The band formed in good order and retreated at a rapid step. When they reached a distance of about 300 yards, Wallace and Archie, deeming that sufficient start had been gained, sprang away, and running at the top of their speed soon rejoined them.
“Now, Archie, what next?” Sir William asked; “since it is you who have conjured up this army, doubtless your plans are laid as to what shall next be done. They will have horsemen in pursuit as soon as they remove the cart.”
“I have a boat in readiness on the river bank, Sir William. Once across and we shall be safe. They will hardly overtake us ere we get there, seeing how swampy is the ground below.”
At a slinging trot the party ran forward, and soon gained the lower ground. They were halfway across when they saw a large body of horsemen following in pursuit.
“A little to the right, Sir William,” Archie said; “you see that coat flying from an oar; there is the boat.”
As Archie had expected, the swampy ground impeded the speed of the horsemen. In vain the riders spurred and shouted, the horses, fetlock deep, could make but slow advance, and before they reached the bank the fugitives had gained the boat and were already halfway across the stream. Then the English had the mortification of seeing them land and march away quietly on the other side.
Chapter IX The Battle of Stirling Bridge
Upon rejoining his force Sir William Wallace called the few knights and gentlemen who were with him together, and said to them:
“Methinks, gentlemen, that the woes of this contest should not fall upon one side only. Every one of you here are outlawed, and if you are taken by the English will be executed or thrown in prison for life, and your lands and all belonging to you forfeited. It is time that those who fight upon the other side should learn that they too run some risk. Besides leading his vassals in the field against us, Sir John Kerr twice in arms has attacked me, and done his best to slay me or deliver me over to the English. He fell yesterday by my hand at Stirling, and I hereby declare forfeit the land which he held in the county of Lanark, part of which he wrongfully took from Sir William Forbes, and his own fief adjoining. Other broad lands he owns in Ayrshire, but these I will not now touch; but the lands in Lanark, both his own fief and that of the Forbeses, I, as Warden of Scotland, hereby declare forfeit and confiscated, and bestow them upon my good friend, Sir Archie Forbes. Sir John Grahame, do you proceed tomorrow with five hundred men and take possession of the hold of the Kerrs. Sir Allan Kerr is still at Stirling, and will not be there to defend it. Like enough the vassals will make no resistance, but will gladly accept the change of masters. The Kerrs have the reputation of being hard lords, and their vassals cannot like being forced to fight against the cause of their country. The hired men-at-arms may resist, but you will know how to make short work of these. I ask you to go rather than Sir Archibald Forbes, because I would not that it were said that he took the Kerr’s hold on his private quarrel. When you have captured it he shall take a hundred picked men as a garrison. The place is strong.