After having traversed many a weary rood of, to him, before untrodden ground, the venerable minstrel of the house of Wallace, exhausted by fatigue, sat down on the declivity of a steep craig. The burning beams of the midday sun now beat upon the rocks, but the overshadowing foliage afforded him shelter, and a few berries from the brambles, which knit themselves over the path he had yet to explore, with a draught of water from a friendly burn, offered themselves to revive his enfeebled limbs. Insufficient as they appeared, he took them, blessing Heaven for sending even these, and strengthened by half an hour’s rest, again he grasped his staff to pursue his way.
After breaking a passage, through the entangled shrubs that grew across the only possible footing in this solitary wilderness, he went along the side of the expanding stream, which at every turning of the rocks increased in depth and violence. The rills from above, and other mountain brooks, pouring from abrupt falls down the craigs, covered him with spray, and intercepted his passage. Finding it impracticable to proceed through the rushing torrent of a cataract, whose distant roarings might have intimidated even a younger adventurer, he turned from its tumbling waters which burst upon his sight, and crept on his hands and knees up the opposite acclivity, catching by the fern and other weeds to stay him from falling back into the flood below. Prodigious craggy heights towered above his head as he ascended; while the rolling clouds which canopied their summits seemed descending to wrap him in their “fleecy skirts;” or the projecting rocks bending over the waters of the glen, left him only a narrow shelf in the cliff, along which he crept till it brought him to the mouth of a cavern.
He must either enter it or return the way he came, or attempt the descent of overhanging precipices, which nothing could surmount but the pinions of their native birds. Above him was the mountain. Retread his footsteps until he had seen his beloved master, he was resolved not to do-to perish in these glens would be more tolerable to him; for while he moved forward, hope, even in the arms of death, would cheer him with the whisper that he was in the path of duty. He therefore entered the cavity, and passing on, soon perceived an aperture, through which emerging on the other side, he found himself again on the margin of the river. Having attained a wider bed, it left him a still narrower causeway to perform the remainder of his journey.
Huge masses of rock, canopied with a thick umbrage of firs, beech, and weeping-birch, closed over the glen and almost excluded the light of day. But more anxious, as he calculated by the increased rapidity of the stream he must now be approaching the great fall near his master’s concealment, Halbert redoubled his speed. But an unlooked-for obstacle baffled his progress. A growing gloom he had not observed in the sky excluded valley, having entirely overspread the heavens, at this moment suddenly discharged itself, amidst peals of thunder, in heavy floods of rain upon his head.
Fearful of being overwhelmed by the streams, which now on all sides crossed his path, he kept upon the edge of the river, to be as far as possible from the influence of their violence. And thus he proceeded, slowly and with trepidation, through numerous defiles, and under the plunge of many a mountain-torrent, till the augmented storm of a world of waters, dashing from side to side, and boiling up with the noise and fury of the contending elements above, told him he was indeed not far from the fall of Corie Lynn.
The spray was spread in so thick a mist over the glen, he knew not how to advance. A step further might be on the firm earth, but more probably illusive, and dash him into the roaring Lynn, where he would be ingulfed at once in its furious whirlpool. He paused and looked around. The rain had ceased, but the thunder still rolled at a distance and echoed tremendously from the surrounding rocks. Halbert shook his gray locks, streaming with wet, and looked toward the sun, now gliding with its last rays the vast sheets of falling water.
“This is thine hour, my master!” exclaimed the old man; “and surely I am too near the Lynn to be far from thee!”
With these words he raised the pipe that hung at his breast, and blew three strains of the appointed air. In former days it used to call from her bower that “fair star of evening,” the beauteous Marion, now departed for ever into her native heaven. The notes trembled as his agitated breath breathed them into the instrument; but feeble as they were, and though the roar of the cataract might have prevented their reaching a less attentive era than that of Wallace, yet he sprung from the innermost recess under the fall, and dashing through its rushing waters, the next instant was at the side of Halbert.
“Faithful creature!” cried he, catching him in his arms, which all the joy of that moment which ends the anxious wish to learn tidings of what is dearest in the world, “how fares my Marion?”
“I am weary,” cried the heart-stricken old man; “take me within your sanctuary, and I will tell you all.”
Wallace perceived that his time-worn servant was indeed exhausted; and knowing the toils and hazards of the perilous track he must have passed over in his way to his fearful solitude, also remembering how, as he sat in his shelter, he had himself dreaded the effects of the storm upon so aged a traveler, he no longer wondered at the dispirited tone of his greeting, and readily accounted for the pale countenance and tremulous step which at first had excited his alarm.
Giving the old man his hand, he led him with caution to the brink of the Lynn; and then, folding him in his arms, dashed with him through the tumbling water into the cavern he had chosen for his asylum. Halbert sunk against the rocky side, and putting forth his hand to catch some of the water as it fell, drew a few drops to his parched lips, and swallowed them. After this light refreshment, he breathed a little and turned his eyes upon his anxious master.
“Are you sufficiently recovered, Halbert, to tell me how you left my dearest Marion.”
Halbert dreaded to see the animated light which now cheered him from the eyes of his master, overclouded with the Cimmerian horrors his story must unfold; he evaded a direct reply; “I saw your guest in safety; I saw him and the iron box on their way to Bothwell?”
“What!” inquired Wallace, “were we mistaken? was not the earl dead when we looked into the well?” Halbert replied in the negative, and was proceeding with a circumstantial account of his recovery and his departure when Wallace interrupted him.
“But what of my wife, Halbert? why tell me of others before of her? She whose safety and remembrance are now my sole comfort!”
“Oh, my dear lord!” cried Halbert, throwing himself on his knees in a paroxysm of mental agony, “she remembers you where best her prayers can be heard. She kneels for her beloved Wallace, before the throne of God!”
“Halbert!” cried Sir William, in a low and fearful voice, “what would you say? My Marion-speak! tell me in one word, she lives!”
At this confirmation of a sudden terror, imbibed from the ambiguous words of Halbert, and which his fond heart would not allow him to acknowledge to himself. Wallace covered his face with his hands and fell with a deep groan against the side of the cavern. The horrid idea of premature maternal pains, occasioned by anguish for him; of her consequent death, involving perhaps that of her infant, struck him to the soul; a mist seemed passing over his eyes; life was receding; and gladly did he believe he felt his spirit on the eve of joining hers.
In having declared that the idol of his master’s heart no longer existed for him in this world, Halbert thought he had revealed the worst, and he went on. “Her latest breath was sent in prayer for you. ‘My Wallace’ were the last words her angel spirit uttered as it issued from her bleeding wounds.”
The cry that burst from the heart of Wallace, as he started on his feet at this horrible disclosure, seemed to pierce through all the recessed of the glen; and with an instantaneous and dismal return was re-echoed from rock to rock. Halbert threw his arms round his master’s knees. The frantic blaze of his eyes struck him with affright. “Hear me, my lord; for the sake of your wife, now an angel hovering near you, hear what I have to say.”
Wallace looked around with a wild countenance. “My Marion near me! Blessed spirit! Oh, my murdered wife! my unborn babe! Who made those wounds? cried he, catching Halbert’s arm with a tremendous though unconscious grasp; “tell me who had the heart to aim a blow at that angel’s life?”
“The Governor of Lanark,” replied Halbert.
“How? for what?” demanded Wallace, with the terrific glare of madness shooting from his eyes. “My wife! my wife! what had she done?”
“He came at the head of a band of ruffians, and seizing my lady, commanded her on the peril of her life, to declare where you and the Earl of Mar and the box of treasure were concealed. My lady persisted in refusing him information, and in a deadly rage he plunged his sword into her breast.” Wallace clinched his hands over his face, and Halbert went on. “Before he aimed a second blow, I had broken from the men who held me, and thrown myself on her bosom; but all could not save her; the villain’s sword had penetrated her heart!”
“Great God!” exclaimed Wallace, “dost thou hear this murder?” His hands were stretched toward heaven; then falling on his knees, with his eyes fixed. “Give me power, Almighty Judge!” cried he, “to assert thy justice! Let me avenge this angel’s blood, and then take me to thy mercy!”
“My gracious master,” cried Halbert, seeing him rise with a stern composure, “here is the fatal sword; the blood on it is sacred, and I brought it to you.”
Wallace took it in his hand. He gazed at it, touched it, and kissed it frantically. The blade was scarcely yet dry, and the ensanguined hue came off upon the pressure. “Marion! Marion!” cried he, “is it thine? Does not thy blood stain my lip?” He paused for a moment, leaning his burning forehead against the fatal blade; then looking up with a terrific smile. “Beloved of my soul! never shall this sword leave my hand till it has drunk the life-blood of thy murderer.”
“What is it you intend, my lord?” cried Halbert, viewing with increased alarm the resolute ferocity which now, blazing from every part of his countenance, seemed to dilate his figure with more than mortal daring. “What can you do? Your single arm-”
“I am not single-God is with me. I am his avenger. Now tremble, tyranny! I come to hurl thee down!” At the word he sprung from the cavern’s mouth, and had already reached the topmost cliff when the piteous cries of Halbert penetrated his ear; they recalled him to recollection, and returning to his servant, he tried to soothe his fear, and spoke in a composed though determined tone. “I will lead you from this solitude to the mountains, where the shepherds of Ellerslie are tending their flocks. With them you will find a refuge, till you have strength to reach Bothwell Castle. Lord Mar will protect you for my sake.”
Halbert now remembered the bugle, and putting it into the master’s hand, with its accompanying message, asked for some testimony in return, that the earl might know that he had delivered it safely. “Even a lock of your precious hair, my beloved master, will be sufficient.”
“Thou shalt have it, severed from my head by this accurse steel,” answered Wallace, taking off his bonnet, and letting his amber locks fall in tresses on his shoulders. Halbert burst into a fresh flood of tears, for he remembered how often it had been the delight of Marion to comb these bright tresses and to twist them round he ivory fingers. Wallace looked up as the old man’s sobs became audible, and read his thoughts: “It will never be again, Halbert,” cried he, and with a firm grasp of the sword he cut off a large handful of his hair.
“Marion, thy blood hath marked it!” exclaimed he; “and every hair on my head shall be dyed of the same hue, before this sword is sheathed upon thy murderers. Here, Halbert,” continued he, knotting it together, “take this to the Earl of Mar; it is all, most likely, he will ever see again of William Wallace. Should I fall, tell him to look on that, and in my wrongs read the future miseries of Scotland, and remember that God armoreth the patriot’s hand. Let him set on that conviction and Scotland may yet be free.”
Halbert placed the lock in his bosom, but again repeated his entreaties, that his master would accompany him to Bothwell Castle. He urged the consolation he would meet from the good earl’s friendship.
“If he indeed regard me,” returned Wallace, “for my sake let him cherish you. My consolations must come from a higher hand; I go where it directs. If I live, you shall see me again; but twilight approaches-we must away. The sun must not rise again upon Heselrigge.” Halbert now followed the rapid steps of Wallace, who, assisting the feeble limbs of his faithful servant, drew him up the precipitous side of the Lynn,6 and then leaping from rock to rock, awaited with impatience the slower advances of the poor old harper, as he crept round a circuit of overhanging cliffs, to join him on the summit of the craigs.
6 The cavern which sheltered Sir William Wallace, near Corie Lynn, is yet revered by the people.
Together they struck into the most inaccessible defiles of the mountains, and proceeded, till on discerning smoke whitening with its ascending curls the black sides of the impending rocks, Wallace saw himself near the objects of his search. He sprung on a high cliff projecting over this mountain-valley, and blowing his bugle with a few notes of the well-known pibroch of Lanarkshire, was answered by the reverberations of a thousand echoes.
At the loved sounds which had not dared to visit their ears since the Scottish standard was lowered to Edward, the hills seemed teeming with life. Men rushed from their fastnesses, and women with their babes eagerly followed to see whence sprung a summons so dear to every Scottish heart. Wallace stood on the cliff, like the newly-aroused genius of his country; his long plaid floated afar, and his glittering hair streaming on the blast, seemed to mingle with the golden fires which shot from the heavens. Wallace raised his eyes-a clash as of the tumult of contending armies filled the sky, and flames, and flashing steel, and the horrid red of battle, streamed from the clouds upon the hills.7
7 The late Duke of Gordon exhibited a similar scene to Prince Leopold, when his royal highness visited Gordon Castle, his “hills reeming with life.”-(1830.)
“Scotsmen!” cried Wallace, waving the fatal sword, which blazed in the glare of these northern lights like a flaming brand, “behold how the heavens cry aloud to you! I come, in the midst of their fires, to call you to vengeance. I come in the name of all ye hold dear, of the wives of you bosoms, and the children in their arms, to tell you the poniard of England is unsheathed-innocence and age and infancy fall before it. With this sword, last night, did Heselrigge, the English tyrant of Lanark, break into my house, and murder my wife!”
The shriek of horror that burst from every mouth, interrupted Wallace. “Vengeance! vengeance!” was the cry of the men, while tumultuous lamentations for the “sweet Lady of Ellerslie,” filled the air from the women.
Wallace sprung from the cliff into the midst of his brave countrymen. “Follow me, then, to strike the mortal blow!”
“Lead on!” cried a vigorous old man. “I drew this stout claymore last in the battle of Largs.8 Life and Alexander was then the word of victory: now, ye accursed Southrons, ye shall meet the slogan9 of Death and Lady Marion.”
8 In the battle of Largs, Sir Malcolm Wallace, the father of Wallace, fell gloriously fighting against the Danes.-(1830.)
9 Slogan, so the war-word was termed.-(1809.)
“Death and Lady Marion!” was echoed with shouts from mouth to mouth. Every sword was drawn; and those hardy peasants who owned none, seizing the instruments of pasturage, armed themselves with wolf-spears, pickaxes, forks, and scythes.
Sixty resolute men now ranged themselves around their chief. Wallace, whose widowed heart turned icy cold at the dreadful slogan of his Marion’s name, more fiercely grasped his sword, and murmured to himself. “From this day may Scotland date her liberty, or Wallace return no more! My faithful friends,” cried he, turning to his men, and placing his plumed bonnet on his head, “let the spirits of your fathers inspire you souls; ye go to assert that freedom for which they died. Before the moon sets, the tyrant of Lanark must fall in blood.”
“Death and Lady Marion!” was the pealing answer that echoed from the hills.
Wallace again sprung on the cliffs. His brave peasants followed him; and taking their rapid march by a near cut through a hitherto unexplored defile of the Cartlane Craigs, leaping chasms, and climbing perpendicular rocks, they suffered no obstacles to impede their steps, while thus rushing onward like lions to their prey.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59