As Wallace pursued his march along the once fertile and well-peopled valleys of Clydesdale, their present appearance affected him like the sight of a friend whom he had seen depart in all the graces of youth and prosperity, but met again overcome with disease and wretchedness.
The pastures of Carstairs on the east of the river, which used at this season to be whitened with sheep, and sending forth the lowings of abundant cattle; and the vales, which had teemed with reapers rejoicing in the harvest, were now laid waste and silent. The plain presented one wide flat of desolation. Where once was the enameled meadow, a dreary swamp extended its vapory surface; and the road which a happy peasantry no longer trod, lay choked up with thistles and rank grass; while birds and animals of chase would spring from its thickets, on the lonely traveler, to tell him by their wild astonishment that he was distant from even the haunts of men. The remains of villages were visible; but the blackness of ashes marked the walls of the ruined dwellings.
Wallace felt that he was passing through the country in which his Marion had been rifled of her life; and as he moved along, nature all around seemed to have partaken of her death. As he rode over the moors which led toward the district of Crawford Lammington, those hills amidst which the beloved of his soul first drew breath, he became totally silent. Time rolled back; he was no longer the Regent of Scotland, but the fond lover of Marion Braidfoot. His heart beat as it was wont to do in turning his horse down the defile which led direct to Lammington; but the scene was completely changed; the groves in which he had so often wandered with her were gone; they had been cut down for the very purpose of destroying that place, which had once been the abode of beauty and innocence, and of all the tender charities.
One shattered tower alone remained of the house of Lammington. The scathing of fire embrowned its sides, and the uprooted garden marked where the ravager had been. While his army marched before him along the heights of Crawford, Wallace slowly moved forward, musing on the scene. In turning the angle of a shattered wall, his horse started; and the next moment he perceived an aged figure, with a beard white as snow, and wrapped in a dark plaid, emerging from the ground. At sight of the apparition, Murray, who accompanied his friend, and had hitherto kept silent, suddenly exclaimed, “I conjure you, honest Scot, ghost or man, give us a subject for conversation! and, as a beginning, pray tell me to whom this ruined tower belonged?”
The sight of two warriors in the Scottish garb encouraged the old man; and stepping out on the ground, he drew near to Murray. “Ruined, indeed, sir,” replied he; “and its story is very sad. When the Southrons, who hold Annandale, heard of the brave acts of Sir William Wallace, they sent an army to destroy this castle and domains, which are his, in right of the Lady Marion of Lammington. Sweet creature! I hear they foully murdered her in Lanark.”
Murray was smitten speechless at this information; for had he suspected there was any private reason with Wallace for his silent lingering about this desolate spot, he would rather have drawn him away than have stopped to ask questions.
“And did you know Lady Marion, venerable old man?” inquired Wallace, in a voice so descriptive of what was passing in his heart, that the old man turned toward him; and struck with his noble mien, he pulled off his bonnet, and bowing, answered, “Did I know her? She was nursed on these knees. And my wife, who cherished her sweet infancy, is now within yon brae. It is our only home, for the Southrons burnt us out of the castle, where our young lady left us, when she went to be married to the brave young Wallace. He was as handsome a youth as ever the sun shone upon, and he loved my lady from a boy. I never shall forget the day when she stood on the top of that rock, and let a garland he had made for her fall into the Clyde. Without more ado, never caring because it is the deepest here of any part of the river, he jumps in after it, and I after him; and well I did, for when I caught him by his bonny golden locks, he was insensible. His head had struck against a stone in the plunge, and a great cut was over his forehead. God bless him, a sorry scar it left! but many, I warrant, have the Southrons now made on his comely countenance. I have never seen him since he grew a man.”
Gregory, the honest steward of Lammington, was now recognized in this old man’s narration; but time and hardship had so altered his appearance, that Wallace could not have otherwise recollected the ruddy face and active figure of his well-remembered companion, in the shaking limbs and pallid visage of the hoary speaker. When he ended, the chief threw himself from his horse. He approached the old man; with one hand he took off his helmet, and with the other putting back the same golden locks, he said, “Was the scar you speak of anything like this?” His face was now close to the eye of Gregory, who in the action, the words, and the mark, immediately recognizing the young playmate of his happiest days, with an almost shriek of joy, threw himself on his neck and wept; then looking up, with tears rolling over his cheeks, he exclaimed, “O Power of Mercy, take me to thyself, since my eyes have seen the deliverer of Scotland!”
“Not so, my venerable friend,” returned Wallace; “you must make these desolated regions bloom anew! Decorate them, Gregory, as you would do the tomb of your mistress. I give them to you and yours. Marion and I have no posterity! Let her foster-brother, if he still live-let him be now the Laird of Lammington.”
“He does live,” replied the old man, “but the shadow of what he was. In attempting, with a few resolute lads, to defend these domains, he was severely wounded. His companions were slain, and I found him on the other side of my lady’s garden left for dead. We fled with him to the woods, and there remained till all about here was laid in ashes. Finding the cruel Southrons had made a general waste, yet fearful of fresh incursions, we and others who had been driven from their homes, dug us subterraneous dwellings, and ever since have lived like fairies in the green hillside. My son and his young wife and babes are now in our cavern, but reduced by sickness and want, for famine is here. Alas, the Southrons, in conquering Scotland, have not gained a kingdom, but made a desert!”
“And there is a God who marks,” returned Wallace; “I go to reap the harvests of Northumberland. What our enemies have ravished hence in part they shall refund; a few days, and your granaries shall overflow. Meanwhile, I leave you with my friend,” said he, pointing to Murray, “at the head of five hundred men. To-morrow he may commence the reduction of every English fortress that yet casts a shade on the stream of our native Clyde; for when the sun next rises, the Southrons will have passed the Scottish borders and then the truce expires.”
Gregory fell at his feet, and begged that he be allowed to bring his Nannie to see the husband of her once dear child.
“Not now,” replied Wallace, “I could not bear the interview-she shall see me when I return.”
He then spoke apart to Murray, who cheerfully acquiesced in a commission that promised him not only the glory of being a conqueror, but the private satisfaction, he hoped, of driving the Southron garrison out of his own paternal castle. To send such news to his noble father at Stirling, would indeed be a wreath of honor to his aged and yet warlike brow. It was then arranged between the young chief and his commander that watchtowers should be thrown up on every conspicuous eminence which skirted the Scottish borders; whence concerted signals of victories, or other information, might be severally interchanged. These preliminaries adjusted, the regent’s bugle brought Ker and Sir John Graham to his side. The appointed number of men was left with Murray; and Wallace, joining his other chieftains, bade his friend and honest servant adieu.
He now awakened to a sense of the present scene, and speeded his legions over his and dale, till they entered on the once luxuriant banks of the Annan-this territory of some of the noblest in Scotland, till Bruce, their chief, deserted them. It lay in more terrific ruin than even the tracts he had left. There reigned the silence of the tomb; there existed the expiring agonies of men left to perish. Recent marks of devastation smoked from the blood-stained earth; and in the midst of a barren waste, a few houseless wretches rushed forward at the sight of the regent, threw themselves before his horse, and begged a morsel of food for their famishing selves and dying infants. “look,” cried an almost frantic mother, holding toward him the living skeleton of a child; “my husband was slain by the Southrons, who hold Lochmaben Castle; my subsistence was carried away, and myself turned forth, to give birth to this child on the rocks. We have fed till this hour on the wild berries; but I die, and my child expires before me!” A second group, with shrieks of despair, cried aloud, “Here are our young ones exposed to equal miseries. Give us bread, Regent of Scotland, or we perish!”
Wallace turned to his troops: “Fast for a day, my brave friends,” cried he; “lay the provisions you have brought with you before these hapless people. To-morrow you shall feed largely on Southron tables.”
He was instantly obeyed. As his men marched on, they threw their loaded wallets amongst the famishing groups; and, followed by their blessings, descended with augmented speed the ravaged hills of Annandale. Dawn was brightening the dark head of Brunswark, as they advanced toward the Scottish boundary. At a distance, like a wreath of white vapors, lay the English camp, along the southern bank of the Esk. At this sight, Wallace ordered his bugles to sound. They were immediately answered by those of the opposite host. The heralds of both armies advanced, and the sun rising from behind the eastern hills, shone full upon the legions of Scotland, winding down the romantic precipices of Wauchope.
Two hours arranged every preliminary to the exchange of prisoners; and when the clarion of the trumpet announced that each party was to pass over the river to the side of its respective country, Wallace stood in the midst of his chieftains to receive the last adieus of his illustrious captives. When De Warenne approached, the regent took off his helmet; the Southron had already his in his hand. “Farewell, gallant Scot,” said he, “if aught could imbitter this moment of recovered freedom, it is that I leave a man I so revere, still confident in a finally hopeless cause!”
“It would not be the less just were it indeed desparate,” replied Wallace; “but had not Heaven shown on which side it fought, I should not now have the honor of thus bidding the brave De Warenne farewell.”
The earl passed on, and the other lords, with grateful and respectful looks, paid their obeisance. The litter of Montgomery drew near-the curtains were thrown open-Wallace stretched out his hand to him: “The prayers of sainted innocence are thine!”
“Never more shall her angel spirit behold me here, as you now behold me,” returned Montgomery; “I must be a traitor to virtue, before I ever again bear arms against Sir William Wallace!”
Wallace pressed his hand, and they parted.
The escort which guarded De Valence advanced; and the proud earl, seeing where his enemy stood, took off his gauntlet, and throwing it fiercely toward him, exclaimed, “Carry that to your minion Ruthven, and tell him the hand that wore it will yet be tremendously revenged!”
As the Southron ranks filed off toward Carlisle, those of the returning Scottish prisoners approached their deliverer. Now it was that the full clangor of joy burst from every breast and triumph-breathing instrument in the Scottish legions; now it was that the echoes rung with loud huzzas of “Long live the valiant Wallace, who brings our nobles out of captivity! Long live our matchless regent!”
As these shouts rent the air, the Lords Badenoch and Athol drew near. The princely head of the former bent with proud acknowledgement to the mild dignity of Wallace. Badenoch’s penetrating eye saw that it was indeed the patriotic guardian of his country to whom he bowed, and not the vain affector of regal power. At his approach, Wallace alighted form his horse, and received his offered hand and thanks with every grace inherent in his noble nature. “I am happy” returned he, “to have been the instrument of recalling to my country one of the princes of her royal blood.” “And while one drop of it exists in Scotland,” replied Badenoch, “its possessors must acknowledge the bravest of our defenders in Sir William Wallace.”
Athol next advanced, but his gloomy countenance contradicted his words when he attempted to utter a similar sense of obligation. Sir John Monteith was eloquent in his thanks. And Sir William Maitland was not less sincere in his gratitude, than Wallace was in joy, at having given liberty to so near a relation of Helen Mar. The rest of the captive Scots, to the number of several hundred, were ready to kiss the feet of the man who thus restored them to their honors, their country, and their friends, and Wallace bowed his happy head under a shower of blessings which poured on him from a thousand grateful hearts.
In pity to the wearied travelers, he ordered tents to be pitched; and for the sake of their distant friends, he dispatched a detachment to the top of Langholm Hill, to send forth a smoke in token to the Clydesdale watch, of the armistice being ended. He had hardly seen it ascend the mountain, when Graham arrived from reconnoitering, and told him that an English army of great strength was approaching by the foot of the more southern hills, to take the reposing Scots by surprise.
“They shall find us ready to receive them,” was the prompt reply of Wallace; and his actions were ever the companions of his words. Leaving the new-arrived Scots to rest on the banks of the Esk, he put himself at the head of five thousand men; and dispatching a thousand more, with Sir John Graham, to pass the Cheviots, and be in ambush to attack the Southrons when he should give the signal, he marched swiftly forward, and soon fell in with some advanced squadrons of the enemy, amongst the recesses of those hills. Little expecting such a rencounter, they were marching in defiles upon the lower ridgy craigs, to avoid the swamps which occupied the broader way.
At sight of the Scots, Lord Percy, the Southron commander, ordered a party of his archers to discharge their arrows. The artillery of war being thus opened afresh, Wallace drew his bright sword, and waving it before him, just as the sun set, called aloud to his followers. His inspiring voice echoed from hill to hill; and the higher detachments of the Scots, pouring downward with the resistless impetuosity of their own mountain streams, precipitated their enemies into the valley; while Wallace, with his pikemen, charging the horses in those slippery paths, drove the terrified animals into the morasses, where some sunk at once, and others, plunging, threw their riders, to perish in the swamp.
Desperate at the confusion which now ensued, as his archers fell headlong from the rocks, and his cavalry lay drowning before him, Lord Percy called up his infantry; they appeared, but though ten thousand strong, the determined Scots met their first ranks breast to breast; and leveling them with their companions, rushed on the rest with the force of a thunder-storm. It was at this period, that the signal was given from the horn of Wallace; and the division of Graham, meeting the retreating Southrons as they attempted to form behind the hill, completed their defeat. The slaughter became dreadful, the victory decisive. Sir Ralph Lattimer, the second in command, was killed in the first onset; and Lord Percy himself, after fighting as became his brave house, fled, covered with wounds, toward Alnwick.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59