The Thirty-nine Steps
Part 1 out of 3
THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS
by JOHN BUCHAN
THOMAS ARTHUR NELSON
(LOTHIAN AND BORDER HORSE)
My Dear Tommy,
You and I have long cherished an affection for that
elemental type of tale which Americans call the
'dime novel' and which we know as the 'shocker'--the
romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and
march just inside the borders of the possible. During
an illness last winter I exhausted my store of those
aids to cheerfulness, and was driven to write one for
myself. This little volume is the result, and I should
like to put your name on it in memory of our long
friendship, in the days when the wildest fictions are so
much less improbable than the facts.
1. The Man Who Died
2. The Milkman Sets Out on his Travels
3. The Adventure of the Literary Innkeeper
4. The Adventure of the Radical Candidate
5. The Adventure of the Spectacled Roadman
6. The Adventure of the Bald Archaeologist
7. The Dry-Fly Fisherman
8. The Coming of the Black Stone
9. The Thirty-Nine Steps
10. Various Parties Converging on the Sea
The Man Who Died
I returned from the City about three o'clock on that May afternoon
pretty well disgusted with life. I had been three months in the Old
Country, and was fed up with it. If anyone had told me a year ago
that I would have been feeling like that I should have laughed at
him; but there was the fact. The weather made me liverish, the talk
of the ordinary Englishman made me sick, I couldn't get enough
exercise, and the amusements of London seemed as flat as soda-
water that has been standing in the sun. 'Richard Hannay,' I kept
telling myself, 'you have got into the wrong ditch, my friend, and
you had better climb out.'
It made me bite my lips to think of the plans I had been building
up those last years in Bulawayo. I had got my pile--not one of the
big ones, but good enough for me; and I had figured out all kinds
of ways of enjoying myself. My father had brought me out from
Scotland at the age of six, and I had never been home since; so
England was a sort of Arabian Nights to me, and I counted on
stopping there for the rest of my days.
But from the first I was disappointed with it. In about a week I
was tired of seeing sights, and in less than a month I had had
enough of restaurants and theatres and race-meetings. I had no real
pal to go about with, which probably explains things. Plenty of
people invited me to their houses, but they didn't seem much
interested in me. They would fling me a question or two about
South Africa, and then get on their own affairs. A lot of Imperialist
ladies asked me to tea to meet schoolmasters from New Zealand
and editors from Vancouver, and that was the dismalest business of
all. Here was I, thirty-seven years old, sound in wind and limb,
with enough money to have a good time, yawning my head off all
day. I had just about settled to clear out and get back to the veld,
for I was the best bored man in the United Kingdom.
That afternoon I had been worrying my brokers about
investments to give my mind something to work on, and on my
way home I turned into my club--rather a pot-house, which took
in Colonial members. I had a long drink, and read the evening
papers. They were full of the row in the Near East, and there was
an article about Karolides, the Greek Premier. I rather fancied the
chap. From all accounts he seemed the one big man in the show;
and he played a straight game too, which was more than could be
said for most of them. I gathered that they hated him pretty blackly
in Berlin and Vienna, but that we were going to stick by him, and
one paper said that he was the only barrier between Europe and
Armageddon. I remember wondering if I could get a job in those
parts. It struck me that Albania was the sort of place that might
keep a man from yawning.
About six o'clock I went home, dressed, dined at the Cafe Royal,
and turned into a music-hall. It was a silly show, all capering
women and monkey-faced men, and I did not stay long. The night
was fine and clear as I walked back to the flat I had hired near
Portland Place. The crowd surged past me on the pavements, busy
and chattering, and I envied the people for having something to
do. These shop-girls and clerks and dandies and policemen had
some interest in life that kept them going. I gave half-a-crown to a
beggar because I saw him yawn; he was a fellow-sufferer. At Oxford
Circus I looked up into the spring sky and I made a vow. I would
give the Old Country another day to fit me into something; if
nothing happened, I would take the next boat for the Cape.
My flat was the first floor in a new block behind Langham Place.
There was a common staircase, with a porter and a liftman at the
entrance, but there was no restaurant or anything of that sort, and
each flat was quite shut off from the others. I hate servants on the
premises, so I had a fellow to look after me who came in by the
day. He arrived before eight o'clock every morning and used to
depart at seven, for I never dined at home.
I was just fitting my key into the door when I noticed a man at
my elbow. I had not seen him approach, and the sudden appearance
made me start. He was a slim man, with a short brown beard and
small, gimlety blue eyes. I recognized him as the occupant of a flat
on the top floor, with whom I had passed the time of day on the
'Can I speak to you?' he said. 'May I come in for a minute?' He
was steadying his voice with an effort, and his hand was pawing my arm.
I got my door open and motioned him in. No sooner was he
over the threshold than he made a dash for my back room, where I
used to smoke and write my letters. Then he bolted back.
'Is the door locked?' he asked feverishly, and he fastened the
chain with his own hand.
'I'm very sorry,' he said humbly. 'It's a mighty liberty, but you
looked the kind of man who would understand. I've had you in my
mind all this week when things got troublesome. Say, will you do
me a good turn?'
'I'll listen to you,' I said. 'That's all I'll promise.' I was getting
worried by the antics of this nervous little chap.
There was a tray of drinks on a table beside him, from which he
filled himself a stiff whisky-and-soda. He drank it off in three
gulps, and cracked the glass as he set it down.
'Pardon,' he said, 'I'm a bit rattled tonight. You see, I happen at
this moment to be dead.'
I sat down in an armchair and lit my pipe.
'What does it feel like?' I asked. I was pretty certain that I had to
deal with a madman.
A smile flickered over his drawn face. 'I'm not mad--yet. Say,
Sir, I've been watching you, and I reckon you're a cool customer. I
reckon, too, you're an honest man, and not afraid of playing a bold
hand. I'm going to confide in you. I need help worse than any man
ever needed it, and I want to know if I can count you in.'
'Get on with your yarn,' I said, 'and I'll tell you.'
He seemed to brace himself for a great effort, and then started on
the queerest rigmarole. I didn't get hold of it at first, and I had to
stop and ask him questions. But here is the gist of it:
He was an American, from Kentucky, and after college, being
pretty well off, he had started out to see the world. He wrote a bit,
and acted as war correspondent for a Chicago paper, and spent a
year or two in South-Eastern Europe. I gathered that he was a fine
linguist, and had got to know pretty well the society in those parts.
He spoke familiarly of many names that I remembered to have seen
in the newspapers.
He had played about with politics, he told me, at first for the
interest of them, and then because he couldn't help himself. I read
him as a sharp, restless fellow, who always wanted to get down to
the roots of things. He got a little further down than he wanted.
I am giving you what he told me as well as I could make it out.
Away behind all the Governments and the armies there was a big
subterranean movement going on, engineered by very dangerous
people. He had come on it by accident; it fascinated him; he went
further, and then he got caught. I gathered that most of the people
in it were the sort of educated anarchists that make revolutions, but
that beside them there were financiers who were playing for money.
A clever man can make big profits on a falling market, and it suited
the book of both classes to set Europe by the ears.
He told me some queer things that explained a lot that had
puzzled me--things that happened in the Balkan War, how one
state suddenly came out on top, why alliances were made and
broken, why certain men disappeared, and where the sinews of war
came from. The aim of the whole conspiracy was to get Russia and
Germany at loggerheads.
When I asked why, he said that the anarchist lot thought it
would give them their chance. Everything would be in the melting-
pot, and they looked to see a new world emerge. The capitalists
would rake in the shekels, and make fortunes by buying up wreckage.
Capital, he said, had no conscience and no fatherland. Besides,
the Jew was behind it, and the Jew hated Russia worse than hell.
'Do you wonder?' he cried. 'For three hundred years they have
been persecuted, and this is the return match for the pogroms. The
Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to
find him. Take any big Teutonic business concern. If you have
dealings with it the first man you meet is Prince von und Zu Something,
an elegant young man who talks Eton-and-Harrow English.
But he cuts no ice. If your business is big, you get behind him and
find a prognathous Westphalian with a retreating brow and the
manners of a hog. He is the German business man that gives your
English papers the shakes. But if you're on the biggest kind of job
and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up
against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a
rattlesnake. Yes, Sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just
now, and he has his knife in the Empire of the Tzar, because his
aunt was outraged and his father flogged in some one-horse location
on the Volga.'
I could not help saying that his Jew-anarchists seemed to have
got left behind a little.
'Yes and no,' he said. 'They won up to a point, but they struck a
bigger thing than money, a thing that couldn't be bought, the old
elemental fighting instincts of man. If you're going to be killed you
invent some kind of flag and country to fight for, and if you
survive you get to love the thing. Those foolish devils of soldiers
have found something they care for, and that has upset the pretty
plan laid in Berlin and Vienna. But my friends haven't played their
last card by a long sight. They've gotten the ace up their sleeves,
and unless I can keep alive for a month they are going to play it
'But I thought you were dead,' I put in.
'MORS JANUA VITAE,' he smiled. (I recognized the quotation: it was
about all the Latin I knew.) 'I'm coming to that, but I've got to put
you wise about a lot of things first. If you read your newspaper, I
guess you know the name of Constantine Karolides?'
I sat up at that, for I had been reading about him that
'He is the man that has wrecked all their games. He is the one
big brain in the whole show, and he happens also to be an honest
man. Therefore he has been marked down these twelve months
past. I found that out--not that it was difficult, for any fool could
guess as much. But I found out the way they were going to get
him, and that knowledge was deadly. That's why I have had to decease.'
He had another drink, and I mixed it for him myself, for I was
getting interested in the beggar.
'They can't get him in his own land, for he has a bodyguard of
Epirotes that would skin their grandmothers. But on the 15th day of
June he is coming to this city. The British Foreign Office has taken
to having International tea-parties, and the biggest of them is due
on that date. Now Karolides is reckoned the principal guest, and if
my friends have their way he will never return to his admiring
'That's simple enough, anyhow,' I said. 'You can warn him and
keep him at home.'
'And play their game?' he asked sharply. 'If he does not come
they win, for he's the only man that can straighten out the tangle.
And if his Government are warned he won't come, for he does not
know how big the stakes will be on June the 15th.'
'What about the British Government?' I said. 'They're not going
to let their guests be murdered. Tip them the wink, and they'll take
'No good. They might stuff your city with plain-clothes detectives
and double the police and Constantine would still be a
doomed man. My friends are not playing this game for candy. They
want a big occasion for the taking off, with the eyes of all Europe
on it. He'll be murdered by an Austrian, and there'll be plenty of
evidence to show the connivance of the big folk in Vienna and
Berlin. It will all be an infernal lie, of course, but the case will look
black enough to the world. I'm not talking hot air, my friend. I
happen to know every detail of the hellish contrivance, and I can
tell you it will be the most finished piece of blackguardism since the
Borgias. But it's not going to come off if there's a certain man who
knows the wheels of the business alive right here in London on the
15th day of June. And that man is going to be your servant,
Franklin P. Scudder.'
I was getting to like the little chap. His jaw had shut like a rat-
trap, and there was the fire of battle in his gimlety eyes. If he was
spinning me a yarn he could act up to it.
'Where did you find out this story?' I asked.
'I got the first hint in an inn on the Achensee in Tyrol. That set me
inquiring, and I collected my other clues in a fur-shop in the Galician
quarter of Buda, in a Strangers' Club in Vienna, and in a little
bookshop off the Racknitzstrasse in Leipsic. I completed my evidence
ten days ago in Paris. I can't tell you the details now, for it's
something of a history. When I was quite sure in my own mind I
judged it my business to disappear, and I reached this city by a mighty
queer circuit. I left Paris a dandified young French-American, and I
sailed from Hamburg a Jew diamond merchant. In Norway I was an
English student of Ibsen collecting materials for lectures, but when I
left Bergen I was a cinema-man with special ski films. And I came
here from Leith with a lot of pulp-wood propositions in my pocket to
put before the London newspapers. Till yesterday I thought I had
muddied my trail some, and was feeling pretty happy. Then ...'
The recollection seemed to upset him, and he gulped down some
'Then I saw a man standing in the street outside this block. I
used to stay close in my room all day, and only slip out after dark
for an hour or two. I watched him for a bit from my window, and I
thought I recognized him ... He came in and spoke to the porter
... When I came back from my walk last night I found a card in
my letter-box. It bore the name of the man I want least to meet on
I think that the look in my companion's eyes, the sheer naked
scare on his face, completed my conviction of his honesty. My own
voice sharpened a bit as I asked him what he did next.
'I realized that I was bottled as sure as a pickled herring, and that
there was only one way out. I had to die. If my pursuers knew I
was dead they would go to sleep again.'
'How did you manage it?'
'I told the man that valets me that I was feeling pretty bad, and I
got myself up to look like death. That wasn't difficult, for I'm no
slouch at disguises. Then I got a corpse--you can always get a
body in London if you know where to go for it. I fetched it back in
a trunk on the top of a four-wheeler, and I had to be assisted
upstairs to my room. You see I had to pile up some evidence for
the inquest. I went to bed and got my man to mix me a sleeping-
draught, and then told him to clear out. He wanted to fetch a
doctor, but I swore some and said I couldn't abide leeches. When I
was left alone I started in to fake up that corpse. He was my size,
and I judged had perished from too much alcohol, so I put some
spirits handy about the place. The jaw was the weak point in the
likeness, so I blew it away with a revolver. I daresay there will be
somebody tomorrow to swear to having heard a shot, but there are
no neighbours on my floor, and I guessed I could risk it. So I left
the body in bed dressed up in my pyjamas, with a revolver lying on
the bed-clothes and a considerable mess around. Then I got into a
suit of clothes I had kept waiting for emergencies. I didn't dare to
shave for fear of leaving tracks, and besides, it wasn't any kind of
use my trying to get into the streets. I had had you in my mind all
day, and there seemed nothing to do but to make an appeal to you.
I watched from my window till I saw you come home, and then
slipped down the stair to meet you ... There, Sir, I guess you
know about as much as me of this business.'
He sat blinking like an owl, fluttering with nerves and yet
desperately determined. By this time I was pretty well convinced
that he was going straight with me. It was the wildest sort of
narrative, but I had heard in my time many steep tales which had
turned out to be true, and I had made a practice of judging the man
rather than the story. If he had wanted to get a location in my flat,
and then cut my throat, he would have pitched a milder yarn.
'Hand me your key,' I said, 'and I'll take a look at the corpse.
Excuse my caution, but I'm bound to verify a bit if I can.'
He shook his head mournfully. 'I reckoned you'd ask for that,
but I haven't got it. It's on my chain on the dressing-table. I had to
leave it behind, for I couldn't leave any clues to breed suspicions.
The gentry who are after me are pretty bright-eyed citizens. You'll
have to take me on trust for the night, and tomorrow you'll get
proof of the corpse business right enough.'
I thought for an instant or two. 'Right. I'll trust you for the
night. I'll lock you into this room and keep the key. Just one word,
Mr Scudder. I believe you're straight, but if so be you are not I
should warn you that I'm a handy man with a gun.'
'Sure,' he said, jumping up with some briskness. 'I haven't the
privilege of your name, Sir, but let me tell you that you're a white
man. I'll thank you to lend me a razor.'
I took him into my bedroom and turned him loose. In half an
hour's time a figure came out that I scarcely recognized. Only his
gimlety, hungry eyes were the same. He was shaved clean, his hair
was parted in the middle, and he had cut his eyebrows. Further, he
carried himself as if he had been drilled, and was the very model,
even to the brown complexion, of some British officer who had
had a long spell in India. He had a monocle, too, which he stuck in
his eye, and every trace of the American had gone out of his speech.
'My hat! Mr Scudder--' I stammered.
'Not Mr Scudder,' he corrected; 'Captain Theophilus Digby, of
the 40th Gurkhas, presently home on leave. I'll thank you to
remember that, Sir.'
I made him up a bed in my smoking-room and sought my own
couch, more cheerful than I had been for the past month. Things
did happen occasionally, even in this God-forgotten metropolis.
I woke next morning to hear my man, Paddock, making the deuce
of a row at the smoking-room door. Paddock was a fellow I had
done a good turn to out on the Selakwe, and I had inspanned him
as my servant as soon as I got to England. He had about as much
gift of the gab as a hippopotamus, and was not a great hand at
valeting, but I knew I could count on his loyalty.
'Stop that row, Paddock,' I said. 'There's a friend of mine,
Captain--Captain' (I couldn't remember the name) 'dossing down
in there. Get breakfast for two and then come and speak to me.'
I told Paddock a fine story about how my friend was a great
swell, with his nerves pretty bad from overwork, who wanted
absolute rest and stillness. Nobody had got to know he was here,
or he would be besieged by communications from the India Office
and the Prime Minister and his cure would be ruined. I am bound
to say Scudder played up splendidly when he came to breakfast. He
fixed Paddock with his eyeglass, just like a British officer, asked
him about the Boer War, and slung out at me a lot of stuff about
imaginary pals. Paddock couldn't learn to call me 'Sir', but he
'sirred' Scudder as if his life depended on it.
I left him with the newspaper and a box of cigars, and went
down to the City till luncheon. When I got back the lift-man had an
'Nawsty business 'ere this morning, Sir. Gent in No. 15 been and
shot 'isself. They've just took 'im to the mortiary. The police are
up there now.'
I ascended to No. 15, and found a couple of bobbies and an
inspector busy making an examination. I asked a few idiotic questions,
and they soon kicked me out. Then I found the man that had
valeted Scudder, and pumped him, but I could see he suspected
nothing. He was a whining fellow with a churchyard face, and half-
a-crown went far to console him.
I attended the inquest next day. A partner of some publishing firm
gave evidence that the deceased had brought him wood-pulp propositions,
and had been, he believed, an agent of an American business.
The jury found it a case of suicide while of unsound mind, and the few
effects were handed over to the American Consul to deal with. I gave
Scudder a full account of the affair, and it interested him greatly. He
said he wished he could have attended the inquest, for he reckoned it
would be about as spicy as to read one's own obituary notice.
The first two days he stayed with me in that back room he was
very peaceful. He read and smoked a bit, and made a heap of
jottings in a note-book, and every night we had a game of chess, at
which he beat me hollow. I think he was nursing his nerves back to
health, for he had had a pretty trying time. But on the third day I
could see he was beginning to get restless. He fixed up a list of the
days till June 15th, and ticked each off with a red pencil, making
remarks in shorthand against them. I would find him sunk in a
brown study, with his sharp eyes abstracted, and after those spells
of meditation he was apt to be very despondent.
Then I could see that he began to get edgy again. He listened for
little noises, and was always asking me if Paddock could be trusted.
Once or twice he got very peevish, and apologized for it. I didn't
blame him. I made every allowance, for he had taken on a fairly
It was not the safety of his own skin that troubled him, but the
success of the scheme he had planned. That little man was clean grit
all through, without a soft spot in him. One night he was very solemn.
'Say, Hannay,' he said, 'I judge I should let you a bit deeper into
this business. I should hate to go out without leaving somebody
else to put up a fight.' And he began to tell me in detail what I had
only heard from him vaguely.
I did not give him very close attention. The fact is, I was more
interested in his own adventures than in his high politics. I reckoned
that Karolides and his affairs were not my business, leaving all that to
him. So a lot that he said slipped clean out of my memory. I remember
that he was very clear that the danger to Karolides would not begin
till he had got to London, and would come from the very highest
quarters, where there would be no thought of suspicion. He mentioned
the name of a woman--Julia Czechenyi--as having something
to do with the danger. She would be the decoy, I gathered, to get
Karolides out of the care of his guards. He talked, too, about a Black
Stone and a man that lisped in his speech, and he described very
particularly somebody that he never referred to without a shudder--
an old man with a young voice who could hood his eyes like a hawk.
He spoke a good deal about death, too. He was mortally anxious
about winning through with his job, but he didn't care a rush for
'I reckon it's like going to sleep when you are pretty well tired
out, and waking to find a summer day with the scent of hay coming
in at the window. I used to thank God for such mornings way back
in the Blue-Grass country, and I guess I'll thank Him when I wake
up on the other side of Jordan.'
Next day he was much more cheerful, and read the life of Stonewall
Jackson much of the time. I went out to dinner with a mining
engineer I had got to see on business, and came back about half-past
ten in time for our game of chess before turning in.
I had a cigar in my mouth, I remember, as I pushed open the
smoking-room door. The lights were not lit, which struck me as
odd. I wondered if Scudder had turned in already.
I snapped the switch, but there was nobody there. Then I saw
something in the far corner which made me drop my cigar and fall
into a cold sweat.
My guest was lying sprawled on his back. There was a long knife
through his heart which skewered him to the floor.
The Milkman Sets Out on his Travels
I sat down in an armchair and felt very sick. That lasted for maybe
five minutes, and was succeeded by a fit of the horrors. The poor
staring white face on the floor was more than I could bear, and I
managed to get a table-cloth and cover it. Then I staggered to a
cupboard, found the brandy and swallowed several mouthfuls. I
had seen men die violently before; indeed I had killed a few myself
in the Matabele War; but this cold-blooded indoor business was
different. Still I managed to pull myself together. I looked at my
watch, and saw that it was half-past ten.
An idea seized me, and I went over the flat with a small-tooth
comb. There was nobody there, nor any trace of anybody, but I
shuttered and bolted all the windows and put the chain on the door.
By this time my wits were coming back to me, and I could think
again. It took me about an hour to figure the thing out, and I did
not hurry, for, unless the murderer came back, I had till about six
o'clock in the morning for my cogitations.
I was in the soup--that was pretty clear. Any shadow of a doubt
I might have had about the truth of Scudder's tale was now gone.
The proof of it was lying under the table-cloth. The men who
knew that he knew what he knew had found him, and had taken
the best way to make certain of his silence. Yes; but he had been in
my rooms four days, and his enemies must have reckoned that he
had confided in me. So I would be the next to go. It might be that
very night, or next day, or the day after, but my number was up
Then suddenly I thought of another probability. Supposing I
went out now and called in the police, or went to bed and let
Paddock find the body and call them in the morning. What kind of
a story was I to tell about Scudder? I had lied to Paddock about
him, and the whole thing looked desperately fishy. If I made a clean
breast of it and told the police everything he had told me, they
would simply laugh at me. The odds were a thousand to one that I
would be charged with the murder, and the circumstantial evidence
was strong enough to hang me. Few people knew me in England; I
had no real pal who could come forward and swear to my character.
Perhaps that was what those secret enemies were playing for. They
were clever enough for anything, and an English prison was as
good a way of getting rid of me till after June 15th as a knife in
Besides, if I told the whole story, and by any miracle was believed,
I would be playing their game. Karolides would stay at home,
which was what they wanted. Somehow or other the sight of
Scudder's dead face had made me a passionate believer in his
scheme. He was gone, but he had taken me into his confidence, and
I was pretty well bound to carry on his work.
You may think this ridiculous for a man in danger of his life, but
that was the way I looked at it. I am an ordinary sort of fellow, not
braver than other people, but I hate to see a good man downed,
and that long knife would not be the end of Scudder if I could play
the game in his place.
It took me an hour or two to think this out, and by that time I
had come to a decision. I must vanish somehow, and keep vanished
till the end of the second week in June. Then I must somehow find
a way to get in touch with the Government people and tell them
what Scudder had told me. I wished to Heaven he had told me
more, and that I had listened more carefully to the little he had told
me. I knew nothing but the barest facts. There was a big risk that,
even if I weathered the other dangers, I would not be believed in
the end. I must take my chance of that, and hope that something
might happen which would confirm my tale in the eyes of the Government.
My first job was to keep going for the next three weeks. It was
now the 24th day of May, and that meant twenty days of hiding
before I could venture to approach the powers that be. I reckoned
that two sets of people would be looking for me--Scudder's
enemies to put me out of existence, and the police, who would
want me for Scudder's murder. It was going to be a giddy hunt,
and it was queer how the prospect comforted me. I had been slack
so long that almost any chance of activity was welcome. When I
had to sit alone with that corpse and wait on Fortune I was no
better than a crushed worm, but if my neck's safety was to hang on
my own wits I was prepared to be cheerful about it.
My next thought was whether Scudder had any papers about him
to give me a better clue to the business. I drew back the table-cloth
and searched his pockets, for I had no longer any shrinking from
the body. The face was wonderfully calm for a man who had been
struck down in a moment. There was nothing in the breast-pocket,
and only a few loose coins and a cigar-holder in the waistcoat. The
trousers held a little penknife and some silver, and the side pocket
of his jacket contained an old crocodile-skin cigar-case. There was
no sign of the little black book in which I had seen him making
notes. That had no doubt been taken by his murderer.
But as I looked up from my task I saw that some drawers had
been pulled out in the writing-table. Scudder would never have left
them in that state, for he was the tidiest of mortals. Someone must
have been searching for something--perhaps for the pocket-book.
I went round the flat and found that everything had been ransacked
--the inside of books, drawers, cupboards, boxes, even the
pockets of the clothes in my wardrobe, and the sideboard in the
dining-room. There was no trace of the book. Most likely the enemy
had found it, but they had not found it on Scudder's body.
Then I got out an atlas and looked at a big map of the British
Isles. My notion was to get off to some wild district, where my
veldcraft would be of some use to me, for I would be like a trapped
rat in a city. I considered that Scotland would be best, for my
people were Scotch and I could pass anywhere as an ordinary
Scotsman. I had half an idea at first to be a German tourist, for my
father had had German partners, and I had been brought up to
speak the tongue pretty fluently, not to mention having put in
three years prospecting for copper in German Damaraland. But I
calculated that it would be less conspicuous to be a Scot, and less in
a line with what the police might know of my past. I fixed on
Galloway as the best place to go. It was the nearest wild part of
Scotland, so far as I could figure it out, and from the look of the
map was not over thick with population.
A search in Bradshaw informed me that a train left St Pancras at
7.10, which would land me at any Galloway station in the late
afternoon. That was well enough, but a more important matter was
how I was to make my way to St Pancras, for I was pretty certain
that Scudder's friends would be watching outside. This puzzled me
for a bit; then I had an inspiration, on which I went to bed and
slept for two troubled hours.
I got up at four and opened my bedroom shutters. The faint
light of a fine summer morning was flooding the skies, and the
sparrows had begun to chatter. I had a great revulsion of feeling,
and felt a God-forgotten fool. My inclination was to let things
slide, and trust to the British police taking a reasonable view of my
case. But as I reviewed the situation I could find no arguments to
bring against my decision of the previous night, so with a wry
mouth I resolved to go on with my plan. I was not feeling in any
particular funk; only disinclined to go looking for trouble, if you
I hunted out a well-used tweed suit, a pair of strong nailed boots,
and a flannel shirt with a collar. Into my pockets I stuffed a spare
shirt, a cloth cap, some handkerchiefs, and a tooth-brush. I had
drawn a good sum in gold from the bank two days before, in case
Scudder should want money, and I took fifty pounds of it in
sovereigns in a belt which I had brought back from Rhodesia. That
was about all I wanted. Then I had a bath, and cut my moustache,
which was long and drooping, into a short stubbly fringe.
Now came the next step. Paddock used to arrive punctually at
7.30 and let himself in with a latch-key. But about twenty minutes
to seven, as I knew from bitter experience, the milkman turned up
with a great clatter of cans, and deposited my share outside my
door. I had seen that milkman sometimes when I had gone out for
an early ride. He was a young man about my own height, with an
ill-nourished moustache, and he wore a white overall. On him I
staked all my chances.
I went into the darkened smoking-room where the rays of morning
light were beginning to creep through the shutters. There I
breakfasted off a whisky-and-soda and some biscuits from the cupboard.
By this time it was getting on for six o'clock. I put a pipe in
My Pocket and filled my pouch from the tobacco jar on the table by
As I poked into the tobacco my fingers touched something hard,
and I drew out Scudder's little black pocket-book ...
That seemed to me a good omen. I lifted the cloth from the body
and was amazed at the peace and dignity of the dead face. 'Goodbye,
old chap,' I said; 'I am going to do my best for you. Wish me
well, wherever you are.'
Then I hung about in the hall waiting for the milkman. That was
the worst part of the business, for I was fairly choking to get out of
doors. Six-thirty passed, then six-forty, but still he did not come.
The fool had chosen this day of all days to be late.
At one minute after the quarter to seven I heard the rattle of the
cans outside. I opened the front door, and there was my man,
singling out my cans from a bunch he carried and whistling through
his teeth. He jumped a bit at the sight of me.
'Come in here a moment,' I said. 'I want a word with you.' And
I led him into the dining-room.
'I reckon you're a bit of a sportsman,' I said, 'and I want you to
do me a service. Lend me your cap and overall for ten minutes, and
here's a sovereign for you.'
His eyes opened at the sight of the gold, and he grinned broadly.
'Wot's the gyme?'he asked.
'A bet,' I said. 'I haven't time to explain, but to win it I've got to
be a milkman for the next ten minutes. All you've got to do is to
stay here till I come back. You'll be a bit late, but nobody will
complain, and you'll have that quid for yourself.'
'Right-o!' he said cheerily. 'I ain't the man to spoil a bit of sport.
'Ere's the rig, guv'nor.'
I stuck on his flat blue hat and his white overall, picked up the
cans, banged my door, and went whistling downstairs. The porter
at the foot told me to shut my jaw, which sounded as if my make-up
At first I thought there was nobody in the street. Then I caught
sight of a policeman a hundred yards down, and a loafer shuffling
past on the other side. Some impulse made me raise my eyes to the
house opposite, and there at a first-floor window was a face. As the
loafer passed he looked up, and I fancied a signal was exchanged.
I crossed the street, whistling gaily and imitating the jaunty
swing of the milkman. Then I took the first side street, and went
up a left-hand turning which led past a bit of vacant ground. There
was no one in the little street, so I dropped the milk-cans inside the
hoarding and sent the cap and overall after them. I had only just
put on my cloth cap when a postman came round the corner. I gave
him good morning and he answered me unsuspiciously. At the
moment the clock of a neighbouring church struck the hour of seven.
There was not a second to spare. As soon as I got to Euston
Road I took to my heels and ran. The clock at Euston Station
showed five minutes past the hour. At St Pancras I had no time to
take a ticket, let alone that I had not settled upon my destination. A
porter told me the platform, and as I entered it I saw the train
already in motion. Two station officials blocked the way, but I
dodged them and clambered into the last carriage.
Three minutes later, as we were roaring through the northern
tunnels, an irate guard interviewed me. He wrote out for me a
ticket to Newton-Stewart, a name which had suddenly come back
to my memory, and he conducted me from the first-class compartment
where I had ensconced myself to a third-class smoker,
occupied by a sailor and a stout woman with a child. He went off
grumbling, and as I mopped my brow I observed to my companions
in my broadest Scots that it was a sore job catching trains. I had
already entered upon my part.
'The impidence o' that gyaird!' said the lady bitterly. 'He needit a
Scotch tongue to pit him in his place. He was complainin' o' this
wean no haein' a ticket and her no fower till August twalmonth,
and he was objectin' to this gentleman spittin'.'
The sailor morosely agreed, and I started my new life in an
atmosphere of protest against authority. I reminded myself that a
week ago I had been finding the world dull.
The Adventure of the Literary Innkeeper
I had a solemn time travelling north that day. It was fine May
weather, with the hawthorn flowering on every hedge, and I asked
myself why, when I was still a free man, I had stayed on in London
and not got the good of this heavenly country. I didn't dare face
the restaurant car, but I got a luncheon-basket at Leeds and shared
it with the fat woman. Also I got the morning's papers, with news
about starters for the Derby and the beginning of the cricket season,
and some paragraphs about how Balkan affairs were settling down
and a British squadron was going to Kiel.
When I had done with them I got out Scudder's little black
pocket-book and studied it. It was pretty well filled with jottings,
chiefly figures, though now and then a name was printed in. For
example, I found the words 'Hofgaard', 'Luneville', and 'Avocado'
pretty often, and especially the word 'Pavia'.
Now I was certain that Scudder never did anything without a
reason, and I was pretty sure that there was a cypher in all this.
That is a subject which has always interested me, and I did a bit
at it myself once as intelligence officer at Delagoa Bay during the
Boer War. I have a head for things like chess and puzzles, and I
used to reckon myself pretty good at finding out cyphers. This one
looked like the numerical kind where sets of figures correspond to
the letters of the alphabet, but any fairly shrewd man can find the
clue to that sort after an hour or two's work, and I didn't think
Scudder would have been content with anything so easy. So I
fastened on the printed words, for you can make a pretty good
numerical cypher if you have a key word which gives you the
sequence of the letters.
I tried for hours, but none of the words answered. Then I fell
asleep and woke at Dumfries just in time to bundle out and get into
the slow Galloway train. There was a man on the platform whose
looks I didn't like, but he never glanced at me, and when I caught
sight of myself in the mirror of an automatic machine I didn't
wonder. With my brown face, my old tweeds, and my slouch, I was
the very model of one of the hill farmers who were crowding into
the third-class carriages.
I travelled with half a dozen in an atmosphere of shag and clay
pipes. They had come from the weekly market, and their mouths
were full of prices. I heard accounts of how the lambing had gone
up the Cairn and the Deuch and a dozen other mysterious waters.
Above half the men had lunched heavily and were highly flavoured
with whisky, but they took no notice of me. We rumbled slowly
into a land of little wooded glens and then to a great wide moorland
place, gleaming with lochs, with high blue hills showing northwards.
About five o'clock the carriage had emptied, and I was left alone
as I had hoped. I got out at the next station, a little place whose
name I scarcely noted, set right in the heart of a bog. It reminded
me of one of those forgotten little stations in the Karroo. An old
station-master was digging in his garden, and with his spade over
his shoulder sauntered to the train, took charge of a parcel, and
went back to his potatoes. A child of ten received my ticket, and I
emerged on a white road that straggled over the brown moor.
It was a gorgeous spring evening, with every hill showing as
clear as a cut amethyst. The air had the queer, rooty smell of bogs,
but it was as fresh as mid-ocean, and it had the strangest effect on
my spirits. I actually felt light-hearted. I might have been a boy out
for a spring holiday tramp, instead of a man of thirty-seven very
much wanted by the police. I felt just as I used to feel when I was
starting for a big trek on a frosty morning on the high veld. If you
believe me, I swung along that road whistling. There was no plan
of campaign in my head, only just to go on and on in this blessed,
honest-smelling hill country, for every mile put me in better humour
In a roadside planting I cut a walking-stick of hazel, and presently
struck off the highway up a bypath which followed the glen of a
brawling stream. I reckoned that I was still far ahead of any pursuit,
and for that night might please myself. It was some hours since I
had tasted food, and I was getting very hungry when I came to a
herd's cottage set in a nook beside a waterfall. A brown-faced
woman was standing by the door, and greeted me with the kindly
shyness of moorland places. When I asked for a night's lodging she
said I was welcome to the 'bed in the loft', and very soon she set
before me a hearty meal of ham and eggs, scones, and thick sweet milk.
At the darkening her man came in from the hills, a lean giant,
who in one step covered as much ground as three paces of ordinary
mortals. They asked me no questions, for they had the perfect
breeding of all dwellers in the wilds, but I could see they set me
down as a kind of dealer, and I took some trouble to confirm their
view. I spoke a lot about cattle, of which my host knew little, and I
picked up from him a good deal about the local Galloway markets,
which I tucked away in my memory for future use. At ten I was
nodding in my chair, and the 'bed in the loft' received a weary man
who never opened his eyes till five o'clock set the little homestead
a-going once more.
They refused any payment, and by six I had breakfasted and was
striding southwards again. My notion was to return to the railway
line a station or two farther on than the place where I had alighted
yesterday and to double back. I reckoned that that was the safest
way, for the police would naturally assume that I was always making
farther from London in the direction of some western port. I
thought I had still a good bit of a start, for, as I reasoned, it would
take some hours to fix the blame on me, and several more to
identify the fellow who got on board the train at St Pancras.
It was the same jolly, clear spring weather, and I simply could
not contrive to feel careworn. Indeed I was in better spirits than I
had been for months. Over a long ridge of moorland I took my
road, skirting the side of a high hill which the herd had called
Cairnsmore of Fleet. Nesting curlews and plovers were crying everywhere,
and the links of green pasture by the streams were dotted
with young lambs. All the slackness of the past months was slipping
from my bones, and I stepped out like a four-year-old. By-and-by I
came to a swell of moorland which dipped to the vale of a little
river, and a mile away in the heather I saw the smoke of a train.
The station, when I reached it, proved to be ideal for my purpose.
The moor surged up around it and left room only for the single
line, the slender siding, a waiting-room, an office, the station-
master's cottage, and a tiny yard of gooseberries and sweet-william.
There seemed no road to it from anywhere, and to increase the
desolation the waves of a tarn lapped on their grey granite beach
half a mile away. I waited in the deep heather till I saw the smoke
of an east-going train on the horizon. Then I approached the tiny
booking-office and took a ticket for Dumfries.
The only occupants of the carriage were an old shepherd and his
dog--a wall-eyed brute that I mistrusted. The man was asleep, and
on the cushions beside him was that morning's SCOTSMAN. Eagerly I
seized on it, for I fancied it would tell me something.
There were two columns about the Portland Place Murder, as it
was called. My man Paddock had given the alarm and had the milkman
arrested. Poor devil, it looked as if the latter had earned his
sovereign hardly; but for me he had been cheap at the price, for he
seemed to have occupied the police for the better part of the day. In
the latest news I found a further instalment of the story. The milkman
had been released, I read, and the true criminal, about whose identity
the police were reticent, was believed to have got away from London
by one of the northern lines. There was a short note about me as the
owner of the flat. I guessed the police had stuck that in, as a clumsy
contrivance to persuade me that I was unsuspected.
There was nothing else in the paper, nothing about foreign
politics or Karolides, or the things that had interested Scudder. I
laid it down, and found that we were approaching the station at
which I had got out yesterday. The potato-digging station-master
had been gingered up into some activity, for the west-going train
was waiting to let us pass, and from it had descended three men
who were asking him questions. I supposed that they were the local
police, who had been stirred up by Scotland Yard, and had traced
me as far as this one-horse siding. Sitting well back in the shadow I
watched them carefully. One of them had a book, and took down
notes. The old potato-digger seemed to have turned peevish, but
the child who had collected my ticket was talking volubly. All the
party looked out across the moor where the white road departed. I
hoped they were going to take up my tracks there.
As we moved away from that station my companion woke up.
He fixed me with a wandering glance, kicked his dog viciously, and
inquired where he was. Clearly he was very drunk.
'That's what comes o' bein' a teetotaller,' he observed in bitter
I expressed my surprise that in him I should have met a blue-
'Ay, but I'm a strong teetotaller,' he said pugnaciously. 'I took
the pledge last Martinmas, and I havena touched a drop o' whisky
sinsyne. Not even at Hogmanay, though I was sair temptit.'
He swung his heels up on the seat, and burrowed a frowsy head
into the cushions.
'And that's a' I get,' he moaned. 'A heid better than hell fire, and
twae een lookin' different ways for the Sabbath.'
'What did it?' I asked.
'A drink they ca' brandy. Bein' a teetotaller I keepit off the
whisky, but I was nip-nippin' a' day at this brandy, and I doubt I'll
no be weel for a fortnicht.' His voice died away into a splutter, and
sleep once more laid its heavy hand on him.
My plan had been to get out at some station down the line, but
the train suddenly gave me a better chance, for it came to a standstill
at the end of a culvert which spanned a brawling porter-coloured
river. I looked out and saw that every carriage window was closed
and no human figure appeared in the landscape. So I opened the
door, and dropped quickly into the tangle of hazels which edged
it would have been all right but for that infernal dog. Under the
impression that I was decamping with its master's belongings, it
started to bark, and all but got me by the trousers. This woke up
the herd, who stood bawling at the carriage door in the belief that I
had committed suicide. I crawled through the thicket, reached the
edge of the stream, and in cover of the bushes put a hundred yards
or so behind me. Then from my shelter I peered back, and saw the
guard and several passengers gathered round the open carriage
door and staring in my direction. I could not have made a more
public departure if I had left with a bugler and a brass band.
Happily the drunken herd provided a diversion. He and his dog,
which was attached by a rope to his waist, suddenly cascaded out of
the carriage, landed on their heads on the track, and rolled some
way down the bank towards the water. In the rescue which followed
the dog bit somebody, for I could hear the sound of hard swearing.
Presently they had forgotten me, and when after a quarter of a
mile's crawl I ventured to look back, the train had started again and
was vanishing in the cutting.
I was in a wide semicircle of moorland, with the brown river as
radius, and the high hills forming the northern circumference. There
was not a sign or sound of a human being, only the plashing water
and the interminable crying of curlews. Yet, oddly enough, for the
first time I felt the terror of the hunted on me. It was not the police
that I thought of, but the other folk, who knew that I knew
Scudder's secret and dared not let me live. I was certain that they
would pursue me with a keenness and vigilance unknown to the
British law, and that once their grip closed on me I should find
I looked back, but there was nothing in the landscape. The sun
glinted on the metals of the line and the wet stones in the stream,
and you could not have found a more peaceful sight in the world.
Nevertheless I started to run. Crouching low in the runnels of the
bog, I ran till the sweat blinded my eyes. The mood did not leave
me till I had reached the rim of mountain and flung myself panting
on a ridge high above the young waters of the brown river.
From my vantage-ground I could scan the whole moor right
away to the railway line and to the south of it where green fields
took the place of heather. I have eyes like a hawk, but I could see
nothing moving in the whole countryside. Then I looked east
beyond the ridge and saw a new kind of landscape--shallow green
valleys with plentiful fir plantations and the faint lines of dust
which spoke of highroads. Last of all I looked into the blue May
sky, and there I saw that which set my pulses racing ...
Low down in the south a monoplane was climbing into the
heavens. I was as certain as if I had been told that that aeroplane
was looking for me, and that it did not belong to the police. For an
hour or two I watched it from a pit of heather. It flew low along
the hill-tops, and then in narrow circles over the valley up which I
had come' Then it seemed to change its mind, rose to a great
height, and flew away back to the south.
I did not like this espionage from the air, and I began to think
less well of the countryside I had chosen for a refuge. These
heather hills were no sort of cover if my enemies were in the sky,
and I must find a different kind of sanctuary. I looked with more
satisfaction to the green country beyond the ridge, for there I
should find woods and stone houses.
About six in the evening I came out of the moorland to a white
ribbon of road which wound up the narrow vale of a lowland
stream. As I followed it, fields gave place to bent, the glen became
a plateau, and presently I had reached a kind of pass where a
solitary house smoked in the twilight. The road swung over a
bridge, and leaning on the parapet was a young man.
He was smoking a long clay pipe and studying the water with
spectacled eyes. In his left hand was a small book with a finger
marking the place. Slowly he repeated--
As when a Gryphon through the wilderness
With winged step, o'er hill and moory dale
Pursues the Arimaspian.
He jumped round as my step rung on the keystone, and I saw a
pleasant sunburnt boyish face.
'Good evening to you,' he said gravely. 'It's a fine night for
The smell of peat smoke and of some savoury roast floated to me
from the house.
'Is that place an inn?' I asked.
'At your service,' he said politely. 'I am the landlord, Sir, and I
hope you will stay the night, for to tell you the truth I have had no
company for a week.'
I pulled myself up on the parapet of the bridge and filled my
pipe. I began to detect an ally.
'You're young to be an innkeeper,' I said.
'My father died a year ago and left me the business. I live there
with my grandmother. It's a slow job for a young man, and it
wasn't my choice of profession.'
He actually blushed. 'I want to write books,' he said.
'And what better chance could you ask?' I cried. 'Man, I've often
thought that an innkeeper would make the best story-teller in the world.'
'Not now,' he said eagerly. 'Maybe in the old days when you had
pilgrims and ballad-makers and highwaymen and mail-coaches on
the road. But not now. Nothing comes here but motor-cars full of
fat women, who stop for lunch, and a fisherman or two in the
spring, and the shooting tenants in August. There is not much
material to be got out of that. I want to see life, to travel the world,
and write things like Kipling and Conrad. But the most I've done
yet is to get some verses printed in CHAMBERS'S JOURNAL.'
I looked at the inn standing golden in the sunset against the
'I've knocked a bit about the world, and I wouldn't despise such
a hermitage. D'you think that adventure is found only in the tropics
or among gentry in red shirts? Maybe you're rubbing shoulders
with it at this moment.'
'That's what Kipling says,' he said, his eyes brightening, and he
quoted some verse about 'Romance bringing up the 9.15'.
'Here's a true tale for you then,' I cried, 'and a month from now
you can make a novel out of it.'
Sitting on the bridge in the soft May gloaming I pitched him a
lovely yarn. It was true in essentials, too, though I altered the
minor details. I made out that I was a mining magnate from Kimberley,
who had had a lot of trouble with I.D.B. and had shown up a gang.
They had pursued me across the ocean, and had killed my best friend, and
were now on my tracks.
I told the story well, though I say it who shouldn't. I pictured a
flight across the Kalahari to German Africa, the crackling, parching
days, the wonderful blue-velvet nights. I described an attack on my
life on the voyage home, and I made a really horrid affair of the
Portland Place murder. 'You're looking for adventure,' I cried;
'well, you've found it here. The devils are after me, and the police
are after them. It's a race that I mean to win.'
'By God!' he whispered, drawing his breath in sharply, 'it is all
pure Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle.'
'You believe me,' I said gratefully.
'Of course I do,' and he held out his hand. 'I believe everything
out of the common. The only thing to distrust is the normal.'
He was very young, but he was the man for my money.
'I think they're off my track for the moment, but I must lie close
for a couple of days. Can you take me in?'
He caught my elbow in his eagerness and drew me towards the
house. 'You can lie as snug here as if you were in a moss-hole. I'll
see that nobody blabs, either. And you'll give me some more
material about your adventures?'
As I entered the inn porch I heard from far off the beat of an
engine. There silhouetted against the dusky West was my friend,
He gave me a room at the back of the house, with a fine outlook
over the plateau, and he made me free of his own study, which was
stacked with cheap editions of his favourite authors. I never saw the
grandmother, so I guessed she was bedridden. An old woman called
Margit brought me my meals, and the innkeeper was around me at
all hours. I wanted some time to myself, so I invented a job for him.
He had a motor-bicycle, and I sent him off next morning for the daily
paper, which usually arrived with the post in the late afternoon. I
told him to keep his eyes skinned, and make note of any strange
figures he saw, keeping a special sharp look-out for motors and
aeroplanes. Then I sat down in real earnest to Scudder's note-book.
He came back at midday with the SCOTSMAN. There was nothing in
it, except some further evidence of Paddock and the milkman, and a
repetition of yesterday's statement that the murderer had gone
North. But there was a long article, reprinted from THE TIMES, about
Karolides and the state of affairs in the Balkans, though there was no
mention of any visit to England. I got rid of the innkeeper for the
afternoon, for I was getting very warm in my search for the cypher.
As I told you, it was a numerical cypher, and by an elaborate
system of experiments I had pretty well discovered what were the
nulls and stops. The trouble was the key word, and when I thought
of the odd million words he might have used I felt pretty hopeless.
But about three o'clock I had a sudden inspiration.
The name Julia Czechenyi flashed across my memory. Scudder
had said it was the key to the Karolides business, and it occurred to
me to try it on his cypher.
It worked. The five letters of 'Julia' gave me the position of the
vowels. A was J, the tenth letter of the alphabet, and so represented
by X in the cypher. E was XXI, and so on. 'Czechenyi' gave
me the numerals for the principal consonants. I scribbled that
scheme on a bit of paper and sat down to read Scudder's pages.
In half an hour I was reading with a whitish face and fingers that
drummed on the table.
I glanced out of the window and saw a big touring-car coming
up the glen towards the inn. It drew up at the door, and there was
the sound of people alighting. There seemed to be two of them,
men in aquascutums and tweed caps.
Ten minutes later the innkeeper slipped into the room, his eyes
bright with excitement.
'There's two chaps below looking for you,' he whispered.
'They're in the dining-room having whiskies-and-sodas. They asked
about you and said they had hoped to meet you here. Oh! and they
described you jolly well, down to your boots and shirt. I told them
you had been here last night and had gone off on a motor bicycle
this morning, and one of the chaps swore like a navvy.'
I made him tell me what they looked like. One was a dark-eyed
thin fellow with bushy eyebrows, the other was always smiling and
lisped in his talk. Neither was any kind of foreigner; on this my
young friend was positive.
I took a bit of paper and wrote these words in German as if they
were part of a letter--
... 'Black Stone. Scudder had got on to this, but he could not
act for a fortnight. I doubt if I can do any good now, especially
as Karolides is uncertain about his plans. But if Mr T. advises
I will do the best I ...'
I manufactured it rather neatly, so that it looked like a loose page
of a private letter.
'Take this down and say it was found in my bedroom, and ask
them to return it to me if they overtake me.'
Three minutes later I heard the car begin to move, and peeping
from behind the curtain caught sight of the two figures. One was
slim, the other was sleek; that was the most I could make of my
The innkeeper appeared in great excitement. 'Your paper woke
them up,' he said gleefully. 'The dark fellow went as white as death
and cursed like blazes, and the fat one whistled and looked ugly.
They paid for their drinks with half-a-sovereign and wouldn't wait
'Now I'll tell you what I want you to do,' I said. 'Get on your
bicycle and go off to Newton-Stewart to the Chief Constable. Describe
the two men, and say you suspect them of having had something to do
with the London murder. You can invent reasons. The two will come back,
never fear. Not tonight, for they'll follow me forty miles along the
road, but first thing tomorrow morning. Tell the police to be here
bright and early.'
He set off like a docile child, while I worked at Scudder's notes.
When he came back we dined together, and in common decency I
had to let him pump me. I gave him a lot of stuff about lion hunts
and the Matabele War, thinking all the while what tame businesses
these were compared to this I was now engaged in! When he went
to bed I sat up and finished Scudder. I smoked in a chair till
daylight, for I could not sleep.
About eight next morning I witnessed the arrival of two
constables and a sergeant. They put their car in a coach-house under the
innkeeper's instructions, and entered the house. Twenty minutes
later I saw from my window a second car come across the plateau
from the opposite direction. It did not come up to the inn, but
stopped two hundred yards off in the shelter of a patch of wood. I
noticed that its occupants carefully reversed it before leaving it. A
minute or two later I heard their steps on the gravel outside the window.
My plan had been to lie hid in my bedroom, and see what
happened. I had a notion that, if I could bring the police and my
other more dangerous pursuers together, something might work
out of it to my advantage. But now I had a better idea. I scribbled a
line of thanks to my host, opened the window, and dropped quietly
into a gooseberry bush. Unobserved I crossed the dyke, crawled
down the side of a tributary burn, and won the highroad on the far
side of the patch of trees. There stood the car, very spick and span
in the morning sunlight, but with the dust on her which told of a
long journey. I started her, jumped into the chauffeur's seat, and
stole gently out on to the plateau.
Almost at once the road dipped so that I lost sight of the inn,
but the wind seemed to bring me the sound of angry voices.
The Adventure of the Radical Candidate
You may picture me driving that 40 h.p. car for all she was worth
over the crisp moor roads on that shining May morning; glancing
back at first over my shoulder, and looking anxiously to the next
turning; then driving with a vague eye, just wide enough awake to
keep on the highway. For I was thinking desperately of what I had
found in Scudder's pocket-book.
The little man had told me a pack of lies. All his yarns about the
Balkans and the Jew-Anarchists and the Foreign Office Conference
were eyewash, and so was Karolides. And yet not quite, as you
shall hear. I had staked everything on my belief in his story, and
had been let down; here was his book telling me a different tale,
and instead of being once-bitten-twice-shy, I believed it absolutely.
Why, I don't know. It rang desperately true, and the first yarn, if
you understand me, had been in a queer way true also in spirit. The
fifteenth day of June was going to be a day of destiny, a bigger
destiny than the killing of a Dago. It was so big that I didn't blame
Scudder for keeping me out of the game and wanting to play a lone
hand. That, I was pretty clear, was his intention. He had told me
something which sounded big enough, but the real thing was so
immortally big that he, the man who had found it out, wanted it all
for himself. I didn't blame him. It was risks after all that he was
chiefly greedy about.
The whole story was in the notes--with gaps, you understand,
which he would have filled up from his memory. He stuck down
his authorities, too, and had an odd trick of giving them all a
numerical value and then striking a balance, which stood for the
reliability of each stage in the yarn. The four names he had printed
were authorities, and there was a man, Ducrosne, who got five out
of a possible five; and another fellow, Ammersfoort, who got three.
The bare bones of the tale were all that was in the book--these,
and one queer phrase which occurred half a dozen times inside
brackets. '(Thirty-nine steps)' was the phrase; and at its last time of
use it ran--'(Thirty-nine steps, I counted them--high tide 10.17
p.m.)'. I could make nothing of that.
The first thing I learned was that it was no question of preventing
a war. That was coming, as sure as Christmas: had been arranged,
said Scudder, ever since February 1912. Karolides was going to be
the occasion. He was booked all right, and was to hand in his
checks on June 14th, two weeks and four days from that May
morning. I gathered from Scudder's notes that nothing on earth
could prevent that. His talk of Epirote guards that would skin their
own grandmothers was all billy-o.
The second thing was that this war was going to come as a
mighty surprise to Britain. Karolides' death would set the Balkans
by the ears, and then Vienna would chip in with an ultimatum.
Russia wouldn't like that, and there would be high words. But
Berlin would play the peacemaker, and pour oil on the waters, till
suddenly she would find a good cause for a quarrel, pick it up, and
in five hours let fly at us. That was the idea, and a pretty good one
too. Honey and fair speeches, and then a stroke in the dark. While
we were talking about the goodwill and good intentions of Germany
our coast would be silently ringed with mines, and submarines
would be waiting for every battleship.
But all this depended upon the third thing, which was due to
happen on June 15th. I would never have grasped this if I hadn't
once happened to meet a French staff officer, coming back from
West Africa, who had told me a lot of things. One was that, in
spite of all the nonsense talked in Parliament, there was a real
working alliance between France and Britain, and that the two
General Staffs met every now and then, and made plans for joint
action in case of war. Well, in June a very great swell was coming
over from Paris, and he was going to get nothing less than a
statement of the disposition of the British Home Fleet on mobilization.
At least I gathered it was something like that; anyhow, it was
something uncommonly important.
But on the 15th day of June there were to be others in London--
others, at whom I could only guess. Scudder was content to call
them collectively the 'Black Stone'. They represented not our Allies,
but our deadly foes; and the information, destined for France, was
to be diverted to their pockets. And it was to be used, remember--
used a week or two later, with great guns and swift torpedoes,
suddenly in the darkness of a summer night.
This was the story I had been deciphering in a back room of a
country inn, overlooking a cabbage garden. This was the story that
hummed in my brain as I swung in the big touring-car from glen to glen.
My first impulse had been to write a letter to the Prime Minister,
but a little reflection convinced me that that would be useless. Who
would believe my tale? I must show a sign, some token in proof,
and Heaven knew what that could be. Above all, I must keep going
myself, ready to act when things got riper, and that was going to be
no light job with the police of the British Isles in full cry after me
and the watchers of the Black Stone running silently and swiftly on
I had no very clear purpose in my journey, but I steered east by
the sun, for I remembered from the map that if I went north I
would come into a region of coalpits and industrial towns. Presently
I was down from the moorlands and traversing the broad haugh of
a river. For miles I ran alongside a park wall, and in a break of the
trees I saw a great castle. I swung through little old thatched
villages, and over peaceful lowland streams, and past gardens blazing
with hawthorn and yellow laburnum. The land was so deep in
peace that I could scarcely believe that somewhere behind me were
those who sought my life; ay, and that in a month's time, unless I
had the almightiest of luck, these round country faces would be
pinched and staring, and men would be lying dead in English fields.
About mid-day I entered a long straggling village, and had a
mind to stop and eat. Half-way down was the Post Office, and on
the steps of it stood the postmistress and a policeman hard at work
conning a telegram. When they saw me they wakened up, and the
policeman advanced with raised hand, and cried on me to stop.
I nearly was fool enough to obey. Then it flashed upon me that
the wire had to do with me; that my friends at the inn had come to an
understanding, and were united in desiring to see more of me, and
that it had been easy enough for them to wire the description of me
and the car to thirty villages through which I might pass. I released
the brakes just in time. As it was, the policeman made a claw at the
hood, and only dropped off when he got my left in his eye.
I saw that main roads were no place for me, and turned into the
byways. It wasn't an easy job without a map, for there was the risk
of getting on to a farm road and ending in a duck-pond or a stable-
yard, and I couldn't afford that kind of delay. I began to see what
an ass I had been to steal the car. The big green brute would be the
safest kind of clue to me over the breadth of Scotland. If I left it
and took to my feet, it would be discovered in an hour or two and
I would get no start in the race.
The immediate thing to do was to get to the loneliest roads.
These I soon found when I struck up a tributary of the big river,
and got into a glen with steep hills all about me, and a corkscrew
road at the end which climbed over a pass. Here I met nobody, but
it was taking me too far north, so I slewed east along a bad track
and finally struck a big double-line railway. Away below me I saw
another broadish valley, and it occurred to me that if I crossed it I
might find some remote inn to pass the night. The evening was now
drawing in, and I was furiously hungry, for I had eaten nothing since
breakfast except a couple of buns I had bought from a baker's cart.
just then I heard a noise in the sky, and lo and behold there was
that infernal aeroplane, flying low, about a dozen miles to the south
and rapidly coming towards me.
I had the sense to remember that on a bare moor I was at the
aeroplane's mercy, and that my only chance was to get to the leafy
cover of the valley. Down the hill I went like blue lightning,
screwing my head round, whenever I dared, to watch that damned
flying machine. Soon I was on a road between hedges, and dipping
to the deep-cut glen of a stream. Then came a bit of thick wood
where I slackened speed.
Suddenly on my left I heard the hoot of another car, and realized
to my horror that I was almost up on a couple of gate-posts through
which a private road debouched on the highway. My horn gave an
agonized roar, but it was too late. I clapped on my brakes, but my
impetus was too great, and there before me a car was sliding
athwart my course. In a second there would have been the deuce of
a wreck. I did the only thing possible, and ran slap into the hedge
on the right, trusting to find something soft beyond.
But there I was mistaken. My car slithered through the hedge
like butter, and then gave a sickening plunge forward. I saw what
was coming, leapt on the seat and would have jumped out. But a
branch of hawthorn got me in the chest, lifted me up and held me,
while a ton or two of expensive metal slipped below me, bucked
and pitched, and then dropped with an almighty smash fifty feet to
the bed of the stream.
Slowly that thorn let me go. I subsided first on the hedge, and then
very gently on a bower of nettles. As I scrambled to my feet a hand
took me by the arm, and a sympathetic and badly scared voice
asked me if I were hurt.
I found myself looking at a tall young man in goggles and a
leather ulster, who kept on blessing his soul and whinnying
apologies. For myself, once I got my wind back, I was rather glad
than otherwise. This was one way of getting rid of the car.
'My blame, Sir,' I answered him. 'It's lucky that I did not add
homicide to my follies. That's the end of my Scotch motor tour,
but it might have been the end of my life.'
He plucked out a watch and studied it. 'You're the right sort of
fellow,' he said. 'I can spare a quarter of an hour, and my house is
two minutes off. I'll see you clothed and fed and snug in bed.
Where's your kit, by the way? Is it in the burn along with the car?'
'It's in my pocket,' I said, brandishing a toothbrush. 'I'm a
Colonial and travel light.'
'A Colonial,' he cried. 'By Gad, you're the very man I've been
praying for. Are you by any blessed chance a Free Trader?'
'I am,' said I, without the foggiest notion of what he meant.
He patted my shoulder and hurried me into his car. Three minutes
later we drew up before a comfortable-looking shooting box set
among pine-trees, and he ushered me indoors. He took me first to a
bedroom and flung half a dozen of his suits before me, for my own
had been pretty well reduced to rags. I selected a loose blue serge,
which differed most conspicuously from my former garments, and
borrowed a linen collar. Then he haled me to the dining-room,
where the remnants of a meal stood on the table, and announced
that I had just five minutes to feed. 'You can take a snack in your
pocket, and we'll have supper when we get back. I've got to be at
the Masonic Hall at eight o'clock, or my agent will comb my hair.'
I had a cup of coffee and some cold ham, while he yarned away
on the hearth-rug.
'You find me in the deuce of a mess, Mr--by-the-by, you
haven't told me your name. Twisdon? Any relation of old Tommy
Twisdon of the Sixtieth? No? Well, you see I'm Liberal Candidate
for this part of the world, and I had a meeting on tonight at
Brattleburn--that's my chief town, and an infernal Tory stronghold.
I had got the Colonial ex-Premier fellow, Crumpleton, coming to
speak for me tonight, and had the thing tremendously billed and
the whole place ground-baited. This afternoon I had a wire from
the ruffian saying he had got influenza at Blackpool, and here am I
left to do the whole thing myself. I had meant to speak for ten
minutes and must now go on for forty, and, though I've been
racking my brains for three hours to think of something, I simply
cannot last the course. Now you've got to be a good chap and help
me. You're a Free Trader and can tell our people what a wash-out
Protection is in the Colonies. All you fellows have the gift of the
gab--I wish to Heaven I had it. I'll be for evermore in your debt.'
I had very few notions about Free Trade one way or the other,
but I saw no other chance to get what I wanted. My young gentleman
was far too absorbed in his own difficulties to think how odd
it was to ask a stranger who had just missed death by an ace and
had lost a 1,000-guinea car to address a meeting for him on the spur
of the moment. But my necessities did not allow me to contemplate
oddnesses or to pick and choose my supports.
'All right,' I said. 'I'm not much good as a speaker, but I'll tell
them a bit about Australia.'
At my words the cares of the ages slipped from his shoulders,
and he was rapturous in his thanks. He lent me a big driving coat--
and never troubled to ask why I had started on a motor tour
without possessing an ulster--and, as we slipped down the dusty
roads, poured into my ears the simple facts of his history. He was
an orphan, and his uncle had brought him up--I've forgotten the
uncle's name, but he was in the Cabinet, and you can read his
speeches in the papers. He had gone round the world after leaving
Cambridge, and then, being short of a job, his uncle had advised
politics. I gathered that he had no preference in parties. 'Good
chaps in both,' he said cheerfully, 'and plenty of blighters, too. I'm
Liberal, because my family have always been Whigs.' But if he was
lukewarm politically he had strong views on other things. He
found out I knew a bit about horses, and jawed away about the
Derby entries; and he was full of plans for improving his shooting.
Altogether, a very clean, decent, callow young man.
As we passed through a little town two policemen signalled us to
stop, and flashed their lanterns on us.
'Beg pardon, Sir Harry,' said one. 'We've got instructions to
look out for a car, and the description's no unlike yours.'
'Right-o,' said my host, while I thanked Providence for the
devious ways I had been brought to safety. After that he spoke no
more, for his mind began to labour heavily with his coming speech.
His lips kept muttering, his eye wandered, and I began to prepare
myself for a second catastrophe. I tried to think of something to say
myself, but my mind was dry as a stone. The next thing I knew we
had drawn up outside a door in a street, and were being welcomed
by some noisy gentlemen with rosettes.
The hall had about five hundred in it, women mostly, a lot of
bald heads, and a dozen or two young men. The chairman, a
weaselly minister with a reddish nose, lamented Crumpleton's absence,
soliloquized on his influenza, and gave me a certificate as a
'trusted leader of Australian thought'. There were two policemen at
the door, and I hoped they took note of that testimonial. Then Sir
I never heard anything like it. He didn't begin to know how to
talk. He had about a bushel of notes from which he read, and when
he let go of them he fell into one prolonged stutter. Every now and
then he remembered a phrase he had learned by heart, straightened
his back, and gave it off like Henry Irving, and the next moment he
was bent double and crooning over his papers. It was the most
appalling rot, too. He talked about the 'German menace', and said
it was all a Tory invention to cheat the poor of their rights and
keep back the great flood of social reform, but that 'organized
labour' realized this and laughed the Tories to scorn. He was all for
reducing our Navy as a proof of our good faith, and then sending
Germany an ultimatum telling her to do the same or we would
knock her into a cocked hat. He said that, but for the Tories,
Germany and Britain would be fellow-workers in peace and reform.
I thought of the little black book in my pocket! A giddy lot Scudder's
friends cared for peace and reform.
Yet in a queer way I liked the speech. You could see the niceness
of the chap shining out behind the muck with which he had been
spoon-fed. Also it took a load off my mind. I mightn't be much of
an orator, but I was a thousand per cent better than Sir Harry.
I didn't get on so badly when it came to my turn. I simply told
them all I could remember about Australia, praying there should be
no Australian there--all about its labour party and emigration and
universal service. I doubt if I remembered to mention Free Trade,
but I said there were no Tories in Australia, only Labour and
Liberals. That fetched a cheer, and I woke them up a bit when I
started in to tell them the kind of glorious business I thought could
be made out of the Empire if we really put our backs into it.
Altogether I fancy I was rather a success. The minister didn't like
me, though, and when he proposed a vote of thanks, spoke of Sir
Harry's speech as 'statesmanlike' and mine as having 'the eloquence
of an emigration agent'.
When we were in the car again my host was in wild spirits at
having got his job over. 'A ripping speech, Twisdon,' he said.
'Now, you're coming home with me. I'm all alone, and if you'll
stop a day or two I'll show you some very decent fishing.'
We had a hot supper--and I wanted it pretty badly--and then
drank grog in a big cheery smoking-room with a crackling wood
fire. I thought the time had come for me to put my cards on the
table. I saw by this man's eye that he was the kind you can trust.
'Listen, Sir Harry,' I said. 'I've something pretty important to
say to you. You're a good fellow, and I'm going to be frank.
Where on earth did you get that poisonous rubbish you talked tonight?'
His face fell. 'Was it as bad as that?' he asked ruefully. 'It did
sound rather thin. I got most of it out of the PROGRESSIVE MAGAZINE
and pamphlets that agent chap of mine keeps sending me. But you
surely don't think Germany would ever go to war with us?'
'Ask that question in six weeks and it won't need an answer,' I
said. 'If you'll give me your attention for half an hour I am going
to tell you a story.'
I can see yet that bright room with the deers' heads and the old
prints on the walls, Sir Harry standing restlessly on the stone curb
of the hearth, and myself lying back in an armchair, speaking. I
seemed to be another person, standing aside and listening to my
own voice, and judging carefully the reliability of my tale. It was
the first time I had ever told anyone the exact truth, so far as I
understood it, and it did me no end of good, for it straightened out
the thing in my own mind. I blinked no detail. He heard all about
Scudder, and the milkman, and the note-book, and my doings in
Galloway. Presently he got very excited and walked up and down
'So you see,' I concluded, 'you have got here in your house the
man that is wanted for the Portland Place murder. Your duty is to
send your car for the police and give me up. I don't think I'll get
very far. There'll be an accident, and I'll have a knife in my ribs an
hour or so after arrest. Nevertheless, it's your duty, as a law-abiding
citizen. Perhaps in a month's time you'll be sorry, but you have no
cause to think of that.'
He was looking at me with bright steady eyes. 'What was your
job in Rhodesia, Mr Hannay?' he asked.
'Mining engineer,' I said. 'I've made my pile cleanly and I've had
a good time in the making of it.'
'Not a profession that weakens the nerves, is it?'
I laughed. 'Oh, as to that, my nerves are good enough.' I took
down a hunting-knife from a stand on the wall, and did the old
Mashona trick of tossing it and catching it in my lips. That wants a
pretty steady heart.
He watched me with a smile. 'I don't want proof. I may be an ass
on the platform, but I can size up a man. You're no murderer and
you're no fool, and I believe you are speaking the truth. I'm going
to back you up. Now, what can I do?'
'First, I want you to write a letter to your uncle. I've got to get
in touch with the Government people sometime before the 15th of June.'
He pulled his moustache. 'That won't help you. This is Foreign
Office business, and my uncle would have nothing to do with it.
Besides, you'd never convince him. No, I'll go one better. I'll write
to the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office. He's my godfather,
and one of the best going. What do you want?'
He sat down at a table and wrote to my dictation. The gist of it
was that if a man called Twisdon (I thought I had better stick to
that name) turned up before June 15th he was to entreat him
kindly. He said Twisdon would prove his bona fides by passing the
word 'Black Stone' and whistling 'Annie Laurie'.
'Good,' said Sir Harry. 'That's the proper style. By the way,
you'll find my godfather--his name's Sir Walter Bullivant--down
at his country cottage for Whitsuntide. It's close to Artinswell on
the Kenner. That's done. Now, what's the next thing?'
'You're about my height. Lend me the oldest tweed suit you've
got. Anything will do, so long as the colour is the opposite of the
clothes I destroyed this afternoon. Then show me a map of the
neighbourhood and explain to me the lie of the land. Lastly, if
the police come seeking me, just show them the car in the glen. If
the other lot turn up, tell them I caught the south express after your
He did, or promised to do, all these things. I shaved off the
remnants of my moustache, and got inside an ancient suit of what I
believe is called heather mixture. The map gave me some notion of
my whereabouts, and told me the two things I wanted to know--
where the main railway to the south could be joined and what were
the wildest districts near at hand.
At two o'clock he wakened me from my slumbers in the
smoking-room armchair, and led me blinking into the dark starry
night. An old bicycle was found in a tool-shed and handed over to me.
'First turn to the right up by the long fir-wood,' he enjoined. 'By
daybreak you'll be well into the hills. Then I should pitch the
machine into a bog and take to the moors on foot. You can put in a
week among the shepherds, and be as safe as if you were in New
I pedalled diligently up steep roads of hill gravel till the skies
grew pale with morning. As the mists cleared before the sun, I
found myself in a wide green world with glens falling on every side
and a far-away blue horizon. Here, at any rate, I could get early
news of my enemies.
The Adventure of the Spectacled Roadman
I sat down on the very crest of the pass and took stock of my position.
Behind me was the road climbing through a long cleft in the
hills, which was the upper glen of some notable river. In front was
a flat space of maybe a mile, all pitted with bog-holes and rough
with tussocks, and then beyond it the road fell steeply down another
glen to a plain whose blue dimness melted into the distance. To left
and right were round-shouldered green hills as smooth as pancakes,
but to the south--that is, the left hand--there was a glimpse of
high heathery mountains, which I remembered from the map as the
big knot of hill which I had chosen for my sanctuary. I was on the
central boss of a huge upland country, and could see everything
moving for miles. In the meadows below the road half a mile back
a cottage smoked, but it was the only sign of human life. Otherwise
there was only the calling of plovers and the tinkling of little streams.
It was now about seven o'clock, and as I waited I heard once
again that ominous beat in the air. Then I realized that my vantage-
ground might be in reality a trap. There was no cover for a tomtit
in those bald green places.
I sat quite still and hopeless while the beat grew louder. Then I
saw an aeroplane coming up from the east. It was flying high, but
as I looked it dropped several hundred feet and began to circle
round the knot of hill in narrowing circles, just as a hawk wheels
before it pounces. Now it was flying very low, and now the observer
on board caught sight of me. I could see one of the two occupants
examining me through glasses.
Suddenly it began to rise in swift whorls, and the next I knew
it was speeding eastward again till it became a speck in the
That made me do some savage thinking. My enemies had located
me, and the next thing would be a cordon round me. I didn't know
what force they could command, but I was certain it would be
sufficient. The aeroplane had seen my bicycle, and would conclude
that I would try to escape by the road. In that case there might be a
chance on the moors to the right or left. I wheeled the machine a
hundred yards from the highway, and plunged it into a moss-hole,
where it sank among pond-weed and water-buttercups. Then I
climbed to a knoll which gave me a view of the two valleys.
Nothing was stirring on the long white ribbon that threaded them.
I have said there was not cover in the whole place to hide a rat.
As the day advanced it was flooded with soft fresh light till it had
the fragrant sunniness of the South African veld. At other times I
would have liked the place, but now it seemed to suffocate me. The
free moorlands were prison walls, and the keen hill air was the
breath of a dungeon.
I tossed a coin--heads right, tails left--and it fell heads, so I
turned to the north. In a little I came to the brow of the ridge
which was the containing wall of the pass. I saw the highroad for
maybe ten miles, and far down it something that was moving, and
that I took to be a motor-car. Beyond the ridge I looked on a
rolling green moor, which fell away into wooded glens.
Now my life on the veld has given me the eyes of a kite, and I
can see things for which most men need a telescope ... Away
down the slope, a couple of miles away, several men were advancing.
like a row of beaters at a shoot ...
I dropped out of sight behind the sky-line. That way was shut to
me, and I must try the bigger hills to the south beyond the highway.
The car I had noticed was getting nearer, but it was still a long way
off with some very steep gradients before it. I ran hard, crouching
low except in the hollows, and as I ran I kept scanning the brow of
the hill before me. Was it imagination, or did I see figures--one,
two, perhaps more--moving in a glen beyond the stream?
If you are hemmed in on all sides in a patch of land there is only
one chance of escape. You must stay in the patch, and let your
enemies search it and not find you. That was good sense, but how
on earth was I to escape notice in that table-cloth of a place? I
would have buried myself to the neck in mud or lain below water
or climbed the tallest tree. But there was not a stick of wood, the
bog-holes were little puddles, the stream was a slender trickle. There
was nothing but short heather, and bare hill bent, and the white highway.
Then in a tiny bight of road, beside a heap of stones, I found
He had just arrived, and was wearily flinging down his hammer.
He looked at me with a fishy eye and yawned.
'Confoond the day I ever left the herdin'!' he said, as if to the
world at large. 'There I was my ain maister. Now I'm a slave to the
Goavernment, tethered to the roadside, wi' sair een, and a back like
He took up the hammer, struck a stone, dropped the implement
with an oath, and put both hands to his ears. 'Mercy on me! My
heid's burstin'!' he cried.
He was a wild figure, about my own size but much bent, with a
week's beard on his chin, and a pair of big horn spectacles.
'I canna dae't,' he cried again. 'The Surveyor maun just report
me. I'm for my bed.'
I asked him what was the trouble, though indeed that was
'The trouble is that I'm no sober. Last nicht my dochter Merran
was waddit, and they danced till fower in the byre. Me and some
ither chiels sat down to the drinkin', and here I am. Peety that I
ever lookit on the wine when it was red!'
I agreed with him about bed.
'It's easy speakin',' he moaned. 'But I got a postcard yestreen
sayin' that the new Road Surveyor would be round the day. He'll
come and he'll no find me, or else he'll find me fou, and either way
I'm a done man. I'll awa' back to my bed and say I'm no weel, but
I doot that'll no help me, for they ken my kind o' no-weel-ness.'
Then I had an inspiration. 'Does the new Surveyor know you?'
'No him. He's just been a week at the job. He rins about in a wee
motor-cawr, and wad speir the inside oot o' a whelk.'
'Where's your house?' I asked, and was directed by a wavering
finger to the cottage by the stream.
'Well, back to your bed,' I said, 'and sleep in peace. I'll take on
your job for a bit and see the Surveyor.'
He stared at me blankly; then, as the notion dawned on his
fuddled brain, his face broke into the vacant drunkard's smile.
'You're the billy,' he cried. 'It'll be easy eneuch managed. I've
finished that bing o' stanes, so you needna chap ony mair this
forenoon. Just take the barry, and wheel eneuch metal frae yon
quarry doon the road to mak anither bing the morn. My name's
Alexander Turnbull, and I've been seeven year at the trade, and
twenty afore that herdin' on Leithen Water. My freens ca' me Ecky,
and whiles Specky, for I wear glesses, being waik i' the sicht. Just
you speak the Surveyor fair, and ca' him Sir, and he'll be fell
pleased. I'll be back or mid-day.'
I borrowed his spectacles and filthy old hat; stripped off coat,
waistcoat, and collar, and gave him them to carry home; borrowed,
too, the foul stump of a clay pipe as an extra property. He indicated
my simple tasks, and without more ado set off at an amble bedwards.
Bed may have been his chief object, but I think there was
also something left in the foot of a bottle. I prayed that he might be
safe under cover before my friends arrived on the scene.
Then I set to work to dress for the part. I opened the collar of
my shirt--it was a vulgar blue-and-white check such as ploughmen
wear--and revealed a neck as brown as any tinker's. I rolled up my
sleeves, and there was a forearm which might have been a blacksmith's,
sunburnt and rough with old scars. I got my boots and trouser-legs
all white from the dust of the road, and hitched up my trousers,
tying them with string below the knee. Then I set to work on my face.
With a handful of dust I made a water-mark round my neck, the place
where Mr Turnbull's Sunday ablutions might be expected to stop.
I rubbed a good deal of dirt also into the sunburn of my cheeks.
A roadman's eyes would no doubt be a little inflamed, so I contrived
to get some dust in both of mine, and by dint of vigorous rubbing
produced a bleary effect.
The sandwiches Sir Harry had given me had gone off with my
coat, but the roadman's lunch, tied up in a red handkerchief, was at
my disposal. I ate with great relish several of the thick slabs of
scone and cheese and drank a little of the cold tea. In the handkerchief
was a local paper tied with string and addressed to Mr Turnbull--
obviously meant to solace his mid-day leisure. I did up the
bundle again, and put the paper conspicuously beside it.
My boots did not satisfy me, but by dint of kicking among the
stones I reduced them to the granite-like surface which marks a
roadman's foot-gear. Then I bit and scraped my finger-nails till the
edges were all cracked and uneven. The men I was matched against
would miss no detail. I broke one of the bootlaces and retied it in a
clumsy knot, and loosed the other so that my thick grey socks
bulged over the uppers. Still no sign of anything on the road. The
motor I had observed half an hour ago must have gone home.
My toilet complete, I took up the barrow and began my journeys
to and from the quarry a hundred yards off.
I remember an old scout in Rhodesia, who had done many queer
things in his day, once telling me that the secret of playing a part
was to think yourself into it. You could never keep it up, he said,
unless you could manage to convince yourself that you were it. So I
shut off all other thoughts and switched them on to the road-
mending. I thought of the little white cottage as my home, I
recalled the years I had spent herding on Leithen Water, I made my
mind dwell lovingly on sleep in a box-bed and a bottle of cheap
whisky. Still nothing appeared on that long white road.
Now and then a sheep wandered off the heather to stare at me. A
heron flopped down to a pool in the stream and started to fish,
taking no more notice of me than if I had been a milestone. On I
went, trundling my loads of stone, with the heavy step of the
professional. Soon I grew warm, and the dust on my face changed
into solid and abiding grit. I was already counting the hours till
evening should put a limit to Mr Turnbull's monotonous toil.
Suddenly a crisp voice spoke from the road, and looking up I
saw a little Ford two-seater, and a round-faced young man in a
'Are you Alexander Turnbull?' he asked. 'I am the new County
Road Surveyor. You live at Blackhopefoot, and have charge of the
section from Laidlawbyres to the Riggs? Good! A fair bit of road,
Turnbull, and not badly engineered. A little soft about a mile off,
and the edges want cleaning. See you look after that. Good morning.
You'll know me the next time you see me.'
Clearly my get-up was good enough for the dreaded Surveyor. I
went on with my work, and as the morning grew towards noon I
was cheered by a little traffic. A baker's van breasted the hill, and
sold me a bag of ginger biscuits which I stowed in my trouser-
pockets against emergencies. Then a herd passed with sheep, and
disturbed me somewhat by asking loudly, 'What had become o' Specky?'
'In bed wi' the colic,' I replied, and the herd passed on ...
just about mid-day a big car stole down the hill, glided past and
drew up a hundred yards beyond. Its three occupants descended as
if to stretch their legs, and sauntered towards me.
Two of the men I had seen before from the window of the
Galloway inn--one lean, sharp, and dark, the other comfortable
and smiling. The third had the look of a countryman--a vet,
perhaps, or a small farmer. He was dressed in ill-cut knickerbockers,
and the eye in his head was as bright and wary as a hen's.
'Morning,' said the last. 'That's a fine easy job o' yours.'
I had not looked up on their approach, and now, when accosted,
I slowly and painfully straightened my back, after the manner of
roadmen; spat vigorously, after the manner of the low Scot; and
regarded them steadily before replying. I confronted three pairs of
eyes that missed nothing.
'There's waur jobs and there's better,' I said sententiously. 'I wad
rather hae yours, sittin' a' day on your hinderlands on thae cushions.
It's you and your muckle cawrs that wreck my roads! If we a' had
oor richts, ye sud be made to mend what ye break.'
The bright-eyed man was looking at the newspaper lying beside
'I see you get your papers in good time,' he said.
I glanced at it casually. 'Aye, in gude time. Seein' that that paper
cam' out last Setterday I'm just Sax days late.'
He picked it up, glanced at the superscription, and laid it down
again. One of the others had been looking at my boots, and a word
in German called the speaker's attention to them.
'You've a fine taste in boots,' he said. 'These were never made
by a country shoemaker.'
'They were not,' I said readily. 'They were made in London. I
got them frae the gentleman that was here last year for the shootin'.
What was his name now?' And I scratched a forgetful head.
Again the sleek one spoke in German. 'Let us get on,' he said.
'This fellow is all right.'
They asked one last question.
'Did you see anyone pass early this morning? He might be on a
bicycle or he might be on foot.'
I very nearly fell into the trap and told a story of a bicyclist
hurrying past in the grey dawn. But I had the sense to see my
danger. I pretended to consider very deeply.
'I wasna up very early,' I said. 'Ye see, my dochter was merrit
last nicht, and we keepit it up late. I opened the house door about
seeven and there was naebody on the road then. Since I cam' up
here there has just been the baker and the Ruchill herd, besides you
One of them gave me a cigar, which I smelt gingerly and stuck
in Turnbull's bundle. They got into their car and were out of sight
in three minutes.
My heart leaped with an enormous relief, but I went on wheeling
my stones. It was as well, for ten minutes later the car returned, one
of the occupants waving a hand to me. Those gentry left nothing
I finished Turnbull's bread and cheese, and pretty soon I had
finished the stones. The next step was what puzzled me. I could not
keep up this roadmaking business for long. A merciful Providence
had kept Mr Turnbull indoors, but if he appeared on the scene
there would be trouble. I had a notion that the cordon was still
tight round the glen, and that if I walked in any direction I should
meet with questioners. But get out I must. No man's nerve could
stand more than a day of being spied on.
I stayed at my post till five o'clock. By that time I had resolved
to go down to Turnbull's cottage at nightfall and take my chance
of getting over the hills in the darkness. But suddenly a new car
came up the road, and slowed down a yard or two from me. A
fresh wind had risen, and the occupant wanted to light a cigarette.
It was a touring car, with the tonneau full of an assortment of
baggage. One man sat in it, and by an amazing chance I knew him.
His name was Marmaduke jopley, and he was an offence to creation.
He was a sort of blood stockbroker, who did his business by
toadying eldest sons and rich young peers and foolish old ladies.
'Marmie' was a familiar figure, I understood, at balls and polo-
weeks and country houses. He was an adroit scandal-monger, and
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