ROBERT THE BRUCE—IF AT FIRST YOU DON‘T SUCCEED,
All seemed lost. The King was a hunted beggar. A
great sum of money was offered to any who should betray
him. Death threatened any who should help him. Yet
a few friends were still faithful to him and shared his
wanderings and hardships.
Their clothes were torn and shabby, their shoes worn
out. For food they hunted wild animals and gathered
roots and berries from the woods. They found shelter
from the cold, and wind, and rain, under dark pine-trees
or in wild, rocky caves.
It was a hard life for men, yet women shared it too.
For the Queen and her ladies refused to live in comfort
while the King was hunted among the hills. So one day,
accompanied by Nigel Bruce, the King‘s young brother,
they rode out from Aberdeen to seek him.
The King was very glad to see his dear wife again,
and he and his brave followers did their best to make the
Queen and her ladies comfortable. None worked harder
than Sir James the Douglas. He shot the deer and
fished for salmon and trout ; he gathered heather for beds ;
he was always busy and always gay, and kept every one
from despairing, even when things looked darkest. The
King too did his best to keep up the spirits of the little
company. At night when they gathered round the watch
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED 141
fires, he would read stories out of old books, or tell tales
of bygone days and of far-off countries, and listening to
these stories the little company would forget for a time
their own sufferings and dangers.
They were driven about from place to place. Some
times they were attacked, and had to defend themselves.
Often the ladies were in great danger, and at last King
Robert was so beset by his enemies, that he persuaded
the Queen to leave him and to go with her ladies to the
castle of Kildrummie, which was the only castle still left
to him. So the Queen took a sad farewell, and went
away under the care of Nigel, King Robert’s brother.
She little guessed that long years were to pass before
they should see each other again.
Bruce was now left with only two hundred men. He
had no horses, as he had given them all to the knights
who had gone to take care of the Queen and the other
ladies. The enemy were close upon him, and with all
haste he sought a still safer hiding-place.
He and his men went quickly through the land until
they came to Loch Lomond. To cross the loch seemed
impossible. To go round it would have been very diffi
cult, and would have taken a long time, yet what was to
be done ? They were almost in despair, when they found
a little boat. It was old and leaky, and so small that
only three could cross in it at a time. But it was enough
for those brave men, used to every kind of danger. Those
who could swim tied their clothes into bundles, placed
the bundles upon their heads, and so swam over. The
others, by two and by two, crossed in the little leaky
boat, until all were safely over. It took a long time, but
while the men were waiting for the boat to return, King
Robert told stories to them, so that the hours seemed to
At last, after many difficulties and dangers, the little
band arrived safely at the coast. There they found a ship
in which they sailed over the sea to an island off the coast
of Ireland. Here Bruce spent the cold winter months,
safe, for a time, from his bitter enemies, and happy, no
doubt, in the thought that his Queen too was safe in
his strong castle of Kildrummie.
But Edward was very angry when he knew that
Bruce had again escaped him. So he sent soldiers to
storm the castle in which the Queen was. The castle was
taken, the brave knights who defended the ladies were
killed, and the ladies themselves were all made prisoners.
The Queen, her daughter the little Princess Marjorie,
and the King‘s sisters, were sent to prisons in England and
Scotland, where they remained for many years. The
brave Countess of Buchan was also with the Queen, and
Edward now determined to punish her for having set the
crown upon the head of Robert the Bruce.
He ordered a great cage of wood and iron to be made,
and in this the Countess was shut up like an imprisoned
wild animal. The cage, some people say, was hung upon
the walls of Berwick castle, so that all passers-by might
see the poor Countess and be warned by her fate not to
displease the King of England. Other people think that
King Edward was not quite so cruel as that ; and they
say that the cage was placed inside a room. However
that may be, the poor lady was kept caged up like an
animal for four years. During all that long time no one
was allowed to come near or to speak to her, except the
servants who brought her food and drink, and care was
taken that they should not be Scottish.
One by one the friends of Bruce were taken prisoner
by the English, and by Edward‘s orders put to death in
the most cruel fashion. Among them was Nigel, the
IF AT FIRST YOU DONT SUCCEED 148
King’s brave and handsome young brother. It seemed
truly as if the cause of Robert the Bruce was lost
When news of all these misfortunes was brought to
Bruce, he did indeed almost despair.
Sad, disappointed, and weary of the struggle, he lay,
one day, upon his bed of straw, in the poor little cottage
where he had found a refuge. What should he do, he
asked himself. Everything seemed against him. Was it
worth while fighting and struggling any more? ‘I will
give up my right to the throne,’ he thought ‘ I will send
away all my brave men and tell them to make peace with
Edward, for if they stay with me nothing but death and
imprisonment awaits them. Then, alone, I will go to the
Holy Land and die fighting for the Cross. Perhaps then
heaven will forgive me for having killed Red Comyn, for
surely these evils come upon me in punishment for my
sin. It is no use fighting for the crown any longer.’
Full of such sad thoughts King Robert looked up at
the bare rafters of the cottage roof. They were brown
with smoke, and covered with dust and cobwebs. From
one of the cobwebs hung a spider. The spider seemed to
be working very hard, and, idly at first, the King began to
watch it. He soon saw what it was about It was
trying to swing itself from one rafter to another. It tried,
and failed. Again it tried, and again it failed. The King
began to be interested in the little creature. ‘ It is just
like me,’ he thought, ‘ I have tried and failed.’ Six times
the spider failed. The King became more and more in
terested. More and more anxiously he watched ‘ If the
spider can succeed, why should not I?’ he said. Again
the spider tried, and this time, hurrah ! it succeeded, and
landed safely on the opposite rafter. ‘ Bravo,’ cried Bruce,
and he rose from his bed, cheered and comforted, and
quite decided to try again.
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