Page:Robert the Bruce and the struggle for Scottish independence - 1909.djvu/322

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[1319 A.D.-
Robert the Bruce.

King Robert had committed the custody of war-worn Berwick into the capable hands of Walter the Steward, who had diligently strengthened the defences, and provisioned the castle against all emergency. The English army invested the town, forming entrenchments round their own lines, and filling the harbour with their ships. On September 7th a general assault took place. The city walls, in spite of the great strategic value of this place, were so low, says Barbour, that a spearman on the top could strike an assailant outside in the face with his weapon. The garrison, therefore, had a busy time throwing down the scaling-ladders of the enemy. In the afternoon a vessel was towed up the river on the flood tide, as far as the bridge-house, and an attempt was made to make her fast to the wall. She carried a fall-bridge, whereby it was intended to enter the town. But she was kept at bay till, with the falling tide, she took the ground, when the garrison made a sortie and set her on fire. The fighting went on all day, until towards evening the English were recalled to their lines, and nothing further was attempted for five days.

The Scots in Berwick found a most valuable assistant in the person of one John Crab, a Flemish engineer. Barbour says that he was one of the prisoners taken in the English ship burnt at the bridge, but this is disproved by a correspondence which took place earlier in the same year between King Edward and the Count of Flanders, of which Crab was the subject. He had, it seems, committed some acts of piracy on English shipping, and the Count assured Edward that if he could catch the