It was on the eve of St. Nicholas that the boat which contained Wallace drew near to the coast of Fife. A little of the right towered the tremendous precipice of Kinghorn.
“Behold, Edwin,” said he, “the cause of all our woe! From those horrible cliffs fell the best of kings, the good Alexander. My father accompanied him in that fatal ride, and was one of the unhappy group who had the evil hap to find his mangled body among the rocks below.”
“I have heard,” observed Graham, “that the sage of Ercildown prophesied this dreadful calamity to Scotland.”
“He did prognosticate,” replied Wallace, “that on the eighteenth of April, a storm should burst over this land which would lay the country in ruins. Fear seized the farmers; but his prophecy regarded a nobler object than their harvests. The day came, rose unclouded, and continued perfectly serene. Lord March, to whom the seer had presaged the event, at noon reproached him with the unlikeliness of its completion. But even at the moment he was ridiculing the sage, a man on a foaming steed arrived at the gate, with tidings that the king had accidentally fallen from the precipice of Kinghorn, and was killed. ‘This,’ said the Lord of Ercildown, ‘is the scathing wind and dreadful tempest which shall long blow calamity and trouble on the realm of Scotland!’ And surely his words have been verified, for still the storm rages around our borders-and will not cease, I fear, till the present dragon of England be laid as low as our noble lion was by that mysterious blast.”38
38 Alexander III. was killed in this manner on the 18th of April, 1290, just seven years before the consequent calamities of his country made it necessary for Wallace to rise in its defense.
The like discourse held the friends till they landed at Roseyth Castle, where they lodged for the night; and next morning recommencing their journey at daybreak, they crossed the Lomonds under a wintery sun, and entered Perth in the midst of a snow-storm.
The regent’s arrival soon spread throughout the province, and the hall of the castle was speedily crowded with chieftains, come to pay their respects to their benefactor; while an army of grateful peasantry from the hills filled the suburbs of the town, begging for one glance only of their beloved lord. To oblige them, Wallace mounted his horse, and between the Lords Ruthven and Athol, with his bonnet off, rode from the castle to the populace-covered plain, which lay to the west of the city. He gratified their affectionate eagerness by this condescension, and received in return the sincere homage of a thousand grateful hearts. The snow-topped Grampians echoed with the proud acclamations of “Our deliverer,” “Our prince,” “The champion of Scotland,” “The glorious William Wallace!” and the shores of the Tay resounded with similar rejoicings at sight of him who made the Scottish seamen lords of the Northern Ocean.
Ruthven beheld this eloquence of nature with sympathetic feelings. His just sense of the unequaled merits of the regent had long internally acknowledged him as his sovereign; and he smiled with approbation at every breathing amongst the people which intimated what would at last be their general shout. Wallace had proved himself not only a warrior but a legislator. In the midst of war he had planted the fruits of peace, and now the olive and the vine waved abundant on every hill.
Different were the thoughts of the gloomy Athol as he rode by the side of the regent. Could he by a look have blasted those valiant arms-have palsied that youthful head, whose judgment shamed the hoariest temples-gladly would he have made Scotland the sacrifice so that he might never again find himself in the triumphant train of one whom he deemed a boy and an upstart! Thus did he muse, and thus did envy open a way into his soul for those demons to enter which were so soon to possess it with the fellest designs.
The issue of Ruthven’s claims did not lessen Lord Athol’s hatred of the regent. Wallace simply stated the case to him, only changing the situations of the opponents; he supposed Athol to be in the place of Ruthven and then asked the frowning earl if Ruthven had demanded a government which Athol had bravely won and nobly secured, whether he should deem it just to be sentenced to relinquish it into the hands of his rival? By this question he was forced to decide against himself. But while Wallace generously hoped that, by having made him his own judge, he had found an expedient both to soften the pain of disappointment and to lessen the humiliation of defeat, he had only redoubled the hatred of Athol, who thought he had thus been cajoled out of even the privilege of complaint. He, however, affected to be reconciled to the issue of the affair, and, taking a friendly leave of the regent, retired to Blair; and there, amongst the numerous fortresses which owned his power-amongst the stupendous strongholds of nature, the cloud invested mountains and the labyrinthine winding of his lochs and streams-he determined to pass his days and nights in devising the sure fall of this proud usurper; for so the bitterness of an envy he durst not yet breathe to any impelled him internally to designate the unpretending Wallace.
Meanwhile, the unconscious object of this hatred, oppressed by the overwhelming crowds constantly assembling at Perth to do him homage, retired to Huntingtower-a castle of Lord Ruthven’s, at some distance from the town. Secluded from the throng, he there arranged, with the chiefs of several clans, matters of consequence to the internal repose of the country; but receiving applications for similar regulations from the counties further north, he decided on going thither himself. Severe as the weather was at that season, he bade adieu to the warm hospitalities of Huntingtower, and, accompanied by Graham and his young friend Edwin, with a small but faithful train he commenced a journey which he intended should comprehend the circuit of the Highlands.
With the chieftain of almost every castle in his progress he passed a day, and according to the interest which the situation of the surrounding peasantry created in his mind he lengthened his sojourn. Everywhere he was welcomed with enthusiasm, and his glad eye beheld the festivities of Christmas with a delight which recalled past emotions, till they wrung his heart.
The last day of the old year he spent with Lord Loch-awe, in Kichurn Castle; and after a bounteous feast, in which lord and vassal joined, sat up the night to hail the coming in of the new season. Wallace had passed that hour, twelve months ago, alone with his Marion. They sat together in the window of the eastern tower of Ellerslie: and while he listened to the cheerful lilts to which their servants were dancing, the hand of his lovely bride was clasped in his. Marion smiled and talked of the happiness which should await them in the year to come. “Ay, my beloved,” answered he, “more than thy beauteous self will then fill these happy arms! Thy babe, my wife, will then hand at thy bosom, to bless with a parent’s joys thy grateful husband!”
That time was now come round, and where was Marion?-cold in the grave. Where that smiling babe?-a murderer’s steel had reached it ere it saw the light.
Wallace groaned at these recollections; he struck his hand forcibly on his bursting heart, and fled from the room. The noise of the harps, the laughing of the dancers, prevented his emotions from being observed; and rushing far from the joyous tumult, till its sounds died in the breeze, or were only brought to his ear by fitful gusts, he speeded along the margin of the lake, as if he would have flown even from himself. But memory, racking memory, followed him. Throwing himself on a bank, over which the ice hung in pointed masses, he felt not the roughness of the ground, for all within him was disturbed and at war.
“Why,” cried he, “O! why was I selected for this cruel sacrifice? Why was this heart, to whom the acclaim of multitudes could bring no selfish joy-why was it to be bereft of all that ever made it beat with transport? Companion of my days, partner of my soul! my lost, lost Marion! And are thine eyes forever closed on me? Shall I never more clasp that hand which ever thrilled my frame with every sense of rapture? Gone, gone forever-and I am alone!”
Long and agonizing was the pause which succeeded to this fearful tempest of feeling. In that hour of grief, renewed in all its former violence, he forgot country, friends and all on earth. The recollection of his fame was mockery to him; for where was she to whom the sound of his praises would have given so much joy?
“Ah!” said he, “it was indeed happiness to be brightened in those eyes! When the gratitude of our poor retainers met thine ear, how didst thou lay thy soft cheek to mine, and shoot its gentle warmth into my heart!” At that moment he turned his face on the gelid bank; starting with wild horror, he exclaimed, “Is it now so cold? My Marion, my murdered wife!” and, rushing from the spot, he again hastened along the margin of the loch. But there he still heard the distant sound of the pipes from the castle; he could not bear their gay notes; and, darting up the hill which overhung Loch-awe’s domain, he ascended, with swift and reckless steps, the rocky sides of Ben Cruachan. Full of distracting thoughts, and impelled by a wild despair, he hurried from steep to steep, and was rapidly descending the western side of the mountain, regardless of the piercing sleet, when his course was suddenly checked by coming with a violent shock against another human being, who, running as hastily through the storm, had driven impetuously against Wallace; but, being the weaker of the two, was struck to the ground. The accident rallied the scattered senses of the chief. He now felt that he was out in the midst of a furious winter tempest, had wandered he knew not whither, and probably had materially injured some poor traveler by his intemperate motion.
He raised the fallen man, and asked whether he were hurt. The traveler, perceiving by the kind tone of the inquirer that no harm had been intended, answered, “Not much, only a little lamed, and all the recompense I ask for this unlucky upset is to give me a helping hand to my father’s cot-it is just by. I have been out at a neighbor’s to dance in the new year with a bonny lass, who, however, may not thank you for my broken shins!”
As the honest lad went on telling his tale, with a great many particulars dear to his simple wishes, Wallace helped him along; and carefully conducting him through the gathering snow, descended the declivity which led to the shepherd’s cottage. When within a few yards of it, Wallace heard the sound of singing, but it was not the gay caroling of mirth; the solemn chant of more serious music mingled with the roaring blast.
“I am not too late yet!” cried the communicative lad; “I should not have run so fast had I not wanted to get home in time enough to make one in the New-year’s hymn.”
They had now arrived at the little door, and the youth, without the ceremony of knocking, opened the latch; as he did so, he turned and said to his companion, “We have no occasion for bolts, since the brave Lord Wallace has cleared the country of our Southron robbers.” He pushed the door as he spoke, and displayed to the eyes of the chief a venerable old man on his knees before a crucifix; around him knelt a family of young people and an aged dame, all joining in the sacred thanksgiving. The youth, without a word, dropped on his knees near the door, and making a sign to his companion to do the same, Wallace obeyed; and as the anthems rose in succession on the ear, to which the low breathings of the lightly touched harp echoed its heavenly strains, he felt the tumult of his bosom gradually subside; and when the venerable sire laid down the instrument and clasped his hands in prayer, the natural pathos of his invocations, and the grateful devotions with which the young people gave their response, all tended to tranquilize his mind into a holy calm.
At the termination of the concluding prayer, how sweet were the emotions of Wallace when he heard these words, uttered with augmented fervor by the aged petitioner!
“While we thus thank thee, O gracious God! for the mercies bestowed upon us, we humbly implore thee to hold in thine Almighty protection him by whose arm thou has wrought the deliverance of Scotland. Let our preserver be saved from his sins by the blood of Christ! Let our benefactor be blessed in mind, body, and estate, and all prosper with him that he takes in hand! May the good he has dispensed to his country be returned four-fold into his bosom; and may he live to see a race of his own reaping the harvest of his virtues, and adding fresh honors to the stalwart name of Wallace!”
Every mouth echoed a fervent amen to this prayer, and Wallace himself inwardly breathed, “And have I not, even now, sinned, all-gracious God! in the distraction of this night’s remembrance? I mourned-I would not be comforted. But in thy mercy thou hast led me hither to see the happy fruits of my labors; and I am resigned and thankful!”
The sacred rites over, two girls ran to the other side of the room, and between them brought forward a rough table covered with dishes and bread; while the mother, taking off a large pot, emptied its smoking contents into the different vessels. Meanwhile the young man, introducing the stranger to his father, related the accident of the meeting, and the good old shepherd, bidding him a hearty welcome, desired him to draw near the fire and partake of their New-year’s breakfast.
“We need the fire, I assure you,” cried the lad, “for we are dripping.”
Wallace now advanced from the shadowed part of the room, where he had knelt, and drawing toward the light, certainly displayed to his host the truth of his son’s observation. He had left the castle without his bonnet, and hurrying on regardless of the whelming storm, his hair became saturated with wet, and now streamed in water over his shoulders. The good old wife, seeing the stranger’s situation was worse than her son’s snatched away the bottle out of which he was swallowing a heavy cordial, and poured it over the exposed head of her guest; then ordering one of her daughters to rub it dry, she took off his plaid, and wringing it, hung it to the fire.
During these various operations-for the whole family seemed eager to show their hospitality-the old man discovered, not so much by the costliness of his garments as by the noble mien and gentle manners of the stranger, that he was some chieftain from the castle. “Your honor,” said he, “must pardon the uncourtliness of our ways; but we give you the best we have: and the worthy Lord Loch-awe cannot do more.”
Wallace gave smiling answers to all their remarks, and offers of service. He partook of their broth, praised the good wife’s cakes, and sat discoursing with the family with all the gayety and frankness of one of themselves. His unreserved manners opened every heart around him, and with confidential freedom the venerable shepherd related his domestic history, dwelling particularly on the projected marriages of his children, which he said, “should now take place, since the good Sir William Wallace had brought peace to the land.”
Wallace gratified the worthy father, he appearing to take an interest in all his narratives, and then allowing the happy spirits of the young people to break in upon these graver discussions, he smiled with them, or looked serious with the garrulous matron, who turned the discourse to tales of other times. He listened with complacency to every legend of witch, fairy, and ghost; and his enlightened remarks sometimes pointed out natural causes for the extraordinary appearances she described; or, at better-attested and less equivocal accounts of supernatural apparitions, he acknowledged that there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in philosophy.”
Morning dawned before the tranquilized, nay, happy Wallace, happy in the cheerful innocence of the scene, discovered that the night was past. As the gray light gleamed through the wooden shutters he arose. “My friends, I must leave you,” said he; “there are those not far off who may be alarmed at my disappearance, for none knew when I walked abroad, and unwittingly I have been charmed all these hours to remain, enjoying the happiness of your circle, forgetful of the anxiety I have perhaps occasioned in my own.”
The old man declared his intention of seeing him over the hill. Wallace declined giving him that trouble, saying that as it was daylight, and the snow had ceased, he could easily retrace his steps to the castle.
“No, no,” returned the shepherd; “and besides,” said he, “as I hear the good lord regent is keeping the New Year with our noble earl, who knows but I may get a glimpse of his noble countenance, and that will be a sight to tell of till I die!”
“God’s blessing on his sweet face!” cried the old woman; “but I would give all the yarn in my muckle chest to catch one look of his lucky eye! I warrant you, witch nor fairy could never harm me more.”
“Ah, father,” cried the eldest of the girls, blushing, “if you go near enough to him! Do you know, Madgie Grant told me, if I could but get even the least bit of Sir William Wallace’s hair, and give it to Donal Cameron to wear in a true lover’s know on his breast, no Southron will be able to do him harm as long as he lives!”
“And do you believe it would protect your lover, my pretty Jeannie?” inquired Wallace, with a sweet smile.
“Surely,” she replied; “for Madgie is a wise woman, and has the second sight.”
“Well, then,” returned he, “you shall be gratified. For, though I must for once contradict the testimony of a wise woman, and tell you that nothing can render a man absolutely safe but the protection of Heaven, yet, if a hair from the head of Sir William Wallace would please you, and a glance from his eye gratify your mother, both shall be satisfied,” and lifting up the old woman’s shears, which lay on a working-stool before him, he cut off a golden lock from the middle of his head and put it into the hand of Jeannie. At this action-which was performed with such noble grace that not one of the family now doubted who had been their guest-the good dame fell on her knees, and Jeannie, with a cry of joy, putting the beautiful lock into her bosom, followed the example, and in a woman all were clinging around him. The old man grasped his hand. “Bravest of men!” cried he, “the Lord has indeed blessed this house, since he has honored it with the presence of the deliverer of Scotland! My prayers, and the benedictions of all good men, friend or foe, must ever follow your footsteps!”
Tears of pleasure started into the eyes of Wallace. He raised the family one by one from the ground, and putting his purse into the hand of the dame, “There, my kind hostess,” said he, “let that fill the chests of your daughters on their bridal day; they must receive it as a brother’s portion to his sisters, for it is with fraternal affection that William Wallace regards the sons and daughters of Scotland.”
The happy sobs of the old woman stopped the expressions of her gratitude, but her son, fearing his freedom of the night before might have offended, stood abashed at a distance. Wallace stretched out his hand to him. “My good Archibald,” cried he, “do not hold back from one who will always be your friend. I shall send from the castle this day sufficient to fill your bridal coffers also.”
Archibald now petitioned to be allowed to follow him in his army. “No, my brave youth,” replied the chief; “Lord Lochawe will lead you forth, whenever there is occasion; and, meanwhile, your duty is to imitate the domestic duties of your worthy father. Make the neighboring valley smile with the fruits of your industry; and raise a family to bless you, as you now bless him.”
Wallace, having wrapped himself in his plaid, now withdrew amidst the benedictions of the whole group; and swiftly recrossing the mountain heights, was soon on the western brow of Ben Cruachan. In ten minutes afterward he entered the hall of Kilchurn Castle. A few servants only were astir; the rest of the family were still asleep. About an hour after their friend’s departure, the earl and Graham had missed him; but supposing that, whithersoever he was gone, he would soon return, they made no inquiries; and when the tempest began, on Edwin expressing his anxiety to know where he was, one of the servants said he was gone to his chamber. This answer satisfied every one, and they continued to enjoy the festal scene until the Countess of Loch-awe made the signal for repose.
Next morning, when the family met at the breakfast-board, they were not a little surprised to hear Wallace recount the adventure of the night; and while Loch-awe promised every kindness to the shepherd, and a messenger was dispatched with a purse to Archibald Edwin learned from the earl’s servant, that his reason for supposing the regent was gone to his room arose from the sight of his bonnet in the outer hall. Wallace was glad that such an evidence had prevented his friends being alarmed; and retiring with Lord Loch-awe, with his usual equanimity of mind resumed the graver errand of his tour.
The hospitable rites of the season being over, in the course of a few days the earl accompanied his illustrious guest to make the circuit of Argyleshire. At Castle Urguhart they parted; and Wallace, proceeding with his two friends, performed his legislative visits from sea to sea. Having traversed with perfect satisfaction the whole of the northern part of the kingdom, he returned to Huntingtower on the very morning that a messenger had reached it from Murray. That vigilant chieftain informed the regent of King Edward’s arrival from Flanders, and that he was preparing a large army to march into Scotland.
“We must meet him,” cried Wallace, “on his own shores; and so let the horrors attending the seat of war full on the country whose king would bring desolation to ours.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59