The march of De Valence from the castle having proved that no suspicion of any of its late inhabitants being still in the neighborhood remained with its usurpers, Grimsby thought he might depart in safety; and next morning he begged permission of the prior to commence his journey. “I am anxious to quit a land,” said he, “where my countrymen are committing violences which make me blush at the name of Englishman.”
Murray put a purse of gold into the soldier’s hand, while the prior covered his armor with a pilgrim’s gown. Grimsby, with a respectful bow, returned the gift; “I cannot take money from you, my lord. But bestow on me the sword at your side, and that I will preserve forever.”
Murray took it off, and gave it to the soldier. “Let us exchange, my brave friend!” said he; “give me yours, and it shall be a memorial to me of having found virtue in an Englishman.”
Grimsby unlocked his rude weapon in a moment, and as he put the iron hilt into the young Scot’s hand, a tear stood in his eye: “When you raise this sword against my countrymen, think on Grimsby, a faithful, though humble soldier of the cross, and spare the blood of all who ask for mercy.”
Murray looked a gracious assent, for the tear of mercy was infectious. Without speaking, he gave the good soldier’s hand a parting grasp; and with regret that superior claims called so brave a man from his side, he saw him leave the monastery.
The mourner banquets on memory; making that which seems the poison of life, its ailment. During the hours of regret we recall the images of departed joys; and in weeping over each tender remembrance, tears so softly shed embalm the wounds of grief. To be denied the privilege of pouring forth our love and our lamentations over the grave of one who in life was our happiness, is to shut up the soul of the survivor in a solitary tomb, where the bereaved heart pines in secret till it breaks with the fullness of uncommunicated sorrow; but listen to the mourner, give his feelings way, and, like the river rolling from the hills into the valley, they will flow with a gradually gentler stream, till they become lost in time’s wide ocean.
So Murray judged when the poor old harper, finding himself alone with him, again gave loose to his often-recapitulated griefs. He wept like an infant; and recounting the afflictions of his master, while bewailing the disasters at Bothwell, implored Murray to go without delay to support the now almost friendless Wallace. Murray was consoling him with the assurance that he would set off for the mountains that very evening, when the prior returned to conduct Halbert to a cell appointed for his novitiate. The good priest had placed one of his most pious fathers there, to administer both temporal and spiritual cordials to the aged sufferer.
The sorrowing domestic of Wallace being thus disposed of, the prior and Murray remained together, consulting on the safest means of passing to the Cartlane hills. A lay brother whom the prior had sent in pursuit of Helen’s fifty warriors, to apprise them of the English being in the craigs, at this juncture entered the library. He informed the father that, secure in his religious garb, he had penetrated many of the Cartlane defiles, but could neither see nor hear anything of the party. Every glen or height was occupied by the English: and from a woman, of whom he begged a draught of milk, he had learned how closely the mountains were invested. The English commander, in his zeal to prevent provisions being conveyed to Wallace and his famishing garrison, had stopped a procession of monks bearing a dead body to the sepulchral cave of St. Columba. He would not allow them to ascend the heights until he had examined whether the bier really bore a corpse, or was a vehicle to carry food to the beleaguered Scots.
In the midst of this information, the prior and his friends were startled by a shout, and soon after a tumult of voices, in which might be distinguished the cry of “A gallows for the traitor!”
“Our brave Englishman has fallen into their hands,” cried Murray, hastening toward the door.
“What would you do?” interrupted the prior, holding him. “Your single arm could not save the soldier. The cross has more power; I will seek these violent men. Meanwhile stay here, as you value the lives of all in the convent.”
Murray had now recollected himself, and acquiesced. The prior took the crucifix from the altar, and ordering the porter to throw open the great doors (near which the incessant shouting seemed to proceed), he appeared before a turbulent band of soldiers, who were dragging a man along, fast bound with their leathern belts. Blood trickling from his face fell on the hands of the ruthless wretches, who, with horrid yells, were threatening him with instant death.
The prior, raising the cross, rushed in among them, and, in the name of the blessed Son who died on that tree, bade them stand! The soldiers trembled before the holy majesty of his figure, and at his awful adjuration. The prior looked on the prisoner, but he did not see the dark locks of the Englishman; it was the yellow hair of Scotland that mingled with the blood on his forehead.
“Whither do you hurry that wounded man?”
“To his death,” answered a surly fellow.
“What is his offense?”
“He is a traitor.”
“How has he proved it?”
“He is a Scot, and he belongs to the disloyal Lord of Mar. This bugle, with its crowned falcon, proves it,” added the Southron, holding up the very bugle which the earl had sent by Halbert to Wallace, and which was ornamented with the crest of Mar wrought in gold.
“That this has been Lord Mar’s,” replied the prior, “there is no doubt; but may not this man have found it? Or may it not have been given to him by the earl, before that chief incurred the displeasure of King Edward? Which of you would think it just to be made to die because your friend was condemned to the scaffold? Unless you substantiate your charge against this man, by a better proof than this bugle, his death would be a murder, which the Lord of life will requite in the perdition of your souls.” As the father spoke, he again elevated the cross: the men turned pale.
“I am a minister of Christ,” continued he, “and must be the friend of justice. Release, therefore, that wounded man to me. Before the altar of the Searcher of all hearts he shall confess himself; and if I find that he is guilty unto death, I promise you by the holy St. Fillan, to release him to your commanding officer, and so let justice take its course. But if he proves innocent, I am the soldier of Christ, and no monarch on earth shall wrest his children from the protection of the church.”
While he spoke, the men who held the prisoner let go their hold, and the prior stretching out his hand, gave him to a party of monks to conduct into the convent. Then, to convince the soldiers that it was the man’s life he sought to save, and not the spoil, he returned the golden bugle, and bade him depart in peace.
Awed by the father’s address, and satisfied with the money and arms of which they had rifled the stranger, the marauders retreated; determining, indeed, to say nothing of the matter to the officer in the castle, lest he should demand the horn; and, elated with the present booty, they marched off to pursue their plundering excursion. Bursting into yeomen’s houses and peasants’ huts, stripping all of their substance who did or did not swear fealty to Edward; thus robbing the latter, and exacting contributions from the former; while vain prayers for mercy and unanswered cries for redress echoed dolefully through the vale of Bothwell, they sped gayly on, as if murder were pastime and rapine honor.
The prior, on returning into the convent, ordered the gates to be bolted. When he entered the chapter-house, finding the monks had already bound up the wounds of the stranger, he made a sign for the brethren to withdraw: and then, approaching the young man, “My son,” said he, in a mild tone, “you heard my declaration to the men from whom I took you! Answer me the truth and you shall find that virtue or repentance have alike a refuge in the arms of the church. As I am its servant, no man need fear to confide in me. Speak with candor! How came you by that bugle?”
The stranger looked steadfastly on his questioner; “A minister of the all righteous God cannot mean to deceive. You have saved my life, and I should be less than man could I doubt the evidence of that deed. I received that bugle from a brave Scot who dwells amongst the eastern mountains; and who gave it to me to assure the Earl of Mar that I came from him.”
The prior apprehended that it was of Wallace he spoke. “You come to request a military aid from the Earl of Mar!” rejoined the father, willing to sound him, before he committed Murray, by calling him to the conference.
The stranger replied: “If, reverend sir, you are in the confidence of the good earl, pronounce but the Christian name of the man who charged me with the bugle, and allow me, then, for his sake, to ask you what has indeed happened to the earl! that I was seized by foes, when I expected to meet with friends only! Reply to this, and I shall speak freely; but at present, though I would confide all of myself to your sacred character, yet the confidence of others is not mine to bestow.”
The prior, being convinced by this caution, that he was indeed speaking with some messenger from Wallace, made no hesitation to answer. “Your master is a knight, and a braver never drew breath since the time of his royal namesake, William the Lion!”
The man rose hastily from his seat, and falling on his knees before the prior, put his garment to his lips: “Father, I now know that I am with a friend of my persecuted master! But if, indeed, the situation of Lord Mar precludes assistance from him, all hope is lost! The noble Wallace is penned within the hills, without any hopes of escape. Suffer me, then, thou venerable saint! to rejoin him immediately, that I may at least die with my friend!”
“Hope for a better destiny,” returned the prior; “I am a servant, and not to be worshiped; turn to that altar, and kneel to Him who can alone send the succor you need!”
The good man, thinking it was now time to call the young lord of Bothwell, by a side-door from the chapter-house entered the library, where Murray was anxiously awaiting his return. On his entrance, the impatient youth eagerly exclaimed, “Have you rescued him?”
“Grimsby, I hope, is far and safely on his journey,” answered the good priest; “but the man those murderers were dragging to death, is in the chapter-house. Follow me, and he will give you news of Wallace.”
Murray gladly obeyed.
At sight of a Scottish knight in armor, the messenger of Wallace thought his prayers were answered, and that he saw before him the leader of the host which was to march to the preservation of his brave commander. Murray told him who he was; and learned from him in return, that Wallace now considered himself in a state of siege; that the women, children, and old men with him, had nothing to feed on but wild strawberries and birds’ eggs, which they found in the hollows of the rocks. “To relieve them from such hard quarters, girded by a barrier of English soldiers,” continued the narrator, “is his first wish: but that cannot be effected by our small number. However, he would make the attempt by a strategem, could we be at all supported by succors from the Earl of Mar!”
“My uncle’s means,” replied Murray, “are for a time cut off: but mine shall be exerted to the utmost. Did you not meet, somewhere, a company of Scots to the number of fifty? I sent them off yesterday to seek your noble chief.”
“No,” rejoined the young man; “I fear they have been taken by the enemy; for in my way to Sir William Wallace, not knowing the English were so close to his sanctuary, I was nearly seized myself. I had not the good fortune to be with him, when he struck the first blow for Scotland in the citadel of Lanark; but as soon as I heard the tale of his wrongs, and that he had retired in arms toward the Cartlane Craigs, I determined to follow his fate. We had been companions in our boyish days, and friends after. He saved my life once, in swimming; and now that a formidable nation menaces his, I seek to repay the debt. For this purpose, a few nights ago I left my guardian’s house by stealth, and sought my way to my friend. I found the banks of the Mouse occupied by the English; but exploring the most intricate passes, at last gained the bottom of the precipice on the top of which Wallace is encamped; and as I lay among the bushes, watching an opportunity to ascend, I perceived two English soldiers near me. They were in discourse, and I overheard them say, that besides Heselrigge himself, nearly two hundred of his garrison had fallen by the hand of Wallace’s men in the contention at the castle; that the tidings were sent to Sir Richard Arnulf, the Deputy-governor of Ayr; and he had dispatched a thousand men to surround the Cartland Craigs, spies having given notice that they were Sir William’s strongholds, and the orders were, that he must be taken dead or alive; while all his adherents, men and women, should receive no quarter.
“Such was the information I brought to my gallant friend, when in the dead of night I mounted the rock, and calling to the Scottish sentinel in Gaelic, gave him my name, and was allowed to enter the sacred spot. Wallace welcomed his faithful Ker,14 and soon unfolded his distress and his hopes. He told me of the famine that threatened his little garrison; of the constant watching, day and night, necessary to prevent a surprise. But in his extremity, he observed that one defile was thinly guarded by the enemy; probably because, as it lay at the bottom of a perpendicular angle of the rock, they thought it unattainable by the Scots. To this point, however, my dauntless friend turns his eyes. He would attempt it, could he procure a sufficient number of fresh men to cover the retreat of his exhausted few. For this purpose, as I had so lately explored the most hidden paths of the craigs, I volunteered to visit the Lord Mar, and to conduct, in safety, any succors he might send to our persecuted leader.”
14 The stem of this brave name, in subsequent times, became two great branches, the Roxburghe and the Lothian.
“This,” continued Ker, “was the errand on which I came to the earl. Think then my horror, when in my journey I found redoubled legions hemming in the hills; and on advancing toward Bothwell Castle, was seized with that nobleman, who, they said, was condemned to lose his head!”
‘Not so bad as that, my brave Ker,” cried Murray, a glow of indignation flushing his cheek; “many a bull’s head15 shall frown in this land, on the Southron tables, before my uncle’s neck gluts their axes! No true Scottish blood, I trust, will ever stain their scaffolds; for while we have arms to wield a sword, he must be a fool that grounds them on any other terms than freedom or death. We have cast our lives on the die; and Wallace’s camp or the narrow house must be our prize!”
15 A bull’s head, presented at a feast, was a sign that some one of the company was immediately to be put to death.-(1809.)
“Noble youth!” exclaimed the prior, “may the innocence which gives animation to your courage, continue its moving soul! They only are invincible who are as ready to die as to live; and no one can be firm in that principle, whose exemplary life is not a happy preparation for the awful change.”
Murray bowed modestly to this pious encomium, and turning to Ker, informed him, that since he must abandon all hope of hearing any more of the fifty brave men his cousin Helen had sent to the craigs, he bethought him of applying to his uncle, Sir John Murray, who dwelt hard by, on his estate at Drumshargard. “It is small,” said he, “and cannot afford many men; but still he may spare sufficient to effect the escape of our commander; and that for the present will be a host!”
To accomplish his design without delay-for promptitude is the earnest of success-and to avoid a surprise from the English lieutenant at Bothwell (who, hearing of the reencounter before the castle, might choose to demand his men’s prisoner). Murray determined to take Ker with him; and, disguised as peasants, as soon as darkness should shroud their movements, proceed to Drumshargard.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59