Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 8

I HOPE, my dear child, that you have not forgotten that all the cruel wars in Scotland arose out of the debate between the great lords who claimed the throne after King Alexander the Third’s death, which induced the Scottish nobility rashly to submit the decision of that matter to King Edward of England, and thus opened the way to his endeavouring to seize the kingdom of Scotland to himself. You recollect also, that Edward had dethroned John Baliol, on account of his attempting to restore the independence of Scotland, and that Baliol had resigned the crown of Scotland into the hands of Edward as lord paramount. This John Baliol, therefore, was very little respected in Scotland; he had renounced the kingdom, and had been absent from it for fifteen years, during the greater part of which time he remained a prisoner in the hands of the King of England.

It was therefore natural that such of the people of Scotland as were still determined to fight for the deliverance of their country from the English yoke, should look around for some other king, under whom they might unite themselves, to combat the power of England. The feeling was universal in Scotland, that they would not any longer endure the English government; and therefore such great Scottish nobles as believed they had right to the crown, began to think of standing forward to claim it. Amongst these, the principal candidates (supposing John Baliol, by his renunciation and captivity, to have lost all right to the kingdom) were two powerful noblemen. The first was ROBERT BRUCE, Earl of Carrick, the grandson of that elder Robert Bruce, who, as you have heard, disputed the throne with John Baliol. The other was John Comyn, or Cuming, of Badenoch, usually called the Red Comyn, to distinguish him from his kinsman, the Black Comyn, so named from his swarthy complexion. These two great and powerful barons had taken part with Sir William Wallace in the wars against England; but, after the defeat of Falkirk, being fearful of losing their great estates, and considering the freedom of Scotland as beyond the possibility of being recovered, both Bruce and Comyn had not only submitted themselves to Edward, and acknowledged his title as King of Scotland, but even borne arms, along with the English, against such of their countrymen as still continued to resist the usurper. But the feelings of Bruce concerning the baseness of this conduct, are said, by the old traditions of Scotland, to have been awakened by the following incident. In one of the numerous battles, or skirmishes, which took place at the time between the English and their adherents on the one side, and the insurgent or patriotic Scots upon the other, Robert the Bruce was present, and assisted the English to gain the victory. After the battle was over, he sat down to dinner among his southern friends and allies without washing his hands, on which there still remained spots of the blood which he had shed during the action. The English lords, observing this, whispered to each other in mockery, “Look at that Scotsman, who is eating his own blood!” Bruce heard what they said, and began to reflect, that the blood upon his hands might be indeed called his own, since it was that of his brave countrymen, who were fighting for the independence of Scotland, whilst he was assisting its oppressors, who only laughed at and mocked him for his unnatural conduct. He was so much shocked and disgusted, that he arose from table, and, going into a neighbouring chapel, shed many tears, and asking pardon of God for the great crime he had been guilty of, made a solemn vow that he would atone for it, by doing all in his power to deliver Scotland from the foreign yoke. Accordingly, he left, it is said, the English army, and never joined it again, but remained watching all opportunity for restoring the freedom of his country. Now, this Robert the Bruce was a remarkably brave and strong man: there was no man in Scotland that was thought a match for him except Sir William Wallace; and now that Wallace was dead, Bruce was held the best warrior in Scotland. He was very wise and prudent, and an excellent general: that is, he knew how to conduct an army, and place them in order for battle, as well or better than any great man of his time. He was generous, too, and courteous by nature; but he had some faults, which perhaps belonged as much to the fierce period in which he lived as to his own character. He was rash and passionate, and in his passion, he was sometimes relentless and cruel. Robert the Bruce had fixed his purpose, as I told you, to attempt once again to drive the English out of Scotland, and he desired to prevail upon Sir John the Red Comyn, who was his rival in his pretensions to the throne, to join with him in expelling the foreign enemy by their common efforts. With this purpose, Bruce posted down from London to Dumfries, on the borders of Scotland, and requested an interview with John Comyn. They met in the church of the Minorites in that town, before the high altar. What passed betwixt them is not known with certainty; but they quarrelled, either concerning their mutual pretensions to the crown, or because Comyn refused to join Bruce in the proposed insurrection against the English; or, as many writers say, because Bruce charged Comyn with having betrayed to the English his purpose of rising up against King Edward. It is, however, certain, that these two haughty barons came to high and abusive words, until at length Bruce, who I told you was extremely passionate, forgot the sacred character of the place in which they stood, and struck Comyn a blow with his dagger. Having done this rash deed, he instantly ran out of the church and called for his horse. Two gentlemen of the country, Lindesay and Kirkpatrick, friends of Bruce, were then in attendance on him. Seeing him pale, bloody, and in much agitation, they eagerly enquired what was the matter. “I doubt,” said Bruce,” that I have slain the Red Comyn.”

“Do you leave such a matter in doubt?” said Kirkpatrick. “I will make sicker!”— that is, I will make certain.

Accordingly, he and his companion Lindesay rushed into the church, and made the matter certain with a vengeance, by despatching the wounded Comyn with their daggers. His uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, was slain at the same time. This slaughter of Comyn was a rash and cruel action; and the historian of Bruce observes, that it was followed by the displeasure of Heaven; for no man ever went through more misfortunes than Robert Bruce, although he at length rose to great honour.

After the deed was done, Bruce might be called desperate. He had committed an action which was sure to bring down upon him the vengeance of all Comyn’s relations, the resentment of the King of England, and the displeasure of the Church, on account of having slain his enemy within consecrated ground. He determined, therefore, to bid them all defiance at once, and to assert his pretensions to the throne of Scotland. He drew his own followers together, summoned to meet him such barons as still entertained hopes of the freedom of the country, and was crowned King at the Abbey of Scone, the usual place where the Kings of Scotland assumed their authority.

Every thing relating to the ceremony was hastily performed. A small circlet of gold was hurriedly made, to represent the ancient crown of Scotland, which Edward had carried off to England. The Earl of Fife, descendant of the brave Macduff, whose duty it was to have placed the crown on the King’s head, would not give his attendance. But the ceremonial was performed by his sister, Isabella, Countess of Buchan, though without the consent either of her brother or husband. A few barons, whose names ought to be dear to their country, joined Bruce in his attempt to vindicate the independence of Scotland.

Edward was dreadfully incensed when he heard that, after all the pains which he had taken, and all the blood which had been spilled, the Scots were making this new attempt to shake off his authority. Though now old, feeble, and sickly, he made a solemn vow, at a great festival, in presence of all his court, that he would take the most ample vengeance upon Robert the Bruce and his adherents; after which he would never again draw his sword upon a Christian, but would only fight against the unbelieving Saracens for the recovery of the Holy Land. He marched against Bruce accordingly, at the head of a powerful army.

The commencement of Bruce’s undertaking was most disastrous. He was crowned on 29th March, 1306. On the l8th May he was excommunicated by the Pope, on account of the murder of Comyn within consecrated ground, a sentence which excluded him from all the benefits of religion, and authorized any one to kill him. Finally, on the l9th June the new King was completely defeated near Methven by the English Earl of Pembroke. Robert’s horse was killed under him in the action, and he was for a moment a prisoner. But he had fallen into the power of a Scottish knight, who, though he served in the English army, did not choose to be the instrument of putting Bruce into their hands, and allowed him to escape. The conquerors executed their prisoners with their usual cruelty. Among these were some gallant young men of the first Scottish families — Hay, ancestor of the Earls of Errol, Somerville, Fraser, and others, who were mercilessly put to death. Bruce, with a few brave adherents, among whom was the young Lord of Douglas, who was afterwards called the Good Lord James, retired into the Highland mountains, where they were chased from one place of refuge to another, often in great danger, and suffering many hardships. The Bruce’s wife, now Queen of Scotland, with several other ladies, accompanied her husband and his few followers during their wanderings. There was no other way of providing for them save by hunting and fishing. It was remarked, that Douglas was the most active and successful in procuring for the unfortunate ladies such supplies, as his dexterity in fishing or in killing deer could furnish to them. Driven from one place in the Highlands to another, starved out of some districts, and forced from others by the opposition of the inhabitants, Bruce attempted to force his way into Lorn; but he found enemies every where. The M’Dougals, a powerful family, then called Lords of Lorn, were friendly to the English, and putting their men in arms, attacked Bruce and his wandering companions as soon as they attempted to enter their territory. The chief of these M’Dougals, called John of Lorn, hated Bruce on account of his having slain the Red Comyn in the church at Dumfries, to whom this M’Dougal was nearly related. Bruce was again defeated by this chief, through force of numbers, at a place called Dalry; but he showed, amidst his misfortunes, the greatness of his strength and courage. He directed his men to retreat through a narrow pass, and placing himself last of the party, he fought with and slew such of the enemy as attempted to press hard on them. Three followers of M’Dougal, a father and two sons, called M’Androsser, all very strong men, when they saw Bruce thus protecting the retreat of his followers, made a vow that they would either kill this redoubted champion, or make him prisoner. The whole three rushed on the King at once. Bruce was on horseback, in the strait pass we have described, betwixt a precipitous rock and a deep lake. He struck the first man who came up, and seized his horse’s rein, such a blow with his sword, as cut off his hand and freed the bridle. The man bled to death. The other brother had grasped Bruce in the mean time by the leg, and was attempting to throw him from horseback. The King, setting spurs to his horse, made the animal suddenly spring forward, so that the Highlander fell under the horse’s feet; and, as he was endeavouring to rise again, Bruce cleft his head in two with his sword. The father, seeing his two sons thus slain, flew desperately at the King, and grasped him by the mantle so close to his body, that he could not have room to wield his long sword. But with the heavy pommel of that weapon, or, as others say with an iron hammer which hung at his saddle-bow the King struck this third assailant so dreadful a blow, that he dashed out his brains. Still, however, the Highlander kept his dying grasp on the King’s mantle; so that, to be free of the dead body, Bruce was obliged to undo the brooch, or clasp, by which it was fastened, and leave that, and the mantle itself, behind him. The brooch, which fell thus into the possession of M’Dougal of Lorn, is still preserved in that ancient family, as a memorial that the celebrated Robert Bruce once narrowly escaped falling into the hands of their ancestor. Robert greatly resented this attack upon him; and when he was in happier circumstances, did not fail to take his revenge on M’Dougal, or, as he is usually called, John of Lorn.

The King met with many such encounters amidst his dangerous and dismal wanderings; yet, though almost always defeated by the superior numbers of the English, and of such Scots as sided with them, he still kept up his own spirits and those of his followers. He was a better scholar than was usual in those days, when, except clergymen, few people learned to read and write. But King Robert could do both very well; and we are told that he sometimes read aloud to his companions, to amuse them when they were crossing the great Highland lakes in such wretched leaky boats as they could find for that purpose. Loch Lomond, in particular, is said to have been the scene of such a lecture. You may see by this how useful it is to possess knowledge and accomplishments. If Bruce could not have read to his associates, and diverted their thoughts from their dangers and sufferings, he might not perhaps have been able to keep up their spirits, or secure their continued attachment.

At last dangers increased so much around the brave King Robert, that he was obliged to separate himself from his Queen and her ladies; for the winter was coming on, and it would be impossible for the women to endure this wandering sort of life when the frost and snow should set in. So Bruce left his queen with the Countess of Buchan and others, in the only castle which remained to him, which was called Kildrummie, and is situated near the head of the river Don in Aberdeenshire. The King also left his youngest brother, Nigel Bruce, to defend the castle against the English; and he himself, with his second brother Edward, who was a very brave man, but still more rash and passionate than Robert himself, went over to an island called Rachrin, on the coast of Ireland, where Bruce and the few men that followed his fortunes passed the winter of 1306. In the mean time, ill luck seemed to pursue all his friends in Scotland. The castle of Kildrummie was taken by the English, and Nigel Bruce, a beautiful and brave youth, was cruelly put to death by the victors. The ladies who had attended on Robert’s Queen, as well as the queen herself, and the Countess of Buchan, were thrown into strict confinement, and treated with the utmost severity.

The Countess of Buchan, as I before told you, had given Edward great offence by being the person who placed the crown on the head of Robert Bruce. She was imprisoned within the castle of Berwick, in a cage made on purpose. Some Scottish authors have pretended that this cage was hung over the walls with the poor countess, like a parrot’s cage out at a window. But this is their own ignorant idea. The cage of the Lady Buchan was a strong wooden and iron piece of frame-work, placed within an apartment, and resembling one of those places in which wild-beasts are confined. There were such cages in most old prisons to which captives were consigned, who, either for mutiny, or any other reason, were to be confined with peculiar rigour.

The news of the taking of Kildrummie, the captivity of his wife, and the execution of his brother, reached Bruce while he was residing in a miserable dwelling at Rachrin, and reduced him to the point of despair.

It was about this time that an incident took place, which, although it rests only on tradition in families of the name of Bruce, is rendered probable by the manners of the times. After receiving the last unpleasing intelligence from Scotland, Bruce was lying one morning on his wretched bed, and deliberating with himself whether he had not better resign all thoughts of again attempting to make good his right to the Scottish crown, and, dismissing his followers, transport himself and his brothers to the Holy Land, and spend the rest of his life in fighting against the Saracens; by which he thought, perhaps. He might deserve the forgiveness of Heaven for the great sin of stabbing Comyn in the church at Dumfries. But then, on the other hand, he thought it would be both criminal and cowardly to give up his attempts to restore freedom to Scotland, while there yet remained the least chance of his being successful in an undertaking which, rightly considered, was much more his duty than to drive the infidels out of Palestine, though the superstition of his age might think otherwise. While he was divided betwixt these reflections, and doubtful of what he should do, Bruce was looking upward to the roof of the cabin in which he lay; and his eye was attracted by a spider, which, hanging at the end of a long thread of its own spinning, was endeavouring, as is the fashion of that creature, to swing itself from one beam in the roof to another, for the purpose of fixing the line on which it meant to stretch its web. The insect made the attempt again and again without success; and at length Bruce counted that it had tried to carry its point six times, and been as often unable to do so. It came into his head that he had himself fought just six battles against the English and their allies, and that the poor persevering spider was exactly in the same situation with himself, having made as many trials, and been as often disappointed in what it aimed at. “Now,” thought Bruce,” as I have no means of knowing what is best to be done, I will be guided by the luck which shall attend this spider. If the insect shall make another effort to fix its thread, and shall be successful, I will venture a seventh time to try my fortune in Scotland; but if the spider shall fail I will go to the wars in Palestine, and never return to my native country more.”

While Bruce was forming this resolution, the spider made another exertion with all the force it could muster, and fairly succeeded in fastening its thread to the beam which it had so often in vain attempted to reach. Bruce, seeing the success of the spider, resolved to try his own fortune; and as he had never before gained a victory, so he never afterwards sustained any considerable or decisive check or defeat. I have often met with people of the name of Bruce, so completely persuaded of the truth of this story, that they would not on any account kill a spider; because it was that insect which had shown the example of perseverance, and given a signal of good luck to their great namesake. Having determined to renew his efforts to obtain possession of Scotland, notwithstanding the smallness of the means which he had for accomplishing so great a purpose, the Bruce removed himself and his followers from Rachrin to the island of Arran, which lies in the mouth of the Clyde. The King landed, and enquired of the first woman he met, what armed men were in the island. She returned for answer, that there had arrived there very lately a body of armed strangers, who had defeated an English officer, the governor of the castle of Brathwick, had killed him and most of his men, and were now amusing themselves with hunting about the island. The King, having caused himself to be guided to the woods which these strangers most frequented, there blew his horn repeatedly. Now, the chief of the strangers who had taken the castle, was James Douglas, whom we have already mentioned as one of the best of Bruce’s friends, and he was accompanied by some of the bravest of that patriotic band. When he heard Robert Bruce’s horn, he knew the sound well, and cried out, that yonder was the King, he knew by his manner of blowing. So he and his companions hastened to meet King Robert, and there was great joy on both sides; whilst at the same time they could not help weeping when they considered their own forlorn condition, and the great loss that had taken place among their friends since they had last parted. But they were stout-hearted men, and looked forward to freeing their country, in spite of all that had yet happened. The Bruce was now within sight of Scotland, and not distant from his own family possessions, where the people were most likely to be attached to him. He began immediately to form plans with Douglas, how they might best renew their enterprise against the English. The Douglas resolved to go disguised to his own country, and raise his followers, in order to begin their enterprise by taking revenge on an English nobleman called Lord Clifford, upon whom Edward had conferred his estates, and who had taken up his residence in the castle of Douglas. Bruce, on his part, opened a communication with the opposite coast of Carrick, by means of one of his followers called Cuthbert. This person had directions, that if he should find the countrymen in Carrick disposed to take up arms against the English, he was to make a fire on a headland, or lofty cape, called Turnberry, on the coast of Ayrshire, opposite to the island of Arran. The appearance of a fire on this place was to be a signal for Bruce to put to sea with such men as he had, who were not more than three hundred in number, for the purpose of landing in Carrick and joining the insurgents.

Bruce and his men watched eagerly for the signal, but for some time in vain. At length a fire on Turnberry-head became visible, and the King and his followers merrily betook themselves to their ships and galleys, concluding their Carrick friends were all in arms, and ready to join with them. They landed on the beach at midnight, where they found their spy Cuthbert alone in waiting for them, with very bad news. Lord Percy, he said, was in the country, with two or three hundred Englishmen, and had terrified the people so much, both by threats and actions, that none of them dared to think of rebelling against King Edward.

“Traitor!” said Bruce “why, then, did you make the signal?”

“Alas,” replied Cuthbert, “the fire was not made by me, but by some other person, for what purpose I know not; but as soon as I saw it burning, I knew that you would come over, thinking it my signal, and therefore l came down to wait for you on the beach, to tell you how the matter stood.”

King Robert’s first idea was to return to Arran after this disappointment; but his brother Edward refused to go back. He was, as I have told you, a man daring even to rashness.” I will not leave my native land.” He said, “now that I am so unexpectedly restored to it. I will give freedom to Scotland, or leave my carcass on the surface of the land which gave me birth.”

Bruce, also, after some hesitation, determined that since he had been thus brought to the mainland of Scotland, he would remain there, and take such adventure and fortune as Heaven should send him.

Accordingly, he began to skirmish with the English so successfully, as obliged the Lord Percy to quit Carrick. Bruce then dispersed his men upon various adventures against the enemy, in which they were generally successful. But then, on the other hand, the King, being left with small attendance, or sometimes almost alone, run great risk of losing his life by treachery, or by open violence. Several of these incidents are very interesting. I will tell you some of them.

At one time, a near relation of Bruce’s, in whom he entirely confided, was induced by the bribes of the English to attempt to put him to death. This villain, with his two sons, watched the King one morning, till he saw him separated from all his men, excepting a little boy, who waited on him as a page. The father had a sword in his hand, one of the sons had a sword and a spear, the other had a sword and a battle-axe. Now, when the King saw them so well armed, when there were no enemies near, he began to call to mind some hints which had been given to him, that these men intended to murder him. He had no weapons excepting his sword; but his page had a bow and arrow. He took them both from the little boy, and bade him stand at a distance; “for,” said the King, “if I overcome these traitors, thou shalt have enough of weapons; but if I am slain by them, you may make your escape, and tell Douglas and my brother to revenge my death,” The boy was very sorry, for he loved his master; but he was obliged to do as he was bidden.

In the mean time the traitors came forward upon Bruce, that they might assault him at once. The King called out to them, and commanded them to come no nearer, upon peril of their lives; but the father answered with flattering words, pretending great kindness, and still continuing to approach his person. Then the King again called to them to stand. “Traitors,” said he, “ye have sold my life for English gold; but you shall die if you come one foot nearer to me.” With that he bent the page’s bow; and as the old conspirator continued to advance, he let the arrow fly at him. Bruce was an excellent archer; he aimed his arrow so well, that it hit the father in the eye, and penetrated from that into his brain, so that he fell down dead. Then the two sons rushed on the King. One of them fetched a blow at him with an axe, but missed his stroke, and stumbled, so that the King with his great sword cut him down before he could recover his feet. The remaining traitor ran on Bruce with his spear; but the King, with a sweep of his sword, cut the steel head off the villain’s weapon, and then killed him before he had time to draw his sword. Then the little page came running, very joyful of his master’s victory; and the King wiped his bloody sword, and looking upon the dead bodies, said, “These might have been reputed three gallant men, if they could have resisted the temptation of covetousness.”

In the present day, it is not necessary that generals, or great officers, should fight with their own hand, because it is only their duty to direct the movements and exertions of their followers. The artillery and the soldiers shoot at the enemy; and men seldom mingle together, and fight hand to hand. But in ancient times, kings, and great lords were obliged to put themselves into the very front of the battle, and fight like ordinary men, with the lance and other weapons. It was, therefore, of great consequence that they should be strong men, and dexterous in the use of their arms. Robert Bruce was so remarkably active and powerful that he came through a great many personal dangers, in which he must otherwise have been slain. I will tell you another of his adventures, which I think will amuse you.

After the death of these three traitors, Robert the Bruce continued to keep himself concealed in his own earldom of Carrick, and in the neighbouring country of Galloway, until he should have matters ready for a general attack upon the English. He was obliged, in the mean time, to keep very few men with him, both for the sake of secrecy, and from the difficulty of finding provisions. Now, many of the people of Galloway were unfriendly to Bruce. They lived under the government of one M’Dougal, related to the Lord of Lorn, who, as I before told you, had defeated Bruce at Dalry, and very nearly killed or made him prisoner. These Galloway men had heard that Bruce was in their country, having no more than sixty men with him; so they resolved to attack him by surprise, and for this purpose they got two hundred men together, and brought with them two or three bloodhounds. These animals were trained to chase a man by the scent of his footsteps, as foxhounds chase a fox, or as beagles and harriers chase a hare. Although the dog does not see the person whose trace he is put upon, he follows him over every step he has taken. At that time these bloodhounds, or sleuth-hounds (so called from slot, or sleut, a word which signifies the scent left by an animal of chase), were used for the purpose of pursuing great criminals. The men of Galloway thought themselves secure, that if they missed taking Bruce, or killing him at the first onset, and if he should escape into the woods, they would find him out by means of these bloodhounds.

The good King Robert Bruce, who was always watchful and vigilant, had received some information of the intention of this party to come upon him suddenly and by night. Accordingly, he quartered his little troop of sixty men on the side of a deep and swift-running river, that had very steep and rocky banks. There was but one ford by which this river could be crossed in that neighbourhood, and that ford was deep and narrow, so that two men could scarcely get through abreast; the ground on which they were to land on the side where the King was, was steep, and the path which led upwards from the water’s edge to the top of the bank, extremely narrow and difficult. Bruce caused his men to lie down to take some sleep, at a place about half a mile distant from the river, while he himself, with two attendants, went down to watch the ford, through which the enemy must needs pass before they could come to the place where King Robert’s men were lying. He stood for some time looking at the ford, and thinking how easily the enemy might be kept from passing there, providing it was bravely defended, when he heard at a distance the baying of a hound, which was always coming nearer and nearer. This was the bloodhound which was tracing the King’s steps to the ford where he had crossed, and the two hundred Galloway men were along with the animal, and guided by it. Bruce at first thought of going back to awaken his men; but then he reflected that it might be only some shepherd’s dog. “My men,” he said, “are sorely tired; I will not disturb their sleep for the yelping of a cur, till I know something more of the matter.” So he stood and listened; and by and by, as the cry of the hound came nearer, he began to hear a trampling of horses, and the voices of men, and the ringing and clattering of armour, and then he was sure the enemy were coming to the river side. Then the King thought, “If I go back to give my men the alarm, these Galloway men will get through the ford without opposition; and that would be a pity, since it is a place so advantageous to make defence against them.” So he looked again at the steep path, and the deep river, and he thought that they gave him so much advantage, that he himself could defend the passage with his own hand, until his men came to assist him. His armour was so good and strong, that he had no fear of arrows, an therefore the combat was not so very unequal as it must have otherwise been. He therefore sent his followers to waken his men, and remained alone by the bank of the river, In the mean while, the noise and trampling of the horses increased; and the moon being bright, Bruce beheld the glancing arms of about two hundred men, who came down to the opposite bank of the river. The men of Galloway, on their part, saw but one solitary figure, guarding the ford, and the foremost of them plunged into the river without minding him. But as they could only pass the ford one by one, the Bruce, who stood high above them on the bank where they were to land, killed the foremost man with a thrust of his long spear, and with a second thrust stabbed the horse, which fell down, kicking and plunging in his agonies, on the narrow path, and so prevented the others who were following from getting out of the river. Bruce had thus an opportunity of dealing his blows at pleasure among them, while they could not strike at him again. In the confusion, five or six of the enemy were slain, or, having been borne down the current, were drowned in the river. The rest were terrified, and drew back. But when the Galloway men looked again, and saw they were opposed by only one man, they themselves being so many, they cried out, that their honour would be lost for ever if they did not force their way; and encouraged each other, with loud cries, to plunge through, and assault him. But by this time the King’s soldiers came up to his assistance, and the Galloway men retreated, and gave up their enterprise.

I will tell you another story of this brave Robert Bruce during his wanderings. His adventures are as curious and entertaining as those which men invent for story books, with this advantage, that they are all true.

About the time when the Bruce was yet at the head of but few men, Sir Aymer de Valence, who was Earl of Pembroke, together with John of Lorn, came into Galloway, each of them being at the head of a large body of men. John of Lorn had a bloodhound with him, which it was said had formerly belonged to Robert Bruce himself; and having been fed by the King with his own hands, it became attached to him, and would follow his footsteps any where, as dogs are well known to trace their master’s steps, whether they be blood-hounds or not. By means of this hound, John of Lorn thought he should certainly find out Bruce, and take revenge on him for the death of his relation Comyn.

When these two armies advanced upon King Robert, he at first thought of fighting with the English earl; but becoming aware that John of Lorn was moving round with another large body to attack him in the rear, he resolved to avoid fighting at that time, lest he should be oppressed by numbers. For this purpose, the King divided the men he had with him into three bodies, and commanded them to retreat by three different ways, thinking the enemy would not know which party to pursue. He also appointed a place at which they were to assemble again. But when John of Lorn came to the place where the army of Bruce had been thus divided, the bloodhound took his course after one of these divisions, neglecting the other two, and then John of Lorn knew that the King must be in that party; so he also made no pursuit after the two other divisions of the Scots, but followed that which the dog pointed out, with all his men.

The King again saw that he was followed by a large body, and being determined to escape from them, if possible, he made all the people who were with him disperse themselves different ways, thinking thus that the enemy must needs lose trace of him. He kept only one man along with him, and that was his own foster-brother, or the son of his nurse. When John of Lorn came to the place where Bruce’s companions had dispersed themselves, the bloodhound, after it had snuffed up and down for a little, quitted the footsteps of all the other fugitives, and ran barking upon the track of two men out of the whole number. Then John of Lorn knew that one of these two must needs be King Robert. Accordingly, he commanded five of his men that were speedy of foot to chase after him, and either make him prisoner, or slay him. The Highlanders started off accordingly, and ran so fast, that they gained sight of Robert and his foster-brother. The King asked his companion what help he could give him, and his foster-brother answered he was ready to do his best. So these two turned on the five men of John of Lorn, and killed them all. It is to be supposed they were better armed than the others were, as well as stronger and more desperate.

But by this time Bruce was very much fatigued, and yet they dared not sit down to take any rest; for whenever they stopt for an instant, they heard the cry of the blood-hound behind them, and knew by that, that their enemies were coming up fast after them. At length, they came to a wood, through which ran a small river. Then Bruce said to his foster-brother, “Let us wade down this stream for a great way, instead of going straight across, and so this unhappy hound will lose the scent; for if we were once clear of him, I should not be afraid of getting away from the pursuers.” Accordingly the King and his attendant walked a great way down the stream, taking care to keep their feet in the water, which could not retain any scent where they had stepped. Then they came ashore on the farther side from the enemy, and went deep into the wood before they stopped to rest themselves. In the mean while, the hound led John of Lorn straight to the place where the King went into the water, but there the dog began to be puzzled, not knowing where to go next; for you are well aware that the running water could not retain the scent of a man’s foot, like that which remains on turf. So, John of Lorn seeing the dog was at fault, as it is called, that is, had lost the track of that which he pursued, he gave up the chase, and returned to join with Aymer de Valance. But King Robert’s adventures were not yet ended. His foster-brother and he had rested themselves in the wood, but they had got no food, and were become extremely hungry. They walked on, however, in hopes of coming to some habitation. At length, in the midst of the forest, they met with three men who looked like thieves or ruffians. They were well armed, and one of them bore a sheep on his back, which it seemed as if they had just stolen. They saluted the King civilly; and he, replying to their salutation, asked them where they were going. The men answered, they were seeking for Robert Bruce, for that they intended to join with him. The King answered, that if they would go with him, he would conduct them where they would find the Scottish King. Then the man who had spoken, changed countenance, and Bruce, who looked sharply at him, began to suspect that the ruffian guessed who he was, and that he and his companions had some design against his person, in order to gain the reward which had been offered for his life.

So he said to them, “My good friends, as we are not well acquainted with each other, you must go before us, and we will follow near to you.” “You have no occasion to suspect any harm from us,” answered the man.

“Neither do I suspect any,” said Bruce; “but this is the way in which I choose to travel.” The men did as he commanded, and thus they travelled till they came together to a waste and ruinous cottage, where the men proposed to dress some part of the sheep, which their companion was carrying. The King was glad to hear of food; but he insisted that there should be two fires kindled, one for himself and his foster-brother, at one end of the house, the other at the other end for their three companions. The men did as he desired. They broiled a quarter of mutton for themselves, and gave another to the King and his attendant. They were obliged to eat it without bread or salt; but as they were very hungry, they were glad to get food in any shape, and partook of it very heartily. Then so heavy a drowsiness fell on King Robert, that, for all the danger he was in, he could not resist an inclination to sleep. But first, he desired his foster-brother to watch while he slept, for he had great suspicion of their new acquaintances. His foster-brother promised to keep awake, and did his best to keep his word. But the King had not been long asleep ere his foster-brother fell into a deep slumber also, for he had undergone as much fatigue as the King. When the three villains saw the King and his attendant asleep, they made signs to each other, and rising up at once, drew their swords with the purpose to kill them both. But the King slept but lightly, and for as little noise as the traitors made in rising, he was awakened by it, and starting up, drew his sword, and went to meet them. At the same moment he pushed his foster-brother with his foot, to awaken him, and he got on his feet; but ere he got his eyes cleared to see what was about to happen, one of the ruffians that were advancing to slay the King, killed him with a stroke of his sword. The King was now alone, one man against three, and in the greatest danger of his life; but his amazing strength, and the good armour which he wore, freed him once more from this great peril, and he killed the three men, one after another. He then left the cottage, very sorrowful for the death of his faithful foster-brother, and took his direction towards the place where he had appointed his men to assemble after their dispersion. It was now near night, and the place of meeting being a farm-house, he went boldly into it, where he found the mistress, an old true-hearted Scotswoman, sitting alone. Upon seeing a stranger enter, she asked him who and what he was. The King answered that he was a traveller, who was journeying through the country. “All travellers,” answered the good woman, are welcome here, for the sake of one.” “And who is that one,” said the King, “for whose sake you make all travellers welcome?” “It is our rightful king, Robert the Bruce,” answered the mistress, “who is the lawful lord of this country; and although he is now pursued and hunted after with hounds and horns, I hope to live to see him King over all Scotland.” “Since you love him so well, dame,” said the King, “know that you see him before you. I am Robert the Bruce.”

“You!” said the good woman, in great surprise; “and wherefore are you thus alone? — where are all your men?”

“I have none with me at this moment,” answered Bruce,” and therefore I must travel alone.” “But that shall not be,” said the brave old dame, “for I have two stout sons, gallant and trusty men, who shall be your servants for life and death.” So she brought her two sons, and though she well knew the dangers to which she exposed them, she made them swear fidelity to the King; and they afterwards became high officers in his service. Now, the loyal old woman was getting every thing ready for the King’s supper, when suddenly there was a great trampling of horses heard round the house. They thought it must be some of the English, or John of Lorn’s men, and the good wife called upon her sons to fight to the last for King Robert. But shortly after, they heard the voice of the Good Lord James of Douglas, and of Edward Bruce, the King’s brother, who had come with a hundred and fifty horsemen to this farm-house, according to the instructions that the King had left with them at parting.

Robert the Bruce was right joyful to meet his brother, and his faithful friend Lord James; and had no sooner found himself once more at the head of such a considerable body of followers, than, forgetting hunger and weariness, he began to enquire where the enemy who had pursued them so long had taken up their abode for the night; “for,” said he, “as they must suppose us totally scattered and fled, it is likely that they will think themselves quite secure, and disperse themselves into distant quarters, and keep careless watch.” “That is very true,” answered James of Douglas, “for I passed a village where there are two hundred of them quartered, who had placed no sentinels; and if you have a mind to make haste, we may surprise them this very night, and do them more mischief than they have been able to do us during all this day’s chase.”

Then there was nothing but mount and ride; and as the Scots came by surprise on the body of English whom Douglas had mentioned, and rushed suddenly into the village where they were quartered, they easily dispersed and cut them to pieces; thus, as Douglas had said, doing their pursuers more injury than they themselves had received during the long and severe pursuit of the preceding day.

consequence of these successes of King Robert was, that soldiers came to join him on all sides, and that he obtained several victories both over Sir Aymer de Valence, Lord Clifford, and other English commanders; until at length the English were afraid to venture into the open country as formerly, unless when they could assemble themselves in considerable bodies. They thought it safer to lie still in the towns and castles which they had garrisoned, and wait till the King of England should once more come to their assistance with a powerful army.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00