"I am Sir Archibald Forbes," Archie replied.
"By St. Jago!" the knight said, "but I am sorry for it, seeing that, save Bruce himself, there is none in the Scottish ranks against whom King Edward is so bitter. In the days of Wallace there was no one whose name was more often on our lips than that of Sir Archibald Forbes, and now, under Bruce, it is ever coming to the front. I had thought to have asked Edward as a boon that I should have kept you as my prisoner until exchanged for one on our side, but being Sir Archibald Forbes I know that it were useless indeed; nevertheless, sir knight, I will send to King Edward, begging him to look mercifully upon your case, seeing how bravely and honourably you have fought."
"Thanks for your good offices, Sir Ingram," Archie replied, "but I shall ask for no mercy for myself. I have never owed or paid him allegiance, but, as a true Scot, have fought for my country against a foreign enemy."
"But King Edward does not hold himself to be a foreign enemy," the knight said, "seeing that Baliol, your king, with Comyn and all your great nobles, did homage to him as Lord Paramount of Scotland."
"It were an easy way," Archie rejoined, "to gain a possession to nominate a puppet from among the nobles already your vassals, and then to get him to do homage. No, sir knight, neither Comyn nor Baliol, nor any other of the Anglo-Norman nobles who hold estate in Scotland, have a right to speak for her, or to barter away her freedom. That is what Wallace and thousands of Scotchmen have fought and died to protest against, and what Scotchmen will do until their country is free."
"It is not a question for me to argue upon," Sir Ingram said surlily. "King Edward bids me fight in Scotland, and as his knight and vassal I put on my harness without question. But I own to you that seeing I have fought beside him in Gascony, when he, as a feudal vassal of the King of France, made war upon his lord, I cannot see that the offence is an unpardonable one when you Scotchmen do the same here. Concerning the lawfulness of his claim to be your lord paramount, I own that I neither know nor care one jot. However, sir, I regret much that you have fallen into my hands, for to Carlisle, where the king has long been lying, as you have doubtless heard, grievously ill, I must forthwith send you. I must leave you here with the governor, for in half an hour I mount and ride away with my troop. He will do his best to make your sojourn here easy until such time as I may have an opportunity of sending you by ship to Carlisle; and now farewell, sir," he said, giving Archie his hand, "I regret that an unkind chance has thrown so gallant a knight into my hands, and that my duty to the king forbids me from letting you go free."
"Thanks, Sir Ingram," Archie replied. "I have ever heard of you as a brave knight, and if this misfortune must fall upon me, would sooner that I should have been captured by you than by one of less fame and honour."
The governor now had a meal with some wine set before Archie, and then left him alone.
"I am not at Carlisle yet," Archie said to himself. "Unless I mistake, we shall have Sir James thundering at the gate before morning. Cluny will assuredly have ridden off at full speed to carry the news when he saw that I was cut off, and e'en now he will be marching towards the castle." As he expected, Archie was roused before morning by a tremendous outburst of noise. Heavy blows were given, followed by a crash, which Archie judged to be the fall of the drawbridge across the fosse. He guessed that some of Douglas's men had crept forward noiselessly, had descended the fosse, and managed to climb up to the gate, and had then suddenly attacked with their axes the chains of the drawbridge.
A prodigious uproar raged in the castle. Orders were shouted, and the garrison, aroused from their sleep, snatched up their arms and hastened to the walls. Outside rose the war cry, "A Douglas! A Douglas!" mingled with others of, "Glen Cairn to the rescue!" For a few minutes all was confusion, then a light suddenly burst up and grew every instant more and more bright.
"Douglas has piled faggots against the gates," Archie said to himself. "Another quarter of an hour and the castle will be his."
Three or four minutes later the governor with six soldiers, two of whom bore torches, entered the room. "You must come along at once, sir knight," the governor said. "The attack is of the fiercest, and I know not whether we shall make head against it, but at any rate I must not risk your being recaptured, and must therefore place you in a boat and send you off without delay to the castle at Port Patrick."
It was in vain for Archie to think of resistance, he was unarmed and helpless. Two of the soldiers laid hands on him and hurried him along until they reached the lower chambers of the castle. The governor unlocked a door, and with one of the torch bearers led the way down some narrow steps. These were some fifty in number, and then a level passage ran along for some distance. Another door was opened, and the fresh breeze blew upon them as they issued forth. They stood on some rocks at the foot of the promontory on which the castle stood. A large boat lay close at hand, drawn to the shore. Archie and the six soldiers entered her; four of the latter took the oars, and the others seated themselves by their prisoner, and then the boat rowed away, while the governor returned to aid in the defence of the castle.
The boat was but a quarter of a mile away when on the night air came the sound of a wild outburst of triumphant shouts which told that the Scots had won their way into the castle. With muttered curses the men bent to their oars and every minute took them further away from Knockbawn.
Archie was bitterly disappointed. He had reckoned confidently on the efforts of Douglas to deliver him, and the possibility of his being sent off by sea had not entered his mind. It seemed to him now that his fate was sealed. He had noticed on embarking that there were no other boats lying at the foot of the promontory, and pursuit would therefore be impossible.
After rowing eight hours the party reached Port Patrick, where Archie was delivered by the soldiers to the governor with a message from their commander saying that the prisoner, Sir Archibald Forbes, was a captive of great importance, and was, by the orders of Sir Ingram de Umfraville who had captured him, to be sent on to Carlisle to the king when a ship should be going thither. A fortnight passed before a vessel sailed. Archie was placed in irons and so securely guarded in his dungeon that escape was altogether impossible. So harsh was his confinement that he longed for the time when a vessel would sail for Carlisle, even though he was sure that the same fate which had attended so many of Scotland's best and bravest knights awaited him there.
The winds were contrary, and the vessel was ten days upon the voyage. Upon reaching Carlisle Archie was handed to the governor of the castle, and the next morning was conducted to the presence of the king himself. The aged monarch, in the last extremity of sickness, lay upon a couch. Several of his nobles stood around him.
"So," he said as the prisoner was brought before him, "this is Archibald Forbes, the one companion of the traitor Wallace who has hitherto escaped my vengeance. So, young sir, you have ventured to brave my anger and to think yourself capable of coping with the Lion of England."
"I have done my utmost, sir king," Archie said firmly, "such as it was, for the freedom of my country. No traitor am I, nor was my leader Wallace. Nor he, nor I, ever took vow of allegiance to you, maintaining ever that the kings of England had neither claim nor right over Scotland. He has been murdered, foully and dishonourably, as you will doubtless murder me, and as you have killed many nobler knights and gentlemen; but others will take our places, and so the fight will go on until Scotland is free."
"Scotland will never be free," the king said with angry vehemence. "Rather than that, she shall cease to exist, and I will slay till there is not one of Scottish blood, man, woman, or child, to bear the name. Let him be taken to Berwick," he said; "there let him be exposed for a week in a cage outside the castle, that the people may see what sort of a man this is who matches himself against the might of England. Then let him be hung, drawn, and quartered, his head sent to London, and his limbs distributed between four Scotch cities."
"I go, sir king," Archie said, as the attendants advanced to seize him, "and at the end of the week I will meet you before the throne of God, for you, methinks, will have gone thither before me, and there will I tax you with all your crimes, with the slaughter of tens of thousands of Scottish men, women, and children, with cities destroyed and countries wasted, and with the murder in cold blood of a score of noble knights whose sole offence was that they fought for their native country."
With these words Archie turned and walked proudly from the king's presence. An involuntary murmur of admiration at his fearless bearing escaped from the knights and nobles assembled round the couch of the dying monarch.
When, two days later, Archie entered the gates of Berwick Castle the bells of the city were tolling, for a horseman had just ridden in with the news that Edward had expired on the evening before, being the 6th day of July, 1307, just at the moment when he was on the point of starting with the great army he had assembled to crush out the insurrection in Scotland.
So deep was his hate for the people who had dared to oppose his will that when dying he called before him his eldest son, and in the presence of his barons caused him to swear upon the saints that so soon as he should be dead his body should be boiled in a cauldron until the flesh should be separated from the bones, after which the flesh should be committed to the earth, but the bones preserved, and that, as often as the people of Scotland rebelled, the military array of the kingdom should be summoned and the bones carried at the head of the army into Scotland. His heart he directed should be conveyed to and deposited in the Holy Land.
So died Edward I, a champion of the Holy Sepulchre, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine, conqueror of Wales, and would be conqueror of Scotland. In many respects his reign was a great and glorious one, for he was more than a great conqueror, he was, to England, a wise and noble king; and taken altogether he was perhaps the greatest of the Plantagenets.
Historians have striven to excuse and palliate his conduct toward Scotland. They have glossed over his crimes and tried to explain away the records of his deeds of savage atrocity, and to show that his claims to that kingdom, which had not a shadow of foundation save from the submission of her Anglo-Norman nobles, almost all of whom were his own vassals and owned estates in England, were just and righteous. Such is not the true function of history. Edward's sole claim to Scotland was that he was determined to unite under his rule England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and he failed because the people of Scotland, deserted as they were by all their natural leaders, preferred death to such a slavery as that under which Ireland and Wales helplessly groaned. His dying wishes were not observed. His body was laid in rest in Westminster Abbey, and on the tomb was inscribed, "Edward I the mallet of the Scots."
The Escape from Berwick
On entering the castle Archie was at once conducted to a sort of cage which had been constructed for a previous prisoner. On the outside of a small cell a framework of stout beams had been erected. It was seven feet in height, six feet wide, and three feet deep. The bars were four inches round, and six inches apart. There was a door leading into the cell behind. This was closed in the daytime, so that the prisoner remained in the cage in sight of passersby, but at night the governor, who was a humane man, allowed the door to remain unlocked, so that the prisoner could enter the inner cell and lie down there.
The position of the cage was about twenty-five feet above the moat. The moat itself was some forty feet wide, and a public path ran along the other side, and people passing here had a full view of the prisoner. There were still many of Scottish birth in the town in spite of the efforts which Edward had made to convert it into a complete English colony, and although the English were in the majority, Archie was subject to but little insult or annoyance. Although for the present in English possession, Berwick had always been a Scotch town, and might yet again from the fortune of war fall into Scottish hands. Therefore even those most hostile to them felt that it would be prudent to restrain from any demonstrations against the Scottish prisoners, since in the event of the city again changing hands a bloody retaliation might be dealt them. Occasionally a passing boy would shout out an epithet of contempt or hatred or throw a stone at the prisoner, but such trifles were unheeded by him. More often men or women passing would stop and gaze up at him with pitying looks, and would go away wiping their eyes.
Archie, after the first careful examination of his cell, at once abandoned any idea of escape from it. The massive bars would have defied the strength of twenty men, and he had no instrument of any sort with which he could cut them. There was, he felt, nothing before him but death; and although he feared this little for himself, he felt sad indeed as he thought of the grief of Marjory and his mother.
The days passed slowly. Five had gone without an incident, and but two remained, for he knew that there was no chance of any change in the sentence which Edward had passed, even were his son more disposed than he toward merciful measures to the Scots, which Archie had no warrant for supposing. The new king's time would be too closely engaged in the affairs entailed by his accession to rank, the arrangement of his father's funeral, and the details of the army advancing against Scotland, to give a thought to the prisoner whose fate had been determined by his father.
Absorbed in his own thoughts Archie seldom looked across the moat, and paid no heed to those who passed or who paused to look at him.
On the afternoon of the fifth day, however, his eye was caught by two women who were gazing up at the cage. It was the immobility of their attitude and the length of time which they continued to gaze at him, which attracted his attention.
In a moment he started violently and almost gave a cry, for in one of them he recognized his wife, Marjory. The instant that the women saw that he had observed them they turned away and walked carelessly and slowly along the road. Archie could hardly believe that his eyesight had not deceived him. It seemed impossible that Marjory, whom he deemed a hundred miles away, in his castle at Aberfilly, should be here in the town of Berwick, and yet when he thought it over he saw that it might well be so. There was indeed ample time for her to have made the journey two or three times while he had been lying in prison at Port Patrick awaiting a ship. She would be sure, when the news reached her of his capture, that he would be taken to Edward at Carlisle, and that he would be either executed there or at Berwick. It was then by no means impossible, strange and wondrous as it appeared to him, that Marjory should be in Berwick.
She was attired in the garment of a peasant woman of the better class, such as the wife of a small crofter or farmer, and remembering how she had saved his life before at Dunstaffnage, Archie felt that she had come hither to try to rescue him.
Archie's heart beat with delight and his eyes filled with tears at the devotion and courage of Marjory, and for the first time since he had been hurried into the boat on the night of his capture a feeling of hope entered his breast. Momentary as the glance had been which he had obtained of the face of Marjory's companion, Archie had perceived that it was in some way familiar to him. In vain he recalled the features of the various servants at Aberfilly, and those of the wives and daughters of the retainers of the estate; he could not recognize the face of the woman accompanying Marjory as belonging to any of them. His wife might, indeed, have brought with her some one from the estates at Ayr whom she had known from a child, but in that case Archie could not account for his knowledge of her. This, however, did not occupy his mind many minutes; it was assuredly one whom Marjory trusted, and that was sufficient for him. Then his thoughts turned wholly to his wife.
Any one who had noticed the prisoner's demeanor for the last few days would have been struck with the change which had come over it. Hitherto he had stood often for hours leaning motionless, with his arms crossed, in the corner of his cage, with head bent down and listless air, his thoughts only being busy; now he paced restlessly up and down his narrow limits, two steps each way and then a turn, like a caged beast; his hands were clenched, his breast heaved, his breath came fast, his head was thrown back, often he brushed his hand across his eyes, and rapid words came from his lips.
The sun sank. An hour later a jailer brought his jug of water and piece of bread, and then, without a word, retired, leaving, as usual, the door into the cell open, but carefully locking and barring the inner door. Archie had a longer walk now, from the front of the cage to the back of the cell, and for three hours he paced up and down. Sometimes he paused and listened attentively. The sounds in the town gradually died away and all became still, save that he could hear the calls of the warder on the battlement above him. The night was a very dark one and he could scarcely make out the gleam of water in the moat below.
Suddenly something struck him a sharp blow on the face and fell at his feet. He stooped and picked it up, it was an arrow with a wad of wool fastened round its point to prevent it from making a noise should it strike the wall or cage; to the other end was attached a piece of string. Archie drew it in until he felt that it was held firmly, then after a moment the hold relaxed somewhat, and the string again yielded as he drew it. It was now, he felt, taut from the other side of the moat. Presently a stout rope, amply sufficient to bear his weight, came into his hands. At the point of junction was attached some object done up in flannel. This he opened, and found that it was a fine saw and a small bottle containing oil. He fastened the rope securely to one of the bars and at once commenced to saw asunder one of the others. In five minutes two cuts had been noiselessly made, and a portion of the bar five feet long came away. He now tried the rope and found that it was tightly stretched, and evidently fixed to some object on the other side of the moat. He grasped it firmly with his arms and legs and slid rapidly down it.
In another minute he was grasped by some strong arms which checked his rapid progress and enabled him to gain his feet without the slightest noise. As he did so a woman threw her arms round him, and he exchanged a passionate but silent embrace with Marjory. Then she took his hand and with noiseless steps they proceeded down the road. He had before starting removed his shoes and put them in his pockets. Marjory and her companion had also removed their shoes, and even the keenest ears upon the battlements would have heard no sound as they proceeded along the road. Fifty yards farther and they were among the houses. Here they stopped a minute and put on their shoes, and then continued their way. Not a word was spoken until they had traversed several streets and stopped at the door of a house in a quiet lane; it yielded to Marjory's touch, she and Archie entered, and their follower closed and fastened it after them.
The moment this was done Marjory threw her arms round Archie's neck with a burst of tears of joy and relief. While Archie was soothing her the third person stirred up the embers on the hearth and threw on a handful of dry wood.
"And who is your companion?" Archie asked, after the first transports of joy and thankfulness were past.
"What! don't you recognize Cluny?" Marjory asked, laughing through her tears.
"Cluny! of course," Archie exclaimed, grasping his follower's hand in his. "I only caught a glimpse of your face and knew that it was familiar to me, but in vain tried to recall its owner. Why, Cluny, it is a long time since you went dressed as a girl into Ayr! And so it is my good friend who had shared my wife's dangers."
"He has done more than that, Archie," Marjory said, "for it was to him that I owe my first idea of coming here. The moment after the castle was taken and it was found that you had been carried off in a boat by the English, Cluny started to tell me the news. Your mother and I were beside ourselves with grief, and Cluny, to comfort us, said, 'Do not despair yet, my lady; my lord shall not be killed by the English if I can prevent it. The master and I have been in a good many dangers, and have always come out of them safe; it shall not be my fault if he does not slip through their hands yet.' 'Why, what can you do, Cluny?' I said. 'I don't know what I can do yet,' he replied; 'that must depend upon circumstances. My lord is sure to be taken to Carlisle, and I shall go south to see if I cannot get him out of prison. I have often gone among the English garrisons disguised as a woman, and no one in Carlisle is likely to ask me my business there.' It was plain to me at once that if Cluny could go to your aid, so could I, and I at once told him that I should accompany him. Cluny raised all sorts of objections, but to these I would not listen, but brought him to my will by saying, that if he thought my being with him would add to his difficulties I would go alone, but that go I certainly would. So without more ado we got these dresses and made south. We had a few narrow escapes of falling into the hands of parties of English, but at last we crossed the frontier and made to Carlisle. Three days later we heard of your arrival, and the next morning all men were talking about your defiance of the king, and that you had been sent to Berwick for execution at the end of the week. So we journeyed hither and got here the day after you arrived. The first step was to find a Scotchwoman whom we might trust. This, by great luck, we did, and Mary Martin, who lives in this house, is a true Scotchwoman, and will help us to the extent of her power; she is poor, for her husband, who is an Englishman, had for some time been ill, and died but yesterday. He was, by what she says, a hard man and cruel, and his death is no grief to her, and Mary will, if she can, return with her daughter to Roxburgh, where her relations live, and where she married her husband, who was a soldier in the English garrison there."
"But, Marjory," Archie said, "have you thought how we are to escape hence; though I am free from the castle I am still within the walls of Berwick, and when, tomorrow, they find that I have escaped, they will search every nook and corner of the town. I had best without delay try and make my way over the walls."
"That was the plan Cluny and I first thought of," Marjory replied; "but owing to the raids of the Douglas on the border, so strict a watch is kept on the walls that it would be difficult indeed to pass. Cluny has tried a dozen times each night, but the watch is so vigilant that he has each time failed to make his way past them, but has been challenged and has had several arrows discharged at him. The guard at the gates is extremely strict, and all carts that pass in and out are searched. Could you have tried to pass before your escape was known you might no doubt have done so in disguise, but the alarm will be given before the gates are open in the morning, and your chance of passing through undetected then would be small indeed. The death of the man Martin suggested a plan to me. I have proposed it to his wife, and she has fallen in with it. I have promised her a pension for her life should we succeed, but I believe she would have done it even without reward, for she is a true Scotchwoman. When she heard who it was that I was trying to rescue, she said at once she would risk anything to save the life of one of Scotland's best and bravest champions; while, on the other hand, she cares not enough for her husband to offer any objection to my plans for the disposal of his body."
"But what are your plans, Marjory?"
"All the neighbours know that Martin is dead; they believe that Cluny is Mary's sister and I her niece, and she has told them that she shall return with us to Roxburgh. Martin was a native of a village four miles hence, and she is going to bury him with his fathers there. Now I have proposed to her that Martin shall be buried beneath the wood store here, and that you shall take his place in the coffin."
"It is a capital idea, Marjory," Archie said, "and will assuredly succeed if any plan can do so. The only fear is that the search will be so hot in the morning that the soldiers may even insist upon looking into the coffin."
"We have thought of that," Marjory said, "and dare not risk it. We must expect every house to be searched in the morning, and have removed some tiles in the attic. At daybreak you must creep out on the roof, replace the tiles, and remain hidden there until the search is over. Martin will be laid in the coffin. Thus, even should they lift the lid, no harm will come of it. Directly they have gone, Cluny will bring you down, and you and he dig the grave in the floor of the woodshed and place Martin there, then you will take his place in the coffin, which will be placed in a cart already hired, and Cluny, I, Mrs. Martin, and her daughter will then set out with it."
Soon after daybreak the quick strokes of the alarm bell at the castle told the inhabitants of Berwick that a prisoner had escaped. Archie at once betook himself to his place of concealment on the roof. He replaced the tiles, and Cluny carefully obliterated all signs of the place of exit from within. A great hubbub had by this time arisen in the street. Trumpets were blowing, and parties of soldiers moving about in all directions. The gates remained unopened, orders being given that none should pass through without a special order from the governor.
The sentries on the wall were doubled, and then a house to house search was commenced, every possible place of concealment being rummaged from basement to attic. Presently the searchers entered the lane in which Mrs. Martin lived. The latch was ere long lifted, and a sergeant and six soldiers burst into the room. The sight which they beheld quieted their first noisy exclamations. Four women in deep mourning were kneeling by a rough coffin placed on trestles. One of them gave a faint scream as they entered, and Mary Martin, rising to her feet, said:
"What means this rough intrusion?"
"It means," the sergeant said, "that a prisoner has escaped from the castle, one Archibald Forbes, a pestilent Scotch traitor. He has been aided by friends from without, and as the sentries were watchful all night, he must be hidden somewhere in the town, and every house is to be searched."
"You can search if you will," the woman said, resuming the position on her knees. "As you see, this is a house of mourning, seeing that my husband is dead, and is today to be buried in his native village, three miles away."
"He won't be buried today," the sergeant said; "for the gates are not to be opened save by a special order from the governor. Now, lads," he went on, turning to the men, "search the place from top to bottom, examine all the cupboards and sound the floors, turn over all the wood in the shed, and leave not a single place unsearched where a mouse could be hid."
The soldiers scattered through the house, and were soon heard knocking the scanty furniture about and sounding the floors and walls. At last they returned saying that nothing was to be found.
"And now," the sergeant said, "I must have a look in that coffin. Who knows but what the traitor Scot may be hid in there!"
Mrs. Martin leaped to her feet.
"You shall not touch the coffin," she said; "I will not have the remains of my husband disturbed." The sergeant pushed her roughly aside, and with the end of his pike prised up the lid of the coffin, while Mrs. Martin and the other three mourners screamed lustily and wrung their hands in the greatest grief at this desecration of the dead.
Just as the sergeant opened the coffin and satisfied himself that a dead man really lay within, an officer, attracted by the screams, entered the room.
"What is this, sergeant?" he asked angrily. "The orders were to search the house, but none were given you to trouble the inmates."
Mrs. Martin began volubly to complain of the conduct of the soldiers in wrenching open the coffin.
"It was a necessary duty, my good woman," the officer said, "seeing that a living man might have been carried away instead of a dead one; however, I see all is right."
"Oh, kind sir!" Mrs. Martin said, sobbing, "is it true what this man tells me, that there is no passage through the gates today? I have hired a cart to take away my husband's body; the grave is dug, and the priest will be waiting. Kind sir, I pray of you to get me a pass to sally out with it, together with my daughter, sister, and niece."
"Very well," the officer said kindly, "I will do as you wish. I shall be seeing the governor presently to make my report to him; and as I have myself seen the dead body can vouch that no ruse is intended. But assuredly no pass will be given for any man to accompany you; and the Scot, who is a head and shoulders taller than any of you, would scarcely slip out in a woman's garment. When will the cart be here?"
"At noon," the woman replied.
"Very well; an hour before that time a soldier will bring out the pass. Now, sergeant, have you searched the rest of the house?"
"Yes, sir; thoroughly, and nothing suspicious has been found."
"Draw off your men, then, and proceed, with your search elsewhere."
No sooner had the officer and men departed than Cluny ran upstairs, and removing two of the tiles, whispered to Archie that all was clear. The hole was soon enlarged, and Archie re-entering, the pair descended to the woodshed which adjoined the kitchen, and there, with a spade and mattock which Cluny had purchased on the preceding day, they set to work to dig a grave. In two hours it was completed. The body of John Martin was lowered into it, the earth replaced and trodden down hard, and the wood again piled on to it.
At eleven o'clock a soldier entered with the governor's pass ordering the soldier at the gate to allow a cart with the body of John Martin, accompanied by four women, to pass out from the town.
At the appointed time the cart arrived. Archie now took his place in the coffin. His face was whitened, and a winding sheet wrapped round him, lest by an evil chance any should insist on again looking into the coffin. Then some neighbours came in and assisted in placing the coffin in the cart. The driver took his place beside it, and the four women, with their hoods drawn over their heads, fell in behind it weeping bitterly.
When they arrived at the gate the officer in charge carefully read the order, and then gave the order for the gate to be opened. "But stop," he said, "this pass says nothing about a driver, and though this man in no way resembles the description of the doughty Scot, yet as he is not named in the pass I cannot let him pass." There was a moment's pause of consternation, and then Cluny said:
"Sister Mary, I will lead the horse. When all is in readiness, and the priest waits, we cannot turn back on such a slight cause." As the driver of the cart knew Mary Martin, he offered no objection, and descended from his seat. Cluny took the reins, and, walking by the side of the horse's head, led him through the gates as these were opened, the others following behind. As soon as they were through, the gate closed behind them, and they were safely out of the town of Berwick.
So long as they were within sight of the walls they proceeded at a slow pace without change of position, and although Cluny then quickened the steps of his horse, no other change was made until two miles further they reached a wood. Then Cluny leapt into the cart and wrenched off the lid of the coffin. It had been but lightly nailed down, and being but roughly made there were plenty of crevices through which the air could pass.
"Quick, Sir Archie!" he said, "let us get this thing out of the cart before any person happen to come along."
The coffin was lifted from the cart, and carried some short distance into the wood. A few vigorous kicks separated the planks which composed it. These were taken and thrust separately among bushes at some little distance from each other. Cluny then unrolled the bundle which he had brought from the cart, and handed to Archie a suit of clothes fitted for a farmer. These Archie quickly put on, then he returned to the cart, which he mounted, and took the reins. The others got up behind him and seated themselves on the straw in the bottom of the cart. Then Archie gave the horse a smart cut with his whip, and the cart proceeded at a steady trot along the road to the west.
The Progress of the War
A mile or two after leaving Berwick the cart had left the main road running by the coast through Dunbar to Edinburgh, and had struck west by a country track. But few houses were met with, as the whole of the country within many miles of the sea had been harried and devastated by the various English armies which had advanced from Berwick. After proceeding for some miles they came to a point where the track they had been following terminated at a little hamlet among the hills. Here they left the cart, making an arrangement with one of the villagers to drive it back on the morrow into Berwick. They were now beyond all risk of pursuit, and need fear nothing further until they reached the great north roads running from Carlisle to Edinburgh and Stirling. Cluny therefore resumed male attire. They had no difficulty in purchasing a couple of swords from the peasants of the village, and armed with these they started with Marjory and the two women over the hills. It was early autumn now; the weather was magnificent, and they made the distance in quiet stages, and crossing the Pentlands came down upon Aberfilly without meeting with a single danger or obstacle.
It needs not to describe the joy of Archie's mother at his return. The news spread like lightning among the tenantry, and in an hour after the wayfarers reached the castle men and women could be seen flocking over the hills at the top of their speed to express their delight and enthusiasm at their lord's return. By nightfall every tenant on the estate, save those prevented by age or illness, had assembled at the castle, and the rejoicings which had taken place at the marriage of their lord were but tame and quiet beside the boisterous enthusiasm which was now exhibited.
Although Marjory had at first been welcomed for the sake of her husband, the fact that she was a Kerr had excited a deep though hidden hostility to her in the minds both of those who had been her father's vassals at Aberfilly, and the old retainers of the Forbeses at Glen Cairn. The devotion and courage which she had shown in the defence of the castle and in the enterprise for the rescue of their lord swept away every vestige of this feeling, and henceforth Marjory ranked in their affections with Archie himself, and there was not a man upon the estate but felt that he could die for her if needs be.
After a week's stay at home Archie rode away and joined the king, taking, however, but four or five retainers with him. Bruce received him with extreme warmth. He had heard of his capture, and the news that he was condemned to die at Berwick had also reached him, and he had no doubt but Archie had shared the fate which had befallen his own brothers and so many of his bravest friends. His pleasure, therefore, equalled his surprise when his brave follower rode into his camp. Many of Archie's friends assembled as soon as it was known that he had arrived; and after the first greetings the king asked him for a recital of the means by which he had escaped from the fate decreed him by Edward. Archie related the whole story, and at its conclusion the king called to his attendants to bring goblets and wine.
"Sirs," he said, "let us drink to the health of Mistress Marjory Forbes, one of the bravest and truest of Scotch women. Would to Heaven that all the men of our country were animated by as noble and courageous feelings! Our friend, Sir Archibald Forbes, has indeed won a jewel, and I take no small credit to myself that I was the first who advised him to make Mistress Kerr his wife."
The toast was given with enthusiasm; but Archie afterwards protested against the king assuming any credit to himself in the matter, since, although it was true that he had advised him to marry Mistress Mary Kerr, he had wished him to abandon, for her sake, Mistress Marjory, the niece of Alexander MacDougall, who had set him free from her uncle's hold of Dunstaffnage.
"Now, Archie," the king said, when they were again alone together, "I suppose, seeing that you have come hither without your following, that you wish for a time to remain quiet at home, and seeing that you have suffered severe imprisonment and a grievous risk of death in my cause, methinks you have well earned the right to rest quiet for a while with your brave lady. At present I can dispense with the services of your retainers. Most of the low country is now in my hands, and the English garrisons dare not venture out of their strong places. The army that the King of England collected to crush us has been, I hear, much disorganized by his death, and the barons will doubtless wring concessions and privileges from his son before they spread their banners to the wind again. From all reports the new king has but little of his father's ability and energy, and months may elapse before any serious effort is made against us. I am despatching my brother Edward to join Douglas in subduing Galloway, and during his absence I shall be content to remain here in the field with a small following, for the English governors of the towns will, methinks, stand only on the defensive, until a strong army marches north from England. When Galloway is subdued the lowlands will be all in my hands save for the English garrisons, and I shall on Edward's return set myself to punish the Comyns and the other traitor nobles of the north, who are well nigh all hand and glove with the English. So long as Scotland has such powerful enemies in her midst she cannot hope to cope with the forces which England can send against her. Alone and united the task is one which will tax her strength to the utmost, seeing that England is in wealth and population so far her superior, and Edward disposes of the force of Ireland, of Wales, and of Gascony; therefore my first task must be to root out these traitor nobles from among us. When I move north I shall need your company and your strength; but until Edward has cleared the English out of Galloway, captured the strongholds, and reduced it to obedience, you can stop in Aberfilly, and there at times, when I have no enterprise on hand and can take a few days, I will come and rest if you will give me hospitality."
So until the following spring Archie Forbes remained quietly and most happily at home. Several times the king came and stayed a few days at Aberfilly, where he was safe against surprise and treachery. Not long after Archie's return home, Father Anselm arrived, to Archie's satisfaction and the great joy of Marjory, and took up his abode there.
In the spring Archie, with his retainers, joined the king, who was gathering his army for his march into the north. During the winter Galloway had been subdued, and Douglas being left in the south as commander there, Edward Bruce joined his brother, around whom also gathered the Earl of Lennox, Sir Gilbert de la Haye, and others. The position in Scotland was now singular: the whole of the country south of the Forth was favourable to Bruce, but the English held Roxburgh, Jedburgh, Dumfries, Castle Douglas, Ayr, Bothwell, Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Stirling, and Dumbarton. North of the Forth nearly the whole of the country was hostile to the king, and the fortresses of Perth, Dundee, Forfar, Brechin, Aberdeen, Inverness, and many smaller holds, were occupied by English garrisons.
The centre of hostility to Bruce, north of the Forth, lay in the two great earls, the Comyns of Badenoch and Buchan, and their allies. Between them and Bruce a hatred existed beyond that caused by their taking opposite sides. Comyn of Badenoch was the son of the man Bruce had slain at Dumfries, while Buchan hated him even more, since his wife, the countess, had espoused the cause of Bruce and had crowned him at Scone, and was now shamefully imprisoned in the cage at Berwick. It must be supposed that Buchan's anger against his countess was as deep and implacable as that of Edward himself, for, as the English king's most powerful ally in Scotland, he could surely have obtained the pardon and release of his wife had he desired it. On the other hand, Bruce had a private grudge against Comyn, for upon him had been conferred Bruce's lordship of Annandale, and he had entered into possession and even occupied the family castle of Lochmaben.
The king and his army marched north, and were joined by Alexander and Simon Frazer, with their followers. They marched to Inverness, which, with various other castles in the north, they captured. All of these castles were, when taken, destroyed, as Bruce had determined to leave no strongholds in the land for the occupation of his enemies. He himself could not spare men to hold them, and their capture was useless if upon his retirement they could again be occupied by the enemy. Returning southward they were encountered by an army under Buchan, composed of his own retainers and a party of English. This force was completely defeated.
To the consternation of his followers Bruce was now attacked by a wasting illness, which so enfeebled him that he was unable to sit on his horse; it was the result of the many privations and hardships which he had undergone since the fight at Methven. His brother, Lennox, the Frazers, and Archie Forbes held a council and agreed that rest for some time was absolutely necessary for the king, and that sea air might be beneficial to him. They therefore resolved to move eastward to the Castle of Slaines, on the sea coast near Peterhead. That such a step was attended by great peril they well knew, for the Comyns would gather the whole strength of the Highlands, with accessions from the English garrisons, and besiege them there. The king's health, however, was a paramount consideration; were he to die, the blow might be fatal to Scotland, accordingly the little force marched eastward. They reached Slaines without interruption, and as they expected the castle was soon surrounded and besieged by the forces of Buchan, who had been joined by Sir John Mowbray and Sir David de Brechin, nephew of the King of England. For some time the siege went on, but the assailants gained but little advantage, and indeed trusted rather to famine than force to reduce the castle.
Weeks passed on, and although his followers thought that he was somewhat better, the king's health improved but slowly. Provisions now began to run very short. When they had come nearly to an end the Scots determined to sally out and cut their way through the vastly superior strength of the enemy. The king was placed in a litter, his mounted knights and followers surrounded him, and round these the footmen formed a close clump of pikes; the hundred men from Aberfilly formed the front rank, as these could be best relied upon to withstand the charge of the English horse. The gates were thrown open, and in close ranks the garrison sallied out, forming, as soon as they passed through, in the order arranged. So close and serried was the hedge of spears, so quiet and determined the attitude of the men, that, numerous as they were, the men of Buchan and the English lords shrank from an encounter with such adversaries, and with the banner of the king and his knights flying in their centre the little band marched on through the lines of the besiegers without the latter striking a blow to hinder their way.
Without interruption the royalists proceeded to Strathbogie. The satisfaction of the king at the daring exploit by which he had been rescued from such imminent peril did more for him than medicine or change of air, and to the joy of his followers he began to recover his strength. He was then moved down to the river Don. Here Buchan and his English allies made a sudden attack upon his quarters, killing some of the outposts. This attack roused the spirit and energy of the king, and he immediately called for his war horse and armour and ordered his men to prepare for action. His followers remonstrated with him, but he declared that this attack by his enemies had cured him more speedily than medicine could have done, and heading his troops he issued forth and came upon the enemy near Old Meldrum, where, after a desperate fight, Buchan and his confederates were defeated with great slaughter on Christmas day, 1307. Buchan and Mowbray fled into England. Brechin took refuge in his own castle of Brechin, where he was afterwards besieged and forced to surrender.
Bruce now marched into the territory of Comyn, where he took a terrible vengeance for the long adhesion of his hated enemy to England. The whole country was wasted with fire and sword, the people well nigh exterminated, and the very forests destroyed. So terrible was the devastation that for generations afterwards men spoke of the harrying of Buchan as a terrible and exceptional act of vengeance.
The castle of Aberdeen was next invested. The English made great efforts for its succour, but the citizens joined Bruce, and a united attack being made upon the castle it was taken by assault and razed to the ground. The king and his forces then moved into Angus. Here the English strongholds were all taken, the castle of Forfar being assaulted and carried by a leader who was called Phillip, a forester of Platane. With the exception of Perth, the most important fortress north of the Forth, and a few minor holds, the whole of the north of Scotland, was now in the king's hands. In the meantime Sir James Douglas, in the south, had again taken his paternal castle and had razed it to the ground. The forests of Selkirk and Jedburgh, with the numerous fortresses of the district, were brought under the king's authority, and the English were several times defeated. In the course of these adventures Sir James came across Alexander Stewart, Thomas Randolph, the king's nephew, who, after being taken prisoner at Methven, had joined the English party, and Adam O'Gordon. They advanced with a much superior force to capture him, but were signally defeated. O'Gordon escaped into England, but Stewart and Randolph were taken.
This was a fortunate capture, for Randolph afterwards became one of the king's most valiant knights and the wisest of his counsellors. After this action Douglas marched north and joined the king. The latter sternly reproached Randolph for having forsworn his allegiance and joined the English. Randolph answered hotly and was committed by his uncle to solitary confinement, where he presently came to a determination to renew his allegiance to Bruce, and henceforward fought faithfully and gallantly under him.
Galloway had risen again, and Edward Bruce, with Sir Archie Forbes, was detached to reduce it. It was a hard task, for the local chiefs were supported by Sir Ingram de Umfraville and Sir John de St. John; these knights, with 1200 followers, met the Scots on the banks of the Cree, which separates the countries of Kirkcudbright and Wigton, and although greatly superior in numbers, were completely defeated by the Scottish pikemen, and compelled to take refuge in the castle of Butele. Edward Bruce and Archie continued the task of subjugating the country; but St. John having retired to England, returned with fifteen hundred men-at-arms, and with this strong force set out in pursuit of the small body of Scots, of whom he thought to make an easy capture. Then occurred one of the most singular and brilliant feats of arms that took place in a war in which deeds of daring abounded. Edward Bruce having heard from the country people of the approach of his adversaries, placed his infantry in a strong position, and then, with Archie Forbes and the fifty men-at-arms who constituted his cavalry, went out to reconnoitre the approach of the English. The morning was thick and misty. Ignorant of each other's position, the two forces were in close vicinity, when the fog suddenly lifted, and Edward Bruce and Archie beheld close to them the overwhelming force of St. John, within bowshot distance. It was too late to fly. Edward Bruce exclaimed to Archie:
"There is nothing for it but to charge them."
"Let us charge them," Archie replied.
The two leaders, setting spurs to their horses, and closely followed by their fifty retainers, dashed like a thunderbolt upon the mass of the English men-at-arms, before these, taken equally by surprise, had time to form, and burst clean through them, overthrowing and slaying many, and causing the greatest confusion and surprise. Riding but a short distance on, the Scots turned, and again burst through the English lines. Numbers of the English were slain, and many others turned rein. A third time the Scots charged, with equally fatal effect. The English were completely routed. Many were killed and many taken prisoners, and the rest rode for England at their best speed. History scarcely recalls another instance of 50 men routing in fair fight 1500. This extraordinary success was followed by a victory over Sir Roland of Galloway and Donald of the Isles on the banks of the Dee, the Lord of the Isles being made prisoner; and eventually the whole country was reduced to obedience, with the exception of one or two garrisons, no less than thirteen castles being captured, in addition to the victories gained in the field.
Galloway being restored to order, Archie Forbes returned home, and remained for two or three months with his wife and mother. He was then summoned by the king to join him again, as he was about to march to reduce the region over which his deadly foes Alexander and John of Lorne held sway. The country into which the royal army now penetrated was extremely mountainous and difficult, but they made their way as far as the head of Loch Awe, where Alexander and John of Lorne, with 2000 men, were gathered to dispute the passage. The position was an extremely strong one, and the Lornes were confident that it could not be forced. Immediately to the north of the head of the lake rises the steep and lofty mountain Ben Gruachan. From the head of the lake flows the river Awe connecting it with Loch Etive, and the level space between the foot of the mountain and the river is only wide enough for two to ride abreast. This passage was known as the Pass of Brander, and the Lornes might well believe that their position was unassailable.
Before advancing into the pass Bruce detached Douglas, with Sir Alexander Frazer, Sir William Wiseman, and Sir Andrew Grey, with a body of lightly armed infantry and archers. These, unnoticed by the enemy, climbed the side of the mountain, and going far up it, passed along until they got behind and above the enemy. The king ordered his main body to lay aside all defensive armour so that they could more easily climb the hill and come to a hand to hand conflict with the enemy. Then he moved along towards the narrow pass. As they approached it the men of Lorne hurled down a torrent of rocks from the hillside above.
With a few heavy armed men Bruce pushed forward by the water side, while Archie Forbes led the main body up the hillside. The climb was stiff and difficult, and many were swept down by the rocks hurled by the enemy; but at last they came to close quarters with the foe, and a desperate struggle ensued.
In the meantime Douglas and his party had attacked the defenders from the other side, at first showering arrows among them, and then falling upon them with sword and battleaxe. Thus attacked in front and rear, the men of Lorne lost heart and gave way. On both sides the royalists pressed them hotly, and at last they broke from the hillside and fled down to the river, intending to cross by a wooden bridge and destroy it behind them, but before many had passed Douglas with his followers arrived upon the spot and seized the bridge, cutting off their retreat. Great numbers of the men of Lorne were slain, and the survivors made their escape up the mountain side again. The Lornes themselves were on board some galleys on Loch Awe, their intention having been to land in Bruce's rear when he was fairly entangled in the narrow pass. On witnessing the utter discomfiture of their followers they rowed rapidly away, and landed far down the lake. Alexander fled to England, where he ended his life.
Bruce now advanced through the country of Lorne, which, having never suffered from the English raids that had over and over again devastated the rest of Scotland, was rich and flourishing, and large quantities of booty were obtained. Dunstaffnage was besieged and captured, and having received hostages from all the minor chiefs for their good behaviour the king and his army returned to Glasgow.
In the following spring a truce was negotiated by the intervention of the King of France between the belligerents; but its duration was but short, for so long as English nobles held estates and occupied castles in Scotland breaches of the peace would be constantly occurring. Bruce besieged the castle of Rutherglen, near Glasgow; but Edward despatched the Earl of Gloucester to raise the siege, and as Bruce's army was still small he was forced to retire at his approach.
In February, 1309, the clergy of Scotland assembled in a provincial council at Dundee, and issued a declaration in favour of Bruce as lawful king of Scotland. In this document they set forth that although Baliol was made king of Scotland by the King of England, Bruce, the grandfather of the king, was always recognized by the people as being nearest in right; and they said: "If any one, on the contrary, claim right to the aforesaid kingdom in virtue of letters in time passed sealed, and containing the consent of the people and the commons, know ye that all this took place in fact by force and violence, which could not at the time be resisted, and through multiplied fears, bodily tortures, and various terrors."
This document was sealed by all the bishops, as representing the clergy. A similar document was drawn up and signed by the estates of Scotland. Therefore, henceforth Bruce could claim to be the king not only as crowned and by right, but by the approval and consent of the clergy and people of Scotland. A few months afterwards James, the Steward of Scotland, whose course had ever been vacillating, died, and his son Walter, a loyal Scotsman, succeeded him. He afterwards married the king's daughter Marjory, and became the founder of the royal line of Stuart.
The Capture of a Stronghold
While Bruce had by his energy and courage been wresting Scotland, step by step, from the English, no serious effort had been made by the latter to check his progress. Small bodies of troops had from time to time been sent from the north; but the king had made no great efforts, like those of his father, to reduce the country to obedience by the exercise of the whole strength of England. Edward II differed widely from his father in disposition. At times he was roused to fits of spasmodic energy, but for the most part he was sunk in sloth and supineness. He angered and irritated his barons by his fondness for unworthy favourites, and was engaged in constant broils with them.
So called governors of Scotland were frequently appointed and as often superseded, but no effectual aid was given them to enable them to check the ever spreading insurrection. But Perth was now threatened by Bruce; and the danger of this, the strongest and most important northern fortress, roused Edward from his lethargy. A fleet was fitted out for the Tay. Troops, under the Earl of Ulster, were engaged to be transported by an English fleet of forty ships, supplied by the seaports, and intended to cooperate with John of Lorne in the west. Edward himself, with a powerful army, accompanied by the Lords Gloucester, Warrenne, Percy, Clifford, and others, advanced into Scotland as far as Renfrew. Bruce could oppose no effectual resistance in the field to so large a force, but he used the tactics which Wallace had adopted with such success. The country through which the English were advancing was wasted. Flocks and herds were driven off, and all stores of grain burned and destroyed. His adherents, each with their own retainers, hung upon the skirts of the English army, cutting off small parties, driving back bodies going out in search of provisions or forage, making sudden night attacks, and keeping the English in a state of constant watchfulness and alarm, but always retiring on the approach of any strong force, and avoiding every effort of the English to bring on an engagement.
The invaders were soon pressed by want of provisions, and horses died from lack of forage. The great army was therefore obliged to fall back to Berwick without having struck a single effective blow. After this Edward remained inactive at Berwick for eight months, save that he once again crossed the Border and advanced as far as Roxburgh, but only to retreat without having accomplished anything. The Earls of Gloucester and Warrenne reduced the forest of Selkirk and the district, and restored the English power there; while the king's favourite, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, went by sea to Perth and tried to reduce the surrounding country, but the Scotch, as usual, retired before him, and he, too, after a time, returned to Berwick. The efforts of the defenders to starve out the invading armies of England were greatly aided by the fact that at this time a great famine raged both in England and Scotland, and the people of both countries were reduced to a condition of want and suffering. Not only did the harvest fail, but disease swept away vast numbers of cattle and sheep, and in many places the people were forced to subsist upon the flesh of horses, dogs, and other animals.
During the years which had elapsed since the battle of Methven, Bruce had never been enabled to collect a force in any way worthy of the name of an army. His enterprises had been a succession of daring feats performed by small bodies of men. Even now, when the nobles dared no longer openly oppose him, they remained sullenly aloof, and the captures of the English strongholds were performed either by the king or his brother Edward, with their retainers from Annandale and Carrick; by Douglas with the men of Douglasdale; or by some simple knights like Archie Forbes, the Frazers, Boyle, and a few others, each leading their own retainers in the field. The great mass of the people still held aloof, and neither town nor country sent their contingents to his aid. This was not to be wondered at, so fearfully had all suffered from the wholesale vengeance of Edward after the battle of Falkirk.
Great successes had certainly attended Bruce, but these had been rendered possible only by the absence of any great effort on the part of England, and all believed that sooner or later Edward would arouse himself, and with the whole strength of England, Ireland, and Wales again crush out the movement, and carry fire and sword through Scotland. Still the national spirit was rising.
Archie Forbes divided his time pretty equally between the field and home, never taking with him, when he joined the king, more than a third of the entire strength of his retainers; thus all had time to attend to their farms and the wants of their families, and cheerfully yielded obedience to the call to arms when the time came.
One day while the king was stopping for a few days' rest at Aberfilly, a horseman rode in.
"I have great news, sire," he said. "Linlithgow has been captured from the English."
"That were good news indeed," the king said; "but it can scarce be possible, seeing that we have no men-at-arms in the neighbourhood."
"It has been done by no men-at-arms, my liege," the messenger said; "but as Forfar was taken by Phillip the Forester and his mates, so has Linlithgow been captured by a farmer and his comrades, one William Bunnock."
It was indeed true. The castle of Linlithgow, forming as it did a link between the two strongholds of Edinburgh and Stirling, was a place of great importance and was strongly garrisoned by the English. Naturally the whole country round suffered severely from the oppressions of the garrison, who supplied themselves by force with such provisions and stores as were needful for them. Payment was of course made to some extent, as the country otherwise would speedily have been deserted and the land left untilled; but there was almost necessarily much oppression and high handedness. Bunnock, hearing of the numerous castles which had been captured by the king and his friends with mere handfuls of followers, determined at last upon an attempt to expel the garrison of Linlithgow. He went about among his friends and neighbours, and found many ready to join his enterprise. These one night placed themselves in ambush among some bushes hard by the castle gate. Bunnock himself concealed eight chosen men with arms in a wagon of hay. The horses were driven by a stout peasant with a short hatchet under his belt, while Bunnock walked carelessly beside the wagon. As he was in the habit of supplying the garrison with corn and forage, the gate was readily opened on his approach. As soon as the wagon was exactly between the gate posts Bunnock gave the signal and struck down the warder at the gate; the driver with his hatchet cut the traces, the men leapt up from their concealment in the hay, and the main body lying in ambush close by rushed up, and, taken wholly by surprise, unarmed and unprepared, the garrison was speedily overpowered and the castle taken.
It was in the spring of 1311 that this important capture took place. Bruce, as usual, had the castle levelled to the ground. Bunnock was rewarded by a grant of land which still bears his name, softened into Binney. Again the English made preparations for a renewed invasion, but the barons were too much occupied by their private broils and their quarrels with the king to assemble at his order, and nothing came of it. Bruce's position at home was so established that he resolved upon a counter invasion, and accordingly, having assembled a larger force than had hitherto gathered under his banner, crossed the Border near the Solway, burnt and plundered the district round Gilsland, ravaged Tynedale, and after eight days' havock returned with much booty to Scotland. In the following month he again entered England, carried fire and sword through the country as far as Corbridge, swept Tynedale, ravaged Durham, and after levying contributions for fifteen days returned with much booty to Scotland.
Although the English made much outcry at this invasion, the English author of the Chronicle of Lanercost, whose monastery was occupied by the king during the raid, distinctly states that he slew none save in actual conflict; and again, that though "all the goods of the country were carried away, they did not burn houses or slay men." Thus, though Bruce's wife and daughter were still prisoners in England, though his brothers had been executed in cold blood, he conducted his warfare in England in a manner which contrasts strongly indeed with the conduct of the English in Scotland.
After this Bruce marched north again and laid siege to Perth. For six weeks he invested the town, but without making any impression. Then he retired his forces as if abandoning the attempt. At night, however, he returned, ladders were placed in the ditches against the walls, and with his knights he led his followers on to the assault. The garrison were carousing in honour of their successful defence and the defeat of the enemy, and taken wholly by surprise were unable to oppose a vigorous resistance, and all were killed or captured. Some accounts say that the English soldiers were made prisoners, and the renegade Scots fighting with them were put to the sword; while others affirm that all who were taken prisoners were spared.
Another incursion into England followed the fall of Perth. Hexham, Corbridge, and Durham were destroyed. Douglas penetrated as far as Hartlepool and an immense spoil was carried off, until the people of the bishopric purchased a truce for the sum of 2000 pounds, and those of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland bought off the invaders at a like price.
Carlisle was assaulted by Douglas, but unsuccessfully. He also attempted to surprise Berwick by a night attack, and had placed his scaling ladders against the wall, when the garrison was alarmed by the barking of a dog, and the assailants were repulsed. The Scots recrossed the frontier laden with an enormous booty.
The king himself now entered Galloway and reduced the four remaining strongholds held by the English there—the castles of Butele, Dalswinton, Lochmaben, and Tibbers. He then proceeded to Dumfries, which he forced to surrender, and entered it as the victorious King of Scotland, just seven years after the time when he had commenced the war by expelling the English justiciary.
Archie Forbes did not accompany the king in this campaign. He had indeed been summoned, but just before the army started on its raid into England Bruce was lamenting, in Archie's hearing, that the continued possession of the strong castle of Dunottar on the east coast still afforded the English an opportunity for creating diversions in the north, by landing troops there.
"If you will permit me, sire," Archie said, "I will undertake its capture with my retainers. It is doubtless too strong to be captured by open assault with such a strength, but as Douglas has thrice taken Castle Douglas by stratagem, 'tis hard if I cannot find some way for capturing Dunottar."
"Be it so, Sir Archie," the king said. "If you succeed you will have done good service indeed; and as I know that though ever ready to buckle on your armour when I need you, you would yet rather live quiet at Aberfilly with your fair wife, I promise you that if you capture Dunottar, for a year and a day you and your retainers shall have rest, except if the English cross the Border in such force that the arm of every Scotchman able to wield a sword is needed in its defence."
Having chosen a hundred of his most active and experienced men Archie set out for the north. Crossing the Forth above Stirling, he marched through Perth and across the Carse of Gowrie through Forfar on to Montrose. Here he left his band, and taking with him only William Orr, both being attired in peasants' dress, followed the coast till he reached Dunottar.
The castle, which was of great strength, stood in a little bay with a fishing village nestled beside it. "'Tis a strong place, William, and, if well provisioned, might hold out against an army for months, and as supplies could be thrown in by sea it could only be captured by battering down its solid walls by machines."
"'Tis indeed a strong place, Sir Archie," William Orr replied, "and it were assuredly better to slip in by the gates than to climb over the walls; but after the captures of so many of their strongholds by sudden surprise, we may be sure that a careful watch will be kept."
"Doubtless they are shrewdly on guard against surprise," Archie said; "but as they know that the king and his host are just now crossing the Border into Cumberland, they may well think that for a time they are safe from disturbance. 'Tis in that that our best chance lies."
Entering the village they purchased some fish from the fishermen, and asking a few careless questions about the garrison, found that it was composed of 150 men, and that extreme precautions were taken against surprise. The gates were never opened save to allow parties to pass in and out, when they were instantly closed and the drawbridge raised. Only ten of the garrison at a time were ever allowed to leave the castle, and these must go out and come in together, so that the gates should not be opened more than twice a day. "They generally come out," the man said, "at eleven o'clock and go in at four; at eleven o'clock all with corn, wood, and other stores for the castle must present themselves, so that the drawbridge need only be lowered at those times. The governor, Sir John Morris, swears that he will not be caught asleep as were those of Linlithgow and Castle Douglas. I fear," he concluded, "that we of Dunottar will be the last in Scotland to be free from the English yoke."
"That is as it may be. Other castles have been captured, and maybe the lion of Scotland may float on those walls ere long."
The man looked keenly at him.
"Methinks there is meaning in your words," he said, "and your language does not accord with your attire. I ask no questions; but be sure that should an attempt be made, there are a score of strong fellows among us who will be ready to strike a blow for freedom."
"Is that so?" Archie replied; "then, man, taking you to be a true Scot, I will tell you that the attempt will be made, and that soon, and that, if you will, you can aid the enterprise. I am Sir Archibald Forbes, of whom, perhaps, you have heard."
"Assuredly," the man said in a tone of deep respect, "every Scotsman knows the name as that of one of the king's truest and bravest knights."
"My purpose is this," Archie said. "On a dark night some ninety-five of my men will march hither; I need a faithful friend to meet them outside the village to lead them in, and to hide them away in the cottages, having already arranged beforehand with their owners to receive them. I, myself, with four of my men will come hither in a fishing boat well laden with fish; we will choose a time when the wind is blowing, and will seem to have been driven here by stress of weather and disabled. Then I shall try to sell our cargo for the use of the garrison. As we carry it in we shall attack the guard, and at the signal those hidden will rush out and cross the drawbridge."
"The plan is a good one," the fisherman said; "its difficulty mainly lies in the fact that the drawbridge will be raised the moment you have crossed it, and long before your followers could arrive it would be high in the air, and you would be cut off from all aid. It never remains down for an instant after men have passed over it."
"That adds to the difficulty," Archie said thoughtfully; "but I must think of some plan to overcome it. Do you quietly go about among those you can surely trust and arrange for them to be ready to open their doors and take my men in without the slightest noise which might attract the sentries on the walls. So long as the wind is quiet and the sea smooth we shall not come, but the first day that the wind blows hard you may expect us. Then do you go out on the south road and wait for my party half a mile from the village. If they come not by midnight, return home and watch the following night."
"I understand," the fisherman said, "and will do as you bid me; and when the time comes you can rely upon twenty stout fellows here in addition to your own force."
"'Tis nigh eleven," Archie said, looking at the sun, "and we will be off at once, as the soldiers will soon be coming out, and it were best the governor did not hear that two strangers were in the village. Vigilant as he is, a small thing might excite his suspicion and add to his watchfulness."
Archie and William Orr returned to Montrose, and there the former made an arrangement with the master of a large fishing boat to keep his vessel ready to put to sea at any moment.
Three weeks passed without any change in the weather; then the wind began to rise and the aspect of the sky betokened a storm. William Orr at once set out with ninety-five men for Dunottar. Archie went down to the port and purchased a large quantity of fish which had been brought in that morning in various boats, and had it placed on board the craft that he had hired. Then he with four of his followers, the strongest and most determined of his retainers, dressed as fishermen, went on board and the boat at once put to sea, having, besides Archie and his men, the master and his two hands. The main body had started on foot at ten in the morning, but it was late in the afternoon before the boat put out, as Archie wished to arrive in broad daylight next morning.
The wind was on the shore, and the boat was sorely tossed and buffeted. Ere next morning, showing but a rag of sail, she ran into Dunottar harbour. They had had great difficulty in keeping off the coast all night, and the play had nigh turned into a tragedy, so narrow had been their escape of being cast ashore. The bulwarks were washed away, and the boat was in a sore plight as it drew alongside the little quay. Assuredly no suspicion would occur to any who saw her enter that aught save stress of weather had driven her in.
It was twelve o'clock in the day when they reached the port. Most of the inhabitants had come down to the water side to see the storm beaten craft enter, and among them were some soldiers of the garrison. Archie bade four of his men remain below, so that the unusual number of hands should attract no attention. One of the first to come on board was the fisherman with whom Archie had spoken.
"Your men are all here," he said in a low tone to Archie, "and are stowed away in the cottages. Everything went well, and there was not the slightest noise."
Archie now went on shore and entered into conversation with one of the soldiers.
"Think you," he said, "that the governor would buy my cargo of fish. I have a great store on board, for I had good luck before the storm suddenly broke upon me just as I was leaving the fishing grounds for Montrose. The gale may last for some days, and my boat will need repairs before I put to sea, therefore my fish will be spoiled before I can get them to market, and I will make a good bargain with the governor if he will take them from me."
"I should think that he will do so gladly," the soldier said, "for he can salt them down, and they make a pleasant change. How much have you got?"
"About ten baskets full," Archie replied, "of some hundred pounds each."
"I will go with you to the castle," the soldier said. "The governor will lower the drawbridge for no man, but you can speak with the warder across the moat and he will bear your message to the governor, and should he agree, you must present yourself with your men with the fish at four o'clock, at which time the drawbridge will be lowered for us to return to the castle."
Archie accompanied the soldier to the end of the drawbridge, and parleyed with the warder. The latter acquainted the governor that the master of the fishing boat which had been driven in by stress of weather would fain dispose of his cargo of fish on cheap terms, and returned for answer that the governor would give sixpence for each basket of a hundred pounds. Archie grumbled that he should receive thrice that sum at Montrose; still that as he must sell them or let them spoil, he accepted the offer, and would be there with the fish at four o'clock.
He then returned to the boat, his ally, the fisherman, taking word round to the cottages that at four o'clock all must be in readiness to sally out on the signal, and that William Orr was to dress half a dozen of his men in fishermen's clothes and saunter up carelessly close to the castle, so as to be able to rush forward on the instant.
At the appointed hour Archie, accompanied by his four followers, each of whom carried on his shoulder a great basket filled with fish, stepped on to the quay and made their way to the castle. By the side of the moat facing the drawbridge the ten English soldiers who had been out on leave for the day were already assembled.
"Are you all there?" the warder asked.
"Yes," Archie said, "but I shall have to make another two trips down to the boat, seeing that I have ten baskets full and but four men to carry them."
"Then you must bring another load," the warder said, "when the drawbridge is lowered tomorrow. You will have to stop in the castle tonight, and issue out at eleven tomorrow, for the governor will not have the drawbridge lowered more than twice a day."
"I would fain return to my boat," Archie said, "as I want to be at work on the repairs; but if that be the rule I must needs submit to it."
The drawbridge was now lowered. The soldiers at once stepped on to it. The four pretended fishermen had set down their baskets, and now raised them on their shoulders again. One of them apparently found it a difficult task, for it was not until Archie and his comrades were half across the drawbridge that he raised it from the ground. As he did so he stumbled and fell, the basket and its contents rolling on to the ground.
"You must wait until the morning," the warder called; "you are too late to enter now."
The man lay for a moment where he had fallen, which was half on the drawbridge, half on the ground beyond it. "Now, then," the warder called sharply, "make haste; I am going to raise the drawbridge."
The man rose to his feet with a shout just as the drawbridge began to rise. He had not been idle as he lay. As he fell he had drawn from underneath his fisherman's frock a stout chain with a hook at one end and a large ring at the other. This he had passed round one of the chains by which the drawbridge was raised, then under the beam on which it rested when down, and had fastened the hook in the ring.
Surprised at the shout, the warder worked the windlass with extra speed, but he had scarcely given a turn when he found a sudden resistance. The chain which the fisherman had fixed round the end prevented the bridge from rising. As the man had shouted, Archie and his three comrades were entering the gate. Simultaneously they emptied their baskets before them. Concealed among the fish were four logs of wood; two were three feet long, the full depth of the baskets, two were short wedge shaped pieces. Before the soldiers in front had time even to turn round, the two long pieces were placed upright in the grooves down which the portcullis would fall, while the two wedge shaped pieces were thrust into the jamb of the gate so as to prevent it from closing. Then the four men drew long swords hidden beneath their garments and fell upon the soldiers.
So vigilant was the watch in the castle of Dunottar that the instant the cry of alarm rose almost simultaneously from the warder above and the soldiers at the gate, the portcullis came thundering down. It was caught, however, by the two upright blocks of wood, and remained suspended three feet above the sill. The armed guards at the gate instantly fell upon Archie and his companions, while others endeavoured in vain to close the gates. Scarcely had the swords clashed when the man who had chained down the drawbridge joined Archie, and the five with their heavy broadswords kept at bay the soldiers who pressed upon them; but for only a minute or two did they have to bear the brunt of the attack unsupported, for William Orr and the five men who had been loitering near the moat dashed across the bridge, and passing under the portcullis joined the little band.
The alarm had now spread through the castle, and the governor himself, followed by many of his men, came rushing down to the spot, shouting furious orders to the warder to raise the drawbridge, being in ignorance that it was firmly fixed at the outer end.
Archie and his followers were now hotly pressed, but soon a thunder of steps was heard on the drawbridge, and the whole of the band, together with some twenty or thirty of the fishermen, passed under the portcullis and joined them. Archie now took the offensive, and bearing down all opposition burst with his men into the courtyard.
The combat was desperate but short. The governor with some of his soldiers fought stoutly, but the suddenness of the surprise and the fury and vigour with which they were attacked shook the courage of many of the soldiers. Some, instead of joining in the fray, at once threw away their arms and tried to conceal themselves, others fought feebly and half heartedly, and the cries of "A Forbes! A Forbes! Scotland! Scotland!" rose louder and louder as the assailants gradually beat down all resistance. In ten minutes from the falling of the portcullis all resistance was virtually over. The governor himself fell by the hand of Archie Forbes, and at his death those who had hitherto resisted threw down their arms and called for quarter. This was given, and the following day the prisoners were marched under a strong guard down to Montrose, there to be confined until orders for their disposal were received from the king. For the next fortnight Archie and his retainers, aided by the whole of the villagers, laboured to dismantle the castle. The battlements were thrown down into the moat, several wide breaches were made in the walls, and large quantities of straw and wood piled up in the keep and turrets. These were then fired, and the Castle of Dunottar was soon reduced to an empty and gaping shell. Then Archie marched south, and remained quietly at home until the term of rest granted him by the king had expired.
Two girls and a son had by this time been born to him, and the months passed quietly and happily away until Bruce summoned him to join, with his retainers, the force with which Randolph had sat down before Edinburgh Castle. Randolph was delighted at this accession of strength. Between him and Douglas a generous rivalry in gallant actions continually went on, and Douglas had scored the last triumph. The castle of Roxburgh had long been a source of trouble to the Scots. Standing on a rocky eminence on the margin of the Teviot, just at its junction with the Tweed and within eight miles of the Border, it had constituted an open door into Scotland, and either through it or through Berwick the tides of invasion had ever flowed. The castle was very strongly fortified, so much so that the garrison, deeming themselves perfectly safe from assault, had grown careless. The commandant was a Burgundian knight, Gillemin de Fienne. Douglas chose Shrove Tuesday for his attack. Being a feast day of the church before the long lenten fast the garrison would be sure to indulge in conviviality and the watch would be less strict than usual. Douglas and his followers, supplied with scaling ladders, crept on all fours towards the walls. The night was still and they could hear the sentries' conversation. They had noticed the objects advancing, but in the darkness mistook them for the cattle of a neighbouring farmer. Silently the ladders were fixed and mounted, and with the dreaded war cry, "A Douglas! A Douglas!" the assailants burst into the castle, slaying the sentries and pouring down upon the startled revellers. Fienne and his men fought gallantly for a time, but at length all surrendered, with the exception of the governor himself and a few of his immediate followers, who retired into a tower, where they defended themselves until the following day; then Fienne being seriously wounded, the little party also surrendered. As Douglas had no personal quarrel with the garrison of Roxburgh such as he bore with those who occupied his ancestral castle, he abstained from any unnecessary cruelties, and allowed the garrison to withdraw to England, where Fienne soon afterwards died of his wounds.
The castle was as usual levelled to the ground, and as the stronghold of Carlaverock soon afterwards surrendered, the districts of Tweeddale and Galloway were now completely cleared of the English, with the exception of the Castle of Jedburgh, which they still held.
Randolph had been created Earl of Moray, and after establishing himself in his new earldom he had returned with his feudal followers and laid siege to Edinburgh, whose castle was considered all but impregnable. It had been in the possession of the English ever since it was captured by Edward I in 1296, and was strongly garrisoned and well provisioned.
Even when joined by Archie Forbes and his retainers Randolph felt that the castle could not be captured by force. The various attempts which he made were signally foiled, and it was by stratagem only that he could hope to carry it. The news of the capture of Roxburgh by Douglas increased his anxiety to succeed. Accompanied by Archie he rode round the foot of the steep rock on which the castle stands, eagerly scanning its irregularities to see if by any possibility it could be scaled.
"I would give a brave reward," he said to Archie, "to any who could show us a way of climbing those rocks, which, methinks, even a goat could scarcely manage to ascend."
"I can tell you of a way," a Scotch soldier who was standing a few paces off when he made the remark, said, saluting the earl. "It needs a sure foot and a stout heart, but I can lead a score of men with such qualifications to the foot of yonder walls;" and he pointed to the castle rising abruptly from the edge of the rocks.
"If you can make good your word, my brave fellow," Randolph said, "you may ask your own reward, and I pledge you my word, that if it be aught in reason it shall be granted. But who are you, and how did it come that you know of a way where none is supposed to exist?"
"My name is William Francus," the soldier said. "I was at one time, before the king took up arms, a soldier in the castle there. I had a sweetheart in the town, and as my turn to go out from the castle came but slowly I used at night to steal away to visit her. I found after a great search that on the face of yonder wall where it looks the steepest, and where in consequence but slight watch is kept, a man with steady foot and head could make shift to climb up and down, and thus, if you please, will I guide a party to the top of the rock."
"It looks impossible," Randolph said, gazing at the precipice; "but as you tell me that you have done it others can do the same. I will myself follow your guidance."
"And I," Archie said.
"What, Sir Archie, think you is the smallest number of men with whom, having once gained footing on the wall, we may fight our way to the gates and let in our friends."
"I should think," Archie replied, "that with thirty men we might manage to do so. The confusion in the garrison will be extreme at so unexpected a surprise, and if we divide in two parties and press forward by different ways they will think rather of holding together and defending themselves than of checking our course, and one or other of the parties should surely be able to make its way to the gates."
"Thirty let it be then," Randolph said. "Do you choose fifteen active and vigilant men from among your retainers; I will pick as many from mine, and as there is no use in delaying let us carry out the enterprise this very night; of course the rest of our men must gather near the gates in readiness to rush in when we throw them open."
As soon as it was dark the little party of adventurers set out on their way. Francus acted as guide, and under his leading they climbed with vast difficulty and no little danger up the face of the precipice until they reached a comparatively easy spot, where they sat down to recover their breath before they prepared for the final effort.