ALL obeyed the voice of their commander, and
retired to rest. But the eyes of Edwin could not close; his eager spirit
was already on the walls of Dumbarton. His rapid mind anticipated the
ascent of his general and his troop. But an imagination no less just
than ardent, suggested the difficulties attending so small a force
assailing so formidable a garrison, without some immediate knowledge of
its relative situations. A sudden thought struck him. He would mount
that rock alone; he would seek to ascertain the place of Lord Mar’s
confinement; that not one life in Wallace’s faithful band, might be
lost in a vague search.
"Ah! my general," exclaimed he,
"Edwin shall be the first to spring those ramparts! he shall tread
that dangerous path alone; and when he has thus proved himself not
unworthy of thy confidence, he will return, to lead thee and thy
soldiers to a sure victory; and himself to honour by thy side!"
This fervent apostrophe,
breathed to the night alone, was no sooner uttered, than he stole from
the thicket into which he had cast himself to repose. He looked towards
the embattled cliff; its summit stood bright in the moonlight, but deep
shadows lay beneath. "God be my speed!" cried he, and wrapping
himself in his plaid, so mixed its dark hues with the weeds and herbage
at the base of the rock, that he made its circuit without having
The south side seemed the
most easy of ascent; and by that he began his daring attempt. Having
gained the height, he clambered behind a buttress; the shadow of which
cast the wall into such black obscurity, that he crept safely through
one of its crenelles, and dropping gently inwards, alighted on his feet.
Still keeping the shadowed side of the battlements, he proceeded
cautiously along; and so stilly was his motion, that he passed
undiscovered, even by the sentinels who guarded this quarter of the
He soon arrived at the
open square before the citadel: it was yet occupied by groups of
Southron officers, gaily walking to and fro under the light of the moon.
In hopes of gaining some useful information from their discourse, he
concealed himself behind a chest of arrows; and as they passed backwards
and forwards, distinctly heard them jesting each other about divers fair
dames of the country around. The conversation terminated in a debate,
whether or no the indifference which their governor De Valence
manifested to the majestic beauties of the Countess of Mar, were real or
assumed. A thousand free remarks were made on the subject; and Edwin
gathered sufficient from the discourse, to understand that the Earl and
Countess were treated severely, and confined in a large square tower in
the cleft of the rock.
Having learnt all that he
could expect from these officers he speeded, under the friendly shadow,
towards the other side of the citadel; and arrived just as the guard
approached to relieve the sentinels of the northern postern. He laid
himself close to the ground, and happily overheard the word of the
night, as it was given to the new watch. This providential circumstance
saved his life.
Finding no mode of
regress from this place, but by the postern at which the sentinel was
stationed; or by attempting a passage through a small adjoining tower,
the door of which stood open; he considered a moment, and then deciding
for the tower, stole unobserved into it. Fortunately no person was
there: but Edwin found it full of spare arms, with two or three vacant
couches in different corners, where, he supposed, the officers on guard
occasionally reposed; several watch-cloaks lay on the floor. He readily
apprehended the use he might make of this circumstance, and throwing one
of them over his own shoulders, climbed to a large embrasure in the
wall; and forcing himself through. it, dropped to a declivity on the
other side, which shelved down to the cliff, wherein he now saw the
He had scarcely lit on
firm ground, when a sentinel, followed by two others with presented
pikes; approacbed him, and demanded the word.—" Montjoy."—was
his reply. "Why leap the embrasure?" said one. "Why
not enter by the postern?" demanded another. The conversation of
the officers had given him a hint, on which he formed his answer.
"Love, my brave comrades;" replied he, "seldom chooses
even ways. I go on a message from a young ensign in the keep, to one of
the scottish damsels in yonder tower. Delay me, and his vengeance will
fall upon us all."—" Good luck to you, my lad!" was
their answer; and, with a lightened step, he hastened towards the tower.
Not deeming it safe to
seek an interview with any of the Earl’s family, he crept along the
base of the structure, and across the works, till he reached the high
wall that blocks up egress from the north. He found this formidable
curtain constructed of fragments of rock; and for the convenience of the
guard, a sloping platform from within, led to the top of the wall. On
the other side it was perpendicular. A solitary sentinel stood there;
and how to pass him was Edwin’s next device. To attack him, would be
desperate: being one of a chain of guards around the interior of the
fortress, his voice need only to be raised in the least, to call a
regiment to his assistance, and Edwin must be seized on the instant.
Aware of his danger, but
not dismayed, the adventurous youth bethought him of his former excuse;
and remembering a flask of spirits which Ireland had put into his pouch
on leaving Glenfinlass, he affected to be intoxicated, and staggering up
to the man, accosted him in the character of a servant of the garrison.
The sentinel did not
doubt the appearance of the boy, and Edwin holding out the flask, said
that a pretty girl in the great tower had not only given him a long
draught of the same good liquor, but had filled his bottle, that he
might not lack amusement, while her companion, one of Lady Mar’s
maids-in-waiting, was tying up a true lover’s knot to send to his
master in the garrison. The man believed Edwin’s tale, the more
readily, as he thrust the flask into his hand, and bade him drink:
"Do not spare it," cried he: "the night is chilly, and I
shall get more where that came from."
The unsuspecting Southron
returned him a merry reply, and putting the flask to his head, soon
drained its contents. They had the effect Edwin desired. The soldier
became flustered, and impatient of his duty. Edwin perceived it and
yawning, complained of drowsiness. "I would go to the top of that
wall, and sleep sweetly in the moon-beams," said he, "if any
good-natured fellow would meanwhile wait for my pretty Scot!"
Southron liked no better sport; and regardless of duty, he promised to
draw nearer the tower, and bring from the fair messenger the expected
Having thus far gained
his point, with an apparently staggering, but really agile step, Edwin
ascended the wall. A leap from this dizzy height, was his only way to
rejoin Wallace. To retread his steps through the fortress in safety,
would hardly be possible; and besides, such a mode of retreat would
leave him uninformed on the second object of his enterprise: to know the
most vulnerable side of the fortress.
He threw himself along
the summit of the wall, as if to sleep. He looked down, and saw nothing
but the blackness of space: for here the broad expanse of shadow,
rendered rocks and building of the same hue and level. But hope buoyed
him in her arms; and turning his eyes toward.the sentinel, he observed
him to have arrived, within a few paces of the square tower. This was
Edwin’s. moment: grasping the projecting stone of the embattlement,
and commending himself to Heaven, he threw himself from its summit, and
fell, a fearful depth, to the cliffs beneath.
having seen his brave followers depart to their repose, reclined himself
along a pile of moss grown stones; which, in the days of the renowned
Fingal, had covered the body of some valiant Morven chieftain. He fixed
his wakeful eyes on the castle, now illuminated every part by the
fulness of the moon’s lustre; and considered which point would be most
assailable by the scaling ladders he had prepared. Every side seemed a
Leven, surrounding it on the north and the west; the Clyde, broad as a
sea, on the south. The only place that seemed at all accessible, was the
side next the dyke behind which he lay. Here the ascent to the
castellated part of the rock, because most perpendicular, was the least
guarded with outworks: and by this he determined to make the attempt, as
soon as the setting moon should involve the garrison in darkness.
While he yet mused on
what might be the momentous consequences of the succeeding midnight
hours, he thought be heard a swift though cautious footstep. He raised
himself and laying his hand on his sword, saw a figure advancing towards
there?" demanded Wallace.
Scot," was the reply.
Wallace recognised the
voice of Edwin. "What has disturbed you? Why do you not take rest
with the others?"
"That we may have
the surer, to-morrow I" replied the youth: " I am just
returned from the summit of yonder rock."
interrupted Wallace: "have you scaled it alone, and are returned in
Wallace caught him in his
arms: "Intrepid, glorious boy! tell me for what purpose, did you
thus hazard your precious life ?"
"I wished to learn
its most pregnable part," replied Edwin, his young heart beating
with triumph at these encomiums from his commander; "and
particularly where the good Earl is confined, that we might make our
attack directly to the point."
"And have you been
successful?" demanded Wallace.
"I have" was
his answer. "Lord Mar, and his lady, are kept in a square tower,
which stands in the cleft between the two summits of the rock. It is not
only surrounded by embattled walls, which flank the Ponderous buttresses
of this huge dungeon; but the space on which it stands is bulwarked at
each end, by a stone curtain of fifteen feet high, guarded by turrets
full of armed men."
"And yet by that
side, you suppose we must ascend?" said Wallace.
"Certainly: for if
you attempt it on the west, we should have to scale the watch-tower
cliff, and the ascent could only be gained in file. An auxiliary
detachment, to attack in flank, might succeed there; but the passage
being so narrow, would be too tedious for the whole party to arrive in
time. Should we take the south, we must cut through the whole garrison,
before we could reach the Earl. And on this side, the morass lies too
near the foot of the rock, to admit an approach without the greatest
danger. But on the north, where I descended; by wading through part of
the Leven, and climbing from cliff to cliff, I have every hope you may
Edwin recounted the
particulars of his progress through the fortress; and by the minuteness
of his topographical descriptions, enforced his arguments for the north
to be the point assailed. Closing his narrative, he explained to the
anxious inquiry of Wallace, how he had escaped accident in a leap of so
many feet. The wall was covered with ivy; he caught by its branches in
his descent, and at last happily fell amongst a thick bed of furze.
After this, he clambered down the steep; and fording the Leven (there
only knee-deep), now appeared before his general, elate in heart, and
bright in valour.
"The intrepidity of
this action," returned Wallace, glowing with admiration at so noble
a daring in so young a creature, "merits that, every confidence
should be placed in the result of your observations. Your safe return is
a pledge of our design being approved. And when we go in the strength of
Heaven, who can doubt the issue! This night, when the Lord of battles
puts that fortress into our hands; before the whole of our little army,
you shall receive that knighthood you have so richly deserved. Such, my
truly dear brother, my noble Edwin, shall be the reward of your virtue,
and your toil ."
Wallace would now have sent him to
repose himself; but animated by the success of his adventure, and
exulting in the honour which was so soon to stamp a sign of this
exploit, upon him for ever; he told his leader, that he felt no want of
sleep; and would rather take on him the office of arousing the other
captains to their stations; the moon, their preconcerted signal, being
then approaching its rest.