by John Buchan
CHAPTER 1. HOW A
THE IMPULSE OF
CHAPTER II. OF
HERITAGE AND THE
POINTS OF VIEW
CHAPTER III. HOW
AND ANOTHER CAME
TO THE DARK
CHAPTER V. OF
THE PRINCESS IN
CHAPTER VI. HOW
SUNDRY DOINGS IN
CHAPTER IX. THE
FIRST BATTLE OF
CHAPTER X. DEALS
WITH AN ESCAPE
AND A JOURNEY
GRAVITY OUT OF
CHAPTER XII. HOW
ASSAULT UPON AN
THE COMING OF
THE DANISH BRIG
CHAPTER XIV. THE
SECOND BATTLE OF
CHAPTER XV. THE
CHAPTER XVI. IN
WHICH A PRINCESS
LEAVES A DARK
TOWER AND A
TO HIS FAMILY
To W. P. Ker.
If the Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford has not
forgotten the rock whence he was hewn, this simple story may give an
hour of entertainment. I offer it to you because I think you have
met my friend Dickson McCunn, and I dare to hope that you may even in
your many sojournings in the Westlands have encountered one or other
of the Gorbals Die-Hards. If you share my kindly feeling for Dickson,
you will be interested in some facts which I have lately ascertained
about his ancestry. In his veins there flows a portion of the
redoubtable blood of the Nicol Jarvies. When the Bailie, you
remember, returned from his journey to Rob Roy beyond the Highland
Line, he espoused his housekeeper Mattie, "an honest man's daughter
and a near cousin o' the Laird o' Limmerfield." The union was blessed
with a son, who succeeded to the Bailie's business and in due course
begat daughters, one of whom married a certain Ebenezer McCunn, of
whom there is record in the archives of the Hammermen of Glasgow.
Ebenezer's grandson, Peter by name, was Provost of Kirkintilloch, and
his second son was the father of my hero by his marriage with Robina
Dickson, oldest daughter of one Robert Dickson, a tenant-farmer in the
Lennox. So there are coloured threads in Mr. McCunn's pedigree, and,
like the Bailie, he can count kin, should he wish, with Rob Roy
himself through "the auld wife ayont the fire at Stuckavrallachan."
Such as it is, I dedicate to you the story, and ask for no better
verdict on it than that of that profound critic of life and
literature, Mr. Huckleberry Finn, who observed of the Pilgrim's
Progress that he "considered the statements interesting, but tough."
The girl came into the room with a darting movement like a swallow,
looked round her with the same birdlike quickness, and then ran
across the polished floor to where a young man sat on a sofa with one
leg laid along it.
"I have saved you this dance, Quentin," she said, pronouncing the
name with a pretty staccato. "You must be lonely not dancing, so I
will sit with you. What shall we talk about?"
The young man did not answer at once, for his gaze was held by her
face. He had never dreamed that the gawky and rather plain little
girl whom he had romped with long ago in Paris would grow into such a
being. The clean delicate lines of her figure, the exquisite pure
colouring of hair and skin, the charming young arrogance of the
eyes—this was beauty, he reflected, a miracle, a revelation. Her
virginal fineness and her dress, which was the tint of pale fire, gave
her the air of a creature of ice and flame.
"About yourself, please, Saskia," he said. "Are you happy now that
you are a grown-up lady?"
"Happy!" Her voice had a thrill in it like music, frosty music.
"The days are far too short. I grudge the hours when I must sleep.
They say it is sad for me to make my debut in a time of war. But the
world is very kind to me, and after all it is a victorious war for our
Russia. And listen to me, Quentin. To-morrow I am to be allowed to
begin nursing at the Alexander Hospital. What do you think of that?"
The time was January 1916, and the place a room in the great
Nirski Palace. No hint of war, no breath from the snowy streets,
entered that curious chamber where Prince Peter Nirski kept some of
the chief of his famous treasures. It was notable for its lack of
drapery and upholstering — only a sofa or two and a few fine rugs on
the cedar floor. The walls were of a green marble veined like
malachite, the ceiling was of darker marble inlaid with white
intaglios. Scattered everywhere were tables and cabinets laden with
celadon china, and carved jade, and ivories, and shimmering Persian
and Rhodian vessels. In all the room there was scarcely anything of
metal and no touch of gilding or bright colour. The light came from
green alabaster censers, and the place swam in a cold green radiance
like some cavern below the sea. The air was warm and scented, and
though it was very quiet there, a hum of voices and the strains of
dance music drifted to it from the pillared corridor in which could be
seen the glare of lights from the great ballroom beyond.
The young man had a thin face with lines of suffering round the
mouth and eyes. The warm room had given him a high colour, which
increased his air of fragility. He felt a little choked by the
place, which seemed to him for both body and mind a hot-house, though
he knew very well that the Nirski Palace on this gala evening was in
no way typical of the land or its masters. Only a week ago he had
been eating black bread with its owner in a hut on the Volhynian
"You have become amazing, Saskia," he said. "I won't pay my old
playfellow compliments; besides, you must be tired of them. I wish
you happiness all the day long like a fairy-tale Princess. But a
crock like me can't do much to help you to it. The service seems to
be the wrong way round, for here you are wasting your time talking to
She put her hand on his. "Poor Quentin! Is the leg very bad?"
He laughed. "O, no. It's mending famously. I'll be able to get
about without a stick in another month, and then you've got to teach
me all the new dances."
The jigging music of a two-step floated down the corridor. It made
the young man's brow contract, for it brought to him a vision of dead
faces in the gloom of a November dusk. He had once had a friend who
used to whistle that air, and he had seen him die in the Hollebeke
mud. There was something macabre in the tune.... He was surely
morbid this evening, for there seemed something macabre about the
house, the room, the dancing, all Russia.... These last days he had
suffered from a sense of calamity impending, of a dark curtain drawing
down upon a splendid world. They didn't agree with him at the
Embassy, but he could not get rid of the notion.
The girl saw his sudden abstraction.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked. It had been her
favourite question as a child.
"I was thinking that I rather wished you were still in Paris."
"Because I think you would be safer."
"Oh, what nonsense, Quentin dear! Where should I be safe if not in
my own Russia, where I have friends—oh, so many, and tribes and
tribes of relations? It is France and England that are unsafe with
the German guns grumbling at their doors....My complaint is that my
life is too cosseted and padded. I am too secure, and I do not want
to be secure."
The young man lifted a heavy casket from a table at his elbow. It
was of dark green imperial jade, with a wonderfully carved lid. He
took off the lid and picked up three small oddments of ivory—a
priest with a beard, a tiny soldier, and a draught-ox. Putting the
three in a triangle, he balanced the jade box on them.
"Look, Saskia! If you were living inside that box you would think
it very secure. You would note the thickness of the walls and the
hardness of the stone, and you would dream away in a peaceful green
dusk. But all the time it would be held up by trifles—brittle
She shook her head. "You do not understand. You cannot
understand. We are a very old and strong people with roots deep, deep
in the earth."
"Please God you are right," he said. "But, Saskia, you know that
if I can ever serve you, you have only to command me. Now I can do no
more for you than the mouse for the lion—at the beginning of the
story. But the story had an end, you remember, and some day it may be
in my power to help you. Promise to send for me."
The girl laughed merrily. "The King of Spain's daughter," she
"Came to visit me, And all for the love Of my little nut-tree."
The other laughed also, as a young man in the uniform of the
Preobrajenski Guards approached to claim the girl. "Even a nut-tree
may be a shelter in a storm," he said.
"Of course I promise, Quentin," she said. "Au revoir. Soon I will
come and take you to supper, and we will talk of nothing but
He watched the two leave the room, her gown glowing like a tongue
of fire in that shadowy archway. Then he slowly rose to his feet,
for he thought that for a little he would watch the dancing.
Something moved beside him, and he turned in time to prevent the jade
casket from crashing to the floor. Two of the supports had slipped.
He replaced the thing on its proper table and stood silent for a
"The priest and the soldier gone, and only the beast of burden
left. If I were inclined to be superstitious, I should call that a
dashed bad omen."
CHAPTER 1. HOW A RETIRED PROVISION
MERCHANT FELT THE IMPULSE OF SPRING
Mr. Dickson McCunn completed the polishing of his smooth cheeks
with the towel, glanced appreciatively at their reflection in the
looking-glass, and then permitted his eyes to stray out of the window.
In the little garden lilacs were budding, and there was a gold line
of daffodils beside the tiny greenhouse. Beyond the sooty wall a
birch flaunted its new tassels, and the jackdaws were circling about
the steeple of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk. A blackbird whistled from
a thorn-bush, and Mr. McCunn was inspired to follow its example. He
began a tolerable version of "Roy's Wife of Aldivalloch."
He felt singularly light-hearted, and the immediate cause was his
safety razor. A week ago he had bought the thing in a sudden fit of
enterprise, and now he shaved in five minutes, where before he had
taken twenty, and no longer confronted his fellows, at least one day
in three, with a countenance ludicrously mottled by sticking-plaster.
Calculation revealed to him the fact that in his fifty-five years,
having begun to shave at eighteen, he had wasted three thousand three
hundred and seventy hours—or one hundred and forty days—or between
four and five months—by his neglect of this admirable invention. Now
he felt that he had stolen a march on Time. He had fallen heir, thus
late, to a fortune in unpurchasable leisure.
He began to dress himself in the sombre clothes in which he had
been accustomed for thirty-five years and more to go down to the shop
in Mearns Street. And then a thought came to him which made him
discard the grey-striped trousers, sit down on the edge of his bed,
Since Saturday the shop was a thing of the past. On Saturday at
half-past eleven, to the accompaniment of a glass of dubious sherry,
he had completed the arrangements by which the provision shop in
Mearns Street, which had borne so long the legend of D. McCunn,
together with the branches in Crossmyloof and the Shaws, became the
property of a company, yclept the United Supply Stores, Limited. He
had received in payment cash, debentures and preference shares, and
his lawyers and his own acumen had acclaimed the bargain. But all the
week-end he had been a little sad. It was the end of so old a song,
and he knew no other tune to sing. He was comfortably off, healthy,
free from any particular cares in life, but free too from any
particular duties. "Will I be going to turn into a useless old man?"
he asked himself.
But he had woke up this Monday to the sound of the blackbird, and
the world, which had seemed rather empty twelve hours before, was now
brisk and alluring. His prowess in quick shaving assured him of his
youth. "I'm no' that dead old," he observed, as he sat on the edge of
he bed, to his reflection in the big looking-glass.
It was not an old face. The sandy hair was a little thin on the
top and a little grey at the temples, the figure was perhaps a little
too full for youthful elegance, and an athlete would have censured
the neck as too fleshy for perfect health. But the cheeks were rosy,
the skin clear, and the pale eyes singularly childlike. They were a
little weak, those eyes, and had some difficulty in looking for long
at the same object, so that Mr McCunn did not stare people in the
face, and had, in consequence, at one time in his career acquired a
perfectly undeserved reputation for cunning. He shaved clean, and
looked uncommonly like a wise, plump schoolboy. As he gazed at his
simulacrum he stopped whistling "Roy's Wife" and let his countenance
harden into a noble sternness. Then he laughed, and observed in the
language of his youth that there was "life in the auld dowg yet." In
that moment the soul of Mr. McCunn conceived the Great Plan.
The first sign of it was that he swept all his business garments
unceremoniously on to the floor. The next that he rootled at the
bottom of a deep drawer and extracted a most disreputable tweed suit.
It had once been what I believe is called a Lovat mixture, but was
now a nondescript sub-fusc, with bright patches of colour like moss
on whinstone. He regarded it lovingly, for it had been for twenty
years his holiday wear, emerging annually for a hallowed month to be
stained with salt and bleached with sun. He put it on, and stood
shrouded in an odour of camphor. A pair of thick nailed boots and a
flannel shirt and collar completed the equipment of the sportsman. He
had another long look at himself in the glass, and then descended
whistling to breakfast. This time the tune was "Macgregors'
Gathering," and the sound of it stirred the grimy lips of a man
outside who was delivering coals—himself a Macgregor—to follow suit.
Mr McCunn was a very fountain of music that morning.
Tibby, the aged maid, had his newspaper and letters waiting by his
plate, and a dish of ham and eggs frizzling near the fire. He fell
to ravenously but still musingly, and he had reached the stage of
scones and jam before he glanced at his correspondence. There was a
letter from his wife now holidaying at the Neuk Hydropathic. She
reported that her health was improving, and that she had met various
people who had known somebody else whom she had once known herself.
Mr. McCunn read the dutiful pages and smiled. "Mamma's enjoying
herself fine," he observed to the teapot. He knew that for his wife
the earthly paradise was a hydropathic, where she put on her afternoon
dress and every jewel she possessed when she rose in the morning, ate
large meals of which the novelty atoned for the nastiness, and
collected an immense casual acquaintance, with whom she discussed
ailments, ministers, sudden deaths, and the intricate genealogies of
her class. For his part he rancorously hated hydropathics, having
once spent a black week under the roof of one in his wife's company.
He detested the food, the Turkish baths (he had a passionate aversion
to baring his body before strangers), the inability to find anything
to do and the compulsion to endless small talk. A thought flitted
over his mind which he was too loyal to formulate. Once he and his
wife had had similar likings, but they had taken different roads since
their child died. Janet! He saw again—he was never quite free from
the sight—the solemn little white-frocked girl who had died long ago
in the Spring.
It may have been the thought of the Neuk Hydropathic, or more
likely the thin clean scent of the daffodils with which Tibby had
decked the table, but long ere breakfast was finished the Great Plan
had ceased to be an airy vision and become a sober well-masoned
structure. Mr. McCunn—I may confess it at the start—was an
He had had a humdrum life since the day when he had first entered
his uncle's shop with the hope of some day succeeding that honest
grocer; and his feet had never strayed a yard from his sober rut. But
his mind, like the Dying Gladiator's, had been far away. As a boy he
had voyaged among books, and they had given him a world where he could
shape his career according to his whimsical fancy. Not that Mr. McCunn
was what is known as a great reader. He read slowly and fastidiously,
and sought in literature for one thing alone. Sir Walter Scott had
been his first guide, but he read the novels not for their insight
into human character or for their historical pageantry, but because
they gave him material wherewith to construct fantastic journeys. It
was the same with Dickens. A lit tavern, a stage-coach, post-horses,
the clack of hoofs on a frosty road, went to his head like wine. He
was a Jacobite not because he had any views on Divine Right, but
because he had always before his eyes a picture of a knot of
adventurers in cloaks, new landed from France among the western
On this select basis he had built up his small library—Defoe,
Hakluyt, Hazlitt and the essayists, Boswell, some indifferent
romances, and a shelf of spirited poetry. His tastes became known,
and he acquired a reputation for a scholarly habit. He was president
of the Literary Society of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk, and read to its
members a variety of papers full of a gusto which rarely became
critical. He had been three times chairman at Burns Anniversary
dinners, and had delivered orations in eulogy of the national Bard;
not because he greatly admired him—he thought him rather vulgar—but
because he took Burns as an emblem of the un-Burns-like literature
which he loved. Mr. McCunn was no scholar and was sublimely
unconscious of background. He grew his flowers in his small
garden-plot oblivious of their origin so long as they gave him the
colour and scent he sought. Scent, I say, for he appreciated more
than the mere picturesque. He had a passion for words and cadences,
and would be haunted for weeks by a cunning phrase, savouring it as a
connoisseur savours a vintage. Wherefore long ago, when he could ill
afford it, he had purchased the Edinburgh Stevenson. They were the
only large books on his shelves, for he had a liking for small
volumes—things he could stuff into his pocket in that sudden journey
which he loved to contemplate.
Only he had never taken it. The shop had tied him up for eleven
months in the year, and the twelfth had always found him settled
decorously with his wife in some seaside villa. He had not fretted,
for he was content with dreams. He was always a little tired, too,
when the holidays came, and his wife told him he was growing old. He
consoled himself with tags from the more philosophic of his authors,
but he scarcely needed consolation. For he had large stores of modest
But now something had happened. A spring morning and a safety
razor had convinced him that he was still young. Since yesterday he
was a man of a large leisure. Providence had done for him what he
would never have done for himself. The rut in which he had travelled
so long had given place to open country. He repeated to himself one
of the quotations with which he had been wont to stir the literary
young men at the Guthrie Memorial Kirk:
"What's a man's age? He must hurry more, that's all; Cram in a
day, what his youth took a year to hold: When we mind labour, then
only, we're too old— What age had Methusalem when he begat Saul?
He would go journeying—who but he?—pleasantly.
It sounds a trivial resolve, but it quickened Mr. McCunn to the
depths of his being. A holiday, and alone! On foot, of course, for
he must travel light. He would buckle on a pack after the approved
fashion. He had the very thing in a drawer upstairs, which he had
bought some years ago at a sale. That and a waterproof and a stick,
and his outfit was complete. A book, too, and, as he lit his first
pipe, he considered what it should be. Poetry, clearly, for it was
the Spring, and besides poetry could be got in pleasantly small bulk.
He stood before his bookshelves trying to select a volume, rejecting
one after another as inapposite. Browning—Keats, Shelley—they
seemed more suited for the hearth than for the roadside. He did not
want anything Scots, for he was of opinion that Spring came more
richly in England and that English people had a better notion of it.
He was tempted by the Oxford Anthology, but was deterred by its
thickness, for he did not possess the thin-paper edition. Finally he
selected Izaak Walton. He had never fished in his life, but The
Compleat Angler seemed to fit his mood. It was old and curious and
learned and fragrant with the youth of things. He remembered its
falling cadences. its country songs and wise meditations. Decidedly
it was the right scrip for his pilgrimage.
Characteristically he thought last of where he was to go. Every
bit of the world beyond his front door had its charms to the seeing
eye. There seemed nothing common or unclean that fresh morning. Even
a walk among coal-pits had its attractions....But since he had the
right to choose, he lingered over it like an epicure. Not the
Highlands, for Spring came late among their sour mosses. Some place
where there were fields and woods and inns, somewhere, too, within
call of the sea. It must not be too remote, for he had no time to
waste on train journeys; nor too near, for he wanted a countryside
untainted. Presently he thought of Carrick. A good green land, as he
remembered it, with purposeful white roads and public-houses sacred to
the memory of Burns; near the hills but yet lowland, and with a bright
sea chafing on its shores. He decided on Carrick, found a map, and
planned his journey.
Then he routed out his knapsack, packed it with a modest change of
raiment, and sent out Tibby to buy chocolate and tobacco and to cash
a cheque at the Strathclyde Bank. Till Tibby returned he occupied
himself with delicious dreams....He saw himself daily growing browner
and leaner, swinging along broad highways or wandering in bypaths. He
pictured his seasons of ease, when he unslung his pack and smoked in
some clump of lilacs by a burnside—he remembered a phrase of
Stevenson's somewhat like that. He would meet and talk with all sorts
of folk; an exhilarating prospect, for Mr. McCunn loved his kind.
There would be the evening hour before he reached his inn, when,
pleasantly tired, he would top some ridge and see the welcoming lights
of a little town. There would be the lamp-lit after-supper time when
he would read and reflect, and the start in the gay morning, when
tobacco tastes sweetest and even fifty-five seems young. It would be
holiday of the purest, for no business now tugged at his coat-tails.
He was beginning a new life, he told himself, when he could cultivate
the seedling interests which had withered beneath the far-reaching
shade of the shop. Was ever a man more fortunate or more free?
Tibby was told that he was going off for a week or two. No letters
need be forwarded, for he would be constantly moving, but Mrs. McCunn
at the Neuk Hydropathic would be kept informed of his whereabouts.
Presently he stood on his doorstep, a stocky figure in ancient
tweeds, with a bulging pack slung on his arm, and a stout hazel stick
in his hand. A passer-by would have remarked an elderly shopkeeper
bent apparently on a day in the country, a common little man on a
prosaic errand. But the passer-by would have been wrong, for he could
not see into the heart. The plump citizen was the eternal pilgrim; he
was Jason, Ulysses, Eric the Red, Albuquerque, Cortez—starting out to
discover new worlds.
Before he left Mr. McCunn had given Tibby a letter to post. That
morning he had received an epistle from a benevolent acquaintance, one
Mackintosh, regarding a group of urchins who called themselves the
"Gorbals Die-Hards." Behind the premises in Mearns Street lay a tract
of slums, full of mischievous boys, with whom his staff waged
truceless war. But lately there had started among them a kind of
unauthorized and unofficial Boy Scouts, who, without uniform or badge
or any kind of paraphernalia, followed the banner of Sir Robert
Baden-Powell and subjected themselves to a rude discipline. They were
far too poor to join an orthodox troop, but they faithfully copied
what they believed to be the practices of more fortunate boys. Mr.
McCunn had witnessed their pathetic parades, and had even passed the
time of day with their leader, a red-haired savage called Dougal. The
philanthropic Mackintosh had taken an interest in the gang and now
desired subscriptions to send them to camp in the country.
Mr. McCunn, in his new exhilaration, felt that he could not deny to
others what he proposed for himself. His last act before leaving was
to send Mackintosh ten pounds.
CHAPTER II. OF MR. JOHN HERITAGE AND
THE DIFFERENCE IN POINTS OF VIEW
Dickson McCunn was never to forget the first stage in that
pilgrimage. A little after midday he descended from a grimy
third-class carriage at a little station whose name I have forgotten.
In the village nearby he purchased some new-baked buns and ginger
biscuits, to which he was partial, and followed by the shouts of
urchins, who admired his pack—"Look at the auld man gaun to the
schule"—he emerged into open country. The late April noon gleamed
like a frosty morning, but the air, though tonic, was kind. The road
ran over sweeps of moorland where curlews wailed, and into lowland
pastures dotted with very white, very vocal lambs. The young grass
had the warm fragrance of new milk. As he went he munched his buns,
for he had resolved to have no plethoric midday meal, and presently he
found the burnside nook of his fancy, and halted to smoke. On a patch
of turf close to a grey stone bridge he had out his Walton and read
the chapter on "The Chavender or Chub." The collocation of words
delighted him and inspired him to verse. "Lavender or Lub"—"Pavender
or Pub"- "Gravender or Grub"—but the monosyllables proved too vulgar
for poetry. Regretfully he desisted.
The rest of the road was as idyllic as the start. He would tramp
steadily for a mile or so and then saunter, leaning over bridges to
watch the trout in the pools, admiring from a dry-stone dyke the
unsteady gambols of new-born lambs, kicking up dust from strips of
moor-burn on the heather. Once by a fir-wood he was privileged to
surprise three lunatic hares waltzing. His cheeks glowed with the
sun; he moved in an atmosphere of pastoral, serene and contented.
When the shadows began to lengthen he arrived at the village of
Cloncae, where he proposed to lie. The inn looked dirty, but he
found a decent widow, above whose door ran the legend in home-made
lettering, "Mrs. brockie tea and Coffee," and who was willing to give
him quarters. There he supped handsomely off ham and eggs, and dipped
into a work called Covenanting Worthies, which garnished a table
decorated with sea-shells. At half-past nine precisely he retired to
bed and unhesitating sleep.
Next morning he awoke to a changed world. The sky was grey and so
low that his outlook was bounded by a cabbage garden, while a surly
wind prophesied rain. It was chilly, too, and he had his breakfast
beside the kitchen fire. Mrs. Brockie could not spare a capital
letter for her surname on the signboard, but she exalted it in her
talk. He heard of a multitude of Brockies, ascendant, descendant, and
collateral, who seemed to be in a fair way to inherit the earth.
Dickson listened sympathetically, and lingered by the fire. He felt
stiff from yesterday's exercise, and the edge was off his spirit.
The start was not quite what he had pictured. His pack seemed
heavier, his boots tighter, and his pipe drew badly. The first miles
were all uphill, with a wind tingling his ears, and no colours in the
landscape but brown and grey. Suddenly he awoke to the fact that he
was dismal, and thrust the notion behind him. He expanded his chest
and drew in long draughts of air. He told himself that this sharp
weather was better than sunshine. He remembered that all travellers
in romances battled with mist and rain. Presently his body recovered
comfort and vigour, and his mind worked itself into cheerfulness.
He overtook a party of tramps and fell into talk with them. He had
always had a fancy for the class, though he had never known anything
nearer it than city beggars. He pictured them as philosophic
vagabonds, full of quaint turns of speech, unconscious Borrovians.
With these samples his disillusionment was speedy. The party was
made up of a ferret-faced man with a red nose, a draggle-tailed
woman, and a child in a crazy perambulator. Their conversation was
one-sided, for it immediately resolved itself into a whining
chronicle of misfortunes and petitions for relief. It cost him half
a crown to be rid of them.
The road was alive with tramps that day. The next one did the
accosting. Hailing Mr. McCunn as "Guv'nor," he asked to be told the
way to Manchester. The objective seemed so enterprising that Dickson
was impelled to ask questions, and heard, in what appeared to be in
the accents of the Colonies, the tale of a career of unvarying
calamity. There was nothing merry or philosophic about this
adventurer. Nay, there was something menacing. He eyed his
companion's waterproof covetously, and declared that he had had one
like it which had been stolen from him the day before. Had the place
been lonely he might have contemplated highway robbery, but they were
at the entrance to a village, and the sight of a public-house awoke
his thirst. Dickson parted with him at the cost of sixpence for a
He had no more company that morning except an aged stone-breaker
whom he convoyed for half a mile. The stone-breaker also was soured
with the world. He walked with a limp, which, he said, was due to an
accident years before, when he had been run into by "ane of thae
damned velocipeeds." The word revived in Dickson memories of his
youth, and he was prepared to be friendly. But the ancient would
have none of it. He inquired morosely what he was after, and, on
being told remarked that he might have learned more sense. "It's a
daft-like thing for an auld man like you to be traivellin' the roads.
Ye maun be ill-off for a job." Questioned as to himself, he became,
as the newspapers say, "reticent," and having reached his bing of
stones, turned rudely to his duties. "Awa' hame wi' ye," were his
parting words. "It's idle scoondrels like you that maks wark for
honest folk like me."
The morning was not a success, but the strong air had given Dickson
such an appetite that he resolved to break his rule, and, on reaching
the little town of Kilchrist, he sought luncheon at the chief hotel.
There he found that which revived his spirits. A solitary bagman
shared the meal, who revealed the fact that he was in the grocery
line. There followed a well-informed and most technical conversation.
He was drawn to speak of the United Supply Stores, Limited, of their
prospects and of their predecessor, Mr. McCunn, whom he knew well by
repute but had never met. "Yon's the clever one." he observed. "I've
always said there's no longer head in the city of Glasgow than McCunn.
An old-fashioned firm, but it has aye managed to keep up with the
times. He's just retired, they tell me, and in my opinion it's a big
loss to the provision trade...." Dickson's heart glowed within him.
Here was Romance; to be praised incognito; to enter a casual inn and
find that fame had preceded him. He warmed to the bagman, insisted on
giving him a liqueur and a cigar, and finally revealed himself. "I'm
Dickson McCunn," he said, "taking a bit holiday. If there's anything
I can do for you when I get back, just let me know." With mutual
esteem they parted.
He had need of all his good spirits, for he emerged into an
unrelenting drizzle. The environs of Kilchrist are at the best
unlovely, and in the wet they were as melancholy as a graveyard. But
the encounter with the bagman had worked wonders with Dickson, and he
strode lustily into the weather, his waterproof collar buttoned round
his chin. The road climbed to a bare moor, where lagoons had formed
in the ruts, and the mist showed on each side only a yard or two of
soaking heather. Soon he was wet; presently every part of him—boots,
body, and pack—was one vast sponge. The waterproof was not
water-proof, and the rain penetrated to his most intimate garments.
Little he cared. He felt lighter, younger, than on the idyllic
previous day. He enjoyed the buffets of the storm, and one wet mile
succeeded another to the accompaniment of Dickson's shouts and
laughter. There was no one abroad that afternoon, so he could talk
aloud to himself and repeat his favourite poems. About five in the
evening there presented himself at the Black Bull Inn at Kirkmichael a
soaked, disreputable, but most cheerful traveller.
Now the Black Bull at Kirkmichael is one of the few very good inns
left in the world. It is an old place and an hospitable, for it has
been for generations a haunt of anglers, who above all other men
understand comfort. There are always bright fires there, and hot
water, and old soft leather armchairs, and an aroma of good food and
good tobacco, and giant trout in glass cases, and pictures of Captain
Barclay of Urie walking to London and Mr. Ramsay of Barnton winning a
horse-race, and the three-volume edition of the Waverley Novels with
many volumes missing, and indeed all those things which an inn should
have. Also there used to be—there may still be- sound vintage claret
in the cellars. The Black Bull expects its guests to arrive in every
stage of dishevelment, and Dickson was received by a cordial landlord,
who offered dry garments as a matter of course. The pack proved to
have resisted the elements, and a suit of clothes and slippers were
provided by the house. Dickson, after a glass of toddy, wallowed in a
hot bath, which washed all the stiffness out of him. He had a fire in
his bedroom, beside which he wrote the opening passages of that diary
he had vowed to keep, descanting lyrically upon the joys of ill
weather. At seven o'clock, warm and satisfied in soul, and with his
body clad in raiment several sizes too large for it, he descended to
At one end of the long table in the dining-room sat a group of
anglers. They looked jovial fellows, and Dickson would fain have
joined them; but, having been fishing all day in the Lock o' the
Threshes, they were talking their own talk, and he feared that his
admiration for Izaak Walton did not qualify him to butt into the
erudite discussions of fishermen. The landlord seemed to think
likewise, for he drew back a chair for him at the other end, where sat
a young man absorbed in a book. Dickson gave him good evening, and
got an abstracted reply. The young man supped the Black Bull's
excellent broth with one hand, and with the other turned the pages of
his volume. A glance convinced Dickson that the work was French, a
literature which did not interest him. He knew little of the tongue
and suspected it of impropriety.
Another guest entered and took the chair opposite the bookish
young man. He was also young—not more than thirty-three—and to
Dickson's eye was the kind of person he would have liked to resemble.
He was tall and free from any superfluous flesh; his face was lean,
fine-drawn, and deeply sunburnt, so that the hair above showed oddly
pale; the hands were brown and beautifully shaped, but the forearm
revealed by the loose cuffs of his shirt was as brawny as a
blacksmith's. He had rather pale blue eyes, which seemed to have
looked much at the sun, and a small moustache the colour of ripe hay.
His voice was low and pleasant, and he pronounced his words precisely,
like a foreigner.
He was very ready to talk, but in defiance of Dr. Johnson's
warning, his talk was all questions. He wanted to know everything
about the neighbourhood—who lived in what houses, what were the
distances between the towns, what harbours would admit what class of
vessel. Smiling agreeably, he put Dickson through a catechism to which
he knew none of the answers. The landlord was called in, and proved
more helpful. But on one matter he was fairly at a loss. The
catechist asked about a house called Darkwater, and was met with a
shake of the head. "I know no sic-like name in this countryside,
sir," and the catechist looked disappointed.
The literary young man said nothing, but ate trout abstractedly,
one eye on his book. The fish had been caught by the anglers in the
Loch o' the Threshes, and phrases describing their capture floated
from the other end of the table. The young man had a second helping,
and then refused the excellent hill mutton that followed, contenting
himself with cheese, Not so Dickson and the catechist. They ate
everything that was set before them, topping up with a glass of port.
Then the latter, who had been talking illuminatingly about Spain,
rose, bowed, and left the table, leaving Dickson, who liked to linger
over his meals, to the society of the ichthyophagous student.
He nodded towards the book. "Interesting?" he asked.
The young man shook his head and displayed the name on the cover.
"Anatole France. I used to be crazy about him, but now he seems
rather a back number." Then he glanced towards the just-vacated
chair. "Australian," he said.
"How d'you know?"
"Can't mistake them. There's nothing else so lean and fine
produced on the globe to-day. I was next door to them at Pozieres and
saw them fight. Lord! Such men! Now and then you had a freak, but
most looked like Phoebus Apollo."
Dickson gazed with a new respect at his neighbour, for he had not
associated him with battle-fields. During the war he had been a
fervent patriot, but, though he had never heard a shot himself, so
many of his friends' sons and nephews, not to mention cousins of his
own, had seen service, that he had come to regard the experience as
commonplace. Lions in Africa and bandits in Mexico seemed to him
novel and romantic things, but not trenches and airplanes which were
the whole world's property. But he could scarcely fit his neighbour
into even his haziest picture of war. The young man was tall and a
little round-shouldered; he had short-sighted, rather prominent brown
eyes, untidy black hair and dark eyebrows which came near to meeting.
He wore a knickerbocker suit of bluish-grey tweed, a pale blue shirt,
a pale blue collar, and a dark blue tie—a symphony of colour which
seemed too elaborately considered to be quite natural. Dickson had
set him down as an artist or a newspaper correspondent, objects to him
of lively interest. But now the classification must be reconsidered.
"So you were in the war," he said encouragingly.
"Four blasted years," was the savage reply. "And I never want to
hear the name of the beastly thing again."
"You said he was an Australian," said Dickson, casting back. "But
I thought Australians had a queer accent, like the English."
"They've all kind of accents, but you can never mistake their
voice. It's got the sun in it. Canadians have got grinding ice in
theirs, and Virginians have got butter. So have the Irish. In
Britain there are no voices, only speaking-tubes. It isn't safe to
judge men by their accent only. You yourself I take to be Scotch, but
for all I know you may be a senator from Chicago or a Boer General."
"I'm from Glasgow. My name's Dickson McCunn." He had a faint hope
that the announcement might affect the other as it had affected the
bagman at Kilchrist.
"Golly, what a name!" exclaimed the young man rudely.
Dickson was nettled. "It's very old Highland," he said. "It means
the son of a dog."
"Which—Christian name or surname?" Then the young man appeared to
think he had gone too far, for he smiled pleasantly. "And a very
good name too. Mine is prosaic by comparison. They call me John
"That," said Dickson, mollified, "is like a name out of a book.
With that name by rights you should be a poet."
Gloom settled on the young man's countenance. "It's a dashed sight
too poetic. It's like Edwin Arnold and Alfred Austin and Dante
Gabriel Rossetti. Great poets have vulgar monosyllables for names,
like Keats. The new Shakespeare when he comes along will probably be
called Grubb or Jubber, if he isn't Jones. With a name like yours I
might have a chance. You should be the poet.
"I'm very fond of reading," said Dickson modestly.
A slow smile crumpled Mr. Heritage's face. "There's a fire in the
smoking-room," he observed as he rose. "We'd better bag the
armchairs before these fishing louts take them." Dickson followed
obediently. This was the kind of chance acquaintance for whom he had
hoped, and he was prepared to make the most of him.
The fire burned bright it the little dusky smoking-room, lighted by
one oil-lamp. Mr. Heritage flung himself into a chair, stretched his
long legs, and lit a pipe.
"You like reading?" he asked. "What sort? Any use for poetry?"
"Plenty," said Dickson. "I've aye been fond of learning it up and
repeating it to myself when I had nothing to do. In church and
waiting on trains, like. It used to be Tennyson, but now it's more
Browning. I can say a lot of Browning."
The other screwed his face into an expression of disgust. "I know
the stuff. "Damask cheeks and dewy sister eyelids.' Or else the
Ercles vein—'God's in His Heaven, all's right with the world.' No
good, Mr. McCunn. All back numbers. Poetry's not a thing of pretty
round phrases or noisy invocations. It's life itself, with the tang
of the raw world in it—not a sweetmeat for middle-class women in
"Are you a poet, Mr. Heritage?"
"No, Dogson, I'm a paper-maker."
This was a new view to Mr. McCunn. 'I just once knew a
paper-maker," he observed reflectively, "They called him Tosh. He
drank a bit."
"Well, I don't drink," said the other. "I'm a paper-maker, but
that's for my bread and butter. Some day for my own sake I may be a
"Have you published anything?"
The eager admiration in Dickson's tone gratified Mr. Heritage. He
drew from his pocket a slim book. "My firstfruits," he said, rather
Dickson received it with reverence. It was a small volume in grey
paper boards with a white label on the back, and it was lettered:
WHORLS-JOHN HERITAGE'S BOOK. He turned the pages and read a little.
"It's a nice wee book, he observed at length.
"Good God, if you call it nice, I must have failed pretty badly,"
was the irritated answer.
Dickson read more deeply and was puzzled. It seemed worse than the
worst of Browning to understand. He found one poem about a garden
entitled "Revue." "Crimson and resonant clangs the dawn," said the
poet. Then he went on to describe noonday:
"Sunflowers, tall Grenadiers, ogle the roses' short-skirted ballet.
The fumes of dark sweet wine hidden in frail petals Madden the
This seemed to him an odd way to look at things, and he boggled
over a phrase about an "epicene lily." Then came evening: "The
painted gauze of the stars flutters in a fold of twilight crape," sang
Mr. Heritage; and again, "The moon's pale leprosy sloughs the fields."
Dickson turned to other verses which apparently enshrined the
writer's memory of the trenches. They were largely compounded of
oaths, and rather horrible, lingering lovingly over sights and smells
which every one is aware of, but most people contrive to forget. He
did not like them. Finally he skimmed a poem about a lady who turned
into a bird. The evolution was described with intimate anatomical
details which scared the honest reader.
He kept his eyes on the book, for he did not know what to say. The
trick seemed to be to describe nature in metaphors mostly drawn from
music-halls and haberdashers' shops, and, when at a loss, to fall to
cursing. He thought it frankly very bad, and he laboured to find
words which would combine politeness and honesty.
"Well?" said the poet.
"There's a lot of fine things here, but—but the lines don't just
seem to scan very well."
Mr. Heritage laughed. "Now I can place you exactly. You like the
meek rhyme and the conventional epithet. Well, I don't. The world
has passed beyond that prettiness. You want the moon described as a
Huntress or a gold disc or a flower—I say it's oftener like a beer
barrel or a cheese. You want a wealth of jolly words and real things
ruled out as unfit for poetry. I say there's nothing unfit for
poetry. Nothing, Dogson! Poetry's everywhere, and the real thing is
commoner among drabs and pot-houses and rubbish-heaps than in your
Sunday parlours. The poet's business is to distil it out of
rottenness, and show that it is all one spirit, the thing that keeps
the stars in their place....I wanted to call my book Drains, for
drains are sheer poetry carrying off the excess and discards of human
life to make the fields green and the corn ripen. But the publishers
kicked. So I called it Whorls, to express my view of the exquisite
involution of all things. Poetry is the fourth dimension of the
soul....Well, let's hear about your taste in prose."
Mr. McCunn was much bewildered, and a little inclined to be cross.
He disliked being called Dogson, which seemed to him an abuse of his
etymological confidences. But his habit of politeness held.
He explained rather haltingly his preferences in prose.
Mr. Heritage listened with wrinkled brows.
"You're even deeper in the mud than I thought," he remarked. "You
live in a world of painted laths and shadows. All this passion for
the picturesque! Trash, my dear man, like a schoolgirl's novelette
heroes. You make up romances about gipsies and sailors, and the
blackguards they call pioneers, but you know nothing about them. If
you did, you would find they had none of the gilt and gloss you
imagine. But the great things they have got in common with all
humanity you ignore. It's like—it's like sentimentalising about a
pancake because it looked like a buttercup, and all the while not
knowing that it was good to eat."
At that moment the Australian entered the room to get a light for
his pipe. He wore a motor-cyclist's overalls and appeared to be
about to take the road. He bade them good night, and it seemed to
Dickson that his face, seen in the glow of the fire, was drawn and
anxious, unlike that of the agreeable companion at dinner.
"There," said Mr. Heritage, nodding after the departing figure. "I
dare say you have been telling yourself stories about that chap—life
in the bush, stockriding and the rest of it. But probably he's a
bank-clerk from Melbourne....Your romanticism is one vast
self-delusion, and it blinds your eye to the real thing. We have got
to clear it out, and with it all the damnable humbug of the Kelt."
Mr. McCunn, who spelt the word with a soft "C," was puzzled. "I
thought a kelt was a kind of a no-weel fish," he interposed.
But the other, in the flood-tide of his argument, ignored the
interruption. "That's the value of the war," he went on. "It has
burst up all the old conventions, and we've got to finish the
destruction before we can build. It is the same with literature and
religion, and society and politics. At them with the axe, say I. I
have no use for priests and pedants. I've no use for upper classes
and middle classes. There's only one class that matters, the plain
man, the workers, who live close to life."
"The place for you," said Dickson dryly, "is in Russia among the
Mr. Heritage approved. "They are doing a great work in their own
fashion. We needn't imitate all their methods—they're a trifle crude
and have too many Jews among them—but they've got hold of the right
end of the stick. They seek truth and reality."
Mr. McCunn was slowly being roused.
"What brings you wandering hereaways?" he asked.
"Exercise," was the answer. "I've been kept pretty closely tied up
all winter. And I want leisure and quiet to think over things."
"Well, there's one subject you might turn your attention to.
You'll have been educated like a gentleman?"
"Nine wasted years—five at Harrow, four at Cambridge."
"See here, then. You're daft about the working-class and have no
use for any other. But what in the name of goodness do you know
about working-men?...I come out of them myself, and have lived next
door to them all my days. Take them one way and another, they're a
decent sort, good and bad like the rest of us. But there's a wheen
daft folk that would set them up as models—close to truth and
reality, says you. It's sheer ignorance, for you're about as well
acquaint with the working-man as with King Solomon. You say I make
up fine stories about tinklers and sailor-men because I know nothing
about them. That's maybe true. But you're at the same job yourself.
You ideelise the working man, you and your kind, because you're
ignorant. You say that he's seeking for truth, when he's only looking
for a drink and a rise in wages. You tell me he's near reality, but I
tell you that his notion of reality is often just a short working day
and looking on at a footba'-match on Saturday... ..And when you run
down what you call the middle-classes that do three-quarters of the
world's work and keep the machine going and the working-man in a job,
then I tell you you're talking havers. Havers!"
Mr. McCunn, having delivered his defence of the bourgeoisie, rose
abruptly and went to bed. He felt jarred and irritated. His innocent
little private domain had been badly trampled by this stray bull of a
poet. But as he lay in bed, before blowing out his candle. he had
recourse to Walton, and found a passage on which, as on a pillow, he
went peacefully to sleep:
"As I left this place, and entered into the next field, a second
pleasure entertained me; 'twas a handsome milkmaid, that had not yet
attained so much age and wisdom as to load her mind with any fears of
many things that will never be, as too many men too often do; but she
cast away all care, and sang like a nightingale; her voice was good,
and the ditty fitted for it; it was the smooth song that was made by
KIT MARLOW now at least fifty years ago. And the milkmaid's mother
sung an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his
younger days. They were old-fashioned poetry, but choicely good; I
think much better than the strong lines that are now in fashion in
this critical age."
CHAPTER III. HOW CHILDE ROLAND AND
ANOTHER CAME TO THE DARK TOWER.
Dickson woke with a vague sense of irritation. As his
recollections took form they produced a very unpleasant picture of Mr.
John Heritage. The poet had loosened all his placid idols, so that
they shook and rattled in the niches where they had been erstwhile so
secure. Mr. McCunn had a mind of a singular candour, and was prepared
most honestly at all times to revise his views. But by this
iconoclast he had been only irritated and in no way convinced. "Sich
poetry!" he muttered to himself as he shivered in his bath (a daily
cold tub instead of his customary hot one on Saturday night being part
of the discipline of his holiday). "And yon blethers about the
working-man!" he ingeminated as he shaved. He breakfasted alone,
having outstripped even the fishermen, and as he ate he arrived at
conclusions. He had a great respect for youth, but a line must be
drawn somewhere. "The man's a child," he decided, "and not like to
grow up. The way he's besotted on everything daftlike, if it's only
new. And he's no rightly young either—speaks like an auld dominie,
whiles. And he's rather impident," he concluded, with memories of
"Dogson.".. ..He was very clear that he never wanted to see him again;
that was the reason of his early breakfast. Having clarified his mind
by definitions, Dickson felt comforted. He paid his bill, took an
affectionate farewell of the landlord, and at 7.30 precisely stepped
out into the gleaming morning.
It was such a day as only a Scots April can show. The cobbled
streets of Kirkmichael still shone with the night's rain, but the
storm clouds had fled before a mild south wind, and the whole
circumference of the sky was a delicate translucent blue. Homely
breakfast smells came from the houses and delighted Mr. McCunn's
nostrils; a squalling child was a pleasant reminder of an awakening
world, the urban counterpart to the morning song of birds; even the
sanitary cart seemed a picturesque vehicle. He bought his ration of
buns and ginger biscuits at a baker's shop whence various ragamuffin
boys were preparing to distribute the householders' bread, and took
his way up the Gallows Hill to the Burgh Muir almost with regret at
leaving so pleasant a habitation.
A chronicle of ripe vintages must pass lightly over small beer. I
will not dwell on his leisurely progress in the bright weather, or on
his luncheon in a coppice of young firs, or on his thoughts which had
returned to the idyllic. I take up the narrative at about three
o'clock in the afternoon, when he is revealed seated on a milestone
examining his map. For he had come, all unwitting, to a turning of
the ways, and his choice is the cause of this veracious history.
The place was high up on a bare moor, which showed a white lodge
among pines, a white cottage in a green nook by a burnside, and no
other marks of human dwelling. To his left, which was the east, the
heather rose to a low ridge of hill, much scarred with peat-bogs,
behind which appeared the blue shoulder of a considerable mountain.
Before him the road was lost momentarily in the woods of a
shooting-box, but reappeared at a great distance climbing a swell of
upland which seemed to be the glacis of a jumble of bold summits.
There was a pass there, the map told him, which led into Galloway.
It was the road he had meant to follow, but as he sat on the
milestone his purpose wavered. For there seemed greater attractions
in the country which lay to the westward. Mr. McCunn, be it
remembered, was not in search of brown heath and shaggy wood; he
wanted greenery and the Spring.
Westward there ran out a peninsula in the shape of an isosceles
triangle, of which his present high-road was the base. At a distance
of a mile or so a railway ran parallel to the road, and he could see
the smoke of a goods train waiting at a tiny station islanded in acres
of bog. Thence the moor swept down to meadows and scattered copses,
above which hung a thin haze of smoke which betokened a village.
Beyond it were further woodlands, not firs but old shady trees, and
as they narrowed to a point the gleam of two tiny estuaries appeared
on either side. He could not see the final cape, but he saw the sea
beyond it, flawed with catspaws, gold in the afternoon sun, and on it
a small herring smack flopping listless sails.
Something in the view caught and held his fancy. He conned his
map, and made out the names. The peninsula was called the Cruives—an
old name apparently, for it was in antique lettering. He vaguely
remembered that "cruives" had something to do with fishing, doubtless
in the two streams which flanked it. One he had already crossed, the
Laver, a clear tumbling water springing from green hills; the other,
the Garple, descended from the rougher mountains to the south. The
hidden village bore the name of Dalquharter, and the uncouth syllables
awoke some vague recollection in his mind. The great house in the
trees beyond—it must be a great house, for the map showed large
The last name fascinated and almost decided him. He pictured an
ancient keep by the sea, defended by converging rivers, which some
old Comyn lord of Galloway had built to command the shore road, and
from which he had sallied to hunt in his wild hills....He liked the
way the moor dropped down to green meadows, and the mystery of the
dark woods beyond. He wanted to explore the twin waters, and see how
they entered that strange shimmering sea. The odd names, the odd
cul-de-sac of a peninsula, powerfully attracted him. Why should he not
spend a night there, for the map showed clearly that Dalquharter had
an inn? He must decide promptly, for before him a side-road left the
highway, and the signpost bore the legend, "Dalquharter and
Mr. McCunn, being a cautious and pious man, took the omens. He
tossed a penny—heads go on, tails turn aside. It fell tails.
He knew as soon as he had taken three steps down the side-road that
he was doing something momentous, and the exhilaration of enterprise
stole into his soul. It occurred to him that this was the kind of
landscape that he had always especially hankered after, and had made
pictures of when he had a longing for the country on him—a wooded
cape between streams, with meadows inland and then a long lift of
heather. He had the same feeling of expectancy, of something most
interesting and curious on the eve of happening, that he had had long
ago when he waited on the curtain rising at his first play. His
spirits soared like the lark, and he took to singing. If only the inn
at Dalquharter were snug and empty, this was going to be a day in ten
thousand. Thus mirthfully he swung down the rough grass-grown road,
past the railway, till he came to a point where heath began to merge
in pasture, and dry-stone walls split the moor into fields. Suddenly
his pace slackened and song died on his lips. For, approaching from
the right by a tributary path was the Poet.
Mr. Heritage saw him afar off and waved a friendly hand. In spite
of his chagrin Dickson could not but confess that he had misjudged
his critic. Striding with long steps over the heather, his jacket
open to the wind, his face a-glow and his capless head like a
whin-bush for disorder, he cut a more wholesome figure than in the
smoking-room the night before. He seemed to be in a companionable
mood, for he brandished his stick and shouted greetings.
"Well met!" he cried; "I was hoping to fall in with you again. You
must have thought me a pretty fair cub last night."
"I did that," was the dry answer.
"Well, I want to apologize. God knows what made me treat you to a
university-extension lecture. I may not agree with you, but every
man's entitled to his own views, and it was dashed poor form for me
to start jawing you."
Mr. McCunn had no gift of nursing anger, and was very susceptible
"That's all right," he murmured. "Don't mention it. I'm wondering
what brought you down here, for it's off the road."
"Caprice. Pure caprice. I liked the look of this butt-end of
"Same here. I've aye thought there was something terrible nice
about a wee cape with a village at the neck of it and a burn each
"Now that's interesting," said Mr. Heritage. "You're obsessed by a
particular type of landscape. Ever read Freud?"
Dickson shook his head.
"Well, you've got an odd complex somewhere. I wonder where the key
lies. Cape—woods—two rivers—moor behind. Ever been in love,
Mr. McCunn was startled. "Love" was a word rarely mentioned in his
circle except on death-beds, "I've been a married man for thirty
years," he said hurriedly.
"That won't do. It should have been a hopeless affair-the last
sight of the lady on a spur of coast with water on three sides—that
kind of thing, you know, or it might have happened to an ancestor..
..But you don't look the kind of breed for hopeless attachments. More
likely some scoundrelly old Dogson long ago found sanctuary in this
sort of place. Do you dream about it?"
"Well, I do. The queer thing is that I've got the same
prepossession as you. As soon as I spotted this Cruives place on the
map this morning, I saw it was what I was after. When I came in sight
of it I almost shouted. I don't very often dream but when I do that's
the place I frequent. Odd, isn't it?"
Mr. McCunn was deeply interested at this unexpected revelation of
romance. "Maybe it's being in love," he daringly observed.
The Poet demurred. "No. I'm not a connoisseur of obvious
sentiment. That explanation might fit your case, but not mine. I'm
pretty certain there's something hideous at the back of MY
complex—some grim old business tucked away back in the ages. For
though I'm attracted by the place, I'm frightened too!"
There seemed no room for fear in the delicate landscape now opening
before them. In front, in groves of birch and rowan, smoked the first
houses of a tiny village. The road had become a green "loaning," on
the ample margin of which cattle grazed. The moorland still showed
itself in spits of heather, and some distance off, where a rivulet
ran in a hollow, there were signs of a fire and figures near it.
These last Mr. Heritage regarded with disapproval.
"Some infernal trippers!" he murmured. "Or Boy Scouts. They
desecrate everything. Why can't the TUNICATUS POPELLUS keep away from
a paradise like this!" Dickson, a democrat who felt nothing
incongruous in the presence of other holiday-makers, was meditating a
sharp rejoinder, when Mr. Heritage's tone changed.
"Ye gods! What a village!" he cried, as they turned a corner.
There were not more than a dozen whitewashed houses, all set in
little gardens of wallflower and daffodil and early fruit blossom. A
triangle of green filled the intervening space, and in it stood an
ancient wooden pump. There was no schoolhouse or kirk; not even a
post-office—only a red box in a cottage side. Beyond rose the high
wall and the dark trees of the demesne, and to the right up a by-road
which clung to the park edge stood a two-storeyed building which bore
the legend "The Cruives Inn."
The Poet became lyrical. "At last!" he cried. "The village of my
dreams! Not a sign of commerce! No church or school or beastly
recreation hall! Nothing but these divine little cottages and an
ancient pub! Dogson, I warn you, I'm going to have the devil of a
tea." And he declaimed:
"Thou shalt hear a song
After a while which Gods may listen to;
But place the flask upon the board and wait
Until the stranger hath allayed his thirst,
For poets, grasshoppers, and nightingales
Sing cheerily but when the throat is moist."
Dickson, too, longed with sensual gusto for tea. But, as they drew
nearer, the inn lost its hospitable look. The cobbles of the yard
were weedy, as if rarely visited by traffic, a pane in a window was
broken, and the blinds hung tattered. The garden was a wilderness,
and the doorstep had not been scoured for weeks. But the place had a
landlord, for he had seen them approach and was waiting at the door to
He was a big man in his shirt sleeves, wearing old riding breeches
unbuttoned at the knees, and thick ploughman's boots. He had no
leggings, and his fleshy calves were imperfectly covered with woollen
socks. His face was large and pale, his neck bulged, and he had a
gross unshaven jowl. He was a type familiar to students of society;
not the innkeeper, which is a thing consistent with good breeding and
all the refinements; a type not unknown in the House of Lords,
especially among recent creations, common enough in the House of
Commons and the City of London, and by no means infrequent in the
governing circles of Labour; the type known to the discerning as the
His face was wrinkled in official smiles, and he gave the
travellers a hearty good afternoon.
"Can we stop here for the night?" Dickson asked.
The landlord looked sharply at him, and then replied to Mr.
Heritage. His expression passed from official bonhomie to official
"Impossible, gentlemen. Quite impossible....Ye couldn't have come
at a worse time. I've only been here a fortnight myself, and we
haven't got right shaken down yet. Even then I might have made shift
to do with ye, but the fact is we've illness in the house, and I'm
fair at my wits' end. It breaks my heart to turn gentlemen away and
me that keen to get the business started. But there it is!" He spat
vigorously as if to emphasize the desperation of his quandary.
The man was clearly Scots, but his native speech was overlaid with
something alien, something which might have been acquired in America
or in going down to the sea in ships. He hitched his breeches, too,
with a nautical air.
"Is there nowhere else we can put up?" Dickson asked.
"Not in this one-horse place. Just a wheen auld wives that packed
thegether they haven't room for an extra hen. But it's grand
weather, and it's not above seven miles to Auchenlochan. Say the
word and I'll yoke the horse and drive ye there."
"Thank you. We prefer to walk," said Mr. Heritage. Dickson would
have tarried to inquire after the illness in the house, but his
companion hurried him off. Once he looked back, and saw the landlord
still on the doorstep gazing after them.
"That fellow's a swine," said Mr. Heritage sourly. "I wouldn't
trust my neck in his pot-house. Now, Dogson, I'm hanged if I'm going
to leave this place. We'll find a corner in the village somehow.
Besides, I'm determined on tea."
The little street slept in the clear pure light of an early April
evening. Blue shadows lay on the white road, and a delicate aroma of
cooking tantalized hungry nostrils. The near meadows shone like pale
gold against the dark lift of the moor. A light wind had begun to
blow from the west and carried the faintest tang of salt. The village
at that hour was pure Paradise, and Dickson was of the Poet's opinion.
At all costs they must spend the night there.
They selected a cottage whiter and neater than the others, which
stood at a corner, where a narrow lane turned southward. Its thatched
roof had been lately repaired, and starched curtains of a dazzling
whiteness decorated the small, closely-shut windows. Likewise it had
a green door and a polished brass knocker.
Tacitly the duty of envoy was entrusted to Mr. McCunn. Leaving the
other at the gate, he advanced up the little path lined with quartz
stones, and politely but firmly dropped the brass knocker. He must
have been observed, for ere the noise had ceased the door opened, and
an elderly woman stood before him. She had a sharply-cut face, the
rudiments of a beard, big spectacles on her nose, and an old-fashioned
lace cap on her smooth white hair. A little grim she looked at first
sight, because of her thin lips and roman nose, but her mild curious
eyes corrected the impression and gave the envoy confidence.
"Good afternoon, mistress," he said, broadening his voice to
something more rustical than his normal Glasgow speech. "Me and my
friend are paying our first visit here, and we're terrible taken up
with the place. We would like to bide the night, but the inn is no'
taking folk. Is there any chance, think you, of a bed here?"
"I'll no tell ye a lee," said the woman. "There's twae guid beds
in the loft. But I dinna tak' lodgers and I dinna want to be bothered
wi' ye. I'm an auld wumman and no' as stoot as I was. Ye'd better
try doun the street. Eppie Home micht tak' ye."
Dickson wore his most ingratiating smile. "But, mistress, Eppie
Home's house is no' yours. We've taken a tremendous fancy to this
bit. Can you no' manage to put up with us for the one night? We're
quiet auld-fashioned folk and we'll no' trouble you much. Just our
tea and maybe an egg to it, and a bowl of porridge in the morning."
The woman seemed to relent. "Whaur's your freend?" she asked,
peering over her spectacles towards the garden gate. The waiting Mr.
Heritage, seeing he eyes moving in his direction, took off his cap
with a brave gesture and advanced. "Glorious weather, madam," he
"English," whispered Dickson to the woman, in explanation.
She examined the Poet's neat clothes and Mr. McCunn's homely
garments, and apparently found them reassuring. "Come in," she said
shortly. "I see ye're wilfu' folk and I'll hae to dae my best for
A quarter of an hour later the two travellers, having been
introduced to two spotless beds in the loft, and having washed
luxuriously at the pump in the back yard, were seated in Mrs.
Morran's kitchen before a meal which fulfilled their wildest dreams.
She had been baking that morning, so there were white scones and
barley scones, and oaten farles, and russet pancakes. There were
three boiled eggs for each of them ; there was a segment of an
immense currant cake ("a present from my guid brither last Hogmanay");
there was skim milk cheese; there were several kinds of jam, and there
was a pot of dark-gold heather honey. "Try hinny and aitcake," said
their hostess. "My man used to say he never fund onything as guid in
a' his days."
Presently they heard her story. Her name was Morran, and she had
been a widow these ten years. Of her family her son was in South
Africa, one daughter a lady's-maid in London, and the other married to
a schoolmaster in Kyle. The son had been in France fighting, and had
come safely through. He had spent a month or two with her before his
return, and, she feared, had found it dull. "There's no' a man body
in the place. Naething but auld wives."
That was what the innkeeper had told them. Mr. McCunn inquired
concerning the inn.
"There's new folk just came. What's this they ca' them?—Robson-
Dobson—aye, Dobson. What far wad they no' tak' ye in? Does the man
think he's a laird to refuse folk that gait?"
"He said he had illness in the house."
Mrs. Morran meditated. "Whae in the world can be lyin' there? The
man bides his lane. He got a lassie frae Auchenlochan to cook, but
she and her box gaed off in the post-cairt yestreen. I doot he tell't
ye a lee, though it's no for me to juidge him. I've never spoken a
word to ane o' thae new folk."
Dickson inquired about the "new folk."
"They're a' now come in the last three weeks, and there's no' a man
o' the auld stock left. John Blackstocks at the Wast Lodge dee'd o'
pneumony last back-end, and auld Simon Tappie at the Gairdens flitted
to Maybole a year come Mairtinmas. There's naebody at the Gairdens
noo, but there's a man come to the Wast Lodge, a blackavised Body wi'
a face like bend-leather. Tam Robison used to bide at the South
Lodge, but Tam got killed about Mesopotamy, and his wife took the
bairns to her guidsire up at the Garpleheid. I seen the man that's in
the South Lodge gaun up the street when I was finishin' my denner—a
shilpit body and a lameter, but he hirples as fast as ither folk run.
He's no' bonny to look at.. I canna think what the factor's ettlin'
at to let sic ill-faured chiels come about the toun."
Their hostess was rapidly rising in Dickson's esteem. She sat very
straight in her chair, eating with the careful gentility of a bird,
and primming her thin lips after every mouthful of tea.
"Wha bides in the Big House?" he asked. "Huntingtower is the name,
"When I was a lassie they ca'ed it Dalquharter Hoose, and
Huntingtower was the auld rickle o' stanes at the sea-end. But
naething wad serve the last laird's father but he maun change the
name, for he was clean daft about what they ca' antickities. Ye speir
whae bides in the Hoose? Naebody, since the young laird dee'd. It's
standin' cauld and lanely and steikit, and it aince the cheeriest
dwallin' in a' Carrick."
Mrs. Morran's tone grew tragic. "It's a queer warld wi'out the
auld gentry. My faither and my guidsire and his faither afore him
served the Kennedys, and my man Dauvit Morran was gemkeeper to them,
and afore I mairried I was ane o' the table-maids. They were kind
folk, the Kennedys, and, like a' the rale gentry, maist mindfu' o'
them that served them. Sic merry nichts I've seen in the auld Hoose,
at Hallowe'en and hogmanay, and at the servants' balls and the
waddin's o' the young leddies! But the laird bode to waste his siller
in stane and lime, and hadna that much to leave to his bairns. And now
they're a' scattered or deid."
Her grave face wore the tenderness which comes from affectionate
"There was never sic a laddie as young Maister Quentin. No' a week
gaed by but he was in here, cryin', 'Phemie Morran, I've come till my
tea!' Fine he likit my treacle scones, puir man. There wasna ane in
the countryside sae bauld a rider at the hunt, or sic a skeely fisher.
And he was clever at his books tae, a graund scholar, they said, and
ettlin' at bein' what they ca' a dipplemat, But that' a' bye wi'."
"Quentin Kennedy—the fellow in the Tins?" Heritage asked. "I saw
him in Rome when he was with the Mission."
"I dinna ken. He was a brave sodger, but he wasna long fechtin' in
France till he got a bullet in his breist. Syne we heard tell o' him
in far awa' bits like Russia; and syne cam' the end o' the war and we
lookit to see him back, fishin' the waters and ridin' like Jehu as in
the auld days. But wae's me! It wasna permitted. The next news we
got, the puir laddie was deid o' influenzy and buried somewhere about
France. The wanchancy bullet maun have weakened his chest, nae doot.
So that's the end o' the guid stock o' Kennedy o' Huntingtower, whae
hae been great folk sin' the time o' Robert Bruce. And noo the Hoose
is shut up till the lawyers can get somebody sae far left to himsel'
as to tak' it on lease, and in thae dear days it's no' just onybody
that wants a muckle castle."
"Who are the lawyers?" Dickson asked.
"Glendonan and Speirs in Embro. But they never look near the
place, and Maister Loudon in Auchenlochan does the factorin'. He's
let the public an' filled the twae lodges, and he'll be thinkin' nae
doot that he's done eneuch."
Mrs. Morran had poured some hot water into the big slop-bowl, and
had begun the operation known as "synding out" the cups. It was a
hint that the meal was over, and Dickson and Heritage rose from the
table. Followed by an injunction to be back for supper "on the chap
o' nine," they strolled out into the evening. Two hours of some sort
of daylight remained, and the travellers had that impulse to activity
which comes to all men who, after a day of exercise and emptiness, are
stayed with a satisfying tea.
"You should be happy, Dogson," said the Poet. "Here we have all
the materials for your blessed romance—old mansion, extinct family,
village deserted of men, and an innkeeper whom I suspect of being a
villain. I feel almost a convert to your nonsense myself. We'll have
a look at the House."
They turned down the road which ran north by the park wall, past
the inn, which looked more abandoned than ever, till they came to an
entrance which was clearly the West Lodge. It had once been a
pretty, modish cottage, with a thatched roof and dormer windows, but
now it was badly in need of repair. A window-pane was broken and
stuffed with a sack, the posts of the porch were giving inwards, and
the thatch was crumbling under the attentions of a colony of
starlings. The great iron gates were rusty, and on the coat of arms
above them the gilding was patchy and tarnished. Apparently the gates
were locked, and even the side wicket failed to open to Heritage's
vigorous shaking. Inside a weedy drive disappeared among ragged
The noise brought a man to the lodge door. He was a sturdy fellow
in a suit of black clothes which had not been made for him. He might
have been a butler EN DESHABILLE, but for the presence of a pair of
field boots into which he had tucked the ends of his trousers. The
curious thing about him was his face, which was decorated with
features so tiny as to give the impression of a monstrous child. Each
in itself was well enough formed, but eyes, nose, mouth, chin were of
a smallness curiously out of proportion to the head and body. Such an
anomaly might have been redeemed by the expression; good-humour would
have invested it with an air of agreeable farce. But there was no
friendliness in the man's face. It was set like a judge's in a stony
"May we walk up to the House?" Heritage asked. "We are here for a
night and should like to have a look at it."
The man advanced a step. He had either a bad cold, or a voice
comparable in size to his features.
"There's no entrance here," he said huskily. "I have strict
"Oh, come now, " said Heritage. "It can do nobody any harm if you
let us in for half an hour."
The man advanced another step.
"You shall not come in. Go away from here. Go away, I tell you.
It is private." The words spoken by the small mouth in the small
voice had a kind of childish ferocity.
The travellers turned their back on him and continued their way.
"Sich a curmudgeon!" Dickson commented. His face had flushed,
for he was susceptible to rudeness. "Did you notice? That man's a
"He's a brute," said Heritage. "But I'm not going to be done in by
that class of lad. There can be no gates on the sea side, so we'll
work round that way, for I won't sleep till I've seen the place."
Presently the trees grew thinner, and the road plunged through
thickets of hazel till it came to a sudden stop in a field. There the
cover ceased wholly, and below them lay the glen of the Laver. Steep
green banks descended to a stream which swept in coils of gold into
the eye of the sunset. A little farther down the channel broadened,
the slopes fell back a little, and a tongue of glittering sea ran up
to meet the hill waters. The Laver is a gentle stream after it leaves
its cradle heights, a stream of clear pools and long bright shallows,
winding by moorland steadings and upland meadows; but in its last
half-mile it goes mad, and imitates its childhood when it tumbled over
granite shelves. Down in that green place the crystal water gushed
and frolicked as if determined on one hour of rapturous life before
joining the sedater sea.
Heritage flung himself on the turf.
"This is a good place! Ye gods, what a good place! Dogson, aren't
you glad you came? I think everything's bewitched to-night. That
village is bewitched, and that old woman's tea. Good white magic! And
that foul innkeeper and that brigand at the gate. Black magic! And
now here is the home of all enchantment—'island valley of
Avilion'—'waters that listen for lovers'—all the rest of it!"
Dickson observed and marvelled.
"I can't make you out, Mr. Heritage. You were saying last night
you were a great democrat, and yet you were objecting to yon laddies
camping on the moor. And you very near bit the neb off me when I
said I liked Tennyson. And now..." Mr. McCunn's command of language
was inadequate to describe the transformation.
"You're a precise, pragmatical Scot," was the answer. "Hang it,
man, don't remind me that I'm inconsistent. I've a poet's licence to
play the fool, and if you don't understand me, I don't in the least
understand myself. All I know is that I'm feeling young and jolly,
and that it's the Spring."
Mr. Heritage was assuredly in a strange mood. He began to whistle
with a far-away look in his eye.
"Do you know what that is?" he asked suddenly.
Dickson, who could not detect any tune, said "No."
"It's an aria from a Russian opera that came out just before the
war. I've forgotten the name of the fellow who wrote it. Jolly thing,
isn't it? I always remind myself of it when I'm in this mood, for it
is linked with the greatest experience of my life. You said, I think,
that you had never been in love?"
Dickson replied in the native fashion. "Have you?" he asked.
"I have, and I am—been for two years. I was down with my
battalion on the Italian front early in 1918, and because I could
speak the language they hoicked me out and sent me to Rome on a
liaison job. It was Easter time and fine weather, and, being glad to
get out of the trenches, I was pretty well pleased with myself and
enjoying life....In the place where I stayed there was a girl. She
was a Russian, a princess of a great family, but a refugee, and of
course as poor as sin....I remember how badly dressed she was among
all the well-to-do Romans. But, my God, what a beauty! There was
never anything in the world like her.... She was little more than a
child, and she used to sing that air in the morning as she went down
the stairs....They sent me back to the front before I had a chance of
getting to know her, but she used to give me little timid good
mornings, and her voice and eyes were like an angel's....I'm over my
head in love, but it's hopeless, quite hopeless. I shall never see
"I'm sure I'm honoured by your confidence," said Dickson
The Poet, who seemed to draw exhilaration from the memory of his
sorrows, arose and fetched him a clout on the back. "Don't talk of
confidence, as if you were a reporter," he said. "What about that
House? If we're to see it before the dark comes we'd better hustle."
The green slopes on their left, as they ran seaward, were clothed
towards their summit with a tangle of broom and light scrub. The two
forced their way through it, and found to their surprise that on this
side there were no defences of the Huntingtower demesne. Along the
crest ran a path which had once been gravelled and trimmed. Beyond,
through a thicket of laurels and rhododendrons, they came on a long
unkempt aisle of grass, which seemed to be one of those side avenues
often found in connection with old Scots dwellings. Keeping along this
they reached a grove of beech and holly through which showed a dim
shape of masonry. By a common impulse they moved stealthily,
crouching in cover, till at the far side of the wood they found a sunk
fence and looked over an acre or two of what had once been lawn and
flower-beds to the front of the mansion.
The outline of the building was clearly silhouetted against the
glowing west, but since they were looking at the east face the detail
was all in shadow. But, dim as it was, the sight was enough to give
Dickson the surprise of his life. He had expected something old and
baronial. But this was new, raw and new, not twenty years built. Some
madness had prompted its creator to set up a replica of a Tudor house
in a countryside where the thing was unheard of. All the tricks were
there—oriel windows, lozenged panes, high twisted chimney stacks; the
very stone was red, as if to imitate the mellow brick of some ancient
Kentish manor. It was new, but it was also decaying. The creepers had
fallen from the walls, the pilasters on the terrace were tumbling
down, lichen and moss were on the doorsteps. Shuttered, silent,
abandoned, it stood like a harsh memento mori of human hopes.
Dickson had never before been affected by an inanimate thing with
so strong a sense of disquiet. He had pictured an old stone tower on
a bright headland; he found instead this raw thing among trees. The
decadence of the brand-new repels as something against nature, and
this new thing was decadent. But there was a mysterious life in it,
for though not a chimney smoked, it seemed to enshrine a personality
and to wear a sinister aura. He felt a lively distaste, which was
almost fear. He wanted to get far away from it as fast as possible.
The sun, now sinking very low, sent up rays which kindled the crests
of a group of firs to the left of the front door.
He had the absurd fancy that they were torches flaming before a
It was well that the two had moved quietly and kept in shadow.
Footsteps fell on their ears, on the path which threaded the lawn
just beyond the sunk-fence. It was the keeper of the West Lodge and
he carried something on his back, but both that and his face were
indistinct in the half-light.
Other footsteps were heard, coming from the other side of the lawn.
A man's shod feet rang on the stone of a flagged path, and from their
irregular fall it was plain that he was lame. The two men met near
the door, and spoke together. Then they separated, and moved one down
each side of the house. To the two watchers they had the air of a
patrol, or of warders pacing the corridors of a prison.
"Let's get out of this," said Dickson, and turned to go.
The air had the curious stillness which precedes the moment of
sunset, when the birds of day have stopped their noises and the
sounds of night have not begun. But suddenly in the silence fell
notes of music. They seemed to come from the house, a voice singing
softly but with great beauty and clearness.
Dickson halted in his steps. The tune, whatever it was, was like a
fresh wind to blow aside his depression. The house no longer looked
sepulchral. He saw that the two men had hurried back from their
patrol, had met and exchanged some message, and made off again as if
alarmed by the music. Then he noticed his companion....
Heritage was on one knee with his face rapt and listening. He got
to his feet and appeared to be about to make for the House. Dickson
caught him by the arm and dragged him into the bushes, and he followed
unresistingly, like a man in a dream. They ploughed through the
thicket, recrossed the grass avenue, and scrambled down the hillside
to the banks of the stream.
Then for the first time Dickson observed that his companion's face
was very white, and that sweat stood on his temples. Heritage lay
down and lapped up water like a dog. Then he turned a wild eye on
"I am going back," he said. "That is the voice of the girl I saw
in Rome, and it is singing her song!"
CHAPTER IV. DOUGAL
"You'll do nothing of the kind," said Dickson. "You're coming home
to your supper. It was to be on the chap of nine."
"I'm going back to that place."
The man was clearly demented and must be humoured. "Well, you must
wait till the morn's morning. It's very near dark now, and those are
two ugly customers wandering about yonder. You'd better sleep the
night on it."
Mr. Heritage seemed to be persuaded. He suffered himself to be
led up the now dusky slopes to the gate where the road from the
village ended. He walked listlessly like a man engaged in painful
reflection. Once only he broke the silence.
"You heard the singing?" he asked.
Dickson was a very poor hand at a lie. "I heard something," he
"You heard a girl's voice singing?"
"It sounded like that," was the admission. "But I'm thinking it
might have been a seagull."
"You're a fool," said the Poet rudely.
The return was a melancholy business, compared to the bright speed
of the outward journey. Dickson's mind was a chaos of feelings, all
of them unpleasant. He had run up against something which he
violently, blindly detested, and the trouble was that he could not
tell why. It was all perfectly absurd, for why on earth should an
ugly house, some overgrown trees, and a couple of ill-favoured
servants so malignly affect him? Yet this was the fact ; he had
strayed out of Arcady into a sphere that filled him with revolt and a
nameless fear. Never in his experience had he felt like this, this
foolish childish panic which took all the colour and zest out of life.
He tried to laugh at himself but failed. Heritage, stumbling along
by his side, effectually crushed his effort to discover humour in the
situation. Some exhalation from that infernal place had driven the
Poet mad. And then that voice singing! A seagull, he had said. More
like a nightingale, he reflected—a bird which in the flesh he had
Mrs. Morran had the lamp lit and a fire burning in her cheerful
kitchen. The sight of it somewhat restored Dickson's equanimity, and
to his surprise he found that he had an appetite for supper. There was
new milk, thick with cream, and most of the dainties which had
appeared at tea, supplemented by a noble dish of shimmering
"potted-head." The hostess did not share their meal, being engaged in
some duties in the little cubby-hole known as the back kitchen.
Heritage drank a glass of milk but would not touch food.
"I called this place Paradise four hours ago," he said. "So it is,
but I fancy it is next door to Hell. There is something devilish
going on inside that park wall, and I mean to get to the bottom of
"Hoots! Nonsense!" Dickson replied with affected cheerfulness.
"To-morrow you and me will take the road for Auchenlochan. We needn't
trouble ourselves about an ugly old house and a wheen impident
"To-morrow I'm going to get inside the place. Don't come unless
you like, but it's no use arguing with me. My mind is made up."
Heritage cleared a space on the table and spread out a section of a
large-scale Ordnance map.
"I must clear my head about the topography, the same as if this
were a battle-ground. Look here, Dogson....The road past the inn that
we went by to-night runs north and south." He tore a page from a
note-book and proceeded to make a rough sketch...."One end we know
abuts on the Laver glen, and the other stops at the South Lodge.
Inside the wall which follows the road is a long belt of plantation-
-mostly beeches and ash—then to the west a kind of park, and beyond
that the lawns of the house. Strips of plantation with avenues
between follow the north and south sides of the park. On the sea
side of the House are the stables and what looks like a walled
garden, and beyond them what seems to be open ground with an old
dovecot marked, and the ruins of Huntingtower keep. Beyond that
there is more open ground, till you come to the cliffs of the cape.
Have you got that?...It looks possible from the contouring to get on
to the sea cliffs by following the Laver, for all that side is broken
up into ravines....But look at the other side—the Garple glen. It's
evidently a deep-cut gully, and at the bottom it opens out into a
little harbour. There's deep water there, you observe. Now the House
on the south side—the Garple side—is built fairly close to the edge
of the cliffs. Is that all clear in your head? We can't reconnoitre
unless we've got a working notion of the lie of the land."
Dickson was about to protest that he had no intention of
reconnoitring, when a hubbub arose in the back kitchen. Mrs. Morran's
voice was heard in shrill protest.
"Ye ill laddie! Eh—ye—ill—laddie! (crescendo) Makin' a hash o'
my back door wi' your dirty feet! What are ye slinkin' roond here
for, when I tell't ye this mornin' that I wad sell ye nae mair scones
till ye paid for the last lot? Ye're a wheen thievin' hungry
callants, and if there were a polisman in the place I'd gie ye in
chairge....What's that ye say? Ye're no' wantin' meat? Ye want to
speak to the gentlemen that's bidin' here? Ye ken the auld ane, says
you? I believe it's a muckle lee, but there's the gentlemen to answer
Mrs. Morran, brandishing a dishclout dramatically, flung open the
door, and with a vigorous push propelled into the kitchen a singular
It was a stunted boy, who from his face might have been fifteen
years old, but had the stature of a child of twelve. He had a thatch
of fiery red hair above a pale freckled countenance. His nose was
snub, his eyes a sulky grey-green, and his wide mouth disclosed large
and damaged teeth. But remarkable as was his visage, his clothing was
still stranger. On his head was the regulation Boy Scout hat, but it
was several sizes too big, and was squashed down upon his immense red
ears. He wore a very ancient khaki shirt, which had once belonged to
a full-grown soldier, and the spacious sleeves were rolled up at the
shoulders and tied with string, revealing a pair of skinny arms.
Round his middle hung what was meant to be a kilt—a kilt of home
manufacture, which may once have been a tablecloth, for its bold
pattern suggested no known clan tartan. He had a massive belt, in
which was stuck a broken gully-knife, and round his neck was knotted
the remnant of what had once been a silk bandanna. His legs and feet
were bare, blue, scratched, and very dirty, and this toes had the
prehensile look common to monkeys and small boys who summer and winter
go bootless. In his hand was a long ash-pole, new cut from some
The apparition stood glum and lowering on the kitchen floor. As
Dickson stared at it he recalled Mearns Street and the band of
irregular Boy Scouts who paraded to the roll of tin cans. Before him
stood Dougal, Chieftain of the Gorbals Die-Hards. Suddenly he
remembered the philanthropic Mackintosh, and his own subscription of
ten pounds to the camp fund. It pleased him to find the rascals here,
for in the unpleasant affairs on the verge of which he felt himself
they were a comforting reminder of the peace of home.
"I'm glad to see you, Dougal," he said pleasantly. "How are you
all getting on?" And then, with a vague reminiscence of the Scouts'
code—"Have you been minding to perform a good deed every day?"
The Chieftain's brow darkened.
"'Good Deeds!'" he repeated bitterly. "I tell ye I'm fair wore out
wi' good deeds. Yon man Mackintosh tell't me this was going to be a
grand holiday. Holiday! Govey Dick! It's been like a Setterday
night in Main Street—a' fechtin', fechtin'."
No collocation of letters could reproduce Dougal's accent, and I
will not attempt it. There was a touch of Irish in it, a spice of
music-hall patter, as well as the odd lilt of the Glasgow vernacular.
He was strong in vowels, but the consonants, especially the letter
"t," were only aspirations.
"Sit down and let's hear about things," said Dickson.
The boy turned his head to the still open back door, where Mrs.
Morran could be heard at her labours. He stepped across and shut it.
"I'm no' wantin' that auld wife to hear," he said. Then he squatted
down on the patchwork rug by the hearth, and warmed his blue-black
shins. Looking into the glow of the fire, he observed, "I seen you two
up by the Big Hoose the night."
"The devil you did," said Heritage, roused to a sudden attention.
"And where were you?"
"Seven feet from your head, up a tree. It's my chief hidy-hole,
and Gosh! I need one, for Lean's after me wi' a gun. He had a shot at
me two days syne."
Dickson exclaimed, and Dougal with morose pride showed a rent in
his kilt. "If I had had on breeks, he'd ha' got me."
"Who's Lean?" Heritage asked.
"The man wi' the black coat. The other—the lame one—they ca'
"How d'you know?"
"I've listened to them crackin' thegither."
"But what for did the man want to shoot at you?" asked the
"What for? Because they're frightened to death o' onybody going
near their auld Hoose. They're a pair of deevils, worse nor any Red
Indian, but for a' that they're sweatin' wi' fright. What for? says
you. Because they're hiding a Secret. I knew it as soon as I seen the
man Lean's face. I once seen the same kind o' scoondrel at the
Picters. When he opened his mouth to swear, I kenned he was a
foreigner, like the lads down at the Broomielaw. That looked black,
but I hadn't got at the worst of it. Then he loosed off at me wi' his
"Were you not feared?" said Dickson.
"Ay, I was feared. But ye'll no' choke off the Gorbals Die-Hards
wi' a gun. We held a meetin' round the camp fire, and we resolved to
get to the bottom o' the business. Me bein' their Chief, it was my
duty to make what they ca' a reckonissince, for that was the dangerous
job. So a' this day I've been going on my belly about thae policies.
I've found out some queer things."
Heritage had risen and was staring down at the small squatting
"What have you found out? Quick. Tell me at once." His voice was
sharp and excited.
"Bide a wee," said the unwinking Dougal. "I'm no' going to let ye
into this business till I ken that ye'll help. It's a far bigger job
than I thought. There's more in it than Lean and Spittal. There's the
big man that keeps the public—Dobson, they ca' him. He's a Namerican,
which looks bad. And there's two-three tinklers campin' down in the
Garple Dean. They're in it, for Dobson was colloguin' wi' them a'
mornin'. When I seen ye, I thought ye were more o' the gang, till I
mindit that one o' ye was auld McCunn that has the shop in Mearns
Street. I seen that ye didna' like the look o' Lean, and I followed
ye here, for I was thinkin' I needit help."
Heritage plucked Dougal by the shoulder and lifted him to his feet.
"For God's sake, boy," he cried, "tell us what you know!"
"Will ye help?"
"Of course, you little fool."
"Then swear," said the ritualist. From a grimy wallet he extracted
a limp little volume which proved to be a damaged copy of a work
entitled Sacred Songs and Solos. "Here! Take that in your right
hand and put your left hand on my pole, and say after me. 'I swear
no' to blab what is telled me in secret, and to be swift and sure in
obeyin' orders, s'help me God!' Syne kiss the bookie."
Dickson at first refused, declaring that it was all havers, but
Heritage's docility persuaded him to follow suit. The two were sworn.
"Now," said Heritage.
Dougal squatted again on the hearth-rug, and gathered the eyes of
his audience. He was enjoying himself.
"This day," he said slowly, "I got inside the Hoose."
"Stout fellow," said Heritage ; "and what did you find there?"
"I got inside that Hoose, but it wasn't once or twice I tried. I
found a corner where I was out o' sight o' anybody unless they had
come there seekin' me, and I sklimmed up a rone pipe, but a' the
windies were lockit and I verra near broke my neck. Syne I tried the
roof, and a sore sklim I had, but when I got there there were no
skylights. At the end I got in by the coal-hole. That's why ye're
maybe thinkin' I'm no' very clean."
Heritage's patience was nearly exhausted.
"I don't want to hear how you got in. What did you find, you
"Inside the Hoose," said Dougal slowly (and there was a melancholy
sense of anti-climax in his voice, as of one who had hoped to speak
of gold and jewels and armed men)—"inside that Hoose there's nothing
but two women."
Heritage sat down before him with a stern face.
"Describe them," he commanded.
"One o' them is dead auld, as auld as the wife here. She didn't
look to me very right in the head."
"And the other?"
"Oh, just a lassie."
"What was she like?"
Dougal seemed to be searching for adequate words. "She is..." he
began. Then a popular song gave him inspiration. "She's pure as the
lully in the dell!"
In no way discomposed by Heritage's fierce interrogatory air, he
continued: "She's either foreign or English, for she couldn't
understand what I said, and I could make nothing o' her clippit
tongue. But I could see she had been greetin'. She looked feared, yet
kind o' determined. I speired if I could do anything for her, and
when she got my meaning she was terrible anxious to ken if I had seen
a man- -a big man, she said, wi' a yellow beard. She didn't seem to
ken his name, or else she wouldna' tell me. The auld wife was mortal
feared, and was aye speakin' in a foreign langwidge. I seen at once
that what frightened them was Lean and his friends, and I was just
starting to speir about them when there came a sound like a man
walkin' along the passage. She was for hidin' me in behind a sofy,
but I wasn't going to be trapped like that, so I got out by the other
door and down the kitchen stairs and into the coal-hole. Gosh, it was
a near thing!"
The boy was on his feet. "I must be off to the camp to give out
the orders for the morn. I'm going back to that Hoose, for it's a
fight atween the Gorbals Die-Hards and the scoondrels that are
frightenin' thae women. The question is, Are ye comin' with me?
Mind, ye've sworn. But if ye're no, I'm going mysel', though I'll no'
deny I'd be glad o' company. You anyway—" he added, nodding at
Heritage. "Maybe auld McCunn wouldn't get through the coal-hole."
"You're an impident laddie,' said the outraged Dickson. "It's no'
likely we're coming with you. Breaking into other folks' houses!
It's a job for the police!"
"Please yersel'," said the Chieftain, and looked at Heritage.
"I'm on," said that gentleman.
"Well, just you set out the morn as if ye were for a walk up the
Garple glen. I'll be on the road and I'll have orders for ye."
Without more ado Dougal left by way of the back kitchen. There was
a brief denunciation from Mrs. Morran, then the outer door banged and
he was gone.
The Poet sat still with his head in his hands, while Dickson,
acutely uneasy, prowled about the floor. He had forgotten even to
light his pipe. "You'll not be thinking of heeding that ragamuffin
boy," he ventured.
"I'm certainly going to get into the House tomorrow," Heritage
answered, "and if he can show me a way so much the better. He's a
spirited youth. Do you breed many like him in Glasgow?"
"Plenty," said Dickson sourly. "See here, Mr. Heritage. You can't
expect me to be going about burgling houses on the word of a blagyird
laddie. I'm a respectable man—aye been. Besides, I'm here for a
holiday, and I've no call to be mixing myself up in strangers'
"You haven't. Only you see, I think there's a friend of mine in
that place, and anyhow there are women in trouble. If you like,
we'll say goodbye after breakfast, and you can continue as if you had
never turned aside to this damned peninsula. But I've got to stay."
Dickson groaned. What had become of his dream of idylls, his
gentle bookish romance? Vanished before a reality which smacked
horribly of crude melodrama and possibly of sordid crime. His gorge
rose at the picture, but a thought troubled him. Perhaps all romance
in its hour of happening was rough and ugly like this, and only shone
rosy in retrospect. Was he being false to his deepest faith?
"Let's have Mrs. Morran in," he ventured. "She's a wise old body
and I'd like to hear her opinion of this business. We'll get common
sense from her."
"I don't object," said Heritage. "But no amount of common sense
will change my mind."
Their hostess forestalled them by returning at that moment to the
"We want your advice, mistress," Dickson told her, and accordingly,
like a barrister with a client, she seated herself carefully in the
big easy chair, found and adjusted her spectacles, and waited with
hands folded on her lap to hear the business. Dickson narrated their
pre-supper doings, and gave a sketch of Dougal's evidence. His
exposition was cautious and colourless, and without conviction. He
seemed to expect a robust incredulity in his hearer.
Mrs. Morran listened with the gravity of one in church. When
Dickson finished she seemed to meditate. "There's no blagyird trick
that would surprise me in thae new folk. What's that ye ca' them-
-Lean and Spittal? Eppie Home threepit to me they were furriners,
and these are no furrin names."
"What I want to hear from you, Mrs. Morran,' said Dickson
impressively, "is whether you think there's anything in that boy's
"I think it's maist likely true. He's a terrible impident callant,
but he's no' a leear."
"Then you think that a gang of ruffians have got two lone women
shut up in that house for their own purposes?"
"I wadna wonder."
"But it's ridiculous! This is a Christian and law-abiding country.
What would the police say?"
"They never troubled Dalquharter muckle. There's no' a polisman
nearer than Knockraw—yin Johnnie Trummle, and he's as useless as a
"The wiselike thing, as I think," said Dickson, "would be to turn
the Procurator-Fiscal on to the job. It's his business, no' ours."
"Well, I wadna say but ye're richt,' said the lady.
"What would you do if you were us?" Dickson's tone was subtly
confidential. "My friend here wants to get into the House the morn
with that red-haired laddie to satisfy himself about the facts. I say
no. Let sleeping dogs lie, I say, and if you think the beasts are
mad, report to the authorities. What would you do yourself?"
"If I were you," came the emphatic reply, "I would tak' the first
train hame the morn, and when I got hame I wad bide there. Ye're a
dacent body, but ye're no' the kind to be traivellin' the roads."
"And if you were me?' Heritage asked with his queer crooked smile.
"If I was young and yauld like you I wad gang into the Hoose, and I
wadna rest till I had riddled oot the truith and jyled every
scoondrel about the place. If ye dinna gang, 'faith I'll kilt my
coats and gang mysel'. I havena served the Kennedys for forty year
no' to hae the honour o' the Hoose at my hert....Ye've speired my
advice, sirs, and ye've gotten it. Now I maun clear awa' your
Dickson asked for a candle, and, as on the previous night, went
abruptly to bed. The oracle of prudence to which he had appealed had
betrayed him and counselled folly. But was it folly? For him,
assuredly, for Dickson McCunn, late of Mearns Street, Glasgow,
wholesale and retail provision merchant, elder in the Guthrie
Memorial Kirk, and fifty-five years of age. Ay, that was the rub. He
was getting old. The woman had seen it and had advised him to go
home. Yet the plea was curiously irksome, though it gave him the
excuse he needed. If you played at being young, you had to take up
the obligations of youth, and he thought derisively of his boyish
exhilaration of the past days. Derisively, but also sadly. What had
become of that innocent joviality he had dreamed of, that happy
morning pilgrimage of Spring enlivened by tags from the poets? His
goddess had played him false. Romance had put upon him too hard a
He lay long awake, torn between common sense and a desire to be
loyal to some vague whimsical standard. Heritage a yard distant
appeared also to be sleepless, for the bed creaked with his turning.
Dickson found himself envying one whose troubles, whatever they might
be, were not those of a divided mind.
CHAPTER V. OF THE PRINCESS IN THE
Very early the next morning, while Mrs. Morran was still cooking
breakfast, Dickson and Heritage might have been observed taking the
air in the village street. It was the Poet who had insisted upon
this walk, and he had his own purpose. They looked at the spires of
smoke piercing the windless air, and studied the daffodils in the
cottage gardens. Dickson was glum, but Heritage seemed in high
spirits. He varied his garrulity with spells of cheerful whistling.
They strode along the road by the park wall till they reached the
inn. There Heritage's music waxed peculiarly loud. Presently from the
yard, unshaven and looking as if he had slept in this clothes, came
Dobson the innkeeper.
"Good morning," said the poet. "I hope the sickness in your house
is on the mend?"
"Thank ye, it's no worse," was the reply, but in the man's heavy
face there was little civility. His small grey eyes searched their
"We're just waiting for breakfast to get on the road again. I'm
jolly glad we spent the night here. We found quarters after all, you
"So I see. Whereabouts, may I ask?"
"Mrs. Morran's. We could always have got in there, but we didn't
want to fuss an old lady, so we thought we'd try the inn first. She's
my friend's aunt."
At this amazing falsehood Dickson started, and the man observed
his surprise. The eyes were turned on him like a searchlight. They
roused antagonism in his peaceful soul, and with that antagonism came
an impulse to back up the Poet. "Ay," he said, "she's my auntie
Phemie, my mother's half-sister."
The man turned on Heritage.
"Where are ye for the day?"
"Auchenlochan," said Dickson hastily. He was still determined to
shake the dust of Dalquharter from his feet.
The innkeeper sensibly brightened. "Well, ye'll have a fine walk.
I must go in and see about my own breakfast. Good day to ye,
"That," said Heritage as they entered the village street again,
"is the first step in camouflage, to put the enemy off his guard."
"It was an abominable lie," said Dickson crossly.
"Not at all. It was a necessary and proper ruse de guerre. It
explained why we spent the right here, and now Dobson and his friends
can get about their day's work with an easy mind. Their suspicions are
temporarily allayed, and that will make our job easier."
"I'm not coming with you."
"I never said you were. By 'we' I refer to myself and the
"Mistress, you're my auntie," Dickson informed Mrs. Morran as she
set the porridge on the table. "This gentleman has just been telling
the man at the inn that you're my Auntie Phemie."
For a second their hostess looked bewildered. Then the corners of
her prim mouth moved upwards in a slow smile.
"I see," she said. "Weel, maybe it was weel done. But if ye're my
nevoy ye'll hae to keep up my credit, for we're a bauld and siccar
Half an hour later there was a furious dissension when Dickson
attempted to pay for the night's entertainment. Mrs. Morran would
have none of it. "Ye're no' awa' yet," she said tartly, and the
matter was complicated by Heritage's refusal to take part in the
debate. He stood aside and grinned, till Dickson in despair returned
his notecase to his pocket, murmuring darkly the "he would send it
The road to Auchenlochan left the main village street at right
angles by the side of Mrs. Morran's cottage. It was a better road
than that by which they had come yesterday, for by it twice daily the
postcart travelled to the post-town. It ran on the edge of the moor
and on the lip of the Garple glen, till it crossed that stream and,
keeping near the coast, emerged after five miles into the cultivated
flats of the Lochan valley. The morning was fine, the keen air
invited to high spirits, plovers piped entrancingly over the bent and
linnets sang in the whins, there was a solid breakfast behind him, and
the promise of a cheerful road till luncheon. The stage was set for
good humour, but Dickson's heart, which should have been ascending
with the larks, stuck leadenly in his boots. He was not even relieved
at putting Dalquharter behind him. The atmosphere of that unhallowed
place lay still on his soul. He hated it, but he hated himself more.
Here was one, who had hugged himself all his days as an adventurer
waiting his chance, running away at the first challenge of adventure;
a lover of Romance who fled from the earliest overture of his goddess.
He was ashamed and angry, but what else was there to do? Burglary in
the company of a queer poet and a queerer urchin? It was unthinkable.
Presently, as they tramped silently on, they came to the bridge
beneath which the peaty waters of the Garple ran in porter-coloured
pools and tawny cascades. From a clump of elders on the other side
Dougal emerged. A barefoot boy, dressed in much the same parody of a
Boy Scout's uniform, but with corduroy shorts instead of a kilt, stood
before him at rigid attention. Some command was issued, the child
saluted, and trotted back past the travellers with never a look at
them. Discipline was strong among the Gorbals Die-Hards; no Chief of
Staff ever conversed with his General under a stricter etiquette.
Dougal received the travellers with the condescension of a regular
"They're off their gawrd," he announced. Thomas Yownie has been
shadowin' them since skreigh o' day, and he reports that Dobson and
Lean followed ye till ye were out o' sight o' the houses, and syne
Lean got a spy-glass and watched ye till the road turned in among the
trees. That satisfied them, and they're both away back to their jobs.
Thomas Yownie's the fell yin. Ye'll no fickle Thomas Yownie."
Dougal extricated from his pouch the fag of a cigarette, lit it,
and puffed meditatively. "I did a reckonissince mysel' this morning.
I was up at the Hoose afore it was light, and tried the door o' the
coal-hole. I doot they've gotten on our tracks, for it was
lockit—aye, and wedged from the inside."
Dickson brightened. Was the insane venture off?
"For a wee bit I was fair beat. But I mindit that the lassie was
allowed to walk in a kind o' a glass hoose on the side farthest away
from the Garple. That was where she was singin' yest'reen. So I
reckonissinced in that direction, and I fund a queer place." Sacred
Songs and Solos was requisitioned, and on a page of it Dougal
proceeded to make marks with the stump of a carpenter's pencil. "See
here," he commanded. "There's the glass place wi' a door into the
Hoose. That door maun be open or the lassie maun hae the key, for she
comes there whenever she likes. Now' at each end o' the place the
doors are lockit, but the front that looks on the garden is open, wi'
muckle posts and flower-pots. The trouble is that that side there'
maybe twenty feet o' a wall between the pawrapet and the ground. It's
an auld wall wi' cracks and holes in it, and it wouldn't be ill to
sklim. That's why they let her gang there when she wants, for a
lassie couldn't get away without breakin' her neck."
"Could we climb it?" Heritage asked.
The boy wrinkled his brows. "I could manage it mysel'—I
think—and maybe you. I doubt if auld McCunn could get up. Ye'd have
to be mighty carefu' that nobody saw ye, for your hinder end, as ye
were sklimmin', wad be a grand mark for a gun."
"Lead on," said Heritage. "We'll try the verandah."
They both looked at Dickson, and Dickson, scarlet in the face,
looked back at them. He had suddenly found the thought of a solitary
march to Auchenlochan intolerable. Once again he was at the parting
of the ways, and once more caprice determined his decision. That the
coal-hole was out of the question had worked a change in his views,
Somehow it seemed to him less burglarious to enter by a verandah. He
felt very frightened but—for the moment- quite resolute.
"I'm coming with you," he said.
"Sportsman," said Heritage, and held out his hand. "Well done, the
auld yin," said the Chieftain of the Gorbals Die-Hards. Dickson's
quaking heart experienced a momentary bound as he followed Heritage
down the track into the Garple Dean.
The track wound through a thick covert of hazels, now close to the
rushing water, now high upon the bank so that clear sky showed
through the fringes of the wood. When they had gone a little way
Dougal halted them.
"It's a ticklish job," he whispered. "There's the tinklers, mind,
that's campin' in the Dean. If they're still in their camp we can
get by easy enough, but they're maybe wanderin' about the wud after
rabbits....Then we maun ford the water, for ye'll no' cross it lower
down where it's deep....Our road is on the Hoose side o' the Dean,
and it's awfu' public if there's onybody on the other side, though
it's hid well enough from folk up in the policies....Ye maun do
exactly what I tell ye. When we get near danger I'll scout on ahead,
and I daur ye to move a hair o' your heid till I give the word."
Presently, when they were at the edge of the water, Dougal
announced his intention of crossing. Three boulders in the stream
made a bridge for an active man, and Heritage hopped lightly over.
Not so Dickson, who stuck fast on the second stone, and would
certainly have fallen in had not Dougal plunged into the current and
steadied him with a grimy hand. The leap was at last successfully
taken, and the three scrambled up a rough scaur, all reddened with
iron springs, till they struck a slender track running down the Dean
on its northern side. Here the undergrowth was very thick, and they
had gone the better part of half a mile before the covert thinned
sufficiently to show them the stream beneath. Then Dougal halted
them with a finger on his lips, and crept forward alone.
He returned in three minutes. "Coast's clear," he whispered. "The
tinklers are eatin' their breakfast. They're late at their meat
though they're up early seekin' it."
Progress was now very slow and secret, and mainly on all fours. At
one point Dougal nodded downward, and the other two saw on a patch of
turf, where the Garple began to widen into its estuary, a group of
figures round a small fire. There were four of them, all men, and
Dickson thought he had never seen such ruffianly-looking customers.
After that they moved high up the slope, in a shallow glade of a
tributary burn, till they came out of the trees and found themselves
On one side was the House, a hundred yards or so back from the
edge, the roof showing above the precipitous scarp. Half-way down the
slope became easier, a jumble of boulders and boiler-plates, till it
reached the waters of the small haven, which lay calm as a mill-pond
in the windless forenoon. The haven broadened out at its foot and
revealed a segment of blue sea. The opposite shore was flatter, and
showed what looked like an old wharf and the ruins of buildings,
behind which rose a bank clad with scrub and surmounted by some
gnarled and wind-crooked firs.
"There's dashed little cover here," said Heritage.
"There's no muckle," Dougal assented. "But they canna see us from
the policies, and it's no' like there's anybody watchin' from the
Hoose. The danger is somebody on the other side, but we'll have to
risk it. Once among thae big stones we're safe. Are ye ready?"
Five minutes later Dickson found himself gasping in the lee of a
boulder, while Dougal was making a cast forward. The scout returned
with a hopeful report. "I think we're safe till we get into the
policies. There's a road that the auld folk made when ships used to
come here. Down there it's deeper than Clyde at the Broomielaw. Has
the auld yin got his wind yet? There's no time to waste."
Up that broken hillside they crawled, well in the cover of the
tumbled stones, till they reached a low wall which was the boundary
of the garden. The House was now behind them on their right rear,
and as they topped the crest they had a glimpse of an ancient dovecot
and the ruins of the old Huntingtower on the short thymy turf which
ran seaward to the cliffs. Dougal led them along a sunk fence which
divided the downs from the lawns behind the house, and, avoiding the
stables, brought them by devious ways to a thicket of rhododendrons
and broom. On all fours they travelled the length of the place, and
came to the edge where some forgotten gardeners had once tended a
herbaceous border. The border was now rank and wild, and, lying flat
under the shade of an azalea, and peering through the young spears of
iris, Dickson and Heritage regarded the north-western facade of the
The ground before them had been a sunken garden, from which a
steep wall, once covered with creepers and rock plants, rose to a
long verandah, which was pillared and open on that side ; but at each
end built up half-way and glazed for the rest. There was a glass
roof, and inside untended shrubs sprawled in broken plaster vases.
"Ye maun bide here," said Dougal, "and no cheep above your breath.
Afore we dare to try that wall, I maun ken where Lean and Spittal and
Dobson are. I'm off to spy the policies.' He glided out of sight
behind a clump of pampas grass.
For hours, so it seemed, Dickson was left to his own unpleasant
reflections. His body, prone on the moist earth, was fairly
comfortable, but his mind was ill at ease. The scramble up the
hillside had convinced him that he was growing old, and there was no
rebound in his soul to counter the conviction. He felt listless,
spiritless—an apathy with fright trembling somewhere at the back of
it. He regarded the verandah wall with foreboding. How on earth could
he climb that? And if he did there would be his exposed hinder-parts
inviting a shot from some malevolent gentleman among the trees. He
reflected that he would give a large sum of money to be out of this
Heritage's hand was stretched towards him, containing two of Mrs.
Morran's jellied scones, of which the Poet had been wise enough to
bring a supply in his pocket. The food cheered him, for he was
growing very hungry, and he began to take an interest in the scene
before him instead of his own thoughts. He observed every detail of
the verandah. There was a door at one end, he noted, giving on a path
which wound down to the sunk garden. As he looked he heard a sound of
steps and saw a man ascending this path.
It was the lame man whom Dougal had called Spittal, the dweller in
the South Lodge. Seen at closer quarters he was an odd-looking
being, lean as a heron, wry-necked, but amazingly quick on his feet.
Had not Mrs. Morran said that he hobbled as fast as other folk ran?
He kept his eyes on the ground and seemed to be talking to himself as
he went, but he was alert enough, for the dropping of a twig from a
dying magnolia transferred him in an instant into a figure of active
vigilance. No risks could be run with that watcher. He took a key
from his pocket, opened the garden door and entered the verandah. For
a moment his shuffle sounded on its tiled floor, and then he entered
the door admitting from the verandah to the House. It was clearly
unlocked, for there came no sound of a turning key.
Dickson had finished the last crumbs of his scones before the man
emerged again. He seemed to be in a greater hurry than ever as he
locked the garden door behind him and hobbled along the west front of
the House till he was lost to sight. After that the time passed
slowly. A pair of yellow wagtails arrived and played at hide-and-seek
among the stuccoed pillars. The little dry scratch of their claws was
heard clearly in the still air. Dickson had almost fallen asleep when
a smothered exclamation from Heritage woke him to attention. A girl
had appeared in the verandah.
Above the parapet he saw only her body from the waist up. She
seemed to be clad in bright colours, for something red was round her
shoulders and her hair was bound with an orange scarf. She was
tall—that he could tell, tall and slim and very young. Her face was
turned seaward, and she stood for a little scanning the broad channel,
shading her eyes as if to search for something on the extreme horizon.
The air was very quiet and he thought that he could hear her sigh.
Then she turned and re-entered the House, while Heritage by his side
began to curse under his breathe with a shocking fervour.
One of Dickson's troubles had been that he did not believe Dougal's
story, and the sight of the girl removed one doubt. That bright
exotic thing did not belong to the Cruives or to Scotland at all, and
that she should be in the House removed the place from the
conventional dwelling to which the laws against burglary applied.
There was a rustle among the rhododendrons and the fiery face of
Dougal appeared. He lay between the other two, his chin on his
hands, and grunted out his report.
"After they had their dinner Dobson and Lean yokit a horse and went
off to Auchenlochan. I seen them pass the Garple brig, so that's two
accounted for. Has Spittal been round here?"
"Half an hour ago," said Heritage, consulting a wrist watch.
"It was him that keepit me waitin' so long. But he's safe enough
now, for five minutes syne he was splittin' firewood at the back door
o' his hoose....I've found a ladder, an auld yin in yon lot o' bushes.
It'll help wi' the wall. There! I've gotten my breath again and we
The ladder was fetched by Heritage and proved to be ancient and
wanting many rungs, but sufficient in length. The three stood silent
for a moment, listening like stags, and then ran across the
intervening lawn to the foot of the verandah wall. Dougal went up
first, then Heritage, and lastly Dickson, stiff and giddy from his
long lie under the bushes. Below the parapet the verandah floor was
heaped with old garden litter, rotten matting, dead or derelict
bulbs, fibre, withies, and strawberry nets. It was Dougal's
intention to pull up the ladder and hide it among the rubbish against
the hour of departure. But Dickson had barely put his foot on the
parapet when there was a sound of steps within the House approaching
the verandah door.
The ladder was left alone. Dougal's hand brought Dickson summarily
to the floor, where he was fairly well concealed by a mess of matting.
Unfortunately his head was in the vicinity of some upturned
pot-plants, so that a cactus ticked his brow and a spike of aloe
supported painfully the back of his neck. Heritage was prone behind
two old water-butts, and Dougal was in a hamper which had once
contained seed potatoes. The house door had panels of opaque glass,
so the new-comer could not see the doings of the three till it was
opened, and by that time all were in cover.
The man—it was Spittal—walked rapidly along the verandah and out
of the garden door. He was talking to himself again, and Dickson,
who had a glimpse of his face, thought he looked both evil and
furious. Then came some anxious moments, for had the man glanced back
when he was once outside, he must have seen the tell-tale ladder. But
he seemed immersed in his own reflections, for he hobbled steadily
along the house front till he was lost to sight.
"That'll be the end o' them the day," said Dougal, as he helped
Heritage to pull up the ladder and stow it away. "We've got the
place to oursels, now. Forward, men, forward." He tried the handle
of the House door and led the way in.
A narrow paved passage took them into what had once been the garden
room, where the lady of the house had arranged her flowers, and the
tennis racquets and croquet mallets had been kept. It was very dusty,
and on the cobwebbed walls still hung a few soiled garden overalls. A
door beyond opened into a huge murky hall, murky, for the windows were
shuttered, and the only light came through things like port-holes far
up in the wall. Dougal, who seemed to know his way about, halted
them. "Stop here till I scout a bit. The women bide in a wee room
through that muckle door.' Bare feet stole across the oak flooring,
there was the sound of a door swinging on its hinges, and then silence
and darkness. Dickson put out a hand for companionship and clutched
Heritage's; to his surprise it was cold and all a-tremble. They
listened for voices, and thought they could detect a far-away sob.
It was some minutes before Dougal returned. "A bonny kettle o'
fish," he whispered. "They're both greetin'. We're just in time.
Come on, the pair o' ye."
Through a green baize door they entered a passage which led to the
kitchen regions, and turned in at the first door on their right.
>From its situation Dickson calculated that the room lay on the
seaward side of the House next to the verandah. The light was bad,
for the two windows were partially shuttered, but it had plainly been
a smoking-room, for there were pipe-racks by the hearth, and on the
walls a number of old school and college photographs, a couple of oars
with emblazoned names, and a variety of stags' and roebucks' heads.
There was no fire in the grate, but a small oil-stove burned inside
the fender. In a stiff-backed chair sat an elderly woman, who seemed
to feel the cold, for she was muffled to the neck in a fur coat.
Beside her, so that the late afternoon light caught her face and head,
stood a girl.
Dickson's first impression was of a tall child. The pose, startled
and wild and yet curiously stiff and self-conscious, was that of a
child striving to remember a forgotten lesson. One hand clutched a
handkerchief, the other was closing and unclosing on a knob of the
chair back. She was staring at Dougal, who stood like a gnome in the
centre of the floor. "Here's the gentlemen I was tellin' ye about,"
was his introduction, but her eyes did not move.
Then Heritage stepped forward. "We have met before, Mademoiselle,"
he said. "Do you remember Easter in 1918—in the house in the
Trinita dei Monte?"
The girl looked at him.
"I do not remember,' she said slowly.
"But I was the English officer who had the apartments on the floor
below you. I saw you every morning. You spoke to me sometimes."
"You are a soldier?" she asked, with a new note in her voice.
"I was then—till the war finished.'
"And now? Why have you come here?"
"To offer you help if you need it. If not, to ask your pardon and
The shrouded figure in the chair burst suddenly into rapid
hysterical talk in some foreign tongue which Dickson suspected of
being French. Heritage replied in the same language, and the girl
joined in with sharp questions. Then the Poet turned to Dickson.
"This is my friend. If you will trust us we will do our best to
The eyes rested on Dickson's face, and he realized that he was in
the presence of something the like of which he had never met in his
life before. It was a loveliness greater than he had imagined was
permitted by the Almighty to His creatures. The little face was more
square than oval, with a low broad brow and proud exquisite eyebrows.
The eyes were of a colour which he could never decide on; afterwards
he used to allege obscurely that they were the colour of everything
in Spring. There was a delicate pallor in the cheeks, and the face
bore signs of suffering and care, possibly even of hunger; but for
all that there was youth there, eternal and triumphant! Not youth
such as he had known it, but youth with all history behind it, youth
with centuries of command in its blood and the world's treasures of
beauty and pride in its ancestry. Strange, he thought, that a thing
so fine should be so masterful. He felt abashed in every inch of him.
As the eyes rested on him their sorrowfulness seemed to be shot
with humour. A ghost of a smile lurked there, to which Dickson
promptly responded. He grinned and bowed.
"Very pleased to meet you, Mem. I'm Mr. McCunn from Glasgow."
"You don't even know my name," she said.
"We don't," said Heritage.
"They call me Saskia. This," nodding to the chair, "is my cousin
Eugenie....We are in very great trouble. But why should I tell you?
I do not know you. You cannot help me."
"We can try," said Heritage. "Part of your trouble we know already
through that boy. You are imprisoned in this place by scoundrels. We
are here to help you to get out. We want to ask no questions- -only
to do what you bid us."
"You are not strong enough," she said sadly. "A young man—an old
man—and a little boy. There are many against us, and any moment
there may be more."
It was Dougal's turn to break in, "There's Lean and Spittal and
Dobson and four tinklers in the Dean—that's seven ; but there's us
three and five more Gorbals Die-hards—that's eight."
There was something in the boy's truculent courage that cheered
her. "I wonder," she said, and her eyes fell on each in turn.
Dickson felt impelled to intervene.
"I think this is a perfectly simple business. Here's a lady shut
up in this house against her will by a wheen blagyirds. This is a
free country and the law doesn't permit that. My advice if for one of
us to inform the police at Auchenlochan and get Dobson and his friends
took up and the lady set free to do what she likes. That is, if
these folks are really molesting her, which is not yet quite clear to
"Alas! It is not so simple as that," she said. "I dare not invoke
your English law, for perhaps in the eyes of that law I am a thief."
"Deary me, that's a bad business," said the startled Dickson.
The two women talked together in some strange tongue, and the elder
appeared to be pleading and the younger objecting. Then Saskia
seemed to come to a decision.
"I will tell you all," and she looked straight at Heritage. "I do
not think you would be cruel or false, for you have honourable faces..
..Listen, then. I am a Russian, and for two years have been an exile.
I will not now speak of my house, for it is no more, or how I escaped,
for it is the common tale of all of us. I have seen things more
terrible than any dream and yet lived, but I have paid a price for
such experience. First I went to Italy where there were friends, and
I wished only to have peace among kindly people. About poverty I do
not care, for, to us, who have lost all the great things, the want of
bread is a little matter. But peace was forbidden me, for I learned
that we Russians had to win back our fatherland again, and that the
weakest must work in that cause. So I was set my task, and it was
very hard....There were others still hidden in Russia which must be
brought to a safe place. In that work I was ordered to share."
She spoke in almost perfect English, with a certain foreign
precision. Suddenly she changed to French, and talked rapidly to
"She has told me about her family," he said, turning to Dickson.
"It is among the greatest in Russia, the very greatest after the
throne." Dickson could only stare.
"Our enemies soon discovered me," she went on. "Oh, but they are
very clever, these enemies, and they have all the criminals of the
world to aid them. Here you do not understand what they are. You
good people in England think they are well-meaning dreamers who are
forced into violence by the persecution of Western Europe. But you are
wrong. Some honest fools there are among them, but the power—the
true power—lies with madmen and degenerates, and they have for allies
the special devil that dwells in each country. That is why they cast
their nets as wide as mankind."
She shivered, and for a second her face wore a look which Dickson
never forgot, the look of one who has looked over the edge of life
into the outer dark.
"There were certain jewels of great price which were about to be
turned into guns and armies for our enemies. These our people
recovered, and the charge of them was laid on me. Who would suspect,
they said, a foolish girl? But our enemies were very clever, and soon
the hunt was cried against me. They tried to rob me of them, but they
failed, for I too had become clever. Then they asked for the help of
the law—first in Italy and then in France. Ah, it was subtly done.
Respectable bourgeois, who hated the Bolsheviki but had bought long
ago the bonds of my country, desired to be repaid their debts out of
the property of the Russian crown which might be found in the West.
But behind them were the Jews, and behind the Jews our unsleeping
enemies. Once I was enmeshed in the law I would be safe for them, and
presently they would find the hiding-place of the treasure, and while
the bourgeois were clamouring in the courts it would be safe in their
pockets. So I fled. For months I have been fleeing and hiding. They
have tried to kidnap me many times, and once they have tried to kill
me, but I, too, have become clever—oh, so clever. And I have learned
not to fear."
This simple recital affected Dickson's honest soul with the
liveliest indignation. "Sich doings!" he exclaimed, and he could not
forbear from whispering to Heritage an extract from that gentleman's
conversation the first night at Kirkmichael. "We needn't imitate all
their methods, but they've got hold of the right end of the stick.
They seek truth and reality.' The reply from the Poet was an angry
"Why and how did you come here?" he asked.
"I always meant to come to England, for I thought it the sanest
place in a mad world. Also it is a good country to hide in, for it
is apart from Europe, and your police, as I thought, do not permit
evil men to be their own law. But especially I had a friend, a
Scottish gentleman, whom I knew in the days when we Russians were
still a nation. I saw him again in Italy, and since he was kind and
brave I told him some part of my troubles. He was called Quentin
Kennedy, and now he is dead. He told me that in Scotland he had a
lonely chateau, where I could hide secretly and safely, and against
the day when I might be hard-pressed he gave me a letter to his
steward, bidding him welcome me as a guest when I made application.
At that time I did not think I would need such sanctuary, but a month
ago the need became urgent, for the hunt in France was very close on
me. So I sent a message to the steward as Captain Kennedy told me."
"What is his name?" Heritage asked.
She spelt it, "Monsieur Loudon—L-O-U-D-O-N in the town of
"The factor," said Dickson, "And what then?"
"Some spy must have found me out. I had a letter from this Loudon
bidding me come to Auchenlochan. There I found no steward to receive
me, but another letter saying that that night a carriage would be in
waiting to bring me here. It was midnight when we arrived, and we
were brought in by strange ways to this house, with no light but a
single candle. Here we were welcomed indeed, but by an enemy."
"Which?" asked Heritage. "Dobson or Lean or Spittal?"
"Dobson I do not know. Leon was there. He is no Russian, but a
Belgian who was a valet in my father's service till he joined the
Bolsheviki. Next day the Lett Spidel came, and I knew that I was in
very truth entrapped. For of all our enemies he is, save one, the
most subtle and unwearied."
Her voice had trailed off into flat weariness. Again Dickson was
reminded of a child, for her arms hung limp by her side; and her slim
figure in its odd clothes was curiously like that of a boy in a school
blazer. Another resemblance perplexed him. She had a hint of
Janet—about the mouth—Janet, that solemn little girl those twenty
years in her grave.
Heritage was wrinkling his brows. "I don't think I quite
understand. The jewels? You have them with you?"
"These men wanted to rob you. Why didn't they do it between here
and Auchenlochan? You had no chance to hide them on the journey. Why
did they let you come here where you were in a better position to
She shook her head. "I cannot explain—except, perhaps, that
Spidel had not arrived that night, and Leon may have been waiting
The other still looked dissatisfied. "They are either clumsier
villains than I take them to be, or there is something deeper in the
business than we understand. These jewels—are they here?"
His tone was so sharp that she looked startled—almost suspicious.
Then she saw that in his face which reassured her. "I have them
hidden here. I have grown very skilful in hiding things."
"Have they searched for them?"
"The first day they demanded them of me. I denied all knowledge.
Then they ransacked this house—I think they ransack it daily, but I
am too clever for them. I am not allowed to go beyond the verandah,
and when at first I disobeyed there was always one of them in wait to
force me back with a pistol behind my head. Every morning Leon
brings us food for the day—good food, but not enough, so that Cousin
Eugenie is always hungry, and each day he and Spidel question and
threaten me. This afternoon Spidel has told me that their patience is
at an end. He has given me till tomorrow at noon to produce the
jewels. If not, he says I will die."
"Mercy on us!" Dickson exclaimed.
"There will be no mercy for us," she said solemnly. "He and his
kind think as little of shedding blood as of spilling water. But I
do not think he will kill me. I think I will kill him first, but
after that I shall surely die. As for Cousin Eugenie, I do not know."
Her level matter-of-fact tone seemed to Dickson most shocking, for
he could not treat it as mere melodrama. It carried a horrid
conviction. "We must get you out of this at once," he declared.
"I cannot leave. I will tell you why. When I came to this country
I appointed one to meet me here. He is a kinsman who knows England
well, for he fought in your army. With him by my side I have no fear.
It is altogether needful that I wait for him."
"Then there is something more which you haven't told us?" Heritage
Was there the faintest shadow of a blush on her cheek? "There is
something more," she said.
She spoke to Heritage in French, and Dickson caught the name
"Alexis" and a word which sounded like "prance." The Poet listened
eagerly and nodded. "I have heard of him," he said.
"But have you not seen him? A tall man with a yellow beard, who
bears himself proudly. Being of my mother's race he has eyes like
"That's the man she was askin' me about yesterday," said Dougal,
who had squatted on the floor.
Heritage shook his head. "We only came here last night. When did
you expect Prince—your friend."
"I hoped to find him here before me. Oh, it is his not coming that
terrifies me. I must wait and hope. But if he does not come in time
another may come before him."
"The ones already here are not all the enemies that threaten you?"
"Indeed, no. The worst has still to come, and till I know he is
here I do not greatly fear Spidel or Leon. They receive orders and
do not give them."
Heritage ran a perplexed hand through his hair. The sunset which
had been flaming for some time in the unshuttered panes was now
passing into the dark. The girl lit a lamp after first shuttering
the rest of the windows. As she turned up the wick the odd dusty
room and its strange company were revealed more clearly, and Dickson
saw with a shock how haggard was the beautiful face. A great pity
seized him and almost conquered his timidity.
"It is very difficult to help you," Heritage was saying. "You
won't leave this place, and you won't claim the protection of the law.
You are very independent, Mademoiselle, but it can't go on for ever.
The man you fear may arrive at any moment. At any moment, too, your
treasure may by discovered."
"It is that that weighs on me," she cried. "The jewels! They are
my solemn trust, but they burden me terribly. If I were only rid of
them and knew them to be safe I should face the rest with a braver
"If you'll take my advice," said Dickson slowly, "you'll get them
deposited in a bank and take a receipt for them. A Scotch bank is
no' in a hurry to surrender a deposit without it gets the proper
Heritage brought his hands together with a smack. "That's an idea.
Will you trust us to take these things and deposit them safely?"
For a little she was silent and her eyes were fixed on each of the
trio in turn. "I will trust you," she said at last. "I think you
will not betray me."
"By God, we won't!" said the Poet fervently. "Dogson, it's up to
you. You march off to Glasgow in double quick time and place the stuff
in your own name in your own bank. There's not a moment to lose.
"I will that," To his own surprise Dickson spoke without
hesitation. Partly it was because of his merchant's sense of property,
which made him hate the thought that miscreants should acquire that to
which they had no title ; but mainly it was the appeal in those
haggard childish eyes. "But I'm not going to be tramping the country
in the night carrying a fortune and seeking for trains that aren't
there. I'll go the first thing in the morning."
"Where are they?" Heritage asked.
"That I do not tell. But I will fetch them."
She left the room, and presently returned with three odd little
parcels wrapped in leather and tied with thongs of raw hide. She gave
them to Heritage, who held them appraisingly in his hand and then
passed them on to Dickson.
"I do not ask about their contents. We take them from you as they
are, and, please God, when the moment comes they will be returned to
you as you gave them. You trust us, Mademoiselle?"
"I trust you, for you are a soldier. Oh, and I thank you from my
heart, my friends" She held out a hand to each, which caused
Heritage to grow suddenly very red.
"I will remain in the neighbourhood to await developments," he
said. "We had better leave you now. Dougal, lead on."
Before going, he took the girl's hand again, and with a sudden
movement bent and kissed it. Dickson shook it heartily. "Cheer up,
Mem," he observed. "There's a better time coming.' His last
recollection of her eyes was of a soft mistiness not far from tears.
His pouch and pipe had strange company jostling them in his pocket as
he followed the others down the ladder into the night.
Dougal insisted that they must return by the road of the morning.
"We daren't go by the Laver, for that would bring us by the
public-house. If the worst comes to the worst, and we fall in wi'
any of the deevils, they must think ye've changed your mind and come
back from Auchenlochan."
The night smelt fresh and moist as if a break in the weather were
imminent. As they scrambled along the Garple Dean a pinprick of light
below showed where the tinklers were busy by their fire. Dickson's
spirits suffered a sharp fall and he began to marvel at his temerity.
What in Heaven's name had he undertaken? To carry very precious
things, to which certainly he had no right, through the enemy to
distant Glasgow. How could he escape the notice of the watchers? He
was already suspect, and the sight of him back again in Dalquharter
would double that suspicion. He must brazen it out, but he distrusted
his powers with such tell-tale stuff in his pockets. They might
murder him anywhere on the moor road or in an empty railway carriage.
An unpleasant memory of various novels he had read in which such
things happened haunted his mind.. ..There was just one consolation.
This job over, he would be quit of the whole business. And
honourably quit, too, for he would have played a manly part in a most
unpleasant affair. He could retire to the idyllic with the knowledge
that he had not been wanting when Romance called. Not a soul should
ever hear of it, but he saw himself in the future tramping green roads
or sitting by his winter fireside pleasantly retelling himself the
Before they came to the Garple bridge Dougal insisted that they
should separate, remarking that "it would never do if we were seen
thegither." Heritage was despatched by a short cut over fields to
the left, which eventually, after one or two plunges into ditches,
landed him safely in Mrs. Morran's back yard. Dickson and Dougal
crossed the bridge and tramped Dalquharter-wards by the highway.
There was no sign of human life in that quiet place with owls hooting
and rabbits rustling in the undergrowth. Beyond the woods they came
in sight of the light in the back kitchen, and both seemed to relax
their watchfulness when it was most needed. Dougal sniffed the air
and looked seaward.
"It's coming on to rain," he observed. "There should be a muckle
star there, and when you can't see it it means wet weather wi' this
"What star?" Dickson asked.
"The one wi' the Irish-lukkin' name. What's that they call it?
O'Brien?" And he pointed to where the constellation of the hunter
should have been declining on the western horizon.
There was a bend of the road behind them, and suddenly round it
came a dogcart driven rapidly. Dougal slipped like a weasel into a
bush, and presently Dickson stood revealed in the glare of a lamp.
The horse was pulled up sharply and the driver called out to him. He
saw that it was Dobson the innkeeper with Leon beside him.
"Who is it?" cried the voice. "Oh, you! I thought ye were off the
Dickson rose nobly to the occasion.
"I thought myself I was. But I didn't think much of Auchenlochan,
and I took a fancy to come back and spend the last night of my
holiday with my Auntie. I'm off to Glasgow first thing the morn's
"So!" said the voice. "Queer thing I never saw ye on the
Auchenlochan road, where ye can see three mile before ye."
"I left early and took it easy along the shore.'
"Did ye so? Well, good-sight to ye."
Five minutes later Dickson walked into Mrs. Morran's kitchen,
where Heritage was busy making up for a day of short provender.
"I'm for Glasgow to-morrow, Auntie Phemie," he cried. "I want you
to loan me a wee trunk with a key, and steek the door and windows,
for I've a lot to tell you."
CHAPTER VI. HOW MR. McCUNN DEPARTED
WITH RELIEF AND RETURNED WITH RESOLUTION
At seven o'clock on the following morning the post-cart, summoned
by an early message from Mrs. Morran, appeared outside the cottage.
In it sat the ancient postman, whose real home was Auchenlochan, but
who slept alternate nights in Dalquharter, and beside him Dobson the
innkeeper. Dickson and his hostess stood at the garden-gate, the
former with his pack on his back, and at his feet a small stout wooden
box, of the kind in which cheeses are transported, garnished with an
immense padlock. Heritage for obvious reasons did not appear; at the
moment he was crouched on the floor of the loft watching the departure
through a gap in the dimity curtains.
The traveller, after making sure that Dobson was looking, furtively
slipped the key of the trunk into his knapsack.
"Well, good-bye, Auntie Phemie," he said. "I'm sure you've been
awful kind to me, and I don't know how to thank you for all you're
"Tuts, Dickson, my man, they're hungry folk about Glesca that'll be
glad o' my scones and jeelie. Tell Mirren I'm rale pleased wi' her
man, and haste ye back soon.
The trunk was deposited on the floor of the cart, and Dickson
clambered into the back seat. He was thankful that he had not to sit
next to Dobson, for he had tell-tale stuff on his person. The morning
was wet, so he wore his waterproof, which concealed his odd tendency
to stoutness about the middle.
Mrs. Morran played her part well, with all the becoming gravity of
an affectionate aunt, but as soon as the post-cart turned the bend of
the road her demeanour changed. She was torn with convulsions of
silent laughter. She retreated to the kitchen, sank into a chair,
wrapped her face in her apron and rocked. Heritage, descending,
found her struggling to regain composure. "D'ye ken his wife's name?"
she gasped. "I ca'ed her Mirren! And maybe the body's no' mairried!
Hech sirs! Hech sirs!"
Meanwhile Dickson was bumping along the moor-road on the back of
the post-cart. He had worked out a plan, just as he had been used
aforetime to devise a deal in foodstuffs. He had expected one of the
watchers to turn up, and was rather relieved that it should be Dobson,
whom he regarded as "the most natural beast" of the three. Somehow he
did not think that he would be molested before he reached the station,
since his enemies would still be undecided in their minds. Probably
they only wanted to make sure that he had really departed to forget
all about him. But if not, he had his plan ready.
"Are you travelling to-day?" he asked the innkeeper.
"Just as far as the station to see about some oil-cake I'm
expectin'. What's in your wee kist? Ye came here wi' nothing but the
bag on your back."
"Ay, the kist is no' mine. It's my auntie's. She's a kind body,
and nothing would serve but she must pack a box for me to take back.
Let me see. There's a baking of scones; three pots of honey and one
of rhubarb jam—she was aye famous for her rhubarb jam; a mutton ham,
which you can't get for love or money in Glasgow; some home-made
black puddings, and a wee skim-milk cheese. I doubt I'll have to
take a cab from the station."
Dobson appeared satisfied, lit a short pipe, and relapsed into
meditation. The long uphill road, ever climbing to where far off
showed the tiny whitewashed buildings which were the railway station,
seemed interminable this morning. The aged postman addressed strange
objurgations to his aged horse and muttered reflections to himself,
the innkeeper smoked, and Dickson stared back into the misty hollow
where lay Dalquharter. The south-west wind had brought up a screen of
rain clouds and washed all the countryside in a soft wet grey. But
the eye could still travel a fair distance, and Dickson thought he had
a glimpse of a figure on a bicycle leaving the village two miles back.
He wondered who it could be. Not Heritage, who had no bicycle.
Perhaps some woman who was conspicuously late for the train. Women
were the chief cyclists nowadays in country places.
Then he forgot about the bicycle and twisted his neck to watch the
station. It was less than a mile off now, and they had no time to
spare, for away to the south among the hummocks of the bog he saw the
smoke of the train coming from Auchenlochan. The postman also saw it
and whipped up his beast into a clumsy canter. Dickson, always
nervous being late for trains, forced his eyes away and regarded again
the road behind him. Suddenly the cyclist had become quite plain—a
little more than a mile behind—a man, and pedalling furiously in
spite of the stiff ascent. It could only be one person—Leon. He
must have discovered their visit to the House yesterday and be on the
way to warn Dobson. If he reached the station before the train, there
would be no journey to Glasgow that day for one respectable citizen.
Dickson was in a fever of impatience and fright. He dared not
abjure the postman to hurry, lest Dobson should turn his head and
descry his colleague. But that ancient man had begun to realize the
shortness of time and was urging the cart along at a fair pace, since
they were now on the flatter shelf of land which carried the railway.
Dickson kept his eyes fixed on the bicycle and his teeth shut tight
on his lower lip. Now it was hidden by the last dip of hill; now it
emerged into view not a quarter of a mile behind, and its rider gave
vent to a shrill call. Luckily the innkeeper did not hear, for at
that moment with a jolt the cart pulled up at the station door,
accompanied by the roar of the incoming train.
Dickson whipped down from the back seat and seized the solitary
porter. "Label the box for Glasgow and into the van with it, Quick,
man, and there'll be a shilling for you." He had been doing some
rapid thinking these last minutes and had made up his mind. If Dobson
and he were alone in a carriage he could not have the box there; that
must be elsewhere, so that Dobson could not examine it if he were set
on violence, somewhere in which it could still be a focus of suspicion
and attract attention from his person, He took his ticket, and rushed
on to the platform, to find the porter and the box at the door of the
guard's van. Dobson was not there. With the vigour of a fussy
traveller he shouted directions to the guard to take good care of his
luggage, hurled a shilling at the porter, and ran for a carriage. At
that moment he became aware of Dobson hurrying through the entrance.
He must have met Leon and heard news from him, for his face was red
and his ugly brows darkening.
The train was in motion. "Here, you" Dobson's voice shouted.
"Stop! I want a word wi' ye." Dickson plunged at a third-class
carriage, for he saw faces behind the misty panes, and above all
things then he feared an empty compartment. He clambered on to the
step, but the handle would not turn, and with a sharp pang of fear he
felt the innkeeper's grip on his arm. Then some Samaritan from within
let down the window, opened the door, and pulled him up. He fell on a
seat, and a second later Dobson staggered in beside him.
Thank Heaven, the dirty little carriage was nearly full. There
were two herds, each with a dog and a long hazel crook, and an elderly
woman who looked like a ploughman's wife out for a day's marketing.
And there was one other whom Dickson recognized with peculiar joy—
the bagman in the provision line of business whom he had met three
days before at Kilchrist.
The recognition was mutual. "Mr. McCunn!" the bagman exclaimed.
"My, but that was running it fine! I hope you've had a pleasant
"Very pleasant. I've been spending two nights with friends down
hereaways. I've been very fortunate in the weather, for it has broke
just when I'm leaving."
Dickson sank back on the hard cushions. It had been a near thing,
but so far he had won. He wished his heart did not beat so fast, and
he hoped he did not betray his disorder in his face. Very deliberately
he hunted for his pipe and filled it slowly. Then he turned to Dobson,
"I didn't know you were travelling the day. What about your
"I've changed my mind," was the gruff answer.
"Was that you I heard crying on me when we were running for the
"Ay. I thought ye had forgot about your kist."
"No fear," said Dickson. "I'm no' likely to forget my auntie's
He laughed pleasantly and then turned to the bagman. Thereafter
the compartment hummed with the technicalities of the grocery trade.
He exerted himself to draw out his companion, to have him refer to
the great firm of D. McCunn, so that the innkeeper might be ashamed
of his suspicions. What nonsense to imagine that a noted and wealthy
Glasgow merchant—the bagman's tone was almost reverential—would
concern himself with the affairs of a forgotten village and a
Presently the train drew up at Kirkmichael station. The woman
descended, and Dobson, after making sure that no one else meant to
follow her example, also left the carriage. A porter was shouting:
"Fast train to Glasgow—Glasgow next stop." Dickson watched the
innkeeper shoulder his way through the crowd in the direction of the
booking office. "He's off to send a telegram," he decided. "There'll
be trouble waiting for me at the other end."
When the train moved on he found himself disinclined for further
talk. He had suddenly become meditative, and curled up in a corner
with his head hard against the window pane, watching the wet fields
and glistening roads as they slipped past. He had his plans made for
his conduct at Glasgow, but, Lord! how he loathed the whole business!
Last night he had had a kind of gusto in his desire to circumvent
villainy; at Dalquharter station he had enjoyed a momentary sense of
triumph; now he felt very small, lonely, and forlorn. Only one
thought far at the back of his mind cropped up now and then to give
him comfort. He was entering on the last lap. Once get this
detestable errand done and he would be a free man, free to go back to
the kindly humdrum life from which he should never have strayed. Never
again, he vowed, never again. Rather would he spend the rest of his
days in hydropathics than come within the pale of such horrible
adventures. Romance, forsooth! This was not the mild goddess he had
sought, but an awful harpy who battened on the souls of men.
He had some bad minutes as the train passed through the suburbs and
along the grimy embankment by which the southern lines enter the city.
But as it rumbled over the river bridge and slowed down before the
terminus his vitality suddenly revived. He was a business man, and
there was now something for him to do.
After a rapid farewell to the bagman, he found a porter and hustled
his box out of the van in the direction of the left-luggage office.
Spies, summoned by Dobson's telegram, were, he was convinced, watching
his every movement, and he meant to see that they missed nothing. He
received his ticket for the box, and slowly and ostentatiously stowed
it away in his pack. Swinging the said pack on his arm, he sauntered
through the entrance hall to the row of waiting taxi-cabs, and
selected the oldest and most doddering driver. He deposited the pack
inside on the seat, and then stood still as if struck with a sudden
"I breakfasted terrible early," he told the driver. "I think I'll
have a bite to eat. Will you wait?"
"Ay," said the man, who was reading a grubby sheet of newspaper.
"I'll wait as long as ye like, for it's you that pays."
Dickson left his pack in the cab and, oddly enough for a careful
man, he did not shut the door. He re-entered the station, strolled to
the bookstall, and bought a Glasgow Herald. His steps then tended to
the refreshment-room, where he ordered a cup of coffee and two Bath
buns, and seated himself at a small table. There he was soon immersed
in the financial news, and though he sipped his coffee he left the
buns untasted. He took out a penknife and cut various extracts from
the Herald, bestowing them carefully in his pocket. An observer would
have seen an elderly gentleman absorbed in market quotations.
After a quarter of an hour had been spent in this performance he
happened to glance at the clock and rose with an exclamation. He
bustled out to his taxi and found the driver still intent upon his
reading. "Here I am at last," he said cheerily, and had a foot on the
step, when he stopped suddenly with a cry. It was a cry of alarm, but
also of satisfaction.
"What's become of my pack? I left it on the seat, and now it's
gone! There's been a thief here."
The driver, roused from his lethargy, protested in the name of his
gods that no one had been near it. "Ye took it into the station wi'
ye," he urged.
"I did nothing of the kind. Just you wait here till I see the
inspector. A bonny watch YOU keep on a gentleman's things."
But Dickson did not interview the railway authorities. Instead he
hurried to the left-luggage office. "I deposited a small box here a
short time ago. I mind the number. Is it here still?"
The attendant glanced at the shelf. "A wee deal box with iron
bands. It was took out ten minutes syne. A man brought the ticket and
took it away on his shoulder."
"Thank you. There's been a mistake, but the blame's mine. My man
mistook my orders."
Then he returned to the now nervous taxi-driver. "I've taken it
up with the station-master and he's putting the police on. You'll
likely be wanted, so I gave him your number. It's a fair disgrace
that there should be so many thieves about this station. It's not the
first time I've lost things. Drive me to West George Street and look
sharp." And he slammed the door with the violence of an angry man.
But his reflections were not violent, for he smiled to himself.
"That was pretty neat. They'll take some time to get the kist open,
for I dropped the key out of the train after we left Kirkmichael.
That gives me a fair start. If I hadn't thought of that, they'd have
found some way to grip me and ripe me long before I got to the Bank."
He shuddered as he thought of the dangers he had escaped. "As it is,
they're off the track for half an hour at least, while they're
rummaging among Auntie Phemie's scones." At the thought he laughed
heartily, and when he brought the taxi-cab to a standstill by rapping
on the front window, he left it with a temper apparently restored.
Obviously he had no grudge against the driver, who to his immense
surprise was rewarded with ten shillings.
Three minutes later Mr. McCunn might have been seen entering the
head office of the Strathclyde Bank and inquiring for the manager.
There was no hesitation about him now, for his foot was on his native
heath. The chief cashier received him with deference in spite of his
unorthodox garb, for he was not the least honoured of the bank's
customers. As it chanced he had been talking about him that very
morning to a gentleman from London. "The strength of this city," he
had said, tapping his eyeglasses on his knuckles, "does not lie in its
dozen very rich men, but in the hundred or two homely folk who make no
parade of wealth. Men like Dickson McCunn, for example, who live all
their life in a semi-detached villa and die worth half a million."
And the Londoner had cordially assented.
So Dickson was ushered promptly into an inner room, and was warmly
greeted by Mr. Mackintosh, the patron of the Gorbals Die-Hards.
"I must thank you for your generous donation, McCunn. Those boys
will get a little fresh air and quiet after the smoke and din of
Glasgow. A little country peace to smooth out the creases in their
poor little souls."
"Maybe," said Dickson, with a vivid recollection of Dougal as he
had last seen him. Somehow he did not think that peace was likely to
be the portion of that devoted band. "But I've not come here to speak
He took off his waterproof; then his coat and waistcoat; and showed
himself a strange figure with sundry bulges about the middle. The
manager's eyes grew very round. Presently these excrescences were
revealed as linen bags sewn on to his shirt, and fitting into the
hollow between ribs and hip. With some difficulty he slit the bags
and extracted three hide-bound packages.
"See here, Mackintosh," he said solemnly. "I hand you over these
parcels, and you're to put them in the innermost corner of your
strong room. You needn't open them. Just put them away as they are,
and write me a receipt for them. Write it now."
Mr. Mackintosh obediently took pen in hand.
"What'll I call them?" he asked.
"Just the three leather parcels handed to you by Dickson McCunn,
Esq., naming the date."
Mr. Mackintosh wrote. He signed his name with his usual flourish
and handed the slip to his client.
"Now," said Dickson, "you'll put that receipt in the strong box
where you keep my securities and you'll give it up to nobody but me
in person and you'll surrender the parcels only on presentation of the
receipt. D'you understand?"
"Perfectly. May I ask any questions?"
"You'd better not if you don't want to hear lees.'
"What's in the packages?" Mr. Mackintosh weighed them in his hand.
"That's asking," said Dickson. "But I'll tell ye this much. It's
"No, but I'm their trustee."
"I was hearing they were worth more than a million pounds."
"God bless my soul.' said the startled manager. "I don't like this
kind of business, McCunn."
"No more do I. But you'll do it to oblige an old friend and a
good customer. If you don't know much about the packages you know
all about me. Now, mind, I trust you."
Mr. Mackintosh forced himself to a joke. "Did you maybe steal
Dickson grinned. "Just what I did. And that being so, I want you
to let me out by the back door."
When he found himself in the street he felt the huge relief of a
boy who had emerged with credit from the dentist's chair. Remembering
that here would be no midday dinner for him at home, his first step
was to feed heavily at a restaurant. He had, so far as he could see,
surmounted all his troubles, his one regret being that he had lost his
pack, which contained among other things his Izaak Walton and his
safety razor. He bought another razor and a new Walton, and mounted
an electric tram car en route for home.
Very contented with himself he felt as the car swung across the
Clyde bridge. He had done well—but of that he did not want to think,
for the whole beastly thing was over. He was going to bury that
memory, to be resurrected perhaps on a later day when the
unpleasantness had been forgotten. Heritage had his address, and knew
where to come when it was time to claim the jewels. As for the
watchers, they must have ceased to suspect him, when they discovered
the innocent contents of his knapsack and Mrs. Morran's box. Home for
him, and a luxurious tea by his own fireside; and then an evening with
his books, for Heritage's nonsense had stimulated his literary
fervour. He would dip into his old favourites again to confirm his
faith. To-morrow he would go for a jaunt somewhere—perhaps down the
Clyde, or to the South of England, which he had heard was a pleasant,
thickly peopled country. No more lonely inns and deserted villages for
him; henceforth he would make certain of comfort and peace.
The rain had stopped, and, as the car moved down the dreary vista
of Eglinton street, the sky opened into fields of blue and the April
sun silvered the puddles. It was in such place and under such weather
that Dickson suffered an overwhelming experience.
It is beyond my skill, being all unlearned in the game of
psycho-analysis, to explain how this thing happened. I concern myself
only with facts. Suddenly the pretty veil of self-satisfaction was
rent from top to bottom, and Dickson saw a figure of himself within, a
smug leaden little figure which simpered and preened itself and was
hollow as a rotten nut. And he hated it.
The horrid truth burst on him that Heritage had been right. He
only played with life. That imbecile image was a mere spectator,
content to applaud, but shrinking from the contact of reality. It had
been all right as a provision merchant, but when it fancied itself
capable of higher things it had deceived itself. Foolish little image
with its brave dreams and its swelling words from Browning! All
make-believe of the feeblest. He was a coward, running away at the
first threat of danger. It was as if he were watching a tall stranger
with a wand pointing to the embarrassed phantom that was himself, and
ruthlessly exposing its frailties! And yet the pitiless showman was
himself too—himself as he wanted to be, cheerful, brave, resourceful,
Dickson suffered a spasm of mortal agony. "Oh, I'm surely not so
bad as all that," he groaned. But the hurt was not only in his pride.
He saw himself being forced to new decisions, and each alternative
was of the blackest. He fairly shivered with the horror of it. The
car slipped past a suburban station from which passengers were
emerging—comfortable black-coated men such as he had once been. He
was bitterly angry with Providence for picking him out of the great
crowd of sedentary folk for this sore ordeal. "Why was I tethered to
sich a conscience?" was his moan. But there was that stern inquisitor
with his pointer exploring his soul. "You flatter yourself you have
done your share," he was saying. "You will make pretty stories about
it to yourself, and some day you may tell your friends, modestly
disclaiming any special credit. But you will be a liar, for you know
you are afraid. You are running away when the work is scarcely begun,
and leaving it to a few boys and a poet whom you had the impudence the
other day to despise. I think you are worse than a coward. I think
you are a cad."
His fellow-passengers on the top of the car saw an absorbed
middle-aged gentleman who seemed to have something the matter with his
bronchial tubes. They could not guess at the tortured soul. The
decision was coming nearer, the alternatives loomed up dark and
inevitable. On one side was submission to ignominy, on the other a
return to that place which he detested, and yet loathed himself for
detesting. "It seems I'm not likely to have much peace either way,"
he reflected dismally.
How the conflict would have ended had it continued on these lines
I cannot say. The soul of Mr. McCunn was being assailed by moral and
metaphysical adversaries with which he had not been trained to deal.
But suddenly it leapt from negatives to positives. He saw the face
of the girl in the shuttered House, so fair and young and yet so
haggard. It seemed to be appealing to him to rescue it from a great
loneliness and fear. Yes, he had been right, it had a strange look of
his Janet— the wide-open eyes, the solemn mouth. What was to become
of that child if he failed her in her need?
Now Dickson was a practical man, and this view of the case brought
him into a world which he understood. "It's fair ridiculous," he
reflected. "Nobody there to take a grip of things. Just a wheen
Gorbals keelies and the lad Heritage. Not a business man among the
The alternatives, which hove before him like two great banks of
cloud, were altering their appearance. One was becoming faint and
tenuous; the other, solid as ever, was just a shade less black. He
lifted his eyes and saw in the near distance the corner of the road
which led to his home. "I must decide before I reach that corner," he
Then his mind became apathetic. He began to whistle dismally
through his teeth, watching the corner as it came nearer. The car
stopped with a jerk. "I'll go back," he said aloud, clambering down
the steps. The truth was he had decided five minutes before when he
first saw Janet's face.
He walked briskly to his house, entirely refusing to waste any more
energy on reflection. "This is a business proposition," he told
himself, "and I'm going to handle it as sich" Tibby was surprised to
see him and offered him tea in vain. "I'm just back for a few
minutes. Let's see the letters."
There was one from his wife. She proposed to stay another week at
the Neuk Hydropathic and suggested that he might join her and bring
her home. He sat down and wrote a long affectionate reply,
declining, but expressing his delight that she was soon returning.
"That's very likely the last time Mamma will hear from me," he
reflected, but—oddly enough—without any great fluttering of the
Then he proceeded to be furiously busy. He sent out Tibby to buy
another knapsack and to order a cab and to cash a considerable cheque.
In the knapsack he packed a fresh change of clothing and the new
safety razor, but no books, for he was past the need of them. That
done, he drove to his solicitors.
"What like a firm are Glendonan and Speirs in Edinburgh?" he asked
the senior partner.
"Oh, very respectable. Very respectable indeed. Regular Edinburgh
W.S. Lot. Do a lot of factoring."
"I want you to telephone through to them and inquire about a place
in Carrick called Huntingtower, near the village of Dalquharter. I
understand it's to let, and I'm thinking of taking a lease of it."
The senior partner after some delay got through to Edinburgh, and
was presently engaged in the feverish dialectic which the
long-distance telephone involves. "I want to speak to Mr. Glendonan
himself.. ..Yes, yes, Mr. Caw of Paton and Linklater....Good
afternoon. ..Huntingtower. Yes, in Carrick. Not to let? But I
understand it's been in the market for some months. You say you've an
idea it has just been let. But my client is positive that you're
mistaken, unless the agreement was made this morning....You'll
inquire? Ah, I see. The actual factoring is done by your local agent,
Mr. James Loudon, in Auchenlochan. You think my client had better get
into touch with him at once. Just wait a minute, please."
He put his hand over the receiver. "Usual Edinburgh way of doing
business," he observed caustically. "What do you want done?"
"I'll run down and see this Loudon. Tell Glendonan and Spiers to
advise him to expect me, for I'll go this very day."
Mr. Caw resumed his conversation. "My client would like a telegram
sent at once to Mr. Loudon introducing him. He's Mr. Dickson McCunn
of Mearns Street—the great provision merchant, you know. Oh, yes!
Good for any rent. Refer if you like to the Strathclyde Bank, but
you can take my word for it. Thank you. Then that's settled.
Dickson's next visit was to a gunmaker who was a fellow-elder with
him in the Guthrie Memorial Kirk.
"I want a pistol and a lot of cartridges," he announced. "I'm not
caring what kind it is, so long as it is a good one and not too big."
"For yourself?" the gunmaker asked. "You must have a license, I
doubt, and there's a lot of new regulations."
"I can't wait on a license. It's for a cousin of mine who's off
to Mexico at once. You've got to find some way of obliging an old
friend, Mr. McNair."
Mr. McNair scratched his head. "I don't see how I can sell you
one. But I'll tell you what I'll do—I'll lend you one. It belongs to
my nephew, Peter Tait, and has been lying in a drawer ever since he
came back from the front. He has no use for it now that he's a
So Dickson bestowed in the pockets of his water-proof a service
revolver and fifty cartridges, and bade his cab take him to the shop
in Mearns Street. For a moment the sight of the familiar place
struck a pang to his breast, but he choked down unavailing regrets.
He ordered a great hamper of foodstuffs—the most delicate kind of
tinned goods, two perfect hams, tongues, Strassburg pies, chocolate,
cakes, biscuits, and, as a last thought, half a dozen bottles of old
liqueur brandy. It was to be carefully packed, addressed to Mrs.
Morran, Dalquharter Station, and delivered in time for him to take
down by the 7.33 train. Then he drove to the terminus and dined with
something like a desperate peace in his heart.
On this occasion he took a first-class ticket, for he wanted to be
alone. As the lights began to be lit in the wayside stations and the
clear April dusk darkened into night, his thoughts were sombre yet
resigned. He opened the window and let the sharp air of the
Renfrewshire uplands fill the carriage. It was fine weather again
after the rain, and a bright constellation—perhaps Dougal's friend
O'Brien- hung in the western sky. How happy he would have been a week
ago had he been starting thus for a country holiday! He could sniff
the faint scent of moor-burn and ploughed earth which had always been
his first reminder of Spring. But he had been pitchforked out of that
old happy world and could never enter it again. Alas! for the
roadside fire, the cosy inn, the Compleat Angler, the Chavender or
And yet—and yet! He had done the right thing, though the Lord
alone knew how it would end. He began to pluck courage from his very
melancholy, and hope from his reflections upon the transitoriness of
life. He was austerely following Romance as he conceived it, and if
that capricious lady had taken one dream from him she might yet reward
him with a better. Tags of poetry came into his head which seemed to
favour this philosophy—particularly some lines of Browning on which
he used to discourse to his Kirk Literary Society. Uncommon silly, he
considered, these homilies of his must have been, mere twitterings of
the unfledged. But now he saw more in the lines, a deeper
interpretation which he had earned the right to make.
"Oh world, where all things change and nought abides, Oh life, the
long mutation—is it so? Is it with life as with the body's change?—
Where, e'en tho' better follow, good must pass."
That was as far as he could get, though he cudgelled his memory to
continue. Moralizing thus, he became drowsy, and was almost asleep
when the train drew up at the station of Kirkmichael.
CHAPTER VII. SUNDRY DOINGS IN THE
From Kirkmichael on the train stopped at every station, but no
passenger seemed to leave or arrive at the little platforms white in
the moon. At Dalquharter the case of provisions was safely
transferred to the porter with instructions to take charge of it till
it was sent for. During the next new minutes Dickson's mind began to
work upon his problem with a certain briskness. It was all nonsense
that the law of Scotland could not be summoned to the defence. The
jewels had been safely got rid of, and who was to dispute their
possession? Not Dobson and his crew, who had no sort of title, and
were out for naked robbery. The girl had spoken of greater dangers
from new enemies—kidnapping, perhaps. Well, that was felony, and the
police must be brought in. Probably if all were known the three
watchers had criminal records, pages long, filed at Scotland Yard.
The man to deal with that side of the business was Loudon the factor,
and to him he was bound in the first place. He had made a clear
picture in his head of this Loudon—a derelict old country writer,
formal, pedantic, lazy, anxious only to get an unprofitable business
off his hands with the least possible trouble, never going near the
place himself, and ably supported in his lethargy by conceited
Edinburgh Writers to the Signet. "Sich notions of business!" he
murmured. "I wonder that there's a single county family in Scotland
no' in the bankruptcy court!" It was his mission to wake up Mr. James
Arrived at Auchenlochan he went first to the Salutation Hotel, a
pretentious place sacred to golfers. There he engaged a bedroom for
the night and, having certain scruples, paid for it in advance. He
also had some sandwiches prepared which he stowed in his pack, and
filled his flask with whisky. "I'm going home to Glasgow by the first
train in the to-morrow," he told the landlady," and now I've got to
see a friend. I'll not be back till late." He was assured that there
would be no difficulty about his admittance at any hour, and directed
how to find Mr. Loudon's dwelling.
It was an old house fronting direct on the street, with a fanlight
above the door and a neat brass plate bearing the legend "Mr. James
Loudon, Writer." A lane ran up one side leading apparently to a
garden, for the moonlight showed the dusk of trees. In front was the
main street of Auchenlochan, now deserted save for a single roysterer,
and opposite stood the ancient town house, with arches where the
country folk came at the spring and autumn hiring fairs. Dickson rang
the antiquated bell, and was presently admitted to a dark hall floored
with oilcloth, where a single gas-jet showed that on one side was the
business office and on the other the living-rooms. Mr. Loudon was at
supper, he was told, and he sent in his card. Almost at once the door
at the end on the left side was flung open and a large figure appeared
flourishing a napkin. "Come in, sir, come in," it cried. "I've just
finished a bite of meat. Very glad to see you. Here, Maggie, what
d'you mean by keeping the gentleman standing in that outer darkness?"
The room into which Dickson was ushered was small and bright, with
a red paper on the walls, a fire burning, and a big oil lamp in the
centre of a table. Clearly Mr. Loudon had no wife, for it was a
bachelor's den in every line of it. A cloth was laid on a corner of
the table, in which stood the remnants of a meal. Mr. Loudon seemed to
have been about to make a brew of punch, for a kettle simmered by the
fire, and lemons and sugar flanked a pot-bellied whisky decanter of
the type that used to be known as a "mason's mell."
The sight of the lawyer was a surprise to Dickson and dissipated
his notions of an aged and lethargic incompetent. Mr. Loudon was a
strongly built man who could not be a year over fifty. He had a
ruddy face, clean shaven except for a grizzled moustache; his grizzled
hair was thinning round the temples; but his skin was unwrinkled and
his eyes had all the vigour of youth. His tweed suit was well cut,
and the buff waistcoat with flaps and pockets and the plain leather
watchguard hinted at the sportsman, as did the half-dozen racing
prints on the wall. A pleasant high-coloured figure he made; his
voice had the frank ring due to much use out of doors; and his
expression had the singular candour which comes from grey eyes with
large pupils and a narrow iris.
"Sit down, Mr. McCunn. Take the arm-chair by the fire. I've had
a wire from Glendonan and Speirs about you. I was just going to have
a glass of toddy—a grand thing for these uncertain April nights.
You'll join me? No? Well, you'll smoke anyway. There's cigars at
your elbow. Certainly, a pipe if you like. This is Liberty Hall."
Dickson found some difficulty in the part for which he had cast
himself. He had expected to condescend upon an elderly inept and give
him sharp instructions; instead he found himself faced with a jovial,
virile figure which certainly did not suggest incompetence. It has
been mentioned already that he had always great difficulty in looking
any one in the face, and this difficulty was intensified when he
found himself confronted with bold and candid eyes. He felt abashed
and a little nervous.
"I've come to see you about Huntingtower House," he began.
"I know, so Glendonans informed me. Well, I'm very glad to hear
it. The place has been standing empty far too long, and that is worse
for a new house than an old house. There's not much money to spend on
it either, unless we can make sure of a good tenant. How did you hear
"I was taking a bit holiday and I spent a night at Dalquharter with
an old auntie of mine. You must understand I've just retired from
business, and I'm thinking of finding a country place. I used to
have the provision shop in Mearns Street—now the United Supply
Stores, Limited. You've maybe heard of it?"
The other bowed and smiled. "Who hasn't? The name of Dickson
McCunn is known far beyond the city of Glasgow."
Dickson was not insensible of the flattery, and he continued with
more freedom. "I took a walk and got a glisk of the House, and I
liked the look of it. You see, I want a quiet bit a good long way
from a town, and at the same time a house with all modern
conveniences. I suppose Huntingtower has that?"
"When it was built fifteen years ago it was considered a model—six
bathrooms, its own electric light plant, steam heating, and
independent boiler for hot water, the whole bag of tricks. I won't
say but what some of these contrivances will want looking to, for the
place has been some time empty, but there can be nothing very far
wrong, and I can guarantee that the bones of the house are good."
"Well, that's all right," said Dickson. "I don't mind spending a
little money myself if the place suits me. But of that, of course,
I'm not yet certain, for I've only had a glimpse of the outside. I
wanted to get into the policies, but a man at the lodge wouldn't let
me. They're a mighty uncivil lot down there."
"I'm very sorry to hear that," said Mr. Loudon in a tone of
"Ay, and if I take the place I'll stipulate that you get rid of
"There won't be the slightest difficulty about that, for they are
only weekly tenants. But I'm vexed to hear they were uncivil. I was
glad to get any tenant that offered, and they were well recommended to
"One of them is—a Belgian refugee that Lady Morewood took an
interest in. But the other—Spittal, they call him—I thought he was
"He's not that. And I don't like the innkeeper either. I would
want him shifted."
Dr. Loudon laughed. "I dare say Dobson is a rough diamond.
There's worse folk in the world all the same, but I don't think he
will want to stay. He only went there to pass the time till he heard
from his brother in Vancouver. He's a roving spirit, and will be off
"That's all right!" said Dickson, who was beginning to have horrid
suspicions that he might be on a wild-goose chase after all. "Well,
the next thing is for me to see over the House."
"Certainly. I'd like to go with you myself. What day would suit
you? Let me see. This is Friday. What about this day week?"
I was thinking of to-morrow. Since I'm down in these parts I may
as well get the job done."
Mr. Loudon looked puzzled. "I quite see that. But I don't think
it's possible. You see, I have to consult the owners and get their
consent to a lease. Of course they have the general purpose of
letting, but—well, they're queer folk the Kennedys," and his face
wore the half-embarrassed smile of an honest man preparing to make
confidences. "When poor Mr. Quentin died, the place went to his two
sisters in joint ownership. A very bad arrangement, as you can
imagine. It isn't entailed, and I've always been pressing them to
sell, but so far they won't hear of it. They both married Englishmen,
so it will take a day or two to get in touch with them. One, Mrs.
Stukely, lives in Devonshire. The other—Miss Katie that was—married
Sir Frances Morewood, the general, and I hear that she's expected back
in London next Monday from the Riviera. I'll wire and write first
thing to-morrow morning. But you must give me a day or two."
Dickson felt himself waking up. His doubts about his own sanity
were dissolving, for, as his mind reasoned, the factor was prepared
to do anything he asked—but only after a week had gone. What he was
concerned with was the next few days.
"All the same I would like to have a look at the place to-morrow,
even if nothing comes of it."
Mr. Loudon looked seriously perplexed. "You will think me absurdly
fussy, Mr. McCunn, but I must really beg of you to give up the idea.
The Kennedys, as I have said, are—well, not exactly like other
people, and I have the strictest orders not to let any one visit the
house without their express leave. It sounds a ridiculous rule, but
I assure you it's as much as my job is worth to disregard it."
"D'you mean to say not a soul is allowed inside the House?"
"Not a soul."
"Well, Mr. Loudon, I'm going to tell you a queer thing, which I
think you ought to know. When I was taking a walk the other night—
your Belgian wouldn't let me into the policies, but I went down the
glen—what's that they call it? the Garple Dean—I got round the back
where the old ruin stands and I had a good look at the House. I tell
you there was somebody in it."
"It would be Spittal, who acts as caretaker."
"It was not. It was a woman. I saw her on the verandah."
The candid grey eyes were looking straight at Dickson, who managed
to bring his own shy orbs to meet them. He thought that he detected a
shade of hesitation. Then Mr. Loudon got up from his chair and stood
on the hearthrug looking down at his visitor. He laughed, with some
embarrassment, but ever so pleasantly.
"I really don't know what you will think of me, Mr. McCunn. Here
are you, coming to do us all a kindness, and lease that infernal white
elephant, and here have I been steadily hoaxing you for the last five
minutes. I humbly ask your pardon. Set it down to the loyalty of an
old family lawyer. Now, I am going to tell you the truth and take you
into our confidence, for I know we are safe with you. The Kennedys
are—always have been—just a wee bit queer. Old inbred stock, you
know. They will produce somebody like poor Mr. Quentin, who was as
sane as you or me, but as a rule in every generation there is one
member of the family— or more—who is just a little bit—-" and he
tapped his forehead. "Nothing violent, you understand, but just not
quite 'wise and world-like.' as the old folk say. Well, there's a
certain old lady, an aunt of Mr. Quentin and his sisters, who has
always been about tenpence in the shilling. Usually she lives at
Bournemouth, but one of her crazes is a passion for Huntingtower, and
the Kennedys have always humoured her and had her to stay every
spring. When the House was shut up that became impossible, but this
year she took such a craving to come back, that Lady Morewood asked me
to arrange it. It had to be kept very quiet, but the poor old thing is
perfectly harmless, and just sits and knits with her maid and looks
out of the seaward windows. Now you see why I can't take you there
to-morrow. I have to get rid of the old lady, who in any case was
travelling south early next week. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," said Dickson with some fervour. He had learned
exactly what he wanted. The factor was telling him lies. Now he knew
where to place Mr. Loudon.
He always looked back upon what followed as a very creditable piece
of play-acting for a man who had small experience in that line.
"Is the old lady a wee wizened body, with a black cap and something
like a white cashmere shawl round her shoulders?"
"You describe her exactly," Mr. Loudon replied eagerly.
"That would explain the foreigners."
"Of course. We couldn't have natives who would make the thing the
clash of the countryside."
"Of course not. But it must be a difficult job to keep a business
like that quiet. Any wandering policeman might start inquiries. And
supposing the lady became violent?"
"Oh, there's no fear of that. Besides, I've a position in this
country—Deputy Fiscal and so forth—and a friend of the Chief
Constable. I think I may be trusted to do a little private explaining
if the need arose."
"I see," said Dickson. He saw, indeed, a great deal which would
give him food for furious thought. "Well, I must possess my soul in
patience. Here's my Glasgow address, and I look to you to send me a
telegram whenever you're ready for me. I'm at the Salutation to-night,
and go home to-morrow with the first train. Wait a minute"—and he
pulled out his watch—"there's a train stops at Auchenlochan at 10.17.
I think I'll catch that....Well Mr. Loudon, I'm very much obliged to
you, and I'm glad to think that it'll no' be long till we renew our
The factor accompanied him to the door, diffusing geniality. "Very
pleased indeed to have met you. A pleasant journey and a quick
The street was still empty. Into a corner of the arches opposite
the moon was shining, and Dickson retired thither to consult his map
of the neighbourhood. He found what he wanted, and, as he lifted his
eyes, caught sight of a man coming down the causeway. Promptly he
retired into the shadow and watched the new-comer. There could be no
mistake about the figure; the bulk, the walk, the carriage of the head
marked it for Dobson. The innkeeper went slowly past the factor's
house; then halted and retraced his steps; then, making sure that the
street was empty, turned into the side lane which led to the garden.
This was what sailors call a cross-bearing, and strengthened
Dickson's conviction. He delayed no longer, but hurried down the
side street by which the north road leaves the town.
He had crossed the bridge of Lochan and was climbing the steep
ascent which led to the heathy plateau separating that stream from
the Garple before he had got his mind quite clear on the case. FIRST,
Loudon was in the plot, whatever it was; responsible for the details
of the girl's imprisonment, but not the main author. That must be the
Unknown who was still to come, from whom Spidel took his orders.
Dobson was probably Loudon's special henchman, working directly under
him. SECONDLY, the immediate object had been the jewels, and they
were happily safe in the vaults of the incorruptible Mackintosh. But,
THIRD—and this only on Saskia's evidences—the worst danger to her
began with the arrival of the Unknown. What could that be? Probably,
kidnapping. He was prepared to believe anything of people like
Bolsheviks. And, FOURTH, this danger was due within the next day or
two. Loudon had been quite willing to let him into the house and to
sack all the watchers within a week from that date. The natural and
right thing was to summon the aid of the law, but, FIFTH, that would
be a slow business with Loudon able to put spokes in the wheels and
befog the authorities, and the mischief would be done before a single
policeman showed his face in Dalquharter. Therefore, SIXTH, he and
Heritage must hold the fort in the meantime, and he would send a wire
to his lawyer, Mr. Caw, to get to work with the constabulary.
SEVENTH, he himself was probably free from suspicion in both Loudon's
and Dobson's minds as a harmless fool. But that freedom would not
survive his reappearance in Dalquharter. He could say, to be sure,
that he had come back to see his auntie, but that would not satisfy
the watchers, since, so far as they knew, he was the only man outside
the gang who was aware that people were dwelling in the House. They
would not tolerate his presence in the neighbourhood.
He formulated his conclusions as if it were an ordinary business
deal, and rather to his surprise was not conscious of any fear. As he
pulled together the belt of his waterproof he felt the reassuring
bulges in its pockets which were his pistol and cartridges. He
reflected that it must be very difficult to miss with a pistol if you
fired it at, say, three yards, and if there was to be shooting that
would be his range. Mr. McCunn had stumbled on the precious truth that
the best way to be rid of quaking knees is to keep a busy mind.
He crossed the ridge of the plateau and looked down on the Garple
glen. There were the lights of Dalquharter—or rather a single light,
for the inhabitants went early to bed. His intention was to seek
quarters with Mrs. Morran, when his eye caught a gleam in a hollow of
the moor a little to the east. He knew it for the camp-fire around
which Dougal's warriors bivouacked. The notion came to him to go
there instead, and hear the news of the day before entering the
cottage. So he crossed the bridge, skirted a plantation of firs, and
scrambled through the broom and heather in what he took to be the
The moon had gone down, and the quest was not easy. Dickson had
come to the conclusion that he was on the wrong road, when he was
summoned by a voice which seemed to arise out of the ground.
"Who goes there?"
"What's that you say?"
"Who goes there?" The point of a pale was held firmly against his
"I'm Mr. McCunn, a friend of Dougal's."
"Stand, friend." The shadow before him whistled and another shadow
appeared. "Report to the Chief that there's a man here, name o'
McCunn, seekin' for him."
Presently the messenger returned with Dougal and a cheap lantern
which he flashed in Dickson's face.
"Oh, it's you," said that leader, who had his jaw bound up as if he
had the toothache. "What are ye doing back here?"
"To tell the truth, Dougal," was the answer, "I couldn't stay away.
I was fair miserable when I thought of Mr. Heritage and you laddies
left to yourselves. My conscience simply wouldn't let me stop at
home, so here I am."
Dougal grunted, but clearly he approved, for from that moment he
treated Dickson with a new respect. Formerly when he had referred to
him at all it had been as "auld McCunn." Now it was "Mister McCunn."
He was given rank as a worthy civilian ally. The bivouac was a
cheerful place in the wet night. A great fire of pine roots and old
paling posts hissed in the fine rain, and around it crouched several
urchins busy making oatmeal cakes in the embers. On one side a
respectable lean-to had been constructed by nailing a plank to two
fir-trees, running sloping poles thence to the ground, and thatching
the whole with spruce branches and heather. On the other side two
small dilapidated home-made tents were pitched. Dougal motioned his
companion into the lean-to, where they had some privacy from the rest
of the band.
"Well, What's your news?" Dickson asked. He noticed that the
Chieftain seemed to have been comprehensively in the wars, for apart
from the bandage on his jaw, he had numerous small cuts on his brow,
and a great rent in one of his shirt sleeves. Also he appeared to be
going lame, and when he spoke a new gap was revealed in his large
"Things," said Dougal solemnly, "has come to a bonny cripus. This
very night we've been in a battle."
He spat fiercely, and the light of war burned in his eyes.
"It was the tinklers from the Garple Dean. They yokit on us about
seven o'clock, just at the darkenin'. First they tried to bounce us.
We weren't wanted here, they said, so we'd better clear. I telled
them that it was them that wasn't wanted. 'Awa' to Finnick,' says I.
'D'ye think we take our orders from dirty ne'er-do-weels like you?'
'By God,' says they, 'we'll cut your lights out,' and then the battle
"What happened?' Dickson asked excitedly.
"They were four muckle men against six laddies, and they thought
they had an easy job! Little they kenned the Gorbals Die-Hards! I
had been expectin' something of the kind, and had made my plans. They
first tried to pu' down our tents and burn them. I let them get
within five yards, reservin' my fire. The first volley—stones from
our hands and our catties—halted them, and before they could recover
three of us had got hold o' burnin' sticks frae the fire and were
lammin' into them. We kinnled their claes, and they fell back
swearin' and stampin' to get the fire out. Then I gave the word and
we were on them wi' our pales, usin' the points accordin' to
instructions. My orders was to keep a good distance, for if they had
grippit one o' us he'd ha' been done for. They were roarin' mad by
now, and twae had out their knives, but they couldn't do muckle, for
it was gettin' dark, and they didn't ken the ground like us, and were
aye trippin' and tumblin'. But they pressed us hard, and one o' them
landed me an awful clype on the jaw. They were still aiming at our
tents, and I saw that if they got near the fire again it would be the
end o' us. So I blew my whistle for Thomas Yownie, who was in command
o' the other half of us, with instructions to fall upon their rear.
That brought Thomas up, and the tinklers had to face round about and
fight a battle on two fronts. We charged them and they broke, and the
last seen o' them they were coolin' their burns in the Garple."
"Well done, man. Had you many casualties?"
"We're a' a wee thing battered, but nothing to hurt. I'm the
worst, for one o' them had a grip o' me for about three seconds, and
Gosh! he was fierce."
"They're beaten off for the night, anyway?"
"Ay, for the night. But they'll come back, never fear. That's why
I said that things had come to a cripus."
"What's the news from the House?"
"A quiet day, and no word o' Lean or Dobson."
Dickson nodded. "They were hunting me."
"Mr. Heritage has gone to bide in the Hoose. They were watchin'
the Garple Dean, so I took him round by the Laver foot and up the
rocks. He's a souple yin, yon. We fund a road up the rocks and got
in by the verandy. Did ye ken that the lassie had a pistol? Well,
she has, and it seems that Mr. Heritage is a good shot wi' a pistol,
so there's some hope thereaways....Are the jools safe?"
"Safe in the bank. But the jools were not the main thing."
Dougal nodded. "So I was thinkin'. The lassie wasn't muckle the
easier for gettin' rid o' them. I didn't just quite understand what
she said to Mr. Heritage, for they were aye wanderin' into foreign
langwidges, but it seems she's terrible feared o' somebody that may
turn up any moment. What's the reason I can't say. She's maybe got
a secret, or maybe it's just that she's ower bonny."
"That's the trouble," said Dickson, and proceeded to recount his
interview with the factor, to which Dougal gave close attention. "Now
the way I read the thing is this. There's a plot to kidnap that lady
for some infernal purpose, and it depends on the arrival of some
person of persons, and it's due to happen in the next day or two. If
we try to work it through the police alone, they'll beat us, for
Loudon will manage to hang the business up until it's too late. So we
must take on the job ourselves. We must stand a siege, Mr. Heritage
and me and you laddies, and for that purpose we'd better all keep
together. It won't be extra easy to carry her off from all of us, and
if they do manage it we'll stick to their heels....Man, Dougal, isn't
it a queer thing that whiles law-abiding folk have to make their own
laws?....So my plan is that the lot of us get into the House and form
a garrison. If you don't, the tinklers will come back and you'll no'
beat them in the daylight."
"I doubt no'," said Dougal. "But what about our meat?"
"We must lay in provisions. We'll get what we can from Mrs.
Morran, and I've left a big box of fancy things at Dalquharter
station. Can you laddies manage to get it down here?"
Dougal reflected. "Ay, we can hire Mrs. Sempill's powny, the same
that fetched our kit."
"Well, that's your job to-morrow. See, I'll write you a line to
the station-master. And will you undertake to get it some way into
"There's just the one road open—by the rocks. It'll have to be
done. It CAN be done."
"And I've another job. I'm writing this telegram to a friend in
Glasgow who will put a spoke in Mr. Loudon's wheel. I want one of you
to go to Kirkmichael to send it from the telegraph office there."
Dougal placed the wire to Mr. Caw in his bosom. "What about
yourself? We want somebody outside to keep his eyes open. It's bad
strawtegy to cut off your communications."
Dickson thought for a moment. "I believe you're right. I believe
the best plan for me is to go back to Mrs. Morran's as soon as the
old body's like to be awake. You can always get at me there, for
it's easy to slip into her back kitchen without anybody in the village
seeing you....Yes, I'll do that, and you'll come and report
developments to me. And now I'm for a bite and a pipe. It's hungry
work travelling the country in the small hours."
"I'm going to introjuice ye to the rest o' us," said Dougal.
"Here, men!" he called, and four figures rose from the side of the
fire. As Dickson munched a sandwich he passed in review the whole
company of the Gorbals Die-Hards, for the pickets were also brought
in, two others taking their places. There was Thomas Yownie, the
chief of Staff, with a wrist wound up in the handkerchief which he had
borrowed from his neck. There was a burly lad who wore trousers much
too large for him, and who was known as Peer Pairson, a contraction
presumably for Peter Paterson. After him came a lean tall boy who
answered to the name of Napoleon. There was a midget of a child,
desperately sooty in the face either from battle or from fire-tending,
who was presented as Wee Jaikie. Last came the picket who had held
his pole at Dickson's chest, a sandy-haired warrior with a snub nose
and the mouth and jaw of a pug-dog. He was Old Bill, or, in Dougal's
parlance," Auld Bull."
The Chieftain viewed his scarred following with a grim content.
"That's a tough lot for ye, Mr. McCunn. Used a' their days wi'
sleepin' in coal-rees and dunnies and dodgin' the polis. Ye'll no
beat the Gorbals Die-Hards."
"You're right, Dougal," said Dickson. "There's just the six of
you. If there were a dozen, I think this country would be needing some
new kind of a government."
CHAPTER VIII. HOW A MIDDLE-AGED
CRUSADER ACCEPTED A CHALLENGE
The first cocks had just begun to crow and clocks had not yet
struck five when Dickson presented himself at Mrs. Morran's back door.
That active woman had already been half an hour out of bed, and was
drinking her morning cup of tea in the kitchen. She received him
with cordiality, nay, with relief.
"Eh, sir, but I'm glad to see ye back. Guid kens what's gaun on at
the Hoose thae days. Mr. Heritage left here yestreen, creepin' round
by dyke-sides and berry-busses like a wheasel. It's a mercy to get a
responsible man in the place. I aye had a notion ye wad come back,
for, thinks I, nevoy Dickson is no the yin to desert folk in trouble..
..Whaur's my wee kist?....Lost, ye say. That's a peety, for it's
been my cheesebox thae thirty year."
Dickson ascended to the loft, having announced his need of at least
three hours' sleep. As he rolled into bed his mind was curiously at
ease. He felt equipped for any call that might be made on him. That
Mrs. Morran should welcome him back as a resource in need gave him a
new assurance of manhood.
He woke between nine and ten to the sound of rain lashing against
the garret window. As he picked his way out of the mazes of sleep
and recovered the skein of his immediate past, he found to his disgust
that he had lost his composure. All the flock of fears, that had left
him when on the top of the Glasgow tram-car he had made the great
decision, had flown back again and settled like black crows on his
spirit. He was running a horrible risk and all for a whim. What
business had he to be mixing himself up in things he did not
understand? It might be a huge mistake, and then he would be a
laughing stock; for a moment he repented his telegram to Mr. Caw.
Then he recanted that suspicion; there could be no mistake, except
the fatal one that he had taken on a job too big for him. He sat on
the edge of the bed and shivered with his eyes on the grey drift of
rain. He would have felt more stout-hearted had the sun been shining.
He shuffled to the window and looked out. There in the village
street was Dobson, and Dobson saw him. That was a bad blunder, for
his reason told him that he should have kept his presence in
Dalquharter hid as long as possible. There was a knock at the cottage
door, and presently Mrs. Morran appeared.
"It's the man frae the inn," she announced. "He's wantin' a word
wi' ye. Speakin' verra ceevil, too."
"Tell him to come up," said Dickson. He might as well get the
interview over. Dobson had seen Loudon and must know of their
conversation. The sight of himself back again when he had pretended
to be off to Glasgow would remove him effectually from the class of
the unsuspected. He wondered just what line Dobson would take.
The innkeeper obtruded his bulk through the low door. His face was
wrinkled into a smile, which nevertheless left the small eyes
ungenial. His voice had a loud vulgar cordiality. Suddenly Dickson
was conscious of a resemblance, a resemblance to somebody whom he had
recently seen. It was Loudon. There was the same thrusting of the
chin forward, the same odd cheek-bones, the same unctuous heartiness
of speech. The innkeeper, well washed and polished and dressed, would
be no bad copy of the factor. They must be near kin, perhaps
"Good morning to you, Mr. McCunn. Man, it's pitifu' weather, and
just when the farmers are wanting a dry seed-bed. What brings ye back
here? Ye travel the country like a drover."
"Oh, I'm a free man now and I took a fancy to this place. An idle
body has nothing to do but please himself."
"I hear ye're taking a lease of Huntingtower?"
"Now who told you that?"
"Just the clash of the place. Is it true?"
Dickson looked sly and a little annoyed.
"I had maybe had half a thought of it, but I'll thank you not to
repeat the story. It's a big house for a plain man like me, and I
haven't properly inspected it."
"Oh, I'll keep mum, never fear. But if ye've that sort of notion,
I can understand you not being able to keep away from the place."
"That's maybe the fact," Dickson admitted.
"Well! It's just on that point I want a word with you." The
innkeeper seated himself unbidden on the chair which held Dickson's
modest raiment. He leaned forward and with a coarse forefinger tapped
Dickson's pyjama-clad knees. "I can't have ye wandering about the
place. I'm very sorry, but I've got my orders from Mr. Loudon. So if
you think that by bidin' here you can see more of the House and the
policies, ye're wrong, Mr. McCunn. It can't be allowed, for we're no'
ready for ye yet. D'ye understand? That's Mr. Loudon's orders..
..Now, would it not be a far better plan if ye went back to Glasgow
and came back in a week's time? I'm thinking of your own comfort, Mr.
Dickson was cogitating hard. This man was clearly instructed to
get rid of him at all costs for the next few days. The neighbourhood
had to be cleared for some black business. The tinklers had been
deputed to drive out the Gorbals Die-Hards, and as for Heritage they
seemed to have lost track of him. He, Dickson, was now the chief
object of their care. But what could Dobson do if he refused? He
dared not show his true hand. Yet he might, if sufficiently
irritated. It became Dickson's immediate object to get the innkeeper
to reveal himself by rousing his temper. He did not stop to consider
the policy of this course; he imperatively wanted things cleared up
and the issue made plain.
"I'm sure I'm much obliged to you for thinking so much about my
comfort," he said in a voice into which he hoped he had insinuated a
sneer. "But I'm bound to say you're awful suspicious folk about here.
You needn't be feared for your old policies. There's plenty of nice
walks about the roads, and I want to explore the sea-coast."
The last words seemed to annoy the innkeeper. "That's no' allowed
either," he said. "The shore's as private as the policies.. ..Well,
I wish ye joy tramping the roads in the glaur."
"It's a queer thing," said Dickson meditatively, "that you should
keep a hotel and yet be set on discouraging people from visiting this
neighbourhood. I tell you what, I believe that hotel of yours is all
sham. You've some other business, you and these lodgekeepers, and in
my opinion it's not a very creditable one."
"What d'ye mean?" asked Dobson sharply.
"Just what I say. You must expect a body to be suspicious, if you
treat him as you're treating me." Loudon must have told this man the
story with which he had been fobbed off about the half-witted Kennedy
relative. Would Dobson refer to that?
The innkeeper had an ugly look on his face, but he controlled his
temper with an effort.
"There's no cause for suspicion," he said. "As far as I'm
concerned it's all honest and above-board."
"It doesn't look like it. It looks as if you were hiding something
up in the House which you don't want me to see."
Dobson jumped from his chair. his face pale with anger. A man in
pyjamas on a raw morning does not feel at this bravest, and Dickson
quailed under the expectation of assault. But even in his fright he
realized that Loudon could not have told Dobson the tale of the
half-witted lady. The last remark had cut clean through all camouflage
and reached the quick.
"What the hell d'ye mean?" he cried. "Ye're a spy, are ye? Ye fat
little fool, for two cents I'd wring your neck."
Now it is an odd trait of certain mild people that a suspicion of
threat, a hint of bullying, will rouse some unsuspected obstinacy
deep down in their souls. The insolence of the man's speech woke a
quiet but efficient little devil in Dickson.
"That's a bonny tone to adopt in addressing a gentleman. If you've
nothing to hide what way are you so touchy? I can't be a spy unless
there's something to spy on."
The innkeeper pulled himself together. He was apparently acting on
instructions, and had not yet come to the end of them. He made an
attempt at a smile.
"I'm sure I beg your pardon if I spoke too hot. But it nettled me
to hear ye say that....I'll be quite frank with ye, Mr. McCunn, and,
believe me, I'm speaking in your best interests. I give ye my word
there's nothing wrong up at the House. I'm on the side of the law,
and when I tell ye the whole story ye'll admit it. But I can't tell
it ye yet....This is a wild, lonely bit, and very few folk bide in it.
And these are wild times, when a lot of queer things happen that never
get into the papers. I tell ye it's for your own good to leave
Dalquharter for the present. More I can't say, but I ask ye to look
at it as a sensible man. Ye're one that's accustomed to a quiet life
and no' meant for rough work. Ye'll do no good if you stay, and,
maybe, ye'll land yourself in bad trouble."
"Mercy on us!" Dickson exclaimed. "What is it you're expecting?
The innkeeper nodded. "Something like that."
"Did you ever hear the like? I never did think much of the Irish."
"Then ye'll take my advice and go home? Tell ye what, I'll drive
ye to the station."
Dickson got up from the bed, found his new safety-razor and began
to strop it. "No, I think I'll bide. If you're right there'll be
more to see than glaury roads."
"I'm warning ye, fair and honest. Ye...can't...be...allowed.
"Well I never!" said Dickson. "Is there any law in Scotland,
think you, that forbids a man to stop a day or two with his auntie?"
"Ay, I'll stay."
"By God, we'll see about that."
For a moment Dickson thought that he would be attacked, and he
measured the distance that separated him from the peg whence hung his
waterproof with the pistol in its pocket. But the man restrained
himself and moved to the door. There he stood and cursed him with a
violence and a venom which Dickson had not believed possible. The
full hand was on the table now.
"Ye wee pot-bellied, pig-heided Glasgow grocer" (I paraphrase),
"would you set up to defy me? I tell ye, I'll make ye rue the day ye
were born." His parting words were a brilliant sketch of the
maltreatment in store for the body of the defiant one.
"Impident dog," said Dickson without heat. He noted with pleasure
that the innkeeper hit his head violently against the low lintel,
and, missing a step, fell down the loft stairs into the kitchen,
where Mrs. Morran's tongue could be heard speeding him trenchantly
from the premises.
Left to himself, Dickson dressed leisurely, and by and by went
down to the kitchen and watched his hostess making broth. The fracas
with Dobson had done him all the good in the world, for it had cleared
the problem of dubieties and had put an edge on his temper. But he
realized that it made his continued stay in the cottage undesirable.
He was now the focus of all suspicion, and the innkeeper would be as
good as his word and try to drive him out of the place by force.
Kidnapping, most likely, and that would be highly unpleasant, besides
putting an end to his usefulness. Clearly he must join the others.
The soul of Dickson hungered at the moment for human companionship.
He felt that his courage would be sufficient for any team-work, but
might waver again if he were left to play a lone hand.
He lunched nobly off three plates of Mrs. Morran's kail—an early
lunch, for that lady, having breakfasted at five, partook of the
midday meal about eleven. Then he explored her library, and settled
himself by the fire with a volume of Covenanting tales, entitled
GLEANINGS AMONG THE MOUNTAINS. It was a most practical work for one
in his position, for it told how various eminent saints of that era
escaped the attention of Claverhouse's dragoons. Dickson stored up
in his memory several of the incidents in case they should come in
handy. He wondered if any of his forbears had been Covenanters; it
comforted him to think that some old progenitor might have hunkered
behind turf walls and been chased for his life in the heather. "Just
like me," he reflected. "But the dragoons weren't foreigners, and
there was a kind of decency about Claverhouse too."
About four o'clock Dougal presented himself in the back kitchen.
He was an even wilder figure than usual, for his bare legs were mud
to the knees, his kilt and shirt clung sopping to his body, and,
having lost his hat, his wet hair was plastered over his eyes. Mrs.
Morran said, not unkindly, that he looked "like a wull-cat glowerin'
through a whin buss."
"How are you, Dougal?" Dickson asked genially. "Is the peace of
nature smoothing out the creases in your poor little soul?"
"What's that ye say?"
"Oh, just what I heard a man say in Glasgow. How have you got on?"
"No' so bad. Your telegram was sent this mornin'. Auld Bill took
it in to Kirkmichael. That's the first thing. Second, Thomas Yownie
has took a party to get down the box from the station. He got Mrs.
Sempills' powny, and he took the box ayont the Laver by the ford at
the herd's hoose and got it on to the shore maybe a mile ayont
Laverfoot. He managed to get the machine up as far as the water, but
he could get no farther, for ye'll no' get a machine over the wee
waterfa' just before the Laver ends in the sea. So he sent one o' the
men back with it to Mrs. Sempill, and, since the box was ower heavy to
carry, he opened it and took the stuff across in bits. It's a' safe
in the hole at the foot o' the Huntingtower rocks, and he reports that
the rain has done it no harm. Thomas has made a good job of it. Ye'll
no' fickle Thomas Yownie."
"And what about your camp on the moor?"
"It was broke up afore daylight. Some of our things we've got with
us, but most is hid near at hand. The tents are in the auld wife's
hen-hoose." and he jerked his disreputable head in the direction of
the back door.
"Have the tinklers been back?"
"Aye. They turned up about ten o'clock, no doubt intendin' murder.
I left Wee Jaikie to watch developments. They fund him sittin' on a
stone, greetin' sore. When he saw them, he up and started to run,
and they cried on him to stop, but he wouldn't listen. Then they
cried out where were the rest, and he telled them they were feared
for their lives and had run away. After that they offered to catch
him, but ye'll no' catch Jaikie in a hurry. When he had run round
about them till they were wappit, he out wi' his catty and got one o'
them on the lug. Syne he made for the Laverfoot and reported."
"Man, Dougal, you've managed fine. Now I've something to tell
you," and Dickson recounted his interview with the innkeeper. "I
don't think it's safe for me to bide here, and if I did, I wouldn't be
any use, hiding in cellars and such like, and not daring to stir a
foot. I'm coming with you to the House. Now tell me how to get
Dougal agreed to this view. "There's been nothing doing at the
Hoose the day, but they're keepin' a close watch on the policies. The
cripus may come any moment. There's no doubt, Mr. McCunn, that ye're
in danger, for they'll serve you as the tinklers tried to serve us.
Listen to me. Ye'll walk up the station road, and take the second
turn on your left, a wee grass road that'll bring ye to the ford at
the herd's hoose. Cross the Laver—there's a plank bridge—and take
straight across the moor in the direction of the peakit hill they call
Grey Carrick. Ye'll come to a big burn, which ye must follow till ye
get to the shore. Then turn south, keepin' the water's edge till ye
reach the Laver, where you'll find one o' us to show ye the rest of
the road....I must be off now, and I advise ye not to be slow of
startin', for wi' this rain the water's risin' quick. It's a mercy
it's such coarse weather, for it spoils the veesibility."
"Auntie Phemie," said Dickson a few minutes later, "will you oblige
me by coming for a short walk?"
"The man's daft," was the answer.
"I'm not. I'll explain if you'll listen....You see," he concluded,
"the dangerous bit for me is just the mile out of the village.
They'll no' be so likely to try violence if there's somebody with me
that could be a witness. Besides, they'll maybe suspect less if they
just see a decent body out for a breath of air with his auntie."
Mrs. Morran said nothing, but retired, and returned presently
equipped for the road. She had indued her feet with goloshes and
pinned up her skirts till they looked like some demented Paris mode.
An ancient bonnet was tied under her chin with strings, and her
equipment was completed by an exceedingly smart tortoise-shell-
handled umbrella, which, she explained, had been a Christmas present
from her son.
"I'll convoy ye as far as the Laverfoot herd's," she announced.
"The wife's a freend o' mine and will set me a bit on the road back.
Ye needna fash for me. I'm used to a' weathers."
The rain had declined to a fine drizzle, but a tearing wind from
the south-west scoured the land. Beyond the shelter of the trees the
moor was a battle-ground of gusts which swept the puddles into
spindrift and gave to the stagnant bog-pools the appearance of
running water. The wind was behind the travellers, and Mrs. Morran,
like a full-rigged ship, was hustled before it, so that Dickson, who
had linked arms with her, was sometimes compelled to trot.
"However will you get home, mistress?" he murmured anxiously.
"Fine. The wind will fa' at the darkenin'. This'll be a sair time
for ships at sea."
Not a soul was about, so they breasted the ascent of the station
road and turned down the grassy bypath to the Laverfoot herd's. The
herd's wife saw them from afar and was at the door to receive them.
"Megsty! Phemie Morran!" she shrilled. "Wha wad ettle to see ye
on a day like this? John's awa' at Dumfries, buyin' tups. Come in,
the baith o' ye. The kettle's on the boil."
"This is my nevoy Dickson," said Mrs. Morran. "He's gaun to
stretch his legs ayont the burn, and come back by the Ayr road. But
I'll be blithe to tak' my tea wi' ye, Elspeth....Now, Dickson, I'll
expect ye hame on the chap o' seeven."
He crossed the rising stream on a swaying plank and struck into
the moorland, as Dougal had ordered, keeping the bald top of Grey
Carrick before him. In that wild place with the tempest battling
overhead he had no fear of human enemies. Steadily he covered the
ground, till he reached the west-flowing burn, that was to lead him
to the shore. He found it an entertaining companion, swirling into
black pools, foaming over little falls, and lying in dark canal-like
stretches in the flats. Presently it began to descend steeply in a
narrow green gully, where the going was bad, and Dickson, weighted
with pack and waterproof, had much ado to keep his feet on the sodden
slopes. Then, as he rounded a crook of hill, the ground fell away
from his feet, the burn swept in a water-slide to the boulders of the
shore, and the storm-tossed sea lay before him.
It was now that he began to feel nervous. Being on the coast again
seemed to bring him inside his enemies' territory, and had not Dobson
specifically forbidden the shore? It was here that they might be
looking for him. He felt himself out of condition, very wet and very
warm, but he attained a creditable pace, for he struck a road which
had been used by manure-carts collecting seaweed. There were faint
marks on it, which he took to be the wheels of Dougal's "machine"
carrying the provision-box. Yes. On a patch of gravel there was a
double set of tracks, which showed how it had returned to Mrs.
Sempill. He was exposed to the full force of the wind, and the
strenuousness of his bodily exertions kept his fears quiescent, till
the cliffs on his left sunk suddenly and the valley of the Laver lay
A small figure rose from the shelter of a boulder, the warrior who
bore the name of Old Bill. He saluted gravely.
"Ye're just in time. The water has rose three inches since I've
been here. Ye'd better strip."
Dickson removed his boots and socks. "Breeks too," commanded the
boy; "there's deep holes ayont thae stanes."
Dickson obeyed, feeling very chilly, and rather improper. "Now
follow me," said the guide. The next moment he was stepping
delicately on very sharp pebbles, holding on to the end of the
scout's pole, while an icy stream ran to his knees.
The Laver as it reaches the sea broadens out to the width of fifty
or sixty yards and tumbles over little shelves of rock to meet the
waves. Usually it is shallow, but now it was swollen to an average
depth of a foot or more, and there were deeper pockets. Dickson made
the passage slowly and miserably, sometimes crying out with pain as
his toes struck a sharper flint, once or twice sitting down on a
boulder to blow like a whale, once slipping on his knees and wetting
the strange excrescence about his middle, which was his tucked-up
waterproof. But the crossing was at length achieved, and on a patch
of sea-pinks he dried himself perfunctorily and hastily put on his
garments. Old Bill, who seemed to be regardless of wind or water,
squatted beside him and whistled through his teeth.
Above them hung the sheer cliffs of the Huntingtower cape, so sheer
that a man below was completely hidden from any watcher on the top.
Dickson's heart fell, for he did not profess to be a cragsman and had
indeed a horror of precipitous places. But as the two scrambled
along the foot, they passed deep-cut gullies and fissures, most of
them unclimbable, but offering something more hopeful than the face.
At one of these Old Bill halted, and led the way up and over a chaos
of fallen rock and loose sand. The grey weather had brought on the
dark prematurely, and in the half-light it seemed that this ravine
was blocked by an unscalable nose of rock. Here Old Bill whistled,
and there was a reply from above. Round the corner of the nose came
"Up here," he commanded. "It was Mr. Heritage that fund this
Dickson and his guide squeezed themselves between the nose and the
cliff up a spout of stones, and found themselves in an upper storey of
the gulley, very steep, but practicable even for one who was no
cragsman. This in turn ran out against a wall up which there led only
a narrow chimney. At the foot of this were two of the Die-Hards, and
there were others above, for a rope hung down, by the aid of which a
package was even now ascending.
"That's the top," said Dougal, pointing to the rim of sky, "and
that's the last o' the supplies." Dickson noticed that he spoke in a
whisper, and that all the movements of the Die-Hards were judicious
and stealthy. "Now, it's your turn. Take a good grip o' the rope, and
ye'll find plenty holes for your feet. It's no more than ten yards
and ye're well held above."
Dickson made the attempt and found it easier than he expected. The
only trouble was his pack and waterproof, which had a tendency to
catch on jags of rock. A hand was reached out to him, he was pulled
over the edge, and then pushed down on his face. When he lifted his
head Dougal and the others had joined him, and the whole company of
the Die-Hards was assembled on a patch of grass which was concealed
from the landward view by a thicket of hazels. Another, whom he
recognized as Heritage, was coiling up the rope.
"We'd better get all the stuff into the old Tower for the present,"
Heritage was saying. "It's too risky to move it into the House now.
We'll need the thickest darkness for that, after the moon is down.
Quick, for the beastly thing will be rising soon, and before that we
must all be indoors."
Then he turned to Dickson and gripped his hand. "You're a high
class of sportsman, Dogson. And I think you're just in time."
"Are they due to-night?" Dickson asked in an excited whisper,
faint against the wind.
"I don't know about They. But I've got a notion that some
devilish queer things will happen before to-morrow morning."
CHAPTER IX. THE FIRST BATTLE OF THE
The old keep of Huntingtower stood some three hundred yards from
the edge of the cliffs, a gnarled wood of hazels and oaks protecting
it from the sea-winds. It was still in fair preservation, having till
twenty years before been an adjunct of the house of Dalquharter, and
used as kitchen, buttery, and servants' quarters. There had been
residential wings attached, dating from the mid-eighteenth century,
but these had been pulled down and used for the foundations of the
new mansion. Now it stood a lonely shell, its three storeys, each a
single great room connected by a spiral stone staircase, being
dedicated to lumber and the storage of produce. But it was dry and
intact, its massive oak doors defied any weapon short of artillery,
its narrow unglazed windows would scarcely have admitted a cat—a
place portentously strong, gloomy, but yet habitable.
Dougal opened the main door with a massy key. "The lassie fund
it," he whispered to Dickson, "somewhere about the kitchen—and I
guessed it was the key o' this castle. I was thinkin' that if things
got ower hot it would be a good plan to flit here. Change our base,
like." The Chieftain's occasional studies in war had trained his
tongue to a military jargon.
In the ground room lay a fine assortment of oddments, including
old bedsteads and servants' furniture, and what looked like ancient
discarded deerskin rugs. Dust lay thick over everything, and they
heard the scurry of rats. A dismal place, indeed, but Dickson felt
only its strangeness. The comfort of being back again among allies
had quickened his spirit to an adventurous mood. The old lords of
Huntingtower had once quarrelled and revelled and plotted here, and
now here he was at the same game. Present and past joined hands over
the gulf of years. The saga of Huntingtower was not ended.
The Die-Hards had brought with them their scanty bedding, their
lanterns and camp-kettles. These and the provisions from Mearns
Street were stowed away in a corner.
"Now for the Hoose, men," said Dougal. They stole over the downs
to the shrubbery, and Dickson found himself almost in the same place
as he had lain in three days before, watching a dusky lawn, while the
wet earth soaked through his trouser knees and the drip from the
azaleas trickled over his spine. Two of the boys fetched the ladder
and placed it against the verandah wall. Heritage first, then
Dickson, darted across the lawn and made the ascent. The six scouts
followed, and the ladder was pulled up and hidden among the verandah
litter. For a second the whole eight stood still and listened. There
was no sound except the murmur of the now falling wind and the
melancholy hooting of owls. The garrison had entered the Dark Tower.
A council in whispers was held in the garden-room.
"Nobody must show a light," Heritage observed. "It mustn't be
known that we're here. Only the Princess will have a lamp. Yes"—
this in answer to Dickson—"she knows that we're coming—you too.
We'll hunt for quarters later upstairs. You scouts, you must picket
every possible entrance. The windows are safe, I think, for they are
locked from the inside. So is the main door. But there's the
verandah door, of which they have a key, and the back door beside the
kitchen, and I'm not at all sure that there's not a way in by the
boiler-house. You understand. We're holding his place against all
comers. We must barricade the danger points. The headquarters of the
garrison will be in the hall, where a scout must be always on duty.
You've all got whistles? Well, if there's an attempt on the verandah
door the picket will whistle once, if at the back door twice, if
anywhere else three times, and it's everybody's duty, except the
picket who whistles, to get back to the hall for orders."
"That's so," assented Dougal.
"If the enemy forces an entrance we must overpower him. Any means
you like. Sticks or fists, and remember if it's a scrap in the dark
to make for the man's throat. I expect you little devils have eyes
like cats. The scoundrels must be kept away from the ladies at all
costs. If the worst comes to the worst, the Princess has a revolver."
"So have I," said Dickson. "I got it in Glasgow."
"The deuce you have! Can you use it?"
"I don't know."
"Well, you can hand it over to me, if you like. But it oughtn't to
come to shooting, if it's only the three of them. The eight of us
should be able to manage three and one of them lame. If the others
turn up—well, God help us all! But we've got to make sure of one
thing, that no one lays hands on the Princess so long as there's one
of us left alive to hit out."
"Ye needn't be feared for that," said Dougal. There was no light
in the room, but Dickson was certain that the morose face of the
Chieftain was lit with unholy joy.
"Then off with you. Mr. McCunn and I will explain matters to the
When they were alone, Heritage's voice took a different key.
"We're in for it, Dogson, old man. There's no doubt these three
scoundrels expect reinforcements at any moment, and with them will be
one who is the devil incarnate. He's the only thing on earth that
that brave girl fears. It seems he is in love with her and has
pestered her for years. She hated the sight of him, but he wouldn't
take no, and being a powerful man—rich and well-born and all the rest
of it—she had a desperate time. I gather he was pretty high in
favour with the old Court. Then when the Bolsheviks started he went
over to them, like plenty of other grandees, and now he's one of their
chief brains—none of your callow revolutionaries, but a man of the
world, a kind of genius, she says, who can hold his own anywhere. She
believes him to be in this country, and only waiting the right moment
to turn up. Oh, it sounds ridiculous, I know, in Britain in the
twentieth century, but I learned in the war that civilization anywhere
is a very thin crust. There are a hundred ways by which that kind of
fellow could bamboozle all our law and police and spirit her away.
That's the kind of crowd we have to face."
"Did she say what he was like in appearance?"
"A face like an angel—a lost angel, she says."
Dickson suddenly had an inspiration.
"D'you mind the man you said was an Australian—at Kirkmichael? I
thought myself he was a foreigner. Well, he was asking for a place he
called Darkwater, and there's no sich place in the countryside. I
believe he meant Dalquharter. I believe he's the man she's feared of."
A gasped "By Jove!" came from the darkness. "Dogson, you've hit
it. That was five days ago, and he must have got on the right trail
by this time. He'll be here to-night. That's why the three have
been lying so quiet to-day. Well, we'll go through with it, even if
we haven't a dog's chance! Only I'm sorry that you should be mixed
up in such a hopeless business."
"Why me more than you?"
"Because it's all pure pride and joy for me to be here. Good God,
I wouldn't be elsewhere for worlds. It's the great hour of my life.
I would gladly die for her."
"Tuts, that's no' the way to talk, man. Time enough to speak about
dying when there's no other way out. I'm looking at this thing in a
business way. We'd better be seeing the ladies."
They groped into the pitchy hall, somewhere in which a Die-Hard was
on picket, and down the passage to the smoking-room. Dickson blinked
in the light of a very feeble lamp and Heritage saw that his hands
were cumbered with packages. He deposited them on a sofa and made a
"I've come back, Mem, and glad to be back. Your jools are in safe
keeping, and not all the blagyirds in creation could get at them.
I've come to tell you to cheer up—a stout heart to a stey brae, as
the old folk say. I'm handling this affair as a business proposition,
so don't be feared, Mem. If there are enemies seeking you, there's
friends on the road too....Now, you'll have had your dinner, but you'd
maybe like a little dessert."
He spread before them a huge box of chocolates, the best that
Mearns Street could produce, a box of candied fruits, and another of
salted almonds. Then from his hideously overcrowded pockets he took
another box, which he offered rather shyly. "That's some powder for
your complexion. They tell me that ladies find it useful whiles."
The girl's strained face watched him at first in mystification, and
then broke slowly into a smile. Youth came back into it, the smile
changed to a laugh, a low rippling laugh like far-away bells. She
took both his hands.
"You are kind,' she said, "you are kind and brave. You are a
And then she kissed him.
Now, as far as Dickson could remember, no one had ever kissed him
except his wife. The light touch of her lips on his forehead was
like the pressing of an electric button which explodes some powerful
charge and alters the face of a countryside. He blushed scarlet;
then he wanted to cry; then he wanted to sing. An immense
exhilaration seized him, and I am certain that if at that moment the
serried ranks of Bolshevy had appeared in the doorway, Dickson would
have hurled himself upon them with a joyful shout.
Cousin Eugenie was earnestly eating chocolates, but Saskia had
"You will hold the house?" she asked.
"Please God, yes," said Heritage. "I look at it this way. The
time is very near when your three gaolers expect the others, their
masters. They have not troubled you in the past two days as they
threatened, because it was not worth while. But they won't want to
let you out of their sight in the final hours, so they will almost
certainly come here to be on the spot. Our object is to keep them
out and confuse their plans. Somewhere in this neighbourhood,
probably very near, is the man you fear most. If we nonplus the
three watchers, they'll have to revise their policy, and that means a
delay, and every hour's delay is a gain. Mr. McCunn has found out
that the factor Loudon is in the plot, and he has purchase enough, it
seems, to blanket for a time any appeal to the law. But Mr. McCunn
has taken steps to circumvent him, and in twenty-four hours we should
have help here."
"I do not want the help of your law," the girl interrupted. "It
will entangle me.'
"Not a bit of it," said Dickson cheerfully. "You see, Mem,
they've clean lost track of the jools, and nobody knows where they
are but me. I'm a truthful man, but I'll lie like a packman if I'm
asked questions. For the rest, it's a question of kidnapping, I
understand, and that's a thing that's not to be allowed. My advice is
to go to our beds and get a little sleep while there's a chance of it.
The Gorbals Die-Hards are grand watch-dogs."
This view sounded so reasonable that it was at once acted upon.
The ladies' chamber was next door to the smoking-room—what had been
the old schoolroom. Heritage arranged with Saskia that the lamp was
to be kept burning low, and that on no account were they to move
unless summoned by him. Then he and Dickson made their way to the
hall, where there was a faint glimmer from the moon in the upper
unshuttered windows—enough to reveal the figure of Wee Jaikie on
duty at the foot of the staircase. They ascended to the second floor,
where, in a large room above the hall, Heritage had bestowed his pack.
He had managed to open a fold of the shutters, and there was
sufficient light to see two big mahogany bedsteads without mattresses
or bedclothes, and wardrobes and chests of drawers sheeted in holland.
Outside the wind was rising again, but the rain had stopped. Angry
watery clouds scurried across the heavens.
Dickson made a pillow of his waterproof, stretched himself on one
of the bedsteads, and, so quiet was his conscience and so weary his
body from the buffetings of the past days, was almost instantly
asleep. It seemed to him that he had scarcely closed his eyes when he
was awakened by Dougal's hand pinching his shoulder. He gathered that
the moon was setting, for the room was pitchy dark.
"The three o' them is approachin' the kitchen door," whispered the
Chieftain. "I seen them from a spy-hole I made out o' a ventilator."
"Is it barricaded?" asked Heritage, who had apparently not been
"Aye, but I've thought o' a far better plan. Why should we keep
them out? They'll be safer inside. Listen! We might manage to get
them in one at a time. If they can't get in at the kitchen door,
they'll send one o' them round to get in by another door and open to
them. That gives us a chance to get them separated, and lock them up.
There's walth o' closets and hidy-holes all over the place, each with
good doors and good keys to them. Supposin' we get the three o' them
shut up—the others, when they come, will have nobody to guide them.
Of course some time or other the three will break out, but it may be
ower late for them. At present we're besieged and they're roamin' the
country. Would it no' be far better if they were the ones lockit up
and we were goin' loose?"
"Supposing they don't come in one at a time?" Dickson objected.
"We'll make them," said Dougal firmly. "There's no time to waste.
Are ye for it?"
"Yes," said Heritage. "Who's at the kitchen door?"
"Peter Paterson. I told him no' to whistle, but to wait on me..
..Keep your boots off. Ye're better in your stockin' feet. Wait you
in the hall and see ye're well hidden, for likely whoever comes in
will have a lantern. Just you keep quiet unless I give ye a cry.
I've planned it a' out, and we're ready for them."
Dougal disappeared, and Dickson and Heritage, with their boots tied
round their necks by their laces, crept out to the upper landing. The
hall was impenetrably dark, but full of voices, for the wind was
talking in the ceiling beams, and murmuring through the long passages.
The walls creaked and muttered and little bits of plaster fluttered
down. The noise was an advantage for the game of hide-and-seek they
proposed to play, but it made it hard to detect the enemy's approach.
Dickson, in order to get properly wakened, adventured as far as the
smoking-room. It was black with night, but below the door of the
adjacent room a faint line of light showed where the Princess's lamp
was burning. He advanced to the window, and heard distinctly a foot
on the grovel path that led to the verandah. This sent him back to
the hall in search of Dougal, whom he encountered in the passage. That
boy could certainly see in the dark, for he caught Dickson's wrist
"We've got Spittal in the wine-cellar," he whispered triumphantly.
"The kitchen door was barricaded, and when they tried it, it wouldn't
open. 'Bide here,' says Dobson to Spittal, 'and we'll go round by
another door and come back and open to ye.' So off they wet, and by
that time Peter Paterson and me had the barricade down. As we
expected, Spittal tries the key again and it opens quite easy. He
comes in and locks it behind him, and, Dobson having took away the
lantern, he gropes his way very carefu' towards the kitchen. There's
a point where the wine-cellar door and the scullery door are aside
each other. He should have taken the second, but I had it shut so he
takes the first. Peter Paterson gave him a wee shove and he fell down
the two-three steps into the cellar, and we turned the key on him.
Yon cellar has a grand door and no windies."
"And Dobson and Leon are at the verandah door? With a light?"
"Thomas Yownie's on duty there. Ye can trust him. Ye'll no
fickle Thomas Yownie."
The next minutes were for Dickson a delirium of excitement not
unpleasantly shot with flashes of doubt and fear. As a child he had
played hide-and-seek, and his memory had always cherished the delights
of the game. But how marvellous to play it thus in a great empty
house, at dark of night, with the heaven filled with tempest, and with
death or wounds as the stakes!
He took refuge in a corner where a tapestry curtain and the side of
a Dutch awmry gave him shelter, and from where he stood he could see
the garden-room and the beginning of the tiled passage which led to
the verandah door. That is to say, he could have seen these things
if there had been any light, which there was not. He heard the soft
flitting of bare feet, for a delicate sound is often audible in a din
when a loud noise is obscured. Then a gale of wind blew towards him,
as from an open door, and far away gleamed the flickering light of a
Suddenly the light disappeared and there was a clatter on the floor
and a breaking of glass. Either the wind or Thomas Yownie.
The verandah door was shut, a match spluttered and the lantern was
relit. Dobson and Leon came into the hall, both clad in long
mackintoshes which glistened from the weather. Dobson halted and
listened to the wind howling in the upper spaces. He cursed it
bitterly, looked at his watch, and then made an observation which
woke the liveliest interest in Dickson lurking beside the awmry and
Heritage ensconced in the shadow of a window-seat.
"He's late. He should have been here five minutes syne. It would
be a dirty road for his car."
So the Unknown was coming that night. The news made Dickson the
more resolved to get the watchers under lock and key before
reinforcements arrived, and so put grit in their wheels. Then his
party must escape—flee anywhere so long as it was far from
"You stop here," said Dobson, "I'll go down and let Spidel in. We
want another lamp. Get the one that the women use, and for God's sake
get a move on."
The sound of his feet died in the kitchen passage and then rung
again on the stone stairs. Dickson's ear of faith heard also the
soft patter of naked feet as the Die-Hards preceded and followed him.
He was delivering himself blind and bound into their hands.
For a minute or two there was no sound but the wind, which had
found a loose chimney cowl on the roof and screwed out of it an odd
sound like the drone of a bagpipe. Dickson, unable to remain any
longer in one place, moved into the centre of the hall, believing that
Leon had gone to the smoking-room. It was a dangerous thing to do,
for suddenly a match was lit a yard from him. He had the sense to
drop low, and so was out of the main glare of the light. The man
with the match apparently had no more, judging by his execrations.
Dickson stood stock still, longing for the wind to fall so that he
might hear the sound of the fellow's boots on the stone floor. He
gathered that they were moving towards the smoking-room.
"Heritage," he whispered as loud as he dared, bet there was no
Then suddenly a moving body collided with him. He jumped a step
back and then stood at attention. "Is that you, Dobson?" a voice
Now behold the occasional advantage of a nick-name. Dickson
thought he was being addressed as "Dogson" after the Poet's fashion.
Had he dreamed it was Leon he would not have replied, but fluttered
off into the shadows, and so missed a piece of vital news.
"Ay, it's me." he whispered.
His voice and accent were Scotch, like Dobson's, and Leon
"I do not like this wind," he grumbled. "The Captain's letter said
at dawn, but there is no chance of the Danish brig making your little
harbour in this weather. She must lie off and land the men by boats.
That I do not like. It is too public."
The news—tremendous news, for it told that the new-comers would
come by sea, which had never before entered Dickson's head—so
interested him that he stood dumb and ruminating. The silence made
the Belgian suspect; he put out a hand and felt a waterproofed arm
which might have been Dobson's. But the height of the shoulder proved
that it was not the burly innkeeper. There was an oath, a quick
movement, and Dickson went down with a knee on his chest and two hands
at his throat.
"Heritage," he gasped. "Help!"
There was a sound of furniture scraped violently on the floor. A
gurgle from Dickson served as a guide, and the Poet suddenly cascaded
over the combatants. He felt for a head, found Leon's and gripped the
neck so savagely that the owner loosened his hold on Dickson. The
last-named found himself being buffeted violently by heavy-shod feet
which seemed to be manoeuvring before an unseen enemy. He rolled out
of the road and encountered another pair of feet, this time unshod.
Then came the sound of a concussion, as if metal or wood had struck
some part of a human frame, and then a stumble and fall.
After that a good many things all seemed to happen at once. There
was a sudden light, which showed Leon blinking with a short loaded
life-preserver in his hand, and Heritage prone in front of him on the
floor. It also showed Dickson the figure of Dougal, and more than one
Die-Hard in the background. The light went out as suddenly as it had
appeared. There was a whistle and a hoarse "Come on, men," and then
for two seconds there was a desperate silent combat. It ended with
Leon's head meeting the floor so violently that its possessor became
oblivious of further proceedings. He was dragged into a cubby-hole,
which had once been used for coats and rugs, and the door locked on
him. Then the light sprang forth again. It revealed Dougal and five
Die-Hards, somewhat the worse for wear; it revealed also Dickson
squatted with outspread waterproof very like a sitting hen.
"Where's Dobson?" he asked.
"In the boiler-house," and for once Dougal's gravity had laughter
in it. "Govey Dick! but yon was a fecht! Me and Peter Paterson and
Wee Jaikie started it, but it was the whole company afore the end.
Are ye better, Jaikie?"
"Ay, I'm better," said a pallid midget.
"He kickit Jaikie in the stomach and Jaikie was seeck," Dougal
explained. "That's the three accounted for. I think mysel' that
Dobson will be the first to get out, but he'll have his work letting
out the others. Now, I'm for flittin' to the old Tower. They'll no
ken where we are for a long time, and anyway yon place will be far
easier to defend. Without they kindle a fire and smoke us out, I don't
see how they'll beat us. Our provisions are a' there, and there's a
grand well o' water inside. Forbye there's the road down the rocks
that'll keep our communications open....But what's come to Mr.
Dickson to his shame had forgotten all about his friend. The Poet
lay very quiet with his head on one side and his legs crooked limply.
Blood trickled over his eyes from an ugly scar on his forehead.
Dickson felt his heart and pulse and found them faint but regular.
The man had got a swinging blow and might have a slight concussion;
for the present he was unconscious.
"All the more reason why we should flit," said Dougal. "What d'ye
say, Mr. McCunn?"
"Flit, of course, but further than the old Tower. What's the
time?" He lifted Heritage's wrist and saw from his watch that it was
half-past three. "Mercy" It's nearly morning. Afore we put these
blagyirds away, they were conversing, at least Leon and Dobson were.
They said that they expected somebody every moment, but that the car
would be late. We've still got that Somebody to tackle. Then Leon
spoke to me in the dark, thinking I was Dobson, and cursed the wind,
saying it would keep the Danish brig from getting in at dawn as had
been intended. D'you see what that means? The worst of the lot, the
ones the ladies are in terror of, are coming by sea. Ay, and they can
return by sea. We thought that the attack would be by land, and that
even if they succeeded we could hang on to their heels and follow
them, till we got them stopped. But that's impossible! If they come
in from the water, they can go out by the water, and there'll never be
more heard tell of the ladies or of you or me."
Dougal's face was once again sunk in gloom. "What's your plan,
"We must get the ladies away from here—away inland, far from the
sea. The rest of us must stand a siege in the old Tower, so that the
enemy will think we're all there. Please God we'll hold out long
enough for help to arrive. But we mustn't hang about here. There's
the man Dobson mentioned—he may come any second, and we want to be
away first. Get the ladder, Dougal....Four of you take Mr. Heritage,
and two come with me and carry the ladies' things. It's no' raining,
but the wind's enough to take the wings off a seagull."
Dickson roused Saskia and her cousin, bidding them be ready in ten
minutes. Then with the help of the Die-Hards he proceeded to
transport the necessary supplies—the stove, oil, dishes, clothes and
wraps; more than one journey was needed of small boys, hidden under
clouds of baggage. When everything had gone he collected the keys,
behind which, in various quarters of the house, three gaolers fumed
impotently, and gave them to Wee Jaikie to dispose of in some secret
nook. Then he led the two ladies to the verandah, the elder cross and
sleepy, the younger alert at the prospect of movement.
"Tell me again," she said. "You have locked all the three up, and
they are now the imprisoned?"
"Well, it was the boys that, properly speaking, did the locking
"It is a great—how do you say?—a turning of the tables. Ah—what
At the end of the verandah there was a clattering down of pots
which could not be due to the wind, since the place was sheltered.
There was as yet only the faintest hint of light, and black night
still lurked in the crannies. Followed another fall of pots, as from
a clumsy intruder, and then a man appeared, clear against the glass
door by which the path descended to the rock garden. It was the fourth
man, whom the three prisoners had awaited. Dickson had no doubt at all
about his identity. He was that villain from whom all the others took
their orders, the man whom the Princess shuddered at. Before starting
he had loaded his pistol. Now he tugged it from his waterproof pocket,
pointed it at the other and fired.
The man seemed to be hit, for he spun round and clapped a hand to
his left arm. Then he fled through the door, which he left open.
Dickson was after him like a hound. At the door he saw him running
and raised his pistol for another shot. Then he dropped it, for he
saw something in the crouching, dodging figure which was familiar.
"A mistake," he explained to Jaikie when he returned. "But the
shot wasn't wasted. I've just had a good try at killing the factor!"
CHAPTER X. DEALS WITH AN ESCAPE AND
Five scouts' lanterns burned smokily in the ground room of the
keep when Dickson ushered his charges through its cavernous door. The
lights flickered in the gusts that swept after them and whistled
through the slits of the windows, so that the place was full of
monstrous shadows, and its accustomed odour of mould and disuse was
changed to a salty freshness. Upstairs on the first floor Thomas
Yownie had deposited the ladies' baggage, and was busy making beds out
of derelict iron bedsteads and the wraps brought from their room. On
the ground floor on a heap of litter covered by an old scout's blanket
lay Heritage, with Dougal in attendance.
The Chieftain had washed the blood from the Poet's brow, and the
touch of cold water was bringing him back his senses. Saskia with a
cry flew to him, and waved off Dickson who had fetched one of the
bottles of liqueur brandy. She slipped a hand inside his shirt and
felt the beating of his heart. Then her slim fingers ran over his
"A bad blow," she muttered, "but I do not think he is ill. There
is no fracture. When I nursed in the Alexander Hospital I learnt much
about head wounds. Do not give him cognac if you value his life."
Heritage was talking now and with strange tongues. Phrases like
"lined Digesters" and "free sulphurous acid" came from his lips. He
implored some one to tell him if "the first cook" was finished, and he
upbraided some one else for "cooling off" too fast.
The girl raised her head. "But I fear he has become mad," she
"Wheesht, Mem," said Dickson, who recognized the jargon. "He's a
Saskia sat down on the litter and lifted his head so that it rested
on her breast. Dougal at her bidding brought a certain case from her
baggage, and with swift, capable hands she made a bandage and rubbed
the wound with ointment before tying it up. Then her fingers seemed
to play about his temples and along his cheeks and neck. She was the
professional nurse now, absorbed, sexless. Heritage ceased to babble,
his eyes shut and he was asleep.
She remained where she was, so that the Poet, when a few minutes
later he woke, found himself lying with his head in her lap. She
spoke first, in an imperative tone: "You are well now. Your head does
not ache. You are strong again."
"No. Yes," he murmured. Then more clearly; "Where am I? Oh, I
remember, I caught a lick on the head. What's become of the brutes?"
Dickson, who had extracted food from the Mearns Street box and was
pressing it on the others, replied through a mouthful of Biscuit:
"We're in the old Tower. The three are lockit up in the House. Are
you feeling better, Mr. Heritage?"
The Poet suddenly realized Saskia's position and the blood came to
his pale face. He got to his feet with an effort and held out a hand
to the girl. "I'm all right now, I think. Only a little dicky on my
legs. A thousand thanks, Princess. I've given you a lot of trouble."
She smiled at him tenderly. "You say that when you have risked
your life for me."
"There's no time to waste," the relentless Dougal broke in.
"Comin' over here, I heard a shot. What was it?"
"It was me," said Dickson. "I was shootin' at the factor."
"Did ye hit him?"
"I think so, but I'm sorry to say not badly. When I last saw him
he was running too quick for a sore hurt man. When I fired I thought
it was the other man—the one they were expecting."
Dickson marvelled at himself, yet his speech was not bravado, but
the honest expression of his mind. He was keyed up to a mood in which
he feared nothing very much, certainly not the laws of his country.
If he fell in with the Unknown, he was entirely resolved, if his
Maker permitted him, to do murder as being the simplest and justest
solution. And if in the pursuit of this laudable intention he
happened to wing lesser game it was no fault of his.
"Well, it's a pity ye didn't get him," said Dougal, "him being
what we ken him to be....I'm for holding a council o' war, and
considerin' the whole position. So far we haven't done that badly.
We've shifted our base without serious casualties. We've got a far
better position to hold, for there's too many ways into yon Hoose,
and here there's just one. Besides, we've fickled the enemy. They'll
take some time to find out where we've gone. But, mind you, we can't
count on their staying long shut up. Dobson's no safe in the
boiler-house, for there's a skylight far up and he'll see it when the
light comes and maybe before. So we'd better get our plans ready. A
word with ye, Mr. McCunn," and he led Dickson aside.
"D'ye ken what these blagyirds were up to?" he whispered fiercely
in Dickson's ear. "They were goin' to pushion the lassie. How do I
ken, says you? Because Thomas Yownie heard Dobson say to Lean at the
scullery door, 'Have ye got the dope?' he says, and Lean says, 'Aye.'
Thomas mindit the word for he had heard about it at the Picters."
Dickson exclaimed in horror.
"What d'ye make o' that?" I'll tell ye. They wanted to make sure
of her, but they wouldn't have thought o' dope unless the men they
expectit were due to arrive at any moment. As I see it, we've to
face a siege not by the three but by a dozen or more, and it'll no'
be long till it starts. Now, isn't it a mercy we're safe in here?"
Dickson returned to the others with a grave face.
"Where d'you think the new folk are coming from?" he asked.
Heritage answered, "From Auchenlochan, I suppose? Or perhaps down
from the hills?"
"You're wrong." And he told of Leon's mistaken confidences to him
in the darkness. "They are coming from the sea, just like the old
"The sea," Heritage repeated in a dazed voice.
"Ay, the sea. Think what that means. If they had been coming by
the roads, we could have kept track of them, even if they beat us,
and some of these laddies could have stuck to them and followed them
up till help came. It can't be such an easy job to carry a young lady
against her will along Scotch roads. But the sea's a different
matter. If they've got a fast boat they could be out of the Firth and
away beyond the law before we could wake up a single policeman. Ay,
and even if the Government took it up and warned all the ports and
ships at sea, what's to hinder them to find a hidy-hole about
Ireland—or Norway? I tell you, it's a far more desperate business
than I thought, and it'll no' do to wait on and trust that the Chief
Constable will turn up afore the mischief's done.'
"The moral," said Heritage, "is that there can be no surrender.
We've got to stick it out in this old place at all costs."
"No," said Dickson emphatically. "The moral is that we must shift
the ladies. We've got the chance while Dobson and his friends are
locked up. Let's get them as far away as we can from the sea.
They're far safer tramping the moors, and it's no' likely the new
folk will dare to follow us."
"But I cannot go." Saskia, who had been listening intently, shook
her head. "I promised to wait here till my friend came. If I leave I
shall never find him."
"If you stay you certainly never will, for you'll be away with the
ruffians. Take a sensible view, Mem. You'll be no good to your
friend or your friend to you if before night you're rocking in a
The girl shook her head again, gently but decisively. "It was our
arrangement. I cannot break it. Besides, I am sure that he will come
in time, for he has never failed—-"
There was a desperate finality about the quiet tones and the weary
face with the shadow of a smile on it.
Then Heritage spoke. "I don't think your plan will quite do,
Dogson. Supposing we all break for the hinterland and the Danish brig
finds the birds flown, that won't end the trouble. They will get on
the Princess's trail, and the whole persecution will start again. I
want to see things brought to a head here and now. If we can stick it
out here long enough, we may trap the whole push and rid the world of
a pretty gang of miscreants. Let them show their hand, and then, if
the police are here by that time, we can jug the lot for piracy or
"That's all right," said Dougal, "but we'd put up a better fight if
we had the women off our mind. I've aye read that when a castle was
going to be besieged the first thing was to get rid of the civilians."
"Sensible to the last, Dougal," said Dickson approvingly. "That's
just what I'm saying. I'm strong for a fight, but put the ladies in a
safe bit first, for they're our weak point."
"Do you think that if you were fighting my enemies I would consent
to be absent?" came Saskia's reproachful question.
"'Deed no, Mem," said Dickson heartily. His martial spirit was
with Heritage, but his prudence did not sleep, and he suddenly saw a
way of placating both. "Just you listen to what I propose. What do we
amount to? Mr. Heritage, six laddies, and myself—and I'm no more
used to fighting than an old wife. We've seven desperate villains
against us, and afore night they may be seventy. We've a fine old
castle here, but for defence we want more than stone walls—we want a
garrison. I tell you we must get help somewhere. Ay, but how, says
you? Well, coming here I noticed a gentleman's house away up ayont
the railway and close to the hills. The laird's maybe not at home,
but there will be men there of some kind—gamekeepers and woodmen and
such like. My plan is to go there at once and ask for help. Now, it's
useless me going alone, for nobody would listen to me. They'd tell me
to go back to the shop or they'd think me demented. But with you, Mem,
it would be a different matter. They wouldn't disbelieve you. So I
want you to come with me, and to come at once, for God knows how soon
our need will be sore. We'll leave your cousin with Mrs. Morran in
the village, for bed's the place for her, and then you and me will be
off on our business."
The girl looked at Heritage, who nodded. "It's the only way," he
said. "Get every man jack you can raise, and if it's humanly possible
get a gun or two. I believe there's time enough, for I don't see the
brig arriving in broad daylight."
"D'you not?" Dickson asked rudely. "Have you considered what day
this is? It's the Sabbath, the best of days for an ill deed. There's
no kirk hereaways, and everybody in the parish will be sitting indoors
by the fire." He looked at his watch. "In half an hour it'll be
light. Haste you, Mem, and get ready. Dougal, what's the weather?"
The Chieftain swung open the door, and sniffed the air. The wind
had fallen for the time being, and the surge of the tides below the
rocks rose like the clamour of a mob. With the lull, mist and a thin
drizzle had cloaked the world again.
To Dickson's surprise Dougal seemed to be in good spirits. He
began to sing to a hymn tune a strange ditty.
"Class-conscious we are, and class-conscious wull be Till our
fit's on the neck o' the Boorjoyzee."
"What on earth are you singing?" Dickson inquired.
Dougal grinned. "Wee Jaikie went to a Socialist Sunday School
last winter because he heard they were for fechtin' battles. Ay, and
they telled him he was to join a thing called an International, and
Jaikie thought it was a fitba' club. But when he fund out there was
no magic lantern or swaree at Christmas he gie'd it the chuck. They
learned him a heap o' queer songs. That's one."
"What does the last word mean?"
"I don't ken. Jaikie thought it was some kind of a draigon."
"It's a daft-like thing anyway....When's high water?"
Dougal answered that to the best of his knowledge it fell between
four and five in the afternoon.
"Then that's when we may expect the foreign gentry if they think
to bring their boat in to the Garplefoot.....Dougal, lad, I trust you
to keep a most careful and prayerful watch. You had better get the
Die-Hards out of the Tower and all round the place afore Dobson and
Co. get loose, or you'll no' get a chance later. Don't lose your
mobility, as the sodgers say. Mr. Heritage can hold the fort, but you
laddies should be spread out like a screen."
"That was my notion," said Dougal. "I'll detail two Die-Hards—
Thomas Yownie and Wee Jaikie—to keep in touch with ye and watch for
you comin' back. Thomas ye ken already; ye'll no fickle Thomas
Yownie. But don't be mistook about Wee Jaikie. He's terrible fond of
greetin', but it's no fright with him but excitement. It's just a
habit he's gotten. When ye see Jaikie begin to greet, you may be sure
that Jaikie's gettin' dangerous."
The door shut behind them and Dickson found himself with his two
charges in a world dim with fog and rain and the still lingering
darkness. The air was raw, and had the sour smell which comes from
soaked earth and wet boughs when the leaves are not yet fledged. Both
the women were miserably equipped for such an expedition. Cousin
Eugenie trailed heavy furs, Saskia's only wrap was a bright-coloured
shawl about her shoulders, and both wore thin foreign shoes. Dickson
insisted on stripping off his trusty waterproof and forcing it on the
Princess, on whose slim body it hung very loose and very short. The
elder woman stumbled and whimpered and needed the constant support of
his arm, walking like a townswoman from the knees. But Saskia swung
from the hips like a free woman, and Dickson had much ado to keep up
with her. She seemed to delight in the bitter freshness of the dawn,
inhaling deep breaths of it, and humming fragments of a tune.
Guided by Thomas Yownie they took the road which Dickson and
Heritage had travelled the first evening, through the shrubberies on
the north side of the House and the side avenue beyond which the
ground fell to the Laver glen. On their right the House rose like a
dark cloud, but Dickson had lost his terror of it. There were three
angry men inside it, he remembered: long let them stay there. He
marvelled at his mood, and also rejoiced, for his worst fear had
always been that he might prove a coward. Now he was puzzled to think
how he could ever be frightened again, for his one object was to
succeed, and in that absorption fear seemed to him merely a waste of
time. "It all comes of treating the thing as a business proposition,"
he told himself.
But there was far more in his heart than this sober resolution. He
was intoxicated with the resurgence of youth and felt a rapture of
audacity which he never remembered in his decorous boyhood. "I haven't
been doing badly for an old man," he reflected with glee. What, oh
what had become of the pillar of commerce, the man who might have been
a bailie had he sought municipal honours, the elder in the Guthrie
Memorial Kirk, the instructor of literary young men? In the past three
days he had levanted with jewels which had once been an Emperor's and
certainly were not his; he had burglariously entered and made free of
a strange house; he had played hide-and-seek at the risk of his neck
and had wrestled in the dark with a foreign miscreant; he had shot at
an eminent solicitor with intent to kill; and he was now engaged in
tramping the world with a fairytale Princess. I blush to confess that
of each of his doings he was unashamedly proud, and thirsted for many
more in the same line. "Gosh, but I'm seeing life," was his
Without sight or sound of a human being, they descended to the
Laver, climbed again by the cart track, and passed the deserted West
Lodge and inn to the village. It was almost full dawn when the three
stood in Mrs. Morran's kitchen.
"I've brought you two ladies, Auntie Phemie," said Dickson.
They made an odd group in that cheerful place, where the new-lit
fire was crackling in the big grate—the wet undignified form of
Dickson, unshaven of cheek and chin and disreputable in garb; the
shrouded figure of Cousin Eugenie, who had sunk into the arm-chair and
closed her eyes; the slim girl, into whose face the weather had
whipped a glow like blossom; and the hostess, with her petticoats
kilted and an ancient mutch on her head.
Mrs. Morran looked once at Saskia, and then did a thing which she
had not done since her girlhood. She curtseyed.
"I'm proud to see ye here, Mem. Off wi' your things, and I'll get
ye dry claes, Losh, ye're fair soppin' And your shoon! Ye maun
change your feet....Dickson! Awa' up to the loft, and dinna you stir
till I give ye a cry. The leddies will change by the fire. And You,
Mem"—this to Cousin Eugenie—"the place for you's your bed. I'll
kinnle a fire ben the hoose in a jiffey. And syne ye'll have
breakfast—ye'll hae a cup o' tea wi' me now, for the kettle's just on
the boil. Awa' wi' ye. Dickson," and she stamped her foot.
Dickson departed, and in the loft washed his face, and smoked a
pipe on the edge of the bed, watching the mist eddying up the village
street. >From below rose the sounds of hospitable bustle, and when
after some twenty minutes' vigil he descended, he found Saskia
toasting stockinged toes by the fire in the great arm-chair, and Mrs.
Morran setting the table.
"Auntie Phemie, hearken to me. We've taken on too big a job for
two men and six laddies, and help we've got to get, and that this
very morning. D'you mind the big white house away up near the hills
ayont the station and east of the Ayr road? It looked like a
gentleman's shooting lodge. I was thinking of trying there. Mercy!"
The exclamation was wrung from him by his eyes settling on Saskia
and noting her apparel. Gone were her thin foreign clothes, and in
their place she wore a heavy tweed skirt cut very short, and thick
homespun stockings, which had been made for some one with larger feet
than hers. A pair of the coarse low-heeled shoes which country folk
wear in the farmyard stood warming by the hearth. She still had her
russet jumper, but round her neck hung a grey wool scarf, of the kind
known as a "Comforter." Amazingly pretty she looked in Dickson's
eyes, but with a different kind of prettiness. The sense of fragility
had fled, and he saw how nobly built she was for all her
exquisiteness. She looked like a queen, he thought, but a queen to go
gipsying through the world with.
"Ay, they're some o' Elspeth's things, rale guid furthy claes,"
said Mrs. Morran complacently. "And the shoon are what she used to
gang about the byres wi' when she was in the Castlewham dairy. The
leddy was tellin' me she was for trampin' the hills, and thae things
will keep her dry and warm....I ken the hoose ye mean. They ca' it the
Mains of Garple. And I ken the man that bides in it. He's yin Sir
Erchibald Roylance. English, but his mither was a Dalziel. I'm no
weel acquaint wi' his forbears, but I'm weel eneuch acquaint wi' Sir
Erchie, and 'better a guid coo that a coo o' a guid kind," as my
mither used to say. He used to be an awfu' wild callont, a freend o'
puir Maister Quentin, and up to ony deevilry. But they tell me he's a
quieter lad since the war, as sair lamed by fa'in oot o' an
"Will he be at the Mains just now?" Dickson asked.
"I wadna wonder. He has a muckle place in England, but he aye used
to come here in the back-end for the shootin' and in April for birds.
He's clean daft about birds. He'll be out a' day at the craig
watchin' solans, or lyin' a' mornin' i' the moss lookin' at
"Will he help, think you?"
"I'll wager he'll help. Onyway it's your best chance, and better
a wee bush than nae beild. Now, sit in to your breakfast."
It was a merry meal. Mrs. Morran dispensed tea and gnomic wisdom.
Saskia ate heartily, speaking little, but once or twice laying her
hand softly on her hostess's gnarled fingers. Dickson was in such
spirits that he gobbled shamelessly, being both hungry and hurried,
and he spoke of the still unconquered enemy with ease and disrespect,
so that Mrs. Morran was moved to observe that there was "naething sae
bauld as a blind mear." But when in a sudden return of modesty he
belittled his usefulness and talked sombrely of his mature years he
was told that he "wad never be auld wi' sae muckle honesty." Indeed it
was very clear that Mrs. Morran approved of her nephew. They did not
linger over breakfast, for both were impatient to be on the road.
Mrs. Morran assisted Saskia to put on Elspeth's shoes. "'Even a young
fit finds comfort in an auld bauchle,' as my mother, honest woman,
used to say." Dickson's waterproof was restored to him, and for
Saskia an old raincoat belonging to the son in South Africa was
discovered, which fitted her better. "Siccan weather," said the
hostess, as she opened the door to let in a swirl of wind. "The deil's
aye kind to his ain. Haste ye back, Mem, and be sure I'll tak' guid
care o' your leddy cousin."
The proper way to the Mains of Garple was either by the station and
the Ayr road, or by the Auchenlochan highway, branching off half a
mile beyond the Garple bridge. But Dickson, who had been studying
the map and fancied himself as a pathfinder, chose the direct route
across the Long Muir as being at once shorter and more sequestered.
With the dawn the wind had risen again, but it had shifted towards
the north-west and was many degrees colder. The mist was furling on
the hills like sails, the rain had ceased, and out at sea the eye
covered a mile or two of wild water. The moor was drenching wet, and
the peat bogs were brimming with inky pools, so that soon the
travellers were soaked to the knees. Dickson had no fear of pursuit,
for he calculated that Dobson and his friends, even if they had got
out, would be busy looking for the truants in the vicinity of the
House and would presently be engaged with the old Tower. But he
realized, too, that speed on his errand was vital, for at any moment
the Unknown might arrive from the sea.
So he kept up a good pace, half-running, half-striding, till they
had passed the railway, and he found himself gasping with a stitch in
his side, and compelled to rest in the lee of what had once been a
sheepfold. Saskia amazed him. She moved over the rough heather like
a deer, and it was her hand that helped him across the deeper hags.
Before such youth and vigour he felt clumsy and old. She stood
looking down at him as he recovered his breath, cool, unruffled, alert
as Diana. His mind fled to Heritage, and it occurred to him suddenly
that the Poet had set his affections very high. Loyalty drove him to
speak for his friend.
"I've got the easy job," he said. "Mr. Heritage will have the
whole pack on him in that old Tower, and him with such a sore clout
on his head. I've left him my pistol. He's a terrible brave man!"
"Ay, and he's a poet too."
"So?" she said. "I did not know. He is very young."
"He's a man of very high ideels."
She puzzled at the word, and then smiled. "He is like many of our
young men in Russia, the students—his mind is in a ferment and he
does not know what he wants. But he is brave."
This seemed to Dickson's loyal soul but a chilly tribute.
"I think he is in love with me," she continued.
He looked up startled, and saw in her face that which gave him a
view into a strange new world. He had thought that women blushed when
they talked of love, but he eyes were as grave and candid as a boy's.
Here was one who had gone through waters so deep that she had lost
the foibles of sex. Love to her was only a word of ill omen, a threat
on the lips of brutes, an extra battalion of peril in an army of
perplexities. He felt like some homely rustic who finds himself swept
unwittingly into the moonlight hunt of Artemis and her maidens.
"He is a romantic," she said. "I have known so many like him."
"He's no that," said Dickson shortly. "Why he used to be aye
laughing at me for being romantic. He's one that's looking for truth
and reality, he says, and he's terrible down on the kind of poetry I
She smiled. "They all talk so. But you, my friend Dickson" (she
pronounced the name in two staccato syllables ever so prettily), "you
are different. Tell me about yourself."
"I'm just what you see—a middle-aged retired grocer."
"Grocer?" she queried. "Ah, yes, epicier. But you are a very
remarkable epicier. Mr. Heritage I understand, but you and those
little boys—no. I am sure of one thing—you are not a romantic. You
are too humorous and—and—I think you are like Ulysses, for it would
not be easy to defeat you."
Her eyes were kind, nay affectionate, and Dickson experienced a
preposterous rapture in his soul, followed by a sinking, as he
realized how far the job was still from being completed.
"We must be getting on, Mem," he said hastily, and the two plunged
again into the heather.
The Ayr road was crossed, and the fir wood around the Mains became
visible, and presently the white gates of the entrance. A wind-blown
spire of smoke beyond the trees proclaimed that the house was not
untenanted. As they entered the drive the Scots firs were tossing in
the gale, which blew fiercely at this altitude, but, the dwelling
itself being more in the hollow, the daffodil clumps on the lawn were
but mildly fluttered.
The door was opened by a one-armed butler who bore all the marks
of the old regular soldier. Dickson produced a card and asked to see
his master on urgent business. Sir Archibald was at home, he was
told, and had just finished breakfast. The two were led into a large
bare chamber which had all the chill and mustiness of a bachelor's
drawing-room. The butler returned, and said Sir Archibald would see
him. "I'd better go myself first and prepare the way, Mem," Dickson
whispered, and followed the man across the hall.
He found himself ushered into a fair-sized room where a bright
fire was burning. On a table lay the remains of breakfast, and the
odour of food mingled pleasantly with the scent of peat. The horns and
heads of big game, foxes' masks, the model of a gigantic salmon, and
several bookcases adorned the walls, and books and maps were mixed
with decanters and cigar-boxes on the long sideboard. After the wild
out of doors the place seemed the very shrine of comfort. A young man
sat in an arm-chair by the fire with a leg on a stool; he was smoking
a pipe, and reading the Field, and on another stool at his elbow was a
pile of new novels. He was a pleasant brown-faced young man, with
remarkably smooth hair and a roving humorous eye.
"Come in, Mr. McCunn. Very glad to see you. If, as I take it,
you're the grocer, you're a household name in these parts. I get all
my supplies from you, and I've just been makin' inroads on one of your
divine hams. Now, what can I do for you?"
"I'm very proud to hear what you say, Sir Archibald. But I've not
come on business. I've come with the queerest story you ever heard
in your life and I've come to ask your help."
"Go ahead. A good story is just what I want this vile mornin'."
"I'm not here alone. I've a lady with me."
"God bless my soul! A lady!"
"Ay, a princess. She's in the next room."
The young man looked wildly at him and waved the book he had been
"Excuse me, Mr. McCunn, but are you quite sober? I beg your
pardon. I see you are. But you know, it isn't done. Princesses don't
as a rule come here after breakfast to pass the time of day. It's
more absurd than this shocker I've been readin'."
"All the same it's a fact. She'll tell you the story herself, and
you'll believe her quick enough. But to prepare your mind I'll just
give you a sketch of the events of the last few days."
Before the sketch was concluded the young man had violently rung
the bell. "Sime," he shouted to the servant, "clear away this mess and
lay the table again. Order more breakfast, all the breakfast you can
get. Open the windows and get the tobacco smoke out of the air. Tidy
up the place for there's a lady comin'. Quick, you juggins!"
He was on his feet now, and, with his arm in Dickson's, was heading
for the door.
"My sainted aunt! And you topped off with pottin' at the factor.
I've seen a few things in my day, but I'm blessed if I ever met a
bird like you!"
CHAPTER XI. GRAVITY OUT OF BED
It is probable that Sir Archibald Roylance did not altogether
believe Dickson's tale; it may be that he considered him an agreeable
romancer, or a little mad, or no more than a relief to the tedium of
a wet Sunday morning. But his incredulity did not survive one glance
at Saskia as she stood in that bleak drawing-room among Victorian
water-colours and faded chintzes. The young man's boyishness deserted
him. He stopped short in his tracks, and made a profound and awkward
bow. "I am at your service, Mademoiselle," he said, amazed at
himself. The words seemed to have come out of a confused memory of
plays and novels.
She inclined her head—a little on one side, and looked towards
"Sir Archibald's going to do his best for us," said that squire of
dames. "I was telling him that we had had our breakfast."
"Let's get out of this sepulchre," said their host, who was
recovering himself. "There's a roasting fire in my den. Of course
you'll have something to eat—hot coffee, anyhow—I've trained my cook
to make coffee like a Frenchwoman. The housekeeper will take charge
of you, if you want to tidy up, and you must excuse our ramshackle
ways, please. I don't believe there's ever been a lady in this house
before, you know."
He led her to the smoking-room and ensconced her in the great
chair by the fire. Smilingly she refused a series of offers which
ranged from a sheepskin mantle which he had got in the Pamirs and
which he thought might fit her, to hot whisky and water as a specific
against a chill. But she accepted a pair of slippers and deftly
kicked off the brogues provided by Mrs. Morran. Also, while Dickson
started rapaciously on a second breakfast, she allowed him to pour
her out a cup of coffee.
"You are a soldier?" she asked.
"Two years infantry—5th Battalion Lennox Highlanders, and then
Flying Corps. Top-hole time I had too till the day before the
Armistice, when my luck gave out and I took a nasty toss. Consequently
I'm not as fast on my legs now as I'd like to be."
"You were a friend of Captain Kennedy?"
"His oldest. We were at the same private school, and he was at
m'tutors, and we were never much separated till he went abroad to
cram for the Diplomatic and I started east to shoot things."
"Then I will tell you what I told Captain Kennedy." Saskia,
looking into the heart of the peats, began the story of which we have
already heard a version, but she told it differently, for she was
telling it to one who more or less belonged to her own world. She
mentioned names at which the other nodded. She spoke of a certain
Paul Abreskov. "I heard of him at Bokhara in 1912," said Sir Archie,
and his face grew solemn. Sometimes she lapsed into French, and her
hearer's brow wrinkled, but he appeared to follow. When she had
finished he drew a long breath.
"My aunt! What a time you've been through! I've seen pluck in my
day, but yours! It's not thinkable. D'you mind if I ask a question,
Princess? Bolshevism we know all about, and I admit Trotsky and his
friends are a pretty effective push; but how on earth have they got a
world-wide graft going in the time so that they can stretch their net
to an out-of-the-way spot like this? It looks as if they had struck a
"You do not understand," she said. "I cannot make any one
understand- -except a Russian. My country has been broken to pieces,
and there is no law in it; therefore it is a nursery of crime. So
would England be, or France, if you had suffered the same misfortunes.
My people are not wickeder than others, but for the moment they are
sick and have no strength. As for the government of the Bolsheviki
it matters little, for it will pass. Some parts of it may remain,
but it is a government of the sick and fevered, and cannot endure in
health. Lenin may be a good man—I do not think so, but I do not know-
-but if he were an archangel he could not alter things. Russia is
mortally sick and therefore all evil is unchained, and the criminals
have no one to check them. There is crime everywhere in the world,
and the unfettered crime in Russia is so powerful that it stretches
its hand to crime throughout the globe and there is a great mobilizing
everywhere of wicked men. Once you boasted that law was international
and that the police in one land worked with the police of all others.
To-day that is true about criminals. After a war evil passions are
loosed, and, since Russia is broken, in her they can make their
headquarters....It is not Bolshevism, the theory, you need fear, for
that is a weak and dying thing. It is crime, which to-day finds its
seat in my country, but is not only Russian. It has no fatherland.
It is as old as human nature and as wide as the earth."
"I see," said Sir Archie. "Gad, here have I been vegetatin' and
thinkin' that all excitement had gone out of life with the war, and
sometimes even regrettin' that the beastly old thing was over, and all
the while the world fairly hummin' with interest. And Loudon too!"
"I would like your candid opinion on yon factor, Sir Archibald,"
"I can't say I ever liked him, and I've once or twice had a row
with him, for used to bring his pals to shoot over Dalquharter and he
didn't quite play the game by me. But I know dashed little about him,
for I've been a lot away. Bit hairy about the heels, of course. A
great figure at local race-meetin's, and used to toady old Carforth
and the huntin' crowd. He has a pretty big reputation as a sharp
lawyer and some of the thick-headed lairds swear by him, but Quentin
never could stick him. It's quite likely he's been gettin' into Queer
Street, for he was always speculatin' in horseflesh, and I fancy he
plunged a bit on the Turf. But I can't think how he got mixed up in
"I'm positive Dobson's his brother."
"And put this business in his way. That would explain it all
right.. ..He must be runnin' for pretty big stakes, for that kind of
lad don't dabble in crime for six-and-eightpence....Now for the
layout. You've got three men shut up in Dalquharter House, who by this
time have probably escaped. One of you—what's his
name?—Heritage?—is in the old Tower, and you think that they think
the Princess is still there and will sit round the place like
terriers. Sometime to-day the Danish brig wall arrive with
reinforcements, and then there will be a hefty fight. Well, the first
thing to be done it to get rid of Loudon's stymie with the
authorities. Princess, I'm going to carry you off in my car to the
Chief Constable. The second thing is for you after that to stay on
here. It's a deadly place on a wet day, but it's safe enough."
Saskia shook her head and Dickson spoke for her.
"You'll no' get her to stop here. I've done my best, but she's
determined to be back at Dalquharter. You see she's expecting a
friend, and besides, if here's going to be a battle she'd like to be
in it. Is that so, Mem?"
Sir Archie looked helplessly around him, and the sight of the
girl's face convinced him that argument would be fruitless. "Anyhow
she must come with me to the Chief Constable. Lethington's a slow
bird on the wing, and I don't see myself convincin' him that he must
get busy unless I can produce the Princess. Even then it may be a
tough job, for it's Sunday, and in these parts people go to sleep till
"That's just what I'm trying to get at,' said Dickson. "By all
means go to the Chief Constable, and tell him it's life or death. My
lawyer in Glasgow, Mr. Caw, will have been stirring him up yesterday,
and you two should complete the job...But what I'm feared is that
he'll not be in time. As you say, it's the Sabbath day, and the
police are terrible slow. Now any moment that brig may be here, and
the trouble will start. I'm wanting to save the Princess, but I'm
wanting too to give these blagyirds the roughest handling they ever
got in their lives. Therefore I say there's no time to lose. We're
far ower few to put up a fight, and we want every man you've got about
this place to hold the fort till the police come."
Sir Archibald looked upon the earnest flushed face of Dickson with
admiration. "I'm blessed if you're not the most whole-hearted brigand
I've ever struck."
"I'm not. I'm just a business man."
"Do you realize that you're levying a private war and breaking
every law of the land?"
"Hoots!" said Dickson. "I don't care a docken about the law. I'm
for seeing this job through. What force can you produce?"
"Only cripples, I'm afraid. There's Sime, my butler. He was a
Fusilier Jock and, as you saw, has lost an arm. Then McGuffog the
keeper is a good man, but he's still got a Turkish bullet in his
thigh. The chauffeur, Carfrae, was in the Yeomanry, and lost half a
foot; and there's myself, as lame as a duck. The herds on the home
farm are no good, for one's seventy and the other is in bed with
jaundice. The Mains can produce four men, but they're rather a job
"They'll do fine,' said Dickson heartily. "All sodgers, and no
doubt all good shots. Have you plenty guns?"
Sir Archie burst into uproarious laughter. "Mr. McCunn, you're a
man after my own heart. I'm under your orders. If I had a boy I'd
put him into the provision trade, for it's the place to see fightin'.
Yes, we've no end of guns. I advise shot-guns, for they've more
stoppin' power in a rush than a rifle, and I take it it's a
rough-and-tumble we're lookin' for."
"Right," said Dickson. "I saw a bicycle in the hall. I want you
to lend it me, for I must be getting back. You'll take the Princess
and do the best you can with the Chief Constable."
"Then you'll load up your car with your folk, and come down the
hill to Dalquharter. There'll be a laddie, or maybe more than one
waiting for you on this side the village to give you instructions.
Take your orders from them. If it's a red-haired ruffian called
Dougal you'll be wise to heed what he says, for he has a grand head
Five minutes later Dickson was pursuing a quavering course like a
snipe down the avenue. He was a miserable performer on a bicycle.
Not for twenty years had he bestridden one, and he did not understand
such new devices as free-wheels and change of gears. The mounting
had been the worst part, and it had only been achieved by the help of
a rockery. He had begun by cutting into two flower-beds, and missing
a birch tree by inches. But he clung on desperately, well knowing
that if he fell off it would be hard to remount, and at length he
gained the avenue. When he passed the lodge gates he was riding
fairly straight, and when he turned off the Ayr highway to the side
road that led to Dalquharter he was more or less master of his
He crossed the Garple by an ancient hunch-backed bridge, observing
even in his absorption with the handle-bars that the stream was in
roaring spate. He wrestled up the further hill with aching
calf-muscles, and got to the top just before his strength gave out.
Then as the road turned seaward he had the slope with him, and
enjoyed some respite. It was no case for putting up his feet, for
the gale was blowing hard on his right cheek, but the downward grade
enabled him to keep his course with little exertion. His anxiety to
get back to the scene of action was for the moment appeased, since he
knew he was making as good speed as the weather allowed, so he had
leisure for thought.
But the mind of this preposterous being was not on the business
before him. He dallied with irrelevant things—with the problems of
youth and love. He was beginning to be very nervous about Heritage,
not as the solitary garrison of the old Tower, but as the lover of
Saskia. That everybody should be in love with her appeared to him only
proper, for he had never met her like, and assumed that it did not
exist. The desire of the moth for the star seemed to him a reasonable
thing, since hopeless loyalty and unrequited passion were the eternal
stock-in-trade of romance. He wished he were twenty-five himself to
have the chance of indulging in such sentimentality for such a lady.
But Heritage was not like him and would never be content with a
romantic folly....He had been in love with her for two years—a long
time. He spoke about wanting to die for her, which was a flight
beyond Dickson himself. "I doubt it will be what they call a 'grand
passion,' he reflected with reverence. But it was hopeless; he saw
quite clearly that it was hopeless.
Why, he could not have explained, for Dickson's instincts were
subtler than his intelligence. He recognized that the two belonged to
different circles of being, which nowhere intersected. That
mysterious lady, whose eyes had looked through life to the other side,
was no mate for the Poet. His faithful soul was agitated, for he had
developed for Heritage a sincere affection. It would break his heart,
poor man. There was he holding the fort alone and cheering himself
with delightful fancies about one remoter than the moon. Dickson
wanted happy endings, and here there was no hope of such. He hated to
admit that life could be crooked, but the optimist in him was now
Sir Archie might be the fortunate man, for of course he would soon
be in love with her, if he were not so already. Dickson like all his
class had a profound regard for the country gentry. The business Scot
does not usually revere wealth, though he may pursue it earnestly, nor
does he specially admire rank in the common sense. But for ancient
race he has respect in his bones, though it may happen that in public
he denies it, and the laird has for him a secular association with
good family....Sir Archie might do. He was young, good-looking,
obviously gallant...But no! He was not quite right either. Just a
trifle too light in weight, too boyish and callow..The Princess must
have youth, but it should be mighty youth, the youth of a Napoleon or
a Caesar. He reflected that the Great Montrose, for whom he had a
special veneration, might have filled the bill. Or young Harry with
his beaver up? Or Claverhouse in the picture with the flush of temper
on his cheek?
The meditations of the match-making Dickson came to an abrupt end.
He had been riding negligently, his head bent against the wind, and
his eyes vaguely fixed on the wet hill-gravel of the road. Of his
immediate environs he was pretty well unconscious. Suddenly he was
aware of figures on each side of him who advanced menacingly. Stung
to activity he attempted to increase his pace, which was already good,
for the road at this point descended steeply. Then, before he could
prevent it, a stick was thrust into his front wheel, and the next
second he was describing a curve through the air. His head took the
ground, he felt a spasm of blinding pain, and then a sense of
horrible suffocation before his wits left him.
"Are ye sure it's the richt man, Ecky?" said a voice which he did
"Sure. It's the Glesca body Dobson telled us to look for
yesterday. It's a pund note atween us for this job. We'll tie him up
in the wud till we've time to attend to him."
"Is he bad?"
"It doesna maitter," said the one called Ecky. "He'll be deid
onyway long afore the morn."
Mrs. Morran all forenoon was in a state of un-Sabbatical disquiet.
After she had seen Saskia and Dickson start she finished her
housewifely duties, took Cousin Eugenie her breakfast, and made
preparation for the midday dinner. The invalid in the bed in the
parlour was not a repaying subject. Cousin Eugenie belonged to that
type of elderly women who, having been spoiled in youth, find the rest
of life fall far short of their expectations. Her voice had acquired a
perpetual wail, and the corners of what had once been a pretty mouth
drooped in an eternal peevishness. She found herself in a morass of
misery and shabby discomfort, but had her days continued in an even
tenor she would still have lamented. "A dingy body," was Mrs.
Morran's comment, but she laboured in kindness. Unhappily they had no
common language, and it was only by signs that the hostess could
discover her wants and show her goodwill. She fed her and bathed her
face, saw to the fire and left her to sleep. "I'm boilin' a hen to
mak' broth for your denner, Mem. Try and get a bit sleep now." The
purport of the advice was clear, and Cousin Eugenie turned obediently
on her pillow.
It was Mrs. Morran's custom of a Sunday to spend the morning in
devout meditation. Some years before she had given up tramping the
five miles to kirk, on the ground that having been a regular attendant
for fifty years she had got all the good out of it that was probable.
Instead she read slowly aloud to herself the sermon printed in a
certain religious weekly which reached her every Saturday, and
concluded with a chapter or two of the Bible. But to-day something
had gone wrong with her mind. She could not follow the thread of the
Reverend Doctor MacMichael's discourse. She could not fix her
attention on the wanderings and misdeeds of Israel as recorded in the
Book of Exodus. She must always be getting up to look at the pot on
the fire, or to open the back door and study the weather. For a little
she fought against her unrest, and then she gave up the attempt at
concentration. She took the big pot off the fire and allowed it to
simmer, and presently she fetched her boots and umbrella, and kilted
her petticoats. "I'll be none the waur o' a breath o' caller air,"
The wind was blowing great guns but there was only the thinnest
sprinkle of rain. Sitting on the hen-house roof and munching a raw
turnip was a figure which she recognized as the smallest of the Die-
Hards. Between bites he was singing dolefully to the tune of "Annie
Laurie" one of the ditties of his quondam Sunday School:
"The Boorjoys' brays are bonnie, Too-roo-ra-roo-raloo, But the
Workers of the World Wull gar them a' look blue, And droon them in
the sea, And—for bonnie Annie Laurie I'll lay me down and dee."
"Losh, laddie," she cried, "that's cauld food for the stomach.
Come indoors about midday and I'll gie ye a plate o' broth!" The
Die-Hard saluted and continued on the turnip.
She took the Auchenlochan road across the Garple bridge, for that
was the best road to the Mains, and by it Dickson and the others
might be returning. Her equanimity at all seasons was like a Turk's,
and she would not have admitted that anything mortal had power to
upset or excite her: nevertheless it was a fast-beating heart that
she now bore beneath her Sunday jacket. Great events, she felt, were
on the eve of happening, and of them she was a part. Dickson's anxiety
was hers, to bring things to a business-like conclusion. The honour of
Huntingtower was at stake and of the old Kennedys. She was carrying
out Mr. Quentin's commands, the dead boy who used to clamour for her
treacle scones. And there was more than duty in it, for youth was not
dead in her old heart, and adventure had still power to quicken it.
Mrs. Morran walked well, with the steady long paces of the Scots
countrywoman. She left the Auchenlochan road and took the side path
along the tableland to the Mains. But for the surge of the gale and
the far-borne boom of the furious sea there was little noise; not a
bird cried in the uneasy air. With the wind behind her Mrs. Morran
breasted the ascent till she had on her right the moorland running
south to the Lochan valley and on her left Garple chafing in its deep
forested gorges. Her eyes were quick and she noted with interest a
weasel creeping from a fern-clad cairn. A little way on she passed an
old ewe in difficulties and assisted it to rise. "But for me, my
wumman, ye'd hae been braxy ere nicht," she told it as it departed
bleating. Then she realized that she had come a certain distance.
"Losh, I maun be gettin' back or the hen will be spiled," she cried,
and was on the verge of turning.
But something caught her eye a hundred yards farther on the road.
It was something which moved with the wind like a wounded bird,
fluttering from the roadside to a puddle and then back to the rushes.
She advanced to it, missed it, and caught it.
It was an old dingy green felt hat, and she recognized it as
Mrs. Morran's brain, after a second of confusion, worked fast and
clearly. She examined the road and saw that a little way on the gravel
had been violently agitated. She detected several prints of hobnailed
boots. There were prints, too, on a patch of peat on the south side
behind a tall bank of sods. "That's where they were hidin'," she
concluded. Then she explored on the other side in a thicket of hazels
and wild raspberries, and presently her perseverance was rewarded.
The scrub was all crushed and pressed as if several persons had been
forcing a passage. In a hollow was a gleam of something white. She
moved towards it with a quaking heart, and was relieved to find that
it was only a new and expensive bicycle with the front wheel badly
Mrs. Morran delayed no longer. If she had walked well on her out
journey, she beat all records on the return. Sometimes she would run
till her breath failed; then she would slow down till anxiety once
more quickened her pace. To her joy, on the Dalquharter side of the
Garple bridge she observed the figure of a Die-Hard. Breathless,
flushed, with her bonnet awry and her umbrella held like a scimitar,
she seized on the boy.
"Awfu' doin's! They've grippit Maister McCunn up the Mains road
just afore the second milestone and forenent the auld bucht. I fund
his hat, and a bicycle's lyin' broken in the wud. Haste ye, man, and
get the rest and awa' and seek him. It'll be the tinklers frae the
Dean. I'd gang misel' but my legs are ower auld. Ah, laddie, dinna
stop to speir questions. They'll hae him murdered or awa' to sea.
And maybe the leddy was wi' him and they've got them baith. Wae's
me! Wae's me!"
The Die-Hard, who was Wee Jaikie, did not delay. His eyes had
filled with tears at her news, which we know to have been his habit.
When Mrs. Morran, after indulging in a moment of barbaric keening,
looked back the road she had come, she saw a small figure trotting up
the hill like a terrier who has been left behind. As he trotted he
wept bitterly. Jaikie was getting dangerous.
CHAPTER XII. HOW MR. McCUNN
COMMITTED AN ASSAULT UPON AN ALLY
Dickson always maintained that his senses did not leave him for
more than a second or two, but he admitted that he did not remember
very clearly the events of the next few hours. He was conscious of a
bad pain above his eyes, and something wet trickling down his cheek.
There was a perpetual sound of water in his ears and of men's voices.
He found himself dropped roughly on the ground and forced to walk,
and was aware that his legs were inclined to wobble. Somebody had a
grip on each arm, so that he could not defend his face from the
brambles, and that worried him, for his whole head seemed one aching
bruise and he dreaded anything touching it. But all the time he did
not open his mouth, for silence was the one duty that his muddled wits
enforced. He felt that he was not the master of his mind, and he
dreaded what he might disclose if he began to babble.
Presently there came a blank space of which he had no recollection
at all. The movement had stopped, and he was allowed to sprawl on the
ground. He thought that his head had got another whack from a bough,
and that the pain put him into a stupor. When he awoke he was alone.
He discovered that he was strapped very tightly to a young Scotch
fir. His arms were bent behind him and his wrists tied together with
cords knotted at the back of the tree; his legs were shackled, and
further cords fastened them to the bole. Also there was a halter
round the trunk and just under his chin, so that while he breathed
freely enough, he could not move his head. Before him was a tangle of
bracken and scrub, and beyond that the gloom of dense pines; but as he
could see only directly in front his prospect was strictly
Very slowly he began to take his bearings. The pain in his head
was now dulled and quite bearable, and the flow of blood had stopped,
for he felt the encrustation of it beginning on his cheeks. There was
a tremendous noise all around him, and he traced this to the swaying
of tree-tops in the gale. But there was an undercurrent of deeper
sound—water surely, water churning among rocks. It was a stream—the
Garple of course—and then he remembered where he was and what had
I do not wish to portray Dickson as a hero, for nothing would
annoy him more; but I am bound to say that his first clear thought
was not of his own danger. It was intense exasperation at the
miscarriage of his plans. Long ago he should have been with Dougal
arranging operations, giving him news of Sir Archie, finding out how
Heritage was faring, deciding how to use the coming reinforcements.
Instead he was trussed up in a wood, a prisoner of the enemy, and
utterly useless to his side. He tugged at his bonds, and nearly
throttled himself. But they were of good tarry cord and did not give
a fraction of an inch. Tears of bitter rage filled his eyes and made
furrows on his encrusted cheek. Idiot that he had been, he had
wrecked everything! What would Saskia and Dougal and Sir Archie do
without a business man by their side? There would be a muddle, and
the little party would walk into a trap. He saw it all very clearly.
The men from the sea would overpower them, there would be murder done,
and an easy capture of the Princess; and the police would turn up at
long last to find an empty headland.
He had also most comprehensively wrecked himself, and at the
thought genuine panic seized him. There was no earthly chance of
escape, for he was tucked away in this infernal jungle till such time
as his enemies had time to deal with him. As to what that dealing
would be like he had no doubts, for they knew that he had been their
chief opponent. Those desperate ruffians would not scruple to put an
end to him. His mind dwelt with horrible fascination upon
throat-cutting, no doubt because of the presence of the cord below his
chin. He had heard it was not a painful death; at any rate he
remembered a clerk he had once had, a feeble, timid creature, who had
twice attempted suicide that way. Surely it could not be very bad,
and it would soon be over.
But another thought came to him. They would carry him off in the
ship and settle with him at their leisure. No swift merciful death
for him. He had read dreadful tales of the Bolsheviks' skill in
torture, and now they all came back to him—stories of Chinese
mercenaries, and men buried alive, and death by agonizing inches. He
felt suddenly very cold and sick, and hung in his bonds, for he had no
strength in his limbs. Then the pressure on this throat braced him,
and also quickened his numb mind. The liveliest terror ran like
quicksilver through his veins.
He endured some moments of this anguish, till after many despairing
clutches at his wits he managed to attain a measure of self-control.
He certainly wasn't going to allow himself to become mad. Death was
death whatever form it took, and he had to face death as many better
men had done before him. He had often thought about it and wondered
how he should behave if the thing came to him. Respectably, he had
hoped; heroically, he had sworn in his moments of confidence. But he
had never for an instant dreamed of this cold, lonely, dreadful
business. Last Sunday, he remembered, he had basking in the afternoon
sun in his little garden and reading about the end of Fergus MacIvor
in WAVERLEY and thrilling to the romance of it; and Tibby had come out
and summoned him in to tea. Then he had rather wanted to be a
Jacobite in the '45 and in peril of his neck, and now Providence had
taken him most terribly at his word.
A week ago—-! He groaned at the remembrance of that sunny garden.
In seven days he had found a new world and tried a new life, and had
come now to the end of it. He did not want to die, less now than ever
with such wide horizons opening before him. But that was the worst of
it, he reflected, for to have a great life great hazards must be
taken, and there was always the risk of this sudden
extinguisher....Had he to choose again, far better the smooth
sheltered bypath than this accursed romantic highway on to which he
had blundered....No, by Heaven, no! Confound it, if he had to choose
he would do it all again. Something stiff and indomitable in his soul
was bracing him to a manlier humour. There was no one to see the
figure strapped to the fir, but had there been a witness he would have
noted that at this stage Dickson shut his teeth and that his troubled
eyes looked very steadily before him.
His business, he felt, was to keep from thinking, for if he thought
at all there would be a flow of memories—of his wife, his home, his
books, his friends—to unman him. So he steeled himself to blankness,
like a sleepless man imagining white sheep in a gate....He noted a
robin below the hazels, strutting impudently. And there was a tit on
a bracken frond, which made the thing sway like one of the see-saws he
used to play with as a boy. There was no wind in that undergrowth,
and any movement must be due to bird or beast. The tit flew off, and
the oscillations of the bracken slowly died away. Then they began
again, but more violently, and Dickson could not see the bird that
caused them. It must be something down at the roots of the covert, a
rabbit, perhaps, or a fox, or a weasel.
He watched for the first sign of the beast, and thought he caught
a glimpse of tawny fur. Yes, there it was—pale dirty yellow, a
weasel clearly. Then suddenly the patch grow larger, and to his
amazement he looked at a human face—the face of a pallid small boy.
A head disentangled itself, followed by thin shoulders, and then
by a pair of very dirty bare legs. The figure raised itself and
looked sharply round to make certain that the coast was clear. Then
it stood up and saluted, revealing the well-known lineaments of Wee
At the sight Dickson knew that he was safe by that certainty of
instinct which is independent of proof, like the man who prays for a
sign and has his prayer answered. He observed that the boy was
quietly sobbing. Jaikie surveyed the position for an instant with
red-rimmed eyes and then unclasped a knife, feeling the edge of the
blade on his thumb. He darted behind the fir, and a second later
Dickson's wrists were free. Then he sawed at the legs, and cut the
shackles which tied them together, and then—most circumspectly—
assaulted the cord which bound Dickson's neck to the trunk. There now
remained only the two bonds which fastened the legs and the body to
There was a sound in the wood different from the wind and stream.
Jaikie listened like a startled hind.
"They're comin' back," he gasped. "Just you bide where ye are and
let on ye're still tied up."
He disappeared in the scrub as inconspicuously as a rat, while two
of the tinklers came up the slope from the waterside. Dickson in a
fever of impatience cursed Wee Jaikie for not cutting his remaining
bonds so that he could at least have made a dash for freedom. And then
he realized that the boy had been right. Feeble and cramped as he
was, he would have stood no chance in a race.
One of the tinklers was the man called Ecky. He had been running
hard, and was mopping his brow.
"Hob's seen the brig," he said. "It's droppin' anchor ayont the
Dookits whaur there's a bield frae the wund and deep water. They'll be
landit in half an 'oor. Awa' you up to the Hoose and tell Dobson, and
me and Sim and Hob will meet the boats at the Garplefit."
The other cast a glance towards Dickson.
"What about him?" he asked.
The two scrutinized their prisoner from a distance of a few paces.
Dickson, well aware of his peril, held himself as stiff as if every
bond had been in place. The thought flashed on him that if he were
too immobile they might think he was dying or dead, and come close to
examine him. If they only kept their distance, the dusk of the wood
would prevent them detecting Jaikie's handiwork.
"What'll you take to let me go?" he asked plaintively.
"Naething that you could offer, my mannie," said Ecky.
"I'll give you a five-pound note apiece."
"Produce the siller," said the other.
"It's in my pocket."
"It's no' that. We riped your pooches lang syne."
"I'll take you to Glasgow with me and pay you there. Honour
Ecky spat. "D'ye think we're gowks? Man, there's no siller ye
could pay wad mak' it worth our while to lowse ye. Bide quiet there
and ye'll see some queer things ere nicht. C'way, Davie."
The two set off at a good pace down the stream, while Dickson's
pulsing heart returned to its normal rhythm. As the sound of their
feet died away Wee Jaikie crawled out from cover, dry-eyed now and
very business-like. He slit the last thongs, and Dickson fell limply
on his face.
"Losh, laddie, I'm awful stiff," he groaned. "Now, listen. Away
all your pith to Dougal, and tell him that the brig's in and the men
will be landing inside the hour. Tell him I'm coming as fast as my
legs will let me. The Princess will likely be there already and Sir
Archibald and his men, but if they're no', tell Dougal they're coming.
Haste you, Jaikie. And see here, I'll never forget what you've done
for me the day. You're a fine wee laddie!"
The obedient Die-Hard disappeared, and Dickson painfully and
laboriously set himself to climb the slope. He decided that his
quickest and safest route lay by the highroad, and he had also some
hopes of recovering his bicycle. On examining his body he seemed to
have sustained no very great damage, except a painful cramping of
legs and arms and a certain dizziness in the head. His pockets had
been thoroughly rifled, and he reflected with amusement that he, the
well-to-do Mr. McCunn, did not possess at the moment a single copper.
But his spirits were soaring, for somehow his escape had given him
an assurance of ultimate success. Providence had directly interfered
on his behalf by the hand of Wee Jaikie, and that surely meant that
it would see him through. But his chief emotion was an ardour of
impatience to get to the scene of action. He must be at Dalquharter
before the men from the sea; he must find Dougal and discover his
dispositions. Heritage would be on guard in the Tower, and in a very
little the enemy would be round it. It would be just like the
Princess to try and enter there, but at all costs that must be
hindered. She and Sir Archie must not be cornered in stone walls, but
must keep their communications open and fall on the enemy's flank.
Oh, if the police would only come it time, what a rounding up of
miscreants that day would see!
As the trees thinned on the brow of the slope and he saw the sky,
he realized that the afternoon was far advanced. It must be well on
for five o'clock. The wind still blew furiously, and the oaks on the
fringes of the wood were whipped like saplings. Ruefully he admitted
that the gale would not defeat the enemy. If the brig found a
sheltered anchorage on the south side of the headland beyond the
Garple, it would be easy enough for boats to make the Garple mouth,
though it might be a difficult job to get out again. The thought
quickened his steps, and he came out of cover on to the public road
without a prior reconnaissance. Just in front of him stood a
motor-bicycle. Something had gone wrong with it for its owner was
tinkering at it, on the side farthest from Dickson. A wild hope
seized him that this might be the vanguard of the police, and he went
boldly towards it. The owner, who was kneeling, raised his face at
the sound of footsteps and Dickson looked into his eyes.
He recognized them only too well. They belonged to the man he had
seen in the inn at Kirkmichael, the man whom Heritage had decided to
be an Australian, but whom they now know to be their arch-enemy—the
man called Paul who had persecuted the Princess for years and whom
alone of all beings on earth she feared. He had been expected before,
but had arrived now in the nick of time while the brig was casting
anchor. Saskia had said that he had a devil's brain, and Dickson, as
he stared at him, saw a fiendish cleverness in his straight brows and
a remorseless cruelty in his stiff jaw and his pale eyes.
He achieved the bravest act of his life. Shaky and dizzy as he
was, with freedom newly opened to him and the mental torments of his
captivity still an awful recollection, he did not hesitate. He saw
before him the villain of the drama, the one man that stood between
the Princess and peace of mind. He regarded no consequences, gave no
heed to his own fate, and thought only how to put his enemy out of
action. There was a by spanner lying on the ground. He seized it and
with all his strength smote at the man's face.
The motor-cyclist, kneeling and working hard at his machine, had
raised his head at Dickson's approach and beheld a wild apparition- -a
short man in ragged tweeds, with a bloody brow and long smears of
blood on his cheeks. The next second he observed the threat of
attack, and ducked his head so that the spanner only grazed his scalp.
The motor-bicycle toppled over, its owner sprang to his feet, and
found the short man, very pale and gasping, about to renew the
assault. In such a crisis there was no time for inquiry, and the
cyclist was well trained in self-defence. He leaped the prostrate
bicycle, and before his assailant could get in a blow brought his left
fist into violent contact with his chin. Dickson tottered a step or
two and then subsided among the bracken.
He did not lose his senses, but he had no more strength in him. He
felt horribly ill, and struggled in vain to get up. The cyclist, a
gigantic figure, towered above him. "Who the devil are you?" he was
asking. "What do you mean by it?"
Dickson had no breath for words, and knew that if he tried to
speak he would be very sick. He could only stare up like a dog at
the angry eyes. Angry beyond question they were, but surely not
malevolent. Indeed, as they looked at the shameful figure on the
ground, amusement filled them. The face relaxed into a smile.
"Who on earth are you?" the voice repeated. And then into it came
recognition. "I've seen you before. I believe you're the little man
I saw last week at the Black Bull. Be so good as to explain why you
want to murder me."
Explanation was beyond Dickson, but his conviction was being
woefully shaken. Saskia had said her enemy was a beautiful as a
devil—he remembered the phrase, for he had thought it ridiculous.
This man was magnificent, but there was nothing devilish in his lean
"What's your name?" the voice was asking.
"Tell me yours first," Dickson essayed to stutter between spasms of
"My name is Alexander Nicholson," was the answer.
"Then you're no' the man." It was a cry of wrath and despair.
"You're a very desperate little chap. For whom had I the honour
to be mistaken?"
Dickson had now wriggled into a sitting position and had clasped
his hands above his aching head.
"I thought you were a Russian, name of Paul," he groaned.
"Paul! Paul who?"
"Just Paul. A Bolshevik and an awful bad lot."
Dickson could not see the change which his words wrought in the
other's face. He found himself picked up in strong arms and carried
to a bog-pool where his battered face was carefully washed, his
throbbing brows laved, and a wet handkerchief bound over them. Then he
was given brandy in the socket of a flask, which eased his nausea.
The cyclist ran his bicycle to the roadside, and found a seat for
Dickson behind the turf-dyke of the old bucht.
"Now you are going to tell me everything," he said. "If the Paul
who is your enemy is the Paul I think him, then we are allies."
But Dickson did not need this assurance. His mind had suddenly
received a revelation. The Princess had expected an enemy, but also
a friend. Might not this be the long-awaited friend, for whose sake
she was rooted to Huntingtower with all its terrors?
"Are you sure your name's no' Alexis?" he asked.
"In my own country I was called Alexis Nicolaevitch, for I am a
Russian. But for some years I have made my home with your folk, and I
call myself Alexander Nicholson, which is the English form. Who told
you about Alexis?
"Give me your hand," said Dickson shamefacedly. "Man, she's been
looking for you for weeks. You're terribly behind the fair."
"She!" he cried. "For God's sake, tell me what you mean."
"Ay, she—the Princess. But what are we havering here for? I tell
you at this moment she's somewhere down about the old Tower, and
there's boatloads of blagyirds landing from the sea. Help me up, man,
for I must be off. The story will keep. Losh, it's very near the
darkening. If you're Alexis, you're just about in time for a battle."
But Dickson on his feet was but a frail creature. He was still
deplorably giddy, and his legs showed an unpleasing tendency to
crumple. "I'm fair done," he moaned. "You see, I've been tied up all
day to a tree and had two sore bashes on my head. Get you on that
bicycle and hurry on, and I'll hirple after you the best I can. I'll
direct you the road, and if you're lucky you'll find a Die-Hard about
the village. Away with you, man, and never mind me."
"We go together," said the other quietly. "You can sit behind me
and hang on to my waist. Before you turned up I had pretty well got
the thing in order."
Dickson in a fever of impatience sat by while the Russian put the
finishing touches to the machine, and as well as his anxiety allowed
put him in possession of the main facts of the story. He told of how
he and Heritage had come to Dalquharter, of the first meeting with
Saskia, of the trip to Glasgow with the jewels, of the exposure of
Loudon the factor, of last night's doings in the House, and of the
journey that morning to the Mains of Garple. He sketched the figures
on the scene—Heritage and Sir Archie, Dobson and his gang, the
Gorbals Die-Hards. He told of the enemy's plans so far as he knew
"Looked at from a business point of view," he said, "the
situation's like this. There's Heritage in the Tower, with Dobson,
Leon, and Spidel sitting round him. Somewhere about the place there's
the Princess and Sir Archibald and three men with guns from the Mains.
Dougal and his five laddies are running loose in the policies. And
there's four tinklers and God knows how many foreign ruffians pushing
up from the Garplefoot, and a brig lying waiting to carry off the
ladies. Likewise there's the police, somewhere on the road, though
the dear kens when they'll turn up. It's awful the incompetence of
our Government, and the rates and taxes that high!.. .And there's you
and me by this roadside, and me no more use than a
tattie-bogle....That's the situation, and the question is what's our
plan to be? We must keep the blagyirds in play till the police come,
and at the same time we must keep the Princess out of danger. That's
why I'm wanting back, for they've sore need of a business head. Yon
Sir Archibald's a fine fellow, but I doubt he'll be a bit rash, and
the Princess is no' to hold or bind. Our first job is to find Dougal
and get a grip of the facts."
"I am going to the Princess," said the Russian.
"Ay, that'll be best. You'll be maybe able to manage her, for
you'll be well acquaint."
"She is my kinswoman. She is also my affianced wife."
"Keep us!" Dickson exclaimed, with a doleful thought of Heritage.
"What ailed you then no' to look after her better?"
"We have been long separated, because it was her will. She had
work to do and disappeared from me, though I searched all Europe for
her. Then she sent me word, when the danger became extreme, and
summoned me to her aid. But she gave me poor directions, for she did
not know her own plans very clearly. She spoke of a place called
Darkwater, and I have been hunting half Scotland for it. It was only
last night that I heard of Dalquharter and guessed that that might be
the name. But I was far down in Galloway, and have ridden fifty miles
"It's a queer thing, but I wouldn't take you for a Russian."
Alexis finished his work and put away his tools.
"For the present," he said, "I am an Englishman, till my country
comes again to her senses. Ten years ago I left Russia, for I was
sick of the foolishness of my class and wanted a free life in a new
world. I went to Australia and made good as an engineer. I am a
partner in a firm which is pretty well known even in Britain. When war
broke out I returned to fight for my people, and when Russia fell out
of the war, I joined the Australians in France and fought with them
till the Armistice. And now I have only one duty left, to save the
Princess and take her with me to my new home till Russia is a nation
Dickson whistled joyfully. "So Mr. Heritage was right. He aye
said you were an Australian....And you're a business man! That's
grand hearing and puts my mind at rest. You must take charge of the
party at the House, for Sir Archibald's a daft young lad and Mr.
Heritage is a poet. I thought I would have to go myself, but I doubt
I would just be a hindrance with my dwaibly legs. I'd be better
outside, watching for the police....Are you ready, sir?"
Dickson not without difficulty perched himself astride the luggage
carrier, firmly grasping the rider round the middle. The machine
started, but it was evidently in a bad way, for it made poor going
till the descent towards the main Auchenlochan road. On the slope it
warmed up and they crossed the Garple bridge at a fair pace. There
was to be no pleasant April twilight, for the stormy sky had already
made dusk, and in a very little the dark would fall. So sombre was
the evening that Dickson did not notice a figure in the shadow of the
roadside pines till it whistled shrilly on its fingers. He cried on
Alexis to stop, and, this being accomplished with some suddenness,
fell off at Dougal's feet.
"What's the news?" he demanded.
Dougal glanced at Alexis and seemed to approve his looks.
"Napoleon has just reported that three boatloads, making either
twenty-three or twenty-four men—they were gey ill to count—has
landed at Garplefit and is makin' their way to the auld Tower. The
tinklers warned Dobson and soon it'll be a' bye wi' Heritage."
"The Princess is not there?" was Dickson's anxious inquiry.
"Na, na. Heritage is there his lone. They were for joinin' him,
but I wouldn't let them. She came wi' a man they call Sir Erchibald
and three gamekeepers wi' guns. I stoppit their cawr up the road and
tell't them the lie o' the land. Yon Sir Erchibald has poor notions
o' strawtegy. He was for bangin' into the auld Tower straight away
and shootin' Dobson if he tried to stop them. 'Havers,' say I, 'let
them break their teeth on the Tower, thinkin' the leddy's inside, and
that'll give us time, for Heritage is no' the lad to surrender in a
"Where are they now?"
"In the Hoose o' Dalquharter, and a sore job I had gettin' them in.
We've shifted our base again, without the enemy suspectin'."
"Any word of the police?"
"The polis!" and Dougal spat cynically. "It seems they're a dour
crop to shift. Sir Erchibald was sayin' that him and the lassie had
been to the Chief Constable, but the man was terrible auld and slow.
They persuadit him, but he threepit that it would take a long time to
collect his men and that there was no danger o' the brig landin'
before night. He's wrong there onyway, for they're landit."
"Dougal," said Dickson, "you've heard the Princess speak of a
friend she was expecting here called Alexis. This is him. You can
address him as Mr. Nicholson. Just arrived in the nick of time. You
must get him into the House, for he's the best right to be beside the
lady...Jaikie would tell you that I've been sore mishandled the day,
and am no' very fit for a battle. But Mr. Nicholson's a business man
and he'll do as well. You're keeping the Die-Hards outside, I hope?"
"Ay. Thomas Yownie's in charge, and Jaikie will be in and out with
orders. They've instructions to watch for the polis, and keep an eye
on the Garplefit. It's a mortal long front to hold, but there's no
other way. I must be in the hoose mysel' Thomas Yownie's
headquarters is the auld wife's hen-hoose."
At that moment in a pause of the gale came the far-borne echo of a
"Pistol," said Alexis.
"Heritage," said Dougal. "Trade will be gettin' brisk with him.
Start your machine and I'll hang on ahint. We'll try the road by the
Presently the pair disappeared in the dusk, the noise of the engine
was swallowed up in the wild orchestra of the wind, and Dickson
hobbled towards the village in a state of excitement which made him
oblivious of his wounds. That lonely pistol shot was, he felt, the
bell to ring up the curtain on the last act of the play.
CHAPTER XIII. THE COMING OF THE
Mr. John Heritage, solitary in the old Tower, found much to occupy
his mind. His giddiness was passing, though the dregs of a headache
remained, and his spirits rose with his responsibilities. At daybreak
he breakfasted out of the Mearns Street provision box, and made tea in
one of the Die-Hard's camp kettles. Next he gave some attention to
his toilet, necessary after the rough-and-tumble of the night. He
made shift to bathe in icy water from the Tower well, shaved, tidied
up his clothes and found a clean shirt from his pack. He carefully
brushed his hair, reminding himself that thus had the Spartans done
before Thermopylae. The neat and somewhat pallid young man that
emerged from these rites then ascended to the first floor to
reconnoitre the landscape from the narrow unglazed windows.
If any one had told him a week ago that he would be in so strange
a world he would have quarrelled violently with his informant. A week
ago he was a cynical clear-sighted modern, a contemner of illusions, a
swallower of formulas, a breaker of shams—one who had seen through
the heroical and found it silly. Romance and such-like toys were
playthings for fatted middle-age, not for strenuous and cold-eyed
youth. But the truth was that now he was altogether spellbound by
these toys. To think that he was serving his lady was
rapture-ecstasy, that for her he was single-handed venturing all. He
rejoiced to be alone with his private fancies. His one fear was that
the part he had cast himself for might be needless, that the men from
the sea would not come, or that reinforcements would arrive before he
should be called upon. He hoped alone to make a stand against
thousands. What the upshot might be he did not trouble to inquire.
Of course the Princess would be saved, but first he must glut his
appetite for the heroic.
He made a diary of events that day, just as he used to do at the
front. At twenty minutes past eight he saw the first figure coming
from the House. It was Spidel, who limped round the Tower, tried the
door, and came to a halt below the window. Heritage stuck out his
head and wished him good morning, getting in reply an amazed stare.
The man was not disposed to talk, though Heritage made some
interesting observations on the weather, but departed quicker than he
came, in the direction of the West Lodge.
Just before nine o'clock he returned with Dobson and Leon. They
made a very complete reconnaissance of the Tower, and for a moment
Heritage thought that they were about to try to force an entrance.
They tugged and hammered at the great oak door, which he had further
strengthened by erecting behind it a pile of the heaviest lumber he
could find in the place. It was imperative that they should not get
in, and he got Dickson's pistol ready with the firm intention of
shooting them if necessary. But they did nothing, except to hold a
conference in the hazel clump a hundred yards to the north, when
Dobson seemed to be laying down the law, and Leon spoke rapidly with a
great fluttering of hands. They were obviously puzzled by the sight
of Heritage, whom they believed to have left the neighbourhood. Then
Dobson went off, leaving Leon and Spidel on guard, one at the edge of
the shrubberies between the Tower and the House, the other on the side
nearest the Laver glen. These were their posts, but they did sentry-go
around the building, and passed so close to Heritage's window that he
could have tossed a cigarette on their heads.
It occurred to him that he ought to get busy with camouflage. They
must be convinced that the Princess was in the place, for he wanted
their whole mind to be devoted to the siege. He rummaged among the
ladies' baggage, and extracted a skirt and a coloured scarf. The
latter he managed to flutter so that it could be seen at the window
the next time one of the watchers came within sight. He also fixed up
the skirt so that the fringe of it could be seen, and, when Leon
appeared below, he was in the shadow talking rapid French in a very
fair imitation of the tones of Cousin Eugenie. The ruse had its
effect, for Leon promptly went off to tell Spidel, and when Dobson
appeared he too was given the news. This seemed to settle their
plans, for all three remained on guard, Dobson nearest to the Tower,
seated on an outcrop of rock with his mackintosh collar turned up, and
his eyes usually on the misty sea.
By this time it was eleven o'clock, and the next three hours passed
slowly with Heritage. He fell to picturing the fortunes of his
friends. Dickson and the Princess should by this time be far inland,
out of danger and in the way of finding succour. He was confident
that they would return, but he trusted not too soon, for he hoped for
a run for his money as Horatius in the Gate. After that he was a
little torn in his mind. He wanted the Princess to come back and to
be somewhere near if there was a fight going, so that she might be a
witness of his devotion. But she must not herself run any risk, and
he became anxious when he remembered her terrible sangfroid. Dickson
could no more restrain her than a child could hold a greyhound....But
of course it would never come to that. The police would turn up long
before the brig appeared—Dougal had thought that would not be till
high tide, between four and five—and the only danger would be to the
pirates. The three watchers would be put in the bag, and the men from
the sea would walk into a neat trap. This reflection seemed to take
all the colour out of Heritage's prospect. Peril and heroism were not
to be his lot—only boredom.
A little after twelve two of the tinklers appeared with some news
which made Dobson laugh and pat them on the shoulder. He seemed to
be giving them directions, pointing seaward and southward. He nodded
to the Tower, where Heritage took the opportunity of again fluttering
Saskia's scarf athwart the window. The tinklers departed at a trot,
and Dobson lit his pipe as if well pleased. He had some trouble with
it in the wind, which had risen to an uncanny violence. Even the
solid Tower rocked with it, and the sea was a waste of spindrift and
low scurrying cloud. Heritage discovered a new anxiety—this time
about the possibility of the brig landing at all. He wanted a
complete bag, and it would be tragic if they got only the three seedy
ruffians now circumambulating his fortress.
About one o'clock he was greatly cheered by the sight of Dougal.
At the moment Dobson was lunching off a hunk of bread and cheese
directly between the Tower and the House, just short of the crest of
the ridge on the other side of which lay the stables and the
shrubberies; Leon was on the north side opposite the Tower door, and
Spidel was at the south end near the edge of the Garple glen.
Heritage, watching the ridge behind Dobson and the upper windows of
the House which appeared over it, saw on the very crest something
like a tuft of rusty bracken which he had not noticed before.
Presently the tuft moved, and a hand shot up from it waving a rag of
some sort. Dobson at the moment was engaged with a bottle of porter,
and Heritage could safely wave a hand in reply. He could now make out
clearly the red head of Dougal.
The Chieftain, having located the three watchers, proceeded to give
an exhibition of his prowess for the benefit of the lonely inmate of
the Tower. Using as cover a drift of bracken, he wormed his way down
till he was not six yards from Dobson, and Heritage had the privilege
of seeing his grinning countenance a very little way above the
innkeeper's head. Then he crawled back and reached the neighbourhood
of Leon, who was sitting on a fallen Scotch fir. At that moment it
occurred to the Belgian to visit Dobson. Heritage's breath stopped,
but Dougal was ready, and froze into a motionless blur in the shadow
of a hazel bush. Then he crawled very fast into the hollow where Leon
had been sitting, seized something which looked like a bottle, and
scrambled back to the ridge. At the top he waved the object, whatever
it was, but Heritage could not reply, for Dobson happened to be
looking towards the window. That was the last he saw of the Chieftain,
but presently he realized what was the booty he had annexed. It must
be Leon's life-preserver, which the night before had broken Heritage's
After that cheering episode boredom again set in. He collected
some food from the Mearns Street box, and indulged himself with a
glass of liqueur brandy. He was beginning to feel miserably cold, so
he carried up some broken wood and made a fire on the immense hearth
in the upper chamber. Anxiety was clouding his mind again, for it
was now two o'clock, and there was no sign of the reinforcements
which Dickson and the Princess had gone to find. The minutes passed,
and soon it was three o'clock, and from the window he saw only the
top of the gaunt shuttered House, now and then hidden by squalls of
sleet, and Dobson squatted like an Eskimo, and trees dancing like a
witch-wood in the gale. All the vigour of the morning seemed to have
gone out of his blood; he felt lonely and apprehensive and puzzled.
He wished he had Dickson beside him, for that little man's cheerful
voice and complacent triviality would be a comfort....Also, he was
abominably cold. He put on his waterproof, and turned his attention
to the fire. It needed re-kindling, and he hunted in his pockets for
paper, finding only the slim volume lettered WHORLS.
I set it down as the most significant commentary on his state of
mind. He regarded the book with intense disfavour, tore it in two, and
used a handful of its fine deckle-edged leaves to get the fire going.
They burned well, and presently the rest followed. Well for Dickson's
peace of soul that he was not a witness of such vandalism.
A little warmer but in no way more cheerful, he resumed his watch
near the window. The day was getting darker, and promised an early
dusk. His watch told him that it was after four, and still nothing had
happened. Where on earth were Dickson and the Princess? Where in the
name of all that was holy were the police? Any minute now the brig
might arrive and land its men, and he would be left there as a
burnt-offering to their wrath. There must have been an infernal
muddle somewhere.. ..Anyhow the Princess was out of the trouble, but
where the Lord alone knew....Perhaps the reinforcements were lying in
wait for the boats at the Garplefoot. That struck him as a likely
explanation, and comforted him. Very soon he might hear the sound of
an engagement to the south, and the next thing would be Dobson and his
crew in flight. He was determined to be in the show somehow and would
be very close on their heels. He felt a peculiar dislike to all
three, but especially to Leon. The Belgian's small baby features had
for four days set him clenching his fists when he thought of them.
The next thing he saw was one of the tinklers running hard towards
the Tower. He cried something to Dobson, which woke the latter to
activity. The innkeeper shouted to Leon and Spidel, and the tinkler
was excitedly questioned. Dobson laughed and slapped his thigh. He
gave orders to the others, and himself joined the tinkler and hurried
off in the direction of the Garplefoot. Something was happening
there, something of ill omen, for the man's face and manner had been
triumphant. Were the boats landing?
As Heritage puzzled over this event, another figure appeared on the
scene. It was a big man in knickerbockers and mackintosh, who came
round the end of the House from the direction of the South Lodge. At
first he thought it was the advance-guard from his own side, the help
which Dickson had gone to find, and he only restrained himself in time
from shouting a welcome. But surely their supports would not advance
so confidently in enemy country. The man strode over the slopes as if
looking for somebody; then he caught sight of Leon and waved to him
to come. Leon must have known him, for he hastened to obey.
The two were about thirty yards from Heritage's window. Leon was
telling some story volubly, pointing now to the Tower and now towards
the sea. The big man nodded as if satisfied. Heritage noted that his
right arm was tied up, and that the mackintosh sleeve was empty, and
that brought him enlightenment. It was Loudon the factor, whom
Dickson had winged the night before. The two of them passed out of
view in the direction of Spidel.
The sight awoke Heritage to the supreme unpleasantness of his
position. He was utterly alone on the headland, and his allies had
vanished into space, while the enemy plans, moving like clockwork,
were approaching their consummation. For a second he thought of
leaving the Tower and hiding somewhere in the cliffs. He dismissed
the notion unwillingly, for he remembered the task that had been set
him. He was there to hold the fort to the last—to gain time, though
he could not for the life of him see what use time was to be when all
the strategy of his own side seemed to have miscarried. Anyhow, the
blackguards would be sold, for they would not find the Princess. But
he felt a horrid void in the pit of his stomach, and a looseness about
The moments passed more quickly as he wrestled with his fears. The
next he knew the empty space below his window was filling with figures.
There was a great crowd of them, rough fellows with seamen's coats,
still dripping as if they had had a wet landing. Dobson was with
them, but for the rest they were strange figures.
Now that the expected had come at last Heritage's nerves grew
calmer. He made out that the newcomers were trying the door, and he
waited to hear it fall, for such a mob could soon force it. But
instead a voice called from beneath.
"Will you please open to us?" it called.
He stuck his head out and saw a little group with one man at the
head of it, a young man clad in oilskins whose face was dim in the
murky evening. The voice was that of a gentleman.
"I have orders to open to no one," Heritage replied.
"Then I fear we must force an entrance," said the voice.
"You can go to the devil," said Heritage.
That defiance was the screw which his nerves needed. His temper
had risen, he had forgotten all about the Princess, he did not even
remember his isolation. His job was to make a fight for it. He ran
up the staircase which led to the attics of the Tower, for he
recollected that there was a window there which looked over the space
before the door. The place was ruinous, the floor filled with holes,
and a part of the roof sagged down in a corner. The stones around
the window were loose and crumbling, and he managed to pull several
out so that the slit was enlarged. He found himself looking down on
a crowd of men, who had lifted the fallen tree on which Leon had
perched, and were about to use it as a battering ram.
"The first fellow who comes within six yards of the door I shoot,"
There was a white wave below as every face was turned to him. He
ducked back his head in time as a bullet chipped the side of the
But his position was a good one, for he had a hole in the broken
wall through which he could see, and could shoot with his hand at the
edge of the window while keeping his body in cover. The battering
party resumed their task, and as the tree swung nearer, he fired at
the foremost of them. He missed, but the shot for a moment suspended
Again they came on, and again he fired. This time he damaged
somebody, for the trunk was dropped.
A voice gave orders, a sharp authoritative voice. The battering
squad dissolved, and there was a general withdrawal out of the line of
fire from the window. Was it possible that he had intimidated them?
He could hear the sound of voices, and then a single figure came into
sight again, holding something in its hand.
He did not fire for he recognized the futility of his efforts. The
baseball swing of the figure below could not be mistaken. There was a
roar beneath, and a flash of fire, as the bomb exploded on the door.
Then came a rush of men, and the Tower had fallen. Heritage clambered
through a hole in the roof and gained the topmost parapet. He had
still a pocketful of cartridges, and there in a coign of the old
battlements he would prove an ugly customer to the pursuit. Only one
at a time could reach that siege perilous....They would not take long
to search the lower rooms, and then would be hot on the trail of the
man who had fooled them. He had not a scrap of fear left or even of
anger—only triumph at the thought of how properly those ruffians had
been sold. "Like schoolboys they who unaware"—instead of two women
they had found a man with a gun. And the Princess was miles off and
forever beyond their reach. When they had settled with him they would
no doubt burn the House down, but that would serve them little. >From
his airy pinnacle he could see the whole sea-front of Huntingtower, a
blur in the dusk but for the ghostly eyes of its white-shuttered
Something was coming from it, running lightly over the lawns, lost
for an instant in the trees, and then appearing clear on the crest of
the ridge where some hours earlier Dougal had lain. With horror he saw
that it was a girl. She stood with the wind plucking at her skirts
and hair, and she cried in a high, clear voice which pierced even the
confusion of the gale. What she cried he could not tell, for it was
in a strange tongue....
But it reached the besiegers. There was a sudden silence in the
din below him and then a confusion of shouting. The men seemed to be
pouring out of the gap which had been the doorway, and as he peered
over the parapet first one and then another entered his area of
vision. The girl on the ridge, as soon as she saw that she had
attracted attention, turned and ran back, and after her up the slopes
went the pursuit bunched like hounds on a good scent.
Mr. John Heritage, swearing terribly, started to retrace his steps.
CHAPTER XIV. THE SECOND BATTLE OF
The military historian must often make shift to write of battles
with slender data, but he can pad out his deficiencies by learned
parallels. If his were the talented pen describing this, the latest
action fought on British soil against a foreign foe, he would no doubt
be crippled by the absence of written orders and war diaries. But how
eloquently he would descant on the resemblance between Dougal and
Gouraud—how the plan of leaving the enemy to waste his strength upon
a deserted position was that which on the 15th of July 1918 the French
general had used with decisive effect in Champagne! But Dougal had
never heard of Gouraud, and I cannot claim that, like the Happy
"through the heat of conflict kept the law
In calmness made, and saw what he foresaw."
I have had the benefit of discussing the affair with him and his
colleagues, but I should offend against historic truth if I
represented the main action as anything but a scrimmage—a "soldiers'
battle," the historian would say, a Malplaquet, an Albuera.
Just after half-past three that afternoon the Commander-in-Chief
was revealed in a very bad temper. He had intercepted Sir Archie's
car, and, since Leon was known to be fully occupied, had brought it
in by the West Lodge, and hidden it behind a clump of laurels. There
he had held a hoarse council of war. He had cast an appraising eye
over Sime the butler, Carfrae the chauffeur, and McGuffog the
gamekeeper, and his brows had lightened when he beheld Sir Archie
with an armful of guns and two big cartridge-magazines. But they had
darkened again at the first words of the leader of the reinforcements.
"Now for the Tower,' Sir Archie had observed cheerfully. "We
should be a match for the three watchers, my lad, and it's time that
poor devil What's-his-name was relieved."
"A bonny-like plan that would be," said Dougal. "Man, ye would be
walkin' into the very trap they want. In an hour, or maybe two, the
rest will turn up from the sea and they'd have ye tight by the neck.
Na, na! It's time we're wantin', and the longer they think we're a'
in the auld Tower the better for us. What news o' the polis?"
He listened to Sir Archie's report with a gloomy face.
"Not afore the darkening'? They'll be ower late—the polis are
aye ower late. It looks as if we had the job to do oursels. What's
"God knows," said the baronet, whose eyes were on Saskia. "What's
The deference conciliated Dougal. "There's just the one plan
that's worth a docken. There's five o' us here, and there's plenty
weapons. Besides there's five Die-Hards somewhere about, and though
they've never tried it afore they can be trusted to loose off a gun.
My advice is to hide at the Garplefoot and stop the boats landin'.
We'd have the tinklers on our flank, no doubt, but I'm not muckle
feared o' them. It wouldn't be easy for the boats to get in wi' this
tearin' wind and us firin' volleys from the shore."
Sir Archie stared at him with admiration. "You're a hearty young
fire-eater. But, Great Scott! we can't go pottin' at strangers before
we find out their business. This is a law-abidin' country, and we're
not entitled to start shootin' except in self-defence. You can wash
that plan out, for it ain't feasible."
Dougal spat cynically. "For all that it's the right strawtegy.
Man, we might sink the lot, and then turn and settle wi' Dobson, and
all afore the first polisman showed his neb. It would be a grand
performance. But I was feared ye wouldn't be for it....Well, there's
just the one other thing to do. We must get inside the Hoose and put
it in a state of defence. Heritage has McCunn's pistol, and he'll
keep them busy for a bit. When they've finished wi' him and find the
place is empty, they'll try the Hoose and we'll give them a warm
reception. That should keep us goin' till the polis arrive, unless
they're comin' wi' the blind carrier."
Sir Archie nodded. "But why put ourselves in their power at all?
They're at present barking up the wrong tree. Let them bark up
another wrong 'un. Why shouldn't the House remain empty? I take it
we're here to protect the Princess. Well, we'll have done that if
they go off empty-handed."
Dougal looked up to the heavens. "I wish McCunn was here," he
sighed. "Ay, we've got to protect the Princess, and there's just the
one way to do it, and that's to put an end to this crowd o' blagyirds.
If they gang empty-handed, they'll come again another day, either here
or somewhere else, and it won't be long afore they get the lassie.
But if we finish with them now she can sit down wi' an easy mind.
That's why we've got to hang on to them till the polis comes. There's
no way out o' this business but a battle."
He found an ally. "Dougal is right," said Saskia. "If I am to
have peace, by some way or other the fangs of my enemies must be
drawn for ever."
He swung round and addressed her formally. "Mem, I'm askin' ye
for the last time. Will ye keep out of this business? Will ye gang
back and sit doun aside Mrs. Morran's fire and have your teas and wait
till we come for ye. Ye can do no good, and ye're puttin' yourself
terrible in the enemy's power. If we're beat and ye're no' there,
they get very little satisfaction, but if they get you they get what
they've come seekin'. I tell ye straight—ye're an encumbrance."
She laughed mischievously. "I can shoot better than you," she
He ignored the taunt. "Will ye listen to sense and fall to the
"I will not," she said.
"Then gang your own gait. I'm ower wise to argy-bargy wi' women.
The Hoose be it!"
It was a journey which sorely tried Dougal's temper. The only way
in was by the verandah, but the door at the west end had been locked,
and the ladder had disappeared. Now, of his party three were lame,
one lacked an arm, and one was a girl; besides, there were the guns
and cartridges to transport. Moreover, at more than one point before
the verandah was reached the route was commanded by a point on the
ridge near the old Tower, and that had been Spidel's position when
Dougal made his last reconnaissance. It behoved to pass these points
swiftly and unobtrusively, and his company was neither swift nor
unobtrusive. McGuffog had a genius for tripping over obstacles, and
Sir Archie was for ever proffering his aid to Saskia, who was in a
position to give rather than to receive, being far the most active of
the party. Once Dougal had to take the gamekeeper's head and force it
down, a performance which would have led to an immediate assault but
for Sir Archie's presence. Nor did the latter escape. "Will ye stop
heedin' the lassie, and attend to your own job," the Chieftain
growled. "Ye're makin' as much noise as a roadroller."
Arrived at the foot of the verandah wall there remained the problem
of the escalade. Dougal clambered up like a squirrel by the help of
cracks in the stones, and he could be heard trying the handle of the
door into the House. He was absent for about five minutes, and then
his head peeped over the edge accompanied by the hooks of an iron
ladder. "From the boiler-house," he informed them as they stood clear
for the thing to drop. It proved to be little more than half the
height of the wall.
Saskia ascended first, and had no difficulty in pulling herself
over the parapet. Then came the guns and ammunition, and then the
one-armed Sime, who turned out to be an athlete. But it was no easy
matter getting up the last three. Sir Archie anathematized his
frailties. "Nice old crock to go tiger—shootin' with," he told the
Princess. "But set me to something where my confounded leg don't get
in the way, and I'm still pretty useful!" Dougal, mopping his brow
with the rag he called his handkerchief, observed sourly that he
objected to going scouting with a herd of elephants.
Once indoors his spirits rose. The party from the Mains had
brought several electric torches, and the one lamp was presently found
and lit. "We can't count on the polis," Dougal announced, "and when
the foreigners is finished wi' the Tower they'll come on here. If
no', we must make them. What is it the sodgers call it? Forcin' a
battle? Now see here! There's the two roads into this place, the back
door and the verandy, leavin' out the front door which is chained and
lockit. They'll try those two roads first, and we must get them well
barricaded in time. But mind, if there's a good few o' them, it'll be
an easy job to batter in the front door or the windies, so we maun be
ready for that."
He told off a fatigue party—the Princess, Sir Archie, and
McGuffog- -to help in moving furniture to the several doors. Sime and
Carfrae attended to the kitchen entrance, while he himself made a tour
of the ground-floor windows. For half an hour the empty house was
loud with strange sounds. McGuffog, who was a giant in strength,
filled the passage at the verandah end with an assortment of furniture
ranging from a grand piano to a vast mahogany sofa, while Saskia and
Sir Archie pillaged the bedrooms and packed up the interstices with
mattresses in lieu of sandbags. Dougal on his turn saw fit to
approve the work.
"That'll fickle the blagyirds. Down at the kitchen door we've got
a mangle, five wash-tubs, and the best part of a ton o' coal. It's the
windies I'm anxious about, for they're ower big to fill up. But I've
gotten tubs of water below them and a lot o' wire-nettin' I fund in
Sir Archie morosely wiped his brow. "I can't say I ever hated a
job more," he told Saskia. "It seems pretty cool to march into
somebody else's house and make free with his furniture. I hope to
goodness our friends from the sea do turn up, or we'll look pretty
foolish. Loudon will have a score against me he won't forget.
"Ye're no' weakenin'?" asked Dougal fiercely.
"Not a bit. Only hopin' somebody hasn't made a mighty big
"Ye needn't be feared for that. Now you listen to your
instructions. We're terrible few for such a big place, but we maun
make up for shortness o' numbers by extra mobility. The gemkeeper
will keep the windy that looks on the verandy, and fell any man that
gets through. You'll hold the verandy door, and the ither lame
man—is't Carfrae ye call him?—will keep the back door. I've telled
the one-armed man, who has some kind of a head on him, that he maun
keep on the move, watchin' to see if they try the front door or any o'
the other windies. If they do, he takes his station there. D'ye
Sir Archie nodded gloomily.
"What is my post?" Saskia asked.
"I've appointed ye my Chief of Staff," was the answer. "Ye see
we've no reserves. If this door's the dangerous bit, it maun be
reinforced from elsewhere; and that'll want savage thinkin'. Ye'll
have to be aye on the move, Mem, and keep me informed. If they break
in at two bits, we're beat, and there'll be nothing for it but to
retire to our last position. Ye ken the room ayont the hall where
they keep the coats. That's our last trench, and at the worst we fall
back there and stick it out. It has a strong door and a wee windy, so
they'll no' be able to get in on our rear. We should be able to put up
a good defence there, unless they fire the place over our
heads....Now, we'd better give out the guns."
"We don't want any shootin' if we can avoid it," said Sir Archie,
who found his distaste for Dougal growing, though he was under the
spell of the one being there who knew precisely his own mind.
"Just what I was goin' to say. My instructions is, reserve your
fire, and don't loose off till you have a man up against the end o'
"Good Lord, we'll get into a horrible row. The whole thing may be
a mistake, and we'll be had up for wholesale homicide. No man shall
fire unless I give the word."
The Commander-in-Chief looked at him darkly. Some bitter retort
was on his tongue, but he restrained himself.
"It appears," he said, "that ye think I'm doin' all this for fun.
I'll no' argy wi' ye. There can be just the one general in a battle,
but I'll give ye permission to say the word when to
fire....Macgreegor!" he muttered, a strange expletive only used in
moments of deep emotion. "I'll wager ye'll be for sayin' the word
afore I'd say it mysel'."
He turned to the Princess. "I hand over to you, till I am back,
for I maun be off and see to the Die-Hards. I wish I could bring
them in here, but I daren't lose my communications. I'll likely get
in by the boiler-house skylight when I come back, but it might be as
well to keep a road open here unless ye're actually attacked."
Dougal clambered over the mattresses and the grand piano; a flicker
of waning daylight appeared for a second as he squeezed through the
door, and Sir Archie was left staring at the wrathful countenance of
McGuffog. He laughed ruefully.
"I've been in about forty battles, and here's that little devil
rather worried about my pluck and talkin' to me like a corps
commander to a newly joined second-lieutenant. All the same he's a
remarkable child, and we'd better behave as if we were in for a real
shindy. What do you think, Princess?"
"I think we are in for what you call a shindy. I am in command,
remember. I order you to serve out the guns."
This was done, a shot-gun and a hundred cartridges to each, while
McGuffog, who was a marksman, was also given a sporting Mannlicher,
and two other rifles, a .303 and a small-bore Holland, were kept in
reserve in the hall. Sir Archie, free from Dougal's compelling
presence, gave the gamekeeper peremptory orders not to shoot till he
was bidden, and Carfrae at the kitchen door was warned to the same
effect. The shuttered house, where the only light apart from the
garden-room was the feeble spark of the electric torches, had the most
disastrous effect upon his spirits. The gale which roared in the
chimney and eddied among the rafters of the hall seemed an infernal
commotion in a tomb.
"Let's go upstairs," he told Saskia; "there must be a view from
the upper windows."
"You can see the top of the old Tower, and part of the sea," she
said. "I know it well, for it was my only amusement to look at it. On
clear days, too, one could see high mountains far in the west." His
depression seemed to have affected her, for she spoke listlessly,
unlike the vivid creature who had led the way in.
In a gaunt west-looking bedroom, the one in which Heritage and
Dickson had camped the night before, they opened a fold of the
shutters and looked out into a world of grey wrack and driving rain.
The Tower roof showed mistily beyond the ridge of down, but its
environs were not in their prospect. The lower regions of the House
had been gloomy enough, but this bleak place with its drab outlook
struck a chill to Sir Archie's soul. He dolefully lit a cigarette.
"This is a pretty rotten show for you," he told her. "It strikes
me as a rather unpleasant brand of nightmare."
"I have been living with nightmares for three years," she said
He cast his eyes round the room. "I think the Kennedys were mad to
build this confounded barrack. I've always disliked it, and old
Quentin hadn't any use for it either. Cold, cheerless, raw
monstrosity! It hasn't been a very giddy place for you, Princess."
"It has been my prison, when I hoped it would be a sanctuary. But
it may yet be my salvation."
"I'm sure I hope so. I say, you must be jolly hungry. I don't
suppose there's any chance of tea for you."
She shook her head. She was looking fixedly at the Tower, as if
she expected something to appear there, and he followed her eyes.
"Rum old shell, that. Quentin used to keep all kinds of live
stock there, and when we were boys it was our castle where we played
at bein' robber chiefs. It'll be dashed queer if the real thing
should turn up this time. I suppose McCunn's Poet is roostin' there
all by his lone. Can't say I envy him his job."
Suddenly she caught his arm. "I see a man," she whispered.
"There! He is behind those far bushes. There is his head again!"
It was clearly a man, but he presently disappeared, for he had come
round by the south end of the House, past the stables, and had now
gone over the ridge.
"The cut of his jib us uncommonly like Loudon, the factor. I
thought McCunn had stretched him on a bed of pain. Lord, if this
thing should turn out a farce, I simply can't face Loudon....I say,
Princess, you don't suppose by any chance that McCunn's a little bit
wrong in the head?"
She turned her candid eyes on him. "You are in a very doubting
"My feet are cold and I don't mind admittin' it. Hanged if I know
what it is, but I don't feel this show a bit real. If it isn't, we're
in a fair way to make howlin' idiots of ourselves, and get pretty well
embroiled with the law. It's all right for the red-haired boy, for he
can take everything seriously, even play. I could do the same thing
myself when I was a kid. I don't mind runnin' some kind of risk—I've
had a few in my time—but this is so infernally outlandish, and I—I
don't quite believe in it. That is to say, I believe in it right
enough when I look at you or listen to McCunn, but as soon as my eyes
are off you I begin to doubt again. I'm gettin' old and I've a stake
in the country, and I daresay I'm gettin' a bit of a prig—anyway I
don't want to make a jackass of myself. Besides, there's this foul
weather and this beastly house to ice my feet."
He broke off with an exclamation, for on the grey cloud-bounded
stage in which the roof of the Tower was the central feature, actors
had appeared. Dim hurrying shapes showed through the mist, dipping
over the ridge, as if coming from the Garplefoot.
She seized his arm and he saw that her listlessness was gone. Her
eyes were shining.
"It is they," she cried. "The nightmare is real at last. Do you
He could only stare, for these shapes arriving and vanishing like
wisps of fog still seemed to him phantasmal. The girl held his arm
tightly clutched, and craned towards the window space. He tried to
open the frame, and succeeded in smashing the glass. A swirl of wind
drove inwards and blew a loose lock of Saskia's hair across his brow.
"I wish Dougal were back," he muttered, and then came the crack of
a shot. The pressure on his arm slackened, and a pale face was turned
to him. "He is alone—Mr. Heritage. He has no chance. They will kill
him like a dog."
"They'll never get in," he assured her. "Dougal said the place
could hold out for hours."
Another shot followed and presently a third. She twined her hands
and her eyes were wild.
"We can't leave him to be killed," she gasped.
"It's the only game. We're playin' for time, remember. Besides, he
won't be killed. Great Scott!"
As he spoke, a sudden explosion cleft the drone of the wind and a
patch of gloom flashed into yellow light.
"Bomb!" he cried. "Lord, I might have thought of that."
The girl had sprung back from the window. "I cannot bear it. I
will not see him murdered in sight of his friends. I am going to show
myself, and when they see me they will leave him....No, you must stay
here. Presently they will be round this house. Don't be afraid for
me—I am very quick of foot."
"For God's sake, don't! Here, Princess, stop," and he clutched at
her skirt. "Look here, I'll go."
"You can't. You have been wounded. I am in command, you know.
Keep the door open till I come back."
He hobbled after her, but she easily eluded him. She was smiling
now, and blew a kiss to him. "La, la, la," she trilled, as she ran
down the stairs. He heard her voice below, admonishing McGuffog.
Then he pulled himself together and went back to the window. He had
brought the little Holland with him, and he poked its barrel through
the hole in the glass.
"Curse my game leg," he said, almost cheerfully, for the situation
was now becoming one with which he could cope. "I ought to be able
to hold up the pursuit a bit. My aunt! What a girl!"
With the rifle cuddled to his shoulder he watched a slim figure
come into sight on the lawn, running towards the ridge. He reflected
that she must have dropped from the high verandah wall. That reminded
him that something must be done to make the wall climbable for her
return, so he went down to McGuffog, and the two squeezed through the
barricaded door to the verandah. The boilerhouse ladder was still in
position, but it did not reach half the height, so McGuffog was
adjured to stand by to help, and in the meantime to wait on duty by
the wall. Then he hurried upstairs to his watch-tower.
The girl was in sight, almost on the crest of the high ground.
There she stood for a moment, one hand clutching at her errant hair,
the other shielding her eyes from the sting of the rain. He heard
her cry, as Heritage had heard her, but since the wind was blowing
towards him the sound came louder and fuller. Again she cried, and
then stood motionless with her hands above her head. It was only for
an instant, for the next he saw she had turned and was racing down
the slope, jumping the little scrogs of hazel like a deer. On the
ridge appeared faces, and then over it swept a mob of men.
She had a start of some fifty yards, and laboured to increase it,
having doubtless the verandah wall in mind. Sir Archie, sick with
anxiety, nevertheless spared time to admire her prowess. "Gad! she's
a miler," he ejaculated. "She'll do it. I'm hanged if she don't do
Against men in seamen's boots and heavy clothing she had a clear
advantage. But two shook themselves loose from the pack and began to
gain on her. At the main shrubbery they were not thirty yards behind,
and in her passage through it her skirts must have delayed her, for
when she emerged the pursuit had halved the distance. He got the
sights of the rifle on the first man, but the lawns sloped up towards
the house, and to his consternation he found that the girl was in the
line of fire. Madly he ran to the other window of the room, tore back
the shutters, shivered the glass, and flung his rifle to his shoulder.
The fellow was within three yards of her, but, thank God! he had now
a clear field. He fired low and just ahead of him, and had the
satisfaction to see him drop like a rabbit, shot in the leg. His
companion stumbled over him, and for a moment the girl was safe.
But her speed was failing. She passed out of sight on the verandah
side of the house, and the rest of the pack had gained ominously over
the easier ground of the lawn. He thought for a moment of trying to
stop them by his fire, but realized that if every shot told there
would still be enough of them left to make sure of her capture. The
only chance was at the verandah, and he went downstairs at a pace
undreamed of since the days when he had two whole legs.
McGuffog, Mannlicher in hand, was poking his neck over the wall.
The pursuit had turned the corner and were about twenty yards off;
the girl was at the foot of the ladder, breathless, drooping with
fatigue. She tried to climb, limply and feebly, and very slowly, as if
she were too giddy to see clear. Above were two cripples, and at her
back the van of the now triumphant pack.
Sir Archie, game leg or no, was on the parapet preparing to drop
down and hold off the pursuit were it only for seconds. But at that
moment he was aware that the situation had changed.
At the foot of the ladder a tall man seemed to have sprung out of
the ground. He caught the girl in his arms, climbed the ladder, and
McGuffog's great hands reached down and seized her and swung her into
safety. Up the wall, by means of cracks and tufts, was shinning a
The stranger coolly faced the pursuers, and at the sight of him
they checked, those behind stumbling against those in front. He was
speaking to them in a foreign tongue, and to Sir Archie's ear the
words were like the crack of a lash. The hesitation was only for a
moment, for a voice among them cried out, and the whole pack gave
tongue shrilly and surged on again. But that instant of check had
given the stranger his chance. He was up the ladder, and, gripping
the parapet, found rest for his feet in a fissure. Then he bent down,
drew up the ladder, handed it to McGuffog, and with a mighty heave
pulled himself over the top.
He seemed to hope to defend the verandah, but the door at the west
end was being assailed by a contingent of the enemy, and he saw that
its thin woodwork was yielding.
"Into the House," he cried, as he picked up the ladder and tossed
it over the wall on the pack surging below. He was only just in time,
for the west door yielded. In two steps he had followed McGuffog
through the chink into the passage, and the concussion of the grand
piano pushed hard against the verandah door from within coincided
with the first battering on the said door from without.
In the garden-room the feeble lamp showed a strange grouping.
Saskia had sunk into a chair to get her breath, and seemed too dazed
to be aware of her surroundings. Dougal was manfully striving to
appear at his ease, but his lip was quivering.
"A near thing that time," he observed. "It was the blame of that
man's auld motor-bicycle."
The stranger cast sharp eyes around the place and company.
"An awkward corner, gentlemen," he said. "How many are there of
you? Four men and a boy? And you have placed guards at all the
"They have bombs," Sir Archie reminded him.
"No doubt. But I do not think they will use them here—or their
guns, unless there is no other way. Their purpose is kidnapping, and
they hope to do it secretly and slip off without leaving a trace. If
they slaughter us, as they easily can, the cry will be out against
them, and their vessel will be unpleasantly hunted. Half their purpose
is already spoiled, for it no longer secret.. ..They may break us by
sheer weight, and I fancy the first shooting will be done by us. It's
the windows I'm afraid of."
Some tone in his quiet voice reached the girl in the wicker chair.
She looked up wildly, saw him, and with a cry of "Alesha" ran to his
arms. There she hung, while his hand fondled her hair, like a mother
with a scared child. Sir Archie, watching the whole thing in some
stupefaction, thought he had never in his days seen more nobly matched
"It is my friend," she cried triumphantly, "the friend whom I
appointed to meet me here. Oh, I did well to trust him. Now we need
not fear anything."
As if in ironical answer came a great crashing at the verandah
door, and the twanging of chords cruelly mishandled. The grand piano
was suffering internally from the assaults of the boiler-house ladder.
"Wull I gie them a shot?" was McGuffog's hoarse inquiry.
"Action stations," Alexis ordered, for the command seemed to have
shifted to him from Dougal. "The windows are the danger. The boy will
patrol the ground floor, and give us warning, and I and this man,"
pointing to Sime, "will be ready at the threatened point. And, for
God's sake, no shooting, unless I give the word. If we take them on
at that game we haven't a chance."
He said something to Saskia in Russian and she smiled assent and
went to Sir Archie's side. "You and I must keep this door," she said.
Sir Archie was never very clear afterwards about the events of the
next hour. The Princess was in the maddest spirits, as if the burden
of three years had slipped from her and she was back in her first
girlhood. She sang as she carried more lumber to the pile— perhaps
the song which had once entranced Heritage, but Sir Archie had no ear
for music. She mocked at the furious blows which rained at the other
end, for the door had gone now, and in the windy gap could be seen a
blur of dark faces. Oddly enough, he found his own spirits mounting
to meet hers. It was real business at last, the qualms of the
civilian had been forgotten, and there was rising in him that joy in a
scrap which had once made him one of the most daring airmen on the
Western Front. The only thing that worried him now was the coyness
about shooting. What on earth were his rifles and shot-guns for
unless to be used? He had seen the enemy from the verandah wall, and
a more ruffianly crew he had never dreamed of. They meant the
uttermost business, and against such it was surely the duty of good
citizens to wage whole-hearted war.
The Princess was humming to herself a nursery rhyme. "THE KING OF
SPAIN'S DAUGHTER," she crooned, "CAME TO VISIT ME, AND ALL FOR THE
SAKE——Oh, that poor piano!" In her clear voice she cried something
in Russian, and the wind carried a laugh from the verandah. At the
sound of it she stopped. "I had forgotten," she said. "Paul is there.
I had forgotten." After that she was very quiet, but she redoubled
her labours at the barricade.
To the man it seemed that the pressure from without was slackening.
He called to McGuffog to ask about the garden-room window, and the
reply was reassuring. The gamekeeper was gloomily contemplating
Dougal's tubs of water and wire-netting, as he might have
contemplated a vermin trap.
Sir Archie was growing acutely anxious—the anxiety of the defender
of a straggling fortress which is vulnerable at a dozen points. It
seemed to him that strange noises were coming from the rooms beyond
the hall. Did the back door lie that way? And was not there a smell
of smoke in the air? If they tried fire in such a gale the place
would burn like matchwood.
He left his post and in the hall found Dougal.
"All quiet," the Chieftain reported. "Far ower quiet. I don't
like it. The enemy's no' puttin' out his strength yet. The Russian
says a' the west windies are terrible dangerous. Him and the
chauffeur's doin' their best, but ye can't block thae muckle glass
He returned to the Princess, and found that the attack had indeed
languished on that particular barricade. The withers of the grand
piano were left unwrung, and only a faint scuffling informed him that
the verandah was not empty. "They're gathering for an attack
elsewhere," he told himself. But what if that attack were a feint?
He and McGuffog must stick to their post, for in his belief the
verandah door and the garden-room window were the easiest places where
an entry in mass could be forced. Suddenly Dougal's whistle blew, and
with it came a most almighty crash somewhere towards the west side.
With a shout of "Hold Tight, McGuffog," Sir Archie bolted into the
hall, and, led by the sound, reached what had once been the ladies'
bedroom. A strange sight met his eyes, for the whole framework of one
window seemed to have been thrust inward, and in the gap Alexis was
swinging a fender. Three of the enemy were in the room—one senseless
on the floor, one in the grip of Sime, whose single hand was tightly
clenched on his throat, and one engaged with Dougal in a corner. The
Die-Hard leader was sore pressed, and to his help Sir Archie went.
The fresh assault made the seaman duck his head, and Dougal seized
the occasion to smite him hard with something which caused him to roll
over. It was Leon's life-preserver which he had annexed that
Alexis at the window seemed to have for a moment daunted the
attack. "Bring that table," he cried, and the thing was jammed into
the gap. "Now you"—this to Sime—"get the man from the back door to
hold this place with his gun. There's no attack there. It's about
time for shooting now, or we'll have them in our rear. What in heaven
It was McGuffog whose great bellow resounded down the corridor.
Sir Archie turned and shuffled back, to be met by a distressing
spectacle. The lamp, burning as peacefully as it might have burned on
an old lady's tea-table, revealed the window of the garden-room driven
bodily inward, shutters and all, and now forming an inclined bridge
over Dougal's ineffectual tubs. In front of it stood McGuffog,
swinging his gun by the barrel and yelling curses, which, being mainly
couched in the vernacular, were happily meaningless to Saskia. She
herself stood at the hall door, plucking at something hidden in her
breast. He saw that it was a little ivory-handled pistol.
The enemy's feint had succeeded, for even as Sir Archie looked
three men leaped into the room. On the neck of one the butt of
McGuffog's gun crashed, but two scrambled to their feet and made for
the girl. Sir Archie met the first with his fist, a clean drive on the
jaw, followed by a damaging hook with his left that put him out of
action. The other hesitated for an instant and was lost, for McGuffog
caught him by the waist from behind and sent him through the broken
frame to join his comrades without.
"Up the stairs," Dougal was shouting, for the little room beyond
the hall was clearly impossible. "Our flank's turned. They're
pourin' through the other windy." Out of a corner of his eye Sir
Archie caught sight of Alexis, with Sime and Carfrae in support, being
slowly forced towards them along the corridor. "Upstairs," he
shouted. "Come on, McGuffog. Lead on, Princess." He dashed out the
lamp, and the place was in darkness.
With this retreat from the forward trench line ended the opening
phase of the battle. It was achieved in good order, and position was
taken up on the first floor landing, dominating the main staircase and
the passage that led to the back stairs. At their back was a short
corridor ending in a window which gave on the north side of the House
above the verandah, and from which an active man might descend to the
verandah roof. It had been carefully reconnoitred beforehand by
Dougal, and his were the dispositions.
The odd thing was that the retreating force were in good heart.
The three men from the Mains were warming to their work, and McGuffog
wore an air of genial ferocity. "Dashed fine position I call this,"
said Sir Archie. Only Alexis was silent and preoccupied. "We are
still at their mercy," he said. "Pray God your police come soon." He
forbade shooting yet awhile. "The lady is our strong card," he said.
"They won't use their guns while she is with us, but if it ever comes
to shooting they can wipe us out in a couple of minutes. One of you
watch that window, for Paul Abreskov is no fool."
Their exhilaration was short-lived. Below in the hall it was black
darkness save for a greyness at the entrance of the verandah passage;
but the defence was soon aware that the place was thick with men.
Presently there came a scuffling from Carfrae's post towards the back
stairs, and a cry as of some one choking. And at the same moment a
flare was lit below which brought the whole hall from floor to
rafters into blinding light.
It revealed a crowd of figures, some still in the hall and some
half-way up the stairs, and it revealed, too, more figures at the end
of the upper landing where Carfrae had been stationed. The shapes were
motionless like mannequins in a shop window.
"They've got us treed all right," Sir Archie groaned. "What the
devil are they waiting for?"
"They wait for their leader," said Alexis.
No one of the party will ever forget the ensuing minutes. After
the hubbub of the barricades the ominous silence was like icy water,
chilling and petrifying with an indefinable fear. There was no sound
but the wind, but presently mingled with it came odd wild voices.
"Hear to the whaups," McGuffog whispered.
Sir Archie, who found the tension unbearable, sought relief in
contradiction. "You're an unscientific brute, McGuffog," he told his
henchman. "It's a disgrace that a gamekeeper should be such a rotten
naturalist. What would whaups be doin' on the shore at this time of
"A' the same, I could swear it's whaups, Sir Erchibald."
Then Dougal broke in and his voice was excited. It's no' whaups.
That's our patrol signal. Man, there's hope for us yet. I believe
it's the polis.' His words were unheeded, for the figures below drew
apart and a young man came through them. His beautifully-shaped dark
head was bare, and as he moved he unbuttoned his oilskins and showed
the trim dark-blue garb of the yachtsman. He walked confidently up
the stairs, an odd elegant figure among his heavy companions.
"Good afternoon, Alexis," he said in English. " I think we may now
regard this interesting episode as closed. I take it that you
surrender. Saskia, dear, you are coming with me on a little journey.
Will you tell my men where to find your baggage?"
The reply was in Russian. Alexis' voice was as cool as the
other's, and it seemed to wake him to anger. He replied in a rapid
torrent of words, and appealed to the men below, who shouted back.
The flare was dying down, and shadows again hid most of the hall.
Dougal crept up behind Sir Archie. "Here, I think it's the polis.
They're whistlin' outbye, and I hear folk cryin' to each other—no'
Again Alexis spoke, and then Saskia joined in. What she said rang
sharp with contempt, and her fingers played with her little pistol.
Suddenly before the young man could answer Dobson bustled toward
him. The innkeeper was labouring under some strong emotion, for he
seemed to be pleading and pointing urgently towards the door.
"I tell ye it's the polis," whispered Dougal. "They're nickit."
There was a swaying in the crowd and anxious faces. Men surged in,
whispered, and went out, and a clamour arose which the leader stilled
with a fierce gesture.
"You there," he cried, looking up, "you English. We mean you no
ill, but I require you to hand over to me the lady and the Russian who
is with her. I give you a minute by my watch to decide. If you
refuse, my men are behind you and around you, and you go with me to be
punished at my leisure."
"I warn you," cried Sir Archie. "We are armed, and will shoot down
any one who dares to lay a hand on us."
"You fool," came the answer. "I can send you all to eternity
before you touch a trigger."
Leon was by his side now—Leon and Spidel, imploring him to do
something which he angrily refused. Outside there was a new clamour,
faces showing at the door and then vanishing, and an anxious hum
filled the hall....Dobson appeared again and this time he was a
figure of fury.
"Are ye daft, man?" he cried. "I tell ye the polis are closin'
round us, and there's no' a moment to lose if we would get back to the
boats. If ye'll no' think o' your own neck, I'm thinkin' o' mine. The
whole things a bloody misfire. Come on, lads, if ye're no besotted on
Leon laid a hand on the leader's arm and was roughly shaken off.
Spidel fared no better, and the little group on the upper landing saw
the two shrug their shoulders and make for the door. The hall was
emptying fast and the watchers had gone from the back stairs. The
young man's voice rose to a scream; he commanded, threatened, cursed;
but panic was in the air and he had lost his mastery.
"Quick," croaked Dougal, "now's the time for the counter-attack."
But the figure on the stairs held them motionless. They could not
see his face, but by instinct they knew that it was distraught with
fury and defeat. The flare blazed up again as the flame caught a
knot of fresh powder, and once more the place was bright with the
uncanny light....The hall was empty save for the pale man who was in
the act of turning.
He looked back. "If I go now, I will return. The world is not
wide enough to hide you from me, Saskia."
"You will never get her," said Alexis.
A sudden devil flamed into his eyes, the devil of some ancestral
savagery, which would destroy what is desired but unattainable. He
swung round, his hand went to his pocket, something clacked, and his
arm shot out like a baseball pitcher's.
So intent was the gaze of the others on him, that they did not see
a second figure ascending the stairs. Just as Alexis flung himself
before the Princess, the new-comer caught the young man's outstretched
arm and wrenched something from his hand. The next second he had
hurled it into a far corner where stood the great fireplace. There
was a blinding sheet of flame, a dull roar, and then billow upon
billow of acrid smoke. As it cleared they saw that the fine Italian
chimneypiece, the pride of the builder of the House, was a mass of
splinters, and that a great hole had been blown through the wall into
what had been the dining- room....A figure was sitting on the bottom
step feeling its bruises. The last enemy had gone.
When Mr. John Heritage raised his eyes he saw the Princess with a
very pale face in the arms of a tall man whom he had never seen
before. If he was surprised at the sight, he did not show it. "Nasty
little bomb that. I remember we struck the brand first in July '18."
"Are they rounded up?" Sir Archie asked.
"They've bolted. Whether they'll get away is another matter. I
left half the mounted police a minute ago at the top of the West Lodge
avenue. The other lot went to the Garplefoot to cut off the boats."
"Good Lord, man," Sir Archie cried, "the police have been here for
the last ten minutes."
"You're wrong. They came with me."
"Then what on earth—-" began the astonished baronet. He stopped
short, for he suddenly got his answer. Into the hall limped a boy.
Never was there seen so ruinous a child. He was dripping wet, his
shirt was all but torn off his back, his bleeding nose was poorly
staunched by a wisp of handkerchief, his breeches were in ribbons, and
his poor bare legs looked as if they had been comprehensively kicked
and scratched. Limpingly he entered, yet with a kind of pride, like
some small cock-sparrow who has lost most of his plumage but has
vanquished his adversary.
With a yell Dougal went down the stairs. The boy saluted him, and
they gravely shook hands. It was the meeting of Wellington and
The Chieftain's voice shrilled in triumph, but there was a break in
it. The glory was almost too great to be borne.
"I kenned it," he cried. "It was the Gorbals Die-Hards. There
stands the man that done it....Ye'll no' fickle Thomas Yownie."
CHAPTER XV. THE GORBALS DIE-HARDS
GO INTO ACTION
We left Mr. McCunn, full of aches but desperately resolute in
spirit, hobbling by the Auchenlochan road into the village of
Dalquharter. His goal was Mrs. Morran's hen-house, which was Thomas
Yownie's POSTE DE COMMANDEMENT. The rain had come on again, and,
though in other weather there would have been a slow twilight, already
the shadow of night had the world in its grip. The sea even from the
high ground was invisible, and all to westward and windward was a
ragged screen of dark cloud. It was foul weather for foul deeds.
Thomas Yownie was not in the hen-house, but in Mrs. Morran's kitchen,
and with him were the pug-faced boy know as Old Bill, and the sturdy
figure of Peter Paterson. But the floor was held by the hostess. She
still wore her big boots, her petticoats were still kilted, and round
her venerable head in lieu of a bonnet was drawn a tartan shawl.
"Eh, Dickson, but I'm blithe to see ye. And puir man, ye've been
sair mishandled. This is the awfu'est Sabbath day that ever you and
me pit in. I hope it'll be forgiven us....Whaur's the young leddy?"
"Dougal was saying she was in the House with Sir Archibald and the
men from the Mains."
"Wae's me!" Mrs. Morran keened. "And what kind o' place is yon for
her? Thae laddies tell me there's boatfu's o' scoondrels landit at
the Garplefit. They'll try the auld Tower, but they'll no' wait
there when they find it toom, and they'll be inside the Hoose in a
jiffy and awa' wi' the puir lassie. Sirs, it maunna be. Ye're
lippenin' to the polis, but in a' my days I never kenned the polis in
time. We maun be up and daein' oorsels. Oh, if I could get a haud o'
that red-heided Dougal..."
As she spoke there came on the wind the dull reverberation of an
"Keep us, what's that?" she cried.
"It's dinnymite," said Peter Paterson.
"That's the end o' the auld Tower," observed Thomas Yownie in his
quiet, even voice. "And it's likely the end o' the man Heritage."
"Lord peety us!" the old woman wailed. "And us standin' here like
stookies and no' liftin' a hand. Awa' wi ye, laddies, and dae
something. Awa' you too, Dickson, or I'll tak' the road mysel'."
"I've got orders," said the Chief of Staff, "no' to move till the
sityation's clear. Napoleon's up at the Tower and Jaikie's in the
policies. I maun wait on their reports."
For a moment Mrs. Morran's attention was distracted by Dickson,
who suddenly felt very faint and sat down heavily on a kitchen chair.
"Man, ye're as white as a dish-clout," she exclaimed with compunction.
"Ye're fair wore out, and ye'll have had nae meat sin' your breakfast.
See, and I'll get ye a cup o' tea."
She proved to be in the right, for as soon as Dickson had swallowed
some mouthfuls of her strong scalding brew the colour came back to
his cheeks, and he announced that he felt better. "Ye'll fortify it
wi' a dram," she told him, and produced a black bottle from her
cupboard. "My father aye said that guid whisky and het tea keepit the
doctor's gig oot o' the close."
The back door opened and Napoleon entered, his thin shanks blue
with cold. He saluted and made his report in a voice shrill with
"The Tower has fallen. They've blown in the big door, and the feck
o' them's inside."
"And Mr. Heritage?" was Dickson's anxious inquiry.
"When I last saw him he was up at a windy, shootin'. I think he's
gotten on to the roof. I wouldna wonder but the place is on fire."
"Here, this is awful," Dickson groaned. "We can't let Mr. Heritage
be killed that way. What strength is the enemy?"
"I counted twenty-seven, and there's stragglers comin' up from the
"And there's me and you five laddies here, and Dougal and the
others shut up in the House."
He stopped in sheer despair. It was a fix from which the most
enlightened business mind showed no escape. Prudence, inventiveness,
were no longer in question; only some desperate course of violence.
"We must create a diversion," he said. "I'm for the Tower, and you
laddies must come with me. We'll maybe see a chance. Oh, but I wish
I had my wee pistol."
"If ye're gaun there, Dickson, I'm comin' wi' ye," Mrs Morran
Her words revealed to Dickson the preposterousness of the whole
situation, and for all his anxiety he laughed. "Five laddies, a
middle-aged man, and an auld wife," he cried. "Dod, it's pretty
hopeless. It's like the thing in the Bible about the weak things of
the world trying to confound the strong."
"The Bible's whiles richt," Mrs. Morran answered drily. "Come on,
for there's no time to lose."
The door opened again to admit the figure of Wee Jaikie. There
were no tears in his eyes, and his face was very white.
"They're a' round the Hoose," he croaked. "I was up a tree
forenent the verandy and seen them. The lassie ran oot and cried on
them from the top o' the brae, and they a' turned and hunted her back.
Gosh, but it was a near thing. I seen the Captain sklimmin' the
wall, and a muckle man took the lassie and flung her up the ladder.
They got inside just in time and steekit the door, and now the whole
pack is roarin' round the Hoose seekin' a road in. They'll no' be
long over the job, neither."
"What about Mr. Heritage?"
"They're no' heedin' about him any more. The auld Tower's
"Worse and worse," said Dickson. "If the police don't come in the
next ten minutes, they'll be away with the Princess. They've beaten
all Dougal's plans, and it's a straight fight with odds of six to one.
It's not possible."
Mrs. Morran for the first time seemed to lose hope. "Eh, the puir
lassie!" she wailed, and sinking on a chair covered her face with her
"Laddies, can you no' think of a plan?" asked Dickson, his voice
flat with despair.
Then Thomas Yownie spoke. So far he had been silent, but under his
tangled thatch of hair his mind had been busy. Jaikie's report seemed
to bring him to a decision.
"It's gey dark," he said, "and it's gettin' darker."
There was that in his voice which promised something, and Dickson
"The enemy's mostly foreigners, but Dobson's there and I think
he's a kind of guide to them. Dobson's feared of the polis, and if
we can terrify Dobson he'll terrify the rest."
"Ay, but where are the police?"
"They're no' here yet, but they're comin'. The fear o' them is aye
in Dobson's mind. If he thinks the polis has arrived, he'll put the
wind up the lot....WE maun be the polis."
Dickson could only stare while the Chief of Staff unfolded his
scheme. I do not know to whom the Muse of History will give the credit
of the tactics of "Infiltration," whether to Ludendorff or von Hutier
or some other proud captain of Germany, or to Foch, who revised and
perfected them. But I know that the same notion was at this moment of
crisis conceived by Thomas Yownie, whom no parents acknowledged, who
slept usually in a coal cellar, and who had picked up his education
among Gorbals closes and along the wharves of Clyde.
"It's gettin' dark," he said, "and the enemy are that busy tryin'
to break into the Hoose that they'll no' be thinkin' o' their rear.
The five o' us Die-Hards is grand at dodgin' and keepin' out of
sight, and what hinders us to get in among them, so that they'll hear
us but never see us. We're used to the ways o' the polis, and can
imitate them fine. Forbye we've all got our whistles, which are the
same as a bobbie's birl, and Old Bill and Peter are grand at copyin'
a man's voice. Since the Captain is shut up in the Hoose, the
command falls to me, and that's my plan."
With a piece of chalk he drew on the kitchen floor a rough sketch
of the environs of Huntingtower. Peter Paterson was to move from the
shrubberies beyond the verandah, Napoleon from the stables, Old Bill
from the Tower, while Wee Jaikie and Thomas himself were to advance as
if from the Garplefoot, so that the enemy might fear for his
communications. "As soon as one o' ye gets into position he's to gie
the patrol cry, and when each o' ye has heard five cries, he's to
advance. Begin birlin' and roarin' afore ye get among them, and keep
it up till ye're at the Hoose wall. If they've gotten inside, in ye
go after them. I trust each Die-Hard to use his judgment, and above
all to keep out o' sight and no' let himsel' be grippit."
The plan, like all great tactics, was simple, and no sooner was it
expounded than it was put into action. The Die-Hards faded out of
the kitchen like fog-wreaths, and Dickson and Mrs. Morran were left
looking at each other. They did not look long. The bare feet of Wee
Jaikie had not crossed the threshold fifty seconds, before they were
followed by Mrs. Morran's out-of-doors boots and Dickson's tackets.
Arm in arm the two hobbled down the back path behind the village
which led to the South Lodge. The gate was unlocked, for the warder
was busy elsewhere, and they hastened up the avenue. Far off Dickson
thought he saw shapes fleeting across the park, which he took to be
the shock-troops of his own side, and he seemed to hear snatches of
song. Jaikie was giving tongue, and this was what he sang:
"Proley Tarians, arise! Wave the Red Flag to the skies, Heed no
more the Fat Man's lees, Stap them doun his throat! Nocht to lose
except our chains——"
But he tripped over a rabbit wire and thereafter conserved his
The wind was so loud that no sound reached them from the House,
which, blank and immense, now loomed before them. Dickson's ears
were alert for the noise of shots or the dull crash of bombs; hearing
nothing, he feared the worst, and hurried Mrs. Morran at a pace which
endangered her life. He had no fear for himself, arguing that his
foes were seeking higher game, and judging, too, that the main battle
must be round the verandah at the other end. The two passed the
shrubbery where the road forked, one path running to the back door
and one to the stables. They took the latter and presently came out
on the downs, with the ravine of the Garple on their left, the
stables in front, and on the right the hollow of a formal garden
running along the west side of the House.
The gale was so fierce, now that they had no wind-break between
them and the ocean, that Mrs. Morran could wrestle with it no longer,
and found shelter in the lee of a clump of rhododendrons. Darkness
had all but fallen, and the House was a black shadow against the dusky
sky, while a confused greyness marked the sea. The old Tower showed a
tooth of masonry; there was no glow from it, so the fire, which Jaikie
had reported, must have died down. A whaup cried loudly, and very
eerily: then another.
The birds stirred up Mrs. Morran. "That's the laddies' patrol."
she gasped. "Count the cries, Dickson."
Another bird wailed, this time very near. Then there was perhaps
three minutes' silence till a fainter wheeple came from the direction
of the Tower. "Four," said Dickson, but he waited in vain on the
fifth. He had not the acute hearing of the boys, and could not catch
the faint echo of Peter Paterson's signal beyond the verandah. The
next he heard was a shrill whistle cutting into the wind, and then
others in rapid succession from different quarters, and something
which might have been the hoarse shouting of angry men.
The Gorbals Die-Hards had gone into action.
Dull prose is no medium to tell of that wild adventure. The sober
sequence of the military historian is out of place in recording deeds
that knew not sequence or sobriety. Were I a bard, I would cast this
tale in excited verse, with a lilt which would catch the speed of the
reality. I would sing of Napoleon, not unworthy of his great
namesake, who penetrated to the very window of the ladies' bedroom,
where the framework had been driven in and men were pouring through;
of how there he made such pandemonium with his whistle that men
tumbled back and ran about blindly seeking for guidance; of how in the
long run his pugnacity mastered him, so that he engaged in combat with
an unknown figure and the two rolled into what had once been a
fountain. I would hymn Peter Paterson, who across tracts of darkness
engaged Old Bill in a conversation which would have done no discredit
to a Gallowgate policeman. He pretended to be making reports and
seeking orders. "We've gotten three o' the deevils, sir. What'll we
dae wi' them?" he shouted; and back would come the reply in a slightly
more genteel voice: "Fall them to the rear. Tamson has charge of the
prisoners." Or it would be: "They've gotten pistols, sir. What's the
orders?" and the answer would be: "Stick to your batons. The guns are
posted on the knowe, so we needn't hurry." And over all the din there
would be a perpetual whistling and a yelling of "Hands up!"
I would sing, too, of Wee Jaikie, who was having the red-letter
hour of his life. His fragile form moved like a lizard in places
where no mortal could be expected, and he varied his duties with
impish assaults upon the persons of such as came in his way. His
whistle blew in a man's ear one second and the next yards away.
Sometimes he was moved to song, and unearthly fragments of
"Class-conscious we are" or "Proley Tarians, arise!" mingled with the
din, like the cry of seagulls in a storm. He saw a bright light flare
up within the House which warned him not to enter, but he got as far
as the garden-room, in whose dark corners he made havoc. Indeed he
was almost too successful, for he created panic where he went, and one
or two fired blindly at the quarter where he had last been heard.
These shots were followed by frenzied prohibitions from Spidel and
were not repeated. Presently he felt that aimless surge of men that is
the prelude to flight, and heard Dobson's great voice roaring in the
hall. Convinced that the crisis had come, he made his way outside,
prepared to harrass the rear of any retirement. Tears now flowed
down his face, and he could not have spoken for sobs, but he had
never been so happy.
But chiefly would I celebrate Thomas Yownie, for it was he who
brought fear into the heart of Dobson. He had a voice of singular
compass, and from the verandah he made it echo round the House. The
efforts of Old Bill and Peter Paterson had been skilful indeed, but
those of Thomas Yownie were deadly. To some leader beyond he shouted
news: "Robison's just about finished wi' his lot, and then he'll get
the boats." A furious charge upset him, and for a moment he thought
he had been discovered. But it was only Dobson rushing to Leon, who
was leading the men in the doorway. Thomas fled to the far end of the
verandah, and again lifted up his voice. "All foreigners," he shouted,
"except the man Dobson. Ay. Ay. Ye've got Loudon? Well done!"
It must have been this last performance which broke Dobson's nerve
and convinced him that the one hope lay in a rapid retreat to the
Garplefoot. There was a tumbling of men in the doorway, a muttering of
strange tongues, and the vision of the innkeeper shouting to Leon and
Spidel. For a second he was seen in the faint reflection that the
light in the hall cast as far as the verandah, a wild figure urging
the retreat with a pistol clapped to the head of those who were too
confused by the hurricane of events to grasp the situation. Some of
them dropped over the wall, but most huddled like sheep through the
door on the west side, a jumble of struggling, blasphemous mortality.
Thomas Yownie, staggered at the success of his tactics, yet kept his
head and did his utmost to confuse the retreat, and the triumphant
shouts and whistles of the other Die-Hards showed that they were not
unmindful of this final duty....
The verandah was empty, and he was just about to enter the House,
when through the west door came a figure, breathing hard and bent
apparently on the same errand. Thomas prepared for battle, determined
that no straggler of the enemy should now wrest from him victory, but,
as the figure came into the faint glow at the doorway, he recognized
it as Heritage. And at the same moment he heard something which made
his tense nerves relax. Away on the right came sounds, a thud of
galloping horses on grass and the jingle of bridle reins and the
voices of men. It was the real thing at last. It is a sad commentary
on his career, but now for the first time in his brief existence
Thomas Yownie felt charitably disposed towards the police.
The Poet, since we left him blaspheming on the roof of the Tower,
had been having a crowded hour of most inglorious life. He had
started to descend at a furious pace, and his first misadventure was
that he stumbled and dropped Dickson's pistol over the parapet. He
tried to mark where it might have fallen in the gloom below, and this
lost him precious minutes. When he slithered through the trap into
the attic room, where he had tried to hold up the attack, he
discovered that it was full of smoke which sought in vain to escape by
the narrow window. Volumes of it were pouring up the stairs, and when
he attempted to descend he found himself choked and blinded. He rushed
gasping to the window, filled his lungs with fresh air, and tried
again, but he got no farther than the first turn, from which he could
see through the cloud red tongues of flame in the ground room. This
was solemn indeed, so he sought another way out. He got on the roof,
for he remembered a chimney-stack, cloaked with ivy, which was built
straight from the ground, and he thought he might climb down it.
He found the chimney and began the descent confidently, for he had
once borne a good reputation at the Montanvert and Cortina. At first
all went well, for stones stuck out at decent intervals like the rungs
of a ladder, and roots of ivy supplemented their deficiencies. But
presently he came to a place where the masonry had crumbled into a
cave, and left a gap some twenty feet high. Below it he could dimly
see a thick mass of ivy which would enable him to cover the further
forty feet to the ground, but at that cave he stuck most finally. All
around the lime and stone had lapsed into debris, and he could find no
safe foothold. Worse still, the block on which he relied proved
loose, and only by a dangerous traverse did he avert disaster.
There he hung for a minute or two, with a cold void in his stomach.
He had always distrusted the handiwork of man as a place to scramble
on, and now he was planted in the dark on a decomposing wall, with an
excellent chance of breaking his neck, and with the most urgent need
for haste. He could see the windows of the House, and, since he was
sheltered from the gale, he could hear the faint sound of blows on
woodwork. There was clearly the devil to pay there, and yet here he
was helplessly stuck....Setting his teeth, he started to ascend again.
Better the fire than this cold breakneck emptiness.
It took him the better part of half an hour to get back, and he
passed through many moments of acute fear. Footholds which had
seemed secure enough in the descent now proved impossible, and more
than once he had his heart in his mouth when a rotten ivy stump or a
wedge of stone gave in his hands, and dropped dully into the pit of
night, leaving him crazily spread-eagled. When at last he reached
the top he rolled on his back and felt very sick. Then, as he
realized his safety, his impatience revived. At all costs he would
force his way out though he should be grilled like a herring.
The smoke was less thick in the attic, and with his handkerchief
wet with the rain and bound across his mouth he made a dash for the
ground room. It was as hot as a furnace, for everything inflammable
in it seemed to have caught fire, and the lumber glowed in piles of
hot ashes. But the floor and walls were stone, and only the blazing
jambs of the door stood between him and the outer air. He had burned
himself considerably as he stumbled downwards, and the pain drove him
to a wild leap through the broken arch, where he miscalculated the
distance, charred his shins, and brought down a red-hot fragment of
the lintel on his head. But the thing was done, and a minute later he
was rolling like a dog in the wet bracken to cool his burns and put
out various smouldering patches on his raiment.
Then he started running for the House, but, confused by the
darkness, he bore too much to the north, and came out in the side
avenue from which he and Dickson had reconnoitred on the first
evening. He saw on the right a glow in the verandah, which, as we
know, was the reflection of the flare in the hall, and he heard a
babble of voices. But he heard something more, for away on his left
was the sound which Thomas Yownie was soon to hear—the trampling of
horses. It was the police at last, and his task was to guide them at
once to the critical point of action....Three minutes later a figure
like a scarecrow was admonishing a bewildered sergeant, while his
hands plucked feverishly at a horse's bridle.
It is time to return to Dickson in his clump of rhododendrons.
Tragically aware of his impotence he listened to the tumult of the
Die-Hards, hopeful when it was loud, despairing when there came a
moment's lull, while Mrs. Morran like a Greek chorus drew loudly upon
her store of proverbial philosophy and her memory of Scripture texts.
Twice he tried to reconnoitre towards the scene of battle, but only
blundered into sunken plots and pits in the Dutch garden. Finally he
squatted beside Hrs. Morran, lit his pipe, and took a firm hold on his
It was not tested for long. Presently he was aware that a change
had come over the scene—that the Die-Hards' whistles and shouts were
being drowned in another sound, the cries of panicky men. Dobson's
bellow was wafted to him. "Auntie Phemie," he shouted, "the
innkeeper's getting rattled. Dod, I believe they're running." For at
that moment twenty paces on his left the van of the retreat crashed
through the creepers on the garden's edge and leaped the wall that
separated it from the cliffs of the Garplefoot.
The old woman was on her feet.
"God be thankit, is't the polis?"
"Maybe. Maybe no'. But they're running."
Another bunch of men raced past, and he heard Dobson's voice.
"I tell you, they're broke. Listen, it's horses. Ay, it's the
police, but it was the Die-Hards that did the job....Here! They
mustn't escape. Have the police had the sense to send men to the
Mrs. Morran, a figure like an ancient prophetess, with her tartan
shawl lashing in the gale, clutched him by the shoulder.
"Doun to the waterside and stop them. Ye'll no' be beat by wee
laddies! On wi' ye and I'll follow! There's gaun to be a juidgment on
evil-doers this night."
Dickson needed no urging. His heart was hot within him, and the
weariness and stiffness had gone from his limbs. He, too, tumbled
over the wall, and made for what he thought was the route by which he
had originally ascended from the stream. As he ran he made ridiculous
efforts to cry like a whaup in the hope of summoning the Die-Hards.
One, indeed, he found—Napoleon, who had suffered a grievous pounding
in the fountain, and had only escaped by an eel-like agility which had
aforetime served him in good stead with the law of his native city.
Lucky for Dickson was the meeting, for he had forgotten the road and
would certainly have broken his neck. Led by the Die-Hard he slid
forty feet over screes and boiler-plates, with the gale plucking at
him, found a path, lost it, and then tumbled down a raw bank of earth
to the flat ground beside the harbour. During all this performance, he
has told me, he had no thought of fear, nor any clear notion what he
meant to do. He just wanted to be in at the finish of the job.
Through the narrow entrance the gale blew as through a funnel, and
the usually placid waters of the harbour were a froth of angry waves.
Two boats had been launched and were plunging furiously, and on one
of them a lantern dipped and fell. By its light he could see men
holding a further boat by the shore. There was no sign of the police;
he reflected that probably they had become entangled in the Garple
Dean. The third boat was waiting for some one.
Dickson—a new Ajax by the ships—divined who this someone must be
and realized his duty. It was the leader, the arch-enemy, the man
whose escape must at all costs be stopped. Perhaps he had the
Princess with him, thus snatching victory from apparent defeat. In
any case he must be tackled, and a fierce anxiety gripped his heart.
"Aye finish a job," he told himself, and peered up into the darkness
of the cliffs, wondering just how he should set about it, for except
in the last few days he had never engaged in combat with a
"When he comes, you grip his legs," he told Napoleon, "and get him
down. He'll have a pistol, and we're done if he's on his feet."
There was a cry from the boats, a shout of guidance, and the light
on the water was waved madly. "They must have good eyesight," thought
Dickson, for he could see nothing. And then suddenly he was aware of
steps in front of him, and a shape like a man rising out of the void
at his left hand.
In the darkness Napoleon missed his tackle, and the full shock
came on Dickson. He aimed at what he thought was the enemy's throat,
found only an arm, and was shaken off as a mastiff might shake off a
toy terrier. He made another clutch, fell, and in falling caught his
opponent's leg so that he brought him down. The man was immensely
agile, for he was up in a second and something hot and bright blew
into Dickson's face. The pistol bullet had passed through the collar
of his faithful waterproof, slightly singeing his neck. But it served
its purpose, for Dickson paused, gasping, to consider where he had
been hit, and before he could resume the chase the last boat had
pushed off into deep water.
To be shot at from close quarters is always irritating, and the
novelty of the experience increased Dickson's natural wrath. He fumed
on the shore like a deerhound when the stag has taken to the sea. So
hot was his blood that he would have cheerfully assaulted the whole
crew had they been within his reach. Napoleon, who had been
incapacitated for speed by having his stomach and bare shanks savagely
trampled upon, joined him, and together they watched the bobbing black
specks as they crawled out of the estuary into the grey spindrift
which marked the harbour mouth.
But as he looked the wrath died out of Dickson's soul. For he saw
that the boats had indeed sailed on a desperate venture, and that a
pursuer was on their track more potent than his breathless middle-age.
The tide was on the ebb, and the gale was driving the Atlantic
breakers shoreward, and in the jaws of the entrance the two waters met
in an unearthly turmoil. Above the noise of the wind came the roar of
the flooded Garple and the fret of the harbour, and far beyond all the
crashing thunder of the conflict at the harbour mouth. Even in the
darkness, against the still faintly grey western sky, the spume could
be seen rising like waterspouts. But it was the ear rather than the
eye which made certain presage of disaster. No boat could face the
challenge of that loud portal.
As Dickson struggled against the wind and stared, his heart melted
and a great awe fell upon him. He may have wept; it is certain that
he prayed. "Poor souls, poor souls! he repeated. "I doubt the last
hour has been a poor preparation for eternity."
The tide the next day brought the dead ashore. Among them was a
young man, different in dress and appearance from the rest—a young
man with a noble head and a finely-cut classic face, which was not
marred like the others from pounding among the Garple rocks. His dark
hair was washed back from his brow, and the mouth, which had been hard
in life, was now relaxed in the strange innocence of death.
Dickson gazed at the body and observed that there was a slight
deformation between the shoulders.
"Poor fellow," he said. "That explains a lot....As my father used
to say, cripples have a right to be cankered."
CHAPTER XVI. IN WHICH A PRINCESS
LEAVES A DARK TOWER AND A PROVISION MERCHANT RETURNS TO HIS FAMILY
The three days of storm ended in the night, and with the wild
weather there departed from the Cruives something which had weighed on
Dickson's spirits since he first saw the place. Monday—only a week
from the morning when he had conceived his plan of holiday—saw the
return of the sun and the bland airs of spring. Beyond the blue of
the yet restless waters rose dim mountains tipped with snow, like some
Mediterranean seascape. Nesting birds were busy on the Laver banks
and in the Huntingtower thickets; the village smoked peacefully to the
clear skies; even the House looked cheerful if dishevelled. The
Garple Dean was a garden of swaying larches, linnets, and wild
anemones. Assuredly, thought Dickson, there had come a mighty change
in the countryside, and he meditated a future discourse to the
Literary Society of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk on "Natural Beauty in
Relation to the Mind of Man."
It remains for the chronicler to gather up the loose ends of his
tale. There was no newspaper story with bold headlines of this the
most recent assault on the shores of Britain. Alexis Nicholaevitch,
once a Prince of Muscovy and now Mr. Alexander Nicholson of the rising
firm of Sprot and Nicholson of Melbourne, had interest enough to
prevent it. For it was clear that if Saskia was to be saved from
persecution, her enemies must disappear without trace from the world,
and no story be told of the wild venture which was their undoing. The
constabulary of Carrick and Scotland Yard were indisposed to ask
questions, under a hint from their superiors, the more so as no
serious damage had been done to the persons of His Majesty's lieges,
and no lives had been lost except by the violence of Nature. The
Procurator-Fiscal investigated the case of the drowned men, and
reported that so many foreign sailors, names and origins unknown, had
perished in attempting to return to their ship at the Garplefoot. The
Danish brig had vanished into the mist of the northern seas. But one
signal calamity the Procurator-Fiscal had to record. The body of
Loudon the factor was found on the Monday morning below the cliffs,
his neck broken by a fall. In the darkness and confusion he must have
tried to escape in that direction, and he had chosen an impracticable
road or had slipped on the edge. It was returned as "death by
misadventure," and the CARRICK HERALD and the AUCHENLOCHAN ADVERTISER
excelled themselves in eulogy. Mr. Loudon, they said, had been widely
known in the south-west of Scotland as an able and trusted lawyer, an
assiduous public servant, and not least as a good sportsman. It was
the last trait which had led to his death, for, in his enthusiasm for
wild nature, he had been studying bird life on the cliffs of the
Cruives during the storm, and had made that fatal slip which had
deprived the shire of a wise counsellor and the best of good fellows.
The tinklers of the Garplefoot took themselves off, and where they
may now be pursuing their devious courses is unknown to the
chronicler. Dobson, too, disappeared, for he was not among the dead
from the boats. He knew the neighbourhood, and probably made his way
to some port from which he took passage to one or other of those
foreign lands which had formerly been honoured by his patronage. Nor
did all the Russians perish. Three were found skulking next morning
in the woods, starving and ignorant of any tongue but their own, and
five more came ashore much battered but alive. Alexis took charge of
the eight survivors, and arranged to pay their passage to one of the
British Dominions and to give them a start in a new life. They were
broken creatures, with the dazed look of lost animals, and four of
them had been peasants in Saskia's estates. Alexis spoke to them in
their own language. "In my grandfather's time," he said, "you were
serfs. Then there came a change, and for some time you were free men.
Now you have slipped back into being slaves again—the worst of
slaveries, for you have been the serfs of fools and scoundrels and the
black passion of your own hearts. I give you a chance of becoming
free men once more. You have the task before you of working out your
own salvation. Go, and God be with you."
Before we take leave of these companions of a single week I would
present them to you again as they appeared on a certain sunny
afternoon when the episode of Huntingtower was on the eve of closing.
First we see Saskia and Alexis walking on the thymy sward of the
cliff-top, looking out to the fretted blue of the sea. It is a fitting
place for lovers—above all for lovers who have turned the page on a
dark preface, and have before them still the long bright volume of
life. The girl has her arm linked in the man's, but as they walk she
breaks often away from him, to dart into copses, to gather flowers, or
to peer over the brink where the gulls wheel and oyster-catchers pipe
among the shingle. She is no more the tragic muse of the past week,
but a laughing child again, full of snatches of song, her eyes bright
with expectation. They talk of the new world which lies before them,
and her voice is happy. Then her brows contract, and, as she flings
herself down on a patch of young heather, her air is thoughtful.
"I have been back among fairy tales," she says. "I do not quite
understand, Alesha. Those gallant little boys! They are youth, and
youth is always full of strangeness. Mr. Heritage! He is youth, too,
and poetry, perhaps, and a soldier's tradition. I think I know
him....But what about Dickson? He is the PETIT BOURGEOIS, the
EPICIER, the class which the world ridicules. He is unbelievable. The
others with good fortune I might find elsewhere—in Russia perhaps.
But not Dickson."
"No," is the answer. "You will not find him in Russia. He is what
they call the middle-class, which we who were foolish used to laugh
at. But he is the stuff which above all others makes a great people.
He will endure when aristocracies crack and proletariats crumble. In
our own land we have never known him, but till we create him our land
will not be a nation."
Half a mile away on the edge of the Laver glen Dickson and Heritage
are together, Dickson placidly smoking on a tree-stump and Heritage
walking excitedly about and cutting with his stick at the bracken.
Sundry bandages and strips of sticking plaster still adorn the Poet,
but his clothes have been tidied up by Mrs. Morran, and he has
recovered something of his old precision of garb. The eyes of both
are fixed on the two figures on the cliff-top. Dickson feels acutely
uneasy. It is the first time that he has been alone with Heritage
since the arrival of Alexis shivered the Poet's dream. He looks to
see a tragic grief; to his amazement he beholds something very like
"The trouble with you, Dogson," says Heritage, "is that you're a
bit of an anarchist. All you false romantics are. You don't see the
extraordinary beauty of the conventions which time has consecrated.
You always want novelty, you know, and the novel is usually the ugly
and rarely the true. I am for romance, but upon the old, noble
Dickson is scarcely listening. His eyes are on the distant lovers,
and he longs to say something which will gently and graciously
express his sympathy with his friend.
"I'm afraid," he begins hesitatingly, "I'm afraid you've had a bad
blow, Mr. Heritage. You're taking it awful well, and I honour you for
The Poet flings back his head. "I am reconciled," he says. "After
all ''tis better to have loved an lost," you know. It has been a great
experience and has shown me my own heart. I love her, I shall always
love her, but I realize that she was never meant for me. Thank God
I've been able to serve her—that is all a moth can ask of a star.
I'm a better man for it, Dogson. She will be a glorious memory, and
Lord! what poetry I shall write! I give her up joyfully, for she has
found her mate. 'Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit
impediments!' The thing's too perfect to grieve about....Look! There
is romance incarnate."
He points to the figures now silhouetted against the further sea.
"How does it go, Dogson?" he cries. "'And on her lover's arm she
leant' —what next? You know the thing."
Dickson assists and Heritage declaims:
"And on her lover's arm she leant,
And round her waist she felt it fold,
And far across the hills they went
In that new world which is the old:
Across the hills, and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
And deep into the dying day
The happy princess followed him."
He repeats the last two lines twice and draws a deep breath. "How
right!" he cries. "How absolutely right! Lord! It's astonishing how
that old bird Tennyson got the goods!"
After that Dickson leaves him and wanders among the thickets on
the edge of the Huntingtower policies above the Laver glen. He feels
childishly happy, wonderfully young, and at the same time
supernaturally wise. Sometimes he thinks the past week has been a
dream, till he touches the sticking-plaster on his brow, and finds
that his left thigh is still a mass of bruises and that his right leg
is woefully stiff. With that the past becomes very real again, and he
sees the Garple Dean in that stormy afternoon, he wrestles again at
midnight in the dark House, he stands with quaking heart by the boats
to cut off the retreat. He sees it all, but without terror in the
recollection, rather with gusto and a modest pride. "I've surely had
a remarkable time," he tells himself, and then Romance, the goddess
whom he has worshipped so long, marries that furious week with the
idyllic. He is supremely content, for he knows that in his humble way
he has not been found wanting. Once more for him the Chavender or
Chub, and long dreams among summer hills. His mind flies to the days
ahead of him, when he will go wandering with his pack in many green
places. Happy days they will be, the prospect with which he has
always charmed his mind. Yes, but they will be different from what he
had fancied, for he is another man than the complacent little fellow
who set out a week ago on his travels. He has now assurance of
himself, assurance of his faith. Romance, he sees, is one and
Below him by the edge of the stream he sees the encampment of the
Gorbals Die-Hards. He calls and waves a hand, and his signal is
answered. It seems to be washing day, for some scanty and tattered
raiment is drying on the sward. The band is evidently in session, for
it is sitting in a circle, deep in talk.
As he looks at the ancient tents, the humble equipment, the ring of
small shockheads, a great tenderness comes over him. The Die-Hards
are so tiny, so poor, so pitifully handicapped, and yet so bold in
their meagreness. Not one of them has had anything that might be
called a chance. Their few years have been spent in kennels and
closes, always hungry and hunted, with none to care for them; their
childish ears have been habituated to every coarseness, their small
minds filled with the desperate shifts of living.. ..And yet, what a
heavenly spark was in them! He had always thought nobly of the soul;
now he wants to get on his knees before the queer greatness of
A figure disengages itself from the group, and Dougal makes his way
up the hill towards him. The Chieftain is not mere reputable in garb
than when we first saw him, nor is he more cheerful of countenance.
He has one arm in a sling made out of his neckerchief, and his
scraggy little throat rises bare from his voluminous shirt. All that
can be said for him is that he is appreciably cleaner. He comes to a
standstill and salutes with a special formality.
"Dougal," says Dickson, "I've been thinking. You're the grandest
lot of wee laddies I ever heard tell of, and, forbye, you've saved my
life. Now, I'm getting on in years, though you'll admit that I'm not
that dead old, and I'm not a poor man, and I haven't chick or child to
look after. None of you has ever had a proper chance or been right fed
or educated or taken care of. I've just the one thing to say to you.
From now on you're my bairns, every one of you. You're fine laddies,
and I'm going to see that you turn into fine men. There's the stuff
in you to make Generals and Provosts—ay, and Prime Ministers, and
Dod! it'll not be my blame if it doesn't get out."
Dougal listens gravely and again salutes.
"I've brought ye a message," he says. "We've just had a meetin'
and I've to report that ye've been unanimously eleckit Chief Die-Hard.
We're a' hopin' ye'll accept."
"I accept," Dickson replies. "Proudly and gratefully I accept."
The last scene is some days later, in a certain southern suburb of
Glasgow. Ulysses has come back to Ithaca, and is sitting by his
fireside, waiting for the return of Penelope from the Neuk
Hydropathic. There is a chill in the air, so a fire is burning in the
grate, but the laden tea-table is bright with the first blooms of
lilac. Dickson, in a new suit with a flower in his buttonhole, looks
none the worse for his travels, save that there is still
sticking-plaster on his deeply sunburnt brow. He waits impatiently
with his eye on the black marble timepiece, and he fingers something
in his pocket.
Presently the sound of wheels is heard, and the pea-hen voice of
Tibby announces the arrival of Penelope. Dickson rushes to the door,
and at the threshold welcomes his wife with a resounding kiss. He
leads her into the parlour and settles her in her own chair.
"My! but it's nice to be home again!" she says. "And everything
that comfortable. I've had a fine time, but there's no place like
your own fireside. You're looking awful well, Dickson. But losh!
What have you been doing to your head?"
"Just a small tumble. It's very near mended already. Ay, I've had
a grand walking tour, but the weather was a wee bit thrawn. It's nice
to see you back again, Mamma. Now that I'm an idle man you and me
must take a lot of jaunts together."
She beams on him as she stays herself with Tibby's scones, and when
the meal is ended, Dickson draws from his pocket a slim case. The
jewels have been restored to Saskia, but this is one of her own which
she has bestowed upon Dickson as a parting memento. He opens the case
and reveals a necklet of emeralds, any one of which is worth half the
"This is a present for you," he says bashfully.
Mrs. McCunn's eyes open wide. "You're far too kind," she gasps.
"It must have cost an awful lot of money."
"It didn't cost me that much," is the truthful answer.
She fingers the trinket and then clasps it round her neck, where
the green depths of the stones glow against the black satin of her
bodice. Her eyes are moist as she looks at him. "You've been a kind
man to me," she says, and she kisses him as she has not done since
She stands up and admires the necklet in the mirror, Romance once
more, thinks Dickson. That which has graced the slim throats of
princesses in far-away Courts now adorns an elderly matron in a
semi-detached villa; the jewels of the wild Nausicaa have fallen to
the housewife Penelope.
Mrs. McCunn preens herself before the glass. "I call it very
genteel," she says. "Real stylish. It might be worn by a queen."
"I wouldn't say but it has," says Dickson.