“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.”