The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 31.

Berwick and the Tweed.

In the course of an hour Murray returned from having seen the departing Southrons beyond the barriers of the township. But he did not come alone; he was accompanied by Lord Auchinleck, the son of one of the betrayed barons who had fallen in the palace of Ayr. This young chieftain, at the head of his vassals, hastened to support the man whose dauntless hand had thus satisfied his revenge; and when he met Murray at the north gate of the town, and recognized in his flying banners a friend of Scotland, he was happy to make himself known to an officer of Wallace, and to be conducted to that chief.

While Lord Andrew and his new colleague were making the range of the suburbs, the glad progress of the victor Scots had turned the whole aspect of that gloomy city. Doors and windows, so recently closed in deep mourning, for the sanguinary deeds done in the palace, now opened teeming with smiling inhabitants. The general joy penetrated to the most remote recesses. Mothers now threw their fond arms around the necks of the children whom just before they had regarded with the averted eyes of despair; in the one sex, they then beheld the victims of, perhaps, the next requisition for blood; and in the other, the hapless prey of passions, more felt than the horrid rage of the beast of the field. But now all was secure again. These terrific tyrants were driven hence; and the happy parent, embracing her offspring as if restored from the grave, implored a thousand blessings on the head of Wallace, the gifted agent of all this good.

Sons who in secret had lamented the treacherous death of their fathers, and brothers of their brothers, now opened their gates, and joined the valiant troops in the streets. Widowed wives and fatherless daughters almost forgot they had been bereaved of their natural protectors, when they saw Scotland rescued from her enemies, and her armed sons, once more walking in the broad day, masters of themselves and of their country’s liberties.

Thus, then, with every heart rejoicing, every house teeming with numbers to swell the ranks of Wallace, did he, the day after he had entered Ayr, see all arranged for its peaceful establishment. But ere he bade that town adieu, in which he had been educated, and where almost every man, remembering its preserver’s boyish years, thronged round him with recollections of former days, one duty yet demanded his stay: to pay funeral honors to the remains of his beloved grandfather.

Accordingly, the time was fixed; and with every solemnity due to his virtues and his rank, Sir Ronald Crawford was buried in the chapel of the citadel. It was not a scene of mere ceremonious mourning. As he had been the father of the fatherless, he was followed to the grave by many an orphan’s tears; and as he had been the protector of the distressed of every degree, a procession, long and full of lamentation, conducted his shrouded corpse to its earthly rest. The mourning families of the chiefs who had fallen in the same bloody theater with himself, closed the sad retinue; and while the holy rites committed his body to the ground, the sacred mass was extended to those who had been plunged into the weltering element.

While Wallace confided the aged Elspa and her sister to the care of Sir Reginald Crawford, to whom he also resigned the lands of his grandfather; “Cousin,” said he, “you are a valiant and a humane man! I leave you to be the representative of your venerable uncle; to cherish these poor women whom he loved; to be the protector of his people and the defender of the town. The citadel is under the command of the Baron of Auchinleck; he, with his brave followers, being the first to hail the burning of the accursed Barns of Ayr.”

After this solemnity, and these dispositions, Wallace called a review of his troops; and found that he could leave five hundred men at Ayr, and march an army of at least two thousand out of it.

His present design was to take his course to Berwick; and, by seizing every castle of strength in his way, form a chain of works across the country, which would not only bulwark Scotland against any further inroads from its enemies, but render the subjugation of the interior Southron garrisons more certain and easy.

On the third morning after the conflagration of the palace, Wallace quitted Ayr; and marching over its far-stretching hills, manned every watch-tower on their summits. For now, whithersoever he moved, he found his victories had preceded him; and all, from hall to hovel, turned out to greet and offer him their services. Thus, heralded by fame, the panic-struck Southron governors fled at the distant view of his standards; the flames of Ayr seemed to menace them all, and castle and fortalice, from Muirkirk to the walls of Berwick, opened their gates before him.

Arrived under those blood-stained towers which had so often been the objects of dispute between the powers of England and of Scotland, he prepared for their immediate attack. Berwick being a valuable fortress to the enemy, not only as a key to the invaded kingdom, but a point whence by their ships they commanded the whole of the eastern coast of Scotland, Wallace expected that a desperate stand would be made here to stop the progress of his arms. But being aware that the most expeditious mode of warfare was the best adapted to promote his cause, he first took the town by assault; and then, having driven the garrison into the citadel, assailed it by a vigorous seige.

After ten days hard duty before the walls, Wallace devised a plan to obtain possession of the English ships which commanded the harbor. He found among his own troops many men who had been used to a seafaring life; these he disguised as fugitive Southrons from the late defeats, and sent in boats to the enemy’s vessels which lay in the roads. The feint took; and by these means getting possession of those nearest the town, he manned them with his own people; and going out with them himself, in three days made himself master of every ship on the coast.

By this maneuver the situation of the beseiged was rendered so hopeless, that no mode of escape was left but by desperate sallies. They made them, but without other effect than weakening their strength and increasing their miseries. Wallace was for them to do in their situation, he needed no better spy over their actions than his own judgment.

Foiled in every attempt, as their opponent, guessing their intentions, was prepared at every point to meet their different essays, and losing men at every rencounter, their governor stood without resource. Without provisions, without aid of any kind for his wounded men, and hourly annoyed by the victorious Scots, who continued day and night to throw showers of arrows, and other missile weapons, from the towers and springalls with which they had overtopped the walls, the unhappy Earl of Gloucester seemed ready to rush on death, to avoid the disgrace of surrendering the fortress. Every soul in the garrison was reduced to similar despair. Wallace even found means to dam up the spring which had supplied the citadel with water. The common men, famished with hunger, smarting with wounds, and now perishing with inextinguishable thirst, threw themselves at the feet of their officers, imploring them to represent to their royal governor that if he held out longer, he must defend the place alone, for they could not exist another day under their present sufferings.

The earl indeed repented the rashness with which he had thrown himself unprovisioned into the citadel. He now saw that expectation was no apology for want of precaution. When his first division had been overpowered in the assault on the town, his evil genius then suggested that it was best to take the second unbroken into the citadel, and there await the arrival of a reinforcement by sea. But he thence beheld the ships which had defended the harbor seized by Wallace before his eyes. Hope was then crushed, and nothing but death or dishonor seemed to be his alternatives. Cut to the soul at the consequences of his want of judgment, he determined to retrieve his fame by washing out that error with his blood. To fall under the ruins of Berwick Castle was his resolution. Such was the state of his mind when his officers appeared with the petition from his men. In proportion as they felt the extremities into which they were driven, the offense he had committed glared with tenfold enormity in his eyes; and, in a wild despair, he told them “they might do as they would, but for his part, the moment they opened the gates to the enemy, that moment should be the last of his life. He, that was the son-in-law of King Edward, would never yield his sword to a Scottish rebel.”

Terrified at these threats on himself, the soldiers, who loved their general, declared themselves willing to die with him; and, as a last effort, proposed making a mine under the principal tower of the Scots; and by setting fire to it, at least destroy the means by which they feared their enemies might storm the citadel.

As Wallace gave his orders from this commanding station, he observed the besieged passing in numbers behind a mound, in the direction of the tower where he stood: he concluded what was their design; and ordering a countermine to be made, what he anticipated happened; and Murray, at the head of his miners, encountered those of the castle at the very moment they would have set fire to the combustibles laid to consume the tower. The instant struggle was violent, but short; for the impetuous Scots drove their amazed and enfeebled adversaries through the aperture, back into the citadel. At this crisis, Wallace, with a band of resolute men, sprung from the tower upon the wall; and it being almost deserted by its late guards (who had quitted their post to assist in repelling the foe below), he leaped into the midst of the conflict and the battle became general. It was decisive; for beholding the undaunted resolution with which the weakened and dying were supporting the cause their governor was determined to defend to the last, Wallace found his admiration and his pity alike excited; and even while his followers seemed to have each his foe’s life in his hands, when one instant more would make him the undisputed master of the castle (for not a Southron would then breathe to dispute it), he resolved to stop the carnage. At the moment when a gallant officer, who, having assaulted him with the vehemence of despair, now lay disarmed under him; at that moment when the discomfited knight exclaimed, “In mercy strike, and redeem the honor of Ralph de Monthermer!”27 Wallace raised his bugle and sounded the note of peace. Every sword was arrested, and the universal clangor of battle was hushed in expecting silence.

27 Ralph de Monthermer, a noble knight who married Jane of Acre, the daughter of King Edward I. He was created Earl of Gloucester on his marriage with that princess.-(1809.)

“Rise, brave earl,” cried Wallace, to the governor; “I revere virtue too sincerely to take an unworthy advantage of my fortune. The valor of this garrison commands my respect; and, as a proof of my sincerity, I grant to it what I have never yet done to any: that yourself and these dauntless men march out with the honors of war, and without any bonds on your future conduct toward us. We leave it to your own hearts to decide whether you will ever be again made instruments to enchain a free and brave people.”

While he was speaking, De Monthermer leaned gloomily on the sword he had returned to him, with his eyes fixed on his men. They answered his glance with looks that said they understood him: and passing a few words in whispers to each other, one at last spoke aloud: “Decide for us, earl. We are as ready to die as to live; so that in neither we may be divided from you.”

At this generous declaration the proud despair of De Monthermer gave way to nobler feelings; and while a big tear stood in each eye, he turned to Wallace, and stretching out his hand to him. “Noble Scot,” said he, “your unexampled generosity, and the invincible fidelity of these heroic men, have compelled me to accept the life I had resolved to lose under these walls, rather than resign them. But virtue is resistless, and to it do I surrender that pride of soul which made existence insufferable under the consciousness of having erred. When I became the husband of King Edward’s daughter, I believed myself pledged to victories or to death. But there is a conquest, and I feel it, greater than over hosts in the field; and here taught to make it, the husband of the princess of England, the proud Earl of Gloucester, consents to live to be a monument of Scottish nobleness, and of the inflexible fidelity of English soldiers.”

“You live, illustrious and virtuous Englishmen,” returned Wallace, “to redeem that honor of which too many rapacious sons of England have robbed their country. Go forth, therefore, as my conqueror, for you have on this spot extinguished that burning antipathy with which the outraged heart of William Wallace had vowed to extirpate every Southron from off this ravaged land. Honor, brave earl, makes all men brethren; and, as a brother, I open these gates for you, to repass into your country. When there, if you ever remember William Wallace, let it be as a man who fights, not for conquest or renown, but to restore Scotland to her rights, and then resign his sword to peace.”

“I shall remember you, Sir William Wallace!” returned De Monthermer; “and, as a pledge of it, you shall never see me again in this country till I come an embassador of that peace for which you fight. But meanwhile, in the moment of hot contention for the rights which you believe wrested from you, do you remember that they have not been so much the spoil of my royal father’s ambition as the traffic of your own venal nobles. Had I not believed that Scotland was unworthy of freedom, I should never have appeared upon her borders; but now that I see that she has brave hearts within her, who not only resist oppression, but know how to wield power, I detest the zeal with which I volunteered to rivet her chains. And I repeat, that never again shall my hostile foot impress this land.”

These sentiments were answered in the same spirit by his soldiers; and the Scots, following the example of their leader, treated them with every kindness. After dispensing amongst them provisions, and appointing means to convey the wounded in comfort, Wallace bade a cordial farewell to the Earl of Gloucester, and his men conducted their reconciled enemies over the Tweed. There they parted. The English bent their course toward London, and the Scots returned to their victorious general.

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