The Scottish Chiefs
The following is from The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter:
Chapter XXIV - The Great Tower
When Wallace withdrew, Lady Mar, who had detained Murray, whispered to him, while a blush stained her cheek, that she should like to be present at the planting of the standard. Lord Mar declared his willingness to accompany her to the spot, and added, "I can be supported thither by the arm of Andrew." Murray hesitated. "It will be impossible for my aunt to go; the hall below, and the ground before the tower, are covered with slain."
"Let them be cleared away!" cried she; "for I cannot consent to be deprived of a spectacle so honorable to my country."
Murray regarded the pitiless indifference with which she gave this order with amazement. "To do that, madam," said he, "is beyond my power; the whole ceremony of the colors would be completed long before I could clear the earth of half its bleeding load. I will seek a passage for you by some other way."
Before the earl could make a remark, Murray had disappeared; and after exploring the lower part of the tower in unavailing search for a way, he met Sir Roger Kirkpatrick issuing from a small door, which, being in shadow, he had hitherto overlooked. It led through the ballium, to the platform before the citadel. Lord Andrew returned to his uncle and aunt, and informing them of this discovery, gave his arm to Lord Mar, while Kirkpatrick led forward the agitated countess. At this moment the sun rose behind the purple summit of Ben Lomond.
When they approached the citadel, Wallace and Sir Alexander Scrymgeour had just gained its summit. The standard of Edward was yet flying. Wallace looked at it for a moment; then laying his hand on the staff, "Down, thou red dragon," cried he, "and learn to bow before the Giver of all victory!" Even while speaking, he rent it from the roof; and casting it over the battlements, planted the lion of Scotland in its stead.
As its vast evolvements floated on the air, the cry of triumph, the loud clarion of honest triumph, burst from every heart, horn, and trumpet below. It was a shout that pierced the skies, and entered the soul of Wallace with a bliss which seemed a promise of immortality.
"O God!" cried he, still grasping the staff, and looking up to heaven; "we got not this in possession through our own might, but thy right hand and the light of thy countenance overthrew the enemy! Thine the conquest, thine the glory!"
"Thus we consecrate the day to thee, Power of Heaven!" rejoined Scrymgeour. "And let this standard be thine own; and whithersoever we bear it, may we ever find it as the ark of our God!"
Wallace, feeling as if no eye looked on them but that of Heaven, dropped on his knee; and rising again, took Sir Alexander by the hand; "My brave friend," said he, "we have here planted the tree of freedom in Scotland. Should I die in its defense, swear to bury me under its branches; swear that no enslaved grounds shall cover my remains."
"I swear," cried Scrymgeour, laying his crossed hands upon the arm of Wallace; "I swear with a double vow; by the blood of my brave ancestors, whose valor gave me the name I bear; by the cross of St. Andrew; and by your valiant self, never to sheath my sword, while I have life in my body, until Scotland be entirely free!"
The colors fixed, Wallace and his brave colleague descended the tower; and perceiving the earl and countess, who sat on a stone bench at the end of the platform, approached them. The countess rose as the chiefs drew near. Lord Mar took his friend by the hand, with a gratulation in his eyes that was unutterable; his lady spoke, hardly conscious of what she said; and Wallace, after a few minutes' discourse, proposed to the earl to retire with Lady Mar into the citadel, where she would be more suitably lodged than in their late prison. Lord Mar was obeying this movement, when suddenly stopping, he exclaimed, "but where is that wondrous boy-your pilot over these perilous rocks? let me give him a soldier's thanks?"
Happy at so grateful a demand, Wallace beckoned Edwin, who, just relieved from his guard, was standing at some distance. "Here," said he, "is my knight of fifteen! for last night he proved himself more worthy of his spurs than many a man who has received them from a king."
"He shall wear those of a king," rejoined the Lord Mar, unbuckling from his feet a pair of golden spurs; "these were fastened on my heels by our great king, Alexander, at the battle of Largs. I had intended them for my only son; but the first knight in the cause of rescued Scotland is the son of my heart and soul!"
As he spoke, he would have pressed the young hero to his breast; but Edwin, trembling with emotion, slid down upon his knees, and clasping the earl's hand, said, in a hardly audible voice, "Receive and pardon the truant son of your sister Ruthven!"
"What!" exclaimed the veteran, "is it Edwin Ruthven that has brought me this weight of honor? Come to my arms, thou dearest child of my dearest Janet?"
The uncle and nephew were folded in each other's embrace. Lady Mar wept, and Wallace, unable to bear the remembrance which such a scene pressed upon his heart, turned away toward the battlements. Edwin murmured a short explanation in the ear of his uncle; and then rising from his arms, with his beautiful face glittering like an April day in tears, allowed his gay cousin Murray to buckle the royal spurs on his feet. The rite over, he kissed Lord Andrew's hand in token of acknowledgment; and called on Sir William Wallace to bless the new honors conferred on his knight.
Wallace turned toward Edwin, with a smile which partook more of heaven than of earth. "Have we not performed our mutual promises?" said he; "I brought you to the spot where you were to reveal your name, and you have declared it to me by the voice of glory! Come, then, my brother, let us leave your uncle awhile to seek his repose."
As he spoke, he bowed to the countess; and Edwin joyfully receiving his arm, they walked together toward the eastern postern. Agitated with the delightful surprise of thus meeting his favorite sister's son (whom he had never seen since his infancy), and exhausted by the variety of his late emotions, the earl speedily acquiesced in a proposal for rest, and leaning on Lord Andrew, proceeded to the citadel.
The countess had other attractions: lingering at the side of the rough knight of Torthorald, she looked back, and when she saw the object of her gaze disappear through the gates, she sighed, and turning to her conductor, walked by him in silence till they joined her husband in the hall of the keep. Murray led the way into the apartments lately occupied by De Valence. They were furnished with all the luxury of a Southron nobleman. Lady Mar cast her eyes around the splendid chamber, and seated herself on one of its tapestried couches. The earl, not marking whether it were silk or rushes, placed himself beside her. Murray drew a stool toward them, while Kirkpatrick, tired of his gallant duty, abruptly took his leave.
"My dear Andrew," said the earl, "in the midst of this proud rejoicing there is yet a canker at my heart. Tell me, that when my beloved Helen disappeared in the tumult at Bothwell, she was under your protection?"
"She was," replied Murray; "and I thank the holy St. Fillan, she is now in the sanctuary of his church."
Murray then recounted to his relieved uncle every event, from the moment of his withdrawing behind the arras, to that of his confiding the English soldier with the iron box to the care of the prior. Lord Mar sighed heavily when he spoke of that mysterious casket. "Whatever it contained," said he, "it has drawn after it much evil and much good. The domestic peace of Wallace was ruined by it; and the spirit which now restores Scotland to herself was raised by his wrongs."
"But tell me," added he, "do you think my daughter safe, so near a garrison of the enemy?"
"Surely, my lord," cried the countess, too well remembering the enthusiasm with which Helen had regarded even the unknown Wallace: "surely you would not bring that tender child into a scene like this! Rather send a messenger to convey her secretly to Thirlestan; at that distance she will be safe, and under the powerful protection of her grandfather."
The earl acquiesced in her opinion; and saying he would consult with Wallace about the securest mode of travel for his daughter, again turned to Lord Andrew, to learn further of their late proceedings. But the countess, still uneasy, once more interrupted him.
"Alas! my lord, what would you do? His generous zeal will offer to go in person for your daughter. We know not what dangers he might then incur; and surely the champion of Scotland is not to be thrown into peril for any domestic concern! If you really feel the weight of the evils into which you have plunged Sir William Wallace, do not increase it, by even hinting to him the present subject of your anxiety."
"My aunt is an oracle!" resumed Murray. "Allow me to be the happy knight that is to bear the surrender of Dumbarton to my sweet cousin. Prevail on Wallace to remain in this garrison till I return; and then full tilt for the walls of old Sterling, and the downfall of Hughie Cressingham!"
Both the countess and the earl were pleased with this arrangement. The latter, by the persuasions of his nephew, retired into an inner chamber to repose; and the former desired Lord Andrew to inform Wallace that she should expect to be honored with his presence at noon, to partake of such fare as the garrison afforded.
On Murray's coming from the citadel, he learned that Wallace was gone toward the great tower. He followed him thither; and on issuing from the postern which led to that part of the rock, saw the chief standing, with his helmet off, in the midst of the slain.
"This is a sorry sight!" said he to Murray, as he approached; "but it shall not long lie thus exposed. I have just ordered that these sad wrecks of human strife may be lowered into the Clyde; its rushing stream will soon carry them to a quiet grave beneath yon peaceful sea." His own dead, amounting to no more than fifteen, were to be buried at the foot of the rock, a prisoner in the castle having described steps in the cliff by which the solemnity could easily be performed.
"But why, my dear commander," cried Lord Andrew, "why do you take any thought about our enemies? Leave them where they are, and the eagles of our mountains will soon find them graves."
"For shame, Murray!" was the reply of Wallace; "they are dead, and our enemies no more. They are men like ourselves, and shall we deny them a place in that earth whence we all sprung? We war not with human nature; are we not rather the asserters of her rights?"
"I know," replied Lord Andrew, blushing, "that I am often the asserter of my own folly; and I do not know how you will forgive my inconsiderate impertinence."
"Because it was inconsiderate," replied Wallace. "Inhumanity is too stern a guest to live in such a breast as yours."
"If I ever give her quarters," replied Murray, "I should most wofully disgrace the companion she must meet there. Next to the honor of fair Scotland, my cousin Helen is the goddess of my idolatry; and she would forswear my love and kindred, could she believe me capable of feeling otherwise than in unison with Sir William Wallace."
Wallace looked toward him with a benign pleasure in his countenance. "Your fair cousin does me honor."
"Ah! my noble friend," cried Murray, lowering his gay tone to one of softer expression; "if you knew all the goodness, all the nobleness that dwells in her gentle heart, you would indeed esteem her-you would love her as I do."
The blood fled from the cheek of Wallace. "Not as you do, Murray; I can no more love a woman as you love her. Such scenes as these," cried he, turning to the mangled bodies which the men were now carrying away to the precipice of the Clyde, "have divorced woman's love from my heart. I am all my country's, or I am nothing."
"Nothing!" reiterated Murray, laying his hand upon that of Wallace, as it rested upon the hilt of the sword on which he leaned. "Is the friend of mankind, the champion of Scotland, the beloved of a thousand valuable hearts, nothing? Nay, art thou not the agent of Heaven, to be the scourge of a tyrant? Art thou not the deliverer of thy country?"
Wallace turned his bright eye upon Murray with an expression of mingled feelings. "May I be all this, my friend, and Wallace must yet be happy! But speak not to me of love and woman; tell me not of those endearing qualities I have prized too tenderly, and which are now buried to me forever beneath the ashes of Ellerslie."
"Not under the ashes of Ellerslie," cried Murray, "sleep the remains of your lovely wife." Wallace's penetrating eye turned quick upon him. Murray continued: "My cousin's pitying soul stretched itself toward them; by her directions they were brought from your oratory in the rock, and deposited, with all holy rites, in the cemetery at Bothwell."
The glow that now animated the before chilled heart of Wallace, overspread his face. His eyes spoke volumes of gratitude, his lips moved, but his feelings were too big for utterance, and, fervently pressing the hand of Murray, to conceal emotions ready to shake his manhood, he turned away, and walked toward the cliff.
When all the slain were lowered to their last beds, a young priest, who came in the company of Scrymgeour, gave the funeral benediction both to the departed in the waves, and those whom the shore had received. The rites over, Murray again drew near to Wallace and delivered his aunt's message. "I shall obey her commands," returned he; "but first we must visit our wounded prisoners in the tower."
Above three hundred of them had been discovered amongst the dead.
Murray gladly obeyed the impulse of his leader's arm; and, followed by the chieftains returned from the late solemn duty, they entered the tower. Ireland welcomed Wallace with the intelligence that he hoped he had succored friends instead of foes, for that most of the prisoners were poor Welsh peasants, whom Edward had torn from their mountains to serve in his legions; and a few Irish, who in the heat of blood, and eagerness for adventure, had enlisted in his ranks. "I have shown to them," continued Ireland, "what fools they are to injure themselves in us. I told the Welsh they were clinching their own chains by assisting to extend the dominion of their conqueror; and I have convinced the Irish they were forging fetters for themselves by lending their help to enslave their brother nation, the free-born Scots. They only require your presence, my lord, to forswear their former leaders, and to enlist under Scottish banners."
"Thou art an able orator, my good Stephen," returned Wallace; "and whatever promises thou hast made to honest men in the name of Scotland, we are ready to ratify them. Is it not so?" added he, turning to Kirkpatrick and Scrymgeour."
"All as you will," replied they in one voice. "Yes," added Kirkpatrick; "you were the first to rise for Scotland, and who but you has a right to command for her?"
Ireland threw open the door which led into the hall, and there, on the ground, on pallets of straw, lay most of the wounded Southrons. Some of their dimmed eyes had discerned their preserver, when he discovered them expiring on the rock; and on sight of him now, they uttered such a piercing cry of gratitude, that, surprised, he stood for a moment. In that moment, five or six of the poor wounded wretches crawled to his feet. "Our friend! our preserver!" burst from their lips, as they kissed the edge of his plaid.
"Not to me, not to me!" exclaimed Wallace. "I am a soldier like yourselves. I have only acted a soldier's part; but I am a soldier of freedom, you of a tyrant, who seeks to enslave the world. This makes the difference between us; this lays you at my feet, when I would more willingly receive you into my arms as brothers in one generous cause."
"We are yours," was the answering exclamation of those who knelt, and of those who raised their feebler voices from their beds of straw. A few only remained silent. With many kind expressions of acceptance, Wallace disengaged himself from those who clung around him, and then moved toward the sick, who seemed too ill to speak. While repeating the same consolatory language to them, he particularly observed an old man who was lying between two young ones, and still kept a profound silence. His rough features were marked with many a scar, but there was a meek resignation in her face that powerfully struck Wallace. When the chief drew near, the veteran raised himself on his arm, and bowed his head with a respectful air. Wallace stopped. "You are an Englishman?"
"I am, sir, and have no services to offer you. These two young men on each side of me are my sons. There brother I lost last night in the conflict. To-day, by your mercy, not only my life is preserved, but my two remaining children also. Yet I am an Englishman, and I cannot be grateful at the expense of my allegiance."
"Nor would I require it of you," returned Wallace; "these brave Welsh and Irish were brought hither by the invader who subjugates their countries; they owe him no duty. But you are a free subject of England; he that is a tyrant over others can only be a king to you; he must be the guardian of your laws, the defender of your liberties, or his scepter falls. Having sworn to follow a sovereign so plighted, I am not severe enough to condemn you, because, misled by that phantom which he calls glory, you have suffered him to betray you into unjust conquests."
"Once I have been so misled," returned the old man; "but I never will again. Fifty years I have fought under the British standard, in Normandy and in Palestine; and now in my old age, with four sons, I followed the armies of my sovereign into Scotland. My eldest I lost on the plains of Dunbar. My second fell last night; and my two youngest are now by my side. You have saved them and me. What can I do? Not, as your noble self says, forswear my country; but this I swear, and in the oath do you, my sons, join (as he spoke they laid their crossed hands upon his, in token of assent), never to lift an arm against Sir William Wallace or the cause of injured Scotland!"
"To this we also subjoin!" cried several other men, who comprised the whole of the English prisoners.
"Noble people!" cried Wallace, "why have you not a king worthy of you?"
"And yet," observed Kirkpatrick, in a surly tone, "Heselrigge was one of these people!"
Wallace turned upon him with a look of so tremendous a meaning, that, awed by an expression too mighty for him to comprehend, he fell back a few paces, muttering curses, but on whom could not be heard.
"That man would arouse the tiger in our lion-hearted chief!" whispered Scrymgeour to Murray.
"Ay," returned Lord Andrew; "but the royal spirit keeps the beast in awe-see how coweringly that bold spirit now bows before it!"
Wallace marked the impression his glance had made, but where he had struck, being unqilling to pierce also, he dispelled the thunder from his countenance, and once more looking on Sir Roger with a frank serenity. "Come," said he, "my good knight; you must not be more tenacious for William Wallace than he is for himself! While he possesses such a zealous friend as Kirkpatrick of Torthorald, he need not now fear the arms of a thousand Heselrigges."
"No, nor of Edwards either," cried Kirkpatrick, once more looking boldly up, and shaking his broad claymore: "My thistle has a point to sting all to death who would pass between this arm and my leader's breast."
"May heaven long preserve the valiant Wallace!" was the prayer of every feeble voice, as he left the hall to visit his own wounded, in an upper chamber. The interview was short and satisfactory. "Ah! sir," cried one of them, "I cannot tell how it is, but when I see you, I feel as if I beheld the very soul of my country, or its guardian angel, standing before me-a something I cannot describe, but it fills me with courage and comfort!"
"You see an honest Scot standing before you, my good Duncan," replied Wallace; "and that is no mean personage; for it is one who knows no use of his life but as it fulfills his duty to his country!"
"Oh that the sound of that voice could penetrate to every ear in Scotland!" rejoined the soldier; "it would be more than the call of the trumpet to bring them to the field!"
"And from the summit of this rock many have already heard it; and more shall be so aroused!" cried Murray, returning from the door, to which one of his men had beckoned him; "here is a man come to announce that Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, passing by the foot of this rock, saw the Scottish standard flying from its citadel; and, as overjoyed as amazed at the sight, he sends to request the confidence of being admitted."
"Let me bring him hither!" interrupted Kirkpatrick; "he is brave as the day, and will be a noble auxiliary."
"Every true Scot must be welcome to these walls," returned Wallace.
Kirkpatrick hastened from the tower to the northern side of the rock, at the foot of which stood the earl and his train. With all the pride of a freeman and a victor, Sir Roger descended the height. Lennox advanced to meet him. "What is it I see? Sir Roger Kirkpatrick master of this citadel, and our king's colors flying from its towers? Where is the Earl de Valence? Where the English garrison?"
"The English garrison," replied Kirkpatrick, "are now twelve hundred men beneath the waters of the Clyde. De Valence is fled; and this fortress, manned with a few hardy Scots, shall sink into yon waves ere it again bear the English dragon on its walls."
"And you, noble knight," cried Lennox, "have achieved all this? You are the dawn to a blessed day for Scotland!"
"No," replied Kirkpatrick; "I am but a follower of the man who has struck the blow. Sir William Wallace of Ellerslie is our chief; and with the power of his virtues he subdues not only friends, but enemies, to his command."
He then exultingly narrated the happy events of the last four and twenty hours. The earl listened with wonder and joy. "What!" cried he, "so noble a plan for Scotland, and I ignorant of it?-I, that have not waked day or night, for many a month, without thinking or dreaming of some enterprise to free my country-and behold it is achieved in a moment! I see the stroke, as a bolt from Heaven; and I pray Heaven it may light the sacrifice throughout the nation! Lead me, worthy knight, lead me to your chief, for he shall be mine too: he shall command Malcolm Lennox and all his clan."
Kirkpatrick gladly turned to obey him; and they mounted the ascent together. Within the barbican gate stood Wallace, with Scrymgeour and Murray. The earl knew Scrymgeour well, having often seen him in the field as hereditary standard-bearer of the kingdom; of the persons of the others he was ignorant.
"There is Wallace!" exclaimed Kirkpatrick.
"Not one of those very young men?" interrogated the earl.
"Even so," was the answer of the knight; "but his is the youth of the brave son of Ammon; gray beards are glad to bow before his golden locks, for beneath them is wisdom."
As he spoke they entered the barbican; and Wallace (whom the penetrating eye of Lennox had already singled out for the chief) advanced to meet his guest.
"Earl," said he, "you are welcome to Dumbarton Castle."
"Bravest of my countrymen!" returned Lennox, clasping him in his arms, "receive a soldier's embrace, receive the gratitude of a loyal heart! accept my service, my arms, my men: my all I devote to Scotland and the great cause."
Wallace for a moment did not answer; but warmly straining the earl to his breast, said, as he released him, "Such support will give sinews to our power. A few months, and with the blessing of that arm which has already mowed down the ranks which opposed us, we shall see Scotland at liberty."
"And may Heaven, brave Wallace!" exclaimed Lennox, "grant us thine arm to wield its scythe! But how have you accomplished this? How have your few overthrown this English host?"
"He strikes home, when right points his sword," replied Wallace; "the injuries of Scotland were my guide, and justice my companion. We feared nothing, for God was with us; we feared nothing, and in his might we conquered."
"And shall yet conquer!" cried Lennox, kindling with the enthusiasm that blazed from the eyes of Wallace. "I feel the strength of our cause; and from this hour, I devote myself to assert it, or to die."
"Not to die! my noble lord," said Murray; "we have yet many an eve to dance over the buried fetters of Scotland. And as a beginning of our jollities, I must remind our leader that my aunt's board awaits him."
Lord Lennox understood from this address it was the brave Murray who spoke to him; for he had heard sufficient from Sir Roger Kirkpatrick to explain how the Countess of Mar and her patriot husband came within those walls.
The countess, having arrayed herself with all her powers to receive her deliverer, awaited the hour of his arrival with an emotion at her heart, which made it bound against her bosom, when she saw the object of her splendid toil advancing along the courtyard. All others were lost to her impatient eyes; and hastily rising from the window as the chiefs entered the porch, she crossed the room to meet them at the door.
The Earl of Lennox stood amazed at sight of so much beauty and splendour in such a scene. Lady mar had hardly attained her thirty-fifth year; but from the graces of her person, and the address with which she set forth all her charms, the enchanted gazer found it impossible to suppose her more than three or four and twenty. Thus happily formed by nature, and habited in a suit of velvet, overlaid with Cyprus-work of gold, blazing with jewels, about her head, and her feet clad in silver-fretted sandals, Lennox thought she looked more like some triumphant queen, than a wife who had so lately shared captivity with an outlawed husband.* Murray started at such unexpected magnificence in his aunt. But Wallace scarcely observed it was anything unusual, and bowing to her, presented the Earl of Lennox. She smiled; and saying a few words of welcome to the earl, gave her hand to Wallace to lead her back into the chamber.
Lord Mar had risen from his seat; and leaning on his sword (for his warlike arm refused any other staff), stood up on their entrance. At sight of Lord Lennox, he uttered an exclamation of glad surprise. Lennox embraced him. "I, too, am come to enlist under the banners of this young Leonidas."
"God armeth the patriot," was all the reply that Mar made, while the big tears rolled over his cheek, and he shook him by the hand.
"I have four hundred stout Lennox men," continued the earl, "who by to-morrow's eve shall be ready to follow our leader to the very borders."
"Not so soon," interrupted the countess; "our deliverer needs repose."
"I thank your benevolence, Lady Mar," returned Wallace; "but the issue of last night, and the sight of Lord Lennox this day, with the promise of so great a support, are such aliments that-we must go forward."
"Ay, to be sure," joined Kirkpatrick; "Dumbarton was not taken during our sleep; and if we stay loitering here, the devil that holds Stirling Castle may follow the scent of De Valence; and so I lose my prey!"
"What?" cried the countess, "and is my lord to be left again to his enemies? Sir William Wallace, I should have thought-"
"Everything, madam," rejoined he; "that is demonstrative of my devotion to your venerable lord! But with a brave garrison, I hope you will consider him safe here, until a wider range of security be won, to enable you to retire to Braemar."
As the apostrophe to Wallace, in the latter part of the countess' speech, had been addressed to himself in rather a low voice, his reply was made in a similar tone, so that Lord Mar did not hear any part of the answer, except the concluding words. But then he exclaimed, "Nay, my ever-fearful Joanna, art thou making objections to keeping garrison here?"
"I confess," replied Wallace, "that an armed citadel is not the most pleasant abode for a lady; but at present, excepting perhaps the church, it is the safest; and I would not advise your lady to remove hence, until the plain be made as free as this mountain."
The sewer now announced the board in the hall; and the countess leading the way, reluctantly gave her hand to the Earl of Lennox. Lord Mar leaned on the arm of Wallace, who was followed by Edwin and the other chieftains.
* This is the style for state dress worn by noble ladies in the thirteenth century.