Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > In Freedom's Cause > Chapter VII The Cave in the Pentlands
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
Chapter VII The Cave in the Pentlands
 John Kerr was well nigh beside himself with fury.  
If this was to go on, the whole of his estate would be harried, his vassals ruined, and his revenues stopped, and this by a mere handful of foes. Again he started with his vassals to explore the hills, this time in parties of ten only, so as to explore thoroughly a larger space of ground. When at evening the men returned, it was found that but two men of one of the parties, composed entirely of men-at-arms from the castle, came back. They reported that when in a narrow ravine showers of rocks were hurled down upon them from both sides. Four of their number were killed at once, and four others had fallen pierced by arrows from an unseen foe as they fled back down the ravine.
"Methinks, Sir John," Red Roy said, "that I know the place where the Forbeses may have taken up their abode. When I was a boy I was tending a herd of goats far up in the hills, and near the pass where this mischance has today befallen us I found a cave in the mountain's side. Its entrance was hidden by bushes, and I should not have found it had not one of the goats entered the bush and remained there so long that I went to see what he was doing. There I found a cave. The entrance was but three feet high, but inside it widened out into a great cavern, where fifty men could shelter. Perchance Archie Forbes or some of his band may also have discovered it; and if so, they might well think that no better place of concealment could be found."
"We will search it tomorrow," the knight said. "Tell the vassals to gather here three hours before daybreak. We will start so as to be there soon after sunrise. If they are on foot again tonight they will then be asleep. Did you follow the cave and discover whether it had any other entrances beyond that by which you entered?"
"I know not," the henchman replied; "it goes a long way into the hills, and there are several inner passages; but these I did not explore, for I was alone and feared being lost in them."
The next night some more homesteads were burnt, but this time the vassals did not turn out, as they had been told to rest until the appointed hour whatever might befall.
Three hours before daybreak a party of fifty picked men assembled at the castle, for this force was deemed to be ample. The two men who had escaped from the attack on the previous day led the way to the ravine, and there Red Roy became the guide and led the band far up the hillside. Had it been possible they would have surrounded the cave before daylight, but Roy said that it was so long since he had first found the cave, that he could not lead them there in the dark, but would need daylight to enable him to recognize the surroundings. Even when daylight came he was for some time at fault, but he at last pointed to a clump of bushes, growing on a broken and precipitous face of rock, as the place where the cave was situated.
Red Roy was right in his conjecture. Archie had once, when wandering among the hills, shot at a wild cat and wounded it, and had followed it to the cave to which it had fled, and seeing it an advantageous place of concealment had, when he determined to harry the district of the Kerrs, fixed upon it as the hiding place for his band. Deeming it possible, however, that its existence might be known to others, he always placed a sentry on watch; and on the approach of the Kerrs, Cluny Campbell, who happened to be on guard, ran in and roused the band with the news that the Kerrs were below. Archie immediately crept out and reconnoitred them; from the bushes he could see that his foes were for the present at fault. Sir John himself was standing apart from the rest, with Red Roy, who was narrowly scrutinizing the face of the cliff, and Archie guessed at once that they were aware of the existence of the cavern, though at present they could not determine the exact spot where it was situated. It was too late to retreat now, for the face of the hill was too steep to climb to its crest, and their retreat below was cut off by the Kerrs. He therefore returned to the cave, leaving Cluny on guard.
"They are not sure as to the situation of the cave yet," he said, "but they will find it. We can hold the mouth against them for any time, but they might smoke us out, that is our real danger; or if they fail in that, they may try starvation. Do half a dozen of you take brands at once from the embers and explore all the windings behind us; they are so narrow and low that hitherto we have not deemed it worth while to examine them, but now they are really our only hope; some of them may lead round to the face of the hill, and in that case we may find some way by which we may circumvent the Kerrs."
Six of the lads at once started with flaming pine knots, while Archie returned to the entrance. Just as he took his place there he saw Red Roy pointing towards the bushes. A minute or two later Sir John and his followers began to advance. Archie now called out the rest of his band, who silently took their places in the bushes beside him. Led by Sir John and his personal retainers, the assailants approached the foot of the rocks and began to make their way up, using the utmost precaution to avoid any noise. There was no longer any need for concealment, and as the foremost of the assailants began to climb the great boulders at the foot of the precipice, a dozen arrows from the bush above alighted among them; killing three and wounding several others. Sir John Kerr shouted to his men to follow him, and began to clamber up the hill. Several arrows struck him, but he was sheathed in mail, as were his men-at-arms, and although several were wounded in the face and two slain they succeeded in reaching the bushes, but they could not penetrate further, for as they strove to tear the bushes aside and force an entry, those behind pierced them with their spears, and as but four or five assailants at a time could gain a footing and use their arms they were outnumbered and finally driven back by the defenders. When Sir John, furious at his discomfiture, rejoined his vassals below, he found that the assault had already cost him eight of his best men. He would, however, have again led them to the attack, but Red Roy said:
"It were best, my lord, to send back and bid fifty of the vassals to come up hither at once, with bows and arrows. They can so riddle those bushes that the defenders will be unable to occupy them to resist our advance."
"That were a good step," Sir John said; "but even when we gain the ledge I know not how we shall force our way through the hole, which you say is but three feet high."
"There is no need to force our way in," Red Roy replied; "each man who climbs shall carry with him a faggot of wood, and we will smoke them in their holes like wolves."
"'Tis well thought of, Roy; that assuredly is the best plan. Send off at once one of the most fleet footed of the party."
Archie, watching from above, saw the assailants draw back out of bowshot, and while one of their number started at full speed down the hillside, the others sat down, evidently prepared to pass some time before they renewed the attack. Leaving two of the party on guard, Archie, with the rest, re-entered the cavern. The searchers had just returned and reported that all the various passages came to nothing, save one, which ascended rapidly and terminated in a hole which looked as if it had been made by rabbits, and through which the light of day could be seen.
"Then it is there we must work," Archie said. "I will myself go and examine it."
The passage, after ascending to a point which Archie judged to be nigh a hundred feet above the floor of the cave, narrowed to a mere hole, but two feet high and as much wide. Up this he crawled for a distance of four or five yards, then it narrowed suddenly to a hole three or four inches in diameter, and through this, some three feet farther, Archie could see the daylight through a clump of heather. He backed himself down the narrow passage again until he joined his comrades. "Now," he said, "do four of you stay here, and take it by turns, one after the other, to enlarge the hole forward to the entrance. As you scrape the earth down you must past it back handful by handful. Do not enlarge the outer entrance or disturb the roots of the heather growing there. Any movement might be noticed by those below. It is lucky, indeed, that the rock ends just when it gets to its narrowest, and that it is but sandy soil through which we have to scrape our way. It will be hard work, for you have scarce room to move your arms, but you have plenty of time since we cannot sally out till nightfall."
The hours passed slowly, and about noon the lookout reported that a number of bowmen were approaching.
"They are going to attack this time under cover of their fire," Archie said, "and as I do not wish to hazard the loss of any lives, we will keep within the cave and let them gain the ledge. They can never force their way through the narrow entrance. The only thing I fear is smoke. I purpose that if they light a fire at the mouth of the cave, we shall retire at once up the passage where we are working, and block it up at a narrow place a short distance after it leaves this cavern, with our clothes. You had best take off some of your things, scrape up the earth from the floor of the cavern, and each make a stout bundle, so that we can fill up the hole solidly."
This was soon done, and the bundles of earth were laid in readiness at the point upon which their leader had fixed. In the meantime Archie had rejoined the lookout.
"They have been scattered for some time," the guard said, "and have been cutting down bushes and making them into faggots."
"Just what I expected," Archie exclaimed. "The bowmen are joining them now. We shall soon see them at work."
Sir John Kerr now marshalled his retainers. He and his men-at-arms drew their swords, and the rest, putting the bundles of faggots on their shoulders, prepared to follow, while the bowmen fitted their arrows to the string.
"Fall back inside the cave," Archie said; "it is of no use risking our lives."
The band now gathered in a half circle, with level spears, round the entrance. Soon they heard a sharp tapping sound as the arrows struck upon the rock, then there was a crashing among the bushes.
"Come on!" Sir John Kerr shouted to the vassals. "The foxes have slunk into their hole." Then came low thuds as the faggots were cast down. The light which had streamed in through the entrance gradually became obscure, and the voices of those without muffled. The darkness grew more intense as the faggots were piled thicker and thicker; then suddenly a slight odour of smoke was perceived.
"Come along now," Archie said; "they have fired the pile, and there is no fear of their entrance."
Two of their number, with blazing pine knots, led the way. When they reached the narrow spot all passed through, Archie and Andrew Macpherson last; these took the bundles of earth, as the others passed them along from behind, and built them up like a wall across the entrance, beating them down as they piled them, so as to make them set close and fill up every crevice. Several remained over after the wall was completed; these were opened and the earth crammed into the crevices between the bags. The smell of smoke had grown strong before the wall was completed, but it was not too oppressive to breathe. Holding the torch close to the wall, Archie and his comrade stopped closely the few places through which they saw that the smoke was making its way, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing that the barrier was completely smoke tight.
There was plenty of air in the passage to support life for some time, but Archie called back to those who were labouring to enlarge the exit, in order to allow as much fresh air as possible to enter. A strong guard, with spears, was placed at the barrier, although Archie deemed that some hours at least would elapse before the Kerrs could attempt to penetrate the cave. The fire would doubtless be kept up for some time, and after it had expired it would be long before the smoke cleared out sufficiently from the cave to allow of any one entering it. After a time, finding that there was no difficulty in breathing, although the air was certainly close and heavy, Archie again set the lads at work widening the entrance, going up himself to superintend the operation. Each in turn crept forward, loosened a portion of the earth with his knife, and then filling his cap with it, crawled backward to the point where the passage widened. It was not yet dark when the work was so far done that there now remained only a slight thickness of earth, through which the roots of the heath protruded, at the mouth of the passage, and a vigorous push would make an exit into the air. The guard at the barrier had heard no movement within. Archie withdrew one of the bags; but the smoke streamed through so densely that he hastily replaced it, satisfied that some hours must still elapse before the assailants would enter the cave. They watched impatiently the failing light through the hole, and at last, when night was completely fallen, Archie pushed aside the earth and heather, and looked around. They were, it seemed to him, on the side of the hill a few yards from the point where it fell steeply away. The ground was thickly covered with heather. He soon made his way out and ordered Andrew Macpherson, who followed him, to remain lying at the entrance, and to enjoin each, as he passed out, to crawl low among the heather, so that they might not show against the skyline, where, dark as it was, they might attract the attention of those below. Archie himself led the way until so far back from the edge as to be well out of sight of those in the valley. Then he gained his feet, and was soon joined by the whole of his band.
"Now," he said, "we will make for Aberfilly; they think us all cooped up here, and will be rejoicing in our supposed deaths. We will strike one more blow, and then, driving before us a couple of score of oxen for the use of the army, rejoin Wallace. Methinks we shall have taken a fair vengeance for Kerr's doings at Glen Cairn."
The consternation of the few men left in the castle was great when, three hours after sunset, eight homesteads burst suddenly into flames. They dared not sally out, and remained under arm............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved