For some years after Bannockburn, King Robert ruled Scotland wisely and well. The war with England still went on, but it was the Scots who won the battles.
At last King Robert became very ill. He could no longer sit upon a horse or lead his soldiers to battle, but he still thought, and planned, and ruled his kingdom, living quietly in his castle near the river Clyde.
About this time Edward ii. of England was dethroned, and his son, Edward iii. , was crowned instead. Robert the Bruce, having sent a message to the new King, telling him that he would invade England, gathered an army and sent it across the Border. Randolph and Douglas commanded this army, which was about twenty thousand strong. The men wore little armour, and were mounted upon rough ponies, so that they moved about from place to place far more quickly than the heavy English horse. The ponies were so swift and sure footed, that they could go through valleys and among hills where the English found it impossible to follow with their heavy cavalry.
Besides his weapons, each man carried a bag of oatmeal and an iron girdle. A girdle is a flat, round piece of iron, something like a frying pan without sides, upon which scones and oatcakes are baked. Except their bags of oatmeal, the Scots carried no other provisions, for they were always sure of finding cattle in the country through which they passed. They used to kill these and cook the flesh. But they carried neither pots nor pans. They boiled the flesh in the skins, which they made into pots by slinging them on crossed sticks, very much as gipsies sling their big, black, round pots at the present day.
After a day's march, the ponies were turned loose to graze. Bullocks were killed and skinned. Water and beef were put into the bag-pots, fires were lit under them; every man brought out his girdle and oatmeal, and after a supper of boiled beef and oat-cakes, the men lay down to sleep round the warm camp fires.
In this way, the Scots moved from place to place, burning and destroying at will, and pursued by the English, who tried in vain to come up with them. The English could often see the smoke of the Scots' fires as they followed them over hill and dale, till, weary and hungry, they encamped for the night, hoping next morning to catch the Scots. Day by day this went on, till the English army was well-nigh exhausted.
Sometimes during the march there would be a cry. Those behind, thinking that at last the enemy was in sight, would hurry forward with drawn swords in their hands, ready to fight. But, after having run for a mile or so over hill and valley, they would find that what had aroused their hope was only a herd of deer or wild cattle, which fled swiftly away before the army.
Wandering about in this manner, the English leaders lost their way, and one day, just as the sun was setting, they arrived at the river Tyne. This they crossed with great difficulty, and lay down for the night on the bank.
The men had only a loaf of bread each to eat, and there was nothing but water from the river to drink. They had no hatchets to cut down wood, so they could make neither fire nor light. Wet and hungry, they lay down to sleep, wearing their armour, and holding their horses by the bridle, lest they should stray during the night.
In the morning, some peasants passing, told them that they were eleven leagues from the nearest town. Hearing this, the King immediately sent messengers to the town with a proclamation, saying that any one who wished to earn some money, had only to bring provisions to the army.
The next day the messengers returned with what they could get, which was not much. They were followed, however, by many of the townspeople, who brought badly baked bread, and poor, thin wine, for which they made the soldiers pay very dearly. Even then, there was not enough for every one, and the men would often quarrel fiercely over a piece of meat or loaf of bread, snatching it out of each others' hands. To add to the discomfort, it began to rain, and kept on raining for a whole week. Hungry, cold, and wet, the soldiers began to grumble bitterly. Still there was no sign of the Scots.
At last the King made a proclamation, that any one who could find the Scots should have a hundred pounds a year, and be made a knight. Upon that, about fifteen or sixteen gentlemen leaped upon their horses, and rode off in different directions, eager to win the reward.
Four days later, a gentleman came galloping back to the King. "Sire," he cried, "I bring you news of the Scots. They are three leagues from this place, lodged in a mountain, where they have been this week, waiting for you. You may trust me, this is true. For I went so near to them, that I was made prisoner, and taken before their leaders. I told them where you were, and that you were seeking them to give battle. The lords gave me my liberty, on condition that I rested not until I found you, and told you that they were waiting, and as eager to meet you in battle as you can be to meet them."
As soon as the King heard this news, he ordered his army to march forward. About noon next day they came in sight of the Scots. But when they saw in what a strong position the long-looked-for enemy lay, they were very much disheartened.
The Scots were encamped upon a mountain, at the foot of which flowed a strong, rapid river. The river would be difficult and dangerous to cross. If the English did cross, there was no room between the mountain and the river for them to form into line. Seeing this, King Edward sent his heralds to ask the Scots to come down into the plain, and fight in the open.
Douglas and Randolph replied that they would do no such thing. "King Edward and his barons see," they said, "that we are in his kingdom. We burn and pillage wherever we pass. If that is displeasing to the King, he may come and amend it, for we will tarry here as long as it pleases us."
Seeing that the Scots would not come out of their stronghold, King Edward resolved to starve them out. For three days and nights, his army lay in front of the Scots. But the Scots had plenty to eat, they had comfortable huts and great fires, whereas the English lay opposite in cold and hunger, without shelter or proper food.
But on the fourth morning, when the English King looked towards the Scottish camp, behold it was empty. Not a man was left. They had decamped secretly at midnight.
Immediately, Edward sent scouts on horseback to search for them. About four o'clock in the afternoon, they came back with news. The Scots were encamped upon another mountain, in a far stronger position than the last.
So again the English marched forward, and took up a position opposite the Scots.
That night the English camp was suddenly aroused by the fierce war-cry, "Douglas! Douglas! Ye shall die, ye thieves of England."
It was Lord James Douglas with two hundred men, who had silently left the Scottish camp, and, finding the English keeping but careless watch, dashed suddenly upon them.
Three hundred Englishmen were killed, and the King narrowly escaped. Douglas reached his tent, and cutting the ropes, tried to carry off the King in the confusion. But his servants stood bravely round their master, and the camp being now thoroughly aroused, Douglas was obliged to call his men together, and escape. After this, the English kept a strong and careful watch, but the Scots did not again attempt to surprise them.
For three weeks the English lay watching the Scots, hoping to starve them out. During this time the Scots were not idle. Behind them was a marsh, and while the English watched in front, they were busy making a road through the marsh behind. One morning, behold, again the Scottish camp was empty!
Two Scottish trumpeters alone remained. "My lords," they said, coming to the English camp, "why do you watch here? You do but lose your time, for we swear by our heads that the Scots are on their homeward march, and are now four or five leagues off. They left us here to tell you this."
The English were very angry with this message, and on going to the Scottish camp they found that what the trumpeters told them was only too true. Not a Scot was to be seen. They had vanished in the night, but they had left behind them many signs that they had been by no means starving. In the deserted camp there lay the dead bodies of many cattle, which the Scots had killed because they could not take them away, as they moved too slowly. There were hundreds of fires laid, ready to light, under skin pots filled with meat and water. There were thousands of pairs of worn-out shoes. These shoes the Scots used to make out of the raw, rough hide of the bullocks which they killed for food. They wore them with the hairy side out, and from that were often called "the rough footed Scots," or "red shanks."
Besides these things, the English found a few prisoners whom the Scots had taken, and whom they had now left behind tied to trees. They also left a message saying that if the King of England were displeased with what they had done, he might follow them to Scotland and fight them there.
But Edward had no wish to follow so wily a foe, and he turned southward and disbanded his army.
Shortly afterwards a peace was made between the two countries, and a treaty was signed at Northampton. By this treaty the English King gave up all claim to Scotland, and acknowledged Robert the Bruce to be the rightful King. It was also arranged that Edward's young sister should marry Bruce's son. And so at last the land had rest.