BALNILLO FINDS PERFECTION

A SCONCE of candles beside a window-recess shed a collective
illumination from the wall, and Christian Flemington stood full in
their light, contemplating the company with superb detachment, and
pervaded by that air, which never left her, of facing the world,
unaided and unabashed, with such advantages as God had given her. Her
neck, still white and firm, was bare, for she wore no jewels but the
ruby earrings which shot blood-red sparks around her when she moved.
Long necks were in fashion in those days, and hers was rather short,
but the carriage of her head added enough to its length to do more
than equalize the difference. Her hair was like massed silver, and her
flesh–of which a good deal could be seen–rose like ivory above the
wine-colour of her silk gown, which flowed in spreading folds from her
waist to the ground. A Spanish fan with carved tortoiseshell sticks, a
thing of mellow browns and golds, was half closed between her fingers.
When she opened it, it displayed the picture of a bull-fight.

“That is Mrs. Flemington–Madam Flemington, as I am told many people
call her–I presume, because she came to Scotland from France. You
should know her, my lord,” she added, addressing Balnillo; “you are
from Angus.”

But Balnillo was speechless.

Grange, who was transferring a pinch of snuff from his box to his
nose, paused, his hand midway way between the two.

“Is she the widow of Andrew Flemington, who was in France with King
James?”

“The same,” replied Mrs. Cockburn, tossing her head.

She had small sympathy with the Stuarts.

“I had not expected to see the lady here. Not that I know aught about
her views. We have a bare acquaintance, and she is like yourself, Lord
Balnillo–just arrived in Edinburgh when our young hero has left
Holyrood.”

“She has been a fine woman,” said Lord Grange, his eye kindling.

“You may use the present tense, my lord,” said Mrs. Cockburn.

“Aha!” sniggered Grange, who adhered to the time-honoured beliefs of
his sex, “you dare to show yourself generous!”

“I dare to show myself what I am, and that is more than all the world
can do,” said she, looking at him very hard.

He shifted from foot to foot. At this moment the gallows, to which he
had condemned a few people in his time, struck him as a personal
inconvenience.

“Ma’am,” said he, swallowing his rage, “you must present Davie, or he
will lose what senses he has.”

“Come, then, my lord, I will befriend you,” said she, glad of the
chance to be rid of Grange.

Balnillo followed her, unable to escape had he wished to do so.

Christian was a woman who stood very still. She turned her head
without turning her body as Mrs. Cockburn approached with her request,
and Balnillo saw her calm acquiescence.

His breath had been almost taken away as he learned the identity of
the stranger. Here was the woman who knew everything about that
astounding young man, his late guest, whose alarming illness had
recalled him, who had lived at St. Germain with the exiled queen, yet
who was the grandmother of a most audacious Whig spy! There was no
trace of recent ill-health here. He had pictured some faint, feeble
shred of old womanhood, not the commanding creature whose grey eyes
were considering him as he advanced under cover of her leisurely
consent. She seemed to measure him carelessly as he stood before her.
He was torn asunder in mind, awestruck, dragged this way by his
surprised admiration, that way by his intense desire to wring from her
something about Flemington. Here was a chance, indeed! But Balnillo
felt his courage drown in the rising fear of being unable to profit by
that chance. Admiring bewilderment overcame every other feeling. He no
longer regretted the price he had paid for the lace on his cravat.

His name had roused Madam Flemington, though she gave no sign of the
thrill that went through her as it fell from Mrs. Cockburn’s lips. As
David stood before her in the correct yet sober foppery of his
primrose and mouse-colour, she regretted that she was quite ignorant
of the pretext on which Archie had left his picture unfinished, nor
upon what terms he had parted with the judge. She had no reason for
supposing Balnillo to be aware of the young man’s real character. He
had been fighting with James Logie, according to Skirling Wattie, yet
there seemed to be no enmity in the business, for here was his
brother, Lord Balnillo, assiduous in getting himself presented to her.
Mrs. Cockburn had put her request with a smiling hint at the effect
she had produced on his lordship. Christian glanced at David’s
meticulous person and smiled, arrogantly civil, secretly anxious, and
remained silent, ready to follow his lead with caution.

The shrewd side of Balnillo was uppermost to-night, stimulated perhaps
by the sight of society and by the exhilarating sound of its voice. He
recovered his momentarily scattered wits and determined to approach
his new acquaintance with such direct and simple questions as might
seem to her to be the natural inquiries of a man interested in
Flemington, and innocent of any mystery concerning him. It was quite
possible–so he reasoned–that she was unaware of the details of what
had happened on Inchbrayock Island. Archie had fled, and the search
for him had produced no result; he was unlikely to have made for his
own home if he did not wish to be found, and he and Madam Flemington
might not have met since the affair of the _Venture_. It should be
his–Balnillo’s–task to convince her of his ignorance.

His intense curiosity about Archie was almost stronger than his wrath
against him. Unlike James, whose bitterness was too deep for words,
whose soul was driven before the fury of his own feelings like a
restless ghost, David still looked back with a certain pleasant
excitement to Flemington’s meteoric flash through the even atmosphere
of his daily life. He would dearly have liked to bring him to justice,
but he was anxious to hear a little more of him first.

He had a curious mixture of feelings about him. There was no vainer
man in Scotland than Balnillo, and if the mental half of his vanity
had suffered from the deception practised on it, the physical half was
yet preening itself in the sunny remembrance of the portrait at
home–the portrait of David Balnillo as he would fain have had the
world see him–the portrait, alas and alas! unfinished. He could not
feel quite as James felt, who had opened his purse, and, more–far
more than that–had laid open the most sacred page of his life before
Flemington. He had placed his personal safety in his hands, too,
though he counted that as a matter of less moment.

“Madam,” said Balnillo, “to see you is to rejoice that you have
recovered from your serious illness.”

“You are very obliging, my lord. I am quite well,” replied Christian,
concealing a slight surprise at this remark.

“I am most happy in being presented to you,” he continued. “What news
have you of my charming friend Mr. Flemington, may I ask?”

“When I heard your name, my lord, I determined to be acquainted with
you, if only to thank you for your kindness to my boy. He could not
say enough of yourself and your brother. I hope Captain Logie is well.
Is he with you this evening?”

The mention of James acted on David as he had designed that the
mention of Archie should act on Madam Flemington. These two people who
were playing at innocence were using the names of their relations to
scare the enemy as savage tribes use the terrific faces painted on
their shields. Balnillo, in beginning the attack, had forgotten his
own weak point, and he remembered that he could give no satisfactory
account of his brother at the present moment. But his cunning was
always at hand.

“I had half expected to see him here,” said he, peering round the
room; “there was some talk of his coming. I arrived somewhat late, and
I have hardly spoken to anyone but my Lord Grange and Mrs. Cockburn.
The sight of yourself, ma’am, put other matters out of my head.”

“Ah, sir,” exclaimed Christian, “I fear that your ardour was all on
behalf of Archie! But I am accustomed to that.”

She cast a look of indolent raillery at him, drawing back her head and
veiling her eyes, fiery and seductive still, with the momentary sweep
of their thick lashes.

Balnillo threw out his chest like a pouter pigeon. He had not been so
happy for a long time. As he did so, she remembered Archie’s account
of his silk legs, and his description of him as being “silly,
virtuous, and cunning all at once.” Silly she could well believe him
to be; virtuous he might be; whether he was cunning or not, time would
show her. She did not mean to let him go until she had at least
attempted to hear more about James Logie.

“Madam,” said he, “since seeing you I have forgotten Mr. Flemington.
Can I say more?”

So far she was completely puzzled as to how much he knew about Archie,
but it was beginning to enter her mind that her own illness, of which
she had just learned from him, had been the young man’s pretext for
leaving his work when it was only begun. Why else had the judge
mentioned it? And who but Flemington could have put the idea into his
head?

She determined to make a bold attack on possibilities.

“Archie was distracted by my illness, poor boy, and I fear that your
lordship’s portrait suffered. But you will understand his anxiety when
I tell you that I am the only living relation that he has, and that
his devotion to me—-”

“He needs no excuse!” cried David fervently.

She laid her hand upon his arm.

“I am still hardly myself,” she said. “I cannot stand long. Fetch me a
chair, my lord.”

He skipped across the floor and laid hold upon one just in time, for a
gentleman was on the point of claiming it. He carried it back with the
air of a conqueror.

“Apart–by the curtain, if you please,” said Christian, waving her
hand. “We can speak more comfortably on the fringe of this rout of
chattering people.”

He set the chair down in a quiet place by the wall, and she settled
herself upon it, leaning back, her shoulder turned from the company.
Balnillo’s delight deepened.

“And the portrait, my lord. He did not tell me what arrangement had
been made for finishing it,” said Christian, looking up at him as he
stood beside her.

She seemed to be completely unconcerned, and she spoke with a
leisurely dignity and ease that turned his ideas upside down. He could
make nothing of it. She appeared to court the subject of Archie and
the picture. He could only guess her to be innocent, and his warm
admiration helped his belief. At no moment since he knew the truth
from his brother’s lips had Archie’s character seemed so black as it
did now. David’s indignation waxed as he grew more certain that
Flemington had deceived the noble woman to whom he owed so much, even
as he had deceived him. He was becoming so sure of it that he had no
desire to enlighten her. He longed to ask plainly where Archie was,
but he hesitated. Even the all-wise Mrs. Cockburn was ignorant of this
lady’s political sympathies, and knew her only as the widow of a loyal
exile. What might–what would be her feelings if she were to see her
grandson in his real character?

Righteous anger smouldered under Balnillo’s primrose waistcoat, and
his spasmodic shrewdness began to doze in the increasing warmth of his
chivalrous pity for this new and interesting victim of the engaging
rogue.

“Mr. Flemington’s concern was so great when he left my house that no
arrangement was made,” said he. “I had not the heart to trouble him
with my unimportant affairs when so much was at stake.”

Of the two cautious people who were feeling their way in the dark, it
was the judge who was the more mystified, for he had laid hold of a
definite idea, and it was the wrong one. Christian was merely putting
a bold face on a hazardous matter, and hoping to hear something of
Logie. She had not sought the introduction. David would have been the
butt of her amused scorn had she been free enough from anxiety to be
entertained. But she could not imagine on what footing matters really
stood, and she was becoming inclined to suspect the beggar’s statement
that Flemington had been fighting with James. Her longing to see
Archie was great.

She loved him in her own way, though she had driven him from her in
her mortification and her furious pride. She had not believed that he
would really go there and then; that he, who had served her purposes
so gallantly all his life, would take her at her word. What was he
doing? Why had he gone to Edinburgh? Her own reason for coming had
been the hope of seeing him. She had been four days in the town now,
and she dared not make open inquiries for him, not knowing how far his
defection had gone. She had accused him of turning to the Stuarts, and
he had denied the accusation, not angrily, but with quiet firmness.
Two horrible possibilities had occurred to her: one, that he was with
the Prince, and might be already known to the Government as a rebel;
the other, that he had never reached Edinburgh–that his hurt had been
worse than the beggar supposed, and that he might be ill or dying,
perhaps dead. But it was only when she lay awake at night that she
imagined these things. In saner moments and by daylight she put them
from her. She was so well accustomed to being parted from him, and to
the knowledge that he was on risky business, that she would not allow
herself to be really disturbed. She assured herself that she must wait
and watch; and now she was glad to find herself acquainted with
Balnillo, who seemed to be the only clue in her hand. Mercifully, he
had all the appearance of being an old fool.

“I see that you are too modest to tell me anything of the picture,”
she began. “I hope it promised well. You should make a fine portrait,
and I believe that Archie could do you justice. He is at his best with
high types. Describe it to me.”

David espied a vacant chair, and, drawing it towards him, sat down to
the subject with the same gusto that most men bring to their dinners.
He cleared his throat.

“I should have wished it to be full length,” said he, “but Mr.
Flemington had no suitable canvas with him. I wore my robes, and he
was good enough to say that the crimson was appropriate and becoming
to me. Personally, I favour quiet colours, as you see, ma’am.”

“I see that you have excellent taste.”

He bowed, delighted.

“I remarked you as you came in,” continued she, “and I asked myself
why these gentlemen looked so garish. Observe that one beside the door
of the card-room, my lord. I am sure that he chose his finery with
some care, yet he reminds me of a clown at a merrymaking.”

“True, true–excellently true!”

“In my youth it was the man of the world who set the fashions; now it
is the tailor and the young sir fresh from his studies. What should
these persons know of the subject?”

Balnillo was in heaven; from force of habit he ran his hand down the
leg crossed upon his knee. The familiar inward curve of the slim silk
ankle between his fingers was like the touch of a tried and creditable
friend; it might almost be said that he turned to it for sympathy. He
would have liked to tell his ankle that to-night he had found a
perfection almost as great as its own.

Lord Grange, who had taken leave of his hostess and was departing,
paused to look at him.

“See,” said he, taking an acquaintance by the elbow, “look yonder at
that doited Davie Balnillo.”

“He is telling her about his riding of the circuit,” said the other,
grinning.

“The circuit never made him smile like that,” replied Grange
sardonically.

An hour later Christian Flemington stood at the top of the circular
staircase. Below it, Balnillo was at the entrance-door, sending
everyone within reach of his voice in search of her sedan chair. When
it was discovered, he escorted her down and handed her into it, then,
according to the custom of the time, he prepared to attend its
progress to her lodgings in Hyndford’s Close. The streets were even
dirtier and damper than before, but he was as anxious to walk from
Lady Anne’s party as he had been determined to be carried to it. He
stepped along at the side of the chair, turning, when they passed a
light, to see the dignified silhouette of Madam Flemington’s head as
it appeared in shadow against the farther window.

Speech was impossible as they went, for avoidance of the kennel and
the worse obstacles that strewed the city at that hour, before the
scavengers had gone their rounds, kept David busy. The only profit
that a man got by seeing his admired one home in Edinburgh in 1745 was
the honour and glory of it.

When she emerged from the chair in Hyndford’s Close he insisted upon
mounting the staircase with her, though its narrowness compelled them
to go in single file; and when they stopped halfway up at the door in
the towering ‘land,’ he bade her good-night and descended again,
consoled for the parting by her permission that he should wait upon
her on the following day.

Christian was admitted and sailed into her little room. A light was in
it and Archie was standing at the foot of the bed.

Surprises had been rolling up round Madam Flemington all the evening;
surprise at meeting Balnillo, surprise at his attitude; and this
crowning surprise of all. She was bewildered, but the blessing of
unexpected relief fell on her. She went towards him, her hands
outstretched, and Flemington, who was looking at her with a
wistfulness she had never seen in him before, took them and held them
fast.

“Oh, Archie!” she exclaimed.

She could say no more.

They sat down at the wide hearth together, the shadow of the great
carved bed sprawling over the crowded space between the walls and over
Christian’s swelling silks. Then he told her the history of the time
since they parted in Ardguys garden; of his boarding of the _Venture_;
of the fight with the rebels at Inchbrayock; of his meeting with
Wattie; of how he had reached Aberbrothock half dead, and had lain
sick for two days in an obscure tavern by the shore; how he had
finally sailed for Leith and had reached Edinburgh.

Christian heard him, her gaze fixed upon the fire. She had elicited
nothing about James Logie from Balnillo, and there was no word of him
in Archie’s story. She longed to speak of him, but would not; she
longed to know if the beggar had told the truth in saying that the two
men had actually fought, but she asked nothing, for she knew that her
wisest part was to accept the essentials, considering them as the
whole. She would ask no questions.

Archie had come back. She had forbidden Ardguys to him and he had
evaded her ban by coming here. Yet he came, having proved himself
loyal, and she would ignore the rest.

Continue Reading

SOCIETY

LORD BALNILLO looked out of his sedan chair as it emerged from the
darkness of a close on the northern slope of the Old Town of
Edinburgh. Far down in front of him, where the long alley stopped, a
light or two was seen reflected in the black water of the Nor’ Loch
that lay between the ancient city and the ground on which the new one
was so soon to rise. The shuffling footfalls of his chairmen, echoing
off the sides of the covered entry, were drowned in the noise that was
going on a little way farther forward, where the close widened out
into a square courtyard. One side of this place was taken up by the
house of Lady Anne Maxwell, for which the judge was bound.

It had been raining, and Edinburgh was most noisomely dirty under
foot, so Balnillo’s regard for his silk-clad legs and the buckled
shoes on his slim feet, had made him decide to be carried to his
kinswoman’s party. He wore his favourite mouse colour, but the
waistcoat under his velvet coat was of primrose satin, and the lace
under his chin had cost him more than he liked to remember.

The courtyard sent up a glow of light into the atmosphere of the damp
evening, for the high houses towering round it rose black into the
sky, limiting the shine and concentrating it into one patch. From
above, it must have looked like a dimly illuminated well. It was full
of sedan chairs, footmen, lantern-carriers and caddies, and the
chattering, pushing, jesting, and oaths were keeping the inhabitants
of the neighbouring ‘lands’–such of them as were awake, for Edinburgh
kept early hours in those days–from going to sleep.

The sedan chairs were set down at the door, for they could seldom be
carried into the low and narrow entrances of even the best town
houses, and here, at Lady Anne’s, the staircase wound up inside a
circular tower projecting from the wall.

The caddies, or street-messengers of Edinburgh, that strange
brotherhood of useful, omniscient rascals, without whose services
nothing could prosper, ran in and out among the crowd in search of odd
jobs. Their eyes were everywhere, their ears heard everything, their
tongues carried news of every event. The caddies knew all that
happened in society, on the bench, in shops, in wynds, in churches,
and no traveller could be an hour in the town before they had made his
name and business common property. In an hour and a half his character
would have gone the same way. Their home by day was at the Market
Cross in the High Street, where they stood in gossiping groups until a
call let one of them loose upon somebody else’s business. It was the
perpetual pursuit of other people’s business that had made them what
they were.

A knot of caddies pressed round the door of Lady Anne Maxwell’s house
as Lord Balnillo, sitting erect in order not to crease his clothes and
looking rather like an image carried in a procession, was kept at a
standstill whilst another guest was set down. Through the open window
of his chair there pressed a couple of inquisitive faces.

“Hey, lads!” cried a caddie, “it’s Davie Balnillo back again!”

“Losh, it’s himsel’! Aweel, ma lord, we’re fine an’ pleased to see ye!
Grange is awa’ in ben the hoose. I’se warrant he doesna’ ken wha’s
ahint him!”

Balnillo nodded affably. The instant recognition pleased the old man,
for he had only reached Edinburgh in time to dress for his cousin’s
party; also, Lord Grange was a friend of his, and he was glad to hear
that he was in front. As he looked complacently upon the crowd, his
chairmen suddenly stepped forward, almost throwing him out of his
seat.

A cry rose round him.

“Canny! Canny! ye Hieland deevils! Ye’ll hae the pouthered wiggie o’
him swiggit aff his heed! Haud on, Davie; we’ll no let ye cowp!”

Balnillo was rather annoyed, for he had been knocked smartly against
the window-frame, and a little cloud of powder had been shaken on his
velvet sleeve; but he knew that the one thing a man might not lose
before the caddies was his temper, if he did not want his rage, his
gestures, and all the humiliating details of his discomfiture to be
the town talk next day. He looked as bland as he could while he
resettled himself.

“It’ll no be waur nor ridin’ the circuit, ma lord?” inquired a voice.

A laugh went round the group, and the chair moved on and was set down
at its destination. Though the caddies’ knowledge of the judge went as
far down as his foibles, the one thing that they did not happen to
know was the motive that had brought him to Edinburgh.

The doings in the harbour had disturbed Balnillo mightily; for, though
the success of Ferrier and James in taking the _Venture_ rejoiced him,
he was dismayed by what he had heard about Archie Flemington. His
brother had told him everything. When Captain Hall and his men had
been conveyed as prisoners to the town, and the ship had been taken
possession of by Prince Charles’ agent in Montrose, Logie had gone
hastily to Balnillo to give the news to David, and to prepare for his
own departure to join the Stuart army. There was no longer any need
for secrecy on his part, and it had always been his intention to
declare himself openly as soon as he had done his work in Montrose.
The place was well protected, and, besides the town guns that he and
Ferrier had taken from Hall, there were the two armed vessels–both
now belonging to the Prince–lying in the harbour.

The arrival of the frigate with her supplies had turned Montrose from
a rebelliously-inclined town into a declared Jacobite stronghold. The
streets and taverns were full of Lord John Drummond’s troops, the
citizens had given vent to their feelings upon the town bells,
bonfires blazed in the streets, and Prince Charlie’s name was on every
lip; girls wore white roses on their breasts, and dreamed at night of
the fascinating young spark who had come to set Scotland alight. The
intense Jacobitism of Angus seemed to have culminated in the quiet
seaport.

In all this outburst of loyalty and excitement the cautious Balnillo
did not know what to do. The risk of announcing his leanings publicly
was a greater one than he cared to take, for his stake in the country
and the land was considerable, and he was neither sanguine enough to
feel certain of the ultimate triumph of the Stuarts like the Montrose
people, nor generous enough to disregard all results like James. As he
told himself, after much deliberation, he was “best away.”

He had heard from James of Archie’s sudden appearance upon the island,
armed with a Government weapon and in company with the attacking force
from the ship, and had listened to James’s grim denunciation of him as
a spy, his passionate regrets that he had not blown his brains out
there and then. James’s bitterness had been so great that David told
himself he could scarcely recognize his quiet brother.

There was abundant reason for it, but Logie had seemed to be beside
himself. He had scarcely eaten or slept during the short time that he
had been with him, and his face had kept the judge’s tongue still.
After his account of what had happened, Balnillo had not returned to
the subject again.

Step by step the judge had gone over all the circumstances of
Flemington’s sudden emergence from the Den on that windy night, and
had seen how he had himself been cozened and flattered into the
business of the portrait which stood unfinished, in solitary and very
marked dignity, in the room with the north light. He was a man who
suspected some of his own weaknesses, though his knowledge did not
prevent him from giving way to them when he thought he could do so
safely, and he remembered the adroit bits of flattery that his guest
had strewn in his path, and how obligingly he had picked them up. He
was shrewd enough to see all that. He thought of the sudden departure
when Madam Flemington’s mysterious illness had spirited Archie out of
the house at a moment’s notice, and he saw how he had contrived to
imbue both himself and James with the idea that he shared their
political interests, without saying one definite word; he thought of
his sigh and the change in his voice as he spoke of his father’s death
“in exile with his master.”

These things stood up in a row before Balnillo, and ranged themselves
into a sinister whole. The plain truth of it was that he had
entertained a devil unawares.

There had been a great search for Flemington when the skirmish on
Inchbrayock was over. It was only ceasing when the French frigate swam
into the river-mouth like a huge water-bird, and James, plunged in the
struggle, was unable to spare a thought to the antagonist he had flung
from him at the first sound of the attack.

But when the firing had stopped, and the appearance of the foreign
ship made the issue of the conflict certain, he returned to the spot
where he had left Archie, and found him gone. He examined the sand for
some trace of the vanished man’s feet, but the tide was now high in
the river, and his footprints had been swallowed by the incoming rush.
The stepping-stones were completely covered, and he knew that
these–great fragments of rock as they were–would now be lying under
enough water to drown a man who should miss his footing while the tide
surged through this narrow stretch of the Esk’s bed. He guessed that
the spy had escaped by them, though a short time later the attempt
would have been impossible. He made a hasty search of the island, and,
finding no sign of Flemington, he returned with his men and the
prisoners they had taken, leaving the dead to be carried over later to
the town for burial. The boats were on the Montrose side of
Inchbrayock, and, their progress being hampered by the wounded, some
time was lost before he could spare a handful of followers to begin
the search for Flemington. He picked up a few volunteers upon the
quays, and despatched them immediately to cross the strait and to
search the southern shores of both the river and the Basin; but they
had barely started when Flemington and the beggar were nearing the
little farm on Rossie moor. Archie had spent so little time on the
open road, thanks to his companion’s advice, that none of those whom
the pursuers met and questioned had seen him. Before dusk came on,
their zeal had flagged; and though one, quicker-witted than his
comrades, had suggested the moor as a likely goal for their quarry, he
had been overborne by their determination that the fugitive, a man who
had been described to them as coming from the other side of the
county, would make in that direction.

When James had gone to join the Stuart army on its march to England,
his brother, waiting until the Prince had left Holyrood, set forth for
Edinburgh. It would have been difficult for him to remain at home
within sound of the noisy rejoicings of Montrose without either
joining in the general exultation or holding himself conspicuously
aloof. Prudence and convenience pointed to the taking of a little
holiday, and his own inclination did not gainsay them.

He had not been in Edinburgh since his retirement, and the notion of
going there, once formed, grew more and more to his taste. A hundred
things in his old haunts drew him: gossip, the liberal tables of his
former colleagues, the latest modes in coats and cravats, the musical
assemblies at which he had himself performed upon the flute, the
scandals and anecdotes of the Parliament House and the society of
elegant women. He loved all these, though his trees and parks had
taken their places of late. He loved James too, and the year they had
spent together had been agreeable to him; but politics and family
affection–the latter of the general rather than the individual
kind–strong as their bonds were, could not bring the brothers into
true touch with each other. James was preoccupied, silent, restless,
and David had sometimes felt him to be inhuman in his lack of interest
in small things, and in his carelessness of all but the great events
of life. And now, as Balnillo stepped forth at Lady Anne Maxwell’s
door, he was hugging himself at the prospect of his return to the
trimmings and embroideries of existence. He walked up the circular
staircase, and emerged into the candle-light of the long, low room in
which his cousin’s guests were assembled.

Lady Anne was a youngish widow, with a good fortune and a devouring
passion for cards. She had all the means of indulging her taste, for
not only did she know every living being who went to the making of
Edinburgh society, but, unlike most of her neighbours, she owned the
whole of the house in which she lived, and, consequently, had space
wherein to entertain them. While nearly all the Edinburgh world dwelt
in its flat, and while many greater ladies than herself were contented
to receive their guests in their bedchambers, and to dance and drink
tea in rooms not much bigger than the boudoirs of their descendants,
Lady Anne could have received Prince Charles Edward himself in
suitable circumstances had she been so minded. But she was very far
from having any such aspiration, and had not set foot in Holyrood
while the Prince was there, for she was a staunch Whig. As she greeted
her cousin Balnillo, she was wondering how far certain rumours that
she had heard about him were true, and whether he also had been privy
to the taking of the sloop-of-war in Montrose harbour, for it was just
a week since the news of Logie’s exploit had reached Edinburgh. One of
David’s many reasons for coming to her party was his desire to make
his reappearance in the polite world in a markedly Whig house.

He stood talking to Lord Grange in the oak-panelled room half full of
people; through an open door another smaller apartment could be seen
crowded with tables and card-players. Lady Anne, all of whose guests
were arrived, had vanished into it, and the two judges stood side by
side. Lord Grange, who valued his reputation for sanctity above
rubies, did not play cards–at least, not openly–and Balnillo,
discovering new faces, as those must who have been over a year absent
from any community, was glad to have him at his elbow to answer
questions. Silks rustled, fans clicked, and the medley of noises in
the court below came up, though the windows were shut.

The candles, dim enough to our modern standards of lighting, shone
against the darkness of polished wood, and laughter and talk were
escaping, like running water out of a thicket, from a knot of people
gathered round a small, plump, aquiline-nosed woman. The group was at
the end of the room, and now and again an individual would detach
himself from it, to return, drawn by some jest that reached him ere he
had crossed the floor.

“Mrs. Cockburn’s wit has not rusted this twelvemonth,” observed Lord
Grange.

“I marvel she has any left after nine years of housekeeping with her
straitlaced father-in-law,” replied Balnillo in a preoccupied voice.

His eyes were elsewhere.

“Ah!” said Grange, pulling a righteous face.

The group round Mrs. Cockburn opened, and she caught sight of him for
the first time. She bowed and smiled civilly, showing her rather
prominent teeth, then, noticing Balnillo, she came over to the two
men. Her friends stepped apart to let her pass, watching her go with
that touch of proprietary pride which a small intimate society feels
in its more original members. It was evident that her least acts were
deemed worthy of observation.

As she greeted David, he turned round with a low bow.

“My lord, I thought you were buried!” she exclaimed.

“Dead and buried,” droned Grange, for the sake of saying something.

“Not dead,” exclaimed she, “else I had been in mourning!”

Balnillo bowed again, bringing his attention back with a jerk from the
direction in which it had been fixed.

“Come, my lord, what have you been doing all this long time?”

“I have been endeavouring to improve my estate, ma’am.”

“And meanwhile you have left us to deteriorate. For shame, sir!”

“Edinburgh morals are safe in Lord Grange’s hands,” rejoined Balnillo,
with a sudden flash of slyness.

Mrs. Cockburn smiled behind her fan. There were odd stories afloat
about Grange. She looked appreciatively at Balnillo. He had not
changed, in spite of his country life; he was as dapper, as
ineffective, and as unexpected as ever. She preferred him infinitely
to Grange.

“Fie, Davie!” broke in the latter, with a leer; “you are an ungallant
dog! Here is Mrs. Cockburn wasting her words on you, and you do
nothing but ogle the lady yonder by the window.”

Three pairs of eyes–the bright ones of Mrs. Cockburn, the rather
furtive ones of Balnillo, and the sanctimonious orbs of Lord
Grange–turned in one direction.

“Mrs. Cockburn is all knowledge, as she is all goodness,” observed the
last named, pompously. “Pray, ma’am, tell us who is that lady?”

Continue Reading

THE TWO ENDS OF THE LINE

THREE days afterwards Wattie sat at the gates of Ardguys and looked
between the pale yellow ash-trees at the house. There was nobody about
at the moment to forbid his entrance, and he drove quietly in at a
foot’s pace and approached the door. The sun shone with the clear
lightness of autumn, and the leaves, which had almost finished the
fitful process of falling, lay gathered in heaps by the gate, for
Madam Flemington liked order. On the steep pitch of the ancient slate
roof a few pigeons, white and grey, sat in pairs or walked about with
spasmodic dignity. The whole made a picture, high in tone, like a
water-colour, and the clean etched lines of the stripped branches gave
it a sharp delicacy and threw up the tall, light walls. All these
things were lost upon the beggar.

He had informed himself in Forfar. He knew that the place was owned
and lived in by a lady of the name of Flemington, who was the
grandmother of the young man from whom he had lately parted. He had
learned nothing of her character and politics because of the seclusion
in which she lived, and he stared about him on every side and scanned
the house for any small sign that might give him a clue to the tastes
or occupations of its inhabitant. Whilst he was so engaged the
front-door opened and the sound sent all the pigeons whirling from the
roof into the air in flashes of grey-blue and white. Madam Flemington
stood on the top step.

The beggar’s hand went instinctively to his bonnet. He was a little
taken aback–why, he did not know–and he instantly abandoned his plan
of an emotional description of Archie’s plight. She stood quite still,
looking down at him.

Her luxuriant silver hair was covered by a three-cornered piece of
black lace that was tied in a knot under her chin, and she wore the
‘calash,’ or hood, with which the ladies of those days protected their
headdresses when they went out. A short furred cloak was round her.

She considered Wattie with astonishment. Then she beckoned to him to
approach.

“Who and what are you?” she asked, laying her hand on the railing that
encircled the landing of the steps.

That question was so seldom put to him that it struck him unawares,
like a stone from behind a hedge. He hesitated.

“A’ve got news for yer leddyship,” he began.

“I asked your name,” said Madam Flemington.

“Wattie Caird,” replied he. “Skirling Wattie, they ca’ me.”

The countryside and its inhabitants did not appeal to Christian, but
this amazing intruder was like no one she had ever seen before. She
guessed that he was a beggar, and she brushed aside his announcement
of news as merely a method of attracting attention.

“You are one of the few persons in these parts who can afford to keep
a coach,” she remarked.

A broad smile overspread his ribald countenance, like the sun
irradiating a public-house.

“Dod, ma leddy, a’d think shame to visit ye on fut,” said he, with a
wag of his head.

“You have better reasons than that,” she replied rather grimly.

“Aye, aye, they’re baith awa’,” said he, looking at the place where
his legs should have been. “A’m an ill sicht for the soutars!”

She threw back her head and laughed a little.

She had seen no one for months, with the exception of Archie, who was
so quick in mind and speech, and the humour of this vagabond on wheels
took her fancy. There was no whining servility about him, in spite of
his obvious profession.

The horrified face of a maidservant appeared for one moment at a
window, then vanished, struck back by the unblessed sight of her
mistress, that paralyzing, unapproachable power, jesting, apparently,
with Skirling Wattie, the lowest of the low. The girl was a native of
Forfar, the westernmost point of the beggar’s travels, and she had
often seen him in the streets.

“You face life boldly,” said Madam Flemington.

“An’ what for no? Fegs, greetin’ fills naebody’s kyte.”*[*Stomach.]

She laughed again.

“You shall fill yours handsomely,” said she; “go to the other door and
I will send orders to the women to attend to you.”

“Aye, will I,” he exclaimed, “but it wasna’ just for a piece that a’
cam’ a’ the way frae the muir o’ Rossie.”

“From where?” said she.

“The muir o’ Rossie,” repeated he. “Ma leddy, it was awa’ yonder at
the tail o’ the muir that a’ tell’t Maister Flemington the road to
Aberbrothock.”

“Mr. Flemington?”

“Aye, yon lad Flemington–an’ a deevil o’ a lad he is to tak’ the road
wi’! Ma leddy, there’s been a pucklie fechtin’ aboot Montrose, an’ the
Prince’s men hae gotten a haud o’ King George’s ship that’s in by
Ferryden. As a’ gaed doon to the toon, a’ kaipit* [*Met.] wi’
Flemington i’ the road. He’d gotten a clour on ‘s heed. He was
fechtin’ doon aboot Inchbrayock, he tell’t me.”

“Fighting? With whom?” asked Madam Flemington, fixing her tiger’s eyes
on him.

The beggar had watched her face narrowly while he spoke for the
slightest flicker of expression that might indicate the way her
feelings were turning.

“He was fechtin’ wi’ Captain Logie,” he continued boldly, “a fell man
yon–ye’ll ken him, yer leddyship?”

“By name,” said Christian.

“A’m thinkin’ it was frae him that he got the clour on ‘s heed. A’
gie’d him ma guid whisky bottle, an’ a’ got water to him frae a well.
A’ ca’d him awa’ frae the roadside–he didna ken wha would be aifter
him ye see–an’ a’ gar’d a clatterin’ auld wife at the muir side gie’s
a shelter yon nicht. A’ didna’ leave the callant, ma’ leddy, till a’
got a shelt to him. He’s to Edinburgh. A’ tell’t him wha ‘d get him a
passage to Leith–a’m an Aberbrothock man, mysel’, ye ken.”

“And did he send you to me?”

“Aye, did he,” said he, lying boldly.

There was no sign of emotion, none even of surprise, on her face. Her
heart had beaten hard as the beggar talked, and the weight of wrath
and pain that she had carried since she had parted with Archie began
to lighten. He had listened to her–he had not gone against her. How
deep her words had fallen into his heart she could not tell, but deep
enough to bring him to grips with the man who had made the rift
between them.

“Are you sure of what you say?” she asked quickly; “did you see them
fight?”

“Na, na, but ’twas the lad himsel’ that tell’t me. He was on the
ship.”

“He was on the ship?”

“Aye, was he. And he gae’d oot wi’ the sodgers to deave they rebels
frae Inchbrayock. They got the ship, ma leddy, but they didna get him.
He escapit.”

“Did you say he was much hurt?” said Madam Flemington.

“Hoots! ye needna’ fash yersel’, ma leddy! A’ was feared for him i’
the nicht, but there wasna’ muckle wrang wi’ him when he gae’d awa’,
or, dod, a’ wouldna’ hae left him!”

He had no mind to spoil his presentment of himself as Good Samaritan.

So far he had learnt nothing. He had spoken of the Prince’s men as
rebels without a sign of displeasure showing on Madam Flemington’s
face. Archie might be playing a double game and she might be doing the
same, but there was nothing to suggest it. She was magnificently
impersonal. She had not even shown the natural concern that he
expected with regard to her own flesh and blood.

“Go now,” said she, waving her hand towards the back part of the
house; “you shall feed well, you and your dogs; and when you have
finished you can come to these steps again, and I will give you some
money. You have done well by me.”

She re-entered the house and he drove away to the kitchen-door,
dismissed.

If Wattie hoped to discover anything more there about the lady and her
household, he was disappointed. The servants raised their chins in
refined disapproval of the vagrant upon whom their mistress had seen
fit to waste words under the very front windows of Ardguys. They
resolved that he should find the back-door, socially, a different
place, and only the awe in which they stood of Christian compelled
them to obey her to the letter. A crust or two would have interpreted
her wishes, had they dared to please themselves. But Madam Flemington
knew every resource of her larder and kitchen, for French housekeeping
and the frugality of her exiled years had taught her thrift. She would
measure precisely what had been given to her egregious guest, down to
the bones laid, by her order, before his dogs.

The beggar ate in silence, amid the brisk cracking made by five pairs
of busy jaws; the maids were in the stronghold of the kitchen, far
from the ungenteel sight of his coarse enjoyment. When he had
satisfied himself, he put the fragments into his leathern bag and went
round once more to the front of the house.

A window was open on the ground-floor, and Madam Flemington’s large
white hand came over the sill holding a couple of crown pieces. She
was sitting on the window-seat within. Her cloak and the calash had
disappeared, and Wattie could see the fine poise of her head. She
dropped the coin into the cart as he drove below.

As he looked up he thought that if she had been imposing in her
outdoor garments she was a hundredfold more so without them. He was at
his ease with her, but he wondered at it, though he was accustomed to
being at his ease with everybody. A certain vanity rose in him, coarse
remnant of humanity as he was, before this magnificent woman, and when
he had received the silver, he turned about, facing her, and began to
sing.

He was used to the plebeian admiration of his own public, but a touch
of it from her would have a different flavour. He was vain of his
singing, and that vanity was the one piece of romance belonging to
him; it hung over his muddy soul as a weaving of honeysuckle may hang
over a dank pond. Had he understood Madam Flemington perfectly, he
might have sung ‘The Tod,’ but as he only understood her
superficially, he sang ‘Logie Kirk.’ He did not know how nearly the
extremities of the social scale can draw together in the primitive
humours of humanity. It is the ends of a line that can best be bent to
meet, not one end and the middle.

Yet, as ‘Logie Kirk’ rang out among the spectral ash-trees, she sat
still, astonished, her head erect, like some royal animal listening;
it moved her, though its sentiment had naught to do with her mood at
present, nor with her cast of mind at any time. But love and loss are
things that lay their shadows everywhere, and Madam Flemington had
lost much; moreover, she had been a woman framed for love, and she had
not wasted her gifts.

As his voice ceased, she rose and threw the window up higher.

“Go on,” she said.

He paused, taking breath, for a couple of minutes. He knew songs to
suit all political creeds, but this time he would try one of the
Jacobite lays that were floating round the country; if it should
provoke some illuminating comment from her, he would have learned
something more about her, and incidentally about Archie, though it
struck him that he was not so sure of the unanimity of interest
between the grandmother and grandson which he had taken for granted
before seeing Madam Flemington.

His cunning eyes were rooted on her as he sang again.

“My love stood at the loanin’ side
And held me by the hand,
The bonniest lad that e’er did bide
In a’ this waefu’ land;
There’s but ae bonnier to be seen
Frae Pentland to the sea,
And for his sake but yestereen
I sent my love frae me.

“I gie’d my love the white, white rose
That’s at my feyther’s wa’,
It is the bonniest flower that grows
Where ilka flower is braw;
There’s but ae brawer that I ken
Frae Perth unto the main,
And that’s the flower o’ Scotland’s men
That’s fechtin’ for his ain.

“If I had kept whate’er was mine,
As I had gie’d my best,
My hairt were licht by day, and syne
The nicht wad bring me rest;
There is nae heavier hairt to find
Frae Forfar toon to Ayr,
As aye I sit me doon to mind
On him I see nae mair.

“Lad, gin ye fa’ by Chairlie’s side,
To rid this land o’ shame,
There will na be a prouder bride
Than her ye left at hame;
But I will see ye whaur ye sleep
Frae lowlands to the peat,
And ilka nicht at mirk I’ll creep
To lay me at yer feet.”

“You sing well,” said Christian when he had stopped; “now go.”

She inclined her head and turned from the window. As his broad back,
so grotesque in its strange nearness to the ground, passed out between
the gate-posts of Ardguys, she went over to the mantelpiece.

Her face was set, and she stood with clasped hands gazing into the
fireplace. She was deeply moved, but not by the song, which only
stirred her to bitterness, but by the searching tones of the beggar’s
voice, that had smitten a way through which her feelings surged to and
from her heart. The thought that Archie had not utterly broken away
from her unnerved her by the very relief it brought. She had not known
till now how much she had suffered from what had passed between them.
Her power was not all gone. She was not quite alone. She would have
scorned to admit that she could not stand in complete isolation, and
she admitted nothing, even to herself. She only stood still, her
nerves quivering, making no outward sign.

Presently she rang a little hand-bell that was on the table.

The genteel-minded maid appeared.

“Mysie,” said Madam Flemington, “in three days I shall go to
Edinburgh.”

Continue Reading

WATTIE HAS THEORIES

THOUGH Skirling Wattie seldom occupied the same bed on many
consecutive nights, his various resting-places had so great a family
likeness that he could not always remember where he was when he
chanced to wake in the small hours. Sheds, barns, stables harboured
him in the cold months when luck was good; loanings, old quarries,
whin-patches, the alder clump beyond Brechin, or the wall-side at
Magdalen Chapel, in the summer.

To-night he lay in the barn abutting on the tiny farmhouse at which he
had sought shelter for Archie. He had met with a half-hearted
reception from the woman who came to the door. Her man was away, she
told him, and she was unwilling to admit strangers in his absence. She
had never seen Wattie before, and it was plain that she did not like
his looks. He induced her at last, with the greatest difficulty, to
give shelter in her barn to the comrade whom he described as lying in
extremity at the roadside. Finally, she despatched her son, a youth of
fifteen, to accompany the beggar, and to help to bring the sufferer
back.

Cold water revived Archie again, and he reached the barn with the
assistance of the lad, who, better disposed than his mother, cut a
bundle of dry heather, which he spread in a corner for his comfort.
The woman looked with silent surprise at her undesired guest; she had
thought to see a fellow-traveller of different condition in company
with the masterful old blackguard in the cart. Her glances and her
expressive silence made Wattie uneasy, but there was no help for their
plight whilst Flemington could scarcely stand.

The beggar had spent the rest of that day in the barn. He was not
suffered to enter the farm, nor was he offered any food; but he had
enough store by him from what he had collected in Brechin for his own
needs and those of his team. Archie’s only requirement was the bowl of
water that his companion had obtained from the boy. He lay alternately
dozing and tossing on his pile of heather. His body was chilled for
his high boots had been full of the Esk water, and Wattie had
hesitated to draw them off, lest he should be unable to get them on
again after their soaking.

Night fell on the barn at last. Wattie slept sound, with the yellow
cur’s muzzle against his shoulder; but he awoke towards midnight, for
Archie’s feverish voice was coming from the corner in which he lay. He
inclined his ear, attracted by the recurrent name of Logie which ran
through the disconnected babblings, rising again and again like some
half-drowned object carried along a swift stream. The darkness made
every word seem more distinct.

“Listen to me!” cried Flemington. “Logie! Logie! you do not understand
. . . it is safe . . . it is burnt! Nobody shall know it from me.
. . . I cannot take your money, Logie . . . I will tell you
everything, but you will not understand. . . .”

The beggar was holding his breath.

“I did not guess it was Inchbrayock . . . I thought it would not be
Inchbrayock! Logie, I will say nothing . . . but I will tell you all.
For God’s sake, Logie, . . . I swear it is true! . . . Listen. . . .”

Skirling Wattie could hear him struggling as though he were fighting
for his life.

“Not to Ardguys . . . I cannot go back to Ardguys! I shall never tell
. . . never, never tell . . . but I shall know where you are! They
shall never know. _Ah!_” cried Archie, raising his voice like a man in
distress calling for help, “it is you, Logie! . . . My God, let me
go!”

The beggar dragged himself nearer. The fragment of moon did no more
than turn the chinks and cracks of the barn to a dull grey, and he
could hardly see the outline of his companion.

The nightmares that were tormenting Archie pointed to something that
must have happened before he came by his hurt, and the injury and the
chill had produced these light-headed wanderings; there were troubles
boiling in his mind that he had kept behind his teeth so long as his
tongue was under control. Wattie wondered what was all this talk of
Lord Balnillo’s brother. It seemed as if there were some secret
between this man, suspected, as he well knew, of being an active
rebel, and Flemington. Had it been light, Wattie would have tried to
get at the papers that Archie had spoken of as being on him when they
met, for these might give him some clue to the mystery. He sat in the
dark leaning against the wall of the barn, his arms tightly folded
across his great chest, his lips pursed, his gaze bent on the restless
figure that he could just distinguish.

All at once Archie sat up.

“Where are you?” he asked in a high, strained voice.

“A’m here,” replied the beggar.

“Is it you, Logie?” exclaimed Flemington.

“It’s mysel’.”

Wattie smoothed the roughness out of his accent as best he could. The
other seemed to be hovering on the brink of consciousness. He sank
back.

“It is not Logie,” he said; “but you can tell him—-”

Wattie leaned forward and laid his broad palm firmly and very gently
on his shoulder.

“What’ll a’ tell him?” said he.

Flemington turned towards him and groped about with his hot hand.

“Tell him from me that he can trust me,” he said in a hoarse, earnest
whisper.

The beggar’s touch seemed to quiet him. He lay still, murmuring
indistinctly between snatches of silence. Once again he sat up,
groping about.

“You will not forget?” he said.

“Na, na,” replied Wattie.

He pushed him gently back, patting him now and again as a nurse might
pat a restless child, and Archie grew calmer. The hand quieted him.
Rough, dirty, guileful, profane as he was, without scruple or
conscience or anything but the desire to do the best for himself,
Skirling Wattie had got, lodged in body or spirit, or in whatsoever
part of man the uncomprehended force dwells, that personal magnetism
which is independent alike of grace and of virtue, which can exist in
a soil that is barren of either. It may have been that which the
yellow cur, with the clear vision belonging to some animals,
recognized and adored; seeing not only the coarse and jovial reprobate
who was his master, but the shadow of the mysterious power that had
touched him.

The dog, awakened by Archie’s cry, found that the beggar had moved,
and drew closer to his side. Flemington dozed off again, and Wattie
sat thinking; he longed to stir him up, that he might have the chance
of hearing more of his rambling talk. But he refrained, not from
humane feeling, but from the fear that the talker, if he were tampered
with, might be too ill to be moved on the morrow. Sleep was his best
chance, and Wattie had made up his mind that if it were possible to
move him, he would prevail on the boy to get a beast from the nearest
place that boasted anything which could carry him to Aberbrothock. He
knew that Flemington could pay for it, and he would direct him to a
small inn in that place whose landlord, besides being a retired
smuggler, was a distant kinsman of his own. The matter of a passage to
Leith could be arranged through the same source for a consideration.
Archie should take his chance by himself.

He realized with some bitterness the bright opportunities that can be
lost upon a being who has no legs to speak of; for he could easily
have relieved him of what money he carried had he been an able-bodied
man. It was not that he lacked the force for such deeds, but that
honesty was wantonly thrust upon him because his comings and goings
were so conspicuous. Notoriety takes heavy toll; and he had about the
same chance as the king of being conveniently mislaid. He would have
given a good deal for a sight of the papers that Archie carried, and
though the darkness interfered with him now, he promised himself that
he would see them if the morning light should find him still
delirious. He could not make out how ill he was; and in spite of his
curiosity, he was not prepared to befriend him with the chance of his
growing worse. To have him dying upon his hands would be a burden too
great to endure, even should it lead to no awkward questionings. He
would get rid of him to-morrow, whether his curiosity were satisfied
or not: he had heard enough to make him suspect very strongly that
Flemington was in the pay of the rebels as well as in that of the
King. It was a situation that he, personally, could very well
understand. But the night turned, and Archie grew more peaceful as the
hours went by. He had one or two bouts of talking, but they were
incoherent and fitful, and his mind appeared now to be straying among
different phantoms. There was no more about Logie, and Wattie could
only make out the word ‘Ardguys,’ which he knew as the name of a place
beyond Forfar; and as he had discovered in Brechin that Flemington
lived somewhere in those parts, he guessed that his thoughts were
roving about his home. His breathing grew less laboured, and the
watcher could hear at last that he slept. The moon dropped, and with
her going the crevices lost their greyness and the barn grew black.
The beggar, who was a healthy sleeper, laid himself down again, and in
the middle of his cogitations passed into oblivion.

When he awoke the place was light, and Archie was looking at him with
intelligent eyes; they were hollow, and there were dark shadows below
them, but they were the eyes of a man in full possession of his wits.

“We must get out of this place,” he said. “I have been standing up,
but my knees seem so heavy I can hardly walk. My bones ache, Wattie; I
believe there is fever in me, but I must get on. Damn it, man, we are
a sorry pair to be cast on the world like this! I fear I took terrible
liberties with your whisky yesterday.”

It was a still, misty morning when the beggar, having harnessed his
dogs, went out to look for the boy. When he was gone, Flemington
fumbled with his shaking fingers for the different packets that he
carried. All were there safely–his letters, his money. He trusted
nobody, and he did not like having to trust the beggar.

His feverish head and the ague in his bones told him that he could
scarcely hope to get to Aberbrothock on foot. His boots were still
wet, and a bruise on his hip that he had got in falling yesterday had
begun to make itself felt. He propped himself against the wall and
reached out for the water beside him.

Wattie had been some time away when the barn door opened and the
farm-woman appeared on the threshold, considering him with suspicious
disfavour.

He dragged himself to his feet and bowed as though he were standing
upon an Aubusson carpet instead of upon a pallet of withered heather.
The action seemed to confirm her distrust.

“Madam,” said he, “I have to thank you for a night’s shelter and for
this excellent refreshment. You are too good. I drink to you.”

He raised the broken delf bowl with the drain of water that remained
in it. Being conscious of inhospitality, she was not sure how much
irony lay in his words, and his face told her nothing.

“It’s the last ye’ll get here,” said she.

The more she looked at Flemington the more she was impressed by his
undesirability as a guest. She was one of those to whom anything
uncommon seemed a menace.

“Madam, I notice that you dislike me–why?”

“Wha are ye?” she inquired after a pause, during which he faced her,
smiling, his eyebrows raised.

“We are two noblemen, travelling for pleasure,” said he.

She crossed her arms, snorting.

“Heuch!” she exclaimed contemptuously. “A’ wish ma gudeman was hame.
He’d sort the pair o’ ye!”

“If you think we have any design on your virtue,” he continued, “I beg
you to dismiss the idea. I assure you, you are safe with us. We are
persons of the greatest delicacy, and my friend is a musician of the
first rank. I myself am what you see–your humble servant and
admirer.”

“Ye’re a leear and a Frenchman!” cried she.

Her eyes blazed. A little more provocation, and she might have
attacked him. At this moment Wattie’s cart drove into the yard behind
her, axle deep in the sea of mud and manure that filled the place. She
turned upon the new-comer. She could not deal with Archie, but the
beggar was a foe she could understand, and she advanced, a whirl of
abuse, upon him. The yellow dog’s growling rose, battling with her
strident tones, and Archie, seeing the mischief his tongue had
wrought, limped out, fearful of what might happen.

“Stand awa’ frae the doag, wumman! He’ll hae the legs o’ ye roogit aff
yer henches gin he get’s a haud o’ ye!” roared Wattie, as the yellow
body leaped and bounded in the traces.

Amid a hurricane of snarling and shouts he contrived, by plying his
stick, to turn the animals and to get them out of the yard.

Archie followed him, but before he did so he paused to turn to his
enemy, who had taken shelter in the doorway of the barn. He could not
take off his hat to her because he had no hat to take off, having lost
it on Inchbrayock Island, but he blew a kiss from the points of his
fingers with an air that almost made her choke. Wattie, looking back
over his shoulder, called angrily to him. He could not understand what
he had done to the woman to move her to such a tempest of wrath, but
he told himself that, in undertaking to escort Archie, he had made a
leap in the dark. He would direct him to his cousin’s house of
entertainment in Aberbrothock, and return to his own haunts without
delay.

At the nearest point of road the boy was standing by a sorry-looking
nag that he held by the ear.

A few minutes later they had parted, and the boy, made happy by the
coin he had been given, was returning to the farm, while the beggar,
who had also reaped some profit in the last twenty-four hours, watched
his late companion disappearing down the road. When he was out of
sight he turned his own wheels in the direction of Brechin, and set
off at a sober pace for that friendly town. He was singing to himself
as he went, first because he owned the price of another bottle of
whisky; secondly, because he was delighted to be rid of Flemington;
and thirdly, because an inspiring idea had come to him.

His dogs, by the time they drew him into Brechin, would have done two
heavy days’ work, and would deserve the comparative holiday he meant
to give them. He would spend to-morrow in the town with his pipes in
the company of that congenial circle always ready to spring from the
gutter on his appearance. Then, after a good night’s rest, and when he
should have collected a trifle, he would go on to Forfar and learn for
certain whether Archie lived at Ardguys and who might be found there
in his absence.

His idea was to arrive at the house with the last tidings of the young
man; to give an account of the attack on the _Venture_, its surrender,
Flemington’s injury, and his own part in befriending him. It took some
time, in those days of slow communication, for public news to travel
so much as across a county, but even should the tale of the ship have
reached Ardguys, the news of Archie could scarcely have preceded him.
He hoped to find someone–for preference an anxious mother, who would
be sensible of how much he had done for her son. There would be fresh
profit there.

And not only profit. There was something else for which the beggar
hoped, though profit was his main object. He pictured some tender,
emotional lady from whose unsuspicious heart he might draw scraps of
information that would fit into his own theories. He would try the
effect of Logie’s name, and there would be no harm in taking a general
survey of Flemington’s surroundings and picking up any small facts
about him that he could collect.

His own belief in Archie’s double dealing grew stronger as he jogged
along; no doubt that shrewd and unaccountable young man was driving a
stiff trade. There was little question in his mind that the contents
of the letter he had put into his hands by the alder-clump had been
sold to Captain James Logie, and that its immediate result had been
the taking of the ship. He had learned from Archie’s ravings that
there had been a question of money between himself and Logie. The part
that he could make nothing of was the suggestion, conveyed by Archie
in the night, that he and the judge’s brother had been fighting. “Let
me go, Logie!” he had cried out in the darkness, and the blow on his
forehead, which was bleeding when he found him, proved recent
violence.

But though he could not explain these puzzles, nor make them tally
with his belief, his theory remained. Flemington was in league with
Logie. For the present he determined to keep his suspicions to
himself.

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IN SEARCH OF SENSATION

WHEN Skirling Wattie had delivered his letter to Flemington on the
foregoing day, he watched the young man out of sight with disgust, and
cursed him for a high-handed jackanapes. He was not used to be treated
in such a fashion. There was that about Archie which took his fancy,
for the suggestion of stir and movement that went everywhere with
Flemington pleased him, and roused his unfailing curiosity. The
beggar’s most pleasant characteristic was his interest in everybody
and everything; his worst, the unseasonable brutality with which he
gratified it.

A livelihood gained by his own powers of cajolery and persistence had
left him without a spark of respect for his kind. He would have been a
man of prowess had his limbs been intact–and destiny, in robbing his
body of activity, had transferred that quality to his brains. His huge
shoulders and broad fists, the arrogant male glare of his roving eye,
might well hint at the wisdom of providence in keeping his sphere of
action to the narrow limits of a go-cart. Those who look for
likenesses between people and animals would be reminded by him of a
wild boar; and it was almost shocking to anyone with a sense of
fitness to hear the mellow and touching voice, rich with the
indescribable quiver of pathos and tragedy, that proceeded from his
bristly jaws when he sang. The world that it conjured up before
imaginative listeners was a world of twilight; of stars that drew a
trail of tear-dimmed lustre about the ancient haunted places of the
country; stars that had shone on battlefields and on the partings of
lovers; that had looked on the raids of the border, and had stood over
the dark border-towers among the peat. It was a strange truth that, in
the voice of this coarse and humble vagabond, lay the whole
distinctive spirit of the national poetry of Scotland.

In the last few months his employment had added new zest to his life,
for it was not only the pay he received for his occasional carrying of
letters that was welcome to him; his bold and guileful soul delighted
in the occupation for its own sake. He was something of a student of
human nature, as all those who live by their wits must be of
necessity; and the small services he was called upon to give brought
him into contact with new varieties of men. Archie was new to him,
and, in the beggar’s opinion, immeasurably more amusing than anyone he
had seen yet. In modern parlance he would be called ‘a sportsman,’
this low-bred old ruffian who had lost his legs, and who was left to
the mercy of his own ingenuity and to the efforts of the five dumb
animals which supplemented his loss. He had–all honour to him–kept
his love of life and its chances through his misfortune; and though he
did not know it himself, it was his recognition of the same spirit in
Flemington that made him appreciate the young man.

His services to the state had not been important up to the present
time. A few letters carried, a little information collected, had been
the extent of his usefulness. But, though he was not in their regular
employ, the authorities were keeping a favourable eye on him, for he
had so far proved himself capable, close-mouthed, and a very miracle
of local knowledge.

He sat in his cart looking resentfully after Flemington between the
stems of the alders and the lattice of their golden-brown leaves, and,
though the one word tossed over the rider’s shoulders did not tell him
much, he determined he would not lose sight of Archie if he could help
it. “Brechin” might mean anything from a night’s lodging to a
lengthened stay, but he would follow him as far as he dared and set
about discovering his movements. Skirling Wattie had friends in
Brechin, as he had in most places round about, and certain bolt-holes
of his own wherein he could always find shelter for himself and his
dogs; but he did not mean to trust himself nearer than these refuges
to Lord Balnillo, at any rate, not for a few days. Chance had relieved
him of the letter for which he was responsible sooner than he
expected, and at present he was a free man. He roused his team, tucked
his pipes into their corner of the cart, and, guiding himself
carefully between the trees, issued from the thicket like some ribald
vision of goblinry escaped from the world of folk-lore.

He turned towards Brechin, and set off for the town at a brisk trot,
the yellow dog straining at his harness, and his comrades taking their
pace from him. Every inch of the road was known to Wattie, every tree
and tuft, every rut and hole; and as there were plenty of these last,
he bumped and swung along in a way that would have dislocated the
bones of a lighter person. The violent roughness of his progress was
what served him for exercise and kept him in health. There were not
many houses near the highway, but the children playing round the doors
of the few he passed hailed him with shouts, and he answered them, as
he answered everyone, with his familiar wag of the head.

When he entered Brechin and rolled past the high, circular shaft of
its round tower, the world made way for him with a grin, and when it
was not agile enough to please him, he heralded himself with a shrill
note from the chanter, which he had unscrewed from his pipes. Business
was business with him. He meant to lie in the town to-night, but he
was anxious to get on to Flemington’s tracks before the scent was
cold.

He drove to the Swan inn and entered the yard, and there he had the
satisfaction of seeing Archie’s horse being rubbed down with a wisp of
straw. Its rider, he made out, had left the inn on foot half an hour
earlier, so, with this meagre clue, he sought the streets and the
company of the idlers haunting their thievish corners, to whom the
passing stranger and what might be made out of him were the best
interests of the day. By the time the light was failing he had traced
Flemington down to the river, where he had been last seen crossing the
bridge. The beggar was a good deal surprised; he could not imagine
what was carrying Archie away from the place.

In the dusk he descended the steep streets running down to the Esk,
and, slackening his pace, took out a short, stout pair of crutches
that he kept beside him, using them as brakes on either side of the
cart. People who saw Wattie for the first time would stand,
spell-bound, to watch the incredible spectacle of his passage through
a town, but, to the inhabitants of Brechin, he was too familiar a
sight for anything but the natural widening of the mouth that his
advent would produce from pure force of habit.

The lights lit here and there were beginning to repeat themselves in
the water, and men were returning to their houses after the day’s work
as he stopped his cart and sent out that surest of all attractions,
the first notes of ‘The Tod,’ into the gathering mists of the
river-side. By ones and twos, the details of a sympathetic audience
drew together round him as his voice rose over the sliding rush of the
Esk. Idlers on the bridge leaned over the grey arches as the sound
came to them above the tongue of the little rapid that babbled as it
lost itself in the shadow of the woods downstream.

Then the pipes took up their tune. Jests and roars of laughter oiled
the springs of generosity, and the good prospects of supper and a bed
began to smile upon the beggar. When darkness set in, he turned his
wheels towards a shed that a publican had put at his disposal for the
night, and he and his dogs laid themselves down to rest in its
comfortable straw. The yellow cur, relieved from his harness, stole
closer and closer to his master and lay with his jowl against the
pipes. Presently Wattie’s dirty hand went out and sought the coarse
head of his servant.

“Doag,” he was muttering, as he went to sleep.

Perhaps in all the grim, grey little Scottish town, no living creature
closed its eyes more contentedly than the poor cur whose head was
pillowed in paradise because of the touch that was on it.

Morning found man and dogs out betimes and migrating to the heart of
the town. Wattie was one who liked to get an early draught from the
fountain-head of news, to be beforehand, so to speak, with his day.
The Swan inn was his goal, and he had not got up the hill towards it
when his practised eye, wise in other men’s movements, saw that the
world was hurrying along, drawn by some magnet stronger than its
legitimate work. The women were running out of their houses too. As he
toiled up the steep incline, a figure burst from the mouth of a wynd
and came flying down the middle of the narrow way.

“Hey! what ails ye, man? What’s ‘ahind ye?” he cried, stopping his
cart and spreading out his arms as though to embrace the approaching
man.

The other paused. He was a pale, foolish-looking youth, whose progress
seemed as little responsible as that of a discharged missile.

“There’s fechtin’!” he yelled, apparently addressing the air in
general.

“Fechtin’?”

“Ay, there’s fechtin’ at Montrose this hour syne! Div ye no hear them,
ye deef muckle swine?” continued the youth, rendered abusive by
excitement.

The two stared in each other’s faces as those do who listen. Dull and
distant, a muffled boom drove in from the coast. A second throb
followed it.

The youth dropped his raised hands and fled on.

Wattie turned his dogs, and set off down the hill without more delay.
Here was the reason that Archie had left the town! It was in
expectation of this present disturbance on the coast that he had
slipped out of Brechin by the less frequented road round the Basin.

He scurried down the hill, scattering the children playing in the
kennel with loud imprecations and threats. He sped over the bridge,
and was soon climbing the rise on the farther side of the Esk. If
there was fighting going on, he would make shift to see it, and
Montrose would be visible from most of his road. Soon he would get a
view of the distant harbour, and would see the smoke of the guns whose
throats continued to trouble the air. Also, he would get forward
unmolested, for there would be the width of the Basin between himself
and Lord Balnillo.

He breathed his team when he reached the top of the hill; for he was a
scientific driver, and he had some way to go. He cast a glance down at
the place he had left, rejoicing that no one had followed him out of
it. When he was on his own errands he did not like company,
preferring, like most independent characters, to develop his
intentions in the perfect freedom of silence.

When he drew near enough to distinguish the _Venture_, a dark spot
under the lee of Ferryden, he saw the white puffs of smoke bursting
from her, and the answering clouds rising from the island. There had
been no time to hear the rumours of the morning before he met the pale
young man, or he would have learned that a body of Prince Charles’s
men under Ferrier had left Brechin last night whilst he lay sound
asleep in the straw among his dogs. He could not imagine where the
assailants had come from who were pounding at the ship from
Inchbrayock.

The fields sloped away from him to the water, leaving an uninterrupted
view. He pressed on to the cross-roads at which he must turn along the
Basin’s shore. From there on, the conformation of the land, and the
frequent clumps of trees, would shut out both town and harbour from
his sight until he came parallel with the island.

He halted at the turning for a last look at the town. The firing had
ceased, which reconciled him a little to the eclipse of the distant
spectacle; then he drove on again, unconscious of the sight he was to
miss. For, unsuspected by him, as by the crowd thronging the quays of
Montrose, the French frigate was creeping up the coast, and she made
her appearance in the river-mouth just as Wattie began the tamer stage
of his journey.

The yellow cur and his companions toiled along at their steady trot,
their red tongues hanging. The broadside from the French ship rang
inland, and the beggar groaned, urging them with curses and chosen
abuse. His intimate knowledge of the neighbourhood led him to steer
for the identical spot on which Flemington, crouched in his whin-bush,
had looked down on the affray, and he hoped devoutly that he might
reach that point of vantage while there was still something to be seen
from it. Silence had settled on the strait once more.

Not far in front a man was coming into sight, the first creature
Wattie had seen since leaving Brechin, whose face was turned from the
coast. He seemed a person of irresolute mind, as well as of
vacillating feet, for every few yards he would stop, hesitating,
before resuming his way. The beggar cursed him heartily for a
drunkard, for, though he had a lively sympathy with backsliders of
that kind, he knew that accurate information was the last thing to be
expected from them. Before the wayfarers had halved the distance
between them the man stopped, and sitting down by the tumbledown stone
dyke at the roadside, dropped his head in his hands. As the cart
passed him a few minutes later, he raised a ghastly face, and Skirling
Wattie pulled up astounded, with a loud and profane exclamation, as he
recognized Flemington.

Though Archie had been glad to escape from the beggar yesterday, he
was now thankful to see anyone who might pass for a friend. He tried
to smile, but his eyes closed again, and he put out his hand towards
the dyke.

“I’m so devilish giddy,” he said.

Wattie looked at the cut on his head and the stains of blood on his
coat.

“Ye’ve gotten a rare dunt,” he observed.

Archie, who seemed to himself to be slipping off the rounded edge of
the world, made no reply.

The other sat eyeing him with perplexity and some impatience. He did
not know what he wanted most–to get to Montrose, or to get news out
of Flemington. The dogs lay down in the mud. Flemington kept his hand
to his eyes for a minute, and then lifted his head again.

“The ship has surrendered,” he said, speaking with difficulty; “I have
been on the high ground watching. She struck her flag. A French
frigate—-”

He stopped again. The road on which he sat was whirling down into
illimitable space.

The other took in his plight. His coat, torn in his struggle with
Logie, was full of whin-prickles, and the wet mud was caked on his
legs. His soft, silky hair was flattened on his forehead.

“Ye’ve been fechtin’ yersel’, ma lad,” said Wattie. “Whaur hae ye
been?”

“There’s a rebel force on Inchbrayock,” said Archie, with another
effort; “I have been on the island. Yes, I’ve been fighting. A man
recognized me–a man I saw at–on the road by Balnillo. They will be
hunting me soon, and I have papers on me they must not find, and
money–all the money I have. God knows how I am to get away! I must
get to Aberbrothock.”

“What was ye sayin’ aboot the French?”

In broken sentences, and between his fits of giddiness, Archie
explained the situation in the harbour, and the beggar listened, his
bristly brows knit, his bonnet thrust back on his bald head; and his
own best course of action grew clear to him. Montrose would soon be
full of rebel soldiers, and though these might be generous audiences
when merry with wine and loose upon the streets, their presence would
make him no safer from Lord Balnillo. Wattie knew that the judge’s
loyalty was beginning to be suspected, and that he might well have
friends among the Prince’s officers, whose arrival might attract him
to the town. And to serve Archie would be a good recommendation for
himself with his employers, to say nothing of any private gratitude
that the young man might feel.

“Bide you whaur ye are!” he exclaimed, rousing his dogs. “Lad, a’ll
hae to ca’ ye oot o’ this, an’ dod! we’ll need a’ our time!”

Not far from them a spring was trickling from the fields, dropping in
a spurt through the damp mosses between the unpointed stones of the
dyke. The obedient dogs drew their master close to it, and he filled a
battered pannikin that he took from among his small collection of
necessities in the bottom of the cart. He returned with the water, and
when Archie had bathed his head in its icy coldness, he drew a
whisky-bottle from its snug lair under the bagpipes, and forced him to
drink. It was half full, for the friendly publican had replenished his
store before they parted on the foregoing night. As the liquid warmed
his stomach, Archie raised his head slowly.

“I believe I can walk now,” he said at last.

“Ye’ll need to try,” observed Wattie dryly. “Ye’ll no can ride wi’ me.
Come awa’, Maister Flemington. Will a gi’ ye a skelloch o’ the pipes
to help ye alang?”

“In God’s name, no!” cried Archie, whose head was splitting.

He struggled on to his feet. The whisky was beginning to overcome the
giddiness, and he knew that every minute spent on the highroad was a
risk.

The beggar was determined to go to Aberbrothock with Archie; he did
not consider him in a fit state to be left alone, and he counselled
him to leave the road at once, and to cut diagonally across the high
ground, whilst he himself, debarred by his wheels from going across
country, drove back to the cross roads, and took the one to the coast.
By doing this the pair would meet, Flemington having taken one side of
the triangle, while Wattie had traversed the other two. They were to
await each other at a spot indicated by the latter, where a bit of
moor encroached on the way.

As Wattie turned again to retrace his road, he watched his friend
toiling painfully up the slanting ground among the uneven tussocks of
grass with some anxiety. Archie laboured along, pausing now and again
to rest, but he managed to gain the summit of the ridge. Wattie saw
his figure shorten from the feet up as he crossed the sky-line, till
his head and shoulders dropped out of sight like the topsails of a
ship over a clear horizon; he was disappointed at having missed the
sight of so much good fighting. Archie’s account had been rather
incoherent, but he gathered that the rebels were in possession of the
harbour, and that a French ship had come in in the middle of the
affray full of rebel troops. He shouted the information to the few
people he met.

He turned southward at the cross roads. Behind him lay the panorama of
the Basin and the spread of the rolling country; Brechin, the Esk, the
woods of Monrummon Moor, stretching out to Forfar, and, northward, the
Grampians, lying with their long shoulders in the autumn light. His
beat for begging was down there across the water and round about the
country between town and town; but though his activities were in that
direction, he knew Aberbrothock and the coast well, for he had been
born in a fishing-village in one of its creeks, and had spent his
early years at sea. He would be able to put Archie in the way of a
passage to Leith without much trouble and without unnecessary
explanations; Archie had money on him, and could be trusted to pay his
way.

He was the first to reach the trysting-place, and he drew up, glad to
give his team a rest; at last he saw Archie coming along with the
slow, careful gait of a man who is obliged to consider each step of
his way separately in order to get on at all.

“Sit ye doon,” he exclaimed, as they met.

“If once I sit down I am lost,” said Archie. “Come on.”

He started along the road with the same dogged step, the beggar
keeping alongside. They had gone about half a mile when Flemington
clutched at a wayside bush and then slid to the ground in a heap.

Wattie pulled up, dismayed, and scanned their surroundings. To let him
lie there by the road was out of the question. He could not tell how
much his head had been injured, but he knew enough to be sure that
exposure and cold might bring a serious illness on a man in his state;
he did not understand that the whisky he had given Archie was the
worst possible thing for him. To the beggar, it was the sovereign
remedy for all trouble of mind or body.

He cursed his own circumscribed energies; there was no one in sight.
The nearest habitation was a little farmhouse on the skirts of the
moor with one tiny window in its gable-end making a dark spot, high
under the roof.

Wattie turned his wheels reluctantly towards it. Unwilling though he
was to draw attention to his companion, there was no choice.

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