ABOUT the year 1309, Robert Bruce, though invested three years before with the crown of Scotland, was only able to maintain a kind of outlaw's independence against the officers of the English king, and frequently roamed, with a small band of attendants, through the wilds of Galloway. In that remote corner of the kingdom, on the banks of the Urr, lived Mark Sprotte, a shepherd and a husbandman, but also, when occasion required, a warrior. It was the good-fortune of this obscure peasant to be united to a woman possessing an affectionate character, and no small share of good sense and activity. One morning, Bruce, in the course of his wanderings, was attacked near Mark's cottage by one of the English intruders Sir Walter Selby.

Bruce was not the man to yield to one or even more opponents. The contest was fierce and dubious; the followers on each side were diminished to three, and these three were sorely wounded. Many a battle has been begun by a woman this was ended by one. The clashing of swords, a sound not unusual in those unsettled times, reached the ear of the wife of Sprotte, as, busied at the hearth-fire, she prepared her husband's breakfast. She ran down to the banks of the Urr, and there saw several warriors lying wounded and bleeding on the grass, and two knights, with their visors closed, and with swords in their hands, contending for death or life. They were both bold and stalwart men; but she in vain sought for a mark by which she might know the kindly Scot from the southron. The fire sparkled from their shields and helmets, and the grass was dropped here and there with blood. At length one received a stroke upon the helmet, which made him stagger. Uttering a deep imprecation, he sprang upon his equally powerful and more deliberate adversary, and the combat grew fiercer than ever. 'Ah, thou false swearing southron!' exclaimed the wife of Mark Sprotte, 'I know ye now I know ye now;' and seizing Sir Walter Selby by a single lock of his hair which escaped from his helmet, she pulled him backward to the ground, when he had no alternative but to yield himself a prisoner.

The two knights washed their hands in the Urr and bloody hands they were uttered short soldier-like acknowledgments to their saints for having protected them, and entering the cottage, seated themselves by the side of their humble hostess. 'Food,’ said the Scottish knight, 'have I not tasted for two days, else Sir Walter Selby, renowned in arms as he is, had not resisted Robert de Bruce so long.'

'And have I then had the glory,' said the Englishman, 'of exchanging blows with the noble leader of the men of Scotland?'

'Leader of the men of Scotland!' exclaimed Dame Sprotte: 'he shall ne'er be less than king in this house, and king, too, shall ye call him, sir, or else I will cast this boiling brose in your English face, weel-favoured though it be.'

King Robert smiled, and said: 'My kind and loyal dame, waste not thy valuable food on our unfortunate enemy, but allow the poor king of Scotland to taste of thy good-cheer. And Sir Walter Selby, too, would gladly, I see, do honour to the humility of a Scottish breakfast-table. So spoons to each, my heroine. I have still a golden coin in my pocket for such a ready and effectual ally as thou art. And thou shalt also take thy seat beside me: this is not the first time I have had the helping-hand of a kindly Sprotte.'

The dame refused to be seated; said it was bad manners to sit beside a king, and such a king too bless his merciful and noble face! 'Soon may he enjoy his rightful inheritance, and long may he bruik it!'

So saying, she placed a small oaken table before him, filled a large wooden bowl with the favourite breakfast of Caledonia, rich, hot, and savoury; then laying a silver spoon beside it, she retired to such a distance from the king as awe and admiration might be supposed to measure to a peasant.

'But, my fair and kind subject,' said the king, 'let this gentle knight partake with me.'

' I should be no true subject,' answered she, 'if I feasted our mortal foe. Were I a man, hemp to his hands, the keep of Thrieve Castle for his mansion, and bread and water for his food, should be his doom; as a woman, I can only say I have vowed a vow that no southron shall feast within my door in my presence; and shall I be hospitable to the man who lately laid his steel sword with such right good-will to my king's helmet?'

'I commend thy loyalty,' said De Bruce,' and thus shall I reward it. This land, thou knowest, is mine; the hill behind thy house is green and fair; the vale before thy house is green and fertile; I make thee lady of as much as thou canst run round while I take my breakfast. The food is hot, the vessel large, so kilt thy coats, and flee.'

With right good-will she shortened her skirts as desired, bound up her hair, and stood ready for flight on the threshold of her door. She looked back upon her guests with a comic expression, returned and locked fast all spoons save the one for the king, and then resumed her station at the door.

'Now,' said Robert, 'a woman's speed of foot against a king's hunger. Away!' And as he raised the spoon to his lips, she vanished from the door. The King's Mount, so green and beautiful now, was then rough with wild juniper and briers, and the path round the base was interrupted by shivered stones and thorn-bushes. But the wife of Mark Sprotte loved her husband, and wished to become lady of the land. She had already compassed one-third of the hill, when she saw a fox running along with a goose she had fattened. 'May the huntsman find ye yet, for coming across me at this unsonsie time!' said the dame; but a rood of land is better than a fat goose;' and she augmented her speed till she approached the mill. The miller, wearied with grinding all night, lay sleeping on the Sheeling Hill, while the fire that dried his oats seized the ribs of the kiln, ran up the roof, and flashed red from between the rafters. 'Burn away!' said she. 'If I awake thee, thou wilt demand help, and a minute's work or explanation will scoup the green holm of Urr out of the inheritance which I hope to encompass before our king gains the bottom of the bowl.' So the flame increased, the miller slept,- and she reached the place where the hill sloped into the vale. A small wicket in the gable of her house had a board suspended by a leather hinge; she flew for a moment to this rude casement, lifted it warily up, and there she beheld the monarch and his enemy seated side by side, their helmets on the floor, their swords laid aside, and with one spoon between them, smiling in each other's face as they took alternate spoonfuls of the hot and homely fare. She cried: 'Fair-play, my liege, fair-play,' and recommenced her race with renewed agility.

'I like the fare not amiss,' said Selby, 'and still better the hale and hearty dame who prepared it. I shall never forget with what right good-will she twisted her hand into my hair, and pulled me to the ground. I'll tell thee what, De Bruce; if half the men in Scotland had hearts as heroic as hers, we might turn our bridles southward.'

'I am losing my land listening to thy eulogium,' said the king with a smile. 'See the brook beside the willows, where we fought so long, and where so many of thy comrades and mine lie stark and bloody, she has passed it at one bound. The helmet of Lord Howard, whom with my own hand I slew there, is ornamented with silver and gold; she sees it glittering on the ground, but stoops not to unlace it. She knows she can strip the slain at her leisure, when she cannot win land. Seven English horses graze masterless among her corn; she stays not to touch their bridles, though they have silver housings, and belts of silver and gold, and though she never mounted a fairer steed than an untrained Galloway. On my royal word, this is a prudent woman!'

She had now nearly run round the hill, nearly encompassed the holm; and when she approached her own threshold, it was thus the king and Selby heard her commune with her own spirit as she ran: 'I shall be called the lady of the Mount, and my husband shall be called the lord on't. We shall nae doubt be called the Sprottes of the Mount of Urr, while Dalbeattie Wood grows, and while Urr runs. Our sons and our daughters will be given in marriage to the mighty ones of the land, and to wed one of the Sprottes of Urr may be the toast of barons. We shall grow honoured and great, and the tenure by which our heritage shall be held will be the presenting of butter brose in a lordly dish to the kings of Scotland when they happen to pass the Urr.'

'On thy own terms,' said King Robert, 'so loyally and characteristically spoken, my heroic dame of Galloway, shall the Sprottes of Urr hold this heritage. This mount shall be called the King's Mount; and when the kings of Scotland pass the Urr, they shall partake of brose from King Robert Bruce's bowl, and from no other presented by the fair and loyal hands of a Sprotte. Be wise, be valiant, be loyal and faithful, and possess this land, free of paying plack or penny, till the name of Bruce perish in tale, in song, and in history: and so I render it to thee.' And thus, in one short morning, did the ancestress of the Sprottes of Urr win the lands which have given sustenance and dignity to her descendants for more than five hundred years. King Robert's Bowl, as it is called, is still preserved in the family.

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