"Certainly, Archie, as many as you like. But your aunt wants you to ride at once to Glen Cairn, to ask your mother to come over here and take up her abode till the stormy times are over. The news of last night's doings in Lanark will travel fast, and she will be terribly anxious. Besides, as the Kerrs are heart and soul with the English faction, like enough they will take the opportunity of the disturbed times, and of your being involved in the rising, to destroy the hold altogether, seeing that so long as it stands there it is a sort of symbol that their lordship over the lands is disputed."
"The very thing that I was going to ask you, uncle. My mother's position at Glen Cairn would always be on my mind. As to the Kerrs, let them burn the castle if they will. If the rising fail, and I am killed, the line will be extinct, and it matters little about our hold. If we succeed, then I shall regain my own, and shall turn the tables on the Kerrs, and will rebuild Glen Cairn twice as strong as before. And now can I take a cart to convey the arms?"
"Certainly, Archie; and may they be of service in the cause. You will, I suppose, conduct your mother hither?"
Archie replied that he should do so, and then at once made his preparations for the start. His uncle's armoury was well supplied, and Archie had no difficulty in suiting himself. For work like that which he would have to do he did not care to encumber himself with heavy armour, but chose a light but strong steel cap, with a curtain of mail falling so as to guard the neck and ears, leaving only the face exposed, and a shirt of the same material. It was of fine workmanship and of no great weight, and did not hamper his movements. He also chose some leg pieces for wearing when on horseback. He had already his father's sword, and needed only a light battleaxe and a dagger to complete his offensive equipment. Then he took down from the racks twenty swords and as many short pikes, and bonnets strengthened with iron hoops, which, although light, were sufficient to give much protection to the head. These were all placed in a light cart, and with one of his uncle's followers to drive, he took his seat in the cart, and started for Cart Lane Craigs.
Here he concealed the arms in a thicket, and then went up to speak to his leader.
"May I take ten men with me to Glen Cairn, Sir William? I am going to fetch my mother to reside with my uncle until the storm is over. He has sent you a hundred pounds towards the expenses of the struggle. I want the guard because it is possible that the Kerrs may be down there. I hear Sir John was carried away, three hours after the fight, in a litter; it was well for him that he was not in Lanark when we took it. But like enough this morning, if well enough to give orders, he may be sending down to Glen Cairn to see if I have returned, and may burn the hold over my mother's head."
"Certainly," Sir William replied. "Henceforth I will put twenty men under your special orders, but for today Sir John Grahame shall tell off some of his own party. Of course they will go well armed."
Half riding in the cart and half walking by turns, the party reached Glen Cairn late in the afternoon. The news of the fall of Lanark had already penetrated even to that quiet village, and there was great excitement as Archie and his party came in. One of Wallace's messengers had passed through, and many of the men were preparing to join him. Dame Forbes was at once proud and grieved when Archie told her of the share which he had had in the street fray at Lanark, and in the capture of the town. She was proud that her son should so distinguish himself, grieved that he should, at so young an age, have become committed to a movement of whose success she had but little hope. However, she could not blame him, as it seemed as if his course had been forced upon him. She agreed to start early the next morning.
It was well for Archie that he had brought a guard with him, for before he had been an hour in the hold a boy ran in from the village saying that a party of the Kerrs was close at hand, and would be there in a few minutes. Archie set his men at once to pile up a barricade of stones breast high at the outer gate, and took his position there with his men. He had scarcely completed his preparations when the trampling of horses was heard and a party of ten men, two of whom bore torches, headed by young Allan Kerr, rode up. They drew rein abruptly as they saw the barricade with the line of pikes behind it.
"What want you here, Allan Kerr?" Archie said.
"I came in search of you, little traitor," young Kerr replied angrily.
"Here I am," Archie said; "why don't you come and take me?"
Allan saw that the number of the defenders of the gate exceeded that of his own party, and there might, for aught he knew, be more within.
"I will take you tomorrow," he said.
"Tomorrow never comes," Archie replied with a laugh. "Your father thought to take me yesterday. How is the good knight? Not suffering, I trust, greatly either in body or temper?"
"You shall repent this, Archibald Forbes," Allan Kerr exclaimed furiously. "It will be my turn next time."
And turning his horse he rode off at full speed, attended by his followers.
"We had best start at once, Master Archie," Sandy Graham said: "it is eight miles to the Kerrs' hold, and when Allan Kerr returns there you may be sure they will call out their vassals and will be here betimes in the morning. Best get another cart from the village, for your men are weary and footsore, seeing that since yesterday even they have been marching without ceasing. Elspie will by this time have got supper ready. There was a row of ducks and chickens on the spit when I came away."
"That were best, Sandy. Do you see to their comforts, and aid my mother pack up such things as she most values, and I will go myself down to the village for the cart, for I wish to speak with some there."
Archie had no difficulty in engaging two carts, as he thought that one would be needed for his mother and what possessions she might take. Then he went from house to house and saw his old companions, and told them of his plans, which filled them with delight. Having done this he returned to the hold, hastily ate the supper which had been put aside for him, and then saw that his mother's chests, which contained all her possessions save a few articles of heavy furniture, were placed in one of the carts. A bed was then laid on its floor upon which she could sit comfortably. Elspie mounted with her. Archie, Sandy, and the men took their places in the other carts, and the party drove off. They had no fear of interruption, for the Kerrs, ignorant of the number who had arrived with Archie at Glen Cairn, would not venture to attack until they had gathered a considerable force, and would not be likely to set out till morning, and long before that time Dame Forbes would have arrived at her sister's.
The journey was indeed performed without incident, the escort leaving them when within two or three miles of Lanark, and making their way direct to the craigs, whither Archie, the moment he had seen his mother safely at Sir Robert Gordon's, returned. He did not mount the craig, but wrapping himself in his cloak lay down at its foot.
As soon as it was daylight he walked out a mile on the road towards Glen Cairn. He soon saw a party approaching in military order. They halted when they reached him. They were twenty in number, and were the lads of his band at Glen Cairn, ranging between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. They had originally been stronger, but some of the elders had already joined Wallace's followers.
"Now," Archie said, "I can explain matters farther than I did last night. I have procured arms for you all, and I hope that you will have opportunities of using them. But though some of you are old enough to join Wallace's band, there are others whom he might not deem fit to take part in such desperate enterprises. Therefore at first make but little show of your arms. I shall present you to Sir William, telling him that I have brought you hither to serve as messengers, and to enter towns held by the English and gather news, seeing that lads would be less suspected than men. But I propose farther, what I shall not tell him, that you shall form a sort of bodyguard to him. He takes not sufficient care of himself, and is ever getting into perils. I propose that without his knowing it, you shall be ever at hand when he goes into danger of this sort, and may thus prevent his falling into the hands of his enemies. Now, mind, lads, this is a great and honourable mission. You must be discreet as well as brave, and ready all of you to give your lives, if need be, for that of Scotland's champion. Your work as messengers and scouts will be arduous and wearisome. You must be quiet and well behaved—remember that boys' tricks and play are out of place among men engaged in a desperate enterprise. Mingle not much with the others. Be active and prompt in obeying orders, and be assured that you will have opportunities of winning great honour and credit, and of having your full share of hard knocks. You will, as before, be divided into two companies, William Orr and Andrew Macpherson being your lieutenants in my absence. You will obey their orders as implicitly as mine. Cluny, you have, I suppose, brought, as I bade you last night, some of your sister's garments?"
"Yes, Sir Archie," the boy, who was fair and slight, said, with a smile on his face.
"That is right. I know you are as hearty and strong as the rest; but seeing that your face is the smoothest and softest of any, you will do best should we need one in disguise as a girl. And now come with me. I will show you where your arms are placed; but at present you must not take them. If I led you as an armed band to Wallace he might deem you too young. I must present you merely as lads whom I know to be faithful and trustworthy, and who are willing to act as messengers and scouts to his force."
So saying Archie led the band to the thicket where he had placed their arms, and the lads were pleased when they saw the pikes, swords, and head pieces. Then he led them up the craig to Wallace.
"Why, whom have you here?" Sir William exclaimed in surprise. "This will not do, Sir Archie. All lads are not like yourself, and were I to take such boys into my ranks I should have all the mothers in Scotland calling out against me."
"I have not brought them to join your ranks, Sir William, although many of them are stout fellows who might do good service at a pinch. I have brought them to act as messengers and scouts. They can carry orders whithersoever you may have occasion to send. They can act as scouts to warn you of the approach of an enemy; or if you need news of the state of any of the enemy's garrisons, they can go thither and enter without being suspected, when a man might be questioned and stopped. They are all sons of my father's vassals at Glen Cairn, and I can answer for their fidelity. I will take them specially under my own charge, and you will ever have a fleet and active messenger at hand when you desire to send an order."
"The idea is not a bad one," Sir William replied; "and in such a way a lad may well do the work of a man. Very well, Sir Archie, since you seem to have set your mind upon it I will not say nay. At any rate we can give the matter a trial, understanding that you take the charge of them and are responsible for them in all ways. Now, lads," he said turning, "you have heard that your lord, for he is your rightful lord, and will, if Scotland gains the day, be your real lord again, has answered for you. It is no boys' play in which you have taken service, for the English, if they conquer us, will show no further mercy to you than to others of my band. I understand then that you are all prepared, if need be, to die for Scotland. Is this so?"
"We are, sir," the lads exclaimed together.
"Then so be it," Sir William said. "Now, Sir Archie, do you fix a place for their encampment, and make such other arrangements as you may think fit. You will, of course, draw rations and other necessaries for them as regular members of the band."
Archie descended with his troop from the craigs, and chose a spot where they would be apart from the others. It was a small piece of ground cut off by the stream which wound at the foot of the craigs, so that to reach it it was necessary to wade knee deep through the water. This was no inconvenience to the lads, all of whom, as was common with their class at the time, were accustomed to go barefoot, although they sometimes wore a sort of sandal. Bushes were cut down, and arbours made capable of containing them. The spot was but a little distance from the foot of the path up the craigs, and any one descending the path could be seen from it.
Archie gave orders that one was always to be above in readiness to start instantly with a message; that a sentry was to be placed at the camp, who was to keep his eyes upon the path, and the moment the one on duty above was seen to leave, the next upon the list was to go up and take his place. None were to wander about the wood, but all were to remain in readiness for any duty which might be required. The two lieutenants were charged to drill them constantly at their exercises so as to accustom them to the weight and handle of their arms. Two were to be sent off every morning to the depot where the provisions were issued, to draw food for the whole for the day, and four were to be posted five miles away on the roads leading towards the craigs to give warning of the approach of any enemies. These were to be relieved every six hours. They were to be entirely unarmed, and none were to issue from the camp with arms except when specially ordered.
Having made these arrangements, and taking with him one of the band as the first on duty above, he rejoined Wallace at his post on the craigs.
Wallace's numbers now increased fast. On hearing of the fall of Lanark, and on the receipt of the proclamation calling upon all true Scotchmen to join him in his effort to deliver their country from its yoke, the people began to flock in in great numbers. Richard Wallace of Riccarton and Robert Boyd came in with such force as they could collect from Kyle and Cunningham, among whom were not less than 1000 horsemen. Sir John Grahame, Sir John of Tinto, and Auchinleck assembled about 3000 mounted troops and a large number of foot, many of whom, however, were imperfectly armed. Sir Ronald Crawford, Wallace's uncle, being so close to Ayr, could not openly join him, but secretly sent reinforcements and money. Many other gentlemen joined with their followers.
The news of the fall of Lanark and of the numbers who were flocking to join Wallace paralysed the commanders of the English garrisons, and for a time no steps were taken against him; but news of the rising was instantly sent to King Edward, who, furious at this fresh trouble in Scotland, which he had deemed finally conquered, instantly commenced preparations for another invasion. A body of troops was at once sent forward from England, and, being strengthened by bodies drawn from all the garrisons, assembled at Biggar. The army was commanded by the Earl of Kent. Heralds were sent to Wallace offering him not only pardon but an honourable post if he would submit, but warning him that if he refused this offer he should, when taken, be treated as a rebel and hung.
Wallace briefly refused submission, and said that he should be ready to give battle on the following morning.
At daybreak the army set forth, divided into three parts. Wallace, with Boyd and Auchinleck, commanded one; Sir John Grahame, with Wallace of Riccarton, the second; Sir Walter of Newbigging, with his son David and Sir John Clinto, the third. The cavalry were placed in front. The footmen, being imperfectly armed and disciplined, and therefore unable to withstand the first charge of the English, followed the cavalry.
Before marching forward Wallace called the commanders round him and charged them earnestly to restrain their men from plunder until the contest was decided, pointing out that many a battle had been lost owing to the propensity of those who gained the first advantage to scatter for plunder. Just as the Scotch were moving, a body of 300 horsemen, well armed and equipped, from Annandale and Eskdale, led by Halliday, Kirkpatrick, and Jardine, joined them; and with this accession of strength they marched forward confidently against the enemy.
A Treacherous Plot
So rapid was the advance of Wallace's army that the English had scarce time to form when they were upon them. The Scotch charged with extreme impetuosity among the English ranks, directing the onslaught principally against the centre, commanded by the Earl of Kent.
The English resisted stoutly; but the Earl of Kent was struck down by Wallace himself, and was with difficulty borne off the field; and after severe fighting, the whole English army was thrown into disorder and took to flight. Some hundreds were killed in action, and many more in the pursuit which followed; this, however, Wallace would not allow to be pushed too far lest the fugitives should rally and turn. Then the victorious Scots returned to the English camp. In this was found a great abundance of provisions, arms, and other valuable booty. Many of the cattle were killed, and a sumptuous feast prepared. Then Wallace had the whole of the spoil carried off into a place of safety in the heart of a neighbouring bog, and he himself fell back to that shelter.
In the morning the English, who had rallied when the pursuit had ceased, again advanced, hoping to find Wallace unprepared. They were now commanded by the Earl of Lancaster, and had received some reinforcements in the night. They passed over the scene of the previous day's battle, and at last came in sight of the Scotch army. Wallace at first advanced, and then, as if dismayed at their superior strength, retired to the point where, in order to reach them, the English would have to cross a portion of the bog. The surface was covered with moss and long grass, and the treacherous nature of the ground was unperceived by the English, who, filled with desire to wipe out their defeat of the preceding day, charged impetuously against the Scotch line. The movement was fatal, for as soon as they reached the treacherous ground their horses sunk to the saddle girths. The Scotch had dismounted on firmer ground behind, and now advanced to the attack, some working round the flanks of the morass, others crossing on tufts of grass, and so fell upon the struggling mass of English. The Earl of Westmoreland and many others of note were killed, and the Earl of Lancaster, with the remains of his force, at once retreated south and recrossed the Border.
Archie had taken no part in the first battle. Wallace had asked him whether he would fight by his side or take command of a body of infantry; and he chose the latter alternative. Almost all the knights and gentlemen were fighting on horse with their followers, and Archie thought that if these were repulsed the brunt of the fray would fall upon the infantry. On this occasion, then, he gathered with his band of lads a hundred or so pikemen, and formed them in order, exhorting them, whatever happened, to keep together and to stand stoutly, even against a charge of horse. As the victory was won entirely by the cavalry he had no opportunity of distinguishing himself. Upon the second day, however, he did good service, as he and his lightly armed footmen were able to cross the bog in places impracticable to the dismounted men-at-arms in their heavy accoutrements.
The victory of Biggar still further swelled Wallace's forces. Sir William Douglas joined him, and other gentlemen. A great meeting was held at Forest Kirk, when all the leaders of Wallace's force were present; and these agreed to acknowledge him as general of the Scottish forces against England, with the title of Warden of Scotland.
King Edward was at this time busied with his wars in France, and was unable to despatch an army capable of effecting the reconquest of that portion of Scotland now held by Wallace; and as the English forces in the various garrisons were insufficient for such purpose, the Earl of Percy and the other leaders proposed a truce. This was agreed to. Although Wallace was at the head of a considerable force, Sir William Douglas was the only one among the Scottish nobles of importance who had joined him; and although the successes which he had gained were considerable, but little had been really done towards freeing Scotland, all of whose strong places were still in the hands of the English, and King Edward had not as yet really put out his strength.
The greater portion of the army of Wallace was now dispersed.
Shortly afterwards the governor of Ayr issued a notice that a great council would be held at that town, and all the Scotch gentlemen of importance in the district were desired to attend. Wallace was one of those invited; and deeming that the governor might have some proposition of Edward to lay before them, he agreed to do so. Although a truce had been arranged, he himself with a band of his most devoted followers still remained under arms in the forest, strictly keeping the truce, but holding communications with his friends throughout the country, urging them to make every preparation, by collecting arms and exercising their vassals, to take the field with a better appointed force at the conclusion of the truce. Provisions and money were in abundance, so large had been the captures effected; but Wallace was so accustomed to the free life of the woods that he preferred to remain there to taking up his abode in a town. Moreover, here he was safe from treachery; for he felt sure that although the English nobles and leaders would be incapable of breaking a truce, yet that there were many of lower degree who would not hesitate at any deed of treachery by which they might gain reward and credit from their king. Archie's band were found of the greatest service as messengers; and although he sometimes spent a few days at Sir Robert Gordon's with his mother, he generally remained by the side of Wallace. The spot where the Scottish leader was now staying lay about halfway between Lanark and Ayr.
Archie heard with uneasiness the news of the approaching council, and Wallace's acceptance of the invitation. The fact that the Earl of Percy, a very noble knight and gentleman, had been but lately recalled from the governorship of Ayr and had been replaced by one of somewhat low degree, Arlouf of Southampton, still further increased his doubts. It seemed strange that the governorship of so important a town—a post deemed fitting for Earl Percy—should be bestowed on such a man, were it not that one was desired who would not hesitate to perform an action from which any honourable English gentleman would shrink.
Two days before the day fixed for the council he called Cluny Campbell and another lad named Jock Farrel to him.
"I have a most important mission for you," he said. "You have heard of the coming council at Ayr. I wish to find out if any evil is intended by the governor. For this purpose you two will proceed thither. You Cluny will put on the garments which you brought with you; while you Jock had best go as his brother. Here is money. On your way procure baskets and buy chickens and eggs, and take them in with you to sell. Go hither and thither among the soldiers and hear what they say. Gather whether among the townspeople there is any thought that foul play may be intended by the English. Two of the band will accompany you to within a mile of Ayr, and will remain there in order that you may from time to time send news by them of aught that you have gathered. Remember that the safety of Wallace, and with it the future of Scotland, may depend upon your care and vigilance. I would myself have undertaken the task; but the Kerrs are now, I hear, in Ayr, and a chance meeting might ruin all; for whatever the truce between English and Scotch, they would assuredly keep no truce with me did they meet me. Mind, it is a great honour that I have done you in choosing you, and is a proof that I regard you as two of the shrewdest of my band, although the youngest among them."
Greatly impressed with the importance of their mission, the lads promised to use their utmost vigilance to discover the intentions of the governor; and a few minutes later, Cluny being attired in his sister's clothes, and looking, as Archie laughingly said, "a better looking girl than she was herself," they started for Ayr, accompanied by two of their companions. They were to remain there until the conclusion of the council, but their companions would be relieved every six hours. Upon their way they procured two baskets, which they filled with eggs and chickens; and then, leaving their comrades a mile outside Ayr, fearlessly entered the town.
The council was to take place in a large wooden building some short distance outside the town, which was principally chosen because it was thought by the governor that the Scotch gentlemen would have less reluctance to meet him there than if they were asked to enter a city with a strong garrison of English.
The first day the lads succeeded in finding out nothing which could give any countenance to suspicion that treachery was intended. They had agreed to work separately, and each mingled among the groups of citizens and soldiers, where the council was the general topic of conversation. There was much wonder and speculation as to the object for which the governor had summoned it, and as to the terms which he might be expected to propound, but to none did the idea of treachery or foul play in any way occur; and when at night they left the town and sent off their message to Archie, the lads could only say that all seemed fair and honest, and that none either of the townspeople or soldiers appeared to have the least expectation of trouble arising at the council. The following morning they agreed that Jock should hang round the building in which the council was to be held, and where preparations for the meeting and for a banquet which was afterwards to take place were being made, while Cluny should continue his inquiries within the walls. Jock hid away his basket and joined those looking on at the preparations. Green boughs were being carried in for decorating the walls, tables, and benches for the banquet. These were brought from the town in country carts, and a party of soldiers under the command of an officer carried them in and arranged them. Several of the rustics looking on gave their aid in carrying in the tables, in order that they might take home to their wives an account of the appearance of the place where the grand council was to be held. Jock thrust himself forward, and seizing a bundle of green boughs, entered the barn. Certainly there was nothing here to justify any suspicions. The soldiers were laughing and joking as they made the arrangements; clean rushes lay piled against a wall in readiness to strew over the floor at the last moment; boughs had been nailed against the walls, and the tables and benches were sufficient to accommodate a considerable number. Several times Jock passed in and out, but still without gathering a word to excite his suspicions. Presently Arlouf himself, a powerful man with a forbidding countenance, rode up and entered the barn. He approached the officer in command of the preparations; and Jock, pretending to be busy in carrying his boughs, managed to keep near so as to catch something of their conversation.
"Is everything prepared, Harris?"
"Yes, sir; another half hour's work will complete everything."
"Do you think that is strong enough?" the governor asked.
"Ay; strong enough for half a dozen of these half starved Scots."
"One at a time will do," the governor said; and then, after a few more words, left the barn and rode off to Ayr.
Jock puzzled his head in vain over the meaning of the words he had heard. The governor had while speaking been facing the door; but to what he alluded, or what it was that the officer had declared strong enough to hold half a dozen Scots, Jock could not in the slightest degree make out. Still the words were strange and might be important; and he resolved, directly the preparations were finished and the place closed, so that there could be no chance of his learning more, to return himself to Archie instead of sending a message, as much might depend upon his repeating, word for word, what he had heard, as there was somehow, he felt, a significance in the manner in which the question had been asked and answered more than in the words themselves.
Cluny had all day endeavoured in vain to gather any news. He had the day before sold some of his eggs and chickens at the governor's house, and towards evening he determined again to go thither and to make an attempt to enter the house, where he had heard that the officers of the garrison were to be entertained that evening at a banquet. "If I could but overhear what is said there, my mind would be at rest. Certainly nothing is known to the soldiers; but it may well be that if treachery is intended tomorrow, the governor will this evening explain his plans to his officers."
He had, before entering the town, again filled up his basket with the unsold portion of Jock's stock, for which the latter had no further occasion. The cook at the governor's, when he had purchased the eggs on the previous day, had bade him call again, as Cluny's prices were considerably below those in the market. It was late in the afternoon when he again approached the house. The sentry at the gate asked no question, seeing a girl with a basket, and Cluny went round again to the door of the kitchen.
"How late you are, girl!" the cook said angrily. "You told me you would come again today, and I relied upon you, and when you did not come it was too late, for the market was closed."
"I was detained, sir," Cluny said, dropping a curtsey; "my mother is ill, and I had to look after the children and get the dinner before they went away."
"There, don't waste time talking," the cook said, snatching the basket from him. "I have no time to count the eggs now; let me know the tale of them and the chickens at the same price as you charged yesterday, and come for your money tomorrow; I have no time to pay now. Here," he called to one of the scullions, "take out these eggs and chickens quickly, but don't break any, and give the basket to the girl here."
So saying he hurried off to attend to his cooking.
Cluny looked round. But three paces away a half open door led into the interior of the house. His resolution was taken in a moment. Seeing that none were looking at him he stole through the door, his bare feet falling noiselessly on the stones. He was now in a spacious hall. On one side was an open door, and within was a large room with tables spread for a banquet. Cluny entered at once and looked round for a place of concealment; none was to be seen. Tablecloths in those days were almost unknown luxuries. The tables were supported by trestles, and were so narrow that there was no possibility of hiding beneath them; nor were there hangings or other furniture behind which he could be concealed. With a beating heart he turned the handle of a door leading into another apartment, and found himself in a long and narrow room, used apparently as the private office of the governor. There were many heavy chairs in the room, ranged along the wall, and Cluny crouched in a corner by the window beside a chair standing there. The concealment was a poor one, and one searching would instantly detect him; but he had no fear of a search, for he doubted not that the cook, on missing him, would suppose that he had left at once, intending to call for his money and basket together the next morning. It was already growing dusk, and should no one enter the room for another half hour he would be hidden in the shadow in the corner of the room; but it was more probable still that no one would enter.
The time passed slowly on, and the darkness rapidly increased. Through the door, which Cluny had drawn to but had not tightly closed on entering, he could hear the voices of the servants as they moved about and completed the preparations in the banquet hall. Presently all was quiet, but a faint light gleaming in through the crack of the door showed that the lights were lit and that all was in readiness for the banquet. Half an hour later and there was a heavy trampling of feet and the sound of many voices. The door was suddenly closed, and Cluny had no doubt that the dinner was beginning. Rising to his feet he made to the door and listened attentively.
A confused din met his ears, but no distinct words were audible. He could occasionally faintly hear the clattering of plates and the clinking of glasses. All this continued for nigh two hours, and then a sudden quiet seemed to fall upon the assembly. Cluny heard the door close, and guessed that the banquet was at an end and the servitors dismissed. Now, if ever, would something of importance be said within, and Cluny would have given his life to be able to hear it. Many times he thought of turning the handle and opening the door an inch or two. Locks in those days were but roughly made; the slightest sound might attract attention, and in that case not only would his own life be forfeited, but no news of the governor's intentions—no matter what they might be—could reach Wallace; so, almost holding his breath, he lay on the ground and listened with his ear to the sill of the door. The silence was succeeded by a steady monotonous sound as of one addressing the others. Cluny groaned in spirit, for no word could he hear. After some minutes the murmur ceased, and then many voices were raised together; then one rose above the rest, and then, distinct and clear, came a voice evidently raised in anger.
"As you please, Master Hawkins; but if you disobey my orders, as King Edward's governor here, you will take the consequences. I shall at once place you in durance, and shall send report to the king of your mutinous conduct."
"Be that as it may," another voice replied; "whatever befall me, I tell you, sir, that Thomas Hawkins will take no part in an act of such foul and dastardly treachery. I am a soldier of King Edward. I am paid to draw my sword against his enemies, and not to do the bloody work of a murderer."
"Seize him!" the governor shouted. "Give him in charge to the guard, to lay in the castle dungeon."
There was a movement of feet now heard, but Cluny waited no longer. The angry utterances had reached his ear, and knowing that his mission was accomplished he thought only now of escape before detection might take place. He had noticed when he entered the room that the windows were, as was usually the case with rooms on the lower floors, barred; but he saw also that the bars were wide enough apart for a lad of his slimness to crawl through. The banqueting room was raised three steps above the hall, and the room that he was in was upon the same level; the window was four feet from the floor, and would therefore be probably seven or eight above the ground without, which would account for its not being more closely barred. He speedily climbed up to it and thrust himself through the bars, but not without immense difficulty and great destruction to his feminine garments.
"Poor Janet!" Cluny laughed to himself as he dropped from the window to the ground. "Whatever would she say were she to see the state of her kirtle and petticoats!"
The moon was young, but the light was sufficient to enable Cluny to see where he was. The window opened into a lane which ran down by the side of the governor's house, and he was soon in the principal street. Already most of the citizens were within their houses. A few, provided with lanterns, were picking their way along the uneven pavement. Cluny knew that it was impossible for him to leave the town that night; he would have given anything for a rope by which he might lower himself from the walls, but there was no possibility of his obtaining one. The appearance of a young girl wandering in the streets alone at night would at once have attracted attention and remarks. So Cluny withdrew into a dark archway, and then sat down until the general silence told him that all had retired to rest. Then he made his way along the street until he neared the gateway, and there lying down by the wall he went to sleep.
When the gate was opened in the morning Cluny waited until a few persons had passed in and out and then approached it. "Hallo! lass," the sergeant of the guard, who was standing there, said. "You are a pretty figure with your torn clothes! Why, what has happened to you?"
"If you please, sir," Cluny said timidly, "I was selling my eggs to the governor's cook, and he kept me waiting, and I did not know that it was so late, and when I got to the gates they were shut, and I had nowhere to go; and then, please sir, as I was wandering about a rough soldier seized me and wanted to kiss me, and of course I would not let him, and in the struggle he tore my clothes dreadfully; and some burghers, who heard me scream, came up and the man left me, and one of the burghers let me sleep in his kitchen, and I don't know what mother will say to my clothes;" and Cluny lifted the hem of his petticoat to his eyes.
"It is a shame, lass," the sergeant said good temperedly; "an I had been there I would have broke the fellow's sconce for him; but another time, lass, you should not overstay the hour; it is not good for young girls to be roaming at night in a town full of soldiers. There, I hope your mother won't beat you, for, after all, it was the fault of the governor's cook rather than yours."
Cluny pursued his way with a quiet and depressed mien until he was fairly out of sight of the gates. Then he lifted his petticoats to a height which would have shocked his sister Janet, to give free play to his limbs, and at the top of his speed dashed down the road toward Lanark. He found his two companions waiting at the appointed spot, but he did not pause a moment.
"Are you mad, Cluny?" they shouted.
And indeed the wild figure, with its tucked up garments, tearing at full speed along the road, would have been deemed that of a mad girl by any who had met it.
"Come on!" he shouted. "Come on, it is for life or death!" and without further word he kept on at full speed. It was some time before his companions overtook him, for they were at first too convulsed by laughter at Cluny's extraordinary appearance to be able to run. But presently, sobered by the conviction that something of extreme importance must have happened, they too started at their best speed, and presently came up with Cluny, upon whose pace the mile he had already run told heavily.
"For the sake of goodness, Cluny, go slower," one of them panted out as they came to him. "We have nine miles yet to run, and if we go on like this we shall break down in another half mile, and have to walk the rest."
Cluny himself, with all his anxiety to get on, was beginning to feel the same, and he slackened his pace to a slinging trot, which in little over an hour brought them to the wood.
The Barns of Ayr
Archie was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his messenger, for the three lads were met two miles out by another who had been placed on watch, and had come on ahead at full speed with the news of their approach. The report brought in by Jock Farrell of the words that he had overheard in the barn prepared for the meeting, had been reported by Archie to Wallace. Sir John Grahame and the other gentlemen with him all agreed that they were strange, and his friends had strongly urged their leader not to proceed to the meeting. Wallace, however, persisted in his resolution to do so, unless he received stronger proofs than those afforded by the few words dropped by the governor and his officer, which might really have no evil meaning whatever. He could not throw doubt upon the fair intentions of King Edward's representative, for it might well be said that it was the grossest insult to the English to judge them as guilty of the intention of a foul act of treachery upon such slight foundation as this. "It would be a shame indeed," he said, "were I, the Warden of Scotland, to shrink from appearing at a council upon such excuse as this." The utmost that Archie could obtain from him was that he would delay his departure in the morning until the latest moment, in order to see if any further news came from Ayr.
The meeting was to be held at ten o'clock, and until a little before nine he would not set out. He was in the act of mounting his horse when Cluny Campbell arrived.
"What are your news, Cluny?" Archie exclaimed, as the lads, panting and exhausted, ran up.
"There is treachery intended. I overheard the governor say so."
"Come along with me," Archie exclaimed; "you are just in time, and shall yourself tell the news. Draw your bridle, Sir William," he exclaimed as he ran up to the spot where Sir William Wallace, Grahame, and several other gentlemen were in the act of mounting. "Treachery is intended—my messenger has overheard it. I know not his tale, but question him yourself."
Important as was the occasion, the Scottish chiefs could not resist a smile at the wild appearance of Archie's messenger.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" Wallace asked Archie, "for it might be either."
"He is one of my band, sir. I sent him dressed in this disguise as it would be the least suspected. Now, Cluny, tell your own story."
Cluny told his story briefly, but giving word for word the sentences that he had heard spoken in anger by the governor and his officer.
"I fear there can be no doubt," Wallace said gravely when the lad had finished—"that foul play of some kind is intended, and that it would be madness to trust ourselves in the hands of this treacherous governor. Would that we had had the news twenty-four hours earlier; but even now some may be saved. Sir John, will you gallop, with all your mounted men, at full speed towards Ayr. Send men on all the roads leading to the council, and warn any who may not yet have arrived against entering."
Sir John Grahame instantly gave orders to all those who had horses, to mount and follow him at the top of their speed; and he himself, with the other gentlemen whose horses were prepared, started at once at full gallop.
"Sir Archie, do you cause the 'assembly' to be sounded, and send off your runners in all directions to bid every man who can be collected to gather here this afternoon at three o clock. If foul play has been done we can avenge, although we are too late to save, and, by Heavens, a full and bloody revenge will I take."
It was not until two in the afternoon that Sir John Grahame returned.
"The worst has happened; I can read it in your face," Wallace exclaimed.
"It is but too true," Sir John replied. "For a time we could obtain no information. One of my men rode forward until close to the Barns, and reported that all seemed quiet there. A guard of soldiers were standing round the gates, and he saw one of those invited, who had arrived a minute before him, dismount and enter quietly. Fortunately I was in time to stop many gentlemen who were proceeding to the council, but more had entered before I reached there. From time to time I sent forward men on foot who talked with those who were standing without to watch the arrivals. Presently a terrible rumour began to spread among them—whether the truth was known from some coarse jest by one of the soldiers, or how it came out, I know not. But as time went on, and the hour was long past when any fresh arrivals could be expected, there was no longer motive for secrecy, and the truth was openly told. Each man as he entered was stopped just inside the door. A noose was dropped over his neck, and he was hauled up to a hook over the door. All who entered are dead."
A cry of indignation and rage broke from Wallace and those standing round him, and the Scottish leader again repeated his oath to take a bloody vengeance for the deed.
"And who are among the murdered?" he asked, after a pause.
"Alas! Sir William," Grahame said, "your good uncle, Sir Ronald Crawford, the Sheriff of Ayr, is one; and also Sir Richard Wallace of Riccartoun; Sir Bryce Blair, and Sir Neil Montgomery, Boyd, Barclay, Steuart, Kennedy, and many others."
Wallace was overwhelmed with grief at the news that both his uncles, to whom he was greatly attached, had perished. Most of those around had also lost relatives and friends, and none could contain their grief and indignation.
"Was my uncle, Sir Robert Gordon, among the victims?" Archie inquired.
"No," Sir John replied; "happily he was one of the last who came along the road."
"Thank God for that!" Archie said earnestly; "my uncle's slowness has saved his life. He was ever late for business or pleasure, and my aunt was always rating him for his unpunctuality. She will not do so again, for assuredly it has saved his life."
The men came in but slowly, for the bands had all dispersed to their homes, and it was only those who lived within a few miles who could arrive in time. Little over fifty men had come in by the hour named. With these Wallace started at once towards Ayr. Archie's band fell in with their arms, for they too burned to revenge the massacre, and Wallace did not refuse Archie's request that they might join.
"Let them come," he said; "we shall want every sword and pike tonight."
This was the first time that Wallace had seen the band under arms, for at the battle of Biggar, Archie had kept them from his sight, fearing that he might order them from the field.
"They look well, Sir Archie, and in good military order. Hitherto I have regarded them but as messengers, and as such they have done good service indeed; but I see now that you have them in good order, and that they can do other service on a pinch."
One member of Wallace's band was left behind, with orders to wait until seven o'clock, and then to bring on as fast as they could march all who might arrive before that hour. The band marched to within a mile of the barns. They then halted at a stack of straw, and sat down while one of Archie's band went forward to see what was being done. He reported that a great feast, at which the governor and all the officers of the garrison, with other English dwelling in town, were present, was just beginning in the great barn where the massacre had taken place.
Soon after nine o'clock the man who had been left behind, with ten others, who had come in after Wallace had marched, came up. Each man, by Wallace's directions, drew a great truss of straw from the stack, and then the party, now eighty in all, marched toward the barn. Wallace's instructions were that so soon as the work had fairly begun, Grahame, with Archie and half the band, was to hurry off to seize the gate of Ayr, feigning to be a portion of the guard at the barn.
When they approached the spot they saw that the wooden building was brightly lit up with lights within, and the English guard, some fifty in number, were standing carelessly without, or, seated round fires, were carousing on wine which had been sent out by the revellers within.
The Scotch stole up quietly. Wallace's party, composed of half the strength, handed their bundles of straw to the men of Grahame's company; then with a sudden shout they fell upon the English soldiers, while Grahame's men, running straight to the door of the barn, threw down their trusses of straw against it, and Sir John, snatching down a torch which burned beside the entrance, applied fire to the mass, and then, without a moment's delay, started at a run towards the town. Taken wholly by surprise the English soldiers were slain by Wallace and his men almost before they had time to seize their arms. Then the Scots gathered round the barn. The flames were already leaping up high, and a terrible din of shouts and cries issued from within. The doors had been opened now, but those within were unable to force their way across the blazing mass of straw. Many appeared at the windows and screamed for mercy, and some leapt out, preferring to fall by the Scottish swords rather than to await death by fire within.
The flames rose higher and higher, and soon the whole building was enveloped, and ere many minutes all those who had carried out, if not planned, the massacre of Ayr had perished. In the meantime Grahame and his party had reached the gate of Ayr. Bidding others follow him at a distance of about a hundred yards, he himself, with Archie and ten of his followers, ran up at full speed.
"Quick!" he shouted to the sentry on the gate. "Lower the bridge and let us in. We have been attacked by Wallace and the Scots, and they will speedily be here."
The attention of the guard had already been attracted by the sudden burst of light by the barns. They had heard distant shouts, and deemed that a conflagration had broken out in the banqueting hall. Not doubting for an instant the truth of Grahame's story, they lowered the drawbridge instantly, and Sir John and his companions rushed across.
The guard were only undeceived when Grahame and his followers fell upon them with their heavy broadswords. They had left their arms behind when they had assembled on the walls to look at the distant flames, and were cut down to a man by the Scots. By this time the rest of Grahame's band had arrived.
So short and speedy had been the struggle that no alarm had been given in the town. The inmates of a few houses near opened their windows and looked out.
"Come down as quickly as you may," Sir John said to them; "we have taken Ayr."
Several of the burghers were soon in the street.
"Now," Sir John said, "do two of you who know the town well go with me and point out the houses in which the English troops are quartered; let the others go from house to house, and bid every man come quickly with his sword to strike a blow for freedom."
Sir John now went round the town with the guides and posted two or more men at the door of each house occupied by the English. Soon the armed citizens flocked into the streets, and when sufficient were assembled the blowing of a horn gave the signal. The doors of the houses were beaten in with axes, and, pouring in, the Scotch slew the soldiers before they had scarce awakened from sleep. Very few of the English in the town escaped to tell of the terrible retaliation which had been taken for the massacre of Ayr.
One of the few who were saved was Captain Thomas Hawkins. Archie, mindful of the part which he had taken, and to which, indeed, the discovery of the governor's intention was due, had hurried direct to the prison, and when this was, with the rest of the town, taken, discovered the English officer in chains in a dungeon, and protected him from all molestation.
The next morning he was brought before Wallace, who expressed to him his admiration of the honourable course which he had adopted, gave him a rich present out of the booty which had been captured, and placed him on a ship bound for England.
A week after the capture of Ayr one of Archie's band came into his hut. Tears were running down his cheeks, and his face was swollen with weeping.
"What is it, Jock?" Archie asked kindly.
"Ah! Sir Archie! we have bad news from Glen Cairn. One has come hither who says that a few days since the Kerrs, with a following of their own retainers, came down to the village. Having heard that some of us had followed you to the wars, they took a list of all that were missing, and Sir John called our fathers up before him. They all swore, truly enough, that they knew nought of our intentions, and that we had left without saying a word to them. Sir John refused to believe them, and at first threatened to hang them all. Then after a time he said they might draw lots, and that two should die. My father and Allan Cunninghame drew the evil numbers, and Kerr hung them up to the old tree on the green and put fire to the rooftrees of all the others. Ah! but there is weeping and wailing in Glen Cairn!"
Archie was for a while speechless with indignation. He knew well that this wholesale vengeance had not been taken by the Kerrs because the sons of the cottagers of Glen Cairn had gone to join the army of Wallace, but because he deemed them to be still attached to their old lord; and it was to their fidelity to the Forbeses rather than to Scotland that they owed the ruin which had befallen them.
"My poor Jock!" he said, "I am grieved, indeed, at this misfortune. I cannot restore your father's life, but I can from the spoils of Ayr send a sufficient sum to Glen Cairn to rebuild the cottages which the Kerrs have destroyed. But this will not be enough—we will have vengeance for the foul deed. Order the band to assemble at dusk this evening, and tell Orr and Macpherson to come here to me at once."
Archie had a long consultation with his two young lieutenants, whose fathers' cottages had with the others been destroyed.
"What we have to do," Archie said, "we must do alone. Sir William has ample employment for his men, and I cannot ask him to weaken his force to aid me in a private broil; nor, indeed, would any aid short of his whole band be of use, seeing that the Kerrs can put three hundred retainers in the field. It is not by open force that we must fight them, but by fire and harassment. Fighting is out of the question; but we can do him some damage without giving him a chance of striking a blow at us. As he has lighted Glen Cairn, so shall he see fires blazing round his own castle of Aberfilly. We will not retaliate by hanging his crofters and vassals; but if he or any of his men-at-arms falls into our hands, we will have blood for blood."
In the course of the afternoon Archie saw his chief and begged leave to take his troop away for some time, telling Sir William of the cruel treatment which the Kerrs had dealt at Glen Cairn, and his determination to retaliate for the deed.
"Aberfilly is a strong castle, Archie," Wallace said; "at least so people say, for I have never seen it, so far does it lie removed from the main roads. But unless by stratagem, I doubt if my force is strong enough to capture it; nor would I attack were I sure of capturing it without the loss of a man. The nobles and landowners stand aloof from me; but it may be that after I have wrested some more strong places from the English, they may join me. But I would not on any account war against one of them now. Half the great families are united by ties of blood or marriage. The Kerrs, we know, are related to the Comyns and other powerful families; and did I lift a hand against them, adieu to my chance of being joined by the great nobles. No; openly hostile as many of them are, I must let them go their way, and confine my efforts to attacking their friends the English. Then they will have no excuse of personal feud for taking side against the cause of Scotland. But this does not apply to you. Everyone knows that there has long been a blood feud between the Forbeses and the Kerrs, and any damage you may do them will be counted as a private feud. I think it is a rash adventure that you are undertaking with but a handful of boys, although it is true that a boy can fire a roof or drive off a bullock as well as a man. However, this I will promise you, that if you should get into any scrape I will come with what speed I can to your rescue, even if it embroil me with half the nobles of Scotland. You embroiled yourself with all the power of England in my behalf, and you will not find me slack in the hour of need. But if I join in the fray it is to rescue my friend Archie Forbes, and not to war against John Kerr, the ally of the English, and my own enemy."
Archie warmly thanked his leader, but assured him that he had no thought of placing himself in any great peril.
"I am not going to fight," he said, "for the Kerr and his retainers could eat us up; we shall trust to our legs and our knowledge of the mountains."
After dark Archie and his band started, and arrived within ten miles of Aberfilly on the following morning. They rested till noon, and then again set out. When they approached one of the outlying farms of the Kerrs, Archie halted his band, and, accompanied by four of the stoutest and tallest of their number, went on to the crofter's house. The man came to the door.
"What would you, young sir?" he said to Archie.
"I would," Archie said, "that you bear a message from me to your lord."
"I know not what your message may be; but frankly, I would rather that you bore it yourself, especially if it be of a nature to anger Sir John."
"The message is this," Archie said quietly: "tell him that Archibald Forbes bids him defiance, and that he will retort upon him and his the cruelties which he has wrought in Glen Cairn, and that he will rest not night nor day until he has revenge for the innocent blood shed and rooftrees ruthlessly burned."
"Then," the crofter said bluntly, "if you be Archibald Forbes, you may even take your message yourself. Sir John cares not much upon whose head his wrath lights, and I care not to appear before him as a willing messenger on such an errand."
"You may tell him," Archie said quietly, "that you are no willing messenger; for that I told you that unless you did my errand your house should, before morning, be a heap of smoking ashes. I have a following hard by, and will keep my word."
The crofter hesitated.
"Do my bidding; and I promise you that whatever may befall the other vassals of the Kerrs, you shall go free and unharmed."
"Well, if needs must, it must," the crofter said; "and I will do your bidding, young sir—partly because I care not to see my house in ruins, but more because I have heard of you as a valiant youth who fought stoutly by the side of Wallace at Lanark and Ayr—though, seeing that you are but a lad, I marvel much that you should be able to hold your own in such wild company. Although as a vassal of the Kerrs I must needs follow their banner, I need not tell you, since you have lived so long at Glen Cairn, that the Kerrs are feared rather than loved, and that there is many a man among us who would lief that our lord fought not by the side of the English. However, we must needs dance as he plays; and now I will put on my bonnet and do your errand. Sir John can hardly blame me greatly for doing what I needs must."
Great was the wrath of Sir John Kerr when his vassal reported to him the message with which he had been charged, and in his savage fury he was with difficulty dissuaded from ordering him to be hung for bringing such a message. His principal retainers ventured, however, to point out that the man had acted upon compulsion, and that the present was not the time, when he might at any moment have to call upon them to take the field, to anger his vassals, who would assuredly resent the undeserved death of one of their number.
"It is past all bearing," the knight said furiously, "that an insolent boy like this should first wound me in the streets of Lanark, and should then cast his defiance in my teeth—a landless rascal, whose father I killed, and whose den of a castle I but a month ago gave to the flames. He must be mad to dare to set his power against mine. I was a fool that I did not stamp him out long ago; but woe betide him when we next meet! Had it not been that I was served by a fool"—and here the angry knight turned to his henchman, Red Roy—"this would not have happened. Who could have thought that a man of your years could have suffered himself to be fooled by a boy, and to bring me tales that this insolent upstart was a poor stupid lout! By Heavens! to be thus badly served is enough to make one mad!"
"Well, Sir John," the man grumbled, "the best man will be sometimes in error. I have done good service for you and yours, and yet ever since we met this boy outside the gates of Lanark you have never ceased to twit me concerning him. Rest secure that no such error shall occur again, and that the next time I meet him I will pay him alike for the wound he gave you and for the anger he has brought upon my head. If you will give orders I will start at daybreak with twenty men. I will take up his trail at the cottage of John Frazer, and will not give up the search until I have overtaken and slain him."
"Do so," the knight replied, "and I will forgive your having been so easily fooled. But this fellow may have some of Wallace's followers with him, and contemptible as the rabble are, we had best be on our guard. Send round to all my vassals, and tell them to keep good watch and ward, and keep a party of retainers under arms all night in readiness to sally out in case of alarm."
The night, however, passed quietly. The next day the knight sallied out with a strong party of retainers, and searched the woods and lower slopes of the hill, but could find no signs of Archie and his followers, and at nightfall returned to the castle in a rage, declaring that the defiance sent him was a mere piece of insolent bravado. Nevertheless, he kept the horses again saddled all night ready to issue out at the slightest alarm. Soon after midnight flames suddenly burst out at a dozen of the homesteads. At the warder's shout of alarm Sir John Kerr and his men-at-arms instantly mounted. The gate was thrown open and the drawbridge lowered, and Sir John rode out at the head of his following. He was within a few feet of the outer end of the drawbridge when the chains which supported this suddenly snapped. The drawbridge fell into the moat, plunging all those upon it into the water.
Archie, with his band, after detaching some of their number to fire the homesteads, had crept up unperceived in the darkness to the end of the drawbridge, and had noiselessly cut the two projecting beams upon which its end rested when it was lowered. He had intended to carry out this plan on the previous night, but when darkness set in not a breath of wind was stirring, and the night was so still that he deemed that the operation of sawing through the beams could not be effected without attracting the attention of the warders on the wall, and had therefore retreated far up in the recesses of the hills. The next night, however, was windy, and well suited to his purpose, and the work had been carried out without attracting the attention of the warders. When Kerr and his men-at-arms rode out, the whole weight of the drawbridge and of the horsemen crossing it was thrown entirely upon the chains, and these yielded to a strain far greater than they were calculated to support.
The instant the men-at-arms were precipitated into the moat, Archie and his companions, who had been lying down near its edge, leapt to their feet, and opened fire with their bows and arrows upon them. It was well for Sir John and his retainers that they had not stopped to buckle on their defensive armour. Had they done so every man must have been drowned in the deep waters. As it was, several were killed with the arrows, and two or three by the hoofs of the struggling horses. Sir John himself, with six of the eighteen men who had fallen into the moat, succeeded in climbing up the drawbridge and regaining the castle. A fire of arrows was at once opened from the walls, but Archie and his followers were already out of bowshot; and knowing that the fires would call in a few minutes to the spot a number of the Kerr's vassals more than sufficient to crush them without the assistance of those in the castle, they again made for the hills, well satisfied with the first blow they had struck at their enemies.
The rage of Sir John Kerr was beyond all expression. He had himself been twice struck by arrows, and the smart of his wounds added to his fury. By the light of the burning barns the garrison were enabled to see how small was the party which had made this audacious attack upon them; and this increased their wrath. Men were instantly set at work to raise the drawbridge from the moat, to repair the chains, and to replace the timbers upon which it rested; and a summons was despatched to the whole of the vassals to be at the castle in arms by daybreak.
Again the woods were searched without success, and the band then divided into five parties, each forty strong. They proceeded to explore the hills; but the Pentlands afforded numerous hiding places to those, like Archie and most of his band, well acquainted with the country; and after searching till nightfall the parties retired, worn out and disheartened, to the castle. That night three of the outlying farms were in flames, and the cattle were slaughtered in their byres, but no attack was made upon the dwelling houses. The following night Sir John distributed the whole of his vassals among the farms lying farthest from the castle, putting twenty men in each; but to his fury this time it was five homesteads nearer at hand which were fired. The instant the first outburst of flame was discovered the retainers hurried to the spot; but by the time they reached it no sign of the assailants was visible; the flames had however taken too good a hold of the various barns and outbuildings to be extinguished.
The Cave in the Pentlands
John Kerr was well nigh beside himself with fury.
If this was to go on, the whole of his estate would be harried, his vassals ruined, and his revenues stopped, and this by a mere handful of foes. Again he started with his vassals to explore the hills, this time in parties of ten only, so as to explore thoroughly a larger space of ground. When at evening the men returned, it was found that but two men of one of the parties, composed entirely of men-at-arms from the castle, came back. They reported that when in a narrow ravine showers of rocks were hurled down upon them from both sides. Four of their number were killed at once, and four others had fallen pierced by arrows from an unseen foe as they fled back down the ravine.
"Methinks, Sir John," Red Roy said, "that I know the place where the Forbeses may have taken up their abode. When I was a boy I was tending a herd of goats far up in the hills, and near the pass where this mischance has today befallen us I found a cave in the mountain's side. Its entrance was hidden by bushes, and I should not have found it had not one of the goats entered the bush and remained there so long that I went to see what he was doing. There I found a cave. The entrance was but three feet high, but inside it widened out into a great cavern, where fifty men could shelter. Perchance Archie Forbes or some of his band may also have discovered it; and if so, they might well think that no better place of concealment could be found."
"We will search it tomorrow," the knight said. "Tell the vassals to gather here three hours before daybreak. We will start so as to be there soon after sunrise. If they are on foot again tonight they will then be asleep. Did you follow the cave and discover whether it had any other entrances beyond that by which you entered?"
"I know not," the henchman replied; "it goes a long way into the hills, and there are several inner passages; but these I did not explore, for I was alone and feared being lost in them."
The next night some more homesteads were burnt, but this time the vassals did not turn out, as they had been told to rest until the appointed hour whatever might befall.
Three hours before daybreak a party of fifty picked men assembled at the castle, for this force was deemed to be ample. The two men who had escaped from the attack on the previous day led the way to the ravine, and there Red Roy became the guide and led the band far up the hillside. Had it been possible they would have surrounded the cave before daylight, but Roy said that it was so long since he had first found the cave, that he could not lead them there in the dark, but would need daylight to enable him to recognize the surroundings. Even when daylight came he was for some time at fault, but he at last pointed to a clump of bushes, growing on a broken and precipitous face of rock, as the place where the cave was situated.
Red Roy was right in his conjecture. Archie had once, when wandering among the hills, shot at a wild cat and wounded it, and had followed it to the cave to which it had fled, and seeing it an advantageous place of concealment had, when he determined to harry the district of the Kerrs, fixed upon it as the hiding place for his band. Deeming it possible, however, that its existence might be known to others, he always placed a sentry on watch; and on the approach of the Kerrs, Cluny Campbell, who happened to be on guard, ran in and roused the band with the news that the Kerrs were below. Archie immediately crept out and reconnoitred them; from the bushes he could see that his foes were for the present at fault. Sir John himself was standing apart from the rest, with Red Roy, who was narrowly scrutinizing the face of the cliff, and Archie guessed at once that they were aware of the existence of the cavern, though at present they could not determine the exact spot where it was situated. It was too late to retreat now, for the face of the hill was too steep to climb to its crest, and their retreat below was cut off by the Kerrs. He therefore returned to the cave, leaving Cluny on guard.
"They are not sure as to the situation of the cave yet," he said, "but they will find it. We can hold the mouth against them for any time, but they might smoke us out, that is our real danger; or if they fail in that, they may try starvation. Do half a dozen of you take brands at once from the embers and explore all the windings behind us; they are so narrow and low that hitherto we have not deemed it worth while to examine them, but now they are really our only hope; some of them may lead round to the face of the hill, and in that case we may find some way by which we may circumvent the Kerrs."
Six of the lads at once started with flaming pine knots, while Archie returned to the entrance. Just as he took his place there he saw Red Roy pointing towards the bushes. A minute or two later Sir John and his followers began to advance. Archie now called out the rest of his band, who silently took their places in the bushes beside him. Led by Sir John and his personal retainers, the assailants approached the foot of the rocks and began to make their way up, using the utmost precaution to avoid any noise. There was no longer any need for concealment, and as the foremost of the assailants began to climb the great boulders at the foot of the precipice, a dozen arrows from the bush above alighted among them; killing three and wounding several others. Sir John Kerr shouted to his men to follow him, and began to clamber up the hill. Several arrows struck him, but he was sheathed in mail, as were his men-at-arms, and although several were wounded in the face and two slain they succeeded in reaching the bushes, but they could not penetrate further, for as they strove to tear the bushes aside and force an entry, those behind pierced them with their spears, and as but four or five assailants at a time could gain a footing and use their arms they were outnumbered and finally driven back by the defenders. When Sir John, furious at his discomfiture, rejoined his vassals below, he found that the assault had already cost him eight of his best men. He would, however, have again led them to the attack, but Red Roy said:
"It were best, my lord, to send back and bid fifty of the vassals to come up hither at once, with bows and arrows. They can so riddle those bushes that the defenders will be unable to occupy them to resist our advance."
"That were a good step," Sir John said; "but even when we gain the ledge I know not how we shall force our way through the hole, which you say is but three feet high."
"There is no need to force our way in," Red Roy replied; "each man who climbs shall carry with him a faggot of wood, and we will smoke them in their holes like wolves."
"'Tis well thought of, Roy; that assuredly is the best plan. Send off at once one of the most fleet footed of the party."
Archie, watching from above, saw the assailants draw back out of bowshot, and while one of their number started at full speed down the hillside, the others sat down, evidently prepared to pass some time before they renewed the attack. Leaving two of the party on guard, Archie, with the rest, re-entered the cavern. The searchers had just returned and reported that all the various passages came to nothing, save one, which ascended rapidly and terminated in a hole which looked as if it had been made by rabbits, and through which the light of day could be seen.
"Then it is there we must work," Archie said. "I will myself go and examine it."
The passage, after ascending to a point which Archie judged to be nigh a hundred feet above the floor of the cave, narrowed to a mere hole, but two feet high and as much wide. Up this he crawled for a distance of four or five yards, then it narrowed suddenly to a hole three or four inches in diameter, and through this, some three feet farther, Archie could see the daylight through a clump of heather. He backed himself down the narrow passage again until he joined his comrades. "Now," he said, "do four of you stay here, and take it by turns, one after the other, to enlarge the hole forward to the entrance. As you scrape the earth down you must past it back handful by handful. Do not enlarge the outer entrance or disturb the roots of the heather growing there. Any movement might be noticed by those below. It is lucky, indeed, that the rock ends just when it gets to its narrowest, and that it is but sandy soil through which we have to scrape our way. It will be hard work, for you have scarce room to move your arms, but you have plenty of time since we cannot sally out till nightfall."
The hours passed slowly, and about noon the lookout reported that a number of bowmen were approaching.
"They are going to attack this time under cover of their fire," Archie said, "and as I do not wish to hazard the loss of any lives, we will keep within the cave and let them gain the ledge. They can never force their way through the narrow entrance. The only thing I fear is smoke. I purpose that if they light a fire at the mouth of the cave, we shall retire at once up the passage where we are working, and block it up at a narrow place a short distance after it leaves this cavern, with our clothes. You had best take off some of your things, scrape up the earth from the floor of the cavern, and each make a stout bundle, so that we can fill up the hole solidly."
This was soon done, and the bundles of earth were laid in readiness at the point upon which their leader had fixed. In the meantime Archie had rejoined the lookout.
"They have been scattered for some time," the guard said, "and have been cutting down bushes and making them into faggots."
"Just what I expected," Archie exclaimed. "The bowmen are joining them now. We shall soon see them at work."
Sir John Kerr now marshalled his retainers. He and his men-at-arms drew their swords, and the rest, putting the bundles of faggots on their shoulders, prepared to follow, while the bowmen fitted their arrows to the string.
"Fall back inside the cave," Archie said; "it is of no use risking our lives."
The band now gathered in a half circle, with level spears, round the entrance. Soon they heard a sharp tapping sound as the arrows struck upon the rock, then there was a crashing among the bushes.
"Come on!" Sir John Kerr shouted to the vassals. "The foxes have slunk into their hole." Then came low thuds as the faggots were cast down. The light which had streamed in through the entrance gradually became obscure, and the voices of those without muffled. The darkness grew more intense as the faggots were piled thicker and thicker; then suddenly a slight odour of smoke was perceived.
"Come along now," Archie said; "they have fired the pile, and there is no fear of their entrance."
Two of their number, with blazing pine knots, led the way. When they reached the narrow spot all passed through, Archie and Andrew Macpherson last; these took the bundles of earth, as the others passed them along from behind, and built them up like a wall across the entrance, beating them down as they piled them, so as to make them set close and fill up every crevice. Several remained over after the wall was completed; these were opened and the earth crammed into the crevices between the bags. The smell of smoke had grown strong before the wall was completed, but it was not too oppressive to breathe. Holding the torch close to the wall, Archie and his comrade stopped closely the few places through which they saw that the smoke was making its way, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing that the barrier was completely smoke tight.
There was plenty of air in the passage to support life for some time, but Archie called back to those who were labouring to enlarge the exit, in order to allow as much fresh air as possible to enter. A strong guard, with spears, was placed at the barrier, although Archie deemed that some hours at least would elapse before the Kerrs could attempt to penetrate the cave. The fire would doubtless be kept up for some time, and after it had expired it would be long before the smoke cleared out sufficiently from the cave to allow of any one entering it. After a time, finding that there was no difficulty in breathing, although the air was certainly close and heavy, Archie again set the lads at work widening the entrance, going up himself to superintend the operation. Each in turn crept forward, loosened a portion of the earth with his knife, and then filling his cap with it, crawled backward to the point where the passage widened. It was not yet dark when the work was so far done that there now remained only a slight thickness of earth, through which the roots of the heath protruded, at the mouth of the passage, and a vigorous push would make an exit into the air. The guard at the barrier had heard no movement within. Archie withdrew one of the bags; but the smoke streamed through so densely that he hastily replaced it, satisfied that some hours must still elapse before the assailants would enter the cave. They watched impatiently the failing light through the hole, and at last, when night was completely fallen, Archie pushed aside the earth and heather, and looked around. They were, it seemed to him, on the side of the hill a few yards from the point where it fell steeply away. The ground was thickly covered with heather. He soon made his way out and ordered Andrew Macpherson, who followed him, to remain lying at the entrance, and to enjoin each, as he passed out, to crawl low among the heather, so that they might not show against the skyline, where, dark as it was, they might attract the attention of those below. Archie himself led the way until so far back from the edge as to be well out of sight of those in the valley. Then he gained his feet, and was soon joined by the whole of his band.
"Now," he said, "we will make for Aberfilly; they think us all cooped up here, and will be rejoicing in our supposed deaths. We will strike one more blow, and then, driving before us a couple of score of oxen for the use of the army, rejoin Wallace. Methinks we shall have taken a fair vengeance for Kerr's doings at Glen Cairn."
The consternation of the few men left in the castle was great when, three hours after sunset, eight homesteads burst suddenly into flames. They dared not sally out, and remained under arms until morning, when Sir John and his band returned more furious than ever, as they had penetrated the cavern, discovered the barrier which had cut off the smoke, and the hole by which the foe had escaped; and their fury was brought to a climax when they found the damage which had been inflicted in their absence. Many a week passed before the garrison of Aberfilly and the vassals of the Kerrs were able to sleep in peace, so great was the scare which Archie's raid had inflicted upon them.
The truce was now at an end. The indignation excited by the treachery of the English spread widely through Scotland, and the people flocked to Wallace's standard in far greater numbers than before, and he was now able to undertake operations on a greater scale. Perth, Aberdeen, Brechin, and other towns fell into his hands, and the castle of Dundee was invested. In the south Sir William Douglas captured the castles of Sanquhar, Desdeir, and others, and the rapid successes of the Scots induced a few of the greater nobles to take the field, such as the Steward of Scotland, Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell, Sir Richard Lundin, and Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow.
Wallace was one day lamenting to Archie and his friend Grahame that the greater nobles still held aloof. "Above all," he said, "I would fain see on our side either Comyn or the young Bruce. Baliol is a captive in London, and it is to Comyn or Bruce that Scotland must look for her king. So long as only I, a poor knight, am at the head of this rising, it is but a rebellion against Edward, and its chances are still so weak that but few men, who have aught to lose, join us; but if Bruce or Comyn should raise his banner all would receive him as our future king. Both are lords of wide territories, and besides the forces they could bring into the field, they would be joined by many of the principal nobles, although it is true that the adherents of the other would probably arm for Edward. Still the thought of a king of their own would inflame the popular mind, and vast numbers who now hesitate to join a movement supported by so little authority, would then take up arms."
"Which of the two would you rather?" Archie asked.
"I would rather the Bruce," Wallace said. "His father is an inert man and a mere cypher, and the death of his grandfather, the competitor, has now brought him prominently forward. It is true that he is said to be a strong adherent of England and a personal favourite of Edward; that he spends much of his time in London; and is even at the present moment the king's lieutenant in Carrick and Annandale, and is waging war for him against Sir William Douglas. Still Comyn is equally devoted to England; he is older, and less can be hoped from him. Bruce is young; he is said to be of great strength and skill in arms, and to be one of the foremost knights in Edward's court. He is, I hear, of noble presence, and is much loved by those with whom he comes in contact. Did such a man determine to break with Edward, and to strive to win the crown of Scotland as a free gift of her people, instead of as a nominee of Edward, and to rule over an independent kingdom instead of an English province, he would attract all hearts to him, and may well succeed where I, as I foresee, must sooner or later fail."
"But why should you fail when you have succeeded so far?" Archie asked.
"Because I have with me but a small portion of the people of Scotland. The whole of the northern lords hold aloof, and in the south Carrick and Annandale and Galloway are hostile. Against me I have all the power of England, Wales, and Ireland; and although I may for a time win victories and capture towns I am certain, Archie, in the end to be crushed."
"And will all our efforts have been in vain?" Archie said, with tears in his eyes.
"By no means, my brave lad; we shall have lighted the fire of a national resistance; we shall have shown the people that if Scotland, divided against herself, and with all her great nobles and their vassals standing sullenly aloof, can yet for a long time make head against the English, assuredly when the time shall come, and she shall rise as one man from the Solway to Caithness, her freedom will be won. Our lives will not have been thrown away, Archie, if they have taught this lesson."
Wallace had by this time returned from his expedition farther north, and his force was in camp near Lanark, which town, when not engaged in distant enterprises, was regarded as the centre of the movement. That evening Archie said, that as his leader purposed to give his troops rest for a week or two, he should go to his uncle's for a short time.
"And if you can spare them, Sir William, I would fain let my band go away for the same time. They have now been six months from home."
"Certainly," Wallace said, "they need a rest after their hard work. They are ever afoot, and have been of immense service."
Having obtained this permission, Archie went to the spot where his band were encamped. "I have another expedition for you," he said, "this time all together; when that is over you will be able to go home for a few days for a rest. They will all be glad to see you, and may well be proud of you, and I doubt not that the spoil which you gathered at Ayr and elsewhere will create quite a sensation at Glen Cairn. There are some of you who are, as I remember in the old days, good shots with the bow and arrow. Do ten of you who were the best at home get bows and arrows from the store. Here is an order for you to receive them, and be all in readiness to march at daylight."
The next morning the band set out in a southwesterly direction, and after a long day's march halted near Cumnock. In the morning they started at the same time, observing more caution as they went, for by the afternoon they had crossed the stream and were within the boundaries of Carrick. They halted for the night near Crossraguel Abbey. Here for the first time Archie confided to his followers the object of their march.
"We are now," he said, "within a few miles of Turnberry Castle, the residence of Bruce. Sir William has a great desire to speak with him; but, seeing that Bruce is at present fighting for King Edward against Douglas, there is little chance of such a meeting coming about with his goodwill. He has recently returned from Douglasdale. Here, in the heart of his own country, it is like enough that he may ride near his castle with but a few horsemen. In that case we will seize him, without, I trust, having to do him hurt, and will bear him with us to Lanark. We may have to wait some time before we find an opportunity; but even if the ten days for which I have asked, lengthen to as many weeks, Sir William will not grudge the time we have spent if we succeed. Tomorrow morning let those who have bows go out in the forest and see if they can shoot a deer; or failing that, bring in a sheep or two from some of the folds. As each of you has brought with you meal for ten days, we shall be able to keep an eye on Turnberry for some time."