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The Scottish Chiefs
Chapter 27 - The Frith of Clyde


AT Gourock, Murray engaged two small vessels; one for the Earl and Countess, with Wallace, as their escort; the other for himself and Edwin, to follow with a few of the men.

It was a fine evening, and they embarked with everything in their favour. The boatmen calculated on reaching Bute in a few hours; but ere they had been half an hour at sea, the wind veering about, obliged them to woo its breezes by a traversing motion; which, though it lengthened their voyage, increased its pleasantness, by carrying them often within near views of the ever-varying shores. Sailing under a side wind, they beheld the huge irregular rocks of Dunoon, overhanging the ocean; while from their projecting brows, hung every shrub which can live in that saline atmosphere.

"There:" whispered Lady Mar, gently inclining towards Wallace; "might the beautiful mermaid of Corie Vrekin [The dangerous gulf of Corie Vrekin lies between the shores of Jura and Scarba. Superstition has tenanted its shelves and eddies with every fabulous demon of the ocean; and amongst the rest, tells a thousand wild legends of a beautiful mermaid who holds her marine court beneath its whirlpool. Mr. J. Leyden has written a fine ballad on this subject. It was first brought to my delighted notice by Mr. Harral, a brother poet, of noble thoughts, and sweet elegiac pathos.—(1840.)] keep her court! Observe how magnificently those arching cliffs overhang the hollows; and how richly they are studded with shells and sea-flowers!"

No flower of the field, or of the ocean, that came within the ken of Wallace, wasted its sweetness unadmired. He assented to the remarks of Lady Mar; who continued to expatiate on the beauties of the shores which they passed; and thus the hours fled pleasantly away, till turning the southern point of the Cowal mountains, the scene suddenly changed. The wind, which had gradually been rising, blew a violent gale from that part of the coast; and the sea being pent between the rocks which skirt the continent and the northern side of Bute, became so boisterous, that the boatmen began to think they should be driven upon the rocks of the island, instead of reaching its bay. Wallace tore down the sails; and laying his nervous arm to the oar, assisted to keep the vessel off the breakers, against which the waves were driving her. The sky collected into a gloom; and while the teeming clouds seemed descending, even to rest upon the cracking masts, the swelling of the ocean threatened to heave her up into their very bosoms.

Lady Mar looked with affright at the gathering tempest; and with difficulty was persuaded to retire under the shelter of a little awning. The Earl forgot his debility, in the general terror, and tried to reassure the boatmen. But a tremendous sweep of the gale, driving the vessel far across the head of Bute, shot her past the mouth of Loch Fyne, towards the perilous rocks of Arran. "Here our destrination is certain!" cried the master of the bark, at the same time confessing his ignorance of the navigation on side of the island. Lord Mar, seizing the helm from the stupified master, called to Wallace, "While you keep the men to their duty," cried he, "I will steer."

The Earl being perfectly acquainted with the coast, Wallace gladly saw the helm in his hand. But he had scarcely stepped forward himself to give some necessary directions, when a heavy sea, breaking over the deck, carried two. of the poor mariners overboard. Wallace instantly threw out a couple of ropes. Then, amidst a spray so blinding, that the vessel appeared in a cloud; and while buffeted on each side by the raging of waves, which seemed contending to tear her to pieces, she lay to for a few minutes, to rescue the men from the yawning gulf;— one caught a rope, and was saved; but the other was seen no more.

Again the bark was set loose to the current. Wallace, now with two rowers only, applied his whole strength to their aid. The master, and the third man, were employed in the unceasing toil of laying out the accumulating water.

While the anxious chief tugged at the oar, and watched the thousand embattled cliffs which threatened destruction, his eye looked for the vessel that contained his friends. But the liquid mountains which rolled around him, pre vented all view; and with hardly a hope of seeing them again, he pursued his attempt to preserve the lives of those committed to his care.

All this while Lady Mar lay in a state of stupefaction. Having fainted at the first alarm of danger, she had fallen from swoon to swoon; and now remained, almost insensible, upon the bosoms of her maids. In a moment the vessel struck with a rat shock; and the next instant it seemed to move with a velocity incredible.—" The whirlpool! the whirlpool !" resounded from every lip. But again the rapid motion was suddenly checked; and the women, fancying they had struck on the Vrekin rock, shrieked aloud. The cry, and the terrified words which accompanied it, aroused Lady Mar. She started from her trance, and while the confusion redoubled, rushed towards the dreadful scene.

The mountainous waves, and lowering clouds, borne forward by the blast, anticipated the dreariness of night. The last rays of the setting sun had long passed away; and the deep shadows of the driving heavens, cast the whole into a gloom, even more terrific than absolute darkness; while the high and beetling rocks, towering aloft in precipitous walls, mocked the hopes of the sea-beaten mariner, should he even buffet the waters to reach their base; and the jagged shingles, deeply shelving beneath the waves, or projecting their pointed summits upward, showed the crew where the rugged death would meet them.

A little onward, a thousand massy fragments, rent by former tempests from their parent cliffs, lay at the foundations of the immense acclivities, which faced the cause of their present alarm; a whirlpool almost as terrific as that of Scarba. The moment the powerful blast drove the vessel within the influence of the outward edge of the first circle of the vortex, Wallace leaped from the deck, on the rocks; and with the same rope in his hand with which he had saved the life of the seaman, he called to the two men to follow him, who yet held similar ropes, fastened like his own to the prow of the vessel; and being obeyed, they strove, by towing it along, to stem the suction of the current. 

It was at this instant, that Lady Mar rushed forward upon deck. "In, for your life, Joanna!" exclaimed the Earl. She answered him not, but looked wildly around her. Nowhere could she see Wallace.

"Have I drowned him !" cried she in a voice of frenzy and striking the women from her, who would have held her back: "Let me clasp him, even in the deep waters!"

Happily, the Earl lost the last sentence in the roaring of the storm.

"Wallace, Wallace ! "cried she, wringing her hands, and still struggling with her women. At that moment, a huge wave sinking before her, discovered the object of her fears, straining along the surface of a rock; and followed by the men in the same laborious task, tugging forward the ropes to which the bark was attached. She gazed at them with wonder and affright; for notwithstanding the beating of the elements, (which seemed to find their breasts of iron, and their feet armed with some preternatural adhesion to the cliff) they continued to bear resolutely onward. Fortunately they did not now labour against the wind. Sometimes they pressed forward on the level edge of the rock; then a yawning chasm forced them to leap from cliff to cliff, or to spring on some more elevated projection. Thus, contending with the vortex and the storm, they at last arrived at the doubling of Cuthonrock ; [Cuthon means the mournful sound of waves] the point that was to clear them of this minor Corie Vrekin. But at that crisis, the rope which Wallace held, broke, and with the shock he fell backwards into the sea. The foremost man uttered a dreadful cry; but ere it could be echoed by his fellows, Wallace had risen above the waves; and beating their whelming waters with his invincible arm, soon gained the vessel, and jumped upon the deck. The post was doubled; but the next moment the vessel struck, and in a manner that left no hope of getting her off. All must take to the water, or perish; for the second shock would scatter her piecemeal.

Again Lady Mar appeared. At sight of Wallace, she forgot everything but him; and perhaps would have thrown herself into his arms, had not the anxious Earl caught her in his own.

"Are we to die?" cried she to Wallace, in a voice of horror.

"I trust that God has decreed otherwise," was his reply. "Compose yourself: all may yet be well?’

Lord Mar, from his yet unhealed wounds, could not swim: Wallace therefore tore up the benches of the rowers, and binding them into the form of a small raft, made it the vehicle for the Earl and Countess, with her two maids and the child. While the men were towing it, and buffeting with it, through the breakers, he too threw himself into the sea to swim by its side, and be in readiness in case of accident.

Having gained the shore, or rather the broken rocks that lie at the foot of the stupendous craigs which surround the Isle of Arran, Wallace and his sturdy assistants conveyed the Countess and her terrified women up their acclivities. Fortunately for the shipwrecked voyagers, though the wind raged, its violence was of some advantage, for it nearly cleared the heavens of clouds, and allowed the moon to send forth her guiding light. By her lamp, one of the men discovered the mouth of a cavern; where Wallace gladly sheltered his dripping charges.

The child, whom he had guarded in his own arms during the difficult ascent, he now laid on the bosom of its mother. Lady Mar kissed the hand that relinquished it, and gave way to a flood of grateful tears.

The Earl, as he sank almost powerless against the side of the cave, yet had strength enough to press Wallace to his heart :—" Ever preserver of me and mine!" cried he "how must I bless thee !.—My wife, my child—"

"Have been saved to you, my friend," interrupted Wallace, "by the presiding care of Him who walked the waves !—Without his especial arm, we must all have perished in this awful night; therefore let our thanksgivings be directed to Him alone."

"So be it!" returned the Earl; and. dropping on his knees, he breathed forth so pathetic and sublime a prayer of thanks, that the Countess trembled, and bent her head upon the bosom of her child. She could not utter the solemn Amen, that was repeated by every voice in the cave. Her unhappy infatuation saw no higher power in this great preservation, than the hand of the man she adored. She felt that guilt was cherished in her heart; and she could not lift her eyes, to join with those, who, with the boldness of innocence, called on Heaven to attest the sanctity of their vows.

Sleep soon sealed every weary eye, excepting those of Wallace. A racking anxiety respecting the fate of the other vessel, in which were the brave men of Bothwell, and his two dear friends, filled his mind with dreadful forebodings, that they had not outlived the storm. Sometimes, when wearied nature for a few minutes sunk into slumber, he would start, grief-struck, from the body of Edwin floating on the briny flood; and as he awoke, a cold despondence would tell him, that his dream was perhaps too true. "Oh! I love thee, Edwin!" exclaimed he to himself; "and if my devoted heart was to be separated from all but a patriot’s love !—Why did I think of loving thee ?— must thou too die, that Scotland may have no rival; that Wallace may feel himself quite alone ?

Thus he sat musing, and listening with many a sigh, to the yelling gusts of wind, and louder roaring of the water. At last the former gradually subsided, and the latter, obeying the retreating tide, rolled away in hoarse murmurs.

Morning began to dawn; and spreading upon the mountains of the opposite shore, shed a soft light over their misty sides. All was tranquil and full of beauty. That element, which so lately in its rage, had threatened to engulf them all, now flowed by the rocks at the foot of the cave, in gentle undulations and where the spiral cliffs gave a little resistance, the rays of the rising sun, striking on the bursting waves, turned their vapoury showers into dropping gems.

While his companions were still wrapped in sleep, Wallace stole away, to seek some knowledge respecting the part of the Isle of Arran on which they were cast. Close by the mouth of the cave, he discovered a cleft in the rock, into which he turned, and finding the upward footing sufficiently secure, clambered to the summit. Looking around, he found himself at the skirt of a chain of high hills, which seemed to stretch from side to side over the island, while their tops, in alpine succession, rose in a thousand grotesque and pinnacled forms. The ptarmigan and capperkaily were screaming from those upper regions; and the nimble roes, with their fawns, bounding through the green defiles below. No trace of human habitation appeared; but from the size, and known population of the island, he knew he could not be far from inhabitants; and thinking it best to send the boatmen in search of them, he retraced his steps. The morning vapours were fast rolling their snowy wreaths down the opposite mountains, whose heads, shining in resplendent purple, seemed to view themselves in the bright reflections of the now smooth sea. Nature, like a proud conqueror, appeared to have put on a triumphal garb, in exultation of the devastation she had committed the night before. Wallace shuddered, as the parallel occurred to his mind, and turned from the scene.

On re-entering the cave, he despatched the seamen, and disposed himself to watch by the sides of his still sleeping friends. An hour hardly had elapsed before the men returned, bringing with them a large boat and its proprietor But, alas! no tidings of Murray and Edwin, whom he had hoped might have been driven somewhere on the island. In bringing the boat round to the creek under the rock, the men discovered that the sea had driven their wreck between two projecting rocks, where it now lay wedged. Though ruined as a vessel, sufficient held together, to warrant their exertions to save the property. Accordingly they entered it, and drew thence most of the valuables which belonged to Lord Mar.

While this was doing, Wallace reascended to the cave; and finding the Earl awake, told him a boat was ready for their re-embarkation. "But where, my friend, are my nephews ?" inquired he: "Alas! has this fatal expedition robbed me of them!"

Wallace tried to inspire him with a hope he scarcely dared credit himself, that they had been saved on some more distant shore. The voices of the chiefs awakened the women; but the Countess still slept Aware that she would resist trusting herself to the waves again, Lord Mar desired that she might be moved on board without disturbing her. This was readily done; the men having only to take up the extremities of the plaid on which she lay, and so carry her with an imperceptible motion, to the boat. The Earl received her head on his bosom. All were then on board; the rowers struck their oars, and once more the little party found themselves launched upon the sea.

While they were yet midway between the isles, with a bright sun playing its sparkling beams upon the gently rippling waves, the Countess, heaving a deep sigh, slowly opened her eyes. All around, glared with the light of day; she felt the motion of the boat, and raising her head, saw that she was again embarked on the treacherous element on which she had lately experienced so many terrors. She grew deadly pale, and grasped her husband’s hand.

"My dear Joanna," cried he, "be not alarmed, we are all safe."

"And Sir William Wallace has left us?" demanded she.

"No, madam;" answered, a voice from the steerage, "not till this party be safe at Bute, do I quit it."

She looked round with a grateful smile: "Ever generous! How could I for a moment doubt our preserver?"

Wallace bowed, but remained silent; and they passed calmly along, till the vessel came in sight of a birling [Birling is a small boat generally used by fishers] which, bounding over the waves, was presently so near the Earl’s, that the figures in each could be distinctly seen. In it, the chiefs, to their rapturous surprise, beheld Murray and Edwin. The latter with a cry of joy, leaped into the sea; the next instant he was over the boat’s side, and clasped in the arms of Wallace. Real transport, true happiness now dilated the heart of the before desponding chief. He pressed the dear boy again and again to his bosom, and kissed his white forehead with all the rapture of the fondest brother. "Thank God! thank God?" was all that Edwin could say; while, at every effort to tear himself from Wallace, to congratulate his uncle on his safety, his heart, overflowing towards his friend, opened afresh, and he clung the closer to his breast; till at last, exhausted with happiness, the little hero of Dumbarton gave way to the sensibility of his tender age, and the chief felt his bosom wet with the joy-drawn tears of his youthful banneret.

While this was passing, the birling had drawn close to the boat; and Murray, shaking bands with his uncle and aunt exclaimed to Wallace, "That urchin is such a monopoliser, I see you have not a greeting for any one else." On this Edwin raised his face, and turned to the affectionate welcomes of Lord Mar. Wallace stretched out his hand to the ever-gay Lord Andrew; and, inviting him into the boat, soon learnt, that on the portentous beginning of the storm, Murray’s company made direct to the nearest creek in Bute, being better seamen than Wallace’s helmsmen who, until danger stopped him, had foolishly continued to aim for Rothsay. By this prudence, without having been in much peril, or sustained any fatigue, Murray’s party had landed safely. The night came on, dark and tremendous but not doubting that the Earl’s rowers had carried him into a similar haven, the young chief and his companion kept themselves very easy in a fisher’s hut till morning. At an early hour, they then put themselves at the head of the Bothwell men; and, expecting they should come up with Wallace and his party at Rothsay, walked over to the castle. Their consternation was unutterable when they found that Lord Mar was not there, neither had he been heard of. Full of terror, Murray and Edwin threw themselves into a birling, to seek their friends upon the seas; and when they did espy them, the joy of Edwin was so great, that not even the unfathomable gulf could stop him from flying to the embrace of his friend.

While mutual felicitations passed, the boats, now nearly side by side, reached the shore; and the seamen, jumping on the rocks, moored their vessels under the projecting towers of Rothsay. The old steward hastened to receive a master, who had not blessed his aged eyes for many a year; and when he took the infant in his arms that was to be the future representative of the house of Mar, he wept aloud. The Earl spoke to him affectionately; and then walked on with Edwin, whom he called to support him up the bank. Murray led the Countess out of the boat; while the Bothwell men so thronged about Wallace, congratulating themselves on his safety, that she saw there was no hope of his being then offered to her.

Having entered the castle, the steward led them into a room, in which he had spread a plentiful repast. Here Murray (having recounted the adventures of his voyage) called for a history of what had befallen his friends. The Earl gladly took up the tale; and, with many a glance of gratitude to Wallace, narrated the perilous events of their shipwreck and providential preservation on the Isle of Arran.

Happiness now seemed to have shed her heavenly influence over every bosom. All hearts owned the grateful effects of the late rescue. The rapturous joy of Edwin burst into a thousand sallies of ardent and luxuriant imagination. The high spirits of Murray turned every transient subject into a "mirth-moving jest." The veteran Earl, seemed restored to health, and to youth; and Wallace felt the sun of consolation expanding in his bosom. He had met a heart, though a young one, on which his soul might repose: that dear selected brother of his affection was saved from the whelming waves; and all his superstitious dreams of a mysterious doom, vanished before this manifestation of heavenly goodness. His friend, too, the gallant Murray, was spared. How many subjects had he for unmurmuring gratitude! And with an unclouded brow, and a happy spirit, he yielded to the impulse of the scene. He smiled; and, with an endearing graciousness, listened to every fond speaker; while his own ingenuous replies, bespoke the treasures of love, which sorrow, in her cruelest aspect, had locked within his heart.

The complacency with which he regarded every one— the pouring out of his beneficent spirit, which seemed to embrace all, like his dearest kindred—turned every eye and heart towards him, as to the source of every bliss; as to a being who seemed made to love, and be beloved by every one. Lady Mar looked at him, listened to him, with her rapt soul seated in her eye. In his presence all was transport.

But when he withdrew for the night, what was then the state of her feelings! The overflowing of heart, he felt for all, she appropriated solely to herself. The sweetness of his voice, the unutterable expression of his countenance, while, as he spoke, he veiled his eyes under their long brown lashes, had raised such vague hopes in her bosom, that—he being gone, she hastened her adieus to the rest, eager to retire to bed, and there uninterruptedly muse on the happiness of having at last touched the heart of a man for whom she would resign the world.


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