THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

JULY spread a mantle of heather over the Grampians. In Glen Esk, the
rough road into the Lowlands, little better than a sheep-track, ran
down the shore of Loch Lee, to come out at last into the large spaces
at the foot of the hills. The greyness of the summer haze lay over
everything, and the short grass and the roots of bog-myrtle and thyme
smelt warm and heady, for the wind was still. The sun seemed to have
sucked up some of the heather-colour out of the earth; the lower
atmosphere was suffused with a dusty lilac where, high overhead, it
softened the contours of the scattered rocks. Amongst carpets of rush
and deep moss, dappled with wet patches, the ruddy stems of the
bog-asphodel raised slim, golden heads that drooped a little, as
though for faintness, in the scented warmth. An occasional bumble-bee
passed down wind, purposeful and ostentatious, like a respectable
citizen zealous on the business of life.

No one looking along the windings of the Glen, and drawing in the
ardent quietness of the summer warmth, would have supposed that fire
and sword had been through it so lately. Its vastness of outline hid
the ruined huts and black fragments of skeleton gable-ends that had
smoked up into the mountain stillness. Homeless women and children had
fled down its secret tracks; hunted men had given up their souls under
its heights. The rich plainland of Angus had sent its sons to fight
for the Prince in the North, and of those who survived to make their
way back to their homes, many had been overtaken by the pursuit that
had swept down behind them through the hills. No place had a darker
record than Glen Esk.

Archie Flemington rode down the Glen with his companion some little
way in front of the corporal and the three men who followed them. His
left arm was in a sling, for he had received a sabre-cut at Culloden;
also, he had been rolled on by his horse, which was killed under him,
and had broken a rib. His wound, though not serious had taken a long
time to heal, for the steel had cut into the arm bone; he looked thin,
too, for the winter had been a time of strenuous work.

One of the three private soldiers, the last of the small string of
horsemen, had a rope knotted into his reins, the other end of which
was secured round the middle of a short, thickset man who paced
sullenly along beside the horse. The prisoner’s arms were bound at his
back, his reddish beard was unkempt, and his clothes ragged; he made a
sorry figure in the surrounding beauty.

Nearly two months had gone by since the Battle of Culloden, and the
search for fugitives was still going on in remote places. Cumberland,
who was on the point of leaving Fort Augustus for Edinburgh on his way
to London, had given orders for a last scouring of Glen Esk. The party
had almost reached its mouth, and its efforts had resulted only in the
capture of this one rebel; but, as there was some slight doubt of his
identity, and as the officer who rode beside Archie was one whose
conscience ranked a great way above his convenience, the red-bearded
man had fared better than many of those taken by Cumberland’s
man-hunters. If he were the person they supposed him to be, he was an
Angus farmer distantly related to David Ferrier, and he was now being
brought to his own country for identification.

Captain Callandar, the officer in command, was a long, lean, bony man
with a dark face, a silent, hard-bitten fellow from Ligonier’s
regiment. He and Archie had met very little before they started south
together, and they had scarcely progressed in acquaintance in the few
days during which they had ridden side by side. They had shared their
food on the bare turf by day, lain down within a few yards of each
other at night; they had gone through many of the same experiences in
the North, and they belonged to the same victorious army, yet they
knew little more of each other than when they started. But there was
no dislike between them, certainly none on Archie’s side, and if the
other was a little critical of the foreign roll of his companion’s
_r’s_, he did not show it.

Archie’s tongue had been quiet enough. He was riding listlessly along,
and, though he looked from side to side, taking in the details of what
he saw from force of habit, they seemed to give him no interest. He
puzzled Callandar a good deal, for he had proved to be totally
different from anything that he had expected. The soldier was apt to
study his fellow-men, when not entirely swallowed up by his duty, and
he had been rather pleased when he found that Cumberland’s brilliant
intelligence officer was to accompany him down Glen Esk. He had heard
much about him. Archie’s quick answers and racy talk had amused the
Duke, who, uncompanionable himself, felt the awkward man’s amazement
at the readiness of others, and scraps of Flemington’s sayings had
gone from lip to lip, hall-marked by his approval. Callandar was
taciturn and grave, but he was not stupid, and he had begun to wonder
what was amiss with his companion. He decided that his own society
must be uncongenial to him, and, being a very modest man, he did not
marvel at it.

But the sources of Archie’s discomfort lay far, far deeper than any
passing irritation. It seemed to him now, as he reached the mouth of
the Glen, that there was nothing left in life to fear, because the
worst that could come upon him was looming ahead, waiting for him,
counting his horse’s steps as he left the hills behind.

An apprehension, a mere suggestion of what might be remotely possible,
a skeleton that had shown its face to him in sleepless or overwrought
moments since Cumberland’s victory, had become real. To most people
who are haunted by a particular dread, Fate plays one of the tricks
she loves so much. She is an expert boxer, and whilst each man stands
up to her in his long, defensive fight, his eye upon hers, guarding
himself from the blow he expects to receive in the face, she hits him
in the wind and he finds himself knocked out.

But she had dealt otherwise with Archie; for a week ago he had been
specially detailed to proceed to Angus to hunt for that important
rebel, Captain James Logie, who was believed to have made his way
southward to his native parts.

At Fort Augustus it was felt that Flemington was exactly the right man
to be entrusted with the business. He was familiar with the country he
had to search, he was a man of infinite resource and infinite
intelligence; and Cumberland meant to be pleasant in his harsh,
ungraceful manner, when he gave him his commission in person, with a
hint that he expected more from Mr. Flemington than he did from
anybody else. He was to accompany Captain Callandar and his three men.
The officer, having made a last sweep of Glen Esk, was to go on by
Brechin to Forfar, where he would be joined by another and larger
party of troops that was on its way down Glen Clova from Braemar, for
Cumberland was drafting small forces into Angus by way of the
Grampians, and the country was filling with them.

He had dealt drastically with Montrose. The rebellion in the town had
been suppressed, and the neighbourhood put under military law. This
bit of the east coast had played a part that was not forgotten by the
little German general, and he was determined that the hornet’s nest he
had smoked out should not re-collect. Whilst James Logie was at large
there could be no security.

Of all the rebels in Scotland, Logie was the man whom Cumberland was
most desirous to get. The great nobles who had taken part in the
rising were large quarry indeed, but this commoner who had worked so
quietly in the eastern end of Angus, who had been on the Prince’s
staff, who had the experience of many campaigns at his back, whose
ally was the notorious Ferrier, who had seized the harbour of Montrose
under the very guns of a Government sloop of war, was as dangerous as
any Highland chieftain, and the news that he had been allowed to get
back to his own haunts made the Whig generals curse. Though he might
be quiet for the moment, he would be ready to stir up the same
mischief on the first recrudescence of Stuart energy. It was not known
what had happened to Ferrier, for although he was a marked man and
would be a rich haul for anybody who could deliver him up to
Cumberland, he was considered a less important influence than James;
and Government had scarcely estimated his valuable services to the
Jacobites, which were every whit as great as those of his friend.

Lord Balnillo was a puzzle to the intelligence department. His name
had gone in to headquarters as that of a strongly suspected rebel; he
was James’s brother; yet, while Archie had included him in the report
he had entrusted to the beggar, he had been able to say little that
was definite about him. The very definite information he had given
about James and Ferrier, the details of his pursuit of the two men and
his warning of the attack on the _Venture_, had mattered more to the
authorities than the politics of the peaceable old judge, and
Balnillo’s subsequent conduct had been so little in accordance with
that of his brother that he was felt to be a source of small danger.
He had been no great power on the bench, where his character was so
easy that prisoners were known to think themselves lucky in appearing
before him. No one could quite account for his success in the law, and
the mention of his name in the legal circles of Edinburgh raised
nothing worse than a smile. He had taken no part in the rejoicing that
followed James’s feat at Montrose, but had taken the opportunity of
leaving the neighbourhood, and during his long stay in Edinburgh he
had frequented Whig houses and had been the satellite of a conspicuous
Whig lady, one who had been received by Cumberland with some
distinction, the grandmother of the man who had denounced Logie. The
authorities decided to leave him alone.

When the hills were behind the riders and the levels of the country
had sunk and widened out on either hand, they crossed the North Esk,
which made a shallow curve by the village of Edzell. The bank rose on
its western side, and the shade of the trees was delightful to the
travellers, and particularly to the prisoner they carried with them.
As the horses snuffed at the water they could hardly be urged through
it, and Callandar and Archie dismounted on the farther shore and sat
on a boulder whilst they drank. They watched them as they drew the
draught up their long throats and raised their heads when satisfied,
to stare, with dripping muzzles, at distant nothings, after the
fashion of their kind. The prisoner’s aching arms were unbound that he
might drink too.

“Egad, I have pitied that poor devil these last miles,” said Archie,
as the man knelt at the brink and extended his stiffened arms into a
pool.

The other nodded. Theoretically he pitied him, but a rebel was a
rebel.

“You have no bowels of compassion. They are not in your instructions,
Callandar. They should be served out, like ammunition.”

Callandar turned his grave eyes on him.

“The idea displeases you?” said Archie.

“It would complicate our duty.”

He spoke like a humourless man, but one side of his mouth twitched
downwards a little, and Flemington, who had the eye of a lynx for
another man’s face, decided that the mere accident of habit had
prevented it from twitching up. He struck him as the most repressed
person he had ever seen.

“There would not be enough at headquarters to go round,” observed
Archie.

Callandar’s mouth straightened, and, like the horses, he looked at
nothing. Criticism was another thing not in his instructions.

“They have drunk well,” he said at last. “An hour will bring us to the
foot of Huntly Hill. We can halt and feed them at the top before we
turn off towards Brechin. You know this country better than I do.”

“Wait a little,” said Archie. “I am no rebel, and you may have mercy
on me with a clear conscience.”

He had slipped his arm out of the sling and was resting it on his
knee.

“You are in pain?” exclaimed Callandar, astonished.

Archie laughed.

“Why, man, do you think I ride for pleasure with the top half of a
bone working east and the bottom half working west?”

“I thought—-” began Callandar.

“You thought me churlish company, and maybe I have been so. But this
ride has been no holiday for me.”

“I did not mean that. I would have said that I thought your wound was
mended.”

“My flesh-wound is mended and so is my rib,” said Flemington, “but
there are two handsome splinters hobnobbing above my elbow, and I can
tell you that they dance to the tune of my horse’s jog.”

Callandar’s opinion of him rose. He had found him disappointing as a
companion, but Archie had hid his pain, and he understood people who
did that.

The Edzell villagers turned out to stare at them as they passed a
short time later, when they took the road again. After the riders left
its row of houses their way ran from the river-level through fields
that had begun to oust the moor, rising to the crest of Huntly Hill,
on the farther side of which the southern part of Angus spread its
partial cultivation down to the Basin of Montrose. Archie’s discomfort
seemed to grow; he shifted his sling again and again, and Callandar
could see his mouth set in a hard line. Now and then an impatient
sound of pain broke from him. They rode on, silent, the long rise of
the hill barring their road like a wall, and the stems of the
fir-strip that crowned it beginning to turn to a dusky black against
the sky, which was cooling off for evening. Flemington’s horse was a
slow walker, and he had begun to jog persistently. His rider, holding
him back, had fallen behind. Callandar rode on, preoccupied, and when,
roused from his thoughts, he turned his head, Archie waved him on,
shouting that he would follow more slowly, for the troopers moved at a
foot’s pace because of their prisoner, and he stayed abreast of them.

As Callandar passed a green sea of invading bracken that had struggled
on to the road his jaw dropped and he pulled up. Behind the feathering
waves an individual was sitting in a wooden box on wheels, and four
dogs, harnessed to the rude vehicle, were lying on the ground in their
leathern traces. He noticed with astonishment that the man had lost
the lower parts of his legs.

“You’ll be Captain Callandar,” said Wattie, his twinkling eyes on the
other’s uniform; “you’re terrible late.”

“What do you want?” said the officer, amazed.

The beggar peered through the fern and saw the knot of riders and
their prisoner coming along the road some little way behind.

“Whaur’s yon lad Flemington?” he demanded.

“What do you want?” exclaimed Callandar again. “If you are a beggar
you have chosen a strange place to beg in.”

For answer Wattie pulled up his sliding panel and took out two sealed
letters, holding them low in the shelter of the fern, as if the
midges, dancing their evening dance above the bracken-tops, should not
look upon them. Callandar saw that one of the letters bore his own
name.

“Whisht,” said the beggar, thrusting them back quickly, “come doon
here an’ hae a crack wi’ me.”

As Callandar had been concerned exclusively with troops and fighting,
he knew little about the channels of information working in the
country, and it took him a moment to explain the situation to himself.
He dismounted under the fixed glare of the yellow dog. He was a man to
whom small obstacles were invisible when he had a purpose, and he
almost trod on the animal, without noticing the suppressed hostility
gathering about his heels. But, so long as his master’s voice was
friendly, the cur was still, for his unwavering mind answered to its
every tone. Probably no spot in all Angus contained two such steadfast
living creatures as did this green place by the bracken when Callandar
and the yellow dog stood side by side.

The soldier tethered his horse and sat down on the moss. Wattie laid
the letters before him; the second was addressed to Archie. Callandar
broke the seal of the first and read it slowly through; then he sat
silent, examining the signature, which was the same that Flemington
had showed to the beggar on the day when he met him for the first
time, months ago, by the mill of Balnillo.

He was directed to advance no farther towards Brechin, but to keep
himself out of sight among the woods round Huntly Hill, and to watch
the Muir of Pert, for it was known that the rebel, James Logie, was
concealed somewhere between Brechin and the river. He was not upon the
Balnillo estate, which, with Balnillo House, had been searched from
end to end, but he was believed to be in the neighbourhood of the
Muir.

“You know the contents of this?” asked Callandar, as he put away the
paper inside the breast of his coat.

“Dod, a ken it’ll be aboot Logie. He’s a fell man, yon. Have ye na got
Flemington wi’ ye?”

Callandar looked upon his companion with disapproval. He had never
seen him, never heard of him before, and he felt his manner and his
way of speaking of his superiors to be an outrage upon discipline and
order, which were two things very near his heart.

He did not reply.

“Whaur’s Flemington?” demanded the beggar again.

“You make very free with Mr. Flemington’s name.”

“Tuts!” exclaimed Wattie, ignoring the rebuke, “a’ve got ma orders the
same as yersel’, an’ a’m to gie yon thing to him an’ to nae ither
body. Foo will a dae that if a dinna ken whaur he is?”

His argument was indisputable.

“Mr. Flemington will be with me in a moment,” said Callandar stiffly.
“He is following.”

The sound of horses’ feet was nearing them upon the road, and
Callandar rose and beckoned to Archie to come on.

“Go to the top of the hill and halt until I join you,” he told the
corporal as the men passed.

As Archie dismounted and saw who was behind the bracken, he recoiled.
It was to him as if all that he most loathed in the past came to meet
him in the beggar’s face. Here, at the confines of the Lowland
country, the same hateful influences were waiting to engulf him. His
soul was weary within him.

He barely replied to Wattie’s familiar greeting.

“Do you know this person?” inquired Callandar.

He assented.

“Ay, does he. Him and me’s weel acquaint,” said Wattie, closing an
eye. “Hae, tak’ yon.”

He held out the letter to Flemington.

The young man opened it slowly, turning his back to the cart, and his
brows drew together as he read.

His destiny did not mean him to escape. Logie had been marked down,
and the circle of his enemies was narrowing round him. Flemington was
to go no farther, and he was to remain with Callandar to await another
message that would be brought to their bivouac on Huntly Hill, before
approaching nearer to Brechin.

He stood aside, the paper in his hand. Here was the turning-point; he
was face to face with it at last. He could not take part in Logie’s
capture; on that he was completely, unalterably determined. What would
be the end of it all for himself he could not think. Nothing was
clear, nothing plain, but the settled strength of his determination.
He looked into the mellowing light round him, and saw everything as
though it were unreal; the only reality was that he had chosen his
way. Heaven was pitiless, but it should not shake him. Far above him a
solitary bird was winging its way into the spaces beyond the hills;
the measured beat of its wings growing invisible as it grew smaller
and smaller and was finally lost to sight. He watched it, fascinated,
with the strange detachment of those whose senses and consciousness
are numbed by some crisis. What was it carrying away, that tiny thing
that was being swallowed by the vastness? His mind could only grasp
the idea of distance . . . of space. . . .

Callandar was at his elbow, and his voice broke on him as the voice of
someone awakening him from sleep.

“These are my orders,” he was saying, as he held out his own letter;
“you know them, for I am informed here that they are the duplicate of
yours.”

There was no escape. Callandar knew the exact contents of both papers.
Archie might have kept his own orders to himself, and have given him
to suppose that he was summoned to Forfar or Perth, and must leave
him; but that was impossible. He must either join in hunting Logie, or
leave the party on this side of Huntly Hill.

“We had better get on,” said Callandar.

They mounted, and as they did so, Wattie also got under way. His team
was now reduced to four, for the terrier which had formerly run alone
in the lead had died about the new year.

He took up his switch, and the yellow cur and his companions whirled
him with a mighty tug on to the road. He had been waiting for some
time in the bracken for the expected horseman, and as the dogs had
enjoyed a long rest, they followed the horses at a steady trot.
Callandar and Flemington trotted too, and the cart soon fell behind.
Beyond the crest of Huntly Hill the Muir of Pert sloped eastwards
towards the coast, its edges resting upon the Esk, but before the road
began to ascend it forked in two, one part running upwards, and the
other breaking away west towards Brechin.

“Callandar, I am going to leave you,” said Archie, pulling up his
horse.

“To leave?” exclaimed the other blankly. “In God’s name, where are you
going?”

“Here is the shortest way to Brechin, and I shall take it. I must find
a surgeon to attend to this arm. There is no use for me to go on with
you when I can hardly sit in my saddle for pain.”

“But your orders?” gasped Callandar.

“I will make that right. You must go on alone. Probably I shall join
you in a few days, but that will depend on what instructions I get
later. If you hear nothing from me you will understand that I am busy
out of sight. My hands may be full–that is, if the surgeon leaves me
with both of them. Good-bye, Callandar.”

He turned his horse and left him. The other opened his mouth to shout
after him, ordering him to come back, but remembered that he had no
authority to do so. Flemington was independent of him; he belonged to
a different branch of the King’s service, and although he had fought
at Culloden he was under different orders. He had merely accompanied
his party, and Callandar knew very well that, though his junior in
years, he was a much more important person than himself. The nature of
Archie’s duties demanded that he should be given a free hand in his
movements, and no doubt he knew what he was about. But had he been
Callandar’s subordinate, and had there been a surgeon round the
nearest corner, his arm might have dropped from his shoulder before
the officer would have permitted him to fall out of the little troop.
Callandar had never in all his service seen a man receive definite
orders only to disobey them openly.

He watched him go, petrified. His brain was a good one, but it worked
slowly, and Archie’s decision and departure had been as sudden as a
thunderbolt. Also, there was contempt in his heart for his softness,
and he was sorry.

Archie turned round and saw him still looking after him. He sent back
a gibe to him.

“If you don’t go on I will report you for neglect of duty!” he
shouted, laughing.

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