JETSAM

EIGHTEEN years after the last vestige of Archie’s handiwork had
vanished under the beadle’s ‘clout’ two gentlemen were sitting in the
library of a square stone mansion at the eastern end of the county of
Angus. It was evening, and they had drawn their chairs up to a
fireplace in which the flames danced between great hobs of polished
brass, shooting the light from their thrusting tongues into a lofty
room with drawn curtains and shelves of leather-bound books. Though
the shutters were closed, the two men could hear, in the pauses of
talk, a continuous distant roaring, which was the sound of surf
breaking upon the bar outside the harbour of Montrose, three miles
away. A small mahogany table with glasses and a decanter stood at Lord
Balnillo’s elbow, and he looked across at his brother James (whose
life, as a soldier, had kept him much in foreign countries until the
previous year) with an expression of mingled good-will and patronage.

David Logie was one of the many Scottish gentlemen of good birth who
had made the law his profession, and he had just retired from the
Edinburgh bench, on which, as Lord Balnillo, he had sat for hard upon
a quarter of a century. His face was fresh-coloured and healthy, and,
though he had not put on so much flesh as a man of sedentary ways who
has reached the age of sixty-two might expect to carry, his main
reason for retiring had been the long journeys on horseback over
frightful roads, which a judge’s duties forced him to take. Another
reason was his estate of Balnillo, which was far enough from Edinburgh
to make personal attention to it impossible. His wife Margaret, whose
portrait hung in the dining-room, had done all the business for many
years; but Margaret was dead, and perhaps David, who had been a
devoted husband, felt the need of something besides the law to fill up
his life. He was a lonely man, for he had no children, and his brother
James, who sat opposite to him, was his junior by twenty-five years.
For one who had attained to his position, he was slow and curiously
dependent on others; there was a turn about the lines of his
countenance which suggested fretfulness, and his eyes, which had
looked upon so many criminals, could be anxious. He was a considerate
landlord, and, in spite of the times in which he lived and the bottle
at his elbow, a person of very sober habits.

James Logie, who had started his career in Lord Orkney’s regiment of
foot with the Scots Brigade in Holland, had the same fresh complexion
as his brother and the same dark blue eyes; but they were eyes that
had a different expression, and that seemed to see one thing at a
time. He was a squarer, shorter man than Lord Balnillo, quicker of
speech and movement. His mouth was a little crooked, for the centre of
his lower lip did not come exactly under the centre of the upper one,
and this slight mistake on the part of Nature had given his face a not
unpleasant look of virility. Most people who passed James gave him a
second glance. Both men were carefully dressed and wore fine cambric
cravats and laced coats; and the shoes of the judge, which rested on
the fender, were adorned by gilt buckles.

They had been silent for some time, as people are who have come to the
same conclusion and find that there is no more to say, and in the
quietness the heavy undercurrent of sound from the coast seemed to
grow more insistent.

“The bar is very loud to-night, Jamie,” said Lord Balnillo. “I doubt
but there’s bad weather coming, and I am loth to lose more trees.”

“I see that the old beech by the stables wants a limb,” observed the
other. “That’s the only change about the place that I notice.”

“There’ll be more yet,” said the judge.

“You’ve grown weather-wise since you left Edinburgh, David.”

“I had other matters to think upon there,” answered Balnillo, with
some pomp.

James smiled faintly, making the little twist in his lip more
apparent.

“Come out to the steps and look at the night,” said he, snatching,
like most restless men, at the chance of movement.

They went out through the hall. James unbarred the front door and the
two stood at the top of the flight of stone steps.

The entrance to Balnillo House faced northward, and a wet wind from
the east, slight still, but rising, struck upon their right cheeks and
carried the heavy muffled booming in through the trees. Balnillo
looked frowning at their tops, which had begun to sway; but his
brother’s attention was fixed upon a man’s figure, which was emerging
from the darkness of the grass park in front of them.

“Who is that?” cried the judge, as the footsteps grew audible.

“It’s a coach at the ford, ma lord–a muckle coach that’s couped i’
the water! Wully an’ Tam an’ Andrew Robieson are seekin’ to ca’ it
oot, but it’s fast, ma lord—-”

“Is there anyone in it?” interrupted James.

“Ay, there was. But he’s oot noo.”

“Where is he?”

“He’ll na’ get forward the night,” continued the man. “Ane of the
horse is lame. He cursin’, ma lord, an’ nae wonder–he can curse
bonnie! Robieson’s got his wee laddie wi’ him, and he gar’d the loonie
put his hands to his lugs. He’s an elder, ye see.”

The judge turned to his brother. It was not the first time that the
ford in the Den of Balnillo had been the scene of disaster, for there
was an unlucky hole in it, and the state of the roads made storm-bound
and bedraggled visitors common apparitions in the lives of country
gentlemen.

“If ye’ll come wi’ me, ma lord, ye’ll hear him,” said the labourer, to
whom the profane victim of the ford was evidently an object of
admiration.

Balnillo looked down at his silk stockings and buckled shoes.

“I should be telling the lasses to get a bed ready,” he remarked
hurriedly, as he re-entered the house.

James was already throwing his leg across the fence, though it was
scarcely the cursing which attracted him, for he had heard oaths to
suit every taste in his time. He hurried across the grass after the
labourer. The night was not very dark, and they made straight for the
ford.

The Den of Balnillo ran from north to south, not a quarter of a mile
from the house, and the long chain of miry hollows and cart-ruts which
did duty for a high road from Perth to Aberdeen plunged through it at
the point for which the men were heading. It was a steep ravine filled
with trees and stones, through which the Balnillo burn flowed and fell
and scrambled at different levels on its way to join the Basin of
Montrose, as the great estuary of the river Esk was called. The ford
lay just above one of the falls by which the water leaped downwards,
and the dense darkness of the surrounding trees made it difficult for
Captain Logie to see what was happening as he descended into the black
well of the Den. He could distinguish a confusion of objects by the
light of the lantern which his brother’s men had brought and set upon
a stone; the ford itself reflected nothing, for it was churned up into
a sea of mud, in which, as Logie approached, the outline of a
good-sized carriage, lying upon its side, became visible.

“Yonder’s the captain coming,” said a voice.

Someone lifted the lantern, and he found himself confronted by a tall
young man, whose features he could not see, but who was, no doubt, the
expert in language.

“Sir,” he said, “I fear you have had a bad accident. I am come from
Lord Balnillo to find out what he can do for you.”

“His lordship is mighty good,” replied the young man, “and if he could
force this mud-hole–which, I am told, belongs to him–to yield up my
conveyance, I should be his servant for life.”

There was a charm and softness in his voice which nullified the brisk
impertinence of his words.

“I hope you are not hurt,” said James.

“Not at all, sir. Providence has spared me. But He has had no mercy
upon one of my poor nags, which has broken its knees, nor on my
stock-in-trade, which is in the water. I am a travelling painter,” he
added quickly, “and had best introduce myself. My name is Archibald
Flemington.”

The stranger had a difficulty in pronouncing his _r’s_; he spoke them
like a Frenchman, with a purring roll.

The other was rather taken aback. Painters in those days had not the
standing in society that they have now, but the voice and manner were
unmistakably those of a man of breeding. Even his freedom was not the
upstart licence of one trying to assert himself, but the easy
expression of a roving imagination.

“I should introduce myself too,” said Logie. “I am Captain James
Logie, Lord Balnillo’s brother. But we must rescue
your–your–baggage. Where is your postilion?”

Flemington held up the lantern again, and its rays fell upon a man
holding the two horses which were standing together under a tree.
James went towards them.

“Poor beast,” said he, as he saw the knees of one of the pair, “he
would be better in a stall. Andrew Robieson, send your boy to the
house for a light, and then you can guide them to the stables.”

Meanwhile, the two other men had almost succeeded in getting the
carriage once more upon its wheels, and with the help of Flemington
and Logie, it was soon righted. They decided to leave it where it was
for the night, and it was dragged a little aside, lest it should prove
a pitfall to any chance traveller who might pass before morning.

The two gentlemen went towards the house together, and the men
followed, carring Flemington’s possessions and the great square
package containing his canvases.

When they entered the library Lord Balnillo was standing with his back
to the fire.

“I have brought Mr. Flemington, brother,” said Logie, “his coach has
come to grief in the Den.”

Archie stopped short, and putting his heels together, made much the
same bow as he had made to Mr. Duthie eighteen years before.

A feeling of admiration went through James as the warm light of the
house revealed the person of his companion, and something in the
shrewd wrinkles round his brother’s unimpressive eyes irritated him.
He felt a vivid interest in the stranger, and the cautious old man’s
demeanour seemed to have raised the atmosphere of a law-court round
himself. He was surveying the new-comer with stiff urbanity.

But Archie made small account of it.

“Sir,” said Balnillo, with condescension, “if you will oblige me by
making yourself at home until you can continue your road, I shall take
myself for fortunate.”

“My lord,” replied Archie, “if you knew how like heaven this house
appears to me after the bottomless pit in your den, you might take
yourself for the Almighty.”

Balnillo gave his guest a critical look, and was met by all the soft
darkness of a pair of liquid brown eyes which drooped at the outer
corners, and were set under thick brows following their downward
lines. Gentleness, inquiry, appeal, were in them, and a quality which
the judge, like other observers, could not define–a quality that sat
far, far back from the surface. In spite of the eyes, there was no
suggestion of weakness in the slight young man, and his long chin gave
his olive face gravity. Speech and looks corresponded so little in him
that Balnillo was bewildered; but he was a hospitable man, and he
moved aside to make room for Archie on the hearth. The latter was a
sorry sight, as far as mud went; for his coat was splashed, and his
legs, from the knee down, were of the colour of clay. He held his
hands out to the blaze, stretching his fingers as a cat stretches her
claws under a caressing touch.

“Sit down and put your feet to the fire,” said the judge, drawing
forward one of the large armchairs, “and James, do you call for
another glass. When did you dine, Mr. Flemington?”

“I did not dine at all, my lord. I was anxious to push on to Montrose,
and I pushed on to destruction instead.”

He looked up with such a whimsical smile at his own mishaps that
Balnillo found his mouth widening in sympathy.

“I will go and tell them to make some food ready,” said the captain,
in answer to a sign from his brother.

Balnillo stood contemplating the young man; the lines round his eyes
were relaxing a little; he was fundamentally inquisitive, and his
companion matched no type he had ever seen. He was a little disturbed
by his assurance, yet his instinct of patronage was tickled by the
situation.

“I am infinitely grateful to you,” said Archie. “I know all the inns
in Brechin, and am very sensible how much better I am likely to dine
here than there. You are too kind.”

“Then you know these parts?”

“My home is at the other end of the county–at Ardguys.”

“I am familiar with the name,” said Balnillo, “but until lately, I
have been so much in Edinburgh that I am out of touch with other
places. I am not even aware to whom it belongs.”

“It is a little property, my lord–nothing but a few fields and a
battered old house. But it belongs to my grandmother Flemington, who
brought me up. She lives very quietly.”

“Indeed, indeed,” said the judge, his mind making a cast for a clue as
a hound does for the scent.

He was not successful.

“I had not taken you for a Scot,” he said, after a moment.

“I have been told that,” said Archie; “and that reminds me that it
would be proper to tell your lordship what I am. I am a painter, and
at this moment your hall is full of my paraphernalia.”

Lord Balnillo did not usually show his feelings, but the look which,
in spite of himself, flitted across his face, sent a gleam of
entertainment through Archie.

“You are surprised,” he observed, sighing. “But when a man has to mend
his fortunes he must mend them with what tools he can. Nor am I
ashamed of my trade.”

“There is no need, Mr. Flemington,” replied the other, with the
measured benevolence he had sometimes used upon the bench; “what you
tell me does you honour–much honour, sir.”

“Then you did not take me for a painter any more than for a Scot?”
said Archie, smiling at his host.

“I did not, sir,” said the judge shortly. He was not accustomed to be
questioned by his witnesses and he had the uncomfortable sensation of
being impelled, in spite of a certain prejudice, to think moderately
well of his guest.

“I have heard tell of your lordship very often,” said the latter,
suddenly, “and I know very well into what good hands I have fallen. I
could wish that all the world was more like yourself.”

He turned his head and stared wistfully at the coals.

Balnillo could not make out whether this young fellow’s assurance or
his humility was the real key-note to the man. But he liked some of
his sentiments well enough. Archie wore his own hair, and the old man
noticed how silky and fine the brown waves were in the firelight. They
were so near his hand as their owner leaned forward that he could
almost have stroked them.

“Are you going further than Montrose?” he inquired.

“I had hoped to cozen a little employment out of Aberdeen,” replied
Flemington, “but it is a mere speculation. I have a gallery of the
most attractive canvases with me–women, divines, children,
magistrates, provosts–all headless and all waiting to see what faces
chance and I may fit on to their necks. I have one lady–an angel, I
assure you, my lord!–a vision of green silk and white
roses–shoulders like satin–the hands of Venus!”

Balnillo was further bewildered. He knew little about the arts and
nothing about artists. He had looked at many a contemporary portrait
without suspecting that the original had chosen, as sitters often did,
an agreeable ready-made figure from a selection brought forward by a
painter, on which to display his or her countenance. It was a custom
which saved the trouble of many sittings and rectified much of the
niggardliness or over-generosity of Nature.

“I puzzle you, I see,” added Archie, laughing, “and no doubt the hair
of Van Dyck would stand on end at some of our modern doings. But I am
not Van Dyck, unhappily, and in common with some others I do half my
business before my sitters ever see me. A client has only to choose a
suitable body for his own head, and I can tell you that many are
thankful to have the opportunity.”

“I had no idea that portraits were done like that,” said Lord
Balnillo; “I never heard of such an arrangement before.”

“But you do not think it wrong, I hope?” exclaimed Flemington, the
gaiety dying out of his face. “There is no fraud about it! It is not
as if a man deceived his sitter.”

The half-petulant distress in his voice struck Balnillo, and almost
touched him; there was something so simple and confiding in it.

“It might have entertained your lordship to see them,” continued
Archie ruefully. “I should have liked to show you the strange company
I travel with.”

“So you shall, Mr. Flemington,” said the old man. “It would entertain
me very greatly. I only fear that the lady with the white roses may
enslave me,” he added, with rather obvious jocosity.

“Indeed, now is the time for that,” replied Archie, his face lighting
up again, “for I hope she may soon wear the head of some fat town
councillor’s wife of Aberdeen.”

As he spoke Captain Logie returned with the news that dinner was
prepared.

“I have been out to the stable to see what we could do for your
horses,” said he.

“Thank you a thousand times, sir,” exclaimed Archie.

Lord Balnillo watched his brother as he led the painter to the door.

“I think I will come, too, and sit with Mr. Flemington while he eats,”
he said, after a moment’s hesitation.

A couple of hours later Archie found himself in a comfortable bedroom.
His valise had been soaked in the ford, and a nightshirt of Lord
Balnillo’s was warming at the fire. When he had put it on he went and
looked at himself in an old-fashioned mirror which hung on the wall.
He was a good deal taller than the judge, but it was not his own image
that caused the indescribable expression on his face.