THE GUNS OF MONTROSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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