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The Scottish Chiefs
Chapter 23 - The Fortress

KIRKPATRICK, Murray, and Scrymgeour, hastened to their commander; and in a few minutes all were under arms. Wallace briefly explained his altered plan of assault; and marshalling his men accordingly, led them in silence through the water, and along the beach, which lay between the rock and the Leven. Arriving at the base just as the moon set, they began to ascend. To do this in the dark, redoubled the difficulty; but as Wallace had the place of every accessible stone accurately described to him by Edwin, he went confidently forward, followed by his Lanarkmen.

He and they, being the first to mount, fixed and held the tops of the scaling-ladders, while Kirkpatrick and Scrymgeour, with their men, gradually ascended, and gained the bottom, of the wall. here, planting themselves in the crannies of the rock, under the impenetrable darkness of the night (for the moon had not only set, but the stars were obscured by clouds) they awaited the signal for the final ascent.

Meanwhile, Edwin led Lord Andrew with his followers, and the Fraser men, round by the western side to mount the watch-tower rock, and seize the few soldiers who kept the beacon. As a signal of having succeeded, they were to smother the flame on the top of the tower, and thence descend towards the garrison, to meet Wallace before the prison of the Earl of Mar.

While the men of Lanark, with their eyes fixed on the burning beacon, in deadly stillness watched the appointed signal for the attack, Wallace, by the aid of his dagger, which he struck into the firm soil that occupied the cracks in the rock, drew himself up almost parallel with the top of the great wall, which clasped the bases of the two hills. He listened; not a voice was to be heard in the garrison, of all the legions he had so lately seen glittering on its battlements. It was an awful pause.

Now was the moment, when Scotland was to make her first essay for freedom! Should it fail, ten thousand bolts of iron would be added to her chains! Should it succeed, liberty and happiness were the almost certain consequences.

He looked up; and fixing his eyes on the beacon-flame, thought he saw the figures of men pass before it—the next moment all was darkness—he sprang on the wall; and feeling, by the touch of hands about his feet, that his brave followers had already mounted their ladders, he grasped his sword firmly, and leaped down on the ground within. In that moment, he struck against the sentinel, who was just passing, and by the violence of the shock struck him to the earth; but the man, as he fell, catching Wallace round the waist, dragged him after him, and with a vociferous cry, shouted, Treason! 

Several sentinels ran with levelled pikes to the spot; the adjacent turrets emptied themselves of their armed inhabitants; and all assaulted Wallace, just as he had extricated himself from the grasp of the prostrate soldier.

"Who are you?" demanded they.

"Your enemy;" and the speaker fell at his feet with one stroke of his sword.

Attack on Dunbarton Castle"Alarm !-—Treason!" resounded from the rest, as they aimed their random strokes at the conquering chief. But he was now assisted by the vigorous arm of Ker, and of several Lanarkmen; who, having cleared the wall, were dealing about blows in the darkness, which filled the air with groans, and strewed the ground with the dying and the dead.

One or two Southrons, whose courage was not equal to their caution, fled to arouse the garrison; and just as the whole of Wallace’s men leaped the wall, and rallied to his support, the inner ballium gate burst open, and a legion of foes, bearing torches, issued to the contest. With horrible threatenings, they came on; and by a rapid movement, surrounded Wallace and his little company. But his soul brightened in danger; and his men, warmed with the same spirit, stood firm with fixed pikes, receiving without injury, the assault. Their weapons being longer than the enemy’s, the Southrons, not aware of the circumstance, rushed upon their points, incurring the death they meant to give. Seeing their consequent disorder, Wallace ordered the pikes to be dropped, and his men to charge sword in hand. Terrible was now the havoc for the desperate Scots, grappling each to his foe with a fatal hold, let not go till the piercing shriek, or the agonised groan, convinced him that death had seized its victim. Wallace fought in front, making a dreadful passage through the falling ranks; while the tremendous sweep of his sword, flashing in the intermitting light, warned the survivors where the avenging blade would next descend. A horrid vacuity was made in the lately thronged spot: it seemed not the slaughter of a mortal arm, but as if the destroying angel himself were there; and with one blast of his desolating brand, had laid all in ruin. The platform was cleared; and the fallen torches, some half-extinguished, and others flaming on the ground by the sides of the dead, showed, in their uncertain gleams a few terrified wretches seeking safety in flight. The same lurid rays, casting a transitory fight on the iron gratings of the great tower, informed Wallace that the heat of conflict had drawn him to the prison of the Earl.

"We are now near the end of this night’s work!" cried he. "Let us press forward, to give freedom to the Earl of Mar!"

"Liberty, and Lord Mar!" cried Kirkpatrick, rushing onwards. He was immediately followed by his own men; but not quick enough for his daring. The guard in the tower, hearing the outcry, issued from the flanking gates, and, surrounding him, took him prisoner.

"If there be might in your arms;" roared he with the voice of a lion, "men of Loch Dome, rescue your leader!"

They hurried forward, with yells of defiance: but the strength of the garrison, awakened by the flying wretches from the defeat, turned out all its power; and, with DeValence at their head, pouring on Kirkpatrick’s men, would have overpowered them, had not Wallace, and his sixty heroes, with desperate determination, cut a passage to them through the closing ranks.

Pikes struck against corslets, swords rung on helmets; and the ponderous battle-axe, falling with the weight of fate, cleft the uplifted target in twain. Blood spouted on every side; and the dripping hands of Kirkpatrick, as Wallace tore him from the enemy, proclaimed that he had bathed his vengeance in the stream. On being released, he shook his ensanguined arms, and burst into a horrid laugh: "The work speeds! Now through the heart of the governor!" 

Even while he spoke, Wallace lost him again from his side: and again, by the shouts of the Southrons, who cried, "No quarter for the rebel !" he learnt he must be retaken. That merciless cry was the death-bell of their own doom. It directed Wallace to the spot; and throwing himself and his brethren of Lanark, into the midst of the band which held the prisoner, Kirkpatrick was again rescued. But thousands seemed now surrounding the chief himself. To do this generous deed, he had advanced further that he ought; and himself and his brave followers, must have been slain, had he not recoiled back; and covering their rear with the great tower, all who had the hardihood in approach, fell under the weight of the Scottish claymore.

Scrymgeour, at the head of the Loch Dome men, in vain attempted to reach this contending party; and fearful of losing the royal standard, he was turning to make a valiant retreat, when Murray and Edwin (having disengaged their followers from the precipices of the beacon rock) rushed into the fray, striking their shields, and uttering the inspiring slogen of "Wallace and Freedom!" It was re-echoed by every Scot, those that were flying, returned; they who sustained the conflict, hailed the cry with braced sinews; and the terrible thunder of the Word,. pealing from rank to rank, struck a terror into De Valence’s men, which made them pause. The extinction of the beacon, made them still more aghast.

On that short moment, turned the crisis of their fate. Wallace cut his way forward through the dismayed Southrons; who, hearing the reiterated shouts of the fresh reinforcement, knew not whether its strength might not be thousands instead of hundreds, and panic-struck they became an easy prey to their enemies. Surrounded, mixed with their assailants, they knew not friends from foes; and each individual being bent on flight, they indiscriminately cut to right and left, wounding as many of thejr own men, as of the Scots; and finally, after slaughtering half, their companions, some few escaped through the small posterns of the garrison; leaving the inner ballia entirely in possession of the foe.

The whole of the field being cleared, Wallace ordered the tower to be forced. A strong guard was still within; and, as the assailants drew near, every means were used to render their assaults abortive. As the Scots pressed to the main entrance, stones and heavy metals were thrown upon their heads; but not in the least intimidated, they stood beneath the iron shower, till Wallace ordered them to drive a large felled tree, which lay on the ground, against the hinges of the door: it burst open, and the whole party rushed into the hall.

A short, sanguinary, but decisive conflict took place. The hauberk and plaid of Wallace were dyed from head to foot: his own brave blood, and the ferocious stream from his enemies, mingled in one horrid hue upon his garments.

"Wallace! Wallace!" cried the stentorian lungs of Kirkpatrick. In a moment Wallace was at his side, and found him wrestling with two men. The light of a single lamp, suspended from the rafters, fell direct upon the combatants. A dagger was pointed at the life of the old knight; but Wallace laid the holder of it dead across the body of his intended victim; and catching the other assailant by the throat, threw him prostrate to the ground.

"Spare me, for the honour of knighthood !" cried the conquered.

"For my honour, you shall die !" cried Kirkpatrick.

His sword was already at the heart of the Englishman. Wallace beat it back. " Kirkpatrick, he is my prisoner, and I give him life."

"You know not what you do," cried the old knight, struggling with Wallace, to release his sword-arm. "This is De Valence !" "Quarter !" reiterated the panting, and hard-pressed Earl! "Noble Wallace, my life! For I am wounded."

"Sooner take my own" cried the determined Kirkpatrick, fixing his foot on the neck of the prostrate man, and trying to wrench his hand from the grasp of his commander.

"Shame!" cried Wallace: "you must strike through me, to kill any wounded man I hear cry for quarter! Release the Earl, for your own honour."

Our safety lies in his destruction I" cried Kirkpatrick; and enraged at opposition, he thrust his commander (little expecting such an action), from off the body of the Earl. De Valence seized his advantage, and catching Kirkpatrick by the limb that pressed on him, overthrew him; and by a sudden spring, turning quickly on Wallace, struck his dagger into his side. All this was done in an instant. Wallace did not fall; but staggering with the weapon sticking in the wound, he was so surprised by the baseness of the deed, he could not give the alarm till its perpetrator had disappeared.

The flying Earl took his course through a narrow passage between the works; and proceeding swiftly towards the south, issued safely at one of the outer ballium gates; that part of the castle being now solitary, all the men having been drawn from the walls to the contest within; and thence he made his escape in a fisher’s boat across the Clyde.

Meanwhile, Wallace having recovered himself; just as the Scots brought in lighted torches from the lower apartmeats of the tower, saw Sir Roger Kirkpatrick leaning sternly on his blood-dripping sword; and the young Edwin coming forward in garments too nearly the hue of his own. Andrew Murray stood already by his side. Wallace’s hand was upon the hilt of the dagger, which the ungrateful De Valence had left in his breast. "You are wounded! you are slain !" cried Murray, in a voice of consternation. Edwin stood motionless with horror.

"That dagger!" exclaimed Scryingeoure

"Has done nothing," replied Wallace, "but let me a little more blood." As be spoke, he drew it out, and thrusting the corner of his scarf into his bosom, staunched the wound.

"So is your mercy rewarded ! "exclaimed Kirkpatrick.

"So am I true to a soldier’s duty," returned Wallace, "though De Valence is a traitor to his!"

"You treated him as a man;" replied Kirkpatrick: "but now you find him a treacherous fiend !"

"Your eagerness, my brave friend," returned Wallace, "has lost him as a prisoner. If not for humanity, or honour; for policy’s sake, we ought to have spared his life; and detained him an hostage for our own countymen in England."

Kirkpatrick remembered how his violence had released the Earl, and he looked down abashed. Wallace, perceiving it, continued, "But let us not abuse our time, discoursing on a coward. He is gone; the fortress is ours; and our first measure must be to guard it from surprise."

"As he spoke, his eyes fell upon Edwin; who having recovered from the shock of Murray’s exclamation, had brought forward the surgeon of their little band. A few minutes bound up the wounds of their chief; even while beckoning the anxious boy towards him. "Brave youth, cried he, "you, who at the imminent risk of your own life, explored these heights, that you might render our ascent more sure; you, who have fought like a young lion, in this unequal contest here, in the face of all your valiant comrades, receive that knighthood, which rather derives lustre from your virtues, than gives additional consequence to your name."

With a bounding heart Edwin bent his knee: and Wallace, giving him the hallowed accolade, the young knight rose from his position, with all the roses of his springing fame glowing in his countenance. Scrymgeour presented him the knightly girdle, which be embraced from his own loins; and while the happy boy received the sword to which it was attached, he exclaimed with animation: "While I follow the example before my eyes, I shall never draw this in an unjust cause, nor ever sheath it in a just one."

"Go then," returned Wallace, smiling his approval of this sentiment, "while work is to be done, I will keep my knight to the toil; go, and with twenty men of Lanark, guard the wall by which we ascended."

Edwin disappeared, and Wallace, having despatched detachments to occupy other parts of the garrison, took a torch in his hand, and turning to Murray, proposed seeking the Earl of Mar. Lord Andrew was soon at the iron door which led from the hall to the principal stairs.

"We must have our friendly battering ram here;" cried he; "a close prisoner do they indeed keep my uncle, when even the inner doors are bolted on him!"

The men dragged the tree forward, and striking it against the iron, it burst open with the noise of thunder. Shrieks from within followed the sound. The women of Lady Mar, not knowing what to suppose during the uproar of the conflict, now hearing the door forced, expected nothing less than that some new enemies were advancing and, giving themselves up to despair, they flew into the room where the Countess sat in equal though less clamorous terror.

At the shouts of the Scots, when they began the attack, the Earl had started from his couch. "That is not peace!" said he; "there is some surprise!"

"Alas, from whom?" returned Lady Mar; "who would venture to attack a fortress like this, garrisoned with thousands?"

The cry was repeated. "It is the slogen of Sir William Wallace!" cried he; " I shall be free! O, for a sword! Hear! hear!"

As the shouts redoubled; and, mingled with the various clangors of battle, drew nearer the tower, the impatience of the Earl could not be restrained. Hope and eagerness seemed to have dried up his wounds, and new-strungevery nerve, while unarmed as he was he rushed from the apartment, and hurried down the stairs which led to the iron door. He found it so firmly fastened by bars and padlocks, he could not move it. Again he ascended to his terrified wife; who, conscious how little obligation Wallace owed to her, perhaps dreaded even more to see her husband’s hopes realised, than to find herself yet more rigidly the prisoner of the haughty lie Valence.

"Joanna!" cried he, "the arm of God is with us. My prayers are heard; Scotland will yet be free. Hear those groans,—those shouts. —Victory! Victory!"

As he thus echoed the cry of triumph, uttered by the Scots when bursting open the outer gate of the tower, the foundations of the building shook, and Lady Mar, almost insensible with terror, received the exhausted body of her husband into her arms; he fainted from the transport his weakened frame was unable to bear. Soon after this, the stair door was forced, and the panic-struck women ran shrieking into the room to their mistress.

The Countess could not speak, but sat pale and motionless, supporting his head on her bosom. Guided by the noise, Lord Andrew flew into the room, and rushing towards his uncle, fell at his feet. "Liberty! Liberty !" was all he could say. His words pierced the ear of the Earl, like a voice from Heaven; and looking up, without a word he threw his arms round the neck of his nephew.

Tears relieved the contending feelings of the Countess; and the women, recognising the young Lord of Bothwell, retired into a distant corner, well assured they had now no cause for fears.

The Earl rested but a moment on the panting breast of his nephew; when, gazing round, to seek the mighty leader of the band, he saw Wallace enter, with the step of security, and triumph in his eyes.

"Ever my deliverer!" cried the venerable Mar, stretching forth his arms. The next instant he held Wallace to his breast; and remembering all that he had lost for his sake since they parted, a soldier’s heart melted, and he burst into tears. "Wallace, my preserver; thou victim for Scotland, and for me ;--—or rather, thou chosen of Heaven! who, by the sacrifice of all thou didst hold dear on earth, art made a blessing to thy country !—receive my thanks, and my heart."

Wallace felt all in his soul, which the Earl meant to imply; but recovering the calmed tone of his mind, before he was released from the embrace of his friend; when he raised himself and replied to the acknowledgments of the Countess, it was with a serene, though glowing countenance.

She, when she had glanced from the eager entrance and action of her nephew, to the advancing hero, looked as Venus did when she beheld the God of War rise from field of blood. She started at the appearance of Wallace; but it was not his garments dropping gore, nor the blood stained falchion in his hand, that caused the new sensation; it was the figure breathing youth and manhood. It was the face, where every noble passion of the heart had stamped themselves on his perfect features; it was his air where majesty, and sweet entrancing grace, mingled in manly union. They were all these, that struck at once upon the sight of Lady Mar, and made her exclaim within herself, "This is a wonder of man! This is the hero, that is to humble Edward !—to bless,—whom?" was her thought. "Oh, no woman!" Let him be a creature enshrined and holy, for no female heart to dare to love!"

This passed through the mind of the Countess, in less time than it has been repeated; and when she saw him clasped in her husband’s arms, she exclaimed to herself, "Helen, thou wert right; thy gratitude was prophetic of a matchless object; while I, wretch that I was, even whispered the wish to my traitress heart, while I gave information against my husband, that this man, the cause of all, might be secured or slain!"

Just as the last idea struck her, Wallace rose from the embrace of his venerable friend, and met the riveted eye of the Countess. She stammered forth a few expressions of obligation; he attributed her confusion to the surprise of the moment, and replying to her respectfully, turned again to the Earl.

The joy of the venerable chief was unbounded, when he found that a handful of Scots had put two thousand Southrons to flight, and gained entire possession of the castle. Wallace, having satisfied the anxious questions of his noble auditor, gladly perceived the morning light He rose from his seat. "I shall take a temporary leave of you, my Lord," said he to the Earl: "I must now visit my brave comrades at their posts; and see the colours of Scotland planted on the citadel."

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