Part 2 out of 6
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
"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
"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.
Chapter VI 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
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
"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
"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
"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
"Let them come," he said; "we shall want every sword and pike
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
Chapter VII 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
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
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
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
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
"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
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."
The next day Archie, with Andrew Macpherson and Cluny Campbell,
made their way through the woods until within sight of the castle,
which was but a mile distant. The strongholds of the lords of
Carrick stood on a bold promontory washed by the sea.
"It would be a hard nut to crack, Sir Archie," his lieutenant said.
"Unless by famine, the place could scarce be taken."
"No," Archie replied, "I am glad that our mission is rather to
capture the earl than his castle. It is a grand fortalice. Would
that its owner were but a true Scotchman! This is a good place on
which we are standing, Andrew, to place a scout. Among the trees
here he can watch the road all the way from the castle to the point
where it enters the forest. Do you, Cluny, take post here at once.
Mark well all that passes, and what is doing, and all bodies of men
who enter or leave the castle. There is no occasion to bring news
to me, for it would be unlikely that we should meet in the forest;
you have therefore only to watch. Tomorrow I shall return with the
band, and encamp in the woods farther back. Directly we arrive,
you will be relieved of your guard."
The following day the band moved up to a spot within half a mile
of the seaward edge of the forest, and a few hundred yards from the
road to Crossraguel Abbey. It was only on this road that Archie
could hope to effect a capture; for the country near the coast was
free of trees, and no ambush could be set. The lords of Carrick
were, moreover, patrons of the abbey; and Bruce might ride over
thither with but a small party, whereas, if journeying south, or
southeast towards Douglasdale, he would probably be marching with
a strong force. For several days they watched the castle; bodies of
mounted men entered and departed. Twice parties, among whom ladies
could be seen, came out with their hawks; but none came within
reach of their lurking foes.
On the fifth morning, however, the lad on watch ran into the glade
in which they were encamped and reported that a small body of
seemingly two or three knights, with some ladies, followed by four
mounted men, had left the castle and were approaching by the route
towards the abbey.
Not a moment was lost. Archie placed six of his company, with pike
and sword, close to the road, to form across it when he gave the
order, and to bar the retreat of any party who had passed. Another
party of equal strength he placed 100 yards further on, and with
them himself took post; while he placed four, armed with bows and
arrows, on either side, near the party which he commanded. Scarcely
had his preparations been made when a trampling of horses was heard,
and the party were seen approaching. They consisted of Robert Bruce,
his brother Nigel, and three of his sisters -- Isabel, Mary, and
Christina. Behind rode four men-at-arms. From the description which
he had heard of him Archie had no doubt that the elder of the two
knights was Robert Bruce himself, and when they approached within
thirty yards he gave a shout, and, with his band, with levelled
spears, drew up across the road. At the same moment the other party
closed in behind the horsemen; and the eight archers, with bent
bows and arrows drawn to the head, rose among the trees. The party
reined in their horses suddenly.
"Hah! what have we here?" Bruce exclaimed. "An ambush -- and on
all sides too!" he added as he looked round. "What means this?
Are you robbers who thus dare attack the Bruce within a mile of
Turnberry? Why, they are but lads," he added scornfully. "Rein
back, girls; we and the men-at-arms will soon clear a way for you
through these varlets. Nay, I can do it single handed myself."
"Halt! Sir Robert Bruce," Archie exclaimed in a loud clear voice.
"If you move I must perforce give the word, and it may well be that
some of the ladies with you may be struck with the arrows; nor,
young though my followers may be, would you find them so easy a
conquest as you imagine. They have stood up before the English ere
now; and you and your men-at-arms will find it hard work to get
through their pikes; and we outnumber you threefold. We are no
robbers. I myself am Sir Archibald Forbes."
"You!" exclaimed Robert Bruce, lowering his sword, which he
had drawn at the first alarm and held uplifted in readiness for a
charge; "you Sir Archibald Forbes! I have heard the name often as
that of one of Wallace's companions, who, with Sir John Grahame,
fought with him bravely at the captures of Lanark, Ayr, and other
places, but surely you cannot be he!"
"I am Sir Archibald Forbes, I pledge you my word," Archie said
quietly; "and, Sir Robert Bruce, methinks that if I, who am, as
you see, but yet a lad -- not yet having reached my seventeenth
year -- can have done good service for Scotland, how great the
shame that you, a valiant knight and a great noble, should be in
the ranks of her oppressors, and not of her champions! My name will
tell you that I have come hither for no purpose of robbery. I have
come on a mission from Wallace -- not sent thereon by him, but
acting myself in consequences of words which dropped from him. He
said how sad it was that you, who might be King of a Scotland free
and independent, by the choice of her people, should prefer the
chance of reigning, a mere puppet of Edward, over an enslaved land.
He spoke in the highest terms of your person, and held that, did
you place yourself at its head, the movement which he commands
would be a successful one. Then I determined, unknown to him, to
set out and bring you to him face to face -- honourably and with
courtesy if you would, by force if you would not. I would fain it
shall be the former; but believe me, you would not find it easy to
break away through the hedge of pikes now around you."
By this time the whole party had gathered round the horsemen. Bruce
hesitated; his mind was not yet made up as to his future course.
Hitherto he had been with England, since upon Edward only his chances
seemed to depend; but latterly he had begun to doubt whether even
Edward could place him on the throne in despite of the wishes of
his countrymen. His sisters, who, taking after their mother, were
all true Scotchwomen, now urged upon him to comply with Archie's
request and accompany him to Lanark. Their hearts and wishes were
entirely with the champion of their country.
"Go with him, Robert," Isabel, the eldest, exclaimed. "Neither
I nor my sisters fear being struck with the arrows, although such
might well be the case should a conflict begin; but, for your own
sake and Scotland's, go and see Wallace. No harm can arise from
such a journey, and much good may come of it. Even should the
news of your having had an interview with him come to the ears of
Edward, you can truly say that you were taken thither a captive,
and that we being with you, you were unable to make an effort to
free yourself. This young knight, of whose deeds of gallantry we
have all heard" -- and she smiled approvingly at Archie -- "will
doubtless give you a safeguard, on his honour, to return hither
free and unpledged when you have seen Wallace."
"Willingly, lady," Archie replied. "One hour's interview with my
honoured chief is all I ask for. That over, I pledge myself that
the Earl of Carrick shall be free at once to return hither, and
that an escort shall be provided for him to protect him from all
dangers on the way."
Chapter VIII The Council at Stirling
Archie had been mounted on the march from the camp, and his horse
being now brought, he started with Bruce, young Nigel and the ladies
saluting him cordially.
"I trust," the former said, "that Wallace will succeed in converting
my brother. I am envious of you, Sir Archie. Here are you, many
years younger than I am, and yet you have won a name throughout
Scotland as one of her champions; while I am eating my heart out,
with my brother, at the court of Edward."
"I trust it may be so, Sir Nigel," Archie answered. "If Sir Robert
will but join our cause, heart and soul, the battle is as good as
The journey passed without adventure until they arrived within two
miles of Lanark, where Archie found Wallace was now staying. On
the road Bruce had had much conversation with Archie, and learned
the details of many adventures of which before he had only heard
vaguely by report. He was much struck by the lad's modesty and
"If ever I come to my kingdom, Sir Archie," he said, "you shall
be one of my most trusted knights and counsellors; and I am well
assured that any advice you may give will be ever what you think
to be right and for the good of the country, without self seeking
or in the interest of any; and that is more than I could look for
in most counsellors. And now methinks that as we are drawing near
to Lanark, it will be well that I waited here in this wood, under
the guard of your followers, while you ride forward and inform
Wallace that I am here. I care not to show myself in Lanark, for
busy tongues would soon take the news to Edward; and as I know not
what may come of our interview, it were well that it should not be
known to all men."
Archie agreed, and rode into the town.
"Why, where have you been, truant?" Sir William exclaimed as Archie
entered the room in the governor's house which had been set apart
for the use of Wallace since the expulsion of the English. "Sir
Robert Gordon has been here several times, and tells me that they
have seen nought of you; and although I have made many inquiries I
have been able to obtain no news, save that you and your band have
disappeared. I even sent to Glen Cairn, thinking that you might
have been repairing the damages which the fire, lighted by the
Kerrs, did to your hold; but I found not only that you were not
there yourself, but that none of your band had returned thither.
This made it more mysterious; for had you alone disappeared I should
have supposed that you had been following up some love adventure,
though, indeed, you have never told me that your heart was in any
Archie laughed. "There will be time enough for that, Sir William,
ten years hence; but in truth I have been on an adventure on my
"So, in sober earnest, I expected, Archie, and feared that your
enterprise might lead you into some serious scrape since I deemed
that it must have been well nigh a desperate one or you would not
have hidden it from my knowledge."
"It might have led to some blows, Sir William, but happily it did
not turn out so. Knowing the importance you attached to the adhesion
of the cause of Scotland of Robert the Bruce, I determined to fetch
him hither to see you; and he is now waiting with my band for your
coming, in a wood some two miles from the town."
"Are you jesting with me?" Wallace exclaimed. "Is the Bruce really
waiting to see me? Why, this would be well nigh a miracle."
"It is a fact, Sir William; and if you will cause your horse to
be brought to the door I will tell you on the road how it has come
In another five minutes Sir William and his young follower were
on their way, and the former heard how Archie had entrapped Robert
Bruce while riding to Crossraguel Abbey.
"It was well done, indeed," the Scottish leader exclaimed; "and
it may well prove, Archie, that you have done more towards freeing
Scotland by this adventure of yours than we have by all our months
of marching and fighting."
"Ah! Sir William, but had it not been for our marching and fighting
Bruce would never have wavered in his allegiance to Edward. It was
only because he begins to think that our cause may be a winning
one that he decides to join it."
The meeting between Wallace and Bruce was a cordial one. Each
admired the splendid proportions and great strength of the other,
for it is probable that in all Europe there were no two more
doughty champions; although, indeed, Wallace was far the superior
in personal strength while Bruce was famous through Europe for his
skill in knightly exercise.
Archie withdrew to a distance while the leaders conversed. He
could see that their talk was animated as they strode together up
and down among the trees, Wallace being the principal speaker. At
the end of half an hour they stopped, and Wallace ordered the horses
to be brought, and then called Archie to them.
"Sir Robert has decided to throw in his lot with us," he said, "and
will at once call out his father's vassals of Carrick and Annandale.
Seeing that his father is at Edward's court, it may be that many
will not obey the summons. Still we must hope that, for the love
of Scotland and their young lord, many will follow him. He will
write to the pope to ask him to absolve him for the breach of his
oath of homage to Edward; but as such oaths lie but lightly on men's
minds in our days, and have been taken and broken by King Edward
himself, as well as by Sir William Douglas and other knights who are
now in the field with me, he will not wait for the pope's reply,
but will at once take the field. And, indeed, there is need for
haste, seeing that Percy and Clifford have already crossed the
Border with an English army and are marching north through Annandale
"Goodbye, my captor," Bruce said to Archie as he mounted his horse;
"whatever may come of this strife, remember that you will always
find a faithful friend in Robert Bruce."
Wallace had, at Archie's request, brought six mounted men-at-arms
with him from Lanark, and these now rode behind Bruce as his escort
back to his castle of Turnberry. There was no time now for Archie
and his band to take the rest they had looked for, for messengers
were sent out to gather the bands together again, and as soon as
a certain portion had arrived Wallace marched for the south. The
English army was now in Annandale, near Lochmaben. They were far
too strong to be openly attacked, but on the night following his
arrival in their neighbourhood Wallace broke in upon them in the
night. Surprised by this sudden and unexpected attack, the English
fell into great confusion. Percy at once ordered the camp to be
set on fire. By its light the English were able to see how small
was the force of their assailants, and gathering together soon
showed so formidable a front that Wallace called off his men, but
not before a large number of the English had been killed. Many of
their stores, as well as the tents, were destroyed by the conflagration.
The English army now proceeded with slow marches towards Ayr. At
Irvine the Scotch leaders had assembled their army -- Douglas,
Bruce, The Steward, Sir Richard Loudon, Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow,
and others. Their forces were about equal to those of the English
marching against them. Wallace was collecting troops further north,
and Archie was of course with him.
"I fear," the lad said one day, "that we shall not be able to reach
Irvine before the armies join battle."
"Sir William Douglas and Bruce are there, and as it lies in their
country it were better to let them win the day without my meddling.
But, Archie, I fear there will be no battle. News has reached
me that messengers are riding to and fro between Percy's army and
the Scots, and I fear me that these half hearted barons will make
"Surely that cannot be! It were shame indeed to have taken up the
sword, and to lay it down after scarce striking a blow."
"Methinks, Archie, that the word shame is not to be found in the
vocabulary of the nobles of this unhappy land. But let us hope for
the best; a few days will bring us the news."
The news when it came was of the worst. All the nobles, headed by
Wishart, Douglas, and Bruce, with the exception only of Sir Andrew
Moray of Bothwell, had made their submission, acknowledging their
guilt of rebellion, and promising to make every reparation required
by their sovereign lord. Percy, on his part, guaranteed their lives,
lands, goods, and chattels, and that they should not be imprisoned
or punished for what had taken place.
Sir William Douglas and Bruce were ordered to find guarantees for
their good conduct; but Sir William Douglas, finding himself unable
to fulfil his engagements, surrendered, and was thrown into prison
in Berwick Castle, and there kept in irons until he died, his death
being attributed, by contemporary historians, to poison.
The surrender of the leaders had little result upon the situation.
The people had won their successes without their aid, and beyond
the indignation excited by their conduct, the treaty of Irvine did
nothing towards ensuring peace, and indeed heightened the confidence
of the people in Wallace. The movement spread over the whole
of Scotland. Skirmishes and unimportant actions took place in
all quarters. The English were powerless outside the walls of the
fortresses, and in Berwick and Roxburgh alone was the English power
paramount. Most of the great nobles, including Comyn of Buchan,
Comyn of Badenoch, and twenty-six other powerful Scottish lords,
were at Edward's court, but many of their vassals and dependants
were in the field with Wallace.
About this time it came to the ears of the Scotch leader that Sir
Robert Cunninghame, a Scotch knight of good family, who had hitherto
held aloof from any part in the war, had invited some twelve others
resident in the counties round Stirling, to meet at his house in
that city that they might talk over the circumstances of the times.
All these had, like himself, been neutral, and as the object of
the gathering was principally to discover whether some means could
not be hit upon for calming down the disorders which prevailed,
the English governor had willingly granted safe conducts to all.
"Archie," Sir William said, "I mean to be present at the interview.
They are all Scotch gentlemen, and though but lukewarm in the cause
of their country, there is no fear that any will be base enough
to betray me; and surely if I can get speech with them I may rouse
them to cast in their lot with us."
"It were a dangerous undertaking, Sir William, to trust yourself
within the walls of Stirling," Archie said gravely. "Remember how
many are the desperate passes into which your adventurous spirit
has brought you, and your life is of too great a consequence to
Scotland to be rashly hazarded."
"I would not do it for a less cause," Sir William said; "but the
gain may be greater than the risk. So I shall go, Archie, your wise
counsel notwithstanding, and you shall journey with me to see that
I get not into scrapes, and to help me out of them should I, in
spite of your care, fall into them."
"When is the day for the meeting?" Archie asked.
"In three days' time. The day after tomorrow we will move in that
direction, and enter the town early the next day."
No sooner had he left Wallace than Archie called his band together.
They still numbered twenty, for although three or four had fallen,
Archie had always filled up their places with fresh recruits, as
there were numbers of boys who deemed it the highest honour to be
enrolled in their ranks. Archie drew aside his two lieutenants,
Andrew Macpherson and William Orr.
"I have an enterprise on hand," he said, "which will need all your
care, and may call for your bravery. Sir William Wallace purposes
to enter Stirling in disguise, to attend a meeting of nobles to be
held at the residence of Sir Robert Cunninghame. I am to accompany
him thither. I intend that the band shall watch over his safety,
and this without his having knowledge of it, so that if nought comes
of it he may not chide me for being over careful of his person. You
will both, with sixteen of the band, accompany me. You will choose
two of your most trusty men to carry out the important matter of
securing our retreat. They will procure a boat capable of carrying
us all, and will take their place in the bend of the links of
Forth nearest to the castle, and will hoist, when the time comes,
a garment on an oar, so that we may make straight for the boat. The
ground is low and swampy, and if we get a fair start even mounted
men would scarce overtake us across it. I think, William, that the
last recruit who joined was from Stirling?"
"He was, Sir Archie. His parents reside there. They are vendors of
wood, as I have heard him say."
"It could not be better," Archie replied; "and seeing that they
have allowed their son to join us, they must surely be patriots. My
purpose is, that on the morning of the interview you shall appear
before the gates with a cart laden with firewood, and this you shall
take to the house of Campbell's father. There you will unload the
firewood, and store the arms hidden beneath it, placing them so
that they may be readily caught up in case of necessity. In twos
and threes, carrying eggs, fowls, firewood, and other articles,
as for sale, the rest of the band will come into the town, joining
themselves with parties of country people, so that the arrival of
so many lads unaccompanied will not attract notice. James Campbell
will go with you, and will show you the way to his father's house.
He will remain near the gate, and as the others enter will guide
them there, so that they will know where to run for their arms should
there be need. You must start tomorrow, so as to enter Stirling on
the next day and arrange with his father for the keeping of the
arms. His mother had best leave the town that evening. Should
nought occur she can return unsuspected; but should a tumult arise,
and the arms have to be used, his father must leave the town with
us. He shall be handsomely rewarded, and provision made for him
in the future. When you see me enter with Sir William, bid Jock
Farrell follow me at a little distance; he will keep me always in
sight, and if he see me lift my hand above my head he will run with
all speed to give you the news. On his arrival, you, Andrew, with
the half you command, will hurry up to my assistance; while you,
William, with the others, will fall suddenly upon the guard at the
gate, and will at all hazards prevent them from closing it, and so
cutting off our retreat, until we arrive. Seize, if you can, the
moment when a cart is passing in or out, and slay the horse in the
shafts, so that as he falls the cart will prevent the gate from
being closed, and so keep the way open, even should you not be able
to resist the English until we come up. Have all the band outside
Stirling on the night before, so that you will be able to make every
arrangement and obtain a cart in readiness for taking in the wood
and arms in the morning. Let all bring their bows and arrows, in
addition to pike and sword, for the missiles may aid us to keep the
soldiers at bay. Now, Andrew, repeat all my instructions, so that
I may be sure that you thoroughly understand my wishes, for any
small error in the plan might ruin the whole adventure."
On the morning of the day fixed for the meeting Sir William Wallace,
accompanied by Archie, entered the gates of Stirling. Both were
attired as young farmers, and they attracted no special attention
from the guards. For a time they strolled about the streets. They
saw the gentlemen who had been invited by Sir Robert Cunninghame
arrive one by one. Others, too, known as being specially attached
to the English party, rode in, for the governor had invited those
who assembled at Cunninghame's to meet him afterwards in the castle
in order that he might hear the result of their deliberations; and
he had asked several others attached to the English party to be
When most of the gentlemen invited had entered Sir Robert Cunninghame's
Wallace boldly followed them; and Archie sat down on a doorstep
nearly opposite. Presently he saw two figures which he recognized
riding up the street, followed, as the others had been by four
armed retainers. They were Sir John Kerr and his son. Archie rose
at once, and turned down at a side street before they came up, as
a recognition of him would be fatal to all their plans. When they
had passed up the street to the castle he returned and resumed
his seat, feeling more uneasy than before, for the Kerrs had seen
Wallace in the affray at Lanark, and a chance meeting now would
betray him. An hour and a half passed, and then Archie saw the
Kerrs riding down the street from the castle. Again he withdrew
from sight, this time down an archway, whence he could still see
the door on the opposite side. Hitherto he had been wishing to see
it open and for Wallace to appear; and now he dreaded this above
all things. His worst fears were realized, for just as the horsemen
reached the spot the door opened, and Wallace stepped out. His
figure was too remarkable to avoid notice; and no sooner did Sir John
Kerr's eye fall upon him than he exclaimed, "The traitor Wallace!
Seize him, men; there is a high reward offered for him; and King
Edward will give honour and wealth to all who capture him."
As Sir John spoke Archie darted across the street and placed himself
by Wallace's side, holding his hand high above his head as he did
so; and at the instant he saw Jock Farrell, who had been lounging
at a corner a few yards away, dart off down the street at the top
of his speed.
Sir John and his retainers drew their swords and spurred forward;
but the horses recoiled from the flashing swords of Wallace and
"Dismount," Sir John shouted, setting the example; "cut them both
down; one is as bad as the other. Ten pounds to the man who slays
the young Forbes."
Wallace cut down two of the retainers as they advanced against
them, and Archie badly wounded a third. Then they began to retreat
down the street; but by this time the sound of the fray had called
together many soldiers who were wandering in the streets; and these,
informed by Sir John's shouts of "Down with Wallace! Slay! Slay!"
that the dreaded Scotch leader was before them, also drew and joined
in the fight. As they came running up from both sides, Wallace
and Archie could retreat no further, but with their backs against
the wall kept their foes at bay in a semicircle by the sweep of
The fight continued by two or three minutes, when a sudden shout
was heard, and William Orr, with eight young fellows, fell upon the
English soldiers with their pikes. The latter, astonished at this
sudden onslaught, and several of their number being killed before
they had time to turn and defend themselves, fell back for a moment,
and Wallace and Archie joined their allies, and began to retreat,
forming a line of pikes across the narrow street. Wallace, Archie,
William Orr, and three of the stoutest of the band were sufficient
for the line, and the other five shot between them. So hard and
fast flew their arrows that several of the English soldiers were
slain, and the others drew back from the assault.
Andrew Macpherson's sudden attack at the gate overpowered the guard,
and for a while he held possession of it, and following Archie's
instructions, slew a horse drawing a cart laden with flour in the
act of entering. Then the guard rallied, and, joined by other
soldiers who had run up, made a fierce attack upon him; but his
line of pikes drawn up across the gate defied their efforts to break
through. Wallace and his party were within fifty yards of the gate
when reinforcements from the castle arrived. Sir John Kerr, furious
at the prospect of his enemies again escaping him, headed them in
their furious rush. Wallace stepped forward beyond the line and
met him. With a great sweep of his mighty sword he beat down Sir
John's guard, and the blade descending clove helmet and skull, and
the knight fell dead in his tracks.
"That is one for you, Archie," Wallace said, as he cut down a
In vain did the English try to break through the line of pikes.
When they arrived within twenty yards of the gate, Wallace gave
the order, and the party turning burst through the English who were
attacking its defenders and united with them.
"Fall back!" Wallace shouted, "and form without the gates. Your
leader and I will cover the retreat."
Passing between the cart and the posts of the gates, the whole
party fell back. Once through, Wallace and Archie made a stand, and
even the bravest of the English did not venture to pass the narrow
portals, where but one could issue at a time.
The band formed in good order and retreated at a rapid step. When
they reached a distance of about 300 yards, Wallace and Archie,
deeming that sufficient start had been gained, sprang away, and
running at the top of their speed soon rejoined them.
"Now, Archie, what next?" Sir William asked; "since it is you who
have conjured up this army, doubtless your plans are laid as to what
shall next be done. They will have horsemen in pursuit as soon as
they remove the cart."
"I have a boat in readiness on the river bank, Sir William. Once
across and we shall be safe. They will hardly overtake us ere we
get there, seeing how swampy is the ground below."
At a slinging trot the party ran forward, and soon gained the
lower ground. They were halfway across when they saw a large body
of horsemen following in pursuit.
"A little to the right, Sir William," Archie said; "you see that
coat flying from an oar; there is the boat."
As Archie had expected, the swampy ground impeded the speed of
the horsemen. In vain the riders spurred and shouted, the horses,
fetlock deep, could make but slow advance, and before they reached
the bank the fugitives had gained the boat and were already halfway
across the stream. Then the English had the mortification of seeing
them land and march away quietly on the other side.
Chapter IX The Battle of Stirling Bridge
Upon rejoining his force Sir William Wallace called the few knights
and gentlemen who were with him together, and said to them:
"Methinks, gentlemen, that the woes of this contest should not fall
upon one side only. Every one of you here are outlawed, and if you
are taken by the English will be executed or thrown in prison for
life, and your lands and all belonging to you forfeited. It is time
that those who fight upon the other side should learn that they
too run some risk. Besides leading his vassals in the field against
us, Sir John Kerr twice in arms has attacked me, and done his best
to slay me or deliver me over to the English. He fell yesterday by
my hand at Stirling, and I hereby declare forfeit the land which
he held in the county of Lanark, part of which he wrongfully took
from Sir William Forbes, and his own fief adjoining. Other broad
lands he owns in Ayrshire, but these I will not now touch; but the
lands in Lanark, both his own fief and that of the Forbeses, I,
as Warden of Scotland, hereby declare forfeit and confiscated, and
bestow them upon my good friend, Sir Archie Forbes. Sir John Grahame,
do you proceed tomorrow with five hundred men and take possession
of the hold of the Kerrs. Sir Allan Kerr is still at Stirling, and
will not be there to defend it. Like enough the vassals will make
no resistance, but will gladly accept the change of masters. The
Kerrs have the reputation of being hard lords, and their vassals
cannot like being forced to fight against the cause of their country.
The hired men-at-arms may resist, but you will know how to make
short work of these. I ask you to go rather than Sir Archibald
Forbes, because I would not that it were said that he took the
Kerr's hold on his private quarrel. When you have captured it he
shall take a hundred picked men as a garrison. The place is strong.
"Your new possessions, Archie, will, as you know, be held on
doubtful tenure. If we conquer, and Scotland is freed, I doubt in
no way that the king, whoever he may be, will confirm my grant.
If the English win, your land is lost, be it an acre or a county.
And now let me be the first to congratulate you on having won by
your sword and your patriotism the lands of your father, and on
having repaid upon your family's enemies the measure which they
meted to you. But you will still have to beware of the Kerrs. They
are a powerful family, being connected by marriage with the Comyns
of Badenoch, and other noble houses. Their lands in Ayr are as
extensive as those in Lanark, even with your father's lands added
to their own. However, if Scotland win the day the good work that
you have done should well outweigh all the influence which they
might bring to bear against you.
"And now, Archie, I can, for a time, release you. Ere long Edward's
army will be pouring across the Border, and then I shall need every
good Scotchman's sword. Till then you had best retire to your new
estates, and spend the time in preparing your vassals to follow
you in the field, and in putting one or other of your castles in
the best state of defence you may. Methinks that the Kerr's hold
may more easily be made to withstand a lengthened siege than Glen
Cairn, seeing that the latter is commanded by the hill beside it.
Kerr's castle, too, is much larger and more strongly fortified. I
need no thanks," he continued, as Archie was about to express his
warm gratitude; "it is the Warden of Scotland who rewards your
services to the country; but Sir William Wallace will not forget
how you have twice stood beside him against overwhelming odds, and
how yesterday, in Stirling, it was your watchful care and thoughtful
precaution which alone saved his life."
Archie's friends all congratulated him warmly, and the next morning,
with his own band, he started for Glen Cairn. Here the news that
he was once more their lawful chief caused the greatest delight.
It was evening when he reached the village, and soon great bonfires
blazed in the street, and as the news spread burned up from many
an outlying farm. Before night all the vassals of the estate came
in, and Glen Cairn and the village was a scene of great enthusiasm.
Much as Archie regretted that he could not establish himself in
the hold of his father, he felt that Wallace's suggestion was the
right one. Glen Cairn was a mere shell, and could in no case be
made capable of a prolonged resistance by a powerful force. Whereas,
the castle of the Kerrs was very strong. It was a disappointment
to his retainers when they heard that he could not at once return
among them; but they saw the force of his reasons, and he promised
that if Scotland was freed and peace restored, he would again make
Glen Cairn habitable, and pass some of his time there.
"In the meantime," he said, "I shall be but eight miles from you,
and the estate will be all one. But now I hope that for the next
three months every man among you will aid me -- some by personal
labour, some by sending horses and carts -- in the work of
strengthening to the utmost my new castle of Aberfilly, which I
wish to make so strong that it will long resist an attack. Should
Scotland be permanently conquered, which may God forfend, it could
not, of course, be held; but should we have temporary reverses we
might well hold out until our party again gather head."
Every man on the estate promised his aid to an extent far beyond
that which Archie, as their feudal superior, had a right to demand
from them. They had had a hard time under the Kerrs, who had raised
all rents, and greatly increased their feudal services. They were
sure of good treatment should the Forbeses make good their position
as their lords, and were ready to make any sacrifices to aid them
to do so.
Next morning a messenger arrived from Sir John Grahame, saying that
he had, during the night, stormed Aberfilly, and that with scarce
an exception all the vassals of the Kerrs -- when upon his arrival
on the previous day they had learned of his purpose in coming,
and of the disposition which Wallace had made of the estate -- had
accepted the change with delight, and had joined him in the assault
upon the castle, which was defended only by thirty men-at-arms.
These had all been killed, and Sir John invited Archie to ride
over at once and take possession. This he did, and found that the
vassals of the estate were all gathered at the castle to welcome
him. He was introduced to them by Sir John Grahame, and they
received Archie with shouts of enthusiasm, and all swore obedience
to him as their feudal lord. Archie promised them to be a kind
and lenient chief, to abate any unfair burdens which had been laid
upon them, and to respect all their rights.
"But," he said, "just at first I must ask for sacrifices from you.
This castle is strong, but it must be made much stronger, and must
be capable of standing a continued siege in case temporary reverses
should enable the English to endeavour to retake it for their
friend, Sir Allan Kerr. My vassals at Glen Cairn have promised an
aid far beyond that which I can command, and I trust that you also
will extend your time of feudal service, and promise you a relaxation
in future years equivalent to the time you may now give."
The demand was readily assented to, for the tenants of Aberfilly
were no less delighted than those of Glen Cairn to escape from the
rule of the Kerrs. Archie, accompanied by Sir John Grahame, now
made an inspection of the walls of his new hold. It stood just where
the counties of Linlithgow and Edinburgh join that of Lanark. It
was built on an island on a tributary of the Clyde. The stream was
but a small one, and the island had been artificially made, so that
the stream formed a moat on either side of it, the castle occupying
a knoll of ground which rose somewhat abruptly from the surrounding
country. The moat was but twelve feet wide, and Archie and Sir John
decided that this should be widened to fifty feet and deepened to
ten, and that a dam should be built just below the castle to keep
back the stream and fill the moat. The walls should everywhere be
raised ten feet, several strong additional flanking towers added,
and a work built beyond the moat to guard the head of the drawbridge.
With such additions Aberfilly would be able to stand a long siege
by any force which might assail it.
Timber, stones, and rough labour there were in abundance, and
Wallace had insisted upon Archie's taking from the treasures which
had been captured from the enemy, a sum of money which would be
ample to hire skilled masons from Lanark, and to pay for the cement,
iron, and other necessaries which would be beyond the resources
of the estate. These matters in train, Archie rode to Lanark and
fetched his proud and rejoicing mother from Sir Robert Gordon's
to Aberfilly. She was accompanied by Sandy Graham and Elspie: the
former Archie appointed majordomo, and to be in command of the
garrison whenever he should be absent.
The vassals were as good as their word. For three months the work
of digging, quarrying, cutting, and squaring timber and building
went on without intermission. There were upon the estates fully
three hundred ablebodied men, and the work progressed rapidly. When,
therefore, Archie received a message from Wallace to join him near
Stirling, he felt that he could leave Aberfilly without any fear
of a successful attack being made upon it in his absence.
There was need, indeed, for all the Scotch, capable of bearing
arms, to gather round Wallace. Under the Earl of Surrey, the high
treasurer Cressingham, and other leaders, an army of 50,000 foot
and 1000 horse were advancing from Berwick, while 8000 foot and
300 horse under Earl Percy advanced from Carlisle. Wallace was
besieging the castle of Dundee when he heard of their approach,
and leaving the people of Dundee to carry on the siege under the
command of Sir Alexander Scrymgeour, he himself marched to defend
the only bridge by which Edward could cross the Forth, near Stirling.
Thus far Surrey had experienced no resistance, and at the head
of so large and well appointed a force he might well feel sure
of success. A large proportion of his army consisted of veterans
inured to service in wars at home, in Wales, and with the French,
while the mail clad knights and men-at-arms looked with absolute
contempt upon the gathering which was opposed to them. This consisted
solely of popular levies of men who had left their homes and taken
up arms for the freedom of their country. They were rudely armed and
hastily trained. Of all the feudal nobles of Scotland who should have
led them, but one, Sir Andrew Moray, was present. Their commander
was still little more than a youth, who, great as was his individual
valour and prowess, had had no experience in the art of war on
a large scale; while the English were led by a general whose fame
was known throughout Europe.
The Scots took up their station upon the high ground north of the
Forth, protected from observation by the precipitous hill immediately
behind Cambuskenneth Abbey and known as the Abbey Craig. In a bend
of the river, opposite the Abbey Craig, stood the bridge by which
the English army were preparing to cross. Archie stood beside
Wallace on the top of the craig, looking at the English array.
"It is a fair sight," he said; "the great camp, with its pavilions,
its banners, and pennons, lying there in the valley, with the old
castle rising on the lofty rock behind them. It is a pity that such
a sight should bode evil to Scotland."
"Yes," Wallace said; "I would that the camp lay where it is, but
that the pennons and banners were those of Scotland's nobles, and
that the royal lions floated over Surrey's tent. Truly that were
a sight which would glad a Scot's heart. When shall we see ought
like it? However, Archie," he went on in a lighter tone, "methinks
that that will be a rare camp to plunder."
Archie laughed. "One must kill the lion before one talks of dividing
his skin," he said; "and truly it seems well nigh impossible that
such a following as yours, true Scots and brave men though they
be, yet altogether undisciplined and new to war, should be able to
bear the brunt of such a battle."
"You are thinking of Dunbar," Wallace said; "and did we fight in
such a field our chances would be poor; but with that broad river
in front and but a narrow bridge for access, methinks that we can
render an account of them."
"God grant it be so!" Archie replied; "but I shall be right glad
when the day is over."
Three days before the battle the Steward of Scotland, the Earl of
Lennox, and others of the Scotch magnates entered Surrey's camp
and begged that he would not attack until they tried to induce the
people to lay down their arms. They returned, however, on the third
day saying that they would not listen to them, but that the next
day they would, themselves, join his army with their men-at-arms.
On leaving the camp that evening the Scotch nobles, riding homeward,
had a broil with some English soldiers, of whom one was wounded by
the Earl of Lennox. News being brought to Surrey, he resolved to
wait no longer, but gave orders that the assault should take place
on the following morning. At daybreak of the 11th of September,
1297, one of the outposts woke Wallace with the news that the English
were crossing the bridge. The troops were at once got under arms,
and were eager to rush down to commence the battle, but Wallace
restrained them. Five thousand Welsh foot soldiers crossed the
bridge, then there was a pause, and none were seen following them.
"Were we to charge down now, Sir William," Archie said, "surely we
might destroy that body before aid could come to them."
"We could do, Archie, as you say," Wallace replied, "but such
a success would be of little worth, nay, would harm rather than
benefit us, for Surrey, learning that we are not altogether to be
despised, as he now believes, would be more prudent in future and
would keep his army in the flat country, where we could do nought
against it. No, to win much one must risk much, and we must wait
until half Surrey's army is across before we venture down against
Presently the Welsh were seen to retire again. Their movement had
been premature. Surrey was still asleep, and nothing could be done
until he awoke; when he did so the army armed leisurely, after which
Surrey bestowed the honour of knighthood upon many young aspirants.
The number of the Scots under Wallace is not certainly known; the
majority of the estimates place it below twenty thousand, and as
the English historian, who best describes the battle, speaks of it
as the defeat of the many by the few, it can certainly be assumed
that it did not exceed this number.
Only on the ground of his utter contempt for the enemy can the
conduct of the Earl of Surrey, in attempting to engage in such a
position, be understood. The bridge was wide enough for but two,
or at most three, horsemen to cross abreast, and when those who had
crossed were attacked assistance could reach them but slowly from
The English knights and men-at-arms, with the Royal Standard and
the banner of the Earl of Surrey, crossed first. The men-at-arms
were followed by the infantry, who, as they passed, formed up on
the tongue of land formed by the winding of the river.
When half the English army had passed Wallace gave the order to
advance. First Sir Andrew Moray, with two thousand men, descended
the hills farther to the right, and on seeing these the English
cavalry charged at once against them. The instant they did so
Wallace, with his main army, poured down from the craig impetuously
and swept away the English near the head of the bridge, taking
possession of the end, and by showers of arrows and darts preventing
any more from crossing. By this maneuver the whole of the English
infantry who had crossed were cut off from their friends and inclosed
in the narrow promontory.
The English men-at-arms had succeeded in overthrowing the Scots,
against whom they had charged, and had pursued them some distance;
but upon drawing rein and turning to rejoin the army, they found
the aspect of affairs changed indeed. The troops left at the head
of the bridge were overthrown and destroyed. The royal banner and
that of Surrey were down, and the bridge in the possession of the
enemy. The men-at-arms charged back and strove in vain to recover
the head of the bridge. The Scots fought stubbornly; those in front
made a hedge of pikes, while those behind hurled darts and poured
showers of arrows into the English ranks. The greater proportion
of the men-at-arms were killed. One valiant knight alone, Sir
Marmaduke de Twenge, with his nephew and a squire, cut their way
through the Scots, and crossed the bridge. Many were drowned in