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- In Freedom's Cause - 40/60 -
he made off, cursing and swearing, and vowing that the next time he met me he would have my life."
"And that he would have done," Pembroke said, "had it not been for Bruce's dog, who has turned matters the other way. He is dead assuredly. It is John of Lorne's henchman, who was doubtless on his way with a message from his lord to me. Could not the fool have postponed his grudge till he had delivered it? I tell you, Scot, you had best keep out of the MacDougalls' way, for assuredly they will revenge the death of their clansman upon you if they have the chance, though I can testify that the affair was none of your seeking. Now let us continue our way."
"I doubt me, Sir Earl, whether our journey ends not here," Archie said, "seeing that these hounds, when they taste blood, seem for a time to lose their fineness of scent; but we shall see."
Archie's opinion turned out correct. Do what they would they could not induce Hector again to take up his master's trail, the hound again and again returning to the spot where the dead Highlander still lay. Pembroke had the body carried off but the hound tugged at his chain in the direction in which it had gone, and seemed to have lost all remembrance of the track upon which he was going. At last Pembroke was obliged to acknowledge that it was useless to pursue longer, and, full of disappointment at their failure, the party returned to camp, Pembroke saying: "Our chase is but postponed. We are sure to get tidings of Bruce's hiding place in a day or two, and next time we will have the hound muzzled, lest any hotheaded Highlander should again interfere to mar the sport."
It was some days before further tidings were obtained of Bruce. Archie did not leave his tent during this time, giving as a reason that he was afraid if he went out he should meet some of Lorne's men, who might take up the quarrel of the man who had been killed. At length, however, another traitor came in, and Pembroke and his party set out as before, Hector being this time muzzled by a strap round his jaw, which would not interfere with his scent, but would prevent him from widely opening his jaws.
The scent of Bruce was again taken up at a lonely hut in the hills. The country was far more broken and rough than that through which they had followed Bruce's trail on the preceding occasion. Again Archie determined, but most reluctantly, that he would slay the noble dog; but he determined to postpone the deed to the latest moment. Several places were passed where he might have succeeded in effecting his escape after stabbing the hound, but each time his determination failed him. It would have been of no use to release the dog and make himself up the hillside, for a blood hound's pace when on the track is not rapid, and the horsemen could have kept up with Hector, who would of course have continued his way upon the trail of the king. Presently two men were seen in the distance; they had evidently been alarmed by the bay of the hound, and were going at full speed. A shout of triumph broke from the pursuers, and some of the more eager would have set spurs to their horses and passed the hound.
"Rein back, rein back," Pembroke said, "the country is wild and hilly here, and Bruce may hide himself long before you can overtake him. Keep steadily in his track till he gains flatter country, where we can keep him in sight, then we shall have no more occasion for the hound and can gallop on at full speed."
Archie observed, with satisfaction, that Bruce was making up an extremely steep hillside, deeming probably that horsemen would be unable to follow him here, and that he would be able to distance pursuers on foot. Ten minutes later his pursuers had reached the foot of the hill. Pembroke at once ordered four knights and ten men-at-arms to dismount.
"Do you," he said, "with the dog, follow hard upon the traces of Bruce. When you reach the top signal to us the direction in which he has gone. Follow ever on his track without stopping; he must at last take to the low country again. Some of my men shall remain here, others a mile further on, and so on round the whole foot of the hills. Do you, when you see that, thinking he has distanced you, which he may well do being more lightly armed and flying for his life, he makes for the low country again, send men in different directions to give me warning. The baying of the dog will act as a signal to us."
While the men had been dismounting and Pembroke was giving his orders Archie had proceeded up the hill with the hound. The path was exceedingly steep and difficult.
"Do not hurry, sirrah," Pembroke called; "hold in your hound till the others join you." But Archie paid no attention to the shout, but kept up the steep path at the top of his speed. Shouts and threats followed him, but he paused not till he reached the top of the ascent; then he unfastened Hector's collar, and the dog, relieved from the chain which had so long restrained him, bounded away with a deep bay in pursuit of his master, whose scent was now strong before him. As Archie looked back, the four knights and their followers, in single file, were, as yet, scarce halfway up the ascent. Lying round were numbers of loose boulders, and Archie at once began to roll these down the hillside. They went but slowly at first, but as they reached the steeper portion they gathered speed, and taking great bounds crashed down the hillside. As these formidable missiles burst down from above the knights paused.
"On!" Pembroke shouted from below; "the Scot is a traitor, and he and the hound will escape if you seize him not." Again the party hurried up the hill. Three of them were struck down by the rocks, and the speed of all was impeded by the pauses made to avoid the great boulders which bounded down toward them. When they were within a few yards of the top Archie turned and bounded off at full speed. He had no fear of being himself overtaken. Lightly clad and unarmed, the knights and men-at-arms, who were all in full armour, and who were already breathed with the exertions they had made, would have no chance of overtaking him; indeed he could safely have fled at once when he loosed Hector, but he had stopped to delay the ascent of his pursuers solely to give the hound as long a start as possible. He himself could have kept up with the hound; the men-at-arms could assuredly not do so, but they might for a long time keep him in sight, and his baying would afterwards indicate the line the king was taking, and Bruce might yet be cut off by the mounted men. The delay which his bombardment had caused had given a long start to the hound, for it was more than five minutes from the time when it had been loosed before the pursuers gained the crest of the hill. Archie, in his flight, took a different line to that which the dog had followed. Hector was already out of sight, and although his deep baying might for a time afford an index to his direction this would soon cease to act as a guide, as the animal would rapidly increase his distance from his pursuers, and would, when he had overtaken the king, cease to emit his warning note. The pursuers, after a moment's pause for consultation on the crest of the hill, followed the line taken by the hound.
The men-at-arms paused to throw aside their defensive armour, breast, back, and leg pieces, and the knights relieved themselves of some of their iron gear; but the delay, short as it was, caused by the unbuckling of straps and unlacing of helms, increased the distance which already existed between them and the hound, whose deep notes, occasionally raised, grew fainter and fainter. In a few minutes it ceased altogether, and Archie judged that the hound had overtaken his master, who, on seeing the animal approaching alone, would naturally have checked his flight. Archie himself was now far away from the men-at-arms, and after proceeding until beyond all reach of pursuit, slackened his pace, and breaking into a walk continued his course some miles across the hills until he reached a lonely cottage where he was kindly received, and remained until next day.
The following morning he set out and journeyed to the spot, where, on leaving his retainers more than a week before, he had ordered them to await his coming. It was another week before he obtained such news as enabled him again to join the king, who was staying at a woodcutter's hut in Selkirk Forest. Hector came out with a deep bark of welcome.
"Well, Sir Archie," the king said, following his dog to the door, "and how has it fared with you since we last parted a fortnight since? I have been hotly chased, and thought I should have been taken; but, thanks to the carelessness of the fellow who led my hound, Hector somehow slipped his collar and joined me, and I was able to shake off my pursuers, so that danger is over, and without sacrificing the life of my good dog."
Archie smiled. "Perchance, sir, it was not from any clumsiness that the hound got free, but that he was loosed by some friendly hand."
"It may be so," the king replied; "but they would scarcely have intrusted him to a hand friendly to me. Nor would his leader, even if so disposed, have ventured to slip the hound, seeing that the horsemen must have been close by at the time, and that such a deed would cost him his life. It was only because Hector got away, when the horsemen were unable to follow him, that he escaped, seeing that, good dog as he is, speed is not his strong point, and that horsemen could easily gallop alongside of him even were he free. What are you smiling at, Sir Archie? The hound and you seem on wondrous friendly terms;" for Hector was now standing up with his great paws on Archie's shoulder.
"So we should be, sire, seeing that for eight days we have shared bed and board."
"Ah! is it so?" Bruce exclaimed. "Was it you, then, that loosed the hound?"
"It was, sir," Archie replied; "and this is the history of it; and you will see that if I have done you and Hector a service in bringing you together again the hound has repaid it by saving my life."
Entering the hut, Archie sat down and related all that had happened, to the king.
"You have done me great service, Sir Archie," Bruce said when he concluded his tale, "for assuredly the hound would have wrought my ruin had he remained in the hands of the English. This is another of the long list of services you have rendered me. Some day, when I come to my own, you will find that I am not ungrateful."
The feats which have been related of Bruce, and other personal adventures in which he distinguished himself, won the hearts of great numbers of the Scotch people. They recognized now that they had in him a champion as doughty and as valiant as Wallace himself. The exploits of the king filled their imaginations, and the way in which he continued the struggle after the capture of the ladies of his family and the cruel execution of his brothers and so many of his adherents, convinced them that he would never desist until he
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