In Freedom's Cause
The following is from In Freedom's Cause: a Story of Wallace and Bruce by G. A. Henty:
Chapter V - A Treacherous Plot
So rapid was the advance of Wallace's army that the English had scarce time to form when they were upon them. The Scotch charged with extreme impetuosity among the English ranks, directing the onslaught principally against the centre, commanded by the Earl of Kent.
The English resisted stoutly; but the Earl of Kent was struck down by Wallace himself, and was with difficulty borne off the field; and after severe fighting, the whole English army was thrown into disorder and took to flight. Some hundreds were killed in action, and many more in the pursuit which followed; this, however, Wallace would not allow to be pushed too far lest the fugitives should rally and turn. Then the victorious Scots returned to the English camp. In this was found a great abundance of provisions, arms, and other valuable booty. Many of the cattle were killed, and a sumptuous feast prepared. Then Wallace had the whole of the spoil carried off into a place of safety in the heart of a neighbouring bog, and he himself fell back to that shelter.
In the morning the English, who had rallied when the pursuit had ceased, again advanced, hoping to find Wallace unprepared. They were now commanded by the Earl of Lancaster, and had received some reinforcements in the night. They passed over the scene of the previous day's battle, and at last came in sight of the Scotch army. Wallace at first advanced, and then, as if dismayed at their superior strength, retired to the point where, in order to reach them, the English would have to cross a portion of the bog. The surface was covered with moss and long grass, and the treacherous nature of the ground was unperceived by the English, who, filled with desire to wipe out their defeat of the preceding day, charged impetuously against the Scotch line. The movement was fatal, for as soon as they reached the treacherous ground their horses sunk to the saddle girths. The Scotch had dismounted on firmer ground behind, and now advanced to the attack, some working round the flanks of the morass, others crossing on tufts of grass, and so fell upon the struggling mass of English. The Earl of Westmoreland and many others of note were killed, and the Earl of Lancaster, with the remains of his force, at once retreated south and recrossed the Border.
Archie had taken no part in the first battle. Wallace had asked him whether he would fight by his side or take command of a body of infantry; and he chose the latter alternative. Almost all the knights and gentlemen were fighting on horse with their followers, and Archie thought that if these were repulsed the brunt of the fray would fall upon the infantry. On this occasion, then, he gathered with his band of lads a hundred or so pikemen, and formed them in order, exhorting them, whatever happened, to keep together and to stand stoutly, even against a charge of horse. As the victory was won entirely by the cavalry he had no opportunity of distinguishing himself. Upon the second day, however, he did good service, as he and his lightly armed footmen were able to cross the bog in places impracticable to the dismounted men-at-arms in their heavy accoutrements.
The victory of Biggar still further swelled Wallace's forces. Sir William Douglas joined him, and other gentlemen. A great meeting was held at Forest Kirk, when all the leaders of Wallace's force were present; and these agreed to acknowledge him as general of the Scottish forces against England, with the title of Warden of Scotland.
King Edward was at this time busied with his wars in France, and was unable to despatch an army capable of effecting the reconquest of that portion of Scotland now held by Wallace; and as the English forces in the various garrisons were insufficient for such purpose, the Earl of Percy and the other leaders proposed a truce. This was agreed to. Although Wallace was at the head of a considerable force, Sir William Douglas was the only one among the Scottish nobles of importance who had joined him; and although the successes which he had gained were considerable, but little had been really done towards freeing Scotland, all of whose strong places were still in the hands of the English, and King Edward had not as yet really put out his strength.
The greater portion of the army of Wallace was now dispersed.
Shortly afterwards the governor of Ayr issued a notice that a great council would be held at that town, and all the Scotch gentlemen of importance in the district were desired to attend. Wallace was one of those invited; and deeming that the governor might have some proposition of Edward to lay before them, he agreed to do so. Although a truce had been arranged, he himself with a band of his most devoted followers still remained under arms in the forest, strictly keeping the truce, but holding communications with his friends throughout the country, urging them to make every preparation, by collecting arms and exercising their vassals, to take the field with a better appointed force at the conclusion of the truce. Provisions and money were in abundance, so large had been the captures effected; but Wallace was so accustomed to the free life of the woods that he preferred to remain there to taking up his abode in a town. Moreover, here he was safe from treachery; for he felt sure that although the English nobles and leaders would be incapable of breaking a truce, yet that there were many of lower degree who would not hesitate at any deed of treachery by which they might gain reward and credit from their king. Archie's band were found of the greatest service as messengers; and although he sometimes spent a few days at Sir Robert Gordon's with his mother, he generally remained by the side of Wallace. The spot where the Scottish leader was now staying lay about halfway between Lanark and Ayr.
Archie heard with uneasiness the news of the approaching council, and Wallace's acceptance of the invitation. The fact that the Earl of Percy, a very noble knight and gentleman, had been but lately recalled from the governorship of Ayr and had been replaced by one of somewhat low degree, Arlouf of Southampton, still further increased his doubts. It seemed strange that the governorship of so important a town -- a post deemed fitting for Earl Percy -- should be bestowed on such a man, were it not that one was desired who would not hesitate to perform an action from which any honourable English gentleman would shrink.
Two days before the day fixed for the council he called Cluny Campbell and another lad named Jock Farrel to him.
"I have a most important mission for you," he said. "You have heard of the coming council at Ayr. I wish to find out if any evil is intended by the governor. For this purpose you two will proceed thither. You Cluny will put on the garments which you brought with you; while you Jock had best go as his brother. Here is money. On your way procure baskets and buy chickens and eggs, and take them in with you to sell. Go hither and thither among the soldiers and hear what they say. Gather whether among the townspeople there is any thought that foul play may be intended by the English. Two of the band will accompany you to within a mile of Ayr, and will remain there in order that you may from time to time send news by them of aught that you have gathered. Remember that the safety of Wallace, and with it the future of Scotland, may depend upon your care and vigilance. I would myself have undertaken the task; but the Kerrs are now, I hear, in Ayr, and a chance meeting might ruin all; for whatever the truce between English and Scotch, they would assuredly keep no truce with me did they meet me. Mind, it is a great honour that I have done you in choosing you, and is a proof that I regard you as two of the shrewdest of my band, although the youngest among them."
Greatly impressed with the importance of their mission, the lads promised to use their utmost vigilance to discover the intentions of the governor; and a few minutes later, Cluny being attired in his sister's clothes, and looking, as Archie laughingly said, "a better looking girl than she was herself," they started for Ayr, accompanied by two of their companions. They were to remain there until the conclusion of the council, but their companions would be relieved every six hours. Upon their way they procured two baskets, which they filled with eggs and chickens; and then, leaving their comrades a mile outside Ayr, fearlessly entered the town.
The council was to take place in a large wooden building some short distance outside the town, which was principally chosen because it was thought by the governor that the Scotch gentlemen would have less reluctance to meet him there than if they were asked to enter a city with a strong garrison of English.
The first day the lads succeeded in finding out nothing which could give any countenance to suspicion that treachery was intended. They had agreed to work separately, and each mingled among the groups of citizens and soldiers, where the council was the general topic of conversation. There was much wonder and speculation as to the object for which the governor had summoned it, and as to the terms which he might be expected to propound, but to none did the idea of treachery or foul play in any way occur; and when at night they left the town and sent off their message to Archie, the lads could only say that all seemed fair and honest, and that none either of the townspeople or soldiers appeared to have the least expectation of trouble arising at the council. The following morning they agreed that Jock should hang round the building in which the council was to be held, and where preparations for the meeting and for a banquet which was afterwards to take place were being made, while Cluny should continue his inquiries within the walls. Jock hid away his basket and joined those looking on at the preparations. Green boughs were being carried in for decorating the walls, tables, and benches for the banquet. These were brought from the town in country carts, and a party of soldiers under the command of an officer carried them in and arranged them. Several of the rustics looking on gave their aid in carrying in the tables, in order that they might take home to their wives an account of the appearance of the place where the grand council was to be held. Jock thrust himself forward, and seizing a bundle of green boughs, entered the barn. Certainly there was nothing here to justify any suspicions. The soldiers were laughing and joking as they made the arrangements; clean rushes lay piled against a wall in readiness to strew over the floor at the last moment; boughs had been nailed against the walls, and the tables and benches were sufficient to accommodate a considerable number. Several times Jock passed in and out, but still without gathering a word to excite his suspicions. Presently Arlouf himself, a powerful man with a forbidding countenance, rode up and entered the barn. He approached the officer in command of the preparations; and Jock, pretending to be busy in carrying his boughs, managed to keep near so as to catch something of their conversation.
"Is everything prepared, Harris?"
"Yes, sir; another half hour's work will complete everything."
"Do you think that is strong enough?" the governor asked.
"Ay; strong enough for half a dozen of these half starved Scots."
"One at a time will do," the governor said; and then, after a few more words, left the barn and rode off to Ayr.
Jock puzzled his head in vain over the meaning of the words he had heard. The governor had while speaking been facing the door; but to what he alluded, or what it was that the officer had declared strong enough to hold half a dozen Scots, Jock could not in the slightest degree make out. Still the words were strange and might be important; and he resolved, directly the preparations were finished and the place closed, so that there could be no chance of his learning more, to return himself to Archie instead of sending a message, as much might depend upon his repeating, word for word, what he had heard, as there was somehow, he felt, a significance in the manner in which the question had been asked and answered more than in the words themselves.
Cluny had all day endeavoured in vain to gather any news. He had the day before sold some of his eggs and chickens at the governor's house, and towards evening he determined again to go thither and to make an attempt to enter the house, where he had heard that the officers of the garrison were to be entertained that evening at a banquet. "If I could but overhear what is said there, my mind would be at rest. Certainly nothing is known to the soldiers; but it may well be that if treachery is intended tomorrow, the governor will this evening explain his plans to his officers."
He had, before entering the town, again filled up his basket with the unsold portion of Jock's stock, for which the latter had no further occasion. The cook at the governor's, when he had purchased the eggs on the previous day, had bade him call again, as Cluny's prices were considerably below those in the market. It was late in the afternoon when he again approached the house. The sentry at the gate asked no question, seeing a girl with a basket, and Cluny went round again to the door of the kitchen.
"How late you are, girl!" the cook said angrily. "You told me you would come again today, and I relied upon you, and when you did not come it was too late, for the market was closed."
"I was detained, sir," Cluny said, dropping a curtsey; "my mother is ill, and I had to look after the children and get the dinner before they went away."
"There, don't waste time talking," the cook said, snatching the basket from him. "I have no time to count the eggs now; let me know the tale of them and the chickens at the same price as you charged yesterday, and come for your money tomorrow; I have no time to pay now. Here," he called to one of the scullions, "take out these eggs and chickens quickly, but don't break any, and give the basket to the girl here."
So saying he hurried off to attend to his cooking.
Cluny looked round. But three paces away a half open door led into the interior of the house. His resolution was taken in a moment. Seeing that none were looking at him he stole through the door, his bare feet falling noiselessly on the stones. He was now in a spacious hall. On one side was an open door, and within was a large room with tables spread for a banquet. Cluny entered at once and looked round for a place of concealment; none was to be seen. Tablecloths in those days were almost unknown luxuries. The tables were supported by trestles, and were so narrow that there was no possibility of hiding beneath them; nor were there hangings or other furniture behind which he could be concealed. With a beating heart he turned the handle of a door leading into another apartment, and found himself in a long and narrow room, used apparently as the private office of the governor. There were many heavy chairs in the room, ranged along the wall, and Cluny crouched in a corner by the window beside a chair standing there. The concealment was a poor one, and one searching would instantly detect him; but he had no fear of a search, for he doubted not that the cook, on missing him, would suppose that he had left at once, intending to call for his money and basket together the next morning. It was already growing dusk, and should no one enter the room for another half hour he would be hidden in the shadow in the corner of the room; but it was more probable still that no one would enter.
The time passed slowly on, and the darkness rapidly increased. Through the door, which Cluny had drawn to but had not tightly closed on entering, he could hear the voices of the servants as they moved about and completed the preparations in the banquet hall. Presently all was quiet, but a faint light gleaming in through the crack of the door showed that the lights were lit and that all was in readiness for the banquet. Half an hour later and there was a heavy trampling of feet and the sound of many voices. The door was suddenly closed, and Cluny had no doubt that the dinner was beginning. Rising to his feet he made to the door and listened attentively.
A confused din met his ears, but no distinct words were audible. He could occasionally faintly hear the clattering of plates and the clinking of glasses. All this continued for nigh two hours, and then a sudden quiet seemed to fall upon the assembly. Cluny heard the door close, and guessed that the banquet was at an end and the servitors dismissed. Now, if ever, would something of importance be said within, and Cluny would have given his life to be able to hear it. Many times he thought of turning the handle and opening the door an inch or two. Locks in those days were but roughly made; the slightest sound might attract attention, and in that case not only would his own life be forfeited, but no news of the governor's intentions -- no matter what they might be -- could reach Wallace; so, almost holding his breath, he lay on the ground and listened with his ear to the sill of the door. The silence was succeeded by a steady monotonous sound as of one addressing the others. Cluny groaned in spirit, for no word could he hear. After some minutes the murmur ceased, and then many voices were raised together; then one rose above the rest, and then, distinct and clear, came a voice evidently raised in anger.
"As you please, Master Hawkins; but if you disobey my orders, as King Edward's governor here, you will take the consequences. I shall at once place you in durance, and shall send report to the king of your mutinous conduct."
"Be that as it may," another voice replied; "whatever befall me, I tell you, sir, that Thomas Hawkins will take no part in an act of such foul and dastardly treachery. I am a soldier of King Edward. I am paid to draw my sword against his enemies, and not to do the bloody work of a murderer."
"Seize him!" the governor shouted. "Give him in charge to the guard, to lay in the castle dungeon."
There was a movement of feet now heard, but Cluny waited no longer. The angry utterances had reached his ear, and knowing that his mission was accomplished he thought only now of escape before detection might take place. He had noticed when he entered the room that the windows were, as was usually the case with rooms on the lower floors, barred; but he saw also that the bars were wide enough apart for a lad of his slimness to crawl through. The banqueting room was raised three steps above the hall, and the room that he was in was upon the same level; the window was four feet from the floor, and would therefore be probably seven or eight above the ground without, which would account for its not being more closely barred. He speedily climbed up to it and thrust himself through the bars, but not without immense difficulty and great destruction to his feminine garments.
"Poor Janet!" Cluny laughed to himself as he dropped from the window to the ground. "Whatever would she say were she to see the state of her kirtle and petticoats!"
The moon was young, but the light was sufficient to enable Cluny to see where he was. The window opened into a lane which ran down by the side of the governor's house, and he was soon in the principal street. Already most of the citizens were within their houses. A few, provided with lanterns, were picking their way along the uneven pavement. Cluny knew that it was impossible for him to leave the town that night; he would have given anything for a rope by which he might lower himself from the walls, but there was no possibility of his obtaining one. The appearance of a young girl wandering in the streets alone at night would at once have attracted attention and remarks. So Cluny withdrew into a dark archway, and then sat down until the general silence told him that all had retired to rest. Then he made his way along the street until he neared the gateway, and there lying down by the wall he went to sleep.
When the gate was opened in the morning Cluny waited until a few persons had passed in and out and then approached it. "Hallo! lass," the sergeant of the guard, who was standing there, said. "You are a pretty figure with your torn clothes! Why, what has happened to you?"
"If you please, sir," Cluny said timidly, "I was selling my eggs to the governor's cook, and he kept me waiting, and I did not know that it was so late, and when I got to the gates they were shut, and I had nowhere to go; and then, please sir, as I was wandering about a rough soldier seized me and wanted to kiss me, and of course I would not let him, and in the struggle he tore my clothes dreadfully; and some burghers, who heard me scream, came up and the man left me, and one of the burghers let me sleep in his kitchen, and I don't know what mother will say to my clothes;" and Cluny lifted the hem of his petticoat to his eyes.
"It is a shame, lass," the sergeant said good temperedly; "an I had been there I would have broke the fellow's sconce for him; but another time, lass, you should not overstay the hour; it is not good for young girls to be roaming at night in a town full of soldiers. There, I hope your mother won't beat you, for, after all, it was the fault of the governor's cook rather than yours."
Cluny pursued his way with a quiet and depressed mien until he was fairly out of sight of the gates. Then he lifted his petticoats to a height which would have shocked his sister Janet, to give free play to his limbs, and at the top of his speed dashed down the road toward Lanark. He found his two companions waiting at the appointed spot, but he did not pause a moment.
"Are you mad, Cluny?" they shouted.
And indeed the wild figure, with its tucked up garments, tearing at full speed along the road, would have been deemed that of a mad girl by any who had met it.
"Come on!" he shouted. "Come on, it is for life or death!" and without further word he kept on at full speed. It was some time before his companions overtook him, for they were at first too convulsed by laughter at Cluny's extraordinary appearance to be able to run. But presently, sobered by the conviction that something of extreme importance must have happened, they too started at their best speed, and presently came up with Cluny, upon whose pace the mile he had already run told heavily.
"For the sake of goodness, Cluny, go slower," one of them panted out as they came to him. "We have nine miles yet to run, and if we go on like this we shall break down in another half mile, and have to walk the rest."
Cluny himself, with all his anxiety to get on, was beginning to feel the same, and he slackened his pace to a slinging trot, which in little over an hour brought them to the wood.
Chapter VI - The Barns of Ayr