ROBERT THE BRUCE—THE FIGHT AT THE FORD
King Robert‘s little army grew smaller and smaller, until
at last he had only sixty men. The English, knowing
this, resolved to attack the band, kill them all, and take
the King prisoner. They made quite sure of success, but
in case Bruce should get away they took bloodhounds
with them with which to trace him.
A bloodhound is a kind of dog which is trained to
follow a man by the smell of his footsteps. Their sense
of smell is so strong, that even if they have never seen the
man upon whose track they are put, they can follow every
turn he has gone, simply by smelling the path along which
he has passed. The only way to escape from a blood
hound is to walk through running water. Then the scent
is carried away and the hound loses the trace.
Bruce heard that his enemies were coming, so he en
camped with his little army in a safe place, above the steep
banks of a river. The river was swift and deep. There
was no bridge across it, and only one ford in many miles.
A ford is a place in a river shallow enough to let men
and horses walk over it. This ford was very narrow, so
that only one man could cross at a time. The banks of
the river were very high, and the path which led from the
ford to the top of them, steep and dangerous.
When night came, Bruce made all his men lie down to
sleep, and himself, taking only two soldiers with him, went
to guard the ford. For some time they sat in silence,
hearing nothing but the rushing of the water and the
whispering of the night wind in the trees. Then suddenly,
from far away came the baying of hounds.
The King listened eagerly. What was it ? Was it the
enemy or not ? Should he awaken his men ? ‘ No,’ he
said to himself at last, ‘I shall not awaken my men for
the barking of some stray sheep dog. They are very tired.
Let them sleep on until I make sure, at least, that some
thing is really the matter.’
So he waited and listened. Soon the baying of the
hounds came nearer and nearer. Other noises too came
to him from far across the river. Nearer and nearer they
sounded, until at last he could make out the trampling of
horses, the clatter of weapons and armour, and even the
voices of men. The enemy, two hundred strong, were
close to the ford,
‘ If we go back now to awaken my men,’ thought the
King, ‘ the English will be able to cross the river before
we can return. That must not be. At all costs we must
guard the ford.’ Then, turning to the two soldiers, he
bade them run to the camp, awaken the men, and bring
them to the ford as quickly as possible.
The two soldiers ran off as fast as they could, and the
King was left alone by the ford—alone and on foot, in the
face of two hundred men on horseback.
He looked to his armour and his weapons, saw that
all was right, then calmly waited.
The enemy were now very near. The moon shone
out, and Bruce could see the glint of steel armour and the
glitter of many spears, as they crowded upon the opposite
bank. They, as they looked across, saw that the ford was
guarded by one man only, whose still dark figure showed
clearly against the sky.
THE FIGHT AT THE FORD 151
The ford was theirs I One man alone stood between
them and certain victory. Without a moment‘s hesita
tion the foremost rider urged his horse into the river,
dashing the water in a white spray all around him. He
reached the further bank. Up the steep path he sprang.
But as he gained the top a battle-axe flashed in the moon
light, and horse and rider fell crashing down the bank
Another and another rider followed. Again and again
the King‘s mighty axe was raised. Again and again it
fell, until the dead formed a ghastly barricade before him,
over which no warrior could pass.
Below, in the river, all was confusion. The riders in
front, unable to climb the bank, were thrown back upon
those behind. Crowded upon the narrow ford, and unable
to turn, the horses lost their footing and with their riders
were carried away by the swift current. Wild panic
seized those who yet remained on the further bank, and
at last, filled with a nameless terror, they turned to flee.
When at last Bruce’s soldiers came up, they found
their master sitting in the moonlight, alone, as they
had left him. He was hot and tired, and had taken off
his helmet in order to get cool. Around him lay heaps
of dead, but he himself was not even wounded.
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