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- In Freedom's Cause - 6/60 -
was but natural that Wallace's name should come so often forward, for his deeds, his hairbreadth escapes, his marvellous personal strength and courage, were the theme of talk in every Scotch home; but at Lanark at present it was specially prominent, for with his band he had taken up his abode in a wild and broken country known as Cart Lane Craigs, and more than once he had entered Lanark and had had frays with the English soldiers there.
It was near a year since the defeat of Dunbar; and although the feats of Wallace in storming small fortalices and cutting off English convoys had excited at once hope amongst the Scotch and anger in the English, the hold of the latter on the conquered country appeared more settled than ever. Wallace's adherents had indeed gained in strength; but they were still regarded as a mere band of outlaws who might be troublesome, but were in no degree formidable.
Every great town and hold throughout Scotland was garrisoned by English in force deemed amply sufficient to repress any trouble which might arise, while behind them was the whole power of England ready to march north in case it should be needed. It seemed, indeed, that Scotland was completely and for ever subjugated.
One afternoon, when Archie had escorted Mistress Bradfute to Lamington, she said to him as he bade her farewell:
"I think you can keep a secret, Master Forbes."
"I trust so," Archie replied.
"I know how much you admire and reverence Sir William Wallace. If you will come hither this evening, at eight o'clock, you shall see him."
Archie uttered an exclamation of delight and surprise.
"Mind, Archie, I am telling you a secret which is known only to Sir William himself and a few of his chosen followers; but I have obtained his permission to divulge it to you, assuring him that you can be fully trusted."
"I would lay down my life for him," the lad said.
"I think you would, Archie; and so would I, for Sir William Wallace is my husband!"
Archie gave a gasp of astonishment and surprise.
"Yes," she repeated, "he is my husband. And now ride back to your uncle's. I left the piece of embroidery upon which I was working on your aunt's table. It will be a good excuse for you to ride over with it this evening." So saying, she sprang lightly from the pillion on which she had been riding behind Archie. The lad rode back in wild excitement at the thought that before night he was to see his hero whose deeds had, for the last three years, excited his admiration and wonder.
At eight o'clock exactly he drew rein again at Lamington. He was at once admitted, and was conducted to a room where the mistress of the house was sitting, and where beside her stood a very tall and powerfully built young man, with a singularly handsome face and a courteous and gentle manner which seemed altogether out of character with the desperate adventures in which he was constantly engaged.
In Scotland the laws of chivalry, as they were strictly observed in the courts of England and France, did not prevail. Sir William Wallace had not received the order of knighthood; but in Scotch families the prefix of Sir descended from father to eldest son, as it does in the present day with the title of Baronet. Thus William Wallace, when his father and elder brother were killed, succeeded to the title. Knighthoods, or, as we should call them, baronetcies, were bestowed in Scotland, as in England, for bravery in the field and distinguished services. The English, with their stricter laws of chivalry, did not recognize these hereditary titles; and Sir William Wallace and many of his adherents who bear the prefix of Sir in all Scotch histories, are spoken of without that title in contemporary English documents. Archie himself had inherited the title from his father; and the prefix was, indeed, applied to the heads of almost all families of gentle blood in Scotland.
"This, Sir William," Marion said, "is Sir Archibald Forbes, of whom I have often spoken to you as one of your most fervent admirers. He is a true Scotsman, and he yearns for the time when he may draw his sword in the cause of his country."
"He is over young yet," Sir William said smiling; "but time will cure that defect. It is upon the young blood of Scotland that our hopes rest. The elders are for the most part but half Scotchmen, and do not feel shame for their country lying at the feet of England; but from their sons I hope for better things. The example of my dear friend, Sir John Grahame, is being followed; and I trust that many young men of good family will soon join them."
"I would that the time had come when I too could do so, sir," Archie said warmly. "I hope that it will not be long before you may think me capable of being admitted to the honour of fighting beside you. Do you not remember that you yourself were but eighteen when you slew young Selbye?"
"I am a bad example to be followed," Sir William replied with a smile; "besides, nature made an exception in my case and brought me to my full strength and stature full four years before the time. Mistress Marion tells me, however, that you too are strong beyond your years."
"I have practised unceasingly, sir, with my weapons for the last two years; and deem me not boastful when I say that my instructor, Duncan Macleod of Lanark, who is a famous swordsman, says that I could hold my own and more against any English soldier in the garrison."
"I know Duncan by report," Sir William replied, "and that he is a famous swordsman, having learned the art in France, where they are more skilled by far than we are in Scotland. As for myself, I must own that it is my strength rather than my skill which gives me an advantage in a conflict; for I put my trust in a downright blow, and find that the skill of an antagonist matters but little, seeing that my blow will always cleave through sword as well as helm. Nevertheless I do not decry skill, seeing that between two who are in any ways equally matched in strength and courage the most skilful swordsman must assuredly conquer. Well, since that be the report of you by Master Duncan, I should think you might even take to arms at the age that I did myself and when that time comes, should your intentions hold the same, and the English not have made an end of me, I shall be right glad to have you by my side. Should you, in any of your visits to Lanark -- whither, Marion tells me, you ride frequently with Sir Robert Gordon -- hear ought of intended movements of English troops, or gather any news which it may concern me to know, I pray you to ride hither at once. Marion has always messengers whom she may despatch to me, seeing that I need great care in visiting her here, lest I might be surprised by the English, who are ever upon the lookout for me. And now farewell! Remember that you have always a friend in William Wallace."
Winter was now at hand, and a week or two later Mistress Marion moved into her house in Lanark, where Archie, when he rode in, often visited her. In one of her conversations she told him that she had been married to Sir William nigh upon two years, and that a daughter had been born to her who was at present kept by an old nurse of her own in a cottage hard by Lamington. "I tell you this, Archie," she said, "for there is no saying at what time calamity may fall upon us. Sir William is so daring and careless that I live in constant dread of his death or capture; and did it become known that I am his wife, doubtless my estate would be forfeited and myself taken prisoner; and in that case it were well that my little daughter should find friends."
"I wonder that you do not stay at Lamington," Archie said; "for Sir William's visits to you here may well be discovered, and both he and you be put in peril."
"I would gladly do so," she said; "but as you may have heard, Young Hazelrig, the governor's son, persecutes me with his attentions; he is moved thereto methinks rather by a desire for my possessions than any love for myself. He frequently rode over to Lamington to see me, and as there are necessarily many there who suspect, if they do not know, my secret, my husband would be more likely to be surprised in a lonely house there, than he would be in the city, where he can always leave or enter our abode by the passage into a back street unseen by any."
A few days later Archie had ridden into Lanark bearing a message from his uncle; he had put up his horse, and was walking along the principal street when he heard a tumult and the clashing of swords; he naturally hurried up to see what was the cause of the fray, and he saw Sir William Wallace and a young companion defending themselves with difficulty against a number of English soldiers led by young Hazelrig, the son of the governor, and Sir Robert Thorne, one of his officers. Archie stood for a few moments irresolute; but as the number of the assailants increased, as fresh soldiers hearing the sound of the fray came running down the street, and Sir William and his friend, although they had slain several, were greatly overmatched, he hesitated no longer, but, drawing his sword, rushed through the soldiers, and placing himself by the side of Wallace, joined in the fray. Wallace recognized him with a nod.
"It is sooner than I bargained for, Sir Archie; but you are very welcome. Ah! that was well smitten, and Duncan did not overpraise your skill," he exclaimed, as Archie cut down one soldier, and wounded another who pressed upon him.
"They are gathering in force, Sir William," the knight's companion said, "and if we do not cut our way through them we shall assuredly be taken." Keeping near the wall they retreated down the street, Archie and Sir John Grahame, for it was he, clearing the way, and Wallace defending the rear. So terrific were the blows he dealt that the English soldiers shrank back from attacking him.
At this moment two horsemen rode up and reined in their horses to witness the fray. They were father and son, and the instant the eyes of the elder fell upon Archie he exclaimed to his son:
"This is good fortune. That is young Forbes fighting by the side of the outlaw Wallace. I will finish our dispute at once."
So saying he drew his sword, and urged his horse through the soldiers towards Archie; the latter equally recognized the enemy of his family. Sir John aimed a sweeping blow at him. The lad parried it, and, leaping back, struck at the horse's leg. The animal fell instantly, and as he did so Archie struck full on the helm of Sir
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