The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 68.


The day after the departure of Helen, Bruce became impatient to take the field; and, to indulge this laudable eagerness, Wallace set forth with him to meet the returning steps of Ruthven and his gathered legions.

Having passed along the borders of Invermay, the friends descended toward the precipitous banks of the Earn, at the foot of the Grampians. In these green labyrinths they wound their way, till Bruce, who had never before been in such mountain wilds, expressed a fear that Wallace had mistaken the track; for this seemed far from any human footstep.

Wallace replied, with a smile. “The path is familiar to me as the garden of Huntingtower.”

The day, which had been cloudy, suddenly turned to wind and rain, which certainly spread an air of desolation over the scene, very dreary to an eye accustomed to the fertile plains and azure skies of the south. The whole of the road was rough, dangerous, and dreadful. The steep and black rocks, towering above their heads, seemed to threaten the precipitation of their impending masses into the path below. But Wallace had told Bruce they were in the right track, and he gaily breasted both the storm and the perils of the road. They ascended a mountain, whose enormous piles of granite, torn by many a winter tempest, projected their barren summits from a surface of moorland, on which lay a deep incrustation of snow. The blast now blew a tempest, and the rain and sleet beat so hard, that Bruce, laughing, declared he believed the witches of his country were in league with Edward, and, hid in shrouds of mist, were all assembled here to drive their lawful prince into the roaring cataracts beneath.

Thus enveloped in a sea of vapors, with torrents of water pouring down the sides of their armor, did the friends descend the western brow of this part of the Grampians until they approached Loch Earn. They had hardly arrived there before the rain ceased, and the clouds, rolling away from the sides of the mountains, discovered the vast and precipitous Ben Vorlich. Its base was covered with huge masses of cliffs, scattered in fragments, like the wreck of some rocky world, and spread abroad in wide and horrid desolation. The mountain itself, the highest in this chain of the Grampians, was in every part marked by deep and black ravines, made by the rushing waters in the time of floods; but where its blue head mingled with the clouds, a stream of brightness issued that seemed to promise the dispersion of its vapors; and consequently a more secure path for Wallace, to lead his friend over its perilous heights.51

51 This description of Ben Vorlich, written ten years before the journey of the author’s brother, Sir. R. K. Porter, into Armenia and Persia, on her reperusing it now, while revising these volumes, reminds her strongly of his account of the appearance of Mount Arafat, as he saw it under a storm, and which he describes with so much, she must be allowed to say, sacred interest, in his travels through those countries. —(1840.)

This appearance did not deceive. The whole mantle of clouds, with which the tops of all the mountains had been obscured, rolled away toward the west, and discovered to the eye of Wallace that this line of light which he had discerned through the mist, was the host of Ruthven descending Ben Vorlich in defiles. From the nature of the path, they were obliged to move in a winding direction, and as the sun now shone full upon their arms, and their lengthened lines gradually extended from the summit of the mountain to its base, no sight could contain more of the sublime, none of truer grandeur to the enraptured mind of Bruce. He forgot his horror of the wastes he had passed over in the joy of beholding so noble an army of his countrymen thus approaching to place him upon the throne of his ancestors. “Wallace,” cried he, “these brave hearts deserve a more cheerful home! My scepter must turn this Scotia desrta into Scotia felix; and so shall I reward the service they this day bring me.”

“They are happy in these wilds,” returned Wallace, “their flocks browse the hills, their herds the valleys. The soil yields sufficient to support its sons; and their luxuries are, a minstrel’s song and the lip of their brides. Their ambition is satisfied with following their chief to the field; and their honor lies in serving their God and maintaining the freedom of their country. Beware, then, my dear prince, of changing the simple habits of those virtuous mountaineers. Introduce the luxurious cultivation of France into these tracts, you will infect them with artificial wants; and, with every want, you put a link to a chain which will fasten them to bondage whenever a tyrant chooses to grasp it. Leave them then their rocks as you find them, and you will ever have a hardy race, ready to perish in their defense, or to meet death for the royal guardian of their liberties.”

Lord Ruthven no sooner reached the banks of Loch Earn, than he espied the prince and Wallace. He joined them; then marshaling his men in a wide tract of land at the head of that vast body of water, placed himself with the two supposed De Longuevilles in the van; and in this array marched through the valleys of Strathmore and Strathallen, into Stirlingshire. The young Earl of Fife held the government of the castle and town of Stirling; and as he had been a zealous supporter of the rebellious Lord Badenoch, Bruce negatized Ruthven’s proposal to send in a messenger for the earl’s division of the troops.

“No, my lord,” said he, “like my friend Wallace, I will have no divided spirits near me; all must be earnest in my cause, or entirely out of the contest. I am content with the brave men around me.”

After rapid marchings and short haltings, they arrived safe at Linlithgow, where Wallace proposed staying a night to refresh the troops, who were now joined by Sir Alexander Ramsay, at the head of a thousand of his clan. While the men took rest, the chiefs waked to think for them. And Wallace, with Bruce and Ruthven, and the brave Ramsay (to whom Wallace had revealed himself, but still kept Bruce unknown), were in deep consultation when Grimsby entered to inform his master that a young knight desired to speak with Sir Guy de Longueville.

“His name?” demanded Wallace.

“He refused to tell it,” replied Grimsby, “and wears his beaver shut.”

Wallace looked around with a glance that inquired whether the stranger should be admitted.

“Certainly,” said Bruce, “but first put on your mask.”

Wallace closed his visor, and the moment after Grimsby reentered, with a knight of elegant mien, habited in a suit of green armor, linked with gold. He wore a close helmet, from which streamed a long feather, of the same hue. Wallace rose at his entrance; the stranger advanced to him.

“You are he whom I seek. I am a Scot, and a man of few words. Accept my services, allow me to attend you in this war, and I will serve you faithfully.”

Wallace replied: “And who is the brave knight to whom Sir Guy de Longueville must owe so great an obligation?”

“My name,” answered the stranger, “shall not be revealed till he who now wears that of the Reaver proclaims his own in the day of victory. I know you, sir, but your secret is as safe with me as in your own breast. Place me to fight by your side, and I am yours forever.”

Wallace was surprised, but not confounded by this speech. “I have only one question to ask you, noble stranger,” replied he, “before I confide a cause dearer to me than life in your integrity. How did you become master of a secret, which I believed out of the power of treachery to betray?”

“No one betrayed your secret to me. I came by my information in an honorable manner, but the means I shall not reveal till I see the time to declare my name, and that, perhaps, may be in the moment when the assumed brother of yon young Frenchman,” added the stranger, turning to Bruce, and lowering his voice, “again appears publicly in Scotland, as Sir William Wallace.”

“I am satisfied,” replied he, well pleased that whoever this knight might be, Bruce yet remained undiscovered; “I grant your request. Yon brave youth, whose name I share, forgives me the success of my sword. I slew the red Reaver, and therefore would restore a brother to Thomas de Longueville, in myself. He fights on my right hand, you shall be stationed at my left.”

“On the side next your heart!” exclaimed the stranger, “let that ever be my post, there to guard the bulwark of Scotland, the life of the bravest of men.”

This enthusiasm did not surprise any present; it was the usual language of all who approached Sir William Wallace; and Bruce, particularly pleased with the heartfelt energy with which it was uttered, forgot his disguise in the amiable fervor of approbation, and half arose to welcome him to his cause; but a look from Wallace (who on being known had uncovered his face), arrested his intention and the prince sat down again, thankful for so timely a check on his precipitancy.

In passing the Pentland Hills, into Mid–Lothian, the chiefs were met by Edwin, who had crossed from the north by the Frith of Forth; and having heard no tidings of the Scottish army in the neighborhood of Edinburgh, he had turned to meet it on the most probably road. Wallace introduced him to the Knight of the Green Plume, for that was the appellation by which the stranger desired to be known — and then made inquiries how Lady Helen had borne the fatigues of her journey to Braemar. “Pretty well there,” replied he, “but much better back again.” He then explained that on his arrival with her, neither Lady Mar nor his mother would consent to remain so far from the spot where Wallace was to contend again for the safety of their country. Helen did not say anything in opposition to their wishes; and at last Edwin yielded to the entreaties and tears of his mother and aunt, to bring them to where they might, at least, not long endure the misery of suspense. Having consented, without an hour’s delay, he set forth with the ladies, to retrace his steps to Huntingtower; and there he left them, under a guard of three hundred men, whom he brought from Braemar for that purpose.

Bruce, whose real name had not been revealed to the other ladies of Ruthven’s family, in a lowered tone, asked Edwin some questions relative to the spirits in which Helen had parted with him. “In losing her,” added he, “my friend and I feel but as part of what we were. Her presence seemed to ameliorate the fierceness of our war-councils, and ever reminded me of the angelic guard by whom Heaven points our way.”

“I left her with looks like the angel you speak of,” answered Edwin; “but she bade me farewell upon the platform of the eastern tower of the castle. When I gave her the parting embrace, she raised herself from my breast, and stretching her arms to heave, with her pure soul in her eyes, she exclaimed, ‘Bless him, gracious God; bless him, and his noble commander! may they ever, with the prince they love, be thine especial care!’ I knelt by her as she uttered this; and touching the hem of her garments as some holy thing, hurried from the spot.”

“Her prayers,” cried Bruce, “will fight for us. They are arms well befitting the virgins of Scotland to use against its foes.”

“And without such unction,” rejoined Wallace, looking to that Heaven she had invoked, “the warrior may draw his steel in vain.”

On Edwin’s introduction, the stranger knight engaged himself in conversation with Ramsay. But Lord Ruthven interrupted the discourse, by asking Ramsay some questions relative to the military positions on the banks of the Eske. Sir Alexander, being the grandson of the Lord of Roslyn, and having passed his youth in its neighborhood, was well qualified to answer these questions. In such discourses, the Scottish leaders marched along, till, passing before the lofty ridge of the Corstophine Hills, they were met by groups of flying peasantry. At sight of the Scottish banners they stopped, and informed their armed countrymen, that the new regent, John of Badenoch, having rashly attacked the Southron army in its vantage ground, near Borthwick Castle, had suffered defeat, and was in full and disordered retreat toward Edinburgh, while the country people fled on all sides before the victors. These reporters magnified the number of the enemy to an incredible amount.

Wallace was at no loss in comprehending how much to believe in this panic; but determining, whether great or small the power of his adversary, to intercept him at Roslyn, he sent to Cummin and to Fraser, the two commanders in the beaten and dispersed armies, to rendezvous on the banks of the Eske. The brave troops which he led, though ignorant of their real leader, obeyed his direction under an idea they were Lord Ruthven’s, who was their ostensible general, and steadily pursued their march. Every village and solitary cot seemed recently deserted; and through an awful solitude they took their rapid way, till the towers of Roslyn Castle hailed them as a beacon from amidst the wooded heights of the northern Eske.

“There,” cried Ramsay, pointing to the embattled rock, “stands the fortress of my forefathers! It must this day be made famous by the actions performed before its walls!”

Wallace, whose knowledge of this part of the country was not quite so familiar as that of Ramsay, learned sufficient from him to decide at once which would be the most favourable position for a small and resolute band to assume against a large and conquering army; and, accordingly disposing his troops, which did not amount to more than eight thousand men, he dispatched one thousand, under the command of Ramsay, to occupy the numerous caves in the southern banks of the Eske, where they were to issue in various divisions, and with shouts, on the first appearance of advantage, either on his side or on the enemy’s.

Ruthven, meanwhile, went for a few minutes into the castle to embrace his niece, and to assure the venerable Lord of Roslyn that assistance approached his beleaguered walls.

Edwin, who, with Grimsby, had volunteered the dangerous service of reconnoitering the enemy, returned within an hour, bringing in a straggler from the English camp. His life was promised him on condition of his revealing the strength of the advancing army. The terrified wretch did not hesitate; and from him they learned that it was commanded by Sir John Segrave and Ralph Confrey, who, deeming the country subdued by the two last battles gained over the Black and Red Cummins,52 were preparing for a general plundering. And, to sweep the land at once, Segrave had divided his army into three divisions, to scatter themselves over the country, and everywhere gather in the spoil. To be assured of this being the truth, while Grimsby remained to guard the prisoner, Edwin went alone into the track he was told the Southrons would take, and from a height he discerned about ten thousand of them winding along the valley. With this confirmation of the man’s account, he brought him to the Scottish lines; and Wallace, who well knew how to reap advantage from the errors of his enemies, being joined by Fraser and the discomfited regent, made the concerted signal to Ruthven. That nobleman immediately pointed out to his men the waving colors of the Southron host, as it approached beneath the overhanging woods of Hawthorndean. He exhorted them, by their fathers, wives, and children, to breast the enemy at this spot; to grapple with him till he fell. “Scotland,” cried he, “is lost or won, this day. You are freemen or slaves; your families are your own, or the property of tyrants! Fight stoutly, and God will yield you an invisible support.”

52 The Red Cummin was an attributive appellation of John, the last regent before the accession of Bruce. His father, the princely Earl of Badenoch, was called the Black Cummin.

The Scots answered their general by a shout, and calling on him to lead them forward, Ruthven placed himself, with the regent and Fraser, in the van, and led the charge. Little expecting an assault from an adversary they had so lately driven off the field, the Southrons were taken by surprise. But they fought well, and resolutely stood their ground till Wallace and Bruce, who commanded the flanking divisions, closed in upon them with an impetuosity that drove Confrey’s division into the river. Then the ambuscade of Ramsay poured from his caves, the earth seemed teeming with mailed warriors, and the Southrons, seeing the surrounding heights and the deep defiles filled with the same terrific appearances, fled with precipitation toward their second division, which lay a few miles southward. Thither the conquering squadrons of the Scots followed them. The fugitives, leaping the trenches of the encampment, called out to their comrades: “Arm! arm! Hell is in league against us!” Segrave was soon at the head of his legions, and a battle more desperate than the first blazed over the field. The flying troops of the slain Confrey, rallying around the standard of their general-in-chief, fought with the spirit of revenge, and, being now a body of nearly 20,000 men, against 8000 Scots, the conflict became tremendous. In several points the Southrons gained so greatly the advantage that Wallace and Bruce threw themselves successively into those parts where the enemy most prevailed, and by exhortations, example and prowess they a thousand times turned the fate of the day, appearing as they shot from rank to rank to be two comets of fire sent before the Scottish troops to consume all who opposed them. Segrave was taken, and forty English knights besides.

The green borders of the Eske were dyed red with Southron blood; and the enemy on all sides were calling for quarter, when, of a sudden, the cry of “Havoc and St. George!” issued from the adjoining hill. At the same moment, a posse of country people (who, for the sake of plunder, had stolen into the height), seeing the advancing troops of a third division of the enemy, like guilty cowards rushed down amongst their brave defenders, echoing the war-cry of England, and exclaiming, “We are lost — a host, reaching to the horizon, is upon us!” Terror struck to many a Scottish heart. The Southrons who were just about giving up their arms, leaped upon their feet. The fight recommenced with redoubled fury. Sir Robert Neville, at the head of the new reinforcement, charged into the center of the Scottish legions. Bruce and Edwin threw themselves into the breach which this impetuous onset had made in that part of their line, and fighting man to man, would have taken Neville, had not a follower of that nobleman, wielding a ponderous mace, struck Bruce so terrible a blow, as to fracture his helmet, and cast him from his horse to the ground. The fall of so active a leader excited as much dismay in the surrounding Scots as it encouraged the reviving spirits of the enemy. Edwin exerted himself to preserve his prince from being trampled on; and while he fought for that purpose, and afterward sent his senseless body off the field, under charge of young Gordon (who had been chosen by the disguised Bruce as his especial aid), to Roslyn Castle, Neville rescued Segrave and his knights. Lord Ruthven now contended with a feeble arm. Fatigued with the two preceding conflicts, covered with wounds, and perceiving indeed a host pouring upon them on all sides (for the whole of Segrave’s original army of 30,000 men, excepting those who had fallen in the preceding engagements, were now restored to the assault), the Scots, in despair, gave ground: some threw away their arms, to fly the faster; and by thus exposing themselves, panic-struck, to the swords of their enemies, redoubled the confusion.

Indeed, so great was the havoc, that the day must have ended in the universal destruction of every Scot on the field, had not Wallace felt the crisis, and that as Guy de Longueville he shed his blood in vain. In vain his terrified countrymen saw him rush into the thickest of the carnage; in vain he called to them, by all that was sacred to man, to stand to the last. He was a foreigner, and they had no confidence in his exhortations; death was before them, and they turned to fly. The fate of his country was hung on an instant. The last rays of the setting sun shone full on the rocky promontory of the hill which projected over the field of combat. He took his resolution; and spurring his steed up the steep ascent, stood on the summit, where he could be seen by the whole army then taking off his helmet, he waved it in the air with a shout, and having drawn all eyes upon him, suddenly exclaimed, “Scots! you have this day vanquished the Southrons twice! if you be men, remember Cambus–Kenneth, and follow William Wallace to a third victory!” The cry which issued from the amazed troops was that of a people who beheld the angel of their deliverance. “Wallace!” was the chargeword of every heart. The hero’s courage seemed instantaneously diffused through every breast; and, with braced arms and determined spirits, forming at once into the phalanx his thundering voice dictated, the Southrons again felt the weight of the Scottish steel; and a battle ensued, which made the bright Eske run purple to the sea, and covered the pastoral glades of Hawthorndean with the bodies of its invaders.

Sir John Segrave and Neville were both taken; and ere night closed in upon the carnage, Wallace granted quarter to those who sued for it, and, receiving their arms, left them to repose in their before depopulated camp.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59