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The Story of Robert Bruce by  Jeanie Lang


 

 

BRUCE THE OUTLAW

[34] FROM the woods of the Dee and the Don, Bruce and his little band wandered to the wilds of the west country.

The fish and game that they caught were their chief food, for the people feared the English king too much to feed his enemies. Often they were hungry; always they were in danger.

At length they came to the country of Lorn, but John MacDougall, Lord of Lorn, was uncle of the Red Comyn, and with 1000 men came out to slay the Bruce and those with him.

At a place still called Dalry—the King's Field—there was a fierce fight. Bruce lost several of his men, and the Black Douglas was wounded. Fearing that his little army would be cut in pieces, Bruce made them retreat through a narrow pass, "between a loch side and a brae." He himself came last of all, and all those of the enemy who tried to force their way through the pass in pursuit fell before his sword.

[35] Three brothers named Macindrosser, or "sons of the doorkeeper," swore they would slay the Bruce.

One of them snatched at his bridle rein, but Bruce shore his arm off by the shoulder and he bled to death. The second gripped him by the leg. Rising in his stirrups, Bruce drove his spurs into his horse's sides, and the horse, rearing upwards, dashed down the man with its hoofs. As he tried to rise, down swept the Bruce's sword and cleft his head in two. The third leaped up behind Bruce on his horse, and grasped him so tightly by his mantle that the king could not swing his long sword. But from behind him, with a grasp of iron, and muscles all a-strain, Bruce dragged the man, and with one great blow of his battle-axe dashed out his brains.

The dead man's hand still clung to the Bruce's mantle with so firm a clasp that Bruce had to undo the great brooch that fastened it, and leave it to be a possession of the MacDougalls of Lorn even to this day.

After the defeat of Dalry, Bruce's followers grew very down-hearted. But always he would cheer them and keep them from despair.

"Think how many men have been in far harder straits than we," he said, "and yet God [36] helped them through. Let us bravely withstand our foes, and prefer death to a coward's life."

Then he would tell them stories of the heroes of old, and of all the hard things they had to do and to endure before victory was theirs.

But although men were able to hold out through their wanderings in lonely places, often without food, always without a right house to sleep in, it was more than women could do. Winter was coming on; the autumn nights were long and chill; the woods no longer gave much shelter, and the bitter sleet showers drenched them through. Their strength gave in, and Bruce was forced to say good-bye to his wife and little daughter, and send them and the other ladies to his castle of Kildrummie in Aberdeenshire. His youngest brother, Nigel, went with them, and the parting was a sad one between Bruce and those that he loved so dearly. As he watched his wife ride off on his own horse that he had given to her, he little thought that it would be nine long years before they met again.

From England, meantime, a great army, led by the Prince of Wales and many of his new-made knights, marched northward.

They were a gallant company. Their armour was magnificent. Their clothing was of the [37] finest silk. The prince's pennons were of beaten gold. Lest the wild Scots should give him too little sport, he took his falcons with him, and amused himself by hawking, netting partridges, playing dice, and jesting with his court fool. A lion was a part of his escort.

Nigel Bruce, with the ladies under his care, safely reached Kildrummie. It was a strong castle, and they had plenty of provisions, so that when the prince and his great army came to besiege it, Nigel was not afraid.

Again and again the besiegers were driven back. But one of the garrison of the castle was a base traitor. Into their store of grain he threw a red-hot ploughshare, and with a rush and a roar, and with blinding clouds of smoke, the flames blazed up. The garrison ran to the battlements to escape being burned alive, but the fire was too fierce for the English to take the castle, and the Scots defended it gallantly. But now they had two foes to fight. Outside were the English; inside was starvation. The greedy flames had devoured their stores. At day-break next morning tire Scots were forced to surrender.

Before the siege the queen, Princess Marjory, the Bruce's sisters, and some others had sought refuge in a monastery at Tain. They were now [38] given up to the English, and taken to England to drag out the weary days in "cages," like those in which the Countess of Buchan was imprisoned.

Sir Nigel Bruce, a handsome, gallant boy, was taken, with several other knights, to Berwick. There he was hanged, drawn, and beheaded.

Later on, two of the Bruce's other brothers, Thomas and Alexander, while on their way to Carrick, were taken prisoners, and put to death at Carlisle in the same cruel way as' their young brother.

When the Bruce had parted from his wife and little girl, he and his followers, on foot, and not 200 in all, kept to the hills in the west. From hunger and cold and wet they suffered sadly, and at length it was decided to make for the Mull of Kintyre, away to the south.


[Illustration]

HE READ TO THEM AN OLD ROMANCE.

Sir Niall Campbell, whose country it was, was sent on before them to get boats and food, and to meet them at the Firth of Clyde.

Meantime Bruce and the rest of his company came by Loch Lomond, where good hiding was to be had in the thick woods of fir and hazel and birch, where the bracken grows feet high. But on the shores of the loch no boat was to be found. Round and round the loch side they searched in vain, until at last Douglas came on [39] a little water-logged boat sunk near the shore. Speedily it was brought to land and baled out, but it was so small that only three men could go in it at a time. Some of the hardy men of the hills swam across, their arms and clothes tied in bundles on their heads, and in a day and a night the others were ferried over. It was winter weather, the men were tired and hungry, and the boat could not have been oversafe. But the king made light of all discomforts, and cheered up those with whom he crossed by reading to them an old romance of a brave knight called Ferambras, and of the trials he endured.

Next day the Earl of Lennox, whose lands lay at the other side of the loch, heard that poachers were out after the deer in his woods, and went off to catch them. Soon he heard the sound of a horn, and at once he knew that it was the King of Scotland who gave that ringing call. He hastened through the woods to where the Bruce had slain a deer, and when they met he wept for joy, while Bruce—

"For pity wept again

That never of meeting was so fain."

When the Bruce and his hungry followers had had more and better food spread before them than they had seen for many a day, they, and [40] Lennox with them, went on to the shores of Clyde. They found Niall Campbell awaiting them with a little fleet of boats, well stocked with food.

Great strong fists that had been well used to hold spears now held oars. Well and steadily the men rowed across the cold grey water, past the isle of Arran, to Kintyre in the western sea.

The Earl of Lennox, with his little galley, let the others be well on their way before he started.

He had not long left the land when, behind him, he saw the galleys of the Bruce's enemy, John of Lorn, coming in hot pursuit. Quickly they gained on him, and Lennox threw one piece of his luggage overboard after another to lighten his boat. The greedy men of Lorn could not bear to see such plunder drift past without stopping to pick it up.

Each time they stopped meant a gain for Lennox, and speedily the lightened boat cut through the water until the galleys of the enemy were only specks, far away.

Angus, Lord of-Kintyre, gave Bruce and his followers a kind welcome, and for three days they stayed with him at his castle of Dunaverty, on a steep cliff above the sea.

It was lucky for Bruce that on the third day [41] he left Kintyre for Rachrin (now Rathlin), a bleak and wind-swept little island on the Irish coast.

For, while his boats were still fighting their way westward, through rough seas and stormy weather, Lorn's galleys had come to Kintyre, and very soon an English army was besieging Dunaverty.

At Rachrin news came to the Bruce of the taking of Kildrummie, the imprisonment of his wife and little daughter, and the execution of his brave young brother.

It was a dreary winter for the hunted king. All Scotland swarmed with his enemies. His brothers and some of his truest friends had been slain. His wife, child, and sisters were in captivity. He and his handful of true men had to shelter in the poorest of huts, amongst the wild Irish people, who were then almost savages, and from whom they could only get food of the roughest.

It was at this time, when despair must have been very near him, that a story that you must know well is told of Robert the Bruce.

One day he sat in the wretched little cabin of turf that was then his home, wondering if it would not be best, after all, to give up his fight for Scotlail that seemed to pass from one [42] failure to another, and to go with the Douglas and his other friends to fight against the Saracens. He might then, he thought, win forgiveness from his Church for the murder of Comyn. Just then he noticed a spider dangling down on its silvery thread. This spider was trying to swing itself across from one cobwebbed rafter to another, but each time it tried, it failed. Six times did Bruce count its attempts.

"Six times," thought he, "and six times have I also been defeated. If the little spider has the patience to try again, then why should not I?"

Eagerly he watched it dangling, and once again it tried. The seventh attempt swung it to the place where it wished to be, and it went happily on with its work, little knowing that it had settled the fate of a kingdom.

A seventh time Bruce also tried, and victory from that time was his.

And that is why people who live north of the Tweed will always try to prevent you from killing a spider.

Meantime the Black Douglas grew weary of a winter spent in doing nothing on an Irish island, while there was plenty of fighting to be had in his own Scottish land.

"Let us cross to Arran," he said to another knight, Sir Robert Boyd. " nstead of idly living [43] on food brought us by the poor people of Rachrin, we will go to Brodick Castle and see what our swords will gain for us there."

They got leave from the king, crossed to Kintyre, and at nightfall rowed past the land and on to Arran.

Day had not dawned when they reached the island and drew their boat ashore. Under one of those banks where hazels and silver birches and heather and bog myrtle come so near the shore that on stormy days they are lashed with the salt sea spray, they hid the boat. They were wet and weary and hungry, but through the night they tramped on, till they came to Brodick Castle, under the shadow of Goat Fell.

The English knight who kept the castle had with him many guests. On the evening of the night before three boats, laden with stores, clothing, wines, and food for the castle, arrived in Brodick Bay. From their hiding-place Douglas and his men watched the sailors and some of the garrison unlading these boats and toiling up to the castle laden with stores. Then, from the trees, there burst a little band of fierce fighting men.

"A Douglas! a Douglas!" they cried, and those who did not fall before their swords fled in confusion, leaving behind them so handsome a store [44] of arms, food, wines, and clothing, that the Scots had enough to enable them to hold out for many a week against the English garrison.

News of the Douglas's successful raid was sent to Rachrin, and ten days later the Bruce and the rest of his men arrived in thirty-three small galleys.

He asked a woman of the island if she had seen any armed strangers, and she led him to a wooded glen.

"Here I saw the men you ask after," said she. Bruce blew on his horn three blasts that echoed up the glen.

"That is the king!" cried Douglas, "I know his blast of old!"

Joyfully they hastened to greet the Bruce.

"And blithely welcomed them the king,

That joyful was of their meeting."

In Arran, with its hills and moors, and deep wooded glens and corries, Bruce might for long have withstood his enemies.

But five-and-twenty miles across the sea, to the south-east, lay the Bruce's own land of Carrick. On clear days, from the Arran hills, he could trace each outline of the coast, and even see the blue smoke rising up from the chimneys at Turnberry, the castle that, in spite of the King of England, he called his own.

[45] When birds were singing in the bushes, and the blackthorns were in bloom, the Bruce sent to Carrick a spy, one Cuthbert.

"If the people of Carrick are my friends," said the Bruce, "then on the day I now fix make a fire on Turnberry Nook, that we may know that it is safe for us to cross over."

But when Cuthbert got to his king's own land he found that no man dared own Robert the Bruce as his lord.

Turnberry Castle was held by an English knight, Sir Henry Percy, with 300 men, and the poor people so feared him that they dared do nothing to displease him.

"I can light no fire," thought Cuthbert, and sadly waited for a chance of returning to Arran. But chance did for the Bruce what Cuthbert left undone.

How it happened, no one knows, but on the night that Bruce and his men eagerly looked. across the sea to Turnberry for a red blaze rushing skywards, there was a mistake made such as was made in Scotland 500 years later, when the "False Alarm" showed all Europe the stuff of which Scotsmen are made.

The Bruce's heart must have beat fast when he saw the red glare. No time was lost in starting their boats, and all night they rowed. [46] It was still dark when they landed, and were met by Cuthbert with woe on his face.

"There are only enemies here, Sir King," he said. "The fire was never kindled by me."

Then the king held a council with his knights.

"What is best for us to do?" he asked.

Up spoke his brother Edward, as strong a man as the Bruce himself, and one who was ever more rash.

"I have had enough of the sea!" said Edward Bruce. "Come good, come ill, I take my adventure here."

To this the Bruce agreed.

In the hamlet round the castle, all was dark and silent. In the darkness the Scots were able to slip noiselessly upon the sleeping English, who only knew that death was upon them when fierce hands were on their throats and swords at their hearts.

In the castle Sir Henry Percy heard the cries of dying men and the din of fighting. But he and his garrison dared not come out to face what seemed to them, in the blackness of night, an enormous conquering army.

With Percy's horses, and much other rich spoil of silver, arms, and clothing, Bruce and his men hastened deeper into the wilds of Carrick, to find fastnesses in the wooded hills.


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