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‘ The thistle aince it flourished fair,
And grew maist like a tree a’,
They ‘ve stunted down its stately tap,
That roses might look hie a‘
But though its head lies in the dust,
The root is stout and steady ;
he thistle is the warrior yet,
The rose its tocher’d leddy.

Then flourish, thistle, flourish fair,

Thye ’ve the crown no longer,

They ’ll hae the skaith that cross ye yet,

Your jags grow aye the stronger

Wallace was dead. After a struggle of fifteen years
Edward had triumphed, Scotland had reached her darkest
hour, and English tyranny made the life of Scotsmen a
daily burden and misery. But not for long. Scarcely
six months after the death of Wallace, the Scottish people
had chosen and crowned a King who was utterly to break
down the power of England.

John Baliol had a nephew called the Red Comyn. He
now claimed the throne. Robert the Bruce also claimed
the throne, for the Bruces had always thought that they
had the better right, even when Edward of England had
chosen in favour of Baliol. So Bruce and Comyn hated
each other, and quarrelled bitterly. In those days great
nobles quarrelled and fought among themselves very


182                    SCOTLAND’S STORY

often, and it was these quarrels that had helped Edward
many times to defeat the Scots. Bruce, as you know,
was an English as well as a Scottish noble, and at one
time he had fought for Edward. But now he made up
his mind to fight for Scotland, and for Scotland only, and
he determined to make friends with the Red Comyn.
This Robert was the grandson, you must understand, of
that Bruce who had been among the twelve who claimed
the throne after the death of the Maid of Norway.

One day as they were riding from Stirling together
Bruce began to talk to Comyn. ‘ We must no longer
quarrel,’ he said, ‘ we must work together. Help me to
get the crown, and I will give you all my land in return.
Or, if you wish to be King, give me your land and I will
help you to win the crown.’

‘I do not want to be King,’ replied Comyn, ‘ if you will
really give me your lands and possessions I will help you.’

So it was agreed between them. Then they wrote
down what they had agreed to do. Each signed and
sealed the paper, and each kept a copy of it.

Bruce then went back to the English court, for his
plans were not yet ready, and he did not wish Edward
to find out what he was doing. But the Red Comyn did
not mean to help Bruce. He still hoped to win the crown
for himself. So, no sooner had Bruce gone back to
England, than Comyn sent the paper which they had
written, with a letter to Edward.

When Edward had read the letter and the paper he
was very angry, but he wished to make quite sure of
catching Bruce and all the people who were helping him.
So, although he was planning how he might seize Bruce
and his friends, and put them all to death, he was kind
and pleasant to them as usual, pretending that he knew
nothing of what they meant to do.

A BLOW STRUCK                      188

But one of Bruce’s friends discovered the King‘s plan
by accident He dared not write a letter to warn Bruce
lest it should fall into King Edward‘s hands. So, instead
of writing, he sent a pair of sharp spurs and twelve silver
pennies to Bruce.

Bruce was clever enough to understand what this
message meant. It meant, ‘ You are in danger. Mount
upon your horse and ride away as fast as you can. Here
are spurs ; here is money for the journey.’ That was how
Bruce read this strange letter.

The snow lay thick upon the ground. Few people
travelled in the wintry weather, and Bruce knew it would
be very easy to trace which way he had gone by his horse‘s
hoof marks in the snow. So he sent his horse, and those
of two faithful servants, to a blacksmith, telling him to
take off all the shoes and put them on the wrong way
round. In this way the horses’ hoof marks looked as if
some one had been galloping towards, and not away from

By midnight all was ready, and in the darkness three
men rode quietly out of the town. As soon as they were
beyond the houses they set spurs to their horses, and
galloped swiftly northward. The night was cold and
clear, but as they rode, the snow again began to fall, so
that the hoof marks of the horses became more and more

In the morning a breathless messenger came to King
Edward. ‘ My liege,’ he cried, ‘ Robert the Bruce has
fled in the night.’

Edward was furious at the escape of his enemy, and
sent horsemen in all directions in search of him. But it
was in vain ; no trace of him was to be seen.

Meanwhile Bruce spared neither spurs nor money.
So fast did he ride that in five days he had reached the

134                    SCOTLAND’S STORY

Border. Still on he went, and presently he met one of
Red Comyn
’s servants riding southward.

Robert the Bruce stopped him. ‘ Whither go you ?
he asked.

‘ To the King of England with letters from my master,’
replied the servant.

‘ Show them to me,’ said Robert sternly. And the
servant, knowing Bruce to be a great lord, gave them to

Without more ado Robert the Bruce broke the seals
and read the letters. As he did so his face grew dark
with anger. ‘ The foul traitor,’ he cried, crushing the
letters in his hand. ‘ Where is your master, villain ?
’ he
then demanded, turning to the servant.

‘ He is at the convent of Dumfries, my lord,’ replied
the man, trembling, for he saw how angry Bruce was.

Turning his horse, Bruce rode towards Dumfries. His
heart was hot with anger, for Red Comyn had written to
King Edward that if Robert the Bruce were not speedily
slain there would be great trouble in Scotland.

Robert the Bruce had a fierce, passionate temper, but
as he rode, his anger cooled, and he made up his mind
to reason with Red Comyn and be calm.

In a quiet church, in the little town of Dumfries, the
two men met. As the fashion in those days was, they
kissed each other, and together they walked up the aisle,
talking earnestly. But Bruce could not long control
his temper, and with bitter words he accused Red Comyn
of having betrayed him to the King of England.

‘ You lie,’ cried Comyn.

The two men were now close to the altar steps ; the
face of Christ looked down upon them, seeming to say,
‘ A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one
another.’ But Bruce, blind and speechless with passion,



drew his dagger, and struck at Red Comyn. He fell, and
the steps of the altar were stained with his blood.

Bruce had had no thought of murder. In the blind
passion of a moment, he had slain a man. He had slain
him too in the church, and before the holy altar. White
and sick with horror, hardly seeing what he did, he turned
and groped his way to the door.

Outside, his friends were waiting for him, ‘ How fares
it with you ? ‘ they asked, seeing him look so white and

‘ Ill, ill,’ replied Bruce, ‘ I doubt I have slain the
Red Comyn’

‘You doubt ?’ cried one of his friends, called Kirk-
patrick. ‘ You leave such a weighty matter in doubt ? I
will mak
’ siccar,’ which means, ‘I will make sure.’ And
going into the church, Kirkpatrick stabbed the wounded
man again and again, till he died.

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