In the cool of the evening, while the young chieftain was thus employed, Kenneth entered to tell him that Sir William Wallace had called out his little army, to see its strength and numbers. Edwin’s soul had become not more enamoured of the panoply of war than the gracious smiles of his admired leader, and at this intelligence he threw his plans over his brigandine, and placing a swan-plumed bonnet on his brows, hastened forth to meet his general.
The heights of Craignacoheilg echoed with thronging footsteps, and a glittering light seemed issuing from her woods, as the rays of the descending sun glanced on the arms of her assembling warriors.
The thirty followers of Murray appeared just as the two hundred Frasers entered from an opening in the rocks. Blood mounted into his face as he compared his inferior numbers and recollected the obligation they were to repay, and the greater one he was now going to incur. However he threw the standard worked by Helen on his shoulder, and turning to Wallace, “Behold,” cried he, pointing to his men, “the poor man’s mite! It is great, for it is my all!”
“Great, indeed, brave Murray!” returned Wallace, “for it brings me a host in yourself.”
“I will not disgrace my standard!” said he, lowering the banner-staff to Wallace. He started when he saw the flowing lock, which he could not help recognizing. “This is my betrothed,” continued Murray in a blither tone; “I have sworn to take her for better for worse, and I pledge you my truth nothing but death shall part us!”
Wallace grasped his hand. “And I pledge you mine, that the head whence it drew shall be laid low before I suffer so generous a defender to be separated, dead or alive, from this standard.” His eyes glanced at the empress; “Thou art right,” continued he; “God doth goest with the confidence of success, to embrace victory as a bride!”
“No, I am only the bridegroom’s man!” replied Murray, gayly moving off; “I shall be content with a kiss or two from the handmaids, and leave the lady for my general.”
“Happy, happy youth!” said Wallace to himself, as his eyes pursued the agile footsteps of the young chieftain; “no conquering affection has yet thrown open thy heart; no deadly injury hath lacerated it with wounds incurable. Patriotism is a virgin passion in thy breast, and innocence and joy wait upon her!”
“We just muster five hundred men!” observed Ker to Wallace; “but they are all stout in heart as in condition, and ready, even to-night, if you will it, to commence their march.”
“No,” replied Wallace; “we must not overstrain the generous spirit. Let them rest to-night, and to-morrow’s dawn shall light us through the forest.”
Ker, who acted as henchman to Wallace, now returned to the ranks to give the word, and they marched forward.
Sir Alexander Scrymgeour, with his golden standard charged with the lion of Scotland, led the van. Wallace raised his bonnet from his head, as it drew near. Scrymgeour lowered the staff; Wallace threw up his outstretched hand at this action, but the knight not understanding him, he stepped forward. “Sir Alexander Scrymgeour,” cried he, “that standard must now bow to me. It represents the royalty of Scotland, before which we fight for our liberties. If virtue yet dwell in the house of the valiant St. David, some of his offspring will hear of this day, and lead it forward to conquest and to a crown. Till such an hour, let not that standard bend to any man.”
Wallace fell back as he spoke, and Scrymgeour, bowing his head in sign of acquiescence marched on.
Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, at the head of his well-appointed Highlanders next advanced. His blood-red banner streamed to the air, and as it bent to Wallace he saw that the indignant knight had adopted the device of the hardy King Archaius,20 but with a fiercer motto-“Touch, and I pierce!”
20 Archaius, King of Scotland, took for his device the thistle and the Rewe, and for his motto, “For my defense.”
“That man,” thought Wallace, as he passed along, “carried a relentless sword in his very eye!”
The men of Loch Doine, a strong, tall and well-armed body, marched on, and gave place to the advancing corps of Bothwell. The eye of Wallace felt as if turning from gloom and horror to the cheerful light of day, when it fell on the bright and indigenuous face of Murray. Kenneth with his troop followed; and the youthful Edwin, like Cupid in arms, closed the procession.
Being drawn up in line, their chief, fully satisfied, advanced toward them, and expressing his sentiments of the patriotism which brought them into the field, informed them of his intended march. He then turned to Stephen Ireland: “The sun has now set,” said he, “and before dark you must conduct the families of my worthy Lanarkment to the protection of Sir John Scott. It is time that age, infancy, and female weakness should cease their wanderings with us; to-night we bid them adieu, to meet them again, by the leading of the Lord of Hosts, in freedom and prosperity!”
As Wallace ceased, and was retiring from the ground, several old men, and young women with their babes in their arms, rushed from behind the ranks, and throwing themselves at his feet, caught hold of his hands and garments. “We go,” said the venerable fathers, “to pray for your welfare; and sure we are, a crown will bless our country’s benefactor, here or in heaven!”
“In heaven,” replied Wallace, shaking the plumes of his bonnet over his eyes, to hide the moisture which suffused them; “I can have no right to any other crown.”
“Yes,” cried a hoary-headed shepherd, “you free your country from tyrants, and the people’s hearts will proclaim their deliverer their sovereign!”
“May your rightful monarch, worthy patriarch,” said Wallace, “whether a Bruce of a Baliol, meet with equal zeal from Scotland at large; and tyranny must then fall before courage and loyalty!”
The women wept as they clung to his hand and the daughter of Ireland, holding up her child in her arms, presented it to him. “Look on my son!” cried she, with energy; “the first word he speaks shall be Wallace; the second liberty. And every drop of milk he draws from my bosom, shall be turned into blood to nerve a conquering arm, or to flow for his country!”
At this speech all the women held up their children toward him. “Here,” cried they, “we devote them to Heaven, and to our country! Adopt them, noble Wallace, to be thy followers in arms, when, perhaps, their fathers are laid low!”
Unable to speak, Wallace pressed their little faces separately to his lips, then returning them to their mothers, laid his hand on his heart, and answered in an agitated voice. “They are mine!-my weal shall be theirs-my woe my own.” As he spoke he hurried from the weeping group, and emerging amid the cliffs, hid himself from their tears and their blessing.
He threw himself on a shelving rock, whose fern-covered bosom projected over the winding waters of Loch Lubnaig, and having stilled his own anguished recollections, he turned his full eyes on the lake beneath; and while he contemplated its serene surface, he sighed, and thought how tranquil was nature, till the rebellious passions of man, wearying of innocent joys, disturbed all by restlessness and invasion on the peace and happiness of others.
The mists of evening hung on the gigantic tops of Ben Ledi and Ben Vorlich; then sailing forward, by degrees obscured the whole of the mountains, leaving nothing for the eye to dwell on but the long silent expanse of the waters below.
“So,” said he, “did I once believe myself forever shut in from the world, by an obscurity that promised me happiness as well as seclusion! But the hours of Ellerslie are gone! No tender wife will now twine her faithful arms around my neck. Alas, the angel that sunk my country’s wrongs to a dreamy forgetfulness in her arms, she was to be immolated that I might awake! My wife, my unborn babe, they must both bleed for Scotland!-and the sacrifice shall not be yielded in vain. No, blessed God,” cried he, stretching his clasped hands toward my countrymen to liberty and happiness! Let me counsel with thy wisdom; let me conquer with thine arm! and when all is finished, give me, O gracious Father! a quiet grave, beside my wife and child.”
Tears, the first he had shed since the hour in which he last pressed his Marion to his heart, now flowed copiously from his eyes. The women, the children, had aroused all his recollections but in so softened a train, that they melted his heart till he wept. “It is thy just tribute, Marion,” said he; “it was blood you shed for me, and shall I check these poor drops? Look on me, sweet saint, best-beloved of my soul; O! hover near me in the day of battle, and thousands of thine and Scotland’s enemies shall fall before thy husband’s arm!”
The plaintive voice of the Highland pipe at this moment broke upon his ear. It was the farewell of the patriarch Lindsay, as he and his departing company descended the winding paths of Craignacoheilg. Wallace started on his feet. The separation had then taken place between his trusty followers and their families; and guessing the feelings of those brave men from what was passing in his own breast, he dried away the traces of his tears, and once more resuming the warrior’s cheerful look, sought that part of the rock where the Lanarkmen were quartered.
As he drew near he saw some standing on the cliff and others leaning over, to catch another glance of the departing group ere it was lost amid the shades of Glenfinlass.
“Are they quite gone?” asked Dugald.
“Quite,” answered a young man, who seemed to have got the most advantageous situation for a view.
“Then,” cried he, “may St. Andrew keep them until we meet again!”
“May a greater than St. Andrew hear thy prayer!” ejaculated Wallace. At the sound of this response from their chief they all turned round. “My brave companions,” said he, “I come to repay this hour’s pangs by telling you that, in the attack of Dumbarton, you shall have the honor of first mounting the walls. I shall be at your head, to sign each brave soldier with a patriot’s seal of honor.”
“To follow you, my lord,” said Dugald, “is our duty.”
“I grant it,” replied the chief; “and as I am the leader in that duty, it is mine to dispense to every man his reward; to prove to all men that virtue alone is true nobility.”
“Ah, dearest sir!” exclaimed Edwin, who had been assisting the women to carry their infants down the steep, and on reascending heard the latter part of this conversation; “deprive me not of the aim of my life! These warriors have had you long-have distinguished themselves in your eyes. Deprive me not, then, of the advantages of being near you; it will make me doubly brave. Oh, my dear commander, let me only carry to the grave the consciousness that, next to yourself, I was the first to mount the rock of Dumbarton, and you will make me noble indeed!”
Wallace looked at him with a smile of such graciousness, that the youth threw himself into his arms. “You will grant my boon?”
“I will, noble boy,” said he; “act up to your sentiments, and you shall be my brother.”
“Call me by that name,” cried Edwin, “and I will dare anything.”
“Then be the first to follow me on the rock,” said he, “and I will lead you to an honor, the highest in my gift; you shall unloose the chains of the Earl of Mar! And ye,” continued he, commemorate the duty of such sons. Being the first to strike the blow for her freedom, ye shall be the first she will distinguish. I now speak as her minister; and, as a badge to times immemorial, I bid you wear the Scottish lion on your shields.”
A shout of proud joy issued from every heart; and Wallace, seeing that honor had dried the tears of regret, left them to repose. He sent Edwin to his rest; and himself, avoiding the other chieftains, retired to his own chamber in the tower.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53