Chapter XXVII. BARBOUR—"THE BRUCE," THE END OF THE STRUGGLE
"'Twas in spring, when winter tide
With his blasts, terrible to bide
Was overcome; and birdies small,
As throstle and the nightingale,
Began right merrily to sing,
And to make in their singing
Sundrie notes, and varied sounds,
And melody pleasant to hear,
And the trees began to blow
With buds, and bright blossom also,
To win the covering of their heads
Which wicked winter had them riven,
And every grove began to spring."
It was in spring that Bruce and his men gathered to the island of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland, and there Bruce made up his mind to make another fight for the crown. A messenger was therefore sent over to the mainland, and it was arranged that if he found friends there, if he thought it was safe for the King to come, he should, at a certain place, light a great fire as a signal. Anxiously Bruce watched for the light, and at last he saw it. Then joyfully the men launched their boat, and the King and his few faithful followers set out.
"They rowéd fast with all their might,
Till that upon them fell the night,
That it wox mirk* in great manner
So that they wist not where they were,
For they no needle had, nor stone,
But rowéd always in one way,
Steering always upon the fire
That they saw burning bright and clear.
It was but adventure that them led,
And they in short time so them sped
That at the fire arrived they,
And went to land but** mair delay."
On shore the messenger was eagerly and anxiously awaiting them, and with a "sare hert" he told the King that the fire was none of his. Far from there being friends around, the English, he said, swarmed in all the land.
"Were in the castle there beside,
Full filléd of despite and pride."
There was no hope of success.
"Then said the King in full great ire,
'Traitor, why made thou on the fire?'
'Ah sire,' he said, 'so God me see
That fire was never made on for me.
No ere this night I wist it not
But when I wist it weel* I thoecht
That you and all your company
In haste would put you to the sea.
For this I come to meet you here,
To tell the perils that may appear.'"
The King, vexed and disappointed, turned to his followers for advice. What was best to do, he asked. Edward Bruce, the King's brave brother, was the first to answer.
"And said, 'I say you sickerly,
There shall no perils that may be
Drive me eftsoons into the sea;
Mine adventure here take will I
Whether it be easeful or angry.'
'Brother,' he said, 'since you will so
It is good that we together take
Disease and ease, or pain or play
After as God will us purvey.'"
And so, taking courage, they set out in the darkness, and attacked the town, and took it with great slaughter.
"In such afray they bode that night
Till in the morn, that day was bright,
And then ceaséd partly
The noise, the slaughter, and the cry."
Thus once again the fierce struggle was begun. But this time the Bruce was successful. From town after town, from castle after castle the enemy was driven out, till only Stirling was left to the English. It was near this town, on the field of Bannockburn, that the last great struggle took place. Brave King Edward I was dead by this time, but his son, Edward II, led the army. It was the greatest army that had ever entered Scotland, but the Scots won the day and won freedom at the same time. I cannot tell you of this great battle, nor of all the adventures which led up to it. These you must read in other books, one day, I hope, in Barbour's Bruce itself.
From the day of Bannockburn, Barbour tells us, Robert the Bruce grew great.
"His men were rich, and his country
Abounded well with corn and cattle,
And of all kind other richness;
Mirth, solace, and eke blithness
Was in the land all commonly,
For ilk man blith was and jolly."
And here Barbour ends the first part of his poem. In the second part he goes on to tell us of how the Bruces carried war into Ireland, of how they overran Northumberland, and of how at length true peace was made. Then King Robert's little son David, who was but five, was married to Joan, the seven-year-old sister of King Edward III. Thus, after war, came rest and ease to both countries.
But King Robert did not live long to enjoy his well-earned rest. He died, and all the land was filled with mourning and sorrow.
"'All our defense,' they said, 'alas!
And he that all our comfort was,
Our wit and all our governing,
Is brought, alas, here to ending;
. . . . .
Alas! what shall we do or say?
For in life while he lasted, aye
By all our foes dred were we,
And in many a far country
Of our worship ran the renown,
And that was all for his person.'"
Barbour ends his book by telling of how the Douglas set out to carry the heart of the Bruce to Palestine, and of how he fell fighting in Spain, and of how his dead body and the King's heart were brought back to Scotland.
Barbour was born about six years after the battle of Bannockburn. As a boy he must have heard many stories of these stirring times from those who had taken part in them. He must have known many a woman who had lost husband or father in the great struggle. He may even have met King Robert himself. And as a boy he must have shared in the sorrow that fell upon the land when its hero died. He must have remembered, when he grew up, how the people mourned when the dead body of the Douglas and the heart of the gallant Bruce were brought home from Spain. But in spite of Barbour's prayer to be kept from saying "ought but soothfast thing," we must not take The Bruce too seriously. If King Robert was a true King he was also a true hero of romance. We must not take all The Bruce as serious history, but while allowing for the truth of much, we must also allow something for the poet's worship of his hero, a hero, too, who lived so near the time in which he wrote. We must allow something for the feelings of a poet who so passionately loved the freedom for which that hero fought.
BOOKS TO READ
There is, so far as I know, no modernized version of The Bruce, but there are many books illustrative of the text. In this connection may be read Robert the Bruce (Children's heroes Series), by Jeannie Lang; Chapters XXIV to XLIV. Scotland's Story, by H. E. Marshall; The Lord of the Isles, by Sir Walter Scott; Castle Dangerous, by Sir Walter Scott; "The Heart of the Bruce" in Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers, by Aytoun. The most available version of The Bruce in old "Inglis," edited by W. M. Mackenzie.