So saying, the prior sharply touched a bell which stood on a table near him. The monk re-entered. The prior waved his hand: "Take these guests to the refectory and see that they have all they stand in need of, and that the bed chambers are prepared. In the morning I would speak to them again."
A Mission to Ireland
Father Austin was as good as his word, and it was long indeed since Archie had sat down to such a meal as that which was spread for him. Hungry as he was, however, he could scarce keep his eyes open to its conclusion, so great was the fatigue of mind and body; and on retiring to the chamber which the monks had prepared for him, he threw himself on a couch and instantly fell asleep. In the morning the gale still blew violently, but with somewhat less fury than on the preceding evening. He joined the monks at their morning meal in the refectory, and after their repast they gathered round him to listen to his news of what was doing in Scotland; for although at ordinary times pilgrims came not unfrequently to visit the holy isle of Colonsay, in the present stormy times men stirred but little from home, and it was seldom that the monks obtained news of what was passing on the mainland. Presently a servitor brought word that the prior would see Archie.
"It was ill talking last night," the prior said, "with a man hungry and worn out; but I gathered from what you said that you are not only a follower of Bruce, but that you were with him at that fatal day at Dumfries when he drew his dagger upon Comyn in the sanctuary."
"I was there, holy father," Archie replied, "and can testify that the occurrence was wholly unpremeditated; but Bruce had received sufficient provocation from the Comyn to afford him fair reason for slaying him wheresoever they might meet. But none can regret more than he does that that place of meeting was in a sanctuary. The Comyn and Bruce had made an agreement together whereby the former relinquished his own claims to the throne of Scotland on condition that Bruce, on attaining the throne, would hand over to him all his lordships in Carrick and Annandale."
"It were a bad bargain," the prior said, "seeing that Comyn would then be more powerful than his king."
"So I ventured to tell the Bruce," Archie replied.
"Thou?" the prior said; "you are young, sir, to be in a position to offer counsel to Robert Bruce."
"I am young, holy prior," Archie said modestly; "but the king is good enough to overlook my youth in consideration of my fidelity to the cause of Scotland. My name is Archibald Forbes."
"Sir Archibald Forbes!" the prior repeated, rising; "and are you really that loyal and faithful Scottish knight who fought ever by the side of Wallace, and have almost alone refused ever to bow the knee to the English? Even to this lonely isle tales have come of your valour, how you fought side by side with Wallace, and were, with Sir John Grahame, his most trusty friend and confidant. Many of the highest and noblest of Scotland have for centuries made their way to the shrine of Colonsay, but none more worthy to be our guest. Often have I longed to see so brave a champion of our country, little thinking that you would one day come a storm driven guest. Truly am I glad to see you, and I say it even though you may have shared in the deed at Dumfries, for which I would fain hope from your words there is fairer excuse to be made than I had hitherto deemed. I have thought that the Bishops of St. Andrews and Glasgow were wrong in giving their countenance to a man whom the holy father had condemned—a man whose prior history gives no ground for faith in his patriotism, who has taken up arms, now for, now against, the English, but has ever been ready to make terms with the oppressor, and to parade as his courtier at Westminster. In such a man I can have no faith, and deem that, while he pretends to fight for Scotland, he is in truth but warring for his own aggrandizement. But since you, the follower and friend of the disinterested and intrepid champion of Scotland, speak for the Bruce, it maybe that my judgement has been too severe upon him."
Archie now related the incident of his journey to London to urge Bruce to break with Edward and to head the national movement. He told how, even before the discovery of his agreement with Comyn, brought about by the treachery of the latter, Bruce had determined definitely to throw in his cause with that of Scotland; how upon that discovery he had fled north, and, happening to meet Comyn at Dumfries, within the limits of the sanctuary, had, in his indignation and ire at his treachery, drawn and slain him. Then he told the tale of what had taken place after the rout of Methven, how bravely Bruce had borne himself, and had ever striven to keep up the hearts of his companions; how cheerfully he had supported the hardships, and how valiantly he had borne himself both at Methven and when attacked by the MacDougalls of Lorne.
"Whatever his past may have been," Archie concluded, "I hold that now the Bruce is as earnest in the cause of Scotland as was even my dear leader Wallace. In strength and in courage he rivals that valiant knight, for though I hold that Wallace was far more than a match for any man of his time, yet Bruce is a worthy second to him, for assuredly no one in Scotland could cross swords with him on equal chances. That he will succeed in his enterprise it were rash to say, for mighty indeed are the odds against him; but if courage, perseverance, and endurance can wrest Scotland from the hands of the English, Robert Bruce will, if he lives, accomplish the task."
"Right glad am I," the prior replied, "to hear what you have told me. Hitherto, owing to my memory of his past and my horror at his crime—for though from what you tell me there was much to excuse it, still it was a grievous crime—I have had but little interest in the struggle, but henceforth this will be changed. You may tell the king that from this day, until death or victory crown his efforts, prayers will be said to heaven night and day at Colonsay for his success."
It was four days before the storm was over and the sea sufficiently calmed to admit of Archie's departure. During that time he remained as the honoured guest of the priory, and the good monks vied with the prior in their attentions to the young knight, the tales of whose doings, as one of Scotland's foremost champions, had so often reached their lonely island. At the end of that time, the sea being now calm and smooth, with a light wind from the north, Archie bade adieu to his hosts and sailed from Colonsay.
Light as the wind was, it sufficed to fill the sail; and as the boat glided over the scarce rippled water Archie could not but contrast the quiet sleepy motion with the wild speed at which the boat had torn through the water on her northern way. It was not until the following morning that Rathlin again came in sight.
As the boat was seen approaching, and was declared by the islanders to be that which they had regarded as lost in the storm a week previously, the king, Douglas, and the rest of his followers made their way down to the shore; and loud was the shout of welcome which arose when Archie stood up and waved his hand.
"Verily, Archie Forbes," the king said as he warmly embraced the young knight, "I shall begin to think that the fairies presided at your birth and gave you some charm to preserve your life alike against the wrath of men and of the elements. Never assuredly did anyone pass through so many dangers unscathed as you have done."
"I hope to pass through as many more, sire, in your service," Archie said smiling.
"I hope so, indeed," Bruce replied; "for it were an evil day for me and for Scotland that saw you fall; but henceforth I will fret no more concerning you. You alone of Wallace's early companions have survived. You got free from Dunstaffnage by some miracle which you have never fully explained to me, and now it would seem that even the sea refuses to swallow you."
"I trust," Archie said more gravely, "that the old saying is not true in my case, and that hanging is not to be my fate. Assuredly it will be if I ever fall into the hands of Edward, and I shall think it a cruel fate indeed if fortune, which has spared me so often in battle, leads me to that cruel end at last."
"I trust not indeed, Sir Archie," the king said, "though hanging now has ceased to be a dishonourable death when so many of Scotland's best and bravest have suffered it at the English hands. However, I cannot but think that your fairy godmother must have reserved for you the fate of the heroes of most of the stories of my old nurse, which always wound up with 'and so he married, and lived happily ever after.' And now, Archie, tell me all that has befallen you, where you have been, and how you fared, and by what miraculous chance you escaped the tempest. All our eyes were fixed on the boat when you laboured to reach the shore, and had you heard the groans we uttered when we saw you give up the effort as hopeless and fly away to sea before the wind you would have known how truly all your comrades love you. We gave you up as assuredly lost, for the islanders here agreed that you had no chance of weathering the gale, and that the boat would, ere many hours, be dashed to pieces either on Islay or Jura, should it even reach so far; but the most thought that you would founder long ere you came in sight of the land."
Accompanying the king with his principal companions to the hut which he occupied, Archie related the incidents of the voyage and of their final refuge at Colonsay.
"It was a wonderful escape," the king said when he finished, "and the holy Virgin and the saints must assuredly have had you in their especial care. You have cost us well nigh a fortune, for not one of us but vowed offerings for your safety, which were, perchance, the more liberal, since we deemed the chances of paying them so small. However, they shall be redeemed, for assuredly they have been well earned, and for my share I am bound, when I come to my own, to give a piece of land of the value of one hundred marks a year to the good monks of St. Killian's to be spent in masses for the souls of those drowned at sea."
Some days later the king said to Archie, "I have a mission for you; 'tis one of danger, but I know that that is no drawback in your eyes."
"I am ready," Archie said modestly, "to carry out to the best of my power any errand with which your majesty may intrust me."
"I have been thinking, Sir Archie, that I might well make some sort of alliance with the Irish chieftains. Many of these are, like most of our Scotch nobles, on terms of friendship with England; still there are others who hold aloof from the conquerors. It would be well to open negotiations with these, so that they by rising might distract Edward's attention from Scotland, while we, by our efforts, would hinder the English from sending all their force thither, and we might thus mutually be of aid to each other. At present I am, certes, in no position to promise aid in men or money; but I will bind myself by an oath that if my affairs in Scotland prosper I will from my treasury furnish money to aid them in carrying on the struggle, and that if I clear Scotland of her oppressors I will either go myself or send one of my brothers with a strong force to aid the Irish to follow our example. The mission is, as you will see, Sir Archie, a dangerous one; for should any of the English, or their Irish allies, lay hands on you, your doom would be sealed. Still you may do me and Scotland great service should you succeed in your mission. Even minor risings would be of much utility, seeing that they would at any rate prevent Edward from bringing over troops from Ireland to assist in our conquest. I have thought the matter over deeply, and conclude that, young as you are, I can intrust it to you with confidence, and that you are indeed the best fitted among those with me to undertake it. Douglas is but a boy; my brother Edward is too hot and rash; Boyd is impatient and headstrong, trusty and devoted to me though he is; but I am sure that in you there is no lack either of prudence or courage. Hence, Sir Archie, if you will undertake it I will intrust it to you."
"I will willingly undertake it, sire, since you think me fitting for it, and deem it a high honour indeed that you have chosen me. When will you that I start?"
"It were best to lose no time," the king replied, "and if you have no reason for delay I would that you should embark tonight, so that before daybreak you may have gained the Irish shore. They tell me that there are many desperate men in refuge among the caves on the coast, and among these you might choose a few who might be useful to you in your project; but it is not in this part that a rising can be effected, for the country inland is comparatively flat and wholly in the hands of the English. It is on the west coast that the resistance to the English was continued to the last, and here from time to time it blazes out again. In those parts, as they tell me, not only are there wild mountains and fastnesses such as we have in Scotland, but there are great morasses and swamps, extending over wide tracts, where heavy armed soldiers cannot penetrate, and where many people still maintain a sort of wild independence, defying all the efforts of the English to subdue them. The people are wild and savage, and ever ready to rise against the English. Here, then, is the country where you are most likely to find chiefs who may enter into our plans, and agree to second our efforts for independence. Here are some rings and gold chains, which are all that remain to me of my possessions. Money I have none; but with these you may succeed in winning the hearts of some of these savage chieftains. Take, too, my royal signet, which will be a guarantee that you have power to treat in my name. I need not tell you to be brave, Sir Archie; but be prudent—remember that your life is of the utmost value to me. I want you not to fight, but simply to act as my envoy. If you succeed in raising a great fire in the west of Ireland, remain there and act as councillor to the chiefs, remembering that you are just as much fighting for Scotland there as if you were drawing sword against her foes at home. If you find that the English arm is too strong, and the people too cowed and disheartened to rise against it, then make your way back here by the end of three months, by which time I hope to sail hence and to raise my standard in Scotland again."
On leaving the king Archie at once conferred with Duncan the fisherman, who willingly agreed that night to set him ashore in Ireland.
"I will land you," he said, "at a place where you need not fear that any English will meet you. It is true that they have a castle but three miles away perched on a rock on the coast. It is called Dunluce, and commands a wide seaward view, and for this reason it were well that our boat were far out at sea again before morning dawned, so that if they mark us they will not suppose that we have touched on the coast; else they might send a party to search if any have landed—not even then that you need fear discovery, for the coast abounds in caves and hiding places. My sons have often landed there, for we do a certain trade in the summer from the island in fish and other matters with the natives there. If it pleases you my son Ronald, who is hardy and intelligent, shall land with you and accompany you as your retainer while you remain in Ireland. The people there speak a language quite different to that which you use in the lowlands of Scotland and in England, but the language we speak among ourselves closely resembles it, and we can be easily understood by the people of the mainland. You would be lost did you go among the native Irish without an interpreter."
Archie thankfully accepted the offer, and that night, after bidding adieu to the friends and his comrades, started in Duncan's boat.
"'Tis a strange place where I am going to land you," the fisherman said; "such a place as nowhere else have my eyes beheld, though they say that at the Isle of Staffa, far north of Colonsay, a similar sight is to be seen. The rocks, instead of being rugged or square, rise in close columns like the trunks of trees, or like the columns in the church of the priory of Colonsay. Truly they seem as if wrought by the hands of men, or rather of giants, seeing that no men could carry out so vast a work. The natives have legends that they are the work of giants of old times. How this may be I know not, though why giants should have engaged in so useless a work passes my understanding. However, there are the pillars, whosoever placed them there. Some of them are down by the level of the sea. Here their heads seem to be cut off so as to form a landing place, to which the natives give the name of the Giant's Causeway. Others in low rows stand on the face of the cliff itself, though how any could have stood there to work them, seeing that no human foot can reach the base, is more than I can say. 'Tis a strange and wonderful sight, as you will say when the morning light suffers you to see it."
It was fortunate that Duncan knew the coast so well, and was able by the light of the stars to find a landing place, for quiet as the sea appeared a swell rose as they neared the shore, and the waves beat heavily on the wild and rocky coast. Duncan, however, steered his boat to the very foot of the Causeway, and then, watching his opportunity, Archie sprang ashore followed by Ronald. A few words of adieu were spoken, and then the boat rowed out to sea again, while Archie and Ronald turned away from the landing place.
"It were best," the young fisherman said, "to find a seat among the rocks, and there to await the dawn, when I can guide you to some caves hard by; but in the darkness we might well fall and break a limb did we try and make our way across the coast."
A niche was soon found, and Archie and his companion sat down for a while. Archie, however, soon discovered that the sides and back of his seat were formed of the strange columns of which Duncan had spoken, and that he was sitting upon the tops of others which had broken off. Eagerly he passed his hands over the surface of these strange pillars, and questioned his companion as to what he knew about them; but Ronald could tell him no more than his father had done, and Archie was forced to await the dawn to examine more closely the strange columns. Daylight only added to his wonder. On all sides of him stretched the columns, packed in a dense mass together, while range above range they stood on the face of the great cliffs above him. The more he examined them the more his wonder grew.
"They can neither be the work of men nor giants," he said, "but must have been called up by the fantastic freak of some powerful enchanter. Hitherto I have not believed the tales of these mysterious beings of old times; but after seeing these wonderful pillars I can no longer doubt, for assuredly no mortal hand could have done this work."
Ronald now urged that they had better be moving, as it was possible, although unlikely enough, that one passing along the top of the cliffs might get sight of them. They accordingly moved along the shore, and in a quarter of a mile reached the mouth of a great cave. The bottom was covered with rocks, which had fallen from the roof, thickly clustered over with wet seaweed, which, indeed, hung from the sides far up, showing that at high tide the sea penetrated far into the cave.
"The ground rises beyond," Ronald said, "and you will find recesses there which the tide never reaches." They moved slowly at first until their eyes became accustomed to the darkness; then they kept on, the ground getting more even as they ascended, until they stood on a dry and level floor.
"Now I will strike a light," Ronald said, "and light the torch which I brought with me. We are sure to find plenty of driftwood cast up at the highest point the tide reaches. Then we can make a fire, and while you remain here I will go out and find some of the natives, and engage a guide to take us forward tonight."
Taking out his flint and steel, Ronald proceeded to strike a light, and after several efforts succeeded in doing so and in igniting some dried moss which he had brought with him, carefully shielded from damp in the folds of his garment. As a light flame rose he applied his torch to it; but as he did so, came an exclamation of astonishment, for gathered in a circle round them were a dozen wild figures. All were armed and stood in readiness to strike down the intruders into their hiding place. They were barefooted, and had doubtless been asleep in the cave until, when awakened by the approaching footsteps and voices, they had silently arisen and prepared to fall upon the intruders.
"We are friends," Ronald said in the native language when he recovered from his start of surprise. "I am Ronald, a fisherman from Rathlin, and was over here in the summer exchanging fish for sheep."
"I recollect you," one of the men said; "but what do you here so strangely and secretly? Are the English hunting you too from your island as they have done us?"
"They have not come to Rathlin yet," Ronald said.
"Doubtless they would do so, but 'tis too poor to offer any temptation for their greed. But they are our enemies as they are yours. I am here to guide this Scottish knight, who is staying at Rathlin, a fugitive from their vengeance like yourself, and who is charged with a mission from the King of Scotland to your chiefs, whom he would fain induce to join in a rising against the power of the English."
"He is welcome," the man who appeared to be the leader of the party replied, "and may he succeed in his object; but," he continued bitterly, "I fear that the chance is a small one. The Norman foot is on our necks, and most of those who should be our leaders have basely accepted the position of vassals to the English king. Still there are brave hearts yet in Ireland who would gladly rise did they see even a faint chance of success. Hundreds are there who, like us, prefer to live the lives of hunted dogs in caves, in mountain fastnesses, or in the bogs, rather than yield to the English yoke. Tell me your plans and whither you would go; and I will give you guides who know every foot of the country, and who can lead you to the western hills, where, though no open resistance is made, the English have scarce set foot. There we generally find refuge; and 'tis only at times, when the longing to see the homes of our childhood becomes too strong for us, that I and those you see—all of whom were born and reared between this and Coleraine—come hither for a time, when at night we can issue out and prowl round the ruins of the homes of our fathers."
While this conversation had been going on, the others, seeing that the visit was a friendly one, had set to work, and bringing up driftwood from below, piled it round the little blaze which Ronald had commenced, and soon had a great fire lighted. They then produced the carcass of a sheep which they had the evening before carried off. Ronald had brought with him a large pile of oaten cakes, and a meal was speedily prepared.
Archie could not but look with surprise at the wild figures around him, lit up by the dancing glare of the fire. Their hair lay in tangled masses on their necks; their attire was of the most primitive description, consisting but of one garment secured round the waist by a strap of untanned leather; their feet and legs were bare. Their hair was almost black; their eyes small and glittering, with heavy overhanging brows; and they differed altogether in appearance even from the wildest and poorest of the Scottish peasantry. In their belts all bore long knives of rough manufacture, and most of them carried slings hanging from the belt, in readiness for instant use. In spite of the wildness of their demeanour they seemed kindly and hospitable; and many were the questions which they asked Ronald concerning the King of Scotland and his knights who were in refuge at Rathlin.
When the meal was over all stretched themselves on the sand like so many animals, and without further preparation went off to sleep. Archie, knowing that nothing could be done until nightfall, followed their example. The fire had by this time burned low, and soon perfect stillness reigned in the great cavern, save that far away at its mouth the low thunder of the waves upon the rocks came up in a confused roar.
An Irish Rising
When night came on Archie started for the west, accompanied by Ronald and two of the Irish as guides. They crossed the country without question or interference, and reached the wild mountains of Donegal in safety. Archie had asked that his conductors should lead him to the abode of the principal chieftain of the district. The miserable appearance of the sparsely scattered villages through which they had passed had prepared him to find that the superiors of such a people would be in a very different position from the feudal lords of the Highlands of Scotland. He was not surprised, therefore, when his attendants pointed out a small hold, such as would appertain to a small landowner on the Scottish Border, as the residence of the chief. Around it were scattered a number of low huts composed of turf, roofed with reeds. From these, when the approach of strangers was reported, a number of wild looking figures poured out, armed with weapons of the most primitive description. A shout from Archie's guides assured these people that the newcomer was not, as his appearance betokened him, a Norman knight, but a visitor from Scotland who sought a friendly interview with the chief.
Insignificant as was the hold, it was evident that something like feudal discipline was kept up. Two men, armed with pikes, were stationed on the wall, while two others leant in careless fashion against the posts of the open gate. On the approach of Archie an elderly man, with a long white beard, came out to meet them. Ronald explained to him that Archie was a knight who had come as an emissary from the King of Scotland to the Irish chieftains, and desired to speak with the great Fergus of Killeen. The old man bowed deeply to Archie, and then escorted him into the house.
The room which they entered occupied the whole of the ground floor of the hold, and was some thirty feet wide by forty long. As apparently trees of sufficient length to form the beams of so wide an apartment could not be obtained, the floor above was supported by two rows of roughly squared posts extending down from end to end. The walls were perfectly bare. The beams and planks of the ceiling were stained black by the smoke of a fire which burned in one corner; the floor was of clay beaten hard. A strip some ten feet wide, at the further end, was raised eighteen inches above the general level, forming a sort of dais. Here, in a carved settle of black wood, sat the chief. Some females, evidently the ladies of his family, were seated on piles of sheepskins, and were plying their distaffs; while an aged man was seated on the end of the dais with a harp of quaint form on his knee; his fingers touched a last chord as Archie entered, and he had evidently been playing while the ladies worked. Near him on the dais was a fire composed of wood embers, which were replenished from time to time with fresh glowing pieces of charcoal taken from the fire at the other end of the room, so that the occupants of the dais should not be annoyed by the smoke arising close to them.
The chief was a fine looking man about fifty years old. He was clad in a loose fitting tunic of soft dark green cloth, confined at the waist by a broad leathern band with silver clasp and ornaments, and reaching to his knees. His arms were bare; on his feet he wore sandals, and a heavy sword rested against the wall near his hand. The ladies wore dresses of similar material and of somewhat similar fashion, but reaching to the feet. They wore gold armlets; and the chief's wife had a light band of gold round her head. The chief rose when Archie entered; and upon the seneschal informing him of the rank and mission of his visitor he stepped from the dais, and advancing, greeted him warmly. Then he led him back to the dais, where he presented to him the ladies of his family, ordering the retainers, of whom about a score were gathered in the hall, to place two piles of sheepskins near the fire. On one of these he sat down, and motioned to Archie to take his place on the other—his own chair being removed to a corner. Then, through the medium of Ronald, the conversation began.
Archie related to the chief the efforts which the Scotch were making to win their freedom from England, and urged in the king's name that a similar effort should be made by the Irish; as the forces of the English, being thereby divided and distracted, there might be better hope of success. The chief heard the communication in grave silence. The ladies of the family stood behind the chief with deeply interested faces; and as the narrative of the long continued struggle which the Scots were making for freedom continued it was clear, by their glowing cheeks and their animated faces, how deeply they sympathized in the struggle.
The wife of the chief, a tall and stately lady, stood immediately behind him with her two daughters, girls of some seventeen or eighteen years of age, beside her. As Ronald was translating his words Archie glanced frequently at the group, and thought he had never seen one fairer or more picturesque. There was a striking likeness between mother and daughters; but the expression of staid dignity in the one was in the others replaced by a bright expression of youth and happiness. Their beauty was of a kind new to Archie. Their dark glossy hair was kept smoothly in place by the fillet of gold in the mother's case, and by purple ribbons in that of the daughters. Their eyebrows and long eyelashes were black, but their eyes were gray, and as light as those to which Archie was accustomed under the fair tresses of his countrywomen. The thing that struck him most in the faces of the girls was their mobility, the expression changing as it seemed in an instant from grave to gay—flushing at one moment with interest at the tale of deeds of valour, paling at the next at the recital of cruel oppression and wrong. When Archie had finished his narrative he presented to the chief a beautifully wrought chain of gold as a token from the King of Scotland.
The chief was silent for some time after the interpreter concluded Archie's narrative; then he said:
"Sir knight, it almost seems to me as if I had been listening to the tale of the wrongs of Ireland, save that it appears that the mastery of the English here has been more firmly established than with you. This may be from the nature of the country; our hills are, for the most part, bare, while yours, you say, are covered with forest. Thus the Normans could more easily, when they had once gained the upper hand, crush out the last vestiges of opposition than they could with you. As I judge from what you say, the English in Scotland hold all the fortresses, and when the people rise they remain sheltered in them until assistance comes from England. With us it is different. First they conquer all the country; then from a wide tract, a third perhaps of the island, they drive out the whole of the people, and establish themselves firmly there, portioning the land among the soldiery and repeopling the country with an English race. Outside this district the Irish chieftains, like myself, retain something of independence; we pay a tribute, and are in the position of feudatories, being bound to furnish so many men for the King of England's wars if called upon to do so. The English seldom come beyond their pale so long as the tribute is paid, and the yoke, therefore, weighs not so heavy upon us; but were we to rise, the English army would pour out from its pale and carry fire and sword throughout the country.
"We, like you, have been without one who would unite us against the common enemy. Our great chiefs have, for the most part, accepted English titles, and since their power over the minor chiefs is extended, rather than decreased by the changed circumstances, they are well content, for they rule now over their districts, not only as Irish chieftains, but as English lieutenants. You have seen, as you journeyed here, how sparse is the population of our hills, and how slight would be the opposition which we could offer, did the Earl of Ulster sweep down upon us with trained English soldiers.
"Were there a chance of success, Fergus of Killeen would gladly draw the sword again; but I will not bring ruin upon my family and people by engaging in a hopeless enterprise. Did I raise my standard, all Donegal would take up arms; but Donegal alone is powerless against England. I know my people—they are ready for the fray, they would rush to battle and perish in thousands to win victory, but one great defeat would crush them. The story of the long fight which your Wallace, with a small following, made against the power of England, will never be told of an Irish leader. We have bravery and reckless courage, but we have none of the stubborn obstinacy of your Scottish folk. Were the flag raised the people would flock to it, and would fight desperately; but if they lost, there would be utter and complete collapse. The fortitude to support repeated defeats, to struggle on when the prospect seems darkest, does not belong to my people.
"It is for this reason that I have no hope that Ireland will ever regain its independence. She may struggle against the yoke, she may blaze out again and again in bloody risings, our sons may die in tens of thousands for her; but never, I believe, as long as the men of the two countries remain what they are, will Ireland recover her independence, for, in the long run, English perseverance and determination will overcome the fitful courage of the Irish. I grieve that I should say it. I mourn that I feel it my duty to repress rather than to encourage the eager desire of my people to draw the sword and strike for freedom; but such is my conviction.
"But understand, sir knight, that whatever I may think, I shall not be backward in doing my part. If Ireland again rises, should the other native chieftains determine to make one more effort to drive the English across the channel, be sure that Fergus of Killeen and the men of Donegal will be in the front of the battle. No heart beats more warmly for freedom than mine; and did I stand alone I would take to the bogs and join those who shelter there, defying the might of England. But I have my people to think of. I have seen how the English turn a land to desolation as they sweep across it, and I will not bring fire and sword into these mountain valleys unless all Ireland is banded in a common effort. You have seen Scotland wasted from sea to sea, her cities burned, her people slain by thousands, her dales and valleys wasted; and can you tell me that after these years of struggle you have gained any such advantage as would warrant your advising me to rise against England?"
Archie was silent. Thinking over the struggle in which he had taken part for so many years, and remembering the woes that it had brought on Scotland, and that, after fighting so long, Bruce and the handful of fugitives at Rathlin were the sole survivors of the patriotic party, he could not but acknowledge at heart the justice of the chiefs words. His sole hope for Scotland now rested in the perseverance and personal valour of the king, and the stubborn character of the people, which he felt assured would lead them to rise again and again, in spite of disaster and defeat, until freedom was won. The Irish possessed no Bruce; their country was less defendible than Scotland; and if, as Fergus said, they had none of that indomitable perseverance which enabled the Scotch people again and again to rise against the yoke, what hope could there be of final success, how could he be justified in urging upon the chieftain a step which would bring fire and sword into those quiet valleys! For some time, therefore, after Ronald had translated the chief's speech he remained silent.
"I will not urge you further, sir," he said, "for you are surely the best judge of what is good for your people, and I have seen such ruin and desolation in Scotland, so many scores of ruined towns and villages, so many thousands of levelled homesteads, that I will not say a single word to urge you to alter your resolution. It is enough for me that you have said that if Ireland rises you will also draw the sword. I must carry out my instructions, and hence shall travel south and visit other chiefs; they may view matters differently, and may see that what Ireland cannot do alone she may do in conjunction with Scotland."
"So be it!" Fergus said. "Believe me, if you raise a flame through the west the north will not hang back. And now I trust that you will remain here for a few days as my guest. All that I have is yours, and my wife and daughters will do their best to make the time pass pleasantly for you."
Archie remained three days at the chiefs hold, where the primitive life interested him greatly. A lavish hospitality was exercised. Several sheep were killed and roasted each day, and all comers were free to join the repast. The chief's more immediate retainers, some twenty in number, ate, lived, and slept in the great hall; while tables were spread outside, at which all who came sat down without question. The upper rooms of the hold were occupied by the chief, the ladies of his family, and the female domestics. Here they retired when they felt disposed, but their meals were served on the dais. In the evening the harper played and sang legends of deeds of bravery in the day of Ireland's independence; and as Ronald translated the songs to him Archie could not but conclude privately that civil war, rapine, strife, and massacre must have characterized the country in those days.
At the conclusion of his stay Fergus appointed two of the retainers to accompany Archie south, and to give assurance to the various wild people through whom he might pass, that Archie's mission was a friendly one to Ireland, and that he was an honoured friend and guest of the chief of Killeen.
On his arrival in Mayo Archie found matters more favourable to his mission. An insurrection had already broken out, headed by some of the local chieftains, originating in a broil between the English soldiers of a garrison and the natives. The garrison had been surprised and massacred, and the wild Irish were flocking to arms. By the chieftains here Archie, on explaining his mission, was warmly welcomed. As they were already in arms no urging on his part was needed, and they despatched messengers throughout the country, saying that an emissary from Scotland had arrived, and calling upon all to rise and to join with the Scotch in shaking off the yoke of England.
Archie had therefore to travel no farther, and decided that he could best carry out his mission by assisting to organize and lead the Irish forces. These he speedily discovered were beyond all comparison inferior, both in arms, in discipline, and in methods of fighting, to the Scots. For a dashing foray they would be excellent. Hardy, agile, and full of impetuosity, they would bear down all resistance instantly, were that resistance not too strong; but against stubborn and well armed troops they would break like a wave against a rock. Archie saw that with such troops anything like regular war would be impossible, and that the struggle must be one of constant surprises, attacks, and forays, and that they could succeed only by wearing out and not by defeating the enemy. With such tactics as these they might by long perseverance succeed; but this was just what Fergus had warned him they would not practise, and that their courage was rather of a kind which would lead them to dash desperately against the line of levelled spears, rather than continue a long and weary struggle under apparently hopeless circumstances.
The chiefs, hearing from Archie that he had acted as one of Wallace's lieutenants in battles where the English had been heavily defeated, willingly consented that he should endeavour to instil the tactics by which those battles had been won into their own followers; but when they found that he proposed that the men should remain stationary to withstand the English charges, they shook their heads.
"That will never do for our people," they said. "They must attack sword in hand. They will rush fearlessly down against any odds, but you will never get them steadily to withstand a charge of men-at-arms."
Archie, however, persuaded them to allow him to organize a band of two hundred men under his immediate orders. These were armed with long pikes, and were to form a sort of reserve, in order that if the wild charge of the main body failed in its object these could cover a retreat, or serve as a nucleus around which they could rally. The army swelled rapidly; every day fresh chiefs arrived with scores of wild tribesmen. Presently the news came that an English force was advancing from the Pale against them. A council was held at which Archie was present. Very strongly he urged his views upon the chieftains, namely: that they should altogether decline a pitched battle; but that, divided into numerous parties, they should enter the Pale, destroying weak garrisons and ravaging the country, trying to wear out the English by constant skirmishes and night attacks, but refusing always to allow themselves to be tempted into an engagement.
"The English cannot be everywhere at once," he urged. "Let them hold only the ground on which their feet stand. As they advance or retire, close ever in on their rear, drive off their cattle and destroy their crops and granaries in the Pale; force them to live wholly in their walled towns, and as you gain in strength capture these one by one, as did we in Scotland. So, and so only, can you hope for ultimate success."
His advice was received with a silence which he at once saw betokened disapproval. One after another of the Irish chieftains rose and declared that such a war could not be sustained.
"Our retainers," they said, "are ready to fight, but after fighting they will want to return to their homes; besides, we are fifteen thousand strong, and the English men-at-arms marching against us are but eight hundred; it would be shameful and cowardly to avoid a battle, and were we willing to do so our followers would not obey us. Let us first destroy this body of English, then we shall be joined by others, and can soon march straight upon Dublin."
Archie saw that it was hopeless to persevere, and set out the following day with the wild rabble, for they could not be termed an army, to meet the English. The leaders yielded so far to his advice as to take up a position where they would fight with the best chance of success. The spot lay between a swamp extending a vast distance, and a river, and they were thus open only to an attack in front, and could, if defeated, take refuge in the bog, where horsemen could not follow them.
On the following morning the English were seen approaching. In addition to the 800 men-at-arms were 1000 lightly equipped footmen, for experience had taught the English commanders that in such a country lightly armed men were necessary to operate where the wide extending morasses prevented the employment of cavalry. The English advanced in solid array: 300 archers led the way; these were followed by 700 spearmen, and the men-at-arms brought up the rear. The Irish were formed in disordered masses, each under its own chieftain. The English archers commenced the fight with a shower of arrows. Scarcely had these began to fall when the Irish with a tremendous yell rushed forward to the assault. The English archers were swept like chaff before them. With reckless bravery they threw themselves next upon the spearmen. The solid array was broken by the onslaught, and in a moment both parties were mixed up in wild confusion.
The sight was too much for Archie's band to view unmoved, and these, in spite of his shouts, left their ground and rushed at full speed after their companions and threw themselves into the fight.
Archie was mounted, having been presented with a horse by one of the chiefs, and he now, although hopeless of the final result, rode forward. Just as he joined the confused and struggling mass the English men-at-arms burst down upon them. As a torrent would cleave its way through a mass of loose sand, so the English men-at-arms burst through the mass of Irish, trampling and cutting down all in their path. Not unharmed, however, for the Irish fought desperately with axe and knife, hewing at the men-at-arms, stabbing at the horses, and even trying by sheer strength to throw the riders to the ground. After passing through the mass the men-at-arms turned and again burst down upon them. It was a repetition of the first charge. The Irish fought desperately, but it was each for himself; there was neither order nor cohesion, and each man strove only to kill a foe before being himself slain. Archie and the chiefs, with the few mounted men among the retainers, strove in vain to stem the torrent. Under the orders of their leaders the English kept in a compact mass, and the weight of the horses and armour bore down all opposition. Four times did the men-at-arms burst through the struggling mass of Irish. As they formed to charge the fifth time the latter lost heart, and as if acting under a simultaneous influence they turned and fled.
The English horse burst down on the rear of the mass of fugitives, hewing them down in hundreds. Those nearest to the river dashed in, and numbers were drowned in striving to cross it. The main body, however, made for the swamp, and though in the crush many sank in and perished miserably here, the great majority, leaping lightly from tuft to tuft, gained the heart of the morass, the pursuing horse reining up on its edge.
Ronald had kept near Archie in the fight, and when all was lost ran along by the side of his horse, holding fast to the stirrup leather. The horsemen still pressed along between the river and the morass, and Archie, following the example of several of the chiefs, alighted from his saddle, and with his companion entered the swamp. It was with the greatest difficulty that he made his way across it, and his lightly armed companion did him good service in assisting several times to drag him from the treacherous mire when he began to sink in it. At last they reached firmer ground in the heart of the swamp, and here some 5000 or 6000 fugitives were gathered. At least 4000 had fallen on the field. Many had escaped across the river, although numbers had lost their lives in the attempt. Others scattered and fled in various directions. A few of the chiefs were gathered in council when Archie arrived. They agreed that all was lost and there was nothing to do but scatter to their homes. Archie took no part in the discussion. That day's experience had convinced him that nothing like a permanent and determined insurrection was possible, and only by such a movement could the Scottish cause be aided, by forcing the English to send reinforcements across St. George's Channel. After seeing the slaughter which had taken place, he was rejoiced at heart that the rising had commenced before he joined it, and was in no way the result of his mission, but was one of the sporadic insurrections which frequently broke out in Ireland, only to be instantly and sternly repressed.
"We have failed, Sir Knight," one of the chiefs said to him, "but it was not for want of courage on the part of our men."
"No, indeed," Archie replied through his interpreter; "never did I see men fight more fiercely, but without discipline and organization victory is well nigh impossible for lightly armed footmen against heavy mailclad cavalry."
"The tactics you advised were doubtless good," the chief said; "I see their wisdom, but they are well nigh impossible to carry out with such following as ours. They are ever impatient for the fray, but quickly wearied by effort; ready to die, but not to wait; to them prudence means cowardice, and their only idea of fighting is to rush full at a foe. See how they broke the English spearmen!"
"It was right well done," Archie replied, "and some day, when well trained and disciplined, Irish soldiers will be second to none in the world; but unless they will submit to training and discipline they can never hope to conquer the English."
"And now, Sir Knight, what do you propose doing?" the chief said.
"I shall make my way north," Archie replied, "and shall rejoin my king at Rathlin."
"I will send two of my men with you. They know every foot of the morasses of this neighbourhood, and when they get beyond the point familiar to them will procure you two others to take their places. It will need all your prudence and courage to get through, for the English men-at-arms will be scouring the country in groups of four, hunting all those they come across like wolves. See, already!" and he pointed to the horizon; "they are scattering round the edge of the morass to inclose us here; but it is many miles round, and before tomorrow is gone not a man will be left here."
When darkness fell, Archie, accompanied by Ronald and his guides, set out on his journey. Alone he could never have found his way through the swamps, but even in the darkness his guides moved along quickly, following tracks known to them with the instinct of hounds; Archie kept close on their heels, as a step only a few inches from the track might plunge him in a deep morass, in which in a few seconds he would sink out of sight. On nearing the edge of the bog the guides slackened their pace. Motioning to Archie to remain where he was, they crept forward noiselessly into the darkness. Not far off he could hear the calls of the English horsemen. The sounds were repeated again and again until they died away in the distance, showing that a cordon had been drawn round the morass so as to inclose the fugitives from the battle of the previous day.
In a quarter of an hour the guides returned as noiselessly as they had departed, and Archie continued the march at their heels. Even greater caution than before was now necessary in walking, for the English, before darkness had set in, had narrowly examined the edge of the morass, and had placed three or four men wherever they could discover the slightest signs of a track. Thus Archie's guides were obliged to leave the path by which they had previously travelled. Their progress was slow now, the party only moving for a few yards at a time, and then halting while the guides searched for ground solid enough to carry their weight. At last Archie felt the ground grow firmer under his foot, and a reconnaissance by the guides having shown them that none of the English were stationed opposite to them, they left the morass, and noiselessly made their way across the country until far beyond the English line.
All night they walked, and at daybreak entered another swamp, and lay down for the day in the long coarse grass growing on a piece of firm ground deep in its recesses. In the evening one of the guides stole out and returned with a native of the neighbourhood, who undertook to show Archie the way on his further journey.
Ten days, or rather nights, of steady journeying brought Archie again to the rocky shore where he had landed. Throughout he had found faithful guides, whom he had rewarded by giving, as was often the custom of the time, in lieu of money, a link or two of one of his gold chains. He and Ronald again took refuge in the cave where they had passed the first night of their landing. It was untenanted now.
Here they abode for a fortnight, Ronald going up every two or three days to purchase provisions at the scattered cottages. On Saturday night they lit a great fire just inside the mouth of the cave, so that while the flames could be seen far out at sea the light would be unobserved by the garrison of Dunluce or any straggler on the cliff above. It had been arranged with Duncan that every Saturday night, weather permitting, he should sail across and look for a signal fire. The first Saturday night was wild and stormy, and although they lit the fire they had but slight idea that Duncan would put out. The following week, however, the night was calm and bright, and after piling up the fire high they proceeded to the causeway, and two hours later saw to their joy a boat approaching. In a few minutes they were on board, and by the following morning reached Rathlin.
The king and his companions welcomed Archie's return warmly, although the report which he made showed that there was no hope of obtaining any serious diversion of the English attack by a permanent rising in Ireland; and the king, on hearing Archie's account of all that had passed, assured him that he felt that, although he had failed, no one, under the circumstances, could have done otherwise.
The King's Blood Hound
The only other event which occurred throughout the winter was the arrival of a fishing boat with a messenger from one of the king's adherents, and the news which he brought filled them with sorrow and dismay. Kildrummy had been threatened with a siege, and the queen, Bruce's sisters Christine and Mary, his daughter Marjory, and the other ladies accompanying them, deemed it prudent to leave the castle and take refuge in the sanctuary of St. Duthoc, in Ross shire.
The sanctuary was violated by the Earl of Ross and his followers, and the ladies and their escort delivered up to Edward's lieutenants and sent to England. The knights and squires who formed the escort were all executed, and the ladies committed to various places of confinement, where most of them remained in captivity of the strictest and most rigorous kind until after the battle of Bannockburn, eight years later. The Countess of Buchan, who had crowned Bruce at Scone, and who was one of the party captured at St. Duthoc, received even fouler treatment, by Edward's especial orders, being placed in a cage on one of the turrets of Berwick Castle so constructed that she could be seen by all who passed; and in this cruel imprisonment she was kept like a wild beast for seven long years by a Christian king whom his admirers love to hold up as a model of chivalry.
Kildrummy had been besieged and taken by treachery. The king's brother, Nigel Bruce, was carried to Berwick, and was there hanged and beheaded. Christopher Seaton and his brother Alexander, the Earl of Athole, Sir Simon Fraser, Sir Herbert de Moreham, Sir David Inchmartin, Sir John Somerville, Sir Walter Logan, and many other Scotchmen of noble degree, had also been captured and executed, their only offence being that they had fought for their country.
In all the annals of England there is no more disgraceful page than that which chronicles the savage ferocity with which King Edward behaved to the Scottish nobles and ladies who fell into his hands. The news of these murders excited the utmost fury as well as grief among the party at Rathlin, and only increased their determination to fight till the death against the power of England.
The spring was now at hand, and Douglas, with Archie Forbes and a few followers, left in a boat, and landed on the Isle of Arran. In the bay of Brodick was a castle occupied by Sir John Hastings and an English garrison. The Scots concealed themselves near the castle, awaiting an opportunity for an attack. A day or two after their arrival several vessels arrived with provisions and arms for the garrison. As these were being landed Douglas and his followers sallied out and captured the vessels and stores. The garrison of the castle made a sortie to assist their friends, but were driven in with slaughter, and the whole of the supplies remained in the hands of the Scots, causing great rejoicing to the king and the rest of the party when a few days later they arrived from Rathlin.
Bruce now proposed an immediate descent upon Carrick, there, in the midst of his family possessions, to set up his banner in Scotland. The lands had been forfeited by Edward and bestowed upon some of his own nobles. Annandale had been given to the Earl of Hereford, Carrick to Earl Percy, Selkirk to Aymer de Valence. The castle of Turnberry was occupied by Percy with three hundred men. Bruce sent on his cousin Cuthbert to reconnoitre and see whether the people would be ready to rise, but Cuthbert found the Scots sunk in despair. All who had taken up arms had perished in the field or on the scaffold. The country swarmed with the English, and further resistance seemed hopeless. Cuthbert had arranged to light a beacon on a point at Turnberry visible at Lamlash Bay in Arran, where the king, with his two hundred men and eighty-three boats, awaited the sight of the smoke which should tell them that circumstances were favourable for their landing.
Cuthbert, finding that there was no chance of a rising, did not light the bonfire; but as if fortune was determined that Bruce should continue a struggle which was to end finally in the freedom of Scotland, some other person lit a fire on the very spot where Cuthbert had arranged to show the signal. On seeing the smoke the king and his party at once got into their boats and rowed across to the mainland, a distance of seventeen miles. On reaching land they were met by Cuthbert, who reported that the fire was not of his kindling, and that the circumstances were altogether unfavourable. Bruce consulted with his brother Edward, Douglas, Archie, and his principal friends as to what course had better be pursued. Edward declared at once that he for one would not take to sea again; and this decision settled the matter.
The king without delay led his followers against the village outside the castle, where a considerable portion of the garrison were housed. These were assailed so suddenly that all save one were slain. Those in the castle heard the sounds of the conflict, but being unaware of the smallness of the assailant's force, did not venture to sally out to their assistance.
Percy, with his followers, remained shut up in the castle, while Bruce overran the neighbouring country; but an English force under Sir Roger St. John, far too powerful to be resisted, advanced to Turnberry, and Bruce and his followers were obliged to seek refuge in the hills. Thomas and Alexander, the king's brothers, with Sir Reginald Crawford, had gone to the islands to beat up recruits, and returning in a vessel with a party who had joined them, landed at Loch Ryan. They were attacked at once by Macdowall, a chieftain of Galloway, and routed. The king's brothers, with Sir Reginald Crawford, were carried to Carlisle severely wounded, and delivered over to King Edward, who at once sent them to the scaffold.
These wholesale and barbarous executions saddened the Scots, and, as might be expected, soon roused them to severe reprisals. Bruce himself, however, although deeply stirred by the murder of his three brothers and many dear friends, and by the captivity and harsh treatment of his wife and female relatives, never attempted to take vengeance for them upon those who fell into his hands, and during the whole of the war in no single instance did he put a prisoner to death. He carried magnanimity, indeed, almost to the extent of impolicy; for had the nobles of England found that those of their number who fell into Bruce's hands suffered the penalty of death, which Edward inflicted upon the Scotch prisoners, they would probably have remonstrated with the king and insisted upon his conducting the war in a less barbarous and ferocious fashion.
Sir James Douglas was so stirred by the murder of the three Bruces and so many of his friends and companions, that he resolved henceforth to wage an exterminating war against the English, and by the recapture of his own stronghold, known as Castle Douglas, began the series of desperate deeds which won for him the name of the Black Douglas, and rendered his name for generations a terror among the English on the Border. The castle had been conferred by Edward on Sir Robert de Clifford, and was occupied by an English garrison. Douglas revealed his intention only to Archie Forbes, who at once agreed to accompany him. He asked leave from the king to quit their hiding place for a time, accompanied by Archie, in order to revisit Douglas Hall, and see how it fared with his tenants and friends. The king acquiesced with difficulty, as he thought the expedition a dangerous one, and feared that the youth and impetuosity of Douglas might lead him into danger; before consenting he strongly urged on Archie to keep a strict watch over the doings of the young noble.
Accompanied by but one retainer, the friends set out for Douglasdale. When they arrived there Douglas went to the cottage of an old and faithful servant named Thomas Dickson, by whom he was joyfully received. Dickson went out among the retainers and revealed to such as could be most surely depended upon the secret of their lord's presence, and one by one took them in to see him. The friends had already determined upon their course, and the retainers all promised to take part in the scheme. They were not numerous enough to assault the castle openly, but they chose the following Sunday for the assault. This was Palm Sunday and a festival, and most of the garrison would come to the Church of St. Bride, in the village of the same name, a short distance from the castle.
Dickson with some of his friends went at the appointed time, with arms concealed under their clothes, to the church; and after the service had commenced Douglas and some of his followers gathered outside. Unfortunately for the plan, some of those outside set up the shout, "A Douglas!" prematurely before the whole party had arrived and were ready to rush into the church. Dickson with his friends at once drew out their arms and attacked the English; but being greatly outnumbered and for a time unsupported, most of them, including their leader, were slain. Sir James and his followers then fought their way in, and after a desperate fight all the garrison save ten were killed.
The party then proceeded to the castle, which they captured without resistance. Douglas and his companions partook of the dinner which had been prepared for the garrison; then as much money, weapons, armour, and clothing as they could carry away was taken from the castle. The whole of the vast stores of provisions were carried into the cellar, the heads struck out of the ale and wine casks, the prisoners were slain and their bodies thrown down into the mass, and the castle was then set on fire. Archie Forbes in vain begged Douglas to spare the lives of the prisoners, but the latter would not listen to him. "No, Sir Archie," he exclaimed; "the King of England held my good father a prisoner in chains until he died; he has struck off the heads of every one of our friends who have fallen into his hands; he has wasted Scotland from end to end with fire and sword, and has slain our people in tens of thousands. So long as this war continues, so long will I slay every prisoner who falls into my hands, as King Edward would slay me did I fall into his; and I will not desist unless this cruel king agrees to show quarter to such of us as he may capture. I see not why all the massacreing and bloodshed should be upon one side."
Archie did not urge him further, for he too was half beside himself with indignation and grief at the murder of the king's brothers and friends, and at the cruel captivity which, by a violation of the laws of sanctuary, had fallen upon the ladies with whom he had spent so many happy hours in the mountains and forests of Athole.
Douglas and Archie now rejoined the king. For months Bruce led the life of a hunted fugitive. His little following dwindled away until but sixty men remained in arms. Of these a portion were with the king's brother in Galloway, and with but a handful of men Bruce was lying among the fastnesses of Carrick when Sir Ingram de Umfraville, with a large number of troops sent by the Earl of Pembroke from Edinburgh, approached. Wholly unable to resist so large a force, Bruce's little party scattered, and the king himself, attended only by a page, lay hidden in the cottage of a peasant. The English in vain searched for him, until a traitorous Scot went to Umfraville and offered, for a reward of a grant of land to the value of 40 pounds annually, to slay Bruce.
The offer was accepted, and the traitor and his two sons made their way to Bruce's place of concealment. As they approached, Bruce snatched his bow from his page and shot the traitor through the eye. One son attacked him with an axe, but was slain with a blow from the king's sword. The remaining assailant rushed at him with a spear; but the king with one blow cut off the spearhead, and before the assailant had time to draw his sword, stretched him dead at his feet. After this the king with his adherents eluded the search of the English and made their way into Galloway. The people here who were devoted to the English cause determined to hunt him down, and two hundred men, accompanied by some blood hounds, set off towards the king's retreat; but Bruce's scouts were on the watch and brought him news of their coming. The king with his party retired until they reached a morass, through which flowed a running stream, while beyond a narrow passage led through a deep quagmire.
Beyond this point the hunted party lay down to rest, while the king with two followers returned to the river to keep watch. After listening for some time they heard the baying of the hounds coming nearer and nearer, and then, by the light of a bright moon, saw their enemies approaching.
The king sent his two followers to rouse the band. The enemy, seeing Bruce alone, pressed forward with all haste; and the king, knowing that if he retired his followers would be attacked unprepared, determined alone to defend the narrow path. He retired from the river bank to the spot where the path was narrowest and the morass most impassable, and then drew his sword. His pursuers, crossing the river, rode forward against him; Bruce charged the first, and with his lance slew him; then with a blow with his mace he stretched his horse beside him, blocking the narrow passage. One by one his foes advanced, and five fell beneath his blows, before his companions ran up from behind. The Galloway men then took to flight, but nine more were slain before they could cross the ford.
The admiration and confidence of Bruce's followers were greatly aroused by this new proof of his courage and prowess. Sir James Douglas, his brother Edward, and others soon afterwards returned from the expeditions on which they had been sent, and the king had now 400 men assembled. This force, however, was powerless to resist an army of English and Lowland Scots who marched against him, led by Pembroke in person. This force was accompanied by John, son of Alexander MacDougall of Lorne, with 800 of his mountaineers. While the heavy armed troops occupied all the Lowlands, Lorne and his followers made a circuit in the mountains so as to inclose the royal fugitive between them.
Bruce, seeing that resistance was impossible, caused his party to separate into three divisions, and Douglas, Edward Bruce, and Sir Archibald Forbes were charged to lead their bands, if possible, through the enemy without fighting. The king tried to escape by a different route with a handful of men. John of Lorne had obtained from Turnberry a favourite blood hound belonging to Bruce, and the hound being put upon the trace persistently followed the king's party. Seeing this, Bruce ordered them all to disperse, and, accompanied only by his foster brother, attempted to escape by speed.
As they sped along the mountain side they were seen by Lorne, who directed his henchman, with four of his bravest and swiftest men, to follow him. After a long chase the MacDougalls came up with Bruce and his foster brother, who drew their swords and stood on the defence. The henchman, with two of his followers, attacked Bruce, while the other two fell on his foster brother. The combat was a desperate one, but one by one the king cut down his three assailants, and then turned to the assistance of his foster brother, who was hardly pressed. The king's sword soon rid him of one of his assailants, and he slew the other. Having thus disembarrassed themselves of the whole of their immediate assailants, Bruce and his companion continued their flight. The main body of their hunters, with the hound, were but a short distance away, but in a wood the fugitives came upon a stream, and, marching for some distance down this, again landed, and continued their flight.
The hound lost their scent at the spot where they had entered the water, and being unable to recover it, Lorne and his followers abandoned the chase. Among the king's pursuers on this occasion was his nephew Randolph, who had been captured at the battle of Methven, and having again taken the oath of allegiance to Edward had been restored to that monarch's favour, and was now fighting among the English ranks.
The search was actively kept up after Bruce, and a party of three men-at-arms came upon him and his foster brother. Being afraid to attack the king, whom they recognized, openly, they pretended they had come to join him.
The king suspected treachery; and when the five lay down for the night in a cottage which they came upon he and his companion agreed to watch alternately. Overcome by fatigue, however, both fell asleep, and when they were suddenly attacked by the three strangers, the foster brother was killed before he could offer any resistance. The king himself, although wounded, managed to struggle to his feet, and then proved more than a match for his three treacherous assailants, all of whom, after a desperate struggle, he slew.
The next morning he continued his way, and by nightfall succeeded in joining the three bands, who had safely reached the rendezvous he had appointed.
A few hours after this exploit of Bruce, Archie with two or three of his followers joined him.
"This is indeed a serious matter of the hound," Archie said when Bruce told him how nearly he had fallen a victim to the affection of his favourite. "Methinks, sire, so long as he remains in the English hands your life will never be safe, for the dog will always lead the searchers to your hiding places; if one could get near enough to shoot him, the danger would be at an end."
"I would not have him shot, Archie, for a large sum. I have had him since he was a little pup; he has for years slept across my door, and would give his life for mine. 'Tis but his affection now that brings danger upon me."
"I should be sorry to see the dog killed myself," Archie said, "for he is a fine fellow, and he quite admitted me to his friendship during the time we were together. Still, sire, if it were a question between their lives and yours, I would not hesitate to kill any number of dogs. The whole future of Scotland is wrapped up in you; and as there is not one of your followers but would gladly give his life for yours, it were no great thing that a hound should do the same."
"I cannot withstand you in argument, Archie," the king said smiling; "yet I would fain that my favourite should, if possible, be spared. But I grant you, should there be no other way, and the hound should continue to follow me, he must be put to death. But it would grieve me sorely. I have lost so many and so dear friends in the last year, that I can ill spare one of the few that are left me."
Archie was himself fond of dogs, and knowing how attached Bruce was to his faithful hound he could quite understand how reluctant he was that harm should come to him. Still, he felt it was necessary that the dog should, at all hazards, be either killed or taken from the English, for if he remained in their hands he was almost certain sooner or later to lead to Bruce's capture. He determined then to endeavour to avert the danger by abstracting the dog from the hands of the English, or, failing that, by killing him. To do this it would be absolutely necessary to enter the English camp. There was no possibility of carrying out his purpose without running this risk, for when in pursuit of the king the hound would be held by a leash, and there would be many men-at-arms close by, so that the difficulty of shooting him would be extremely great, and Archie could see no plan save that of boldly entering the camp.
He said nothing of his project to Bruce, who would probably have refused to allow him to undertake it; but the next morning when he parted from him—for it was considered advisable that the fugitives should be divided into the smallest groups, and that only one or two of his retainers should remain with Bruce—he started with his own followers in the direction of Pembroke's camp. He presently changed clothes with one of these, and they then collected a quantity of firewood and made it into a great faggot. Archie gave them orders where they should await him, and lifting the faggot on his shoulders boldly entered the camp. He passed with it near the pavilion of Pembroke. The earl was standing with some knights at the entrance.
"Come hither, Scot," he said as Archie passed.
Archie laid his bundle on the ground, and doffing his bonnet strode with an awkward and abashed air toward the earl.
"I suppose you are one of Bruce's men?" the earl said.
"My father," Archie replied, "as well as all who dwell in these dales, were his vassals; but seeing that, as they say, his lands have been forfeit and given to others, I know not whose man I am at present."
"Dost know Bruce by figure?"
"Surely," Archie said simply, "seeing that I was employed in the stables at Turnberry, and used to wash that big hound of his, who was treated as a Christian rather than a dog."
"Oh, you used to tend the hound!" Pembroke said. "Then perhaps you could manage him now. He is here in camp, and the brute is so savage and fierce he has already well nigh killed two or three men; and I would have had him shot but that he may be useful to us. If he knows you he may be quieter with you than others."
"Doubtless he would know me," Archie said; "but seeing that I have the croft to look after, as my father is old and infirm, I trust that you will excuse me the service of looking after the hound."
"Answer me not," Pembroke said angrily. "You may think yourself lucky, seeing that you are one of Bruce's retainers, that I do not have you hung from a tree.
"Take the fellow to the hound," he said to one of his retainers, "and see if the brute recognizes him; if so, put him in charge of him for the future. And see you Scot, that you attempt no tricks, for if you try to escape I will hang you without shrift."
Archie followed the earl's retainer to where, behind his pavilion, the great dog was chained up. He leapt to his feet with a savage growl on hearing footsteps approaching. His hair bristled and he tugged at his chain.
"What a savage beast it is!" the man said; "I would sooner face a whole company of you Scots than get within reach of his jaws. Dickon," he went on as another soldier, on hearing the growl, issued from one of the smaller tents which stood in rear of the pavilion, "the earl has sent this Scot to relieve you of your charge of the dog; he is to have the care of him in future."
"That is the best turn the earl has done me for a long time," the man replied. "Never did I have a job I fancied less than the tending of that evil tempered brute."
"He did not use to be evil tempered," Archie said; "but was a quiet beast when I had to do with him before. I suppose the strangeness of the place and so many strange faces have driven him half wild. Beside, he is not used to being chained up. Hector, old fellow," he said approaching the dog quietly, "don't you know me?"
The great hound recognized the voice and his aspect changed at once. The bristling hair lay flat on his back; the threatening jaws closed. He gave a short deep bark of pleasure, and then began leaping and tugging at his chain to reach his acquaintance. Archie came close to him now. Hector reared on his hind legs, and placed his great paws on his shoulders, and licked his face with whines of joy.
"He knows you, sure enough," the man said; "and maybe we shall get on better now. At any rate there may be some chance of sleep, for the brute's howls every night since he has been brought here have kept the whole camp awake."
"No wonder!" Archie said, "when he has been accustomed to be petted and cared for; he resents being chained up."
"Would you unchain him?" the man asked.
"That would I," Archie replied; "and I doubt not that he will stay with me."
"It may be so," the man replied; "but you had best not unchain him without leave from the earl, for were he to take it into his head to run away, I would not give a groat for your life. But I will go and acquaint the earl that the dog knows you, and ask his orders as to his being unchained."
In two or three minutes he returned.
"The earl says that on no account is he to be let free. He has told me to have a small tent pitched here for you. The hound is to be chained to the post, and to share the tent with you. You may, if you will, walk about the camp with him, but always keeping him in a chain; but if you do so it will be at your peril, for if he gets away your life will answer for it."
In a short time two or three soldiers brought a small tent and erected it close by where the dog was chained up. Archie unloosed the chain from the post round which it was fastened, and led Hector to the tent, the dog keeping close by his side and wagging his tail gravely, as if to show his appreciation of the change, to the satisfaction of the men to whom hitherto he had been a terror. Some heather was brought for a bed, and a supply of food, both for the dog and his keeper, and the men then left the two friends alone. Hector was sitting up on his haunches gazing affectionately at Archie, his tail beating the ground with slow and regular strokes.
"I know what you want to ask, old fellow," Archie said to him; "why I don't lead you at once to your master? Don't you be impatient, old fellow, and you shall see him ere long;" and he patted the hound's head.
Hector, with a great sigh expressive of content and satisfaction, lay down on the ground by the side of the couch of heather on which Archie threw himself—his nose between his forepaws, clearly expressing that he considered his troubles were over, and could now afford to wait until in due time he should be taken to his master. That night the camp slept quietly, for Hector was silent. For the next two days Archie did not go more than a few yards from his tent, for he feared that he might meet some one who would recognize him.
The Hound Restored
On the third day after his arrival at the camp Archie received orders to prepare to start with the hound, with the earl and a large party of men-at-arms, in search of Bruce. A traitor had just come in and told them where Bruce had slept the night before. Reluctantly Archie unfastened the chain from the pole, and holding the end in his hand went round with Hector to the front of the pavilion. He was resolved that if under the dog's guidance the party came close up with Bruce, he would kill the dog and then try to escape by fleetness of foot, though of this, as there were so many mounted men in the party, he had but slight hope. Led by the peasant they proceeded to the hut, which was five miles away in the hills. On reaching it Hector at once became greatly excited. He sniffed here and there, eagerly hunted up and down the cottage, then made a circuit round it, and at last, with a loud deep bay he started off with his nose to the ground, pulling so hard at the chain that Archie had difficulty in keeping up with him. Pembroke and his knights rode a little behind, followed by their men-at-arms.
"I pray you, Sir Earl," Archie said, "keep not too close to my traces, for the sound of the horse's hoofs and the jingling of the equipments make him all the more impatient to get forward, and even now it taxes all my strength to hold him in."
The earl reined back his horse and followed at a distance of some fifty yards. He had no suspicion whatever of any hidden design on Archie's part. The fact that the hound had recognized him had appeared to him a sure proof of the truth of his tale, and Archie had put on an air of such stupid simplicity that the earl deemed him to have but imperfect possession of his wits. Moreover, in any case he could overtake him in case he attempted flight.
Archie proceeded at a trot behind the hound, who was with difficulty restrained at that pace, straining eagerly on the chain and occasionally sending out his deep bay. Archie anxiously regarded the country through which he was passing. He was waiting for an opportunity, and was determined, whenever they passed near a steep hillside unscaleable by horsemen, he would stab Hector to the heart and take to flight. Presently he saw a man, whose attire showed him to be a Highlander, approaching at a run; he passed close by Archie, and as he did so stopped suddenly, exclaiming, "Archibald Forbes!" and drawing his broadsword sprang at him. Archie, who was unarmed save by a long knife, leapt back. In the man he recognized the leader of the MacDougall's party, who had captured him near Dunstaffnage. The conflict would have terminated in an instant had not Hector intervened. Turning round with a deep growl the great hound sprang full at the throat of the Highlander as with uplifted sword he rushed at Archie. The impetus of the spring threw the MacDougall on his back, with the fangs of the hound fixed in his throat. Archie's first impulse was to pull the dog off, the second thought showed him that, were the man to survive he would at once denounce him. Accordingly, though he appeared to tug hard at Hector's chain, he in reality allowed him to have his way. Pembroke and his knights instantly galloped up. As they arrived Hector loosed his hold, and with his hair bristly with rage prepared to attack those whom he regarded as fresh enemies.
"Hold in that hound," Pembroke shouted, "or he will do more damage. What means all this?" For a minute Archie did not answer, being engaged in pacifying Hector, who, on seeing that no harm was intended, strove to return to his first foe.
"It means," Archie said, when Hector was at last pacified, "that that Highlander came the other day to our cottage and wanted to carry off a cow without making payment for it. I withstood him, he drew his sword, but as I had a stout cudgel in my hand I hit him on the wrist ere he could use it, and well nigh broke his arm. So he made off, cursing and swearing, and vowing that the next time he met me he would have my life."
"And that he would have done," Pembroke said, "had it not been for Bruce's dog, who has turned matters the other way. He is dead assuredly. It is John of Lorne's henchman, who was doubtless on his way with a message from his lord to me. Could not the fool have postponed his grudge till he had delivered it? I tell you, Scot, you had best keep out of the MacDougalls' way, for assuredly they will revenge the death of their clansman upon you if they have the chance, though I can testify that the affair was none of your seeking. Now let us continue our way."
"I doubt me, Sir Earl, whether our journey ends not here," Archie said, "seeing that these hounds, when they taste blood, seem for a time to lose their fineness of scent; but we shall see."
Archie's opinion turned out correct. Do what they would they could not induce Hector again to take up his master's trail, the hound again and again returning to the spot where the dead Highlander still lay. Pembroke had the body carried off but the hound tugged at his chain in the direction in which it had gone, and seemed to have lost all remembrance of the track upon which he was going. At last Pembroke was obliged to acknowledge that it was useless to pursue longer, and, full of disappointment at their failure, the party returned to camp, Pembroke saying: "Our chase is but postponed. We are sure to get tidings of Bruce's hiding place in a day or two, and next time we will have the hound muzzled, lest any hotheaded Highlander should again interfere to mar the sport."
It was some days before further tidings were obtained of Bruce. Archie did not leave his tent during this time, giving as a reason that he was afraid if he went out he should meet some of Lorne's men, who might take up the quarrel of the man who had been killed. At length, however, another traitor came in, and Pembroke and his party set out as before, Hector being this time muzzled by a strap round his jaw, which would not interfere with his scent, but would prevent him from widely opening his jaws.
The scent of Bruce was again taken up at a lonely hut in the hills. The country was far more broken and rough than that through which they had followed Bruce's trail on the preceding occasion. Again Archie determined, but most reluctantly, that he would slay the noble dog; but he determined to postpone the deed to the latest moment. Several places were passed where he might have succeeded in effecting his escape after stabbing the hound, but each time his determination failed him. It would have been of no use to release the dog and make himself up the hillside, for a blood hound's pace when on the track is not rapid, and the horsemen could have kept up with Hector, who would of course have continued his way upon the trail of the king. Presently two men were seen in the distance; they had evidently been alarmed by the bay of the hound, and were going at full speed. A shout of triumph broke from the pursuers, and some of the more eager would have set spurs to their horses and passed the hound.
"Rein back, rein back," Pembroke said, "the country is wild and hilly here, and Bruce may hide himself long before you can overtake him. Keep steadily in his track till he gains flatter country, where we can keep him in sight, then we shall have no more occasion for the hound and can gallop on at full speed."
Archie observed, with satisfaction, that Bruce was making up an extremely steep hillside, deeming probably that horsemen would be unable to follow him here, and that he would be able to distance pursuers on foot. Ten minutes later his pursuers had reached the foot of the hill. Pembroke at once ordered four knights and ten men-at-arms to dismount.
"Do you," he said, "with the dog, follow hard upon the traces of Bruce. When you reach the top signal to us the direction in which he has gone. Follow ever on his track without stopping; he must at last take to the low country again. Some of my men shall remain here, others a mile further on, and so on round the whole foot of the hills. Do you, when you see that, thinking he has distanced you, which he may well do being more lightly armed and flying for his life, he makes for the low country again, send men in different directions to give me warning. The baying of the dog will act as a signal to us."