The sun was rising from the eastern hills when the victorious group re-entered the mountain-glen where their families lay. The cheerful sounds of their bugles aroused the sleepers from their caves; and many were the gratulations and embraces which welcomed the warriors to affection and repose.
Wallace, while he threw himself along a bed of purple heath, gathered for him by many a busy female hand, listened with a calmed mind to the fond inquiries of Halbert, who, awakened by the first blast of the horn, had started from his shelter and hastened to hail the safe return of his master. While his faithful followers retired each to the bosom of his rejoicing family, the fugitive chief of Ellerslie remained alone with the old man, and recounted to him the success of his enterprise, and the double injuries he had avenged. “The assassin,” continued he, “has paid with his life for his inexpiable crime. He is slain, and with him several of Edward’s garrison. My vengeance may be appeased; but what, O Halbert, can bring redress to my widowed heart? All is lost to me; I have now nothing to do with this world, but as I may be the instrument of good to others! The Scottish sword has now been redrawn against our foes; and, with the blessing of Heaven, I swear it shall not be sheathed till Scotland be rid of the tyranny which has slain my happiness! This night my gallant Scots have sworn to accomplish my vow, and death or liberty must be the future fate of Wallace and his friends.”
At these words, tears ran down the cheeks of the venerable harper. “Alas! my too brave master,” exclaimed he, “what is it you would do? Why rush upon certain destruction? For the sake of her memory whom you deplore; in pity to the worthy Earl of Mar, who will arraign himself as the cause of all these calamities, and of your death, should you fall, retract this desperate vow!”
“No, my good Halbert,” returned Wallace. “I am neither desperate nor inefficient; and you, faithful creature, shall have no cause to mourn this night’s resolution. GO to Lord Mar, and tell him what are my resolves. I have nothing now that binds me to life but my country; and henceforth she shall be to me as mistress, wife and child. Would you deprive me of this tie, Halbert? Would you, by persuading me to resign my interest in her, devote me to a hermit’s seclusion amongst these rocks? for I will never again appear in the tracks of men if it be not as the defender of her rights.”
“But where, my master, shall we find you, should the earl choose to join you with his followers?”
“In this wilderness, whence I shall not remove rashly. My purpose is to save my countrymen, not to sacrifice them in needless dangers.”
Halbert, oppressed with sorrow at the images his foreboding heart drew of the direful scenes in which his beloved master had pledged himself to become the leader, bowed his head with submission, and, leaving Wallace to his rest, retired to the mouth of the cavern to weep alone.
It was noon before the chief awoke from the death-like sleep into which kind nature had plunged his long-harassed senses. He opened his eyes languidly, and when the sight of his rocky apartment forced on him the recollection of all his miseries, he uttered a deep groan. That sad sound, so different from the jocund voice with which Wallace used to issue from his rest, struck on the heart of Halbert; he drew near his master to receive his last commands for Bothwell. “On my knees,” added he, “will I implore the earl to send you succor.”
“He needs not prayers for that,” returned Wallace; “but depart, dear, worthy Halbert; it will comfort me to know you are in safety; and whithersoever you go, you carry my thanks and blessings with you.”
Old age opens the fountains of tears; Halbert’s flowed profusely, and bathed his master’s hand. Could Wallace have wept, it would have been then; but that gentle emollient of grief was denied to him, and, with a voice of assumed cheerfulness, he renewed his efforts to encourage his desponding servant. Half persuaded that a Superior Being did indeed call his beloved master to some extraordinary exertions for Scotland, Halbert bade him an anxious farewell, and then withdrew to commit him to the fidelity of the companions of his destiny.
A few of them led the old man on his way, as far as the western declivity of the hills, and then, bidding him good speed, he took the remainder of his journey alone.
After traversing many a weary mile, between Cartlane Craigs and Bothwell Castle, he reached the valley in which that fortress stands, and calling to the warder at his gates, that he came from Sir William Wallace, was immediately admitted, and conducted into the castle.
Halbert was led by a servant into a spacious chamber, where the earl lay on a couch. A lady, richly habited, and in the bloom of life, sat at his head. Another, much younger, and of resplendent beauty, knelt at his feet, with a salver of medicinal cordials in her hand. The Lady Marion’s loveliness had been that of a soft moonlight evening; but the face which now turned upon Halbert as he entered, was “full of light, and splendor, and joy;” and the old man’s eyes, even though dimmed in tears, were dazzled. A young man stood near her. On the entrance of Halbert, whom the earl instantly recognized, he raised himself on his arm, and welcomed him. The young lady rose, and the young man stepped eagerly forward.
The earl inquired anxiously for Sir William Wallace, and asked if he might expect him soon at Bothwell.
“He cannot yet come, my lord,” replied Halbert; “hard is the task he has laid upon his valiant head; but he is avenged! He has slain the Governor of Lanark.” A faint exclamation broke from the lips of the young lady.
“How?” demanded the earl.
Halbert now gave a particular account of the anguish of Wallace, when he was told of the sanguinary events which had taken place at Ellerslie. As the honest harper described, in his own ardent language, the devoted zeal with which the shepherds on the heights took up arms to avenge the wrong done to their chief, the countenance of the young lady, and of the youth, glowed through tears; they looked on each other; and Halbert proceeded:
“When my dear master and his valiant troop were pursuing their way to Lanark, he was met by Dugald, the wounded man who had rushed into the room to apprise us of the advance of the English forces. During the confusion of that horrible night, and in the midst of the contention, in spite of his feebleness he crept away, and concealed himself from the soldiers amongst the bushes of the glen. When all was over, he came from his hiding-place; and finding the English soldier’s helmet and cloak, poor Dugald, still fearful of falling in with any straggling party of Heselrigge’s, disguised himself in those Southron clothes. Exhausted with hunger, he was venturing toward the house in search of food, when the sight of armed men in the hall made him hastily retreat into his former place of refuge. His alarm was soon increased by a redoubled noise from the house; oaths and horrid bursts of merriment seemed to have turned that once abode of honor and of loveliness into the clamorous haunts of ribaldry and rapine. In the midst of the uproar, he was surprised by seeing flames issue from the windows. Soldiers poured from the doors with shouts of triumph; some carried off the booty, and others watched by the fire till the interior of the building was consumed and the rest sunk a heap of smoking ruins.
“The work completed, these horrid ministers of devastation left the vale to its own solitude. Dugald, after waiting a long time to ascertain they were quite gone, crawled from the bushes, and, ascending the cliffs, he was speeding to the mountains, when, encountering our armed shepherds, they mistook him for an English soldier, and seized him. The chief of ruined Ellerslie recognized his servant; and, with redoubled indignation, his followers heard the history of the moldering ashes before them.”
“Brave, persecuted Wallace!” exclaimed the earl; “how dearly was my life purchased! But proceed, Halbert; tell me that he returned safe from Lanark.”
Halbert now recounted the dreadful scenes which took place in that town; and that when the governor fell, Wallace made a vow never to mingle with the world again till Scotland should be free.”
“Alas!” cried the earl, “what miracle is to effect that? Surely he will not bury those noble qualities, that prime of manhood, within the gloom of a cloister!”
“No, my lord; he has retired to the fastnesses of Cartlane Craigs.”
“Why,” resumed Mar, “why did he not rather fly to me? This castle is strong; and while one stone of it remains upon another, not all the hosts of England should take him hence.”
“It was not your friendship he doubted,” returned the old man, “love for his country compels him to reject all comfort in which she does not share. His last words to me were these: ‘I have nothing now to do but to assert the liberties of Scotland, and to rid her of her enemies. Go to Lord Mar; take this lock of my hair, stained with the blood of my wife. It is all, most likely, he will ever again see 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 armeth the patriot!”
Tears dropped so fast from the young lady’s eyes, she was obliged to walk to a window, to restrain a more violent burst of grief.
“O! my uncle,” cried the youth, “surely the freedom of Scotland is possible. I feel in my soul, that the words of the brave Wallace are prophetic.”
The earl held the lock of hair in his hands; he regarded it, lost in meditation.
“‘God armeth the patriot!’” He paused again, his before pallid cheek taking a thousand animated hues; then raising the sacred present to his lips, “Yes,” cried he, “thy vow shall be performed; and while Donald Mar has an arm to wield a sword, or a man to follow to the field, thou shalt command both him and them!”
“But not as you are, my lord!” cried the elder lady; “your wounds are yet unhealed; your fever is still raging! Would it not be madness to expose your safety at such a crisis?”
“I shall not take arms myself,” answered he, “till I can bear them to effect; meanwhile all of my clan, and of my friends, that I can raise to guard the life of my deliverer and to promote the cause, must be summoned. This lock shall be my pennon; and what Scotsman will look on that, and shrink from his colors! Here, Helen, my child,” cried he, addressing the young lady, “before to-morrow’s dawn, have this hair wrought into my banner. It will be a patriot’s standard; and let his own irresistible words be the motto-God armeth me.”
Helen advanced with awestruck trepidation. Having been told by the earl of the generous valor of Wallace, and of the cruel death of his lady, she had conceived a gratitude and a pity deeper than language could express, for the man who had lost so much by succoring one so dear to hear. She took the lock, waving in yellow light upon her hands, and, trembling with emotion, was leaving the room, when she heard her cousin throw himself on his knees.
“I beseech you, my honored uncle,” cried he, “if you have love for me, or value for my future fame, allow me to be the bearer of your banner to Sir William Wallace.”
Helen stopped at the threshold to hear the reply.
“You could not, my dear nephew,” returned the earl, “have asked me any favor I could grant with so much joy. To-morrow I will collect the peasantry of Bothwell, and with those, and my own followers, you shall join Wallace the same night.”
Ignorant of the horrors of war, and only alive to the glory of the present cause, Helen sympathized in the ardor of her cousin, and with a thrill of sad delight hurried to her apartment, to commence her task.
Far different were the sentiments of the countess, her stepmother. As soon as Lord Mar had let this declaration escape his lips, alarmed at the effect so much agitation might have on his enfeebled constitution, and fearful of the perilous cause he ventured thus openly to espouse, she desired his nephew to take the now comforted Halbert (who was pouring forth his gratitude to the earl, for the promptitude of his orders), and see that he was attended with hospitality.
When the room was left to the earl and herself, she ventured to remonstrate with him upon the facility with which he had become a party in so treasonable a matter. “Consider, my lord,” continued she, “that Scotland is now entirely in the power of the English monarch. His garrisons occupy our towns, his creatures hold every place of trust in the kingdom!”
“And is such a list of oppressions, my dear lady, to be an argument for longer bearing them? Had I, and other Scottish nobles, dared to resist this overwhelming power after the battle of our liberties, kept our own unsheathed within the bulwarks of our mountains, Scotland might now be free; I should not have been insulted by our English tyrants in the streets of Lanark; and, to save my life, William Wallace would not now be mourning his murdered wife, and without a home to shelter him!”
Lady Mar paused at this observation, but resumed, “That may be true. But the die is cast; Scotland is lost forever; and by your attempting to assist your friend in this rash essay to recover it, you will only lose yourself also, without preserving him. The project is wild and needless. What would you have? Now that the contention between the two kings is past; now that Baliol has surrendered his crown to Edward, is not Scotland at peace?”
“A bloody peace, Joanna,” answered the earl; “witness these wounds. A usurper’s peace is more destructive than his open hostilities; plunder and assassination are its concomitants. I have now seen and felt enough of Edward’s jurisdiction. It is time I should awake, and, like Wallace, determine to die for Scotland, or avenge her.”
Lady Mar wept. “Cruel Donald! is this the reward of all my love and duty? You tear yourself from me, you consign your estates to sequestration, you rob your children of their name; nay, by your infectious example, you stimulate our brother Bothwell’s son to head the band that is to join this madman, Wallace!”
“Hold, Joanna!” cried the earl; “what is it I hear? You call the hero who, in saving your husband’s life, reduced himself to these cruel extremities, a madman! Was he made because he prevented the Countess of Mar from being a widow? Was he made because he prevented her children from being fatherless?”
The countess, overcome by this cutting reproach, threw herself upon her husband’s neck. “Alas! my lord,” cried she, “all is madness to me that would plunge you into danger. Think of your own safety; of my innocent twins now in their cradle, should you fall. Think of our brother’s feeling when you send his only son to join one he, perhaps, would call a rebel!”
“If Earl Bothwell considered himself a vassal of Edward’s he would not now be with Lord Loch-awe. From the moment that gallant Highlander retired to Argyleshire, the King of England regarded his adherents with suspicion. Bothwell’s present visit to Loch-awe, you see, is sufficient to sanction the plunder of this castle by the peaceful government you approve. You saw the opening of those proceedings! And had they come to their dreadful issue, where, my dear Joanna, would now be your home, your husband, your children? It was the arm of the brave chief of Ellerslie which saved them from destruction.
Lady Mar shuddered. “I admit the truth of what you say. But oh! is it not hard to put my all to the hazard; to see the bloody field on one side of my beloved Donald, and the mortal scaffold on the other?”
“Hush!” cried the earl, “it is justice that beckons me, and victory will receive me to her arms. Let, oh Power above!” exclaimed he, in the fervor of enthusiasm, “let the victorious field for Scotland be Donald Mar’s grave, rather than doom him to live a witness of her miseries!”
“I cannot stay to hear you!” answered the countess; “I must invoke the Virgin to give me courage to be a patriot’s wife; at present, your words are daggers to me.”
In uttering this she hastily withdrew, and left the earl to muse on the past-to concert plans for the portentous future.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59