Part 3 out of 5
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 or 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 the House?"
"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."
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
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 brothers.
"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. McCunn."
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 there."
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 before him.
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
"Up here," he commanded. "It was Mr. Heritage that fund this road."
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."
THE FIRST BATTLE OF THE CRUIVES
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 ladies."
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 de-ar."
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 other business.
"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 asleep.
"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 without hesitation.
"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 went, 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 lantern.
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 Dalquharter.
"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 answer.
Then suddenly a moving body collided with him. He jumped a step back
and then stood at attention. "Is that you, Dobson?" a voice asked.
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. Heritage?"
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, then?"
"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 up."
"It is a great--how do you say?--a turning of the tables.
Ah--what is that?"
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!"
DEALS WITH AN ESCAPE AND A JOURNEY
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 forehead.
"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 said.
"Wheesht, Mem," said Dickson, who recognized the jargon.
"He's a papermaker."
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 pirates."
"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 ship."
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 something worse."
"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 unregenerate conclusion.
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 than 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 airyplane."
"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 bog-blitters."
"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 like myself."
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 reading.
"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!"
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 Dickson.
"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 Napoleon somewhere."
"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 this show."
"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 lot."
"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 for battles."
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 machine.
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 fairly dashed.
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 not hear.
"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
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