Multimedia Reading With Transcript
The following reading is from Chapter 3 of Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs.
All was still as death. Nothing was heard but the sighing of the trees as they waved before the western window, which opened towards the Lanark hills. The morning was yet gray, and the fresh air blowing in rather chilly, Halbert rose to close the wooden casement; at that moment his eyes were arrested by a party of armed men slowly proceeding down the opposite declivity. The platform before the house was already filled with English. Alarmed at the sight of such a host, although he expected that a guard would arrive, he was retreating across the apartment, towards his lady’s room, when the great hall door was burst open by a band of soldiers, who rushed forward and seized him.
“Tell me, dotard!” cried their leader, a man of low stature, with gray locks, but a fierce countenance, “where is the murderer? Where is Sir William Wallace? Speak, or the torture shall force you.”
Halbert trembled, but it was for his defenceless lady, not for himself. “My master,“ he said in a faltering voice, “is far from hence.”
“I know not.”
“Thou shalt be made to know, thou hoary-headed villain!” cried the same violent interrogator. “Where is the assassin’s wife? I will confront ye. Seek her out.”
At that word the soldiers parted right and left, and in a moment afterwards three of them appeared, with shouts, bringing in the unhappy Marion.
“Oh! my lady!” cried Halbert, struggling to approach her, as with terrified apprehension she looked around her; but they held her fast, and he saw her led up to the merciless wretch who had given the orders to have her summoned.
“Woman!” cried he as soon as she stood before him, “I am the governor of Lanark. You now stand before the representative of the great King Edward, and on your allegiance to him, and on the peril of your life, I command you to answer me three questions. Where is Sir William Wallace, the murderer of my nephew? Who is that old Scot, for whom my nephew was slain? He and his whole family shall meet my vengeance! And tell me where is that box of treasure which your husband stole from Douglas Castle? Answer me these questions on your life.”
Lady Wallace remained silent.
“Speak, woman!” demanded the governor. “If fear cannot move you, know that I can reward as well as avenge. I will endow you richly, if you declare the truth. If you persist to refuse, you die.”
“Then I die,” replied she, scarcely opening her half-closed ayes, as she leaned, fainting and motionless, against the shoulder of the soldier who held her.
“What!” cried the governor, stifling his rage, in hopes to gain by persuasion on a spirit he found threats could not intimidate; “Can so gentle a lady as yourself reject the favor of England; large grants in this country, and perhaps a fine English knight for a husband, when you might have all for the trifling service of giving up a traitor to his liege lord, and confessing where his robberies lie concealed? Speak, fair dame; give me this information, and the lands of the wounded chieftain whom Wallace brought here, with the hand of the handsome Sir Gilbert Hambledon, shall be your reward. Rich, and a beauty in Edward’s court! Lady, can you now refuse to purchase all, by declaring the hiding-place of the traitor Wallace?”
“It is easier to die!”
“Fool!” cried Heselrigge, driven from his assumed temper by her steady denial. “What! is it easier for these dainty limbs to be hacked to pieces by my soldiers’ axes? Is it easier for that fair bosom to be trodden underfoot by my horse’s hoofs, and for that beauteous head of thine to decorate my lance? Is all this easier than to tell me where to find a murderer and his gold?”
Lady Wallace shuddered: she stretched her hands to heaven. “Blessed Virgin, to thee I commit myself!”
“Speak once for all!” cried the enraged governor, drawing his sword; “I am no waxen-hearted Hambledon, to be cajoled by your beauty. Declare where Wallace is concealed, or dread my vengeance.”
The horrid steel gleamed across the eyes of the unhappy Marion; unable to sustain herself, she sunk on the ground.
“Kneel not to me for mercy!” cried the infuriate wretch; “I grant none, unless you confess your husband’s hiding-place.”
A momentary strength darted from the heart of Lady Wallace to her voice. “I kneel to Heaven alone, and may it preserve my Wallace from the fangs of Edward and his tyrants!”
“Blasphemous wretch!” cried Heselrigge; and at that moment he plunged his sword into her defenceless breast. Halbert, who had all this time been held back by the soldiers, awaiting with anxiety his mistress’ replies, could not believe that the fierce interlocutor would perpetrate the horrid deed he threatened; but seeing it done, with a giant’s strength and a terrible cry he burst from the hands which held him, and had thrown himself on the bleeding Marion, before her murderer could strike his second blow. However, it fell, and pierced through the neck of the faithful servant before it reached her heart. She opened her dying eyes, and seeing who it was that would have shielded her life, just articulated, “Halbert! my Wallace—to God—” and with the last unfinished sentence her pure soul took its flight to regions of eternal peace.
The good old man’s heart almost burst, when he felt that before heaving bosom now motionless; and groaning with grief, and fainting with loss of blood, he sunk senseless on her body.
A terrible stillness was now in the hall. Not a man spoke; all stood looking on each other, with a stern horror marking each pale countenance. Heselrigge, dropping his blood-stained sword on the ground, perceived by the behavior of his men that he had gone too far, and fearful of arousing the indignation of awakened humanity, to some act against himself, he addressed the soldiers in an unusual accent of condescension:—“My friends,” said he, “we will now return to Lanark: tomorrow you may come back, for I reward your services of this night with the plunder of Ellerslie.”
“May a curse light on him who carries a stick from its grounds!” exclaimed a veteran, from the farther end of the hall. “Amen!” murmured all the soldiers, with one consent; and falling back, they disappeared, one by one, out of the great door, leaving Heselrigge alone with the old soldier, who stood leaning on his sword looking on the murdered lady.