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The Scottish Chiefs by Miss Jane Porter
Bright was the summer of 1296. The war which had desolated Scotland was then at an end. Ambition seemed satiated; and the vanquished, after having passed under the yoke of their enemy, concluded they might wear their chains in peace. Such were the hopes of those Scottish noblemen who, early in the preceding spring, had signed the bond of submission to a ruthless conqueror, purchasing life at the price of all that makes life estimable-liberty and honor.
Prior to this act of vassalage, Edward I., King of England, had entered Scotland at the head of an immense army. He seized Berwick by stratagem; laid the country in ashes; and, on the field of Dunbar, forced the Scottish king and his nobles to acknowledge him their liege lord.
But while the courts of Edward, or of his representatives, were crowded by the humbled Scots, the spirit of one brave man remained unsubdued. Disgusted alike at the facility with which the sovereign of a warlike nation could resign his people and his crown into the hands of a treacherous invader, and at the pusillanimity of the nobles who had ratified the sacrifice, William Wallace retired to the glen of Ellerslie. Withdrawn from the world, he hoped to avoid the sight of oppressions he could not redress, and the endurance of injuries beyond his power to avenge.
Thus checked at the opening of life in the career of glory that was his passion-secluded in the bloom of manhood from the social haunts of men-he repressed the eager aspirations of his mind, and strove to acquire that resignation to inevitable evils which alone could reconcile him to forego the promises of his youth, and enable him to view with patience a humiliation of Scotland, which blighted her honor, menaced her existence, and consigned her sons to degradation or obscurity. The latter was the choice of Wallace. Too noble to bend his spirit to the usurper, too honest to affect submission, he resigned himself to the only way left of maintaining the independence of a true Scot; and giving up the world at once, all the ambitions of youth became extinguished in his breast, since nothing was preserved in his country to sanctify their fires. Scotland seemed proud of her chains. Not to share in such debasement, appeared all that was now in his power; and within the shades of Ellerslie he found a retreat and a home, whose sweets beguiling him of every care, made him sometimes forget the wrongs of his country in the tranquil enjoyments of wedded love.
During the happy mouths of the preceding autumn, while Scotland was yet free, and the path of honorable distinction still open before her young nobility, Wallace married Marion Braidfoot, the beautiful heiress of Lammington. Nearly of the same age, and brought up from childhood together, reciprocal affection had grown with their growth; and sympathy of tastes and virtues, and mutual tenderness, made them so entirely one, that when at the age of twenty-two the enraptured lover was allowed to pledge that faith publicly at the altar, which he had so often vowed in secret to his Marion, he clasped her to his heart, and softly whispered: "Dearer than life! part of my being! blessed is this union, that mingles thy soul with mine, now, and forever!"
Edward's invasion of Scotland broke in upon their innocent joys. Wallace threw aside the wedding garment for the cuirass and the sword. But he was not permitted long to use either-Scotland submitted to her enemies; and he had no alternative but to bow to her oppressors, or to become an exile from man, amid the deep glens of his country.
The tower of Ellerslie was henceforth the lonely abode of himself and his bride. The neighboring nobles avoided him, because the principles he declared were a tacit reproach on their proceedings; and in the course of a short time, as he forbore to seek them, they even forgot that he was in existence. Indeed, all occasions of mixing with society he now rejected. The hunting-spear with which he had delighted to follow the flying roebuck from glade to glade, the arrows with which he used to bring down the heavy ptarmigan or the towering eagle, all were laid aside. Scottish liberty was no more; and Wallace would have blushed to have shown himself to the free-born deer of his native hills, in communion of sports with the spoilers of his country. Had he pursued his once favorite exercises, he must have mingled with the English, now garrisoned in every town, and who passed their hours of leisure in the chase.
Being resigned to bury his youth-since its strength could no longer be serviceable to his country-books, his harp, and the sweet converse of his tender Marion, became the occupations of his days. Ellerslie was his hermitage; and there, closed from the world, with an angel his companion, he might have forgotten Edward was lord in Scotland, had not that which was without his little paradise made a way to its gates, and showed him the slavery of the nobles and the wretchedness of the people. In these cases, his generous hand gave succor where it could not bring redress. Those whom the lawless plunderer had driven from their houses or stripped of their covering, found shelter, clothing, and food at the house of Sir William Wallace.
Ellerslie was the refuge of the friendless, and the comfort of the unhappy. Wherever Lady Wallace moved-whether looking out from her window on the accidental passenger, or taking her morning or moonlight walks through the glen, leaning on the arm of her husband-she had the rapture of hearing his steps greeted and followed by the blessings of the poor destitute, and the prayers of them who were ready to perish. It was then that this happy woman would raise her husband's hands to her lips, and in silent adoration, thank God for blessing her with a being made so truly in his own image.
Several months of this blissful and uninterrupted solitude had elapsed, when Lady Wallace saw a chieftain at her gate. He inquired for its master-requested a private conference-and retired with him into a remote room. They remained together for an hour. Wallace then came forth, and ordering his horse, with four followers, to be in readiness, said he meant to accompany his guest to Douglas Castle. When he embraced his wife at parting, he told her that as Douglas was only a few miles distant, he should be at home again before the moon rose.
She passed the tedious hours of his absence with tranquillity, till the appointed signal of his return appeared from behind the summits of the opposite mountains. So bright were its beams, that Marion did not need any other light to show her the stealing sands of her hour-glass, as they numbered the prolonged hours of her husband's stay. She dismissed her servants to their rest; all, excepting Halbert, the gray-haired harper of Wallace; and he, like herself, was too unaccustomed to the absence of his master to find sleep visit his eyes while Ellerslie was bereft of its joy and its guard.
As the night advanced, Lady Wallace sat in the window of her bed-chamber, which looked toward the west. She watched the winding pathway that led from Lanark down the opposite heights, eager to catch a glimpse of the waving plumes of her husband when he should emerge from behind the hill, and pass under the thicket which overhung the road. How often, as a cloud obscured for an instant the moon's light, and threw a transitory shade across the path, did her heart bound with the thought that her watching was at an end! It was he whom she had seen start from the abrupt rock! They were the folds of his tartan that darkened the white cliff! But the moon again rolled through her train of clouds and threw her light around. Where then was her Wallace? Alas! it was only a shadow she had seen! the hill was still lonely, and he whom she sought was yet far away! Overcome with watching, expectation, and disappointment, unable to say whence arose her fears, she sat down again to look; but her eyes were blinded with tears, and in a voice interrupted by sighs she exclaimed, "Not yet, not yet! Ah, my Wallace, what evil hath betided thee?"
Trembling with a nameless terror, she knew not what to dread. She believed that all hostile recounters had ceased, when Scotland no longer contended with Edward. The nobles, without remonstrance, had surrendered their castles into the hands of the usurper; and the peasantry, following the example of their lords, had allowed their homes to be ravaged without lifting an arm in their defense. Opposition being over, nothing could then threaten her husband from the enemy; and was not the person who had taken him from Ellerslie a friend?
Before Wallace's departure he had spoken to Marion alone; he told her that the stranger was Sir John Monteith, the youngest son of the brave Walter Lord Monteith,** who had been treacherously put to death by the English in the early part of the foregoing year. This young man was bequeathed by his dying father to the particular charge of his friend William Lord Douglas, at that time governor of Berwick. After the fall of that place and the captivity of its defender, Sir Jon Monteith had retired to Douglas Castle, in the vicinity of Lanark, and was now the sole master of that princely residence: James Douglas, the only son of its veteran lord, being still at Paris, whither he had been dispatched, before the defeat at Dunbar, to negotiate a league between the French monarch and the then King of Scots.
**Walter Stewart, the father of Sir John Monteith, assumed the name and earldom of Monteith in right of his wife, the daughter and heiress of the preceding earl. When his wife died he married an Englishwoman of rank, who, finding him ardently attached to the liberties of his country, cut him off by poison, and was rewarded by the enemies of Scotland for this murder with the hand of a British nobleman.-(1809.)
Informed of the privacy in which Wallace wished to live, Monteith had never ventured to disturb it until this day; but knowing the steady honor of his old school-companion, he came to entreat him, by the respect he entertained for the brave Douglas, and by his love for his country, that he would not refuse to accompany him to the brave exile's castle.
"I have a secret to disclose to you," said he, "which cannot be divulged on any other spot."
Unwilling to deny so small a favor, Wallace, as has been said before, consented; and accordingly was conducted by Monteith toward Douglas.
While descending the heights which led to the castle, Monteith kept a profound silence; and when crossing the drawbridge toward it, he put his finger to his lips, in token to the servants for equal caution. This was explained as they entered the gate and looked around. It was guarded by English soldiers. Wallace would have drawn back; but Monteith laid his hand on his arm, and whispered, "For your country!" At these words, a spell to the ear of Wallace, he proceeded; and his attendants followed into the courtyard.
The sun was just setting as Monteith led his friend into the absent earl's room. Its glowing reflection on the distant hills reminded
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