues with the weeds and herbage at the base of the rock, that he made its circuit without having attracted observation.

The south side seemed the easiest of ascent and by that he began his daring attempt. Having gained the height, he clambered behind a buttress, the shadow of which cast the wall into such black obscurity, that he crept safely through one of its crenelles, and dropping gently inward, alighted on his feet. Still keeping the shadowed side of the battlements, he proceeded cautiously along, and so still was his motion that he passed undiscovered, even by the sentinels who guarded this quarter of the fortress.

He soon arrived at the open square before the citadel; it was yet occupied by groups of Southron officers, gayly walking to and fro under the light of the moon. In hopes of gaining some useful information from their discourse, he concealed himself behind a chest of arrows; and as they passed backward and forward, distinctly heard them jesting each other about divers fair dames of the country around. The conversation terminated in a debate, whether or no the indifference which their governor De Valence manifested to the majestic beauties of the Countess of Mar were real or assumed. A thousand free remarks were made on the subject, and Edwin gathered sufficient from the discourse, to understand that the earl and countess were treated severely, and confined in a large, square tower in the cleft of the rock.

Having learned all that he could expect from these officers, he speeded, under the friendly shadow, toward the other side of the citadel, and arrived just as the guard approached to relieve the sentinels of the northern postern. He laid himself close to the ground, and happily overheard the word of the night, as it was given to the new watch. This providential circumstances saved his life.

Finding no mode of egress from this place but by the postern at which the sentinel was stationed, or by attempting a passage through a small adjoining tower, the door of which stood open, he considered a moment, and then deciding for the tower, stole unobserved into it. Fortunately no person was there; but Edwin found it full of spare arms, with two or three vacant couches in different corners, where he supposed the officers on guard occassionally reposed; several watch-cloaks lay on the floor. He readily apprehended the use he might make of this circumstance, and throwing one of them over his shoulders climbed to a large embrasure in the wall, and, forcing himself through it, dropped to a declivity on the other side, which shelved down to the cliff, wherein he saw the square tower.

He had scarcely alighted on firm ground, when a sentinel, followed by two others presented pikes, approached him, and demanded the word. “Montjoy!” was his reply. “Why leap the embrasure?” said one. “Why not enter by the postern?” demanded another. The conversation of the officers had given him a hint, on which he had formed his answer. “Love, my brave comrades,” replied he, “seldom chooses even ways. I go on a message from a young ensign in the keep, to one of the Scottish damsels in yonder tower. Delay me, and his vengeance will fall upon us all.” “Good luck to you, my lad!” was their answer, and, with a lightened step, he hastened toward the tower.

Not deeming it safe to seek an interview with any of the earl’s family, he crept along the base of the structure, and across the works, till he reached the high wall that blocks up egress from the north. He found this formidable curtain constructed of fragments of rock, and for the convenience of the guard, a sloping platform from within led to the top of the wall. On the other side it was perpendicular. A solitary sentinel stood there; and how to pass him was Edwin’s next device. To attack him would be desparate; being one of a chain of guards around the interior of the fortress, his voice need only to be raised in the least to call a regiment to his assistance, and Edwin might be seized on the instant.

Aware of his danger, but not dismayed, the adventurous youth bethought him of his former excuse; and remembering a flask of spirits which Ireland had put into his pouch on leaving Glenfinlass, he affected to be intoxicated, and staggering up to the man, accosted him in the character of a servant of the garrison.

The sentinel did not doubt the appearance of the boy, and Edwin, holding out the flask, said that a pretty girl in the great tower had not only given him a long draught of the same good liquor but had filled his bottle, that he might not lack amusement, while her companion; one of Lady Mar’s maids-in-waiting, was tying up a true lover’s knot to send to his master in the garrison. The man believed Edwin’s tale, and the more readily as he thrust the flask into his hand, and bade him drink. “Do not spare it,” cried he; “the night is chilly, and I shall get more where that came from.”

The unsuspecting Southron returned him a merry reply, and putting the flask to his head, soon drained its contents. They had the effect Edwin desired. The soldier became flustered, and impatient of his duty. Edwin perceived it, and yawning, complained of drowsiness. “I would go to the top of that wall, and sleep sweetly in the moonbeams,” said he, “if any goodnatured fellow would meanwhile wait for my pretty Scot!”

The half-inebriated Southron liked no better sport, and regardless of duty, he promised to draw nearer the tower, and bring from the fair messenger the expected token.

Having thus far gained his point, with an apparently staggering, but really agile step, Edwin ascended the wall. A leap from this dizzy height was his only way to rejoin Wallace. To retread his steps through the fortress in safety would hardly be possible, and, besides, such a mode of retreat would leave him uninformed on the second object of his enterprise-to know the most vulnerable side of the fortress. He threw himself along the summit of the wall as if to sleep. He looked down and saw nothing but the blackness of space, for here the broad expanse of shadow rendered rocks and building of the same hue and level. But hope buoyed him in her arms, and turning his eyes toward the sentinel, he observed him to have arrived within a few paces of the square tower. This was Edwin’s moment: grasping the projecting stone of the embattlement, and commending himself to Heaven, he threw himself from its summit, and fell a fearful depth to the cliffs beneath.

Meanwhile Wallace, having seen his brave followers depart to their respose, reclined himself along a pile of moss grown stones, which in the days of the renowned Fingal, had covered the body of some valiant Morven chieftain. He fixed his wakeful eyes on the castle, now illumined in every part by the fullness of the moon’s luster, and considered which point would be most assailable by the scaling-ladders he had prepared. Every side seemed a precipice; the Leven, surrounding it on the north and the west; the Clyde, broad as a sea, on the south. The only place that seemed at all accessible was the side next the dike behind which he lay. Here the ascent to the castellated part of the rock, because most perpendicular, was the least guarded with outworks, and by this he determined to make the attempt as soon as the setting moon should involve the garrison in darkness.

While he yet mused on what might be the momentous consequences of the succeeding midnight hours, he thought he heard a swift though cautious footstep. He raised himself, and laying his hands on his sword, saw a figure advancing toward him.

“Who goes there?” demanded Wallace.

“A faithful Scot,” was the reply.

Wallace recognized the voice of Edwin.

“What has disturbed you? Why do you not take rest with the others?”

“That we may have it the surer to-morrow!” replied the youth. “I am just returned from the summit of yonder rock.”

“How!” interrupted Wallace; “have you scaled it alone, and are returned in safety?”

Wallace caught him in his arms. “Intrepid, glorious boy! tell me for what purpose did you thus hazard your precious life?”

“I wished to learn its most pregnable part,” replied Edwin, his young heart beating with triumph at these encomiums from his commander; “and particularly where the good earl is confined, that we might make our attack directly to the point.”

“And have you been successful?” demanded Wallace.

“I have,” was his answer. “Lord Mar and his lady are kept in a square tower which stands in the cleft between the two summits of the rock. It is not only surrounded by embattled walls, which flank the ponderous buttresses of this huge dungeon, but the space on which it stands is bulwarked at each end by a stone curtain of fifteen feet high, guarded by turrets full of armed men.

“And yet by that side you suppose we must ascend?” said Wallace.

“Certainly; for if you attempt it on the west, we should have to scale the watch-tower cliff, and the ascent could only be gained in file. An auxiliary detachment, to attack in flank, might succeed there; but the passage being so narrow, would be too tedious for the whole party to arrive in time. Should we take the south, we must cut through the whole garrison before we could reach the earl. And on this side, the morass lies too near the foot of the rock to admit an approach without the greatest danger. But on the north, where I descended, by wading through part of the Leven, and climbing from cliff to cliff, I have every hope you may succeed.”

Edwin recounted the particulars of his progress through the fortress; and by the minuteness of his topographical descriptions, enforced his arguments for the north to be the point assailed. Closing his narrative, he explained to the anxious inquiry of Wallace how he had escaped accident in a leap of so many feet. The wall was covered with ivy; he caught by its branches in his descent, and at last happily fell amongst a thick bed of furze. After this, he clambered down the steep, and fording the Leven (there only knee deep), now appeared before his general, elate in heart, and bright in valor.

“The intrepidity of this action,” returned Wallace, glowing with admiration at so noble a daring in so young a creature, “merits that every confidence should be placed in the result of your observations. Your safe return is a pledge of our design being approved. And when we go in the strength of Heaven, who can doubt the issue? This night, when the Lord of battles puts that fortress into our hands, before the whole of our little army you shall receive that knighthood you have so richly deserved. Such, my truly dear brother, my noble Edwin, shall be the reward of your virtue and your toil.”

Wallace would now have sent him to respose himself; but animated by the success of his adventure, and exulting in the honor which was so soon to stamp a sign of this exploit upon him forever, he told his leader that he felt no want of sleep, and would rather take on him the office of arousing the other captains to their stations, the moon, their preconcerted signal, being then approaching its rest.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24