WATTIE HAS THEORIES

THOUGH Skirling Wattie seldom occupied the same bed on many
consecutive nights, his various resting-places had so great a family
likeness that he could not always remember where he was when he
chanced to wake in the small hours. Sheds, barns, stables harboured
him in the cold months when luck was good; loanings, old quarries,
whin-patches, the alder clump beyond Brechin, or the wall-side at
Magdalen Chapel, in the summer.

To-night he lay in the barn abutting on the tiny farmhouse at which he
had sought shelter for Archie. He had met with a half-hearted
reception from the woman who came to the door. Her man was away, she
told him, and she was unwilling to admit strangers in his absence. She
had never seen Wattie before, and it was plain that she did not like
his looks. He induced her at last, with the greatest difficulty, to
give shelter in her barn to the comrade whom he described as lying in
extremity at the roadside. Finally, she despatched her son, a youth of
fifteen, to accompany the beggar, and to help to bring the sufferer
back.

Cold water revived Archie again, and he reached the barn with the
assistance of the lad, who, better disposed than his mother, cut a
bundle of dry heather, which he spread in a corner for his comfort.
The woman looked with silent surprise at her undesired guest; she had
thought to see a fellow-traveller of different condition in company
with the masterful old blackguard in the cart. Her glances and her
expressive silence made Wattie uneasy, but there was no help for their
plight whilst Flemington could scarcely stand.

The beggar had spent the rest of that day in the barn. He was not
suffered to enter the farm, nor was he offered any food; but he had
enough store by him from what he had collected in Brechin for his own
needs and those of his team. Archie’s only requirement was the bowl of
water that his companion had obtained from the boy. He lay alternately
dozing and tossing on his pile of heather. His body was chilled for
his high boots had been full of the Esk water, and Wattie had
hesitated to draw them off, lest he should be unable to get them on
again after their soaking.

Night fell on the barn at last. Wattie slept sound, with the yellow
cur’s muzzle against his shoulder; but he awoke towards midnight, for
Archie’s feverish voice was coming from the corner in which he lay. He
inclined his ear, attracted by the recurrent name of Logie which ran
through the disconnected babblings, rising again and again like some
half-drowned object carried along a swift stream. The darkness made
every word seem more distinct.

“Listen to me!” cried Flemington. “Logie! Logie! you do not understand
. . . it is safe . . . it is burnt! Nobody shall know it from me.
. . . I cannot take your money, Logie . . . I will tell you
everything, but you will not understand. . . .”

The beggar was holding his breath.

“I did not guess it was Inchbrayock . . . I thought it would not be
Inchbrayock! Logie, I will say nothing . . . but I will tell you all.
For God’s sake, Logie, . . . I swear it is true! . . . Listen. . . .”

Skirling Wattie could hear him struggling as though he were fighting
for his life.

“Not to Ardguys . . . I cannot go back to Ardguys! I shall never tell
. . . never, never tell . . . but I shall know where you are! They
shall never know. _Ah!_” cried Archie, raising his voice like a man in
distress calling for help, “it is you, Logie! . . . My God, let me
go!”

The beggar dragged himself nearer. The fragment of moon did no more
than turn the chinks and cracks of the barn to a dull grey, and he
could hardly see the outline of his companion.

The nightmares that were tormenting Archie pointed to something that
must have happened before he came by his hurt, and the injury and the
chill had produced these light-headed wanderings; there were troubles
boiling in his mind that he had kept behind his teeth so long as his
tongue was under control. Wattie wondered what was all this talk of
Lord Balnillo’s brother. It seemed as if there were some secret
between this man, suspected, as he well knew, of being an active
rebel, and Flemington. Had it been light, Wattie would have tried to
get at the papers that Archie had spoken of as being on him when they
met, for these might give him some clue to the mystery. He sat in the
dark leaning against the wall of the barn, his arms tightly folded
across his great chest, his lips pursed, his gaze bent on the restless
figure that he could just distinguish.

All at once Archie sat up.

“Where are you?” he asked in a high, strained voice.

“A’m here,” replied the beggar.

“Is it you, Logie?” exclaimed Flemington.

“It’s mysel’.”

Wattie smoothed the roughness out of his accent as best he could. The
other seemed to be hovering on the brink of consciousness. He sank
back.

“It is not Logie,” he said; “but you can tell him—-”

Wattie leaned forward and laid his broad palm firmly and very gently
on his shoulder.

“What’ll a’ tell him?” said he.

Flemington turned towards him and groped about with his hot hand.

“Tell him from me that he can trust me,” he said in a hoarse, earnest
whisper.

The beggar’s touch seemed to quiet him. He lay still, murmuring
indistinctly between snatches of silence. Once again he sat up,
groping about.

“You will not forget?” he said.

“Na, na,” replied Wattie.

He pushed him gently back, patting him now and again as a nurse might
pat a restless child, and Archie grew calmer. The hand quieted him.
Rough, dirty, guileful, profane as he was, without scruple or
conscience or anything but the desire to do the best for himself,
Skirling Wattie had got, lodged in body or spirit, or in whatsoever
part of man the uncomprehended force dwells, that personal magnetism
which is independent alike of grace and of virtue, which can exist in
a soil that is barren of either. It may have been that which the
yellow cur, with the clear vision belonging to some animals,
recognized and adored; seeing not only the coarse and jovial reprobate
who was his master, but the shadow of the mysterious power that had
touched him.

The dog, awakened by Archie’s cry, found that the beggar had moved,
and drew closer to his side. Flemington dozed off again, and Wattie
sat thinking; he longed to stir him up, that he might have the chance
of hearing more of his rambling talk. But he refrained, not from
humane feeling, but from the fear that the talker, if he were tampered
with, might be too ill to be moved on the morrow. Sleep was his best
chance, and Wattie had made up his mind that if it were possible to
move him, he would prevail on the boy to get a beast from the nearest
place that boasted anything which could carry him to Aberbrothock. He
knew that Flemington could pay for it, and he would direct him to a
small inn in that place whose landlord, besides being a retired
smuggler, was a distant kinsman of his own. The matter of a passage to
Leith could be arranged through the same source for a consideration.
Archie should take his chance by himself.

He realized with some bitterness the bright opportunities that can be
lost upon a being who has no legs to speak of; for he could easily
have relieved him of what money he carried had he been an able-bodied
man. It was not that he lacked the force for such deeds, but that
honesty was wantonly thrust upon him because his comings and goings
were so conspicuous. Notoriety takes heavy toll; and he had about the
same chance as the king of being conveniently mislaid. He would have
given a good deal for a sight of the papers that Archie carried, and
though the darkness interfered with him now, he promised himself that
he would see them if the morning light should find him still
delirious. He could not make out how ill he was; and in spite of his
curiosity, he was not prepared to befriend him with the chance of his
growing worse. To have him dying upon his hands would be a burden too
great to endure, even should it lead to no awkward questionings. He
would get rid of him to-morrow, whether his curiosity were satisfied
or not: he had heard enough to make him suspect very strongly that
Flemington was in the pay of the rebels as well as in that of the
King. It was a situation that he, personally, could very well
understand. But the night turned, and Archie grew more peaceful as the
hours went by. He had one or two bouts of talking, but they were
incoherent and fitful, and his mind appeared now to be straying among
different phantoms. There was no more about Logie, and Wattie could
only make out the word ‘Ardguys,’ which he knew as the name of a place
beyond Forfar; and as he had discovered in Brechin that Flemington
lived somewhere in those parts, he guessed that his thoughts were
roving about his home. His breathing grew less laboured, and the
watcher could hear at last that he slept. The moon dropped, and with
her going the crevices lost their greyness and the barn grew black.
The beggar, who was a healthy sleeper, laid himself down again, and in
the middle of his cogitations passed into oblivion.

When he awoke the place was light, and Archie was looking at him with
intelligent eyes; they were hollow, and there were dark shadows below
them, but they were the eyes of a man in full possession of his wits.

“We must get out of this place,” he said. “I have been standing up,
but my knees seem so heavy I can hardly walk. My bones ache, Wattie; I
believe there is fever in me, but I must get on. Damn it, man, we are
a sorry pair to be cast on the world like this! I fear I took terrible
liberties with your whisky yesterday.”

It was a still, misty morning when the beggar, having harnessed his
dogs, went out to look for the boy. When he was gone, Flemington
fumbled with his shaking fingers for the different packets that he
carried. All were there safely–his letters, his money. He trusted
nobody, and he did not like having to trust the beggar.

His feverish head and the ague in his bones told him that he could
scarcely hope to get to Aberbrothock on foot. His boots were still
wet, and a bruise on his hip that he had got in falling yesterday had
begun to make itself felt. He propped himself against the wall and
reached out for the water beside him.

Wattie had been some time away when the barn door opened and the
farm-woman appeared on the threshold, considering him with suspicious
disfavour.

He dragged himself to his feet and bowed as though he were standing
upon an Aubusson carpet instead of upon a pallet of withered heather.
The action seemed to confirm her distrust.

“Madam,” said he, “I have to thank you for a night’s shelter and for
this excellent refreshment. You are too good. I drink to you.”

He raised the broken delf bowl with the drain of water that remained
in it. Being conscious of inhospitality, she was not sure how much
irony lay in his words, and his face told her nothing.

“It’s the last ye’ll get here,” said she.

The more she looked at Flemington the more she was impressed by his
undesirability as a guest. She was one of those to whom anything
uncommon seemed a menace.

“Madam, I notice that you dislike me–why?”

“Wha are ye?” she inquired after a pause, during which he faced her,
smiling, his eyebrows raised.

“We are two noblemen, travelling for pleasure,” said he.

She crossed her arms, snorting.

“Heuch!” she exclaimed contemptuously. “A’ wish ma gudeman was hame.
He’d sort the pair o’ ye!”

“If you think we have any design on your virtue,” he continued, “I beg
you to dismiss the idea. I assure you, you are safe with us. We are
persons of the greatest delicacy, and my friend is a musician of the
first rank. I myself am what you see–your humble servant and
admirer.”

“Ye’re a leear and a Frenchman!” cried she.

Her eyes blazed. A little more provocation, and she might have
attacked him. At this moment Wattie’s cart drove into the yard behind
her, axle deep in the sea of mud and manure that filled the place. She
turned upon the new-comer. She could not deal with Archie, but the
beggar was a foe she could understand, and she advanced, a whirl of
abuse, upon him. The yellow dog’s growling rose, battling with her
strident tones, and Archie, seeing the mischief his tongue had
wrought, limped out, fearful of what might happen.

“Stand awa’ frae the doag, wumman! He’ll hae the legs o’ ye roogit aff
yer henches gin he get’s a haud o’ ye!” roared Wattie, as the yellow
body leaped and bounded in the traces.

Amid a hurricane of snarling and shouts he contrived, by plying his
stick, to turn the animals and to get them out of the yard.

Archie followed him, but before he did so he paused to turn to his
enemy, who had taken shelter in the doorway of the barn. He could not
take off his hat to her because he had no hat to take off, having lost
it on Inchbrayock Island, but he blew a kiss from the points of his
fingers with an air that almost made her choke. Wattie, looking back
over his shoulder, called angrily to him. He could not understand what
he had done to the woman to move her to such a tempest of wrath, but
he told himself that, in undertaking to escort Archie, he had made a
leap in the dark. He would direct him to his cousin’s house of
entertainment in Aberbrothock, and return to his own haunts without
delay.

At the nearest point of road the boy was standing by a sorry-looking
nag that he held by the ear.

A few minutes later they had parted, and the boy, made happy by the
coin he had been given, was returning to the farm, while the beggar,
who had also reaped some profit in the last twenty-four hours, watched
his late companion disappearing down the road. When he was out of
sight he turned his own wheels in the direction of Brechin, and set
off at a sober pace for that friendly town. He was singing to himself
as he went, first because he owned the price of another bottle of
whisky; secondly, because he was delighted to be rid of Flemington;
and thirdly, because an inspiring idea had come to him.

His dogs, by the time they drew him into Brechin, would have done two
heavy days’ work, and would deserve the comparative holiday he meant
to give them. He would spend to-morrow in the town with his pipes in
the company of that congenial circle always ready to spring from the
gutter on his appearance. Then, after a good night’s rest, and when he
should have collected a trifle, he would go on to Forfar and learn for
certain whether Archie lived at Ardguys and who might be found there
in his absence.

His idea was to arrive at the house with the last tidings of the young
man; to give an account of the attack on the _Venture_, its surrender,
Flemington’s injury, and his own part in befriending him. It took some
time, in those days of slow communication, for public news to travel
so much as across a county, but even should the tale of the ship have
reached Ardguys, the news of Archie could scarcely have preceded him.
He hoped to find someone–for preference an anxious mother, who would
be sensible of how much he had done for her son. There would be fresh
profit there.

And not only profit. There was something else for which the beggar
hoped, though profit was his main object. He pictured some tender,
emotional lady from whose unsuspicious heart he might draw scraps of
information that would fit into his own theories. He would try the
effect of Logie’s name, and there would be no harm in taking a general
survey of Flemington’s surroundings and picking up any small facts
about him that he could collect.

His own belief in Archie’s double dealing grew stronger as he jogged
along; no doubt that shrewd and unaccountable young man was driving a
stiff trade. There was little question in his mind that the contents
of the letter he had put into his hands by the alder-clump had been
sold to Captain James Logie, and that its immediate result had been
the taking of the ship. He had learned from Archie’s ravings that
there had been a question of money between himself and Logie. The part
that he could make nothing of was the suggestion, conveyed by Archie
in the night, that he and the judge’s brother had been fighting. “Let
me go, Logie!” he had cried out in the darkness, and the blow on his
forehead, which was bleeding when he found him, proved recent
violence.

But though he could not explain these puzzles, nor make them tally
with his belief, his theory remained. Flemington was in league with
Logie. For the present he determined to keep his suspicions to
himself.

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