IT was on the eve of St.
Nicholas, that the boat which contained Wallace drew near to the coast of
Fife. A little to the right, towered the tremendous precipice of Kinghorn.
said he, "the cause of all our woe! From those horrible cliffs, fell
the best of kings, the good Alexander. My father accompanied him in that
fatal ride; and was one of the unhappy group, who had the evil hap to find
his mangled body amongst the rocks below."
"I have heard;"
observed Graham, "that the sage of Ercildown prophesied this dreadful
calamity to Scotland."
"He did prognosticate;"
replied Wallace, "that on the eighteenth of April, a storm should
burst over this land, which would lay the country in ruins. Fear seized
the farmers: but his prophecy regarded a nobler object, than their
harvests. The day came; rose unclouded, and continued perfectly serene.
Lord March, to whom the seer had presaged the event, at noon reproached
him with the unlikeliness of its completion. But even at the moment
he was ridiculing the sage, a man on a foaming steed arrived at the gate,
with tidings that, the King had accidentally fallen from the precipice of
Kinghorn, and was killed. ‘This,’ said the Lord of Ercildown, ‘is
the scathing wind and dreadful tempest, which shall, long blow calamity
and trouble on the realm of Scotland ! ‘—And surely his words have
been verified; for still the storm rages around our borders :—and will
not cease, I fear, till the present dragon of England, be laid as low as
our noble lion was, by that mysterious blast."
IlI was killed in this manner on the 18th of April, 1290;
just seven years before the consequent calamities of his country made it
necessary for Wallace to rise in its defence. Holinshed gives a
circumstantial account of Thomas of Learmont’s (or, as the translator of
Hector Boetius names him, Thomas of Ercildawn’s) prophecy of this event.—(1809.)]
The like discourse held the
friends, till they landed at Roseyth castle; where they lodged for the
night: and next morning recommencing their journey at daybreak, they
crossed the Lomonds under a wintry sun, and entered Perth in the midst of
The Regent’s arrival,
soon spread throughout the province; and the hall of the castle was
speedily crowded with chieftains, come to pay their respects to their
benefactor; while an army of grateful peasantry from the hills, filled the
suburbs of the town, begging for one glance only of their beloved lord. To
oblige them, Wallace mounted his horse, and between the Lords Ruthven and
Athol, with his bonnet off, rode from the castle to the populace-covered
plain, which lay to the west of the city. He gratified their affectionate
eagerness by this condescension; and received in return, the sincere
homage of a thousand grateful hearts. The snow-topped Grampians, echoed
with the proud acclamations of, "Our deliverer"—"Our
prince"—"The champion of Scotland"—"The glorious
and the shores of the Tay, resounded with similar rejoicings, at sight of
him who had made the Scottish seamen lords of the northern ocean.
Ruthven beheld this
eloquence of nature, with sympathetic feelings. His just sense of the
unequalled merits of the Regent, had long internally acknowledged him as
his sovereign; and he smiled with approbation, at every breathing amongst
the people, which intimated what would at last be their general shout.
Wallace had proved himself not only a warrior, but a legislator. In the
midst of war, he had planted the fruits of peace; and now the olive, and
the vine, waved abundant on every hill.
Different were the thoughts
of the gloomy Athol, as he rode by the side of the Regent. Could he, by a
look, have blasted those valiant arms; have palsied that youthful head,
whose judgment shamed the hoariest temples; gladly would he have made
Scotland the sacrifice; so that he might never again find himself in the
triumphant train of one whom he deemed a boy and an upstart! Thus did he
muse; and thus did envy open a way into his soul, for those demons to
enter, which were so soon to possess it with the fellest designs.
The issue of Ruthven’s
claims, did not lessen Lord Athol’s hatred of the Regent. Wallace simply
stated the case to him; only changing the situations of the opponents: he
supposed Athol to be in the place of Ruthven; and then asked the frowning
Earl—if Ruthven had demanded a government, which Athol had bravely won,
and nobly secured, whether he should deem it just to be sentenced to
relinquish it into the hands of his rival? By this question, he was forced
to decide against himself. But while Wallace generously hoped, that by
having made him his own judge, he had found an expedient, both to soften
the pain of disappointment, and to lessen the humiliation of defeat; he
had only redoubled the hatred of Athol, who though
he had thus been cajoled out of even the privilege of complaint. He,
however, affected to be reconciled to the issue of the affair; and taking
a friendly leave of the Regent, retired to Blair: and there, amongst the
numerous fortresses which owned his power; amongst the stupendous
strongholds of nature, the cloud-invested mountains; and the labyrinthine
winding of his lochs and streams; he determined to pass his days and
nights in devising the sure fall of this proud usurper. For so, the
bitterness of an envy, he durst not yet breathe to any, impelled him,
internally, to designate the unpretending Wallace.
Meanwhile, the unconscious
object of this hatred, oppressed by the overwhelming crowds constantly
assembling at Perth to do him homage, retired to Hunting-tower; a castle
of Lord Ruthven’s, at some distance from the town. Secluded from the
throng, he there arranged with the chiefs of several clans, matters of
consequence to the internal repose of the country; but receiving
applications for similar regulations, from the counties further north, he
decided on going thither himself. Severe as the weather was at that
season, he bade adieu to the warm hospitalities of Hunting-tower; and,
accompanied by Graham and his young friend Edwin, with a small but
faithful train, he commenced a journey, which he intended should
comprehend the circuit of the Highlands.
With the chieftain of
almost every castle in his progress, he passed a day; and according to the
interest, which the situation of the surrounding peasantry, created in his
mind, he lengthened his sojourn. Everywhere he was welcomed with
enthusiasm; and his glad eye beheld the festivities of Christmas, with a
delight which recalled past emotions, till they wrung his heart.
The last day of the old year, he
spent with Lord Loch-awe, in Kilchurn castle ; and after a bounteous
feast, in which lord and
vassal joined, according to the custom of the country the whole family sat
up the night, to hail the coming in of the new season. Wallace had passed
that hour, twelve months ago, alone with his Marion! They sat together in
the window of the eastern tower of Ellersile; and while he listened to the
cheerful liIts to which their servants were dancing, the hand of his
lovely bride was clasped in his. Marion smiled, and talked of the
happiness which should await them in the year to come. "Ay, my
beloved;" answered he, "more than thy beauteous self, will then
fill these happy arms! Thy babe, my wife, will then hang at thy bosom, to
bless with a parent’s joys thy grateful husband !"—That time was
now come, round, and where was Marion ?—cold in her grave. Where that
smiling babe ?—a murderer’s steel had reached it ere it saw the light.
Wallace groaned at these
recollections: he struck his hand forcibly on his bursting heart, and fled
from the room. The noise of the harps, the laughing of the dancers,
prevented his emotions from being observed; and rushing far from the
joyous tumult, till its sounds died in the breeze, or were only brought to
his ear by fitful gusts, he speeded along the margin of the lake, as if he
would have flown even from himself. But memory, racking memory, followed
him. Throwing himself on a bank, over which the ice hung in pointed
masses, he felt not the roughness of the ground; for all within him was
disturbed, and at war.
"Why;" cried he,
"O! why was I selected for this cruel sacrifice? Why was this heart,
to whom the acclaim of multitudes, could bring no selfish joy; why was it
to be bereft of all that ever made it beat with transport? Companion of my
days, partner of my soul! my lost, lost Marion! and are thine eyes for
ever closed on me? shall I never more clasp that hand, which ever thrilled
my frame with every sense of rapture ?—Gone, gone for ever,—and l am
Long, and agonising, was
the pause, which succeeded to this fearful tempest of feeling. In that
hour of grief, renewed in all its former violence, he forgot country,
friends, and all on earth. The recollection of his fame, was mockery to
him; for where was she, to whom the sound of his praises, would have given
so much joy?
"Ah!" said he,
"it was indeed happiness, to be brightened in those eyes !—When the
gratitude of our poor retainers, met thine ear, how didst thou lay thy
soft cheek to mine, and shoot its gentle warmth into my heart!" At
that moment, he turned his face on the gelid bank :— starting with wild
horror, he exclaimed, "Is it now so cold !—My Marion, my murdered
wife !" and rushing from the spot, he again hastened along the margin
of the loch. But there he still heard the distant sound of the pipes, from
the castle: he could not bear their gay notes; and darting up the hill
which overhung Loch-awe’s domains, he ascended with swift and reckless
steps the rocky sides of Ben Cruachan. Full of distracting thoughts, and
impelled by a wild despair, he hurried from steep to steep; and was
rapidly descending the western side of the mountain, regardless of the
piercing sleet, when his course was suddenly checked, by coming with a
violent shock against another human being; who, running as hastily through
the storm, had driven impetuously against Wallace; but being the weaker of
the two, was struck to the ground. The accident, rallied the scattered
senses of the chief. He now felt that he was out in the midst of a furious
winter tempest; had wandered, he knew not whither; and probably had
materially injured some poor traveller, by his intemperate motion.
He raised the fallen man, and asked
whether he were hurt. The traveller, perceiving by the kind tone of the
inquirer, that no harm had been intended, answered, "Not much; only a
little lamed; and all the recompense I ask, for this unlucky upset, is to
give me a helping hand to my father’s cot,—it is just by. I have been
out at a neighbour’s, to dance in the new-year with a bonnie lass; who,
however, may not thank you for my broken shins !"
As the honest lad went on,
telling his tale, with a great many particulars dear to his simple wishes,
Wallace helped him along; and carefully conducting him through the
gathering snow, descended the declivity which led to the shepherd’s
cottage. When within a few yards of it, Wallace heard the sound of
singing: but it was not the gay carolling of mirth; the solemn chant of
more serious music, mingled with the roaring blast.
"I am not too late
yet!" cried the communicative lad; "I should not have run so
fast, had I not wanted to have got home time enough to make one in the
They had now arrived at the
little door; and the youth, without the ceremony of knocking, opened the
latch: as he did so, he turned, and said to his companion, "We have
no occasion for bolts, since the brave Lord Wallace has cleared the
country of our Southron robbers." He pushed the door as he spoke, and
displayed to the eyes of the chief, a venerable old man on his knees
before a crucifix; around him, knelt a family of young people, and an aged
dame, all joining in the sacred thanksgiving.
The youth, without a word, dropped on his knees near the door; and making
a sign to his companion to do the same, Wallace obeyed: and
as the anthems rose in succession on his ear, to which the low breathings
of the lightly touched harp echoed its heavenly strains, he felt the
tumult of his bosom gradually subside; and when the venerable sire laid
down the instrument, and clasped his hands in prayer, the natural pathos
of his invocations, and the grateful devotions with which the young people
gave their response, all tended to tranquillise his mind into a holy calm.
At the termination of the
concluding prayer, how sweet were the, emotions of Wallace, when he heard
these words, uttered with augmented fervour by the aged petitioner !—
"While we thus thank
thee, O gracious God! for thy mercies bestowed upon us, we humbly implore
thee to hold in thine Almighty protection, him, by whose arm thou hast
wrought the deliverance of Scotland. Let our preserver be saved from his
sins by the blood of Christ! Let our benefactor be blessed in mind, body,
and estate; and all prosper. with him, that he takes in hand! May the good
he has dispensed to his country, be returned four-fold into his bosom ;—and
may he live to see a race of his own, reaping the harvest of his virtues,
and adding fresh honours to the stalworth name of Wallace!"
Every mouth echoed a
fervent amen, to this prayer; and Wallace himself inwardly breathed,
"And have I not, even now, sinned, All-gracious God! in the
distraction of this night’s remembrance? I mourned,—! would not be
comforted. But in thy mercy thou hast led me hither, to see the happy
fruits of my labour and,! am resigned, and thankful!"
The sacred rites over, two
girls ran to the other side of the room, and between them brought forward
a rough table covered with dishes and bread; while the mother, taking off
a large pot, emptied its smoking contents into the different vessels.
Meanwhile the young man, introducing the stranger to his father, related
the accident of the meeting; and the good old shepherd, bidding him a
hearty welcome, desired him to draw near the fire, and partake of their
new year’s breakfast.
"We need the fire, I
assure you," cried the lad, "for we are dripping."
Wallace now advanced from
the shadowed part of the room, where he had knelt, and drawing towards the
light, certainly displayed to his host the truth of his son’s
observation. He had left the castle without his bonnet; and hurrying on
regardless of the whelming storm, his hair became saturated with wet, and
now streamed in water over his shoulders. The good old wife, seeing the
stranger’s situation was worse than her son’s, snatched away the
bottle out of which he was swallowing a hearty cordial, and poured it over
the exposed head of her guest; then ordering one of her daughters to rub
it dry, she took off his plaid, and wringing it, hung it to the fire.
During these various
operations—for the whole family seemed eager to show their hospitality—the
old man discovered, not so much by the costliness of his garments, as by
the noble mien and gentle manners of the stranger, that he was some
chieftain from the castle. "Your honour," said he, "must
pardon the uncourtliness of our ways: but we give you the best we have;
and the worthy Lord Loch-awe cannot do more."
Wallace gave smiling
answers, to all their remarks, and offers of service. He partook of their
broth, praised the good wife’s cakes, and sat discoursing with the
family, with all the gaiety and frankness of one of themselves. His
unreserved manners, opened every heart around him: and with confidential
freedom the venerable shepherd related his domestic history; dwelling
particularly on the projected marriages of his children, which, he said,
"should now take place, since the good Sir William Wallace had
brought peace to the land."
Wallace gratified the
worthy father, by appearing to take an interest in all his narratives; and
then allowing the happy spirits of the young people to break in upon these
graver discussions, he smiled with them; or looked serious with the
garrulous matron, who turned the discourse to tales of other times. He
listened with complacency; to every legend of witch, fairy, and ghost: and
his enlightened remarks, sometimes pointed out natural causes for the
extraordinary appearances she described; or, at better attested, and less
equivocal accounts of supernatural apparitions, he acknowledged, that
there are "more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in
Morning dawned before the
tranquillised, nay, happy Wallace,—happy in the cheerful innocence of
the scene,—discovered that the night was past. As the grey light gleamed
through the wooden shutter, he arose. "My friends, I must leave
you:" said he; "there are those not far off, who may be alarmed
at my disappearance; for none knew when I walked abroad; and, unwittingly,
I have been charmed all these hours to remain; enjoying the happiness of
your circle, forgetful of the anxiety I have perhaps occasioned in my
The old man declared his
intention of seeing him over the hill. Wallace declined giving him that
trouble; saying, that as it was daylight, and the snow had ceased, he
could easily retrace his steps to the castle.
returned the shepherd; "and besides:" said he, "as I hear
the good Lord Regent is keeping the new-year with our noble Earl, who
knows but I may get a glimpse of his noble countenance; and that will be a
sight to tell of till I die!"
"God’s blessing on
his sweet face I" cried the old woman; "but I would give all the
yarn in my muckle chest, to catch one look of his lucky eye! I warrant
you, witch nor fairy could never harm me more."
cried the eldest of the girls, blushing "if you go near enough to
him! Do you know, Madgie Grant told me, if I could but get even the least
bit of Sir William Wallace’s hair, and give it to Donald Cameron to wear
in a true-lover’s knot on his breast, no Southron will be able to do him
harm as long as he lives!"
"And do you believe it
would protect your lover, my pretty Jeannie ?" inquired Wallace, with
a sweet smile.
replied; "for Madgie is a wise woman, and has the second sight."
returned he, "you shall be gratified. For though I must for once
contradict the testimony of a wise woman, and tell you that nothing can
render a man absolutely safe, but the protection of Heaven; yet, if a hair
from the head of Sir William Wallace would please you—and a glance from
his eye gratify your mother—both shall be satisfied." And lifting
up the old woman’s shears, which lay on a working stool before him, he
cut off a golden lock from the middle of his head, and put it into the
hand of Jeannie. At this action, which was performed with such a noble
grace, that not one of the family now doubted who had been their guest,
the good dame fell on her knees; and Jeannie, with a cry of joy, putting
the beautiful lock into her bosom, followed her example; and in a moment
all were clinging around him. The old man grasped his hand. "Bravest
of men!" cried he, "the Lord has indeed blest this house, since
he has honoured it with the presence of the deliverer of Scotland! My
prayers, and the benedictions of all good men, friend or foe, must ever
follow your footsteps!"
Tears of pleasure started
into the eyes of Wallace. He raised the family one by one from the ground,
and putting his purse into the hand of the dame, "There, my kind
hostess:" said he, "let that fill the chests of your daughters,
on their bridal day; they must receive it as a brother’s portion to his
sisters; for, it is with fraternal affection, that William Wallace regards
the sons and daughters of Scotland."
The happy sobs of the old
woman, stopped the expressions of her gratitude: but her son, fearing his
freedom of the night before, might have offended, stood abashed at a
distance. Wallace stretched out his hand to him: "My good
Archibald," cried he, "do not hold back from one who will always
be your friend. I shall send from the castle this day, sufficient to fill
your bridal coffers also."
Archibald now petitioned to
be allowed to follow him in his army.—"No, my brave youth;"
replied the chief: "Lord Loch-awe will lead you forth, whenever there
is occasion; and, meanwhile, your duty is to imitate the domestic duties
of your worthy father. Make the neighbouring valley smile, with the fruits
of your industry; and raise a family, to bless you, as you now bless
Wallace, having wrapped
himself in his plaid, now withdrew amidst the benedictions of the whole
group; and swiftly recrossing the mountain heights, was soon on the
western brow of Ben Cruachan. In ten minutes afterwards, he entered the
hall of Kilchurn castle. A few servants only were astir; the rest of the
family were still asleep. About an hour after their friend’s departure,
the Earl and Graham had missed him; but supposing that, whithersoever he
was gone, he would soon return, they made no inquiries; and when the
tempest began, on Edwin expressing his anxiety to know where he was, one
of the servants said he was gone to his chamber. This answer satisfied
every one; and they continued to enjoy the festal scene, until the
Countess of Loch-awe made the signal for repose.
Next morning, when the
family met at the breakfast-board, they were not a little surprised to
hear Wallace recount the adventure of the night; and while Loch-awe
promised every kindness to the shepherd, and a messenger was despatched
with a purse to Archibald, Edwin learnt from the Earl’s servant, that
his reason for supposing the Regent was gone to his room, arose from the
sight of his bonnet in the outer hall. Wallace was glad that such an
evidence had prevented his friends being alarmed; and retiring with Lord
Loch-awe, [The descendants of this chief; have
been long renowned; the sons, for their loyalty and bravery; the
daughters, for beauty, and the fairest feminine graces.]
with his usual equanimity of mind resumed the graver errand of his tour.
The hospitable rites of the
season being over, in the course of a few days the Earl accompanied his
illustrious guest to make the circuit of Argyleshire. At Castle-Urquhart,
they parted; and Wallace, proceeding with his two friends, performed his
legislative visits from sea to sea. Having traversed with perfect
satisfaction the whole of the northern parts of the kingdom, he returned
to Hunting-tower [Hunting-tower, a castle of the
Lords Ruthven in the near neighbourhood of Perth, is still a fine
structure. It consists of two square towers connected by other buildings.
Much has fallen to ruin, but the banqueting-hall remains. The situation is
delightful; and every acre about it is heroically consecrated ground. Two
of its ancient owner’s young descendants, who wandered there, some
thirty years ago, have sincs laid down their brave heads, each in a
on the very morning that a messenger had reached it from Murray. That
vigilant chieftain informed the Regent of King Edward’s arrival from
Flanders, and that he was preparing a large army to march into Scotland.
meet him;" cried Wallace, "on his own shores; and so let the
horrors attending the seat of war, fall on the country whose king would
bring desolation to ours."