INCHBRAYOCK

ARCHIE sprang up, unable, for a moment, to remember where he was. He
was almost in darkness, for the port looked northward, and the pale
light barely glimmered through it, but he could just see a spurt of
white leap into the air midway across the channel, where a second shot
had struck the water. As he rushed on deck a puff of smoke was
dispersing above Dial Hill. Then another cloud rolled from the bushes
on the nearest point of Inchbrayock Island, and he felt the _Venture_
shiver and move in her moorings. Captain Hall’s voice was rising above
the scuffling and running that was going on all over the ship, and the
dragging about of heavy objects was making the decks shake.

He went below and begun to hustle on his clothes, for the morning air
struck chill and he felt the need of being ready for action of some
kind. In a few minutes he came up warily and crept round to the port
side, taking what cover he could. Then a roar burst from the side of
the _Venture_ as she opened fire.

He stood, not knowing what to do with himself. It was dreadful to him
to have to be inactive whilst his blood rose with the excitement round
him. No one on the vessel remembered his existence; he was like a
stray dog in a market-place, thrust aside by every passer brushing by
on the business of life.

It was soon evident that, though the guns on the hill commanded the
_Venture_, their shot was falling short of her. As the sun heaved up
from beyond the bar, the quays over the water could be seen filling
with people, and the town bells began to ring. An increasing crowd
swarmed upon the landing-stage of the ferry, but the boat herself had
been brought by James to the shore of Inchbrayock, and nobody was
likely to cross the water whilst the island and the high ground
seaward of the town was held by the invisible enemy which had come
upon them from heaven knew where. Captain Hall was turning his
attention exclusively on Inchbrayock, and Flemington, who had got
nearer to the place where he stood, gathered from what he could hear
that the man on Dial Hill was wasting his ammunition on a target that
was out of range. A shot from the vessel had torn up a shower of earth
in the bank that sloped from the thicket to the river-mud, and another
had struck one of the gravestones on the island, splitting it in two;
but the fire went on steadily from the dense tangle where the
churchyard wall no doubt concealed earthworks that had risen behind it
in the dark hours. This, then, was the outcome of James’s
night-wanderings with Ferrier.

Archie contemplated Captain Hall where he stood in a little group of
men. He looked even less of a personage in the morning light than he
had done in the cabin, and the young man suspected that he had gone to
bed in his clothes. This reminded him that he himself was unwashed,
unshaven, and very hungry. Whatsoever the issue of the attack might
be, there was no use in remaining starved and dirty, and he determined
to go below to forage and to find some means of washing. There was no
one to gainsay him at this time of stress, and he walked into Hall’s
cabin reflecting that he might safely steal anything he could carry
from the ship, if he were so minded, and slip overboard across the
narrow arm to the bank with nothing worse than a wetting.

Whilst he was attending to his own necessities, the booming went on
overhead, and at last a shout from above sent him racing up from the
welcome food he had contrived to secure. The wall on Inchbrayock was
shattered in two or three places and the unseen gun was silent. The
cannonade from Dial Hill had stopped, but a train of figures was
hurrying across from the northern shore of the island, taking shelter
among the bushes and stones. A boat was being lowered from the
_Venture_, for the tide, now sweeping in, had covered the mud, making
a landing possible. Men were crowding into her, and as Flemington got
round to his former place of observation she was being pushed off.

Hall, who was standing alone, caught sight of him and came towards
him; his face looked swollen and puffy, and his eyes were bloodshot.

“We have been attacked,” he began–“attacked most unexpectedly!”

“I had the honour to report that possibility to you last night, sir,”
replied Flemington, with a trifle of insolence in his manner.

An angry look shot out of Hall’s rabbit eyes. “What could you possibly
have known about such a thing?” he cried. “What reason had you for
making such a statement?”

“I had a great many,” said Archie, “but you informed me that you had
no leisure to listen to any of them until this morning. Perhaps you
are at leisure now?”

“You are a damned impudent scoundrel!” cried the other, noticing
Flemington’s expression, which amply justified these words, “but you
had better take care! There is nothing to prevent me from putting you
under arrest.”

“Nothing but the orders I carry in my pocket,” replied Archie. “They
are likely enough to deter you.”

The other opened his mouth to speak, but before he could do so a shot
crashed into the fore part of the ship, and a hail of bullets ripped
out from the thicket on the island; the boat, which was half-way
between the _Venture_ and Inchbrayock, spun round, and two of the
rowers fell forward over their oars. Hall left Archie standing where
he was.

The gun that the ship’s gunners believed themselves to have disabled
had opened fire again, after a silence that had been, perhaps, but a
lure to draw a sortie from her; and as it was mere destruction for the
boat to attempt a landing in the face of the shot, she had orders to
put back.

The position in which he was placed was now becoming clear to Hall. He
was cut off from communication with the quays by the guns safely
entrenched on the island, and those on Dial Hill, though out of range
for the moment, would prevent him from moving nearer to the watermouth
or making an attempt to get out to sea. He could not tell what was
happening in the town opposite, and he had no means of finding out,
for the whole of the cannon that he had been mad enough to leave by
the shore was in the enemy’s possession, and would remain so unless
the townspeople should rise in the Government interest for their
recapture. This he was well aware they would not do.

His resentment against his luck, and the tale-bearing voice within,
which told him that he had nothing to thank for it but his own
carelessness, grew more insistent as his head grew clearer. He had
been jerked out of sleep, heavy-headed, and with a brain still dulled
by drink, but the morning freshness worked on him, and the sun warmed
his senses into activity. The sight of Flemington, clean, impertinent,
and entirely comprehensive of the circumstances, drove him mad; and it
drove him still madder to know that Archie understood why he had been
unwilling to see his report last night.

Hall’s abilities were a little superior to his looks. So far he had
served his country, not conspicuously, but without disaster, and had
he been able to keep himself as sober as most people contrived to be
in those intemperate days, he might have gone on his course with the
same tepid success. He was one who liked the distractions of towns,
and he bemoaned the fate that had sent him to anchor in a dull creek
of the East Coast, where the taverns held nothing but faces whose
unconcealed dislike forbade conviviality, and where even the light
women looked upon his uniform askance. He was not a lively comrade at
the best of times, and here, where he was thrown upon the sole society
of his officers, with whom he was not popular, he was growing more
morose and more careless as his habits of stealthy excess grew upon
him. Archie, with his quick judgment of his fellow-men, had measured
him accurately, and he knew it. In the midst of the morning’s disaster
the presence of the interloper, his flippant civility of word and
insolence of manner, made his sluggish blood boil.

It was plain that the party on the island must be dislodged before
anything could be done to save the situation, and Hall now decided to
land as large a force as he could spare upon the mainland. By marching
it along the road to Ferryden he would give the impression that some
attempt was to be made to cross the strait nearer to the coast, and to
land it between Dial Hill and the sea. Behind Ferryden village a rough
track turned sharply southward up the bank, and this they were to
take; they would be completely hidden from Inchbrayock once they had
got over the crest of the land, and they were to double back with all
speed along the mainland under shelter of the ridge, and to go for
about a mile parallel with the Basin. When they had got well to the
westward side of the island, they were to wheel down to the Basin’s
shore at a spot where a grove of trees edged the brink; for here, in a
sheltering turn of backwater among the trunks and roots, a few boats
were moored for the convenience of those who wished to cross straight
to Montrose by water instead of taking the usual path by the
stepping-stones over Inchbrayock Island.

They were to embark at this place, and, hugging the shore, under cover
of its irregularities, to approach Inchbrayock from the west. If they
should succeed in landing unseen, they would surprise the enemy at the
further side of the graveyard whilst his attention was turned on the
_Venture_. The officer to be sent in command of the party believed it
could be done, because the length of the island would intervene to
hide their manoeuvres from the town, where the citizens, crowding on
the quays, would be only too ready to direct the notice of the rebels
to their approach.

As the boat put off from the ship Archie slipped into it; he seemed to
have lost his definite place in the scheme of things during the last
twenty-four hours; he was nobody’s servant, nobody’s master, nobody’s
concern; and in spite of his bold reply to Hall’s threat of arrest, he
knew quite well that though the captain would stop short of such a
measure, he might order him below at any moment; the only wonder was
that he had not done so already. He did not know into what hands he
might fall, should Hall be obliged to surrender, and this contingency
appeared to be growing likely. By tacking himself on to the
landing-party he would at least have the chance of action, and though,
having been careful to keep out of Hall’s sight, he had not been able
to discover their destination, he had determined to land with the men.

After they had disembarked, he went boldly up to the officer in charge
of the party and asked for permission to go with it, and when this was
accorded with some surprise, he fell into step. As they tramped along
towards Ferryden, he managed to pick up something of the work in hand
from the man next to him. His only fear was of the chance of running
against Logie; nevertheless, he made up his mind to trust to luck to
save him from that, because he believed that Logie, as a professional
soldier, would be in command of the guns on the hill. It was from Dial
Hill that the tactical details of the attack could best be directed,
and if either of the conspirators were upon the island, Archie was
convinced it would be Ferrier.

They soon reached Ferryden. The sun was clear and brave in the salt
air over the sea, and a flock of gulls was screaming out beyond the
bar, dipping, hovering, swinging sideways against the light breeze,
now this way, now that way, their wanton voices full of mockery, as
though the derisive spirits imprisoned in the ocean had become
articulate, and were crying out on the land. The village looked
distrustfully at the approach of the small company, and some of the
fisher-wives dragged their children indoors as if they thought to see
them kidnapped. Such men as were hanging about watched them with
sullen eyes as they turned in between the houses and made for the
higher ground.

The boom of the _Venture’s_ guns came to them from time to time, and
once they heard a great shout rise from the quays, but they could see
nothing because of the intervening swell of the land. They passed a
farm and a few scattered cottages; but these were empty, for their
inmates had gone to the likeliest places they could find for a view of
what was happening in the harbour.

Presently they went down to the Basin, straggling by twos and threes.
At the water’s edge a colony of beeches stood naked and leafless,
their heads listed over westward by the winds that swept up the
river’s mouth. They were crowded thick about the creek down which
Flemington and his companions came, and at their feet, tied to the
gnarled elbows of the great roots beneath which the water had eaten
deep into the bank, lay three or four boats with their oars piled
inside them. The beech-mast of years had sunk into the soil, giving a
curious mixture of heaviness and elasticity to the earth as it was
trodden; a water-rat drew a lead-coloured ripple along the
transparency, below which the undulations of the bottom lay like a
bird’s-eye view of some miniature world. The quiet of this hidden
landing-place echoed to the clank of the rowlocks as the heavy oars
were shipped, and two boatloads slid out between the stems.

Archie, who was unarmed, had borrowed one of the officer’s pistols,
not so much with the intention of using it as from the wish for a
plausible pretext for joining the party. At any time his love of
adventure would welcome such an opportunity, and at this moment he did
not care what might happen to him. He seemed to have no chance of
being true to anybody, and it was being revealed to him that, in these
circumstances, life was scarcely endurable. He had never thought about
it before, and he could think of nothing else now. It was some small
comfort to know that, should his last half-hour of life be spent on
Inchbrayock, Madam Flemington would at least understand that she had
wronged him in suspecting him of being a turncoat. If only James could
know that he had not betrayed him–or, rather, that his report was in
the hands of that accursed beggar before they met among the
broom-bushes! Yet, what if he did know it? Would his loathing of the
spy under the roof-tree of his brother’s house be any the less? He
would never understand–never know. And yet he had been true to him in
his heart, and the fact that he had now no roof-tree of his own proved
it.

They slipped in under the bank of the island and disembarked silently.
The higher ground in the middle of it crossed their front like the
line of an incoming wave, hiding all that was going on on its farther
side. They were to advance straight over it, and to rush down upon the
thicket where the gun was entrenched with its muzzle towards the
_Venture_. There was to be no working round the north shore, lest the
hundreds of eyes on the quays should catch sight of them, and a
hundred tongues give the alarm to the rebels. They were to attack at
once, only waiting for the sound of another shot to locate the exact
place for which they were to make. They stood drawn up, waiting for
the order.

Archie dropped behind the others. His heart had begun to sink. He had
assured himself over and over again that Logie must be on Dial Hill;
yet as each moment brought him nearer to contact with the enemy, he
felt cold misgiving stealing on him. What if his guesses had been
wrong? He knew that he had been a fool to run the risk he had taken.
Chance is such a smiling, happy-go-lucky deity when we see her afar
off; but when we are well on our steady plod towards her, and the
distance lessens between us, it is often all that we can do to meet
her eyes–their expression has changed. Archie’s willingness to take
risks was unfailing and temperamental, and he had taken this one in
the usual spirit, but so much had happened lately to shake his
confidence in life and in himself that his high heart was beating
slower. Never had he dreaded anything as much as he dreaded James’s
knowledge of the truth; yet the most agonizing part of it all was that
James could not know the whole truth, nor understand it, even if he
knew it. Archie’s reading of the other man’s character was accurate
enough to tell him that no knowledge of facts could make Logie
understand the part he had played.

Sick at heart, he stood back from the party, watching it gather before
the officer. He did not belong to it; no one troubled his head about
him, and the men’s backs were towards him. He stole away, sheltered by
a little hillock, and ran, bent almost double, to the southern shore
of the island. He would creep round it and get as near as possible to
the thicket. If he could conceal himself, he might be able to see the
enemy and the enemy’s commander, and to discover the truth while there
was yet time for flight. He glanced over his shoulder to see if the
officer had noticed his absence, and being reassured, he pressed on.
He knew that anyone who thought about him at all would take him for a
coward, but he did not reckon that. The dread of meeting James
possessed him.

Sheep were often brought over to graze the island, and their tracks
ran like network among the bushes. He trod softly in and out, anxious
to get forward before the next sound of the gun should let loose the
invading-party upon the rebels. He passed the end of the
stepping-stones which crossed the Esk’s bed to the mainland; they were
now nearly submerged by the tide rising in the river. He had not known
of their existence, and as he noticed them with surprise, a shot shook
the air, and though the thicket, now not far before him, blocked his
view of the _Venture’s_ hull, he saw the tops of her masts tremble,
and knew that she had been struck.

Before him, the track took a sharp turn round a bend of the shore,
which cut the path like a little promontory, so that he could see
nothing beyond it, and here he paused. In another few minutes the
island would be in confusion from the attack, and he might discover
nothing. He set his teeth and stepped round the corner.

The track widened out and then plunged into the fringe of the thicket.
A man was kneeling on one knee with his back to Flemington; his hands
were shading his eyes, and he was peering along a tunnel-shaped gap in
the branches, through which could be seen a patch of river and the
damaged bows of the _Venture_.

Archie’s instinct was to retreat, but before he could do so, the man
jumped up and faced him. His heart leaped to his mouth, for it was
James.

* * * * *

Logie stood staring at him. Then he made a great effort to pick up the
connecting-link of recollection that he felt sure he must have
dropped. He had been so much absorbed in the business in hand that he
found it impossible for a moment to estimate the significance of any
outside matter. Though he was confounded and disturbed by the
unlooked-for apparition of the painter, the idea of hostility never
entered his mind.

“Flemington?” he exclaimed, stepping towards him.

But the other man’s expression was so strange that he stopped,
conscious of vague disaster. What had the intruder come to tell him?
As he stood, Flemington murmured something he could not distinguish,
then turned quickly in his tracks.

Logie leaped after him, and seized him by the shoulder before he had
time to double round the bend.

“Let me go!” cried Archie, his chest heaving; “let me go, man!”

But James’s grip tightened; he was a strong man, and he almost dragged
him over. As he held him, he caught sight of the Government pistol in
his belt. It was one that the officer who had lent it to Flemington
had taken from the ship.

He jerked Archie violently round and made a snatch at the weapon, and
the younger man, all but thrown off his balance, thrust his arm
convulsively into the air. His sleeve shot back, laying bare a round,
red spot outside the brown, sinewy wrist.

Then there flashed retrospectively before James’s eye that same wound,
bright in the blaze of the flaming paper; and with it there flashed
comprehension.

His impulse was to draw his own pistol, and to shoot the spy dead, but
Archie recovered his balance, and was grappling with him so that he
could not get his arm free. The strength of the slim, light young man
astonished him. He was as agile as a weasel, but James found in him,
added to his activity, a force that nearly matched his own.

There was no possible doubt of Logie’s complete enlightenment, though
he kept his crooked mouth shut and uttered no word. His eyes wore an
expression not solely due to the violent struggle going on; they were
terrible, and they woke the frantic instinct of self-preservation in
Flemington. He knew that James was straining to get out his own
pistol, and he hung on him and gripped him for dear life. As they
swayed and swung to and fro, trampling the bents, there rose from
behind the graveyard a yell that gathered and broke over the sound of
their own quick breaths like a submerging flood, and the bullets began
to whistle over the rising ground.

Archie saw a change come into James’s eyes; then he found himself
staggering, hurled with swift and tremendous force from his
antagonist. He was flung headlong against the jutting bend round which
he had come, and his forehead struck it heavily; then, rolling down to
the track at its foot, he lay stunned and still.

Continue Reading

THE GUNS OF MONTROSE

WHEN Archie lay and pictured James on the other side of the water his
vision was a true one, but, while he saw him on the quay among the
sheds and windlasses, he had set him in the wrong place.

James stood at the point of the bay formed by the Basin of Montrose,
at the inner and landward side of the town, not far from the empty
fort from which Hall had taken the guns. The sands at his feet were
bare, for the tide was out, and the salt, wet smell of the oozing weed
blew round him on the faint wind. He was waiting for Ferrier.

They had chosen this night, as at this hour the ebbing water would
make it possible for the hundred men of Ferrier’s regiment to keep
clear of the roads, and to make their way from Brechin on the secluded
shore of the Basin. Logie had not been there long when he heard the
soft sound of coming feet, and the occasional knocking of shoes
against stone. As an increasing shadow took shape, he struck his hand
twice against his thigh, and the shadow grew still. He struck again,
and in another minute Ferrier was beside him; the soldiers who
followed halted behind their leader. The two men said little to each
other, but moved on side by side, and the small company wound up the
rising slope of the shore to the deserted fort and gathered at its
foot.

James and his friend went on a little way and stood looking east down
the townward shore of the strait past the huddled houses massed
together at this end of Montrose. The water slid to the sea, and
halfway down the long quay in front of them was moored the unrigged
barque that held the town guns–the four-pounders and six-pounders
that had pointed their muzzles for so many years from the fort walls
towards the thundering bar.

Hall had not concerned himself to bring the vessel into his own
immediate neighbourhood, nor even to put a few dozen yards of water
between her and the shore. He knew that no organized rebel force
existed within nine miles of where she lay, and that the Jacobites
among the townsmen could not attempt any hostile movement unaided. He
had eighty men on board the _Venture_ with him, and from them he had
taken a small guard which was left in charge of the barque. Every two
or three days he would send a party from the sloop to patrol the
streets of Montrose, and to impress disloyally inclined people. His
own investigations of the place had not been great, for, though he
went ashore a good deal, it cannot be said that King George’s
interests were much furthered by his doings when he got there.

When Logie and Ferrier had posted a handful of men in the empty fort,
they went on towards the barque’s moorings followed by the rest, and
leaving a few to guard the mouth of each street that opened on the
quay. The whole world was abed behind the darkened windows and the
grim stone walls that brooded like blind faces over the stealthy band
passing below. When they reached the spot where the ferry-boat lay
that plied between Montrose and the south shore of the strait, two men
went down to the landing-stage, and, detaching her chains, got her
ready to push off. Then, with no more delay, the friends pressed on to
the main business of their expedition. As they neared the barque, a
faint shine forward where her bows pointed seaward suggested that
someone on board was waking, so, judging it best to make the attack
before an alarm could be given, the two captains ran on with their
men, and were climbing over the bulwarks and tumbling on to her deck
before Captain Hall’s guard, who were playing cards round a lantern,
had time to collect their senses.

The three players sprang to their feet, and one of them sent a loud
cry ringing into the darkness before he sprawled senseless, with his
head laid open by the butt-end of Ferrier’s pistol. In this
unlooked-for onslaught, that had come upon them as suddenly as the
swoop of a squall in a treacherous sea, they struck blindly about,
stumbling into the arms of the swarming, unrecognized figures that had
poured in on their security out of the peaceful night. James had
kicked over the lantern, and the cards lay scattered about under foot,
white spots in the dimness. The bank of cloud was thinning a little
round the moon, and the angles of the objects on deck began to be more
clearly blocked out. One of the three, who had contrived to wrench
himself from his assailant’s hold, sprang away and raced towards the
after-part of the ship, where, with the carelessness of security, he
had left his musket. Three successive shots was the signal for help
from the _Venture_ in case of emergency, and he made a gallant effort
to get free to send this sign of distress across the strait. But he
was headed back and overpowered before he could carry out his
intention. One of his companions was lying as if dead on the deck, and
the other, who had been cajoled to silence by the suggestive caress of
a pistol at the back of his ear, was having his arms bound behind him
with his own belt.

Not a shot had been fired. Except for that one cry from the man who
lay so still at their feet, no sound but the scuffling and cursing on
the barque disturbed the quiet. Ferrier’s men hustled their prisoners
below into the cabin, where they were gagged and secured and left
under the charge of a couple of soldiers. No roving citizen troubled
the neighbourhood at this hour, for the fly-by-nights of Montrose
looked farther inland for their entertainment, and the fisher-folk,
who were the principal dwellers in the poor houses skirting the quays,
slept sound, and recked little of who might be quarrelling out of
doors so long as they lay warm within them. The barque was some way
up-stream from the general throng of shipping–apart, and, as Hall had
thought, the more safe for that, for his calculations had taken no
count of an enemy who might come from anywhere but the town. He had
never dreamed of the silent band which had been yielded up by the
misty stretches of the Basin.

James leaned over the vessel’s side towards the _Venture_, and thought
of Captain Hall. He had seen him in a tavern of the town, and had been
as little impressed by his looks as was Flemington. He had noticed the
uncertain eye, the restless fingers, the trotting gait, and had held
him lightly as a force; for he knew as well as most men know who have
knocked about this world that character–none other–is the hammer
that drives home every nail into the framework of achievement.

But he had no time to spend in speculations, for his interest was
centred in the ferry-boat that was now slipping noiselessly towards
them on the current, guided down-stream by the couple of soldiers who
had unmoored her. As she reached the barque a rope was tossed down to
her, and she was made fast. The stolen guns were hauled from their
storage, and a six-pounder lowered, with its ammunition, into the
great tub that scarcely heaved on the slow swirl of the river; and
whilst the work was going on, Ferrier and James stepped ashore to the
quay, and walked each a short way along it, watching for any movement
or for the chance of surprise. There was nothing: only, from far out
beyond the shipping, a soft rush, so low that it seemed to be part of
the atmosphere itself, told that the tide was on the turn.

In the enshrouding night the boat was loaded, and a dozen or so of the
little company pushed off with their spoil. Ferrier went with them,
and Logie, who was to follow with the second gun, watched the craft
making her way into obscurity, like some slow black river monster
pushing blindly out into space.

The scheme he had been putting together since the arrival of the
_Venture_ was taking reality at last, and though he could stand with
folded arms on the bulwark looking calmly at the departing boat, the
fire in his heart burned hot. Custom had inured him to risks of every
kind, and if his keenness of enterprise was the same as it had been in
youth, the excitement of youth had evaporated. It was the depths that
stirred in Logie, seldom the surface. Like Archie Flemington, he loved
life, but he loved it differently. Flemington loved it consciously,
joyously, pictorially; James loved it desperately–so desperately that
his spirit had survived the shock which had robbed it of its glory,
for him. He was like a faithful lover whose mistress has been scarred
by smallpox.

He could throw himself heart and soul into the Stuart cause, its
details and necessities–all that his support of it entailed upon him,
because it had, so to speak, given him his second wind in the race of
life. Though he was an adventurer by nature, he differed from the
average adventurer in that he sought nothing for himself. He did not
conform to the average adventuring type. He was too overwhelmingly
masculine to be a dangler about women, though since the shipwreck of
his youth he had more than once followed in the train of some
complaisant goddess, and had reaped all the benefits of her notice; he
was no snatcher at casual advantages, but a man to whom service in any
interest meant solid effort and unsparing sacrifice. Also he was one
who seldom looked back. He had done so once lately, and the act had
shaken him to the heart. Perhaps he would do so oftener when he had
wrought out the permanent need of action that lay at the foundation of
his nature.

When the boat had come back, silent on the outflowing river, and had
taken her second load, he lowered himself into the stern as her head
was pulled round again towards Inchbrayock.

The scheme fashioned by the two men for the capture of the vessel
depended for its success on their possession of this island. As soon
as they should land on it, they were to entrench the two guns, one on
its south-eastern side, as near to the _Venture_ as possible, and the
other on its northern shore, facing the quays. By this means the small
party would command, not only the ship, but the whole breadth of the
river and its landing-places, and would be able to stop communication
between Captain Hall and the town. Heavy undergrowth covered a fair
portion of Inchbrayock, and the only buildings upon it–if buildings
they could be called–were the walls of an old graveyard and the
stones and crosses they encircled. Though the island lay at a
convenient part of the strait, no bridge connected it with Montrose,
and those who wished to cross the Esk at that point were obliged to
use the ferry. The channel dividing its southern shore from the
mainland being comparatively narrow, a row of gigantic stepping-stones
carried wayfarers dry-shod across its bed, for at low tide there was a
mere streak of water curling serpent-wise through the mud.

When the guns were got safely into position on the island it was
decided that Ferrier was to return to the barque and take the
remaining four-pounders with all despatch to a piece of rising ground
called Dial Hill, that overlooked the mass of shipping opposite
Ferryden.

He did not expect to meet with much opposition, should news of his
action be carried to the town, for its main sympathies were with his
side, and the force on the Government vessel would be prevented from
coming over the strait to oppose him until he was settled on his
eminence by the powerful dissuaders he had left behind him on
Inchbrayock. He was to begin firing from Dial Hill at dawn, and James,
who was near enough to the _Venture_ to see any movement that might
take place on her, was to be ready with his fire and with his small
party of marksmen to check any offensive force despatched from the
ship to the quays. Hall would thus be cut off from the town by the
fire from Inchbrayock, on the one hand, and, should he attempt a
landing nearer to the watermouth, by the guns on Dial Hill, on the
other.

James had placed himself advantageously. The thicket of elder and
thorn which had engulfed one end of the burial-ground made excellent
concealment, and in front of him was the solid wall, through a gap in
which he had turned the muzzle of his six-pounder. He sat on the stump
of a thorn-tree, his head in his hands, waiting, as he knew he would
have to wait, for some time yet, till the first round from Dial Hill
should be the signal for his own attack. The moon had made her journey
by this hour, and while she had been caught in her course through the
zenith in the web of cloud and mist that thickened the sky, she was
now descending towards her rest through a clear stretch; she swung, as
though suspended above the Basin, tilted on her back, and a little
yellower as she neared the earth, a dying, witch-like thing, halfway
through her second quarter. James, looking up, could see her between
the arms of the crosses and the leaning stones.

The strangeness of the place arrested his thoughts and turned them
into unusual tracks, for, though far from being an unimaginative man,
he was little given to deliberate contemplation. The distant inland
water under the lighted half disc was pale, and a faintness seemed to
lie upon the earth in this hour between night and morning. His
thoughts went to the only dwellers on Inchbrayock, those who were
lying under his feet–seamen, for the most part, and fisher-folk, who
had known the fury of the North Sea that was now beginning to crawl in
and to surround them in their little township with its insidious arms,
encircling in death the bodies that had escaped it in life. Some of
them had been far afield, farther than he had ever been, in spite of
all his campaigns, but they had come in over the bar to lie here in
the jaws of the outflowing river by their native town. He wondered
whether he should do the same; times were so uncertain now that he
might well take the road into the world again. The question of where
his bones should lie was a matter of no great interest to him, and
though there was a vague restfulness in the notion of coming at last
to the slopes and shadows of Balnillo, he knew that the wideness of
the world was his natural home. Then he thought of Bergen-op-Zoom.
. . .

After a while he raised his head again, roused, not by the streak of
light that was growing upon the east, but by a shot that shattered the
silence and sent the echoes rolling out from Dial Hill.

Continue Reading

ADRIFT

ARCHIE rode along in a dream. He had gone straight out of the garden,
taken his horse from the stable, and ridden back to Forfar, following
the blind resolution to escape from Ardguys before he should have time
to realize what it was costing him. He had changed horses at the
posting-house, and turned his face along the way he had come. Through
his pain and perplexity the only thing that stood fast was his
determination not to return to Balnillo. “I will go now,” he had said
to Madam Flemington, and he had gone without another word, keeping his
very thoughts within the walled circle of his resolution, lest they
should turn to look at familiar things that might thrust out hands
full of old memories to hold him back.

In the middle of his careless life he found himself cut adrift without
warning from those associations that he now began to feel he had
valued too little, taken for granted too much.

Balnillo was impossible for him, and in consequence he was to be a
stranger in his own home. Madam Flemington had made no concession and
had put no term to his banishment, and though he could not believe
that such a state of things could last, and that one sudden impulse of
hers could hurl him out of her life for ever, she, who had lived for
him, had told him that she would “do without him.” Then, as he assured
himself of this, from that dim recess wherein a latent truth hides
until some outside light flashes upon its lair, came the realization
that she had not lived for him alone. She had lived for him that she
might make him into the instrument she desired, a weapon fashioned to
her hand, wherewith she might return blow for blow.

All at once the thought made him spiritually sick, and the glory and
desirableness of life seemed to fade. He could not see through its
dark places, dark where all had been sunshine. He had been a boy
yesterday, a man only by virtue of his astounding courage and
resource, but he was awakening from boyhood, and manhood was hard. His
education had begun, and he could not value the education of pain–the
soundest, the most costly one there is–any more than any of us do
whilst it lasts. He did not think, any more than any of us think, that
perhaps when we come to lie on our death-beds we shall know that, of
all the privileges of the life behind us, the greatest has been the
privilege of having suffered and fought.

All he knew was that his heart ached, that he had disappointed and
estranged the person he loved best, and had lost, at any rate
temporarily, the home that had been so dear. But hope would not desert
him, in spite of everything. Madam Flemington had gone very wide of
the mark in suspecting him of any leaning towards the Stuarts, and she
would soon understand how little intention he had of turning rebel.
There was still work for him to do. He had been given a free hand in
details, and he would go to Brechin for the night; to-morrow he must
decide what to do. Possibly he would ask to be transferred to some
other place. But nothing that heaven or earth could offer him should
make him betray Logie.

Madam Flemington had seen him go, in ignorance of whether he had gone
in obedience or in revolt. Perhaps she imagined that her arguments and
the hateful story she had laid bare to him had prevailed, and that he
was returning to his unfinished portrait. In the excitement of his
interview with her, he had not told her anything but that he refused
definitely to spy upon James any more.

He had started for Ardguys so early, and had been there such a short
time, that he was back in Forfar by noon. There he left his horse,
and, mounting another, set off for Brechin. He was within sight of its
ancient round tower, grey among the yellowing trees above the South
Esk, when close to his left hand there rose the shrill screech of a
pipe, cutting into his abstraction of mind like a sharp stab of pain.
It was so loud and sudden that the horse leaped to the farther side of
the road, snorting, and Flemington, sitting loosely, nearly lost his
seat. He pulled up the astonished animal, and peered into a thicket of
alder growing by the wayside. The ground was marshy, and the stunted
trees were set close, but, dividing their branches, he saw behind
their screen an open patch in the midst of which was Skirling Wattie’s
cart. His jovial face seemed to illuminate the spot.

“Dod!” exclaimed the piper, “ye was near doon! A’d no seek to change
wi’ you. A’m safer wi’ ma’ doags than you wi’ yon horse. What ailed ye
that ye gae’d awa’ frae Balnillo?”

“Private matters,” said Archie shortly.

“Aweel, they private matters was no far frae putting me i’ the
tolbooth. What gar’d ye no tell me ye was gaein’?”

“Have you got a letter for me?” said Flemington, as Wattie began to
draw up his sliding-board.

“Ay, there’s ane. But just wait you, ma lad, till a tell ye what a was
sayin’ to auld Davie—-”

“Never mind what you said to Lord Balnillo,” broke in Flemington; “I
want my letter.”

He slipped from the saddle and looped the rein over his arm.

“Dinna bring yon brute near me!” cried Wattie, as horse and man began
to crush through the alders. “A’m fell feared o’ they unchancy
cattle.”

Archie made an impatient sound and threw the rein over a stump. He
approached the cart, and the yellow dog, who was for once lying down,
opened his wary golden eyes, watching each movement that brought the
intruder nearer to his master without raising his head.

“You are not often on this side of Brechin,” said Archie, as the
beggar handed him the packet.

“Fegs, na!” returned Wattie, “but auld Davie an’ his tolbooth’s on the
ither side o’t an’ it’s no safe yonder. It’s yersel’ I hae to thank
for that, Mr. Flemington. A didna ken whaur ye was, sae a gae’d up to
the muckle hoose to speer for ye. The auld stock came doon himsel’.
Dod! the doag gar’d him loup an’ the pipes gar’d him skelloch. But he
tell’t me whaur ye was.”

“Plague take you! did you go there asking for me?” cried Archie.

“What was a to dae? A tell’t Davie ye was needin’ me to lairn ye a
sang! ‘The painter-lad was seekin’ me,’ says I, ‘an’ he tell’t me to
come in-by.'”

Flemington’s annoyance deepened. He did not know what the zeal of this
insufferable rascal had led him to say or do in his name, and he had
the rueful sense that the tangle he had paid such a heavy price to
escape from was complicating round him. The officious familiarity of
the piper exasperated him, and he resented Government’s choice of such
a tool. He put the letter in his pocket, and began to back out of the
thicket. He would read his instructions by himself.

“Hey! ye’re no awa’, man?” cried Wattie.

“I have no time to waste,” said Flemington, his foot in the stirrup.

“But ye’ve no tell’t me whaur ye’re gaein’!”

“Brechin!”

Archie called the word over his shoulder, and started off at a trot,
which he kept up until he had left the alder-bushes some way behind
him.

Then he broke the seal of his letter, and found that he was to convey
the substance of each report that he sent in, not only to His
Majesty’s intelligence officer at Perth, but to Captain Hall, of the
English ship _Venture_, that was lying under Ferryden. He was to
proceed at once to the vessel, to which further instructions for him
would be sent in a couple of days’ time.

He pocketed the letter and drew a breath of relief, blessing the
encounter that he had just cursed, for a road of escape from his
present difficulty began to open before him. He must take to his own
feet on the other side of Brechin, and go straight to the _Venture_.
He would be close to Montrose, in communication with it, though not
within the precincts of the town, and safe from the chance of running
against Logie. Balnillo and his brother would not know what had become
of him, and Christian Flemington would be cured of her suspicions by
the simple testimony of his whereabouts.

He would treat the two days that he had spent at the judge’s house as
if they had dropped out of his life, and merely report his late
presence in Montrose to the captain of the sloop. He would describe
his watching of the two men who came out of ‘The Happy Land,’ and how
he had followed them to the harbour through the darkness; how he had
seen them stop opposite the ship’s light as they discussed their
plans; how he had tried to secure the paper they held. He would tell
the captain that he believed some design against the ship to be on
foot, but he would not let Logie’s name pass his lips; and he would
deny any knowledge of the identity of either man, lest the mention of
Ferrier should confirm the suspicions of those who guessed he was
working with James. When he had reported himself to Perth from the
ship, he would no longer be brought into contact with Skirling Wattie,
which at that moment struck him as an advantage.

The evenings had begun to close in early. As he crossed the Esk bridge
and walked out of Brechin, the dusk was enwrapping its parapet like a
veil. He hurried on, and struck out along the road that would lead him
to Ferryden by the southern shore of the Basin. His way ran up a long
ascent, and when he stood at the top of the hill the outline of the
moon’s disc was rising, faint behind the thin cloudy bank that rested
on the sea beyond Montrose. There was just enough daylight left to
show him the Basin lying between him and the broken line of the town’s
twinkling lights under the muffled moon.

It was quite dark when he stood at last within hail of the _Venture_.
As he went along the bank at the Esk’s mouth, he could see before him
the cluster of houses that formed Ferryden village, and the North Sea
beyond it, a formless void in the night, with the tide far out. Though
the moon was well up, the cloud-bank had risen with her, and taken all
sharpness out of the atmosphere.

At his left hand the water crawled slithering at the foot of the
sloping bank, like a dark, full-fed snake, and not thirty yards out,
just where it broadened, stretching to the quays of Montrose, the
vessel lay at anchor, a stationary blot on the slow movement.
Upstream, between her and the Basin, the wedge-shaped island of
Inchbrayock split the mass of water into two portions.

Flemington halted, taking in the dark scene, which he had contemplated
from its reverse side only a few nights ago. Then he went down to the
water and put his hands round his mouth.

“_Venture_ ahoy!” he shouted.

There was no movement on the ship. He waited, and then called again,
with the same result. Through an open porthole came a man’s laugh,
sudden, as though provoked by some unexpected jest. The water was deep
here, and the ship lay so near that every word was carried across it
to the shore.

The laugh exasperated him. He threw all the power of his lungs into
another shout.

“Who goes there?” said a voice.

“Friend,” replied Archie; and, fearing to be asked for a countersign,
he called quickly, “Despatches for Captain Hall.”

“Captain Hall is ashore,” announced a second voice, “and no one boards
us till he returns.”

The _Venture_ was near enough to the bank for Archie to hear some
derisive comment, the words of which he could not completely
distinguish. A suppressed laugh followed.

“Damn it!” he cried, “am I to be kept here all night?”

“Like enough, if you mean to wait for the captain.”

This reply came from the open porthole, in which the light was
obliterated by the head of the man who spoke.

There was a sound as of someone pulling him back by the heels, and the
port was an eye of light again.

Flemington turned and went up the bank, and as he reached the top and
sprang on to the path he ran into a short, stoutish figure which was
beginning to descend. An impatient expletive burst from it.

“You needn’t hurry, sir,” said Archie, as the other hailed the vessel
querulously; “you are not likely to get on board?”

“What? what? Not board my own ship?”

Flemington was a good deal taken aback. He could not see much in the
clouded night, but no impression of authority seemed to emanate from
the indistinguishable person beside him.

“Ten thousand pardons, sir!” exclaimed the young man. “You are Captain
Hall? I have information for you, and am sent by His Majesty’s
intelligence officer in Perth to report myself to you. Flemington is
my name.”

For a minute the little man said nothing, and Archie felt rather than
saw his fidgety movements. He seemed to be hesitating.

A boat was being put off from the ship. She lay so near to them that a
mere push from her side brought the craft almost into the bank.

“It is so dark that I must show you my credentials on board,” said
Archie, taking Captain Hall’s acquiescence for granted.

He heard his companion drawing in his breath nervously through his
teeth. No opposition was made as he stepped into the boat.

When he stood on deck beside Hall the ship was quiet and the sounds of
laughter were silent. He had the feeling that everyone on board had
got out of the way on purpose as he followed the captain down the
companion to his cabin. As the latter opened the door the light within
revealed him plainly for the first time.

He was a small ginger-haired man, whose furtive eyes were set very
close to a thin-bridged, aquiline nose; his gait was remarkable
because he trotted rather than walked; his restless fingers rubbed one
another as he spoke. He looked peevish and a little dissipated, and
his manner conveyed the idea that he felt himself to have no business
where he was. As Archie remarked that, he told himself that it was a
characteristic he had never yet seen in a seaman. His dress was
careless, and a wine-stain on his cravat caught his companion’s eye.
He had the personality of a rabbit.

Hall did not sit down, but stood at the farther side of the table
looking with a kind of grudging intentness at his guest, and
Flemington was inclined to laugh, in spite of the heavy heart he had
carried all day. The other moved about with undecided steps. When at
last he sat down, just under the swinging lamp, Archie was certain
that, though he could be called sober, he had been drinking.

“Your business, sir,” he began, in a husky voice. “I must tell you
that I am fatigued. I had hoped to go to bed in peace.”

He paused, leaning back, and surveyed Flemington with injured
distaste.

“There is no reason that you should not,” replied Archie boldly. “I
have had a devilish hard day myself. Give me a corner to lie in
to-night, and I will give you the details of my report quickly.”

He saw that he would meet with no opposition from Hall, whose one idea
was to spare himself effort, and that his own quarters on board the
_Venture_ were sure. No doubt long practice had enabled the man to
look less muddled than he felt. He sat down opposite to him.

The other put out his hand, as though to ward him off.

“I have no leisure for business to-night,” he said. “This is not the
time for it.”

“All the same, I have orders from Perth to report myself to you, as I
have told you already,” said Archie. “If you will listen, I will try
to make myself clear without troubling you to read anything. I have
information to give which you should hear at once.”

“I tell you that I cannot attend to you,” said Hall.

“I shall not keep you long. You do not realize that it is important,
sir.”

“Am I to be dictated to?” exclaimed the other, raising his voice.
“This is my own ship, Mr. Flem–Fling–Fl—-”

The name presented so much difficulty to Hall that it died away in a
tangled murmur, and Archie saw that to try to make him understand
anything important in his present state would be labour lost.

“Well, sir,” said he, “I will tell you at once that I suspect an
attack on you is brewing in Montrose. I believe that it may happen at
any moment. Having delivered myself of that, I had best leave you.”

The word “attack” found its way to the captain’s brain.

“It’s impossible!” he exclaimed crossly. “Why, plague on’t, I’ve got
all the town guns! Nonsense, sir–no’sense! Come, I will call for a
bottle of wine, ‘n you can go. There’s an empty bunk, I s’pose.”

The order was given and the wine was brought. Archie noticed that the
man who set the bottle and the two glasses on the table threw a casual
look at Hall’s hand, which shook as he helped his guest. He had eaten
little since morning, and drunk less. Now that he had attained his
object, and found himself in temporary shelter and temporary peace, be
realized how glad he was of the wine. When, after a single glassful,
he rose to follow the sailor who came to show him his bunk, he turned
to bid good-night to Hall. The light hanging above the captain’s head
revealed every line, every contour of his face with merciless candour;
and Flemington could see that no lover, counting the minutes till he
should be left with his mistress, had ever longed more eagerly to be
alone with her than this man longed to be alone with the bottle before
him.

Archie threw himself thankfully into his bunk. There was evidently
room for him on the ship, for there was no trace of another occupant
in the little cabin; nevertheless, it looked untidy and unswept. The
port close to which he lay was on the starboard side of the vessel,
and looked across the strait towards the town. The lamps were nearly
all extinguished on the quays, and only here and there a yellow spot
of light made a faint ladder in the water. The pleasant trickling
sound outside was soothing, with its impersonal, monotonous whisper.
He wondered how long Hall would sit bemusing himself at the table, and
what the discipline of a ship commanded by this curiously ineffective
personality could be. To-morrow he must make out his story to the
little man. He could not reproach himself with having postponed his
report, for he knew that Hall’s brain, which might possibly be clearer
in the morning, was incapable of taking in any but the simplest
impressions to-night.

Tired as he was, he did not sleep for a long time. The scenes of the
past few days ran through his head one after another–now they
appeared unreal, now almost visible to his eyes. Sometimes the space
of time they covered seemed age-long, sometimes a passing flash. This
was Saturday night, and all the events that had culminated in the
disjointing of his life had been crowded into it since Monday. On
Monday he had not suspected what lay in himself. He would have gibed
had he been told that another man’s personality, a page out of another
man’s history, could play such havoc with his own interests.

He wondered what James was doing. Was he–now–over there in the
darkness, looking across the rolling, sea-bound water straight to the
spot on which he lay? Would he–could space be obliterated and night
illumined–look up to find his steady eyes upon him? He lay quiet,
marvelling, speculating. Then Logie, the shadowy town, the burning
autumn-trees of Balnillo, the tulips round the house in far-away
Holland, fell away from his mind, and in their place was the familiar
background of Ardguys, the Ardguys of his childhood, with the
silver-haired figure of Madam Flemington confronting him; that
terrible, unsparing presence wrapped about with something greater and
more arresting than mere beauty; the quality that had wrought on him
since he was a little lad. He turned about with a convulsive breath
that was almost a sob.

Then, at last, he slept soundly, to be awakened just at dawn by the
roar of a gun, followed by a rattle of small shot, and the frantic
hurrying of feet overhead.

Continue Reading

“TOUJOURS DE L’AUDACE”

“DOAG,” said the beggar, addressing the yellow cur, “you an’ me’ll
need to be speerin’ aboot this. Whiles, it’s no sae easy tellin’
havers frae truth.”

Though Skirling Wattie was on good terms with the whole of his team,
the member of it whom he singled out for complete confidence, whom he
regarded as an employer might regard the foreman of a working gang,
was the yellow cur. The abuse he poured over the heads of his servants
was meant more as incentive than as rebuke, and he fed them well,
sharing his substance honestly with them, and looking to them for
arduous service in return. They were a faithful, intelligent lot,
good-tempered, but for one of the collies, and the accepted
predominance of the yellow cur was merely one more illustration of the
triumph of personality. His golden eyes, clear, like unclouded amber,
contrasted with the thick and vulgar yellow of his close coat, and the
contrast was like that between spirit and flesh. He was a strong,
untiring creature, with blunt jaws and legs that seemed to be made of
steel, and it was characteristic of him that he seldom laid down but
at night, and would stand turned in his traces as though waiting for
orders, looking towards his master as the latter sang or piped, whilst
his comrades, extended in the dust, took advantage of the halt.

The party was drawn up under the lee of a low wall by the grassy side
of the Brechin road, and its grotesqueness seemed greater than ever
because of its entirely unsuitable background.

The wall encircled the site of an ancient building called Magdalen
Chapel, which had long been ruined, and now only survived in one
detached fragment and in the half-obliterated traces of its
foundations. Round it the tangled grass rose, and a forest of withered
hemlock that had nearly choked out the nettles, stood up, traced like
lacework against the line of hills beyond the Basin. In summer its
powdery white threw an evanescent grace over the spot. The place was a
haunt of Skirling Wattie’s, for it was a convenient half-way house
between Montrose and Brechin, and the trees about it gave a comforting
shelter from both sun and rain.

The tailboard of the cart was turned to the wall so that the piper
could lean his broad back against it, and there being not a dozen
inches between the bottom of his cart and the ground, he was hidden
from anyone who might chance to be in the chapel precincts. The
projecting stone which made a stile for those who entered the
enclosure was just level with his shoulder, and he had laid his pipes
on it while he sat with folded arms and considered the situation. He
had just been begging at a farm, and he had heard a rumour there that
Archie Flemington was gone from Balnillo, and had been seen in
Brechin, riding westwards, on the preceding morning. The beggar had
got a letter for him behind his sliding boards which had to be
delivered without delay.

“Doag,” said he again, “we’ll awa’ to auld Davie’s.”

Skirling Wattie distrusted rumour, for the inexactitudes of human
observation and human tongues are better known to a man who lives by
his wits than to anybody else. He was not going to accept this news
without sifting it. To Balnillo he would go to find out whether the
report was true. The only drawback was that “auld Davie,” as he called
the judge, abhorred and disapproved of beggars, and he did not know
how he might stay in the place long enough to find out what he wanted.
He was a privileged person at most houses, from the sea on the east to
Forfar on the west, but Lord Balnillo would none of him. Nevertheless,
he turned the wheels of his chariot in his direction.

He wondered, as he went along, why he had not seen Archie by the way;
but Archie had not left Balnillo by the Brechin road, being anxious to
avoid him. What was the use of receiving instructions that he could
not bring himself to carry out? The last person he wished to meet was
the beggar.

Wattie turned into the Balnillo gates and went up the avenue towards
the stable. His pipes were silent, and the fallen leaves muffled the
sound of his wheels. He knew about the mishap that had brought
Flemington as a guest to the judge, and about the portrait he was
painting, for tidings of all the happenings in the house reached the
mill sooner or later. That source of gossip was invaluable to him.
But, though the miller had confirmed the report that Flemington had
gone, he had been unable to tell him his exact destination.

He drove into the stable yard and found it empty but for a man who was
chopping wood. The latter paused between his strokes as he saw who had
arrived.

“A’m seekin’ his lordship,” began Wattie, by way of discovering how
the land lay.

“Then ye’ll no find him,” replied the woodman, who was none other than
the elder, Andrew Robieson, and who, like his master, disapproved
consistently of the beggar. He was a sly old man, and he did not think
it necessary to tell the intruder that the judge, though not in the
house, was within hearing of the pipes. It was his boast that he “left
a’ to Providence,” but he was not above an occasional shaping of
events to suit himself.

The beggar rolled up to the back-door at the brisk pace he reserved
for public occasions. A shriek of delight came from the kitchen window
as the blast of his pipes buzzed and droned across the yard. The tune
of the ‘East Nauk of Fife’ filled the place. A couple of maidservants
came out and stood giggling as Wattie acknowledged their presence by a
wag of the head that spoke gallantry, patronage, ribaldry–anything
that a privileged old rogue can convey to young womanhood blooming
near the soil. A groom came out of the stable and joined the group.

The feet of the girls were tapping the ground. The beggar’s expression
grew more genially provocative, and his eyeballs rolled more
recklessly as he blew and blew; his time was perfect. The groom, who
was dancing, began to compose steps on his own account. Suddenly there
was a whirl of petticoats, and he had seized one of the girls round
the middle.

They spun and counter-spun; now loosing each other for the more
serious business of each one’s individual steps, now enlacing again,
seeming flung together by some resistless elemental wind. The man’s
gaze, while he danced alone, was fixed on his own feet as though he
were chiding them, admiring them, directing them through niceties
which only himself could appreciate. His partner’s hair came down and
fell in a loop of dull copper-colour over her back. She was a
finely-made girl, and each curve of her body seemed to be surging
against the agitated sheath of her clothes. The odd-woman-out circled
round the pair like a fragment thrown off by the spin of some
travelling meteor. The passion for dancing that is even now part of
the life of Angus had caught all three, let loose upon them by the
piper’s handling of sound and rhythm.

In the full tide of their intoxication, a door in the high wall of the
yard opened and Lord Balnillo came through it. The fragment broke from
its erratic orbit and fled into the house with a scream; the meteor, a
whirling twin-star, rushed on, unseeing. The piper, who saw well
enough, played strong and loud; not the king himself could have
stopped him in the middle of a strathspey. The yellow dog, on his feet
among his reposing companions, showed a narrow white line between his
lips, and the hackles rose upon his plebeian neck.

“Silence!” cried Lord Balnillo. But the rest of his words were drowned
by the yell of the pipes.

As the dancers drew asunder again, they saw him and stopped. His wrath
was centred on the beggar, and man and maid slunk away unrebuked.

Wattie finished his tune conscientiously. To Balnillo, impotent in the
hurricane of braying reeds, each note that kept him dumb was a new
insult, and he could see the knowledge of that fact in the piper’s
face. As the music ceased, the beggar swept off his bonnet, displaying
his disreputable bald head, and bowed like the sovereign of some
jovial and misgoverned kingdom. The yellow dog’s attitude forbade
Balnillo’s nearer approach.

“Go!” shouted the judge, pointing a shaking forefinger into space.
“Out with you instantly! Is my house to be turned into a house of call
for every thief and vagabond in Scotland? Have I not forbidden you my
gates? Begone from here immediately, or I will send for my men to
cudgel you out!”

But he leaped back, for he had taken a step forward in his excitement,
and the yellow cur’s teeth were bare.

“A’m seekin’ the painter-laddie,” said the beggar, giving the dog a
good-humoured cuff.

“Away with you!” cried the other, unheeding. “You are a plague to the
neighbourhood. I will have you put in Montrose jail! To-morrow, I
promise you, you will find yourself where you cannot make gentlemen’s
houses into pandemoniums with your noise.”

“A’d like Brechin better,” rejoined the beggar; “it’s couthier in
there.”

Balnillo was a humane man, and he prided himself, as all the world
knew, on some improvements he had suggested in the Montrose prison. He
was speechless.

“Ay,” continued Wattie, “a’m thinkin’ you’ve sent mony a better man
than mysel’ to the tolbooth. But, dod! a’m no mindin’ that. A’m asking
ye, _whaur’s the painter-lad?_”

One of Balnillo’s fatal qualities was his power of turning in
mid-career of wrath or eloquence to daily with side-issues.

He swallowed the fury rising to his lips.

“What! Mr. Flemington?” he stammered. “What do you want of Mr.
Flemington?”

“Is yon what they ca’ him? Well, a’m no seekin’ onything o’ him. It’s
him that’s seekin’ me.”

Astonishment put everything else out of Balnillo’s mind. He glared at
the intruder, his lips pursed, his fingers working.

“He tell’t me to come in-by to the muckle hoose and speer for him,”
said the other. “There was a sang he was needin’. He was seekin’ to
lairn it, for he liket it fine, an’ he tell’t me to come awa’ to the
hoose and lairn him. Dod! maybe he’s forgotten. Callants like him’s
whiles sweer to mind what they say, but auld stocks like you an’ me’s
got mair sense.”

“I do not believe a word of it,” protested Balnillo.

“Hoots! ye’ll hae to try, or the puir lad ‘ll no get his sang,”
exclaimed Skirling Wattie, smiling broadly. “Just you cry on him to
come down the stair, an’ we’ll awa’ ahint the back o’ yon wa’, an’
a’ll lairn him the music! It’s this way.”

He unscrewed the chanter and blew a few piercing notes. The sound flew
into the judge’s face like the impact of a shower of pebbles. He
clapped his hands to his ears.

“I tell you Mr. Flemington is not here!” he bawled, raising his voice
above the din. “He is gone. He is at Ardguys by this time.”

“Man, is yon true? Ye’re no leein’?” exclaimed Wattie, dropping his
weapon.

“Is yon the way to speak to his lordship?” said the deep voice of
Andrew Robieson, who had come up silently, his arms full of wood,
behind the beggar’s cart.

“Turn this vagabond away!” exclaimed Balnillo, almost beside himself.
“Send for the men; bring a horsewhip from the stable! Impudent rogue!
Go, Robieson–quick, man!”

But Wattie’s switch was in his hand, and the dogs were already
turning; before the elder had time to reach the stables, he had passed
out under the clock and was disappearing between the trees of the
avenue. He had learned what he wished to know, and the farther side of
Brechin would be the best place for him for the next few days. He
reflected that fortune had favoured him in keeping Captain Logie out
of the way. There would have been no parleying with Captain Logie.

Continue Reading

THE HEAVY HAND

IT was on the following day that Lord Balnillo stood in front of a
three-quarter length canvas in the improvised studio; Archie had begun
to put on the colour that morning, and the judge had come quietly
upstairs to study the first dawnings of his own countenance alone.
From the midst of a chaos of paint his features were beginning to
appear, like the sun through a fog. He had brought a small hand-glass
with him, tucked away under his velvet coat where it could not be
seen, and he now produced it and began to compare his face with the
one before him. Flemington was a quick worker, and though he had been
given only two sittings, there was enough on the canvas to prompt the
gratified smile on the old man’s lips. He looked alternately at his
reflection and at the judicial figure on the easel; Archie had a
tactful brush. But though Balnillo was pleased, he could not help
sighing, for he wished fervently that his ankles had been included in
the picture. He stooped and ran his hand lovingly down his silk
stockings. Then he took up the glass again and began to compose his
expression into the rather more lofty one with which Flemington had
supplied him.

In the full swing of his occupation he turned round to find the
painter standing in the doorway, but he was just too late to catch the
sudden flash of amusement that played across Archie’s face as he saw
what the judge was doing. Balnillo thrust the glass out of sight and
confronted his guest.

“I thought you had gone for a stroll, sir,” he said rather stiffly.

“My lord,” exclaimed Flemington, “I have been searching for you
everywhere. I’ve come, with infinite regret, to tell you that I must
return to Ardguys at once.”

Balnillo’s jaw dropped.

“I have just met a messenger on the road,” said the other; “he has
brought news that my grandmother is taken ill, and I must hurry home.
It is most unfortunate, most disappointing; but go I must.”

“Tut, tut, tut!” exclaimed the old man, clicking his tongue against
his teeth and forgetting to hope, as politeness decreed he should,
that the matter was not serious.

“It is a heart-attack,” said Archie.

“Tut, tut,” said Balnillo again. “I am most distressed to hear it; I
am indeed.”

“I _may_ be able to come back and finish the picture later.”

“I hope so. I sincerely hope so. I was just studying the admirable
likeness when you came in,” said Balnillo, who would have given a
great deal to know how much of his posturing Flemington had seen.

“Ah, my lord!” cried Archie, “a poor devil like me has no chance with
you! I saw the mirror in your hand. We painters use a piece of
looking-glass to correct our drawing, but it is few of our sitters who
know that trick.”

Guilty dismay was chased by relief across Balnillo’s countenance.

“You are too clever for me!” laughed Flemington. “How did you learn
it, may I ask?”

But Balnillo had got his presence of mind back.

“Casually, Mr. Flemington, casually–as one learns many things, if one
keeps one’s ears open,” said he.

A couple of hours later Archie was on his way home. He had left one
horse, still disabled, in the judge’s stable, and he was riding the
other into Brechin, where he would get a fresh one to take him on.
Balnillo had persuaded him to leave his belongings where they were
until he knew what chance there was of an early return. He had parted
from Archie with reluctance. Although the portrait was the old man’s
principal interest, its maker counted for much with him; for it was
some time since his ideas had been made to move as they always moved
in Flemington’s presence. The judge got much pleasure out of his own
curiosity; and the element of the unexpected–that fascinating factor
which had been introduced into domestic life–was a continual joy.
Balnillo had missed it more than he knew since he had become a
completely rural character.

Archie saw the Basin of Montrose drop behind him as he rode away with
a stir of mixed feelings. The net that Logie had, in all ignorance,
spread for him had entangled his feet. He had never conceived a like
situation, and it startled him to discover that a difficulty, nowhere
touching the tangible, could be so potent, so disastrous. He felt like
a man who has been tripped up and who suddenly finds himself on the
ground. He had risen and fled.

The position had become intolerable. He told himself in his impetuous
way that it was more than he could bear; and now, every bit of luck he
had turned to account, every precaution he had taken, all the
ingenuity he had used to land himself in the hostile camp, were to go
for nothing, because some look in his face, some droop of the eyes,
had reminded another man of his own past, and had let loose in him an
overwhelming impulse to expression.

“Remember what I told you yesterday,” had been James’s last words as
Flemington put his foot in the stirrup. “There must be no more
challenges.”

It was that high-coloured flower of his own imagination, the picture
of himself in the servants’ hall, that had finally accomplished his
defeat. How could he betray the man who was ready to share his purse
with him?

And, putting the matter of the purse aside, his painter’s imagination
was set alight. The glow of the tulips and the strange house by the
winding water, the slim vision of Diane de Montdelys, the gallant
background of the Scots Brigade, the grave at Bergen-op-Zoom–these
things were like a mirage behind the figure of James. The power of
seeing things picturesquely is a gift that can turn into a curse, and
that power worked on his emotional and imaginative side now. And
furthermore, beyond what might be called the ornamental part of his
difficulty, he realized that friendship with James, had he been free
to offer or to accept it, would have been a lifelong prize.

They had spent the preceding day together after the sitting was over,
and though Logie had opened his heart no more, and their talk had been
of the common interests of men’s lives, it had strengthened Archie’s
resolve to end the situation and to save himself while there was yet
time. There was nothing for it but flight. He had told the judge that
he would try to return, but he did not mean to enter the gates of
Balnillo again, not while the country was seething with Prince
Charlie’s plots; perhaps never. He would remember James all his life,
but he hoped that their ways might never cross again. And, behind
that, there was regret; regret for the friend who might have been his,
who, in his secret heart, would be his always.

He could, even now, hardly realize that he had been actually turned
from his purpose. It seemed to him incredible. But there was one thing
more incredible still, and that was that he could raise his hand to
strike again at the man who had been stricken so terribly, and with
the same weapon of betrayal. It would be as if James lay wounded on a
battle-field and he should come by to stab him anew. The blow he
should deal him would have nothing to do with the past, but Archie
felt that James had so connected him in mind with the memory of the
woman he resembled–had, by that one burst of confidence, given him so
much part in the sacred kingdom of remembrance wherein she dwelt–that
it would be almost as if something from out of the past had struck at
him across her grave.

Archie sighed, weary and sick with Fate’s ironic jests. There were
some things he could not do.

The two men had avoided politics. Though Flemington’s insinuations had
conveyed to the brothers that he was like-minded with themselves, the
Prince’s name was not mentioned. There was so much brewing in James’s
brain that the very birds of the air must not hear. Sorry as he was
when Flemington met him with the news of his unexpected recall, he had
decided that it was well the young man should go. When this time of
stress was over, when–and if–the cause he served should prevail, he
would seek out Archie. The “if” was very clear to James, for he had
seen enough of men and causes, of troops and campaigns and the
practical difficulties of great movements, to know that he was
spending himself in what might well be a forlorn hope. But none the
less was he determined to see it through, for his heart was deep in
it, and besides that, he had the temperament that is attracted by
forlorn hopes.

He was a reticent man, in spite of the opening of that page in his
life which he had laid before Flemington; and reticent characters are
often those most prone to rare and unexpected bouts of
self-revelation. But when the impulse is past, and the load ever
present with them has been lightened for a moment, they will thrust it
yet farther back behind the door of their lips, and give the key a
double turn. He had enjoined Flemington to come to him as he would
come to a brother for assistance, and it had seemed to Archie that
life would have little more to offer had it only given him a brother
like James. A cloud was on his spirit as he neared Brechin.

When he left the inn and would have paid the landlord, he thrust his
hand into his pocket to discover a thin sealed packet at the bottom of
it; he drew it out, and found to his surprise that, though his name
was on it, it was unopened, and that he had never seen it before.
While he turned it over something told him that the unknown
handwriting it bore was that of James Logie. The coat he wore had hung
in the hall at Balnillo since the preceding night, and the packet must
have been slipped into it before he started.

As he rode along he broke the seal. The paper it contained had neither
beginning nor signature, yet he knew that his guess was right.

“You will be surprised at finding this,” he read, “but I wish you to
read it when there are some miles between us. In these disturbed days
it is not possible to tell when we may meet again. Should you return,
I may be here or I may be gone God knows where, and for reasons of
which I need not speak, my brother may be the last man to know where I
am. But for the sake of all I spoke of yesterday, I ask you to believe
that I am your friend. Do not forget that, in any strait, I am at your
back. Because it is true, I give you these two directions: a message
carried to Rob Smith’s Tavern in the Castle Wynd at Stirling will
reach me eventually, wheresoever I am. Nearer home you may hear of me
also. There is a little house on the Muir of Pert, the only house on
the north side of the Muir, a mile west of the fir-wood. The man who
lives there is in constant touch with me. If you should find yourself
in urgent need, I will send you the sum of one hundred pounds through
him.

“Flemington, you will make no hesitation in the matter. You will take
it for the sake of one I have spoken of to none but you, these years
and years past.”

And now he had to go home and to tell Madam Flemington that he had
wantonly thrown away all the advantages gained in the last three days,
that he had tossed them to the wind for a mere sentimental scruple! So
far he had never quarrelled with his occupation; but now, because it
had brought him up against a soldier of fortune whose existence he had
been unaware of a few weeks ago, he had sacrificed it and played a
sorry trick on his own prospects at the same time. He was trusted and
valued by his own party, and, in spite of his youth, had given it
excellent service again and again. He could hardly expect the
determined woman who had made him what he was to see eye to eye with
him.

Christian Flemington had kept her supremacy over her grandson.
Parental authority was a much stronger thing in the mid-eighteenth
century than it is now, and she stood in the position of a parent to
him. His French blood and her long residence in France had made their
relationship something like that of a French mother and son, and she
had all his confidence in his young man’s scrapes, for she recognized
phases of life that are apt to be ignored by English parents in
dealing with their children. She had cut him loose from her
apron-strings early, but she had moulded him with infinite care before
she let him go. There was a touch of genius in Archie, a flicker of
what she called the _feu sacré_, and she had kept it burning before
her own shrine. The fine unscrupulousness that was her main
characteristic, her manner of breasting the tide of circumstance full
sail, awed and charmed him. For all his boldness and initiative, his
devil-may-care independence of will, and his originality in the
conduct of his affairs, he had never freed his inner self from her
thrall, and she held him by the strong impression she had made on his
imagination years and years ago. She had set her mark upon the plastic
character of the little boy whom she had beaten for painting Mr.
Duthie’s gate-post. That was an episode which he had never forgotten,
which he always thought of with a smile; and while he remembered the
sting of her cane, he also remembered her masterly routing of his
enemy before she applied it. She had punished him with the
thoroughness that was hers, but she had never allowed the minister to
know what she had done. Technically she had been on the side of the
angels, but in reality she had stood by the culprit. In spirit they
had resented Mr. Duthie together.

He slept at Forfar that night, and pushed on again next morning; and
as he saw the old house across the dip, and heard the purl of the burn
at the end of his journey, something in his heart failed him. The
liquid whisper of the water through the fine, rushlike grass spoke to
him of childhood and of the time when there was no world but Ardguys,
no monarch but Madam Flemington. He seemed to feel her influence
coming out to meet him at every step his horse took. How could he tell
his news? How could he explain what he had done? They had never
touched on ethical questions, he and she.

As he came up the muddy road between the ash-trees he felt the chilly
throe, the intense spiritual discomfort, that attends our plunges from
one atmosphere into another. It is the penalty of those who live their
lives with every nerve and fibre, who take fervent part in the lives
of other people, to suffer acutely in the struggle to loose themselves
from an environment they have just quitted, and to meet an impending
one without distress. But it is no disproportionate price to pay for
learning life as a whole. Also, it is the only price accepted.

He put his horse into the stable and went to the garden, being told
that Madam Flemington was there. The day was warm and bright, and as
he swung the gate to behind him he saw her sitting on a seat at the
angle of the farther wall. She rose at the click of the latch, and
came up the grass path to meet him between a line of espalier
apple-trees and a row of phlox on which October had still left a few
red and white blossoms.

The eighteen years that had gone by since the episode of the manse
gate-post had not done much to change her appearance. The shrinking
and obliterating of personality which comes with the passing of middle
life had not begun its work on her, and at sixty-one she was more
imposing than ever. She had grown a great deal stouter, but the
distribution of flesh had been even, and she carried her bulk with a
kind of self-conscious triumph, as a ship carries her canvas. A brown
silk mantle woven with a pattern of flower-bouquets was round her
shoulders, and she held its thick folds together with one hand; in the
other she carried the book she had been reading. Her hair was as
abundant as ever, and had grown no whiter. The sun struck on its
silver, and red flashes came from the rubies in her ears.

She said nothing as Archie approached, but her eyes spoke inquiry and
a shadow of softness flickered over so slightly round her broad lips.
She was pleased to see him, but the shadow was caused less by her
affection for him than by her appreciation of the charming figure he
presented, seen thus suddenly and advancing with so much grace of
movement in the sunlight. She stopped short when he was within a few
steps of her, and, dropping her book upon the ground without troubling
to see where it fell, held out her hand for him to kiss. He touched it
with his lips, and then, thrusting his arm into the phlox-bushes, drew
out the volume that had landed among them. From between the leaves
dropped a folded paper, on which he recognized his own handwriting.

“This is a surprise,” said Madam Flemington, looking her grandson up
and down.

“I have ridden. My baggage is left at Balnillo.”

The moment of explanation would have to come, but his desire was to
put it off as long as possible.

“There is your letter between the pages of my book,” said she. “It
came to me this morning, and I was reading it again. It gave me
immense pleasure, Archie. I suppose you have come to search for the
clothes you mentioned. I am glad to see you, my dear; but it is a long
ride to take for a few pairs of stockings.”

“You should see Balnillo’s hose!” exclaimed Flemington hurriedly.
“I’ll be bound the old buck’s spindle-shanks cost him as much as his
estate. If he had as many legs as a centipede he would have them all
in silk.”

“And not a petticoat about the place?”

“None nearer than the kitchen.”

“He should have stayed in Edinburgh,” said Madam Flemington, laughing.

She loved Archie’s society.

“I hear that this Captain Logie is one of the most dangerous rebels in
Scotland,” she went on. “If you can lay him by the heels it is a
service that will not be forgotten. So far you have done mighty well,
Archie.”

They had reached the gate, and she laid her hand on his arm.

“Turn back,” she said. “I must consult you. I suppose that now you
will be kept for some time at Balnillo? That nest of treason,
Montrose, will give you occupation, and you must stretch out the
portrait to match your convenience. I am going to take advantage of it
too. I shall go to Edinburgh while you are away.”

“To Edinburgh?” exclaimed Flemington.

“Why not, pray?”

“But you leave Ardguys so seldom. It is years—-”

“The more reason I should go now,” interrupted she. “Among other
things, I must see my man of business, and I have decided to do it
now. I shall be more useful to you in Edinburgh, too. I have been too
long out of personal touch with those who can advance your interests.
I had a letter from Edinburgh yesterday; you are better thought of
there than you suspect, Archie. I did not realize how important a
scoundrel this man Logie is, nor what your despatch to Montrose
implied.”

He was silent, looking on the ground.

She knew every turn of Archie’s manner, every inflection of his voice.
There was a gathering sign of opposition on his face–the phantom of
some mood that must not be allowed to gain an instant’s strength. It
flashed on her that he had not returned merely to fetch his clothes.
There was something wrong. She knew that at this moment he was afraid
of her, he who was afraid of nothing else.

She stopped in the path and drew herself up, considering where she
should strike. Never, never had she failed to bring him to his
bearings. There was only one fitting place for him, and that was in
the hollow of her hand.

“Grandmother, I shall not go back to Balnillo,” said he vehemently.

If the earth had risen up under her feet Madam Flemington could not
have been more astonished. She stood immovable, looking at him, whilst
an inward voice, flying through her mind like a snatch of broken
sound, told her that she must keep her head. She made no feeble
mistake in that moment, for she saw the vital importance of the
conflict impending between them with clear eyes. She knew her back to
be nearer the wall than it had been yet. Her mind was as agile as her
body was by nature indolent, and it was always ready to turn in any
direction and look any foe squarely in the face. She was startled, but
she could not be shaken.

“I’ve left Balnillo for good,” said he again. “I cannot go back–I
will not!”

“You–_will not?_” said Christian, half closing her eyes. The pupils
had contracted, and looked like tiny black beads set in a narrow
glitter of grey. “Is that what you have come home to say to _me?_”

“It is impossible!” he cried, turning away and flinging out his arms.
“It is more than I can do! I will not go man-hunting after Logie. I
will go anywhere else, do anything else, but not that!”

“There is nothing else for you to do.”

“Then I will come back here.”

“That you will not,” said Christian.

He drew in his breath as if he had been struck.

“What are you that you should betray me, and yet think to force
yourself on me without my resenting it? What do you think I am that I
should suffer it?”

She laughed.

“I have not betrayed you,” said he in a husky voice.

The loyal worship he had given her unquestioning through the long
dependence and the small but poignant vicissitudes of childhood came
back on him like a returning tide and doubled the cruelty of her
words. She was the one person against whom he felt unable to defend
himself. He loved her truly, and the thought of absolute separation
from her came over him like a chill.

“I did not think you could speak to me in this way. It is terrible!”
he said. His dark eyes were full of pain. He spoke as simply as a
little boy.

Satisfaction stole back to her. She had not lost her hold on him,
would not lose it. Another woman might have flung an affectionate word
into the balance to give the final clip to the scale, but she never
thought of doing that; neither impulse nor calculation suggested it,
because affection was not the weapon she was accustomed to trust. Her
faith was in the heavy hand. Her generalship was good enough to tell
her the exact moment of wavering in the enemy in front, the magic
instant for a fresh attack.

“You are a bitter disappointment,” she said. “Life has brought me
many, but you are the greatest. I have had to go without some
necessities in my time, and I now shall have to go without you. But I
can do it, and I will.”

“You mean that you will turn from me altogether?”

“Am I not plain enough? I can be plainer if you like. You shall go out
of this house and go where you will. I do not care where you go. But
you are forgetting that I have some curiosity. I wish to understand
what has happened to you since you wrote your letter. That is
excusable, surely.”

“It is Logie,” said he. “He has made it impossible for me. I cannot
cheat a man who has given me all his confidence.”

“He gave you his confidence?” cried Madam Flemington. “Heavens! He is
well served, that stage-puppet Prince, when his servants confide in
the first stranger they meet! Captain Logie must be a man of honour!”

“He is,” said Archie. “It was his own private confidence he gave me. I
heard his own history from his own lips, and, knowing it, I cannot go
on deceiving him. I like him too much.”

Madam Flemington was confounded. The difficulty seemed so strangely
puerile. A whim, a fancy, was to ruin the work of years and turn
everything upside down. On the top, she was exasperated with Archie,
but underneath, it was worse. She found her influence and her power at
stake, and her slave was being wrested from her, in spite of every
interest which had bound them together. She loved him with a jealous,
untender love that was dependent on outward circumstances, and she was
proud of him. She had smiled at his devotion to her as she would have
smiled with gratified comprehension at the fidelity of a favourite
dog, understanding the creature’s justifiable feeling, and knowing how
creditable it was to its intelligence.

“What has all this to do with your duty?” she demanded.

“My duty is too hard,” he cried. “I cannot do it, grandmother!”

“_Too hard!_” she exclaimed. “Pah! you weary me–you disgust me. I am
sick of you, Archie!”

His lip quivered, and he met her eyes with a mist of dazed trouble in
his own. A black curtain seemed to be falling between them.

“I told him every absurdity I could imagine,” said he. “I made him
believe that I was dependent upon my work for my daily bread. I did
not think he would take my lies as he did. His kindness was so
great–so generous! Grandmother, he would have had me promise to go to
him for help. How can I spy upon him and cheat him after that?”

He stopped. He could not tell her more, for he knew that the mention
of the hundred pounds would but make her more angry; the details of
what Logie had written could be given to no one. He was only waiting
for an opportunity to destroy the paper he carried.

“We have to do with principles, not men,” said Madam Flemington. “He
is a rebel to his King. If I thought you were so much as dreaming of
going over to those worthless Stuarts, I would never see you nor speak
to you again. I would sooner see you dead. Is _that_ what is in your
mind?”

“There is nothing farther from my thoughts,” said he. “I can have no
part with rebels. I am a Whig, and I shall always be a Whig. I have
told you the plain truth.”

“And now _I_ will tell you the plain truth,” said Madam Flemington.
“While I am alive you will not enter Ardguys. When you cut yourself
off from me you will do so finally. I will have no half-measures as I
have no half-sentiments. I have bred you up to support King George’s
interests against the whole band of paupers at St. Germain, that you
may pay a part of the debt of injury they laid upon me and mine. Mary
Beatrice took my son from me. You do not know what you have to thank
her for, Archie, but I will tell you now! You have to thank her that
your mother was a girl of the people–of the streets–a slut taken
into the palace out of charity. She was forced on my son by the Queen
and her favourite, Lady Despard. That was how they rewarded us, my
husband and me, for our fidelity! He was in his grave, and knew
nothing, but I was there. I am here still, and I remember still!”

The little muscles round her strong lips were quivering.

Archie had never seen Madam Flemington so much disturbed, and it was
something of a shock to him to find that the power he had known always
as self-dependent, aloof, unruffled, could be at the mercy of so much
feeling.

“Lady Despard was one of that Irish rabble that followed King James
along with better people, a woman given over to prayers and
confessions and priests. She is dead, thank God! It was she who took
your mother out of the gutter, where she sang from door to door,
meaning to make a nun of her, for her voice was remarkable, and she
and her priests would have trained her for a convent choir. But the
girl had no stomach for a nunnery; the backstairs of the palace
pleased her better, and the Queen took her into her household, and
would have her sing to her in her own chamber. She was handsome, too,
and she hid the devil that was in her from the women. The men knew her
better, and the Chevalier and your father knew her best of all. But at
last Lady Despard got wind of it. They dared not turn her into the
streets for fear of the priests, and to save her own son the Queen
sacrificed mine.”

She stopped, looking to see the effect of her words. Archie was very
pale.

“Is my true name Flemington?” he asked abruptly.

“You are my own flesh and blood,” said she, “or you would not be
standing here. Their fear was that the Chevalier would marry her
privately, but they got him out of the way, and your father seduced
the girl. Then, to make the Chevalier doubly safe, they forced him to
make her his wife–he who was only nineteen! They did it secretly, but
when the marriage was known, I would not receive her, and I left the
court and went to Rouen. I have lived ever since in the hope of seeing
the Stuarts swept from the earth. Your father is gone, and you are all
I have left, but you shall go too if you join yourself to them.”

“I shall not do that,” said he.

“Do you understand now what it costs me to see you turn back?” said
Madam Flemington.

The mantle had slipped from her shoulders, and her white hands,
crossed at the wrists, lay with the fingers along her arms. She stood
trying to dissect the component parts of his trouble and to fashion
something out of them on which she might make a new attack. Forces
outside her own understanding were at work in him which were strong
enough to take the fine edge of humiliation off the history she had
just told him; she guessed their presence, unseen though they were,
and her acute practical mind was searching for them. She was like an
astronomer whose telescope is turned on the tract of sky in which, as
his science tells him, some unknown body will arise.

She had always taken his pride of race for granted, as she took her
own. The influx of the base blood of the “slut” had been a
mortification unspeakable, but to Madam Flemington, the actual
treachery practised on her had not been the crowning insult. The thing
was bad, but the manner of its doing was worse, for the Queen and Lady
Despard had used young Flemington as though he had been of no account.
The Flemingtons had served James Stuart whole-heartedly, taking his
evil fortunes as though they had been their own; they had done it of
their own free will, high-handedly. But Mary Beatrice and her
favourite had treated Christian and her son as slaves, chattels to be
sacrificed to the needs of their owner. There was enough nobility in
Christian to see that part of the business as its blackest spot.

She had kept the knowledge of it from Archie, because she had the
instinct common to all savage creatures (and Christian’s affinity with
savage creatures was a close one) for the concealment of desperate
wounds. Her silks, her ruby earrings, her physical indolence, her
white hands, all the refinements that had accrued to her in her
world-loving life, all that went to make the outward presentment of
the woman, was the mere ornamental covering of the savage in her. That
savage watched Archie now.

Madam Flemington was removed by two generations from Archie, and there
was a gulf of evolution between them, unrealized by either. Their
conscious ideals might be identical; but their unconscious ideals,
those that count with nations and with individuals, were different.
And the same trouble, one that might be accepted and acknowledged by
each, must affect each differently. The old regard a tragedy through
its influences on the past, and the young through its influences on
the future. To Archie, Madam Flemington’s revelation was an
insignificant thing compared to the horror that was upon him now. It
was done and it could not be undone, and he was himself, with his life
before him, in spite of it. It was like the withered leaf of a
poisonous plant, a thing rendered innocuous by the processes of
nature. What process of nature could make his agony innocuous? The
word ‘treachery’ had become a nightmare to him, and on every side he
was fated to hear it.

Its full meaning had only been brought home to him two days ago, and
now the hateful thing was being pressed on him by one who had suffered
from it bitterly. What could he say to her? How was he to make her see
as he saw? His difficulty was a sentimental one, and one that she
would not recognize.

Archie was not logical. He had still not much feeling about having
deceived Lord Balnillo, whose hospitality he had accepted and enjoyed,
but, as he had said, he could not go “man-hunting” after James, who
had offered him a brother’s help, whose heart he had seen, whose life
had already been cut in two by the baneful thing. There was little
room in Archie’s soul for anything but the shadow of that nightmare of
treachery, and the shadow was creeping towards him. Had his mother
been a grand-duchess of spotless reputation, what could her virtue or
her blue blood avail him in his present distress? She was nothing to
him, that “slut” who had brought him forth; he owed her no allegiance,
bore her no grudge. The living woman to whom he owed all stood before
him beloved, admired, cutting him to the heart.

He assented silently; but Christian understood that, though he looked
as if she had carried her point, his looks were the only really
unreliable part of him. She knew that he was that curious thing–a man
who could keep his true self separate from his moods. It had taken her
years to learn that, but she had learnt it at last.

For once she was, like other people, baffled by his naturalness. It
was plain that he suffered, yet she could not tell how she was to
mould the hard stuff hidden below his suffering. But she must work
with the heavy hand.

“You will leave here to-morrow,” she said; “you shall not stay here to
shirk your duty”; and again the pupils of her eyes contracted as she
said it.

“I will go now,” said he.

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