Part 5 out of 7
THE RISE OF ROBERT BRUCE
[Footnote 1: Robert Bruce was born in July, 1274. During the early part
of his life he was sometimes to be found on the side of the English and
sometimes on the side of the Scotch, but as he grew older his patriotic
spirit was roused, and he threw himself heart and soul into the cause of
his native land. As late as the year 1299, after the Scotch patriot
Wallace had been defeated, Bruce was in favor with the English King
Edward, but in February, 1306, occurred the event with which Scott's
_By_ SIR WALTER SCOTT
[Footnote 2: The following interesting account of some of the incidents
in the life of Bruce is abridged from Scott's _Tales of a Grandfather_,
a series of historical stories which Scott wrote for his little
Robert the Bruce was a remarkably brave and strong man; there was no man
in Scotland that was thought a match for him. He was very wise and
prudent, and an excellent general; that is, he knew how to conduct an
army, and place them in order for battle, as well or better than any
great man of his time. He was generous, too, and courteous by nature;
but he had some faults, which perhaps belonged as much to the fierce
period in which he lived as to his own character. He was rash and
passionate, and in his passion he was sometimes relentless and cruel.
Robert the Bruce had fixed his purpose to attempt once again to drive
the English out of Scotland, and he desired to prevail upon Sir John the
Red Comyn, who was his rival in his pretensions to the throne, to join
with him in expelling the foreign enemy by their common efforts. With
this purpose, Bruce posted down from London to Dumfries, on the borders
of Scotland, and requested an interview with John Comyn. They met in the
church of the Minorites in that town, before the high altar. What passed
between them is not known with certainty; but they quarrelled, either
concerning their mutual pretensions to the crown, or because Comyn
refused to join Bruce in the proposed insurrection against the English;
or, as many writers say, because Bruce charged Comyn with having
betrayed to the English his purpose of rising up against King Edward. It
is, however, certain that these two haughty barons came to high and
abusive words, until at length Bruce, who I told you was extremely
passionate, forgot the sacred character of the place in which they
stood, and struck Comyn a blow with his dagger. Having done this rash
deed, he instantly ran out of the church and called for his horse. Two
gentlemen of the country, Lindesay and Kirkpatrick, friends of Bruce,
were then in attendance on him. Seeing him pale, bloody, and in much
agitation, they eagerly inquired what was the matter.
"I doubt," said Bruce, "that I have slain the Red Comyn."
"Do you leave such a matter in doubt?" said Kirkpatrick. "I will make
sicker!"--that is, I will make certain.
Accordingly, he and his companion Lindesay rushed into the church, and
made the matter certain with a vengeance, by despatching the wounded
Comyn with their daggers. His uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, was slain at the
This slaughter of Comyn was a rash and cruel action; and the historian
of Bruce observes that it was followed by the displeasure of Heaven; for
no man ever went through more misfortunes than Robert Bruce, although he
at length rose to great honor.
After the deed was done, Bruce might be called desperate. He had
committed an action which was sure to bring down upon him the vengeance
of all Comyn's relations, the resentment of the King of England, and the
displeasure of the Church, on account of having slain his enemy within
consecrated ground. He determined, therefore, to bid them all defiance
at once, and to assert his pretensions to the throne of Scotland. He
drew his own followers together, summoned to meet him such barons as
still entertained hopes of the freedom of the country, and was crowned
king at the Abbey of Scone, the usual place where the kings of Scotland
assumed their authority.
The commencement of Bruce's undertaking was most disastrous. He was
crowned on the twenty-ninth of March, 1306. On the eighteenth of May he
was excommunicated by the Pope, on account of the murder of Comyn within
consecrated ground, a sentence which excluded him from all benefits of
religion, and authorized any one to kill him. Finally, on the nineteenth
of June, the new king was completely defeated near Methven by the
English Earl of Pembroke. Robert's horse was killed under him in the
action, and he was for a moment a prisoner.
But he had fallen into the power of a Scottish knight, who, though he
served in the English army, did not choose to be the instrument of
putting Bruce into their hands, and allowed him to escape. The
conquerors executed their prisoners with their usual cruelty.
[Illustration: BRUCE KILLS COMYN]
Bruce, with a few brave adherents, among whom was the young Lord of
Douglas, who was afterward called the Good Lord James, retired into the
Highland mountains, where they were chased from one place of refuge to
another, often in great danger, and suffering many hardships. The
Bruce's wife, now Queen of Scotland, with several other ladies,
accompanied her husband and his few followers during their wanderings.
There was no other way of providing for them save by hunting and
fishing. It was remarked that Douglas was the most active and successful
in procuring for the unfortunate ladies such supplies as his dexterity
in fishing or in killing deer could furnish to them.
Driven from one place in the Highlands to another, starved out of some
districts, and forced from others by the opposition of the inhabitants,
Bruce attempted to force his way into Lorn; but he was again defeated,
through force of numbers, at a place called Dalry. He directed his men
to retreat through a narrow pass, and placing himself last of the party,
he fought with and slew such of the enemy as attempted to press hard on
them. A father and two sons, called M'Androsser, all very strong men,
when they saw Bruce thus protecting the retreat of his followers, made a
vow that they would either kill this redoubted champion, or make him
prisoner. The whole three rushed on the king at once. Bruce was on
horseback, in the strait pass we have described, between a precipitous
rock and a deep lake. He struck the first man who came up and seized his
horse's rein such a blow with his sword, as cut off his hand and freed
the bridle. The man bled to death. The other brother had grasped Bruce
in the meantime by the leg, and was attempting to throw him from
horseback. The king, setting spurs to his horse, made the animal
suddenly spring forward, so that the Highlander fell under the horse's
feet, and, as he was endeavoring to rise again, Bruce cleft his head in
two with his sword. The father, seeing his two sons thus slain, flew
desperately at the king, and grasped him by the mantle so close to his
body that he could not have room to wield his long sword. But with the
heavy pommel of that weapon, or, as others say, with an iron hammer
which hung at his saddle-bow, the king struck his third assailant so
dreadful a blow, that he dashed out his brains. Still, however, the
Highlander kept his dying grasp on the king's mantle; so that, to be
freed of the dead body, Bruce was obliged to undo the brooch, or clasp,
by which it was fastened, and leave that, and the mantle itself, behind
At last dangers increased so much around the brave King Robert, that he
was obliged to separate himself from his queen and her ladies; for the
winter was coming on, and it would be impossible for the women to endure
this wandering life when the frost and snow should set in. So Bruce left
his queen, with the Countess of Buchan and others, in the only castle
which remained to him, which was called Kildrummie. The king also left
his youngest brother, Nigel Bruce, to defend the castle against the
English; and he himself, with his second brother Edward, who was a very
brave man, but still more rash and passionate than Robert himself, went
over to an island on the coast of Ireland, where Bruce and the few men
who followed his fortunes passed the winter of 1306. In the meantime,
ill luck seemed to pursue all his friends in Scotland. The castle of
Kildrummie was taken by the English, and Nigel Bruce, a beautiful and
brave youth, was cruelly put to death by the victors. The ladies who had
attended on Robert's queen, as well as the queen herself, and the
Countess of Buchan, were thrown into strict confinement, and treated
with the utmost severity.
It was about this time that an incident took place, which, although it
rests only on tradition in families of the name of Bruce, is rendered
probable by the manners of the times. After receiving the last
unpleasing intelligence from Scotland, Bruce was lying one morning on
his wretched bed, and deliberating with himself whether he had not
better resign all thoughts of again attempting to make good his right to
the Scottish crown, and, dismissing his followers, transport himself and
his brothers to the Holy Land, and spend the rest of his life in
fighting against the Saracens; by which he thought, perhaps, he might
deserve the forgiveness of Heaven for the great sin of stabbing Comyn in
the church at Dumfries. But then, on the other hand, he thought it would
be both criminal and cowardly to give up his attempts to restore freedom
to Scotland while there yet remained the least chance of his being
successful in an undertaking, which, rightly considered, was much more
his duty than to drive the infidels out of Palestine, though the
superstition of his age might think otherwise.
While he was divided between these reflections, and doubtful of what he
should do, Bruce was looking upward to the roof of the cabin in which he
lay; and his eye was attracted by a spider, which, hanging at the end of
a long thread of its own spinning, was endeavoring, as is the fashion of
that creature, to swing itself from one beam in the roof to another, for
the purpose of fixing the line on which it meant to stretch its web. The
insect made the attempt again and again without success; at length Bruce
counted that it had tried to carry its point six times, and been as
often unable to do so. It came into his-head that he had himself fought
just six battles against the English and their allies, and that the poor
persevering spider was exactly in the same situation with himself,
having made as many trials and been so often disappointed in what it
aimed at. "Now," thought Bruce, "as I have no means of knowing what is
best to be done, I will be guided by the luck which shall attend this
spider. If the insect shall make another effort to fix its thread, and
shall be successful, I will venture a seventh time to try my fortune in
Scotland; but if the spider shall fail, I will go to the wars in
Palestine, and never return to my native country more."
While Bruce was forming this resolution the spider made another exertion
with all the force it could muster, and fairly succeeded in fastening
its thread to the beam which it had so often in vain attempted to reach.
Bruce, seeing the success of the spider, resolved to try his own
fortune; and as he had never before gained a victory, so he never
afterward sustained any considerable or decisive check or defeat. I have
often met with people of the name of Bruce, so completely persuaded of
the truth of this story, that they would not on any account kill a
spider, because it was that insect which had shown the example of
perseverance, and given a signal of good luck, to their great namesake.
Having determined to renew his efforts to obtain possession of Scotland,
notwithstanding the smallness of the means which he had for
accomplishing so great a purpose, the Bruce removed himself and his
followers from Rachrin to the island of Arran, which lies in the mouth
of the Clyde. The king landed and inquired of the first woman he met
what armed men were in the island. She returned for answer that there
had arrived there very lately a body of armed strangers, who had
defeated an English officer, the governor of the castle of Brathwick,
had killed him and most of his men, and were now amusing themselves with
hunting about the island. The king, having caused himself to be guided
to the woods which these strangers most frequented, there blew his horn
Now, the chief of the strangers who had taken the castle was James
Douglas, one of the best of Bruce's friends, and he was accompanied by
some of the bravest of that patriotic band. When he heard Robert Bruce's
horn he knew the sound well, and cried out, that yonder was the king, he
knew by his manner of blowing. So he and his companions hastened to meet
King Robert, and there was great joy on both sides; while at the same
time they could not help weeping when they considered their own forlorn
condition, and the great loss that had taken place among their friends
since they had last parted. But they were stout-hearted men, and looked
forward to freeing their country in spite of all that had yet happened.
The Bruce was now within sight of Scotland, and not distant from his own
family possessions, where the people were most likely to be attached to
him. He began immediately to form plans with Douglas how they might best
renew their enterprise against the English. The Douglas resolved to go
disguised to his own country, and raise his followers in order to begin
their enterprise by taking revenge on an English nobleman called Lord
Clifford, upon whom Edward had conferred his estates, and who had taken
up his residence in the castle of Douglas.
Bruce, on his part, opened a communication with the opposite coast of
Carrick, by means of one of his followers called Cuthbert. This person
had directions, that if he should find the countrymen in Carrick
disposed to take up arms against the English he was to make a fire on a
headland, or lofty cape, called Turnberry, on the coast of Ayrshire,
opposite to the island of Arran. The appearance of a fire on this place
was to be a signal for Bruce to put to sea with such men as he had, who
were not more than three hundred in number, for the purpose of landing
in Carrick and joining the insurgents.
Bruce and his men watched eagerly for the signal, but for some time in
vain. At length a fire on Turnberry-head became visible, and the king
and his followers merrily betook themselves to their ships and galleys,
concluding their Carrick friends were all in arms and ready to join with
them. They landed on the beach at midnight, where they found their spy
Cuthbert alone in waiting for them with very bad news. Lord Percy, he
said, was in the country with two or three hundred Englishmen, and had
terrified the people so much, both by actions and threats, that none of
them dared to think of rebelling against King Edward.
"Traitor!" said Bruce, "why, then, did you make the signal?"
"Alas," replied Cuthbert, "the fire was not made by me, but by some
other person, for what purpose I know not; but as soon as I saw it
burning, I knew that you would come over, thinking it my signal, and
therefore I came down to wait for you on the beach to tell you how the
King Robert's first idea was to return to Arran after this
disappointment; but his brother Edward refused to go back. He was, as I
have told you, a man daring even to rashness. "I will not leave my
native land," he said, "now that I am so unexpectedly restored to it. I
will give freedom to Scotland, or leave my carcass on the surface of the
land which gave me birth."
Bruce, also, after some hesitation, determined that since he had been
thus brought to the mainland of Scotland, he would remain there, and
take such adventure and fortune as Heaven should send him.
Accordingly, he began to skirmish with the English so successfully, as
obliged the Lord Percy to quit Carrick. Bruce then dispersed his men
upon various adventures against the enemy, in which they were generally
successful. But then, on the other hand, the king, being left with small
attendance, or sometimes almost alone, ran great risk of losing his life
by treachery or by open violence.
At one time, a near relation of Bruce's, in whom he entirely confided,
was induced by the bribes of the English to attempt to put him to death.
This villain, with his two sons, watched the king one morning, till he
saw him separated from all his men, excepting a little boy, who waited
on him as a page. The father had a sword in his hand, one of the sons
had a sword and a spear, and the other had a sword and a battle-axe.
Now, when the king saw them so well armed, when there were no enemies
near, he began to call to mind some hints which had been given to him,
that these men intended to murder him. He had no weapons excepting his
sword; but his page had a bow and arrow. He took them both from the
little boy, and bade him stand at a distance; "for," said the king, "if
I overcome these traitors, thou shalt have enough of weapons; but if I
am slain by them, you may make your escape, and tell Douglas and my
brother to revenge my death." The boy was very sorry, for he loved his
master; but he was obliged to do as he was bidden.
In the meantime the traitors came forward upon Bruce, that they might
assault him at once. The king called out to them, and commanded them to
come no nearer, upon peril of their lives; but the father answered with
flattering words, pretending great kindness, and still continuing to
approach his person. Then the king again called to them to stand.
"Traitors," said he, "ye have sold my life for English gold; but you
shall die if you come one foot nearer to me." With that he bent the
page's bow, and as the old conspirator continued to advance, he let the
arrow fly at him. Bruce was an excellent archer; he aimed his arrow so
well that it hit the father in the eye, and penetrated from that into
his brain, so that he fell down dead. Then the two sons rushed on the
king. One of them fetched a blow at him with an axe, but missed his
stroke and stumbled, so that the king with his great sword cut him down
before he could recover his feet. The remaining traitor ran on Bruce
with his spear; but the king, with a sweep of his sword, cut the steel
head off the villain's weapon, and then killed him before he had time to
draw his sword. Then the little page came running, very joyful of his
master's victory; and the king wiped his bloody sword, and, looking upon
the dead bodies, said, "These might have been reputed three gallant men,
if they could have resisted the temptation of covetousness."
After the death of these three traitors, Robert the Bruce continued to
keep himself concealed in his own earldom of Carrick, and in the
neighboring country of Galloway, until he should have matters ready for
a general attack upon the English. He was obliged, in the meantime, to
keep very few men with him, both for the sake of secrecy, and from the
difficulty of finding provisions. Now, many of the people of Galloway
were unfriendly to Bruce. They had heard that he was in their country,
having no more than sixty men with him; so they resolved to attack him
by surprise, and for this purpose they got two hundred men together, and
brought with them two or three bloodhounds. These animals were trained
to chase a man by the scent of his footsteps, as foxhounds chase a fox,
or as beagles and harriers chase a hare. Although the dog does not see
the person whose trace he is put upon, he follows him over every step he
has taken. At that time these bloodhounds, or sleuthhounds (so called
from _slot_, or _sleut_, a word which signifies the scent left by an
animal of chase), were used for the purpose of pursuing great criminals.
The men of Galloway thought themselves secure, that if they missed
taking Bruce, or killing him at the first onset, and if he should escape
into the woods, they would find him out by means of these bloodhounds.
The good King Robert Bruce, who was always watchful and vigilant, had
received some information of the intention of this party to come upon
him suddenly and by night. Accordingly, he quartered his little troop of
sixty men on the side of a deep and swift-running river, that had very
steep and rocky banks. There was but one ford by which this river could
be crossed in that neighborhood, and that ford was deep and narrow, so
that two men could scarcely get through abreast; the ground on which
they were to land on the side where the king was, was steep, and the
path which led upward from the water's edge to the top of the bank,
extremely narrow and difficult.
Bruce caused his men to lie down to take some sleep, at a place about
half a mile distant from the river, while he himself, with two
attendants, went down to watch the ford, through which the enemy must
needs pass before they could come to the place where King Robert's men
were lying. He stood for some time looking at the ford, and thinking how
easily the enemy might be kept from passing there, provided it was
bravely defended, when he heard at a distance the baying of a hound,
which was always coming nearer and nearer. This was the bloodhound which
was tracing the king's steps to the ford where he had crossed, and the
two hundred Galloway men were along with the animal, and guided by it.
Bruce at first thought of going back to awaken his men; but then he
reflected that it might be only some shepherd's dog. "My men," said he,
"are sorely tired; I will not disturb their sleep for the yelping of a
cur, till I know something more of the matter."
So he stood and listened; and by and by, as the cry of the hound came
nearer, he began to hear a trampling of horses, and the voices of men,
and the ringing and clattering of armor, and then he was sure the enemy
were coming to the river side. Then the king thought, "If I go back to
give my men the alarm, these Galloway men will get through the ford
without opposition; and that would be a pity, since it is a place so
advantageous to make defence against them." So he looked again at the
steep path, and the deep river, and he thought that they gave him so
much advantage, that he himself could defend the passage with his own
hand, until his men came to assist him. His armor was so good and
strong, that he had no fear of arrows, and therefore the combat was not
so very unequal as it must have otherwise been. He therefore sent his
followers to waken his men, and remained alone by the bank of the river.
In the meanwhile, the noise and trampling of the horses increased; and
the moon being bright, Bruce beheld the glancing arms of about two
hundred men, who came down to the opposite bank of the river. The men of
Galloway, on their part, saw but one solitary figure guarding the ford,
and the foremost of them plunged into the river without minding him. But
as they could only pass the ford one by one, the Bruce, who stood high
above them on the bank where they were to land, killed the foremost man
with a thrust of his long spear, and with a second thrust stabbed the
horse, which fell down, kicking and plunging in his agonies, on the
narrow path, and so prevented the others who were following from getting
out of the river. Bruce had thus an opportunity of dealing his blows at
pleasure among them, while they could not strike at him again. In the
confusion, five or six of the enemy were slain, or, having been borne
down the current, were drowned in the river. The rest were terrified,
and drew back.
But when the Galloway men looked again, and saw they were opposed by
only one man, they themselves being so many, they cried out that their
honor would be lost forever if they did not force their way; and
encouraged each other, with loud cries, to plunge through and assault
him. But by this time the king's soldiers came up to his assistance, and
the Galloway men retreated, and gave up their enterprise.
At another time King Robert and his foster brother were walking through
a wood extremely weary and hungry. As they proceeded, however, in the
hopes of coming to some habitation, they met in the midst of the forest
with three men who looked like thieves or ruffians. They were well
armed, and one of them bore a sheep on his back, which it seemed as if
they had just stolen. They saluted the king civilly; and he, replying to
their salutation, asked them where they were going. The men answered,
they were seeking for Robert Bruce, for that they intended to join with
him. The king answered, that if they would go with him he would conduct
them where they would find the Scottish king. Then the man who had
spoken changed countenance, and Bruce, who looked sharply at him, began
to suspect that the ruffian guessed who he was, and that he and his
companions had some design against his person, in order to gain the
reward which had been offered for his life.
So he said to them, "My good friends, as we are not well acquainted with
each other, you must go before us, and we will follow near to you."
"You have no occasion to suspect any harm from us," answered the man.
"Neither do I suspect any," said Bruce; "but this is the way in which I
choose to travel."
The men did as he commanded, and thus they traveled till they came
together to a waste and ruinous cottage, where the men proposed to dress
some part of the sheep, which their companion was carrying. The king was
glad to hear of food; but he insisted that there should be two fires
kindled, one for himself and his foster brother at one end of the house,
the other at the other end for their three companions. The men did as he
desired. They broiled a quarter of mutton for themselves, and gave
another to the king and his attendant. They were obliged to eat it
without bread or salt; but as they were very hungry, they were glad to
get food in any shape, and partook of it very heartily.
Then so heavy a drowsiness fell on King Robert, that, for all the danger
he was in, he could not resist an inclination to sleep. But first, he
desired his foster brother to watch while he slept, for he had great
suspicion of their new acquaintances. His foster brother promised to
keep awake, and did his best to keep his word. But the king had not long
been asleep ere his foster brother fell into a deep slumber also, for he
had undergone as much fatigue as the king. When the three villains saw
the king and his attendant asleep, they made signs to each other, and
rising up at once, drew their swords with the purpose to kill them both.
But the king slept but lightly, and little noise as the traitors made in
rising, he was awakened by it, and starting up, drew his sword, and went
to meet them. At the same moment he pushed his foster brother with his
foot, to awaken him, and he got on his feet; but ere he got his eyes to
see clearly, one of the ruffians that were advancing to slay the king,
killed him with a stroke of his sword. The king was now alone, one man
against three, and in the greatest danger of his life; but his amazing
strength, and the good armor which he wore, freed him once more from
this great peril, and he killed the three men, one after another. He
then left the cottage, very sorrowful for the death of his faithful
foster brother, and took his direction toward the place where he had
appointed his men to assemble. It was now near night, and the place of
meeting being a farmhouse, he went boldly into it, where he found the
mistress, an old true-hearted Scotswoman, sitting alone. Upon seeing a
stranger enter, she asked him who and what he was. The king answered
that he was a traveler journeying through the country.
"All travelers," answered the good woman, "are welcome here, for the
sake of one."
"And who is that one," said the king, "for whose sake you make all
"It is our rightful king, Robert the Bruce," answered the mistress, "who
is the lawful lord of this country; and although he is now pursued and
hunted after with hounds and horns, I hope to live to see him king over
"Since you love him so well, dame," said the king, "know that you see
him before you. I am Robert the Bruce."
[ILLUSTRATION: SHE BROUGHT HER TWO SONS]
"You!" said the good woman, in great surprise; "and wherefore are you
thus alone?--where are all your men?"
"I have none with me at this moment," answered Bruce, "and therefore I
must travel alone."
"But that shall not be," said the brave old dame, "for I have two stout
sons, gallant and trusty men, who shall be your servants for life and
So she brought her two sons, and though she well knew the dangers to
which she exposed them, she made them swear fidelity to the king; and
they afterward became high officers in his service.
Now, the loyal old woman was getting everything ready for the king's
supper, when suddenly there was a great trampling of horses heard round
the house. They thought it must be some of the English, and the good
wife called upon her sons to fight to the last for King Robert. But
shortly after, they heard the voice of the good Lord James of Douglas,
and of Edward Bruce, the king's brother, who had come with a hundred and
fifty horsemen to this farmhouse, according to the instructions that the
king had left with them at parting.
Robert the Bruce was right joyful to meet his brother, and his faithful
friend Lord James, and had no sooner found himself once more at the head
of such a considerable body of followers, than forgetting hunger and
weariness, he began to inquire where the enemy who had pursued them so
long had taken up their abode for the night; "For," said he, "as they
must suppose us totally scattered and fled, it is likely that they will
think themselves quite secure, and disperse themselves into distant
quarters, and keep careless watch."
"That is very true," answered James of Douglas, "for I passed a village
where there are two hundred of them quartered, who had placed no
sentinels; and if you have a mind to make haste, we may surprise them
this very night, and do them more mischief than they have been able to
do us during all this day's chase."
Then there was nothing but mount and ride; and as the Scots came by
surprise on the body of English whom Douglas had mentioned, and rushed
suddenly into the village where they were quartered, they easily
dispersed and cut them to pieces; thus, as Douglas had said, doing their
pursuers more injury than they themselves had received during the long
and severe pursuit of the preceding day.
The consequence of these successes of King Robert was, that soldiers
came to join him on all sides, and that he obtained several victories,
until at length the English were afraid to venture into the open country
as formerly, unless when they could assemble themselves in considerable
bodies. They thought it safer to lie still in the towns and castles
which they had garrisoned, and wait till the King of England should once
more come to their assistance with a powerful army.
When King Edward the First heard that Scotland was again in arms against
him, he marched down to the Borders, with many threats of what he would
do to avenge himself on Bruce and his party, whom he called rebels. But
he was now old and feeble, and while he was making his preparations, he
was taken very ill, and after lingering a long time, at length died on
the sixth of July, 1307, at a place in Cumberland called Burgh upon the
Sands, in full sight of Scotland, and not three miles from its frontier.
His hatred to that country was so inveterate that his thoughts of
revenge seemed to occupy his mind on his death-bed. He made his son
promise never to make peace with Scotland until the nation was subdued.
He gave also very singular directions concerning the disposal of his
dead body. He ordered that it should be boiled in a caldron till the
flesh parted from the bones, and that then the bones should be wrapped
up in a bull's hide, and carried at the head of the English army, as
often as the Scots attempted to recover their freedom. He thought that
he had inflicted such distresses on the Scots, and invaded and defeated
them so often, that his very dead bones would terrify them. His son,
Edward the Second, did not choose to execute this strange injunction,
but caused his father to be buried in Westminster Abbey, where his tomb
is still to be seen, bearing for an inscription, _Here Lies the Hammer
of the Scottish Nation_.
Edward the Second was neither so brave nor so wise as his father; on the
contrary, he was a weak prince, fond of idle amusements and worthless
favorites. It was lucky for Scotland that such was his disposition. He
marched a little way into Scotland with the large army which Edward the
First had collected, and went back again without fighting, which gave
great encouragement to Bruce's party.
Several of the Scottish nobility now took arms in different parts of the
country, declared for King Robert, and fought against the English troops
and garrisons. The most distinguished of these was the good Lord James
of Douglas. Other great lords also were now exerting themselves to
destroy the English. Among them was Sir Thomas Randolph, whose mother
was a sister of King Robert.
While Robert Bruce was gradually getting possession of the country, and
driving out the English, Edinburgh, the principal town of Scotland,
remained, with its strong castle, in possession of the invaders. Sir
Thomas Randolph was extremely desirous to gain this important place; but
the castle is situated on a very steep and lofty rock, so that it is
difficult or almost impossible even to get up to the foot of the walls,
much more to climb over them.
So while Randolph was considering what was to be done, there came to him
a Scottish gentleman named Francis, who had joined Bruce's standard, and
asked to speak with him in private. He then told Randolph that in his
youth he had lived in the Castle of Edinburgh, and that his father had
then been keeper of the fortress. It happened at that time that Francis
was much in love with a lady who lived in a part of the town beneath the
castle, which is called the Grassmarket. Now, as he could not get out of
the castle by day to see his mistress, he had practiced a way of
clambering by night down the castle rock on the south side, and
returning at his pleasure; when he came to the foot of the wall, he made
use of a ladder to get over it, as it was not very high at that point,
those who built it having trusted to the steepness of the crag; and for
the same reason, no watch was placed there. Francis had gone and come so
frequently in this dangerous manner, that, though it was now long ago,
he told Randolph he knew the road so well that he would undertake to
guide a small party of men by night to the bottom of the wall; and as
they might bring ladders with them, there would be no difficulty in
scaling it. The great risk was, that of their being discovered by the
watchmen while in the act of ascending the cliff, in which case every
man of them must have perished.
Nevertheless, Randolph did not hesitate to attempt the adventure. He
took with him only thirty men (you may be sure they were chosen for
activity and courage), and came one dark night to the foot of the rock,
which they began to ascend under the guidance of Francis, who went
before them, upon his hands and feet, up one cliff, down another, and
round another, where there was scarce room to support themselves. All
the while, these thirty men were obliged to follow in a line, one after
the other, by a path that was fitter for a cat than a man. The noise of
a stone falling, or a word spoken from one to another, would have
alarmed the watchmen. They were obliged, therefore, to move with the
greatest precaution. When they were far up the crag, and near the
foundation of the wall, they heard the guards going their rounds, to see
that all was safe in and about the castle. Randolph and his party had
nothing for it but to lie close and quiet, each man under the crag, as
he happened to be placed, and trust that the guards would pass by
without noticing them. And while they were waiting in breathless alarm
they got a new cause of fright. One of the soldiers of the castle,
willing to startle his comrades, suddenly threw a stone from the wall,
and cried out, "Aha, I see you well!" The stone came thundering down
over the heads of Randolph and his men, who naturally thought themselves
discovered. If they had stirred, or made the slightest noise, they would
have been entirely destroyed; for the soldiers above might have killed
every man of them, merely by rolling down stones. But being courageous
and chosen men, they remained quiet, and the English soldiers, who
thought their comrade was merely playing them a trick (as, indeed, he
had no other meaning in what he said) passed on without further
Then Randolph and his men got up and came in haste to the foot of the
wall, which was not above twice a man's height in that place. They
planted the ladders they had brought, and Francis mounted first to show
them the way; Sir Andrew Grey, a brave knight, followed him, and
Randolph himself was the third man who got over. Then the rest followed.
When once they were within the walls, there was not so much to do, for
the garrison were asleep and unarmed, excepting the watch, who were
speedily destroyed. Thus was Edinburgh Castle taken in March, 1312.
It was not, however, only by the exertions of great and powerful barons,
like Randolph and Douglas, that the freedom of Scotland was to be
accomplished. The stout yeomanry and the bold peasantry of the land, who
were as desirous to enjoy their cottages in honorable independence as
the nobles were to reclaim their castles and estates from the English,
contributed their full share in the efforts which were made to deliver
the country from the invaders.
While Douglas, Randolph, and other true-hearted patriots, were taking
castles and strongholds from the English, King Robert, who now had a
considerable army under his command, marched through the country,
dispersing such bodies of English as he met on the way.
Now when Sir Philip Mowbray, the governor of Stirling, came to London to
tell the king that Stirling, the last Scottish town of importance which
remained in possession of the English, was to be surrendered if it were
not relieved by force of arms before midsummer, then all the English
nobles called out it would be a sin and shame to permit the fair
conquest which Edward the First had made to be forfeited to the Scots
for want of fighting. It was, therefore, resolved, that the king should
go himself to Scotland, with as great forces as he could possibly
[ILLUSTRATION: THE ASCENT TO THE CASTLE OF EDINBURGH]
King Edward the Second, therefore, assembled one of the greatest armies
which a King of England ever commanded. There were troops brought from
all his dominions. Many brave soldiers from the French provinces which
the King of England possessed in France--many Irish, many Welsh--and all
the great English nobles and barons, with their followers, were
assembled in one great army. The number was not less than one hundred
King Robert the Bruce summoned all his nobles and barons to join him,
when he heard of the great preparations which the King of England was
making. They were not so numerous as the English by many thousand men.
In fact, his whole army did not very much exceed thirty thousand, and
they were much worse armed than the wealthy Englishmen; but then,
Robert, who was at their head, was one of the most expert generals of
the time; and the officers he had under him were his brother Edward, his
nephew Randolph, his faithful follower the Douglas, and other brave and
experienced leaders, who commanded the same men that had been accustomed
to fight and gain victories under every disadvantage of situation and
The king, on his part, studied how he might supply, by address and
stratagem, what he wanted in numbers and strength. He knew the
superiority of the English, both in their heavy-armed cavalry, which
were much better mounted and armed than that of the Scots, and in their
archers, who were better trained than any others in the world. Both
these advantages he resolved to provide against. With this purpose, he
led his army down into a plain near Stirling, called the Park, near
which, and beneath it, the English army must needs pass through a boggy
country, broken with water courses, while the Scots occupied hard, dry
ground. He then caused all the ground upon the front of his line of
battle, where cavalry were likely to act, to be dug full of holes, about
as deep as a man's knee. They were filled with light brushwood, and the
turf was laid on the top, so that it appeared a plain field, while in
reality it was all full of these pits as a honeycomb is of holes. He
also, it is said, caused steel spikes, called caltrops, to be scattered
up and down in the plain, where the English cavalry were most likely to
advance, trusting in that manner to lame and destroy their horses.
When the Scottish army was drawn up, the line stretched north and south.
On the south, it was terminated by the banks of the brook called
Bannockburn, which are so rocky, that no troops could attack them there.
On the left, the Scottish line extended near to the town of Stirling.
Bruce reviewed his troops very carefully; all the useless servants,
drivers of carts, and such like, of whom there were very many, he
ordered to go behind a great height, afterward, in memory of the event,
called the Gillies' hill, that is, the Servants' hill. He then spoke to
the soldiers, and expressed his determination to gain the victory, or to
lose his life on the field of battle. He desired that all those who did
not propose to fight to the last, should leave the field before the
battle began, and that none should remain except those who were
determined to take the issue of victory or death, as God should send it.
When the main body of his army was thus placed in order, the king posted
Randolph, with a body of horse, near to the Church of Saint Ninian's,
commanding him to use the utmost diligence to prevent any succors from
being thrown into Stirling Castle. He then despatched James of Douglas,
and Sir Robert Keith, the Mareschal of the Scottish army, in order that
they might survey, as nearly as they could, the English force, which was
now approaching from Falkirk. They returned with information, that the
approach of that vast host was one of the most beautiful and terrible
sights which could be seen--that the whole country seemed covered with
men-at-arms on horse and foot, that the number of standards, banners,
and pennons (all flags of different kinds) made so gallant a show, that
the bravest and most numerous host in Christendom might be alarmed to
see King Edward moving against them.
It was upon the twenty-third of June (1314) the King of Scotland heard
the news, that the English army were approaching Stirling. He drew out
his army, therefore, in the order which he had before resolved on. After
a short time, Bruce, who was looking out anxiously for the enemy, saw a
body of English cavalry trying to get into Stirling from the eastward.
This was the Lord Clifford, who, with a chosen body of eight hundred
horse, had been detached to relieve the castle.
"See, Randolph," said the king to his nephew, "there is a rose fallen
from your chaplet." By this he meant, that Randolph had lost some honor,
by suffering the enemy to pass where he had been stationed to hinder
them. Randolph made no reply, but rushed against Clifford with little
more than half his number. The Scots were on foot. The English turned to
charge them with their lances, and Randolph drew up his men in close
order to receive the onset. He seemed to be in so much danger, that
Douglas asked leave of the king to go and assist him. The king refused
"Let Randolph," he said, "redeem his own fault; I cannot break the order
of battle for his sake." Still the danger appeared greater, and the
English horse seemed entirely to encompass the small handful of Scottish
infantry. "So please you," said Douglas to the king, "my heart will not
suffer me to stand idle and see Randolph perish--I must go to his
assistance." He rode off accordingly; but long before they had reached
the place of combat, they saw the English horses galloping off, many
with empty saddles.
"Halt!" said Douglas to his men, "Randolph has gained the day; since we
were not soon enough to help him in the battle, do not let us lessen his
glory by approaching the field." Now, that was nobly done; especially as
Douglas and Randolph were always contending which should rise highest in
the good opinion of the king and the nation.
The van of the English army now came in sight, and a number of their
bravest knights drew near to see what the Scots were doing. They saw
King Robert dressed in his armor, and distinguished by a gold crown,
which he wore over his helmet. He was not mounted on his great
war-horse, because he did not expect to fight that evening. But he rode
on a little pony up and down the ranks of his army, putting his men in
order, and carried in his hand a sort of battle-axe made of steel. When
the king saw the English horsemen draw near, he advanced a little before
his own men, that he might look at them more nearly.
There was a knight among the English, called Sir Henry de Bohun, who
thought this would be a good opportunity to gain great fame to himself,
and put an end to the war, by killing King Robert. The king being poorly
mounted, and having no lance, Bohun galloped on him suddenly and
furiously, thinking, with his long spear, and his tall powerful horse,
easily to bear him down to the ground. King Robert saw him, and
permitted him to come very near, then suddenly turned his pony a little
to one side, so that Sir Henry missed him with the lance-point, and was
in the act of being carried past him by the career of his horse. But as
he passed, King Robert rose up in his stirrups, and struck Sir Henry on
the head with his battle-axe so terrible a blow, that it broke to pieces
his iron helmet as if it had been a nutshell, and hurled him from his
saddle. He was dead before he reached the ground. This gallant action
was blamed by the Scottish leaders, who thought Bruce ought not to have
exposed himself to so much danger, when the safety of the whole army
depended on him. The king only kept looking at his weapon, which was
injured by the force of the blow, and said, "I have broken my good
The next morning, being the twenty-fourth of June, at break of day, the
battle began in terrible earnest. The English as they advanced saw the
Scots getting into line. The Abbot of Inchaffray walked through their
ranks bare-footed, and exhorted them to fight for their freedom. They
kneeled down as he passed, and prayed to Heaven for victory. King
Edward, who saw this, called out, "They kneel down--they are asking
[Illustration: BRUCE SLAYS SIR HENRY DE BOHUN]
"Yes," said a celebrated English baron, called Ingelram de Umphraville,
"but they ask it from God, not from us--these men will conquer, or die
upon the field."
The English king ordered his men to begin the battle. The archers then
bent their bows, and began to shoot so closely together, that the arrows
fell like flakes of snow on a Christmas day. They killed many of the
Scots, and might, as at Falkirk, and other places, have decided the
victory; but Bruce was prepared for them. He had in readiness a body of
men-at-arms, well mounted, who rode at full gallop among the archers,
and as they had no weapons save their bows and arrows, which they could
not use when they were attacked hand to hand, they were cut down in
great numbers by the Scottish horsemen and thrown into total confusion.
The fine English cavalry then advanced to support their archers, and to
attack the Scottish line. But coming over the ground which was dug full
of pits, the horses fell into these holes, and the riders lay tumbling
about, without any means of defence, and unable to rise, from the weight
of their armor. The Englishmen began to fall into general disorder; and
the Scottish king, bringing up more of his forces, attacked and pressed
them still more closely.
On a sudden, while the battle was obstinately maintained on both sides,
an event happened which decided the victory. The servants and attendants
on the Scottish camp had, as I told you, been sent behind the army to a
place afterward called the Gillies' hill. But when they saw that their
masters were likely to gain the day, they rushed from their place of
concealment with such weapons as they could get, that they might have
their share in the victory and in the spoil. The English, seeing them
come suddenly over the hill, mistook this disorderly rabble for a new
army coming up to sustain the Scots, and, losing all heart, began to
shift every man for himself. Edward himself left the field as fast as he
could ride. A valiant knight, Sir Giles de Argentine, much renowned in
the wars of Palestine, attended the king till he got him out of the
press of the combat. But he would retreat no further. "It is not my
custom," he said, "to fly." With that he took leave of the king, set
spurs to his horse, and calling out his war-cry of Argentine! Argentine!
he rushed into the thickest of the Scottish ranks, and was killed.
Edward first fled to Stirling Castle, and entreated admittance; but Sir
Philip Mowbray, the governor, reminded the fugitive sovereign that he
was obliged to surrender the castle next day, so Edward was fain to fly
through the Torwood, closely pursued by Douglas with a body of cavalry.
An odd circumstance happened during the chase, which showed how loosely
some of the Scottish barons of that day held their political opinions:
As Douglas was riding furiously after Edward, he met a Scottish knight,
Sir Laurence Abernethy, with twenty horse. Sir Laurence had hitherto
owned the English interest, and was bringing this band of followers to
serve King Edward's army. But learning from Douglas that the English
king was entirely defeated, he changed sides on the spot, and was easily
prevailed upon to join Douglas in pursuing the unfortunate Edward, with
the very followers whom he had been leading to join his standard.
Douglas and Abernethy continued the chase, not giving King Edward time
to alight from horseback even for an instant, and followed him as far as
Dunbar, where the English had still a friend in the governor, Patrick,
Earl of March. The earl received Edward in his forlorn condition, and
furnished him with a fishing skiff, or small ship, in which he escaped
to England, having entirely lost his fine army, and a great number of
his bravest nobles.
The English never before or afterward, whether in France or Scotland,
lost so dreadful a battle as that of Bannockburn, nor did the Scots ever
gain one of the same importance. Many of the best and bravest of the
English nobility and gentry lay dead on the field; a great many more
were made prisoners; and the whole of King Edward's immense army was
dispersed or destroyed.
The English, after this great defeat, were no longer in a condition to
support their pretensions to be masters of Scotland, or to continue, as
they had done for nearly twenty years, to send armies into that country
to overcome it. On the contrary, they became for a time scarce able to
defend their own frontiers against King Robert and his soldiers.
Thus did Robert Bruce arise from the condition of an exile, hunted with
bloodhounds like a stag or beast of prey, to the rank of an independent
sovereign, universally acknowledged to be one of the wisest and bravest
kings who then lived. The nation of Scotland was also raised once more
from the situation of a distressed and conquered province to that of a
free and independent state, governed by its own laws, and subject to its
own princes; and although the country was after the Bruce's death often
subjected to great loss and distress, both by the hostility of the
English, and by the unhappy civil wars among the Scots themselves, yet
they never afterward lost the freedom for which Wallace had laid down
his life, and which King Robert had recovered, not less by his wisdom
than by his weapons. And therefore most just it is, that while the
country of Scotland retains any recollection of its history, the memory
of those brave warriors and faithful patriots should be remembered with
honor and gratitude.
[Footnote 3: Three years after the Battle of Bannockburn, Bruce went
over into Ireland to assist in establishing his brother Edward as king
of the island. The Irish defended themselves so vigorously that the
Scotch were compelled to retire, leaving Edward dead upon the field. For
a number of years, Robert the Bruce reigned gloriously over Scotland,
but toward the end of his life he fell a victim to leprosy and was
compelled to live for two years in his castle at Cardross on the
beautiful banks of the River Clyde. During this illness, Edward the
Second of England died, and his son Edward the Third, a mere youth, came
to the throne. The boy king determined to retrieve the losses that his
father had sustained, but was prevented by Douglas, Randolph, and other
loyal Scotch leaders, who distinguished themselves by almost incredible
deeds of valor. When the king was dying, he ordered that his heart
should be taken from his body, embalmed and given to Douglas to be by
him carried to Palestine and buried in Jerusalem. Douglas caused the
heart to be enclosed in a silver case, and proud of the distinction the
king had shown him, started with a number of followers for Palestine.
When he arrived in Spain, however, he was diverted from his original
purpose and led to join with King Alphonso in an attempt to drive the
Saracens from Granada. In a bitter fight with the Moors, Douglas was
killed, and after the battle, his body was found lying across the silver
case, as if his last object had been to defend the heart of Bruce. No
further attempt was made to carry Robert's heart to Jerusalem, but it
was returned to Scotland and buried in the monastery of Melrose.]
BRUCE AND THE SPIDER
_By_ BERNARD ARTON
For Scotland's and for freedom's right
The Bruce his part had played,
In five successive fields of fight
Been conquered and dismayed;
Once more against the English host
His band he led, and once more lost
The meed for which he fought;
And now from battle, faint and worn,
The homeless fugitive forlorn
A hut's lone shelter sought.
And cheerless was that resting place
For him who claimed a throne:
His canopy, devoid of grace,
The rude, rough beams alone;
The heather couch his only bed,--
Yet well I ween had slumber fled
From couch of eider down!
Through darksome night till dawn of day,
Absorbed in wakeful thought he lay
Of Scotland and her crown.
The sun rose brightly, and its gleam
Fell on that hapless bed,
And tinged with light each shapeless beam
Which roofed the lowly shed;
When, looking up with wistful eye,
The Bruce beheld a spider try
His filmy thread to fling
From beam to beam of that rude cot:
And well the insect's toilsome lot
Taught Scotland's future king.
Six times his gossamery thread
The wary spider threw;
[Illustration: BRUCE BEHELD A SPIDER]
In vain that filmy line was sped,
For powerless or untrue
Each aim appeared, and back recoiled
The patient insect, six times foiled,
And yet unconquered still;
And soon the Bruce, with eager eye,
Saw him prepare once more to try
His courage, strength, and skill.
One effort more, his seventh and last!
The hero hailed the sign!
And on the wished-for beam hung fast
That slender, silken line;
Slight as it was, his spirit caught
The more than omen, for his thought
The lesson well could trace,
Which even "he who runs may read,"
That Perseverance gains its meed,
And Patience wins the race.
* * * * *
THE HEART OF BRUCE
_By_ WILLIAM L. AYTOUN
It was upon an April morn,
While yet the frost lay hoar,
We heard Lord James's bugle horn
Sound by the rocky shore.
Then down we went, a hundred
All in our dark array,
And flung our armor in the ships
That rode within the bay.
We spoke not as the shore grew less,
But gazed in silence back,
Where the long billows swept away
The foam behind our track.
And aye the purple hues decayed
Upon the fading hill,
And but one heart in all that ship
Was tranquil, cold, and still.
The good Lord Douglas paced the deck,
And O, his face was wan!
Unlike the flush it used to wear
When in the battle-van.
"Come hither, come hither, my trusty knight,
Sir Simon of the Lee;
There is a freit lies near my soul
I fain would tell to thee.
"Thou know'st the words King Robert spoke
Upon his dying day:
How he bade take his noble heart
And carry it far away;
"And lay it in the holy soil
Where once the Saviour trod,
Since he might not bear the blessed Cross,
Nor strike one blow for God.
"Last night as in my bed I lay,
I dreamed a dreary dream:--
Methought I saw a Pilgrim stand
In the moonlight's quivering beam.
"His robe was of the azure dye,
Snow-white his scattered hairs,
And even such a cross he bore
As good Saint Andrew bears.
"'Why go ye forth, Lord James,' he said,
'With spear and belted brand?
Why do you take its dearest pledge
From this our Scottish land?
"'The sultry breeze of Galilee
Creeps through its groves of palm,
The olives on the Holy Mount
Stand glittering in the calm.
"'But 'tis not there that Scotland's heart
Shall rest by God's decree,
Till the great angel calls the dead
To rise from earth and sea!
"'Lord James of Douglas, mark my rede!
That heart shall pass once more
In fiery fight against the foe,
As it was wont of yore.
"'And it shall pass beneath the Cross,
And save King Robert's vow;
But other hands shall bear it back,
Not, James of Douglas, thou!'
"Now, by thy knightly faith, I pray,
Sir Simon of the Lee,--
For truer friend had never man
Than thou hast been to me,--
"If ne'er upon the Holy Land
'Tis mine in life to tread,
Bear thou to Scotland's kindly earth
The relics of her dead."
The tear was in Sir Simon's eye
As he wrung the warrior's hand,--
"Betide me weal, betide me woe,
I'll hold by thy command.
"But if in battle-front, Lord James,
'Tis ours once more to ride,
Nor force of man, nor craft of fiend,
Shall cleave me from thy side!"
[Illustration: I SAW A PILGRIM STAND]
And aye we sailed and aye we sailed
Across the weary sea,
Until one morn the coast of Spain
Rose grimly on our lee.
And as we rounded to the port,
Beneath the watchtower's wall,
We heard the clash of the atabals,
And the trumpet's wavering call.
"Why sounds yon Eastern music here
So wantonly and long,
And whose the crowd of armed men
That round yon standard throng?"
"The Moors have come from Africa
To spoil and waste and slay,
And King Alonzo of Castile
Must fight with them to-day."
"Now shame it were," cried good Lord James,
"Shall never be said of me
That I and mine have turned aside
From the Cross in jeopardie!
"Have down, have down, my merry men all,--
Have down unto the plain;
We'll let the Scottish lion loose
Within the fields of Spain!"
"Now welcome to me, noble lord,
Thou and thy stalwart power;
Dear is the sight of a Christian knight,
Who comes in such an hour!
"Is it for bond or faith you come,
Or yet for golden fee?
Or bring ye France's lilies here,
Or the flower of Burgundie?"
"God greet thee well, thou valiant king,
Thee and thy belted peers,--
Sir James of Douglas am I called,
And these are Scottish spears.
"We do not fight for bond or plight,
Nor yet for golden fee;
But for the sake of our blessed Lord,
Who died upon the tree.
"We bring our great King Robert's heart
Across the weltering wave.
To lay it in the holy soil
Hard by the Saviour's grave.
"True pilgrims we, by land and sea,
Where danger bars the way;
And therefore are we here, Lord King,
To ride with thee this day!"
The king has bent his stately head,
And the tears were in his eyne,--
"God's blessing on thee, noble knight,
For this brave thought of thine!"
"I know thy name full well, Lord James;
And honored may I be,
That those who fought beside the Bruce
Should fight this day for me!
"Take thou the leading of the van,
And charge the Moors amain;
There is not such a lance as thine
In all the host of Spain!"
The Douglas turned towards us then,
O, but his glance was high!--
"There is not one of all my men
But is as bold as I.
"There is not one of my knights
But bears as true a spear,--
Then onward, Scottish gentlemen,
And think King Robert's here!"
The trumpets blew, the cross-bolts flew,
The arrows flashed like flame,
As spur in side, and spear in rest,
Against the foe we came.
And many a bearded Saracen
Went down, both horse and man;
For through their ranks we rode like corn,
So furiously we ran!
But in behind our path they closed,
Though fain to let us through,
For they were forty thousand men,
And we were wondrous few.
We might not see a lance's length,
So dense was their array,
But the long fell sweep of the Scottish blade
Still held them hard at bay.
"Make in! make in!" Lord Douglas cried,--
"Make in, my brethren dear!
Sir William of Saint Clair is down;
We may not leave him here!"
But thicker, thicker grew the swarm,
And sharper shot the rain,
And the horses reared amid the press,
But they would not charge again.
"Now Jesu help thee," said Lord James,
"Thou kind and true Saint Clair!
An' if I may not bring thee off,
I'll die beside thee there!"
Then in his stirrups up he stood,
So lionlike and bold,
And held the precious heart aloft
All in its case of gold.
He flung it from him, far ahead,
And never spake he more,
But--"Pass thou first, thou dauntless heart,
As thou wert wont of yore!"
The roar of fight rose fiercer yet,
And heavier still the stour,
Till the spears of Spain came shivering in,
And swept away the Moor.
"Now praised be God, the day is won!
They fly o'er flood and fell,--
Why dost thou draw the rein so hard,
Good knight, that fought so well?"
"O, ride ye on, Lord King!" he said,
"And leave the dead to me,
For I must keep the dreariest watch
That ever I shall dree!
"There lies, above his master's heart,
The Douglas, stark and grim;
And woe is me I should be here,
Not side by side with him!
"The world grows cold, my arm is old,
And thin my lyart hair,
And all that I loved best on earth
Is stretched before me there.
"O Bothwell banks! that bloom so bright
Beneath the sun of May,
The heaviest cloud that ever blew
Is bound for you this day.
"And Scotland! thou mayst veil thy head
In sorrow and in pain:
The sorest stroke upon thy brow
Hath fallen this day in Spain!
"We'll bear them back unto our ship,
We'll bear them o'er the sea,
And lay them in the hallowed earth
Within our own countrie.
[Illustration: HELD THE HEART ALOFT]
"And be thou strong of heart, Lord King,
For this I tell thee sure,
The sod that drank the Douglas' blood
Shall never bear the Moor!"
The King he lighted from his horse,
He flung his brand away,
And took the Douglas by the hand,
So stately as he lay.
"God give thee rest, thou valiant soul!
That fought so well for Spain;
I'd rather half my land were gone,
So that thou wert here again!"
We bore the good Lord James away,
And the priceless heart we bore,
And heavily we steered our ship
Towards the Scottish shore.
No welcome greeted our return,
Nor clang of martial tread,
But all were dumb and hushed as death
Before the mighty dead.
We laid our chief in Douglas Kirk,
The heart in fair Melrose;
And woful men were we that day,--
God grant their souls repose!
THE SKELETON IN ARMOR
_By_ HENRY W. LONGFELLOW
"Speak! speak! thou fearful guest!
Who with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
But with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
Why dost thou haunt me?"
Then, from those cavernous eyes
Pale flashes seemed to rise,
As when the northern skies
Gleam in December;
And, like the water's flow
Under December's snow,
Came a dull voice of woe
From the heart's chamber.
"I was a Viking old!
My deeds, though manifold,
No Skald in song has told,
No Saga taught thee!
[Footnote 1: _Vikings_ was the name given to the bold Norse seamen who
in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries infested the northern seas.
Tradition maintains that a band of these rovers discovered America
centuries before Columbus.]
[Footnote 2: A skald was a Norse poet who celebrated in song the deeds
[Footnote 3: A saga is an ancient Scandinavian legend or tradition,
relating mythical or historical events.]
"Take heed, that in thy verse
Thou dost the tale rehearse,
Else dread a dead man's curse;
For this I sought thee.
"Far in the Northern Land,
By the wild Baltic's strand,
I, with my childish hand,
Tamed the gerfalcon;
And, with my skates fast-bound,
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,
That the poor whimpering hound
Trembled to walk on.
[Footnote 4: A gerfalcon is a large falcon of Northern Europe.]
"Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
While from my path the hare
Fled like a shadow;
Oft through the forest dark
Followed the werewolf's bark,
Until the soaring lark
Sang from the meadow.
[Footnote 5: According to a popular superstition, a werewolf is a man,
who, at times, is transformed into a wolf. Such a wolf is much more
savage than a real wolf, and is especially fond of human flesh. This
superstition has at some time existed among almost all peoples.]
"But when I older grew,
Joining a corsair's crew,
O'er the dark sea I flew
With the marauders.
Wild was the life we led;
Many the souls that sped,
[Footnote 6: _Corsair_ is but another name for a pirate.]
[Illustration: I WAS A VIKING OLD]
Many the hearts that bled,
By our stern orders.
"Many a wassail-bout
Wore the long Winter out;
Often our midnight shout
Set the cocks crowing,
As we the Berserk's tale
Measured in cups of ale,
Draining the oaken pail,
Filled to o'erflowing.
[Footnote 7: A wassail-bout is a drinking bout, or carouse.]
[Footnote 8: _Berserk_, or _Berserker_, was the name given in heathen
times in Scandinavia to a wild warrior or champion. The Berserkers, it
is said, had fits of madness, when they foamed at the mouth and howled
like beasts, rushing into battle naked and defenseless. It was believed
that at such times they were proof against wounds either from fire or
"Once as I told in glee
Tales of the stormy sea,
Soft eyes did gaze on me,
Burning yet tender;
And as the white stars shine
On the dark Norway pine,
On that dark heart of mine
Fell their soft splendor.
"I wooed the blue-eyed maid,
Yielding, yet half afraid,
And in the forest's shade
Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest
Fluttered her little breast,
Like birds within their nest
By the hawk frighted.
"Bright in her father's hall
Shields gleamed upon the wall,
Loud sang the minstrels all,
Chaunting his glory;
When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter's hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
To hear my story.
"While the brown ale he quaffed,
Loud then the champion laughed.
And as the wind-gusts waft
The sea-foam brightly,
So the loud laugh of scorn,
Out of those lips unshorn,
From the deep drinking-horn
Blew the foam lightly.
"She was a Prince's child,
I but a Viking wild,
And though she blushed and smiled,
I was discarded!
Should not the dove so white
Follow the sea-mew's flight,
Why did they leave that night
Her nest unguarded?
"Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the maid with me,--
Fairest of all was she
Among the Norsemen!--
When on the white sea-strand,
Waving his armed hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
With twenty horsemen.
"Then launched they to the blast,
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
When the wind failed us;
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,
So that our foe we saw
Laugh as he hailed us.
[Footnote 9: The Skaw is the most northerly point of Denmark.]
"And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
Death! was the helmsman's hail,
Death without quarter!
Mid-ships with iron keel
Struck we her ribs of steel;
Down her black hulk did reel
Through the black water!
"As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt,
With his prey laden,
So toward the open main,
Beating to sea again,
Through the wild hurricane
Bore I the maiden.
"Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o'er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
Stretching to lee-ward;
There for my lady's bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,
Stands looking seaward.
[Footnote: 10. At Newport in Rhode Island is an old stone tower, which
tradition says was built by the Norsemen when they visited this country.
That is the tower to which Longfellow refers here.]
[Illustration: THREE WEEKS WE WESTWARD BORE]
"There lived we many years;
Time dried the maiden's tears;
She had forgot her fears,
She was a mother;
Death closed her mild blue eyes,
Under that tower she lies;
Ne'er shall the sun arise
On such another!
"Still grew my bosom then,
Still as a stagnant fen!
Hateful to me were men,
The sunlight hateful!
In the vast forest here,
Clad in my warlike gear,
Fell I upon my spear,
O, death was grateful!
"Thus, seamed with many scars
Bursting these prison bars,
Up to its native stars
My soul ascended!
There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior's soul,
_Skoal_! the Northland! _skoal_!"
--Thus the tale ended.
[Footnote 11: _Skoal_ is the customary salutation in Scandinavia when a
health is drunk.]
[Illustration: Round Tower at Newport]
HOW THEY BROUGHT THE GOOD NEWS FROM GHENT TO AIX
_By_ ROBERT BROWNING
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
"Good speed!" cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew,
"Speed!" echoed the wall to us galloping through.
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace,--
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.
'T was a moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokerem, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom a great yellow star came out to see;
At Duffeld 't was morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,--
So Joris broke silence with "Yet there is time!"
At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one.
To stare through the midst at us galloping past;
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some blind river headland its spray;
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye's black intelligence,--ever that glance
O'er its white edge at me, his own master, askance;
And the thick heavy spume-flakes, which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upward in galloping on.
By Hasselt Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, "Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her;
We'll remember at Aix,"--for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck, and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.
So we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh;
'Neath our feet broke the brittle, bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And "Gallop," gasped Joris, "for Aix is in sight!"
"How they'll greet us!"--and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.
[Illustration: I CAST LOOSE MY BUFF-COAT]
Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet name, my horse without peer,--
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, an noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is friends flocking round.
As I sate with his head 'twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.
When we read this poem, the first question that comes to us is "What
_was_ the 'good news from Ghent?'" But we find on looking up the matter
that the whole incident is a fanciful one; Browning simply imagined a
very dramatic situation, and then wrote this stirring poem about it. And
surely he has made it all seem very real to us. We feel the intense
anxiety of the riders to reach Aix on time--for we are given to
understand in the last line of the third stanza that Aix must learn the
news by a certain hour; we feel the despair of the two who are forced to
give up the attempt, and the increased sense of responsibility of the
only remaining rider; and we fairly hold our breath in our fear that the
gallant Roland will not stand the strain.
The towns mentioned are real places, all of them in Belgium.
Does the poem seem to you somewhat rough and jerky? It is a ballad, and
that fact accounts in part for its style, for ballads are not usually
smooth and perfect in structure.
But there is another reason for the jerkiness, if we may call it by so
strong a name. Read the first two lines aloud, giving them plenty of
swing. Do they not remind you of the galloping of a horse, with their
regular rise and fall? A little poet might have attempted to write about
this wild midnight ride in the same smooth, flowing style in which he
would describe a lazy river slipping over the stones; but Browning was a
great poet, and knew how to fit sound to sense. Other poets may excel
him in writing of quiet, peaceful scenes, but no one who has ever
written could put more dash and vigor into a poem than could Browning.
REMINISCENCES OF A PIONEER
_By_ EDWIN D. COE
My father left his old home in Oneida County, New York, in June, 1839, a
young man in his twenty-fourth year. The beauty and fertility of the
Rock River valley, in Wisconsin, had been widely proclaimed by
participants in the Black Hawk War and in the glowing reports of
Government engineers. In fact, the latter declared it to be a very
Canaan of promise. As a consequence, hundreds of young people, restless
and ambitious, and very many older ones whom the panic of the late 30's
had separated from their business moorings, turned their thoughts and
then their steps toward the new promised land.
When my father was rowed ashore from the steamer at Milwaukee, he could
have taken up "government land" within the present limits of that city,
but the bluffs and swamps of the future metropolis had no charms for him
compared with the vision he had in mind of the Rock River country. So he
crossed Milwaukee River on a ferry at the foot of Wisconsin Street,
walked out on a sidewalk quavering on stilts until solid ground was
reached at Third Street, and then struck the trail for the west.
[Footnote 1: From the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of
Along the shore of Pewaukee Lake, the traveler met a wolf which bristled
and snarled but at last surrendered the right of way before the superior
bluff, which was put up against him, backed by a "big stick." That night
he stayed with a friend named Terry, who had come West the year before,
and preempted a piece of land on the east shore rock, about seven miles
above Watertown. The next morning he saw on the opposite bank a gently
rising slope covered with stately maples and oaks; beneath were the
grass and flowers of mid June, and the swift flowing river, clear as a
spring brook, was in front, making the scene one of entrancing beauty.
It was fully equal to his highest expectations, and he never rested
until he had secured title to that particular block of land.
He at once prepared to build a log house, and, after a few days, the
neighborhood was invited to the raising. Some men came eight and ten
miles, and a big laugh went around when it was found that logs a foot
and a half and two feet in diameter had been cut for the house. Four
large ones were rolled together for a foundation, and then the
inexperienced young man was told that for a house he needed to cut logs
half as large, and they would return in a week and raise them. This they
did, showing the kindly, helpful spirit of the early settlers.
In August my mother came and brought the household furniture from their
Oneida County home, together with a year's provisions. The trip from
Milwaukee to their log house, nearly forty miles, took nearly three days
by ox team. She was delighted and happy with the building and its
surroundings, and never faltered in her love for that first home in the
West. A barrel of pork was among the supplies she had brought, and
people came as far as twenty miles to beg a little of it, so tired were
they of fresh meat from the woods, and fish from the river; and they
never went away empty-handed, as long as it lasted.
They came, as I have said, in 1839, and I the year following. There is a
vague, misty period at the beginning of every life, as memory rises from
mere nothingness to full strength, when it is not easy to say whether
the things remembered may not have been heard from the lips of others.
But I distinctly recall some very early events, and particularly the
disturbance created by my year-old brother, two years younger than
myself, when he screamed with pain one evening and held his bare foot
up, twisted to one side.
My mother was ill in bed, and the terrified maid summoned my father from
outside, with the story that the baby's ankle was out of joint. He
hurried in, gave it one look, and, being a hasty, impetuous man, he
declared, "Yes, the child's ankle is out of joint; I must go for a
doctor;" and in another moment he would have been off on a seven-mile
tramp through the dark to Watertown. But the mother, a level-headed
woman, experienced in emergencies, called out from her bed, "Wait a
minute; bring me the child and a candle;" and a minute later she had
discovered a little sliver which pricked him when he set his foot down,
and extricated it between thumb and finger. "There," said she; "I don't
think you need walk to Water-town to-night."
Indians were so numerous that I don't remember when they first came out
of the haze into my consciousness, but probably in my third year. They
were Winnebago and Pottawatomi, the river being a common inheritance of
both tribes. In the winter of 1839-40, about thirty families of the
former tribe camped for several weeks opposite our home and were very
sociable and friendly. Diligent hunters and trappers, they accumulated
fully a hundred dollars worth of otter, beaver, bear, deer, and other
skins. But a trader came up from Watertown in the spring and got the
whole lot in exchange for a four-gallon keg of whisky. That was a wild
night that followed. Some of the noisiest came over to our house, and
when denied admittance threatened to knock the door down, but my father
told them he had two guns ready for them, and they finally left. He
afterwards said that he depended more on a heavy hickory club which he
had on hand than on the guns--it could be fired faster.
An ugly squaw whose nose had been bitten off years before in a fight,
stabbed her brother that night, because he refused her more whisky. He
had, according to custom, been left on guard, and was entirely sober.
The next day the Indians horrified my mother by declaring that they
should cut the squaw into inch pieces if her brother died. They went
down to Lake Koshkonong two days later, but he died the first day out.
The squaw escaped and lived a lonely life for years after, being known
up and down the river as "Old Mag."
At any time of the year we were liable to receive visits from Indians
passing to and fro between Lakes Horicon and Koshkonong. They would come
into the house without ceremony further than staring into the windows
before entering. Being used only to town life in the East, my mother was
afraid of them, but she always carried a bold face and would never give
them bread, which they always demanded, unless she could readily spare
One summer afternoon, when she had finished her housework and had sat
down to sew, half a dozen Indians, male and female, suddenly bolted in
and clamored for bread. She shook her head and told them she had none
for them. When she came West she had brought yeast cakes which, by
careful renewal, she kept in succession until the family home was broken
up in 1880. Upon the afternoon referred to, she had a large pan of yeast
cakes drying before the fireplace. Seeing them, the Indians scowled at
her, called her a lying woman, and made a rush for the cakes, each one
taking a huge bite. Those familiar with the article know how bitter is
the mixture of raw meal, hops, and yeast, and so will not wonder that
presently a look of horror came over the Indians' faces and that then
they sputtered the unsavory stuff out all over the newly scrubbed floor.
My mother used to say that if they had killed her she could not have
kept from laughing. They looked very angry at first, but finally
concluded that they had not been poisoned and had only "sold"
themselves, they huddled together and went out chattering and laughing,
leaving my mother a good share of her day's work to do over again.
[Illustration: HALF A DOZEN INDIANS BOLTED IN]
One day I saw a big Indian shake her by the shoulder because she
wouldn't give him bread. She was ironing at the time, and threatened him
with a hot flat iron till he hurried out. Another came in one warm
summer afternoon, shut the door behind him, and leaned against it,
glowering at her. For once she was thoroughly frightened. He had with
him a tomahawk, having a hollow handle and head, that could be used as a
pipe. However, her wits did not desert her. Seeing the cat sleeping
peacefully in the corner, she cried, "How did that cat get in here!" and
catching up the broom she chased pussy around till she reached the door,
when seizing the heavy iron latch she pulled it wide open, sending Mr.
Indian into the middle of the room; she then pushed the door back
against the wall and set a chair against it. The Indian stood still for
a minute, then uttered a grunt and took himself off, probably thinking
she was too dangerous a person for him to attempt to bully.
The Indians used to offer for sale venison, fish, and maple sugar, but
the line was always drawn on the latter, for it was commonly reported
that they strained the sap through their blankets. And you should have
seen their blankets! About 1846 a company of civilized Oneidas, some of
whom my father had known in the East, camped near by and manufactured a
large number of handsome and serviceable baskets. From wild berries they
would make dyes that never faded, and print them on the baskets with
stamps cut from potatoes. Some of their designs were quite artistic. A
small basket and a rattle which they gave my year-old sister showed
their good will.
I soon learned to have no fear of the tribesmen, although sometimes a
fleet of fifty canoes would be in sight at once, passing down the river
to Koshkonong; but the first Germans who came to our parts nearly scared
the life out of me. Their heavy beards, long coats, broad-visored caps,
and arm-long pipes, made me certain that nothing less than a fat boy of
five would satisfy their appetites; and whenever they appeared I would
hunt my mother. They had bought a considerable tract of land about five
miles from our place, and always wanted to know of us the road thither.
The result was just such a "jabber match" as could be expected where
neither side knew the other's tongue; but by pointing and motioning my
mother was always able to direct them. Sometimes they wished to come in
and make tea or coffee on our stove, and eat the luncheon of bread and
meat that they had brought across the water. They would then always urge
their food upon me, so I came to like their black bread very much and
soon revised my first estimate of their character. All those people cut
fine farms out of the heavy timber and died rich.
The first settlers were mostly Americans, from New York and New England;
but before leaving the old farm we used to hear of English, Irish,
Dutch, Norwegian, and Welsh settlements. The latter people enveloped and
overflowed our own particular community and came to form a good portion
of the population.
Besides the numerous nationalities on this front edge of advancing
settlement, there were people of many and diverse individualities--the
uneasy, the unlucky, the adventurous, the men without money but full of
hope, the natural hunters, the trappers, the lovers of woods and
solitudes, and occasionally one who had left his country for his
country's good; all these classes were represented. But on the whole the
frontier's people were an honest, kindly, generous class, ready to help
in trouble or need of any kind.
If there was sickness, watchers by the bedside and harvesters in the
field were promptly forthcoming. If a new house or barn was to be
raised, every available man came. If a cow was mired, and such was often
the case, her owner easily got all the help he wanted. Husking and
logging and quilting bees were common, and in the autumn there were bees
for candle-dipping, when the family supply of candles would be made for
a year; and all such events would of course be followed by a supper, and
perhaps a frolic. Visits among the women folk were all-day affairs; if
the husbands were invited, it would be of an evening, and the call then
would last till midnight with a supper at ten. There was a word of
comfort and good cheer in those forest homes. I doubt if any child in
modern palaces enjoys happier hours than were mine on winter evenings,
when I rested on the broad stone hearth in front of the big fireplace,
with its blazing four-foot log, the dog on one side and the cat on the
other, while my father told stories that had to be repeated as the stock
ran out, and I was gradually lulled to sleep by the soft thunder of my
mother's spinning wheel. What could be more luxurious for any youngster?
I remember that when I was about six I saw my first apple. Half of it
came to me, and I absorbed it as if to the manor born. What a revelation
it was to a lad who could be satisfied with choke-cherries and crab
apples! In those times, when a visitor called it was common to bring out
a dish of well-washed turnips, with plate and case knife, and he could
slice them up or scrape them as he chose.
The woods abounded in wild fruits, which the women made the most of for
the winter season. Berries, grapes, plums, and crab apples were all
utilized. The latter were especially delicious for preserves. The boy
who ate them raw off the tree could not get his face back into line the
same day; but he would eat them. However, pumpkins were our main
reliance for present and future pies and sauce; such pumpkins do not
grow now in these latter days. There were two sugar bushes on our place,
and a good supply of maple sugar was put up every spring. Many other
dainties were added to our regular menu, and a boy with such a cook for
a mother as I had, needed no sympathy from any one the whole world
The river was three hundred feet wide opposite our house, and about two
feet deep, so teams could be driven across at ordinary stages, but foot
passengers depended on our boat, a large "dugout." I remember how
beautiful it was, when first scooped out from a huge basswood log,
clean, white, and sweet-smelling. Strangers and neighbors alike would
call across, "Bring over the boat;" and if they were going from our side
they would take it over and leave the job of hollering to us. At five
years of age I could pole it around very nicely.
One day, when I was first trusted to go in the boat alone, a stranger
called over, and as my father was busy, he told me to go after him. The
man expressed much wonderment, and some hesitancy to trusting himself to
the skill and strength of a bare-footed boy of five; but I assured him I
was a veteran at the business. He finally got in very gingerly, and sat
down flat on the bottom. All the way over he kept wondering at and
praising my work until I was ready to melt with mingled embarrassment
and delight. At the shore he asked me unctuously how much he should pay.
"Oh, nothing," I said. "But let me pay you. I'd be glad to," said he.
"Oh, no, we never take pay," I replied, and dug my toes into the sand,
not knowing how to get out of the scrape, yet well pleased at his high
estimate of my service. All the time he was plunging down first into one
pocket of his barn-door trousers and then the other, till at last he
fished out an old "bungtown" cent, which with much graciousness and
pomposity he pressed upon me, until my feeble refusals were overcome. I
took the coin and scampered away so fast that I must have been invisible
in the dust I raised. Showing it to my father, I was told that I ought
not to have taken it; but I explained how helpless I had been, and
repeated word for word what the man had said, and, unintentionally,
somewhat copied his tone and manner. The twinkle in my father's eye
showed that he understood. That copper was my first-earned money; if it
had only been put out at compound interest, I ought, if the
mathematicians are right, to be now living in _otium cum dignitate_,
[Footnote 2: _Otium cum dignitate_ is a Latin expression meaning _ease
[Illustration: HE FISHED OUT AN OLD BUNGTOWN CENT]
Steve Peck was one of the most notable of the marked characters above
hinted at. He was a roistering blade, who captained all the harumscarums
of the section. Peck was a surveyor and had helped at the laying out of
Milwaukee. Many were the stories told of his escapades, but space will
not permit of their rehearsal here. He had selected a choice piece of
land and built a good house; then he induced the daughter of an Aberdeen
ex-merchant of aristocratic family but broken fortune, who had sought a
new chance in the wilds of Wisconsin, to share them with him. But wife
and children could not hold him to a settled life, and he sold out one
day to a German immigrant, gave his wife a few dollars and disappeared,
not to be seen or heard of in those parts again.
Another character was a man named Needham, who also was somewhat of a
mystery. The women considered that he had been "crossed in love." He
affected a sombre style, rather imitating the manners and habits of the
Indians. His cabin was near the river, and he was a constant hunter.
Many times when playing by the shore I would become conscious of a
strange, noiseless presence, and looking up would see Needham paddling
by, swift and silent. It always gave me the shudders and sent me to the
house. One day, on coming home from school, I saw a great platter of red
meat on the table. I asked who had killed the beef; it was a practice to
share the meat with the neighbors, whenever a large animal was killed,
taking pay in kind. I was told it was not beef, and being unable to
guess was at last informed that it was bear meat, which Mr. Needham had
left. As he had killed the animal near where I hunted the cows every
night, the news gave me a sensation.
Uncle Ben Piper, the only gray-haired man in the community, kept tavern
and was an oracle on nearly all subjects. He was also postmaster, and a
wash-stand drawer served as post office. It cost twenty-five cents in
those times to pass a letter between Wisconsin and the East. Postage did
not have to be prepaid, and I have known my father to go several days
before he could raise the requisite cash to redeem a letter which he had
heard awaited him in the wash-stand drawer, for Uncle Ben was not
allowed to accept farm produce or even bank script for postage.
An Englishman named Pease, who lived near us, had "wheels." He thought
the Free Masons and the women were in league to end his life. Every
night he ranged his gun and farm tools beside his bed, to help ward off
the attack that he constantly expected. Nothing could induce him to eat
any food that a woman had prepared. In changing "work" with my father,
which often occurred, he would bring his own luncheon and eat it by the
fire during mealtime. But after my sister was born, he refused to enter
the house; he told the neighbors that "women were getting too thick up
at Coe's." Pease had nicknames for all the settlers but one, and while
very polite to their faces, he always applied his nicknames in their
A man named Rugg lost caste with his neighbors because he dug and used a
potato pit in an Indian mound from which he had thrown out a large
number of human bones. Some of the bones were of gigantic size.
There were many good hunters among the settlers; the Smith brothers
scorned to shoot a bird or squirrel except through the head. If there
were sickness in the family of any neighbor, the Smiths saw that
partridges, quail, or pigeons, properly shot, were supplied. Another
Smith was a bee hunter, and a very successful one, too. Those were the
days when the beautiful passenger pigeons at times seemed to fill the
woods and the sky. Deer were very abundant; I have seen them eating hay
with my father's cows; and in the spring and fall seasons the river was
covered with wild ducks and geese.
Two events in my seventh year left a strong impression upon me. The
first was an address by a colored man named Lewis Washington, a runaway
slave, who had a natural gift of oratory and made many speeches in this
state. I was so curious to see a genuine black man that I got too close
to him when he was in the convulsion of putting on his overcoat, and
caught a considerable thump. No harm was done, but he apologized very
earnestly. I have read that his campaigning of the state was quite
The other occurrence was the visit to Watertown of Herr Dreisbach with
his famous menagerie. Our indulgent father took my brother and myself
and a neighbor's daughter to see the "great instructive exhibition." It
took our ox-team three hours to make the seven miles, and the elephant's
footprints by the bridges, and other impedimenta of the great show,
which we passed, carried our excitement, which had been cruelly growing
for three weeks, well-nigh up to an exploding climax. I was told not to
lose my ticket, or I could not get in; and when the ticket taker seized
hold of it, I held on until he finally yelled angrily, "Let go, you
little cuss!" whereupon my father came to his rescue. The show on the
whole was very satisfactory, except for the color of Columbus, the fine
old elephant, which for some reason, probably from the show bills on the
barns, I had expected to be of a greenish tint. I also had supposed that
the lion would drag his chariot at least half a mile, with the driver in
heroic pose, instead of merely two cars' length. Herr Dreisbach
afterwards showed on Rock Prairie, in the open country, a few miles east
of Janesville. People came from great distances to attend, even from as
far as Baraboo, sometimes camping out two nights each way.
Our first public edifice was a log schoolhouse about twenty feet square.
It was on the opposite side of the river, nearly a mile distant, but I
began to attend school before I was fully five years old. One of the
things I remember of one of my early teachers most distinctly is, that
she used to hang a five-franc piece, tied with blue ribbon, around the
neck of the scholar who had "left off at the head." I was occasionally
favored, but my mother's satisfaction was greatly modified by her fear
that I would lose the coin while taking it back the next day.
The teachers probably could not have passed a normal school examination,
but they could do what our graduates now cannot do--that is, make and
mend a quill pen. Those were all the pens we had, and many a time have I
chased our geese to get a new quill. The teachers patiently guided our
wobbling ideas from the alphabet to cube root. The lessons over, we were
told to "toe the crack," and "make obeisance," and were then put through
our paces in the field of general knowledge. I still remember, from
their drilling, the country, territory, county, and town in which we
lived; that James K. Polk was president, that George M. Dallas was
vice-president, and that Henry Dodge was governor. What ancient history
that now seems!
[Illustration: CHASING THE GEESE TO GET A NEW QUILL]
Near the school lived a family named Babcock, with four well-grown boys.
One of them used often to come over at noon to see one of the teachers.
One noon, on running to the schoolroom after something that I wanted, I
was horrified to see my loved teacher struggling to prevent the young