THE MUIR OF PERT

CALLANDAR watched his corporal riding away from the confines of the
wood. His eyes followed the horse as it disappeared into hollows and
threaded its way among lumps of rock. He stood for some time looking
out over the landscape, now growing cold with the loss of the sun, his
mind full of Flemington. Then he turned back with a sigh to retrace
his way. His original intention in bringing Wattie up the hill came
back to him, and he remembered that he had yet to discover whether he
could identify the red-bearded man. It was at this moment that the
fusillade from his halting-place burst upon him. He stopped,
listening, then ran forward into the wood, the map from which he had
been directing the corporal clutched in his hand.

He had gone some distance with the soldier, so he only reached the
place when the quick disaster was over to hear the hoof-beats of the
escaping horses dying out as they galloped down Huntly Hill. The smoke
of the firearms hung below the branches like a grey canopy, giving the
unreality of a vision to the spectacle before him. He could not see
the beggar’s body, but the overturned cart was in full view, a
ridiculous object, with its wooden wheels raised, as though in
protest, to the sky. He looked in vain for a sign of his third man,
and at the sight of the uniform upon the two dead figures lying on the
ground he understood that he was alone. Of the three private soldiers
who had followed him down Glen Esk there was not one left with him.
Archie, the traitor, was gone, and only the red-bearded man remained.
He could see him in the group that was watching James Logie as he
captured the struggling dog.

Callandar ground his teeth; then he dropped on one knee and
contemplated the sight from behind the great circle of roots and earth
that a fallen tree had torn from the sod. Of all men living he was one
of the last who might be called a coward, but neither was he one of
those hot-heads who will plunge, to their own undoing and to that of
other people, into needless disaster. He would have gone grimly into
the hornet’s nest before him, pistol in hand, leaving heaven to take
care of the result, had the smallest advantage to his king and country
been attainable thereby. His own death or capture would do no more
than prevent him from carrying news of what had happened to
headquarters, and he decided, with the promptness hidden behind his
taciturn demeanour, that his nearest duty was to identify James Logie,
if he were present. Callandar’s duty was the only thing that he always
saw quickly.

From his shelter he marked the two Jacobite officers, and, as he knew
Ferrier very well from description, he soon made out the man he
wanted. James was changed since the time when he had first come across
Archie’s path. His clothes were worn and stained, and the life of
wandering and concealment that he had led since he parted from the
Prince had set its mark on him. He had slept in as many strange places
of late as had the dead beggar at his feet; anxious watching and lack
of food and rest were levelling the outward man to something more
primitive and haggard than the gallant-looking gentleman of the days
before Culloden, yet there remained to him the atmosphere that could
never be obliterated, the personality that he could never lose until
the earth should lie on him. He was no better clothed than those who
surrounded him, but his pre-eminence was plain. The watcher devoured
him with his eyes as he turned from his comrades, carrying the dog.

As soon as he was out of sight, the rebels scattered quietly, and
Callandar crouched lower, praying fortune to prevent anyone from
passing his retreat. None approached him, and he was left with the
three dead men in possession of the wood.

He rose and looked at his silent comrades. It would be useless to
follow Logie, because, with so many of his companions dispersing at
this moment about the fringes of the Muir of Pert, he could hardly
hope to do so unobserved. There would be no chance of getting to close
quarters with him, which was Callandar’s chief desire, for the mere
suspicion of a hostile presence would only make James shift his
hiding-place before the gathering troops could draw their cordon round
him. He abandoned the idea with regret, telling himself that he must
make a great effort to get to Brechin and to return with a mounted
force in time to take action in the morning. The success of his ambush
and his ignorance that he had been watched would keep Logie quiet for
the night.

He decided to take the only road that he knew, the one by which
Flemington had left him. The upper one entangled itself in the Muir,
and might lead him into some conclave of the enemy. He began to
descend in the shadows of the coming darkness that was drawing itself
like an insidious net over the spacious land. He had almost reached
the road, when a moving object not far from him made him stop. A man
was hurrying up the hill some little way to his right, treading
swiftly along, and, though his head was turned from Callandar, and he
was not near enough for him to distinguish his features, the sling
across his shoulder told him that it was Flemington.

Callandar stood still, staring after him. Archie’s boldness took away
his breath. Here he was, returning on his tracks, and if he kept his
direction, he would have to pass within a few hundred yards of the
spot on which he knew that the companions he had left would be halted;
Callandar had pointed out the place to him as they approached the hill
together.

Archie took a wider sweep as he neared the wood, and the soldier,
standing in the shadow of a rowan-tree, whose berries were already
beginning to colour for autumn, saw that he was making for the Muir,
and knew that the beggar was justified. One thing only could be
bringing him back. He had come, as Wattie had predicted, to warn
Logie.

He had spoken wisdom, that dead vagabond, lying silent for ever among
the trees; he had assured him that Flemington would not suffer him to
take Logie. He knew him, and he had laughed at the idea of his wounded
arm turning him out of his road. “It’s no the like o’ that that gars
the like o’ him greet,” he had said; and he was right. Callandar,
watching the definite course of the figure through the dusk, was sure
that he was taking the simplest line to a retreat whose exact position
he knew. He turned and followed, running from cover to cover, his
former errand abandoned. It was strange that, in spite of all, a vague
gladness was in his heart, as he thought that Archie was not the soft
creature that he had pretended to be. There were generous things in
Callandar. Then his generous impulse turned back on him in bitterness,
for it occurred to him that Archie had been aware of what lay waiting
for them, and had saved himself from possible accident in time.

They went on till they reached the border of the Muir, Flemington
going as unconcernedly as if he were walking in the streets of
Brechin, though he kept wide of the spot on which he believed the
riders to have disposed themselves for the night. There was no one who
knew him in that part of the country, and he wore no uniform to make
him conspicuous in the eyes of any chance passer in this lonely
neighbourhood. As Callandar emerged from the straggling growth at the
Muir’s edge, he saw him still in front going through the deep
thickness of the heather.

Callandar wished that he knew how far the Muir extended, and exactly
what lay on its farther side. His map was thrust into his coat, but it
was now far too dark for him to make use of it; the tall figure was
only just visible, and he redoubled his pace, gaining a little on it.
A small stationary light shone ahead, evidently the window of some
muirland hovel. There is nothing so difficult to decide as the
distance of a light at night, but he guessed that it was the goal
towards which Archie was leading. He went forward, till the young
man’s voice hailing someone and the sound of knocking made him stop
and throw himself down in the heather. He thought he heard a door
shut. When all had been quiet for a minute he rose up, and,
approaching the house, took up his stand not a dozen yards from the
walls.

Perplexity came on him. He had been surprisingly successful in
pursuing Flemington unnoticed as far as this hovel, but he had yet to
find out who was inside it. Perhaps the person he had heard speaking
was Logie, but equally perhaps not. There was no sound of voices
within, though he heard movements; he dared not approach the
uncurtained window to look in, for the person whose step he heard was
evidently standing close to it. He would wait, listening for that
person to move away, and then would try his luck. He had spent perhaps
ten minutes thus occupied when, without a warning sound, the door
opened and Archie stood on the threshold, as still as though he were
made of marble. It was too dark for either man to see more than the
other’s blurred outline.

Flemington looked out into the night.

“Come in, Callandar!” he called. “You are the very man I want!”

The soldier’s astonishment was such that his feet seemed frozen to the
ground. He did not stir.

“Come!” cried Archie. “You have followed me so far that you surely
will not turn back at the last step. I need you urgently, man. Come
in!”

He held the door open.

Callandar entered, pushing past him, and found himself in a low, small
room, wretchedly furnished, with another at the back opening out of
it. Both were empty, and the light he had seen was standing on the
table.

“There is no one here!” he exclaimed.

“No,” said Flemington.

“Where is the man you were speaking to?”

“He is gone. The ill-mannered rogue would not wait to receive you.”

“It was that rebel! It was Captain Logie!” cried Callandar.

“It was not Logie; you may take my word for that,” replied Archie. He
sat down on the edge of the table and crossed his legs. “Try again,
Callandar,” he said lightly.

Callandar’s lips were drawn into an even line, but they were shaking.
The mortification of finding that Archie had been aware of his
presence, had pursued his way unconcerned, knowing that he followed,
had called him in as a man calls the serving-man he has left outside,
was hot in him. No wonder his own concealment had seemed so easy.

“You have sent him to warn Logie–that is what you have done!” he
cried. “You are a scoundrel–I know that!”

He stepped up to him, and would have laid hold of his collar, but the
sling stopped him.

“I have. Callandar, you are a genius.”

As the other stood before him, speechless, Flemington rose up.

“You have got to arrest me,” he said; “that is why I called you in. I
might have run out by the back of the house, like the man who is gone,
who went with my message almost before the door was shut. Look! I have
only one serviceable arm and no sword. I left it where I left my
horse. And here is my pistol; I will lay it on the table, so you will
have no trouble in taking me prisoner. You have not had your stalking
for nothing, after all, you mighty hunter before the Lord!”

“You mean to give yourself up–you, who have taken so much care to
save yourself?”

“I have meant to ever since I saw you under the rowan-tree watching
me, flattened against the trunk like a squirrel. I would as soon be
your prisoner as anyone else’s–sooner, I think.”

“I cannot understand you!” exclaimed Callandar, taking possession of
the weapon Archie had laid down.

“It is hard enough to understand oneself, but I do at last,” said the
other. “Once I thought life easy, but mine has been mighty difficult
lately. From here on it will be quite simple. And there will not be
much more of it, I fancy.”

“You are right there,” said Callandar grimly.

“I can see straight before me now. I tell you life has grown simple.”

“You lied at the cross roads.”

“I did. How you looked after me as I went! Well, I have done what I
suppose no one has ever done before: I have threatened to report you
for neglecting your duty.” He threw back his head and laughed. “And I
am obliged to tell you to arrest me now. O Callandar, who will correct
your backslidings when there is an end of me?”

The other did not smile as he looked at Flemington’s laughing eyes,
soft and sparkling under the downward curve of his brows. Through his
anger, the pity of it all was smiting him, though he was so little
given to sentiment. Perhaps Archie’s charm had told on him all the
time they had been together, though he had never decided whether he
liked him or not. And he looked so young when he laughed.

“What have you done?” he cried, pacing suddenly up and down the little
room. “You have run on destruction, Flemington; you have thrown your
life away. Why have you done this–you?”

“If a thing is worthless, there is nothing to do but throw it away.”

Callandar watched him with pain in his eyes.

“What made you suspect me?” asked Archie. “You can tell me anything
now. There is only one end to this business. It will be the making of
you.”

“Pshaw!” exclaimed the other, turning away.

“Why did you follow me?” continued Archie.

Callandar was silent.

“Tell me this,” he said at last: “What makes you give yourself up now,
without a struggle or a protest, when little more than two hours ago
you ran from what you knew was to come, there, at the foot of the
hill? Surely your friends would have spared _you!_”

“Now it is I who do not understand you,” said Archie.

His companion stood in front of him, searching his face.

“Flemington, are you lying? On your soul, are you lying?”

“Of what use are lies to me now?” exclaimed Archie impatiently. “Truth
is a great luxury; believe me, I enjoy it.”

“You knew nothing of what was waiting for us at the top of Huntly
Hill?”

“Nothing, as I live,” said Archie.

“The beggar betrayed you,” said Callandar. “When you were gone he told
me that you were in Logie’s pay–that you would warn him. He was
right, Flemington.”

“I am not in Logie’s pay–I never was,” broke in Archie.

“I did not know what to think,” the soldier went on; “but I took him
up Huntly Hill with me, and when we had unsaddled, and the men were
lying under the trees, I sent the corporal to Brechin with the
information. I went with him to the edge of the wood, and when I came
back there was not a man left alive. Logie and Ferrier were there with
a horde of their rebels. They had come to rescue the prisoner, and he
was loose.”

“Then he _was_ Ferrier’s cousin!” exclaimed Flemington. “We were
right.”

“One of my men escaped,” continued Callandar, “or I suppose so, for he
was gone. The beggar and the other two were killed, and the horses had
stampeded.”

“So Wattie is dead,” mused Flemington. “Gad, what a voice has gone
with him!”

“They did not see me, but I watched them; I saw him–Logie–he went
off quickly, and he took one of the beggar’s dogs with him, snarling
and struggling, with his head smothered in his coat. Then I went down
the hill, meaning to make for Brechin, and I saw you coming back. I
knew what you were about, thanks to that beggar.”

Neither spoke for a minute. Archie was still sitting on the table. He
had been looking on the ground, and he raised his eyes to his
companion’s face.

Something stirred in him, perhaps at the thought of how he stood with
fate. He was not given to thinking about himself, but he might well do
so now.

“Callandar,” he said, “I dare say you don’t like me—-” Then he broke
off, laughing. “How absurd!” he exclaimed. “Of course you hate me; it
is only right you should. But perhaps you will understand–I think you
will, if you will listen. I was thrown against Logie–no matter
how–but, unknowing what he did, he put his safety in my hands. He did
more. I had played upon his sympathy, and in the generosity of his
heart he came to my help as one true man might do to another. I was
not a true man, but he did not know that; he knew nothing of me but
that I stood in need, and he believed I was as honest as himself. He
thought I was with his own cause. That was what I wished him to
believe–had almost told him.”

Callandar listened, the lines of his long face set.

“I had watched him and hunted him,” continued Archie, “and my
information against him was already in the beggar’s hands, on its way
to its mark. I could not bring myself to do more against him then.
What I did afterwards was done without mention of his name. You see,
Callandar, I have been true to nobody.”

He paused, waiting for comment, but the other made none.

“After that I went to Edinburgh,” he continued, “and he joined the
Prince. Then I went north with Cumberland. I was freed from my
difficulty until they sent me here to take him. The Duke gave me my
orders himself, and I had to go. That ride with you was hell,
Callandar, and when we met the beggar to-day I had to make my choice.
That was the turning-point for me. I could not go on.”

“He said it was not your wound that turned you aside.”

“He was a shrewd rascal,” said Flemington. “I wish I could tell how he
knew so much about me.”

“It was your own tongue: once you spent the night in a barn together
when you were light-headed from a blow, and you spoke all night of
Logie. You said enough to put him on your track. That is what he told
me as we went up Huntly Hill.”

Archie shrugged his shoulders and rose up.

“Now, what are you going to do?” he said.

“I am going to take you to Brechin.”

“Come, then,” said Archie, “we shall finish our journey together after
all. It has been a hard day. I am glad it is over.”

They went out together. As Callandar drew the door to behind them
Archie stood still.

“If I have dealt double with Logie, I will not do so with the king,”
said he. “This is the way out of my difficulty. Do you understand me,
Callandar?”

The darkness hid the soldier’s face.

Perhaps of all the people who had played their part in the tangle of
destiny, character, circumstance, or whatsoever influences had brought
Flemington to the point at which he stood, he was the one who
understood him best.