Profound as was the rest of Wallace, yet the first clarion of the lark awakened him. The rosy dawn shone in at the window, and a fresh breeze wooed him with its inspiring breath to rise and meet it. But the impulse was in his own mind; he needed nothing outward to call him to action. Rising immediately, he put on his glittering hauberk; and issuing from the tower, raised his bugle to his lips, and blew so rousing a blast, that in an instant the whole rock was covered with soldiers.
Wallace placed his helmet on his head, and advanced toward them, just as Edwin had joined him, and Sir Roger Kirkpatrick appeared from the tower. “Blessed be this morn!” cried the old knight. “My sword springs from its scabbard to meet it; and ere its good steel be sheathed again,” continued he, shaking it sternly, “what deaths may dye its point!”
Wallace shuddered at the ferocity with which his colleague contemplated this feature of war from which every humane soldier would seek to turn his thoughts, that he might encounter it with the steadiness of a man, and not the irresolution of a woman. To hail the field of blood with the fierceness of a hatred eager for the slaughter of its victim-to know any joy in combat but that each contest might render another less necessary-did not enter into the imagination of Wallace until he had heard and seen the infuriate Kirkpatrick. He talked of the coming battle with horrid rapture, and told the young Edwin he should that day see Loch Lomond red with English blood.
Offended at such savageness, but without answering him, Wallace drew toward Murray, and calling to Edwin, ordered him to march at his side. The youth seemed glad of the summons, and Wallace was pleased to observe it, as he thought that a longer stay with one who so grossly overcharged the feelings of honest patriotism, might breed disgust in his innocent mind against a cause which had so furious and therefore unjust a defender.
“Justice and mercy ever dwell together,” said he to Edwin, who now drew near him; “for universal love is the parent of justice, as well as of mercy. But implacable Revenge! whence did she spring, but from the head of Satan himself?”
Though their cause appeared the same, never were two spirits more discordant than those of Wallace and Kirkpatrick. But Kirkpatrick did not so soon discover the dissimilarity; as it is easier for purity to descry its opposite, than for foulness to apprehend that anything can be purer than itself.
The forces being marshaled according to the preconcerted order, the three commanders, with Wallace at their head, led forward.
They passed through the forest of Glenfinlass; and morning and evening still found them threading its unsuspected solitudes in unmolested security; night, too, watched their onward march.
The sun had just risen as the little band of patriots, the hope of freedom, emerged upon the eastern bank of Loch Lomond. The bases of the mountains were yet covered with the dispersing mist of the morning, and hardly distinguishable from the blue waters of the lake, which lashed the shore. The newly-awakened sheep bleated from the hills, and the umbrageous herbage, dropping dew, seemed glittering with a thousand fairy gems.
“Where is the man who would not fight for such a country?” exclaimed Murray, as he stepped over a bridge of interwoven trees, which crossed one of the mountain streams. “This land was not made for slaves. Look at these bulwarks of nature! Every mountain-head which forms this chain of hills is an impregnable rampart against invasion. If Baliol had possessed but half a heart, Edward might have returned even worse than Caesar-without a cockle to decorate his helmet.”
“Baliol has found the oblivion he incurred,” returned Wallace; “his son, perhaps, may better deserve the scepter of such a country. Let us cut the way, and he who merits the crown will soon appear to claim it.”
“Then it will not be Edward Baliol!” rejoined Scrymgeour. “During the inconsistent reign of his father, I once carried a despatch to him from Scotland. He was then banqueting in all the luxuries of the English court; and such a voluptuary I never beheld! I left the scene of folly, only praying that so effeminate a prince might never disgrace the throne of our manly race of kings.”
“If such be the tuition of our lords in the court of Edward-and wise is the policy for his own views!” observed Ker, “what can we expect from even the Bruce? They were ever a nobler race than the Baliol; but bad education and luxury will debase the most princely minds.”
“I saw neither of the Bruce when I visited London,” replied Scrymgeour; “the Earl of Carrick was at his house in Cleveland, and Robert Bruce, his eldest son, with the English army in Guienne. But they bore a manly character, particularly young Robert, to whom the troubadours of Aquitaine have given the flattering appellation of Prince of Chivalry.”
“It would be more to his honor,” interrupted Murray, “if he compelled the English to acknowledge him as Prince of Scotland. With so much bravery, how can he allow such a civetcat as Edward Baliol to bear away the title, which is his by the double right of blood and virtue?”
“Perhaps,” said Wallace, “the young lion only sleeps! The time may come, when both he and his father will rise from their lethargy, and throw themselves at once into the arms of Scotland. To stimulate the dormant patriotism of these two princes, by showing them a subject leading their people to liberty, is one great end of the victories I seek. None other than a brave king can bind the various interests of this distracted country into one; and therefore, for fair Freedom’s sake, my heart turns toward the Bruces with most anxious hopes.”
“For my part,” cried Murray, “I have always thought the lady we will not woo we have no right to pretend to. If the Bruces will not be at the pains to snatch Scotland from drowning, I see no reason for making them a present of what will cost us many a wet jacket before we tug her from the waves. He that wins the day ought to wear the laurel; and so, once for all, I proclaim him King of good old Albin,21 who will have the glory of driving her oppressors beyond her dikes.”
21 Albin was the ancient name of Scotland.
Wallace did not hear this last sentiment of Murray’s, as it was spoken in a lowered voice in the ear of Kirkpatrick. “I perfectly agree with you,” was the knight’s reply; “and in the true Roman style, may the death of every Southron now in Scotland, and as many more as fate chooses to yield us, be the preliminary games of his coronation!”
Wallace, who heard this, turned to Kirkpatrick with a mild rebuke in his eye. “Balaam blessed, when he meant to curse!” said he; “but some curse, when they mean to bless. Such prayers are blasphemy. For, can we expect a blessing on our arms, when all our invocations are for vengeance rather than victory?”
“Blood for blood is only justice!” returned Murray; “and how can you, noble Wallace, as a Scot, and as a man, imply any mercy to the villains who stab us to the heart?”
“I plead not for them,” replied Wallace, “but for the poor wretches who follow their leaders, by force, to the field of Scotland; I would not inflict on them the cruelties we now resent. It is not to aggrieve, but to redress, that we carry arms. If we make not this distinction, we turn courage into a crime; and plant disgrace, instead of honor, upon the warrior’s brow.”
“I do not understand commiserating the wolves who have so long made havoc in our country,” cried Kirkpatrick; “methinks such maidenly mercy is rather or of place.”
Wallace turned to him with a smile: “I will answer you, my valiant friend, by adopting your own figure. It is that these Southron wolves may not confound us with themselves, that I wish to show in our conduct rather the generous ardor of the faithful guardian of the fold, than the rapacious fierceness which equals them with the beasts of the desert. As we are men and Scots, let the burden of our prayers be, the preservation of our country, not the slaughter of our enemies! The one is an ambition, with which angels may sympathize; the other, a horrible desire, which speaks the nature of fiends.”
“In some cases this may be,” replied Sir Roger, a little reconciled to the argument, “but not in mine. My injury yet burns upon my cheek; and as nothing but the life blood of Cressingham can quench it, I will listen no more to your doctrine till I am avenged. That done, I shall not forget your lesson.”
“Generous Kirkpatrick!” exclaimed Wallace, “nothing that is really cruel can dwell with such manly candor. Say what you will, I can trust your heart after this moment.”
They had crossed the River Ennerie, and were issuing from between its narrow ridge of hills, when Wallace, pointing to a stupendous rock which rose in solitary magnificence in the midst of a vast plain, exclaimed, “There is Dumbarton Castle!-that citadel holds the fetters of Scotland; and if we break them there, every minor link will easily give way.”
The men uttered a shout of anticipated triumph at this sight; and proceeding, soon came in view of the fortifications which helmeted the rock. As they approached, they discovered that it had two summits, being in a manner cleft in twain; the one side rising in a pyramidal form; while the other, of a more table-shape, sustained the ponderous buildings of the fortress.
It was dusk when the little army arrived in the rear of a close thicket to a considerable length over the plain. On this spot Wallace rested his men; and while they placed themselves under its covert till the appointed time of attack, he perceived through an opening in the wood, the gleaming of soldiers’ arms on the ramparts, and fires beginning to light on a lonely watchtower, which crowned the pinnacle of the highest rock.
“Poor fools!” exclaimed Murray; “like the rest of their brethren of clay, they look abroad for evils, and prepare not for those which are even at their doors!”
“That beacon-fire,” cried Scrymgeour, “shall light us to their chambers; and for once we thank them for their providence.”
“That beacon-fire,” whispered Edwin to Wallace, “shall light me to honor! To-night, by your agreement, I shall call you brother, or lie dead on the summit of those walls!”
“Edwin,” said Wallace, “act as you say; and deserve not only to be called my brother, but to be the first banneret of freedom in arms!”
He then turned toward the lines; and, giving his orders to each division, directed them to seek repose on the surrounding heather, till the now glowing moon should have sunk her telltale light in the waves.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59