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Flemington written by Violet Jacob who was a Scottish writer. This book was published in 1911. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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CHAPTER I. PROLOGUE
CHAPTER II. JETSAM
CHAPTER III. A COACH-AND-FIVE
CHAPTER IV. BUSINESS
CHAPTER V. “THE HAPPY LAND”
CHAPTER VI. IN DARKNESS AND IN LIGHT
CHAPTER VII. TREACHERY
CHAPTER VIII. THE HEAVY HAND
CHAPTER IX. “TOUJOURS DE L’AUDACE”
CHAPTER X. ADRIFT
CHAPTER XI THE GUNS OF MONTROSE
CHAPTER XII. INCHBRAYOCK
CHAPTER XIII. THE INTERESTED SPECTATOR
CHAPTER XIV. IN SEARCH OF SENSATION
CHAPTER XV. WATTIE HAS THEORIES
CHAPTER XVI. THE TWO ENDS OF THE LINE
CHAPTER XVII. SOCIETY
CHAPTER XVIII. BALNILLO FINDS PERFECTION
CHAPTER XIX. THE WINTER
CHAPTER XX. THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
CHAPTER XXI. HUNTLY HILL
CHAPTER XXII. HUNTLY HILL (continued)
CHAPTER XXIII. THE MUIR OF PERT
CHAPTER XXIV. THE VANITY OF MEN
CHAPTER XXV. A ROYAL DUKE
CHAPTER XXVI. THE VANISHING BIRD
CHAPTER XXVII. EPILOGUE
THIS book has no claim to be considered an historical novel, none of the principal people in it being historic characters; but the taking of the ship, as also the manner of its accomplishment, is true.
MR. DUTHIE walked up the hill with the gurgle of the burn he had just crossed purring in his ears. The road was narrow and muddy, and the house of Ardguys, for which he was making, stood a little way in front of him, looking across the dip threaded by the water. The tall white walls, discoloured by damp and crowned by their steep roof, glimmered through the ash-trees on the bank at his right hand. There was something distasteful to the reverend man’s decent mind in this homely approach to the mansion inhabited by the lady he was on his way to visit, and he found the remoteness of this byway among the grazing lands of Angus oppressive.
The Kilpie burn, travelling to the river Isla, farther west, had pushed its way through the undulations of pasture that gave this particular tract, lying north of the Sidlaws, a definite character; and the formation of the land seemed to suggest that some vast ground-swell had taken place in the earth, to be arrested, suddenly, in its heaving, for all time. Thus it was that a stranger, wandering about, might come unwarily upon little outlying farms and cottages hidden in the trough of these terrestrial waves, and find himself, when he least awaited it, with his feet on a level with some humble roof, snug in a fold of the braes. It was in one of the largest of these miniature valleys that the house of Ardguys stood, with the Kilpie burn running at the bottom of its sloping garden.
Mr. Duthie was not a stranger, but he did not admire the unexpected; he disliked the approach to Ardguys, for his sense of suitability was great; indeed, it was its greatness which was driving him on his present errand. He had no gifts except the quality of decency, which is a gift like any other; and he was apt, in the company of Madam Flemington, to whose presence he was now hastening, to be made aware of the great inconvenience of his shortcomings, and the still greater inconvenience of his advantage. He crossed the piece of uneven turf dividing the house from the road, and ascended the short flight of stone steps, a spare, black figure in a three-cornered hat, to knock with no uncertain hand upon the door. His one great quality was staying him up.
Like the rest of his compeers in the first half of the seventeen hundreds, Mr. Duthie wore garments of rusty blue or grey during the week, but for this occasion he had plunged his ungainly arms and legs into the black which he generally kept for the Sabbath-day, though the change gave him little distinction. He was a homely and very uncultured person; and while the approaching middle of the century was bringing a marked improvement to country ministers as a class, mentally and socially, he had stood still.
He was ushered into a small panelled room in which he waited alone for a few minutes, his hat on his knee. Then there was a movement outside, and a lady came in, whose appearance let loose upon him all those devils of apprehension which had hovered about him as he made his way from his manse to the chair on which he sat. He rose, stricken yet resolute, with the cold forlorn courage which is the bravest thing in the world.
As Madam Flemington entered, she took possession of the room to the exclusion of everything else, and the minister felt as if he had no right to exist. Her eyes, meeting his, reflected the idea.
Christian Flemington carried with her that atmosphere which enwraps a woman who has been much courted by men, and, though she was just over forty-two, and a grandmother, the most inexperienced observer might know how strongly the fires of life were burning in her still. An experienced one would be led to think of all kinds of disturbing subjects by her mere presence; intrigue, love, power—a thousand abstract yet stirring things, far, far remote from the weather-beaten house which was the incongruous shell of this compelling personality. Dignity was hers in an almost appalling degree, but it was a quality unlike the vulgar conception of it; a dignity which could be all things besides distant; unscrupulous in its uses, at times rather brutal, outspoken, even jovial; born of absolute fearlessness, and conveying the certainty that its possessor would speak and act as she chose, because she regarded encroachment as impossible and had the power of cutting the bridge between herself and humanity at will. That power was hers to use and to abuse, and she was accustomed to do both. In speech she could have a plain coarseness which has nothing to do with vulgarity, and is, indeed, scarcely compatible with it; a coarseness which is disappearing from the world in company with many better and worse things.
She moved slowly, for she was a large woman and had never been an active one; but the bold and steady brilliance of her eyes, which the years had not faded, suggested swift and sudden action in a way that was disconcerting. She had the short, straight nose common to feline types, and time, which had spared her eyes, was duplicating her chin. Her eyebrows, even and black, accentuated the heavy silver of her abundant unpowdered hair, which had turned colour early, and an immense ruby hung from each of her tiny ears in a setting of small diamonds. Mr. Duthie, who noticed none of these things particularly, was, nevertheless, crushed by their general combination.
It was nine years before this story opens that Christian Flemington had left France to take up her abode on the small estate of Ardguys, which had been left to her by a distant relation. Whilst still almost a child, she had married a man much older than herself, and her whole wedded life had been spent at the Court of James II. of England at St. Germain, whither her husband, a Scottish gentleman of good birth in the exiled King’s suite, had followed his master, remaining after his death in attendance upon his widow, Mary Beatrice of Modena.
Flemington did not long survive the King. He left his wife with one son, who, on reaching manhood, estranged himself from his mother by an undesirable marriage; indeed, it was immediately after this latter event that Christian quitted her post at Court, retiring to Rouen, where she lived until the possession of Ardguys, which she inherited a few months later, gave her a home of her own.
Different stories were afloat concerning her departure. Many people said that she had gambled away the greater part of her small fortune and was forced to retrench in some quiet place; others, that she had quarrelled with, and been dismissed by, Mary Beatrice. Others, again, declared that she had been paid too much attention by the young Chevalier de St. George and had found it discreet to take herself out of his way; but the believers in this last theory were laughed to scorn; not because the world saw anything strange in the Chevalier’s alleged infatuation, but because it was quite sure that Christian Flemington would have acted very differently in the circumstances. But no one could be certain of the truth: the one certain thing was that she was gone and that since her retreat to Rouen she had openly professed Whig sympathies. She had been settled at Ardguys, where she kept her political leanings strictly to herself, for some little time, when news came that smallpox had carried off her son and his undesirable wife, and, as a consequence, their little boy was sent home to the care of his Whig grandmother, much against the will of those Jacobites at the Court of St. Germain who were still interested in the family. But as nobody’s objection was strong enough to affect his pocket, the child departed.
‘Madam’ Flemington, as she was called by her few neighbours, was in correspondence with none of her old friends, and none of these had the least idea what she felt about her loss or about the prospect of the child’s arrival. She was his natural guardian, and, though so many shook their heads at the notion of his being brought up by a rank Whig, no one was prepared to relieve her of her responsibility. Only Mary Beatrice, mindful of the elder Flemington’s faithful services to James, granted a small pension for the boy’s upbringing from her meagre private purse; but as this was refused by Christian, the matter ended. And now, in the year of grace 1727, young Archie Flemington was a boy of eight, and the living cause of the Rev. William Duthie’s present predicament.
Madam Flemington and the minister sat opposite to each other, silent. He was evidently trying to make a beginning of his business, but his companion was not in a mood to help him. He was a person who wearied her, and she hated red hair; besides which, she was an Episcopalian and out of sympathy with himself and his community. She found him common and limited, and at the present moment, intrusive.
“It’s sma’ pleasure I have in coming to Ardguys the day,” he began, and then stopped, because her eyes paralyzed his tongue.
“You are no flatterer,” said she.
But the contempt in her voice braced him.
“Indeed, that I am not, madam,” he replied; “neither shall it be said of me that I gang back from my duty. Nane shall assail nor make a mock of the Kirk while I am its minister.”
“Who has made a mock of the Kirk, my good man?”
The vision of her eight-year-old grandson going forth, like a young David, to war against the Presbyterian stronghold, brought back Madam Flemington’s good-humour.
“Ye may smile, madam,” said Duthie, plunged deeper into the vernacular by agitation, “ay, ye may lauch. But it ill beseems the grey hair on yer pow.”
Irony always pleased her and she laughed outright, showing her strong white teeth. It was not only Archie and the Kirk that amused her, but the whimsical turn of her own fate which had made her hear such an argument from a man. It was not thus that men had approached her in the old days.
“You are no flatterer, Mr. Duthie, as I said before.”
He looked at her with uncomprehending eyes.
A shout, as of a boy playing outside, came through the window, and a bunch of cattle upon the slope cantered by with their tails in the air. Evidently somebody was chasing them.
“Let me hear about Archie,” said the lady, recalled to the main point by the sight.
“Madam, I would wish that ye could step west to the manse wi’ me and see the evil abomination at my gate. It would gar ye blush.”
“I am obliged to you, sir. I had not thought to be put to that necessity by one of your cloth.”
“Go on, Mr. Duthie. I can blush without going to the manse for it.”
“An evil image has been set up upon my gate,” he continued, raising his voice as though to cry down her levity, “an idolatrous picture. I think shame that the weans ganging by to the schule should see it. But I rejoice that there’s mony o’ them doesna’ ken wha it is.”
“Fie, Mr. Duthie! Is it Venus?”
“It has idolatrous garments,” continued he, with the loud monotony of one shouting against a tempest, “and a muckle crown on its head——”
“Then it is not Venus,” observed she. “Venus goes stripped.”
“It is the Pope of Rome,” went on Mr. Duthie; “I kent him when I saw the gaudy claes o’ him and the heathen vanities on his pow. I kent it was himsel’! And it was written at the foot o’ him, forbye that. Ay, madam, there was writing too. There was a muckle bag out frae his mou’ wi’ wicked words on it! ‘Come awa’ to Babylon wi’ me, Mr. Duthie.’ I gar’d the beadle run for water and a clout, for I could not thole that sic’ a thing should be seen.”
“And you left the Pope?” said Madam Flemington.
“I did,” replied the minister. “I would wish to let ye see to whatlike misuse Airchie has put his talents.”
“And how do you know it was Archie’s work?”
“There’s naebody hereabouts but Airchie could have made sic’ a thing. The beadle tell’t me that he saw him sitting ahint the whins wi’ his box of paint as he gae’d down the manse road, and syne when he came back the image was there.”
As he finished his sentence the door opened and a small figure was arrested on the threshold by the sight of him. The little boy paused, disconcerted and staring, and a faint colour rose in his olive face. Then his glum look changed to a smile in which roguery, misgiving, and an intense malicious joy were blended. He looked from one to the other.
“Archie, come in and make your reverence to Mr. Duthie,” said Madam Flemington, who had all at once relapsed into punctiliousness.
Archie obeyed. His skin and his dark eyes hinted at his mother’s French blood, but his bow made it a certainty.
The minister offered no acknowledgment.
If Archie had any doubt about the reason of Mr. Duthie’s visit, it did not last long. The minister was not a very stern man in daily life, but now the Pope and Madam Flemington between them had goaded him off his normal peaceable path, and his expression bade the little boy prepare for the inevitable. Archie reflected that his grandmother was a disciplinarian, and his mind went to a cupboard in the attics where she kept a cane. But the strain of childish philosophy which ran through his volatile nature was of a practical kind, and it reminded him that he must pay for his pleasures, and that sometimes they were worth the expense. Even in the grip of Nemesis he was not altogether sorry that he had drawn that picture.
Madam Flemington said nothing, and Mr. Duthie beckoned to him to come nearer.
“Child,” said he, “you have put an affront upon the whole o’ the folk of this parish. You have raised up an image to be a scandal to the passers-by. You have set up a notorious thing in our midst, and you have caused words to issue from its mouth that the very kirk-officer, when he dichted it out wi’ his clout, thought shame to look upon. I have jaloused it right to complain to your grandmother and to warn her, that she may check you before you bring disgrace and dismay upon her and upon her house.”
Archie’s eyes had grown rounder as he listened, for the pomp of the high-sounding words impressed him with a sense of importance, and he was rather astonished to find that any deed of his own could produce such an effect. He contemplated the minister with a curious detachment that belonged to himself. Then he turned to look at his grandmother, and, though her face betrayed no encouragement, the subtle smile he had worn when he stood at the door appeared for a moment upon his lips.
Mr. Duthie saw it. Madam Flemington had not urged one word in defence of the culprit, but, rightly or wrongly, he scented lack of sympathy with his errand. He turned upon her.
“I charge you—nay, I demand it of you,” he exclaimed—“that you root out the evil in yon bairn’s nature! Tak’ awa’ from him the foolish toy that he has put to sic’ a vile use. I will require of you——”
“Sir,” said Madam Flemington, rising, “I have need of nobody to teach me how to correct my grandson. I am obliged to you for your visit, but I will not detain you longer.”
And almost before he realized what had happened, Mr. Duthie found himself once more upon the stone steps of Ardguys.
Archie and his grandmother were left together in the panelled room. Perhaps the boy’s hopes were raised by the abrupt departure of his accuser. He glanced tentatively at her.
“You will not take away my box?” he inquired.
“Mr. Duthie has a face like this,” he said airily, drawing his small features into a really brilliant imitation of the minister.
The answer was hardly what he expected.
“Go up to the cupboard and fetch me the cane,” said Madam Flemington.
It was a short time later when Archie, rather sore, but still comforted by his philosophy, sat among the boughs of a tree farther up the hill. It was a favourite spot of his, for he could look down through the light foliage over the roof of Ardguys and the Kilpie burn to the rough road ascending beyond them. The figure of the retreating Mr. Duthie had almost reached the top and was about to be lost in the whin-patch across the strath. The little boy’s eyes followed him between the yellowing leaves of the tree which autumn was turning into the clear-tinted ghost of itself. He had not escaped justice, and the marks of tears were on his face; but they were not rancorous tears, whose traces live in the heart long after the outward sign of their fall has gone. They were tears forced from him by passing stress, and their sources were shallow. Madam Flemington could deal out punishment thoroughly, but she was not one of those who burn its raw wounds with sour words, and her grandson had not that woeful sense of estrangement which is the lot of many children when disciplined by those they love. Archie adored his grandmother, and the gap of years between them was bridged for him by his instinctive and deep admiration. She was no companion to him, but she was a deity, and he had never dreamed of investing her with those dull attributes which the young will tack on to those who are much their seniors, whether they possess them or not. Mr. Duthie, who had just reached middle life, seemed a much older person to Archie.
He felt in his pocket for the dilapidated box which held his chief treasures—those dirty lumps of paint with which he could do such surprising things. No, there was not very much black left, and he must contrive to get some more, for the adornment of the other manse gatepost was in his mind. He would need a great deal of black, because this time his subject would be the devil; and there should be the same—or very nearly the same—invitation to the minister.
EIGHTEEN years after the last vestige of Archie’s handiwork had vanished under the beadle’s ‘clout’ two gentlemen were sitting in the library of a square stone mansion at the eastern end of the county of Angus. It was evening, and they had drawn their chairs up to a fireplace in which the flames danced between great hobs of polished brass, shooting the light from their thrusting tongues into a lofty room with drawn curtains and shelves of leather-bound books. Though the shutters were closed, the two men could hear, in the pauses of talk, a continuous distant roaring, which was the sound of surf breaking upon the bar outside the harbour of Montrose, three miles away. A small mahogany table with glasses and a decanter stood at Lord Balnillo’s elbow, and he looked across at his brother James (whose life, as a soldier, had kept him much in foreign countries until the previous year) with an expression of mingled good-will and patronage.
David Logie was one of the many Scottish gentlemen of good birth who had made the law his profession, and he had just retired from the Edinburgh bench, on which, as Lord Balnillo, he had sat for hard upon a quarter of a century. His face was fresh-coloured and healthy, and, though he had not put on so much flesh as a man of sedentary ways who has reached the age of sixty-two might expect to carry, his main reason for retiring had been the long journeys on horseback over frightful roads, which a judge’s duties forced him to take. Another reason was his estate of Balnillo, which was far enough from Edinburgh to make personal attention to it impossible. His wife Margaret, whose portrait hung in the dining-room, had done all the business for many years; but Margaret was dead, and perhaps David, who had been a devoted husband, felt the need of something besides the law to fill up his life. He was a lonely man, for he had no children, and his brother James, who sat opposite to him, was his junior by twenty-five years. For one who had attained to his position, he was slow and curiously dependent on others; there was a turn about the lines of his countenance which suggested fretfulness, and his eyes, which had looked upon so many criminals, could be anxious. He was a considerate landlord, and, in spite of the times in which he lived and the bottle at his elbow, a person of very sober habits.
James Logie, who had started his career in Lord Orkney’s regiment of foot with the Scots Brigade in Holland, had the same fresh complexion as his brother and the same dark blue eyes; but they were eyes that had a different expression, and that seemed to see one thing at a time. He was a squarer, shorter man than Lord Balnillo, quicker of speech and movement. His mouth was a little crooked, for the centre of his lower lip did not come exactly under the centre of the upper one, and this slight mistake on the part of Nature had given his face a not unpleasant look of virility. Most people who passed James gave him a second glance. Both men were carefully dressed and wore fine cambric cravats and laced coats; and the shoes of the judge, which rested on the fender, were adorned by gilt buckles.
They had been silent for some time, as people are who have come to the same conclusion and find that there is no more to say, and in the quietness the heavy undercurrent of sound from the coast seemed to grow more insistent.
“The bar is very loud to-night, Jamie,” said Lord Balnillo. “I doubt but there’s bad weather coming, and I am loth to lose more trees.”
“I see that the old beech by the stables wants a limb,” observed the other. “That’s the only change about the place that I notice.”
“There’ll be more yet,” said the judge.
“You’ve grown weather-wise since you left Edinburgh, David.”
“I had other matters to think upon there,” answered Balnillo, with some pomp.
James smiled faintly, making the little twist in his lip more apparent.
“Come out to the steps and look at the night,” said he, snatching, like most restless men, at the chance of movement.
They went out through the hall. James unbarred the front door and the two stood at the top of the flight of stone steps.
The entrance to Balnillo House faced northward, and a wet wind from the east, slight still, but rising, struck upon their right cheeks and carried the heavy muffled booming in through the trees. Balnillo looked frowning at their tops, which had begun to sway; but his brother’s attention was fixed upon a man’s figure, which was emerging from the darkness of the grass park in front of them.
“Who is that?” cried the judge, as the footsteps grew audible.
“It’s a coach at the ford, ma lord—a muckle coach that’s couped i’ the water! Wully an’ Tam an’ Andrew Robieson are seekin’ to ca’ it oot, but it’s fast, ma lord——”
“Is there anyone in it?” interrupted James.
“Ay, there was. But he’s oot noo.”
“Where is he?”
“He’ll na’ get forward the night,” continued the man. “Ane of the horse is lame. He cursin’, ma lord, an’ nae wonder—he can curse bonnie! Robieson’s got his wee laddie wi’ him, and he gar’d the loonie put his hands to his lugs. He’s an elder, ye see.”
The judge turned to his brother. It was not the first time that the ford in the Den of Balnillo had been the scene of disaster, for there was an unlucky hole in it, and the state of the roads made storm-bound and bedraggled visitors common apparitions in the lives of country gentlemen.
“If ye’ll come wi’ me, ma lord, ye’ll hear him,” said the labourer, to whom the profane victim of the ford was evidently an object of admiration.
Balnillo looked down at his silk stockings and buckled shoes.
“I should be telling the lasses to get a bed ready,” he remarked hurriedly, as he re-entered the house.
James was already throwing his leg across the fence, though it was scarcely the cursing which attracted him, for he had heard oaths to suit every taste in his time. He hurried across the grass after the labourer. The night was not very dark, and they made straight for the ford.
The Den of Balnillo ran from north to south, not a quarter of a mile from the house, and the long chain of miry hollows and cart-ruts which did duty for a high road from Perth to Aberdeen plunged through it at the point for which the men were heading. It was a steep ravine filled with trees and stones, through which the Balnillo burn flowed and fell and scrambled at different levels on its way to join the Basin of Montrose, as the great estuary of the river Esk was called. The ford lay just above one of the falls by which the water leaped downwards, and the dense darkness of the surrounding trees made it difficult for Captain Logie to see what was happening as he descended into the black well of the Den. He could distinguish a confusion of objects by the light of the lantern which his brother’s men had brought and set upon a stone; the ford itself reflected nothing, for it was churned up into a sea of mud, in which, as Logie approached, the outline of a good-sized carriage, lying upon its side, became visible.
“Yonder’s the captain coming,” said a voice.
Someone lifted the lantern, and he found himself confronted by a tall young man, whose features he could not see, but who was, no doubt, the expert in language.
“Sir,” he said, “I fear you have had a bad accident. I am come from Lord Balnillo to find out what he can do for you.”
“His lordship is mighty good,” replied the young man, “and if he could force this mud-hole—which, I am told, belongs to him—to yield up my conveyance, I should be his servant for life.”
There was a charm and softness in his voice which nullified the brisk impertinence of his words.
“I hope you are not hurt,” said James.
“Not at all, sir. Providence has spared me. But He has had no mercy upon one of my poor nags, which has broken its knees, nor on my stock-in-trade, which is in the water. I am a travelling painter,” he added quickly, “and had best introduce myself. My name is Archibald Flemington.”
The stranger had a difficulty in pronouncing his r’s; he spoke them like a Frenchman, with a purring roll.
The other was rather taken aback. Painters in those days had not the standing in society that they have now, but the voice and manner were unmistakably those of a man of breeding. Even his freedom was not the upstart licence of one trying to assert himself, but the easy expression of a roving imagination.
“I should introduce myself too,” said Logie. “I am Captain James Logie, Lord Balnillo’s brother. But we must rescue your—your—baggage. Where is your postilion?”
Flemington held up the lantern again, and its rays fell upon a man holding the two horses which were standing together under a tree. James went towards them.
“Poor beast,” said he, as he saw the knees of one of the pair, “he would be better in a stall. Andrew Robieson, send your boy to the house for a light, and then you can guide them to the stables.”
Meanwhile, the two other men had almost succeeded in getting the carriage once more upon its wheels, and with the help of Flemington and Logie, it was soon righted. They decided to leave it where it was for the night, and it was dragged a little aside, lest it should prove a pitfall to any chance traveller who might pass before morning.
The two gentlemen went towards the house together, and the men followed, carring Flemington’s possessions and the great square package containing his canvases.
When they entered the library Lord Balnillo was standing with his back to the fire.
“I have brought Mr. Flemington, brother,” said Logie, “his coach has come to grief in the Den.”
Archie stopped short, and putting his heels together, made much the same bow as he had made to Mr. Duthie eighteen years before.
A feeling of admiration went through James as the warm light of the house revealed the person of his companion, and something in the shrewd wrinkles round his brother’s unimpressive eyes irritated him. He felt a vivid interest in the stranger, and the cautious old man’s demeanour seemed to have raised the atmosphere of a law-court round himself. He was surveying the new-comer with stiff urbanity.
But Archie made small account of it.
“Sir,” said Balnillo, with condescension, “if you will oblige me by making yourself at home until you can continue your road, I shall take myself for fortunate.”
“My lord,” replied Archie, “if you knew how like heaven this house appears to me after the bottomless pit in your den, you might take yourself for the Almighty.”
Balnillo gave his guest a critical look, and was met by all the soft darkness of a pair of liquid brown eyes which drooped at the outer corners, and were set under thick brows following their downward lines. Gentleness, inquiry, appeal, were in them, and a quality which the judge, like other observers, could not define—a quality that sat far, far back from the surface. In spite of the eyes, there was no suggestion of weakness in the slight young man, and his long chin gave his olive face gravity. Speech and looks corresponded so little in him that Balnillo was bewildered; but he was a hospitable man, and he moved aside to make room for Archie on the hearth. The latter was a sorry sight, as far as mud went; for his coat was splashed, and his legs, from the knee down, were of the colour of clay. He held his hands out to the blaze, stretching his fingers as a cat stretches her claws under a caressing touch.
“Sit down and put your feet to the fire,” said the judge, drawing forward one of the large armchairs, “and James, do you call for another glass. When did you dine, Mr. Flemington?”
“I did not dine at all, my lord. I was anxious to push on to Montrose, and I pushed on to destruction instead.”
He looked up with such a whimsical smile at his own mishaps that Balnillo found his mouth widening in sympathy.
“I will go and tell them to make some food ready,” said the captain, in answer to a sign from his brother.
Balnillo stood contemplating the young man; the lines round his eyes were relaxing a little; he was fundamentally inquisitive, and his companion matched no type he had ever seen. He was a little disturbed by his assurance, yet his instinct of patronage was tickled by the situation.
“I am infinitely grateful to you,” said Archie. “I know all the inns in Brechin, and am very sensible how much better I am likely to dine here than there. You are too kind.”
“Then you know these parts?”
“My home is at the other end of the county—at Ardguys.”
“I am familiar with the name,” said Balnillo, “but until lately, I have been so much in Edinburgh that I am out of touch with other places. I am not even aware to whom it belongs.”
“It is a little property, my lord—nothing but a few fields and a battered old house. But it belongs to my grandmother Flemington, who brought me up. She lives very quietly.”
“Indeed, indeed,” said the judge, his mind making a cast for a clue as a hound does for the scent.
He was not successful.
“I had not taken you for a Scot,” he said, after a moment.
“I have been told that,” said Archie; “and that reminds me that it would be proper to tell your lordship what I am. I am a painter, and at this moment your hall is full of my paraphernalia.”
Lord Balnillo did not usually show his feelings, but the look which, in spite of himself, flitted across his face, sent a gleam of entertainment through Archie.
“You are surprised,” he observed, sighing. “But when a man has to mend his fortunes he must mend them with what tools he can. Nor am I ashamed of my trade.”
“There is no need, Mr. Flemington,” replied the other, with the measured benevolence he had sometimes used upon the bench; “what you tell me does you honour—much honour, sir.”
“Then you did not take me for a painter any more than for a Scot?” said Archie, smiling at his host.
“I did not, sir,” said the judge shortly. He was not accustomed to be questioned by his witnesses and he had the uncomfortable sensation of being impelled, in spite of a certain prejudice, to think moderately well of his guest.
“I have heard tell of your lordship very often,” said the latter, suddenly, “and I know very well into what good hands I have fallen. I could wish that all the world was more like yourself.”
He turned his head and stared wistfully at the coals.
Balnillo could not make out whether this young fellow’s assurance or his humility was the real key-note to the man. But he liked some of his sentiments well enough. Archie wore his own hair, and the old man noticed how silky and fine the brown waves were in the firelight. They were so near his hand as their owner leaned forward that he could almost have stroked them.
“Are you going further than Montrose?” he inquired.
“I had hoped to cozen a little employment out of Aberdeen,” replied Flemington, “but it is a mere speculation. I have a gallery of the most attractive canvases with me—women, divines, children, magistrates, provosts—all headless and all waiting to see what faces chance and I may fit on to their necks. I have one lady—an angel, I assure you, my lord!—a vision of green silk and white roses—shoulders like satin—the hands of Venus!”
Balnillo was further bewildered. He knew little about the arts and nothing about artists. He had looked at many a contemporary portrait without suspecting that the original had chosen, as sitters often did, an agreeable ready-made figure from a selection brought forward by a painter, on which to display his or her countenance. It was a custom which saved the trouble of many sittings and rectified much of the niggardliness or over-generosity of Nature.
“I puzzle you, I see,” added Archie, laughing, “and no doubt the hair of Van Dyck would stand on end at some of our modern doings. But I am not Van Dyck, unhappily, and in common with some others I do half my business before my sitters ever see me. A client has only to choose a suitable body for his own head, and I can tell you that many are thankful to have the opportunity.”
“I had no idea that portraits were done like that,” said Lord Balnillo; “I never heard of such an arrangement before.”
“But you do not think it wrong, I hope?” exclaimed Flemington, the gaiety dying out of his face. “There is no fraud about it! It is not as if a man deceived his sitter.”
The half-petulant distress in his voice struck Balnillo, and almost touched him; there was something so simple and confiding in it.
“It might have entertained your lordship to see them,” continued Archie ruefully. “I should have liked to show you the strange company I travel with.”
“So you shall, Mr. Flemington,” said the old man. “It would entertain me very greatly. I only fear that the lady with the white roses may enslave me,” he added, with rather obvious jocosity.
“Indeed, now is the time for that,” replied Archie, his face lighting up again, “for I hope she may soon wear the head of some fat town councillor’s wife of Aberdeen.”
As he spoke Captain Logie returned with the news that dinner was prepared.
“I have been out to the stable to see what we could do for your horses,” said he.
“Thank you a thousand times, sir,” exclaimed Archie.
Lord Balnillo watched his brother as he led the painter to the door.
“I think I will come, too, and sit with Mr. Flemington while he eats,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation.
A couple of hours later Archie found himself in a comfortable bedroom. His valise had been soaked in the ford, and a nightshirt of Lord Balnillo’s was warming at the fire. When he had put it on he went and looked at himself in an old-fashioned mirror which hung on the wall. He was a good deal taller than the judge, but it was not his own image that caused the indescribable expression on his face.
ARCHIE sat in his bedroom at a table. The window was open, for it was a soft October afternoon, and he looked out meditatively at the prospect before him.
The wind that had howled in the night had spent itself towards morning, and by midday the tormented sky had cleared and the curtain of cloud rolled away, leaving a mellow sun smiling over the Basin of Montrose. He had never been within some miles of Balnillo, and the aspect of this piece of the country being new to him, his painter’s eye rested appreciatively on what he saw.
Two avenues of ancient trees ran southward, one on either side of the house, and a succession of grass fields sloped away before him between these bands of timber to the tidal estuary, where the water lay blue and quiet with the ribbon of the South Esk winding into it from the west. Beyond it the low hills with their gentle rise touched the horizon; nearer at hand the beeches and gean-trees, so dear to Lord Balnillo’s heart, were red and gold. Here and there, where the gale had thinned the leaves, the bareness of stem and bough let in glimpses of the distant purple which was the veil of the farther atmosphere. To the east, shut out from his sight by all this wood, was the town of Montrose, set, with its pointed steeple, like the blue silhouette of some Dutch town, between the Basin and the North Sea.
A pen was in Flemington’s hand, and the very long letter he had just written was before him.
“MADAM, MYDEAR GRANDMOTHER,
“I beg you to look upon the address at the head of this letter, and to judge whether fortune has favoured your devoted grandson.
“I am on the very spot, and, what is more, seem like to remain there indefinitely. Could anything in this untoward world have fallen out better? Montrose is a bare three miles from where I sit, and I can betake myself there on business when necessary, while I live as secluded as I please, cheek by jowl with the very persons whose acquaintance I had laid so many plots to compass. My dear grandmother, could you but have seen me last night, when I lay down after my labours, tricked out in my worshipful host’s nightshirt! Though the honest man is something of a fop in his attire, his arms are not so long as mine, and the fine ruffles on the sleeves did little more than adorn my elbows, which made me feel like a lady till I looked at my skirts. Then I felt more like a highlandman. But I am telling you only effects when you are wanting causes.
“I changed horses at Brechin, having got so far in safety just after dark, and went on towards Montrose, with the wind rising and never a star to look comfort at me through the coach window. Though I knew we must be on the right road, I asked my way at every hovel we passed, and was much interested when I was told that I was at the edge of my Lord Balnillo’s estate, and not far from his house.
“The road soon afterwards took a plunge into the very vilest place I ever saw—a steep way scarcely fit for a cattle-road, between a mass of trees. I put out my head and heard the rushing of water. Oh, what a fine thing memory is! I remembered having heard of the Den of Balnillo and being told that it was near Balnillo house, and I judged we must be there. Another minute and we were clattering among stones; the water was up to the axle and we rocked like a ship. One wheel was higher than the other, and we leaned over so that I could scarcely sit. Then I was inspired. I threw myself with all my weight against the side, and dragged so much of my cargo of canvases as I could lay hold of with me. There was a great splash and over we went. It was mighty hard work getting out, for the devil caused the door to stick fast, and I had to crawl through the window at that side of the coach which was turned to the sky, like a roof. I hope I may never be colder. We turned to and got the horses out and on to dry ground, and the postilion, a very frog for slime and mud, began to shout, which soon produced a couple of men with a lantern. I shouted too, and did my poor best in the way of oaths to give the affair all the colour of reality I could, and I believe I was successful. The noise brought more people about us, and with them my lord’s brother, Captain Logie, hurrying to the rescue with a fellow who had run to the house with news of our trouble. The result was that we ended our night, the coach with a cracked axle and a hole in the panel, the postilion in the servants’ hall with half a bottle of good Scots whisky inside him, the horses—one with a broken knee—in the stable, and myself, as I tell you, in his lordship’s nightshirt.
“I promise you that I thought myself happy when I got inside the mansion—a solemn block, with a grand manner of its own and Corinthian pillars in the dining-room. His lordship was on the hearthrug, as solemn as his house, but with a pinched, precise look which it has not got. He was no easy nut to crack, and it took me a little time to establish myself with him, but the good James, his brother, left us a little while alone, and I made all the way I could in his favour. I may have trouble with the old man, and, at any rate, must be always at my best with him, for he seems to me to be silly, virtuous and cunning all at once. He is vain, too, and suspicious, and has seen so many wicked people in his judicial career that I must not let him confound me with them. I could see that he had difficulty in making my occupation and appearance match to his satisfaction. He wears a mouse-coloured velvet coat, and is very nice in the details of his dress. I should like you to see him—not because he would amuse you, but because it would entertain me so completely to see you together.
“James, his brother, is cut to a very different pattern. He is many years younger than his lordship—not a dozen years older than myself, I imagine—and he has spent much of his life with Lord Orkney’s regiment in Holland. There is something mighty attractive in his face, though I cannot make out what it is. It is strange that, though he seems to be a much simpler person than the old man, I feel less able to describe him. I have had much talk with him this morning, and I don’t know when I have liked anyone better.
“And now comes the triumph of well-doing—the climax to which all this faithful record leads. I am to paint his lordship’s portrait (in his Judge’s robes), and am installed here definitely for that purpose! I shall be grateful if you will send me my chestnut-brown suit and a couple of fine shirts, also the silk stockings which are in the top shelf of my cupboard, and all you can lay hands on in the matter of cravats. My valise was soaked through and through, and, though the clothes I am wearing were dried in the night, I am rather short of good coats, for I expected to end in an inn at Montrose rather than in a gentleman’s house. Though I am within reach of Ardguys, and might ride to fetch them in person, I do not want to be absent unnecessarily. Any important letters that I may send you will go by a hand I know of. I shall go shortly to Montrose by way of procuring myself some small necessity, and shall search for that hand. Its owner should not be difficult to recognize, by all accounts. And now, my dear grandmother, I shall write myself
“Your dutiful and devoted grandson,
Archie sealed his letter, and then rose and leaned far out of the window. The sun still bathed the land, but it was getting low; the tree-tops were thrusting their heads into a light which had already left the grass-parks slanting away from the house. The latter part of his morning had been taken up by his host’s slow inspection of his canvases, and he longed for a sight of his surroundings. He knew that the brothers had gone out together, and he took his hat and stood irresolute, with his letter in his hand, before a humble-looking little locked case, which he had himself rescued the night before from among his submerged belongings in the coach, hesitating whether he should commit the paper to it or keep it upon his own person. It seemed to be a matter for some consideration. Finally, he put it into his pocket and went out.
He set forth down one of the avenues, walking on a gorgeous carpet of fallen leaves, and came out on a road running east and west, evidently another connecting Brechin with Montrose. He smiled as he considered it, realizing that, had he taken it last night, he would have escaped the Den of Balnillo and many more desirable things at the same time.
As he stood looking up and down, he heard a liquid rush, and saw to his right a mill-dam glimmering through the trees, evidently the goal of the waters which had soused him so lately. He strolled towards it, attracted by the forest of stems and golden foliage reflected in the pool, and by the slide down which the stream poured into a field, to wind, like a little serpent, through the grass. Just where it disappeared stood a stone mill-house abutting on the highway, from which came the clacking of a wheel. The miller was at his door. Archie could see that he was watching something with interest, for the man stood out, a distinct white figure, on the steps running up from the road to the gaping doorway in the mill-wall.
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