WHEN the men had disappeared into the house, Archie remained under his
stairhead considering. He had been told in his instructions to
discover two things–whether Logie was in touch with Ferrier, and
whether ‘The Happy Land’ was frequented by the pair. Though Ferrier
was in command of the small Jacobite force in Brechin, it was
suspected that he spent an unknown quantity of his time in Montrose.
To the first of these questions he had already mastered the answer; it
only remained for him to be absolutely certain that the house in front
of him was ‘The Happy Land.’ He could not swear that he was in the New
Wynd, though he was morally certain of it, but there were marks upon
the house which would be proof of its identity. There would be a
little hole, covered by an inside sliding panel, in the door of ‘The
Happy Land,’ through which its inmates could see anyone who ascended
the stair without being seen themselves, and there would be the
remains of an ancient ‘risp,’ or tirling-pin, at one side of it.
Archie ran lightly across the street, crept up the staircase, and
passed his palm over the wood. Yes, there was the hole, two inches
deep in the solid door. He put in his finger and felt the panel in the
farther side. Then he searched along the wall till his hand came in
contact with the jagged edge of the ancient risp. There was no ring on
it, for it had long been disused, but it hung there still–a useless
and maimed veteran, put out of action.
He returned to his post satisfied. His discoveries had earned him the
right to go home, but he did not mean to do so. How he was going to
get back into Balnillo House, unseen, he did not know, and had not, so
far, troubled himself to imagine. Perhaps he might have to stop out
all night. He hoped not, but he was not going to meet trouble
half-way. The house would be locked, the household–with the exception
of the errant James–abed, and his own room was not upon the
ground-floor. However, these were matters for later consideration, and
he would remain where he was for a time. For all he knew, Ferrier and
Logie might combine business with pleasure by staying in ‘The Happy
Land’ till morning; but they were just as likely to come out within
measurable time, and then he could see where they went. He was quite
happy, as he was everywhere.
He fell to thinking of other things: of his host, with his thin, neat
legs and velvet coat; of that ‘riding the circuit’ upon which the old
man valued himself so much. In his mind’s eye he figured him astride
of his floundering nag at the edge of some uninviting bog in an access
of precise dismay. That was how he would have wished to paint him. His
powers of detachment were such that he became fascinated by the idea,
and awoke from it with a start to hear the footsteps of Logie and
Ferrier coming down the stairway opposite.
They did not retrace their way up the Wynd, but went on to its end and
turned into a street leading southwards, whilst Archie slipped along
in their wake. At last they reached a wilderness of sheds and lumber,
above which stood a windmill on a little eminence, and the strong
smell of sea and tar proclaimed the region of the harbour. A light
shone clear and large across the dark space of water, touching the
moving ripples, and this Archie guessed to be the riding-light of the
_Venture_, which lay like a sullen watch-dog under Ferryden village.
He had to go very warily, for the pair in front stopped often and
stood talking in low voices, but the bales and coils of rope and heaps
of timber with which the quays were strewn gave him cover. He could
not get close enough to them to hear what they said, but their figures
were much plainer against the background of water than they had been
in the streets, and he noted how often Logie would stretch out his
arm, pointing to the solitary light across the strait.
There was scarcely any illumination on this side of it, and the
unrigged shipping lay in darkness as Ferrier and his friend went along
the quay and seated themselves on a windlass. Archie, drawing closer,
could hear the rustle as the former unrolled James’s map. The soldier
took out his flint and steel and struck a light, covering it with his
hand, and both men bent their heads over the paper. Archie’s wrist
smarted afresh as he saw it; his sleeve had rubbed the burn, and he
could feel the oozing blood.
He crouched behind them, peering through the medley of ropes and
tackle which hung on the windlass. By standing up he could have
touched the two men. He had no idea what it was that they were
studying, but his sharp wits told him that it must be a map of some
kind, something which might concern the English ship across the
waterway. He longed to get it. His confidence in his own luck was one
of the qualities that had served him best, and his confidence in his
own speed was great and, moreover, well-placed. He knew that he had
twelve years of advantage over James, and, from the sound of Ferrier’s
voice, he judged that he had the same, or more, over him.
The temptation of chance overmastered him. He raised himself
noiselessly, leaned over the intervening tackle, and made a bold
snatch at the map, which Ferrier held whilst James was occupied with
the lighted twist of tow.
But his luck was to fail him this time. Logie moved his hand, knocking
it against Flemington’s, and the light caught the paper’s edge. A soft
puff of sea-wind was coming in from over the strait, and in one moment
the sheet was ablaze. Archie snatched back his hand and fled; but the
glare of the burning paper had been bright enough to show Logie a
man’s wrist, on which there was a fresh, bleeding mark.
The bright flare of the paper only intensified the darkness for the
two astounded men, and though each was instantly on his feet and
running in the direction of the retreating footsteps, Archie had
threaded the maze of amphibious obstacles and was plunging between the
sheds into the street before either of them could get clear of the
pitfalls of the quay.
He tore on, not knowing whither he went. His start had been a good
one, but as he paused to listen, which he did when he had gone some
way, he could hear them following. The town was so quiet that he met
nobody, and he pressed on, trusting to luck for his direction.
Through the empty streets he went at the top of his speed, launched on
the flood of chance, and steering as best he could for the north end
of the town. Finally, an unexpected turning brought him within a few
yards of the North Port. He waited close to the spot where he had
first taken shelter, and listened; then, hearing nothing, he struck
out at a brisk walk for the country, and was soon clear of Montrose.
He sat down by the wayside to rest. He had had a more sensational
night than he expected, and though his spirits were still good, his
ill-luck in missing the paper he had risked so much to obtain had
cooled them a little, and by the light of this disappointment he
looked rather ruefully on his poor prospects of getting to bed. It was
past midnight, and there seemed nothing to do but to return to
Balnillo and to make himself as comfortable as he could in one of the
many out-buildings which the yard by its back-door contained. The
household rose early, and at the unlocking of that door he must manage
to slip in and gain his bedroom.
He rose, plodded home, and stole into the courtyard, where, searching
in an outhouse, he found an endurable couch on a heap of straw. On
this he spread his coat like a blanket, crawling under it, and, with a
calmness born of perfect health and perfect nerves, was soon asleep.
When dawn broke it found him wakeful. He had not rested well, for his
burnt wrist was very sore, and the straw seemed to find it out and to
prick the wound, no matter how he might dispose his hand. He propped
himself against the wall by the open outhouse-window, whence he could
see the back door of Balnillo and watch for the moment of its first
opening. It would be neck or nothing then, for he must enter boldly,
trusting to hit on a lucky moment.
At last the growing light began to define details of the house,
tracing them out on its great mass with an invisible pencil, and he
thought he heard a movement within. The stable-clock struck six, and
high above he could see the sun touching the slates and the stone
angles of the chimney-stacks with the first fresh ethereal beam of a
pure October morning. He inhaled its breath lovingly, and with it
there fell from him the heaviness of his uneasy night. All was well,
he told himself. His sensuous joy in the world, his love of life and
its hazards and energies came back upon him, strong, clean, and
ecstatic, and the sounds of a bolt withdrawn made him rise to his
A maidservant came out carrying a lantern, whose beam burned with
feeble pretentiousness in the coming sunlight. She set it down by the
threshold and went past his retreat to the stable. No doubt she was
going to call the men. When she had gone by he slipped out, and in a
dozen paces was inside the house.
Another minute and he was in his room.
He looked with some amusement at the rough effigy of himself which he
had made in the bed overnight, and when he had flung the cushion back
to its place he got out of his clothes and lay down, sinking into the
cool luxury of the sheets with a sigh of pleasure. But he had no
desire to sleep, and when a servant came to wake him half an hour
later he was ready to get up. He rose, dressed, wrote out the detailed
description of his night’s discoveries, and put the document in his
pocket to await its chance of transmission.
A message was brought to him from Lord Balnillo as he left his room,
which begged his guest to excuse his company at breakfast. He had been
long astir, and busy with his correspondence; at eleven o’clock he
would be ready for his sitting, if that were agreeable to Mr.
As Mr. Flemington realized how easily he might have met the judge as
he ran through the shuttered passage, his belief in the luck that had
used him so scurvily last night returned.
There was no sign of James as Archie sat down to his meal, though a
second place was set at the table, and as he did not want to ask
embarrassing questions, he made no inquiry about him. Besides which,
being immoderately hungry, he was too well occupied to trouble about
He went out upon the terrace when he had finished. The warm greyness
of the autumn morning was lifting from the earth and it was still
early enough for long shadows to lie cool on the westward side of the
timber. As they shortened, the crystal of the dew was catching shafts
from the sun, and the parks seemed to lie waiting till the energy of
the young day should let loose the forces of life from under the
mystery of its spangled veil. Where the gean-trees glowed carmine and
orange, touches of quickening fire shot through the interstices of
their branches, and coloured like a tress of trailing forget-me-not,
the South Esk wound into the Basin of Montrose, where the tide, ebbing
beyond the town, was leaving its wet sands as a feasting-ground for
all sorts of roving birds whose crying voices came faintly to Archie,
mellowed by distance.
Truly this was a fascinating place, with its changing element of
distant water, its great plain lines of pasture, its ordered vistas of
foliage! The passion for beauty lay deep below the tossing, driving
impulses of Flemington’s nature, and it rose up now as he stood on the
yew-edged terraces of Balnillo and gazed before him. For the moment
everything in his mind was swallowed up but the abstract, fundamental
desire for perfection, which is, when all is said and done, humanity’s
mainspring, its incessant though often erring guide, whose perverted
behests we call sin, whose legitimate ones we call virtue; whose very
existence is a guarantee of immortality.
The world, this crystalline morning, was so beautiful to Archie that
he ached with the uncomprehended longing to identify himself with
perfection; to cast his body down upon the light-pervaded earth and to
be one with it, to fling his soul into the heights and depths of the
limitless encompassing ether, to be drawn into the heart of God’s
material manifestation on earth–the sun. He understood nothing of
what he felt, neither the discomfort of his imprisonment of flesh, nor
the rapturous, tentative, wing-sweeps of the spirit within it. He left
the garden terrace and went off towards the Basin, with the touch of
that elemental flood of truth into which he had been plunged for a
moment fresh on his soul. The whole universe and its contents seemed
to him good–and not only good, but of consummate interest–humanity
was fascinating. His failure to snatch the map from Ferrier’s hand
last night only made him smile. In the perfection of this transcendent
creation all was, and must be, well!
His thoughts, woven of the same radiant appreciation, flew to James,
whose personality appealed to him so strongly. The gentle blood which
ran in the veins of the pair of brothers ran closer to the surface in
the younger one; and a steadfast, unostentatious gallantry of heart
seemed to be the atmosphere in which he breathed. He was one of those
whose presence in a room would always be the strongest force in it,
whether he spoke or was silent, and his voice had the tone of
something sounding over great and hidden depths. It was not necessary
to talk to him to know that he had lived a life of vicissitude, and
Archie, all unsuspected, in the watches of last night had seen a side
of him which did not show at Balnillo. His grim resourcefulness in
small things was illustrated by the raw spot on the young man’s wrist.
That episode pleased Flemington’s imagination–though it might have
pleased him even better had the victim been someone else; but he bore
James no malice for it, and the picture of the man haunting the dark
quays, strewn with romantic, sea-going lumber, and scheming for the
cause at his heart, whilst the light from the hostile ship trailed the
water beside him, charmed his active fancy.
But it was not only his fancy that was at work. He knew that the
compelling atmosphere of Logie had not been created by mere fancy,
because there was something larger than himself, and larger than
anything he could understand, about the soldier. And feeling, as he
was apt to do, every little change in the mental climate surrounding
him he had guessed that Logie liked him. The thought added to the
exultation produced in him by the glory of the pure morning; and he
suddenly fell from his height as he remembered afresh that he was here
to cheat him.
It was with a shock that he heard Skirling Wattie’s pipes as he
reached the Montrose road, and saw the beggar’s outlandish cart
approaching, evidently on its return journey to Montrose. His heart
beat against the report that lay in his pocket awaiting the
opportunity that Fate was bringing nearer every moment. There was
nobody to be seen as the beggar drew up beside him. The insolent
joviality that pervaded the man, his almost indecent oddness–things
which had pleased Archie yesterday struck cold on him now. He had no
wish to stay talking to him, and he gave him the paper without a word
more than the injunction to have it despatched.
He left him, hurrying across the Montrose road and making for the
place where the ground began to fall away to the Basin. He sat down on
the scrubby waste land by a broom-bush, whose dry, burst pods hung
like tattered black flags in the brush of green; their acrid smell was
coming out as the sun mounted higher. Below him the marshy ground ran
out to meet the water; and eastward the uncovered mud and wet sand,
bared by the tide ebbing beyond Montrose, stretched along its shores
to the town.
The fall of the broom-covered bank was steep enough to hide anyone
coming up from the lower levels, and he listened to the movements of
somebody who was approaching, and to the crackling noise of the bushes
as they were thrust apart.
The sound stopped; and Archie, leaning forward, saw James standing
half-way up the ascent, with his back turned towards him, looking out
across the flats. He knew what his thoughts were. He drew his right
sleeve lower. So long as he did not stretch out his arm the mark could
not be seen.
He did not want to appear as if he were watching Logie, so he made a
slight sound, and the other turned quickly and faced him, hidden from
the waist downwards in the broom. Then his crooked lip moved, and he
came up the bank and threw himself down beside Flemington.