ALL seemed lost. The King was a hunted beggar. A great
sum of money was offered to any who should betray him. Death threatened any
who should help him. Yet a few friends were still faithful to him and shared
his wanderings and hardships.
Their clothes were torn and shabby, their shoes worn
out. For food they hunted wild animals and gathered roots and berries from
the woods. They found shelter from the cold, and wind, and rain, under dark
pine-trees or in wild, rocky caves.
It was a hard life for men, yet women shared it too.
For the Queen and her ladies refused to live in comfort while the King was
hunted among the hills. So one day, accompanied by Nigel Bruce, the King's
young brother, they rode out from Aberdeen to seek him.
The King was very glad to see his dear wife again, and
he and his brave followers did their best to make the Queen and her ladies
comfortable. None worked harder than Sir James the Douglas. He shot the deer
and fished for salmon and trout; he gathered heather for beds; he was always
busy and always gay, and kept every one from despairing, even when things
looked darkest. The King too did his best to keep up the spirits of the
little company. At night when they gathered round the watch fires, he would
read stories out of old books, or tell tales of bygone days and of far-off
countries, and listening to these stories the little company would forget
for a time their own sufferings and dangers.
They were driven about from place to place. Sometimes
they were attacked, and had to defend themselves. Often the ladies were in
great danger, and at last King Robert was so beset by his enemies, that he
persuaded the Queen to leave him and to go with her ladies to the castle of
Kildrummie, which was the only castle still left to him. So the Queen took a
sad farewell, and went away under the care of Nigel, King Robert's brother.
She little guessed that long years were to pass before they should see each
Bruce was now left with only two hundred men. He had
no horses, as he had given them all to the knights who had gone to take care
of the Queen and the other ladies. The enemy were close upon him, and with
all haste he sought a still safer hiding-place.
He and his men went quickly through the land until
they came to Loch Lomond. To cross the loch seemed impossible. To go round
it would have been very difficult, and would have taken a long time, yet
what was to be done? They were almost in despair, when they found a little
boat. It was old and leaky, and so small that only three could cross in it
at a time. But it was enough for those brave men, used to every kind of
danger. Those who could swim tied their clothes into bundles, placed the
bundles upon their heads, and so swam over. The others, by two and by two,
crossed in the little leaky boat, until all were safely over. it took a long
time, but while the men were waiting for the boat to return, King Robert
told stories to them, so that the hours seemed to pass quickly.
At last, after many difficulties and dangers, the
little band arrived safely at the coast. There they found a ship in which
they sailed over the sea to an island off the coast of Ireland. Here Bruce
spent the cold winter months, safe, for a time, from his bitter enemies, and
happy, no doubt, in the thought that his Queen too was safe in his strong
castle of Kildrummie.
But Edward was very angry when he knew that Bruce had
again escaped him. So he sent soldiers to storm the castle in which the
Queen was. The castle was taken, the brave knights who defended the ladies
were killed, and the ladies themselves were all made prisoners.
The Queen, her daughter the little Princess Marjorie,
and the King's sisters, were sent to prisons in England and Scotland, where
they remained for many years. The brave Countess of Buchan was also with the
Queen, and Edward now determined to punish her for having set the crown upon
the head of Robert the Bruce.
He ordered a great cage of wood and iron to be made,
and in this the Countess was shut up like an imprisoned wild animal. The
cage, some people say, was hung upon the walls of Berwick castle, so that
all passers-by might see the poor Countess and be warned by her fate not to
displease the King of England. Other people think that King Edward was not
quite so cruel as that; and they say that the cage was placed inside a room.
However that may be, the poor lady was kept caged up like an animal for four
years. During all that long time no one was allowed to come near or to speak
to her, except the servants who brought her food and drink, and care was
taken that they should not be Scottish.
One by one the friends of Bruce were taken prisoner by
the English, and by Edward's orders put to death in the most cruel fashion.
Among them was Nigel, the King's brave and handsome young brother. It seemed
truly as if the cause of rtobert the Bruce was lost.
When news news of all these misfortunes was brought to
Bruce, he did indeed almost despair.
Sad, disappointed, and weary of the struggle, he lay,
one day, upon his bed of straw, in the poor little cottage where he had
found a refuge. What should he do, he asked himself. Everything seemed
against him. Was it worth while fighting and struggling any more? 'I will
give up my right to the throne,' he thought. 'I will send away all my brave
men and tell them to make peace with Edward, for if they stay with me
nothing but death and imprisonment awaits them. Then, alone, I will go to
the Holy Land and die fighting for the Cross. Perhaps then heaven will
forgive me for having killed Red Com3rn, for surely these evils come upon me
in punishment for my sin. It is no use fighting for the crown any longer.'
Full of such sad thoughts King Robert looked up at the
bare rafters of the cottage roof. They were brown with smoke, and covered
with dust and cobwebs. From one of the cobwebs hung a spider. The spider
seemed to be working very hard, and, icily at first, the King began to watch
it. He soon saw what it was about. It was trying to swing itself from one
rafter to another. It tried, and failed. Again it tried, and again it
failed. The King began to he interested in the little creature. 'It is just
like me,' he thought, 'I have tried and failed.' Six times the spider
failed. The King became more and more interested. More and more anxiously
lie watched. 'If the spider can succeed, why should not I?' he said. Again
the spider tried, and this time, hurrah ! it succeeded, and landed safely on
the opposite rafter. 'Bravo,' cried Bruce, and lie rose from his bed,
cheered and comforted, and quite decided to try again.