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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 from Ayr.  
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 either."
"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 exclaimed.
"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 inquired.
"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 might join.
"Let them come," he said; "we shall want every sword and pike tonight."
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 revellers within.
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 rushed across.
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 taken Ayr."
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 with weeping.
"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 enemy."
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 the mountains."
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 lord."
"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 Sir John."
"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 one mad!"
"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 slain him."
"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 their enemies.
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 by daybreak.
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.

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