The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 5.

Lanark Castle.

The women, and the men who age withheld from so desperate an enterprise, now thronged around Halbert, to ask a circumstantial account of the disaster which had filled all with so much horror.

Many tears followed his recital; not one of his auditors was an indifferent listener; all had individually or in persons dear to them, partaken of the tender Marion’s benevolence. Their sick beds had been comforted by her charity; her voice had often administered consolation to their sorrows; her hand had smoothed their pillows, and placed the crucifix before their dying eyes. Some had recovered to bless her, and some had departed to record her virtues in heaven.

“Ah! is she gone?” cried a young woman, raising her face, covered with tears, from the bosom of her infant; “is the loveliest lady that ever the sun shone upon, cold in the grave? Alas, for me! she it was that gave me the roof under which my baby was born; she it was who, when the Southron soldiers slew my father, and drove us from our home in Ayrshire, gave to my old mother, and my then wounded husband, our cottage by the burnside. Ah! well can I spare him now to avenge her murder.”

The night being far advanced, Halbert retired, at the invitation of this young woman, to repose on the heather-bed of her husband who was now absent with Wallace. The rest of the peasantry withdrew to their coverts, while she and some other women, whose anxieties would not allow them to sleep, sat at the cavern’s mouth watching the slowly moving hours.

The objects of their fond and fervent prayers, Wallace and his little army, were rapidly pursuing their march. It was midnight-all was silent as they hurried through the glen, as they ascended with flying footsteps the steep acclivities that led to the cliffs which overhung the vale of Ellerslie. Wallace must pass along their brow. Beneath was the tomb of his sacrificed Marion! He rushed forward to snatch one look, even of the roof which shrouded her beloved remains.

But in the moment before he mounted the intervening height, a soldier in English armor crossed the path, and was seized by his men. One of them would have cut him down, but Wallace turned away the weapon. “Hold, Scot!” cried he, “you are not a Southron, to strike the defenseless. The man has no sword.”

The reflection on their enemy which this plea of mercy contained reconciled the impetuous Scots to the clemency of their leader. The rescued man, joyfully recognizing the voice of Wallace, exclaimed, “It is my lord! It is Sir William Wallace that has saved my life a second time!”

“Who are you?” asked Wallace; “that helmet can cover no friend of mine.”

“I am your servant Dugald,” returned the man; “he whom your brave arm saved from the battle-ax of Arthur Heselrigge.”

“I cannot ask you how you came by that armor; but if you be yet a Scot throw it off and follow me.”

“Not to Ellerslie, my lord,” cried he; “it has been plundered and burned to the ground by the Governor of Lanark.”

“Then,” exclaimed Wallace, striking his breast, “are the remains of my beloved Marion forever ravished from my eyes? Insatiate monster!”

“He is Scotland’s curse,” cried the veteran of Largs. “Forward, my lord, in mercy to your country’s groans!”

Wallace had now mounted the craig which overlooked Ellerslie. His once happy home had disappeared, and all beneath lay a heap of smoking ashes. He hastened from the sight, and directing the point of his sword with a forceful action toward Lanark, re-echoed with supernatural strength, “Forward!”

With the rapidity of lightning his little host flew over the hills, reached the cliffs which divided them from the town, and leaped down before the outward trench of the castle of Lanark. In a moment Wallace sprung so feeble a barrier; and with a shout of death, in which the tremendous slogan of his men now joined, he rushed upon the guard that held the northern gate.

Here slept the governor. These opponents being slain by the first sweep of the Scottish swords, Wallace hastened onward, winged with twofold retribution. The noise of battle was behind him; for the shouts of his men had aroused the garrison and drawn its soldiers, half-naked, to the spot. He reached the door of the governor. The sentinel who stood there flew before the terrible warrior that presented himself. All the mighty vengeance of Wallace blazed in his face and seemed to surround his figure with a terrible splendor. With one stroke of his foot he drove the door from its hinges, and rushed into the room.

What a sight for the now awakened and guilty Heselrigge! It was the husband of the defenseless woman he had murdered come in the power of justice, with uplifted arm and vengeance in his eyes? With a terrific scream of despair, and an outcry for the mercy he dared not expect, he fell back into the bed and sought an unavailing shield beneath its folds.

“Marion! Marion!” cried Wallace, as he threw himself toward the bed and buried the sword, yet red with her blood, through the coverlid, deep into the heart of her murderer. A fiend-like yell from the slain Heselrigge told him his work was done; and drawing out the sword he took the streaming blade in his hand. “Vengeance is satisfied,” cried he; “thus, O God! do I henceforth divide self from my heart!” As he spoke he snapped the sword in twain, and throwing away the pieces, put back with his hand the impending weapons of his brave companions, who having cleared the passage of their assailants, had hurried forward to assist in ridding their country of so detestable a tyrant.

“Tis done,” cried he. As he spoke he drew down the coverlid and discovered the body of the governor weltering in blood. The ghastly countenance, on which the agonies of hell seemed imprinted, glared horrible even in death.

Wallace turned away; but the men exulting in the sight, with a shout of triumph exclaimed, “So fall the enemies of Sir William Wallace!”

“Rather to fall the enemies of Scotland!” cried he; “from this hour Wallace has neither love nor resentment but for her. Heaven has heard me devote myself to work our country’s freedom or to die. Who will follow me in so just a cause?”

“All!-with Wallace forever!”

The new clamor which this resolution excited, intimidated a fresh band of soldiers, who were hastening across the courtyard to seek the enemy in the governor’s apartments. But on the noise they hastily retreated, and no exertions of their officers could prevail on them to advance again, or even to appear in sight, when the resolute Scots with Wallace at their head soon afterward issued from the great gate! The English commanders seeing the panic of their men, and which they were less able to surmount on account of the way to the gate being strewn with their slain comrades, fell back into the shadow of the towers, where by the light of the moon, like men paralyzed, they viewed the departure of their enemies over the trenches.

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