Guided by Ker, Murray led his followers over the Lanark Hills, by the most untrodden paths; and hence avoided even the sight of a Southron soldier.
Cheered by so favourable a commencement of their expedition, they even felt no dismay when, in the gloom of the evening, Ker descried a body of armed men at a distance, sitting round a fire at the foot of a beetling rock which guards the western entrance to the Cartlane Craigs. Murray ordered his men to proceed under covert of the bushes; and then making the signal (concerted in case of such dilemma), they stuck their iron crows into the interstices of the cliff, and catching at the branches which grew out of its precipitous side, with much exertion, but in perfect silence, at last gained the summit. That effected, they pursued their way with the same caution, till after a long march, and without encountering a human being, they reached the base of the huge rock which Wallace had made his fortress.
Ker, who expected to find it surrounded by the English army, was amazed at the deathlike solitude. “The place is deserted,” cried he. “My brave friend, compelled by the extremity of his little garrison, has been obliged to surrender.”
“We will ascend and see,” was Murray’s answer.
Ker led round the rock to the most accessible point; and, mounting by the projecting stones, with some difficulty gained the top. Silence pervaded every part; and the rugged cavities at the summit, which had formed the temporary quarters of his comrades, were lonely. On entering the recess where Wallace used to seek a few minutes’ slumber, the moon, which shone full into the cave, discovered something bright lying in a distant corner. Ker hastily approached it, recollecting what means of escape, he would leave some weapon as a sign; a dagger, if necessity drove him to the south point, where he must fight his way through the valley; an arrow, if he could effect it without observation, by the north, as he should then seek an asylum for his exhausted followers in the far-of wilds of Glenfinlass.
It was the iron head of an arrow which the moon had silvered; and Ker, catching it up, with a gladdened countenance exclaimed, “He is safe! this calls us to Glenfinlass.” He then explained to Murray what had been the arrangement of Wallace respecting this sign, and without hesitation the young lord decided to follow him up that track.
Turning toward the northern part of the cliff, they came to spot beneath which had been the strongest guard of the enemy, but now, like the rest, it was entirely abandoned. A narrow winding path led from this rocky platform to a fall of water, rearing and rushing by the mouth of a large cavern. After they had descended the main craig, they clambered over the top of this cave, and, entering upon another sweep of rugged hills, commenced a rapid march.
Traversing the lower part of Stirlingshire, they crossed Graham’s Dike;17 and pursuing their course westward, left Stirling Castle far to the right. They ascended the Ochil Hills, and proceeding along the wooded heights which overhang the banks of Teith, forded that river, and entered at once into the broad valley which opened to them a distant view of Ben Lomond and Ben Ledi.
17 The great wall of Severus, which runs between Abercorn and Kirkpatrick, being attacked by the Scotts at the time the Romans abandoned Britain, a huge breach was made in it by Graham (or Greame), the uncle of the young king of Scots. By this achievement he conquered the whole of the country as far as the Cheviots, and the wall of Severus has since been called Graham’s Dike-(1809.)
“There,” exclaimed Ker, extending his hand toward the cloud-capped Ledi, “beneath the shadow of that mountain, we shall find the light of Scotland, our dear master in arms!”
At this intimation, the wearied Murrays-like seamen long harassed on a tempestuous ocean at sight of a port-uttered a shout of joy; and hastening forward with renovated strength, met a foaming river in their path. Despising all obstacles, they rushed in, and, buffeting the waves, soon found a firm footing on the opposite shore. The sun shone cheerily above their heads, illuminating the umbrageous sides of the mountains with a dewy splendor, while Ben Ledi, the standard of their hope, seemed to wave them on, as the white clouds streamed from its summit, or, rolling down its dark sides, floated in strange visionary shapes over the lakes beneath.
When the little troop halted on the shore of Loch Venachoir, the mists which had lingered on the brow of Ledi slowly descended into the valley; and covering the mouth of the pass that led from the loch, seemed to shut them at once between the mountain and that world of waters. Ker, who had never been in these tracks before, wondered at their sublimity, and became alarmed lest they should lose their way amid such infinite windings. But Murray, who remembered having once explored them with his father, led promptly forward by a steep, rough road in the side of the mountain. As they clung by the slippery rocks which overhung the lake, its mists dissolved into a heavy shower, and, by degrees clearing away, discovered the shining heads of Ben Lomond and Ben Chochan.
The party soon entered a precipitous labyrinth of craigs; and, passing onward, gradually descended amid pouring torrents, and gaping chasms overlaced with branching trees, till the augmented roar of waters intimated to Murray, they drew near the great fall of Glenfinlass. The river, though rushing on its course with the noise of thunder, was scarcely discerned through the thick forest which groaned over its waves. Here towered a host of stately pines; and there the lofty beeches, birches, and mountain-oak, bending over the flood, interwove their giant arms; forming an arch so impenetrable, that while the sun brightened the tops of the mountains, all beneath lay in deepest midnight.
The awful entrance to this sublime valley struck the whole party with a feeling that made them pause. It seemed as it to these sacred solitudes, hidden in the very bosom of Scotland, no hostile foot dared intrude. Murray looked at Ker. “We go, my friend, to arouse the genius of our country! Here are the native fastnesses of Scotland; and from this pass the spirit will issue that is to bid her enslaved sons and daughters be free.”
They entered, and with beating hearts pursued their way along the western border of Loch Lubnaig, till the royal heights of Craignacoheilg showed their summits, covered with heath and many an ivied turret. The forest, stretching far over the valley, lost its high trees in the shadows of the surrounding mountains, and told them they were now in the center of Glenfinlass.
Ker put his bugle to his lips, and sounded the pibroch of Ellerslie. A thousand echoes returned the notes; and after a pause, which allowed their last response to die away, the air was answered by a horn from the heights of Cragnacoheilg. An armed man then appeared on the rock, leaning forward. Ker drew near, and taking off his bonnet, called aloud: “Stephen! it is William Ker who speaks. I come with the Lord Andrew Murray of Bothwell, to the support of our commander, Sir William Wallace.”
At these words, Stephen placed his bugle to his mouth, and in a few minutes the rock was covered with the members of its little garrison. Women and children appeared, shouting with joy; and the men, descending the side near the glen, hastened to bid their comrade welcome. One advanced toward Murray, whom he instantly recognized to be Sir Roger Kirkpatrick of Torthorald. The chiefs saluted each other; and Lord Andrew pointed to his men: “I have brought,” said he, “these few brave fellows to the aid of Sir William Wallace. They should have been more, but for new events of Southron outrage. Yet I am impatient to lead them to the presence of my uncle’s preserver.”
Kirkpatrick’s answer disappointed the eager spirit of the young warrior: “I am sorry, brave Murray, that you have no better knight to receive you than myself. I and the gallant chief have not yet met; but I am in arms for him; and the hour of retribution for all our injuries, I trust, is at hand.”
“But where is Sir William Wallace?” demanded Murray.
“Gone toward the Forth, to rouse that part of sleeping Scotland. If all he meet have my spirit, they will not require a second call. Now is the time to aim the blow; I shall ever give thanks to the accident which brought me the welcome news, that an arm is raised to strike it home.”
As he spoke, he led Murray to the rampart-like cliffs which crown the summit of Craignacoheilg. In the midst stood a tower, which had once been a favorite hunting-lodge of the great King Fergus. There Kirkpatrick joyfully greeted his guest a second time: “This,” said he, “is the far-famed lodge of the three kings: here did our lion, Fergus, attended by his royal allies, Durstus the Pict, and Dionethus the Briton, spread his board during their huntings in Glenfinlass! And here eight hundred years ago, did the same heroic prince form the plans which saved his kingdom from a foreign yoke! On the same spot we will lay ours; and in their completion, rescue Scotland from a tyranny more intolerable than that which menaced him. Yes, Murray; there is not a stone in this building that does not call aloud to us to draw the sword, and hold it unsheathed till our country be free.”
“And by the ghost of that same Fergus, I swear,” exclaimed Murray, “that my honest claymore shall never shroud its head while an invader be left alive in Scotland.”
Kirkpatrick caught him in his arms. “Brave son of the noble Bothwell, thou art after mine own heart! The blow which the dastard Cressingham durst aim at a Scottish chief, still smarts upon my cheek; and rivers of his countrymen’s blood shall wash out the stain. After I had been persuaded by his serpent eloquence to swear fealty to Edward on the defeat at Dunbar, I vainly thought that Scotland had only changed a weak and unfortunate prince for a wise and victorious king; but when in the courts of Stirling, I heard Cressingham propose to the barons north of the dike, that they should give their strongest castles into English hands; when I opposed the measure with all the indignation of a Scot who saw himself betrayed, he first tried to overturn my arguments, and finding that impossible, while I repeated them with redoubled force-he struck me!-Powers of earth and heaven, what was then the tempest of my soul!-I drew my sword-I would have laid him dead at my feet, had not my obsequious countrymen held my arm, and dragged me from the apartment.
“Covered with dishonor by a blow I could not avenge. I fled to my brother-in-law, Sir John Scott, of Loch Doine. With him I buried my injury from the world; but it lived in my heart-it haunted me day and night, calling for revenge.
“In such an hour, how did I receive the tidings, that Sir William Wallace was in arms against the tyrant! It was the voice of retribution, calling me to peace of mind! Even my bedridden kinsman partook my emotions; and with his zealous concurrence, I led a band of his hardiest clansmen, to reinforce the brave men of Lanark on this rock.
“Two days I have now been here, awaiting in anxious impatience the arrival of Wallace. Yes! we will mingle our injured souls together! He has made one offering; I must make another! We shall set forth to Stirling; and there, in the very heart of his den, I will sacrifice the tiger Cressingham, to the vengeance of our wrongs.”
“But what, my brave friend,” asked Murray, “are the forces you deem sufficient for so great an enterprise? How many fighting men may be counted of Wallace’s own company, besides your own?”
“We have here about a hundred,” replied Kirkpatrick, “including yours.”
“How inadequate to storm so formidable a place as Stirling Castle!” returned Murray. “Having, indeed, passed the Rubicon, we must go forward, but resolution, not rashness, should be the principle of our actions. And my opinion is, that a few minor advantages obtained, our countrymen would flock to our standard, the enemy would be intimidated, and we should carry thousands, instead of hundreds, before the walls of Stirling. To attempt it now would invite defeat, and bring upon us the ruin of our entire project.”
“You are right, young man,” cried Kirkpatrick; “my gray head, rendered impetuous by insult, did not pause on the blind temerity of my scheme. I would rather for years watch the opportunity of taking a signal revenge than not accomplish it at last. Oh! I would rather waste all my life in these solitary wilds and know that at the close of it I should see the blood of Cressingham on these hands than live a prince and die unrevenged!”
Stephen and Ker now entered; the latter paid his respects to Sir Roger, and the former informed Murray that having disposed his present followers with those who had arrived before, he was come to lead their lord to some refreshment in the banqueting room of the tower. “What?” cried Murray, full of glad amazement; “is it possible that my cousin’s faithful band has reached its destination? None other belonging to Bothwell Castle had any chance of escaping its jailer’s hands.”
Kirkpatrick interrupted Stephen’s reply by saying that while their guests were at the board he would watch the arrival of certain expresses from two brave Drummonds, each of whom was to send him a hundred men: “So, my good Lord Andrew,” cried he, striking him on the shoulder, “shall the snow-launch gather that is to fall on Edward to his destruction.”
Murray heartily shared his zeal, and bidding him a short adieu, followed Stephen and Ker into the hall. A haunch of venison of Glenfinlass smoked on the board, and goblets of wine from the bounteous cellars of Sir John Scott brightened the hopes which glowed in every heart.
While the young chieftains were recruiting their exhausted strength, Stephen sat at the table to satisfy the anxiety of Murray to know how the detachment from Bothwell had come to Craignacoheilg, and by what fortunate occurrence, or signal act of bravery, Wallace could have escaped with his whole train from the foe surrounding Cartlane Craigs.
“Heaven smiled on us!” replied Stephen. “The very evening of the day on which Ker left us there was a carousal in the English camp. We heard the sound of the song and of riot, and of many an insult cast upon our besieged selves. But about an hour after sunset the noise sunk by degrees-a no insufficient hint that the revelers, overcome by excess, had fallen asleep. At this very time, owing to the heat of the day, so great a vapor had been exhaled from the lake beneath that the whole of the northern side of the fortress cliff was covered with a mist so exceedingly thick we could not discern each other at a foot’s distance. ‘Now is the moment!’ said our gallant leader; ‘the enemy are stupefied with wine, the rock is clothed in a veil!-it is the shield of God that is held before us! under its shelter let us pass from their hands!”
“He called us together, and making the proper dispositions, commanded the children and women, on their lives, to keep silence. He then led us to the top of the northern cliff; it overhung an obscure cave which he knew opened at its extremity. By the assistance of a rope, held above by several men, our resolute chief (twisting it round one arm to steady him, and with the other catching by the projecting stones of the precipice) made his way down the rock, and was the first who descended. He stood at the bottom, enveloped in the cloud which shrouded the mountain, till all the men of the first division had cleared the height; he then marshaled them with their pikes toward the foe, in case of an alarm. But all remained quiet on that spot, although the sounds of voices, both in song and laughter, intimated that the utmost precaution was still necessary, as a wakeful and yet reveling part of the enemy were not far distant.
“Wallace reascended the rock half way; and receiving the children, which their trembling mothers lowered into this arms, he handed them to the old men, who carried them safely through the bushes which obscured the cave’s mouth. The rest of our little garrison soon followed; then our sentinels, receiving the signal that all were safe, drew silently from their guard, and closed our march through the cavern.
“This effected, we blocked up its egressing mouth, that, should our escape be discovered, the enemy might not find the direct road we had taken.
“We pursued our course without stop or stay till we reached the hospitable valleys of Stirlingshire. There some king shepherds gave the woman and children temporary shelter; and Wallace, seeing that if anything were to be done for Scotland, he must swell the host, put the part under my guidance, giving me orders that when they were rested I should march them to Glenfinlass, here to await his return. Selecting ten men, with that small band he turned toward the Forth, hoping to meet some valiant friends in that part of the country read to embrace her cause.
“He had hardly been an hour departed when Dugald observed a procession of monks descending the opposite mountain. They drew near and halted in the glen. A crowd of women from the neighboring hills had followed the train, and were now gathering around a bier which the monks set down. I know not by what happy fortune I came close to the leader of the procession, but he saw something in my old rough features that declared me an honest Scot. ‘Friend,’ whispered he, ‘for charity conduct us to some safe place where we may withdraw this bier from the sacrilegious eye of curiosity.’
“I made no hesitation, but desired the train to follow me into a byre belonging to the good shepherd who was my host. On this motion the common people went away, and the monks entered the place.
“When the travelers threw up their hoods, which as mourners they had worn over their faces, I could not help exclaiming, ‘Alas, for the glory of Scotland, that this goodly group of stout young men rather wear the cowl than the helmet!’ ‘How!’ asked their principal (who did not appear to have seen thirty years), ‘do we not pray for the glory of Scotland? Such is our weapon.’ ‘True,’ replied I, ‘but while Moses prayed Joshua fought. God gives the means of glory that they should be used.’ ‘But for what, old veteran,’ said the monk, with a penetrating look, ‘should we exchange our cowl for the helmet? knowest thou anything of the Joshua who would lead us to the field?’ There was something in the young priest’s eyes that seemed to contradict his pacific words; they flashed as impetuous fire. My reply was short: ‘Are you a Scot?’ ‘I am, in soul and in arms.’ ‘Then knowest thou not the chief of Ellerslie?’ As I spoke, for I stood close to the bier, I perceived the pall shake. The monk answered my last question with an exclamation-‘You mean Sir William Wallace!’
“‘Yes!’ I replied. The bier shook more violently at these words, and, with my hair bristling from my head, I saw the pall hastily thrown off, and a beautiful youth, in a shroud, started from it, crying aloud, ‘Then is our pilgrimage at an end! Lead us to him!’
“The monk perceived my terror, and hastily exclaimed. ‘Fear not! he is alive, and seeks Sir William Wallace. His pretended death was a stratagem to insure our passage through the English army; for we are soldiers like yourself.’ As he spoke, he opened his gray habit, and showed me the mailed tartans beneath.”
“What, then!” interrupted Murray, “these monks were my faithful clansmen?”
“The same,” replied Stephen; “I assured them that they might now resume their own character; for all who inhabited the valley we were then in were true, though poor and aged Scots. The young had long been drafted by Edward’s agents, to fight his battles abroad.
“‘Ah!’ interrupted the shrouded youth, ‘are we a people that can die for the honor of this usurper, and are we ignorant how to do it for our country? Lead us, soldier of Wallace,’ cried he, stepping resolutely on the ground, ‘lead us to your brave master; and tell him that a few determined men are come to shed their blood for him and Scotland.’
“This astonishing youth (for he did not appear to be more than fifteen) stood before me in his robes of death, like the spirit of some bright-haired son of Fingal. I looked on him with admiration; and explaining our situation, told him whither Wallace was gone, and of our destination to await him in the forest of Glenfinlass.
“While your brave clansmen were refreshing themselves, we learned from Kenneth, their conductor, that the troop left Bothwell under expectation of your soon following them. They had well under expectation of our soon following them. They had not proceeded far before their scouts perceived the outposts of the English, which surrounded Cartlane Craigs; and to avoid this danger, they took a circuitous path, in hopes of finding some at the western side of the craigs. Kenneth knew the abbot; and entering it under covert of the night, obtained permission for his men to rest there. The youth, now their companion, was a student in the church. He had been sent thither by his mother, a pious lady, in the hope that, as he is of a very gentle nature, he would attach himself to the sacred tonsure. But courage often springs with most strength in the softest frames.
“The moment this youth discovered our errand he tried every persuasion to prevail on the abbot to permit him to accompany us. But his entreaties were vain, till wrought up to vehement anger he threatened that if he were prevented joining Sir William Wallace, he would take the earliest opportunity to escape, and commit himself to the peril of the English pikes.
“Seeing him determined the abbot granted his wish; ‘and then it was,’ said Kenneth, ‘that the youth seemed inspired. It was no longer an enthusiastic boy we saw before us, but an angel, gifted with wisdom to direct and enterprise to lead us. It was he proposed disguising ourselves as a funeral procession; and while he painted his blooming countenance of a death-like paleness and stretched himself on this bier, the abbot sent to the English army to request permission for a party of monks to cross the craigs to the cave of St. Colomba, in Stirlingshire, whither they carried a dead brother to be entombed. Our young leader hoped we might thus find an opportunity to apprise Wallace we were friends, and ready to swell the ranks of his little armament.
“‘On our entrance into the passes of the craigs,’ continued Kenneth, ‘the English captain there mentioned the fate of Bothwell, and the captivity of Lord Mar; and with very little courtesy to sons of the church, ordered the bier to be opened, to see whether it did really contain a corpse, or provisions for our besieged countrymen. We had certainly expected this investigation; else we might as well have wrapped the trunk of a tree in the shroud we carried as a human being. We knew that the superstitious hatred of the Southrons would not allow them to touch a Scottish corpse, and therefore we feared no detection from the eye’s examination alone. This ceremony once over, we expected to have passed on without further notice; and in that case the youth would have left his pall, and performed the remainder of his journey in a similar disguise with the rest; but the strict watch of an English guard confined him wholly to the bier. In hopes of at last evading this vigilance, on pretense of a vow of the deceased that his bearers should perform a pilgrimage throughout the craigs, we traversed them in every direction; and, I make no doubt, would have finally wearied out our guard, and gained our point, had not the circumstance transpired of Wallace’s escape.
“‘How he had effected it, his enemies could not guess. Not a man of the besiegers was missing from his post; and not an avenue appeared by which they could trace his flight: but gone he was, and with him his whole train. On this disappointment the Southron captains retired to Glasgow, to their commander-in-chief, to give as good an account as they could of so disgraceful a termination of their siege. Dismayed at this intelligence, our peculiar guard hurried us into Stirlingshire, and left us at the other side of the mountain. But even then we were not free to release our charge, for, attracted by our procession, the country people followed us into the valley. Yet had we not met with you, it was our design to throw off our disguises in the first place, and, divided into small bands, have severally sought Sir William Wallace.”
“But where,” demanded Murray, who had listened with delighted astonishment to this recital, “where is this admirable youth? Why, if Kenneth have learned I am arrived, does he not bring him to receive my thanks and friendship?”
“It is my fault,” returned Stephen, “that Kenneth will not approach you till your repast is over. I left him to see your followers properly refreshed. And for the youth, he seems timid of appearing before you. Even his name I cannot make known to you till he reveals it himself: none know him here by any other name than that of Edwin. He has, however, granted tomorrow morning for the interview.”
“I must submit to his determination,” replied Murray; “but I am at a loss to guess why so brave a creature should hesitate to meet me. I can only suppose he dislikes the idea of resigning the troop he has so well conducted; and if so, I shall think it my duty to yield its command to him.”
“Indeed he richly deserves it,” returned Stephen; “for the very soul of Wallace seemed transfused into his breast, as he cheered us through our long march from the valley to Glenfinlass; he played with the children, heartened up the women; and when the men were weary, and lagged by the way, he sat down on the nearest stones, and sung to us legends of our ancestors, till every nerve was braced with warlike emulation, and starting up, we proceeded onward with resolution and even gayety.
“When we arrived at Craignacoheilg, as the women were in great want, I suddenly recollected that I had an old friend in the neighborhood. When a boy, I had been the playfellow of Sir John Scott of Loch Doine; and though I understood him to be now an invalid, I went to him. When I told my tale, his brother-in-law, Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, took fire at my relation, and declared his determination to accompany me to Craignacoheilg; and when he joined our band on the summit of this rock, he took the children in his arms, and while he held their hands in his, vehemently addressed their mothers, ‘Let not these hands be baptized,18 till they had been washed in the blood of our foe. Mercy belongs not to the enemy, now doomed to fall beneath their father’s swords!’”
18 It was a custom with Scottish chiefs when any feud existed between their families, to leave the right hand of their children untouched by the holy water in baptism, as a sign that no law, even of Heaven, should prevent them taking revenge.
“It is, indeed a deadly contest,” rejoined Murray; “for evil has been the example of that foe. How many innocent bosoms have their steel pierced! How many helpless babes have their merciless hands dashed against the stones! Oh, ruthless war! even a soldier trembles to contemplate thy horrors.”
“Only till he can avenge them!” cried a stern voice, entering the apartment. It was Kirkpatrick’s, and he proceeded: “When vengeance is in our grasp, tell me, brave Murray, who will then tremble? Dost thou not feel retribution in thine own hands? Dost thou not see the tyrant’s blood at thy feet?” As he spoke, he looked down, with a horrid exultation in his eyes; and, bursting into a more horrible laugh, struck his hand several times on his heart: “It glads me! I shall see it-and this arm shall assist to pull him down.”
“His power in Scotland may fall,” returned Murray; “but Edward will be too careful of his life to come within reach of our steel.”
“That may be,” rejoined Kirkpatrick; “but my dagger shall yet drink the blood of his agents. Cressingham shall feel my foot upon his neck! Cressingham shall see that hand torn from its wrist, which durst to violate the unsullied cheek of a true Scotsman. Murray, I cannot live unrevenged.”
As he spoke, he quitted the apartment, and with a countenance of such tremendous fate, that the young warrior doubted it was human; it spoke not the noble resolves of patriotism, but the portentous malignity with which the great adversary of mankind determines the ruin of nations; it seemed to wither the grass on which he moved; and Murray almost thought that the clouds darkened as the gloomy knight issued from the porch into the open air.
Kenneth Mackenzie joyfully entered the hall. Murray received him with a warm embrace; and, soon after, Stephen Ireland led the wearied chieftain to a bed of freshly-gathered heath, prepared for him in an upper chamber.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59