THE INTERESTED SPECTATOR

AS James Logie dashed back to his men to meet this unexpected attack,
he left Flemington lying with his face to the bank and his back
towards the river; he was so close to the edge of the island that his
hair rested on the wet sand permeated by the returning tide coming up
the Esk. James’s whole mind had gone back like a released spring to
its natural preoccupation, and he almost forgot him before he had time
to join the brisk affray that was going on.

But though Archie lay where he fell, and was as still as a heap of
driftwood, it was only a few minutes before he came to himself.
Perhaps the chill of the damp sand under his head helped to revive
him; perhaps the violence of the blow had been broken by the sod
against which he had been hurled. He stirred and raised himself,
dazed, but listening to the confused sounds of fighting that rang over
Inchbrayock. His head hurt him, and instinctively he grubbed up a
handful of the cold, wet sand and held it to his brow. His wits had
not gone far, for there had been no long break in his consciousness,
and he got on his feet and looked round for the best means of escape.

James knew all. That was plain enough; and on the issue of the
skirmish his own liberty would depend if he did not get clear of the
island at once. He went back round the bend, and looking up the shore
he saw a couple of the stepping-stones which were only half covered by
the tide. In the middle of the channel they had disappeared already,
but at either edge they lay visible, like the two ends of a partly
submerged chain. Blood was trickling down his face, but he washed it
off, and made hastily for the crossing, wading in.

The Esk was not wide just there, though it was far deeper than he had
fancied it, and he stumbled along, churning up the mud into an opaque
swirl through which he could not see the bottom. He climbed the
further bank, wasting no time in looking behind him, and never stopped
until he stood, panting and dizzy, on the high ridge of land from
which he could overlook Inchbrayock and the harbour and town. He was a
good deal exhausted, for his head throbbed like a boiling pot, and his
hands were shaking. He lay down in a patch of whins, remembering that
he was on the sky-line. He meant to see which way the fortunes of war
were going to turn before deciding what to do with himself. Thanks to
chance, his business with Captain Hall was not finished, nor even
begun; but as things seemed at present, Captain Hall might be a
prisoner before the leisure which had been the subject of his own
gibes that morning should arrive. The vessel’s guns had roared out
again as he struggled up the steep, but there had been silence on the
island, and even the rattle of musketry had now stopped. Something
decisive must have taken place, though he could not guess what it was,
and he was too far away to distinguish more than the moving figures in
the graveyard.

He was high enough to see the curve of the watery horizon, for
Ferryden village was some way below him. His view was only interrupted
by a group of firs that stood like an outpost between him and the
land’s end. He lay among his friendly whin-bushes, staring down on the
strait. If James were victorious he knew that there would soon be a
hue and cry on his own tracks; but though alive to the desirableness
of a good start in these circumstances, he felt that he could not run
while there remained any chance of laying the whole of his report
before Captain Hall. He thought, from what he had seen of the man,
that the less he was reckoned with by his superiors the better, but it
was not his business to consider that. As he turned these things over
in his mind his eyes were attracted to Dial Hill, upon which the
sudden sign of a new turn of events could be read.

He could see the group of men with the guns below the flagstaff which
crowned its summit, and what now attracted his attention was a dark
object that had been run up the ropes, its irregular outline flapping
and flying against the sky as it was drawn frantically up and down.

Flemington was blessed with long sight, and he was certain that the
two sharp-cut ends that waved like streamers as the dark object dipped
and rose, were the sleeves of a man’s coat. He saw a figure detach
itself from the rest and run towards the seaward edge of the eminence.
Ferrier–for he supposed now that Ferrier was on the hill–must be
signalling out to sea with this makeshift flag.

He half raised himself from his lair. The cold grey-green of the ocean
spread along the world’s edge, broken by tiny streaks of foam as the
wind began to freshen, and beyond the fir-trees, seen through their
stems, the reason of the activity on Dial Hill slid into sight.

A ship was coming up the coast not a couple of miles out, and as
Flemington watched her she stood in landward, as though attracted out
of her course by the signals and the sound of firing in Montrose
harbour. She was too far off for him to distinguish her colours, but
he knew enough about shipping to be certain that she was a French
frigate.

He dropped back into his place; whilst these sensational matters were
going forward he did not suppose that anyone would think of pursuing
him. The fact that the rebels were signalling her in suggested that
the stranger might not be unexpected, and in all probability she
carried French supplies and Jacobite troops. The likelihood of an
interview with Captain Hall grew more remote.

The frigate drew closer; soon she was hidden from him by the jutting
out of the land. Another shot broke from the _Venture_, but the quick
reply from the island took all doubt of the issue of the conflict from
Archie’s mind. James was in full possession of the place, and the
surprise must have been a failure.

Archie watched eagerly to see the ship arrive in the river-mouth. It
was evident that Hall, from his position under the south shore of the
strait, had not seen her yet. Presently she rounded the land and
appeared to the hundreds of eyes on the quays, a gallant, silent,
winged creature, a vivid apparition against the band of sea beyond the
opening channel of the Esk, swept towards the town as though by some
unseen impulse of fate. The shout that went up as she came into view
rose to where Archie lay on the hillside.

The tide was now running high, and she passed in under Dial Hill. Her
deck was covered with troops, and the waving of hats and the cheers of
the townspeople, who were pouring along the further side of the
harbour, made the truth plain to the solitary watcher among the whins.
The _Venture_ sent a shot to meet her that fell just in front of her
bows, but although it was followed by a second, that cut her rigging,
no great harm was done, and she answered with a broadside that echoed
off the walls of the town till the strait was in a roar. It had no
time to subside before James’s gun on Inchbrayock began again.

Flemington could see that Hall’s surrender could only be a matter of
time; the new-comer would soon be landing her troops out of his range,
and, having done so, would be certain to attack the _Venture_ from the
Ferryden side of the river. Half of Hall’s men were on the island,
which was in possession of the rebels, his vessel was damaged and in
no condition to escape to sea, even had there been no hostile craft in
his way and no Dial Hill to stand threatening between him and the
ocean.

The time had come for Archie to think of his own plight and of his own
prospects. He was adrift again, cut off even from the disorderly ship
that had sheltered him last night, and from the unlucky sot who
commanded her. His best plan would be to take the news of Hall’s
capture to Edinburgh, for it would be madness for him to think of
going to Perth, whilst his identity as a Government agent would be
published by Ferrier and Logie all over that part of the country. He
was cast down as he sat with his hand to his aching head, and now that
it had resulted in that fatal meeting, his own folly in going to the
island seemed incredible.

His luck had been so good all his life, and after the many years that
he had trusted her, the jade had turned on him! He had been too
high-handed with her, that was the explanation of it! He had asked too
much. He had been over-confident in her, over-confident in himself.
Flemington was neither vain nor conceited, being too heartily
interested in outside things to take very personal points of view; he
merely went straight on, with the joy of life lighting his progress.
But now he had put the crown on his foolhardiness. He had had so many
good things–strength, health, wits, charm; the stage of his stirring
life whereon to use them, and behind that stage the peaceful
background of the home he loved, filled with the presence of the being
he most admired and revered on earth.

But new lights had broken in on him of late. Troublous lights, playing
from behind a curtain that hid unknown things. Suddenly he had turned
and followed them, impelled by uncomprehended forces in himself, and
it seemed that in consequence all around him had shifted,
disintegrated, leaving him stranded. Once more as he watched, his
anxious eyes on the scene below him, his heart full of his own
perplexities, a last roar of shot filled the harbour, and then, on the
_Venture_, he saw the flag hauled down.

He rose and looked about him, telling himself that he must get as far
from the neighbourhood of Montrose as he could in the shortest
possible time. Sixty miles of land stretched between him and
Edinburgh, and the only thing for him to do was to start by way of the
nearest seaport from which he could sail for Leith. He was a very
different figure from the well-appointed young man who had ridden away
from Ardguys only yesterday, for he was soaked to above the knees from
wading in the Esk; blood had dripped on his coat from the cut on his
forehead, and his hair at the back was clogged with sand. Excitement
had kept him from thinking how cold he was, and he had not known that
he was shivering; but he knew it as he stood in the teeth of the fresh
wind. He laughed in spite of his plight; it was so odd to think of
starting for Edinburgh from a whin-bush.

He turned southwards, determining to go forward till he should strike
the road leading to the seaport of Aberbrothock; by sticking to the
high ground he would soon come to it at the inland end of the Basin,
and by it he might reach Aberbrothock by nightfall, and thence take
sail in the morning. This was the best plan he could devise, though he
did not care to contemplate the miles he would have to trudge. He knew
that the broken coast took a great inward curve, and that by this
means he would be avoiding its ins and outs, and he wished that he did
not feel so giddy and so little able to face his difficulties. He
remembered that the money he had on him made a respectable sum, and
realized that the less worth robbing he looked, the more likely he
would be to get to his journey’s end in safety. He stepped out with an
effort; southward he must go, and for some time to come Angus must
know him no more.

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