Meantime Cromwell became very ill. So ill indeed was he, that a little later he wrote, "I thought I should have died of this sickness; but the Lord seemeth to dispose otherwise."
He did not die. But only very slowly did he get better. At last he was out again, marching back and forth, as of old. One day, on his way from Glasgow, he stopped at the house of Sir Walter Stewart. Sir Walter was a Royalist, and was not at home. Perhaps he was away fighting for the King. But his wife and his little boy were there. The lady was a Royalist and did not love the "rebels," but she treated her visitor politely and gave him food and drink.
Cromwell and Sir Walter Stewart.
The great soldier was gentle and kindly to this Royalist lady. He talked to her in a friendly way, telling her that he too was a Stewart, for that had been his mother's name. He seemed so kind that the little boy, who was not very strong, and who had been shy of the soldiers, now came quite near and began to play with Oliver's sword handle. Then, perhaps thinking of his own grand-children whom he loved, Oliver laid his big brown hand upon the boy's head, stroking his curls gently. "You are my little captain," he said.
Then, after a little more friendly talk, and having said a long grace in thanks for his refreshment, Oliver went on his fighting way. But the lady, Royalist though she was, kept a kindly remembrance of the great rough soldier who had such gentle ways, and was never again so bitter as she had been against the "rebels."
Again and again Oliver fell ill. For the last nine years he had lived such a hard life in camp and field, fighting and working, that it was little wonder if at last his health broke down. Now Fairfax sent two doctors in his own coach from London, and the Parliament begged him to return home and rest a little. But Cromwell would not. He wanted to finish his work in Scotland. "My lord is not sensible that he has grown an old man," says one writer.
By July Oliver was much better, and he began in real earnest to try to draw the Scots out of their stronghold of Stirling. But wary Leslie was again in command. He had learned the lesson of Dunbar, and he sat still.
Then, as Cromwell could not draw Leslie out of Stirling, he made up his mind to go round behind him. He had plenty of vessels at command, so he shipped some of his army over the Forth, into Fifeshire. There was then of course no great railway bridge across the Forth at Queensferry, and trains were then unknown. The Forth Bridge, which was opened in 1890, is one of the engineering wonders of the world. Its spans are so high that ships can pass underneath, and the trade of ports lying farther up the river is uninjured.
The kingdom of Fife, as the county is sometimes called, is a peninsula formed by the Firth of Forth on the south, and the Firth of Tay on the north. It is one of the richest of Scottish counties, having both good soil for cultivation and coal fields, and, in consequence, manufactures.
The south, through which Cromwell's army now marched, is the busy manufacturing part. Here is Dunfermline, now noted for its table linen, but once, with its palace and abbey, famous as the dwelling and burial place of kings. Here too is Kirkcaldy with its linoleum factories, and many other towns.
Near Dunfermline there was a battle between the Parliamentarians and the Scots, in which the Scots were defeated. Cromwell was not there, but watched the battle from far off. Then, having again marched in vain to Stirling, he decided to cross the Forth himself, leaving only a few troops to guard the country south of the Forth.
After he landed in Fifeshire, Cromwell besieged Burntisland. But the stout little place held out against him, and only yielded at last, it is said, on condition that he would pave the streets and repair the harbour.
The Parliamentarians now took complete possession of Fifeshire. One general marched along the coast seizing ships and guns. For all round the shores of Fife are busy towns and ports, where fishing is the chief industry, and of which Anstruther is the busiest.
Some of the troops marched to the north, where the fertile plain called the Howe of Fife stretches from St. Andrews to the Firth of Tay. There stands the ancient palace of Falkland, famous in the days when the Stewart kings used to go to hunt in the great forest of Falkland. While Cromwell's troops were there they set fire to part of the palace and cut down many of the fine old trees of the forest. Indeed so much of this forest was wasted during the Civil War that little of it remained. Thus having made Fife sure, Cromwell next marched through the beautiful Glen Farg to the walls of Perth.