The Scottish Chiefs
The following is from The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter:
Chapter III - Ellerslie
Halbert returned to the house; and entering the room softly, into which Marion had withdrawn, beheld her on her knees before a crucifix; she was praying for the safety of her husband.
"May he, O gracious Lord!" cried she, "soon return to his home. But if I am to see him here no more, oh, may it please thee to grant me to meet him within thy arms in heaven!"
"Hear her, blessed Son of Mary!" ejaculated the old man. She looked round, and rising from her knees, demanded of him, in a kind but anxious voice, whether he had left her lord in security.
"In the way to it, my lady!" answered Halbert. He repeated all that Wallace had said at parting, and then tried to prevail on her to go to rest. "Sleep cannot visit my eyes this night, my faithful creature," replied she; "my spirit will follow Wallace in his mountain flight. Go you to your chamber. After you have had repose, that will be time
enough to revisit the remains of the poor earl, and to bring them with the box to the house. I will take a religious charge of both, for the sake of the dear intruster."
Halbert persuaded his aldy to lie down on the bed, that her limbs at least might rest after the fatigue of so harassing a night; and she, little suspecting that he meant to do otherwise than to sleep also, kindly wished him repose and retired.
Her maids, during the late terror, had dispersed, and were nowhere to be found; and the men, too, after their stout resistance at the gates, had all disappeared; some fled others were sent away prisoners to Lanark, while the good Hambledon was conversing with their lady. Halbert, therefore, resigned himself to await with patience the rising of the sun, when he hoped some of the scared domestics would return; if not, he determined to go to the cotters who lived in the depths of the glen, and bring some of them to supply the place of the fugitives; and a few, with stouter hearts, to guard his lady.
Thus musing, he sat on a stone bench in the hall, watching anxiously the appearance of that orb, whose setting beams he hoped would light him back with tidings of William Wallace to comfort the lonely heart of his Marion. All seemed at peace. Nothing was hear but the sighing of the trees as they waved before the western window, which opened toward the Lanark hills. The morning was yet gray, and the fresh air blowing in rather chilly, Halbert rose to close the wooden shutter; at that moment, his eyes were arrested by a party of armed men in quick march down the opposite declivity. In a few minutes more their heavy steps sounded in his ears, and he saw the platform before the house filled with English. Alarmed at the sight, he was retreating across the apartment, toward his lady's room, when the great hall door was burst open by a band of soldiers, who rushed forward and seized him.
"Tell me, dotard!" cried their leader, a man of low stature, with gray locks, but a fierce countenance, "where is the murderer? Where is Sir William Wallace? Speak, or the torture shall force you."
Halbert shuddered, but it was for his defenseless lady, not for himself. "My master," said he, "is far from this."
"I know not."
"Thou shalt be made to know, thou hoary-headed villian!" cried the same violent interrogator. "Where is the assassin's wife? I will confront ye. Seek her out."
At that word the soldiers parted right and left, and in a moment afterward three of them appeared, with shouts, bringing in the trembling Marion.
"Alas! my lady!" cried Halbert, struggling to approach her, as with terrified apprehension she looked around her; but they held her fast, and he saw her led up to the merciless wretch who had given the orders to have her summoned.
"Woman!" cried he, "I am the Governor of Lanark. You now stand before the representative of the great King Edward, and on your allegiance to him, and on the peril of your life, I command you to answer me three questions. Where is Sir William Wallace, the murderer of my nephew? Who is that old Scot, for whom my nephew was slain? He and his whole family shall meet my vengeance! And tell me where is that box of treasure which your husband stole from Douglas Castle? Answer me these questions on your life."
Lady Wallace remained silent.
"Speak, woman," demanded the governor. "If fear cannot move you, know that I can reward as well as avenge. I will endow you richly, if you declare the truth. If you persist to refuse, you die."
"Then I die," replied she, scarcely opening her half-closed eyes, as she leaned, fainting and motionless, against the soldier who held her.
"What?" cried the governor, stifling his rage, in hopes to gain by persuasion on a spirit he found threats could not intimidate; "can so gentle a lady reject the favor of England, large grants in this country, and perhaps a fine English knight for a husband, when you might have all for the trifling service of giving up a traitor to his liege lord, and confessing where his robberies lie concealed? Speak, fair dame; give me this information, and the lands of the wounded chieftain whom Wallace brought here, with the hand of the handsome Sir Gilbert Hambledon, shall be your reward. Rich, and a beauty in Edward's court! Lady, can you now refuse to purchase all, by declaring the hiding place of the traitor Wallace?"
"It is easier to die!"
"Fool!" cried Heselrigge, driven from his assumed temper by her steady denial. "What? is it easier for these dainty limbs to be hacked to pieces by my soldiers' axes? Is it easier for that fair bosom to be trodden underfoot by my horse's hoofs, and for that beauteous head of thine to decorate my lance? Is all this easier than to tell me where to find a murderer and his gold?"
Lady Wallace shuddered; she stretched her hands to heaven.
"Speak once for all!" cried the enraged governor, drawing his sword; "I am no waxen-hearted Hambledon, to be cajoled by your beauty. Declare where Wallace is concealed, or dread my vengeance."
The horrid steel gleamed across the eyes of the unhappy Marion; unable to sustain herself, she sunk to the ground.
"Kneel not to me for mercy!" cried the fierce wretch; "I grant none, unless you confess your husband's hiding-place."
A momentary strength darted from the heart of Lady Wallace to her voice, "I kneel to Heaven alone, and may it ever preserve my Wallace from the fangs of Edward and his tyrants!"
"Blasphemous wretch!" cried the infuriated Heselrigge; and in that moment he plunged his sword into her defenseless breast. Halbert, who had all this time been held back by the soldiers, could not believe that the fierce governor would perpetrate the horrid deed he threatened; but seeing it done, with a giant's strength and a terrible cry he burst from the hands that held him, and had thrown himself on the bleeding Marion, before her murderer could strike his second blow. However, it fell, and pierced through the neck of the faithful servant before it reached her heart. She opened her dying eyes, and seeing who it was that would have shielded her life, just articulated, "Halbert! my Wallace-to God-" and with that last unfinished sentence her pure soul took its flight to regions of eternal piece.
The good old man's heart almost burst when he felt that before-heaving bosom now motionless; and groaning with grief, and fainting with loss of blood, he lay senseless on her body.
A terrible stillness was now in the hall. Not a man spoke; all stood looking on each other, with a stern horror marking each pale countenance. Heselrigge, dropping his blood-stained sword on the ground, perceived by the behavior of his men that he had gone too far, and fearful of arousing the indignation of awakened humanity, to some act against himself, he addressed the soldiers in an unusual accent of condescension: "My friends," said he, "we will now return to Lanark; to-morrow you may come back, for I reward your services of this night with the plunder of Ellerslie."
"May a curse light on him who carries a stick from its grounds!" exclaimed a veteran, from the further end of the hall. "Amen!" murmured all the soldiers, with one consent; and falling back, they disappeared, one by one, out of the great door, leaving Heselrigge alone with the soldier, who stood leaning on his sword, looking on the murdered lady.
"Grimsby, why stand you there?" demanded Heselrigge: "follow me."
"Never," returned the soldier.
"What!" exclaimed the governor, momentarily forgetting his panic, "dare you speak thus to your commander? March on before me this instant, or expect to be treated as a rebel."
"I march at your command no more," replied the veteran, eying him resolutely: "the moment you perpetrated this bloody deed, you became unworthy the name of man; and I should disgrace my own manhood, were I ever again to obey the word of such a monster!"
"Villian!" cried the enraged Heselrigge, "you shall die for this!"
"That may be," answered Grimsby, "by the hands of some tyrant like yourself; but no brave man, not the royal Edward, would do otherwise than acquit his soldier for refusing obedience to the murderer of an innocent woman. It was not so he treated the wives and daughters of the slaughtered Saracens when I followed his banners over the fields of Palestine!"
"Thou canting miscreant!" cried Heselrigge, springing on him suddenly, and aiming his dagger at his breast. But the soldier arrested the weapon, and at the same instant closing upon the assassin, with a turn of his foot threw him to the ground. Heselrigge, as he lay prostrate, seeing his dagger in his adversary's hand, with the most dastardly promises implored for life.
"Monster!" cried the soldier, "I wold not pollute my honest hands with such unnatural blood. Neither, though thy hand has been lifted against my life, would I willingly take thine. It is not rebellion against my commander that actuates me, but hatred of the vilest of murderers. I go far from you, or your power; but if you forswear your voluntary oath, and attempt to seek me out for vengeance, remember it is a soldier of the cross you pursue, and a dire retribution shall be demanded by Heaven, at a moment you cannot avoid, and with a horror commensurate with your crimes."
There was a solemnity and determination in the voice and manner of the soldier that paralyzed the intimidated soul of the governor; he trembled violently, and repeating the oath of leaving Grimsby unmolested, at last obtained his permission to return to Lanark. The men, in obedience to the conscience-stricken orders of their commander, had mounted their horses and were now far out of sight. Heselrigge's charger was still in the courtyard; he was hurrying toward it, but the soldier, with a prudent suspicion, called out, "Stop, sir! you must walk to Lanark. The cruel are generally false; I cannot trust your word, should you have the power to break it. Leave this horse here-to-morrow you may send for it, I shall then be far away."
Heselrigge saw that remonstrance would be unavailing; and shaking with impotent rage, he turned into the path which, after five weary miles, would lead him once more to his citadel.
For the moment the soldier's manly spirit had dared to deliver its abhorrence of Lady Wallace's murder, he was aware that his life would no longer be safe within reach of the machinations of Heselrigge; and determined, alike by detestation of him and regard for his own preservation, resolved to take shelter in the mountains, till he could have an opportunity of going beyond sea to join his king's troops in the Guienne wars.
Full of these thoughts he returned into the hall. As he approached the bleeding form on the floor, he perceived it to move; hoping that perhaps the unhappy lady might not be dead, he drew near; but, alas! as he bent to examine, he touched her hand and found it quite cold. The blood which had streamed from the now exhausted heart, lay congealed upon her arms and bosom. Grimsby shuddered. Again he saw her move; but it was not with her own life; the recovering senses of her faithful servant, as his arms clung around the body, had disturbed the remains of her who would wake no more.
On seeing that existence yet struggled in one of these blameless victims, Grimsby did his utmost to revive the old man. He raised him from the ground, and poured some strong liquor he had in a flask into a mouth. Halbert breathed freer; and his kind surgeon, with the venerable harper's own plaid, bound up the wound in his neck. Halbert opened his eyes. When he fixed them on the rough features and English helmet of the soldier, he closed them again with a deep groan.
"My honest Scot," said Grimsby, "trust in me. I am a man like yourself; and though a Southron, am no enemy to age and helplessness."
The harper took courage at these words; he again looked at the soldier; but suddenly recollecting what had passed, he turned his eyes toward the body of his mistress, on which the beams of the now rising sun were shining. He started up, and staggering toward her, would have fallen, had not Grimsby supported him. "O what a sight is this!" cried he, wringing his hands. "My lady! my lovely lady! see how low she lies who was once the delight of all eyes, the comforter of all hearts." The old man's sobs suffocated him. The veteran turned away his face, a tear dropped upon his hand. "Accursed Heselrigge," ejaculated he, "thy fate must come!"
"If there be a man's heart in all Scotland, it is not far distant!" cried Halbert. "My master lives, and will avenge this murder. You weep, soldier; and you will not betray what has now escaped me."
"I have fought in Palestine," returned he, "and a soldier of the cross betrays none who trust him. Saint Mary preserve your master and conduct you safely to him. We must both hasten hence. Heselrigge will surely send in pursuit of me. He is too vile to forgive the truth I have spoken to him; and should I fall into his power, death is the best I could expect at his hands. Let me assist you to put this poor lady's remains into some decent place; and then, my honest Scot, we must separate."
Halbert, at these words, threw himself upon the bosom of his mistress, and wept with loud lamentations over her. In vain he attempted to raise her in his feeble arms. "I have carried thee scores of times in thy blooming infancy," cried he; "and now must I bear thee to thy grave? I had hoped that my eyes would have been closed by this dear hand." As he spoke, he pressed her cold hand to his lips with such convulsive sobs that the soldier, fearing he would expire in the agony of his sorrow, took him almost motionless from the dead body, and exhorted him to suppress such self-destroying grief for the sake of his master. Halbert gradually revived; and listening to him, cast a wistful look on the lifeless Marion.
"There sleeps the pride and hope of Ellerslie, the mother with her child! O my master, my widowed master," cried he, "what will comfort thee!"
Fearing the ill consequence of further delay, the soldier again interrupted his lamentations with arguments for flight; and Halbert recollecting the oratory in which Wallace had ordered the body of Lord Mar to be deposited, named it for that of his dear lady. Grimsby, immediately wrapping the beauteous corpse in the white garments which hung about it, raised it in his arms, and was conducted by Halbert to a little chapel in the heart of a neighboring cliff.
The still weeping old man removed the altar; and Grimsby, laying the shrouded Marion upon its rocky platform, covered her with the pall, which he drew from the holy table, and laid the crucifix upon her bosom. Halbert, when his beloved mistress was thus hidden from his sight, threw himself on his knees beside her, and in the vehement language of grief offered up a prayer for her departed soul.
"Hear me, righteous Judge of heaven and earth!" cried he; "as thou didst avenge the blood of innocence shed in Bethlehem, so let the gray hairs of Heselrigge be brought down in blood to the grave for the murder of this innocent lady!" Halbert kissed the cross, and rising from his knees, went weeping out of the chapel, followed by the soldier.
Having closed the door, and carefully locked it, absorbed in meditation on what would be the agonized transports of his master, when he should tell him these grievous tidings, Halbert proceeded in silence, till he and his companion in passing the well were startled by a groan.
"Here is some one in extremity!" cried the soldier.
"Is it possible he lives!" exclaimed Halbert, bending down to the edge of the well with the same inquiry.
"Yes," feebly answered the earl, "I still exist, but am very faint. If all be safe above, I pray remove me into the upward air!" Halbert replied that it was indeed necessary he should ascend immediately; and lowering the rope, told him to tie the iron box to it and then himself. This done, with some difficulty, and the assistance of the wondering soldier (who now expected to see the husband of the unfortunate Lady Wallace emerge to the knowledge of his loss), he at last effected the earl's release. For a few seconds the fainting nobleman supported himself on his countryman's shoulder, while the fresh morning breeze gradually revived his exhausted frame. The soldier looked at his gray locks and furrowed brow, and marveled how such proofs of age could belong to the man whose resistless valor had discomfited the fierce determination of Arthus Heselrigge and his myrmidons. However, his doubts of the veteran before him being other than the brave Wallace, were soon satisfied by the earl himself, who asked for a draught of the water which trickled down the opposite hill; and while Halbert went to bring it, Lord Mar raised his eyes to inquire for Sir William and Lady Marion. He started when he saw English armor on the man he would have accosted, and rising suddenly from the stone on which he sat, demanded, in a stern voice, "Who art thou?"
"An Englishman," answered the soldier; "one who does not, like the monster Heselrigge, disgrace the name. I would assist you, noble Wallace, to fly this spot. After that, I shall seek refuge abroad; and there, on the fields of Guienne, demonstrate my fidelity to my king."
Mar looked at him steadily. "You mistake; I am not Sir William Wallace."
At that moment Halbert came up with the water. The earl drank it, though now, from the impulse surprise had given to his blood, he did not require its efficacy; and turning to the venerable bearer, he asked of him whether his master were safe.
"I trust he is," replied the old man; "but you, my lord, must hasten hence. A foul murder has been committed here, since you left it."
"But where is Lady Wallace?" asked the earl; "if there be such danger we must not leave her to meet it."
"She will never meet danger more!" cried the old man, clasping his hand; "she is in the bosom of the Virgin; and no second assassin's steel can reach her there."
"What!" exclaimed the earl, hardly articulate with horror; "is Lady Wallace murdered?" Halbert answered only by his tears.
"Yes," said the soldier; "and detestation of so unmanly an outrage provoked me to desert his standard. But no time must now be lost in unavailing lamentation. Heselrigge will return; and if we also would not be sacrificed to his rage, we must hence immediately."
The earl, struck dumb at this recital, gave the soldier time to recount the particulars. When he had finished, Lord Mar saw the necessity for instant flight, and ordered horses to be brought from the stables. Though he had fainted in the well, the present shock gave such tension to his nerves, that he found, in spite of his wound, he could now ride without difficulty.
Halbert went as commanded, and returned with two horses. Having amongst rocks and glens to go, he did not bring one for himself; and begging the good soldier might attend the earl to Bothwell, he added, "He will guard you and this box, which Sir William Wallace holds as his life. What it contains I know not: and none, he says, may dare to search into. But you will take care of it for his sake, till more peaceful times allow him to reclaim his own!"
"Fatal box!" cried the soldier, regarding it with an abhorrent eye, "that was the leading cause which brought Heselrigge to Ellerslie."
"How?" inquired the earl. Grimsby then briefly related, that immediately after the return to Lanark of the detachment sent to Ellerslie, under the English garrison in Douglas, and told the governor that Sir William Wallace had that evening taken a quantity of treasure from the castle. His report was, that the English soldiers who stood near the Scottish knight when he mounted at the castle gate, saw a long iron coffer under his arm, but not suspecting its having belonged to Douglas, they thought not of it, till they overheard Sir John Monteith, as he passed through one of the galleries, muttering something about gold and a box. To intercept the robber amongst his native glens, the soldiers deemed impracticable, and therefore their captain came
immediately to lay the information before the Governor of Lanark. As the scabbard found in the affray with young Arthur had betrayed the victor to have been Sir William Wallace, this intimation of his having been also the instrument of wrestling from the grasp of Heselrigge perhaps the most valuable spoil in Douglas exasperated him to the most vindictive excess. Inflamed with the double furies of revenge and avarice, he ordered out a new troop, and placing himself at its head, took the way to Ellerslie. One of the servants, whom some of Hambledon's men had seized for the sake of information, on being threatened with the torture, confessed to Heselrigge, that not only Sir William Wallace was in the house when it was attacked, but that the person whom he had rescued in the streets of Lanark, and who proved to be a wealthy nobleman, was there also. This whetted the eagerness of the governor to reach Ellerslie; and expecting to get a rich booty, without the most distant idea of the horrors he was going to perpetrate, a large detachment of men followed him.
"To extort money from you, my lord," continued the soldier, "and to obtain that fatal coffer, were his main objects; but disappointed in his darling passion of avarice, he forgot he was a man, and the blood of innocence glutted his barbarous vengeance."
"Hateful gold!" cried Lord Mar, spurning the box with his foot; "it cannot be for itself the noble Wallace so greatly prizes it; it must be a trust."
"I believe it is," returned Halbert, "for he enjoined my lady to preserve it for the sake of his honor. Take care of it, then, my lord, for the same sacred reason."
The Englishman made no objection to accompany the earl; and by a suggestion of his own, Halbert brought him a Scottish bonnet and cloak from the house. While he put them on, the earl observed that the harper held a drawn and blood-stained sword in his hand, on which he steadfastly gazed. "Whence came that forried weapon?" cried Lord Mar.
"It is my lady's blood," replied Halbert, still looking on it. "I found it where she lay, in the hall, and I will carry it to my master. Was not every drop of her blood dear to him? and here are many." As the old man spoke he bent his head on the sword, and groaned heavily.
"England shall hear more of this!" cried Mar, as he threw himself across the horse. "Give me that fatal box; I will buckle it to my saddle-bow. Inadequate will be my utmost care of it, to repay the vast sorrow its preservation and mine have brought upon the head of my deliverer."
The Englishman in silence mounted his horse, and Halbert opened a back-gate that led to the hills which lay between Ellerslie and Bothwell Castle. Lord Mar took a golden-trophied bugle from his breast: "Give this to your master, and tell him that by whatever hands he sends it, the sight of it shall always command the services of Donald Mar. I go to Bothwell, in expectation that he will join me there. In making it his home he will render me happy, for my friendship is now bound to him by bonds which only death can sever."
Halbert took the horn, and promising faithfully to repeat the earl's message, prayed God to bless him and the honest soldier. A rocky promontory soon excluded them from his sight, and in a few minutes more even the sound of their horses' hoofs was lost on the soft herbage of the winding dell.
"Now I am alone in this once happy spot. Not a voice, not a sound. Oh, Wallace!" cried he, throwing up his venerable arms, "thy house is left unto thee desolate, and I am to be the fatal messenger." With the last words he struck into a deep ravine which led to the remotest solitudes of the glen, and pursued his way in dreadful silence. No human face of Scot or English cheered or scared him as he passed along. The tumult had so alarmed the poor cottagers, that with one accord they fled to their kindred on the hills, amid those fastnesses of nature, to await tidings from the valley, of when all should be still, and they might return in peace. Halbert looked to the right and to the left; no smoke, curling its gray mist from behind the intersecting rocks, reminded him of the gladsome morning hour, or invited him to take a moment's rest from his grievous journey. All was lonely and comfortless; and sighing bitterly over the wide devastation, he concealed the fatal sword and the horn under his cloak, and with a staff which he broke from a withered tree, took his way down the winding craigs. Many a pointed flint pierced his aged feet, while exploring the almost trackless paths, which by their direction he hoped would lead him at length to the deep caves of Corie Lynn.