Robert the Bruce—How Two Castles Were Won
The castle of Linlithgow was in the hands of the English, but it was won from them by the help of a poor farmer called Binning.
The castle was very strong. It was surrounded by a loch, and a moat crossed by a drawbridge. Under the archway of the entrance there was a portcullis.
It seemed hopeless to attempt to take the castle, it was so strong.
One day the English Governor ordered Binning to bring a cart-load of hay to the castle, as he was in need of some for his horses. Binning promised to bring it, but he made up his mind to take the castle at the same time. Quickly and quietly his plans were made. During the night some Scottish soldiers crept as near to the castle walls as they dared, and hid where they could not be seen by the English. Then very early in the morning Binning loaded his cart. But he did not load it with hay only. In the cart lay eight strong men, clad in steel, and armed with swords and battle-axes. Over these men, so as quite to cover them, Binning placed a light load of hay.
He then harnessed his oxen with ropes to the heavy cart, and set out for the castle. A servant sat in front, driving, and Binning himself walked by the side of the cart, with a stick in his hand and his woodman's axe at his belt.
Slowly the cart creaked along the silent street until it reached the castle gate. The drawbridge was lowered at once, for the sentinels knew that hay was expected, and asked no questions. The heavy load passed over the wooden bridge, the hoofs of the oxen sounding loud in the still morning air. With beating heart, but seemingly calm, Binning walked along. The portcullis was slowly raised and the cart passed under it. But, just as it was directly under it, Binning sprang forward, and quick as lightning, with a blow from his hatchet, cut the ropes which bound the oxen to the cart. The oxen moved on. The cart was left beneath the portcullis.
"Call all, call all," shouted Binning. It was the signal agreed upon. "Call all, call all," cried the soldiers in the cart as they threw off the hay which covered them, and sprang to the ground with drawn swords. "Call all, call all," replied the men from without, rushing in to help them.
The portcullis was lowered, but it was of no use. The heavy cart stood underneath it and prevented it from falling to the ground. The gates could not be shut for the same reason, so the castle was taken and all the English soldiers were put to death.
Bruce rewarded Binning by giving him a great estate, and even to this day the name of Binning is remembered in Linlithgowshire.
Roxburgh was another strong castle, and it was so near the Borders that the English were very anxious to keep it. But Douglas had quite made up his mind to take it, however difficult it might be.
Douglas was a great soldier and a gallant knight. By his friends he was called the Good Lord James, but by his enemies, because of the fear they had of him, and because he was very dark, he was called the Black Douglas. Indeed the terror of his name was so great that mothers would frighten their naughty children by saying to them, "Be good now, or I shall fetch the Black Douglas to you."
On Shrove Tuesday there was great feasting and drinking, and on that day Douglas and his friends made up their minds to take Roxburgh Castle.
The only hope of doing this was to take it by surprise. But to get to the castle some fields had to be crossed. If the Scots had marched across these fields, they would have been seen by the garrison, who would then have had time to prepare for them. So, waiting until it was dark, they threw black cloaks over their bright armour, and crawling on their hands and knees, passed through the fields to the bottom of the wall. They went a few at a time, so that in the dusk they looked like straying cattle.
Some were safely over, and were hiding close against the walls, when the watch went their rounds. The watchmen paused on the wall, just above the spot where were Douglas and his men, and looked across the fields. "There be cattle late afield," said one soldier, pointing to the slowly moving objects in the distance.
"Yes," said the other, "the farmer is making merry this Shrovetide, and has forgotten to shut up his cattle. If the Black Douglas comes across them before morning he will be sorry for it."
Then the men moved on, little dreaming that the Black Douglas was listening to what they were saying, and that the "cattle" were no other than the Black Douglas's own men.
At last all had safely reached the walls. The ladders were placed; the men mounted. Everything was quiet within the castle. Only a woman, the wife of one of the soldiers, sat upon the walls with her child in her arms, singing it to sleep.
"Don't be so sure of that," said a voice close beside her, and a steel-gloved hand was laid upon her shoulder. With a scream the woman looked round. Beside her, tall, dark, and strong, stood the very Black Douglas of whom she sang.
In a moment the alarm was given. The fierce cry of "Douglas! Douglas!" with which his men always rushed into battle, sounded through the night, and the fight began. Nearly all the English were killed. But Douglas took care of the woman and her child, so she lived to know that he was not so dreadful as his name.