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Book of Scottish Story
The Warden of the Marches


A Traditionary Story of Annandale

The predatory incursions of the Scots and English borderers, on each other's territories, arc known to every one in the least acquainted with either the written or traditional history of his country. These were sometimes made by armed and numerous bodies, and it was not uncommon for a band of marauders to take advantage of a thick fog or a dark night for plundering or driving away the cattle, with which they soon escaped over the border, where they were generally secure. Such incursions were so frequent and distressing to the peaceable and well-disposed inhabitants that they complained loudly to their respective governments ; in consequence of which some one of the powerful nobles residing on the borders was invested with authority to suppress these depredations, under the title of Warden of the Marches. His duty was to protect the frontier, and alarm the country by firing the beacons which were placed on the heights, where they could be seen at a great distance, as a warning to the people to drive away their cattle, and, collecting in a body, either to repel or pursue the invaders, as circumstances might require. The wardens also possessed a discretionary power in such matters as came under their jurisdiction. The proper discharge of this important trust required vigilance, courage, and fidelity, but it was sometimes committed to improper hands, and consequently the duty was very improperly performed. In the reign of James V. one of these wardens was Sir John Charteris of Amisfield, near Dumfries, a brave but haughty man, who sometimes forgot his important trust so far as to sacrifice his public duties to his private interests. George Maxwell was a young and respectable farmer in Annandale, who had frequently been active in repressing the petty incursions to which that quarter of the country was exposed. Having thereby rendered himself par-ticulany obnoxious to the English borderers, a strong party was formed, which succeeded in despoiling him, by plundering his house and driving away his whole live stock. At the head of a large party he pursued and overtook the "spoil-encumbered foe;" a fierce and bloody contest ensued, in which George fell the victim of a former feud, leaving his widow, Marion, in poverty, with her son Wallace, an only child in the tenth year of his age. By the liberality of her neighbours, the widow was replaced in a small farm, but by subsequent incursions she was reduced to such poverty that she occupied a small cottage, with a cow, which the kindness of a neighbouring farmer permitted to pasture on his fields. This, with the industry and filial affection of her son, now in his twentieth year, enabled her to live with a degree of comfort and contented resignation.

With a manly and athletic form, Wallace Maxwell inherited the courage of his father, and the patriotic ardour of the chieftain after whom he had been named ; and Wallace had been heard to declare, that although he could not expect to free his country from the incursions of the English borderers, he trusted he should yet be able to take ample vengeance for the untimely death of his father.

But although his own private wrongs and those of his country had a powerful influence on the mind of Wallace Maxwell, yet his heart was susceptible of a far loftier passion.

His fine manly form and graceful bearing had attractions for many a rural fair; and he would have found no difficulty in matching with youthful beauty considerably above his own humble station. But his affections were fixed on Mary Morrison, a maiden as poor in worldly wealth as himself; but nature had been more than usually indulgent to her in a handsome person and fine features; and, what was of infinitely more value, her heart was imbued with virtuous principles, and her mind better cultivated than could have been expected from her station in life. To these accomplishments were superadded a native dignity, tempered with modesty, and a most winning sweetness of manner. Mary was the daughter of a man who had seen better days ; but he was ruined by the incursions of the English borderers ; and both he and her mother dying soon after, Mary was left a helpless orphan in the twentieth year of her age. Her beauty procured her many admirers; and her unprotected state (for she had no relations in Annandalc) left her exposed to the insidious temptations of unprincipled villainy; but they soon discovered that neither flattery, bribes, nor the fairest promises, had the slightest influence on her spotless mind. There were many, however, who sincerely loved her, and made most honourable proposals; among whom was Wallace Maxwell, perhaps the poorest of her admirers, but who succeeded in gaining her esteem and affection. Mary and he were fellow-servants to the farmer from whom his mother had her cottage; and, on account of the troublesome state of the country, Wallace slept every night in his mother's house as her guardian and protector. Mary and he were about the same age, both in the bloom of youthful beauty ; but both had discrimination to look beyond external attractions; and, although they might be said to live in the light of each other's eyes, reason convinced them that the time was yet distant when it would be prudent to consummate that union which was the dearest object of their wishes.

A foray had been made by the English, in which their leader, the son of a rich borderer, had been made prisoner, and a heavy ransom paid to Sir John, the warden, for his release. This the avaricious warden considered a perquisite of his office; and it accordingly went into his private pocket. Soon after this, the party who had resolved on ruining Wallace Maxwell for his threats of vengeance, took advantage of a thick fog during the day, succeeded by a dark night, in making an incursion on Annandale, principally for the purpose of capturing the young man. By stratagem they effected their purpose; and the widow's cow, and Wallace her son, were both carried off as part of the spoil. The youth's life might have been in considerable danger, had his capture not been discovered by the man who had recently paid a high ransom for his own son, and he now took instant possession of Wallace, resolving that he should be kept a close prisoner till ransomed by a sum equal to that paid to the warden.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to say whether the grief of Widow Maxwell for her son, or that of Mary Morrison for her lover, was greatest. But early in the ensuing morning the widow repaired to Amisfield, related the circumstance to Sir John, with tears beseeching him, as the plunderers were not yet far distant, to despatch his forces after them, and rescue her son, with the property of which she had been despoiled, for they had carried off everything, even to her bed-clothes.

Wallace Maxwell had some time before incurred the warden's displeasure, whose mind was not generous enough either to forget or forgive. He treated Marion with an indifference approaching almost to contempt, by telling her that it would be exceedingly improper to alarm the country about such a trivial incident, to which every person in that quarter was exposed; and although she kneeled to him, he refused to comply with her request, and proudly turned away.

With a heavy and an aching heart, the widow called on Mary Morrison on her way home to her desolate dwelling, relating the failure of her application, and uttering direful lamentations for the loss of her son; all of which were echoed by the no less desponding maiden.

In the anguish of her distress, Mary formed the resolution of waiting on the warden, and again urging the petition which had already been so rudely rejected. Almost frantic, she hastened to the castle, demanding to see Sir John. Her person was known to the porter, and he was also now acquainted with the cause of her present distress; she therefore found a ready admission. Always beautiful, the wildness of her air, the liquid fire which beamed in her eyes, from which tears streamed over her glowing cheeks, and the perturbation which heaved her swelling bosom, rendered her an object of more than ordinary interest in the sight of the warden. She fell at his feet and attempted to tell her melancholy tale ; but convulsive sobs stifled her utterance. He then took her unresisting hand, raised her up, led her to a seat, and bade her compose herself before she attempted to speak.

With a faltering tongue, and eyes which, like the lightning of heaven, seemed capable of penetrating a heart of adamant, and in all the energy and pathos of impassioned grief, she told her tale,—imploring the warden, if he ever regarded his mother, or if capable of feeling for the anguish of a woman, to have pity on them, and instantly exert himself to restore the most dutiful of sons, and the most faithful of lovers, to his humble petitioners, whose gratitude should cease only with their lives.

"You are probably not aware," said he, in a kindly tone, "of the difficulty of gratifying your wishes. Wallace Maxwell has rendered himself the object of vengeance to the English borderers; and, before now, he must be in captivity so secure, that any measure to rescue him by force of arms would be unavailing. But, for your sake, I will adopt the only means which can restore him, namely, to purchase his ransom by gold. But you are aware that it must be high. and I trust your gratitude will be in proportion."

"Everything in our power shall be done to evince our gratitude," replied the delighted Mary, a more animated glow suffusing her cheek, and her eyes beaming with a brighter lustre,— "Heaven reward you."

"To wait for my reward from heaven, would be to give credit to one who can make ready payment," replied the warden. "You, lovely Mary, have it in your power to make me a return which will render me your debtor, without in any degree impoverishing yourself;"—and he paused, afraid or ashamed to speak the purpose of his heart Such is the power which virgin beauty and innocence can exert on the most depraved inclinations.

Although alarmed, and suspecting his base design, such was the rectitude of Mary's guileless heart, that she could not believe the warden in earnest; and starting from his proffered embrace, she with crimson blushes replied, "I am sure, sir, your heart could never permit you so far to insult a hapless maiden. You have spoken to try my affection for Wallace Maxwell; let me therefore again implore you to take such measures as you may think best for obtaining his release;" and a fresh flood of tears flowed in torrents from her eyes, while she gazed wistfully in his face, with a look so imploringly tender, that it might have moved the heart of a demon.

With many flattering blandishments, and much artful sophistry, he endeavoured to win her to his purpose; but perceiving that his attempts were unavailing, he concluded thus:—"All that I have promised I am ready to perform; but I swear by Heaven, that unless you grant me the favour which I have so humbly solicited, Wallace Maxwell may perish in a dungeon, or by the hand of his enemies; for he shall never be rescued by me. Think, then, in time, before you leave me, and for his sake, and your own future happiness, do not foolishly destroy it for ever."

With her eyes flashing indignant fire, and her bosom throbbing with the anguish of insulted virtue, she flung herself from his hateful embrace, and, rushing from his presence, with a sorrowful and almost bursting heart, left the castle.

Widow Maxwell had a mind not easily depressed, and although in great affliction for her son, did not despair of his release. She was ignorant of Mary's application to the warden, and had been revolving in her mind the propriety of seeking an audience of the king, and detailing her wrongs, both at the hands of the English marauders and Sir John. She was brooding on this when Mary entered her cottage, and, in the agony of despairing love and insulted honour, related the reception she had met from the warden. The relation confirmed the widow's half formed resolution, and steeled her heart to its purpose. After they had responded each other's sighs, and mingled tears together, the old woman proposed waiting on her friend the farmer, declaring her intentions, and, if he approved of them, soliciting his permission for Mary to accompany her. The warden's indolent neglect of duty was a subject of general complaint; the farmer, therefore, highly approved of the widow's proposal, believing that it would not only procure her redress, but might be of advantage to the country. He urged their speedy and secret departure, requesting that whatever answer they received might not be divulged till the final result was seen; and next morning, at early dawn, the widow and Mary took their departure for Stirling. King James was easy of access to the humblest of his subjects; and the two had little difficulty in obtaining admission to the royal presence. Widow Maxwell had in youth been a beautiful woman, and, although her early bloom had passed, might still have been termed a comely and attractive matron, albeit in the autumn of life. In a word, her face was still such as would have recommended her suit to the king, whose heart was at all times feelingly alive to the attraction of female beauty. But, on the present occasion, although she was the petitioner, the auxiliary whom she had brought, though silent, was infinitely the more powerful pleader ; for Mary might be said to resemble the half-blown rose in the early summer, when its glowing leaves are wet with the dews of morning. James was so struck with their appearance, that, before they had spoken, he secretly wished that their petitions might be such as he could with justice and honour grant, for he already felt that it would be impossible to refuse them.

Although struck with awe on coming into the presence of their sovereign, the easy condescension and affability of James soon restored them to comparative tranquillity; and the widow told her "plain, unvarnished tale" with such artless simplicity, and moving pathos, as would have made an impression on a less partial auditor than his Majesty. When she came to state the result of Mary's application to Sir John, she paused, blushed, and still remained silent James instantly conjectured the cause, which was confirmed when he saw Mary's face crimsoned all over.

Suppressing his indignation, "Well, I shall be soon in Annandale," said he, "and will endeavour to do you justice. Look at this nobleman," pointing to one in the chamber; "when I send him for you, come to me where he shall guide. In the meantime, he will find you safe lodgings for the night, and give you sufficient to bear your expenses home, whither I wish you to return as soon as possible, and be assured that your case shall not be forgotten."

It is generally known that James, with a love of justice, had a considerable share of eccentricity in his character, and that he frequently went over the country in various disguises—such as that of a pedlar, an itinerant musician, or even a wandering beggar. These disguises were sometimes assumed for the purpose of discovering the abuses practised by his servants, and not unfrequently from the love of frolic, and. like the Caliph in the "Arabian Nights," in quest of amusement. On these occasions, when he chose to discover himself,

it was always by the designation of the "Gudeman of Ballengeich. He had a private passage by which he could leave the palace, unseen by any one, and he could make his retreat alone, or accompanied by a disguised attendant, according to his inclination.

On the present occasion, he determined to visit the warden of the March incog.; and, making the necessary arrangements, he soon arrived in Annan-dale. His inquiries concerning the widow and Mary corroborated the opinion he had previously formed, and learning where Mary resided, he resolved to repair thither in person, disguised as a mendicant. On approaching the farmer's, he had to pass a rivulet, at which there was a girl washing linen, and a little observation convinced him it was Mary Morrison. When near, he pretended to be taken suddenly ill, and sat down on a knoll, groaning piteously. Mary came instantly to him, tenderly enquiring what ailed him, and whether she could render him any assistance. James replied, it was a painful distemper, by which he was frequently attacked; but if she could procure him a draught of warm milk, that, and an hour's rest, would relieve him. Mary answered, that if he could, with her assistance, walk to the farm, which she pointed out near by, he would be kindly cared for. She assisted him to rise, and, taking his arm, permitted him to lean upon her shoulder, as they crept slowly along. He met much sympathy in the family, and there he heard the history of Mary and Wallace Maxwell (not without execrations on the warden for his indolence), and their affirmations that they were sure, if the king knew how he neglected his duty, he would either be dismissed or severely punished; although the former had spoken plainer than others whom James had conversed with, he found that Sir John was generally disliked, and he became impatient for the hour of retribution.

Marching back towards Dumfries, James rendezvoused for the night in a small village called Duncow, in the parish of Kirkmahoe, and next morning he set out for Amisfield, which lay in the neighbourhood, disguised as a beggar. Part of his retinue he left in Duncow, and part he ordered to lie in wait in a ravine near Amisfield till he should require their attendance. Having cast away his beggar's cloak, he appeared at the gate of the warden's castle in the dress of a plain countryman, and requested the porter to procure him an immediate audience of Sir John. But he was answered that the warden had just sat down to dinner, during which it was a standing order that he should never be disturbed on any pretence whatever.

"And how long will he sit?" said James.

"Two hours, perhaps three; he must not be intruded on till his bell ring," replied the porter.

"I am a stranger, and cannot wait so long; take this silver groat, and go to your master, and say that I wish to see him on business of importance, and will detain him only a few minutes."

The porter delivered the message, and soon returned, saying—"Sir John says, that however important your business may be, you must wait his time, or go the way you came."

"That is very hard. Here are two groats; go again, and say that I have come from the Border, where I saw the English preparing for an incursion, and have posted thither with the information; and that I think he will be neglecting his duty if he do not immediately fire the beacons and alarm the country."

This message was also carried, and the porter returned with a sorrowful look, and shaking head.

"Well, does the warden consent to see me?" said the anxious stranger, who had gained the porter's goodwill by his liberality.

"I beg your pardon, friend," replied the menial; "but I must give Sir John's answer in his own words. He says if you choose to wait two hours he will then see whether you are a knave or a fool; but if you send another such impertinent message to him, both you and I shall have cause to repent it. However, for your civility, come with me, and I will find you something to eat and a horn of good ale, to put off the time till Sir John can be seen."

"I give you hearty thanks, my good fellow, but, as I said, I cannot wait. Here, take these three groats; go again to the warden, and say that the Gudeman of Ballengeich insists upon seeing him immediately."

No sooner was the porter's back turned, than James winded his bugle-horn so loudly that its echoes seemed to shake the castle walls; and the porter found his master in consternation. which his message changed into fear and trembling,

By the time the warden had reached the gate, James had thrown off his coat, and stood arrayed in the garb and insignia of royalty, while his train of nobles were galloping up in great haste. When they were collected around him, the king, for the first time, condescended to address the terrified warden, who had prostrated himself at the feet of his sovereign.

"Rise, Sir John," said he, with a stern and commanding air. You bade your porter tell me that I was either knave or fool, and you were right, for I have erred in delegating my power to a knave like you."

In tremulous accents the warden attempted to excuse himself by stammering out that he did not know he was wanted by his Majesty.

"But I sent you a message that I wished to speak with you on business of importance, and you refused to be disturbed. The meanest of my subjects has access to me at all times. I hear before I condemn, and shall do so with you, against whom I have many and heavy charges."

"Will it please your Majesty to honour my humble dwelling with your presence, and afford me an opportunity of speaking in my own defence?" said the justly alarmed warden.

"No, Sir John, I will not enter beneath that roof as a judge, where I was refused admission as a petitioner. I hold my court at Hoddam Castle, where I command your immediate attendance; where I will hear your answer to the charges I have against you. In the meantime, before our departure, you will give orders for the entertainment of my retinue, men and horses, at your castle, during my stay in Annandale."

The king then appointed several of the lords in attendance to accompany him to Hoddam Castle, whither he commanded the warden to follow him with all possible despatch.

Sir John was conscious of negligence, and even something worse, in the discharge of his duty, although ignorant of the particular charges to be brought against him ; but when ushered into the presence of his sovereign, he endeavoured to assume the easy confidence of innocence.

James proceeded to business, by inquiring if there was not a recent incursion of ft small marauding party, in which a poor widow's cow was carried off, her house plundered, and her son taken prisoner ; and if she did not early next morning state this to him, requesting him to recover her property.

"Did you, Sir John, do your utmost in the case?"

"I acknowledge I did not; but the widow shall have the best cow in my possession, and her house furnished anew. I hope that will satisfy your Majesty."

"And her son, how is he to be restored?"

"When we have the good fortune to make an English prisoner, he can be exchanged."

"Mark me! Sir John. If Wallace Maxwell is not brought before me in good health within a week from this date, you shall hang by the neck from that tree waving before the window. I have no more to say at present. Be ready to wait on me in one hour when your presence is required."

The warden knew the determined resolution of the king, and instantly despatched a confidential servant, vested with full powers to procure the liberation of Wallace Maxwell, at whatever price, and to bring him safely back without a moment's delay. In the meantime, the retinue of men and horses, amounting to several hundreds, were living at free quarters, in Sir John's castle, and the visits of the king diffusing gladness and joy over the whole country.

Next morning James sent the young nobleman, whom he had pointed out to the widow at Stirling, to bring her and Mary Morrison to Hoddam Castle. He received both with easy condescension; when the widow, with much grateful humility, endeavoured to express her thanks, saying that Sir John had last evening sent her a cow worth double that she had lost; also blankets, and other articles of higher value than all that had been carried away ; but, with tears in her eyes, she said, all these were as nothing without her dear son. Assuring them that their request had not been neglected, James dismissed them, with the joyful hope of soon seeing Wallace, as he would send for them immediately on his arrival.

The distress of the warden increased every hour, for he was a prisoner in his own castle; and his feelings may be conjectured, when he received a message from the king, commanding him to come to Hoddam Castle next day by noon, and either bring Wallace Maxwell along with him, or prepare for a speedy exit into the next world. He had just seen the sun rise, of which it seemed probable he should never see the setting, when his servant arrived with Wallace, whose liberty had been purchased at an exorbitant ransom. Without allowing the young man to rest, Sir John hurried him off to Hoddam Castle, and sent in a message that he waited an audience of his Majesty.

To make sure of the youth's identity, the king sent instantly for his mother, and the meeting called forth all the best feelings of his heart, for maternal affection triumphed over every other emotion, and it was only after the first ebullition of it had subsided, that she bade him kneel to his sovereign, to whom he owed his liberty, and most probably his life. Wallace gracefully bent his knee, and took Heaven to witness that both should be devoted to his Majesty's service.

James was delighted with the manly appearance and gallant behaviour of Wallace; and, after having satisfied himself of the sincerity of his attachment to Mary, he ordered him to withdraw.

He next despatched a messenger for Mary, who, the moment she came, was ushered into the presence of Sir John; James marking the countenance of both,—that of Mary flushed with resentment, while her eye Hashed with indignant fire. The pale and deadly hue which overspread the warden's cheek was a tacit acknowledgment of his guilt.

"Do you know that young woman, Sir John? Reply to my questions truly ; and be assured that your life depends upon the sincerity of your answers," said the king, in a determined and stern voice.

"Yes, my liege, I have seen her," paid Sir John, his Zip quivering, and his tongue faltering.

"Where?"

"At Amisfield."

"On what occasion?"

"She came to me for the release of Wallace Maxwell."

"And you refused her, except upon conditions which were an insult to her, and a disgrace to yourself. Speak; is it not so?"

"To my shame, my sovereign, I confess my guilt; but I am willing to make all the reparation in my power; and I leave it to he named by your Majesty."

"You deserve to be hanged, Sir John; but when I look on that face, I acknowledge your temptation, and it pleads a mitigation of punishment. You know that Mary loves and is beloved by Wallace Maxwell, whom you have already ransomed; you shall give him a farm of not less than fifty acres of good land, rent-free, during his life, or that of the woman he marries; and, further, you shall stock it with cattle, and every article necessary, with a comfortable dwelling;—all this you shall perform within three mouths from this date. If you think these conditions hard, I give you the alternative of swinging from that tree before sunset. Take your choice."

"My sovereign, I submit to the conditions, and promise that I shall do my best to make the couple happy."

Wallace was now called in, when Mary clasped him in her arms, both falling on their knees before their sovereign. He raised them up and said, "I have tried both your loves, and found them faithful. Your Mary is all that you believed her, and brings you a dowry which she will explain. I shall see your hands united before I leave Annandale, and preside at the feast. Let your care of the widow be a remuneration for what she has done for both, and I trust all of you will long remember the Gudeman of Ballengeich's visit to Annandale."—Edinburgh Literary Gazette.


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