The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 26.

Renfrewshire.

Toward evening the next day, Ker not only returned with the Earl of Lennox’s men, but brought with them Sir Eustace Maxwell of Carlaveroch. That brave knight happened to be in the neighborhood the very same night in which De Valence fled before the arms of Wallace across the Clyde; and he no sooner saw the Scottish colors on the walls of Dumbarton, than, finding out who was their planter, his soul took fire; and stung with a generous ambition of equaling in glory his equal in years, he determined to assist, while he emulated the victor.

To this end, he traversed the adjoining country, striving to enlighten the understandings of the stupidly satisfied and to excite the discontented, to revolt. With most he failed. Some took upon them to lecture him on “fishing in troubled waters;” and warned him, if he would keep his head on his shoulders, to wear his yoke in peace. Others thought the project too arduous for men of small means; they wished well to the arms of Sir William Wallace; and, should he continue successful, would watch the moment to aid him with all their little power. Those who had much property, feared to risk its loss by embracing a doubtful struggle. Some were too great cowards to fight for the rights they would gladly regain by the exertions of others. And others, again, who had families, shrunk from taking part in a cause which, should it fail, would not only put their lives in danger, but expose their offspring to the revenge of a resentful enemy. This was the best apology of any that had been offered; natural affection was the pleader; and though blinded to its true interest, such weakness had an amiable source, and so was pardoned. But the other pleas were so basely selfish, so undeserving of anything but scorn, that Sir Eustace Maxwell could not forbear expressing it. “When Sir William Wallace is entering full sail, you will send your hirelings to tow him in! but if a plank could save him now, you would not throw it to him! I understand you, sirs, and shall trouble your patriotism no more.”

In short, none but about a hundred poor fellows whom outrages had rendered desperate, and a few brave spirits who would put all to the hazard for so good a cause, could be prevailed on to hold themselves in readiness to obey Sir Eustace, when he should see the moment to conduct them to Sir William Wallace. He was trying his eloquence among the clan at Lennox, when Ker arriving, stamped his persuasions with truth; and above five hundred men arranged themselves under their lord’s standard. Maxwell gladly explained himself to Wallace’s lieutenant; and summoning his little reserve, they marched with flying pennons through the town of Dumbarton. At sight of so much larger a power than they expected would venture to appear in arms, and sanctioned by the example of the Earl of Lennox (whose name held a great influence in those parts), several, who before had held back, from doubting their own judgment, now came forward; and nearly eight hundred well-appointed men marched into the fortress.

So large a reinforcement was gratefully received by Wallace; and he welcomed Maxwell with a cordiality which inspired that young knight with an affection equal to his zeal.

A council being held respecting the disposal of the new troops, it was decided that the Lennox men must remain with their earl in garrison; while those brought by Maxwell, and under his command, should follow Wallace in the prosecution of his conquests along with his own especial people.

These preliminaries being arranged, the remainder of the day was dedicated to more mature deliberations-to the unfolding of the plan of warfare which Wallace had conceived. As he first sketched the general outline of his design, and then proceeded to the particulars of each military movement, he displayed such comprehensiveness of mind; such depths of penetration; clearness of apprehension; facility in expedients; promptitude in perceiving, and fixing on the most favorable points of attack; explaining their bearings upon the power of the enemy; and where the possession of such a castle would compel the neighboring ones to surrender; and where occupying the hills with bands of resolute Scots, would be a more efficient bulwark than a thousand towers-that Maxwell gazed on him with admiration, and Lennox with wonder.

Mar had seen the power of his arms; Murray had already drunk the experience of a veteran from his genius; hence they were not surprised on hearing that which filled strangers with amazement.

Lennox gazed on his leader’s youthful countenance, doubting whether he really were listening to military plans, great as general ever formed; or were visited, in vision, by some heroic shade, who offered to his sleeping fancy designs far vaster than his waking faculties could have conceived. He had thought that the young Wallace might have won Dumbarton by a bold stroke, and that when his invincible courage should be steered by stroke, and that when his invincible courage should be steered by graver heads, every success might be expected from his arms; and saw that when turned to any cause of policy, “the Gordian knot of it he did unloose, familiar as his garter,” he marveled, and said within himself, “Surely this man is born to be a sovereign!”

Maxwell, though equally astonished, was not so rapt. “You have made arms the study of your life?” inquired he.

“It was the study of my earliest days,” returned Wallace. “But when Scotland lost her freedom, as the sword was not drawn in her defense, I looked not where it lay. I then studied the arts of peace; that is over; and now the passion of my soul revives. When the mind is bent on one object only, all becomes clear that leads to it; zeal, in such cases, is almost genius.”

Soon after these observations, it was admitted that Wallace might attend Lord mar and his family on the morrow to the Isle of Bute.

When the dawn broke, he arose from his heather bed in the great tower; and having called forth twenty of the Bothwell men to escort their lord, he told Ireland he should expect to have a cheering account of the wounded on his return.

“But to assure the poor fellows,” rejoined the honest soldier, “that something of yourself still keeps watch over them. I pray you leave me the sturdy sword with which you won Dumbarton. It shall be hung up in their sight,24 and a good soldier’s wound will heal by looking on it.”

24 This tower, within the fortress of Dumbarton, is still called Wallace’s tower; and a sword is shown there as the one that belonged to Wallace.

Wallace smiled. “Were it our holy King David’s we might expect such a miracle. But you are welcome to it; and here let it remain till I take it hence. Meanwhile, lend me yours, Stephen, for a truer never fought for Scotland.”

A glow of conscious valor flushed the cheek of the veteran. “There, my dear lord,” said he, presenting it; “it will not dishonor your hand, for it cut down many a proud Norwegian on the field of Largs.”

Wallace took the sword, and turned to meet Murray with Edwin in the portal. When they reached the citadel, Lennox and all the officers in the garrison were assembled to bid their chief a short adieu. Wallace spoke to each separately, and then approaching the countess, led her down the rock to the horses which were to convey them tot he Frith of Clyde. Lord Mar, between Murray and Edwin, followed; and the servants and guard completed the suit.

Being well mounted, they pleasantly pursued their way, avoiding all inhabited places, and resting in the deepest recesses of the hills. Lord Mar proposed traveling all night; but at the close of the evening his countess complained of fatigue, declaring she could not advance further than the eastern bank of the River Cart. No shelter appeared in sight, excepting a thick and extensive wood of hazels; but the air being mild, and the lady declaring her inability of moving on, Lord Mar at last became reconciled to his wife and son passing the night with no other canopy than the trees. Wallace ordered cloaks to be spread on the ground for the countess and her women; and seeing them laid to rest, planted his men to keep guard around the circle.

The moon had sunk in the west before the whole of his little camp were asleep; but when all seemed composed, he wandered forth by the dim light of the stars to view the surrounding country-a country he had so often traversed in his boyish days. A little onward, in green Renfrewshire, lay the lands of his father; but that Ellerslie of his ancestors, like his own Ellerslie of Clydesdale, his country’s enemies had leveled with the ground. He turned in anguish of heart toward the south, for there less racking remembrances hovered over the distant hills.

Leaning on the shattered stump of an old tree, he fixed his eyes on the far-stretching plain, which alone seemed to divide him from the venerable Sir Ronald Crawford and his youthful haunts at Ayr. Full of thoughts of her who used to share those happy scenes, he heard a sigh behind him. He turned round, and beheld a female figure disappear among the trees. He stood motionless; again it met his view; it seemed to approach. A strange emotion stirred within him. When he last passed these borders, he was bringing his bride from Ayr! What then was this ethereal visitant? The silver light of the stars was not brighter than its airy robes, which floated in the wind. His heart paused-it beat violently-still the figure advanced. Lost in the wilderness of his imagination, he exclaimed, “Marion!” and darted forward, as if to rush into her embrace. But it fled, and again vanished. He dropped upon the ground in speechless disappointment.

“’Tis false!” cried he, recovering from his first expectation; “’tis a phantom of my own creating. The pure spirit of Marion would never fly from me; I loved her too well. She would not thus redouble my grief. But I shall go to thee, wife of my soul!” cried he; “and that is comfort.” Balm, indeed, is the Christian’s hope!”

Such were his words, such were his thoughts, till the coldness of the hour and the exhaustion of nature putting a friendly seal upon his senses, he sunk upon the bank, and fell into a profound sleep.

When he awoke the lark was caroling above his head; and to his surprise he found a plaid was laid over him. He threw it off, and beheld Edwin seated at his feet. “This has been your doing, my kind brother,” said he, “but how came you to discover me?”

“I missed you when the dawn broke, and at last found you here, sleeping under the dew.”

“And has none else been astir?” inquired Wallace, thinking of the figure he had seen.

“None that I know of. All were fast asleep when I left the party.”

Wallace began to fancy that he had been laboring under the impressions of some powerful dream, and saying no more, he returned to the wood. Finding everybody ready, he took his station; and setting forth, all proceeded cheerfully, though slowly, through the delightful valleys of Barochan. By sunset they arrived at the point of embarkation. The journey ought to have been performed in half the time; but the countess petitioned for long rests, a compliance with which the younger part of the cavalcade conceded with reluctance.

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