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Chapter II. Leaving Home

One day when "the Avengers" were engaged in mimic battle in a glen some two miles from the village they were startled with a loud shout of "How now, what is this uproar?" Bows were lowered and hedge stakes dropped; on the hillside stood Red Roy, the henchman of Sir John Kerr, with another of the retainers. They had been crossing the hills, and had been attracted by the sound of shouting. All the lads were aware of the necessity for Archie's avoiding the notice of the Kerrs, and Andrew Macpherson, one of the eldest of the lads, at once stepped forward: "We are playing," he said, "at fighting Picts against Scots."

This was the case, for the English were so hated that Archie had found that none would even in sport take that name, and the sides were accordingly dubbed Scots and Picts, the latter title not being so repugnant, and the companies changing sides each day.

"It looks as if you were fighting in earnest," Roy said grimly, "for the blood is streaming down your face."

"Oh, we don't mind a hard knock now and again," Andrew said carelessly. "I suppose, one of these days, we shall have to go out under Sir John's banner, and the more hard knocks we have now, the less we shall care for them then."

"That is so," Roy said; "and some of you will soon be able to handle arms in earnest. Who are your leaders?" he asked sharply, as his eye fixed on Archie, who had seated himself carelessly upon a rock at some little distance.

"William Orr generally heads one side, and I the other."

"And what does that young Forbes do?" Red Roy asked.

"Well, he generally looks on," Andrew replied in a confidential tone; "he is not much good with the bow, and his lady mother does not like it if he goes home with a crack across the face, and I don't think he likes it himself; he is but a poor creature when it comes to a tussle."

"And it is well for him that he is," Red Roy muttered to himself; "for if he had been likely to turn out a lad of spirit, Sir John would have said the word to me before now; but, seeing what he is, he may as well be left alone for the present. He will never cause trouble." So saying, Red Roy strolled away with his companion, and left the lads to continue their mimic fight.

News travelled slowly to Glen Cairn; indeed, it was only when a travelling chapman or pedlar passed through, or when one of the villagers went over to Lanark or Glasgow, carrying the fowls and other produce of the community to market, that the news came from without.

Baliol was not long before he discovered that his monarchy was but a nominal one. The first quarrel which arose between him and his imperious master was concerning the action of the courts. King Edward directed that there should be an appeal to the courts at Westminster from all judgments in the Scottish courts. Baliol protested that it was specifically agreed by the Treaty of Brigham that no Scotchman was liable to be called upon to plead outside the kingdom; but Edward openly declared, "Notwithstanding any concessions made before Baliol became king, he considered himself at liberty to judge in any case brought before him from Scotland, and would, if necessary, summon the King of Scots himself to appear in his presence." He then compelled Baliol formally to renounce and cancel not only the Treaty of Brigham, but every stipulation of the kind "known to exist, or which might be thereafter discovered." Another appeal followed, and Baliol was cited to appear personally, but refused; he was thereupon declared contumacious by the English parliament, and a resolution was passed that three of the principal towns of Scotland should be "seized," until he gave satisfaction. All this was a manifest usurpation, even allowing Edward's claims to supremacy to be well founded.

At this moment Edward became involved in a quarrel with his own lord superior Phillip, king of France, by whom he was in turned summoned to appear under the pain of contumacy. Edward met this demand by a renunciation of allegiance to Phillip and a declaration of war, and called upon Baliol for aid as his vassal; but Baliol was also a vassal of the French king, and had estates in France liable to seizure. He therefore hesitated. Edward further ordered him to lay an embargo upon all vessels in the ports of Scotland, and required the attendance of many of the Scottish barons in his expedition to France. Finding his orders disobeyed, on the 16th of October Edward issued a writ to the sheriff of Northampton, "to seize all lands, goods, and chattels of John Baliol and other Scots."

The Scotch held a parliament at Scone. All Englishmen holding office were summarily dismissed. A committee of the estates was appointed to act as guardian of the kingdom, and Baliol himself was deprived of all active power; but an instrument was prepared in his name, reciting the injuries that he and his subjects had sustained at the hands of the English king, and renouncing all further allegiance. Following this up, a league was concluded, offensive and defensive, between the French king and Scotland, represented by the prelates, nobles, and community. Edward Baliol, the king's son, was contracted to marry the French king's niece. Phillip bound himself to assist Scotland against any invasion of England, and the Scotch agreed to cross the Border in case Edward invaded France.

In making this alliance the Scots took the only step possible; for they had no choice between fighting England with France as their ally, or fighting France as the subjects of King Edward. The contest which was approaching seemed all but hopeless. The population of England was six times as large as that of Scotland, and Edward could draw from Ireland and Wales great numbers of troops. The English were trained to war by constant fighting in France, Ireland, and Wales; while the Scots had, for a very long period, enjoyed a profound peace, and were for the most part wholly ignorant of warfare.

Edward at once prepared to invade Scotland; in January he seized the lands owned by Comyn in Northumberland and sold them, directing the money to be applied to the raising and maintenance of 1000 men-at-arms and 60,000 foot soldiers, and in February issued a writ for the preparation of a fleet of 100 vessels.

On the 25th of March he crossed the Tweed with 5000 horse and 30,000 foot. The Scotch leaders were, of course, aware of the gathering storm, and, collecting their forces, attempted a diversion by crossing the Border to the west and making a raid into Cumberland. King Edward, however, marched north and besieged Berwick, the richest and most flourishing of the towns of Scotland. With the exception of the castle, it was weakly fortified. The attack was commenced by the fleet, who were, however, repulsed and driven off. A land assault, led by the king in person, was then made; the walls were captured, and the town completely sacked. The inhabitants were butchered without distinction of age, sex, or condition, and even those who fled to the churches were slain within the sanctuary. Contemporary accounts differ as to the numbers who perished on this occasion. Langtoff says 4000; Hemingford, 8000; Knighton, another English writer, says 17,000; and Matthew of Westminster, 60,000. Whichever of these writers is correct, it is certain that almost the whole of the men, women, and children of the largest and most populous Scottish town were butchered by the orders of the English king, who issued direct orders that none should be spared. From this terrible visitation Berwick, which was before called the Alexandria of the West, never recovered. The castle, which was held by Sir William Douglas, surrendered immediately; and Sir William, having sworn fealty to the English king, was permitted to depart.

The English army now marched north. Patrick, Earl of Dunbar, was with King Edward; but his wife, a noble and patriotic woman, surrendered the castle to the Scots. The Earl of Surrey, with a powerful army, sat down before it. The Scotch nobles and people marched in great numbers, but with little order and discipline, to raise the siege. They were met by Surrey, whose force, inured to arms, easily routed the Scotch gathering, no fewer than 10,000 being killed in the conflict and retreat. The English army was joined by 15,000 Welsh and 30,000 from Ireland, and marched through Scotland, the castles and towns opening their gates to Edward as he came, and the nobles, headed by James the Stewart, coming in and doing homage to him. Baliol was forced to appear in the churchyard of Strath-Cathro, near Montrose, arrayed in regal robes, and to resign his kingdom to the Bishop of Durham as Edward's representative, and to repeat the act a few days afterwards at Brechin in presence of the king himself. He was then, with his son, sent a prisoner to London, where they were confined in the Tower for several years. From Brechin Edward marched through the whole of Scotland, visiting all the principal towns. He had now dropped the title of Lord Paramount of Scotland, the country being considered as virtually part of England. Garrisons were placed in every stronghold in the country, and many new castles were raised to dominate the people. The public documents were all carried away to England, the great seal broken in pieces, and the stone of Scone - upon which, for five hundred years, every Scotch monarch had been crowned -- was carried away to Westminster, where it has ever since formed the seat of the thrones upon which English monarchs have been crowned.

The tide of war had not passed near Glen Cairn; but the excitement, as from time to time the news came of stirring events, was very great. The tidings of the massacre of Berwick filled all with consternation and grief. Some of the men quitted their homes and fought at Dunbar, and fully half of these never returned; but great as was the humiliation and grief at the reverses which had befallen the Scotch arms, the feeling was even deeper and more bitter at the readiness with which the whole of the Scotch nobles flocked in to make their peace with King Edward.

It seemed so incredible that Scotland, which had so long successfully resisted all invaders, should now tamely yield without a struggle, that the people could scarce believe it possible that their boasted freedom was gone, that the kingdom of Scotland was no more, and the country become a mere portion of England. Thus, while the nobles with their Norman blood and connections accepted the new state of things contentedly enough, well satisfied to have retained rank and land, a deep and sullen discontent reigned among the people; they had been betrayed rather than conquered, and were determined that some day there should be an uprising, and that Scotland would make a great effort yet for freedom. But for this a leader was needed, and until such a one appeared the people rested quiet and bided their time.

From time to time there came to Glen Cairn tales of the doings of that William Wallace who had, when the English first garrisoned the Scottish castles, while Edward was choosing between the competitors for her throne, killed young Selbye at Dundee, and had been outlawed for the deed. After that he went and resided with his uncle, Sir Ronald Crawford, and then with another uncle, Sir Richard Wallace of Riccarton. Here he gathered a party of young men, eager spirits like himself, and swore perpetual hostility to the English.

One day Wallace was fishing in the Irvine when Earl Percy, the governor of Ayr, rode past with a numerous train. Five of them remained behind and asked Wallace for the fish he had taken. He replied that they were welcome to half of them. Not satisfied with this, they seized the basket and prepared to carry it off. Wallace resisted, and one of them drew his sword. Wallace seized the staff of his net and struck his opponent's sword from his hand; this he snatched up and stood on guard, while the other four rushed upon him. Wallace smote the first so terrible a blow that his head was cloven from skull to collarbone; with the next blow he severed the right arm of another, and then disabled a third. The other two fled, and overtaking the earl, called on him for help; "for," they said, "three of our number who stayed behind with us to take some fish from the Scot who was fishing are killed or disabled."

"How many were your assailants?" asked the earl.

"But the man himself," they answered; "a desperate fellow whom we could not withstand."

"I have a brave company of followers!" the earl said with scorn. "You allow one Scot to overmatch five of you! I shall not return to seek for your adversary; for were I to find him I should respect him too much to do him harm.''

Fearing that after this adventure he could no longer remain in safety with his uncle, Wallace left him and took up his abode in Lag Lane Wood, where his friends joining him, they lived a wild life together, hunting game and making many expeditions through the country. On one occasion he entered Ayr in disguise; in the middle of a crowd he saw some English soldiers, who were boasting that they were superior to the Scots in strength and feats of arms. One of them, a strong fellow, was declaring that he could lift a greater weight than any two Scots. He carried a pole, with which he offered, for a groat, to let any Scotchman strike him on the back as hard as he pleased, saying that no Scotchman could strike hard enough to hurt him.

Wallace offered him three groats for a blow. The soldier eagerly accepted the money, and Wallace struck him so mighty a blow that his back was broken and he fell dead on the ground. His comrades drew their swords and rushed at Wallace, who slew two with the pole, and when it broke drew the long sword which was hidden in his garments, and cut his way through them.

On another occasion he again had a fracas with the English in Ayr, and after killing many was taken prisoner. Earl Percy was away, and his lieutenant did not venture to execute him until his return. A messenger was sent to the Earl, but returned with strict orders that nothing should be done to the prisoner until he came back. The bad diet and foul air of the dungeon suited him so ill, after his free life in the woods, that he fell ill, and was reduced to so weak a state that he lay like one dead -- the jailer indeed thought that he was so, and he was carried out to be cast into the prison burial ground, when a woman, who had been his nurse, begged his body. She had it carried to her house, and then discovered that life yet remained, and by great care and good nursing succeeded in restoring him. In order to prevent suspicion that he was still alive a fictitious funeral was performed. On recovering, Wallace had other frays with the English, all of which greatly increased his reputation throughout that part of the country, so that more adherents came to him, and his band began to be formidable. He gradually introduced an organization among those who were found to be friendly to the cause, and by bugle notes taken up and repeated from spot to spot orders could be despatched over a wide extent of country, by which the members of his band knew whether to assemble or disperse, to prepare to attack an enemy, or to retire to their fastnesses.

The first enterprise of real importance performed by the band was an attack by Wallace and fifty of his associates on a party of soldiers, 200 strong, conveying provisions from Carlisle to the garrison of Ayr. They were under the command of John Fenwick, the same officer who had been at the head of the troop by which Wallace's father had been killed. Fenwick left twenty of his men to defend the wagons, and with the rest rode forward against the Scots. A stone wall checked their progress, and the Scotch, taking advantage of the momentary confusion, made a furious charge upon them with their spears, cutting their way into the midst of them and making a great slaughter of men and horses. The English rode round and round them, but the Scots, defending themselves with spear and sword, stood so staunchly together that the English could not break through.

The battle was long and desperate, but Wallace killed Fenwick with his own hand, and after losing nigh a hundred of their number the English fled in confusion. The whole convoy fell into the hands of the victors, who became possessed of several wagons, 200 carriage horses, flour, wine, and other stores in great abundance; with these they retired into the forest of Clydesdale.

The fame of this exploit greatly increased the number of Wallace's followers. So formidable did the gathering become that convoys by land to Ayr were entirely interrupted, and Earl Percy held a council of the nobility at Glasgow, and consulted them as to what had best be done. Finally, Sir Ronald Crawford was summoned and told that unless he induced his nephew to desist from hostilities they should hold him responsible and waste his lands. Sir Ronald visited the band in Clydesdale forest, and rather than harm should come upon him, Wallace and his friends agreed to a truce for two months. Their plunder was stowed away in places of safety, and a portion of the band being left to guard it the rest dispersed to their homes.

Wallace returned to his uncle's, but was unable long to remain inactive, and taking fifteen followers he went with them in disguise to Ayr. Wallace, as usual, was not long before he got into a quarrel. An English fencing master, armed with sword and buckler, was in an open place in the city, challenging any one to encounter him. Several Scots tried their fortune and were defeated, and then seeing Wallace towering above the crowd he challenged him. Wallace at once accepted, and after guarding himself for some time, with a mighty sweep of his sword cleft through buckler, arm, headpiece, and skull. The English soldiers around at once attacked him; his friends rallied round him, and after hard fighting they made their way to the spot where they had left their horses and rode to Lag Lane Wood.

When Earl Percy heard that Wallace had been the leader in this fray, and found on inquiry that he had slain the sword player in fair fight after having been challenged by him, he refused to regard him as having broken the truce, for he said the soldiers had done wrong in attacking him. Earl Percy was himself a most gallant soldier, and the extraordinary personal prowess of Wallace excited in him the warmest admiration, and he would fain, if it had been possible, have attached him to the service of England.

As soon as the truce was over Wallace again attacked the English. For a time he abode with the Earl of Lennox, who was one of the few who had refused to take the oath of allegiance, and having recruited his force, he stormed the stronghold called the Peel of Gargunnock, near Stirling. Then he entered Perth, leaving his followers in Methven Wood, and hearing that an English reinforcement was upon the march, formed an ambush, fell upon them, and defeated them; and pressing hotly upon them entered so close on their heels into Kincleven Castle, that the garrison had no time to close the gate, and the place was captured. Great stores and booty were found here; these were carried to the woods, and the castle was burned to the ground, as that of Gargunnock had been, as Wallace's force was too small to enable him to hold these strongholds. Indignant at this enterprise so close to their walls the English moved out the whole garrison, 1000 strong, against Wallace, who had with him but fifty men in all. After a desperate defence, in which Sir John Butler and Sir William de Loraine, the two officers in command, were killed by Wallace himself, the latter succeeded in drawing off his men; 120 of the English were killed in the struggle, of whom more than twenty are said to have fallen at the hands of Wallace alone. Many other similar deeds did Wallace perform; his fame grew more and more, as did the feeling among the Scotch peasantry that in him they had found their champion and leader.

Archie eagerly drank in the tale of Wallace's exploits, and his soul was fired by the desire to follow so valiant a leader. He was now sixteen, his frame was set and vigorous, and exercise and constant practice with arms had hardened his muscles. He became restless with his life of inactivity; and his mother, seeing that her quiet and secluded existence was no longer suitable for him, resolved to send him to her sister's husband, Sir Robert Gordon, who dwelt near Lanark. Upon the night before he started she had a long talk with him.

"I have long observed, my boy," she said, "the eagerness with which you constantly practise at arms; and Sandy tells me that he can no longer defend himself against you. Sandy, indeed is not a young man, but he is still hale and stout, and has lost but little of his strength. Therefore it seems that, though but a boy, you may be considered to have a man's strength, for your father regarded Sandy as one of the stoutest and most skilful of his men-at-arms. I know what is in your thoughts; that you long to follow in your father's footsteps, and to win back the possessions of which you have been despoiled by the Kerrs. But beware, my boy; you are yet but young; you have no friends or protectors, save Sir Robert Gordon, who is a peaceable man, and goes with the times; while the Kerrs are a powerful family, able to put a strong body in the field, and having many powerful friends and connections throughout the country. It is our obscurity which has so far saved you, for Sir John Kerr would crush you without mercy did he dream that you could ever become formidable; and he is surrounded by ruthless retainers, who would at a word from him take your life; therefore think not for years to come to match yourself against the Kerrs. You must gain a name and a following and powerful friends before you move a step in that direction; but I firmly believe that the time will come when you will become lord of Glencairn and the hills around it. Next, my boy, I see that your thoughts are ever running upon the state of servitude to which Scotland is reduced, and have marked how eagerly you listen to the deeds of that gallant young champion, Sir William Wallace. When the time comes I would hold you back from no enterprise in the cause of our country; but at present this is hopeless. Valiant as may be the deeds which Wallace and his band perform, they are as vain as the strokes of reeds upon armour against the power of England."

"But, mother, his following may swell to an army."

"Even so, Archie; but even as an army it would be but as chaff before the wind against an English array. What can a crowd of peasants, however valiant, do against the trained and disciplined battle of England. You saw how at Dunbar the Earl of Surrey scattered them like sheep, and then many of the Scotch nobles were present. So far there is no sign of any of the Scottish nobles giving aid or countenance to Wallace, and even should he gather an army, fear for the loss of their estates, a jealousy of this young leader, and the Norman blood in their veins, will bind them to England, and the Scotch would have to face not only the army of the invader, but the feudal forces of our own nobles. I say not that enterprises like those of Wallace do not aid the cause, for they do so greatly by exciting the spirit and enthusiasm of the people at large, as they have done in your case. They show them that the English are not invincible, and that even when in greatly superior numbers they may be defeated by Scotchmen who love their country. They keep alive the spirit of resistance and of hope, and prepare the time when the country shall make a general effort. Until that time comes, my son, resistance against the English power is vain. Even were it not so, you are too young to take part in such strife, but when you attain the age of manhood, if you should still wish to join the bands of Wallace -- that is, if he be still able to make head against the English -- I will not say nay. Here, my son, is your father's sword. Sandy picked it up as he lay slain on the hearthstone, and hid it away; but now I can trust it with you. May it be drawn some day in the cause of Scotland! And now, my boy, the hour is late, and you had best to bed, for it were well that you made an early start for Lanark."

The next morning Archie started soon after daybreak. On his back he carried a wallet, in which was a new suit of clothes suitable for one of the rank of a gentleman, which his mother had with great stint and difficulty procured for him. He strode briskly along, proud of the possession of a sword for the first time. It was in itself a badge of manhood, for at that time all men went armed.

As he neared the gates of Lanark he saw a party issue out and ride towards him, and recognized in their leader Sir John Kerr. Pulling his cap down over his eyes, he strode forward, keeping by the side of the road that the horsemen might pass freely, but paying no heed to them otherwise.

"Hallo, sirrah!" Sir John exclaimed, reining in his horse, "who are you who pass a knight and a gentleman on the highway without vailing his bonnet in respect?"

"I am a gentleman and the son of a knight," Archie said, looking fearlessly up into the face of his questioner. "I am Archie Forbes, and I vail my bonnet to no man living save those whom I respect and honour."

So saying, without another word he strode forward to the town. Sir John looked darkly after him.

"Red Roy," he said sternly, turning to one who rode behind him, "you have failed in your trust. I told you to watch the boy, and from time to time you brought me news that he was growing up but a village churl. He is no churl, and unless I mistake me, he will some day be dangerous. Let me know when he next returns to the village; we must then take speedy steps for preventing him from becoming troublesome."

G. A. Henty