The happy effects of these rapid conquests were soon apparent. The fall of Berwick excited such a confidence in the minds of the neighboring chieftains, that every hour brought fresh recruits to Wallace. Every mouth was full of the praises of the young conqueror; every eye was eager to catch a glimpse of his person; and while the men were emulous to share his glory, the women in their secret bowers put up prayers for the preservation of one so handsome and so brave.
Amongst the many of every rank and age who hastened to pay their respects to the deliverer of Berwick, was Sir Richard Maitland, of Thirlestane, the Stawlart Knight of Lauderdale.28
28 Sir Richard Maitland, of the castle of Thirlestane on the Leeder, is noted in Scottish tradition for his bravery. His valiant defense of his castle against the English in his extreme old age, is still the subject of enthusiasm amongst the people of Lauderdale.
Wallace was no sooner told of the approach of the venerable chief, than he set forth to bid him welcome. At sight of the champion of Scotland, Sir Richard threw himself off his horse with a military grace that might have become even youthful years; and hastening toward Wallace, clasped him in his arms.
“Let me look on thee!” cried the old knight; “let me feast my eyes on the true Scot, who again raises this hoary head, so long bent in shame for its dishonored country!” While he spoke, he viewed Wallace from head to foot. “I knew Sir Ronald Crawford, and thy valiant father,” continued he, “O! had they lived to see this day! But the base murder of the one thou hast nobly avenged, and the honorable grave of the other, on Loudon Hill,29 thou wilt cover with a monument of thine own glories. Low are laid my own children, in this land of strife, but in thee I see a son of Scotland that is to dry all our tears.”
29 Sir Malcolm Wallace, the father of Sir William Wallace, was killed in the year 1295, on Loudon Hill, in a battle with the English.
He embraced Wallace again and again; and, as the veteran’s overflowing heart rendered him garrulous, he expatiated on the energy with which the young victor had pursued his conquests, and paralleled them with the brilliant actions he had seen in his youth. While he thus discoursed, Wallace drew him toward the castle, and there presented to him the two nephews of the Earl of May.
He paid some warm compliments to Edwin on his early success in the career of glory; and then turning to Murray: “Ay!” said he, “it is joy to me to see the valiant house of Bothwell in the third generation. Thy grandfather and myself were boys together at the coronation of Alexander the Second; and that is eighty years ago. Since then, what have I not seen! the death of two noble Scottish kings! our blooming princes ravished from us by untimely fates! the throne sold to a coward, and at last seized by a foreign power! Then, in my own person, I have been the father of as brave and beauteous a family as ever blessed a parent’s eye; but they are all torn from me. Two of my sons sleep on the plains of Dunbar; my third, my dauntless William, since that fatal day, has been kept a prisoner in England. And my daughters, the tender blossoms of my aged years-they grew around me, the fairest lilies of the land: but they, too, are passed away. The one, scorning the mere charms of youth, and preferring a union with a soul that had long conversed with superior regions, loved the sage of Ercildown. But my friend lost this rose of his bosom, and I the child of my heart, ere she had been a year his wife. Then was my last and only daughter married to the Lord Mar; and in giving birth to my dear Isabella she, too, died. Ah, my good young knight, were it not for that sweet child, the living image of her mother, who in the very spring of youth was cropped and fell, I should be alone: my hoary head would descend to the grave, unwept, unregretted!”
The joy of the old man having recalled such melancholy remembrances, he wept upon the shoulder of Edwin, who had drawn so near, that the story, was begun to Murray, was ended to him. To give the mourning father time to recover himself, Wallace was moving away, when he was met by Ker, bringing information that a youth had just arrived in breathless haste from Stirling, with a sealed packet, which he would not deliver into any hands but those of Sir William Wallace. Wallace requested his friends to show every attention to the Lord of Thirlestane, and then withdrew to meet the messenger.
On his entering the ante-room, the youth sprung forward, but suddenly checking himself, he stood as if irresolute whom to address.
“This is Sir William Wallace, young man,” said Ker; “deliver your embassy.”
At these words the youth pulled a packet from his bosom, and putting it into the chief’s hand, retired in confusion. Wallace gave orders to Ker to take care of him, and then turned to inspect its contents. He wondered from whom it would come, aware of no Scot in Stirling who would dare to write to him while that town was possessed by the enemy. But not losing a moment in conjecture, he broke the seal.
How was he startled at the first words! and how was every energy of his heart roused to redoubled action when he turned to the signature! The first words in the letter were these:
“A daughter, trembling for the life of her father, presumes to address Sir William Wallace.” The signature was “Helen Mar.” He began the letter again:
“A daughter, trembling for the life of her father, presumes to address Sir William Wallace. Alas! it will be a long letter! for it is to tell of our countless distresses. You have been his deliverer from the sword, from chains, and from the waves. Refuse not to save him again to whom you have so often given life, and hasten, brave Wallace, to preserve the Earl of Mar from the scaffold.
“A cruel deception brought him from the Isle of Bute, where you imagined you had left him in security. Lord Aymer de Valence, escaping a second time from your sword, fled under rapacious robber of all our castles, found in him an apt coadjutor. They concerted how to avenge your late successes; and Cressingham, eager to enrich himself, while he flattered the resentments of his commander, suggested that you, Sir William Wallace, our deliverer, and our enemy’s scourge, would most easily be made to feel through the bosoms of your friends. These cruel men have therefore determined, by a mock trial, to condemn my father to death, and thus, while they distress you, put themselves in possession of his lands, with the semblance of justice.
“The substance of this most unrighteous debate was communicated to me by De Valence himself; thinking to excuse his part in the affair by proving to me how insensible he is to the principles which move alike a patriot and a man of honor.
“Having learned from some too well-informed spy that Lord Mar had retired in peaceful obscurity to Bute, these arch-enemies to our country sent a body of men disguised as Scots to Gourock. There they dispatched a messenger into the island to inform Lord Mar that Sir William Wallace was on the banks of the Frith waiting to converse with him. My noble father, unsuspicious of treachery, hurried to the summons. Lady Mar accompanied him, and so both fell into the snare.
“They were brought prisoners to Stirling, where another affliction awaited him;-he was to see his daughter and his sister in captivity.
“After I had been betrayed from St. Fillian’s monastery by the falsehoods of one Scottish knight, and were rescued from his power by the gallantry of another, I sought the protection of my aunt, Lady Ruthven, who then dwelt at Alloa, on the banks of the Forth. Her husband had been invited to Ayr by some treacherous requisition of the governor, Arnuf; and with many other lords was thrown into prison. Report says, bravest of men, that you have given freedom to my betrayed uncle.
“The moment Lord Ruthven’s person was secured, his estates were seized, and my aunt and myself being found at Alloa, we were carried prisoners to this city. Alas! we had then no valiant arm to preserve us from our enemies! Lady Ruthven’s first born son was slain in the fatal day of Dunbar, and in terror of the like fate, she placed her eldest surviving boy in a convent.
“Some days after our arrival, my dear father was brought to Stirling. Though a captive in the town, I was not then confined to any closer durance than the walls. While he was yet passing through the streets, rumor told my aunt that the Scottish lord then leading to prison was her beloved brother. She flew to me in agony to tell me the dreadful tidings. I heard no more, saw no more, till, having rushed into the streets, and bursting through every obstacle of crowd and soldiers, I found myself clasped in my father’s arms-in his shackled arms! What a moment was that! Where was Sir William Wallace in that hour? Where the brave unknown knight, who had sworn to me to seek my father, and defend him with his life? Both were absent, and he was in chains.
“My grief and distraction baffled the attempts of the guards to part us, and what became of me I know not until I found myself lying on a couch, attended by many women, and supported by my aunt. When I had recovered to lamentation and to tears, my aunt told me I was in the apartments of the deputy warden. He, with Cressingham, having gone out to meet the man they had so basely drawn into their toils, De Valence himself saw the struggles of paternal affection contending against the men who would have torn a senseless daughter from his arms, and yet, merciless man! he separated us, and sent me, with my aunt, a prisoner to his house.
“The next day a packet was put into my aunt’s hands, containing a few precious lines from my father to me, also a letter from the countess to Lady Ruthven, full of your goodness to her and to my father, and narrating the cruel manner in which they had been ravished from the asylum in which you had placed them. She then said that could she find means of apprising you of the danger to which she and her husband are now involved, she would be sure of a second rescue. Whether she has blessedly found these means I know not, for all communication between us, since the delivery of that letter, has been rendered impracticable. The messenger that brought the packet was a good Southron, who had been won by Lady Mar’s entreaties. But on his quitting our apartments, he was seized by a servant of De Valence, and on the same day put publicly to death, to intimidate all others from the like compassion to the sufferings of unhappy Scotland. Oh! Sir William Wallace, will not your sword reach these men of blood?
“Earl de Valence compelled my aunt to yield the packet to him. We had already read it, therefore did not regret it on that head, but feared the information it might give relative to you. In consequence of this circumstance, I was made a closer prisoner. But captivity could have no terrors for me, did it not divide me from my father. And, grief on grief! what words have I to write it? they have CONDEMNED HIM TO DIE! That fatal letter of my step-mother’s was brought out against him, and as your adherent, Sir William Wallace, they have sentenced him to lose his head!
“I have knelt to Earl de Valence; I have implored my father’s life at his hands, but to no purpose. He tells me that Cressingham, at his side, and Ormsby, by letters from Scone, declare it necessary that an execution of consequence should be made to appall the discontented Scots; and that as no lord is more esteemed in Scotland than the Earl of Mar, he must be the sacrifice.
“Hasten, then, my father’s preserver and friend! hasten to save him! Oh, fly, for the sake of the country he loves; for the sake of the hapless beings dependent on his protection! I shall be on my knees till I hear your trumpet before the walls; for in you and Heaven now rest all the hopes of Helen Mar.”
A cold dew stood on the limbs of Wallace as he closed the letter. It might be too late! The sentence was passed on the earl, and his executioners were prompt as cruel: the ax might already have fallen.
He called to Ker, for the messenger to be brought in. He entered. Wallace inquired how long he had been from Stirling. “Only thirty-four hours,” replied the youth, adding that he had traveled night and day for fear the news of the risings in Annandale, and the taking of Berwick, should precipitate the earl’s death.
“I accompany you this instant,” cried Wallace! “Ker, see that the troops get under arms.” As he spoke he turned into the room where he had left the Knight of Thirlestane.
“Sir Richard Maitland,” said he, willing to avoid exciting his alarm, “there is more work for us at Stirling. Lord Aymer de Valence has again escaped the death we thought had overtaken him, and is now in that citadel. I have just received a summons thither, which I must obey.” At these words, Sir Roger Kirkpatrick gave a shout and rushed from the apartment. Wallace looked after him for a moment, and then continued: “Follow us with your prayers, Sir Richard; and I shall not despair of sending blessed tidings to the banks of the Lauder.”
“What has happened?” inquired Murray, who saw that something more than the escape of De Valence had been imparted to his general.
“We must spare this good old man,” returned he, “and have him conducted to his home before I declare it publicly; but the Earl of Mar is again a prisoner, and in Stirling.”
Murray, who instantly comprehended his uncle’s danger speeded the departure of Sir Richard; and as Wallace held his stirrup, the chief laid his hand on his head, and blessed him. “The seer of Ercildown is too ill to bring his benediction himself, but I breathe it over this heroic brow!” Wallace bowed his head in silence; and the bridle being in the hand of Lord Andrew, he led the horse out of the eastern gate of the town, where, taking leave of the veteran knight, he soon rejoined his commander, whom he found in the midst of his chieftains.
He had informed them of the Earl of Mar’s danger, and the policy as well as justice of rescuing so powerful and patriotic a nobleman from the threatened execution. Lord Ruthven needed no arguments to precipitate him to the assistance of his brother and his wife; and the anxieties of the affectionate Edwin were all awake when he knew that his mother was a prisoner. Lord Andrew smiled proudly when he returned his cousin’s letter to Wallace. “We shall have the rogue on the nail yet,” cried he; “my uncle’s brave head is not ordained to fall by the stroke of such a coward!”
“So I believe,” replied Wallace; and then turning to Lord Dundaff-“My lord,” said he, “I leave you governor of Berwick.”
The veteran warrior grasped Wallace’s hand. “To be your representative in this fortress, is the proudest station this warworn frame hath ever filled. My son must be my representative with you in the field.” He waved Sir John Graham toward him; the young knight advanced, and Lord Dundaff, placing his son’s hands upon his target, continued, “Swear, that as this defends the body, you will ever strive to cover Scotland from her enemies; and that from this hour you will be the faithful friend and follower of Sir William Wallace.”
“I swear,” returned Graham, kissing the shield. Wallace pressed his hand. “I have brothers around me, rather than what the world calls friends! And with such valor, such fidelity to aid me, can I be otherwise than a victor? Heaven’s anointed sword is with such fellowship!”
Edwin, who stood near this rite of generous enthusiasm, softly whispered to Wallace, as he turned toward his troops, “But amongst all these brothers, cease not to remember Edwin-the youngest and the least. Ah, my beloved general, what Jonathan was to David, I would be to thee!”
Wallace looked on him with penetrating tenderness; his heart was suddenly wrung by a recollection, which the words of Edwin had recalled. “But thy love, Edwin, passes not the love of woman!” “But it equals it.” replied he; “what has been done for thee I would do; only love me as David did Jonathan, and I shall be the happiest of the happy.” “Be happy then, dear boy!” answered Wallace; “for all that ever beat in human breast, for friend or brother, lives in my heart for thee.”
At that moment Sir John Graham rejoined them; and some other captains coming up. Wallace made the proper military dispositions, and every man took his station at the head of his division.
Until the men had marched far beyond the chance of rumors reaching Thirlestane, they were not informed of the Earl of Mar’s danger. They conceived their present errand was the recapture of De Valence. “But at a proper moment,” said Wallace, “they shall know the whole truth; for,” added he, “as it is a law of equity, that what concerns all, should be approved by all, and that common dangers should be repelled by united efforts, the people who follow our standards, not as hirelings, but with willing spirits, ought to know our reasons for requiring their services.”
“They who follow you,” said Graham, “have too much confidence in their leader, to require any reasons for his movements.”
“It is to place that confidence on a sure foundation, my brave friends,” returned Wallace, “that I explain what there is no just reason to conceal. Should policy ever compel me to strike a blow without previously telling my agents wherefore, I should then draw upon their faith, and expect that confidence in my honor and arms which I now place on their discretion and fidelity.”
Exordiums were not requisite to nerve every limb, and to strengthen every heart in the toilsome journey. Mountains were climbed, vast plains traversed, rivers forded, and precipices crossed, without one man in the ranks lingering on its steps, or dropping his head upon his pike, to catch a moment’s slumber. Those who had fought with Wallace, longed to redouble their fame under his command; and they who had recently embraced his standard, panted with a virtuous ambition to rival those first-born in arms.
Sir Roger Kirkpatrick had been the first to fly to arms, on the march to Stirling being mentioned; and when Wallace stood forward to declare that rest should be dispensed with till Stirling fell, full of a fierce joy, the ardent knight darted over every obstacle to reach his aim. He flew to the van of his troops, and hailing them forward: “Come on!” cried he, “and in the blood of Cressingham let us forever sink King Edward’s Scottish crown.”
The shouts of the men, who seemed to drink in the spirit that blazed from Kirkpatrick’s eyes, made the echoes of Lammermuir ring with a long-estranged noise. It was the voice of liberty. Leaping every bound, the eager van led the way; and, with prodigious perseverance, dragging their war-machines in the rear, the rest pressed on, till they reached the Carron side. At the moment the foaming steed of Wallace, smoking with the labors of a long and rapid march, was plunging into the stream to take the form, Ker snatched the bridle of the horse: “My lord,” cried he, “a man on full speed from Douglas Castle has brought this packet.”
In his march to Ayr, Wallace had left Sir Eustace Maxwell governor of that castle, and Monteith as his lieutenant.
Wallace opened the packet and read as follows:
“The patriots in Annandale have been beaten by Lord de Warenne. Sir John Monteith (who volunteered to head them) is taken prisoner, with twelve hundred men.
“Earl de Warenne comes to resume his arrogant title of Lord Warden of Scotland, and thereby to relieve his deputy, Aymer de Valence, who is recalled to take possession of the lordship of Pembroke. In pursuance of his usurping commission, the earl is now marching rapidly toward the Lothians, in the hope of intercepting you in your progress.
“Thanks to the constant information you send us of your movements, for being able to surprise you of this danger! I should have attempted to have checked the Southron, by annoying his flanks, had not his numbers rendered such an enterprise on my part hopeless. But his aim being to come up with you, if you meet him in the van, we shall have him in the rear; and, so surrounded, he must be cut to pieces. Surely the tree you planted in Dumbarton, is not now to be blasted!
“Ever your general’s and Scotland’s true servant,
“What answer?” inquired Ker.
Wallace hastily engraved with his dagger’s point upon his gauntlet, “Reviresco!30 Our sun is above!” and desiring it to be given to the messenger to carry to Sir Eustace Maxwell, he refixed himself in his saddle, and spurred over the Carron.
30 Reviresco! means “I bud again!” This encouraging word is now the reuto of the Maxwell arms.
The moon was near her meridian as the wearied troops halted on the deep shadows of the Carse of Stirling. All around them was desolation; the sword and the fire had been there, not in open declared warfare, but under the darkness of midnight, and impelled by rapacity and wantonness; hence from the base of the rock, even to the foot of the Clackmannan Hills, all lay a smoking wilderness.
An hour’s rest was sufficient to restore every exhausted power to the limbs of the determined followers of Wallace; and, as the morning dawned, the sentinels on the ramparts of the town were not only surprised to see a host below, but that (by the most indefatigable labor, and a silence like death) had not merely passed the ditch, but having gained the counterscarp, had fixed their movable towers, and were at that instant overlooking the highest bastions. The mangonels and petraries, and other implements for battering walls, and the ballista, with every efficient means of throwing missive weapons, were ready to discharge their artillery upon the heads of the beseiged.
At a sight so unexpected, which seemed to have arisen out of the earth like an exhalation (with such muteness and expedition had the Scottish operations been carried on), the Southrons, struck with dread, fled a moment from the walls; but immediately recovering their presence of mind, they returned, and discharged a cloud of arrows upon their assailants. A messenger, meanwhile, was sent into the citadel to apprise De Valence and the Governor Cressingham of the assault. The interior gates now sent forth thousands to the walls; but in proportion to the numbers which approached, the greater was the harvest of death prepared for the terrible arm of Wallace, whose tremendous war wolves throwing prodigious stones, and lighter springalls, casting forth brazen darts, swept away file after file of the reinforcements. It grieved the noble heart of the Scottish commander to see so many valiant men urged to inevitable destruction; but still they advanced, and that his own might be preserved they must fall. To shorten the bloody contest, his direful weapons were worked with redoubled energy; and so mortal a shower fell that the heavens seemed to rain iron. The crushed and stricken enemy, shrinking under the mighty tempest, forsook their ground.
The ramparts deserted, Wallace sprung from his tower upon the walls. At that moment De Valence opened one of the gates; and, at the head of a formidable body, charged the nearest Scots. A good soldier is never taken unawares, and Murray and Graham were prepared to receive him. Furiously driving him to a retrograde motion, they forced him back into the town. But there all was confusion. Wallace, with his resolute followers, had already put Cressingham and his legions to flight; and, closely pursued by Kirkpatrick, they threw themselves into the castle. Meanwhile, the victorious Wallace surrounded the amazed De Valence, who, caught in double toils, called to his men to fight for their king, and neither give nor take quarter.
The brave fellows too strictly obeyed; and while they fell on all sides, he supported them with a courage which horror of Wallace’s vengeance for his grandfather’s death, and the attempt on his own life in the hall at Dumbarton, rendered desperate. At last he encountered the conquering chief, arm to arm. Great was the dismay of De Valence at this meeting; but as death was now all he saw before him, he resolved, if he must die, that the soul of his enemy should attend him to the other world.
He fought, not with the steady valor of a warrior determined to vanquish or die; but with the fury of despair, with the violence of a hyena, thirsting for the blood of his opponent. Drunk with rage, he made a desperate plunge at the heart of Wallace-a plunge, armed with execrations, and all his strength; but his sword missed its aim, and entered the side of a youth, who at that moment had thrown himself before his general. Wallace saw where the deadly blow fell; and instantly closing on the earl-with a vengeance in his eyes, which reminded his now determined victim of the horrid vision he had seen in the burning Barns of Ayr-with one grasp of his arm, the incensed chief hurled him to the ground; and setting his foot upon his breast, would have buried his dagger there, had not De Valence dropped his uplifted sword, and with horror in every feature, raised his clasped hands in speechless supplication.
Wallace suspended the blow; and De Valence exclaimed: “My life! this once again, gallant Wallace! by your hopes of heaven, grant me mercy!”
Wallace looked on the trembling recreant with a glare, which, had he possessed the soul of a man, would have made him grasp at death, rather than deserve a second. “And hast thou escaped me again?” cried Wallace. Then turning his indignant eyes from the abject earl to his bleeding friend-“I yield him his life, Edwin, and you, perhaps, are slain?”
“Forget not our own bright principle to avenge me,” said Edwin, as brightly smiling; “he has only wounded me. But you are safe, and I hardly feel a smart.”
Wallace replaced his dagger in his girdle. “Rise, Lord de Valence; it is my honor, not my will, that grants your life. You threw away your arms! I cannot strike even a murderer who bares his breast. I give you that mercy you denied to nineteen unoffending, defenseless old men, whose hoary heads your ruthless ax brought with blood to the ground. Let memory be the sword I have withheld!”
While he spoke, De Valence had risen, and stood, conscience-stricken, before the majestic mien of Wallace. There was something in this denunciation that sounded like the irreversible decree of a divinity; and the condemned wretch quaked beneath the threat, while he panted for revenge.
The whole of the survivors in De Valence’s train having surrendered themselves when their leader fell, in a few minutes Wallace was surrounded by his chieftains, bringing in the colors, and the swords of their prisoners.
“Sir Alexander Ramsay,” said he, to a brave and courteous knight, who with his kinsman, William Blair, had joined him in the Lothians; “I confide Earl de Valence, to your care. See that he is strongly guarded; and has every respect according to the honor of him to whom I commit this charge.”
The town was now in possession of the Scots; and Wallace, having sent off the rest of his prisoners to safe quarters, reiterated his persuasions to Edwin, to have the ground, and submit his wounds to the surgeon. “No, no” replied he; “the same hand that gave me this, inflicted a worse on my general at Dumbarton: he kept the field then; and shall I retire now, and disgrace my example? No, my brother; you would not have me so disprove my kindred!”
“Do as you will,” answered Wallace, with a grateful smile; “so that you preserve a life that must never again be risked to save mine. While it is necessary for me to live, my Almighty Captain will shield me; but when his word goes forth, that I shall be recalled, it will not be in the power of friendship, nor of hosts, to turn the steel from my breast. Therefore, dearest Edwin, thrown not yourself away, in defending what is in the hands of Heaven-to be lent, or to be withdrawn at will.”
Edwin bowed his modest head; and having suffered a balsam to be poured into his wound, braced his brigandine over his breast; and was again at the side of his friend, just as he had joined Kirkpatrick before the citadel. The gates were firmly closed, and the dismayed Cressingham was panting behind its walls, as Wallace commanded the parley to be sounded. Afraid of trusting himself within arrow-shot of an enemy who he believed conquered by witchcraft, the terrified governor sent his lieutenant up on the walls to answer the summons.
The herald of the Scots demanded the immediate surrender of the place. Cressingham was at that instant informed by a messenger, who had arrived too late the preceding night to be allowed to disturb his slumbers, that De Warenne was approaching with an immense army. Inflated with new confidence, he mounted the wall himself, and in haughty language, returned for answer, “That he would fall under the towers of the citadel before he would surrender to a Scottish rebel. And as an example of the fate which such a delinquent merits,” continued he, “I will change the milder sentence passed on Lord Mar, and immediately hang him, and all his family, on these ramparts, in sight of your insurgent army.”
“Then,” cried the herald, “thus says Sir William Wallace-if even one hair on the heads of the Earl of Mar and his family falls with violence to the ground, every Southron soul who has this day surrendered to the Scottish arms shall lose his head by the ax.”
“We are used to the blood of traitors,” cried Cressingham, “and mind not its scent. But the army of Earl de Warenne is at hand; and it is at the peril of all your necks, for the rebel, your master, to put his threat in execution. Withdraw, or you shall see the dead bodies of Donald Mar and his family fringing these battlements; for no terms do we keep with man, woman, or child, who is linked with treason!”
At these words, an arrow, winged from a hand behind Cressingham, flew directly to the unvisored face of Wallace, but it struck too high, and ringing against his helmet fell to the ground.
“Treachery!” resounded from every Scottish lip; while indignant at so villainous a rupture of the parley, every bow was drawn to the head; and a flight of arrows, armed with retribution, flew toward the battlements. All hands were now at work, to bring the towers to the wall; and mounting on them, while the archers by their rapid showers drove the men from the ramparts, soldiers below, with pickaxes, dug into the wall to make a breach.
Cressingham began to fear that his boasted auxiliaries might arrive too late; but, determining to gain time at least, he shot flights of darts, and large stones, from a thousand engines; also discharged burning combustibles over the ramparts, in hopes of setting fire to the enemy’s attacking machines.
But all his promptitude proved of no effect. The walls were giving way in parts, and Wallace was mounting by scaling-ladders, and clasping the parapets with bridges from his towers. Driven to extremity, Cressingham resolved to try the attachment of the Scots for Lord Mar; and even at the moment when their chief had seized the barbican and outer ballium, this sanguinary politician ordered the imprisoned earl to be brought out upon the wall of the inner ballia. A rope was round his neck, which was instantly run through a groove, that projected from the nearest tower.
At this sight, horror froze the ardent blood of Wallace. But the intrepid earl, descrying his friend on the ladder which might soon carry him to the summit of the battlement, exclaimed, “Forward! Let not my span of life stand between my country and this glorious day for Scotland’s freedom!”
“Execute the sentence!” cried the infuriate Cressingham.
At these words, Murray and Edwin precipitated themselves upon the ramparts, and mowed down all before them, in a direction toward their uncle. The lieutenant who held the cord, aware of the impolicy of the cruel mandate, hesitated to fulfill it; and now, fearing a rescue from the impetuous Scots, hurried his victim off the works, back to his prison. Meanwhile, Cressingham perceiving that all would be lost should he suffer the enemy to gain this wall also, sent such numbers upon the brave Scots who had followed the cousins, that, overcoming some, and repelling others, they threw Murray, with a sudden shock, over the ramparts. Edwin was surrounded; and his successful adversaries were bearing him off, struggling and bleeding, when Wallace, springing like a lioness on hunters carrying away her young, rushed in singly amongst them. He seized Edwin; and while his falchion flashed terrible threatenings in their eyes, with a backward step he fought his passage to one of the wooden towers he had fastened to the wall.
Cressingham, being wounded in the head, commanded a parley to be sounded.
“We have already taken Lord de Valence and his host prisoners,” returned Wallace; “and we grant you no cessation of hostilities till you deliver up the Earl of Mar and his family, and surrender the castle into our hands.”
“Think not, proud boaster!” cried the herald of Cressingham, “that we ask a parley to conciliate. It was to tell you that if you do not draw off directly, not only the Earl of Mar and his family, but every Scottish prisoner within these walls, shall perish in your sight.”
While he yet spoke, the Southrons uttered a great shout, and the Scots looking up, beheld several high poles erected on the roof of the keep, and the Earl of Mar, as before, was led forward. But he seemed no longer the bold and tranquil patriot. He was surrounded by shrieking female forms, clinging to his knees; and his trembling hands were lifted to heaven, as if imploring its pity.
“Stop!” cried Wallace, in a voice whose thundering mandate rung from tower to tower. “The instant he dies, Lord Aymer de Valence shall perish!”
He had only to make the sign, and in a few minutes that nobleman appeared between Ramsay and Kirkpatrick. “Earl,” exclaimed Wallace, “though I granted your life in the field with reluctance, yet here I am ashamed to put it in danger. But your own people compel me. Look at that spectacle. A venerable father, in the midst of his family; he and they doomed to an ignominious and instant death, unless I betray my country and abandon these walls. Were I weak enough to purchase their lives at such an expense, they could not survive that disgrace. But that they shall not die, while I have the power to preserve them, is my resolve and my duty! Life, then, for life; yours for this family!”
Wallace, directing his voice toward the keep:
“The moment,” cried he, “in which that vile cord presses too closely on the neck of the Earl of Mar, or any of his blood, the ax shall sever the head of Lord de Valence from his body!”
De Valence was now seen on the top of one of the besieging towers. He was pale as death. He trembled, but not with dismay only; ten thousand varying emotions tore his breast. To be thus set up as a monument of his own defeat, to be threatened with execution by an enemy he had contemned, to be exposed to such indignities by the unthinking ferocity of his colleague, filled him with such contending passions of revenge against friends and foes, that he forgot the present fear of death in turbulent wishes to deprive of life all by whom he suffered.
Cressingham became alarmed on seeing the retaliating menace of Wallace brought so directly before his view; and, dreading the vengeance of De Valence’s powerful family, he ordered a herald to say that if Wallace would draw off his troops to the outer ballium, and the English chief along with them, the Lord Mar and his family should be taken from their perilous situation, and he would consider on terms of surrender.
Aware that Cressingham only wanted to gain time until De Warenne should arrive, Wallace determined to foil him with his own weapons, and make the gaining of the castle the consequence of vanquishing the earl. He told the now perplexed governor that he should consider Lord de Valence as the hostage of safety for Lord Mar and his family, and therefore he consented to withdraw his men from the inner ballium till the setting of the sun, at which hour he should expect a herald with the surrender of the fortress.
Thinking that he had caught the Scottish chief in a snare, and that the lord warden’s army would be upon him long before the expiration of the armistice, Cressingham congratulated himself upon this maneuver; and resolving that the moment Earl de Warenne should appear, Lord Mar should be secretly destroyed in the dungeons, he ordered them to their security again.
Wallace fully comprehended what were his enemy’s views, and what ought to be his own measures, as soon as he saw the unhappy group disappear from the battlements of the keep. He then recalled his men from the inner ballium wall, and stationing several detachments along the ramparts, and in the towers of the outer wall, committed De Valence to the stronghold of the barbican, under the especial charge of Lord Ruthven, who was, indeed, eager to hold the means in his own hand that were to check the threatened danger of relatives so dear to him as were the prisoners in the castle.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12