Having rewarded his trusty followers with their promised war-bonnets from the hand of Helen, and dispatched them onward to the foot of Cartiane Craigs, to await his arrival with the larger levy. Murray proceeded to the apartment of Lord Mar, to inform him how far he had executed his commands, and to learn his future orders. HE found the veteran earl surrounded by arms and armed men; fifty brave Scots, who were to lead the three hundred on Bothwell Moor, were receiving their spears and swords, and other weapons, from the hands of their lord.
“Bear these stoutly my gallant countrymen,” cried he, “and remember, that although the dragon12 of England has burned up your harvests, and laid our homes in ashes, there is yet a lion in Scotland to wither his power, and glut you with his spoil!”
12 The standard of Edward I, was a golden dragon-a very ancient British standard, but derived from pagan times.-(1809.)
The interest of the scene, and the clatter of the arms he was dispensing, prevented anybody present hearing any sound of what was taking place beyond the room. But the earl had hardly uttered these words, when the double-doors of the apartment were abruptly opened, and all eyes were blasted by the sudden sight of Lord Soulis,13 and a man in splendid English armor, with a train of Southron soldiers, following the recreant Scot.
13 William Lord Soulis was a powerful chief in the south of Scotland. He founded pretensions to the Scottish crown, on his descent from an illegitimate daughter of Alexander II. Soulis was a traitor to his country, and so notoriously wicked, that tradition endows him with the power of infernal necromancy. His castle of Hermitage, in Teviotdale, is still shown as the resort of malignant demons.-(1809.)
The earl started from his couch. “Lord Soulis! what is the occasion of this unapprised visit?”
“The ensign of the liege lord of Scotland is my warrant!” replied he; “you are my prisoner; and in the name of King Edward of England, I take possession of this castle.”
“Never!” cried the earl, “while there is a man’s arm within it.”
“Man and woman,” returned Lord Soulis, “must surrender to Edward. Three thousand English have seized three hundred of our insurgents on Bothwell Moor. The castle is surrounded, and resistance impossible. Throw down your arms!” cried he, turning to the clansmen, who thronged round their chief; “or be hanged for rebellion against your lawful sovereign!”
“Our lawful sovereign!” returned a young man who stood near him, “must be the enemy of Edward; and to none else will we yield our arms!”
“Traitor!” cried the English commander, while with a sudden and dreadful stroke of his battle-ax he laid the body of the generous Scot a headless corpse at his feet. A direful cry proceeded from his enraged comrades. Every sword was drawn; and before the bewildered and soul-struck earl could utter a word, the Furies blew their most horrible blast through the chamber; and the half-frantic Mar beheld his brave Scots at one moment victorious, and in the next the floor strewed with their dead bodies. A new succession of blood-hounds had rushed in at every door; and before the exterminating sword was allowed to rest, the whole of his faithful troops lay around him, wounded and dying. Several had fallen across his body, having warded with their lives the strokes they believed leveled at his. In vain his voice had called upon his men to surrender-in vain he had implored the iron-hearted Soulis, and his coadjutor Aymer de Valence, to stop the havoc of death.
All now lay in blood; and the heat of the room, thronged by the victors, became so intolerable that De Valence, for his own sake, ordered the earl to be removed into another apartment.
Meanwhile, unconscious of these events, Helen had lain down on her bed, to seek a few minutes’ repose; and having watched the whole of the preceding night, was sunk into a profound sleep.
Murray, who was present at the abrupt entrance of the enemy, no sooner heard them declare that the castle was surrounded by a comparatively large army, than he foresaw all would be lost. On the instant, and before the dreadful signal of carnage was given in the fall of the young Scot, he slid behind the canopy of his uncle’s couch; and lifting the arras by a back door which led to some private rooms, hastily made way to the chamber of his cousin. As he hurried along, he heard a fearful shout. He paused for a moment, but thinking it best, whatever might have happened, to secure the safety of Helen, he flew onward, and entered her room. She lay upon the bed in a deep sleep. “Awake, Helen!” he cried; “for your life, awake!”
She opened her eyes; but, without allowing her time to speak, he hastily added; “The castle is full of armed men, led hither by the English commander, Aymer de Valence, and the execrable Soulis. Unless you fly through the vaulted passage, you will be their prisoner.”
Helen gazed at him in terror. “Where is my father? Leave him I cannot.”
“Fly, in pity to your father! Oh, do not hesitate! What will be his anguish, should you fall into the hands of the furious man whose love you have rejected; when it will no longer be in the power of a parent to preserve your person from the outrages of his eager and avengeful passion! If you had seen Soulis’ threatening eyes —” He was interrupted by a clamor in the opposite gallery, and the shrieks of women. Helen grasped his arm. “Alas, my poor damsels! I will go with you, whither you will, to be far from him.”
As Murray threw his arm about her waist, to impel her failing steps, his eyes fell on the banner and the suit of armor.
“All else must be left,” exclaimed he, seizing the banner; and hurrying Helen forward, he hastened with her down the stairs which led from the western watch-tower to the vaults beneath the castle. On entering the first cellar, to which a dim light was admitted through a small grating near the top, he looked round for the archway that contained the avenue of their release. Having descried it, and raised one of the large flags which paved the floor, he assisted his affrighted cousin down a short flight of steps, into the secret passage. “This,” whispered he, “will carry us in a direct line to the cell of the prior of St. Fillan.”
“But what will become of my father, and Lady Mar? This flight, while they are in danger! oh! I fear to complete it!”
“Rather fear the libertine Soulis,” returned Murray, “he can only make them prisoners; and even that injury shall be of short duration. I will soon join the brave Wallace; and then, my sweet cousin, liberty, and a happy meeting!”
“Alas! his venerable harper,” cried she, suddenly remembering Halbert; “should he be discovered to have belonged to Wallace, he, too, will be massacred by these merciless men.”
Murray stopped. “Have you courage to remain in this darkness alone? If so, I will seek him, and he shall accompany us.”
Helen had courage for anything but the dangers Murray might encounter by returning into the castle; but the generous youth had entered too fully into her apprehensions concerning the old man to be withheld. “Should I be delayed in coming back,” said he, recollecting the possibility of himself being attacked and slain, “go forward to the end of this passage; it will lead you to a flight of stairs; ascend them; and by drawing the bolt of a door, you will find yourself at once in the prior’s cell.”
“Talk not of delay,” replied Helen; “return quickly, and I will await you at the entrance of the passage.” So saying, she swiftly retraced with him her steps to the bottom of the stone stairs by which they had descended. He raised the flag, sprung out of the aperture, and closing it down, left her in solitude and darkness.
Murray passed through the first cellar, and was proceeding to the second (among the catacombs of which lay the concealed entrance to the private stairs), when he saw the great gates of the cellar open, and a large party of English soldiers enter. They were conducted by the butler of the castle, who seemed to perform his office unwillingly, while they crowded in, thirsty and riotous.
Aware how unequal his single arm would be to contend with such numbers, Murray, at the first glance of these plunderers, retreated behind a heap of casks in a remote corner. While the trembling butler was loading a dozen of the men with flasks for the refreshment of their masters above, the rest were helping themselves from the adjacent catacombs. Some left the cellars with their booty, and others remained to drink it on the spot. Glad to escape the insults of the soldiers who lay wallowing in the wine, Bothwell’s old servant quitted the cellar with the last company which bore flagons to their comrades above.
Murray listened anxiously, in hopes of hearing from his garrulous neighbors some intimation of the fate of his uncle and aunt. He hearkened in vain, for nothing was uttered by these intoxicated banditti, but loud boastings of the number each had slain in the earl’s apartment; execrations against the Scots for their obstinate resistance; and a thousand sanguinary wishes, that the nation had but one neck, to strike off at a blow.
How often, during this conversation, was Murray tempted to rush out amongst them, and seize a desperate revenge! But the thought of his poor cousin, now awaiting his return, and perhaps already suffering dreadful alarms from such extraordinary uproar, restrained him; and unable to move from his hiding-place without precipitating himself into instant death, he remained nearly an hour in the most painful anxiety, watching the dropping to sleep of this horrid crew, one by one.
When all seemed hushed-not a voice, even in a whisper, startling his ear-he ventured forth with a stealing step toward the slumbering group. Like his brave ancestor, Gaul, the son of Morni, “he disdained to stab a sleeping foe!” He must pass them to reach the private stairs. He paused and listened. Silence still reigned; not even a hand moved, so deeply were they sunk in the fumes of wine. He took courage, and flew with the lightness of air to the secret door. As he laid his hand on it, it opened from without, and two persons appeared. By the few rays which gleamed from the expiring torches of the sleepers, he could see that the first wore English armor. Murray made a spring, and caught the man by the throat; when some one seizing his arm, exclaimed, “Stop, my Lord Murray! it is the faithful Grimsby.” Murray let go his hold, glad to find that both his English friend and the venerable object of his solicitude were thus providentially brought to meet him; but fearing that the violence of his action, and Halbert’s exclamation, might have alarmed the sleeping soldiers (who, drunk as they were, were too numerous to be resisted), he laid his finger on the tip of Grimsby, and motioned to the astonished pair to follow him.
As they advanced, they perceived one of the soldiers move as if disturbed. Murray held his sword over the sleeping wretch, ready to plunge it into his heart should he attempt to rise; but he became still again; and the fugitive having approached the flag, Murray drew it up, and eager to haven his double charge, he thrust them together down the stairs. At that moment, a shriek from Helen (who had discovered, by a gleam of light which burst into the vault, a man descending in English armor), echoed through the cellars. Two of the soldiers jumped upon their feet, and rushed upon Murray. He had let the flag drop behind him; but still remaining by it, in case of an opportunity to escape, he received the strokes of their weapons upon his target, and returned them with equal rapidity. One assailant lay gasping at his feet. But the clashing of arms, and the cries of the survivor had already awakened the whole crew. With horrid menaces, they threw themselves toward the young Scot, and would certainly have cut him to pieces, had he not snatched the only remaining torch out of the hand of the staggering soldier, and extinguished it under his foot. Bewildered where to find their prey, with threats and imprecations, they groped in darkness, slashing the air with their swords, and not unfrequently wounding each other in the vain search.
Murray was now far from their pursuit. He had no sooner put out the light, than he pulled up the flag, and leaping down, drew it after him, and found himself in safety. Desperate as was the contest, it had been short; for he yet heard the footsteps of the panic-struck Helen, flying along the passage. The Englishman and Halbert, on the first falling of the flag, not knowing its spring, had unsuccessfully tried to re-raise it, that they might assist Murray in the tumult above. On his appearing again so unexpectedly, they declared their joy; but the young lord, impatient to calm the apprehensions of his cousin, returned no other answer than “Follow me!” while he darted forward. Terror had given her wings, and even prevented her hearing the low sounds of Murray’s voice, which he durst not raise to a higher pitch, for fear of being overheard by the enemy. Thus, while she lost all presence of mind, he did not come up with her till she fell breathless against he stairs at the extremity of the vault.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53