INCHBRAYOCK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

“Flemington?” he exclaimed, stepping towards him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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