The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 54.

Carron Banks.

The troops of King Edward lay overpowered with wine. Elated with victory, they had drunk largely, the royal pavilion setting them the example; for though Edward was temperate, yet, to flatter his recovered friends, the inordinate Buchan and Soulis, he had allowed a greater excess that night than he was accustomed to sanction. The banquet over, every knight retired to his tent; every soldier to his pallet; and a deep sleep lay upon every man. The king himself, whose many thoughts had long kept him waking, now fell into a slumber.

Guards had been placed around the camp more from military ceremony than an idea of their necessity. The strength of Wallace they believed broken; and that they should have nothing to do next morning but to chase him into Stirling, and take him there. But the spirit of the regent was not so easily subdued. He ever thought it shameful to despair while it was possible to make a stand. And now, leading his determined followers through the lower grounds of Cumbernaul, he detached half his force under Mar, to take the Southron camp in the rear, while he should attack the front, and pierce his way to the royal pavilion.

With soundless caution, the battalion of Mar wound round the banks of the Forth to reach the point of its destination; and Wallace, proceeding with as noiseless a step, gained the hill which overlooked his sleeping enemies. His front ranks, shrouded by branches they had torn from the trees in Tor Wood, now stood still. Without this precaution, had any eye looked from the Southron line they must have been perceived; but now should a hundred gaze on them, their figures were so blended with the adjoining thickets, they might easily be mistaken for a part of them. As the moon sunk in the horizon they moved gently down the hill; and scarcely drawing breath, were within a few paces of the first outpost, when one of the sentinels starting from his reclining position, suddenly exclaimed, “What sound is that?”

“Only the wind amongst the trees,” returned his comrade; “I see their branches waving. Let me sleep; for Wallace yet lives, and we may have hot work to-morrow.” Wallace did live, and the man slept — to wake no more; for the next instant a Scottish brand was through every Southron heart on the outpost. That done, Wallace threw away his bough, leaped the narrow dike which lay in front of the camp; and with Bruce and Graham at the head of a chosen band of brave men, cautiously proceeded onward to reach the pavilion. At the moment he should blow his bugle, the divisions he had left with Lennox and Murray, and the Lord Mar, were to press forward to the same point.

Still all lay in profound repose, and guided by the lamps which burned around the royal quarters, the dauntless Scots reached the tent. Wallace had already laid his hand upon the curtain that was its entrance, when an armed man with a presented pike, demanded, “Who comes here?” the regent’s answer laid the interrogator’s head at his feet; but the voice had awakened the ever watchful king. Perceiving his own danger in the fall of the sentinel, he snatched his sword, and calling aloud on his sleeping train, sprung from his couch. He was immediately surrounded by half a score of knights, who started on their feet before Wallace could reach the spot. Short, however, would have been their protection; they fell before his arm and that of Graham, and left a vacant place, for Edward had disappeared. Foreseeing from the first prowess of these midnight invaders, the fate of his guards, he had made a timely escape, by cutting a passage for himself through the canvas of his tent. Wallace perceived that his prize had eluded his grasp, but hoping to at least drive him from the field, he blew the appointed signal to Mar and Lennox; caught one of the lamps from the monarch’s table and setting fire to the adjoining drapery, rushed from its blazing volumes to meet his brave colleagues amongst the disordered lines. Graham and his followers with firebrands in their hands, threw conflagration into all parts of the camp, and with the fearful war-cries of their country, seemed to assail the terrified enemy from every direction. Men half-dressed and unarmed, rushed from their tents upon the pikes of their enemies; hundreds fell without striking a blow, and they who were stationed nearest the outposts, betook themselves to flight, scattering themselves in scared throngs over the amazed plains of Linlithgow.

The king in vain sought to rally his men-to remind them of their late victory. His English alone hearkened to his call; superstition had laid her petrifying hand on all the rest. The Irish saw a terrible judgment in this scene; believing it had fallen upon them for having taken arms against their sister people; the Welsh, as they descried the warlike Bishop of Dunkeld issuing from the mists of the river, and charging his foaming steed through their flying defiles, could not persuade themselves that Merlin had not arisen to chastise their obedience to the ravager of their country. Every superstition, every panic created by fear took possession of the half-intoxicated, stupid wretches; and falling in bloody and unresisting heaps all around, it was rather a slaughter than a battle. Opposition seemed everywhere abandoned, excepting on the spot still maintained by the King of England and his brave countrymen. The faithless Scots who had followed the Cummins to the field also stood there and fought with desperation. Wallace opposed the despair and valor of his adversaries with the steadiness of his men; and Graham having seized some of the war-engines, discharged a shower of blazing arrows upon the Southron phalanx.

The camp was now on fire in every direction; and putting all to the hazard of one decisive blow, Edward ordered his men to make at once to the point, where, by the light of the flaming tents, he could perceive the waving plumes of Wallace. With his ponderous mace held terribly in the air, the king himself bore down to the shock; and breaking through the intervening combatants assaulted the chief. The might of ten thousand souls was then in the arm of the Regent of Scotland. The puissant Edward wondered at himself as he shrunk from before his strokes; as he shuddered at the heroic fierceness of a countenance which seemed more than mortal. Was it indeed the Scottish chieftain? or some armed delegate from heaven, descended to flight the battles of the oppressed? Edward trembled; his mace was struck from his hand; but immediately a glittering falchon supplied its place, and with recovering presence of mind he renewed the combat.

Meanwhile the young Bruce (who, in his humble armor, might have been passed by as an enemy for meaner swords), checking the onward speed of March, pierced him at once through the heart: “Die, thou disgrace to the name of Scot,” cried he, “and with thy blood expunge my stains!” His sword now laid all opposition at his feet; and while the tempest of death blew around, the groans of the dying, the shrieks of the wounded, and the outcries of those who were perishing in the flames, drove the king’s ranks to distraction, and raised so great a fear in the minds of the Cummin clan, that, breaking from the royal line with yells of dismay, they fled in all directions after their already fugitive allies.

Edward saw the Earl of March fall, and finding himself wounded in many places, with a backward step he received the blows of Wallace; but that determined chief, following his advantage, made a stroke at the king which threw him astounded into the arms of his followers. At that moment Lincoln raised his arm to strike his dagger into the back of Wallace; but Graham arrested the blow, and sent the young lord’s motionless body to the earth. The Southron ranks closed immediately before their insensible monarch; and a contest more desperate than any which had preceded it, took place. Hosts seemed to fall on both sides; at last the Southrons (having stood their ground till Edward was carried from further danger) suddenly wheeled about and fled precipitately toward the east. Wallace pursued them on full charge; driving them across the lowlands of Linlithgow, where he learned from some prisoners he took, that the Earl of Carrick was in the Lothians; having retreated hither on the first tidings that the Scots had attacked the English camp.

“Now is your time,” said Wallace to Bruce, “to rejoin your father. Bring him to Scotland, where a free crown awaits him. Your actions of this night must be a pledge to your country of the virtues which will support his throne!”

The young warrior, throwing off his rugged hauberk in a retired glen, appeared again as a prince, and embracing the regent:

“A messenger from myself or from my father,” said he, “shall meet you at Stirling; meanwhile, farewell! — and give my thanks to the young Gordon whose sword armed me for Scotland!”

Bruce mounted the horse Wallace had prepared, and spurring along the banks of the Almond, was soon lost amidst its luxuriant shades.

Wallace still led the pursuit of Edward, and meeting those auxiliaries from the adjoining counties, which his provident orders had prepared to turn out on the first appearance of this martial chase; he poured his troops through Ettrick Forest, and drove the flying host of England far into Northumberland. There checking his triumphant squadrons, he recalled his stragglers, and returned with abated speed into his own country. Halting on the north bank of the Twee, he sent to their quarters those hands which belonged to the border castles, and then marched leisurely forward, that his brave soldiers, who had sustained the weight of the battle, might recover their exhausted strength.

At Peebles he was agreeably surprised by the sight of Edwin. Though ignorant of the recommenced hostilities of Edward, Lord Ruthven became so impatient to resume his duties, that as soon as he was able to move, he had set off on his return to Perth. On arriving at Huntingtower he was told of the treachery of March, also of his fate, and that the regent had beaten the enemy on the banks of the Carron, and was pursuing him into his own dominions. Ruthven was inadequate to the exertion of following the successful troops, but Edwin, rejoicing at this new victory, would not be detained, and crossing the Forth into Mid–Lothian, had sped his eager way until the happy moment that brought him again to the side of his first and dearest friend.

As they continued their route together, Edwin inquired the events of the past time, and heard them related with wonder, horror, and gratitude. Grateful for the preservation of Wallace, grateful for the rescue of his country from the menaced destruction, for some time he could only clasp his friend’s hand with strong emotion to his heart. The death of his uncle Bothwell made that heart tremble within him at the thought of how much severer might have been his deprivation; at last, extricating his powers of speech from the spell of contradictory feelings which enchained them, he said, “But if my uncle Mar and our brave Graham were in the last conflict, where are they, that I do not see them share your victory?”

“I hope,” returned Wallace, “that we shall rejoin them in safety at Stirling. Our troops parted in the pursuit, and after having sent back the Lowland chieftains, you see I have none with me now but my own particular followers.”

The regent’s expectations that he should soon fall in with some of the chasing squadrons, were the next morning gratified. Crossing the Bathgate Hills, he met the returning battalions of Lennox, with Lord Mar’s, and also Sir John Graham’s. Lord Lennox was thanked by Wallace for his good services, and immediately dispatched to reoccupy his station in Dumbarton. But the captains of Mar and of Graham, could give no other account of their leaders, than that they saw them last fighting valiantly in the Southron camp, and had since supposed that during the pursuit they must have joined the regent’s squadron. A cold dew fell over the limbs of Wallace at these tidings; he looked on Murray and on Edwin. The expression of the former’s face told him what were his fears; but Edwin, ever sanguine, strove to encourage the hope that all might yet be well: “They may not have yet returned from the pursuit; or they may be gone on to Stirling.”

But these comfortings were soon dispelled by the appearance of Lord Ruthven, who (having been apprised of the regent’s approach) came forth to meet him. The pleasure of seeing the earl so far recovered as to have been able to leave Huntingtower, was checked by the first glance of his face, on which was deeply characterized some tale of grief. Edwin thought it was the recent disasters of Scotland he mourned; and with a cheering voice he exclaimed, “Courage, my father! our regent comes again a conqueror! Edward has once more recrossed the plains of Northumberland!”

“Thanks be to God for that!” replied Ruthven! “but what have not these last conflicts cost the country! Lord Mar is wounded unto death, and lies in a chamber next to the yet unburied corpses of Lord Bute and the dauntless Graham.” Wallace turned deadly pale; a mist passed over his eyes, and staggering, he breathlessly supported himself on the arm of Edwin. Murray looked on him; but all was still in his heart: his own beloved father had fallen; and in that stroke Fate seemed to have emptied all her quiver.

“Lead me to their chambers!” cried Wallace; “show me where my friends lie; let me hear the last prayer for Scotland from the lips of the bravest of her veterans!”

Ruthven turned the head of his horse; and, as he rode along, he informed the regent that Edwin had not left Huntingtower for the Forth half an hour when an express arrived from Falkirk. By it he learned that, as soon as the inhabitants of Stirling saw the fire of the Southron camp, they had hastened thither to enjoy the spectacle. Some, bolder than the rest, entered its deserted confines (for the retreating squadrons were then flying over the plain); and amidst the slaughtered, near the royal tent, one of these visitors thought he distinguished groans. Whether friend or foe, he stooped to render assistance to the sufferer, and soon found it to be Lord Mar. The earl begged to be carried to some shelter that he might see his wife and daughter before he died. The people drew him out from under his horse and many a mangled corpse; and, wrapping him in their plaids, conveyed him to Falkirk, where they lodged him in the convent.

“A messenger was instantly dispatched to me,” continued Ruthven; “and, indifferent to all personal considerations, I set out immediately. I saw my dying brother-in-law. At his request, that others might not suffer what he had endured under the pressure of the slain, the field had been sought for the wounded. Many were conveyed into the neighboring houses, while the dead were consigned to the earth. Deep have been dug the graves of mingled Scot and English on the banks of the Carron! Many of our fallen nobles, amongst whom was the princely Badenoch, have been conveyed to the cemetery of their ancestors; others are entombed in the church of Falkirk; but the bodies of Sir John Graham and my brother Bothwell,” said he, in a lower tone, “I have retained till your return.”

“You have done right,” replied the till then, silent Wallace; and spurring forward, he saw not the ground he trod, till, ascending the hill of Falkirk, the venerable walls of its monastery presented themselves to his view. He threw himself off his horse and entered, preceded by Lord Ruthven.

He stopped before the cell which contained the dying chief, and desired the abbot to apprise the earl of his arrival. The sound of that voice, whose heart-consoling tones could be matched by none on earth, penetrated to the ear of his almost insensible friend. Mar started from his pillow, and Wallace through the half-open door heard him say: “Let him come in, Joanna! All my mortal hopes now hang on him.”

Wallace instantly stepped forward, and beheld the veteran stretched on a couch, the image of that death to which he was so rapidly approaching. He hastened toward him; and the dying man, stretching forth his arms exclaimed: “Come to me, Wallace, my son, the only hope of Scotland, the only human trust of this anxious paternal heart!”

Wallace threw himself on his knees beside him, and taking his hand, pressed it in speechless anguish to his lips; every present grief was then weighing on his soul, and denied him the power of utterance. Lady Mar sat by the pillow of her husband, but she bore no marks of the sorrow which convulsed the frame of Wallace. She looked serious, but her cheek wore its freshest bloom. She spoke not, and the veteran allowed the tears of enfeebled nature to fall on the bent head of his friend. “Mourn not for me,” cried he, “nor think that these are regretful drops. I die as I have wished, in the field for Scotland. Time must have soon laid my gray hair ignobly in the grave; and to enter it thus covered with honorable wounds, in glory, has long been my prayer. But, dearest, most unwearied of friends, still the tears of mortality will flow; for I leave my children fatherless in this faithless world. And my Helen! Oh, Wallace, the angel who exposed her precious self through the dangers of that midnight walk to save Scotland, her father, and his friends, is-lost to us! Joanna, tell the rest,” said he, gasping, “for I cannot.”

Wallace turned to Lady Mar with an inquiring look of such wild horror that she found her tongue cleave to the roof of her mouth, and her complexion faded into the pallidness of his.

“Surely,” exclaimed he, “there is not to be a wreck of all that is estimable on earth. The Lady Helen is not dead?”

“No,” rejoined the earl; “but-”

He could proceed no further, and Lady Mar forced herself to speak.

“She has fallen into the hands of the enemy. On my lord’s being brought to this place, he sent for myself and Lady Helen; but in passing by Dunipacis, an armed squadron issued from behind the mound, and putting our attendants to flight, carried her off. I escaped hither. The reason for this attack was explained afterward by one of the Southrons, who, having been wounded by our escort, was taken, and brought to Falkirk. He said that Lord Aymer de Valence, having been sent by his beset monarch to call Lord Carrick to his assistance, found the Bruce’s camp deserted; but by accident learning that Lady Helen Mar was to be brought to Falkirk, he stationed himself behind Dunipacis; and springing out as soon as our cavalcade was in view, seized her. She obtained, the rest were allowed to escape, but as the Lord de Valence loves Helen, I cannot doubt he will have sufficient honor not to insult the fame of her family, and so will make her his wife.”

“God forbid!” ejaculated Mar, holding up his trembling hands; “God forbid that my blood should ever mingle with that of any one of the people who have wrought such woe to Scotland! Swear to me, valiant Wallace, by the virtues of her virgin heart, by your own immaculate honor, that you will move heaven and earth to rescue my Helen from the power of his Southron lord!”

“So help me Heaven!” answered Wallace, looking steadfastly upward. A groan burst from the lips of Lady Mar, and her head sunk on the side of the couch.

“What? Who is that?” exclaimed Mar, raising his head in alarm from his pillow.

“Believe it your country, Donald!” replied she; “to what do you bind its only defender? Are you not throwing him into the very center of his enemies, by making him swear to rescue Helen? Think you that De Valence will not foresee a pursuit, and take her into the heart of England? And thither must our regent follow him! Release Sir William Wallace from a vow that must destroy him!”

“Wallace,” cried the now soul-struck earl, “what have I done? Has a father’s anxiety asked amiss? If so, pardon me! But if my daughter also must perish for Scotland, take her, O God, uncontaminated, and let us meet in heaven! Wallace, I dare not accept your vow.”

“But I will fulfill it,” cried he. “Let thy paternal heart rest in peace; and by Jesus’ help, Lady Helen shall again be in her own country, as free from Southron taint as she is from all mortal sin! De Valence dare not approach her heavenly innocence with violence; and her Scottish heart will never consent to give him a lawful claim to her precious self. Edward’s legions are far beyond the borders! but wherever this earl may be, yet I will reach him. For there is a guiding hand above, and the demands of the morning at Falkirk are now to be answered in the halls of Stirling.”

Lord Ruthven, followed by Edwin and Murray, entered the room. And the two nephews were holding each a hand of their dying uncle in theirs, when Lady Ruthven (who, exhausted with fatigue and anxiety, had retired an hour before), reappeared at the door of the apartment. She had been informed of the arrival of the regent and her son, and now hastened to give them a sorrowful welcome.

“Ah, my lord,” cried she, as Wallace pressed her matron cheek to his; “this is not as your triumphs are wont to be greeted! You are still a conqueror, and yet death, dreadful death, lies all around us! And our Helen, too —”

“Shall be restored to you, by the blessed aid of Heaven!” returned he, “What is yet left for me to do, must be done; and then-” He paused, and added, “The time is not far distant, then —” He paused, and added “The time is not far distant, Lady Ruthven, when we shall meet in the realms to which so many of our bravest and dearest have just hastened.”

With swimming eyes Edwin drew toward his master. “My uncle would sleep,” said he; “he is exhausted, and will recall us when he wakes from rest.” The eyes of the veteran were at that moment closed with heavy slumber. Lady Ruthven remained with the countess to watch by him; and Wallace, gently withdrawing, was followed by Ruthven and the two young men out of the apartment.

Lord Lochawe, with the Bishop of Dunkeld, and other chiefs, lay in different chambers, pierced with many wounds; but none so grievous as those of Lord Mar. Wallace visited them all, and having gone through the numerous places in the neighborhood, then made quarters for his wounded men. At the gloom of evening he returned to Falkirk. He sent Edwin forward to inquire after the repose of his uncle; but on himself re-entering the monastery, he requested the abbot to conduct him to the apartment in which the remains of Sir John Graham were deposited. The father obeyed; leading him along a dark passage, he opened a door, and discovered the slain hero lying on a bier. Two monks sat at its head, with tapers in their hands. Wallace waved them to withdraw; they set down the lights and departed. He was then alone.

For some time he stood with clasped hands, looking intently on the body as it lay extended before him. “Graham! Graham!” cried he, at last, in a voice of unutterable grief; “dost thou not rise at thy general’s voice? Oh! is this to be the tidings I am to send to the brave father who intrusted to me his son? Lost in the prime of youth, in the opening of thy renown, is it thus that all which is good is to be martyrized by the enemies of Scotland?” He sunk gradually on his knees beside him. “And shall I not look once more on that face,” said he, which ever turned toward mine with looks of faith and love?” The shroud was drawn down by his hand. He started on his feet at the sight. The changing touch of death had altered every feature-had deepened the paleness of the bloodless corpse into an ashy hue. “Where is the countenance of my friend?” cried he. “Where the spirit which once moved in beauty and animating light over this face! Gone; and all I see before me is a mass of molded clay! Graham! Graham!” cried he, looking upward, “thou art not here. No more can I recognize my friend in this deserted habitation of thy soul. Thine own proper self, thine immortal spirit, is ascended up above; and there my fond remembrance shall ever seek thee!” Again he knelt, but it was in devotion-a devotion which drew the sting from death, and opened to his view the victory of the Lord of Life over the King of Terrors.

Edward having learned from his father that Lord Mar still slept, and being told by the abbot where the regent was, followed him to the consecrated chamber. On entering, he perceived him kneeling by the body of his friend. The youth drew near. He loved the brave Graham, and he almost adored Wallace; the scene, therefore, smote upon his heart. He dropped down by the side of the regent, and, throwing his arms around his neck, in a convulsive voice exclaimed: “Our friend is gone; but I yet live, and only in your smiles, my friend and brother!”

Wallace strained him to his breast. He was silent for some minutes, and then said: “To every dispensation of God I am resigned, my Edwin. While I bow to this stroke, I acknowledge the blessing I still hold in you and Murray. But did we not feel these visitations from our Maker, they would not be decreed to us. To behold the dead is the penalty of man for sin; for it is more pain to witness and to occasion death, than for ourselves to die. It is also a lesson which God teaches his sons; and in the moment that he shows us death he convinces us of immortality. Look upon that face, Edwin!” continued he, turning his eyes on the breathless clay. His youthful auditor, awestruck, and his tears checked by the solemnity of this address, looked as he directed him. “Doth not that inanimate mold of earth testify that nothing less than an immortal spirit could have lighted up its marble substance with the life and god-like actions we have seen it perform?” Edwin shuddered; and Wallace, letting the shroud fall over the face, added: “Never more will I look at it, for it no longer wears the characters of my friend-they are pictured on my soul; and himself, my Edwin, still effulgent in beauty and glowing with imperishable life, looks down on us from heaven!” He rose as he spoke, and opening the door, the monks re-entered, and placing themselves at the head of the bier, chanted the vesper requiem. When it was ended, Wallace kissed the crucifix they laid on his friend’s breast, and left the cell.

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