“I think I understand,” said Foster, who went on with them. “Still you can’t save much time, even if you walk very fast.”
“Verra true,” Pete replied. “But it’s no’ difficult to pit back the clock.”
Leaving the road presently, they struck across a bog that got softer as they advanced until Foster felt the rotten turf tremble beneath his feet. All round were clumps of rushes, patches of smooth but treacherous moss, and holes where water glimmered in the moonlight. He imagined it was a dangerous place for a stranger to cross, but his companions knew the way, and although he sank to the top of his boots they reached firmer ground. Soon afterwards, Pete showed him a rough track that crossed the side of a hill.
“Yon’s your road and ye’ll see the clachan in aboot a mile. If they’re no’ verra willing to tak’ ye in, ye can tell them ye’re a freend o’ mine.”
Foster thanked him and followed the track, which led him to a hollow where lights shone among a clump of bare ash trees. A few low, white houses straggled along the roadside, and he thought one that was somewhat larger and had dormer windows was the change-house. When he knocked he was shown into an untidy kitchen where two men sat drinking by a peat fire. At first, the landlord seemed doubtful about being able to find room for him, but his manner changed when Foster carelessly mentioned that he understood from Pete that he would be welcome, and one of the others gave him a keen glance.
“Where met ye Pate?” he asked.
“On the hill,” said Foster, who felt sure of his ground. “I helped him with the net.”
“Had he any luck?”
“Not much,” said Foster. “Two gamekeepers turned up and although we got a few partridges Pete lost his net.”
There was silence for a moment, and then another remarked: “I wouldna’ say but we ken enough. We hae helpit Pate oot before, and a change is lightsome. He can gang till the moss-side folk noo.”
They let the matter drop, but Foster was given a better supper than he expected and afterwards a bed in a cupboard fixed to the kitchen wall.
At noon next day Foster sat, smoking, on a bridge near the clachan. The air was mild and sunshine filled the hollow, while Foster had just dined upon some very appetizing broth. The broth was thick with vegetables, but he did not think the meat in it came from a barn-door fowl. The clachan was a poor and untidy place, but he was tired, and as the gamekeepers would not suspect a neatly-dressed stranger, had thought of stopping another night. When he had nearly finished his pipe. Long Pete came up. Foster, who had only seen him in the moonlight, now noted that he had a rather frank brown face and a twinkling smile.
“Ye’ll be for Hawick?” he remarked.
Foster said he was going there and Pete resumed in a meaning tone: “It’s a grand day for the road and ye could be in Hawick soon after it’s dark.”