Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter XVII. 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.

G. A. Henty